BOOKS BY GEORGE W. CABLE
Published by CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
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A TALE OF THE MISSISSIPPI
GEORGE W. CABLE
F. C. YOHN
NEW YORK CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 1914
Copyright, 1914, by CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
Published September, 1914
I. The Steamboat Levee 1
II. "The Votaress" 5
III. Certain Passengers 9
IV. The First Two Miles 13
V. Ramsey Hayle 17
VI. Hayles's Twins 25
VII. Supper 31
VIII. Questions 37
IX. Sitting Silent 43
X. Peril 50
XI. First Night-Watch 57
XII. Hugh and the Twins 68
XIII. The Superabounding Ramsey 75
XIV. The Committee of Seven 83
XV. Morning Watch 90
XVI. Phyllis 95
XVII. "It's a-Happmin' Yit—to We All" 106
XVIII. Ramsey Wins a Point or Two 113
XIX. This Way to Womanhood 122
XX. Ladies' Table 131
XXI. Ramsey and the Bishop 138
XXII. Basile and What He Saw 147
XXIII. A State of Affairs 152
XXIV. A Senator Enlightened 158
XXV. "Please Assemble" 164
XXVI. Alarm and Distress 173
XXVII. Pilots' Eyes 180
XXVIII. Words and the "Westwood" 186
XXIX. Studying the River—Together 195
XXX. Phyllis Again 203
XXXI. The Burning Boat 211
XXXII. A Prophet in the Wilderness 222
XXXIII. Twins and Texas Tender 229
XXXIV. The Peacemakers 234
XXXV. Unsettled Weather 246
XXXVI. Captain's Room 252
XXXVII. Basile Uses a Cane 260
XXXVIII. The Cane Again 272
XXXIX. Fortitude 280
XL. Ramsey at the Footlights 289
XLI. Quits 299
XLII. Against Kin 306
XLIII. Which from Which 313
XLIV. Forbearance 319
XLV. Applause 327
XLVI. After the Play 331
XLVII. Insomnia 337
XLVIII. "California" 347
XLIX. Kangaroo Point 354
L. "Delta Will Do" 365
LI. Loving-Kindness 374
LII. Love Runs Rough but Runs on 383
LIII. Trading for Phyllis 393
LIV. "Can't!" 404
LV. Love Makes a Cut-Off 412
LVI. Eight Years After 425
LVII. Farewell, "Votaress" 436
LVIII. 'Lindy Lowe 443
LIX. "Conclusively" 446
LX. Once More Hugh Sings 460
LXI. Wanted, Hayle's Twins 469
LXII. Euthanasia 478
LXIII. The Captain's Chair 493
"Stop!... Stop! the safest place for you on this boat now is right where you are standing—Phyllis" 258
"My heavenly Father wouldn't 'a' had to call me in out of the storm" 334
"For I believe that we belong to each other from the centre of our souls, by a fitness plain even to the eyes of your brothers" 420
THE STEAMBOAT LEVEE
Saturday, April, 1852. There was a fervor in the sky as of an August noon, although the clocks of the city would presently strike five.
Dazzling white clouds, about to show the earliest flush of the sun's decline, beamed down upon a turbid river harbor, where the water was deep so close inshore that the port's unbroken mile of steamboat wharf nowhere stretched out into the boiling flood. Instead it merely lined the shore, the steamers packing in bow on with their noses to it, their sterns out in the stream, their fenders chafing each other's lower guards.
New Orleans was very proud of this scene. Very prompt were her citizens, such as had travelled, to remind you that in many seaports vast warehouses and roofed docks of enormous cost thronged out so greedily to meet incoming craft that the one boat which you might be seeking you would find quite hidden among walls and roofs, and of all the rest of the harbor's general fleet you could see little or nothing. Not so on this great sun-swept, wind-swept, rain-swept, unswept steamboat levee. You might come up out of any street along that mile-wide front, and if there were a hundred river steamers in port a hundred you would behold with one sweep of the eye. Overhead was only the blue dome, in full view almost from rim to rim; and all about, amid a din of shouting, whip-cracking, scolding, and laughing, and a multitudinous flutter of many-colored foot-square flags, each marking its special lot of goods, were swarms of men—white, yellow, and black—trucking, tumbling, rolling, hand-barrowing, and "toting" on heads and shoulders a countless worth of freight in bags, barrels, casks, bales, boxes, and baskets. Hundreds of mules and drays came and went with this same wealth, and out beyond all, between wharf and open river, profiled on the eastern sky, letting themselves be unloaded and reloaded, stood the compacted, motionless, elephantine phalanx of the boats.
The flood beneath them was up to the wharf's flooring, yet their low, light-draught hulls, with the freight decks that covered them doubled in carrying room by their widely overhanging freight guards, were hid by the wilderness of goods on shore. Hid also were their furnaces, boilers, and engines on the same deck, sharing it with the cargo. But all their gay upper works, so toplofty and frail, showed a gleaming white front to the western sun. You marked each one's jack-staff, that rose mast high from the unseen prow, and behind it the boiler deck, high over the boilers. Over the boiler deck was the hurricane roof, above that the officers' rooms, called the "texas." Above the texas was the pilot-house, and on either side, well forward of the pilot-house and towering abreast of each other and above all else—higher than the two soaring derrick posts at the two forward corners of the passenger and hurricane decks, higher even than the jack-staff's peak—stood the two great black chimneys.
And what a populace teemed round and through all! Here was the Creole, there the New Englander. Here were men of oddest sorts from the Missouri, Ohio, and nearer and farther rivers. Here were the Irishman, the German, the Congo, Cuban, Choctaw, Texan, Sicilian; the Louisiana sugar-planter, the Mississippi cotton-planter, goat-bearded raftsmen from the swamps of Arkansas, flatboatmen from the mountains of Tennessee and Kentucky; the horse trader, the slave-driver, the filibuster, the Indian fighter, the circus rider, the circuit-rider, and men bound for the goldfields of California.
More than half the boats, this April afternoon, flew from the jack-staff of each, to signify that it was her day to leave, a streaming burgee bearing her name. A big-lettered strip of canvas drawn along the front guards of her hurricane-deck told for what port she was "up," and the growing smoke that swelled from her chimneys showed that five was her time to back out.
In the midst of the scene, opposite the head of Canal Street—the streets that run to the New Orleans levee run up-hill and get there head first—lay a boat which specially belongs to this narrative. A pictorial poster, down in every cafe and hotel rotunda of the town, called her "large, new, and elegant," and such she was in fair comparison with all the craft on all the sixteen thousand navigable miles of the vast river and its tributaries. Her goal was Louisville, more than thirteen hundred miles away. Her steam was up, a velvet-black pitch-pine smoke billowed from her chimneys, and her red-and-white burgee, gleaming upon it, named her the Votaress.
Her first up-river trip! The crowd waiting on the wharf's apron to see her go was larger and included better types of the people than usual, for the Votaress was the latest of the Courteney fleet, hence a rival of the Hayle boats, the most interesting fact that could be stated of anything afloat on Western waters.
So young was she, this Votaress, so bridally fresh from her Indiana and Kentucky shipyards, that the big new bell in the mid-front of her hurricane roof shone in the low sunlight like a wedding jewel. Its parting strokes had sounded once but would sound twice again before she could cast off. Both pilots were in the lofty pilot-house, down from the breast-board of which a light line ran forward to the bell's tongue, but neither pilot touched the line or the helm. For the captain's use another cord from the bell hung over the hurricane deck's front and down to the boiler deck rail, but neither up there on the boiler deck nor anywhere near the bell on the roof above it was any captain to be seen.
At the front angle of the roof's larboard rail a youth, quite alone, leaned against one of the tall derrick posts to get its shade. He was too short, square, and unanimated to draw much attention, although with a faint unconscious frown between widely parted brows his quiet eyes fell intently upon every detail of the lively scene below.
The whole great landing lay beneath his glance, a vivid exposition of the vast, half-tamed valley's bounty, spoils, and promise; of its motley human life, scarcely yet to be called society, so lately and rudely transplanted from overseas; so bareboned, so valiantly preserved, so young yet already so titanic; so self-reliant, opinionated, and uncouth; so strenuous and materialistic in mind; so inflammable in emotions; so grotesque in its virtues; so violent in its excesses; so complacently oblivious of all the higher values of wealth; so giddied with the new wine of liberty and crude abundance; so open of speech, of heart, of home, and so blithely disdainful of a hundred risks of life, health, and property. And all this the young observer's glance took in with maybe more realization of it than might be looked for in one not yet twenty-one. Yet his fuller attention was for matters nearer and of much narrower compass.
He saw the last bit of small freight come aboard and the last belated bill-lading clerk and ejected peddler go ashore. He noted by each mooring-post the black longshoreman waiting to cast off a hawser. He remarked each newcomer who idly joined the onlooking throng. Especially he observed each cab or carriage that hurried up to the wharf's front. He studied each of the alighting occupants as they yielded their effects to the antic, white-jacketed mulatto cabin-boys, behind whom they crossed the ponderous unrailed stage and vanished on their up-stairs way to the boiler deck, the cabin, and their staterooms. Had his mild scrutinizings been a paid service, they could hardly have been more thorough.
By and by two or three things occurred in the same moment. A number of boats above Canal Street and several of lesser fame below sounded their third bell, cast off, and backed out into the stream. The many pillars of smoke widened across the heavens into one unrifted cloud with the sunbeams illumining its earthward side. Now it overhung the busy landing and now, at the river's first bend, it filled the tops of the dark mass of spars and cordage that densely lined the long curve of the harbor's up-town shipping.
