Or, The Horse Thief Rival
Author of "The Rival Hunters."
Cincinnati: Published by U. P. James, 167 Walnut Street.
"Why do you persist in refusing to receive the addresses of Willard Duffel, when you know my preference for him?"
"Because I do not like him."
"'Do not like him,' forsooth! And pray, are you going to reject the best offer in the county because of a simple whim? the mere fancy of a vain-headed, foolish and inexperienced girl? I did not before suppose that a daughter of mine would manifest such a want of common sense."
"Whether my opinions of men are made up of that rare article so inappropriately called 'common sense' or not, is a question I shall not attempt to decide; it is sufficient for me to know that I have my 'likes and my dislikes,' as well as other folks, and that it is my right to have them."
"Oh, yes! you have rights, but a parent has not, I suppose!"
"You know very well, father, that I do not deserve an insinuation of that kind from you: I have always regarded your wishes, when expressed, save in this one instance, and I have too much at stake, in so serious a matter, to lightly throw aside my own opinions."
"Yes, yes, you have been the most obliging of daughters, to hear your own story; but no sooner does a point of any moment come up, upon which we happen to disagree, than my wishes are as nothing—a mere school-girl whim is set up in opposition to them, and that, too, without even a shadow of reason! A very dutiful child, truly."
"Father, how can you talk so? You surely are but trying me; for you know I do not merit the rebuke conveyed by your words and manner."
"Why do I?"
"Because you are willfully disobedient."
"No, not willfully but sorrowfully disobedient to your wishes. Glad, indeed, would I be if I could comply with them, but I cannot. Nor should you expect me to, until you show some good grounds why you entertain them."
"Have I not already done so repeatedly? Have I not told you that Duffel's prospects are fairer than those of any other young man of your acquaintance? Is he not wealthy? Has he not one of the best farms in the country? What more do you want?"
"A man of principle, not of property."
"And is not Duffel a man of principle? Is he not strictly honorable in all his dealings?"
"He may or may not be honest in his dealings; I do not allude to business, but moral principle, and in this I think he is decidedly wanting."
"Why do you think so?"
"His actions and manners impress me with such a belief; I feel it more than see it, yet I am as fully satisfied on that point as if he had told me in so many words that he had no regard for the restraints of morality and religion, save such as a decent respect for the customs and opinion of society enjoins."
"Mere fancy again! I'd like to know if you expect to live in any of the air-castles you are building?"
"I think there is not quite as much probability of my inhabiting one of them as there is of Duffel's incarceration in the penitentiary."
"What do you mean, girl?"
"To be plain, I do not believe Duffel's wealth was honestly obtained, or is honestly held. You have heard of the Secret Gang of Horse Thieves, I suppose. Well, I overheard this immaculate Duffel of yours, without any intention on my part, conversing with a 'hale fellow well met,'—no other than the stranger you yourself suspected of being a villain—and from the tenor of their remarks, they belong to some clique of rascals. I could not gather a very distinct idea as to what the organization was formed to accomplish, for I could not hear all that was said; but I learned enough to satisfy myself that all was not right. I had not mentioned the circumstance before, for the simple reason that I wished to obtain stronger evidence against the parties, but you have my secret—act upon it as you think best."
This conversation will sufficiently explain itself. A father desires his daughter to marry against her will, because a wealthy suitor proposes for her hand, but she cannot accede to his wishes, because, we presume, she has a romantic notion that love ought to have something to do, in making matrimonial connections.
The father was somewhat taken aback by the revelations of the daughter at the close of their interview, and left her to ponder on the subject, and, if possible, to ascertain the truth as to the guilt or innocence of the parties suspected.
Duffel, from some source, obtained an inkling of how matters stood, and seeing the father, had a long interview with him in private. What was the purport of his part of the conference, and the object he had in view, may be gathered from the following passage between father and daughter.
"So, ho, my girl, you thought to deceive me concerning young Duffel, did you?"
"What do you mean?"
"You would have me believe him a horse-thief and a bird for the penitentiary?" he went on, without seeming to notice her interposition. "Well, your well-devised scheme has failed of its object, and I have at once revealed to me its purpose and end, and its originator."
"I do not understand you, sir!"
"Oh, no! very ignorant all of a sudden! You forgot one of the most material portions of your revelation to me the other day, and that was the name of your confederate in concocting that story of the guilty associations of Willard Duffel."
"I had no associate, and I have never mentioned the circumstance to a living soul except yourself. Now, please be equally frank, and tell who your confederate is in this plot to make your daughter out a hypocrite and a liar?"
The father was startled by this bold demand, which, indeed, opened his eyes to the enormity of his child's wickedness, if his charges against her were true; but he had set his face to one point, and not being easily turned aside from a purpose, proceeded:
"I am not to be deceived by a show of indignation and virtue, when it is assumed for effect. You need not put yourself to the trouble of a denial or confession; I know who is associated with you to traduce Duffel; it is no other than the one who stands between you and the man of my choice—a poor beggarly fellow, to whom you have taken a fancy because of his worthlessness, I suppose. You understand who I mean. Well, he shall stand between me and my wishes—or rather between you and good fortune—no longer."
Indignation, surprise, wonder, fear, resentment, and a hundred other emotions filled the mind of the daughter during the delivery of this address; but amid them all, there was a purpose as fixed as that of her sire's to have a voice in the matter of her own disposal. But before anything further transpired, the father cast his eyes out of the open window, and seeing a gentleman approaching, said:
"There comes that beggarly dog now! I must go and meet him."
And without further ceremony or explanation, he immediately left the house.
It would be a difficult task to portray the feelings of the daughter at this moment. She saw that her father was incensed, but the sorrow that this circumstance would otherwise have engendered in her bosom, was lost in the feeling that an outrage had been perpetrated upon her rights and sensibilities, and she felt the blood of indignation coursing through her veins, and mounting her temples and brow. How could she help these emotions, when she knew that injustice had been done—that she had been insulted by an implication of falsehood, when she was conscious of a free, full and honorable rectitude of purpose, and that, too, by her own father! These thoughts rushed through her mind with lightning speed, and the tears forced themselves to her eyes—tears half of sorrow, half of anger.
But now a new source of anxiety, mixed with alarming apprehensions, took possession of her distracted mind. Her father had left the house abruptly, and looking in the direction he had taken, she beheld him in violent conversation with Charles Hadley, the only man for whom she had ever entertained sentiments of tender regard, the only one to whose "tale of love" she had listened with quickened pulses and beating heart, the only one to whom she had plighted her faith, with whom exchanged vows of love and constancy. And her parent had just termed him beggarly! What could be the cause of his dislike? and for what purpose had he sought the young man in so strange and unaccountable a mood? and what was the nature of the interview between them?
Such were the thoughts that hurried across the mind of the young girl; and, hardly knowing what she did, she stole up to her chamber-window, which was in full view of the gentlemen, and placing her ear in a listening attitude, bent all her energies to gain a knowledge of what was said; and, having so much at stake, we must excuse the exceptionable act.
"It is not worth while for you to deny it, Hadley, as I have the most positive proof of your designs."
These were the first words that greeted the daughter's ears, and they sent a chill to her heart. She knew that her lover was impetuous, and feared the charge made against him, which she could not but perceive was a grave one, would cause him to commit some rash or unguarded act, the results of which, in the existing state of affairs, would be unfortunate. His reply, however, was calm, and his manner cool and self-possessed, and she listened to the remainder of the conversation with breathless attention and intensely absorbed interest.
"Pray, sir, will you be so kind as to give me the name of the individual who has dared to accuse me of a base plot? You certainly cannot refuse so small a request, and yet of such great importance to me, as it gives me the only possible chance of clearing myself from the groundless charges preferred against me so invidiously."
"I do not feel disposed to reveal the name of my informant, as it would lead to an unpleasant rencounter, and result in no good. Suffice it to say, he enjoys my entire confidence, and that I give to his words the fullest credit."
"Sir, I must consider this a very strange course for a gentleman to pursue. You are evidently laboring under a serious mistake, and it would give me the greatest pleasure to convince you of the fact, would you allow me to do so; but as I cannot do that, will you permit me to hold a moment's conversation with your daughter?"
"Why, sir, it was to prevent that very thing that I met you here. No, I cannot grant your request; and hereafter you will please consider my daughter as a stranger, and my door as closed against you! Not a word, sir; not a word—my resolution is taken unchangeably. I can not and will not permit my child to associate with those whom I know to be unworthy. Sir, I will hear no word of explanation! Go!"
Hadley felt the unkindness and injustice of Mandeville's remarks, and had he merely consulted his own feelings, he would have retired at once, and never again intruded himself upon the society of one who could show himself so destitute of the characteristics of a gentleman. But there was another than himself that must suffer should he go, as his feelings prompted, from the premises of her father forever. Love was all-powerful in his breast at that hour, and choking down the rising emotions of anger and excitement, he attempted to reason with the stern man before him.
