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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 63. The Captain's Chair
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Gideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 63. The Captain's Chair Post by :mkproductions Category :Long Stories Author :George Washington Cable Date :May 2012 Read :2059

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Gideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 63. The Captain's Chair


On the next afternoon but one, while hundreds went down to the steamboat landing to view the new _Enchantress_, there was a double funeral in the old French cemetery, Saint Louis Street, New Orleans.

Returning from it together, Watson and his former "cub" spoke of Gideon Hayle.

"He takes the loss of them boys harder'n what I'd 'a' thought he would," said the younger pilot.

And Watson replied: "Yes, but he don't take it as hard as what, years ago, he tuck their fust refus'n' to go with him on the river."

They said no more all the way up Rampart Street to Canal, out Canal to the steamboat landing, and across the levee to the _Enchantress_. An hour later they stood in her wheel-house, looking down on the same Saturday afternoon five o'clock scene that Watson and Ned had thus contemplated from the _Votaress a hundred months before.

Here were the same vast piles of harvest wealth, the same crowds and little flags, the same shouting and tumult only grown greater, the same open sky--though of October--the same many-pillared cloud of black smoke, the same smartly painted bumboats selling oranges, bananas, pineapples, corals, and seashells--many of the latter treated with puritanic art, having, that is, the Lord's Prayer bitten into them with muriatic acid. Here lay the same yellow harbor with many more fussy little tugs in it, its water low yet still mast-deep, its yard-long catfish and fathom-long gars leaping and wallowing after their prey, its white gulls flashing about the steamers' pantry windows. Here was the same black forest of ships in the up-stream and down-stream distance and here, finally, the same public hope and pride grown wider and loftier in their last affluence before entering that purgatory of civil war which now seems but a bad dream outlived.

Steam was up on the _Enchantress_, and every now and then her mighty wheels tugged on her hawsers. In the crowd gathered on the wharf to see her go were the Gilmores and the half dozen from Vicksburg and the Bends. Up on the hurricane-deck were two or three small knots of passengers, chiefly ladies, unknown to the Gilmore group; but beside a derrick post, where we first saw Hugh on the _Votaress_, stood the three Hayles, old Joy, and "California"--bound once more for the gold-diggings. Near the Hayles, yet nearer the bell, was Hugh, in command.

"You don't reckon," said a voice in the throng, "that that's her captain, do you?"

"No," said another, "I should think not."

"Yes," said the very human Gilmore, "that's the captain."

Vicksburg and the Bends sent up smiles and faint wavings to Ramsey and her mother and only did not call to them because they were in a great city. It made them very proud and happy to see Hugh the master of this, to them, matchless wonder of utility and beauty, and they could not help saying things to each other with voice enough to let strangers around them know he was their personal friend. While they did so who should alight from a cab and glance up to Hugh but his grandfather. Hugh answered with a gesture toward the Gilmores, to whom the old gentleman promptly turned. There had arisen among the boats a good-natured custom of giving friends a free trip eight miles up the river, to the suburb of Carrollton. So a word from the commodore was enough; the players and their group hurried aboard with him and as they touched the lower deck the last bell sounded and the lines were cast off.

When they reached the hurricane-deck they were in the middle of the stream. They did not join the senior Hayles at once; Ramsey met them and with her they stood on the skylight roof watching the shores to see when they should stop drifting and gain headway. Over on the "Algiers" side of the harbor lay the _Paragon_, repairing a smashing she had got at the wharf through the bad handling of another boat, else the Hayles would hardly have been going home on the _Enchantress_.

The crew of the _Enchantress stood about her capstan and their chantey-man, ready to sing when the swivel should peal and her burgee run down; but the Gilmore group were too far aft to see them. The player's wife, speaking gravely with Ramsey in low tones, remarked with sudden gayety:

"I see why we're here behind the bell. You're afraid they'll sing----"

Ramsey made a pleading gesture.

"Why, what can you expect," asked her friend; "not 'Bounding Billow'?"

Ramsey, laughing, could only repeat the gesture. The swivel pealed, down sank the burgee, a wind began to ruffle their brows, and up rolled the song:

"Come, smilin' 'Lindy Lowe, whah de sea ships come an' go,
On de finess boat dat eveh float," etc.

It was still coming up when a young man not of the Gilmore group surprised the actor a moment aside.

