Chapter 60 - Adventures in the Far West by Mayne Reid

The Slave-Mart.

I once more fixed my eyes upon the entrance, scrutinising every form that passed in. As yet no appearance of D’Hauteville! Surely he would soon arrive. He said at twelve o’clock. It was now one, and still he had not come.

No doubt he would come, and in proper time. After all, I need not be so anxious as to the time. Her name was last upon the list. It would be a long time.

I had full reliance upon my new friend—almost unknown, but not untried. His conduct on the previous night had inspired me with perfect confidence. He would not disappoint me. His being thus late did not shake my faith in him. There was some difficulty about his obtaining the money, for it was money I expected him to bring. He had hinted as much. No doubt it was that that was detaining him; but he would be in time. He knew that her name was at the bottom of the list—the last lot—Lot 65!

Notwithstanding my confidence in D’Hauteville I was ill-at-ease. It was very natural I should be so, and requires no explanation. I kept my gaze upon the door, hoping every moment to see him enter.

Behind me I heard the voice of the auctioneer, in constant and monotonous repetition, interrupted at intervals by the smart rap of his ivory mallet. I knew that the sale was going on; and, by the frequent strokes of the hammer, I could tell that it was rapidly progressing. Although but some half-dozen of the slaves had yet been disposed of, I could not help fancying that they were galloping down the list, and that her turn would soon come—too soon. With the fancy my heart beat quicker and wilder. Surely D’Hauteville will not disappoint me!

A group stood near me, talking gaily. They were all young men, and fashionably dressed,—the scions I could tell of the Creole noblesse. They conversed in a tone sufficiently loud for me to overhear them. Perhaps I should not have listened to what they were saying, had not one of them mentioned a particular name that fell harshly upon my ear. The name was Marigny. I had an unpleasant recollection associated with this name. It was a Marigny of whom Scipio had spoken to me—a Marigny who had proposed to purchase Aurore. Of course I remembered the name.

“Marigny!” I listened.

“So, Marigny, you really intend to bid for her?” asked one.

“Qui,” replied a young sprig, stylishly and somewhat foppishly dressed. “Oui—oui—oui,” he continued with a languid drawl, as he drew tighter his lavender gloves, and twirled his tiny cane. “I do intend—ma foi!—yes.”

“How high will you go?”

“Oh—ah! une petite somme, mon cher ami.”

“A little sum will not do, Marigny,” said the first speaker. “I know half-a-dozen myself who intend bidding for her—rich dogs all of them.”

“Who?” inquired Marigny, suddenly awaking from his languid indifference, “Who, may I inquire?”

“Who? Well there’s Gardette the dentist, who’s half crazed about her; there’s the old Marquis; there’s planter Tillareau and Lebon, of Lafourche; and young Moreau, the wine-merchant of the Rue Dauphin; and who knows but half-a-dozen of those rich Yankee cotton-growers may want her for a housekeeper! Ha! ha! ha!”

“I can name another,” suggested a third speaker.

“Name!” demanded several; “yourself, perhaps, Le Ber; you want a sempstress for your shirt-buttons.”

“No, not myself,” replied the speaker; “I don’t buy coturiers at that price—deux mille dollares, at the least, my friends. Pardieu! no. I find my sempstresses at a cheaper rate in the Faubourg Tremé.”

“Who, then? Name him!”

“Without hesitation I do,—the old wizen-face Gayarre.”

“Gayarre the avocat?”

“Monsieur Dominique Gayarre!”

“Improbable,” rejoined one. “Monsieur Gayarre is a man of steady habits—a moralist—a miser.”

“Ha! ha!” laughed Le Ber; “it’s plain, Messieurs, you don’t understand the character of Monsieur Gayarre. Perhaps I know him better. Miser though he be, in a general sense, there’s one class with whom he’s generous enough. Il a une douzaine des maîtresses! Besides, you must remember that Monsieur Dominique is a bachelor. He wants a good housekeeper—a femme-de-chambre. Come, friends, I have heard something—un petit chose. I’ll lay a wager the miser outbids every one of you,—even rich generous Marigny here!”

Marigny stood biting his lips. His was but a feeling of annoyance or chagrin—mine was utter agony. I had no longer a doubt as to who was the subject of the conversation.

“It was at the suit of Gayarre the bankruptcy was declared, was it not?” asked one.

“’Tis so said.”

“Why, he was considered the great friend of the family—the associate of old Besançon?”

“Yes, the lawyer-friend of the family—Ha! ha!” significantly rejoined another.

“Poor Eugénie! she’ll be no longer the belle. She’ll now be less difficult to please in her choice of a husband.”

“That’s some consolation for you, Le Ber. Ha! ha!”

“Oh!” interposed another, “Le Ber had no chance lately. There’s a young Englishman the favourite now—the same who swam ashore with her at the blowing-up of the Belle steamer. So I have heard, at least. Is it so, Le Ber?”

“You had better inquire of Mademoiselle Besançon,” replied the latter, in a peevish tone, at which the others laughed, “I would,” replied the questioner, “but I know not where to find her. Where is she? She’s not at her plantation. I was up there, and she had left two days before. She’s not with the aunt here. Where is she, Monsieur?”

I listened for the answer to this question with a degree of interest. I, too, was ignorant of the whereabouts of Eugénie, and had sought for her that day, but in vain. It was said she had come to the city, but no one could tell me anything of her. And I now remembered what she had said in her letter of “Sacré Coeur.” Perhaps, thought I, she has really gone to the convent. Poor Eugénie!

“Ay, where is she, Monsieur?” asked another of the party.

“Very strange!” said several at once. “Where can she be? Le Ber, you must know.”

“I know nothing of the movements of Mademoiselle Besançon,” answered the young man, with an air of chagrin and surprise, too, as if he was really ignorant upon the subject, as well as vexed by the remarks which his companions were making.

“There’s something mysterious in all this,” continued one of the number. “I should be astonished at it, if it were any one else than Eugénie Besançon.”

It is needless to say that this conversation interested me. Every word of it fell like a spark of fire upon my heart; and I could have strangled these fellows, one and all of them, as they stood. Little knew they that the “young Englishman” was near, listening to them, and as little the dire effect their words were producing.

It was not what they said of Eugénie that gave me pain. It was their free speech about Aurore. I have not repeated their ribald talk in relation to her—their jesting innuendoes, their base hypotheses, and coldly brutal sneers whenever her chastity was named.

One in particular, a certain Monsieur Sévigné, was more bizarre than any of his companions; and once or twice I was upon the point of turning upon him. It cost me an effort to restrain myself, but that effort was successful, and I stood unmoved. Perhaps I should not have been able to endure it much longer, but for the interposition of an event, which at once drove these gossips and their idle talk out of my mind. That event was the entrance of Aurore!

They had again commenced speaking of her—of her chastity—of her rare charms. They were dismissing the probabilities as to who would become possessed of her, and the certainty that she would be the maîtresse of whoever did; they were waxing warmer in their eulogium of her beauty, and beginning to lay wagers on the result of the sale, when all at once the clack of their conversation ceased, and two or three cried out—

“Voilà! voilà! elle vient!”

I turned mechanically at the words. Aurore was in the entrance.