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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 46. After The Play
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Gideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 46. After The Play Post by :64525 Category :Long Stories Author :George Washington Cable Date :May 2012 Read :1850

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Gideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 46. After The Play

CHAPTER XLVI. AFTER THE PLAY

Neither Hugh nor Ramsey slept a moment that night. And no more did the Gilmores or "Harriet" or John the Baptist or even the senator or the Californian. The play, second act, was cut without mercy and rushed to a close to let its hero and heroine off at Napoleon, which Ned called a "future city" but which, some years later, became a former city, by melting into thin air, or thick water, and leaving not so much behind as a candle-end or a broken bottle.

It was not far above there that these unsleeping passengers began to remark a fresh rise in the river's flood, which her "family" and crew had noticed much earlier by a difference in the nature and quantity of its driftwood. Near the mouth of White River, about an hour's run above Napoleon, a great floating tree stump, with all its roots, was caught on the buckets of the "labboard" wheel--"like a cur on a cow's horn," said Gilmore--and carried clear over it with a sudden hubbub in the paddle-box, tenfold what ten curs could have made, bringing to his feet every passenger not abed, and scaring awake every sleeping one. Neither Ramsey nor Hugh ever forgot it, for it evoked the last stir in the supine form of Basile, and a faint spasm in his cold grasp on Hugh's fingers. Under his freer hand, on his all but motionless breast, lay his mother's crucifix. Shortly before, while waiting for Hugh's tardy coming, he had held a hand of his sister, whose other held her mother's. On the edge of the berth, at his feet, sat Lucian, very pale, with Julian standing by him. Both betrayed deep feeling yet kept a brave look that was good to see even with eyes as prejudiced as Hugh's. Only Basile himself was without tears.

How fashions change! There are styles even in death-bed scenes. This one was of the old fashion, bearing a strong tinge of fatalism; no hopeful make-believe to the dying that death was other than death; no covert, diligent, desperate economies of the vital spark; but a frank, helpless reception of the dread angel as a royal guest, and a pious, inert consent to let the dying die. Before either Hugh or Ramsey could come from the cabin the twins had reached the bedside and had been received with a final lighting up of the boy's spent powers, which his mother made no effort to restrain. In a feeble, altered voice, without heat, scorn, or petulance, with a mind stripped of all its puerilities and full of fraternal care and faithfulness, and with a magisterial dignity far beyond his years, he slowly poured out a measured stream of arraignment and appeal which their hardened hearts were still too young to withstand unmoved.

His conversion, he told them, had come to him with a great light, "on the road to Damascus," and by that light he saw, as he implored them to see, the hideous deformity of the life he and they and the young fellows of their usual companionship had been living. Even Ramsey knew, he continued as she and their old nurse silently reappeared, that by the plainest laws of the land, they were not too good for the penitentiary. An overweening pride in their lawlessness did not justify or excuse it; the devils had that, in hell. They, the twins, were not Christian gentlemen. They were _not gentlemen at all_. They'd shoot a man down in his tracks for saying so, or for calling them liars, yet they'd turn the truth wrong side out every day in the year. These last two days they'd done it right along. At this moment they had a fixed design to kill Hugh Courteney on the first good chance and didn't care a continental whether they did it in face-to-face murder or from behind a bush. Lying at death's door, he said, and in jealousy for the same Hayle name they professed to be so jealous for, he demanded their oath to abandon that design; to stop it, drop it, "right here and now," and never to seek the life of any Courteney but in clear defence of some other life. His own seemed almost to fade out at that point, yet presently:

"Hold up your right hands," he gasped, trying to raise his. The mother lifted it for him while giving the twins a tearful flash of command. Unconsciously Ramsey put up hers as Lucian's left suddenly caught Julian's right and he held up both it and his own.

But neither the boy nor Ramsey nor the old nurse felt assured, and all three were glad when the mother asked:

"You swear?"

Julian stood mute but, "With that provision," said Lucian, "we swear."

"So help you God?" insisted the mother, and while she spoke and the twins bowed, the narrow door let some one in.

"Is that Hugh Courteney?" asked the boy. "You're just in time, Hugh. The feud's off."

"Oh, there's no feud, Basile," tenderly murmured Hugh.

"No, it's off, thank God. I got it off. The twins have just sworn it off. Shake hands, boys. Come, you first, Jule."

But Lucian led, with a certain alacrity, Julian following with less.

"Now take my hand, Hugh." The voice was failing but once more it rallied. "Give it to him, sis'.... Thank you.... Keep it, Hugh Courteney. I love a brave man's hand. We heard you singing, Hugh. My! but you've got grit. I wish you belonged to Gideon's band yourself. You're braver than most men, though most men'll always think they're braver than you."

Hugh could only dry the damp from the cold brow. He grew fiercely ashamed not so much of his tears, which those around him were too tearful to observe, as of the boy's praises, before which he could only stand dumb.

"He's brave, sis'," Basile went on, "and he's clean, and he's square, mother, boys. You were on the _Quakeress when she burned, wa'n't you? Ah, me!--wish I'd known you then. I'd be a different man now. I don't believe I'd be dying. My heavenly Father wouldn't 'a' had to call me in out of the storm."

(Illustration: "My heavenly Father wouldn't 'a' had to call me in out of the storm")

His mother sank to her knees against the berth's side, covered her face, and shook with grief. The daughter sank too, weepingly caressing her, yet was still able so to divide her thought as yearningly to wish Hugh, for his own sake, well away, as she saw his hand softly endeavor to draw free from Basile's. But it was on that instant that the great tree root came thundering up through the wheel-house and the dying clasp tightened. The shock of surprise revived him. "Hugh--do something for me?... Thank you. Bishop's gone, you know. Read my burial service. I don't want the--play-actor--though he's fine; nor the priest, though he's fine, too. Mom-a'd be a saint in any--persuasion, and pop and us boys are Methodists, if anything, and I--I didn't get religion in Latin and I don't want to be buried in it." He waited. Hugh was silent.

The Creole mother, still kneeling, drew closer. "Yass," she said, "he shall read that."

But plainly there was one thing more though the tired eyelids sank. "Let down your ear," murmured the lips.

Hugh knelt, bent, waited. The distressed twins watched them. The hold on his hand relaxed. He lifted and looked.

"What do he say?" tearfully asked old Joy, pressing in.

"Nothing," said Hugh; and then to the twins: "He's gone."

* * * * *

Out in the benign starlight and caressing breeze Hugh hastened to his father's door.

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