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Chapter 21 - Adventures in the Far West by Mayne Reid

A Change of Quarters

I was thinking over my short interview with Aurore—congratulating myself upon some expressions she had dropped—happy in the anticipation that such encounters would recur frequently, now that I was able to be abroad—when in the midst of my pleasant reverie the door of my apartment became darkened. I looked up, and beheld the hated face of Monsieur Dominique Gayarre.

It was his first visit since the morning after my arrival upon the plantation. What could he want with me?

I was not kept long in suspense, for my visitor, without even apologising for his intrusion, opened his business abruptly and at once.

“Monsieur,” began he, “I have made arrangements for your removal to the hotel at Bringiers.”

“You have?” said I, interrupting him in a tone as abrupt and something more indignant than his own. “And who, sir, may I ask, has commissioned you to take this trouble?”

“Ah—oh!” stammered he, somewhat tamed down by his brusque reception, “I beg pardon, Monsieur. Perhaps you are not aware that I am the agent—the friend—in fact, the guardian of Mademoiselle Besançon—and—and—”

“Is it Mademoiselle Besançon’s wish that I go to Bringiers?”

“Well—the truth is—not exactly her wish; but you see, my dear sir, it is a delicate affair—your remaining here, now that you are almost quite recovered, upon which I congratulate you—and—and—”

“Go on, sir!”

“Your remaining here any longer—under the circumstances—would be—you can judge for yourself, sir—would be, in fact, a thing that would be talked about in the neighbourhood—in fact, considered highly improper.”

“Hold, Monsieur Gayarre! I am old enough not to require lessons in etiquette from you, sir.”

“I beg pardon, sir. I do not mean that but—I—you will observe—I, as the lawful guardian of the young lady—”

“Enough, sir. I understand you perfectly. For your purposes, whatever they be, you do not wish me to remain any longer on this plantation. Your desire shall be gratified. I shall leave the place, though certainly not with any intention of accommodating you. I shall go hence this very evening.”

The words upon which I had placed emphasis, startled the coward like a galvanic shock. I saw him turn pale as they were uttered, and the wrinkles deepened about his eyes. I had touched a chord, which he deemed a secret one, and its music sounded harsh to him. Lawyer-like, however, he commanded himself, and without taking notice of my insinuation, replied in a tone of whining hypocrisy—

“My dear monsieur! I regret this necessity; but the fact is, you see—the world—the busy, meddling world—”

“Spare your homilies, sir! Your business, I fancy, is ended; at all events your company is no longer desired.”

“Humph!” muttered he. “I regret you should take it in this way—I am sorry—”

And with a string of similar incoherent phrases he made his exit.

I stepped up to the door and looked after, to see which way he would take. He walked direct to the house! I saw him go in!

This visit and its object had taken me by surprise, though I had not been without some anticipation of such an event. The conversation I had overheard between him and the doctor rendered it probable that such would be the result; though I hardly expected being obliged to change my quarters so soon. For another week or two I had intended to stay where I was. When quite recovered, I should have moved to the hotel of my own accord.

I felt vexed, and for several reasons. It chagrined me to think that this wretch possessed such a controlling influence; for I did not believe that Mademoiselle Besançon had anything to do with my removal. Quite the contrary. She had visited me but a few hours before, and not a word had been said of the matter. Perhaps she might have thought of it, and did not desire to mention it? But no. This could hardly be. I noticed no change in her manner during the interview. The same kindness—the same interest in my recovery—the same solicitude about the little arrangements of my food and attendance, were shown by her up to the last moment. She evidently contemplated no change so sudden as that proposed by Gayarre. Reflection convinced me that the proposal had been made without any previous communication with her.

What must be the influence of this man, that he dare thus step between her and the rites of hospitality? It was a painful thought to me, to see this fair creature in the power of such a villain.

But another thought was still more painful—the thought of parting with Aurore. Though I did not fancy that parting was to be for ever. No! Had I believed that, I should not have yielded so easily. I should have put Monsieur Dominique to the necessity of a positive expulsion. Of course, I had no apprehension that by removing to the village I should be debarred from visiting the plantation as often as I felt inclined. Had that been the condition, my reflections would have been painful indeed.

