Chapter 29 - Adventures in the Far West by Mayne Reid

“Elle t’aime!”

It was natural I should have thoughts about my yesterday’s antagonist. Would I encounter him? Not likely. The butt of my whip had no doubt given him a headache that would confine him for some days to his quarters. But I was prepared for any event. Under my waistcoat were his own double-barrelled pistols, which I intended to use, if attacked. It was my first essay at carrying “concealed weapons,” but it was the fashion of the country at the time—a fashion followed by nineteen out of every twenty persons you met—by planters, merchants, lawyers, doctors, and even divines! So prepared, I had no fear of an encounter with “Bully Bill.” If my pulse beat quick and my step was nervous, it was on account of the anticipated interview with his mistress.

With all the coolness I could command, I entered the house.

I found Mademoiselle in the drawing-room. She received me without reserve or embarrassment. To my surprise as well as gratification she appeared more cheerful than usual. I could even detect a significant smile! I fancied she was pleased at what had occurred; for of course she was aware of it all. I could understand this well enough.

Aurore was not present. I was glad she was not. I hoped she would not come into the room—at least for a time. I was embarrassed. I scarce knew how to open the conversation, much less to break to Mademoiselle the matter that was nearest my heart. A few ordinary phrases passed between us, and then our conversation turned upon the affair of yesterday. I told her all—everything—except the scene with Aurore. That was omitted.

I hesitated for some time whether I should let her know who her overseer was. When she should ascertain that he was the fellow who had wounded me on the boat, and who but for me would have taken away her chances of safety, I felt certain she would insist upon getting rid of him at all risks.

For a moment I reflected upon the consequences. “She will never be safe,” thought I, “with such a ruffian at her side. Better for her to make stand at once.” Under this belief I boldly came out with the information.

She seemed astounded, and clasping her hands, remained for some moments in an attitude of mute agony. At length she cried out—

“Gayarre—Gayarre! it is you, Monsieur Gayarre! Oh! mon Dieu! mon Dieu! Where is my father? where is Antoine? God have mercy upon me!”

The expression of grief upon her lovely countenance went to my heart. She looked an angel of sorrow, sad but beautiful.

I interrupted her with consolatory phrases of the ordinary kind. Though I could only guess the nature of her sorrow, she listened to me patiently, and I fancied that what I said gave her pleasure.

Taking courage from this, I proceeded to inquire more particularly the cause of her grief. “Mademoiselle,” said I, “you will pardon the liberty I am taking; but for some time I have observed, or fancied, that you have a cause of—of—unhappiness—”

She fixed her eyes upon me in a gaze of silent wonder. I hesitated a moment under this strange regard, and then continued—

“Pardon me, Mademoiselle, if I speak too boldly; I assure you my motive—”

“Speak on, Monsieur!” she said, in a calm sad voice.

“I noticed this the more, because when I first had the pleasure of seeing you, your manner was so very different—in fact, quite the reverse—”

A sigh and a sad smile were the only reply. These interrupted me for but a moment, and I proceeded:—

“When first observing this change, Mademoiselle, I attributed it to grief for the loss of your faithful servitor and friend.”

Another melancholy smile.

“But the period of sorrowing for such a cause is surely past, and yet—”

“And yet you observe that I am still sad?”

“Just so, Mademoiselle.”

“True, Monsieur; it is even so.”

“I have ceased therefore to regard that as the cause of your melancholy; and have been forced to think of some other—”

The gaze of half surprise, half interrogation, that now met mine, caused me for a moment to suspend my speech. After a pause, I resumed it, determined to come at once to the point, “You will pardon me, Mademoiselle, for this free interest in your affairs—you will pardon me for asking. Do I not recognise in Monsieur Gayarre the cause of your unhappiness?”

She started at the question, and turned visibly paler. In a moment, however, she seemed to recover herself, and replied calmly, but with a look of strange significance:—

“Hélas! Monsieur, your suspicions are but partially correct. Hélas! Oh! God, support me!” she added, in a tone that sounded like despair. Then, as if by an effort, her manner seemed to undergo a sudden alteration, and she continued:—

“Please, Monsieur, let us change the subject? I owe you life and gratitude. Would I knew how to repay you for your generous gallantry—your—your—friendship. Perhaps some day you may know all. I would tell you now, but—but—Monsieur—there are—I cannot—”

“Mademoiselle Besançon, I entreat you, do not for a moment let the questions I have asked have any consideration. They were not put from idle curiosity. I need not tell you, Mademoiselle, that my motive was of a higher kind—”

“I know it, Monsieur—I know it; but no more of it now, I pray you—let us speak on some other subject.”

Some other subject! I had no longer the choice of one. I had no longer control of my tongue. The subject which was nearest my heart sprang spontaneously to my lips; and in hurried words I declared my love for Aurore.

I detailed the whole course of my passion, from the hour of my dreamlike vision up to that when we had plighted our mutual troth.

My listener was seated upon the low ottoman directly before me; but from motives of bashfulness I had kept my eyes averted during the time I was speaking. She heard me without interruption, and I augured well from this silence.

I concluded at length, and with trembling heart was awaiting her reply; when a deep sigh, followed by a rustling sound, caused me suddenly to turn. Eugénie had fallen upon the floor!

With a glance I saw she had fainted. I flung my arms around her, and carried her to the sofa.

I was about to call for assistance when the door opened, and a form glided into the room. It was Aurore!

“Mon Dieu!” exclaimed the latter; “vous l’avez faire mourir! Elle t’aime—Elle t’aime!”