ADVENTURES IN TEXAS.
ABRIDGED FROM THE GERMAN OF SEALSFIELD
BY FREDERICK HARDMAN.
[MAGA. November, December, 1848.]
A SCAMPER IN THE PRAIRIE.
What took you to Texas?” is a question that has so frequently been
asked me by friends in the States, that a reply to it is perhaps the
most appropriate commencement I can make to a sketch of my adventures in
that country. Many of my fellow-citizens have expressed their
surprise—more flattering to me and my family than to Texas—that a son
of Judge Morse of Maryland, instead of pitching his tent in his native
State, should have deserted it for a land which certainly, at the time
I first went to it, was in anything but good repute, and of whose
population the Anglo-Saxon portion mainly consisted of outlaws and bad
characters, expelled or fugitive from the Union. The facts of the case
were these:—I went to Texas, endorsed, as I may say, by a company of
our enlightened New York Yankees, whose speculative attention was just
then particularly directed to that country. In other words, I had the
good or ill luck, as you may choose to think it, to be the possessor of
a Texas-Land-Scrip—that is to say, a certificate issued by the
Galveston Bay and Texas Land Company, declaring and making known to all
whom it might concern, that Mr Edward Morse had paid into the hands of
the cashier of the said company the sum of one thousand dollars, in
consideration of which, he, the said Edward Morse, was duly entitled and
authorised to select, within the district and territory of the aforesaid
Galveston Bay and Texas Land Company, a tract of land of the extent of
ten thousand acres, neither more nor less, to take possession of and
settle upon it, and, in a word, to exercise over it all the rights of a
proprietor; under the sole condition that in the selection of his ten
thousand acres he should not infringe on the property or rights of the
holders of previously given certificates.
Ten thousand acres of the finest land in the world, and under a heaven
compared to which our Maryland sky, bright as it is, appears dull and
foggy! It was certainly a tempting bait; too tempting by far not to be
caught at by many in those times of speculation; and accordingly, our
free and enlightened citizens bought and sold their millions of Texan
acres just as readily as they did their thousands of towns and villages
in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan, and their tens of thousands of
shares in banks and railways. It was a speculative fever, which has
since, we may hope, been in some degree cured. At any rate, the remedies
applied have been tolerably severe.
I had not escaped the contagion, and, having got the land on paper, I
thought I should like to see it in dirty acres. My intention was to
select my plot of ground and take possession of it, and then, if I did
not like the country, to turn it into dollars again. If, upon the other
hand, the country pleased me, I would return to Maryland, get together
what was needful for the undertaking, and set up my roof-tree in Texas
for good and all. Accordingly, in company with a friend who had a
similar venture, I embarked at Baltimore on board the Catcher schooner,
and, after a three weeks’ voyage, arrived in Galveston Bay.
The grassy shores of this bay, into which the river Brazos empties
itself, rise so little above the surface of the water, which they
strongly resemble in colour, that it would be difficult to discover
them, were it not for three stunted trees growing on the western
extremity of a long lizard-shaped island that stretches nearly sixty
miles across the bay, and conceals the mouth of the river. These trees
are the only landmark for the mariner; and, with their exception, not a
single object—not a hill, a house, nor so much as a bush, relieves the
level sameness of the island and adjacent continent.
After we had, with some difficulty, got on the inner side of the island,
a pilot came on board and took charge of the vessel. The first thing he
did was to run us on a sandbank, off which we got with no small labour,
and by the united exertions of sailors and passengers, and at length
entered the river. In our impatience to land, I and my friend left the
schooner in a cockleshell of a boat, which upset in the surge, and we
found ourselves floundering in the water. Luckily it was not very deep,
and we escaped with a thorough drenching.
When we had scrambled on shore, we gazed about us for some time before
we could persuade ourselves that we were actually upon land, so
unnatural was its aspect. It was, without exception, the strangest coast
we had ever seen, and there was scarcely a possibility of distinguishing
the boundary between earth and water. The green grass grew down to the
edge of the green sea, and there was only the streak of white foam left
by the latter upon the former to serve as a line of demarcation. Before
us was a perfectly level plain, a hundred or more miles in extent,
covered with long fine grass, rolling in waves before each puff of the
sea-breeze, with neither tree, nor house, nor hill, to vary the unbroken
monotony of the surface. Ten or twelve miles towards the north and
north-west, we distinguished some dark masses, which we afterwards
discovered to be groups of trees; but to our eyes they looked exactly
like islands in a green sea, and we subsequently learned that such
groups, innumerable in Texan prairies, are called islands by the people
of the country. A more appropriate name, or one better describing their
appearance, could not be given to them.
Proceeding along the shore, we came to a blockhouse situated behind a
small tongue of land projecting into the river, and decorated with the
flag of the Mexican republic, waving in all its glory from the roof.
This building, the only one of which, at that time, Galveston harbour
could boast, served, as may be supposed, for a great variety of uses. It
was the custom-house and the barracks for the garrison (consisting of a
company of Mexican infantry), the residence of the controller of
customs, and of the civil and military intendant, the headquarters of
the officer commanding, and it served, moreover, as hotel, and wine and
spirit store. Alongside the board, on which was depicted a sort of
hieroglyphic, intended for the Mexican eagle, hung a rum-bottle doing
duty as a sign, and the republican banner threw its protecting shadow
over an announcement of—“Brandy, Whisky, and accommodation for Man and
Approaching the house, we saw the whole garrison assembled before the
door. It consisted of a dozen dwarfish, spindle-shanked Mexican
soldiers, none of them so big or half so strong as American boys of
fifteen, and whom I would have backed a single Kentucky woodsman, armed
with a riding-whip, to have driven to the four winds of heaven. These
heroes all sported tremendous beards, whiskers, and mustaches, and had a
habit of knitting their brows, in the endeavour, as we supposed, to look
fierce and formidable. They were crowding round a table of rough planks,
and playing a game at cards, in which they were so deeply engrossed that
they took no notice of our approach. Their officer, however, came out of
the house to meet us with a friendly greeting.
Captain Cotton, formerly editor of the Mexican Gazette, now civil and
military superintendent of Galveston, customs-director, harbour-master,
and tavern-keeper, and a Yankee to boot, seemed to trouble his head—to
the credit of his good sense be it said—much less about his various
dignities and titles (of which he had more than there were soldiers in
his garrison) than about his capital French and Spanish wines, which, it
is to be presumed, he laid in duty free. As to the soldiers, in all my
life I never saw such wretched-looking, shrivelled dwarfs. I could not
help fancying them grotesque elves or goblins, transported thither by
some old sorcerer’s power. We were never tired of staring at them and at
the country, which also had something supernatural in its aspect. It was
like an everlasting billiard-table, without an end. It is a strange
feeling, I can tell you, after being three weeks at sea, to run into a
harbour which is no harbour, and to land upon a shore which is only half
land, and which seems each moment about to roll away in waves from under
your feet. Our fellow-passengers, several of whom had now landed and
joined us, gazed about them as puzzled and bewildered as we were, and
hastened into the blockhouse with a speed which showed them to be
assailed by the same uneasy feeling as ourselves. Looking out from the
blockhouse, the interminable expanse of meadow and ocean was blended
into one vast plain, out of which the building rose like a diminutive
island. It was with a sensation of real relief that we once more found
ourselves on board our schooner.
It took us three full days to ascend the river Brazos to the town of
Brazoria, a distance of only thirty miles. On the first day, nothing but
the everlasting meadow was to be seen on either hand; but, on the
second, we got nearer to islands: the pasture became a park, dotted with
magnificent groups of trees. Not a sign of man was visible in this
stupendous park—a boundless ocean of grass and foliage. An ocean of
this kind has a far more powerful effect upon those who for the first
time wander through its solitudes than has an ocean of water. We saw
this exemplified in our travelling companions, land-seekers like
ourselves, with the sole difference that, not being overburdened with
the circulating medium, they had come without scrip. They were by no
means of the class of sentimental travellers—nothing of the Yorick
about them—but, on the contrary, were wild, rough fellows, who had
played all sorts of mad pranks during the three weeks’ voyage. Here,
however, they all, without exception, became quiet—nay, sedate and
serious. The very wildest of them, and some of them really were as rude
and desperate a lot as ever roamed the world round in search of
adventures—grew taciturn, and gave utterance to none of the coarse
oaths and horrible blasphemies with which, when at sea, they had
frequently disgusted us. They behaved like people who had just entered a
church. All their countenances wore an expression of gravity and awe.
And, in a certain sense, we surely might be said to have entered one of
God’s temples; for what more noble temple could be erected in his honour
than the magnificent scene around us! All was so still, and solemn, and
majestic! Forest and meadow, trees and grass, all so pure and fresh, as
if just from the hand of the mighty and eternal Artificer. No trace of
man’s sinful hand, but all the beautiful, immaculate work of God!
Fifteen miles above the mouth of the river Brazos, we entered the first
forest. Sycamores, and, further on, pecan-trees, waved on either hand
over the water. We saw a herd of deer, and a large flock of wild
turkeys, both of which, already tolerably shy, took to flight at our
appearance. The quality of the land was, as will be easily imagined,
the point to which our attention was chiefly directed. On the coast
we had found it light and sandy, with a very thin crust of good
soil, but without any signs of swamp or slime; further from the sea,
the crust or fertile surface increased in thickness from one to
four—eight—twelve—at last fifteen—and, at Brazoria, twenty feet over
the bed of sand and loam. As yet we had seen nothing like a hillock or a
stone; and indeed it would have been very difficult in a district a
hundred miles broad and long, to have found a stone as big as a pigeon’s
egg. On the other hand, there was wood in plenty for houses and fences;
so we had no cause for anxiety in that respect. Our hopes grew brighter
each mile that we advanced.
On our arrival at Brazoria, however, those sanguine hopes received a
cruel blow. At the time I speak of—namely, in the year 1832—Brazoria
was an important town—for Texas, that is to say—consisting of above
thirty houses, three of which were of brick, three of boards, and the
remainder of logs, all thoroughly American, with the streets arranged
in the American manner, in straight lines and at right angles to each
other. The only objection to the place was, that in the spring, at the
season of the floods, it was all under water; but the worthy Brazorians
overlooked this little inconvenience, in consideration of the
inexhaustible fertility of the soil. It was early in March when we
arrived, but we found already an abundance of new potatoes, beans, peas,
and the most delicious artichokes that ever rejoiced an epicure. But we
also found something else, much less agreeable to my friend and myself,
and that was, that our scrip was not quite so good as it might be,
and—like much other scrips, past, present, and to come—bore a stronger
resemblance to waste paper than to bank-notes. Our unpleasant doubts
became a fatal certainty on the arrival of William Austin, son of
Colonel Austin. He gave us to read the report of the proceedings of the
Mexican congress, after perusing which, we were within an ace of
lighting our cigars with our certificates.
It appeared that, in the year 1824, the Mexican Congress had passed an
act, having for its object the encouragement of emigration from the
United States to Texas. In consequence of this act, an agreement was
entered into with contractors—or empresarios, as they call them in
Mexico—who bound themselves to bring a certain number of settlers into
Texas within a given time, at their own charges, and without any expense
to the Mexican government. On the other hand, the Mexican government had
engaged to furnish land to these emigrants at the rate of five square
leagues to every hundred families; but to this agreement the special
condition was attached, that all settlers should be, or become, Roman
Catholics. Failing this, and until they gave satisfactory proofs of
their belonging to the Church of Rome, the validity of their claims to
the land was not recognised, and they were liable any day to be turned
out of the country at the point of the bayonet.
Of all this, the New York “Galveston-Bay-and-Texas-Land-Company,” like
smart Yankees as they were, had wisely said not a word to us, but had
sold us the land with the assurance that it had been placed at their
disposal by the Mexican government, on the sole condition of their
importing into it, within the year, a certain number of settlers. Such
was the tenor of their verbal and written declarations, such the tenor
of the scrip; trusting to which, we had set out on our wild-goose-chase.
Clear it now was that we had been duped and taken in; equally evident
that the Roman Catholic Mexican government would have nothing to say to
This information threw us into no small perplexity. Our Yankee friends
at Brazoria, however, laughed at our dilemma, and told us that we were
only in the same plight as hundreds of our countrymen, who had come to
Texas in total ignorance of this condition, but who had not the less
taken possession of their land and settled there; that they themselves
were amongst the number; and that, although it was just as likely they
would turn negroes as Roman Catholics, they had no idea of being turned
out of their houses and plantations; that, at any rate, if the Mexicans
tried it, they had their rifles with them, and should be apt, they
reckoned, to burn powder before they allowed themselves to be kicked off
such an almighty fine piece of soil. So, after a while, we began to
think, that as we had paid our money and come so far, we might do as
others had done before us—occupy our land and wait the course of
events. The next day we each bought a horse, or mustang, as they call
them there, which animals were selling at Brazoria for next to nothing,
and rode out into the prairie to look for a convenient spot to settle.
These mustangs are small horses, rarely above fourteen hands high, and
are descended from the Spanish breed introduced by the original
conquerors of the country. During the three centuries that have elapsed
since the conquest of Mexico, they have increased and multiplied to an
extraordinary extent, and are to be found in vast droves in the Texan
prairies, although they now begin to be somewhat scarcer. They are taken
with the lasso, concerning which instrument or weapon I will here say
a word or two, notwithstanding that it has been often described.
The lasso is usually from twenty to thirty feet long, very flexible, and
composed of strips of twisted ox-hide. One end is fastened to the
saddle, and the other, which forms a running noose, held in the hand of
the hunter, who, thus equipped, rides out into the prairie. When he
discovers a troop of wild horses, he manœuvres to get to windward of
them, and then to approach as near to them as possible. If he be an
experienced hand, the horses seldom or never escape him; and as soon as
he finds himself within twenty or thirty feet of them, he throws the
noose with unerring aim over the neck of the one he has selected for his
prey. This done, he turns his own horse sharp round, gives him the spur,
and gallops away, dragging his unfortunate captive after him,
breathless, and with his windpipe so compressed by the noose, that he is
unable to make the smallest resistance, but, after a few yards, falls
headlong to the ground, and lies motionless and almost lifeless,
sometimes indeed badly hurt and disabled. From that day forward, the
horse which has been thus caught never forgets the lasso; the mere sight
of it makes him tremble in every limb; and, however wild he may be, it
is sufficient to show it to him, or to lay it on his neck, to render him
as tame and docile as a lamb.
The horse taken, next comes the breaking in, which is effected in a no
less brutal manner than his capture. The eyes of the unfortunate animal
are covered with a bandage, and a tremendous bit, a pound weight or
more, clapped into his mouth; the horsebreaker puts on a pair of spurs
six inches long, with rowels like penknives, and jumping on his back,
urges him to his very utmost speed. If the horse tries to rear, or turns
restive, one pull, and not a very hard one either, at the instrument of
torture they call a bit, is sufficient to tear his mouth to shreds, and
cause the blood to flow in streams. I have myself seen horses’ teeth
broken with these barbarous bits. The poor beast whinnies and groans
with pain and terror; but there is no help for him; the spurs are at his
flanks, and on he goes full gallop, till he is ready to sink from
fatigue and exhaustion. He then has a quarter of an hour’s rest allowed
him; but scarcely has he recovered breath, which has been ridden and
spurred out of his body, when he is again mounted, and has to go through
the same violent process as before. If he breaks down during this rude
trial, he is either knocked on the head or driven away as useless; but
if he holds out, he is marked with a hot iron, and left to graze on the
prairie. Henceforward, there is no particular difficulty in catching
him when wanted; his wildness is completely punished out of him, but for
it is substituted the most confirmed vice and malice that can possibly
be conceived. These mustangs are unquestionably the most deceitful and
spiteful of all the equine race. They seem perpetually looking out for
an opportunity of playing their master a trick; and very soon after I
got possession of mine, I was near paying for him in a way that I had
certainly not calculated upon.
