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[54]

Corporal Alston's discourse.

Swift shooting down that Southern river's bends,
Like logs in freshet, swept our steamers on;
Their midships lumbered up with useless bales,
Old household stuffs and huddled clothes in rags,
And sombre groups of sleeping negroes,--waifs
Just taken on board from dug-outs, timbers, rafts,
Or off the rice-fields that spread either side,
One vast green chequer-work of dyke and pool.
Here the swart mothers and their babies dozed 'Mid all their earthly goods; and here and there
A silent sentinel watched a silent form
Wrapped in a blanket, nerveless, pulseless, cold,
Nigh to a dull red smear upon the plank,
Or splintered shot-hole in our ship's stout side.

But I, going past them to the forward deck,
Saw only squads of dusky soldiers, couched [55]
Like some vast caravan, beneath the moon,
A breathing mass of black and ivory;
And o'er them all a high, shrill voice pealed forth
The burden of exhortation. I knew it well,
Old Adam Alston's voice; and thus it spoke:

”When I heard de bombshell screamina troo de woods
Like de Judgment Day, I said widin myself,
‘Suppose my head been took clean off dis night,
Dey couldn't put my soul in de torments. No,
No! not perceps I hab for an enemy
De Mos' High God!’ And when de bullets come,
Ho! dem dar bullets a-swishina across de deck,
I cried aloud, ‘Lord, help my congregation!
Boys, load and fire!’”

Then rang the strong Amens
And bursts of laughter from glad African lungs;
Then all was still but one blithe mocking-bird
High on the bank, and that strange ominous fowl
The chuck-will's-widow, and our engine's throb;
While Southern fire-flies, twice as large as ours,
Swarmed from the meadows to the tree-tops high
And hung there, clustering Pleiads, earthly stars.

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