Charles James Lever.

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I would not land at this island, and abandon my purpose.
The weakness is now over; I feel a kind of fiendish spirit
growing up within me already ; I cannot think of the fellow
without a sense of loathing and hatred ! "

" Lie down, my son, and compose yourself for an hour or
two ; sleep and rest will calm your agitated brain, and you
will then listen to my counsels with profit : your present ex-
citement overmasters your reason, and my words would.be of
no effect."

" I know it I feel it here, across my temples that it is
a kind of paroxysm ; but I never close my eyes that I do not
fancy I see the fellow, now in one shape, now in another,
for he can assume a thousand disguises ; while in my ears his
accursed name is always ringing."

" I pity you from my heart ! " said the other ; and certainly
a sadder expression I never saw in any human face before.
" But go down below go down, I beseech you."

" I have only taken a deck-passage," said I, doggedly ;
" I determined that I would see no one speak to no one."

" Nor need you, my son," said he, coaxingly. " They are
all sound asleep in the after-cabin take my berth I do not
want it I am always better upon deck."

"If you will have it so," said I, yielding; " but, for your
life, not a word of what I have said to you ! Do not deceive
yourself by any false idea of humanity. Were you to shoot
me where I stand, you could not save him Ids doom is spoken.
If / fail, there is Broughtou, and after him, a score of others,
sworn to do the work."

" Lie down and calm yourself," said he, leading me to the
companion-ladder; "we must speak of this to-moi-row."

I squeezed his hand, and slowly descended to the cabin.
At first the thought occurred to me that he might give the
alarm and have me seized ; but then this would expose him
so palpably to my recognition, should I chance to escape, it
was unlikely he would do so ; the stillness on deck showed
me I was correct in this latter estimate, and so I turned into
his comfortable berth ; and while I drew the counterpane over
me, thought I had made a capital exchange for the hard ribs
of the " long-boat."



" ON BOARD OF ' THE CHRlSTOBAL.' " 239

If my stratagem had succeeded in impressing my friend
Chico with a most lively fear, it did not leave my own mind
at perfect tranquillity. I knew that he must be a fellow of
infinite resources, and that the game between us, in all likeli-
hood, had but commenced. In circumstances of difficulty,
I have constantly made a practice of changing places with
my antagonist, fancying myself in his position, and asking
myself how I should act ? This taking the " adversary's
hand " is admirable practice in the game of life ; it suggests
an immense range of combinations, and improves one's play
prodigiously.

I now began to myself a little exercise after this fashion
but what between previous fatigue, the warmth of the cabin,
and the luxury of a real bed, Chico and I changed places so
often, in my brain, that confusion ensued ; then came weari-
ness, and, at last, sound sleep ! so sound, that I was only
awoke by the steward, as he popped his greasy head into the
berth, and said, " I say, master, here we are, standing close
in hadn't you better get up ? "

I did as he advised ; and, as I rubbed the sleep from my
eyes, said, " Where's the Padre, steward ? what's become of
him ? "

" He was took ill last night, and stopped at Fork Island
he'll go back with us to-morrow to Galveston."

"You know him, I suppose ? " said I, looking at the fellow
with a shrewd intelligence that he knew how to construe,

""Well," cried he, scratching his head; "well, mayhap I
do guess a bit who he is."

" So do I, steward ; and when we meet again he'll know
me," said I, with a look of such imposing sternness that I
saw the fellow was recording it. " You may tell him so,
steward. I'll wait for him here till I catch him ; and if he
escape both myself and my friend Broughton Broughton,
don't forget the name he is deeper than I give him credit
for."

As I was about to leave the cabin, I caught sight of the
corner of a red handkerchief peeping out beneath the pillow
of the berth. I drew it forth, and found it was Chico's
travelling kit, which he preferred abandoning to the risk of
again meeting me. It contained a small black skull-cap, such
as priests wear, a Romish missal, a string of beads, with a
few common articles of dress, and eight dollars in silver.

" The spoils of victory," quoth I, embodying the whole in
my own bundle " the enemy's baggage and the military
chest captured."



240 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREQAN.

"Which is the White Hart? " said I, as I came on deck ;
now crowded with shore folk, porters, and waiters.

"This way, sir, follow me," said a smart fellow in a
waiter's dress ; and I handed him my bundle and stepped on
shore.



CHAPTER XX.

T II K L Q-H UT AT BRAZOS.

I WAS all impatience to see my prize ; and scarcely had I
entered the inn than I passed out into the stable-yard, now
crowded with many of those equestrian-looking figures I had
seen on board the steamer.

