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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 35. Unsettled Weather
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Gideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 35. Unsettled Weather Post by :64525 Category :Long Stories Author :George Washington Cable Date :May 2012 Read :2106

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Gideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 35. Unsettled Weather


Again the _Votaress was passing the Westwood and again was but a short mile behind the _Antelope_.

Led by Ramsey, the amateur players, including Hugh, had stopped rehearsing and were on the skylight roof, gathered about the commodore, the Gilmores, and the bell. In their company, though below them on the forward hurricane deck, the first mate leaned bulkily against the roof on which they stood. It was his watch. Ned was up at the wheel.

As early as the evening before, a good hundred and fifty miles back down the river, the _Antelope_, it will be remembered, had been close on the _Westwood's heels. So Gilmore reminded his wife. So Hugh needlessly reminded Ramsey. From the mate it was further learned that the pursuer had overhauled the pursued between Petit Goufre--which he and the whole company called Petty Gulf--and Grand Gulf; places named before the days of steam for their dangerous eddies. Yet, he went on to tell Ramsey, the swifter boat, with more freight to put ashore and with a larger appetite for cord-wood, had never got clean away. Even now, in full view ahead, she was down at half speed, wooding up from a barge in tow alongside. You could hear her crew singing as they trotted under their great shoulder loads of wood. The amateurs, except Hugh but including Ramsey, caught up their song and were promptly joined by a group around the bell of the _Westwood as that gallant loser foamed along between the _Votaress and the shore:

"Oh, if I had a scolding wife,
As sure as you are born
I'd take her down to Noo Orleans
And trade her off for corn."

Presently the _Antelope cast off the emptied flat in midstream, and a redoubled whiteness behind her paddle-boxes showed full speed.

"Now we can give her a square deal!" said a youth.

"And pass her inside of an hour!" declared another.

"In Bunch's Cut-off!" ventured one to the commodore, but the commodore said the _Votaress herself was hungry for wood, and the mate confirmed him by a nod.

"How much wood," some one asked the mate, "will a boat like this use up in twenty-four hours?" It quickened the blood to be up here midway between these turbid waters and yonder passionate sky so joyous in one quarter, so angry in another; particularly to be here while steadily distancing one beautiful boat and overtaking another "amid green islands," as Mrs. Gilmore quoted--one of which, still in sight astern, was that old haunt of flatboat robbers, called Island Ninety-four, Stack's Island, or Crow's Nest. One half forgot the sad state of affairs below. Conversation glided as swiftly as a flock of swallows and in as many directions.

"How much wood?" said the mate. "Well, that sort o' depends. I once part owned a boat that fo' one whole month didn't burn enough wood to dry the sheriff's shoes, but that 'uz 'cause he kep' her tied up to the bank."

Ramsey did not hear this and cared nothing for the laugh it won. She had seen the doctor and the priest slip from the twins' room in the texas and go below aft. "How's mom-a?" she eagerly asked the commodore.

"Very well."

"How's Lucian?"

Lucian was so much better, he told her, that both brothers had been returned to their cabin stateroom.

"Then you've just put a new case into the texas!"

The commodore smiled. "Yes, from the freight deck."

"Freight--humph! That's the lower deck," she reminiscently said, turning to Hugh. "Who is it? Is it--Otto?"

But Hugh's face wore its absurd iron look, which had its usual effect on her. The old man spoke: "Will Miss Ramsey do us all a favor; one that will help the play?"

"Whew, yes! That'll help everything. What is it?"

"It's to make no mention of the new case to any one."

"Till the close of the evening," put in the Gilmores, and Ramsey saw that they knew. Yet----

"All right," she said. "Oh, I know who it is." She tossed her curls. "It's Otto's mother." But both tone and glance lacked conviction. The commodore left them.

Meantime the mate was amusing his half of the company.

"How much wood," he was repeating. "I as't that myself once 'pon a time. D'dy'ever hear the answer? They tell the yarn on lots o' loons but I 'uz the real one 'n' I got the answer f'm Gid Hayle aboard the old _Admiral_."

The names caught Ramsey's ear and drew her gaze. "That _Admiral_," continued the mate, "could eat wood like a harrikin. Says Hayle to me: 'Well, that depends on yo' boat 'n' yo' wood. With the right boat 'n' the right wood--oak, ash, hickory--y'ought to burn f'm sixty to sevemty cord' a day. But ef yo' feed'n' this boat cottonwood, why, yo' simply shovellin' shavin's into hell.'"

Ramsey looked sad. Weary of contrasts unflattering to her men-folks, she glanced from the refined actor to the elegant old commodore, blushed to the player's wife and accepted her embracing arm. "Yass," pursued the mate, "s'e jest so: 'Yo' simply shovellin' shavin's----'"

It was not Hugh's motion that cut him short but Ramsey's voice as with a flash she said: "Go on. I don't care! If pop-a said it it's so!"

A raindrop wet her cheek. From the pilot-house Ned, as he pulled the wheel over to chase the hardpressed _Antelope westward into Bunch's Cut-off, warningly drawled that they were about to run into a shower. At his side Watson's cub was letting down the storm board. A blue-black cloud overhanging the green head of the cut-off had suddenly widened across all that quarter and turned leaden gray. A writhing wind struck the boat fairly in front. The waters ruffled, flattened, and seemed to run faster. On an island close abeam thousands of young cottonwoods, a mantle of unbroken verdure, bent low, paled, reeled, darkened, and whipped. Dead ahead, a flash of lightning dropped from zenith to sky-line, stood blindingly quivering, and scarcely had vanished when the thunder cracked to split the ear.

"Scoot, ladies," said the mate, "or in three shakes you'll be as wet as the river!" A single glance up the stream--though Ramsey must needs take a double one--showed the rain coming, so near and so dense that not a sign of the _Antelope was visible. The company fled, some to a larboard stair, some to a starboard. Hugh and Ramsey suddenly missed the Gilmores, the Gilmores missed them, each pair turned to find the other, the lashing rain leaped down upon them as if they were all it had come for, and with words lost in a second thunder-clap the mate threw open the captain's room, pressed them in, and began to dry them with a whisk-broom. The captain, he said, was below. "Off watch didn't mean off watch to John Courteney."

"Nor to Gideon Hayle," prompted Ramsey, and while he ha-haed a cordial assent she asked: "Whereabouts below is he--Captain Courteney?" But the mate had turned away and she asked Hugh: "Where's your father? What's he doing?" Her thought was still on the unmentionable new case.

"I'll tell you," said Hugh in the low voice she liked so well. "Will you look at the river with me?"

He felt her responsive nod and smile even after they had moved to the front window farthest from their three seniors and stood gazing out into the beautiful tempest. Both wind and downpour had somewhat slackened their fury. A bit nearer than before and more to starboard they could faintly make out the _Antelope_, so white that it seemed as if she had gone down and her ghost come up wrapped and whipped in sheets of rain.

"You don't ask me about your mother," said Hugh.

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