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   Chapter 64 NOW, MR. BRICK-MASON,--

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 10040

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


Amid the much coming and going that troubled Israel--tramp of spurred boots, clank of sabres, seeking, meeting and parting of couriers and aides--Madame Valcour, outwardly placid, inwardly terrified, found opportunity to warn her granddaughter, softly, that unless she, the granddaughter, could get that look of done-for agony out of her eyes, the sooner and farther they fled this whole issue, this fearful entanglement, the better for them.

But brave Flora, knowing the look was no longer in the eyes alone but had for days eaten into her visage as age had for decades into the grandam's, made no vain effort to paint it out with smiles but accepted and wore it in show of a desperate solicitude for Anna. Yet this, too, was futile, and before Doctor Sevier had exchanged five words with her she saw that to him the make-up was palpable and would be so to Greenleaf. Poor Flora! She had wrestled her victims to the edge of a precipice, yet it was she who at this moment, this dazzling September morning, seemed doomed to go first over the brink. Had not both Hilary and Anna met again this Greenleaf and through him found answer for all their burning questions? She could not doubt her web of deceptions had been torn to shreds, cast to the winds. Not one of the three could she now hope to confront successfully, much less any two of them together. To name no earlier reason--having reached town just as Kincaid was being sent out of it, she had got him detained on a charge so frivolous that how to sustain it now before Greenleaf and his generals she was tortured to contrive.

Yet something must be done. The fugitive must be retaken and retained, the rival deported, and, oh, Hilary Kincaid! as she recalled her last moment with you on that firing-line behind Vicksburg, shame and rage outgrew despair, and her heart beat hot in a passion of chagrin and then hotter, heart and brain, in a frenzy of ownership, as if by spending herself she had bought you, soul and body, and if only for self-vindication would have you from all the universe.

"The last wager and the last card," she smilingly remarked to her kinswoman, "they sometimes win out," and as the smile passed added, "I wish I had that bread-knife."

To Doctor Sevier her cry was, "Oh, yes, yes! Dear Anna! Poor Anna! Yes, before I have to see any one else, even Colonel Greenleave! Ah, please, Doctor, beg him he'll do me that prizelezz favor, and that for the good God's sake he'll keep uz, poor Anna and me, not long waiting!"

Yet long were the Valcours kept. It was the common fate those days. But Flora felt no title to the common fate, and while the bustle of the place went on about them she hiddenly suffered and, mainly for the torment it would give her avaricious companion, told a new reason for the look in her eyes. Only a few nights before she had started wildly out of sleep to find that she had dreamed the cause of Anna's irreconcilable distress for the loss of the old dagger. The dream was true on its face, a belated perception awakened by bitterness of soul, and Madame, as she sat dumbly marvelling at its tardiness, chafed the more against each minute's present delay, seeing that now to know if Kincaid, or if Anna, held the treasure was her liveliest hankering.

Meantime the captive Anna was less debarred than they. As Greenleaf and the Doctor, withdrawing, shut her door, and until their steps died away, she had stood by her table, her wide thought burning to know the whereabouts, doings, and plight of him, once more missing, with whom a scant year-and-a-half earlier--if any war-time can be called scant--she had stood on that very spot and sworn the vows of marriage: to know his hazards now, right now! with man; police, informer, patrol, picket, scout; and with nature; the deadly reptiles, insects, and maladies of thicketed swamp and sun-beaten, tide-swept marsh; and how far he had got on the splendid mission which her note, with its words of love and faith and of patriotic abnegation, had laid upon him.

Now eagerly she took her first quick survey of the room she knew so well. Her preoccupied maid was childishly questioning the busy Israel as he and the man out on the basement ladder removed bricks from the edges of the ragged opening between them.

"Can't build solid ef you don't staht solid," she heard the old coachman say. She glided to the chimney-breast, searching it swiftly with her eyes and now with her hands. Soilure and scars had kept the secret of the hidden niche all these months, and neither stain, scar, nor any sign left by Hilary or Flora betrayed it now. Surely this was the very panel Flora had named. Yet dumbly, rigidly it denied the truth, for Hilary, having reaped its spoil, had, to baffle his jailors, cunningly made it fast. And time was flying! Tremblingly the searcher glanced again to the door, to the screen, to the veranda windows--though these Israel had rudely curtained--and then tried another square, keenly harkening the while to all sounds and espec

ially to the old negro's incessant speech:

"Now, Mr. Brick-mason, ef you'll climb in hyuh I'll step out whah you is and fetch a bucket o' warteh. Gal, move one side a step, will you?"

