“Oh, then it was cruel!” exclaimed Anna. “To you, dear, cruel to you to steal off in that way. Run! dress for the carriage!”
Flora played at hesitation: “Ah, love, if perchanze that bugl’ was to call you?”
“My dear! how could even he—the ‘ladies’ man,’ ha, ha!—imagine any true woman would come to the call of a bugle? Go! while I order the carriage.”
They had left the window. The hostess lifted her hand toward a bell-cord but the visitor stayed it, absently staring while letting herself be pressed toward the door, thrilled with a longing as wild as Anna’s and for the same sight, yet cunningly pondering. Nay, waiting, rather, on instinct, which the next instant told her that Anna would inevitably go herself, no matter who stayed.
“You’ll come al-long too?” she pleadingly asked.
“No, dear, I cannot! Your grandmother will, of course, and Miranda.” The bell-cord was pulled.
“Anna, you must go, else me, I will not!”
“Ah, how can I? Dear, dear, you’re wasting such golden moments! Well, I’ll go with you! Only make haste while I call the others—stop!” Their arms fell lightly about each other’s neck. “You’ll never tell on me?... Not even to Miranda?... Nor h-his—his uncle?... Nor”—the petitioner pressed closer with brightening eyes—“nor his—cousin?”
Softly Flora’s face went into her hands, and face and hands to Anna’s shoulder, as neat a reduplication as ever was. But suddenly there were hoof-beats again. Yes, coming at an easy gallop. Now they trotted through the front gate. The eyes of the two stared. “A courier,” whispered Anna, “to Captain Mandeville!” though all her soul hoped differently.
Only a courier it was. So said the maid who came in reply to the late ring, but received no command. The two girls, shut in together, Anna losing moments more golden than ever, heard the rider at the veranda steps accost the old coachman and so soon after greet Mandeville that it was plain the captain had already been up and dressing.
“It’s Charlie!” breathed Anna, and Flora nodded.
Now Charlie trotted off again, and now galloped beyond hearing, while Mandeville’s booted tread reascended to his wife’s room. And now came Constance: “Nan, where on earth is Fl—? Oh, of course! News, Nan! Good news, Flora! The battery, you know—?”
“Yes,” said Anna, with her dryest smile, “it’s sneaked off in the dark.”
“Nan, you’re mean! It’s marching up-town now, Flora. At least the guns and caissons are, so as to be got onto the train at once. And oh, girls, those poor, dear boys! the train—from end to end it’s to be nothing but a freight train!”
“Hoh!” laughed the heartless Anna, “that’s better than staying here.”