THE WORKS OF E. P. ROE
In Loving Dedication
TO LITTLE MISS LOU MY YOUNGEST DAUGHTER
CHAPTER I A GIRL'S PROTEST
CHAPTER II SOMETHING HAPPENS
CHAPTER III MAD WHATELY
CHAPTER IV AUN' JINKEY'S POLICY
CHAPTER V WHATELY'S IDEA OF COURTSHIP
CHAPTER VI THE STORM BEGINS
CHAPTER VII DANGERS THICKENING
CHAPTER VIII "WHEN?"
CHAPTER IX PARALYZED WITH SHAME
CHAPTER X A BAFFLED DIPLOMATIST
CHAPTER XI AUN' JINKEY'S WARNING
CHAPTER XII A WHIRLWIND OF EVENTS
CHAPTER XIII THE UNEXPECTED HAPPENS
CHAPTER XIV A THREAT
CHAPTER XV MISS LOU EMANCIPATED
CHAPTER XVI A SMILE ON WAR'S GRIM FACE
CHAPTER XVII THE JOY OF FREEDOM
CHAPTER XVIII A WELL-AIMED SLIPPER
CHAPTER XIX A GIRL'S APPEAL
CHAPTER XX SCOVILLE'S HOPE
CHAPTER XXI TWO STORMS
CHAPTER XXII CHUNK'S QUEST
CHAPTER XXIII A BOLD SCHEME
CHAPTER XXIV A HOME A HOSPITAL
CHAPTER XXV A TRIBUTE TO A SOUTHERN GIRL
CHAPTER XXVI A BACKGROUND OF EGOTISM
CHAPTER XXVII AUN' JINKEY'S SUPREME TEST
CHAPTER XXVIII TRUTH IF THE HEAVENS FALL
CHAPTER XXIX "ANGEL OF DEATH"
CHAPTER XXX GLIMPSES OF MOODS AND MINDS
CHAPTER XXXI THE DUELLISTS VANQUISHED
CHAPTER XXXII SAD TIDINGS
CHAPTER XXXIII CONSPIRATORS
CHAPTER XXXIV CHUNK PLAYS SPOOK
CHAPTER XXXV A VISITATION
CHAPTER XXXVI UNCLE LUSTHAH EXHORTS
CHAPTER XXXVII A NEW ROUTINE
A GIRL'S PROTEST
A great, rudely built stone chimney was smoking languidly one afternoon. Leaning against this chimney, as if for protection and support, was a little cabin gray and decrepit with age. The door of the cabin stood wide open, for the warm spring was well advanced in the South. There was no need of a fire, but Aun' Jinkey, the mistress of the abode, said she "kep' hit bunin' fer comp'ny." She sat by it now, smoking as lazily as her chimney, in an old chair which creaked as if in pain when she rocked. She supposed herself to be in deep meditation, and regarded her corncob pipe not merely a solace but also as an invaluable assistant to clearness of thought. Aun' Jinkey had the complacent belief that she could reason out most questions if she could only smoke and think long enough. Unfortunately, events would occur which required action, or which raised new questions before she had had time to solve those originally presented; yet it would be hard to fancy a more tranquil order of things than that of which she was a humble part.
The cabin was shaded by grand old oaks and pines, through which the afternoon sun shone in mild radiance, streaming into the doorway and making a broad track of light over the uneven floor. But Aun' Jinkey kept back in the congenial dusk, oblivious to the loveliness of nature without. At last she removed her pipe from her mouth and revealed her mental processes in words.
"In all my projeckin' dat chile's wuss'n old mars'r en miss, en de wah, en de preachin'. I kin kin' ob see troo dem, en w'at dey dribin' at, but dat chile grow mo' quare en on'countable eb'y day. Long as she wus took up wid her doll en tame rabbits en pony dar wa'n't no circum'cutions 'bout her, en now she am all circum'cution. Not'n gwine 'long plain wid her. She like de run down dar—but win' en win' ez ef hit had ter go on, en hit couldn't mek up hits min' which way ter go. Sometime hit larfin' in de sun en den hit steal away whar you kyant mos' fin' hit. Dat de way wid Miss Lou. She seem right hyar wid us—she only lil gyurl toder day—en now she 'clinin' to notions ob her own, en she steal away to whar she tink no one see her en tink on heaps ob tings. Won'er ef eber, like de run, she wanter go way off fum us?
"Ole mars'r en ole miss dunno en doan see not'n. Dey kyant. Dey tinks de worl' al'ays gwine des so, dat means de way dey tink hit orter go. Ef hit go any oder way, de worl's wrong, not dey. I ain' sayin' dey is wrong, fer I ain' des tink dat all out'n. 'Long ez she keeps her foots on de chalk line dey mark out dey ain' projeckin' how her min' go yere en dar, zigerty-zag wid notions ob her own."
The door darkened, if the radiant girl standing on the threshold could be said to darken any door. She did not represent the ordinary Southern type, for her hair was gold in the sun and her eyes blue as the violets by the brook. They were full of mirth now as she said: "There you are, Aun' Jinkey, smoking and 'projeckin' as usual. You look like an old Voudoo woman, and if I didn't know you as my old mammy—if I should just happen in as a stranger, I'd be afraid of you."
"Voudoo ooman! How you talks, Miss Lou! I'se a member ob de Baptis' Church, en you knows it."
"Oh, I know a heap 'mo'n dat,' as you so often say. If you were only a member of the Baptist Church I wouldn't be running in to see you so often. Uncle says a member of the Baptist Church has been stealing some of his chickens."
"I knows some tings 'bout de members ob HE church," replied Aun' Jinkey, with a toss of her head.
"I reckon you do, more than they would like to see published in the county paper; but we aren't scandal-mongers, are we, Aun' Jinkey?" and the young visitor sat down in the doorway and looked across the green meadow seen through the opening in the trees. A dogwood stood in the corner of the rail fence, the pink and white of its blossoms well matching the girl's fair face and her rose-dotted calico gown, which, in its severe simplicity, revealed her rounded outlines.
Aun' Jinkey watched her curiously, for it was evident that Miss Lou's thoughts were far away. "Wat you tinkin' 'bout, Miss Lou?" she asked.
"Oh, I hardly know myself. Come, Aun' Jinkey, be a nice old witch and tell me my fortune."
"Wat you want ter know yo' fortin fur?"
"I want to know more than I do now. Look here, Aun' Jinkey, does that run we hear singing yonder go round and round in one place and with the same current? Doesn't it go on? Uncle and aunt want me to go round and round, doing the same things and thinking the same thoughts—not my own thoughts either. Oh, I'm getting so tired of it all!"
"Lor' now, chile, I wuz des 'parin' you ter dat run in my min'," said Aun' Jinkey in an awed tone.
"No danger of uncle or aunt comparing me to the run, or anything else. They never had any children and don't know anything about young people. They have a sort of prim, old-fashioned ideal of what the girls in the Baron family should be, and I must become just such a girl—just like that stiff, queer old portrait of grandma when she was a girl. Oh, if they knew how tired of it all I am!"
"Bless yo' heart, Miss Lou, you ain' projeckin' anyting?"
"No, I'm just chafing and beating my wings like a caged bird."
"Now see yere, Miss Lou, isn't you onreason'ble? You hab a good home; mars'r en miss monstus pius, en dey bringin' you up in de nurter en 'monitions ob de Lawd." "Too much 'monition, Aun' Jinkey. Uncle and aunt's religion makes me so tired, and they make Sunday so awfully long. Their religion reminds me of the lavender and camphor in which they keep their Sunday clothes. And then the pages of the catechism they have always made me learn, and the long Psalms, too, for punishment! I don't understand religion, anyway. It seems something meant to uphold all their views, and anything contrary to their views isn't right or religious. They don't think much of you Baptists."
"We ain' sufrin' on dat 'count, chile," remarked Aun' Jinkey, dryly.
"There now, Aun' Jinkey, don't you see? Uncle owns you, yet you think for yourself and have a religion of your own. If he knew I was thinking for myself, he'd invoke the memory of all the Barons against me. I don't know very much about the former Barons, except that my father was one. According to what I am told, the girl Barons were the primmest creatures I ever heard of. Then uncle and aunt are so inconsistent, holding up as they do for my admiration Cousin Mad Whately. I don't wonder people shorten his name from Madison to Mad, for if ever there was a wild, reckless fellow, he is. Uncle wants to bring about a match, because Mad's plantation joins ours. Mad acted as if he owned me already when he was home last, and yet he knows I can't abide him. He seems to think I can be subdued like one of his skittish horses."
"You HAB got a heap on yo' min", Miss Lou, you sho'ly hab. You sut'ny t'ink too much for a young gyurl."
"I'm eighteen, yet uncle and aunt act toward me in some ways as if I were still ten years old. How can I help thinking? The thoughts come. You're a great one to talk against thinking. Uncle says you don't do much else, and that your thoughts are just like the smoke of your pipe."
Aun' Jinkey bridled indignantly at first, but, recollecting herself, said quietly: "I knows my juty ter ole mars'r en'll say not'n gin 'im. He bring you up en gib you a home, Miss Lou. You must reckermember dat ar."
"I'm in a bad mood, I suppose, but I can't help my thoughts, and it's kind of a comfort to speak them out. If he only WOULD give me a home and not make it so much like a prison! Uncle's honest, though, to the backbone. On my eighteenth birthday he took me into his office and formally told me about my affairs. I own that part of the plantation on the far side of the run. He has kept all the accounts of that part separate, and if it hadn't been for the war I'd have been rich, and he says I will be rich when the war is over and the South free. He said he had allowed so much for my bringing up and for my education, and that the rest was invested, with his own money, in Confederate bonds. That is all right, and I respect uncle for his downright integrity, but he wants to manage me just as he does my plantation. He wishes to produce just such crops of thoughts as he sows the seeds of, and he would treat my other thoughts like weeds, which must be hoed out, cut down and burned. Then you see he hasn't GIVEN me a home, and I'm growing to be a woman. If I am old enough to own land, am I never to be old enough to own myself?"
"Dar now, Miss Lou, you raisin' mo' questions dan I kin tink out in a yeah."
"There's dozens more rising in my mind and I can't get rid of them. Aunt keeps my hands knitting and working for the soldiers, and I like to do it. I'd like to be a soldier myself, for then I could go somewhere and do and see something. Life then wouldn't be just doing things with my hands and being told to think exactly what an old gentleman and an old lady think. Of course our side is right in this war, but how can I believe with uncle that nearly all the people in the North are low, wicked and vile? The idea that every Northern soldier is a monster is preposterous to me. Uncle forgets that he has had me taught in United States history. I wish some of them would just march by this out-of-the-way place, for I would like to see for myself what they are like."
