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Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 8950

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

Could they have known half the toil, care, and trial the preparation of this Bazaar was to cost their friends, apologized the Callenders as it neared completion, they would never have dared propose it.

But the smiling reply was Spartan: "Oh! what are such trifles when we think how our own fathers, husbands, and brothers have suffered--even in victory!" The "Sisters" were still living on last summer's glory, and only by such indirections alluded to defeats.

Anna smiled as brightly as any, while through her mind flitted spectral visions of the secondary and so needless carnage in those awful field-hospitals behind the battles, and of the storms so likely to follow the fights, when the midnight rain came down in sheets on the wounded still lying among the dead. On all the teeming, bleeding front no father, husband, or brother was hers, but amid the multitudinous exploits and agonies her thoughts were ever on him who, by no tie but the heart's, had in the past year grown to be father, mother, sister, and brother to the superb hundred whom she so tenderly knew, who so worshipingly knew her, and still whose lives, at every chance, he was hurling at the foe as stones from a sling.

"After all, in these terrible time'," remarked Miss Valcour in committee of the whole--last session before the public opening--"any toil, even look' at selfishly, is better than to be idle."

"As if you ever looked at anything selfishly!" said a matron, and there was a patter of hands.

"Or as if she were ever in danger of being idle!" fondly put in a young battery sister.

As these two rattled and crashed homeward in a deafening omnibus they shouted further comments to each other on this same subject. It was strange, they agreed, to see Miss Valcour, right through the midst of these terrible times, grow daily handsomer. Concerning Anna, they were of two opinions. The matron thought that at moments Anna seemed to have aged three years in one, while, to the girl it appeared that her beauty--Anna's--had actually increased; taken a deeper tone, "or something." This huge bazaar business, they screamed, was something a girl like Anna should never have been allowed to undertake.

"And yet," said the matron on second thought, "it may really have helped her to bear up."

"Against what?"

"Oh,--all our general disturbance and distress, but the battery's in particular. You know its very guns are, as we may say, hers, and everything that happens around them, or to any one who belongs to them in field, camp, or hospital, happens, in her feeling, to her."

The girl interrupted with a knowing touch: "You realize there's something else, don't you?"

Her companion showed pain: "Yes, but--I hoped you hadn't heard of it. I can't bear to talk about it. I know how common it is for men and girls to trifle with each other, but for such as he--who had the faith of all of us, yes, and of all his men, that he wasn't as other men are--for Hilary Kincaid to dawdle with Anna--with Anna Callender--"

"Oh!" broke in the girl, a hot blush betraying her own heart, "I don't think you've got the thing right at all. Why, it's Anna who's making the trouble! The dawdling is all hers! Oh, I have it from the best authority, though I'm not at liberty--"

"My dear girl, you've been misled. The fault is all his. I know it from one who can't be mistaken."

The damsel blushed worse. "Well, at any rate," she said, "the case doesn't in any slightest way involve Miss Valcour."

"Oh, I know that!" was the cocksure reply as they alighted in Canal Street to take an up-town mule-car.

Could Madame and Flora have overheard, how they would have smiled to each other.

With now a wary forward step and now a long pause, and now another short step and another pause, Hilary, in his letters to Anna, despite Flora's often successful contrivings, had ventured back toward that understanding for which the souls of both were starving, until at length he had sent one which seemed, itself, to kneel, for him, at her feet--would have seemed, had it not miscarried. But, by no one's craft, merely through the "terribleness" of the times, it had gone forever astray. When, not knowing this, he despatched another, this latter had promptly arrived, but its unintelligible allusions to lines in the lost forerunner were unpardonable for lack of that forerunner's light, and it contained especially one remark--trivial enough--which, because written in the irrepress

ible facetiousness so inborn in him, but taken, alas! in the ineradicable earnest so natural to her, had compelled her to reply in words which made her as they went, and him as they smote him, seem truly to have "aged three years in one." Yet hardly had they left her before you would have said she had recovered the whole three years and a fraction over, on finding a postscript, till then most unaccountably overlooked, which said that its writer had at that moment been ordered (as soon as he could accomplish this and that and so and so) to hasten home to recruit the battery with men of his own choice, and incidentally to bring the wounded Charlie with him. Such godsends raise the spring-tides of praise and human kindness in us, and it was on the very next morning, after finding that postscript, that there had come to Anna her splendid first thought of the Bazaar.

And now behold it, a visible reality! Unlighted as yet, unpeopled, but gorgeous, multiform, sentinelled, and ready, it needed but the touch of the taper to set forth all the glories of art and wealth tenfolded by self-sacrifice for a hallowed cause. Here was the Bazaar, and yonder, far away on the southern border of Tennessee, its wasted ranks still spruce in their tatters, the battery; iron-hearted Bartleson in command; its six yellow daughters of destruction a trifle black in the lips, but bright on the cheeks and virgins all; Charlie on the roster though not in sight, the silken-satin standard well in view, rent and pierced, but showing seven red days of valor legended on its folds, and with that white-moustached old centaur, Maxime, still upholding it in action and review.

Intermediate, there, yonder, and here, from the farthest Mississippi State line clear down to New Orleans, were the camps of instruction, emptying themselves northward, pouring forth infantry, cavalry, artillery by every train that could be put upon the worn-out rails and by every main-travelled wagon road. But homeward-bound Charlie and his captain, where were they? Irby knew.

Flora, we have seen, had been willing, eager, for them to come--to arrive; not because Charlie, but because his captain, was one of the two. But Irby, never sure of her, and forever jealous of the ladies' man, had contrived, in a dull way, to detain the home-comers in mid-journey, with telegraphic orders to see here a commandant and there a factory of arms and hurry men and munitions to the front. So he killed time and tortured hope for several hearts, and that was a comfort in itself.

However, here was the Bazaar. After all, its sentinels were not of the Crescent Regiment, for the same grave reason which postponed the opening until to-morrow; the fact that to-day that last flower of the city's young high-life was leaving for the fields of war, as Kincaid's Battery had left in the previous spring. Yet, oh, how differently! Again up St. Charles Street and down Calliope the bands played, the fifes squealed; once more the old men marched ahead, opened ranks, let the serried youngsters through and waved and hurrahed and kissed and wept; but all in a new manner, far more poignant than the earlier. God only knew what was to happen now, to those who went or to those who stayed, or where or how any two of them should ever meet again. The Callenders, as before, were there. Anna had come definitely resolved to give one particular beardless Dick Smith a rousing kiss, purely to nullify that guilty one of last year. But when the time came she could not, the older one had made it impossible; and when the returning bands broke out--

"Charlie is my darling! my darling! my darling!"

and the tears came dripping from under Connie's veil and Victorine's and Miranda's and presently her own, she was glad of the failure.

As they were driving homeward across Canal Street, she noted, out beyond the Free Market, a steamboat softly picking its way in to the levee. Some coal-barges were there, she remembered, lading with pitch-pine and destined as fire-ships, by that naval lieutenant of the despatch-boat whom we know, against the Federal fleet lying at the head of the passes.

The coachman named the steamer to Constance: "Yass, 'm, de ole Genl al Quitman; dass her."

"From Vicksburg and the Bends!" cried the inquirer. "Why, who knows but Charlie Val--?"

With both hands she clutched Miranda and Victorine, and brightened upon Anna.

"And Flora not with us!" was the common lament.

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