" Butcher's mare here still, Georgie ? " said a huge fellow,
with high boots of red-brown leather, and a sheep-skin
capote, belted round him with a red sash.

" Yes, Master Seth, there she stands. You'll bo getting a
bargain of her, one of these days."

" If I had her up at Austin next week for the fair, she'd
bring a few hundred dollars."

" You'd never think of selling a beast like that at Austin,
Seth ? " said a bystander.

" Why not? Do you fancy I'll bring her into the States,
and see her claimed in every town of the Union ? Why,
man, she's been stolen once a month, that mare has, since
she was a two-year-old. I knew an old general up in the
Maine frontier had her last year ; and he rid her away from
a ' stump meeting ' in Vermont, in change of his own mule
blind and never know'd the differ till he was nigh home. I
sold her twice, myself, in one week. Scott of Muckleburg
stained her off fore-leg white and sold her back, as a new
one, to the fellow who returned her for lameness ; and she
can pretend lameness she can."

A roar of very unbelieving laughter followed this sally ;
but Seth resumed

" Well, I'll lay fifty dollars with any gentleman here, that
she comes out of the stable dead lame, or all sound, just as I
bid hr."



THE LOG-HUT AT BKAZOS. 241

Nobody seemed to fancy this wager ; and Seth, satisfied
with having established his veracity, went on

" You've but to touch the coronet of the off-foot with the
point of your bowie a mere touch, not draw blood and see
if she won't come out, limping on the toe, all as one as a
dead breakdown in the coffin joint ; rub her a bit then with
your hand she's all right again ! It was Wrecksley of Ohio
taught her the trick; he used to lame her that way, and buy
her in, wherever he found her."

" Who's won her this time ? " cried another.

" I have, gentlemen," said I, slapping my boot with my
cane, and affecting a very knowing air as 1 spoke. The
company turned round and surveyed me, some seconds, in
deep silence.

" You an't a goin' to ride her, young 'un ? " said one, half
contemptuously.

" No, he an't? the gent's willin' to sell her," chimed in
another.

"He's goin' to ax me three hundred dollars," said a
third, "an an't I a-goin' to gi' him no more than two
hundred."

"You are all wrong, every man of you," said Seth.
" He's bringing her to England, a present for the Queen, for
her own ridin'."

" And I beg to say, gentlemen, that none of you have hit
upon the right track yet ; nor do I think it necessary to
correct you more fully. But as you appear to take an interest
in my concerns, I may mention that 1 shall want a hack for
my servant's riding a short-legged square-jointed thing,
clever to go, and a good feeder, not much above fourteen
hands in height, or four hundred dollars in price. If you
chance upon this "

" I know your mark."

" My roan, with the wall-eye. You don't mind a wall-
eye ? "

" No, no ! mv black pony mare's the thing the gent's a
lookin' for."

" 1 say it's nothing like it," broke in Seth. " He's a-
wantin' a half-bred mustang, with a down-east cross a
critter to go through fire and water liftin' the fore-legs like
a high-pressure piston, and with a jerk of the ' stifle,' like
the recoil of a brass eight-pounder. An't I near the
mark ? "

"Not very wide of it," said I, nodding encouragingly.

" She's at Austin now. You an't a-goin' there ? "

B



242 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREOAN.

"Yes," said I ; " I shall be in Austin next week."

" Well, never you make a deal, till you see my black
pony," cried one.

' Nor the roan cob," shouted another.

" He'd better see 'em 'fore he sees Split-the-wind, then, or
he'd not look at 'em arter," said Seth. " You've only to ask
for Seth Chiseller, and they'll look me up."

"You an't a-goin' to let us see Butcher's mare afore we
go ? " said one to the ostler.

" I nn't, because I havn't got the key. She's a double-
locked, and the cap'n never gives it to no one, but comes a
feedin' time himself, to give her corn."

After a few muttered remarks on this caution, the horse-
dealers sauntered out of the yard, leaving me musing over
what I had heard, and wondering if this excessive care of
the landlord boded any suspicion regarding the winner of
the prize.

" Jist draw that bolt across the gate, there, will ye," said
the ostler, while he produced a huge key from his pocket.
" I know 'em well, them gents. A man must have fourteen
eyes in his head, and have 'em back and front too, that
shows 'em a horse beast ! Darn me coarse ! if they can't
gi* 'un a blood spavin in a squirt of tobacco ! Let's see your
ticket, young master, and I'll show you Charcoal that's her
name."

