She started—listened! A gate opened—shut. She sprang to her glass and then from it. In soft haste she needlessly closed the window and drew its shade and curtains. She bathed her eyelids and delicately dried them. At the mirror again she laid deft touches on brow and crown, harkening between for any messenger’s step, and presently, without reason, began to set the room more exquisitely to rights. Now she faced the door and stood attentive, and now she took up a small volume and sat down by her lamp.
A tap: Constance entered, beaming only too tenderly. “It was better, wasn’t it,” she asked, hovering, “to come than to send?”
“Why, of course, dear; it always is.”
A meditative silence followed. Then Anna languidly inquired, “Who is it?”
“Nobody but Charlie.”
The inquirer brightened: “And why isn’t Charlie as good as any one?”
“He is, to-night,” replied the elder beauty, “except—the one exception.”
“Oh, Connie”—a slight flush came as the seated girl smilingly drew her sister’s hands down to her bosom—“there isn’t any one exception, and there’s not going to be any. Now, that smile is downright mean of you!”
The offender atoned with a kiss on the brow.
“Why do you say,” asked its recipient, “’as good as any one, to-night’?”
“Because,” was the soft reply, “to-night he comes from—the other—to explain why the other couldn’t come.”
“Why!”—the flush came back stronger—“why, Connie! why, that’s positively silly—ha, ha, ha!”
“I don’t see how, Nan.”
“My dear Con! Isn’t his absence equally and perfectly innocent whether he couldn’t come or wouldn’t come? But an explanation sent!—by courier!—to—to shorten—ah, ha, ha!—to shorten our agony! Why, Con, wouldn’t you have thought better of him than that? H-oh, me! What a man’s ‘bound to be’ I suppose he’s bound to be. What is the precious explanation?”
With melting eyes Constance shook her head. “You don’t deserve to hear it,” she replied. Her tears came: “My little sister, I’m on the man’s side in this affair!”
“That’s not good of you,” murmured Anna.
“I don’t claim to be good. But there’s one thing, Nan Callender, I never did; I never chained up my lover to see if he’d stay chained. When Steve—”
“Oh-h! Oh-h!” panted Anna, “you’re too cruel! Hilary Kincaid wears no chain of mine!”
“Oh, yes, he does! He’s broken away, but he’s broken away, chain and all, to starve and perish, as one look into his face would show you!”
“He doesn’t show his face. He sends—”
“An explanation. Yes. Which first you scorn and then consent to hear.”
“Don’t scorn me, Connie. What’s the explanation?”
“It’s this: he’s been sent back to those Mobile fortifications—received the order barely in time to catch the boat by going instantly. Nan, the Valcours’ house is found to stand right on their proposed line, and he’s gone to decide whether the line may be changed or the house must be demolished.”