It was a state of things greatly deplored by our friends of the Oaks and Ion, and Messrs. Dinsmore and Travilla, who were not of the timid sort, had been making efforts to bring some of the guilty ones to justice; though thus far with very little success.
Such an errand had taken them to the town on this particular day.
They were returning late in the afternoon and were still several miles from home, when, passing through a bit of woods, a sudden turn of the road brought them face to face with a band of mounted men, some thirty or forty in number, not disguised but rough and ruffianly in appearance and armed with clubs, pistols and bowie knives.
The encounter was evidently a surprise to both parties, and reining in their steeds, they regarded each other for a moment in grim silence.
Then the leader of the band, a profane, drunken wretch, who had been a surgeon in the Confederate army, scowling fiercely upon our friends and laying his hand on a pistol in his belt, growled out, “A couple of scalawags! mean dirty rascals, what mischief have you been at now, eh?”
Disdaining a reply to his insolence, the gentlemen drew their revolvers, cocked them ready for instant use, and whirling their horses half way round and backing them out of the road so that they faced it, while leaving room for the others to pass, politely requested them to do so.
“Not so fast!” returned the leader, pouring out a torrent of oaths and curses; “we’ve a little account to settle with you two, and no time’s like the present.”
“Yes, shoot ’em down!” cried a voice from the crowd.
“Hang ’em!” yelled another, “the —— —— rascals!”
“Yes,” roared a third, “pull ’em from their horses and string ’em up to the limb o’ that big oak yonder.”
Our friends faced them with dauntless air.
“You will do neither,” said Mr. Dinsmore, in a firm, quiet tone; “we are well armed and shall defend ourselves to the last extremity.”
Travilla threw his riding whip into the road a foot or two in front of his horse’s head, saying, as he looked steadily into the leader’s eyes, “The first one who passes that to come nearer to us is that instant a dead man.”
The two were well known in the community as men of undoubted courage and determination; also as excellent marksmen.
A whisper ran along the lines of their opponents.
“He’s a dead shot; and so’s Dinsmore; and they’re not afraid o’ the devil himself. Better let ’em go for this time.”
The leader gave the word, “Forward!” and with hisses, groans and a variety of hideous noises, they swept along the road and passed out of sight, leaving our friends masters of the field.
“Cruelty and cowardice go hand in hand,” observed Mr. Travilla, as they resumed their homeward way.
“Yes, those brave fellows prefer waging war upon sleeping unarmed men, and helpless women and children, to risking life and limb in fair and open fight with such as you and I,” returned his companion.