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   Chapter 4 MANOEUVRES

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 7681

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


Captain Irby, strong, shapely, well clad, auburn-haired, left his halted command and came into the carriage group, while from the train approached his cousin and the lithe and picturesque Miss Valcour.

The tallish girl always looked her best beside some manly form of unusual stature, and because that form now was Hilary's Irby was aggrieved. All their days his cousin had been getting into his light, and this realization still shaded his brow as Kincaid yielded Flora to him and returned to Anna to talk of things too light for record.

Not so light were the thoughts Anna kept unuttered. Here again, she reflected, was he who (according to Greenleaf) had declined to command her guns in order to let Irby have them. Why? In kindness to his cousin, or in mild dislike of a woman's battery? If intuition was worth while, this man was soon to be a captain somewhere. Here was that rare find for which even maidens' eyes were alert those days--a born leader. No ladies' man this--"of all things on God's earth!" A men's man! And yet--nay, therefore--a man for some unparagoned woman some day to yield her heart and life to, and to have for her very own, herself his consummate adornment. She cast a glance at Flora.

But her next was to him as they talked on. How nearly black was the waving abundance of his hair. How placid his brow, above eyes whose long lashes would have made them meltingly tender had they not been so large with mirth: "A boy's eyes," thought she while he remembered what he had just called hers. She noted his mouth, how gently firm: "A man's mouth!"

Charlie Valcour broke in between them: "Is there not going to be any drill, after all?"

"Tell Captain Irby you can't wait any longer," replied Kincaid with a mock frown and gave Anna yet gayer attention a minute more. Then he walked beside his cousin toward the command, his horse close at his back. The group, by pairs, chose view points. Only Miss Valcour stayed in the carriage with the General, bent on effecting a change in his mind. In Mobile Flora had been easily first in any social set to which she condescended. In New Orleans, brought into the Callenders' circles by her cousin Mandeville, she had found herself quietly ranked second to Anna, and Anna now yet more pointedly outshining her through the brazen splendor of this patriotic gift of guns. For this reason and others yet to appear she had planned a strategy and begun a campaign, one of whose earliest manoeuvres must be to get Irby, not Kincaid, made their uncle's adjutant-general, and therefore to persuade the uncle that to give Kincaid the battery would endear him to Anna and so crown with victory the old man's perfectly obvious plan.

Greenleaf left his horse tied and walked apart with Anna. This, he murmured, was the last time they would be together for years.

"Yes," she replied with a disheartening composure, although from under the parasol with which he shaded her she met his eyes so kindly that his heart beat quicker. But before he could speak on she looked away to his fretting horse and then across to the battery, where a growing laugh was running through the whole undisciplined command. "What is it about?" she playfully inquired, but then saw. In response to the neigh of Greenleaf's steed Hilary's had paused an instant and turned his head, but now followed on again, while the laughter ended in the clapping of a hundred hands; for Kincaid's horse had the bridle free on his neck and was following his master as a dog follows. Irby scowled, the General set his jaws, and Hilary took his horse's bridle and led him on.

"That's what I want to do every time I look at him!" called Charlie to his sister.

"Then look the other way!" carolled back the slender beauty. To whom Anna smiled across in her belated way, and wondered if the impulse to foll

ow Hilary Kincaid ever came to women.

But now out yonder the two cousins were in the saddle, Irby's sabre was out, and soon the manoeuvres were fully under way. Flora, at the General's side, missed nothing of them, yet her nimble eye kept her well aware that across here in this open seclusion the desperate Greenleaf's words to Anna were rarely explanatory of the drill.

"And now," proclaimed Mandeville, "you'll see them form into line fazed to the rear!" And Flora, seeing and applauding, saw also Anna turn to her suitor a glance, half pity for him, half pleading for his pity.

"I say unless--" Greenleaf persisted--

"There is no 'unless.' There can't ever be any."

"But may I not at least say--?"

"I'd so much rather you would not," she begged.

"At present, you mean?"

"Or in the future," said Anna, and, having done perfectly thus far, spoiled all by declaring she would "never marry!" Her gaze rested far across the field on the quietly clad figure of Kincaid riding to and fro and pointing hither and yon to his gold-laced cousin. Off here on the left she heard Mandeville announcing:

"Now they'll form batt'rie to the front by throwing caisson' to the rear--look--look!... Ah, ha! was not that a prettie?"

Pretty it was declared to be on all sides. Flora called it "a beautiful." Part of her charm was a Creole accent much too dainty for print. Anna and Greenleaf and the other couples regathered about the carriage, and Miss Valcour from her high seat smiled her enthusiasm down among them, exalting theirs. And now as a new movement of the battery followed, and now another, her glow heightened, and she called musically to Constance, Mrs. Callender and Anna, by turns, to behold and admire. For one telling moment she was, and felt herself, the focus of her group, the centre of its living picture. Out afield yet another manoeuvre was on, and while Anna and her suitor stood close below her helplessly becalmed each by each, Flora rose to her feet and caught a great breath of delight. Her gaze was on the glittering mass of men, horses, and brazen guns that came thundering across the plain in double column--Irby at its head, Kincaid alone on the flank--and sweeping right and left deployed into battery to the front with cannoneers springing to their posts for action.

"Pretties' of all!" she cried, and stood, a gentle air stirring her light draperies, until the boys at the empty guns were red-browed and short of breath in their fierce pretence of loading and firing. Suddenly the guns were limbered up and went bounding over the field, caissons in front. And now pieces passed their caissons, and now they were in line, then in double column, and presently were gleaming in battery again, faced to the rear. And now at command the tired lads dropped to the ground to rest, or sauntered from one lounging squad to another, to chat and chaff and puff cigarettes. Kincaid and Irby lent their horses to Mandeville and Charlie, who rode to the battery while the lenders joined the ladies.

Once more Hilary yielded Flora and sought Anna; but with kinder thought for Flora Anna pressed herself upon Irby, to the open chagrin of his uncle. So Kincaid cheerfully paired with Flora. But thus both he and Anna unwittingly put the finishing touch upon that change of heart in the General which Flora, by every subtlety of indirection, this hour and more in the carriage, had been bringing about.

A query: With Kincaid and Irby the chief figures in their social arena and Hilary so palpably his cousin's better in looks, in bearing, talents, and character, is it not strange that Flora, having conquest for her ruling passion, should strive so to relate Anna to Hilary as to give her, Anna, every advantage for the higher prize? Maybe it is, but she liked strangeness--and a stiff game.

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