The morning sun was now shining brightly and the day growing very warm. Before them was the scene of military operations. At present, it afforded a deeply exciting spectacle, yet oppressed with no sense of personal danger. Scoville's little force was slowly retiring along the ridge which the Confederates were approaching, thus removing the theatre of actual conflict from the vicinity of the dwelling.
Mr. Baron appeared on the veranda and soon began to yield to the soothing influences of his pipe. It was not in his nature to make any formal acknowledgments of error, but he felt that he had gone on the wrong track far and long enough, and so was ready for a gradual amelioration in his relations to his niece and sister. They had become too absorbed in the scene before them to think of much else, while Mrs. Baron sought composure and solace in her domestic affairs.
At last Mrs. Whately said, "The Yankees appear to have stopped retreating and to be increasing in numbers. Alas! I fear our men are in great danger and that the main column of the enemy is near."
There was a sudden outbreak of cries and exclamations from the negroes in the rear of the mansion. Zany rushed out, saying, "De Yanks comin' by Aun' Jinkey's cabin."
She had scarcely spoken before they heard a rush of trampling steeds and the head of a Union column swept round the house. Miss Lou saw Scoville leading and knew that he had availed himself of his acquaintance with the place to guide an attack upon the Confederates in their rear. He saluted her with his sabre and smiled as he passed, but her sympathies were with the major, now taken at such disadvantage. At this period the troops on both sides were veterans, and neither fought nor ran away without good reason. Major Brockton knew as well what to do as had Scoville before him, and retreated at a gallop with his men toward the southwest, whence his supports were advancing. The Union attack, however, had been something of a surprise and a number of the Confederates were cut off.
The scene and event had been one to set every nerve tingling. But a few yards away the Union force had rushed by like a living torrent, the ground trembling under the iron tread of the horses. Far more impressive had been the near vision of the fierce, bronzed faces of the troopers, their eyes gleaming like their sabres, with the excitement of battle. Scoville won her admiration unstintedly, even though she deprecated his purpose. His bearing was so fearless, so jaunty even in its power, that he seemed as brave as any knight in the old-fashioned romances she had read, yet so real and genial that it was hard to believe he was facing death that sunny morning or bent upon inflicting it. Looking at his young, smiling, care-free face, one could easily imagine that he was taking part in a military pageant; but the headlong career and flashing weapons of his men, who deployed as they charged straight at the Confederates, dispelled any such illusion.
The ridge began to grow black with Union men and Miss Lou soon perceived the gleam of artillery as the guns were placed in position. Mr. Baron, who had permitted his pipe to go out in the excitement, groaned, "The Yanks have come in force and are forming a line of battle yonder. If our troops come up, the fight will take place on my land. Lord help us! What's coming next?"
Miss Lou began to receive impressions which filled her with awe. Heretofore she had been intensely excited by what had been mere skirmishes, but now she witnessed preparations for a battle. That long line of dark blue on the ridge portended something more terrible than she could imagine. The sounds of conflict died away down the main road, the ring of axes was heard in the grove which crowned the ridge near the mansion, and Mr. Baron groaned again. Thin curls of smoke began to define the Union position—before noon thousands of coffee-pots were simmering on the fires.
At last, a tall man, followed by a little group of officers and a squadron of cavalry, rode down the ridge toward the mansion. These troopers surrounded the house, forming one circle near and another much further away, so that none could approach without causing prompt alarm. The group of officers dismounted and orderlies held their horses. As the tall man came up the veranda steps Miss Lou saw two white stars on his shoulder. Then her uncle advanced reluctantly and this man said, "Mr. Baron, I presume?"
"My name is Marston, commanding officer. This is my staff. Will you oblige us by as good a meal as can be provided hastily? I will pay for it."
"No, sir, you cannot pay for it," replied Mr. Baron indignantly. "I keep a house of entertainment only for my friends. At the same time I know your request is equivalent to a command, and we will do the best we can."
"Very well, sir. I can repay you in a way that will be satisfactory to my mind and be more advantageous to you. Hartly, tell the officer in command to permit no depredations. Ladies, your servant," and the general dropped into a chair as if weary.
Some of the younger officers promptly sought to play the agreeable to Mrs. Whately and her niece, and upon the latter all eyes rested in undisguised admiration. Cold and shy as she had appeared, she had not failed to note the fact. The woman was sufficiently developed within her for this, and the quick, unanimous verdict of these strangers and enemies in regard to herself which she read in their eyes came with almost the force of a revelation. For the first time, she truly became conscious of her beauty and its power. More than ever, she exulted in her escape and freedom, thinking, "What a poor figure is Cousin Mad beside these men whose faces are so full of intelligence!"
Mrs. Whately was the perfection of dignified courtesy, but quickly excused herself and niece on the plea of hastening preparations. She was one who could not extend even enforced hospitality bereft of its grace, and she also explained to Miss Lou, "We had much better gain their good-will than their ill-will."
"Well, auntie, we must admit that the Yankees have not acted like monsters yet."
The lady bit her lip, but said after a moment, "I suppose gentlemen are much the same the world over. Thus far it has been our good- fortune to have met with such only. There is another class, however, from which God defend us!"
"Lieutenant Scoville admitted that himself. So there is on our side —men like Perkins."
"No, I mean Yankee officers who have at least permitted the worst wrongs in many parts of our unhappy land." "Well," thought Miss Lou, as she helped Zany set the table, "after my experience I shall believe what I see. What's more, I mean to see the world before I die and judge of everything for myself. Now if the general on our side, with his staff, will only come to supper, I shall get quite an education in one day."
Mrs. Baron retired to her room and would have nothing whatever to do with her present guests, but Aun' Suke did not need her orders now, nor did any of her assistants.
Chunk had again returned to his haunts and had made havoc in the poultry-yard. Now he worked like a beaver, meantime enjoining Aun' Suke "ter sabe de plumpest chicken ob de lot fer my Boss. Marse Scoville brung 'em all yere, you knows. Hi! but we uns had ter git out sud'n dough dis mawnin'."
"Does you tink de Linkum men git druv off agin?"
"How you talks! Aun' Suke. Hi! Druv off! Why, de ridge des black wid um—anuff ter eat Mad Whately en all he men alibe. Dey des ridin' troo de kintry freein' we uns."
"Well, I hopes I kin stay free till night, anyhow," said Aun' Suke, pausing in her work to make a dab at a little darky with her wooden spoon sceptre. "Firs' Marse Scoville whirl in en say I free; den old miss whirl in en say I ain'; now conies de gin'ral ob de hull lot en I'se free agin. Wat's mo', de freer I git de harder I has ter wuk. My haid gwine roun' lak dat ar brass rewster on de barn, wen' de win' blow norf en souf ter oncet."
"No mattah 'bout yo' haid, Aun' Suke. Dat ain' no 'count. Hit's yo' han's dat de gin'ral want busy."
"No mattah 'bout my haid, eh? Tek dat on yo'n den," and she cracked Chunk's skull sharply.
"Dat's right, Aun' Suke, keep de flies away," remarked Chunk quietly. "You git all de freedom you wants ef you does ez I sez."
"Mo'n I wants ef I've got ter min' ev'ybody, eben dem w'at's neber growed up."
"I des step ter de gin'ral en say you hab dejections 'bout cookin' he dinner. Den I tell 'im ter order out a char'ot ter tek you ter glory."
"G'lang! imperdence," said Aun' Suke, resuming her duties.
"La! Aun' Suke," spoke up Zany, who had been listening for a moment, "doan yer know Chunk de boss ob de hull bizness? He des pickin' chickens now ter let de gen'ral res' a while. Bimeby he git on he hoss en lead de hull Linkum army wid yo' wooden spoon."
Chunk started for her, but the fleet-footed girl was soon back in the dining-room.
When the early dinner was almost ready Mr. Baron said to his sister:
"Surely, there's no reason why you and Louise should appear."
"Very good reason, brother. I shall make these Northern officers feel that they have eaten salt with us and so are bound to give us their protection. Moreover, I wish to gain every particle of information that I can. It may be useful to our general when he appears. Bring out your wine and brandy, for they loosen tongues."
It soon became evident, however, that General Marston and his staff felt in no need of Dutch courage, and were too plainly aware of their situation to confuse their minds with their host's liquor even if they were so inclined. The general was serious, somewhat preoccupied, but courteous, especially to Miss Lou, on whom his eyes often rested kindly. At last he said:
"I have a little girl at home about your age and with your blue eyes. I'd give a good deal to see her to-day."
"I think, sir, you are glad that she is not where I am to-day," Miss Lou ventured to answer.
"Yes, that's true. I hope no harm will come to you, my child, nor will there if we can help it. I know what claims you have upon us and would be proud indeed if my daughter would behave as you have in like circumstances. I have travelled the world over, Mrs. Whately, and have never seen the equal of the unperverted American girl."
"I certainly believe that true of Southern girls, general," was the matron's reply, although she flushed under a consciousness of all that Scoville might have reported.
"Pardon me, madam, but you are in danger of perverting the minds of Southern girls with prejudice, a noble kind of prejudice, I admit, because so closely allied with what they regard as patriotism, but narrow and narrowing nevertheless. That old flag yonder means one people, one broad country, and all equally free under the law to think and act."
"Do you intend to remain in this country and hold it in subjection?" Mrs. Whately asked in smiling keenness.
"We intend to give the Southern people every chance to become loyal, madam, and for one I rest confidently in their intelligence and sober second thoughts. They have fought bravely for their ideas, but will be defeated. The end is drawing near, I think."
"Well, sir," said Mr. Baron grimly, "I am sorry you are preparing for some more bloody arguments about our very ears."
"I am also, on account of these ladies; in other respects, I am not. By night there may be many wounded and dying men. It will be well for them that they do not fall in a wild and desolate region like some that we have passed through. As you say, sir, war is an argument, a heated one at times. But a wounded man is an appeal to all kindly humanity. You would nurse me a little, Miss Baron, if I were brought in wounded, would you not?"
"Yes, sir, I would, because I feel what you say about a wounded man is true."
