MoboReader> Literature > Kincaid's Battery

   Chapter 28 THE CUP OF TANTALUS

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 9234

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


Queer world. Can you be sure the next pair you meet walking together of a summer eve are as starry as they look? Lo, Constance and Miranda. Did the bride herself realize what a hunger of loneliness was hers? Or Anna and Irby, with Madame between them. Could you, maybe, have guessed the veritable tempest beneath the maiden's serenity, or his inward gnashings against whatever it was that had blighted his hour with the elusive Flora?

Or can any one say, in these lives of a thousand concealments and restraints, when things are happening and when not, within us or without, or how near we are now to the unexpected--to fate? See, Flora and Hilary. He gave no outward show that he was burning to flee the spot and swing his fists and howl and tear the ground.

Yet Flora knew; knew by herself; by a cold rage in her own fair bosom, where every faculty stood gayly alert for each least turn of incident, to foil or use it, while they talked lightly of Virginia's great step, or of the night's loveliness, counting the stars. "How small they look," she said, "how calm how still."

"Yes, and then to think what they really are! so fearfully far from small--or cold--or still!"

"Like ourselves," she prompted.

"Yes!" cried the transparent soldier. "At our smallest the smallest thing in us is that we should feel small. And how deep down are we calm or cold? Miss Flora, I once knew a girl--fine outside, inside. Lovers -she had to keep a turnstile. I knew a pair of them. To hear those two fellows separately tell what she was like, you couldn't have believed them speaking of the same person. The second one thought the first had--sort o'--charted her harbor for him; but when he came to sail in, 'pon my soul, if every shoal on the chart wasn't deep water, and every deep water a fortified shore--ha, ha, ha!"

Flora's smile was lambent. "Yes," she said, "that sweet Anna she's very intric-ate." Hilary flamed and caught his breath, but she met his eyes with the placidity of the sky above them.

Suddenly he laughed: "Now I know what I am! Miss Flora, I--I wish you'd be my pilot."

She gave one resenting sparkle, but then shook her averted head tenderly, murmured "Impossible," and smiled.

"You think there's no harbor there?"

"Listen," she said.

"Yes, I hear it, a horse."

"Captain Kincaid?"

"Miss Flora?"

"For dear Anna's sake and yours, shall I be that little bit your pilot, to say--?"

"What! to say. Don't see her to-night?"

Flora's brow sank.

"May I go with you, then, and learn why?" The words were hurried, for a horseman was in front and the others had so slackened pace that all were again in group. Anna caught Flora's reply:

"No, your cousin will be there. But to-morrow evening, bif-ore--"

"Yes," he echoed, "before anything else. I'll come. Why!"--a whinny of recognition came from the road--"why, that's my horse!"

The horseman dragged in his rein. Constance gasped and Kincaid exclaimed, "Well! since when and from where, Steve Mandeville?"

The rider sprang clanking to the ground and whipped out a document. All pressed round him. He gave his bride two furious kisses, held her in one arm and handed the missive to Kincaid:

"With the compliment of Général Brodnax!"

Irby edged toward Flora, drawn by a look.

Hilary spoke: "Miss Anna, please hold this paper open for me while I--Thank you." He struck a match. The horse's neck was some shelter and the two pressed close to make more, yet the match flared. The others listened to Mandeville:

"And 'twas me dizcover' that tranzportation, juz' chanzing to arrive by the railroad--"

"Any one got a newspaper?" called Hilary. "Steve--yes, let's have a wisp o' that."

The paper burned and Hilary read. "Always the man of the moment, me!" said Mandeville. "And also 't is thangs to me you are the firs' inform', and if you are likewise the firs' to ripport--"

"Thank you!" cried Kincaid, letting out a stirrup leather. "Adolphe, will you take that despatch on to Bartleson?" He hurried to the other stirrup.

"Tell him no!" whispered Flora, but in vain, so quickly had Anna handed Irby the order.

"Good-night, all!" cried Hilary, mounting. He wheeled, swung his cap and galloped.

"Hear him!" laughed Miranda to Flora, and from up the dim way his song came back:

"'I can't stand the wilderness

But a few days, a few days.'"

Still swinging his cap he groaned to himself and dropped his head, then lifted it high, shook his locks like a swimmer, and with a soft word to his horse sped faster.

"Yo' pardon, sir," said Mandeville to Irby, declining the despatch

, "I wou'n't touch it. For why he di'n' h-ask me? But my stable is juz yondeh. Go, borrow you a horse--all night 'f you like."

