"The old man takes it hard."
It was a very extraordinary thing for Mr. Mandeville to express his thoughts aloud, but he did so on this occasion, and Duffel heard his comments on the letters, and his execration of the writer, as also his reflections upon his daughter's conduct; then there was a crumpling sound like that of paper, as though the sheets were crushed in the hand of the reader. All this was music to the crime-stained soul of the guilty listener, who exulted in the success of his scheme, and felt additional assurance of ultimately triumphing in all his undertakings. But when the spirit-bowed father, in his hopeless agony, called down the curse upon the head of the author of the wrong, and appealed to Heaven for vengeance, the villain cowered as if truly smitten with a bolt; and the bare thought that the fate prayed for might be his, sent a cold chill to his heart and forced out great drops of perspiration on his brow. He trembled in every limb, like one in an ague fit, and it was some seconds before he could regain command of his faculties. At last he felt something like himself again, and not wishing to hear anything more of the same kind, he knocked at the door, and the next minute stood face to face with Mr. Mandeville. Black as his corrupt heart had become, he could not look unmoved upon that countenance, and behold the ravages made in a short hour by the pains of soul he had inflicted.
"Are you sick, Mr. Mandeville?" was his first inquiry.
"No, sir; but worse, much worse than sick."
"Indeed! How is that?"
"Eveline is gone!"
"Yes, gone forever!"
"What!" and the miscreant evinced the utmost surprise and astonishment. "You do not mean to say she is dead?"
"No, no! Would to God she was! I would a thousand times rather have followed her to the grave! But read, read, and know for yourself what has happened." Saying which, he placed the letters in the hypocrite's hands, and then, while he was reading them, buried his face in his own hands, and sat in mute but agonized grief.
Duffel read the letters with secret delight, repeating to himself at every particular place where it suited him best, "Glorious!" and at the close of all, "I must reward Bill for this. He's a perfect gem of a devil for such work."
But to Mandeville, in well-feigned amazement, he exclaimed:
"Yes," said the afflicted parent, lifting his bowed head, "of all the world, him! a criminal and vagabond, who had fled from justice to hide himself from the face of man! Oh, my God! to think that she would forsake home, friends, a good name, and trample upon a parent's love for such a villain!"
"Perhaps it is not yet too late to save her?" suggested Duffel.
"How? what?" ejaculated the other, catching at the words as a drowning man would at a straw.
"I say it may be possible that the marriage-rites have not yet been performed. This may be written for a blind to prevent pursuit."
"No, no; I cannot doubt its truth, and would not have a hope raised in my heart to be crushed out again by despair. Beside, whither should I go in pursuit of them?"
"I see you are in hopeless despondency, but I do not feel like giving over without a struggle—I have too much to lose in Eveline. Shall I try to rescue her?"
"Oh! yes, if you wish to do so."
"And if, by any means, I can circumvent this Hadley, and prevent their union, I have your consent to make her my wife?"
"And will you interpose parental authority in my behalf?"
"Yes, after this I will."
"I have still one request more to make, and that is, that you will permit me to act in my own way, and according to my own judgment in this matter."
"Do so; I have no advice to give."
"Very well; I am to understand, then, that if by any means I can rescue Eveline from Hadley, she is to be my wife?"
"Then I will try. I will follow them to the end of the world if need be. Perhaps you may hear from me soon, perhaps not for a month. Good-by."
In a few moments he was galloping away at full speed, as if to impress his recent host with the idea that he was in great haste to be after the fugitives.
Mr. Mandeville had been too deeply absorbed with his own feelings to pay very strict attention to what Duffel was saying; but the words by any means now rose vividly up in his mind, and like a flash came the thought—
"He may intend to murder Hadley!"
Starting to his feet, he hastened out for an explanation; but Duffel was already gone, and turning back, he entered his dwelling with the expression in his thoughts—
"Let him die: it matters not!"
Ah, had he known the true state of the case, and the devilish import of those words in the mind of the abominable wretch who had uttered them, how suddenly would he have aroused himself to action. But now he cared not.
"If," thought he, "Eveline is so ungrateful, if she thinks so little of a father's love, let her go! Why need I seek to force her to stay with me when she prefers the society of another? Oh, if I had not loved her so tenderly, I could endure this trial better. But why mourn and lament? No, rather let me forget her, as she has forsaken me."
But he could not forget her with all his resolving, and we will leave him with his sorrow.
Faithful to his wicked intentions, Duffel presented himself before Eveline on the day succeeding the one in which she was placed in confinement at the cave, and having no choice in the matter, she was obliged to become a participator in the conversation he was pleased to introduce and force upon her. She was seated on an elegant sofa—for the apartment was luxuriously furnished—when he entered; and with all the assurance of an accepted friend, he walked up and took a seat by her side. She was reading at the time, and when he entered she barely raised her eyes from the pages of the book, as if to assure herself who it was that intruded, and then, without further notice or any sign of recognition, continued to peruse the work in hand. This unexcited, cool and self-possessed conduct was not what the villain seemed to expect or desire; he hoped to find a suppliant in tears, instead of a calm and apparently unconcerned woman; he was prepared for such a subject, but for the one before him he was not, and he was at a loss how to proceed; indeed, just at that moment he was the most uneasy of the two. But he must do something, and so opened the interview on this wise:
"You seem to be deeply absorbed in the contents of that book, Miss Mandeville, and I am pleased to see you so well entertained in this rather solitary abode."
As this remark did not positively require a reply, Eveline continued to read without opening her mouth; Duffel bit his lip in vexation, but after a pause of some duration continued:
"I am very sorry to interrupt you when so agreeably employed, but necessity often compels us to do things abhorrent to our feelings; and as I have some important communications to make, which it is best for you to know immediately, I must beg to be permitted to disturb you for a few minutes. Perhaps it will be some compensation for the brief interruption to give you the latest intelligence from your father and former home."
At these words Eveline for the first time raised her eyes to the face of the villain, as if to ascertain the expression of his countenance, and learn whether he was in a serious or mocking humor. He went on:
"I had the pleasure of a long interview with Mr. Mandeville last evening. He was in much distress at your absence, and thought you were very undutiful to leave him in his old age without even a parting word."
At this unfeeling recital, Eveline cast upon the heartless wretch a look of indignation, and her dark eyes fairly shot fire; he quailed under the scathing rebuke of those orbs, as he had often done before, but was chagrined that he had been unable to draw a single word from her lips, and mentally resolving to bring her to the speaking point, he proceeded:
"But sorry and indignant as he was at your conduct, he was far more deeply exasperated at Hadley."
"Hadley!" repeated she, in the first moment of surprise.
"Yes; that very loving letter he addressed to you fell into your parent's hands, together with another one from the same writer, directed to himself wherein Hadley asks forgiveness for himself, and especially for you, fair lady, whom he represents to be in deep distress, that love irresistibly draws you to him and away from home."
"Villain!" ejaculated Eveline, with flashing eye.
"Be careful of your words, my dear; you are not now in your father's house, and it may not suit my purpose to allow you the use of such epithets, as applied to myself."
With this remark, Eveline at once turned to her book and commenced reading again, as much as to say:—"Have the conversation all to yourself, then!" and the miscreant so understood and interpreted the act, and felt that he was outgeneraled by the superior tactics of his opponent, notwithstanding the immense advantage he was master of in the contest.
"Nay, fair lady," he said, "I did not intend to cut you off from the privilege of speech, but only to advise you to be a little careful in the use of terms and epithets."
"Sir, if after forcing a conversation upon me on your own terms, and at an advantage of your own choosing, you are too cowardly to hear what I please to say, you must talk to yourself. When I speak at all I select my own words. I do not belong to that class of contemptible poltroons, who slink behind others to hide themselves and their crimes, basely exposing the innocent to the censures and punishment that should fall upon their own guilty heads. No, sir; woman as I am I would scorn to stoop to such a low depth of infamy to screen myself from any position, even from death itself; and if you, with all this littleness of mind and cringing cowardice of soul, expect to intimidate me by any menaces, all I have to say is, you have 'reckoned without your host.' And permit me to tell you that there are no words in any language half adequate to express my contempt of you as a man, or my abhorrence of your acts as a criminal, of whom, thus far, the gallows has been shamefully cheated."
This bold speech fairly took the rascal out of himself. He ground his teeth in rage and seemed on the point of committing some desperate deed, but those unquailing and flashing eyes were fixed upon him with a look that seemed to burn into his innermost soul, and penetrate its dark recesses of guilt. He was again conquered by that look; there was a magnetic power about it he could not withstand; and swallowing his rage as best he could, replied after this manner:
"I perceive you have that implement for which your sex is so distinguished, a ready tongue, and I must confess it points words sharply and drives them home with force, and under some circumstances I might feel like retaliating; but here, as my guest, I shall not presume to do so; it will accord much better with my wishes to proceed with the matter in hand,—As I was saying, your father fully believes that Hadley has persuaded you to leave home and elope with him, and he is so shocked by your want of filial affection, as to be totally disqualified for acting with his usual energy; beside, he says if you care so little for him as to desert him and the home of your childhood for a horse-thief and a vagabond, he cares not to seek after you, but says you may go."