"Dar, dar, Miss Lou, you gittin' too bumptious. You like de fus' woman who want ter know too much."
"No," said the girl, her blue eyes becoming dark and earnest, "I want to know what's true, what's right. I can't believe that uncle and aunt's narrow, exclusive, comfortless religion came from heaven; I can't believe that God agrees with uncle as to just what a young girl should do and think and be, but uncle seems to think that the wickedest thing I can do is to disagree with him and aunt. Uncle forgets that there are books in his library, and books make one think. They tell of life very different from mine. Why, Aun' Jinkey, just think what a lonely girl I am! You are about the only one I can talk to. Our neighbors are so far away and we live so secluded that I scarcely have acquaintances of my own age. Aunt thinks young girls should be kept out of society until the proper time, and that time seems no nearer now than ever. If uncle and aunt loved me, it would be different, but they have just got a stiff set of ideas about their duty to me and another set about my duty to them. Why, uncle laughed at a kitten the other day because it was kittenish, but he has always wanted me to behave with the solemnity of an old cat. Oh, dear! I'm SO tired. I wish something WOULD happen."
"Hit brokes me all up ter year you talk so, honey, en I bless de Lawd 'tain' likely any ting gwinter hap'n in dese yere parts. De wah am ragin' way off fum heah, nobody comin' wid news, en bimeby you gits mo' settle down. Some day you know de valley ob peace en quietness."
"See here, Aun' Jinkey," said the girl, with a flash of her eyes, "you know the little pond off in the woods. That's more peaceful than the run, isn't it? Well, it's stagnant, too, and full of snakes. I'd like to know what's going on in the world, but uncle of late does not even let me read the county paper. I know things are not going to suit him, for he often frowns and throws the paper into the fire. That's what provokes me—the whole world must go just to suit him, or else he is angry."
"Well, now, honey, you hab 'lieve yo' min', en I specs you feel bettah. You mus' des promis yo' ole mammy dat you be keerful en not rile up ole mars'r, kase hit'll ony be harder fer you. I'se ole, en I knows tings do hap'n dough dey of'un come slowlike. You des gwine troo de woods now, en kyant see fur; bimeby you come ter a clearin'. Dat boy ob mine be comin' soon fer his pone en bacon. I'se gwinter do a heap ob tinkin' on all de questions you riz."
"Yes, Aun' Jinkey, I do feel better for speaking out, but I expect I shall do a heap of thinking too. Good-by," and she strolled away toward the brook.
It was a moody little stream which Miss Lou was following. She did not go far before she sat down on a rock and watched the murmuring waters glide past, conscious meantime of a vague desire to go with them into the unknown. She was not chafing so much at the monotony of her life as at its restrictions, its negation of all pleasing realities, and the persistent pressure upon her attention of a formal round of duties and more formal and antiquated circle of thoughts. Only as she stole away into solitudes like the one in which she now sat dreaming could she escape from the hard materialism of routine, and chiding for idleness usually followed. Her aunt, with an abundance of slaves at her command, could have enjoyed much leisure, yet she was fussily and constantly busy, and the young girl could not help feeling that much which she was expected to do was a mere waste of time.
The serene beauty of the evening, the songs of the mocking and other birds, were not without their effect, however, and she said aloud: "I might be very happy even here if, like the birds, I had the heart to sing—and I would sing if I truly lived and had something to live for."
The sun was approaching the horizon, and she was rising wearily and reluctantly to return when she heard the report of firearms, followed by the sound of swiftly galloping horses. Beyond the brook, on the margin of which she stood, rose a precipitous bank overhung with vines and bushes, and a few rods further back was a plantation road descending toward a wide belt of forest. A thick copse and growth of young trees ran from the top of the bank toward the road, hiding from her vision that portion of the lane from which the sounds were approaching. Suddenly half a dozen cavalrymen, whom she knew to be Federals from their blue uniforms, galloped into view and passed on in the direction of the forest. One of the group turned his horse sharply behind the concealing copse and spurred directly toward her. She had only time to throw up her hands and utter an involuntary cry of warning about the steep bank, when the horse sprang through the treacherous shrubbery and fell headlong into the stream. The rider saw his peril, withdrew his feet from the stirrups, and in an instinctive effort for self-preservation, threw himself forward, falling upon the sand almost at the young girl's feet. He uttered a groan, shivered, and became insensible. A moment or two later a band in gray galloped by wholly intent upon the Federals, who had disappeared spurring for the woods, and she recognized her cousin, Madison Whately, leading the pursuit. Neither he nor any of his party looked her way, and it was evident that the Union soldier who had so abruptly diverged from the road behind the screening copse had not been discovered. The sounds died away as speedily as they had approached, and all became still again. The startled birds resumed their songs; the injured horse moved feebly, and the girl saw that it was bleeding from a wound, but the man at her feet did not stir. Truly something had happened. What should she do? Breaking the paralysis of her fear and astonishment, she stepped to the brook, gathered up water in her hands, and dashed it into the face of the unconscious man. It had no effect. "Can he be dead?" she asked herself in horror. He was as pale as his bronzed features could become, and her woman's soul was touched that one who looked so strong, who had been so vital a moment before, should now lie there in pathetic and appealing helplessness. Was that fine, manly face the visage of one of the terrible, bloodthirsty, unscrupulous Yankees? Even as she ran to Aun' Jinkey's cottage for help the thought crossed her mind that the world was not what it had been represented to her, and that she must learn to think and act for herself.
As she approached, Chunk, Aun' Jinkey's grandson, appeared coming from the mansion house. He was nicknamed "Chunk" from his dwarfed stature and his stout, powerful build. Miss Lou put her finger to her lips, glanced hastily around, and led the way into the cabin. She hushed their startled exclamations as she told her story, and then said, "Aun' Jinkey, if he's alive, you must hide him in your loft there where Chunk sleeps. Come with me."
In a few moments all three were beside the unconscious form. Chunk instantly slipped his hand inside the soldier's vest over his heart. "Hit done beats," he said, quickly, and without further hesitation he lifted the man as if he had been a child, bore him safely to the cabin, and laid him on Aun' Jinkey's bed. "Hi, granny, whar dat hot stuff you gib me fer de belly misery?"
Aun' Jinkey had already found a bottle containing a decoction of the wild ginger root, and with pewter spoon forced some of the liquid into the man's mouth. He struggled slightly and began to revive. At last he opened his eyes and looked with an awed expression at the young girl who stood at the foot of the bed.
"I hope you feel better now," she said, kindly.
"Are you—am I alive?" he asked.
"Dar now, mars'r, you isn't in heb'n yet, dough Miss Lou, standin' dar, mout favor de notion. Des you took anoder swaller ob dis ginger-tea, en den you see me'n Chunk ain' angels."
Chunk grinned and chuckled. "Neber was took fer one in my bawn days."
The young man did as he was bidden, then turned his eyes wistfully and questioningly from the two dark visages back to the girl's sympathetic face.
"You remember," she said, "you were being chased, and turned your horse toward a steep bank, which you didn't see, and fell."
"Ah, yes—it's all growing clear. You were the woman I caught glimpse of."
She nodded and said: "I must go now, or some one will come looking for me. I won't speak—tell about this. I'm not on your side, but I'm not going to get a helpless man into more trouble. You may trust Aun' Jinkey and her grandson."
"Dat you kin, mars'r," Chunk ejaculated with peculiar emphasis.
"God bless you, then, for a woman who has a heart. I'm quite content that you're not an angel," and a smile so lighted up the soldier's features that she thought she had never seen a pleasanter looking man.
Worried indeed that she was returning so much later than usual, she hastened homeward. Half-way up the path to the house she met a tall, slender negro girl, who exclaimed, "Hi, Miss Lou, ole miss des gettin' 'stracted 'bout you, en mars'r sez ef you ain' at supper in five minits he's gwine down to Aun' Jinkey en know what she mean, meckin' sech' sturbence in de fambly."
"How absurd!" thought the girl. "Being a little late is a disturbance in the family." But she hastened on, followed by the girl, who was employed in the capacity of waitress. This girl, Zany by name, resented in accordance with her own ideas and character the principle of repression which dominated the household. She threw a kiss toward the cabin under the trees and shook with silent laughter as she muttered, "Dat fer you, Chunk. You de beat'nst nigger I eber see. You mos' ez bro'd ez I is high, yit you'se reachin' arter me. I des like ter kill mysef lafin' wen we dance tergeder," and she indulged in a jig-step and antics behind Miss Lou's back until she came in sight of the windows, then appeared as if following a hearse.
Miss Lou entered the rear door of the long, two-story house, surrounded on three sides by a wide piazza. Mr. Baron, a stout, bald-headed old gentleman, was fuming up and down the dining-room while his wife sat in grim silence at the foot of the table. It was evident that they had made stiff, old-fashioned toilets, and both looked askance at the flushed face of the almost breathless girl, still in her simple morning costume. Before she could speak her uncle said, severely, "Since we have waited so long, we will still wait till you can dress."
The girl was glad to escape to her room in order that she might have time to frame some excuse before she faced the inquisition in store for her.
Constitutional traits often assert themselves in a manner contrary to the prevailing characteristics of a region. Instead of the easy- going habits of life common to so many of his neighbors, Mr. Baron was a martinet by nature, and the absence of large, engrossing duties permitted his mind to dwell on little things and to exaggerate them out of all proportion. Indeed, it was this utter lack of perspective in his views and judgments which created for Miss Lou half her trouble. The sin of tardiness which she had just committed was treated like a great moral transgression, or rather it was so frowned upon that it were hard to say he could show his displeasure at a more heinous offence. The one thought now in Mr. Baron's mind was that the sacred routine of the day had been broken. Often there are no greater devotees to routine than those who are virtually idlers. Endowed with the gift of persistence rather than with a resolute will, it had become second nature to maintain the daily order of action and thought which he believed to be his right to enforce upon his household. Every one chafed under his inexorable system except his wife. She had married when young, had grown up into it, and supplemented it with a system of her own which took the form of a scrupulous and periodical attention to all little details of housekeeping. There was a constant friction, therefore, between the careless, indolent natures of the slaves and the precise, exacting requirements of both master and mistress. Miss Lou, as she was generally called on the plantation, had grown up into this routine as a flower blooms in a stiff old garden, and no amount of repression, admonition and exhortation, not even in her younger days of punishment, could quench her spirit or benumb her mind. She submitted, she yielded, with varying degrees of grace or reluctance. As she increased in years, her thoughts, as we have seen, were verging more and more on the border of rebellion. But the habit of obedience and submission still had its influence. Moreover, there had been no strong motive and little opportunity for independent action. Hoping not even for tolerance, much less for sympathy, she kept her thoughts to herself, except as she occasionally relieved her mind to her old mammy, Aun' Jinkey.
