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   Chapter 25 HE MUST WAIT, SAYS ANNA

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 7666

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


About the middle of the first week in April--when the men left in the stores of Common, Gravier, Poydras, or Tchoupitoulas street could do nothing but buy the same goods back and forth in speculation; loathed by all who did not do it, or whittle their chairs on the shedded sidewalks and swap and swallow flaming rumors and imprecate the universal inaction and mis-management--there embarked for Pensacola--

"What? Kincaid's Bat--?"

"No-o, the Zouaves! Infantry! when the one only sane thing to do," cried every cannoneer of Camp Callender--in its white lanes or on three-hours' leave at home on Bayou Road or Coliseum Square or Elysian Fields or Prytania street--"the one sane thing to do," insisted the growingly profane lads to their elders, and assented the secretly pained elders to them, "the one thing that, if only for shame's sake, ought to have been done long ago, was to knock Fort Pickens to HELL with SHELL!" Sadly often they added the tritest three-monosyllabled expletive known to red-hot English.

Charlie--mm-mm! how he could rip it out! Sam Gibbs, our veritable Sam, sergeant of the boy's gun, "Roaring Betsy," privately remarked to the Captain what a blank-blank shame it was, not for its trivial self, of course, but in view of the corruptions to which it opened the way. And the blithe commander, in the seclusion of his tent, standing over the lad and holding him tenderly by both pretty ears, preached to him of his sister and grandmother until with mute rage the youngster burned as red as his jacket facings; and then of the Callenders--"who gave us our guns, and one of whom is the godmother of our flag, Charlie"--until the tears filled Charlie's eyes, and he said:

"I'll try, Captain, but it's--oh, it's no use! If anything could make me swear worse"--he smiled despairingly--"it would be the hope of being hauled up again for another talk like this!"

One Sunday, three days after the going of the Zouaves, while out in Jackson Square "Roaring Betsy" sang a solo of harrowing thunder-claps, the Callenders and Valcours, under the cathedral's roof, saw consecrated in its sacred nave the splendid standard of the Chasseurs-à-Pied.

Armed guards, keeping the rabble out, passed the ladies in before the procession had appeared in the old Rue Condé. But now here it came, its music swelling, the crowd--shabbier than last month and more vacant of face--parting before it. Carrying their sabres, but on foot and without their pieces, heading the column as escort of honor, lo, Kincaid's Battery; rearmost the Chasseurs, masses and masses of them; and in between, a silver crucifix lifted high above a body of acolytes in white lace over purple, ranks of black-gowned priests, a succession of cloth-of-gold ecclesiastics, and in their midst the mitred archbishop.

But the battery! What a change since last February! Every man as spruce as ever, but with an added air of tested capability that inspired all beholders. Only their German musicians still seemed fresh from the mint, and oh! in what unlucky taste, considering the ecclesiastics, the song they brayed forth in jaunty staccato.

"They're offering us that hand of theirs again," murmured Anna to Constance, standing in a side pew; but suddenly the strain ceased, she heard Hilary's voice of command turning the column, and presently, through a lane made by his men, the Chasseurs marched in to the nave, packed densely and halted. Then in close order the battery itself followed and stood. Now the loud commands were in here. Strange it was to hear them ring through the holy place (French to the Chasseurs, English to the battery), and the crashing musket-butts smite the paved floor as one weapon, to the flash of a hundred sabres.

So said to itself the diary on the afternoon of the next day, and there hurriedly left off. N

ot because of a dull rumble reaching the writer's ear from the Lake, where Kincaid and his lieutenants were testing new-siege-guns, for that was what she was at this desk and window to hear; but because of the L.S.C.A., about to meet in the drawing-room below and be met by a friend of the family, a famed pulpit orator and greater potentate, in many eyes, than even the Catholic archbishop.

He came, and later, in the battery camp with the Callenders, Valcours, and Victorine, the soldiers clamoring for a speech, ran them wild reminding them with what unique honor and peculiar responsibility they were the champions of their six splendid guns. In a jostling crowd, yet with a fine decorum, they brought out their standard and--not to be outdone by any Chasseurs under the sky--obliged Anna to stand beside its sergeant, Maxime, and with him hold it while the man of God invoked Heaven to bless it and bless all who should follow it afield or pray for it at home. So dazed was she that only at the "amen" did she perceive how perfectly the tables had been turned on her. For only then did she discover that Hilary Kincaid had joined the throng exactly in time to see the whole tableau.

Every officer of the camp called that evening, to say graceful things, Kincaid last. As he was leaving he wanted to come to the same old point, but she would not let him. Oh! how could she, a scant six hours after such a bid from herself? He ought to have seen she couldn't--and wouldn't! But he never saw anything--of that sort. Ladies' man indeed! He couldn't read a girl's mind even when she wanted it read. He went away looking so haggard--and yet so tender--and still so determined--she could not sleep for hours. Nevertheless--

"I can't help his looks, Con, he's got to wait! I owe that to all womanhood! He's got to practise to me what he preaches to his men. Why, Connie, if I'm willing to wait, why shouldn't he be? Why--?"

Constance fled.

Next day, dining with Doctor Sevier, said the Doctor, "That chap's working himself to death, Anna," and gave his fair guest such a stern white look that she had to answer flippantly.

She and Hilary were paired at table and talked of Flora, he telling how good a friend to her Flora was. The topic was easier, between them, than at any other time since the loss of the gold. Always before, she had felt him thinking of that loss and trying to guess something about her; but now she did not, for on Sunday, in the cathedral, Flora had told her at last, ever so gratefully and circumstantially, that she had repaid the Captain everything! yes, the same day on which she had first told Anna of the loss; and there was nothing now left to do but for her to reimburse Anna the moment she could.

Hilary spoke of Adolphe's devotion to Flora--hoped he would win. Told with great amusement how really well his cousin had done with her government claim--sold it to his Uncle Brodnax! And Flora--how picturesque everything she did!--had put--? yes, they both knew the secret--had put the proceeds into one of those beautiful towboats that were being fitted up as privateers! Hilary laughed with delight. Yes, it was for that sort of thing the boys were so fond of her. But when Anna avowed a frank envy he laughed with a peculiar tenderness that thrilled both him and her, and murmured:

"The dove might as well envy the mocking-bird."

"If I were a dove I certainly should," she said.

"Well, you are, and you shouldn't!" said he.

All of which Flora caught; if not the words, so truly the spirit that the words were no matter.

"Just as we were starting home," soliloquized, that night, our diary, "the newsboys came crying all around, that General Beauregard had opened fire on Fort Sumter, and the war has begun. Poor Constance! it's little she'll sleep to-night."

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