University of Virginia Library


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That it was he, in the times past, which held you
So under fortune; which you thought, had been
Our innocent self: this I made good to you
In our last conference; pass'd in probution with you,
How you were borne in hand; how cross'd.
—Now, if you have a station in the file,
And not in the worst rank of manhood, say it;
And I will put that business in your bosoms,
Whose execution takes your enemy off;
Grapples you to the heart and love of us,
Who wear our health but sickly in his life,
Which in his death were perfect.

I am one, my Liege,
Whom the vile blows and buffets of the world
Have so incensed, that I am reckless what
I do, to spite the world.


The interview had barely terminated when my
brother left the habitation of the maiden. He had
preserved his composure, at least he had concealed
the passion which his disappointment had aroused
within him, until fairly out of sight. It was then
that he gave vent to feelings which I had not supposed
him to possess. Base I thought him, envious
it may be; but of malignity and viperous hate, I had


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never once suspected him. He had always seemed
to me, as he seemed to others, too fat for bitterness,
too fond of ease and quiet to suffer any disappointment
to disturb him greatly. We were all mistaken.
When he reached the cover of the woods he raved
like a mad man. The fit of fury did not last very
long, it is true; but while it lasted, it was terrible,
and in the end exhausting. He threw himself from
his horse, and, casting the bridle over a shrub, flung
himself indifferently upon the grass, and gave way
to the bitterest meditations. He had toiled long,
without cessation, and his toils had all been taken
in vain. It did not offer any qualification to his
mortified feelings to reflect that he had also toiled

But on a sudden he rose, and resumed his seat in
the saddle. His meditations had taken a new course.
His hopes had revived; and he now planned projects,
the character of which, even worse than those
already known to the reader, will soon be developed.
He put spurs to his steed, and rode furiously through
the wood. It was deep, dark and tangled; but he
knew the country, with which, it was fortunate for
him, his horse was also familiar. Through by-paths
which were made by the cattle, or by scouting negroes,
he hurried through the forest, and in a couple
of hours' space, emerged from it into a more beaten
path. A ride of an hour more carried him beyond


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the plantation of my father, which the circuit
through the forest had enabled him to avoid, and in
the immediate neighbourhood of a miserable cabin
that stood in a secluded and wild spot, and was seen
with difficulty through the crowding darkness. A
faint light shone through the irregular logs of which
it was built, and served, while indicating the dwelling,
to convey to the observer an increased idea of
its cheerlessness.

It was before this habitation, if such it might be
called, that John Hurdis drew up his horse. He
alighted, and, having first led the animal into shadow
behind the house, he returned to the door in front,
and tapping, obtained immediate entrance. The
room into which he was admitted was a small one,
and so filled with smoke that objects were scarce
discernible. Some light wood thrown into the fire on
his entrance served to illumine, if not to disperse it,
and John spoke to the inmates with a degree of
familiarity which showed him to have been an old
acquaintance. They were old acquaintance, not
only of him but of myself. The man was a villain
whom I had caught stealing corn from our fields,
and whom, but for John, I should have punished accordingly.
I little knew what was the true motive
which prompted his interference, and gave him
credit for a greater degree of humanity than was
consistent either with justice or his true character.


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He was a burly ruffian, a black-bearded, black-faced
fellow, rarely clean, seldom visible by day, a sullen,
sour, bad-minded wretch, who had no mode of livelihood
of which the neighbours knew, except by inveigling
the negroes into thefts of property which,
in his wanderings, he disposed of. He was a constant
wanderer to the towns around, and it was said,
sometimes extended his rambles to others out of the
state. His rifle and a mangy cur that slept in
the fire place, and like his master was never visible
by day, were his sole companions when abroad. At
home he had a wife and one child. The wife like
himself seemed sour and dissatisfied. Her looks
when not vacant, were dark and threatening. She
spoke little but rarely idly, and however much her
outward deportment might resemble that of her
husband, it must be said in her favour, that her nature
was decidedly gentler, and her character as far
superior as it well could be, living in such contact,
and having no sympathies save those which she found
in her child and husband. Perhaps, too, her mind
was something stronger, as it was more direct and
less flexible, than his. She was a woman of deliberate
and composed manner, rarely passionate, and
careful to accommodate her conduct and appearance
to the well known humility of condition in which
she lived. In this lay her wisdom. The people
around commiserated her as she was neither presumptuous


