Once more the Carrollton Gardens.
Again the afternoon hour, the white shell-paved court, its two playing fountains, the roses, lilies, jasmines and violets, their perfume spicing all the air, and the oriole and mocking-bird enrapturing it with their songs, although it was that same dire twenty-fourth of April of which we have been telling. Townward across the wide plain the distant smoke of suicidal conflagration studded the whole great double crescent of the harbor. Again the slim railway, its frequent small trains from the city clanging round the flowery miles of its half-circle, again the highway on either side the track, and again on the highway, just reaching the gardens, whose dashing coach and span, but the Callenders’?
Dashing was the look of it, not its speed. Sedately it came. Behind it followed a team of four giant mules, a joy to any quartermaster’s vision, drawing a plantation wagon filled with luggage. On the old coachman’s box sat beside him a slave maid, and in the carriage the three Callenders and Charlie. Anna and Miranda were on the rear seat and for the wounded boy’s better ease his six-shooter lay in Anna’s lap. A brave animation in the ladies was only the more prettily set off by a pinkness of earlier dejection about their eyes. Abreast the gate they halted to ask an armed sentry whether the open way up the river coast was through the gardens or—
He said there was no longer any open way without a pass from General Lovell, and when they affably commended the precaution and showed a pass he handed it to an officer, a heated, bustling, road-soiled young Creole, who had ridden up at the head of a mounted detail. This youth, as he read it, shrugged. “Under those present condition’,” he said, with a wide gesture toward the remote miles of blazing harbor, “he could not honor a pazz two weeks ole. They would ’ave to rit-urn and get it renew’.”
“Oh! how? How hope to do so in all yonder chaos? And how! oh, how! could an army—in full retreat—leaving women and wounded soldiers to the mercy of a ravening foe—compel them to remain in the city it was itself evacuating?” A sweet and melodious dignity was in all the questions, but eyes shone, brows arched, lips hung apart and bonnet-feathers and hat-feathers, capes and flounces, seemed to ruffle wider, with consternation and hurt esteem.
The officer could not explain a single how. He could do no more than stubbornly regret that the questioners must even return by train, the dread exigencies of the hour compelling him to impress these horses for one of his guns and those mules for his battery-wagon.
Anna’s three companions would have sprung to their feet but in some way her extended hand stayed them. A year earlier Charlie would have made sad mistakes here, but now he knew the private soldier’s helplessness before the gold bars of commission, and his rage was white and dumb, as, with bursting eyes, he watched the officer pencil a blank.