- CHAPTER XXVI. TRAGIC RETRIBUTION.
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MARK was greatly troubled at the revelation made so unconsciously to him by Professor Römer. It was impossible to doubt this evidence of the wickedness of the woman who had been his father's wife, and now that the thread of disentanglement had been given into his hands he saw many circumstances in a new aspect to confirm its truth. he remembered the remarks made at the time of his father's death; of Major Flanoy's sudden death; of Chicora's long illness, with its strange, remittent character; his own illness under his stepmother's care; and Mark groaned and shuddered at the fearful atmosphere of crime which surrounded that woman, and in which he, with so many others, had been unconsciously living. Gazing at the spray of pea-blossoms, he wondered at the blindness of himself and of every one else. They might have read | | 229 about these plants in a hundred books in his grandfather's library--materia medicas, that they had in their hands every day. He got down several; yes, there it was, the description of this lathyrus sativus. Why, any child would have known it.
He rang the bell and told Lizbette to send Cherokee Joe to him. Lizbette said "Joe had left at daybreak, and had said he was going to the Nation and would not be back soon again."
Mark was driven back to communings with his own unquiet soul. What was he to do? Expose this woman? or what? She was his father's widow; his father whom she had very probably murdered! She was a female Thug; she was a malignant and poison-breathing creature, who struck in the dark at the very highest and noblest. Yet she was Panola's aunt by the half-blood. Panola! how glad he was that Panola was away from under that pernicious influence which would have not hesitated to attack even her sweet, pure life. What was he to do?
Mark asked himself the question every minute. Would it be best to tell his grandfather or not? Should he see the wretched woman privately and tell her how he had discovered her crimes? If he did, and she were to go away, would it not be to carry death and evil wherever she did go? Mark was of a pitiful nature, but he recognized the absolute necessity of human beings destroying all | | 230 poisonous serpents and serpent-like creatures. Man is obliged to kill them, else they exist only to do evil.
In regard to his own condition Mark had made inquiries, not only from Professor Römer, but in all the books he could find that touched on the subject; there was no known cure for the effects produced by the poisonous pea. he had probably taken very little, not enough to produce the rigidity of the muscles, which was the full effect of the plant. He had probably only received a dose or so as an experiment and test of the power of the plant. Still, it made him snore hopeless than. ever of his regaining the use of his limbs. Poor Chicora! oh, it was inexpressibly horrible to think of!
Professor Römer departed on the following day, with his trunk filled with specimens, a very happy man, and Mark sat brooding in his chair, most miserable. He had been sitting for hours lost in thought, when he saw a man gallop swiftly up to the door in a very excited manner, who called loudly for Docteur Canonge. His grandfather went out, exchanged a few words with the man, then with a gesture full of horror the old docteur put his hat on his head, mounted the man's horse, and rode away rapidly, leaving the man to follow on foot or as he could. The docteur's horse was grazing in a pasture some little distance off from the house. The man remained talking violently to Lizbette, who listened, | | 231 showing by her pantomime that she was greatly agitated; but at last the man went away, and Lizbette came into Mark with a face full of terror and excitement.
"Oh! master Mark, there's the dreadfullest thing has happened! Poor Madame Bolling! she was well and up at dinner-time, at two o'clock this day, and now she is lying dead on her bed with her neck broke, and nobody knows anything about it! She was walking on the verandah when the servants saw her last. They were all in the kitchen and the back part of the house, and at sun-down, when the maid went to her mistress' room to fix the bed, there was Madame Bolling lying dead, her head hanging over the side of the bed, as if somebody had throwed her on it. There wasn't no sign of scuffling on the bed or in the room. She was killed on the gallery and then brought in and flung on the bed. There was a tiny stream of drops of blood all the way from the banisters of the gallery to her room. Her head was flung back as if some one had just forced it back with his hand until it snapped. There ain't no sign of a weapon, and no bruises or marks about her, and there ain't no tracks of a man neither, but then it is grass lawn all around the verandah, and that wouldn't show no footprints, nohow. O Lord! what a country to live in! with wars and fightings and murders and starvation on all sides of us!"| | 232
This was all Lizbette knew. Mark had to wait until his grandfather returned for further intelligence. The old docteur was very much excited. He confirmed Lizbette's account. This murder had been done in open daylight, and in a house full of servants, and yet no cry for aid had escaped the victim. It was most mysterious. Mrs. Smith and some of the neighbors were there now. Everything had been done, but Madame Bolling was dead.
