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Headless Horseman by Mayne Reid - Chapter Forty Nine. The Lazo Unloosed

An eagle, scared from its perch on a scathed Cottonwood, with a scream, soars upward into the air.

Startled by the outbreak of angry passions, it has risen to reconnoitre.

A single sweep of its majestic wing brings it above the glade. There, poised on tremulous pinions, with eye turned to earth, it scans both the open space and the chapparal that surrounds it. In the former it beholds that which may, perhaps, be gratifying to its glance—a man thrown from his horse, that runs neighing around him—prostrate—apparently dead. In the latter two singular equestrians: one a woman, with bare head and chevelure spread to the breeze, astride a strong steed, going away from the glade in quick earnest gallop; the other, also a woman, mounted on a spotted horse, in more feminine fashion, riding towards it: attired in hat and habit, advancing at a slower pace, but with equal earnestness in her looks.

Such is the coup d’oeil presented to the eye of the eagle.

Of these fair equestrians both are already known. She galloping away is Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos; she who approaches, Louise Poindexter.

It is known why the first has gone out of the glade. It remains to be told for what purpose the second is coming into it.

After her interview with Zeb Stump, the young creole re-entered her chamber, and kneeling before an image of the Madonna, surrendered her spirit to prayer.

It is needless to say that, as a Creole, she was a Catholic, and therefore a firm believer in the efficacy of saintly intercession. Strange and sad was the theme of her supplication—the man who had been marked as the murderer of her brother!

She had not the slightest idea that he was guilty of the horrid crime. It could not be. The very suspicion of it would have lacerated her heart.

Her prayer was not for pardon, but protection. She supplicated the Virgin to save him from his enemies—her own friends!

Tears and choking sobs were mingled with her words, low murmured in the ear of Heaven. She had loved her brother with the fondest sisterly affection. She sorrowed sorely; but her sorrow could not stifle that other affection, stronger than the ties of blood. While mourning her brother’s loss she prayed for her lover’s safety.

As she rose from her knees, her eye fell upon the bow—that implement so cunningly employed to despatch sweet messages to the man she loved.

“Oh! that I could send one of its arrows to warn him of his danger! I may never use it again!”

The reflection was followed by a thought of cognate character. Might there not remain some trace of that clandestine correspondence in the place where it had been carried on?

She remembered that Maurice swam the stream, instead of recrossing in the skiff, to be drawn back again by her own lazo. He must have been left in the boat!

On the day before, in the confusion of her grief, she had not thought of this. It might become evidence of their midnight meeting; of which, as she supposed, no tongue but theirs—and that for ever silent—could tell the tale.

The sun was now fairly up, and gleaming garishly through the glass. She threw open the casement and stepped out, with the design of proceeding towards the skiff. In the balcon her steps were arrested, on hearing voices above.

Two persons were conversing. They were her maid Florinde, and the sable groom, who, in the absence of his master, was taking the air of the azotea.

Their words could be heard below, though their young mistress did not intentionally listen to them. It was only on their pronouncing a name, that she permitted their patois to make an impression upon her ear.

“Dey calls de young fella Jerrad. Mors Jerrad am de name. Dey do say he Irish, but if folks ’peak de troof, he an’t bit like dem Irish dat works on de Lebee at New Orlean. Ho, ho! He more like bos gen’lum planter. Dat’s what he like.”

“You don’t tink, Pluto, he been gone kill Massa Henry?”

“I doan’t tink nuffin ob de kind. Ho, ho! He kill Massa Henry! no more dan dis chile hab done dat same. Goramity—Goramity! ’Peak ob de debbil and he dar—de berry individible we talkin’ ’bout. Ho, ho! look Florinde; look yonner!”


“Dar—out dar, on todder side ob de ribber. You see man on horseback. Dat’s Mors Jerrad, de berry man we meet on de brack praira. De same dat gub Missa Loode ’potted hoss; de same dey’ve all gone to sarch for. Ho, ho! Dey gone dey wrong way. Dey no find him out on dem prairas dis day.”