After all, the change would signify little. I should return as a visitor, and in that character be more independent than as a guest—more free, perhaps, to approach the object of my love! I could come as often as I pleased. The same opportunities of seeing her would still be open to me. I wanted but one—one moment alone with Aurore—and then bliss or blighted hopes!

But there were other considerations that troubled me at this moment. How was I to live at the hotel? Would the proprietor believe in promises, and wait until my letters, already sent off, could be answered? Already I had been provided with suitable apparel, mysteriously indeed. I awoke one morning and found it by my bedside. I made no inquiry as to how it came there. That would be an after-consideration; but with regard to money, how was that to be obtained? Must I become her debtor? Or am I to be under obligations to Gayarre? Cruel dilemma!

At this juncture I thought of Reigart. His calm, kind face came up before me.

“An alternative!” soliloquised I; “he will help me!”

The thought seemed to have summoned him; for at that moment the good doctor entered the room, and became the confidant of my wishes.

I had not misjudged him. His purse lay open upon the table; and I became his debtor for as much of its contents as I stood in need of.

“Very strange!” said he, “this desire of hurrying you off on the part of Monsieur Gayarre. There is something more in it than solicitude for the character of the lady. Something more: what can it all mean?”

The doctor said this partly in soliloquy, and as if searching his own thoughts for an answer.

“I am almost a stranger to Mademoiselle Besançon,” he continued, “else I should deem it my duty to know more of this matter. But Monsieur Gayarre is her guardian; and if he desire you to leave, it will perhaps be wiser to do so. She may not be her own mistress entirely. Poor thing! I fear there is debt at the bottom of the mystery; and if so, she will be more a slave than any of her own people. Poor young lady!”

Reigart was right. My remaining longer might add to her embarrassments. I felt satisfied of this.

“I am desirous to go at once, doctor.”

“My barouche is at the gate, then. You can have a seat in it. I can set you down at the hotel.”

“Thanks, thanks! the very thing I should have asked of you, and I accept your offer. I have but few preparations to make, and will be ready for you in a moment.”

“Shall I step over to the house, and prepare Mademoiselle for your departure?”

“Be so kind. I believe Gayarre is now there?”

“No. I met him near the gate of his own plantation, returning home. I think she is alone. I shall see her and return for you.”

The doctor left me, and walked over to the house. He was absent but a few minutes, when he returned to make his report. He was still further perplexed at what he had learnt.

Mademoiselle had heard from Gayarre, just an hour before, that I had expressed my intention of removing to the hotel! She had been surprised at this, as I had said nothing about it at our late interview. She would not hear of it at first, but Gayarre had used arguments to convince her of the policy of such a step; and the doctor, on my part, had also urged it. She had at length, though reluctantly, consented. Such was the report of the doctor, who further informed me that she was waiting to receive me.

Guided by Scipio, I made my way to the drawing-room. I found her seated; but upon my entrance she rose, and came forward to meet me with both hands extended. I saw that she was in tears!

“Is it true you intend leaving us, Monsieur?”

“Yes, Mademoiselle; I am now quite strong again. I have come to thank you for your kind hospitality, and say adieu.”

“Hospitality!—ah, Monsieur, you have reason to think it cold hospitality since I permit you to leave us so soon. I would you had remained; but—” Here she became embarrassed: “but—you are not to be a stranger, although you go to the hotel. Bringiers is near; promise that you will visit us often—in fact, every day?”

I need not say that the promise was freely and joyfully given.

“Now,” said she, “since you have given that promise, with less regret I can say adieu!”

She extended her hand for a parting salute. I took her fingers in mine, and respectfully kissed them. I saw the tears freshly filling in her eyes, as she turned away to conceal them.

I was convinced she was acting under constraint, and against her inclination, else I should not have been allowed to depart. Hers was not the spirit to fear gossip or scandal. Some other pressure was upon her.

I was passing out through the hall, my eyes eagerly turning in every direction. Where was she? Was I not to have even a parting word!

At that moment a side-door was gently opened. My heart beat wildly as it turned upon its hinge. Aurore!

I dare not trust myself to speak aloud. It would have been overheard in the drawing-room. A look, a whisper, a silent pressure of the hand, and I hurried away; but the return of that pressure, slight and almost imperceptible as it was, fired my veins with delight; and I walked on towards the gate with the proud step of a conqueror.

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