Headless Horseman by Mayne Reid - Chapter Eighty Four. An Affectionate Nephew

“Tried to-morrow—to-morrow, thank God! Not likely that anybody ’ll catch that cursed thing before then—to be hoped, never.

“It is all I’ve got to fear. I defy them to tell what’s happened without that. Hang me if I know myself! Enough only to—.

“Queer, the coming of this Irish pettifogger!

“Queer, too, the fellow from San Antonio! Wonder who and what’s brought him? Somebody’s promised him his costs?

“Damn ’em! I don’t care, not the value of a red cent. They can make nothing out of it, but that Gerald did the deed. Everything points that way; and everybody thinks so. They’re bound to convict him.

“Zeb Stump don’t think it, the suspicious old snake! He’s nowhere to be found. Wonder where he has gone? On a hunt, they say. ’Tain’t likely, such time as this. What if he be hunting it? What if he should catch it?

“I’d try again myself, if there was time. There ain’t. Before to-morrow night it’ll be all over; and afterwards if there should turn up—. Damn afterwards! The thing is to make sure now. Let the future look to itself. With one man hung for the murder, ’tain’t likely they’d care to accuse another. Even if something suspicious did turn up! they’d be shy to take hold of it. It would be like condemning themselves!

“I reckon, I’ve got all right with the Regulators. Sam Manley himself appears pretty well convinced. I knocked his doubts upon the head, when I told him what I’d heard that night. A little more than I did hear; though that was enough to make a man stark, staring mad. Damn!

“It’s no use crying over spilt milk. She’s met the man, and there’s an end of it. She’ll never meet him again, and that’s another end of it—except she meet him in heaven. Well; that will depend upon herself.

“I don’t think anything has happened between them. She’s not the sort for that, with all her wildness; and it may be what that yellow wench tells me—only gratitude. No, no, no! It can’t be. Gratitude don’t get out of its bed in the middle of the night—to keep appointments at the bottom of a garden? She loves him—she loves him! Let her love and be damned! She shall never have him. She shall never see him again, unless she prove obstinate; and then it will be but to condemn him. A word from her, and he’s a hanged man.

“She shall speak it, if she don’t say that other word, I’ve twice asked her for. The third time will be the last. One more refusal, and I show my hand. Not only shall this Irish adventurer meet his doom; but she shall be his condemner; and the plantation, house, niggers, everything—. Ah! uncle Woodley; I wanted to see you.”

The soliloquy above reported took place in a chamber, tenanted only by Cassius Calhoun.

It was Woodley Poindexter who interrupted it. Sad, silent, straying through the corridors of Casa del Corvo, he had entered the apartment usually occupied by his nephew—more by chance than from any premeditated purpose.

“Want me! For what, nephew?”

There was a tone of humility, almost obeisance, in the speech of the broken man. The once proud Poindexter—before whom two hundred slaves had trembled every day, every hour of their lives, now stood in the presence of his master!

True, it was his own nephew, who had the power to humiliate him—his sister’s son.

But there was not much in that, considering the character of the man.

“I want to talk to you about Loo,” was the rejoinder of Calhoun.

It was the very subject Woodley Poindexter would have shunned. It was something he dreaded to think about, much less make the topic of discourse; and less still with him who now challenged it.

Nevertheless, he did not betray surprise. He scarce felt it. Something said or done on the day before had led him to anticipate this request for a conversation—as also the nature of the subject.

The manner in which Calhoun introduced it, did not diminish his uneasiness. It sounded more like a demand than a request.

“About Loo? What of her?” he inquired, with assumed calmness.

“Well,” said Calhoun, apparently in reluctant utterance, as if shy about entering upon the subject, or pretending to be so, “I—I—wanted—”

“I’d rather,” put in the planter, taking advantage of the other’s hesitancy, “I’d rather not speak of her now.”

This was said almost supplicatingly.

“And why not now, uncle?” asked Calhoun, emboldened by the show of opposition.

“You know my reasons, nephew?”

“Well, I know the time is not pleasant. Poor Henry missing—supposed to be—After all, he may turn up yet, and everything be right again.”

“Never! we shall never see him again—living or dead. I have no longer a son?”

“You have a daughter; and she—”

“Has disgraced me!”

“I don’t believe it, uncle—no.”

“What means those things I’ve heard—myself seen? What could have taken her there—twenty miles across the country—alone—in the hut of a common horse-trader—standing by his bedside? O God! And why should she have interposed to save him—him, the murderer of my son—her own brother? O God!”

“Her own story explains the first—satisfactorily, as I think.”

Calhoun did not think so.

“The second is simple enough. Any woman would have done the same—a woman like Loo.”

“There is none like her. I, her father, say so. Oh! that I could think it is, as you say! My poor daughter! who should now be dearer to me than ever—now that I have no son!”

“It is for her to find you a son—one already related to you; and who can promise to play the part—with perhaps not so much affection as him you have lost, but with all he has the power to give. I won’t talk to you in riddles, Uncle Woodley. You know what I mean; and how my mind’s made up about this matter. I want Loo!”

The planter showed no surprise at the laconic declaration. He expected it. For all that, the shadow became darker on his brow. It was evident he did not relish the proposed alliance.

This may seem strange. Up to a late period, he had been its advocate—in his own mind—and more than once, delicately, in the ear of his daughter.