At the same time, while the foremost boats were still in sight, the two pilots in the pilot-house of the lingering Votaress quietly took stand at right and left of the wheel with their eyes on a distant vehicle, a private carriage. It came swiftly out of Common Street and across the broad shell-paved levee. As quietly as they, the youth at the derrick post regarded it, and presently, looking back and up, he gave them a slight, gratified nod. Through the lines of onlookers the carriage swept close up to the stage and let down two aristocratic-looking men. The taller was full fifty years of age, the other as much as seventy-five, but both were hale and commanding.
As they started aboard the younger glanced up brightly to the unsmiling youth at the roof's rail and then threw a gesture, above and beyond him, to the pilot-house. One of the pilots promptly sounded the bell. Down on the forecastle a dozen deck-hands, ordered by a burly mate, leaped to the stage and began, with half as many others who ran ashore on it, to heave it aboard. But a sharp "avast" stopped them, and four or five cabin-boys gambolled out on it ashore. A smart hack came whirling up in its own white shell dust, and a fledgling dandy of seventeen sprang down from the seat of his choice by the driver before the vehicle could stop or the white jackets strip it of its baggage.
From his dizzy outlook the older youth dropped his calm scrutiny upon the inner occupants as they alighted and followed the boy on board. First came a red-ringleted, fifteen-year-old sister, fairly good-looking, almost too free of glance, and—to her high-perched critic—urgently eligible to longer skirts. Behind her appeared an old, very black nurse in very blue calico and very white turban and bosom kerchief; and lastly a mother—of many children, one would have said—still perfect in complexion, gracefully rounded, and beautiful.
This was the first time he on the hurricane deck had ever seen them, but he knew at once who they were and looked the closer on that account. The self-oblivious elation with which the slim lass gave her eyes and mind to everything except her own footing caused him to keep his chief watch on her. He even beckoned a black deck hand to do the same. Wherever her glance went her gay interest went with it, either in a soft soliloquizing laugh or in some demonstration less definite though more radiant; some sign of delight from her lips, her eyes, her brow, her springing step, dancing curls, or supple arms. The youth on the roof's edge deepened his frown. At a point on the stage where its sheer, naked sides spanned the narrow chasm through which the waters swept between boat and wharf, her feet strayed too near one perilous edge, and just then her eyes went up to him. The two glances had barely met when she tripped and staggered. With a dozen others aboard and ashore, he gave a start. She sent him a look of terror, then turned from deadly pale to rosy red and gasped her thanks to the smiling deckhand, whose clutch had saved her life. The next instant she was laughing elatedly to her horrified nurse, and so disappeared with her kindred on the lower deck and front stairs.
The mellow boom of the third and last parting signal diverted the general mind, and a glance behind him showed the youth the close and welcome presence of that superior-looking man in answer to whose gesture the pilot had tolled the earlier bell. But this person was closely preoccupied. Now his capable glance ran aft along every marginal line of the boat, now it dropped below to where the big stage lay drawn in athwart the forward deck from guard to guard. Now he gave short, quiet orders to wharf and forecastle, now a single word or two to the pilot-house. Far below, the engine bells jingled. The bowline was in. A yeast of waters ran forward from the backing wheels, the breast line slacked away in fierce jerks, and the Votaress began to depart.
Meantime there was an odd stir on shore. A cab whirled up furiously and two more youths, shapely, handsome, and fashionable, twins beyond cavil and noticeably older than their twenty years, visibly rich in fine qualities but as visibly reckless as to what they did with them, sprang out, flushed and imperious, to wave the Votaress. One of her guards was still rubbing along the steamer beside her, but before the pair could dash aboard this other boat and half across her deck, a gap had opened, impossible to leap. They halted in rage as the more compact youth on the moving steamer's roof, catching their attention, pointed a good two miles up the river front. Yet what he said they would not have known had not her mate repeated from the forecastle:
"Post forty-six! Drive up thah! We stop thah fo' a load of emigrants!"
They fled back to the cab. Aboard the receding boat the ruthless engine bells jingled on; the broad waterside and the city behind it seemed, from her decks, to draw away into the western clouds, and the yellow river spread wide its shores in welcome to her swinging form. Now its mighty current seemed to quicken and quicken as she gradually overcame her down-stream drift, the ship-lined shores ceased to creep up-stream—began to creep down—and her black crew, standing close about the capstan, broke majestically into song:
"Oh, rock me, Julie, rock me."
From the forecastle her swivel pealed, her burgee ran down the jack-staff, a soft, continuous tremor set in among all her parts, her scape-pipes ceased their alternating roars, her engines breathed quietly through her vast funnels, the flood spurted at her cutwater, white torrents leaped and chased each other from her fluttering wheels, her own breeze fanned every brow, and the Votaress was under way.
THE FIRST TWO MILES
The youth whom we have called short, square, and so on crossed to the starboard derrick post. Several passengers had come up to the roof, and one who, he noticed, seemed, by the many kind glances cast upon her, to be already winning favor, was the tallish lass with the red curls.
The nurse was still at her back. She drew close up beside him and stood in the wind that ruffled her hat and pressed her draperies against her form. Her servant betrayed a faint restiveness to be so near him, but the girl, watching the steamer's watery path as it seemed of its own volition to glide under the boat's swift tread, ignored him as completely as if he were a part of the woodwork. The very good-looking man who was "taking out" the boat returned from a short tour of the deck and halted by the great bell over the foremost skylights; but soon he moved away again in mild preoccupation. The maiden's frank scrutiny followed him a step or two and then turned squarely to the youth. Her attendant stirred uncomfortably and breathed some inarticulate protest, but in a tone of faultless composure the girl spoke out:
"Is that the captain yonder?"
"No," he said, equally composed, though busy thinking that but for his eye she would at this moment be lying, in all these dainty draperies, as deep beneath the boiling flood as she now stood above it. "That's not the captain."
"Then why is he running the boat?"
"He owns her."
"Oh!" The girl's soft laugh was at herself. Presently—"Where's her captain?"
"Ashore, in the hospital."
"What's he got?"
"Missy!" murmured the dark woman beseechingly.
But missy gave her no heed. "Got cholera?" she ventured, "the Asiatic cholera?"
"No, a broken leg."
"Oh! Is that all he's got?"
"No, he has another, not broken." The speaker was so solemn that, with mirth in every drop of her blood, the inquirer contrived to be grave, herself.
"How'd he get it—I mean get it broken?"
"He was superintending——"
"And fell? When'd he fall?"
"This afternoon, about——"
"Where'd it happen?"
"Down on the lower deck as he——"
"Which is the lower deck?"
"The deck you came aboard on."
"They told me that was the freight deck!"
"Then, why—?" She ceased, pondered, and spoke again: "Is there any deck lower than the lower deck?"
She mused once more: "Why—that's strange."
"Yes," he said, "strange, but true."
"Then how could the captain fall——" Again she ceased and yet again pondered: "Are the boilers—on the boiler deck?"
"No, the boiler deck is just over the boilers."
"Then why do they—" Once more she pondered.
"The boilers," said the youth, "are down on the freight deck."
The questioner brightened. "Do they ever put any freight on the boiler deck?" she asked.
Before he could say yes, and without the slightest warning, a laugh burst from her tightened lips. He could not have called it unmusical and did not resent it, although he did regard it as without the slenderest excuse. Her eyes and brow, still confronting his in a distress of mirth, confessed the whim's forlorn senselessness, while his face returned not the smallest sign of an emotion. As the moment lengthened, the transport, so far from passing, spread through all her lithe form. Suddenly she turned aside, drew herself up, faced him again, and began to inquire, "Do they ever—" but broke down once more, fell upon the old woman's shoulder with a silvery tinkle, shook, hung limp, threw one foot behind her, and tapped the deck with her toe. A married couple drifting by, obviously players and of the best of their sort, enjoyed the picture.
"Why, missy!" the nurse softly pleaded, "yo' plumb disgracin' yo'seff! Stop! Stop!"
"I can't!" whined the girl, between her paroxysms, "till he stops looking like that." But as the youth was merely looking like himself he saw no reason why he should stop.
To avoid the current the steamer suddenly began to run so close beside the moored ships that the continuous echo of all her sounds—the flutter of her great wheels, the seething of waters, the varied activities of her lower deck—came back and up to the three voyagers with a nearness and minuteness that startled the girl and drew her glance; but just as her dancing eyes returned reproachfully to the youth the big bell at her back pealed its signal for landing and she sprang almost off her feet, cast herself into the nurse's bosom, and laughed more inexcusably than ever.
The woman put an arm about her shoulder and drew her a few steps back along the rail to where four or five others were gathered. The young man gave all his attention downward across the starboard bow. The engine bells jingled far below, the wheels stopped, the giant chimneys ceased their majestic breathing, and the boat came slowly abreast of a ship standing high out of the water.
The flag of Holland floated aft of a deck crowded with a sun-tanned and oddly clad multitude. The Dutch sailors lowered their fenders between the ship's side and the boat's guards, lines were made fast, a light stage was run down from the ship's upper deck to the boat's forecastle, and in single file, laden with their household goods, the silent aliens were hurried aboard the Votaress and to their steerage quarters, out of sight between and behind her engines.
Up on the boiler and hurricane decks her earlier passengers found, according to their various moods and capacities, much entertainment in the scene. The girl with the nurse laughed often, of course. Yet her laugh bore a certain note of sympathy and appreciation which harmonized out of it all quality that might have hurt or abashed the most diffident exile. Childlike as she was, it was plain she did not wholly fail to see into the matter's pathetic depths.
The youth at the derrick post, scrutinizing each immigrant that passed under his eye, could hear at his back a refined voice making kind replies to her many questions. He knew it as belonging to the older of the two men for whose coming aboard the Votaress had delayed her start. Between the girl's whimsical queries he heard him indulgently explain that the Dutch ensign's red, white, and blue were no theft from us Americans and that at various periods he had lived in four or five great cities under those three colors as flown and loved by four great nations.
