The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 57
Chapter X. — The Vengeance of the Camp
The Vengeance of the Camp.
These was a tumult of words and voices, a-crowding of angry faces round the entrance to the tent, a storm of curses on the prisoner's head. Vallor lay on the ground, bound hand and foot, looking ghastly. It seemed to him that his last hour had surely come. If any man present chose to lift his deringer and put a bullet through the culprit's head, no stigma of blame would attach to the perpetrator of such an act of summary justice. But this act was not performed. The men left it to Vanborough, the natural avenger of his friend's blood, and Vanborough was too much absorbed by the sight of Nigel's danger to have thought for any one but him.
An old and experienced colonist, who was in charge of the expedition, and well versed in the treatment of accidents, came and knelt down at Tremaine's side, felt his pulse, and raised his eyelid with one finger and thumb. "Only a faint," he said tren-chantly; "he'll come round." Then he looked at the circle of faces, some scowling, some curious, some sympa-thetic, pointed to the door and uttered one expressive monosyllable—
In two seconds the tent was clear.
"We'll keep 'im till you come out, Cap'en," said one of the men to Van-borough, as he assisted in removing the page 171 captive; "darn me if anyone but you has the right to shoot him."
"Keep him safe, then, Geoffrey answered rather grimly.
At that moment he felt himself quite prepared to shoot the murderer with his own hand, should Nigel die.
The manager's rough surgery soon showed, however, that the wounds were not quite as serious as they looked. The knife had penetrated his side very deeply, and his arm was severely wounded, but it did not ap-pear that the injury was a mortal one, as Geoffrey had feared at first.
"Can't we get a doctor?" Vanborough asked by and by.
"None nearer than Buenos Ayres. Eight or ten dollars a mile."
"That doesn't matter. I'd better go myself, perhaps. Or shall I get Darenth to go?"
The squatter thought that "one of the boys "would do the business better than Darenth, and that Vanborough himself should stay by his friend.
"If he wakes up and sees yer gone, he may be just a trifle on reasonable. Sick folk often air, any way. I calc'-late too that Hiram Gregg knows Buenos Ayres more closely 'n you or Darenth neither. If he rides Black Pete he'll be there an' back like a flash o' greased lightning. I'll go and find him."
Geoffrey was left alone with his friend. The bleeding from the wound had hitherto continued, but now he thought he saw signs of its becoming allayed. In a little time Nigel opened his eyes, fixed them earnestly upon Vanborough, and smiled.
"All right," said Geoffrey, softly. "Don't talk; you've been hurt, but you'll soon be better."
Nigel glanced down at his arm and side, seemed to recollect something, and was silent. The kindly settler now returned, and motioned Geoffrey to the door of the tent, where Hiram Gregg, the man guaranteed to go to Buenos Ayres and back "like a flash o' greased lightning," was already in waiting. Vanborough had to furnish him with a part of the money which the doctor would require as a fee; some portion of it, he was told, being often paid beforehand in sign of good faith.
Hiram Gregg, who, like the old colonist, was a North American, waited a moment to add, in an odd, unmodu-lated voice, which it was vain to hush—
"The boys is gettin' wild out thyar. [unclear: Sezthey] want to kna wot yer gwine ter dew with Vallor. Sez they'll lynch him ef yer not raound soon to put a bullet inter him yerself. They 'low yer may as well hev the satisfaction o' dewing it with yer own deringer."
"I'll come out," said Vanborough. He was hardly conscious of what he meant to do—whether he should protect the criminal or allow "the boys" to take vengeance upon him—but he strode back into the tent for his own pistol, as a precautionary measure. And there his eyes encountered Nigel's again; Nigel's blue eyes fixed upon him with something of their old keen brightness.
"Geoffrey," he said.
"Don't speak, don't talk," said Van-borough, hurriedly. "You will hurt yourself."
"Was it Vallor?" the wounded man persisted.
"Yes," and Geoffrey's brow grew dark.
"Remember—I should not have been hurt—but for my resistance—don't let them—kill the fellow."
Vanborough shrugged his shoulders. He was not disposed to interfere in behalf of the man who had half killed Tremaine. But Nigel spokeagain, with the gasping impatience of weakness.
"Look after it, will you? Don't let him be killed—on my account."
"All right. Do keep quiet Nigel. I'll do all I can."
And Geoffrey sallied forth, very doubtful as to his line of conduct. No sooner was he outside the tent than he was beset by buzzing groups of men, anxious to see what he would do, and to know what he wished them to do. With the rough honour of comradeship, they had not touched a hair of their prisoner's head; they had left the task of vengeance for Geoffrey's hand. They had already grown fond of the three Englishmen, who seemed united by a stronger tie than the one generally admitted among fellow-settlers in that part of the world. And they were page 172 quite prepared to see Geoffrey Van-borough do justice on the man who had stabbed his friend.