At the first, Eveline felt like weeping, and for a moment buried her face in her hands; but then she felt it would not do to give way to feelings of tenderness and sorrow in her present situation, and choking down the great grief that swelled up in her bosom on her father's account, she suddenly assumed a commanding attitude, and addressed the calculating human fiend as follows:
"Inhuman monster! how long do you expect thus to dare the vengeance of heaven? You have stained your soul with crimes that would darken the pit of night; you have committed robberies, and thefts, and murder! Ay, start and turn pale when your crimes stare you in the face, you have done so before, and you will again. You thought there was no eye to witness your plotting deeds, no ear to hear your murderous plans except those of your vile confederates, but you see I am aware of your crimes."
"Who told you these things?" he demanded, breaking in upon her discourse.
"That is a question I shall not take the trouble to answer; it is enough for you to understand that I know what you are, and that long-delayed justice will overtake you, perhaps, sooner than you deem it possible your secret acts can be brought to light; for you seem to have forgotten that there is One, whose eye never slumbers, whose ear is always open to the prayer of the distressed and to the voice of the blood of the innocent, which crieth from the ground as did the blood of Abel."
"Ah, what a pity it is you are not a parson, or at least a parson's wife! You really talk like a preacher; but I fear your discourse has produced little more effect upon your auditory than do the polished words of a fashionable divine upon his; all very fine, but fancy sketches are not apt to effect as much with sober, common-sense people, as is the truth."
This was said with something of returning assurance, Duffel having tried to work himself into the belief that all was guess-work on the part of Eveline, so far as her accusations were concerned. She saw this, and in a moment the remembrance of her dream that morning flashed across her mind, and she determined to try the effect a reference to the scenes which passed in review before her mental vision would have upon him:
"Sir, your assumed assurance would soon leave you if you were in a court-room, and the evidence of your guilt, as I have it, detailed by witnesses. When your secret conference with those vile instruments—not yet so vile as yourself—whom it has pleased you to use as tools, were made known before a court and jury, your brazen impudence would depart, and the specter of a gibbet in the distance—and but a short distance, too—would pale your unblushing cheek and palsy your false tongue, skillful as you may have been in casting blame upon others by deceptive and lying words. When it was proved that you stole my father's horse; that you are responsible for the absence of Mr. Hadley; that you pointed the knife and the pistol at his heart, and then mendaciously represented him as the thief and kidnapper who is found in your own person; then, sir, would you vail your face and go out no more among men, but upon your forehead, as now upon your soul, would be the brand of thief, robber, murderer! Ay, well may you cower! well may the cold sweat force itself out upon your brow! Did it never enter into your debased mind that the villain who is degraded enough to sell himself to crime for a little sordid dust, will, for a larger sum, betray his employer? Do you suppose that when you meditate vengeance upon your tools, they will idly await your pleasure and plans, and lift no hand in their own defense?"
At this point Duffel actually sprang to his feet, the great drops oozing from every pore! How had his secret thoughts become known to her?—thoughts that no mortal ear had ever heard him utter?
"Girl! girl!" he shouted, "who and what are you? demon, witch or spirit?"
Then he paused a moment, as if to collect himself, and decide upon a course of action. Becoming a little more composed, he continued:
"If you are in league with hell, then are we of one family if you have not belied me, and I shall take it upon myself to strengthen the affinity by—"
"Sir!" she said, with a commanding look which awed him into silence, (for his superstitious feelings were already in the ascendant, and he began to fear her) "I have no connection with the household of his Satanic majesty, nor do I intend to have, albeit you have intimated to the contrary."
"Don't be too sure of that," he interrupted. "You must know that when I set my heart upon a measure, I never allow myself to be defeated in its accomplishment; and just now the darling object I have in view is a union with yourself."
This was said with much of his usual assurance, though the expression of his face gave indications of internal uneasiness, and a trembling of soul, which belied the ostensible bravery put on for the occasion.
"You speak as though there was but one will in the world, of which you were the fortunate possessor; permit me to disabuse your overweening confidence and selfishness on this point. I have no wish to pass words with such an unmanly representative of mankind as you, sir, but let me assure you it is my very calm and fixed determination to show you that all your intentions cannot be carried out."
"We will see, then," he said, with something of aroused indignation, "whose will is the stronger, or, rather, who has the advantage in this contest. You seem to forget your situation at the present moment, and that you are entirely and completely in my power."
"I forgot nothing, sir: I am in the hands of One, before whom you are as a grasshopper; and His justice does not always slumber."
"Turning parson again! It is all very well; but just now that high authority seems to be engaged in some one else's behalf, and, much to my satisfaction, has left you to take care of yourself. I, on the contrary, having an immediate interest in your welfare, have undertaken to care for you; and inasmuch as your very powerful ally has given you into my hands, I esteem it my interest and privilege to find a home and provide for you."
These words of derision were spoken with mock politeness, and the manner of the speaker indicated that much of his wonted assurance had returned.
"May that God you impiously defy, whose attributes you daringly and deridingly blaspheme, let fall upon your guilty head the just punishment for your crimes; I ask for you no greater curse—Heaven knows that will be dreadful enough!"
"There, that will do! We have had enough preaching for one day; let us now proceed to business. I was just remarking how completely you are in my power, and a glance at your situation will at once reveal to you the fact that I have you where I can compel a compliance with my wishes; but I do not propose to use force, unless compelled to do so by your own obstinacy and willfulness. I have already, on former occasions, spoken to you of my deep and unquenchable love for you, and it is not my purpose to repeat the declarations made at those several interviews farther than to say, that my feelings toward you remain unchanged; I regard you too highly to permit another to wed you; I may be selfish, but that is a natural result of love; no one ever loved but he desired to possess the object of his affection. In this respect I do not claim for myself any superior excellence; my love is human in kind, it only differs from others by being stronger in degree; and the deeper the love, the more ardent the desire to win the beloved. This is my only apology for bringing you here; and, as it is a very flattering one, I hope you will accept it, and pardon the act to the performance of which I was irresistibly driven by this strongest passion of the human heart."
Seeing the direction he was giving the conversation, Eveline took up her book and commenced reading. Duffel was exceedingly vexed, but this time he was not to be balked in his designs, and so took the book from her hands, saying as he did so.
"I beg pardon, but now I must and will be heard. I have already informed you of your father's feelings toward yourself and Charles Hadley: I have now another piece of intelligence to communicate to you; and that is, that your parent gave you to me in case I should be able, by any means, to save you from a union with Hadley."
"It is false! My parent gave me his solemn promise never to interpose his authority to compel me to marry against my will."
"Very well: you at the same time gave him your word never to see Hadley until he was cleared of the crime imputed to him; he believes you have been unfaithful on your part, and that he, therefore, is no longer bound to observe the compact entered into between you."
"Again you are guilty of misrepresentation. My father's word was pledged to me before he had even asked me not to see Mr. Hadley, and there was, consequently, no compact between us, but a voluntary promise on either side."
"Which you violated by going to meet Hadley, as you supposed."
"No, sir, I did not. My word was given to be observed so long only as Mr. Hadley appeared to be guilty. I know him to be innocent, and that knowledge absolves me."
"As you please on that point; for it matters but little, and does not change the view taken of the subject by Mr. Mandeville, who, as I said, has given you to me on the one condition of preventing a union between you and Hadley; and I am at liberty to act just as I see fit in order to accomplish this end. Don't you see that I have everything my own way, and your father's sanction, also, to any measures I may adopt?"
"What you say may be true, though I have no evidence whatever that it is; for if you would lie to my parent, you would lie to me also. One thing, however, I do know, and that is, that you have not yet obtained my consent to your proposed measures, and being of age, I have the legal right to make such disposition of my hand as I may see proper; and be assured I will never bestow it upon you! Sir, I would prefer to wed the vilest wretch in the Penitentiary of any State before you."
"You may repent the use of such words, fair lady; and, indeed, but for my merciful feelings toward you, ere this you would have been glad to beg the boon I now offer and you reject."
"Infamous villain! never!"
"We shall see."
"And we shall see!"
She fixed upon him that look from which he had so often shrunk before, and again he quailed beneath it.
"From what you have already said," he replied, avoiding her gaze, "I am led to suppose you suspect me of crimes in the eyes of the law, which it would not be pleasant for the world to know. This is an additional reason why I cannot permit you to leave this place except as my wife; for I am not prepared just yet to enter the court-room. I am persuaded that one of your strongest reasons for refusing to marry me, has its foundation in a former preference, and is kept active by the hope of a union with the object of that preference; if so, permit me to say to you that Charles Hadley is dead!"
"Perhaps, but I must have better evidence of the fact than your simple, unsupported word, or I will not believe it. I know you bargained to have him killed, but I hope God overruled your wicked intentions."