" Here it is," said I, " signed by the agent at Galveston,
all right and regular."

" The cap'n must see to that. I only want to know that
ye have the number. Yes, that's it : now stand a bit on one
side. Ye'll see her, when she comes out."

He entered the stable as he spoke, and scon re-appeared,
leading a tall mare, fully sixteen hands high, and black as jet;
a single white star on her forehead, and a dash of white across
the tail, being the only marks on her. She was bursting with
condition and both in symmetry and action a splendid creature.

" An't she a streak of lightnin', and no mistake ? " said
he, gazing on her with rapture. " An't she glibber to move
nor a wag of a comet's tail, when he's taking a lark round
the moon ? There's hocks! there's pasterns! Show me a
gal with ankles like 'era, and look at her, here ! An't she a-
made for sittin* on ? "

I entered into all his raptures. She was faultless in every
point save, perhaps, that in looking at you she would throw
her eye backwards, and show a little bit too much of the
white. I remarked this to the ostler.



THE LOG-HUT AT BRAZOS. 243

"The only fault she has," said he, shaking his head ; "she
mistrusts a body always, and so, she's eternally a lookin'
back, and a gatherin' up her quarters, and a holdin' of her
tail tight in ; but for that, she's a downright reg'lar beauty,
and for stride and bottom, there ain't her equal nowhere."

"Her late master was unlucky, I've heard," said I, in-
sinuatingly.

" He was so far unlucky that he couldn't sit his beast
over a torrent and a down leap. He would hold her in, and
she won't bear it at a spring, and so she flung him before she
took the leap, and when she lit, t'other side, with her head
high and her hind legs under her, he was a sittin' with his'n.
under his arm, and his neck bruck that was the way o' it.
See now, master, if ever ye do want a great streak out of
her, leave the head free a bit, press her wi' your calves, and
give a right down reg'lar halloo ha ! like a Mexican chap
then, she'll do it!"

The ostler found me a willing listener, either when dwell-
ing on the animal's perfections, or suggesting hints for her
future management ; and when at last both these themes
were tolerably exhausted, he proceeded to show me the
horse-gear of saddle, and bridle, and halter, and holsters, all
handsomely finished in Mexican taste, and studded with
brass nails in various gay devices. At last, he produced the
rifle, a regular Kentucky one, of Colt's making : and what
he considered a still greater prize, a bell-mouthed thing, half
horse-pistol, half blunderbuss, which he called " a almighty
fine ' Harper's Ferry tool,' that would throw thirty bullets
through an oak panel two inches thick."

It was evident that he looked upon the whole equipment
as worthy of the most exalted possession, and he gazed on
me as one whose lot was indeed to be envied.

" Seth and the others leave this to-morrow a'ternoon," said
he, " but if ye be a-goin' to Austin, where the ' Spedeshin'
puts up, take my advice, and get away before 'em. You've
a fine road no trouble to find the way ; your beast will
carry you forty, fifty, if you want it, sixty miles between
sunrise and 'down;' and you'll be snug over the journey
before they reach Killian's Mill, the half-way. An' if ye
want to know why I say so, it's just because that's too
good a beast to tempt a tramper wi', and them's all
trampers ! "

I gave the ostler a dollar for all his information and
civility, and re-entered the inn to have my supper. The cap'n
had already returned home, and after verifying my ticket,

R 2



244 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

took my receipt for the mare, which I gave in all form, writing
my name " Con Cregan," as though it were to a cheque for a
thousand pounds.

I supped comfortably, and then walked out to the stable to
see Charcoal. " Get her corn : you'll see if she don't eat it
in less than winkin'," said the ostler ; " and if she wor my
beast, she'd never taste another feed till she had her nose in
the manger at Croft's Gulley."

" And where is Croft's Gully ? "

" It's the bottoms after you pass the larch wood ; the road
dips a bit, and is heavy there, and it's a good baitin' place,
just eighteen miles from here."

" On the road to Austin ? "

He nodded. "Ye see," he said, "the moon's a risin';
there's no one out this time. Ye know what I said afore."

" I'll take the advice, then. Get the traps ready ; I'll pack
the saddle-bags, and set out."

