The girl rose and followed submissively, for she was overwhelmed by a confused sense of danger, not merely to the Union soldier, but also to her old mammy, who was sheltering him. The extremity of her fears and the fact that Chunk had not come to warn them led her to dread that her aunt's suspicions were already aroused. Chunk gave her a very anxious look as she passed, but she only shook her head slightly, as much as to say, "I don't know."
The negro's elation and confidence now passed utterly; he became deeply alarmed, not only for the scout, but for himself and grandmother as well. He was not long in coming to a decision. Whately and his troopers were absent, and now, perhaps, was the best time to act. After satisfying himself that he was not observed, he slipped away to the cabin.
When Mrs. Baron finally disappeared, Aun' Jinkey sank into a chair almost in a state of collapse. "O good Lawd!" she gasped, "I des tremblin' so in my knee-jints I kyant stan'."
"Courage, Aunt Jinkey," said Scoville, through the chink in the floor. "Try to get Chunk here as soon as possible."
"I des done beat. I kyant lif my han' no mo'."
"Granny," said Chunk, sauntering in, "you des watch at de do'," and without waiting for a word he went up the ladder, lifted the door and closed it.
"Ah, Chunk, I wanted you badly," said Scoville. "Do you think it possible for me to get away at once?"
"Dat des w'at I come ter see 'bout, mars'r, en I'se gwine wid you. Marse Whately and he men all done gone till eb'nin'."
"Well, there's no need of further words. See what you can do about getting horses and a good start. I will explain on the way. Hoot like an owl when the coast is clear and you are ready."
A few moments later Chunk emerged from the cabin, with careless mien, eating a pone of hoecake.
"Go back to yer work," shouted Perkins, who was passing in the distance.
This Chunk did, his eyes following the overseer until the hated form was lost to sight in a distant field where a squad of hands were at work. Perkins was simply trying to be ubiquitous that day. Chunk's next step was to steal to the rear of the stables. To his delight he found that Whately had left his horse in order that it might rest for further hard service, and had borrowed one of his uncle's animals for the afternoon ride. As Chunk was stealthily putting on a bridle, a gruff voice asked, "What yer doin' thar?"
The negro's heart stood still. Turning quickly, he saw, to his dismay, one of the Confederate soldiers lying on a pile of straw. A closer scrutiny revealed that the man was drowsy from partial intoxication, and Chunk, feeling that he was in for it now, said boldly: "Marse Whately tole me at dinner ter tek his hoss ter de run fer a drink en ter limber his jints 'bout dis time in de eb'nin'."
"Very well; bring 'im back safe en sud'n or I'll make you a head shorter'n you air."
"Ob co'se, mars'r, I do ez I tol'. I des ride ole bay down, too. Mout ez well took 'im ter water de same time."
The soldier making no response Chunk slipped away with the horses, trembling as if in an ague fit. Nothing was left for him now but to get away and take his chances. Fortune in this instance, as it often does, favored the bolder course. The Confederate soldier was familiar with Chunk, since he had been the waiter at the troopers' mess; moreover, his faculties were confused and blunted and he was soon asleep again. Perkins' back was turned and every one at the mansion deeply preoccupied. Even Zany, who had been charged not to leave the dining-room, was not on the watch.
Chunk hastened the horses down the lane toward the run, which having reached, he looked cautiously around, then hooted in fairly successful imitation of the ominous bird of night. Aun' Jinkey dropped into her chair again with an ejaculation of terror.
"Look out of the door and tell me if you see any one," said Scoville, quickly.
Mechanically she obeyed, saying, "No, mars'r, but dat squinch-owl des shook me like a ghos'."
Before she knew it he was beside her, his eyes shining with excitement. "There," he said, putting into the hand he pressed a ten-dollar bill, "I'll see you again, and you won't be sorry. Good- by," and with a swift glance around he strode away toward the run. A moment or two later he was mounted on the bare back of Mad Whately's horse, following Chunk down the stream so that the flowing water might obliterate the hoof-prints. They soon left the water and put their horses to a gallop toward the forest, within whose shades they disappeared. Both had deemed best not to tell Aun' Jinkey of their departure, so that she might honestly plead ignorance.
With the unerring instinct of a scout the soldier led the way hour after hour toward the point where he expected to find the Union cavalry force. On the way he and Chunk compared notes, and thus Scoville more truly understood Miss Lou's position. "We must be back to-morrow afternoon," he said, "in time to prevent this marriage. So, Chunk, be careful. You must not get sleepy or let your horse stumble."
Leaving them to pursue their way to the northwest, we can return to The Oaks. Miss Lou followed her aunt into the house, burdened for the moment with a new and pressing anxiety. Did the resolute old lady suspect that one of the class which she most detested had been concealed within earshot of her voice, and would a search be instituted? The girl's sympathies had gone out to the stranger, and the fact that he so trusted her appealed strongly to her woman's nature. In her alienation from her relatives she was peculiarly isolated and lonely at just the period in life when she most craved appreciative understanding, and her intuitions led her to believe that this stranger could both understand and respect her feelings. His genial, kindly smile warmed her sore, lonely heart, and convinced her that there was a world of human affections and simple faith as well as of imperious wills and formal beliefs. His words in regard to himself and the North was another shock to her confidence in her uncle and aunt, and another proof that there was no good reason for the marriage they were forcing upon her.
For a brief time she watched with keen-eyed interest to see if her aunt would take any steps to have Aun' Jinkey's cabin searched. Her mind was soon relieved on this score, for she became convinced that her uncle was distracted by various anxieties; while Mrs. Baron, from force of habit and with the purpose of diverting her mind from all she feared, was pursuing her preparations with restless energy, keeping every one in her employ as busy as herself. It was evident that her niece's idle hands and perturbed wanderings to and fro annoyed her, and at last she broke out: "Louise, it would be much more becoming in you to unite with me in my efforts. The idea of your sitting and idly bemoaning your case in that foolish old woman's cabin! I'm glad you had the grace to show obedience to me before her, for this is a time when to our people the example of obedience is most necessary, and you should be the first to set it in all respects. It will only increase the trouble which your uncle and Perkins are having if our people see that you are rebellious. There is much that you should be doing and seeing to, for your uncle says that it may be best for you to leave the plantation with Mrs. Whately and her son immediately after your marriage."
"I am not married yet. I shall appeal to Aunt Whately, and if she has a woman's heart she will not sanction the marriage."
"You will find that because she has a woman's heart, and a Baron's heart, she will sanction it and insist upon it."
"We shall see," replied the girl, turning to go to her room.
"Louise, it is my wish that you should put your things in order to be packed hastily, if need be."
Miss Lou made no answer.
PARALYZED WITH SHAME
So far from obeying her aunt's injunctions, Miss Lou sat down by her window, but she did not note the smiling spring landscape over which the western sun was throwing its long, misty rays. Tears so blurred her eyes and blinded her vision that she could scarcely see at all. At last she was aroused by the crunching of wheels, and became aware that Mrs. Whately had arrived. From what she knew of this aunt she had a good deal of hope from her appeal, for Mrs. Whately had always seemed a kind-hearted woman. True, she had been over-indulgent to her son, and, in her blind idolatry of this only child, blind to his faults, always comforting herself with the belief that he was merely high-spirited and would settle down when he grew older.
Miss Lou wished to speak to the mother before the son returned, and in the hope of securing a merciful ally in the lady, went down immediately to receive her. Mr. Baron was on the back porch calling, "Chunk, where in the mischief are you?" Where, indeed, with the start he had gained for the Union lines?
"My dear niece," cried Mrs. Whately, effusively, "how glad I am to see you, and to take you in my arms on this deeply interesting occasion!" but the matron was troubled at the girl's red eyes and pallid face.
"I will show you to your room at once," said Mrs. Baron to her guest, decisively and significantly.
Miss Lou was right in believing that the situation and the unhappy appearance of the prospective bride would be explained. She had been forestalled in her chance to make an appeal. Mrs. Baron emphatically sustained her husband's purpose, concluding: "My dear sister, in this crisis you will have to take a firm stand with the rest of us. Louise is acting like a perverse child, and no more realizes the necessity and wisdom of our course than a baby."
Meantime the outcry for Chunk increased, and Miss Lou was troubled that he did not respond. Taking advantage of the fact that her mistress was upstairs, Zany stole swiftly, with many a misgiving, to Aun' Jinkey's cabin.
"Whar dat gran'boy o' you'n?" she asked, breathlessly.
"Ain' he in de gyardin?"
"No, he ain'. Does you KNOW whar he is? Bettah tell me de truf. Mout sabe you a heap ob trouble."
"Des you min' yo' business, en doan cum trapesin' yere 'bout Chunk. You talks ez ef you own 'im."
"Ole mars'r tinks he own 'im, en he des a yellin' fer 'im. De oberseer hollerin', too, en de lil niggahs runnin' yere, dar, en yander lookin' fer 'im. Yere one ob um now."
With new and direful forebodings Aun' Jinkey declared loudly: "I doan know what he be. He ain' say not'n ter me 'bout gwine anywhar."
Uttering an angry and contemptuous exclamation, Zany sped back, and, with a scared look, said to Miss Lou, "Aun' Jinkey 'clar she dunno not'n 'bout Chunk's doin's. Ef she ain' foolin' me, I des belebe he's runned away."
At these tidings and at this suggestion the young girl was almost distracted. She went instantly to the cabin, supposing that it would soon be searched.
"Mammy!" she exclaimed, "where's Chunk?"
"Fo' de Lawd, honey, I doan know. I des gwine all ter pieces wid de goin's on."
"But people will be here looking. Is he up there?" asked the girl in a whisper.
"No, he des lit out two hour ago, en he guv me dis" (showing the money), "en say he see me agin. I'se feared he'n Chunk gwine off togeder."
"Well, you don't know. Hide the money and declare you don't know anything. I'll stand by you as far as I can."
As she hastened back she saw a Confederate soldier running toward the house and Perkins limping after him as fast as possible. Entering the rear door she heard the soldier demanding fiercely of her uncle, "Where's that cursed nigger you call Chunk?"
"Whom are you addressing, sir?" asked Mr. Baron, indignantly.
"Well, see yere, boss," was the excited reply, "this ere ain't no time fer standin' on nice words. That cursed nigger o' your'n took the lieutenant's horse ter the run fer a drink, an one o' your'n 'long of him, en me en Perkins kyant find nary one of 'em."
"Yes, sir," added Perkins in great wrath, "we uns follered the hoof- prints ter the run en inter the water, en there's no hoof-prints comin' back. That infernal nigger has lit out with the two horses."
