A jury of inquest was impaneled, and after due deliberation and inquiry they returned the inevitable American verdict which has been so familiar to our ears all the days of our lives--"NOBODY TO BLAME."
**[The incidents of the explosion are not invented. They happened just as they are told.--The Authors.]
Il veut faire secher de la neige au four et la vendre pour du sel blanc.
When the Boreas backed away from the land to continue her voyage up the river, the Hawkinses were richer by twenty-four hours of experience in the contemplation of human suffering and in learning through honest hard work how to relieve it. And they were richer in another way also. In the early turmoil an hour after the explosion, a little black-eyed girl of five years, frightened and crying bitterly, was struggling through the throng in the Boreas' saloon calling her mother and father, but no one answered. Something in the face of Mr. Hawkins attracted her and she came and looked up at him; was satisfied, and took refuge with him. He petted her, listened to her troubles, and said he would find her friends for her. Then he put her in a state-room with his children and told them to be kind to her (the adults of his party were all busy with the wounded) and straightway began his search.
It was fruitless. But all day he and his wife made inquiries, and hoped against hope. All that they could learn was that the child and her parents came on board at New Orleans, where they had just arrived in a vessel from Cuba; that they looked like people from the Atlantic States; that the family name was Van Brunt and the child's name Laura. This was all. The parents had not been seen since the explosion. The child's manners were those of a little lady, and her clothes were daintier and finer than any Mrs. Hawkins had ever seen before.
As the hours dragged on the child lost heart, and cried so piteously for her mother that it seemed to the Hawkinses that the moanings and the wailings of the mutilated men and women in the saloon did not so strain at their heart-strings as the sufferings of this little desolate creature. They tried hard to comfort her; and in trying, learned to love her; they could not help it, seeing how she clung, to them and put her arms about their necks and found-no solace but in their kind eyes and comforting words: There was a question in both their hearts--a question that rose up and asserted itself with more and more pertinacity as the hours wore on--but both hesitated to give it voice--both kept silence-- and--waited. But a time came at last when the matter would bear delay no longer. The boat had landed, and the dead and the wounded were being conveyed to the shore. The tired child was asleep in the arms of Mrs. Hawkins. Mr. Hawkins came into their presence and stood without speaking. His eyes met his wife's; then both looked at the child--and as they looked it stirred in its sleep and nestled closer; an expression of contentment and peace settled upon its face that touched the mother- heart; and when the eyes of husband and wife met again, the question was asked and answered.
When the Boreas had journeyed some four hundred miles from the time the Hawkinses joined her, a long rank of steamboats was sighted, packed side by side at a wharf like sardines, in a box, and above and beyond them rose the domes and steeples and general architectural confusion of a city--a city with an imposing umbrella of black smoke spread over it. This was St. Louis. The children of the Hawkins family were playing about the hurricane deck, and the father and mother were sitting in the lee of the pilot house essaying to keep order and not greatly grieved that they were not succeeding.
"They're worth all the trouble they are, Nancy."
"Yes, and more, Si."
"I believe you! You wouldn't sell one of them at a good round figure?"
"Not for all the money in the bank, Si."
"My own sentiments every time. It is true we are not rich--but still you are not sorry---you haven't any misgivings about the additions?"