She came into the dining-room hastily at last, but the expression of her face was impassive and inscrutable. She was received in solemn silence, broken at first only by the long formal grace which Mr. Baron never omitted and never varied. In her rebellious mood the girl thought, "What a queer God it would be if he were pleased with this old cut-and-dried form of words! All the time uncle's saying them he is thinking how he'll show me his displeasure."
Mr. Baron evidently concluded that his best method at first would be an expression of offended dignity, and the meal began in depressing silence, which Mrs. Baron was naturally the first to break. "It must be evident to you, Louise," she said in a thin, monotonous voice, "that the time has come for you to consider and revise your conduct. The fact that your uncle has been kept waiting for his supper is only one result of an unhappy change which I have observed, but have forborne to speak of in the hope that your own conscience and the influence of your past training would lead you to consider and conform. Think of the precious moments, indeed I may say hours, that you have wasted this afternoon in idle converse with an old negress who is no fit companion for you! You are becoming too old—"
"Too old, aunt? Do you at last recognize the fact that I am growing older?"
With a faint expression of surprise dawning in her impassive face Mrs. Baron continued: "Yes, old enough to remember yourself and not to be compelled to recognize the duties of approaching womanhood. I truly begin to feel that I must forbid these visits to an old, ignorant and foolish creature whose ideas are totally at variance with all that is proper and right."
"Uncle thinks I have approached womanhood sufficiently near to know something of my business affairs, and even went so far as to suggest his project of marrying me to my cousin in order to unite in sacred— I mean legal bonds the two plantations."
The two old people looked at each other, then stared at their niece, who, with hot face, maintained the pretence of eating her supper. "Truly, Louise," began Mr. Baron, solemnly, "you are indulging in strange and unbecoming language. I have revealed to you your pecuniary affairs, and I have more than once suggested an alliance which is in accordance with our wishes and your interests, in order to prove to you how scrupulous we are in promoting your welfare. We look for grateful recognition and a wise, persistent effort on your part to further our efforts in your behalf."
"It doesn't seem to me wise to talk to a mere child about property and marriage," said the girl, breathing quickly in the consciousness of her temerity and her rising spirit of rebellion.
"You are ceasing to be a mere child," resumed her uncle, severely.
"That cannot be," Miss Lou interrupted. "You and aunt speak to me as you did years ago when I was a child. Can you expect me to have a woman's form and not a woman's mind? Are women told exactly what they must think and do, like little children? Aunt threatens to forbid visits to my old mammy. If I were but five years old she couldn't do more. You speak of marrying me to my cousin as if I had merely the form and appearance of a woman, and no mind or wishes of my own. I have never said I wanted to marry him or any one."
"Why, Louise, you are verging toward flat rebellion," gasped her uncle, laying down his knife and fork.
"Oh, no, uncle! I'm merely growing up. You should have kept the library locked; you should never have had me taught to read, if you expected me to become the mere shell of a woman, having no ideas of my own."
"We wish you to have ideas, and have tried to inculcate right ideas."
"Which means only your ideas, uncle."
"Louise, are you losing your mind?"
"No, uncle, I am beginning to find it, and that I have a right to use it. I am willing to pay all due respect and deference to you and to aunt, but I protest against being treated as a child on one hand and as a wax figure which can be stood up and married to anybody on the other. I have patiently borne this treatment as long as I can, and I now reckon the time has come to end it."
Mr. Baron was thunderstruck and his wife was feeling for her smelling-bottle. Catching a glimpse of Zany, where she stood open- mouthed in her astonishment, her master said, sternly, "Leave the room!" Then he added to his niece, "Think of your uttering such wild talk before one of our people! Don't you know that my will must be law on this plantation?"
"I'm not one of your people," responded the girl, haughtily. "I'm your niece, and a Southern girl who will call no man master."
At this moment there was a knock at the door. Without waiting for it to be opened, a tall, lank man entered and said, hastily, "Mr. Baron, I reckon there's news which yer orter hear toreckly." He was the overseer of the plantation.
Mr. Baron was one of the few of the landed gentry in the region who was not known by a military title, and he rather prided himself on the fact. "I'm a man of peace," he was accustomed to say, and his neighbors often remarked, "Yes, Baron is peaceable if he has his own way in everything, but there's no young blood in the county more ready for a fray than he for a lawsuit." "Law and order" was Mr. Baron's motto, but by these terms he meant the perpetuity of the conditions under which he and his ancestors had thus far lived. To distrust these conditions was the crime of crimes. In his estimation, therefore, a Northern soldier was a monster surpassed only by the out-and-out abolitionist. While it had so happened that, even as a young man, his tastes had been legal rather than military, he regarded the war of secession as more sacred than any conflict of the past, and was willing to make great sacrifices for its maintenance. He had invested all his funds as well as those of his niece in Confederate bonds, and he had annually contributed a large portion of the product of his lands to the support of the army. Living remote from the scenes of actual strife, he had been able to maintain his illusions and hopes to a far greater extent than many others of like mind with himself; but as the war drew toward its close, even the few newspapers he read were compelled to justify their name in some degree by giving very unpalatable information. As none are so blind as those who will not see, the old man had testily pooh-poohed at what he termed "temporary reverses," and his immunity from disturbance had confirmed his belief that the old order of things could not materially change. True, some of his slaves had disappeared, but he had given one who had been caught such a lesson that the rest had remained quiet if not contented.
The news brought by his overseer became therefore more disturbing than the strange and preposterous conduct of his niece, and he had demanded excitedly, "What on earth's the matter, Perkins?"
"Well, sir, fur's I kin mek out, this very plantation's been p'luted by Yankee soldiers this very evenin'. Yes, sir."
"Great heavens! Perkins," and Mr. Baron sprang from his chair, then sank back again with an expression suggesting that if the earth opened next it could not be worse.
"Yes, sir," resumed Perkins, solemnly, "I drawed that much from Jute. He seen 'em hisself. I noticed a s'pressed 'citement en talk in the quarters this evenin', an' I follered hit right up an' I ast roun' till I pinned Jute. He was over the fur side of the run lookin' fur a stray crow, an' he seen 'em. But they was bein' chased lively. Mad Whately—beg pardon—Mr. Madison was arter them with whip and spur. Didn't yer hear a crack of a rifle? I did, and reckoned it was one o' the Simcoe boys out gunnin', but Jute says hit was one o' our men fired the shot, en that they chased the Yanks to'erds the big woods. They was all mounted en goin' it lickity switch. The thing that sticks in my crop isn't them few what Mr. Madison chased, but the main body they belongs to. Looks as ef there's goin' to be a raid down our way."
"If that is so," said Mr. Baron, majestically, "Lieutenant Whately proves that our brave men are not far off, either, and the way he chased some of them shows how all the vile invaders will eventually be driven out of the country. Be vigilant, Perkins, and let it be understood at the quarters that Lieutenant Whately is within call."
The overseer bowed awkwardly and limped away. His lameness had secured him immunity from military duty.
"Ah, that's a man for you," said Mr. Baron, glaring at his niece. "Your cousin is a true scion of Southern chivalry. That is the kind of a man you do not know whether you wish to marry or not—a brave defender of our hearths and liberties."
"If he wishes to marry me against my will, he's not a defender of my liberty," retorted the girl.
"If you had the spirit which should be your birthright your eyes would flash with joy at the prospect of seeing a hero who could thus chase your enemies from our soil. If you could only have seen him in his headlong—"
"I did see him."
"I saw Cousin Madison leading a dozen or more men in pursuit of half a dozen. That does not strike me as sublimely heroic."
"Why haven't you told me of this? How could you have seen him?" and the old man, in his strong excitement, rose from his chair.
"My reception when I entered was not conducive to conversation. I was merely sitting by the run and saw both parties gallop past."
"You should have come instantly to me."
"I'm sure I came in hastily," she replied, crimsoning in the consciousness of her secret, "but I was met as if I had been guilty of something awful."
"Well, if I had known," began her uncle, in some confusion, mistaking her color for an expression of anger.
"I think," remarked her aunt, coldly, "that Louise should have recognized that she had given you just cause for displeasure by her tardiness, unless it were explained, and she should have explained at once. I have no patience with the spirit she is displaying."
But Mr. Baron's mind had been diverted to more serious and alarming considerations than what he characterized mentally as "a girl's tantrum."
"It makes my blood boil," he said, "to think that this Northern scum is actually in our neighborhood, and might be at our doors but for my brave nephew. Thanks to him, they met a righteous reception on this plantation; thanks to him, in all probability, we are not now weltering in our blood, with the roof that shelters us blazing over our heads. If those marauders had found us unprotected, young woman, you would have rued the day. Their capacity for evil is only equalled by their opportunities. If your cousin had not flamed after them like an avenging sword you might have cried loudly enough for the one of whom, in your fit of unseemly petulance, you can speak so slightingly. I advise you to go to your room and thank Heaven for your escape."
"Uncle, are the people of the North savages?"
"Its soldiers are worse than savages. Have you not heard me express my opinion of them over and over again? Go to your room, and when you appear again, I trust it will be with the meekness and submission becoming in a young woman."
When the girl left Aun' Jinkey's cabin the young soldier looked after her with an expression of deep interest. "Who is she?" he asked.
"Dat's Miss Lou," said the old negress, forcing into his mouth another spoonful of her fiery decoction.
"Oh, that's enough, aunty, unless you wish to burn me out like a hollow log," and he struggled to his feet to ease his tendency to strangle. "Miss Lou? How should I know who she is?"
"Ob co'se," said Aun' Jinkey, dryly, "I ain' namin' her pedigree."
"You a Linkum man, ain' you?" Chunk asked, quickly.
"Yes, and Lincoln is a good friend of yours."
"Hi! I knows dat. W'at fer you so hidin'-in-de-grass, granny? No use bein' dat away wid a Linkum man."
"I ain' talkin' 'bout my young mistis to folks ez drap down fum de clouds."
"You wouldn't like me better if I came up from below, aunty. There now, I'm not a very bad fellow, and I belong to the army that's going to make you all free."
"I hasn't des tink out dis question ob bein' free yit. I'se too ole to wuk much an' old mars'r's took keer on me long time."
"Well, I'se tink it out," put in Chunk, decidedly; "en I'se able to wuk fer you en me too."
