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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 51. Loving-Kindness
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Gideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 51. Loving-Kindness Post by :mattscotney Category :Long Stories Author :George Washington Cable Date :May 2012 Read :2252

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Gideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 51. Loving-Kindness

CHAPTER LI. LOVING-KINDNESS

Ramsey stopped and the boy's heart rose into his throat.

"Whe're you going?" she asked.

He pointed to a lighted door she had just come by.

"First mate's room," he said.

"To tell him what to do?"

"Yes'm." He slid along the rail to get by her, though hungry to linger.

"To do what?" she asked. "I know; to bring out John the Baptist and those other two men?"

"Yes'm." He backed off, but the compelling power of interrogatory, especially of hers, retarded him.

"To turn 'em loose?" she asked.

He smiled ruefully. "It looks like it."

"Not with their pistols on them?"

"Oh, no, he's got their pistols."

"How'd he get 'em?"

"Oh--friendly persuasion. He's fine at that. They'll get 'em back--unloaded--when they land."

She glanced forward after Mrs. Gilmore, and he sprang away. As the actor's wife neared the captain's door it opened and Gilmore himself came out, closing it after him warily. Either the captain was worse, Ramsey guessed, or the actor had received some startling message, so grave and hurried were the players. They moved several paces away and stepped down to the hurricane-deck. She let them converse a moment alone. At the same time the second engineer, his striker, and Ned passed close and went below. Now Ramsey advanced, addressing the pair in a smothered voice:

"It's monstrous! It shan't be! It shan't be done! You shan't go!" The signal for landing tolled. She stopped short.

But the cause of her silence was Hugh Courteney, close before her. Mrs. Gilmore tried to draw her back but she stood fast, repeating to him savagely: "It shan't be! It shan't be done! You shan't do it!"

Again she ceased, as the senator and the general appeared, not with Hugh though from his direction, but, like Ned and his fellows, bound below. With a side step she brought them to a stand, saying once more to them:

"It shan't be! It shan't be done! You shan't----"

Both Hugh and Gilmore lifted a hand. There was a reply on the lips of each, but Hugh's remained unuttered. He glanced to the actor, saying: "Tell it."

The actor told. "It is not going to be done," he said. "No owner of this boat, no officer, has ever promised, ordered, or intended it."

Ludicrously, from the well of the neighboring stair, the heads of Hayle's twins rose and remained gazing. Fortunately for the dignity of the moment they escaped the eye of Ramsey, who, on highest tiptoe, while the actor still spoke, was piping incredulously:

"The clerk said it!--two passengers!--to go ashore!"

"He might have said five," Hugh gravely answered, while the senator and the general blazed with astonishment.

"Five," he repeated directly to the senator; "the three whose release you demanded and those two scamps you made league with a bit ago on the boiler deck."

The senator was a conflagration. "Sir, I cannot find----!"

"Words?" Hugh softly interrupted. "That's fortunate. If you do you'll be landed on the next island."

He turned away and moved to the edge of the roof. Ramsey stared at the three and fell back to the Gilmores, whose manner, as they returned half-way to the sick-room, was more grave and hurried than before. The engine bells were jingling, the wheels stopped. At the roof's edge, well forward of Hugh, appeared the first clerk, giving commands. The shore trees glided spectrally into the firelight of the steamer's torch baskets. A solitary man stood on the bank. The morning star was fading into the daybreak. In the pilot-house Watson pulled his bell-ropes to back and to stop again, while veiled in its lingering dusk between him and the parson's wife "Harriet" stood at a closed window, a vigilant watcher of every movement below.

With the usual deck-hand on its outer end the stage hung half its length over the narrowing water. On its inboard half, attended at one side by the first mate and at their backs by a knot of white-jackets with hands and arms full of baggage, waited the exhorter, his two champions, and the sporting pair, outwardly well content, however large or dark the retributions they were inwardly promising themselves. The twins had come up from the stair, meeting the senator and the general and holding them in a close counsel that kept the four scowling. These things the maid at Watson's side noted so intently as almost to forget him and the lady next her. She marked the actor go once more into the captain's room, the Californian come out to Mrs. Gilmore and Ramsey, and the three move toward Hugh with old Joy in their wake. Before they had quite reached him he turned and addressed the actor's wife. She drew back apologetically, the Californian doing the same, but by word and sign seemed to bid Ramsey stay and speak for her.

As if to himself, but really to the two beside him, Watson murmured: "Right you air, Mr. Hugh Courteney."

"How is he right?" asked the lady, though she most likely, and the maid certainly, understood.

"He's telling her," said the pilot, "that it'll simplify matters for her and her husband and this girl here to sort o' keep out o' the limelight a spell."

The surmise seemed good, for Mrs. Gilmore and "California" took stand where the great chimney on that side hid them from forecastle and shore, while they still could see Hugh and Ramsey conversing, she pleadingly, he with few words, mostly negatives. Ned came back into the pilot-house. The parson's wife moved from Watson toward him to ask in undertone why the landing was being made so slowly. The boat seemed to hover and hesitate. Watson, at the wheel, talked on, pretending not to notice that the maid was his only listener.

"A man," he drawled, "gets to hear a right smart chance with his eyes, in a pilot-house. Puts two an' two together a lot more'n he does when he's a-usin' his y-ears. Now she's a-beggin' him"--meaning Ramsey and Hugh--"not to drop them fellows ashore. Partly that's for the fellows' own sakes, but likewise it's also for the play-actors, because they're generous, like her, and because, no less, it's a-putt'n' the play-actors themselves in a right funny fix with the rest o' this vain world, to make five Jonahs on their account. But she's a-barkin' up the wrong stump an' she knows it. She knows there's somebody else's account they're bein' put off for; somebody she's as friendly to as what he is, and which for their sakes--his and hern--if for no other--I'm as friendly to as what they air. Provid'n', however, that that somebody is as friendly to them, every way, as what I am." He turned sharply. "Is she?"

