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   Chapter 38 ANNA'S OLD JEWELS

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 8474

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


A Reporters' heaven, the Bazaar. So on its opening night Hilary named it to Flora.

"A faerye realm," the scribes themselves itemed it; "myriad lights--broad staircases gracef'y asc'd'g--ravish'g perfumes--met our gaze--garlandries of laurel and magn'a--prom'd'g from room to room--met our gaze--directed by masters of cerem'y in Conf'te G'd's unif'm--here turn'g to the right--fair women and brave men--carried thither by the dense throng--music with its volup's swell--met our gaze--again descend'g--arriv'g at din'g-hall--new scene of ench't bursts--refr't tables--enarched with ev'gr's and decked with labarums and burgees--thence your way lies through--costly volumes and shimm'g bijoutries--met our gaze!"

It was Kincaid who saw their laborious office in this flippant light, and so presented it to Anna that she laughed till she wept; laughing was now so easy. But when they saw one of the pencillers writing awkwardly with his left hand, aided by half a right arm in a pinned-up sleeve, her mirth had a sudden check. Yet presently it became a proud thrill, as the poor boy glowed with delight while Hilary stood and talked with him of the fearful Virginia day on which that ruin had befallen him at Hilary's own side in Kincaid's Battery, and then brought him to converse with her. This incident may account for the fervor with which a next morning's report extolled the wonders of the "fair chairman's" administrative skill and the matchless and most opportune executive supervision of Captain Hilary Kincaid. Flora read it with interest.

With interest of a different kind she read in a later issue another passage, handed her by the grandmother with the remark, "to warn you, my dear." The matter was a frothy bit of tragical romancing, purporting to have been gathered from two detectives out of their own experience of a year or so before, about a gift made to the Bazaar by Captain Kincaid, which had--"met our gaze jealously guarded under glass amid a brilliant collection of reliques, jewels, and bric-à-brac; a large, evil-looking knife still caked with the mud of the deadly affray, but bearing legibly in Italian on its blade the inscription, 'He who gets me in his body never need take a medicine,' and with a hilt and scabbard encrusted with gems."

Now, one of the things that made Madame Valcour good company among gentlewomen was her authoritative knowledge of precious stones. So when Flora finished reading and looked up, and the grandmother faintly smiled and shook her head, both understood.

"Paste?"

"Mostly."

"And the rest--not worth--?"

"Your stealing," simpered the connoisseur, and, reading, herself, added meditatively, "I should hate anyhow, for you to have that thing. The devil would be always at your ear."

"Whispering--what?"

The grandmother shrugged: "That depends. I look to see you rise, yet, to some crime of dignity; something really tragic and Italian. Whereas at present--" she pursed her lips and shrugged again.

The girl blandly laughed: "You venerable ingrate!"

At the Bazaar that evening, when Charlie and grandma and the crowd were gone, Flora handled the unlovely curiosity. She and Irby had seen Hilary and Anna and the Hyde & Goodrich man on guard just there draw near the glass case where it lay "like a snake on a log," as Charlie had said, take it in their hands and talk of it. The jeweller was expressing confidentially a belief that it had once been set with real stones, and Hilary was privately having a sudden happy thought, when Flora and Adolphe came up only in time to hear the goldsmith's statement of its present poor value.

"But surely," said Kincaid, "this old jewellery lying all about it here--."

"That? that's the costliest gift in the Bazaar!"

Irby inquired whose it was, Anna called it anonymous, and Flora, divining that the giver was Anna, felt herself outrageously robbed. As the knife was being laid back in place she recalled, with odd interest, her grandmother's mention of the devil, and remembered a time or two when for a moment she had keenly longed for some such bit of steel; something much more slender, maybe, and better fitting a dainty hand, but quite as long and sharp. A wave from this thought may have

prompted Anna's request that the thing be brought forth again and Flora allowed to finger it; but while this was being done Flora's main concern was to note how the jeweller worked the hidden spring by which he opened the glass case. As she finally gave up the weapon: "Thank you," she sweetly said to both Anna and Hilary, but with a meaning reserved to herself.

You may remember how once she had gone feeling and prying along the fair woodwork of these rooms for any secret of construction it might hold. Lately, when the house began to fill with secretable things of large money value, she had done this again, and this time, in one side of a deep chimney-breast, had actually found a most innocent-looking panel which she fancied to be kept from sliding only by its paint. Now while she said her sweet thanks to Anna and Hilary she could almost believe in fairies, the panel was so near the store of old jewels. With the knife she might free the panel, and behind the panel hide the jewels till their scent grew cold, to make them her bank account when all the banks should be broken, let the city fall or stand. No one need ever notice, so many were parting with their gems perforce, so many buying them as a form of asset convenient for flight. So good-night, old dagger and jewels; see you again, but don't overdo your limited importance. Of the weapon Flora had further learned that it was given not to the Bazaar but to Anna, and of the jewels that they were not in that lottery of everything, with which the affair was to end and the proceeds of whose tickets were pouring in upon Anna, acting treasurer, the treasurer being ill.

Tormentingly in Hilary's way was this Lottery and Bazaar. Even from Anna, sometimes especially from Anna, he could not understand why certain things must not be told or certain things could not be done until this Bazaar--etc. Why, at any hour he might be recalled! Yes, Anna saw that--through very moist eyes. True, also, she admitted, Beauregard and Johnston might fail to hold off Buell and Grant; and true, as well, New Orleans could fall, and might be sacked. It was while confessing this that with eyes down and bosom heaving she accepted the old Italian knife. Certainly unless the pooh-poohing Mandeville was wrong, who declared the forts down the river impregnable and Beauregard, on the Tennessee, invincible, flight (into the Confederacy) was safest--but--the Bazaar first, flight afterward. "We women," she said, rising close before him with both hands in his, "must stand by our guns. We've no more right"--it was difficult to talk while he kissed her fingers and pressed her palms to his gray breast--"no more right--to be cowards--than you men."

Her touch brought back his lighter mood and he told the happy thought--project--which had come to him while they talked with the jeweller. He could himself "do the job," he said, "roughly but well enough." Anna smiled at the fanciful scheme. Yet--yes, its oddity was in its favor. So many such devices were succeeding, some of them to the vast advantage of the Southern cause.

When Flora the next evening stole a passing glance at the ugly trinket in its place she was pleased to note how well it retained its soilure of clay. For she had that day used it to free the panel, behind which she had found a small recess so fitted to her want that she had only to replace panel and tool and await some chance in the closing hours of the show. Pleased she was, too, to observe that the old jewels lay in a careless heap. Now to conceal all interest and to divert all eyes, even grandmama's! Thus, however, night after night an odd fact eluded her: That Anna and her hero, always singly, and themselves careful to lure others away, glimpsed that disordered look of the gems and unmolested air of the knife with a content as purposeful as her own. Which fact meant, when came the final evening, that at last every sham jewel in the knife's sheath had exchanged places with a real one from the loose heap, while, nestling between two layers of the sheath's material, reposed, payable to bearer, a check on London for thousands of pounds sterling. Very proud was Anna of her lover's tremendous versatility and craftsmanship.

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