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XXVIII OLDEST GAME ON EARTH
The cause of our interruption was Camille Harper. We had been pacing the side veranda and she came out upon it with an unconscious song on her lips, and on one finger a tiny basket.

Her gentle irruption found me standing almost on the spot where she had stood two evenings before and said good-bye to me. From this point a path led to the rear of the house, where within a light paling fence bloomed a garden. She gave us a blithe good-morning as she passed, descended the two or three side steps, and tripped toward the garden gate, a wee affair which she might have lifted off its hinges with one thumb. I saw her try its latch two or three times and then turn back discomfited because the loose frame had sagged a trifle and needed to be raised half an inch. I did not understand the helplessness of girls as well then as I do now; I ran and opened the gate; and when I shut it again she and I were alone inside.

She let me cut the flowers. "You know who's here?" she asked.

"Yes," I guilefully replied, "I came with him."

"I don't mean Lieutenant Ferry," she responded, "nor anybody you'd ever guess if you don't know; but you do, don't you?"

I said I knew and went on gathering sweet-pea blossoms.

"Did you ever see her?"

"Yes," I replied, stepping away for some roses, "I--saw her--by chance--for a moment--she was in the wagon she's got here--last --eh,--Thursday--morn'--" I came back trimming the roses, and as she reached for them and our glances met, she laughed and replied, with a roguish droop of the head--

"She told us about it. And you needn't look so disturbed; she only praised you."

Still I frowned. "How does it come that she's here, anyhow?"

"Why! she's got to be everywhere! She's a war-correspondent! She was at the front yesterday nearly the whole time, near enough to see some of the fighting, and to hear it all! she calls it 'only a skirmish'!"

"When did she get here?"

"About five in the morning. But we didn't see her then; she shut herself up and wrote and wrote and wrote! They say she runs the most daring risks! And they say she's so wise in finding out what the Yankees are going to do and why they're going to do it, that they'd be nearly as glad to catch her as to catch Lieutenant Ferry! Didn't you know? Ah, you knew!" She attempted a reproachful glance, but exhaled happiness like a fragrance. I asked how she had heard these things.

"How did I hear them? Let me see. Oh, yes! from--from Harry."

I flinched angrily. "From what?"

She looked into her basket and fingered its flowers. "That's what he asked me to call him."

I stiffened up as though I heard a thief picking the lock of my lawful treasure. She threw me, side wise, a bantering smile and then a more winsome glance, but I refused to see either. I burned with so many feelings at once that I could no more have told them than I could have raised a tune. "Don't you like him?" she asked, and tried to be very arch.

"Like whom?"

"You know perfectly well," she replied.

"No, I do not like him. Do you?"

"Why,--yes,--I do. I--I thought everybody did." She averted her face and toyed with the sweet-pea vines. Suddenly she gulped, faced me, blinked rapidly, and said "If I oughtn't to call him--that,--then I oughtn't to have called--" she dropped her eyes and bit her lip.

"That," I replied, "is a very different matter! At least I had hoped it was!"

Her rejoinder came in a low, grieved monotone: "Did you say had hoped?"

It was the sweetest question my ear had ever caught, and I asked her, I scarce know how, if I might still say "do hope".

"Why, I--I didn't know you ever did say it. I don't see that I have any right to forbid you saying things--to--to yourself."

So we played the game--oldest game on earth--and loveliest. Bungling moves we made, as you see, and sometimes did not know whose move it was. At length she admitted that this is a very unsafe world in which to be kind to soldiers. I told how fickle some of them were. She would not say she would--or wouldn't--make my case a permanent exception or a solitary one; yet with me she blissfully pooh-poohed the idea that our acquaintance was new, she being so wonderfully like my mother, and I being so wonderfully ditto, ditto. And when I burst into a blazing eulogy of my mother, my listener gave me kinder looks than I ever deserved of any woman alive. On my trying to reciprocate, she asked me for more flowers and hurried back to our earlier theme.

"And really, you know, they say she's almost as truly a scout as Ned Fer'--as Lieutenant Ferry-Durand. She's from New Orleans, you know, and she's like us, half-Creole; but her other half is Highland Scotch--isn't that romantic! When she told us about it she laughed and said it explained some things in her which nothing else could excuse! Wasn't that funny!--oh, pshaw! it doesn't sound a bit funny as I tell it, but she said it in such a droll way! She was so full of fun and frolic that day! You can't conceive how full of them she is--sometimes; how soberly she can say the funniest things, and how funnily she can say the soberest things!"
Don't you like him? she asked, and tried to be very arch.

"You say she was so full of fun that day; what day?"

The young thing gaped at me, gasped, and melted half to the ground: "O--oh--I've let it out!"

"Yes, you may as well go right on, now."

She straightened to her toes, covered her open mouth an instant, and then said "Yes, we knew her--at our house--in New Orleans--poor New Orleans! Your mother--oh, your splendid, lovely little mother is such a brave Confederate!"

"My mother brought her to your house?"

"Yes, oh, yes! and that's why it isn't wrong to tell you. Charlotte's been three times through the lines, to and from the city; once by way of Natchez and twice through Baton Rouge. And oh, the things she's brought out to our poor boys in the hospitals!"

"Generals' uniforms, for example?"

"Oh, now you're real mean! No! what she's brought the most of is--guess! You'll never guess it in the world!"

"Hindoo grammars!--No? Well, then,--perfumery!"

"Ah, you! No, I'll tell you." She spoke prudently; I had to bow my ear so close that it tingled: "Dolls!"

My amazement was genuine. "For our sick soldiers!" I sighed.

Her eyes danced; she leaned away and nodded. Then she drew nearer than before: "Dolls!" she murmured again;--"and pincushions!--and emeries!--and 'rats'! you know, for ladies' hair--and chignon-cushions!"

"For our sick soldiers!"

"Yes!--stuffed with quinine!" She laughed in her handkerchief till the smell of the sweet-peas was lost in the odor of frangipani, and she staggered almost into my arms. But that sobered her. "And when we speak of the risk she runs of being sent to Ship Island she laughs and says, 'Life is strife.' She says she'd like it long, but she's got to have it broad."

"Life is strife indeed to her," I said.

"Oh! do you know that too?--and another reason she gives for taking those awful risks is that 'it's the best use she can make of her silly streak'--as if she had any such thing!"

"Why did my mother bring her to you?"

"Oh! she had letters from uncle to aunt Martha! He thinks she's wonderful!"

"Does your father think so, too?"

"My father? no; but he's prejudiced! That's one of the things I can never understand--why nearly all the girls I know have such prejudiced fathers."


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