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Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 11247

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

Two overflowing brigades! In the van came red-capped artillery. Not the new battery, though happily known to Flora and the Callenders; the Washington Artillery. Illustrious command! platoons and platoons of the flower of the Crescent City's youth and worth! They, too, that day received their battle-flag. They have the shot-torn rags of it yet.

Ah, the clanging horns again, and oh, the thundering drums! Another uniform, on a mass of infantry, another band at its head braying another lover's song reduced to a military tramp, swing, and clangor--

"I'd offer thee this hand of mine

If I could love thee less--"

Every soldier seemed to have become a swain. Hilary and Anna had lately sung this wail together, but not to its end, she had called it "so ungenuine." How rakishly now it came ripping out. "My fortune is too hard for thee," it declared, "'twould chill thy dearest joy. I'd rather weep to see thee free," and ended with "destroy"; but it had the swagger of a bowling-alley.

All the old organizations, some dating back to '12-'15, had lately grown to amazing numbers, while many new ones had been so perfectly uniformed, armed, accoutred and drilled six nights a week that the ladies, in their unmilitary innocence, could not tell the new from the old. Except in two cases: Even Anna was aware that the "Continentals," in tasseled top-boots, were of earlier times, although they had changed their buff knee-breeches and three-cornered hats for a smart uniform of blue and gray; while these red-and-blue-flannel Zouaves, drawing swarms of boys as dray-loads of sugar-hogsheads drew flies, were as modern as 1861 itself. But oh, ah, one knew so many young men! It was wave, bow, smile and bow, smile and wave, till the whole frame was gloriously weary.

Near Anna prattled a Creole girl of sixteen with whom she now and then enjoyed a word or so: Victorine Lafontaine, daughter of our friend Maxime.

"Louisiana Foot-Rifles--ah! but their true name," she protested, "are the Chasseurs-à-Pied! 'Twas to them my papa billong' biffo' he join' hisseff on the batt'rie of Captain Kincaid, and there he's now a corporeal!"

What jaunty fellows they were! and as their faultless ranks came close, their glad, buskined feet beating as perfect music for the roaring drums as the drums beat for them, Anna, in fond ardor, bent low over the rail and waved, exhorting Miranda and Constance to wave with her. So marched the chasseurs by, but the wide applause persisted as yet other hosts, with deafening music and perfect step and with bayonets back-slanted like the porcupine's, came on and on, and passed and passed, ignoring in grand self-restraint their very loves who leaned from the banquettes' edges and from balustraded heights and laughed and boasted and worshipped.

Finally artillery again! every man in it loved by some one--or dozen--in these glad throngs. Clap! call! wave! Oh, gallant sight! These do not enter Royal Street. They keep Canal, obliquing to that side of the way farthest from the balconies--

"To make room," cries Victorine, "to form line pritty soon off horses, in front those cannon'."

At the head rides Kincaid. Then, each in his place, lieutenants, sergeants, drivers, the six-horse teams leaning on the firm traces, the big wheels clucking, the long Napoleons shining like gold, and the cannoneers--oh, God bless the lads!--planted on limbers and caissons, with arms tight folded and backs as plumb as the meridian. Now three of the pieces, half the battery, have gone by and--

"Well, well, if there isn't Sam Gibbs, sergeant of a gun! It is, I tell you, it is! Sam Gibbs, made over new, as sure as a certain monosyllable! and what could be surer, for Sam Gibbs?"

So laugh the sidewalks; but society, overhead, cares not for a made-over Gibbs while round about him are sixty or seventy young heroes who need no making over. Anna, Anna! what a brave and happy half-and-half of Creoles and "Americans" do your moist eyes beam down upon: here a Canonge and there an Ogden--a Zacherie--a Fontennette--Willie Geddes--Tom Norton--a Fusilier! Nat Frellsen--a Tramontana--a Grandissime!--and a Grandissime again! Percy Chilton--a Dudley--Arthur Puig y Puig--a De Armas--MacKnight--Violett--Avendano--Rob Rareshide--Guy Palfrey--a Morse, a Bien, a Fuentes--a Grandissme once more! Aleck Moise--Ralph Fenner--Ned Ferry!--and lo! a Raoul Innerarity, image of his grandfather's portrait--and a Jules St. Ange! a Converse--Jack Eustis--two Frowenfelds! a Mossy! a Hennen--Bartie Sloo--McVey, McStea, a De Lavillebuevre--a Thorndyke-Smith and a Grandissime again!

And ah! see yonder young cannoneer half-way between these two balconies and the statue beyond; that foppish boy with his hair in a hundred curls and his eyes wild with wayward ardor! "Ah, Charlie Valcour!" thinks Anna; "oh, your poor sister!" while the eyes of Victorine take him in secretly and her voice is still for a whole minute. Hark! From the head of the column is wafted back a bugle-note, and everything stands.

