One lovely afternoon early in May two persons, a man and a woman, sat side by side on a log in the wood that formed a part of the Himes place.
“Did iver I hear the loike o’ that!” he exclaimed, with a long, low whistle, in response to something she had been telling him. “He must be crazier nor a loon! goin’ down the river on a raft wid all his goods aboard. And the money, too, did yees say, me darlint?”
“I don’t know, but I suppose so; he’s goin’ to buy land as soon as he gets there. He’s sold the farm here.”
“And the margage on Lakeside,” he supplemented, nodding his head knowingly.
“Has he? How did you find that out? He never told me a breath about it,” she returned in some surprise.
“Ah, thin,” he chuckled, “sure there’s a bit av a burrud that whispers things intil Phalim O’Rourke’s ears whan it’s av impoortance fer him to know about ’em.”
“Is that so?” she asked, with a slight laugh. “But how does that margage concern you?”
“Ah, that’s me sacret; but sure, the ould man’s affairs consarn me, seein’ that a good bet o’ his money’ll be comin’ till you whan he’s out o’ the way under the turuf.”
“I wish he was there now!” she cried, bursting into sudden passion. “I haven’t the first bit of comfort in my life for thinkin’ I’m tied to him, and he growlin’ and scoldin’ from mornin’ to night, and wantin’ me to go dressed like a beggar. I don’t never have a cent but what I get by sellin’ milk and eggs, and that won’t hardly keep me in shoes and stockin’s.”
“S’pose, thin, we put ’im out o’ the way,” he whispered, bending down to look into her eyes, a lurid light of hate, malice, and revenge gleaming in his own.
She shrank back shuddering, a sudden death-like pallor overspreading her cheek. “You can’t mean it!” she said, in a hoarse whisper; “you’re only jokin’!”
“Niver a bit av it!” he ejaculated, with an oath. “Didn’t he stale you from me? an’ whan I heard it, didn’t I swear to shoot him down in his tracks loike a dog? An’ whan he’s afloat on his raft—crazy ould fool that he is!—there’ll be the wather at hand quite convanient to tumble him intil, out o’ sight.”
“No! no! no!” she cried, recoiling still further, covering her face with her hands, and shuddering with horror. “I hate him! I hate him! but—that would be murder!” she added, with a gasp, “and we’d be hung for it—both of us.”
“No; no hangin’ in this State!” he said, a ring of savage triumph in his tones. “And dead men don’t tell no tales.”
Mr. Himes had gone from home that day; there was no danger of his return for some hours, and the interview in the wood did not come to an end till near the time when he might be expected.
Before that the wily villain had, by blandishments, coaxings, entreaties, appeals to her love for himself, highly colored pictures of the happy life they might lead together were she but free to marry him, as she had promised to before he went away to the war, and artful allusions to Himes’s brutal treatment of her, succeeded in extracting a half-reluctant consent from Belinda to the robbery and murder of her husband.
She still declared, shudderingly, that she could not and would not take any active part in it, but promised not to warn him of his danger or put any obstacle in the way of the design upon his property and life.
The old farmer, bent on saving the expense of travel and transportation of goods by rail, had determined to make a raft of sufficient size to carry himself, wife, household furniture and farming implements, and on that descend the river.
In vain neighbors and friends had warned him of perils from natural obstructions in the channel of the stream and danger from burglars by night, when, because of those obstructions, he would be compelled to moor his raft to the shore. By nature headstrong and opinionated, he held fast to his purpose.
He would need help in making the raft; had not yet engaged it; for at this time of year, when there was so much farm work to be done, it was scarce.
Phelim now proposed to offer his services and those of one or two “friends” on very reasonable terms. When the raft was completed and had received its load, one or more of them would be needed to assist in its navigation, he said, and that would render the commission of his contemplated crime a very easy matter some dark night, when they were moored to the shore in a lonely spot, and the old man had fallen asleep.
