MoboReader> Literature > Kincaid's Battery

   Chapter 1 CARROLLTON GARDENS

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 8903

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


For the scene of this narrative please take into mind a wide quarter-circle of country, such as any of the pretty women we are to know in it might have covered on the map with her half-opened fan.

Let its northernmost corner be Vicksburg, the famous, on the Mississippi. Let the easternmost be Mobile, and let the most southerly and by far the most important, that pivotal corner of the fan from which all its folds radiate and where the whole pictured thing opens and shuts, be New Orleans. Then let the grave moment that gently ushers us in be a long-ago afternoon in the Louisiana Delta.

Throughout that land of water and sky the willow clumps dotting the bosom of every sea-marsh and fringing every rush-rimmed lake were yellow and green in the full flush of a new year, the war year, 'Sixty-one.

Though rife with warm sunlight, the moist air gave distance and poetic charm to the nearest and humblest things. At the edges of the great timbered swamps thickets of young winter-bare cypresses were budding yet more vividly than the willows, while in the depths of those overflowed forests, near and far down their lofty gray colonnades, the dwarfed swamp-maple drooped the winged fruit of its limp bush in pink and flame-yellow and rose-red masses until it touched its own image in the still flood.

That which is now only the "sixth district" of greater New Orleans was then the small separate town of Carrollton. There the vast Mississippi, leaving the sugar and rice fields of St. Charles and St. John Baptist parishes and still seeking the Gulf of Mexico, turns from east to south before it sweeps northward and southeast again to give to the Creole capital its graceful surname of the "Crescent City." Mile-wide, brimful, head-on and boiling and writhing twenty fathoms deep, you could easily have seen, that afternoon, why its turfed levee had to be eighteen feet high and broad in proportion. So swollen was the flood that from any deck of a steamboat touching there one might have looked down upon the whole fair still suburb.

Widely it hovered in its nest of rose gardens, orange groves, avenues of water-oaks, and towering moss-draped pecans. A few hundred yards from the levee a slender railway, coming from the city, with a highway on either side, led into its station-house; but mainly the eye would have dwelt on that which filled the interval between the nearer high road and the levee--the "Carrollton Gardens."

At a corner of these grounds closest to the railway station stood a quiet hotel from whose eastern veranda it was but a step to the centre of a sunny shell-paved court where two fountains danced and tinkled to each other. Along its farther bound ran a vine-clad fence where a row of small tables dumbly invited the flushed visitor to be inwardly cooled. By a narrow gate in this fence, near its townward end, a shelled walk lured on into a musky air of verdurous alleys that led and misled, crossed, doubled, and mazed among flowering shrubs from bower to bower. Out of sight in there the loiterer came at startling moments face to face with banks of splendid bloom in ravishing negligee--Diana disrobed, as it were, while that untiring sensation-hunter, the mocking-bird, leaped and sang and clapped his wings in a riot of scandalous mirth.

In the ground-floor dining-room of that unanimated hotel sat an old gentleman named Brodnax, once of the regular army, a retired veteran of the Mexican war, and very consciously possessed of large means. He sat quite alone, in fine dress thirty years out of fashion, finishing a late lunch and reading a newspaper; a trim, hale man not to be called old in his own hearing. He had read everything intended for news or entertainment and was now wandering in the desert of the advertising columns, with his mind nine miles away, at the other end of New Orleans.

Although not that person whom numerous men of his acquaintance had begun affectionately to handicap with the perilous nickname of "the ladies' man," he was thinking of no less than five ladies; two of one name and three of another. Flora Valcour and her French grandmother (as well as her brother of nineteen, already agog to be off in the war) had but lately come to New Orleans, from Mobile. On a hilly border of that smaller Creole city stood the home they had left, too isolated, with war threatening, for women to occupy alone. Mrs. Callender was the young widow of this old bachelor's life-l

ong friend, the noted judge of that name, then some two years deceased. Constance and Anna were her step-daughters, the latter (if you would believe him) a counterpart of her long-lost, beautiful mother, whose rejection of the soldier's suit, when he was a mere lieutenant, was the well-known cause of his singleness. These Callender ladies, prompted by him and with a sweet modesty of quietness, had just armed a new field battery with its six splendid brass guns, and it was around these three Callenders that his ponderings now hung; especially around Anna and in reference to his much overprized property and two nephews: Adolphe Irby, for whom he had obtained the command of this battery, which he was to see him drill this afternoon, and Hilary Kincaid, who had himself cast the guns and who was to help the senior cousin conduct these evolutions.

The lone reader's glance loitered down a long row of slim paragraphs, each beginning with the same wee picture of a steamboat whether it proclaimed the Grand Duke or the Louis d'Or, the Ingomar bound for the "Lower Coast," or the Natchez for "Vicksburg and the Bends." Shifting the page, he read of the Swiss Bell-Ringers as back again "after a six years' absence," and at the next item really knew what he read. It was of John Owens' appearance, every night, as Caleb Plummer in "Dot," "performance to begin at seven o'clock." Was it there Adolphe would this evening take his party, of which the dazzling Flora would be one and Anna, he hoped, another? He had proposed this party to Adolphe, agreeing to bear its whole cost if the nephew would manage to include in it Anna and Hilary. And Irby had duly reported complete success and drawn on him, but the old soldier still told his doubts to the newspaper.

"Adolphe has habits," he meditated, "but success is not one of them."

Up and down a perpendicular procession on the page he every now and then mentally returned the salute of the one little musketeer of the same height as the steamboat's chimneys, whether the Attention he challenged was that of the Continentals, the Louisiana Grays, Orleans Cadets, Crescent Blues or some other body of blithe invincibles. Yet his thought was still of Anna. When Adolphe, last year, had courted her, and the hopeful uncle had tried non-intervention, she had declined him--"and oh, how wisely!" For then back to his native city came Kincaid after years away at a Northern military school and one year across the ocean, and the moment the uncle saw him he was glad Adolphe had failed. But now if she was going to find Hilary as light-headed and cloying as Adolphe was thick-headed and sour, or if she must see Hilary go soft on the slim Mobile girl--whom Adolphe was already so torpidly enamored of--"H-m-m-m!"

Two young men who had tied their horses behind the hotel crossed the white court toward the garden. They also were in civil dress, yet wore an air that goes only with military training. The taller was Hilary Kincaid, the other his old-time, Northern-born-and-bred school chum, Fred Greenleaf. Kincaid, coming home, had found him in New Orleans, on duty at Jackson Barracks, and for some weeks they had enjoyed cronying. Now they had been a day or two apart and had chanced to meet again at this spot. Kincaid, it seems, had been looking at a point hard by with a view to its fortification. Their manner was frankly masterful though they spoke in guarded tones.

"No," said Kincaid, "you come with me to this drill. Nobody'll take offence."

"Nor will you ever teach your cousin to handle a battery," replied Greenleaf, with a sedate smile.

"Well, he knows things we'll never learn. Come with me, Fred, else I can't see you till theatre's out--if I go there with her--and you say--"

"Yes, I want you to go with her," murmured Greenleaf, so solemnly that Kincaid laughed outright.

"But, after the show, of course," said the laugher, "you and I'll ride, eh?" and then warily, "You've taken your initials off all your stuff?... Yes, and Jerry's got your ticket. He'll go down with your things, check them all and start off on the ticket himself. Then, as soon as you--"

"But will they allow a slave to do so?"

"With my pass, yes; 'Let my black man, Jerry--'"

The garden took the pair into its depths a moment too soon for the old soldier to see them as he came out upon the side veranda with a cloud on his brow that showed he had heard his nephew's laugh.

* * *

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares