Mrs. Whately sat in Mr. Baron's place, since he, after a night's vigils, had retired to obtain a little sleep. "Louise," said the lady, "you will have to begin being useful at once. You have a disabled man on either side of you for whom you must prepare food."
"Miss Baron," said Captain Maynard gallantly, "I am already more than reconciled to my wound. Anything that you prepare for me will be ambrosia."
Whately frowned as he heard these words and saw the immediate impression made by his cousin upon his brother officer; but a warning glance from his mother led him to vie in compliments. Before very long Maynard remarked sotto voce, "If you aid in healing the wounds made by the Yanks, Miss Baron, who will heal the wounds YOU make?"
"I shall not make any, sir. Such thoughts, even in jest, wound me at this time. Please excuse me, I've had all the breakfast I wish, and I cannot rest till I am doing something for those who are suffering so much."
He rose instantly and drew back her chair. In sitting down again, he encountered Whately's eyes, and recognized the jealousy and anger already excited.
A TRIBUTE TO A SOUTHERN GIRL
Miss Lou entered upon her duties as hospital nurse at once. Untrammelled even by the knowledge of conventionalities, and with the directness and fearlessness of a brave child, she went from one to another, her diffidence quickly banished by her profound sympathy. The enlisted men on the piazzas received her chief attentions, nor was she long in discovering the Federal wounded, crowding the outbuildings and offices.
With the exception of a rearguard and hospital attendants, the Confederate forces had marched in pursuit of the Union column. The dead were buried during the morning and the ghastlier evidences of strife removed. Along the edge of the grove tents were pitched, some designed for the soldiers, others for the better accommodation and isolation of certain critical cases. The negroes performed most of the labor, Uncle Lusthah counselling patience and quiet acceptance of their lot for the present. The prisoners were sent South. Confederate surgeon Ackley was in charge of the hospital, while upon Whately was conferred the military command. His partial disablement would not prevent him from attending to the light duties of the position, the surgeon being practically the superior officer. Order was quickly restored, guards set at important points, and the strangely assorted little community passed speedily under a simple yet rigorous military government. Curiosity, desire of gain, as well as sympathy, led people to flock to the plantation from far and near. One of Surgeon Ackley's first steps was to impress upon all the need of provisions, for Mr. Baron's larder, ample as it had been, was speedily exhausted. During the day began the transfer of the slightly wounded to the nearest railroad town, where supplies could be obtained with more certainty, and it was evident that the policy of abandoning the remote plantation as soon as possible had been adopted.
Miss Lou knew nothing of this, and simply became absorbed in successive tasks for the time being.
"Miss Baron," said Surgeon Ackley, "a number of the men are so disabled that they cannot feed themselves. Proper food at the right time usually means life."
These words suggested what became one of her principal duties. At first, rough men were surprised and grateful indeed to find fair young girl kneeling beside them with a bowl of hot soup; then they began to look for her and welcome her as one who evoked their best and most chivalrous feelings. It had soon been evident to her that the wounded officers in the house would receive the most careful attention from the regularly appointed attendants and also from Mrs. Whately. With the exception of the old colonel, she gradually began to devote the most of her time to the enlisted men, finding among them much less embarrassment in her labors. With the latter class among the Confederates, there was not on either side a consciousness of social equality or an effort to maintain its amenities. The relation was the simple one of kindness bestowed and received.
The girl made the acquaintance of the Union wounded with feelings in which doubt, curiosity and sympathy were strangely blended. Her regard for Scoville added to her peculiar interest in his compatriots. They were the enemies of whom she had heard so much, having been represented as more alien and foreign than if they had come across the seas and spoke a different tongue. How they would receive her had been an anxious query from the first, but she quickly learned that her touch of kindness made them kin—that they welcomed her in the same spirit as did her own people, while they also were animated by like curiosity and wondering interest in regard to herself. A woman's presence in a field hospital was in itself strange and unexpected. That this woman should be a Southern girl, whose lovely features were gentle in commiseration, instead of rigid from an imperious sense of duty to foes, was a truth scarcely accepted at first. Its fuller comprehension began to evoke a homage which troubled the girl. She was too simple and honest to accept such return for what seemed the natural offices of humanity; yet, while her manner and words checked its expression, they only deepened the feeling.