We were going to Bolivar, and had to cross the river Brazos. I was the
last but one to get into the boat, and was leading my horse carelessly
by the bridle. Just as I was about to step in, a sudden jerk, and a cry
of “Mind your beast!” made me jump on one side; and lucky was it that I
did so. My mustang had suddenly sprung back, reared up, and then thrown
himself forward upon me with such force and fury, that, as I got out of
his way, his fore feet went completely through the bottom of the boat. I
never in my life saw an animal in such a paroxysm of rage. He curled up
his lips till his whole range of teeth was visible, his eyes literally
shot fire, the foam flew from his mouth, and he gave a wild screaming
neigh that had something quite diabolical in its sound. Whilst I stood
perfectly thunderstruck at this outbreak, one of the party took a lasso
and very quietly laid it over the animal’s neck. The effect was magical.
With closed mouth, drooping ears, and head low, there stood the
mustang, meek and docile as any old jackass. The change was so sudden
and comical, that we all burst out laughing; although, when I came to
reflect on the danger I had run, it required all my love of horses to
prevent me from shooting the brute upon the spot.
Mounted upon this ticklish steed, and in company with my friend, I made
various excursions to Bolivar, Marion, Columbia, Anahuac, incipient
cities consisting of from five to twenty houses. We also visited
numerous plantations and clearings, to the owners of some of which we
were known, or had messages of introduction; but either with or without
such recommendations, we always found a hearty welcome and hospitable
reception, and it was rare that we were allowed to pay for our
We arrived one day at a clearing, which lay a few miles off the way from
Harrisburg to San Felipe de Austin, and belonged to a Mr Neal. He had
been three years in the country, occupying himself with the breeding of
cattle, which is unquestionably the most agreeable, as well as
profitable, occupation that can be followed in Texas. He had between
seven and eight hundred head of cattle, and from fifty to sixty horses,
all mustangs. His plantation, like nearly all the plantations in Texas
at that time, was as yet in a very rough state; and his house, although
roomy and comfortable enough inside, was built of unhewn tree-trunks, in
true backwoodsman style. It was situated on the border of one of the
islands, or groups of trees, between two gigantic sycamores, which
sheltered it from the sun and wind. In front, and as far as could be
seen, lay the prairie, with its waving grass and many-coloured flowers;
behind the dwelling arose the cluster of forest trees in all their
primeval majesty, laced and bound together by an infinity of wild vines,
which shot their tendrils and clinging branches hundreds of feet upwards
to the very top of the trees, embracing and covering the whole island
with a green network, and converting it into an immense bower of vine
leaves, which would have been no unsuitable abode for Bacchus and his
These islands are one of the most enchanting features of Texan scenery.
Of infinite variety and beauty of form, and unrivalled in the growth and
magnitude of the trees composing them, they are of all shapes—circular,
parallelograms, hexagons, octagons—some again twisting and winding like
dark-green snakes over the brighter surface of the prairie. In no park
or artificially laid-out grounds could anything be found at all
equalling these natural shrubberies in beauty and symmetry. In the
morning and evening especially, when surrounded by a sort of veil of
light-greyish mist, and with the horizontal beams of the rising or
setting sun gleaming through them, they offer pictures which it is
impossible to weary of admiring.
Mr Neal was a jovial Kentuckian, and he received us with the greatest
hospitality, only asking in return all the news we could give him from
the States. It is difficult to imagine, without having witnessed it, the
feverish eagerness and curiosity with which all intelligence from their
native country is sought after and listened to by these dwellers in the
desert. Men, women, and children crowded round us; and though we had
arrived in the afternoon, it was near sunrise before we could escape
from the inquiries by which we were overwhelmed, and retire to the beds
that had been prepared for us.
I had not slept very long when I was roused by our worthy host. He was
going out to catch twenty or thirty oxen, wanted for the market at New
Orleans. As the kind of chase which takes place after these animals is
very interesting, and rarely dangerous, we willingly accepted the
invitation to accompany him; and having dressed and breakfasted in all
haste, got upon our mustangs and rode off into the prairie.
The party was half-a-dozen strong, consisting of Mr Neal, my friend and
myself, and three negroes. What we had to do was to drive the cattle,
which were grazing on the prairie in herds of from thirty to fifty head,
to the house, and then those selected for the market were to be taken
with the lasso and sent off to Brazoria.
After riding four or five miles, we came in sight of a drove; splendid
animals, standing very high, and of most symmetrical form. The horns of
these cattle are of unusual length, and, in the distance, have more the
appearance of stags’ antlers than of bulls’ horns. We approached the
herd to within a quarter of a mile. They remained quite quiet. We rode
round them, and in like manner got in rear of a second and third drove,
and then spread out, so as to form a half circle and drive the cattle
towards the house.
Hitherto my mustang had behaved exceedingly well, cantering freely
along, and not attempting to play any tricks. I had scarcely, however,
left the remainder of the party a couple of hundred yards, when the
devil by which he was possessed began to wake up. The mustangs belonging
to the plantation were grazing some three quarters of a mile off; and no
sooner did my beast catch sight of them, than he commenced practising
every species of jump and leap that it is possible for a horse to
execute, and many of a nature so extraordinary, that I should have
thought no brute that ever went on four legs would have been able to
accomplish them. He shied, reared, pranced, leaped forwards, backwards,
and sideways; in short, played such infernal pranks, that, although a
practised rider, I found it no easy matter to keep my seat. I heartily
regretted that I had brought no lasso with me, which would have tamed
him at once, and that, contrary to Mr Neal’s advice, I had put on my
American bit instead of a Mexican one. Without these auxiliaries, all my
horsemanship was useless. The brute galloped like a mad creature some
five hundred yards, caring nothing for my efforts to stop him; and then,
finding himself close to the troop of mustangs, he stopped suddenly
short, threw his head between his fore-legs, and his hind feet into the
air, with such vicious violence, that I was pitched clean out of the
saddle. Before I well knew where I was, I had the satisfaction of seeing
him put his fore feet on the bridle, pull bit and bridoon out of his
mouth, and then, with a neigh of exultation, spring into the midst of
the herd of mustangs.
I got up out of the long grass in a towering passion. One of the negroes
who was nearest to me came galloping to my assistance, and begged me to
let the beast run for a while, and that when Anthony, the huntsman,
came, he would soon catch him. I was too angry to listen to reason, and
I ordered him to get off his horse, and let me mount. The black begged
and prayed of me not to ride after the brute; and Mr Neal, who was some
distance off, shouted to me, as loud as he could, for Heaven’s sake, to
stop; that I did not know what it was to chase a wild horse in a Texan
prairie, and that I must not fancy myself in the meadows of Louisiana or
Florida. I paid no attention to all this—I was in too great a rage at
the trick the beast had played me; and, jumping on the negro’s horse, I
galloped away like mad.
My rebellious steed was grazing quietly with his companions, and he
allowed me to come within a couple of hundred paces of him; but just as
I had prepared the lasso, which was fastened to the negro’s saddle-bow,
he gave a start, and galloped off some distance further, I after him.
Again he made a pause, and munched a mouthful of grass—then off again
for another half mile. This time I had great hopes of catching him, for
he let me come within a hundred yards; but just as I was creeping up to
him, away he went with one of his shrill neighs. When I galloped fast,
he went faster; when I rode slowly, he slackened his pace. At least ten
times did he let me approach him within a couple of hundred yards,
without for that being a bit nearer getting hold of him. It was
certainly high time to desist from such a mad chase, but I never dreamed
of doing so; and indeed the longer it lasted, the more obstinate I got.
I rode on after the beast, who let me come nearer and nearer, and then
darted off again with his loud, laughing neigh. It was this infernal
neigh that made me so savage—there was something spiteful and
triumphant in it, as though the animal knew he was making a fool of me,
and exulted in so doing. At last, however, I got so sick of my
horse-hunt that I determined to make a last trial, and, if that failed,
to turn back. The runaway had stopped near one of the islands of trees,
and was grazing quite close to its edge. I thought that, if I were to
creep round to the other side of the island, and then steal across it,
through the trees, I should be able to throw the lasso over his head,
or, at any rate, to drive him back to the house. This plan I put in
execution: rode round the island, then through it, lasso in hand, and as
softly as if I had been riding over eggs. To my consternation, however,
on arriving at the edge of the trees, and at the exact spot where, only
a few minutes before, I had seen the mustang grazing, no signs of him
were to be perceived. I made the circuit of the island, but in vain—the
animal had disappeared. With a hearty curse, I put spurs to my horse,
and started off to ride back to the plantation.
Neither the plantation, the cattle, nor my companions, were visible, it
is true; but this gave me no uneasiness. I felt sure that I knew the
direction in which I had come, and that the island I had just left was
one which was visible from the house, whilst all around me were such
numerous tracks of horses, that the possibility of my having lost my
way never occurred to me, and I rode on quite unconcernedly.
After riding for about an hour, I began to find the time rather long. I
looked at my watch: it was past one o’clock. We had started at nine,
and, allowing an hour and a half to have been spent in finding the
cattle, I had passed nearly three hours in my wild and unsuccessful
hunt. I began to think I must have got further from the plantation than
I had as yet supposed.
It was towards the end of March, the day clear and warm, just like a
May-day in the Southern States. The sun now shone brightly out, but the
early part of the morning had been somewhat foggy; and as I had only
arrived at the plantation the day before, and had passed the whole
afternoon and evening indoors, I had had no opportunity of getting
acquainted with the bearings of the house. This reflection made me
rather uneasy, particularly when I remembered the entreaties of the
negro, and the loud exhortations Mr Neal addressed to me as I rode away.
I said to myself, however, that I could not be more than ten or fifteen
miles from the plantation, that I should soon come in sight of the herds
of cattle, and that then there would be no difficulty in finding my way.
But when I had ridden another hour without seeing the smallest sign
either of man or beast, I got seriously uneasy. In my impatience, I
abused poor Neal for not sending somebody to find me. His huntsman, I
had heard, was gone to Anahuac, and would not be back for two or three
days; but he might have sent a couple of his lazy negroes: or, if he had
only fired a shot or two as a signal. I stopped and listened, in hopes
of hearing the crack of a rifle. But the deepest stillness reigned
around, scarcely the chirp of a bird was heard—all nature seemed to be
taking the siesta. As far as the eye could reach was a waving sea of
grass, here and there an island of trees, but not a trace of a human
being. At last I thought I had made a discovery. The nearest clump of
trees was undoubtedly the same which I had admired and pointed out to my
companions soon after we left the house. It bore a fantastical
resemblance to a snake coiled up and about to dart upon its prey. About
six or seven miles from the plantation we had passed it on our right
hand, and if I now kept it upon my left, I could not fail to be going in
a proper direction. So said, so done. I trotted on most perseveringly
towards the point of the horizon where I felt certain the house must
lie. One hour passed, then a second, then a third: every now and then I
stopped and listened, but nothing was audible—not a shot nor a shout.
But although I heard nothing, I saw something which gave me no great
pleasure. In the direction in which we had ridden out, the grass was
very abundant and the flowers scarce; whereas the part of the prairie
in which I now found myself presented the appearance of a perfect
flower-garden, with scarcely a square foot of green to be seen. The most
variegated carpet of flowers I ever beheld lay unrolled before me; red,
yellow, violet, blue—every colour, every tint was there; millions of
magnificent prairie roses, tuberoses, asters, dahlias, and fifty other
kinds of flowers. The finest artificial garden in the world sinks into
insignificance when compared with this parterre of nature’s own
planting. My horse could hardly make his way through the wilderness of
flowers, and I for a time remained lost in admiration of this scene of
extraordinary beauty. The prairie in the distance looked as if clothed
with rainbows, that waved to and fro over its surface.
But the difficulties and anxieties of my situation soon banished all
other thoughts, and I rode on with complete indifference through scenes
which, under other circumstances, would have captivated my entire
attention. All the stories I had heard of mishaps in these endless
prairies, recurred in vivid colouring to my memory—not mere
backwoodsmen’s legends, but facts well authenticated by persons of
undoubted veracity, who had warned me, before I came to Texas, against
venturing without guide or compass into these dangerous wilds. Even men
who had been long in the country were often known to lose themselves,
and to wander for days and weeks over these oceans of grass, where no
hill or variety of surface offers a landmark to the traveller. In summer
and autumn, such a position would have one danger the less—that is to
say, there would be no risk of dying of hunger; for at those seasons the
most delicious fruits—grapes, plums, peaches, and others—are to be
found in abundance. But we were now in early spring, and although I saw
numbers of peach and plum-trees, they were only in blossom. Of game also
there was plenty, both fur and feather; but I had no gun, and nothing
appeared more probable than that I should be starved, although
surrounded by food, and in one of the most fruitful countries in the
world. This thought flashed suddenly across me, and for a moment my
heart sank within me as I first perceived the real danger of my
After a time, however, other ideas came to console me. I had been
already four weeks in the country, and had ridden over a large slice of
it in every direction, always through prairies, and I had never had any
difficulty in finding my way. True, but then I had always had a compass,
and been in company. It was this sort of over-confidence and feeling of
security that had made me adventure so rashly, and in spite of all
warning, in pursuit of the mustang. I had not waited to reflect, that a
little more than four weeks’ experience was necessary to make one
acquainted with the bearings of a district three times as big as New
York State. Still I thought it impossible that I should have got so far
out of the right track as not to be able to find the house before
nightfall, although that was now rapidly approaching. Indeed, the first
shades of evening, strange as it may seem, gave this persuasion
increased strength. Home-bred and gently nurtured as I was, my life,
before coming to Texas, had been by no means one of adventure, and I was
so used to sleep with a roof over my head, that when I saw it getting
dusk I felt certain I could not be far from the house. The idea fixed
itself so strongly in my mind, that I involuntarily spurred my mustang,
and trotted on, peering out through the now fast-gathering gloom, in
expectation of seeing a light. Several times I fancied I heard the
barking of the dogs, the cattle lowing, or the merry laugh of the
“Hurrah! there is the house at last—I see the lights in the parlour
I urged my horse on, but when I came near the house, it proved to be an
island of trees. What I had taken for candles were fire-flies, that now
issued in swarms from out of the darkness of the islands, and spread
themselves over the prairie, darting about in every direction, their
small blue flames literally lighting up the plain, and making it appear
as if I were surrounded by a sea of Bengal fire. Nothing could be more
bewildering than such a ride as mine, on a warm March night, through
the interminable, never-varying prairie; overhead the deep blue
firmament, with its hosts of bright stars; at my feet, and all around,
an ocean of magical light, myriads of fire-flies floating upon the soft
still air. It was like a scene of enchantment. I could distinguish every
blade of grass, every flower, every leaf on the trees—but all in a
strange unnatural sort of light, and in altered colours. Tuberoses and
asters, prairie roses and geraniums, dahlias and vine branches, began to
wave and move, to range themselves in ranks and rows. The whole
vegetable world around me appeared to dance, as the swarms of living
lights passed over it.
Suddenly, from out of the sea of fire, sounded a loud and long-drawn
note. I stopped, listened, and gazed around me. It was not repeated, and
I rode on. Again the same sound, but this time the cadence was sad and
plaintive. Again I made a halt, and listened. It was repeated a third
time in a yet more melancholy tone, and I recognised it as the cry of a
whip-poor-will. Presently it was answered from a neighbouring island by
a katydid. My heart leaped for joy at hearing the note of this bird, the
native minstrel of my own dear Maryland. In an instant the house where I
was born stood before the eyesight of my imagination. There were the
negro huts, the garden, the plantation, everything exactly as I had
left it. So powerful was the illusion, that I gave my horse the spur,
persuaded that my father’s house lay before me. The island, too, I took
for the grove that surrounded our house. On reaching its border, I
literally dismounted, and shouted out for Charon Tommy. There was a
stream running through our plantation, which, for nine months out of the
twelve, was passable only by means of a ferry, and the old negro who
officiated as ferryman was indebted to me for the above classical
cognomen. I believe I called twice, nay, three times—but no Charon
Tommy answered; and I awoke as from a pleasant dream, somewhat ashamed
of the lengths to which my excited imagination had hurried me.
