“I reckon so; leastways she tol’ Kirby her name was Rene Beaucaire, an’ that’s how it reads in the papers. But thar ain’t no trace ov her mother, ner ov the Jedge’s daughter. They ain’t in the house, ner the nigger cabins. Whar the hell they’ve gone, I don’t know, an’ the girl won’t tell. Leaves me in a deuce ov a fix, fer I can’t serve no papers less we find the daughter. Her name’s Eloise; she’s the heir et law, an’ I ain’t got no legal right fer ter take them niggers away till I do. Looks ter me like they’d skipped out.”
“Maybe som’body blowed the whole thing.”
“I dunno who it wud be. Then whut did they leave thet girl behind fer? She’d most likely be the furst ter run—thar’s Kirby an’ Carver, a comin’ now, an’ they’re alone; ain’t got no trace ov ’em, I reckon.”
Where I crouched in the shadows I could gain no glimpse of the approaching figures, but I heard the crunch of their boots on the gravel of the driveway, and a moment later the sound of their feet as they mounted the wooden steps. Kirby must have perceived the forms of the other men as soon as he attained the porch level, and his naturally disagreeable voice had a snarly ring.
“That you, Donaldson? Have either of those women come back?”
“No,” and I thought the sheriff’s answer was barely cordial. “We ain’t seen nobody. What did you learn down at the Landin’?”
“Nothing,” savagely. “Haven’t found a damn trace, except that Haines hasn’t been home since before dark; some nigger came for him then. Is that girl safe inside?”
“Sure; just as you left her, but she won’t talk. Tim tried her again, but it’s no use; she wudn’t even answer him.”
“Well, by God! I’ll find a way to make her open her mouth. She knows where those two are hiding. They haven’t had no time to get far away, and I’ll bring her to her senses before I am through. Come on, Carver; I’ll show the wench who’s master here, if I have to lick her like a common nigger.”
The front door opened, and closed, leaving the two without standing in silence, the stillness between them finally broken by a muttered curse.
A GIRL AT BAY
I drew back hastily, but in silence, eager to get away before the sheriff and his deputy should return to their seats by the porch rail. My original plan of warning the women of the house of their peril was blocked, completely overturned by the presence of these men. The situation had thus been rendered more complicated, more difficult to solve, and I could only act on impulse, or as guided by these new conditions. Beyond all question, those I had hoped to serve were already aware of their position—someone had reached them before me—and two, at least, were already in hiding. Why the third, the one most deeply involved, had failed to accompany the others, could not be comprehended. The mystery