"Oh, I know that," he replied with a very kindly smile. "I hope to tell my little girl about you." Suddenly he became grave again and said, "Mr. Baron, you are somewhat isolated here, and may not be so well informed as I am. However the prospective conflict may turn, I cannot remain in this region. Many of our wounded may be left. Do not delude yourself, sir, nor, if you can help it, permit your friends to be deluded by the belief, or even hope, that our forces will not soon control this and all other parts of the land. While I trust that humanity will lead to every effort to assuage suffering and save life, I must also warn you that strict inquisition will soon be made. There is nothing that we resent more bitterly than wrongs to or neglect of such of our wounded as must be left behind."
"It would seem, sir, that you hold me responsible for evils which I cannot prevent."
"No, sir. I only suggest that you employ your whole influence and power to avert future evils. I am offering a word to the wise, I trust. Ah, Scoville, you have news?"
"Yes, sir, important," said that officer, standing dusty and begrimed at the doorway.
"Is there haste? Is your information for my ear only? I'm nearly through."
"Plenty of time for dinner, sir. No harm can now come from hearing at once what I have to say."
"Go ahead, then. I'd like my staff to know."
"Well, sir, having got the enemy on the run, we kept them going so they could not mask what was behind them. There's a large force coming up."
"As large as ours?"
"I think so. I gained an eminence from which I obtained a good view. Major Jones told me to say that he would skirmish with the advance, delay it, and send word from time to time."
"All right. Get some dinner, then report to me."
"Yes, sir;" and Scoville saluted and departed without a glance at any one except his commander.
"What do you think of my scout, Miss Baron?" asked the general with a humorous twinkle in his eyes.
"He proved himself a gentleman last evening, sir, and now I should think he was proving a very good soldier, much too good for our interests."
"You are mistaken about your interests. Don't you think he was rather rude in not acknowledging your presence?"
"I don't know much about military matters, but I reckon he thought he was on duty."
The general laughed. "Well," he remarked, "it does not seem to be age that makes us wise so much as eyes that see and a brain back of them. Scoville is a gentleman and a good soldier. He is also unusually well educated and thoughtful for his years. You are right, my dear. Pardon me, but you keep reminding me of my daughter, and I like to think of all that's good and gentle before a battle."
"I wish I could meet her," said Miss Lou simply.
"Come and visit her after the war, then," said the general cordially. "The hope of the country is in the young people, who are capable of receiving new and large ideas." Having made his acknowledgments to Mr. Baron and Mrs. Whately, he repaired to the veranda and lighted a cigar. The staff-officers, who had tried to make themselves agreeable on general principles, also retired.
Miss Lou's cheeks were burning with an excitement even greater than that which the conflicts witnessed had inspired—the excitement of listening to voices from the great unknown world. "These courteous gentlemen," she thought, "this dignified general who invites me to visit his daughter, are the vandals against whom I have been warned. They have not only treated me like a lady, but have made me feel that I was one, yet to escape them I was to become the slave of a spoiled, passionate boy!"
Mrs. Whately guessed much that was passing in her mind, and sighed deeply.
At the veranda steps stood Uncle Lusthah, hat in hand and heading a delegation from the quarters. The general said, "Wait a moment," then despatched one of his staff to the ridge with orders. "Now, my man."
Uncle Lusthah bowed profoundly and began, "De young Linkum ossifer said, las' night, how you tell us mo' dis mawnin' 'bout our freedom."
"You are free. Mr. Lincoln's proclamation makes you all free."
"Kin we uns go 'long wid you, mars'r? Folks des seem kiner deef 'bout dat ar prockermation in dese parts."
"No, my man, you can't go with us. We are marching much too rapidly for you to keep up. Stay here where you are known. Make terms with your master for wages or share in the crops. If it is necessary, the people about here will probably soon again hear the proclamation from our cannon. Mr. Baron, why don't you gain the goodwill of those people and secure their co-operation? They will be worth more to you as freemen, and they ARE free. I give you friendly advice. Accept what you can't help. Adapt yourselves to the new order of things. Any other course will be just as futile as to resolve solemnly that you will have nothing to do with steam, but travel as they did in Abraham's time."
Miss Lou looked at her uncle curiously to see how he would take this advice. His coldness of manner and silence told how utterly lost upon him it was. The general looked at him a moment, and then said gravely, "Mr. Baron, such men as you are the enemies of your section, not such men as I. Good-morning, sir. Good-by, my child. Heaven bless and protect you!" With a stately bow to Mrs. Whately he departed and was soon on the ridge again with his men.
"I wonder if Abraham and the Patriarchs would have been any more ready for the new order of things than uncle?" Miss Lou thought as she went to find Scoville.
"He down at Aun' Jinkey's cabin. Chunk took he dinner dar," Zany whispered.
"He des step ter de run ter wash he han's en face," said Aun' Jinkey a little later.
Passing some screening shrubbery, the girl saw him standing on the spot from which he had been carried insensible by her directions so brief a time before. "Your dinner is ready," she called.
He came to her quickly and said, "I've been trying to realize all that has happened since I fell at your feet yonder."
"Far more has happened to me than to you," she replied. "It seems years since then; I've seen and learned so much."
"I wish to ask you something," he said earnestly.
"That scamp, Perkins, fired on me at close range. You stood just over him and I heard what you said. How happened it that his bullet flew so wide of the mark?"
She began laughing as she asked, "Have you never heard that there was luck in throwing an old shoe? I hit Perkins over the eyes with one of mine."
"Took it off and fired it while he was trying to shoot me?"
He seized both her hands and asked, "What will you take for that shoe?"
"What a Yankee you are to ask such a question! It wasn't a shoe; it was a slipper." "Have you it on now?"
"Yes. What should you want of it?"
"I want to wear it next my heart. Which one was it? Let me see it."
"No; it's old. I haven't any other, and I shall wear it on my right foot as long as it lasts."
"Please let me see it and take it in my hands just a moment. I may never have a chance to ask another favor of you."
"Oh, yes, you will. You are coming to see us, and the general has asked me to visit his daughter after the war is over. Do you think he'll remember it?"
"The slipper, please."
"How can you ask so absurd a thing?" and a dainty foot was put out a brief instant before him.
"Oh, you little Cinderella! I wish I was the Prince." He saw something like a frown gathering on her face. "Don't look that way," he resumed, "I want to tell you something I've read. I don't remember the words, but the gist is that a woman never forgets a man on whom she has bestowed a great kindness. Already I have twice owed my life to you. You can't forget me. My hope is in what you have done for me, not what I can do for you. I can think of myself lying dead in front of the house, I know I am standing here looking into your true, sweet eyes. Let me look into them a moment, for I have no sister, no mother, no one in the world that I care for like you. Do not think I am making love. I may be dead yet before night. But whether I live or die I want you to remember that there is one human soul that always wishes you well for your OWN sake, that is wholly and unselfishly devoted to your interests and happiness."
"There, I'm beginning to cry, and your dinner's getting cold. You must stop talking so."
"Give me something to carry into battle this afternoon."
She stooped and gathered some wild violets. "There," she said.
"You could not have chosen better. Whenever I see violets hereafter they shall be your eyes looking at me as you are looking now."
"And—well—you can remember that there is always a little friend in the South who does care. That's a curious thought about a woman's caring for those she has—I don't believe a woman can care for any one and not try to do something for him. Let us just think of ourselves as friends. It seems to me that I never want to think any other way. Now you MUST get your dinner. You may be summoned hastily and have no other chance to-day. After Uncle Lusthah's words last night I'm not going to have any forebodings."
"Won't you let me call you Miss Lou once before I go?"
"Well, then, Miss Lou, look in my eyes once more and remember what you see there. I won't say a word."
She raised hers shyly to his, blushed deeply and turned away, shaking her head. The power to divine what she saw was born with her.
"Yes, I understand you," he said very gently, "but you can't help it, any more than the sun's shining. Some day your heart may be cold and sad, and the memory of what you have just seen may warm and cheer it Miss Lou, you brave, noble little child-woman, didn't you see that my love was your servant—that it merely gives you power over me? Even as my wife you would be as free as I would be. Now good-by. We part here and not before others. Chunk is yonder with my horse. Be just as happy as you can whether we ever meet again or not." "Then—then—if you don't come again?" she faltered.
"I shall be dead, but don't believe this too hastily."
"You've been kind," she burst out passionately, "you've treated me with respect, as if I had a right to myself. You have saved me from what I dreaded far worse than death. You shall not go away, perhaps to die, without—without—without—oh, think of me only as a grateful child whose life you've kept from being spoiled."
"I shall not go away without—what?" he asked eagerly.
"Oh, I don't know. What shall I say? My heart aches as if it would break at the thought of anything happening to you." She dropped on the grass and, burying her face in her hands, sobbed aloud.
He knelt beside her and sought to take one of her hands.
Suddenly she hid her face against his breast for a moment and faltered, "Love me as a child NOW and leave me."
"You have given me my orders, little girl, and they would be obeyed as far as you could see were I with you every day."
"Lieutenant Scoville!" shouted the distant voice of an orderly. He hastily kissed away the tears in her eyes, exclaiming, "Never doubt my return, if living," and was gone.
In a moment he had passed through the shrubbery. Before she had regained self-control and followed he was speeding his horse toward the ridge. "There, he has gone without his dinner," she said in strong self-reproach, hastening to the cabin. Chunk, who was stuffing a chicken and cornbread into a haversack, reassured her. "Doan you worry, Miss Lou," he said. "Dis yere chicken gwine ter foller 'im right slam troo eberyting till hit cotch up," and he galloped after his new "boss" in a way to make good his words.
Miss Lou sank wearily on the doorstep of Aun' Jinkey's cabin where the reader first made her acquaintance. She drew a long sigh. "Oh, I must rest and get my breath. So much is happening!"
