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   Chapter 22 SAME STORY SLIGHTLY WARPED

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 10833

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


Not literally. That evening, yes, an end of it, but not the very next four, did Kincaid spend with Anna. It merely looked so to Flora Valcour.

Even on that first day, after his too prompt forenoon gallop from Callender House to the Valcour apartment had, of course, only insured his finding Flora not at home, all its evening except the very end was passed with her, Flora, in her open balcony overlooking the old Place d'Armes. His head ringing with a swarm of things still to be done and ordered done, he had purposed to remain only long enough to tell his dire news manfully, accept without insistent debate whatever odium it might entail, and decently leave its gentle recipients to their grief and dismay. What steps they should take to secure compensation it were far better they should discuss with Adolphe, who would be here to aid them when he, Kincaid, would be in far Virginia. The only other imperative matter was that of the young schoolma'am's gold, which must be left in bank. Awkward business, to have to ask for it in scrambling haste at such a moment.

But on a starlit balcony with two such ladies as the Valcours, to do one's errands, such errands, in scrambling haste proved not even a military possibility. Their greeting inquiries had to be answered:

"Yes, Charlie was well. He would be along soon, with fresh messages from division headquarters. The battery was at last--Pardon?... Yes, the Callenders were well--he supposed! He had seen only Miss Anna, and her only for so brief an instant--"

No, Madame Valcour had merely cleared her throat. "That climate is hard on those throat'."

He had seen Miss Anna, he resumed, "for so brief an instant--on an errand--that he had not made civil inquiry after the others, but had left good-by for them about as a news-carrier wads and throws in the morning paper!"

It was so pretty, the silvery way the questioning pair laughed to each other--at his simile, if that was the genuine source of their amusement--that he let himself laugh with them.

"But how?" they further asked. "He had left good-by? Good-day, yes! But for what good-by when juz' returning?"

"Ah, because here to them, also, it must be good-by, and be as brief as there! The battery--he had sent word to them at sunrise, but had just learned that his messenger had missed them--the battery was at last ordered"--etc.

"Mon Dieu!" gasped the old lady as if this was too cruelly sudden, and, "Oh, my brother! Oh, Captain Kincaid!" beautifully sighed Flora, from whom the grandmother had heard the news hours before.

Yet, "Of course any time 'twould have to be sudden," they had presently so recovered as to say, and Flora, for both, spoke on in accents of loveliest renunciation. She easily got the promise she craved, that no ill should come to Charlie which a commander's care could avert.

The loss of their Mobile home, which also Madame had perfectly known since morning, was broken to them with less infelicity, though they would talk cheerily of the house as something which no evil ever would or could befall, until suddenly the girl said, "Grandma, dearest, that night air is not so pretty good for your rheum; we better pass inside," and the old lady, insistently unselfish, moved a step within, leaving the other two on the balcony. There, when the blow came at last, Flora's melodious grievings were soon over, and her sweet reasonableness, her tender exculpation not alone of this dear friend but even of the silly fellows who had done the deed, and her queenly, patriotic self-obliteration, were more admirable than can be described. Were, as one may say, good literature. The grateful soldier felt shamed to find, most unaccountably, that Anna's positively cruel reception of the same news somehow suited him better. It was nearer his own size, he said to himself. At any rate the foremost need now, on every account, was to be gone. But as he rose Flora reminded him of "those few hundred gold?" Goodness! he had clean forgotten the thing. He apologized for the liberty taken in leaving it with her, but--"Oh!" she prettily interrupted, "when I was made so proud!"

Well, now he would relieve her and take it at once to a bank cashier who had consented to receive it at his house this very night. She assured him its custody had given her no anxiety, for she had promptly passed it over to another! He was privately amazed:

"Oh--o-oh--oh, yes, certainly. That was right! To whom had she--?"

She did not say. "Yes," she continued, "she had at once thought it ought to be with some one who could easily replace it if, by any strange mishap--flood, fire, robbery--it should get lost. To do which would to her be impossible if at Mobile her house--" she tossed out her hands and dropped them pathetically. "But I little thought, Captain Kincaid--" she began a heart-broken gesture--

"Now, Miss Flora!" the soldier laughingly broke out, "if it's lost it's lost and no one but me shall lose a cent for it!"

"Ah, that," cried the girl, with tears in her voice, "'tis impossible! 'Twould kill her, that mortification, as well as me, for you to be the loser!"

"Loser! mortification!" laughed Hilary. "And what should I do with my mortification if I should let you, or her, be the loser? Who is she, Miss Flora? If I minded the thing, you understand, I shouldn't ask."

