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- Gaut Gurley - 50/59 -


now firmly clenched round the body, and held down, with every limb in the vise-like grasp of his iron-fisted captors, lay disarmed, helpless, and panting on the ground.

"There!" sternly cried the victorious leader of the hazardous assault, as he rose to his feet, after he had seen the heavy irons securely locked on the wrists and ankles of the silent and sullen prisoner,--"there! drag him out, feet foremost, into the open light of day, where he and his dark deeds have all now got to come, to meet the vengeance of an outraged community!"

It was done, and with no gentle hand; when a long, wild shout of exultation fiercely broke from the closely-encircling throng, thrilling the trembling forest around with the din, and rolling away to the farthest shores of the lake, to proclaim that the first murderer of the settlement--the black-hearted Gaut Gurley--was now a prisoner, and in the uncompromising hands of public justice.

The animated spectacle which now ensued, of trundling, pushing, and tumbling the chafed and growling prisoner down to the shore, amid the unrestrained demonstrations of the exulting multitude; the noisy and bustling embarkation, on the lake; the ostentatious display of mimic banners, formed by raising on tall poles, handkerchiefs, hats, coats, and whatever would make a show in the distance, as the long line of canoes, with the closely guarded prisoner in the centre, filed off in gorgeous array, through the glitter of the sun-lit lake, on their way to the great outlet; the pause and concentration there; the rapid descent down the river to the village, where a board of magistrates were waiting to sit on the case of the expected prisoner; and, finally, the loudly heralding _kuk-kuk-ke-o-hos_ of the overflowing trapper, to announce, over a two-mile reach of the stream, the triumphant approach,--this animated and here extraordinary spectacle, we must leave to the delineation of the reader's imagination. Our attention is more strongly demanded in a different direction, to bring up other important incidents of our story, before proceeding any farther with the actors who have figured in this part of the narrative, or taking note of the examination to which they were now hurrying the prisoner.

CHAPTER XX.

"By thine infinite of woe, All we know not, all we know; If there be what dieth not, Thine, affection, is its lot."

Deep in the wilderness of woods and waters encircling the mouth of a small inlet, at the extreme northwestern end of the picturesque Maguntic, there lay encamped, at the point of a low headland, on one of the first nights of May, the three trappers, whose expedition had been the subject of so many gloomy speculations, and whose unexpectedly prolonged absence had caused, as we have seen, so much anxiety in the settlement to which they belonged. They had extended their outward journey more than double the distance contemplated by the Elwoods, at least when they left home; the mover of the expedition, Gaut Gurley, having proposed to make the shores of the Maguntic, and its feeding streams only, the range of their operations. But when they arrived there, as they did, on the ice, which was still firm and solid on the lakes, Gaut pretended to believe that the rich beaver-haunts, to which he had promised to lead them, could not be identified, much less reached, until the ice had broken up in the streams and lake. He, therefore, now proposed that they should first proceed over to the chief inlet of the Oquossak, stay one night in the camp, which was left in the great snowstorm of the fall before, dig out the steel-traps buried there, and, the next day, slide over the boats, also left there, on the glare ice,--as all agreed could easily be done on some light and simple contrivance,--and land them on the west shore of the Maguntic, where they could be concealed, and found ready for use when the lake opened. He would then, he said, lead them to a place among the head-water streams of the Magalloway, only a day's journey distant, where he once "trapped it" himself, and where, as the rivers there broke up early, he could promise them immediate success.

All this had been done; and the party, having spent nearly three weeks among the lakelets and interweaving streams going to make up the sources of the Magalloway and Connecticut rivers, with occasional recourse to the nearest habitations on the upper Magalloway, for provisions, but with very indifferent success in taking furs, had now, on the urging of young Elwood, returned to the Maguntic,--which, after a hard day's journey, they had reached, at the point where we have introduced them, about sunset the day but one preceding, thrown up a temporary shanty, and encamped for the night. On rising the next morning, Gaut had proposed that Claud remain at camp that day, to build a better shanty, and hunt in the near vicinity; while he and Mark Elwood should explore the stream, to a pond some miles above, where his previously discovered beaver-haunts, he said, were mostly to be found, and where, the snow and ice having wholly disappeared, they could now operate to good advantage. With this arrangement, however, the young man, whose secret suspicions had been aroused by one or two previous attempts made by Gaut to separate him from his father, plausibly refused to comply; and the consequence was, that they had all made the proposed explorations together, returned to camp without discovering any indications of the promised beaver, and laid down for the night, with the understanding, reluctantly agreed to by the moody and morose Gaut, that they should proceed down the lake to their boats the next morning, and embark for an immediate return to their homes, where the Elwoods felt conscious they must, by this time, be anxiously expected.

Such were the circumstances under which we have brought this singularly-assorted party of trappers to the notice of the reader, as they lay sleeping in their bough-constructed tents,--Gaut and Mark Elwood under one cover, and Claud under another, which he had fixed up for himself on the opposite side of their fire,--on the ominous night which was destined to prelude the most tragic and melancholy scene of our variously eventful story.

