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   Chapter 62 FAREWELL, JANE!

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 8413

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


"Happiest man in New Orleans!"

So called himself, to Colonel Greenleaf, the large, dingy-gray, lively-eyed Major Kincaid, at the sentinelled door of the room where he and his four wan fellows, snatched back from liberty on the eve of release, were prisoners in plain view of the vessel on which they were to have gone free.

With kind dignity Greenleaf predicted their undoubted return to the craft next morning. Strange was the difference between this scene and the one in which, eighteen months before, these two had last been together in this room. The sentry there knew the story and enjoyed it. In fact, most of the blue occupants of the despoiled place had a romantic feeling, however restrained, for each actor in that earlier episode. Yet there was resentment, too, against Greenleaf's clemencies.

"Wants?" said the bedless captive to his old chum, "no, thank you, not a want!" implying, with his eyes, that the cloud overhanging Greenleaf for favors shown to--hmm!--certain others was already dark enough, "We've parlor furniture galore," he laughed, pointing out a number of discolored and broken articles that had been beautiful. One was the screen behind which the crouching Flora had heard him tell the ruin of her Mobile home and had sworn revenge on this home and on its fairest inmate.

During the evening the prisoners grew a bit noisy, in song; yet even when their ditties were helped out by a rhythmic clatter of boot-heels and chair-legs the too indulgent Greenleaf did not stop them. The voices were good and the lines amusing not merely to the guards here and there but to most of their epauleted superiors who, with lights out for coolness, sat in tilted chairs on a far corner of the front veranda to catch the river breeze. One lay was so antique as to be as good as new:

"Our duck swallowed a snail,

And her eyes stood out with wonder.

Our duck swallowed a snail,

And her eyes stood out with wonder

Till the horns grew out of her tail, tail, tail,

Tail, Tail,

Tail, Tail,

Tail, Tail,

And tore it All asunder.

Farewell, Jane!

"Our old horse fell into the well

Around behind the stable.

Our old horse fell into the well

Around behind the stable.

He couldn't fall all the way but he fell,

Fell,

Fell,

Fell,

Fell,

Fell,

Fell,

As far as he was able.

Farewell, Jane!"

It is here we may safest be brief. The literature of prison escapes is already full enough. Working in the soft mortar of so new a wall and worked by one with a foundryman's knowledge of bricklaying, the murdered Italian's stout old knife made effective speed as it kept neat time with the racket maintained for it. When the happiest man in New Orleans warily put head and shoulders through the low gap he had opened, withdrew them again and reported to his fellows, the droll excess of their good fortune moved the five to livelier song, and as one by one the other four heads went in to view the glad sight the five gave a yet more tragic stanza from the farewell to Jane. The source of their delight was not the great ragged hole just over the intruding heads, in the ceiling's lath and plaster, nor was it a whole corner torn off the grand-piano by the somersaulting shell as it leaped from the rent above to the cleaner one it had left at the baseboard in the room's farther end. It was that third hole, burned in the floor; for there it opened, shoulder wide, almost under their startled faces, free to the basement's floor and actually with the rough ladder yet standing in it which had been used in putting out the fire. That such luck could last a night was too much to hope.

Yet it lasted. The songs were hushed. The room whence they had come was without an audible stir. Sleep stole through all the house, through the small camp of the guard in the darkened grove, the farther tents of the brigade, the anchored ships, the wide city, the starlit landscape. Out in that rear garden-path where Madame Valcour had once been taken to see the head-high wealth of roses two generals, who had been there through all the singing, still paced to and fro and talked, like old Brodnax at Carrollton in that brighter time, "not nearly

as much alone as they seemed." One by one five men in gray, each, for all his crouching and gliding, as true and gallant a gentleman as either of those commanders, stole from the house's basement and slipped in and out among the roses. Along a back fence a guard walked up and down. Two by two, when his back was turned, went four of the gliding men, as still as bats, over the fence into a city of ten thousand welcome hiding-places. The fifth, their "ringg-leadeh," for whom they must wait concealed until he should rejoin them, lingered in the roses; hovered so close to the path that he might have touched its occupants as they moved back and forth; almost--to quote his uncle--

"Sat in the roses and heard the birds sing"--

heard blue birds, in soft notes not twittered, muttered as by owls, revealing things priceless for Mobile to know.

Bragg's gray army, he heard, was in far Chattanooga facing Rosecrans, and all the slim remnants of Johnston's were hurrying to its reinforcement. Mobile was merely garrisoned. Little was there save artillery. Here in New Orleans lay thousands of veterans flushed with their up-river victories, whose best and quickest aid to Rosecrans would be so to move as to turn Bragg's reinforcements back southward. A cavalry dash across the pine-barrens of East Louisiana to cut the railroad along the Mississippi-Alabama line, a quick joint movement of land and naval forces by way of the lakes, sound, and gulf, and Mobile would fall. These things and others, smaller yet more startling, the listener learned of, not as pastime talk, but as a vivid scheme already laid, a mine ready to be sprung if its secret could be kept three days longer; and now he hurried after his four compatriots, his own brain teeming with a counter-plot to convey this secret through the dried-up swamps to the nearest Confederate telegraph station while Anna should bear it (and the recovered treasure) by boat to Mobile, two messengers being so many times surer than one.

Early next morning Madame Valcour, entering an outer room from an inner one, found Flora writing a note. The girl kept on, conscious that her irksome critic was taking keen note of a subtle, cruel decay of her beauty, a spiritual corrosion that, without other fault to the eye, had at last reached the surface in a faint hardening of lines and staleness of bloom. Now she rose, went out, dispatched her note and returned. Her manner, as the two sat down to bread and coffee, was bright though tense.

"From Greenleaf?" inquired her senior, "and to the same?"

The girl shook her fair head and named one of his fellow-officers at Callender House: "No, Colonel Greenleaf is much too busy. Hilary Kincaid has--"

"Esca-aped?" cried the aged one, flashed hotly, laughed, flashed again and smiled. "That Victorine kitten--with her cakes! And you--and Greenleaf--hah! you three cats paws--of one little--Anna!"

Flora jauntily wagged a hand, then suddenly rose and pointed with a big bread knife: "Go, dress! We'll save the kitten--if only for Charlie! Go! she must leave town at once. Go! But, ah, grannie dear,"--she turned to a window--"for Anna, spite of all we can do, I am af-raid--Ship Island! Poor Anna!" At the name her beautiful arm, in one swift motion, soared, swung, drove the bright steel deep into the window-frame and left it quivering.

"Really," said a courteous staff-officer as he and Doctor Sevier alighted at the garden stair of Callender House and helped Anna and her maid from a public carriage, "only two or three of us will know you're"--His smile was awkward. The pale doctor set his jaw. Anna musingly supplied the term:

"A prisoner." She looked fondly over the house's hard-used front as they mounted the steps. "If they'd keep me here, Doctor," she said at the top, "I'd be almost happy. But"--she faced the aide-de-camp--"they won't, you know. By this time to-morrow I shall be"--she waved playfully--"far away."

"Mainland, or island?" grimly asked the Doctor.

She did not know. "But I know, now, how a rabbit feels with the hounds after her. Honestly," she said again to the officer, "I wish I might have her cunning." And the soldier murmured, "Amen."

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