Their surprise was not great then when Vanborough, seeing that he was expected to do or say something definite, sprang upon an oak stump and made them a short speech. Vallor Jay on the ground at some distance, and whether he heard or did not hear the words that Vanborough spoke could not be told.
"Gentlemen," said Geoffrey, who was not unpractised in the art of addressing a body of men, and had learnt on parade how to make his voice heard, "gentlemen, my friend, Tremaine, is now conscious, and is likely to do well. I have sent to Buenos Ayres for a doctor. As regards the man Vallor, I must say that a short time ago I should have felt much pleasure in shooting him." (Applause—suppressed however, for fear of disturbing the wounded man's repose.) "But—much as I think he deserves punishment—I have passed my word not to shoot him, and to do my best to prevent your shooting him also. What do you think has induced me to give that promise? Who, but the man whom yonder ruffian stabbed in the arm and side—my friend, Tremaine!"
There was no applause this time, but a murmur, half-admiring, half-savage. Then questions, hisses, cries—"We're not safe if a thief like that is to be let off!" "What did he do that for?" "What a darned fool he must be!"
"He says," continued Vanborough, still dominating the passions of the little crowd by the command of his resonant voice, and stately, soldierly-like presence, "he says that the man wanted to rob, not to kill; that he would not have attacked him if he—Tremaine himself—had not fired at him first, and that therefore he is not to be treated as if he was a murderer. Now, whether Tremaine is right or wrong I don't say. I only say that it will be a shame it I have to go back on my word to him while he's lying there helpless. I promised I'd save the man's life, and I'll defend him to the last, because I promised it; but I'd sooner you kicked him out of camp with a recommendation not to come back again. Now, whoever shoots Vallor will have me to deal with afterwards; and with Tremaine, as soon as he gets better, after me; and with Darenth after both of us. We three are on the same side."
He had spoken loudly, almost roughly, using tone and words most likely to impress the men's minds, and his loyalty to his friend's wishes and to the promise he had given, extorted from them a sullen submission. They muttered that it was no business of theirs any way; and if Vanborough and Tremaine and Darenth liked to be such cursed fools, it was their own look out, and not that of the settlers now in the camp.
Vanborough got down from his stump, and was moving away when the head man, generally known as Ohio Bill, put a horny hand on his arm, and brought his grizzled face very close to the Englishman's brown beard.
"Look hyar," said he, "ef we cave in to the wishes of yond' Britisher, and spare that darned coon's life, it air but right that our feelings should be considered as regards the robbery."
"What now?" said Vanborough.
The American raised his wrinkled forefinger. "It's consid'able hard line's on us, to think we're going to stand by and see a robber make tracks without punishment. Camp air not safe, I reckon, no more than ef the Injuns was on us, if robbery goes unpunished. Neither Tremaine nor you oughter deny that."
"What would you do?"
"Let the boys sorter amuse them-selves with him a little. Not to hurt him partiklar, as you're so sot on begging him off. Duck him once or twice, or give him a taste of a tar brush, and let him run for it; that'll spile his good looks a bit, I reckon. 'Taint for the morrils of the camp to let him go scot-free, Cap'en. I speak for the boys."
"I don't want him to go scot-free. I should like him to be punished," said Vanborough. "I don't want him killed, that is all. Short of that, I don't see that I need interfere."
"I'll see him safe off the camp ground arterwards," said Ohio Bill, with a wink of his left eye, and a look of intense satisfaction; and Vanborough page 173 went back to the tent not at all sorry to think that Sebastian Vallor would meet with some punishment. In his indignation against the man he did not think it necessary to consider whether the punishment was likely or not to be one practised in civilised countries.
Work was suspended for the day. "The boys" were determined to vindicate the honour of their settlement by a solemn trial of the offender. Bench and bar were rigged up by means of planks and logs. Ohio Bill was chosen as judge, and twelve of the men, with Carson the Englishman as their head, constituted a jury. The trial took place at ten o'clock.
There would have been an element of burlesque in the whole affair but for the tragical light in which the prisoner evidently regarded it. To him, not knowing that Tremaine had secured his life, it was a matter of the most serious import. And the jeers, the scoffs, the roars of laughter, commingled with the threats and execrations which occasionally fell upon his ears, must have made those waiting hours torture to him.