Amazing! She could not query fast enough. "First city?"
First in London, where he had been born and reared.
Then in Amsterdam, where he had been married.
Then for ten years in Philadelphia.
Why, then, for forty years more, down to that present 1852, in New Orleans, while nevertheless, save for the last ten, he had sojourned much abroad in many ports and capitals, but mainly in Paris.
The girl's note of mirth softly persisted, irrepressible but self-oblivious, a mere accent of her volatile emotions, most frequent among which was a delighted wonder in looking on the first man of foreign travel, first world-citizen, with whom she had ever awarely come face to face. So guessed the youth, well pleased.
Presently, as if she too had guessed something, she asked if the boat's master was not this man's son.
He now running it? Yes, he was.
"And was he, too, born in England?—or in Holland?"
"In Philadelphia, 1803."
"And did he, too, marry a—Dutch—wife?"
"No, a young lady of Philadelphia, in 1832; an American."
"Did you ever see Andrew Jackson?"
"Yes, I knew him."
"Were you in the battle of New Orleans?"
"Yes, I commanded a battery."
"Did you know anybody else besides Jackson? Who else?"
"Oh, I knew them all; Claiborne, Livingston, Duncan, Touro, Sheppard, Grimes, the two Lafittes, Dominique You, Coffee, Villere, Roosevelt——"
"I know about Roosevelt; he brought the first steamboat down the Mississippi. My grandfather knew him. Did you ever have any grandchildren?"
Yes, he had had several, but before she could inquire what had become of them the attention of every one was arrested by the second approach of the cab bearing the two hotspurs who had missed the boat at Canal Street. All the way up from there their labored gallop, by turns hid, seen, and hid again, had amused many of her passengers, and now, as the pair shouldered their angry way across the ship's crowded deck and down the steep gang-plank, a general laugh from the boat's upper rails galled them none the less for being congratulatory. So handsome and dangerous-looking that the laugh died, they halted midway of the narrow incline, impeding the stream of immigrants at their heels, and sent up a fierce stare in response to the propitiatory smiles of the boat's commander and the youth standing near him. Only one of the twins spoke, but the eyes of his brother vindictively widened till they gleamed a flaming concurrence in his fellow's high-keyed, oath-bound threat:
"We'll get even with you for this, Captain John Courteney. We warn you and all your tribe."
The old nurse on the roof, to whose arm her slim charge was clinging with both hands, moaned audibly: "Oh, Lawd, Mahs' Julian! Mahs' Lucian!"
The girl laughed, laughed so merrily and convincingly—as if to laugh was the one reasonable thing to do—that most of the passengers did likewise. Even the grave youth whose back was to her inwardly granted that the lamentable habit could make itself useful in an awkward juncture. While he so thought, he observed the unruffled owner of the Votaress motion to the chagrined young men to clear the way by coming aboard, and as they haughtily did so he heard the commander's father say to the girl still at his side:
"I believe those are your brothers?"
"Yes," she responded, for once without mirth, "my brothers," and the peace-loving but conscientious nurse added with a modest pretence of pure soliloquy:
"One dess as hahmless as de yetheh."
The bell boomed. The last transatlantic stranger shuffled aboard, wan and feeble. Now to one wheel, now to the other, the pilot jingled to back away, then to stop, then to go ahead, then to both for full speed, and once more the beautiful craft moved majestically up the river. Her course shifted from south to west, the shores for a time widened apart, the low-roofed city swung and sank away backward, groves of orange and magnolia grew plainer to the eye than suburban streets, and the course changed again, from west to north. Soon on the right, behind a high levee and backed by a sombre swamp forest, appeared the live-oaks and gardens of Carrollton, and presently on the left came Nine-mile Point and another bend of the river westward. As the boat's prow turned, the waters, from shore to shore, reflected the low sun so dazzlingly that nearly all the passengers on the roof moved aft, whence, ravished by the ascending odors of supper, they went below.
But the handsome old man, the sedate youth, the girl, the nurse, remained. Captain Courteney came along the deck and crossed toward the four, eyed from head to foot by the girl even after he had stopped near her. But her gaze drew no glance from him.
"Well, Hugh," he said.
The youth turned with a smile that bettered every meaning in his too passive countenance: "Well, father?"
"Oh!" breathed the startled girl. She looked eagerly into the three male faces, beamed round upon her dark attendant, and then looked again at grandfather, father, and son. "Why, of course!" she softly laughed.
"John," said the older man, "this young lady is a daughter of Gideon Hayle."
"I thought as much." The benign captain lifted his hat and accepted and dropped again the dainty hand proffered him with childish readiness. "Then you're the youngest of seven children."
Her reply was a gay nod. Presently, with a merry glint between her long lashes, she said: "I'm Ramsey."
The captain's smile grew: "That must be great fun."
The girl looked from one to another, puzzled.
"Why, just to be Ramsey," he explained. "Isn't it?"
She gave him a wary, sidewise glance and looked out over the water. "My three married sisters all live near this river," she musingly said; "one in Louisiana, two in Mississippi." Her sidelong glance repeated itself: "I know who it would be fun to be—for me—or for anybody!" Her eyes widened as her brother's had done, though in an amiable, elated way.
"Your father?" asked the captain.
She all but danced: "How'd you know?"
"I saw him—in your eyes," was the placid reply. "Your father and I, and your grandfather Hayle, and this gentleman here——"
"Ya-ass, ya-ass!" drawled the nurse in worshipping reminiscence, and Ramsey laughed to Hugh, and all the while the captain persisted: "We've built and owned rival boats——"
"Fawty yeah'!" murmured the nurse. "Fawty yeah'!"
"Yes, yes!" chirruped the girl. "Pop-a's up the river now, building the Paragon! We're on our way to join him!"
"Law', missy," gently chid the nurse, made anxious by a new approach which Ramsey was trying to ignore, "dese gen'lemens knows all dat."
Ramsey twitched her shoulders and waist. Her lips parted for a bright question, but it was interrupted. The interrupters were the restless twins, whose tread sounded peremptory even on the painted canvas of the deck, and the fineness of whose presence was dimmed only by the hardy lawlessness which, in their own eyes, was their crowning virtue.
"Ramsey," drawled one of them, who somehow seemed the more forceful of the two. He spoke as if amazed at his own self-restraint. She whisked round to him. He made his eyes heavy: "Have you had any proper introduction to these—gentlemen?"
A white-jacket, holding a large hand-bell by its tongue, bowed low before the captain, received a nod, and minced away. With suspended breath the girl stared an instant on her brother, then on the captain, and then on his father; but as her eyes came round to Hugh his solemnity caught her unprepared, and, with every curl shaking, she broke out in a tinkling laugh so straight from the heart, so innocent, and so helpless that even the frightened old woman chuckled. Ramsey wheeled, snatched the nurse round, and hurried her off to a stair, hanging to her arm, tiptoeing, dancing, and carolling in the rhythm of the supper-bell below:
"Ringading tingalingaty, ringadang ding, Ringading tingalingaty, ringadang ding."
Red and dumb, the questioner glared after them until, near one of the great paddle-boxes, they vanished below. But his brother, the one who had the trick of widening his eyes, found words. "Captain Courteney," he said, "by what right does your son—or even do you, sir—take the liberty, on the hurricane-deck of a steamboat, to scrape acquaintance with an unprotec——?"
The captain had turned his back. "Hugh," he affably said, "will you see what these young gentlemen want?" And then to the older man: "Come, father, let's go to supper." They went.
Hugh was grateful for this task in diplomacy, yet wondered what mess he should make of it.
He was here for just such matters, let loose from tutor and books for the summer, to study the handling of a steamboat, one large part of which, of course, was handling the people aboard. Both pilots, up yonder, knew this was his role. Already he had tried his unskill—or let "Ramsey" try it—and had learned a point or two. She had shown him, at least twice, what value there might be in a well-timed, unmanageable laugh. But a well-timed, unmanageable laugh is purely a natural gift. If it was to come to his aid, it would have to come of itself. Lucian, the twin who had asked the last question, turned upon him.
Hugh smilingly lifted a pacifying hand. "You're entirely mistaken," he said. "Nobody's tried to scrape acquaintance." In the midst of the last two words, sure enough, there broke from him a laugh which to him seemed so honest, friendly, well justified, and unmanageable that he stood astounded when his accuser blazed with wrath.
"You lie, damn you!" was the answering cry. "And then you laugh in my face! We saw you—all three of you—just now!" The note was so high that one of the pilots began to loiter down from the pilot-house.
Hugh crimsoned. "I see," he said, advancing step by step as the frenzied boy drew back. "You really don't want a peaceable explanation, at all, do you?"
The other twin, Julian, arrested his brother's back step by a touch and spoke for him: "No, sir, we don't. You can't 'peaceably explain' foul treatment, you damned fool, and that's all we Hayles have had of you Courteneys this day. We want satisfaction! We don't ask it, we'll take it! And we'll get it"—here a ripping oath—"if we have to wait for it ten years!"
This time Hugh paled. "It needn't take ten minutes," he said. "Come down to the freight deck, into the engine room, and I'll give both of you so much of it that you won't know yourselves apart."
"One more insult!" cried Lucian, the boy who so often widened his eyes, while Julian, narrowing his lids, said in a tone suddenly icy:
"That classes you, sir, on the freight deck."
"We don't fight deck hands," said Lucian.
"Nor emigrants!" sneered his brother. "And when we fight gentlemen we fight with weapons, sir, as gentlemen should."
