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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 13. The Superabounding Ramsey
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Gideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 13. The Superabounding Ramsey Post by :kennylove Category :Long Stories Author :George Washington Cable Date :May 2012 Read :3481

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Gideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 13. The Superabounding Ramsey

CHAPTER XIII. THE SUPERABOUNDING RAMSEY

In his hurricane-deck chair, with eyes out ahead on the water, John Courteney gently took his son's hand as the latter, returning to his side, stood without a word.

"Tucked in, are they, both of them?"

No reply.

"Hugh, I hear certain gentlemen are coming to ask me to put our deck passengers ashore."

"You can't do it, sir."

"Would you like to tell them so?"

"I'd like nothing better."

"Now that you've tasted blood, eh?"

No reply.

"It wouldn't be a mere putting of bad boys to bed, my son. It would be David and Goliath, with Goliath in the plural."

"Can't I pass them on to you if I find I must?"

"Of course you can. Hugh, I'm tempted to try you."

"I wish you would, sir."

"With no coaching? No 'Polonius to the players'?"

"I wish you would."

The father looked into the sky. "Superb night," he said.

Again no reply.

"Were you not deep in the spell of it when I found you here awhile ago?"

"Yes, I was."

"My son, I covet your better acquaintance."

"You mean I--say so little?"

"You reveal yourself so little. Even your mother felt that, Hugh."

"I know it, father. And yet, as for you----"

"Yes--as for me----?"

"I've never seen you without wanting to tell out all that's in me." The pair smiled to each other.

"And you say that at last, now, you can do it?"

"Did I say that, sir?"

"Not in words. But you seem all at once to be seeing things--taking hold of things--in a new way."

"The things themselves are new, sir. They're small, but--somehow--they've helped me on."

"Couldn't I guess one of them?"

"I hardly think so, sir; they're really such trifles."

"Well, for a first attempt, Ramsey."

"Yes. How did you guess that?"

"She's such a persuasive example of perfect openness."

"Her mother's a much lovelier one."

"No, Hugh; allowing for years, Miss Ramsey's even a better. But--another small thing--shall I mention it?"

"Yes, please."

"All these Hayles, to-night, bring up the past--ours."

"Yes!" said Hugh, and said no more, as if the remark had partly unlocked something and then stuck fast.

The questioner tried a smaller key. "What were you thinking," he asked, "when I joined you here to-night?"

"When you--? Oh, nothing we're thinking of now."

"At the same time, what was it?"

"Why--something rather too fanciful to put into words."

"All the same, let's have it."

"Well, for one thing, seeing and feeling this boat, with all its light and life, speeding, twinkling on and on through the night like a swarm of stars, the thought came--and I was wishing I could share it with you----"

The elder hand pressed the younger.

"The thought that since infinite space--" The thought seemed to stall, take breath, and start again--"since infinite space is lighted only by the stars, the rush and roll of this universe through space is forever and ever--in the large--a night scene--an eternal starlight. Is that absurd--to you?"

The father smiled: "Why, no. I merely--doubt it. All starlight is sunlight--near enough by."

"Yes. But between stars there is no near-by, is there?"

"That depends on who's looking, I think. We mustn't impute human eyes to God--or angels--or saints. You remember the word: 'Darkness and light are both alike to thee'?"

"Yes," pensively said Hugh, rejoicing in this converse yet wondering why it made him feel so childish to speak his best while Hayle's twins showed up in so manly a fashion when they spoke their worst. "Yes, I thought of that, too. Yet I was glad to believe there will always be plenty of starlight for those who love it----"

"Wow!" yelled Ramsey in his ear.

With a gulp he whirled and faced her where, limp with laughter, she hung and swung on the captain's chair. Its occupant quietly rose. The old nurse wrung her hands, and Ramsey, in an agony of mirth and dismay, cringed back on her. Suddenly the maiden stood at her best height and with elaborate graciousness said:

"I _hope I haven't interrupted!"

The father's hand appeasingly touched the son's while playfully he said: "You have a hopeful nature, Miss Ramsey." And then, as her disconcerted eyes widened, he asked: "Where did you come from just now?"