Vanborough was summoned to give evidence, which he did with his usual careless calm demeanour. A deputation also waited upon Tremaine to see if he was capable of adding anything to Vanborough's account; but he was in a state bordering upon insensibility, and, considering that "the assassin," as, for purposes of rhetoric, Vallor was now dubbed, had been taken red-handed, there was no necessity, in Ohio Bill's opinion, to wait for Tremaine's return to consciousness. The deputation returned to the improvised courthouse, and Vanborough sat down again at Nigel's bedside to wait for the doctor. He had no curiosity about the verdict or the punishment inflicted.
The trial was over. He could hear a sudden rush of trampling feet, a sudden outcry of voices, oaths, laughter, noisy jests; and then Luke Darenth looked in with a face from which the ruddy colouring had somewhat paled.
"Well,', said Vanborough, in a low tone, "what are they going to do with him?"
"I don't know for certain, sir.," said Luke, rather sullenly. "Seems to me it's a heathen kind of way that they're treating a Christian man, for all he's a robber."
"I'll go and see," said Vanborough. "Remember he nearly killed Mr. Tremaine, Luke. Stay here till I come back."
He walked out, saw an excited group near the great ox-waggons, and proceeded thither. As he drew close to it a pale figure eluded the grasp of his rough guards, and flew to Geoffrey Vanborough's feet.
"Save me! save me! They will kill me! You are English; you are better than these demons—these savages—these——"
"What are you doing?" said Van-borough in a voice of thunder. "Did you not say that the man's life should not be harmed? Back! If one of you lays a finger on him I'll fire!"
There was a moment's pause. Vallor cowered at his feet. Geoffrey held the men at bay with levelled revolver and flashing eye. But their passions were up, and could not now be controlled. Before he knew what they were doing a dozen strong arms had seized him from behind; half-fiercely, half good-humouredly, he was warned to be quiet or he might share Vallor's fate. A rough hand was laid over his mouth when he tried to protest; his revolver was wrested from him and pointed, half in jest and half in earnest, at his own forehead. There were full thirty men against him, and the thirty men would have their way. He was forced to be silent and passive in their hands, which submission became easier to him when he was soon convinced that after all, they had no intention of putting Vallor to death
The man was pallid, his eyes were almost starting out of his head with fear, but as yet he had suffered little bodily harm. His clothes were almost torn off his back by the rough handling he had received, and his wrists were cut and swollen from the chafing of the rope with which he had been tied, but it was evident that he was undergoing more mental than physical pain. He was dragged away to the great bullock waggons which stood at one side of the camp, and then Vanborough knew what punishment the settlers had page 174 determined to inflict upon Sebastian Vallor. He was to be "staked out."
"Staking out" is a punishment with which South American settlers are familiar. Strips of raw hide are fastened from the wheels of one oxen-waggon to the wheels of another, and the culprit is stripped and suspended over them, head downwards, at a height of five or six feet from the ground, for a space of time varying from five to fifteen minutes. More, it is said, human life could not sustain, for the suffering inflicted is intense.
Vanborough was forced to watch the infliction of this punishment in comparative silence, and bitterly regretted that, while he had the power, he had not freed Sebastian Vallor entirely. It was a mistake which he had cause afterwards still more deeply to deplore. But as he could not check the suffering so barbarously imposed, he braced his nerves to witness it with stoical calmness. Not a trace of the disgust he felt could be seen in his grave, impassive face. But when it was over, and his rough captors set him free, he turned aside with a sensation of absolute sickness. Vallor had fallen fainting to the ground. When he recovered consciousness he was led out of the camp, and dismissed with the intimation that if he showed his face there again he would be shot—without trial.
But as he was marched away he passed Geoffrey Vanborough, and favoured him with a look expressive of as much malevolence as lips and eyes could well betray.
"It was your doing I" he hissed out painfully, panting with the strain put upon swoollen muscles and quivering nerves, almost black in the face with anguish and wrath alike; "I shall make you repent it still! You have not heard of me for the last time yet."
And then he was silenced and thrust forward, and the camp was rid of him at last.
It was between four and five o'clock in the afternoon when Hiram Gregg at last put his head into Vanborough's tent.
"I've come, Cap'en," he said. The title of "Captain" had been learnt from Luke Darenth, and was applied to Van-borough by all his rough comrades.
"At last," said Geoffrey, rising and turning to the entrance. I thought your horse was a fast one."
"There ain't no faster than Black Pete," said Hiram sullenly, "but you can't allers find a doctor to kum when you want him, can you? I had to wait about a mighty long spell, and arter all he didn't come himself, but sent a friend as was staying along of him,"
"A friend? Is he a doctor, too?"
"Well, I calc'late he must be. He's mighty peart and noticing like. Told me more about the perrairies than I ever knew," said Hiram, with an air of mingled disdain and superior wisdom.
