Chapter 17 - Adventures in the Far West by Mayne Reid


I was for the moment alone, Scipio having betaken himself to the kitchen in search of the tea, toast, and chicken “fixings.” I lay reflecting upon the interview just ended, and especially upon the conversation between the doctor and Gayarre, in which had occurred several points that suggested singular ideas. The conduct of the doctor was natural enough, indeed betokened the true gentleman; but for the other there was a sinister design—I could not doubt it.

Why the desire—an anxiety, in fact—to have me removed to the hotel? Evidently there was some strong motive, since he proposed to pay the expenses; for from my slight knowledge of the man I knew him to be the very opposite to generous!

“What can be his motive for my removal?” I asked myself.

“Ha! I have it—I have the explanation! I see through his designs clearly! This fox, this cunning avocat, this guardian, is no doubt in love with his own ward! She is young, rich, beautiful, a belle, and he old, ugly, mean, and contemptible; but what of that? He does not think himself either one or the other; and she—bah!—he may even hope: far less reasonable hopes have been crowned with success. He knows the world; he is a lawyer; he knows at least her world. He is her solicitor; holds her affairs entirely in his hands; he is guardian, executor, agent—all; has perfect and complete control. With such advantages, what can he not effect? All that he may desire—her marriage, or her ruin. Poor lady! I pity her!”

Strange to say, it was only pity. That it was not another feeling was a mystery I could not comprehend.

The entrance of Scipio interrupted my reflections. A young girl assisted him with the plates and dishes. This was “Chloe,” his daughter, a child of thirteen, or thereabouts, but not black like the father! She was a “yellow girl,” with rather handsome features. Scipio explained this. The mother of his “leettle Chlo,” as he called her, was a mulatta, and “‘Chlo’ hab taken arter de ole ’oman. Hya! hya!”

The tone of Scipio’s laugh showed that he was more than satisfied—proud, in fact—of being the father of so light-skinned and pretty a little creature as Chloe!

Chloe, like all her kind, was brimful of curiosity, and in rolling about the whites of her eyes to get a peep at the buckra stranger who had saved her mistress’ life, she came near breaking cups, plates, and dishes; for which negligence Scipio would have boxed her ears, but for my intercession. The odd expressions and gestures, the novel behaviour of both father and daughter, the peculiarity of this slave-life, interested me.

I had a keen appetite, notwithstanding my weakness. I had eaten nothing on the boat; in the excitement of the race, supper had been forgotten by most of the passengers, myself among the number. Scipio’s preparations now put my palate in tune, and I did ample justice to the skill of Chloe’s mother, who, as Scipio informed me, was “de boss in de kitchen.” The tea strengthened me; the chicken, delicately fricasséed and garnished upon rice, seemed to refill my veins with fresh blood. With the exception of the slight pain of my wound, I already felt quite restored.

My attendants removed the breakfast things, and after a while Scipio returned to remain in the room with me, for such were his orders.

“And now, Scipio,” I said, as soon as we were alone, “tell me of Aurore!”

“’Rore, mass’r!”

“Yes—Who is Aurore?”

“Poor slave, mass’r; jes like Ole Zip heamseff.”

The vague interest I had begun to feel in “Aurore” vanished at once.

“A slave!” repeated I, involuntarily, and in a tone of disappointment.

“She Missa ’Génie’s maid,” continued Scipio; “dress missa’s hair—wait on her—sit wi’ her—read to her—do ebbery ting—”

“Read to her! what!—a slave?”

My interest in Aurore began to return.

“Ye, mass’r—daat do ’Rore. But I ’splain to you. Ole Mass’r ’Sançon berry good to de coloured people—teach many ob um read de books—’specially ’Rore. ’Rore he ’struckt read, write, many, many tings, and young Missa ’Génie she teach her de music. ’Rore she ’complish gal—berry ’complish gal. Know many ting; jes like de white folks. Plays on de peany—plays on de guitar—guitar jes like banjo, an Ole Zip play on daat heamseff—he do. Wugh!”

“And withal, Aurore is a poor slave just like the rest of you, Scipio?”

“Oh! no, mass’r; she be berry different from de rest. She lib different life from de other nigga—she no hard work—she berry vallyble—she fetch two thousand dollar!”

“Fetch two thousand dollars!”

“Ye, mass’r, ebbery cent—ebbery cent ob daat.”

“How know you?”

“’Case daat much war bid for her. Mass’r Marigny want buy ’Rore, an Mass’r Crozat, and de American Colonel on de oder side ob ribber—dey all bid two thousand dollar—ole mass’r he only larf at um, and say he won’t sell de gal for no money.”

“This was in old master’s time?”

