Headless Horseman by Mayne Reid - Chapter Seventy. Go, Zeb, and God Speed You!

The old hunter never did things in a hurry. Even his style of drinking was not an exception; and although there was no time wasted, he quaffed the Monongahela in a formal leisurely manner.

The Creole, impatient to hear what he had to relate, did not wait for him to resume speech.

“Tell me, dear Zeb,” said she, after directing her maid to withdraw, “why have they arrested this Mexican—Miguel Diaz I mean? I think I know something of the man. I have reasons.”

“An’ you ain’t the only purson may hev reezuns for knowin’ him, Miss Lewaze. Yur brother—but never mind ’beout that—leastwise not now. What Zeb Stump do know, or strongly surspect, air, thet this same-mentioned Migooel Dee-ez hev had somethin’ to do wi’—You know what I’m refarrin’ to?”

“Go on, Mr Stump!”

“Wal, the story air this. Arter we kim from the Alamo Crik, the fellurs that went in sarch o’ them Injuns, foun’ out they wan’t Injuns at all. Ye hev heern that yurself. From the fixins that war diskevered in the holler tree, it air clur that what we seed on the Bluff war a party o’ whites. I hed a surspishun o’t myself—soon as I seed them curds they’d left ahint ’em in the shanty.”

“It was the same, then, who visited the jacalé at night—the same Phalim saw?”

“Ne’er a doubt o’ it. Them same Mexikins.”

“What reason have you to think they were Mexicans?”

“The best o’ all reezuns. I foun’ ’em out to be; traced the hul kit o’ ’em to thur caché.”

The young Creole made no rejoinder. Zeb’s story promised a revelation that might be favourable to her hopes. She stood resignedly waiting for him to continue.

“Ye see, the curds, an also some words, the which the Irish war able to sort o’ pernounce, arter a fashun o’ his own, tolt me they must a been o’ the yeller-belly breed; an sartint ’bout that much, I war able to gie a tol’able guess as to whar they hed kim from. I know’d enuf o’ the Mexikins o’ these parts to think o’ four as answered thar descripshun to a T. As to the Injun duds, thar warn’t nuthin’ in them to bamboozle me. Arter this, I ked a gone straight to the hul four fellurs, an pinted ’em out for sartin. One o’ ’em, for sure sartin. On him I’d made my mark. I war confident o’ havin’ did thet.”

“Your mark! How, Zeb?”

“Ye remimber the shot I fired from the door o’ the shanty?”

“Oh, certainly! I did not see the Indians. I was under the trees at the time. I saw you discharge your rifle at something.”

“Wal, Miss Lewaze; this hyur coon don’t often dischurge thet thur weepun ’ithout drawin’ blood. I know’d I hut the skunk; but it war rayther fur for the carry o’ the piece, an I reckon’d the ball war a bit spent. F’r all that, I know’d it must a stung him. I seed him squirm to the shot, an I says to myself: Ef ther ain’t a hole through his hide somewhar, this coon won’t mind changin’ skins wi’ him. Wal, arter they kim home wi’ the story o’ whites instead o’ red-skins, I hed a tol’able clur idee o’ who the sham Injuns wur, an ked a laid my claws on ’em at any minnit. But I didn’t.”

“And why not, Mr Stump? Surely you haven’t allowed them to get away? They might be the very men who are guilty of my poor brother’s—”

“That’s jest what this coon thort, an it war for that reezun I let ’em slide. There war another reezun besides. I didn’t much like goin’ fur from the Port, leest somethin’ ugly mout turn up in my absince. You unnerstan’? There war another reezun still for not prospectin’ arter them jest then. I wanted to make shur o’ my game.”

“And you have?”

“Shur as shootin’. I guessed thur wan’t goin’ to be any rain, an thurfor thur war no immeedyit hurry as to what I intended doin’. So I waited till the sogers shed get back, an I ked safely leave him in the guard-house. Soon as they kim in, I tuk the ole maar and rud out to the place whar our fellurs had struck upon the fixing. I eezy foun’ it by thur descripshun. Wal; as they’d only got that greenhorn, Spangler, to guide ’em, I war putty sure the sign hedn’t been more’n helf read; an that I’d get somethin’ out o’ it, beside what they’d brought away.”

“I wan’t disappinted. The durndest fool as ever set fut upon a purayra, mout a follered the back track o’ them make-believe Kimanchees. A storekeeper ked a traced it acrost the purayra, though it appears neyther Mister Spangler nor any o’ the others did. I foun’ it eezy as fallin’ off o’ a log, not ’ithstandin’ thet the sarchers had rud all over it. I tracked every hoss o’ the four counterfits to his own stable.”