"But you surely," he commenced, "do not mean to drive me from your door without a hearing? You certainly are too much of a gentleman for that."
"I mean, sir, that I will allow no base, thieving miscreant to enter my house; nor will I permit a daughter of mine to hold intercourse with such villains! And more than that, I will tell you, sir, that I am not to be dictated to, as to whose company I shall keep, or whom admit to my house, by any such worthless, gallows-deserving scamp as yourself!"
This was more than Hadley could bear. He had resolved not to become excited, but anger rose in his bosom in spite of his will, and he answered in deep, excited tones:
"Sir, no man can apply such epithets to me and go unchastised. I demand a recantation of your unfounded charges, and an apology for their utterance."
And as he spoke he assumed a menacing attitude. Rage at once filled the breast of Mandeville, and instantly rendered him altogether ungovernable. He raised his clenched fist, as if to strike the young man, and hissed savagely between his set teeth:
"Insolent villain! do you dare to insult me thus at my own door! Away in a moment, or I'll smite you to the earth without another word!"
Hadley stood still.
"Go, vile dog! I say; go!" and he drew back his arm to strike.
At this moment, a piercing shriek arrested the attention of both gentlemen. It was a deep wail of agony, as though it came from a crushed heart. It emanated from the house, and the first motion of the two in conversation was to start forward in that direction; but recalling the words of the proprietor, that he was never to enter his dwelling again, Hadley paused and turned away, but loitered about the premises till he saw the father ride off in great haste toward the nearest village, and speedily return, quickly followed by a physician; then he left, with a vague feeling of dread laboring at his heart.
As Eveline Mandeville had mentioned the circumstance of having overheard the conversation between the two worthies, related, in the first chapter, to no one but her father, it becomes a matter of curiosity to know how Duffel had come in possession of the secret. A very few words will explain the matter. Like most persons who feel a consciousness of want of rectitude of purpose, he felt desirous to learn what other people thought of him, fearing his evil intentions might possibly manifest themselves in some manner unnoticed by himself; and as he had most at stake with the Mandevilles, he was proportionally more interested in the opinions they might entertain respecting his life and character, than in those of any others. He accordingly resorted to the mean and cowardly expedient of eavesdropping, in order to gain a knowledge of the standing he occupied in the estimation of this family, particularly with regard to the father and daughter. He would approach the house unobserved and listen at some point, to overhear the conversations that took place in the family circle!
He was thus occupied during the conference of parent and child, above referred to, and learned, to his great joy, that in the father he had a warm advocate, but with equal chagrin that the daughter had no good-will toward him; a fact, however, that he had more than suspected before; but, having taken a fancy to her, and the prospect of obtaining with her hand a good property being a still stronger motive, he had set his heart upon making her his bride, even though she might detest him as a companion.
But when he heard the revelation made by the daughter to her father, at the close of their interview, concerning his association with the suspicious stranger and probable connection with some secret body of villains, and perceived the marked effect it had upon the latter, he became alarmed for the success of his schemes, and seeing the conversation was ended, hastened away, ere he should be discovered, to invent some plan whereby to counteract the effects likely to produce a permanent feeling against him.
After long and deep thought, during which scheme after scheme was suggested to his mind, turned over, examined, and abandoned, he finally hit upon an expedient that suited his purpose exactly, and at once resolved to act upon it. For this purpose he sought and obtained a private interview with Mr. Mandeville, as already intimated, in which he began the development of his plot as follows:
"I have sought this interview with no idle purpose, Mr. Mandeville," he began. "You are already aware of the deep interest I feel in your daughter, and how intimately my future happiness is interwoven with her good opinion. That good opinion, I have the best of evidence to believe, is being undermined by one to whom you have ever been kind, but who, I am sure, you would not wish to become your son-in-law, though he has the audacity—if I may be allowed so strong an expression—to aspire after your daughter's hand! Having nothing of his own to recommend him, and knowing that I am in his way, he does not cease to traduce me to your daughter on every occasion, and I fear the insidious poison of his oily tongue has already had a serious effect on her mind, which, if not put an end to, will turn her good opinion of me into dislike or even aversion. Why it was but a few days ago that he and another fellow, a stranger in these parts, and a very suspicious-looking chap, had a conference in private, of, to say the best of it, a very sinister character; and, would you believe it, this fellow disguised himself so as to appear the very personation of myself?
"I was struck dumb, sir, when these facts were put in my possession by one of my workmen, who happened to see the villains and overhear a part of their talk. But the worst of the story remains to be told. Either by chance or design—and with the facts in the case I leave you to determine which—these confederates placed themselves near a bower to which your daughter had resorted but a few minutes previously, so that she, however unwillingly, must have heard a good portion of what passed between them! Only think of it! She for whom I would sacrifice all else, beholding me, as she must suppose, under such criminal aspects!"
This most artfully told tale was not without its effect upon the father. He believed it: how could he help it when so strongly corroborated by what his daughter had previously told him? At the conclusion of it, he demanded, with something of vehemence in his manner:
"Who was the despicable villain that thus dared to plot against the interest of my family?"
"Ah, there is the difficulty," said Duffel, craftily. "I fear to divulge names for several reasons. In the first place, I know you cannot but feel highly indignant, and will desire to punish the criminal as he deserves; but I have no proof that will stand in law, and—!"
"Will not the testimony of my daughter added to yours be sufficient to convict the rascal, I'd like to know?"
"You forget that your daughter's testimony would criminate me—that she must fully believe it was I, and no other, that was in conversation with the stranger; for I am told that the disguise was perfect, so much so that it is impossible your daughter should not be deceived."
"I see the difficulty."
"Well, as I was going to say, being unable to substantiate my charges, I would lay myself liable to prosecution for slander, which must be far from pleasant, beside giving my adversary a decided advantage over me. In the next place, my name would be coupled with those of blacklegs and secret villains, a circumstance far more to be dreaded than the other. But I have a still higher motive for wishing this affair to be kept quiet—your daughter's welfare and fair name. Pardon me for being compelled to speak of her in this connection; it is, I assure you, sorely afflicting to me; but I shall strive to do my duty, even with the fear of offending before my eyes. As already shown, your daughter's evidence, either publicly or privately given, must lay upon me the weight of crime; in addition to this, I must now undertake the formidable task of informing you that my enemy, who I have already told you has an eye to your daughter's hand, is regarded by her with favor. Do not be startled; I am but telling you the plain truth, which, unless a stop can be put to the plotting now on foot, you will but too soon find out to your sorrow. This fellow, who desires to rival me in the affections of your daughter, has been pouring into her ear tales of every sort to prejudice her against me—and I fear with but too much success. Lately, she avoids me whenever it is convenient to do so, while she often walks out with my—no, he is too contemptible to be called a rival.
"You now see the state of the case; you see on what a slippery place I stand, and how much need there is of being wary and cautious where and how I step. My fair name is in danger of being tarnished; my prospects for life blighted; my hopes destroyed and myself suspected of being the associate of villains. And all this has been so artfully contrived, I find myself in the meshes of the net woven to entrap me, ere I had become aware of any designs being formed against me, or that I had enemies who were endeavoring to compass my ruin; and, worse than all, when these overwhelming truths are made manifest to me, and my very soul burns to extricate myself from the difficulties that surround me, and fasten the crime where it belongs, and crush the miscreant with his own guilt, I am tied. So encircled am I, that every attempt I might make to escape the toils of the cowardly foe who has laid his plans so deep and darkly, will only add to the horrors of my situation. Pardon me, then, for withholding the name of him who is striving to rum me; but oh, if possible, save your daughter from his grasp!"
"How can I without knowing his name? Eveline has much company and many admirers; but of all the number, I can fix upon no one to suspect."
"There it is again! My God! what am I to do?"—and with these words, Duffel paced up and down in the greatest apparent distress.
"You surely can trust me with his name?" suggested Mr. Mandeville.
"True, I can trust you with anything, only that I fear your indignation will betray me."
"Never fear; for once I will keep cool at all hazards."
"I make one solemn condition: you must never, under any circumstances, reveal the name of your informant to either your daughter or my enemy."
"Why this restriction?"
"I have already explained why as far as he is concerned."
"Oh, I have a different reason for desiring her to be kept ignorant of my connection with her friend's exposure,"—and as he said this, the fellow actually blushed and seemed much embarrassed.
"I do not understand you."
"Well, you see this friend of hers—I must again ask pardon for associating her name with his so frequently, be reassured I do it with pain—as I have already remarked, has ingratiated himself into her good opinion, and knowing me to be in the way of the accomplishment of his wishes, he has prejudiced her against me, and done so in such a manner as to induce the belief in her mind that I am his bitterest enemy, and would use any means to do him an injury or blacken his character. Hence, if she were to know that anything came through me, she would at once set it down as false and slanderous, which would drive her farther from me and nearer to the other, thereby hastening the very calamity we would avert."
"I see you are right, having given more attention to the subject than I have. I will never mention your name in connection with this matter, to either my daughter or any other, without your permission."
