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   Chapter 14 FLORA TAPS GRANDMA'S CHEEK

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 5559

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


Meanwhile, from a cluster of society folk sipping ices at "Vincent's" balcony tables, corner of Carondelet Street (where men made the most money), and Canal (where women spent the most), Flora and her grandmother, in Irby's care, made their way down to the street.

Kincaid, once more on horseback with General Brodnax, saw them emerge beside his cousin's hired carriage, and would have hurried to them, if only to inquire after the injured boy; but the General gave what he was saying a detaining energy. It was of erecting certain defences behind Mobile; of the scarcity of military engineers; and of his having, to higher authority, named Hilary for the task. The Captain could easily leave the battery in camp for a day or two, take the Mobile boat--He ceased an instant and scowled, as Hilary bowed across the way.

There was a tender raillery in the beam with which Flora held the young man's eye a second, and as she turned away there was accusation in the faint toss and flicker of the deep lace that curtained her hat. Both her companions saw it, but Irby she filled with an instant inebriation by one look, the kindest she had ever given him.

"Both barrels!" said the old lady to herself.

As Irby reached the carriage door Flora's touch arrested him. It was as light as a leaf, but it thrilled him like wine--whose thrill he well knew.

"I've lost one of my gloves," she said.

He looked about her feet.

"You mus' have drop' it on the stair," said grandmamma, discerning the stratagem, and glad to aid it.

Problem in tactics: To hunt the glove all the way up to the balcony and return before Hilary, if he was coming, could reach Flora's side. Irby set his teeth--he loathed problems--and sprang up the steps.

"No use," chanted Madame with enjoyment; "the other one is not coming."

But Flora remained benign while the old lady drew a little mocking sigh. "Ah," said the latter, "if the General would only stop changing his mind about his two nephews, what a lot of hard work that would save you!"

"It isn't hard!" cried Flora; so radiantly that passing strangers brightened back, "I love it!"

"It!" mocked the grandmother as the girl passed her into the carriage. "It!"

"You poor tired old thing!" sighed the compassionate beauty. "Never mind, dear; how the General may choose no longer gives me any anxiety."

"Oh, you lie!"

"No," softly laughed the girl, "not exactly. Don't collapse, love, you'll get your share of the loot yet. My choice shall fit the General's as this glove (drawing on the one Irby was still away in search of) fits this hand."

Madame smiled her contempt: "Nevertheless you will risk all just to show Anna--"

Flora made a gesture of delight but harkened on--

"That she cannot have her Captain till-

-"

"Till I'm sure I don't want him!" sang the girl.

"Which will never be!" came the quiet response.

The maiden flushed: "On the contrary, my dear, I was just going to say, you will please begin at once to be more civil to our Captain--Irby."

Madame gazed: "My God!"

"Ho!" said Flora, "I'd rather somebody else's." She cheerily smoothed the bonnet-bows under the old lady's chin: "Now, chère, you know the assets are all you care for--even if with them you have to take a nincompoop for a grandson."

She was laughing merrily when Irby reappeared in the crowd, motioning that he had found nothing. Her gloved hands raised in fond apology, and Hilary's absence, appeased him, and he entered the vehicle.

So to Jackson Square, where it was good-by to Irby and the carriage, and Age and Beauty climbed their staircase together. "To-morrow's Saturday," gayly sighed the girl. "I've a good mind to lie abed till noon, counting up the week's successes."

"Especially to-day's," smirked weary Age.

"Ho-o-oh!" laughed the maiden, "you and to-day be--" The rest was whispered close, with a one-fingered tap on the painted cheek. In the gloom of the upper landing she paused to murmur, "hear this: Two things I have achieved this week worth all to-day's bad luck ten times over--you don't believe me?"

"No, you pretty creature; you would have told me sooner, if only for vanity."

"I swear to you it is true!" whispered the lithe boaster, with a gleeful quiver from head to foot. "Listen! First--purely, of course, for love of Anna--I have conspired with the General to marry her to Kincaid. And, second, also purely for love of her, I have conspired with Irby to keep her and Kincaid forever and a day apart!"

She tapped both the aged cheeks at once: "I hate to share anything so delicious with you, but I must, because--"

"Ah-h! because, as usual--"

"Yes! Yes, you sweet old pelican! Because you are to turn the crank! But it's all for love of Anna. Ah, there's no inspiration like exasperation!"

"Except destitution!" said the grandmother.

They came before Charlie with arms about each other and openly enjoyed his only comment--a scornful rounding of his eyes.

In the Callender house, as the stair clock sounded the smallest hour of the night, Miranda, seeing the chink under Anna's door to be still luminous, stole to the spot, gently rapped, and winning no response warily let herself in.

From the diary on her desk Anna lifted her cheek, looked up, reclosed her lids, smiled and reopened them. Miranda took the blushing face between her palms, and with quizzing eyes--and nose--inquired:

"Is there any reason under heaven why Anna Callender shouldn't go to bed and have glad dreams?"

"None that I know of," said Anna.

* * *

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