"Not upon my own responsibility, sir, although with hearty goodwill. In my humble station I am far more often called upon to obey orders than to give them. You are aware of President Lincoln's proclamation?"
"Yes, sir, and of the Pope's bull against the comet."
Scoville laughed so genially as partially to disarm his reply of its sting. "In this instance, sir, our armies are rather gaining on the comet."
"But what can you and your armies hope to accomplish?" Mrs. Whately asked. "If you should destroy every Southern man, the women would remain unsubdued."
"Now, madam, you have me at disadvantage. I do not know what we would or could do if confronted only by implacable Southern women."
"Do not imagine that I am jesting. I cannot tell you how strange it seems that a man of your appearance and evident character should be among our cruel enemies."
"And yet, Mrs. Whately, you cannot dispute the fact. Pardon me for saying it, but I think that is just where the South is in such serious error. It shuts its eyes to so many simple facts—a course which experience proves is never wise. I may declare, and even believe, that there is no solid wall before me, yet if I go headlong against it, I am bruised all the same. Positive beliefs do not create truths. I fancy that a few hours since you were absolutely sure that this courtesy of which I am the grateful recipient could not be, yet you were mistaken."
"Has not the sad experience of many others inspired our fears? Neither has the end come with us yet. You said that the main Northern force would come this way tomorrow. We do not fear you and those whom you control, but how about those who are to come?"
"I can speak only for the class to which I belong—the genuine soldiers who are animated by as single and unfaltering a spirit as the best in your armies. If a Confederate column were going through the North you could not answer for the conduct of every lawless, depraved man in such a force. Still, I admit with you that war is essentially cruel, and that the aim ever must be to inflict as much injury as possible on one's adversaries."
"But how can you take part in such a war?" Mrs. Whately asked. "All we asked was to be let alone."
"Yes, sir," added Mr. Baron, "how can you justify these ruthless invasions, this breaking up of our domestic institutions, this despoiling of our property and rights by force?" and there was a tremor of suppressed excitement in his voice.
Scoville glanced at Miss Lou to see how far she sympathized with her kindred. He observed that her face was somewhat stern in its expression, yet full of intelligent interest. It was not the index of mere prejudice and hate. "Yes," he thought, "she is capable of giving me a fair hearing; the others are not. Mr. Baron," he said, "your views are natural, perhaps, if not just. I know it is asking much of human nature when you are suffering and must suffer so much, to form what will become the historical judgment on the questions at issue. The law under which the North is fighting is the supreme one— that of self-preservation. Even if we had let you alone—permitted you to separate and become independent without a blow, war would have come soon. You would not and could not have let us alone. Consider but one point: your slaves would merely have to pass the long boundary line stretching nearly across the continent, in order to be on free soil. You could compel their return only by conquering and almost annihilating the North. You will say that we should think as you do on the subject, and I must answer that it is every man and woman's right to think according to individual conscience, according to the light within. Deny this right, and you put no bounds to human slavery. Pardon me, but looking in your eyes and those of these ladies, I can see that I should become a slave instantly if you had your way. Unconsciously and inevitably you would make me one, for it is your strongest impulse to make me agree with you, to see things exactly as you do. The fact that you sincerely believe you are right would make no difference if I just as sincerely believed you were wrong. If I could not think and act for myself I should be a slave. You might say, 'We KNOW we are right, that what we believe has the Divine sanction.' That is what the tormentors of the Inquisition said and believed; that is what my Puritan and persecuting forefathers said and believed; what does history say now? The world is growing wise enough to understand that God has no slaves. He endows men and women with a conscience. The supreme obligation is to be true to this. When any one who has passed the bounds of childhood says to us, 'I don't think this is right,' we take an awful responsibility, we probably are guilty of usurpation, if we substitute our will for his. In our sincerity we may argue, reason and entreat, but in the presence of another's conscience unconvinced and utterly opposed to us, where is human slavery to end if one man, or a vast number of men, have the power to say, 'You shall'?"
Scoville had kept his eyes fixed on Mr. Baron, and saw that he was almost writhing under the expression of views so repugnant to him— views which proved his whole scheme of life and action to be wrong. Now the young man turned his glance suddenly on Miss Lou, and in her high color, parted lips and kindled eyes, saw abundant proof that she, as he had wished, was taking to herself the deep personal application of his words. Her guardians and Mrs. Whately observed this truth also, and now bitterly regretted that they had invited the Union officer. It seemed to them a sort of malign fate that he had been led, unconsciously as they supposed, to pronounce in the presence of the girl such vigorous condemnation of their action. Had they not that very day sought to override the will, the conscience, the whole shrinking, protesting womanhood of the one who had listened so eagerly as the wrong meditated against her was explained? Scoville had not left them even the excuse that they believed they were right, having shown the girl that so many who believed this were wrong. Miss Lou's expression made at least one thing clear—she was emancipated and had taken her destiny into her own hands.
Mrs. Whately felt that she must turn the tables at once, and so remarked, "It seems to me that the whole force of your argument tells against the North. You are bent upon conquering the South and making it think as you do."
"Oh, no. Here the law of self-preservation comes in. If the South can secede, so can the East and the West. New York City can secede from the State. We should have no country. There could be no national life. Would England accept the doctrine of secession, and permit any part of her dominions to set up for themselves when they chose? I know you are about to say that is just what our fathers did. Yes, but old mother England did not say, 'Go, my children, God bless you!' Nor would she say it now to any other region over which floats her flag. Of course, if you whip us, we shall have to submit, just as England did. What government has helplessly sucked its thumbs when certain portions of the territory over which it had jurisdiction defied its power? We are called Goths and Vandals, but that is absurd. We are not seeking to conquer the South in any such old-world ways. We are fighting that the old flag may be as supreme here as in New England. The moment this is true you will be as free as are the people of New England. The same constitution and laws will govern all."
"And can you imagine for a moment, sir," cried Mr. Baron, "that we will submit to a government that would be acceptable to New England?" "Yes, sir; and years hence, when the South has become as loyal as New England is now, if that abode of the Yankees should seek independence of the rest of the country she would be brought back under the flag. I would fight New England as readily as I do the South, if she sought to break up the Union. I would fight her if every man, woman and child within her borders believed themselves right."
Now he saw Miss Lou looking perplexed. Her quick mind detected the spirit of coercion, of substituting wills, against which he had been inveighing and from which she had suffered. Mrs. Whately was quick to see the apparent weakness in his argument, for she said, "Consistency is a jewel which I suppose is little cared for by those so ready to appeal to force. With one breath you say we must not coerce the wills of others, and now you say you would, even though you did violence to universal and sacred beliefs."
"I say only that the nation MUST do this as must the individual. Some one might say to me, 'I honestly think I should take off your right arm.' I would not permit it if I could help it. No more can a nation submit passively to dismemberment. The South did not expect that this nation would do so. It promptly prepared for war. If the North had said, 'We can do nothing, there's a blank, write out your terms and we'll sign,' we would have been more thoroughly despised than we were, if that were possible. There are two kinds of coercion. For instance, I do not say to you, Mrs. Whately, representing the South, that you must think and feel as I do and take just such steps as I dictate; but that there are things which you must refrain from doing, because in their performance, no matter how sincere you were, you would inflict great and far-reaching wrong on others. There could be no government without restriction. We would soon have anarchy if any part of a nation should and could withdraw when it chose and how it pleased."
"Your doctrine, sir, would banish freedom from the world. All peoples would have to submit to the central tyranny called government, even though such government had become hateful."
"This doctrine, which all governments act upon," replied Scoville pleasantly, "has not banished freedom from the world. In this country, where every man has a voice, the government will be just about as good as the majority determine it shall be."
"Well, sir, to sum up the whole matter," said Mr. Baron coldly, "two things are clear: First, the South is determined to be free; second, if we fail we can be held only under the heel of your Northern majority as Poland is trodden upon."
Scoville saw that the discussion had gone far enough for his purposes, and he said with a good-natured laugh, "I'm neither a prophet nor his son, but I think it is a very hopeful sign that we could have this frank interchange of views and belief. I see how perfectly sincere you are, and if I had been brought up here no doubt I should think and act as you do. As it is, I am only a very humble representative of the Government which is trying to preserve its own existence—a Government which the South helped to form as truly as the North. If I should come directly to your side, contrary to belief and conscience, you would be the first to despise me. I suppose we will all agree that we should obey the supreme dictates of conscience?"
"No, sir," burst out Mr. Baron, "I cannot agree to anything of the kind. There are multitudes who must be guided and controlled by those who are wiser, older and more experienced. Why, sir, you would have the very nursery children in flat rebellion."
"Indeed, Mr. Baron, I have not said one word against the authority of parents and guardians."
"Ah! I am glad you draw the line somewhere. Half the misery in the world results from young people's thinking themselves wiser than their natural advisers. If they can merely say their consciences are against what their elders know is right and best, we have anarchy in the fountainhead of society—the family," and he glared for a moment at his niece.
"What you say seems very true, Mr. Baron. I should be glad to know where YOU draw the line? Independent action must begin at some period."
While Mr. Baron hesitated over this rather embarrassing question Miss Lou startled all her kindred by saying, "I did not intend to take any part in this conversation, but a glance from my uncle makes his last remark personal to me. I am at least old enough to ask one or two questions. Do you think it right, Lieutenant Scoville, that a woman should never have any independent life of her own?"