"Your hope is vain, and I will bring you the necessary witnesses to-morrow to prove my words; at present I will state the fact, and add; for your benefit, that, whether true or false, your destiny is the same, and from it you cannot, shall not escape. I will now lay down the unalterable decree of fate, which you may as vainly attempt to avoid, as to pluck down the stars of heaven, or to blot out the sun from the firmament!"
"I give you one week in which to con the matter over in your mind; if at the end of that time you willingly consent to become my wife, well and good; if not, then I will make you mine whether you will or not!"
"Girl! don't presume too far on my patience. I warn you it is not the most enduring in the world."
"I am not so sure of that. Cowards are generally very patient when there is no danger at hand."
"You will repent this, girl!"
"And you, sir! what will you do when the rope dangles in your face?"
"Kiss my pretty wife and commend her to the compassion of her friends."
"You will never have a wife, sir. God in His infinite mercy, will spare all my sex from such a fearful calamity."
"Enough words for this time. To-morrow I will bring the witnesses of Hadley's death, as I promised you; and this day week I will receive your final answer to my last offer of a peaceable marriage."
So saying, he left the room and the cave.
THE EVIDENCE—DUFFEL THWARTED.
It would be difficult to tell which of the two, Eveline or Duffel, was most uneasy, or least alarmed, during the progress of the conversation recorded in the last chapter. Duffel feared that Bill and Dick had played him false, and he also saw that his antagonist was too much for him in a fair contest. Eveline felt an internal dread of her adversary, though she gave no outward manifestation of fear, having firmly resolved to withstand his every attack, and if need be die in defense of her virtue. When alone, however, the feelings uppermost in her mind were those of distress and apprehension; and as she took a survey of the position in which she was placed, and contemplated the hopelessness of her situation, a tide of emotions, long suppressed, swept over her spirit, and yielding to her feelings, she bowed her head, and wept.
When Duffel was alone, he called up all that had passed, and as he dwelt on the revelation of his plots as made to him by Eveline, he came to the conclusion that the sooner he could get rid of Bill and Dick the better; for it must have been through them that she came in possession of the secrets known only to themselves.
"I'll teach them a lesson!" he said, "and once clear of these fellows I will never trust rascals again. I wish they would, hurry and make way with Duval; I would then have them! However, I must have an interview now, and use them awhile longer."
He proceeded to the "swamp," where his associates were to meet him. They were already in waiting when he arrived, and without ceremony or circumlocution, he accosted them as follows:
"So, then, you have turned traitors, have you?"
"Yes, and been developing my secrets."
"If any tongue but yours should dare make the accusation, it would be silenced forever," replied Bill, in much excitement. "Who dares to make such a charge against us? We demand to know, and his lying lips shall be sealed with his own blood!"
"There, that will do. It was only a woman that intimated to me that you were unfaithful; and I thought then, as I think now, that it was all guess-work with her."
Here he narrated so much of the interview with Eveline as related to themselves, and concluded by asking if they had held any private conversation that she could by any possibility have overheard.
"Not a word, your honor; we did not so much as make a sign by which she might suspect us or you."
"Very well, I am satisfied; but it seems she either knows or suspects something, and we must be more than ever on our guard. What I wish to say to you now, is, that this lady, either for willfulness or out of disbelief, affects to discredit my statement concerning Hadley's death, and I wish you to accompany me to the cave to-morrow, and confirm my statements. You need not implicate yourselves, but give the facts as you saw them transpire."
"All right we'll be there; and I guess we can fix up the right kind of a story for the occasion."
"And to-morrow night you must make a descent upon 'Squire Williams' pasture-field, and save a little of his grass by removing a part of his stock. You understand?"
"Perfectly. We will try, but it's getting to be rather a dangerous business of late. Since Mandeville's horse was stolen, the men have taken it into their heads to defend their property. Only a few nights ago, two of our men went over with the intention of taking Thompson's fine bay; but he was on hand, and shot one of them through the arm; and they were glad to get off without the horse."
"Indeed! that's bad news, for we must make a raise somehow. I don't want the captain to come back and find we have done nothing in his absence."
"Well, we will do the best we can; but it is about time we were leaving this part of the country, at least for awhile. I don't think we can effect much, and we run great risks of being detected."
"Do you think suspicion rests on any of our members?"
"Well I can't say as to that. People are beginning to suspect everybody they don't know, and some that they do. If a man hasn't any particular occupation, he is pretty certain to be suspected of getting his living by dishonest means."
"We must get away from here. I will be ready to look out some other location within the next fortnight. In the meantime, do the best you can, and all that you can; but be very cautious. Remember to-morrow."
"We will be there, be assured."
With this the villains departed.
Eveline continued to weep for some length of time and then, arousing herself, she summoned all the courage of which she was master, and braced herself to meet the fate in store for her, be it what it might.
In passing through the room, her eye fell upon a strip of paper, which lay in such a position as to indicate that it had been brushed from a table which was sometimes used by Duffel to write upon. She listlessly took it up and glanced over it, when her eye caught a few lines penciled upon it. Seating herself, she examined the writing more closely, and in a moment became interested. On the paper were some characters, the meaning of which she could not comprehend, though she recognized them in a moment, as being the same in form and character as those on the letter which had fallen into her father's hand, purporting to be from some one to Hadley, as related in the former part of this story, and in connection with these were clearly traced the following words:
"And then Bill and Dick! They are first rate fellows in their way, and have been very serviceable to me; but I don't think it is best to have too many confidants. I must get rid of them in some way, either by fair or foul means. Then I shall feel safe and at ease."
These few lines, it seemed to Eveline, had been written unintentionally, as a man would unconsciously "think aloud;" and she was persuaded in her own mind, that Duffel knew not of their existence, or he would have destroyed them. And this was the fact. He had written a letter to the captain on the day previous to Eveline's abduction, the first draft of which was now in her hand. This paper was on the table at his side, and after finishing the letter, he sat for some moments in deep thought, the burden of which was his own situation. His pencil was in his hand, and in the course of his secret communion, the words we have quoted were spoken to himself, and recorded with the pencil—his mind the while too completely absorbed in the current of his reflections to note the act or be aware of the mechanical action of his hand.
It instantly flashed across her mind that this document might be made serviceable to her, if, on the morrow, unperceived by Duffel, she could find an opportunity of slipping it into the hand of one of his confederates. She turned it over, and wrote on the other side:
"I found this paper in the room where I am confined. You will know whether or not the writing is in the hand of your employer; should it prove to be, as I suspect it is, you will at once perceive his intentions toward you, and can act accordingly. If, in this new phase of affairs, you feel willing to desert his service, and aid me to escape out of his hands, and from this place, you shall be abundantly rewarded, and I will ever be your debtor.
She then folded the note into as small a compass as possible, and placed it about her person for future use.
The next day, Duffel visited the cave in company with Bill and Dick, whom he introduced into the captain's room for the purpose already named.
"You have not forgotten our conversation yesterday, Eveline," said he, "nor have I my promise. In these gentlemen you have the witnesses of Hadley's death, which, for your own good, I have taken this pains to establish beyond a doubt. My friends will now speak for themselves."
Bill at once addressed himself to her as follows:
"It is with much pain, fair lady, that we are before you as witnesses of the sad occurrence referred to by Mr. Duffel; but as circumstances have placed us in this unpleasant situation, we crave your pardon most heartily, and the more so, if what we have to say should be a source of grief to you. It so happened that my friend and myself were crossing the mountains, a short time since, and being somewhat belated, were urging our passage through a dark and gloomy valley, in some apprehension, when we suddenly came upon two villains, who had just slain a man, and were about to rob him. We rushed to the spot before their work was completed, and they fled from the scene of murder in the greatest alarm. We dismounted, and found that the individual was Mr. CHARLES HADLEY, with whom we had been acquainted some years before. He was not yet quite dead, and spoke a few words about his mother and some other lady; but his articulation was so indistinct and his words so broken, we could not gather the import of what we supposed to be his dying messages to those of whom he spoke. He expired in a few moments, and we then hastened to the nearest hamlet for assistance. I would fain stop here, lady, for the rest of the recital is very shocking; but I have been requested to tell all, and must do so. It was something over an hour before we, with some four or five others, who had accompanied us, returned, when, oh, horror! what were our feelings on beholding a pack of hungry wolves devouring the body of Mr. Hadley! We lighted torches and drove them away, but nothing remained of the dead man but his bones! God grant that I may never witness another such a sight!"
Eveline, who was much shocked at this story, lest it might be true, though she was by no means certain it was not made up for the occasion, appeared to be much more deeply affected than she really was, and made appear as though she was about to faint, seeing which, Duffel stepped up with the intention of supporting her. She sprang from him, and, in great apparent agitation, seized Bill by the arm, and demanded of him if what he had said was the actual truth, and at the same time pressed the note in his hand, giving him an intelligent look. He very dextrously transferred the little billet to his left vest pocket, as though he was simply laying his hand upon his heart to give greater solemnity to his reply, and said:
"I assure you, madam, what I have told you is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and my friend will confirm the statement I have made."
