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Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 11000

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

Love's war was declared. From hour to hour of that night and the next morning, in bed, at board, dressing for the thronged city, spinning with Constance and Miranda up Love Street across Piety and Desire and on into the town's centre, Anna, outwardly all peace, planned that war's defensive strategy. Splendidly maidenly it should be, harrowingly arduous to the proud invader, and long drawn out. Constance should see what a man can be put through. But oh, but oh, if, after all, the invasion should not come!

In those days New Orleans paved her favorite streets, when she paved them at all, with big blocks of granite two feet by one. They came from the North as ballast in those innumerable wide-armed ships whose cloud of masts and cordage inspiringly darkened the sky of that far-winding river-front where we lately saw Hilary Kincaid and Fred Greenleaf ride. Beginning at the great steamboat landing, half a mile of Canal Street had such a pavement on either side of its broad grassy "neutral ground." So had the main streets that led from it at right angles. Long afterward, even as late as when the Nineteenth Century died, some of those streets were at the funeral, clad in those same old pavements, worn as smooth and ragged as a gentleman-beggar's coat. St. Charles Street was one. Another was the old Rue Royale, its squat ground-floor domiciles drooping their mossy eaves half across the pinched sidewalks and confusedly trying to alternate and align themselves with tall brick houses and shops whose ample two-and three-story balconies were upheld, balustraded, and overhung by slender garlandries of iron openwork as graceful and feminine as a lace mantilla. With here and there the flag of a foreign consul hanging out and down, such is the attire the old street was vain of in that golden time when a large square sign on every telegraph pole bade you get your shirts at S.N. Moody's, corner of Canal and Royal Streets.

At this corner, on the day after the serenade, there was a dense, waiting crowd. On the other corner of Royal, where the show-windows of Hyde & Goodrich blazed with diamonds, and their loftily nested gold pelican forever fed her young from her bleeding breast, stood an equal throng. Across Canal Street, where St. Charles opens narrowly southward, were similar masses, and midway between the four corners the rising circles of stone steps about the high bronze figure of Henry Clay were hidden by men and boys packed as close as they could sit or stand. A great procession had gone up-town and would by and by return. Near and far banners and pennons rose and fell on the luxurious air, and the ranks and ranks of broad and narrow balconies were so many gardens of dames and girls, parasols, and diaphanous gowns. Near the front of the lowest Hyde & Goodrich balcony, close by the gilded pelican, sat the Callenders, all gladness, holding mute dialogues with Flora and Madame Valcour here on the balcony of Moody's corner. It was the birthday of Washington.

Not of him, however, did Flora and her grandmother softly converse in Spanish amid the surrounding babel of English and French. Their theme was our battery drill of some ten days before, a subject urged upon Flora by the mosquito-like probings of Madame's musically whined queries. Better to be bled of almost any information by the antique little dame than to have her light on it some other way, as she had an amazing knack of doing. Her acted part of things Flora kept untold; but grandma's spirit of divination could unfailingly supply that, and her pencilled brows, stiff as they were, could tell the narrator she had done so.

Thus now, Flora gave no hint of the beautiful skill and quick success with which, on her homeward railway trip with Greenleaf that evening, she had bettered his impressions of her. By no more than a gentle play of light and shade in her smile and an undulating melody of voice--without a word that touched the wound itself, but with a timid glow of compassionate admiration--she had soothed the torture of a heart whose last hope Anna had that same hour put to death.

"But before he took the train with you," murmured the mosquito to the butterfly, "when he said the General was going to take Irby upon his staff and give the battery to Kincaid, what did you talk of?"

"Talk of? Charlie. He said I ought to make Charlie join the battery."

"Ah? For what? To secure Kincaid's protection of your dear little brother's health--character--morals--eh?"

"Yes, 'twas so he put it," replied Flora, while the old lady's eyebrows visibly cried:

"You sly bird! will you impute all your own words to that Yankee, and his to yourself?"

Which is just what Flora continued to do as the grandma tinkled: "And you said--what?"

"I said if I couldn't keep him at home I ought to get him into the cavalry. You know, dear, in the infantry the marches are so cruel, the camps so--"

"But in the artillery," piped the small dame, "they ride, eh?" (It was a trap she was setting, but in vain was the net spread.)

"No," said the serene girl, "they, too, go afoot. Often they must help the horses drag the guns through the mire. Only on parade they ride, or when rushing to and fro in battle, whips cracking, horses plunging, the hills smoking and shaking!" The rare creature sparkled frankly, seeing the battery whirling into action with its standard on the wind--this very flag she expected presently to bestow.

"And with Kincaid at the head!" softly cried

the antique.

