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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 36. Captain's Room
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Gideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 36. Captain's Room Post by :64525 Category :Long Stories Author :George Washington Cable Date :May 2012 Read :1336

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Gideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 36. Captain's Room


"Ah!--when you've been all this time with us!"

"No, once I was away, a good while."

"That's so! And while you was away--were away--" In lively undertone Ramsey ran on to tell of Mrs. Gilmore's having in Hugh's absence called in her maid Harriet to show the young lady from Napoleon how to do a bit of stage business without a hint of the stage. At the tale's end the pair glanced round from the nearing _Antelope to the Gilmores and back again. "Harriet's talented. You wouldn't think she could be talented. And isn't she handsome!"

"I've yet to see her face," said Hugh abstractedly.

"That's so, too! When she heard you coming back that time, she ran like a kildee." The narrator checked a laugh. "How's mom-a? Oh, she's well or you'd have told me. I just can't imagine mom-a any way but well." But again the tone betrayed incertitude.

"Yes, she's well," said the youth. "So is my father."

"Where is he?"

Hugh's queer solemnity deepened. "He's down in a stateroom with your brothers. The senator and the general have just joined them."

What a freshet of grave information! Ramsey laughed straight at him. "You talk like a trance medium."

"Not at all."

"You do! I heard one once. You're in a trance now."

"Not at all."

"You are! Y'always are." When Hugh laughed, her laugh redoubled. The mate and the players, though busy talking, took time to smile; the mate winked an eye. Suddenly Ramsey sobered. "Is Basile in hot water again? Tell me quick."

"Tell me first," said Hugh, "why his two brothers----"

"Are so wild? Because pop-a won't allow mom-a to hold them in. Pop-a says: 'Oh, let 'em sow their wild oats early, like me; so deep they'll never come up.' Oh, my! they're up now."

"I wasn't going to ask that."

"Well, I can't tell if you don't ask."

"Why do they keep themselves so apart from you?"

"Me? Oh, they just can't stand me!--nor even mom-a."

"That's bad, for all of us."

"All of--who? Oh!... Humph!... Oh, but it's worse for Basile! He goes with them till he's sick of 'em, then tries mom-a and me till he's just as sick of--of me--and himself--and then strays off to whoever he can pick up with!"

"This time," said Hugh, "he's been picked up."

"Oh, _now what's happened?"

"He sickened of those boys and girls he was selling tickets with and to drown yesterday's recollections he took a hand at cards with two strangers."

Ramsey caught her breath but then laughed joyously. "He couldn't! He had no money!"

"Except from his sale of tickets."

"Oh!" Her tears started. "Oh, where was mammy Joy?"

"Nursing the sick."

"The new--?" She barely escaped breaking her word. "Oh," she moaned, "he didn't use _that money?"

"He lost it. He was wild to play on and recover it, and his brothers were as eager to have him do it."

"Why, _they couldn't help him. They tried, yesterday, to borrow from mom-a.... Wait." The last word came softly. The Gilmores and the mate drew near to see the _Antelope overtaken. There she loomed, out on the starboard bow, shrouded in the swirling rain. How unlike the earlier passing, down below Natchez! No touching of guards, no hail by sign or sound. "Like ladies under two umbrell's!" laughed Ramsey to the actor's wife.

Now squarely abreast, stem and stem, wheel and wheel, the two crafts seemed to stand motionless with the tempest rushing aft between them. Then fathom after fathom the _Antelope fell behind, the mate and the Gilmores moved away, Ramsey softly bade Hugh "go on," and his first utterance drew her liveliest look.

"There's another thing makes your brothers wild," he said, "which they're not to blame for."

"What's that?"

"Our starving plantation life," said Hugh, speaking low.

"Why, they call it the only life for a gentleman!"

"That's because they're so starved, so marooned."

"It's so tasteless without high seasoning, Basile says," said Ramsey. She meditated. "Basile loves to eat."

Said Hugh, "It's a life I don't want you to live," and for an age of seconds they looked into each other's eyes.

Then Ramsey--not drooping a lash--"I love the river."

"For keeps?"

She nodded, and still they looked. At length said Hugh:

"I tried hard to make friends with the twins, but----"

"They wouldn't. I know. Mr. Watson told Mrs. Gilmore."

"Yet a while ago, on the strength of it, they sent for me, to ask me to ask my father to indorse their note."

Ramsey gasped: "You declined, of course?"

"Yes, but I told those other two passengers if they cast another card with any of your brothers they'd go ashore, themselves, as quick as the boat could land."

Ramsey turned and gazed out on the subsiding storm. "Why are the senator and the general down there?"

