Yet, whether those two wakeful maidens truly heard or merely fancied, in fact just then some seventy miles straight away under that gaunt old moon, there was rising to heaven the most terrific uproar this delta land had ever heard since man first moved upon its shores and waters. Six to the minute bellowed and soared Porter’s awful bombs and arched and howled and fell and scattered death and conflagration. While they roared, three hundred and forty great guns beside, on river and land, flashed and crashed, the breezeless night by turns went groping-black and clear-as-day red with smoke and flame of vomiting funnels, of burning boats and fire-rafts, of belching cannon, of screaming grape and canister and of exploding magazines. And through the middle of it all, in single file—their topmasts, yards, and cordage showing above the murk as pale and dumb as skeletons at every flare of the havoc, a white light twinkling at each masthead, a red light at the peak and the stars and stripes there with it—Farragut and his wooden ships came by the forts.
“Boys, our cake’s all dough!” said a commander in one of the forts.
When day returned and Anna and Flora slept, the murmur they had heard may after all have been only God’s thunder and really not from the southeast; but just down there under the landscape’s flat rim both forts, though with colors still gallantly flying, were smoking ruins, all Dixie’s brave gunboats and rams lay along the river’s two shores, sunken or burned, and the whole victorious Northern fleet, save one boat rammed and gone to the bottom, was on its cautious, unpiloted way, snail-slow but fate-sure, up the tawny four-mile current and round the gentle green bends of the Mississippi with New Orleans for its goal and prey.
A CITY IN TERROR
Before the smart-stepping lamplighters were half done turning off the street lights, before the noisy market-houses all over the town, from Camp Callender to Carrollton, with their basket-bearing thousands of jesting and dickering customers, had quenched their gaslights and candles to dicker and jest by day, or the devotees of early mass had emerged from the churches, Rumor was on the run. With a sort of muffled speed and whisper she came and went, crossed her course and reaffirmed herself, returned to her starting-point and stole forth again, bearing ever the same horrid burden, brief, persistent, unexaggerated: The Foe! The Foe! In five great ships and twice as many lesser ones—counted at Quarantine Station just before the wires were cut—the Foe was hardly twenty leagues away, while barely that many guns of ours crouched between his eight times twenty and our hundred thousand women and children.