Charles James Lever.

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" And he do look so uncommon like a vagabond, too, Chico,
I don't like him."

"He can look like anything he pleases, Chico can. I've
seen him pass for a Pawnee, and no one ever disciver it."

"He's a rank coward, for all that," rejoined the skipper;
" and he can put no disguise upon that."

The sound of feet, indicative of leaving, made me hasten
from the spot, but in a mood far from comfortable. With
the fate of my ingenious predecessor in " Hall's Court "
before me, and the small possibility of escaping the shrewd
investigations of " Chico," I really knew not what course to
follow. The more I reflected, however, the less choice was
there at my disposal ; the bold line, as generally happens,
being not a whit more dangerous than the timid path, since,
were I to abandon my prize, and not proceed to Houston,
the inevitable Chico would only be the more certain to dis-
cover me.

My mind was made up, and stepping into a shop I
expended two of my four dollars in the purchase of a " re-
volver " second-hand, but an excellent weapon, and true as
gold. A few cents supplied me with some balls and powder;
and, thus provided, I took my way towards the wharf where
the steamer lay, already making some indicative signs of

I took a steerage passage ; and, not knowing where or how
to dispose of myself in the interval before starting, I clam-
bered into a boat on deck, and, with my bundle for a pillow,
fell into a pleasant doze. It was not so much sleep as a
semi- waking state, that merely dulled and dimmed impres-
sions a frame of mind I have often found very favourable to
thought. One is often enabled to examine a question in this
wise ; as they look at the sun through a smoked glass, and
observe the glittering object without being blinded by its
brilliancy. I suppose the time I passed in this manner was
as near an approach to low spirits as I am capable of feeling ;
for, of regular downright depression, I know as little as did
Nelson of fear.

I bethought me seriously of the " scrape " in which I found
myself, and reflected with considerable misgivings upon the
summary principles of justice in vogue around me ; and yet
the knavery was not of my own seeking. Like Falstalf's
honour, it was " thrust upon me." I was innocent of all plot
or device. " Le diable qui se mele en tout " never was


there a truer saying would have it that I should exchange
coats with another, and that this confounded ticket should be
the compensation for worn seams and absent buttons.

I have no doubt, thought I, but that " Honesty is the
best policy," pretty much upon the same principle that even
a dead calm is better than a hurricane. But to him who
desires "progress," on whose heart the word "ONWARD" is
written, the calm is lethargy, while the storm may prove
propitious. I then tried to persuade myself that even this
adventure could not turn out ill ; not that I could by any
ingenuity devise how it should prove otherwise, but I knew
that Fortune is as skilful as she is kind, and so I left the
whole charge to her.

Is it my fault, I exclaimed, that I am not rich, and well-
born, and great ? Show me any one who would have enjoyed
such privileges more. Is it my fault that, being poor, ignoble,
and lowly in condition, I have tastes and aspirations at war
with my situation ? these ought rather to be stimulants to
exertion than caprices of Fortune. I like the theory better,
too ; and is it not hard to be condemned for the devices I am
reduced to employ to combat such natural evils ? If the
prisoner severs his fetters with an old nail, it is because he
does not possess the luxury of a file or a " cold chisel." As
for me, the employment of small and insignificant means is
highly distasteful: instead of following the lone mountain-
path on foot, I'd drive " life's high road " four-in-hand, if I

The furious rush of the escape-steam, the quick coming
and going of feet, the heavy banging of luggage on the deck,
and all the other unmistakable signs of approaching depar-
ture, aroused me, as I lay patiently contemplating the bustle
of leave-taking, hand-shaking, and embracing, in which I had
no share. A lantern at the gangway lit up each face that
passed, and I strained my eyes to mark, one, the only one, in
whom I was interested. As I knew not whether the inge-
nious Chico were young, old, short, slim, fat, or six foot
whether brown or fair, smooth-faced or bearded, my observa-
tions were necessarily universal, and I was compelled to let
none escape me.