Hugh's awkward laugh came again, and the pilot who had come down from beside his fellow at the wheel inquired:
"What's the fraction here?"
"Oh, nothing," said Hugh.
"Everything!" cried Julian. "And you'll find it so the first time we get a fair chance at you—any of you!"
The pilot was amiable. "Hold on," he suggested. "See here, my young friend, what do you reckon your father'd do to this young man"—touching Hugh—"if he should rip around on a Hayle boat as you're doing here?"
"That's a totally different matter, sir!"
The pilot smiled. "Don't you know Gideon Hayle would put him ashore at the first wood-yard?"
"He'd be wrong if he didn't," gravely said Hugh.
"Do you mean that for a threat?—either of you?" snapped Lucian.
"No," said the pilot, "I was merely trying to reason with you. Come, now, go down to supper. It's a roaring good one: crawfish gumbo, riz biscuits, fresh butter, fried oysters, and coffee to make your hair curl. Go on, both of you. You've had—naturally enough—last day in the city—a few juleps too many, but that's all right. A square meal, a night's rest, and you'll wake up in the morning with Baton Rouge and all the sugar lands astern, the big cotton plantations on both sides of us, you feeling at home with everybody, everybody at home with you."
"Many thanks," sneered Julian. "We'll go to our meals self-invited. Good evening."
Hugh granted the pair a slight nod. As they went, Lucian, looking back over Julian's shoulder with eyes bigger than ever, said: "We'll wake up in the morning without the least change of feeling for this boat's owners, their relatives, or their hirelings."
The relative and the hireling glanced sharply at each other. But then Hugh said quietly: "A man can't quarrel with boys, Mr. Watson."
"No," mused the pilot aloud as he watched the pair go below, "but he can wait. They'll soon be men."
"And this be all forgotten," said Hugh.
"Not by them!" rejoined Mr. Watson. "They'll remember it ef they have to tattoo it—on their stomachs."
"I should have managed them better," said Hugh.
"Lord, boy, nobody's ever managed them sence they was born." The speaker sauntered back toward the pilot-house, coining rhetoric in his mind to relieve his rage. "It's only the long-looked-for come at last," he thought, "and come toe last." As he resumed the bench behind his partner his wrath at length burst out:
"Well, of all the hell-fry I ever come across——!"
"And they 'llow to keep things fryin'," said his mate.
Which made Watson even more rhetorical. "Yes, it's their only salvation from their rotten insignificance." He meditated. "And yet—hnn!" He was about to say something much kindlier when suddenly he laughed down from a side window upon the twins returned. "Well, I'll swear!"
"We heard, sir," said Julian with a lordly bow.
"And you," chimed Lucian, "shall hear later." Rather aimlessly they turned and again disappeared, and after a moment or two the man at the wheel asked, with playful softness, with his eyes on the roof below:
"D'you reckon yon other two will ever manage to offset the tricks o' Hayle's twins?"
His partner rose and looked down. The old nurse and the third Hayle brother stood side by side watching the beautiful low-lying plantations unbrokenly swing by behind the embankments of the eastern shore. The level fields of young sugar-cane reposed in a twilight haze, while the rows of whitewashed slave cabins, the tall red chimneys of the great sugar-houses, and the white-pillared verandas of the masters' dwellings embowered in their evergreen gardens, still showed clear in the last lights of day. But the query was not as to the nurse and the boy. Near them stood Ramsey, with arms akimbo, once more conversing with Hugh.
"Oh!" said the glowing Watson. "If that's to be the game, Ned, I'm in it, sir! I'm in it!"
"Just's well, Watsy. You're in the twins' game anyhow."
Meantime Ramsey's talk flowed on like brook water, Hugh's meeting it like the brook's bowlders:
"Guess who's at the head of the table!"
"Who? my grandfather?"
"No, he's 'way down at the men's end."
"Well, then, father?"
"Yes! And who's sitting next him—on his right?"
"Yes! And guess who's going to sit at the head of the children's table. You!"
"How do you know that?"
The reply was chanted: "I asked the steward to put you there." She laughed and glanced furtively at her unheeding brother. Then her eyes came back: "And I'm to be the first on your right!" She spread her arms like wings.
"Why, Miss Ramsey!" protested the nurse.
Hugh blushed into his limp, turn-down collar. "I don't believe you'd better," he said.
"I will!" said Ramsey, lifting her chin.
Deep in love with the river life was Ramsey.
She had tried it now, thoroughly, for an hour, and was sure! The twenty-four hours' trip down from her plantation home, on the first boat that happened along, a rather poor thing, had been her first experience and a keen pleasure; but this, on the Votaress, was rapture.
One effect was that her mind teemed with family history. Her grizzly, giant father, whom she so rarely saw, so vehemently worshipped, son of a wild but masterful Kentucky mountaineer who had spent his life floating "broadhorns" and barges down the Ohio and Mississippi, counted it one of the drawbacks of his career that so few of his kindred cared for the river. One of his brothers was an obscure pilot somewhere on the Cumberland or Tennessee. Another, once a pilot, then a planter, and again a pilot, had been lost on a burning boat, she knew not how nor when. The third was a planter in the Red River lowlands. Her three sisters, as we have heard her tell, were planters' wives, and the father's home, when ashore, was on a plantation of his Creole wife's inheritance, four or five miles in behind the old river town of Natchez.
There Ramsey had been born and had grown up, knowing the great Mississippi only as a remote realm of poetry and adventure out of which at intervals her mighty father came to clasp to his broad breast her sweet, glad mother, tarry a few days or hours, and be gone again. She, herself, had seldom seen it even from the Natchez bluffs, yet she could name all its chief boats apart, not by sight but by the long, soft bellow of their steam-whistles, wafted inland. But now, at last, she was a passenger on its waters. As Hugh, so well grown up as to breadth and gravity, took his seat at the head of the dazzling board that filled the whole middle third of the cabin, and as she sat down next him with all the other adolescents and juveniles in places of inferior dignity, the affair seemed the most significant as well as most brilliant in which she had ever taken part.
Most significant, because to love the river for itself would be to find herself easily and lastingly first in her father's love and favor—her only wish in this world. And most brilliant: without an angle or partition the cabin extended between the two parallel lines of staterooms running aft through the boat's entire length from boiler deck to stern guards. Its richly carpeted floor gently dipped amidships and as gently rose again to the far end, where you might see the sofas and piano of that undivided part sanctified to the ladies. Its whole course was dazzlingly lighted with chandeliers of gold bronze and crystal that forever quivered, glittered, and tinkled to the tremor of the boat's swift advance. It was multitudinously pilastered, gleamingly white-painted and shellacked, profusely gilded and pictorially panelled, and it bewilderingly reflected itself and Ramsey from mirrors wide or narrow wherever mirrors wide or narrow could be set in.
A new decorum came into her bearing. She ceased to ask questions. She waited for them to be put to her—from the head of the table—and smiled where an hour earlier she would have laughed. Above all, she felt in her spirit the same dreamy strangeness she had so lately felt in her bodily frame when the boat first began to move: a feeling as if the young company about her were but stayers behind on a shore from which she was beginning to be inexorably borne away. The wide river of a world's life, to which the rillet of her own small existence had been carelessly winding, was all at once clearly in sight. She could almost have written verse! She yearned to tell her whole history, but not one personal question could she lure from Hugh. Silently she recalled the story of her Creole grandmother, married at fifteen—her own present age. That young lady had met her future husband just this way on Roosevelt's famous New Orleans, earliest steamboat on the Mississippi. But there sat Hugh, as square, as solid, and as incurious as an upended bale of cotton. And still she kept her manners.
It was but the custom of the time and region that the most honored guest of the Votaress, wife of her owner's most formidable competitor, with her family, not only should enjoy her journey wholly without cost, but that she should receive every attention courtesy could offer. The heat of the contest counted for nothing. And so, while Ramsey ate and talked with Hugh, his grandfather, near by in the ladies' cabin, at her left and at Hugh's back, conversed with her mother on a sofa. It was a heavenly hour. The resplendent boat kept her speed with no inward sign of her ceaseless ongoing except the tremor of her perfect frame, the flutter of her hundred-footed tread, and the tinkle and prismatic twinkle of her pendent glass, all responsively alternating with the deep breathings of her stacks, and with no sign of her frequent turnings but the softly audible creepings of her steering-gear.
While never failing duly to receive and return Hugh's rather stiff attentions, and while doing superb justice to the repast, Ramsey, with side glances from her large, unconscious eyes emotionally enriched by long auburn lashes, easily and with great zest contemplated her mother's charming complexion, so lily-white and shell pink for a Creole matron, as well as the lovely confidingness of her manner, so childlike yet so wise. It was not for her to know that her mother, while hanging on every word of the courtly old man, was closely observing both her and Hugh.
The grandfather, too, her blue-and-auburn glances took in sidewise, as their closer scrutiny had earlier done pointblank on the hurricane-deck. He was small, unmuscular, clean-shaven, erect, placid. She noted again his snowy, waving hair, thin only on his pink crown. It shone like silk. He still kept a soft flush of unimpaired health and an air of inner cleanness equal to that which showed outwardly from gaitered shoes to the bell-crowned beaver in his hand. She observed the wide cambric ruffle that ran down his much-displayed, much-pleated shirt-front. His stiff, high stock was tied with a limp white bow-knot. His standing collar covered half of either cheek. He wore a jewelled breastpin and a heavy gold fob-chain and seal. In his too delicate hand, along with the beaver and his gloves, was a stout, gold-headed cane, and from his coat skirt his handkerchief painstakingly peeped out behind. All of which seemed quite natural on him and well related to the highly attractive attire of the lady beside him.
