Part 6 out of 7
fabrications, but giving forth only what was wrung from her and parting
with each word as if it cost her a pang. Starving and sickening,
fighting and falling, the haggard boys watched; yet so faultless was the
maiden's art that when in a fury of affright at the risks of time she
one day forced their commander to see her heart's starvation for him the
battery saw nothing, and even to him she yet appeared faultless in
modesty and utterly, marvelously, splendidly ignorant of what she had
"Guide right!" he mused alone. "At last, H.K., your nickname's got a
meaning worth living up to!"
While he mused, Flora, enraged both for him and against him, and with
the rage burning in her eye and on her brow, stood before her seated
grandmother, mutely giving gaze for gaze until the elder knew.
The old woman resumed her needle. "And all you have for it," was the
first word, "is his pity, eh?"
"Wait!" murmured the girl. "I will win yet, if I have to lose--"
"Yes?" skeptically simpered the grandam, "--have to lose yourself to do
The two gazed again until the maiden quietly nodded and her senior
sprang half up:
"No, no! ah, no-no-no! There's a crime awaiting you, but not that! Oh,
no, you are no such fool!"
"No?" The girl came near, bent low and with dancing eyes said, "I'll be
fool enough to lead him on till his sense of honor--"
"Sense of--oh, ho, ho!"
"Sense of his honor and _mine_--will make him my prisoner. Or else--!"
The speaker's eyes burned. Her bosom rose and fell.
"Yes," said the seated one--to her needle--"or else his sense that
Charlie--My God! don't pinch my ear off!"
"Happy thought," laughed Flora, letting go, "but a very poor guess."
IN A LABYRINTH
For ladies' funerals, we say, mortars and siege-guns, as a rule, do not
pause. But here at Vicksburg there was an hour near the end of each day
when the foe, for some mercy to themselves, ceased to bombard, and in
one of these respites that procession ventured forth in which rode the
fevered Anna: a farm wagon, a battered family coach, a carryall or two.
Yet in the midst of the graveyard rites there broke out on the unseen
lines near by, northward, an uproar of attack, and one or two shells
burst in plain view, frightening the teams. The company leaped into the
vehicles any way they could and started townward over a miserable road
with the contest resounding on their right. As they jostled along the
edge of a wood that lay between them and the firing some mishap to the
front team caused all to alight, whereupon a shell, faultily timed, came
tearing through the tree-tops and exploded in the remains of a fence
close beyond them. Amid thunder, smoke, and brute and human terror the
remounting groups whirled away and had entirely left the scene before
that was asked which none could tell: Where was Anna?
Anna herself did not know, could not inquire of her own mind. With a
consciousness wholly disembodied she was mainly aware of a great pain
that seemed to fill all the region and atmosphere, an atmosphere charged
with mysterious dim green light and full of great boomings amid a
crackle of smaller ones; of shouts and cheers and of a placid quaking of
myriad leaves; all of which things might be things or only divers
manifestations of her undefinable self.
By and by through the pain came a dream of some one like her living in a
certain heaven of comfort and beauty, peace, joy, and love named
"Callender House"; but the pain persisted and the dream passed into a
horrible daytime darkness that brought a sense of vast changes near and
far; a sense of many having gone from that house, and of many having
most forbiddenly come to it; a sense of herself spending years and
years, and passing from world to world, in quest of one Hilary, Hilary
Kincaid, whom all others believed to be dead or false, or both, but who
would and should and must be found, and when found would be alive and
hale and true; a sense of having, with companions, been all at once
frightfully close to a rending of the sky, and of having tripped as she
fled, of having fallen and lain in a thunderous storm of invisible hail,
and of having after a time risen again and staggered on, an incalculable
distance, among countless growing things, fleeing down-hill, too weak to
turn up-hill, till suddenly the whole world seemed to strike hard
against something that sent it reeling backward.
And now her senses began feebly to regather within truer limits and to
tell her she was lying on the rooty ground of a thicket. Dimly she
thought to be up and gone once more, but could get no farther than the
thought although behind her closed lids glimmered a memory of deadly
combat. Its din had passed, but there still sounded, just beyond this
covert, fierce commands of new preparation, and hurried movements in
response--a sending and bringing, dismissing, and summoning of men and
things to rear or front, left or right, in a fury of supply and demand.
Ah, what! water? in her face? Her eyes opened wildly. A man was kneeling
beside her. He held a canteen; an armed officer in the foe's blue. With
lips parting to cry out she strove to rise and fly, but his silent
beseechings showed him too badly hurt below the knees to offer aid or
hindrance, and as she gained her feet she let him plead with stifled
eagerness for her succor from risks of a captivity which, in starving
Vicksburg and in such plight, would be death.
He was a stranger and an enemy, whose hurried speech was stealthy and
whose eyes went spying here and there, but so might it be just then
somewhere with him for whom she yet clung to life. For that one's sake,
and more than half in dream, she gave the sufferer her support, and with
a brow knit in anguish, but with the fire of battle still in his wasting
blood, he rose, fitfully explaining the conditions of the place and
hour. To cover a withdrawal of artillery from an outer to an inner work
a gray line had unexpectedly charged, and as it fell back with its guns,
hotly pressed, a part of the fight had swung down into and half across
this ravine, for which another struggle was furiously preparing on both
sides, but which, for him, in the interval, was an open way of
deliverance if she would be his crutch.
In equal bewilderment of thought and of outer sense, pleadingly assured
that she would at once be sent back under flag of truce, with compassion
deepening to compulsion and with a vague inkling that, failing the white
flag, this might be heaven's leading back to Callender House and the
jewel treasure, to Mobile and to Hilary, she gave her aid. Beyond the
thicket the way continued tangled, rough and dim. Twice and again the
stricken man paused for breath and ease from torture, though the sounds
of array, now on two sides, threatened at every step to become the cry
of onset. Presently he stopped once more, heaved, swayed and, despite
her clutch, sank heavily to the ground.
"Water!" he gasped, but before she could touch the canteen to his lips
he had fainted. She sprinkled his face, but he did not stir. She gazed,
striving for clear thought, and then sprang up and called. What word?
Ah, what in all speech should she call but a name, the name of him whose
warrant of marriage lay at that moment in her bosom, the name of him who
before God and the world had sworn her his mated, life-long protection?
"Hilary!" she wailed, and as the echoes of the green wood died,
"Hilary!" again. On one side there was more light in the verdure than
elsewhere and that way she called. That way she moved stumblingly and
near the edge of a small clear space cried once more, "Hilary!...
Faintly the bearer of that name heard the call; heard it rise from a
quarter fearfully nearer the foe's line than to his; caught it with his
trained ear as, just beyond sight of Irby, Miranda, and others, he stood
in amazed converse with Flora Valcour. Fortune, smiling on Flora yet,
had brought first to her the terrified funeral group and so had enabled
her to bear to Hilary the news of the strange estrayal, skilfully
blended with that revelation of Anna's Vicksburg sojourn which she,
Flora, had kept from him so cleverly and so long.
With mingled rapture and distress, with a heart standing as still as his
feet, as still as his lifted head and shining eyes, he listened and
heard again. Swiftly, though not with the speed he would have chosen, he
sprang toward the call; sped softly through the brush, softly and
without voice, lest he draw the enemy's fire; softly and mutely, with
futile backward wavings and frowning and imploring whispers to Flora as
in a dishevelled glow that doubled her beauty she glided after him.
Strangely, amid a swarm of keen perceptions that plagued him like a
cloud of arrows as he ran, that beauty smote his conscience; her beauty
and the worship and protection it deserved from all manhood and most of
all from him, whose unhappy, unwitting fortune it was to have ensnared
her young heart and brought it to the desperation of an unnatural
self-revealment; her uncoveted beauty, uncourted love, unwelcome
presence, and hideous peril! Was he not to all these in simplest honor
peculiarly accountable? They lanced him through with arraignment as,
still waving her beseechingly, commandingly back, with weapons undrawn
the more swiftly to part the way before him, his frenzy for Anna drew
him on, as full of introspection as a drowning man, thinking a year's
thoughts at every step. Oh, mad joy in pitiful employment! Here while
the millions of a continent waged heroic war for great wrongs and
rights, here on the fighting-line of a beleaguered and starving city,
here when at any instant the peal of his own guns might sound a fresh
onset, behold him in a lover's part, loving "not honor more," setting
the seal upon his painful alias, filching time out of the jaws of death
to pursue one maiden while clung to by another. Oh, Anna! Anna
Callender! my life for my country, but this moment for thy life and
thee! God stay the onslaught this one moment!
As he reached the edge of that narrow opening from whose farther side
Anna had called he halted, glanced furtively about, and harkened
forward, backward, through leafy distances grown ominously still. Oh,
why did the call not come again? Hardly in a burning house could time be
half so priceless. Not a breath could promise that in the next the
lightnings, thunders, and long human yell of assault would not rend the
air. Flora's soft tread ceased at his side.
"Stay back!" he fiercely breathed, and pointed just ahead: "The enemy's
"Come away!" she piteously whispered, trembling with terror. For, by a
glimpse as brief as the catch of her breath, yonder a mere rod or so
within the farther foliage, down a vista hardly wider than a man's
shoulders, an armed man's blue shoulders she had seen, under his black
hat and peering countenance. Joy filled the depth of her heart in the
belief that a thin line of such black hats had already put Anna behind
them, yet she quaked in terror, terror of death, of instant, shot-torn
death that might leave Hilary Kincaid alive.
With smiting pity he saw her affright. "Go back!" he once more gasped:
"In God's name, go back!" while recklessly he stepped forward out of
cover. But in splendid desperation, with all her soul's battle in her
eyes--horror, love, defiance, and rending chagrin striving and smiting,
she sprang after him into the open, and clutched and twined his arms.
The blue skirmish-line, without hearing, saw him; saw, and withheld
their fire, fiercely glad that tactics and mercy should for once agree.
And Anna saw.
"Come with me back!" whispered Flora, dragging on him with bending
knees. "She's lost! She's gone back to those Yankee, and to Fred
Greenleaf! And you"--the whisper rose to a murmur whose pathos grew with
her Creole accent--"you, another step and you are a deserter! Yes! to
your country--to Kincaid' Batt'ree--to me-me-me!" The soft torrent of
speech grew audible beyond them: "Oh, my God! Hilary Kincaid,
listen-to-me-listen! You 'ave no right; no ri-ight to leave me! _Ah, you
shall not!_ No right--ri-ight to leave yo' Flora--sinze she's tol' you
--sinze she's tol' you--w'at she's tol' you!"
In this long history of a moment the blue skirmishers had not yet
found Anna, but it was their advance, their soft stir at her back as
they came upon their fallen leader, that had hushed her cries. At the
rift in the wood she had leaned on a huge oak and as body and mind again
failed had sunk to its base in leafy hiding. Vaguely thence she
presently perceived, lit from behind her by sunset beams, the farther
edge of the green opening, and on that border, while she feebly looked,
came suddenly a ghost!