"You po' chile!" was the sympathetic response. "Ah well, honey, de good Lawd watchin' ober you. I year how dat ole snake in-de-grass Perkins git out Miss Whately's keridge en tink he gwine ter tote you off nobody know whar. You passin' troo de Red Sea long o' us, honey. I yeared how you say you doan wanter lebe yo' ole mammy. I ain' cried so sence I wus a baby w'en I yeared dat. Doan you reckermember, honey? You sot right dar en wish sump'n ter hap'n. I 'spects we bettah be keerful how we wishes fer tings. Doan you min' de time Uncle Lusthah pray fer rain en we wus all nigh drownded?"
"I'm not sorry, mammy, things happened, for my heart's been warmed, WARMED as never before. Oh, it's so sweet to know that one is cared for; it is so sweet to have somebody look you in the eyes and say, 'I want you to be happy in your own way.'"
"Did Marse Scoville say dat?"
The girl nodded.
"I'se hab ter smoke on dat ar lil whiles."
Both were lost in thought for a time, Miss Lou's eyes looking dreamily out through the pines and oaks as they had before when vaguely longing that the stagnation of her life might cease. All had become strangely still; not a soldier was in sight; even the birds were quiet in the sultriness of the early afternoon. "Isn't it all a dream?" the girl asked suddenly.
"Kin' ob wish we could wake up den, if it is. See yere, Miss Lou, you on'y a lil chile arter all. Doan you see Marse Scoville des tekin' a longer way roun' de bush? Wen he tell you he want you ter be happy he mean he want you hissef!"
"Oh, yes, Aun' Jinkey, that was plain enough; but do you know how he would take me and when?"
"Dat's des w'at I lak ter know, fer I tells you, chile, dis mar'in' business orful serus."
"He would take me only when I went to him of my own free will and not before. I feel just as safe with him as with you. I believe he would do what I asked just as he minds that general of his. That's the wonderful part of it, which almost takes away my breath. Why, only the other day uncle and aunt were ordering me about as they always have, and now here's a brave, educated man ready to do my bidding. What a goose Cousin Mad was! If he had acted that way I shouldn't have known any better I fear than to marry him. I was so starved for a little consideration and kindness, that if he'd been generous and made me feel that he cared for ME and not for himself all the time, I fear I'd have just married him out of gratitude. I would have acted like an impulsive, ignorant child, blind to everything except that some one cared for me. But that's all past now. My eyes have been opened and I've been compelled to think and foresee the future. Dreary enough it would have been with him."
"What you gwine ter do, honey?"
"Stand on my rights. See how much I've learned in a few short days, yes, even hours. I've learned above all things that my life's my own. There were my relatives, who would reach out and take it, just as they would a ripe fig from a tree, with just about as much consideration for me as for the fig. Thank God! I have been shown clearly my right to my own life. Since I have learned so much in a few days, I shall keep my freedom and choose that which is best for me as well as best for others."
"Now, honey, you on de right track, sho! Des you wait en lis'n. Mo' folks dan Marse Scoville wanter talk wid you on dis mar'age question. You on'y lil chile yit. Des you keep yosef deserved-like en say yo' mouf ain' waterin' few enybody. Marse Scoville berry nice gem'lin, but he yere to-day en like anuff a orful way yander termorrer—"
"No matter where he is, Aun' Jinkey, he will carry the love I could give to a kind brother if I had one. He knows I can do no more and he does not ask more."
"Yes, he does, honey; he ax hit in de bes way ter git hit fum you. He ain' de fool ter grab at hit, but he tek hit all de same."
"Well," she answered judicially, "I don't see how a girl can help it if a man thinks more of her than she of him, but it does make all the difference in the world whether a man tries to grab, as you say, or waits respectfully for what should be a free gift, to be worth anything. How strange it seems to be talking quietly of such things! Think of what has happened, what might have happened, and what may take place before night!"
"Well, honey, hit's a good ting ter stop tinkin' or ter tink slow sometimes. We couldn't keep a gwine as we wus. Our haids ud whirl right off our shol'ers. Hit's all so peaceful now, why doan you go ter yo' room en tek a nap. Mebbe you git berry lil sleep ter-night."
"I reckon your advice is good, mammy. If you have trouble, come to me."
As she walked through the garden and shrubbery to the mansion she felt that she was reacting from the strong excitements of the morning into languor and excessive weariness. The idle negroes had partially succumbed to the heat and quiet, and were generally dozing in the sun, even on this eventful day. Perkins, the exacting overseer, had disappeared on the first alarm of Scoville's charge and had not been seen since. When entering the house Zany, who always seemed on the qui vive, told her that her aunts were in their rooms and that Mr. Baron was in his office. Going out on the veranda, the girl saw two or three vigilant Union videttes under a tree. It was evident that they had chosen a point which commanded a good view of the house, outbuildings and quarters. The ridge was still lined with troops, but they appeared to be scattered about at their ease on the ground. The girl's eyes drooped; she wearily climbed to her room and was soon asleep.
Many others slept also who would sleep again that night in the stillness of death; others who would groan through coming days and nights in anguished wakefulness. The temporary quiet did not deceive the resting soldiers on either side. They well knew that the active brains of their superiors were at work. Scoville found unexpected duty. He was given a score of men, with orders to scour the roads to the eastward, so that, if best, his general could retire rapidly and in assured safety toward the objective point where he was to unite with a larger force. Instead of resting, the young man was studying topography and enjoying the chicken which had at last caught up with him. He knew the importance of his work and did it thoroughly. Having chosen the road which promised best, he marked it on a map, expecting soon to go over it again as guide. He sighed deeply as he thought that it would lead away from the girl to whom he had devoted his life, yet not because he owed it to her. "If we could only remain together," he thought, "she would learn to give all that I give. The dear little girl is just learning that she is a woman, and is bewildered."
Major Jones, who had been skirmishing to delay the Confederate advance, allowed his men and horses to rest when the enemy paused for their mid-day bivouac, and so had come about a cessation of hostilities during which both parties took breath for the coming struggle.
Miss Lou was suddenly awakened by a jar which shook the house, followed by a strange, unearthly sound. For an instant she was confused, thinking night had come, so dark was her room. Springing to her window she threw open the blinds. A black, threatening sky met her gaze, the sunlight hidden by a dense bank of clouds, above which towered golden-tipped thunder-heads. The appearance of the ridge puzzled her. The cannon were there, a puff of smoke rolled heavily from one of them; but excepting a few gunners just about the pieces, the long line of men and horses had largely disappeared. Down the lawn from a point not far from the house to the main street and beyond was a line of horsemen, keeping abreast and equidistant from each other. What did it all mean? Facing the ridge on the left of the lawn was an extensive grove, through which the avenue wound in and out, and the line of horsemen was approaching this. Suddenly the very earth trembled and she saw smoke pouring upward among the trees from a rise of ground within the grove. All now became clear to her. While she had slept, the Confederates had come up, taken their position and the battle was beginning. In strong excitement she rushed down to the hall below, where she found her aunts with pallid, frightened faces. On the veranda was Mr. Baron, looking white indeed, but with firm, compressed lips and fiery eyes, watching the opening conflict.
"Go in," he said sternly, "this is no place for you."
In her intense absorption she did not even hear him. From the edge of the grove and along the avenue were now seen little puffs of smoke, followed by the sharp crack of carbines. The long line of Union skirmishers began to reply in like manner, but it was evident that they found themselves too obvious marks in the open. Here and there men fell from their saddles, and the riderless horses galloped away. The notes of a bugle were heard above the din, and the Union skirmish line retired rapidly to the foot of the ridge.
Miss Lou saw all this only as the eyes catch, half-involuntarily, what is passing before them. With an awe almost overwhelming, her attention was absorbed by a phase of war utterly unknown to her—an artillery duel. Two Confederate batteries in the grove had opened and defined their positions. The Union guns replied, shot for shot, in loud explosions, with answering, deep-toned roar. Above the detonations were heard the piercing screams of the shells as they flew back and forth. On the ridge they burst with a sharp crack and puff of vapor, with what effect could only be guessed; but the missiles which shrieked into the grove gave the impression of resistless, demoniacal power. Great limbs and even tops of trees fell crashing after them. Blending faintly with the rending sound which followed were screams and yells.
"Well," exclaimed the girl, "if Cousin Mad is there he at least is brave. It seems as if my knees would give way under me."
Even as she spoke, a forked line of light burned downward athwart the heavy rising clouds. The smoke of the battle was lurid an instant; then came a peal which dwarfed the thunder of earthly artillery. Strange to say, the sound was reassuring to the girl; it was familiar. "Ah!" she cried, "the voice of heaven is louder than this din, and heaven after all is supreme. This fiery battle will soon be quenched and hot blood cooled."
The voice in the sky was unheeded, for entering the lawn from the road, distant from the mansion about an eighth of a mile, was seen a solid gray column. On it went toward the ridge at a sharp trot. "Ah!" groaned Mr. Baron, "now comes the tug of war."
The girl screamed and moaned as she saw shells tearing their way through this column, horses and men rolling over on the ground, puffs of smoke which rose revealing frightful gaps; but on flowed the dark gray torrent as if propelled by an invisible, resistless force. Vacancies made by wounds and death were closed almost instantly. In the strange, luminous twilight made by the approaching storm, the impetuous advance was wonderfully distinct in the distance, like a vivid silhouette.
As the head of the column drew near the gentle acclivity, it fairly seemed to crumble. Grape shot was now making havoc; but for every man and horse that fell, two apparently came on as from an exhaustless reservoir. High above all sounds now came a yell which, once heard, can never be forgotten, and the Confederate column deployed at a gallop, charging the ridge. The Union skirmish line had already retired to the right, while pouring over the ridge by which they had been hitherto concealed, came rank after rank of men in blue, their deeper chest shouts blending with the shriller cries of their enemies. Charge was being met with counter charge. Cannon were silent, for now friends and foes were too near together. Even the clouds loomed silently, as if in suspense, over the terrific shock of the two lines of approaching cavalry.
"Awful! awful!" moaned the girl.
"Oh! if Madison is meeting that onset!" shrieked Mrs. Whately, beside herself with horror, yet compelled to look by a terrible fascination.