Yet suddenly Ramsey had a painful misgiving. Hugh was remarking upon some matter on the other side of the world, when she asked him as abruptly as a boat might strike a snag: "Is your grandfather a Whig?"
"He is," said Hugh. They laid up their napkins.
"Oh!" sighed Ramsey, but then laughed. "Is your father a Whig, too?"
"Yes, my father, too."
"Not a Henry Clay Whig?" she hopefully prompted.
"Yes, a Henry Clay Whig yet."
Self-consciously she dropped her head over the back of her chair to be rid of her curls. "My father," she musingly observed, "is a Democrat."
"Yet we can be friends," said Hugh, "can't we?" wondering, when he had asked, why they need be.
Ramsey did not say. With her chin in her collar she looked herself over carefully while she brokenly remarked, "All our men folks—four men—three boys—are—red-hot Democrats."
But on the last word she checked and hearkened, and they smiled together at the far-away whistle of another steamer, deep-toned, mellowed by distance, and long sustained.
"That's a Courteney boat," quietly began Hugh, but Ramsey was up and off.
"The Empress!" she called to her mother as she flew.
Out forward of the texas and close beside the great bell, Ramsey halted, alone in the boundless starlight and rippling breeze on the cabin roof. The stately Votaress, with her towering funnels lost in the upper night, was running well inshore under a point, wrapped in a world-wide silence broken only by the placid outgo of her own vast breath, the soft rush of her torrential footsteps far below, and the answering rustle of the nearer shore. Even on that side the dark land confessed no outline save the low tree tops of two or three plantation-house groves, from each of which shone a lighted window or two, tinier and lonelier than a glowworm.
Across the point, between its groves, the flood revealed itself at intervals in pale shimmerings, and just beyond one of these gleams, in mid-river, shone the nearing boat, her countless lights merged into a single sheen brokenly repeated in the water beneath her. Hugh came to the girl's side at a moment when a wood on the point's extreme end concealed the steamer's approach; but in the next the fleet comer swept out of hiding, an empress in truth to Ramsey, jewelled, from furnace doors to texas roof, with many-colored lights as if in coronation robes.
"That is how we look to her," said Hugh.
But his words were lost. With a startled laugh the girl shrank low over the bell, clutching it as if a whirlwind had struck them, while its single, majestic peal thundering, "I pass to starboard, hail! farewell!" drowned speech and mind in its stupendous roar. Mirth, too, was drowned in awe. And now the vast din ceased, and now the Empress, every moment more resplendent, responded, first with her bell, then with the long, solemn halloo of her whistle, and presently with huzzas from all her glittering decks as she passed within a cable's length.
Ramsey gazed entranced. Not until the fading vision had dwindled down and around the great bend did her tread realize again the quivering deck, or her sight reawaken to the wonder of the ever coming, parting, passing flood, its prostrate, phantom shores, and the starry hosts and illimitable deeps of the sky. Even then she was but half-way back to earth, unconscious that she had stepped down forward to the captain's chair and into a group including Hugh and his grandfather, her mother and youngest brother.
"Oh!" she cried, turning, "it's as if—" and found herself face to face not with Hugh but his father.
"As if—what?" smilingly asked the boat's master.
"As if," she said more softly, "we'd left one world and were hunting another."
His smile grew. Her own resented it. "I know what you're thinking," she said, and glanced away. Her curls twitched, her chin tilted, and she sent down from it one of those visible waves that ended at her feet, as if they were the cracker of the whip. When he spoke, her eyes came back at him sidelong.
"I was thinking only," he rejoined, "that at your age it's always as if we'd just left one world and were seeking another."
Her eyes—and lashes—were sceptical. "Weren't you going to say it would seem more so if we should blow up?"
"No," he laughed, "nothing like it."
She began absently to scrutinize his entire dress. It was like the old man's though without the jewelry and ruffles. "Were you ever in an explosion?" she asked. The words came of themselves. She was backsliding from her table decorum.
"No," he replied, "I was never in an explosion."
"Ah, my child!" broke in the mother, "questions again? And even to Captain Courteney?"
Ramsey laughed, gave the deck a wilful scuff, and demanded of the captain: "Were you ever on a burning boat?"
Madame Hayle flinched, gasped, and drew her from him as he replied: "Yes—once—I was."
The mother started again. "There!" she cried; "so! you 'ave it! Now, go"—she laughingly pushed the querist—"go, talk with Hugh—allong with yo' brotheh."
The girl, as she backed away, turned to the grandfather: "Was Hugh on the boat—when it burned?"
Her mother smiled with new pain, but while the captain bowed himself away the old man replied: "Come, Miss Ramsey, sit down with me and I'll tell you the story—if we may, madam?—Hugh—some chairs, will you?"
Ramsey sprang to Hugh's aid, but her brother had a mind for mutiny. "You told me," he accused his mother, "that I could go watch them play cards!"
"Yes?" she asked in a pretty irony; "well, then, of co'se, sisteh or no sisteh, you muz' instan'ly go!" The steady tinkle of the sister's laughter as she passed with a chair provoked her own: "Yes, go! Me, I'll rimmain with her till Joy"—the nurse—"ritturn from suppeh."
The boy went, flinging back for a last word: "You want to hear the story as bad as Ramsey does!"
"'Tis true!" she brightly said to the old gentleman. "Since all those nine year', me, I've want' to hear the Courteney side of that!"—little supposing that this was what neither she nor Ramsey would then or ever quite lay hold upon.
"No," laughed the irrelevant girl to the old man, "you sit here." She faced him up-stream, her mother on his "stabboard," as she said, herself on his "labboard," and Hugh on her left, "labboardest of all." But—to Hugh—"now, wait—wait! If I'm on your stabboard—how can you be—on my lab'—? Oh, yes, I see!" She dropped into her chair and, to Hugh's great weariness, laughed till her curls fell on her cheeks, larboard and starboard by turns.
Yet she ceased sooner than any one had hoped and the four sat silent while several ladies sauntered past on the arms of escorts, all highly entertained to see such cordiality between any Hayles and the Courteneys. One trio that paused near by to catch some Hayle or Courteney utterance praised aloud the enchantment of the night and of the boat's speed, and as they strolled on again, having caught nothing, Ramsey breathed softly to the old man:
"They can't describe it! Nobody can! I've tried!"
Through four or five breathings of the giant chimneys she waited for the story she was not to hear, and at length herself broke silence. "I think," she said, "this boat is the most wonderful thing in the world."
No one rejoined that it was or was not. "Don't you?" she airily challenged the "labboardest of all," defensively letting herself realize how nearly a woman she was, how merely a boy was he.
"It's very wonderful," replied Hugh indulgently, as one so nearly a man should to one so merely a child. "I've never seen anything in this world that wasn't."
"Neither have I!" cried the girl and clapped her hands.
In that moment, for the first time, each thought how admirable the other, as yet so absurd, was—some day—probably—going—to be, and right there arose between them a fellowship more potent than either would recognize for a length of hours or days which is here best left unstated. Their two seniors saw; saw, but kept still—mais pourquoi non?—and why not?—while the great steamer breathed on, quivered on, breathed and quivered, on and on.
Ramsey transiently forgot them. "Do you, too," she asked her "labboardest," "feel yourself widen out of yourself and down and round into all this wonderful boat till you are it and it's all—you?"
"Yes," Hugh confessed, and they in turn were still, even though the seniors resumed converse, one mildly telling which sugar estates along the shore had been whose and the other recounting how their heirs had intermarried.
Thus they sat, Hugh and Ramsey, not recognizing that sitting silent is a symptom.
They sat and together felt their consciousness, his and hers, wing and wing, widen beyond their own frames to a mightier embodiment in this great cloud-white structure breasting the air that cooled their brows and cleaving unseen the flood so far beneath them. Together in this greater self they felt the headway of the long, low hull, the prodigious heart glow of the hungry fires, the cyclopean push of steam in eight vast boilers, the pulsing click and travail of the engines—whisper of valve and cylinder, noiseless in-plunge and out-glide of shining rods—the ten-foot stroke of either shaft and equal sweep of crank, the nimble beat of paddle-wheels and tumble of their cataracts, the tranquil creep of tiller-ropes, and the compelling swing and sage guidance of the helm.
In this vaster consciousness, by a partnership which had to be tacit or instantly perish, they easily lifted and carried the abounding freight, of every form and substance, destined for the feeding, apparelling, or equipment of thousands awaiting it in homes and families whose strivings and fortunes helped to make that universal wonder of things which kept Hugh grave and Ramsey laughing. Especially the teeming human life of the great craft did these two jointly draw into this magnified self. They drew on deck-hands, mates, watchmen, firemen, engineers, and strikers, each with some aspiration and some appetite. They drew in stewards, cooks, chambermaids, and cabin-boys, every one with yearnings and sacrifices; pilots, clerks, and mud clerks, full of histories and dreams. Down in dim spaces behind the engines and between the two wheels they drew in the immigrant deck passengers, so mutely sad for the distant homes behind them, so mutely hopeful and fearful for the distant homes before. And on the deck above these exiles they took in the cabin passengers—ladies who told their lives over their knitting or embroidery in floods of lamplight and the cushioned ease of feminine seclusion; children here and there battling against sleep or yielding to it in stateroom berths; the ruder sex at card-tables in the forward cabin—from which, oddly, the twins were refraining; three or four tipplers at the fragrant bar, and one or two readers under the chandeliers. Outside, scores of non-readers sat in tilted chairs, their heels breast-high on the guard-rails and their minds tobacco-lulled to a silent content with the breezy lanternlight of the boiler deck, the occasional passing of a downward-bound flatboat or steamer, the gradual overhauling of some craft that had backed out earlier at New Orleans, and the wide, slow oscillations of the unbounded starlight overhanging land and flood.