"Why, Miss Baron, what a question! Within the received limits of good taste a woman has as much right to independent action as a man."
"Well, then, how can she ever have any independence if she is treated as a child up to one day of her life, and the next day is expected to promise she will obey a man as long as he lives?"
The angry spots in Mrs. Baron's cheeks had been burning deeper and deeper, and now she spoke promptly and freezingly, "Mr. Scoville, I absolve you from answering one who is proving herself to be neither a child nor a refined woman. I did not expect this additional humiliation. If it had not occurred I would have taken no part in the conversation. Mr. Baron, I think we have granted even more than the most quixotic idea of courtesy could demand."
"'Granted? demand?' surely there is some mistake, madam," said Scoville with dignity, as he rose instantly from the table. "I have asked nothing whatever except that you should dismiss your fears as far as I and my men are concerned."
Mrs. Whately was provoked equally at herself and all the others. She now deeply regretted that she had not left the Union officer to obtain his supper where and how he could, but felt that she must smooth matters over as far as possible. "Lieutenant Scoville," she said hurriedly, "you must make allowances for people in the deepest stress of trouble. We did intend all the courtesy which our first remarks defined. Of course you cannot know our circumstances, and when words are spoken which cut to the quick it is hard to give no sign. Perhaps our hearts are too sore and our differences too radical—" and she hesitated.
"I understand you, madam," said Scoville, bowing. "I can only repeat my assurances of your safety and express my regret—"
"Oh, shame!" cried Miss Lou, whose anger and indignation now passed all bounds. "We are NOT in the deepest stress of trouble, and you, Mrs. Whately, are the last one to say it. I saw this gentleman's sabre poised at your son's throat long enough to have killed him twice over, and he did not do it, even in the excitement of defending his own life. After Mrs. Baron's words he again assures us of safety. What did you all predict would happen immediately when Northern soldiers came? Whether I am refined or not, I am at least grateful. Lieutenant, please come with me. I will try to prove that I appreciate your courtesy and forbearance," and she led the way from the room.
He bowed ceremoniously to Mr. Baron and the ladies, then followed the girl, leaving them, almost paralyzed by their conflicting emotions.
A SMILE ON WAR'S GRIM FACE
Miss Lou led the way to the broad, moonlit piazza. As Scoville followed, he saw that the girl was trembling violently, and he was thus able to grasp in some degree the courage she was manifesting in her first half-desperate essays toward freedom. "Poor child!" he thought, "her fright is surpassed only by her determination. How easily they could manage her by a little tact and kindness!"
She pointed to a chair near the hall door and faltered, "Lieutenant Scoville, I scarcely know whether I am doing right in seeing you here alone. I know little of the usages of society. I do not wish to appear to you unrefined."
"Miss Baron," he replied kindly, "I do not know why you have not the same right which other young ladies enjoy, of entertaining a gentleman at your home."
"Oh, I am so glad that you are not angry."
"I was never more lamb-like in my disposition than at this moment. Moreover, I wish to thank you as a brave girl and a genuine lady."
She was almost panting in her strong excitement and embarrassment. "Please remember," she said, "that I do not wish to do or say anything unbecoming, but I know so little and have been so tried—"
"Miss Baron," and he spoke low for fear he would be overheard, "I already know something of what you have passed through and of your brave assertion of a sacred right. Continue that assertion and no one can force you into marriage. I have ridden nearly twenty-four hours to be here in time and to make some return for your great kindness, but you were so brave that you scarcely needed help."
"Oh! I did need it. I was so frightened and so desperate that I was almost ready to faint. My cousin is one who WILL have his own way. He has never been denied a thing in his life, I should have been taken away at least and then—oh, I just felt as if on the edge of a precipice. It seems dreadful that I should be speaking so of my kindred to a stranger and enemy—"
"Enemy! Far from it. A friend. Have you not protected my life and liberty? Miss Baron, I give you my sacred word, I swear to you by my mother's memory to be as loyal to you as if you were my own sister. Young as I am, perhaps I can advise you and help you, for it is indeed clear that you need a friend."
"I cannot tell you what relief your words bring, for, inexperienced as I am, something assures me that I can trust you."
"Indeed you can. I should spoil my own life more truly than yours if I were not true to my oath. Please remember this and have confidence. That is what you need most—confidence. Believe in yourself as well as in me. Have you not been brave and true to yourself in the most painful of ordeals? Try to keep your self- control and you will make no serious mistakes, and never so misjudge me as to imagine I shall not recognize your good intentions."
"Ah!" she sighed, with a rush of tears, "that's the trouble. I'm so hasty; I lose my temper."
He smiled very genially as he said, "If you were as amiable as some girls you would have been married before this. Don't you see in what good stead your high spirit has stood you? I do not censure righteous anger when you are wronged. You are one who could not help such anger, and, if controlled, it will only help you. All I ask is that you so control it as to take no false steps and keep well within your certain rights. You are in a peculiarly painful position. Your kindred truly mean well by you—see how fair I am— but if they could carry out their intentions and marry you to that spoiled boy, you would be one of the most unhappy of women. If he is capable of trying to force you to marry him he would always be imperious and unreasonable. You would be a hard one to manage, Miss Baron, by the words, You must, and You shall; but I think Please would go a good way if your reason and conscience were satisfied."
"Indeed, sir, you are right. If I loved my cousin I would marry him even though he were so badly wounded as to be helpless all his life. But my whole soul protests against the thought of marriage to any one. Why, sir, you can't know how like a child I've always been treated. I feel that I have a right to remain as I am, to see more of the world, to know more and enjoy more of life. I can scarcely remember when I was truly happy, so strictly have I been brought up. You would not believe it, but poor old Aun' Jinkey, my mammy, is almost the only one who has not always tried to make me do something whether I wish to or not. My aunt, Mrs. Whately, has meant to be kind, but even in my childish squabbles with my cousin, and in his exactions, she always took his part. I just want to be free—that's all."
"Well, Miss Baron, you are free now, and if you will simply assert your rights with quiet dignity you can remain free. Your kindred are mistaken in their attitude toward you, and you can make them see this in time. They are well-bred people and are not capable of using force or violence. They did, I suppose, believe terrible things of me and those I represent, and their action, perhaps, has been due partially to panic. That crisis is past; you have only to trust your own best instincts in order to meet future emergencies. Whatever comes, remember that your Northern friend said he had confidence that you would do what is brave and right. Perhaps we shall never meet again, for we are in the midst of a fierce, active campaign. There is much advice I would like to give you, but we shall not be left alone long, and the best thing now, after this long, hard day, is for you to get your mind quiet and hopeful. How quiet and peaceful everything is! not a harsh sound to be heard."
"Yes, and think what they tried to make me believe! They all should be treating you with kindness instead of—" but here she was interrupted by the appearance of Mrs. Whately.
In order to understand that lady's action and that of her relatives, we must go back to the moment when Miss Lou and Scoville left the supper-room. Mrs. Whately was the first to recover her self- possession and some true appreciation of their situation. Mr. Baron in his rage would have gone out and broken up the conference on the piazza, but his sister said almost sternly, "Sit down."
"Well," ejaculated Mrs. Baron, bitterly, "I hope you are both satisfied now with the results of courtesy to Yankees. I knew I was right in believing that we could have nothing whatever to do with them. I think it is monstrous that Louise is alone with one on the piazza, and her uncle should interfere at once."
"Brother," said Mrs. Whately, "you can see our niece through the window from where you sit. She is talking quietly with the officer."
"Yes, and what may he not say to her? Already her contumacious rebellion passes all bounds. She has heard too much incendiary talk from him already" and he again rose to end the interview.
"Hector Baron," said his sister solemnly, "you must listen to me first, before you take any further steps. We will say nothing more about the past. It's gone and can't be helped. Now, with all the influence I have over you, I urge you and your wife to remain here until you are calm—till you have had a chance to think. Is this a time for headlong anger? Was there ever a period in your life when you should so carefully consider the consequences of your action? Please tell me how you and sister are going to MAKE Louise do and think exactly what you wish. This is no time for blinking the truth that you have alienated her. You could easily now drive her to do something rash and terrible. I understand her better every moment and feel that we have taken the wrong course. She would have gone away with Madison as his cousin, and wifehood would have come naturally later. We have been too hasty, too arbitrary. You both must recognize the truth that you cannot treat her as a child any longer or you will lose her altogether, for in this matter of marriage she has been made to know that she is not a child. She can be led into it now, but not forced into it. Her course is open now, but if you continue arbitrary her action may become clandestine and even reckless. Then in regard to this Yankee officer. Alas I what he says is too true. In our strong feeling we shut our eyes to facts. Are we not in his power? He has spared my son's life and your property and home, and yet he has been virtually ordered out of the house. There is truth in what Louise said. We are not in the deepest stress of trouble—infinitely removed from the trouble we might be in."
"He has not spared my property," growled Mr. Baron, "he has told all my people they are free. Where does that leave me?"
