For reply there came a light in Anna’s face that shone into his heart and was meant so to shine, yet her dissent was prompt: “I must. I must. Oh, Capt—Captain Kincaid, I love that flag too well to let it go misnamed. It’s the flag of all of us who made it, us hundred girls—”
“Hundred—yes, yes, true. But how? This very morning I chanced upon your secret—through little Victorine—that every stitch in all that flag’s embroideries is yours.”
“Yet, Captain Kincaid, it is the flag of all those hundred girls; and if to any one marching under it it is to be the flag of any one of us singly, that one can only be—you know!”
Majestically in her hiding-place the one implied lowered and lifted her head in frigid scorn and awaited the commander’s answer.
“True again,” he said, “true. Let the flag of my hundred boys be to all and each the flag of a hundred girls. Yet will it be also the flag of his heart’s one choice—sister, wife, or sweetheart—to every man marching, fighting, or dying under it—and more are going to die under it than are ever coming back. To me, oh, to me, let it be yours. My tasks have spared me no time to earn of you what would be dearer than life, and all one with duty and honor. May I touch your hand? Oh, just to say good-by. But if ever I return—no, have no fear, I’ll not say it now. Only—only—” he lifted the hand to his lips—“good-by. God’s smile be on you in all that is to come.”
“Good-by,” came her answering murmur.
“And the flag?” he exclaimed. “The flag?” By the clink of his sabre Flora knew he was backing away. “Tell me—me alone—the word to perish with me if I perish—that to me as if alone”—the clinking came nearer again—“to me and for me and with your blessing”—again the sound drew away—“the flag—the flag I must court death under—is yours.”
Silence. From out in the hall the lover sent back a last beseeching look, but no sound reached the hiding of the tense listener whose own heart’s beating threatened to reveal her; no sound to say that now Anna had distressfully shaken her head, or that now her tears ran down, or that now in a mingled pain and rapture of confession she nodded—nodded! and yet imploringly waved him away.
It was easy to hear the door open and close. Faintly on this other hand the voices of the ladies returning from the garden foreran them. The soldier’s tread was on the outer stair. Now theirs was in the rear veranda. With it tinkled their laughter. Out yonder hoofs galloped.
The hidden one stole forth. A book on a table was totally engaging the eyes of her hostess and at the instant grandma reentered laden with roses. Now all five were in, and Anna, pouring out words with every motion, and curiously eyed by Constance, took the flowers to give them a handier form, while Flora rallied her kinswoman on wasting their friends’ morning these busy times, and no one inquired, and no one told, who had been here that now had vanished.