Chapter 31 - Adventures in the Far West by Mayne Reid


Yielding up my soul to its sweet love-dream, I wandered on—where and how long I cannot tell, for I had taken no note either of distance or direction.

I was roused from my reverie by observing a brighter light gleaming before me; and soon after I emerged from the darker shadow of the forest. My steps, chance-directed, had guided me into a pretty glade, where the sun shone warmly, and the ground was gay with flowers. It was a little wild garden, enamelled by blossoms of many colours, among which, bignonias and the showy corollas of the cotton-rose were conspicuous. Even the forest that bordered and enclosed this little parterre was a forest of flowering-trees. They were magnolias of several kinds; on some of which the large liliaceous blossoms had given place to the scarcely less conspicuous seed-cones of glowing red, whose powerful but pleasant odour filled the atmosphere around. Other beautiful trees grew alongside, mingling their perfume with that of the magnolias. Scarce less interesting were the “honey-locusts” (gleditschias), with their pretty pinnate leaves, and long purple-brown legumes; the Virginian lotus, with its oval amber-coloured drupes, and the singular bow-wood tree (madura), with its large orange-like pericarps, reminding one of the flora of the tropics. The Autumn was just beginning to paint the forest, and already some touches from his glowing palette appeared among the leaves of the sassafras laurel, the sumach (rhus), the persimmon (diospyros), the nymph-named tupelo, and those other species of the American sylva that love to array themselves so gorgeously before parting with their deciduous foliage. Yellow, orange, scarlet, crimson, with many an intermediate tint, met the eye; and all these colours, flashing under the brilliant beams of a noonday sun, produced an indescribable coup-d’oeil. The scene resembled the gaudy picture-work of a theatre, more than the sober reality of a natural landscape.

I stood for some minutes wrapt in admiration. The dream of love in which I had been indulging became heightened in its effect; and I could not help thinking that if Aurore were but present to enjoy that lovely scene—to wander with me over that flowery glade—to sit by my side under the shade of the magnolia laurel—then, indeed, would my happiness be complete. Earth itself had no fairer scene than this. A very love-bower it appeared!

Nor was it unoccupied by lovers; for two pretty doves—birds emblematic of the tender passion—sat side by side upon the bough of a tulip-tree, their bronzed throats swelling at intervals with soft amorous notes.

Oh, how I envied those little creatures! How I should have rejoiced in a destiny like theirs! Thus mated and happy—amidst bright flowers and sweet perfumes, loving the livelong day—loving through all their lives!

They deemed me an intruder, and rose on whirring wing at my approach. Perchance they feared my glittering gun. They had not need. I had no intention of harming them. Far was it from my heart to spoil their perfect bliss.

But no—they feared me not—else their flight would have been more distant. They only flitted to the next tree; and there again, seated side by side, resumed their love-converse. Absorbed in mutual fondness, they had already forgotten my presence!

I followed to watch these pretty creatures—the types of gentleness and love. I flung me on the grass, and gazed upon thorn, tenderly kissing and cooing. I envied their delight.

My nerves, that for days had been dancing with more than ordinary excitement, were now experiencing the natural reaction, and I felt weary. There was a drowsiness in the air—a narcotic influence produced by the combined action of the sun’s rays and the perfume of the flowers. It acted upon my spirit, and I fell asleep.

I slept only about an hour, but it was a sleep of dreams; and during that short period I passed through many scenes. Many a visionary tableau appeared before the eye of my slumbering soul, and then melted away. There were more or less characters in each; but in all of them two were constant, both well defined in form and features. They were Eugénie and Aurore.

Gayarre, too, was in my dreams; and the ruffian overseer, and Scipio, and the mild face of Reigart, and what I could remember of the good Antoine. Even the unfortunate Captain of the boat, the boat herself, the Magnolia, and the scene of the wreck—all were reproduced with a painful distinctness!

But my visions were not all of a painful character. Some were the very opposite—scenes of bliss. In company with Aurore, I was wandering through flowery glades, and exchanging the sweet converse of mutual love. The very spot where I lay—the scene around me—was pictured in the dream.

Strangest of all, I thought that Eugénie was with us, and that she, too, was happy; that she had consented to my marrying Aurore, and had even assisted us in bringing about this happy consummation!

In this vision Gayarre was the fiend; and I thought that after a while he endeavoured to drag Aurore from me. A struggle followed, and then the scene ended with confused abruptness.

A new tableau arose—a new vision. In this Eugénie played the part of the evil genius. I thought she had refused my requests—refused to sell Aurore. I fancied her jealous, hostile, vengeful. I thought she was loading me with imprecations, my betrothed with threats. Aurore was weeping. It was a painful vision.

The scene changed again. Aurore and I were happy—she was free—she was now mine, and we were married. But there was a cloud upon our happiness. Eugénie was dead.

Yes, dead. I thought I was bending over her, and had taken her hand. Suddenly her fingers closed upon mine, and held them with a firm pressure. I thought that the contact was disagreeable; and I endeavoured to withdraw my hand, but could not. My fingers remained bound within that cold clammy grasp; and with all my strength I was unable to release them! Suddenly I was stung; and at the same instant the chill hand relaxed its grasp, and set me free.

The stinging sensation, however, awoke me; and my eyes mechanically turned towards the hand, where I still felt pain.

Sure enough my wrist was punctured and bleeding!

A feeling of horror ran through my veins, as the “sker-r-rr” of the crotalus sounded in my ear; and, looking around, I saw the glittering body of the reptile extended along the grass, and gliding rapidly away!