Anna smiled as brightly as any, while through her mind flitted spectral visions of the secondary and so needless carnage in those awful field-hospitals behind the battles, and of the storms so likely to follow the fights, when the midnight rain came down in sheets on the wounded still lying among the dead. On all the teeming, bleeding front no father, husband, or brother was hers, but amid the multitudinous exploits and agonies her thoughts were ever on him who, by no tie but the heart’s, had in the past year grown to be father, mother, sister, and brother to the superb hundred whom she so tenderly knew, who so worshipingly knew her, and still whose lives, at every chance, he was hurling at the foe as stones from a sling.
“After all, in these terrible time’,” remarked Miss Valcour in committee of the whole—last session before the public opening—“any toil, even look’ at selfishly, is better than to be idle.”
“As if you ever looked at anything selfishly!” said a matron, and there was a patter of hands.
“Or as if she were ever in danger of being idle!” fondly put in a young battery sister.
As these two rattled and crashed homeward in a deafening omnibus they shouted further comments to each other on this same subject. It was strange, they agreed, to see Miss Valcour, right through the midst of these terrible times, grow daily handsomer. Concerning Anna, they were of two opinions. The matron thought that at moments Anna seemed to have aged three years in one, while, to the girl it appeared that her beauty—Anna’s—had actually increased; taken a deeper tone, “or something.” This huge bazaar business, they screamed, was something a girl like Anna should never have been allowed to undertake.
“And yet,” said the matron on second thought, “it may really have helped her to bear up.”
“Oh,—all our general disturbance and distress, but the battery’s in particular. You know its very guns are, as we may say, hers, and everything that happens around them, or to any one who belongs to them in field, camp, or hospital, happens, in her feeling, to her.”
The girl interrupted with a knowing touch: “You realize there’s something else, don’t you?”
Her companion showed pain: “Yes, but—I hoped you hadn’t heard of it. I can’t bear to talk about it. I know how common it is for men and girls to trifle with each other, but for such as he—who had the faith of all of us, yes, and of all his men, that he wasn’t as other men are—for Hilary Kincaid to dawdle with Anna—with Anna Callender—”
“Oh!” broke in the girl, a hot blush betraying her own heart, “I don’t think you’ve got the thing right at all. Why, it’s Anna who’s making the trouble! The dawdling is all hers! Oh, I have it from the best authority, though I’m not at liberty—”
“My dear girl, you’ve been misled. The fault is all his. I know it from one who can’t be mistaken.”