The enfeebled Charlie half started from his rocking-chair laughing angrily. “Incredible!” he cried, but sat mute as the girl’s swift tongue told the half-dozen other dreadful things she had just beheld on either side the water. The sister and grandmother sprang into the balcony and stood astounded. Out of the narrow streets beneath them—Chartres, Conde, St. Peter, St. Ann, Cathedral Alley—scores and scores of rapidly walking men and women and scampering boys and girls streamed round and through the old Square by every practicable way and out upon the levee.
“Incredib’!” retorted meanwhile the pouting daughter of Maxime, pressing into the balcony after Flora. “Hah! and look yondah another incredib’!” She pointed riverward across the Square.
“Charlie, you must not!” cried Flora, returning half into the room.
“Bah!” retorted the staggering boy, pushed out among them and with profane mutterings stood agaze.
Out across the Square and the ever-multiplying flow of people through and about it, and over the roof of the French Market close beyond, the rigging of a moored ship stood pencilled on the sky. It had long been a daily exasperation to his grandmother’s vision, being (unknown to Charlie or Victorine), the solitary winnings of Flora’s privateering venture, early sold, you will remember, but, by default of a buyer, still in some share unnegotiably hers and—in her own and the grandmother’s hungry faith—sure to command triple its present value the moment the fall of the city should open the port. Suddenly the old lady wheeled upon Flora with a frantic look, but was checked by the granddaughter’s gleaming eyes and one inaudible, visible word: “Hush!”
The gazing boy saw only the ship. “Oh, great Lord!” he loathingly drawled, “is it Damned Fools’ Day again?” Her web of cordage began to grow dim in a rising smoke, and presently a gold beading of fire ran up and along every rope and spar and clung quivering. Soon the masts commenced, it seemed, to steal nearer to each other, and the vessel swung out from her berth and started down the wide, swift river, a mass of flames.
“Oh, Mother of God,” cried Victorine with a new gush of tears! “’ave mercy upon uz women!” and in the midst of her appeal the promised alarum began to toll—here, yonder, and far away—here, yonder, and far away—and did not stop until right in the middle of the morning it had struck twelve.
“Good-by! poor betrayed New Orleans!” exclaimed Charlie, turning back into the room. “Good-by, sweetheart, I’m off! Good-by, grannie—Flo’!”
The three followed in with cries of amazement, distress, indignation, command, reproach, entreaty, all alike vain. As if the long-roll of his own brigade were roaring to him, he strode about the apartment preparing to fly.
His sister tried to lay preventing hands on him, saying, “Your life! your life! you are throwing it away!”
“Well, what am I in Kincaid’s Battery for?” he retorted, with a sweep of his arm that sent her staggering. He caught the younger girl by the shoulders: “Jularkie, if you want to go, too, with or without grannie and Flo’, by Jove, come along! I’ll take care of you!”