Just as the two opposing forces dashed together a bolt of lightning gleamed over them, turning the upraised sabres for an instant into swords of fire. The crash of thunder followed so swiftly that it appeared to result from the impact of the two charging lines. An impression of annihilation was given, but so far was it from being realized, that the slope was seen to be alive with a struggling, seething mass, waving back and forth, at first downward, then stationary, then gradually upward, upward, until Mr. Baron shouted, "Hurrah! our men are carrying the ridge!"
The cry was scarcely uttered before another dark line of horsemen on the far right was seen galloping forward toward the Confederate flank. Again there was another vivid flash, lighting up the scene with a lurid, momentary glare. The peal which followed created the illusion of sounding this new charge or else to be the thunder of the onset. It turned the fortune of the battle on the right, for the Confederates were seen to pause, and finally to give back slowly and stubbornly. Then the advancing rainfall began to blot the combatants from view.
Suddenly the Union artillery opened. It seemed to the terrified spectators on the veranda as if the shells were shrieking directly toward them, but the iron bolts tore their way through the grove, although much nearer the house than before. The reason soon became apparent. On that ridge, and within the gloomy shadows of the trees, were officers as coolly observant as if playing a game of chess. They gave no more heed to the terrific peals of thunder than they would have done to so many Chinese gongs. While watching the attack upon his centre and providing against it, General Marston was also seeking to penetrate, by means of a powerful glass, the mask of the grove, and so detected a concentration on his left. Instantly his guns began to shell the grove near the house, where the assaulting force was massing. His reserves were ordered forward, and instructions rapidly given to the colonel who was to repel the attack; meanwhile his field-glass was glued to his eyes.
Soon he cried, "It will be their supreme effort. We must strike a stunning blow in order to get away in safety," and he sprang on his horse and started the charge himself.
The men, adoring their leader, followed with stern resolve and high enthusiasm. Scoville, who had returned, reported and rested somewhat, knew how critical was the moment. He rode close to the general, but did not fall out when the wary commanding officer permitted the human bolt he had launched to pass beyond him. He was responsible for the entire force, and must do just enough and no more. He must still keep his eyes on all parts of the field and his brain ready to direct when the result of the charge was known. More than the military necessity of repelling the Confederate charge bursting from the grove occupied the mind of Scoville. It looked to him as if the fight would take place about the very home of the girl to whom his heart was so tender, and his impulse was to be near, to protect and defend.
The light was fading fast; the fury of the storm, whose preliminary blasts were shaking the dwelling, was coming as if an ally with the galloping Union ranks and threatening the equally impetuous onset of the Confederates. In the very van of the Southern force a vivid flash of lightning revealed Mad Whately, with a sabre of flame. For once he made a heroic figure. His mother saw him and shrieked despairingly, but her voice was lost in the wild uproar of thunder, yells and shouts of the combatants, the shock of steel and crash of firearms. Then torrents of rain, which had approached like a black curtain extending from heaven to earth, hid the awful scene of conflict. It vanished like a dream, and would have seemed but a nightmare had not the ominous sounds continued.
Mr. Baron broke the spell which had fallen upon him, dragged his sister and niece within the door, and bolted it with difficulty against the spray-laden gusts.
If there had been sufficient light the battle might have continued in spite of the tropical downpour, but darkness became so intense that friend and foe were alike disguised from each other. At this crisis, Scoville's horse was shot and fell, dragging his rider down also. A flash of lightning revealed the mishap to Mad Whately, who secured the capture of the Union officer before he could extricate himself.
By a sort of mutual consent the contending forces drew apart. Prisoners had been taken on both sides, and Whately, who had badly sprained his arm, unfitting himself for active duty, was given charge of those secured by the Confederates.
General Marston withdrew the Union forces to the ridge again. He was satisfied that prudence required rapid progress toward his somewhat distant destination. True, he had severely checked his foes, but he knew that they had reinforcements near, while he had not. He deeply regretted Scoville's absence and possible death, but he had the map, and the men who had been out with the scout were acquainted with the selected road. Therefore, as soon as the violence of the storm abated and the moon shed a faint radiance through the murky clouds, he renewed his march as rapidly as the rain-soaked ground permitted. Fires were lighted along the ridge to deceive the enemy, and a rearguard left to keep them burning.
The trembling household within the mansion slowly rallied as the sounds of battle died away. As soon as the fury of the conflict and storm decreased, Mr. Baron lighted a candle and they looked into one another's white faces.
Miss Lou was the first to recover some intrepidity of spirit. "Well," she said, "we are still alive, and these torrents are evidently stopping the fighting as they would put out fire."
"Oh, Madison, Madison!" Mrs. Whately moaned, "are YOU living, or are you dead? If you are dead it is little to me that I am spared."
Miss Lou did not give very much thought to her cousin. In overpowering solicitude she asked herself, "Where is he whose eyes looked such strange, sweet truth into mine to-day? Are they unseeing, not because it is dark, but because the light of life is quenched?"
The brunt of the storm soon passed and was followed by a drizzling rain and the promise of a gloomy night. As the howling wind ceased their clamor, new blood-curdling sounds smote the girl's ears—the cries of wounded and dying men and horses. Then the ghastly truth, scarcely thought of in the preceding excitement, sickened her heart, for she remembered that, scattered over the lawn and within the grove, were mutilated, bleeding forms. They were all the more vividly presented to her fancy because hidden by the night.
But little time elapsed before the activity of the surgeons began. Mr. Baron was summoned and told that his piazzas and as many rooms as possible must be occupied, and part of the wide hall fitted up with appliances for amputations. Every suitable place in the out- buildings was also required.
Mrs. Baron almost shrieked as she heard this, seeing at one mental glance the dwelling which it had been her ruling passion to maintain in immaculate order, becoming bloodstained and muddy from top to bottom.
Mrs. Whately asked only for her son, and he soon appeared, with the excitement of battle still in his eyes. She rushed to his arms and sobbed on his breast.
"Come, mother," he exclaimed, "we've no time for this now. Please get a sling for this left arm, which aches horribly—only a sprain, but right painful all the same."
Before the agitated lady could recover herself, Miss Lou ran to her room and returned with a scarf which answered the purpose.
"Oh, you deign to do something for me?" he said bitterly.
"Come, cousin," she replied, "since I have not lost my senses after what's happened it's time you regained yours."
"Thank you, my dear," said his mother fervently, as she adjusted the support for the disabled arm. "Yes, I trust that we may all regain our senses, and, if we outlive these scenes, begin to act as if we were sane."
"There, that will do," he said impatiently. "I must go now, for I have important duties," and he hastened away.
Meantime General Marston had sent word through his picket line that he would not interfere with the care of the wounded and that the dwelling would not be fired upon if used as a hospital. He accompanied this assurance with the offer of medical stores, coffee, sugar and the services of two surgeons. The Confederate general accepted the offer. The trembling negroes were routed out of their quarters, and compelled more or less reluctantly to help bring in the wounded. Uncle Lusthah showed no hesitancy in the humane work and soon inspired those over whom he had influence with much of his spirit. It had been a terribly anxious day for him and those about him. Hope had ebbed and flowed alternately until night, when the day which seemed to him the dawning of the millennium ended as he imagined the world might end. Now, however, he was comforted in the performance of good works, and he breathed words of Christian hope into more than one dying ear that night.
Perkins, the overseer, was animated by a very different spirit. At the first alarm of Scoville's return in the morning he had dashed into the grove, and next concealed himself on a distant eminence from which he could watch events. Under the cover of darkness he returned, and experienced grim satisfaction when he discovered the hated Union officer among the prisoners.
As Whately was making his final arrangements for the night, Perkins touched his arm saying, "Leftenant, I'll help watch that Yank thar" (pointing to Scoville). "They say he's ez slip'ry ez a eel."
"Do so, Perkins. We both have a heavy score to settle with him. At daylight I'll send him where he won't fare as well as he did on this plantation."
"Is your arm woun'ed?"
"No, only sprained, but it pains like the devil. Watch that Yank well. I'd rather they all got away than he."
"He'll never get away alive," was the ominous reply.
As was true after the first skirmish recorded in this history, Mrs. Whately now again appeared to the best advantage. Relieved from overwhelming anxiety in regard to her son, her heart overflowed with pity for the injured. From the outer darkness, limp, helpless forms, in bloodstained garments, were borne in. Groans and half-stifled cries began to resound through the house. Even Mrs. Baron forgot all else now but the pressing necessity of relieving pain and saving life, but she had eyes only for those who wore the gray. Mrs. Whately, on the contrary, made no distinction, and many a poor fellow, in blue as well as gray, blessed her as she aided the surgeons, two of whom were from the Union lines. Miss Lou remained chiefly in her own room and busied herself preparing bandages, sparing not her own rather scanty store of underclothing in the task.
Mr. Baron was in the dining-room, dispensing wines and liquors to the officers who were coming and going. The Confederate general had made the wide hearth, on which roared an ample fire, his headquarters for the time, and was turning first one side then the other toward the blaze, in order to dry his uniform. Poor Aun' Suke had been threatened into renewed activity, and with many colored assistants had begun a stewing, baking and frying which promised to be interminable. Chickens, pigs and cattle had been killed wherever found, for hungry soldiers after a battle and in darkness ask no questions on either side. Mr. Baron knew he was being ruined, but since it was in behalf of his friends, he maintained remarkable fortitude, while his wife, with her thin, white, set face, honored every requisition.
Some of the negroes, sighing for what seemed vanishing freedom, sought to reach the Union force, but were stopped at the picket line by which General Marston masked his retirement from the field. The majority of the slaves, however, were kept at work indoors and out, under the eyes of the Confederates, who quickly showed themselves to be savage toward any disposition to shirk orders.
There was one who would have received short shrift if hands could have been laid upon him—Chunk. None knew this better than he, yet he was as fearless as he was shrewd. Scoville had already won from him unlimited devotion—bought him, body and soul, with kindness and freedom. When he found his new master had not returned from the final charge, Chunk questioned one and another until he learned that Scoville had been seen to go down and then disappear in the gloom. Whether he had been killed or captured, no one knew, but Chunk resolved to find out before morning at all risks. Yet in the darkness and rain he felt much confidence in his ability to elude danger, for he knew every inch of the ground and of numerous places for concealment.
