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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 43. Which From Which
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Gideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 43. Which From Which Post by :64525 Category :Long Stories Author :George Washington Cable Date :May 2012 Read :1500

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Gideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 43. Which From Which

CHAPTER XLIII. WHICH FROM WHICH

This world of tragic contrasts and cross-purposes, realities and fictions, this world where the many so largely find their inspiration in the performances of the few, was startlingly typified to Ramsey as, out of the upper night and the darkness of her troubles, she came in upon the show; the audience sitting in their self-imposed twilight of a few dimmed lamps, designedly forgetful of the voyage for which all were there, and the players playing their parts as though the play were the only thing real.

If the prefigurement was at any point vague it was none the less arresting. As the _Votaress_--or Gideon Hayle's _Wild Girl_--might, in full career, strike on hidden sands, so Ramsey struck on the thought--or call it the unformulated perception--that whoever would really live must, by clear choice and force of will, keep himself--herself--adjusted to this world as a whole; as one great multitudinous entity with a stronger, higher claim on each mere part's sympathy, service, sacrifice, than any mere part can ever hold on it.

In a word, Hugh Courteney, baby elephant, born tyrant, egotist--or egoist, whichever it was--self-confessed egotist, stone-faced egoist--with his big-wig airs and big-fiddle voice--was nearer right than she would _ever submit to confess to him: there _were things stronger than kin, bigger every way; and other things bigger than those bigger things, and yet others still bigger than those, and so on and on to the world's circumference. Staggering discovery. Yet how infinitely old it looked the moment she clearly saw it: old, obvious, beautiful, and ugly as the man in the moon. It chanced that right there and then she was forced to accept its practical application. A white-jacket said to her in a muffled voice:

"Ef you please--to not to move up to'a'ds de stage whilse de play a-goin' on."

"Oh, but I must," she explained. "I'm on business; business that can't wait any longer. I've already been delayed--" Her last word faltered. Something occurring on the stage held her eyes, while two or three auditors who had turned on her a glance of annoyance changed it to a gaze of astonishment. The cub pilot came to her on tiptoe.

"Oh, Mr. So-and-so," she smilingly whispered as she edged on, "I want my twin brothers. Mom-a wants them, right away, up-stairs."

He nodded at each word and began softly to say that this act would be finished in a minute; but she broke in, still inching along: "I can't wait a minute. I've no right to be this late. Basile wants the twins and he's so sick that--that he can't, he mustn't wait."

"Missy," pleadingly whispered old Joy at their backs, "missy!" But neither she nor the cub pilot could stop the messenger. Nor did she heed the growing number of those seated all about her whose attention she attracted, though now they were a dozen, a score, glancing, in a suppressed flutter, from her to the stage and from the stage to her and one another.

Yet she stopped. For on the stage, in the play, in the part that was to have been hers, she beheld "Harriet" doing that part so well, and winning such lively approval, that doing it better would have distorted the play. Rouged and coifed to reduce her apparent age as much as Ramsey's was to have been increased, she was at all points so like what Ramsey would have been that the bulk of the audience had mistaken her for Ramsey and had made her more and more a favorite at each brief reappearance.

Fearful moment. Beyond sight only to the outer eye, the bishop, whom she herself had pushed into the grapple of the pestilence, lay dead. Basile was dying. Two of the Courteneys were plague stricken, and the third, for whom she felt a special, inexplicable accountability, was, with Gilmore and Watson, in constant mortal peril from her twin brothers, and the twins therefore from them. Before her eyes, so near she could have tossed a flower to her, was Phyllis, a spectre from an awful past, the destroyer of the _Quakeress_, liable herself, within any hour, should the truth be discovered, to be burned like a witch. There she was, "the slave girl Phyllis," as the runaway advertisement would have had it, a culprit, and a property no way superior, in popular regard, to the blackest African, yet by Hayle blood so near of kin--kin! kin to her!--that with no other aid than a few touches of paint and pencil she was being enthusiastically acclaimed as Ramsey Hayle by an assemblage which has just applauded her, Ramsey, in the blaze of those same footlights. Fearful moment! that aged her as no earlier moment ever had; yes, and for the instant, at least, threw into her face a maturity that heightened the unhappy resemblance.

She stopped because her presence seemed about to precipitate a terrible mischief, and she stood because flight would but leave that mischief to do its worst. Through this glaring show of likeness she seemed to be in the keenest danger of betraying back into slavery on the spot this poor, intrepid "Harriet," identified as the Phyllis supposed these ten years to be under the floods of the Mississippi. At that moment, on the stage, in Ramsey's role of a housemaid, the role from which Ramsey bitterly remembered she had been excused through Hugh Courteney's urging, "Harriet" chanced to be acting a ludicrous dismay before a transient dilemma in which, as in Ramsey's, staying threatened disaster yet good faith said stay--Ramsey's own present actual case except that Harriet's was comic. A hundred beholders laughed, and then turning and peering at the dim, central figure of Ramsey suddenly redoubled the laugh and presently redoubled it again.

Yet it yielded a certain relief. While there is mirth there is hope. Even now the player of the part was recognized only as Mrs. Gilmore's maid. Her resemblance to Ramsey was passing for pure accident. That the whole thing was visibly offensive to Hayle's twins made it all the more amusing, and Ramsey's pause in the aisle seemed the most natural thing she could do on finding herself in two places at the same time. So for a moment, in which she rejoiced that at any rate the twins had never seen Phyllis as Phyllis. But then the demonstration broke short off. At different points three men stood up at once. In the front row appeared Julian. A few seats behind him loomed the exhorter. The third rose just at Ramsey's elbow, offering her his seat, yet counting it but courtesy still to keep his attention mainly on the play. It was the first clerk, he who had once been clerk on the _Quakeress_, where he had known Phyllis as Hugh's nurse, and whose scrutiny "Harriet" had until now somehow escaped. Whether in thanking him Ramsey accepted or declined she hardly knew, for just then the gaze he still bent on "Harriet" showed a gleam of recognition. Ramsey's heart rose into her throat. She murmured a hurried word, which she had to go over a second time before it took effect on him:

"Mr. Hugh's looking for you, out forward. The commodore and the captain are both sick."

As the announcement drew his quick glance she almost waved him to go. Yet what was done was done; with Phyllis recognized, it might be far better for him to remain, and she turned her dismissing gesture into one of detention.

"I'm Miss Hayle," she whispered, while both looked again toward Julian and "Harriet." "That's my old mammy back yonder. I want my twin brothers. Mom-a wants them, up in the texas, as quick as--never mind, here they come."

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