Headless Horseman by Mayne Reid - Chapter Fifty Nine. Another who cannot rest

A dark day for Louise Poindexter—perhaps the darkest in the calendar of her life—was that in which she released Don Miguel Diaz from the lazo.

Sorrow for a brother’s loss, with fears for a lover’s safety, were yesterday commingled in the cup. To-day it was further embittered by the blackest passion of all—jealousy. Grief—fear—jealousy—what must be the state of the soul in which these emotions are co-existent? A tumult of terrible imaginings.

So was it in the bosom of Louise Poindexter after deciphering the epistle which contained written evidence of her lover’s disloyalty.

True, the writing came not from him; nor was the proof conclusive.

But in the first burst of her frenzied rage, the young Creole did not reason thus. In the wording of the letter there was strong presumption, that the relationship between Maurice Gerald and the Mexican was of a more affectionate character than he had represented it to be—that he had, in fact, been practising a deception.

Why should that woman write to him in such free strain—giving bold, almost unfeminine, licence to her admiration of his eyes: “Essos ojos tan lindos y tan espresivos?”

These were no phrases of friendship; but the expressions of a prurient passion. As such only could the Creole understand them: since they were but a paraphrase of her own feelings.

And then there was the appointment itself—solicited, it is true, in the shape of a request. But this was mere courtesy—the coquetry of an accomplished maîtresse. Moreover, the tone of solicitation was abandoned towards the close of the epistle; which terminated in a positive command: “Come, sir! come!”

Something more than jealousy was aroused by the reading of this. A spirit of revenge seemed to dictate the gesture that followed,—and the stray sheet was crushed between the aristocratic fingers into which it had fallen.

“Ah, me!” reflected she, in the acerbity of her soul, “I see it all now. ’Tis not the first time he has answered a similar summons; not the first they have met on that same ground, ‘the hill above my uncle’s house’—slightly described, but well understood—oft visited before.”

Soon the spirit of vengeance gave place to a profound despair. Her heart had its emblem in the piece of paper that lay at her feet upon the floor—like it, crushed and ruined.

For a time she surrendered herself to sad meditation. Wild emotions passed through her mind, suggesting wild resolves. Among others she thought of her beloved Louisiana—of going back there to bury her secret sorrow in the cloisters of the Sacré Coeur. Had the Creole convent been near, in that hour of deep despondency, she would, in all probability, have forsaken the paternal home, and sought an asylum within its sacred walls. In very truth was it the darkest day of her existence. After long hours of wretchedness her spirit became calmer, while her thoughts returned to a more rational tone. The letter was re-read; its contents submitted to careful consideration.

There was still a hope—the hope that, after all, Maurice Gerald might not be in the Settlement.

It was at best but a faint ray. Surely she should know—she who had penned the appointment, and spoken so confidently of his keeping it? Still, as promised, he might have gone away; and upon this supposition hinged that hope, now scintillating like a star through the obscurity of the hour.

It was a delicate matter to make direct inquiries about—to one in the position of Louise Poindexter. But no other course appeared open to her; and as the shadows of twilight shrouded the grass-covered square of the village, she was seen upon her spotted palfrey, riding silently through the streets, and reining up in front of the hotel—on the same spot occupied but a few hours before by the grey steed of Isidora!

As the men of the place were all absent—some on the track of the assassin, others upon the trail of the Comanche, Oberdoffer was the only witness of her indiscretion. But he knew it not as such. It was but natural that the sister of the murdered man should be anxious to obtain news; and so did he construe the motive for the interrogatories addressed to him.

Little did the stolid German suspect the satisfaction which his answers at first gave to his fair questioner; much less the chagrin afterwards caused by that bit of information volunteered by himself, and which abruptly terminated the dialogue between him and his visitor.

On hearing she was not the first of her sex who had that day made inquiries respecting Maurice the mustanger, Louise Poindexter rode back to Casa del Corvo, with a heart writhing under fresh laceration.

A night was spent in the agony of unrest—sleep only obtained in short snatches, and amidst the phantasmagoria of dreamland.

Though the morning restored not her tranquillity, it brought with it a resolve, stern, daring, almost reckless.

It was, at least, daring, for Louise Poindexter to ride to the Alamo alone; and this was her determination.

There was no one to stay her—none to say nay. The searchers out all night had not yet returned. No report had come back to Casa del Corvo. She was sole mistress of the mansion, as of her actions—sole possessor of the motive that was impelling her to this bold step.

But it may be easily guessed. Hers was not a spirit to put up with mere suspicion. Even love, that tames the strongest, had not yet reduced it to that state of helpless submission. Unsatisfied it could no longer exist; and hence her resolve to seek satisfaction.

She might find peace—she might chance upon ruin. Even the last appeared preferable to the agony of uncertainty.

How like to the reasoning of her rival!

