Elsie's Womanhood by Martha Finley
"Oft those whose cruelty makes many mourn Do by the fires which they first kindle burn." --EARL OF STIRLING. "As crimes do grow, justice should rouse itself." --JOHNSON'S CATILINE.
Jackson thought he read suspicion in the doctor's eye as the latter left the office; also he felt sure the physician would not ride far before hearing of the attack on Viamede, and would speedily come at the truth by putting that and that together; perhaps return with a party of avengers, and hang him to a tree in the adjacent forest.
"I must get out o' this before I'm an hour older," said the scoundrel to himself. "Oh, for the strength I had yesterday!"
"Why don't you lie down, sah, as Massa Doctah tole ye?" asked Nap, returning. "Massa always 'spects folks to do prezactly as he tells dem."
"Why, Sambo, I'm too dirty to lie on that nice sofa," replied Jackson, glancing down at his soiled garments.
"Sambo's not my name, sah," said the negro, drawing himself up with dignity; "I'se Napoleon Boningparty George Washington Marquis de Lafayette, an' dey calls me Nap for short. If ye'll take off dat coat, sah, an' dem boots, I'll take 'em out to de kitchen yard an' clean 'em."
"Thank you; if you will I'll give you a dollar. And if you'll brush the mud from my pants first, I'll try the sofa; for I'm nearly dead for sleep and rest."
"All right, sah," and Nap went to a closet, brought out a whisk, and using it vigorously upon the pantaloons, soon brushed away the mud, which the sun had made very dry. A few blood stains were left, but there was no help for that at present. The coat was taken off with some difficulty on account of the wounded arm, then the boots, and Jackson laid himself down on the sofa and closed his eyes.
Nap threw the coat over his arm, and taking the boots in the other hand went softly out, closing the door behind him. "Safe 'nuff now, I reckon," he chuckled to himself; "guess he not trabble far widout dese."
He was hardly gone, however, when Jackson roused himself and forced his weary eyes to unclose. "As dangerous as to go to sleep when freezing," he muttered. He rose, stepped to the closet door, and opened it.
A pair of boots stood on the floor, a coat hung on a peg. He helped himself to both, sat down and drew on the boots, which were a little too large but went on all the more readily for that. Now for the coat. It was not new, but by no means shabby. He took out his knife, hastily ripped up the right sleeve and put it on. It fitted even better than the boots.
Nap had brought a bottle of wine and left it on the office table, forgetting to carry it back to the dining-room. Jackson took it up, and placing it to his mouth drained the last drop. Then putting on his hat, he stole softly from the house and down the avenue.
To his great joy a boat was just passing in the direction to take him farther from Viamede. He signaled it, and was taken aboard.
"Been getting Dr. Balis to patch up a wound, eh, stranger?" said the skipper, glancing at the disabled arm.
"Yes;" and Jackson repeated the story already told to the surgeon.
The skipper sympathized and advised a rest in the cabin.
"Thank you," said Jackson; "but I'm only going a few miles, when I'll reach a point where, by taking to the woods again, I'll be likely to find my friends; who are doubtless anxious to know what has become of me."
"Very well, sir, when we come to the right place, just let us know and we'll put you off."
Evidently the skipper had heard nothing to arouse his suspicions. Jackson was landed at the spot he pointed out--a lonely one on the edge of a forest, without question or demur, and the boat went on its way.
He watched it till it disappeared from view, then plunging into the woods, presently found a narrow foot-path, pursuing which for an hour or so he came out into a small clearing. At the farther side, built just on the edge of the forest, was a rude log cabin. A slatternly woman stood in the open doorway.
"So ye did get back at last?" she remarked, as he drew near. "I'd most give ye up. What ails your arm now?"
He briefly repeated his story to the doctor and skipper; then asked hurriedly, "Is my horse all right?"
The woman nodded. "I've tuck good care on her. Now where's the gold ye promised me?"
"Here," he said, taking out, and holding up before her delighted eyes, several shining half-eagles; "have my horse saddled and bridled and brought round to the door here as quickly as possible, and these are yours."
"I'll do it. Bill," to a half-grown youth who sat on a rude bench within lazily smoking a pipe--"run and fetch the gentleman's hoss. But what's yer hurry, mister?"
"This," he answered, pointing to the disabled limb; "it's growing worse, and I'm in haste to get home, where I can be nursed by mother and sisters, before I quite give out."
"She's a awful sperited cratur, and you'll have a hard job o' it to manage her, with one hand."
"I must try it, nevertheless; I believe I can do it too; for she knows her master."
"She'll go like lightnin'," said the boy, as he brought the animal to the door; "she's been so long in the stable, she's as wild and scary as a bird."
Jackson threw the gold into the woman's lap, turned about and taking the bridle from the boy, stroked, patted, and talked soothingly to the excited steed, who was snorting and pawing the ground in a way that boded danger to any one attempting to mount.
His caresses and kindly tones seemed, however, to have a calming effect; she grew comparatively quiet, he sprang into the saddle and was off like an arrow from the bow.
