Chapter 54 - Adventures in the Far West by Mayne Reid

Pity for Love.

Along the way we had conversed upon several topics indifferently—of my gambling adventure on the boat—of the “sportsmen” of New Orleans—of the fine moonlight.

Until after entering the cemetery, and taking our seats upon the tomb, I had disclosed nothing of that which altogether engrossed my thoughts. The time had now arrived for unbosoming myself, and half-an-hour after Eugène D’Hauteville knew the story of my love.

I confided to him all that had occurred from the time of my leaving New Orleans, up to the period of our meeting upon the Houma. My interview with the banker Brown, and my fruitless search that day for Aurore, were also detailed.

From first to last he listened without interrupting me; only once, when I described the scene of my confession to Eugénie, and its painful ending. The details of this seemed to interest him exceedingly—in fact, to give him pain. More than once I was interrupted by his sobs, and by the light of the moon I could see that he was in tears!

“Noble youth!” thought I, “thus to be affected by the sufferings of a stranger!”

“Poor Eugénie!” murmured he, “is she not to be pitied?”

“Pitied! ah, Monsieur; you know not how much I pity her! That scene will never be effaced from my memory. If pity—friendship—any sacrifice could make amends, how willingly would I bestow it upon her—all but that which is not in my power to give—my love. Deeply, Monsieur D’Hauteville—deeply do I grieve for that noble lady. Oh, that I could pluck the sting from her heart which I have been the innocent cause of placing there. But surely she will recover from this unfortunate passion? Surely in time—”

“Ah! never! never!” interrupted D’Hauteville, with an earnestness of manner that surprised me.

“Why say you so, Monsieur?”

“Why?—because I have some skill in such affairs; young as you think me, I have experienced a similar misfortune. Poor Eugénie! Such a wound is hard to heal; she will not recover from it. Ah—never!”

“Indeed, I pity her—with my whole soul I pity her.”

“You should seek her and say so.”

“Why?” I asked, somewhat astonished at the suggestion.

“Perhaps your pity expressed to her might give consolation.”

“Impossible. It would have the contrary effect.”

“You misjudge, Monsieur. Unrequited love is far less hard to bear when it meets with sympathy. It is only haughty contempt and heartless triumph that wring blood-drops from the heart. Sympathy is balm to the wounds of love. Believe me it is so. I feel it to be so. Oh! I feel it to be so!”

The last two phrases he spoke with an earnestness that sounded strangely in my ears.

“Mysterious youth!” thought I. “So gentle, so compassionate, and yet so worldly-wise!”

I felt as though I conversed with some spiritual being—some superior mind, who comprehended all.

His doctrine was new to me, and quite contrary to the general belief. At a later period of my life I became convinced of its truth.

“If I thought my sympathy would have such an effect,” replied I, “I should seek Eugénie—I should offer her—”

“There will be a time for that afterward,” said D’Hauteville, interrupting me; “your present business is more pressing. You purpose to buy this quadroon?”

“I did so this morning. Alas! I have no longer a hope. It will not be in my power.”

“How much money have these sharpers left you?”

“Not much over one hundred dollars.”

“Ha! that will not do. From your description of her she will bring ten times the amount. A misfortune, indeed! My own purse is still lighter than yours. I have not a hundred dollars. Pardieu! it is a sad affair.”

D’Hauteville pressed his head between his hands, and remained for some moments silent, apparently in deep meditation. From his manner I could not help believing that he really sympathised with me, and that he was thinking of some plan to assist me.

“After all,” he muttered to himself, just loud enough for me to hear what was said, “if she should not succeed—if she should not find the papers—then she, too, must be a sacrifice. Oh! it is a terrible risk. It might be better not—it might be—”

“Monsieur!” I said, interrupting him, “of what are you speaking?”

“Oh!—ah! pardon me: it is an affair I was thinking of—n’importe. We had better return, Monsieur. It is cold. The atmosphere of this solemn place chills me.”

He said all this with an air of embarrassment, as though he had been speaking his thoughts unintentionally.

Though astonished at what he had uttered, I could not press him for an explanation; but, yielding to his wish, I rose up to depart. I had lost hope. Plainly he had it not in his power to serve me.

At this moment a resource suggested itself to my mind, or rather the forlorn hope of a resource.

I communicated it to my companion.

“I have still these two hundred dollars,” said I, “They are of no more service to me for the purchase of Aurore than if they were so many pebbles. Suppose I try to increase the amount at the gaming-table?”

“Oh, I fear it would be an idle attempt. You would lose as before.”

“That is not so certain, Monsieur. The chances at least are equal. I need not play with men of skill, like those upon the boat. Here in New Orleans there are gaming-houses, plenty of them, where games of chance are carried on. These are of various kinds—as faro, craps, loto, and roulette. I can choose some one of these, where bets are made on the tossing of a die or the turning of a card. It is just as likely I may win as lose. What say you, Monsieur? Give me your counsel.”

“You speak truly,” replied he. “There is a chance in the game. It offers a hope of your winning. If you lose, you will be no worse off as regards your intentions for to-morrow. If you win—”

“True, true—if I win—”

“You must not lose time, then. It is growing late. These gaming-houses should be open at this hour: no doubt, they are now in the very tide of their business. Let us find one.”

“You will go with me? Thanks, Monsieur D’Hauteville! Thanks—allons!”

We hastily traversed the walk that led to the entrance of the cemetery; and, issuing from the gate, took our way back into the town.

We headed for our point of departure—the Rue Saint Louis; for I knew that in that neighbourhood lay the principal gambling hells.

It was not difficult to find them. At that period there was no concealment required in such matters. The gambling passion among the Creoles, inherited from the original possessors of the city, was too rife among all classes to be put down by a police. The municipal authorities in the American quarter had taken some steps toward the suppression of this vice; but their laws had no force on the French side of Canal Street; and Creole police had far different ideas, as well as different instructions. In the French faubourgs gaming was not considered so hideous a crime, and the houses appropriated to it were open and avowed.

As you passed along Rue Conti, or Saint Louis, or the Rue Bourbon, you could not fail to notice several large gilded lamps, upon which you might read “faro” and “craps”, “loto” or “roulette,”—odd words to the eyes of the uninitiated, but well enough understood by those whose business it was to traverse the streets of the “First Municipality.”

Our hurrying stops soon brought us in front of one of these establishments, whose lamp told us in plain letters that “faro” was played inside.

It was the first that offered; and, without hesitating a moment, I entered, followed by D’Hauteville.

We had to climb a wide stairway, at the top of which we were received by a whiskered and moustached fellow in waiting. I supposed that he was about to demand some fee for admission. I was mistaken in my conjecture. Admission was perfectly free. The purpose of this individual in staying us was to divest us of arms, for which he handed us a ticket, that we might reclaim them in going out. That he had disarmed a goodly number before our turn came, was evident from the numerous butts of pistols, hafts of bowie-knives, and handles of daggers, that protruded from the pigeon-holes of a shelf-like structure standing in one corner of the passage.

The whole proceeding reminded me of the scenes I had often witnessed—the surrender of canes, umbrellas, and parasols, on entering a picture-gallery or a museum. No doubt it was a necessary precaution—the non-observance of which would have led to many a scene of blood over the gaming-table.

We yielded up our weapons—I a pair of pistols, and my companion a small silver dagger. These were ticketed, duplicates delivered to us, and we were allowed to pass on into the “saloon.”