The open carriage spun round the battery’s right and up its front to where a knot of comrades hid the prostrate Charlie; the surgeon, Kincaid, and Flora crouching at his side, the citizen from the balcony still protecting grandmamma, and the gilded eagle of the unpresented standard hovering over all. With tender ease Hilary lifted the sufferer and laid him on the carriage’s front seat, the surgeon passed Madame in and sat next to her, but to Kincaid Flora exclaimed with a glow of heroic distress:
“Let me go later—with Anna!” Her eyes overflowed—she bit her lip—“I must present the flag!”
A note of applause started, a protest hushed it, and the overbending Callenders and the distracted Victorine heard Hilary admiringly say:
“Come! Go! You belong with your brother!”
He pressed her in. For an instant she stood while the carriage turned, a hand outstretched toward the standard, saying to Hilary something that was drowned by huzzas; then despairingly she sank into her seat and was gone down Royal Street.
“Attention!” called a lieutenant, and the ranks were in order. To the holder of the flag Hilary pointed out Anna, lingered for a word with his subaltern, and then followed the standard to the Callenders’ balcony.
THINGS ANNA COULD NOT WRITE
“Charlie has two ribs broken, but is doing well,” ran a page of the diary; “so well that Flora and Madame—who bears fatigue wonderfully—let Captain Irby take them, in the evening, to see the illumination. For the thunderstorm, which sent us whirling home at midday, was followed by a clear evening sky and an air just not too cool to be fragrant.
“I cannot write. My thoughts jostle one another out of all shape, like the women in that last crush after the flag-presentation. I begged not to have to take Flora’s place from her. It was like snatching jewels off her. I felt like a robber! But in truth until I had the flag actually in my hand I thought we were only being asked to take care of it for a later day. The storm had begun to threaten. Some one was trying to say to me—’off to camp and then to the front,’ and—’must have the flag now,’ and still I said, ‘No, oh, no!’ But before I could get any one to add a syllable there was the Captain himself with the three men of the color guard behind him, the middle one Victorine’s father. I don’t know how I began, but only that I went on and on in some wild way till I heard the applause all about and beneath me, and he took the colors from me, and the first gust of the storm puffed them half open—gorgeously—and the battery hurrahed. And then came his part. He—I cannot write it.”
Why not, the diary never explained, but what occurred was this:
“Ladies and gentlemen and comrades in arms!” began Hilary and threw a superb look all round, but the instant he brought it back to Anna, it quailed, and he caught his breath. Then he nerved up again. To help his courage and her own she forced herself to gaze straight into his eyes, but reading the affright in hers he stood dumb and turned red.