“Ho-oh!” breathed the two women, “he’s getting all the promotion he wants, right now!” The three heard Anna pass into the front drawing-room across the hall, the carriage move off and the disguised man enter the hall and set down the travelling-bags. They stole away through the library and up a rear stair.
It was not yet late enough to set guards within the house. No soul was in the drawing-rooms. In the front one, on its big wheels between two stacks of bayoneted rifles, beneath a splendor of flags and surrounded by innumerable costly offerings, rested as mutely as a seated idol that superior engine of death and woe, the great brass gun. Anna stole to it, sunk on her knees, crossed her trembling arms about its neck and rested her brow on its face.
She heard the tread in the hall, quaked to rise and flee, and yet could not move. It came upon the threshold and paused. “Anna,” said the voice that had set her heart on fire across the carriage step. She sprang up, faced round, clutched the great gun, and stood staring. Her follower was still in slave garb, but now for the first time he revealed his full stature. His black locks were free and the “Madras” dropped from his fingers to the floor. He advanced a pace or two.
“Anna,” he said again, “Anna Callender,”—he came another step—“I’ve come back, Anna, to—to—” he drew a little nearer. She gripped the gun.
He lighted up drolly: “Don’t you know what I’ve come for? I didn’t know, myself, till just now, or I shouldn’t have come in this rig, though many a better man’s in worse these days. I didn’t know—because—I couldn’t hope. I’ve come—” he stole close—his arms began to lift—she straightened to her full height, but helplessly relaxed as he smiled down upon it.
“I’ve come not just to get your promise, Anna Callender, but to muster you in; to marry you.”
She flinched behind the gun’s muzzle in resentful affright. He lowered his palms in appeal to her wisdom. “It’s the right thing, Anna, the only safe way! I’ve known it was, ever since Steve Mandeville’s wedding. Oh! it takes a colossal assurance to talk to you so, Anna Callender, but I’ve got the colossal assurance. I’ve got that, beloved, and you’ve got all the rest—my heart—my soul—my life. Give me yours.”
Anna had shrunk in against the farther wheel, but now rallied and moved a step forward. “Let me pass,” she begged. “Give me a few moments to myself. You can wait here. I’ll come back.”
He made room. She moved by. But hardly had she passed when a soft word stopped her. She turned inquiringly and the next instant—Heaven only knows if first on his impulse or on hers—she was in his arms, half stifled on his breast, and hanging madly from his neck while his kisses fell upon her brow—temples—eyes—and rested on her lips.
Flora sat reading a note just come from that same “A.C.” Her brother had gone to call on Victorine. Irby had just bade the reader good-by, to return soon and go with her to Callender House to see the Bazaar. Madame Valcour turned from a window with a tart inquiry: