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Chapter 51 - Adventures in the Far West by Mayne Reid

Vente Importante des Nègres

“L’abeille, Monsieur?”

The garçon who helped me to the fragrant cup, at the same time handed me a newspaper fresh from the press.

It was a large sheet, headed upon one side “L’Abeille”, on the reverse its synonyme in English, “The Bee.” Half of its contents were in French, half in English: each half was a counterpart—a translation of the other.

I mechanically took the journal from the hand of the waiter, but without either the design or inclination to read it. Mechanically my eyes wandered over its broad-sheet—scarce heeding the contents.

All at once, the heading of an advertisement fixed my gaze and my attention. It was on the “French side” of the paper.


“Vente importante des Nègres!” Yes—it was they. The announcement was no surprise to me. I expected as much.

I turned to the translation on the reverse page, in order to comprehend it more clearly. There it was in all its broad black meaning:—

“Important Sale of Negroes!” I read on:—“Estate in Bankruptcy. Plantation Besançon!”

“Poor Eugénie!”


“Forty able-bodied field-hands, of different ages. Several first-rate domestic servants, coachman, cooks, chamber-maids, wagon-drivers. A number of likely mulatto boys and girls, from ten to twenty,” etcetera, etcetera.

The list followed in extenso. I read—

“Lot 1. Scipio, 48. Able-bodied black, 5 foot 11 inches, understands house-work, and the management of horses. Sound and without blemish.

“Lot 2. Hannibal, 40. Dark mulatto, 5 foot 9 inches, good coachman, sound and steady.

“Lot 3. César, 43. Black field-hand. Sound,” etcetera, etcetera.

My eyes could not wait for the disgusting details. They ran down the column in search of that name. They would have lit upon it sooner, but that my hands trembled, and the vibratory motion of the sheet almost prevented me from reading. It was there at length—last upon the list! “Why last?” No matter—her “description” was there.

Can I trust myself to read it? Down, burning heart, still your wild throbbings!

“Lot 65. Aurore. 19. Quadroon. Likely—good housekeeper, and sempstress.”

Portrait sketched by refined pen—brief and graphic.

“Likely,” ha! ha! ha! “Likely,” ha! ha! The brute who wrote that paragraph would have described Venus as a likely gal.

’Sdeath! I cannot jest—this desecration of all that is lovely—all that is sacred—all that is dear to my heart, is torture itself. The blood is boiling in my veins—my bosom is wrung with dire emotions!

The journal fell from my hands, and I bent forward over the table, my fingers clutching each other. I could have groaned aloud had I been alone. But I was not. I sat in the great refectory of the hotel. Men were near who would have jeered at my agony had they but known its cause.

Some minutes elapsed before I could reflect on what I had read. I sat in a kind of stupor, brought on by the violence of my emotions.

Reflection came at length, and my first thought was of action. More than ever did I now desire to become the purchaser of the beautiful slave—to redeem her from this hideous bondage. I should buy her. I should set her free. True or false to me, I should accomplish this all the same. I should make no claim for gratitude. She should choose for herself. She should be free, if not in the disposal of her gratitude, at least in that of her love. A love based only on gratitude would not content me. Such could not last. Her heart should freely bestow itself. If I had already won it, well. If not, and it had fixed its affection upon another—mine be the grief. Aurore, at all events, shall be happy.

My love had elevated my soul—had filled it with such noble resolves.

And now to set her free.

When was this hideous exhibition—this “Important Sale,” to come off? When was my betrothed to be sold, and I to assist at the spectacle?

I took up the paper again to ascertain the time and place. The place I knew well—the Rotundo of the Saint Louis exchange—adjoining the hotel, and within twenty yards of where I sat. That was the slave-market. But the time—it was of more importance—indeed of all importance. Strange I did not think of this before! Should it be at an early date, and my letter not have arrived! I dared not trust myself with such a supposition. Surely it would be a week—several days, at the least—before a sale of so much importance would take place. Ha! it may have been advertised for some days. The negroes may have been brought down only at the last moment!

My hands trembled, as my eyes sought the paragraph. At length they rested upon it. I read with painful surprise:—

“To-morrow at twelve!”

I looked to the date of the journal. All correct. It was the issue of that morning. I looked to the dial on the wall. The clock was on the stroke of twelve! Just one day to elapse.

“O God! if my letter should not have arrived!”

I drew forth my purse, and mechanically told over its contents. I knew not why I did so. I knew it contained but a hundred dollars. The “sportsmen” had reduced it in bulk. When I had finished counting it, I could not help smiling at the absurdity of the thing. “A hundred dollars for the quadroon! Likely—good housekeeper, etcetera! a hundred dollars bid!” The auctioneer would not be likely to repeat the bid.

All now depended on the English mail. If it had not arrived already, or did not before the morning, I would be helpless. Without the letter on my New Orleans banker, I could not raise fifty pounds—watch, jewels, and all. As to borrowing, I did not think of such a thing. Who was to lend me money? Who to an almost perfect stranger would advance such a sum as I required? No one I felt certain. Reigart could not have helped me to so large an amount, even had there been time to communicate with him. No—there was no one who would, that could have favoured me. No one I could think of.

“Stop:”—the banker himself! Happy thought, the banker Brown! Good, generous Brown, of the English house, Brown and Co., who, with smiling face, has already cashed my drafts for me. He will do it! The very man! Why did I not think of him sooner? Yes; if the letter have not reached him I shall tell him that I expect it every day, and its amount. He will advance the money.

“Twelve o’clock gone. There is no time to be lost. He’s in his counting-house by this. I shall at once apply to him.”

I seized my hat, and hastening out of the hotel, took my way through the streets towards the banking-house of Brown and Co.

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