University of Virginia Library


Page 149


His was the fault; be his the punishment.
'Tis not their own crimes only, men commit;
They harrow them into another's breast,
And they shall reap the bitter growth with pain.


The messenger of blood departed the next day
upon his fearful mission. His calculation was to keep
due pace with his victim; to watch his progress;
command his person at all times, and to avail himself
of the first fitting opportunity, to execute the cruel
trust which he had undertaken. Such a purpose
required the utmost precaution and some little time.
To do the deed might be often easy; to do it secretly
and successfully, but seldom. He was to watch the
single moment in a thousand, and be ready to use it
before it was gone forever.

“You will not be gone long, Ben?” said the wife,
as he busied himself in preparation.

“I know not—a day, a week, a month!—I know
not. It matters little; you can do without me.”

“Yes, your wife can do without you—I wish that
John Hurdis could do without you also. I do not


Page 150
like this business, Ben, upon which he sends you

“What business? what know you of it?” he
demanded hastily. “Why should you dislike the
business which you know nothing about?”

“That's the very reason that makes me dislike
it. Why should I know nothing about it? Why
should a man keep his business from his wife's

“Good reason enough, to keep it from the knowledge
of every body else. You might as well print
it in the Montgomery paper, as tell it to a woman.
There won't be a Methodist preacher that don't hear
of it the first week, and not a meeting in the country
that won't talk of it the second. They have quite
enough of other folks's affairs to blab, Betsy; we
needn't give them any of mine.”

“You well enough know, Ben Pickett, that this
sort of talk means nothing. You know I am not the
woman to make her own or her husband's concerns
the business of the country. I go not often to the
church. I do not often see the preachers, and there
is very little to say between us. It might be much
better if there were more; and you know well
enough, that I see few women and have no neighbours.
We are not the people to have neighbours—
what would tempt them? It is enough for me, Ben, to
stay at home, and keep as much out of sight as I can,


Page 151
as well on your account as on account of that poor
ignorant creature.”

“Pshaw! you talk too much of Jane, and think
too much of her folly. She is no more a fool than
most other girls of her age, and talks far less nonsense.
She's quite as good as any of them, and a
devilish sight handsomer than most of them. There's
hardly one that wouldn't be glad to have her face.”

“You mean me, father Ben, don't you?” said the
witless one, perking up her face with a smile and
raising it under the chin of Pickett.

“Go, Jane, go and put the things to rights on the
table, and don't mind what we're a saying.”

The girl obeyed reluctantly, and the father, tapping
her on the head kindly, the only parting which
he gave her, left the house, and proceeded to his
horse which was fastened to the fence. There he
arranged the saddle, and while thus employed his
wife came to him.

“Ben Pickett,” she said, resuming the subject of
her apprehensions, “I heard that Richard Hurdis
is going to the `Nation' to day.”

“Well! what of that!” said Pickett gruffly.

“Nothing but this, Ben; I'm afraid that his going
to the `Nation' has something to do with your journey.
Now, I don't know what it is that troubles
me, but I am troubled, and have been so ever since
I heard that Richard was going to day.”


Page 152

“And how did you hear it?”

“From Jane.”

“Jane, the fool! how did she hear it?”

“She is a fool, but there's no need for you to call
her so always, Ben. It's not right; it's not like a
father. As for where she heard it, I can't say; I
didn't ask her; perhaps from some of the negroes.
old Billy, from `Squire Easterby's was over here,
last night.”

“Last night! old Billy! at what hour was he

“Nay, I don't know exactly. He went away
just before John Hurdis came.”

Pickett appeared annoyed by the intelligence, but
was silent and concealed his annoyance, whatever
may have occasioned it, by strapping his saddle and
busying himself with the bridle of his horse.

“You say nothing, Ben; but tell me, I beg you,
and ease my mind, only tell me that the business
you're going upon don't concern Richard Hurdis.
Say, only say, you don't go the same road with
Richard Hurdis, that you didn't know that he was
going, that you won't follow him.”

“And how should I say such a thing, Betsy,”
replied the now obdurate ruffian, “when I don't
know which road he's going? How can I follow
him, if I don't know the track he takes?”

“That's not it—not it. Tell me that you won't


Page 153
try to find it, that you don't mean to follow him,
that—Oh! my God, that I should ask such a thing of
my husband—that you are not going after Richard
Hurdis to kill him?”