I now felt so weary and exhausted, so hungry and thirsty, and, withal,
my mind was so anxious and harassed by my dangerous position, and by the
uncertainty how I should get out of it, that I was really incapable of
going any further. I felt quite bewildered, and stood for some time
gazing before me, and scarcely even troubling myself to think. At length
I mechanically drew my clasp-knife from my pocket, and set to work to
dig a hole in the rich black soil of the prairie. Into this hole I put
the knotted end of my lasso, and then, filling in the earth and stamping
it down with my foot, as I had seen others do since I had been in Texas,
I passed the noose over my mustang’s neck, and left him to graze,
whilst I myself lay down outside the circle which the lasso would allow
him to describe. An odd manner, it may seem, of tying up a horse; but
the most convenient and natural one in a country where one may often
find oneself fifty miles from any house, and five-and-twenty from a tree
I found it no easy matter to sleep, for on all sides I heard the howling
of wolves and jaguars—an unpleasant serenade at any time, but most of
all so in the prairie, unarmed and defenceless as I was. My nerves, too,
were all in commotion; and I felt so feverish that I do not know what I
should have done, had I not fortunately remembered that I had my
cigar-case and a roll of tobacco, real Virginia dulcissimus, in my
pocket—invaluable treasures in my present situation, and which on this,
as on many other occasions, did not fail to soothe and calm my agitated
Luckily, too, being a tolerably confirmed smoker, I carried a flint and
steel with me; for otherwise, although surrounded by lights, I should
have been sadly at a loss for fire. A couple of havannahs did me an
infinite deal of good, and after a while I sank into the slumber of
which I stood so much in need.
The day was hardly well broken when I awoke. The refreshing sleep I had
enjoyed had given me new energy and courage. I felt hungry enough, to
be sure, but light and cheerful, and I hastened to dig up the end of the
lasso, and to saddle my horse. I trusted that, although I had been
condemned to wander over the prairie the whole of the preceding day, as
a sort of punishment for my rashness, I should now have better luck,
and, having expiated my fault, be at length allowed to find my way. With
this hope I mounted my mustang and resumed my ride.
I passed several beautiful islands of pecan, plum, and peach trees. It
is a peculiarity worthy of remark, that these islands are nearly always
of one sort of tree. It is very rare to meet with one where there are
two sorts. Like the beasts of the forest, that herd together according
to their kind, so does this wild vegetation preserve itself distinct in
its different species. One island will be entirely composed of live
oaks, another of plum, and a third of pecan trees; the vine only, common
to them all, embraces them all alike with its slender but tenacious
branches. I rode through several of these islands. They were perfectly
free from bushes and brushwood, and carpeted with the most beautiful
verdure possible to behold. I gazed at them in astonishment. It seemed
incredible that nature, abandoned to herself, should preserve herself so
beautifully clean and pure, and I involuntarily looked around me for
some trace of the hand of man. But none was there. I saw nothing but
herds of deer, that gazed wonderingly at me with their large clear
eyes, and when I approached too near, galloped off in alarm. What would
I not have given for an ounce of lead, a charge of powder, and a
Kentucky rifle! Nevertheless, the mere sight of the beasts gladdened me,
and raised my spirits. They were a sort of society. Something of the
same feeling seemed imparted to my horse, who bounded under me, and
neighed merrily, as he cantered along in the fresh spring morning.
I was now skirting the side of an island of trees of greater extent than
most of those I had hitherto seen. On reaching the end of it, I suddenly
came in sight of an object whose extraordinary appearance far surpassed
any of the natural wonders I had as yet beheld, either in Texas or the
At the distance of about two miles rose a colossal mass, in shape
somewhat like a monumental mound or tumulus, and apparently of the
brightest silver. As I came in view of it, the sun was just covered by a
passing cloud, from the lower edge of which the bright rays shot down
obliquely upon this extraordinary phenomenon, lighting it up in the most
brilliant manner. At one moment it looked like a huge silver cone; then
took the appearance of an illuminated castle with pinnacles and towers,
or the dome of some great cathedral; then of a gigantic elephant,
covered with trappings, but always of solid silver, and indescribably
magnificent. Had all the treasures of the earth been offered me to say
what it was, I should have been unable to answer. Bewildered by my
interminable wanderings in the prairie, and weakened by fatigue and
hunger, a superstitious feeling for a moment came over me, and I half
asked myself whether I had not reached some enchanted region, into which
the evil spirit of the prairie was luring me to destruction by
appearances of supernatural strangeness and beauty.
Banishing these wild imaginings, I rode on in the direction of this
strange object; but it was only when I came within a very short distance
that I was able to distinguish its nature. It was a live oak of most
stupendous dimensions, the very patriarch of the prairie, grown grey in
the lapse of ages. Its lower limbs had shot out in a horizontal, or
rather a downward-slanting direction, and, reaching nearly to the
ground, completed the base of a vast dome, several hundred feet in
diameter, and full a hundred and thirty feet high. It had no appearance
of a tree, for neither trunk nor branches were visible. It seemed a
mountain of whitish-green scales, fringed with long silvery moss, that
hung like innumerable beards from every bough and twig. Nothing could
better convey the idea of immense and incalculable age than the hoary
beard and venerable appearance of this monarch of the woods. Spanish
moss of a silvery grey draped the whole mass of wood and foliage, from
the topmost bough down to the very ground; short near the top of the
tree, but gradually increasing in length as it descended, until it hung
like a deep fringe from the lower branches. I separated the vegetable
curtain with my hands, and entered this august temple with feelings of
involuntary awe. The change from the bright sunlight to the comparative
darkness beneath the leafy vault was so great, that I at first could
distinguish scarcely anything. But when my eyes got accustomed to the
gloom, nothing could be more beautiful than the effect of the sun’s
rays, which, in forcing their way through the silvered leaves and
mosses, took as many varieties of colour as if they had passed through a
window of painted glass, and gave the rich, subdued, and solemn light
observable in old cathedrals.
The trunk of the tree rose, free from all branches, full forty feet from
the ground, rough and knotted, and of such enormous size that it might
have been taken for a mass of rock covered with moss and lichens, whilst
many of its boughs were nearly as thick as the trunk of any tree I had
ever previously seen.
I was so absorbed in the contemplation of the vegetable giant, that for
a short space I almost forgot my troubles; but as I rode away from the
tree they returned to me in full force, and my reflections were
certainly of no very cheering or consolatory nature. I rode on, however,
most perseveringly. The morning slipped away; it was noon, the sun stood
high in the cloudless heavens. My hunger had now increased to an
insupportable degree, and I felt as if something were gnawing within
me—something like a crab tugging and riving at my stomach with his
sharp claws. This feeling left me after a time, and was replaced by a
sort of squeamishness, a faint sickly sensation. But if hunger was bad,
thirst was worse. For some hours I suffered martyrdom. At length, like
the hunger, it died away, and was succeeded by a feeling of sickness.
The thirty hours’ fatigue and fasting I had endured were beginning to
tell upon my naturally strong nerves: I felt my reasoning powers growing
weaker, and my presence of mind leaving me. A feeling of despondency
came over me—a thousand wild fancies passed through my bewildered
brain; whilst at times my head grew dizzy, and I reeled in my saddle
like a drunken man. These weak fits, as I may call them, did not last
long; and each time that I recovered I spurred my mustang onwards. But
all was in vain—ride as far and as fast as I would, nothing was visible
but a boundless sea of grass.
At length I gave up hope, except in that God whose almighty hand was so
manifest in the beauteous works around me. I let the bridle fall on my
horse’s neck, clasped my hands together, and prayed as I had never
before prayed, so heartily and earnestly. When I had finished my prayer
I felt greatly comforted. It seemed to me, that here in the wilderness,
which man had not as yet polluted, I was nearer to God, and that my
petition would assuredly be heard. I gazed cheerfully around, persuaded
that I should yet escape the peril in which I stood. Just then, with
what astonishment and inexpressible delight did I perceive, not ten
paces off, the track of a horse!
The effect of this discovery was like an electric shock, and drew a cry
of joy from my lips that made my mustang start and prick his ears. Tears
of delight and gratitude to Heaven came into my eyes, and I could
scarcely refrain from leaping off my horse and kissing the welcome signs
that gave me assurance of succour. With renewed strength I galloped
onwards; and had I been a lover flying to rescue his mistress from an
Indian war-party, I could not have displayed more eagerness than I did
in following up the trail of an unknown traveller.
Never had I felt so thankful to Providence as at that moment. I uttered
thanksgivings as I rode on, and contemplated the wonderful evidences of
His skill and might that offered themselves to me on all sides. The
aspect of everything seemed changed, and I gazed with renewed admiration
at the scenes through which I passed, and which I had previously been
too preoccupied by the danger of my position to notice. The beautiful
appearance of the islands struck me particularly, as they loomed in the
distance, swimming in the bright golden beams of the noonday sun, dark
spots of foliage in the midst of the waving grasses and many-hued
flowers of the prairie. Before me lay the eternal flower-carpet, with
its innumerable asters, tuberoses, and mimosas—that delicate plant
which, when approached, lifts its head, seems to look at you, and then
droops and shrinks back in alarm. This I saw it do when I was two or
three paces from it, and without my horse’s foot having touched it. Its
long roots stretch out horizontally in the ground, and the approaching
tread of a horse or man is communicated through them to the plant, and
produces this singular phenomenon. When the danger is gone by, and the
earth ceases to vibrate, the mimosa may be seen again to raise its head,
quivering and trembling, as though not yet fully recovered from its
I had ridden on for three or four hours, following the track I had so
fortunately discovered, when I came upon the trace of a second horseman,
who appeared to have here joined the first traveller. It ran in a
parallel direction to the one I was following.
Had it been possible to increase my joy, this discovery would have done
so. I could now entertain no doubt that I had hit upon the way out of
this terrible prairie. It struck me as rather singular that two
travellers should have met in this immense plain, which so few persons
traversed; but that they had done so was certain, for there were the
tracks of the two horses, as distinct as possible. The trail was fresh,
too, and it was evidently not long since the horsemen had passed. It
might still be possible to overtake them; and in this hope I rode on
faster than ever—as fast, at least, as my mustang could carry me
through the thick grass and flowers, which in some places were four or
five feet high.
During the next three hours I passed over ten or twelve miles of ground;
but although the trail still lay plainly and broadly marked before me, I
saw nothing of those who had left it. Still I persevered. I must
overtake them sooner or later, provided I did not lose the track; and
that I was most careful not to do, keeping my eyes fixed upon the ground
as I rode along, and never deviating from the line which the travellers
Thus the day passed away, and evening approached. I still retained hope
and courage; but my physical strength was giving way. The gnawing
sensation of hunger increased. I felt sick and faint; my limbs were
heavy, my blood seemed chill in my veins, and all my senses grew duller
under the influence of exhaustion, thirst, and hunger. My eyesight was
misty, my hearing less acute, the bridle felt cold and heavy in my
Still I rode on. Sooner or later I must find an outlet; the prairie must
have an end somewhere. True, that the whole of Southern Texas is one
vast prairie; but then there are rivers flowing through it, and if I
could reach one of those, I should not be far from the abodes of men. By
following the streams five or six miles up or down, I should be sure to
find a plantation.
Whilst thus reasoning with and encouraging myself, I perceived the
traces of a third horse, running parallel to the two which I had so long
followed. This was indeed encouragement. It was certain that three
travellers, arriving from different points of the prairie, and all going
in the same direction, must have some object, must be repairing to some
village or clearing; and where or what this was had now become
indifferent to me, so long as I once more found myself in the
habitations of men. I spurred on my mustang, who began to flag a little
in his pace with the fatigue of our long ride.
The sun set behind the high trees of an island that bounded my view
westward, and there being little or no twilight in those southerly
latitudes, the broad day was almost instantaneously replaced by the
darkness of night. I could proceed no further without losing the track
of the three horsemen; and as I happened to be close to an island, I
fastened my mustang to a branch with the lasso, and threw myself on the
grass under the trees.
This night, however, I had no fancy for tobacco. Neither the cigars nor
the dulcissimus tempted me. I tried to sleep, but in vain. Once or
twice I began to doze, but was roused again by violent cramps and
twitchings in all my limbs. I know of nothing more horrible than a night
passed as I passed that one—faint and weak, enduring torture from
hunger and thirst, striving after sleep, and never finding it. The
sensation of hunger I experienced can only be compared to that of twenty
pairs of pincers tearing at the stomach.
With the first grey light of morning I got up and prepared for
departure. It was a long business, however, to get my horse ready. The
saddle, which at other times I could throw upon his back with two
fingers, now seemed of lead, and it was as much as I could do to lift
it. I had still more difficulty in drawing the girths tight; but at last
I accomplished this, and, scrambling upon my beast, rode off. Luckily my
mustang’s spirit was pretty well taken out of him by the last two days’
work; for if he had been fresh, the smallest spring on one side would
have sufficed to throw me out of the saddle. As it was, I sat upon him
like an automaton, hanging forward over his neck, sometimes grasping the
mane, and almost unable to use either rein or spur.
I had ridden on for some hours in this helpless plight, when I came to a
place where the three horsemen whose track I was following had
apparently made a halt—perhaps had passed the previous night. The grass
was trampled and beaten down in a circumference of some fifty or sixty
feet, and there was a confusion in the horse-tracks as if they had
ridden backwards and forwards. Fearful of losing the right trail, I was
looking carefully about me to see in what direction they had recommenced
their journey, when I noticed something white amongst the long grass. I
got off my horse to pick it up. It was a piece of paper with my own name
written upon it; and I recognised it as the back of a letter in which my
tobacco had been wrapped, and which I had thrown away at my
halting-place of the preceding night. I looked around, and recognised
the island and the very tree under which I had slept or endeavoured to
sleep. The horrible truth instantly flashed across me—the horse-tracks
I had followed were my own: since the preceding morning, I had been
riding in a circle!
I stood for a few seconds thunderstruck by this discovery, and then sank
upon the ground in utter despair. At that moment I should have been
thankful to any one who would have knocked me on the head as I lay. All
I wished for was to die as speedily as possible.
I remained I know not how long in a desponding, half-insensible state
upon the grass. Several hours must have elapsed; for when I got up, the
sun was low in the western heavens. My head was so weak and wandering
that I could not well explain to myself how it was that I had been thus
riding after my own shadow. Yet the thing was clear enough. Without
landmarks, and in the monotonous scenery of the prairie, I might have
gone on for ever following my horse’s track, and going back when I
thought I was going forwards, had it not been for the discovery of the
tobacco-paper. I was, as I subsequently learned, in the Jacinto prairie,
one of the most beautiful in Texas, full sixty miles long and broad, but
in which the most experienced hunters never risked themselves without a
compass. It was little wonder, then, that I, a mere boy of
two-and-twenty, just escaped from college, should have gone astray in
I now gave myself up for lost, and with the bridle twisted round my
hand, and holding on as well as I could by the saddle and mane, I let my
horse choose his own road. It would perhaps have been better had I done
this sooner: the beast’s instinct would probably have led him to some
plantation. When he found himself left to his own guidance, he threw up
his head, snuffed the air three or four times, and then, turning round,
set off in a contrary direction to that he was before following, and at
such a brisk pace that it was as much as I could do to keep upon him.
Every jolt caused me so much pain, that I was more than once tempted to
let myself fall off his back.
At last night came, and, thanks to the lasso, which kept my horse in
awe, I managed to dismount and secure him. The whole night through I
suffered from racking pains in head, limbs, and body. I felt as if I had
been broken on the wheel; not an inch of my whole person but ached and
smarted. My hands were grown thin and transparent, my cheeks fallen in,
my eyes deep sunk in their sockets. When I touched my face, I could feel
the change that had taken place; and as I did so, I caught myself once
or twice laughing like a child. I was becoming delirious.
