No moment of equal bitterness had Flora Valcour ever known. To tell half her distresses would lose us in their tangle, midmost in which was a choking fury against the man whom unwillingly she loved, for escaping her, even by a glorious death. One thought alone—that Anna, as truly as if stricken blind, would sit in darkness the rest of her days—lightened her torture, and with that thought she smiled a stony loathing on the mincing grandam and the boy’s unlifted head. Suddenly, purpose gleamed from her. She could not break forth herself, but to escape suffocation she must and would procure an outburst somewhere. Measuredly, but with every nerve and tendon overstrung, she began to pace the room.
“Don’t cry, Charlie,” she smoothly said in a voice as cold as the crawl of a snake. The brother knew the tone, had known it from childhood, and the girl, glancing back on him, was pleased to see him stiffen. A few steps on she added pensively, “For a soldier to cry—and befo’ ladies—a ladies’ man—of that batt’rie—tha’s hardly fair—to the ladies, eh, grandmama?”
But the boy only pressed his forehead harder down and clutched the aged knees under it till their owner put on, to the scintillant beauty, a look of alarm and warning. The girl, musingly retracing her calculated steps to where the kneeler seemed to clinch himself to his posture, halted, stroked with her slippered toe a sole of his rude shoes and spoke once more: “Do they oft-ten boohoo like that, grandma, those artillerie?”
The boy whirled up with the old woman clinging. A stream of oaths and curses appallingly original poured from him, not as through the lips alone but from his very eyes and nostrils. That the girl was first of all a fool and damned was but a trivial part of the cry—of the explosion of his whole year’s mistaken or half-mistaken inferences and smothered indignation. With equal flatness and blindness he accused her of rejoicing in the death of Kincaid: the noblest captain (he ramped on) that ever led a battery; kindest friend that ever ruled a camp; gayest, hottest, daringest fighter of Shiloh’s field; fiercest for man’s purity that ever loved the touch of women’s fingers; sternest that ever wept on the field of death with the dying in his arms; and the scornfullest of promotion that ever was cheated of it at headquarters.
All these extravagances he cursed out, too witless to see that this same hero of his was the one human being, himself barely excepted, for whose life his sister cared. He charged her of never having forgiven Hilary for making Anna godmother of their flag, and of being in some dark league against him—“hell only knew what”—along with that snail of a cousin whom everybody but Kincaid himself and the silly old uncle knew to be the fallen man’s most venomous foe. Throughout the storm the grandmother’s fingers pattered soothing caresses, while Flora stood as unruffled by his true surmises as by any, a look of cold interest in her narrowed eyes, and her whole bodily and spiritual frame drinking relief from his transport. Now, while he still raged, she tenderly smiled on their trembling ancestress.