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   Chapter 3 THE GENERAL'S CHOICE

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 8770

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


Anna Callender. In the midst of the gay skirmish and while she yielded Greenleaf her chief attention, Hilary observed her anew.

What he thought he saw was a golden-brown profusion of hair with a peculiar richness in its platted coils, an unconsciously faultless poise of head, and, equally unconscious, a dreamy softness of sweeping lashes. As she laughed with the General her student noted further what seemed to him a rare silkiness in the tresses, a vapory lightness in the short strands that played over the outlines of temple and forehead, and the unstudied daintiness with which they gathered into the merest mist of a short curl before her exquisite ear.

But when now she spoke with him these charms became forgettable as he discovered, or fancied he did, in her self-oblivious eyes, a depth of thought and feeling not in the orbs alone but also in the brows and lids, and between upper and under lashes as he glimpsed them in profile while she turned to Mandeville. And now, unless his own insight misled him, he observed how unlike those eyes, and yet how subtly mated with them, was her mouth; the delicate rising curve of the upper lip, and the floral tenderness with which it so faintly overhung the nether, wherefrom it seemed ever about to part yet parted only when she spoke or smiled.

"A child's mouth and a woman's eyes," he mused.

When her smiles came the mouth remained as young as before, yet suddenly, as truly as the eyes, showed--showed him at least--steadfastness of purpose, while the eyes, where fully half the smile was, still unwittingly revealed their depths of truth.

"Poor Fred!" he pondered as the General and Mandeville entered the carriage and it turned away.

A mile or two from Carrollton down the river and toward the city lay the old unfenced fields where Hilary had agreed with Irby to help him manoeuvre his very new command. Along the inland edge of this plain the railway and the common road still ran side by side, but the river veered a mile off. So Mandeville pointed out to the two ladies as they, he, and the General drove up to the spot with Kincaid and Greenleaf as outriders. The chosen ground was a level stretch of wild turf maybe a thousand yards in breadth, sparsely dotted with shoulder-high acacias. No military body was yet here, and the carriage halted at the first good view point.

Mrs. Callender, the only member of her family who was of Northern birth and rearing, was a small slim woman whose smile came whenever she spoke and whose dainty nose went all to merry wrinkles whenever she smiled. It did so now, in the shelter of her diminutive sunshade opened flat against its jointed handle to fend off the strong afternoon beams, while she explained to Greenleaf--dismounted beside the wheels with Mandeville--that Constance, Anna's elder sister, would arrive by and by with Flora Valcour. "Connie", she said, had been left behind in the clutches of the dressmaker!

"Flora," she continued, crinkling her nose ever so kind-heartedly at Greenleaf, "is Lieutenant Mandeville's cousin, you know. Didn't he tell you something back yonder in Carrollton?"

Greenleaf smiled an admission and her happy eyes closed to mere chinks. What had been told was that Constance had yesterday accepted Mandeville.

"Yes," jovially put in the lucky man, "I have divulge' him that, and he seem' almoze as glad as the young lady herseff!"

Even to this the sweet widow's misplaced wrinkles faintly replied, while Greenleaf asked, "Does the Lieutenant's good fortune account for the--'clutches of the dressmaker'?"

It did. The Lieutenant hourly expecting to be ordered to the front, this wedding, like so many others, would be at the earliest day possible. "A great concession," the lady said, turning her piquant wrinkles this time upon Mandeville. But just here the General engrossed attention. His voice had warmed sentimentally and his kindled eye was passing back and forth between Anna seated by him and Hilary close at hand in the saddle. He waved wide:

"This all-pervading haze and perfume, dew and dream," he was saying, "is what makes this the Lalla Rookh's land it is!" He smiled at himself and confessed that Carrollton Gardens always went to his head. "Anna, did you ever hear your mother sing--

"'There's a bower of roses--'?"

