GEORGE W. CABLE
I. Carrollton Gardens II. Carriage Company III. The General's Choice IV. Manoeuvres V. Hilary?—Yes, Uncle? VI. Messrs. Smellemout and Ketchem VII. By Starlight VIII. One Killed IX. Her Harpoon Strikes X. Sylvia Sighs XI. In Column of Platoons XII. Mandeville Bleeds XIII. Things Anna Could Not Write XIV. Flora Taps Grandma's Cheek XV. The Long Month of March XVI. Constance Tries to Help XVII. "Oh, Connie, Dear—Nothing—Go On" XVIII. Flora Tells the Truth! XIX. Flora Romances XX. The Fight for the Standard XXI. Constance Cross-Examines XXII. Same Story Slightly Warped XXIII. "Soldiers!" XXIV. A Parked Battery Can Raise a Dust XXV. "He Must Wait," Says Anna XXVI. Swift Going, Down Stream XXVII. Hard Going, Up Stream XXVIII. The Cup of Tantalus XXIX. A Castaway Rose XXX. Good-by, Kincaid's Battery XXXI. Virginia Girls and Louisiana Boys XXXII. Manassas XXXIII. Letters XXXIV. A Free-Gift Bazaar XXXV. The "Sisters of Kincaid's Battery" XXXVI. Thunder-Cloud and Sunburst XXXVII. "Till He Said, 'I'm Come Hame, My Love'" XXXVIII. Anna's Old Jewels XXXIX. Tight Pinch XL. The License, The Dagger XLI. For an Emergency XLII. "Victory! I Heard it as PI'—" XLIII. That Sabbath at Shiloh XLIV. "They Were all Four Together" XLV. Steve—Maxime—Charlie— XLVI. The School of Suspense XLVII. From the Burial Squad XLVIII. Farragut XLIX. A City in Terror L. Anna Amazes Herself LI. The Callender Horses Enlist LII. Here They Come LIII. Ships, Shells, and Letters LIV. Same April Day Twice LV. In Darkest Dixie and Out LVI. Between the Millstones LVII. Gates of Hell and Glory LVIII. Arachne LIX. In a Labyrinth LX. Hilary's Ghost LXI. The Flag-of-Truce Boat LXII. Farewell, Jane! LXIII. The Iron-clad Oath LXIV. "Now, Mr. Brick-Mason—" LXV. Flora's Last Throw LXVI. "When I Hands in My Checks" LXVII. Mobile LXVIII. By the Dawn's Early Light LXIX. Southern Cross and Northern Star LXX. Gains and Losses LXXI. Soldiers of Peace
"If any one alive," he cried, "knows any cause why this thing should not be"
"'Tis good-by, Kincaid's Battery"
And the next instant she was in his arms
"No! not under this roof—nor in sight of these things."
"You 'ave no ri-ight to leave me! Ah, you shall not!"
She dropped into a seat, staring like one demented.
For the scene of this narrative please take into mind a wide quarter-circle of country, such as any of the pretty women we are to know in it might have covered on the map with her half-opened fan.
Let its northernmost corner be Vicksburg, the famous, on the Mississippi. Let the easternmost be Mobile, and let the most southerly and by far the most important, that pivotal corner of the fan from which all its folds radiate and where the whole pictured thing opens and shuts, be New Orleans. Then let the grave moment that gently ushers us in be a long-ago afternoon in the Louisiana Delta.
Throughout that land of water and sky the willow clumps dotting the bosom of every sea-marsh and fringing every rush-rimmed lake were yellow and green in the full flush of a new year, the war year, 'Sixty-one.
Though rife with warm sunlight, the moist air gave distance and poetic charm to the nearest and humblest things. At the edges of the great timbered swamps thickets of young winter-bare cypresses were budding yet more vividly than the willows, while in the depths of those overflowed forests, near and far down their lofty gray colonnades, the dwarfed swamp-maple drooped the winged fruit of its limp bush in pink and flame-yellow and rose-red masses until it touched its own image in the still flood.
That which is now only the "sixth district" of greater New Orleans was then the small separate town of Carrollton. There the vast Mississippi, leaving the sugar and rice fields of St. Charles and St. John Baptist parishes and still seeking the Gulf of Mexico, turns from east to south before it sweeps northward and southeast again to give to the Creole capital its graceful surname of the "Crescent City." Mile-wide, brimful, head-on and boiling and writhing twenty fathoms deep, you could easily have seen, that afternoon, why its turfed levee had to be eighteen feet high and broad in proportion. So swollen was the flood that from any deck of a steamboat touching there one might have looked down upon the whole fair still suburb.
Widely it hovered in its nest of rose gardens, orange groves, avenues of water-oaks, and towering moss-draped pecans. A few hundred yards from the levee a slender railway, coming from the city, with a highway on either side, led into its station-house; but mainly the eye would have dwelt on that which filled the interval between the nearer high road and the levee—the "Carrollton Gardens."
At a corner of these grounds closest to the railway station stood a quiet hotel from whose eastern veranda it was but a step to the centre of a sunny shell-paved court where two fountains danced and tinkled to each other. Along its farther bound ran a vine-clad fence where a row of small tables dumbly invited the flushed visitor to be inwardly cooled. By a narrow gate in this fence, near its townward end, a shelled walk lured on into a musky air of verdurous alleys that led and misled, crossed, doubled, and mazed among flowering shrubs from bower to bower. Out of sight in there the loiterer came at startling moments face to face with banks of splendid bloom in ravishing negligee—Diana disrobed, as it were, while that untiring sensation-hunter, the mocking-bird, leaped and sang and clapped his wings in a riot of scandalous mirth.
In the ground-floor dining-room of that unanimated hotel sat an old gentleman named Brodnax, once of the regular army, a retired veteran of the Mexican war, and very consciously possessed of large means. He sat quite alone, in fine dress thirty years out of fashion, finishing a late lunch and reading a newspaper; a trim, hale man not to be called old in his own hearing. He had read everything intended for news or entertainment and was now wandering in the desert of the advertising columns, with his mind nine miles away, at the other end of New Orleans.
Although not that person whom numerous men of his acquaintance had begun affectionately to handicap with the perilous nickname of "the ladies' man," he was thinking of no less than five ladies; two of one name and three of another. Flora Valcour and her French grandmother (as well as her brother of nineteen, already agog to be off in the war) had but lately come to New Orleans, from Mobile. On a hilly border of that smaller Creole city stood the home they had left, too isolated, with war threatening, for women to occupy alone. Mrs. Callender was the young widow of this old bachelor's life-long friend, the noted judge of that name, then some two years deceased. Constance and Anna were her step-daughters, the latter (if you would believe him) a counterpart of her long-lost, beautiful mother, whose rejection of the soldier's suit, when he was a mere lieutenant, was the well-known cause of his singleness. These Callender ladies, prompted by him and with a sweet modesty of quietness, had just armed a new field battery with its six splendid brass guns, and it was around these three Callenders that his ponderings now hung; especially around Anna and in reference to his much overprized property and two nephews: Adolphe Irby, for whom he had obtained the command of this battery, which he was to see him drill this afternoon, and Hilary Kincaid, who had himself cast the guns and who was to help the senior cousin conduct these evolutions.
The lone reader's glance loitered down a long row of slim paragraphs, each beginning with the same wee picture of a steamboat whether it proclaimed the Grand Duke or the Louis d'Or, the Ingomar bound for the "Lower Coast," or the Natchez for "Vicksburg and the Bends." Shifting the page, he read of the Swiss Bell-Ringers as back again "after a six years' absence," and at the next item really knew what he read. It was of John Owens' appearance, every night, as Caleb Plummer in "Dot," "performance to begin at seven o'clock." Was it there Adolphe would this evening take his party, of which the dazzling Flora would be one and Anna, he hoped, another? He had proposed this party to Adolphe, agreeing to bear its whole cost if the nephew would manage to include in it Anna and Hilary. And Irby had duly reported complete success and drawn on him, but the old soldier still told his doubts to the newspaper.
"Adolphe has habits," he meditated, "but success is not one of them."
Up and down a perpendicular procession on the page he every now and then mentally returned the salute of the one little musketeer of the same height as the steamboat's chimneys, whether the Attention he challenged was that of the Continentals, the Louisiana Grays, Orleans Cadets, Crescent Blues or some other body of blithe invincibles. Yet his thought was still of Anna. When Adolphe, last year, had courted her, and the hopeful uncle had tried non-intervention, she had declined him—"and oh, how wisely!" For then back to his native city came Kincaid after years away at a Northern military school and one year across the ocean, and the moment the uncle saw him he was glad Adolphe had failed. But now if she was going to find Hilary as light-headed and cloying as Adolphe was thick-headed and sour, or if she must see Hilary go soft on the slim Mobile girl—whom Adolphe was already so torpidly enamored of—"H-m-m-m!"
Two young men who had tied their horses behind the hotel crossed the white court toward the garden. They also were in civil dress, yet wore an air that goes only with military training. The taller was Hilary Kincaid, the other his old-time, Northern-born-and-bred school chum, Fred Greenleaf. Kincaid, coming home, had found him in New Orleans, on duty at Jackson Barracks, and for some weeks they had enjoyed cronying. Now they had been a day or two apart and had chanced to meet again at this spot. Kincaid, it seems, had been looking at a point hard by with a view to its fortification. Their manner was frankly masterful though they spoke in guarded tones.
"No," said Kincaid, "you come with me to this drill. Nobody'll take offence."
"Nor will you ever teach your cousin to handle a battery," replied Greenleaf, with a sedate smile.
"Well, he knows things we'll never learn. Come with me, Fred, else I can't see you till theatre's out—if I go there with her—and you say—"
"Yes, I want you to go with her," murmured Greenleaf, so solemnly that Kincaid laughed outright.
"But, after the show, of course," said the laugher, "you and I'll ride, eh?" and then warily, "You've taken your initials off all your stuff?... Yes, and Jerry's got your ticket. He'll go down with your things, check them all and start off on the ticket himself. Then, as soon as you—"
"But will they allow a slave to do so?"
"With my pass, yes; 'Let my black man, Jerry—'"
The garden took the pair into its depths a moment too soon for the old soldier to see them as he came out upon the side veranda with a cloud on his brow that showed he had heard his nephew's laugh.
Bareheaded the uncle crossed the fountained court, sat down at a table and read again. In the veranda a negro, his own slave, hired to this hotel, held up an elegant military cap, struck an inquiring attitude, and called softly, "Gen'al?"
"Bring it with the coffee."
But the negro instantly brought it without the coffee and placed it on the table with a delicate flourish, shuffled a step back and bowed low:
"Coffee black, Gen'al, o' co'se?"
"Black as your grandmother."
The servant tittered: "Yas, suh, so whah it flop up-siden de cup it leave a lemon-yalleh sta-ain."
He capered away, leaving the General to the little steamboats and to a blessed ignorance of times to be when at "Vicksburg and the Bends" this same waiter would bring his coffee made of corn-meal bran and muddy water, with which to wash down scant snacks of mule meat. The listless eye still roamed the arid page as the slave returned with the fragrant pot and cup, but now the sitter laid it by, lighted a cigar and mused:—
In this impending war the South would win, of course—oh, God is just! But this muser could only expect to fall at the front. Then his large estate, all lands and slaves, five hundred souls—who would inherit that and hold it together? Held together it must be! Any partition of it would break no end of sacredly humble household and family ties and work spiritual havoc incalculable. There must be but one heir. Who? Hilary's mother had been in heaven these many years, the mother of Adolphe eighteen months; months quite enough to show the lone brother how vast a loss is the absence of the right mistress from such very human interests as those of a great plantation. Not only must there be but one heir, but he must have the right wife.
The schemer sipped. So it was Anna for Hilary if he could bring it about. So, too, it must be Hilary for his adjutant-general, to keep him near enough to teach him the management of the fortune coming to him if he, Hilary, would only treat his kind uncle's wishes—reasonably. With the cup half lifted he harkened. From a hidden walk and bower close on the garden side of this vine-mantled fence sounded footsteps and voices:
"But, Fred! where on earth did she get—let's sit in here—get that rich, belated, gradual smile?"
A memory thrilled the listening General. "From her mother," thought he, and listened on.
"It's like," continued his nephew—"I'll tell you what it's like. It's like—Now, let me alone! You see, one has to learn her beauty—by degrees. You know, there is a sort of beauty that flashes on you at first sight, like—like the blaze of a ball-room. I was just now thinking of a striking instance—"
"From Mobile? You always are."
"No such thing! Say, Fred, I'll tell you what Miss Anna's smile is like. It's as if you were trying—say in a telescope—for a focus, and at last all at once it comes and—there's your star!"
The Northerner softly assented.
"Fred! Fancy Flora Valcour with that smile!"
"No! Hilary Kincaid, I think you were born to believe in every feminine creature God ever made. No wonder they nickname you as they do. Now, some girls are quite too feminine for me."
In his own smoke the General's eyes opened aggressively. But hark! His nephew spoke again:
"Fred, if you knew all that girl has done for that boy and that grandmother—It may sound like an overstatement, but you must have observed—"
"That she's a sort of overstatement herself?"
"Go to grass! Your young lady's not even an understatement; she's only a profound pause. See here! what time is it? I prom—"
On the uncle's side of the fence a quick step brought a newcomer, a Creole of maybe twenty-nine years, member of his new staff, in bright uniform:
"Ah, General, yo' moze ob-edient! Never less al-lone then when al-lone? 'T is the way with myseff—"
He seemed not unrefined, though of almost too mettlesome an eye; in length of leg showing just the lack, in girth of waist just the excess, to imply a better dignity on horseback and to allow a proud tailor to prove how much art can overcome. Out on the road a liveried black coachman had halted an open carriage, in which this soldier had arrived with two ladies. Now these bowed delightedly from it to the General, while Kincaid and his friend stood close hid and listened agape, equally amused and dismayed.
"How are you, Mandeville?" said the General. "I am not nearly as much alone as I seem, sir!"
A voice just beyond the green-veiled fence cast a light on this reply and brought a flush to the Creole's very brows. "Alas! Greenleaf," it cried, "we search in vain! He is not here! We are even more alone than we seem! Ah! where is that peerless chevalier, my beloved, accomplished, blameless, sagacious, just, valiant and amiable uncle? Come let us press on. Let not the fair sex find him first and snatch him from us forever!"
The General's scorn showed only in his eyes as they met the blaze of Mandeville's. "You were about to remark—?" he began, but rose and started toward the carriage.
There not many minutes later you might have seen the four men amicably gathered and vying in clever speeches to pretty Mrs. Callender and her yet fairer though less scintillant step-daughter Anna.
THE GENERAL'S CHOICE
Anna Callender. In the midst of the gay skirmish and while she yielded Greenleaf her chief attention, Hilary observed her anew.
What he thought he saw was a golden-brown profusion of hair with a peculiar richness in its platted coils, an unconsciously faultless poise of head, and, equally unconscious, a dreamy softness of sweeping lashes. As she laughed with the General her student noted further what seemed to him a rare silkiness in the tresses, a vapory lightness in the short strands that played over the outlines of temple and forehead, and the unstudied daintiness with which they gathered into the merest mist of a short curl before her exquisite ear.
But when now she spoke with him these charms became forgettable as he discovered, or fancied he did, in her self-oblivious eyes, a depth of thought and feeling not in the orbs alone but also in the brows and lids, and between upper and under lashes as he glimpsed them in profile while she turned to Mandeville. And now, unless his own insight misled him, he observed how unlike those eyes, and yet how subtly mated with them, was her mouth; the delicate rising curve of the upper lip, and the floral tenderness with which it so faintly overhung the nether, wherefrom it seemed ever about to part yet parted only when she spoke or smiled.
"A child's mouth and a woman's eyes," he mused.
When her smiles came the mouth remained as young as before, yet suddenly, as truly as the eyes, showed—showed him at least—steadfastness of purpose, while the eyes, where fully half the smile was, still unwittingly revealed their depths of truth.
"Poor Fred!" he pondered as the General and Mandeville entered the carriage and it turned away.
A mile or two from Carrollton down the river and toward the city lay the old unfenced fields where Hilary had agreed with Irby to help him manoeuvre his very new command. Along the inland edge of this plain the railway and the common road still ran side by side, but the river veered a mile off. So Mandeville pointed out to the two ladies as they, he, and the General drove up to the spot with Kincaid and Greenleaf as outriders. The chosen ground was a level stretch of wild turf maybe a thousand yards in breadth, sparsely dotted with shoulder-high acacias. No military body was yet here, and the carriage halted at the first good view point.
Mrs. Callender, the only member of her family who was of Northern birth and rearing, was a small slim woman whose smile came whenever she spoke and whose dainty nose went all to merry wrinkles whenever she smiled. It did so now, in the shelter of her diminutive sunshade opened flat against its jointed handle to fend off the strong afternoon beams, while she explained to Greenleaf—dismounted beside the wheels with Mandeville—that Constance, Anna's elder sister, would arrive by and by with Flora Valcour. "Connie", she said, had been left behind in the clutches of the dressmaker!
"Flora," she continued, crinkling her nose ever so kind-heartedly at Greenleaf, "is Lieutenant Mandeville's cousin, you know. Didn't he tell you something back yonder in Carrollton?"
Greenleaf smiled an admission and her happy eyes closed to mere chinks. What had been told was that Constance had yesterday accepted Mandeville.
"Yes," jovially put in the lucky man, "I have divulge' him that, and he seem' almoze as glad as the young lady herseff!"
Even to this the sweet widow's misplaced wrinkles faintly replied, while Greenleaf asked, "Does the Lieutenant's good fortune account for the—'clutches of the dressmaker'?"
It did. The Lieutenant hourly expecting to be ordered to the front, this wedding, like so many others, would be at the earliest day possible. "A great concession," the lady said, turning her piquant wrinkles this time upon Mandeville. But just here the General engrossed attention. His voice had warmed sentimentally and his kindled eye was passing back and forth between Anna seated by him and Hilary close at hand in the saddle. He waved wide:
"This all-pervading haze and perfume, dew and dream," he was saying, "is what makes this the Lalla Rookh's land it is!" He smiled at himself and confessed that Carrollton Gardens always went to his head. "Anna, did you ever hear your mother sing—
"'There's a bower of roses—'?"
She lighted up to say yes, but the light was all he needed to be lured on through a whole stanza, and a tender sight—Ocean silvering to brown-haired Cynthia—were the two, as he so innocently strove to recreate out of his own lost youth, for her and his nephew, this atmosphere of poetry.
"'To sit in the roses and hear the bird's song!'"
he suavely ended—"I used to make Hilary sing that for me when he was a boy."
"Doesn't he sing it yet?" asked Mrs. Callender.
"My God, madame, since I found him addicted to comic songs I've never asked him!"
Kincaid led the laugh and the talk became lively. Anna was merrily accused by Miranda (Mrs. Callender) of sharing the General's abhorrence of facetious song. First she pleaded guilty and then reversed her plea with an absurd tangle of laughing provisos delightful even to herself. At the same time the General withdrew from his nephew all imputation of a frivolous mind, though the nephew avowed himself nonsensical from birth and destined to die so. It was a merry moment, so merry that Kincaid's bare mention of Mandeville as Mandy made even the General smile and every one else laugh. The Creole, to whom any mention of himself, (whether it called for gratitude or for pistols and coffee,) was always welcome, laughed longest. If he was Mandy, he hurried to rejoin, the absent Constance "muz be Candy—ha, ha, ha!" And when Anna said Miranda should always thenceforth be Randy, and Mrs. Callender said Anna ought to be Andy, and the very General was seduced into suggesting that then Hilary would be Handy, and when every one read in every one's eye, the old man's included, that Brodnax would naturally be Brandy, the Creole bent and wept with mirth, counting all that fine wit exclusively his.
"But, no!" he suddenly said, "Hilary he would be Dandy, bic-ause he's call' the ladies' man!"
"No, sir!" cried the General. "Hil—" He turned upon his nephew, but finding him engaged with Anna, faced round to his chum: "For Heaven's sake, Greenleaf, does he allow—?"
"He can't help it now," laughed his friend, "he's tagged it on himself by one of his songs."
"Oh, by Jove, Hilary, it serves you right for singing them!"
Hilary laughed to the skies, the rest echoing.
"A ladies' man!" the uncle scoffed on. "Of all things on God's earth!" But there he broke into lordly mirth: "Don't you believe that of him, ladies, at any rate. If only for my sake, Anna, don't you ever believe a breath of it!"
The ladies laughed again, but now Kincaid found them a distraction. Following his glance cityward they espied a broad dust-cloud floating off toward the river. He turned to Anna and softly cried, "Here come your guns, trying to beat the train!"
