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Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 8697

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


About a green spot crowning one of the low fortified hills on a northern edge of Mobile sat Bartleson, Mandeville, Irby, Villeneuve and two or three lieutenants, on ammunition-boxes, fire-logs and the sod, giving their whole minds to the retention of Anna and Miranda Callender, who sat on camp-stools. The absent Constance was down in the town, just then bestowing favors not possible for any one else to offer so acceptably to a certain duplicate and very self-centered Steve aged eighty days--sh-sh-sh!

The camp group's soft discourse was on the character of one whom this earliest afternoon in August they had followed behind muffled drums to his final rest. Beginning at Carrollton Gardens, they said, then in the flowery precincts of Callender House, later in that death-swept garden on Vicksburg's inland bluffs, and now in this one, of Flora's, a garden yet, peaceful and fragrant, though no part of its burnt house save the chimneys had stood in air these three years and a half, the old hero--

"Yes," chimed Miranda to whoever was saying it--

The old hero, despite the swarm of mortal perils and woes he and his brigade and its battery had come through in that period, had with a pleasing frequency--to use the worn-out line just this time more--

"Sat in the roses and heard the birds' song."

The old soldier, they all agreed, had had a feeling for roses and song, which had gilded the edges and angles of his austere spirit and betrayed a tenderness too deep hid for casual discovery, yet so vital a part of him that but for its lacerations--with every new public disaster--he never need have sunk under these year-old Vicksburg wounds which had dragged him down at last.

Miranda retold the splendid antic he had cut in St. Charles Street the day Virginia seceded. Steve recounted how the aged warrior had regained strength from Chickamauga's triumph and lost it again after Chattanooga. Two or three recalled how he had suffered when Banks' Red River Expedition desolated his fair estate and "forever lured away" his half-a-thousand "deluded people." He must have succumbed then, they said, had not the whole "invasion" come to grief and been driven back into New Orleans. New Orleans! younger sister of little Mobile, yet toward which Mobile now looked in a daily torture of apprehension. And then Hilary's beloved Bartleson put in what Anna sat wishing some one would say.

"With what a passion of disowned anxiety," he remarked, "had the General, to the last, watched every step, slip and turn in what Steve had once called 'the multifurieuse carreer' of Hilary Kincaid."

So turned the talk upon the long-time absentee, and instances were cited of those outbreaks of utter nonsense which were wont to come from him in awful moments: gibes with which no one reporting them to the uncle could ever make the "old man" smile. The youngest lieutenant (a gun-corporal that day the Battery left New Orleans) told how once amid a fearful havoc, when his piece was so short of men that Kincaid was himself down on the ground sighting and firing it, and an aide-de-camp galloped up asking hotly, "Who's in command here!" the powder-blackened Hilary had risen his tallest and replied,--

"I!... b, e, x, bex, Ibex!"

A gentle speculation followed as to which of all Hilary's utterances had taken finest effect on the boys, and it was agreed that most potent for good was the brief talk away back at Camp Callender, in which he had told them that, being artillery, they must know how to wait unmurmuring through months of "rotting idleness" from one deadly "tea-party" to another. For a year, now, they had done that, and done it the better because he had all that same time been forced to do likewise in New Orleans, a prisoner in hospital, long at death's door, and only now getting well.

Anna remained silent. While there was praise of him what more could she want for sweet calm?

"True," said somebody, "in these forty-odd months between March, 'Sixty-one, and August, 'Sixty-four, all hands had got their fill of war; laurels gained were softer to rest on than laurels unsprouted, and it ought to be as easy as rolling off a log for him to lie on his prison-hospital cot in 'rotting idleness,' lulled in the proud assurance that he had saved Mobile, or at least postponed for a year--"

"Hilary?" frowning

ly asked Adolphe.

"Yes," with a firm quietness said Anna.

Villeneuve gallantly amended that somebody else owned an undivided half in the glory of that salvation and would own more as soon as the Union fleet (daily growing in numbers) should try to enter the bay: a hint at Anna, of course, and at the great ram Tennessee, which the Confederate admiral, Buchanan, had made his flag-ship, and whose completion, while nothing else was ready but three small wooden gunboats, was due--they had made even Anna believe--to the safe delivery of the Bazaar fund.

So then she, forced to talk, presently found herself explaining how such full news of Hilary had so often come in these awful months; to wit, by the long, kind letters of a Federal nurse--and Federal officer's wife--but for whose special devotion the captive must have perished, and who, Anna revealed, was the schoolmistress banished North in 'Sixty-one. What she kept untold was that, by favor of Greenleaf, Hilary had been enabled to auction off the poor remains of his home belongings and thus to restore the returned exile her gold. The speaker let her eyes wander to an approaching orderly, and a lieutenant took the chance to mention that early drill near Carrollton, which the General had viewed from the Callenders' equipage. Their two horses, surviving the shells and famine of Vicksburg, had been among the mere half-dozen of good beasts retained at the surrender by some ruse, and--

The orderly brought Bartleson a document and Mandeville a newspaper--

And it was touching, to-day, the lieutenant persisted, to see that once so beautiful span, handsome yet, leading in the team of six that drew the draped caisson which--

"Ah, yes!" assented all.

Mandeville hurried to read out the news from Virginia, which could still reach them through besieged Atlanta. It was of the Petersburg mine and its slaughter, and thrilled every one. Yet Anna watched Bartleson open his yellow official envelope.

"Marching orders?" asked Miranda, and while his affirming smile startled every one, Steve, for some reason in the newspaper itself, put it up.

"Are the enemy's ships--?" began Anna--

"We're ordered down the bay," replied Bartleson.

"Then so are we," she dryly responded, at which all laughed, though the two women had spent much time of late on a small boat which daily made the round of the bay's defenses. In a dingy borrowed rig they hastened away toward their lodgings.

As they drove, Anna pressed Miranda's hand and murmured, "Oh, for Hilary Kincaid!"

"Ah, dear! not to be in this--'tea-party'?"

"Yes! Yes! His boys were in so many without him, from Shiloh to Port Gibson, and now, with all their first guns lost forever--theirs and ours--lost for them, not by them--and after all this year of idleness, and the whole battery hanging to his name as it does--oh, 'Randy, it would do more to cure his hurts than ten hospitals, there or here."

"But the new risks, Nan, as he takes them!"

"He'll take them wherever he is. I can't rest a moment for fear he's trying once more to escape."

(In fact, that is what, unknown to her, he had just been doing.)

"But, 'Randa?"

"Yes, dear?"

"Whether he's here or there, Kincaid's Battery, his other self, will be in whatever goes on, and so, of course, will the Tennessee."

"Yes," said Miranda, at their door.

"Yes, and it's not just all our bazaar money that's in her, nor all our toil--"

"Nor all your sufferings," interrupted Miranda, as Constance wonderingly let them in.

"Oh, nor yours! nor Connie's! nor all--his; nor our whole past of the last two interminable years; but this whole poor terrified city's fate, and, for all we know, the war's final issue! And so I--Here, Con," (handing a newspaper), "from Steve, husband."

(Behind the speaker Miranda, to Constance, made eager hand and lip motions not to open it there.)

"And so, 'Ran, I wish we could go ashore to-morrow, as far down the bay as we can make our usefulness an excuse, and stay!--day and night!--till--!" She waved both hands.

Constance stared: "Why, Nan Callender!"

"Now, Con, hush. You and Steve Second are non-combatants! Oh, 'Randa, let's do it! For if those ships--some of them the same we knew so well and so terribly at home--if they come I--whatever happens--I want to see it!"

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