Flora shrank as with pain: "Ah, you must not! And you must not

guess, for you will surely guess wrong!" Nevertheless she saw with joy that he had guessed Anna, yet she suffered chagrin to see also that the guess made him glad. "And this you must make me the promise; that you never, never will let anybody know you have discover' that, eh?"

"Oh, I promise."

"And you must let her pay it me back--that money--and me pay it you. 'Twill be easy, only she mus' have time to get the money, and without needing to tell anybody for why, and for why in gold. Alas! I could have kept that a secret had it not have been you are to go to-morrow morning"

"Oh, rest easy," said the cheerful soldier, "mum's the word. But, Miss Flora, tell me this: How on earth did she lose it?"

"Captain Kincaid, by the goodness of the heart!"

"But how did it go; was it--?"

"Blown up! Blown up with that poor old man in the powder-mill! Ah, what do we know about money, Captain Kincaid, we silly women? That poor, innocent child, she lent it to the old gentleman. His theories, they were so convincing, and she, she was so ambitious to do a great patriotic service. 'Twas to make wonders for the powder and gun, and to be return' in three days. But that next day 'twas Sunday, and whiles I was kneeling in the church the powder, the gun, the old man and the money--"

Hilary gestured facetiously for the narrator: "That's how millions have got to go in this business, and this driblet--why, I might have lent it, myself, if I'd been here! No, I'm the only loser, and--"

"Ah, Captain Kincaid, no, no! I implore you, no!--and for her sake! Oh, what are those few hundred for her to lose, if so she can only wipe that mistake? No, they shall be in the charge of that cashier before you're at Virginia, and that shall be my first news written to my brother--though he'll not comprehend except that he is to tell it you."

So it was arranged and agreed. As again he moved to go she won a new pledge of unending secrecy, and Charlie came with a document. Beside the parlor lamp, where, with one tiny foot covertly unslippered for the easement of angry corns, Madame sat embroidering, Kincaid broke the seal and read. He forced a scowl, but through it glimmered a joy in which Flora discerned again the thought of Anna. "Charlie," he said as a smile broke through, "prepare yourself."

"Now, Captain, if those old imbeciles--"

The commander's smile broadened: "Our battery, ladies and gentlemen, can't go for a week."

All laughed but Charlie. He swore at the top of his voice and threw himself from the room.

When his Captain had followed, Flora, standing and smiling, drew from her bosom a small, well-filled jewel-bag, balanced it on her uplifted palm and, rising to her toes, sang, "At last, at last, grace au ciel, money is easy!"

"Yet at the same time my gifted granddaughter," remarked the old lady, in her native tongue and intent on her embroidery, "is uneasy, eh?"

Flora ignored the comment. She laid a second palm, on the upraised booty, made one whole revolution, her soft crinoline ballooning and subsiding with a seductive swish as she paused: "And you shall share these blessings, grannie, love, although of the assets themselves"--she returned the bag to its sanctuary and smoothed the waist where the paper proceeds of the schoolmistress's gold still hid--"you shall never handle a dime." She sparkled airily.

"No?" said Madame, still moving the needle and still in French. "Nevertheless, morning and evening together, our winnings are--how much?"

"Ours?" melodiously asked the smiling girl, "they are not ours, they are mine. And they are--at the least"--she dropped to her senior's footstool and spoke caressingly low--"a clean thousand! Is not that sweet enough music to the ear of a venerable"--she whispered--"cormorant?" She sparkled anew.

"I am sorry," came the mild reply, "you are in such torture you have to call me names. But it is, of course, entirely concerning--the house--ahem!"

Flora rose, walked to a window, and, as she gazed out across the old plaza, said measuredly in a hard voice: "Never mind! Never mind her--or him either. I will take care of the two of them!"

A low laugh tinkled from the ancestress: "Ha, ha! you thought the fool would be scandalized, and instead he is only the more enamored."

The girl flinched but kept her face to the window: "He is not the fool."

"No? We can hardly tell, when we are--in love."

Flora wheeled and flared, but caught herself, musingly crossed the room, returned half-way, and with frank design resumed the stool warily vacated by the unslippered foot; whose owner was mincing on, just enough fluttered to play defiance while shifting her attack--

"Home, sweet home! For our ravished one you will, I suppose, permit his beloved country to pay--in its new paper money at 'most any discount--and call it square, eh?" Half the bitterness of her tone was in its sweetness.

In a sudden white heat the granddaughter clutched one aged knee with both hands: "Wait! If I don't get seven times all it was ever worth, the Yankees shall!" Then with an odd gladness in her eyes she added, "And she shall pay her share!"

"You mean--his?" asked the absorbed embroiderer. But on her last word she stiffened upward with a low cry of agony, shut her eyes and swung her head as if about to faint. Flora had risen.

"Oh-h-h!" the girl softly laughed, "was that your foot?"

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