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- The Hallam Succession - 40/43 -
But Richard declined to make exchanges just there, especially as they could see Phyllis curiously watching their approach. In another moment she had given Sam Houston to a negro nurse, flung a sunbonnet on her head, and was tripping to the gate to meet them.
"O how glad I am, Elizabeth! I knew you the minute I saw the tip of your hat, Richard! And this is Harry Hallam! Come in, come in; come with ten thousand welcomes!"
What a merry household it was! What a joyous, plentiful, almost out-of-doors meal was ready in half an hour! And then, as soon as the sun set, Phyllis said, "Now, if you are not tired, we will go and surprise John. He is to speak to-night, and I make a point of listening to him, in the capitol."
Richard and Elizabeth were pleased with the proposal; but Harry desired to stay with young Millard. The boys had fraternized at once,--what good boys do not? especially when there are ponies and rabbits and puppies and pigeons to exhibit, and talk about.
Phyllis had matured into a very beautiful woman, and Richard was proud of both his sister and his wife, when he entered the Texas capitol with them. It was a stirring scene he saw, and certainly a gathering of manhood of a very exceptional character. The lobbies were full of lovely, brilliant women; and scattered among them;--chatting, listening, love-making--was many a well-known hero, on whose sun-browned face the history of Texas was written. The matter in dispute did not much interest Elizabeth, but she listened with amusement to a conversation between Phyllis and pretty Betty Lubbock about the latter's approaching wedding, and her trip to the "States."
In the middle of a description of the bridal dress, there fell upon her ears these words: "A bill for the relief of the Millard Rangers." She looked eagerly to see who would rise. It was only a prosy old man who opposed the measure, on the ground that the State could not afford to protect such a far-outlying frontier.
"Perish the State that cannot protect her citizens!" cried a vehement voice from another seat, and, forthwith leaped to his feet Captain John Millard. Elizabeth had never seen him, but she knew, from Phyllis's sudden silence, and the proud light in her face, who it was. He talked as he fought, with all his soul, a very Rupert in debate, as he was in battle. In three minutes all whispering had ceased; women listened with full eyes, men with glowing cheeks; and when he sat down the bill was virtually passed by acclamation. Phyllis was silently weeping, and not, perhaps, altogether for the slaughtered women and children on the frontier; there were a few proud, happy tears for interests nearer home.
Then came John's surprise, and the happy ride home, and many and many a joyful day after it--a month of complete happiness, of days devoid of care, and filled with perfect love and health and friendship, and made beautiful with the sunshine and airs of an earthly paradise.
Phyllis's home was a roomy wooden house, spreading wide, as every thing does in Texas, with doors and windows standing open, and deep piazzas on every side. Behind it was a grove of the kingly magnolia, in front the vast shadows of the grand pecans. Greenest turf was under them; and there was, besides, a multitude of flowers, and vines which trailed up the lattices of the piazzas, and over the walls and roofs, and even dropped in at the chamber windows.
There was there, also, the constant stir of happy servants, laughing and singing at their work, of playing children, of trampling horses, of the coming and going of guests; for Captain Millard's house was near a great highway, and was known far and wide for its hospitality. The stranger fastened his horse at the fence, and asked undoubtingly for a cup of coffee, or a glass of milk, and Phyllis had a pleasant word and a cheerful meal for every caller; so that John rarely wanted company when he sat in the cool and silence of the evening. It might be a ranger from the Pecos, or a trader from the Rio Grande, or a land speculator from the States, or an English gentleman on his travels, or a Methodist missionary doing his circuit; yea, sometimes half a dozen travelers and sojourners met together there, and then they talked and argued and described until the "night turned," and the cocks were crowing for the dawning.
Richard thoroughly enjoyed the life, and Elizabeth's nature expanded in it, as a flower in sunshine. What gallops she had on the prairies! What rambles with Phyllis by the creek sides in search of strange flowers! What sweet confidences! What new experiences! What a revelation altogether of a real, fresh, natural life it was! And she saw with her own eyes, and with a kind of wonder, the men who had dared to be free, and to found a republic of free men in the face of nine million Mexicans--men of iron wills, who under rude felt hats had the finest heads, and under buckskin vests the warmest hearts. Phyllis was always delighted to point them out, to tell over again their exploits, and to watch the kindling of the heroic fire in Elizabeth's eyes.
