Here the direction of their caravan, away from all avenues of escape, no less than their fair faces, drew the notice of every one, while to the four themselves every busy vehicle—where none was idle,—every sound remote or near, every dog in search of his master, and every man—how few the men had become!—every man, woman or child, alone or companioned, overladen or empty-handed, hurrying out of gates or into doors, standing to stare or pressing intently or distractedly on, calling, jesting, scolding or weeping—and how many wept!—bore a new, strange interest of fellowship. So Callender House came again to view, oh, how freshly, dearly, appealingly beautiful! As the Callender train drew into its gate and grove, the carriage was surrounded, before it could reach the veranda steps, by a full dozen of household slaves, male and female, grown, half-grown, clad and half-clad, some grinning, some tittering, all overjoyed, yet some in tears. There had been no such gathering at the departure. To spare the feelings of the mistresses the dominating “mammy” of the kitchen had forbidden it. But now that they were back, Glory! Hallelujah!
“And had it really,” the three home-returning fair ones asked, “seemed so desolate and deadly perilous just for want of them? What!—had seemed so even to stalwart Tom?—and Scipio?—and Habakkuk? And were Hettie and Dilsie actually so in terror of the Yankees?”
“Oh, if we’d known that we’d never have started!” exclaimed Constance, with tears, which she stoutly quenched, while from all around came sighs and moans of love and gratitude.
And were the three verily back to stay?
Ah! that was the question. While Charlie, well attended, went on up and in they paused on the wide stair and in mingled distress and drollery asked each other, “Are we back to stay, or not?”
A new stir among the domestics turned their eyes down into the garden. Beyond the lingering vehicles a lieutenant from Camp Callender rode up the drive. Two or three private soldiers hung back at the gate.
“It’s horses and mules again, Nan,” gravely remarked Constance, and the three, facing toward him, with Miranda foremost, held soft debate. Whether the decision they reached was to submit or resist, the wide ears of the servants could not be sure, but by the time the soldier was dismounting the ladies had summoned the nerve to jest.
“Be a man, Miranda!” murmured Constance.
“But not the kind I was!” prompted Anna.
“No,” said her sister, “for this one coming is already scared to death.”
“So’s Miranda,” breathed Anna as he came up the steps uncovering and plainly uncomfortable. A pang lanced through her as she caught herself senselessly recalling the flag presentation. And then—
“Mrs. Callender?” asked the stranger.
“Yes, sir,” said that lady.