“Ye—ye—but one bid since—one boss ob ribber-boat—he say he want ’Rore for de lady cabin. He talk rough to her. Missa she angry—tell ’im go. Mass’r Toney he angry, tell ’im go; and de boat captain he go angry like de rest. Hya! hya! hya!”

“And why should Aurore command such a price?”

“Oh! she berry good gal—berry good gal—but—”

Scipio hesitated a moment—“but—”


“I don’t b’lieve, mass’r, daat’s de reason.”

“What, then?”

“Why, mass’r, to tell de troof, I b’lieve dar all bad men daat wanted to buy de gal.”

Delicately as it was conveyed, I understood the insinuation.

“Ho! Aurore must be beautiful, then? Is it so, friend Scipio?”

“Mass’r, ’taint for dis ole nigger to judge ’bout daat; but folks dey say—bof white folks an black folks—daat she am de best-lookin’ an hansomest quaderoom in all Loozyanna.”

“Ha! a quadroon?”

“Daat are a fact, mass’r, daat same—she be a gal ob colour—nebber mind—she white as young missa herseff. Missa larf and say so many, many time, but fr’all daat dar am great difference—one rich lady—t’other poor slave—jes like Ole Zip—ay, jes like Ole Zip—buy ’em, sell ’em, all de same.”

“Could you describe Aurore, Scipio?”

It was not idle curiosity that prompted me to put this question. A stronger motive impelled me. The dream-face still haunted me—those features of strange type—its strangely-beautiful expression, not Caucasian, not Indian, not Asiatic. Was it possible—probable—

“Could you describe her, Scipio?” I repeated.

“’Scribe her, mass’r; daat what you mean? ye—yes.”

I had no hope of a very lucid painting, but perhaps a few “points” would serve to identify the likeness of my vision. In my mind the portrait was as plainly drawn as if the real face were before my eyes. I should easily tell if Aurore and my dream were one. I began to think it was no dream, but a reality.

“Well, mass’r, some folks says she am proud, case de common niggers envy ob her—daat’s de troof. She nebber proud to Ole Zip, daat I knows—she talk to ’im, an tell ’im many tings—she help teach Ole Zip read, and de ole Chloe, and de leettle Chloe, an she—”

“It is a description of her person I ask for, Scipio.”

“Oh! a ’scription ob her person—ye—daat is, what am she like?”

“So. What sort of hair, for instance? What colour is it?”

“Brack, mass’r; brack as a boot.”

“Is it straight hair?”

“No, mass’r—ob course not—Aurore am a quaderoom.”

“It curls?”

“Well, not dzactly like this hyar;” here Scipio pointed to his own kinky head-covering; “but for all daat, mass’r, it curls—what folks call de wave.”

“I understand; it falls down to her shoulders?”

“Daat it do, mass’r, down to de berry small ob her back.”


“What am dat, mass’r?”


“Golly! it am as bushy as de ole coon’s tail.”

“Now the eyes?”

Scipio’s description of the quadroon’s eyes was rather a confused one. He was happy in a simile, however, which I felt satisfied with: “Dey am big an round—dey shine like de eyes of a deer.” The nose puzzled him, but after some elaborate questioning, I could make out that it was straight and small. The eyebrows—the teeth—the complexion—were all faithfully pictured—that of the cheeks by a simile, “like de red ob a Georgium peach.”

Comic as was the description given, I had no inclination to be amused with it. I was too much interested in the result, and listened to every detail with an anxiety I could not account for.

The portrait was finished at length, and I felt certain it must be that of the lovely apparition. When Scipio had ended speaking, I lay upon my couch burning with an intense desire to see this fair—this priceless quadroon. Just then a bell rang from the house.

“Scipio wanted, mass’r—daat him bell—be back, ’gain in a minute, mass’r.”

So saying, the negro left me, and ran towards the house.

I lay reflecting on the singular—somewhat romantic—situation in which circumstances had suddenly placed me. But yesterday—but the night before—a traveller, without a dollar in my purse, and not knowing what roof would next shelter me—to-day the guest of a lady, young, rich, unmarried—the invalid guest—laid up for an indefinite period; well cared for and well attended.

These thoughts soon gave way to others. The dream-face drove them out of my mind, and I found myself comparing it with Scipio’s picture of the quadroon. The more I did so, the more I was struck with their correspondence. How could I have dreamt a thing so palpable? Scarce probable. Surely I must have seen it? Why not? Forms and faces were around me when I fainted and was carried in; why not hers among the rest? This was, indeed, probable, and would explain all. But was she among them? I should ask Scipio on his return.

The long conversation I had held with my attendant had wearied me, weak and exhausted as I was. The bright sun shining across my chamber did not prevent me from feeling drowsy; and after a few minutes I sank back upon my pillow, and fell asleep.