"Why don't you go after him then?" shouted Mr. Baron, distracted with anger and accumulating perplexities. "He can't be far yet."
"I'd like ter see the hoss on this place that could ketch the lieutenant's black mare. Oh, why didn't I shoot the nigger?" and the soldier strode up and down as if demented.
"You deserve to be shot yourself, sir, if you, who had been placed on guard, permitted that black rascal to take the horses."
"Yes," replied the soldier, desperately, "en the lieutenant is ther man ter shoot me—cuss his red-hot blood!" and he stalked away toward the stables as if possessed by a sudden resolve.
Turning to enter the house, Mr. Baron encountered his niece, who had been a witness to the scene, which explained everything to her. "You see, you see," cried the old man, "everything going to rack and ruin! Would to Heaven you could be married to-night and sent away to a place of safety!"
"Uncle," said the girl, almost fiercely, "did you not hear that man say of my cousin, 'curse his red-hot blood'? Is that the kind of a protector you would force upon me?"
"Yes," almost shouted the angry man, "because he has the spirit to deal justly with such reprobates. He's just the kind of protector you need in these lurid times, when it seems as if no one could be trusted. To think that that boy Chunk, who has been treated so well, could play us such an infernal trick! His old crone of a grandam must know something about it, and I'll make her tell. Perkins!" and Mr. Baron rushed toward the door again.
The ladies had now descended and joined the excited group on the veranda. Zany was listening with craned neck from the dining-room door, and other "yard folks," great and small, were gathering also.
"What IS the matter?" cried Mrs. Baron.
Paying no heed to her, Mr. Baron said to his overseer, "Aun' Jinkey must know about this rascally flight and theft. Bring her here."
"Uncle," said Miss Lou, firmly, "Aun' Jinkey doesn't know anything about Chunk's disappearance. I've been to her cabin and asked her."
"As if the cunning old witch would tell you anything! Bring her here, I say, Perkins. It's time the spirit of insubordination on this place received a wholesome check."
"Why!" exclaimed Mrs. Baron, "it seems but a little while ago that Chunk was working quietly in the garden."
"En I reckon hit ain't much more'n two hours gone sence I seed 'im comin' out o' the cabin, lazin' and eatin' hoe-cake," added Perkins as he started angrily to obey his orders.
"He had mischief in his mind, though, now I think of it." resumed Mrs. Baron, "for he seemed startled when he saw me, and tried to edge away to the cabin. I thought he was afraid I would catch his granny smoking instead of doing urgent work. Louise, you were in the cabin at the time. Why should Chunk be so anxious to get there before I did?"
"I have not spoken to him this afternoon, and know nothing of his movements except what I have heard," replied the girl, coldly.
"Oh, dear!" exclaimed Mrs. Whately, "what troublous times we've fallen upon!"
In the silence which followed they heard the gallop of a horse. A moment later a negro came running up and exclaiming, "Dat sojer in de stable des saddle he hoss en put out ez ef de debil wuz arter 'im!"
Miss Lou smiled bitterly as she thought, "He evidently doesn't think it wise to wait for my protector."
At this moment Mad Whately appeared cantering smartly up the avenue at the head of his men. Throwing his reins to a colored boy, he strode smilingly up the steps, exclaiming, "Why, this is a regular committee of reception. I am doubled honored since my fair cousin is present also."
Miss Lou made no reply, and the expression on all faces led him to ask quickly, "Why, what's the matter?"
The young man's brow grew black as Mr. Baron gave a hasty explanation. A half-suppressed oath rose to his lips as he turned on his heel and shouted to his men, "Halt, there! Let every man mount and await orders. Simson, you and two others follow the guard I left with my horse. Where's that nigger who saw him start? Here, you, put these men on his track as you value your life! Simson, take him, dead or alive!"
The men saluted, and departed at once. The galloping of their horses soon died away in the distance. "Now for this beldam," said Whately, sternly, as Aun' Jinkey approached, tottering in her excess of fear and accompanied by Perkins.
Miss Lou saw that her cousin was terribly excited; indeed, that he fairly trembled with passion. She was scarcely less stirred herself, for she possessed much of the hot blood of her kindled, and during the last twenty-four hours nearly all that had, occurred tended to fire her spirit. Now that she saw her own dear old mammy led cowering under the hostile eyes of every one, she was almost beside herself with pity and anger. Unaccustomed to conventional restraint, reacting from long years of repression, a child still in some respects, in others a passionate woman revolting at a fate from which her whole nature shrank, she was carried far above and beyond her normal condition, and was capable of following her impulses, whatever they might be.
Aun' Jinkey turned her eyes appealingly, and was awed, even in that terrible moment, by the intensity of the girl's expression, as she half consciously drew nearer and nearer. The field-hands, deeply excited, had also edged up from the quarters. Mr. Baron and his overseer observed yet tolerated this, thinking that it might be just as well to have the negroes learn from Aun' Jinkey's experience that authority would still be sternly enforced.
Whately's headlong temperament was so overcome by anger that he noted nothing except the presence of one whom he believed the aider and abetter in his great loss, for a favorite and trusty horse is one of the dearest possessions of a cavalryman.
"Where's your grandson?" he demanded, fiercely.
"'Fo' de Lawd, I dunno," gasped Aun' Jinkey.
"The truth, now, or you'll be sorry."
"I dunno, I dunno. Ef he gone, he ain' say neber a word ter me, not eben good-by."
"No use of your lying. You knew the rascal's purpose. Why didn't you tell Mr. Baron? Which way did he go?"
"I des declar, mars'r, I dunno."
"You DO know," cried Whately, driven almost to frenzy, "and I'll cut the truth out of you."
His whip fell before he could arrest it, but it struck the arm and shoulder of Miss Lou. She had drawn very near, and, swift as light, had sprung forward and encircled the form of her mammy. There were startled exclamations from those near, echoed by a groan from the negroes, and then the girl spoke in stern, deep tones, "You thought to strike ONE woman, and you have struck TWO."
Whately dropped his whip and stood with bowed head, paralyzed with shame. There were wild cries and a swaying of the field-hands toward the house. The mounted soldiers drew their revolvers and looked from the thronging black faces to that of their commander, but he paid no heed to them. Perkins did not wait, however, but drawing his weapon, began to limp toward the threatening mass, with oaths and orders to disperse. As for Mr. Baron and the ladies, they were just helpless in the whirl of events.
Although Miss Lou's back was toward this new phase of the drama, she instantly and instinctively comprehended it. With a fear almost hereditary, as well as one vaguely dreaded from childhood, she recognized the possible horrors of an insurrection, her own action the indirect cause. She turned and sprang forward so swiftly to interpose that her comb fell away, and her golden hair streamed behind her. She stood between the blacks and those who could harm them; also those whom, in their wild excitement, they were ready to attack.
"Silence!" she cried; then in the deep hush that followed she called out, in clear, ringing tones: "Every friend of mine will go back to quarters, keep quiet, and obey orders. I promise that no harm shall come to any of you."
The men doffed their ragged hats, and a voice from the crowd answered, "We 'bey you, Miss Lou, en we won' let no harm come ter you, noder." Then as the dense, angry mass of a hundred or more men and women melted away toward the quarters, it was seen that many a heavy club was carried among them. Miss Lou watched them silently two or three moments, the rest looking on in wonder and suppressed anger mingled with fear. The girl returned, and taking her mammy by the hand, was about to lead her into the house. Whately started as she essayed to pass him unheedingly, and seized her hand. "Lou, Cousin Lou, forgive me!" he cried. "You know I meant you no such indignity."
"I know you mean me a greater one," she replied, coldly, withdrawing her hand.
"See! I ask your forgiveness on my knees!" he urged, passionately.
But her heart was steeled against him, for her very soul was hot with indignation. "Come, mammy," she said, firmly, "such shelter and protection as I still have in this house you shall share."
"Louise, this is monstrous!" began Mrs. Baron.
"NO!" cried the girl. "This poor creature is the nearest approach I have ever known to a mother. She doesn't know about her grandson, and no one shall try to cut the truth out of her. Come, mammy," and she led the trembling old negress up to her room. When hidden from all eyes her courage and excitement gave way, and she cried on her mammy's breast like the child she was.
A BAFFLED DIPLOMATIST
Miss Lou left consternation, confusion and deep anxiety below stairs. Mad Whately had his own code of ethics, and he felt as if he had committed the unpardonable sin. His mother was shocked and pained beyond measure. She understood the feelings of her son, and sympathized with him. Drawing him into the parlor, she soothed and cheered him with the assurance that when his cousin's anger passed she would explain and intercede.
"Oh, mother!" he exclaimed, "I did love her honestly before, but now I adore her. I must marry her, and by a lifetime of devotion wipe out the wrong I did not intend to inflict."
"It will all come about right yet, my boy," she whispered. "I never understood Louise before. I fear they have been too strict and unsympathetic in her bringing up, and so she has naturally rebelled against all their plans. You didn't think at the time—indeed, in our excitement we all forgot—that Aun' Jinkey was her mammy, and you know how strong that tie is, even in your case, and you have always had a mother's love."
"Oh, fool, fool that I was in my mad anger! Brave, grand, heroic girl! I'd have done as much for my old mammy; or rather I'd have struck down a general before he should harm her. Oh, mother, mother!" concluded the much-indulged youth, "I must marry her. She is just the bride for a soldier."
"Rather than have her fall into the hands of the enemy, we will lead her to see that it is the only thing to be done," replied Mrs. Whately.
Perkins had a consultation with Mr. Baron, as far as that desperately perturbed old gentleman was capable of holding one, the result of which was the decision to let the negroes alone, provided they kept quiet and obeyed. It was evident to both of them that the approach of Union forces, though yet comparatively distant, had produced the usual demoralizing effects. The government at The Oaks had not been harsh, but it had been strict and animated by a spirit which alienated sympathy. The situation was now seen to be too critical to admit of severity, all the more as the protection of Whately and his troopers might soon be withdrawn.
It was a silent and depressing meal to which they sat down that evening, long after the accustomed hour, a fact which Mr. Baron would not forget, even in the throes of an earthquake. He groaned over it; he groaned over everything, and especially over his niece, who had suddenly developed into the most unmanageable element in the whole vexed problem of the future. He felt that they owed her very much, and that she held the balance of power through her influence over the negroes; and yet he was incensed that she was not meek and submissive as a young woman should be under all circumstances. An angry spot burned in each of Mrs. Baron's cheeks, for she felt that Miss Lou's conduct reflected very unfavorably on her bringing up. She was so scandalized and vexed that she could scarcely think of anything else. Mrs. Whately was all deprecation and apology, trying to pour oil on the troubled waters in every way, while her son was as savagely angry at himself as he had been at poor Aun' Jinkey and her grandson.
