“Kincaid’s Battery hell! You get those ladies out o’ this as fast as them mules can skedaddle.”
By and by ambulances and then open wagons began to jolt and tilt past them full of ragged, grimy, bloody men wailing and groaning, no one heeding the entreaties of the three ladies to be taken in as nurses. Near a cross-road before them they saw on a fair farmhouse the yellow flag, and a vehicle or two at its door, yet no load of wounded turned that way. Out of it, instead, excited men were hurrying, some lamely, feebly, afoot, others at better speed on rude litters, but all rearward across the plowed land. Two women stepped out into a light trap and vanished behind a lane hedge before Constance could call the attention of her companions.
“Why, Nan, if we didn’t know she was in New Orleans I’d stand the world down that that was Flora!”
There was no time for debate. All at once, in plain sight, right at hand, along a mask of young willows in the near left angle of the two roads, from a double line of gray infantry whose sudden apparition had startled Anna and Miranda, rang a long volley. From a fringe of woods on the far opposite border the foe’s artillery pealed, and while the Callenders’ mules went into agonies of fright the Federal shells began to stream and scream across the space and to burst before and over the gray line lying flat in the furrows and darting back fire and death. With their quaking equipage hugging the farther side of the way the veiled ladies leaned out to see, but drew in as a six-mule wagon coming from the front at wild speed jounced and tottered by them. It had nearly passed when with just a touch of hubs it tossed them clear off the road, smashing one of their wheels for good and all. Some one sprang and held their terrified mules and they alighted on a roadside bank counting themselves already captured.
“Look out, everybody,” cried a voice, “here come our own guns, six of ’em, like hell to split!” and in a moment the way was cleared.
A minute before this, down the cross-road, southward a quarter of a mile or so, barely out of sight behind fence-rows, the half of a battalion of artillery had halted in column, awaiting orders. With two or three lesser officers a general, galloping by it from behind, had drawn up on a slight rise at the southwest corner of the fire-swept field, taken one glance across it and said, “Hilary, can your ladies’ men waltz into action in the face of those guns?”