To avoid confessing that old battlefields have that tendency the Captain rose and took up a guitar; but when he would have laid it on her knee she pushed it away and asked the song of him; asked with something intimate in her smiling undertone that thrilled him, yet on the next instant seemed pure dream stuff. The others broke in and Constance begged a song of the new patriotism; but Miranda, the pretty stepmother, spoke rather for something a thousand miles and months away from the troubles and heroics of the hour; and when Anna seconded this motion by one fugitive glance worth all their beseechings Hilary, as he stood, gayly threw open his smart jacket lest his brass buttons mar the instrument, and sang with a sudden fervor that startled and delighted all the group:
“Drink to me only with thine eyes.”
In the midst of which Constance lifted a knowing look across to Miranda, and Miranda sent it back.
There was never an evening that did not have to end, and at last the gentlemen began to make a show of leaving. But then came a lively chat, all standing in a bunch. To-morrow’s procession, the visitors said, would form in Canal Street, move up St. Charles, return down Camp Street into Canal, pass through it into Rampart, take the Bayou Road and march to a grand review away out in the new camp of instruction at the Creole Race-Course. Intermediately, from a certain Canal Street balcony, Flora would present the flag! the gorgeous golden, silken, satin battle standard which the Callenders and others had helped her to make. So —good-night—good-night.
The last parting was with Mandeville, at the levee-road gate, just below which he lived in what, during the indigo-planter’s life, had been the overseer’s cottage. At a fine stride our artillerist started townward, his horse being stabled near by in that direction. But presently he halted, harkened after the Creole’s receding step, thought long, softly called himself names, and then did a small thing which, although it resulted in nothing tragic at the time, marked a turning point in his life. He leapt the grove fence, returned to the shadows of the garden, and silently made his way to its eastern, down-river side. Already the dwelling’s lower lights were going out while none yet shone above, and he paused in deep shade far enough away to see, over its upper veranda’s edge, the tops of its chamber windows.
The house was of brick. So being, in a land where most dwellings are of wood, it had gathered beauty from time and dignity from tried strength, and with satisfying grace joined itself to its grounds, whose abundance and variety of flowering, broad-leaved evergreens lent, in turn, a poetic authenticity to its Greek columns and to the Roman arches of its doors and windows. Especially in these mild, fragrant, blue nights was this charm potent, and the fair home seemed to its hidden beholder forever set apart from the discords and distresses of a turbulent world. And now an upper window brightened, its sash went up, and at the veranda’s balustrade Anna stood outlined against the inner glow.