Strangely, amid a swarm of keen perceptions that plagued him like a cloud of arrows as he ran, that beauty smote his conscience; her beauty and the worship and protection it deserved from all manhood and most of all from him, whose unhappy, unwitting fortune it was to have ensnared her young heart and brought it to the desperation of an unnatural self-revealment; her uncoveted beauty, uncourted love, unwelcome presence, and hideous peril! Was he not to all these in simplest honor peculiarly accountable? They lanced him through with arraignment as, still waving her beseechingly, commandingly back, with weapons undrawn the more swiftly to part the way before him, his frenzy for Anna drew him on, as full of introspection as a drowning man, thinking a year’s thoughts at every step. Oh, mad joy in pitiful employment! Here while the millions of a continent waged heroic war for great wrongs and rights, here on the fighting-line of a beleaguered and starving city, here when at any instant the peal of his own guns might sound a fresh onset, behold him in a lover’s part, loving “not honor more,” setting the seal upon his painful alias, filching time out of the jaws of death to pursue one maiden while clung to by another. Oh, Anna! Anna Callender! my life for my country, but this moment for thy life and thee! God stay the onslaught this one moment!
As he reached the edge of that narrow opening from whose farther side Anna had called he halted, glanced furtively about, and harkened forward, backward, through leafy distances grown ominously still. Oh, why did the call not come again? Hardly in a burning house could time be half so priceless. Not a breath could promise that in the next the lightnings, thunders, and long human yell of assault would not rend the air. Flora’s soft tread ceased at his side.
“Stay back!” he fiercely breathed, and pointed just ahead: “The enemy’s skirmishers!”
“Come away!” she piteously whispered, trembling with terror. For, by a glimpse as brief as the catch of her breath, yonder a mere rod or so within the farther foliage, down a vista hardly wider than a man’s shoulders, an armed man’s blue shoulders she had seen, under his black hat and peering countenance. Joy filled the depth of her heart in the belief that a thin line of such black hats had already put Anna behind them, yet she quaked in terror, terror of death, of instant, shot-torn death that might leave Hilary Kincaid alive.
With smiting pity he saw her affright. “Go back!” he once more gasped: “In God’s name, go back!” while recklessly he stepped forward out of cover. But in splendid desperation, with all her soul’s battle in her eyes—horror, love, defiance, and rending chagrin striving and smiting, she sprang after him into the open, and clutched and twined his arms. The blue skirmish-line, without hearing, saw him; saw, and withheld their fire, fiercely glad that tactics and mercy should for once agree. And Anna saw.