Thence Irby galloped to Bartleson's tent, returned to Callender House, dismounted and came up the steps. There stood Anna, flushed and eager, twining arms with the placid Flora. "Ah," said the latter, as he offered her his escort home, "but grandma and me, we--"

Anna broke in: "They're going to stay here all night so that you may ride at once to General Brodnax. Even we girls, Captain Irby, must do all we can to help your cousin get away with the battery, the one wish of his heart!" She listened, untwined and glided into the house.

Instantly Flora spoke: "Go, Adolphe Irby, go! Ah, snatch your luck, you lucky--man! Get him away to-night, cost what cost!" Her fingers pushed him. He kissed them. She murmured approvingly, but tore them away: "Go, go, go-o!"

Anna, pacing her chamber, with every gesture of self-arraignment and distress, heard him gallop. Then standing in her opened window she looked off across the veranda's balustrade and down into the camp, where at lines of mess-fires like strings of burning beads the boys were cooking three days' rations. A tap came on her door. She snatched up a toilet brush: "Come in?"

She was glad it was only Flora. "Chérie," tinkled the visitor, "they have permit' me!"

Anna beamed. "I was coming down," she recklessly replied, touching her temples at the mirror.

"Yes," said the messenger, "'cause Mandeville he was biggening to tell about Fort Sumter, and I asked them to wait--ah"--she took Anna's late pose in the window--"how plain the camp!"

"Yes," responded Anna with studied abstraction, "when the window happens to be up. It's so warm to-night, I--"

"Ah, Anna!"

"What, dear?" In secret panic Anna came and looked out at Flora's side caressingly.

"At last," playfully sighed the Creole, "'tis good-by, Kincaid's Battery. Good-by, you hun'red good fellows, with yo' hun'red horses and yo' hun'red wheels and yo' hun'red hurras."

"And hundred brave, true hearts!" said Anna.

"Yes, and good-by, Bartleson, good-by, Tracy, good-by ladies' man!--my dear, tell me once more! For him why always that name?" Both laughed.

"I don't know, unless it's because--well--isn't it--because every lady has a piece of his heart and--no one wants all of it?"

"Ah! no one?--when so many?--"

"Now, Flora, suppose some one did! What of it, if he can't, himself, get his whole heart together to give it to any one?" The arguer offered to laugh again, but Flora was sad:

"You bil-ieve he's that way--Hilary Kincaid?"

"There are men that way, Flora. It's hard for us women to realize, but it's true!"

"Ah, but for him! For him that's a dreadful!"

"Why, no, dear, I fancy he's happiest that way."

"But not best, no! And there's another thing--his uncle! You know ab-out that, I su'pose?"

"Yes, but he--come, they'll be sending--"

"No,--no! a moment! Anna! Ah, Anna, you are too wise for me! Anna, do you think"--the pair stood in the room with the inquirer's eyes on the floor--"you think his cousin is like that?"

Anna kissed her temples, one in pity, the other in joy: "No, dear, he's not--Adolphe Irby is not."

On the way downstairs Flora seized her hands: "Oh, Anna, like always--this is just bit-win us? Ah, yes. And, oh, I wish you'd try not to bil-ieve that way--ab-out his cousin! Me, I hope no! And yet--"

"Yet what, love?" (Another panic.)

"Nothing, but--ah, he's so ki-ind to my brother! And his cousin Adolphe," she whispered as they moved on down, "I don't know, but I fear perchanze he don't like his cousin Adolphe--his cousin Adolphe--on the outside, same as the General, rough--'t is a wondrous how his cousin Adolphe is fond of him!"

Poor Anna. She led the way into the family group actually wheedled into the belief that however she had blundered with her lover, with Flora she had been clever. And now they heard the only true account of how Captain Beauregard and General Steve had taken Fort Sumter. At the same time every hearer kept one ear alert toward the great open windows. Yet nothing came to explain that Kincaid's detention up-town was his fond cousin's contriving, and Sumter's story was at its end when all started at once and then subsided with relief as first the drums and then the bugles sounded--no alarm, but only, drowsily, "taps," as if to say to Callender House as well as to the camp, "Go to slee-eep ... Go to slee-eep ... Go to bed, go to bed, go to slee-eep ... Go to slee-eep, go to slee-eep ... Go to slee-ee-eep."

* * *

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares