Flora, we have seen, had been willing, eager, for them to come—to arrive; not because Charlie, but because his captain, was one of the two. But Irby, never sure of her, and forever jealous of the ladies’ man, had contrived, in a dull way, to detain the home-comers in mid-journey, with telegraphic orders to see here a commandant and there a factory of arms and hurry men and munitions to the front. So he killed time and tortured hope for several hearts, and that was a comfort in itself.
However, here was the Bazaar. After all, its sentinels were not of the Crescent Regiment, for the same grave reason which postponed the opening until to-morrow; the fact that to-day that last flower of the city’s young high-life was leaving for the fields of war, as Kincaid’s Battery had left in the previous spring. Yet, oh, how differently! Again up St. Charles Street and down Calliope the bands played, the fifes squealed; once more the old men marched ahead, opened ranks, let the serried youngsters through and waved and hurrahed and kissed and wept; but all in a new manner, far more poignant than the earlier. God only knew what was to happen now, to those who went or to those who stayed, or where or how any two of them should ever meet again. The Callenders, as before, were there. Anna had come definitely resolved to give one particular beardless Dick Smith a rousing kiss, purely to nullify that guilty one of last year. But when the time came she could not, the older one had made it impossible; and when the returning bands broke out—
“Charlie is my darling! my darling! my darling!”
and the tears came dripping from under Connie’s veil and Victorine’s and Miranda’s and presently her own, she was glad of the failure.
As they were driving homeward across Canal Street, she noted, out beyond the Free Market, a steamboat softly picking its way in to the levee. Some coal-barges were there, she remembered, lading with pitch-pine and destined as fire-ships, by that naval lieutenant of the despatch-boat whom we know, against the Federal fleet lying at the head of the passes.
The coachman named the steamer to Constance: “Yass, ’m, de ole Genl al Quitman; dass her.”
“From Vicksburg and the Bends!” cried the inquirer. “Why, who knows but Charlie Val—?”
With both hands she clutched Miranda and Victorine, and brightened upon Anna.
“And Flora not with us!” was the common lament.
“TILL HE SAID, ‘I’M COME HAME, MY LOVE’”