“I!... b, e, x, bex, Ibex!”
A gentle speculation followed as to which of all Hilary’s utterances had taken finest effect on the boys, and it was agreed that most potent for good was the brief talk away back at Camp Callender, in which he had told them that, being artillery, they must know how to wait unmurmuring through months of “rotting idleness” from one deadly “tea-party” to another. For a year, now, they had done that, and done it the better because he had all that same time been forced to do likewise in New Orleans, a prisoner in hospital, long at death’s door, and only now getting well.
Anna remained silent. While there was praise of him what more could she want for sweet calm?
“True,” said somebody, “in these forty-odd months between March, ’Sixty-one, and August, ’Sixty-four, all hands had got their fill of war; laurels gained were softer to rest on than laurels unsprouted, and it ought to be as easy as rolling off a log for him to lie on his prison-hospital cot in ‘rotting idleness,’ lulled in the proud assurance that he had saved Mobile, or at least postponed for a year—”
“Hilary?” frowningly asked Adolphe.
“Yes,” with a firm quietness said Anna.
Villeneuve gallantly amended that somebody else owned an undivided half in the glory of that salvation and would own more as soon as the Union fleet (daily growing in numbers) should try to enter the bay: a hint at Anna, of course, and at the great ram Tennessee, which the Confederate admiral, Buchanan, had made his flag-ship, and whose completion, while nothing else was ready but three small wooden gunboats, was due—they had made even Anna believe—to the safe delivery of the Bazaar fund.
So then she, forced to talk, presently found herself explaining how such full news of Hilary had so often come in these awful months; to wit, by the long, kind letters of a Federal nurse—and Federal officer’s wife—but for whose special devotion the captive must have perished, and who, Anna revealed, was the schoolmistress banished North in ’Sixty-one. What she kept untold was that, by favor of Greenleaf, Hilary had been enabled to auction off the poor remains of his home belongings and thus to restore the returned exile her gold. The speaker let her eyes wander to an approaching orderly, and a lieutenant took the chance to mention that early drill near Carrollton, which the General had viewed from the Callenders’ equipage. Their two horses, surviving the shells and famine of Vicksburg, had been among the mere half-dozen of good beasts retained at the surrender by some ruse, and—
The orderly brought Bartleson a document and Mandeville a newspaper—
And it was touching, to-day, the lieutenant persisted, to see that once so beautiful span, handsome yet, leading in the team of six that drew the draped caisson which—
“Ah, yes!” assented all.
Mandeville hurried to read out the news from Virginia, which could still reach them through besieged Atlanta. It was of the Petersburg mine and its slaughter, and thrilled every one. Yet Anna watched Bartleson open his yellow official envelope.