The ladies stood up to see. An unseen locomotive whistled for a brief stop. The dust-cloud drew nearer. The engine whistled to start again, and they could hear its bell and quickening puff. But the dust-cloud came on and on, and all at once the whole six-gun battery—six horses to each piece and six to each caisson—captain, buglers, guidon, lieutenants, sergeants and drivers in the saddle, cannoneers on the chests—swept at full trot, thumping, swaying, and rebounding, up the highway and off it, and, forming sections, swung out upon the field in double column, while the roaring train rolled by it and slowed up to the little frame box of Buerthe's Station with passengers cheering from every window.
The Callenders' carriage horses were greatly taxed in their nerves, yet they kept their discretion. Kept it even when now the battery flashed from column into line and bore down upon them, the train meanwhile whooping on toward Carrollton. And what an elated flock of brightly dressed citizens and citizenesses had alighted from the cars—many of them on the moment's impulse—to see these dear lads, with their romantically acquired battery, train for the holiday task of scaring the dastard foe back to their frozen homes! How we loved the moment's impulse those days!
What a gay show! And among the very prettiest and most fetchingly arrayed newcomers you would quickly have noticed three with whom this carriage group exchanged signals. Kincaid spurred off to meet them while Greenleaf and Mandeville helped Anna and Miranda to the ground. "There's Constance," said the General.
"Yes," Mrs. Callender replied, "and Flora and Charlie Valcour!" as if that were the gleefulest good luck of all.
Captain Irby, strong, shapely, well clad, auburn-haired, left his halted command and came into the carriage group, while from the train approached his cousin and the lithe and picturesque Miss Valcour.
The tallish girl always looked her best beside some manly form of unusual stature, and because that form now was Hilary's Irby was aggrieved. All their days his cousin had been getting into his light, and this realization still shaded his brow as Kincaid yielded Flora to him and returned to Anna to talk of things too light for record.
Not so light were the thoughts Anna kept unuttered. Here again, she reflected, was he who (according to Greenleaf) had declined to command her guns in order to let Irby have them. Why? In kindness to his cousin, or in mild dislike of a woman's battery? If intuition was worth while, this man was soon to be a captain somewhere. Here was that rare find for which even maidens' eyes were alert those days—a born leader. No ladies' man this—"of all things on God's earth!" A men's man! And yet—nay, therefore—a man for some unparagoned woman some day to yield her heart and life to, and to have for her very own, herself his consummate adornment. She cast a glance at Flora.
But her next was to him as they talked on. How nearly black was the waving abundance of his hair. How placid his brow, above eyes whose long lashes would have made them meltingly tender had they not been so large with mirth: "A boy's eyes," thought she while he remembered what he had just called hers. She noted his mouth, how gently firm: "A man's mouth!"
Charlie Valcour broke in between them: "Is there not going to be any drill, after all?"
"Tell Captain Irby you can't wait any longer," replied Kincaid with a mock frown and gave Anna yet gayer attention a minute more. Then he walked beside his cousin toward the command, his horse close at his back. The group, by pairs, chose view points. Only Miss Valcour stayed in the carriage with the General, bent on effecting a change in his mind. In Mobile Flora had been easily first in any social set to which she condescended. In New Orleans, brought into the Callenders' circles by her cousin Mandeville, she had found herself quietly ranked second to Anna, and Anna now yet more pointedly outshining her through the brazen splendor of this patriotic gift of guns. For this reason and others yet to appear she had planned a strategy and begun a campaign, one of whose earliest manoeuvres must be to get Irby, not Kincaid, made their uncle's adjutant-general, and therefore to persuade the uncle that to give Kincaid the battery would endear him to Anna and so crown with victory the old man's perfectly obvious plan.
Greenleaf left his horse tied and walked apart with Anna. This, he murmured, was the last time they would be together for years.
"Yes," she replied with a disheartening composure, although from under the parasol with which he shaded her she met his eyes so kindly that his heart beat quicker. But before he could speak on she looked away to his fretting horse and then across to the battery, where a growing laugh was running through the whole undisciplined command. "What is it about?" she playfully inquired, but then saw. In response to the neigh of Greenleaf's steed Hilary's had paused an instant and turned his head, but now followed on again, while the laughter ended in the clapping of a hundred hands; for Kincaid's horse had the bridle free on his neck and was following his master as a dog follows. Irby scowled, the General set his jaws, and Hilary took his horse's bridle and led him on.
"That's what I want to do every time I look at him!" called Charlie to his sister.
"Then look the other way!" carolled back the slender beauty. To whom Anna smiled across in her belated way, and wondered if the impulse to follow Hilary Kincaid ever came to women.
But now out yonder the two cousins were in the saddle, Irby's sabre was out, and soon the manoeuvres were fully under way. Flora, at the General's side, missed nothing of them, yet her nimble eye kept her well aware that across here in this open seclusion the desperate Greenleaf's words to Anna were rarely explanatory of the drill.
"And now," proclaimed Mandeville, "you'll see them form into line fazed to the rear!" And Flora, seeing and applauding, saw also Anna turn to her suitor a glance, half pity for him, half pleading for his pity.
"I say unless—" Greenleaf persisted—
"There is no 'unless.' There can't ever be any."
"But may I not at least say—?"
"I'd so much rather you would not," she begged.
"At present, you mean?"
"Or in the future," said Anna, and, having done perfectly thus far, spoiled all by declaring she would "never marry!" Her gaze rested far across the field on the quietly clad figure of Kincaid riding to and fro and pointing hither and yon to his gold-laced cousin. Off here on the left she heard Mandeville announcing:
"Now they'll form batt'rie to the front by throwing caisson' to the rear—look—look!... Ah, ha! was not that a prettie?"
Pretty it was declared to be on all sides. Flora called it "a beautiful." Part of her charm was a Creole accent much too dainty for print. Anna and Greenleaf and the other couples regathered about the carriage, and Miss Valcour from her high seat smiled her enthusiasm down among them, exalting theirs. And now as a new movement of the battery followed, and now another, her glow heightened, and she called musically to Constance, Mrs. Callender and Anna, by turns, to behold and admire. For one telling moment she was, and felt herself, the focus of her group, the centre of its living picture. Out afield yet another manoeuvre was on, and while Anna and her suitor stood close below her helplessly becalmed each by each, Flora rose to her feet and caught a great breath of delight. Her gaze was on the glittering mass of men, horses, and brazen guns that came thundering across the plain in double column—Irby at its head, Kincaid alone on the flank—and sweeping right and left deployed into battery to the front with cannoneers springing to their posts for action.
"Pretties' of all!" she cried, and stood, a gentle air stirring her light draperies, until the boys at the empty guns were red-browed and short of breath in their fierce pretence of loading and firing. Suddenly the guns were limbered up and went bounding over the field, caissons in front. And now pieces passed their caissons, and now they were in line, then in double column, and presently were gleaming in battery again, faced to the rear. And now at command the tired lads dropped to the ground to rest, or sauntered from one lounging squad to another, to chat and chaff and puff cigarettes. Kincaid and Irby lent their horses to Mandeville and Charlie, who rode to the battery while the lenders joined the ladies.
Once more Hilary yielded Flora and sought Anna; but with kinder thought for Flora Anna pressed herself upon Irby, to the open chagrin of his uncle. So Kincaid cheerfully paired with Flora. But thus both he and Anna unwittingly put the finishing touch upon that change of heart in the General which Flora, by every subtlety of indirection, this hour and more in the carriage, had been bringing about.
A query: With Kincaid and Irby the chief figures in their social arena and Hilary so palpably his cousin's better in looks, in bearing, talents, and character, is it not strange that Flora, having conquest for her ruling passion, should strive so to relate Anna to Hilary as to give her, Anna, every advantage for the higher prize? Maybe it is, but she liked strangeness—and a stiff game.
Second half as well as first, the drill was ended. The low acacias and great live-oaks were casting their longest shadows. The great plain rested from the trample and whirl of hoofs, guns, and simulated battle. A whiff of dust showed where the battery ambled townward among roadside gardens, the Callender carriage spinning by it to hurry its three ladies and Mandeville far away to the city's lower end. At the column's head rode Irby in good spirits, having got large solace of Flora's society since we last saw her paired with Kincaid. Now beside the tiny railway station Hilary was with her once more as she and Charlie awaited the train from town. Out afield were left only General Brodnax and Greenleaf, dismounted between the Northerner's horse and Hilary's. Now Kincaid came across the turf.
"Greenleaf," said the old soldier, "why does Hilary forever walk as though he were bringing the best joke of the season? Can't you make him quit it?"
The nephew joined them: "Uncle, if you'd like to borrow my horse I can go by train."
That was a joke. "H-m-m! I see! No, Greenleaf's going by train. Would you like to ride with me?"
"Well, eh—ha! Why, uncle, I—why, of course, if Fred really—" They mounted and went.
"How is it now? Like my girl any better?"
"Why—yes! Oh, she's fine! And yet I—"
"You must say? What must you say?"
"Nothing much; only that she's not the kind to seem like the owner of a field battery. My goodness! uncle, if she had half Miss Flora's tang—"
"She hasn't the least need of it! She's the quiet kind, sir, that fools who love 'tang' overlook!"
"Yes," laughed Hilary, "she's quiet; quiet as a fortification by moonlight! Poor Fred! I wish—"
"Well, thank God you wish in vain! That's just been settled. I asked him—oh, don't look surprised at me. Good Lord! hadn't I the right to know?"
The two rode some way in silence. "I wish," mused the nephew aloud, "it could be as he wants it."
The uncle's smile was satirical: "Did you ever, my boy, wish anything could be as I want it?"
"Now, uncle, there's a big difference—"
"DAMN THE DIFFERENCE! I'm going to try you. I'm going to make Adolphe my adjutant-general. Then if you hanker for this battery as it hankers for you—"
"Mary, Queen of Scots!" rejoiced Hilary. "That'll suit us both to the bone! And if it suits you too—"
"Well it doesn't! You know I've never wanted Adolphe about me. But you've got me all snarled up, the whole kit of you. What's more, I don't want him for my heir nor any girl with 'tang' for mistress of my lands and people. Hilary, I swear! if you've got the sand to want Anna and she's got the grace to take you, then, adjutant-general or not, I'll leave you my whole fortune! Well, what amuses you now?"
"Why, uncle, all the cotton in New Orleans couldn't tempt me to marry the girl I wouldn't take dry so without a continental cent."
"But your own present poverty might hold you back even from the girl you wanted, mightn't it?"
"No!" laughed the nephew, "nothing would!"
"Good God! Well, if you'll want Anna I'll make it easy for you to ask for her. If not, I'll make it as hard as I can for you to get any one else."