He saw that if she spoke she must weep. Instead she jauntily waved a whole arm backward and upward to the pilot-house. Then, her self-command returning, she remarked, for Hugh in particular: "It's nice up there. They don't snub you." She twitched a shoulder at him, made eyes to his father, and once more tinkled her laugh, interiorly, as though it were a door-bell.

The captain was amused, yet he gravely began to ask: "Does your mother----?"

"Know I'm out? She doth. First time I've been out o' bed this late in all my long and checkered career."

"If she does, Miss Ramsey, will you go up to the pilot once more and tell him to land the boat at the wood-yard just this side of Bonnabel plantation?"

Her mouth fell open: "Who, me? Tell the--?" She swept the strategist with a quick, hurt glance, but beamed again beneath his kind eyes. "_I get your idea_," she said, snatched the nurse's arm, and hurried off with her, humming and tripping the song she had quoted.

The captain looked again into "infinite space." The wide scene was shifting. High beyond the _Votaress's bow the stars of the west swung as if they shifted southward. The moon crossed her silvering wake from larboard quarter to starboard. The _Antelope shone close ahead. "To me, Hugh," he lightly resumed, "this boat, full of all sorts of people, isn't so much like your swarm of stars as it is like just one little whole world."

"Yes," said the son, facing him sidewise so that no Ramsey might again surprise them: "I see it that way too. Father"--the father had stirred as if to leave him--"I want to tell you some things about our past. But I can't tell them piecemeal. I must find some time when you're off watch."

"And when Miss Ramsey's asleep?"

"Yes."

"Why have you never told me before?"

"I've tried for years. The power wasn't in me. I've had to grow up to it. But, as you say, 'now, at last,' I can do it."

The captain turned away and looked up to the dim pilot-house. Out of it came the tranquil voice of the pilot who earlier had talked with the twins: "Caving bank above has planted snags at that wood-yard, sir. Whippoorwill Ferry's a better landing, on t'other side, head o' the crossing."

"Well, Mr. Watson, land there."

The boat was sweeping close by the west-shore village of Bayagoula, that lay asleep where the stream for a brief space widened to a mile. Her veering jack-staff hid the north star a moment, then crept to right of it and pointed up a five-mile reach of dim waters and dimmer shores, hard on the heels of the panting _Antelope. But the captain's eye lingered behind and above him. Between him and the pilot-house, softly veiled by its moonlight shadow, stood in unconscious statuesqueness on the front overhang of the texas roof, between the towering chimneys, Ramsey.

Her rippling curls and slim shoulders stood above the shade that enveloped the rest of her form and showed dark against the feeble light of the moon at her back. As he looked she uttered a droll sound--fair counterfeit of the harsh note a mocking-bird speaks to himself before his nightly outburst--and then broke forth in a voice as untrained, but as fresh and joyous and as reckless of reproof or praise, as the bird's:


"'O, the lone, starry hours give me, love,
When still is the beautiful night----'"


At sight of a second and third figure he moved that way, while below the singer's feet sounded a mother's moan: "Ramsey! mon Dieu! my chile! come down from yondeh!"

The girl's eyes stayed in the sky, but one mutinous foot so keenly smote the roof that her nurse, approaching behind, stopped short, and from Hugh came a laugh, a thin, involuntary treble, which caused Ramsey visibly to flinch.

"Ramsey!" entreated her mother again, but----

"Just this one moment, beloved mom-a! Listen, oh, listen, everybody! to my midnight thought!" The rhapsodist struck a stiffer pose and began with all her voice, "Since infinite space is lighted only by the stars! their rush and roll--te rum te riddle, te rum te ree----"

"Ramsey!"

"--Is an eternal starlight!" The girl hugged and kissed her black nurse: "Oh, mammy Joy! is that absurd to you?"

"Ram-zee!" cried the mother. But a toll of the great bell silenced her. Another solemnly followed, and when a third completed the signal to land, the staggering footsteps of the vanished girl dragging old Joy with her in full retreat were a relief to every ear. As madame turned to say good night a last bleat came out of the darkness:

"Please don't, anybody, tell about the _Quakeress to-night!"

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