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Headless Horseman by Mayne Reid - Chapter Fifty Seven. Sounding the Signal

Phelim’s vigil was of short duration. Scarce ten minutes had he been keeping it, when he became warned by the sound of a horse’s hoof, that some one was coming up the creek in the direction of the hut.

His heart commenced hammering against his ribs.

The trees, standing thickly, hindered him from having a view of the approaching horseman; and he could not tell what sort of guest was about to present himself at the jacalé. But the hoofstroke told him there was only one; and this it was that excited his apprehension. He would have been less alarmed to hear the trampling of a troop. Though well assured it could no longer be his master, he had no stomach for a second interview with the cavalier who so closely resembled him—in everything except the head.

His first impulse was to rush across the lawn, and carry out the scheme entrusted to him by Zeb. But the indecision springing from his fears kept him to his place—long enough to show him that they were groundless. The strange horseman had a head.

“Shure an that same he hez,” said Phelim, as the latter rode out from among the trees, and halted on the edge of the opening; “a raal hid, an a purty face in front av it. An’ yit it don’t show so plazed nayther. He luks as if he’d jist buried his grandmother. Sowl! what a quare young chap he is, wid them toiny mowstacks loike the down upon a two days’ goslin’! O Lard! Luk at his little fut! Be Jaysus, he’s a woman!”

While the Irishman was making these observations—partly in thought, partly in muttered speech—the equestrian advanced a pace or two, and again paused.

On a nearer view of his visitor, Phelim saw that he had correctly guessed the sex; though the moustache, the manner of the mount, the hat, and serapé, might for the moment have misled a keener intellect than his of Connemara.

It was a woman. It was Isidora.

It was the first time that Phelim had set eyes on the Mexican maiden—the first that hers had ever rested upon him. They were equally unknown to one another.

He had spoken the truth, when he said that her countenance did not display pleasure. On the contrary, the expression upon it was sad—almost disconsolate.

It had shown distrust, as she was riding under the shadow of the trees. Instead of brightening as she came out into the open ground, the look only changed to one of mingled surprise and disappointment.

Neither could have been caused by her coming within sight of the jacalé. She knew of its existence. It was the goal of her journey. It must have been the singular personage standing in the doorway. He was not the man she expected to see there.

In doubt she advanced to address him:

“I may have made a mistake?” said she, speaking in the best “Americana” she could command. “Pardon me, but—I—I thought—that Don Mauricio lived here.”

“Dan Marryshow, yez say? Trath, no. Thare’s nobody av that name lives heeur. Dan Marryshow? Thare was a man they called Marrish had a dwillin’ not far out av Ballyballagh. I remimber the chap will, bekase he chated me wanst in a horse thrade. But his name wasn’t Dan. No; it was Pat. Pat Marrish was the name—divil burn him for a desaver!”

“Don Mauricio—Mor-rees—Mor-ees.”

“Oh! Maurice! Maybe ye’d be after spakin’ av the masther—Misther Gerrald!”

“Si—Si! Señor Zyerral.”

“Shure, thin, an if that’s fwhat ye’re afther, Misther Gerrald diz dwill in this very cyabin—that is, whin he comes to divart hisself, by chasin’ the wild horses. He only kapes it for a huntin’ box, ye know. Arrah, now; if yez cud only see the great big cyastle he lives in whin he’s at home, in owld Ireland; an thy bewtiful crayther that’s now cryin’ her swate blue eyes out, bekase he won’t go back thare. Sowl, if yez saw her!”

Despite its patois, Phelim’s talk was too well understood by her to whom it was addressed. Jealousy is an apt translator. Something like a sigh escaped from Isidora, as he pronounced that little word “her.”

“I don’t wish to see her,” was the quick rejoinder; “but him you mention. Is he at home? Is he inside?”

“Is he at home? Thare now, that’s comin’ to the point—straight as a poike staff. An’ supposin’ I wuz to say yis, fwhat ud yez be afther wantin’ wid him?”

“I wish to see him.”

“Div yez? Maybe now ye’ll wait till yez be asked. Ye’re a purty crayther, notwithstandin’ that black strake upon yer lip. But the masther isn’t in a condishun jist at this time to see any wan—unless it was the praste or a docthur. Yez cyant see him.”

“But I wish very much to see him, señor.”

“Trath div yez. Ye’ve sayed that alriddy. But yez cyant, I till ye. It isn’t Phaylim Onale ud deny wan av the fair six—espacially a purty black-eyed colleen loike yerself. But for all that yez cyant see the masther now.”

“Why can I not?”

“Why cyant yez not? Will—thare’s more than wan rayzon why yez cyant. In the first place, as I’ve towlt you, he’s not in a condishun to resave company—the liss so av its bein’ a lady.”

“But why, señor? Why?”

“Bekase he’s not dacently drissed. He’s got nothin’ on him but his shirt—exceptin’ the rags that Misther Stump’s jist tied all roun’ him. Be japers! thare’s enough av them to make him a whole shoot—coat, waiscoat, and throwsers—trath is thare.”

“Señor, I don’t understand you.”

“Yez don’t? Shure an I’ve spoke plain enough! Don’t I till ye that the masther’s in bid?”

“In bed! At this hour? I hope there’s nothing—”

“The matther wid him, yez wur goin’ to say? Alannah, that same is there—a powerful dale the matther wid him—enough to kape him betwane the blankets for weeks to come.”

“Oh, señor! Do not tell me that he is ill?”

“Don’t I till ye! Arrah now me honey; fwhat ud be the use av consalin’ it? It ud do it no good; nayther cyan it do him any harm to spake about it? Yez moight say it afore his face, an he won’t conthradict ye.”