[Illustration: "You 'ave no ri-ight to leave me! _Ah, you shall not!_"]
Ah, Heaven! the ghost of Hilary Kincaid! It looked about for her! It
listened for her call! By the tree's rough bark she drew up half her
height, clung and, with reeling brain, gazed. How tall! how gaunt! how
dingy gray! How unlike her whilom "ladies' man," whom, doubtless truly,
they now called dead and buried. But what--what--was troubling the poor
ghost? What did it so wildly avoid? what wave away with such loving,
tender pain? Flora Valcour! Oh, see, see! Ah, death in life! what does
she see? As by the glare of a bursting midnight shell all the empty
gossip of two years justified--made real--in one flash of staring view.
With a long moan the beholder cast her arms aloft and sank in a heap,
not knowing that the act had caught Hilary's eye, but willingly aware
that her voice had perished in a roar of artillery from the farther
brink of the ravine, in a crackle and fall of tree-tops, and in the
"rebel yell" and charge.
Next morning, in a fog, the blue holders of a new line of rifle-pits
close under the top of a bluff talked up to the grays in a trench on its
crest. Gross was the banter, but at mention of "ladies" it purified.
"Johnnie!" cried "Yank," "who is she, the one we've got?" and when told
to ask her, said she was too ill to ask. By and by to "Johnnie's"
inquiries the blues replied:
"He? the giant? Hurt? No-o, not half bad enough, when we count what he
cost us. If we'd known he was only stunned we"--and so on, not very
interestingly, while back in the rear of the gray line tearful Constance
praised, to her face, the haggard Flora and, in his absence, the wounded
Irby, Flora's splendid rescuer in the evening onslaught.
"A lifetime debt," Miranda thought Flora owed him, and Flora's
meditative yes, as she lifted her eyes to her grandmother's,
A few days later Anna, waking in the bliss of a restored mind, and
feeling beneath her a tremor of paddlewheels, gazed on the nurse at her
"Am I a--prisoner?" she asked.
The woman bent kindly without reply.
"Anyhow," said Anna, with a one-sided smile, "they can't call me a spy."
Her words quickened: "I'm a rebel, but I'm no spy. I was lost. And he's
no spy. He was in uniform. Is he--on this boat?"
Yes, she was told, he was, with a few others like him, taken too soon
for the general parole of the surrender. Parole? she pondered.
Surrender? What surrender? "Where are we going?" she softly inquired;
"not to New Orleans?"
The nurse nodded brightly.
"But how can we get--by?"
"By Vicksburg? We're already by there."
"Has Vicks--?... Has Vicksburg--fallen?"
The confirming nod was tender. Anna turned away. Presently--"But not
Mobile? Mobile hasn't--?"
"No, not yet. But it must, don't you think?"
"No!" cried Anna. "It must not! Oh, it must not! I--if I--Oh, if I--"
The nurse soothed her smilingly: "My poor child," she said, "_you_ can't
THE FLAG-OF-TRUCE BOAT
September was in its first week. The news of Vicksburg--and Port
Hudson--ah, yes, and Gettysburg!--was sixty days old.
From Southern Mississippi and East Louisiana all the grays who marched
under the slanting bayonet or beside the cannon's wheel were gone. Left
were only the "citizen" with his family and slaves, the post
quartermaster and commissary, the conscript-officer, the trading Jew,
the tax-in-kind collector, the hiding deserter, the jayhawker, a few
wounded boys on furlough, and Harper's cavalry. Throughout the Delta and
widely about its grief-broken, discrowned, beggared, shame-crazed,
brow-beaten Crescent City the giddying heat quaked visibly over the high
corn, cotton, and cane, up and down the broken levees and ruined
highways, empty by-ways, and grass-grown railways, on charred bridges,
felled groves, and long burnt fence lines. The deep, moss-draped,
vine-tangled swamps were dry.
So quivered the same heat in the city's empty thoroughfares. Flowers
rioted in the unkept gardens. The cicada's frying note fried hotter
than ever. Dazzling thunder-heads towered in the upper blue and stood
like snow mountains of a vaster world. The very snake coiled in the
shade. The spiced air gathered no freshness from the furious, infrequent
showers, the pavements burned the feet, and the blue "Yank" (whom there
no one dared call so by word or look), so stoutly clad, so uncouthly
misfitted, slept at noon face downward in the high grass under the trees
of the public squares preempted by his tents, or with piece loaded and
bayonet fixed slowly paced to and fro in the scant shade of some
confiscated office-building, from whose upper windows gray captives
looked down, one of them being "the ladies' man."
Not known of his keepers by that name, though as the famous Major
Kincaid of Kincaid's Battery (the latter at Mobile with new guns), all
July and August he had been of those who looked down from such windows;
looked down often and long, yet never descried one rippling fold of one
gossamer flounce of a single specimen of those far-compassionated
"ladies of New Orleans," one of whom, all that same time, was Anna
Callender. No proved spy, she, no incarcerated prisoner, yet the most
gravely warned, though gentlest, suspect in all the recalcitrant city.
Neither in those sixty days had Anna seen him. The blue sentries let no
one pass in sight of that sort of windows. "Permit?" She had not sought
it, Some one in gold lace called her "blamed lucky" to enjoy the
ordinary permissions accorded Tom, Dick, and Harry. Indeed Tom, Dick,
and Harry were freer than she. By reason of hints caught from her in
wanderings of her mind on the boat, in dreams of a great service to be
done for Dixie, the one spot where she most yearned to go and to be was
forbidden her, and not yet had she been allowed to rest her hungry eyes
on Callender House. Worse than idle, therefore, perilous for both of
them and for any dream of great service, would it have been even to name
the name of Hilary Kincaid.
What torture the double ban, the two interlocked privations! Yonder a
city, little sister of New Orleans, still mutely hoping to be saved,
here Hilary alive again, though Anna still unwitting whether she should
love and live or doubt and die. Yet what would they say when they should
meet? How could either explain? Surely, we think, love would have found
a way; but while beyond each other's sight and hearing, no way could
Hilary, at least, descry.
To him it seemed impossible to speak to her--even to Fred Greenleaf had
Fred been there!--without betraying another maiden, one who had sealed
his lips forever by confessing a heart which had as much--had more right
to love than he to live. True, Anna, above all, had right to live, to
love, to know; but in simplest honor to commonest manhood, in simplest
manhood's honor to all womankind, to Flora, to Anna herself, this
knowledge should come from any other human tongue rather than from his.
From Anna he needed no explanation. That most mysteriously she should
twice have defaulted as keeper of sacred treasure; that she stood long
accused, by those who would most gladly have scouted the charge, of
leanings to another suitor, a suitor in the blue, and of sympathies,
nay, services, treasonous to the ragged standards of the gray; that he
had himself found her in the enemy's lines, carried there by her own
steps, and accepting captivity without a murmur, ah, what were such
light-as-air trials of true love's faith while she was still Anna
Callender, that Anna from whom one breath saying, "I am true," would
outweigh all a world could show or surmise in accusation?
And Anna: What could she say after what she had seen? Could she tell
him--with Flora, as it were, still in his arms--could she explain that
she had been seeking him to cast herself there? Or if she stood mute
until he should speak, what could he say to count one heart-throb
against what she had seen? Oh, before God! before God! it was not
_jealousy_ that could make her dumb or deaf to either of them. She
confessed its pangs. Yes! yes! against both of them, when she remembered
certain things or forgot this and that, it raged in her heart, tingled
in the farthest reach of her starved and fever-dried veins. Yet to God
himself, to whom alone she told it, to God himself she protested on her
knees it did not, should not, could not rule her. What right had she to
give it room? Had she not discerned from the beginning that those two
were each other's by natural destiny? Was it not well, was it not
God-sent to all three, that in due time, before too late, he and
she--that other, resplendent she--should be tried upon each other alone
--together? Always hitherto she, Anna, had in some way, some degree,
intervened, by some chance been thrust and held between them; but at
length nature, destiny, had all but prevailed, when once more
she--stubbornly astray from that far mission of a city's rescue so
plainly hers--had crashed in between to the shame and woe of all, to the
gain of no cause, no soul, no sweet influence in all love's universe.
Now, meeting Hilary, what might she do or say?
One thing! Bid him, on exchange or escape--if Heaven should grant the
latter--find again Flora, and in her companionship, at last unhindered,
choose! Yes, that would be justice and wisdom, mercy and true love, all
in one. But could she do it, say it? She sprang up in bed to answer,
"No-o-o!" no, she was no bloodless fool, she was a woman! Oh, God of
mercy and true love, no! For reasons invincible, no! but most of all for
one reason, one doubt, vile jealousy's cure and despair's antidote, slow
to take form but growing as her strength revived, clear at last and
all-sufficing; a doubt infinitely easier, simpler, kinder, and more
blessed than to doubt true love. Nay, no doubt, but a belief! the
rational, life-restoring belief, that in that awful hour of twilight
between the hosts, of twilight and delirium, what she had seemed to see
she had but seemed to see. Not all, ah, no, not all! Hilary alive again
and grappling with death to come at her call had been real, proved real;
the rest a spectre of her fevered brain! Meeting him now--and, oh, to
meet him now!--there should be no questionings or explainings, but while
he poured forth a love unsullied and unshaken she, scarce harkening,
would with battle haste tell him, her life's commander, the one thing of
value, outvaluing all mere lovers' love: The fact that behind a
chimney-panel of Callender House, in its old trivial disguise, lay yet
that long-lost fund pledged to Mobile's defense--by themselves as
lovers, by poor war-wasted Kincaid's Battery, and by all its scattered
sisters; the fund which must, as nearly on the instant as his and her
daring could contrive, be recovered and borne thither for the unlocking
of larger, fate-compelling resources of deliverance.
One day Victorine came to Anna with ecstasy in her almond eyes and much
news on her lips. "To bigin small," she said, Flora and her grandmother
had "arrive' back ag-ain" at dawn that morning! Oddly, while Anna forced
a smile, her visitor's eyes narrowed and her lips tightened. So they
sat, Anna's smile fading out while her soul's troubles inwardly burned
afresh, Victorine's look growing into clearer English than her Creole
tongue could have spoken. "I trust her no more," it said. "Long have I
doubted her, and should have told you sooner but for--Charlie; but now,
dead in love as you know me still to be, you have my conviction. That is
all for the present. There is better news."
The ecstasy gleamed again and she gave her second item. These weeks she
had been seeking, for herself and a guardian aunt, a passport into the
Confederacy and lo! here it lay in her pretty hand.
"Deztitution!" she joyfully confessed to be the plea on which it had been
procured--by Doctor Sevier through Colonel--guess!--"Grinleaf!--juz'
riturn'" from service in the field.
