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Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 5676

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

"Charlie has two ribs broken, but is doing well," ran a page of the diary; "so well that Flora and Madame--who bears fatigue wonderfully--let Captain Irby take them, in the evening, to see the illumination. For the thunderstorm, which sent us whirling home at midday, was followed by a clear evening sky and an air just not too cool to be fragrant.

"I cannot write. My thoughts jostle one another out of all shape, like the women in that last crush after the flag-presentation. I begged not to have to take Flora's place from her. It was like snatching jewels off her. I felt like a robber! But in truth until I had the flag actually in my hand I thought we were only being asked to take care of it for a later day. The storm had begun to threaten. Some one was trying to say to me--'off to camp and then to the front,' and--'must have the flag now,' and still I said, 'No, oh, no!' But before I could get any one to add a syllable there was the Captain himself with the three men of the color guard behind him, the middle one Victorine's father. I don't know how I began, but only that I went on and on in some wild way till I heard the applause all about and beneath me, and he took the colors from me, and the first gust of the storm puffed them half open--gorgeously--and the battery hurrahed. And then came his part. He--I cannot write it."

Why not, the diary never explained, but what occurred was this:

"Ladies and gentlemen and comrades in arms!" began Hilary and threw a superb look all round, but the instant he brought it back to Anna, it quailed, and he caught his breath. Then he nerved up again. To help his courage and her own she forced herself to gaze straight into his eyes, but reading the affright in hers he stood dumb and turned red.

He began again: "Ladies and gentlemen and comrades in arms!" and pulled his moustache, and smote and rubbed his brow, and suddenly drove his hand into an inside pocket and snatched out a slip of paper. But what should come trailing out with it but a long loop of ribbon! As he pushed it back he dropped the paper, which another whiff of wind flirted straight over his head, sent it circling and soaring clear above Moody's store and dropped it down upon the roof. And there gazed Anna and all that multitude, utterly blank, until the martyr himself burst into a laugh. Then a thousand laughs pealed as one, and he stood smiling and stroking back his hair, till his men began to cry, "song! song!"

Upon that he raised the flag high in one hand, let it balloon to the wind, made a sign of refusal, and all at once poured out a flood of speech--pledges to Anna and her fellow-needlewomen--charges to his men--hopes for the cherished cause--words so natural and unadorned, so practical and soldier-like, and yet so swift, that not a breath was drawn till he had ended. Bu

t then what a shout!

It was over in a moment. The great black cloud that had been swelling up from the south gave its first flash and crash, and everybody started pell-mell for home. The speaker stood just long enough for a last bow to Anna while the guard went before him with the colors. Then he hurried below and had the whole battery trotting down Canal Street and rounding back on its farther side, with the beautiful standard fluttering to the storm, before the Callenders could leave the balcony.

Canal Street that evening was a veritable fairyland. When, growing tired of their carriage, the Callenders and Mandeville walked, and Kincaid unexpectedly joined them, fairyland was the only name he could find for it, and Anna, in response, could find none at all. Mallard's, Zimmerman's, Clark's, Levois's, Laroussini's, Moody's, Hyde & Goodrich's, and even old Piffet's were all aglow. One cannot recount half. Every hotel, every club-house, all the theatres, all the consul's offices in Royal and Carondelet streets, the banks everywhere, Odd Fellows' Hall--with the Continentals giving their annual ball in it--and so forth and so on! How the heart was exalted!

But when the heart is that way it is easy to say things prematurely, and right there in Canal Street Hilary spoke of love. Not personally, only at large; although when Anna restively said no woman should ever give her heart where she could not give a boundless and unshakable trust, his eyes showed a noble misery while he exclaimed:

"Oh, but there are women of whom no man can ever deserve that!" There his manner was all at once so personal that she dared not be silent, but fell to generalizing, with many a stammer, that a woman ought to be very slow to give her trust if, once giving it, she would not rather die than doubt.

"Do you believe there are such women?" he asked.

"I know there are," she said, her eyes lifted to his, but the next instant was so panic-smitten and shamed that she ran into a lamp post. And when he called that his fault her denial was affirmative in its feebleness, and with the others she presently resumed the carriage and said good-night.

"Flippantly!" thought the one left alone on the crowded sidewalk.

Yet--"It is I who am going to have the hardest of it," said the diary a short hour after. "I've always thought that when the right one came I'd never give in the faintest bit till I had put him to every test and task and delay I could invent. And now I can't invent one! His face quenches doubt, and if he keeps on this way--Ah, Flora! is he anything to you? Every time he speaks my heart sees you. I see you now! And somehow--since Charlie's mishap--more yours than his if--"

For a full minute the pen hovered over the waiting page, then gradually left it and sank to rest on its silver rack.

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