"Now, brother, your very words prove how essential it is that you regain your self-control and reason. Is this young officer going through the country on his own responsibility? He only echoes the proclamation of Abe Lincoln, whom he is bound to obey. Since we entered on the discussion of our differences could we expect him to do otherwise than present his side as strongly as he could? Now if you and sister can shake all this off by one mighty effort of your wills, do so; but if we do not wish to invite every evil we predicted, do let us be calm and rational. For one, I feel Louise's reproof keenly, and it will not do to outrage her sense of justice any longer. This officer has proved that we were wrong in our predictions before he came. If now we continue to treat him as outside the pale of courtesy, we lose her sympathy utterly and do our utmost to provoke him and his men. Merciful heaven! if my son were a bleeding corpse or dying in agony, what would the world be to me? I shall apologize to him and treat him with politeness as long as I am under his protection."
"I shall have nothing to do with him," said Mrs. Baron, pressing her thin lips together.
"Well, well," ejaculated Mr. Baron, "I suppose I shall have to become meeker than Moses, and kiss every rod that smites me for fear of getting a harsher blow."
Mrs. Whately felt that it was useless to say anything more, and, as we have seen, joined her niece.
"Lieutenant," she said, "we owe you an apology, and I freely and frankly offer it. I fear you think we are making sorry return for your kindness."
"Mrs. Whately, I appreciate YOUR good intentions, and I can make allowance for the feelings of my host and hostess. The fine courtesy of Miss Baron would disarm hostility itself, but I assure you that there is no personal hostility on my part to any of you."
"Well, sir, I must say that I regard it as a very kind ordering of Providence that we have fallen into such hands as yours."
"I certainly am in no mood to complain," he replied, laughing. "Perhaps experience has taught us that we had better ignore our differences. I was just remarking to Miss Baron on the beauty and peacefulness of the night. Will you not join us? We can imagine a flag of truce flying, under which we can be just as good friends as we please."
"Thank you. I will join you with pleasure," and she sat down near her niece. "Well," she added, "this is a scene to be remembered."
Miss Lou looked at Scoville gratefully, for his words and manner had all tended to reassure her. In her revolt, he showed no disposition to encourage recklessness on her part. As her mind grew calmer she saw more clearly the course he had tried to define—that of blended firmness and courtesy to her relatives. She was so unsophisticated and had been so confused and agitated, that she scarcely knew where to draw the line between simple, right action and indiscretion. Conscious of her inexperience, inclined to be both timid and reckless in her ignorance and trouble, she began even now to cling, metaphorically, to his strong, sustaining hand. His very presence produced a sense of restfulness and safety, and when he began to call attention to the scenes and sounds about them she was sufficiently quiet to be appreciative.
Dew sparkled in the grass of the lawn on which the shadows of trees and shrubbery fell motionless. The air was balmy and sweet with the fragrance of spring flowers. The mocking-birds were in full ecstatic song, their notes scaling down from bursts of melody to the drollery of all kinds of imitation. The wounded men on the far end of the piazza were either sleeping or talking in low tones, proving that there was no extremity of suffering. Off to the left, between them and the negro quarters, were two or three fires, around which the Union soldiers were reclining, some already asleep after the fatigues of the day, others playing cards or spinning yarns, while one, musically inclined, was evoking from a flute an air plaintive and sweet in the distance. Further away under the trees, shadows in shadow, the horses were dimly seen eating their provender. The Confederate prisoners, smoking about a fire, appeared to be taking the "horrors of captivity" very quietly and comfortably. At the quarters they heard the sound of negro-singing, half barbaric in its wildness.
"It is hard to realize that this scene means war," remarked Miss Lou, after they had gazed and listened a few moments in silence.
"Yet it does," said Scoville quietly. "Look down the avenue. Do you not see the glint of the moonbeams on a carbine? All around us are men, mounted and armed. If a shot were fired, we should all be ready for battle in three minutes. Those prisoners will be guarded with sleepless vigilance till I deliver them up. There is a sentinel at the back of the house, three guarding the out-buildings, and so it will be till I am relieved and another takes command."
"Who will he be?" she asked apprehensively.
"I do not know."
"Oh, I wish you could guard us till these troubles are over."
"I can honestly echo that wish," added Mrs. Whately.
"Thank you. It would be pleasanter duty than usually falls to the lot of a soldier. Yet in these times I scarcely know what my duty may be from hour to hour."
"You told us that we need not fear anything to-night," began Mrs. Whately.
"Not unless I am attacked, I said. I am aware that at this moment your son is seeking a force to do this. I do not think that he will be able to find any, however, before morning. In any event you could have nothing to fear from us, except as your dreams were disturbed by a battle."
"Oh, I wish I were a soldier!" exclaimed the girl. "This whole scene seems as if taken right out of a story."
"You are looking at this moment on the bright side of our life. At any rate, I'm glad you're not a soldier. If you were, my duty might be made more difficult. It has other and very different sides. By the way, I would like to watch those negroes a little while, and listen to them. Their performances always interest me deeply. Will not you ladies go with me? Soon I must get some rest while I can."
Miss Lou looked at her aunt, who hesitated a moment, then said, "I am very tired, Lieutenant. I will trust you as a chivalrous enemy to take my niece, and I will sit here until you return."
"I deeply appreciate your kindness, madam."
Miss Lou went with him gladly and found herself at the close of the long, miserable day becoming positively happy. When out of hearing she said, "Aunt's permission almost took away my breath. Yet it seems to me just the way a girl ought to be treated. Oh, how perfectly delicious is a little bit of freedom! How perfectly grand to have something going on that does not mean no end of trouble to one's self!"
Scoville laughed lightly as he replied, "I now wish you were a soldier and an officer in my regiment. You and I would make good comrades."
"You forget, sir," she answered in like vein, "that I am a bloodthirsty little rebel."
"On the contrary, I remember that yours was the kind, pitying face which made me half fancy I was in heaven when recovering from my swoon."
"Chunk and Aun' Jinkey brought you back to earth right sudden, didn't they?" and her laugh rang out merrily.
"Sister," cried Mr. Baron, running out on the veranda, "what on earth—I thought I heard Louise laugh way off toward the quarters."
"What! has she broken all bounds, defied all authority, and gone utterly wild in her rebellion?"
Mrs. Whately made a gesture of half irritable protest. Meantime, Mrs. Baron, hearing her husband's voice, came out and exclaimed, "Is that Louise and the Yankee yonder going off alone?"
"They are not 'going off.' You and brother may join them if you wish. They simply intend to watch the people at the quarters a little while, and I will wait here for them."
"Sarah Whately!" gasped Mrs. Baron, "can you mean to say that you have permitted our ward to do such an indelicate thing? She has never been permitted to go out alone in the evening with any young man, and the idea that she should begin with a Yankee!"
"She is not alone. She is always within call and most of the time in sight. I will make one more effort to bring you both to reason," added Mrs. Whately, warmly, "and then, if we continue to differ so radically, I will return home in the morning, after giving Louise to understand that she can always find a refuge with me if it is necessary. Can you think I would let the girl whom my son hopes to marry do an indelicate thing? Pardon me, but I think I am competent to judge in such matters. I will be answerable for her conduct and that of Lieutenant Scoville also, for he is a gentleman if he is our enemy. I tell you again that your course toward Louise will drive her to open, reckless defiance. It is a critical time with her. She is my niece as well as your ward, and it is the dearest wish of myself and son that she should be bound to us by the closest ties. I will not have her future and all our hopes endangered by a petty, useless tyranny. If you will treat her like a young lady of eighteen I believe she will act like one."
Mrs. Baron was speechless in her anger, but her husband began, "Oh, well, if he were a Southern officer—"
Then the blood of her race became too hot for Mrs. Whately's control, and she sprang up, saying, "Well, then, go and tell him to his face that he's a vile Yankee, a Goth and Vandal, a ruthless invader, unworthy of a moment's trust, and incapable of behaving like a gentleman! Take no further protection at his hands. How can you be so blind as not to see I am doing the best thing possible to retain Louise within our control and lead her to fulfil our hopes? I ask you again, how are you going to MAKE Louise do what you wish? You cannot be arbitrary with even one of your own slaves any longer."
"Well," said Mrs. Baron, "I wash my hands of it all," and she retired to her room. Mr. Baron sat down in a chair and groaned aloud. It was desperately hard for him to accept the strange truth that he could not order every one on the place, his niece included, to do just what pleased him. Never had an autocratic potentate been more completely nonplussed; but his sister's words, combined with events, brought him face to face with his impotence so inexorably that for a time he had nothing to say.
THE JOY OF FREEDOM
In an open space near the quarters the negroes had kindled a fire, although the night was mild. These children of the sun love warmth and all that is cheerful and bright, their emotions appearing to kindle more readily with the leaping flames. When Miss Lou and Scoville approached, the worshippers were just concluding the hymn heard on the piazza. From the humble cabins stools, benches, rickety chairs, and nondescript seats made from barrels, had been brought and placed in a circle close about the fire. These were occupied by the elderly and infirm. Uncle Lusthah, whose name had been evolved from Methuselah, was the evident leader of the meeting, and Miss Lou whispered to her attendant, "He's the recognized preacher among them, and I believe he tries to live up to his ideas of right."
"Then I'll listen to him very respectfully," said Scoville.