"Yes," said Dick, thus appealed to, "the sad story is but too true; I wish for your sake it was not."
This was said with some feeling, and it had more effect upon Eveline than even the horrid recital given by Bill, but she felt the necessity of crushing down all tender feelings, and with a masterly effort succeeded in doing so, then replied:
"You will pardon me, gentlemen, for having seemed to express a doubt on the subject of your narrative; we are apt to judge persons by the company they keep, and knowing your friend here," (pointing to Duffel,) "is very much given to telling falsehoods, I thought it possible you might have formed that detestable habit through his example; I trust, however, it is not the case."
Duffel boiled with internal rage at this remark; but suppressing his anger, he conducted his allies out of the room, gave them some directions, and then returned to impose his unwelcome presence and conversation upon Eveline, who had no means of avoiding him, but was compelled to hear his words.
"I hope," said he, "you are now satisfied of the truth of my declaration, that Hadley is dead."
"He may be; but I say now, as I said before, I do not know that he is; but admitting that he is dead, what difference does it make?"
"Why not much, it is true, and I think I took the liberty of saying so yesterday. I only wish, by proving the certainty of this event, to show you the folly of continuing longer to set your affections upon him, provided you have been doing so heretofore."
"And suppose I should cease to remember him, what would that avail you?"
"I would then hope to be able to convince you of my own deep love, and in so doing of exciting a kindred sentiment in your own bosom."
"Have you the presumption to believe that I could be brought to such a state of degradation of feeling, now that I know who and what you are, when I rejected you under far more favorable circumstances? If you have, let me at once tell you, that in this instance, as in many others, your vanity has led you to entirely over-estimate your ability to please. Perhaps some of my sex might be silly enough to listen to your well-turned speeches, but I can assure you the less you speak to me of love the better."
"People often change their minds."
"So they do; but I think you have pretty good reason to believe that I am not particularly liable to be charged with that failing."
"Well, no, I believe I cannot charge you with that weakness; but I am sure you are very obstinate for one of your sex, which is not usually adjudged to be among the amiable characteristics of a lady."
"A lady that has no mind of her own is no credit to the sex; but I am sorry to say there are too many of that class, at least we might readily suppose so by the easy manner in which they are taken captive with soft, silly nonsense, and smooth, flattering words. If you admire such, the best thing you can do is to go and make love to them; you will progress much faster than you do here."
"There now, by my troth, I like that! I wouldn't give a cent for a girl that had no spirit about her. If you keep on at such a rate, I shall be more madly in love with you than ever! Come, be a good girl, and give us a little more of that kind of spice!"
"You like it, do you? Very well, I will change the key a little then, just a little, and let you have a peep at yourself. You pretend to entertain sentiments of regard for me; but you know, and I know also, that it is my father's wealth of which you are enamored."
"No, I swear to you, I love you!"
"And I know that is a false oath. You base hypocrite! do you think for a moment that I cannot and do not see through your flimsy gauze of deception? I can read your guilty soul as a book; I know your motives, and I know that a pure, generous, or noble sentiment never had a lodgment in your breast. You are base, corrupt, cowardly and unmanly in every sense of the word. There is not a redeeming trait in your character. You are false to your friends, you cajole your enemies, and prey upon community. You know this is a true picture of yourself, only that 'the half has not been told;' and yet you have the unblushing audacity to talk to me of love!"
"Yes; and what is more, I am going to wed you."
"Sir! never dare to utter such a word in my presence again!"
"Ha, ha, ha! That is rich, any how! Ha, ha! A weak prisoner to dare a mighty captor in that way! You certainly must forget where you are, my pretty little defiant beauty! Why I could just as easily compel a compliance with my wishes, as make you a listener to my discourse."
"Not quite, sir; you might possibly find yourself slightly mistaken should you attempt too much, and I give you fair warning to beware what you do!"
"Ha, ha, ha! Why, my love, I could conquer you with one hand."
"You had better not try it, sir!"
"I certainly would make an effort had I not already allowed you a week to make up your mind. But to show you how completely you are in my power, I will just plant a kiss on your ruby lips—"
"Never, sir; never!" said she, with flashing eye. "Dare to touch me with your polluted hand, and you die on the spot!"
"Ha! what's that I hear? Talk of killing, do you? Well, we shall see."
And he took a step toward her, with the intention of carrying out his threat.
"Stop, sir!" she said; and there was that in the tone of her voice which arrested him as suddenly as would a bar of iron interposed across his way. "Know," she continued, "that lips polluted as yours are can never come in contact with mine! I would sooner press mine to the slimy carcass of a decaying animal, than permit them even to touch yours! and I would far rather inhale the atmosphere from putrid flesh, aye, from the vilest carrion, than that your foul breath should enter my nostrils! This, sir, will give a faint idea of the utter detestation, the inexpressible loathing, I feel for you."
"By heavens! you shall repent of this in sackcloth and ashes! Detest and loathe as you please, you shall feel my lips upon your own! and that now!"
With this, the infuriated villain stepped forward and made a pass, intending to encircle Eveline in his arms, but she eluded his grasp, and placing the sofa between them, drew from the folds of her dress a small dagger, and pointing it at his heart, said:
"One step, one movement toward me, and your life pays the forfeit!" and she pressed the point of the weapon against his breast.
The cowardly wretch was taken aback, and the moment he felt the instrument touch him sprang away, as if the sharp steel was truly entering his flesh.
"Base coward!" she, in her excitement, hissed between her teeth in the most contemptuous manner. At his discomfiture and these words, his rage knew no bounds; he was beside himself with anger, and but for the weapon which she held, would have wreaked his vengeance upon her at once in the most beastly manner. As it was, his cowardice did not permit him to make the attempt, and he contented himself with pouring out his wrath in words:
"You incarnate child of h——l! I'll make you weep in sorrow and shame for this! I have given you a week for reflection, but now your time is at hand, any hour that I shall please to crush you! and I will not keep you long in suspense. You have called up a thousand furies in my breast, all clamorous for revenge, and I will not resist their cries! No, it will be manna to my soul to see your proud spirit humbled, or behold you a suppliant for mercy at my feet!"
"Oh, yes; you may talk, and by my dalliance I have learned you to become insolent; but now I am done with temporizing. I throw down the gauntlet, since you have entered the lists, and will compel you to accept the challenge."
"No, sir, I accept it freely! Don't talk of compelling me to do a thing."
"I'll show you what I'll do! I'll bring tears into those flashing eyes, and prayers from that venomous tongue! Yes, I will! I have engagements ahead for two days, and after that you shall have no peace day or night, until I have forced you to become my wife! I wouldn't marry you at all, but that I have sworn to you to that effect, and I will keep my word."
"You have uttered many false oaths before; they are so common I do not regard them."
"Your boasting will soon be done! If need be, I have fifty men under my command, upon whom I can call for assistance, and not one of them will dare to disobey my orders."
"Poor, contemptible poltroon! Fifty men against one feeble woman! Verily, you have a brave set of fellows under a brave commander! But you dare not call upon your men; I could make forty friends of the number in quick time; but, even if I should fail, you are too much of a coward to trust fifty men with your secret, especially as they all know you have a superior in command, to whom you are amenable."
"Who told you this?"
"Find out as best you can. Perhaps I might suggest to you the possibility of having already made friends among the members of the Order."
"Order! Who the d——l told you there was an Order?"
"Well, find out."
"I will, then!"
"And you will not!"
"Then there's treason in the League, and I'll ferret it out."
"Do so, by all means!"
She was gaining the victory again, and he changed his tactics.
"I care but little who you may have in league with you, so long as you are here in my power. No one can enter this room without my consent, and in it I am safe even from the attack of an army without. Here you are my prisoner; you think you are safe in the other apartment with the door locked and bolted on the inside, but you are not. There is a secret passage to the room, of which you are in total ignorance. I can avail myself of it at any moment: and you will some time be compelled to sleep. Don't you see I have you, now?"
This was sheer folly; for it was evidently his best policy to have kept the knowledge of the secret passage to himself if he expected to avail himself of it; but he was for inflicting all the pain he could, and this he fancied would be a deep thrust.
"I thank you, villain, for this timely piece of information; and be assured I shall not fail to be prepared for your reception, should you dare to intrude into my presence while there."
"Hooty-tooty! as if I am not to be master in my own house! Well, well; flatter yourself with foolish fancies if you will; but know that your destiny is fixed. You shall never leave this cave, except as my wife. This is your fate, and you may as well make up your mind to it at once. I will have no more words with you at present, but will leave you to reflect on what I have said, with the hope that a little calm thought will show you the folly of resistance, the certainty of your fate and the wisdom of a peaceful acquiescence therein."
Saying which, he left the cave, as much vanquished as victor, though with a firm resolve to carry his purpose, even if he had to disable her first, by shooting her through the arm, with a pistol, in order to overcome her!
BILL AND DICK—HORSE-STEALING—ANTI-THIEF LEAGUE.