To Belinda’s terrified objection that she might be suspected of complicity, he answered, “Niver a bit o’t, me darlint; whaniver ye see the thing started ye’ll be off loike the wind to bring help, sure. But the nearest house’ll be a mile away annyhow, an’ ye’ll not be called upon to kill yersilf wid runnin’; ye’ll presently go a bit asier; an’ we’ll mak quick wurruk an’ be off wid the money, lavin’ the ould divil in a state not to moind his loss afore ye kin git back wid yer hilp. And thin, whan yees sees what’s happened till him, ye’ll mak a tirrible cryin’ an’ lamentation, an’ sure they’ll think you’re heartbroke intirely.”
At length the two separated; Belinda went back to the house to get supper ready against her husband’s return, and Phelim, plunging into the woods, made a circuit of a mile or so, and striking into the highroad, met Himes riding slowly homeward.
The old man hung his head with a dejected air, as one whose plans and purposes had miscarried.
“Good avenin’, sor,” said Phelim, lifting his hat as they passed.
Himes started and turned his head, for the Irishman was already somewhat in his rear.
“Hollo! is that you, O’Rourke?” he called. “Come back, will you? I want a word with you.”
Phelim was at his horse’s side in an instant, asking, “What’s your wull, sor?”
“I’ve a job on hand, and want help with it; could you come and take a hand at it for a day or two?”
“Sure, sor, if I knowed what it was I cud aisier tell that same.”
“It’s the making of a raft over yonder on the river-bank; ’twon’t take much knowledge beyond how to wield an axe and hammer in nails, and ye’re not wantin’ in that or in strength.”
“Well, sor, I’ll drame on it the night an’ lat yees know in the mornin’,” Phelim answered, turning to go.
“Wait a minute,” Himes said. “If ye can bring one or two more fellows with you, it’ll be all the better; we’ll get through the sooner, and that’ll suit me first-rate, for I’m gettin’ in a big hurry to be off.”
“Where, sor, if I may be so bould?”
“Down the river, clear out o’ this State, where the laws are not severe enough on burglars and cut-throats to make honest folks feel that their lives and property are tolerable safe.”
“Thin, sor, beggin’ yer pardin fer the liberty, ye’d betther kape it close that yer manin’ to thravel in sich a unpertected manner.”
“Of course you needn’t blab about it; but I’ll have a loaded revolver, and if the rascals come, I’ll show them that I know how to protect myself.”
“Gettin’ in a big hurry, indade!” chuckled Phelim, as he trudged on again. “He don’t know what fer.”
There was a meeting of the band of villains that night, when all was arranged for the carrying out of O’Rourke’s atrocious designs upon the old farmer.
The next morning, as Himes and his wife rose from the breakfast-table, a big, burly German presented himself before the open kitchen door.
“Goot tay, mynheer,” he said, touching his cap; “I vas shoost looking for a chob ov vork, to makes te monish to pay for de wittles and de clo’es. I vil do anytings you vil haf to be tun.”
Himes asked a few questions as to his qualifications for the work of raft-making and the wages he expected, and receiving satisfactory replies, engaged him at once.
As Himes stepped out into the dooryard, having directed the new-comer to take a seat at the table, and Belinda set his breakfast before him, a sly wink let her into the secret that here was one of the accomplices of the would-be assassin of her husband.
She started, and turned pale; but averting her eyes, went on silently with her work, though her heart beat fast with terror and was heavy with remorse, yet not with a repentance that would lead her to draw back, ere it was too late, from her promised share in the commission of the fearful crime.
Her heart did relent more than once during the intervening time, and she was again and again on the point of giving the old man a hint of his danger. But then how to do so without compromising Phelim’s safety, and even her own, she could not see; and besides Himes treated her in the presence of these strange men (for Phelim arrived in the course of the morning, bringing McManus with him) with scorn, contempt, and lordly assumption of authority which deeply humiliated her, and kindled anew the smouldering fires of hatred and revenge that burned in her breast. There were stolen interviews with Phelim, too, in which he artfully added fuel to the flame, and thus kept her to her resolve.