But Flora remained benign while the old lady drew a little mocking sigh. “Ah,” said the latter, “if the General would only stop changing his mind about his two nephews, what a lot of hard work that would save you!”
“It isn’t hard!” cried Flora; so radiantly that passing strangers brightened back, “I love it!”
“It!” mocked the grandmother as the girl passed her into the carriage. “It!”
“You poor tired old thing!” sighed the compassionate beauty. “Never mind, dear; how the General may choose no longer gives me any anxiety.”
“Oh, you lie!”
“No,” softly laughed the girl, “not exactly. Don’t collapse, love, you’ll get your share of the loot yet. My choice shall fit the General’s as this glove (drawing on the one Irby was still away in search of) fits this hand.”
Madame smiled her contempt: “Nevertheless you will risk all just to show Anna—”
Flora made a gesture of delight but harkened on—
“That she cannot have her Captain till—”
“Till I’m sure I don’t want him!” sang the girl.
“Which will never be!” came the quiet response.
The maiden flushed: “On the contrary, my dear, I was just going to say, you will please begin at once to be more civil to our Captain—Irby.”
Madame gazed: “My God!”
“Ho!” said Flora, “I’d rather somebody else’s.” She cheerily smoothed the bonnet-bows under the old lady’s chin: “Now, chere, you know the assets are all you care for—even if with them you have to take a nincompoop for a grandson.”
She was laughing merrily when Irby reappeared in the crowd, motioning that he had found nothing. Her gloved hands raised in fond apology, and Hilary’s absence, appeased him, and he entered the vehicle.
So to Jackson Square, where it was good-by to Irby and the carriage, and Age and Beauty climbed their staircase together. “To-morrow’s Saturday,” gayly sighed the girl. “I’ve a good mind to lie abed till noon, counting up the week’s successes.”
“Especially to-day’s,” smirked weary Age.
“Ho-o-oh!” laughed the maiden, “you and to-day be—” The rest was whispered close, with a one-fingered tap on the painted cheek. In the gloom of the upper landing she paused to murmur, “hear this: Two things I have achieved this week worth all to-day’s bad luck ten times over—you don’t believe me?”
“No, you pretty creature; you would have told me sooner, if only for vanity.”
“I swear to you it is true!” whispered the lithe boaster, with a gleeful quiver from head to foot. “Listen! First—purely, of course, for love of Anna—I have conspired with the General to marry her to Kincaid. And, second, also purely for love of her, I have conspired with Irby to keep her and Kincaid forever and a day apart!”
She tapped both the aged cheeks at once: “I hate to share anything so delicious with you, but I must, because—”