Chapter 74 - Adventures in the Far West by Mayne Reid

Shot for Shot.

Yes, the individual who now advanced was Ruffin the man-hunter; and the dogs I had killed, were his—a brace of sleuth-hounds, well-known in the settlement as being specially trained to tracking the unfortunate blacks, that, driven by cruel treatment, had taken to the woods.

Well-known, too, was their master—a dissipated brutal fellow, half hunter, half hog-thief, who dwelt in the woods like an Indian savage, and hired himself out to such of the planters as needed the aid of him and his horrid hounds!

As I have said, I had never seen this individual, though I had heard of him often—from Scipio, from the boy Caton, and, lastly, from Gabriel. The Bambarra had described him minutely—had told me wild stories of the man’s wickedness and ferocious cruelty—how he had taken the lives of several runaways while in pursuit of them, and caused others to be torn and mangled by his savage dogs!

He was the terror and aversion of every negro quarter along the coast; and his name—appropriate to his character—oft served the sable mother as a “bogey” to frighten her squalling piccaninny into silence!

Such was Ruffin the man-hunter, as he was known among the black helots of the plantations. The “cobbing-board” and the red cowhide were not half so terrible as he. In comparison with him, such characters as “Bully Bill,” the flogging overseer, might be esteemed mild and humane.

The sight of this man at once deprived me of all farther thought of escape. I permitted my pistol arm to drop loosely by my side, and stood awaiting his advance, with the intention of surrendering ourselves up. Resistance would be vain, and could only lead to the idle spilling of blood. With this intention I remained silent, having cautioned my companion to do the same.

On first emerging from the cane-brake, the hunter did not see us. I was partially screened by the moss where I stood—Aurore entirely so. Besides, the man’s eyes were not turned in our direction. They were bent upon the ground. No doubt he had heard the reports of my pistol; but he trusted more to his tracking instincts; and, from his bent attitude. I could tell that he was trailing his own dogs—almost as one of themselves would have done!

As he neared the edge of the pond, the smell of the water reached him; and, suddenly halting, he raised his eyes and looked forward. The sight of the pond seemed to puzzle him, and his astonishment was expressed in the short sharp expression—


The next moment his eyes fell upon the prostrate tree, then quickly swept along its trunk, and rested full upon me.

“Hell and scissors!” he exclaimed, “thar are ye! Whar’s my dogs?”

I stood eyeing him back, but made no reply.

“You hear, damn yer! Whar’s my dogs?”

I still remained silent.

His eyes fell upon the log. He saw the blood-spots upon the hark. He remembered the shots.

“Hell and damn!” cried he, with horrid emphasis, “you’ve kilt my dogs!” and then followed a volley of mingled oaths and threats, while the ruffian gesticulated as, if he had suddenly gone mad!

After a while he ceased from these idle demonstrations; and, planting himself firmly, he raised his rifle muzzle towards me, and cried out:—

“Come off that log, and fetch your blue-skin with you! Quick, damn yer! Come off that log! Another minnit, an’ I’ll plug ye!”

I have said that at first sight of the man I had given up all idea of resistance, and intended to surrender at once; but there was something so arrogant in the demand—so insulting in the tone with which the ruffian made it—that it fired my very flesh with indignation, and determined me to stand at bay.

Anger, at being thus hunted, new-nerved both my heart and my arm. The brute had bayed me, and I resolved to risk resistance.

Another reason for changing my determination—I now saw that he was alone. He had followed the dogs afoot, while the others on horseback had no doubt been stopped or delayed by the bayou and morass. Had the crowd come up, I must have yielded nolens volens; but the man-hunter himself—formidable antagonist though he appeared—was still but one, and to surrender tamely to a single individual, was more than my spirit—inherited from border ancestry—could brook. There was too much of the moss-trooper blood in my veins for that, and I resolved, coute que coute, to risk the encounter.

My pistol was once more firmly grasped; and looking the ruffian full into his bloodshot eyes, I shouted back—

“Fire at your peril! Miss and you are mine!”

The sight of my uplifted pistol caused him to quail; and I have no doubt that had opportunity offered, he would have withdrawn from the contest. He had expected no such a reception.

But he had gone too far to recede. His rifle was already at his shoulder, and the next moment I saw the flash, and heard the sharp crack. The “thud” of his bullet, too, fell upon my ear, as it struck into the branch against which I was leaning. Good marksman as he was reputed, the sheen of my pistols had spoiled his aim, and he had missed me!

I did not miss him. He fell to the shot with a demoniac howl; and as the smoke thinned off, I could see him writhing and scrambling in the black mud!

I hesitated whether to give him the second barrel—for I was angry and desired his life—but at this moment noises reached me from behind. I heard the plunging paddle, with the sounds of a manly voice; and turning, I beheld the Bambarra.

The latter had shot the pirogue among the tree-tops close to where we stood, and with voice and gesture now urged us to get aboard.

“Quick, mass’. Quick, ’Rore gal! jump into de dugout! Jump in! Truss Ole Gabe!—he stand by young mass’ to de deff!”

Almost mechanically I yielded to the solicitations of the runaway—though I now saw but little chance of our ultimate escape—and, having assisted Aurore into the pirogue, I followed and took my seat beside her.

The strong arm of the negro soon impelled us far out from the shore; and in five minutes after we were crossing the open lake toward the cypress clump in its midst.