Most fortunately the main feature in the case remained undiscovered. The fact that a Union scout had been hidden and permitted to depart would have been another bombshell, and the consequences of its explosion would have been equally hard to predict or circumscribe. As it was, Miss Lou and Aun' Jinkey received a certain remorseful sympathy which they would have forfeited utterly had the truth been revealed. And the secret did tremble on the lips of Zany. She was not only greatly aggrieved that Chunk had "runned away" after all, without her, and had become a sort of hero among his own kind on the plantation, but she also felt keenly her own enforced insignificance when she knew so much more than that Chunk had merely decamped. Her mistress little dreamed, as the girl waited stolidly and sullenly on the table, that she was so swelling with her secret as to be like a powder magazine. But fear rather than faith finally sealed Zany's lips. She was aware that the first question asked would be, "If you knew so much, why didn't YOU tell?" and she could give no reason which would save her from condign punishment. Moreover, she hoped that Chunk would soon return with no end of "Linkum men," and then her silence would be rewarded.
Supper was sent up to Miss Lou and her guest, and the old woman, having at last some sense of security, made her first good meal since "things began to happen." Then she hankered after her pipe. "I'll get it for you," said the warm-hearted girl. She stole to the head of the landing, and, the hall below being clear at the moment, she flitted down and out at the back door, reaching the deserted cabin unobserved. How desolate it looked in the fading twilight! The fire was out on the hearth, and the old creaking chair was empty. But Miss Lou did not think of Aun' Jinkey. Her thoughts were rather of a stranger whose face had been eloquent of gratitude as he offered to shield her with his life. Then she remembered his excited question as to the time of the marriage. "When?" Had her answer anything to do with the sudden and bold departure? Her heart was in a sudden flutter. She snatched the corncob pipe and tobacco pouch, and sped back again in a strange blending of fear and hope. She felt guilty that she could dare hope to see him, a Yankee, again. "But his smile was so pleasant and frank!" she murmured. "Oh, I never remember to have had such genial, honest, unreserved good-will looked at me by any one except mammy, and she's so old and wrinkled that she can't look much of anything. What handsome, kind, dark eyes he had! Yet they would all say, 'He's a monster!'"
She made her way back in safety until she reached the head of the stairs, and then came plump upon her aunt. "Where have you been?" asked Mrs. Baron, sharply.
"After Aun' Jinkey's pipe."
"Horrible! I forbid her smoking in this house."
"I shall permit her to smoke in my room."
"You have no right."
"Very well; then I'll go with her to her cabin."
"My dear sister," said Mrs. Whately, putting her hand on the irate lady's arm, "I think it will be better to let our niece have her way in such little things. We must remember that she is no longer a child."
"I think she is acting like a very perverse and foolish one; but then rather than have any more scenes"—and looking unutterable things she passed on down the stairs.
"My dear, I wish to see you by and by. Won't you let me?" said Mrs. Whately. "I wish to see you—I must see you before I sleep," replied the girl, decisively.
"I'll come up soon, then, dear."
Mrs. Baron reported to her husband what had occurred, but he only groaned. He was scarcely able to do much else now.
"Oh, hang it!" exclaimed Whately, "what fiend directs my luck this evening? If I had only known she had gone to the cabin, I could have compelled her to listen to me and to my apologies."
"No worse luck could have happened," said his mother, entering. "You must curb your impatience, and so—pardon me for saying it—must you, brother and sister. You are driving the girl to lengths she would never have thought of going. She is excited and almost beside herself. You forget, brother, that she is a Southern girl and a Baron, and has all the spirit of our race. She is one to be coaxed, to yield to gentle pressure and firm reasoning, and not to be driven."
"Oh, curse it! we've made a mess of it, I fear," groaned Whately, who was capable of violent alternations of mood, and now was in the valley of humiliation and almost despair.
"Well, you must all let me manage a little now," resumed Mrs. Whately, somewhat complacently, "or else there is no telling what trouble you may have."
"Yes, yes," cried her son, "I insist on mother's managing. She has always obtained what I wanted, and I shall certainly throw my life away if I don't marry Cousin Lou."
"Madison," said his mother, tearfully, "am I, who have so loaded you with kindness, of no account?"
"Oh, forgive me, mother, I can't do anything but blunder to-night. I'm all broken up, distracted by conflicting duties and feelings. I picked up important information this evening. The Yankee column, halting in the rich valley to the northwest, have been ranging the country far and near, loading their wagons and resting their horses. They will make a move soon, and will come this way just as likely as not. Our forces are coming up from the South, and there certainly will be a fight soon somewhere in this region. I received a secret despatch at the court-house, after seeing the minister, who will be here early to-morrow evening. After the wedding I intend to escort mother and my wife south to Cousin Sam Whately's. They certainly will be out of the Yankee line of march there. Perhaps you and aunt had better go too."
"No," said Mr. Baron. "I intend to stay and face it out here. I shall stand or fall on my own hearth."
"And I shall remain with my husband," added Mrs. Baron, firmly.
"Well, nothing worse may happen than a general sack of the place, but I cannot leave mother and the girl who is to be my wife. I shall ride over to our place in the morning for the best horse on it, and to see the overseer. I'll bring back a few papers which I will put in your charge, uncle."
Thus they discussed the emergency till Mrs. Whately thought she could venture to Miss Lou's room. Her son accompanied her to the door and called out, "I give you my word, cousin, that Aun' Jinkey can go to her cabin, and that no one shall disturb her"; then he retreated to the parlor again.
When Mrs. Whately entered the room, she witnessed what was not reassuring. Miss Lou's white shoulder was bare, and upon it was the long red mark of the whip. Aun' Jinkey was bathing the bruise with some lotion. "My poor child!" said the lady, "Madison is almost beside himself with grief and self-reproach."
"Please tell him," replied the girl, "that I'm glad the blow fell on me instead of mammy."
"Ah, well, my dear, he has asked forgiveness and is profoundly sorry."
"Hit soon be well, honey. Wish ter grashus hit wuz me dat hab it! en you barin' hit so patient, too, w'en I smokin'. Dar, I kiver hit up now, en hit ain' dar in de mawnin'. I reck'n I go back ter de cabin now, honey. I kin'er used ter my own chimbly corner. Miss Whately got sump'n ter say ter comfort you."
"Very well, mammy. I'll see that you have no trouble," and the old woman departed.
"Surely, Louise, you cannot expect any more trouble, after my son has said there would not be any," said Mrs. Whately, in a somewhat aggrieved tone.
"You must have seen," was the reply, "that Cousin Madison hasn't just the kind of self-control which inspires confidence."
"I assure you, Louise, that he regrets his act as much as you can. You should, in charity, remember his great provocation."
"Well, then," Miss Lou burst out, "let him make amends. Here I am, a defenceless girl, with all my kindred against me. He should be the first to defend me."
"So he wishes to do, my dear; and he only craves the most sacred right to defend you."
"Yes, in his own way, and without any regard to my feelings and wishes."
"Indeed, my dear, you misjudge him. You have only to yield one point in order to make him a slave to your wishes."
"But that is yielding everything. Oh, aunt, how can you urge a girl toward a loveless marriage?"
"Now, my dear, just listen patiently to me for a few moments," began Mrs. Whately in a wheedling tone. "I am older than you are. I know young girls are apt to have romantic notions, but when they reach my age they find that it is ever best to act in view of good and sufficient reasons. Apart from the terrible emergency that is upon us, you know that we all have had our hearts set on this marriage almost ever since you were born, and we have made no secret of the fact. It would be a terrible disappointment to us if it should not take place. I fear that life has been too strict and narrow for you here, but you know that in my home you will dwell in an atmosphere of kindness and indulgence. I will give up to you whenever you are ready to take the reins after these sore troubles are over. But, Louise, you do not realize that we are in the midst of a terrible emergency. You ought not to remain here. Madison has arranged that we both go south to his cousin Sam's."
"I don't wish to go!" cried the girl, wringing her hands.
"Now, my dear, can't you just believe that we, who are more experienced and know the danger, wish to do what is best for you and what you will soon see was best?"
"No, I cannot! I cannot! I just feel that I can't marry my cousin without perjuring myself."
"Surely you don't love any one else, Louise?"
"What chance have I had to love anyone, except my old mammy? I don't know anything about the love which I feel should lead to marriage. I have just been treated like a child, and then without any girlhood at all I'm to be married to one that I shrink from. I feel in my very soul that it's all wrong and unjust."
"But, my dear, you won't feel so after you are a wife and safe in your own home. You will then feel that you have reached woman's true place and sphere, without incurring the risks and misfortunes which befall so many. Your guardians might have shown more tact, perhaps, but they meant well, and they wish you well, and are seeking only your welfare. They feel in honor bound to do what is best for you, and not what, in your inexperience, you may wish at the moment. As for my son, a warmer-hearted fellow does not breathe. He loves you fondly. You can influence him, you can control him as no other can, you have the strongest hold upon him."
"Alas!" said the girl, divining the ultimate truth, "you love him blindly and wholly; you would sacrifice me, yourself and everything to him, and because he has always had everything his own way, he would have me in spite of the whole protest of my being. No one truly cares for me; no one understands me. I have been thrown back upon books and my own nature for such knowledge as I now so desperately need, and I feel that if I am false to my interests, to what I believe is right, my life is spoiled. I don't wish to marry any one, and as to all these dangers you so vaguely threaten, I believe that if there is a good God, he will take care of me."
"Well, my dear," said Mrs. Whately, striving to hide the fact that she was baffled, "we won't talk any more about it to-night. You are excited and worried, and incapable of wise judgment. Rest and sleep are what you need now," and she kissed the girl, who did not return the caress.
"Wise judgment!" she muttered, bitterly, "what fine words they use! So you, too, are hopelessly against me. You would give me to your son just as you used to give him everything he cried for when a child. Well, then, I'll appeal to the minister himself. I don't believe he can marry me against my will. At any rate, I shall never give my consent, never; and perhaps somebody may come in time. My people are teaching me to fear them even more than the Yankees."
