Chapter 68 - Adventures in the Far West by Mayne Reid

A Night in the Woods.

Lightly clad as I was, the cold dews of the night would have prevented me from sleeping; but I needed not that to keep me awake. I could not have slept upon a couch of eider.

D’Hauteville had generously offered me his cloak, which I declined. He, too, was clad in cottonade and linen—though that was not the reason for my declining his offer. Even had I been suffering, I could not have accepted it. I began to fear him!

Aurore was soon asleep. The lightning showed me that her eyes were closed, and I could tell by her soft regular breathing that she slept. This, too, annoyed me!

I watched for each new gleam that I might look upon her. Each time as the quivering light illumined her lovely features, I gazed upon them with mingled feelings of passion and pain. Oh! could there be falsehood under that fair face? Could sin exist in that noble soul? After all was I not beloved?

Even so, there was no withdrawing now—no going back from my purpose. The race in which I had embarked must be run to the end—even at the sacrifice both of heart and life. I thought only of the purpose that had brought us there.

As my mind became calmer, I again reflected on the means of carrying it out. As soon as day should break, I would go in search of the horses—track them, if possible, to where they had strayed—recover them, and then remain concealed in the woods until the return of another night.

Should we not recover the horses, what then?

For a long time, I could not think of what was best to be done in such a contingency.

At length an idea suggested itself—a plan so feasible that I could not help communicating it to D’Hauteville, who like myself was awake. The plan was simple enough, and I only wondered I had not thought of it sooner. It was that he (D’Hauteville) should proceed to Bringiers, procure other horses or a carriage there, and at an early hour of the following night meet us on the Levee Road.

What could be better than this? There would be no difficulty in his obtaining the horses at Bringiers—the carriage more likely. D’Hauteville was not known—at least no one would suspect his having any relations with me. I was satisfied that the disappearance of the quadroon would be at once attributed to me. Gayarre himself would know that; and therefore I alone would be suspected and sought after. D’Hauteville agreed with me that this would be the very plan to proceed upon, in case our horses could not be found; and having settled the details, we awaited with less apprehension for the approach of day.

Day broke at length. The grey light slowly struggled through the shadowy tree-tops, until it became clear enough to enable us to renew the search.

Aurore remained upon the ground; while D’Hauteville and I, taking different directions set out after the horses.

D’Hauteville went farther into the woods, while I took the opposite route.

I soon arrived at the zigzag fence bounding the fields of Gayarre; for we were still upon the very borders of his plantation. On reaching this, I turned along its edge, and kept on for the point where the bye-road entered the woods. It was by this we had come in on the previous night, and I thought it probable the horses might have taken it into their heads to stray back the same way.

I was right in my conjecture. As soon as I entered the embouchure of the road, I espied the hoof-tracks of both animals going out towards the river. I saw also those we had made on the previous night coming in. I compared them. The tracks leading both ways were made by the same horses. One had a broken shoe, which enabled me at a glance to tell they were the same. I noted another “sign” upon the trail. I noted that our horses in passing out dragged their bridles, with branches adhering to them. This confirmed the original supposition, that they had broken loose.

It was now a question of how far they had gone. Should I follow and endeavour to overtake them? It was now bright daylight, and the risk would be great. Long before this, Gayarre and his friends would be up and on the alert. No doubt parties were already traversing the Levee Road as well as the bye-paths among the plantations. At every step I might expect to meet either a scout or a pursuer.

The tracks of the horses showed they had been travelling rapidly and straight onward. They had not stopped to browse. Likely they had gone direct to the Levee Road, and turned back to the city. They were livery horses, and no doubt knew the road well. Besides, they were of the Mexican breed—“mustangs.” With these lively animals the trick of returning over a day’s journey without their riders is not uncommon.

To attempt to overtake them seemed hopeless as well as perilous, and I at once gave up the idea and turned back into the woods. As I approached the pawpaw thicket, I walked with lighter tread. I am ashamed to tell the reason. Foul thoughts were in my heart.

The murmur of voices fell upon my ear.

“By Heaven! D’Hauteville has again got back before me!”

I struggled for some moments with my honour. It gave way; and I made my further approach among the pawpaws with the silence of a thief.

“D’Hauteville and she in close and friendly converse! They stand fronting each other. Their faces almost meet—their attitudes betoken a mutual interest. They talk in an earnest tone—in the low murmuring of lovers! O God!”

At this moment the scene on the wharf-boat flashed on my recollection. I remembered the youth wore a cloak, and that he was of low stature. It was he who was standing before me! That puzzle was explained. I was but a waif—a foil—a thing for a coquette to play with!

There stood the true lover of Aurore!

I stopped like one stricken. The sharp aching of my heart, oh! I may never describe. It felt as if a poisoned arrow had pierced to its very core, and there remained fixed and rankling. I felt faint and sick. I could have fallen to the ground.

She has taken something from her bosom. She is handing it to him! A love-token—a gage d’amour!

No. I am in error. It is the parchment—the paper taken from the desk of the avocat. What does it mean? What mystery is this? Oh! I shall demand a full explanation from both of you. I shall—patience, heart!—patience!

D’Hauteville has taken the papers, and hidden them under his cloak. He turns away. His face is now towards me. His eyes are upon me. I am seen!

“Ho! Monsieur?” he inquired, advancing to meet me. “What success? You have seen nothing of the horses!”

I made an effort to speak calmly.

“Their tracks,” I replied.

Even in this short phrase my voice was quivering with emotion. He might easily have noticed my agitation, and yet he did not seem to do so.

“Only their tracks, Monsieur! Whither did they lead?”

“To the Levee Road. No doubt they have returned towards the city. We need have no farther dependence on them.”

“Then I shall go to Bringiers at once?”

This was put hypothetically.

The proposal gave me pleasure. I wished him away.

I wished to be alone with Aurore.

“It would be as well,” I assented, “if you do not deem it too early?”

“Oh, no! besides, I have business in Bringiers that will occupy me all the day.”


“Doubt not my return to meet you. I am certain to procure either horses or a carriage. Half-an-hour after twilight you will find me at the end of the bye-road. Fear not, Monsieur! I have a strong presentiment that for you all will yet be well. For me—ah!”

A deep sigh escaped him as he uttered the last phrase.

What did it mean? Was he mocking me? Had this strange youth a secret beyond my secret? Did he know that Aurore loved him? Was he so confident—so sure of her heart, that he recked not thus leaving her alone with me? Was he playing with me as the tiger with its victim? Were both playing with me?

These horrid thoughts crowding up, prevented me from making a definite rejoinder to his remarks. I muttered something about hope, but he seemed hardly to heed my remark. For some reason he was evidently desirous of being gone; and bidding Aurore and myself adieu, he turned abruptly off, and with quick, light steps, threaded his way through the woods.

With my eyes I followed his retreating form, until it was hidden by the intervening branches. I felt relief that he was gone. I could have wished that he was gone for ever. Despite the need we had of his assistance—despite the absolute necessity for his return—at that moment I could have wished that we should never see him again!