How absurdly poor the chance! Yet they bade the old coachman turn that way, and indeed the facts were better than the hope of any one of them. Charlie, very gaunt and battered, but all the more enamored of himself therefor and for the new chevrons of a gun corporal on his dingy sleeve, was actually aboard that boat. In one of the small knots of passengers on her boiler deck he was modestly companioning with a captain of infantry and two of staff, while they now exchanged merry anecdotes of the awful retreat out of Tennessee into Mississippi, now grimly damned this or that bad strategy, futile destruction, or horrible suffering, now re-discussed the comical chances of a bet of General Brodnax’s, still pending, and now, with the crowd, moved downstairs to the freight deck as the boat began to nose the wharf.
Meanwhile the Callenders’ carriage had made easy speed. Emerging by the Free Market, it met an open hack carrying six men. At the moment every one was cringing in a squall of dust, but as well as could be seen these six were the driver, a colored servant at his side, an artillery corporal, and three officers. Some army wagons hauling pine-knots to the fire-fleet compelled both carriages to check up. Thereupon, the gust passing and Victorine getting a better glance at the men, she tossed both hands, gave a stifled cry and began to laugh aloud.
“Charlie!” cried Anna. “Steve!” cried Constance.
“And Captain Irby!” remarked Miranda.
The infantry captain, a transient steamboat acquaintance, used often afterward to say that he never saw anything prettier than those four wildly gladdened ladies unveiling in the shade of their parasols. I doubt if he ever did. He talked with Anna, who gave him so sweet an attention that he never suspected she was ravenously taking in every word the others dropped behind her.
“But where he is, that Captain Kincaid?” asked Victorine of Charlie a second time.
“Well, really,” stammered the boy at last, “we—we can’t say, just now, where he is.”
("He’s taken prisoner!” wailed Anna’s heart while she let the infantry captain tell her that hacks, in Nashville on the Sunday after Donelson, were twenty-five dollars an hour.)
“He means,” she heard Mandeville put in, “he means—Charlie—only that we muz not tell. ’Tis a sicret.”
“You’ve sent him into the enemy’s lines!” cried Constance to Irby in one of her intuitions.
“We?” responded the grave Irby, “No, not we.”
“Captain Mandeville,” exclaimed Victorine, “us, you don’t need to tell us some white lies.”
The Creole shrugged: “We are telling you only the whitess we can!”
("Yes,” the infantry captain said, “with Memphis we should lose the largest factory of cartridges in the Confederacy.”)