In the morning I could scarcely rise from the ground, so utterly
weakened and exhausted was I by my three days’ fasting, anxiety, and
fatigue. I have heard say that a man in good health can live nine days
without food. It may be so in a room, or in a prison, but assuredly not
in a Texan prairie. I am quite certain that the fifth day would have
seen the last of me.
I should never have been able to mount my mustang, but he had
fortunately lain down, so I got into the saddle, and he rose up with me
and started off of his own accord. As I rode along, the strangest
visions passed before me. I saw the most beautiful cities that painter’s
fancy ever conceived, with towers, cupolas, and columns, whose summits
lost themselves in the clouds; marble basins and fountains of bright
sparkling water, rivers flowing with liquid gold and silver, and gardens
whose trees were bowed down with magnificent fruit—fruit which I had
not strength to raise my hand and pluck. My limbs were heavy as lead, my
tongue, lips, and gums, dry and parched. I breathed with the greatest
difficulty, and within me was a burning sensation, as if I had swallowed
hot coals; whilst my extremities, both hands and feet, did not appear to
form a part of myself, but to be instruments of torture affixed to me,
and causing me the most intense suffering.
I have a confused recollection of a sort of rushing sound, the nature of
which I was unable to determine, so nearly had all consciousness left
me; then of finding myself amongst trees, the leaves and boughs of which
scratched and beat against my face as I passed through them; then of a
sudden and rapid descent, with the broad bright surface of a river below
me. I clutched at a branch, but my fingers lacked strength to retain
their grasp—there was a hissing, splashing noise, and the waters
closed above my head.
I soon rose, and endeavoured to strike out with my arms and legs, but in
vain; I was too weak to swim, and again I went down. A thousand lights
danced before my eyes; there was a noise in my brain as if a
four-and-twenty pounder had been fired close to my ear. Just then a hard
hand was wrung into my neckcloth, and I felt myself dragged out of the
water. The next instant my senses left me.
When I recovered from my state of insensibility, and once more opened my
eyes, I was lying on the bank of a small but deep river. My horse grazed
quietly a few yards off, and beside me stood a man with folded arms,
holding a wicker-covered flask in his hand. This was all I was able to
observe; for my state of weakness prevented me from getting up and
looking around me.
“Where am I?” I gasped.
“Where are you, stranger? By the Jacinto; and that you are by it, and
not in it, is no fault of your’n, I reckon.”
There was something harsh and repulsive in the tone and manner in which
these words were spoken, and in the grating, scornful laugh which
accompanied them, that jarred upon my nerves, and inspired me with a
feeling of aversion towards the speaker. I knew he was my deliverer;
that he had saved my life when my mustang, raging with thirst, had
sprung head-foremost into the water; that, without him, I must
inevitably have been drowned, even had the river been less deep than it
was; and that it was by his care, and the whisky he had made me swallow,
and of which I still had the flavour on my tongue, that I had been
recovered from my death-like swoon. But had he done ten times as much
for me, I could not have repressed the feeling of repugnance, the
inexplicable dislike, with which the mere tones of his voice filled me.
I turned my head away in order not to see him. There was a silence of
some moments’ duration.
“Don’t seem as if my company was over and above agreeable,” said the man
“Your company not agreeable? This is the fourth day since I saw the face
of a human being. During that time not a bit nor a drop has passed my
“Hallo! That’s a lie!” shouted the man, with another strange, wild
laugh. “You’ve taken a mouthful out of my flask; not taken it,
certainly, but it went over your tongue all the same. Where do you come
from? The beast ain’t your’n.”
“Mr Neal’s,” answered I.
“See it is by the brand. But what brings you here from Mr Neal’s? It’s a
good seventy mile to his plantation, right across the prairie. Ain’t
stole the horse, have you?”
“Lost my way—four days—eaten nothing.”
These words were all I could articulate. I was too weak to talk.
“Four days without eatin’!” cried the man, with a laugh like the
sharpening of a saw, “and that in a Texas prairie, and with islands on
all sides of you! Ha! I see how it is. You’re a gentleman—that’s plain
enough. I was a sort of one myself once. You thought our Texas prairies
was like the prairies in the States. Ha, ha! And so you didn’t know how
to help yourself. Did you see no bees in the air, no strawberries on the
“Bees? Strawberries?” repeated I.
“Yes, bees, which live in the hollow trees. Out of twenty trees there’s
sure to be one full of honey. So you saw no bees, eh? Perhaps you don’t
know the creturs when you see ’em? Ain’t altogether so big as wild-geese
or turkeys. But you must know what strawberries are, and that they don’t
grow upon the trees.”
All this was spoken in the same sneering, savage manner as before, with
the speaker’s head half turned over his shoulder, while his features
were distorted into a contemptuous grin.
“And if I had seen the bees, how was I to get at the honey without an
“How did you lose yourself?”
“My mustang—ran away—”
“I see. And you after him. You’d have done better to let him run. But
what d’ye mean to do now?”
“I am weak—sick to death. I wish to get to the nearest house—an
inn—anywhere where men are.”
“Where men are,” repeated the stranger, with his scornful smile. “Where
men are,” he muttered again, taking a few steps on one side.
I was hardly able to turn my head, but there was something strange in
the man’s movement that alarmed me; and, making a violent effort, I
changed my position sufficiently to get him in sight again. He had drawn
a long knife from his girdle, which he clutched in one hand, whilst he
ran the forefinger of the other along its edge. I now for the first time
got a full view of his face, and the impression it made upon me was
anything but favourable. His countenance was the wildest I had ever
seen; his blood-shot eyes rolled like balls of fire in their sockets;
his movements and manner were indicative of a violent inward struggle.
He did not stand still for three seconds together, but paced backwards
and forwards with hurried, irregular steps, casting wild glances over
his shoulder, his fingers playing all the while with the knife, with
the rapid and objectless movements of a maniac.
I felt convinced that I was the cause of the struggle visibly going on
within him—that my life or death was what he was deciding upon. But, in
the state I then was, death had no terrors for me. The image of my
mother, sisters, and father, passed before my eyes. I gave one thought
to my peaceful, happy home, and then looked upwards and prayed.
The man had walked off to some distance. I turned myself a little more
round, and, as I did so, I caught sight of the same magnificent
phenomenon which I had met with on the second day of my wanderings. The
colossal live oak rose in all its silvery splendour, at the distance of
a couple of miles. Whilst I was gazing at it, and reflecting on the
strange ill-luck that had made me pass within so short a distance of the
river without finding it, I saw my new acquaintance approach a
neighbouring cluster of trees, amongst which he disappeared.
After a short time I again perceived him coming towards me with a slow
and staggering step. As he drew near, I had an opportunity of examining
his whole appearance. He was very tall and lean, but large-boned, and
apparently of great strength. His face, which had not been shaved for
several weeks, was so tanned by sun and weather, that he might have been
taken for an Indian, had not the beard proved his claim to white blood.
But his eyes were what most struck me. There was something so
frightfully wild in their expression, a look of terror and desperation,
like that of a man whom all the furies of hell were hunting and
persecuting. His hair hung in long ragged locks over his forehead,
cheeks, and neck, and round his head was bound a handkerchief, on which
were several stains of a brownish-black colour. Spots of the same kind
were visible upon his leathern jacket, breeches, and mocassins; they
were evidently blood stains. His hunting-knife, which was nearly two
feet long, with a rude wooden handle, was now replaced in his girdle,
but in its stead he grasped a Kentucky rifle.
Although I did my utmost to assume an indifferent countenance, my
features doubtless expressed something of the repugnance and horror with
which the man inspired me. He looked loweringly at me for a moment from
under his shaggy eyebrows.
“You don’t seem to like the company you’ve got into,” said he. “Do I
look so very desperate, then? Is it written so plainly on my face?”
“What should there be written upon your face?”
“What? What? Them questions are for fools and children.”
“I will ask you none; but as a Christian, as a countryman, I beseech
“Christian?” interrupted he, with a hollow laugh. “Countryman!” He
struck the butt of his rifle hard upon the ground. “That is my
countryman—my only friend!” he continued, as he examined the flint and
lock of his weapon. “That releases from all troubles: that’s a true
friend. Pooh! perhaps it’ll release you too—put you to rest.”
These last words were uttered aside, and musingly.
“Put him to rest, as well as——. Pooh! One more or less—Perhaps it
would drive away that cursed spectre.”
All this seemed to be spoken to his rifle.
“Will you swear not to betray me?” cried he to me. “Else, one touch——”
As he spoke, he brought the gun to his shoulder, the muzzle pointed full
at my breast.
I felt no fear. I am sure my pulse did not give a throb the more for
this menace. So deadly weak and helpless as I lay, it was unnecessary to
shoot me. The slightest blow from the butt of the rifle would have
driven the last faint spark of life out of my exhausted body. I looked
calmly, indifferently even, into the muzzle of the piece.
“If you can answer it to your God, to your and my Judge and Creator, do
My words, which from faintness I could scarcely render audible, had,
nevertheless, a sudden and startling effect upon the man. He trembled
from head to foot, let the butt of his gun fall heavily to the ground,
and gazed at me with open mouth and staring eyes.
“This one, too, comes with his God!” muttered he. “God! and your and my
He seemed hardly able to articulate these words, which were uttered by
gasps and efforts, as though something had choked him.
“His and my—Judge”—groaned he again. “Can there be a God, a Creator
As he stood thus muttering to himself, his eyes suddenly became fixed,
and his features horribly distorted.
“Do it not!” cried he, in a shrill tone of horror, that rang through my
head. “It will bring no blessin’ with it. I am a dead man! God be
merciful to me! My poor wife! my poor children!”
The rifle fell from his hands, and he smote his breast and forehead in a
paroxysm of the wildest fury and despair. It was frightful to behold the
conscience-stricken wretch, stamping madly about, and casting glances of
terror behind him, as though demons had been hunting him down. The foam
flew from his mouth, and I expected each moment to see him fall to the
ground in a fit of epilepsy. Gradually, however, he grew more tranquil.
“D’ye see nothin’ in my face?” said he in a hoarse whisper, suddenly
pausing close to where I lay.
“What should I see?”
He came yet nearer.
“Look well at me—through me, if you can. D’ye see nothin’ now?”
“I see nothing,” replied I.
“Ah! I understand; you can see nothin’. Ain’t in a spyin’ humour, I
calkilate. No, no, that you ain’t. After four days and nights fastin’,
one loses the fancy for many things. I’ve tried it for two days myself.
So, you are weak and faint, eh? But I needn’t ask that, I reckon. You
look bad enough. Take another drop of whisky; it’ll strengthen you. But
wait till I mix it.”
As he spoke, he stepped down to the edge of the river, and scooping up
the water in the hollow of his hand, filled up his flask with it. Then
returning to me, he poured a little into my mouth.
Even the bloodthirsty Indian appears less of a savage when engaged in a
compassionate act, and the wild desperado I had fallen in with seemed
softened and humanised by the service he was rendering me. His voice
sounded less harsh; his manner was calmer and milder.
“You wish to go to an inn?”
“For Heaven’s sake, yes. These four days I have tasted nothing but a bit
“Can you spare a bit of that?”
“All I have.”
I handed him my cigar-case, and the roll of dulcissimus. He snatched
the latter from me, and bit into it with the furious eagerness of a
“Ah! the right sort this!” muttered he to himself. “Ah, young man, or
old man—you’re an old man, ain’t you? How old are you?”
He shook his head doubtingly.
“Can hardly believe that. But four days in the prairie, and nothin’ to
eat. Well, it may be so. But, stranger, if I had had this bit of tobacco
only ten days ago——A bit of tobacco is worth a deal sometimes. It
might have saved a man’s life!”
Again he groaned, and his accents were wild and unnatural.
“I say, stranger!” cried he in a threatening tone. “I say! D’ye see
yonder live oak? D’ye see it? It’s the Patriarch, and a finer and
mightier one you won’t find in the prairies, I reckon. D’ye see it?”
“I do see it.”
“Ah! you see it,” cried he fiercely. “And what is it to you? What have
you to do with the Patriarch, or with what lies under it? I reckon you
had best not be too curious that way. If you dare take a step under that
tree——” He swore an oath too horrible to be repeated.
“There’s a spectre there,” cried he; “a spectre that would fright you to
death. Better keep away.”
“I will keep away,” replied I. “I never thought of going near it. All I
want is to get to the nearest plantation or inn.”
“Ah! true, man—the next inn. I’ll show you the way to it. I will.”
“You will save my life by so doing,” said I, “and I shall be ever
grateful to you as my deliverer.”
“Deliverer!” repeated he with a wild laugh. “Pooh! If you knew what sort
of a deliverer—Pooh! What’s the use of savin’ a life, when—yet I
will—I will save yours; perhaps the cursed spectre will leave me then.
Will you not? Will you not?” cried he, suddenly changing his scornful
mocking tones to those of entreaty and supplication, and turning his
face in the direction of the live oak. Again his wildness of manner
returned, and his eyes were fixed as he gazed for some moments at the
gigantic tree. Then darting away, he disappeared among the trees, whence
he had fetched his rifle, and presently emerged again, leading a saddled
horse with him. He called to me to mount mine, but seeing that I was
unable even to rise from the ground, he stepped up to me, and with the
greatest ease lifted me into the saddle with one hand, so light had I
become during my long fast. Then taking the end of my lasso, he got upon
his own horse and set off, leading my mustang after him.
We rode on for some time without exchanging a word. My guide kept up a
sort of muttered soliloquy; but as I was full ten paces in his rear, I
could distinguish nothing of what he said. At times he would raise his
rifle to his shoulder, then lower it again, and speak to it, sometimes
caressingly, sometimes in anger. More than once he turned his head, and
cast keen searching glances at me, as though to see whether I were
watching him or not.
We had ridden more than an hour, and the strength the whisky had given
me was fast failing, so that I expected each moment to fall from my
horse, when suddenly I caught sight of a kind of rude hedge, and, almost
immediately afterwards, of the wall of a small blockhouse. A faint cry
of joy escaped me, and I endeavoured, but in vain, to give my horse the
spur. My guide turned round, fixed his wild eyes upon me, and spoke in a
“You are impatient, man! impatient, I see. You think now, perhaps——”
“I am dying,” was all I could utter. In fact, my senses were leaving me
from exhaustion, and I really thought my last hour was come.
“Pooh! dyin’! One don’t die so easy. And yet—d——n!—it might be
He sprang off his horse, and was just in time to catch me in his arms as
I fell from the saddle. A few drops of whisky, however, restored me to
consciousness. My guide replaced me upon my mustang, and after passing
through a potato ground, a field of Indian corn, and a small grove of
peach-trees, we found ourselves at the door of the blockhouse.
I was so utterly helpless, that my strange companion was obliged to lift
me off my horse, and carry me into the dwelling. He set me down upon a
bench, passive and powerless as an infant. Strange to say, I was never
better able to observe all that passed around me, than during the few
hours of physical debility that succeeded my immersion in the Jacinto. A
blow with a reed would have knocked me off my seat, but my mental
faculties, instead of participating in this weakness, seemed sharpened
to an unusual degree of acuteness.
The blockhouse in which we now were was of the poorest possible
description; a mere log hut consisting of one room, that served as
kitchen, sitting-room, and bedchamber. The door of rough planks swang
heavily upon two hooks, which fitted into iron rings, and formed a
clumsy substitute for hinges; a wooden latch and heavy bar served to
secure it; windows, properly speaking, there were none, but in their
stead a few holes covered with dirty oiled paper; the floor was of clay,
stamped hard and dry in the middle, but out of which, at the sides of
the room, a crop of rank grass was growing, a foot or more high. In one
corner stood a clumsy bedstead, in another was a sort of bar or
counter, on which were half a dozen drinking glasses of various sizes
and patterns. The table consisted of four thick posts, firmly planted in
the ground, and on which were nailed three boards that had apparently
belonged to some chest or case, for they were partly painted, and there
was a date, and the three first letters of a word upon one of them. A
shelf fixed against the side of the hut supported an earthen pot or two,
and three or four bottles, uncorked, and apparently empty; and from some
wooden pegs wedged in between the logs, hung suspended a few articles of
wearing apparel of no very cleanly aspect.