It was the hour of nature's deepest repose, and the bright midnight moon, stealing through the gently-swaying boughs of the dark pines that rose heavenward, like pinnacles, along the silent shores around, was throwing her broken beams fitfully down upon the faces of the unconscious sleepers, faintly revealing the impress which the thoughts and purposes of the last waking hours had left on the countenance of each. And these impresses were as variant as the characters of those on whose features they rested: that lingering on the sternly-compressed lips and dark, beetling brows of Gaut Gurley, ever sinister, was doubly so now; that on the face of Mark Elwood, whose vacillations of thought and feeling, through life, had exempted his features from any stamp betokening fixed peculiarity of character, was one of fatuous security; and that resting on the intellectual and guileless face of Claud Elwood was one of simple care and inquietude.

But what is that light, shadowy form, hovering near the sylvan couch of Claud, like some unsubstantial being of the air; now advancing, now shrinking away, and now again flitting forward to the head of the youthful sleeper, and there pausing and preventing the light from longer revealing his features? Yes, what is it? would ask a doubting spectator of this singular night-scene. A passing cloud come over the moon? No, there is none in the heavens. But why the useless speculation? for it is gone now, leaving the sleeper's face again visible, and wearing a more unquiet and disturbed air than before. His features twitch nervously, and expressions of terror and surprise flit over them. He dreams, and his dream is a troubled one. Let the novelist's license be invoked to interpret it.

He was alone with his father on a boundless plain, when suddenly a dark, whirlwind tempest-cloud fell upon the earth around them, and soon separated him from the object of his care. As he was anxiously pressing on through the thickly-enveloping vapors, in the direction in which the latter had disappeared, he was suddenly confronted by a monstrous, black, and fearful living apparition, who stood before him in all the horrid paraphernalia ascribed to the prince of darkness, apparently ready to crush him to the earth, when a bright angel form swiftly interposed. Starting back, with the rapidly-chasing sensations of terror and surprise, he looked again, and the fiend stood stript of his infernal guise, and suddenly transformed into the person of Gaut Gurley, who, with a howl of dismay, quickly turned and fled in confusion. The amazed dreamer then turned to his deliverer, who had been transformed into the beauteous Fluella, whose image, he was conscious, was no longer a stranger among the lurking inmates of his heart. A sweet, benignant smile was breaking over her lovely features; and, under the sudden impulse of the grateful surprise, he eagerly stretched out his arms towards her, and, in the effort, awoke.

"Where, where is she?" he exclaimed, springing to his feet, and glaring wildly around him. "Why!" he continued, after a pause, in which he appeared to be rallying his bewildered senses,--"why! what is this? a dream, nothing but a dream? It must be so. But what a strange one! and what could have caused it? Was there not some one standing over me, just now, darkening my face like a shadow? I feel a dim consciousness of something like it. But that, probably, was part of the same dream. Yes, yes, all a mere dream; all nothing; so, begone with you, miserable phantoms! I will not suffer--"

But, as if not satisfied with his own reasoning, he stopped short, and, for many minutes, stood motionless, with his head dropped in deep thought; when, arousing himself, he returned to his rude resting-place, and laid down again, but only to toss and turn, in the restless excitement which he obviously found himself unable to allay. After a while spent in this tantalizing unrest, he rose and slowly made his way down to the edge of the lake, a few rods distant, where, scooping up water with his hands, he first drank eagerly, then, bathed his fevered brow, and then, rising, he stood some time silent on the shore,--now pensively gazing out on the darkly-bright expanse of the moon-lit lake; and now listening to the mysterious voices of night in the wilderness, which, in low, soft, whispering undulations of sound, came, at varied intervals, gently murmuring along the wooded shores, to die away into silence in the remote recesses of the forest. These phenomena of the wilds he had once or twice before noted, and tried to account for, without, however, attaching much consequence to them. But now they became invested with a strange significance, and seemed to him, in his present excited and apprehensive state of mind, portentous of impending evil. While his thoughts were taking this channel, the possibility of what might be done in his absence suddenly appeared to occur to him; and he hastened back to camp, where he slightly replenished the fire, and, taking a recumbent position, with his loaded rifle within reach, kept awake, and on the watch, till morning.

After daylight Claud arose, as if nothing unusual had occurred to disturb him, bustled about, built a good fire, and began to prepare a morning meal from the fine string of trout he had taken during yesterday's excursion. The noise of these preparations soon awoke the two sleepers; who, complimenting him on his early rising, also arose, and soon joined him in partaking the repast, which, by this time, he had in readiness.

As soon as they had finished their meal, which was enlivened by no other than an occasional brief, commonplace remark, the thoughts of each of them being evidently engrossed by his own peculiar schemes and anxieties, the trappers, by common consent, set about their preparations to depart; and, having completed them, leisurely took their way down the western shore of the lake towards the spot at which they had hauled up and concealed their canoe, and which, if they followed the deep indentures of the shore in this part of the lake, must be four or five miles distant.

For the first mile or two of their progress nothing noticeable to an indifferent observer occurred to vary the monotony of their walk, as they


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