At first she could scarcely distinguish among the bronzed, begrimed faces, but before the day passed there were those whose needs and personal traits enlisted her special regard. This was true of one middle-aged Union captain, to whom at first she had no call to speak, for apparently he was not very seriously wounded. Even before his face was cleansed from the smoke and dust of battle his large, dark eyes and magnificent black beard caught her attention. Later on, when feeding a helpless man near him, he spoke to her and held out a photograph. She took it and saw the features of a blond young girl scarcely as old as herself.
"My little girl," said the officer simply. "See how she resembles her mother. That's one reason why I so idolize her," and he handed Miss Lou another picture, that of a sweet, motherly face, to which the former likeness bore the resemblance of bud to blossom.
"We must try to get you well soon, so that you may go back to them," said Miss Lou cordially. "You are not seriously hurt, I hope?"
"No, I think not. I wanted you to see them so you can imagine how they will look when I tell them about you. I don't need to be reminded of my little Sadie, but I almost see her when you come among us, and I think her blue eyes would have much the same expression as yours. God bless you, for you are blessing those whom you regard as your enemies. We don't look very hostile though, do we?"
"It seems a terrible mistake that you should be here at all as enemies," she replied. "I have been taught to dread your coming more than if you were Indians. I never can understand why men who carry such pictures as these next their heart can fight against us."
"Well, Miss Baron, you must try to believe that we would not have left the dear originals of such pictures unless we had felt we must, and there let the question rest. Our lives are sweet to us, although we risk them, chiefly because so dear to those at home. Let the thought cheer you in your work that you are keeping tears from eyes as good and kind as your own. That's another reason why I showed you the likenesses."
"It will be but another motive," she said. "A suffering man, whether friend or enemy, is enough."
She smiled as she spoke, then picked her way across the wide barn floor and disappeared. Every eye followed her, pain all forgotten for the moment.
"By G—d!" exclaimed a rough fellow, drawing his sleeve across his eyes, "I'm hard hit, but I'll crawl to and choke the first man who says a word she oughtn't to hear when she's around."
"If you can keep your own tongue civil, Yarry, you'll have your hands full," said a comrade.
"Well, I be blankety blank-blanked if that girl doesn't rout the devil out of a fellow, hoof and horns."
"You're right, my man," said the Union captain, "and your feelings do you credit. Now I have a suggestion to make. Not one of us is capable of using a word before her that she shouldn't hear, if not out of our heads. We can pay her a better tribute than that. Let us decide to speak in her absence as if she were present. That's about all we can do in return for her kindness. She won't know the cost to us in breaking habits, but we will, and that's better. We all feel that we'd like to spill some more of our blood for the girl who fed Phillips yonder as if he were a baby. Well, let us do the only thing we can—speak as if our mothers heard us all the time, for this girl's sake."
"I be blanked if I don't agree, and may the devil fly away with the man who doesn't," cried Yarry.
"Ah, Yarry," said the captain, laughing, "you'll have the hardest row of any of us to hoe. We'll have to let you off for some slips."
Then began among the majority a harder fight than that for life—a fight with inveterate habit, an effort to change vernacular, almost as difficult as the learning of a new language. For some time Miss Lou did not know nor understand. Word had been passed to other and smaller groups of the Union wounded in other buildings. The pledge was soon known as "A Northern Tribute to a Southern Girl." It was entered into with enthusiasm and kept with a pathetic effort which many will not understand. Yarry positively began to fail under the restraint he imposed upon himself. His wound caused him agony, and profanity would have been his natural expression of even slight annoyance. All day long grisly oaths rose to his lips. Now and then an excruciating twinge would cause a half-uttered expletive to burst forth like a projectile. A deep groan would follow, as the man became rigid in his struggle for self-control.