"Thank you. Leaving all after action on your part to be as your judgment shall dictate, I have nothing more left me to do in this trying interview, than to reveal the name of the intriguer—it is Charles Hadley."
"Charles Hadley!" exclaimed the father in astonishment.
"It is none other than he."
"I could hardly have believed it of him."
"Nor I. Such depth of depravity is truly inconceivable to an honorable mind."
"I remember now, he has been somewhat familiar with Eveline; but I had no idea the beggarly dog would dare think of marrying her. I must see to this immediately."
"Remember to be cautious for my sake."
"Don't fear on that ground."
Thus the interview ended, Duffel having accomplished more by it than he had expected. The more Mr. Mandeville thought on the subject, the more thoroughly he became convinced of Hadley's guilt. Did not Duffel's statement correspond precisely with that of his daughter? and how could it be so without being true? It was an impossibility. The more he reflected, the deeper became his conviction of the guilt of Hadley and of the existence of a plot to defame Duffel. Another idea suggested itself: "Was his daughter an intentional or an unintentional party to these transactions? Might not her dislike of Duffel and her preference for Hadley induce her to seek for some means to accomplish the disgrace of the former?" While he was weighing this supposition in the balance of his mind, he chanced to see his daughter walking with Hadley, and their manner of conversation and the evident good-will existing between them, led him, in his bewildered state, to conclude that Eveline was not as free from implication as she might be. After harboring this thought for a day or two longer, he charged her with the crime of confederating to injure Duffel, as already related. Had he known that Duffel's story was made so fitly apt, simply because he had basely eavesdropped and sacrilegiously listened to the sanctitude of a conversation at the domestic hearth, how different would have been the result!
When Mr. Mandeville entered the house, as related at the close of the first chapter, he found Eveline lying on the floor of her room, in a state of insensibility. All his efforts to arouse her were unavailing, and leaving her in the care of the distracted housemaid, he hastened off for the doctor. When the stunning influence was removed, Eveline was still unconscious. A burning fever was in her veins, and delirium in her brain. All night long the doctor remained by her bedside, and when morning at length compelled him to visit other patients, he left with an expression on his countenance, which caused anything but a hopeful sensation in the father's breast.
Days of anxiety and nights of sleepless watching passed away, and yet the father, with pale cheeks and heavy heart, sat by the bedside of the afflicted. No mother had she, that kind parent having several years before been laid in the cold grave; and the father strove to make up for the loss as far as he could understand the necessities of a sick-room; and, indeed, he became wonderfully gentle in his attentions. His touch was trained to be light and soft as a woman's, his step quiet, and his manner subdued. He would leave the room only for a few minutes at a time, and then return with an air of impatience, but it often happened that for hours together he would allow no one to share the duties of nurse with him, though the best of aid was always at hand. And he had a reason for this singular course of conduct. Eveline frequently raved in her delirium, and words would then fall from her lips which he would not have others to hear for the wealth of India. Why? Listen for a few moments:
"Oh, how dark! all dark! Nothing but clouds! No sun, no moon, no stars! When will morning come? Who made it dark? Oh, God! that my father, my own father, should do this!"
Thus would the unconscious child talk into the very ear of her parent, often wringing her hands and manifesting the utmost distress. Then her thoughts would take another direction, on this wise:
"What a load is on my heart; oh, so heavy! It weighs me down to the earth. Who will take it away? Alas, there is no one to pity me! No one will come to me and lift this great burden from my bosom; and it is crushing the life-blood from my heart! Hark! don't you hear the drops fall as they are pressed out? Patter, patter, patter! Well, it will soon be over; they will see the blood; yes, and he, my once good, dear, kind father; oh, may he never know that his hand wrung it out and wrenched my heart in twain! Poor father! he knew not that he was killing me—me his only daughter. May he never be wiser! Ah, I am going."
She would sink down exhausted, and lay sometimes for hours in a stupor, after these paroxysms of excitement, and the heavy-hearted father often feared she would never rouse again. But a higher stage of fever would awaken her from the state of lethargy, and then the ears of the agonized parent would be greeted and his heart pierced by words like these:
"Oh, hear him, father, hear him! I know he can explain it to your satisfaction. How can Charles bear such charges? I wonder at his patience and self-command. Father, father! How unjust! How cruel! Do let him speak! Convinced! Yes, on what grounds? Whose word is entitled to more credit than that of Charles? That's it! The name—the name of the base slanderer. I know it is some villain. Father! how can you deny him the only means of defense? 'Unpleasant rencounter!' yes, to the vile miscreants, no doubt. 'Confidence!' My life! isn't Charles worthy of confidence, too? His word alone is worth a thousand oaths of such heartless slanderers as those that stab in the dark! Don't get angry, Charles, he's my father. Nobly done! How respectfully he acts when so abused and insulted! All will yet be right. Ah! I'll tell him how I spurn the accusation! How my soul burns with indignation that his fair name should be assailed! I am so glad he is coming; I know he feels deeply the wrong—What!"
At this point the startled look of the poor girl alarmed the father. She bent her head, in a listening attitude, as if eager to catch every word that was spoken by some one in the distance. Ah, too well the wretched parent knew on what her thoughts were running. Too well he knew where and when the blow had fallen that smote his child to the dust—perhaps had opened to her the gate of death. A deep, stifled, half sigh, half groan escaped from her lips, and she murmured in a hoarse whisper:
"Father, father! you will kill your child. Oh, God! this is too much! Turned from our door! without a word of comfort! How deadly pale he is! My own parent to call him 'unworthy!' and then forbid him to speak!"
At this point a shriek from her lips would lift the father to his feet, the cold drops of agony on his brow. That soul-rending cry he had heard before, but it lost none of its horrors by being repeated. Alas, it told but too plainly of the wreck his cruel words had made, and he trembled lest only the beginning of sorrows was upon him. How he blamed himself for being so rash and precipitate; and, as Eveline sunk back in exhaustion, the awful thought kept forcing itself into his mind:
"If she dies, I am her murderer!" What a reflection for a parent over an almost dying child! Who can measure the anguish it created in his breast?
There lay his precious child before him, prostrated by his own act, hovering on the very brink of the grave, life trembling on a breath—and he, oh, he might never whisper a word of comfort in her ear! Poor man! For all this there was no repentance in his soul; it was only regret and remorse—but oh, remorse how bitter! Not that his belief was changed as to the guilt and innocence of the parties, for he still had confidence in Duffel, and was fully persuaded of Hadley's evil intentions. He was glad that the designs of the latter had been frustrated, but blamed himself for the manner in which it had been done.
But the reflections of the unhappy man, whether of reproach, sorrow, or regret, were ended for the time by another phase in the ever-changing condition of the invalid. In tones expressive of the deepest wretchedness, the daughter, once more arousing from the stupor of exhaustion, would piteously exclaim, in low, sad accents, whose inexpressible woe pierced the afflicted watcher's heart as with scorpion daggers:
"Gone! gone!—gone without a parting word or look! Gone, and my aching eyes shall behold him no more! Gone, and the darkness comes over me! Oh, this horrid gloom!—this load on my heart! Father! Charles! why do you both leave me in this dreadful place?"
"Eveline, Eveline, my dear; your father is here; he has not left you; see, I am by you; give me your hand."
"Did somebody call me? Who is there?"
"It is I, my child, your father. Come with me; let me lead you from this place."
"Ah, it's a strange voice! I hoped it was dear father or Charles; but, no, no, Charles was driven away; he is gone forever! Oh, my poor heart!—and father, he has left me too: they are gone, and I shall die here. Oh, what will father say when he finds me dead? Well, it is best that he is away, for now he will not know that he has killed me. Poor, dear, kind father! I would so much like to say farewell before I go. It might be some consolation for him to know when I am gone that I love him still!"
Every word of these last sentences went to the father's heart. How strong must be that affection which could still cling to him so tenderly, though he had committed such an outrage upon her feelings with regard to another! The distressed sire bowed his head and smote his breast. Then he knelt down by the bedside and prayed. It was the first prayer he had offered up for years; but, oh! how earnestly he suplicated that his child might be spared to him. In his agonized pleading, so great was the commotion in his spirit and the emotions of his heart, that tears, the first that had bedewed his eyes since the death of his wife, streamed down his face. May we not hope that his prayer was heard? But the horrors of the sick room were not yet over. Eveline kept sleeping and waking, or rather, she lay in a state of stupor or raved in a delirium of fever, with occasional intervals of quiet, which sometimes lasted for hours, and excited delusive hopes in the heart of the father, that she was better, only to plunge him again into doubt and fear when the fever fit returned. He arose from his knees, and bending over his child, imprinted kiss after kiss, "with all a mother's tenderness," upon her brow and lips. O, how rejoiced would he have been could those kisses have conveyed to her an understanding of his feelings at that moment! How a knowledge of his affection would have gladdened her heart! But, no; for all the return manifested, he might as well have pressed his lips to cold marble. After a time, the fever returned in violence, and she resumed her distempered and broken discourse:
"Never! never! I will stay with you, if you wish me to; but marry Duffel, I never will! Force me to? No, father, you cannot! You may drive me from your house; you may turn me off and disown me, but you cannot make me perjure myself before God at the altar. No, father, I will obey you in all else; in this I cannot, and will not. If I were to go and forswear my soul in the solemn rites of marriage, my adored mother would weep over me in sorrow, if angels can weep in heaven. No, never, never!"