He set about his task in the most matter-of-fact way, resolving to begin operations with a good supper. At this early stage Aun' Jinkey and her cabin were both forgotten, and the poor old woman was half dead from terror. When Chunk tapped at the one window, she feared the spooks of dead soldiers had already begun their persecutions. Never was there a more welcome and reassuring sound than the impatient voice of her grandson, and she soon so rallied as to get him something to eat.
"I darsn't come in," he said. "I got ter be whar I kin run en hide. Now granny, lis'n wid all yo' ears. Marse Scoville killed, woun'ed or took. I'se gwine ter fin' out which. Wen dey gits mo' settle down lak anuff dey be lookin' fer me yere, en I kyant come yere no mo', but I kin git ter Miss Lou's winder ef she hab no light in her room. I safest whar dey ain' lookin' fer me. Tell her ter put no light sho! Mebbe she hafter hep me git Marse Scoville off, ef he took en ef he woun'ed she de one ter 'tect en keer fer 'im. Dat ar Perkins kill 'im sho, ef he git de charnce. Now ef you years me toot twice lak a squinch-owl, you knows dat you got ter go en tell Miss Lou dat I need her hep en dat I gwine ter creep 'long de pazzer roof ter her winder. Ef I doan toot you keeps quiet till you sees me agin," and he disappeared.
"Who'd a thunk dat ar boy had sech a haid!" ejaculated Aun' Jinkey, lighting her pipe. Deep as would now be her solicitude and great as her fears, her grandson's appearance and words had dispelled the spook-phase of her tribulations.
Chunk could run on all fours as easily as in an upright position, and he made his way rapidly through the darkness. His first aim was to get his eye on Perkins and Mad Whately, from whom he felt that he and Scoville had the most to fear. He was now armed with a knife and short club, as well as a revolver, and was determined to use them rather than be captured. Skulking, creeping and hiding in deep shadow, he at last saw Perkins issuing from his house, carrying his lantern. Following, he distinctly observed the brief interview between the overseer and Whately, and guessed correctly that Scoville was among the prisoners. He was soon able so to shift his position as to satisfy himself on this point, and also to note that Perkins, from his movements, would be one of the guard. By the gleams of the lantern Chunk also saw that Scoville appeared to be watching the overseer as if suspecting treachery. "I watch 'im too," the negro soliloquized. "Ef he play eny debil trick he hissef gwine ter de debil sud'n."
Scoville was indeed anxious about his position, for while he believed that Whately was scarcely capable of transcending the usages of war, he knew well that opportunity only limited the malignity of Perkins. He therefore rarely took his eyes from this personal enemy.
For his own sake and that of the guards, Perkins aided in building a fire, for in the continued rain all were chilled. As Chunk saw the leaping flames and the lantern so placed that its rays fell on Scoville, he was almost in despair of any chance for rescue, but believed that his best course was to watch for some change which promised better. He remembered how Scoville had employed the hootings of the screech-owl as a signal, and resolved by the same means to prepare the prisoner for co-operation with any effort in his behalf. Therefore he hooted softly and was glad to see from Scoville's alert yet wary manner that he had recognized the signal.
So intent was Chunk in watching his master that he did not hear the steps of a bewildered Confederate who stumbled over him and fell headlong with a volley of oaths. The negro employed woful strategy to mislead the soldier, for he grunted like a pig, thus awakening hopes of more fried pork. The result was immediate pursuit by all within hearing, and Chunk with difficulty escaped by the aid of darkness and his complete familiarity with the place. When at last he found himself secure he panted, "Mout ez well be took fer Chunk ez a hog. Stand des ez good a charnce. Won't try dat ar game agin."
He was now sorely puzzled to know what to do, and his nerves were somewhat shaken by his narrow escape. At last he resolved to send his granny to Miss Lou and consult with the girl. Accordingly, he stole into the shrubbery of the garden and hooted twice, rightly thinking that Scoville could hear the signal also and believe that something might be attempted in his behalf. Cowering under a bush, he soon observed Aun' Jinkey tottering toward the house, muttering, "Good Lawd, hep us!" as she went.
As the excitement of battle and exultation over the capture of Scoville subsided in Whately's mind he became excessively weary and his exhausted frame suffered from the chill and wetness of the night. He had sought to keep up by liberal potations in his uncle's dining-room, but was resolved to get a night's sleep if possible. He had urgently charged the sergeant of the guard over the prisoners to be vigilant. When Perkins offered to share in this watch Whately, understanding the vindictive motive, felt that he need give himself no further anxiety. He next sought his mother and obtained a little food which the lady had brought to her room.
"Where is Cousin Lou?" the young man asked.
"She is in her own room, and with Zany's help making bandages. I would advise you not to see her again to-night. You are greatly wearied."
"Little wonder, after riding nearly all last night, and the fighting to-day."
"Yes, I know, and have thought of all nearly every moment. I am only too thankful that you have survived. You have gone to the limit of human endurance and must sleep. The less you and Louise say to each other for a short time the better. After you have both grown calmer and have had a chance to think you will see things in a different light."
"Mother, do you think I mean to be thwarted by that girl? I would marry her now from pure pride—for the sake of humbling her and teaching her that she made the mistake of her life in so crossing my will and in subjecting me to the mortification I endured this morning."
"Madison! actuated by such motives, you'll never win her! If you will closely follow my advice I believe you can succeed. I must tell you plainly that if you join with brother and his wife in their tactics it will always end much as it did this morning."
"Well, anyhow, I have that cursed Yankee cub that she went walking with in my power."
"What! Lieutenant Scoville?"
"Yes; he's a prisoner and Perkins is helping watch him."
"Then I implore you not to let Louise know it. She saw that this Scoville might have killed you. She is merely friendly toward him because, instead of treating us rudely, as she was led to believe he would, he was very polite and considerate when we were in his power. That wretch Perkins tried to shoot him to-day and probably would have succeeded but for Louise," and she narrated the circumstances.
Her son frowned only the darker from jealousy and anger.
"Oh, Madison! why won't you see things as they are?" his mother resumed. "If you had treated this Yankee officer with kindness and thanked him for his leniency toward us, you would have taken a long step in her favor. If you were trying to make her hate you, how could you set about it more skilfully?"
"Mother," he replied doggedly, "if Lou had married me, even if she had yielded reluctantly, I would have been her slave; but she has defied me, humiliated and scoffed at me, and I shall never whine and fawn for her favor again. I don't believe it would be of any use. If I should change my tactics she would only despise and laugh at me. What's more, my very nature revolts at such a change. I can't and won't make it. She shall learn to fear me. Women marry for fear as well as love. This Scoville gives me a chance to teach her the first lesson. He shall be sent by daylight to a Southern prison and that will be the last of him. Lou shall learn, as all will find out, that it's poor policy to thwart me. That major who interfered so impudently in our affairs is dead."
"You needn't look so. I had nothing to do with it. There were plenty of Yankee bullets flying to-day. All I mean to say is that it will prove serious for any one to cross my path. Fate is on the side of a man who WILL have his own way, and Lou will discover this fact sooner or later."
Poor Mrs. Whately was compelled to rate these vaporings at their true worth, seeing that between wine, anger and long-indulged arrogance, he was in a melodramatic mood and beyond reason: so she only said soothingly, "Please never let Louise know that I was aware of Scoville's captivity. After you have rested and have had time to think you will see things differently. I warn you however against Perkins," she added solemnly. "If you identify yourself with him in any way you may involve yourself and all of us in ruin. Now come, I will make a bed for you at the end of the hall near my room, and you had better sleep while you can."
He readily acquiesced, for even his lurid schemes for the future could keep him awake no longer. In a few moments he was sleeping soundly on a mattress, wrapped in a blanket. His uniform was hung on the back of a chair near him to dry.
A BOLD SCHEME
Aun' Jinkey gained Miss Lou's room in safety, but panting so from fright and exhaustion as to be for a few moments utterly incapable of speech. The girl divined that something serious was to be told. To her questioning look, the old mammy nodded, glancing meantime at Zany as much as to say, "We should be alone." This quick-witted negress, consumed with curiosity about Chunk, and some deeper interest, resolved not to be sent away.
"Why you look dat away at Miss Lou, Aun' Jinkey?" Zany asked indignantly. "Time you knowed dat Miss Lou trus' me en I ain' doin' not'n ter loss dat trus'. She know bettah'n you dat ef dars eny ting ter be done I de one ter he'p."
"We can trust Zany," whispered Miss Lou, who had become very pale. "You have some news about Lieutenant Scoville?"
"Well, on'y dis, honey, Chunk lookin' fer 'im. Marse Scoville didn't come back fum dat las' fight, he say, en he say ter me dat ef he toot twiced lak a squinch-owl dat mean I go ter you, fer he need yo' he'p. He des done tooted," and Aun' Jinkey repeated all of her grandson's words as far as she could remember them.
Miss Lou thought a few moments and her face grew very resolute. "Aun' Jinkey," she said, "tell Chunk I will do as he wishes, but he must act carefully and not too hastily. Cousin Mad is already asleep. One after another will follow his example, and fewer will be around by and by. We must take no risks that can be helped. The fact that he wishes to see me in this secret way is pretty good proof that the lieutenant is a prisoner. If he were wounded or—or—" but a rush of tears suggested the word she could not utter. "You had better go now, and let no one frighten you into telling anything. Appeal to me if threatened."
As the old woman was stealing out she met Mrs. Baron, who asked sharply, "What do you want?"
"Does you tink I doan wanter know dat chile is safe?"
"If you wish to be safe yourself, see to it you have nothing more to do with that grandson of yours. He has sinned away HIS day of grace, and no mercy will be shown to those who have anything more to do with him."
"I years you, misus," said Aun' Jinkey, stolidly continuing on her way.
Miss Lou, who had followed her mammy to the head of the stairs, heard this warning and returned to her room with a stern look. She deemed it best to say nothing and give the impression that she could not endure the sights and sounds below stairs.
