“Yes,” said Flora, one way to the speaker and quite another way to herself.
“Yes, she wants to do it, and Doctor Sevier says it’s the only thing for her. Ah, Flora, how well you can understand that!”
“Indeed, yes,” sighed the listener, both ways again.
“We know how absolutely you believe the city’s our best base, else we’d have asked you to go with us.” The ever genuine Constance felt a mortifying speciousness in her words and so piled them on. “We know the city is best—unless it should fall, and it won’t—oh, it won’t, God’s not going to let so many prayers go unanswered, Flora! But we’ve tossed reason aside and are going by instinct, the way I always feel safest in, dear. Ah, poor Anna! Oh, Flora, she’s so sweet about it!”
“Yes? Ab-out what?”
“You, dear, and whoever is suffering the same—”
Flora softly winced and Constance blamed herself so to have pained another sister’s love. “And she’s so quiet,” added the speaker, “but, oh, so pale—and so hard either to comfort or encourage, or even to discourage. There’s nothing you can say that she isn’t already heart-sick of saying herself, to herself, and I beg you, dear, in your longing to comfort her, please don’t bring up a single maybe-this or maybe-that; any hope, I mean, founded on a mere doubt.”
“Ah, but sometime’ the doubt—it is the hope!”
“Yes, sometimes; but not to her, any more. Oh, Flora, if it’s just as true of you, you won’t be—begrudge my saying it of my sister—that no saint ever went to her matyrdom better prepared than she is, right now, for the very worst that can be told. There’s only one thing to which she never can and never will resign herself, and that is doubt. She can’t breathe its air, Flora. As she says herself, she isn’t so built; she hasn’t that gift.”
The musing Flora nodded compassionately, but inwardly she said that, gift or no gift, Anna should serve her time in Doubting Castle, with her, Flora, for turnkey. Suddenly she put away her abstraction and with a summarizing gesture and chastened twinkle spoke out: “In short, you want to know for w’at am I come.”
“Ah, but, my dear, you are ri-ight. That is ‘all correct,’ as they say, and one thing I’m come for—’t is—” She handed out Mandeville’s two letters.
The wife caught them to her bosom, sprang to her tiptoes, beamed on the packet a second time and read aloud, “Urbanity of Corporal Valcour!” She heaved an ecstatic breath to speak on, but failed. Anna and Miranda had joined them and Flora had risen from her seat on the balustrade, aware at once that the role she had counted on was not to be hers, the role of comforter to an undone rival.
Pale indeed was the rival, pale as rivalry could wish. Yet instantly Flora saw, with a fiery inward sting, how beautiful pallor may be. And more she saw: with the chagrin then growing so common on every armed front—the chagrin of finding one’s foe entrenched—she saw how utterly despair had failed to crush a gentle soul. Under cover of affliction’s night and storm Anna, this whole Anna Callender, had been reinforced, had fortified and was a new problem.