General Brodnax, in a letter rife with fatherly romantic tenderness and with splendid praise of Hilary as foremost in the glorious feat which had saved old “Roaring Betsy” but lost (or mislaid) him and his three comrades, also bade her wait. Everything, he assured her, that human sympathy or the art of war—or Beauregard’s special orders—could effect was being done to find the priceless heroes. In the retreat of a great host—ah, me! retreat was his very word and the host was Dixie’s—retreating after its first battle, and that an awful one, in deluging rains over frightful roads and brimming streams, unsheltered, ill fed, with sick and wounded men and reeling vehicles hourly breaking down, a hovering foe to be fended off, and every dwelling in the land a hospitable refuge, even captains of artillery or staff might be most honorably and alarmingly missing yet reappear safe and sound. So, for a week and more it was sit and wait, pace the floor and wait, wake in the night and wait; so for Flora as well as for Anna (with a difference), both of them anxious for Charlie—and Steve—and Maxime, but in anguish for another.
Then tidings, sure enough! glad tidings! Mandeville and Maxime safe in camp again and back to duty, whole, hale and in the saddle. Their letters came by the wasted yellow hands of two or three of the home-coming wounded, scores of whom were arriving by every south-bound train. From the aide-de-camp and the color-bearer came the first whole story of how Kincaid, with his picked volunteers, barely a gun detachment, and with Mandeville, who had brought the General’s consent, had stolen noiselessly over the water-soaked leaves of a thickety oak wood in the earliest glimmer of a rainy dawn and drawn off the abandoned gun by hand to its waiting horses; also how, when threatened by a hostile patrol, Hilary, Mandeville, Maxime and Charlie had hurried back on foot into the wood and hotly checked the pursuit long enough for their fellows to mount the team, lay a shoulder to every miry wheel and flounder away with the prize. But beyond that keen moment when the four, after their one volley from ambush, had sprung this way and that shouting absurd orders to make-believe men, cheering and firing from behind trees, and (cut off from their horses) had made for a gully and swamp, the two returned ones could tell nothing of the two unreturned except that neither of them, dead or alive, was anywhere on the ground of the fight or flight as they knew it. For days, inside the enemy’s advancing lines, they had prowled in ravines and lain in blackberry patches and sassafras fence-rows, fed and helped on of nights by the beggared yet still warm-hearted farm people and getting through at last, but with never a trace of Kincaid or Charlie, though after their own perilous search they had inquired, inquired, inquired.
So, wait, said every one and every dumb condition, even the miseries of the great gray army, of which Anna had mind pictures again, as it toiled through mire and lightning, rain, sleet and hail, and as its thousands of sick and shattered lay in Corinth dying fifty a day. And Flora and Anna waited, though with minds placid only to each other and the outer world.