Chapter 16 - Adventures in the Far West by Mayne Reid

Monsieur Dominique Gayarre.

I felt a sudden desire, amounting almost to anxiety, to learn who was “Aurore.” Why? Was it the singularity and beauty of the name,—for novel and beautiful it sounded in my Saxon ears? No. Was it the mere euphony of the word; its mythic associations; its less ideal application to the rosy hours of the Orient, or the shining phosphorescence of the North? Was it any of these associate thoughts that awoke within me this mysterious interest in the name “Aurore?”

I was not allowed time to reflect, or question Scipio farther. At that moment the door was darkened by the entrance of two men; who, without saying a word, stepped inside the apartment.

“Da doctor, mass’r,” whispered Scipio, falling back, and permitting the gentlemen to approach.

Of the two it was not difficult to tell which was the “doctor.” The professional face was unmistakeable: and I knew that the tall pale man, who regarded me with interrogative glance, was a disciple of Esculapius, as certainly as if he had carried his diploma in one hand and his door-plate in the other.

He was a man of forty, not ill-featured, though the face was not one that would be termed handsome. It was, however, interesting, from a quiet intellectuality that characterised it, as well as an habitual expression of kind feeling. It had been a German face some two or three generations before, but an American climate,—political, I mean,—had tamed down the rude lines produced by ages of European despotism, and had almost restored it to its primitive nobility of feature. Afterwards, when better acquainted with American types, I should have known it as a Pennsylvanian face, and such in reality it was. I saw before me a graduate of one of the great medical schools of Philadelphia, Dr Edward Reigart. The name confirmed my suspicion of German origin.

Altogether my medical attendant made a pleasing impression upon me at first sight.

How different was that I received on glancing toward his companion—antagonism, hatred, contempt, disgust! A face purely French;—not that noble French face we see in the Duguesclins, the Jean Barts, and among many of the old Huguenot heroes; and in modern days in a Rollin, a Hugo, an Arago, or a Pyat;—but such an one as you may see any day by hundreds sneaking around the Bourse or the coulisses of the Opera, or in thousands scowling from under a shako in the ranks of a ruffian soldiery. A countenance that I cannot describe better than by saying that its features forcibly reminded me of those of a fox. I am not in jest. I observed this resemblance plainly. I observed the same obliquity of eyes, the same sharp quick glance that betokened the presence of deep dissimulation, of utter selfishness, of cruel inhumanity.

In the Doctor’s companion I beheld a type of this face,—the fox in human form, and with all the attributes of this animal highly developed.

My instincts chimed with Scipio’s, for I had not the slightest doubt that before me stood Monsieur Dominique Gayarre. It was he.

A man of small stature he was, and thinly built, but evidently one who could endure a great deal before parting with life. He had all the subtle wiry look of the carnivora, as well as their disposition. The eyes, as already observed, obliqued strongly downwards. The balls were not globe-shaped, but rather obtuse cones, of which the pupil was the apex. Both pupils and irides were black, and glistened like the eyes of a weasel. They seemed to sparkle in a sort of habitual smile; but this smile was purely cynical and deceptive. If any one knew themselves guilty of a weakness or a crime they felt certain that Dominique Gayarre knew it, and it was at this he was laughing. When a case of misfortune did really present itself to his knowledge, his smile became more intensely satirical, and his small prominent eyes sparkled with evident delight. He was a lover of himself and a hater of his kind.

For the rest, he had black hair, thin and limp—shaggy dark brows, set obliquely—face without beard, of pale cadaverous hue, and surmounted by a parrot-beak nose of large dimensions. His dress had somewhat of a professional cut, and consisted of dark broadcloth, with vest of black satin; and around his neck, instead of cravat, he wore a broad black ribbon. In age he looked fifty.

The doctor felt my pulse, asked me how I had slept, looked at my tongue, felt my pulse a second time, and then in a kindly way desired me to keep myself “as quiet as possible.” As an inducement to do so he told me I was still very weak, that I had lost a good deal of blood, but hoped that a few days would restore me to my strength. Scipio was charged with my diet, and was ordered to prepare tea, toast, and broiled chicken, for my breakfast.

The doctor did not inquire how I came by my wound. This I thought somewhat strange, but ascribed it to his desire that I should remain quiet. He fancied, no doubt, that any allusion to the circumstances of the preceding night might cause me unnecessary excitement. I was too anxious about Antoine to remain silent, and inquired the news. Nothing more had been heard of him. He was certainly lost.

I recounted the circumstances under which I had parted with him, and of course described my encounter with the bully, and how I had received the wound. I could not help remarking a strange expression that marked the features of Gayarre as I spoke. He was all attention, and when I told of the raft of chairs, and expressed my conviction that they would not support the steward a single moment, I fancied I saw the dark eyes of the avocat flashing with delight! There certainly was an expression in them of ill-concealed satisfaction that was hideous to behold. I might not have noticed this, or at all events not have understood it, but for what Scipio had already told me. Now its meaning was unmistakeable, and notwithstanding the “poor Monsieur Antoine!” to which the hypocrite repeatedly gave utterance, I saw plainly that he was secretly delighted at the idea of the old steward’s having gone to the bottom!

When I had finished my narrative, Gayarre drew the doctor aside; and the two conversed for some moments in a low tone. I could hear part of what passed between them. The doctor seemed not to care whether I overheard him, while the other appeared equally anxious that their conversation should not reach me. From the replies of the doctor I could make out that the wily lawyer wished to have me removed from my present quarters, and taken to an hotel in the village. He urged the peculiar position in which the young lady (Mademoiselle Besançon) would be placed—alone in her house with a stranger—a young man, etcetera, etcetera.

The doctor did not see the necessity of my removal on such grounds. The lady herself did not wish it—in fact, would not hear of it; he pooh-poohed the “peculiarity” of the “situation,” good Doctor Reigart!—the accommodation of the hotel was none of the best; besides, it was already crowded with other sufferers; and here the speaker’s voice sank so low I could only catch odd phrases, as “stranger,”, “not an American,” “lost everything,” “friends far away,” “the hotel no place for a man without money.” Gayarre’s reply to this last objection was that he would be responsible for my hotel bill.

This was intentionally spoken loud enough for me to hear it; and I should have felt grateful for such an offer, had I not suspected some sinister motive for the lawyer’s generosity. The doctor met the proposal with still further objections.

“Impossible,” said he; “bring on fever,” “great risk,” “would not take the responsibility,” “bad wound,” “much loss of blood,” “must remain where he is for the present at least,” “might be taken to the hotel in a day or two when stronger.”

The promise of my removal in a day or two appeared to satisfy the weasel Gayarre, or rather he became satisfied that such was the only course that could be taken with me, and the consultation ended.

Gayarre now approached the bed to take leave, and I could trace that ironical expression playing in the pupils of his little eyes as he pronounced some pretended phrases of consolation. He little knew to whom he was speaking. Had I uttered my name it would perhaps have brought the colour to his pale cheek, and caused him to make an abrupt exit. Prudence prevented me from declaring it; and when the doctor requested to know upon whom he had the honour of attending, I adopted the pardonable strategy, in use among distinguished travellers, of giving a nom du voyage. I assumed my maternal patronymic of Rutherford,—Edward Rutherford.

Recommending me to keep myself quiet, not to attempt leaving my bed, to take certain prescriptions at certain hours, etcetera, etcetera, the doctor took his leave; Gayarre having already gone out before him.