Now the trim lads relax, the balcony dames in the rear rows sit down, there are nods and becks and wafted whispers to a Calder and an Avery, to tall Numa, Dolhonde and short Eugene Chopin, to George Wood and Dick Penn and Fenner and Bouligny and Pilcher and L'Hommedieu; and Charlie sends up bows and smiles, and wipes the beautiful brow he so openly and wilfully loves best on earth. Anna smiles back, but Constance bids her look at Maxime, Victorine's father, whom neither his long white moustaches nor weight of years nor the lawless past revealed in his daring eyes can rob of

his youth. So Anna looks, and when she turns again to Charlie she finds him sending a glance rife with conquest--not his first--up to Victorine, who, without meeting it, replies--as she has done to each one before it--with a dreamy smile into vacancy, and a faint narrowing of her almond eyes.

Captain Kincaid comes ambling back, and right here in the throat of Royal Street faces the command. The matter is explained to Madame Valcour by a stranger:

"Now at the captain's word all the cannoneers will spring down, leaving only guns, teams and drivers at their back, and line up facing us. The captain will dismount and ascend to the balcony, and there he and the young lady, whoever she is--" He waits, hoping Madame will say who the young lady is, but Madame only smiles for him to proceed--"The captain and she will confront each other, she will present the colors, he, replying, will receive them, and--ah, after all!" The thing had been done without their seeing it, and there stood the whole magnificent double line. Captain Kincaid dismounted and had just turned from his horse when there galloped up Royal Street from the vanished procession--Mandeville. Slipping and clattering, he reined up and saluted: "How soon can Kincaid's Battery be completely ready to go into camp?"

"Now, if necessary."

"It will receive orders to move at seven to-morrow morning!" The Creole's fervor amuses the rabble, and when Hilary smiles his earnestness waxes to a frown. Kincaid replies lightly and the rider bends the rein to wheel away, but the slippery stones have their victim at last. The horse's feet spread and scrabble, his haunches go low. Constance snatches both Anna's hands. Ah! by good luck the beast is up again! Yet again the hoofs slip, the rider reels, and Charlie and a comrade dart out to catch him, but he recovers. Then the horse makes another plunge and goes clear down with a slam and a slide that hurl his master to the very sidewalk and make a hundred pale women cry out.

Constance and her two companions bend wildly from the balustrade, a sight for a painter. Across the way Flora, holding back her grandmother, silently leans out, another picture. In the ranks near Charlie a disarray continues even after Kincaid has got the battered Mandeville again into the saddle, and while Mandeville is rejecting sympathy with a begrimed yet haughty smile.

"Keep back, ladies!" pleads Madame's late informant, holding off two or three bodily. "Ladies, sit down! Will you please to keep back!" Flora still leans out. Some one is melodiously calling:

"Captain Kincaid!" It is Mrs. Callender. "Captain!" she repeats.

He smiles up and at last meets Anna's eyes. Flora sees their glances--angels ascending and descending--and a wee loop of ribbon that peeps from his tightly buttoned breast. Otherwise another sight, elsewhere, could not have escaped her, though it still escapes many.

"Poor boy!" it causes two women behind her to exclaim, "poor boy!" but Flora pays no heed, for Hilary is speaking to the Callenders.

"Nothing broken but his watch," he gayly comforts them as to Mandeville.

"He's bleeding!" moans Constance, very white. But Kincaid softly explains in his hollowed hands:

"Only his nose!"

The nose's owner casts no upward look. Not his to accept pity, even from a fiancée. His handkerchief dampened "to wibe the faze," two bits of wet paper "to plug the noztril',"--he could allow no more!

"First blood of the war!" said Hilary.

"Yez! But"--the flashing warrior tapped his sword--"nod the last!" and was off at a gallop, while Kincaid turned hurriedly to find that Charlie, struck by the floundering horse, had twice fainted away.

In the balconies the press grew dangerous. An urchin intercepted Kincaid to show him the Callenders, who, with distressed eyes, pointed him to their carriage hurrying across Canal Street.

"For Charlie and Flora!" called Anna. They could not stir "themselves" for the crush; but yonder, on Moody's side, the same kind citizen noticed before had taken matters in hand:

"Keep back, ladies! Make room! Let these two ladies out!" He squeezed through the pack, holding aloft the furled colors, which all this time had been lying at Flora's feet. Her anxious eyes were on them at every second step as she pressed after him with the grandmother dangling from her elbow.

The open carriage spun round the battery's right and up its front to where a knot of comrades hid the prostrate Charlie; the surgeon, Kincaid, and Flora crouching at his side, the citizen from the balcony still protecting grandmamma, and the gilded eagle of the unpresented standard hovering over all. With tender ease Hilary lifted the sufferer and laid him on the carriage's front seat, the surgeon passed Madame in and sat next to her, but to Kincaid Flora exclaimed with a glow of heroic distress:

"Let me go later--with Anna!" Her eyes overflowed--she bit her lip--"I must present the flag!"

A note of applause started, a protest hushed it, and the overbending Callenders and the distracted Victorine heard Hilary admiringly say:

"Come! Go! You belong with your brother!"

He pressed her in. For an instant she stood while the carriage turned, a hand outstretched toward the standard, saying to Hilary something that was drowned by huzzas; then despairingly she sank into her seat and was gone down Royal Street.

"Attention!" called a lieutenant, and the ranks were in order. To the holder of the flag Hilary pointed out Anna, lingered for a word with his subaltern, and then followed the standard to the Callenders' balcony.

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