And how were the destitute pair to go?
Ah! did Anna "rim-emb'r" a despatch-boat of unrivalled speed whose
engines Hilary Kin--?
Yes, ah, yes!
On which she and others had once--?
And which had been captured when the city fell? That boat was now lying
off Callender House! Did Anna _not_ know that her shattered home, so
long merely the headquarters of a blue brigade, had lately become of
large, though very quiet, importance as a rendezvous of big generals who
by starlight paced its overgrown garden alleys debating and planning
something of great moment? Doctor Sevier had found that out and had
charged Victorine to tell it with all secrecy to the biggest general in
Mobile the instant she should reach there. For she was to go by that
"Aw-dinner-illy," she said, a flag-of-truce craft might be any old tub
and would go the short way, from behind the city and across the lakes,
not all round by the river and the Chandeleur Islands. But this
time--that very morning--a score or so of Confederate prisoners
(officers, for exchange) had been put aboard that boat, bound for
Mobile. Plainly the whole affair was but a mask for reconnaissance, the
boat, swiftest in all the Gulf, to report back at top speed by way of
the lakes. But!--the aunt would not go at all! Never having been a mile
from her door, she was begging off in a palsy of fright, and here was
the niece with a deep plot--ample source of her ecstasy--a plot for
Anna, duly disguised, to go in the aunt's place, back to freedom, Dixie,
and the arms of Constance and Miranda.
Anna trembled. She could lovingly call the fond schemer, over and over,
a brave, rash, generous little heroine and lay caresses on her twice and
again, but to know whether this was Heaven's leading was beyond her.
She paced the room. She clasped her brow. A full half of her own great
purpose (great to her at least) seemed all at once as good as achieved,
yet it was but the second half, as useless without the first as half a
bridge on the far side of the flood. "I cannot go!" she moaned. For the
first half was Hilary, and he--she saw it without asking--was on this
cartel of exchange.
Gently she came and took her rescuer's hands: "Dear child! If--if while
there was yet time--I had only got a certain word to--_him_--you know?
But, ah, me! I keep it idle yet; a secret, Victorine, a secret worth our
three lives! oh, three times three hundred lives! Even now--"
"Give it me, Anna! Give it! Give it me, that sick-rate! I'll take it
Anna shook her head: "Ah, if you could--in time! Or even--even without
him, letting him go, if just you and I--Come!" They walked to and fro in
embrace: "Dear, our front drawing-room, so ruined, you know, by that
shell, last year--"
"Ah, the front? no! The behine, yes, with those two hole' of the shell
and with thad _beegue_ hole in the floor where it cadge fiah."
"Victorine, I could go--with you--in that boat, if only I could be for
one minute in that old empty front room alone."
Victorine halted and sadly tossed a hand: "Ah! h-amptee, yes, both the
front and the back--till yes-the-day! This morning, the front, no! Juz'
sinze laz' week they 'ave brick' up bitwin them cloze by that burned
hole, to make of the front an office, and now the front 't is o'cupy!"
"Oh, not as an office, I hope?"
"Worse! The worse that can be! They 'ave stop' five prisoner' from the
boat and put them yondeh. Since an hour Col-on-el Grinleaf he tol' me
that--and she's ad the bottom, that Flora! Bicause--" The speaker
gazed. Anna was all joy.
"Because what?" demanded Anna, "because Hil--?"
"Yaas! bicause he's one of them! Ringgleadeh! I dunno, me, what is that,
but tha'z what he's accuse'--ringg-leadingg!"
Still the oblivious Anna was glad. "It is Flora's doing," she gratefully
cried. "She's done it! done it for us and our cause!"
"Ah-h! not if she know herseff!"
Anna laughed the discussion down: "Come, dear, come! the whole thing
opens to me clear and wide!"
Not so clear or wide as she thought. True, the suffering Flora was doing
this, in desperate haste; but not for Anna, if she knew herself. Yet
when Anna, in equal haste, made a certain minute, lengthy writing and,
assisted by that unshaken devotee, her maid, and by Victorine, baked
five small cakes most laughably alike (with the writing in ore) and laid
them beside some plainer food in a pretty basket, the way still seemed
wide enough for patriotism.
Now if some one would but grant Victorine leave to bestow this basket!
As she left Anna she gave her pledge to seek this favor of any one else
rather than of Greenleaf; which pledge she promptly broke, with a
success that fully reassured her cheerful conscience.
"Happiest man in New Orleans!"
So called himself, to Colonel Greenleaf, the large, dingy-gray,
lively-eyed Major Kincaid, at the sentinelled door of the room where he
and his four wan fellows, snatched back from liberty on the eve of
release, were prisoners in plain view of the vessel on which they were
to have gone free.
With kind dignity Greenleaf predicted their undoubted return to the
craft next morning. Strange was the difference between this scene and
the one in which, eighteen months before, these two had last been
together in this room. The sentry there knew the story and enjoyed it.
In fact, most of the blue occupants of the despoiled place had a
romantic feeling, however restrained, for each actor in that earlier
episode. Yet there was resentment, too, against Greenleaf's clemencies.
"Wants?" said the bedless captive to his old chum, "no, thank you, not a
want!" implying, with his eyes, that the cloud overhanging Greenleaf for
favors shown to--hmm!--certain others was already dark enough, "We've
_parlor_ furniture galore," he laughed, pointing out a number of
discolored and broken articles that had been beautiful. One was the
screen behind which the crouching Flora had heard him tell the ruin of
her Mobile home and had sworn revenge on this home and on its fairest
During the evening the prisoners grew a bit noisy, in song; yet even
when their ditties were helped out by a rhythmic clatter of boot-heels
and chair-legs the too indulgent Greenleaf did not stop them. The voices
were good and the lines amusing not merely to the guards here and there
but to most of their epauleted superiors who, with lights out for
coolness, sat in tilted chairs on a far corner of the front veranda to
catch the river breeze. One lay was so antique as to be as good as new:
"Our duck swallowed a snail,
And her eyes stood out with wonder.
Our duck swallowed a snail,
And her eyes stood out with wonder
Till the horns grew out of her tail, tail, tail,
And tore it All asunder.
"Our old horse fell into the well
Around behind the stable.
Our old horse fell into the well
Around behind the stable.
He couldn't fall all the way but he fell,
As far as he was able.
It is here we may safest be brief. The literature of prison escapes is
already full enough. Working in the soft mortar of so new a wall and
worked by one with a foundryman's knowledge of bricklaying, the murdered
Italian's stout old knife made effective speed as it kept neat time with
the racket maintained for it. When the happiest man in New Orleans
warily put head and shoulders through the low gap he had opened,
withdrew them again and reported to his fellows, the droll excess of
their good fortune moved the five to livelier song, and as one by one
the other four heads went in to view the glad sight the five gave a yet
more tragic stanza from the farewell to Jane. The source of their
delight was not the great ragged hole just over the intruding heads, in
the ceiling's lath and plaster, nor was it a whole corner torn off the
grand-piano by the somersaulting shell as it leaped from the rent above
to the cleaner one it had left at the baseboard in the room's farther
end. It was that third hole, burned in the floor; for there it opened,
shoulder wide, almost under their startled faces, free to the basement's
floor and actually with the rough ladder yet standing in it which had
been used in putting out the fire. That such luck could last a night was
too much to hope.
Yet it lasted. The songs were hushed. The room whence they had come was
without an audible stir. Sleep stole through all the house, through the
small camp of the guard in the darkened grove, the farther tents of the
brigade, the anchored ships, the wide city, the starlit landscape. Out
in that rear garden-path where Madame Valcour had once been taken to see
the head-high wealth of roses two generals, who had been there through
all the singing, still paced to and fro and talked, like old Brodnax at
Carrollton in that brighter time, "not nearly as much alone as they
seemed." One by one five men in gray, each, for all his crouching and
gliding, as true and gallant a gentleman as either of those commanders,
stole from the house's basement and slipped in and out among the roses.
Along a back fence a guard walked up and down. Two by two, when his back
was turned, went four of the gliding men, as still as bats, over the
fence into a city of ten thousand welcome hiding-places. The fifth,
their "ringg-leadeh," for whom they must wait concealed until he should
rejoin them, lingered in the roses; hovered so close to the path that he
might have touched its occupants as they moved back and forth;
almost--to quote his uncle--
"Sat in the roses and heard the birds sing"--
heard blue birds, in soft notes not twittered, muttered as by owls,
revealing things priceless for Mobile to know.
Bragg's gray army, he heard, was in far Chattanooga facing Rosecrans,
and all the slim remnants of Johnston's were hurrying to its
reinforcement. Mobile was merely garrisoned. Little was there save
artillery. Here in New Orleans lay thousands of veterans flushed with
their up-river victories, whose best and quickest aid to Rosecrans would
be so to move as to turn Bragg's reinforcements back southward. A
cavalry dash across the pine-barrens of East Louisiana to cut the
railroad along the Mississippi-Alabama line, a quick joint movement of
land and naval forces by way of the lakes, sound, and gulf, and Mobile
would fall. These things and others, smaller yet more startling, the
listener learned of, not as pastime talk, but as a vivid scheme already
laid, a mine ready to be sprung if its secret could be kept three days
longer; and now he hurried after his four compatriots, his own brain
teeming with a counter-plot to convey this secret through the dried-up
swamps to the nearest Confederate telegraph station while Anna should
bear it (and the recovered treasure) by boat to Mobile, two messengers
being so many times surer than one.
Early next morning Madame Valcour, entering an outer room from an inner
one, found Flora writing a note. The girl kept on, conscious that her
irksome critic was taking keen note of a subtle, cruel decay of her
beauty, a spiritual corrosion that, without other fault to the eye, had
at last reached the surface in a faint hardening of lines and staleness
of bloom. Now she rose, went out, dispatched her note and returned. Her
manner, as the two sat down to bread and coffee, was bright though
"From Greenleaf?" inquired her senior, "and to the same?"
The girl shook her fair head and named one of his fellow-officers at
Callender House: "No, Colonel Greenleaf is much too busy. Hilary Kincaid
"Esca-aped?" cried the aged one, flashed hotly, laughed, flashed again
and smiled. "That Victorine kitten--with her cakes! And you--and
Greenleaf--hah! you three cats paws--of one little--Anna!"
Flora jauntily wagged a hand, then suddenly rose and pointed with a big
bread knife: "Go, dress! We'll save the kitten--if only for Charlie! Go!
_she must leave town at once_. Go! But, ah, grannie dear,"--she turned
to a window--"for Anna, spite of all we can do, I am af-raid--Ship
Island! Poor _Anna!_" At the name her beautiful arm, in one swift
motion, soared, swung, drove the bright steel deep into the window-frame
and left it quivering.
