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Chapter 5 - Adventures in the Far West by Mayne Reid

A Desirable Fellow-Passenger

Before I had entered into conversation with the Captain, I saw a barouche approaching on the opposite side, apparently coming from the French quarter of the city. It was a handsome equipage, driven by a well-clad and evidently well-fed black, and as it drew near, I could perceive that it was occupied by a young and elegantly-attired lady.

I cannot say why, but I felt a presentiment, accompanied perhaps by a silent wish, that the occupant of the barouche was about to be a fellow-passenger. It was not long before I learnt that such was her intention.

The barouche drew up on the crest of the Levee, and I saw the lady directing some inquiry to a bystander, who immediately pointed to our Captain. The latter, perceiving that he was the object inquired after, stepped up to the side of the carriage, and bowed to the lady. I was close to the spot, and every word reached me.

“Monsieur! are you the captain of the Belle of the West?”

The lady spoke in French, a smattering of which the Captain in his intercourse with the Creoles had picked up.

“Yes, madame,” was the reply.

“I wish to take passage with you.”

“I shall be most happy to accommodate you, madame. There is still one state-room disengaged, I believe, Mr Shirley?”

Here the Captain appealed to the clerk, in order to ascertain if such was the case.

“Never mind!” said the lady, interrupting him, “for the matter of a state-room it is of no importance! You will reach my plantation before midnight, and therefore I shall not require to sleep aboard.”

The phrase, “my plantation,” evidently had an effect upon the Captain. Naturally not a rude man, it seemed to render him still more attentive and polite. The proprietor of a Louisiana plantation is a somebody not to be treated with nonchalance; but, when that proprietor chances to be a young and charming lady, who could be otherwise than amiable? Not Captain B., commander of the “Belle of the West!” The very name of his boat negatived the presumption!

Smiling blandly, he inquired where he was to land his fair charge.

“At Bringiers,” replied the lady. “My residence is a little below, but our landing is not a good one; besides, there is some freight which it would be better to put ashore at Bringiers.”

Here the occupant of the barouche pointed to a train of drays, loaded with barrels and boxes, that had just driven up, and halted in the rear of the carriage.

The sight of the freight had a still further pleasant effect on the Captain, who was himself part owner of his boat. He became profuse in offers of service, and expressed his willingness to accommodate his new passenger in every way she might desire.

“Monsieur Capitaine,” continued this handsome lady, still remaining seated in her carriage, and speaking in a tone of good-natured seriousness, “I must make one condition with you.”

“Please to name it, madame.”

“Well then! It is reported that your boat is likely to have a race with some other one. If that be so, I cannot become your passenger.” The Captain looked somewhat disconcerted. “The fact is,” continued she, “I had a narrow escape once before, and I am determined to run no such risk in future.”

“Madame—,” stammered the Captain—then hesitating—

“Oh, then!” interrupted the lady, “if you cannot give me the assurance that you will not race, I must wait for some other boat.”

The Captain hung his head for some seconds. He was evidently reflecting upon his answer. To be thus denied the anticipated excitement and pleasure of the race—the victory which he confidently expected, and its grand consequences; to appear, as it were, afraid of trying the speed of his boat; afraid that she would be beaten; would give his rival a large opportunity for future bragging, and would place himself in no enviable light in the eyes of his crew and passengers—all of whom had already made up their minds for a race. On the other hand, to refuse the request of the lady—not very unreasonable when properly viewed—and still more reasonable when it was considered that that lady was the proprietress of several dray-loads of freight, and when still further considered that that lady was a rich plantress of the “French coast,” and might see fit next fall to send several hundred casks of sugar and as many hogsheads of tobacco down on his (the Captain’s) boat;—these considerations, I say, made the request quite reasonable. And so we suppose, upon reflection, it must have appeared to Captain B—, for after a little hesitation he granted it. Not with the best grace, however. It evidently cost him a struggle; but interest prevailed, and he granted it.

“I accept your conditions, madame. The boat shall not run. I give you my promise to that effect.”

“Assez! thanks! Monsieur le Capitaine; I am greatly obliged to you. If you will be so good as to have my freight taken aboard. The carriage goes along. This gentleman is my steward. Here, Antoine! He will look to everything. And now pray, Capitaine, when do you contemplate starting?”

“In fifteen minutes, madame, at the latest.”

“Are you sure of that, mon Capitaine?” she inquired, with a significant laugh, which told she was no stranger to the want of punctuality of the boats.

“Quite sure, madame,” replied the Captain; “you may depend on the time.”

“Ah! then, I shall go aboard at once!” And, so saying, she lightly tripped down the steps of the barouche, and giving her arm to the Captain, who had gallantly proffered himself, was conducted to the ladies’ cabin, and of course for a time lost to the admiring eyes, not only of myself, but of a goodly number of others who had already been attracted to gaze upon this beautiful apparition.

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