At first, each passenger appeared to be " him," and then,
after a few minutes I gave up the hope of detection. There
were fellows whose exterior might mean anything large,
loose-coated figures, with leather overalls and riding- whips,
many of them with pistols at their girdles, and one or two
wearing swords, parading the deck on every side. It needed


not the accompaniment of horse-gear, saddles, holsters, hal-
ters, and cavessons, to show that they belonged to a fraternity
which, in every land of the Old World or the New, has a
prescriptive claim to knavery. Although all of them were
natives of the United States, neither in their dark brown
complexions, deep moustaches and whiskers, and strange
gestures, was there any trace of that land which we persist in
deeming so purely Anglo-Saxon. The prairie and the hunt-
ing-ground, the life of bivouac and the habit of danger, had
imparted its character to their looks ; and there was, besides,
that air of swagger and braggadocio so essentially the type
of your trafficker in horse-flesh.

If my attention had not been turned to another subject, I
would willingly have studied a little the sayings and doings
of this peculiar class, seeing that it might yet be my lot to
form one of " the brotherhood ; " but my thoughts were too
deeply interested in discovering " Chico," whose presence in
the same ship with me actually weighed on my mind like the
terror of a phantom.

" Can this be him ? " was the question which arose to my
heart as figure after figure passed me near where I lay ; but
the careless indolent look of the passenger as regularly nega-
tived the suspicion. We were now under weigh, steaming
along in still water with all the tremendous power of our
high-pressure engines, which shook the vessel as though they
would rend its strong framework asunder. The night was
beautifully calm and mild, and although without a moon, the
sky sparkled with a thousand stars, many of which were
of size and brilliancy to throw long columns of light across
the bay.

The throb of the great sea monster, as she cleared her way
through the water, was the only sound heard in the stillness ;
for although few had "gone below," the groups seated about
the deck either smoked in silence, or talked in low, indistinct

I lay gazing at the heavens, and wondering within myself
which of those glittering orbs above me was gracious enough
to preside over the life and adventures of Con Cregan ;
" some dim, indistinct, little spangle it must be," thought I,
*' some forgotten planet of small reputation, I've no doubt
it is. I shouldn't wonder if it were that little sly-looking
fellow that winks at me from the edge of yonder cloud, and
seems to say, ' Lie still, Con keep close, my lad there's
danger near.' " As I half-muttered this to myself, a dark
object intervened between me and the sky, a large black disc,


shutting out completely the brilliant fretwork on which I had
been gazing. As I looked again, I saw it was the huge
broad-brimmed hat of a Padre one of those felted coal-
scuttles which make the most venerable faces grotesque and

Lying down in the bottom of the boat, I was able to take
a deliberate survey of the priest's features, while he could
barely detect the dark outline of my figure. He was thick
and swarthy, with jet-black eyes, and a long-pointed chin.
There was something Spanish in the face, and yet more of
the Indian ; at least the projecting cheek-bones and the gaunt
hollow cheeks favoured that suspicion.

From the length of time he stood peering at me, I could
perceive that it was not a passing impulse, but that his curi-
osity was considerable. This impression was scarcely con-
ceived ere proved; as, taking a small lantern from the
binnacle, he approached the boat, and held it over me.
Affecting a heavy slumber, I snored loudly, and lay perfectly
still, while he examined my face, bending over me as I lay,
and marking each detail of my dress and appearance.

As if turning in my sleep, I contrived to alter my position
in such a manner that, covering my face with my arm, I
could watch the Padre.

" Came on board alone, said you ? " asked he of a little
dirty urchin of a cabin-boy, at his side.

" Yes, father ; about two hours before we left the harbour."

" No luggage of any kind ? "

"A bundle, father; that under his head, and nothing

" Did he speak to you, or ask any questions ? "

" Only at Avhat time we should reach Houston, and if the
' White Hart ' was near the Quay ? "

" And then he lay down in the boat here ? "

" Just so. I saw no more of him after."

" That will do," said the Padre, handing the lantern to
the boy.

That will do ! thought I also. Master Chico, if you know
me, I know you as well !

The game was now begun between us at least, so I felt it.
I lay watching my adversary, who slowly paced " backwards
and forwards, stopping now and then to peep into the boat,
and doubtless conning over in his own mind' his plan of

We were to land some passengers, and take in some wood
at a little place called Fork Island, and here I was half deter-


mined within myself that my voyage should end. That
" Chico " had discovered me was clear ; the Padre could be
no other than him, and that he would inevitably hunt me
down at Austin was no less evident. Now, discovery and
" Lynching " were but links of the same chain, and I had no
fancy to figure as " No. 2," in Hall's Court!