She lighted up to say yes, but the light was all he needed to be

lured on through a whole stanza, and a tender sight--Ocean silvering to brown-haired Cynthia--were the two, as he so innocently strove to recreate out of his own lost youth, for her and his nephew, this atmosphere of poetry.

"'To sit in the roses and hear the bird's song!'"

he suavely ended--"I used to make Hilary sing that for me when he was a boy."

"Doesn't he sing it yet?" asked Mrs. Callender.

"My God, madame, since I found him addicted to comic songs I've never asked him!"

Kincaid led the laugh and the talk became lively. Anna was merrily accused by Miranda (Mrs. Callender) of sharing the General's abhorrence of facetious song. First she pleaded guilty and then reversed her plea with an absurd tangle of laughing provisos delightful even to herself. At the same time the General withdrew from his nephew all imputation of a frivolous mind, though the nephew avowed himself nonsensical from birth and destined to die so. It was a merry moment, so merry that Kincaid's bare mention of Mandeville as Mandy made even the General smile and every one else laugh. The Creole, to whom any mention of himself, (whether it called for gratitude or for pistols and coffee,) was always welcome, laughed longest. If he was Mandy, he hurried to rejoin, the absent Constance "muz be Candy--ha, ha, ha!" And when Anna said Miranda should always thenceforth be Randy, and Mrs. Callender said Anna ought to be Andy, and the very General was seduced into suggesting that then Hilary would be Handy, and when every one read in every one's eye, the old man's included, that Brodnax would naturally be Brandy, the Creole bent and wept with mirth, counting all that fine wit exclusively his.

"But, no!" he suddenly said, "Hilary he would be Dandy, bic-ause he's call' the ladies' man!"

"No, sir!" cried the General. "Hil--" He turned upon his nephew, but finding him engaged with Anna, faced round to his chum: "For Heaven's sake, Greenleaf, does he allow--?"

"He can't help it now," laughed his friend, "he's tagged it on himself by one of his songs."

"Oh, by Jove, Hilary, it serves you right for singing them!"

Hilary laughed to the skies, the rest echoing.

"A ladies' man!" the uncle scoffed on. "Of all things on God's earth!" But there he broke into lordly mirth: "Don't you believe that of him, ladies, at any rate. If only for my sake, Anna, don't you ever believe a breath of it!"

The ladies laughed again, but now Kincaid found them a distraction. Following his glance cityward they espied a broad dust-cloud floating off toward the river. He turned to Anna and softly cried, "Here come your guns, trying to beat the train!"

The ladies stood up to see. An unseen locomotive whistled for a brief stop. The dust-cloud drew nearer. The engine whistled to start again, and they could hear its bell and quickening puff. But the dust-cloud came on and on, and all at once the whole six-gun battery--six horses to each piece and six to each caisson--captain, buglers, guidon, lieutenants, sergeants and drivers in the saddle, cannoneers on the chests--swept at full trot, thumping, swaying, and rebounding, up the highway and off it, and, forming sections, swung out upon the field in double column, while the roaring train rolled by it and slowed up to the little frame box of Buerthe's Station with passengers cheering from every window.

The Callenders' carriage horses were greatly taxed in their nerves, yet they kept their discretion. Kept it even when now the battery flashed from column into line and bore down upon them, the train meanwhile whooping on toward Carrollton. And what an elated flock of brightly dressed citizens and citizenesses had alighted from the cars--many of them on the moment's impulse--to see these dear lads, with their romantically acquired battery, train for the holiday task of scaring the dastard foe back to their frozen homes! How we loved the moment's impulse those days!

What a gay show! And among the very prettiest and most fetchingly arrayed newcomers you would quickly have noticed three with whom this carriage group exchanged signals. Kincaid spurred off to meet them while Greenleaf and Mandeville helped Anna and Miranda to the ground. "There's Constance," said the General.

"Yes," Mrs. Callender replied, "and Flora and Charlie Valcour!" as if that were the gleefulest good luck of all.

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