Chapter 41 - Adventures in the Far West by Mayne Reid

The Letter.

During all the night my sleep was broken at intervals, and the hours divided between dreaming and half delirium.

I awoke in the morning not much refreshed with my night’s rest. I lay for some time passing over in my mind the occurrences of yesterday, and considering what course I should pursue.

After a time I determined upon going direct to the plantation, and learning for myself how matters stood there.

I arose with this intention. As I was dressing, my eye fell upon a letter that lay upon the table. It bore no postmark, but the writing was in a female hand, and I guessed whence it came.

I tore open the seal, and read:—


“To-day, by the laws of Louisiana, I am a woman,—and none more unhappy in all the land. The same sun that has risen upon the natal day of my majority looks down upon the ruin of my fortune!

“It was my design to have made you happy: to have proved that I am not ungrateful. Alas! it is no longer in my power. I am, no more the proprietor of the plantation Besançon,—no more the mistress of Aurore! All is gone from me, and Eugénie Besançon is now a beggar. Ah, Monsieur! it is a sad tale, and I know not what will be its end.

“Alas! there are griefs harder to hear than the loss of fortune. That may in time be repaired, but the anguish of unrequited love,—love strong, and single, and pure, as mine is,—must long endure, perchance for ever!

“Know, Monsieur, that in the bitter cup it is my destiny to drink, there is not one drop of jealousy or reproach. I alone have made the misery that is my portion.

“Adieu, Monsieur! adieu, and farewell! It is better we should never meet again. O be happy! no plaint of mine shall ever reach your ear, to cloud the sunshine of your happiness. Henceforth the walls of Sacré Coeur shall alone witness the sorrows of the unfortunate but grateful.


The letter was dated the day before. I knew that that was the birthday of the writer; in common parlance, the day on which she was “of age.”

“Poor Eugénie!” reflected I. “Her happiness has ended with her girlhood. Poor Eugénie!”

The tears ran fast over my cheeks as I finished reading. I swept them hastily away, and ringing the bell I ordered my horse to be saddled. I hurried through with my toilet; the horse was soon brought to the door; and, mounting him, I rode rapidly for the plantation.

Shortly after leaving the village, I passed two men, who were also on horseback—going in the same direction as myself, but riding at a slower pace than I. They were dressed in the customary style of planters, and a casual observer might have taken them for such. There was something about them, however, that led me to think they were not planters, nor merchants, nor men whose calling relates to any of the ordinary industries of life. It was not in their dress I saw this something, but in a certain expression of countenance. This expression I cannot well describe, but I have ever noticed it in the faces and features of men who have anything to do with the execution of the laws. Even in America, where distinctive costume and badge are absent, I have been struck with this peculiarity,—so much so that I believe I could detect a detective in the plainest clothes.

The two men in question had this expression strongly marked. I had no doubt they were in some way connected with the execution of the laws. I had no doubt they were constables or sheriff’s officers. With such a slight glance as I gave to them in passing, I might not have troubled myself with this conjecture, had it not been for other circumstances then in my thoughts.

I had not saluted these men; but as I passed, I could perceive that my presence was not without interest to them. On glancing back, I saw that one of them had ridden close up to the other, that they were conversing earnestly; and from their gestures I could tell that I was the subject of their talk.

I had soon ridden far ahead, and ceased to think any more about them.

I had hurried forward without any preconceived plan of action. I had acted altogether on the impulse of the moment, and thought only of reaching the house, and ascertaining the state of affairs, either from Eugénie or Aurore herself.

Thus impromptu I had reached the borders of the plantation.

It now occurred to me to ride more slowly, in oder to gain a few moments to manage my thoughts. I even halted awhile. There was a slight bend in the river-bank, and the road crossed this like a chord to its arc. The part cut off was a piece of waste—a common—and as there was no fence I forsook the road, and walked my horse out on the river-bank. There I drew up, but remained seated in my saddle.

I endeavoured to sketch out some plan of action. What should I say to Eugénie? what to Aurore? Would the former see me after what she had written? In her note she had said “farewell,” but it was not a time to stand upon punctilious ceremony. And if not, should I find an opportunity to speak with Aurore? I must see her. Who should prevent me? I had much to say to her; my heart was full. Nothing but an interview with my betrothed could relieve it.

Still without any definite plan, I once more turned my horse’s head down the river, used the spur, and galloped onward.

On arriving near the gate I was somewhat surprised to see two saddled horses standing there. I instantly recognised them as the horses I had passed on the road. They had overtaken me again while I was halted by the bend of the river, and had arrived at the gate before me. The saddles were now empty. The riders had gone into the house.

A black man was holding the horses. It was my old friend “Zip.”

I rode up, and without dismounting addressed myself to Scipio. Who were they who had gone in?

I was hardly surprised at the answer. My conjecture was right. They were men of the law,—the deputy sheriff of the parish and his assistant.

It was scarce necessary to inquire their business. I guessed that.

I only asked Scipio the details.

Briefly Scipio gave them; at least so far as I allowed him to proceed without interruption. A sheriff’s officer was in charge of the house and all its contents; Larkin still ruled the negro quarter, but the slaves were all to be sold; Gayarre was back and forward; and “Missa ’Génie am gone away.”

“Gone away! and whither?”

“Don’t know, mass’r. B’lieve she gone to de city. She leab last night in de night-time.”


I hesitated a moment till my heart should still its heavy throbbings.

“Aurore?” I interrogated with an effort.

“’Rore gone too, mass’r;—she gone long wi’ Missa ’Génie.”

“Aurore gone!”

“Yes, mass’r, she gone; daat’s de troof.”

I was astounded by the information, as well as puzzled by this mysterious departure. Eugénie gone and in the night! Aurore gone with her! What could it mean? Whither had they gone?

My reiterated appeal to the black threw no light upon the subject. He was ignorant of all their movements,—ignorant of everything but what related to the negro quarter. He had heard that himself, his wife, his daughter,—“the leetle Chloe,”—with all their fellow-slaves, were to be carried down to the city, and to be sold in the slave-market by auction. They were to be taken the following day. They were already advertised. That was all he knew. No, not all,—one other piece of information he had in store for me. It was authentic: he had heard the “white folks” talk of it to one another:—Larkin, Gayarre, and a “negro-trader,” who was to be concerned in this sale. It regarded the quadroon. She was to be sold among the rest!

The blood boiled in my veins as the black imparted this information. It was authentic. Scipio’s statement of what he had heard, minutely detailed, bore the internal evidence of authenticity. I could not doubt the report. I felt the conviction that it was true.

The plantation Besançon had no more attractions. I had no longer any business at Bringiers. New Orleans was now the scene of action for me!

With a kind word to Scipio, I wheeled my horse and galloped away from the gate. The fiery animal caught my excitement, and sprang wildly along the road. It required all his buoyant spirit to keep pace with the quick dancing of my nerves.

In a few minutes I had consigned him to his groom; and, climbing to my chamber, commenced preparing for my departure.