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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 61. Wanted, Hayle's Twins
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Gideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 61. Wanted, Hayle's Twins Post by :mkproductions Category :Long Stories Author :George Washington Cable Date :May 2012 Read :1538

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Gideon's Band: A Tale Of The Mississippi - Chapter 61. Wanted, Hayle's Twins


Early in the next forenoon another of the Californian's benevolent schemes threatened to miscarry.

At the settlement of Milliken's Bend there were people already at the landing, and people running to it from three directions. Yet not a hat, hand, or handkerchief did they wave until the _Enchantress_, in full view up toward the head of the bend, was too near to mistake their salutes for a sign to stop. Then there were wavings aplenty and cries of acclaim. By the "River News" daily telegraphed down to the New Orleans, Vicksburg, and other papers, from Louisville, Paducah, Cairo, and like points, and brought up in those papers by such boats as the _Antelope_, it had been known here and at every important landing below that this latest bride of the river was coming and the time of her appearance had been definitely calculated. And now behold her, a vision of delight, a winged victory, the finest apparition yet. Up in front of her bell could be seen Captain Hugh, and who was that beside him, twice his bulk, but Gideon Hayle!

"Well, well, what's going to happen next?"

No one offered an answer, though the question echoed round.

So early in the season the new wonder carried no cotton, but her lower deck showed "right smart o' freight," and wherever passengers were wont to stand stood a crowd looking so content that on the shore one lean and hungry native with his hands in his trousers to the elbows drawled sourly as his eye singled out the boiler-deck throng:

"Kin see thah breakfast inside 'em f'om hyuh."

Now they read her name in gold on the front of her pilot-house, now on its side and splendidly magnified on her wheel-house, and lastly again on the pilot-house, at its back, as she dwindled away eastward for Island One-hundred-and-three, called by Ramsey and Watson "My Wife's," and now known as Pawpaw Island.

"California" was a general disappointed of his reinforcements. The pair at Milliken's Bend having failed him, what better hope was there of the Carthaginians or even of the Vicksburg couple? Yet at Vicksburg, two hours later, he had joy. For down at the wharf-boat's very edge, liveliest of all wavers and applauders, with a "Howdy, Cap'm Hugh?" before the lines were out, and a "How you do, Miss Ramsey?" were the three pairs at once, foregathered here, they said, "to make the spree mo' spree-cious," and wild to be the first on the "sta-age plank." Close after them came Commodore Courteney, and Vicksburg faded into the north.

"Why, Mis' Gilmo'!" said the three pretty wives, sinking with a deft sweep of their flounced crinoline upon the blue-damask sofas and faintly teetering on their perfect springs, "why, my deah la-ady, yo' eight an' a hafe yeahs youngeh!-- Ain't she?-- She certain'y is! An' that deah Commodo' Co'teney! He's as sweet as eveh!

"But you, Miss Ramsey, oh,--well,--why,--you know,--time an' again we heard what a mahvel you'd grown to be, but--why,--lemme look at you again! Why, yo' just divi-i-ine! Law'! I'd give a thousand dollahs just fo' yo' red-gole hair. Why, it's the golden locks o' Veronese, that Cap'm Hugh's fatheh showed you,--don't you remembeh?--on the _Vot'ress_, an' you showed us,--in the sky. They there yet!

"An'"--the five heads drew close together--"Cap'm Hugh, oh, he ain't such a su'pri-ise; we've seen him f'om time to time. But ain't he--mmm, hmm, hmmm! An'so a-a-able! Why, Miss Ramsey,--oh, you must 'a' heard it,--they say excep' fo' yo' pa he hasn't got his equal on the riveh an' could 'a' been a captain long ago had he 'a' thought best himself. He certain'y could. But ain't this boat the splendidest thing in the wi-i-ide, wi-i-ide world? It certain'y is! It's a miracle! an' he her captain and deservin' to be!

"Mis' Gilmo',--Miss Ramsey,"--the lovely heads came together,--"the's a hund'ed pretty girls--an' rich as pretty--that ah just cra-a-azy about him. But they might as well be crazy about a stah. They certain'y might, an' they--know--why!" (Laughter.) "They certain'y do-- Law'! ain't Miss Ramsey got the sa-a-ame o-o-ole la-a-afe, on'y sweeteh'n eveh? Sweeteh an' mo' ketchin'! You certain'y have. No wondeh yo' call' the Belle o' the Bends. But, all the same, yo' cruel. Yo' fame' fo' yo' cruelty!" (Laughter.) "They say he's just telegrayphed yo' ma to come aboa'd at Natchez. That's just ow Southe'n hospitality. But won't that be fi-i-ine? It certain'y will!"

The three husbands came bringing the actor, the junior pilot, the Californian, and his confidant of the evening before. Incited by Ramsey the wives fell into queries on the coming election, rejoicing that even should Lincoln be made President, and that incredible thing, a war, come on, the great river and its cities--New Orleans, Natchez, Memphis, and especially Vicksburg--would be far from the storm. While they made merry Mrs. Gilmore got Ramsey aside.