"Really," said a courteous staff-officer as he and Doctor Sevier
alighted at the garden stair of Callender House and helped Anna and her
maid from a public carriage, "only two or three of us will know
you're"--His smile was awkward. The pale doctor set his jaw. Anna
musingly supplied the term:
"A prisoner." She looked fondly over the house's hard-used front as they
mounted the steps. "If they'd keep me here, Doctor," she said at the
top, "I'd be almost happy. But"--she faced the aide-de-camp--"they
won't, you know. By this time to-morrow I shall be"--she waved
"Mainland, or island?" grimly asked the Doctor.
She did not know. "But I know, now, how a rabbit feels with the hounds
after her. Honestly," she said again to the officer, "I wish I might
have her cunning." And the soldier murmured, "Amen."
THE IRON-CLAD OATH
Under Anna's passive air lay a vivid alertness to every fact in range of
eye or ear.
Any least thing now might tip the scale for life or death, and while at
the head of the veranda steps she spoke of happiness her distressed
thought was of Hilary's madcap audacity, how near at hand he might be
even then, under what fearful risk of recognition and capture. She was
keenly glad to hear two men complain that the guard about the house and
grounds was to-day a new one awkward to the task. Of less weight now it
seemed that out on the river the despatch-boat had shifted her berth
down-stream and with steam up lay where the first few wheel turns would
put her out of sight. Indoors, where there was much official activity,
it relieved her to see that neither Hilary's absence nor her coming
counted large in the common regard. The brace of big generals were in
the library across the hall, busy on some affair much larger than this
The word was the old coachman Israel's. What a tender joy it was to find
him in the wretched drawing-room trying to make it decent for her and
dropping his tears as openly as the maid. With what a grace, yet how
boldly, he shut the door between them and blue authority. While the girl
arranged on a table, for Anna's use, a basket of needlework brought with
them he honestly confessed his Union loyalty, yet hurriedly, under his
breath, bade Anna not despair, and avowed a devotion to the safety and
comfort of "ole mahs's and mis's sweet baby" as then and forever his
higher law. He was still autocrat of the basement, dropsied with the
favor of colonels and generals, deferential to "folks," but a
past-master in taking liberties with things. As he talked he so
corrected the maid's arrangement of the screen that the ugly hole in the
wall was shut from the view of visitors, though left in range of Anna's
work-table, and as Anna rose at a tap on the door, with the gentle
ceremony of the old home he let in Doctor Sevier and Colonel Greenleaf
and shut himself out.
"Anna," began the Doctor, "There's very little belief here that you're
involved in this thing."
"Why, then," archly said Anna, "who is?"
"Ah, that's the riddle. But they say if you'll just take the oath of
Anna started so abruptly as to imperil her table. Her color came and her
voice dropped to its lowest note as she said between long breaths:
But the Doctor spoke on:
"They believe that if you take it you'll keep it, and they say that the
moment you take it you may go free, here or anywhere--to Mobile if you
Again Anna flinched: "Mobile!" she murmured, and then lifting her eyes
to Greenleaf's, repeated, "No! No, not for my life. Better Ship Island."
Greenleaf reddened. "Anna," put in the Doctor, but she lifted a hand:--
"They've never offered it to you, Doctor? H-oh! They'd as soon think of
asking one of our generals. They'd _almost_ as soon"--the corners of her
lips hinted a smile--"ask Hilary Kincaid."
"I've never advised any one against it, Anna."
"Well, I do!--every God-fearing Southern man and woman. A woman is all I
am and I may be short-sighted, narrow, and foolish, but--Oh, Colonel
Greenleaf, you shouldn't have let Doctor Sevier take this burden for
you. It's hard enough--"
The Doctor intervened: "Anna, dear, this old friend of yours"--laying a
finger on Greenleaf--"is in a tight place. Both you and Hilary--"
"Yes, I know, and I know it's not fair to him. Lieutenant--Colonel, I
mean, pardon me!--you sha'n't be under odium for my sake or his. As far
as I stand accused I must stand alone. The one who must go free is that
mere child Victorine, on her pass, to-day, this morning. When I hear the
parting gun of that boat down yonder I want to know by it that Victorine
is safely on her way to Mobile, as she would be had she not been my
"She carried nothing but a message?"
"Nothing but a piece of writing--mine! Colonel, I tell you faithfully,
whatever Major Kincaid broke prison with was not brought here yesterday
by any one and was never in Victorine's hands."
"Nor in yours, either?" kindly asked Greenleaf.
Anna caught her breath and went redder than ever. Doctor Sevier stirred
to speak, but Anna's maid gave her a soft thrust, pointed behind the
screen, and covered a bashful smile with her apron. Anna's blush became
one of mirth. Her eyes went now to the Doctor and again to the broken
"Israel!" she laughed, "why do you enter--?"
"On'y fitten' way, missie. House so full o' comin' and goin', and me
havin' dis cullud man wid me."
Out on the basement ladder, at the ragged gap of Israel's "on'y fittin'
way," was visible, to prove his word, another man's head, white-turbaned
like his own, and two dark limy hands passing in a pail of mortar.
Welcome distraction. True, Greenleaf's luckless question still stood
unanswered, but just then an orderly summoned him to the busy generals
and spoke aside to Doctor Sevier.
"Miss Valcour," explained the Doctor to Anna.
"Oh, Doctor," she pleaded, "I want to see her! Beg them, won't you, to
let her in?"
"NOW, MR. BRICK-MASON,--"
Amid the much coming and going that troubled Israel--tramp of spurred
boots, clank of sabres, seeking, meeting and parting of couriers and
aides--Madame Valcour, outwardly placid, inwardly terrified, found
opportunity to warn her granddaughter, softly, that unless she, the
granddaughter, could get that look of done-for agony out of her eyes,
the sooner and farther they fled this whole issue, this fearful
entanglement, the better for them.
But brave Flora, knowing the look was no longer in the eyes alone but
had for days eaten into her visage as age had for decades into the
grandam's, made no vain effort to paint it out with smiles but accepted
and wore it in show of a desperate solicitude for Anna. Yet this, too,
was futile, and before Doctor Sevier had exchanged five words with her
she saw that to him the make-up was palpable and would be so to
Greenleaf. Poor Flora! She had wrestled her victims to the edge of a
precipice, yet it was she who at this moment, this dazzling September
morning, seemed doomed to go first over the brink. Had not both Hilary
and Anna met again this Greenleaf and through him found answer for all
their burning questions? She could not doubt her web of deceptions had
been torn to shreds, cast to the winds. Not one of the three could she
now hope to confront successfully, much less any two of them together.
To name no earlier reason--having reached town just as Kincaid was being
sent out of it, she had got him detained on a charge so frivolous that
how to sustain it now before Greenleaf and his generals she was tortured
Yet something must be done. The fugitive must be retaken and retained,
the rival deported, and, oh, Hilary Kincaid! as she recalled her last
moment with you on that firing-line behind Vicksburg, shame and rage
outgrew despair, and her heart beat hot in a passion of chagrin and then
hotter, heart and brain, in a frenzy of ownership, as if by spending
herself she had bought you, soul and body, and if only for
self-vindication would have you from all the universe.
"The last wager and the last card," she smilingly remarked to her
kinswoman, "they sometimes win out," and as the smile passed added, "I
wish I had that bread-knife."
To Doctor Sevier her cry was, "Oh, yes, yes! Dear Anna! Poor Anna! Yes,
before I have to see any one else, even Colonel Greenleave! Ah, please,
Doctor, beg him he'll do me that prizelezz favor, and that for the good
God's sake he'll keep uz, poor Anna and me, not long waiting!"
Yet long were the Valcours kept. It was the common fate those days. But
Flora felt no title to the common fate, and while the bustle of the
place went on about them she hiddenly suffered and, mainly for the
torment it would give her avaricious companion, told a new reason for
the look in her eyes. Only a few nights before she had started wildly
out of sleep to find that she had _dreamed_ the cause of Anna's
irreconcilable distress for the loss of the old dagger. The dream was
true on its face, a belated perception awakened by bitterness of soul,
and Madame, as she sat dumbly marvelling at its tardiness, chafed the
more against each minute's present delay, seeing that now to know if
Kincaid, or if Anna, held the treasure was her liveliest hankering.
Meantime the captive Anna was less debarred than they. As Greenleaf and
the Doctor, withdrawing, shut her door, and until their steps died away,
she had stood by her table, her wide thought burning to know the
whereabouts, doings, and plight of him, once more missing, with whom a
scant year-and-a-half earlier--if any war-time can be called scant--she
had stood on that very spot and sworn the vows of marriage: to know his
hazards now, right now! with man; police, informer, patrol, picket,
scout; and with nature; the deadly reptiles, insects, and maladies of
thicketed swamp and sun-beaten, tide-swept marsh; and how far he had got
on the splendid mission which her note, with its words of love and faith
and of patriotic abnegation, had laid upon him.
Now eagerly she took her first quick survey of the room she knew so
well. Her preoccupied maid was childishly questioning the busy Israel as
he and the man out on the basement ladder removed bricks from the edges
of the ragged opening between them.
"Can't build solid ef you don't staht solid," she heard the old
coachman say. She glided to the chimney-breast, searching it swiftly
with her eyes and now with her hands. Soilure and scars had kept the
secret of the hidden niche all these months, and neither stain, scar,
nor any sign left by Hilary or Flora betrayed it now. Surely _this_ was
the very panel Flora had named. Yet dumbly, rigidly it denied the truth,
for Hilary, having reaped its spoil, had, to baffle his jailors,
cunningly made it fast. And time was flying! Tremblingly the searcher
glanced again to the door, to the screen, to the veranda windows--though
these Israel had rudely curtained--and then tried another square, keenly
harkening the while to all sounds and especially to the old negro's
"Now, Mr. Brick-mason, ef you'll climb in hyuh I'll step out whah you is
and fetch a bucket o' warteh. Gal, move one side a step, will you?"
While several feet stirred lightly Anna persisted in her trembling
quest--not to find the treasure, dear Heaven, but only to find it gone.
Would that little be denied? So ardent was the mute question that she
seemed to have spoken it aloud, and in alarm looked once more at the
windows, the door, the screen--the screen! A silence had settled there
and as her eye fell on it the stooping mason came from behind it,
glancing as furtively as she at windows and door and then exaltedly to
her. She stiffened for outcry and flight, but in the same instant he
straightened up and she knew him; knew him as right here she had known
him once before in that same disguise, which the sad fortunes of their
cause had prevented his further use of till now. He started forward,
but with beseeching signs and whispers, blind to everything between them
but love and faith, she ran to him. He caught her to his heart and drew
her behind the screen under the enraptured eyes of her paralyzed maid.
For one long breath of ecstasy the rest of the universe was nothing. But
"The treasure?" she gasped. "The dagger?"
He showed the weapon in its precious scabbard and sought to lay it in
her hands, but--"Oh, why! why!" she demanded, though with a gaze that
ravished his,--. "Why are you not on your way--?"
