The women in that house, that nest of sedition, he had been told, at second-hand, had in the very dawn of secession completely armed the famous “Kincaid’s Battery” which had early made it hot for him about Yorktown. Later in that house they had raised a large war-fund—still somewhere hidden. The day the fleet came up they had sent their carriage-horses to Beauregard, helped signal the Chalmette fortifications, locked ten slaves in the dwelling under shell fire and threatened death to any who should stir to escape. So for these twelve months, with only Isaac, Ben, and their wives as protectors and the splendid freedom to lock themselves in, they had suffered the duress of a guard camped in the grove, their every townward step openly watched and their front door draped with the stars and stripes, under which no feminine acquaintance could be enticed except the dear, faithful Valcours.
But where were old friends and battery sisters? All estranged. Could not the Callenders go to them and explain? Explain! A certain man of not one-fifth their public significance or “secesh” record, being lightly asked on the street if he had not yet “taken the oath” and as lightly explaining that he “wasn’t going to,” had, fame said, for that alone, been sent to Ship Island—where Anna “already belonged,” as the commanding general told the three gentle refusers of the oath, while in black letters on the whited wall above his judgment seat in the custom-house they read, “No distinction made here between he and she adders.”
But could not the Valcours, those strangely immune, yet unquestioned true-lovers of poor Dixie, whose marvelous tact won priceless favors for so many distressed Dixie-ites, have explained for the Callenders? Flora had explained!—to both sides, in opposite ways, eagerly, tenderly, over and over, with moist eyes, yet ever with a cunning lameness that kept convincement misled and without foothold. Had the Callenders dwelt up-town the truth might have won out; but where they were, as they were, they might as well have been in unspeakable Boston. And so by her own sweet excusings she kept alive against them beliefs or phantoms of beliefs, which would not have lived a day in saner times.
Calumny had taken two forms: the monstrous black smoke of a vulgar version and the superior divinings of the socially elect; a fine, hidden flame fed from the smoke. According to the vulgate the three ladies, incensed at a perfectly lawful effort to use their horses for the Confederate evacuation and actually defying it with cocked revolver, had openly abjured Dixie, renounced all purpose to fly to it and, denying shelter to their own wounded, had with signal flags themselves guided the conquering fleet past the town’s inmost defenses until compelled to desist by a Confederate shell in their roof. Unable to face an odium so well earned they had clung to their hiding, glad of the blue camp in their grove, living fatly on the bazaar’s proceeds, and having high times with such noted staff-officers as Major Greenleaf, their kindness to whom in the days of his modest lieutenancy and first flight and of his later parole and exchange, was not so hard now to see through.