Geoffrey smiled. "Where is he? Let him come in."
"He's here," said Hiram, standing aside, and then the doctor entered.
A man of thirty or thirty-five years; lean, wiry, energetic-looking; not an ounce of superfluous fat anywhere; a keen, dark resolute, masterful face with very little hair upon it, vivacious dark eyes, a long nose, thin lips, a good, broad forehead and square jaw; these were the outward characteristics of the the new doctor. He had one or two cases in his hand, and a wallet at his side. He was dressed in grey linen, and he wore a Panama hat.
"This is my patient, I suppose," he said, after the briefest possible greeting to Geoffrey. "Ah!" And his eye ran rapidly over the details of the scene before him, seeming to note everything in sight—from Nigel Tremaine's white, exhausted face and Vanborough's grave features to the smallest article of camp furniture. Then he devoted his attention exclusively to his patient, and scarcely spoke again, save to issue one or two peremptory orders to Geoffrey until his examination of the patient and the dressing of his wounds were completed. But Tremaine and Van-borough speedily became aware that no tyro in surgical art was before them. The light, skilful touch, the calm certainty of every movement, inspired so much confidence, that when the dressing was over Nigel looked up with a smile and said cheerily—
"That's better—I shall do now."
"I hope so," said the doctor. "Be good enough not to talk for the present, page 175 however. Are you disposed to obey Orders or not?"
"To obey," said Nigel, smiling.
"Then don't open your lips again to-night without absolute necessity. I will look at you again in an hour or two. Captain Vanborough, may I speak to you?"
Vanborough quitted the tent with him, leaving Darenth in charge. And then the doctor gave him orders as to his management of the patient, and put matters in such fair train, and spoke so hopefully about his recovery, that Vanborough's mind was more lightened and cheered than he could have expected it to be.
He invited his guest to stay the night, an invitation which was at once frankly accepted. The camp had by this time become a scene of drunken revelry, and Vanborough was glad to have a companion at his own evening meal, which otherwise he would have felt very solitary.
He was soon led into giving an account of Nigel's encounter with Vallor, but he happened not to mention the Spaniard's name until the very close of his narrative. And then the doctor, who had been smoking, put down his long cigarette with a rather curious expression of countenance.
"What name did you-say?"
"Vallor. Do you know it?"
"I have heard it before," said the doctor, coolly beginning to smoke again. "Do you know his Christian name?"
"Ah! What was he doing here?"
"Gambling chiefly, I believe."
"Has he a wife?"
"I fancy not. He brought some news of his sister-in-law to a man in the camp—that was perhaps his first motive in coming here."
"I knew something once of a man of that name," said the doctor slowly, as if weighing his words, "but he was married."
"This man may have been married too for aught I know," said Vanborough lightly. "He only spoke to Darenth about his brother and his brother's wife."
The doctor repeated the word "Darenth" with an abstracted air.
"It is curious," he said presently, "to find that you mention the name Darenth' in connection with that of Vallor. I know them in connection too."
"Have you been to England?"
"Ten years ago."
"Perhaps you visited a little place called Charnwood? You might have heard both those names there."
"Do you know Charnwood?" asked the doctor.
"Intimately. I was born there."
A sudden light flashed into the man's dark eyes. But he spoke quietly, almost carelessly.
"Excuse my asking you another question. Can you tell me whether a relation of the Darenth family has returned to them yet from America?' Her name was Vallor: she had married a man called Constantine Vallor.
"I should have heard of such a person had she arrived at the Darenths' farm," said Geoffrey. "I can safely assure you that no one of that name has been seen there. Besides,-I suppose, from the man Vallor's account, that it was she who was drowned in the wreck of some ship, seven or eight years ago, with her husband."
The doctor paled a little and frowned. "Neither she nor her husband was drowned," he said. "I was there."
"During the wreck? "
"Yes; and afterwards: I had the pri-vilege of knowing Madame Vallor well."
There was a silence. Vanborough felt the presence of some unusual emotion in his visitor's mind, and did not wish to intrude observation upon it. But before long the doctor spoke again.
"I believe," he said "that Madame Vallor and her husband are both alive. I have not seen either of them for many years. But if either of them had died, I fancy I should have heard. Then he paused. "I have not yet introduced myself by name, Captain Vanborough. I am sufficiently civilised, even in South America, to carry my card about with me sometimes. Allow me to offer it to you."
Vanborough's eyes fell with some curiosity upon the card thus presented to him. But the name upon it was utterly unknown to him. It ran thus—
"Oliver Burnett Lynn."
(To be continued.).