The silence on the deck soon showed that most of the
passengers had gone below, and, so far as I could see in the
uncertain light, " Chico " with them. I arose, therefore, from
my hard couch to take a little exercise, which my cramped
limbs stood in need of. A light drizzling rain had begun to
fall, which made the deck slippery and uncomfortable, and so
I took my stand at the door of the cook's galley, into which
two or three of the crew had sought refuge.

As the rain fell the fog thickened, so that, standing close
in to shore, the skipper slackened our speed, till at last
we barely moved through the water. Not aware of the
reason, I asked one of the sailors for an explanation.

" It's the dirty weather, I reckon," said he, sulky at being

" Impatient, I suppose, to get the journey over, my young
friend ? " said a low silky voice, which at once reminded me
of that I had already heard when I lay in the boat. I turned,
and it was the Padre, who, with an umbrella over him, was
standing beside me.

" I'm not much of a sailor, Father," replied I, saluting him
respectfully as I spoke.

" More accustomed to the saddle than the poop-deck ? "
said he, smiling blandly.

I nodded assent, and he went on with some passing gene-
ralities about sea and land life mere skirmishing, as I saw,
to invite conversation.

Partly weariness, partly a sense of discomfort at the per-
secution of this man's presence, made me sigh heavily. I
had not perceived it myself, but he remarked it immediately,
and said :

" You are depressed in spirit, my son ; something is weigh-
ing on your heart ! '

I looked up at him, and, guided possibly by my suspicion
of his real character, I saw, or thought I saw, a twinkling
glitter of his dark eye, as though he was approaching the
theme on which he was bent.

" Yes, Father ! " replied I, with a voice of well-feigned
emotion ; " my heart is indeed heavy ; but " here I assumed
a more daring tone " I must not despond for all that ! "


I walked away as I spoke, and retiring, sat down near the
wheel, as if to meditate. I judged that the Padre would soon
follow me, nor was I wrong ; I was not many minutes seated
ere he stood at my side.

" I see," said he, in a mild voice " I see, from the respect
of your manner, that you are one of our own people a good
son of the church. What is your native country ? "

" Ireland, Father," said I, with a sigh.

" A blessed land, indeed ! " said he, benignly ; " happy in its
peaceful inhabitants simple-minded and industrious ! "

I assented, like a good patriot, but not without misgivings
that he might have been just as happy in another selection of
our good gifts.

" I have known many of your countrymen," resumed he,
" and they all impressed me with the same esteem. All, alike
frugal, temperate, and tranquilly disposed."

" Just so, sir ; and the cruelty is, nobody gives them credit
for it ! "

" Ah, my son, there you are in error. The Old World may
be, and indeed I have heard that it is, ungenerous ; but its
prejudices cannot cross the ocean. Here we estimate men
not by our prejudices but by their merits. Here, we recog-
nize the Irishman as Nature has made him docile, confiding,
and single-hearted ; slow to anger, and ever ready to control
his passions ! "

"That's exactly his portrait, Father!" said I, enthusias-
tically. '' Without a double of any kind, a creature that
does not know a wile or a stratagem ! "

The Priest seemed so captivated by my patriotism and my
generous warmth, that he sat down beside me, and we con-
tinued to make Ireland still our theme ; each vying with the
other, who could say most in praise of that country.

It was at the close of a somewhat long disquisition upon
the comparative merits of Ireland and the Garden of Eden,
in which, I am bound to say, the balance inclined to the
former, that the Padre, as if struck by a sudden thought,

" You are the very first of your nation I ever met in a
frame of mind disposed to melancholy ! I have just been
running over, to myself, all the Irishmen I ever knew, and I
cannot recall one that had a particle of gloom or sorrow about

" Nor had I, Father," said I, with emotion; "nor did I
know what sorrow was, till three days back ! I was light-
hearted and happy the world went well with me, and I was


content with the world. I will not trouble you with my
story ; enough when I say that I came abroad to indulge a
taste for adventure and enterprise, and that the New World
has not disappointed my expectations. If I spent money a
little too freely, an odd grumble or so from ' the governor '
was the darkest cload that shaded my horizon. An only
son, perhaps I pushed that prerogative somewhat too far ; but
our estate is unencumbered, and my father's habits are the
reverse of extravagant, for a man of his class I might call
them downright rustic in simplicity. Alas ! why do I think
of these things H I have done with them for ever."

