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Headless Horseman by Mayne Reid - Chapter Ninety. A Court Quickly Cleared

If the last speech has given satisfaction to Louise Poindexter, there are few who share it with her. Upon most of the spectators it has produced an impression of a totally different character.

It is one of the saddest traits of our ignoble nature; to feel pain in contemplating a love we cannot share—more especially when exhibited in the shape of a grand absorbing passion.

The thing is not so difficult of explanation. We know that he, or she, thus sweetly possessed, can feel no interest in ourselves.

It is but the old story of self-esteem, stung by the thought of indifference.

Even some of the spectators unaffected by the charms of the beautiful Creole, cannot restrain themselves from a certain feeling of envy; while others more deeply interested feel chagrined to the heart’s core, by what they are pleased to designate an impudent avowal!

If the story of the accused contains no better proofs of his innocence it were better untold. So far, it has but helped his accusers by exciting the antipathy of those who would have been otherwise neutral.

Once more there is a murmuring among the men, and a movement among the rowdies who stand near Calhoun.

Again seems Maurice Gerald in danger of being seized by a lawless mob, and hanged without farther hearing!

The danger exists only in seeming. Once more the major glances significantly towards his well-trained troop; the judge in an authoritative voice commands “Silence in the Court!” the clamouring is subdued; and the prisoner is permitted to proceed.

He continues his recital:—

“On seeing who it was, I rode out from among the trees, and reined up before him.

“There was light enough for him to see who I was; and he at once recognised me.

“Instead of the angry scene I expected—perhaps had reason to expect—I was joyfully surprised by his reception of me. His first words were to ask if I would forgive him for what he had said to me—at the same time holding out his hand in the most frank and friendly manner.

“Need I tell you that I took that hand? Or how heartily I pressed it? I knew it to be a true one; more than that, I had a hope it might one day be the hand of a brother.

“It was the last time, but one, I ever grasped it alive. The last was shortly after—when we bade each other good night, and parted upon the path. I had no thought it was to be for ever.

“Gentlemen of the jury! you do not wish me to take up your time with the conversation that occurred between us? It was upon matters that have nothing to do with this trial.

“We rode together for a short distance; and then drew up under the shadow of a tree.

“Cigars were exchanged, and smoked; and there was another exchange—the more closely to cement the good understanding established between us. It consisted of our hats and cloaks.

“It was a whim of the moment suggested by myself—from a fashion I had been accustomed to among the Comanches. I gave Henry Poindexter my Mexican sombrero and striped blanket—taking his cloth cloak and Panama hat.

“We then parted—he riding away, myself remaining.

“I can give no reason why I stayed upon the spot; unless that I liked it, from being the scene of our reconciliation—by me so little looked for and so much desired.

“I no longer cared for going on to the Alamo that night. I was happy enough to stay under the tree; and, dismounting, I staked out my horse; wrapped myself up in the cloak; and with the hat upon my head, lay down upon the grass.

“In three seconds I was asleep.

“It was rare for sleep to come on me so readily. Half an hour before, and the thing would have been impossible. I can only account for the change by the feeling of contentment that was upon me—after the unpleasant excitement through which I had passed.

“My slumbers could not have been very sound; nor were they long undisturbed.

“I could not have been unconscious for more than two minutes, when a sound awoke me. It was the report of a gun.

“I was not quite sure of its being this. I only fancied that it was.

“My horse seemed to know better than I. As I looked up, he was standing with ears erect, snorting, as if he had been fired at!

“I sprang to my feet, and stood listening.

“But as I could hear nothing more, and the mustang soon quieted down, I came to the conclusion that we had both been mistaken. The horse had heard the footsteps of some straying animal; and that which struck upon my ear might have been the snapping of a branch broken by its passage through the thicket; or perhaps one of the many mysterious sounds—mysterious, because unexplained—often heard in the recesses of the chapparal.

“Dismissing the thing from my mind, I again lay down along the grass; and once more fell asleep.

“This time I was not awakened until the raw air of the morning began to chill me through the cloak.

“It was not pleasant to stay longer under the tree; and, recovering my horse, I was about to continue my journey.

“But the shot seemed still ringing in my ears—even louder than I had heard it while half asleep!

“It appeared, too, to be in the direction in which Henry Poindexter had gone.

“Fancy or no fancy, I could not help connecting it with him; nor yet resist the temptation to go back that way and seek for an explanation of it.

“I did not go far till I found it. Oh, Heavens! What a sight!

“I saw—”

“The Headless Horseman!” exclaims a voice from the outer circle of the spectators, causing one and all to turn suddenly in that direction.

“The Headless Horseman!” respond fifty others, in a simultaneous shout.

Is it mockery, this seeming contempt of court?

There is no one who takes it in this sense; for by this time every individual in the assemblage has become acquainted with the cause of the interruption. It is the Headless Horseman himself seen out upon the open plain, in all his fearful shape!

“Yonder he goes—yonder! yonder!”

“No, he’s coming this way! See! He’s making straight for the Fort!”

The latest assertion seems the truer; but only for an instant. As if to contradict it, the strange equestrian makes a sudden pause upon the prairie, and stands eyeing the crowd gathered around the tree.

Then, apparently not liking the looks of what is before him, the horse gives utterance to his dislike with a loud snort, followed by a still louder neighing.

The intense interest excited by the confession of the accused is for the time eclipsed.

There is a universal impression that, in the spectral form thus opportunely presenting itself, will be found the explanation of all that has occurred.

Three-fourths of the spectators forsake the spot, and rush towards their horses. Even the jurymen are not exempt from taking part in the general débandade, and at least six out of the twelve go scattering off to join in the chase of the Headless Horseman.

The latter has paused only for an instant—just long enough to scan the crowd of men and horses now moving towards him. Then repeating his wild “whigher,” he wheels round, and goes off at full speed—followed by a thick clump of shouting pursuers!

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