Chapter 66 - Adventures in the Far West by Mayne Reid

The Elopement.

It was a field of sugar-cane. The canes were of that species known as “ratoons”—suckers from old roots—and the thick bunches at their bases, as well as the tall columns, enabled us to pass among them unobserved. Even had it been day, we might have approached the house unseen.

We soon reached the garden-paling. Here we stopped to reconnoitre the ground. A short survey was sufficient. We saw the very place where we could approach and conceal ourselves.

The house had an antique weather-beaten look—not without some pretensions to grandeur. It was a wooden building, two stories in height, with gable roofs, and large windows—all of which had Venetian shutters that opened to the outside. Both walls and window-shutters had once been painted, but the paint was old and rusty; and the colour of the Venetians, once green, could hardly be distinguished from the grey wood-work of the walls. All round the house ran an open gallery or verandah, raised some three or four feet from the ground. Upon this gallery the windows and doors opened, and a paling or guard-rail encompassed the whole. Opposite the doors, a stairway of half-a-dozen steps led up; but at all other parts the space underneath was open in front, so that, by stooping a little, one might get under the floor of the gallery.

By crawling close up in front of the verandah, and looking through the rails, we should be able to command a full view of all the windows in the house;—and in case of alarm, we could conceal ourselves in the dark cavity underneath. We should be safe there, unless scented by the dogs.

Our plan was matured in whispers. It was not much of a plan. We were to advance to the edge of the verandah, peep through the windows until we could discover the apartment of Aurore; then do our best to communicate with her, and get her out. Our success depended greatly upon accident or good fortune.

Before we could make a move forward, fortune seemed as though she was going to favour us. In one of the windows, directly before our face, a figure appeared. A glance told us it was the Quadroon!

The window, as before stated, reached down to the floor of the verandah; and as the figure appeared behind the glass, we could see it from head to foot. The Madras kerchief on the head, the gracefully undulating figure, outlined upon the background of the lighted room, left no doubt upon our minds as to who it was.

“’Tis Aurore!” whispered my companion.

How could he tell? Did he know her? All! I remembered—he had seen her that morning in the Rotundo.

“It is she!” I replied, my beating heart scarce allowing me to make utterance.

The window was curtained, but she had raised the curtain in one hand, and was looking out. There was that in her attitude that betokened earnestness. She appeared as if trying to penetrate the gloom. Even in the distance I could perceive this, and my heart bounded with joy. She had understood my note. She was looking for me!

D’Hauteville thought so as well. Our prospects were brightening. If she guessed our design, our task would be easier.

She remained but a few moments by the window. She turned away and the curtain dropped into its place; but before it had screened the view, the dark shadow of a man fell against the back wall of the room. Gayarre, no doubt!

I could hold back no longer; but climbing over the garden-fence, I crept forward, followed by D’Hauteville.

In a few seconds both of us had gained the desired position—directly in front of the window, from which we were now separated only by the wood-work of the verandah. Standing half-bent our eyes were on a level with the floor of the room. The curtain had not fallen properly into its place. A single pane of the glass remained unscreened, and through this we could see nearly the whole interior of the apartment. Our ears, too, were at the proper elevation to catch every sound; and persons conversing within the room we could hear distinctly.

We were right in our conjecture. It was Aurore we had seen. Gayarre was the other occupant of the room.

I shall not paint that scene. I shall not repeat the words to which we listened. I shall not detail the speeches of that mean villain—at first fulsome and flattering—then coarse, bold, and brutal; until at length, failing to effect his purpose by entreaties, he had recourse to threats.

D’Hauteville held me back, begging me in earnest whispers to be patient. Once or twice I had almost determined to spring forward, dash aside the sash, and strike the ruffian to the floor. Thanks to the prudent interference of my companion, I restrained myself.

The scene ended by Gayarre going out of the room indignant, but somewhat crest-fallen. The bold, upright bearing of the Quadroon—whose strength, at least, equalled that of her puny assailant—had evidently intimidated him for the moment, else he might have resorted to personal violence.

His threats, however, as he took his departure; left no doubt of his intention soon to renew his brutal assault. He felt certain of his victim—she was his slave, and must yield. He had ample time and opportunity. He need not at once proceed to extremes. He could wait until his valour, somewhat cowed, should return again, and imbue him with a fresh impulse.

The disappearance of Gayarre gave us an opportunity to make our presence known to Aurore. I was about to climb up to the verandah and tap on the glass; but my companion prevented me from doing so.

“It is not necessary,” he whispered; “she certainly knows you will be here. Leave it to her. She will return to the window presently. Patience, Monsieur! a false step will ruin all. Remember the dogs!”

There was prudence in these counsels, and I gave way to them. A few minutes would decide; and we both crouched close, and watched the movements of the Quadroon.

The apartment in which she was attracted our notice. It was not the drawing-room of the house, nor yet a bedroom. It was a sort of library or studio—as shelves filled with books, and a table, covered with papers and writing-materials, testified. It was, no doubt, the office of the avocat, in which he was accustomed to do his writing.

Why was Aurore in that room? Such a question occurred to us; but we had little time to dwell upon it. My companion suggested that as they had just arrived, she may have been placed there while an apartment was being prepared for her. The voices of servants overhead, and the noise of furniture being moved over the floor, was what led him to make this suggestion; it was just as if a room was being set in order.

This led me into a new train of reflection. She might be suddenly removed from the library, and taken up-stairs. It would then be more difficult to communicate with her. It would be better to make the attempt at once.

Contrary to the wish of D’Hauteville, I was about to advance forward to the window, when the movements of Aurore herself caused me to hesitate.

The door through which Gayarre had just made his exit was visible from where we stood. I saw the Quadroon approach this with silent tread, as if meditating some design. Placing her hand upon the key, she turned it in the lock, so that the door was thus bolted inside. With what design had she doing this?

It occurred to us that she was about to make her escape out by the window, and that she had fastened the door for the purpose of delaying pursuit. If so, it would be better for us to remain quiet, and leave her to complete the design. It would be time enough to warn her of our presence when she should reach the window. This was D’Hauteville’s advice.

In one corner of the room stood a large mahogany desk, and over its head was ranged a screen of box-shelves—of the kind known as “pigeon-holes.” These were filled with papers and parchments—no doubt, wills, deeds, and other documents relating to the business of the lawyer.

To my astonishment I saw the Quadroon, as soon as she had secured the door, hastily approach this desk, and stand directly in front of it—her eyes eagerly bent upon the shelves, as though she was in search of some document!

Such was in reality the case, for she now stretched forth her hand, drew a bundle of folded papers from the box, and after resting her eyes upon them for a moment, suddenly concealed them in the bosom of her dress!

“Heavens!” I mentally ejaculated, “what can it mean?”

I had no time to give way to conjectures—for in a second’s time Aurore had glided across the floor, and was standing in the window.

As she raised the curtain, the light streamed full on the faces of myself and my companion, and at the first glance she saw us. A slight exclamation escaped her, but it was of joy, not surprise; and she suddenly checked herself.

The ejaculation was not loud enough to be heard across the room. The sash opened noiselessly—with silent tread the verandah was crossed—and in another moment my betrothed was in my arms! I lifted her over the balustrade, and we passed hastily along the walks of the garden.

The outer field was reached without any alarm having been given; and, directing ourselves between the rows of the canes, we speeded on towards the woods, that loomed up like a dark wall in the distance.