On leaving the cave, after the interview with Eveline, Bill and Dick resorted to a place where they were in the habit of holding consultations on their own affairs, arrived at which, Bill produced the note which Eveline gave him, from his pocket, and at once perused it. A dark scowl gathered on his face as he read, and when he had mastered the document, an exclamation broke from his lips to this effect:
"Infernal villain and coward!"
"What now?" queried Dick, not a little surprised at his companion's violent language.
"What do you think?"
"That's a pretty question to ask! as if I could know anything contained in that paper, when I've never seen it except in your hand."
"This rascal, for whom we have been working these three months, wants to get clear of us, so soon as he has obtained from us all the aid he desires."
Dick stood a moment, as if in doubt whether to believe Bill's words or not; at length he inquired:
"How do you know this?"
"Why, here it is, in his own hand-writing."
That he wants to betray us?"
"No—yes—that is, he wants to get us out of the way!"
"By fair means or foul; he don't seem to care which. But I will read his words," and Bill read the billet to his accomplice.
"So he's afeard of us!" commented Dick. "Well, it ain't much wonder that he is. Ef I had as many crimes to account for as he has, and others knew of my guilt, I'd be skeered, too."
"See here, Dick, what the d——l does he mean by wanting us to hurry off that affair with Duval?"
"Fool! can't you see nothin'? Why, he wants us to kill a member of the Order, and then have us shot as traitors!"
"Egad! plain enough, truly. Well, Mr. Duval, you may pass this time; we'll pitch into higher game. What do you say, Dick?"
"Say? Why, that this friend of ours will have to git up mighty airly in the mornin', ef he finds us nappin'."
"Let me tell you, it is no very pleasant fix, this, that we are in. Duffel fears we will betray him, and is resolved to prevent it by having us killed. That's the 'long and short' of the matter; and he has fifty men at his back, all sworn to obey his orders. He can accuse us of treason, try, condemn, and have us shot, in the shortest possible time. Now, how are we to help ourselves?"
"Well, we can't be tried till the next regular meeting of the League, and it is more than two weeks till that time. We can watch his movements, and, ef need be, kill him or give him over into the hands of the law on a charge of murder."
"Yes, give him over to justice, and who is to prove him guilty, unless it be ourselves, and then we would have the whole League down upon us in quick time! a pretty way, indeed, to get rid of him. True, we might kill him at our next meeting in the 'swamp' and then be hung for it, which would be a poor recompense for our trouble and bad pay for taking the life of such a dastard. No, I am for revenge—a revenge that will thwart his designs, and save us from his power at the same time."
"But how are you going to accomplish so much? that's the rub."
"See here; on the back of this note, Miss Mandeville writes a few lines, asking our aid, and promising a reward for any service we may be willing and able to render her. My plan is this: To take the lady from the cave, which will be the deepest blow we can strike the villain, and then—"
"Well that'll do for the present. I want to know, before you go any further, how you are to git the gal out without the key, which, I take it, Duffel is very careful to secure about his own person?"
"Key! the deuce!" replied Bill, taken aback, for a moment, by the query. "I hadn't thought of that, but it's no difference; my plans are not alf made out in the details yet; but this is no bar to them; for I'd like to see the lock that Bill Mitchel can't make a key to fit, if he has a fair chance. I can make a false key in a day that will open the door to the captain's room. So that difficulty is settled."
"And now for the rest of your plan."
"Well, when we get all ready, I'll just drop a note to some of the vigilance men, and tell them when and where they can find Duffel taking care of a stolen horse. This will save us from the malice of any of his confederates, as they will not suspect us, and place Duffel in the hands of the officers of the government; and he will not get away soon, I'm thinking!"
"So you expect to have Duffel captured about the same time you are liberating his gal. Well, that's pretty sharp; I think you have not wasted your time in Duffel's service, and after all, ought to thank him for giving you such good lessons in plotting. But you have left one loophole yet, for all that."
"What is it?"
"I've been tryin' to think what you will do with the gal when she's brought out of the cave. She'll have to tell where she's been, and that'll fix all of us."
"I have that matter all settled. It won't do to take the girl home, that's certain; and this is my plan for action on that score: You see I have been thinking this matter over in my mind before to-day. I didn't know but we should have a split with Duffel on the Duval affair, and I was preparing for such a state of things in case it did come. As I have told you before, I know where there is a magnificent cave for our purpose in the mountains of Virginia, to which it has been my determination to retreat, should anything go wrong here. Well, I intend to take this young lady along with us to that cave."
"Dang the women! I don't like to be bothered with 'em. Ef you are goin' to that place, why not let the gal go home and 'blow' all she's a mind to? It wouldn't hurt us, ef she did let out the secret."
"It might, though. Some of the members of the League might chance to find us hereafter, and inform on us out of revenge."
"But we can swear the gal to keep still about who let her out."
"Pooh! do you suppose she would or could do it?"
"Why, yes, I think it's more'n likely she'd keep her tongue out of gratitude. She's no common gal, that, and you may put a peg there."
"Ah, that's it exactly. She's no common girl, as you say; and I have been envying Duffel his good fortune ever since she has been in the cave. The truth is, I was smitten by her charms the first time I saw her, and was half tempted to play Duffel false then; and now that I can serve myself and disappoint him at the same time, I shall not be slow to avail myself of the opportunity."
"I don't like this business of runnin' off women, nohow you can fix it. It allers looked mean and cowardly, somehow, and I despise meanness and cowardice above all things."
"Well, that is a pretty speech to come from you, anyhow! as if you had not been engaged in mean acts half your life, for which you would have to swing, if the law should once get his clutches upon you."
"I know I have done some bad things; of mean acts I have performed but few, and the meanest of these was helping to carry off this very gal to the cave; and it was by far the most cowardly. Two men to one woman! It's actually a disgrace, and I never think of it without feelin' little!"
"I am willing you should think as you please about the matter, so you give me a little help in the affair."
"I don't know about that; I am tee-totally opposed to meddlin' with women, and I don't think it's manly."
"Yes, but in this instance we are compelled, as it were, to take the girl with us. That changes the case, you know, very materially."
"I'm not so sure as we need to take her. I believe she'd keep our secret ef we'd let her go."
"Well, I don't; and so we differ. But that is not the question. Go she must—go she shall! Will you assist me?"
"Why, I reckon I'll have to; it wouldn't hardly be fair to refuse a friend after helpin' an enemy. I'll stand by you."
"That's a good fellow! Well, so much is settled. To-morrow Duffel will be away, and I will take the impression for the key. By Jove, won't it be rich when he finds that he has been robbed and the bird is flown!"
"I think he'll conclude this partic'lar part of God's footstool is likely to become a leetle too hot for him."
"Yes; and about the time he begins to prepare for leaving, he'll find himself taken care of in a way he doesn't dream of."
"And there will be one coward less at large in the world."
"And he will be paid for his treason to his friends."
"But how are we to manage him till the time for action comes?"
"Oh, we must be friendly as ever; he is not quite done with us yet, and we must seem to enter into his plans as fully as ever we have done, and, above all, give him no cause to suspect anything is wrong, or that we have any idea of his intentions toward us."
"Then we must go after them horses to-night?"
"Certainly; I would not miss the opportunity, because, if we succeed in taking the horses, they will be under our care, and we can use them for our own purpose."
"Sure enough. But if we don't get them, what then are we to do?"
"Why, we will take some from the stable."
"I don't like that much. Ef it is found out, as it will be when we are missed, we shall have the enmity of the Order."
"I know, and have prepared for such an emergency."
"I will let you know in good time. We must away, now, to meet Duffel in the 'swamp.'"
Thus terminated the interview between these bad men. Had Eveline dreamed that such would have been the effect of her revelation to them of Duffel's purpose, she would have burned the paper sooner than have placed it in their hands. From one snare she falls into another, and there appears to be no end to her misfortunes.
* * * * *
Night was upon the world. In peaceful slumbers the innocent reposed, while the wicked, the thief and robber, stole out upon errands of vice and crime.
'Squire Williams, though in common a follower of that old proverb:
"Early to bed and early to rise, Make a man healthy, wealthy and wise;"
was, on this evening, up until past eleven o'clock, in social chat with a neighbor, who had "dropped in to spend the evening" with him. During the conversation between them, the subject of most engrossing and universal interest in that community, that of horse-stealing, was amply discussed.
"What do you think is best to be done?" inquired the neighbor.
"Well, others may do as they please; but I intend to defend my property," was the 'Squire's reply.
"Just the conclusion I have arrived at; and I shall not be surprised if we are called upon very soon to put our resolves into practice."
"Have you heard anything new?"
"Well, no, I haven't heard anything, but I've seen a little, and that, I take it, is about as good."
"Why, yes, it might be better, if it was good for anything at all."
"I do not know how good it is, but my suspicions were excited."
"It is quite an easy matter to have our suspicions excited these exciting times, and on this very exciting subject. There is Mr. Mandeville, has been made to believe that one of the best young men who ever lived, is guilty of stealing his horse first, and his daughter afterward."