"Yarry," cried Captain Hanfield, who had suggested the pledge, "let yourself go, for God's sake. You have shown more heroism to-day than I in all my life. We will make you an exception and put you on parole to hold in only while Miss Baron is here."
"I be—oh, blank it! This is going to be the death of me, boys. The Rebs gave me hell with this wound. But for God's sake don't let her know. Just let her think I'm civil like the rest of you. Wouldn't she open them blue eyes if she knew a man was dyin', just holdin' in cussin' on her account. Ha, ha, ha! She'd think I was a sort of a Yankee devil, worse than the Injins she expected. Don't let her know. I'll be quiet enough before long. Then like enough she'd look at me and say, 'Poor fellow! he won't make any more trouble.'"
Whately had a busy day and felt that he had a reputation to regain. He therefore bravely endured much physical pain in his arm and gave very close attention to duty. Captain Maynard, on the contrary, had nothing to do, and his wound was only severe enough to make him restless. The young girl whom he had met at breakfast at once became by far the most interesting subject for thought and object of observation. He was a young fellow of the ordinary romantic type, hasty, susceptible, as ready to fight as to eat, and possessed of the idea that the way to win a girl was to appear her smitten, abject slave. The passing hours were ages to him in contrast to his previous activity, and as he watched Miss Lou going about on her errands of mercy he quickly passed from one stage to another of admiration and idealization. Remembering the look that Whately had given him in the morning, he maintained a distant attitude at first, thinking his brother officer had claims which he must respect. As he wandered uneasily around, however, he discovered virtually how matters stood, and learned of the attempt which Whately had made to marry his cousin, nolens volens. This fact piqued his interest deeply and satisfied him that the way was clear for a suit on his part were he so inclined. Fair rivalry would give only additional zest, and he promptly yielded to his inclination to become at least much better acquainted with the girl. At dinner he and Whately vied in their gallantries, but she was too sad and weary to pay much attention to either of them.
Mrs. Whately compelled her to lie down for a time during the heat of the afternoon, but thoughts of the suffering all about her banished power to rest. She went down and found the old colonel lying with closed eyes, feebly trying to keep away the pestering flies. Remembering the bunch of peacock feathers with which Zany, in old monotonous days, had waved when waiting on the table, she obtained it from the dining-room, and sitting down noiselessly by the officer, gave him a respite from his tormentors. In his drowsiness he did not open his eyes, but passed into quiet sleep. The girl maintained her watch, putting her finger to her lips and making signals for silence to all who came near. Other Confederate officers observed her wistfully; Mad Whately, coming in, looked at her frowningly. His desire and purpose toward his cousin had been that of entire self-appropriation and now she was becoming the cynosure of many eyes. Among them he saw those of Captain Maynard, who was already an object of hate. Little recked the enamored captain of this fact. To his ardent fancy the girl was rapidly becoming ideal in goodness and beauty. With the ready egotism of the young he was inclined to believe that fate had brought about the events which had revealed to him the woman he should marry. A bombshell bursting among them all would not have created a greater sensation than the knowledge that the girl's thoughts were following a Yankee, one whom she herself, by daring stratagem, had released from captivity.
A twinge of pain awakened the colonel and he looked up, dazed and uncomprehending. Miss Lou bent over him and said gently, "Go to sleep again. It's all right."
"Oh, I remember now. You are Miss Baron."
"Yes, but don't try to talk; just sleep now that you can."
He smiled and yielded.
A few moments later Maynard came forward and said, "Miss Baron, your arm must be tired. Let me take your place."
Now she rewarded him by a smile. "I will be glad if you can," she replied softly, "not that I am very tired, but there are so many others."
As she moved away, she saw Surgeon Ackley beckoning to her. "Miss Baron," he said, "I am going to put one of my patients especially in your and your aunt's charge. Young as he is, he is a hero and an unusual character. I have had him moved to a tent, for he is in a very critical condition. Indeed, his chances for life are few and he knows it. I am acquainted with his family—one of the best in the South."
