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   Chapter 29 AUGUST AND NORMAN.

The End of the World: A Love Story By Edward Eggleston Characters: 4836

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


In a story such as I meant this to be, the development of character stands for more than the evolution of the plot, and herein is the true significance of this contact of Wehle with the gamblers, and, indeed, of this whole steamboat life. It is not enough for one to be good in a country neighborhood; the sharp contests and severe ordeals of more exciting life are needed to give temper to the character. August Wehle was hardly the same man on this morning at Paducah, with the nine hundred and fifty dollars in his pocket, that he had been the evening before, when he first felt the sharp resentment against the man who had outraged his father. In acting on a high plane, one is unconsciously lifted to that plane. Men become Christians sometimes from the effect of sudden demands made upon their higher moral nature, demands which compel them to choose between a life higher than their present living, or a moral degradation. Such had been August's experience. He had been drawn upward toward God by the opportunity and necessity for heroic action. I have no doubt the good Samaritan got more out of his own kindness than the robbed Jew did.

Before he had a chance to restore the money to its rightful owner, the two hours of dog-watch had expired, and he was obliged to go on watch again, much to his annoyance. He had been nearly twenty-four hours without sleep, and after a night of such excitement it was unpleasant as well as perilous to have to hold this money, which did not belong to him, for six hours longer, liable at any minute to get into difficulty through any scheme of the gamblers and their allies, by which his recovery of the money might be misinterpreted. The morning seemed to wear away so slowly. All the possibilities of Parkins's attacking him, of young Anderson's committing suicide, and of the misconstruction that might be put upon his motives--the making of his disinterested action seem robbery--haunted his excitable imagination. At last, while the engines were shoving their monotonous shafts backward and forward, and the "palatial steamer" Iatan was slowly pushing her way up the stream, August grew so nervous over his money that he resolved to relieve himself of part of it. So he sent for the mud-clerk by a passing deck-hand.

"I want you to keep this money for me until I get off watch," said August. "I made Parkins stand and deliver this morning while we were at Paduca

h."

"You did?" said the mud-clerk, not offering to touch the money. "You risked your life, I declare, for that fool that called you a thief. You are a fool, Gus, and nothing but your blamed good luck can save you from getting salivated, bright and early, some morning. Not a great deal I won't take that money. I don't relish lead, and I've got to live among these fellows all my days, and I don't hold that money for anybody. The old man would ship me at Louisville, seeing I never stopped anybody's engine and backed it in a hurry, as you did. If I'd known where Parkins was, I'd a dropped a gentle word in the ear of the crowd outside, but I wouldn't a pulled that greeny's coffee-nuts out of the fire, and I won't hold the hot things for you. I declare I won't. Saltpeter wouldn't save me if I did."

So Gus had to content himself in his nervousness, not allayed by this speech, und keep the money in his pocket until noon. And, after all the presentiment he had had, noon came round. Presentiments generally come from the nerves, and signify nothing; but nobody keeps a tally of the presentiments and auguries that fail. When the first-engineer and a new man took the engines at noon, Gus was advised by the former to get some sleep, but there was no sleep for him until he had found Norman, who trembled at the sight of him.

"Where is your state-room?" said August sternly, for he couldn't bring himself to speak kindly to the poor fellow, even in his misery.

Norman turned pale. He had been thinking of suicide all the morning, but he was a coward, and now he evidently felt sure that he was to be killed by August. He did not dare disobey, but led the way, stopping to try to apologize two or three times, but never getting any further than "I--I--"

Once in the state-room, he sat down on the berth and gasped, "I--I--"

"Here is your money," said August, handing it to him. "I made the gambler give it up."

"I--I--" said the astonished and bewildered Norman.

"You needn't say a word. You are a cowardly scoundrel, and if you say anything, I'll knock you down for treating my father as you did. Only for--for--well, I didn't want to see you fleeced."

Norman was ashamed for once, and hung his head. It touched the heart of August a little, but the remembrance of the attack of the mob on his father made him feel hard again, and so his generous act was performed ungraciously.

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