Around the Dinner Table
By Sally Madison
Around the dinner table sat John, his wife Charlotte, Margret, Emily and Captain Bowman. After the routine conversation of weather, war and politics was exhausted,
John began, “Oh, Dr. Patterson is available tomorrow and.. “
Quickly, Margret interrupted him, “Would you like more beans, Captain?” as she handed him the bowl of peas. The captain was about to correct her when he saw the look on Emily and John’s faces warning him not to.
“Why, yes, that would be very nice” the captain replied, as he took the bowl of peas. He studied John’s face, then Emily’s and then Margret’s. He was not sure what was going on, but he could play along.
“Like I was saying…” began John again.
“Tell us about yourself, Captain Bowman,” inquired Margret, smiling at the captain. “Where did you learn your skills as a riverboat captain?”
John studied his sister and saw that the muscles in her jaw, neck and shoulders were tense, but her eyes were tenderly focused to Captain Bowman. John smiled knowingly.
The captain began, “I grew up in London, after my family moved from Scotland. Originally, I was a learner, or student, to the navigator on a transatlantic ship, just after the war. Once I had had enough of the oceanic voyages, I signed in as an assistant boatman on a tug boat going from New York City to Buffalo up the Hudson River and through the Erie Canal. Later, I worked as an assistant pilot on a steamer going from Buffalo to Cleveland, where I met my wife.” Margret cast her eyes down to her lap. “She was not a very healthy person from the very beginning of our relationship,” continued the Captain, “and passed away within a year of our marriage.” Margret’s eyes once more focused on the Captain and she smiled again. “After Cleveland, I made my way to Louisville and joined a riverboat on the Ohio River. I spent a few years as a co-pilot, and earned my own boat. I have been working for the Mississippi Transport Company, here in St. Louis ever since. Most of my trips are between here in St. Louis and New Orleans, but occasionally I, also go up river.”
As everyone rose from the table, the captain suggested, “shall we retire to the piazza?” as he offered his arm to Margret who appeared not to notice, so he turned to Emily and offered his arm. While connecting eyes with the captain, Emily nodded her head to Margret. At first he was confused, and then his eyes brightened. He took Margret’s hand and placed it in the crook of his elbow. “What a lovely evening this is,” he commented, with a satisfied look of contentment, at having resolved the puzzle. He escorted the young ladies, leading Margret by the hand gently over the threshold. Again Emily’s eyes met with the Captain’s. He nodded, letting her know he understood her hint.