“He is ill, then. O, sir, tell me, what is the nature of his illness—what has caused it?”

“Shure an I cyant answer only wan av thim interrogataries—the first yez hiv phut. His disaze pursades from some ugly tratement he’s been resavin—the Lord only knows what, or who administhered it. He’s got a bad lig; an his skin luks as if he’d been tied up in a sack along wid a score av angry cats. Sowl! thare’s not the brenth av yer purty little hand widout a scratch upon it. Worse than all, he’s besoide hisself.”

“Beside himself?”

“Yis, that same. He’s ravin’ loike wan that had a dhrap too much overnight, an thinks thare’s the man wid the poker afther him. Be me trath, I belave the very bist thing for him now ud be a thrifle av potheen—if wan cud only lay hands upon that same. But thare’s not the smell av it in the cyabin. Both the dimmy-jan an flask. Arrah, now; you wouldn’t be afther havin’ a little flask upon yer sweet silf? Some av that agwardinty, as yer people call it. Trath, I’ve tasted worse stuff than it. I’m shure a dhrink av it ud do the masther good. Spake the truth, misthress! Hiv yez any about ye?”

“No, señor. I have nothing of the kind. I am sorry I have not.”

“Faugh! The more’s the pity for poor Masther Maurice. It ud a done him a dale av good. Well; he must put up widout it.”

“But, señor; surely I can see him?”

“Divil a bit. Besides fwhat ud be the use? He wudn’t know ye from his great grandmother. I till yez agane, he’s been badly thrated, an ’s now besoide hisself!”

“All the more reason why I should see him. I may be of service. I owe him a debt—of—of—”

“Oh! yez be owin’ him somethin? Yez want to pay it? Faith, that makes it intirely different. But yez needn’t see him for that. I’m his head man, an thransact all that sort av bizness for him. I cyant write myself, but I’ll give ye a resate on the crass wid me mark—which is jist as good, among the lawyers. Yis, misthress; yez may pay the money over to me, an I promise ye the masther ’ll niver axe ye for it agane. Trath! it’ll come handy jist now, as we’re upon the ave av a flittin, an may want it. So if yez have the pewther along wid ye, thare’s pins, ink, an paper insoide the cyabin. Say the word, an I’ll giv ye the resate!”

“No—no—no! I did not mean money. A debt of—of—gratitude.”

“Faugh! only that. Sowl, it’s eezy paid, an don’t want a resate. But yez needn’t return that sort av money now: for the masther woudn’t be sinsible av fwhat ye wur sayin. Whin he comes to his sinses, I’ll till him yez hiv been heeur, and wiped out the score.”

“Surely I can see him?”

“Shurely now yez cyant.”

“But I must, señor!”

“Divil a must about it. I’ve been lift on guard, wid sthrict ordhers to lit no wan go inside.”

“They couldn’t have been meant for me. I am his friend—the friend of Don Mauricio.”

“How is Phaylum Onale to know that? For all yer purty face, yez moight be his didliest innemy. Be Japers! its loike enough, now that I take a second luk at ye.”

“I must see him—I must—I will—I shall!”

As Isidora pronounced these words, she flung herself out of the saddle, and advanced in the direction of the door.

Her air of earnest determination combined with the fierce—scarce feminine—expression upon her countenance, convinced the Galwegian, that the contingency had arrived for carrying out the instructions left by Zeb Stump, and that he had been too long neglecting his cue.

Turning hurriedly into the hut, he came out again, armed with a tomahawk; and was about to rush past, when he was brought to a sudden stand, by seeing a pistol in the hands of his lady visitor, pointed straight at his head!

“Abajo la hacha!” (Down with the hatchet), cried she. “Lepero! lift your arm to strike me, and it will be for the last time!”

“Stroike ye, misthress! Stroike you!” blubbered the ci-devant stable-boy, as soon as his terror permitted him to speak. “Mother av the Lard! I didn’t mane the waypon for you at all, at all! I’ll sware it on the crass—or a whole stack av Bibles if yez say so. In trath misthress; I didn’t mane the tammyhauk for you!”

“Why have you brought it forth?” inquired the lady, half suspecting that she had made a mistake, and lowering her pistol as she became convinced of it. “Why have you thus armed yourself?”

“As I live, only to ixecute the ordhers, I’ve resaved—only to cut a branch off av the cyacktus yez see over yander, an phut it undher the tail av the owld mare. Shure yez won’t object to my doin’ that?”

In her turn, the lady became silent—surprised at the singular proposition.

The odd individual she saw before her, could not mean mischief. His looks, attitude, and gestures were grotesque, rather than threatening; provocative of mirth—not fear, or indignation.

“Silince gives consint. Thank ye,” said Phelim, as, no longer in fear of being shot down in his tracks, he ran straight across the lawn, and carried out to the letter, the parting injunctions of Zeb Stump.

The Mexican maiden hitherto held silent by surprise, remained so, on perceiving the absolute idleness of speech.

Further conversation was out of the question. What with the screaming of the mare—continuous from the moment the spinous crupper was inserted under her tail—the loud trampling of her hoofs as she “cavorted” over the turf—the dismal howling of the hound—and the responsive cries of the wild forest denizens—birds, beasts, insects, and reptiles—only the voice of a Stentor could have been heard!

What could be the purpose of the strange proceeding? How was it to terminate?

Isidora looked on in silent astonishment. She could do nothing else. So long as the infernal fracas continued, there was no chance to elicit an explanation from the queer creature who had caused it.

He had returned to the door of the jacalé; and once more taken his stand upon the threshold; where he stood, with the tranquil satisfied air of an actor who has completed the performance of his part in the play, and feels free to range himself among the spectator.

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