Still Hilary laughed: "H-oh, uncle, if I loved any girl, I'd rather have her without your estate than with it." Suddenly he sobered and glowed: "I wish you'd leave it to Adolphe! He's a heap-sight better business man than I. Besides, being older, he feels he has the better right to it. You know you always counted on leaving it to him."
The General looked black: "You actually decline the gift?"
"No. No, I don't. I want to please you. But of my own free choice I wouldn't have it. I'm no abolitionist, but I don't want that kind of property. I don't want the life that has to go with it. I know other sorts that are so much better. I'm not thinking only of the moral responsibility—"
"By—! sir, I am!"
"I know you are, and I honor you for it."
"Bah!... Hilary, I—I'm much obliged to you for your company, but—"
"You've had enough," laughed the good-natured young man. "Good-evening, sir." He took a cross-street.
"Good-evening, my boy." The tone was so kind that Hilary cast a look back. But the General's eyes were straight before him.
Greenleaf accompanied the Valcours to their door. Charlie, who disliked him, and whose admiration for his own sister was privately cynical, had left them to themselves in the train. There, wholly undetected by the very man who had said some women were too feminine and she was one, she had played her sex against his with an energy veiled only by its intellectual nimbleness and its utterly dispassionate design. Charlie detected achievement in her voice as she twittered good-by to the departing soldier from their street door.
MESSRS. SMELLEMOUT AND KETCHEM
Night came, all stars. The old St. Charles Theatre filled to overflowing with the city's best, the hours melted away while Maggie Mitchell played Fanchon, and now, in the bright gas-light of the narrow thoroughfare, here were Adolphe and Hilary helping their three ladies into a carriage. All about them the feasted audience was pouring forth into the mild February night.
The smallest of the three women was aged. That the other two were young and beautiful we know already. At eighteen the old lady, the Bohemian-glass one, had been one of those royalist refugees of the French Revolution whose butterfly endeavors to colonize in Alabama and become bees make so pathetic a chapter in history. When one knew that, he could hardly resent her being heavily enamelled. Irby pressed into the coach after the three and shut the door, Kincaid uncovered, and the carriage sped off.
Hilary turned, glanced easily over the heads of the throng, and espied Greenleaf beckoning with a slender cane. Together they crossed the way and entered the office of a public stable.
"Our nags again," said Kincaid to one of a seated group, and passed into a room beyond. Thence he re-issued with his dress modified for the saddle, and the two friends awaited their mounts under an arch. "Dost perceive, Frederic," said the facetious Hilary, "yon modestly arrayed pair of palpable gents hieing hitherward yet pretending not to descry us? They be detectives. Oh—eh—gentlemen!"
The strangers halted inquiringly and then came forward. The hair of one was black, of the other gray. Hilary brightened upon them: "I was just telling my friend who you are. You know me, don't you?" A challenging glint came into his eye.
But the gray man showed a twinkle to match it: "Why—by sight—yes—what there is of you."
Hilary smiled again: "I saw you this morning in the office of the Committee of Public Safety, where I was giving my word that this friend of mine should leave the city within twenty-four hours." He introduced him: "Lieutenant Greenleaf, gentleman, United States Army. Fred, these are Messrs. Smellemout and Ketchem, a leading firm in the bottling business."
Greenleaf and the firm expressed their pleasure. "We hang out at the corner of Poet and Good-Children Streets," said the black-haired man, but made his eyes big to imply that this was romance.
Greenleaf lifted his brows: "Streets named for yourselves, I judge."
"Aye. Poet for each, Good-Children for both."
Kincaid laughed out. "The Lieutenant and I," he said as he moved toward their approaching horses, "live on Love street exactly half-way between Piety and Desire." His eyes widened, too. Suddenly he stepped between Greenleaf and the others: "See here, let's begin to tell the truth! You know Kincaid's Foundry? It was my father's—"
"And his father's before him," said the gray man.
"And I've come home to go into this war," Hilary went on.
"And just at present," said Gray, "you're casting shot and shell and now and then a cannon; good for you! You want to give us your guarantee—?"
"That my friend and I will be together every moment till he leaves to-morrow morning on the Jackson Railroad, bound for the North without a stop."
"To go into this war on the other side!"
"Why, of course!" said the smiling Kincaid. "Now, that's all, isn't it? I fear we're keeping you."
"Oh, no." The gray man's crow's-feet deepened playfully. "If you think you need us we'll stick by you all night."
"No," laughed Kincaid, "there's no call for you to be so sticky as all that." The horsemen mounted.
"Better us than the Patriots' League," said the younger detective to Hilary as Greenleaf moved off. "They've got your friend down in their Send-'em-to-hell book and are after him now. That's how come we to be—"
"I perceive," replied Hilary, and smiled in meditation. "Why—thank you, both!"
"Oh, you go right along, Mr. Kincaid. We'll be at the depot to-morrow ourselves, and to-night we'll see that they don't touch neither one of you."
Hilary's smile grew: "Why—thank you again! That will make it more comfortable for them. Good-night."
The two friends rode to a corner, turned into Poydras Street, crossed Magazine and Tchoupitoulas and presently, out from among the echoing fronts of unlighted warehouses, issued upon the wide, white Levee.
"Wait," murmured Greenleaf, as they halted to view the scene. From their far right came the vast, brimming river, turbid, swift, silent, its billows every now and then rising and looking back as if they fled from implacable pursuers; sweeping by long, slumbering ranks of ships and steamboats; swinging in majestic breadth around the bend a mile or more below; and at the city's end, still beyond, gliding into mystic oblivion. Overhead swarmed the stars and across the flood came faintly the breath of orange-groves, sea-marshes and prairies.
Greenleaf faced across the wide bend at his left. In that quarter, quite hidden in live-oaks and magnolias, as both well knew, were the low, red towers of Jackson Barracks. But it was not for them the evicted young soldier claimed this last gaze. It was for a large dwelling hard by them, a fine old plantation house with wide verandas, though it also was shut from view, in its ancient grove.
"Fred," said Hilary, "didn't she tell you why?"
"No," replied the lover when they had turned away and were moving up the harbor front, "except that it isn't because I'm for the Union."
Hilary's eyes went wide: "That's wonderful, old man! But I don't believe she likes a soldier of any sort. If I were a woman I'd be doggoned if I'd ever marry a soldier!"
"Yet the man who gets her," said Greenleaf, "ought to be a soldier in every drop of his blood. You don't know her yet; but you soon will, and I'm glad."
"Now, why so? I can't ever please her enough to be pleased with her. I'm too confounded frivolous! I love nonsense, doggon it, for its own sake! I love to get out under a sky like this and just reel and whoop in the pure joy of standing on a world that's whirling round!"
"But you do please her. She's told me so."
"Don't you believe her! I don't. I can't. I tell you, Fred, I could never trust a girl that forever looks so trustworthy! S'pose I should fall in love with her! Would you—begrudge her to me?"
"I bequeath her to you."
"Ah! you know I haven't the ghost of a chance! She's not for po' little Hil'ry. I never did like small women, anyhow!"
"My boy! If ever you like this one she'll no more seem small than the open sea."
"I suppose," mused Hilary, "that's what makes it all the harder to let go. If a girl has a soul so petty that she can sit and hear you through to the last word your heart can bleed, you can turn away from her with some comfort of resentment, as if you still had a remnant of your own stature."
"Precisely!" said the lover. "But when she's too large-hearted to let you speak, and yet answers your unspoken word, once for all, with a compassion so modest that it seems as if it were you having compassion on her, she's harder to give up than—"
"Doggon her, Fred, I wouldn't give her up!"
"Ah, this war, Hilary! I may never see her again. There's just one man in this world whom—"
"Oh, get out!"
"I mean what I say. To you I leave her."
"Ha, ha! No, you don't! It's only to her you leave me. Old boy, promise me! If you ever come back and she's still in the ring, you'll go for her again no matter who else is bidding, your humble servant not excepted."
"Why—yes—I—I promise that. Now, will you promise me?"
"What! let myself—?"
"Ho-o, not by a jug-full! If ever I feel her harpoon in me I'll fight like a whale! But I promise you this, and warn you, too: That when it comes to that, a whole platoon of Fred Greenleafs between her and me won't make a pinch of difference."
To that Greenleaf agreed, and the subject was changed. With shipping ever on their left and cotton-yards and warehouses for tobacco and for salt on their right their horses' feet clinked leisurely over the cobble pavements, between thousands of cotton-bales headed upon the unsheltered wharves and only fewer thousands on the narrow sidewalks.
So passed the better part of an hour before they were made aware, by unmistakable odors, that they were nearing the Stock-Landing. There, while they were yet just a trifle too far away to catch its echoes, had occurred an incident—a fracas, in fact—some of whose results belong with this narrative to its end. While they amble toward the spot let us reconnoitre it. Happily it has long been wiped out, this blot on the city's scutcheon. Its half-dozen streets were unspeakable mud, its air was stenches, its buildings were incredibly foul slaughter-houses and shedded pens of swine, sheep, beeves, cows, calves, and mustang ponies. The plank footways were enclosed by stout rails to guard against the chargings of long-horned cattle chased through the thoroughfares by lasso-whirling "bull-drivers" as wild as they. In the middle of the river-front was a ferry, whence Louisiana Avenue, broad, treeless, grassy, and thinly lined with slaughter-houses, led across the plain. Down this untidy plaisance a grimy little street-car, every half-hour, jogged out to the Carrollton railway and returned. This street and the water-front were lighted—twilighted—with lard-oil lamps; the rest of the place was dark. At each of the two corners facing the ferry was a "coffee-house"—dram-shop, that is to say.
Messrs. Sam Gibbs and Maxime Lafontaine were president and vice-president of that Patriots' League against whose machinations our two young men had been warned by the detectives in St. Charles Street. They had just now arrived at the Stock-Landing. Naturally, on so important an occasion they were far from sober; yet on reaching the spot they had lost no time in levying on a Gascon butcher for a bucket of tar and a pillow of feathers, on an Italian luggerman for a hurried supper of raw oysters, and on the keeper of one of the "coffee-houses" for drinks for the four.
"Us four and no more!" sang the gleeful Gibbs; right number to manage a delicate case. The four glasses emptied, he had explained that all charges must be collected, of course, from the alien gentleman for whom the plumage and fixative were destined. Hence a loud war of words, which the barkeeper had almost smoothed out when the light-hearted Gibbs suddenly decreed that the four should sing, march, pat and "cut the pigeon-wing" to the new song (given nightly by Christy's Minstrels) entitled "Dixie's Land."
