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Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 6418

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

You ask how the Valcour ladies, living outwardly so like the most of us who are neither scamps nor saints, could live by moral standards so different from those we have always thought essential to serenity of brow, sweetness of bloom or blitheness of companionship, and yet could live so prettily--remain so winsome and unscarred.

Well, neither of them had ever morally fallen enough even to fret the brow. It is the fall that disfigures. They had lived up to inherited principles (such as they were), and one of the minor of these was, to adapt their contours to whatever they impinged upon.

We covet solidity of character, but Flora and Madame were essentially fluid. They never let themselves clash with any one, and their private rufflings of each other had only a happy effect of aerating their depths, and left them as mirror-smooth and thoroughly one as the bosom of a garden lake after the ripples have died behind two jostling swans. To the Callenders society was a delightful and sufficient end. To the Valcours it was a means to all kinds of ends, as truly as commerce or the industries, and yet they were so fragrantly likable that to call them accomplices seems outrageous--clogs the pen. Yes, they were actors, but you never saw that. They never stepped out of their parts, and they had this virtue, if it is one: that behind all their r?les they were staunchly for each other in every pinch. When Kincaid had been away a few days this second time, these two called at the Callender house.

To none was this house more interesting than to Flora. In her adroit mind she accused it of harboring ancient secrets in its architecture, shrewd hiding-places in its walls. Now as she stood in the panelled drawing-rooms awaiting its inmates, she pointed out to her seated companion that this was what her long-dead grandsire might have made their own home, behind Mobile, had he spent half on its walls what he had spent in them on wine, cards, and--

"Ah!" chanted the old lady, with a fierce glint and a mock-persuasive smile, "add the crowning word, the capsheaf. You have the stamina to do it."

"Women," said the girl of stamina beamingly, and went floating about, peering and tapping for hollow places. At one tap her eye, all to itself, danced; but on the instant Anna, uninformed of their presence, and entering with a vase of fresh roses, stood elated. Praise of the flowers hid all confusion, and Flora, with laughing caresses and a droll hardihood which Anna always enjoyed, declared she would gladly steal roses, garden, house and all. Anna withdrew, promising instant return.

"Flora dear!" queried the grandmother in French, "why did you tell her the truth? For once you must have been disconcerted!"

The sparkling girl laughed: "Why, isn't that--with due modifications--just what we're here for?"

Madame suddenly looked older, but quickly brightened again as Flora spoke on: "Don't you believe the truth is, now and then, the most effective lie? I've sometimes inferred you did."

The old lady rather enjoyed the gibe: "My dear, I can trust you never to give any one an overdose of it. Yet take care, you gave it a bit too pure just now. Don't ever risk it so on tha

t fool Constance, she has the intuitive insight of a small child--the kind you lost so early."

The two exchanged a brief admiring glance. "Oh, I'm all right with Constance," was the reply. "I'm cousin to 'Steve'!"

There the girl's gayety waned. The pair were at this moment in desperate need of money. Mandeville was one of the old coffee-planter's descendants. Had fate been less vile, thought Flora, this house might have been his, and so hers in the happy event of his demise. But now, in such case, to Constance, as his widow, would be left even the leavings, the overseer's cottage; which was one more convenient reason for detesting--not him, nor Constance--that would be to waste good ammunition; but--

"Still thinking of dear Anna?" asked the dame.

The maiden nodded: "Grandma"--a meditative pause--"I love Anna. Anna's the only being on earth I can perfectly trust."

"Ahem!" was the soft rejoinder, and the two smilingly held each other's gaze for the larger part of a minute. Then one by one came in the ladies of the house, and it was kiss and chirrup and kiss again.

"Cousin Constance--ah, ha, ha!--cousin Flora!"

The five talked of the wedding. Just to think! 'Twas barely a month ago, they said.

Yet how much had occurred, pursued Miranda, and how many things hoped and longed for had not occurred, and how time had dragged! At those words Flora saw Anna's glance steal over to Miranda. But Miranda did not observe, and the five chatted on. How terrifying, at still noon of the last Sabbath--everybody in church--had been that explosion of the powder-mill across the river. The whole business blown to dust. Nothing but the bare ground left. Happily no workmen there. No, not even a watchman, though the city was well known to be full of the enemy's "minions" (Flora's term). Amazing negligence, all agreed. Yet only of a piece--said Constance--etc.

And how sad to find there was a victim, after all, when poor, threadbare old Doctor Visionary, inventor of the machine-gun and a new kind of powder, began to be missed by his landlady, there being, in Captain Kincaid's absence, no one else to miss him. Yes, it was the Captain who had got him a corner to work in at the powder-mill. So much the worse for both. Now plans, models, formulae, and inventor were gone in that one flash and roar that shook the whole city and stopped all talk of Captain Kincaid's promotion as an earthquake stops a clock.

"Well," cried Constance to Flora, who had grown silent, "the battery will love him all the more!"

"And so will we all!" said Madame, also to Flora; and Flora, throwing off a look of pain, explained to Anna, "He is so good to my brother!"

"Naturally," quizzed Miranda, with her merriest wrinkles. Flora sparkled, made a pretty face at her and forced a change of theme; gave Anna's roses new praise, and said she had been telling grandma of the swarms of them in the rear garden. So the old lady, whom she had told no such thing, let Constance and Miranda conduct her there. But Flora softly detained Anna, and the moment they were alone seized both her hands. Whereat through all Anna's frame ran despair, crying, "He has asked her! He has asked her!"

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