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Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 7938

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

Hilary had bent an arm around Anna when Flora called his name. Irby handed him the order. A glance made it clear. Its reader cast a wide look over the heads of the dancers and lifting the missive high beckoned with it to Mandeville. Then he looked for some one else: "Charlie!"

"Out on the veranda," said a passing dancer.

"Send him here!" The commander's eye came back to Irby: "Old man, how long have you had this?"

"About an hour."

"Oh, my stars, Adolphe, you should have told me!"

It was a fair sight, though maddening to Flora yonder by the glass case, to see the two cousins standing eye to eye, Hilary's brow dark with splendid concern while without a glance at Anna he passed her the despatch and she read it.

"Steve," he said, as the Mandeville pair pressed up, "look at that! boots-and-saddles! now! to-night! for you and Adolphe and me! Yes, Charlie, and you; go, get your things and put Jerry on the train with mine."

The boy's partner was Victorine. Before she could gasp he had kissed her. Amid a laugh that stopped half the dance he waved one farewell to sister, grandmother and all and sprang away. "Dance on, fellows," called Hilary, "this means only that I'm going with you." The lads cheered and the dance revived.

Their captain turned: "Miss Flora, I promised your brother he should go whenever--"

"But me al-so you promised!" she interrupted, and a fair sight also, grievous to Irby, startling to Anna, were this pair, standing eye to eye.

"Yes," replied Kincaid, "and I'll keep my word. In any extremity you shall come to him."

"As likewise my wive to me!" said the swelling Mandeville, openly caressing the tearful Constance. "Wive to 'usband," he declaimed, "sizter to brother--" But his audience was lost. Hilary was speaking softly to Anna. She was very pale. The throng drew away. You could see that he was asking if she only could in no extremity come to him. His words were inaudible, but any one who had ever loved could read them. And now evidently he proposed something. There was ardor in his eye--ardor and enterprise. She murmured a response. He snatched out his watch.

"Just time," he was heard to say, "time enough by soldier's measure!" His speech grew plainer: "The law's right for me to call and for you to come, that's all we want. What frightens you?"

"Nothing," she said, and smiled. "I only feared there wasn't time."

The lover faced his cousin so abruptly that all started and laughed, while Anna turned to her kindred, as red as a rose. "Adolphe," cried he, "I'm going for my marriage license. While I'm getting it, will you--?"

Irby went redder than Anna. "You can't get it at this hour!" he said. His eyes sought Flora, but she was hurriedly conferring with her grandmother.

Hilary laughed: "You'll see. I fixed all that a week ago. Will you get the minister?"

"Why, Hilary, this is--"

"Yass!" piped Madame, "he'll obtain him!"

The plaudits of the dancers, who once more had stopped, were loud. Flora's glance went over to Irby, and he said, "Why, yes, Hilary, if you--why, of course I will." There was more applause.

"Steve," said Hilary, "some one must go with me to the clerk's office to--"

"To vouch you!" broke in the aide-de-camp. "That will be Steve Mandeville!" Constance sublimely approved. As the three Callenders moved to leave the room one way and the three captains another, Anna seized the hands of Flora and her grandmother.

"You'll keep the dance going?" she solicited, and they said they would. Flora gave her a glowing embrace, and as Irby strode by murmured to him.

"Put your watch back half an hour."

In such disordered days social liberty was large. When the detective, after the Callenders were gone up-stairs and the captains had galloped away, truthfully told Miss Valcour that his only object in tarrying here was to see the love-knot tied, she heard him affably, though inwardly in flames of yearning to see him depart. She

burned to see him go because she believed him, and also because there in the show-case still lay the loosely heaped counterfeit of the booty whose reality she had already ignorantly taken and stowed away.

What should she do? Here was grandma, better aid than forty Irbys; but with both phases of her problem to deal with at once--how to trip headlong this wild matrimonial leap and how to seize this treasure by whose means she might leave Anna in a fallen city and follow Hilary to the war--she was at the end of her daintiest wits. She talked on with the gray man, for that kept him from the show-case. In an air full of harmonies and prattle, of fluttering draperies, gliding feet, undulating shoulders, twinkling lights, gallantry, fans, and perfume, she dazzled him with her approval when he enlarged on the merits of Kincaid and when he pledged all his powers of invention to speed the bridal. Frantic to think what better to do, she waltzed with him, while he described the colonel of the departing regiment as such a martinet that to ask him to delay his going would only hasten it; waltzed on when she saw her grandmother discover the knife's absence and telegraph her a look of contemptuous wonder. But ah, how time was flying! Even now Kincaid must be returning hitherward, licensed!

The rapturous music somewhat soothed her frenzy, even helped her thought, and in a thirst for all it could give she had her partner swing her into the wide hall whence it came and where also Hilary must first reappear. Twice through its length they had swept, when Anna, in altered dress, came swiftly down the stair with Constance protestingly at her side. The two were speaking anxiously together as if a choice of nuptial adornments (for Constance bore a box that might have held the old jewels) had suddenly brought to mind a forgotten responsibility. As they pressed into the drawing-rooms the two dancers floated after them by another door.

When presently Flora halted beside the gun and fanned while the dance throbbed on, the two sisters stood a few steps away behind the opened show-case, talking with her grandmother and furtively eyed by a few bystanders. They had missed the dagger. Strangely disregarded by Anna, but to Flora's secret dismay and rage, Constance, as she talked, was dropping from her doubled hands into the casket the last of the gems. Now she shut the box and laid it in Anna's careless arms.

Leaving the gray man by the gun, Flora sprang near. Anna was enduring, with distracted smiles, the eager reasonings of Madame and Constance that the vanished trinket was but borrowed; a thief would have taken the jewels, they argued; but as Flora would have joined in, every line of Anna's face suddenly confided to her a consternation whose cause the silenced Flora instantly mistook. "Ah, if you knew--!" Anna began, but ceased as if the lost relic stood for something incommunicable even to nearest and dearest.

"They've sworn their love on it!" was the thought of Flora and the detective in the same instant. It filled her veins with fury, yet her response was gentle and meditative. "To me," she said, "it seemed such a good-for-nothing that even if I saw it is gone, me, I think I wouldn' have take' notice." All at once she brightened: "Anna! without a doubt! without a doubt Captain Kincaid he has it!" About to add a caress, she was startled from it by a masculine voice that gayly echoed out in the hall:

"Without a doubt!"

The dance ceased and first the short, round body of Mandeville and then the tall form of Hilary Kincaid pushed into the room. "Without a doubt!" repeated Hilary, while Mandeville asked right, asked left, for Adolphe. "Without a doubt," persisted the lover, "Captain Kincaid he has it!" and proffered Anna the law's warrant for their marriage.

She pushed it away. Her words were so low that but few could hear. "The dagger!" she said. "Haven't you got the dagger? You haven't got it?"

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