Chapter 30 - Adventures in the Far West by Mayne Reid


That night I passed without repose. How was it with Eugénie? How with Aurore?

Mine was a night of reflections, in which pleasure and pain were singularly blended. The love of the quadroon was my source of pleasure; but, alas! pain predominated as my thoughts dwelt upon the Creole! That the latter loved me I no longer doubted; and this assurance, so far from giving me joy, filled me with keen regret. Accursed vanity, that can enjoy such a triumph,—vile heart, that can revel in a love it is unable to return! Mine did not: it grieved instead.

In thought I reviewed the short hours of intercourse that had passed between us—Eugénie Besançon and myself. I communed with my conscience, asking myself the question, Was I innocent? Had I done aught, either by word, or look, or gesture, to occasion this love?—to produce the first delicate impression, that upon a heart susceptible as hers soon becomes a fixed and vivid picture? Upon the boat? Or afterwards? I remembered that at first sight I had gazed upon her with admiring eyes. I remembered that in hers I had beheld that strange expression of interest which I had attributed to curiosity or some other cause—I knew not what. Vanity, of which no doubt I possess my share, had not interpreted those tender glances aright—had not even whispered me they were the flowers of love, easily ripened to its fruits. Had I been instrumental in nurturing those flowers of the heart?—had I done aught to beguile them to their fatal blooming?

I examined the whole course of my conduct, and pondered over all that had passed between us. I thought of all that had occurred during our passage upon the boat—during the tragic scene that followed. I could not remember aught, either of word, look, or gesture, by which I might condemn myself. I gave full play to my conscience, and it declared me innocent.

Afterwards—after that terrible night—after those burning eyes and that strange face had passed dreamlike before my disordered senses—after that moment I could not have been guilty of aught that was trivial. During the hours of my convalescence—during the whole period of my stay upon the plantation—I could remember nothing in my intercourse with Eugénie Besançon to give me cause for regret. Towards her I had observed a studied respect—nothing more. Secretly I felt friendship and sympathy; more especially after I had noted the change in her manner, and feared that some cloud was shadowing her fortune. Alas, poor Eugénie! Little did I guess the nature of that cloud! Little did I dream how dark it was!

Notwithstanding my self-exculpation, I still felt pain. Had Eugénie Besançon been a woman of ordinary character I might have borne my reflections more lightly. But to a heart so highly attuned, so noble, so passionate, what would be the shock of an unrequited love? Terrible it must be; perhaps the more so at thus finding her rival in her own slave!

Strange confidante had I chosen for my secret! Strange ear into which I had poured the tale of my love! Oh that I had not made my confession! What suffering had I caused this fair, this unfortunate lady!

Such painful reflections coursed through my mind; but there were others equally bitter, and with bitterness springing from a far different source. What would be the effect of the disclosure? How would it affect our future—the future of myself and Aurore? How would Eugénie act? Towards me? towards Aurore—her slave?

My confession had received no response. The mute lips murmured neither reply nor adieu. I had gazed but a moment on the insensible form. Aurore had beckoned me away, and I had left the room in a state of embarrassment and confusion—I scarce remembered how.

What would be the result? I trembled to think. Bitterness, hostility, revenge?

Surely a soul so pure, so noble, could not harbour such passions as these?

“No,” thought I; “Eugénie Besançon is too gentle, too womanly, to give way to them. Is there a hope that she may have pity on me, as I pity her? Or is there not? She is a Creole—she inherits the fiery passions of her race. Should these be aroused to jealousy, to revenge, her gratitude will soon pass away—her love be changed to scorn. Her own slave!”

Ah! I well understood the meaning of this relationship, though I cannot make it plain to you. You can ill comprehend the horrid feeling. Talk of a mésalliance of the aristocratic lord with the daughter of his peasant retainer, of the high-born dame with her plebeian groom—talk of the scandal and scorn to which such rare events give rise! All this is little—is mild, when compared with the positive disgust and horror felt for the “white” who would ally himself in marriage with a slave! No matter how white she be, no matter how beautiful—even lovely as Aurore—he who would make her his wife must bear her away from her native land, far from the scenes where she has hitherto been known! His mistress—all! that is another affair. An alliance of this nature is pardonable. The “society” of the South is satisfied with the slave-mistress; but the slave-wife—that is an impossibility, an incongruity not to be borne!

I knew that the gifted Eugénie was above the common prejudices of her class; but I should have expected too much to suppose that she was above this one. No; noble, indeed, must be the soul that could have thrown off this chain, coiled around it by education, by habit, by example, by every form of social life. Notwithstanding all—notwithstanding the relations that existed between herself and Aurore, I could not expect this much. Aurore was her companion, her friend; but still Aurore was her slave!

I trembled for the result. I trembled for our next interview. In the future I saw darkness and danger. I had but one hope, one joy—the love of Aurore!

I rose from my sleepless couch. I dressed and ate my breakfast hurriedly, mechanically.

That finished, I was at a loss what to do next. Should I return to the plantation, and seek another interview with Eugénie. No—not then. I had not the courage. It would be better, I reflected, to permit some time to pass—a day or two—before going back. Perhaps Mademoiselle would send for me?

Perhaps— At all events, it would be better to allow some days to elapse. Long days they would be to me!

I could not bear the society of any one. I shunned conversation; although I observed, as on the preceding day, that I was the object of scrutiny—the subject of comment among the loungers of the “bar,” and my acquaintances of the billiard-room. To avoid them, I remained inside my room, and endeavoured to kill time by reading.

I soon grew tired of this chamber-life; and upon the third morning I seized my gun, and plunged into the depth of the forest.

I moved amidst the huge pyramidal trunks of the cypresses, whose thick umbellated foliage, meeting overhead, shut out both sun and sky. The very gloom occasioned by their shade was congenial to my thoughts; and I wandered on, my steps guided rather by accident than design.

I did not search for game. I was not thinking of sport. My gun rested idly in the hollow of my arm. The raccoon, which in the more open woods is nocturnal, is here abroad by day. I saw the creature plunging his food into the waters of the bayou, and skulking around the trunks of the cypresses. I saw the opossum gliding along the fallen log, and the red squirrel, like a stream of fire, brushing up the bark of the tall tulip-tree. I saw the large “swamp-hare” leap from her form by the selvage of the cane-brake; and, still more tempting game, the fallow-deer twice bounded before me, roused from its covert in the shady thickets of the pawpaw-trees. The wild turkey, too, in all the glitter of his metallic plumage, crossed my path; and upon the bayou, whose bank I for some time followed, I had ample opportunity of discharging my piece at the blue heron or the egret, the summer duck or the snake-bird, the slender ibis or the stately crane. Even the king of winged creatures, the white-headed eagle, was more than once within range of my gun, screaming his maniac note among the tops of the tall taxodiums.

And still the brown tubes rested idly across my arm; nor did I once think of casting my eye along their sights. No ordinary game could have tempted me to interrupt the current, of my thoughts, that were dwelling upon a theme to me the most interesting in the world—Aurore the quadroon!