And "Harriet" looked straight into his eyes and said inaudibly: "Yes."

As the glance of both returned to the scene below she was mindful that Ned had not yet quite satisfied the query of the lady at his elbow, why the wheels of the _Votaress were turning barely enough to keep her from drifting.

"You see the _Antelope_?" he asked.

She saw the _Antelope_, once more ahead, swan-white in the new daylight on a great breadth of water which she had earlier heard him tell Ramsey was Montezuma Bend.

"And you see the _Westwood down yonder. Well, when she gets up there we'll stop killin' time. But why we're killin' it--ask the clerk--or guess. It's dead easy."

Not given to guessing, she dropped her eyes again on the various groups beneath with Hugh and Ramsey central among them and did not even see that Hugh was answering the same riddle from Ramsey.

"Because if we keep these men aboard a few minutes longer," he was saying, "there'll be no way for them to reach Helena before noon to-morrow, when we'll be----"

"'Way beyond Memphis," said the river-wise Ramsey.

"Yes."

"And they can't send any troublesome word up the river that can overtake us," she ventured on, and he assented.

"And may I tell the Gilmores that's as much for Phyllis as for them?"

"I wish you would--and then would go to your rest."

"Humph," she faintly soliloquized and with no other rejoinder remained looking down on the stage, as he did. It was so near the bank at last that the men waiting on its inner end moved a step or two forward.

"Why are all those five put off together?" she asked.

"Because," he replied in his absent manner, "the gamblers will try to keep the other three quiet."

"Mr. Hugh, you'll be off watch now soon, won't you?"

"Yes." (Still no lifting of eyes by either.)

"And then you'll nurse your father, won't you?"

"I cannot! I'm too ignorant."

"Then what will you--shall you--do?"

"Just stay--on watch."

She stood a moment more, comforted to be on watch with him and thinking sadly of all there was to be on watch for. Then she heard Julian softly call her name. Without looking his way she started back for Mrs. Gilmore and the gold hunter, but the brother overtook her.

"Ramsey." She faced him. "Ramsey"--his tone was thin--"when you were talking just now with that pusillanimous whelp, and neither of you looking at the other, did he say anything of a confidential nature?"

His scrutiny read confirmation in her fearless eyes. When she would have spoken her utterance failed and, unable to do anything else half so well, she laughed.

"You can still do that!" His hint was of Basile.

"A little," she tinkled again, though her eyes ran full.

"Ramsey, did he--over there--just now--that reptile--say anything--tender?"

She flared rose-red, gazed down ashore, dropped her voice to a key he had never heard, and said, wondering why she said it: "Mr. Courteney is a gentleman."

She tried to lift her eyes to the inquisitor, but her irrepressible twitter came again and she had to turn away to the big chimney. He clinched his teeth.

"Sis," he half whispered as she began to go, "listen." She glanced back. "Sis, you may snigger at us all day or ten days; you may listen to him for a year or for ten; but, no matter what we swore to last night, the day you accept Hugh Courteney's hand we'll kill him if we're alive."

Old Joy flinched and moaned but Ramsey stared at him benumbed. She caught no rational grasp of his meaning; only stood and with immeasurable speed and a kind of earthquake sickness, in the space of one long breath, dreamed his words over and over. She felt neither fright nor horror, as she would as soon as thought could clear. Yet one word shed light, quickened her inner vision and gave it a reach, a forward range, it had never known. "Ten years," he had said, and for the first time in her life, as one might come suddenly into some vast possession, she took the future into her present by years instead of days.

"Jule," called Lucian, from between the senator and the general. Julian glanced back and Ramsey started off. But she stopped again with a fresh shock as a high-pitched yell rose from the shore below. There the exhorter, stepping from the stage to the ground, had poured his voice into the woods and now turned to the boat and let loose his tongue:

"I'm the hewolf an' wilecat o' th' 'Azoo Delta! I'm the alligatoh an' snappin' turkle o' the Arkansass! I'm the horn-ed an' yalleh-belly catfish o' the Mississip'! Glory, hallelu'! the sunburnt, chill-an'-feveh, rip-saw, camp-meetin', buckshot, kickin'-mule civilization whah-in I got my religion is good enough fo' me, all high-steppin', niggeh-stealin' play-actohs an' flounced and friskin', beau-ketchered Natchez brick-tops to the contrary notwithstayndin'! For I'm a meek an' humble follower o' the Lawd Gawd A'mighty, which may the same eternally an' _ee_-sentially damn yo' cowa'dly soul, you stump-tail' little Hugh Co'teney up yandeh with yo' Gawd-fo'sakened, punkin face an' yo' sawed-off statu'e!"

The gamblers sprang to hush him but the two "Arkansas killers" stepped between and while the _Votaress_, backing out into the wake of the _Westwood_, left the one pair insisting and the other protesting, the exhorter settled the issue by breaking into song:


"'Though num'r-ous hosts uv migh-tye foes,
Though airth an' hell, my way op-pose,
He safe-lye leadns my soudl aa-logn:
His lov-ign-kide-ness, oh, how strogn!
His lov-ign-kide-ness! lov-ign-kide-ness!
His lov-ign-ki-i-i-ide-ness, oh, how strogn!'"

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