Hot threats recurring, Gascony had turned to go, Maxime had headed him off, Italy's hand had started into his flannel shirt, and "bing! bang! pop!" rang Gibbs's repeater and one of Maxime's little derringers—shot off from inside his sack-coat pocket. A whirlwind of epithets filled the place. Out into the stinking dark leaped Naples and Gascony, and after them darted their whooping assailants. The shutters of both barrooms clapped to, over the way a pair of bull-drivers rushed to their mustangs, there was a patter of hoofs there and of boots here and all inner lights vanished. A watchman's rattle buzzed remotely. Then silence reigned.
Now Sam and Maxime, deeming the incident closed, were walking up the levee road beyond the stock-pens, in the new and more sympathetic company of the two mounted bull-drivers, to whose love of patriotic adventure they had appealed successfully. A few yards beyond a roadside pool backed by willow bushes they set down tar-bucket and pillow, and under a low, vast live-oak bough turned and waited. A gibbous moon had set, and presently a fog rolled down the river, blotting out landscape and stars and making even these willows dim and unreal. Ideal conditions! Now if their guest of honor, with or without his friend, would but stop at this pool to wash the Stock-Landing muck from his horse's shins—but even luck has its limits.
Nevertheless, that is what occurred. A hum of voices—a tread of hoofs—and the very man hoped for—he and Hilary Kincaid—recognized by their voices—dismounted at the pool's margin. Sam and Maxime stole forward.
The newcomers' talk, as they crouched busily over their horses' feet, was on random themes: Dan Rice, John Owens, Adelina and Carlotta Patti, the comparative merits of Victor's and Moreau's restaur'—hah! Greenleaf snatched up his light cane, sprang erect, and gazed close into the mild eyes of Maxime. Gibbs's more wanton regard had no such encounter; Hilary gave him a mere upward glance while his hands continued their task.
"Good-evening," remarked Gibbs.
"Good-morning," chirped Hilary, and scrubbed on. "Do you happen to be Mr. Samuel Gibbs?—Don't stop, Fred, Maxime won't object to your working on."
"Yes, he will!" swore Gibbs, "and so will I!"
Still Hilary scrubbed: "Why so, Mr. Gibbs?"
"Bic-ause," put in Maxime, "he's got to go back through the same mud he came!"
"Why, then," laughed Hilary, "I may as well knock off, too," and began to wash his hands.
"No," growled Gibbs, "you'll ride on; we're not here for you."
"You can't have either of us without the other, Mr. Gibbs," playfully remarked Kincaid. The bull-drivers loomed out of the fog. Hilary leisurely rose and moved to draw a handkerchief.
"None o' that!" cried Gibbs, whipping his repeater into Kincaid's face. Yet the handkerchief came forth, its owner smiling playfully and drying his fingers while Mr. Gibbs went on blasphemously to declare himself "no chicken."
"Oh, no," laughed Hilary, "none of us is quite that. But did you ever really study—boxing?" At the last word Gibbs reeled under a blow in the face; his revolver, going off harmlessly, was snatched from him, Maxime's derringer missed also, and Gibbs swayed, bleeding and sightless, from Hilary's blows with the butt of the revolver. Presently down he lurched insensible, Hilary going half-way with him but recovering and turning to the aid of his friend. Maxime tore loose from his opponent, beseeching the bull-drivers to attack, but beseeching in vain. Squawking and chattering like parrot and monkey, they spurred forward, whirled back, gathered lassos, cursed frantically as Sam fell, sped off into the fog, spurred back again, and now reined their ponies to their haunches, while Kincaid halted Maxime with Gibbs's revolver, and Greenleaf sprang to the bits of his own and Hilary's terrified horses. For two other men, the Gascon and the Italian, had glided into the scene from the willows, and the Gascon was showing Greenleaf two big knives, one of which he fiercely begged him to accept.
"Take it, Fred!" cried Hilary while he advanced on the defiantly retreating Maxime; but as he spoke a new cry of the drovers turned his glance another way. Gibbs had risen to his knees unaware that the Italian, with yet another knife, was close behind him. At a bound Hilary arrested the lifted blade and hurled its wielder aside, who in the next breath seemed to spring past him head first, fell prone across the prostrate Gibbs, turned face upward, and slid on and away—lassoed. Both bull-drivers clattered off up the road.
"Hang to the nags, Fred!" cried Hilary, and let Maxime leap to Gibbs's side, but seized the Gascon as with murderous intent he sprang after him. It took Kincaid's strength to hold him, and Gibbs and his partner would have edged away, but—"Stand!" called Hilary, and they stood, Gibbs weak and dazed, yet still spouting curses. The Gascon begged in vain to be allowed to follow the bull-drivers.
"Stay here!" said Hilary in French, and the butcher tarried. Hilary passed the revolver to his friend, mounted and dashed up the highway.
The Gascon stayed with a lively purpose which the enfeebled Gibbs was the first to see. "Stand back, you hell-hound!" cried the latter, and with fresh oaths bade Greenleaf "keep him off!"
Maxime put Gibbs on Greenleaf's horse (as bidden), and was about to lead him, when Kincaid galloped back.
"Fred," exclaimed Hilary, "they've killed the poor chap." He wheeled. "Come, all hands," he continued, and to Greenleaf added as they went, "He's lying up here in the road with—"
Greenleaf picked up something. "Humph!" said Hilary, receiving it, "knives by the great gross. He must have used this trying to cut the lasso; the one he had back yonder flew into the pond." He reined in: "Here's where they—Why, Fred—why, I'll swear! They've come back and—Stop! there was a skiff"—he moved to the levee and peered over—"It's gone!"
The case was plain, and while from Greenleaf's saddle Gibbs broke into frantic revilings of the fugitives for deserting him and Maxime to sink their dead in the mid-current of the fog-bound river, Kincaid and his friend held soft counsel. Evidently the drovers had turned their horses loose, knowing they would go to their stable. No despatch to stop Greenleaf could be sent by anyone up the railroad till the Committee of Public Safety had authorized it, so Hilary would drop them a line out of his pocket note-book, and by daybreak these prisoners could go free.
"Mr. Gibbs"—he said as he wrote—"I have the sprout of a notion that you and Mr. Lafontaine would be an ornament to a field-battery I'm about to take command of. I'd like to talk with you about that presently." He tore out the page he had written and beckoned the Gascon aside:
"Mon ami"—he showed a roll of "city money" and continued in French—"do you want to make a hundred dollars—fifty now and fifty when you bring me an answer to this?"
The man nodded and took the missive.
The old "Jackson Railroad" avoided Carrollton and touched the river for a moment only, a short way beyond, at a small bunch of flimsy clapboard houses called Kennerville. Here was the first stop of its early morning outbound train, and here a dozen or so passengers always poked their heads out of the windows. This morning they saw an oldish black man step off, doff his hat delightedly to two young men waiting at the platform's edge, pass them a ticket, and move across to a pair of saddled horses. The smaller of the pair stepped upon the last coach, but kept his companion's hand till the train had again started.
"Good-by, Tony," cried the one left behind.
"Good-by, Jake," called the other, and waved. His friend watched the train vanish into the forest. Then, as his horse was brought, he mounted and moved back toward the city.
Presently the negro, on the other horse, came up almost abreast of him. "Mahs' Hil'ry?" he ventured.
"Well, uncle Jerry?"
"Dat's a pow'ful good-lookin' suit o' clo'es what L'tenant Greenfeel got awn."
"Jerry! you cut me to the heart!"
The negro tittered: "Oh, as to dat, I don't 'spute but yone is betteh."
The master heaved a comforted sigh. The servant tittered again, but suddenly again was grave. "I on'y wish to Gawd," he slowly said, "dat de next time you an' him meet—"
"Well—next time we meet—what then?"
"Dat you bofe be in de same sawt o' clo'es like you got on now."
HER HARPOON STRIKES
The home of the Callenders was an old Creole colonial plantation-house, large, square, strong, of two stories over a stoutly piered basement, and surrounded by two broad verandas, one at each story, beneath a great hip roof gracefully upheld on Doric columns. It bore that air of uncostly refinement which is one of the most pleasing outward features of the aloof civilization to which it, though not the Callenders, belonged.
Inside, its aspect was exceptional. There the inornate beauty of its finish, the quiet abundance of its delicate woodwork, and the high spaciousness and continuity of its rooms for entertainment won admiration and fame. A worthy setting, it was called, for the gentle manners with which the Callenders made it alluring.
They, of course, had not built it. The late Judge had acquired it from the descendants of a planter of indigo and coffee who in the oldest Creole days had here made his home and lived his life as thoroughly in the ancient baronial spirit as if the Mississippi had been the mediaeval Rhine. Only its perfect repair was the Judge's touch, a touch so modestly true as to give it a charm of age and story which the youth and beauty of the Callender ladies only enhanced, enhancing it the more through their lack of a male protector—because of which they were always going to move into town, but never moved.
Here, some nine or ten days after Greenleaf's flight, Hilary Kincaid, in uniform at last, was one of two evening visitors, the other being Mandeville. In the meantime our lover of nonsense had received a "hard jolt." So he admitted in a letter to his friend, boasting, however, that it was unattended by any "internal injury." In the circuit of a single week, happening to be thrown daily and busily into "her" society, "the harpoon had struck."
He chose the phrase as an honest yet delicate reminder of the compact made when last the two chums had ridden together.
All three of the Callenders were in the evening group, and the five talked about an illumination of the city, set for the following night. In the business centre the front of every building was already being hung with fittings from sidewalk to cornice. So was to be celebrated the glorious fact (Constance and Mandeville's adjective) that in the previous month Louisiana had seized all the forts and lighthouses in her borders and withdrawn from the federal union by a solemn ordinance signed in tears. This great lighting up, said Hilary, was to be the smile of fortitude after the tears. Over the city hall now floated daily the new flag of the state, with the colors of its stripes—
"Reverted to those of old Spain," murmured Anna, mainly to herself yet somewhat to Hilary. Judge Callender had died a Whig, and politics interested the merest girls those days.
Even at the piano, where Anna played and Hilary hovered, in pauses between this of Mozart and that of Mendelssohn, there was much for her to ask and him to tell about; for instance, the new "Confederate States," a bare fortnight old! Would Virginia come into them? Eventually, yes.
"Oh, yes, yes, yes!" cried Constance, overhearing. (Whatever did not begin with oh, those times, began with ah.)
