They went aboard at the head of Canal Street. The river was at a fair stage, yet how few craft were at either long landing, “upper” or “lower,” where so lately there had been scant room for their crowding prows. How few drays and floats came and went on the white, shell-paved levees! How little freight was to be seen except what lay vainly begging for export—sugar, molasses, rice; not even much cotton; it had gone to the yards and presses. That natty regiment, the Orleans Guards, was drilling (in French, superbly) on the smooth, empty ground where both to Anna’s and to Flora’s silent notice all the up-river foodstuffs—corn, bacon, pork, meal, flour—were so staringly absent, while down in yonder streets their lack was beginning to be felt by a hundred and twenty-five thousand consumers.
Backing out into mid-stream brought them near an anchored steamer lately razeed and now being fitted for a cloud of canvas on three lofty masts instead of the two small sticks she had been content with while she brought plantains, guava jelly, coffee, and cigars from Havana. The Sumter she was to be, and was designed to deliver some of the many agile counter-thrusts we should have to make against that “blockade” for which the Yankee frigates were already hovering off Ship Island. So said the Lieutenant, but Constance explained to him (Captain Mandeville having explained to her) what a farce that blockade was going to be.
How good were these long breaths of air off the sea marshes, enlivened by the speed of the craft! But how unpopulous the harbor! What a crowd of steamboats were laid up along the “Algiers” shore, and of Morgan’s Texas steamers, that huddled, with boilers cold, under Slaughter-House Point, while all the dry-docks stood empty. How bare the ship wharves; hardly a score of vessels along the miles of city front. About as many more, the lieutenant said, were at the river’s mouth waiting to put to sea, but the towboats were all up here being turned into gunboats or awaiting letters of marque and reprisal in order to nab those very ships the moment they should reach good salt water. Constance and Miranda tingled to tell him of their brave Flora’s investment, but dared not, it was such a secret!
On a quarter of the deck where they stood alone, what a striking pair were Flora and Irby as side by side they faced the ruffling air, softly discussing matters alien to the gliding scene and giving it only a dissimulative show of attention. Now with her parasol he pointed to the sunlight in the tree tops of a river grove where it gilded the windows of the Ursulines’ Convent.
“Hum!” playfully murmured Kincaid to Anna, “he motions as naturally as if that was what they were talking about.”
“It’s a lovely picture,” argued Anna.
“Miss Anna, when a fellow’s trying to read the book of his fate he doesn’t care for the pictures.”
“How do you know that’s what he’s doing?”