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.