Anna and Kincaid went inside to see the upper and more shining portions of the boat’s beautiful machinery. No one had yet made rods, cranks, and gauge-dials sing anthems; but she knew it was Hilary and an artisan or two in his foundry whose audacity in the remaking of these gliding, plunging, turning, vanishing, and returning members had given them their fine new speed-making power, and as he stood at her side and pointed from part to part they took on a living charm that was reflected into him. Pleasant it was, also, to hear two or three droll tales about his battery boys; the personal traits, propensities, and soldierly value of many named by name, and the composite character and temper that distinguished the battery as a command; this specific quality of each particular organic unit, fighting body, among their troops being as needful for commanders to know as what to count on in the individual man. So explained the artillerist while the pair idled back to the open deck. With hidden vividness Anna liked the topic. Had not she a right, the right of a silent partner? A secret joy of the bond settled on her like dew on the marshes, as she stood at his side.
Hilary loved the theme. The lives of those boys were in his hands; at times to be hoarded, at times to be spent, in sudden awful junctures to be furiously squandered. He did not say this, but the thought was in both of them and drew them closer, though neither moved. The boat rounded to, her engines stopped, an officer came aboard from a skiff, and now she was under way again and speeding up stream on her return, but Hilary and Anna barely knew it. He began to talk of the boys’ sweethearts. Of many of their tender affairs he was confidentially informed. Yes, to be frank, he confessed he had prompted some fellows to let their hearts lead them, and to pitch in and win while—
“Oh! certainly!” murmured Anna in compassion, “some of them.”
“Yes,” said their captain, “but they are chaps—like Charlie—whose hearts won’t keep unless they’re salted down and barrelled, and I give the advice not in the sweethearts’ interest but—”
“Why not? Why shouldn’t a—” The word hung back.
“Yes. Why shouldn’t he confess himself in her interest? That needn’t pledge her.”
“Oh! do you think that would be fair?”
“Well, now—take an actual case. Do you think the mere fact that Adolphe truly and stick-to-it-ively loves Miss Flora gives her a right to know it?”
“I do, and to know it a long, long time before he can have any right to know whether—”
“Hum! while he goes where glory waits him—?”
“And lets time—?”
“And absence and distance and rumor try his unsupported constancy?”
With tight lips the soldier drew breath. “You know my uncle expects now to be sent to Virginia at once?”