“You look—” began Constance—but “careworn” was a risky term and she stopped. He suggested “weather-beaten,” and the ladies laughed.
“Yes,” they said, “even they were overtasked with patriotic activities, and Anna had almost made herself ill. Nevertheless if he would call he should see her too. Oh, no, not to-day; no, not to-morrow; but—well— the day after.” (Miss Valcour passed so close as to hear the appointment, but her greeting smile failed to draw their attention.) “And oh, then you must tell us all about that fearful adventure in which you saved Lieutenant Greenleaf’s life! Ah, we’ve heard, just heard, in a letter.” The horses danced with impatience. “We shall expect you!”
As they drove into Royal Street with Constance rapturously pressing Miranda’s hand the latter tried vainly to exchange bows with a third beauty and a second captain, but these were busy meeting each other in bright surprise and espied the carriage only when it had passed.
Might the two not walk together a step or so? With pleasure. They were Flora and Irby. Presently—
“Do you know,” she asked, “where your cousin proposes to be day after to-morrow evening—in case you should want to communicate with him?”
He did not. She told him.
“OH, CONNIE, DEAR—NOTHING—GO ON”
The third evening came. On all the borders of dear Dixie more tents than ever whitened sea-shores and mountain valleys, more sentinels paced to and fro in starlight or rain, more fifers and trumpeters woke the echoes with strains to enliven fortitude, more great guns frowned silently at each other over more parapets, and more thousands of lovers reclined about camp fires with their hearts and fancies at home, where mothers and maidens prayed in every waking moment for God’s mercy to keep the brave truants; and with remembrance of these things Anna strove to belittle her own distress while about the library lamp she and Miranda seemed each to be reading a book, and Constance the newspaper sent from Charleston by Mandeville.
Out in the mellow night a bird sang from the tip-top of a late-blooming orange tree, and inside, away inside, inside and through and through the poor girl’s heart, the “years”—which really were nothing but the mantel clock’s quarter-hours—“crept slowly by.”
At length she laid her book aside, softly kissed each seated companion, and ascended to her room and window. There she stood long without sound or motion, her eyes beyond the stars, her head pressed wearily against the window frame. Then the lids closed while her lips formed soft words:
“Oh, God, he is not coming!” Stillness again. And then—“Oh, let me believe yet that only Thy hand keeps him away! Is it to save him for some one fairer and better? God, I ask but to know! I’m a rebel, but not against Thee, dear Lord. I know it’s a sin for me to suffer this way; Thou dost not owe me happiness; I owe it Thee. Oh, God, am I clamoring for my week’s wages before I’ve earned an hour’s pay? Yet oh! yet oh!”—the head rocked heavily on its support—“if only—if only—”