Chapter 28 - Adventures in the Far West by Mayne Reid

Gayarre and “Bully Bill.”

On riding out from the quarter I changed my intention of taking the back road. My visit would no doubt become known to Mademoiselle, and it differed not if I should now be seen from the house. My blood was up—so was that of my horse. A rail-fence was nothing to either of us now; so heading round, I cleared a couple of palings; and then striking across a cotton-field arrived once more on the Levee road.

After a while, as soon as I had cooled down my horse, I rode slowly, reflecting upon what had just happened.

It was evident that this ruffian had been put upon the plantation by Gayarre for some secret purpose. Whether he and the lawyer had had previous acquaintance I could not guess; but such men have a sort of instinctive knowledge of one another, and he might be only a waif that the latter had picked up since the night of the wreck. On the boat I had supposed him to be some rough gambler, by the propensity he exhibited for betting; and possibly he might have been playing that rôle of late. It was evident, however, that “negro-driving” was his trade; at all events it was not new to him.

Strange that he had been all this time on the plantation without knowing of me! But that could be easily accounted for. He had never seen me during my stay at the house. Moreover, he may have been ignorant that Mademoiselle was the lady with whom he intended to have shared the life-preserver. This last hypothesis was probable enough, for there were other ladies who escaped by means of rafts, and sofas, and life-preservers. I fancied he had not seen Mademoiselle until she was springing over the guards, and would therefore scarce recognise her again.

The cause of my being an invalid was only known to Mademoiselle, Aurore, and Scipio; and the latter had been charged not to carry this knowledge to the negro quarter. Then the fellow was but new on the plantation, and had but little intercourse with its mistress, as he received most of his orders from Gayarre; besides, he was but a dull brute after all.

It was just like enough that, up to the moment of our late encounter, he had no suspicion either that I was his former antagonist on the boat, or Eugénie Besançon the lady who had escaped him. He must have known of my presence on the plantation, but only as one of the survivors of the wreck, badly wounded,—scalded, perhaps,—but there had been a number of others, picked up,—scarce a house for some distance along the coast but had given shelter to some wounded or half-drowned unfortunate. He had been busy with his own affairs; or rather, perhaps, those of Gayarre: for I had no doubt there was some conspiracy between them in which this fellow was to play a part. Dull as he was, he had something which his employer might regard of more value than intellect; something, too, which the latter himself lacked,—brute strength and brute courage. Gayarre no doubt had a use for him, else he would not have been there.

He knew me now, and was not likely soon to forget me. Would he seek revenge? Beyond doubt he would, but I fancied it would be by some base underhand means. I had no fear that he would again attack me openly, at least by himself. I felt quite sure that I had conquered, and encowardiced him. I had encountered his like before. I know that his courage was not of that character to outlive defeat. It was the courage of the bravo.

I had no fear of an open attack. All I had to apprehend was some, secret revenge, or perhaps the law!

You will wonder that any thought or dread of the latter should have occurred to me: but it did; and I had my reasons.

The knowledge of Gayarre’s designs, the detection of his villainous purpose with Aurore, and my rencontre with Larkin, had brought matters to a crisis. I was filled with anxiety, and convinced of the necessity of a speedy interview with Mademoiselle, in relation to what was nearest to my heart, the purchase of the quadroon. There was no reason why a single hour should be wasted, now that Aurore and I understood each other, and had, in fact, betrothed ourselves.

I even thought of riding back at once, and had turned my horse for the purpose. I hesitated. My resolution wavered. I wheeled round again, and kept on to Bringiers, with the determination to return to the plantation at an early hour in the morning.

I entered the village and proceeded straight to the hotel. On my table I found a letter containing a cheque for two hundred pounds on the Bringiers bank. It was from my banking agent in New Orleans, who had received it from England. The letter also contained the information that five hundred more would reach me in a few days. The sum received was a pleasant relief, and would enable me to discharge my pecuniary obligations to Reigart; which in the next hour I had the pleasure of doing.

I passed a night of great anxiety,—almost a sleepless night. No wonder. To-morrow was to be a crisis. For me, happiness or misery was in the womb of to-morrow. A thousand hopes and fears hung suspended on the result of my interview with Eugénie Besançon. I actually looked forward to this interview with more anxiety than I had done but a few hours ago to that with Aurore! Perhaps, because I had less confidence in a favourable result.

As early as etiquette would allow of a morning visit, I was in the saddle, and heading towards the plantation Besançon.

As I rode out of the village I noticed that men regarded me with glances that bespoke an unusual interest.

“My affair with the overseer is already known,” thought I. “No doubt the negroes have spread the report of it. Such matters soon become public.”

I was unpleasantly impressed with an idea that the expression on people’s faces was anything but a friendly one. Had I committed an unpopular act in protecting myself? Usually the conqueror in such an encounter is rather popular than otherwise, in the chivalric land of Louisiana. Why, then, did men look scowling upon me? What had I done to merit reproach? I had “whipped” a rude fellow, whom men esteemed a “bully;” and in self-defence had I acted. The act should have gained me applause, according to the code of the country. Why then,—ha! stay! I had interfered between white and black. I had protected a slave from punishment. Perhaps that might account for the disagreeable expression I had observed!

I could just guess at another cause, of a very different and somewhat ludicrous character. It had got rumoured abroad that I “was upon good terms with Mademoiselle Besançon,” and that it was not unlikely that one of these fine days the adventurer, whom nobody knew anything about, would carry off the rich plantress!

There is no part of the world where such a bonne fortune is not regarded with envy. The United States is no exception to the rule; and I had reason to know that on account of this absurd rumour I was not very favourably regarded by some of the young planters and dandy storekeepers who loitered about the streets of Bringiers.

I rode on without heeding the “black looks” that were cast upon me, and indeed soon ceased thinking of them. My mind was too full of anxiety about the approaching interview to be impressed with minor cares.

Of course Eugénie would have heard all about the affair of yesterday. What would be her feelings in relation to it? I felt certain that this ruffian was forced upon, her by Gayarre. She would have no sympathy with him. The question was, would she have the courage—nay, the power to discharge him from her service? Even on hearing who he was? It was doubtful enough!

I was overwhelmed with sympathy for this poor girl. I felt satisfied that Gayarre must be her creditor to a large amount, and in that way had her in his power. What he had said to Aurore convinced me that such was the case. Indeed, Reigart had heard some whisper that his debt had already been proved before the courts in New Orleans; that no opposition had been made; that he had obtained a verdict, and could seize upon her property, or as much of it as would satisfy his demands, at any moment! It was only the night before Reigart had told me this, and the information had rendered me all the more anxious to hasten my business in relation to Aurore.

I spurred into a gallop, and soon came in sight of the plantation. Having arrived at the gate, I dismounted. There was no one to hold my horse, but that is a slight matter in America, where a gate-post or a branch of a tree often serves as a groom.

Bethinking me of this ready expedient I tossed my rein over one of the palings, and walked toward the house.