"Am!" he softly laughed. "Here, leave me the dirk, but take the sheath.
Everything's there that we put there long ago, beloved, and also a
cypher report of what I heard last night in the garden--never mind
what!--_take it_, you will save Mobile! Now both of you slip through
this hole and down the ladder and quietly skedaddle--quick--come!"
"But the guards?"
"Just brass it out and walk by them. Victorine's waiting out behind with
all her aunt's things at a house that old Israel will tell you
of--listen!" From just outside the basement, near the cisterns, a single
line of song rose drowsily and ceased:
"Heap mo' dan worteh-million juice--"
"That's he. It means come on. Go!" He gathered a brick and trowel and
rang them together as if at work. The song answered:
"Aw 'possum pie aw roasted goose--"
The trowel rang on. Without command from her mistress the maid was
crouching into the hole. In the noise Anna was trying to press an
anxious query upon Hilary, but he dropped brick and tool and snatched
her again into his embrace.
"Aw soppin's o' de gravy pan--"
called the song. The maid was through!
"But you, Hilary, my life?" gasped Anna as he forced her to the opening.
"The swamp for me!" he said, again sounding the trowel. "I take
this"--the trowel--"and walk out through the hall. Go, my soul's
Anna, with that art of the day which remains a wonder yet, gathered her
crinoline about her feet and twisted through and out upon the ladder.
Hilary seized a vanishing hand, kissed it madly, and would have loosed
it, but it clung till his limy knuckles went out and down and her lips
sealed on them the distant song's fourth line as just then it came:
"De ladies loves de ladies' man!"
As mistress and maid passed in sight of the dark singer he hurried to
them, wearing the bucket of water on his turban as lightly as a hat. "Is
you got to go so soon?" he asked, and walked beside them. Swiftly, under
his voice, he directed them to Victorine and then spoke out again in
hearing of two or three blue troopers. "You mus' come ag'in, whensomeveh
They drew near a guard: "Dese is ole folks o' mine, Mr. Gyuard, ef you
please, suh, dess a-lookin' at de ole home, suh."
"We were admitted by Colonel Greenleaf," said Anna, with a soft
brightness that meant more than the soldier guessed, and he let them
out, feeling as sweet, himself, as he tried to look sour.
"Well, good-by, Miss Nannie," said the old man, "I mus' recapitulate
back to de house; dey needs me pow'ful all de time. Good luck to you!
Gawd bless you!... Dass ow ba-aby, Mr. Gyuard--Oh, Lawd, Lawd, de days
I's held dat chile out on one o' dese ole han's!" He had Flora's feeling
for stage effects.
Toiling or resting, the Southern slaves were singers. With the pail on
his head and with every wearer of shoulder-straps busy giving or obeying
some order, it was as normal as cock-crowing that he should raise yet
another line of his song and that from the house the diligent bricklayer
Sang the water-carrier:
"I's natch-i-ully gallant wid de ladies,--"
and along with the trowel's tinkle came softly back,
"I uz bawn wid a talent fo' de ladies."
For a signal the indoor singer need not have gone beyond that line, but
the spirit that always grew merry as the peril grew, the spirit which
had made Kincaid's Battery the fearfulest its enemies ever faced,
"You fine it on de map o' de contrac' plan,
I's boun' to be a ladies' man!"
FLORA'S LAST THROW
Normal as cock-crowing seemed the antiphony to the common ear, which
scarcely noticed the rareness of the indoor voice. But Greenleaf's was
not the common ear, nor was Flora Valcour's.
To her that closing strain made the torture of inaction finally
unbearable. Had Anna heard? Leaving Madame she moved to a hall door of
the room where they sat. Was Anna's blood surging like her own? It could
not! Under what a tempest of conjectures she looked down and across the
great hall to the closed and sentinelled door of that front drawing-room
so rife with poignant recollections. There, she thought, was Anna. From
within it, more faintly now, came those sounds of a mason at work which
had seemed to ring with the song. But the song had ceased. About the
hall highly gilded officers conferred alertly in pairs or threes, more
or less in the way of younger ones who smartly crossed from room to
room. Here came Greenleaf! Seeking her? No, he would have passed
unaware, but her lips ventured his name.
Never had she seen such a look in his face as that with which he
confronted her. Grief, consternation, discovery and wrath were all as
one save that only the discovery and wrath meant her. She saw how for
two days and nights he had been putting this and that and this and that
and this and that together until he had guessed her out. Sternly in his
eyes she perceived contumely withholding itself, yet even while she felt
the done-for cry heave through her bosom, and the floor fail like a
sinking deck, she clung to her stage part, babbled impromptu lines.
"Doctor Sevier--?" she began--
"He had to go."
Again she read the soldier's eyes. God! he was comparing her changed
countenance--a fool could see he was!--with Anna's! both smitten with
affliction, but the abiding peace of truth in one, the abiding war of
falsehood in the other. So would Kincaid do if he were here! But the
stage waited: "Ah, Colonel, Anna! poor Anna!" Might not the
compassion-wilted supplicant see the dear, dear prisoner? She rallied
all her war-worn fairness with all her feminine art, and to her
amazement, with a gleam of purpose yet without the softening of a
lineament, he said yes, waved permission across to the guard and left
She passed the guard and knocked. Quietly in the room clinked the
brick-mason's work. He strongly hummed his tune. Now he spoke, as if to
his helper, who seemed to be leaving him. Again she knocked, and bent
her ear. The mason sang aloud:
"Some day dis worl' come to an en',
I don't know how, I don't know when--"
She turned the door-knob and murmured, "Anna!"
The bricklaying clinked, tapped and scraped on. The workman hummed again
his last two lines.
"Who is it?" asked a feigned voice which she knew so instantly to be
Kincaid's that every beat of her heart jarred her frame.
"'Tis I, Anna, dear. 'Tis Flora." She was mindful of the sentry, but
all his attention was in the busy hall.
There came a touch on the inner door-knob. "Go away!" murmured the manly
voice, no longer disguised. "In God's name! for your own sake as well as
hers, go instantly!"
"No," melodiously replied Flora, in full voice for the sentry's ear, but
with resolute pressure on the door, "no, not at all.... No, I muz' not,
"Then wait one moment till you hear me at work!"
She waited. Presently the trowel sounded again and its wielder, in a
lowered tone, sang with it:
"Dat neveh trouble Dandy Dan
Whilst de ladies loves de ladies' man."
At the first note she entered with some idle speech, closed the door,
darted her glance around, saw no one, heard only the work and the song
and sprang to the chimney-breast. She tried the panel--it would not
yield! Yet there, as if the mason's powerful hands had within that
minute reopened and reclosed it, were the wet marks of his fingers. A
flash of her instinct for concealment bade her wipe them off and she had
barely done so when he stepped from the screen, fresh from Israel's
water-bucket, drying his face on his hands, his hands on his face and
un-turbaned locks, prison-worn from top to toe, but in Dixie's full gray
and luminous with the unsmiling joy of danger.
"It's not there," he loudly whispered, showing the bare dagger. "Here it
is. She has the rest, scabbard and all."
Flora clasped her hands as in ecstasy: "And is free? surely free?"
"Almost! Surely when that despatch-boat fires!" In a few rapid words
Hilary told the scheme of Anna's flight, at the same time setting the
screen aside so as to show the hole in the wall nearly closed, humming
his tune and ringing the trowel on the brickwork.
Flora made new show of rapture. Nor was it all mere show. Anna escaping,
the treasure would escape with her, and Flora be thrown into the dungeon
of penury. Yet let them both go, both rival and treasure! Love's ransom!
All speed to them since they left her Hilary Kincaid and left him at her
mercy. But the plight was complex and suddenly her exultation changed to
affright. "My God! Hilary Kincaid," she panted, "you 'ave save' her to
deztroy yo'seff! You are--"
Proudly, gaily he shook his head: "No! No! against her will I've sent
her, to save--" He hushed. He had begun to say a city, Flora's city.
Once more a captive, he would gladly send by Flora also, could she
contrive to carry it, the priceless knowledge which Anna, after all,
might fail to convey. But something--it may have been that same outdone
and done-for look which Greenleaf had just noted--silenced him, and the
maiden resumed where she had broken off:
"My God, Hilary Kincaid, you are in denger to be hanged a spy! Thiz
minute you 'ave hide yo' dizguise in that panel!"
"You would come in," said Hilary, with a playful wave of the trowel, and
turned to his work, singing:
"When I hands in my checks--"
Flora ran and clung tenderly to his arm, but with a distressed smile he
clasped her wrists in one hand and gently forced her back again while
she asked in burning undertone, "And you 'ave run that h-awful risk for
me? for me? But, why? why? why?"
"Oh!" he laughingly said, and at the wall once more waved the ringing
trowel, "instinct, I reckon; ordinary manhood--to womanhood. If you had
recognized me in that rig--"
"And I would! In any rigue thiz heart would reco'nize you!"
"Then you would have had to betray me or else go, yourself, to Ship
"H-o-oh! I would have gone!"
"That's what I feared," said Hilary, though while he spoke she fiercely
felt that she certainly would have betrayed him; not for horror of Ship
Island but because now, _after this_, no Anna Callender nor all the
world conspired should have him from her alive.
He lifted his tool for silence, and fresh anger wrung her soul to see
joy mount in his eyes as from somewhere below the old coachman sang:
"When I hands in my checks, O, my ladies!"
Yet she showed elation: "That means Anna and Victorine they have pazz'
to the boat?"
With merry nods and airy wavings of affirmation he sang back, rang back:
"Mighty little I espec's, O, my ladies!
Suddenly he darkened imperiously and motioned Flora away. "Now! now's
your time! go! now! this instant go!" he exclaimed, and sang on:
"--I is sent--"
"Ah!" she cried, "they'll h-ask me about her!"
"I don't believe it!" cried he, and sang again:
"--dey mus' un-deh-stan'--"
"Yes," she insisted, "--muz' undehstan', and they will surely h-ask me!"
"Well, let them ask their heads off! Go! at once! before you're further
"And leave you to--?"
"Oh, doggon _me_. The moment that boat's gun sounds--if only you're out
o' the way--I'll make a try. Go! for Heaven's sake, go!"
Instead, with an agony of fondness, she glided to him. Distress held him
as fast and mute as at the flag presentation. But when she would have
knelt he caught her elbows and held her up by force.
"No," he moaned, "you shan't do that."
She crimsoned and dropped her face between their contending arms while
for pure anguish he impetuously added, "Maybe in God's eyes a woman has
this right, I'm not big enough to know; but as _I'm made_ it can't be
done. I'm a man, no more, no less!"
Her eyes flashed into his: "You are Hilary Kincaid. I will stan'!"