"My child, my dear Eveline," said the father, tenderly endeavoring to quiet her, "you need not fear that your father will be so cruel"—and he laid his hand gently upon her, to assure her of his presence; but it had a contrary effect from that he intended; she seemed to apprehend violence, and cried out:
"Help! help! They are dragging me away to marry a villain! Will no one help me? Where is Charles? Leave me! help!" She began to scream very loudly, and Mr. Mandeville knew not what to do. The doctor, however, opportunely came at this moment, and administered a soothing potion, and she became quiet.
This was the recurring succession of events in the sick chamber for the first ten days of Eveline's illness; then there was a change; the violent symptoms of disease were reduced, and a state of dreamy languor succeeded, with rare intervals of excitement, and those of the mildest type; but consciousness did not return, and the father had the satisfaction of knowing that the secrets of the place were his own. He had now but little fear that others would learn them, but this gleam of comfort was overshadowed by the increased apprehensions that his child's sickness must prove fatal. Indeed, hope had almost fled from his bosom, but he clung with a death-grasp to the desire for her recovery, if for nothing else, that a good understanding might exist between them. He could not endure the thought of her leaving the world under a wrong impression of the motives by which he had been actuated in the course he had pursued. As his long and continued watching had worn him down, he now left the bedside frequently to snatch a little rest, and recuperate his exhausted powers.
And where was Hadley all this time? No fond mother ever hovered about the cradle of her sick darling with deeper solicitude, than did he about the residence of his beloved. He made friends of the nurse and maid, and from them and the doctor kept himself advised of her condition. Oh, how his heart ached to be by the bedside of the sufferer! How, at times, his spirit rebelled at the injustice of the father! But when he was told of his devoted attention, tireless care, and deep distress, he forgave him in his heart and blessed him for his devoted kindness to the invalid.
But where was Duffel? Let the sequel tell.
DUFFEL—THE SECRET CAVE AND CLAN.
For the first few days of her illness, Duffel came to inquire after Eveline. Finding that she was likely to remain sick for a length of time, if she ever recovered, he excused himself from further attentions by pleading the necessity of a previous engagement, which would probably require his absence for a week or possibly a fortnight. With apparently the deepest solicitude for the recovery of Eveline and of sympathy for Mr. Mandeville, he took his leave.
When a little way from the house, he muttered to himself:
"Well, I am free from the necessity of keeping up appearances here any longer. Now for the cave!"
In a short time, he was threading his way through the forest, mounted on a fine animal. A narrow path lay before him, which he followed for some miles, and then turned into the untrodden wilderness and wound his way through its trackless wastes. There were no signs indicating that the foot of man or domesticated beast had ever pressed the earth in those solitary wilds; yet Duffel seemed familiar with the place, as was evident from his unhesitating choice of ways and careless ease. He knew by marks, to others unseen, or, if seen, their significance unknown, that he was moving in the right direction. Having traveled several miles in this way, he at length came to a beaten path, at right-angles with the course he had been going, into which he guided his noble beast. After pursuing this latter course at a rapid rate for more than an hour, he again turned off into the woods, and, guided by the same mystic signs as before, shaped his course with unerring precision, notwithstanding the forest was so dense and overgrown with underbrush as to render it almost impervious to sight, and to an utter stranger a bewildering labyrinth, from whose mazes he might labor in vain to extricate himself, unless, indeed, he possessed the almost instinctive tact of the Indian, or the thorough knowledge of the most experienced backwoodsman.
Why Duffel was so obscurely careful in selecting his way, will presently be seen. In the direction last taken, he traveled on until the sun was bending to the western horizon, when he came to a thicket of bushes and vines, so compact in growth it seemed an impossibility to enter it, even in a crawling position, without the aid of an ax and pruning-knife. Glancing this way and that, as if to assure himself that no one was near, a precaution that might almost be set down as a useless exhibition of timidity in that wild out-of-the-way place, so far from the habitation of civilised man. Duffel, when satisfied that no human eye was upon him, dismounted, and leading his steed by the bridle a short distance to the left, paused, looked around him again, and then lifting a pendant prong of a bush, with a very slight exertion of strength, he moved back a large mass of vines and branches, which had been with great care and ingenuity, and at the expense of much labor, wrought into a door or gate of living durability.
Through this gate-way he first sent his horse, then entered and passed through himself, carefully shutting the verdure-hidden door behind him, and no eye could discover the place where he had disappeared.
From this entrance, a road, some five or six feet wide had been cut out into the middle of the thicket, which was a large open area covered with grass and shaded by bushy trees, of small altitude, with wide-extended branches. Arrived at this spot, Duffel unsaddled his horse and turned him loose to crop the luxuriant grass. A dozen others were there before him, and as it was impossible that they should get there unaided, their riders were no doubt somewhere near. But this was something expected by the new-comer, as he manifested no surprise thereat, but appeared well pleased at the discovery.
After looking about to see that all was well, Duffel bent his steps toward a certain point in the environing thicket, and lifting a small bough, opened another verdant door, but this time of such small dimensions as to barely admit a single person. A narrow path led away from this artfully-contrived entrance into the dark and tangled recesses beyond. It was now growing late; twilight was over the world, but it was quite dark where the intertwined foliage of vines and branches wove their impenetrable net above and at the sides of the lonely path, and Duffel was obliged to feel his way with care. A few minutes' walk, however, brought him to the border of a stream of some considerable size, the banks of which formed the boundary of the thicket. Precisely at the spot where he reached the stream, was a projecting rock, covered with a luxuriant growth of underwood, vines and flowers, which overhung its outer edge and draped down, like a thick curtain, to the depth of eight or ten feet. This rock extended some fifty yards up the stream from the place where Duffel stood, and outwardly about an average of four feet. Its peculiar formation, however, was hid from view by carefully trained bushes at its lower extremity. This care had been taken to hide a secret passage, which led along the bank, under the table-leaf rock just described.
Duffel again took the precaution to cast wary looks about him, in all directions; then parting the bushes at its opening, he entered the secret passage under the rock and groped his way along. About midway, he came to a pillar-like rock, which entirely blocked up the path. Turning sharply to the left, he felt his way a short distance, and came to an aperture in the wall-like stone. Here he paused a moment, and bent his ear in a listening attitude; then gave three distinct raps upon some substance that filled up the gap.
"Who is there?" was demanded in a stern voice from within.
"A friend," was the reply.
"Death to traitors!"
And a massive door was thrown back, through which Duffel passed and found himself in a dimly-lighted and damp entrance-way, which pursuing for a short distance led him to a spacious cave, which was now brilliantly illuminated by many lights that were reflected from a thousand polished surfaces of crystalline rock. So soon as he entered, a sentinel-watchman, whose duty it was to proclaim the names of all new-comers, announced him thus:
"Welcome to the Secret Cave!
"Welcome is a brother brave!" was the greeting he received from a score of voices whose owners came forward and took him cordially by the hand.
Most of the band there assembled were rather good looking men; but there were a few dare-devil marked fellows, whose sinister countenances bore the imprint of crime and an expression of anything but honesty or goodness; hard-featured and hard-hearted, they had doubtless committed deeds entitling them to a familiar acquaintance with the halter.
Duffel had been in the cave but a short time, when the attention of all was arrested by the announcement:
"The captain! Let the brethren of the Secret League do him honor."
Every one present immediately uncovered his head and stood up, observing the most profound silence.
The captain did not enter at the place that had given ingress to Duffel, but made his appearance from an inner chamber, which communicated with the outer or large cave by a narrow passage between two pillars of rock. A door was nicely adjusted to work upon one and fasten upon the other of these pillars. When shut, the most experienced eye, unless by the closest scrutiny, could not detect its existence, so perfect was the workmanship, and so exactly perfect in match of color with the surrounding walls of the cavern. This inner room was set apart for the captain's special use, and no one dared to enter it, except by his permission or invitation. More of it hereafter.
The captain wore the same dress as the other genteel portion of the band, and there was nothing to distinguish him from the rest, except the military hat and epaulets which he wore, or omitted to wear, as circumstances or inclination dictated. As he advanced from the door of his chamber, he was respectfully saluted by all his followers, and then, by two officials, escorted to a carved seat, on a raised platform, at one end of the cave. There was very little form or ceremony used on ordinary occasions, as it was an established custom among the members of the Secret Clan to conduct all their affairs on the most republican plan. In certain cases, the captain's word was law, and the penalty of disobedience to it, death; but all the laws, rules, and regulations of the order were passed by a vote of the clan.
