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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 44. Forbearance
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Gideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 44. Forbearance Post by :64525 Category :Long Stories Author :George Washington Cable Date :May 2012 Read :2812

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Gideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 44. Forbearance

CHAPTER XLIV. FORBEARANCE

Ramsey was mistaken--her brothers were staying. The play's first act was done, there was great clapping and thumping and the curtain was falling--or closing, in two parts from opposite sides, eased over sticking-points by nimble efforts behind it; but though Julian--who evidently had been getting through the general's courtesy the indulgence denied him at the bar--had moved a step or so from his chair, Lucian remained seated. Next them sat the general and the senator, and the four were debating together. Oddly enough, the twins were in disaccord, and while Lucian had the senator's approval the general's went to his brother. The applause died out prematurely and the whole company gave its attention to the debate, Ramsey sinking into the clerk's seat and laughing merrily--since it was laugh or perish.

"No, gentlemen," she heard Julian say, "this is the last-st st-straw. A nigger wench made up to counterfeit a member of our family, and the part given her which that member of our family was to have played! ... Overlook--oh, good God, sir, we've done nothing but overlook, every hour of day and night since we started."

From the other three came responses too quiet to be understood. Ramsey half rose toward the clerk and sank again, begging him to carry her errand on to the brothers, and he had softly moved forward as far as to the exhorter when that person, still on his feet, called to Julian:

"Yass! an' thah ah cause to believe said niggeh----"

Two small interruptions came at once, provoking a general laugh: Julian, staring at him in heavy abstraction, said dreamily, "Ho--ho--hold your tongue," while the clerk, at "John the Baptist's" side, gently grasped between the shoulders a fold of his coat, mildly suggested, "Have a seat," and put him so suddenly off his balance that he plumped heavily into his chair--quite enough to rouse the mirth of a company already a trifle nervous. And now Julian was heard again:

"No, Luce, you can stay, I'll go alone--or with--thank you, general! Oh, senator, we are not blind, sir, though every time we overlook some insult they think we are. Good Lord! do you reckon we don't see that all this laugh is at us, got up at our expense, and has been at us since the first turn of this boat's wheels at Canal Street? We saw--_and overlooked--that vile attempt to take our two ladies up the river without us, starting the instant they got aboard and leaving us at the water's edge a laughing-stock for passengers, crew, and pantry boys!"

Both senator and general coaxed him to sit down, but the most he would concede was to drop his voice as he continued: "You know, gentlemen, and they know, that any true man would as soon be slapped in the face and spit upon as to be laughed at.... No, I--" His words became indistinguishable.

Ramsey was in anguish. She would have glided forward with her tidings and summons but for the clerk blocking the path half-way. A stir of annoyance ran through the gathering, here grave, there facetious, but it stopped short as a new figure moved quietly past Ramsey and stood beside the clerk. It was Hugh, and the general interest revived. He exchanged a word or two with the clerk, who turned and left the cabin while Hugh stayed with the exhorter.

Julian, without seeing the newcomer, once more broke forth, this time plainly intending to make every one his listener: "No, we don't interrupt and we shall not."

"Oh, no," daringly put in an ironical hearer, "Hayle's twins, they never interrupt an innocent pleasure!"

"How air it innercent?" called John the Baptist, at Hugh's side, rising again and gesticulating. "No theayter play kin be innercent an' much less this-yeh one, by reason 'at they ah cause to believe that-ah servant-gal----"

He was pulled down again with even less ceremony than before, though by friendlier hands, hands of the two lenders of the sword-canes, who fell to counselling him in crafty undertones. But Julian was talking dead ahead, ignoring all distractions and not even yet discovering Hugh:

"We didn't more than whisper, general, till the curtain fell. Now, did we? When it rises again--what, sir?... My dear senator! it's our fellow passengers who don't see--that their kind intentions are being made part of a put-up game to torment us to leave the boat.... Oh, no, they--why, sir, the dastards set it a-going the moment they'd persuaded our ladies to stay and risk their priceless lives nursing those damned Dutch on the lower deck."

The senator ached to be the steamer's length removed but saw no way of dignified escape. Several listeners, remembering Ramsey's tactics and their success, gayly laughed, but two or three gasped an audible dismay; two or three men said, "Sh-sh-sh!" two or three said, "Ladies present," "Remember the ladies," and some one droned out in a mock voice: "The stage waits."

And plainly it did so; waited on the audience, with Mrs. Gilmore peeping through the curtain, whose rise would reveal "Harriet" alone; a terrible risk if the exhorter should get in the bolt he was trying to launch.

"Oh, where is Mr. Gilmore?" thought Ramsey, and, "Why don't they call again for 'Gideon's Band'? Yet who would sing it?" Her distressed lips were silently asking many such questions when she sprang up and halted the Californian, who had come in at her back on his way to Hugh.