While several feet stirred lightly Anna persisted in her trembling quest--not to find the treasure, dear Heaven, but only to find it gone. Would that little be denied? So ardent was the mute question that she seemed to have spoken it aloud, and in alarm looked once more at the windows, the door, the screen--the screen! A silence had settled there and as her eye fell on it the stooping mason came from behind it, glancing as furtively as she at windows and door and then exaltedly to her. She stiffened for outcry and flight, but in the same instant he straightened up and she knew him; knew him as right here she had known him once before in that same disguise, which the sad fortunes of their cause had prevented his further use of till now. He started forward, but with beseeching signs and whispers, blind to everything between them but love and faith, she ran to him. He caught her to his heart and drew her behind the screen under the enraptured eyes of her paralyzed maid. For one long breath of ecstasy the rest of the universe was nothing. But then--

"The treasure?" she gasped. "The dagger?"

He showed the weapon in its precious scabbard and sought to lay it in her hands, but--"Oh, why! why!" she demanded, though with a gaze that ravished his,--. "Why are you not on your way--?"

"Am!" he softly laughed. "Here, leave me the dirk, but take the sheath. Everything's there that we put there long ago, beloved, and also a cypher report of what I heard last night in the garden--never mind what!--take it, you will save Mobile! Now both of you slip through this hole and down the ladder and quietly skedaddle--quick--come!"

"But the guards?"

"Just brass it out and walk by them. Victorine's waiting out behind with all her aunt's things at a house that old Israel will tell you of--listen!" From just outside the basement, near the cisterns, a single line of song rose drowsily and ceased:

"Heap mo' dan worteh-million juice--"

"That's he. It means come on. Go!" He gathered a brick and trowel and rang them together as if at work. The song answered:

"Aw 'possum pie aw roasted goose--"

The trowel rang on. Without command from her mistress the maid was crouching into the hole. In the noise Anna was trying to press an anxious query upon Hilary, but he dropped brick and tool and snatched her again into his embrace.

"Aw soppin's o' de gravy pan--"

called the song. The maid was through!

"But you, Hilary, my life?" gasped Anna as he forced her to the opening.

"The swamp for me!" he said, again sounding the trowel. "I take this"--the trowel--"and walk out through the hall. Go, my soul's treasure, go!"

Anna, with that art of the day which remains a wonder yet, gathered her crinoline about her feet and twisted through and out upon the ladder. Hilary seized a vanishing hand, kissed it madly, and would have loosed it, but it clung till his limy knuckles went out and down and her lips sealed on them the distant song's fourth line as just then it came:

"De ladies loves de ladies' man!"

As mistress and maid passed in sight of the dark singer he hurried to them, wearing the bucket of water on his turban as lightly as a hat. "Is you got to go so soon?" he asked, and walked beside them. Swiftly, under his voice, he directed them to Victorine and then spoke out again in hearing of two or three blue troopers. "You mus' come ag'in, whensomeveh you like."

They drew near a guard: "Dese is ole folks o' mine, Mr. Gyuard, ef you please, suh, dess a-lookin' at de ole home, suh."

"We were admitted by Colonel Greenleaf," said Anna, with a soft brightness that meant more than the soldier guessed, and he let them out, feeling as sweet, himself, as he tried to look sour.

"Well, good-by, Miss Nannie," said the old man, "I mus' recapitulate back to de house; dey needs me pow'ful all de time. Good luck to you! Gawd bless you!... Dass ow ba-aby, Mr. Gyuard--Oh, Lawd, Lawd, de days I's held dat chile out on one o' dese ole han's!" He had Flora's feeling for stage effects.

Toiling or resting, the Southern slaves were singers. With the pail on his head and with every wearer of shoulder-straps busy giving or obeying some order, it was as normal as cock-crowing that he should raise yet another line of his song and that from the house the diligent bricklayer should reply.

Sang the water-carrier:

"I's natch-i-ully gallant wid de ladies,--"

and along with the trowel's tinkle came softly back,

"I uz bawn wid a talent fo' de ladies."

For a signal the indoor singer need not have gone beyond that line, but the spirit that always grew merry as the peril grew, the spirit which had made Kincaid's Battery the fearfulest its enemies ever faced, insisted:

"You fine it on de map o' de contrac' plan,

I's boun' to be a ladies' man!"

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