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Headless Horseman by Mayne Reid - Chapter Eighty Five. A Kind Cousin

Louise Poindexter made fall use of the liberty allowed by her father. In less than an hour after, Calhoun was flatly refused.

It was his third time of asking. Twice before had the same suit been preferred; informally, and rather by a figure of speech than in the shape of a direct declaration.

It was the third time; and the answer told it would be the last. It was a simple “No,” emphatically followed by the equally simple “Never!”

There was no prevarication about the speech—no apology for having made it.

Calhoun listened to his rejection, without much show of surprise. Possibly—in all probability—he expected it.

But instead of the blank look of despair usually observable under the circumstances, his features remained firm, and his cheeks free from blanching.

As he stood confronting his fair cousin, a spectator might have been reminded of the jaguar, as it pauses before springing on its prey.

There was that in his eye which seemed to say:—

“In less than sixty seconds, you’ll change your tune.”

What he did say was:—

“You’re not in earnest, Loo?”

“I am, sir. Have I spoken like one who jests?”

“You’ve spoken like one, who hasn’t taken pains to reflect.”

“Upon what?”

“Many things.”

“Name them!”

“Well, for one—the way I love you.”

She made no rejoinder.

“A love,” he continued, in a tone half explanatory, half pleading; “a love, Loo, that no man can feel for a woman, and survive it. It can end only with my life. It could not end with yours.”

There was a pause, but still no reply.

“’Tis no use my telling you its history. It began on the same day—ay, the same hour—I first saw you.

“I won’t say it grew stronger as time passed. It could not. On my first visit to your father’s house—now six years ago—you may remember that, after alighting from my horse, you asked me to take a walk with you round the garden—while dinner was being got ready.

“You were but a stripling of a girl; but oh, Loo, you were a woman in beauty—as beautiful as you are at this moment.

“No doubt you little thought, as you took me by the hand, and led me along the gravelled walk, under the shade of the China trees, that the touch of your fingers was sending a thrill into my soul; your pretty prattle making an impression upon my heart, that neither time, nor distance, nor yet dissipation, has been able to efface.”

The Creole continued to listen, though not without showing sign. Words so eloquent, so earnest, so full of sweet flattery, could scarce fail to have effect upon a woman. By such speech had Lucifer succeeded in the accomplishment of his purpose. There was pity, if not approval, in her look!

Still did she keep silence.

Calhoun continued:—

“Yes, Loo; it’s true as I tell you. I’ve tried all three. Six years may fairly be called time. From Mississippi to Mexico was the distance: for I went there with no other purpose than to forget you. It proved of no avail; and, returning, I entered upon a course of dissipation. New Orleans knows that.

“I won’t say, that my passion grew stronger by these attempts to stifle it. I’ve already told you, it could not. From the hour you first caught hold of my hand, and called me cousin—ah! you called me handsome cousin, Loo—from that hour I can remember no change, no degrees, in the fervour of my affection; except when jealousy has made me hate—ay, so much, that I could have killed you!”

“Good gracious, Captain Calhoun! This is wild talk of yours. It is even silly!”

“’Tis serious, nevertheless. I’ve been so jealous with you at times, that it was a task to control myself. My temper I could not—as you have reason to know.”

“Alas, cousin, I cannot help what has happened. I never gave you cause, to think—”

“I know what you are going to say; and you may leave it unspoken. I’ll say it for you: ‘to think that you ever loved me.’ Those were the words upon your lips.

“I don’t say you did,” he continued, with deepening despair: “I don’t accuse you of tempting me. Something did. God, who gave you such beauty; or the Devil, who led me to look upon it.”

“What you say only causes me pain. I do not suppose you are trying to flatter me. You talk too earnestly for that. But oh, cousin Cassius, ’tis a fancy from which you will easily recover. There are others, far fairer than I; and many, who would feel complimented by such speeches. Why not address yourself to them?”

“Why not?” he echoed, with bitter emphasis. “What an idle question!”

“I repeat it. It is not idle. Far more so is your affection for me: for I must be candid with you, Cassius. I do not—I cannot, love you.”

“You will not marry me then?”

“That, at least, is an idle question. I’ve said I do not love you. Surely that is sufficient.”

“And I’ve said I love you. I gave it as one reason why I wish you for my wife: but there are others. Are you desirous of hearing them?”

As Calhoun asked this question the suppliant air forsook him. The spirit of the jaguar was once more in his eye.

“You said there were other reasons. State them! Do not be backward. I’m not afraid to listen.”

“Indeed!” he rejoined, sneeringly. “You’re not afraid, ain’t you?”

“Not that I know of. What have I to fear?”

“I won’t say what you have; but what your father has.”

“Let me hear it? What concerns him, equally affects me. I am his daughter; and now, alas, his only—. Go on, cousin Calhoun! What is this shadow hanging over him?”

“No shadow, Loo; but something serious, and substantial. A trouble he’s no longer able to contend with. You force me to speak of things you shouldn’t know anything about.”