"And must war follow?" The question was Anna's again, and Hilary sat down closer to answer confidentially:
"Yes, the war was already a fact."
"And might not the Abolitionists send their ships and soldiers against New Orleans?"
"Yes, the case was supposable."
"And might not Jackson's battlefield of 1815, in close view from these windows, become a new one?"
To avoid confessing that old battlefields have that tendency the Captain rose and took up a guitar; but when he would have laid it on her knee she pushed it away and asked the song of him; asked with something intimate in her smiling undertone that thrilled him, yet on the next instant seemed pure dream stuff. The others broke in and Constance begged a song of the new patriotism; but Miranda, the pretty stepmother, spoke rather for something a thousand miles and months away from the troubles and heroics of the hour; and when Anna seconded this motion by one fugitive glance worth all their beseechings Hilary, as he stood, gayly threw open his smart jacket lest his brass buttons mar the instrument, and sang with a sudden fervor that startled and delighted all the group:
"Drink to me only with thine eyes."
In the midst of which Constance lifted a knowing look across to Miranda, and Miranda sent it back.
There was never an evening that did not have to end, and at last the gentlemen began to make a show of leaving. But then came a lively chat, all standing in a bunch. To-morrow's procession, the visitors said, would form in Canal Street, move up St. Charles, return down Camp Street into Canal, pass through it into Rampart, take the Bayou Road and march to a grand review away out in the new camp of instruction at the Creole Race-Course. Intermediately, from a certain Canal Street balcony, Flora would present the flag! the gorgeous golden, silken, satin battle standard which the Callenders and others had helped her to make. So —good-night—good-night.
The last parting was with Mandeville, at the levee-road gate, just below which he lived in what, during the indigo-planter's life, had been the overseer's cottage. At a fine stride our artillerist started townward, his horse being stabled near by in that direction. But presently he halted, harkened after the Creole's receding step, thought long, softly called himself names, and then did a small thing which, although it resulted in nothing tragic at the time, marked a turning point in his life. He leapt the grove fence, returned to the shadows of the garden, and silently made his way to its eastern, down-river side. Already the dwelling's lower lights were going out while none yet shone above, and he paused in deep shade far enough away to see, over its upper veranda's edge, the tops of its chamber windows.
The house was of brick. So being, in a land where most dwellings are of wood, it had gathered beauty from time and dignity from tried strength, and with satisfying grace joined itself to its grounds, whose abundance and variety of flowering, broad-leaved evergreens lent, in turn, a poetic authenticity to its Greek columns and to the Roman arches of its doors and windows. Especially in these mild, fragrant, blue nights was this charm potent, and the fair home seemed to its hidden beholder forever set apart from the discords and distresses of a turbulent world. And now an upper window brightened, its sash went up, and at the veranda's balustrade Anna stood outlined against the inner glow.
She may have intended but one look at the stars, but they and the spiced air were enchanting, and in confidence that no earthly eye was on her she tarried, gazing out to the farthest gleam of the river where it swung southward round the English Turn.
Down in the garden a mirthful ecstasy ran through all the blood of her culprit observer and he drank to her only with his eyes. Against the window's brightness her dark outline showed true, and every smallest strand of her hair that played along the contours of brow and head changed his merriment to reverence and bade his heart recognize how infinitely distant from his was her thought. Hilary Kincaid! can you read no better than that?
Her thought was of him. Her mind's eye saw him on his homeward ride. It marked the erectness of his frame, the gayety of his mien, the dance of his locks. By her inner ear she heard his horse's tread passing up the narrow round-stone pavements of the Creole Quarter, presently to echo in old St. Peter Street under the windows of Pontalba Row—one of which was Flora's. Would it ring straight on, or would it pause between that window and the orange and myrtle shades of Jackson Square? Constance had said that day to Miranda—for this star-gazer to overhear—that she did not believe Kincaid loved Flora, and the hearer had longed to ask her why, but knew she could not tell. Why is a man's word. "They're as helpless without it," the muser recalled having very lately written on a secret page, "as women are before it. And yet a girl can be very hungry, at times, for a why. They say he's as brave as a lion—why is he never brave to me?"
So futilely ended the strain on the remembered page, but while his unsuspected gaze abode on her lifted eyes her thought prolonged the note: "If he meant love to-night, why did he not stand to his meaning when I laughed it away? Was that for his friend's sake, or is he only not brave enough to make one wild guess at me? Ah, I bless Heaven he's the kind that cannot! And still—oh, Hilary Kincaid, if you were the girl and I the man! I shouldn't be on my way home; I'd be down in this garden—." She slowly withdrew.
Hilary, stepping back to keep her in sight, was suddenly aware of the family coachman close at his side. Together they moved warily a few steps farther.
"You mus' escuse me, Cap'n," the negro amiably whispered. "You all right, o' co'se! Yit dese days, wid no white gen'leman apputtainin' onto de place—"
"Old man!" panted Hilary, "you've saved my life!"
"Oh, my Lawd, no! Cap'n, I—"
"Yes, you have! I was just going into fits! Now step in and fetch me out here—" He shaped his arms fantastically and twiddled his fingers.
Bending with noiseless laughter the negro nodded and went.
Just within her window, Anna, still in reverie, sat down at a slender desk, unlocked a drawer, then a second one inside it, and drew forth—no mere secret page but—a whole diary! "To Anna, from Miranda, Christmas, 1860." Slowly she took up a pen, as gradually laid it by again, and opposite various dates let her eyes rest on—not this, though it was still true:
"The more we see of Flora, the more we like her."
Nor this: "Heard a great, but awful, sermon on the duty of resisting Northern oppression."
But this: "Connie thinks he 'inclines' to me. Ho! all he's ever said has been for his far-away friend. I wish he would incline, or else go ten times as far away! Only not to the war—God forbid! Ah, me, how I long for his inclining! And while I long he laughs, and the more he laughs the more I long, for I never, never so doted on any one's laugh. Oh, shame! to love before—"
What sound was that below? No mocking-bird note, no south wind in the foliage, but the kiss of fingers on strings! Warily it stole in at the window, while softly as an acacia the diary closed its leaves. The bent head stirred not, but a thrill answered through the hearer's frame as a second cadence ventured up and in and a voice followed it in song. Tremblingly the book slid into the drawer, inner and outer lock clicked whisperingly, and gliding to a door she harkened for any step of the household, while she drank the strains, her bosom heaving with equal alarm and rapture.
If any song is good which serves a lover's ends we need claim no more for the one that rose to Anna on the odors of the garden and drove her about the room, darting, clinging, fluttering, returning, like her own terrified bird above her in its cage.
When Sylvia sighs And veils the worshipped wonder Of her blue eyes Their sacred curtains under, Naught can so nigh please me as my tender anguish. Only grief can ease me while those lashes languish. Woe best beguiles; Mirth, wait thou other whiles; Thou shalt borrow all my sorrow When Sylvia smiles.
But what a strange effect! Could this be that Anna. Callender who "would no more ever again seem small, than the ocean?" Is this that maiden of the "belated, gradual smile" whom the singer himself so lately named "a profound pause?" Your eyes, fair girl, could hardly be more dilated if they saw riot, fire, or shipwreck. Nor now could your brow show more exaltation responsive to angels singing in the sun; nor now your frame show more affright though soldiers were breaking in your door. Anna, Anna! your fingers are clenched in your palms, and in your heart one frenzy implores the singer to forbear, while another bids him sing on though the heavens fall. Anna Callender! do you not know this? You have dropped into a chair, you grip the corners of your desk. Now you are up again, trembling and putting out your lights. And now you seek to relight them, but cannot remember the place or direction of anything, and when you have found out what you were looking for, do not know how much time has flown, except that the song is still in its first stanza. Are you aware that your groping hand has seized and rumpled into its palm a long strand of slender ribbon lately unwound from your throat?
A coy tap sounds on her door and she glides to it. "Who—who?" But in spite of her it opens to the bearer of a lamp, her sister Constance.
"Who—who—?" she mocks in soft glee. "That's the question! 'Who is Sylvia?'"
"Don't try to come in! I—I—the floor is all strewn with matches!"
The sister's mirth vanishes: "Why, Nan! what is the matter?"
"Do-on't whisper so loud! He's right out there!"
"But, dearie! it's nothing but a serenade."
"It's an outrage, Con! How did he ever know—how did he dare to know—this was my window? Oh, put out that lamp or he'll think I lighted it—No! no! don't put it out, he'll think I did that, too!"
"Why, Nan! you never in your life—"
"Now, Connie, that isn't fair! I won't stay with you!" The speaker fled. Constance put out the light.
A few steps down and across a hall a soft sound broke, and Anna stood in Miranda's doorway wearing her most self-contained smile: "Dearie!" she quietly said, "isn't it too ridiculous!"
Miranda crinkled a smile so rife with love and insight that Anna's eyes suddenly ran full and she glided to her knees by the seated one and into her arms, murmuring, "You ought both of you to be ashamed of yourselves! You're totally mistaken!"
Presently, back in the dusk of her own room, an audible breathing betrayed her return, and Constance endeavoured to slip out, but Anna clung: "You sha'n't go! You sha'—" Yet the fugitive easily got away.
Down among the roses a stanza had just ended. Anna tiptoed out half across the dim veranda, tossed her crumpled ribbon over the rail, flitted back, bent an ear, and knew by a brief hush of the strings that the token had drifted home.
The die was cast. From brow and heart fled all perturbation and once more into her eyes came their wonted serenity—with a tinge of exultation—while the strings sounded again, and again rose the song:
When Sylvia smiles Her eyes to mine inclining, Like azure isles In seas of lovelight shining, With a merry madness find I endless pleasure— Till she sighs—then sadness is my only treasure. Woe best beguiles; Mirth, wait thou other whiles, Thou shalt borrow all my sorrow When Sylvia smiles.
IN COLUMN OF PLATOONS
Love's war was declared. From hour to hour of that night and the next morning, in bed, at board, dressing for the thronged city, spinning with Constance and Miranda up Love Street across Piety and Desire and on into the town's centre, Anna, outwardly all peace, planned that war's defensive strategy. Splendidly maidenly it should be, harrowingly arduous to the proud invader, and long drawn out. Constance should see what a man can be put through. But oh, but oh, if, after all, the invasion should not come!