It was about that time the doctor returned to his office to find it deserted. Nap was summoned.
"What's become of the man I left here in your charge, sirrah?" asked the doctor sternly.
"Dunno, sah, Massa Doctah," answered Nap, glancing in astonishment from side to side. "To't he heyah, sah; 'deed I did. Took he coat an' boots to clean 'em; to't he safe till I fotch 'em back; wouldn't go off without dem."
The doctor stepped to the closet. "Yes, my coat and boots gone, bottle of wine emptied, no fee for professional aid--a fine day's work for me."
"Massa Doctah! you don't say de rascal done stole yer coat an' boots? Oh, ef I cotch him, I----" and Napoleon Bonaparte George Washington Marquis de Lafayette looked unutterable things.
"Better take care I don't get hold of you!" cried the irate master. "Go and tell Cato to saddle and bridle Selim and bring him to the door as quickly as possible; and do you find out if anybody saw which way the rascal went. He must be caught, for he's a burglar and murderer!"
Nap lifted his hands and opened mouth and eyes wide in surprise and horror.
"Begone!" cried the doctor, stamping his foot, "and don't stand gaping there while the scoundrel escapes."
Nap shuffled out, leaving his master pacing the office to and fro with angry, impatient strides.
"What is it, my dear? what has gone wrong?" asked his wife, looking in upon him.
"Come, sit down on the sofa here and I'll tell you," he said, his excited manner quieting somewhat at sight of her pleasant face.
She accepted the invitation, and seating himself beside her he briefly related all that he knew of Jackson and his attack on Mr. Travilla.
He had hardly finished when Nap returned with the news that several of the negro children had seen a man go down the avenue and get aboard a passing boat.
"Ah ha!" cried the doctor, jumping up; "and which way was the boat going?"
"Dat way, sah," replied Nap, indicating the direction by a flourish of his right hand.
At that moment Mr. and Mrs. Travilla rode up, and Dr. and Mrs. Balis hastened out to greet them.
"He's gone; took the morning boat," cried the doctor.
"Good!" said Mr. Travilla, "we have only to head him with a telegram, and he'll be arrested on stepping ashore; or on board the boat."
"Unless he should land in the next town, Madison, which the boat, having a good hour's start of us, would reach before the swiftest messenger we could send; probably has already reached."
"Then the best plan will be for me to ride on to Madison, give notice to the authorities, have it ascertained whether our man has landed there, and if not telegraph to the next town and have them ready to board the boat, with a warrant for his arrest, as soon as it arrives."
"Yes; and I'll mount Selim and go with you," answered the doctor. "I probably know the road better than you do. And our wives may keep each other company till we return."
"What do you say, Elsie?" asked Mr. Travilla.
"That I will go or stay as you think best."
"We must ride very fast; I think it would fatigue you too much; so advise you to stay with Mrs. Balis, and I will call for you on my return."
"Do, Mrs. Travilla! I should be delighted to have you," urged Mrs. Balis; "and you can tell me all about last night. What a trial to your nerves! I don't wonder you are looking a little pale this morning."
"Thank you, I will stay," said Elsie; and instantly her husband, giving his horse into Nap's charge for a moment, sprang to the ground and lifted her from the saddle. "Don't be anxious, little wife," he whispered, as the soft eyes met his with a fond wistful look, "I am not likely to be in danger, and you know the sweet words, 'Not a hair of your head shall fall to the ground without your Father.'"
"Yes, yes, I know, and will trust you in His hands, my dear husband," was the low-breathed response.
Another moment and the two gentlemen were galloping rapidly down the avenue side by side. The ladies stood on the veranda, watching till they were out of sight, then went into the house.
"Now, my dear Mrs. Travilla, shall I just treat you as one of ourselves, and take you into my own breezy room?" asked Mrs. Balis, regarding Elsie with an affectionate, admiring look.
"It is just what I should like, Mrs. Balis," Elsie answered, with a smile so sweet that her hostess put her arm about her and kissed her.
"I can't help it," she said; "you take my heart by storm with your beauty, grace, and sweetness."
"Thank you, and you need not apologize," Elsie said, returning the embrace; "love is too precious a gift to be rejected."
"I think Mr. Travilla a very fortunate man, and so does my husband."
"And am not I a fortunate woman, too?"
"Ah, yes, Mr. Travilla is most agreeable and entertaining, handsome too; and indeed I should think everything one could wish in a husband; as mine is," she added laughingly. "I presume neither of us would consent to an exchange of partners. Are you fond of children, Mrs. Travilla?"
"Shall I show you mine?"
"I should like to see them, if you please."
Mrs. Balis at once led the way to the nursery, where she exhibited, with much motherly pride and delight, her three darlings, the eldest five, the second three years of age, the third a babe in the arms. They were bright-eyed, rosy-cheeked children, full of life and health, but to Elsie's taste not half so sweet and pretty as Rosebud.
