If Anna could have made any one a full confidante such might have been Flora, but to do so was not in her nature. She could trust without stint. Distrust, as we know, was intolerable to her. She could not doubt her friends, but neither could she unveil her soul. Nevertheless, more than once, as the two exchanged—in a purely academical way—their criticisms of life, some query raised by Anna showed just what had been passing between her and Hilary and enabled Flora to keep them steered apart.
No hard task, the times being so highly calculated to make the course of true love a “hard road to travel,” as the singing soldier boys called “Jordan.” Letters, at any time, are sufficiently promotive of misunderstandings, but in the Confederacy they drifted from camp to camp, from pocket to pocket, like letters in bottles committed to the sea. The times being such, I say, and Hilary and Anna as they were: he a winner of men, yes! but by nature, not art; to men and women equally, a grown up, barely grown up, boy. That is why women could afford to like him so frankly. The art of courtship—of men or women—was not in him. Otherwise the battery—every gun of which, they say, counted for two as long as he was by—must have lost him through promotion before that first year was half out. The moment he became a conscious suitor, to man or woman, even by proxy, his power went from him; from pen, from tongue, from countenance. And Anna—I may have shown the fact awkwardly, but certainly you see—Anna was incurably difficult.
Too much else awaits our telling to allow here a recital of their hearts’ war while love—and love’s foes—hid in winter quarters, as it were. That is to say, from the season of that mad kiss which she had never forgiven herself (much less repented), to the day of Beauregard’s appeal, early in ’62, to all the plantations and churches in Dixie’s Land to give him their bells, bells, bells—every bit of bronze or brass they could rake up or break off—to be cast into cannon; and to his own Louisiana in particular to send him, hot speed, five thousand more men to help him and Albert Sidney Johnston drive Buel and Grant out of Tennessee.
Before the battery had got half way to Virginia Hilary had written back to Anna his inevitable rhapsody over that amazing performance of hers, taking it as patent and seal of her final, utter, absolute self-bestowal. And indeed this it might have turned out to be had he but approached it by a discreet circuit through the simplest feminine essentials of negative make-believe. But to spring out upon it in that straightforward manner—! From May to February her answer to this was the only prompt reply he ever received from her. It crowds our story backward for a moment, for it came on one of those early Peninsula days previous to Manassas, happening, oddly, to reach him—by the hand of Villeneuve—as he stood, mounted, behind the battery, under a smart skirmish fire. With a heart leaping in joyous assurance he opened the small missive and bent his eyes upon its first lines.