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Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 11386

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

Unhappy Callender House! Whether "oppressors" or "oppressed" had earliest or oftenest in that first year of the captivity lifted against it the accusing finger it would be hard to tell.

When the Ship Island transports bore their blue thousands up the river, and the streets roared a new drum-thunder, before the dark columns had settled down in the cotton-yards, public squares, Carrollton suburb and Jackson Barracks, Callender House--you may guess by whose indirection--had come to the notice of a once criminal lawyer, now the plumed and emblazoned general-in-chief, to whom, said his victims (possibly biased), no offense or offender was too small for his hectoring or chastisement.

The women in that house, that nest of sedition, he had been told, at second-hand, had in the very dawn of secession completely armed the famous "Kincaid's Battery" which had early made it hot for him about Yorktown. Later in that house they had raised a large war-fund--still somewhere hidden. The day the fleet came up they had sent their carriage-horses to Beauregard, helped signal the Chalmette fortifications, locked ten slaves in the dwelling under shell fire and threatened death to any who should stir to escape. So for these twelve months, with only Isaac, Ben, and their wives as protectors and the splendid freedom to lock themselves in, they had suffered the duress of a guard camped in the grove, their every townward step openly watched and their front door draped with the stars and stripes, under which no feminine acquaintance could be enticed except the dear, faithful Valcours.

But where were old friends and battery sisters? All estranged. Could not the Callenders go to them and explain? Explain! A certain man of not one-fifth their public significance or "secesh" record, being lightly asked on the street if he had not yet "taken the oath" and as lightly explaining that he "wasn't going to," had, fame said, for that alone, been sent to Ship Island--where Anna "already belonged," as the commanding general told the three gentle refusers of the oath, while in black letters on the whited wall above his judgment seat in the custom-house they read, "No distinction made here between he and she adders."

But could not the Valcours, those strangely immune, yet unquestioned true-lovers of poor Dixie, whose marvelous tact won priceless favors for so many distressed Dixie-ites, have explained for the Callenders? Flora had explained!--to both sides, in opposite ways, eagerly, tenderly, over and over, with moist eyes, yet ever with a cunning lameness that kept convincement misled and without foothold. Had the Callenders dwelt up-town the truth might have won out; but where they were, as they were, they might as well have been in unspeakable Boston. And so by her own sweet excusings she kept alive against them beliefs or phantoms of beliefs, which would not have lived a day in saner times.

Calumny had taken two forms: the monstrous black smoke of a vulgar version and the superior divinings of the socially elect; a fine, hidden flame fed from the smoke. According to the vulgate the three ladies, incensed at a perfectly lawful effort to use their horses for the Confederate evacuation and actually defying it with cocked revolver, had openly abjured Dixie, renounced all purpose to fly to it and, denying shelter to their own wounded, had with signal flags themselves guided the conquering fleet past the town's inmost defenses until compelled to desist by a Confederate shell in their roof. Unable to face an odium so well earned they had clung to their hiding, glad of the blue camp in their grove, living fatly on the bazaar's proceeds, and having high times with such noted staff-officers as Major Greenleaf, their kindness to whom in the days of his modest lieutenancy and first flight and of his later parole and exchange, was not so hard now to see through.

Greenleaf had come back with General Banks when Banks had succeeded Butler. Oppressed with military cares, he had barely time to be, without scrutiny, a full believer in the Valcours' loyalty to the Union. Had they not avowed it to him when to breathe it was peril, on that early day when Irby's command became Kincaid's Battery, and in his days of Parish Prison and bazaar? How well those words fitly spoken had turned out! "Like apples of gold," sang Flora to the timorous grandmother, "in wrappers of greenbacks."

All the more a believer was he because while other faithfuls were making their loyalty earn big money off the government this genteel pair reminding him, that they might yet have to risk themselves inside the gray lines again to extricate Charlie, had kept their loyalty as gracefully hidden as of old except from a general or two. Preoccupied Greenleaf, amiable generals, not to see that a loyalist in New Orleans stood socially at absolute zero, whereas to stand at the social ebullition point was more to the Valcours than fifty Unions, a hundred Dixies and heaven beside. It was that fact, more than any other, save one, which lent intrepidity to Flora's perpetual, ever quickening dance on the tight-rope of intrigue; a performance in which her bonny face had begun to betray her discovery that she could neither slow down nor dance backward. However, every face had come to betray some cruel strain; Constance's, Anna's, even Victorine's almond eyes and Miranda's baby wrinkles. Yes, the Valcours, too, had, nevertheless, their monetary gains, but these were quiet and exclusively from their ever dear, however guilty, "rebel" friends, who could not help making presents to Madame when brave Flora, spurning all rewards but their love, got for them, by some spell t

hey could not work, Federal indulgences; got them through those one or two generals, who--odd coincidence!--always knew the "rebel" city's latest "rebel" news and often made stern use of it.

