Enter the cabin, and for the first time you will be struck with the novelty of the scene. You will there observe a splendid saloon, perhaps a hundred feet in length, richly carpeted and adorned throughout. You are startled by the apparition of a rough horse-skin boot elevated along the edge of the shining mahogany; and a dash of brown nicotian juice may have somewhat altered the pattern of the carpet!
But these things are exceptional—more exceptional now than in the times of which I write.
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Being open in front and at both sides, it affords the best view; and having the advantage of a cool breeze, brought about by the motion of the boat, is usually a favourite resort. A number of chairs are here placed to accommodate the passengers, and smoking is permitted. Some had just arrived from up-river towns, and were discharging their freight and passengers, at this season a scanty list. Occasionally might be seen a jauntily-dressed clerk, with blue cottonade trowsers, white linen coat, costly Panama hat, shirt with cambric ruffles, and diamond studs.
This stylish gentleman would appear for a few minutes by one of the deserted boats—perhaps transact a little business with some one—and then hurry off again to his more pleasant haunts in the city. There were two points upon the Levee where the bustle of active life was more especially observable. These were the spaces in front of two large boats. One was that on which I had taken passage.
As regards the owners and officers in such cases, there is a substantial money motive at the bottom of this rivalry.
Most of these seemed as eager for the race as an English blackleg for the Derby. Some no doubt looked forward to the sport and excitement, but I soon perceived that the greater number were betting upon the result! Will you bet, stranger? Twenty dollars on the Belle! I confess I had no very pleasant reflections at that moment. I had heard that these races not infrequently resulted in one or other of the above-named catastrophes, and I had reason to know that my information was correct.
Many of the passengers—the more sober and respectable ones—shared my feelings; and some talked of appealing to the Captain not to allow the race. But they knew they were in the minority, and held their peace.
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I left my seat, therefore, and having crossed the staging, walked toward the top of the wharf , where this gentleman was standing. Before I had entered into conversation with the Captain, I saw a barouche approaching on the opposite side, apparently coming from the French quarter of the city. It was a handsome equipage , driven by a well-clad and evidently well-fed black, and as it drew near, I could perceive that it was occupied by a young and elegantly-attired lady.
I cannot say why, but I felt a presentiment, accompanied perhaps by a silent wish, that the occupant of the barouche was about to be a fellow-passenger. It was not long before I learnt that such was her intention. The barouche drew up on the crest of the Levee, and I saw the lady directing some inquiry to a bystander, who immediately pointed to our Captain.
The latter, perceiving that he was the object inquired after, stepped up to the side of the carriage, and bowed to the lady. I was close to the spot, and every word reached me. The lady spoke in French, a smattering of which the Captain in his intercourse with the Creoles had picked up. There is still one state-room disengaged, I believe, Mr Shirley? You will reach my plantation before midnight, and therefore I shall not require to sleep aboard. Naturally not a rude man, it seemed to render him still more attentive and polite. The proprietor of a Louisiana plantation is a somebody not to be treated with nonchalance; but, when that proprietor chances to be a young and charming lady, who could be otherwise than amiable?
Not Captain B. Here the occupant of the barouche pointed to a train of drays , loaded with barrels and boxes, that had just driven up, and halted in the rear of the carriage. The sight of the freight had a still further pleasant effect on the Captain, who was himself part owner of his boat. He became profuse in offers of service, and expressed his willingness to accommodate his new passenger in every way she might desire.
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It is reported that your boat is likely to have a race with some other one. If that be so, I cannot become your passenger. The Captain hung his head for some seconds. He was evidently reflecting upon his answer. To be thus denied the anticipated excitement and pleasure of the race—the victory which he confidently expected, and its grand consequences; to appear, as it were, afraid of trying the speed of his boat; afraid that she would be beaten; would give his rival a large opportunity for future bragging, and would place himself in no enviable light in the eyes of his crew and passengers—all of whom had already made up their minds for a race.
And so we suppose, upon reflection, it must have appeared to Captain B—, for after a little hesitation he granted it. Not with the best grace, however. It evidently cost him a struggle; but interest prevailed, and he granted it.
The boat shall not run. I give you my promise to that effect. Monsieur le Capitaine; I am greatly obliged to you. If you will be so good as to have my freight taken aboard. The carriage goes along.
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This gentleman is my steward. Here, Antoine!
He will look to everything. And now pray, Capitaine, when do you contemplate starting? I had been very much struck by the appearance of this dame. Not so much on account of her physical beauty—though that was of a rare kind—as by the air that characterised her. I should feel a difficulty in describing this, which consisted in a certain braverie that bespoke courage and self-possession.
There was no coarseness of manner—only the levity of a heart gay as summer, and light as gossamer, but capable, when occasion required, of exhibiting a wonderful boldness and strength. She was a woman that would be termed beautiful in any country; but with her beauty there was combined elegance, both in dress and manner, that told you at once she was a lady accustomed to society and the world. And this, although still young—she certainly could not have been much over twenty. Louisiana has a precocious climate, however; and a Creole of twenty will count for an Englishwoman of ten years older.
Was she married? The Captain had styled her Madame , but he was evidently unacquainted with her, and also with the French idiom. My curiosity in the present case had been stimulated by several circumstances. I had as yet had but little intercourse with people of this peculiar race, and was somewhat curious to know more about them. This feeling was at one time deeply rooted. With time, however, it is dying out. A fourth spur to my curiosity was found in the fact, that the lady in passing had eyed me with a glance of more than ordinary inquisitiveness.hofonctanpost.cf
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Do not be too hasty in blaming me for this declaration. Hear me first. I did not for a moment fancy that that glance was one of admiration. I had no such thoughts.