"You mighty peart, Chunk, co'tin' a gal lie a bean-pole a'ready. I reck'n she spen' all you eber mek. You bettah boos' de Linkum man into dat ar lof sud'n, kase ef Marse Perkins cotch 'im yere we all ain' feelin' berry good bimeby."
"Dat ar truer'n preachin'," admitted Chunk, with alacrity. "Des you tek hol' ob dem ladder rouns, mars'r, an' put yo' foots on my sho'lers. Dat's hit. Nobody tink ob fin'in' you yere. I'se study how ter git yo' hoss out of sight 'gin mawnin'."
"You stand by me, Chunk," said the soldier, "and you won't be sorry. There's a lot of us coming this way soon, and I can be a good friend of yours and all your people if you help me out of this scrape."
"I'se gwine ter stan' by you, boss. I'se mek up my min' ter be free dis time, sho! Hi! w'at dat?"
He was wonderfully agile, for his arms were nearly as long as his legs. In an instant he descended, drawing a trap-door after him. Then he sauntered to the door, which he opened wide. A troop of horsemen were coming single file by a path which led near the cabin, and the foremost asked in a voice which the negro recognized as that of Lieutenant Whately, "Is that you, Chunk?"
"Dat's me, mars'r. My 'specs."
"Be off, you skeleton. Make time for the house and help get supper for me and the men. If you don't run like a red deer, I'll ride you down."
"Good Lawd! w'at gwine ter hap'n nex'?" groaned Chunk, as he disappeared toward the mansion. He burst like a bombshell into the kitchen, a small building in the rear of the house.
"Did you eber see de likes?" exclaimed Zany. "What yo' manners—"
"Hi, dar! talk 'bout manners! Marse Whately comin' wid a army, en want supper fer um all in des one minute en er haf by de clock!"
Great, fat Aun' Suke threw up her hands in despair, and in the brief silence the tramp of horses and the jingling of sabres were plainly heard. They all knew Mad Whately, and it needed not that Mrs. Baron, desperately flurried, should bustle in a few moments later with orders that all hands should fly around. "What you doing here?" she asked Chunk, sharply.
"I'se here ter hep, mistis. Dem's my orders from Marse Whately. He come ridin' by granny's."
"Then go and kill chickens."
A few moments later the dolorous outcry of fowls was added to the uproar made by the barking dogs.
With a chill of fear Miss Lou, in her chamber, recognized her cousin's voice, and knew that he, with his band, had come to claim hospitality at his uncle's hands. What complications did his presence portend? Truly, the long months of monotony on the old plantation were broken now. What the end would be she dared not think, but for the moment her spirit exulted in the excitement which would at least banish stagnation.
In his secret heart Mr. Baron had hoped that his nephew would go on to his own home, a few miles further; for applauding him as a hero was one thing, and having him turn everything upside down at that hour another. Routine and order were scattered to the winds whenever Mad Whately made his appearance, but the host's second thoughts led him to remember that this visitation was infinitely to be preferred to one from the terrible Yankees; so he threw wide open the door, and, with his wife, greeted his nephew warmly. Then he shouted for Perkins to come and look after the horses.
"Ah, mine uncle," cried Whately, "where on earth is to be found a festive board like yours? Who so ready to fill the flowing bowl until even the rim is lost to sight, when your defenders have a few hours to spare in their hard campaigning? You won't entertain angels unawares to-night. You'd have been like Daniel in the den with none to stop the lions' mouths, or rather the jackals', had we not appeared on the scene. The Yanks were bearing down for you like the wolf on the fold. Where's my pretty cousin?"
Mr. Baron had opened his mouth to speak several times during this characteristic greeting, and now he hastened to the foot of the stairs and shouted, "Louise, come down and help your aunt entertain our guests." Meanwhile Whately stepped to the sideboard and helped himself liberally to the sherry.
"You know me must maintain discipline," resumed Whately, as his uncle entered the dining-room. "The night is mild and still. Let a long table be set on the piazza for my men. I can then pledge them through the open window, for since I give them such hard service, I must make amends when I can. Ah, Perkins, have your people rub the horses till they are ready to prance, then feed them lightly, two hours later a heavier feed, that's a good fellow! You were born under a lucky star, uncle. You might now be tied up by your thumbs, while the Yanks helped themselves."
"It surely was a kind Providence which brought you here, nephew."
"No doubt, no doubt; my good horse, also, and, I may add, the wish to see my pretty cousin. Ah! here she comes with the blushes of the morning on her cheeks," but his warmer than a cousinly embrace and kiss left the crimson of anger in their places.
She drew herself up indignantly to her full height and said, "We have been discussing the fact that I am quite grown up. I will thank you to note the change, also."
"Why, so I do," he replied, regarding her with undisguised admiration; "and old Father Time has touched you only to improve you in every respect."
"Very well, then," she replied, coldly, "I cannot help the touch of Father Time, but I wish it understood that I am no longer a child."
"Neither am I, sweet cousin, and I like you as a woman far better."
She left the room abruptly to assist her aunt.
"Jove! uncle, but she has grown to be a beauty. How these girls blossom out when their time comes! Can it be that I have been absent a year?"
"Yes, and your last visit was but a flying one."
"And so I fear this one must be. The Yanks are on the move, perhaps in this direction, and so are we. It was one of their scouting parties that we ran into. Their horses were fresher than ours and they separated when once in the shadow of the woods. They won't be slow, however, in leaving these parts, now they know we are here. I'm going to take a little well-earned rest between my scoutings, and make love to my cousin. Olympian humbugs! how handsome and haughty she has become! I didn't think the little minx had so much spirit."
"She has suddenly taken the notion that, since she is growing up, she can snap her fingers at all the powers that be."
"Growing up! Why, uncle, she's grown, and ready to hear me say, 'With all my worldly goods I thee endow.'"
"But the trouble is, she doesn't act as if very ready."
"Oh, tush! she isn't ready to throw herself at the head of any one. That isn't the way of Southern girls. They want a wooer like a cyclone, who carries them by storm, marries them nolens volens, and then they're happy. But to be serious, uncle, in these stormy times Lou needs a protector. You've escaped for a long time, but no one can tell now what a day will bring forth. As my wife, Cousin Lou will command more respect. I can take her within our lines, if necessary, or send her to a place of safety. Ah, here comes my blooming aunt to prepare for supper."
"Welcome to The Oaks," she again repeated. "Never more welcome, since you come as defender as well as guest."
"Yes, aunt; think of a red-whiskered Yank paying his respects instead of me."
"Don't suggest such horrors, please."
The gentlemen now joined Miss Lou in the parlor, while under Mrs. Baron's supervision Zany, and Chunk, as gardener and man-of-all- work, with the aid of others soon set the two tables. Then began a procession of negroes of all sizes bearing viands from the kitchen.
AUN' JINKEY'S POLICY
Allan Scoville, for such was the Union soldier's name, fully realized that he was in the enemy's country as he watched through a cranny in the cabin the shadowy forms of the Confederates file past. Every bone in his body ached as if it had been broken, and more than once he moved his arms and legs to assure himself that they were whole. "Breath was just knocked right out of me," he muttered. "I hope that's the worst, for this place may soon become too hot for me. My good horse is not only lost, but I may be lost also through him. That queer-looking darky, Chunk, is my best hope now unless it is Miss Lou. Droll, wasn't it, that I should take her for an angel? What queer thoughts a fellow has when within half an inch of the seamy side of life! Hanged if I deserve such an awakening as I thought was blessing my eyes on the other side. From the way I ache, the other side mayn't be far off yet. Like enough hours will pass before Chunk comes back, and I must try to propitiate his grandam."
He crawled painfully to the trap-door and, finding a chink in the boards, looked down into the apartment below. Aun' Jinkey was smoking as composedly it might seem as if a terrible Yankee, never seen before, was not over her head, and a band of Confederates who would have made him a prisoner and punished her were only a few rods away. A close observer, however, might have noticed that she was not enjoying languid whiffs, as had been the case in the afternoon. The old woman had put guile into her pipe as well as tobacco, and she hoped its smoke would blind suspicious eyes if any were hunting for a stray Yankee. Chunk's pone and bacon had been put near the fire to keep warm, and Scoville looked at the viands longingly.
At last he ventured to whisper, "Aun' Jinkey, I am as hungry as a wolf."
"Hesh!" said the old woman softly. Then she rose, knocked the ashes from her pipe with great deliberation, and taking a bucket started for the spring. In going and coming she looked very sharply in all directions, thus satisfying herself that no one was watching the cabin. Re-entering, she whispered, "Kin you lif de trap-do'?"
Scoville opened it, and was about to descend. "No, you kyant do dat," interposed Aun' Jinkey, quickly. "Lie down up dar, en I han' you Chunk's supper. He gits his'n at de big house. You's got ter play possum right smart, mars'r, or you git cotched. Den we cotch it, too. You 'speck I doan know de resk Chunk en me tookin?"
"Forgive me, Aunt Jinkey. But your troubles will soon be over and you be as free as I am."
"I doesn't want no sech freedom ez you got, mars'r, hid'n en scrugin' fum tarin' en rarin' red-hot gallopers ez Mad Whately en his men. Dey'd des bun de ole cabin en me in't ef dey knowed you's dar. Bettah stop yo' mouf wid yo' supper."
This Scoville was well contented to do for a time, while Aun' Jinkey smoked and listened with all her ears. Faint sounds came from the house and the negro quarters, but all was still about the cabin. Suddenly she took her pipe from her mouth and muttered, "Dar goes a squinch-owl tootin'. Dat doan mean no good."
"Aunt Jinkey," said Scoville, who was watching her, "that screech- owl worries you, doesn't it?"
"Dere's mo' kin's ob squinch-owls dan you 'lows on, mars'r. Some toots fer de sake ob tootin' en some toots in warnin'."
"That one tooted in warning. Don't be surprised if you hear another very near." He crawled to the cranny under the eaves and Aun' Jinkey fairly jumped out of her chair as she heard an owl apparently hooting on the roof with a vigor and truth to nature that utterly deceived her senses. Scoville repeated the signal, and then crept back to the chink in the floor. The old woman was trembling and looking round in dismayed uncertainty. "There," he said, with a low laugh, "that squinch-owl was I, and the first you heard was one of my men. Now, like a good soul, make pones and fry bacon for five men, and you'll have friends who will take good care of you and Chunk."
"De Lawd he'p me! w'at comin' nex'? Miss Lou wuz a wishin' sump'n ud hap'n—w'at ain' gwinter hap'n?"
"Nothing will happen to harm you if you do as I say. Our men may soon be marching this way, and we'll remember our friends when we come."