Pacing up and down the hut with a kind of stealthy cat-like pace, was an
individual, whose unprepossessing exterior was in good keeping with the
wretched appearance of this Texan shebeen house. He was an undersized,
stooping figure, red-haired and large-mouthed, with small reddish pig’s
eyes, which he seemed totally unable to raise from the ground, and whose
lowering, hang-dog expression corresponded fully with the treacherous,
restless, panther-like stealthiness of his step and movements. Without
greeting us either by word or look, this personage dived into a dark
corner of the tenement, brought out a full bottle, and, placing it and
glasses upon the table, resumed the monotonous exercise in which he had
been indulging on our entrance.
My guide and deliverer said nothing whilst the tavern-keeper was getting
out the bottle, although he watched all his movements with a keen and
suspicious eye. He now filled a large glass of spirits, and tossed it
off at a single draught. When he had done this, he spoke for the first
Johnny made no answer.
“This gentleman has eaten nothing for four days.”
“Indeed,” replied Johnny, without looking up, or intermitting his
sneaking, restless walk from one corner of the room to the other.
“I said four days, d’ye hear? Four days. Bring him tea immediately,
strong tea, and then make some good beef-soup. I know you have bought
some tea and rum and sugar. The tea must be ready directly, the soup in
an hour at farthest, d’ye understand? And then I want some whisky for
myself, and a beefsteak and potatoes. Now, tell all that to your Sambo.”
Johnny did not seem to hear, but continued his walk, creeping along with
noiseless step, and each time that he turned, giving a sort of spring
like a cat or a panther.
“I’ve money, Johnny,” said my guide. “Money, man, d’ye hear?” And so
saying, he produced a tolerably full purse.
For the first time Johnny raised his head, gave an indefinable glance at
the purse, and then, springing forward, fixed his small, cunning eyes
upon those of my guide, whilst a smile of strange meaning spread over
his repulsive features.
The two men stood for the space of a minute, staring at each other,
without uttering a word. An infernal grin distended Johnny’s coarse
mouth from ear to ear. My guide gasped for breath.
“I’ve money,” cried he at last, striking the butt of his rifle violently
on the ground. “D’ye understand, Johnny? Money; and a rifle too, if
He stepped to the table and filled another glass of raw spirits, which
disappeared like the preceding one. Whilst he drank, Johnny stole out of
the room so softly that my companion was only made aware of his
departure by the noise of the wooden latch. He then came up to me, took
me in his arms without saying a word, and carrying me to the bed, laid
me gently down upon it.
“You make yourself at home,” snarled Johnny, who just then came in
“Always do that, I reckon, when I’m in a tavern,” answered my guide,
quietly pouring out and swallowing another glassful. “The gentleman
shall have your bed to-day. You and your Sambo may sleep in the pigsty.
You have none though, I believe?”
“Bob!” screamed Johnny furiously.
“That’s my name—Bob Rock.”
“For the present,” hissed Johnny, with a sneer.
“Just as yours is Johnny Down,” replied Bob in the same tone. “Pooh!
Johnny, guess we know one another?”
“Rayther calkilate we do,” replied Johnny through his teeth.
“And have done many a day,” laughed Bob.
“You’re the famous Bob from Sodoma in Georgia?”
“Sodoma in Alabama, Johnny. Sodoma lies in Alabama,” said Bob, filling
another glass. “Don’t you know that yet, you who were above a year in
Columbus, doin’ all sorts of dirty work?”
“Better hold your tongue, Bob,” said Johnny, with a dangerous look at
“Pooh! Don’t mind him; he won’t talk, I’ll answer for it. He’s lost the
taste for chatterin’ in the Jacinto prairie. But Sodoma,” continued Bob,
“is in Alabama, man! Columbus in Georgia! They are parted by the
Chatahoochie. Ah! that was a jolly life on the Chatahoochie. But nothin’
lasts in this world, as my old schoolmaster used to say. Pooh! They’ve
druv the Injuns a step further over the Mississippi now. But it was a
glorious life—warn’t it?”
Again he filled his glass and drank.
The information I gathered from this conversation as to the previous
life and habits of these two men, had nothing in it very satisfactory or
encouraging for me. In the whole of the south-western States there was
no place that could boast of being the resort of so many outlaws and bad
characters as the town of Sodoma. It is situated, or was situated, at
least, a few years previously to the time I speak of, in Alabama, on
Indian ground, and was the harbour of refuge for all the murderers and
outcasts from the western and south-western parts of the Union. There,
under Indian government, they found shelter and security; and frightful
were the crimes and cruelties perpetrated at that place. Scarcely a day
passed without an assassination, not secretly committed, but in broad
sunlight. Bands of these wretches, armed with knives and rifles, used to
cross the Chatahoochie, and make inroads into Columbus; break into
houses, rob, murder, ill-treat women, and then return in triumph to
their dens, laden with booty, and laughing at the laws. It was useless
to think of pursuing them, or of obtaining justice, for they were on
Indian territory; and many of the chiefs were in league with them. At
length General Jackson and the government took it up. The Indians were
driven over the Mississippi, the outlaws and murderers fled, Sodoma
itself disappeared; and, released from its troublesome neighbours,
Columbus is now as nourishing a State as any in the west.
The recollections of their former life and exploits seemed highly
interesting to the two comrades; and their communications became more
and more confidential. Johnny filled himself a glass, and the
conversation soon increased in animation. I could understand little of
what they said, for they spoke a sort of thieves’ jargon. After a time,
their voices sounded as a confused hum in my ears, the objects in the
room got gradually less distinct, and I fell asleep.
I was roused, not very gently, by a mulatto woman, who poured a spoonful
of tea into my mouth before I had well opened my eyes. She at first did
not attend to me with much apparent good-will; but by the time she had
given me half-a-dozen spoonsful, her womanly sympathies were awakened,
and her manner was kinder. The tea did me an infinite deal of good, and
infused new life into my veins. I finished the cup, and the mulatto laid
me down again on my pillow, with far more gentleness than she lifted me
“Gor! Gor!” cried she, “what poor young man! Berry weak. Him soon
better. One hour, massa, good soup.”
“Soup! What do you want with soup?” grumbled Johnny.
“Him take soup. I cook it,” screamed the woman.
“Worse for you if she don’t, Johnny,” said Bob; “worse for you, I say.”
Johnny muttered something in reply, but I did not distinguish what it
was, for my eyes closed, and I again fell asleep.
It seemed as if I had not been five minutes slumbering when the mulatto
returned with the soup. The tea had revived me, but this gave me
strength; and when I had taken it I was able to sit up in the bed.
Whilst the woman fed me, Bob ate his beefsteak. It was a piece of meat
that might have sufficed for six persons, but the man was as hungry as
if he had eaten nothing for three days. He cut off wedges half as big as
his fist, swallowed them with ravenous eagerness, and, instead of bread,
bit into some unpeeled potatoes. All this was washed down with glass
after glass of raw spirits, which had the effect of wakening him up, and
infusing a certain cheerfulness into his strange humour. He still spoke
more to himself than to Johnny, but his recollections seemed agreeable;
he nodded self-approvingly, and sometimes laughed aloud. At last he
began to abuse Johnny for being, as he said, such a sneaking, cowardly
fellow—such a treacherous, false-hearted gallows-bird.
“It’s true,” said he, “I am gallows-bird enough myself, but then I’m
open, and no man can say I’m afeard; but Johnny, Johnny, who——”
I do not know what he was about to say, for Johnny sprang towards him,
and placed both hands over his mouth, receiving in return a blow that
knocked him as far as the door, through which he retreated, cursing and
I soon fell asleep again, and whilst in that state I had a confused
consciousness of various noises in the room, loud words, blows, and
shouting. Wearied as I was, however, I believe no noise would have fully
roused me, although hunger at last did.
When I opened my eyes I saw the mulatto woman sitting by my bed, and
keeping off the mosquitoes. She brought me the remainder of the soup,
and promised, if I would sleep a couple of hours more, to bring me as
good a beefsteak as ever came off a gridiron. Before the two hours had
elapsed I awoke, hungrier than ever. After I had eaten all the beefsteak
the woman would allow me, which was a very moderate quantity, she
brought me a beer-glass full of the most delicious punch I ever tasted.
I asked her where she had got the rum and lemons, and she told me that
it was she who had bought them, as well as a stock of coffee and tea;
that Johnny was her partner, but that he had done nothing but build the
house, and badly built it was. She then began to abuse Johnny, and said
he was a gambler, and worse still; that he had had plenty of money once,
but had lost it all; that she had first known him in Lower Natchez, but
he had been obliged to run away from there in the night to save his
neck. Bob was no better, she said; on the contrary—and here she made
the gesture of cutting a man’s throat—he was a very bad fellow, she
added. He had got drunk after his dinner, knocked Johnny down, and
broken everything. He was now lying asleep outside the door; and Johnny
had hidden himself somewhere.
How long she continued speaking I know not, for I again fell into a deep
sleep, which this time lasted six or seven hours.
I was awakened by a strong grasp laid upon my arm, which made me cry
out, more, however, from alarm than pain. Bob stood by my bedside; the
traces of the preceding night’s debauch plainly written on his haggard
countenance. His blood-shot eyes were inflamed and swollen, and rolled
with even more than their usual wildness; his mouth was open, and the
jaws were stiff and fixed; he looked like one fresh from the
perpetration of some frightful deed. I could fancy the first murderer to
have worn such an aspect when gazing on the body of his slaughtered
brother. I shrank back, horror-struck at his appearance.
“In God’s name, man, what do you want?”
He made no answer.
“You are in a fever. You’ve the ague!”
“Ay, a fever,” groaned he, shivering as he spoke; “a fever, but not the
one you mean; a fever, young man, such as God keep you from ever
His whole frame shuddered as he uttered these words. There was a short
“Curious that,” continued he; “I’ve served more than one in the same
way, but never thought of it afterwards—was forgotten in less than no
time. Got to pay the whole score at once, I suppose. Can’t rest a
minute. In the open prairie it’s the worst; there stands the old man, so
plain, with his silver beard, and the spectre just behind him.”
His eyes rolled, he clenched his fists, and striking his forehead
furiously, rushed out of the hut.
In a few minutes he returned, apparently more composed, and walked
straight up to my bed.
“Stranger, you must do me a service,” said he abruptly.
“Ten rather than one,” replied I; “anything that is in my power. Do I
not owe you my life?”
“You’re a gentleman, I see, and a Christian. You must come with me to
the squire—the Alcalde.”
“To the Alcalde, man? What must I go there for?”
“You’ll see and hear when you get there; I’ve something to tell
him—something for his own ear.”
He drew a deep breath, and remained silent for a short time, gazing
anxiously on all sides of him.
“Something,” whispered he, “that nobody else must hear.”
“But there’s Johnny there. Why not take him?”
“Johnny!” cried he, with a scornful laugh; “Johnny! who’s ten times
worse than I am, bad as I be; and bad I am to be sure, but yet open and
above board, always till this time; but Johnny! he’d sell his own
mother. He’s a cowardly, sneakin’, treacherous hound, is Johnny.”
It was unnecessary to tell me this, for Johnny’s character was written
plainly enough upon his countenance.
“But why do you want me to go to the Alcalde?”
“Why does one want people before the judge? He’s a judge, man; a Mexican
one certainly, but chosen by us Americans; and an American himself, as
you and I are.”
“And how soon must I go?”
“Directly. I can’t bear it any longer. It leaves me no peace. Not an
hour’s rest have I had for the last eight days. When I go out into the
prairie, the spectre stands before me and beckons me on; and if I try to
go another way, he comes behind me and drives me before him under the
Patriarch. I see him just as plainly as when he was alive, only paler
and sadder. It seems as if I could touch him with my hand. Even the
bottle is no use now; neither rum, nor whisky, nor brandy, rid me of
him; it don’t, by the ’tarnal.—Curious that! I got drunk
yesterday—thought to get rid of him; but he came in the night and drove
me out. I was obliged to go. Wouldn’t let me sleep; was forced to go
under the Patriarch.”
“Under the Patriarch? the live oak?” cried I, in astonishment. “Were you
there in the night?”
“Ay, that was I,” replied he, in the same horribly confidential tone;
“and the spirit threatened me, and said, says he, ‘I will leave you no
peace, Bob, till you go to the Alcalde and tell him.’”
“Then I will go with you to the Alcalde, and that immediately,” said I,
raising myself up in bed. I could not help pitying the poor fellow from
my very soul.
“Where are you going?” croaked Johnny, who at this moment glided into
the room. “Not a step shall you stir till you’ve paid.”
“Johnny,” said Bob, seizing his less powerful companion by the
shoulders, lifting him up like a child, and then setting him down again
with such force, that his knees cracked and bent under him;—“Johnny,
this gentleman is my guest, d’ye understand? And here is the reckonin’,
and mind yourself, Johnny—mind yourself, that’s all.”
Johnny crept into a corner like a flogged hound; the mulatto woman,
however, did not seem disposed to be so easily intimidated. Sticking
her arms in her sides, she waddled boldly forward.
“You not take him ’way, Massa Bob?” screamed she. “Him stop here. Him
berry weak—not able for ride—not able for stand on him foot.”
This was true enough. Strong as I had felt in bed, I could hardly stand
upright when I got out of it.
For a moment Bob seemed undecided, but only for one moment; then,
stepping up to the mulatto, he lifted her, fat and heavy as she was, in
the same manner as he had done her partner, at least a foot from the
ground, and carried her screaming and struggling to the door, which he
kicked open. Then setting her down outside, “Silence!” roared he, “and
some good strong tea instead of your cursed chatter, and a fresh
beefsteak instead of your stinking carcass. That will strengthen the
gentleman; so be quick about it, you old brown-skinned beast, you!”
I had slept in my clothes, and my toilet was consequently soon made, by
the help of a bowl of water and a towel, which Bob made Johnny bring,
and then ordered him to go and get our horses ready.
A hearty breakfast of tea, butter, Indian-corn bread, and steaks,
increased my strength so much, that I was able to mount my mustang. I
had still pains in all my limbs, but we rode slowly; the morning was
bright, the air fresh and elastic, and I felt myself getting gradually
better. Our path led through the prairie; the river, fringed with wood,
on the one hand, the vast ocean of grass, sprinkled with innumerable
islands of trees, on the other. We saw abundance of game, which sprang
up under the very feet of our horses; but although Bob had his rifle, he
made no use of it. He muttered continually to himself, and seemed to be
arranging what he should say to the judge; for I heard him talking of
things which I would just as soon not have listened to, if I could have
helped it. I was heartily glad when we at length reached the plantation
of the Alcalde.
It seemed a very considerable one, and the size and appearance of the
framework house bespoke comfort and even luxury. The building was
surrounded by a group of China trees, which I should have thought about
ten years of age, but which I afterwards learned had not been planted
half that time, although they were already large enough to afford a very
agreeable shade. Right in front of the house rose a live oak, inferior
in size to the one in the prairie, but still of immense age and great
beauty. To the left were some two hundred acres of cotton fields,
extending to the bank of the Jacinto, which at this spot made a sharp
turn, and winding round the plantation, enclosed it on three sides.
Before the house lay the prairie, with its archipelago of islands, and
herds of grazing cattle and mustangs; to the right, more cotton fields;
and in rear of the dwelling, the negro cottages and out-buildings.
There was a Sabbath-like stillness pervading the whole scene, which
seemed to strike even Bob. He paused as though in deep thought, and
allowed his hand to rest for a moment on the handle of the lattice door.