These too the young pair included. All these were parts of their blended consciousness as the alert Ramsey noticed that the grandfather's talk had turned upon Hugh and boats.
"He and the Quakeress were the same age," he was remarking, when Ramsey's laugh jingled.
"Both," she broke in, "built the same year!" Her curls switched backward at the old man. She faced Hugh. "Where were you born?"
But he only signed for her not to interrupt. In the dim light she made a wry face at him and jingled again while her mother said: "On the Quakerezz!—end of trial trip!—whiles landing at New Orleans! Me, I was there, ad the landingg! Yes! on the boat of my 'usband, the Conqueror—also trial trip—arrive' since only one hour biffo'!"
Ramsey, with her eyes roaming over Hugh, faintly kept up her laugh, yet parallel with it her mother managed to continue: "Yes, that was in eighteen-thirty-three, Janawary. Because that was the winter when Jackson he conquer' Clay in the election and conquer' Calhoun in the nullification, and tha'z the cause why my 'usband he name' his boat the Conqueror. Ah, veree well I rimember that; how the Quakerezz she came cre-eepingg in, out of that fog, an' like the fog so still an' white, cloze aggains' the Conqueror. And the firz' news they pazz——"
The old nurse reappeared, laid thin shawls on the mother and daughter, and sat down on the deck close below Ramsey.
"Firz' news they pazz," resumed the speaker, "'tis that Captain Courteney he's got with him his wife, from Philadelphia, and——"
Ramsey broke in merrily: "Was she the Quakeress? Was the Quakeress named for her?"
"Yes, and she's juz' have, they say, a li'l' son! An' my 'usband he di'n' like that! Because——"
"But you had three little girls!" said Ramsey.
"Girl', they di'n' count! Because those girl', you know, they can' never run those steamboat'."
"I don't see why," said Ramsey. Hugh might sit silent if he chose; her silent sitting was over.
"They di'n' count," repeated the lady. "And so my 'usband he di'n' want those Courteney' to be ahead of those Hayle' in having boys!"
"He little knew what was coming," said Ramsey, and wondered why the remark was ignored, especially when——
"Me," said the pretty matron, "I was nearly ready to 'ave those twin', but Gideon Hayle he di'n' know they was goin' be twin', an' he di'n' know those twin' goin' be boys!" She gently laughed. The daughter stared as if in no light—or shade—could those twins be a laughing matter, but the mother spoke on gayly: "Never I 'ear my 'usband swear so hard—an' so manny way'—like that day—at everything—everybody. Not because that li'l babee—if that be all; but because he see that boat, that she's the mo' fine boat, that Quakerezz, an' when they ripport her run from Loui'ville, he's already affraid—to hisseff—that she's goin' to be the mo' fas'."
"And was she?" asked the girl.
"Barely," said the grandfather. "It took years to prove it and by that time your father had built another boat."
"The Chevalier!" she exclaimed.
"Yes, which beat the Quakeress once or twice nearly every season until the Quakeress burned."
"Burned!" cried Ramsey, while Hugh, stirred to rise, yet remained. "Was it the Quakeress that—?" But the old man was telling earlier history and she sank repiningly in her seat. "You're going backward," she softly whined.
"In 'sixteen," he said, "I built the Huntress, and——"
"We already know about that," sighed Ramsey, bracing her feet in old Joy's hands. "I know it from old nursie."
"Ramsey!" murmured her mother.
"In 'seventeen," said the chronicler, "Miss Ramsey's grandfather built the Hunter. In 'twenty he built the Charioteer——"
"Ain't we ever going to hear about the burning?" laughingly whimpered the girl, but the narrator kept on:
"In 'twenty-one I built the Shepherdess——"
Ramsey all at once revived. "And did the Shepherdess outrun the Charioteer?"
"A trifle, yes."
"Humph!" she said to herself, and twice again, on a higher key and with a grimace at Hugh, "humph!"
"But in 'twenty-five the Charioteer was run into and sunk, and the Hayle boat that came next," continued the historian, "was the best ever seen till then on these waters, of the hundred and sixty-five steamers launched."
"Yes," said Madame Hayle, "and the firz' boat what my 'usband was captain."
Ramsey started wildly. "The Admiral!" she cried at Hugh. She whisked round on his grandfather. "And then—to beat the Admiral—you built——?"
"My son built—the Abbess."
"And did the Abbess beat the Admiral?"
"Not for a long time. But in 'thirty-three the Conqueror's very first run broke the Abbess's record."
But madame was not to be outdone in generosity. "Ah, yes," she cried, "but that same day the Quakerezz she beat the Conqueror!" At which the teased Ramsey, suddenly seeing that all this was but a roundabout peacemaking where she could discern no strife, laughed herself so limp that she all but tumbled into old Joy's lap.
"That's where we began!" she commented.
"True," said the old man to her mother, "but in 'thirty-eight came your husband's Chevalier——"
"Came—yes! only to get beat racing yo'"—the name eluded her——
"Ambassadress," prompted Ramsey. "Everybody knows about that—'way back in the country—even the dates. The Ambassadress beat the Chevalier, the Autocrat beat the Ambassadress, the Empress beat the Autocrat, the Regent beat the Empress, te tum, te tum, te tum! Didn't the Quakeress ever burn up, after all?"
"Oh, well! this forever sitting silent! I——!"
Ramsey clutched the old man's arm, pressed curls and brow against it, and laughed in a rillet of pure silver.
Hugh bore it, sitting silent, while the great boat, so humanly alive and aglow in every part, ceaselessly breathed above and quivered below, and the ruffling breeze as ceaselessly confirmed her unflagging speed. The mere "catalogue of the ships" had lighted in him a secret glow that persisted. In his roused imagination the long pageant of the rival steamers still moved on through the rudely thronging, ever-multiplying fleet of the boundless valley's yearly swelling commerce, ocean-distant from all disparaging contrasts of riper empires; moved, yeasting, ruffling, through forty years of a civilization's genesis, each new boat, Hayle or Courteney, more beautifully capable than her newest senior, and each, in her time and degree, as cloud-white by day, as luminous by night, and as rife with human purpose and human hazards as this incomparable Votaress.
The girl's mirth faded. From behind the four a quiet tread drew near. From another quarter came two other steps, lighter yet more assertive. The one was John Courteney's; the two, that halted farther away, meant again the twins.
"Well, captain?" mildly said the grandfather.
"Well, commodore?" said the captain, declining his son's chair.
"Oh, good!" cried Ramsey, and rose with her nurse. "I didn't know anybody but my father was called commodore!"
"Yes," replied the captain, "my father too."
"Where've you been?" asked the fearless girl.
His answer was mainly to her mother: "I've been making myself acquainted in the ladies' cabin. This is no Hudson River boat, you know—whole trip in a day's jaunt."
"Ah, 'tis a voyage!" said madame.
"So it's well to know one's people," added he. He looked up into the night. "What a sky! Miss Ramsey, did you ever see, through a glass, the Golden Locks of Berenice?"
"The gold—" she began eagerly—"no-o! What are the golden—?" But there she checked, fell upon old Joy, and laughed whimperingly, "That's a dig at my red hair!"
One of the twins gravely accosted his mother, but she and the captain were laughing at Ramsey while the grandfather said: "My dear child, your hair is beautiful."
With face still hid on Joy's bosom, the girl shuffled her feet, then turned upon the old man and playfully intoned:
"I'm not a child!"
"Ramsey!" said the mother, and "Missie!" said the nurse.
"Hugh," said the captain, "suppose you take Miss Ramsey up to the pilot-house and show her the——"
The girl laid a hand on his arm. "Do you want to tell mom-a something you don't want me to hear?"
"Why—" began the captain, and laughed. "On second thought, no. I want to tell your mother and the commodore something before any one else can, and before I tell any one else; but you may hear it if——"
"If I won't get frightened. Has anything happened to the boat?"
"Ramsey!" "Missie!" lamented matron and servant again.
"Mother," with much dignity pleaded the twins.
"Oh, no," said the captain, "not to the boat."
"I want to stay and hear it," whined Ramsey, jerking up and down. "I won't get scared."
"'T'u'd be de fust time sence she wuz bawn ef she did," audibly mused the nurse, and Hugh said: "I believe that."
The girl stared round at him and then back at his father, her eyes wide with merriment. "No Ramsey to the pilot-house with him if he can help it!" she managed to say, and fell over her mother and nurse, down into her chair and across its arm, her laughter jingling like a basket of glass rolling down-stairs. Suddenly she hearkened. The captain was speaking to her mother:
"Must you reach Loui'ville as quickly as you can?"
"Ah!—well? yes? we muz' do our possible. My 'usband he—Ramsey!"
The girl had turned face down in a play of collapse. "Nobody," she piped, "finishes what he starts to tell!"
"Ho!" playfully retorted the mother, "an' you muz' go?—cannot wait? Well, good night." But no one went.
Her mother turned again to the captain. "There is something veree bad—on the boat?" Ramsey sat up alert.
The captain's reply was heard by none but her mother and the grandfather, but evidently the twins knew whatever there was to tell. "It was no time to take deck passengers at all!" said one of them to the other, in full voice, while the grandfather was asserting:
"We are as wholly at your command, madam, as if this were Gideon Hayle's boat. Our one thought is your safety."
"And comfort of mind," added the captain, about to go.
Ramsey guessed the trouble. "We are veree oblige'," said her mother; "we'll continue on the Votarezz."
"Goody!" murmured the daughter to old Joy, to Hugh, and to the captain as he left the group. "Goody!"
"Mother!" protested the twins, "you must not!"
