Chapter 63 - Adventures in the Far West by Mayne Reid

To Bringiers.

Coachmen of New Orleans possess their full share of intelligence; and the ring of a piece of silver, extra of their fare, is a music well understood by them. They are the witnesses of many a romantic adventure—the necessary confidants of many a love-secret. A hundred yards in front rolled the carriage that had taken Aurore; now turning round corners, now passing among drays laden with huge cotton-bales or hogsheads of sugar—but my driver had fixed his knowing eye upon it, and I had no need to be uneasy.

It passed up the Rue Chartres but a short distance, and then turned into one of the short streets that ran from this at right angles towards the Levee. I fancied for a moment, it was making for the steamboat wharves; but on reaching the corner, I saw that it had stopped about half way down the street. My driver, according to the instructions I had given him, pulled up at the corner, and awaited my further orders. The carriage I had followed was now standing in front of a house; and just as I rounded the corner, I caught a glimpse of several figures crossing the banquette and entering the door. No doubt, all that had ridden in the carriage—Aurore with the rest—had gone inside the house.

Presently a man came out, and handing his fare to the hackney-coachman, turned and went back into the house. The latter, gathering up his reins, gave the whip to his horses, and, wheeling round, came back by the Rue Chartres. As he passed me, I glanced through the open windows of his vehicle. It was empty. She had gone into the house, then.

I had no longer any doubt as to where she had been taken. I read on the corner, “Rue Bienville.” The house where the carriage had stopped was the town residence of Monsieur Dominique Gayarre.

I remained for some minutes in the cab, considering what I had best do. Was this to be her future home? or was she only brought here temporarily, to be afterwards taken up to the plantation?

Some thought, or instinct perhaps, whispered me that she was not to remain in the Rue Bienville; but would be carried to the gloomy old mansion at Bringiers. I cannot tell why I thought so. Perhaps it was because I wished it so.

I saw the necessity of watching the house—so that she might not be taken away without my knowing it. Wherever she went I was determined to follow.

Fortunately I was prepared for any journey. The three thousand dollars lent me by D’Hauteville remained intact. With that I could travel to the ends of the earth.

I wished that the young Creole had been with me. I wanted his counsel—his company. How should I find him? he had not said where we should meet—only that he would join me when the sale should be over. I saw nothing of him on leaving the Rotundo. Perhaps he meant to meet me there or at my hotel; but how was I to get back to either of these places without leaving my post?

I was perplexed as to how I should communicate with D’Hauteville. It occurred to me that the hackney-coachman—I had not yet dismissed him—might remain and watch the house, while I went in search of the Creole. I had only to pay the Jehu; he would obey me, of course, and right willingly.

I was about arranging with the man, and had already given him some instructions, when I heard wheels rumbling along the street; and a somewhat old-fashioned coach, drawn by a pair of mules, turned into the Rue Bienville. A negro driver was upon the box.

There was nothing odd in all this. Such a carriage and such a coachman were to be seen every hour in New Orleans, and drawn by mules as often as horses. But this pair of mules, and the negro who drove them, I recognised.

Yes! I recognised the equipage. I had often met it upon the Levee Road near Bringiers. It was the carriage of Monsieur Dominique!

I was further assured upon this point by seeing the vehicle draw up in front of the avocat’s house.

I at once gave up my design of going back for D’Hauteville. Climbing back into the hack, I ensconced myself in such a position, that I could command a view of what passed in the Rue Bienville.

Some one was evidently about to become the occupant of the carriage. The door of the house stood open, and a servant was speaking to the coachman. I could tell by the actions of the latter, that he expected soon to drive off.

The servant now appeared outside with several parcels, which he placed upon the coach; then a man came out—the negro-trader—who mounted the box. Another man shot across the banquette, but in such a hurried gait that I could not recognise him. I guessed, however, who he was. Two others now came from the house—a mulatto woman and a young girl. In spite of the cloak in which she was enveloped I recognised Aurore. The mulatto woman conducted the girl to the carriage, and then stepped in after. At this moment a man on horseback appeared in the street, and riding up, halted by the carriage. After speaking to some one inside, he again put his horse in motion and rode off. This horseman was Larkin the overseer.

The clash of the closing door was immediately followed by the crack of the coachman’s whip; and the mules, trotting off down the street, turned to the right, and headed up the Levee.

My driver, who had already been instructed, gave the whip to his hack, and followed, keeping a short distance in the rear.

It was not till we had traversed the long street of Tehoupitoulas, through the Faubourg Marigny, and were some distance upon the road to the suburban village of Lafayette, that I thought of where I was going. My sole idea had been to keep in sight the carriage of Gayarre.

I now bethought me for what purpose I was driving after him. Did I intend to follow him to his house, some thirty miles distant, in a hackney-coach?

Even had I been so determined, it was questionable whether the driver of the vehicle could have been tempted to humour my caprice, or whether his wretched hack could have accomplished such a feat.

For what purpose, then, was I galloping after? To overtake these men upon the road, and deliver Aurore from their keeping? No, there were three of them—well armed, no doubt—and I alone.

But it was not until I had gone several miles that I began to reflect on the absurdity of my conduct. I then ordered my coachman to pull up.

I remained seated; and from the window of the hack gazed after the carriage, until it was hidden by a turn in the road.

“After all,” I muttered to myself, “I have done right in following. I am now sure of their destination. Back to the Hotel Saint Luis!”

The last phrase was a command to my coachman, who turning his horse drove back.

As I had promised to pay for speed, it was not long before the wheels of my hackney rattled over the pavé of the Rue Saint Luis.

Having dismissed the carriage, I entered the hotel. To my joy I found D’Hauteville awaiting my return, and in a few minutes I had communicated to him my determination to carry off Aurore.

Bare friendship his! he approved of my resolve. Rare devotion! he proposed to take part in my enterprise, I warned him of its perils—to no purpose. With an enthusiasm I could not account for, and that greatly astonished me at the time, he still insisted upon sharing them.

Perhaps I might more earnestly have admonished him against such a purpose, but I felt how much I stood in need of him.

I could not explain the strange feeling of confidence, with which the presence of this gentle but heroic youth had inspired me. The reluctance with which I accepted his offer was only apparent—it was not felt. My heart was struggling against my will. I was but too glad when he stated his determination to accompany me.

There was no boat going up that night; but we were not without the means to travel. A pair of horses were hired—the best that money could procure—and before sun-down we had cleared the suburbs of the city, and were riding along the road that conducts to the village of Bringiers.