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   Chapter 2 CARRIAGE COMPANY

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 5281

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


Bareheaded the uncle crossed the fountained court, sat down at a table and read again. In the veranda a negro, his own slave, hired to this hotel, held up an elegant military cap, struck an inquiring attitude, and called softly, "Gen'al?"

"Bring it with the coffee."

But the negro instantly brought it without the coffee and placed it on the table with a delicate flourish, shuffled a step back and bowed low:

"Coffee black, Gen'al, o' co'se?"

"Black as your grandmother."

The servant tittered: "Yas, suh, so whah it flop up-siden de cup it leave a lemon-yalleh sta-ain."

He capered away, leaving the General to the little steamboats and to a blessed ignorance of times to be when at "Vicksburg and the Bends" this same waiter would bring his coffee made of corn-meal bran and muddy water, with which to wash down scant snacks of mule meat. The listless eye still roamed the arid page as the slave returned with the fragrant pot and cup, but now the sitter laid it by, lighted a cigar and mused:--

In this impending war the South would win, of course--oh, God is just! But this muser could only expect to fall at the front. Then his large estate, all lands and slaves, five hundred souls--who would inherit that and hold it together? Held together it must be! Any partition of it would break no end of sacredly humble household and family ties and work spiritual havoc incalculable. There must be but one heir. Who? Hilary's mother had been in heaven these many years, the mother of Adolphe eighteen months; months quite enough to show the lone brother how vast a loss is the absence of the right mistress from such very human interests as those of a great plantation. Not only must there be but one heir, but he must have the right wife.

The schemer sipped. So it was Anna for Hilary if he could bring it about. So, too, it must be Hilary for his adjutant-general, to keep him near enough to teach him the management of the fortune coming to him if he, Hilary, would only treat his kind uncle's wishes--reasonably. With the cup half lifted he harkened. From a hidden walk and bower close on the garden side of this vine-mantled fence sounded footsteps and voices:

"But, Fred! where on earth did she get--let's sit in here--get that rich, belated, gradual smile?"

A memory thrilled the listening General. "From her mother," thought he, and listened on.

"It's like," continued his nephew--"I'll tell you what it's like. It's like--Now, let me alone! You see, one has to learn her beauty--by degrees. You know, there is a sort of beauty that flashes on you at first sight, like--like the blaze of a ball-room.

I was just now thinking of a striking instance--"

"From Mobile? You always are."

"No such thing! Say, Fred, I'll tell you what Miss Anna's smile is like. It's as if you were trying--say in a telescope--for a focus, and at last all at once it comes and--there's your star!"

The Northerner softly assented.

"Fred! Fancy Flora Valcour with that smile!"

"No! Hilary Kincaid, I think you were born to believe in every feminine creature God ever made. No wonder they nickname you as they do. Now, some girls are quite too feminine for me."

In his own smoke the General's eyes opened aggressively. But hark! His nephew spoke again:

"Fred, if you knew all that girl has done for that boy and that grandmother--It may sound like an overstatement, but you must have observed--"

"That she's a sort of overstatement herself?"

"Go to grass! Your young lady's not even an understatement; she's only a profound pause. See here! what time is it? I prom--"

On the uncle's side of the fence a quick step brought a newcomer, a Creole of maybe twenty-nine years, member of his new staff, in bright uniform:

"Ah, Général, yo' moze ob-edient! Never less al-lone then when al-lone? 'T is the way with myseff--"

He seemed not unrefined, though of almost too mettlesome an eye; in length of leg showing just the lack, in girth of waist just the excess, to imply a better dignity on horseback and to allow a proud tailor to prove how much art can overcome. Out on the road a liveried black coachman had halted an open carriage, in which this soldier had arrived with two ladies. Now these bowed delightedly from it to the General, while Kincaid and his friend stood close hid and listened agape, equally amused and dismayed.

"How are you, Mandeville?" said the General. "I am not nearly as much alone as I seem, sir!"

A voice just beyond the green-veiled fence cast a light on this reply and brought a flush to the Creole's very brows. "Alas! Greenleaf," it cried, "we search in vain! He is not here! We are even more alone than we seem! Ah! where is that peerless chevalier, my beloved, accomplished, blameless, sagacious, just, valiant and amiable uncle? Come let us press on. Let not the fair sex find him first and snatch him from us forever!"

The General's scorn showed only in his eyes as they met the blaze of Mandeville's. "You were about to remark--?" he began, but rose and started toward the carriage.

There not many minutes later you might have seen the four men amicably gathered and vying in clever speeches to pretty Mrs. Callender and her yet fairer though less scintillant step-daughter Anna.

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