A voice just beyond the green-veiled fence cast a light on this reply and brought a flush to the Creole's very brows. "Alas! Greenleaf," it cried, "we search in vain! He is not here! We are even more alone than we seem! Ah! where is that peerless chevalier, my beloved, accomplished, blameless, sagacious, just, valiant and amiable uncle? Come let us press on. Let not the fair sex find him first and snatch him from us forever!"Thus it fell to Flora to be letter-bearer and news-bearer in her brother's stead. Yet he had first to be cared for by her and the grandmother in a day long before "first aid" had become common knowledge. The surgeon they had hailed in had taken liberal time to show them how, night and morning, to unbandage, cleanse and rebind, and to tell them (smiling into the lad's mutinous eyes) that the only other imperative need was to keep him flat on his back for ten days. Those same weeks of downpour which had given the Shiloh campaign two-thirds of its horrors had so overfed the monstrous Mississippi that it was running four miles an hour, overlapping its levees and heaving up through the wharves all along the city's front, until down about the Convent and Barracks and Camp Callender there were streets as miry as Corinth. And because each and all of these hindrances were welcome to Flora as giving leisure to read and reread Irby's long letter about his cousin and uncle, and to plan what to say and do in order to reap all the fell moment's advantages, the shadows were long in the Callender's grove when she finally ascended their veranda steps.
The General and his staff were just reaching it. Far down behind them shone the armed host. The march ceased, the music--"then you'll rememb'"--broke off short. The column rested. "Mon Dieu!" said even the Orleans Guards, "quel chaleur! Is it not a terrib', thad sun!" Hundreds of their blue k茅pis, hundreds of gray shakos in the Confederate Guards, were lifted to wipe streaming necks and throats, while away down beyond our ladies' ken all the drummers of the double escort, forty by count, silently came back and moved in between the battery and its band to make the last music the very bravest. Was that Kincaid, the crowd asked, one of another; he of the thick black locks, tired cheek and brow, and eyes that danced now as he smiled and talked? "Phew! me, I shou'n' love to be tall like that, going to be shot at, no! ha, ha! But thad's no wonder they are call' the ladies' man batt'rie!"
"For dear Anna's sake and yours, shall I be that little bit your pilot, to say--?"In his own smoke the General's eyes opened aggressively. But hark! His nephew spoke again:
"Oh, rest easy," said the cheerful soldier, "mum's the word. But, Miss Flora, tell me this: How on earth did she lose it?"
"I don't claim to be good. But there's one thing, Nan Callender, I never did; I never chained up my lover to see if he'd stay chained. When Steve--"And there was yet another reason: since coming into Vicksburg, all unaware yet why Anna so inordinately prized the old dagger, she had told her where it still lay hid in Callender House. To a battery lad who had been there on the night of the weapon's disappearance and who had died in her arms at Champion's Hill, she had imputed a confession that, having found the moving panel, a soldier boy's pure wantonness had prompted him to the act which, in fact, only she had committed. So she had set Anna's whole soul upon getting back to New Orleans to regain the trinket-treasure and somehow get out with it to Mobile, imperiled Mobile, where now, if on earth anywhere, her hope was to find Hilary Kincaid.
Flora made new show of rapture. Nor was it all mere show. Anna escaping, the treasure would escape with her, and Flora be thrown into the dungeon of penury. Yet let them both go, both rival and treasure! Love's ransom! All speed to them since they left her Hilary Kincaid and left him at her mercy. But the plight was complex and suddenly her exultation changed to affright. "My God! Hilary Kincaid," she panted, "you 'ave save' her to deztroy yo'seff! You are--"By and by through the pain came a dream of some one like her living in a certain heaven of comfort and beauty, peace, joy, and love named "Callender House"; but the pain persisted and the dream passed into a horrible daytime darkness that brought a sense of vast changes near and far; a sense of many having gone from that house, and of many having most forbiddenly come to it; a sense of herself spending years and years, and passing from world to world, in quest of one Hilary, Hilary Kincaid, whom all others believed to be dead or false, or both, but who would and should and must be found, and when found would be alive and hale and true; a sense of having, with companions, been all at once frightfully close to a rending of the sky, and of having tripped as she fled, of having fallen and lain in a thunderous storm of invisible hail, and of having after a time risen again and staggered on, an incalculable distance, among countless growing things, fleeing down-hill, too weak to turn up-hill, till suddenly the whole world seemed to strike hard against something that sent it reeling backward.
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"Then look the other way!" carolled back the slender beauty. To whom Anna smiled across in her belated way, and wondered if the impulse to follow Hilary Kincaid ever came to women.Remotely in the terror's sad eyes glimmered a smile that was more than half satisfaction. "You might as well call him a coward," she murmured.
As he reached the edge of that narrow opening from whose farther side Anna had called he halted, glanced furtively about, and harkened forward, backward, through leafy distances grown ominously still. Oh, why did the call not come again? Hardly in a burning house could time be half so priceless. Not a breath could promise that in the next the lightnings, thunders, and long human yell of assault would not rend the air. Flora's soft tread ceased at his side."No!" cried Anna. "It must not! Oh, it must not! I--if I--Oh, if I--"详情
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