Mrs. Balis next conducted her guest to her boudoir; a servant brought in refreshments, consisting of a variety of fruits, cakes, and confections, with wine sangaree and lemonade. After partaking of these, the ladies had a long talk while awaiting the return of their husbands. The gentlemen were gone much longer than had been anticipated, and I am not sure the wives did not grow a little uneasy. At all events they left the boudoir for the front veranda, which gave them a view of the avenue and some hundred yards of the road beyond in the direction from which the travelers must come. And when at length the two were descried approaching, in a more leisurely manner than they went, there was a simultaneous and relieved exclamation, "Oh, there they are at last."
The ladies stood up and waved their handkerchiefs. There was no response; the gentlemen's faces were towards each other and they seemed to be engaged in earnest converse.
"Unsuccessful," said Mrs. Balis.
"How do you know?" asked Elsie.
"There's an air of dejection about them."
"I don't see it," returned Elsie, smiling. "They seem to me only too busy talking to notice our little attention."
But Mrs. Balis was correct in her conjecture. The boat had passed Madison some time before the gentlemen arrived there, had paused but a few minutes and landed no such passenger. Learning this they then telegraphed the authorities of the next town; waited some hours, and received a return telegram to the effect that the boat had been boarded, no person answering the description found; but the captain gave the information that such a man had been taken on board at Dr. Balis' plantation, and set ashore at the edge of a forest half-way between that place and Madison.
On receiving this intelligence Mr. Travilla and the doctor started for home, bringing with them a posse of mounted men headed by some of the police of Madison.
Dr. Balis had taken with him to Madison the blood-stained coat of Jackson. From this the hounds took the scent, and on arriving at the wood mentioned by the skipper, soon found the trail and set off in hot pursuit, the horsemen following close at their heels.
Our gentlemen did not join in the chase, but having seen it well begun, continued on their homeward way.
"And you did consent to the use of hounds?" Elsie said inquiringly, and with a slightly reproachful look at her husband.
"My dear," he answered gently, "having been put into the hands of the police it has now become a commonwealth case, and I have no authority to dictate their mode of procedure."
"Forgive me, dearest, if I seemed to reproach you," she whispered, the sweet eyes seeking his with a loving, repentant look, as for a moment they were left alone together.
He drew her to him with a fond caress. "My darling, I have nothing to forgive."
In the cabin at whose door Jackson had made his call and remounted his steed, a woman--the same with whom his business had been transacted--was stooping over an open fire, frying fat pork and baking hoe-cake. Bill sat on his bench smoking as before, while several tow-headed children romped and quarreled, chasing each other round and round the room with shouts of "You quit that ere!" "Mammy, I say, make her stop."
"Hush!" cried the woman, suddenly straightening herself, and standing in a listening attitude, as a deep sound came to the ear, borne on the evening breeze.
"Hounds! bloodhounds!" cried Bill, springing to his feet with unwonted energy. "And they're a-comin' this way; makin' straight for the house," he added, glancing from the door, then shutting it with a bang. "They're after that man; you may depend. He's a 'balitionist, or a horse thief, or somethin'."
The children crouched, silent, pale, and terror-stricken, in a corner, while outside, the deep baying of the hounds drew nearer and nearer, and mingling with it came other sounds of horses' hoofs and the gruff voices of men. Then a loud "Halloo the house!"
"What's wanted?" asked Bill, opening the one window and putting out his head.
"The burglar you're hiding from justice and the hounds have tracked to your door. A fellow with his right arm disabled by a pistol-shot."
"He isn't here, didn't step inside at all; don't ye see the hounds are turning away from the door? But you kin come in an' look for yourself."
One of the men dismounted and went in.
"Look round sharp now," said the woman. "I only wish he was here fur ye to ketch um: if I'd know'd he was a burglar, he would never hev got off so easy. He jest come for his beast that he left with us four days ago, and mounted there at the door and was off like a shot."
"Which way?" asked the man.
She pointed in a southerly direction. "It's the way to Texas, ain't it? an' he's got four or five hours the start o' ye, an' on a swift horse; he'll be over the border line afore ye kin ketch up to him."
"I'm afraid so, indeed; but justice can follow him even there," replied the officer, hastening out, already satisfied that the one bare room did not contain his quarry.
He sprang into the saddle, and the whole party galloped away in the wake of the dogs, who had found the trail again and started off in full cry.
The party had a hard ride of some hours, the hounds never faltering or losing the scent; but at length they were at fault. They had reached a brook and here the trail was lost; it was sought for on both sides of the stream for a considerable distance both up and down, then abandoned in despair.
The wily burglar had made his steed travel the bed of the stream, which was nowhere very deep, for several miles; then taking to the open country again and traveling under cover of the darkness of a cloudy night, at length, in a condition of utter exhaustion, reached a place of safety among some of his confederates; for he had joined himself to a gang of villains who infested that part of the country.
But "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished." Few if any of them would escape a violent and terrible death at the last; and--"after that the judgment"; from which none may be excused.