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[512] torches in the hands of invisible demons. But the God of Jacob was with the solitary watcher; her faith failed not even in this hour of awful extremity.

As she still sat there listening to the far-away sounds of tumult, roaring flames and hurrahs and screams, there came a sudden crash in the direction of the dining-room, which opened upon a long piazza fronting a side street. She knew what it meant, and hastened thither. The windows had been burst through, though the doors were unfastened, and a horde of what scarcely seemed human creatures came pouring in, each with one or two lighted candles in his hands. There were a score or more, with faces smoke-blackened and eyes bloodshot and glaring with drink and a blind rage, which vented itself on any and everything. Several of them addressed her simultaneously.

‘Hello, old lady! where's your family? Got any sons or husbands?’

‘My husband is off attending to his profession,’ was the reply. ‘My two sons, thank God! are in the army, though they are mere boys. If I had a dozen I would give them all to my country.’

I know how she said it—grand woman as she was!—dignified, proud, yet ever feminine. But nothing appealed to these insensate barbarians, however sweet or stately, however innocent or helpless. Some had already begun the work of pillage and burning, and while the terrified servants stood in the doorway with starting eyes, beseeching their beloved mistress to come away from the scene of destruction, she stood fearless and unmoved in the midst of starting flame and blasphemous plunder.

Two had entered a closet, and were handing out to their confreres jars of preserves and such choice delicacies, as others applied their lighted candles to the upper shelves.

At that moment, as a silent prayer of agonized entreaty went up from the heart of the lonely woman, a figure clad in the uniform of a Federal officer, with bare head and long, dark, dishevelled hair, his face pale and set—‘like an avenging angel’ he looked, my mother said—rushed in at the open door, a naked sword glistening in his hand. Without a word, but with apparently superhuman strength, he drove the incendiaries forth at the point of his weapon, caught the bending figure of the preserve-depredator by the waist-band, and applying his foot, sent him headforemost into the street. My mother fell on her knees before him. ‘God has sent you!’ she said, and would have kissed the hem of his garment; but he raised her with gentle deference.


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