"Oh-h! you?" she radiantly inquired, "you rather go ashore, you, eh? Veree well. Doubdlezz the captain be please' to put you." Her smile grew stately as Ramsey laughed. She turned to the grandfather. "Never in my life I di'n' ran away from sicknezz. I billieve anybody can't die till his time come'. When his time come' he'll die. My 'usband he billieve that, too."
"Don't the Germans come from Germany?" asked Ramsey, but no one seemed able to tell her.
"And also," pursued the lady, "I billieve tha'z a cowardly—to run away from those sick." She looked around for the twins but they were conferring aside. "And also I billieve, me—like they say—to get scare'—tha'z the sure way to catch that kind of sicknezz. 'Tis by that it pazz into the syztem! My 'usband he tell me that. He's veree acquaint' with medicine, my 'usband, yes! And——"
"Is Germany in Asia?" Ramsey drawled, but nobody seemed to know anything.
"And I billieve," persisted madame, "to continue on the boat, tha'z also the mo' safe. Because if we leave the boat, where we'll find one doctor for that maladee-e? An' if we find one doctor, who's goin' nurse us in that maladee?"
"Is Asia—?" tried Ramsey again, but hushed with a strange thrill as her ear caught, remotely beneath her, a faint sawing and hammering.
"Mo' better, I billieve," continued her mother, "we continue on the boat and ourselve' nurse those sick. When the Mother of God see' that she'll maybe privent from coming our time to die."
"If Germany—" whined Ramsey, but huddled down in her seat as the sawing and hammering came again——
"What, my chile?"
Light at last! She instantly sat up: "Why do they call it the Asiatic cholera if—?" She stopped short. From the open deck far below rose an angry cry:
"Stop that fool! Stop her!"
Ramsey darted so recklessly to the low front guard that Hugh darted also and held her arm as she bent over, while close upon the cry came a woman's long, unmistakable wail for her dead. Twice it filled the air, then melted out over the gliding waters and into the night, above the regardless undertones of the boat's majestic progress. Grandfather, nurse, mother, brothers pressed after the girl and Hugh. Clutched by the nurse, released by him, she still looked wildly down, seeing little yet much. At their back the great bell boomed. The boat's stem began to turn to the forested shore. A glare of torches at the lower guards crimsoned the flood under the bows. She flashed round accusingly upon Hugh:
"What are we landing in the woods for?"
He met her gaze and it fell. Her mother tried to draw her away but she dropped to her knees at the rail and bent her eyes upon a dark group compacting below. Hugh muttered to his grandfather:
"She'd better leave the boat. She'd rather."
Catching the words, she leaped and stood, her head thrown high. "I wouldn't! I won't!"
She glared on him through brimming tears, but something about him, repeated and exaggerated in the twins as she whipped round to them, reversed her mood. She smote her brow into her mother's bosom and, under the stress of a silvery laugh that would not be stifled, hung to the maternal neck and rocked from side to side.
Often through the first half of that night, while many other matters pressed on them, the minds of the three Courteneys turned to one theme. Ramsey's inquiries had called it up and the presence and plight of the immigrants, down below, kept it before them: the story of Hugh's grandmother, born and bred in Holland.
With Hugh standing by, the girl had drawn its recital from his grandfather; as whose bride that grandmother had been an immigrant, like these, though hardly in their forlorn way and with Philadelphia, not New Orleans, for a first goal. Thence, years later, with husband and child, she had reached and traversed this wild river, when it was so much wilder, and had dwelt in New Orleans throughout her son's, John Courteney's, boyhood. Thence again, in his twenty-first year, she had recrossed the water to inherit an estate and for seven years had lived in great ports and capitals of Europe, often at her husband's side, yet often, too, far from him, as he—leaving his steamboats to good captains and the mother to her son—came and went on commercial adventures ocean-wide. It was these first seven years of John Courteney's manhood, spent in transatlantic study, society, public affairs, and a father's partnership, that had made him—what Ramsey saw.
The tale was fondly told and had made Hugh feel very homespun compared with such progenitors. But Ramsey had looked him up and down as if he must have all his forebears' beautiful values deep hid somewhere in his inside pockets, and had wondered, as she tossed away to the pilot-house, if he was destined ever to show the father's special gift of winning and holding the strongest and best men's allegiance. A very mature thought for her, but she sometimes had such, and had once heard her father frankly confess that therein lay the Courteneys' largest advantage over him, he being signally able to rule the rudest men by a more formidable rudeness, but not to command the devotion of men superior to that sort of rule.
At length the stars of midnight hung overhead. The amber haze of Queen Berenice's hair glimmered to westward. Where the river had so writhed round on itself as to be sweeping northeastward, the Votaress, midway of a short "crossing" from left shore to right, was pointing southwest. An old moon, fairly up, was on the larboard quarter, and in the nearest bend down-stream the faint lights of a boat recently outstripped were just being quenched by the low black willows of an island. In the bend above shone the dim but brightening stern lights of the foremost and speediest of the five-o'clock fleet. A lonely wooded point beneath the brown sand of whose crumbling water's edge the poor German home-seeker had found the home he least sought lay miles behind; miles by the long bends of the river, miles even straight overland, and lost in the night among the famed sugar estates that occupied in unbroken succession College Point and Grandview Reach, Willow Bend, Bell's Point, and Bonnet Carre. Past was Donaldsonville, at the mouth of Bayou Lafourche, and yonder ahead, that boat just entering Bayagoula Bend, and which the Votaress was so prettily overhauling, was the Antelope.
"Fast time," ventured the watchman to the first mate.
"Yes, fast enough for a start."
No word from either as to any trouble aboard.
A cub pilot risked a remark to his chief: "'—Chase the antelope over the plain,' says the song, but I reckon we won't quite do that, sir."
No, they wouldn't quite do that. Not a breath as to any unfortunate conditions anywhere. But on every deck, wherever equals met, the fearful plight of the queer folk down nearest the water was softly debated. Distressing to feminine sympathy was the necessity of instant burials, first revealed up-stairs by that woman's cry of agony down on the lower gangway. But masculine nerve explained that such promptness would save lives and might confine the disease to the lower deck. Was no physician on the boat? No, one would be taken aboard in the morning. Of course you could ask to be set ashore, but, all things considered, to stay seemed wiser. Where was Madame Hayle? Few passengers knew, none of the boat's "family" chose to tell, and at bedtime the majority "retired." So much for the surface of things.
But beneath the surface—"Good God, sir! if any one is to go ashore, why shouldn't it be they—the foreigners?"
For the full bearing of this speech let us recount certain doings in this first half of the night. The Hayle twins, coming aboard at "Post Forty-Six," had begun, by the time the boat backed away, to offer exchanges of courtesy with such men on the boiler deck as seemed best worth while, and this they kept up with an address which, despite their obvious juleps, unfailingly won them attention. Even a Methodist bishop, who "knew their father and had known his father, both stanch Methodists," was unstintedly cordial. No less so was a senator.
"Know Gideon Hayle?" He had "known him before they had! Hoped to know him yet when his sons should be commodores." Was on the Chevalier when the Chevalier outran the Quakeress. One twin heard the tale while the other brought the bishop.
"Senator, you already know Bishop So-and-So?"
"Senator, we'd like you to know Judge So-and-So, sir."
Judge, senator, and bishop were pleased. The senator reminded the judge that they had met years before for a touch-and-go moment as one was leaving and the other boarding the Autocrat—or was it the Admiral—a Hayle boat at any rate—how time does fly! The brothers took but a light part in the chat and were much too wise to betray any degree of social zeal. Each new introduction was as casual as the one before it. Sometimes they were themselves introduced but only those here named stayed in the set. Chairs were found for four, and Julian, stepping aside for a fifth chair, came upon another worthy, as well juleped as himself and carrying his deck load quite as evenly.
"Bishop So-and-So, this is our father's boyhood friend, General So-and-So. Judge So-and-So—Senator So-and-So—you both know the general?" The general accepted Lucian's chair, and presently Lucian, with two more chairs, brought one more personage, tall and solemn.
"Senator, have you never met Squire So-and-So?"
The senator had long wished to do so, the judge was well acquainted, the general shook hands grandly, and the bishop blithely said the squire had the largest plantation on the Yazoo River. The squire was too thirsty to smile but said he hoped the bishop would not feel above joining the others as his guest at the bar. The bishop declined, but kept the seats of all till their return. They came back talking politics, having found themselves of one democratic mind, southwestern variety, and able to discuss with quiet dignity their minor differences of view on a number of then burning questions now long burned out with the men who kindled them: Webster, Fillmore, Scott, Seward, Clay, Cass, Douglas, Garrison, Davis, and others.
By and by, without a break in the discussion, the seven walked back into the cabin and stood where, on the first tap of the supper bell, each could snatch a seat near the upper end of the table and so collectively assume among the hundreds on the boat that separate and superior station to which the laws of nature and nature's God entitled them. The squire had his motherless children aboard but could leave them to a sister and brother-in-law. Which reminded the twins to look after their sister, on the roof, as hereinbefore set forth. But both the bishop and the senator were thoughtful for them and when they came tardily to the board they found the group close about the old commodore, their own places saved and the judge and the general sustaining the squire's rather peppery assertion to the courteous but vilely inconvincible commodore, that certain new laws of Congress must be upheld with all the national power, Yankee mobs be squarely shot into and their leaders hanged, or the Federal Union would not long be worth a rap.
The senator had almost thought of something tactful to say and the bishop had just the right word on the end of his tongue, when Julian, with very good manners in a very bad manner, asked leave to speak, and the squire, ignoring the commodore, said: "Certainly, Mr. Hayle, sir, do!"
