We covet solidity of character, but Flora and Madame were essentially fluid. They never let themselves clash with any one, and their private rufflings of each other had only a happy effect of aerating their depths, and left them as mirror-smooth and thoroughly one as the bosom of a garden lake after the ripples have died behind two jostling swans. To the Callenders society was a delightful and sufficient end. To the Valcours it was a means to all kinds of ends, as truly as commerce or the industries, and yet they were so fragrantly likable that to call them accomplices seems outrageous—clogs the pen. Yes, they were actors, but you never saw that. They never stepped out of their parts, and they had this virtue, if it is one: that behind all their roles they were staunchly for each other in every pinch. When Kincaid had been away a few days this second time, these two called at the Callender house.
To none was this house more interesting than to Flora. In her adroit mind she accused it of harboring ancient secrets in its architecture, shrewd hiding-places in its walls. Now as she stood in the panelled drawing-rooms awaiting its inmates, she pointed out to her seated companion that this was what her long-dead grandsire might have made their own home, behind Mobile, had he spent half on its walls what he had spent in them on wine, cards, and—
“Ah!” chanted the old lady, with a fierce glint and a mock-persuasive smile, “add the crowning word, the capsheaf. You have the stamina to do it.”
“Women,” said the girl of stamina beamingly, and went floating about, peering and tapping for hollow places. At one tap her eye, all to itself, danced; but on the instant Anna, uninformed of their presence, and entering with a vase of fresh roses, stood elated. Praise of the flowers hid all confusion, and Flora, with laughing caresses and a droll hardihood which Anna always enjoyed, declared she would gladly steal roses, garden, house and all. Anna withdrew, promising instant return.
“Flora dear!” queried the grandmother in French, “why did you tell her the truth? For once you must have been disconcerted!”
The sparkling girl laughed: “Why, isn’t that—with due modifications—just what we’re here for?”
Madame suddenly looked older, but quickly brightened again as Flora spoke on: “Don’t you believe the truth is, now and then, the most effective lie? I’ve sometimes inferred you did.”
The old lady rather enjoyed the gibe: “My dear, I can trust you never to give any one an overdose of it. Yet take care, you gave it a bit too pure just now. Don’t ever risk it so on that fool Constance, she has the intuitive insight of a small child—the kind you lost so early.”
The two exchanged a brief admiring glance. “Oh, I’m all right with Constance,” was the reply. “I’m cousin to ’Steve’!”