The captain himself was a full-sized and rather good looking man, with the exception of a sinister expression of countenance, which instantly conveyed the impression:—beware of him! Had Eveline been present, she would instantly have recognized him as the stranger whom she had seen and heard in conversation with Duffel.
After he had taken his seat, Duffel was placed in one at his right, and another of the staff in one at his left hand.
"Is there any unfinished business before the order to-night?" demanded the captain.
"None," replied an individual who acted as secretary.
"Any reports from committees?"
"I have one from the committee appointed to investigate the charge preferred against Mayhew, of treason to the order. It is brief, as follows: The committee, on whom was imposed the duty of investigating the charges entered against Philip Mayhew, beg leave to report, that they have had his case under strict advisement, and after a careful examination of all the evidence, and a patient hearing of his own allegations, found him guilty as charged. He will give the order no more trouble—his tongue is silenced!
"B. HUBBEL, Ch'n."
The report was accepted, and the committee discharged. No other written report was made, and the captain said:
"The secretary will burn the parchment containing the report just read, in the presence of all the brethren, that they may know nothing remains on record, which, under any possible contingency that might arise, could be used against them."
The paper was burned, as directed, in accordance with the usages of the order.
"What success have the brethren had in the way of business since our last meeting?"
"I have taken two horses," said one; "they are both in the stable of the order."
"I have taken one horse and fifty dollars," said another; and as he spoke, he walked up and laid down a pile of money on a salver, prepared for the purpose, in front of the captain. All moneys were placed there for distribution.
"Well done, Simon! How did you get the money? No foul play, I hope?"
"No, your honor; I was at Louisville, and saw the money paid to a 'subject.' I kept an eye on him, followed him into a crowd, and—put the money in my pocket."
This brief history of rascality brought smiles to the faces of all present.
"Here are five hundred dollars," said a third, bringing forward the cash; "it was won at the 'table.'"
Twenty others made similar reports, and when all the funds were handed over, there was more than seven thousand dollars for distribution and twenty horses in the "stable" of the clan.
"An unusually profitable month's work," said the captain, when this branch of the night's proceedings was finished. "I hope the brethren will not weary in their efforts. What other business have we to transact? Are there any cases of delinquency to report?"
"If your honor please," said one of the hard-featured fellows before mentioned, "I perceive Amos Duval is not with us to-night. Can any of the brethren give an excuse for his absence?"
In response to this inquiry, another of these ill-looking customers arose, and made known his belief, that the said Amos was not to be relied on—that, in his opinion, he was a traitor at heart, and would betray the order at the first opportunity.
"Are you aware," said the captain, "of the grave nature of the accusation you have made? Permit me to remind you, gentlemen, one and all, that it is made a crime by our laws, punishable by death, for one brother to accuse another falsely."
"I am well aware of our wholesome laws on this subject," said the insinuating accuser; "I do not charge Duval with being certainly disaffected, but I have my suspicions that all is not right, and suggest, that your honor and the brethren will do well to watch his movements. If in my over-zeal for the good of the order I go too far in this matter, I crave the forgiveness of the brethren."
"We appreciate your motives, but advise great care and the possession of very strong evidence of guilt, by the accuser, ere charges are preferred against a member of our order. The rule on this subject must and shall be enforced. Our worthy lieutenant, who often meets with our brother Duval, will see him and ascertain the cause of his absence, as, also, his feelings toward the order."
The captain was evidently not well pleased with the course pursued by these men in regard to Duval; most likely, he suspected there was a conspiracy between them, having its foundation on some ill will these desperadoes had conceived against the absentee. This was really the case, whatever were the leader's thoughts. The two had sworn to stand by each other, in all times of need and in all matters of rascality. Duval had unintentionally insulted one of them, hence the insinuation against him in the order. Perhaps their case will come up again in the course of our story. So soon as this matter was disposed of, the captain inquired:
"Are there any applications for admission into our order?"
"One, if you please," replied the secretary. "Abram Hurd wishes to become a member with us."
"Has he been adequately examined, as to his qualifications to be numbered with us?"
"He has, your honor, and the result is eminently satisfactory."
"Will the order pass upon the application of Abram Hurd?"
"The tellers will attend to their duty." Two men came forward; each received a box from the captain. One was empty; the other contained white and black balls. These boxes were passed to every member; that containing the balls first.
"White balls elect; black ones reject," said the captain.
When the voting was over, the result was announced: "All white."
"Abram Hurd is then elected to become a member of our order, and will be initiated at our next regular meeting. Let the brethren bear this in mind. Is there any other business to be transacted?"
"The order then stands adjourned until the first Friday night of next month."
After the adjournment of the clan, the members collected together in various little squads about the cave, and engaged in conversation, some in a loud, braggadocio, swaggering tone, others in low, murmuring voices, audible only to themselves, and still others in confidential whispers. Of those who have figured heretofore in the incidents of this story, we may mention the hard-featured, desperado-looking fellows who had conceived a dislike to Duval, as being very earnestly engaged in some matter among themselves, doubtless of a vile character; it would seem, too, from their manner, that others than themselves were not to be admitted into their counsels, or to know the nature of their scheme, be it what it might, for they kept casting wary glances about on all sides, as if with the intention of guarding their circle from intrusion, and their words from being heard by ears for which they were not intended. All the clan, however, were too busily engaged in concerns of their own, to notice others. This fact was observed by the ruffians, and they became less reserved and cautious in their movements. Had one been near them at the closing of their confab, he would have heard this fragment of a conversation among them:
"League or no League he's got to die!"
"Better be careful, or you'll have the cap'n down on you."
"—— the cap'n!"
"Beware what you say! that is treason!"
"Treason be it then! When Bill Mitchel says he'll do a thing he does it, and all the Leagues and captains in or out of h——l can't stop him!"
"Come, come! be cool and don't make a fool of yourself; it can all be done without so much bluster."
But, as we are not so deeply interested in the proceedings of these fellows as in some other of our characters, we will pass from them and their villainous plot, whatever it may be, and look after Duffel and the captain.
These two worthies had drawn aside, and were deeply absorbed in confidential intercourse. As their conversation is of considerable interest, we give a part of it:
"Well, Duffel, how is that affair with Miss Mandeville prospering?"
"Not so well as I could wish. The truth is I shall have a pretty hard time, if my suit wins at all."
"Indeed! I am sorry for that; for I was strongly in hopes of receiving a little assistance from you in the way of cash. I have been at great expense the past few months, and need a little aid just now, to finish the necessary fixtures for our south-western branch. You know it takes a mine to fit up a cave such as that was and is to be."
"I am really sorry that things have turned out as they have. I expected, when I mentioned this matter before, that ere this time I should have consummated the affair; but I am far less sanguine of success now than at any previous time. Mr. Mandeville favors my suit, but the daughter has taken a dislike to me and—"
"Ho, ho! I thought you were always victorious with the women."
"So I have been until now, and I am by no means vanquished yet, in this instance; but I have a rival in the way, one, too, that had possession of the citadel of her heart, ere I became a candidate for her hand; that makes a great difference, you know; then, to make the matter worse, I knew nothing about the state of the case until I had spent a length of time in wooing, all to no purpose, because of my ignorance. But enough of this. If worst comes to worst, rivals must be got out of the way."
"Be guarded there, Duffel; a resort to foul means must never be had until every other method has been 'tried and found wanting.' Remember that. One murder will do more against us than fifty thefts or robberies."
"I know all that, captain, and shall not peril the existence of our organization, or even the safety of one of its members, except necessity compels to the act; but I think there will be no need of adopting extreme measures in the present case. I have a different plan of operations marked out, which, with your assistance and approval, I will first act upon, and if it fails, then something else afterward."
"Well, proceed; I am all attention, and will not fail to render such assistance as shall be in my power, though you know my time is limited."
"I shall not draw upon you for much aid; an hour is all the time it will require for your part of the performance. But before you can appreciate the merits of my scheme, it is necessary that I should make some explanations. You remember the conversation we held in old Marshall's garden?"
"Well, it turned out that Miss Mandeville was in the arbor and overheard a part of what passed between us."
"The devil she did!"
"Yes, but only enough to excite her suspicions that there was something in the wind—nothing definite or satisfactory, so that we may consider ourselves safe on that score."
"But, between you and me, Duffel, I don't like these suspicions; they are apt to lead to something worse."
"True; but in this instance I think such will not be the result. However, I must be frank with you, and I hope, if I have gone too far in any point, you will pardon me, for I did the very best that could be done under the circumstances, I think. As I said, Miss Mandeville heard a few words that passed between us at the time referred to, and when, a short time afterward, her father urged upon her the propriety of accepting me as a suitor for her hand, she must needs tell him of this little incident!"
"Worse and worse!"
"Not so fast. I know it is bad, and I knew then that something of a decisive kind must be done in order to relieve myself from the dilemma into which this little untoward circumstance had placed me. I remembered that on that occasion you were somewhat disguised, so that in your natural state, or in any other disguise you might wish to assume, it would be impossible to identify you as the same individual. Well, after long deliberation, and the formation and abandonment of many projects, I finally had to settle upon one, which, in your then appearance, compromised your character to some degree; but I hope the course I pursued, notwithstanding this unpleasant part connected with it, will meet your entire and cordial approbation. Indeed, had I not felt certain of this, I should not have adopted the measures I did."