Mrs. Whately entered soon afterward and did her best to propitiate her niece. Miss Lou pretended to be very weary and was glad to see that her aunt actually was so. At last the matron said, "Well, I'll go down once more and see if there is anything which I must attend to; then I shall try to rest a little while Madison is sleeping. Such experiences as we've had wear one out fast. I advise you, too, my dear, to sleep when you can."
"Yes, aunt, I suppose you are right. So much may happen to-morrow."
Mrs. Whately soon retired, and Miss Lou, listening at her door a moment, knew that she was sleeping. Then she returned to her own room, blew out her candle, opened the window softly and waited for Chunk. "Zany," she said, "sit in the dark there, and do not speak or let Chunk know you are here, unless permitted."
Along the most secluded end of the house the piazza had not been built, a small lean-to extension taking its place. An apartment was thus formed which could be entered from without as well as from within the dwelling, and here Mr. Baron maintained what was at once a business office and a study. This extension was but one story high, with a roof which sloped to rising ground beyond. Chunk knew that he could easily gain this roof, and from it that of the front piazza also. When returning through the garden Aun' Jinkey had whispered to him not to make the attempt to see Miss Lou until her light was extinguished. Then she added the words that Mrs. Baron had just spoken to her and hastened tremblingly to her own chimney- corner. Chunk made a wide circle, approaching the house again at an angle which would give him a view of Miss Lou's window, and watching till it darkened. From the garden he had carried a small, light ladder which he had used when pruning fruit-trees. He stole near the extension warily, the shrubbery growing in that vicinity favoring his effort, and the heavy pall of clouds obscuring almost entirely the mild radiance of the moon.
Satisfied by a careful reconnoissance that no one was watching or stirring at that end of the house, with the stealth and agility of a cat he went from roof to roof and crawled to Miss Lou's window.
"Chunk," she whispered.
"Dat's me, mistis."
"You're a good, brave fellow. Now tell me quick—don't waste a word —where is Lieutenant Scoville?"
"He's wid de pris'ners, en Perkins en sogers watchin' 'im."
"Why is Perkins watching him?" the girl asked in deep alarm.
"Dunno, Miss Lou, 'cept on 'count ob he gradge. Mad Whately en he talk knowin'—like en den Perkins tek he lantern en jine de gyard. W'en I las' see 'im he watchin' Marse Scoville close."
"Lieutenant Scoville wasn't hurt, was he?"
"Reck'n not. Didn't 'pear dat away, but he look at Perkins ez ef he feared on 'im. Ef I had ony Perkins ter deal wid I gib Marse Scoville he freedom in pay fer mine, but dar's sogers all aroun' en dey stick me quick ez dey would a pig."
"Oh, Chunk! what shall we do? I could have no influence over the guard or Perkins either. Oh! OH! Mad Whately, you'll end by making me loathe you. To think of employing that treacherous wretch!"
"Dat's des w'at I feard on, Miss Lou. Reck'n yo' cousin en Perkins projeckin' some debil trick."
"You say my cousin has charge of the prisoners?"
"Yassum. I yeared 'im gib de orders 'bout um, but I too fur off ter year w'at he say."
"Can you think of any way, Chunk?"
"Ef de gyard ony all get ter sleep, I'd tek de risk ob tacklin' Perkins, but dere's too many en I des stumped ter know w'at ter do."
"Hi! Miss Lou," whispered listening Zany, "I kin tell you w'at ter do."
"Doan you pay no 'tention ter her foolishness," said Chunk coolly. "Dis life-en-death business, en Zany outgrowed her sense."
"En you ain' growed into your'n," responded Zany. "Ef you has, why doan you tell Miss Lou 'bout tings dat kin be done 'stead o tings dat kyant be?"
"Well, Zany, what have you to say? Quick, and speak lower."
"Miss Lou, dar's Mad Whately's coat en pants hangin' out in de hall. You put dem on, en tie yo' arm up in a sling. In de night who say you ain Marse Whately?"
"Oh, Zany!" exclaimed the girl, appalled at first by the boldness of the scheme.
"Well, dar now," whispered Chunk, "who'd tink dat ar gyurl got so much gumption! See yere, Miss Lou, dat de way ef you got de spunk ter do it. Ole Perkins tink you Mad Whately comin' ter play de debil trick en let you tek Marse Scoville way quietly, en de gyard won' 'fere wid you nudder, kase dey un'er yo' cousin. You kin go en lead Marse Scoville right off, en if Perkins follow I settle 'im."
"Do you think there's no other way?" Miss Lou asked, with 'quick, agitated breathing.
"Fo' de Lawd, I doesn't."
"I don't know what they would do to me in the morning, I'd be sent away. Oh, you can't realize the risk I would take."
"'Spects not, mistis. I ony know Marse Scoville tek mo' resk fer you ef he could."
Chunk had touched the right chord now. She set her white face like flint in the darkness, and said, "I'll make the attempt, no matter what happens to me."
"Den I des sneak out en get he coat en trousers," Zany whispered.
"En, Miss Lou, you des come out de house dis away wid me en Zany," Chunk added. "Less charnce er bein' stopped. We kin go troo de gyardin end de bushes till we mos' whar we kin see Marse Scoville. Mebbe hit berry much plainer w'at ter do arter we get out en look roun'. I hab a ladder yere en you git down mighty easy."
"Yes, that's the best way. I wish to take no risks of being seen till after I make my attempt."
Zany reconnoitred the hall. No one was in sight. Even Mrs. Baron, wearied out, had retired, and Mr. Baron had resolved to spend the night in the dining-room, partly out of courtesy to the Confederate general and partly to be ready for any emergency. In the hall and on the front and rear piazzas were alert sentinels who would have observed and reported any unusual proceeding—therefore Chunk's plan was the only feasible one. In the darkness Zany helped Miss Lou don her cousin's uniform and slouched hat which, limp from the rain, fell over her face. She was not so very much shorter than he as to make the fit a bad one when seen in the partial light. The trousers had to be turned up, but that would be expected on account of the mud. Her plumpness filled out the coat very comfortably, and her arm in a sling made the disguise almost perfect.
While Miss Lou was dressing Chunk again reconnoitred and reported the coast clear. It was now about midnight and all were sleeping except those whom imperative duty or pain kept awake. Chunk led the way, steadying Miss Lou with a firm hand, and Zany followed.
"Now, Miss Lou," Chunk whispered, "I tek you de s'curest way, so you git back en' nobody see you ef I git cotched."
They made a circuit to avoid the kitchen and climbed over a low fence into the garden. On the further side, opening on the driveway to the stables, was a gate. Before reaching this, Miss Lou said to Zany, "You stay here. If there's an alarm, go to the kitchen. You must not be known to have had anything to do with this affair. It might cost you your life."
"Ve'y well, Miss Lou."
The young girl and her guide paused at the gate some moments, for attendants upon the wounded, with whom the outbuildings were filled, were passing to and fro. At last they stole across the roadway to the shelter of a clump of trees beyond. From this point they could see the group of prisoners about the fire, which was in a rather dying condition. It was evident that some of the guards had succumbed to weariness, but Perkins still watched with the tirelessness of hate, his lantern so placed that its rays fell on Scoville, who could not make a movement without being observed. Indeed, it was clear that he, too, was almost overcome with sleep, for he occasionally nodded and swayed before the fire.
"Now, Miss Lou," whispered Chunk, "I gwine ter wake Marse Scoville up by tootin' lak a squinch-owl," and he did so briefly.
The Union officer was much too wary to start and look around, but he gradually proved that he was alert. Close scrutiny of Perkins showed that the signal had no significance to him.
"Miss Lou," resumed Chunk, "dere's not'n fer you but ter walk right down de road ter de fire, berry quiet like, put yo' finger on yo' lips ter Perkins so he tink you 'bout ter play de debil trick, en' den lead Marse Scoville into de gyardin. Ef Perkins foller, I foller 'im. My hoss down by de run en we git off dat away."
The girl drew a long breath and started. Now that she was in the crisis of the emergency a certain innate spirit and courage sustained her. Knowing her cousin so well, she could assume his very gait and manner, while her arm, carried in a sling, perfected a disguise which only broad light would have rendered useless. Her visit caused no surprise to the sergeant of the guard, on whom at first she kept her eyes. He merely saluted and thought Lieutenant Whately was attentive to his duty. Perkins was not surprised either, yet a little perplexed. As it had been supposed and hoped, the thought rose instantly in his revengeful nature that the Confederate officer had some design on Scoville. The latter watched the form recognized by the others as that of Whately with the closest scrutiny, and an immense throb of hope stirred his heart. Could it be possible?
Miss Lou looked over the sleeping prisoners for a moment and then, as if satisfied, stepped quite near to Perkins, guarding meantime not to permit the rays of the lamp to fall on her face. "Leave him to me," she whispered, with a nod toward Scoville, and she put her finger to her lips. She next touched Scoville on the shoulder and simply said, "Come."
He rose as if reluctantly and followed.
Perkins did not suspect the ruse, the disguise was so good and Whately's right to appear so unquestioned; but he felt defrauded in having no part in the vengeance which he supposed would be wreaked on Scoville. After a moment or two of thought, he obeyed the impulse to follow, hoping to see what Whately intended to do, and if circumstances warranted, to be near to help. "If Mad Whately's high- strung notions lead 'im to fight a duel," he thought, "en the Yank comes off best, I'll settle my own score. Whately was ter'ble stirred up 'bout the Yank's talkin' ter his cousin, en would like ter kill 'im, but his officer-notions won't let 'im kill the blue- coated cuss ez I would. Ef thar's ter be a fight, I won't be fur off," and he stole after the two figures disappearing in the gloom.
But Nemesis was on his steps. Chunk had shaken with silent laughter as he saw that their scheme was working well, but he never took his eyes from Perkins. Crouching, crawling, he closed on the overseer's track, and when the man passed into the garden, the negro followed.
As Scoville accompanied Miss Lou, he soon ventured to breathe her name in a tentative way. "Hush!" she whispered. Then his heart beat thick with overpowering emotions of gratitude, admiration and love. Entering the garden, she led the way quickly toward Aun' Jinkey's cabin, and at a point where the shrubbery was thickest about the path, turned suddenly, put her finger on her lips, and breathed, "Listen."
