“Oh, Hilary, my Hilary!”
From the Creole Quarter both carriage and wagon turned to the water front. Charlie’s warning that even more trying scenes would be found there was in vain. Anna insisted, the fevered youth’s own evident wish was to see the worst, and Constance and Miranda, dutifully mirthful, reminded him that through Anna they also had now tasted blood. As the equipage came out upon the Levee and paused to choose a way, the sisters sprang up and gazed abroad, sustaining each other by their twined arms.
To right, to left, near and far—only not just here where the Coast steamboats landed—the panorama was appalling. All day Anna had hungered for some incident or spectacle whose majesty or terror would suffice to distract her from her own desolation; but here it was made plain to her that a distress before which hand and speech are helpless only drives the soul in upon its own supreme devotion and woe. One wide look over those far flat expanses of smoke and flame answered the wonder of many hours, as to where all the drays and floats of the town had gone and what they could be doing. Along the entire sinuous riverside the whole great blockaded seaport’s choked-in stores of tobacco and cotton, thousands of hogsheads, ten thousands of bales—lest they enrich the enemy—were being hauled to the wharves and landings and were just now beginning to receive the torch, the wharves also burning, and boats and ships on either side of the river being fired and turned adrift.
Yet all the more because of the scene, a scene that quelled even the haunting strain of song, that other note, that wail which, the long day through, had writhed unreleased in her bosom, rose, silent still, yet only the stronger and more importunate—
“Oh, Hilary, my soldier, my flag’s, my country’s defender, come back to me—here!—now!—my yet living hero, my Hilary Kincaid!”
Reluctantly, she let Constance draw her down, and presently, in a voice rich with loyal pride, as the carriage moved on, bade Charlie and Miranda observe that only things made contraband by the Richmond Congress were burning, while all the Coast Landing’s wealth of Louisiana foodstuffs, in barrels and hogsheads, bags and tierces, lay unharmed. Yet not long could their course hold that way, and—it was Anna who first proposed retreat. The very havoc was fascinating and the courage of Constance and Miranda, though stripped of its mirth, remained undaunted; but the eye-torture of the cotton smoke was enough alone to drive them back to the inner streets.
[Illustration: “Ole mahs’ love’ wine, ole—“]