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   Chapter 70 GAINS AND LOSSES

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 9410

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


They kissed.

It looks strange written and printed, but she did not see how to hold off when he made it so tenderly manful a matter of course after his frank hand-shake with Miranda, and when there seemed so little time for words.

An ambulance drawn by the Callenders' horses had brought him and two or three others down the West Side. A sail-boat had conveyed them from the nearest beach. Here it was, now, in tow beside the steamboat as she gathered headway toward Fort Powell. He was not so weak or broken but he could point rapidly about with his crutches, the old light of command in his eyes, while with recognized authority he spoke to the boat's master and these companions.

He said things freely. There was not much down here to be secret about. Mobile had not fallen. She would yet be fought for on land, furiously. But the day was lost; as, incidentally, might be, at any moment, if not shrewdly handled, this lonesome little boat.

Her captain moved to the pilot-house. Miranda and the junior officers left Hilary with Anna. "Did you say 'the day,'" she softly asked, "or 'the bay'?"

"Both," he murmured, and with his two crutches in one hand directed her eyes: to the fleet anchored midway off Morgan, Gaines, and Powell; to the half-dozen gunboats on Mississippi Sound; to others still out in the Gulf, behind Morgan, off Mobile Point; to the blue land force entrenched behind Gaines, and to the dunes east of Morgan, where similar besiegers would undoubtedly soon be landed.

"Yes ... Yes," she said to his few explanations. It was all so sadly clear.

"A grand fort yet," he musingly called Morgan, "but it ought to be left and blown to fare-you-well to-night before it's surroun--I wish my cousin were there instead of in Gaines. 'Dolphe fights well, but he knows when not to fight and that we've come, now, to where every man we've got, and every gun, counts bigger than to knock out any two of the enemy's. You know Fred's over yonder, don't you? and that Kincaid's Battery, without their field-pieces, are just here in Powell behind her heavy guns?... Yes, Victorine said you did; I saw her this morning, with Constance." He paused, and then spoke lower:

"Beloved?"

She smiled up to him.

"Our love's not through all the fire, yet," he said, but her smile only showed more glow.

"My soul's-mate, war-mate soldier-girl," he murmured on.

"Well?"

"If you stand true in what's before us now, before just you and me, now and for weeks to come, I want your word for it right here that your standing true shall not be for the sake of any vow you've ever made to me, or for me, or with me, in the past, the blessed, blessed past. You promise?"

"I promise," she breathed. "What is it?"

"A thing that takes more courage than I've got."

"Then how will you do it?" she lightly asked.

"By borrowing all yours. May I?"

"You may. Is it to save--our battery?"

"Our battery, yes, against their will, with others, if I can persuade the fort's commander. At low tide to-night when the shoals can be forded to Cedar Point, I shall be"--his words grew hurried--the steamer was touching the fort's pier--the sail-boat, which was to take Anna and Miranda to where the ambulance and their own horses awaited them had cast off her painter--"I shall be the last man out of Powell and shall blow it up. Come, it may be we sha'n't meet again until I've"--he smiled--"been court-martialed and degraded. If I am, we--"

"If you are," she murmured, "you may take me to the nearest church--or the biggest--that day."

"No, no!" he called as she moved away, and again, with a darkening brow, "no, no!"

But, "Yes, yes," she brightly insisted as she rejoined Miranda. "Yes!"

For the horses' sake the ladies went that afternoon only to "Frascati," lower limit of the Shell Road, where, in a small hour of the night Anna heard the sudden boom and long rumble that told the end of Fort Powell and salvation of its garrison.

