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   Chapter 24 A PARKED BATTERY CAN RAISE A DUST

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 5862

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


Down in the camp the battery was forming into park; a pretty movement. The ladies watched it, the cavalrymen explaining. Now it was done. The command broke ranks, and now its lieutenants joined the fair company and drank its eulogies--grimly, as one takes a dram.

Back among the tents and mess fires--

"Fellows!" said the boys, in knots, "yonder's how he puts in his 'best licks' for us!" But their wanton gaze was also fond as it followed the procession of parasols and sword-belts, muslins and gold lace that sauntered down along the levee's crest in couples, Hilary and Anna leading.

Flora, as they went, felt a most unusual helplessness to avert a course of things running counter to her designs. It is true that, having pledged herself to the old General to seek a certain issue and to Irby to prevent it, she might, whichever way the matter drifted, gather some advantage if she could contrive to claim credit for the trend; an if which she felt amply able to take care of. To keep two men fooled was no great feat, nor even to beguile her grandmother, whose gadfly insistence centred ever on the Brodnax fortune as their only true objective; but so to control things as not to fool herself at last--that was the pinch. It pinched more than it would could she have heard how poorly at this moment the lover and lass were getting on--as such. Her subtle interferences--a mere word yesterday, another the day before--were having more success than she imagined, not realizing how much they were aided by that frantic untamableness to love's yoke, which, in Hilary only less than in Anna, qualified every word and motion.

Early in the talk of these two Hilary had mentioned his speech just made, presently asking with bright abruptness how Anna liked it and, while Anna was getting her smile ready for a safe reply, had added that he never could have made it at all had he dreamed she was looking on. "Now if she asks why," he thought to himself in alarm, "I've got to blurt it out!"

But she failed to ask; only confessed herself unfit to judge anybody's English.

"English! oh, pass the English!" he said, he "knew how bad that was." What he wanted her criticism on was--"its matter--its spirit--whichever it was, matter or spirit!" How comical that sounded! They took pains that their laugh should be noticed behind them. Flora observed both the laugh and the painstaking.

"Matter or spirit," said Anna more gravely, "I can't criticise it. I can't even praise it--oh! but that's only be--because I haven't--the courage!"

The lover's reply was low and full of meaning: "Would you praise it if you had the courage?"

She could have answered trivially, but something within bade her not. "Yes," she murmured, "I would." It was an awful venture, made unpreparedly, and her eyes, trying to withstand his, dropped. Yet they rallied splendidly--"They've got to!" said something within her--and, "I could," she

blushingly qualified, "but--I could criticise it too!"

His heart warmed at her defiant smile. "I'd rather have that honor than a bag of gold!" he said, and saw his slip too late. Gold! Into Anna's remembrance flashed the infatuation of the poor little schoolmistress, loomed Flora's loss and distress and rolled a smoke of less definite things for which this man was going unpunished while she, herself, stood in deadly peril of losing her heart to him.

"Oh, Captain Kincaid!" Like artillery wheeling into action came her inconsequent criticism, her eyes braving him at last, as bright as his guns, though flashing only tears. "It was right enough for you to extol those young soldiers' willingness to serve their country when called. But, oh, how could you commend their chafing for battle and slaughter?"

"Ah, Miss Anna, you--"

"Oh, when you know that the sooner they go the sooner comes the heartache and heartbreak for the hundreds of women they so light-heartedly leave behind them! I looked from Charlie to Flora--"

"You should have looked to Victorine. She wants the boy to go and her dad to go with him."

"Poor thoughtless child!"

"Why, Miss Anna, if I were a woman, and any man--with war coming on--could endure to hang back at home for love of me, I should feel--"

"Captain Kincaid! What we womenkind may feel is not to the point. It's how the men themselves feel toward the women who love them."

"They ought," replied the soldier, and his low voice thrilled like a sounding-board, "to love the women--out of every fibre of their being."

"Ah!" murmured the critic, as who should say, "checkmate!"

"And yet--" persisted this self-sung "ladies' man"--

"Yet what?" she softly challenged. (Would he stand by his speech, or his song?)

"Why, honestly, Miss Anna, I think a man can love a woman--even his heart's perfect choice--too much. I know he can!"

The small lady gave the blunderer a grave, brief, now-you-have-done-it glance and looked down. "Well, I know," she measuredly said, "that a man who can tell a woman that, isn't capable of loving her half enough." She turned to go back, with a quickness which, I avow, was beautifully and tenderly different from irritation, yet which caused her petticoat's frail embroidery to catch on one of his spurs and cling till the whole laughing bevy had gathered round to jest over Flora's disentanglement of it.

* * *

"But really, Nan, you know," said Constance that evening in their home, "you used to believe that yourself! The day Steve left you said almost exact--"

"Con--? Ah, Con! I think the sister who could remind a sister of that--!" The sufferer went slowly up to her room, where half an hour later she was found by Miranda drying her bathed eyes at a mirror and instantly pretending that her care was for any other part of her face instead.

"Singular," she remarked, "what a dust that battery can raise!"

* * *

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