AUN' JINKEY'S WARNING
The night passed like a lull in the storm. Perkins reported that the negroes were quiet, contenting themselves with whispering and watchfulness. Aun' Jinkey smoked and dozed in her chair, listening to every sound, but no "squinch-owl" renewed her fears. The family at the mansion were too perturbed to sleep much, for all knew that the morrow must bring decisive events. The three soldiers sent after the recreant trooper returned from a bootless chase and were allowed to rest, but Whately saw to it that there was a vigilant watch kept by relief of guards on the part of the others. He was not very greatly encouraged by his mother's report, but as the hours passed the habits of his life and the tendencies of his nature asserted themselves with increasing force. He would marry his cousin on the morrow; he would not be balked in his dearest hope and wish. The very resistance of the girl stimulated his purpose, for throughout all his life nothing so enhanced his desire for anything as difficulty and denial. The subduing the girl's high spirit into subservience to his own was in itself a peculiarly alluring prospect, and he proved how little he appreciated her character by whiling away part of the night over "Taming of the Shrew." A creature of fitful impulse, nurtured into an arrogant sense of superiority, he banished all compunctions, persuading himself easily into the belief that as soldier, officer, and lover he was taking the manly course in going straight forward. "The idea of consulting a whimsical girl at such a time," he muttered, "when a Yankee horde may descend on the plantation within forty-eight hours."
Miss Lou was quite as sleepless as himself, and also did a great deal of thinking. She had too much pride to hide and mope in her room. Her high, restless spirit craved action, and she determined to brave whatever happened with the dignity of courage. She would face them all and assert what she believed to be her rights before them all, even the clergyman himself. She therefore appeared at the breakfast table with just enough color in her cheeks and fire in her eyes to enhance her beauty.
"Ah, this is something like," exclaimed her uncle. "I knew sleep and thought would bring back good sense."
Mrs. Whately kissed her effusively and Mrs. Baron formally, the girl submitting with like mien in both instances. Her cousin, in accordance with his mood and the policy he had adopted, bowed gallantly and with a touch of grandiloquence in his tone said, "I again apologize before all for my most unfortunate act last evening."
She only bowed silently in reply.
Then Whately assumed the air of one who had many and weighty matters on his mind, his whole conversation conforming to the accepted belief that they were facing a terrible emergency, and that he, as the practical head of the family at such a time, must act decisively for the best good and safety of all. "If I could be governed in this instance," he said, "only by patriotic feeling I would advise the destruction of all the forage on the place if convinced that the Yanks were coming this way, but that would incite them to every possible outrage. Still, I truly believe that it would be best for you and aunt to go with us this evening."
"No," said Mr. Baron, "I've settled that."
"Haven't you negroes that you can trust to take the stock off into the woods for concealment?"
"After Chunk's rascality I won't trust any of them."
"Well, I shall adopt that plan at our place this morning, and leave as little of value within reach as I can help."
By a sort of tacit agreement it was thought best not to say anything to Miss Lou except as Mrs. Whately broached the subject, it being believed that a quiet ignoring of her will and a manifest purpose to carry out their own would have the most weight in breaking down her opposition. Indeed it was a shrewd policy, hard for the young girl to bear up against. Mrs. Baron had been enjoined not to cross her in little things. The busy housekeeper was too preoccupied to do so had she been disposed, but it troubled and incensed the girl to the last degree to see her bustling about, preparing for the wedding as if it would take place as a matter of course. Mrs. Whately's affectionate smiles and encouraging words were even harder to endure. That good lady acted as if Miss Lou were a timid and coy maiden, who merely needed heartening and reassuring in order to face a brief ordeal, and then all would be well. Her cousin gallantly lifted her hand to his lips and then rode away with part of his men, saying cheerfully, "I'll manage everything for the best."
A vague terror seized upon the girl and she again sought the refuge of Aun' Jinkey's cabin. She must have some one to speak to who understood her, who felt for her. She found that Mrs. Baron had been there before her, urging the completion of certain tasks. Indeed, the old woman was ironing a white muslin dress which looked very bridal-like. Miss Lou recognized it as her own gown, which might naturally be worn on such an occasion.
"Who brought that here?" she asked quickly.
"Ole miss, honey. She said you cud war dis or de one you hab on, des ez you pleases."
"Aun' Jinkey," said the girl in an awed whisper, "do you think they can marry me against my will?"
"Miss Lou, I declar ter you I'se been smokin' en projeckin' ober dat mos' all night."
"Hit 'pears ter me a orfully mux-up question. Yere yo' gyardins, ole mars'r en ole miss. Dey's des had dere gay on dis plantashon sence I wuz a gyurl. You wuz trus' ter dem ter be took keer on en you tole me how he manage yo' prop'ty. He call you he ward. I des dunno w'at po'r dat ward business gib 'im. I'se yeared en my day ob young gyurls mar'ed yere en mar'ed dar en dey aim' sayin' much 'bout who dey mar'y. Folks say dat wuz de way wid ole miss. I reckermember dem days en I year ole mars'r's fader talk'n wid her fader 'bout w'at dey call set'l'ments en po'tions. Den ole miss's mammy tole me how her young miss wuz cool ez a cowcumber, en how she say her folks know bes' en she sat'sfied; en den how she gib her min' ter w'at she call her trosso. Why honey, I des doin' up tings ob dat ar trosso yit."
"That's just the trouble with aunt," said Miss Lou scornfully. "I don't believe she ever had heart enough to love with."
"Well, I reck'n ole mars'r is projeckin' dis away. Ole miss, she settle down en tuck hole strong. She des kin'er fall inter he ways en mek tings hum wid de yard en house folks. She des a nachel-bawn housekeeper, en we uns all had ter stan 'roun' en do ez she sed sud'n, we sutn'y did; en ole mars'r, he tink hit be des de same wid you."
"But it won't, mammy. I'm not like my aunt."
"Dat you ain', honey, bless de Lawd! Ole miss neber stan' 'twix me en a whip, en she neber run fer my pipe en let her shol'er ache whiles I smokes like a ole himage. I'se only des a s'plainin' how dey feels 'bout yo' mar'age."
"Ah, but mammy, you know how I feel about it. I won't marry my cousin if I can help it."
"Hit's yo' feelin's, honey, w'at des riles up my in'erds so I kyant hardly wuk. Dat's whar my projeckin' gins out, en I'se kin'er stump'd 'bout hit. Dey's gwine right 'long wid dere prep'rations des ez ef dey cud do ez dey pleased. Dunno w'at de law is 'bout hit ef dere is any law in dese mux-up times. I'se des took clar off my foots wid all de goin's on. De fiel'-han's at de quarters is bilin' ober wid 'citement, en dey's sayin' de Linkum men's comin' ter upset ebryting. Whar dey get de news fum I dunno. Dey sez ole mars'r is 'stracted en ole miss des put her thin lips tergedder ez ef she gwine ter hab her way ter de las' minit. Ez fer Marse Whately, you knows he al'ays hab his way, en ef dere isn't eny way he mek it. You sez de min'ster en folks is comin'? Hit des stumps me fer dem ter go on so ef dey hasn't de po'r."
"Well, then," said the girl desperately, "they will have to use force all the way through. I'll never give my consent."
"P'raps w'en de min'ster see dat he woan mar'y you."
"That's just my hope," said the girl, "I—"
A quick step was heard and a moment later Mrs. Baron entered the cabin. Ostensibly she came for some of the articles which Aun' Jinkey had ironed, but Miss Lou knew she was under surveillance and she departed without a word. On entering her room she found that her little trunk had been packed and locked in her absence and that the key was gone. She felt that it was but another indignity, another phase of the strong quiet pressure urging her toward the event she so dreaded. A hunted, half-desperate look came into her eyes, but she did not waver in her purpose.
Mrs. Whately knocked, but the girl would not admit her.
Meanwhile Mrs. Baron said to Aun' Jinkey in parting, "See to it that you don't put foolish notions in my niece's head. We are none of us in a mood for trifling to-day."
Then the old woman's wrath burst out. "You 'speck I'se feared ter speak fer dat chile w'at stan' by me so? Bettah be keerful yosef, mistis; you alls gittin' on ve'y scarey groun' wid Miss Lou. You tink you kin do wid her w'at you pleases des ez ef she a lil gyurl baby. I reck'n her moder come out'n her grabe ter look arter you ef you ain' keerful."
"What do you mean by such language?"
"I mean des dis, mistis. Ef you tinks Miss Lou ole anuff ter mar'y you know she ain' a chile. Ef she ain' a chile she a woman. Does you tink you kin tromple on a woman? You kin tromple on me en I am' sayin' not'n, but you kyant tromple on a wi'te woman like yosef. I tells you you gittin' on scarey groun' wid Miss Lou."
"If you both had sense you would know we are getting her off scarey ground, as you call it. All you have to do is to obey my orders and not meddle."
"Ve'y well, mistis, I'se warn you," said Aun' Jinkey, sullenly returning to her work.
"Warn me of what?" But the old woman would not vouchsafe another word.
Mrs. Baron returned to the house, her lips compressed with a firmer purpose to maintain discipline on deck till the ship went down, if that was to be the end. Combined with her cold, unimaginative temperament was a stronger and more resolute spirit than that of her husband, who now was chiefly governed by his lifelong habit of persistence. He adhered to his purposes as a man at sea clings to the ship which he feels is going to pieces beneath him.
Chunk and Scoville reached the Union camp in the gray dawn of the morning, and the latter soon had an audience with the commanding officer, with whom he was a favorite scout. The small party which had been compelled to leave Scoville behind had brought important information, gained chiefly by the young man's daring and address, and the general was very glad to see him again and to be assured of his escape.
"We are ready to move," said the commander, "and the information brought in by your party has decided me to bear off to the southeast in order to meet the enemy approaching from the southwest. As soon as you are rested, Lieutenant Scoville—"
"Yes, I had recommended you for promotion and the order has come."
"If zeal in your service, sir"—began the scout flushing proudly.
"Yes, yes, I understand all that. I remember the men who serve me well. As soon as you're able to start out in the same direction again I would like you to do so."
"I'm able now," said Scoville eagerly, and then he briefly related the situation of affairs at The Oaks, concluding, "If I had twenty- five men I believe I could not only prevent the marriage but capture all the Confederates with their information. They have been scouting up toward us just as we were toward the enemy."
"All right," said the general, laughing. "Perhaps the marriage may come off yet, only with another groom."
"No, sir," said Scoville, gravely. "The girl befriended me in my sore need. She is as good and innocent as a child, and I would shield and respect her as I would my own sister."
"That's the right spirit, Lieutenant. I was not sure how far matters had gone—in fact, was only jesting."