"I des hope dere'll be sump'n lef ob me ter reckermember," said Aun' Jinkey, but she rose to comply with the soldier's requirement, feeling that her only course was to fall in with the wishes of whoever happened to be uppermost in the troublous times now foreseen. She was in a terribly divided state of mind. The questions she had smoked and thought over so long now pressed with bewildering rapidity and urgency. An old family slave, she had a strong feeling of loyalty to her master and mistress. But they had been partially alienating Miss Lou, for whom she would open her veins, while her grandson was hot for freedom and looked upon Northern soldiers as his deliverers. Aun' Jinkey was not sure she wished to be delivered. That was one of the points she was not through "projeckin'" about. Alas! events would not wait for her conclusions, although more time had been given her than to many others forced to contemplate vast changes. With a shrewd simplicity she decided that it would be wise to keep on friendly terms with all the contending powers, and do what in her judgment was best for each.
"Hit des took all de 'visions we got," she remarked, disconsolately.
"You'll soon have visions of more to eat and wear than ever blessed your eyes," said Scoville, encouragingly.
"Hi! granny," said Chunk, peeping in at the door.
"How you start me!" ejaculated the old woman, sinking into her chair.
"That you, Chunk?" asked Scoville. "Is the coast clear?"
"I reck'n. Keep shy yet a while, mars'r." A few words explained the situation, and Chunk added: "You des feed dem Yankees big, granny. I'se pervide mo'. I mus' go now sud'n. Made Aun' Suke b'lebe dat I knowed ob chickens w'at roos' in trees, en dey tinks I'se lookin' fer um. High ole times up ter de house," and he disappeared in the darkness.
In nervous haste Aun' Jinkey prepared the ample supper. Scoville hooted again, a shadowy form stole to the cabin for the food, and disappeared again toward the run. Then Aun' Jinkey prepared to compose her nerves by another smoke.
"Hand me up a coal for my pipe, also," said Scoville, "and then we'll have a sociable time."
"I des feared onsosh'ble times dis eb'nin'," remarked Aun' Jinkey.
"If you knew how my bones ached, you'd help me pass the time."
"Reck'n mine ache, too, 'fo' I troo wid dis bus'ness."
"No, Aunt Jinkey, you won't be punished for doing a good deed. Your young mistress is on your side, anyway. Who is she?"
"Young mistis ain' got no po'r ef dey fin's out. She nuff ter do ter hol' 'er own."
"How comes it she's friendly to 'we uns,' as you say down here?"
"She ain' friendly. You drap at her feet ez ef you wuz dead, en she hab a lil gyurlish, soft heart, dat's all. Didn't she tole you dat she ain' on yo' side?"
"Well, bless her heart, then."
"I circumscribe ter dat ar."
"Aren't you on our side?"
"I'se des 'twix en 'tween all de sides."
"You're all right, Aunt Jinkey. I'd trust you with my life."
"Reck'n you hab ter dis eb'nin'."
"Well, about Miss Lou—you say she has trouble to hold her own. How's that?"
"Dem's fambly matters."
"And so none of my business, unless she tells me herself."
"How she gwine ter tol' you tings?"
"Ah, Aunt Jinkey, you've vegetated a great while in these slow parts. I feel it in my bones, sore as they are, that some day I'll give you a new dress that will make you look like a spike of red hollyhocks. You'll see changes you don't dream of."
"My haid whirlin' now, mars'r. Hope ter grashus I kin do my wuk ter- morrer in peace and quietness."
There was neither peace nor quietness at the mansion. Whately, with a soldier's instincts to make the most of passing opportunities, added to the hasty tendencies of his own nature, was not only enjoying the abundant supper, but feasting his eyes meantime on the charms developed by his cousin in his absence. He knew of his uncle's wish to unite the two plantations, and had given his assent to the means, for it had always been his delight to tease, frighten, and pet his little cousin, whose promise of beauty had been all that he could desire. Now she evoked a sudden flame of passion, and his mind, which leaped to conclusions, was already engaged in plans for consummating their union at once. He sought to break down her reserve by paying her extravagant compliments, and to excite her admiration by accounts of battles in which he would not have posed as hero so plainly had he not been flushed with wine. There was an ominous fire in her eyes scarcely in accord with her cool demeanor. Unused to the world, and distrusting her own powers, she made little effort to reply, taking refuge in comparative silence. This course encouraged him and her uncle. The former liked her manifestation of spirit as long as he believed it to be within control. To his impetuous, imperious nature the idea of a tame, insipid bride was not agreeable; while Mr. Baron, still under the illusion that she was yet but a submissive child, thought that her bad mood was passing and would be gone in the morning. He little dreamed how swiftly her mind was awakening and developing under the spur of events. She did not yet know that her cousin was meditating such a speedy consummation of his purpose, but was aware that he and all her relatives looked upon her as his predestined wife. Now, as never before, she shrank from the relation, and in the instinct of self- preservation resolved never to enter into it.
Her long, rebellious reveries in solitude had prepared her for this hour, and her proud, excited spirit surprised her by the intensity of its passionate revolt. Not as a timid, shrinking maiden did she look at her cousin and his men feasting on the piazza. She glanced at him, then through the open windows at their burly forms, as one might face a menace which brought no thought of yielding.
The family resemblance between Whately and herself was strong. He had her blue eyes, but they were smaller than hers, and his expression was bold, verging toward recklessness. Her look was steady and her lips compressed into accord with the firm little chin.
Mrs. Baron's ideas of decorum soon brought temporary relief. She also saw that her nephew was becoming too excited to make a good impression, so she said, "Louise, you may now retire, and I trust that you will waken tomorrow to the truth that your natural guardians can best direct your thoughts and actions."
Whately was about to rise in order to bid an affectionate good- night, but the girl almost fled from the room. In the hall she met Chunk, who whispered, "Linkum man gittin' peart, Miss Lou."
"She'll be over her tantrum by morning," said Mr. Baron in an apologetic tone. "Perhaps we'll have to humor her more in little things."
"That's just where the trouble lies, uncle. You and aunt have tried to make her feel and act as if as old as yourselves. She's no longer a child; neither is she exactly a woman. All young creatures at her age are skittish. Bless you, she wouldn't be a Baron if she hadn't lots of red, warm blood. So much the better. When I've married her she'll settle down like other Southern girls."
"I think we had better discuss these matters more privately, nephew," said Mrs. Baron.
"Beg pardon, I reckon we had, aunt. My advice, however, is that we act first and discuss afterward."
"We'll talk it over to-morrow, nephew," said Mr. Baron. "Of course as guardian I must adopt the best and safest plan."
Chunk's ears were long if he was short, and in waiting on a soldier near the window he caught the purport of this conversation.
WHATELY'S IDEA OF COURTSHIP
When waiting on the table, Zany either stood like an image carved out of black walnut or moved with the angular promptness of an automaton when a spring is touched. Only the quick roll of her eyes indicated how observant she was. If, however, she met Chunk in the hall, or anywhere away from observation, she never lost the opportunity to torment him. A queer grimace, a surprised stare, an exasperating derisive giggle, were her only acknowledgments of his amorous attentions. "Ef I doesn't git eben wid dat niggah, den I eat a mule," he muttered more than once.
But Chunk was in great spirits and a state of suppressed excitement. "'Pears ez ef I mout own mysef 'fo' dis moon done waxin' en wanin'," he thought. "Dere's big times comin,' big times. I'se yeard w'at hap'n w'en de Yanks go troo de kentry like an ol bull in a crock'ry sto'." In his duties of waiting on the troopers and clearing the table he had opportunities of purloining a goodly portion of the viands, for he remembered that he also had assumed the role of host with a very meagre larder to draw upon.
Since the Confederates were greatly wearied and were doubly inclined to sleep from the effects of a hearty supper and liberal potations, Mr. Baron offered to maintain a watch the early part of the night, while Perkins was enjoined to sleep with one eye open near the quarters. Mattresses and quilts were brought down and spread on the piazza floor, from which soon rose a nasal chorus, "des like," as Chunk declared, "a frog-pon' in full blas'."
Whately, trained in alert, soldierly ways, slept on the sofa in the parlor near his men. One after another the lights were extinguished, and the house became quiet. Chunk was stealing away with his plunder through the shrubbery in the rear of the house, when he was suddenly confronted by Zany. "Hi! you niggah!" she whispered, "I'se cotch you now kyarin' off nuff vittles ter keep you a mont. You gwinter run away."
"You wan ter run wid me?" asked Chunk, unabashed.
"What you took me fer?"
"Fer better er wuss, w'ite folks say. Reck'n it ud be fer wuss in dis case."
"I reck'n de wuss ain' fur off. I des step ter ole mars'r an' tell 'im ter 'vestigate yo' cabin dis eb'nin'," she said, and, with a great show of offended dignity, she was about to move away.
"Look yere, Zany, doan yer be a fool. Doan you wanter be a free gyurl?"
"Ef you had me fer wuss I'd be des 'bout ez free ez Miss Lou w'en she mar'ed ter Mad Whately."
"Hi! you year dat, too?"
"I got eyes, en I got years, en you ain' gwinter light out dis night en lebe yo' granny en we uns. I sut'ny put a spoke in yo' wheel dat stop hits runnin'."
Chunk was now convinced that he would have to take Zany into his confidence. He looked cautiously around, then whispered rapidly in her ear. "Hi!" she exclaimed, softly, "you got longer head dan body."
"I kin reach ter yo' lips," said Chunk, snatching a kiss.
"Stop dat foolishness!" she exclaimed, giving him a slight cuff.
"Zany, keep mum ez a possum. Dere's big times comin', en no un kin hender um, dough dey kin git deysefs in a heap ob trouble by blarnations. De Linkum men soon gwine ter be top of de heap an I'se gwinter be on top wid um. Dar you be, too, ef you stan's by Miss Lou en me."
"Ve'y well, but I'se gwinter keep my eye on you, Marse Chunk."
"Reck'n you will, kaze I am' gwinter be fur off; en ef you puts yo' eye on some oder man, you soon fin' he ain' dar." With this ominous assurance he stole away.
Soon afterward the hoot of an owl was heard again; shadows approached the cabin; Scoville, assisted by Chunk, joined them, and there was a whispered consultation. Scoville put the result in the following words:
"The chance is a good one, I admit. It is quite possible that we could capture the Johnnies and their horses, but that's not what we're out for. Besides, I'm too badly broken up. I couldn't ride to- night. You must go back to camp, and leave me to follow. Chunk here has provisions for you. Better be moving, for Whately will probably be out looking for you in the morning."
