“O, my heart’s in New Orleans wherever I go—”
meaning, for himself, that wherever roamed a certain maiden whose whereabouts in Dixie he could only conjecture, there was the New Orleans of his heart.
One day in the last week of the siege a young mother in the Callenders’ cave darted out into the sunshine to rescue her straying babe and was killed by a lump of iron. Bombardments rarely pause for slips like that, yet the Callenders ventured to her burial in a graveyard not far from “Carrollton Gardens.” As sympathy yet takes chances with contagions it took them then with shells.
Flora Valcour daily took both risks—with contagions in a field hospital hard by the cemetery, and with shells and stray balls when she fled at moments from the stinking wards to find good air and to commune with her heart’s desires and designs. There was one hazard beside which foul air and stray shots were negligible, a siege within this siege. To be insured against the mere mathematical risk that those designs, thus far so fortunate, might by any least mishap, in the snap of a finger, come to naught she would have taken chances with the hugest shell Grant or Porter could send. For six weeks Anna and Hilary—Anna not knowing if he was alive, he thinking her fifty leagues away—had been right here, hardly an hour’s walk asunder. With what tempest of heart did the severed pair rise at each dawn, lie down each night; but Flora suffered no less. Let either of the two get but one glimpse, hear but one word, of the other, and—better a shell, slay whom it might.
On her granddaughter’s brow Madame Valcour saw the murk of the storm. “The lightning must strike some time, you are thinking, eh?” she simpered.
“No, not necessarily—thanks to your aid!”
Thanks far more to Flora’s subtlety and diligence. It refreshed Madame to see how well the fair strategist kept her purposes hid. Not even Irby called them—those he discerned—hers. In any case, at any time, any possessive but my or mine, or my or mine on any lip but his, angered him. Wise Flora, whenever she alluded to their holding of the plighted ones apart, named the scheme his till that cloyed, and then “ours” in a way that made it more richly his, even when—clearly to Madame, dimly to him, exasperatingly to both—her wiles for its success—woven around his cousin—became purely feminine blandishments for purely feminine ends. In her own mind she accorded Irby only the same partnership of aims which she contemptuously shared with the grandam, who, like Irby, still harped on assets, on that estate over in Louisiana which every one else, save his uncle, had all but forgotten. The plantation and its slaves were still Irby’s objective, and though Flora was no less so, any chance that for jealousy of her and Hilary he might throw Anna into Hilary’s arms, was offset by his evident conviction that the estate would in that moment be lost to him and that no estate meant no Flora. Madame kept that before him and he thanked and loathed her accordingly.