"Mr. Gilmore, is that Commodore Hayle over there?... I thought it must be. I suppose he's going up home to settle his two sons' affairs. Mr. Gilmore, they wan't bad, they were only wild. Sad, their having to be buried in the city. But in this climate, you know--hmm!--yes."

The song and his observations crossed back and forth.

"Come, smilin' 'Lindy Lowe, you'd ought to come befo'"--

"You don't remember me, Mr. Gilmore, but I was on the _Votaress with you and your lady and Madame Hayle and those twins and all. I married the young lady I was keeping company with then. There she is. Don't you re-collect my lending you my field-glass at the Devil's Elbow?"

"Dear me! was that you at the devil's elbow! I--I hope I returned them."

"Oh, you did! You remember the first clerk of the _Votaress_! He's her captain now. And Ned--you remember Ned, the pilot, don't you? Well, he's on her yet. I see you're lost in admiration of this most unusual sunset. We almost always have these unusual sunsets. This is a wonderful country."

"Come, smilin' 'Lindy Lowe, whah de sweet cane honey flow'.

"Come, smilin' 'Lindy Lowe, love a-knockin' at de do'."

Now the boat was in the pilot's hands. Hugh joined Madame Hayle and the two commodores at the derrick post. The same shrewd texas tender who had once abstracted the weapons of the twins from their stateroom set a second chair beside the captain's. Hugh offered the two seats to the commodores, but both declined. They of Vicksburg and the Bends watched the gorgeous October sunset beyond the low, flat orangeries on their right. "California" was with them and told them of the sunsets on the great plains. Gilmore generously kept the one-time lender of the field-glass and the lender's mouse of a wife beguiled with anecdotes while Mrs. Gilmore talked on with Ramsey, making fond and welcome incursions into her confidence.

"Isn't it ridiculous," murmured Ramsey, "that he seems condemned to do everything in the tamest possible way? Not that he cares; he seems almost to like it so. It's so right now. He can't proclaim anything. And--you see why, don't you?--neither can I."

"Ramsey, you needn't. Only do one thing for us, Gilmore and me, and we'll know. When we've landed and the boat starts away again and he--" She finished in a voice too small for type.

At Six Mile Point the actor escaped his bonds and for a moment got Hugh into his sole possession.

"Certainly, under these conditions," he assented, "you can't _assert anything--of that particular sort. But see here: You can tell me, just for us two Gilmores exclusively, what your next boat will be named. Can't you?"

"Yes," said Hugh, "she'll be the--" He let Gilmore speak the name interrogatively and merely nodded, smiling.

The _Enchantress was within five minutes' run of Carrollton when Watson dropped a quiet word to the roof, where both the Courteneys and Gideon were looking up-stream at a downward-bound steamer which had rounded to and landed under Nine-Mile Point.

"What is she?" asked Gilmore of Watson for his group.

"A Hayle boat, the _Troubadour_," said the pilot; "probably putting off some sugar-house machinery."

The _Enchantress neared the huge Carrollton levee. "Good-by." "Good-by." "Good-by." "Good-by." Down they hurried, the old commodore, the players, the extraneous pair, and the six from Vicksburg and the Bends, followed to the stage plank by "California," and waved to from the after guards by Joy and Phyllis.

"Good-by." "Good-by!" The beautiful craft backed away and turned for Nine-Mile Point. And here came the _Troubadour_, with whistles trumpeting a troubadour's salute to the new queen of the river. The Hayle boat's people had espied their own commodore and the black mass on their forecastle were singing "Gideon's Band."

With whistles above and song below the _Enchantress replied. The whistles ceased; the song was "'Lindy":

"Come, smilin' 'Lindy Lowe, to meet to paht no mo',
On de finess boat dat eveh float'
In de O--hi--o,
De Mas-sis-sip-pi aw de O--hi--o."

Back at Carrollton on the crown of the levee, standing apart from their companions, the players gazed after the _Enchantress_. The three Hayles had returned to their stand by the derrick post. Hugh was near the two chairs. The actor softly spoke:

"Shall I tell you what Hugh told me?"

"Yes," said the wife.

"Then tell me what Ramsey told you."

"Nothing. She's going to tell it now. Watch!"

They watched together. Ramsey crossed to Hugh, and seemed to speak a word or two, not more. He sat down in the captain's chair and she took the one beside him.

Even Vicksburg and the Bends understood that.

"He told me," murmured the actor, "that the next Courteney boat will be the _Ramsey Hayle_."

George Washington Cable's Novel: Gideon's Band: A Tale of the Mississippi

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