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   Chapter 60 HILARY'S GHOST

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 8019

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

Faintly the bearer of that name heard the call; heard it rise from a quarter fearfully nearer the foe's line than to his; caught it with his trained ear as, just beyond sight of Irby, Miranda, and others, he stood in amazed converse with Flora Valcour. Fortune, smiling on Flora yet, had brought first to her the terrified funeral group and so had enabled her to bear to Hilary the news of the strange estrayal, skilfully blended with that revelation of Anna's Vicksburg sojourn which she, Flora, had kept from him so cleverly and so long.

With mingled rapture and distress, with a heart standing as still as his feet, as still as his lifted head and shining eyes, he listened and heard again. Swiftly, though not with the speed he would have chosen, he sprang toward the call; sped softly through the brush, softly and without voice, lest he draw the enemy's fire; softly and mutely, with futile backward wavings and frowning and imploring whispers to Flora as in a dishevelled glow that doubled her beauty she glided after him.

Strangely, amid a swarm of keen perceptions that plagued him like a cloud of arrows as he ran, that beauty smote his conscience; her beauty and the worship and protection it deserved from all manhood and most of all from him, whose unhappy, unwitting fortune it was to have ensnared her young heart and brought it to the desperation of an unnatural self-revealment; her uncoveted beauty, uncourted love, unwelcome presence, and hideous peril! Was he not to all these in simplest honor peculiarly accountable? They lanced him through with arraignment as, still waving her beseechingly, commandingly back, with weapons undrawn the more swiftly to part the way before him, his frenzy for Anna drew him on, as full of introspection as a drowning man, thinking a year's thoughts at every step. Oh, mad joy in pitiful employment! Here while the millions of a continent waged heroic war for great wrongs and rights, here on the fighting-line of a beleaguered and starving city, here when at any instant the peal of his own guns might sound a fresh onset, behold him in a lover's part, loving "not honor more," setting the seal upon his painful alias, filching time out of the jaws of death to pursue one maiden while clung to by another. Oh, Anna! Anna Callender! my life for my country, but this moment for thy life and thee! God stay the onslaught this one moment!

As he reached the edge of that narrow opening from whose farther side Anna had called he halted, glanced furtively about, and harkened forward, backward, through leafy distances grown ominously still. Oh, why did the call not come again? Hardly in a burning house could time be half so priceless. Not a breath could promise that in the next the lightnings, thunders, and long human yell of assault would not rend the air. Flora's soft tread ceased at his side.

"Stay back!" he fiercely breathed, and pointed just ahead: "The enemy's skirmishers!"

"Come away!" she piteously whispered, trembling with terror. For, by a glimpse as brief as the catch of her breath, yonder a mere rod or so within the farther foliage, down a vista hardly wider than a man's shoulders, an armed man's blue shoulders she had seen, under his black hat and peering countenance. Joy filled the depth of her heart in the belief that a thin line of such black hats had already put Anna behind them, yet she quaked in terror, terror of death, of instant, shot-torn death that might leave Hilary Kincaid alive.

With smiting pity he saw her affright. "Go back!" he once more gasped: "In God's name, go back!" while recklessly he stepped forward out of cover. But in splendid desperation, with all her soul's battle in her eyes--horror, love, defiance, and rending chagrin striving and smiting, she sprang after him into the open, and clutched and twined his arms. The blue skirmish-line, without hearing, saw him; saw, and withheld their fire, fiercely glad that tactics and mercy should for once agree. And Anna saw.

"Come with

me back!" whispered Flora, dragging on him with bending knees. "She's lost! She's gone back to those Yankee, and to Fred Greenleaf! And you"--the whisper rose to a murmur whose pathos grew with her Creole accent--"you, another step and you are a deserter! Yes! to your country--to Kincaid' Batt'ree--to me-me-me!" The soft torrent of speech grew audible beyond them: "Oh, my God! Hilary Kincaid, listen-to-me-listen! You 'ave no right; no ri-ight to leave me! Ah, you shall not! No right--ri-ight to leave yo' Flora--sinze she's tol' you--sinze she's tol' you--w'at she's tol' you!"

In this long history of a moment the blue skirmishers had not yet found Anna, but it was their advance, their soft stir at her back as they came upon their fallen leader, that had hushed her cries. At the rift in the wood she had leaned on a huge oak and as body and mind again failed had sunk to its base in leafy hiding. Vaguely thence she presently perceived, lit from behind her by sunset beams, the farther edge of the green opening, and on that border, while she feebly looked, came suddenly a ghost!

Ah, Heaven! the ghost of Hilary Kincaid! It looked about for her! It listened for her call! By the tree's rough bark she drew up half her height, clung and, with reeling brain, gazed. How tall! how gaunt! how dingy gray! How unlike her whilom "ladies' man," whom, doubtless truly, they now called dead and buried. But what--what--was troubling the poor ghost? What did it so wildly avoid? what wave away with such loving, tender pain? Flora Valcour! Oh, see, see! Ah, death in life! what does she see? As by the glare of a bursting midnight shell all the empty gossip of two years justified--made real--in one flash of staring view. With a long moan the beholder cast her arms aloft and sank in a heap, not knowing that the act had caught Hilary's eye, but willingly aware that her voice had perished in a roar of artillery from the farther brink of the ravine, in a crackle and fall of tree-tops, and in the "rebel yell" and charge.

Next morning, in a fog, the blue holders of a new line of rifle-pits close under the top of a bluff talked up to the grays in a trench on its crest. Gross was the banter, but at mention of "ladies" it purified.

"Johnnie!" cried "Yank," "who is she, the one we've got?" and when told to ask her, said she was too ill to ask. By and by to "Johnnie's" inquiries the blues replied:

"He? the giant? Hurt? No-o, not half bad enough, when we count what he cost us. If we'd known he was only stunned we"--and so on, not very interestingly, while back in the rear of the gray line tearful Constance praised, to her face, the haggard Flora and, in his absence, the wounded Irby, Flora's splendid rescuer in the evening onslaught.

"A lifetime debt," Miranda thought Flora owed him, and Flora's meditative yes, as she lifted her eyes to her grandmother's, was--peculiar.

A few days later Anna, waking in the bliss of a restored mind, and feeling beneath her a tremor of paddlewheels, gazed on the nurse at her side.

"Am I a--prisoner?" she asked.

The woman bent kindly without reply.

"Anyhow," said Anna, with a one-sided smile, "they can't call me a spy." Her words quickened: "I'm a rebel, but I'm no spy. I was lost. And he's no spy. He was in uniform. Is he--on this boat?"

Yes, she was told, he was, with a few others like him, taken too soon for the general parole of the surrender. Parole? she pondered. Surrender? What surrender? "Where are we going?" she softly inquired; "not to New Orleans?"

The nurse nodded brightly.

"But how can we get--by?"

"By Vicksburg? We're already by there."

"Has Vicks--?... Has Vicksburg--fallen?"

The confirming nod was tender. Anna turned away. Presently--"But not Mobile? Mobile hasn't--?"

"No, not yet. But it must, don't you think?"

"No!" cried Anna. "It must not! Oh, it must not! I--if I--Oh, if I--"

The nurse soothed her smilingly: "My poor child," she said, "you can't save Mobile."

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