They distinctly heard steps following and drew back into the bushes. Then came the thud of a blow and the heavy fall of a man. The blow was so severe that not even a groan followed, and for a moment all was still. Then Chunk, like a shadow, glided forward and would have passed had not Miss Lou whispered his name.
"Foller me," he answered breathlessly.
This they did, but Scoville secured the girl's hand and carried it to his lips. The negro led the way beyond the garden to the run, where he had left his horse. "Lis'n onct mo'," he said. "Dat was Perkins I laid out."
All was still. "Chunk," said Scoville, "go back on your tracks a little and see if there are any signs of alarm."
Obedience was very prompt, for Chunk muttered as he ran, "My heart des bustin' 'bout Zany. Got ter lebe her now, sho! Ter thunk ob her showin' so much gumption!"
Scoville again took Miss Lou's hands. "Oh, hasten, hasten," she said breathlessly, "you are in great danger here."
"I can scarcely speak to you," he replied, "my heart is so full. You brave, noble little girl! How HAVE you accomplished this?"
Incoherently she told him and again urged, "Oh, DO go at once, for my sake as well as yours, or all may be in vain. I can't breathe until I've put back my cousin's uniform."
Now that the supreme crisis of danger had apparently passed for the moment, she was trembling violently in nervous reaction, and could speak only in little gasps. Every instant a deeper appreciation of the immense effort she had made in his behalf overwhelmed Scoville, and for a moment he lost all self-control. Snatching her to his breast he whispered, "Oh, you little hero, you little saint, I wish I could shield you with my life. I don't believe you half realize what you have done for me, bravest, truest, sweetest—"
"Oh, hush," she pleaded, extricating herself from his arms. "Go, PLEASE go at once, for my sake."
"Yes, my dear girl, I must go soon, more for your sake than mine. With this horse and this start, I am safe. Oh, it's terribly hard to leave you." Then he hooted low to recall Chunk. "Don't tremble so. After all, it's best to wait a few moments to make sure there is no pursuit. Thank God, after what you have done for me to-night you will never forget me, you will always care for me. Again I see as never before how true it is that a woman cares most for him whom most she has tried to help. You have risked much for me; I give all to you. Only death can keep me from seeking you and living for you always. Remember, I ask nothing which your own heart does not prompt, but you cannot help my giving undying loyalty. See, I just kneel to you in homage and gratitude. There never was such a gem of a girl."
Chunk now appealed, recalled from a more affectionate parting than Zany had ever vouchsafed before, and he began to unhitch the horse.
"Chunk must go back with you," Scoville began.
"Oh, no," she whispered, "I cannot breathe till you both are well away. Chunk would be killed instantly—"
"No matter; he has become a soldier like myself and must take all risks. I will not leave this spot—I will go with you myself, rather than leave you here."
"Why, ob co'se I 'spects ter go back wid you, Miss Lou. You tink I gwine ter lebe you yere en dat ladder dar ter tell de hull business? Come wid me."
"Well, then, good-by, and God keep you, Lieutenant. I shall hope to see you again."
"To see YOU again will be my dearest hope. Dear, DEAR little Lou! how brave you've been! You've won a soldier's whole heart forever. How can I say good-by? You can't dream how dear you have become to me. Please, one kiss before we separate."
Yielding to an impulse then not understood, she put her arm swiftly about his neck, kissed him, and turned so rapidly toward her home that Chunk could scarcely keep pace with her.
They reached the ladder unobserved, and from the roof of the extension the way to Miss Lou's room was easy. Chunk went to a point from which he could watch the girl enter her apartment. Putting the ladder back into the garden, he rejoined Scoville, and together they made their way in the direction of the retiring Union column. Scoville never wearied in questioning his attendant about every detail of Miss Lou's action, while conjectures as to her experiences often robbed him of sleep. Never was a man more completely won and held in love's sweet thraldom.
On regaining her room, Miss Lou hastily threw off her cousin's clothes and resumed her own apparel. Then she softly and cautiously opened her door. With the exception of sounds in the lower hall, all was still, and she slipped out in her stocking-feet, replaced the uniform on the chairs, stole back and bolted her door. For half an hour she sat panting on her chair, listening to every sound. Only the groans of the wounded smote her ears. "Oh, thank God! I do not hear HIS voice among them," she half sobbed, in pity for those who WERE suffering. "Well, I can best forget my anxiety about him by doing something for these poor men. Oh, how strange and true his words are! He touched my heart at first by just being helpless when he fell by the run, and everything I do for him seems to make him dearer. It cannot be that I shall never see him again. Oh, when shall I forget the way he took me in his arms? It seemed as if he gave me his whole heart then and couldn't help himself."
There was a near mutter of thunder. In her deep preoccupation, she had not noticed the coming of another shower. It proved a short but heavy one, and she exulted. "The rain will obliterate all our tracks."
Calmer thought led to the conclusion that the affair would be very serious for her if her part in it was discovered. She had acted almost without thought, without realizing the risks she had incurred, and now the possible consequences so appalled her that she resolved to be on her guard in every possible way. "He knew, he understood the risk I took better than I did then, better than I do now, perhaps," she breathed softly. "That's so fine in him—that way he has of making me feel that one's WORTH being cared for." She was far too excited and anxious to sleep. Wrapping herself up, she watched at her window. Soon the stars began to twinkle beneath the clouds in the west, showing that this last shower was a clearing one, and that the radiance of the moon might soon be undimmed. The fires along the ridge which, as she believed, still defined the Union position, were burning low. Suddenly flashes and reports of firearms in that direction startled her.
A HOME A HOSPITAL
The sudden night alarm caused by firing on the ridge can be easily explained. Wearied as were the Confederate general and his men, and severe as had been the repulse of their first attack, both were undaunted and, after rest and refreshment, eager to bring the battle to a more decisive issue, and it was determined to learn long before morning whether the Federal force was on the ridge or not. During the last shower a reconnoitring party was sent out stealthily, a few of the rear-guard captured, from whom it was learned that the Union column had been on the march for hours.
Mrs. Whately was wakened and helped her disabled son to dress in haste. Little did Miss Lou know about the term ALIBI, but she had the shrewdness to show herself and to appear much alarmed. Opening her door, she gave a glimpse of herself in night attire with her long hair hanging over her shoulders, and cried, "Oh, oh, are we attacked?"
"If we are you may have sad reason to wish that you had obeyed me this morning," replied her cousin sternly. "You no more understand your folly and danger than a child. Now I'm compelled to look after my prisoners first," and he rushed away.
"Come in my room, Louise," said her aunt. "Whatever happens, it is best that we should be together." The girl was so agitated, fearing that in some way her adventures might be discovered, that she had no occasion to feign alarm. Mrs. Whately sought only to soothe and quiet, also to extenuate her son's words. "I don't suppose we truly realize yet, as Madison does, what war means," she concluded.
Mr. Baron soon sent up word that there was no special occasion for further fears, and that the ladies might sleep, if they could, until morning.
But there was no more sleep for Mad Whately. As soon as he reached the spot where the prisoners had been kept he asked sharply, "Where is that Yankee officer and Perkins?"
The man then on duty answered, "The sergeant I relieved said that you took 'im away, sir, and that the man named Perkins followed you."
"There's been treachery here," cried Whately in a rage. "Bring that sergeant here."
The weary man was half dragged in his sleep to the officer and there thoroughly awakened by a volley of oaths. He stolidly told his story, concluding, "I cud a sworn it was you, and the overseer followed less'n three minutes after you left."
"'I left'—curse you—don't say that again. You've been fooled or was asleep and neglected your duty."
"Well, then, sir," was the dogged reply, "find that overseer who was a watchin' the Yank like a cat. Ast 'im; ast my men ef I wasn't awake en ef I didn't s'lute you soon ez you come. There's the overseer's lantern burnin' yet jis whar he left it."
At this moment Perkins came staggering toward the fire, with both hands to his head as if trying to hold it together. His clothes were muddy, his face was ghastly and he stared at Whately as if the officer was also a part of a horrid dream.
Whately seized him roughly by the arm and said sternly, "Speak, man. What does all this mean? Where's the Yank?"
"For God's sake, quit," cried Perkins. "I'm nigh dead now. You've got me in anuff trouble for one night."
"Trouble—you! What's your trouble to mine? I'm responsible for these prisoners. Now where's that Yank? Quick, or you WILL have trouble."
"I ain't seen 'im since yer took 'im away—YOU. I ain't one of your understrappers. Ez I wuz follerin' yer some one knocked me down from behind and nigh onto killed me. I jes gittin' my senses back."
Although so enraged, Whately knew that as a soldier he must curb his passion, report the facts immediately and see what could be done. His superior officer was called, all the parties questioned closely, the garden and Aun' Jinkey's cabin searched, but no new facts discovered. The old negress was savagely threatened, but she only replied, "I dunno, I dunno not'n. Wat got inter you ter tink an ole tottery, skeered ooman lak me gwine out in de dark en knock Marse Perkins on de haid?"
"Where's your grandson, Chunk?" Whately demanded fiercely.
"He des light out wid de Yankees dis eb'nin'."
The conclusion guessed at was that Scoville had been rescued by his own men, who were known to be daring scouts. In the darkness and confusion after the battle, it was thought they had mingled with the Confederates, learned the situation of their leader and the general appearance of Whately with his disabled arm. Arrayed in the Southern uniform, of which scouts always had a supply, and favored by the sleepy condition of the guard, one of the scouts had played the trick which Whately rued so bitterly. Others, on the watch, had struck down Perkins and carried Scoville off in safety. No other theory they could hit upon explained so well what was known. The tricked sergeant was placed under arrest, and Whately, who had gone to sleep with such high and mighty notions of his prowess and friendly league with fate, found himself in partial disgrace and in the depths of mortification. He kept guard over his prisoners in person the remainder of the night and again had opportunity to repent at leisure. He mentally cursed himself as a fool, for now he remembered his mother's words. If he had shown leniency to Scoville, and brought him into the house, he might have kept the prisoner and won the goodwill of his cousin. Now, she would probably hear the humiliating facts and be less inclined either to fear or favor him. It was well that no suspicion on his part or that of others had fallen on her, for she was not one who could face coolly a severe cross-questioning.
