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   Chapter 21 CONSTANCE CROSS-EXAMINES

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 5941

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


It was like turning to the light the several facets of one of those old-fashioned jewels Flora was privately bearing away, to see the five beauties part company: "Good-by, good-by," kiss, kiss--ah, the sad waste of it!--kiss left, kiss right, "good-by."

As the Callenders came in again from the veranda, their theme was Flora. "Yet who," asked Constance, "ever heard her utter a moral sentiment?"

"Oh, her beauty does that," rejoined the kindly Miranda. "As Captain Kincaid said that evening he--"

"Yes, I know. He said he would pass her into heaven on her face, and I think it was a very strange thing for him to say!"

"Why?" daringly asked Miranda--and ran from the room.

The hater of whys turned upon her sister: "Nan, what's the matter?... Oh, now, yes, there is. What made you start when Miranda mentioned--Yes, you did. You're excited, you know you are. When we came in from the garden you and Flora were both--"

"Now, Connie--"

"Pshaw, Nan, I know he's been here, it's in your face. Who was with him; Charlie?"

"Yes. They just dropped in to say good-by. The battery's ordered to Virginia. Virginia hasn't seceded yet, but he feels sure she will before they can get there, and so do I. Don't you? If Kentucky and Maryland would only--"

"Now, Nan, just hush. When does he go?"

"To-morrow. But as to us"--the girl shrugged prettily while caressing her roses--"he's gone now."

"How did he talk?"

"Oh--quite as usual." The head bent low into the flowers. "In the one pretty way he has with all of us, you know."

Constance would not speak until their eyes met again. Then she asked, "Did Charlie and Flora give him any chance--to express himself?"

"Oh, Con, don't be foolish. He didn't want any. He as much as said so!"

"Ye-es," drawled the bride incredulously, "but--"

"Oh, he really did not, Con. He talked of nothing but the battery flag and how, because I'd presented it, they would forever and ever and ever and ever--" She waved her hands sarcastically.

"Nan, behave. Come here." The pair took the sofa. "How did he look and act when he first came in? Before you froze him stiff?"

"I didn't freeze him." The quiet, hurt denial was tremulous. "Wood doesn't freeze." The mouth drooped satirically: "You know well enough that the man who says his tasks have spared him no time to--to--"

"Nan, honest! Did you give him a fair chance--the kind I gave Steve?"

"Oh, Con! He had all the chance any man ever got, or will get, from me."

The sister sighed: "Nan Callender, you are the poorest fisherman--"

"I'm not! I'm none! And if I were one"--the disclaimant glistened with mirth--"I couldn't be as poor a one as he is; he's afraid of his own bait." She began to laugh but had to force back her tears: "I didn't mean that! He's never had any bait--for me, nor wanted any. Neither he nor I ever--Really, Con, you are the only one who's made any mistake as to either of us! You seem to think--"

"Oh, dear

ie, I don't think at all, I just know. I know he's furiously in love with you--Yes, furiously; but that he's determined to be fair to Fred Greenleaf--"

"Oh!"--a yet wickeder smile.

"Yes, and that he feels poor. You know that if the General--"

The hearer lifted and dropped both arms: "Oh!--to be continued!"

"Well, I know, too, that he doesn't believe, anyhow, in soldiers marrying. I've never told you, sweet, but--if I hadn't cried so hard--Steve would have challenged Hilary Kincaid for what he said on that subject the night we were married!"

Anna straightened, flashed, and then dropped again as she asked, "Is that all you know?"

"No, I know what counts for more than all the rest; I know you're a terror to him."

Remotely in the terror's sad eyes glimmered a smile that was more than half satisfaction. "You might as well call him a coward," she murmured.

"Not at all. You know you've been a terror to every suitor you've ever had--except Fred Greenleaf; he's the only one you couldn't keep frightened out of his wits. Now this time I know it's only because you're--you're bothered! You don't know how you're going to feel--"

"Now, Con--"

"And you don't want to mislead him, and you're just bothered to death! It was the same way with me."

"It wasn't!" silently said Anna's lips, her face averted. Suddenly she turned and clutched her sister's hands: "Oh, Con, while we talk trifles Flora's home lies in ashes!... Yes, he told me so just now."

"Didn't he tell her too?"

"Why, no, Connie, he--he couldn't very well. It--it would have been almost indelicate, wouldn't it? But he's gone now to tell her."

"He needn't," said Constance. "She knows it now. The moment I came in here I saw, through all her lightness, she'd got some heavy news. She must have overheard him, Nan."

"Connie, I--I believe she did!"

"Well, that's all right. What are you blushing for?"

"Blushing! Every time I get a little warm--" The speaker rose to go, but the sister kept her hand:

"Keep fresh for this evening, honey. He'll be back."

"No, he won't. He doesn't propose to if he could and he couldn't if he did. To get the battery off to-morrow--"

"It won't get off to-morrow, nor the next day, nor the next. You know how it always is. When Steve--"

"Oh, I don't know anything," said Anna, pulling free and moving off. "But you, oh, you know it all, you and Steve!"

But the elder beauty was right. The battery did not go for more than a fortnight, and Hilary came again that evening. Sitting together alone, he and Anna talked about their inner selves--that good old sign! and when she gave him a chance he told her what Greenleaf had said about her and the ocean. Also he confided to her his envy of small-statured people, and told how it hurt him to go about showing the bigness of his body and hiding the pettiness of his soul. And he came the next evening and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next.

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