Scoville made a hearty breakfast, and within an hour, at the head of over a score of men, was rapidly retracing his steps, Chunk following in a state of wild elation. They both had been furnished with fresh horses, and the tough, elastic sinews of the newly- fledged officer were tense with an unwonted excitement. If those tearful blue eyes of Miss Lou should welcome him as deliverer this would be the most memorable day of his life.
A WHIRLWIND OF EVENTS
Whately returned wearing a rather gloomy and angry aspect. He had threatened his negroes and stormed at them; they had listened in sullen silence. The overseer had said, "Hit's the old story. They have heard that the Yanks are near and may come this way. Fact is, one doesn't know what they haven't heard. They hold together and keep mum. You can see that all discipline is at an end among 'em."
Whately could only give the man such directions as the emergency dictated, obtain some valuables, and return chafed and all the more bent upon securing out of the possible wreck the one object he most coveted. But Miss Lou puzzled him and perplexed them all. She had taken refuge in almost absolute silence, and was as unresponsive to Mrs. Whately's endearments as to her uncle and aunt's expostulations, while toward Whately she was positively freezing in her coldness. Troubled and inwardly enraged, he was yet more than ever determined to carry out his purpose. His orders to his men were given sharply and sternly, and his mood was so fierce that there was no longer any affectation or assumption on his part. The girl's heart fluttered with nameless fears, but she had the strength of will to maintain the cold, impassive demeanor she had resolved upon. She felt that it would be useless to make further effort to influence her kindred, and that if she revealed her purpose to appeal to the clergyman, they might so prejudice his mind against her that he would not listen favorably. Fearing that this might be the case anyway, she found her thoughts turning with increasing frequency to the possible intervention of the Union scout. She both hoped for and feared his coming, supported as he would be, in this instance, by followers who might be so different from himself. She could not free her mind from the influence of the stories about Northern soldiers, and yet she was sure that as far as his power went, they would all be protected. Indeed, one danger menaced so closely and threateningly she could scarcely think of anything else than escape and relief from it.
As the sun began to sink in the west her uncle came to her door and said authoritatively, "Louise, I wish you to come down."
She obeyed without a word and entered the parlor where all were assembled, noting with dismay that the Rev. Dr. Williams was already present. Her cousin sought to meet her gallantly, but she evaded him and took a seat. Mr. Baron began a sort of harangue. "Louise," he said, "as your guardian and in obedience to my sense of duty in a great responsibility, I have approved of this marriage. I am convinced that the time will speedily come when you will be glad that I—that we all—were firm at this time. Both I and your aunt are growing old. Troubles, sore indeed even for the young to endure, are upon us. I am not sure that a roof will cover our gray hairs much longer. Perhaps in the dead of this very night the ruthless enemy may come. Now, your aunt Whately's carriage is at the door. A gallant soldier and a Confederate officer, the choice of all your kindred, is eager to give you his name and loving protection. He will take you far away from war's rude alarms, with its attendant and horrible perils. We have no common foe to deal with, but monsters animated by unquenchable hatred and a diabolical spirit. I should betray my trust and be recreant to my duty did I not avail myself of the one avenue of safety still open to you. See, your cousin's brave men are mounted, armed, and ready to act as your escort. Dr. Williams is here to perform his good offices, although other invited friends have not ventured from home in this time of peril which recent tidings prove to be increasing every hour. In a few moments you will be an honored wife, on your way to a place of refuge, instead of a helpless girl whose defenders may soon be scattered or dead."
"Truly, Miss Baron," said the clergyman, rising and approaching, "you cannot hesitate in circumstances like these."
Miss Lou felt her tongue clinging to the roof of her mouth, and could only say in a hoarse whisper, "But I do not love my cousin—I do not wish to marry."
"That may be your feeling at this moment. Indeed, circumstances are not conducive to gentle amatory feelings, and all may seem sudden and hasty to you, but you must consider that your relatives in this emergency—indeed that all your neighbors—are doing many things and taking many precautions that would not be thought of in a time of security. I have already sent my own family further South, and now in your case and Mrs. Whately's I feel that time is pressing. Will you please rise and take your cousin by the hand?"
She shook her head and remained motionless. Whately advanced decisively, took her hand, and sought gently to draw her into position before the clergyman. His touch broke the spell, the paralysis of dread, and she burst out, "No, no, you cannot marry me when my whole soul protests. I will not be married!"
"Louise, I command you," began Mr. Baron excitedly.
"It makes no difference. I will not! I will not!" was the passionate and almost despairing response.
"Oh, come, cousin, you are just excited, frightened, and off your balance," said Whately soothingly.
"My dear Miss Baron," added the clergyman, "let me reassure you. It is evident that you are a little nervous and hysterical. Pray be calm and trust your relatives to do what is best for you. I do not wonder that your nerves have given way and that—"
"My nerves have not given way. Unfriended child that I am, I must not lose self-control. God grant that my WILL does not give way."
"Unfriended!" exclaimed Mrs. Whately reproachfully. "Few girls in these times have so many to care and think for them. We are all bent on securing your welfare at every cost."
"Yes, at every cost to me."
"Dr. Williams sees the wisdom and reasonableness of our course. My son is even straining his sense of military duty to escort us to a place of safety, where you will still be among relatives."
"Then let him escort me as his cousin, not his wife," cried the girl.
"But, Miss Baron, in the turmoil and confusion which may ensue you will be far safer as his wife," Dr. Williams urged. "I would have been glad if I could have given my daughter like protection. Truly, it is not wise to be swayed by mere nervous excitement at such a time."
"Oh, even you, from whom I hoped so much, are against me!"
"No, my dear child," replied the minister, earnestly and sincerely, "I am for you always, but I cannot help seeing, with your relatives, that at present you are not in the quiet state of mind which would enable you to act wisely for yourself. What earthly motive could I have except your safety, welfare and happiness?"
"Well, then," said the girl, with a swift glance around and as if turning into stone, "do your worst. I will never give my consent, NEVER!"
They looked at each other perplexedly and inquiringly, as if to ask what should be done, when Perkins burst in at the back door of the hallway shouting, "The Yanks!"
The girl sank into a chair and covered her burning face for an instant. Deep in her soul she divined who her rescuer was, yet in the midst of her hope she felt a certain consciousness of guilt and fear. Mr. Baron, Dr. Williams, and the ladies, half-paralyzed, yet drawn by a dreadful fascination, approached the open windows. Mad Whately now played a better part. He was in full uniform and his horse stood saddled without. He went to it, mounted with almost the swiftness of light, and was just in time to see the Federals sweep around the drive which led to the stables. Scoville had brought his little force by the familiar way of Aun' Jinkey's cabin. Furious at being forestalled, and in obedience to a headlong courage which none disputed, Whately's sabre flashed instantly in the rays of the sinking sun, and his command, "Charge!" rang clear, without a second's hesitancy.
The order echoed in the girl's heart and she felt that she had too much at stake not to witness the conflict. Her own high spirit also prompted the act, and in a moment she was out on the veranda. She saw her cousin spur directly toward the leader of the Federals, in whom she recognized the Union scout. His men came galloping after him, but seemed more inclined to envelop and surround the Confederates than to engage in hand-to-hand conflicts. The latter were experienced veterans and quickly recognized that they were being overpowered and that there was no use in throwing away their lives. Hasty shots were fired, a few sabres clashed, but the demand, "Surrender!" heard on all sides, was so well enforced by the aspect of the situation that compliance soon began. Scoville and Whately, with those immediately about them, maintained the conflict. The two young officers were evenly matched as swordsmen, although the Federal was the larger, stronger, and cooler man. As a result, their duel was quickly terminated by the loss of Whately's sabre, wrenched from his hand. Then the point of his foe's weapon threatened his throat, and the word "Surrender!" was thundered in his ears.
Instead of complying, he fell from his horse as if shot, lay still an instant, and then in the confusion of the melee glided through an adjacent basement door and disappeared. Seeing him fall, his mother uttered a wild shriek and gave way to almost hysterical grief. A backward glance revealed to Whately that the fight was lost, or rather that it had been hopeless from the first, and his one thought now was to escape and lead back a larger force for the purposes of both rescue and vengeance. Gaining a rear door, a bound took him to some shrubbery. A second later he was behind the kitchen. Aun' Suke saw him, threw up her hands, and uttered an inarticulate cry. A moment or two more and he was in the stable, leading out a horse. All attention was now so concentrated in front of the mansion that he was not observed. He took only time to slip on a bridle, then springing on the animal's bare back, he struck into a field behind a clump of trees. Putting the horse to a run, he was soon beyond successful pursuit. Some of his own men had seen him fall before they were driven back, and believed that he was either wounded or dead; thronging Federals, unaware of the circumstances, occupied the ground, and only Miss Lou, with an immense burden lifted from her heart, saw his ruse and flight. She wished him well sincerely if he would only leave her to herself. Hastening to Mrs. Whately she speedily restored the lady with assurances of her son's escape, then with her joined the group on the veranda. Mr. Baron, in the crisis of his affairs and as the head of the family, maintained a dignity and composure which of late had been lacking.
Scoville paid no heed to them until every vestige of resistance had ceased and the Confederates were disarmed and collected as prisoners. Then sitting on his horse in front of the piazza steps he rapidly gave his orders. His first act was to send a vedette down the avenue toward the main road; then he selected five men, saying, "Take charge of the stables, barn, and out-buildings. Keep them as they are and permit no one to approach without my written orders."
At this moment the field-hands, who had been surging nearer and nearer, sent forward a sort of improvised deputation. They approached bowing, with hats in hand and wistful looks in their eyes. Were these in truth the messengers of freedom of whom they had heard so much? Mr. Baron almost gnashed his teeth as he witnessed this action on the part of his property.
"Mars'r," said the spokesman, "I reck'n you got good news for we uns."
"Yes, good news. You are all free." His words rang out so that they were heard by every one. Shouts and cries of exultation followed like an echo, and ragged hats were tossed high in joy.
The young soldier raised his hand with a warning and repressive gesture. In the silence that ensued he added, "My men here are both free and white, yet they must obey orders. So must you. Go back to your quarters and prove yourselves worthy of freedom by quiet behavior and honesty. If I find any one, black or white, acting the part of a thief while I am in charge it will go hard with him. The general will be here to-morrow and he will advise you further."
His words found immediate acceptance, the negroes returning to the quarters, laughing and chatting joyously, not a few wiping tears of deep emotion from their eyes. The long-expected day had come. They little knew what the future had in store for them, but this was the beginning of a new era and the fulfilment of a great hope.
