About a green spot crowning one of the low fortified hills on a northern edge of Mobile sat Bartleson, Mandeville, Irby, Villeneuve and two or three lieutenants, on ammunition-boxes, fire-logs and the sod, giving their whole minds to the retention of Anna and Miranda Callender, who sat on camp-stools. The absent Constance was down in the town, just then bestowing favors not possible for any one else to offer so acceptably to a certain duplicate and very self-centered Steve aged eighty days—sh-sh-sh!
The camp group’s soft discourse was on the character of one whom this earliest afternoon in August they had followed behind muffled drums to his final rest. Beginning at Carrollton Gardens, they said, then in the flowery precincts of Callender House, later in that death-swept garden on Vicksburg’s inland bluffs, and now in this one, of Flora’s, a garden yet, peaceful and fragrant, though no part of its burnt house save the chimneys had stood in air these three years and a half, the old hero—
“Yes,” chimed Miranda to whoever was saying it—
The old hero, despite the swarm of mortal perils and woes he and his brigade and its battery had come through in that period, had with a pleasing frequency—to use the worn-out line just this time more—
“Sat in the roses and heard the birds’ song.”
The old soldier, they all agreed, had had a feeling for roses and song, which had gilded the edges and angles of his austere spirit and betrayed a tenderness too deep hid for casual discovery, yet so vital a part of him that but for its lacerations—with every new public disaster—he never need have sunk under these year-old Vicksburg wounds which had dragged him down at last.
Miranda retold the splendid antic he had cut in St. Charles Street the day Virginia seceded. Steve recounted how the aged warrior had regained strength from Chickamauga’s triumph and lost it again after Chattanooga. Two or three recalled how he had suffered when Banks’ Red River Expedition desolated his fair estate and “forever lured away” his half-a-thousand “deluded people.” He must have succumbed then, they said, had not the whole “invasion” come to grief and been driven back into New Orleans. New Orleans! younger sister of little Mobile, yet toward which Mobile now looked in a daily torture of apprehension. And then Hilary’s beloved Bartleson put in what Anna sat wishing some one would say.
“With what a passion of disowned anxiety,” he remarked, “had the General, to the last, watched every step, slip and turn in what Steve had once called ‘the multifurieuse carreer’ of Hilary Kincaid.”
So turned the talk upon the long-time absentee, and instances were cited of those outbreaks of utter nonsense which were wont to come from him in awful moments: gibes with which no one reporting them to the uncle could ever make the “old man” smile. The youngest lieutenant (a gun-corporal that day the Battery left New Orleans) told how once amid a fearful havoc, when his piece was so short of men that Kincaid was himself down on the ground sighting and firing it, and an aide-de-camp galloped up asking hotly, “Who’s in command here!” the powder-blackened Hilary had risen his tallest and replied,—