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Chapter 6 - Adventures in the Far West by Mayne Reid

Antoine the Steward

I had been very much struck by the appearance of this dame. Not so much on account of her physical beauty—though that was of a rare kind—as by the air that characterised her. I should feel a difficulty in describing this, which consisted in a certain braverie that bespoke courage and self-possession. There was no coarseness of manner—only the levity of a heart gay as summer, and light as gossamer, but capable, when occasion required, of exhibiting a wonderful boldness and strength. She was a woman that would be termed beautiful in any country; but with her beauty there was combined elegance, both in dress and manner, that told you at once she was a lady accustomed to society and the world. And this, although still young—she certainly could not have been much over twenty. Louisiana has a precocious climate, however; and a Creole of twenty will count for an Englishwoman of ten years older.

Was she married? I could not bring myself to think so; besides the expressions, “my plantation” and “my steward,” would scarcely have been used by a lady who had “somebody” at home, unless, indeed, that somebody were held in very low estimation—in short, considered a “nobody.” A widow she might be—a very young widow—but even that did not seem to me probable. She had not the “cut” of a widow in my eyes, and there was not the semblance of a “weed” either about her dress or her looks. The Captain had styled her Madame, but he was evidently unacquainted with her, and also with the French idiom. In a doubtful case such as this, it should have been “Mademoiselle.”

Inexperienced as I was at the time—“green,” as the Americans have it—I was not without some curiosity in regard to women, especially when these chanced to be beautiful. My curiosity in the present case had been stimulated by several circumstances. First, by the attractive loveliness of the lady herself; second, by the style of her conversation and the facts it had revealed; third, by the circumstance that the lady was, or I fancied her to be, a “Creole.”

I had as yet had but little intercourse with people of this peculiar race, and was somewhat curious to know more about them. I had found them by no means ready to open their doors to the Saxon stranger—especially the old “Creole noblesse,” who even to this hour regard their Anglo-American fellow-citizens somewhat in the light of invaders and usurpers! This feeling was at one time deeply rooted. With time, however, it is dying out.

A fourth spur to my curiosity was found in the fact, that the lady in passing had eyed me with a glance of more than ordinary inquisitiveness. Do not be too hasty in blaming me for this declaration. Hear me first. I did not for a moment fancy that that glance was one of admiration. I had no such thoughts. I was too young at the time to flatter myself with such fancies. Besides, at that precise moment I was far from being “in my zenith.” With scarce five dollars in my purse, I felt rather forlorn; and how could I have fancied that a brilliant beauty such as she—a star of first magnitude—a rich proprietress—the owner of a plantation, a steward, and a host of slaves—would condescend to look admiringly on such a friendless wretch as I?

In truth, I did not flatter myself with such thoughts. I supposed that it was simple curiosity on her part—and no more. She saw that I was not of her own race. My complexion—the colour of my eyes—the cut of my garments—perhaps something gauche in my manner—told her I was a stranger to the soil, and that had excited her interest for a passing moment. A mere ethnological reflection—nothing more.

The act, however, had helped to pique my curiosity; and I felt desirous of knowing at least the name of this distinguished creature.

The “steward,” thought I, may serve my purpose, and I turned towards that individual.

He was a tall, grey-haired, lathy, old Frenchman, well-dressed, and sufficiently respectable-looking to have passed for the lady’s father. His aspect, too, was quite venerable, giving you the idea of long service and a very old family.

I saw, as I approached him, that my chances were but indifferent. I found him as “close as a clam.” Our conversation was very brief; his answers laconic.

“Monsieur, may I ask who is your mistress?”

“A lady.”

“True: any one may tell that who has the good fortune of looking at her. It was her name I asked for.”

“It does not concern you to know it.”

“Not if it be of so much importance to keep it a secret!”


This exclamation, muttered, rather than spoken aloud, ended the dialogue; and the old fellow turned away on giving expression to it—no doubt cursing me in his heart as a meddling Yankee.

I applied myself to the sable Jehu of the barouche, but with no better success. He was getting his horses aboard, and not liking to give direct answers to my questions, he “dodged” them by dodging around his horses, and appearing to be very busy on the offside. Even the name I was unable to get out of him, and I also gave him up in despair.

The name, however, was furnished me shortly after from an unexpected source. I had returned to the boat, and had seated myself once more under the awning, watching the boatmen, with rolled-up red shirts, use their brawny arms in getting their freight aboard. I saw it was the same which had been delivered from the drays—the property of the lady. It consisted, for the most part, of barrels of pork and flour, with a quantity of dried hams, and some bags of coffee.

“Provisions for her large establishment,” soliloquised I.

Just then some packages of a different character were pushed upon the staging. These were leathern trunks, travelling bags, rosewood cases, bonnet-boxes, and the like.

“Ha! her personal luggage,” I again reflected, and continued to puff my cigar. Regarding the transfer of the trunks, my eye was suddenly attracted to some lettering that appeared upon one of the packages—a leathern portmanteau. I sprang from my seat, and as the article was carried up the gangway stair I met it halfway. I glanced my eye over the lettering, and read—

“Mademoiselle Eugénie Besançon.”

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