Scoville now dismounted and gave the reins to Chunk, who stood near with a droll assumption of soldier-like stiffness and oblivion to all the well-known faces. Mounting the steps, cap in hand, the young officer approached Mr. Baron, who was becoming a little assured that the orders thus far heard had not included a general application of the torch.
"Mr. Baron, I presume?" said Scoville.
"Yes, sir," was the stiff reply.
"The ladies of your household, I suppose?"
Scoville bowed ceremoniously to each, giving Miss Lou no other sign of recognition than a humorous twinkle in his eye. "Ladies," he began, "since it is the fortune of war that I must have command here for a brief time, I hasten to assure you that we shall give as little annoyance as possible. A few men on both sides were wounded, and I fear that the officer commanding your men was killed. At least I saw him fall. The night is warm and still and I can make a hospital here on the piazza with a little aid from you. Please dismiss all further fears. Unless we are attacked, the night shall pass quietly. Each and every one will be treated with respect and courtesy. I must request of you, however, sir," addressing Mr. Baron, "food for myself and men and forage for our horses."
"I suppose you will take them anyway," growled the unwilling host.
"Certainly," replied Scoville, giving him a steady look. "Do you expect us to go hungry? I shall do my duty as a soldier and an officer, as well as deport myself as a gentleman."
There was nothing left but for Mr. Baron to give his directions to Perkins, or for the ladies to make preparations for the improvised hospital. Miss Lou gratefully recognized that Scoville did not intend to compromise her in the least nor reveal his previous acquaintance unless it should become known through no fault of his. She lingered a moment as Dr. Williams stepped forward and asked, "May I be permitted to return to my home?"
"I trust so, certainly, sir, but my duty requires brief explanation on your part and pledges that you will take no hostile action. We are not among friends, you know."
"I can very readily account for myself, sir," was the stiff response. "I was summoned here to perform a wedding ceremony which your most inopportune arrival prevented. I am a man of peace, not of war, yet I cannot and will not give any pledges."
"It is scarcely fair then, sir, for you to take refuge in your calling, but I will waive that point. I must warn you, however, that we can give protection to those only who do not seek to harm us. You are at liberty. Good-evening, sir."
He had extracted from the clergyman the fact that he had arrived in time, and he again gave the girl in the doorway a mirthful glance, then turned on his heel to attend to his military duties.
Miss Lou hastened to her room with hot cheeks.
THE UNEXPECTED HAPPENS
Scoville soon learned that his opponent, so far from being killed or even wounded, had escaped. He was not much worried by this fact, believing that before the Confederate officer could reach his friends and bring back an attacking force, the Federal column would be on the ground. Indeed, he was glad that the family upon which he had quartered himself could not associate him with so terrible a calamity. The young girl might not wish to marry her cousin, yet be sorry if he were fatally or even seriously wounded, while the rest of the household would be plunged in the deepest distress. Although a resolute soldier, Scoville was a kind-hearted fellow, and disposed to take the most genial views of life that circumstances permitted. There was a humor about his present situation which he relished exceedingly. He was buoyant over the interrupted wedding, and bent upon disappointing Mr. Baron in all his grewsome expectations in regard to the Yankees. There should be discipline, order, quiet, and an utter absence of all high-tragedy. He cautioned his men against the slightest tendency to excess, even forbidding the chaffing of the negroes and noisiness. A steer, a pig, and some fowls were killed for supper, and the wood for cooking it was taken from an ample pile in the rear of the house. Happily, none were seriously wounded, and being veterans were able to do much for one another, while an elderly man in the troop who had some rude surgical experience, supplemented their efforts. Miss Lou speedily joined her aunts in rummaging for old linen for bandages, and the performance of human duty by the elderly ladies dulled the edge of the terrible truth that they were in the hands of the Yankees. True, they had to admit to themselves that the young soldier did not appear like a "ruthless monster" and that his conduct thus far had been almost ceremoniously polite; yet all this might be but a blind on the part of a cunning and unscrupulous foe.
When they came down to the veranda with the materials required, the unscrupulous foe met them, cap in hand, thanked them courteously, and gave his entire attention to the wounded, treating the men of both sides alike. Mrs. Whately, in glad reaction from overwhelming fear concerning her son's safety, offered her services in behalf of the few wounded Confederates and they were readily accepted. Before she was aware of it she found herself conferring with the young officer and the surgical trooper in regard to the best treatment of the injuries. Having long been mistress of a plantation and accustomed to act promptly when any of her slaves were hurt, she now proved a valuable auxiliary. When the soldiers with whom she sympathized were attended to, her kindness of heart led her on to the Federals, who thanked her as gratefully as if they were not depraved Yankees.
Mr. and Mrs. Baron had retired to the parlor, where they sat in state, awaiting in gloomy fortitude the darker developments of what they deemed the supreme tragedy of their lives. Miss Lou was flitting in and out, getting lint and other articles required by Mrs. Whately. She found it no easy matter to maintain the solemnity of aspect which her guardians thought appropriate to the occasion, but was assisted in this effort by her genuine pity for the wounded. In her joyous relief at escape from a hated union her heart was light indeed. She had, moreover, no slight sense of humor, and was just bubbling over with mirth at the fact that although the Yankee monsters, from whom it was said she must be rescued at every cost, were masters of the situation, they were engaged in nothing more ruthless than feeding their horses, preparing supper, and caring for the wounded. The most delicious thing of all was that one of the chief prophets of evil, her Aunt Whately, was aiding in the last- named task. Her exultation was increased when she brought the last article required and Scoville said with his genial smile, so well remembered, "I think I can assure you now, Miss Baron, that all will do very well. We are deeply indebted to this lady (bowing to Mrs. Whately) whose services have been as skilful as humane."
Now one of the things on which Mrs. Whately most prided herself was the generally accepted belief that she was as good as a country physician in an emergency, and she could not refrain from a slight and gracious acknowledgment of Scoville's words. As they drew near to the door she said hesitatingly, "Perhaps, sir, I should make an acknowledgment of deep indebtedness to you. I saw your sabre raised and pointed at my son's throat. Could you not have killed him had you so wished?"
"Ah! this is Mrs. Whately. Believe me, madam, we are not so bloodthirsty as to wish to kill, or even to injure, except so far as the necessities of war require. If you witnessed the brief conflict you must have observed that my effort was to capture rather than to destroy your son's force."
"We all could not help seeing that," cried Miss Lou eagerly.
"I could not help seeing also, Miss Baron, that you exposed yourself to danger like a veteran, and I was anxious indeed lest a stray bullet might harm you. It was well you were not armed or we might have fared worse," and there was so much mirth in his dark eyes that she turned away to hide her conscious blushes.
"Well, sir," resumed Mrs. Whately with emotion, "it is not easy to bless our enemies in this cruel war of aggression, but I must express my gratitude to one who stayed his hand when my son's life was within his power."
"I trust, madam, he may live to care for you in your declining years, and to become a good loyal citizen."
"He is loyal, sir," replied Mrs. Whately with gentle dignity, "to the only authority he recognizes," and with a bow she retired.
Miss Lou lingered a moment and said earnestly, "I thank you. You are very considerate."
His face so lighted up that it was almost boyish in its expression of pleasure as he answered with the pride and confidence of one sure of sympathy, "This is a jolly day for me. I was made an officer this morning, and now, best of all, I am paying a little of my debt to you."
She put her finger on her lips and shook her head, but the smile she gave him over her shoulder was reassuring. He promptly started on a round among his men again to see that the prisoners were properly guarded, and that all was going as he wished.
"Louise," said Mrs. Baron, as the girl appeared in the parlor door, "it would be far more decorous if you would remain here with your uncle and myself."
Miss Lou took a seat in the darkest corner that she might be less open to observation while she calmed the tumult of her feelings. So much had happened that she must catch her breath and think what it all meant. Mr. Baron began gloomily, "Well, the dreaded hour which I hoped and prayed never to see has come. We are helpless and in the hands of our enemies. Only God knows what an hour will bring forth—"
"He has brought deliverance," cried Mrs. Whately, entering. "I questioned Aun' Suke, thinking that she might have seen Madison if he left the house. She did see him safe and sound. She also saw him get a horse and ride away."
"Ah, poor boy! how different was his departure from what he had every reason to hope and expect!" replied Mr. Baron. "I should think your heart would be remorseful, indeed, Louise, when you picture your cousin flying from his kindred and home, alone and sad, tortured meanwhile by thoughts of the fate which has overtaken us."
"I'm sure, uncle, we are all sitting quietly in the parlor. That does not seem very dreadful."
"You little know, young woman, you little realize the cunning depravity—"
"There now, brother," interposed Mrs. Whately, "we must not think evil until we see more evidence of it, even in Yankees. I admit that I am most wonderfully and agreeably disappointed. The young officer in whose hands we are might have killed my son, but did not. I must at least be just to such a man."
"And you know he has been polite to us all, and told us to dismiss our fears," added Miss Lou demurely.
"It would almost seem, Louise, that you welcomed these invaders. I am too old and well informed not to know that this suave manner he affects is designed to lull us into a sense of false security."
At this moment a firm step was heard on the veranda, followed by a rap from the brass knocker. They knew it was Scoville, and Mr. Baron rose and advanced to the parlor entrance. He assumed the solemn aspect of one who now must face the exactions and wrongs which he had predicted, and his wife tremblingly followed, to perish at his side if need be. But the invader barely stepped within the hall and stood uncovered as he said politely, "Mr. Baron, I have now practically made my dispositions for the night. There is no reason why your domestic routine should not be resumed as usual. As I said before, I pledge you my word you shall not be disturbed unless we are attacked. Good-evening, sir. Good-evening, ladies," and he bowed and withdrew, leaving the old gentleman speechless in the utter reversal of all that he had declared would take place. No plundering, no insults, no violence. On the contrary, even his beloved routine might be resumed. He turned around to his wife and sister almost gasping, "Is this some deep-laid plot?"
"It certainly must be," echoed his wife.
Miss Lou turned away quickly and stuffed her handkerchief in her mouth to prevent laughing outright.
Her uncle caught her in the act and was instantly in a rage.
"Shame upon you!" he cried. "Enemies without and traitors within."
