Hardly any part of this picture had come to Anna from Hilary himself.
Yes, they were in correspondence—after a fashion. That signified nothing, she would have had you understand; so were Charlie and Victorine, so were—oh!—every girl wrote to somebody at the front; one could not do less and be a patriot. Some girl patriots had a dozen on their list. Some lads had a dozen on theirs.
Ah, me! those swan-white, sky-blue, rose-pink maidens who in every town and on every plantation from Memphis to Charleston, from Richmond to New Orleans, despatched their billets by the forlornly precarious post only when they could not send them by the “urbanity” of such or such a one! Could you have contrasted with them the homeless, shelterless, pencil-borrowing, elbow-scratching, musty, fusty tatterdemalions who stretched out on the turfless ground beside their mess fires to extort or answer those cautious or incautious missives, or who for the fortieth time drew them from hiding to reread into their guarded or unguarded lines meanings never dreamed by their writers, you could not have laughed without a feeling of tears, or felt the tears without smiling. Many a chap’s epistle was scrawled, many a one even rhymed, in a rifle-pit with the enemy’s shells bursting over. Many a one was feebly dictated to some blessed, unskilled volunteer nurse in a barn or smoke-house or in some cannon-shattered church. From the like of that who with a woman’s heart could withhold reply? Yes, Anna and Hilary were in correspondence.
So were Flora and Irby. So were Hilary and Flora. Was not Flora Anna’s particular friend and Hilary’s “pilot”? She had accepted the office on condition that, in his own heart’s interest, their dear Anna should not know of it.
“The better part of life”—she wrote—“is it not made up of such loving concealments?”
And as he read the words in his tent he smilingly thought, “That looks true even if it isn’t!”
Her letters were much more frequent than Anna’s and always told of Anna fondly, often with sweet praises—not so sweet to him—of her impartial graciousness to her semicircle of brass-buttoned worshippers. Lately Flora had mentioned Greenleaf in a modified way especially disturbing.