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nor offensive, and tolerated many offences
in him, in consideration of herself and child, which
would have brought any other person to the whipping
post. The child, an unhappy creature, a girl
of fifteen, was an idiot-born. She was pretty, very
pretty, and sometimes, when a sudden spark of intelligence
lighted up her eye, she seemed really
beautiful. But the mind was utterly lacking. The
temple was graceful, erect, and inviting, but the
God had never taken possession of his shrine.

Enough! It was to this unpromising family and
mean abode that John Hurdis came late at night.
The inmates were watchful and the man ready to
answer to the summons. The woman too was a
watcher, probably after an accustomed habit, but
the idiot girl slept on a pallet in one corner of the
apartment. When John Hurdis entered, she raised
her head, and regarded him with a show of interest
which he did not appear to see. He looked with
some curiosity at her couch, however; but for an
instant only. His regards that night were for her
father only.

“Ah, Pickett,” said he with an air of jocularity
on entering, “how goes it? How does the world
use you now a-days? How d'ye do, Mrs. Pickett?
And Jane—how is Jane?”

“I'm well, sir, I'm quite well, Mr. John,” was
the quick response of the poor innocent in the corner,


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whom every body thought asleep. The answers
of Pickett and his wife were not so prompt. That of
the former was somewhat surly, that of the wife slow.
A brief formal dialogue passed between the party in
which John Hurdis spoke with infinite good humour.
He did not seem to heed the coldness of his host
and hostess; and all traces of his late anger had
passed effectually from his voice and visage. His
only concern seemed now to conciliate those whom
he sought, and it does not take long for the rich
man to make the poor and the inferior unbend. In
a little time John Hurdis had the satisfaction to see
the hostess smile, and to hear a broken and surly
chuckle of returning good nature from the lips of
Pickett. The preliminary difficulty was over; and
making a sign to Pickett, while his wife's back was
turned, the guest led the way to the door bidding
the latter good night. The idiot girl half raised
herself in the bed and answered for the mother.

“Good night, Mr. John, good night, Mr. John.”

Pickett followed Hurdis to the door, and the two
went forth together.

They soon buried themselves in the thick cover
of the neighbouring wood, when John Hurdis, who
had led the way, turned and confronted his companion.

“Well, 'Squire,” said Pickett with abrupt familiarity,


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“I see you have work for me. What's the
mischief to night?”

“You are right. I have work for you, and mischief.
Will you do it?”

“If it suits me. You know I'm not very nice.
Let's hear the kind of work, and then the pay that
I'm to get for doing it, 'fore I answer.”

“Richard Hurdis goes for the `Nation' to-morrow,”
said John in a lower tone of voice.

“Well, you're glad to get rid of him, I suppose.
He's out of your way now. I wish I could be certain
that he was out of mine.”

“You can make it certain.”


“'Tis that I came about. He goes to the `Nation,'
on some wild goose chase; not that he wishes to go,
but because he thinks that Mary Easterby is fond of

“So, the thing works, does it?”

“Ay, but does not work for me, though it may
work against him. I have succeeded in making
them misunderstand each other, but I have not yet
been successful in convincing her that I am the only
proper person for her. You know my feeling on
that subject, it is enough that she declines my

“Well, what then are you to do?”


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“That troubles me. She declines me simply
because she prefers him.”

“But you say she has no hope of him. She
thinks he loves another.”

“Yes! But that does not altogether make her
hopeless. Hope is a thing not killed so easily; and
when women love, they cling to their object even
when they behold it in the arms of another. The love
lives, in spite of them, though, in most cases, they
have the cunning to conceal it. Mary Easterby
would not give up the hope of having Richard
Hurdis, so long as she could lay eyes on him, and
they were both single.”

