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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 41. Quits
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Gideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 41. Quits Post by :64525 Category :Long Stories Author :George Washington Cable Date :May 2012 Read :2205

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Gideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 41. Quits

CHAPTER XLI. QUITS

"Wait here," slowly said Hugh in response to the gold-hunter's touch. "I'll--see you presently."

The modest adventurer waved assent, yet looked so disappointed that Mrs. Gilmore, moving to take his arm, asked:

"Can't Mr. So-and-so go with us?"

Oh, kind, quick wit! Three is a crowd, four is only twice two!

"Certainly," said Hugh, and to Ramsey added: "We'd better lead the way."

As they led she softly inquired: "Does he want to know something about the twins?"

What arrows were her questions, and how straight they struck home! Yet with that low voice for their bowstring they gave him comfort. Her forays into his confidence not only relieved the loneliness of his too secretive mind but often, as now, involved a sweet yielding of her confidence to him. Yet now a straight answer was quite impossible.

"He wants to know something about you," was the reply.

She let the palpable evasion pass. On the hurricane roof there was a new sight. The breeze was astern and moved so evenly with the boat as to enfold her in a calm. Looking up for the stars, one saw only the giant chimneys towering straight into the darkness and sending their smoke as straight and as far again beyond, spangled with two firefly swarms of sparks that fell at last in a perpetual, noiseless shower.

"Why do we go this way?" she asked, meaning forward around the skylight roof instead of across it.

"Because this way's longer."

"Humph!" was the soft response. Presently she added, "We get more fresh air this way," and called back to their two followers: "This is to avoid the sparks."

"Um-hmm!" thought kind Mrs. Gilmore, and, "Oh, ho!" mused the Californian, not quite so unselfishly.

Around in front of the bell both youth and maiden observed how palely the derrick posts loomed against the spectral chimneys and their smoke, and silently recalled their first meeting, just here, in the long ago of two days earlier. The captain's chair was occupied.

"Well, father," said Hugh.

"Good evening," twittered Ramsey.

"Good evening, Miss Ramsey. Be back this way, Hugh?"

"In a moment, sir." They passed on. Ramsey looked behind at the Californian.

"What does he want to know about me?" she asked.

"He says," said Hugh, "he's nursed this sickness at sea and at Panama and hasn't the slightest fear of it."

"Humph!... That's not about me."

"Yes, it--was. He's taken a great fancy----"

"To Basile."

"To several of us, including Basile."

"Yes, because he and Basile played cards together."

"Not entirely for that," said Hugh, looking at her so squarely that she had to smooth back her curls. "But he'd like to help take care of him if you--and your mother, of course--are willing."

"Oh, how good--and brave! And he wants to ask me?"

"No, he's too bashful. I'm asking for him."

"Too--!" Ramsey pondered. They stepped more slowly. The other pair turned back; the play demanded Mrs. Gilmore. The sick-room door was so near that Ramsey knew her mother was inside it, by her shadow on its glass. Suddenly, just as Hugh was about to say she need not hurry in--whereupon she would have vanished like a light blown out--she faced him. "D'you ever suffer from bashfulness--diffidence?"

He answered on a droll, deep note: "All its horrors."

She looked him over. He barely smiled.

"You never show it," she said.

"No." To the fanciful girl the monosyllable came like one toll from a low tower. She laughed.

"Basile says there's another thing you suffer from."

"'Suffer'? From what do I 'suffer'?"

"From everybody else on the boat having a better chance to do things--big things--than you have."

He smiled again. "If I did, no one should know it; least of all you."

She ignored the last clause. "Aha! I said so. I told him--and mammy Joy told him--there's nothing bigger than to wait your turn and _then take it_. And there ain't--there isn't, is there?"

"Well--even that can be small. Nothing a man is big enough for looks big to him."

"Hoh!--after he's done it," laughed Ramsey.

"True--" said Hugh reflectively, "or suffered it," and both of them began to see that we can rarely lift more than our one corner of the whole truth at a time. "In your way," he added, still musing, "you're larger than I."

"Oh, I'm no--such--thing!" Her speech was soft, yet she looked up warily to Watson's pilot-house window, but Watson too thoroughly approved to be looking down. "I'm not half or third or quarter as large." She eagerly turned his attention up the river. Visible only by the lights of her cabin and the sparks from her unseen chimneys, a boat was coming round the next bend. As she entered the reach and breasted the breeze which so calmly accompanied the _Votaress_, her two spangled plumes of smoke swept straight astern as if two comets raced with her, or----

"The Golden Locks of Berenice," whispered Ramsey.

"Come," Hugh softly responded. The _Votaress had signalled the usual passage to starboard and unless they went forward the shining spectacle would at once be lost. As they gained the front of the texas the distant craft, happening to open a fire-door, cast a long fan of red light ahead of her, suddenly showing every detail of her white forecastle, illumining her pathway on the yellow waters and revealing in their daylight green the willows of an island close beyond. Then the furnace was shut and again her fair outlines were left to the imagination, except for the prismatic twinkle and glow of her cabin lights.

"That was like you when you laugh," murmured Hugh, and before she could parry she was smitten again by an innocent random shot from the darkness round the bell.

"Do you make her out, Mr. Watson?" asked Hugh's father, and she flinched as if Watson were peering down on her.

"Yes, sir," said the pilot, "she's Hayle's _Wild Girl_."

Not waiting to hear that she was known by her "front skylights standin' so fur aft of her chimbleys," Ramsey wheeled to fly. But instantly she recovered and went with severe decorum, saying quiet nothings to Hugh as he followed, until at the sick-room door again she turned.

"I'm willing he should help us, Mr. Hugh, if mom-a and Basile are. I'll send him word by mammy Joy. Mr. Hugh--what is it he wants to know about the twins?"

Hugh was taken aback. "Why, it's nothing--now. It was as pure nonsense as those verses. Ask him. He can tell if he chooses; I can't." There was a pause. Her eyes gave him lively attention, but one ear was bent to the door.

"I hope Basile is better," he added.

"I'm sure he is; he's so much quieter." She felt a stir of conscience, loitering thus, yet--"Mr. Hugh, do you think diffidence is the same as modesty?"

"Certainly not."

"I'm--" She meditated.... "I'm glad of that.... I never was diffident a moment in my life."

"You never had need to be," said Hugh very quietly.

"They go together, don't they, diffidence and modesty?"

"Not as often as diffidence and conceitedness."

"Why, Mr. Hugh!"

"One thing that makes me so silent is my conceit."

"Oh, you! you're not conceited at all! You're modest! You little know how great you are! You're a wonder!" Her tone was candor itself till maiden craft added, while she tinkled her softest and keenest: "You're a poet!"

With a gay wave, which dismissed him so easily that she resented his going, she turned, stepped warily into the cramped room, and stood transfixed with remorse for her tardiness and appalled and heart-wrung. The foot of the berth was by the door. There old Joy stood silently weeping. At its head knelt her mother in prayer and on it lay her playmate brother peacefully gasping out his life. A flash of retrospection told her he must have had the malady long before he had confessed it and that something--something earlier than her singing--yes, and later--not twins nor Gilmores nor river--oh, something, what was it?--had kept her--these two long, long days--blind.

"Ah, you! _you_!" she dumbly cried, all at once aflame with the Hayle gift for invective. "You stone image! 'To help you,' indeed! _You_! As if you--as if I--I won't, you born tyrant! 'Help you'--against my own kin! I will not--ever again. We're _quits for good and all."

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