“Oh, Flora!” said Anna again, “is there really something worse?” Abruptly, she spread a hand under the bag and with her eyes still in the eyes of its possessor slid it gently from the yielding wrist. Dropping her fingers into it she brought forth a tobacco-pouch, of her own embroidering, and from it, while the reticule fell unheeded to the floor, drew two or three small things which she laid on it in her doubled hands and regarded with a smile. Vacantly the smile increased as she raised it to Flora, then waned while she looked once more on the relics, and grew again as she began to handle them. Her slow voice took the tone of a child alone at play.
“Why, that’s my photograph,” she said. “And this—this is his watch—watch and chain.” She dangled them. A light frown came and went between her smiles.
With soft eagerness Flora called Constance, and the sister and Miranda stood dumb.
“See, Connie,” the words went on, “see, ’Randa, this is my own photograph, and this is his own watch and chain. I must go and put them away—with my old gems.” Constance would have followed her as she moved but she waved a limp forbiddal, prattling on: “This doesn’t mean he’s dead, you know. Oh, not at all! It means just the contrary! Why, I saw him alive last night, in a dream, and I can’t believe anything else, and I won’t! No, no, not yet!” At that word she made a misstep and as she started sharply to recover it the things she carried fell breaking and jingling at her feet.
“Oh-h!” she sighed in childish surprise and feebly dropped to her knees. Flora, closest by, sprang crouching to the rescue, but recoiled as the kneeling girl leaned hoveringly over the mementos and with distended eyes and an arm thrust forward cried aloud, “No! No! No-o!”
At once, however, her voice was tender again. “Mustn’t anybody touch them but me, ever any more,” she said, regathering the stuff, regained her feet and moved on. Close after her wavering steps anxiously pressed the others, yet not close enough. At the open door, smiling back in rejection of their aid, she tripped, and before they could save her, tumbled headlong within. From up-stairs, from downstairs came servants running, and by the front door entered a stranger, a private soldier in swamp boots and bespattered with the mire of the river road from his spurs to his ragged hat.
“No, bring her out,” he said to a slave woman who bore Anna in her arms, “out to the air!” But the burden slipped free and with a cleared mind stood facing him.
“Ladies,” he exclaimed, his look wandering, his uncovered hair matted, “if a half-starved soldier can have a morsel of food just to take in his hands and ride on with—” and before he could finish servants had sprung to supply him.
“Are you from down the river?” asked Anna, quietly putting away her sister’s pleading touch and Flora’s offer of support.
“I am!” spouted the renegade, for renegade he was, “I’m from the very thick of the massacre! from day turned into night, night into day, and heaven and earth into—into—”