“Perhaps you're right; and yet, if Richard drives
for the `Nation' she'll lose sight of him, and then

“Will he not return?” replied the other sternly
and gloomily. “Who shall keep him away? The
discontent that drives him now will bring him back.
He goes because he believes that she is engaged to
me. He will come back because he doubts it. He
will not sleep until he finds out our deception. They
will have an explanation—had he not been blinded
by his own passions he would have found it out before—and
then all my labors will have been in vain.
It will be my turn to go among the Choctaws.”

“Well, but 'Squire, while he's off and out of sight


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can't you get her to marry you and have done with
it?” said Pickett.

“Not easily; and if I could, what would it avail?
Loving him as she does, I should but marry her for
him. His hand would be in my dish, and I should
but fence in a crop for his benefit. No! no! that
would not do either. I tell you, where these women
once love a man, to see him, to have opportunity
with him, is fatal, though they be lawfully bound
to another. I should not sleep secure in her arms,
as I should not be able to think that I alone was
their occupant.”

“Now that's what I call being of a mighty jealous
sort of disposition, 'Squire. I'm sure that you're
wrong in your notion of Miss Mary. I don't think
she'd be the woman to do wrong in that way. She's
a mighty nice girl, is so modest and well behaved,
and so much of a lady; I'm always afraid to look at
her when I speak to her, and she carries herself so
high, that I'm sure if a man had any thing wrong
to say to her, he could not say it if he looked at her
and saw her look.”

“Ay, that is her look to you, Pickett, and to me,
perhaps, whom she does not love,” said John bitterly;
“but let her look on Richard Hurdis, and
meet his eye, and the matter changes fast enough.
She has no dignified look for him; no cold, composed,
commanding voice. Oh, no! It is then her


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turn to tremble, and to speak brokenly and with
downcast eyes; it is then her turn to feel the power
of another, and to forget her own; to be awed, rather
than to awe; to fear herself rather than to inspire
that fear in him which she may in both of us.”

“I reckon he feels it too, 'Squire, quite as much
if not more than you; for, say what you please,
there's no saying Richard Hurdis don't love her.
I've watched him often when he's been with her,
and when he has not thought that any body was
looking at him, and that was at a time, too, when I
had no reason to like any bone in his skin, and I
saw enough to feel certain that he felt a real earnest
love for her.”

“Let us say no more of that now,” said John
Hurdis coldly, as if not altogether pleased with the
tone of his companion's speech. “Do you like him
any better now, Ben Pickett? Is he not the same
man to you now that he has ever been? Would he
not drive you out of the country if he could? Has
he not tried to do it? And who was it stood between
you and the whipping post, when at the head of the
county regulators he would have dragged you to it,
for robbing the corn house and buying cotton from
the negroes? Have you forgotten all this, Ben
Pickett? And do you like Richard Hurdis any better
when you remember that, to this moment, he has not
relaxed against you, and, to my knowledge, only a


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month ago threatened you with the horse-whip, if
he found you prowling about the plantation.”

“Ay, I hear you,” said the man, while the thick
sweat actually stood upon his forehead, as he listened
to an enumeration of events from which his peril
had been great: “I hear you, John Hurdis; all is
true that you say, but you say not all the truth. Did
you hear what I said to Richard Hurdis when he
threatened me with the horse-whip? Do you know
what I said to myself and swore in my own heart,
when he would have hauled me to the whipping-post
from which you saved me?”

“No; what said you? what did you swear?”

“To put my bullet through his head, if he laid
the weight of his finger upon me; and but that you
saved him, in saving me, so surely would I have
shot him, had the regulators tied me to the tree and
used one hickory upon me.”

“I was a fool for saving you then, Pickett; that's
all. Had I known that you could so well have
fought your own battles, I had let him go on. I
am not sorry, Ben, that I saved you from the whip,
but by God, I am sorry to the soul that I saved him
from the shot.”