“After that?”

“Arter doin’ thet I hed a word wi’ the major; an in helf an hour at the most the four beauties wur safe shot up in the guardhouse—the chief o’ ’em bein’ jugged fust, leest he mout get wind o’ what wur goin’ forrard, an sneak out o’ the way. I wan’t fur astray ’beout Mister Migooel Dee-ez bearin’ my mark. We foun’ the tar o’ a bullet through the fleshy part o’ his dexter wing; an thet explained why he wur so quick at lettin’ go his laryette.”

“It was he, then!” mechanically remarked Louise, as she stood reflecting.

“Very strange!” she continued, still muttering the words to herself. “He it was I saw in the chapparal glade! Yes, it must have been! And the woman—this Mexican—Isidora? Ah! There is some deep mystery in all this—some dark design! Who can unravel it?”

“Tell me, dear Zeb,” she asked, stepping closer to the old hunter, and speaking with a cartain degree of hesitancy. “That woman—the Mexican lady I mean—who—who was out there. Do you know if she has often visited him?”

“Him! Which him, Miss Lewaze?”

“Mr Gerald, I mean.”

“She mout, an she moutn’t—’ithout my knowin’ eyther one or the tother. I ain’t often thur myself. The place air out o’ my usooal huntin’ ground, an I only go now an then for the sake o’ a change. The crik’s fust rate for both deer an gobbler. If ye ask my opeenyun, I’d say that thet ere gurl heven’t never been thur afore. Leestwise, I hain’t heern o’ it; an eft hed been so, I reckun Irish Pheelum ud a hed somethin’ to say abeout it. Besides, I hev other reezuns for thinkin’ so. I’ve only heern o’ one o’ the shemale sex bein’ on a visit to thet shanty.”

“Who?” quickly interrogated the Creole, the instant after regretting that she had asked the question—the colour coming to her cheeks, as she noticed the significant glance with which Zeb had accompanied his concluding remark.

“No matter,” she continued, without waiting for the answer.

“So, Zeb,” she went on, giving a quick turn to the conversation, “you think that these men have had to do with that which is causing sorrow to all of us,—these Mexicans?”

“To tell ye the truth, Miss Lewaze, I don’t know zackly what to think. It air the most musteeriousest consarn as iver kim to pass on these hyur purayras. Sometimes I hev the idea that the Mexikins must a did it; while at others, I’m in the opposite way o’ thinkin’, an thet some’dy else hev hed a han’ in the black bizness. I won’t say who.”

“Not him, Zeb; not him!”

“Not the mowstanger. No, neer a bit o’ thet. Spite o’ all that’s sayed agin him, I hain’t the leest surspishun o’ his innersense.”

“Oh! how is he to prove it? It is said, that the testimony is all against him! No one to speak a word in his behalf!”

“Wal, it ain’t so sartint as to thet. Keepin’ my eye upon the others, an his prison; I hain’t hed much chance o’ gettin’ abeout. Thur’s a opportunity now; an I mean to make use o’ it. The purayra’s a big book, Miss Peintdexter—a wonderful big book—for them as knows how to read the print o’t. If not much o’ a scholar otherways, Zeb’lon Stump hev larnt to do thet. Thur may be some testymoney that mout help him, scattered over the musquit grass—jest as I’ve heern a Methody preecher say, thur ‘war sarmints in stones, an books in runnin’ brutes.’ Eft air so, thur oughter be somethin’ o’ the kind scared up on the Alamo crik.”

“You think you might discover some traces?”

“Wal; I’m goin’ out to hev a look ’roun’ me—speecially at the place whur I foun’ the young fellur in the claws o’ the spotted painter. I oughter gone afore now, but for the reezun I’ve tolt ye. Thank the Awlmighty! thur’s been no wet—neer y drop; an whatsomiver sign’s been made for a week past, kin be understood as well, as if it war did yisterday—that is by them as knows how to read it. I must start straight away, Miss Lewaze. I jest runned down to tell ye what hed been done at the Fort. Thur’s no time to be throwed away. They let me in this mornin’ to see the young fellur; an I’m sartin his head air gettin’ clurrer. Soon as it air all right, the Reg’lators say, they’ll insist on the trial takin’ place. It may be in less’n three days; an I must git back afore it begins.”

“Go, Zeb, and God speed you on your generous errand! Come back with proofs of his innocence, and ever after I shall feel indebted to you for—for—more than life!”