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   Chapter 15 THE LONG MONTH OF MARCH

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 9996

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


Ole mahs' love' wine, ole mis' love' silk,

De piggies, dey loves buttehmilk,

An' eveh sence dis worl' began,

De ladies loves de ladies' man.

I loves to sing a song to de ladies!

I loves to dance along o' de ladies!

Whilse eveh I can breave aw see aw stan'

I's bound to be a ladies' man.

So sang Captain Hilary Kincaid at the Mandeville-Callender wedding feast, where his uncle Brodnax, with nearly everyone we know, was present. Hilary had just been second groomsman, with Flora for his "file leader," as he said, meaning second bridesmaid. He sat next her at table, with Anna farthest away.

Hardly fortunate was some one who, conversing with the new Miss Callender, said the charm of Kincaid's singing was that the song came from "the entire man." She replied that just now it really seemed so! In a sense both comments were true, and yet never in the singer's life had so much of "the entire man" refused to sing. All that night of the illumination he had not closed his eyes, except in anguish for having tried to make love on the same day when--and to the same Anna Callender before whom--he had drawn upon himself the roaring laugh of the crowded street; or in a sort of remorse for letting himself become the rival of a banished friend who, though warned that a whole platoon of him would make no difference, suddenly seemed to plead a prohibitory difference to one's inmost sense of honor.

At dawn he had risen resolved to make good his boast and "fight like a whale." Under orders of his own seeking he had left the battery the moment its tents were up and had taken boat for Mobile. Whence he had returned only just in time to stand beside Flora Valcour, preceded by a relative of the bridegroom paired with Anna.

Yet here at the feast none was merrier than Kincaid, who, charmingly egged on by Flora, kept those about him in gales of mirth, and even let himself be "cajoled" (to use his own term) into singing this song whose title had become his nickname. Through it all Anna smiled and laughed with the rest and clapped for each begged-for stanza. Yet all the time she said in her heart, "He is singing it at me!"

De squir'l he love' de hick'ry tree,

De clover love' de bummle-bee,

De flies, dey loves mullasses, an'--

De ladies loves de ladies' man.

I loves to be de beau o' de ladies!

I loves to shake a toe wid de ladies!

Whilse eveh I'm alive, on wateh aw Ian',

I's bound to be a ladies' man.

The General, seeing no reason why Hilary should not pay Anna at least the attentions he very properly paid his "file leader," endured the song with a smile, but took revenge when he toasted the bride:

"In your prayers to-night, my dear Constance, just thank God your husband is, at any rate, without the sense of humor--Stop, my friends! Let me finish!"

A storm of laughter was falling upon Mandeville, but the stubborn General succeeded after all in diverting it to Hilary, to whom in solemn mirth he pointed as--"that flirtatious devotee of giddiness, without a fault big enough to make him interesting!" ["Hoh!"--"Hoh!"--from men and maidens who could easily have named huge ones.] Silent Anna knew at least two or three; was it not a fault a hundred times too grave to be uninteresting, for a big artillerist to take a little frightened lassie as cruelly at her word as he was doing right here and now?

Interesting to her it was that his levity still remained unsubmerged, failing him only in a final instant: Their hands had clasped in leave-taking and her eyes were lifted to his, when some plea with which "the entire man" seemed overcharged to the very lips was suddenly, subtly, and not this time by disconcertion, but by self-mastery, withheld. Irby put in a stiff good-by, and as he withdrew, Hilary echoed only the same threadbare word more brightly, and was gone; saying to himself as he looked back from the garden's outmost bound:

"She's cold; that's what's the matter with Anna; cold and cruel!"

Tedious was the month of March. Mandeville devise' himself a splandid joke on that, to the effect that soon enough there would be months of tedieuse marches--ha, ha, ha!--and contribute' it to the news-pape'. Yet the tedium persisted. Always something about to occur, nothing ever occurring. Another vast parade, it is true, some two days after the marriage, to welcome from Texas that aged general (friend of the Callenders) who after long suspense to both sides had at last joined the South, and was to take command at New Orleans. Also, consequent upon the bursting of a gun that day in Kincaid's Battery, the funeral procession of poor, handsome, devil-may-care Felix de Gruy; saxhorns moaning and wailing, drums muttering from their muffled heads, Anna's ensign furled in black, captain and lieutenants on foot, brows inclined, sabres reversed, and the "Stars and Bars," new flag of the Confederacy, draping the slow caisson that bore him past the Callenders' gates in majesty so strange for the g

ay boy.

