Hard-Heart alone, of all his band, was present to witness the novel and far from unimposing spectacle. He stood leaning, gravely, on his lance, while the smoking steed, that grazed nigh, showed that he had ridden far and hard to be a spectator, on the occasion.

Ishmael had received his new ally with a coldness that showed his entire insensibility to that delicacy, which had induced the young chief to come alone, in order that the presence of his warriors might not create uneasiness, or distrust. He neither courted their assistance, nor dreaded their enmity, and he now proceeded to the business of the hour with as much composure, as if the species of patriarchal power, he wielded, was universally recognised.

There is something elevating in the possession of authority, however it may be abused. The mind is apt to make some efforts to prove the fitness between its qualities and the condition of its owner, though it may often fail, and render that ridiculous which was only hated before. But the effect on Ishmael Bush was not so disheartening. Grave in exterior, saturnine by temperament, formidable by his physical means, and dangerous from his lawless obstinacy, his self-constituted tribunal excited a degree of awe, to which even the intelligent Middleton could not bring himself to be entirely insensible. Little time, however, was given to arrange his thoughts; for the squatter, though unaccustomed to haste, having previously made up his mind, was not disposed to waste the moments in delay. When he saw that all were in their places, he cast a dull look over his prisoners, and addressed himself to the Captain, as the principal man among the imaginary delinquents.

“I am called upon this day, to fill the office which in the settlements you give unto judges, who are set apart to decide on matters that arise between man and man. I have but little knowledge of the ways of the courts, though there is a rule that is known unto all, and which teaches, that an ‘eye must be returned for an eye,’ and ‘a tooth for a tooth.’ I am no troubler of county-houses, and least of all do I like living on a plantation that the sheriff has surveyed; yet there is a reason in such a law, that makes it a safe rule to journey by, and therefore it ar’ a solemn fact that this day shall I abide by it, and give unto all and each that which is his due and no more.”

When Ishmael had delivered his mind thus far, he paused and looked about him, as if he would trace the effects in the countenances of his hearers. When his eye met that of Middleton, he was answered by the latter—

“If the evil-doer is to be punished, and he that has offended none to be left to go at large, you must change situations with me, and become a prisoner instead of a judge.”

“You mean to say that I have done you wrong, in taking the lady from her father’s house, and leading her so far against her will into these wild districts,” returned the unmoved squatter, who manifested as little resentment as he betrayed compunction at the charge. “I shall not put the lie on the back of an evil deed, and deny your words. Since things have come to this pass between us, I have found time to think the matter over at my leisure, and though none of your swift thinkers, who can see, or who pretend to see, into the nature of all things, by a turn of the eye, yet am I a man open to reason, and give me my time, one who is not given to deny the truth. Therefore have I mainly concluded, that it was a mistake to take a child from its parent, and the lady shall be returned whence she has been brought, as tenderly and as safely as man can do it.”

“Ay, ay,” added Esther, “the man is right. Poverty and labour bore hard upon him, especially as county- officers were getting troublesome, and in a weak moment he did the wicked act; but he has listened to my words, and his mind has got round again into its honest corner. An awful and a dangerous thing it is to be bringing the daughters of other people into a peaceable and well-governed family!”

“And who will thank you for the same, after what has been already done?” muttered Abiram, with a grin of disappointed cupidity, in which malignity and terror were disgustingly united; “when the devil has once made out his account, you may look for your receipt in full only at his hands.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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