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   Chapter 9 HER HARPOON STRIKES

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 5986

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


The home of the Callenders was an old Creole colonial plantation-house, large, square, strong, of two stories over a stoutly piered basement, and surrounded by two broad verandas, one at each story, beneath a great hip roof gracefully upheld on Doric columns. It bore that air of uncostly refinement which is one of the most pleasing outward features of the aloof civilization to which it, though not the Callenders, belonged.

Inside, its aspect was exceptional. There the inornate beauty of its finish, the quiet abundance of its delicate woodwork, and the high spaciousness and continuity of its rooms for entertainment won admiration and fame. A worthy setting, it was called, for the gentle manners with which the Callenders made it alluring.

They, of course, had not built it. The late Judge had acquired it from the descendants of a planter of indigo and coffee who in the oldest Creole days had here made his home and lived his life as thoroughly in the ancient baronial spirit as if the Mississippi had been the mediaeval Rhine. Only its perfect repair was the Judge's touch, a touch so modestly true as to give it a charm of age and story which the youth and beauty of the Callender ladies only enhanced, enhancing it the more through their lack of a male protector--because of which they were always going to move into town, but never moved.

Here, some nine or ten days after Greenleaf's flight, Hilary Kincaid, in uniform at last, was one of two evening visitors, the other being Mandeville. In the meantime our lover of nonsense had received a "hard jolt." So he admitted in a letter to his friend, boasting, however, that it was unattended by any "internal injury." In the circuit of a single week, happening to be thrown daily and busily into "her" society, "the harpoon had struck."

He chose the phrase as an honest yet delicate reminder of the compact made when last the two chums had ridden together.

All three of the Callenders were in the evening group, and the five talked about an illumination of the city, set for the following night. In the business centre the front of every building was already being hung with fittings from sidewalk to cornice. So was to be celebrated the glorious fact (Constance and Mandeville's adjective) that in the previous month Louisiana had seized all the forts and lighthouses in her borders and withdrawn from the federal union by a solemn ordinance signed in tears. This great lighting up, said Hilary, was to be the smile of fortitude after the tears. Over the city hall now floated daily the new flag of the state, with the colors of its stripes--

"Reverted to those of old Spain," murmured Anna, mainly to herself yet somewhat to Hilary. Judge Callender had died a Whig, and politics interested the merest girls those days.

Even at the piano, where Anna played and Hilary hovered, in pauses between this of Mozart and that of Mendelssohn, there was much for her to ask and him to tell about; for instance, the new

"Confederate States," a bare fortnight old! Would Virginia come into them? Eventually, yes.

"Oh, yes, yes, yes!" cried Constance, overhearing. (Whatever did not begin with oh, those times, began with ah.)

"And must war follow?" The question was Anna's again, and Hilary sat down closer to answer confidentially:

"Yes, the war was already a fact."

"And might not the Abolitionists send their ships and soldiers against New Orleans?"

"Yes, the case was supposable."

"And might not Jackson's battlefield of 1815, in close view from these windows, become a new one?"

To avoid confessing that old battlefields have that tendency the Captain rose and took up a guitar; but when he would have laid it on her knee she pushed it away and asked the song of him; asked with something intimate in her smiling undertone that thrilled him, yet on the next instant seemed pure dream stuff. The others broke in and Constance begged a song of the new patriotism; but Miranda, the pretty stepmother, spoke rather for something a thousand miles and months away from the troubles and heroics of the hour; and when Anna seconded this motion by one fugitive glance worth all their beseechings Hilary, as he stood, gayly threw open his smart jacket lest his brass buttons mar the instrument, and sang with a sudden fervor that startled and delighted all the group:

"Drink to me only with thine eyes."

In the midst of which Constance lifted a knowing look across to Miranda, and Miranda sent it back.

There was never an evening that did not have to end, and at last the gentlemen began to make a show of leaving. But then came a lively chat, all standing in a bunch. To-morrow's procession, the visitors said, would form in Canal Street, move up St. Charles, return down Camp Street into Canal, pass through it into Rampart, take the Bayou Road and march to a grand review away out in the new camp of instruction at the Creole Race-Course. Intermediately, from a certain Canal Street balcony, Flora would present the flag! the gorgeous golden, silken, satin battle standard which the Callenders and others had helped her to make. So--good-night--good-night.

The last parting was with Mandeville, at the levee-road gate, just below which he lived in what, during the indigo-planter's life, had been the overseer's cottage. At a fine stride our artillerist started townward, his horse being stabled near by in that direction. But presently he halted, harkened after the Creole's receding step, thought long, softly called himself names, and then did a small thing which, although it resulted in nothing tragic at the time, marked a turning point in his life. He leapt the grove fence, returned to the shadows of the garden, and silently made his way to its eastern, down-river side. Already the dwelling's lower lights were going out while none yet shone above, and he paused in deep shade far enough away to see, over its upper veranda's edge, the tops of its chamber windows.

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