"How's the captain?" she whispered in smiling agitation.

With low affirmative bows, so enraptured to be speaking with her as to be all but speechless, he murmured: "Get'--getting on--so far." He waved an oddly delicate hand--backward from the wrist, girlishly--"He's all--hunkadory."

"And Basile?" Anxious as she was, she yet saw while she spoke--and he saw--that Julian had at length sighted Hugh and that at least three-fourths of the audience, the whole male portion, was eying that pair with the alertness of man's primitive interest in man-to-man encounter. At her mention of the sick boy the gold hunter ceased to nod. His countenance fell.

"Oh," she whispered, "won't _you go and tell them, all three, Mr. Courteney and both twins, how bad off he is, and that he sent me, and mom-a says come quick?"

He went. Forgetting to sit down, she watched him go and let Gilmore pass her as Hugh had done. Now, what was his errand? The actor and the Californian reached Hugh together. The three drew a step back from the exhorter and his advisers and conferred in the aisle while Julian's tirade went straight on as completely ignored by them as though it were the most normal sound of the boat's machinery. The sight so amused the audience that laughter came again and then clapping and pounding, in a succession of outbreaks, each coming so close after one of Julian's utterances that his dizzy head took it for approval, though to every one else, and especially to Ramsey, the meaning was weariness of him and impatience of Gilmore's delay.

He spoke with his face to his associates but with his voice addressed to those other three in the aisle: "We were invited on this boat in pure cowardly malice." (Applause.) "To have our weapons stolen from us by servants and locked up by underlings and to have the boat's ordinary refreshments forbidden us." (Laughter and applause.) "To be thrust into contact with a deadly pestilence and to be insulted or assaulted by hired blackguards on one or another of every deck from forecastle gangway to pilot-house." (Long and loud applause.) "And all this, sirs, we have overlooked; but to be made a public laughing-stock we will not endure if I have to pull every Courteney's nose to stop it!" (Loud laughter and prolonged applause.) Amid the din Ramsey recognized the voice of old Joy moaning with grief and consternation in the gloom behind her, and caught the words of the cub pilot, said for his soul's relief, not dreaming she would hear: "If you two ornery cusses wa'n't Gid Hayle's boys we'd clap you in irons quicker'n you could lick out your tongue."

But amid the same din what, she laughingly, painfully wondered, were the three standers in the aisle so privately, calmly saying together--with the actor as chief speaker, Hugh grim, and the Californian mostly a nodding listener? Was Hugh--whose big eyes and stone visage so drolly fitted each other yet seemed so sadly unfitted to this big emergency--was he insisting that it would be idle for him to go to Basile without the twins, as was only too true? Or that John the Baptist and his two disciples must first be disposed of? Or was it his word that the most pressing need was for the actor, long trained to perceive just what would capture an audience in such a stress, to step between footlights and curtain, tell the people that honest facts had never been more crazily twisted into falsehood and slander, and explain the true situation in a brief, apt speech, dignified and amusing? Certainly something had to be done and done this instant. But not that, ah, no! Or if that, not done by him, the actor. She could never imagine such a manoeuvre attempted on a boat of her father's, whose sole way of mastery was by pure lordship and main force. Yet here, with these Courteneys, who, he had always said, outmastered him by their clever graciousness, and dealing here not with subordinates but with passengers--a living nerve of the river's whole public--talk treatment might be the cleverest, wisest kind to give, if only Hugh--oh, if only Hugh!--could give it. But of course he could not, with that face, that visage, so much _too lordly and forceful--and hard--and glum--for a clever task.

Julian ceased. His high head went a shade higher; the Californian was advancing straight upon him. With a pang Ramsey remembered that she had failed to charge the gold hunter not to let the twins know that their brother's summons included Hugh, lest that should keep them away. But surely he would see that necessity; and in fact he did. Hugh stood still, looking in the opposite, her, Ramsey's, direction, where the actor was coming toward her. The old nurse had stolen to her side. The player went by without a glance at her. It was so much like asking why she stood there doing nothing that she granted the old woman's whispered prayer and sat down. Behind her he spoke busily for a second to the cub pilot and passed out by a side exit. The pilot's cub came by, had a word or two with the exhorter, and stayed there as if on guard.

Now, for all these small things to happen in the one moment and to happen in the midst of a waiting audience made its show of suspense more vivid than ever; excitement was in all eyes; every chin was lifted. The Californian seemed to tell Julian a startling thing or two. The general rose, the senator helped Lucian to his feet. The four came close about the news bearer and he told more. Ramsey could almost feel his mention of the bishop and then of Basile. Lucian asked a question or two and the five came down the aisle, one pair leading, the other following, and Julian between, alone, overpeering all sitters, with a splendid air of being commander and in the saddle.

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