Chapter 58 - Adventures in the Far West by Mayne Reid

My Forlorn Hope.

It was pleasant escaping from that hot hell into the cool night air—into the soft light of a Southern moon. It would have been pleasant under other circumstances; but then the sweetest clime and loveliest scene would have made no impression upon me.

My companion seemed to share my bitterness of soul. His words of consolation were not without their influence; I knew they were the expressions of a real sympathy. His acts had already proved it.

It was, indeed, a lovely night. The white moon rode buoyantly through fleecy clouds, that thinly dappled the azure sky of Louisiana, and a soft breeze played through the now silent streets. A lovely night—too sweet and balmy. My spirit would have preferred a storm. Oh! for black clouds, red lightning, and thunder rolling and crashing through the sky. Oh! for the whistling wind, and the quick pattering of the rain-drops. Oh! for a hurricane without, consonant to the storm that was raging within me!

It was but a few steps to the hotel; but we did not stop there. We could think better in the open air, and converse as well. Sleep had no charms for me, and my companion seemed to share my impulses; so passing once more from among the houses, we went on towards the Swamp, caring not whither we went.

We walked side by side for some time without exchanging speech. Our thoughts were running upon the same theme,—the business of to-morrow. To-morrow no longer, for the tolling of the great cathedral clock had just announced the hour of midnight. In twelve hours more the vente de l’ençan would commence—in twelve hours more they would be bidding, for my betrothed!

Our steps were towards the “Shell Road,” and soon our feet crunched upon the fragments of unios and bivalves that strewed the path. Here was a scene more in unison with our thoughts. Above and around waved the dark solemn cypress-trees, fit emblems of grief—rendered doubly lugubrious in their expression by the hoary tillandsia, that draped them like a couch of the dead. The sounds, too, that here saluted our ears had a soothing effect; the melancholy “coowhoo-a” of the swamp-owl—the creaking chirp of the tree-crickets and cicadas—the solemn “tong-tong” of the bell-frog—the hoarse trumpet-note of the greater batrachian—and high overhead the wild treble of the bull-bat, all mingled together in a concert, that, however disagreeable under other circumstances, now fell upon my ears like music, and even imparted a kind of sad pleasure to my soul.

And yet it was not my darkest hour. A darker was yet in store for me. Despite the very hopelessness of the prospect, I still clung to hope. A vague feeling it was; but it sustained me against despair. The trunk of a taxodium lay prostrate by the side of our path. Upon this we sat down.

We had exchanged scarce a dozen words since emerging from the hell. I was busy with thoughts of the morrow: my young companion, whom I now regarded in the light of an old and tried friend, was thinking of the same.

What generosity towards a stranger! what self-sacrifice! Ah! little did I then know of the vast extent—the noble grandeur of that sacrifice!

“There now remains but one chance,” I said; “the chance that to-morrow’s mail, or rather to-day’s, may bring my letter. It might still arrive in time; the mail is due by ten o’clock in the morning.”

“True,” replied my companion, seemingly too busy with his own thoughts to give much heed to what I had said.

“If not,” I continued, “then there is only the hope that he who shall become the purchaser, may afterwards sell her to me. I care not at what price, if I—”

“Ah!” interrupted D’Hauteville, suddenly waking from his reverie; “it is just that which troubles me—that is exactly what I have been thinking upon. I fear, Monsieur, I fear—”

“Speak on!”

“I fear there is no hope that he who buys her will be willing to sell her again.”

“And why? Will not a large sum—?”

“No—no—I fear that he who buys will not give her up again, at any price.”

“Ha! Why do you think so, Monsieur D’Hauteville.”

“I have my suspicion that a certain individual designs—”


“Monsieur Dominique Gayarre.”

“Oh! heavens! Gayarre! Gayarre!”

“Yes; from what you have told me—from what I know myself—for I, too, have some knowledge of Dominique Gayarre.”

“Gayarre! Gayarre! Oh, God!”

I could only ejaculate. The announcement had almost deprived me of the power of speech. A sensation of numbness seemed to creep over me—a prostration of spirit, as if some horrid danger was impending and nigh, and I without the power to avert it.

Strange this thought had not occurred to me before. I had supposed that the quadroon would be sold to some buyer in the ordinary course; some one who would be disposed to resell at a profit—perhaps an enormous one; but in time I should be prepared for that. Strange I had never thought of Gayarre becoming the purchaser. But, indeed, since the hour when I first heard of the bankruptcy, my thoughts had been running too wildly to permit me to reflect calmly upon anything.

Now it was clear. It was no longer a conjecture; most certainly, Gayarre would become the master of Aurore. Ere another night her body would be his property. Her soul—Oh, God! Am I awake?—do I dream?

“I had a suspicion of this before,” continued D’Hauteville; “for I may tell you I know something of this family history—of Eugénie Besançon—of Aurore—of Gayarre the avocat. I had a suspicion before that Gayarre might desire to be the owner of Aurore. But now that you have told me of the scene in the dining-room, I no longer doubt this villain’s design. Oh! it is infamous.”

“Still further proof of it,” continued D’Hauteville. “There was a man on the boat—you did not notice him, perhaps—an agent for Gayarre in such matters. A negro-trader—a fit tool for such a purpose. No doubt his object in coming down to the city is to be present at the sale—to bid for the poor girl.”

“But why,” I asked, catching at a straw of hope,—“why, since he wishes to possess Aurore, could he not have effected it by private contract?—why send her to the slave-market to public auction?”

“The law requires it. The slaves of an estate in bankruptcy must be sold publicly to the highest bidder. Besides, Monsieur, bad as may be this man, he dare not for the sake of his character act as you have suggested. He is a thorough hypocrite, and, with all his wickedness, wishes to stand well before the world. There are many who believe Gayarre a good man! He dare not act openly in this villainous design, and will not appear in it. To save scandal, the negro-trader will be supposed to purchase for himself. It is infamous!”

“Beyond conception! Oh! what is to be done to save her from this fearful man? to save me—”

“It is of that I am thinking, and have been for the last hour. Be of good cheer, Monsieur! all hope is not lost. There is still one chance of saving Aurore. There is one hope left. Alas! I have known the time,—I, too, have been unfortunate—sadly—sadly—unfortunate. No matter now. We shall not talk of my sorrows till yours have been relieved. Perhaps, at some future time you may know me, and my griefs—no more of that now. There is still one chance for Aurore, and she and you—both—may yet be happy. It must be so; I am resolved upon it. ’Twill be a wild act; but it is a wild story. Enough—I have no time to spare—I must be gone. Now to your hotel!—go and rest. To-morrow at twelve I shall be with you—at twelve in the Rotundo. Good night! Adieu.”

Without allowing me time to ask for an explanation, or make any reply, the Creole parted from me; and, plunging into a narrow street, soon passed out of sight!

Pondering over his incoherent words—over his unintelligible promise—upon his strange looks and manner,—I walked slowly to my hotel.

Without undressing I flung myself on my bed, without a thought of going to sleep.