Yet it lasted. The songs were hushed. The room whence they had come was without an audible stir. Sleep stole through all the house, through the small camp of the guard in the darkened grove, the farther tents of the brigade, the anchored ships, the wide city, the starlit landscape. Out in that rear garden-path where Madame Valcour had once been taken to see the head-high wealth of roses two generals, who had been there through all the singing, still paced to and fro and talked, like old Brodnax at Carrollton in that brighter time, “not nearly as much alone as they seemed.” One by one five men in gray, each, for all his crouching and gliding, as true and gallant a gentleman as either of those commanders, stole from the house’s basement and slipped in and out among the roses. Along a back fence a guard walked up and down. Two by two, when his back was turned, went four of the gliding men, as still as bats, over the fence into a city of ten thousand welcome hiding-places. The fifth, their “ringg-leadeh,” for whom they must wait concealed until he should rejoin them, lingered in the roses; hovered so close to the path that he might have touched its occupants as they moved back and forth; almost—to quote his uncle—
“Sat in the roses and heard the birds sing”—
heard blue birds, in soft notes not twittered, muttered as by owls, revealing things priceless for Mobile to know.
Bragg’s gray army, he heard, was in far Chattanooga facing Rosecrans, and all the slim remnants of Johnston’s were hurrying to its reinforcement. Mobile was merely garrisoned. Little was there save artillery. Here in New Orleans lay thousands of veterans flushed with their up-river victories, whose best and quickest aid to Rosecrans would be so to move as to turn Bragg’s reinforcements back southward. A cavalry dash across the pine-barrens of East Louisiana to cut the railroad along the Mississippi-Alabama line, a quick joint movement of land and naval forces by way of the lakes, sound, and gulf, and Mobile would fall. These things and others, smaller yet more startling, the listener learned of, not as pastime talk, but as a vivid scheme already laid, a mine ready to be sprung if its secret could be kept three days longer; and now he hurried after his four compatriots, his own brain teeming with a counter-plot to convey this secret through the dried-up swamps to the nearest Confederate telegraph station while Anna should bear it (and the recovered treasure) by boat to Mobile, two messengers being so many times surer than one.