Their advent created quite a commotion, and not a few were inclined to pay court to the "Linkum ossifer." All who had seats rose to offer them, but Scoville smiled, shook his head and waved them back. Uncle Lusthah immediately regained attention by shouting, "Look at me": then, "Now look up. Who we uns befo'? De King. De gret Jehovah. Bow yo' haids humble; drap yo' eyes. Tek off de shoon fum yo' feet lak Moses w'en he gwine neah de bunin' bush. Young mars'r en young mistis standin' dar 'spectful. Dey knows dat ef de gret Linkum yere hissef, Linkum's Lawd en Mars'r yere befo' 'im. Let us all gib our 'tention ter 'Im who's brung 'liverance ter Israel at las'. We gwine troo de Red Sea ob wah now en des whar de promis' lan' is we got ter fin' out, but we hab tu'ned our backs on ole Egypt en we ain' gwine back no mo'. Brudren en sistas, you'se yeard a Gospil, a good news, dis eb'nin' sho. You'se yeard you free, bress de Lawd! I'se been waitin' fer dis news mo' yeahs den I kin reckermember, but dey's come 'fo' my ole haid's under de sod. Hit's all right dat we is glad en sing aloud for joy, but we orter rejice wid trem'lin'. De 'sponsibil'ties ob freedom is des tremenjus. Wat you gwine ter do wid freedom? Does you tink you kin git lazy en thievin' en drunken? Is dere any sech foolishness yere? Will eny man or ooman call deysefs free w'en dey's slabes ter some mean, nasty vice? Sech folks al'ays be slabes, en dey orter be slabes ter a man wid a big whip. See how de young mars'r' haves dat brung de news ob freedom. He know he juty en he does hit brave. He mek de w'ite sogers he 'mands des toe de mark. We got ter toe a long, wi'te mark. We ain' free ter do foolishness no mo' dan he en he men is. De gret Linkum got he eye on you; de Cap'n ob our salvation got He eye on you. Now I des gib you some 'structions," and happy it would have been for the freedmen— for their masters and deliverers also, it may be added—if all had followed Uncle Lusthah's "'structions."
When through with his exhortation the old preacher knelt down on the box which served as his pulpit and offered a fervent petition. From the loud "amens" and "'lujahs" he evidently voiced the honest feeling of the hour in his dusky audience. Scoville was visibly affected at the reference to him. "May de deah Lawd bress de young Linkum ossifer," rose Uncle Lusthah's tones, loud, yet with melodious power and pathos, for he was gifted with a voice of unusual compass, developed by his calling. "He des took he life in he hand en come down in de lan' ob de shadder, de gret, dark shadder dat's been restin' on de hearts ob de slabes. We had no fader, no muder, no wife, no chile. Dey didn't 'long to we fer dey cud be sole right out'n our arms en we see dem no mo'. De gret shadder ob slav'y swallow dem up. Young mars'r face de bullit, face de so'ed, face de curse ter say we free. May de Lawd be he shiel' en buckler, compass 'im roun' wid angel wings, stop de han' riz ter strike, tu'n away de bullit aim at he heart. May de Lawd brung 'im gray hars at las lak mine, so he see, en his chil'n see, en our chil'n see de 'liverance he hep wrought out.
"En dar's young mistis. She hab a heart ter feel fer de po' slabe. She al'ays look kin' at us, en she stood 'tween us en woun's en death; w'en all was agin us en she in de watehs ob triberlation hersef, she say 'fo' dem all, 'No harm come ter us.' She put her lil w'ite arm roun' her ole mammy." ("Dat she did," cried Aun' Jinkey, who was swaying back and forth where the fire lit up her wrinkled visage, "en de gret red welt on her shol'er now.") "She took de blow," continued Uncle Lusthah, amid groans and loud lamentations, "en de Lawd, wid whose stripes we healed, WILL bress her en hab aready bressed her en brung her 'liverance 'long o' us. May He keep her eyes fum teahs, en her heart fum de breakin' trouble; may He shine on a path dat lead ter all de bes' tings in dis yere worl' en den ter de sweet home ob heb'n!"
When the voice of Uncle Lusthah ceased Scoville heard a low sob from Miss Lou at his side and he was conscious that tears stood in his own eyes. His heart went out in strong homage to the young girl to whom such tribute had been paid and her heart thrilled at the moment as she distinguished his deep "amen" in the strong, general indorsement of the petition in her behalf.
Then rose a hymn which gathered such volume and power that it came back in echoes from distant groves.
"Hark, hark, I year a soun'. Hit come fum far away; Wake, wake, en year de soun' dat come fum far away. De night am dark, de night been long, but dar de mawnin' gray; En wid de light is comin' sweet a soun' fum far away.
"Look how de light am shinin' now across de gret Red Sea. On Egypt sho' we stay no mo' in slabing misery. Ole Pharaoh year de voice ob God, 'Des set my people free;' En now we march wid song en shout, right troo the gret Red Sea."
Every line ended with, the rising inflection of more than a hundred voices, followed by a pause in which the echoes repeated clearly the final sound. The effect was weird, strange in the last degree, and, weary as he was, Scoville felt all his nerves tingling.
The meeting now broke up, to be followed by dancing and singing among the younger negroes. Uncle Lusthah, Aun' Jinkey, and many others crowded around Scoville and "the young mistis" to pay their respects. Chunk and Zany, standing near, graciously accepted the honors showered upon them. The officer speedily gave Miss Lou his arm and led her away. When so distant as to be unobserved, he said in strong emphasis, "Miss Baron, I take off my hat to you. Not to a princess would I pay such homage as to the woman who could wake the feeling with which these poor people regard you."
She blushed with the deepest pleasure of her life, for she had been repressed and reprimanded so long that words of encouragement and praise were very sweet. But she only said with a laugh, "Oh, come; don't turn my poor bewildered head any more to-night. I'm desperately anxious to have uncle and aunt think I'm a very mature young woman, but I know better and so do you. Why, even Uncle Lusthah made me cry like a child."
"Well, his words about you brought tears to my eyes, and so there's a pair of us."
"Oh!" she cried delightedly, giving his arm a slight pressure, "I didn't know that you'd own up to that. When I saw them I felt like laughing and crying at the same moment. And so I do now—it's so delicious to be free and happy—to feel that some one is honestly pleased with you."
He looked upon her upturned face, still dewy from emotion, and wondered if the moon that night shone on a fairer object the world around. It was indeed the face of a glad, happy child no longer depressed by woes a few hours old, nor fearful of what the next hour might bring. Her look into his eyes was also that of a child, full of unbounded trust, now that her full confidence was won. "You do indeed seem like a lovely child, Miss Baron, and old Uncle Lusthah told the whole truth about you. Those simple folk are like children themselves and find people out by intuition. If you were not good- hearted they would know it. Well, I'm glad I'm not old myself."
"But you're going to be old—AWFUL old," she replied, full of rippling laughter. "Oh, wasn't I glad to hear Uncle Lusthah pray over you! for if there is a God who takes any care of people, you will live to be as gray as he is."
"If there is a God?"
"Oh, I'm a little heathen. I couldn't stand uncle or aunt's God at all or believe in Him. They made me feel that He existed just to approve of their words and ways, and to help them keep me miserable. When I hear Uncle Lusthah he stirs me all up just as he did to- night; but then I've always been taught that he's too ignorant— well, I don't know. Uncle and aunt made an awful blunder," and here she began to laugh again. "There is quite a large library at the house, at least I suppose it's large, and I read and read till I was on the point of rebellion, before you and Cousin Mad came. Books make some things clear and others SO-O puzzling. I like to hear you talk, for you seem so decided and you know so much more than I do. Cousin Mad never read much. It was always horse, and dog, and gun with him. How I'm running on and how far I am from your question! But it is such a new thing to have a listener who cares and understands. Aun' Jinkey cares, poor soul! but she can understand so little. Lieutenant, I can answer your implied question in only one way; I wish to know what is true. Do you believe there's a God who cares for us as Uncle Lusthah says?"
"Well, I'm glad you do; and simply saying so will have more weight than all arguments."
"Please remember, Miss Baron, I haven't said that I lived up to my faith. It's hard to do this, I suppose, in the army. Still I've no right to any excuses, much less to the unmanly one that it's hard. What if it is? That's a pretty excuse for a soldier. Well, no matter about me, except that I wish you to know that with all my mind and heart I believe that there is a good God taking care of a good girl like you. Pardon me if I ask another question quite foreign. How could your cousin wish to marry you if you do not love him?"
He wondered as he saw the child-like look pass from her face and her brow darken into a frown. "I scarcely know how to answer you," she said, "and I only understand vaguely myself. I understand better, though, since I've known you. When you were hiding in Aun' Jinkey's cabin you looked GOODWILL at me. I saw that you were not thinking of yourself, but of me, and that you wished me well. I feel that Cousin Mad is always thinking of himself, that his professed love of me is a sort of self-love. He gives me the feeling that he wants me for his OWN sake, not for MY sake at all. I don't believe he'd love me a minute after he got tired of me. I'd be just like the toys he used to cry for, then break up. I won't marry such a man, NEVER."
"You had better not. Hush! We are approaching a man yonder who appears anxious to hear what is none of his business."
They had been strolling slowly back, often pausing in the deep mutual interest of their conversation. Miss Lou now detected Perkins standing in the shadow of his dwelling, between the mansion and the quarters.