If any one had asked me, " why I was in such haste to
reach Austin ? " my answer would have been to join the
expedition; and if interrogated, "with what object then?"
I should have been utterly dumbfoundered. Little as I knew
of its intentions, they must all have been above the range of
my ability and means to participate in. True, I had a horse
and a rifle ; but there was the end of my worldly possessions,
not to say that my title, even to these, admitted of litigation.
A kind of vague notion possessed me, that once up with the
expedition, I should find my place " somewhere " a very
Irish idea of a responsible situation. I trusted to the " making
myself generally useful'' category for employment, and, to a
ready-wittedness never cramped nor restrained by the petty
prejudices of a conscience.

The love of enterprise and adventure is conspicuous
among the springs of action in Irish life, occasionally de-
veloping a Wellesley or a Captain Rock. Peninsular glories
and predial outrage have just the fame one origin a love of
distinction, and a craving desire for the enjoyment of that
most fascinating of all excitements whatever perils life.

Without this element, pleasure soon palls ; without the
cracked skulls and fractured " femurs," fox-hunting would be
mere galloping a review might vie with a battle, if they
fire blank cartridge in both ! Who'd climb the Peter Bot, or
cross the " petit mulcts " of Mont Blanc, if it were not that
a false step or a totter would send him down a thousand
fathoms into the deep gorge below. This playing hide and
seek with Death seems to have a great charm, and is



THE LOG-HUT AT BRAZOS. 245

very possibly the attraction some folks feel in playing in-
valid, and passing their lives amid black draughts and blue
lotions !

I shrewdly suspect this luxury of tempting peril distin-
guishes man from the whole of the other animal creation ; and
if we were to examine it a little, we should see that it opens
the way to many of his highest aspirings and most noble
enterprises. Now, let not the gentle reader ask, " Does
Mr. Cregan include horse-stealing in the list of these heroic
darings ? " Believe me, he does not ; he rather regarded the
act of appropriation in the present case in the light some
noble lords did when voting away church property " a hard
necessity, but preferable to being mulct oneself! " With
many a thought like this, I rode out into the now silent town,
and took my way towards Austin.

It is a strange thing to find oneself, in a foreign land,
thousands of miles from home, alone, and at night ! the sense
of isolation is almost overwhelming. So long as daylight
lasts, the stir of the busy world, and the business of life, ward
off these thoughts the novelty of the scene even combats
them ; but when night has closed in, and we see above us the
stars that we have known in other lands, the self-same moon
by whose light we wandered years ago, and then look around
and mai-k the features of a new world, with objects which tell
of another hemisphere ; and then think that we are there,
alone, without tie or link to all around us, the sensation is
thrilling in its intensity.

Every one of us the least imaginative even will associate
the strangeness of a foreign scene with something of that
adventure of which he has read in his childhood ; and we
people vacancy, as we go, with images to suit the spot in our
own country. The little pathway along the river side sug-
gests the lovers' walk at sunset, as surely as the dark grove
speaks of a woodman's hut, or a gipsy camp. But abroad,
the scene evokes different dwellers ; the Sierra suggests the
brigand ; the thick jungle the jaguar or the rattlesnake ; the
heavy plash in the muddy river is the sound of the cayman ;
and the dull roar, like wind within a cavern, is the cry of the
hungry lion. The presence around us of objects of which we
have read long ago, but never expected to see, is highly ex-
citing ; it is like taking our place among the characters of a
story, and investing us with an interest to ourselves, as the
hero of some unwrought history.

This is the most fascinating of all castle-building, since we
have a spot for an edifice a territory actually given to us.



246 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

I thought long upon this theme, and wondered to what I
was yet destined, whether to some condition of real
eminence, or to move on among that vulgar herd who are the
spectators of life, but never its conspicuous actors. I really
believe this ignoble course was more distasteful to me from
its flatness and insipidity, than from its mere humility. It
seemed so devoid of all interest so tame and so monotonous
I would have chosen peril and vicissitude any day in pre-
ference. About midnight I reached Croft's Gulley, where,
after knocking for some time, a very sulky old negro admitted
me into a stable while I baited my mare. The house was
shut up for the night, and even had I sought refreshment I
could not have obtained ii.

After a brief halt, I again resumed the road, which led
through a close pine forest, and, however much praised, was
anything but a good surface to travel on. " Charcoal," how-
ever, made light of such difficulties, and picked her steps
over holes and stumps with the caution of a trapper, detecting
with a rare instinct the safe ground, and never venturing on
spots where any difficulty or danger existed. I left her to
herself, and it was curious to see that whenever a short inter-
val of better footway intervened, she would, as if to " make
play," as the jockeys call it, strike out in a long swinging
canter, "pulling up" to the walk the moment the uneven
surface admonished her to caution.

