“Hush!” cried the woman, suddenly straightening herself, and standing in a listening attitude, as a deep sound came to the ear, borne on the evening breeze.
“Hounds! bloodhounds!” cried Bill, springing to his feet with unwonted energy. “And they’re a-comin’ this way; makin’ straight for the house,” he added, glancing from the door, then shutting it with a bang. “They’re after that man; you may depend. He’s a ’balitionist, or a horse thief, or somethin’.”
The children crouched, silent, pale, and terror-stricken, in a corner, while outside, the deep baying of the hounds drew nearer and nearer, and mingling with it came other sounds of horses’ hoofs and the gruff voices of men. Then a loud “Halloo the house!”
“What’s wanted?” asked Bill, opening the one window and putting out his head.
“The burglar you’re hiding from justice and the hounds have tracked to your door. A fellow with his right arm disabled by a pistol-shot.”
“He isn’t here, didn’t step inside at all; don’t ye see the hounds are turning away from the door? But you kin come in an’ look for yourself.”
One of the men dismounted and went in.
“Look round sharp now,” said the woman. “I only wish he was here fur ye to ketch um: if I’d know’d he was a burglar, he would never hev got off so easy. He jest come for his beast that he left with us four days ago, and mounted there at the door and was off like a shot.”
“Which way?” asked the man.
She pointed in a southerly direction. “It’s the way to Texas, ain’t it? an’ he’s got four or five hours the start o’ ye, an’ on a swift horse; he’ll be over the border line afore ye kin ketch up to him.”
“I’m afraid so, indeed; but justice can follow him even there,” replied the officer, hastening out, already satisfied that the one bare room did not contain his quarry.
He sprang into the saddle, and the whole party galloped away in the wake of the dogs, who had found the trail again and started off in full cry.
The party had a hard ride of some hours, the hounds never faltering or losing the scent; but at length they were at fault. They had reached a brook and here the trail was lost; it was sought for on both sides of the stream for a considerable distance both up and down, then abandoned in despair.
The wily burglar had made his steed travel the bed of the stream, which was nowhere very deep, for several miles; then taking to the open country again and traveling under cover of the darkness of a cloudy night, at length, in a condition of utter exhaustion, reached a place of safety among some of his confederates; for he had joined himself to a gang of villains who infested that part of the country.
But “Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished.” Few if any of them would escape a violent and terrible death at the last; and—“after that the judgment”; from which none may be excused.