So it was decided, and the shadows disappeared. Scoville was put into Aun' Jinkey's bed, the old woman saying that she would sit up and watch. Chunk rubbed the bruised and aching body of the Union scout till he fell asleep, and then the tireless negro went to the spot where the poor horse had died in the stream. He took off the saddle and bridle. After a little consideration he diverted the current, then dug a hole on the lower side of the animal, rolled him into it, and changed the brook back into its old channel. Carefully obliterating all traces of his work, he returned to the cabin, bolted the door, lay down against it so that no one could enter, and was soon asleep.
The next morning dawned serenely, as if Nature had no sympathy with the schemes and anxieties to which the several actors in our little drama wakened. Whately was early on foot, for he felt that he had much to accomplish. Mr. Baron soon joined him, and the young man found in his uncle a ready coadjutor in his plans. They were both in full accord in their desires, although governed by different motives. The old man was actuated by his long-indulged greed for land, and wholly under the dominion of his belief that one of the chief ends of marriage was to unite estates. In this instance he also had the honest conviction that he was securing the best interests of his niece. No one could tell what would happen if the invaders should appear, but he believed that the girl's future could best be provided for in all respects if she became the wife of a Confederate officer and a representative of his family.
Sounds of renewed life came from all directions; the troopers rolled up their blankets, and went to look after their horses; Mrs. Baron bustled about, giving directions for breakfast; Chunk and Zany worked under her eye as if they were what she wished them to be, the automatic performers of her will; Aun' Suke fumed and sputtered like the bacon in her frying-pan, but accomplished her work with the promptness of one who knew that no excuses would be taken from either master or mistress; Miss Lou dusted the parlor, and listened stolidly to the gallantries of her cousin. He was vastly amused by her reserve, believing it to be only maidenly coyness.
Breakfast was soon served, for Whately had announced to Mr. Baron his intention of scouting in the woods where the Federals had disappeared; also his purpose to visit his home and summon his mother to his contemplated wedding. He and his men soon rode away, and the old house and the plantation resumed their normal quiet aspect.
It had been deemed best not to inform Miss Lou of her cousin's immediate purpose until his plans were a little more certain and matured. Circumstances might arise which would prevent his return at once. Moreover, he had petitioned for the privilege of breaking the news himself. He believed in a wooing in accordance with his nature, impetuous and regardless at the time of the shy reluctance of its object; and it was his theory that the girl taken by storm would make the most submissive, contented and happy of wives; that women secretly admired men who thus asserted their will and strength, if in such assertion every form was complied with, and the impression given that the man was resistless because he could not resist the charms which had captivated him. "Why, uncle," he had reasoned, "it is the strongest compliment that a man can pay a woman, and she will soon recognize it as such. When once she is married, she will be glad that she did not have to hesitate and choose, and she will always believe in the man who was so carried away with her that he carried her away. My course is best, therefore, on general principles, while in this particular instance we have every reason for prompt action. Lou and I have been destined for each other from childhood, and I'm not willing to leave her to the chances of the hurly-burly which may soon begin. As my wife I can protect her in many ways impossible now."
THE STORM BEGINS
Of late years Aun' Jinkey's principal work had been the fine washing and ironing of the family, in which task she had always been an adept. For this reason she had been given the cabin near the run and an unusually fine spring. Miss Lou felt a kindly solicitude and not a little curiosity in regard to the man who in a sense had been thrown at her feet for protection. So gathering up some of her laces, she made them an excuse for another visit to Aun' Jinkey. Mrs. Baron readily acquiesced, for she felt that if there was to be a wedding, the whole house must be cleaned from top to bottom. Moreover, by such occupation her mind could be diverted from the dire misgivings inspired by the proximity of Yankees. Under the circumstances, it would be just as well if her niece were absent.
As the girl passed down through the shrubbery, she found Chunk apparently very busy. Without looking up he said, "Doan be afeard, Miss Lou, I'se be on de watch. Marse Linkum man right peart dis mawnin'."
Aun' Jinkey was at her washtub near the door, and the cabin presented the most innocent aspect imaginable. "Good-morning," said the girl, affably. "How is your patient?"
"Recovering rapidly, thanks to your kindness and the good friends in whose care you placed me," answered a hearty voice from the doorway.
Aun' Jinkey made a sort of rush to the door, exclaiming in tones that were low, yet almost stern, "Marse Linkum man, ef you show yo'sef—ef you doan stay by dat ar ladder so you git up sud'n, I des troo wid dis bus'ness! Tain' far ter dem w'at's reskin' dere bodies en a'most dere souls!"
"You are right, aunty," said Scoville, retreating. "It's wrong for me to do anything which might bring trouble to you or Chunk; but I was so eager to thank this other good Samaritan—"
"Well, den, sit by de ladder dar, en Miss Lou kin sit on de do'step. Den a body kin feel tings ain' comin' ter smash 'fo' dey kin breve."
"Good Samaritan!" repeated Miss Lou, taking her old place in the doorway where she had so recently wished something would happen; "you have not fallen among thieves, sir."
"My fear has been that you would think that a thief had fallen among the good Samaritans. I assure you that I am a Union soldier in good and regular standing."
"I reckon my uncle and cousin would scout the idea that you, or any of your army, had any standing whatever."
"That does not matter, so that I can convince you that I would not do or say anything unbecoming a soldier."
"You are a Yankee, I suppose?" she asked, looking at him with strong yet shyly expressed interest.
"I suppose I am, in your Southern vernacular. I am from New York State, and my name is Allan Scoville."
"Uncle says that you Yankees are terrible fellows."
"Do I look as if I would harm you, Miss Lou? Pardon me, I do not know how else to address you."
"Address me as Miss Baron," she replied, with a droll little assumption of girlish dignity.
"Well, then, Miss Baron, you have acted the part of a good angel toward me."
"I don't like such talk," she replied, frowning. "You were merely thrown helpless at my feet. You didn't look as if you could do the South much harm then. What I may feel to be my duty hereafter—"
"I have no fears at all of what YOU may do," he interrupted, with a smile that made his expression very pleasing.
"Because you are incapable of betraying even an enemy, which I am not to you. On the contrary, I am a grateful man, who would risk his life to do you a service. The little unpleasantness between the North and South will pass away, and we shall all be friends again."
"My uncle and cousin—indeed all the people I know—will never look upon you Northern soldiers as friends."
"Never is a long time. I certainly feel very friendly toward you."
"I wish you to know that I am a Southern girl," she replied stiffly, "and share in the feelings of my people."
"Well, I'm a Northern man, and share in the feelings of my people. Can't we agree that this is fair and natural in each case?"
"But why do you all come marauding and trampling on the South?"
"I beg your pardon, Miss Baron, but your question opens up all the differences between the two sections. I have my views, but am not a politician—simply a soldier. You and I are not at war. Let us talk about something else. With your brave cousin enlisting your sympathies against our side, what use would there be of my saying anything?"
"My brave cousin does not enlist any of my sympathies; but that, certainly, is a matter which we cannot talk about."
"Pardon, but your reference to him made it natural—"
"There is no need of speaking of him," she interrupted, coldly. "I merely meant that he and those with him in what you slightingly term an unpleasantness can never be friendly to you. This war may be a small thing to you, but suppose your home and family were in danger, as ours are?"
"Can you think that this war is a holiday to me?" he asked, gravely. "What stands between me now and death—perhaps a shameful and horrible death—except your kindly, womanly impulses? I am hourly in danger of being caught and treated as a spy."
"Oh, I didn't realize it," said the girl, simply and kindly. "Everything looks so quiet and lovely. Aun' Jinkey, there, my old mammy, is at work just as I have seen her for years, and Chunk is busy yonder in the garden. It is hard to think how suddenly all might change."
"A soldier must think and be prepared."
"Have you no fear?"
"Life is sweet to me. I know only one thing—I must do my duty and trust in God. I have the consolation that no one is dependent on me; no one would grieve for me very much. I'm quite alone in the world. My crusty old guardian would inherit my property, and you may well guess that Aunt Jinkey's tub yonder would hold all his tears if I should make a sudden exit," and again he smiled in his pleasant way, as if with the purpose to relieve his words of all sombreness.
"Are you an orphan, too?" she asked sympathetically.
"Such a mature, fully developed orphan as I am is not an object of pity, Miss Baron," he replied, laughing. Then he added, a little proudly: "I'm nearly twenty-two; I was twenty-one on my last birthday, and I celebrated it by a ride only less risky than the one which landed me at your feet. But your little word 'too' suggests that you are somewhat alone, also. I hope that your father was not killed in this war?"
"No, my father and mother died long before the war."
"I am glad of that—not glad that they died, but that you cannot associate me with the causes of their death."
"But you and yours have caused death and suffering to so many Southern people!"
"Yes, I'm sorry it is so, but things are pretty even on that score. Your men give as many blows as they take."
"Why did you enter the army?"
"I suppose for about the same reasons that your cousin did."
"Oh, you aren't like my cousin at all. I don't wish you to keep referring to him."
"Well, then, I thought it was right. There was an urgent call for men and strong public feeling. I was at college. I couldn't see others go and not go with them. I had no influence, no one to push my interests, so I simply enlisted, and am trying to push my way by extra services. Now, Miss Baron, think for yourself a little. Here we are, two young people thrown together by a strange chance. We have been brought up differently, surrounded by different influences. Even if you think me wrong, can you not believe that I've followed my conscience and lived up to such light as I had? I can believe this of you. I don't wish you to think that we Yankees are monsters. Do I look like a monster? Why, Miss Baron, if I should live to be a hundred years I should regard a chance to do you a kindness as the best good-fortune that could befall me."
As he spoke these words his face flushed, there was a slight quiver in his dark mustache, betokening deep, honest feeling, and his expression was one of frank admiration and respect. She looked at him in silent wonder, and asked herself, "Can this be one of the Yankees of whom I have heard such horrible things?"
She began saying, "I am trying to think for myself, but I have been so shut out from the world that—" when she was suddenly interrupted. Chunk appeared and said, "Marse Scoville, des git up de ladder en shut de trap-do' quicker'n lightnin'. Miss Lou, kin'er peramberlate slow to'rd de house, des nachel like ez ef you ain' keerin' 'bout not'n. Wash away, granny. Play possum, ev'y one."
Miss Lou had gone but a little way before Mad Whately joined her, having ordered his men to pass on before. "Chunk," he shouted, "take my horse and rub him well, or you'll get rubbed down yourself."