"No,"--he loosed his hold,--"I'm _only_ Hilary Kincaid and you'll go--in
mercy to both of us--in simple good faith to every one we love--Oh,
leave me!" He swung his head in torture: "I'd sooner be shot for a spy
or a coward than be the imbecile this makes me." Then all at once he was
Almost below her breath she instantly replied, "I will not!" She stood
at her full, beautiful height. "Together we go or together stay.
List-en!--no-no, not for _that_." (Meaning the gun.) In open anger she
crimsoned again: "'Twill shoot, all right, and Anna, _she'll_ go. Yes,
she will _leave_ you. She can do that. And you, you can sen' her away!"
He broke in with a laugh of superior knowledge and began to draw back,
but she caught his jacket in both hands, still pouring forth,--"She
_has_ leave you--to me! me to you! My God! Hilary Kincaid, could she do
that if she love' you? She don't! She knows not how--and neither you!
But you, ah, you shall learn. She, she never can!" Through his jacket
her knuckles felt the bare knife. Her heart leapt.
"Let go," he growled, backing away and vainly disengaging now one of her
hands and now the other. "My trowel's too silent."
But she clung and dragged, speaking on wildly: "You know, Hilary, you
know? _You love me_. Oh, no-no-no, don' look like that, I'm not crazee."
Her deft hands had got the knife, but she tossed it into the
work-basket: "Ah, Hilary Kincaid, oft-en we love where we thing we do
not, and oft-en thing we love where we do not--"
He would not hear: "Oh, Flora Valcour! You smother me in my own
loathing--oh, God send that gun!" The four hands still strove.
"Hilary, list-en me yet a moment. See me. Flora Valcour. Could Flora
Valcour do like this--_ag-ains' the whole nature of a woman_--if she--?"
"Stop! stop! you shall not--"
"If she di'n' know, di'n' feel, di'n' see, thad you are loving her?"
"Yet God knows I've never given cause, except as--"
"A ladies' man?" prompted the girl and laughed.
The blood surged to his brow. A wilder agony was on hers as he held her
from him, rigid; "Enough!" he cried; "We're caged and doomed. Yet you
still have this one moment to save us, _all of us_, from life-long shame
She shook her head.
"Yes, yes," he cried. "You can. I cannot. I'm helpless now and forever.
What man or woman, if I could ever be so vile as to tell it, could
believe the truth of this from me? In God's name, then, go!" He tenderly
thrust her off: "Go, live to honor, happiness and true love, and let
"Ezcape, perchanze, to Anna?"
"Yes, if I--" He ceased in fresh surprise. Not because she toyed with
the dagger lying on Anna's needlework, for she seemed not to know she
did it; but because of a strange brightness of assent as she nodded
twice and again.
"I will go," she said. Behind the brightness was the done-for look,
plainer than ever, and with it yet another, a look of keen purpose,
which the grandam would have understood. He saw her take the dirk, so
grasping it as to hide it behind wrist and sleeve; but he said only,
"Stay," said another voice, and at the small opening still left in the
wall, lo! the face of Greenleaf and the upper line of his blue and gilt
shoulders. His gaze was on Flora. She could do nothing but gaze again.
"I know, now," he continued, "your whole two-years' business. Stay just
as you are till I can come round and in. Every guard is doubled and has
She dropped into a seat, staring like one demented, now at door and
windows, now from one man to the other, now to the floor, while Kincaid
sternly said, "Colonel Greenleaf, the reverence due from any soldier to
any lady--" and Greenleaf interrupted--
"The lady may be sure of."
"And about this, Fred, you'll be--dumb?"
"Save only to one, Hilary."
"Where is she, Fred?"
"On that boat, fancying herself disguised. Having you, we're only too
glad not to have her."
The retaken prisoner shone with elation: "And those fellows of last
night?--got them back?"
Greenleaf darkened, and shook his head.
"Hurrah," quietly remarked the smiling Hilary.
"Wait a moment," said the blue commander, and vanished.
"WHEN I HANDS IN MY CHECKS"
Kincaid glanced joyfully to Flora, but her horrified gaze held him
"Now," she softly asked, "who is the helplezz--the cage'--the doom'? You
'ave kill' me."
"I'll save you! There's good fighting yet, if--"
"H-oh! already, egcep' inside me, I'm dead."
"Not by half! There's time for a last shot and I've seen it win!" He
caught up the trowel, turned to his work and began to sing once more:
"When I hands in my checks, O, my ladies,
Mighty little I espec's, O, my ladies--"
[Illustration: She dropped into a seat, staring like one demented.]
He ceased and listened. Certainly, somewhere, some one had moaned.
Sounds throughout the house were growing, as if final orders had set
many in motion at once. For some cause unrelated to him or to Anna, to
Flora or the silent boat, bugles and drums were assembling the encamped
brigade. Suddenly, not knowing why, he flashed round. Flora was within
half a step of him with her right arm upthrown. He seized it, but vain
was the sparring skill that had won at the willow pond. Her brow was on
his breast, the knife was in her left hand, she struck with thrice her
natural power, an evil chance favored her, and, hot as lightning, deep,
deep, the steel plunged in. He gulped a great breath, his eyes flamed,
but no cry came from him or her. With his big right hand crushing her
slim fingers as they clung to the hilt, he dragged the weapon forth and
hurled her off.
Before he could find speech she had regained her balance and amazed him
yet again with a smile. The next instant she had lifted the dagger
against herself, but he sprang and snatched it, exclaiming as he drew
"No, you sha'n't do that, either."
She strove after it. He held her off by an arm, but already his strength
was failing. "My God!" he groaned, "it's you, Flora Valcour, who've
killed me. Oh, how did--how did you--was it accid'--wasn't it accident?
Fly!" He flung her loose. "For your life, fly! Oh, that gun! Oh, God
send it! Fly! Oh, Anna, Anna Callender! Oh, your city, Flora Valcour,
your own city! Fly, poor child! I'll keep up the sham for you!"
Starting now here, now there, Flora wavered as he reeled to the broken
wall and seized the trowel. The knife dropped to the floor but he set
foot on it, brandished the tool and began to sing:
"When I hands in my checks, O, my ladies--"
A cry for help rang from Flora. She darted for the door but was met by
Greenleaf. "Stay!" he repeated, and tone, hand, eye told her she was a
prisoner. He halted aghast at the crimson on her hands and brow, on
Hilary's, on Hilary's lips and on the floor, and himself called, "Help
here! a surgeon! help!" while Kincaid faced him gaily, still singing:
"Mighty little I espec's, O, my ladies--"
Stooping to re-exchange the tool for the weapon, the singer went limp,
swayed, and as Greenleaf sprang to him, toppled over, lengthened out and
relaxed on the arm of his foe and friend. Wild-eyed, Flora swept to her
knees beside him, her face and form all horror and affright, crying in a
voice fervid and genuine as only truth can make it in the common run of
us, "He di'n' mean! Oh, he di'n' mean! 'Twas all accident! He di'n'
"Yes, Fred," said Hilary. "She--she--mere accident, old man. Keep it
mum." He turned a suffering brow to Flora: "You'll explain for
me--when"--he gathered his strength--"when the--boat's gone."
The room had filled with officers asking "who, how, what?" "Did it
himself, to cheat the gallows," Madame heard one answer another as by
some fortune she was let in. She found Greenleaf chief in a group busy
over the fallen man, who lay in Flora's arms, deadly pale, yet with a
strong man's will in every lineament.
"Listen, Fred," he was gasping. "It'll sound. It's got to! Oh, it will!
One minute, Doctor, please. My love and a city--Fred, can't some one
look and see if--?"
From a lifted window curtain the young aide who had brought Anna to the
house said, "Boat's off."
"Thank God!" panted Hilary. "Oh, Fred, Fred, my girl and _all_! Just a
A soft, heavy boom had rolled over the land. The pain-racked listener
flamed for joy and half left the arms that held him: "Oh, Fred, wasn't
that heaven's own music?" He tried to finish his song:
"But whaheveh I is sent, dey mus' undehstan'--"
About a green spot crowning one of the low fortified hills on a northern
edge of Mobile sat Bartleson, Mandeville, Irby, Villeneuve and two or
three lieutenants, on ammunition-boxes, fire-logs and the sod, giving
their whole minds to the retention of Anna and Miranda Callender, who
sat on camp-stools. The absent Constance was down in the town, just then
bestowing favors not possible for any one else to offer so acceptably
to a certain duplicate and very self-centered Steve aged eighty
The camp group's soft discourse was on the character of one whom this
earliest afternoon in August they had followed behind muffled drums to
his final rest. Beginning at Carrollton Gardens, they said, then in the
flowery precincts of Callender House, later in that death-swept garden
on Vicksburg's inland bluffs, and now in this one, of Flora's, a garden
yet, peaceful and fragrant, though no part of its burnt house save the
chimneys had stood in air these three years and a half, the old hero--
"Yes," chimed Miranda to whoever was saying it--
The old hero, despite the swarm of mortal perils and woes he and his
brigade and its battery had come through in that period, had with a
pleasing frequency--to use the worn-out line just this time more--
"Sat in the roses and heard the birds' song."
The old soldier, they all agreed, had had a feeling for roses and song,
which had gilded the edges and angles of his austere spirit and betrayed
a tenderness too deep hid for casual discovery, yet so vital a part of
him that but for its lacerations--with every new public disaster--he
never need have sunk under these year-old Vicksburg wounds which had
dragged him down at last.
Miranda retold the splendid antic he had cut in St. Charles Street the
day Virginia seceded. Steve recounted how the aged warrior had regained
strength from Chickamauga's triumph and lost it again after Chattanooga.
Two or three recalled how he had suffered when Banks' Red River
Expedition desolated his fair estate and "forever lured away" his
half-a-thousand "deluded people." He must have succumbed then, they
said, had not the whole "invasion" come to grief and been driven back
into New Orleans. New Orleans! younger sister of little Mobile, yet
toward which Mobile now looked in a daily torture of apprehension. And
then Hilary's beloved Bartleson put in what Anna sat wishing some one
"With what a passion of disowned anxiety," he remarked, "had the
General, to the last, watched every step, slip and turn in what Steve
had once called 'the multifurieuse carreer' of Hilary Kincaid."
So turned the talk upon the long-time absentee, and instances were cited
of those outbreaks of utter nonsense which were wont to come from him in
awful moments: gibes with which no one reporting them to the uncle could
ever make the "old man" smile. The youngest lieutenant (a gun-corporal
that day the Battery left New Orleans) told how once amid a fearful
havoc, when his piece was so short of men that Kincaid was himself down
on the ground sighting and firing it, and an aide-de-camp galloped up
asking hotly, "Who's in command here!" the powder-blackened Hilary had
risen his tallest and replied,--
"I!... b, e, x, bex, Ibex!"
