“Hell,” placidly prompted Flora.
“Yes! nothing short of it! Our defenses become death-traps and slaughter-pens—oh, how foully, foully has Richmond betrayed her sister city!”
Flora felt a new tumult of joy. “That Yankee fleet—it has pazz’ those fort’?” she cried.
“My dear young lady! By this time there ain’t no forts for it to pass! When I left Fort St. Philip there wa’n’t a spot over in Fort Jackson as wide as my blanket where a bumbshell hadn’t buried itself and blown up, and every minute we were lookin’ for the magazine to go! Those awful shells! they’d torn both levees, the forts were flooded, men who’d lost their grit were weeping like children—”
“Oh!” interrupted Constance, “why not leave the forts? We don’t need them now; those old wooden ships can never withstand our terrible ironclads!”
[Illustration: “No! not under this roof—nor in sight of those things”]
“Well, they’re mighty soon going to try it! Last night, right in the blaze of all our batteries, they cut the huge chain we had stretched across the river—”
“Ah, but when they see—oh, they’ll never dare face even the Manassas—the ‘little turtle,’ ha-ha!—much less the great Louisiana!”
“Alas! madam, the Louisiana ain’t ready for ’em. There she lies tied to the levee, with engines that can’t turn a wheel, a mere floating battery, while our gunboats—” Eagerly the speaker broke off to receive upon one hand and arm the bounty of the larder and with a pomp of gratitude to extend his other hand to Anna; but she sadly shook her head and showed on her palms Hilary’s shattered tokens:
“These poor things belong to one, sir, who, like you, is among the missing. But, oh, thank God! he is missing at the front, in the front.”
The abashed craven turned his hand to Flora, but with a gentle promptness Anna stepped between: “No, Flora dear, see; he hasn’t a red scratch on him. Oh, sir, go—eat! If hunger stifles courage, eat! But eat as you ride, and ride like mad back to duty and honor! No! not under this roof—nor in sight of these things—can any man be a ladies’ man, who is missing from the front, at the rear.”
He wheeled and vanished. Anna turned: “Connie, what do your letters say?”
The sister’s eyes told enough. The inquirer gazed a moment, then murmured to herself, “I—don’t—believe it—yet,” grew very white, swayed, and sank with a long sigh into out-thrown arms.
The cathedral clock struck ten of the night. Yonder its dial shone, just across that quarter of Jackson Square nearest the Valcours’ windows, getting no response this time except the watchman’s three taps of his iron-shod club on corner curbstones.