Early next morning Madame Valcour, entering an outer room from an inner one, found Flora writing a note. The girl kept on, conscious that her irksome critic was taking keen note of a subtle, cruel decay of her beauty, a spiritual corrosion that, without other fault to the eye, had at last reached the surface in a faint hardening of lines and staleness of bloom. Now she rose, went out, dispatched her note and returned. Her manner, as the two sat down to bread and coffee, was bright though tense.
“From Greenleaf?” inquired her senior, “and to the same?”
The girl shook her fair head and named one of his fellow-officers at Callender House: “No, Colonel Greenleaf is much too busy. Hilary Kincaid has—”
“Esca-aped?” cried the aged one, flashed hotly, laughed, flashed again and smiled. “That Victorine kitten—with her cakes! And you—and Greenleaf—hah! you three cats paws—of one little—Anna!”
Flora jauntily wagged a hand, then suddenly rose and pointed with a big bread knife: “Go, dress! We’ll save the kitten—if only for Charlie! Go! she must leave town at once. Go! But, ah, grannie dear,”—she turned to a window—“for Anna, spite of all we can do, I am af-raid—Ship Island! Poor Anna!” At the name her beautiful arm, in one swift motion, soared, swung, drove the bright steel deep into the window-frame and left it quivering.
“Really,” said a courteous staff-officer as he and Doctor Sevier alighted at the garden stair of Callender House and helped Anna and her maid from a public carriage, “only two or three of us will know you’re”—His smile was awkward. The pale doctor set his jaw. Anna musingly supplied the term:
“A prisoner.” She looked fondly over the house’s hard-used front as they mounted the steps. “If they’d keep me here, Doctor,” she said at the top, “I’d be almost happy. But”—she faced the aide-de-camp—“they won’t, you know. By this time to-morrow I shall be”—she waved playfully—“far away.”
“Mainland, or island?” grimly asked the Doctor.
She did not know. “But I know, now, how a rabbit feels with the hounds after her. Honestly,” she said again to the officer, “I wish I might have her cunning.” And the soldier murmured, “Amen.”
THE IRON-CLAD OATH
Under Anna’s passive air lay a vivid alertness to every fact in range of eye or ear.
Any least thing now might tip the scale for life or death, and while at the head of the veranda steps she spoke of happiness her distressed thought was of Hilary’s madcap audacity, how near at hand he might be even then, under what fearful risk of recognition and capture. She was keenly glad to hear two men complain that the guard about the house and grounds was to-day a new one awkward to the task. Of less weight now it seemed that out on the river the despatch-boat had shifted her berth down-stream and with steam up lay where the first few wheel turns would put her out of sight. Indoors, where there was much official activity, it relieved her to see that neither Hilary’s absence nor her coming counted large in the common regard. The brace of big generals were in the library across the hall, busy on some affair much larger than this of “ourn.”