A gentle speculation followed as to which of all Hilary's utterances had
taken finest effect on the boys, and it was agreed that most potent for
good was the brief talk away back at Camp Callender, in which he had
told them that, being artillery, they must know how to wait unmurmuring
through months of "rotting idleness" from one deadly "tea-party" to
another. For a year, now, they had done that, and done it the better
because he had all that same time been forced to do likewise in New
Orleans, a prisoner in hospital, long at death's door, and only now
Anna remained silent. While there was praise of him what more could she
want for sweet calm?
"True," said somebody, "in these forty-odd months between March,
'Sixty-one, and August, 'Sixty-four, all hands had got their fill of
war; laurels gained were softer to rest on than laurels unsprouted, and
it ought to be as easy as rolling off a log for him to lie on his
prison-hospital cot in 'rotting idleness,' lulled in the proud assurance
that he had saved Mobile, or at least postponed for a year--"
"Hilary?" frowningly asked Adolphe.
"Yes," with a firm quietness said Anna.
Villeneuve gallantly amended that somebody else owned an undivided half
in the glory of that salvation and would own more as soon as the Union
fleet (daily growing in numbers) should try to enter the bay: a hint at
Anna, of course, and at the great ram _Tennessee_, which the Confederate
admiral, Buchanan, had made his flag-ship, and whose completion, while
nothing else was ready but three small wooden gunboats, was due--they
had made even Anna believe--to the safe delivery of the Bazaar fund.
So then she, forced to talk, presently found herself explaining how such
full news of Hilary had so often come in these awful months; to wit, by
the long, kind letters of a Federal nurse--and Federal officer's
wife--but for whose special devotion the captive must have perished,
and who, Anna revealed, was the schoolmistress banished North in
'Sixty-one. What she kept untold was that, by favor of Greenleaf, Hilary
had been enabled to auction off the poor remains of his home belongings
and thus to restore the returned exile her gold. The speaker let her
eyes wander to an approaching orderly, and a lieutenant took the chance
to mention that early drill near Carrollton, which the General had
viewed from the Callenders' equipage. Their two horses, surviving the
shells and famine of Vicksburg, had been among the mere half-dozen of
good beasts retained at the surrender by some ruse, and--
The orderly brought Bartleson a document and Mandeville a newspaper--
And it was touching, to-day, the lieutenant persisted, to see that once
so beautiful span, handsome yet, leading in the team of six that drew
the draped caisson which--
"Ah, yes!" assented all.
Mandeville hurried to read out the news from Virginia, which could still
reach them through besieged Atlanta. It was of the Petersburg mine and
its slaughter, and thrilled every one. Yet Anna watched Bartleson open
his yellow official envelope.
"Marching orders?" asked Miranda, and while his affirming smile startled
every one, Steve, for some reason in the newspaper itself, put it up.
"Are the enemy's ships--?" began Anna--
"We're ordered down the bay," replied Bartleson.
"Then so are we," she dryly responded, at which all laughed, though the
two women had spent much time of late on a small boat which daily made
the round of the bay's defenses. In a dingy borrowed rig they hastened
away toward their lodgings.
As they drove, Anna pressed Miranda's hand and murmured, "Oh, for Hilary
"Ah, dear! not to be in this--'tea-party'?"
"Yes! Yes! His boys were in so many without him, from Shiloh to Port
Gibson, and now, with all their first guns lost forever--theirs and
ours--lost _for_ them, not by them--and after all this year of
idleness, and the whole battery hanging to his name as it does--oh,
'Randy, it would do more to cure his hurts than ten hospitals, there or
"But the new risks, Nan, as he takes them!"
"He'll take them wherever he is. I can't rest a moment for fear he's
trying once more to escape."
(In fact, that is what, unknown to her, he had just been doing.)
"Whether he's here or there, Kincaid's Battery, his other self, will be
in whatever goes on, and so, of course, will the _Tennessee_."
"Yes," said Miranda, at their door.
"Yes, and it's not just all our bazaar money that's in her, nor all our
"Nor all your sufferings," interrupted Miranda, as Constance wonderingly
let them in.
"Oh, nor yours! nor Connie's! nor all--his; nor our whole past of the
last two interminable years; but this whole poor terrified city's fate,
and, for all we know, the war's final issue! And so I--Here, Con,"
(handing a newspaper), "from Steve, husband."
(Behind the speaker Miranda, to Constance, made eager hand and lip
motions not to open it there.)
"And so, 'Ran, I wish we could go ashore to-morrow, as far down the bay
as we can make our usefulness an excuse, and stay!--day and
night!--till--!" She waved both hands.
Constance stared: "Why, Nan Callender!"
"Now, Con, hush. You and Steve Second are non-combatants! Oh, 'Randa,
let's do it! For if those ships--some of them the same we knew so well
and so terribly at home--if they come I--whatever happens--I want to see
BY THE DAWN'S EARLY LIGHT
Luck loves to go in mask. It turned out quite as well, after all, that
for two days, by kind conspiracy of Constance and Miranda, the boat trip
was delayed. In that time no fleet came.
Here at the head of her lovely bay tremblingly waited Mobile, never
before so empty of men, so full of women and children. Southward, from
two to four leagues apart, ran the sun-beaten, breezy margins of
snow-white sand-hills evergreen with weird starveling pines, dotted with
pretty summer homes and light steamer-piers. Here on the Eastern Shore
were the hotels: "Howard's," "Short's," "Montrose," "Battle's Wharf" and
Point Clear, where summer society had been wont to resort all the way
from beloved New Orleans. Here, from Point Clear, the bay, broadening
south-westward, doubled its width, and here, by and by, this eastern
shore-line suddenly became its southern by returning straight westward
in a long slim stretch of dazzling green-and-white dunes, and shut its
waters from the Gulf of Mexico except for a short "pass" of a few
hundred yards width and for some three miles of shoal water between the
pass and Dauphin Island; and there on that wild sea-wall's end--Mobile
Point--a dozen leagues due south from the town--sat Fort Morgan, keeping
this gate, the port's main ship-channel. Here, north-west from Morgan,
beyond this main entrance and the league of impassable shoals, Fort
Gaines guarded Pelican Channel, while a mile further townward Fort
Powell held Grant's Pass into and out of Mississippi Sound, and here
along the west side, out from Mobile, down the magnolia-shaded Bay Shell
Road and the bark road below it, Kincaid's Battery and the last thousand
"reserves" the town's fighting blood could drip--whole platoons of them
mere boys--had marched, these two days, to Forts Powell and Gaines.
All this the Callenders took in with the mind's eye as they bent over a
candle-lighted map, while aware by telegraph that behind Gaines,
westward on Dauphin Island, blue troops from New Orleans had landed and
were then night-marching upon the fort in a black rainstorm. Furthest
down yonder, under Morgan's hundred and fifteen great guns, as Anna
pointed out, in a hidden east-and-west double row athwart the main
channel, leaving room only for blockade-runners, were the torpedoes,
nearly seventy of them. And, lastly, just under Morgan's north side,
close on the channel's eastern edge, rode, with her three small
gunboats, the _Tennessee_, ugly to look at but worse to meet,
waiting, watching, as up here in Fort Powell, smiling at the scurviness
of their assignment, watched and waited Kincaid's Battery.
Upstairs the new Steve gently wailed.
"Let me!" cried Anna, and ran.
Constance drew out Mandeville's newspaper. Miranda smiled despairingly.
"I wish, now," sighed the sister, "we'd shown it when we got it. I've
had enough of keeping things from Nan Callender. Of course, even among
our heroes in prison, there still may be a 'Harry Renard'; but it's far
more likely that someone's telegraphed or printed 'Hilary Kinkaid' that
way; for there _was_ a Herry Renard, Steve says, a captain, in Harper's
calvary, who months ago quietly died in one of our _own
hospitals_--at Lauderdale. Now, at headquarters, Steve says, they're
all agreed that the name isn't a mite more suggestive than the pure
daring of the deed, and that if they had to guess who did it they'd
every one guess Hilary Kincaid."
She spread the story out on her knee: Exchange of prisoners having
virtually ceased, a number of captive Confederate officers had been
started up the Mississippi from New Orleans, _under_ a heavy _but
unwary_ guard, on a "tin-clad" steamer, to wear out the rest of the war
in a Northern prison. Forbidden to gather even in pairs, they had yet
moved freely about, often passing each other closely enough to exchange
piecemeal counsels unnoticed, and all at once, at a tap of the boat's
bell had sprung, man for man, upon their keepers and instantly were
masters of them, of them, of their arms stacked on the boiler-deck and
of the steamboat, which they had promptly run ashore on the East
Louisiana side and burned. So ran the tale, and so broke off. Ought Anna
to be told it, or not?
"No," said the sister. "After all, why should we put her again through
all those sufferings that so nearly killed her after Shiloh?"
"If he would only--"
"Telegraph? How do we know he hasn't?"
Next morning the two unencumbered Callenders went down the bay. But they
found no need to leave the boat. A series of mishaps delayed her, the
tide hindered, rain fell, and at length she was told to wait for orders
and so lay all night at anchor just off Fort Gaines, but out of the
prospective line of fire from the foe newly entrenched behind it. The
rain ceased and, as one of Hilary's songs ran--
"The stars shed forth their light serene."
The ladies had the captain's room, under the pilot-house. Once Anna
woke, and from the small windows that opened to every quarter except up
the bay townward looked forth across the still waters and low shores.
Right at hand loomed Fort Gaines. A league away north-west rose small
Fort Powell, just enough from the water to show dimly its unfinished
parapets. In her heart's vision she saw within it her own Kincaid's
Battery, his and hers. South-eastward, an opposite league away, she
could make out Fort Morgan, but not the Tennessee. The cool, briny air
hung still, the wide waters barely lifted and fell. She returned and
slept again until some one ran along the narrow deck under her reclosed
windows, and a male voice said--
"The Yankee fleet! It's coming in!"
Miranda was dressing. Out on the small deck voices were quietly audible
and the clink of a ratchet told that the boat was weighing anchor. She
rang three-bells. The captain's small clock showed half-past five. Now
the swiftly dressed pair opened their windows. The rising sun made a
golden path across the tranquil bay and lighted up the three forts and
the starry battlecross softly stirring over each. Dauphin Island and
Mobile Point were moss-green and pearly white. The long, low, velvety
pulsations of the bay were blue, lilac, pink, green, bronze. But angry
smoke poured from the funnels of the Tennessee and her three dwarf
consorts, they four also showing the battle-flag, and some seven miles
away, out in the Gulf, just beyond the gleaming eastern point of Sand
Island, was one other sign of unrest.
"You see they're under way?" asked Anna.
Yes, Miranda saw, and sighed with the questioner. For there, once
more--low crouched, war-painted and gliding like the red savages so many
of them were named for, the tall ones stripped of all their upper spars,
but with the pink spot of wrath flickering at every masthead--came the
ships of Farragut.
