She greeted Flora with a welcoming beam, but before speaking she caught her sister’s arm and glanced herself, at the superscription.
“Flora!” she softly cried, “oh, Flora Valcour! has your brother—your Charlie!—come home alive and well?—What; no?—No, he has not?”
The visitor was shaking her head: “No. Ah, no! home, yes, and al-I’ve; but—”
“Oh, Flora, Flora! alive and at home! home and alive!” While the words came their speaker slowly folded her arms about the bearer of tidings, and with a wholly unwonted strength pressed her again to the rail and drew bosom to bosom, still exclaiming, “Alive! alive! Oh, whatever his plight, be thankful, Flora, for so much! Alive enough to come home!”
FROM THE BURIAL SQUAD
The pinioned girl tried to throw back her head and bring their eyes together, but Anna, through some unconscious advantage, held it to her shoulder, her own face looking out over the garden.
“Ah, let me be glad for you, Flora, let me be glad for you! Oh, think of it! You have him! have him at home, to look upon, to touch, to call by name! and to be looked upon by him and touched and called by name! Oh, God in heaven! God in heaven!”
Miranda’s fond protests were too timorous to check her, and Flora’s ceased in the delight of hearing that last wail confess the thought of Hilary. Constance strove with tender energy for place and voice: “Nan, dearie, Nan! But listen to Flora, Nan. See, Nan, I haven’t opened Steve’s letter yet. Wounded and what, Flora, something worse? Ah, if worse you couldn’t have left him.”
“I know,” sighed Anna, relaxing her arms to a caress and turning her gaze to Flora. “I see. Your brother, our dear Charlie, has come back to life, but wounded and alone. Alone. Hilary is still missing. Isn’t that it? That’s all, isn’t it?”
Constance, in a sudden thought of what her letters might tell, began to open one, though with her eyes at every alternate moment on Flora as eagerly as Miranda’s or Anna’s. Flora stood hiddenly revelling in that complexity of her own spirit which enabled her to pour upon her questioner a look, even a real sentiment, of ravishing pity, while nevertheless in the depths of her being she thrilled and burned and danced and sang with joy for the very misery she thus compassionated. By a designed motion she showed her grandmother’s reticule on her arm. But only Anna saw it; Constance, with her gaze in the letter, was drawing Miranda aside while both bent their heads over a clause in it which had got blurred, and looked at each other aghast as they made it out to read, “‘—from the burial squad.’” The grandmother’s silken bag saved them from Anna’s notice.