" Nay, nay ; you must not give way thus. It is very un-
likely that one young as you are can have any real guilt upon
his conscience."

"Not yet, Father," said I, with a shudder, "not yet;
but who can tell how it may be with me to-morrow or next
day? what a different answer should I have to give your
question then !"

" This is some fancy some trick of a warm and ill-regu-
lated imagination, my son."

" It is the language my heart pours from my lips," said I,
grasping his hand, as if with irrepressible emotion. " I have
a heavy crime here here ! " and I struck my breast violently;
" and if it be as yet unaccomplished, the shadow of the guilt
is on me already."

" Sit still, my son sit still, and listen to me," said he,
restraining me, as I was about to rise ; " to whom can you
reveal these mysterious terrors more fittingly than to me ?
Be candid tell me what weighs upon your heart. It may
be that a mere word of mine can give you courage and calm."

" That cannot be," said I, firmly ; " you speak in kindness,
but you know not what you promise. I am under a vow,
Father-^I am under a vow."

"Well, my son, there are many vows meritorious. There
are vows of penitence, and of chastity, and of abstinence "

"Mine is none of these," said I, with a low guttural utter-
ance, as if I was biting each word I spoke.

" Vows of chastisement "

" Not that not that either ! " cried I ; then, dropping my
voice to a low whisper, I said, " I have sworn a solemn oath
to commit a murder ! 1 know the full guilt of what is before
ine I see all the consequences, both here and hereafter ; but
my word is pledged I have taken the oath with every cere-
mony that can give it solemnity, and, I'll go through with


"There is a mystery in all this," said the Padre; "you
must recount the circumstances of this singular pledge, ere I
can give you either comfort or counsel."

" I look for neither I hope for neither ! " said I, wringing
my hands ; " but you shall hear my story you are the last to
whom I can ever reveal it ! I arrived at New Orleans about
a fortnight ago, on a yacht cruise with a friend of mine, of
whose name, at least, you may have heard Sir Dudley

" The owner of a handsome schooner, the Firefly, " said
the Padre, with an animation on the subject not quite in
keeping with his costume.

" The same you are, then, acquainted with him ? "

" Oh no ; I was accidentally standing on the wharf when
his yacht came up the river at New Orleans."

" You didn't remark a young man on the poop, in a forag-
ing cap, with a gold band round it ? "

" I cannot say I did."

" He carried a key-bugle in his hand."

" I did not perceive him."

" That was me ; how different was I then ! Well, well
I'll hasten on. We arrived at New Orleans, not quite deter-
mined whither next we should bend our steps ; and hearing
by mere accident of this Texan expedition, we took it into
our heads we would join it. On inquiring about the matter,
we found that a lottery was in progress, the prizes of which
were various portions of equipment, horses, mules, baggage,
negroes, and so on. For this just out of caprice we took
several tickets ; but as, from one cause or other, the drawing
was delayed.we lingered on, going each day to the office, and
there, making acquaintance with a number of fellows inte-
rested in the expedition, but whose manner and style, I need
scarcely say, were not good recommendations to intimacy
Broughton, however, always liked that kind of thing; low
company, with him, had always the charm of an amusement that
he could resign whenever he fancied. Now, as he grew more
intimate with these fellows, he obtained admission into a
kind of club they held in an obscure part of the town, and
thither we generally repaired every evening, when too late
for any more correct society. They were all, or at least
they affected to be, interested in Texan expeditions ; and the
conversation never took any other turn than what concerned
these objects; and if, at first, our Old World notions were
shocked at their indifference to life the reckless disregard
of honour and good faith they evinced, we came, by degrees.


to feel that the moral code of the Prairies permitted many
things which were never sanctioned in more cultivated

"Broughton entered into all this with a most extraordinary
interest. Nothing seemed too wild, too abandoned, and too
outrageous, for his notions ; and I shame to say it, he soon
made me a convert to his opinions. His constant speech was,
1 Be as virtuous as you please, my dear fellow, among ladies
and gentlemen ; but pray, fight Choctaws, Pawnees, and
half-breeds with their own weapons, which are either a trick
or a tomahawk.' I never liked the theory; but partly from
daily iteration, partly from a yielding pliancy of disposition,
and in great measure from being shamed into it, I gave way,
and joined him in all the pledges he gave, to go through with
anything the expedition exacted. I must be brief that light
yonder is on Fork Island, where we stop to take in wood,
and ere we reach it, I must make up my mind to one course
or other.

