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   Chapter 56 BETWEEN THE MILLSTONES

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 6588

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


Telegraph! They had been telegraphing for days, but their telegrams have not yet been delivered.

On the evening when the camps of Johnston and Grant with burning Jackson between them put out half the stars a covered carriage, under the unsolicited escort of three or four gray-jacketed cavalrymen and driven by an infantry lad seeking his command after an illness at home, crossed Pearl River in a scow at Ratcliff's ferry just above the day's battlefield.

"When things are this bad," said the boy to the person seated beside him and to two others at their back, his allusion being to their self-appointed guard, "any man you find straggling to the front is the kind a lady can trust."

This equipage had come a three hours' drive, from the pretty town of Brandon, nearest point to which a railway train from the East would venture, and a glimpse into the vehicle would have shown you, behind Constance and beside Miranda, Anna, pale, ill, yet meeting every inquiry with a smiling request to push on. They were attempting a circuit of both armies to reach a third, Pemberton's, on the Big Black and in and around Vicksburg.

Thus incited they drove on in the starlight over the gentle hills of Madison county and did not accept repose until they had put Grant ten miles behind and crossed to the south side of the Vicksburg and Jackson Railroad at Clinton village with only twenty miles more between them and Big Black Bridge. The springs of Anna's illness were more in spirit than body. Else she need not have lain sleepless that night at Clinton's many cross-roads, still confronting a dilemma she had encountered in Mobile.

In Mobile the exiles had learned the true whereabouts of the brigade, and of a battery then called Bartleson's as often as Kincaid's by a public which had half forgotten the seemingly well-established fact of Hilary's death. Therein was no new shock. The new shock had come when, as the three waited for telegrams, they stood before a vast ironclad still on the ways but offering splendid protection from Farragut's wooden terrors if only it could be completed, yet on which work had ceased for lack of funds though a greater part of the needed amount, already put up, lay idle solely because it could not be dragged up to a total that would justify its outlay.

"How much does it fall short?" asked Anna with a heart at full stop, and the pounding shock came when the shortage proved less than the missing proceeds of the bazaar. For there heaved up the problem, whether to pass on in the blind hope of finding her heart's own, or to turn instead and seek the two detectives and the salvation of a city. This was the dilemma which in the last few days had torn half the life out of her and, more gravely than she knew, was threatening the remnant.

Constance and Miranda yearned, yet did not dare, to urge the latter choice. They talked it over covertly on the back seat of the carriage, Anna sitting bravely in front with the young "web-foot," as their wheels next day plodded dustily westward out of Clinton. Hilary would never be found, of course; and if found how would he explain why he, coming through whatever vicissitudes, he the ever ready, resourceful and daring, he the men's and ladies' man in one, whom to look upon drew into his servic

e whoever looked, had for twelve months failed to get so much as one spoken or written word to Anna Callender; to their heart-broken Nan, the daily sight of whose sufferings had sharpened their wits and strung their hearts to blame whoever, on any theory, could be blamed. Undoubtedly he might have some dazzling explanation ready, but that explanation they two must first get of him before she should know that her dead was risen.

Our travellers were minus their outriders now. At dawn the squad, leaving tender apologies in the night's stopping-place, had left the ladies also, not foreseeing that demoralized servants would keep them there with torturing delays long into the forenoon. When at length the three followed they found highways in ruin, hoof-deep in dust and no longer safe from blue scouts, while their infantry boy proved as innocent of road wisdom as they, and on lonely by-ways led them astray for hours. We may picture their bodily and mental distress to hear, at a plantation house whose hospitality they craved when the day was near its end, that they were still but nine miles from Clinton with eleven yet between them and Big Black Bridge.

Yet they could have wept for thanks as readily as for chagrin or fatigue, so kindly were they taken in, so stirring was the next word of news.

"Why, you po' city child'en!" laughed two sweet unprotected women. "Let these girls bresh you off. You sho'ly got the hafe o' Hinds County on you ... Pemberton's men? Law, no; they wuz on Big Black but they right out here, now, on Champion's Hill, in sight f'om our gin-house ... Brodnax' bri'--now, how funny! We jess heard o' them about a' hour ago, f'om a bran' new critter company name' Ferry's Scouts. Why, Ferry's f'om yo' city! Wish you could 'a' seen him--oh, all of 'em, they was that slick! But, oh, slick aw shabby, when our men ah fine they ah fine, now, ain't they! There was a man ridin' with him--dressed diff'ent--he wuz the batteredest-lookin', gayest, grandest--he might 'a' been a gen'al! when in fact he was only a majo', an' it was him we heard say that Brodnax was some'uz on the south side o' the railroad and couldn't come up befo' night ... What, us? no, we on the nawth side. You didn't notice when you recrossed the track back yondeh? Well, you must 'a' been ti-ud!"

Anna dropped a fervid word to Miranda that set their hostesses agape. "Now, good Lawd, child, ain't you in hahdship and dangeh enough? Not one o' you ain't goin' one step fu'ther this day. Do you want to git shot? Grant's men are a-marchin' into Bolton's Depot right now. Why, honey, you might as well go huntin' a needle in a haystack as to go lookin' fo' Brodnax's brigade to-night. Gen'al Pemberton himself--why, he'd jest send you to his rear, and that's Vicksburg, where they a-bein' shelled by the boats day and night, and the women and child'en a-livin' in caves. You don't want to go there?"

"We don't know," drolly replied Anna.

"Well, you stay hyuh. That's what that majo' told us. Says 'e, 'Ladies, we got to fight a battle here to-morrow, but yo'-all's quickest way out of it'll be to stay right hyuh. There'll be no place like home to-morrow, not even this place,' says 'e, with a sort o' twinkle that made us laugh without seein' anything to laugh at!"

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