“I'm not sorry!” said the other. “Let Richard
Hurdis live; I wish him no harm. I could even like
him; for, blast me, but he has something about him


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that I'm always glad to see in a man, and if he
would only let me alone—”

“He will not let you alone, Ben Pickett. He
cannot let you alone, if you would look at the matter.
He comes back from the `Nation,' and Mary Easterby
is still unmarried. What then?—an explanation
takes place between them. They find out the
truth. They find, perhaps, that you put the letter
in the way of Mary that told her about Richard's
doings at Coosauda; that you have been my agent in
breeding the difference between them. More than
this, they marry, and Richard brings his wife home
to live with him at the old man's, where, if he does
that, he will have full authority. Do you suppose
when that time comes, I will stay in the neighbourhood?
Impossible. It will be as impossible for me
to stay here as it will be for you. The moment I
go, who will protect you? Richard will route you
out of the neighbourhood; he has sworn to do it; and
we both know him too well not to know that
if he once gets the power to do what he swears, he
will not hesitate to use it. He will drive you to
Red River as sure as you're a living man.”

“Let the time come,” said the other gloomily,
“let the time come. Why do you tell me of this
matter now, 'Squire?”

“You are cold and dull, Ben Pickett. You are getting
old,” said John Hurdis with something like asperity.


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“Do I not tell you other things? Do you not
hear that Richard Hurdis sets off to-morrow for the
`Nation?' I have shown you that his absence is of
benefit to both of us, that his return is to our mutual
injury. Why should he return? The gamblers may
cut his throat, and the fighting Choctaws may shoot
him down among their forests, and nobody will be
the wiser, and both of us the better for it.”

“Why, let them, it will be a happy riddance,”
said Pickett.

“To be sure, let them,” said the other impatiently;
“but suppose they do not, Ben? Should
we not send them a message telling them that they
will serve and please us much by doing so? that they
will rid us of a very troublesome enemy, and that
they have full permission to put him to death as
soon as they please?”

“Well, to say the truth, 'Squire John,” said
Pickett, “I don't see what you're driving at.”

“You mean that you won't see, Ben,” responded
the other quickly; “listen awhile. You are agreed
that it will do us no small service if the gamblers,
or the Choctaws put a bullet through the ribs of
Richard Hurdis; it will be a benefit rather than a
harm to us.”


“But suppose, they think it will not benefit them,
are we to forego our benefits because they show


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themselves selfish? Shall Richard Hurdis survive
the Choctaws, and come home to trouble us? Think
of it, Ben Pickett; what folly it would be to suffer
it. Why not speed some one after the traveller,
who will apprise the gamblers, or the Choctaws, of
our enemy—who will show them how troublesome
he is—how he carries a good sum of money in his
saddle-bags? How easy it will be for them to stop a
troublesome traveller who has money in his saddle-bags?
It may be, that such a messenger might do
the business himself in consideration of the benefit
and the money; but how should we or any body
know that it was done by him? The Choctaws,
Ben—the Choctaws will get the blame, we the
benefit, and our messenger, if he pleases, the money.”

“I understand you now, 'Squire,” said Pickett.

“I knew you would,” replied John Hurdis, “and
only wonder that you did not readily comprehend
before. Hear me, Ben; I have a couple of hundred
dollars to spare—they are at your service. Take
horse to-morrow, and track Richard Hurdis into
the `Nation;' he is your enemy and mine. He is
gone there to look for land. Give him as much
as he needs. Six feet will answer all his purposes,
if your rifle carries as truly now, as it did a year

The man looked about him with apprehension
ere he replied. When he did so, his voice had


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sunk into a hoarse breathing, the syllables of which
were scarce distinguishable.

“I will do it,” he said, grasping the hand of his
cold and cowardly tempter. “I will do it; it shall be
done; but by God, 'Squire, I would much rather do it
with his whip warm upon my back, and his angry
curses loud in my ears.”

“Do it as you will, Ben; but let it be done. The
Choctaws are cruel and treacherous people, and
these gamblers of the Mississippi are quite as bad.
Their murders are very common. It was very imprudent
for Richard to travel at this season; but if
he dies, he has no body but himself to blame.”

They separated. The infernal compact was made
and chronicled in their mutual memories, and witnessed
only by the fiends that prompted the hellish