The openings under the eaves in Aun' Jinkey's cabin were so many and large that Scoville had fairly good opportunities for observing what was going on in the immediate vicinity. In witnessing the meeting between Whately and Miss Lou he was conscious of a peculiar satisfaction when noting that her manner confirmed her words. The dashing cousin evidently was not in favor. "Well," thought the scout, with a decisive little nod toward him, "were I a young Southerner, you'd have a rival that would put you to your best speed. What a delicious little drawl she has in speaking, and how charmingly her consonants shade off into vowels! I would be more readily taken for a Southerner than she, if I did not speak. How blue her eyes are! and her fluffy hair seemed a golden halo when the sunshine touched it through the trees. And then how unsophisticated her face and expression! She is a lady from instinct and breeding, and yet she is but a sweet-faced child. Well! well! it was an odd chance to be pitched to the feet of a girl like that. Very possibly I'd be there again of my own free will should I see her often enough."
If Scoville were a rival now he certainly would have to take a wild pace to keep up with Mad Whately in his wooing. His eyes were full of resolute fire as he walked beside his cousin, and her quick intuition took speedy alarm at his expression. "Well, sweet coz," he said, "the Yanks have very prudently dusted back to the region from which they came. My mother will give herself the pleasure of a visit at The Oaks this afternoon. Can you guess her object in coming?"
"Why, as you say, to give herself the pleasure of a visit."
"Yes, and you and I will enhance her pleasure a thousand-fold."
"I shall do all that I can in courtesy."
"I'll do the rest, for I shall gladden her heart by marrying you."
"Simply that, nothing more. Isn't that enough?"
"Far too much," replied the girl, hotly. "I don't like such jesting."
"Faith and it will prove the best joke of our lives, over which we will often laugh at our fireside hereafter. Come now, cousin, make the best of it; it is the best for you as well as for me. You know I always intended to marry you, and I have the hearty sanction of all the high contracting powers."
She stopped abruptly in the path, her face so rich in angry color that it shamed the flowers blooming in the shrubbery near.
"Mr. Whately," she said, firmly, "there is one contracting power that you have not consulted. How can you marry me when I WILL not marry you?"
"Nothing easier, pretty coz."
"Oh, that you will learn at the proper time. Everything shall go as simply, naturally and merrily as fate. The blessing of parent and guardian, the clergyman in robes, prayer-book, wedding feast— nothing shall be wanting."
"This is absurd talk," she cried, and rushed to the house. In the upper hall she encountered her aunt engaged in superintending a general dusting and polishing of the old-fashioned furniture.
"What is the meaning of this wild talk of Cousin Madison?" the girl asked, breathlessly.
"I've heard no wild talk," was the cool response.
"Well, come into my room and hear it, then."
Mrs. Baron reluctantly followed, rather aggrieved that she must bear the first brunt of the storm.
"What are you putting the house in such wonderful order for?" asked Miss Lou, with flashing eyes. "What do all these preparations mean? What is Aunt Whately coming here for this evening?"
"It is very natural she should wish to be present at her son's wedding," was the quiet and exasperating answer.
"When is this wedding to be?" was the next query, accompanied by a harsh laugh.
"I think we can be ready by to-morrow evening."
"Are you a woman, that you can thus try to sacrifice the motherless girl committed to your charge?"
"So far from sacrificing you, I am trying to further your best interests, and at the same time carrying out the wishes of my husband and your guardian. These are solemn times, in which you need every safeguard and protection. We should be faithless, indeed, to our trust did we not give a brave soldier the best right in the world to shield and care for you."
"Bah!" cried the girl, now almost furious. "Where's uncle?"
"In his office, I suppose."
Whately had preceded her thither, and had already made known to Mr. Baron the nature of his interview with his cousin, adding: "Our best policy will be just to take our course as a matter of course, in a genial, friendly way. We certainly are the girl's best friends, and it won't be long before she acknowledges the fact. All we do is to secure her safety, welfare and happiness. She will be as skittish as a blooded filly over it all at first—a feature in the case which only increases my admiration and affection. She doesn't and can't realize the need of the step, how it's best for all concerned in general and herself in particular. The thing to do, therefore, is to go right straight along. Mother will be here this evening, and will do much toward talking her into it. Lou's anger and revolt will probably be well over by to-morrow, and all—"
Further predictions were interrupted by the swift entrance of the girl. She stood still a moment and regarded the two men in silent scorn. "So you are plotting?" she said at last.
"Oh, dear, no, sweet coz. Nothing is more foreign to my nature than plotting. I am a man of action."
"If your words have any truth or meaning, you are bent on very dishonorable action."
"Far from it. I shall have the sanction of both Church and State."
"This, then, is the boasted Southern chivalry of which I have heard so much."
"It has been knightly in all times to protect and rescue lovely woman."
"I need no protection, except against you. Please leave the room. I wish to speak to uncle."
He attempted to kiss her hand as he passed out, but she snatched it away. "Uncle," she said, coming directly to him, "can it be that you sanction anything so wicked as this? It seems as if you and aunt were permitting my cousin to put upon me a cruel practical joke."
"Ahem! Your very words, Louise, prove how unfit you are to judge and act in accordance with this emergency. You even dream that we are in a mood for jesting at this time, when our days and even hours may be numbered. No, indeed. I am resolved to unite with my protection all the power and dignity vested in a Confederate officer."
"In other words, to shield me against some possible danger you will try to inflict on me the worst thing that could happen."
"Hoity-toity! Is an honorable marriage which has always been contemplated the worst that could happen? If we are driven forth by hordes of Northern vandals, you would think it the best thing that had happened."
"I don't fear these Northern vandals. I have"—and then she checked herself in time.
"You don't fear them! Why, Louise, every word you speak makes it more imperative that I should act for one so utterly inexperienced and ignorant."
"Do you actually mean to say that you will try to marry me against my will?"
"Certainly, against your present will. Do you suppose that I can be guided in my solemn trust by your petulance, your ignorant notions of life, and your almost childish passion? In France, the most civilized country in the world, parents and guardians arrange these affairs as a matter of course, and with the best results. It is the general method all over the world. Far more than mere family and pecuniary interests are concerned in this instance. We are giving you a protector in the time of your deepest need."
"How could Lieutenant Whately protect me if the Yankees should come in numbers?"
"In more ways than you can imagine. Moreover, he would probably be permitted to escort you and your mother to a place of safety. You would have his name, and the name of a Confederate officer would always entitle you to respect."
"Oh, this is dreadful!" cried the girl, bewildered and almost paralyzed by the old man's inexorable words and manner. So unsophisticated was she, so accustomed to be governed, that the impression was strong that she could be controlled even in this supreme crisis.
She rushed into the parlor, where her cousin was striding up and down in a whirl of the glad excitement so congenial to his spirit. "Cousin Madison," she exclaimed, "I know you are hasty and impetuous, but generous impulses should go with such a nature. You surely will not use your advantage against an orphan girl?"
"No, indeed, dear coz, not against, but for you. I love you too well to leave you to the chances of war."
"Oh, but this is the certainty of evil. You know I do not love you. If you would wait—if you would give me time to think it all over—"
"Why, so you shall when I've escorted you and mother to some place where none can molest or make you afraid."
"Escort me, then, as I am, under your mother's care. Truly this would be a better way to win my heart than such hasty violence to all my feelings and wishes."
"My dear Louise, you may think me a hasty, inconsiderate wooer to- day, but that is because you do not know all that I know. I must, like your guardians, be guided by your best welfare. When you learn to know me as a kind, loyal, considerate husband, you will appreciate my most friendly and decisive action at this time. You are in great danger; you may soon be homeless. In the case of one so young and fair as you are, those who love you, as you know I do passionately, must act, not in accordance with your passing mood, but in a way to secure your peace and honor for all time."
"Oh, this is all a terrible dream! You can—you can protect me as your cousin, should I need any such protection, which I cannot believe. Northern soldiers are not savages. I know it! I know it!"
"How can you know it? Have I not seen more of them than you have? I tell you that for the honor of our house I shall and will give you the protection of my name at once. Your uncle and aunt feel as strongly as I do about it, and your happiness will be the only result. We Southern people take no chances in these matters."
Overwhelmed, frightened, bewildered, the girl left the room and mournfully climbed to her own apartment. She was too utterly absorbed in her own desperate plight to observe Zany whisking away in the background.
Mr. Baron was scarcely less miserable than his ward, yet from wholly different causes. His anxieties concerning her were deep indeed, his very solicitude impelling him toward the plan which he was eager to consummate. He was distracted by fears and forebodings of every kind of evil; he was striving to fortify his mind against the dire misgiving that the Confederacy was in a very bad way, and that a general breaking up might take place. Indeed his mental condition was not far removed from that of a man who dreads lest the hitherto immutable laws of nature are about to end in an inconceivable state of chaos. What would happen if the old order of things passed away and the abominable abolitionists obtained fall control? He felt as if the door of Dante's Inferno might be thrown wide at any moment. There was no elasticity in his nature, enabling him to cope with threatening possibilities; no such firmness and fortitude of soul as he might be required to exercise within the next few hours. To start with, he was wretched and distracted by the breaking up of the methodical monotony of his life and household affairs. Since general wreck and ruin might soon ensue, he had the impulses of those who try to secure and save what is most valuable and to do at once what seems vitally important. Amid all this confusion and excitement of mind his dominant trait of persistence asserted itself. He would continue trying to the last to carry out the cherished schemes and purposes of his life; he would not stultify himself by changing his principles, or even the daily routine of his life, as far as he could help himself. If events over which he had no control hastened action, such action should be in harmony with previous purpose to the extent of his power. The plan, therefore, of marrying his niece immediately to her cousin doubly commended itself to him. It would throw around her additional safeguards and relieve him in part from a heavy responsibility; it would also consummate one of the cherished intentions of his life. Things might take a happy turn for the better, and then just so much would be gained and accomplished.
Thus he reasoned, and his nephew spared no pains in confirming his views. The truth urged by his niece that she did not love her cousin seemed a small matter to the unemotional, legal mind of the old man when safety and solid interests were concerned. "A child like Louise," he said, "must be taken care of, not humored." Mrs. Baron had long since formed the habit of yielding complete deference to her husband, and now was sincerely in accord with his views. She had never had much heart; her marriage had satisfied her ambition, had been pleasing to her kith and kin, and she saw no good reason why her niece should not, under any circumstances, form a similar union. That the girl should revolt now, in the face of such urgent necessity, was mere perverseness. Sharing in her husband's anxieties and fears, she found solace and diversion of mind in her beloved housekeeping. Neither of the old people had the imagination or experience which could enable them to understand the terror and distress of their niece, whom with good intentions they were driving toward a hated union.
