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   Chapter 17 OH, CONNIE, DEAR--NOTHING--GO ON

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 6937

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


The third evening came. On all the borders of dear Dixie more tents than ever whitened sea-shores and mountain valleys, more sentinels paced to and fro in starlight or rain, more fifers and trumpeters woke the echoes with strains to enliven fortitude, more great guns frowned silently at each other over more parapets, and more thousands of lovers reclined about camp fires with their hearts and fancies at home, where mothers and maidens prayed in every waking moment for God's mercy to keep the brave truants; and with remembrance of these things Anna strove to belittle her own distress while about the library lamp she and Miranda seemed each to be reading a book, and Constance the newspaper sent from Charleston by Mandeville.

Out in the mellow night a bird sang from the tip-top of a late-blooming orange tree, and inside, away inside, inside and through and through the poor girl's heart, the "years"--which really were nothing but the mantel clock's quarter-hours--"crept slowly by."

At length she laid her book aside, softly kissed each seated companion, and ascended to her room and window. There she stood long without sound or motion, her eyes beyond the stars, her head pressed wearily against the window frame. Then the lids closed while her lips formed soft words:

"Oh, God, he is not coming!" Stillness again. And then--"Oh, let me believe yet that only Thy hand keeps him away! Is it to save him for some one fairer and better? God, I ask but to know! I'm a rebel, but not against Thee, dear Lord. I know it's a sin for me to suffer this way; Thou dost not owe me happiness; I owe it Thee. Oh, God, am I clamoring for my week's wages before I've earned an hour's pay? Yet oh! yet oh!"--the head rocked heavily on its support--"if only--if only--"

She started--listened! A gate opened--shut. She sprang to her glass and then from it. In soft haste she needlessly closed the window and drew its shade and curtains. She bathed her eyelids and delicately dried them. At the mirror again she laid deft touches on brow and crown, harkening between for any messenger's step, and presently, without reason, began to set the room more exquisitely to rights. Now she faced the door and stood attentive, and now she took up a small volume and sat down by her lamp.

A tap: Constance entered, beaming only too tenderly. "It was better, wasn't it," she asked, hovering, "to come than to send?"

"Why, of course, dear; it always is."

A meditative silence followed. Then Anna languidly inquired, "Who is it?"

"Nobody but Charlie."

The inquirer brightened: "And why isn't Charlie as good as any one?"

"He is, to-night," replied the elder beauty, "except--the one exception."

"Oh, Connie"--a slight flush came as the seated girl smilingly drew her sister's hands down to her bosom--"there isn't any one exception, and there's not going to be any. Now, that smile is downright mean of you!"

The offender atoned with a kiss on the brow.

"Why do you say," asked its recipient, "'as good as any one, to-night'?"

"Because," was the soft reply, "to-night he comes from--the other--to explain why the other couldn't come."

"Why!"--the flush came back stronger--"why, Connie! why, that's positively silly--ha, ha, ha!"

"I don't see how, Nan."

"My dear Con! Isn't his absence equally and perfectly innocent whether he couldn't come or wouldn't come? But an explanation sent!--by courier!--to--to shorten--ah, ha, ha!--to shorte

n our agony! Why, Con, wouldn't you have thought better of him than that? H-oh, me! What a man's 'bound to be' I suppose he's bound to be. What is the precious explanation?"

With melting eyes Constance shook her head. "You don't deserve to hear it," she replied. Her tears came: "My little sister, I'm on the man's side in this affair!"

"That's not good of you," murmured Anna.

"I don't claim to be good. But there's one thing, Nan Callender, I never did; I never chained up my lover to see if he'd stay chained. When Steve--"

"Oh-h! Oh-h!" panted Anna, "you're too cruel! Hilary Kincaid wears no chain of mine!"

"Oh, yes, he does! He's broken away, but he's broken away, chain and all, to starve and perish, as one look into his face would show you!"

"He doesn't show his face. He sends--"

"An explanation. Yes. Which first you scorn and then consent to hear."

"Don't scorn me, Connie. What's the explanation?"

"It's this: he's been sent back to those Mobile fortifications--received the order barely in time to catch the boat by going instantly. Nan, the Valcours' house is found to stand right on their proposed line, and he's gone to decide whether the line may be changed or the house must be demolished."

Anna rose, twined an arm in her sister's and with her paced the chamber. "How perfectly terrible!" she murmured, their steps ceasing and her eyes remote in meditation. "Poor Flora! Oh, the poor old lady! And oh, oh, poor Flora!--But, Con! The line will be changed! He--you know what the boys call him!"

"Yes, but there's the trouble. He's no one lady's man. Like Steve, he's so absolutely fair--"

"Connie, I tell you it's a strange line he won't change for Flora Valcour!"

"Now, Nan Callender! The line will go where it ought to go. By the by, Charlie says neither Flora nor her grandmother knows the house is in danger. Of course, if it is harmed, the harm will be paid for."

"Oh, paid for!"

"Why, Nan, I'm as sorry for them as you. But I don't forget to be sorry for Hilary Kincaid too."

"Connie"--walk resumed, speaker's eyes on the floor--"if you'd only see that to me he's merely very interesting--entertaining--nothing more whatever--I'd like to say just a word about him."

"Say on, precious."

"Well--did you ever see a man so fond of men?"

"Oh, of course he is, or men wouldn't be so fond of him."

"I think he's fonder of men than of women!"

Constance smiled: "Do you?"

"And I think," persisted Anna, "the reason some women find him so agreeable is that our collective society is all he asks of us, or ever will ask."

"Nan Callender, look me in the eye! You can't! My little sister, you've got a lot more sense than I have, and you know it, but I can tell you one thing. When Steve and I--"

"Oh, Connie, dear--nothing--go on."

"I won't! Except to say some lovers take love easy and some--can't. I must go back to Charlie. I know, Nan, it's those who love hardest that take love hardest, and I suppose it's born in Hilary Kincaid, and it's born in you, to fight it as you'd fight fire. But, oh, in these strange times, don't do it! Don't do it. You're going to have trouble a-plenty without."

The pair, moving to the door with hands on each other's shoulders, exchanged a melting gaze. "Trouble a-plenty," softly asked Anna, "why do you--?"

"Oh, why, why, why!" cried the other, with a sudden gleam of tears. "I wish you and Miranda had never learned that word."

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