“O, Pluto! an’t you glad? I’m sure he innocent—dat brave bewful young gen’lum. He nebba could been de man—”

The listener below stayed to hear no more. Gliding back into her chamber she made her way towards the azotea. The beating of her heart was almost as loud as the fall of her footsteps while ascending the escalera. It was with difficulty she could conceal her emotion from the two individuals whose conversation had caused it. “What have you seen, that you talk so loudly?” said she, trying to hide her agitation under a pretended air of severity, “Ho, ho! Missa Looey—look ober dar. De young fella!”

“What young fellow?”

“Him as dey be gone sarch for—him dat—”

“I see no one.”

“Ho, ho! He jess gone in ’mong de tree. See yonner—yonner! You see de black glaze hat, de shinin’ jacket ob velvet, an de glancin’ silver buttons—dat’s him. I sartin sure dat’s de same young fella.”

“You may be mistaken for all that, Master Pluto. There are many here who dress in that fashion. The distance is too great for you to distinguish; and now that he’s almost out of sight—Never mind, Florinde. Hasten below—get out my hat and habit. I’m going out for a ride. You, Pluto! have the saddle on Luna in the shortest time. I must not let the sun get too high. Haste! haste!”

As the servants disappeared down the stairway, she turned once more towards the parapet, her bosom heaving under the revulsion of thoughts. Unobserved she could now freely scan the prairie and chapparal.

She was too late. The horseman had ridden entirely out of sight.

“It was very like him, and yet it was not. It can scarce be possible. If it be he, why should he be going that way?”

A new pang passed through her bosom. She remembered once before having asked herself the same question.

She no longer stayed upon the azotea to watch the road. In ten minutes’ time she was across the river, entering the chapparal where the horseman had disappeared.

She rode rapidly on, scanning the causeway far in the advance.

Suddenly she reined up, on nearing the crest of the hill that overlooked the Leona. The act was consequent on the hearing of voices.

She listened. Though still distant, and but faintly heard, the voices could be distinguished as those of a man and woman.

What man? What woman? Another pang passed through her heart at these put questions.

She rode nearer; again halted; again listened.

The conversation was carried on in Spanish. There was no relief to her in this. Maurice Gerald would have talked in that tongue to Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos. The Creole was acquainted with it sufficiently to have understood what was said, had she been near enough to distinguish the words. The tone was animated on both sides, as if both speakers were in a passion. The listener was scarce displeased at this.

She rode nearer; once more pulled up; and once more sate listening.

The man’s voice was heard no longer. The woman’s sounded dear and firm, as if in menace!

There was an interval of silence, succeeded by a quick trampling of horses—another pause—another speech on the part of the woman, at first loud like a threat, and then subdued as in a soliloquy—then another interval of silence, again broken by the sound of hoofs, as if a single horse was galloping away from the ground.

Only this, and the scream of an eagle, that, startled by the angry tones, had swooped aloft, and was now soaring above the glade.

The listener knew of the opening—to her a hallowed spot. The voices had come out of it. She had made her last halt a little way from its edge. She had been restrained from advancing by a fear—the fear of finding out a bitter truth.

Her indecision ending, she spurred on into the glade.

A horse saddled and bridled rushing to and fro—a man prostrate upon the ground, with a lazo looped around his arms, to all appearance dead—a sombrero and serapé lying near, evidently not the man’s! What could be the interpretation of such a tableau?

The man was dressed in the rich costume of the Mexican ranchero—the horse also caparisoned in this elaborate and costly fashion.

At sight of both, the heart of the Louisianian leaped with joy. Whether dead or living, the man was the same she had seen from the azotea; and he was not Maurice Gerald.

She had doubted before—had hoped that it was not he; and her hopes were now sweetly confirmed.

She drew near and examined the prostrate form. She scanned the face, which was turned up—the man lying upon his back. She fancied she had seen it before, but was not certain.

It was plain that he was a Mexican. Not only his dress but his countenance—every line of it betrayed the Spanish-American physiognomy.

