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Chapter 64 - Adventures in the Far West by Mayne Reid

Two Villains

We travelled rapidly. There were no hills to impede our progress. Our route lay along the Levee Road, which leads from New Orleans by the bank of the river, passing plantations and settlements at every few hundred yards’ distance. The path was as level as a race-course, and the hoof fell gently upon the soft dusty surface, enabling us to ride with ease. The horses we bestrode were mustangs from the prairies of Texas, trained to that gait, the “pace” peculiar to the saddle-bags of the South-western States. Excellent “pacers” both were; and, before the night came down, we had made more than half of our journey.

Up to this time we had exchanged only a few words. I was busy with my thoughts—busy planning my enterprise. My young companion appeared equally occupied with his.

The darkening down of the night brought us closer together; and I now unfolded to D’Hauteville the plan which I had proposed to myself.

There was not much of plan about it. My intention was simply this: To proceed at once to the plantation of Gayarre—stealthily to approach the house—to communicate with Aurore through some of the slaves of the plantation; failing in this, to find out, if possible, in what part of the house she would pass the night—to enter her room after all had gone to sleep—propose to her to fly with me—and then make our escape the best way we could.

Once clear of the house, I had scarce thought of a plan of action. That seemed easy enough. Our horses would carry us back to the city. There we might remain concealed, until some friendly ship should bear us from the country.

This was all the plan I had conceived, and, having communicated it to D’Hauteville, I awaited his response.

After some moments’ silence, he replied, signifying his approval of it. Like me, he could think of no other course to be followed. Aurore must be carried away at all hazards.

We now conversed about the details. We debated every chance of failure and success.

Our main difficulty, both agreed, would be in communicating with Aurore. Could we do so? Surely she would not be locked in? Surely Gayarre would not be suspicious enough to have her guarded and watched? He was now the full owner of this coveted treasure—no one could legally deprive him of his slave—no one could carry her away without the risk of a fearful punishment; and although he no doubt suspected that some understanding existed between the quadroon and myself, I would never dream of such a love as that which I felt—a love that would lead me to risk even life itself, as I now intended.

No. Gayarre, judging from his own vile passion, might believe that I, like himself, had been “struck” with the girl’s beauty, and that I was willing to pay a certain sum—three thousand dollars—to possess her. But the fact that I had bid no more—no doubt exactly reported to him by his agent—was proof that my love had its limits, and there was an end of it. As a rival he would hear of me no more. No. Monsieur Dominique Gayarre would never suspect a passion like mine—would never dream of such a purpose as the one to which that passion now impelled me. An enterprise so romantic was not within the bounds of probability. Therefore—so reasoned D’Hauteville and I—it was not likely Aurore would be either guarded or watched.

But even though she might not be, how were we to communicate with her? That would be extremely difficult.

I built my hopes on the little slip of paper—on the words “Ce soir viendrai.” Surely upon this night Aurore would not sleep. My heart told me she would not, and the thought rendered me proud and sanguine. That very night should I make the attempt to carry her off. I could not bear the thought that she should pass even a single night under the roof of her tyrant.

And the night promised to befriend us. The sun had scarcely gone down, when the sky became sullen, turning to the hue of lead. As soon as the short twilight passed, the whole canopy had grown so dark, that we could scarce distinguish the outline of the forest from the sky itself. Not a star could be seen. A thick pall of smoke-coloured clouds hid them from the view. Even the yellow surface of the river was scarce perceptible from its bank, and the white dust of the road alone guided us.

In the woods, or upon the darker ground of the plantation fields, to find a path would have been impossible—so intense was the darkness that enveloped us.

We might have augured trouble from this—we might have feared losing our way. But I was not afraid of any such result. I felt assured that the star of love itself would guide me.

The darkness would be in our favour. Under its friendly shadow we could approach the house, and act with safety; whereas had it been a moonlight night, we should have been in great danger of being discovered.

I read in the sudden change of sky no ill augury, but an omen of success.

There were signs of an approaching storm. What to me would have been kindly weather? Anything—a rain-storm—a tempest—a hurricane—anything but a fine night was what I desired.

It was still early when we reached the plantation Besançon—not quite midnight. We had lost no time on the road. Our object in hurrying forward was to arrive at the place before the household of Gayarre should go to rest. Our hopes were that we might find some means of communicating with Aurore—through the slaves.