Mark now told his grandfather about the lathyrus sativus, and all he suspected. The old man was overcome with surprise and horror; suspicion flashed across his mind.
"Where was Cherokee Joe? No one had seen him. for two days past. He was gone to the Nation," everybody said.
Madame Bolling was buried; a marble slab was put over her grave, which nearly covered it, but Mark, driving past there one day, long afterward, saw that the marble slab was nearly concealed from view by the twining, twisting, climbing vines of the poison-pea. Who had planted them so thickly upon that grave? It was matted with the plant. Mark knew but two persons who were likely to have done this: old Nana for love, Cherokee Joe for hatred.
Joe did not return from the Nation. "He had gone out on the Western prairies," some of his people said; but an empty purse of deerskin was picked up near the gate of the little churchyard. Lizbette | | 233 said that it was "Joe's purse," and she gave it to Indian Molly, who received it in stolid silence.
"Joe been here lately?" asked Lizbette.
"Joe gone to Nation," replied Molly, laconically.
"What you think about Madame Bolling's death?" asked Lizbette, curiously.
"Ah-skeen-er," laconically replied Molly.
"Where are goin', Molly?" asked Lizbette. "I see you've got your pusscoos strapped on your back, and all those baskets. Those are very pretty baskets. What will you take for that fanner?"
Lizbette was always ready to make a bargain. The "fanner," a large, flat basket, made of very finely split-cane, woven double, was indeed a beautiful work of Indian art, being extremely fine in the plaiting, and very tastefully ornamented with colored borders of red and black dyed splits of the reed. Molly unstrapped the baskets and sat herself down on the ground, ready for a trade. Her "pusscoos" blinked its bright-black eyes when Lizbette chucked it under the chin.
"That pusscoos is the very image of Joe," said Lizbette "Wait, I'll give you a flannel gown for it: bran new red flannel, and a piece of sugar, too. What will you take for the fanner, Molly?"
Molly held up her hand with the thumb bent into the palm.
"Four bits," she said.
"Four bits! That's too much."| | 234
"Fanner vely fine," said Molly; "plenty work to make him."
"But that's too much," argued Lizbette; "I'll give you three bits and a new handkerchief, red and blue--see!"
Molly shook her head, smiling: "No."
"Well, then, three bits and a new tin-cup." Molly laughed, and repeated her head-shaking of refusal: "No."
"Well, then, three bits and the tin-cup and a bottle of whiskey," said Lizbette.
Molly laughed, with her mouth wider open than ever, showing all her white teeth, but she nodded her head in acquiescence.
"I thought you would," said Lizbette. "Indians does love whiskey-well, I like a little myself sometimes, when I have a misery in my inwards. Molly, wait till I go into the house after the things."
Lizbette turned back from the gate, where this colloquy had taken place, and re-entered the house, whence she soon emerged bearing the bottle of whiskey, the tin-cup, the red flannel and the sugar for the "pusscoos." Molly untied the fanner, and then selecting one of her very prettiest baskets, fitted for holding eggs, she laid it inside the farmer and handed both to Lizbette. "Pusscoos give you this," she said.
Lizbette thanked her heartily, and untying her | | 235 own necklace of yellow beads, she added that to the parcel for Molly. Lizbette was very generous, though she liked to trade and beat down prices of things.
"Tankee, Lizbette," said Molly. "Bye, Lizbette, I'm goin' to Nation."
"Good-bye, Molly; good-bye, pusscoos."
"That was a good bargain," remarked Lizbette to herself; "them baskets is worth at least two dollars, specially the fanner. That little pusscoos' eyes are jist like a coon's, they is so bright and so fierce-lookin'!"
"Ah-skeen-er, indeed; it's always ah-skeen-er with Injins! and no satisfaction with them. Ah-skeen-er! I believe it is 'ah-Joe' and 'ah-Cherokee' myself! Injins is so deceitful! That fanner is a real beauty, sure."
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