Then with a sudden and resolute jerk, bespeaking an equally energetic
resolve, he pushed open the gate, and we entered a garden planted with
orange, banana, and citron trees, the path through which was enclosed
between palisades, and led to a sort of front court, with another
lattice-work door, beside which hung a bell. Upon ringing this, a negro
The black seemed to know Bob very well, for he nodded to him as to an
old acquaintance, and said the squire wanted him, and had asked after
him several times. He then led the way to a large parlour, very
handsomely furnished for Texas, and in which we found the squire, or
more properly speaking, the Alcalde, sitting smoking his cigar. He had
just breakfasted, and the plates and dishes were still upon the table.
He did not appear to be much given to compliments or ceremony, or to
partake at all of the Yankee failing of curiosity, for he answered our
salutation with a laconic “good-morning,” and scarcely even looked at
us. At the very first glance, it was easy to see that he came from
Tennessee or Virginia, the only provinces in which one finds men of his
gigantic mould. Even sitting, his head rose above those of the negro
servants in waiting. Nor was his height alone remarkable; he had the
true West-Virginian build; the enormous chest and shoulders, and
herculean limbs, the massive features and sharp grey eyes; altogether an
exterior well calculated to impose on the rough backwoodsmen with whom
he had to deal.
I was tired with my ride, and took a chair. The squire apparently did
not deem me worthy of notice, or else reserved me for a later scrutiny;
but he fixed a long, searching look upon Bob, who remained standing,
with his head sunk on his breast.
The judge at last broke silence.
“So here you are again, Bob. It’s long since we’ve seen you, and I
thought you had clean forgotten us. Well, Bob, we shouldn’t have broke
our hearts, I reckon; for I hate gamblers—ay, that I do—worse than
skunks. It’s a vile thing is play, and has ruined many a man, both in
this world and the next. It’s ruined you too, Bob.”
Bob said nothing.
“You’d have been mighty useful here last week; there was plenty for you
to do. My step-daughter arrived; but as you weren’t to be found, we had
to send to Joel to shoot us a buck and a few dozen snipes. Ah, Bob! one
might still make a good citizen of you, if you’d only leave off that
Bob still remained silent.
“Now, go into the kitchen and get some breakfast.”
Bob neither answered nor moved.
“D’ye hear? Go into the kitchen and get something to eat. And,
Ptoly”—added he to the negro—“tell Veny to give him a pint of rum.”
“Don’t want yer rum—ain’t thirsty”—growled Bob.
“Very like, very like,” said the judge sharply. “Reckon you’ve taken too
much already. Look as if you could swallow a wild cat alive. And you,”
added he, turning to me—“Ptoly, what the devil are you at? Don’t you
see the man wants his breakfast? Where’s the coffee? Or would you rather
“Thank you, Alcalde, I have breakfasted already.”
“Don’t look as if. Ain’t sick, are you? Where do you come from? What’s
happened to you? Ain’t got the ague, have you? What are you doing with
He looked keenly and searchingly at me, and then again at Bob. My
appearance was certainly not very prepossessing, unshaven as I was, and
with my clothes and linen soiled and torn. He was evidently considering
what could be the motive of our visit, and what had brought me into
Bob’s society. The result of his physiognomical observations did not
appear very favourable either to me or my companion. I hastened to
“You shall hear how it was, judge. I am indebted to Bob for my life.”
“Your life! Indebted to Bob for your life!” repeated the judge, shaking
his head incredulously.
I related how I had lost my way in the prairie; had been carried into
the Jacinto by my horse; and how I should inevitably have been drowned
but for Bob’s aid.
“Indeed!” said the judge, when I had done speaking. “So Bob saved your
life! Is that true, Bob? Well, I am glad of it, Bob—very glad of it.
Ah! if you could only keep away from that Johnny. I tell you, Bob,
Johnny will be the ruin of you. Better keep out of his way.”
This was spoken gravely and earnestly, the speaker pausing between the
sentences to take a pull at his cigar, and a sup out of his glass.
“Yes, Bob,” he repeated; “only keep away from Johnny!”
“It’s too late,” answered Bob.
“Don’t know why it should be. Never too late to leave a debauched,
sinful life; never, man!”
“Calkilate it is, though,” replied Bob sullenly.
“You calculate it is?” said the judge, fixing his eyes on him. “And why
do you calculate that? Take a glass—Ptoly, a glass—and tell me, man,
why should it be too late?”
“I ain’t thirsty, squire,” said Bob.
“Don’t talk to me of your thirst; rum’s not for thirst, but to
strengthen the heart and nerves, to drive away the blue devils. And a
good thing it is, taken in moderation.”
As he spoke he filled himself a glass, and drank half of it off. Bob
shook his head.
“No rum for me, squire. I take no pleasure in it. I’ve something on my
mind too heavy for rum to wash away.”
“And what is that, Bob? Come, let’s hear what you’ve got to say. Or,
perhaps, you’d rather speak to me alone. It’s Sunday to-day, and no
business ought to be done; but for once, and for you, we’ll make an
“I brought the gentleman with me on purpose to witness what I had to
say,” answered Bob, taking a cigar out of a box that stood on the table.
Although the judge had not asked him to take one, he very quietly
offered him a light. Bob smoked a whiff or two, looked thoughtfully at
the judge, and then threw the cigar through the open window.
“It don’t relish, squire; nothin’ does now.”
“Ah, Bob! if you’d leave off play and drink! They’re your ruin; worse
than ague or fever.”
“It’s no use,” continued Bob, as if he did not hear the judge’s remark;
“it must out. I fo’t agin it, and thought to drive it away, but it can’t
be done. I’ve put a bit of lead into several before now, but this
“What’s that?” cried the judge, chucking his cigar away, and looking
sternly at Bob. “What’s up now? What are you saying about a bit of lead?
None of your Sodoma and Lower Natchez tricks, I hope? They won’t do
here. Don’t understand such jokes.”
“Pooh! they don’t understand them a bit more in Natchez. If they did, I
shouldn’t be in Texas.”
“The less said of that the better, Bob. You promised to lead a new life
here; so we won’t rake up old stories.”
“I did, I did!” groaned Bob; “and I meant it too; but it’s all no use. I
shall never be better till I’m hung.”
I stared at the man in astonishment. The judge, however, took another
cigar, lighted it, and, after puffing out a cloud of smoke, said, very
“Not better till you’re hung! What do you want to be hung for? To be
sure, you should have been long ago, if the Georgia and Alabama papers
don’t lie. But we are not in the States here, but in Texas, under
Mexican laws. It’s nothing to us what you’ve done yonder. Where there is
no accuser there can be no judge.”
“Send away the nigger, squire,” said Bob. “What a free white man has to
say, shouldn’t be heard by black ears.”
“Go away, Ptoly,” said the judge. “Now then,” added he, turning to Bob,
“say what you have to say; but mind, nobody forces you to do it, and
it’s only out of good-will that I listen to you, for to-day’s Sunday.”
“I know that,” muttered Bob; “I know that, squire; but it leaves me no
peace, and it must out. I’ve been to San Felipe de Austin, to Anahuac,
everywhere, but it’s all no use. Wherever I go, the spectre follows me,
and drives me back under the cursed Patriarch.”
“Under the Patriarch!” exclaimed the judge.
“Ay, under the Patriarch!” groaned Bob. “Don’t you know the
Patriarch—the old live oak near the ford, on the Jacinto?”
“I know, I know!” answered the judge. “And what drives you under the
“What drives me? What drives a man who—who——”
“A man who——” repeated the judge gently.
“A man,” continued Bob, in the same low tone, “who has sent a rifle
bullet into another’s heart. He lies there, under the Patriarch, whom
“Whom you?” asked the judge.
“Whom I killed!” said Bob, in a hollow whisper.
“Killed?” exclaimed the judge. “You killed him? Who?”
“Ah! who? Why don’t you let me speak? You always interrupt me with your
palaver,” growled Bob.
“You are getting saucy, Bob,” said the judge impatiently. “Go on,
however. I reckon it’s only one of your usual tantrums.”
Bob shook his head. The judge looked keenly at him for a moment, and
then resumed in a sort of confidential, encouraging tone.
“Under the Patriarch; and how did he come under the Patriarch?”
“I dragged him there, and buried him there,” replied Bob.
“Dragged him there! Why did you drag him there?”
“Because he couldn’t go himself, with more than half an ounce of lead in
“And you put the half ounce of lead into him, Bob? Well, if it was
Johnny, you’ve done the country a service, and saved it a rope.”
Bob shook his head negatively.
“It wasn’t Johnny, although——But you shall hear all about it. It’s
just ten days since you paid me twenty dollars fifty.”
“I did so, Bob; twenty dollars fifty cents; and I advised you at the
same time to let the money lie till you had a couple of hundred dollars,
or enough to buy a quarter or an eight of Sitio land; but advice is
thrown away upon you.”
“When I got the money, I thought I’d go down to San Felipe, to the
Mexicans, and try my luck, and, at the same time, see the doctor about
my fever. As I was goin’ there, I passed near Johnny’s house, and
fancied a glass, but determined not to get off my horse. I rode up to
the window, and looked in. There was a man sittin’ at the table, havin’
a hearty good dinner of steaks and potatoes, and washin’ it down with a
stiff glass of grog. I began to feel hungry myself, and while I was
considerin’ whether I should ’light or not, Johnny came sneakin’ out,
and whispered to me to come in, that there was a man inside with whom
somethin’ might be done if we went the right way to work; a man who had
a leather belt round his waist cram-full of hard Jackson; and that, if
we got out the cards and pretended to play a little together he would
soon take the bait and join us.
“I wasn’t much inclined,” continued Bob; “but Johnny bothered me so to
go in, that I got off my horse. As I did so, the dollars chinked in my
pocket, and the sound was like the devil’s voice ’ticing me to play.
“I went in; and Johnny fetched the whisky bottle. One glass followed
another. There were beefsteaks and potatoes too, but I only eat a couple
of mouthfuls. When I had drank two, three, ay, four glasses, Johnny
brought the cards and dice. ‘Hallo, Johnny!’ says I; ‘cards and dice,
Johnny! I’ve twenty dollars fifty in my pocket. Let’s have a game! But
no more drink for me; for I know you, Johnny, I know you——’
“Johnny larfed slyly, and rattled the dice, and we sat down to play. I
hadn’t meant to drink any more, but play makes one thirsty; and with
every glass I got more eager, and my dollars got fewer. I reckoned,
however, that the stranger would join us, and that I should be able to
win back from him; but not a bit of it: he sat quite quiet, and ate and
drank as if he didn’t see we were there. I went on playin’ madder than
ever, and before half an hour was over, I was cleaned out; my twenty
dollars fifty gone to the devil, or what’s the same thing, into Johnny’s
“When I found myself without a cent, I was mad, I reckon. It warn’t
the first time, nor the hundredth, that I had lost money. Many bigger
sums than that—ay, hundreds and thousands of dollars had I played
away—but they had none of them cost me the hundredth or thousandth part
of the trouble to get that these twenty dollars fifty had; two full
months had I been slavin’ away in the woods and prairies to airn them,
and caught the fever there. The fever I had still, but no money to cure
it with. Johnny only larfed in my face, and rattled my dollars. I made a
hit at him, which, if he hadn’t jumped on one side, would have cured him
of larfin’ for a week or two.
“Presently, however, he came sneakin’ up to me, and winkin’ and
whisperin’; and, ‘Bob!’ says he, ‘is it come to that with you? are you
grown so chicken-hearted that you don’t see the beltful of money round
his body?’ said he lookin’ at it. ‘No end of hard coin, I guess; and all
to be had for little more than half an ounce of lead.’”
“Did he say that?” asked the judge.
“Ay, that did he, but I wouldn’t listen to him. I was mad with him for
winning my twenty dollars; and I told him that, if he wanted the
stranger’s purse, he might take it himself, and be d——d; that I wasn’t
goin’ to pull the hot chestnuts out of the fire for him. And I got on my
horse, and rode away like mad.
“My head spun round like a mill. I couldn’t get over my loss. I took the
twenty dollars fifty more to heart than any money I had ever gambled. I
didn’t know where to go. I didn’t dare go back to you, for I knew you
would scold me.”
“I shouldn’t have scolded you, Bob; or, if I had, it would only have
been for your good. I should have summoned Johnny before me, called
together a jury of twelve of the neighbours, got you back your twenty
dollars fifty, and sent Johnny out of the country; or, better still, out
of the world.”
These words were spoken with much phlegm, but yet with a degree of
feeling and sympathy which greatly improved my opinion of the worthy
judge. Bob also seemed touched. He drew a deep sigh, and gazed at the
Alcalde with a melancholy look.
“It’s too late,” muttered he; “too late, squire.”
“Perhaps not,” replied the judge; “but let’s hear the rest.”
“Well,” continued Bob, “I kept ridin’ on at random, and when evenin’
came I found myself near the palmetto field on the bank of the Jacinto.
As I was ridin’ past it, I heard all at once a tramp of a horse. At that
moment the queerest feelin’ I ever had came over me; a sort of cold
shiverin’ feel. I forgot where I was; sight and hearin’ left me; I could
only see two things, my twenty dollars fifty, and the well-filled belt
of the stranger I had left at Johnny’s. Just then a voice called to me.
“‘Whence come, countryman, and whither going?’ it said.
“‘Whence and whither,’ answered I, as surly as could be; ‘to the devil
at a gallop, and you’d better ride on and tell him I’m comin’.’
“‘You can do the errand yourself,’ answered the stranger, larfin’; ‘my
road don’t lie that way.’
“As he spoke, I looked round, and saw, what I was pretty sure of before,
that it was the man with the belt full of money.
“‘Ain’t you the stranger I see’d in the inn yonder?’ asked he.
“‘And if I am,’ says I, ‘what’s that to you?’
“‘Nothin’,’ said he; ‘nothin’, certainly.’
“‘Better ride on,’ says I, ‘and leave me quiet.’
“‘Will so, stranger; but you needn’t take it so mighty onkind. A word
ain’t a tomahawk, I reckon,’ said he. ‘But I rayther expect your losin’s at play ain’t put you in a very church-goin’ humour; and, if I
was you, I’d keep my dollars in my pocket, and not set them on cards and
“It riled me to hear him cast my losin’s in my teeth that way.
“‘You’re a nice feller,’ said I, ‘to throw a man’s losses in his face. A
pitiful chap you are,’ says I.
“I thought to provoke him, and that he’d tackle me. But he seemed to
have no fancy for a fight, for he said, quite humble like—
“‘I throw nothin’ in your face; God forbid I should reproach you with
your losses! I’m sorry for you, on the contrary. Don’t look like a man
who can afford to lose his dollars. Seem to me one who airns his money
by hard work.’
“We were just then halted at the further end of the cane-brake, close to
the trees that border the Jacinto. I had turned my horse, and was
frontin’ the stranger. And all the time the devil was busy whisperin’ to
me, and pointin’ to the belt round the man’s waist. I could see where it
was, plain enough, though he had buttoned his coat over it.
“‘Hard work, indeed,’ says I; ‘and now I’ve lost everything; not a cent
left for a quid of baccy.’
“‘If that’s all,’ says he, ‘there’s help for that. I don’t chew myself,
and I ain’t a rich man; I’ve wife and children, and want every cent I’ve
got, but it’s one’s duty to help a countryman. You shall have money for
tobacco and a dram.’
“And so sayin’, he took a purse out of his pocket, in which he carried
his change. It was pretty full; there may have been some twenty dollars
in it; and as he drew the string, it was as if the devil laughed and
nodded to me out of the openin’ of the purse.
“‘Halves!’ cried I.
“‘No, not that,’ says he; ‘I’ve wife and child, and what I have belongs
to them; but half a dollar——’
“‘Halves!’ cried I again, ‘or else——’
“‘Or else?’ repeated he; and as he spoke, he put the purse back into his
pocket, and laid hold of the rifle which was slung on his shoulder.
“‘Don’t force me to do you a mischief,’ said he. ‘Don’t,’ says he; ‘we
might both be sorry for it. What you’re thinkin’ of brings no blessin’.’
“I was past seein’ or hearin’. A thousand devils from hell possessed me.