"That's the overseer," she said, in a low voice. "How quick your eyes are!"
"They must be in my duty." Then he directed their steps so as to pass near the man. When opposite, he turned his eyes suddenly upon Perkins' face, and detected such a scowl of hostility and hate that his hand dropped instinctively on the butt of his revolver. "Well, sir," he said, sternly, "you have shown your disposition."
"You didn't 'spect ter find a friend, I reck'n," was the surly yet confused reply.
"Very well, I know how to treat such bitter enemies as you have shown yourself to be. Officer of the guard!" A trooper ran forward from the camp-fire and saluted. "Put this man with the other prisoners, and see that he has no communication with any one."
As Perkins was marched off they heard him mutter a curse. "Pardon me, Miss Baron," Scoville resumed. "The lives of my men are in my care, and that fellow would murder us all if he had a chance. I don't know that he could do any harm, but it would only be from lack of opportunity. I never take risks that I can help."
"Having seen his expression I can't blame you," was her reply.
A new train of thought was awakened in Scoville. He paused a moment and looked at her earnestly.
"Why do you look at me so?" she asked.
"Miss Baron, pardon me, but I do wish I were going to be here longer, or rather, I wish the war was over. I fear there are deep perplexities, and perhaps dangers, before you. My little force is in the van of a raiding column which will pass rapidly through the country. It will be here to-morrow morning, but gone before night, in all probability. The war will be over soon, I trust, but so much may happen before it is. You inspire in me such deep solicitude. I had to tell those poor negroes that they were free. So they would be if within our lines. But when we are gone that overseer may be brutal, and the slaves may come again to you for protection. That cousin of yours may also come again—oh, it puts me in a sort of rage to think of leaving you so unfriended. You will have to be a woman in very truth, and a brave, circumspect one, too."
"You are right, sir," she replied with dignity, "and you must also remember that I will be a Southern woman. I do feel most friendly to you personally, but not to your cause. Forgive me if I have acted and spoken too much like a child to-night, and do not misunderstand me. Circumstances have brought us together in a strange way, and while I live I shall remember you with respect and gratitude. I can never lose the friendly interest you have inspired, and I can never think of the North as I hear others speak of it; but I belong to my own people, and I should be very unhappy and humiliated if I felt that I must continue to look to an enemy of my country for protection. I cannot go over to your side any more than you can come over to ours."
He merely sighed in answer.
"You do not think less"—and then she paused in troubled silence.
"Louise," called Mrs. Whately's voice.
"Yes," replied the girl, "we are coming."
"I think you will always try to do what seems right to you, Miss Baron. May God help and guide you, for you may have trouble of which you little dream. What you say about your side and my side has no place in my thoughts. I'll help settle such questions with soldiers. Neither do I wish to be officious, but there is something in my very manhood which protests against a fair young girl like you being so beset with troubles."
"Forgive me," she said earnestly. "There it is again. You are unselfishly thinking of me, and that's so new. There's no use of disguising it. When you go there'll not be one left except Aun' Jinkey and Uncle Lusthah who will truly wish what's best for me without regard to themselves. Well, it can't be helped. At least I have had a warning which I won't forget."
"But Mrs. Whately seems so kindly—"
"Hush! I see uncle coming. She would sacrifice herself utterly for her son, and do you think she would spare me?"
Mr. Baron's fears and honest sense of responsibility led him at last to seek his niece. In doing this he saw Perkins under guard. Hastening to Scoville he demanded, "What does this mean? My overseer is not a combatant, sir."
"Mr. Baron," replied the officer, "have you not yet learned that I am in command on this plantation?"
Poor Mr. Baron lost his temper again and exploded most unwisely in the words, "Well, sir, my niece is not under your command. You had no right to take her from the house without my permission. I shall report you to your superior officer to-morrow."
"I hope you will, sir."
"I also protest against the treatment of my overseer."
"Very well, sir."
"You will please release my niece's arm and leave us to ourselves, as you promised."
"No, sir, I shall escort Miss Baron back to Mrs. Whately, from whom I obtained the honor of her society."
"Louise, I command"—Mr. Baron began, almost choking with rage.
"No, uncle," replied the girl, "you COMMAND me no more ... Request me politely, and I will shake hands with Lieutenant Scoville, thank him for his courtesy to me and to us all, and then go with you."
The old man turned on his heel and walked back to the house without a word.
"Bravo!" whispered Scoville, but he felt her hand tremble on his arm. "That's your true course," he added. "Insist on the treatment due your age, act like a lady, and you will be safe."
"Well," Mrs. Whately tried to say politely, "have not you young people taken an ell?"
"No, Mrs. Whately," Scoville replied gravely. "We have not taken a step out of our way between here and the quarters, although we have lingered in conversation. We have ever been in plain sight of many of your people. I put the overseer under arrest because I had absolute proof of his malicious hostility. I shall inflict no injury on any one who does not threaten to be dangerous to my command, my duty requiring that I draw the line sharply there. Mrs. Whately, I have never met a young lady who inspired in me more honest respect. If we have trespassed on your patience, the blame is mine. Ladies, I thank you for your courtesy and wish you good-night," and he walked rapidly away.
"Aunty," said Miss Lou, "you have begun to treat me in a way which would inspire my love and confidence."
"Well, my dear, I am sorely perplexed. If we yield in minor points, you should in vital ones, and trust to our riper experience and knowledge."
The distractions of the day had practically robbed Mr. Baron of all self-control, and he now exclaimed, "I yield nothing. As your guardian I shall maintain my rights and live up to my sense of responsibility. If by wild, reckless conduct you thwart my efforts in your behalf, my responsibility ceases. I can then feel that I have done my best."
"And so, uncle, you would be quite content, no matter what became of me," added the girl bitterly. "Well, then, I tell you to your face that you cannot marry me, like a slave girl, to whom you please. I'll die first. I shall have my girlhood, and then, as woman, marry or not marry, as I choose. Aunty, I appeal to you, as a woman and a lady, to stop this wretched folly if you can."
"Louise," said her aunt, kindly, "as long as I have a home it shall be a refuge to you. I hope the morrow will bring wiser counsels and better moods to us all."
The mansion soon became quiet, and all slept in the weariness of reaction. No sound came from the darkened dwelling except an occasional groan from one of the wounded men on the piazza. Scoville, wrapped in a blanket, lay down by the fire with his men and was asleep almost instantly. The still shadows on the dewy grass slowly turned toward the east as the moon sank low. To the last, its beams glinted on the weapons of vigilant sentinels and vedettes, and the only warlike sounds occurred at the relief of guards. All rested who could rest except one—the overseer. Restless, vindictive, he watched and listened till morning.
A WELL-AIMED SLIPPER
It would be hard to imagine a morning more lovely, a more perfect type of peace and good-will, than the one which dawned over The Oaks plantation the following day. With the light came fragrant zephyrs of delicious coolness; the stillness of the night gave place to a slight stir and rustle of foliage; chanticleers crowed lustily, with no forebodings of their doom; the horses began to whinny for their breakfasts, and the negroes to emerge from their quarters to greet the light of this first fair day of freedom. Uncle Lusthah declared "De millenyum yere sho!" Smoke rose from Aun' Jinkey's chimney, and after the pone was baking on the hearth she came out on the doorstep with her pipe to do a little "projeckin'." Even she was impressed with the beauty and peacefulness of the morning. "En ter tink," she ejaculated, "my honey's sleepin' lak a lil chile 'stead ob cryin' en wringin' her han's nobody know whar! Wen dey gits ter mar'in' my honey en she a bleatin' en a tremlin' like a lamb 'long a wolf dat lickin' he chops ober her, den I say hit's time fer a smash up. Marse Scoville look lak he 'tect her gin de hull worl'."
So thought Miss Lou herself. In her weariness and sense of security she had slept soundly till the light grew distinct, when the birds wakened her. With consciousness memory quickly reproduced what had occurred. She sprang to the window and peeped through the blinds in time to see Scoville rise from his bivouac and throw aside his blanket. With a soldier's promptness he aroused his men and began giving orders, the tenor of one being that a scouting party should prepare to go out immediately.
"Oh!" she sighed, "if I had such a brother what a happy girl I might be! I don't believe I'd ever care to marry."
She was far from being a soft-natured, susceptible girl, and while Scoville kindled her imagination and had won her trust, she did not think of him as a lover. Indeed, the very word had become hateful to her, associating it as she did with her cousin and the idea of selfish appropriation. More strongly than any slave on the plantation, she longed for freedom, and the belief that the Union officer understood her, respecting her rights and feelings, won him all the favor she was then capable of bestowing upon any one. If he had employed his brief opportunity in gallantry and love-making she would have been disgusted. "I never met any one like him," she soliloquized as she hastily dressed. "It's so strange to find one willing I should be a little bit happy in my own way, who is not 'seeking my best welfare,' as uncle says. Welfare, indeed! As if I couldn't see some wish or scheme of their own back of all they say or do! His dark eyes declare, 'I wish you well whether you are useful to me or not.' Well, I am glad I've known him, whether I ever see him again or not. He has made my course much clearer."
The inmates of the mansion as well as those without were soon busy in their preparations for a day which all felt must be eventful. That the "millenyum" had not come was soon proved by the commencement of hostilities on the part of Mrs. Baron and Scoville. The latter was approaching the kitchen to interview Aun' Suke when "ole miss" appeared.
