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   Chapter 8 ONE KILLED

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 6896

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

The newcomers' talk, as they crouched busily over their horses' feet, was on random themes: Dan Rice, John Owens, Adelina and Carlotta Patti, the comparative merits of Victor's and Moreau's restaur'--hah! Greenleaf snatched up his light cane, sprang erect, and gazed close into the mild eyes of Maxime. Gibbs's more wanton regard had no such encounter; Hilary gave him a mere upward glance while his hands continued their task.

"Good-evening," remarked Gibbs.

"Good-morning," chirped Hilary, and scrubbed on. "Do you happen to be Mr. Samuel Gibbs?--Don't stop, Fred, Maxime won't object to your working on."

"Yes, he will!" swore Gibbs, "and so will I!"

Still Hilary scrubbed: "Why so, Mr. Gibbs?"

"Bic-ause," put in Maxime, "he's got to go back through the same mud he came!"

"Why, then," laughed Hilary, "I may as well knock off, too," and began to wash his hands.

"No," growled Gibbs, "you'll ride on; we're not here for you."

"You can't have either of us without the other, Mr. Gibbs," playfully remarked Kincaid. The bull-drivers loomed out of the fog. Hilary leisurely rose and moved to draw a handkerchief.

"None o' that!" cried Gibbs, whipping his repeater into Kincaid's face. Yet the handkerchief came forth, its owner smiling playfully and drying his fingers while Mr. Gibbs went on blasphemously to declare himself "no chicken."

"Oh, no," laughed Hilary, "none of us is quite that. But did you ever really study--boxing?" At the last word Gibbs reeled under a blow in the face; his revolver, going off harmlessly, was snatched from him, Maxime's derringer missed also, and Gibbs swayed, bleeding and sightless, from Hilary's blows with the butt of the revolver. Presently down he lurched insensible, Hilary going half-way with him but recovering and turning to the aid of his friend. Maxime tore loose from his opponent, beseeching the bull-drivers to attack, but beseeching in vain. Squawking and chattering like parrot and monkey, they spurred forward, whirled back, gathered lassos, cursed frantically as Sam fell, sped off into the fog, spurred back again, and now reined their ponies to their haunches, while Kincaid halted Maxime with Gibbs's revolver, and Greenleaf sprang to the bits of his own and Hilary's terrified horses. For two other men, the Gascon and the Italian, had glided into the scene from the willows, and the Gascon was showing Greenleaf two big knives, one of which he fiercely begged him to accept.

"Take it, Fred!" cried Hilary while he advanced on the defiantly retreating Maxime; but as he spoke a new cry of the drovers turned his glance another way. Gibbs had risen to his knees unaware that the Italian, with yet another knife, was close behind him. At a bound Hilary arrested the lifted blade and hurled its wielder aside, who in the next breath seemed to spring past him head first, fell prone across the prostrate Gibbs, turned face upward, and slid on and away--lassoed. Both bull-drivers clattered off up the road.

"Hang to the nags, Fred!" cried Hilary, and let Maxime leap to Gibbs's side, but seized the Gascon as with murderous intent he sprang after him. It took Kincaid's strength to hold him, and Gibbs and his partner would have edged away, but--"Stand!" called Hilary, and they stood, Gibbs weak and dazed, yet still spouting curses. The Gascon begged in vain to be allowed to follow the bull-drivers.

"Stay here!" said Hilary in French, and the butch

er tarried. Hilary passed the revolver to his friend, mounted and dashed up the highway.

The Gascon stayed with a lively purpose which the enfeebled Gibbs was the first to see. "Stand back, you hell-hound!" cried the latter, and with fresh oaths bade Greenleaf "keep him off!"

Maxime put Gibbs on Greenleaf's horse (as bidden), and was about to lead him, when Kincaid galloped back.

"Fred," exclaimed Hilary, "they've killed the poor chap." He wheeled. "Come, all hands," he continued, and to Greenleaf added as they went, "He's lying up here in the road with--"

Greenleaf picked up something. "Humph!" said Hilary, receiving it, "knives by the great gross. He must have used this trying to cut the lasso; the one he had back yonder flew into the pond." He reined in: "Here's where they--Why, Fred--why, I'll swear! They've come back and--Stop! there was a skiff"--he moved to the levee and peered over--"It's gone!"

The case was plain, and while from Greenleaf's saddle Gibbs broke into frantic revilings of the fugitives for deserting him and Maxime to sink their dead in the mid-current of the fog-bound river, Kincaid and his friend held soft counsel. Evidently the drovers had turned their horses loose, knowing they would go to their stable. No despatch to stop Greenleaf could be sent by anyone up the railroad till the Committee of Public Safety had authorized it, so Hilary would drop them a line out of his pocket note-book, and by daybreak these prisoners could go free.

"Mr. Gibbs"--he said as he wrote--"I have the sprout of a notion that you and Mr. Lafontaine would be an ornament to a field-battery I'm about to take command of. I'd like to talk with you about that presently." He tore out the page he had written and beckoned the Gascon aside:

"Mon ami"--he showed a roll of "city money" and continued in French--"do you want to make a hundred dollars--fifty now and fifty when you bring me an answer to this?"

The man nodded and took the missive.

The old "Jackson Railroad" avoided Carrollton and touched the river for a moment only, a short way beyond, at a small bunch of flimsy clapboard houses called Kennerville. Here was the first stop of its early morning outbound train, and here a dozen or so passengers always poked their heads out of the windows. This morning they saw an oldish black man step off, doff his hat delightedly to two young men waiting at the platform's edge, pass them a ticket, and move across to a pair of saddled horses. The smaller of the pair stepped upon the last coach, but kept his companion's hand till the train had again started.

"Good-by, Tony," cried the one left behind.

"Good-by, Jake," called the other, and waved. His friend watched the train vanish into the forest. Then, as his horse was brought, he mounted and moved back toward the city.

Presently the negro, on the other horse, came up almost abreast of him. "Mahs' Hil'ry?" he ventured.

"Well, uncle Jerry?"

"Dat's a pow'ful good-lookin' suit o' clo'es what L'tenant Greenfeel got awn."

"Jerry! you cut me to the heart!"

The negro tittered: "Oh, as to dat, I don't 'spute but yone is betteh."

The master heaved a comforted sigh. The servant tittered again, but suddenly again was grave. "I on'y wish to Gawd," he slowly said, "dat de next time you an' him meet--"

"Well--next time we meet--what then?"

"Dat you bofe be in de same sawt o' clo'es like you got on now."

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