Here Duffel gave the captain a history of the events narrated in chapter second. When he finished his recital, the captain said:
"Why, Duffel, you are the very devil at a plot! I had no idea you could act the part so well—I shall certainly use you hereafter. But now for the rest of your scheme; if it is half as well matured as the first part, I shall certainly join you in it with all my heart."
"Well, you see, I have already deceived the old gentleman, but he must be kept deceived; it will not do to let first impressions wear off, or all will be lost. From all that I can learn, he is very tender toward his daughter since her illness, and it is not unlikely will yield to her wishes, if she recovers, more than he has done heretofore; but in order to keep his suspicions of Hadley excited, while he still retains his good opinion of your humble servant, his mind must be plied and his prejudices kept alive, so as to counteract the effect likely to be produced by a father's feelings for a suffering child. In other words, the growing sympathy for his daughter, must be met by a countervailing distrust and aversion toward Hadley. To accomplish this I have hit upon the following plan."
Here he drew the captain still further from the others, and, in low and smothered tones, imparted to him his scheme, which was no doubt a villainous one, as it drew from his auditor and confidant an exclamation to this effect:
"By my soul, Duffel, you are an adept in these matters! I never dreamed of your being so deep a plotter! The world and your friends, also, have done you injustice by not giving you credit for so ample a development of such rare ability to deceive. Success to your plans. I will gladly second them, as far as the part allotted to me is concerned, with a hearty good will. But what think you I had best do?"
"Taking everything into consideration, I think the best thing you can do for us all is to go down south, or to St. Louis, and remain for a length of time, perhaps till I send you word of what is transpiring in this part of the world."
"What will be done about our next meeting? You know we have an application on hand."
"Let the meeting be postponed; or, if you see fit, I will attend to the initiation in your absence. Choose yourself between the two measures."
"I will let you preside at the meeting, then; we have need of a few additions to our number, when we can find the right kind of fellows; and from all I can learn, this Hurd is made of the right stuff. See that everything is done strictly in order."
"I will attend to that. But had you not better announce this arrangement to the members present? They are all here yet, I believe."
In accordance with this suggestion, those of the clan present were notified of the captain's probable absence at their next meeting, and that Lieutenant Duffel would act in his place in the interim, to whom all reports must be made, and from whom all orders must emanate and be obeyed. After this was arranged, Duffel, who was highly pleased at the working of things, again drew his superior aside, and said:
"I have now a request to make of you, captain, which, if compatible with your wishes and convenience, I hope you will see fit to grant."
"I shall be most happy to grant anything in my power, be assured of that fact."
"I know your good will and generosity are great, or I should not ask the favor I am about to crave, which is, that you will allow me the use of your private room here during your absence. I have a particular reason for desiring this favor."
"I perceive so by your earnestness. I hardly know how to grant your request, without delaying my departure."
"Oh, never mind, then, I can manage to get along without it."
"No, you shall have it. I mind now of a method by which all necessary arrangements can be made to-night; and you may find it a very convenient place to tame some obstinate fair one. Oh, not a word; I understand these matters. Excuse me for a couple of hours, and I will bring you the key."
With these words, the captain went to his room, into which he had no sooner entered, than Duffel sought the presence of the desperadoes, two of whom—the ones that had taken a dislike to Duval—he engaged in conversation. When assured that no one was sufficiently near or attentive to hear what passed between them, he said:
"My good fellows, I see we are alone, and I should be pleased to have a little private and confidential conversation with you."
"We shall be happy to hear anything Lieutenant Duffel may be pleased to communicate, and feel highly flattered by his confidence," replied one of them, speaking for both.
"Thank you. I presume it is not necessary for me to pledge you to secrecy in regard to any transactions that may take place, either in word or deed, as you will feel bound by honor to look upon all confidential communications and proceedings as sacredly and faithfully to be kept in your own bosoms."
"You but do us justice in entertaining such opinions, and, without the asking on your part, we most solemnly pledge our word, even unto death, that what your honor may please to say to us shall be kept a most inviolable secret, which nothing shall extort from us."
"I have always found you faithful, and have no hesitation in trusting you again; but this time I have a peculiar request to make of you, one that may lead to business out of the ordinary line of operations to which you have been accustomed. Can I rely on you in any emergency?"
"Yes, to the very death."
"Are you easily moved by the tears and prayers of persons in distress?"
"Do we look tender-hearted, your honor?"
"Well, no; I can't say that you do; but then the looks are not always a true criterion by which to judge of the heart. A smooth face and a hard heart may go together, so may a rough visage and warm sympathies."
"You may rely on us in that particular."
"Even if the suppliant be a helpless and beautiful woman?"
"Well, I must confess, I don't fancy meddling with feminines much. What do you say to it, Dick; shall we pledge?"
"Dang the women! It allers looked kinder cowardly to me to see men turn agin' the weak things and abuse 'em; it don't seem nateral, but 'pears like a feller didn't remember his mother, or his sisters, if he had any. But if the lieutenant has any work to do, we'll do it, women or no women. Them's my sentiments, Bill, exactly."
"Give us your hand on it, then," said Bill. "And now, give us yours, lieutenant, and the thing's settled."
With this, they all shook hands in token of agreement, and thus their faith was pledged. But what a rebuke Dick inadvertently administered to Duffel in his quaint remarks! How his vicious heart, bad as it was, must have felt the blow, and all the more severely that it came from such a source! However, the villain was not to be turned from his purpose, and so, pocketing the unintentional affront, he proceeded:
"As you have already heard, our most worthy captain will be absent on important business for some time to come, and during the period of his absence the duties of command will devolve on me. I have long been contemplating a measure, which, if carried out, will be of great and lasting benefit to our order. In order to conduct the affair to a successful termination, it may become necessary to imprison a female, a young lady of great beauty and accomplishments, in this cave. I do not know that it will require such extreme measures as this, I hope it will not, but should it become needful to go to this extreme, I shall desire your aid in carrying her off."
"We'll be with you, as we have already pledged ourselves; but we must ask, as a favor in return, that you allow us to settle a personal affair with Amos Duval."
"Of what nature? You know he is a member of the League, and that it is a crime to lift a hand against him."
"We know all about that; but Duval is a traitor at heart, and we can prove him such."
"Then proceed against him in the order, and I will stand by you."
"That's just what we want; first to prove him worthy of death by our laws, and secondly, to be allowed to execute the sentence pronounced against him."
Duffel could not but see that there was a discrepancy between the first and last request of these fellows, though they tried to make them appear as one, and he knew there was personal enmity at the bottom of the whole affair. His duty, as a member of the order, made it obligatory for him to discourage any ill feeling among the members; but he needed the services of these two rascals, and so forbore to reprove them.
"I will aid you as far as my duty to the League will permit, provided you will do me still another service."
"There is a fellow standing in my way in the prosecution of a scheme for the benefit of our order, and I would like to have him removed. I understand you with regard to Duval; you wish to be revenged upon him for some injury or insult, and that revenge looks to his death. You need not say, yea or nay; well, we will stand by each other all around. I will give you further instructions at another time. Hold yourselves in readiness at any moment to aid me. Meet me in the forest by the old oak, on the path to the 'Swamp,' every day, and be always prepared for either of the services I may require at your hands."
"You may rely on us."
Thus these worthies parted. What a series of villainous conspiracies had been developed in this one night, in that secret den of iniquity! Will these murderers succeed in all their plans? Alas! the wicked often triumph.
The captain soon returned, and placed the key of his room in Duffel's possession—and then the clan dispersed.
"Charles, Charles! Where is Charles?"
This name and inquiry were often repeated by Miss Mandeville as she still lay "between life and death," on her couch of fever, pain and unconsciousness, and the tones of her voice were so full of sorrow, the father's heart melted at last, and he began to relent. And when, after a pause, his daughter would continue:
"He is gone! gone!—gone forever!—ah, my poor heart!"—in accents more sadly plaintive than any words that had over fallen upon the parent's ear, he said to himself:
"It must not be! Hadley shall be, sent for; she loves him, and his voice may call her back to consciousness. I cannot bear to think of her leaving the world in ignorance of her father's good will; better a thousand times that Hadley should be with her for a few hours. He may not be guilty after all. Why ought I to believe Duffel's word before his? Yes, and before that of my own daughter, too? and that without a word of explanation! No, it is unnatural. I wonder I have been blinded so long! Yes, Hadley shall be heard, and if he can show a clean hand, Eveline shall no longer mourn over his absence and my rashness."
This was going a step farther than Mr. Mandeville had ever gone before: for he had never been known to recede from a position once taken or to change an opinion once formed, unless the most positive evidence compelled him to do so, and then it was a silent acquiescence to the right rather than a willing change of opinion.