“‘Halves!’ I screeched out; and, as I said the word, he sprang out of
the saddle, and fell back over his horse’s crupper to the ground.
“‘I’m a dead man!’ cried he, as well as the rattle in his throat would
let him. ‘God be merciful to me! My poor wife, my poor children!’”
Bob paused; he gasped for breath, and the sweat stood in large drops
upon his forehead. He gazed wildly round the room. The judge himself
looked very pale. I tried to rise, but sank back in my chair. Without
the table, I believe I should have fallen to the ground.
There was a gloomy pause of some moments’ duration. At last the judge
“A hard, hard case!” said he. “Father, mother, children, all at one
blow. Bob, you are a bad fellow; a very bad fellow; a great villain!”
“A great villain,” groaned Bob. “The ball was gone right through his
“Perhaps your gun went off by accident,” said the judge, anxiously.
“Perhaps it was his own ball.”
Bob shook his head.
“I see him now, judge, as plain as can be, when he said, ‘Don’t force me
to do you a mischief; we might both be sorry for it.’ But I pulled the
trigger. His bullet is still in his rifle.
“When I saw him lie dead before me, I can’t tell you what I felt. It
warn’t the first I had sent to his account; but yet I would have given
all the purses and money in the world to have had him alive agin. I must
have dragged him under the Patriarch, and dug a grave with my
huntin’-knife, for I found him there afterwards.”
“You found him there?” repeated the judge.
“Yes. I don’t know how he came there. I must have brought him, but I
recollect nothin’ about it.”
The judge had risen from his chair, and was walking up and down the
room, apparently in deep thought. Suddenly he stopped short.
“What have you done with his money?”
“I took his purse, but buried his belt with him, as well as a flask of
rum, and some bread and beef he had brought away from Johnny’s. I set
out for San Felipe, and rode the whole day. In the evenin’, when I
looked about me, expectin’ to see the town, where do you think I was?”
The judge and I stared at him.
“Under the Patriarch. The ghost of the murdered man had driven me there.
I had no peace till I’d dug him up and buried him agin. Next day I set
off in another direction. I was out of tobacco, and I started across the
prairie to Anahuac. Lord, what a day I passed! Wherever I went, he
stood before me. If I turned, he turned too. Sometimes he came behind
me, and looked over my shoulder. I spurred my mustang till the blood
came, hopin’ to get away from him, but it was all no use. I thought when
I got to Anahuac I should be quit of him, and I galloped on for life or
death. But in the evenin’, instead of being close to the salt-works as I
expected, there was I agin, under the Patriarch. I dug him up a second
time, and sat and stared at him, and then buried him agin.”
“Queer that,” observed the judge.
“Ay, very queer!” said Bob, mournfully. “But it’s all no use. Nothin’
does me any good. I shan’t be better—I shall never have peace till I’m
Bob evidently felt relieved now; he had in a manner passed sentence on
himself. Strange as it may appear, I had a similar feeling, and could
not help nodding my head approvingly. The judge alone preserved an
“Indeed!” said he; “indeed! You think you’ll be no better till you’re
“Yes,” answered Bob, with eager haste. “Hung on the same tree under
which he lies buried.”
“Well, if you will have it so, we’ll see what can be done for you. We’ll
call a jury of the neighbours together to-morrow.”
“Thank ye, squire,” murmured Bob, visibly comforted by this promise.
“We’ll summon a jury,” repeated the Alcalde, “and see what can be done
for you. You’ll perhaps have changed your mind by that time.”
I stared at him like one fallen from the clouds, but he did not seem to
notice my surprise.
“There is, perhaps, some other way to get rid of your life, if you are
tired of it,” he continued. “We might hit upon one that would satisfy
Bob shook his head. I involuntarily made the same movement.
“At any rate, we’ll hear what the neighbours say,” added the judge.
Bob stepped up to the judge, and held out his hand to bid him farewell.
The other did not take it, and turning to me, said, “You had better
stop here, I think.”
Bob turned round impetuously.
“The gentleman must come with me.”
“Why must he?” said the judge.
I again explained the obligations I was under to Bob, how we had fallen
in with one another, and what care and attention he had shown me at
The judge nodded approvingly. “Nevertheless,” said he, “you will remain
here, and Bob will go alone. You are in a state of mind, Bob, in which a
man is better alone, d’ye see; and so leave the young man here. Another
misfortune might happen; and, at any rate, he’s better here than at
Johnny’s. Come back to-morrow, and we’ll see what can be done for you.”
These words were spoken in a decided manner, which seemed to have its
effect upon Bob. He nodded assentingly, and left the room. I remained
staring at the judge, and lost in wonder at these strange proceedings.
When Bob was gone, the Alcalde gave a blast on a shell, which supplied
the place of a bell. Then seizing the cigar-box, he tried one cigar
after another, broke them peevishly up, and threw the pieces out of the
window. The negro, whom the shell had summoned, stood for some time
waiting, whilst his master broke up the cigars and threw them away. At
last the judge’s patience seemed quite to leave him.
“Hark ye, Ptoly!” growled he to the frightened black, “the next time you
bring me cigars that neither draw nor smoke, I’ll make your back smoke
for it. Mind that, now. There’s not a single one of them worth a rotten
maize-stalk. Tell that old coffee-coloured hag of Johnny’s, that I’ll
have no more of her cigars. Ride over to Mr Ducie’s and fetch a box.
And, d’ye hear? tell him I want to speak a word with him and the
neighbours. Ask him to bring the neighbours with him to-morrow morning.
And mind you’re home again by two o’clock. Take the mustang we caught
last week. I want to see how he goes.”
The negro listened to these various commands with open mouth and staring
eyes, then, giving a perplexed look at his master, shot out of the room.
“Whither away, Ptoly?” shouted the Alcalde after him.
“To Massa Ducie.”
“Without a pass, Ptoly? And what are you going to say to Mr Ducie?”
“Him nebber send bad cigar again, him coffee-cullud hag. Massa speak to
Johnny and neighbours. Johnny bring neighbours here.”
“I thought as much,” said the judge, with perfect equanimity. “Wait a
minute; I’ll write the pass, and a couple of lines for Mr Ducie.”
This was soon done, and the negro despatched on his errand. The judge
waited till he heard the sound of the horse’s feet galloping away, and
then, laying hold of the box of despised cigars, lit the first which
came to hand. It smoked capitally, as did also one that I took. They
were Principes, and as good as I ever tasted.
I passed the whole of that day alone with the judge, who, I soon found,
knew various friends of mine in the States. I told him the circumstances
under which I had come to Texas, and the intention I had of settling
there, should I find the country to my liking. During our long
conversation, I was able to form a very different, and much more
favourable, estimate of his character, than I had done from his
interview with Bob. He was the very man to be useful to a new country;
of great energy, sound judgment, enlarged and liberal views. He gave me
some curious information as to the state of things in Texas; and did not
think it necessary to conceal from me, as an American, and one who
intended settling in the country, that there was a plan in agitation for
throwing off the Mexican yoke, and declaring Texas an independent
republic. The high-spirited, and, for the most part, intelligent
emigrants from the United States, who formed a very large majority of
the population of Texas, saw themselves, with no very patient feeling,
under the rule of a people both morally and physically inferior to
themselves. They looked with contempt, and justly so, on the bigoted,
idle, and ignorant Mexicans, whilst the difference of religion, and
interference of the priests, served to increase the dislike between the
Spanish and Anglo-American races.
Although the project was as yet not quite ripe for execution, it was
discussed freely and openly by the American settlers. “It is the
interest of every man to keep it secret,” said the judge; “and there
can be nothing to induce even the worst amongst us to betray a cause, by
the success of which he is sure to profit. We have many bad characters
in Texas, the offscourings of the United States—men like Bob, or far
worse than him; but debauched, gambling, drunken villains though they
be, they are the men we want when it comes to a struggle; and when that
time arrives, they will all be found ready to put their shoulders to the
wheel, use knife and rifle, and shed the last drop of their blood in
defence of their fellow-citizens, and of the new and independent
republic of Texas. At this moment we must wink at many things which
would be severely punished in an older and more settled country; each
man’s arm is of immense value to the State; for on the day of battle we
shall have, not two to one, but twenty to one opposed to us.”
I was awakened the following morning by the sound of a horse’s feet;
and, looking out of the window, saw Bob dismounting from his mustang.
The last twenty-four hours had told fearfully upon him. His limbs seemed
powerless, and he reeled and staggered in such a manner that I at first
thought him intoxicated. But such was not the case. His was the deadly
weariness caused by mental anguish. He looked like one just taken off
Hastily putting on my clothes, I hurried down stairs and opened the
house door. Bob stood with his head resting on his horse’s neck, and his
hands crossed, shivering and groaning. When I spoke to him, he looked
up, but did not seem to know me. I tied his horse to a post, and taking
his hand, led him into the house. He followed like a child, apparently
without the will or the power to resist; and when I placed him a chair,
he fell into it with a weight that made it crack under him, and shook
the house. I could not get him to speak, and was about to return to my
room to complete my toilet, when I again heard the tramp of mustangs.
This was a party of half-a-dozen horsemen, all dressed in hunting-shirts
over buckskin breeches and jackets, and armed with rifles and
bowie-knives; stout, daring-looking fellows, evidently from the
south-western states, with the true Kentucky half-horse half-alligator
profile, and the usual allowance of thunder, lighting, and earthquake.
It struck me, when I saw them, that two or three thousand such men would
have small difficulty in dealing with a whole army of Mexicans, if the
latter were all of the pigmy, spindle-shanked breed I had seen on first
landing. These giants could easily have walked away with a Mexican in
They jumped off their horses, and threw the bridles to the negroes in
the usual Kentuckian devil-may-care style, and then walked into the
house with the air of people who make themselves at home everywhere, and
who knew themselves to be more masters in Texas than the Mexicans
themselves. On entering the parlour, they nodded a “good morning” to
me, rather coldly to be sure, for they had seen me talking with Bob,
which probably did not much recommend me. Presently, four more horsemen
rode up, and then a third party, so that there were now fourteen of them
assembled, all decided-looking men, in the prime of life and strength.
The judge, who slept in an adjoining room, had been awakened by the
noise. I heard him jump out of bed, and not three minutes elapsed before
he entered the parlour.
After he had shaken hands with all his visitors, he presented me to
them, and I found that I was in the presence of no less important
persons than the Ayuntamiento of San Felipe de Austin; and that two of
my worthy countrymen were corregidors, one a procurador, and the others
buenos hombres, or freeholders. They did not seem, however, to prize
their titles much, for they addressed one another by their surnames
The negro brought a light, opened the cigar-box, and arranged the
chairs; the judge pointed to the sideboard and to the cigars, and then
sat down. Some took a dram, others lit a cigar.
Several minutes elapsed, during which the men sat in perfect silence, as
if they were collecting their thoughts, or as though it were undignified
to show any haste or impatience to speak. This grave sort of
deliberation, which is met with among certain classes, and in certain
provinces of the Union, has often struck me as a curious feature of our
national character. It partakes of the stoical dignity of the Indian at
his council fire, and of the stern religious gravity of the early
Puritan settlers in America.
During this pause Bob was writhing on his chair like a worm, his face
concealed by his hands, his elbows on his knees. At last, when all had
drunk and smoked, the judge laid down his cigar.
“Men!” said he.
“Squire!” answered they.
“We’ve a business before us, which I calculate will be best explained by
him whom it concerns.”
The men looked at the Squire, then at Bob, then at me.
“Bob Rock! or whatever your name may be, if you have aught to say, say
it!” continued the judge.
“Said it all yesterday,” muttered Bob, his face still covered by his
“Yes, but you must say it again to-day. Yesterday was Sunday, and Sunday
is a day of rest, and not of business. I will neither judge you, nor
allow you to be judged, by what you said yesterday. Besides, it was all
between ourselves, for I don’t reckon Mr Morse as anything; I count him
still as a stranger.”
“What’s the use of so much palaver, when the thing’s plain enough?” said
Bob peevishly, raising his head as he spoke.
The men stared at him in grave astonishment. He was really frightful to
behold: his face of a sort of blue tint; his cheeks hollow; his beard
wild and ragged; his blood-shot eyes rolling, and deep sunk in their
sockets. His appearance was scarcely human. “I tell you again,” said the
judge, “I will condemn no man upon his own word alone; much less you,
who have been in my service, and eaten of my bread. You accused yourself
yesterday, but you were delirious at the time—you had the fever upon
“It’s no use, Squire,” said Bob, apparently touched by the kindness of
the judge. “You mean well, I see; but though you might deliver me out of
men’s hands, you couldn’t rescue me from myself. It’s no use—I must be
hung—hung on the same tree under which the man I killed lies buried.”
The men, or the jurors, as I may call them, looked at one another, but
“It’s no use,” again cried Bob, in a shrill, agonising tone. “If he
had attacked me, or only threatened me; but no, he didn’t do it. I
hear his words still, when he said, ‘Do it not, man! I’ve wife and
child. What you intend brings no blessin’ on the doer.’ But I heard
nothin’ then except the voice of the devil; I brought the rifle
The man’s agony was so intense that even the iron-featured jury seemed
moved by it. They cast sharp but stolen glances at Bob. There was a
“So you have killed a man?” said a deep bass voice at last.
“Ay, that have I!” gasped Bob.
“And how came that?” continued his questioner.
“How it came? You must ask the devil, or Johnny. No, not Johnny, he can
tell you nothing; he was not there. No one can tell you but me; and I
hardly know how it was. The man was at Johnny’s, and Johnny showed me
his belt full of money.”
“Johnny!” exclaimed several of the jury.
“Ay, Johnny! He reckoned on winning it from him, but the man was too
cautious for that; and when Johnny had plucked all my feathers, won my
twenty dollars fifty——”
“Twenty dollars fifty cents,” interposed the judge, “which I paid him
for catching mustangs and shooting game.”
The men nodded.
“And then, because he wouldn’t play, you shot him?” asked the same
deep-toned voice as before.
“No—some hours after—by the Jacinto—near the Patriarch—met him down
there, and killed him.”
“Thought there was something out o’ the common thereaway,” said one of
the jury; “for as we rode by the tree a whole nation of kites and turkey
buzzards flew out. Didn’t they, Mr Heart?”
Mr Heart nodded.
“Met him by the river, and wanted halves of his money,” continued Bob
mechanically. “He said he’d give me something to buy a quid, and more
than enough for that, but not halves. ‘I’ve wife and child,’ said
“And you?” asked the juror with the deep voice, which, this time, had a
hollow sound in it.
“Shot him down,” said Bob, with a wild, hoarse laugh.
There was a dead pause of some duration. The jury sat with eyes fixed
upon the ground.
“And who was the man?” said a juror at last.
“Didn’t ask him; and it warn’t written on his face. He was from the
States; but whether a hosier, or a buckeye, or a mudhead, is more than I
“The thing must be investigated, Alcalde,” said another of the jury,
after a second pause.
“It must so,” answered the Alcalde.
“What’s the good of so much investigation?” grumbled Bob.
“What good?” repeated the Alcalde. “Because we owe it to ourselves, to
the dead man, and to you, not to sentence you without having held an
inquest on the body. There’s another thing which I must call your
attention to,” continued he, turning to the jury; “the man is half out
of his mind—not compos mentis, as they say. He’s got the fever, and
had it when he did the deed; he was urged on by Johnny, and maddened by
his losses at play. In spite of his wild excitement, however, he saved
that gentleman’s life yonder, Mr Edward Nathaniel Morse.”
“Did he so?” said one of the jury.
“That did he,” replied I, “not only by saving me from drowning when my
horse dragged me, half-dead and helpless, into the river, but also by
the care and attention he forced Johnny and his mulatto to bestow upon
me. Without him I should not be alive at this moment.”
Bob gave me a look which went to my heart. The tears were standing in
his eyes. The jury heard me in deep silence.
“It seems that Johnny led you on and excited you to this?” said one of
“I didn’t say that. I only said that he pointed to the man’s money-bag,
and said——But what is it to you what Johnny said? I’m the man who did
it. I speak for myself, and I’ll be hanged for myself.”