“Oh! don’t I? You’re mistaken, cousin Cash. I know them already. I’m aware that my father’s in debt; and that you are his creditor. How could I have remained in ignorance of it? Your arrogance about the house—your presumption, shown every hour, and in presence of the domestics—has been evidence sufficient to satisfy even them, that there is something amiss. You are master of Casa del Corvo. I know it. You are not master of me!”

Calhoun quailed before the defiant speech. The card, upon which he had been counting, was not likely to gain the trick. He declined playing it.

He held a still stronger in his hand; which was exhibited without farther delay.

“Indeed!” he retorted, sneeringly. “Well; if I’m not master of your heart, I am of your happiness—or shall be. I know the worthless wretch that’s driven you to this denial—”


“How innocent you are!”

“Of that at least I am; unless by worthless wretch you mean yourself. In that sense I can understand you, sir. The description is too true to be mistaken.”

“Be it so!” he replied, turning livid with rage, though still keeping himself under a certain restraint. “Well; since you think me so worthless, it won’t, I suppose, better your opinion of me, when I tell you what I’m going to do with you?”

“Do with me! You are presumptuous, cousin Cash! You talk as if I were your protégée, or slave! I’m neither one, nor the other!”

Calhoun, cowering under the outburst of her indignation, remained silent.

“Pardieu!” she continued, “what is this threat? Tell me what you are going to do with me! I should like to know that.”

“You shall.”

“Let me hear it! Am I to be turned adrift upon the prairie, or shut up in a convent? Perhaps it may be a prison?”

“You would like the last, no doubt—provided your incarceration was to be in the company of—”

“Go on, sir! What is to be my destiny? I’m impatient to have it declared.”

“Don’t be in a hurry. The first act shall be rehearsed tomorrow.”

“So soon? And where, may I ask?”

“In a court of justice.”

“How, sir?”

“By your standing before a judge, and in presence of a jury.”

“You are pleased to be facetious, Captain Calhoun. Let me tell you that I don’t like such pleasantries—”

“Pleasantries indeed! I’m stating plain facts. To-morrow is the day of trial. Mr Maurice Gerald, or McSweeney, or O’Hogerty, or whatever’s his name, will stand before the bar—accused of murdering your brother.”

“’Tis false! Maurice Gerald never—”

“Did the deed, you are going to say? Well, that remains to be proved. It will be; and from your own lips will come the words that’ll prove it—to the satisfaction of every man upon the jury.”

The great gazelle-eyes of the Creole were opened to their fullest extent. They gazed upon the speaker with a look such as is oft given by the gazelle itself—a commingling of fear, wonder, and inquiry.

It was some seconds before she essayed to speak. Thoughts, conjectures, fears, fancies, and suspicions, all had to do in keeping her silent.

“I know not what you mean,” she at length rejoined. “You talk of my being called into court. For what purpose? Though I am the sister of him, who—I know nothing—can tell no more than is in the mouth of everybody.”

“Yes can you; a great deal more. It’s not in the mouth of everybody: that on the night of the murder, you gave Gerald a meeting at the bottom of the garden. No more does all the world know what occurred at that stolen interview. How Henry intruded upon it; how, maddened, as he might well be, by the thought of such a disgrace—not only to his sister, but his family—he threatened to kill the man who had caused it; and was only hindered from carrying out that threat, by the intercession of the woman so damnably deluded!

“All the world don’t know what followed: how Henry, like a fool, went after the low hound, and with what intent. Besides themselves, there were but two others who chanced to be spectators of that parting.”

“Two—who were they?”

The question was asked mechanically—almost with a tranquil coolness.

It was answered with equal sang froid.

“One was Cassius Calhoun—the other Louise Poindexter.” She did not start. She did not even show sign of being surprised. What was spoken already had prepared her for the revelation. Her rejoinder was a single word, pronounced in a tone of defiance. “Well!”

“Well!” echoed Calhoun, chagrined at the slight effect his speeches had produced; “I suppose you understand me?”

“Not any more than ever.”

“You wish me to speak further?”

“As you please, sir.”

“I shall then. I say to you, Loo, there’s but one way to save your father from ruin—yourself from shame. You know what I mean?”

“Yes; I know that much.”

“You will not refuse me now?”

“Now more than ever!”

“Be it so! Before this time to-morrow—and, by Heaven! I mean it—before this time to-morrow, you shall stand in the witness-box?”

“Vile spy! Anywhere but in your presence! Out of my sight! This instant, or I call my father!”

“You needn’t put yourself to the trouble. I’m not going to embarrass you any longer with my company—so disagreeable to you. I leave you to reflect. Perhaps before the trial comes on, you’ll see fit to change your mind. If so, I hope you’ll give notice of it—in time to stay the summons. Good night, Loo! I’ll sleep thinking of you.”

With these words of mockery upon his lips—almost as bitter to himself as to her who heard them—Calhoun strode out of the apartment, with an air less of triumph than of guilt.

Louise listened, until his footsteps died away in the distant corridor.

Then, as if the proud angry thoughts hitherto sustaining her had become suddenly relaxed, she sank into a chair; and, with both hands pressing upon her bosom, tried to still the dread throbbings that now, more than ever, distracted it.

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