In those days New Orleans paved her favorite streets, when she paved them at all, with big blocks of granite two feet by one. They came from the North as ballast in those innumerable wide-armed ships whose cloud of masts and cordage inspiringly darkened the sky of that far-winding river-front where we lately saw Hilary Kincaid and Fred Greenleaf ride. Beginning at the great steamboat landing, half a mile of Canal Street had such a pavement on either side of its broad grassy "neutral ground." So had the main streets that led from it at right angles. Long afterward, even as late as when the Nineteenth Century died, some of those streets were at the funeral, clad in those same old pavements, worn as smooth and ragged as a gentleman-beggar's coat. St. Charles Street was one. Another was the old Rue Royale, its squat ground-floor domiciles drooping their mossy eaves half across the pinched sidewalks and confusedly trying to alternate and align themselves with tall brick houses and shops whose ample two-and three-story balconies were upheld, balustraded, and overhung by slender garlandries of iron openwork as graceful and feminine as a lace mantilla. With here and there the flag of a foreign consul hanging out and down, such is the attire the old street was vain of in that golden time when a large square sign on every telegraph pole bade you get your shirts at S.N. Moody's, corner of Canal and Royal Streets.
At this corner, on the day after the serenade, there was a dense, waiting crowd. On the other corner of Royal, where the show-windows of Hyde & Goodrich blazed with diamonds, and their loftily nested gold pelican forever fed her young from her bleeding breast, stood an equal throng. Across Canal Street, where St. Charles opens narrowly southward, were similar masses, and midway between the four corners the rising circles of stone steps about the high bronze figure of Henry Clay were hidden by men and boys packed as close as they could sit or stand. A great procession had gone up-town and would by and by return. Near and far banners and pennons rose and fell on the luxurious air, and the ranks and ranks of broad and narrow balconies were so many gardens of dames and girls, parasols, and diaphanous gowns. Near the front of the lowest Hyde & Goodrich balcony, close by the gilded pelican, sat the Callenders, all gladness, holding mute dialogues with Flora and Madame Valcour here on the balcony of Moody's corner. It was the birthday of Washington.
Not of him, however, did Flora and her grandmother softly converse in Spanish amid the surrounding babel of English and French. Their theme was our battery drill of some ten days before, a subject urged upon Flora by the mosquito-like probings of Madame's musically whined queries. Better to be bled of almost any information by the antique little dame than to have her light on it some other way, as she had an amazing knack of doing. Her acted part of things Flora kept untold; but grandma's spirit of divination could unfailingly supply that, and her pencilled brows, stiff as they were, could tell the narrator she had done so.
Thus now, Flora gave no hint of the beautiful skill and quick success with which, on her homeward railway trip with Greenleaf that evening, she had bettered his impressions of her. By no more than a gentle play of light and shade in her smile and an undulating melody of voice—without a word that touched the wound itself, but with a timid glow of compassionate admiration—she had soothed the torture of a heart whose last hope Anna had that same hour put to death.
"But before he took the train with you," murmured the mosquito to the butterfly, "when he said the General was going to take Irby upon his staff and give the battery to Kincaid, what did you talk of?"
"Talk of? Charlie. He said I ought to make Charlie join the battery."
"Ah? For what? To secure Kincaid's protection of your dear little brother's health—character—morals—eh?"
"Yes, 'twas so he put it," replied Flora, while the old lady's eyebrows visibly cried:
"You sly bird! will you impute all your own words to that Yankee, and his to yourself?"
Which is just what Flora continued to do as the grandma tinkled: "And you said—what?"
"I said if I couldn't keep him at home I ought to get him into the cavalry. You know, dear, in the infantry the marches are so cruel, the camps so—"
"But in the artillery," piped the small dame, "they ride, eh?" (It was a trap she was setting, but in vain was the net spread.)
"No," said the serene girl, "they, too, go afoot. Often they must help the horses drag the guns through the mire. Only on parade they ride, or when rushing to and fro in battle, whips cracking, horses plunging, the hills smoking and shaking!" The rare creature sparkled frankly, seeing the battery whirling into action with its standard on the wind—this very flag she expected presently to bestow.
"And with Kincaid at the head!" softly cried the antique.
The girl put on a fondness which suddenly became a withering droop of the eyes: "Don't mince your smile so, grannie dear, I can hear the paint crack."
The wee relic flashed, yet instantly was bland again: "You were about to say, however, that in the artillery—?"
"The risks are the deadliest of all."
"Ah, yes!" sang the mosquito, "and for a sister to push her boy brother into a battery under such a commander would be too much like murder!"
The maiden felt the same start as when Greenleaf had ventured almost those words. "Yes," she beamingly rejoined, "that's what I told the Lieutenant."
"With a blush?"
"No," carelessly said the slender beauty, and exchanged happy signals with the Callenders.
"You tricksy wretch!" muttered the grandmother to herself. For though Charlie was in the battery by his own choice, Hilary would have kept him out had not the sister begged to have him let in.
Suddenly there was a glad stoppage of all by-play in the swarming streets. Down St. Charles from LaFayette Square came the shock of saluting artillery, and up Royal from Jackson Square rolled back antiphonal thunders.
"Grandma!" softly cried Flora, as if sharing the general elation, but had begun again to tell of Greenleaf, when from far over in Camp Street her subtle ear caught a faint stray sigh of saxhorns.
"Well? well? about the Yankee—?" urged Madame.
"Oh, a trifle! He was to go that night, and thinking he might some day return in very different fashion and we be glad to make use of him, I—" The speaker's lithe form straightened and her gaze went off to the left. "Here they come!" she said, and out where Camp Street emerges, a glint of steel, a gleam of brass, a swarming of the people that way, and again a shimmer of brass and steel, affirmed her word that the long, plumed, bristling column had got back to the arms of its darling Canal Street.
"Yes," cried many, "they're turning this way!"
"Well?—Well?" insisted the old lady amid the rising din. "And so you—you?"
"Be more careful," murmured the girl. "I told him that our convictions—about this war—yours and mine—not Charlie's—are the same as his."
A charming sight she was, even in that moment of public enthusiasm and spectacle, holding the wondering stare of her companion with a gayety that seemed ready to break into laughter. The dainty Madame went limp, and in words as slow and soft as her smile, sighed, "You are a genius!"
"No, only the last thing you would suspect—a good housekeeper. I have put him up in sugar."
The distant martial strains became more coherent. In remote balconies handkerchiefs fluttered wildly, and under nearer and nearer ones the people began to pack closer and choose their footing along the curb. Presently from the approaching column came who but Hilary Kincaid, galloping easily over the slippery pavements. Anna saw his eyes sweep the bank of human flowers (with its occasional male caterpillar) on Moody's balcony and light upon Flora. He lifted his kepi and halted. One could read his soft questions.
"All right? All ready? Where are the others?—Ah!" He sent an eager salutation to the Callenders, and two joyfully bowed, but Anna gave no sign. With great dignity her gaze was bent beyond him on the nearing host, and when Constance plucked her arm she tardily looked three wrong ways.
The rider could not wait. The police were pressing back the jubilant masses, swarms of ladies on the rear forms were standing up, and Flora, still seated, had leaned down beamingly and was using every resource of voice and fan to send him some word through the tumult of plaudits and drums. He spurred close. In a favoring hush—drum-corps inviting the band—she bent low and with an arch air of bafflement tried once more, but an outburst of brazen harmonies tore her speech to threads. Suddenly—
"Ever of thee I'm fondly dreaming—"
pealed the cornets, pumped the trombones, whipping it out, cracking it off, with a rigor of rhythm to shame all peace-time languishments—
"Thy gentle voice my spirit can cheer. Thou art the star—"
What could the balconies do but wave more joyously than ever? The streets hurrahed! The head of the procession was here! The lone horseman reined back, wheeled, cast another vain glance toward Anna, and with an alarming rataplan of slipping and recovering hoofs sped down the column.
But what new rapture was this? Some glorious luck had altered the route, and the whole business swung right into this old rue Royale! Now, now the merry clamor and rush of the crowd righting itself! And behold! this blazing staff and its commanding general—general of division! He first, and then all they, bowed to Flora and her grandmother, bowed to the Callenders, and were bowed to in return. A mounted escort followed. And now—yea, verily! General Brodnax and his staff of brigade! Wave, Valcours, wave Callenders! Irby's bow to Flora was majestic, and hers to him as gracious as the smell of flowers in the air. And here was Mandeville, most glittering in all the glitter. Flora beamed on him as well, Anna bowed with a gay fondness, Miranda's dainty nose crimped itself, and Constance, with a blitheness even more vivid, wished all these balconies could know that Captain—he was Lieutenant, but that was away back last week—Captain Etienne Aristide Rofignac de Mandeville was hers, whom, after their marriage, now so near at hand, she was going always to call Steve!
Two overflowing brigades! In the van came red-capped artillery. Not the new battery, though happily known to Flora and the Callenders; the Washington Artillery. Illustrious command! platoons and platoons of the flower of the Crescent City's youth and worth! They, too, that day received their battle-flag. They have the shot-torn rags of it yet.
Ah, the clanging horns again, and oh, the thundering drums! Another uniform, on a mass of infantry, another band at its head braying another lover's song reduced to a military tramp, swing, and clangor—
"I'd offer thee this hand of mine If I could love thee less—"
Every soldier seemed to have become a swain. Hilary and Anna had lately sung this wail together, but not to its end, she had called it "so ungenuine." How rakishly now it came ripping out. "My fortune is too hard for thee," it declared, "'twould chill thy dearest joy. I'd rather weep to see thee free," and ended with "destroy"; but it had the swagger of a bowling-alley.
All the old organizations, some dating back to '12-'15, had lately grown to amazing numbers, while many new ones had been so perfectly uniformed, armed, accoutred and drilled six nights a week that the ladies, in their unmilitary innocence, could not tell the new from the old. Except in two cases: Even Anna was aware that the "Continentals," in tasseled top-boots, were of earlier times, although they had changed their buff knee-breeches and three-cornered hats for a smart uniform of blue and gray; while these red-and-blue-flannel Zouaves, drawing swarms of boys as dray-loads of sugar-hogsheads drew flies, were as modern as 1861 itself. But oh, ah, one knew so many young men! It was wave, bow, smile and bow, smile and wave, till the whole frame was gloriously weary.
Near Anna prattled a Creole girl of sixteen with whom she now and then enjoyed a word or so: Victorine Lafontaine, daughter of our friend Maxime.
"Louisiana Foot-Rifles—ah! but their true name," she protested, "are the Chasseurs-a-Pied! 'Twas to them my papa billong' biffo' he join' hisseff on the batt'rie of Captain Kincaid, and there he's now a corporeal!"
