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   Chapter 65 FLORA'S LAST THROW

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 12454

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


Normal as cock-crowing seemed the antiphony to the common ear, which scarcely noticed the rareness of the indoor voice. But Greenleaf's was not the common ear, nor was Flora Valcour's.

To her that closing strain made the torture of inaction finally unbearable. Had Anna heard? Leaving Madame she moved to a hall door of the room where they sat. Was Anna's blood surging like her own? It could not! Under what a tempest of conjectures she looked down and across the great hall to the closed and sentinelled door of that front drawing-room so rife with poignant recollections. There, she thought, was Anna. From within it, more faintly now, came those sounds of a mason at work which had seemed to ring with the song. But the song had ceased. About the hall highly gilded officers conferred alertly in pairs or threes, more or less in the way of younger ones who smartly crossed from room to room. Here came Greenleaf! Seeking her? No, he would have passed unaware, but her lips ventured his name.

Never had she seen such a look in his face as that with which he confronted her. Grief, consternation, discovery and wrath were all as one save that only the discovery and wrath meant her. She saw how for two days and nights he had been putting this and that and this and that and this and that together until he had guessed her out. Sternly in his eyes she perceived contumely withholding itself, yet even while she felt the done-for cry heave through her bosom, and the floor fail like a sinking deck, she clung to her stage part, babbled impromptu lines.

"Doctor Sevier--?" she began--

"He had to go."

Again she read the soldier's eyes. God! he was comparing her changed countenance--a fool could see he was!--with Anna's! both smitten with affliction, but the abiding peace of truth in one, the abiding war of falsehood in the other. So would Kincaid do if he were here! But the stage waited: "Ah, Colonel, Anna! poor Anna!" Might not the compassion-wilted supplicant see the dear, dear prisoner? She rallied all her war-worn fairness with all her feminine art, and to her amazement, with a gleam of purpose yet without the softening of a lineament, he said yes, waved permission across to the guard and left her.

She passed the guard and knocked. Quietly in the room clinked the brick-mason's work. He strongly hummed his tune. Now he spoke, as if to his helper, who seemed to be leaving him. Again she knocked, and bent her ear. The mason sang aloud:

"Some day dis worl' come to an en',

I don't know how, I don't know when--"

She turned the door-knob and murmured, "Anna!"

The bricklaying clinked, tapped and scraped on. The workman hummed again his last two lines.

"Who is it?" asked a feigned voice which she knew so instantly to be Kincaid's that every beat of her heart jarred her frame.

"'Tis I, Anna, dear. 'Tis Flora." She was mindful of the sentry, but all his attention was in the busy hall.

There came a touch on the inner door-knob. "Go away!" murmured the manly voice, no longer disguised. "In God's name! for your own sake as well as hers, go instantly!"

"No," melodiously replied Flora, in full voice for the sentry's ear, but with resolute pressure on the door, "no, not at all.... No, I muz' not, cannot."

"Then wait one moment till you hear me at work!"

She waited. Presently the trowel sounded again and its wielder, in a lowered tone, sang with it:

"Dat neveh trouble Dandy Dan

Whilst de ladies loves de ladies' man."

At the first note she entered with some idle speech, closed the door, darted her glance around, saw no one, heard only the work and the song and sprang to the chimney-breast. She tried the panel--it would not yield! Yet there, as if the mason's powerful hands had within that minute reopened and reclosed it, were the wet marks of his fingers. A flash of her instinct for concealment bade her wipe them off and she had barely done so when he stepped from the screen, fresh from Israel's water-bucket, drying his face on his hands, his hands on his face and un-turbaned locks, prison-worn from top to toe, but in Dixie's full gray and luminous with the unsmiling joy of danger.

"It's not there," he loudly whispered, showing the bare dagger. "Here it is. She has the rest, scabbard and all."

Flora clasped her hands as in ecstasy: "And is free? surely free?"

"Almost! Surely when that despatch-boat fires!" In a few rapid words Hilary told the scheme of Anna's flight, at the same time setting the screen aside so as to show the hole in the wall nearly closed, humming his tune and ringing the trowel on the brickwork.

Flora made new show of rapture. Nor was it all mere show. Anna escaping, the treasure would escape with her, and Flora be thrown into the dungeon of penury. Yet let them both go, both rival and treasure! Love's ransom! All speed to them since they left her Hilary Kincaid and left him at her mercy. But the plight was complex and suddenly her exultation changed to affright. "My God! Hilary Kincaid," she panted, "you 'ave save' her to deztroy yo'seff! You are--"

Proudly, gaily he shook his head: "No! No! against her will I've sent her, to save--" He hushed. He had begun to say a city, Flora's city. Once more a captive, he would gladly send by Flora also, could she contrive to carry it, the priceless knowledge which Anna, after all, might fail to convey. But something--it may have been that same outdone and done-for look which Greenleaf had just noted--silenced him, and the maiden resumed where she had broken off:

"My God, Hilary Kincaid, you are in denger to be hanged a spy! Thiz minute you 'ave hide yo' dizguise in that panel!"

"You would come in," said Hilary, with a playful wave of the trowel, and turned to his work, singing:

"When I hands in my checks--"

Flora ran and clung tenderly to his arm, but with a distressed smile he clasped her wrists in one hand and gently forced her back again while she asked in burning undertone, "And you 'ave run that h-awful risk for me? for me? But, why? why? why?"

"Oh!" he laughingly said, and at the wall once more waved the ringing trowel, "instinct, I reckon; ordinary manhood--to womanhood. If you had recognized me in tha

t rig--"

"And I would! In any rigue thiz heart would reco'nize you!"