"For quite another matter."

"Weapons. I know. Mr. Watson told Mrs. Gilmore. I thought that was settled."

"It is."

"Then why is your father there?"

"To get the twins away from the senator and the general, and their brother away from them and back to his----"

"Sister!" softly laughed Ramsey. "Oh, not to mom-a! just to me! I'll go--" She started, but Hugh said:

"To you, yes, when my father has put him in a way to cover his loss without telling your mother."

Their eyes met again. Hers were bright and wet with accusal. "Is that _your proposition?"

"Yes, and my father's too."

She whipped round and gazed out again over the tawny waters. To gaze out beside her he came so near that they almost touched. The shores were once more a clear picture, greener than ever and unvexed by the wind. The rain was slight and fine. The boat was swinging northward toward a small blue rift in the gray. At the room's farther door the mate was leaving the Gilmores for the forecastle.

Without a stir she asked: "Why don't _you bring Basile?"

"I must stay with our friends here."

The surprised girl glanced across at the players.

Side by side they also were gazing out and speaking low. "I'd like to know why with them."

"And I must tell you."

She faintly tossed, gazing out again: "Why 'must'?"

"Because to you I _can_--tell things."

"Haven't you told your father yet--about--Phyllis? Humph!--had to practise on me first."

"Yes. But there's a better reason--for everything I've ever told you."

She slowly faced him, and he added: "I want your help."

"For what? Not the Gilmores?"

"Yes, for them too now. They're in real danger."

"Fr'--from what? Not--not from--my brothers?"

"The twins, yes, and the general, John the Baptist, and a dozen more. They've guessed it out that the Gilmores----"

"Are--So have I! A, b, ab----"

Hugh was mute. She glanced round at the players' backs and then again at him, asking with soft abruptness:

"Where's the bishop? With mom-a yet?"

Hugh kept silence. "No, you know he's not," she answered for him. In her steady eyes he could see, growing every moment, a new sense of the fearful plight of things and of her relation to them. Her young bosom rose and fell, and when her lips parted to speak again their corners twitched. "He--he's the new case! I will mention it! I've a good right. Why shouldn't I?"

"Only that he didn't want you to know. He wanted you--us--all, without knowing, to go right on with the programme. We must. Even now you will, won't you?"

She could only nod. Just then Mrs. Gilmore's maid, in a long burnoose, with umbrellas and wraps, rose into sight close below, on a stair from the passenger-guards, spread one of her umbrellas and looked eagerly about for her mistress. One glance went up to Ramsey, who beckoned through the glass, but the maid gave no sign of seeing her. The slight rain had momentarily freshened, and she was so muffled to the eyes in the light veil which was always on her head or shoulders in pretty Spanish fashion that when she started forward round the skylights for the other side of the roof Ramsey laughed to Hugh:

"Why, I know it's Harriet by her veil, don't you?"

"I know only the veil. I saw it come aboard."

"The veil of mystery!" she playfully murmured, began to hum a tune and bit her lip on noticing that it was "Gideon's Band." "Don't you think I might omit that to-night?"

"No, it's the best thing you do."

"Humph!--mighty poor reason--Aha! I knew it was Harriet."

The Gilmores were beckoning out their window. The actor opened the door on that side and the maid came warily in. Briefly and in hurried apology under her breath while dealing out her burdens she told of the impatience of those below to resume the rehearsal and of their having driven her to this errand the moment they could. Mrs. Gilmore handed Hugh a shawl for Ramsey and an umbrella for himself, her husband laid a mantle on her shoulders, and the maid reopened the door he had shut; but Hugh called from the one opposite that it was the better way and the players started for it. The younger pair gave them precedence, a breeze swept through, the maid reshut her door, Hugh, holding his, bade her follow her mistress, she sprang to obey and the "veil of mystery," which caught in the closed door, was stripped from her like a sail from a wreck.

(Illustration: "Stop!... Stop! the safest place for you on this boat now is right where you are standing--Phyllis")

Instantly she crouched and with the swiftness of a wild creature flashed round and snatched open the door by which she had entered; but a form pressed between her and the opening and when she threw up her face she was looking close into the astounded eyes of Hugh Courteney. Her frame recoiled but not her eyes; his own held them. Without turning he shut the door at his back as Ramsey closed the one opposite, and still holding the maid servant's gaze, he followed her slow retreat, and in that droll depth of voice which earlier had been Ramsey's keenest amusement said to the eyes so near his own:

"Stop!... Stop! the safest place for you on this boat now is right where you are standing--Phyllis."

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