This charge touched the girl to the quick, and she replied with almost equal anger, "I'm no traitor. Where has your loyalty to me been to-day? Look at me, uncle, and fix the fact in your mind, once for all, that I am neither a child nor an idiot. God has given me a mind and a conscience as truly as to you, and I shall use them. This Northern officer says we are safe. I believe it and you will know it in the morning. Now I simply insist that you and aunt treat me with the respect due to my years and station. I've endured too much to- day to be patient under anything more. I meant no disrespect to you in laughing, but I cannot help being glad that instead of all sorts of horrible things happening we are treated with simple and even delicate politeness."
"Yes, brother," added Mrs. Whately, "as far as this man is concerned, you must revise your opinions. There is no deep-laid plot—nothing but what is apparent. I must also urge upon you and sister a change in your treatment of Louise. She will be far more ready to fulfil our hopes when led by affection."
"Well, well, that I should live to see this day!" groaned Mr. Baron. "My ward virtually says that she will do as she pleases. The slaves have been told that they are free and so can do as they please. Henceforth I suppose I am to speak to my niece with bated breath, and be at the beck and call of every Sambo on the place."
"You are not 'weltering in your own blood,' uncle, and the 'roof is not blazing over our heads,'" replied Miss Lou quietly. "You have merely been told that you could have supper when it pleased you and then sleep in peace and safety. Aunt, I will thank you for the key of my trunk. I wish to put my things back in their places."
Mrs. Baron took it from her pocket without a word, and Miss Lou went to her room.
True to her nature, Mrs. Whately began to pour oil on the lacerated feelings of her brother and sister-in-law. "Louise is right," she said. "Things are so much better than we expected—than they might have been—that we should raise our hearts in thankfulness. Just think! If this Northern officer is what you fear, why would he have spared my son, whom he might have killed in fair battle? In his conduct toward the wounded he showed a good, kindly spirit. I can't deny it; and he has been as polite to us as one of our own officers could have been. Think how different it all might have been—my brave son desperately wounded or dead, and unscrupulous men sacking the house! I need not refer to darker fears. I must say that I feel like meeting courtesy with courtesy. Since this Yankee behaves like a generous foe I would like to prove that Southern rebels and slave- drivers, as we are called, can equal him in all the amenities of life which the situation permits."
"Oh, sister!" cried Mrs. Baron, "even a cup of tea would choke me if I drank it in his presence."
But Mr. Baron had lighted his pipe, and reason and Southern pride were asserting themselves under its soothing influence. At last he said, "Well, let us have supper anyway. It is already after the hour."
"Supper has been ready this long time, as you know," replied his wife, "only I never dreamed of such a guest as has been suggested."
"Of course, sister, I only said what I did as a suggestion," Mrs. Whately answered with dignity. "You are in your own home. I merely felt reluctant that this Yankee should have a chance to say that we were so rude and uncivilized that we couldn't appreciate good treatment when we received it. There's no harm in gaining his goodwill, either, for he said that his general, with the main force, would be here to-morrow."
"Mrs. Baron," said her husband in strong irritation, "don't you see there is nothing left for us to do? No matter how things turn out, the presence of these Yankees involves what is intensely disagreeable. If sister is right in regard to this man—and I suppose I must admit she is till I know him better—he has made it necessary for our own self-respect to treat him with courtesy. Our pride will not permit us to accept this from him and make no return. It may be Yankee cunning which led him to foresee this, for I suppose it is pleasing to many of the tribe to gain their ends by finesse. Probably if this doesn't secure them, he will try harsher methods. Anyway, as long as he plays at the game of courtesy, we, as sister says, should teach him that we know what the word means. The mischief is that you never can know just what a Yankee is scheming for or aiming at."
"Well, brother, supposing your words are true, as I do not think they are in this instance, it is due to our dignity that we act like sincere people who are above even suspecting unworthy motives. We do not compromise ourselves in the matter. We only meet courtesy with courtesy, like well-bred people."
"Well, so be it then. In fact, I would like to ask this man what he and those he represents can hope to gain by invasion equalled only by that of the Goths and Vandals."
The moment Chunk believed that Scoville could dispense with his services for a time he made his way promptly to the back veranda and gave a low, peculiar whistle which Zany recognized. He had ceased in her estimation to be merely a subject for infinite jest. Though not very advanced in the scale of civilization, she was influenced by qualities which appealed to her mind, and possessed many traits common to her sex. His shrewdness and courage were making good his lack of inches. Above all, he was in favor with the "head Linkum man," and Zany belonged to that class ever ready to greet the rising sun. While all this was true, she could not be herself and abandon her coquettish impulses and disposition to tease. She came slowly from the dining-room and looked over Chunk's head as if she could not see him. Bent on retaliation, he stepped behind her, lifted her in his powerful arms and carried her on a full run to some screening shrubbery, the irate captive cuffing his ear soundly all the way. Setting her down, he remarked quietly, "Now I reckon you kin fin' me."
"Yo' wool git gray 'fo' you fin' me agin," she replied, making a feint of starting for the house.
"Berry well, Miss Zany. I see you doan want ter be a free gyurl. I'se tell Marse Scoville you no 'count niggah."
"W'at you want anyhow, imperdence?"
"I wants sup'n ter eat. Does you 'spects I kin ride all night en all day ter brung you freedom, en den not eben git a good word? You ain' fit fer freedom. I'se tell some nachel-bawn fool ter gib you a yaller rib'on en den dere be two ob you."
"La now, Chunk," she replied, coming back, "ef I wuz lookin' fer a fool I des stay right yere. Ef you git a pa'r ob steps en look in my face you'd see I'se bettah fren' ter you ner you ter me. You stay yere en I brings you w'at you tink a heap on mor'n me," and now she darted away with intentions satisfactory to her strategic admirer.
Chunk grinned and soliloquized, "Reck'n I kin fotch dat gyurl roun' wid all her contrariations. I des likes her skittishness, but I ain' tellin' her so, kaze I gwine ter hab my han's full as 'tis."
Zany soon returned with a plate well heaped, for at this time her argus-eyed mistress was sitting in the parlor, awaiting whatever fate the ruthless Yankees might impose. Chunk sat Turk-fashion on the ground and fell to as if famished, meanwhile listening eagerly to the girl's account of what had happened during his absence.
"Hi!" said Zany disdainfully, "you'd mek lub ter Aun' Suke ef she fed you."
"I kin mek mo'n lub," Chunk answered, nodding at her portentously; "I kin mek mischief."
"Reck'n you do dat anyhow."
"See yere, Zany, does you tink Marse Scoville a fool?"
"Ob co'se not."
"Well, he doan tink me a fool. Whose 'pinion's wuth de mos'? Who took keer on 'im? Who got 'im off safe right un'er de nose ob one ob Mad Whately's sogers? Who brung 'im back des in time ter stop dat ar mar'age en gib we uns freedom? You mighty peart, but you got a heap ter larn 'fo' you cut yo' eye-tooths."
"Some folks gits dere eye-tooths en doan git nuthin' wid 'em," Zany remarked nonchalantly. "I'se 'mit dough dat you comin' on, Chunk. W'en you gits growed up you'se be right smart."
"I doan min' de foolishness ob yo' talk, Zany," Chunk replied coolly, between his huge mouthfuls. "Dat's in you, en you kyant he'p hit any mo'n a crow cawin'. I'se allus mek 'lowance fer dat. I des 'proves dis 'casion ter 'zort you ter be keerful w'at you DOES. Dere's gwine ter be mighty ticklish times—sorter flash-bang times, yer know. I'se a free man—des ez free as air, en I'se hired mysef ter Marse Scoville ter wait on 'im. I'se growed up anuff ter know he kin tek de shine off eny man I eber see, or you neider. He yo' boss now well ez mine. I'se gib 'im a good report on you ef I kin. I'se feard, howsomeber, dat he say you outgrowed yo' sense."
"Dar now, Chunk, you puttin' on mo' airs dan Marse Scoville hissef. He des ez perlite ter marster en ole miss ez ef he come ter pay his 'spects ter dem en he look at Miss Lou ez a cat do at cream."
"Hi! dat so? No won'er he want ter git ahaid ob de parson en dat weddin' business."
"Oh, yo' orful growed up en ain' fin' dat out?"
"I 'spicioned it. Well, de ting fer you'n me is ter he'p 'im."
"La, now," replied Zany, proposing to give a broad hint at the same time, "I ain' gwine ter he'p no man in sech doin's. De cream neber goes ter de cat."
"Yere, tek de plate, Zany, wid my tanks," said Chunk, rising. "Sech cream ez you gits orful sour ef de cat doan fin' it sud'n. I'se took my 'zert now," and he caught her up again and kissed her on the way back to the veranda.
This time his performances were seen by Aun' Suke, who stood in the kitchen door. She snatched up a pail of water, exclaiming, "I cool you uns off, I sut'ny will. Sech goin's on!" But they were too quick for her. Zany pretended to be as irate as she was secretly pleased, while Chunk caused the old woman to boil over with rage by declaring, "Aun' Suke, I sen' a soger yere ter hab you 'rested for 'zorderly conduct."
"Ef you eber comes ter dis kitchen agin I'se emty de pot ob bilin' water on you," cried Aun' Suke, retreating to her domain.
"Ef you does, you get yosef ober haid en years in hot water," Chunk answered with exasperating sang froid. "You niggahs gwine ter fin' out who's who on dis plantashun 'fo' yo' nex' birthday."
Zany's only response was a grimace, and he next carried his exaggerated sense of importance to his granny's cabin. He had seen Aun' Jinkey and spoken a few reassuring words as he passed with Scoville's attacking force. Since that time she had done a power of "projeckin'" over her corncob pipe, but events were now hurrying toward conclusions beyond her ken. It has already been observed that Aun' Jinkey was a neutral power. As yet, the weight of her decision had been cast neither for the North nor the South, while the question of freedom remained to be smoked over indefinitely. There was no indecision in her mind, however, in regard to her young mistress, and greater even than her fears when she heard the sounds of conflict was her solicitude over the possibility of a forced marriage. Since she was under the impression that her cabin might soon become again the refuge of one or the other of the contending powers, possibly of Miss Lou herself, she left the door ajar and was on the alert.
"Hi dar! granny," cried Chunk, the first to appear, "dat's right. Now you kin smoke in peace, fer you own yosef. Nobody come bossin' you yere any mo'."
"Doan you git so bumptious all ter oncet," said Aun' Jinkey. "Does you 'spect de hull top's gwine ter be tu'ned right ober down'erds in er day? But dar! you ain' no 'sper'ience. Yo' stomack emty en you' haid light. Draw up now en tell me de news. Tell me sud'n 'bout Miss Lou. Did dey git her mar'd?"