"Madam," he said, lifting his hat, "will you kindly direct your cook to prepare a breakfast immediately for the wounded? It should be light as well as nutritious, for some are feverish."
She paid no more attention to him than if he had not spoken, and entered Aun' Suke's domain. There was a mirthful flash in his dark eyes as he followed her. When she saw him standing in the doorway, her cold stare, more clearly than words, designated him "intruder." He steadily returned her gaze, and Aun' Suke, who had been shouting over freedom the night before, now had the temerity to quiver in all her vast proportions with amusement.
"Madam," resumed Scoville, removing his hat, "will you give my orders, or shall I?"
"Your orders, sir! and in my kitchen!"
"Certainly, madam, and my orders in this instance are simply the dictates of humanity."
"I will see that our men are well cared for. I am not responsible for the others."
"But I am, and all must fare alike. Cook, prepare a nice light breakfast for all the wounded men before you do anything else."
"Yes, mars'r, I 'bey you, I sut'ny will."
Scoville strode away to attend to other duties. Mrs. Baron glared after him and then at Aun' Suke, who at once began her work.
"Do you mean to say that you'll take no more orders from me?" the old lady asked, in tones of suppressed anger.
"Kyant do mo' 'n one ting ter oncet. Ob co'se I git yo' breakfas' when I kin. Reck'n dough we soon hab ter disergree on my wages. I'se a free ooman."
"Oh, you are free and I am not. That's the new order of things your Yankee friends would bring about."
"La now, misus," said matter-of-fact Aun' Suke, again shaking with mirth at the idea, "you got mo' edication 'n me. Wat de use bein' blin' des on puppose? Spose you en ole mars'r tell me dat ain' a egg" (holding one up): "kyant I see? Hit's broad sun-up. Why not des look at tings ez dey iz? Sabe a heap ob trouble. Yere, you lil niggahs, hep right smart or you neber get yo' breakfas'."
Mrs. Baron went back to the house looking as if the end of the world had come instead of the millennium.
In the hall she met her husband and Mrs. Whately, to whom she narrated what had occurred. Mr. Baron had settled down into a sort of sullen endurance, and made no answer, but Mrs. Whately began earnestly: "Our very dignity requires that we have no more collisions with a power we cannot resist. Even you, sister, must now see that you gain nothing and change nothing. We can be merely passive in our hostility. The only course possible for us is to endure this ordeal patiently and then win Louise over to our wishes."
Miss Lou, who was dusting the parlor, stole to the further end of the apartment and rattled some ornaments to warn them of her presence. She smiled bitterly as she muttered, "Our wishes; mine will never be consulted."
Mrs. Whately entered the parlor and kissed her niece affectionately. She did not like the girl's expression and the difficulty of her task grew clearer. Nevertheless, her heart was more set on the marriage than ever before, since her motives had been strengthened by thought. That her son was bent upon it was one of the chief considerations. "If I obtain for him this prize," she had reasoned, "he must see that there is no love like a mother's."
Miss Lou, also, had been unconsciously revealing her nature to the sagacious matron, who felt the girl, if won, would not become a pretty toy, soon wearying her son by insipidity of character. "I know better," the lady thought, "than to agree with brother and sister that Louise is merely wilful and perverse." Feeling that she was incapable of controlling her son, she would be glad to delegate this task to the one who had the most influence over him and who best promised to maintain it. She was not so blind in her indulgence as helpless in it from long habit. She thought that as a wife the girl would not only hold her own, but also do much toward restraining her son in his wild tendencies; but she gave no weight to the consideration often in Miss Lou's mind, "I do not see why everything and everybody should exist for Cousin Mad's benefit."
Mrs. Whately secretly approved of Scoville's orders in regard to the wounded, but did not so express herself, resolving not to come into collision again with her relatives unless it was essential. She now went out and assisted the surgical trooper in dressing the men's injuries. Miss Lou had learned that breakfast would be delayed, and so decided to satisfy her hunger partially at Aun' Jinkey's cabin. The excitements of the preceding day had robbed her of all appetite, but now she was ravenous. Her estrangement from her uncle and aunt was so great that she avoided them, having a good deal of the child's feeling, "I won't speak till they make up first."
The old negress heard her rapid steps and looked out from her door. "Oh, mammy," cried the girl, "I'm that hungry I could almost eat you, and I don't know when we'll have breakfast."
"You des in time, den, honey. Come right in."
But Miss Lou paused at the door in embarrassment, for Scoville had risen from the table and was advancing to meet her. "Good-morning, Miss Baron," he said. "Aunt Jinkey and Chunk have prepared me a capital breakfast, and I should be only too delighted to share it. I must be in the saddle soon and so availed myself of the first chance for a meal. Please do not hesitate, for it will probably be my only opportunity of saying good-by."
"Dar now, honey, sit right down. Ef Marse Scoville ain' quality den I doan know um."
"Miss Baron," cried Scoville, laughing, "Aunt Jinkey has raised a point now which you alone can settle—the question of my quality."
"About the same as my own, I reckon," said the girl, sitting down with rosy cheeks. "Aun' Jinkey is evidently your ally, for she has put her invitation in a form which I could not decline without hurting the feelings of—"
"Your sincere and grateful friend," interrupted the officer.
"Uncle and aunt would think I was committing an unheard-of indiscretion."
"But ARE you?"
"I'm too hungry to discuss the question now," she answered, laughing. "Do let us hasten, for such OLD friends should not part with their mouths full."
"Well, hit des does my ole heart good ter see you sittin' dar, Miss Lou. I'se po'ful glad yo' mouf's full ob breakfas' en dat yo' eyes ain' full ob tears. Wat we projeckin' 'bout yistidy?"
"Now, Aun' Jinkey, just keep still. I can't show becoming sentiment on any subject except pones and such coffee as I have not tasted for a long time."
"Hit Yankee coffee."
"I drink your health in my one contribution," cried Scoville. "Never mind, aunty, we'll be jolly over it all the same. I agree with you. It's worth a month's pay to see Miss Baron happy and hungry. I'd like to know who has a better right. Aunt Jinkey's told me how you protected her. That was fine. You'd make a soldier."
"Oh, please stop such talk, both of you. I'm ridiculously unlike the heroines in uncle's library. Lieutenant, please don't say 'Ha! the hour has come and we must part, perhaps forever.' I won't have any forever. Uncle Lusthah has insured you gray hairs, and if you don't come and see us before they're gray, Aun' Jinkey and I will believe all uncle says about the Yankees."
"And so you ought," said Scoville. "Oh, I'll come back to breakfast with you again, if I have to come on crutches. Well, I must go. There is Chunk with the horses. Even now I'm keeping one ear open for a shot from that hasty cousin of yours."
At this reference she looked grave and rose from the table. "Lieutenant," she said, taking his proffered hand, "please do not think me a giddy child nor an unfeeling girl. I DO thank you. I do wish you well just as you wish me well—for your own sake. Oh, it seems such a blessed thing for people to feel simple, honest goodwill toward one another, without having some scheme back of it all."
"Well, Miss Baron, if I had a chance I'd soon prove that I too had a scheme. The chief point in it would be to keep all trouble out of the eyes that looked on me so kindly when I came to my senses in this cabin. Heaven bless your good, kind heart! Promise me one thing."
"If your cousin comes soon there may be a sharp fight. Keep out of danger. I could never be myself again if my coming here should result in injury to you."
"As far as my curiosity will permit I will try to keep out of the way. I've seen so little in my short life that I must make the most of this brief opportunity. In a day or so you may all be gone, and then the old humdrum life will begin again."
"Yes, we may all be gone before night. Your chief danger then will be from the stragglers which follow the army like vultures. If possible, I will induce the general to leave a guard to-night. I wish Mr. Baron had a clearer eye to his interests and safety. The general is not lamb-like. If a guard can be procured for to-night it will be due to your action and my representations. My services as a scout have brought me in rather close contact with the general, and possibly I may induce him to give protection as long as the interest of the service permits. All questions will be decided with reference to the main chance; so, if I seem neglectful, remember I must obey my orders, whatever they are. Ah! there's a shot."
Her hand ached long afterward from his quick, strong pressure, and then he mounted and was away at a gallop. Miss Lou hastily returned to the house, but Chunk coolly entered the cabin, saying, "I'se git a bite fer mebbe I ain' yere ter dinner."
"Reck'n you better be skerce, Chunk, ef Mad Whately comes," said his grandmother, trembling.
"I knows des w'at ter 'spect fum Mad Whately en fum dat ar oberseer too, but dey fin' me a uggly ole hornet. I got my sting han'y," and he tapped the butt of a revolver in the breast of his coat. Having devoured the remnants of the breakfast he darted out and mounted his horse also.
Mad Whately was coming sure enough, and like a whirlwind. He had fallen in with the van of the Confederate advance during the night, and by his representations had induced an early and forced march to The Oaks. The vigilant Scoville, with his experiences as a scout fresh in his mind, had foreseen this possibility. He had two plans in his mind and was ready to act upon either of them.
Rushing through the hallway of the mansion from the rear entrance, Miss Lou found her kindred on the veranda. They were too excited and eager to ask where she had been, for the fierce rebel yell had already been raised at the entrance of the avenue.