That Gaines held out a few days, Morgan a few weeks, are heroic facts of history, which, with a much too academic shrug, it calls "magnifique, mais--!" Their splendid armament and all their priceless men fell into their besiegers' hands. Irby, haughtily declining the strictly formal courtesies of Fred Greenleaf, went to prison in New Orleans. What a New Orleans! The mailed clutch on her throat (to speak as she felt) had grown less ferocious, but everywhere the Unionist civilian--the once brow-beaten and still loathed "Northern sympathizer," with grudges to pay and losses to recoup and re-recoup--was in petty authority. Confiscation was swallowing up not industrial and commercial properties merely, but private homes; espionag

e peeped round every street corner and into every back window, and "A. Ward's" ante-bellum jest, that "a white man was as good as a nigger as long as he behaved himself," was a jest no more. Miss Flora Valcour, that ever faithful and daring Southerner, was believed by all the city's socially best to be living--barely living--under "the infamous Greenleaf's" year-long threat of Ship Island for having helped Anna Callender to escape to Mobile. Hence her haunted look and pathetic loss of bloom. Now, however, with him away and with General Canby ruling in place of Banks, she and her dear fragile old grandmother could breathe a little.

They breathed much. We need not repeat that the younger was a gifted borrower. She did other things equally well; resumed a sagacious activity, a two-sided tact, and got Irby paroled. On the anniversary of the day Hilary had played brick-mason a city paper (Unionist) joyfully proclaimed the long-delayed confiscation of Kincaid's Foundry and of Callender House, and announced that "the infamous Kincaid" himself had been stripped of his commission by a "rebel" court-martial. Irby promptly brought the sheet to the Valcours' lodgings, but Flora was out. When she came in, before she could lay off her pretty hat:--

"You've heard it!" cried the excited grandam. "But why so dead-alive? Once more the luck is yours! Play your knave! play Irby! He's just been here! He will return! He will propose this evening if you allow him! Let him do it! Let him! Mobile may fall any day! If you dilly-dally till those accursed Callenders get back, asking, for instance, for their--ha, ha!--their totally evaporated chest of plate--gr-r-r! Take him! He has just shown me his uncle's will--as he calls it: a staring forgery, but you, h-you won't mind that, and the 'ladies' man'--ah, the 'ladies' man,' once you are his cousin, he'll never let on. Take Irby! he is, as you say, a nincompoop"--she had dropped into English--"and seldom sober, mais take him! 't is the las' call of the auctioneer, yo' fav-oreet auctioneer--with the pointed ears and the forked black tail."

Flora replied from a mirror with her back turned: "I'll thing ab-out it. And maybee--yes! Ezpecially if you would do uz that one favor, lazd thing when you are going to bed the night we are married. Yez, if you would--ahem!--juz' blow yo' gas without turning it?"

That evening, when the accepted Irby, more nearly happy than ever before in his life, said good-night to his love they did not kiss. At the first stir of proffer Flora drew back with a shudder that reddened his brow. But when he demanded, "Why not?" her radiant shake of the head was purely bewitching as she replied, "No, I haven' fall' that low yet."

When after a day or so he pressed for immediate marriage and was coyly referred to Madame, the old lady affectionately--though reluctantly--consented. With a condition: If the North should win the war his inheritance would be "confiz-cate'" and there would be nothing to begin life on but the poor child's burned down home behind Mobile, unless, for mutual protection, nothing else,--except "one dollar and other valuable considerations,"--he should preconvey the Brodnax estate to the poor child, who, at least, had never been "foun' out" to have done anything to subject property of hers to confiscation.

This transfer Irby, with silent reservations, quietly executed, and the day, hour and place, the cathedral, were named. A keen social flutter ensued and presently the wedding came off--stop! That is not all. Instantly upon the close of the ceremony the bride had to be more lifted than led to her carriage and so to her room and couch, whence she sent loving messages to the bridegroom that she would surely be well enough to see him next day. But he had no such fortune, and here claims record a fact even more wonderful than Anna's presentiment as to Hilary that morning in Mobile Bay. The day after his wedding Irby found his parole revoked and himself, with others, back in prison and invited to take the oath and go free--stand up in the war-worn gray and forswear it--or stay where they were to the war's end. Every man of them took it--when the war was over; but until then? not one. Not even the bridegroom robbed of his bride. Every week or so she came and saw him, among his fellows, and bade him hold out! stand fast! It roused their great admiration, but not their wonder. The wonder was in a fact of which they knew nothing: That the night before her marriage Flora had specifically, minutely prophesied this whole matter to her grandmother, whose only response was that same marveling note of nearly four years earlier--

"You are a genius!"

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