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   Chapter 7 BY STARLIGHT

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 7866

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


"Wait," murmured Greenleaf, as they halted to view the scene. From their far right came the vast, brimming river, turbid, swift, silent, its billows every now and then rising and looking back as if they fled from implacable pursuers; sweeping by long, slumbering ranks of ships and steamboats; swinging in majestic breadth around the bend a mile or more below; and at the city's end, still beyond, gliding into mystic oblivion. Overhead swarmed the stars and across the flood came faintly the breath of orange-groves, sea-marshes and prairies.

Greenleaf faced across the wide bend at his left. In that quarter, quite hidden in live-oaks and magnolias, as both well knew, were the low, red towers of Jackson Barracks. But it was not for them the evicted young soldier claimed this last gaze. It was for a large dwelling hard by them, a fine old plantation house with wide verandas, though it also was shut from view, in its ancient grove.

"Fred," said Hilary, "didn't she tell you why?"

"No," replied the lover when they had turned away and were moving up the harbor front, "except that it isn't because I'm for the Union."

Hilary's eyes went wide: "That's wonderful, old man! But I don't believe she likes a soldier of any sort. If I were a woman I'd be doggoned if I'd ever marry a soldier!"

"Yet the man who gets her," said Greenleaf, "ought to be a soldier in every drop of his blood. You don't know her yet; but you soon will, and I'm glad."

"Now, why so? I can't ever please her enough to be pleased with her. I'm too confounded frivolous! I love nonsense, doggon it, for its own sake! I love to get out under a sky like this and just reel and whoop in the pure joy of standing on a world that's whirling round!"

"But you do please her. She's told me so."

"Don't you believe her! I don't. I can't. I tell you, Fred, I could never trust a girl that forever looks so trustworthy! S'pose I should fall in love with her! Would you--begrudge her to me?"

"I bequeath her to you."

"Ah! you know I haven't the ghost of a chance! She's not for po' little Hil'ry. I never did like small women, anyhow!"

"My boy! If ever you like this one she'll no more seem small than the open sea."

"I suppose," mused Hilary, "that's what makes it all the harder to let go. If a girl has a soul so petty that she can sit and hear you through to the last word your heart can bleed, you can turn away from her with some comfort of resentment, as if you still had a remnant of your own stature."

"Precisely!" said the lover. "But when she's too large-hearted to let you speak, and yet answers your unspoken word, once for all, with a compassion so modest that it seems as if it were you having compassion on her, she's harder to give up than--"

"Doggon her, Fred, I wouldn't give her up!"

"Ah, this war, Hilary! I may never see her again. There's just one man in this world whom--"

"Oh, get out!"

"I mean what I say. To you I leave her."

"Ha, ha! No, you don't! It's only to her you leave me. Old boy, promise me! If you ever come back and she's still in the ring, you'll go for her again no matter who else is bidding, your humble servant not excepted."

"Why--yes--I--I promise that. Now, will you promise me?"

"What! let myself--?"

"Yes."

"Ho-o, not by a jug-full! If ever I feel her harpoon in me I'll fight like a whale! But I promise you this, and warn you, too: That when it comes to that, a whole platoon of Fred Greenleafs between her and me won't make a pinch of difference."

To that Greenleaf agreed, and the subject was changed. With shipping ever on their left and cotton-yards and warehouses for tobacco and for salt on their right their horses' feet clinked leisurely over the cobble pavements, between thousands of cotton-bales headed upon the unsheltered wharves and only fewer thousands on the narrow sidewalks.

So passed the better part of an hour before they were m

ade aware, by unmistakable odors, that they were nearing the Stock-Landing. There, while they were yet just a trifle too far away to catch its echoes, had occurred an incident--a fracas, in fact--some of whose results belong with this narrative to its end. While they amble toward the spot let us reconnoitre it. Happily it has long been wiped out, this blot on the city's scutcheon. Its half-dozen streets were unspeakable mud, its air was stenches, its buildings were incredibly foul slaughter-houses and shedded pens of swine, sheep, beeves, cows, calves, and mustang ponies. The plank footways were enclosed by stout rails to guard against the chargings of long-horned cattle chased through the thoroughfares by lasso-whirling "bull-drivers" as wild as they. In the middle of the river-front was a ferry, whence Louisiana Avenue, broad, treeless, grassy, and thinly lined with slaughter-houses, led across the plain. Down this untidy plaisance a grimy little street-car, every half-hour, jogged out to the Carrollton railway and returned. This street and the water-front were lighted--twilighted--with lard-oil lamps; the rest of the place was dark. At each of the two corners facing the ferry was a "coffee-house"--dram-shop, that is to say.

Messrs. Sam Gibbs and Maxime Lafontaine were president and vice-president of that Patriots' League against whose machinations our two young men had been warned by the detectives in St. Charles Street. They had just now arrived at the Stock-Landing. Naturally, on so important an occasion they were far from sober; yet on reaching the spot they had lost no time in levying on a Gascon butcher for a bucket of tar and a pillow of feathers, on an Italian luggerman for a hurried supper of raw oysters, and on the keeper of one of the "coffee-houses" for drinks for the four.

"Us four and no more!" sang the gleeful Gibbs; right number to manage a delicate case. The four glasses emptied, he had explained that all charges must be collected, of course, from the alien gentleman for whom the plumage and fixative were destined. Hence a loud war of words, which the barkeeper had almost smoothed out when the light-hearted Gibbs suddenly decreed that the four should sing, march, pat and "cut the pigeon-wing" to the new song (given nightly by Christy's Minstrels) entitled "Dixie's Land."

Hot threats recurring, Gascony had turned to go, Maxime had headed him off, Italy's hand had started into his flannel shirt, and "bing! bang! pop!" rang Gibbs's repeater and one of Maxime's little derringers--shot off from inside his sack-coat pocket. A whirlwind of epithets filled the place. Out into the stinking dark leaped Naples and Gascony, and after them darted their whooping assailants. The shutters of both barrooms clapped to, over the way a pair of bull-drivers rushed to their mustangs, there was a patter of hoofs there and of boots here and all inner lights vanished. A watchman's rattle buzzed remotely. Then silence reigned.

Now Sam and Maxime, deeming the incident closed, were walking up the levee road beyond the stock-pens, in the new and more sympathetic company of the two mounted bull-drivers, to whose love of patriotic adventure they had appealed successfully. A few yards beyond a roadside pool backed by willow bushes they set down tar-bucket and pillow, and under a low, vast live-oak bough turned and waited. A gibbous moon had set, and presently a fog rolled down the river, blotting out landscape and stars and making even these willows dim and unreal. Ideal conditions! Now if their guest of honor, with or without his friend, would but stop at this pool to wash the Stock-Landing muck from his horse's shins--but even luck has its limits.

Nevertheless, that is what occurred. A hum of voices--a tread of hoofs--and the very man hoped for--he and Hilary Kincaid--recognized by their voices--d at the pool's margin. Sam and Maxime stole forward.

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