The two women could not count them, so straight on were they headed, but
a man near the window said there were seven large and seven less, lashed
small to large in pairs. Yet other counting they did, for now out of
Sand Island Channel, just west of the ships, came a shorter line--one,
two, three, four strange barely discernible things, submerged like
crocodiles, a hump on each of the first two, two humps on each of the
others, crossed the fleet's course and led the van on the sunward side
to bring themselves first and nearest to Morgan, its water-battery, and
Anna sighed while to Miranda the man overflowed with information. Ah,
ah! in Hampton Roads the _Virginia_ had barely coped with one of those
horrors, of one hump, two guns; while here came four, whose humps were
six and their giant rifles twelve.
"Twenty-two guns in our whole flotilla," the man was saying to Miranda,
"and they've got nearly two hundred." The anchor was up. Gently the
boat's engines held her against the flood-tide. The man had turned to
add some word, when from the land side of Gaines a single columbiad
roared and a huge shell screamed off into the investing entrenchments.
Then some lighter guns, thirty-twos, twenty-fours, cracked and rang, and
the foe replied. His shells burst over and in the fort, and a cloud of
white and brown smoke rolled eastward, veiling both this scene and the
remoter, seaward, silent, but far more momentous one of Fort Morgan, the
fleet, and the _Tennessee_.
The boat crept southward into the cloud, where only Gaines was dimly
visible, flashing and howling landward. Irby was in that flashing. Steve
was back yonder in Powell with Kincaid's Battery. Through Steve, present
at the reading of a will made at Vicksburg the day after Hilary's
capture there, Irby had just notified Anna, for Hilary, that their uncle
had left everything to him, Adolphe. She hoped it was true, but for once
in her life had doubts without discomfort. How idly the mind can drift
in fateful moments. The bell tapped for six. As it did so the two
watchers descried through a rift in the smoke the Tennessee signaling
her grim litter, and the four crawling forward to meet the ships. Again
the smoke closed in, but the small boat stole through it and hovered at
its edge while the minutes passed and the foe came on. How plain to be
seen was each pair, how familiar some of those taller shapes!
"The _Brooklyn_, 'Randa, right in front. And there again is the
admiral's flag, on the _Hartford_. And there, with her topmasts down, is
the _Richmond_--oh, 'Ran', it's the same bad dream once more!"
Not quite. There were ships new to them, great and less, whose savage
names, told by the man near the window, chilled the blood with reminder
of old wars and massacres: the _Winnebago, Chickasaw, Octorora, Ossipee,
Metacomet, Seminale_. "Look!" said the man, pointing, "the _Tecumseh_--"
SOUTHERN CROSS AND NORTHERN STAR
A red streak and white sun-lit puff sprang from the leading monitor's
turret, and the jarring boom of a vast gun came over the water, wholly
unlike the ringing peals of Gaines's lighter armament. Now its opposite
cranny puffed and thundered. The man smiled an instant. "Spitting on her
hands," he said, but then murmured to himself, "Lord! look at that
"Is it bad?" asked Anna.
"It'll blow every bit of smoke into our men's eyes," he sighed.
The two white puffs melted into the perfect blue of sea and sky
unanswered. Fort Gaines and its besiegers even ceased to fire. Their
fate was not in their own guns. More and more weird waxed the grisly
dumbness of five-sided Morgan and the spectral silence of the oncoming
league-long fleet. The light wind freshened. By the bell's six taps it
was seven o'clock. The boat drifting in on the tide made Fort Gaines
seem to move seaward. Miranda looked back to Fort Powell and then out to
"The worst," said Anna, reading her thought, "will be down there with
Miranda answered low: "Suppose, Nan, that, after all, he should--?"
Anna turned sharply: "Get here? I expect it! Oh, you may gaze! I don't
forget how often I've flouted Con's intuitions. But I've got one now, a
"That he's coming?"
"Been coming these two days--pure presentiment!"
"Nan, whether he is or not, if you'll tell us what Colonel Greenleaf
wrote you I'll tell you--"
For a second Anna stared, Miranda wrinkling; but then, with her eyes on
the fleet, she shook her head: "You're mighty good, 'Randa, you and Con,
never to have asked me in all these months; but neither he nor Hilary
nor I will ever tell that. I wish none of us knew it. For one thing, we
don't, any of us, know clearly enough what really happened. Dear Fred
Greenleaf!--if he _does_ wear the blue, and _is_ right now over there
behind Fort Gaines!"
She stood a moment pondering a fact not in the Union soldier's letter at
all; that only through his masterful, self-sacrificing intercession in
military court had Hilary escaped the death of a spy. But then her
thought came back to Miranda's request: "I can't tell you, for I can't
tell Con. Flora's her cousin, through Steve, and if she ever marries
Captain Irby she'll be Hilary's cousin, and--"
There, suddenly and once for all, the theme was dropped. Some man's
quick word broke in. Fort Morgan had veiled itself in the smoke of its
own broadside. Now came its thunder and the answering flame and roar of
the _Brooklyn's_ bow-chaser. The battle had begun. The ship, still half
a mile from its mark, was coming on as straight as her gun could blaze,
her redskin ally at her side, and all the others, large and less,
bounding after by twos. And now in lurid flash and steady roar the
lightning and thunder darted and rolled from Morgan, its water-battery,
and the Mobile squadron, and from the bow guns of the _Brooklyn_ and
How marvelously fire, din and smoke shriveled up the time, which the
captain's small clock so mincingly ticked off. A cabin-boy brought a
fragrant tray of breakfast, but the grateful ladies could only laugh at
it. There was no moment to observe even the few pretty sail-boats which
the fearful import and majesty of the strife lured down about them on
the light side-wind.
"Has the _Tennessee_ not fired yet?" anxiously asked Anna, but no one
was sure. Across the breeze, that kept the near side of the picture
uncurtained, she perfectly saw the _Tecumseh_ close abreast of the
flashing, smoke-shrouded fort, the _Brooklyn_ to windward abreast of
both, and the Hartford at the Brooklyn's heels with her signal
fluttering to all behind, "Close order."
"Why don't the ships--?" Anna had it on her lips to cry, when the whole
sunward side of the _Brooklyn,_ and then of the _Hartford,_ vomited
fire, iron and blinding, strangling smoke into the water-battery and the
fort, where the light air held it. God's mercy! you could see the
cheering of the fleet's crews, which the ear could barely gather out of
the far uproar, and just as it floated to the gazers they beheld the
_Tecumseh_ turn square toward them and head straight across the double
line of torpedoes for the _Tennessee._
We never catch all of "whatever happens," and neither Callender saw the
brave men in gray who for one moment of horror fled from their own guns
in water-battery and fort; but all at once they beheld the _Tecumseh_
heave, stagger, and lurch like a drunkard, men spring from her turret
into the sea, the _Brooklyn_ falter, slacken fire and draw back, the
Hartford and the whole huddled fleet come to a stand, and the rallied
fort cheer and belch havoc into the ships while the _Tecumseh_ sunk her
head, lifted her screw into air and vanished beneath the wave. They saw
Mobile Point a semicircle of darting fire, and the _Brooklyn_ "athwart
the _Hartford's_ hawse"; but they did not see, atom-small, perched high
in the rigging of the flag-ship and demanding from the decks below, "why
this?" and "why that?" a certain "plain sailor" well known to New
Orleans and the wide world; did not see the torpedoes lying in watery
ambush for him, nor hear the dread tale of them called to him from the
_Brooklyn_ while his ship passed astern of her, nor him command "full
speed ahead" as he retorted, "Damn the torpedoes!"
They saw his ship and her small consort sweep undestroyed over the
dead-line, the _Brooklyn_ follow with hers, the Mobile gunboats rake
the four with a fire they could not return, and behind them Fort Morgan
and the other ships rend and shatter each other, shroud the air with
smoke and thresh the waters white with shot and shell, shrapnel,
canister and grape. And then they saw their own _Tennessee_ ignore the
monitors and charge the _Hartford_. But they beheld, too, the
_Hartford's_ better speed avoid the fearful blow and press on up the
channel and the bay, though torn and bleeding from her foe's broadside,
while her own futilely glanced or rebounded from his impenetrable mail.
Wisely, rightly their boat turned and slowly drew away toward Fort
Powell and Cedar Point. Yet as from her after deck they saw the same
exploit, at the same murderous cost, repeated by the _Brooklyn_ and
another and another great ship and their consorts, while not a torpedo
did its work, they tearfully called the hour "glorious" and "victorious"
for the _Tennessee_ and her weak squadron, that still fought on. So it
seemed to them even when more dimly, as distance and confusion grew and
rain-clouds gathered, they saw a wooden ship ram the _Tennessee_, but
glance off, and the slow _Tennessee_ drop astern, allow a sixth tall
ship and small consort to pass, but turn in the wake of the seventh and
all but disembowel her with the fire of her great bow gun.
Ah, Anna! Even so, the shattered, steam-scalded thing came on and the
last of the fleet was in. Yonder, a mere league eastward, it moved up
the bay. Yet proudly hope throbbed on while still Mobile, behind other
defenses, lay thirty miles away, while her gunboats still raked the
ships, while on Powell, Gaines and Morgan still floated the Southern
cross, and while, down in the pass, still unharmed, paused only for
breath the _Tennessee_.
"Prisoners! they are all our prisoners!" tearfully exulted the fond
Callenders. But on the word they saw the scene dissolve into a new one.
Through a squall of wind and rain, out from the line of ships, four of
their consorts glided away eastward, flashing and howling, in chase of
the overmatched gunboats, that flashed and howled in retort as they
fled. On the west a Federal flotilla in Mississippi Sound, steaming up
athwart Grant's Pass, opened on Fort Powell and awoke its thunders. Ah,
ah! Kincaid's Battery at last! Red, white and red they sent buffet for
buffet, and Anna's heart was longing anew for their tall hero and hers,
when a voice hard by said, "She's coming back, sir, the _Tennessee_."
Out in the bay the fleet, about to anchor, turned and awaited the new
onset. By the time it was at hand the Mobile gunboats, one burning, one
fled, one captured, counted for nothing, yet on crept the _Tennessee_,
still singling out the _Hartford_, and here the two Callenders, their
boat hovering as near Powell and Gaines as it dared, looked on the
titanic melee that fell round her. Like hounds and hunters on a bear
robbed of her whelps, seventeen to one, they set upon her so thickly
that their trouble was not to destroy one another. Near the beginning
one cut her own flag-ship almost to the water-line. The first that smote
the quarry--at ten knots speed--glanced and her broadside rolled
harmless into the bay, while two guns of her monster adversary let
daylight through and through the wooden ship. From the turret of a
close-creeping monitor came the four-hundred-and-forty-pound bolt of
her fifteen-inch gun, crushing the lone foe terribly yet not quite
piercing through. Another wooden ship charged, hit squarely a tearing
blow, yet slid off, lay for a moment touching sides with the ironclad,