" As the time for the starting of the expedition drew nigh,
the various plans and schemes became the theme of nightly
discussion ; and we heard of nothing but guides and trails,
where grass was to be found for the cattle, and where water
could be had, with significant hints about certain places and
people who were known, or believed to be inimical to these
excursions. Thus on the map were marked certain villages
which might be put under contribution, and certain log-houses
which should be made to pay a heavy impost ; here, it was
a convent to be mulcted, and there, a store or a mill to be
burned ! In fact, the expedition seemed to have as many
vengeances to fulfil as hopes of gain to gratify ; for each had
a friend who was maltreated, or robbed, or murdered, and
whose fate or fortunes required an expiation but I weary
you, Padre, with all this ? "

" Not at all, my son; I recognize perfectly the accuracy of
your account. 1 have heard a good deal about these people."

" There was one individual, however, so universally de-
tested, that you would suppose he must have been a kind of
devil incarnate to have incurred such general hate. Every
one had a grudge against him, and, in fact, there was a kind
of struggle who should be allotted to wreak on him the com-
mon vengeance of the company. It was at last decided that
his fate should be lotteried, and that whoever won the first
prize this mare of which you may have heard should also
win the right to finish this wretched man. 1 gained this
infamous distinction j and here am I, on my way to claim my


prize and commit a murder ! Ay, I may as well employ the
true word it is nothing less than a murder ! I have not
even the poor excuse of revenge. I cannot pretend that he
ever injured me : nay, I have not even seen him ; I never
heard of his name till two days ago ; nor, even now, could I
succeed in finding him out if I were not provided with certain,
clues at Houston, and certain guides by whose aid I am to
track him. My oath is pledged : I swore it solemnly, that,
if the lot fell upon me, I'd do the deed, and do it I will ; yet,
I am equally resolved never to survive it." Here, I produced
my revolver. " If this barrel be for the unlucky Chico, this
other is for myself! "

" What name did you say ? " cried he with a faltering voice,
while his hand, as he laid it on my arm, shook like ague.

" Chico, the wretch is called," I said, fixing a cap on my

"And why call him a wretch, my son? Has he ever
injured you ? How do you know that he is not some poor
kindly-hearted creature, the father of five children, one of
them a baby, perhaps? How can you tell the difficulties by
which he gains his living, and the hazard to which he exposes
his life in doing so ? And is it to injure such a man you will
go down to your own grave an assassin ? "

" I'll do it," said I, doggedly " I'll keep my oath."

" Such an oath never bound any man it is a snare of

" So it may I'll keep it," said I ; beating the deck with
my foot, with the dogged determination of one not to be
turned from his purpose.

" Kill in cold blood a man you never saw before ? "

" Just so : I am not going to think of him, when I set so
little store by myself; I only wish the fellow were here now,
and I'd show you whether I'd falter or not."

" Poor Chico I could weep for him ! " said he, blubbering.

' Keep your pity for me," said I ; " /, that am bound by
this terrible oath, and must either stamp myself a coward or
a murderer. As for Chico, I believe a more worthless wretch
never existed a poor mean-spirited creature, whose trade is
to be a spy, and by whose cursed machinations many a fine
fellow has been ruined."

"You are all wrong, sir," said the Padre, warmly. "I
know the man myself; he is an amiable, kind-hearted being,
that never harmed any one."

" He's the fellow to die, then ! " said I, roughly.

" He has a small family, unprovided for."


" They have the inheritance of his virtues," said I, scof-

" Can you have the heart for such cruelty ? " cried he,
almost sobbing.

" Come with me when I land at Houston, and see that's
all ! " said I. " A few minutes back I was hesitating whether

Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 24 of 50)