"Ah!" exclaimed Mr. Baron, "now we'll see this Yankee scum swept away."
Apparently he would have good reason for his exultation. Scoville was the last man in the world to fight blindly, and Miss Lou kept her eyes on him. As he sat on his horse, where he commanded the best view of the advancing enemy, she thought he appeared wonderfully quiet. Not so his men. They were galloping to the right of the mansion, where there was a grove on rising ground which formed a long ridge stretching away to the northwest. It can readily be guessed that it was Scoville's aim not to be cut off from the main Union column by a superior force, and the ridge would enable him to see his enemy before he fought, if he should deem it wise to fight at all. He knew that his horses were fresh. If those of the attacking party were somewhat blown he could easily keep out of the way if it were too strong to cope with. He exchanged a few words with the sergeant commanding the scouting party recently sent out, and pointed to the grove with his sabre, then slowly followed with his eye on the enemy.
Miss Lou was in a fever of apprehension in his behalf, for already shots were fired at him from the Confederates. Suddenly she heard the click of a musket lock just beneath her, and, looking down, saw Perkins levelling a piece at Scoville. Quick as light she drew off her slipper and dashed it into the man's face as he fired. By reason of his disconcerted aim the bullet flew harmlessly by the Union officer, who gave a quick, stern glance toward his assailant, recognized him, and galloped after his men.
"You vile murderer!" cried Miss Lou, "would you shoot a man in his back?"
"Oh, come, Perkins, that's hardly the thing, no matter what your provocation," Mr. Baron added.
Perkins bestowed a malignant glance on Miss Lou, then limped away, wearing a sullen look. The officer in command of the Confederates sheered off across the lawn toward the grove, and the girl quickly saw that his force greatly outnumbered that of Scoville. Mad Whately dashed up to the piazza steps and asked breathlessly, "Are you all safe?"
"Yes," cried his mother. "Thank God! I see you are safe also."
He turned his eyes on his cousin, but in her cold, steady gaze found no encouragement. With something like an oath, he turned and galloped after the attacking force.
But Scoville did not wait to be attacked. He continued with his men along the ridge, retreating rapidly when pressed, pausing when pursuit slackened. The officer in command soon remarked to Whately, "We are using up our horses to no purpose, and we shall need them for more important work later in the day."
Therefore he sounded recall and retired on the mansion, Scoville following, thus proving that he was governed by other motives than fear. Indeed, he was in a very genial frame of mind. He had got all his men off safely, except two or three laggards, and had already sent swift riders to inform his general of the situation. Knowing that the tables would soon be turned, he was quite content that he had not made an obstinate and useless resistance. "What's more," he thought, "Miss Lou would not have kept out of danger. It isn't in her nature to do so. Miss Lou! I wish I might call her that some day and then drop the Miss. One thing is clear. If I meet that cousin again, he'll show me no quarter. So I must look out for him and that assassin of an overseer, too. She called him by his right name, the brave little girl! No need of asking me to come back, for I'd go to the ends of the earth to see her again."
If he had know how her presence of mind and swift action had in all probability saved his life, his feelings would have been far more vivid, while his belief in the luck of throwing an old shoe would have become one of the tenets of his faith. Miss Lou went after the extemporized missile and put it on again, saying, "I have fired my first and last shot in this war."
"It is indeed becoming doubtful on which side you are," answered her uncle sternly.
"I'm not on the side of that wretch Perkins. Suppose he had succeeded, and Lieutenant Scoville's general came here, what mercy could we expect? If Perkins values his life he had better not be caught."
"I am glad indeed, Louise, that you prevented such a thing from happening," said Mrs. Whately. "The result might have been very disastrous, and in any event would have been horrible. It was a brave, sensible thing to do, and you will find that Madison will think so, too."
Mad Whately, however, was in anything but a judicial mood.
A GIRL'S APPEAL
Miss Lou was too well acquainted with, her cousin not to recognize evidences of almost ungovernable rage during the brief moment he had paused at the veranda. She looked significantly at his mother, whose face was pale and full of an apprehension now uncalled for, since the prospect of an immediate battle had passed away. "She is afraid of him herself, her own son, and yet she would marry me to him," the girl thought bitterly.
Miss Lou was mistaken. Her aunt had fears only FOR her son, knowing how prone he was to rash, headlong action when almost insane from passion. The girl, however, was elated and careless. She justly exulted in the act by which she had baffled the vengeance of Perkins, and she had ceased to have the anxieties of a bitter Southern partisan. Such she would have been but for her alienation from those identified with the cause. She was capable of the most devoted loyalty, but to whom should she give it? If a loving father or brother had been among the Confederates, there would have been no question. Now she was sorely perplexed in her feelings, for the South was represented by those bent upon doing her a wrong at which her very soul revolted, and the North by one who had satisfied her sense of right and justice, who, more than all, had warmed her heart by kindness. The very friendliness of the negroes inclined her to take their part almost involuntarily, so deep was the craving of her chilled nature for sympathy. If she had been brought up in loving dependence she would not have been so well equipped for the chaotic emergency. Having no hope of good counsel from natural advisers, she did not waste a moment in seeking it, or weakly hesitate for its lack. What her bright, active mind suggested as right and best, that she was ready to do instantly. Now that she had gained freedom she would keep it at all hazards.
When the Confederate officers approached the house, she was glad to observe that her cousin was not chief in command.
Mr. Baron went down upon the lawn to meet the officers, and, after a brief parley, Major Brockton, the senior in command, began to dispose of his men for a little rest and refreshment, promising to join the family soon in the dining-room. Miss Lou, unasked, now aided in the preparations for the morning meal. Fearing Aun' Suke would get herself in trouble, she ran to the kitchen and told the old cook to comply with all demands as best she could. She had scarcely spoken when Mrs. Baron entered. Casting a severe look on her niece, she asked Aun' Suke, "Will you obey me now? Will you tell me you are a free woman now?"
"My haid in a whirl aready, misus. Ef you wants me ter I kin cook, but I kyant keep track ob de goin's on."
"I can," replied the indomitable old lady, "and I can keep a good memory of the behavior of all on the plantation!"
"You can't govern much longer by fear, aunt," said Miss Lou. "Had you not better try a little kindness?"
"What has been the result of all the years of kindness bestowed upon you?" was the indignant answer.
"I only meant that it might be well to bestow a little of what other people regard as kindness. I had asked Aun' Suke to do her best and am sure she will."
"It will be strange if she does, when you are setting the example of doing your worst. But I am mistress once more, and wish no interference."
"Doan you worry, honey, 'bout we uns," said Aun' Suke quietly. "We yeard de soun' fum far away, en we year it agin soon."
Meanwhile Mad Whately was closeted with his uncle and mother, listening with a black frown to all that had occurred.
"I tell you," exclaimed the young man, "it's as clear as the sun in the sky that she should be sent away at once—in fact, that you all should go."
"I won't go," said Mr. Baron, "neither will my wife. If the country has come to such a pass that we must die on our hearths we will die right here."
"Then with my whole authority, mother, I demand that you and my cousin go at once while opportunity still remains. The forces on both sides are concentrating here, and this house may soon be in the midst of a battle. Lou will be exposed to every chance of war. By Heaven! the girl to be my wife shall not trifle with me longer. Oh, mother! how could you let her walk and talk alone with that Yankee officer?"
"I tell you both you are taking the wrong course with Louise," began Mrs. Whately.
"You never spoke a truer word, auntie," said Miss Lou, entering.
Stung to the quick, Whately sprang up and said sternly, "In this emergency I am the head of my family. I command you to be ready within an hour to go away with my mother. Perkins and a small guard will go with you to my cousin's house."
"Go away with that cowardly wretch, Perkins? Never!"
"You are to go away with your aunt and my mother, and you cannot help yourself. Your readiness to receive attentions from a miserable Yankee cub shows how little you are to be trusted. I tell you for the honor of our house you SHALL go away. I'd shoot you rather than have it occur again."
"You silly, spoiled, passionate boy!" exclaimed Miss Lou, rendered self-possessed by the very extravagance of her cousin's anger. "Do you suppose I will take either command or counsel from one who is beside himself? Come, Cousin Mad, cool off, or you'll have some more repenting at leisure to do."
She walked quietly out of the room to the veranda just as Major Brockton was about to announce himself.
"Miss Baron, I presume," he said, doffing his hat.
"Yes, sir. Please sit down. I think we shall soon be summoned to breakfast. If the worst comes to the worst," she resolved, "I can appeal to this officer for protection."
"Mother," said Whately in a choking voice, "be ready to go the moment you have your breakfast."
His passion was so terrible that she made a feint of obeying, while he rushed out of the rear door. Perkins readily entered into the plan, and gave Whately further distorted information about Miss Lou's recent interview with Scoville. Mrs. Whately's horses were quickly harnessed to her carriage, and Perkins drove it near to the back entrance to the mansion.
As Whately entered, his mother put her hand on his arm, and warned, "Madison, I fear you are all wrong—"
"Mother, I will be obeyed at once. The carriage is ready. My own men, who have been paroled, will act as escort. Lou shall go if taken by force."
"Madison, what can you hope from a wife won by such violence?"