Full believer likewise, and true sorrower, was Greenleaf, in Hilary's death, having its seeming proof from Constance and Miranda as well as from Flora. For in all that twelvemonth the Callenders had got no glad tidings, even from Mandeville. Battle, march and devastation, march, battle and devastation had made letters as scarce as good dreams, in brightest Dixie. But darkest Dixie was New Orleans. There no three "damned secesh" might stop on a corner in broadest sunlight and pass the time of day. There the "rebel" printing-presses stood cold in dust and rust. There churches were shut and bayonet-guarded because their ministers would not read the prayers ordered by the "oppressor," and there, for being on the street after nine at night, ladies of society, diners-out, had been taken to the lock-up and the police-court. In New Orleans all news but bad news was contraband to any "he or she adder," but four-fold contraband to the Callenders, the fairest member of whose trio, every time a blue-and-gold cavalier forced her conversation, stung him to silence with some word as mild as a Cordelia's. And yet,(you demur,) in the course of a whole year, by some kind luck, surely the blessed truth--Ah, the damsel on the tight-rope took care against that! It was part of her dance to drop from that perch as daintily as a bee-martin way-laying a hive, devour each home-coming word as he devours bees, and flit back and twitter and flutter as a part of all nature's harmony, though in chills of dismay at her peril and yet burning to go to Hilary, from whom this task alone forever held her away.

So throughout that year Anna had been to Greenleaf the veiled widow of his lost friend, not often or long, and never blithely met; loved more ardently than ever, more reverently; his devotion holding itself in a fancied concealment transparent to all; he defending and befriending her, yet only as he could without her knowledge, and incurring-a certain stigma from his associates and superiors, if not an actual distrust. A whole history of itself would be the daily, nightly, monthly war of passions between him, her, Flora, and those around them, but time flies.

One day Greenleaf, returning from a week-long circuit of outposts, found awaiting him a letter bearing Northern imprints of mailing and forwarding, from Hilary Kincaid, written long before in prison and telling another whole history, of a kind so common in war that we have already gone by it; a story of being left for dead in the long stupor of a brain hurt; of a hairbreadth escape from living burial; of weeks in hospital unidentified, all sense of identity lost; and of a daring feat of surgery, with swift mental, not so swift bodily, recovery. Inside the letter was one to Anna. But Anna was gone. Two days earlier, without warning, the Callenders--as much to Flora's affright as to their relief, and "as much for Fred's good as for anything," said his obdurate general when Flora in feigned pity pleaded for their stay--had been deported into the Confederacy.

"Let me carry it to her," cried Flora to Greenleaf, rapturously clasping the letter and smiling heroically. "We can overtague them, me and my gran'mama! And then, thanks be to God! my brother we can bring him back! Maybe also--ah! maybee! I can obtain yo' generals some uzeful news!"

After some delay the pair were allowed to go. At the nearest gray outpost, in a sudden shower of the first true news for a week--the Mississippi crossed, Grant victorious at Port Gibson and joined by Sherman at Grand Gulf--Flora learned, to her further joy, that the Callenders, misled by report that Brodnax's brigade was at Mobile, had gone eastward, as straight away from Brodnax and the battery as Gulf-shore roads could take them, across a hundred-mile stretch of townless pine-barrens with neither railway nor telegraph.

Northward, therefore, with Madame on her arm, sprang Flora, staggeringly, by the decrepit Jackson Railroad, along the quiet eastern bound of a region out of which, at every halt, came gloomy mention of Tallahala River and the Big Black; of Big Sandy, Five Mile and Fourteen Mile creeks; of Logan, Sherman and Grant; of Bowen, Gregg, Brodnax and Harper, and of daily battle rolling northward barely three hours' canter away. So they reached Jackson, capital of the state and base of General Joe Johnston's army. They found it in high ferment and full of stragglers from a battle lost that day at Raymond scarcely twenty miles down the Port Gibson road, and on the day following chanced upon Mandeville returning at last from Richmond. With him they turned west, again by rail, and about sundown, at Big Black Bridge, ten miles east of Vicksburg, found themselves clasping hands in open air with General Brodnax, Irby and Kincaid, close before the torn brigade and the wasted, cheering battery. Angels dropped down they seemed, tenderly begging off from all talk of the Callenders, who, Flora distressfully said, had been "grozzly exaggerated," while, nevertheless, she declared herself, with starting tears, utterly unable to explain why on earth they had gone to Mobile--"unlezz the bazaar." No doubt, however, they would soon telegraph by way of Jackson. But next day, while she, as mistress of a field hospital, was winning adoration on every side, Jackson, only thirty miles off but with every wire cut, fell, clad in the flames of its military factories, mills, foundries and supplies and of its eastern, Pearl River, bridge.

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