"You don't mean to say that he suspects Mr. Duffel of such crimes?"
"No; he judges a thousand times better man than Duffel; for, between you and me, I have my doubts about this Duffel. I have seen him on two different occasions in company with a couple of, to say the least, very suspicious looking characters."
"You don't say so!"
"Yes; and what is more, he was evidently on good terms with them, though he did not appear to wish me to think so, and passed the matter off indifferently. I might not have thought so much of the circumstance were it not for the fact that he does not attend to business at all, and yet lives in a better style and more extravagantly than any other young man in the country. I tell you a man can't live these times, and spend money as he does, without having an income much greater than his."
"Perhaps he is making inroads on his capital."
"That may be, too, though I do not know that it is the case; but I do know that he is absent from home much of the time, occasionally for days together, and nobody can tell where he is."
"I have noticed the fact of his absence myself."
"Mr. Mandeville was here to-day, and gave me a history of his troubles. It appears that this Duffel was in love with his daughter—or, as I suppose, with his money—and had proposed to him for her hand, which he was willing to bestow, but the daughter was not. She had placed her affections upon another, and, in my belief, a far worthier object, and to the importunities of both her father and Duffel, she gave a firm and constant refusal. The parent forbid her favorite the house, and he believes that it was through his persuasions that Eveline left her home, of which you, of course, have heard."
"Why, yes, I heard the fact, but none of the particulars."
"Well there are no particulars, except that Mr. Mandeville found a couple of notes, purporting to be from her lover, one addressed to herself and the other to him, in the former of which he persuades her to meet him at a certain place, and in the latter informs the parent of their elopement and asks forgiveness. Now it strikes me that these notes or letters were placed there by design, and that they are both forgeries. I know the hand-writing of the young man he accuses, and though the manuscript of the two letters is a very good imitation of his, yet it is not the same. Beside, I do not believe him capable of such an act."
"Why, then, is the daughter gone?"
"I believe she has been kidnapped!"
"Yes, I do!"
"But who would do it? Who would dare to do it!"
"Who so likely as the true lover's rival?"
"Heavens! you don't believe Duffel would commit such a crime?"
"I do; but mind, this is to go no further until I can find proof to sustain my belief. I am going to keep a strict watch upon the movements of this fellow, and I think I shall be able to find out where he keeps himself a part of the time during his absence."
"What do you mean?"
"Nothing more nor less than that there is a secret gang of thieves and villains of all kinds, whose head quarters are somewhere in this region of country, and that I intend to ferret out their hiding-place."
"I am with you in that work with all my heart!"
"Very well. Here, then, is a paper I wish you to sign. It is a pledge. The villains have banded together to prey upon us, and I am for banding together to frustrate their plans and bring them to justice. This is simply the form of agreement we enter into among ourselves, and it binds us to use all honorable efforts, to further the cause in which we engage, and to expose the guilty wherever and whenever we can find them, even if the offender should be our nearest kin."
"I'll sign it, sir, with a hearty good will!"
"It further obligates us to aid each other to the utmost of our ability in recovering stolen property, in case any of us should meet with such a misfortune."
"All right, that's a good feature, I'm one of you, heart and hand!"
"Then you may sign, understanding, however, that all which passes between us, as members of this body, is to be kept an inviolable secret. We administer no oath, depending solely upon the honor of our members, all of whom are expected to be honorable and honest men, whose word will be better than the most terrible oath of a criminal."
The document was signed, and the 'Squire continued:
"Now, I wish you to consider all that has or may pass between us this evening as strictly confidential. At the last meeting of our body it was made the duty of every member to protect his property, and to shoot down all thieves who were caught in the act of stealing horses. Some, however, were for first warning the depredators, and if they did not then desist, to fire upon them."
"Indeed! is it supposed that the rascals are so bold?"
"Certainly they are! Why, it was but two or three nights ago that two thieves went into the pasture to take old Marshall's horses, supposing he was too aged and infirm to thwart them, even if he should learn their designs; they went early in the evening, before people usually retired to rest; they caused a disturbance among the horses, which called out a couple of neighbors who chanced to be there, who went to the pasture and demanded of the thieves what they wanted; when they had the insolence to reply, that they came after the horses and were going to have them. With this the men fired upon them, but only with the intention of frightening them away; but they were not so easily scared, and continued to follow up after the horses, which were not easily caught, especially by strangers. Seeing this, the men reloaded their rifles, and, taking the best aim the darkness would allow, fired again; this time with the desired effect, as it was believed one of the villains was wounded."
"I had no idea they were getting so bold!"
"No doubt they are numerous, and numbers beget confidence, you know. But we must teach them a lesson or two they will not soon forget."
"By the way, George Gordon came home from a hunt a day or two ago, with a wound in his arm. Do you think it possible he could have been one of the thieves that night?"
"The truth is, I don't know who to trust nor who to suspect. I have no doubt there are numbers of seemingly honest people who belong to the secret gang of thieves. I should hardly have believed it of Gordon; but there is no telling. How does he account for the wound?"
"He says his gun accidentally went off while he was leaning upon it with his arm over the muzzle."
"Guns are not apt to play such scaly tricks as that; and we had better watch him."
"By-the-way, I heard a report yesterday, to the effect that Thompson had shot, or shot at, some thieves the other night."
"Yes, and you will hear of more shooting; mark that! And if the thieves do not cease their operations, you will hear of some of them being shot dead pretty soon!"
At this point in the conversation, a trampling among the horses in the pasture attracted the attention of the 'Squire.
"Thieves, now!" he exclaimed; and taking down a couple of rifles, he gave one to his neighbor and retaining the other himself, the two sallied forth to ascertain what was going on. It was a starlight night, and they could see some distance tolerably clearly. No sooner did they come in full view of the field in which the horses were, than they espied two thieves attempting to coax the 'Squire's favorite horse to them. The animal, however, had always been shy of strangers, and would never suffer itself to be caught by one even in the day-time. It was a noble animal, and the thieves, as well as the lawful owner, had set their hearts upon it. They would approach as near as prudence dictated, and then hold out corn and salt to entice the beast; it would come near, but the moment they made the least motion to catch it, would wheel about and let fly at them with its heels in such a manner as evinced to the thieves that it was best to keep at a respectful distance. They were yet unwilling to go without him, and made repeated attempts to win him over to their way of thinking, but he was entirely too honest to be wheedled into such bad company.
The 'Squire watched their operations until he thought it was about time to stop the play, and then fired near, but not at the rascals, at the same time calling out to them that they had better leave in short meter if they wanted to get away alive. Supposing that he was alone and his gun empty, they returned an insolent answer, to the effect that they would leave shortly on a couple of his horses; and turned to try their hand at taking some of the others in the pasture. To such a bold pass had the thieves arrived!
"Aim at the rascals, and fire!" said the 'Squire to his companion; and they did so.
"By jing, Bill, we'd better be moving, I believe. That ball took a lock of hair off by my ear!"
"The devil it did!"
Everything being still at the moment, the 'Squire heard this scrap of conversation between the thieves, and called out:
"Yes, you had better leave, or I'll put the next ball through one of your hearts!"
"Do it, then, and be ——!" said one of them; and leveling a horse pistol at the 'Squire he fired, the ball from which struck the fence close by. This climax of insolence aroused the 'Squire fully. His gun was just reloaded, and taking the best aim at one of the miscreants, both of whom were now retreating rapidly, he fired. The fellow clapped his hand to his face, but continued to run. They were soon out of sight.
The incidents here related are strictly true; but the truth is not half told. Many such scenes took place, and numbers of the thieves were killed, and some of them proved to be neighbors to those who had shot them!
The villains on this occasion were Bill and Dick, as the reader is aware, and this was the termination of their attempt to save the 'Squire's pasture, as Duffel suggested, or to get his horses as they themselves desired.
So soon as the thieves were gone, the neighbor remarked to the 'Squire:
"This reminds me of what I was going to say in the early part of the evening, but was led from the subject by the turn our conversation took."
"I remember, now, you mentioned having seen something, which excited your suspicions that all was not right, in some quarter."
"Well, it was two men, very dare-devil looking fellows, whom I have seen prowling about on several occasions, looking out, as I thought, for chances to steal; and if I am not greatly mistaken, these are the same men."
"No doubt of it at all.—This night's operations have convinced me more than ever of the necessity of strong measures; and the next time I see thieves at their work, I will not stop to scare them, but the first fire will be to wound or kill!"
"I think I shall act on the same principle."
"I advise you to, and all other honest men. I am satisfied nothing else will do."
With this they parted, each going to his own home.
It may be well enough to explain more fully than has yet been done, that Bill and Dick acted in two capacities, one of ruffians, the other as gentlemen. Bill was equally at home in either character, and could act the latter quite a la mode. Dick was rather out of his element when it came to the gentleman: he was a little awkward, and by no means at his ease; but give him a daring or desperate act to perform, and he was entirely at home. Yet for all this there was a streak of the man about him, and at heart he was better than either Bill or Duffel.