“All very good, Bob,” interposed the Alcalde; “but we can’t hang you
without being sure you deserve it. What do you say to it, Mr Whyte?
You’re the procurador—and you, Mr Heart and Mr Stone? Help yourselves
to rum or brandy; and, Mr Bright and Irwin, take another cigar. They’re
considerable tolerable the cigars—ain’t they? That’s brandy, Mr Whyte,
in the diamond bottle.”
Mr Whyte had got up to give his opinion, as I thought; but I was
mistaken. He stepped to the sideboard, took up a bottle in one hand and
a glass in the other, every movement being performed with the greatest
“Well, Squire,” said he, “or rather Alcalde—”
After the word “Alcalde,” he filled the glass half full of rum.
“If it’s as we’ve heard,” added he, pouring about a spoonful of water
on the rum, “and Bob has killed the man”—he continued, throwing in some
lumps of sugar—“murdered him”—he went on, crushing the sugar with a
wooden stamp—“I rather calkilate”—here he raised the glass—“Bob ought
to be hung,” he concluded, putting the tumbler to his mouth and emptying
The jurors nodded in silence. Bob drew a deep breath, as if a load were
taken off his breast.
“Well,” said the judge, who did not look over well pleased, “if you all
think so, and Bob is agreed, I calculate we must do as he wishes. I tell
you, though, I don’t do it willingly. At any rate, we must find the dead
man first, and examine Johnny. We owe that to ourselves and to Bob.”
“Certainly,” said the jury with one voice.
“You are a dreadful murderer, Bob, a very considerable one,” continued
the judge; “but I tell you to your face, and not to flatter you, there
is more good in your little finger than in Johnny’s whole hide. And I’m
sorry for you, because, at the bottom, you are not a bad man, though
you’ve been led away by bad company and example. I calculate you might
still be reformed, and made very useful—more so, perhaps, than you
think. Your rifle’s a capital good one.”
At these last words the men all looked up, and threw a keen inquiring
glance at Bob.
“You might be of great service,” continued the judge encouragingly, “to
the country and to your fellow-citizens. You’re worth a dozen Mexicans
Whilst the judge spoke, Bob let his head fall on his breast, and seemed
reflecting. He now looked up.
“I understand, Squire; I see what you’re drivin’ at. But I can’t do
it—I can’t wait so long. My life’s a burthen and a sufferin’ to me.
Wherever I go, by day or by night, he’s always there, standin’ before
me, and drivin’ me under the Patriarch.”
There was a pause of some duration. The judge resumed.
“So be it, then,” said he with a sort of suppressed sigh. “We’ll see the
body to-day, Bob, and you may come to-morrow at ten o’clock.”
“Couldn’t it be sooner?” asked Bob impatiently.
“Why sooner? Are you in such a hurry?” asked Mr Heart.
“What’s the use of palaverin’?” said Bob sulkily. “I told you already
I’m sick of my life. If you don’t come till ten o’clock, by the time
you’ve had your talk out and ridden to the Patriarch, the fever’ll be
“But we can’t be flying about like a parcel of wild geese, because of
your fever,” said the procurador.
“Certainly not,” said Bob humbly.
“It’s an ugly customer the fever, though, Mr Whyte,” observed Mr Trace;
“and I calculate we ought to do him that pleasure. What do you think,
“I reckon he’s rather indiscreet in his askin’s,” said the judge, in a
tone of vexation. “However, as he wishes it, and if it is agreeable to
you,” added he, turning to the Ayuntamiento; “and as it’s you, Bob, I
calculate we must do what you ask.”
“Thankee,” said Bob.
“Nothing to thank for,” growled the judge; “and now go into the kitchen
and get a good meal of roast beef, d’ye hear?” He knocked upon the
table. “Some good roast beef for Bob,” said he to a negress who entered;
“and see that he eats it. And get yourself dressed more decently,
Bob—like a white man and a Christian, not like a wild redskin.”
The negress and Bob left the room. The conversation now turned upon
Johnny, who appeared, from all accounts, to be a very bad and dangerous
fellow; and after a short discussion, they agreed to lynch him, in
backwoodsman’s phrase, just as coolly as if they had been talking of
catching a mustang. When the men had come to this satisfactory
conclusion, they got up, drank the judge’s health and mine, shook us by
the hand, and left the room and the house.
The day passed more heavily than the preceding one. I was too engrossed
with the strange scene I had witnessed to talk much. The judge, too, was
in a very bad humour. He was vexed that a man should be hung who might
render the country much and good service if he remained alive. That
Johnny, the miserable, cowardly, treacherous Johnny should be sent out
of the world as quickly as possible, was perfectly correct, but with Bob
it was very different. In vain did I remind him of the crime of which
Bob had been guilty—of the outraged laws of God and man—and of the
atonement due. It was no use. If Bob had sinned against society, he
could repair his fault much better by remaining alive than by being
hung; and as to anything else, God would avenge it in his own good time.
We parted for the night, neither of us convinced by the other’s
We were sitting at breakfast the next morning, when a man, dressed in
black, rode up to the door. It was Bob, but so metamorphosed that I
scarcely knew him. Instead of the torn and bloodstained handkerchief
round his head, he wore a hat; instead of the leathern jacket, a decent
cloth coat. He had shaved off his beard too, and looked quite another
man. His manner had altered with his dress; he seemed tranquil and
resigned. With a mild, submissive look, he held out his hand to the
judge, who took and shook it heartily.
“Ah, Bob!” said he, “if you had only listened to what I so often told
you! I had those clothes brought on purpose from New Orleans, that, on
Sundays at least, you might look like a decent and respectable man. How
often have I asked you to put them on, and come with us to meeting, to
hear Mr Bliss preach? There is some truth in the saying, that the coat
makes the man. With his Sunday coat, a man often puts on other and
better thoughts. If that had been your case only fifty-two times in the
year, you’d have learned to avoid Johnny before now.”
Bob said nothing.
“Well, well! I’ve done all I could to make a better man of you—all that
was in my power.”
“That you have,” answered Bob, much moved. “God reward you for it!”
I could not help holding out my hand to the worthy judge; and as I did
so, I thought I saw a moisture in his eye, which he suppressed, however,
and, turning to the breakfast table, bade us sit down. Bob thanked him
humbly, but declined, saying that he wished to appear fasting before his
offended Creator. The judge insisted, and reasoned with him, and at last
he took a chair.
Before we had done breakfast, our friends of the preceding day began to
drop in, and some of them joined us at the meal. When they had all taken
what they chose, the judge ordered the negroes to clear away, and leave
the room. This done, he seated himself at the upper end of the table,
with the Ayuntamiento on either side, and Bob facing him.
“Mr Whyte,” said the Alcalde, “have you, as procurador, anything to
“Yes, Alcalde,” replied the procurador. “In virtue of my office, I made
a search in the place mentioned by Bob Rock, and there found the body of
a man who had met his death by a gunshot wound. I also found a belt full
of money, and several letters of recommendation to different planters,
from which it appears that the man was on his way from Illinois to San
Felipe, to buy land of Colonel Austin, and settle in Texas.”
The procurador then produced a pair of saddle-bags, out of which he took
a leathern belt stuffed with money, which he laid on the table, together
with the letters. The judge opened the belt, and counted the money. It
amounted to upwards of five hundred dollars in gold and silver. The
procurador then read the letters.
One of the corregidors now announced that Johnny and his mulatto had
left their house and fled. He, the corregidor, had sent people in
pursuit of them, but as yet there were no tidings of their capture. This
piece of intelligence seemed to vex the judge greatly, but he made no
remark on it at the time.
“Bob Rock!” cried he.
Bob stepped forward.
“Bob Rock, or by whatever other name you may be known, are you guilty or
not guilty of this man’s death?”
“Guilty!” replied Bob, in a low tone.
“Gentlemen of the jury, will you be pleased to give your verdict?”
The jury left the room. In ten minutes they returned.
“Guilty!” said the foreman.
“Bob Rock,” said the judge solemnly, “your fellow-citizens have found
you guilty; and I pronounce the sentence—that you be hung by the neck
until you are dead. The Lord be merciful to your soul!”
“Amen!” said all present.
“Thank ye,” murmured Bob.
“We will seal up the property of the deceased,” said the judge, “and
then proceed to our painful duty.”
He called for a light, and he and the procurador and corregidors sealed
up the papers and money.
“Has any one aught to allege why the sentence should not be put in
execution?” said the Alcalde, with a glance at me.
“He saved my life, judge and fellow-citizens!” cried I, deeply moved.
Bob shook his head mournfully.
“Let us go, then, in God’s name,” said the judge.
Without another word being spoken, we left the house and mounted our
horses. The judge had brought a Bible with him; and he rode on, a little
in front, with Bob, doing his best to prepare him for the eternity to
which he was hastening. Bob listened attentively for some time; but at
last he seemed to get impatient, and pushed his mustang into so fast a
trot, that for a moment we suspected him of wishing to escape the doom
he had so eagerly sought. But it was only that he feared the fever might
return before the expiration of the short time he yet had to live.
After an hour’s ride, we came to the enormous live oak distinguished as
the Patriarch. Two or three of the men dismounted, and held aside the
heavy moss-covered branches, which swept the ground and formed a
complete curtain round the tree. The party rode through the opening thus
made, and drew up in a circle beneath the huge leafy dome. In the centre
of this ring stood Bob, trembling like an aspen leaf, his eyes fixed on
a small mound of fresh earth, partly concealed by the branches, and
which had escaped my notice on my former visit to the tree. It was the
grave of the murdered man.
A magnificent burial-place was that: no poet could have dreamed or
desired a better. Above, the huge vault, with its natural frettings and
arches; below, the greenest, freshest grass; around, an eternal half
light, streaked and varied, and radiant as a rainbow. It was imposingly
Bob, the judge, and the corregidors, remained sitting on their horses,
but several of the other men dismounted. One of the latter cut the lasso
from Bob’s saddle, and threw an end of it over one of the lowermost
branches; then uniting the two ends, formed them into a strong noose,
which he left dangling from the bough. This simple preparation
completed, the Alcalde took off his hat and folded his hands. The others
followed his example.
“Bob!” said the judge to the unfortunate criminal, whose head was bowed
on his horse’s mane; “Bob! we will pray for your poor soul, which is
about to part from your sinful body.”
Bob raised his head. “I had something to say,” exclaimed he, in a
wandering and husky tone. “Something I wanted to say.”
“What have you to say?”
Bob stared around him; his lips moved, but no word escaped him. His
spirit was evidently no longer with things of this earth.
“Bob!” said the judge again, “we will pray for your soul.”
“Pray! pray!” groaned he. “I shall need it.”
In slow and solemn accents, and with great feeling, the judge uttered
the Lord’s Prayer. Bob repeated every word after him. When it was
“May God be merciful to his soul!” exclaimed the judge.
“Amen!” said all present.
One of the corregidors now passed the noose of the lasso round Bob’s
neck, another bound his eyes, a third person drew his feet out of the
stirrups, whilst a fourth stepped behind his horse with a heavy
riding-whip. All was done in the deepest silence; not a word was
breathed, nor a foot-fall heard on the soft, yielding turf. There was
something awful and oppressive in the profound stillness that reigned in
the vast enclosure.
The whip fell. The horse gave a spring forwards. At the same moment Bob
made a desperate clutch at the bridle, and a loud “Hold!” burst in
thrilling tones from the lips of the judge.
It was too late; Bob was already hanging. The judge pushed forward,
nearly riding down the man who held the whip, and, seizing Bob in his
arms, raised him on his own horse, supporting him with one hand, whilst
with the other he strove to unfasten the noose. His whole gigantic frame
trembled with eagerness and exertion. The procurador, corregidors—all,
in short, stood in open-mouthed wonder at this strange proceeding.
“Whisky! whisky! Has nobody any whisky!” shouted the judge.
One of the men sprang forward with a whisky-flask, another supported the
body, and a third the feet, of the half-hanged man, whilst the judge
poured a few drops of spirits into his mouth. The cravat, which had not
been taken off, had hindered the breaking of the neck. Bob at last
opened his eyes, and gazed vacantly around him.
“Bob,” said the judge, “you had something to say, hadn’t you, about
“Johnny,” gasped Bob, “Johnny.”
“What’s become of him?”
“He’s gone to San Antonio, Johnny.”
“To San Antonio!” repeated the judge, with an expression of great alarm
overspreading his features.
“To San Antonio—to Padre José,” continued Bob; “a Catholic. Beware!”
“A traitor, then!” muttered several.
“Catholic!” exclaimed the judge. The words he had heard seemed to
deprive him of all strength. His arms fell slowly and gradually by his
side, and Bob was again hanging from the lasso.
“A Catholic! a traitor!” repeated several of the men; “a citizen and a
“So it is, men!” exclaimed the judge. “We’ve no time to lose,” continued
he, in a harsh, hurried voice; “no time to lose; we must catch him.”
“That must we,” said several, “or our plans are betrayed to the
“After him immediately to San Antonio!” cried the judge, with the same
desperately hurried manner.
“To San Antonio!” repeated the men, pushing their way through the
curtain of moss and branches. As soon as they were outside, those who
were dismounted sprang into the saddle, and, without another word, the
whole party galloped away in the direction of San Antonio.
The judge alone remained, seemingly lost in thought; his countenance
pale and anxious, and his eyes following the riders. His reverie,
however, had lasted but a very few seconds, when he seized my arm.
“Hasten to my house!” cried he; “lose no time; don’t spare horse-flesh.
Take Ptoly and a fresh beast; hurry over to San Felipe, and tell Stephen
Austin what has happened, and what you have seen and heard.”
“Off with you at once, if you would serve and save Texas. Bring my wife
and daughter back.”
And so saying, he literally drove me from under the tree, pushing me out
with both hands. I was so startled at the expression of violent
impatience and anxiety which his features assumed, that, without
venturing to make further objection, I struck the spurs into my mustang
and galloped off.
Before I had got fifty yards from the tree, I looked round: the judge
was nowhere to be seen.
I rode full speed to the judge’s house, and thence on a fresh horse to
San Felipe, where I found Colonel Austin, who seemed much alarmed by the
news I brought him, had horses saddled, and sent round to all the
neighbours. Before the wife and step-daughter of the judge had made
their preparations to accompany me home, he and fifty armed men rode off
in the direction of San Antonio.
I escorted the ladies to their house, but scarcely had we arrived there,
when I was seized with fever, the result of my recent fatigues and
sufferings. For some days my life was in danger, but a good
constitution, and the kindest and most watchful nursing, triumphed over
the disease. As soon as I was able to mount a horse, I set out for Mr
Neal’s plantation, in company with his huntsman Anthony, who, after
spending many days, and riding over hundreds of miles of ground in quest
of me, had at last found me out.
Our way led past the Patriarch; and, as we approached it, we saw
innumerable birds of prey and carrion-crows circling round it, croaking
and screaming. I turned my eyes in another direction; but, nevertheless,
I felt a strange sort of longing to revisit the tree. Anthony had
ridden on, and was already hidden from view behind its branches.
Presently I heard him give a loud shout of exultation. I jumped off my
horse, and led it through a small opening in the leafage.
Some forty paces from me, the body of a man was hanging by a lasso from
the very same branch on which Bob had been hung. It was not Bob,
however, for the corpse was much too short and small for him.
I drew nearer. “Johnny!” I exclaimed. “That’s Johnny!”
“It was,” answered Anthony. “Thank Heaven, there’s an end of him!”
I shuddered. “But where is Bob?”
“Bob?” cried Anthony. “Bob!”
I glanced at the grave. The mound of earth seemed larger and higher than
when I had last seen it. Doubtless the murderer lay beside his victim.
“Shall we not render the last service to this wretch, Anthony?” asked I.
“The scoundrel!” answered the huntsman. “I won’t dirty my hands with
him. Let him poison the kites and the crows!”
We rode on.