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   Chapter 44 THEY WERE ALL FOUR TOGETHER

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 6093

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


Both Constance and Victorine flashed to retort, but saw the smiling critic as pale as Anna and recalled the moment's truer business, the list still darting innumerably around them always out of reach. The carriage had to push into the very surge, and Victorine to stand up and call down to this man and that, a fourth and fifth, before one could be made to hear and asked to buy for the helpless ladies. Yet in this gentlewomen's war every gentlewoman's wish was a military command, and when at length one man did hear, to hear was to vanish in the turmoil on their errand. Now he was back again, with the list, three copies! Oh, thank you, thank you and thank you!

Away trotted the handsome span while five pairs of beautiful eyes searched the three printed sheets, that bore--oh, marvellous fortune!--not one of the four names writ largest in those five hearts. Let joy be--ah, let joy be very meek while to so many there is unutterable loss. Yet let it meekly abound for the great loved cause so splendidly advanced. Miranda pointed Anna to a bit of editorial:

"Monday was a more glorious day than Sunday. We can scarcely forbear to speculate upon the great results that are to flow from this decisive victory. An instant pursuit of the flying enemy should--"

Why did the carriage halt at a Gravier Street crossing obliquely opposite the upper front corner of the St. Charles Hotel? Why did all the hotel's gold-braided guests and loungers so quietly press out against its upper balustrades? Why, under its arches, and between balcony posts along the curbstones clear down to Canal Street, was the pathetically idle crowd lining up so silently? From that point why, now, did the faint breeze begin to waft a low roar of drums of such grave unmartial sort? And why, gradually up the sidewalks' edges in the hot sun, did every one so solemnly uncover? Small Victorine stood up to see.

At first she made out only that most commonplace spectacle, home guards. They came marching in platoons, a mere company or two. In the red and blue of their dress was all the smartness yet of last year, but in their tread was none of it and even the bristle of their steel had vanished. Behind majestic brasses and muffled drums grieving out the funeral march, they stepped with slow precision and with arms reversed. But now in abrupt contrast there appeared, moving as slowly and precisely after them, widely apart on either side of the stony way, two single attenuated files of but four bronzed and shabby gray-jackets each, with four others in one thin, open rank from file to file in their rear, and in the midst a hearse and its palled burden. Rise, Anna, Constance, Miranda--all. Ah, Albert Sidney Johnston! Weep, daughters of a lion-hearted cause. The eyes of its sons are wet. Yet in your gentle bosoms keep great joy for whoever of your very own and nearest the awful carnage has spared; but hither comes, here passes slowly, and yonder fades at length from view, to lie a day in state and so move on to burial, a larger hope of final tri

umph than ever again you may fix on one mortal man.

Hats on again, softly. Drift apart, aimless crowd. Cross the two streets at once, diagonally, you, young man from the St. Charles Hotel with purpose in your rapid step, pencil unconsciously in hand and trouble on your brow. Regather your reins, old coachman--nay, one moment! The heavy-hearted youth passed so close under the horses' front that only after he had gained the banquette abreast the carriage did he notice its occupants and Anna's eager bow. It was the one-armed Kincaid's Battery boy reporter. With a sudden pitying gloom he returned the greeting, faltered as if to speak, caught a breath and then hurried on and away. What did that mean; more news; news bad for these five in particular? Silently in each of them, without a glance from one to another, the question asked itself.

"The True Delta," remarked Anna to Miranda, "is right down here on the next square," and of his own motion the driver turned that way.

"Bitwin Common Strit and Can-al," added Victorine, needless words being just then the most needed.

Midway in front of the hotel Anna softly laid a hand on Flora, who respondingly murmured. For the reporter was back, moving their way along the sidewalk almost at a run. Now Constance was aware of him.

"When we cross Common Street," she observed to Miranda, "he'll want to stop us."

In fact, as soon as their intent to cross was plain, he sped out beside them and stood, his empty sleeve pinned up, his full one raised and grief evident in his courteous smile. Some fifty yards ahead, by the True Delta office, men were huddling around a fresh bulletin. Baring his brow to the sun, the young man came close to the wheels.

"Wouldn't you-all as soon--?" he began, but Constance interrupted:

"The news is as good as ever, isn't it?"

"Yes, but wouldn't you-all as soon drive round by Carondelet Street?" A gesture with his hat showed a piece of manifold writing in his fingers.

He looked to Miranda, but she faltered. Flora, in her own way, felt all the moment's rack and stress, but some natures are built for floods and rise on them like a boat. So thought she of herself and had parted her lips to speak for all, when, to her vexed surprise, Anna lifted a hand and in a clear, firm tone inquired, "Is there any bad news for us five?" The youth's tongue failed; he nodded.

"Brodnax's brigade?" she asked. "Our battery?"

"Yes, Monday, just at the last," he murmured.

"Not taken?"

"Not a gun!" replied the boy, with a flash. Anna reflected it, but her tone did not change:

"There are four men, you know, whom we five--"

"Yes."

"Which of them is the bad news about?"

"All four," murmured the youth. His eyes swam. His hat went under the stump of his lost arm and he proffered the bit of writing. Idlers were staring. "Take that with you," he said. "They were all four together and they're only--"

The carriage was turning, but the fair cluster bent keenly toward him. "Only what?" they cried.

"Missing."

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