Headless Horseman by Mayne Reid - Chapter One Hundred. Joy


There was this under the evergreen oak, when it was discovered that only the suicide was a success, and the attempt at assassination a failure. There was this in the heart of Louise Poindexter, on learning that her lover still lived.

Though saddened by the series of tragedies so quickly transpiring, she was but human; and, being woman, who can blame her for giving way to the subdued happiness that succeeded? Not I. Not you, if you speak truly.

The passion that controlled her may not be popular under a strictly Puritan standard. Still is it according to the dictates of Nature—universal and irresistible—telling us that father, mother, sister, and brother, are all to be forsaken for that love illimitable; on Earth only exceeded—sometimes scarce equalled—by the love of self.

Do not reproach the young Creole, because this passion was paramount in her soul. Do not blame her for feeling pleasure amidst moments that should otherwise have been devoted to sadness. Nor, that her happiness was heightened, on learning from the astonished spectators, how her lover’s life had been preserved—as it might seem miraculously.

The aim of the assassin had been true enough. He must have felt sure of it, before turning the muzzle towards his own temples, and firing the bullet that had lodged in his brain. Right over the heart he had hit his intended victim, and through the heart would the leaden missile have made its way, but that a gage d’amour—the gift of her who alone could have secured it such a place—turned aside the shot, causing it to ricochet!

Not harmlessly, however: since it struck one of the spectators standing too close to the spot.

Not quite harmless, either, was it to him for whom it had been intended.

The stunning shock—with the mental and corporeal excitement—long sustained—did not fail to produce its effect; and the mind of Maurice Gerald once more returned to its delirious dreaming.

But no longer lay his body in danger—in the chapparal, surrounded by wolves, and shadowed by soaring vultures,—in a hut, where he was but ill attended—in a jail, where he was scarce cared for at all.

When again restored to consciousness, it was to discover that the fair vision of his dreams was no vision at all, but a lovely woman—the loveliest on the Leona, or in all Texas if you like—by name Louise Poindexter.

There was now no one to object to her nursing him; not even her own father. The spirit of the aristocratic planter—steeped in sorrow, and humiliated by misfortune—had become purged of its false pride; though it needed not this to make him willingly acquiesce in an alliance, which, instead of a “nobody,” gave him a nobleman for his son. Such, in reality, was Sir Maurice Gerald—erst known as Maurice the mustanger!

In Texas the title would have counted for little; nor did its owner care to carry it. But, by a bit of good fortune—not always attendant on an Irish baronetcy—it carried along with it an endowment—ample enough to clear Casa del Corvo of the mortgage held by the late Cassius Calhoun, and claimed by his nearest of kin.

This was not Woodley Poindexter: for after Calhoun’s death, it was discovered that the ex-captain had once been a Benedict; and there was a young scion of his stock—living in New Orleans—who had the legal right to say he was his son!

It mattered not to Maurice Gerald; who, now clear of every entanglement, became the husband of the fair Creole.

After a visit to his native land—including the European tour—which was also that of his honeymoon—Sir Maurice, swayed by his inclinations, once more returned to Texas, and made Casa del Corvo his permanent home.

The “blue-eyed colleen” of Castle Ballagh must have been a myth—having existence only in the erratic fancy of Phelim. Or it may have been the bud of a young love, blighted ere it reached blooming—by absence, oft fatal to such tender plants of passion?

Whether or no, Louise Poindexter—Lady Gerald she must now be called—during her sojourn in the Emerald Isle saw nothing to excite her to jealousy.

Only once again did this fell passion take possession of her spirit; and then only in the shape of a shadow soon to pass away.

It was one day when her husband came home to the hacienda—bearing in his arms the body of a beautiful woman!

Not yet dead; though the blood streaming from a wound in her bared bosom showed she had not long to live.

To the question, “Who has done this?” she was only able to answer, “Diaz—Diaz!”

It was the last utterance of Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos!

As the spirit of the unhappy señorita passed into eternity, along with it went all rancour from that of her more fortunate rival. There can be no jealousy of the dead. That of Lady Gerald was at rest, and for ever.

It was succeeded by a strong sympathy for the ill-fated Isidora; whose story she now better comprehended. She even assisted her lord in the saddling of his red-bay steed, and encouraged him in the pursuit of the assassin.

She joyed to see the latter led back at the end of a lazo—held in the hand of her husband; and refused to interfere, when a band of Regulators, called hastily together, dealt out summary chastisement—by hanging him to a tree!

It was not cruelty—only a crude kind of justice:—“an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.”

And what a poor compensation it seemed, to those who had taken part in exacting it!

As they stood gazing upon the remains of the villain, and his victim—the swarth ruffian dangling from the branch above, and the fair form lying underneath—the hearts of the Texans were touched—as perhaps they had never been before.

There was a strange thought passing through their minds; a sadness independent of that caused by the spectacle of a murder. It was regret at having so hastily despatched the assassin!

Beautiful, even in death, was Isidora. Such features as she possessed, owe not everything to the light of life. That voluptuous shape—the true form divine—may be admired in the cold statue.

Men stood gazing upon her dead body—long gazing—loth to go away—at length going with thoughts not altogether sacred!

In the physical world Time is accounted the destroyer; though in the moral, it is oft the restorer. Nowhere has it effected greater changes than in Texas—during the last decade—and especially in the settlements of the Nueces and Leona.

Plantations have sprung up, where late the chapparal thickly covered the earth; and cities stand, where the wild steed once roamed over a pathless prairie.

There are new names for men, places, and things.

For all this, there are those who could conduct you to an ancient hacienda—still known as Casa del Corvo.

Once there, you would become the recipient of a hospitality, unequalled in European lands.

You would have for your host one of the handsomest men in Texas; for your hostess one of its most beautiful women—both still this side of middle life.

Residing under their roof you would find an old gentleman, of aristocratic air and venerable aspect—withal chatty and cheerful—who would conduct you around the corrales, show you the stock, and never tire of talking about the hundreds—ay thousands—of horses and horned cattle, seen roaming over the pastures of the plantation.

You would find this old gentleman very proud upon many points: but more especially of his beautiful daughter—the mistress of the mansion—and the half-dozen pretty prattlers who cling to his skirts, and call him their “dear grandpa.”

Leaving him for a time, you would come in contact with two other individuals attached to the establishment.

One is the groom of the “stole,”—by name Phelim O’Neal—who has full charge of the horses. The other a coachman of sable skin, yclept Pluto Poindexter; who would scorn to look at a horse except when perched upon the “box,” and after having the “ribbons” deftly delivered into his hands.

Since we last saw him, the gay Pluto has become tamed down to a staid and sober Benedict—black though he be.

Florinda—now the better half of his life—has effected the transformation.

There is one other name known at Casa del Corvo, with which you cannot fail to become acquainted. You will hear it mentioned, almost every time you sit down to dinner: for you will be told that the turkey at the head of the table, or the venison at its opposite end, is the produce of a rifle that rarely misses its aim.

During the course of the meal—but much more over the wine—you will hear talk of “Zeb Stump the hunter.”

You may not often see him. He will be gone from the hacienda, before you are out of your bed; and back only after you have retired. But the huge gobbler seen in the “smoke-house,” and the haunch of venison hanging by its side, are evidence he has been there.

While sojourning at Casa del Corvo, you may get hints of a strange story connected with the place—now almost reduced to a legend.

The domestics will tell it you, but only in whispers: since they know that it is a theme tabooed by the master and mistress of the mansion, in whom it excites sad souvenirs.

It is the story of the Headless Horseman.