University of Virginia Library


Page 235


—They are a lawless brood,
But rough in form nor mild in mood;
And every creed and every race,
With them hath found—may find a place.


We had not well departed from the dwelling of
the debtor before it was occupied by the two gamblers,
whose merits we had discovered in Tuscaloosa,
and the third person whom we had seen with
them on the road side. They had watched and followed
our steps, and by a better knowledge of the
roads than we possessed, they had been enabled to
arrive at the same spot without being seen, and to
lurk in waiting for the moment of our departure,
before they made their appearance. No sooner
were we gone, however, than they emerged from
their place of concealment and made for the house.
A few words sufficed to tell their story to their associate,
for such he was.

“Do you know the men that have left you? What
was their business with you?”

They were answered, and they then revealed


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what they knew. They dwelt upon the large sum
in bills which William had incautiously displayed
to their eyes, and, exaggerating its amount, they insisted
not the less upon the greater amount which
they assumed—nay, asserted—to be in my possession;
a prize, both sums being considered, which,
they coolly enough contended, would be sufficient
to reward them for the most extreme and summary
efforts to obtain it.

“We must pursue them instantly,” said the
scoundrel who had sought to bully us at the tavern.
“There are four of us, and we can soon overhaul

“They are armed to the teeth, George,” said our

“We have seen to that,” was the reply. “Ben
had an opportunity to inspect their pistols, which
they wisely left in their chamber when they went
down to eat; and with his usual desire to keep his
neighbours from doing harm, he knocked out the
priming, and for the old flints, he put in fine new
ones, fashioned out of wood. These will do no mischief,
I warrant you, to any body, and so let us set
on. If my figures do not fail me, these chaps have
money enough about them to pay our way, for the
next three months, from Tennessee to New Orleans
and back.”

His proposal was seconded by his immediate


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companions, but the debtor, with more deliberateness
and effectual judgment, restrained them.

“I'm against riding after them now, though all
be true, as you say, about the money in their hands.”

“What! will you let them escape us—are you
growing chicken, Mat, in your old days?—you refuse
to be a striker, do you?—it's beneath your wisdom
and dignity, I suppose,” said our bullying
gambler, who went by the name of George.

“Shut up, George, and don't be foolish,” was
the cool response. “You ought to know me by
this time, and one thing is certain, I know enough
of you. You talk of being a striker. Why, man,
you mistake. You're a chap for a trick—for making
a pitfall, but not for shoving the stranger into it.
Be quiet, and I'll put you at your best business.
These men come back here at mid-day to-morrow.”

“Ha!—the devil they do.”

“Ay—they dine with me, and then return to
Colonel Grafton's. To one of them, as I told you—
the younger of the two—a full-faced, good natured
looking fellow—I owe a hundred or two dollars.
He hopes to get it by coming. Now, it's for you
to say if he will or not. I leave it to you. I can
get the money easily enough; and if you've got any
better from that camp meeting that you went to, on
the 'Bigby, you will probably say I ought to pay
him—but if not—”


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“Psha!” was the universal answer. “What nonsense.
Pay the devil. The very impudence of the
fellow in coming here to make collections should be
enough to make us cut his throat.”

“Shall we do that, men?” was the calm inquiry
of the debtor.

“It's best,” was the bloody answer of the gambler,
George. Cowards of bad morals are usually the
most sanguinary people when passion prompts and
opportunity occurs. “I'm clear,” continued the
same fellow, “for making hash of these chaps.
There is one of them—the slenderer fellow with
the long nose, (meaning me)—his d—d insolence
to me in Tuscaloosa is enough to convict him. The
sooner we fix him the better.”

“George seems unwilling to give that chap a
chance. I rather think it would be better to let
him go in order that the two might fight out their
quarrel. Eh, George, what say you?”

The host proposed a cutting question, but in his
own cool and measured manner. It did not seem
to fall harmlessly upon the person to whom it was
addressed. His features grew darkly red with the
ferocity of his soul, but his reply was framed with
a just knowledge of the fearless nature of the man
who had provoked him.

“You know, Mat, I can fight well enough when
it pleases me to do so.”


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“True,” was the answer; “nobody denies that.
I only meant to say that you don't often find pleasure
in it; nor, indeed, George, do I; and that's one
reason which I have for disagreeing with you about
these stranger chaps.”

“What!” said one of the companions, “you won't

“Who says I won't? To be sure I will. We'll
lift what we can, and empty the sack; but I'm not
for slitting any more pipes if I can help it—not in
this neighbourhood, at least.”

“Mat's going to join the Methodists. He'll eat
devil's broth, but dip no meat,” said George.

“No—if it's needful I'll eat both; but one I don't
like so much as the other, and when I can get the
one without the other I'll always prefer to do so.”