It would have been idle to dissuade her, had there been any one to do it. It is doubtful even if parental authority could at that moment have prevented her from carrying out her purpose. Talk to the tigress when frenzied by a similar feeling. With a love unhallowed, the will of the Egyptian queen was not more imperious than is that of the American Creole, when stirred by its holiest passion. It acknowledges no right of contradiction—regards no obstruction save death.

It is a spirit rare upon earth. In its tranquil state, soft as the rays of the Aurora—pure as the prayer of a child; but when stirred by love,—or rather by its too constant concomitant—it becomes proud and perilous as the light of Lucifer!

Of this spirit Louise Poindexter was the truest type. Where love was the lure, to wish was to have, or perish in the attempt to obtain. Jealousy resting upon doubt was neither possible to her nature, or compatible with her existence. She must find proofs to destroy, or confirm it—proofs stronger than those already supplied by the contents of the strayed epistle, which, after all, were only presumptive.

Armed with this, she was in a position to seek them; and they were to be sought upon the Alamo.

The first hour of sunrise saw her in the saddle, riding out from the enclosures of Casa del Corvo, and taking a trail across the prairie already known to her.

On passing many a spot, endeared to her—sacred by some of the sweetest souvenirs of her life—her thoughts experienced more than one revulsion.

These were moments when she forgot the motive that originally impelled her to the journey—when she thought only of reaching the man she loved, to rescue him from enemies that might be around him!

Ah! these moments—despite the apprehension for her lover’s safety—were happy, when compared with those devoted to the far more painful contemplation of his treachery.

From the point of starting to that of her destination, it was twenty miles. It might seem a journey, to one used to European travelling—that is in the saddle. To the prairie equestrian it is a ride of scarce two hours—quick as a scurry across country, after a stag or fox.

Even with an unwilling steed it is not tedious; but with that lithe-limbed, ocellated creature, Luna, who went willingly towards her prairie home, it was soon over—too soon, perhaps, for the happiness of her rider.

Wretched as Louise Poindexter may have felt before, her misery had scarce reached the point of despair. Through her sadness there still shone a scintillation of hope.

It was extinguished as she set foot upon the threshold of the jacalé; and the quick suppressed scream that came from her lips, was like the last utterance of a heart parting in twain.

There was a woman within the hut!

From the lips of this woman an exclamation had already escaped, to which her own might have appeared an echo—so closely did the one follow the other—so alike were they in anguish.

Like a second echo, still more intensified, was the cry from Isidora; as turning, she saw in the doorway that woman, whose name had just been pronounced—the “Louise” so fervently praised, so fondly remembered, amidst the vagaries of a distempered brain.

To the young Creole the case was clear—painfully clear. She saw before her the writer of that letter of appointment—which, after all, had been kept. In the strife, whose sounds had indistinctly reached her, there may have been a third party—Maurice Gerald? That would account for the condition in which she now saw him; for she was far enough inside the hut to have a view of the invalid upon his couch.

Yes; it was the writer of that bold epistle, who had called Maurice Gerald “querido;”—who had praised his eyes—who had commanded him to come to her side; and who was now by his side, tending him with a solicitude that proclaimed her his! Ah! the thought was too painful to be symbolised in speech.

Equally clear were the conclusions of Isidora—equally agonising. She already knew that she was supplanted. She had been listening too long to the involuntary speeches that told her so, to have any doubt as to their sincerity. On the door-step stood the woman who had succeeded her!

Face to face, with flashing eyes, their bosoms rising and falling as if under one impulse—both distraught with the same dire thought—the two stood eyeing each other.

Alike in love with the same man—alike jealous—they were alongside the object of their burning passion unconscious of the presence of either!

Each believed the other successful: for Louise had not heard the words, that would have given her comfort—those words yet ringing in the ears, and torturing the soul, of Isidora!

It was an attitude of silent hostility—all the more terrible for its silence. Not a word was exchanged between them. Neither deigned to ask explanation of the other; neither needed it. There are occasions when speech is superfluous, and both intuitively felt that this was one. It was a mutual encounter of fell passions; that found expression only in the flashing of eyes, and the scornful curling of lips.

Only for an instant was the attitude kept up. In fact, the whole scene, inside, scarce occupied a score of seconds.

It ended by Louise Poindexter turning round upon the doorstep, and gliding off to regain her saddle. The hut of Maurice Gerald was no place for her!

Isidora too came out, almost treading upon the skirt of the other’s dress. The same thought was in her heart—perhaps more emphatically felt. The hut of Maurice Gerald was no place for her!

Both seemed equally intent on departure—alike resolved on forsaking the spot, that had witnessed the desolation of their hearts.

The grey horse stood nearest—the mustang farther out. Isidora was the first to mount—the first to move off; but as she passed, her rival had also got into the saddle, and was holding the ready rein.

Glances were again interchanged—neither triumphant, but neither expressing forgiveness. That of the Creole was a strange mixture of sadness, anger, and surprise; while the last look of Isidora, that accompanied a spiteful “carajo!”—a fearful phrase from female lips—was such as the Ephesian goddess may have given to Athenaia, after the award of the apple.