“Betsy, you're a worse fool than Jane;” was
the reply of Pickett. “What the devil put such
nonsense into your head? What makes you think
I would do such a thing? It's true, I hate Dick
Hurdis, but I don't hate him bad enough to kill
him, unless in fair fight. If he'll give me fair
fight at long shot, by God, I'd like nothing better
than to crack at him; but I'm not thinking of him.
If I had wanted to kill him, don't you think I'd a
done it long before, when he was kicking me about
like a foot-ball. You may be sure I won't try to do
it now, when he's let me alone, and, when, as you
say yourself, he's going out of the country. Damn
him, let him go in peace, say I.”

“Amen,” exclaimed the woman, “amen; yet,
look you, Ben Pickett. What you mightn't feel
wicked enough to do for yourself, you may be weak
enough to do for one who is more wicked than you
are. That's the misfortune of a great many people;
and the devil gets them to do a great deal of work,
which they wouldn't be willing to do on their own
account. Oh, Ben, take care of that John Hurdis
If you didn't hate Richard Hurdis bad enough to
kill him on your own score, don't let that cowardly


Page 154
John tempt you to do it for him. I know he hates
his brother and wants to get him out of the way;
for he wants to marry Mary Easterby; but don't let
him make use of you in any of his wickedness. He
stands no chance of Mary with all his trying, for I
know she won't have him; and so, if you work for
him, you will work against the wind, as you have
done long enough both for yourself and him. But
whether you work for him or not, hear me, Ben
Pickett; do nothing that you'll be ashamed or afraid
to hear of again. My mind misgives me about Dick
Hurdis. I wish you were not a-going—I wish you
were not a-going the same day with him.”

“Don't I tell you, Betsy, I'm not on his trail? I
shan't look after him, and don't care to see him.”

“Yes, but should you meet?”

“Well, what then? Would you have me cut and
run like a nigger's dog?”

“No, but I would not have you go to day. I
would rather you shouldn't meet.”

“We won't, be sure of that. I promise you, we
won't meet; and if we do, be sure we shan't quarrel.”

“You'll promise that, Ben? you'll swear it?” said
the woman eagerly.

“Ay, to be sure, I will; I swear Betsy, I won't
meet him, and we shan't quarrel, if I can help it.”

“That's enough Ben, and now go in peace, and


Page 155
come back soon. It's off my mind now, Ben, since
you promise me; but it's been a trouble and a fear to
me, this going of yours to day, ever since I heard
that Richard Hurdis was to be on the road.”

“Pshaw! you're a fool all over about Dick Hurdis,”
said Pickett with a burly air of good humour.
“I believe now, Betsy, that you like him better
than me.”

“Like him!” exclaimed the woman relapsing into
the phlegmatic and chilling sternness of expression
and countenance which were her wonted characteristics
in ordinary moods. “Like him! I
neither like nor dislike, Ben Pickett, out of this
paling. These old logs, and this worm fence, contain
all that I can expend feeling upon, and when
you talk to me of likes and dislikes, you only
mock at your own condition and mine.”

The man said no more, and they separated. She
returned to the house, and in a few moments he
leaped upon his horse, which was a light-made and
fast-going though small animal, and was soon out of
sight even of the idiot girl, who laughed and beckoned
to him, without being heeded, until his person
was no longer visible in the dull gray of the forests
which enveloped him.

“Fool!” he exclaimed as he rode out of hearing,
“fool to think to make me swear what she pleases,
and then to take the oath just as I think proper. I


Page 156
will not meet him, and still less will I quarrel with
him if I can help it; but I will try and put a bullet
through him for all that. It's an old score, and may
as well be wiped out now as never. This year is
just as good for settlement, as the next. Indeed,
for that matter, it's best now. It's much the safest.
He breaks off from one neighbourhood, and they
know nothing of him in any other. Well, as John
Hurdis said, the Choctaws have done it, or the gamblers.
Ben Pickett has been too long quiet, and lives
too far off from the nation, to lay it to his door. And
yet, by God, it's true what Betsy says, that John
Hurdis is a poor coward after all.”

It was in thoughts and musings, such as these—
sometimes muttered audibly, but most frequently
entertained in secret—that Ben Pickett commenced
his pursuit of me, a few hours only after I had begun
my journey. Circumstances, however, and probably
an error in the directions given him by my brother,
misled him from the path, into which he did not fall
until late the ensuing day. This gave me a start of
him which he would not have made up, had I not
come to a full stop at Tuscaloosa. But of this afterwards.