One of those I know. I had done him a slight favour during my residence at Bringiers. I had gained his confidence—enough to render him accessible to a bribe. He might be found, and might render us the desired assistance.

All was silent upon the plantation Besançon. The dwelling-house appeared deserted. There were no lights to be seen. One glimmered in the rear, in a window of the overseer’s house. The negro quarter was dark and silent. The buzz usual at that hour was not heard. They whose voices used to echo through its little street were now far away. The cabins were empty. The song, the jest, and the cheerful laugh, were hushed; and the ’coon-dog howling for his absent master, was the only sound that broke the stillness of the place.

We passed the gate, riding in silence, and watching the road in front of us. We were observing the greatest caution as we advanced. We might meet those whom above all others we desired not to encounter—the overseer, the agent, Gayarre himself. Even to have been seen by one of Gayarre’s negroes might have resulted in the defeat of our plans. So fearful was I of this, that but for the darkness of the night, I should have left the road sooner, and tried a path through the woods which I knew of. It was too dark to traverse this path without difficulty and loss of time. We therefore clung to the road, intending to leave it when we should arrive opposite the plantation of Gayarre.

Between the two plantations a wagon-road for wood-hauling led to the forest. It was this road I intended to take. We should not be likely to meet any one upon it; and it was our design to conceal our horses among the trees in the rear of the cane-fields. On such a night not even the negro ’coon-hunter would have any business in the woods.

Creeping along with caution, we had arrived near the point where this wood-road debouched, when voices reached our ears. Some persons were coming down the road.

We reined, up and listened. There were men in conversation; and from their voices each moment growing more distinct, we could tell that they were approaching us.

They were coming down the main road from the direction of the village. The hoof-stroke told us they were on horseback, and, consequently, that they were white men.

A large cotton-wood tree stood on the waste ground on one side of the road. The long flakes of Spanish moss hanging from its branches nearly touched the ground. It offered the readiest place of concealment, and we had just time to spur our horses behind its giant trunk, when the horsemen came abreast of the tree.

Dark as it was, we could see them in passing. Their forms—two of them there were—were faintly outlined against the yellow surface of the water. Had they been silent, we might have remained in ignorance as to who they were, but their voices betrayed them. They were Larkin and the trader.

“Good!” whispered D’Hauteville, as we recognised them; “they have left Gayarre’s—they are on their way home to the plantation Besançon.”

The very same thought had occurred to myself. No doubt they were returning to their homes—the overseer to the plantation Besançon, and the trader to his own house—which I know to be farther down the coast. I now remembered having often seen this man in company with Gayarre.

The thought had occurred to myself as D’Hauteville spoke, but how knew he? He must be well acquainted with the country, thought I.

I had no time to reflect or ask him any question. The conversation of these two ruffians—for ruffians both were—occupied all my attention. They were evidently in high glee, laughing as they went, and jesting as they talked. No doubt their vile work had been remunerative.

“Wal, Bill,” said the trader, “it air the biggest price I ever giv for a nigger.”

“Darn the old French fool! He’s paid well for his whistle this time—he ain’t allers so open-fisted. Dog darned if he is!”

“Wal—she air dear; an she ain’t when a man has the dollars to spare. She’s as putty a piece o’ goods as there air in all Louisiana. I wouldn’t mind myself—”

“Ha! ha! ha!” boisterously laughed the overseer. “I guess you can get a chance if you’ve a mind to,” he added, in a significant tone.

“Say, Bill!—tell me—be candid, old feller—have you ever—?”

“Wal, to tell the truth, I hain’t; but I reckon I mout if I had pushed the thing. I wan’t long enough on the plantation. Beside, she’s so stuck up with cussed pride an larnin’, that she thinks herself as good as white. I calclate old Foxey ’ll bring down her notions a bit. She won’t be long wi’ him till she’ll be glad to take a ramble in the woods wi’ anybody that asks her. There’ll be chance enough yet, I reckon.”

The trader muttered some reply to this prophetic speech; but both were now so distant that their conversation was no longer audible. What I had heard, absurd as it was, caused me a feeling of pain, and, if possible, heightened my desire to save Aurore from the terrible fate that awaited her.

Giving the word to my companion, we rode out from behind the tree, and a few minutes after turned into the by-path that led to the woods.

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