“Yass, ’m! ’caze ef us kin keep ’em anywahs it’ll be in de bes’ place fo’ to see de mos’ sights!” She vanished and Anna turned to the soldiers. Their flagging had paused while they watched the far-away top-gallants grow in height and numbers. Down in the works the long-roll was sounding and from every direction men were answering it at a run. Across the river came bugle notes. Sighingly the sergeant lowered his glass:
“Lordy, it’s the whole kit and b’ilin’! Wag, John. When they swing up round this end of the trees I’ll count ’em. Here they come! One, ... two, ... why, what small—oh, see this big fellow! Look at the width of those yards! And look at all their hulls, painted the color of the river! And see that pink flutter—look!” he said to Anna, “do you get it? high up among the black ropes? that pink—”
“Yes,” said Anna solemnly, “I see it—”
“That’s the old—”
“Yes. Must we fire on that? and fire first?”
“We’d better!” laughed the soldier, “if we fire at all. Those chaps have got their answer ready and there won’t be much to say after it.” The three hurried down, the men to camp, Anna to the upper front veranda. There, save two or three with Constance and Miranda, came all the servants, shepherded by Isaac and Ben with vigilant eyes and smothered vows to “kill de fuss he aw she niggeh dat try to skedaddle”; came and stood to gaze with her over and between the grove trees. Down in the fortification every man seemed to have sprung to his post. On its outer crest, with his adjutant, stood the gilded commander peering through his glass.
“Missie,” sighed Anna’s maid, “see Mahs’ Chahlie dah? stan’in’ on de woodworks o’ dat big gun?”
“Yes,” said Anna carelessly, but mutely praying that some one would make him get down. Her brain teemed with speculations: Where, how occupied and in what state of things, what frame of mind, was Victorine, were Flora and Madame? Here at Steve’s cottage with what details were ’Randa and Connie busy? But except when she smiled round on the slaves, her gaze, like theirs, abode on the river and the shore defenses, from whose high staffs floated brightly the Confederate flag. How many a time in this last fearful year had her own Hilary, her somewhere still living, laughing, loving Hilary, stood like yon commander, about to deal havoc from, and to draw it upon, Kincaid’s Battery. Who would say that even now he might not be so standing, with her in every throb of his invincible heart?
Something out in the view disturbed the servants.
“Oh, Lawd ‘a’ massy!” moaned a woman.
“Trus’ Him, Aun’ Jinnie!” prompted Anna’s maid. “Y’ always is trus’ Him!”
“Whoeveh don’t trus’ Him, I’ll bus’ him!” confidentially growled Isaac to those around him.
“We all of us must and will!” said Anna elatedly, though with shameful inward sinkings and with no sustaining word from any of the flock, while out under the far gray sky, emerging from a slight angle of the shore well down the water’s long reach the battle line began to issue, each ship in its turn debouching into full relief from main-truck to water-line.