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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 2. The "Votaress"
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Gideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 2. The 'Votaress' Post by :gg0008 Category :Long Stories Author :George Washington Cable Date :May 2012 Read :1941

Click below to download : Gideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 2. The "Votaress" (Format : PDF)

Gideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 2. The "Votaress"

CHAPTER II. THE "VOTARESS"

Her first up-river trip! The crowd waiting on the wharf's apron to see her go was larger and included better types of the people than usual, for the _Votaress was the latest of the Courteney fleet, hence a rival of the Hayle boats, the most interesting fact that could be stated of anything afloat on Western waters.

So young was she, this _Votaress_, so bridally fresh from her Indiana and Kentucky shipyards, that the big new bell in the mid-front of her hurricane roof shone in the low sunlight like a wedding jewel. Its parting strokes had sounded once but would sound twice again before she could cast off. Both pilots were in the lofty pilot-house, down from the breast-board of which a light line ran forward to the bell's tongue, but neither pilot touched the line or the helm. For the captain's use another cord from the bell hung over the hurricane deck's front and down to the boiler deck rail, but neither up there on the boiler deck nor anywhere near the bell on the roof above it was any captain to be seen.

At the front angle of the roof's larboard rail a youth, quite alone, leaned against one of the tall derrick posts to get its shade. He was too short, square, and unanimated to draw much attention, although with a faint unconscious frown between widely parted brows his quiet eyes fell intently upon every detail of the lively scene below.

The whole great landing lay beneath his glance, a vivid exposition of the vast, half-tamed valley's bounty, spoils, and promise; of its motley human life, scarcely yet to be called society, so lately and rudely transplanted from overseas; so bareboned, so valiantly preserved, so young yet already so titanic; so self-reliant, opinionated, and uncouth; so strenuous and materialistic in mind; so inflammable in emotions; so grotesque in its virtues; so violent in its excesses; so complacently oblivious of all the higher values of wealth; so giddied with the new wine of liberty and crude abundance; so open of speech, of heart, of home, and so blithely disdainful of a hundred risks of life, health, and property. And all this the young observer's glance took in with maybe more realization of it than might be looked for in one not yet twenty-one. Yet his fuller attention was for matters nearer and of much narrower compass.

He saw the last bit of small freight come aboard and the last belated bill-lading clerk and ejected peddler go ashore. He noted by each mooring-post the black longshoreman waiting to cast off a hawser. He remarked each newcomer who idly joined the onlooking throng. Especially he observed each cab or carriage that hurried up to the wharf's front. He studied each of the alighting occupants as they yielded their effects to the antic, white-jacketed mulatto cabin-boys, behind whom they crossed the ponderous unrailed stage and vanished on their up-stairs way to the boiler deck, the cabin, and their staterooms. Had his mild scrutinizings been a paid service, they could hardly have been more thorough.

By and by two or three things occurred in the same moment. A number of boats above Canal Street and several of lesser fame below sounded their third bell, cast off, and backed out into the stream. The many pillars of smoke widened across the heavens into one unrifted cloud with the sunbeams illumining its earthward side. Now it overhung the busy landing and now, at the river's first bend, it filled the tops of the dark mass of spars and cordage that densely lined the long curve of the harbor's up-town shipping.

At the same time, while the foremost boats were still in sight, the two pilots in the pilot-house of the lingering _Votaress quietly took stand at right and left of the wheel with their eyes on a distant vehicle, a private carriage. It came swiftly out of Common Street and across the broad shell-paved levee. As quietly as they, the youth at the derrick post regarded it, and presently, looking back and up, he gave them a slight, gratified nod. Through the lines of onlookers the carriage swept close up to the stage and let down two aristocratic-looking men. The taller was full fifty years of age, the other as much as seventy-five, but both were hale and commanding.

As they started aboard the younger glanced up brightly to the unsmiling youth at the roof's rail and then threw a gesture, above and beyond him, to the pilot-house. One of the pilots promptly sounded the bell. Down on the forecastle a dozen deck-hands, ordered by a burly mate, leaped to the stage and began, with half as many others who ran ashore on it, to heave it aboard. But a sharp "avast" stopped them, and four or five cabin-boys gambolled out on it ashore. A smart hack came whirling up in its own white shell dust, and a fledgling dandy of seventeen sprang down from the seat of his choice by the driver before the vehicle could stop or the white jackets strip it of its baggage.

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