One day Victorine came to Anna with ecstasy in her almond eyes and much news on her lips. “To bigin small,” she said, Flora and her grandmother had “arrive’ back ag-ain” at dawn that morning! Oddly, while Anna forced a smile, her visitor’s eyes narrowed and her lips tightened. So they sat, Anna’s smile fading out while her soul’s troubles inwardly burned afresh, Victorine’s look growing into clearer English than her Creole tongue could have spoken. “I trust her no more,” it said. “Long have I doubted her, and should have told you sooner but for—Charlie; but now, dead in love as you know me still to be, you have my conviction. That is all for the present. There is better news.”
The ecstasy gleamed again and she gave her second item. These weeks she had been seeking, for herself and a guardian aunt, a passport into the Confederacy and lo! here it lay in her pretty hand.
“Deztitution!” she joyfully confessed to be the plea on which it had been procured—by Doctor Sevier through Colonel—guess!—“Grinleaf!—juz’ riturn’” from service in the field.
And how were the destitute pair to go?
Ah! did Anna “rim-emb’r” a despatch-boat of unrivalled speed whose engines Hilary Kin—?
Yes, ah, yes!
On which she and others had once—?
And which had been captured when the city fell? That boat was now lying off Callender House! Did Anna not know that her shattered home, so long merely the headquarters of a blue brigade, had lately become of large, though very quiet, importance as a rendezvous of big generals who by starlight paced its overgrown garden alleys debating and planning something of great moment? Doctor Sevier had found that out and had charged Victorine to tell it with all secrecy to the biggest general in Mobile the instant she should reach there. For she was to go by that despatch-boat.
“Aw-dinner-illy,” she said, a flag-of-truce craft might be any old tub and would go the short way, from behind the city and across the lakes, not all round by the river and the Chandeleur Islands. But this time—that very morning—a score or so of Confederate prisoners (officers, for exchange) had been put aboard that boat, bound for Mobile. Plainly the whole affair was but a mask for reconnaissance, the boat, swiftest in all the Gulf, to report back at top speed by way of the lakes. But!—the aunt would not go at all! Never having been a mile from her door, she was begging off in a palsy of fright, and here was the niece with a deep plot—ample source of her ecstasy—a plot for Anna, duly disguised, to go in the aunt’s place, back to freedom, Dixie, and the arms of Constance and Miranda.
Anna trembled. She could lovingly call the fond schemer, over and over, a brave, rash, generous little heroine and lay caresses on her twice and again, but to know whether this was Heaven’s leading was beyond her. She paced the room. She clasped her brow. A full half of her own great purpose (great to her at least) seemed all at once as good as achieved, yet it was but the second half, as useless without the first as half a bridge on the far side of the flood. “I cannot go!” she moaned. For the first half was Hilary, and he—she saw it without asking—was on this cartel of exchange.