"Yah! yah! Marse Scoville's so'd ud cut de knot ef dey had."
"Dat's des ez much ez you knows. All de so'ds ober flash kyant cut dat ar knot 'less dey kill Marse Whately."
"Dat 'min's me ob someting ter'ble quar. Marse Scoville had he so'd pintin' right agin Mad Whately's neck en yit he ain' jab 'im. Dat same Mad Whately gwine ter mek a heap ob trouble fer he got clean off."
"Marse Scoville know dat ef he kill a man right straight wid he own han' he spook come and mek a heap mo' trouble."
"Hi! didn't tink o' dat."
"Bettah tink right smart, Chunk. You'se gittin' top-heaby ef you is sho't. Now tell me all 'bout de mar'age."
"Dey ain' no mar'age. Zany tole me how Miss Lou say she ain' neber 'sent, en den 'fo' dey could say dere lingo ober her en mar'y her des ez dey would a bale ob cotton, up rides Marse Scoville en put his so'd troo ebryting. He tells us we all free en—"
"En eat yo' supper. I ain' done projeckin' 'bout dis freedom business. How we uns gwine ter be free 'less Marse Scoville stay yere en kep us free?"
"Zany guv me my supper en—"
"Dar now, I ain' no mo' 'count. Zany gobble you aready. I des stick ter my chimbly corner."
"Howdy, Aunt Jinkey," cried Scoville, coming in briskly. "Well, you see I'm back again as I promised."
"You welcome, a hun'erd times welcome, kaze you kep my young mistis fum bein' mar'ed right slap 'gin her own feelin's ter her cousin."
"Pshaw! Aunt Jinkey. No one can marry a girl against her will in this country."
"Dat des de question Miss Lou en me projeckin' 'bout dis berry mawnin'. She gyardeens went straight along ez ef dey had de po'r, dey sut'ny did. Dat's w'at so upset Miss Lou en me. De po'r ob gyardeens is sump'n I kyant smoke out straight, en I des lak ter know how much dey KIN do. Ole mars'r al'ays manage her prop'ty en we wuz flustrated w'en we see 'im en Mad Whately en he moder en ole miss en all gittin' ready fer de weddin' des ez ef hit was comin' like sun-up sho."
"It was a shame," cried Scoville angrily. "They were seeking to drive her into submission by strong, steady pressure, but if she insisted on her right—"
"Dat des w'at she did, Marse Scoville. She say she neber 'sent, NEBER," Chunk interrupted.
"Then the whole Southern Confederacy could not have married her and she ought to know it."
"Well, you mus' be 'siderate, Marse Scoville. Miss Lou know a heap 'bout some tings en she des a chile 'bout oder tings. Ole mars'r en misus al'ays try ter mek her tink dat only w'at dey say is right en nuthin' else, en dey al'ays 'low ter her dat she gwine ter mar'y her cousin some day, en she al'ays 'low ter me she doan wanter."
"Poor child! she does need a friend in very truth. What kind of a man is this Mad Whately anyway, that he could think of taking part in such a wrong?"
"He de same kin' ob man dat he wuz a boy," Chunk answered. "Den he kick en howl till he git w'at he want. 'Scuse me, Marse Scoville, but I kyant hep tinkin' you mek big 'stake dat you didn't jab 'im w'en you hab de chance."
"Chunk," was the grave answer, "if you are going to wait on me you must learn my ways. I'd no more kill a man when it was not essential than I would kill you this minute. Soldiers are not butchers."
"Granny sez how you wuz feared on his spook"—
"Bah! you expect to be free, yet remain slaves to such fears? My horse knows better. Come, Aunt Jinkey, I'd rather you would give me some supper than your views on spooks."
"Leftenant," said Perkins, the overseer, from the door, "Mr. Baron pr'sents his compliments en gives you a invite to supper."
Scoville thought a moment, then answered, "Present mine in return, and say it will give me pleasure to accept."
"Bress de Lawd! you gwine ter de big house. Not dat I 'grudges cookin' fer you w'eneber you come, but I des wants you ter took a 'tunerty ter advise dat po' chile 'bout she rights en de mar'age question."
After assuring himself that the overseer was out of earshot, Scoville said almost sternly, "Aunt Jinkey, you and Chunk must not say one word of my ever having been here before. It might make your young mistress a great deal of trouble, and I should be sorry indeed if I ever caused her any trouble whatever." Then as he made his way to the mansion he smilingly soliloquized, "I don't know of any other question concerning which I would rather give her advice, nor would it be wholly disinterested, I fear, if I had a chance. At this time to-morrow," he sighingly concluded, "I may be miles away or dead. Poor unsophisticated child! I never was touched so close before as now by her need of a friend who cares more for her than his own schemes."
Chunk following at a respectful distance became aware that the overseer was glowering at him. "Bettah 'lebe yo' min', Marse Perkins," he remarked condescendingly.
"You infernal, horse-stealing nigger!" was the low response.
"Hi! Marse Perkins, you kin growl, but you muzzled all de same."
"The muzzle may be off before many mo' sunsets, en then you'll find my teeth in your throat," said the man under his breath, and his look was so dark and vindictive that even in his elation Chunk became uneasy.
MISS LOU EMANCIPATED
Nature had endowed Scoville with a quick, active mind, and circumstances had developed its power and capacity to a degree scarcely warranted by his age. Orphaned early in life, compelled to hold his own among comparative strangers since childhood, he had gained a worldly wisdom and self-reliance which he could not have acquired in a sheltered home. He had learned to look at facts and people squarely, to estimate values and character promptly, and then to decide upon his own action unhesitatingly. Although never regarded as the model good boy at the boarding-schools wherein he had spent most of his life, he had been a general favorite with both teachers and scholars. A certain frankness in mischief and buoyancy of spirit had carried him through all difficulties, while his apt mind and retentive memory always kept him near to the head of his classes. The quality of alertness was one of his characteristics. In schools and at the university he quickly mastered their small politics and prevailing tendencies, and he often amused his fellow- pupils with free-handed yet fairly truthful sketches of their instructors. As the country passed into deeper and stronger excitement over the prospect of secession and its consequences, he was among the first to catch the military spirit and to take an active part in the formation of a little company among the students. It was not his disposition to be excited merely because others were. Certain qualities of mind led him to look beneath the surface for the causes of national commotion. He read carefully the utterances of leaders, North and South, and to some extent traced back their views and animating spirit to historical sources.
In the year of '63 he found to his joy that he had attained such physical proportions as would secure his acceptance in a cavalry regiment forming in his vicinity. His uncle, who was also guardian, for reasons already known, made slight opposition, and he at once donned the blue with its bluff trimmings. In camp and field he quickly learned the routine of duty, and then his daring, active temperament led him gradually into the scouting service. Now, although so young, he was a veteran in experience, frank to friends, but secretive and ready to deceive the very elect among his enemies. Few could take more risks than he, yet he had not a particle of Mad Whately's recklessness. Courage, but rarely impulse, controlled his action. As we have seen, he could instantly stay his hand the second a deadly enemy, seeking his life in personal encounter, was disarmed.
The prospect of talking with such a host as Mr. Baron pleased him immensely. He scarcely knew to whom he was indebted for the courtesy, but rightly surmised that it was Mrs. Whately, since she, with good reason, felt under obligations to him. Even more than an adventurous scouting expedition he relished a situation full of humor, and such, his presence at Mr. Baron's supper-table promised to be. He knew his entertainment would be gall and wormwood to the old Bourbon and his wife, and that the courtesy had been wrung from them by his own forbearance. It might be his only opportunity to see Miss Lou and suggest the liberty he had brought to her as well as to the slaves.
Mrs. Whately met him on the veranda and said politely, "Lieutenant Scoville, you have proved yourself to be a generous and forbearing enemy. If you feel that you can meet frank enemies who wish to return courtesy with courtesy, we shall be glad to have you take supper with us."
"Yes," added Mr. Baron, "my sister has convinced me, somewhat against my will, I must in honesty admit, that such hospitality as we can offer under the circumstances is your due."
"I appreciate the circumstances, Mr. Baron," was the grave reply, "and honor the Southern trait which is so strong that even I can receive the benefit of it. Your courtesy, madam, will put me at ease."
Miss Lou, thinking it possible that she might see the Northern officer again, had taken her own way of convincing him that he was still within the bounds of civilization, for she made a toilet more careful than the one with which she had deigned to grace the appointed day of her wedding. She could scarcely believe her eyes when, entering the supper room a little late, she saw Scoville already seated at the table. He instantly rose and made her a ceremonious bow, thus again indicating that their past relations should be completely ignored in the presence of others. She therefore gravely returned his salutation and took her place without a word, but her high color did not suggest indifference to the situation. Mr. Baron went through the formal "grace" as usual and then said, "Ahem! you will admit, sir, that it is a little embarrassing to know just how to entertain one with whom we have some slight difference of opinion."
"Perhaps such embarrassment will be removed if we all speak our minds freely," replied Scoville, pleasantly. "Pardon the suggestion, but the occasion appears to me favorable to a frank and interesting exchange of views. If my way of thinking were wholly in accord with yours my words could be little better than echoes. I should be glad to feel that my presence was no restraint whatever."
"I'm inclined to think you are right, sir," added Mrs. Whately. "It would be mere affectation on our part to disguise our thoughts and feelings. With neighbors, and even with friends, we are often compelled to do this, but I scarcely see why we should do so with an open enemy."
"And such I trust you will find me, madam, an OPEN enemy in the better sense of the adjective. As far as I can, I will answer questions if you wish to ask any. I will tell you honestly all the harm I meditate and outline clearly the extent of my hostility, if you will do the same," and he smiled so genially that she half smiled also as she answered:
"To hear you, sir, one would scarcely imagine you to be an enemy at all. But then we know better."
"Yes, sir, pardon me, we do," said Mr. Baron, a little stiffly. "For one, I would like your honest statement of just what harm you and your command meditate. I am one who would rather face and prepare for whatever I shall be compelled to meet."
"I think, sir, you have already met and faced the direst event of the evening—my presence at your hospitable board. Even this hardship is due to your courtesy, not to my compulsion."
Miss Lou bowed low over her plate at this speech.
"But how about the long hours of the night, sir? Have you such control over your men—"
"Yes, sir!" interrupted Scoville with dignity. "The men I have with me are soldiers, not camp-followers. They would no more harm you or anything you possess, without orders, than I would."
"Without orders—a clause of large latitude. As far as words go you have already robbed me of the greater part of my possessions. You have told my slaves that they are free."