“But they'll blab.”

“So they may—but what care we about that
when we're going where they can't find us? Let
us keep them quiet till to-morrow midnight, and
then they may use their pipes quite as much as they
please. By that time we shall all be safe in the
Nation, and the sheriff may whistle for us.”

“Well, as to that part of the plan,” said George,
“I'm opposed to it now, and have always been
against it. I see no reason to leave a country where
we've done, and where we're still doing, so excellent
a business.”


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“What business—no striking for a week or
more,” said one of the party.

“But what's the chance to-morrow. These very
chaps show us the goodness of the business we may
do by holding on a time longer. Here's hundreds
going for the Nation and thereabouts every week,
and most of them have the real stuff. They sell out
in the old states, raise all the cash they can, and
give us plenty of picking if we'll look out and wait
for it. But we mustn't be so milk-hearted. There's
no getting on in safety if we only crop the beast's
tail and let it run. We can stay here six months
longer, if we stop the mouth of the sack when we
empty it.”

“Ah, George, you are quite too brave in council,
and too full of counsel in the field,” was the almost
indifferent reply of the debtor—“to stay here six
weeks would be to hang us all. The people are
getting too thick and too sober between this and
'Bigby. They'll cut us off from running after
awhile. Now, you are too brave to run—you'd rather
fight and die any day than that. Not so with
me—I'm for lifting and striking any where, so
long as the back door's open; but the moment you
shut up that, I'm for other lodgings. But enough
of this. We've made the law for going already, and
it's a mere waste of breath to talk over that matter
now. There's other business before us, and if you'll
let me, we'll talk about that.”


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“Crack away,” was the answer.

“These lads come here to-morrow—they dine
with me. The old trick is the easiest—we'll rope
them to their chairs, and then search their pockets.
They carry their bills in their bosoms, I reckon,
and if they've got specie it's in the saddle bags.
We can rope them, rob them, and leave them at
table. All the expense is a good dinner and we'll
leave them that too, as it will be some hours, I
reckon, before any body will come along to help
them out of hobble, and they'll be hungry when
their first trouble's fairly over. By that time, we'll
be mighty nigh Columbus, and if the lads have the
money you say they have, it wlll help us handsomely
through the Nation. It will be a good finishing
stroke to our business in this quarter.”

The plan thus briefly stated, was one well understood
by the fraternity, as it had been practised in
their robberies more than once before; and it received
the general approbation. The bully, George,
was opposed to leaving us alive, but he was compelled
to yield his bloody wishes in compliance with
the more humane resolution of the rest.

“I am against cutting more throats than I can
help, George,” said the calculating host—“It's a
dirty practice and I don't like it, as it's always so
hard for me to clean my hands and take the spots
out of my breeches. Besides, I hate to see a man


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dropped like a bullock never to get up again. There's
only one chap in the world that I have such a grudge
against that I should like to shed his blood, and
even him I should forgive if he was only willing to
bend his neck when a body meets him, and say
`how d'ye do,' with civility.”

“Who's that, Bill?” demanded George.

“No matter about the name. If I have to cut
his throat I don't care to trouble you to help me.”

“I'm willing.”

“Ay, if I hold him for the knife. Enough,
George—we'll try you to-morrow. You shall have
the pleasure of dropping the slip over that fellow
with the long nose. See that you do it bravely. If
you don't pinion his arms you may feel his elbow,
and he looks very much like a chap that had bone
and muscle to spare.”

“I'll see to that—but suppose they refuse to
dine?” was the suggestion of the bully.

“Why, then, we must take them when at the
drink, or as they go through the passage. You
must watch your chance, and choose the moment you
like best; but you who are the strikers must be
careful to move together. If you miss a minute you
may have trouble, for one will certainly come to
help the other, and it may compel us to use the
knife at last.”

“It's a shorter way to use it at first,” said George.


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“Perhaps so—but let me tell you it lasts much
longer. The business is not dead with the man;
and when you have done that sort of thing once or
twice, you'll find that it calls for you to do a great
deal more business of different kinds which will be
not only troublesome but disagreeable. I tell you,
as I told you before, it is the very devil to wash out
the stains.”

This affair settled, others of like nature, but of
less immediate performance, came up for consideration;
but these need not be related now. One fact,
however, may be stated. When they had resolved
upon our robbery, they set themselves down to play
for the results, and having made a supposed estimate
of our effects, they staked their several shares in moderate
sums, and won and lost the moneys which they
were yet to steal. It may be added that my former
opponent, the bully George, was one of the most
fortunate; and having won the right from his comrades
to the spoils which they were yet to win, he
was the most impatient for the approach of the hour
when his winnings were to be realised. Let us
now relate our own progress.