SHIPS, SHELLS, AND LETTERS
Strange! how little sense of calamity came with them—at first. So graceful they were. So fitted—like waterfowl—to every mood of air and tide; their wings all furled, their neat bodies breasting the angry flood by the quiet power of their own steam and silent submerged wheels. So like to the numberless crafts which in kinder days, under friendly tow, had come up this same green and tawny reach and passed on to the queenly city, laden with gifts, on the peaceful embassies of the world.
But, ah! how swiftly, threateningly they grew: the smaller, two-masted fore-and-afts, each seemingly unarmed but for one monster gun pivoted amidships, and the towering, wide-armed three-masters, the low and the tall consorting like dog and hunter. Now, as they came on, a nice eye could make out, down on their hulls, light patches of new repair where our sunken fleet had so lately shot and rammed them, and, hanging over the middle of each ship’s side in a broad, dark square to protect her vitals, a mass of anchor chains. Their boarding-netting, too, one saw, drawn high round all their sides, and now more guns—and more!—and more! the huger frowning over the bulwarks, the lesser in unbroken rows, scowling each from its own port-hole, while every masthead revealed itself a little fort bristling with arms and men. Yes, and there, high in the clouds of rigging, no longer a vague pink flutter now, but brightly red-white-and-blue and smilingly angry—what a strange home-coming for it! ah, what a strange home-coming after a scant year-and-a-half of banishment!—the flag of the Union, rippling from every peak.
“Ain’ dey neveh gwine shoot?” asked a negro lad.
“Not till they’re out of line with us,” said Anna so confidently as to draw a skeptical grunt from his mother, and for better heart let a tune float silently in and out on her breath:
“I loves to be a beau to de ladies.
I loves to shake a toe wid de ladies—”
She felt her maid’s touch. Charlie was aiming his great gun, and on either side of her Isaac and Ben were repeating their injunctions. She spoke out:
“If they all shoot true we’re safe enough now.”
“An’ ef de ships don’t,” put in Isaac, “dey’ll mighty soon—”
The prophecy was lost. All the shore guns blazed and crashed. The white smoke belched and spread. Broken window-panes jingled. Wails and moans from the slave women were silenced by imperious outcries from Isaac and Ben. There followed a mid-air scream and roar as of fifty railway trains passing each other on fifty bridges, and the next instant a storm of the enemy’s shells burst over and in the batteries. But the house stood fast and half a dozen misquotations of David and Paul were spouted from the braver ones of Anna’s flock. In a moment a veil of smoke hid ships and shore, yet