As day broke the road improved, so that I was able to
push along at a better pace, and by breakfast- time I found
myself at a low, poor-looking log-house, called " Brazos." A
picture, representing Texas as a young child receiving some
admirable counsel from a very matronly lady with thirteen
stars on her petticoat, flaunted over the door, with the motto,
" Filial Affection, and Candy Flip at all hours."

A large dull-eyed man, in a flannel pea-jacket and loose
trousers k> match, was seated in a rocking-chair at the door,
smoking an enormous cigar, a little charmed circle of ex-
pectoration seeming to defend him from the assaults of the
vulgar. A huge can of cider stood beside him, and a piece
of Indian corn bread. He eyed me with the coolest uncon-
cern as I dismounted, nor did he show the slightest sign of
welcome.

" This is an inn, I believe, friend ? " said I, saluting
him.

" I take it to be a hotel," said he, in a voice very like a
yawn.

" And the landlord where is he ? "



THE LOG-HUT AT BRAZOS. 24?

" Where he ought to be at his own door, a smokin' his
own rearin'."

" Is there an ostler to be found ? I want to refresh my
horse, and get some breakfast for myself too."

" There an't none."

"No help?"

" Never was."

" That's singular, I fancy."

' No it an't."

' Why, what do travellers do with, their cattle, then ? "

' There bean't none."

' No cattle ? "

' No travellers."

' No travellers ! and this the high road between two con-
siderable towns ! "

" It an't."

" Why, surely this is the road to Austin ? "

" It an't."

" Then this is not Brazos ? "

" It be Upper Brazos."

" There are two of them, then ; and the other, I suppose,
is on the Austin road ? "

He nodded.

" What a piece of business ! " sighed I ; " and how far
have I come astray ? "

" A good bit."

" A mile or two ? "

" Twenty."

" Will you be kind enough to be a little more communi-
cative, and just say where this road leads to ; if I can join
the Austin road without turning back again ; and where r "

Had I propounded any one of these quei-ies, it is just pos-
sible I might have had an answer; but, in my zeal, I outwitted
myself. I drew my cheque for too .large an amount, and
consequently was refused payment altogether.

" Well," said I, after a long and vain wait for an answer,
" What am I to do with my horse ? There is a stable, I hope ? "

" There an't," said he, with a grunt.

" So that I can't bait my beast ? "

"No!"

" Bad enough ! can I have something to eat mj-self ? a cup
of coffee ?"

A rude burst of laughter stopped me, and the flannel man
actually shook with the drollery of his own thoughts. " It
bean't Astor House, I reckon! " said he, wiping his eyes.



248 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CHEGAN.

" Not very like it, certainly," said I, smiling.

" What o' that? Who says it ought to be like it?" said
he, and his fishy eyes flared up, and his yellow cheeks grew
orange with anger. " I an't very like old Hickory, I s'pose !
and maybe I don't want to be ! I'm a free Texan! I an't a
nigger nor a blue nose ! I an't one of your old country slaves,
that black King George's boots, and ask leave to pay his
taxes! I an't."

" And I," said I, assuming an imitation of his tone, for
experiment's sake ; " I am no lazy, rocking-chair, whittling,
tobacco-chewing Texan ! but a traveller, able and willing to
pay for his accommodation, and who will have it, too ! "

" Will ye ? Will ye, then ? " cried he, springing up with an
agility I could not have believed possible ; while, rushing
into the hut, he reappeared with a long Kentucky rifle, and
a bayonet a-top of it. " Ye han't long to seek yer man, if ye
want a flash of powder ! Come out into the bush and ' see
it out,' I say ! "

The tone of this challenge was too insulting not to call for
at least the semblance of acceptance, and so, fastening my
mare to a huge staple beside the door, I unslung my rifle, and
cried, " Come along, my friend, I'm quite ready for you ! "

Nothing daunted at my apparent willingness, he threw
tack the hammer of his lock, and said, " Hark ye, young
un' ! You can't give me a cap or two ? mine are considerable
rusty ! "

The request was rather singular, but its oddity was its
success ; and so, opening a small case in the stock of my rifle,
I gave him some.

"Ah, them's real chaps the true 'tin jackets,' as we used
to say at St. Louis ! " cried he, his tongue seeming wonder-
fully loosened by the theme. " Now, lad, let's see if one of
your bullets fit this bore ; she's a heavy one, and carries
twenty to the pound ; and I've nothing in her now but some
loose chips of iron for the bears."



Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 25 of 50)