Chapter 69 - Adventures in the Far West by Mayne Reid

Love’s Vengeance.

Now for an explanation with Aurore! Now to give vent to the dire passion of jealousy—to relieve my heart with recriminations—with the bitter-sweet vengeance of reproach!

I could stifle the foul emotion no longer—no longer conceal it. It must have expression in words.

I had purposely remained standing with my face averted from her, till D’Hauteville was gone out of sight. Longer, too. I was endeavouring to still the wild throbbings of my breast—to affect the calmness of indifference. Vain hypocrisy! To her eyes my spite must have been patent, for in this the keen instincts of woman are not to be baffled.

It was even so. She comprehended all. Hence the wild act—the abandon to which at that moment she gave way.

I was turning to carry out my design, when I felt the soft pressure of her body against mine—her arms encircled my neck—her head, with face upturned, rested upon my bosom, and her large lustrous eyes sought mine with a look of melting inquiry.

That look should have satisfied me. Surely no eyes but the eyes of love could have borne such expression?

And yet I was not content. I faltered out—

“Aurore, you do not love me!”

“Ah, Monsieur! pourquoi cette cruauté? Je t’aime—mon Dieu! avec tout mon coeur je t’aime!”

Even this did not still my suspicious thoughts. The circumstances had been too strong—jealousy had taken too firm a hold to be plucked out by mere assurances. Explanation alone could satisfy me. That or confession.

Having made a commencement, I went on. I detailed what I had seen at the landing—the after conduct of D’Hauteville—what I had observed the preceding night—what I had just that moment witnessed. I detailed all. I added no reproaches. There was time enough for them when I should receive her answer.

It came in the midst of tears. She had known D’Hauteville before—that was acknowledged. There was a mystery in the relations that existed between them. I was solicited not to require an explanation. My patience was appealed to. It was not her secret. I should soon know all. In due time all would be revealed.

How readily my heart yielded to these delicious words! I no longer doubted. How could I, with those large eyes, full of love-light, shining through the tear-bedewed lashes?

My heart yielded. Once more my arms closed affectionately around the form of my betrothed, and a fervent kiss renewed the vow of our betrothal.

We could have remained long upon this love-hallowed spot, but prudence prompted us to leave it. We were too near to the point of danger. At the distance of two hundred yards was the fence that separated Gayarre’s plantation from the wild woods; and from that could even be seen the house itself, far off over the fields. The thicket concealed this, it was true; but should pursuit lead that way, the thicket would be the first place that would be searched. It would be necessary to seek a hiding-place farther off in the woods.

I bethought me of the flowery glade—the scene of my adventure with the crotalus. Around it the underwood was thick and shady, and there were spots where we could remain screened from the observation of the keenest eyes. At that moment I thought only of such concealment. It never entered my head that there were means of discovering us, even in the heart of the tangled thicket, or the pathless maze of the cane-brake. I resolved, therefore, to make at once for the glade.

The pawpaw thicket, where we had passed the night, lay near the south-eastern angle of Gayarre’s plantation. To reach the glade it would be necessary for us to pass a mile or more to the northward. By taking a diagonal line through the woods, the chances were ten to one we should lose our way, and perhaps not find a proper place of concealment. The chances were, too, that we might not find a path, through the network of swamps and bayous that traversed the forest in every direction.

I resolved, therefore, to skirt the plantation, until I had reached the path that I had before followed to the glade, and which I now remembered. There would be some risk until we had got to the northward of Gayarre’s plantation; but we should keep at a distance from the fence, and as much as possible in the underwood. Fortunately a belt of “palmetto” land, marking the limits of the annual inundation, extended northward through the woods, and parallel to the line of fence. This singular vegetation, with its broad fan-like fronds, formed an excellent cover; and a person passing through it with caution could not be observed from any great distance. The partial lattice-work of its leaves was rendered more complete by the tall flower-stalks of the altheas, and other malvaceous plants that shared the ground with the palmettos.

Directing ourselves within the selvage of this rank vegetation, we advanced with caution; and soon came opposite the place where we had crossed the fence on the preceding night. At this point the woods approached nearest to the house of Gayarre. As already stated, but one field lay between, but it was nearly a mile in length. It was dead level, however, and did not appear half so long. By going forward to the fence, we could have seen the house at the opposite end, and very distinctly.

I had no intention of gratifying my curiosity at that moment by such an act, and was moving on, when a sound fell upon my ear that caused me suddenly to halt, while a thrill of terror ran through my veins.

My companion caught me by the arm, and looked inquiringly in my face.

A caution to her to be silent was all the reply I could make; and, leaning a little lower, so as to bring my ear nearer to the ground, I listened.

The suspense was short. I heard the sound again. My first conjecture was right. It was the “growl” of a hound!

There was no mistaking that prolonged and deep-toned note. I was too fond a disciple of Saint Hubert not to recognise the bay of a long-eared Molossian. Though distant and low, like the hum of a forest bee, I was not deceived in the sound. It fell upon my ears with a terrible import!

And why terrible was the baying of a hound? To me above all others, whose ears, attuned to the “tally ho!” and the “view hilloa!” regarded these sounds as the sweetest of music? Why terrible? Ah! you must think of the circumstances in which I was placed—you must think, too, of the hours I spent with the snake-charmer—of the tales he told me in that dark tree-cave—the stories of runaways, of sleuth-dogs, of man-hunters, and “nigger-hunts,”—practices long thought to be confined to Cuba, but which I found as rife upon the soil of Louisiana,—you must think of all these, and then you will understand why I trembled at the distant baying of a hound.

The howl I heard was still very distant. It came from the direction of Gayarre’s house. It broke forth at intervals. It was not like the utterance of a hound upon the trail, but that of dogs just cleared from the kennel, and giving tongue to their joy at the prospect of sport.

Fearful apprehensions were stirred within me at the moment. A terrible conjecture rushed across my brain. They were after us with hounds!