It was at Dick that the 'Squire aimed the last shot, and the bullet grazed his cheek, doing him no serious injury, however, though it drew the blood and left a scar.
The two villains notwithstanding that they were foiled in their attempt upon the horses, prepared for the prosecution of the rest of their schemes on the morrow with great energy. But leaving them for the present, we will turn to other scenes and characters.
Eveline did not sit down in supine idleness, and mourn over her sad fate. True, at times she gave way to her feelings, when the hopelessness of her situation came upon her, as she strove to penetrate the future, in all its crushing force; and she would then weep for a time. But there was a firmness about her character and a strength of determined resolution in her purposes, which braced her spirit and filled her bosom with feelings such as only have birth and nourishment in heroic souls. She looked her intended fate in the face, with the fixed purpose to meet and conquer it, or perish in the attempt.
In Duffel's absence, she had, on several occasions, searched the rooms of the cave in which she was confined, to see if there was no secret passage which communicated with the outer world. Her search had proved unavailing; but instead of the outlet she was seeking, she found a small, jewel-hilted dagger in a rich and costly case. It struck her at once that this weapon might prove of great value to her, and with much care she concealed it in the folds of her dress, where it was made fast. It was this dagger that served her so excellently in the interview with Duffel, recorded in a preceding chapter.
During the interview just referred to, it will be remembered how admirably she sustained her part, and how triumphantly she thwarted Duffel in all his villainous calculations, and especially in his attack upon her person. After the wretch was gone, and she found herself alone, a train of sad reflections came crowding in upon her mind. Was Hadley indeed dead? she thought—and then the circumstantial narrative of the two accomplices of her captor arose fresh in her mind.
"Oh, my God!" she exclaimed, "can it be that ravenous beasts fed upon his flesh? that those arms upon which I have leaned, and which I hoped would protect me, were torn from his body? that those lips which have smiled so sweetly and spoken so hopefully and tenderly, and that noble face and brow were gloated over by howling and bloody jaws! No, no; it cannot be! God is just! and the wicked shall not triumph."
She tried to drive the horrible picture from her thoughts, and after a time succeeded; for she felt the necessity of self-control in her trying situation, and bent all her energies to that point. Then she reflected upon all that had transpired that day, and she felt that with Duffel there was no mercy. But she was not overcome by the thought. If worst come to worst, she resolved that death should save her from the spoiler.
As these reflections occupied her mind, she remembered the declaration of the villain concerning the secret communication between the two apartments in which she was imprisoned. Until now it had been a source of no small consolation to her, that, in case of an emergency, she could retreat to her own room, and there abide in safety. But now this small comfort was taken from her, and she felt how completely she was in the power of her adversary. This feeling, however, did not crush her spirit; for she had already brought herself to the sublime point of martyrdom, and was prepared to die for virtue, rather than yield, in any case, to become the victim of sin, or to the wishes of the base wretch who hoped to conquer her.
Life is sweet, and it will never be surrendered by one who has a correct appreciation of its Author, until every consistent effort has been made to preserve it. Hence, Eveline determined to use every means to save herself before having recourse to this last resort.
As she was reflecting upon this matter, the suggestion came, that, perhaps, she might find this secret passage between the two rooms, and possibly be able to fasten the entrance way to her apartment on the inside, and thus bar the miscreant out, who would dare intrude upon her privacy. Acting upon the supposition that this idea was not beyond the pale of possibility, she commenced a diligent examination of all that part of the wall of the outer room which extended as far as the inner one; but she could find no resemblance to a door, no crack in the solid rocks, no spot on the floor which gave the least indication of what she sought. All was apparently an unbroken mass, through which no mortal or living thing had ever passed. She began to think that, after all, Duffel might possibly be deceived himself, or else was only trying to frighten her. Determined, however, if there was such a communication as he spoke of, to find it, if it could be found, she went into the other room, and commenced the same minute search, having first locked and bolted the door, so as to make certain of not being discovered or interrupted, unless the intruder should come by the secret way. After the closest examination of the wall, with her eyes, to no purpose, she commenced trying the efficacy of touch, pressing her fingers over every portion of the surface of the room; but, as no appearance of what she was laboring to find rewarded her search, she began to despair of success.
"If there is such a passage," she thought within herself, "it is so guarded that none may find it, save the possessors of the secret: and my only hope is in sleepless watchfulness. How long I shall be able to live without sleep, God knows."
In this manner the night was passed—night in the outer world; for to her the night and day were alike, and she could only guess as to which prevailed above her. She sat down to collect her thoughts and form, if possible, some plan of action by which to be governed. While thus engaged, she recollected the note she had given to Bill, the memory of which had been crowded from her mind for the past few hours by the pressure of other things.
"Oh, if I but knew how it would affect them!" she said, as she suffered her thoughts to dwell upon the subject. "They will certainly see the folly of trusting in Duffel, and the imminent danger they are exposed to in his service; but will they, can they help me? I will hope even if it is vain to do so. It is a fearful thing to be compelled to throw one's self into the hands and upon the mercy of such bad men; but God can overrule the evil intentions of the wicked, and very bad men sometimes perform noble and generous deeds."
Ah! had she known that at the very moment she was thus endeavoring to console herself, Bill was taking an impression of the lock to the door of the outer room, for the purpose of taking her to another prison, farther from home and hope than the one she was now confined in, how the little hope from that source would have died in her bosom!
After remaining for some length of time in a state of attempted repose, her mind, the while, completely absorbed in contemplating her own situation, she finally concluded to go out into the other apartment, and make another effort there, to find the entrance, if such there was, to her own room.
She had not been thus employed long, when a knocking at the outer door attracted her attention. She listened a moment, and then, supposing it to be Duffel, was about to retire to the inner cavity and bar him out; but just as she started to put this resolve in execution, her steps were arrested by hearing her own name called in a voice not like Duffel's. She instantly paused, and the call was repeated:
"Miss Mandeville! If you are present and hear me, please step to this door and look into the keyhole. It is a friend, who will aid you, that is now addressing you."
With a beating heart, she quickly reached the door, and from the place designated drew a small, compact roll of paper. On it were traced some lines by one who was evidently a highly accomplished penman. She hastened to examine the purport of the billet, which read as follows:
"Your appeal to us for assistance was not made in vain. We are fully satisfied of Duffel's wicked and base intentions toward us, and are resolved to thwart them. You shall be brought out of this den, and behold again the sunlight of heaven. By the day after to-morrow we will have our arrangements completed, when you may expect to hear from us again. Hold yourself in readiness to leave this place at any moment. Is this satisfactory to you, fair lady?"
There was no name to this; but it needed none to tell Eveline from whom it came. She knew it was from Duffel's accomplices, and rejoicing in the success of her plan, she replied to the inquiry at the close with alacrity:
"Yes, my good friends, this is eminently satisfactory. May God bless you, as you help me."
"Thank you for the confidence you place in us! we will endeavor to reward your expectations by delivering you from this dismal prison, at the very earliest moment possible. Will you now be so good as to burn the little strip of paper, lest by some unfortunate accident it might betray us to our mutual enemy, and thereby frustrate our plans?"
"Yes, sir, I will burn it immediately."
"Thank you. Keep up your courage, and be of good cheer."
"Accept my warmest gratitude for your generous aid, gentlemen; and be assured you shall not go unrewarded for the great service you render me."
"We ask no pay. The service you speak of will be most cheerfully and gladly rendered; and in your enlargement and the defeat of Duffel, we shall be more than a thousand times rewarded for the small efforts we shall be compelled to put forth in your behalf. And now adieu!"
"Adieu, gentlemen, and may Heaven bless you, in your efforts on my behalf."
It would be impossible to describe the feelings of Eveline at the close of this interview, separated though she was from her expected deliverers by a door of adamant. She did not take time to think into whose hands she was about to fall; in her gratitude and enthusiasm she forgot that they were ruffians, and clothed them in garments and with the glory of heroes, who for her sake risked their lives! Oh had she seen the blackness of heart which lay at the bottom of their seeming heroism and noble deeds, how her poor heart would have grown sick, and her bright hopes gone out in midnight darkness!
She retired to her room, bolted herself in, again read the note, then burned it, and gave herself up to the enjoyment of the first delicious hope that had sent joy to her troubled heart since the sad hour of her capture. Only two more days, and she would be at liberty! What a joy to her desponding spirit! Two more days, and she would be free from her fiendish persecutor, and could fly to her parent, to pour the balm of consolation into his rent breast, and bind up his lacerated heart! Only two more days! How the thought swelled her bosom! Alas! that from this high pinnacle of hope she must so soon be hurled!
From the interview Bill went out to meet Dick, whom he had left on guard, to give warning if Duffel or others should be coming to the cave.
