Headless Horseman by Mayne Reid - Chapter Sixty One. Angels on Earth

The retreat of her rival—quick and unexpected—held Louise Poindexter, as if spell-bound. She had climbed into the saddle, and was seated, with spur ready to pierce the flanks of the fair Luna. But the stroke was suspended, and she remained in a state of indecision—bewildered by what she saw.

But the moment before she had looked into the jacalé—had seen her rival there, apparently at home; mistress both of the mansion and its owner.

What was she to think of that sudden desertion? Why that took of spiteful hatred? Why not the imperious confidence, that should spring from a knowledge of possession?

In place of giving displeasure, Isidora’s looks and actions had caused her a secret gratification. Instead of galloping after, or going in any direction, Louise Poindexter once more slipped down from her saddle, and re-entered the hut.

At sight of the pallid cheeks and wild rolling eyes, the young Creole for the moment forgot her wrongs.

“Mon dieu! Mon dieu!” she cried, gliding up to the catré. “Maurice—wounded—dying! Who has done this?”

There was no reply: only the mutterings of a madman.

“Maurice! Maurice! speak to me! Do you not know me? Louise! Your Louise! You have called me so? Say it—O say it again!”

“Ah! you are very beautiful, you angels here in heaven! Very beautiful. Yes, yes; you look so—to the eyes—to the eyes. But don’t say there are none like you upon the Earth; for there are—there are. I know one—ah! more—but one that excels you all, you angels in heaven! I mean in beauty—in goodness, that’s another thing. I’m not thinking of goodness—no; no.”

“Maurice, dear Maurice! Why do you talk thus? You are not in heaven; you are here with me—with Louise.”

“I am in heaven; yes, in heaven! I don’t wish it, for all they say; that is, unless I can have her with me. It may be a pleasant place. Not without her. If she were here, I could be content. Hear it, ye angels, that come hovering around me! Very beautiful, you are, I admit; but none of you like her—her—my angel. Oh! there’s a devil, too; a beautiful devil—I don’t mean that. I’m thinking only of the angel of the prairies.”

“Do you remember her name?”

Perhaps never was question put to a delirious man, where the questioner showed so much interest in the answer.

She bent over him with ears upon the strain—with eyes that marked every movement of his lips.

“Name? name? Did some one say, name? Have you any names here? Oh! I remember—Michael, Gabriel, Azrael—men, all men. Angels, not like my angel—who is a woman. Her name is—”


“Louise—Louise—Louise. Why should I conceal it from you—you up here, who know everything that’s down there? Surely you know her—Louise? You should: you could not help loving her—ah! with all your hearts, as I with all mine—all—all!”

Not when these last words were once before spoken—first spoken under the shade of the acacia trees—the speaker in full consciousness of intellect—in the full fervour of his soul—not then were they listened to with such delight. O, happy hour for her who heard them!

Again were soft kisses lavished upon that fevered brow—upon those wan lips; but this time by one who had no need to recoil after the contact.

She only stood up erect—triumphant;—her hand pressing upon her heart, to stay its wild pulsations. It was pleasure too complete, too ecstatic: for there was pain in the thought that it cannot be felt for ever—in the fear of its being too soon interrupted.

The last was but the shadow thrown before, and in such shape it appeared—a shadow that camp darkling through the doorway.

The substance that followed was a man; who, the moment after, was seen standing upon the stoup.

There was nothing terrible in the aspect of the new-comer. On the contrary, his countenance and costume were types of the comical, heightened by contrast with the wild associations of the time and place. Still further, from juxtaposition with the odd objects carried in his hands; in one a tomahawk; in the other a huge snake; with its tail terminating in a string of bead-like rattles, that betrayed its species.

If anything could have added to his air of grotesque drollery, it was the expression of puzzled surprise that came over his countenance; as, stepping upon the threshold, he discovered the change that had taken place in the occupancy of the hut.

“Mother av Moses!” he exclaimed, dropping both snake and tomahawk, and opening his eyes as wide as the lids would allow them; “Shure I must be dhramin? Trath must I! It cyant be yersilf, Miss Pointdixther? Shure now it cyant?”

“But it is, Mr O’Neal. How very ungallant in you to have forgotten me, and so soon!”

“Forgotten yez! Trath, miss, yez needn’t accuse me of doin’ chat which is intirely impossible. The Oirishman that hiz wance looked in yer swate face will be undher the necissity iver afther to remimber it. Sowl! thare’s wan that cyant forgit it, even in his dhrames!”

The speaker glanced significantly towards the couch. A delicious thrill passed through the bosom of the listener.

“But fwhat diz it all mane?” continued Phelim, returning to the unexplained puzzle of the transformation. “Fwhare’s the tother—the young chap, or lady, or wuman—whichsomiver she art? Didn’t yez see nothin’ av a wuman, Miss Pointdixther?”


“Oh! yez did. An fwhere is she now?”

“Gone away, I believe.”

“Gone away! Be japers, thin, she hasn’t remained long in the wan mind. I lift her heeur in the cyabin not tin minnits ago, takin’ aff her bonnit—that was only a man’s hat—an sittlin’ hersilf down for a stay. Gone, yez say? Sowl! I’m not sorry to hear it. That’s a young lady whose room’s betther than her company, any day in the twilmonth. She’s a dale too handy wid her shootin’-iron. Wud yez belave it, Miss Pointdixther; she prisinted a pistol widin six inches av me nose?”