But a long continuance in the sick room, and the great distress of his child, had had an effect upon his mind, which no amount of reasoning could have produced—he was constrained to acknowledge himself in error, and brought his mind up to that point where he was willing to confess the wrong he had perpetrated, by "undoing what he had done amiss." This was a great achievement for one of his temperament—a conquest over self in a very selfish and stubborn nature—which gave evidence that there was yet an under strata of good, a foundation to the character of the man, which, though covered up by the rubbish and rank growth of pride and other unamiable dispositions, still existed, and was capable of exciting to good and noble deeds.
Having once gained the consent of his mind and formed a resolution to retract, he was not long in taking the initiatory step toward amendment.
He inquired of the maid and nurse if Hadley had been seen, and learned from them that he had been in the daily practice of asking after the condition of Eveline, and that for this purpose he came to a certain designated spot, where one of the two met him to impart such information as he desired. No sooner was Mr. Mandeville put in possession of this piece of news, than he resolved to meet Hadley at the place of conference himself, and then and there recall his words and invite him to the house, from which he had been excluded so unjustly. Verily this was a change!
Acting upon this resolve, he walked out in the direction of the place where Hadley was expected to make his appearance. As he leisurely sauntered down the path and neared the spot, his eye fell upon a piece of paper folded up in the shape of a letter. He picked the document up and examined it. It was directed in a bold hand to
"Charles Hadley, —— ——, ——."
On the back of the letter and above the seal were the words: "Private and strictly confidential," placed in such a manner as to catch the eye at a first glance on either side of the letter. The seal was broken and the letter bore ample evidences of having been carefully and repeatedly read.
An irresistable desire to examine the contents of this paper took possession of Mr. Mandeville, and in spite of the breach of good manners, and the violation of every principle of honor, he retired to an obscure corner of his garden, opened and read so much of the epistle as was intelligible to him, which ran as follows:
"Dear Hadley:—According to agreement, as entered into by us at our conference in old Marshall's garden, I now impart to you the following information, which you will receive at the hands of one of our most trustworthy associates. You will please note the contents of this communication, so as not to fail in the execution of that part of the transaction assigned to you, and then burn the letter immediately, that you may prevent the possibility of its falling into other hands, which would lead to the most disastrous consequences—perhaps to the destruction of our organization. When taken, bring the horses at once to the rendezvous, with such other valuables as may come in your possession; and be sure that everything is done secretly, and in such a manner as to avoid detection. Be bold and determined in resolution, but cautious and guarded in action. Yours, —— ——, Capt."
The captain's name was written in characters, as well as all the body of the letter, which Mr. Mandeville did not understand, and which were evidently to be intelligible only to the members of some band of villains, by whom the signs had been adopted as mediums of communication. At the bottom of all was a line to this effect:
"P.S. What will the old man say when he is gone? It will be using him right for the scaly trick he served you so recently; eh!"
What a change the perusal of this document brought about in the mind of Mr. Mandeville! The softened expression of benevolence, which had lit up his countenance with a glow, left it in a moment. A dark frown settled upon his brow and clouds of blackness over his face.
All his former prejudice against Hadley returned in ten-fold strength; for had he not the most positive proof of his villainy? Not a moment longer waited he for an interview, but with the letter carefully stowed away in a side pocket for future reference and use, he bent his steps back to his house, revolving in his mind how to proceed in the present emergency. That some great scheme of theft and robbery had been planned, with a design to be speedily executed, was evident from the contents of the letter; but where and when the act or acts were to be committed, it was impossible to tell, and consequently, a very difficult matter to decide upon a course of policy likely to thwart the designs of the rogues. After much reflection, Mr. Mandeville concluded it was best to lay the case before the magistrate and take legal advice how to proceed He did so. In a private conference with that functionary, they talked over the matter. The justice was a worthy man and a friend to Hadley, and though the evidence was overwhelming and nearly positive of his guilt, yet he could not find it in his heart to condemn the young man without a hearing, and was equally unable to get the consent of his mind to make the matter public, thereby injuring the reputation of his friend, until he could see and converse with him on the subject. He advised Mr. Mandeville thus:
"I think the best thing we can do is to keep an eye on the movements of this young man, Hadley, as well as upon others who may be associated with him, if he is the villain he is here made to appear. If we institute proceedings against him, we have only this letter to rely upon, which is not sufficient to convict him, as there is no legible name at the bottom of it, and no witness to corroborate the statements. If he is guilty, premature action will give him all advantages, and enable him to clear himself; whereas, by instituting a strict surveillance over his acts, we may be able to get at the truth of the matter, and can then act understandingly in the case."
Mr. Mandeville coincided with the magistrate, and then they agreed to keep the matter strictly to themselves for the present.
"Shall I retain the letter?" inquired the justice.
"No, I wish to use it, first, and will then leave it with you," was the reply—and thus the matter was settled between them.
While the events just related were transpiring, and at the very hour when Mr. Mandeville was consulting the man of law, Duffel was engaged with his two ruffian associates in a plot of villainy, which, for deep cunning and calculation, was superior to anything he had yet conceived and carried out, though it was but a link in the chain of criminal acts he had forged out and was about to follow up. The two held their consultation in the tongueless and earless solitude of a dense swamp, where none could hear their words or learn the purport of their schemes and give warning.
"You understand about the horses, do you?" queried Duffel, after he had been explaining some intended operation, in which horses were to be stolen.
"Yes, fully," was the reply.
"Well, the horses will be missed, and, of course, it will be known that somebody has taken them. I have a measure to propose which will throw suspicion on the wrong track and relieve us from any fear of being charged with the theft or even suspected of guilt."
"That's the sort! do the killing and get the halter around some other rascal's neck. Let us hear your proposition, lieutenant."
"You have not forgotten that I mentioned to you in the cave the other evening, that I might need your services in getting rid of a troublesome fellow who was in my way. I did not then expect to need your services so soon, if at all, in this branch of our agreement; but, as the horse business is agreed upon, and as the fellow may possibly be something of a hindrance to my plans of operation in the future, I think this will be a first-rate occasion on which to dispose of him. As I said, somebody will be accused of stealing the horses, and as it is known that you, gentlemen, have recently been in these parts, and as suspicion has long since pointed to you as having had a hand in several transactions held to be unlawful, you will, as a matter of certainty, be designated as the thieves in this instance, unless, by some master-stroke of policy, you can fairly show that you are not guilty. Do you see this?"
"It all looks mighty likely, certain."
"Don't it look more than likely? Don't it look just as if it could not be otherwise?"
"Why, yes; it does look so, that's a fact."
"Of course you would like to cast the blame somewhere else?"
"We would, that's certain."
Well, you can do it. I have already prepared the way, and if you will follow my instructions to the letter, the thing is done?"
"Give us our parts and we will act them to the life," said Bill, who had been spokesman for both, as was usual at such times.
"Ay," said Dick, "and to the death, too, I guess."
"Quite likely, quite likely!" rejoined Duffel. "Do you think you will have the nerve to perform this extreme act Should it become necessary?"
"Does Lieutenant Duffel take us to be cowards, that he makes such a white-livered insinuation?"
"By no means; I only wished to know if you were now prepared for any emergency that might come up?"
"Yes, any time and always. Go on."
"My plan is this: So soon as the horses are in our possession, we must convey them to the middle of the 'Swamp,' and be back by morning, or noon at furthest, and show ourselves. If we are about early, say as soon as possible after the animals are missed, and take part in the search, few, if any, will think of us as being the thieves, as they are pleased to term such operators, while we can, at the same time, turn the hunt after the horses in the direction in which they are not to be found, if we can do so without exciting suspicions of our aims. Mark that! we must be cautious and not overdo the thing, or it will be worse for us than to do nothing."
"Well, that is all on that point; but there is something more to be done; we must direct suspicion to some one else; some one must be accused, and he must not be about. You comprehend?"
"Well, I have the sheep already prepared for the sacrifice."
"Who is he, and where will we find him?"
"Charles Hadley is the man, and you will find him just in the right place—the dark passage in the road to C——; he passes that point every night about nine or ten o'clock. You know what to do with him."
"Would it not be as well to carry him to the save and imprison him? You know, it would not be murder, then."
"I had thought of that; but if we take him there, it will not do to let him out again, for, if we did, it would be the end of us all; so we should have to both imprison and murder him in the end, which would be much worse than to put him out of the way at once, let alone the risk attending the plan you suggest."
"You see, then, we will have some one on whom to lay the theft?"
"Exactly! Huzza for Lieutenant Duffel!"
"I beg pardon."
"Remember the time, next Thursday night, and don't fail to be at the 'dark passage' in time."
"We'll be there, don't fear; and the thing shall be done up handsomely."
"But what's to be done with the feller's body when he's dead, I'd like to know?" interposed Dick.
"Sure enough," replied Duffel; "I had forgotten to instruct you on that point. Take him to the sink in that black swamp, and be sure to make him stay under. We want no tell-tale carcasses showing themselves."
