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   Chapter 59 IN A LABYRINTH

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 5944

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


For ladies' funerals, we say, mortars and siege-guns, as a rule, do not pause. But here at Vicksburg there was an hour near the end of each day when the foe, for some mercy to themselves, ceased to bombard, and in one of these respites that procession ventured forth in which rode the fevered Anna: a farm wagon, a battered family coach, a carryall or two.

Yet in the midst of the graveyard rites there broke out on the unseen lines near by, northward, an uproar of attack, and one or two shells burst in plain view, frightening the teams. The company leaped into the vehicles any way they could and started townward over a miserable road with the contest resounding on their right. As they jostled along the edge of a wood that lay between them and the firing some mishap to the front team caused all to alight, whereupon a shell, faultily timed, came tearing through the tree-tops and exploded in the remains of a fence close beyond them. Amid thunder, smoke, and brute and human terror the remounting groups whirled away and had entirely left the scene before that was asked which none could tell: Where was Anna?

Anna herself did not know, could not inquire of her own mind. With a consciousness wholly disembodied she was mainly aware of a great pain that seemed to fill all the region and atmosphere, an atmosphere charged with mysterious dim green light and full of great boomings amid a crackle of smaller ones; of shouts and cheers and of a placid quaking of myriad leaves; all of which things might be things or only divers manifestations of her undefinable self.

By and by through the pain came a dream of some one like her living in a certain heaven of comfort and beauty, peace, joy, and love named "Callender House"; but the pain persisted and the dream passed into a horrible daytime darkness that brought a sense of vast changes near and far; a sense of many having gone from that house, and of many having most forbiddenly come to it; a sense of herself spending years and years, and passing from world to world, in quest of one Hilary, Hilary Kincaid, whom all others believed to be dead or false, or both, but who would and should and must be found, and when found would be alive and hale and true; a sense of having, with companions, been all at once frightfully close to a rending of the sky, and of having tripped as she fled, of having fallen and lain in a thunderous storm of invisible hail, and of having after a time risen again and staggered on, an incalculable distance, among countless growing things, fleeing down-hill, too weak to turn up-hill, till suddenly the whole world seemed to strike hard against something that sent it reeling backward.

And now her senses began feebly to regather within truer limits and to tell her she was lying on the rooty ground of a thicket. Dimly she thought to be up and gone once more, but could get no farther than the thought although behind her closed lids glimmered a memory of deadly comba

t. Its din had passed, but there still sounded, just beyond this covert, fierce commands of new preparation, and hurried movements in response--a sending and bringing, dismissing, and summoning of men and things to rear or front, left or right, in a fury of supply and demand.

Ah, what! water? in her face? Her eyes opened wildly. A man was kneeling beside her. He held a canteen; an armed officer in the foe's blue. With lips parting to cry out she strove to rise and fly, but his silent beseechings showed him too badly hurt below the knees to offer aid or hindrance, and as she gained her feet she let him plead with stifled eagerness for her succor from risks of a captivity which, in starving Vicksburg and in such plight, would be death.

He was a stranger and an enemy, whose hurried speech was stealthy and whose eyes went spying here and there, but so might it be just then somewhere with him for whom she yet clung to life. For that one's sake, and more than half in dream, she gave the sufferer her support, and with a brow knit in anguish, but with the fire of battle still in his wasting blood, he rose, fitfully explaining the conditions of the place and hour. To cover a withdrawal of artillery from an outer to an inner work a gray line had unexpectedly charged, and as it fell back with its guns, hotly pressed, a part of the fight had swung down into and half across this ravine, for which another struggle was furiously preparing on both sides, but which, for him, in the interval, was an open way of deliverance if she would be his crutch.

In equal bewilderment of thought and of outer sense, pleadingly assured that she would at once be sent back under flag of truce, with compassion deepening to compulsion and with a vague inkling that, failing the white flag, this might be heaven's leading back to Callender House and the jewel treasure, to Mobile and to Hilary, she gave her aid. Beyond the thicket the way continued tangled, rough and dim. Twice and again the stricken man paused for breath and ease from torture, though the sounds of array, now on two sides, threatened at every step to become the cry of onset. Presently he stopped once more, heaved, swayed and, despite her clutch, sank heavily to the ground.

"Water!" he gasped, but before she could touch the canteen to his lips he had fainted. She sprinkled his face, but he did not stir. She gazed, striving for clear thought, and then sprang up and called. What word? Ah, what in all speech should she call but a name, the name of him whose warrant of marriage lay at that moment in her bosom, the name of him who before God and the world had sworn her his mated, life-long protection?

"Hilary!" she wailed, and as the echoes of the green wood died, "Hilary!" again. On one side there was more light in the verdure than elsewhere and that way she called. That way she moved stumblingly and near the edge of a small clear space cried once more, "Hilary!... Hilary!"

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