"If Captain Hugh's telegraphed, why, then, your father----"

"Oh! my father, he's roaming over the boat somewhere with Commodore Courteney! I'm going to change this hot dress for a cooler one. I'll be back before a great while."

"Let me go with you. Are you not well?"

Not well! The girl laughed gayly. But as she drew her friend out upon the guards and to her stateroom's rear door she talked with a soft earnestness all the way.

"I don't see how I could have been so blind! If _he saw those things why couldn't I see them? I thought of them, over and over; but always the other things crowded them back into the dark--and there was plenty of dark. He's right, my father does hold the key, and if I'd seen things as I see them now I'd have made the twins give in, somehow, long ago. If you should see mammy Joy, or Phyllis, or both, please send them to me."

She shut herself in, dropped to the berth's side, and let the tears run wild. The nurse and the still handsome Phyllis appeared promptly, together. But they found her full of sparkle; so full that Phyllis saw under the mask; a mask she herself had worn so often in her youth under a like desperation.

"Mammy," said her mistress, "want to go somewhere with your baby, about sundown this evening?"

For explanation the old woman glanced at Phyllis, but Phyllis's eyes were on Ramsey with a light whose burning carried old Joy's memory back twenty years. "Sundown?" echoed the nurse to gain time, "yass'm, o' co'se, ef--but, missie--sundown--dat mean' Natchez. You cayn't be goin' asho' whah Cap'm Hugh dess tell Phyllis yo' ma comin' aboa'd?"

"Not ashore to stay," was the blithe reply as Phyllis aided the change of dress. "There'll be two or three of us."

"Well, o' co'se, ef you needs me. Wha' fo' you gwine?"

"To see the twins," sang Ramsey, "if we go at all."

Then Phyllis knew she was trusted, and while with a puzzled frown the nurse watched her manipulate hooks and eyes she blandly asked: "Miss Ramsey, if Cap'm Hugh give' me leave kin I go too?"

"Yes, you might ask him. Nobody's going unless he goes."

The light came to old Joy. "Law'! missie, now you a-talkin'! Now you a-talkin' wisdom! Dah's whah I's wid you, my baby. I's wid you right dah, pra-a-aise Gawd!"

All three, parting company, were happier for several hours. But the Californian's were not the only fond schemes, aboard the _Enchantress_, that could go to wreck.

Nor had "California" met his last disappointment even on this journey. As he and his reinforcements came out on the boiler deck with a hundred others from the midday feast the deck-hands below, for quicker unloading at Canal Street on the morrow, were shifting a lot of sacked corn from the hold to the forecastle-deck and were timing their work to a chantey. The song was innocently chosen in reference solely to the piece of river in which they chanced then to be, but all the more for its innocence it touched in that gentle knight a chord of sympathy.

"My own true love wuz lost an' found--
O hahd times!--
An' lost ag'in a-comin' round
Hahd Times Ben'.
Found an' lost, lost an' found,
An' lost ag'in a-comin' round
Hahd Times Ben'."(2)

So it ran, while the _Enchantress turned southeast with that Lake Saint Joe of which "'Lindy" was "the pride" lying forest-hidden a few miles away on the starboard beam. The melody opened with a prolonged wail on its highest note and bore the tragic quality which so often marked the songs of slavery. Helped on by names of near-by landmarks--the Big Black River and the once perilous Grand Gulf--at the bottom of Hard Times Bend--it played on "California's" mind like summer lightning and seemed to call to his romantic spirit supernaturally. He could delay no longer to take his companions into his confidence.

By guess, he said, by inferences, and by modest inquiries he had discerned that Hugh was going ashore at Natchez to--they understood. All right, he would go, too, and ordinarily he would be enough. But the present need was not a fair fight but peace. Hence the propriety of overwhelming numbers. Wouldn't they like to take a hand?

"But he'll see the twins privately," said the invited.

"Of course, but 'though lost to sight' they'll know we're too close for them to get away from, and that's a very convincing situation to 'most any man, even twins."

"Yes, but we can't turn a feud into a fox-hunt. You don't know these things as we do."

"Don't? Why, my friends, I'm a Kentucky highlander. Might as well say I don't know the smell of whiskey because I keep sober, when, in my day, I've been so drunk I've laid on my back and felt up'ards for the ground."

However, he yielded sweetly. But it was plain to see that he would certainly, contentedly, go with Hugh alone. Indeed, only this would he have preferred--that Gideon Hayle might go instead. But one square look at the big, grim, baffled commander had told him earlier that Hugh's perilous isolation was wholly acceptable as a final test of his fitness to belong to Gideon's Band. He parted with his companions and stood at the front rail taking comfort in the thought that whoever might disappoint him the twins would not and looking down on the toiling singers in placid defiance of their lines:

"My true love's heart to mine 'uz boun'--
O hahd times!--
Dey broke dem bindin's comin' roun'
Hahd Times Ben'.
Boun' an' broke, broke an' boun',
An' broke ag'in a-comin' roun'
Hahd Times Ben'."

Watson's partner touched the listener's arm, who smiled and said:

"Only four hours more."

"That's all," replied the pilot. "But I've just thought of something. Suppose the twins shouldn't be in Natchez."

(Footnote 2: (Music notation))

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