"Then you would have had to betray me or else go, yourself, to Ship Island"

"H-o-oh! I would have gone!"

"That's what I feared," said Hilary, though while he spoke she fiercely felt that she certainly would have betrayed him; not for horror of Ship Island but because now, after this, no Anna Callender nor all the world conspired should have him from her alive.

He lifted his tool for silence, and fresh anger wrung her soul to see joy mount in his eyes as from somewhere below the old coachman sang:

"When I hands in my checks, O, my ladies!"

Yet she showed elation: "That means Anna and Victorine they have pazz' to the boat?"

With merry nods and airy wavings of affirmation he sang back, rang back:

"Mighty little I espec's, O, my ladies!

But whaheveh--"

Suddenly he darkened imperiously and motioned Flora away. "Now! now's your time! go! now! this instant go!" he exclaimed, and sang on:

"--I is sent--"

"Ah!" she cried, "they'll h-ask me about her!"

"I don't believe it!" cried he, and sang again:

"--dey mus' un-deh-stan'--"

"Yes," she insisted, "--muz' undehstan', and they will surely h-ask me!"

"Well, let them ask their heads off! Go! at once! before you're further implicated!"

"And leave you to--?"

"Oh, doggon me. The moment that boat's gun sounds--if only you're out o' the way--I'll make a try. Go! for Heaven's sake, go!"

Instead, with an agony of fondness, she glided to him. Distress held him as fast and mute as at the flag presentation. But when she would have knelt he caught her elbows and held her up by force.

"No," he moaned, "you shan't do that."

She crimsoned and dropped her face between their contending arms while for pure anguish he impetuously added, "Maybe in God's eyes a woman has this right, I'm not big enough to know; but as I'm made it can't be done. I'm a man, no more, no less!"

Her eyes flashed into his: "You are Hilary Kincaid. I will stan'!"

"No,"--he loosed his hold,--"I'm only Hilary Kincaid and you'll go--in mercy to both of us--in simple good faith to every one we love--Oh, leave me!" He swung his head in torture: "I'd sooner be shot for a spy or a coward than be the imbecile this makes me." Then all at once he was fierce: "Go!"

Almost below her breath she instantly replied, "I will not!" She stood at her full, beautiful height. "Together we go or together stay. List-en!--no-no, not for that." (Meaning the gun.) In open anger she crimsoned again: "'Twill shoot, all right, and Anna, she'll go. Yes, she will leave you. She can do that. And you, you can sen' her away!"

He broke in with a laugh of superior knowledge and began to draw back, but she caught his jacket in both hands, still pouring forth,--"She has leave you--to me! me to you! My God! Hilary Kincaid, could she do that if she love' you? She don't! She knows not how--and neither you! But you, ah, you shall learn. She, she never can!" Through his jacket her knuckles felt the bare knife. Her heart leapt.

"Let go," he growled, backing away and vainly disengaging now one of her hands and now the other. "My trowel's too silent."

But she clung and dragged, speaking on wildly: "You know, Hilary, you know? You love me. Oh, no-no-no, don' look like that, I'm not crazee." Her deft hands had got the knife, but she tossed it into the work-basket: "Ah, Hilary Kincaid, oft-en we love where we thing we do not, and oft-en thing we love where we do not--"

He would not hear: "Oh, Flora Valcour! You smother me in my own loathing--oh, God send that gun!" The four hands still strove.

"Hilary, list-en me yet a moment. See me. Flora Valcour. Could Flora Valcour do like this--ag-ains' the whole nature of a woman--if she--?"

"Stop! stop! you shall not--"

"If she di'n' know, di'n' feel, di'n' see, thad you are loving her?"

"Yet God knows I've never given cause, except as--"

"A ladies' man?" prompted the girl and laughed.

The blood surged to his brow. A wilder agony was on hers as he held her from him, rigid; "Enough!" he cried; "We're caged and doomed. Yet you still have this one moment to save us, all of us, from life-long shame and sorrow."

She shook her head.

"Yes, yes," he cried. "You can. I cannot. I'm helpless now and forever. What man or woman, if I could ever be so vile as to tell it, could believe the truth of this from me? In God's name, then, go!" He tenderly thrust her off: "Go, live to honor, happiness and true love, and let me--"

"Ezcape, perchanze, to Anna?"

"Yes, if I--" He ceased in fresh surprise. Not because she toyed with the dagger lying on Anna's needlework, for she seemed not to know she did it; but because of a strange brightness of assent as she nodded twice and again.

"I will go," she said. Behind the brightness was the done-for look, plainer than ever, and with it yet another, a look of keen purpose, which the grandam would have understood. He saw her take the dirk, so grasping it as to hide it behind wrist and sleeve; but he said only, beseechingly, "Go!"

"Stay," said another voice, and at the small opening still left in the wall, lo! the face of Greenleaf and the upper line of his blue and gilt shoulders. His gaze was on Flora. She could do nothing but gaze again. "I know, now," he continued, "your whole two-years' business. Stay just as you are till I can come round and in. Every guard is doubled and has special orders."

She dropped into a seat, staring like one demented, now at door and windows, now from one man to the other, now to the floor, while Kincaid sternly said, "Colonel Greenleaf, the reverence due from any soldier to any lady--" and Greenleaf interrupted--

"The lady may be sure of."

"And about this, Fred, you'll be--dumb?"

"Save only to one, Hilary."

"Where is she, Fred?"

"On that boat, fancying herself disguised. Having you, we're only too glad not to have her."

The retaken prisoner shone with elation: "And those fellows of last night?--got them back?"

Greenleaf darkened, and shook his head.

"Hurrah," quietly remarked the smiling Hilary.

"Wait a moment," said the blue commander, and vanished.

* * *

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