What jaunty fellows they were! and as their faultless ranks came close, their glad, buskined feet beating as perfect music for the roaring drums as the drums beat for them, Anna, in fond ardor, bent low over the rail and waved, exhorting Miranda and Constance to wave with her. So marched the chasseurs by, but the wide applause persisted as yet other hosts, with deafening music and perfect step and with bayonets back-slanted like the porcupine's, came on and on, and passed and passed, ignoring in grand self-restraint their very loves who leaned from the banquettes' edges and from balustraded heights and laughed and boasted and worshipped.
Finally artillery again! every man in it loved by some one—or dozen—in these glad throngs. Clap! call! wave! Oh, gallant sight! These do not enter Royal Street. They keep Canal, obliquing to that side of the way farthest from the balconies—
"To make room," cries Victorine, "to form line pritty soon off horses, in front those cannon'."
At the head rides Kincaid. Then, each in his place, lieutenants, sergeants, drivers, the six-horse teams leaning on the firm traces, the big wheels clucking, the long Napoleons shining like gold, and the cannoneers—oh, God bless the lads!—planted on limbers and caissons, with arms tight folded and backs as plumb as the meridian. Now three of the pieces, half the battery, have gone by and—
"Well, well, if there isn't Sam Gibbs, sergeant of a gun! It is, I tell you, it is! Sam Gibbs, made over new, as sure as a certain monosyllable! and what could be surer, for Sam Gibbs?"
So laugh the sidewalks; but society, overhead, cares not for a made-over Gibbs while round about him are sixty or seventy young heroes who need no making over. Anna, Anna! what a brave and happy half-and-half of Creoles and "Americans" do your moist eyes beam down upon: here a Canonge and there an Ogden—a Zacherie—a Fontennette—Willie Geddes—Tom Norton—a Fusilier! Nat Frellsen—a Tramontana—a Grandissime!—and a Grandissime again! Percy Chilton—a Dudley—Arthur Puig y Puig—a De Armas—MacKnight—Violett—Avendano—Rob Rareshide— Guy Palfrey—a Morse, a Bien, a Fuentes—a Grandissme once more! Aleck Moise—Ralph Fenner—Ned Ferry!—and lo! a Raoul Innerarity, image of his grandfather's portrait—and a Jules St. Ange! a Converse—Jack Eustis—two Frowenfelds! a Mossy! a Hennen—Bartie Sloo—McVey, McStea, a De Lavillebuevre—a Thorndyke-Smith and a Grandissime again!
And ah! see yonder young cannoneer half-way between these two balconies and the statue beyond; that foppish boy with his hair in a hundred curls and his eyes wild with wayward ardor! "Ah, Charlie Valcour!" thinks Anna; "oh, your poor sister!" while the eyes of Victorine take him in secretly and her voice is still for a whole minute. Hark! From the head of the column is wafted back a bugle-note, and everything stands.
Now the trim lads relax, the balcony dames in the rear rows sit down, there are nods and becks and wafted whispers to a Calder and an Avery, to tall Numa, Dolhonde and short Eugene Chopin, to George Wood and Dick Penn and Fenner and Bouligny and Pilcher and L'Hommedieu; and Charlie sends up bows and smiles, and wipes the beautiful brow he so openly and wilfully loves best on earth. Anna smiles back, but Constance bids her look at Maxime, Victorine's father, whom neither his long white moustaches nor weight of years nor the lawless past revealed in his daring eyes can rob of his youth. So Anna looks, and when she turns again to Charlie she finds him sending a glance rife with conquest—not his first—up to Victorine, who, without meeting it, replies—as she has done to each one before it—with a dreamy smile into vacancy, and a faint narrowing of her almond eyes.
Captain Kincaid comes ambling back, and right here in the throat of Royal Street faces the command. The matter is explained to Madame Valcour by a stranger:
"Now at the captain's word all the cannoneers will spring down, leaving only guns, teams and drivers at their back, and line up facing us. The captain will dismount and ascend to the balcony, and there he and the young lady, whoever she is—" He waits, hoping Madame will say who the young lady is, but Madame only smiles for him to proceed—"The captain and she will confront each other, she will present the colors, he, replying, will receive them, and—ah, after all!" The thing had been done without their seeing it, and there stood the whole magnificent double line. Captain Kincaid dismounted and had just turned from his horse when there galloped up Royal Street from the vanished procession—Mandeville. Slipping and clattering, he reined up and saluted: "How soon can Kincaid's Battery be completely ready to go into camp?"
"Now, if necessary."
"It will receive orders to move at seven to-morrow morning!" The Creole's fervor amuses the rabble, and when Hilary smiles his earnestness waxes to a frown. Kincaid replies lightly and the rider bends the rein to wheel away, but the slippery stones have their victim at last. The horse's feet spread and scrabble, his haunches go low. Constance snatches both Anna's hands. Ah! by good luck the beast is up again! Yet again the hoofs slip, the rider reels, and Charlie and a comrade dart out to catch him, but he recovers. Then the horse makes another plunge and goes clear down with a slam and a slide that hurl his master to the very sidewalk and make a hundred pale women cry out.
Constance and her two companions bend wildly from the balustrade, a sight for a painter. Across the way Flora, holding back her grandmother, silently leans out, another picture. In the ranks near Charlie a disarray continues even after Kincaid has got the battered Mandeville again into the saddle, and while Mandeville is rejecting sympathy with a begrimed yet haughty smile.
"Keep back, ladies!" pleads Madame's late informant, holding off two or three bodily. "Ladies, sit down! Will you please to keep back!" Flora still leans out. Some one is melodiously calling:
"Captain Kincaid!" It is Mrs. Callender. "Captain!" she repeats.
He smiles up and at last meets Anna's eyes. Flora sees their glances—angels ascending and descending—and a wee loop of ribbon that peeps from his tightly buttoned breast. Otherwise another sight, elsewhere, could not have escaped her, though it still escapes many.
"Poor boy!" it causes two women behind her to exclaim, "poor boy!" but Flora pays no heed, for Hilary is speaking to the Callenders.
"Nothing broken but his watch," he gayly comforts them as to Mandeville.
"He's bleeding!" moans Constance, very white. But Kincaid softly explains in his hollowed hands:
"Only his nose!"
The nose's owner casts no upward look. Not his to accept pity, even from a fiancee. His handkerchief dampened "to wibe the faze," two bits of wet paper "to plug the noztril',"—he could allow no more!
"First blood of the war!" said Hilary.
"Yez! But"—the flashing warrior tapped his sword—"nod the last!" and was off at a gallop, while Kincaid turned hurriedly to find that Charlie, struck by the floundering horse, had twice fainted away.
In the balconies the press grew dangerous. An urchin intercepted Kincaid to show him the Callenders, who, with distressed eyes, pointed him to their carriage hurrying across Canal Street.
"For Charlie and Flora!" called Anna. They could not stir "themselves" for the crush; but yonder, on Moody's side, the same kind citizen noticed before had taken matters in hand:
"Keep back, ladies! Make room! Let these two ladies out!" He squeezed through the pack, holding aloft the furled colors, which all this time had been lying at Flora's feet. Her anxious eyes were on them at every second step as she pressed after him with the grandmother dangling from her elbow.
The open carriage spun round the battery's right and up its front to where a knot of comrades hid the prostrate Charlie; the surgeon, Kincaid, and Flora crouching at his side, the citizen from the balcony still protecting grandmamma, and the gilded eagle of the unpresented standard hovering over all. With tender ease Hilary lifted the sufferer and laid him on the carriage's front seat, the surgeon passed Madame in and sat next to her, but to Kincaid Flora exclaimed with a glow of heroic distress:
"Let me go later—with Anna!" Her eyes overflowed—she bit her lip—"I must present the flag!"
A note of applause started, a protest hushed it, and the overbending Callenders and the distracted Victorine heard Hilary admiringly say:
"Come! Go! You belong with your brother!"
He pressed her in. For an instant she stood while the carriage turned, a hand outstretched toward the standard, saying to Hilary something that was drowned by huzzas; then despairingly she sank into her seat and was gone down Royal Street.
"Attention!" called a lieutenant, and the ranks were in order. To the holder of the flag Hilary pointed out Anna, lingered for a word with his subaltern, and then followed the standard to the Callenders' balcony.
THINGS ANNA COULD NOT WRITE
"Charlie has two ribs broken, but is doing well," ran a page of the diary; "so well that Flora and Madame—who bears fatigue wonderfully—let Captain Irby take them, in the evening, to see the illumination. For the thunderstorm, which sent us whirling home at midday, was followed by a clear evening sky and an air just not too cool to be fragrant.
"I cannot write. My thoughts jostle one another out of all shape, like the women in that last crush after the flag-presentation. I begged not to have to take Flora's place from her. It was like snatching jewels off her. I felt like a robber! But in truth until I had the flag actually in my hand I thought we were only being asked to take care of it for a later day. The storm had begun to threaten. Some one was trying to say to me—'off to camp and then to the front,' and—'must have the flag now,' and still I said, 'No, oh, no!' But before I could get any one to add a syllable there was the Captain himself with the three men of the color guard behind him, the middle one Victorine's father. I don't know how I began, but only that I went on and on in some wild way till I heard the applause all about and beneath me, and he took the colors from me, and the first gust of the storm puffed them half open—gorgeously—and the battery hurrahed. And then came his part. He—I cannot write it."
Why not, the diary never explained, but what occurred was this:
"Ladies and gentlemen and comrades in arms!" began Hilary and threw a superb look all round, but the instant he brought it back to Anna, it quailed, and he caught his breath. Then he nerved up again. To help his courage and her own she forced herself to gaze straight into his eyes, but reading the affright in hers he stood dumb and turned red.
He began again: "Ladies and gentlemen and comrades in arms!" and pulled his moustache, and smote and rubbed his brow, and suddenly drove his hand into an inside pocket and snatched out a slip of paper. But what should come trailing out with it but a long loop of ribbon! As he pushed it back he dropped the paper, which another whiff of wind flirted straight over his head, sent it circling and soaring clear above Moody's store and dropped it down upon the roof. And there gazed Anna and all that multitude, utterly blank, until the martyr himself burst into a laugh. Then a thousand laughs pealed as one, and he stood smiling and stroking back his hair, till his men began to cry, "song! song!"
Upon that he raised the flag high in one hand, let it balloon to the wind, made a sign of refusal, and all at once poured out a flood of speech—pledges to Anna and her fellow-needlewomen—charges to his men—hopes for the cherished cause—words so natural and unadorned, so practical and soldier-like, and yet so swift, that not a breath was drawn till he had ended. But then what a shout!