“Oh, dearie, I don’t think at all, I just know. I know he’s furiously in love with you—Yes, furiously; but that he’s determined to be fair to Fred Greenleaf—”
“Oh!”—a yet wickeder smile.
“Yes, and that he feels poor. You know that if the General—”
The hearer lifted and dropped both arms: “Oh!—to be continued!”
“Well, I know, too, that he doesn’t believe, anyhow, in soldiers marrying. I’ve never told you, sweet, but—if I hadn’t cried so hard—Steve would have challenged Hilary Kincaid for what he said on that subject the night we were married!”
Anna straightened, flashed, and then dropped again as she asked, “Is that all you know?”
“No, I know what counts for more than all the rest; I know you’re a terror to him.”
Remotely in the terror’s sad eyes glimmered a smile that was more than half satisfaction. “You might as well call him a coward,” she murmured.
“Not at all. You know you’ve been a terror to every suitor you’ve ever had—except Fred Greenleaf; he’s the only one you couldn’t keep frightened out of his wits. Now this time I know it’s only because you’re—you’re bothered! You don’t know how you’re going to feel—”
“And you don’t want to mislead him, and you’re just bothered to death! It was the same way with me.”
“It wasn’t!” silently said Anna’s lips, her face averted. Suddenly she turned and clutched her sister’s hands: “Oh, Con, while we talk trifles Flora’s home lies in ashes!... Yes, he told me so just now.”
“Didn’t he tell her too?”
“Why, no, Connie, he—he couldn’t very well. It—it would have been almost indelicate, wouldn’t it? But he’s gone now to tell her.”
“He needn’t,” said Constance. “She knows it now. The moment I came in here I saw, through all her lightness, she’d got some heavy news. She must have overheard him, Nan.”
“Connie, I—I believe she did!”
“Well, that’s all right. What are you blushing for?”
“Blushing! Every time I get a little warm—” The speaker rose to go, but the sister kept her hand:
“Keep fresh for this evening, honey. He’ll be back.”
“No, he won’t. He doesn’t propose to if he could and he couldn’t if he did. To get the battery off to-morrow—”
“It won’t get off to-morrow, nor the next day, nor the next. You know how it always is. When Steve—”
“Oh, I don’t know anything,” said Anna, pulling free and moving off. “But you, oh, you know it all, you and Steve!”
But the elder beauty was right. The battery did not go for more than a fortnight, and Hilary came again that evening. Sitting together alone, he and Anna talked about their inner selves—that good old sign! and when she gave him a chance he told her what Greenleaf had said about her and the ocean. Also he confided to her his envy of small-statured people, and told how it hurt him to go about showing the bigness of his body and hiding the pettiness of his soul. And he came the next evening and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next.