Previous to the migration into Texas, he had known comparatively little of his nephew.

Since coming to manhood, Calhoun had been a citizen of the state of Mississippi—more frequently a dweller in the dissipated city of New Orleans. An occasional visit to the Louisiana plantation was all his uncle had seen of him; until the developing beauty of his cousin Louise gave him the inducement to make these visits at shorter intervals—each time protracting them to a longer stay.

There was then twelve months of campaigning in Mexico; where he rose to the rank of captain; and, after his conquests in war, he had returned home with the full determination to make a conquest in love—the heart of his Creole cousin.

From that time his residence under his uncle’s roof had been more permanent. If not altogether liked by the young lady, he had made himself welcome to her father, by means seldom known to fail.

The planter, once rich, was now poor. Extravagance had reduced his estate to a hopeless indebtedness. With his nephew, the order was reversed: once poor, he was now rich. Chance had made him so. Under the circumstances, it was not surprising, that money had passed between them.

In his native place, and among his old neighbours, Woodley Poindexter still commanded sufficient homage to shield him from the suspicion of being under his nephew; as also to restrain the latter from exhibiting the customary arrogance of the creditor.

It was only after the move into Texas, that their relations began to assume that peculiar character observable between mortgagor and mortgagee.

It grew more patent, after several attempts at love-making on the part of Calhoun, with corresponding repulses on the part of Louise.

The planter had now a better opportunity of becoming acquainted with the true character of his nephew; and almost every day; since their arrival at Casa del Corvo, had this been developing itself to his discredit.

Calhoun’s quarrel with the mustanger, and its ending, had not strengthened his uncle’s respect for him; though, as a kinsman, he was under the necessity of taking sides with him.

There had occurred other circumstances to cause a change in his feelings—to make him, notwithstanding its many advantages, dislike the connection.

Alas! there was much also to render it, if not agreeable, at least not to be slightingly set aside.

Indecision—perhaps more than the sorrow for his son’s loss dictated the character of his reply.

“If I understand you aright, nephew, you mean marriage! Surely it is not the time to talk of it now—while death is in our house! To think of such a thing would cause a scandal throughout the settlement.”

“You mistake me, uncle. I do not mean marriage—that is, not now. Only something that will secure it—when the proper time arrives.”

“I do not understand you, Cash.”

“You’ll do that, if you only listen to me a minute.”

“Go on.”

“Well; what I want to say is this. I’ve made up my mind to get married. I’m now close upon thirty—as you know; and at that time a man begins to get tired of running about the world. I’m damnably tired of it; and don’t intend to keep single any longer. I’m willing to have Loo for my wife. There need be no hurry about it. All I want now is her promise; signed and sealed, that there may be no fluke, or uncertainty. I want the thing settled. When these bothers blow past, it will be time enough to talk of the wedding business, and that sort of thing.”

The word “bothers,” with the speech of which it formed part, grated harshly on the ear of a father, mourning for his murdered son!

The spirit of Woodley Poindexter was aroused—almost to the resumption of its old pride, and the indignation that had oft accompanied it.

It soon cowered again. On one side he saw land, slaves, wealth, position; on the other, penury that seemed perdition.

He did not yield altogether; as may be guessed by the character of his reply.

“Well, nephew; you have certainly spoken plain enough. But I know not my daughter’s disposition towards you. You say you are willing to have her for your wife. Is she willing to have you? I suppose there is a question about that?”

“I think, uncle, it will depend a good deal upon yourself. You are her father. Surely you can convince her?”

“I’m not so sure of that. She’s not of the kind to be convinced—against her will. You, Cash, know that as well as I.”

“Well, I only know that I intend getting ‘spliced,’ as the sailors say; and I’d like Loo for the mistress of Casa del Corvo, better than any other woman in the Settlement—in all Texas, for that matter.”

Woodley Poindexter recoiled at the ungracious speech. It was the first time he had been told, that he was not the master of Casa del Corvo! Indirectly as the information had been conveyed, he understood it.

Once more rose before his mind the reality of lands, slaves, wealth, and social status—alongside, the apparition of poverty and social abasement.

The last looked hideous; though not more so than the man who stood before him—his own nephew—soliciting to become his son!

For purposes impossible to comprehend, God often suffers himself to be defeated by the Devil. In this instance was it so. The good in Poindexter’s heart succumbed to the evil. He promised to assist his nephew, in destroying the happiness of his daughter.



“I come to ask a favour from you.”

“What is it, father?”

“You know that your cousin Cash loves you. He is ready to die for—more and better still, to marry you.”

“But I am not ready to marry him. No, father; I shall die first. The presumptuous wretch! I know what it means. And he has sent you to make this proposal! Tell him in return, that, sooner than consent to become his wife, I’d go upon the prairies—and seek my living by lassoing wild horses! Tell him that!”

“Reflect, daughter! You are, perhaps, not aware that—”

“That my cousin is your creditor. I know all that, dear father. But I know also that you are Woodley Poindexter, and I your daughter.”

Delicately as the hint was given, it produced the desired effect. The spirit of the planter surged up to its ancient pride, His reply was:—

“Dearest Louise! image of your mother! I had doubted you. Forgive me, my noble girl! Let the past be forgotten. I shall leave it to yourself. You are free to refuse him!”