"She will fear and obey me the rest of her life. I'd rather die ten thousand deaths than be balked after what she has said. Come, let's go through the form of breakfast and then I shall act."
They found Miss Lou with her uncle, aunt, and Major Brockton already at the table. The major at once resumed his condolences. "I am very sorry indeed," he said, "that you ladies are compelled to leave your home."
"Do you think it wisest and best that we should?" asked Mrs. Whately quickly, hoping that her niece would feel the force of the older officer's decision.
"Yes, madam, I do. I think that the sooner you all are south of our advance the better. It is possible that a battle may take place on this very ground, although I hope not. As soon as my men have had something to eat I shall follow the Yankees, a course I trust that will bring on the action elsewhere; but this region will probably become one of strife and turmoil for a time. It won't last long, however, and if the house is spared I think you can soon return."
Mrs. Baron poured the coffee and then excused herself. A few moments later Miss Lou, who was very observant, noted a significant glance from Zany. As the dusky waitress started ostensibly for the kitchen, the young girl immediately followed. Whately hesitated a moment or two, then left the breakfast room also. But Zany had had time to whisper:
"Oh, Miss Lou, Miss Whately's keridge's at de do', en Perkins en sogers wid it. Ole miss in yo' room en—"
"Quit that," said Whately in a low, stern voice, and Zany scuttled away.
"Now, then," resumed Whately to his cousin, "if you have any dignity or sense left, get ready at once. I can tell you that I'm far past being trifled with now."
"I'll finish my breakfast first, if you please," was the quiet response, so quiet that he was misled, and imagined her will breaking before his purpose.
They were scarcely seated at the table again before she startled them all by saying, "Major Brockton, I appeal to you, as a Southern gentleman and a Southern officer, for protection."
"Why, Miss Baron!" exclaimed the major, "you fairly take away my breath."
"Little wonder, sir. I have had mine taken away."
"Louise, you are insane!" cried Mr. Baron, starting up.
"Major, you can see for yourself that I am not insane, that I have perfect self-control. As you are a true man I plead with you not to let my cousin send me away. He can only do so by force, but I plead with you not to permit it. If I must I will tell you all, but I'd rather not. I am an orphan and so have sacred claims on every true man, and I appeal to you. I do not fear any battle that may be fought here, but I do fear being sent away, and with good reason."
"Oh, Louise!" cried Mrs. Whately, with scarlet face, "you place us in a horrible position."
"Not in so horrible a one as I have been placed, and which I will not risk again, God is my witness."
Major Brockton looked very grave, for he was acquainted with Whately's recklessness. The young man himself was simply speechless from rage, but Mr. Baron sprang up and said sternly, "You shall hear the whole truth, sir. It can be quickly told, and then you can judge whether I, as guardian, am capable of countenancing anything unwarranted by the highest sense of honor. This girl, my niece, has been virtually betrothed to her cousin since childhood. I and her aunts deemed it wisest and safest, in view of dangers threatening the direst evils, that she should be married at once and escorted by my sister and her son to the house of a relative residing further south. First and last, we were considering her interests, and above all, her safety. That's all."
"No, it is not all," cried Miss Lou, with a passionate pathos in her voice which touched the major's heart. "Would you, sir, force a girl, scarcely more than a child, to marry a man when you knew that she would rather die first? Safety! What would I care for safety after the worst had happened? I will not be married like a slave girl. I will not go away to Lieutenant Whately's relations unless I am taken by force."
"Great God, sir, that I should hear a Southern girl make such an appeal," said Major Brockton, his face dark with indignation. "We are justly proud of the respect we show to our women, and who more entitled to respect than this orphan girl, scarcely more than a child, as she says herself? Good Heaven! Whately, could you not have protected your cousin as you would your sister? You say, sir" (to Mr. Baron) "that she was betrothed from childhood. She didn't betroth herself in childhood, did she? Believe me, Miss Baron, no one has the power to force you into marriage, although your kindred should use all means, while you are so young, to prevent an unworthy alliance."
"I had no thought of marriage, sir, until terrified by my cousin's purpose and my family's urgency but a day since. I am willing to pay them all respect and deference if they will treat me as if I had some rights and feelings of my own. My only wish is a little of the freedom which I feel a girl should enjoy when as old as I am. I detest and fear the man whom my cousin has selected to take me away. I do not fear a battle. They all can tell you that I stood on the piazza when bullets were flying. I only ask and plead that I may stay in such a home as I have. My old mammy is here and—"
"Well," ejaculated the major, "have you no stronger tie than that of a slave mammy in your home?"
"I do not wish to be unjust, sir. I try to think my aunt and uncle mean well by me, but they can't seem to realize that I have any rights whatever. As for my cousin, he has always had what he wanted, and now he wants me."
"That is natural enough; but let him win you, if he can, like a Southern gentleman. Lieutenant Whately, I order you to your duty. Mr. Baron, if you wish to send your ladies away and go with them, I will furnish an escort. Any Southern home beyond the field of hostilities will be open to you. Acquaint me with your decision," and he bowed and strode away.
Even the most prejudiced and blind are compelled at times by an unhesitating and impartial opinion to see things somewhat in their true light. Long-cherished purposes and habits of thought in regard to Miss Lou, then panic, and strong emotions mixed with good and evil, had brought the girl's relatives into their present false relations to her. After the scene at the attempted wedding, Mrs. Whately would have returned to safe and proper ground, hoping still to win by kindness and coaxing. She had learned that Miss Lou was not that kind of girl, who more or less reluctantly could be urged into marriage and then make the best of it as a matter of course. This fact only made her the more eager for the union, because by means of it she hoped to secure a balance-wheel for her son. But the blind, obstinate persistence on the part of the Barons in their habitual attitude toward their niece, and now her son's action, had placed them all in a most humiliating light. Even Mr. Baron, who had always been so infallible in his autocratic ways and beliefs, knew not how to answer the elderly major. Whately himself, in a revulsion of feeling common to his nature, felt that his cousin had been right, and that a miserable space for repentance was before him, not so much for the wrong he had purposed, as for the woful unwisdom of his tactics and their ignominious failure. His training as a soldier led him to obey without a word.
Miss Lou was magnanimous in her victory. "Cousin Madison," she said earnestly, "why don't you end this wicked nonsense and act like a cousin? As such I have no ill-will toward you, but I think you and uncle must now see I'll stop at nothing that will keep me from becoming your wife. There's no use of trying to make me think I'm wrong in my feelings, for I now believe every true man would side with me. Be my cousin and friend and I will give you my hand here and now in goodwill."
But his anger was too strong to permit any such sensible action, and he rushed away without a word.
"Madison!" called his mother. "Oh, I'm just overwhelmed," and she covered her face with her hands and burst into tears.
"Well," said Mr. Baron in a sort of dreary apathy, "do you and Louise wish to go away under an escort furnished by the major?"
"No," cried Mrs. Whately, "I would accept my fate rather than favor at his hands. If I could only explain to him more fully—yet how can I? My son, with all his faults, is all I have to live for. I shall stay near him while I can, for he will be reckless to-day. My heart is just breaking with forebodings. Oh, why couldn't you, with your gray hairs, have shown a little wisdom in helping me restrain him?"
"I reckon the restraining should have been practiced long ago," replied her brother irritably.
"You have practiced nothing but restraint in the case of Louise, and what is the result?"
The girl looked at them wonderingly in their abject helplessness, and then said, "If you are taking it for granted that I am spoiled beyond remedy, I can't help it. I would have made no trouble if you had not set about making me trouble without end. As soon as I can I'll go away and take care of myself."
"Of course, Louise," said Mrs. Whately, "we're all wrong, you as well as the rest of us. We must try to get this snarl untangled and begin right. The idea of your going away!"
"I supposed that was the only idea," said Mrs. Baron, entering. "I, at least, have tried to remedy our niece's perverseness by getting her things ready."
Mrs. Whately wrung her hands in something like despair, while Miss Lou burst into a peal of half-nervous laughter at the expression on her uncle's face. "Well," she said, "there'll be no more trouble as far as I am concerned unless it's of your own making. If I am protected in my home, I shall stay; if not, I shall leave it. One learns fast in such ordeals as I have passed through. Aunt Sarah, your son threatened to shoot me for doing what you permitted. Suppose I had told Major Brockton that? I made allowances for Madison's passion, but unless he learns to control himself he will have to vent his passion on some one else."
"She has just lost her senses," gasped Mrs. Baron.
"No, we have acted as if we had lost ours," said Mrs. Whately rising with dignity. "I can't reason with either of you any more, for you have made up your minds that a spade is not a spade. I shall tell my niece that hereafter I shall treat her kindly and rationally, and then go home," and she left husband and wife confronting each other.
"What are you going to do?" asked the wife.
"Do!" exploded the husband in desperation, "why, hump myself and restore everything in a twinkling as it was five years ago. What else can I do?"
Even Mrs. Baron was speechless at this admission that events had now passed far beyond his control.
Mrs. Whately found her niece on the veranda watching the proceedings without, and she lost no time in expressing her purpose. To her surprise, a pair of arms were around her neck instantly, and a kiss was pressed upon her lips.
"That's my answer," said Miss Lou, who was as ready to forgive and forget as a child. "If you say a word about going home I shall be unhappy. See, auntie, the Yankees are retreating again as our men advance."