It was, indeed, a wonderful month, and the last day of it was marked by a meeting that made a deep impression upon Elizabeth. She was dressing in the afternoon when she heard a more than usually noisy arrival. Looking out of the window she saw a man unsaddling his horse, and a crowd of negroes running to meet him. It seemed, also, as if every one of John's forty-two dogs was equally delighted at the visit. Such a barking! Such a chorus of welcome! Such exclamations of satisfaction it is impossible to describe. The new-comer was a man of immense stature, evidently more used to riding than to walking. For his gait was slouching, his limbs seemed to dangle about him, and he had a lazy, listless stoop, as he came up the garden with his saddle over his arm listening to a score of voices, patting the dogs that leaped around and upon him, stopping to lift up a little negro baby that had toddled between his big legs and fallen, and, finally, standing to shake hands with Uncle Isaac, the patriarch of The Quarters. And as Uncle Isaac never--except after long absences--paid even "Master John" the honor of coming to meet him, Elizabeth wondered who the guest could be.
Coming down stairs she met Harriet in her very gayest head-kerchief and her white-embroidered apron, and her best-company manner: "De minister am come, Miss Lizzie--de Rev. Mr. Rollins am 'rived; and de camp-meetin' will be 'ranged 'bout now. I'se powerful sorry you kaint stay, ma'am."
"Where does Mr. Rollins come from?"
"De Lord knows whar. He's at de Rio Grande, and den 'fore you can calc'late he's at de Colorado."
"He appears to be a great favorite."
"He's done got de hearts ob ebery one in his right hand; and de dogs! dey whimper after him for a week; and de little children! he draw dem to him from dar mammy's breast. Nobody's never seed sich a man!"
He was talking to John when Elizabeth went on the gallery, and Harry was standing between his knees, and Dick Millard leaning on his shoulder. Half a dozen of the more favored dogs were lying around him, and at least a dozen negro children were crawling up the piazza steps, or peeping through the railings. He was dressed in buckskin and blue flannel, and at first sight had a most unclerical look. But the moment he lifted, his face Elizabeth saw what a clear, noble soul looked out from the small twinkling orbs beneath his large brows. And as he grew excited in the evening's conversation, his muscles nerved, his body straightened, and he became the wiry, knotted embodiment of calm power and determination.
"We expected you two weeks ago," said John to him.
"There was work laid out for me I hadn't calculated on, John. Bowie's men were hard up for fresh meat, and I lent them my rifle a few days. Then the Indians bothered me. They were hanging around Saledo settlement in a way I didn't like, so I watched them until I was about sure of their next dirty trick. It happened to be a thieving one on the Zavala ranche, so I let Zavala know, and then rode on to tell Granger he'd better send a few boys to keep them red-handed Comanche from picking and stealing and murdering."
"It was just like you. You probably saved many lives."
"Saving life is often saving souls, John. Next time I go that way every man at Zavala's ranche and every man in Granger's camp will listen to me. I shall then have a greater danger than red men to tell them of. But they know both my rifle and my words are true, and when I say to them, 'Boys, there's hell and heaven right in your path, and your next step may plunge you into the fiery gulf, or open to you the golden gates,' they'll listen to me, and they'll believe me. John, it takes a soldier to preach to soldiers, and a saved sinner to know how to save other sinners."
"And if report is not unjust," said Richard, "you will find plenty of great sinners in such circuits as you take."
"Sir, you'll find sinners, great sinners, everywhere. I acknowledge that Texas has been made a kind of receptacle for men too wicked to live among their fellows. I often come upon these wild, carrion jail-birds. I know them a hundred yards off. It is a great thing, every way, that they come here. God be thanked! Texas has nothing to fear from them. In the first place, though the atmosphere of crime is polluting in a large city, it infects nobody here. I tell you, sir, the murderer on a Texas prairie is miserable. There is nothing so terrible to him as this freedom and loneliness, in which he is always in the company of his outraged conscience, which drives him hither and thither, and gives him no rest. For I tell you, that murderers don't willingly meet together, not even over the whisky bottle. They know each other, and shun each other. Well, sir, this subject touches me warmly at present, for I am just come from the death-bed of such a man. I have been with him three days. You remember Bob Black, John?"
"Yes. A man who seldom spoke, and whom no one liked. A good soldier, though. I don't believe he knew the meaning of fear."
"Didn't he? I have seen him sweat with terror. He has come to me more dead than alive, clung to my arms like a child, begged me to stand between him and the shapes that followed him."
"No, sir. I don't think he ever tasted liquor; but he was a haunted man! He had been a sixfold murderer, and his victims made life a terror to him."
"How do you account for that?"
"We have a spiritual body, and we have a natural body. When it pleases the Almighty, he opens the eyes and ears of our spiritual body, either for comfort, or advice, or punishment. This criminal saw things and heard words no mortal eyes have perceived, nor mortal ears understood. The man was haunted: I cannot doubt it."
"I believe what you say," said Elizabeth, solemnly, "for I have heard,
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