"One thing to be stopped at all cost," said Mr. Hayle, "is this deluge of immigration. Every alien who comes to New Orleans, and especially every alien who passes on up this river into the West, strengthens the North and weakens the South commercially, industrially, and politically, and corrupts the national type, the national speech——"
"The national religion,"——prompted the bishop.
"The national love of law and order,"——said the judge.
"And of justice and liberty,"——put in the general.
"And the national health," said the youth. "New Orleans should refuse every immigrant entrance to the country, and every steamboat on the Mississippi ought to decline to carry him to his destination!"
The commodore smiled to reply, but the senator broke in with an anecdote, long but good, of a newly landed German. The judge followed close with the story of a very green Irishman; and the general, with mellow inconsequence, brought in a tale to the credit of the departed Jackson and debit of the still surviving Clay. A new sultriness prevailed. The judge's palliative word, that many a story hard on Clay was older than Clay himself, relieved the tension scarcely more than did Lucian's inquiry whether it was not, at any rate, true beyond cavil that Clay had treated Jackson perfidiously in that old matter——
That old matter's extreme deadness reminded the group that the repast was over and Whiggism amply squelched. Besides themselves only the ladies'-cabin people and the captain, away aft, lingered. The long, intervening double line of mere feeders was gone and the cabin-boys were setting the second table. The commodore rose and the seven drifted out again, with their seven toothpicks, to the boiler deck. There men who had passed the salt to each other at table were giving each other cigars, some standing in knots, others taking chairs about the guards. Almost every one had related himself to some other one or more as somehow his or their guest and host combined, and had taken his turn or was watching his chance to recognize the captain as social and civil autocrat and guardian angel over all. The conspicuousness of the twins led to stories, in undertone, of the long Hayle-Courteney rivalry.
"Remarkable, how it's run on and on without their ever locking horns, eh?"
"Mighty nigh did it when the Quakeress burned."
"Oh! do you really think so?"
"I know it, sir!" He who knew spat over the rail, and the one who had dared to doubt moved on. Between stories there were debates on the comparative merits of the two types of hull favored respectively by the rival builders: the slim Hayle model and the not so slim of the Courteneys.
"After all, sir," asserted a man of eagle eye, "a duck flies faster than a crane."
"I doubt that, sir," said one with the eye of a stallion. "Not that I question your word, but——"
Their friends had to separate them.
At that point along came the Empress, as we know, a sight only less inspiring on this deck than to Ramsey on the roof; shining, saluting, huzzaing, then fading round the bend. When the card-tables were set out our group of seven fell into three parts. The squire and the general sat down to a game with a Vicksburg merchant and a Milliken's Bend planter, who "couldn't play late," their wives being on the boat. The twins, ceasing to tell the senator and the bishop what damnable things some boats were known to have done for the sake of speed, went down-stairs to take a glance at the safety-valve, following a few steps behind the captain. For him they had just seen, as he came down from the roof to their deck and met an unexpected messenger from the engine-room, promptly turn with him and go below. But their needless glance at the safety-valve they never took. They saw only two or three poor women sobbing like babes, the dead body of a young man being prepared for burial, and the carpenter finishing his coffin. When the captain, as will be remembered, went back to the hurricane-deck to tell their mother, they went too.
The boat's torches enabled all on the various decks to view the burial. It ended the game of cards. During the swift ceremony and long after it the twins consulted the squire, the general, the Vicksburger, the senator, the bishop, the judge, and the planter from Milliken's Bend as to what ought to be done. They took care to advance their questions and suggestions singly and according to the nature of each hearer's inflammability, and as each one kindled they brought him close to another, Julian always supplying the hardihood, Lucian the guile. Here were men, they said, and soon had others saying—the squire to the merchant, the general to the Milliken's Bend planter—here were men, gentlemen, scores on scores, not to say hundreds, who at all times and everywhere could take the chances of life like men, like gentlemen, native American gentlemen. But here also were women and children, the families of many of these gentlemen. Such risks were not for such women and children. Was no step to be generally agreed upon? Was it to be supinely assumed that the owners of the Votaress, now mainly preoccupied in overhauling the Antelope, knew all that was best to do and would punctually do it all?
The twins did not originate half the inquiries or replies, they merely started the ferment and kept it working. "You saw at table, did you not, the positive contempt the commodore—who is a foreigner himself—showed for the direst needs of our country?" To be sure that had little to do with the management of the boat, but it made it easier to think that the Courteneys, the captain himself being half Dutch in his origin, might incline to do more for those people down-stairs than was just to those above them—every way above them. The general called it a criminal error to plant the victims of a deadly contagion along a great national highway, like fertile seed in a fertile furrow. The bishop counted it no mercy to the aliens themselves to keep them aboard when they could be set ashore in a rough sort of roofless quarantine on some such isolated spot as Prophet's Island, which should be reached by sunrise, was heavily wooded, and lay but six miles below the small town of Port Hudson.
Nor could he call it a mercy to consult the immigrants' wishes. How could they be expected to view the matter unselfishly?
A deputation of seven elected itself to wait on the captain. The masterful twins, finding themselves not of its number, sought him in advance, alone. But their interview was brief. We pass it. The first watch turned in. The men who had served through the first two hours' run came again on duty as "middle watch," and in their care, after their four hours' rest, the shining Votaress, teeming with slumberers, breasted the strenuous flood as regally as ever.
HUGH AND THE TWINS
In the captain's chair, between the derricks and the bell, far above and behind which the chimneys' vast double plume of smoke and sparks trailed down the steamer's wake, sat Hugh Courteney, quite uncompanioned.
So his father had just left him, leaving with him the thought, though without hint of it in word or tone, that some night, on some boat as deeply freighted with cares as this one, he must sit thus, her master. The wonder of it, with the wonder of the boat herself and all she carried, sounded a continuous stern alarum through his spirit like a long roll sounding through a camp: "Be a man! Make haste! See even those Hayle twins, with all their faults, and up! Make haste! Rise up and be a man!" Had the wonder-loving Ramsey been there she must have laughed again; looking into his round, heavy visage was so much like looking into the back of a watch—one saw such ceaseless movement of mind yet learned so little from it. Amid his wonderings he wondered of her; not only where at that moment she might be, but what a child she still was, and yet in how few years—as few as two or three—she would be a woman, might be a bride.
But soon a bride or never, the boat was full of matters only less remarkable and he gently let the girl out of his thought by looking behind him. The windows of the captain's room—between the chimneys—front room of the texas—gave shining evidence that somewhere the captain was yet astir. From the rayless pilot-house above it faint notes of speech showed that some one was up there with the pilot, but at the same time a near-by tread drew Hugh to his feet with quick pleasure and again his father stood before him, looking at the lights of the Antelope, a few hundred yards ahead.
"She'll soon be astern," said Hugh.
"We can't keep her so," replied the captain, accepting his chair. "We must land too often. Where's your crony?"
"The commodore? He's turned in." After a pause—"Father, you've shipped a lot of trouble."
"Yes," was the light response, "counting Hayle's twins."
"I wish you'd give me full charge of them."
"Do you?" laughed the father. "Take it. You hear them, don't you?"
They were easy to hear, down on the forward freight deck, dancing round a bottle of liquor, and——
"Singing 'Gideon's Band,'" said Hugh listening.
"Yes," said the amused captain, "after pledging me on their honor to go straight to bed." Hugh started away so abruptly that his father asked: "Where are you bound?"
"I'm going to send them to bed."
"Both of them?" smilingly asked the captain.
"Not both at once?"
"Yes, both at once. Do you know where their sister is?"
"Why, abed and asleep long ago, is she not?"
"I don't know," said Hugh, going; "I doubt it."
On his way he glanced about for her. Taking charge of the twins seemed logically to involve a care of her. Where the mother was he knew. Down in the after parts of the lower deck, between the ceaseless torrents of the wheels, most of the people from overseas had spread their beds wherever they might, while in one small place apart some five or six lay smitten with the deadly contagion, two or three in agony, one or two in painless collapse, under the unskilled, heartbroken care of a few terrified kindred. There, by stealth at first and by the captain's helpless leave when he found her there, attended by a colored man and maid from the cabin service, was Madame Hayle, ministering, now with medicine, now with the crucifix, amid the hammer's unflagging din. To this Hugh was reconciled; but it would never, never do, he felt, to let the daughter share such an experience. Better to find her, even at that hour, on the boiler deck.
But on the boiler deck he found only its wide semicircle of chairs quite empty and no one moving among the high piles of trunks and light freight under the hanging bunches of pineapples and bananas. He looked into the saloon. It was bright though with half its lamps cold, but the barber's shop and the clerk's office were shut, and double curtains of silk and wool cloistered off the ladies' cabin. The fragrant bar stood open, and at two or three card-tables sat heavy-betting, hard-chewing quartets, but no one else was to be seen; even the third Hayle brother had gone to bed. Halfway down the double front stairs to the lower deck, on a landing where the two flights merged into one, Hugh paused. All about beneath him forward of the wheels, clear out to the capstan and jack-staff, slept the deckhands, except a few on watch, a few more who with eager crouchings, snapping fingers, and soft cries gambled at dice in the red glare of the furnaces, and one who had become an amused onlooker of the Hayle twins—the negro who, six hours before, by merely putting out a hand had saved their sister's life.
And there, close before Hugh, at the stairs' foot, under the open sky, were the twins. In their hunger for notice, their equal disdain of the captain and the deputation of seven, and their belief that the gayest defiance of the plague was its best preventive, they had set their bottle on the deck and in opposite directions were daintily pacing round it in a long ellipse and chanting to a camp-meeting tune their song of Gideon:
"O, Noah, he did build de ahk, O, Noah, he did build de ahk, O, Noah, he did build de ahk, An' shingle it wid cinnamon bahk. Do you belong to Gideon's band?