Dinner was served two hours later than usual—a fact in itself very disturbing to Mr. Baron; while Aun' Suke, compelled to cook again for the Confederate troopers, was in a state of suppressed irritation, leading her satellites to fear that she might explode. Small, pale and bloodless as "ole miss" appeared, none of her domestics dared to rebel openly; but if any little darky came within the reach of Aun' Suke's wooden spoon, she relieved her feelings promptly. In dining-room and kitchen, therefore, was seething and repressed excitement. The very air was electric and charged with rumors.
Perkins, the overseer, was at his wits' end, also, about the field- hands. They were impassive or sullen before his face, and abounding in whispers and significant glances behind his back. What they knew, how much they knew, he could not discover by any ingenuity of questioning or threatening, and he was made to feel that excessive harshness might lead to serious trouble. Disturbing elements were on all sides, in the air, everywhere, yet he could not lay his finger on any particular culprit.
Of all the slaves on the plantation, Chunk appeared the most docile and ready to oblige every one. He waited on the Confederate troopers with alacrity, and grinned at their chaffing with unflagging good- nature. In all the little community, which included an anxious Union scout, Chunk was about the most serene and even-pulsed individual. Nature had endowed him with more muscle than nerves, more shrewdness than intellect, and had quite left out the elements of fear and imagination. He lived intensely in the present; excitement and bustle were congenial conditions, and his soul exulted in the prospect of freedom. Moreover, the fact that he had proved himself to Zany to be no longer a mere object for ridicule added not a little to his elation. Shrewd as himself, she was true to her word of keeping an eye on him, and she was compelled to see that he was acting his part well.
Miss Lou positively refused to come down to dinner. She had buried her face in her pillow, and was almost crying her eyes out; for in the confusion of her mind, resulting from her training and inexperience, she feared that if all her kin insisted on her marriage, and gave such reasons as had been urged upon her, she must be married. She was sorely perplexed. Could the Yankees be such ravening wolves as her uncle and cousin represented them to be? Certainly one was not, but then he might be different from the others because he had been to college and was educated.
"He said he would be glad to do me any kindness," she sobbed. "Oh, if he could only prevent this marriage! Yet what can he do? I could not even speak to a stranger of my trouble, much less to a Northern soldier. I wish I could see my old mammy. She's the only one who in the least understands me and feels a little like a mother toward me. Oh, what a dreadful thing to be a motherless girl at such a time!"
The powers below stairs concluded that it would be best to leave Miss Lou to herself for a time, that she might think over and become reconciled to the need and reasonableness of their action, but Mrs. Baron considerately sent up her dinner by Zany. The unhappy girl shook her head and motioned the tray away.
"Hi, now, Miss Lou, w'at you tookin on so fer?" asked the diplomatic Zany.
"For more than you can understand."
"I un'erstan's a heap mo'n you tink," said Zany, throwing off all disguise in her strong sympathy. "Marse Whately des set out ter mar'y you, ez ef you wuz a post dat cud be stood up en mar'd to enybody at eny time. Hi! Miss Lou, I'se bettah off dan you, fer I kin pick en choose my ole man."
"Everybody in the world is better off than I am."
"I wudn't stan' it, Miss Lou. I sut'ny wudn't. I'd runned away."
"How could I run away? Where could I go to?"
"See yere, Miss Lou," and Zany sank her voice to a whisper, "dere's a Linkum man"—
"Hush! how did you know that?"
"Chunk en me's fren's. Don' be 'feard, fer I'd like ter see de gyurl dat kin beat me playin' possum. Dat Linkum man he'p you ter run away."
"For shame, Zany! The idea of my going away with a stranger!"
"'Pears to me I'se rudder runned away wid one man dan hab anoder man runned away wid me."
"Don't ever speak to me of such a thing again."
"Well, den, Miss Lou, de niggahs on dis plantashon des lub you, en dey ain' hankerin' arter Marse Whately. Ef you say de wud, I des belebe dey riz right up again dis mar'age."
"Oh, horrible!" said the girl, in whose mind had been instilled the strong and general dread of a negro insurrection. "There, Zany, you and Chunk mean kindly, but neither you nor any one can help me. If either does or says anything to make a disturbance I'll never forgive you. My cousin and the men with him would kill you all. I'd rather be left alone, for I must think what to do."
"I ain' sayin' not'n, Miss Lou, sence dat yo' 'quest, but doan you gib up," and Zany took her departure, resolving to have a conference with Chunk at the earliest possible moment.
The impossible remedies suggested by Zany depressed Miss Lou all the more, for they increased her impression of the hopeless character of her position. She felt that she was being swept forward by circumstances hard to combat, and how to resist or whether she could resist, were questions which pressed for an immediate answer. She possessed a temperament which warned her imperatively against this hasty marriage, nor was there any hesitancy in her belief that it would blight her young life beyond remedy. She was not one to moan or weep helplessly very long, however, and the first gust of passion and grief having passed, her mind began to clear and face the situation. Looking out of her window, she saw that her cousin and his men were mounted and were about to ride away again. Having waited till they had disappeared, she bathed her eyes and then descended to her uncle.
"Where has Lieutenant Whately gone?" she asked.
"Your cousin does not forget, even at such a time, that he is a soldier, and he is scouting the country far and wide. Moreover, it is his intention to ask the Rev. Dr. Williams to be here to-morrow evening, and a few friends also. I trust that by that time your perverse mood will pass away, and that you will unite with your kindred in their efforts in your behalf."
"Is there no use of reasoning with you, uncle—no use of pleading with you?"
Perkins stood in the door and knocked to announce his presence.
"Well, what is it?" asked Mr. Baron, nervously.
"Have you heard anything, sir?"
"Good heavens, no! Heard what?"
"Well, sir, I dunno. The field-hands are buzzing like bees, en I kyant get nothin' out of 'em."
"Well, Perkins, be watchful. Do your best. God only knows what's coming. You are well armed, I suppose?"
"You may reckon that, sir, en I'll use 'em too, ef need be. The hands are cute, mighty cute. I kyant lay my finger on any one in particular, but they're all a sort of bilin' up with 'citement."
"Best to stay among them and be stern and vigilant." When Perkins withdrew Mr. Baron said to his niece with strong emotion, "You see we are beset with danger, and you talk of reasoning and pleading against my best efforts for your safety. There! I'm too harassed, too overwhelmed with weighty subjects for consideration, to discuss this matter further. I must give my attention to securing some papers of vital importance."
Miss Lou departed with the feeling that dangers were thickening on every hand, and that she was only one of the causes for anxiety in her uncle's mind. She knew it would be useless to say anything to her aunt; and with a longing for a little sympathy and advice, she resolved on another visit to her old mammy, Aun' Jinkey.
The Union soldier had a remote place in the background of her thoughts, and yet she felt that it was preposterous to hope for anything from him.
The vigilant eyes and constant demands of her mistress prevented Zany from giving Chunk more than a few significant hints, but he was quick to comprehend the situation. When he saw Miss Lou bending her steps toward his granny's cottage, he thanked his stars that the garden was in that direction also, and soon apparently was very busy at a good point from which to observe the cabin. In view of the approaching wedding Mrs. Baron had given Aun' Jinkey much to do, and she was busily ironing when Miss Lou again stood within the door. The old woman's fears had been so greatly aroused that she had insisted that Scoville should remain in the loft. "Folks 'll be comin' en gwine all the eb'nin', en ole miss hersef mout step dis away."
At the same time her heart ached for the young girl. At sight of the sweet, troubled face the faithful creature just dropped into a chair, and throwing her apron over her head, rocked back and forth, moaning "You po' chile, you po' chile!"
"Yes, mammy," cried Miss Lou, forgetting for the moment that a stranger was within hearing. "I'm in desperate straits, and I don't know what to do."
The trap-door was lifted instantly, and Scoville was about to descend.
"You mustn't do dat!" exclaimed Aun' Jinkey. "We's all in mis'ry anuff now."
"I hope that in no sense I am the cause of it," said Scoville, earnestly.
"Oh, no," replied Miss Lou, wiping her eyes hastily, "not directly. Pardon me, I forgot for the moment that you were here. My trouble is with my family, and you have nothing to do with it except as you Yankees are coming South and making trouble of every kind."
"Well, Miss Baron," said the scout, regarding her sympathetically through the open door, "it is too late to talk about our coming South. Isn't there something I can do for you, to show my gratitude and good-will?"
"Oh, no, indeed!"
"De bes' ting you kin do, Marse Scoville, is ter shet dat do' an' kep still; den git back ter yo' folks soon ez you kin trabble. We uns got des ez much ez we kin stan' up un'er, en ef dey foun' you yere, hit ud be de worl' comin' ter smash."
"If Miss Baron would tell me her trouble, she might find that I am not so powerless to help as I seem. Since she has done so much for me, I have a certain kind of right to do what I can in return."
"You forget, sir, that we are strangers and aliens."
"No one is an alien to me from whom I am accepting life and safety," and his glance was so kind and friendly that, in her dire extremity, she was induced to ask a question.
"If you feel that you owe anything to me," she said, hesitatingly, "tell me truly, if your people came to this plantation, would our home be burned and we all be in danger of insult and death?"
"Is that all you fear?" he asked, smiling.
"But answer me on your word and honor."
"No, Miss Baron, not from our regular troops. There are vile wretches connected with all armies, on your side as well as ours, who act without orders or any control except their lawless will. If you and your friends are tortured by the fear of Northern soldiers, should they come this way, you may set your mind comparatively at rest. I must add, however, that our troops have to live off the country, and so take food for man and beast. They also help themselves to better horses when they find them. I have told you the truth. Why, believe me, Miss Baron, I would defend you with my life against any one."
"Oh, dear!" cried the girl, with another rush of tears, "my uncle believes that our house will be burned and we all murdered, and they are going to marry me to my cousin against my will, so that he can take me to a place of safety."
"When?" asked Scoville, excitedly.
Aun' Jinkey in her trepidation had stepped to the door, and there, sure enough, was Mrs. Baron coming down the path with her hand full of crumpled muslins. She had appeared so silently and suddenly before Chunk that he had started and stared at her. When he tried to edge off toward the cabin, she had said, sharply, "Keep at your work. What is the matter with you? I reckon your granny is smoking instead of doing my work," and she hastened her steps to surprise the supposed delinquent.
Entering the cabin, she saw only Aun' Jinkey ironing, and her niece sitting with her handkerchief to her face. "Ah!" said the old lady to her laundress, "I'm glad you realize the importance of doing my work when it's needed." Then followed a few brief directions in regard to the articles she had brought. "Louise, I wish you to come with me. This is no place for you," concluded Mrs. Baron, turning to depart.