THE “DARK PASSAGE”—THE THEFT.
On the appointed night, the two ruffians, Bill and Dick, repaired to the “dark passage,” according to arrangement, and with daggers and pistols (the latter only to be used in case of necessity, as the report of firearms might lead to detection,) awaited the arrival of their victim. About nine o’clock, the sound of horses’ feet, approaching at a rapid gait, gave them to understand the hour of their deadly work was at hand. Taking their stand, one on either side of the road, they silently awaited the horseman’s coming.
It was a dismal place, a low, wet valley, densely shaded and overgrown by trees, whose thick foliage scarcely admitted a single sunbeam to penetrate to the earth beneath. This gloomy passage was about half a mile in extent, and at its dark center the villains had posted themselves. Their plans were all fully matured, even down to the minute details. They were both to spring out and seize the horse by the bridle; then, while Bill held the animal, Dick was to strike the fatal blow to the heart of the rider. Not a word was to be spoken. As the man entered the passage, his pace was slackened, and he kept his eye about him, as if in fear of an attack. When within about a hundred yards of the concealed assassins, Bill whispered to his companion across the road:
“Now, Dick, make sure work of it; let the first blow tell the tale, while it silences his tongue!”
“Never fear for me; take care of your own part, and I’ll do the same by mine,” was Dick’s reply.
In a few seconds, the horseman came abreast of the ambuscaders, both of whom sprang out at the same moment, and seizing the bridle-reins, checked the horse so suddenly as to throw him back on his haunches, to the imminent peril of the rider, who was nearly thrown from his seat. In a moment, the glittering blade of steel was at his breast. Just then, the moon broke through a rift in the clouds, and being directly in a line with the road, shone fully on the group and into the face of the traveler.
“By Jove! it’s the wrong man!” exclaimed Dick, as he lowered his blade and looked at Bill inquiringly.
“So it is!” said Bill; and then, addressing the stranger, continued: “Beg pardon, sir, for our interruption. We have mistaken you for a notorious villain, thief, and robber, who was to pass this way to-night, and who, as the laws are too weak to protect us, we have determined to punish ourselves. The fact is, these, horse-thieves must be dealt with, and that speedily, too, or there will be no such thing as safety for our stock. For our parts, we have resolved to defend our property at all hazards, and others will have to do the same thing, or keep nothing of their own, for these thieves are banded together, and they are so numerous, and some of them so respectable, it is impossible to convict them before a jury; they swear each other off. Hope you will not think evil of our plans.”