Perkins skulked off to his house, assuaged his aching head with cold water and his wounded spirit with whiskey. As he tried to think the matter over a vague suspicion of the truth began to enter his confused brain. The little slipper with which he had been hit over the eyes in the morning now became a broad hint. He knew well, however, that it would be dangerous to make any charges, or even suggestions, unless he had ample proof.
When all became quiet again Miss Lou, in spite of deep anxieties, was overcome by extreme weariness and slept until, in a dream, she heard Scoville moaning and sighing in the extremity of physical pain. Starting up, she saw it was broad day. She passed her hand confusedly over her brow and tried to recall what had occurred, to understand the sounds which had suggested her dream. Then in a flash, the strange swirl of events in which she was involved presented itself and she knew she had wakened to other experiences beyond even her imagination. The groans of wounded men brought pitiful tears to her eyes and steadied her nerves by banishing the thought of self. Whatever might befall her, so much worse was the fate of others that already she was passing into the solemnity of spirit inspired by the presence of mortal pain and death. She drew the curtains of her window and then shrank back, shuddering and sobbing, for, scattered over the lawn, men and horses lay stark and motionless. More pitiful still, here and there a wounded horse was struggling feebly. The spring morning, dewy, bright, fragrant, made these evidences of strife tenfold more ghastly. There could not be a more terrible indictment of war than nature's peaceful loveliness.
By the time she was dressed she was joined by Mrs. Whately, who looked serious indeed. Before they could descend to the lower hall, Madison, haggard and gloomy of aspect, intercepted them. Looking at his cousin's red eyes and pale face, he asked abruptly, "What's the matter?"
"Do you think I am accustomed to these sights and sounds?" she answered.
"Oh," he said, in a tone which seemed to her heartless, "it's an old story to me. Mother, I must speak alone with you a moment."
She turned back with him to her room, meantime saying, "Louise, I do not think you had better go down without me."
The girl tremblingly returned to her apartment, fearing that now she might be forced to confront her own actions. But she was conscious of a sort of passive courage. Mad Whately's anger, or that of others, was a little thing compared to the truth that men were dead and dying all about her.
"Mother," said her son, "I had cursed luck last night. I wish I had slept on the rain-soaked ground near my prisoners," and he told her what had happened.
"Oh, Madison!" sighed Mrs. Whately, "I wish this experience would teach you to be more guided by me. Louise cared nothing for this Yankee, except in a sort of grateful, friendly way. Through him, you could have done so much to disarm—"
"Oh, well, mother, the milk is spilled. If possible, let the whole affair be kept from her knowledge."
"Yes, I suppose that will be the best way. If she hears about it, we must try to explain by the usages of war. Now, Madison, you are cool. Let experience be your teacher, for you MUST face the truth. You must either give her up—"
"I'll never give her up."
"Then, as Major Brockton said, you must win her like a Southern gentleman. Her spirit is as high as yours. You can't continue to speak to her as you did last night and this morning. Try to realize the facts. In the seclusion of her bringing up, Louise has learned nothing of the conventionalities of society which might incline her toward a good match on general principles. So far from this, the many old-fashioned romances she has read have made her feel that she must and WILL have her romance. If you can make Louise feel that you love her so well as to become her gallant suitor, circumstances may soon give you great advantages. She may be cold and indifferent for a time, but like all passionate high-strung natures, present impulses against may turn just as strongly for you. At least, you have not to contend with that most fatal of all attitudes— indifference. A great change in you will be a flattering tribute to her power to which no girl would be indifferent. I must tell you now once for all that I will not again assist in any high-handed measures against Louise. Not only the futility of such action, but my own dignity and sense of right, forbid it. I did not understand her at first. Now that I do, I am all the more eager to call her daughter; but I wish her to feel toward me as she should in such a relation. Yesterday, when I apologized and told her that I meant to treat her with kindness and fairness, she kissed me like the warm- hearted girl she is. I will help you win her as a man should win his wife; I will not be dragged into any more false positions which can end only in humiliation. I will be your tireless ally in the only way you can succeed, but in no other."
"Very well, mother, I agree," said Whately, whose nature it was to react from one extreme to another.
"Ah, now I have hope. How is your arm?"
"It pains horribly."
Mrs. Whately went to Miss Lou's room and said, "Forgive me for keeping you waiting. Madison is almost beside himself with pain in his arm, and I will be detained a little longer."
In her immense relief that she was not charged with all she dreaded, Miss Lou had leisure from her fears to feel commiseration for her cousin. When at last he appeared she said kindly, "I am sorry you are suffering so much."
"If I thought you really cared I wouldn't mind the pain," he replied. "Cousin Lou, I owe an apology, several, I reckon, but I've been so distracted between conflicting feelings, duties and pain, that I scarcely know what I say."
"You little know me if you think I'm weighing WORDS at this time," she replied. "Come, let us forget the past, shake hands and remember that we are simply cousins."
He took her hand instantly, but said, "You ask what is impossible. Suppose you had said, 'Just remember your arm is well from this moment,' would it be well? I cannot help my feelings toward you and don't wish to."
"Very well, then," she sighed, "I cannot help mine either. I don't wish to talk on that subject any more."
"Then I must plead by actions. Well, I must go now."
Mrs. Whately was much pleased, for her son was adopting just the course she desired. She added nothing and accompanied Louise downstairs.
The amputating table had been removed and the halls cleansed, but the unmistakable odor of the hospital pervaded the house. Every apartment on the first floor except the dining-room was filled with the wounded. Some were flushed and feverish by reason of their injuries, others, pallid from loss of blood and ebbing vital forces.
The Confederate general, with his staff, had already made a hasty breakfast and departed; through the open door came the mellow sound of bugles and the songs of birds, but within were irrepressible sighs and groans. Mrs. Whately entered the spacious parlor on the floor of which Confederate officers lay as close as space for attendance upon them permitted. The young girl paused on the threshold and looked around with a pitying, tearful face. A white- haired colonel was almost at her feet. As he looked up and recognized her expression, a pleased smile illumined his wan, drawn face. "Don't be frightened, my child," he said gently.
The swift glance of her secured attention took in his condition. His right arm was gone and he appeared ghastly from loss of blood. In her deep emotion she dropped on her knees beside him, took his cold hand and kissed it as she said, "Please let me help you and others get well."
The old man was strongly touched by her unexpected action, and he faltered, "Well, my child, you make us all feel that our Southern girls are worth fighting for and, if need be, dying for. Yes, you can help us, some of us, in our dying perhaps, as well as in our mending. My battles are over. You can help best by caring for younger, stronger men."
"Such men will not begrudge you anything, sir."
"Bravo!" cried half a dozen voices, and an officer near added, "Miss Baron speaks as well and true as you fought, Colonel."
She looked hastily around. Seeing many friendly smiles and looks of honest goodwill and admiration she rose confusedly, saying, "I must go to work at once."
"I think, Louise," said Mrs. Whately, joining her in the hall, "we can accomplish most if we work much together and under the directions of the surgeons. It is evident from the numbers of the wounded that time, strength, food—everything will have to be used to the best advantage. I'm glad that we both got some sleep last night. Now, I insist. Before you do a thing you must have a cup of hot coffee and some nourishing food yourself. The best impulses in the world are not equal to the tasks before us. Indeed, we shall fail these poor men in their sore need if we do not keep our strength. The worst is yet to come. As far as you can, control your feelings, for emotion wears faster than work. Let's first go to the kitchen."
Zany followed from the dining-room with her hands full of dishes. She gave Miss Lou a swift, significant glance, and that was all. Even she was sobered by the scenes witnessed that morning and the thought of Chunk's indefinite absence. Aun' Suke sat dozing in a corner, absolutely worn out, and other negroes from the quarters had been pressed into the service. Mrs. Baron was superintending their efforts to supply soup and such articles of diet as the surgeons had ordered. "Ole miss" now shone to advantage and had the executive ability of a general. In cool, sharp, decisive tones she gave her orders, which were obeyed promptly by assistants awed into forgetfulness of everything else except the great, solemn emergency. All differences had disappeared between the two ladies, and they began consulting at once how best to meet the prolonged demands now clearly foreseen.
"The confusion and conflicting requirements are just awful," said Mrs. Baron. "As soon as possible, we must bring about some system and order. One of the first things to do is to get as many provisions and delicacies as possible under lock and key, especially the coffee and sugar. They are going to give out anyway, before long."
Miss Lou stole away and ran to Aun' Jinkey's cabin. Soldiers had taken possession of it and were cooking and eating their breakfasts. Some recognized the girl politely as she stood at the door, while others continued their occupation in stolid indifference. Aun' Jinkey rose tottering from a corner and came to the doorstep. "You see how 'tis, honey," she said. "Dey des gwine on ez ef I ain' yere. I a hun'erd yeahs ol'er dan I wuz w'en you want sump'n ter hap'n."
"Take courage, mammy," Miss Lou whispered. "Chunk's safe. Have YOU had any breakfast?"
"I can't eat, honey, w'en ev'yting des a whirlin'."
The girl darted away and in a few moments returned with a cup of coffee. Entering the cabin, she said, "Fair play, gentlemen. This is my old mammy's cabin and this her place here in the corner by the hearth. Will you do me the favor of being kind to her and letting her remain undisturbed? Then you can use her fireplace all you please."
The Southern soldiers, understanding so well the relation between the girl and the old woman, agreed with many good-natured protestations, offering to share with Aun' Jinkey their rude breakfast.
By the time the girl had returned to the house, she found that Zany and others had prepared a second breakfast in the dining-room for the family and such of the officers whose wounds were so slight as to permit their presence at the table. Miss Lou was placed between her cousin and a young, dark-eyed officer who was introduced as Captain Maynard. He also carried his left arm in a sling.