“Pardieu! For what reason?”

“Fwhat rayzun? Only that I thried to hindher her from inthrudin’ into the cyabin. She got in for all that; for whin owld Zeb come back, he made no objecshun to it. She sayed she was a frind av the masther, an wanted to nurse him.”

“Indeed! Oh! it is strange—very strange!” muttered the Creole, reflectingly.

“Trath, is it. And so is iverything in these times, exciptin’ yez own swate silf; that I hope will niver be sthrange in a cyabin frequinted by Phaylim Onale. Shure, now, I’m glad to see yez, miss; an shure so wud the masther, if—”

“Dear Phelim! tell me all that has happened.”

“Trath! thin miss, if I’m to till all, ye’ll hiv to take off your bonnet, and make up your moind for a long stay—seein’ as it ’ut take the big ind av a whole day to relate all the quare things that’s happened since the day afore yesthirday.”

“Who has been here since then?”

“Who has been heeur?”

“Except the—the—”

“Exceptin’ the man-wuman, ye mane?”

“Yes. Has any one else been to this place?”

“Trath has thare—plinty besoides. An av all sorts, an colours too. First an foremost there was wan comin’ this way, though he didn’t git all the way to the cyabin. But I daren’t tell you about him, for it moight frighten ye, miss.”

“Tell me. I have no fear.”

“Be dad! and I can’t make it out meself quite intirely. It was a man upon horseback widout a hid.”

“Without a head!”

“Divil a bit av that same on his body.”

The statement caused Phelim to be suspected of having lost his.

“An’ what’s more, miss, he was for all the world like Masther Maurice himself. Wid his horse undher him, an his Mexikin blanket about his showlders, an everything just as the young masther looks, when he’s mounted, Sowl! wasn’t I scared, whin I sit my eyes on him.”

“But where did you see this, Mr O’Neal?”

“Up thare on the top av the bluff. I was out lookin’ for the masther to come back from the Sittlement, as he’d promised he wud that mornin’, an who showld I see but hisself, as I supposed it to be. An’ thin he comes ridin’ up, widout his hid, an’ stops a bit, an thin goes off at a tarin’ gallop, wid Tara gowlin’ at his horse’s heels, away acrass the big plain, till I saw no more av him. Thin I made back for the cyabin heeur, an shut meself up, and wint to slape; and just in the middle av me dhrames, whin I was dhramin’ of—but trath, miss, yez’ll be toired standin’ on yer feet all this time. Won’t yez take aff yer purty little ridin’ hat, an sit down on the thrunk thare?—it’s asier than the stool. Do plaze take a sate; for if I’m to tell yez all—”

“Never mind me—go on. Please tell me who else has been here besides this strange cavalier; who must have been some one playing a trick upon you, I suppose.”

“A thrick, miss! Trath that’s just what owld Zeb sayed.”

“He has been here, then?”

“Yis—yis—but not till long afther the others.”

“The others?”

“Yis, miss. Zeb only arroived yestherday marnin’. The others paid their visit the night afore, an at a very unsayzonable hour too, wakin’ me out av the middle av my slape.”

“But who?—what others?”

“Why the Indyens, to be shure.”

“There have been Indians, then?”

“Trath was there—a whole tribe av thim. Well, as I’ve been tillin’ yez, miss, jest as I wus in a soun’ slape, I heerd talkin’ in the cyabin heern, right over my hid, an the shufflin’ av paper, as if somebody was dalin’ a pack av cards, an—Mother av Moses! fwhat’s that?”


“Didn’t yez heear somethin’? Wheesht! Thare it is agane! Trath, it’s the trampin’ av horses! They’re jist outside.”

Phelim rushed towards the door.

“Be Sant Pathrick! the place is surrounded wid men on horseback. Thare’s a thousand av them! an more comin’ behind! Be japers! them’s the chaps owld Zeb—Now for a frish spell av squeelin! O Lard! I’ll be too late!”

Seizing the cactus-branch—that for convenience he had brought inside the hut—he dashed out through the doorway.

“Mon Dieu!” cried the Creole, “’tis they! My father, and I here! How shall I explain it? Holy Virgin, save me from shame!”

Instinctively she sprang towards the door, closing it, as she did so. But a moment’s reflection showed her how idle was the act. They who were outside would make light of such obstruction. Already she recognised the voices of the Regulators!

The opening in the skin wall came under her eye. Should she make a retreat through that, undignified as it might be?

It was no longer possible. The sound of hoofs also in the rear! There were horsemen behind the hut!

Besides, her own steed was in front—that ocellated creature not to be mistaken. By this time they must have identified it!

But there was another thought that restrained her from attempting to retreat—one more generous.

He was in danger—from which even the unconsciousness of it might not shield him! Who but she could protect him?

“Let my good name go!” thought she. “Father—friends—all—all but him, if God so wills it! Shame, or no shame, to him will I be true!”

As these noble thoughts passed through her mind, she took her stand by the bedside of the invalid, like a second Dido, resolved to risk all—even death itself—for the hero of her heart.