“Come with me back!” whispered Flora, dragging on him with bending knees. “She’s lost! She’s gone back to those Yankee, and to Fred Greenleaf! And you”—the whisper rose to a murmur whose pathos grew with her Creole accent—“you, another step and you are a deserter! Yes! to your country—to Kincaid’ Batt’ree—to me-me-me!” The soft torrent of speech grew audible beyond them: “Oh, my God! Hilary Kincaid, listen-to-me-listen! You ’ave no right; no ri-ight to leave me! Ah, you shall not! No right—ri-ight to leave yo’ Flora—sinze she’s tol’ you —sinze she’s tol’ you—w’at she’s tol’ you!”
In this long history of a moment the blue skirmishers had not yet found Anna, but it was their advance, their soft stir at her back as they came upon their fallen leader, that had hushed her cries. At the rift in the wood she had leaned on a huge oak and as body and mind again failed had sunk to its base in leafy hiding. Vaguely thence she presently perceived, lit from behind her by sunset beams, the farther edge of the green opening, and on that border, while she feebly looked, came suddenly a ghost!
[Illustration: “You ’ave no ri-ight to leave me! Ah, you shall not!”]
Ah, Heaven! the ghost of Hilary Kincaid! It looked about for her! It listened for her call! By the tree’s rough bark she drew up half her height, clung and, with reeling brain, gazed. How tall! how gaunt! how dingy gray! How unlike her whilom “ladies’ man,” whom, doubtless truly, they now called dead and buried. But what—what—was troubling the poor ghost? What did it so wildly avoid? what wave away with such loving, tender pain? Flora Valcour! Oh, see, see! Ah, death in life! what does she see? As by the glare of a bursting midnight shell all the empty gossip of two years justified—made real—in one flash of staring view. With a long moan the beholder cast her arms aloft and sank in a heap, not knowing that the act had caught Hilary’s eye, but willingly aware that her voice had perished in a roar of artillery from the farther brink of the ravine, in a crackle and fall of tree-tops, and in the “rebel yell” and charge.
Next morning, in a fog, the blue holders of a new line of rifle-pits close under the top of a bluff talked up to the grays in a trench on its crest. Gross was the banter, but at mention of “ladies” it purified.
“Johnnie!” cried “Yank,” “who is she, the one we’ve got?” and when told to ask her, said she was too ill to ask. By and by to “Johnnie’s” inquiries the blues replied:
“He? the giant? Hurt? No-o, not half bad enough, when we count what he cost us. If we’d known he was only stunned we”—and so on, not very interestingly, while back in the rear of the gray line tearful Constance praised, to her face, the haggard Flora and, in his absence, the wounded Irby, Flora’s splendid rescuer in the evening onslaught.
“A lifetime debt,” Miranda thought Flora owed him, and Flora’s meditative yes, as she lifted her eyes to her grandmother’s, was—peculiar.