“Steve,” said Hilary, “some one must go with me to the clerk’s office to—”
“To vouch you!” broke in the aide-de-camp. “That will be Steve Mandeville!” Constance sublimely approved. As the three Callenders moved to leave the room one way and the three captains another, Anna seized the hands of Flora and her grandmother.
“You’ll keep the dance going?” she solicited, and they said they would. Flora gave her a glowing embrace, and as Irby strode by murmured to him.
“Put your watch back half an hour.”
In such disordered days social liberty was large. When the detective, after the Callenders were gone up-stairs and the captains had galloped away, truthfully told Miss Valcour that his only object in tarrying here was to see the love-knot tied, she heard him affably, though inwardly in flames of yearning to see him depart. She burned to see him go because she believed him, and also because there in the show-case still lay the loosely heaped counterfeit of the booty whose reality she had already ignorantly taken and stowed away.
What should she do? Here was grandma, better aid than forty Irbys; but with both phases of her problem to deal with at once—how to trip headlong this wild matrimonial leap and how to seize this treasure by whose means she might leave Anna in a fallen city and follow Hilary to the war—she was at the end of her daintiest wits. She talked on with the gray man, for that kept him from the show-case. In an air full of harmonies and prattle, of fluttering draperies, gliding feet, undulating shoulders, twinkling lights, gallantry, fans, and perfume, she dazzled him with her approval when he enlarged on the merits of Kincaid and when he pledged all his powers of invention to speed the bridal. Frantic to think what better to do, she waltzed with him, while he described the colonel of the departing regiment as such a martinet that to ask him to delay his going would only hasten it; waltzed on when she saw her grandmother discover the knife’s absence and telegraph her a look of contemptuous wonder. But ah, how time was flying! Even now Kincaid must be returning hitherward, licensed!
The rapturous music somewhat soothed her frenzy, even helped her thought, and in a thirst for all it could give she had her partner swing her into the wide hall whence it came and where also Hilary must first reappear. Twice through its length they had swept, when Anna, in altered dress, came swiftly down the stair with Constance protestingly at her side. The two were speaking anxiously together as if a choice of nuptial adornments (for Constance bore a box that might have held the old jewels) had suddenly brought to mind a forgotten responsibility. As they pressed into the drawing-rooms the two dancers floated after them by another door.
When presently Flora halted beside the gun and fanned while the dance throbbed on, the two sisters stood a few steps away behind the opened show-case, talking with her grandmother and furtively eyed by a few bystanders. They had missed the dagger. Strangely disregarded by Anna, but to Flora’s secret dismay and rage, Constance, as she talked, was dropping from her doubled hands into the casket the last of the gems. Now she shut the box and laid it in Anna’s careless arms.