The girl put on a fondness which suddenly became a withering droop of the eyes: "Don't mince your smile so, grannie dear, I can hear the paint crack."

The wee relic flashed, yet instantly was bland again: "You were about to say, however, that in the artillery--?"

"The risks are the deadliest of all."

"Ah, yes!" sang the mosquito, "and for a sister to push her boy brother into a battery under such a commander would be too much like murder!"

The maiden felt the same start as when Greenleaf had ventured almost those words. "Yes," she beamingly rejoined, "that's what I told the Lieutenant."

"With a blush?"

"No," carelessly said the slender beauty, and exchanged happy signals with the Callenders.

"You tricksy wretch!" muttered the grandmother to herself. For though Charlie was in the battery by his own choice, Hilary would have kept him out had not the sister begged to have him let in.

Suddenly there was a glad stoppage of all by-play in the swarming streets. Down St. Charles from LaFayette Square came the shock of saluting artillery, and up Royal from Jackson Square rolled back antiphonal thunders.

"Grandma!" softly cried Flora, as if sharing the general elation, but had begun again to tell of Greenleaf, when from far over in Camp Street her subtle ear caught a faint stray sigh of saxhorns.

"Well? well? about the Yankee--?" urged Madame.

"Oh, a trifle! He was to go that night, and thinking he might some day return in very different fashion and we be glad to make use of him, I--" The speaker's lithe form straightened and her gaze went off to the left. "Here they come!" she said, and out where Camp Street emerges, a glint of steel, a gleam of brass, a swarming of the people that way, and again a shimmer of brass and steel, affirmed her word that the long, plumed, bristling column had got back to the arms of its darling Canal Street.

"Yes," cried many, "they're turning this way!"

"Well?--Well?" insisted the old lady amid the rising din. "And so you--you?"

"Be more careful," murmured the girl. "I told him that our convictions--about this war--yours and mine--not Charlie's--are the same as his."

A charming sight she was, even in that moment of public enthusiasm and spectacle, holding the wondering stare of her companion with a gayety that seemed ready to break into laughter. The dainty Madame went limp, and in words as slow and soft as her smile, sighed, "You are a genius!"

"No, only the last thing you would suspect--a good housekeeper. I have put him up in sugar."

The distant martial strains became more coherent. In remote balconies handkerchiefs fluttered wildly, and under nearer and nearer ones the people began to pack closer and choose their footing along the curb. Presently from the approaching column came who but Hilary Kincaid, galloping easily over the slippery pavements. Anna saw his eyes sweep the bank of human flowers (with its occasional male caterpillar) on Moody's balcony and light upon Flora. He lifted his képi and halted. One could read his soft questions.

"All right? All ready? Where are the others?--Ah!" He sent an eager salutation to the Callenders, and two joyfully bowed, but Anna gave no sign. With great dignity her gaze was bent beyond him on the nearing host, and when Constance plucked her arm she tardily looked three wrong ways.

The rider could not wait. The police were pressing back the jubilant masses, swarms of ladies on the rear forms were standing up, and Flora, still seated, had leaned down beamingly and was using every resource of voice and fan to send him some word through the tumult of plaudits and drums. He spurred close. In a favoring hush--drum-corps inviting the band--she bent low and with an arch air of bafflement tried once more, but an outburst of brazen harmonies tore her speech to threads. Suddenly--

"Ever of thee I'm fondly dreaming--"

pealed the cornets, pumped the trombones, whipping it out, cracking it off, with a rigor of rhythm to shame all peace-time languishments--

"Thy gentle voice my spirit can cheer.

Thou art the star--"

What could the balconies do but wave more joyously than ever? The streets hurrahed! The head of the procession was here! The lone horseman reined back, wheeled, cast another vain glance toward Anna, and with an alarming rataplan of slipping and recovering hoofs sped down the column.

But what new rapture was this? Some glorious luck had altered the route, and the whole business swung right into this old rue Royale! Now, now the merry clamor and rush of the crowd righting itself! And behold! this blazing staff and its commanding general--general of division! He first, and then all they, bowed to Flora and her grandmother, bowed to the Callenders, and were bowed to in return. A mounted escort followed. And now--yea, verily! General Brodnax and his staff of brigade! Wave, Valcours, wave Callenders! Irby's bow to Flora was majestic, and hers to him as gracious as the smell of flowers in the air. And here was Mandeville, most glittering in all the glitter. Flora beamed on him as well, Anna bowed with a gay fondness, Miranda's dainty nose crimped itself, and Constance, with a blitheness even more vivid, wished all these balconies could know that Captain--he was Lieutenant, but that was away back last week--Captain Etienne Aristide Rofignac de Mandeville was hers, whom, after their marriage, now so near at hand, she was going always to call Steve!

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