The uncle’s smile was satirical: “Did you ever, my boy, wish anything could be as I want it?”
“Now, uncle, there’s a big difference—”
“DAMN THE DIFFERENCE! I’m going to try you. I’m going to make Adolphe my adjutant-general. Then if you hanker for this battery as it hankers for you—”
“Mary, Queen of Scots!” rejoiced Hilary. “That’ll suit us both to the bone! And if it suits you too—”
“Well it doesn’t! You know I’ve never wanted Adolphe about me. But you’ve got me all snarled up, the whole kit of you. What’s more, I don’t want him for my heir nor any girl with ‘tang’ for mistress of my lands and people. Hilary, I swear! if you’ve got the sand to want Anna and she’s got the grace to take you, then, adjutant-general or not, I’ll leave you my whole fortune! Well, what amuses you now?”
“Why, uncle, all the cotton in New Orleans couldn’t tempt me to marry the girl I wouldn’t take dry so without a continental cent.”
“But your own present poverty might hold you back even from the girl you wanted, mightn’t it?”
“No!” laughed the nephew, “nothing would!”
“Good God! Well, if you’ll want Anna I’ll make it easy for you to ask for her. If not, I’ll make it as hard as I can for you to get any one else.”
Still Hilary laughed: “H-oh, uncle, if I loved any girl, I’d rather have her without your estate than with it.” Suddenly he sobered and glowed: “I wish you’d leave it to Adolphe! He’s a heap-sight better business man than I. Besides, being older, he feels he has the better right to it. You know you always counted on leaving it to him.”
The General looked black: “You actually decline the gift?”
“No. No, I don’t. I want to please you. But of my own free choice I wouldn’t have it. I’m no abolitionist, but I don’t want that kind of property. I don’t want the life that has to go with it. I know other sorts that are so much better. I’m not thinking only of the moral responsibility—”
“By—! sir, I am!”
“I know you are, and I honor you for it.”
“Bah!... Hilary, I—I’m much obliged to you for your company, but—”
“You’ve had enough,” laughed the good-natured young man. “Good-evening, sir.” He took a cross-street.
“Good-evening, my boy.” The tone was so kind that Hilary cast a look back. But the General’s eyes were straight before him.
Greenleaf accompanied the Valcours to their door. Charlie, who disliked him, and whose admiration for his own sister was privately cynical, had left them to themselves in the train. There, wholly undetected by the very man who had said some women were too feminine and she was one, she had played her sex against his with an energy veiled only by its intellectual nimbleness and its utterly dispassionate design. Charlie detected achievement in her voice as she twittered good-by to the departing soldier from their street door.