Such happenings, of course; but nothing that ever brought those things for which one, wakening in the night, lay and prayed while forced by the songster's rapture to "listen to the mocking-bird."

While the Judge lived the Callenders had been used to the company of men by the weight of whose energies and counsel the clock of public affairs ran and kept time; senators, bishops, bank presidents, great lawyers, leading physicians; a Dr. Sevier, for one. Some of these still enjoyed their hospitality, and of late in the old house life had recovered much of its high charm and breadth of outlook. Yet March was tedious.

For in March nearly all notables felt bound to be up at Montgomery helping to rock the Confederacy's cradle. Whence came back sad stories of the incapacity, negligence, and bickerings of misplaced men. It was "almost as bad as at Washington." Friends still in the city were tremendously busy; yet real business--Commerce--with scarce a moan of complaint, lay heaving out her dying breath. Busy at everything but business, these friends, with others daily arriving in command of rustic volunteers, kept society tremendously gay, by gas-light; and courage and fortitude and love of country and trust in God and scorn of the foe went clad in rainbow colors; but at the height of all manner of revels some pessimist was sure to explain to Anna why the war must be long, of awful cost, and with a just fighting chance to win.

"Then why do we not turn about right here?"

"Too late now."

Such reply gave an inward start, it seemed so fitted to her own irrevealable case. But it was made to many besides her, and women came home from dinings or from operas and balls for the aid of this or that new distress of military need, and went up into the dark and knelt in all their jewels and wept long. In March the poor, everywhere, began to be out of work, and recruiting to be lively among them too, because for thousands of them it was soldier's pay or no bread. Among the troops from the country death had begun to reap great harvests ere a gun was fired, and in all the camps lovers nightly sang their lugubrious "Lorena," feeling that "a hundred months had passed" before they had really dragged through one. March was so tedious, and lovers are such poor arithmeticians. Wherever Hilary Kincaid went, showing these how to cast cannon (that would not burst), those where to build fortifications, and some how to make unsickly camps, that song was begged of him in the last hour before sleep; last song but one, the very last being always--that least liked by Anna.

Tedious to Kincaid's Battery were his absences on so many errands. Behind a big earthwork of their own construction down on the river's edge of the old battle ground, close beyond the Callenders', they lay camped in pretty white tents that seemed to Anna, at her window, no bigger than visiting-cards. Rarely did she look that way but the fellows were drilling, their brass pieces and their officers' drawn sabres glinting back the sun, horses and men as furiously diligent as big and little ants, and sometimes, of an afternoon, their red and yellow silk and satin standard unfurled--theirs and hers. Of evenings small bunches of the boys would call to chat and be sung to; to threaten to desert if not soon sent to the front; and to blame all delays on colonels and brigadiers "known" by them to be officially jealous of--They gave only the tedious nickname.

"Why belittle him with that?" queried Miranda, winning Anna's silent gratitude.

"It doesn't belittle him," cried Charlie. "That's the joke. It makes him loom larger!"

Others had other explanations: Their guns were "ladies' guns!" Were the guns the foremost cause? Some qualified: "Foremost, yes; fundamental, no." Rather the fact that never was a woman cited in male gossip but instantly he was her champion; or that no woman ever brought a grievance to any camp where he might be but she wanted to appeal it to him.

Anna "thought the name was all from the song."

"Oh, fully as much from his hundred and one other songs! Had he never sung to her--

"'I'd offer thee this hand of mine--'?"

Frankly, it was agreed, he did most laughably love ladies' company; that he could always find it, as a horse can find water; that although no evening in their society could be so gay or so long that he would not be certain to work harder next day than any one else, no day could be so cruelly toilsome that he could not spend half the next night dancing with the girls; and lastly, that with perfect evenness and a boyish modesty he treated them all alike.

Anna laughed with the rest, but remembered three separate balls to which, though counted on, he had not come, she uninformed that military exigencies had at the last moment curtly waved him off, and he unaware that these exigencies had been created by Irby under inspiration from the daintiest and least self-assertive tactician in or about New Orleans.

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