“Yes!” cried the transparent soldier. “At our smallest the smallest thing in us is that we should feel small. And how deep down are we calm or cold? Miss Flora, I once knew a girl—fine outside, inside. Lovers -she had to keep a turnstile. I knew a pair of them. To hear those two fellows separately tell what she was like, you couldn’t have believed them speaking of the same person. The second one thought the first had—sort o’—charted her harbor for him; but when he came to sail in, ’pon my soul, if every shoal on the chart wasn’t deep water, and every deep water a fortified shore—ha, ha, ha!”
Flora’s smile was lambent. “Yes,” she said, “that sweet Anna she’s very intric-ate.” Hilary flamed and caught his breath, but she met his eyes with the placidity of the sky above them.
Suddenly he laughed: “Now I know what I am! Miss Flora, I—I wish you’d be my pilot.”
She gave one resenting sparkle, but then shook her averted head tenderly, murmured “Impossible,” and smiled.
“You think there’s no harbor there?”
“Listen,” she said.
“Yes, I hear it, a horse.”
“For dear Anna’s sake and yours, shall I be that little bit your pilot, to say—?”
“What! to say. Don’t see her to-night?”
Flora’s brow sank.
“May I go with you, then, and learn why?” The words were hurried, for a horseman was in front and the others had so slackened pace that all were again in group. Anna caught Flora’s reply:
“No, your cousin will be there. But to-morrow evening, bif-ore—”
“Yes,” he echoed, “before anything else. I’ll come. Why!”—a whinny of recognition came from the road—“why, that’s my horse!”
The horseman dragged in his rein. Constance gasped and Kincaid exclaimed, “Well! since when and from where, Steve Mandeville?”
The rider sprang clanking to the ground and whipped out a document. All pressed round him. He gave his bride two furious kisses, held her in one arm and handed the missive to Kincaid:
“With the compliment of General Brodnax!”
Irby edged toward Flora, drawn by a look.
Hilary spoke: “Miss Anna, please hold this paper open for me while I—Thank you.” He struck a match. The horse’s neck was some shelter and the two pressed close to make more, yet the match flared. The others listened to Mandeville:
“And ‘twas me dizcover’ that tranzportation, juz’ chanzing to arrive by the railroad—”
“Any one got a newspaper?” called Hilary. “Steve—yes, let’s have a wisp o’ that.”
The paper burned and Hilary read. “Always the man of the moment, me!” said Mandeville. “And also ‘t is thangs to me you are the firs’ inform’, and if you are likewise the firs’ to ripport—”
“Thank you!” cried Kincaid, letting out a stirrup leather. “Adolphe, will you take that despatch on to Bartleson?” He hurried to the other stirrup.