Chapter 22 - Adventures in the Far West by Mayne Reid

Aurore loves me.

“Aurore loves me!”

The thought thus expressed was of younger date than the day of my removing to Bringiers from the plantation. A month had elapsed since that day.

The details of my life during that month would possess but little interest for you, reader; though to me every hour was fraught with hopes or fears that still hold a vivid place in my memory. When the heart is charged with love, every trifle connected with that love assumes the magnitude of an important matter; and thoughts or incidents that otherwise would soon be forgotten, hold a firm place in the memory. I could write a volume about my affairs of that month, every line of which would be deeply interesting to me, but not to you. Therefore I write it not; I shall not even present you with the journal that holds its history.

I continued to live in the hotel at Bringiers. I grew rapidly stronger. I spent most of my time in rambling through the fields and along the Levee—boating upon the river—fishing in the bayous—hunting through the cane-breaks and cypress-swamps, and occasionally killing time at a game of billiards, for every Louisiana village has its billiard salon.

The society of Reigart, whom I now called friend, I enjoyed—when his professional engagements permitted.

His books, too, were my friends; and from these I drew my first lessons in botany. I studied the sylva of the surrounding woods, till at a glance I could distinguish every tree and its kind—the giant cypress, emblem of sorrow, with tall shaft shooting out of the apex of its pyramidal base, and crowned with its full head of sad dark foliage,—sadder from its drapery of tillandsia; the “tupelo” (Nyssa aquatica), that nymph that loves the water, with long delicate leaves and olive-like fruit—the “persimmon,” or “American lotus” (Diospyros Virginiana), with its beautiful green foliage and red date-plums—the gorgeous magnolia grandiflora, and its congener, the tall tulip-tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)—the water-locust (Gleditschia monosperma); and, of the same genus, the three-thorned honey-locust (triacanthos), whose light pinnated leaves scarce veil the sun—the sycamore (platanus), with its smooth trunk and wide-reaching limbs of silvery hue—the sweet-gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), exuding its golden drops—the aromatic but sanitary “sassafras” (Laurus sassafras)—the “red-bay” (Laurus Caroliniensis), of cinnamon-like aroma—the oaks of many species, at the head of which might be placed that majestic evergreen of the southern forests, the “live-oak” (Quercus virens)—the “red ash,” with its hanging bunches of samarce—the shady nettle-tree (Celtis crassifolia), with its large cordate leaves and black drupes—and last, though not least interesting, the water-loving cotton-wood (Populus angulata). Such is the sylva that covers the alluvion of Louisiana.

It is a region beyond the limits of the true palm-tree; but this has its representative in the palmetto—“latanier” of the French—the Sabal palm of the botanist, of more than one species, forming in many places the underwood, and giving a tropical character to the forest.

I studied the parasites—the huge llianas, with branches like tree-trunks, black and gnarled; the cane-vines, with pretty star-like flowers; the muscadine grape-vines, with their dark purple clusters; the bignonias, with trumpet-shaped corollas; the smilacae, among which are conspicuous the Smilax rotundifolia, the thick bamboo-briar, and the balsamic sarsaparilla.

Not less interesting were the vegetable forms of cultivation—the “staples” from which are drawn the wealth of the land. These were the sugar-cane, the rice-reed, the maize and tobacco-plants, the cotton shrub, and the indigo. All were new to me, and I studied their propagation and culture with interest.

Though a month apparently passed in idleness, it was, perhaps, one of the most profitably employed of my life. In that short month I acquired more real knowledge than I had done during years of classic study.

But I had learnt one fact that I prized above all, and that was, that I was beloved by Aurore!

I learnt it not from her lips—no words had given me the assurance—and yet I was certain that it was so; certain as that I lived. Not all the knowledge in the world could have given me the pleasure of that one thought!

“Aurora loves me!”

This was my exclamation, as one morning I emerged from the village upon the road leading to the plantation. Three times a week—sometimes even more frequently—I had made this journey. Sometimes I encountered strangers at the house—friends of Mademoiselle. Sometimes I found her alone, or in company with Aurore. The latter I could never find alone! Oh! how I longed for that opportunity!

My visits, of course, were ostensibly to Mademoiselle. I dared not seek an interflow with the slave.

Eugénie still preserved the air of melancholy, that now appeared to have settled upon her. Sometimes she was even sad,—at no time cheerful. As I was not made the confidant of her sorrows, I could only guess at the cause. Gayarre, of course, I believed to be the fiend.

Of him I had learnt little. He shunned me on the road, or in the fields; and upon his grounds I never trespassed. I found that he was held in but little respect, except among those who worshipped his wealth. How he was prospering in his suit with Eugénie I knew not. The world talked of such a thing as among the “probabilities”—though one of the strange ones, it was deemed. I had sympathy for the young Creole, but I might have felt it more profoundly under other circumstances. As it was, my whole soul was under the influence of a stronger passion—my love for Aurore.

“Yes—Aurore loves me!” I repeated to myself as I passed out from the village, and faced down the Levee road.

I was mounted. Reigart, in his generous hospitality, had even made me master of a horse—a fine animal that rose buoyantly under me, as though he was also imbued by some noble passion.

My well-trained steed followed the path without need of guidance, and dropping the bridle upon his neck, I left him to go at will, and pursued the train of my reflections.

I loved this young girl—passionately and devotedly I loved her. She loved me. She had not declared it in words, but her looks; and now and then a slight incident—scarce more than a fleeting glance or gesture—had convinced me that it was so.

Love taught me its own language. I needed no interpreter—no tongue to tell I was beloved.

These reflections were pleasant, far more than pleasant; but others followed them of a very different nature.

With whom was I in love? A slave! True, a beautiful slave—but still a slave! How the world would laugh! how Louisiana would laugh—nay, scorn and persecute! The very proposal to make her my wife would subject me to derision and abuse. “What! marry a slave! ’Tis contrary to the laws of the land!” Dared I to marry her—even were she free?—she, a quadroon!—I should be hunted from the land, or shut up in one of its prisons!

All this I knew, but not one straw cared I for it. The world’s obloquy in one scale, my love for Aurore in the other—the former weighed but a feather.

True, I had deep regret that Aurore was a slave, but it sprang not from that consideration. Far different was the reason of my regret. How was I to obtain her freedom? That was the question that troubled me.

Up to this time I had made light of the matter. Before I knew that I was beloved it seemed a sequence very remote. But it was now brought nearer, and all the faculties of my mind became concentrated on that one thought—“How was I to obtain her freedom?” Had she been an ordinary slave, the answer would have been easy enough; for though not rich, my fortune was still equal to the price of a human being!

In my eyes Aurore was priceless. Would she also appear so in the eyes of her young mistress? Was my bride for sale on any terms? But even if money should be deemed an equivalent, would Mademoiselle sell her to me? An odd proposal, that of buying her slave for my wife! What would Eugénie Besançon think of it?

The very idea of this proposal awed me; but the time to make it had not yet arrived.

I must first have an interview with Aurore, demand a confession of her love, and then, if she consent to become mine,—my wife,—the rest may be arranged. I see not clearly the way, but a love like mine will triumph over everything. My passion nerves me with power, with courage, with energy. Obstacles must yield; opposing wills be coaxed or crushed; everything must give way that stands between myself and my love! “Aurore! I come! I come!”