He was far from being ill-featured. On the contrary, he might have been pronounced handsome.

It was not this that induced Louise Poindexter to leap down from her saddle, and stoop over him with a kind pitying look.

The joy caused by his presence—by the discovery that he was not somebody else—found gratification in performing an act of humanity.

“He does not seem dead. Surely he is breathing?”

The cord appeared to hinder his respiration.

It was loosened on the instant—the noose giving way to a Woman’s strength.

“Now, he can breathe more freely. Pardieu! what can have caused it? Lazoed in his saddle and dragged to the earth? That is most probable. But who could have done it? It was a woman’s voice. Surely it was? I could not be mistaken about that.

“And yet there is a man’s hat, and a serapé, not this man’s! Was there another, who has gone away with the woman? Only one horse went off.

“Ah! he is coming to himself! thank Heaven for that! He will be able to explain all. You are recovering, sir?”

“S’ñorita! who are you?” asked Don Miguel Diaz, raising his head, and looking apprehensively around.

“Where is she?” he continued.

“Of whom do you speak? I have seen no one but yourself.”

“Carrambo! that’s queer. Haven’t you met a woman astride a grey horse?”

“I heard a woman’s voice, as I rode up.”

“Say rather a she-devil’s voice: for that, sure, is Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos.”

“Was it she who has done this?”

“Maldito, yes! Where is she now? Tell me that, s’ñorita.”

“I cannot. By the sound of the hoofs I fancy she has gone down the hill. She must have done so, as I came the other way myself.”

“Ah—gone down the hill—home, then, to —. You’ve been very kind, s’ñorita, in loosening this lazo—as I make no doubt you’ve done. Perhaps you will still further assist me by helping me into the saddle? Once in it, I think I can stay there. At all events, I must not stay here. I have enemies, not far off. Come, Carlito!” he cried to his horse, at the same time summoning the animal by a peculiar whistle. “Come near! Don’t be frightened at the presence of this fair lady. She’s not the same that parted you and me so rudely—en verdad, almost for ever! Come on, cavallo! come on!”

The horse, on hearing the whistle, came trotting up, and permitted his master—now upon his feet—to lay hold of the bridle-rein.

“A little help from you, kind s’ñorita, and I think I can climb into my saddle. Once there, I shall be safe from their pursuit.”

“You expect to be pursued?”

“Quien sale? I have enemies, as I told you. Never mind that. I feel very feeble. You will not refuse to help me?”

“Why should I? You are welcome, sir, to any assistance I can give you.”

“Mil gracias, s’ñorita! Mil, mil gracias!”

The Creole, exerting all her strength, succeeded in helping the disabled horseman into his saddle; where, after some balancing, he appeared to obtain a tolerably firm seat.

Gathering up his reins, he prepared to depart.

“Adios, s’ñorita!” said he, “I know not who you are. I see you are not one of our people. Americano, I take it. Never mind that. You are good as you are fair; and if ever it should chance to be in his power, Miguel Diaz will not be unmindful of the service you have this day done him.”

Saying this El Coyote rode off, not rapidly, but in a slow walk, as if he felt some difficulty in preserving his equilibrium.

Notwithstanding the slowness of the pace—he was soon out of sight,—the trees screening him as he passed the glade. He went not by any of the three roads, but by a narrow track, scarce discernible where it entered the underwood.

To the young Creole the whole thing appeared like a dream—strange, rather than disagreeable.

It was changed to a frightful reality, when, after picking up a sheet of paper left by Diaz where he had been lying, she read what was written upon it. The address was “Don Mauricio Gerald;” the signature, “Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos.”

To regain her saddle, Louise Poindexter was almost as much in need of a helping hand as the man who had ridden away.

As she forded the Leona, in returning to Casa del Corvo, she halted her horse in the middle of the stream; and for some time sate gazing into the flood that foamed up to her stirrup. There was a wild expression upon her features that betokened deep despair. One degree deeper, and the waters would have covered as fair a form as was ever sacrificed to their Spirit!

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