"You need have no fears on that point; once there and he'll never see the light again, nor the light him."
"I will now leave you to make such arrangements between yourselves as may be necessary for the work before you. Leave nothing incomplete, and be punctual to the very minute in every instance."
With this parting injunction, Duffel left his villainous companions, who began at once to prepare themselves for the dastardly business their superior had allotted to them in his schemes of rascality and black-hearted crime. This was Monday, in the afternoon, and consequently, but three days until Hadley was to be waylaid and slain, and immediately afterward somebody's horses stolen and run off, the crime of stealing which was to be laid upon the murdered man. This was a plot worthy of the wretch who conceived it, and, with the aid of villains as unscrupulous as himself, was about to be put in execution.
From the moment the command of the "Order of the League of Independents" (it ought have been named the Order of the League of Murderers and Horse-Thieves) was vested in him, during the captain's absence, he had resolved to make the most of his time and authority to bring all his plans to a crisis and an issue. Hadley was to be disposed of; Mandeville was to be blinded, his daughter, through him, forced to wed the rascal, or, failing in this, she was to be forced into measures, by fair means or foul, of which hereafter.
* * * * *
Friday morning was ushered in amid clouds and storm. The heavens were shrouded in a pall of darkness and the rain came down in torrents. Mr. Mandeville had spent most of the night with his daughter, and did not retire until some hours past midnight. Having been deprived of so much rest, during the previous two weeks and more, his slumbers were unusually heavy, and it was a late hour in the morning when he awoke, and the dismal weather adding to his drowsiness, he continued to lay and rest after consciousness had returned. His half-waking, half-dreaming meditations were broken in upon by a gentle tap at his bed-room door. In a moment he was wide awake, care for his child having quickened his senses, and demanded if Eveline was any worse.
"No, sir," was the reply, "it is only Mr. Duffel, who has called and inquired for you."
"Tell him I will be down in a few minutes."
Wondering what could bring his visitor at such an early hour, Mr. Mandeville hastily dressed and went into the parlor, where he met and was saluted by Duffel in the most cordial manner.
"I reached home at a late hour last night," said the hypocrite, "and felt so great an anxiety to hear from you and your daughter, I could not wait for the storm to abate, but hastened at this unseasonable hour to inquire after her welfare and yours. I hope I have not intruded so far but that you will pardon my unfashionable call and seeming impatience. How is Eveline?"
"You are always welcome, come at what hour you may. I can hardly answer your last question; I think Eveline is better in some respects, but she is greatly reduced, and when the fever leaves, will, doubtless, be very weak.—I both hope and fear for her. The fever will run its course, and if she has constitution enough to outlive it and recuperate, she will recover; otherwise the result will be fatal."
"It is impossible, then, for the most skillful and far-seeing to foretell the issue?"
"Quite impossible. Will you now excuse me for a short time? I have not looked after my stock this morning."
Mr. Mandeville left his guest around whose mouth a peculiar smile was playing as he passed out at the door. That smile had a meaning.
After a brief absence the host returned, and in some consternation announced that his best horse had been stolen during the night.
"Is it possible!" said Duffel, feigning the utmost surprise. "What villain could take advantage of the sickness of your daughter, to plan and execute such a cowardly act?"
"I am persuaded there are more than one connected with these thefts; indeed, I may say, I know there are numbers of thieves infesting the country. They are regularly banded together; and, would you believe it, that Hadley, of whom we were once speaking, is an officer in the band, as I have every reason to believe."
"That will exactly correspond with what I told you in the interview to which you allude."
"Have you seen him lately?"
"I have not."
"Can he be found this morning?"
"Ah, I perceive your thoughts are running in the same direction as my own. We will inquire after him."
The inquiries were instituted, but no Hadley was to be found; he had left the day previous, but no one could tell whither he had gone, or what had called him away. When these facts were ascertained, Mandeville and Duffel exchanged a significant glance, as much as to say: "Just as we expected!"
The horse stolen was one of great value, and Mr. Mandeville was resolved to make a desperate effort to recover him; and he was the more fixed in this determination, because the horse was intended as a gift to Eveline on her recovery, in case she did recover, and, also, because, as he believed, the detection of the culprit would expose the baseness of her lover to his daughter, and cause her to discard him at once from her thoughts.—Full of these thoughts, he offered a handsome reward for the horse, and a very large one for the apprehension of the thief. In prospect of obtaining these rewards, as well as to render a service to community, some six individuals banded themselves together with the avowed intention of ferreting out the matter, and immediately set out for that purpose.
FATHER AND DAUGHTER—DUFFEL.
A few days after the transactions recorded in the preceding chapter, the fever left Eveline, and consciousness was restored to its empire and reason to its throne. But alas! what a wreck of her former self she was! Mr. Mandeville could scarcely restrain his tears while gazing upon her pallid countenance and wasted form. She was helpless as a child, and so weak it was feared the recuperative powers were exhausted, and she must die from prostration; but a day or two of careful nursing, aided by cordials and tonics, produced a change for the better, and in the course of ten days, she was able to walk in the open air and happy sunshine, supported by her father. How lightly his heart beat in his bosom, as the child of his pride and affection leaned upon his arm, as he gently led her whither she desired to go.
She had a little arbor in the garden, the vines about which had been carefully trained by her own hands; it had always been a favorite resort, and of late had become a thousand times more dear, because it was there that she and Hadley had spent most of their happy hours. So soon as she had sufficient strength to bear the fatigue, she requested to be taken there, and her wish was granted. What a throng of memories came crowding through her mind as she once more sat in that verdant bower! Every flower had a tongue and a reminiscence, and the entire place and scene spoke of the past in language mute but eloquent. How her heart beat with excitement, as the many associations of other days rushed over her spirit with the lightening wings of thought, and awakened emotions of joy and grief. While with the past she was happy; but when the cheerless present occupied her mind, sadness filled her heart, while shadows gathered upon her brow, and tears in her eyes.
The father saw all this, for he watched the changes of her countenance with the deepest solicitude. When he noted the saddened expression that came over it, his heart was heavy, for he divined the cause. How his feeling of bitterness toward Hadley increased, as he saw the wreck of happiness he had made; and how he longed to expose the blackness of his character to his infatuated daughter! He felt certain that his child would cease to regard him as she had done, the moment she was put in possession of the facts which so clearly established his guilt. But it would cost her a severe struggle, and he feared she was yet too weak to sustain the shock.
At length, however, as he perceived that internal grief was preying upon her spirits, it occurred to him that the evil resulting from this eating sorrow, which was brooded over in secret, would be greater in the end than the quick pang, though it should be sharp and powerful for an hour or a day. Approaching her affectionately, and with great tenderness of manner, he said:
"You are sad, Eveline; you are not happy, I know you are not; and yet you do not confide your sorrow to me. Is this kind, my dear?"
"Oh, father!" and she burst into tears. He drew her head upon his bosom, and for a short period permitted sorrow to have its way, then inquired:
"May I share my daughter's grief?"
"Father, father, do not wound my heart afresh! I fear me now it will never heal!"
"Eveline, child, you misunderstand me. God forbid that I should add to your sorrow; my only desire is to relieve and heal!"
"May I indeed trust in my father? Oh, what a question to ask myself! Yet—"
"Yet what? Speak fully, and let us for once open our hearts to each other without reserve."
"Yet I fear I have had cause to make the inquiry."
"I fear so too, my dear; but let us now understand each other. I hope much from such an understanding."
"What would you draw from me?"
"The secret of your unhappiness."
"Do you not know it already?"
"I surmise the cause."
"And you think—"
"I fear it is because you love Charles Hadley."
"Why do you fear that is the cause?"
"Because he is unworthy of your love."
"Oh, do not say so! Is poverty a mark of unworthiness?"
"No, it is not; if he was only poor I would give my consent to your union to-day; but I am sorry to say he is wicked as well as poor."
"What mean you? You surely can allege nothing against one so noble, and possessed of such pure principles, as Charles Hadley?"
"Alas, my daughter, he has basely deceived you."
"I would not say so on slight grounds, but it is too sadly true."
"I must have proof, strong proof, ere I can believe that he is false."
"Could you bear such an exposure?"
"Then you shall have the evidence of his guilt at once."
Saying this, he produced the letter before spoken of, and placed it in her hands for perusal.
It would be impossible to describe Eveline's feelings while examining the contents of the letter. At first, the evidence appeared so conclusive and overwhelming her strong faith in her lover was shaken; but a second reading and second thoughts restored her confidence, yet she could hardly account for the change in her feelings and judgment, the evidence was just as strong as before, and she could not help acknowledging the fact; she only knew that she felt Hadley was innocent; and she would trust this intuitive conviction in preference to any anonymous communication that could be produced against him. But what should she say to her parent? How could she impress him with her own feelings, or even fix a doubt of Hadley's guilt in his mind? While she was revolving these things in her mind, Mr. Mandeville kept his eye upon her, and noted every change of expression that passed over her face. At length he said: