Chapter 40 - Adventures in the Far West by Mayne Reid

Hotel Gossip.

It was yet early when I entered the village. I glided stealthily through the streets, desirous to avoid observation. Unfortunately I had to pass through the bar of the hotel in order to reach my room. It was just before the hour of supper, and the guests had assembled in the bar saloon and around the porch.

My tattered habiliments, in places stained with blood, and profusely soiled with mud, could not escape notice; nor did they. Men turned and gazed after me. Loiterers looked with eyes that expressed their astonishment. Some in the portico, and others in the bar, hailed me as I passed, asking me where I had been to. One cried out: “Hillow, mister! you’ve had a tussle with the cats: hain’t you?”

I did not make reply. I pushed on up-stairs, and found relief in the privacy of my chamber.

I had been badly torn by the bushes. My wounds needed dressing. I despatched a messenger for Reigart. Fortunately he was at home, and in a few minutes followed my messenger to the hotel. He entered my room, and stood staring at me with a look of surprise.

“My dear R—, where have you been?” he inquired at length.

“To the swamp.”

“And those wounds—your clothes torn—blood?”

“Thorn-scratches—that’s all.”

“But where have you been?”

“In the swamp.”

“In the swamp! but how came you to get such a mauling?”

“I have been bitten by a rattlesnake.”

“What! bitten by a rattlesnake? Do you speak seriously?”

“Quite true it is—but I have taken the antidote. I am cured.”

“Antidote! Cured! And what cure? who gave you an antidote?”

“A friend whom I met in the swamp!”

“A friend in the swamp!” exclaimed Reigart, his astonishment increasing.

I had almost forgotten the necessity of keeping my secret. I saw that I had spoken imprudently. Inquisitive eyes were peeping in at the door. Ears were listening to catch every sound.

Although the inhabitant of the Mississippi is by no means of a curious disposition—malgré the statements of gossiping tourists—the unexplained and forlorn appearance I presented on my return was enough to excite a degree of interest even among the most apathetic people; and a number of the guests of the hotel had gathered in the lobby around the door of my chamber, and were eagerly asking each other what had happened to me. I could overhear their conversation, though they did not know it.

“He’s been fightin’ a painter?” said one, interrogatively.

“A painter or a bar,” answered another.

“’Twur some desprit varmint anyhow—it hez left its mark on him,—that it hez.”

“It’s the same fellow that laid out Bully Bill: ain’t it?”

“The same,” replied some one.

“English, ain’t he?”

“Don’t know. He’s a Britisher, I believe. English, Irish, or Scotch, he’s a hull team an’ a cross dog under the wagon. By God! he laid out Bully Bill straight as a fence-rail, wi’ nothin’ but a bit o’ a whup, and then tuk Bill’s pistols away from him! Ha! ha! ha!”


“He’s jest a feller to whip his weight in wild-cats. He’s killed the catamount, I reckon.”

“No doubt he’s done that.”

I had supposed that my encounter with Bully Bill had made me enemies among his class. It was evident from the tone and tenor of their conversation that such was not the case. Though, perhaps, a little piqued that a stranger—a mere youth as I then was—should have conquered one of their bullies, these backwoodsmen are not intensely clannish, and Bully Bill was no favourite. Had I “whipped” him on any other grounds, I should have gained a positive popularity by the act. But in defence of a slave—and I a foreigner—a Britisher, too—that was a presumption not to be pardoned. That was the drawback on my victory, and henceforth I was likely to be a “marked man” in the neighbourhood.

These observations had served to amuse me while I was awaiting the arrival of Reigart, though, up to a certain point, I took but little interest in them. A remark that now reached my ears, however, suddenly changed the nature of my thoughts. It was this:—

“He’s after Miss Besançon, they say.”

I was now interested. I stepped to the door, and, placing my ear close to the keyhole, listened.

“I guess he’s arter the plantation,” said another; and the remark was followed by a significant laugh.

“Well, then,” rejoined a voice, in a more solemn and emphatic tone, “he’s after what he won’t get.”

“How? how?” demanded several.

“He may get thee lady, preehaps,” continued the same voice, in the same measured tones; “but not thee plantation.”

“How? What do you mean, Mr Moxley?” again demanded the chorus of voices.

“I mean what I say, gentlemen,” replied the solemn speaker; and then repeated again his former words in a like measured drawl. “He may get the lady, preehaps, but not thee plantation.”

“Oh! the report’s true, then?” said another voice, interrogatively. “Insolvent? Eh? Old Gayarre—”

“Owns thee plantation.”

“And niggers?”

“Every skin o’ them; the sheriff will take possession to-morrow.”

A murmur of astonishment reached my ears. It was mingled with expressions of disapprobation or sympathy.

“Poor girl! it’s a pity o’ her!”

“Well, it’s no wonder. She made the money fly since the old ’un died.”

“Some say he didn’t leave so much after all. ’Twar most part mortgaged before—”

The entrance of the doctor interrupted this conversation, and relieved me for the moment from the torture which it was inflicting upon me.

“A friend in the swamp, did you say?” again interrogated Reigart.

I had hesitated to reply, thinking of the crowd by the door. I said to the doctor in a low earnest voice—

“My dear friend, I have met with an adventure; am badly scratched, as you see. Dress my wounds, but do not press me for details. I have my reasons for being silent. You will one day learn all, but not now. Therefore—”

“Enough, enough!” said the doctor, interrupting me; “do not be uneasy. Let me look at your scratches.”

The good doctor became silent, and proceeded to the dressing of my wounds.

Under other circumstances the manipulation of my wounds, for they now felt painful, might have caused me annoyance. It did not then. What I had just heard had produced a feeling within that neutralised the external pain, and I felt it not.

I was really in mental agony.

I burned with impatience to question Reigart about the affairs of the plantation,—about Eugénie and Aurore. I could not,—we were not alone. The landlord of the hotel and a negro attendant had entered the room, and were assisting the doctor in his operations. I could not trust myself to speak on such a subject in their presence. I was forced to nurse my impatience until all was over, and both landlord and servant had left us.

“Now, doctor, this news of Mademoiselle Besançon?”

“Do you not know all?”

“Only what I have heard this moment from those gossips outside the room.”

I detailed to Reigart the remarks that had been made.

“Really I thought you must have been acquainted with the whole matter. I had fancied that to be the cause of your long absence to-day; though I did not even conjecture how you might be engaged in the matter.”

“I know nothing more than what I have thus accidentally overheard. For heaven’s sake tell me all! Is it true?”

“Substantially true, I grieve to say.”

“Poor Eugénie!”

“The estate was heavily mortgaged to Gayarre. I have long suspected this, and fear there has been some foul play. Gayarre has foreclosed the mortgage, and, indeed, it is said, is already in possession. Everything is now his.”


“Everything upon the plantation.”

“The slaves?”



I hesitated as I put the interrogatory, Reigart had no knowledge of my attachment to Aurore.

“The quadroon girl, you mean?—of course, she with the others. She is but a slave like the rest. She will be sold.”

“But a slave! sold with the rest!”

This reflection was not uttered aloud.

I cannot describe the tumult of my feelings as I listened. The blood was boiling within my veins, and I could scarce restrain myself from some wild expression. I strove to the utmost to hide my thoughts, but scarce succeeded; for I noticed that the usually cold eye of Reigart was kindled in surprise at my manner. If he divined my secret he was generous, for he asked no explanation.

“The slaves are all to be sold then?” I faltered out.

“No doubt,—everything will be sold,—that is the law in such cases. It is likely Gayarre will buy in the whole estate, as the plantation lies contiguous to his own.”

“Gayarre! villain! oh! And Mademoiselle Besançon, what will become of her? Has she no friends?”

“I have heard something of an aunt who has some, though not much, property. She lives in the city. It is likely that Mademoiselle will live with her in future. I believe the aunt has no children of her own, and Eugénie will inherit. This, however, I cannot vouch for. I know it only as a rumour.”

Reigart spoke these words in a cautious and reserved manner. I noticed something peculiar in the tone in which he uttered them; but I knew his reason for being cautious. He was under a mistaken impression as to the feelings with which I regarded Eugénie! I did not undeceive him.

“Poor Eugénie! a double sorrow,—no wonder at the change I had observed of late,—no wonder she appeared sad!”

All this was but my own silent reflections.

“Doctor!” said I, elevating my voice; “I must go to the plantation.”

“Not to-night!”


“My dear Mr E., you must not.”


“It is impossible,—I cannot permit it,—you will have a fever; it may cost you your life!”


“I cannot hear you. I assure you, you are now on the verge of a fever. You must remain in your room—at least, until to-morrow. Perhaps then you may go out with safety. Now it is impossible.”

I was compelled to acquiesce, though I am not certain but that had I taken my own way it would have been better for my “fever.” Within me was a cause of fever much stronger than any exposure to the night air. My throbbing heart and wildly-coursing blood soon acted upon my brain.

“Aurore the slave of Gayarre! Ha! ha! ha! His slave! Gayarre! Aurore! ha! ha! ha! Is it his throat I clutch? ha, no! It is the serpent! here—help—help! Water! water! I am choking. No, Gayarre is! I have him now! Again it is the serpent! O God! it coils around my throat—it strangles me! Help! Aurore! lovely Aurore! do not yield to him!”

“I will die rather than yield!”

“I thought so, noble girl! I come to release you! How she struggles in his grasp! Fiend! off—off, fiend! Aurore, you are free—free! Angels of heaven!”

Such was my dream,—the dream of a fevered brain.