We may as well remark here as at any other point, that the arrangements of the order with regard to the cave were these: One of the number was always expected to be within its precincts, to admit members who wished to obtain entrance, either to escape the pursuit of officers of justice, or to deposit booty. If by any possible chance this guarding sentinel should be called away, without being able to give warning of his departure from the post assigned him, he was to leave the key in a designated spot, where any member might find it in case of need. As Bill did not wish any one to know what he was doing at the door, he very generously offered to take the sentinel's place for a half-day, and permit him to go out and breathe the fresh air. The offer was gladly accepted; and Bill succeeded, to his entire satisfaction, in getting an impression of the lock, while on duty in the sentinel's stead.
There was, also, in a far corner of the outer cave, or rather, in an apartment by itself, a kind of kitchen, where food was prepared. It was from this place that Duffel supplied Eveline with nourishment, taking her meals to her himself, which, by the way, though ample and of good quality, were generally served up cold, or, to speak plainly, were left in the captain's room for her to partake of when and as she saw proper; for she would touch nothing that he brought, in his presence, nor would she have done so at any other time, could she have lived without food; it was only to be preserved from starvation, that she forced herself to eat in that cheerless abode.
In another part of the cave, separated from the main room partly by natural and partly by artificial means, was a kind of magazine, where powder, lead and arms were kept. To this the men had access at any time, and always resorted when in need of weapons or ammunition. With this brief explanation, the reader will be able to understand how things were managed by this band of freebooters, as, also, some of the succeeding portions of this story.
As we said, Bill left the cave and went out to see Dick, who was stationed along the passage-way in the bank of the stream, to impart to him the success of their operations thus far, and to finish the details of some of their arrangements for the future. The two worthies remained in conversation some two or three hours awaiting the return of the sentinel; and then Bill, becoming impatient, left the cave in Dick's care, and hastened away to get his key made. A portion of their conversation while together will be given hereafter, when a third party will be introduced as a listener; a party who at once became most deeply interested in their plans, and caught every word with the greatest eagerness, and with such emotions as may be supposed to agitate a human bosom only in cases where life and death are pending in the balances.
Will the contest be villain for villain? and life against life? We shall see! What, in the meantime, will become of the so recently hopeful Eveline? Will she be lost in the strife where murderer wages war against his brother murderer? Let us not anticipate.
Before proceeding with the direct thread of our narrative, we will again glance at the action of the "Anti-Horse-Thief League," organized, as already intimated, to put down the bold land-pirates, whose depredations upon property had become so unbearable the honest portion of community had no alternative left but to "become a law unto themselves," and by direct and combined action clear the country of the host of desperadoes with which it had become infested and overrun. Many of our aged readers will remember those exciting times; perhaps some of them can call to mind the very hour when they were forced to take their rifles in hand and go forth to defend their property.
On the very night that Bill and Dick made their ineffectual attempt on 'Squire Williams' horses, two others of the "Horse Thief League," as the gang of thieves were christened by the honest portion of community, went on a similar excursion into a different neighborhood, some five or six miles away, and met with a still warmer reception from the farmer whose stock they endeavored to remove without his consent, than did Bill and Dick in their attempt; for one of them was so badly wounded as to be scarcely able, with the assistance of his companion, to get away from the field and to his own home. Next day it was rumored that such a neighbor was badly wounded, and it was very doubtful if he recovered. Of course the wound was accounted for on strictly honorable grounds; but people understood the matter; and when, the second day, his remains were borne to the tomb, people shook their heads, but kept their lips compressed. If his children could grow up honest men, the crime for which their father died should never be imputed to them, or cast reproach upon their after lives. Then, too, it would not do to speak too plainly about a man's being killed, as it might lead to unpleasant consequences in after years, perhaps; for men were acting unlawfully in thus defending their property with arms.
These things caused still more active and energetic measures to be adopted by the Anti-League. A vigilance committee was appointed, consisting at first of three, and afterward of five men, who were to serve one month, and then be relieved by other five, each member taking his turn, until all had served. The duty of this committee was to keep a constant watch upon the movements of all suspected characters; and when a horse was stolen, to follow up the thief until, if possible, the offender was taken and the horse recovered. 'Squire Williams volunteered to serve on this committee as one of the first five, and four others joined themselves with him. For himself, without naming his suspicions to any one, he kept an eye upon Duffel's movements, resolved, if he was guilty, to prove him so, by the collection of such facts as would convict him in a court of justice. The neighbor who was with him on the night of the attack became his companion on the committee, and took upon himself the task of watching Bill and Dick. This arrangement was made the day after the thieves had been shot at; so that while Duffel was busy making his arrangements with the members of the Thief League, in anticipation of a speedy removal of the head quarters of operations to another part of the country, and while Bill and Dick were busy with their plans of villainy, having in view the defeat of Duffel and the possession of Eveline, the committee were also busy, endeavoring by the most active and vigilant efforts, conducted at the same time with great celerity, to circumvent the villains; not that they knew the particular plots and counter-plots that were going on among the common enemy, for of these they were ignorant; but they were determined to hunt them up and stop their depredations.
Thus it will be seen that the elements are at work; and from the determined character of all the operators and their great desire to have things done speedily, we may expect stirring times.
It will be remembered, that after his recovery from the wounds inflicted by Bill and Dick, as recorded in a former chapter, Hadley proceeded to Philadelphia. When he reached that city he found his mother and uncle both very sick, and in need of constant care and attention. She had no kind daughter to sit by her couch and smooth her pillow; and he had no affectionate wife to bathe his fevered brow with her soft hand, and by such gentle attentions as no one else can bestow, alleviate his pain. Hadley endeavored, to the best of his ability, to fill the place of daughter to one, and of wife to the other, in his assiduous efforts to watch over, aid and comfort them; and though he did not possess all that sweet softness of manner and voice that belongs especially to woman, and though he could not perceive, with the quick intuition of the other sex, yet by constant attention he was enabled to ease many a pain and throw comfort into many an otherwise sad and lonely hour.
At first his mother was in need of the most attention, and was hardly expected to live from one day to the next; but he soon had the satisfaction of seeing her disease yield to nature and treatment, and she began to grow better. But almost before he could relax anything in his attentions to her, the uncle became much worse; and he shared his time between the two, scarcely taking time to eat or sleep.
Between the uncle and nephew there had existed a coldness for some years, which was caused by the following circumstance:
In his youth the uncle was the companion of an estimable young man, between whom and himself there existed the warmest friendship and sincerest attachment. They were indebted to each other for many kind acts, and thus became mutually endeared one to the other. At length they were separated, by the uncle going to the West Indies on business, expecting to be detained a length of time, perhaps for years, which proved to be the case. While he was away the friend of his younger days met with that fate so common to mankind—fell in love and got married. The union proved to be a happy one; and when, after years of separation, the uncle returned, he found in the house of his friend a joyful wife and a beautiful, smiling daughter, a child of seven years, with a sweet disposition, and a heart to love everybody.
To this young child, Mr. Scofield—James Scofield was the uncle's name—soon became very deeply and fervently attached, as did also the child to him; He saw that the father had found a nearer and dearer friend than himself, and he was glad in his heart to witness the happiness which reigned in the peaceful home so sweetly cheered by love. Many persons would have been jealous of the wife's ascendency in her husband's affections; but instead of envying the wife, or feeling ill toward her, he came to love her as a friend, not only for her own sake, but, also, because she made his friend such a kind and amiable companion; and in the endearment of their little girl, who soon learned to be his pet, he was repaid for any exclusive companionship from her father that he might have monopolized had he remained, like himself, a bachelor.
Four years after his return from the Indies, Mr. Scofield was called to the bedside of his dying friend. In their last interviews he was charged with the guardianship and care of the young girl, conjointly with the mother, who was also recommended to his friendship, with the injunction ever to be to her as a brother and a counselor. These trusts he accepted, with a promise to be all to the dear ones he left behind that his friend could wish; and this promise he faithfully kept. No friend, brother, father, or husband could have been more attentive to the wants, or more solicitous for the welfare of those entrusted to their protection or dependent upon them than he was. He endeavored to anticipate their desires and necessities—of advice and friendship, not of goods, for the friend was in good circumstances, and had left them with plenty of means to live well and comfortably all their lives—and in all things to be to them the kind friend they needed.
A warm attachment existed between them. Many thought—and idle gossips whispered it about—that the widow was soon to console herself for the great loss she had sustained, by taking Mr. Scofield as a second husband; but no such idea ever entered their minds. Her heart was buried in the grave with her husband; and he—ah, he had a secret. A gentle being, beautiful to him as an angel, had once crossed his path; but before taking her to the altar, the angels came and took her to their homes, beyond the reach of blight or death; and since then his thoughts often wandered away to the regions of perfection; and with the memory of his loved one in heaven, he never coupled a thought of a second love on earth.
It was not long that the widow and her husband's friend remained in ignorance of each other's feelings; the secret he had kept from all others he confided to her; and in mutual explanations and confidences, they soon came to understand each other; and thenceforth their intercourse was unrestrained and cordial. What knew or cared they for the busy tongue of rumor? Nothing. Secure in each other's esteem, with a high rectitude of purpose, they continued their good offices to each other, careless what the world might say, so they gave no cause for vicious tongues to speak evil of them.