An hour earlier its toll had been answered from near and far, up and down the long, low-roofed, curving and recurving city—“seven, eight, nine”—“eight, nine”—the law’s warning to all slaves to be indoors or go to jail. Not Flora nor Anna nor Victorine nor Doctor Sevier nor Dick Smith’s lone mother nor any one else among all those thousands of masters, mistresses and man-and maid-servants, or these thousands of home-guards at home under their mosquito-bars, with uniforms on bedside chairs and with muskets and cartridge-belts close by—not one of all these was aware, I say, that however else this awful war might pay its cost, it was the knell of slavery they heard, and which they, themselves, in effect, were sounding.
Lacking wilder excitement Madame sat by a lamp knitting a nubia. Victorine had flown home at sundown. Charlie lay sleeping as a soldier lad can. His sister had not yet returned from Callender House, but had been fully accounted for some time before by messenger. Now the knitter heard horses and wheels. Why should they come at a walk? It was like stealth. They halted under the balcony. She slipped out and peered down. Yes, there was Flora. Constance was with her. Also two trim fellows whom she rightly guessed to be Camp Callender lads, and a piece of luggage—was it not?—which, as they lifted it down, revealed a size and weight hard even for those siege-gunners to handle with care. Unseen, silently, they came in and up with it, led by Flora. (Camp Callender was now only a small hither end of the “Chalmette Batteries,” which on both sides of the river mounted a whole score of big black guns. No wonder the Callenders were leaving.)
Presently here were the merry burden-bearers behind their radiant guide, whispered ah’s and oh’s and wary laughter abounding.
“‘Such a getting up-stairs I never did see!’”
A thousand thanks to the boys as they set down their load; their thanks back for seats declined; no time even to stand; a moment, only, for new vows of secrecy. “Oui!—Ah, non!—Assurement!” (They were Creoles.) “Yes, mum ’t is the word! And such a so-quiet getting down-stair’!”—to Mrs. Mandeville again—and trundling away!
When the church clock gently mentioned the half-hour the newly gleeful grandam and hiddenly tortured girl had been long enough together and alone for the elder to have nothing more to ask as to this chest of plate which the Callenders had fondly accepted Flora’s offer to keep for them while they should be away. Not for weeks and weeks had the old lady felt such ease of mind on the money—and bread—question. Now the two set about to get the booty well hid before Charlie should awake. This required the box to be emptied, set in place and reladen, during which process Flora spoke only when stung.
“Ah!” thinly piped she of the mosquito voice, “what a fine day tha’s been, to-day!” but won no reply. Soon she cheerily whined again: