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Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 6726

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

Once more the Carrollton Gardens.

Again the afternoon hour, the white shell-paved court, its two playing fountains, the roses, lilies, jasmines and violets, their perfume spicing all the air, and the oriole and mocking-bird enrapturing it with their songs, although it was that same dire twenty-fourth of April of which we have been telling. Townward across the wide plain the distant smoke of suicidal conflagration studded the whole great double crescent of the harbor. Again the slim railway, its frequent small trains from the city clanging round the flowery miles of its half-circle, again the highway on either side the track, and again on the highway, just reaching the gardens, whose dashing coach and span, but the Callenders'?

Dashing was the look of it, not its speed. Sedately it came. Behind it followed a team of four giant mules, a joy to any quartermaster's vision, drawing a plantation wagon filled with luggage. On the old coachman's box sat beside him a slave maid, and in the carriage the three Callenders and Charlie. Anna and Miranda were on the rear seat and for the wounded boy's better ease his six-shooter lay in Anna's lap. A brave animation in the ladies was only the more prettily set off by a pinkness of earlier dejection about their eyes. Abreast the gate they halted to ask an armed sentry whether the open way up the river coast was through the gardens or--

He said there was no longer any open way without a pass from General Lovell, and when they affably commended the precaution and showed a pass he handed it to an officer, a heated, bustling, road-soiled young Creole, who had ridden up at the head of a mounted detail. This youth, as he read it, shrugged. "Under those present condition'," he said, with a wide gesture toward the remote miles of blazing harbor, "he could not honor a pazz two weeks ole. They would 'ave to rit-urn and get it renew'."

"Oh! how? How hope to do so in all yonder chaos? And how! oh, how! could an army--in full retreat--leaving women and wounded soldiers to the mercy of a ravening foe--compel them to remain in the city it was itself evacuating?" A sweet and melodious dignity was in all the questions, but eyes shone, brows arched, lips hung apart and bonnet-feathers and hat-feathers, capes and flounces, seemed to ruffle wider, with consternation and hurt esteem.

The officer could not explain a single how. He could do no more than stubbornly regret that the questioners must even return by train, the dread exigencies of the hour compelling him to impress these horses for one of his guns and those mules for his battery-wagon.

Anna's three companions would have sprung to their feet but in some way her extended hand stayed them. A year earlier Charlie would have made sad mistakes here, but now he knew the private soldier's helplessness before the gold bars of commission, and his rage was white and dumb, as, with bursting eyes, he watched the officer pencil a blank.

"Don't write that, sir," said a clear voice, and the writer, glancing up, saw Anna standing among the seated three. Her face was drawn with distress and as pale as Charlie's, but Charlie's revolver was in her hand, close to her shoulder, pointed straight upward at full cock, and the hand was steady. "Those mules first," she spoke on, "and then we, sir, are going to turn round and go home. Wh

atever our country needs of us we will give, not sell; but we will not, in her name, be robbed on the highway, sir, and I will put a ball through the head of the first horse or mule you lay a hand on. Isaac, turn your team."

Unhindered, the teamster, and then the coachman, turned and drove. Back toward, and by and by, into the vast woe-stricken town they returned in the scented airs and athwart the long shadows of that same declining sun which fourteen years before--or was it actually but fourteen months?--had first gilded the splendid maneuverings of Kincaid's Battery. The tragi-comic rencounter just ended had left the three ladies limp, gay, and tremulous, with Anna aghast at herself and really wondering between spells of shame and fits of laughter what had happened to her reason.

With his pistol buckled on again, Charlie had only a wordy wrath for the vanished officer, and grim worship of Anna, while Constance and Miranda, behind a veil of mirthful recapitulations, tenderly rejoiced in the relief of mind and heart which the moment had brought to her who had made it amazing. And now the conditions around them in streets, homes, and marts awoke sympathies in all the four, which further eased their own distresses.

The universal delirium of fright and horror had passed. Through all the city's fevered length and breadth, in the belief that the victorious ships, repairing the lacerations of battle as they came, were coming so slowly that they could not arrive for a day or two, and that they were bringing no land forces with them, thousands had become rationally, desperately busy for flight. Everywhere hacks, private carriages, cabs, wagons, light and heavy, and carts, frail or strong, carts for bread or meat, for bricks or milk, were bearing fugitives--old men, young mothers, grandmothers, maidens and children--with their trunks, bales, bundles, slaves and provisions--toward the Jackson Railroad to board the first non-military train they could squeeze into, and toward the New and Old Basins to sleep on schooner decks under the open stars in the all-night din of building deckhouses. Many of them were familiar acquaintances and chirruped good-by to the Callenders. Passes? No trouble whatever! Charlie need only do this and that and so and so, and there you were!

But Charlie was by this time so nervously spent and in such pain that the first thing must be to get him into bed again--at Callender House, since nothing could induce him to let sister, sweetheart or grandmother know he had not got away. To hurt his pride the more, in every direction military squads with bayonets fixed were smartly fussing from one small domicile to another, hustling out the laggards and marching them to encampments on the public squares. Other squads--of the Foreign Legion, appointed to remain behind in "armed neutrality"--patroled the sidewalks strenuously, preserving order with a high hand. Down this street drums roared, fifes squealed and here passed yet another stately regiment on toward and now into and down, Calliope Street, silent as the rabble it marched through, to take train for Camp Moore in the Mississippi hills.

"Good Lord!" gasped Charlie, "if that isn't the Confederate Guards! Oh, what good under heaven can those old chaps do at the front?"--the very thing the old chaps were asking themselves.

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