Northward, therefore, with Madame on her arm, sprang Flora, staggeringly, by the decrepit Jackson Railroad, along the quiet eastern bound of a region out of which, at every halt, came gloomy mention of Tallahala River and the Big Black; of Big Sandy, Five Mile and Fourteen Mile creeks; of Logan, Sherman and Grant; of Bowen, Gregg, Brodnax and Harper, and of daily battle rolling northward barely three hours’ canter away. So they reached Jackson, capital of the state and base of General Joe Johnston’s army. They found it in high ferment and full of stragglers from a battle lost that day at Raymond scarcely twenty miles down the Port Gibson road, and on the day following chanced upon Mandeville returning at last from Richmond. With him they turned west, again by rail, and about sundown, at Big Black Bridge, ten miles east of Vicksburg, found themselves clasping hands in open air with General Brodnax, Irby and Kincaid, close before the torn brigade and the wasted, cheering battery. Angels dropped down they seemed, tenderly begging off from all talk of the Callenders, who, Flora distressfully said, had been “grozzly exaggerated,” while, nevertheless, she declared herself, with starting tears, utterly unable to explain why on earth they had gone to Mobile—“unlezz the bazaar.” No doubt, however, they would soon telegraph by way of Jackson. But next day, while she, as mistress of a field hospital, was winning adoration on every side, Jackson, only thirty miles off but with every wire cut, fell, clad in the flames of its military factories, mills, foundries and supplies and of its eastern, Pearl River, bridge.
BETWEEN THE MILLSTONES
Telegraph! They had been telegraphing for days, but their telegrams have not yet been delivered.
On the evening when the camps of Johnston and Grant with burning Jackson between them put out half the stars a covered carriage, under the unsolicited escort of three or four gray-jacketed cavalrymen and driven by an infantry lad seeking his command after an illness at home, crossed Pearl River in a scow at Ratcliff’s ferry just above the day’s battlefield.
“When things are this bad,” said the boy to the person seated beside him and to two others at their back, his allusion being to their self-appointed guard, “any man you find straggling to the front is the kind a lady can trust.”
This equipage had come a three hours’ drive, from the pretty town of Brandon, nearest point to which a railway train from the East would venture, and a glimpse into the vehicle would have shown you, behind Constance and beside Miranda, Anna, pale, ill, yet meeting every inquiry with a smiling request to push on. They were attempting a circuit of both armies to reach a third, Pemberton’s, on the Big Black and in and around Vicksburg.
Thus incited they drove on in the starlight over the gentle hills of Madison county and did not accept repose until they had put Grant ten miles behind and crossed to the south side of the Vicksburg and Jackson Railroad at Clinton village with only twenty miles more between them and Big Black Bridge. The springs of Anna’s illness were more in spirit than body. Else she need not have lain sleepless that night at Clinton’s many cross-roads, still confronting a dilemma she had encountered in Mobile.