He led the way to a small tent beneath the shade of a wide-branched oak. A stretcher had been extemporized into a camp bed and on it lay a youth not older apparently than the girl herself. His face had the blood-drained look which many will remember, yet was still fine in its strong, boyish lines. The down on his upper lip was scarcely more deeply defined than his straight eyebrows. A negro attendant sat near fanning him, and Miss Lou first thought that he was asleep. As she approached with the surgeon he opened his eyes with the dazed expression so common when the brain is enfeebled from loss of blood. At first they seemed almost opaque and dead in their blackness, but, as if a light were approaching from within, they grew bright and laughing. His smile showed his white, even teeth slightly, and her look of deep commiseration passed into one of wonder as she saw his face growing positively radiant with what seemed to her a strange kind of happiness, as he glanced back and forth from her to the surgeon. Feebly he raised his finger to his lips as if to say, "I can't speak."
"That's right, Waldo; don't try to talk yet. This is Miss Baron. She will be one of your nurses and will feed you with the best of soup. We'll bring you round yet."
He shook his head and smiled more genially, then tried to extend his hand to the girl, looking his welcome and acceptance of her ministry. So joyous was his expression that she could not help smiling in return, but it was the questioning, doubtful smile of one who did not understand.
"When she comes," resumed Ackley, "take what she gives you, but don't talk until I give permission. That will do now. You must take everything except quiet in small quantities at first."
His lips formed the words "All right," and smilingly he watched them depart.
"I suppose he is not exactly in his right mind," said Miss Lou as she and the surgeon returned to the house.
"Many would think so, I reckon," replied Ackley laconically. "He believes in a heaven and that he's going there. That's the only queer thing I ever discovered in Waldo. He's worth a lot of trouble, Miss Baron."
"It would be right strange if I did not do my best for him, sir."
"I thought you'd feel so. I want very strong beef soup made for a few such special cases, who can take but little at a time. I would like him to have a few teaspoonfuls every two hours. I am going to trust to you and Mrs. Whately chiefly to look after him in this respect. We can do little more than help nature in his case."
Poor Aun' Suke was getting weary again, but she had a heart which Miss Lou speedily touched in behalf of her patient, and a special saucepan was soon bubbling over the fire.
The soup for the evening meal being ready, she began again her task of feeding the helpless soldiers, visiting, among others, Phillips, who lay in a half-stupor on the great barn-floor. As she stepped in among the Federal wounded, she was again impressed by the prevailing quiet and by the friendly glances turned toward her on every side. The Union surgeon in charge lifted his hat politely, while such of the men as were able took off theirs and remained uncovered. The homage, although quiet, was so marked that she was again embarrassed, and with downcast eyes went direct to Phillips, gently roused him and gave him his supper. While she was doing this the men around her were either silent or spoke in low tones. The thought grew in her mind, "How these Northern soldiers have been misrepresented to me! Even when I am approaching and before they are aware I am near, I hear no rough talk as I do among our men. The world is so different from uncle's idea of it! Whether these men are right or wrong, I will never listen patiently again when they are spoken of as the scum of the earth."
As she rose and saw the respectful attitude toward her, faltered, "I—I—wish to thank you for your—your kindness to me."
At these words there was a general smile even on the wannest and most pain-pinched face, for they struck the men as very droll.
"We were under the impression that the kindness was chiefly on your side," said Captain Hanfield. "Still we are glad you find us a civil lot of Indians."
"Please remember," she answered earnestly, "that was not my thought, but one impressed upon me by those who did not know. Only within a very short time have I ever seen Northern people or soldiers, and they treat me with nothing but courtesy."
"Perhaps you are to blame for that," said the captain pleasantly.
"I can't help feeling glad that our good opinion is becoming mutual," she replied, smiling. "Won't you please put on your hats and let me come and go as a matter of course? I don't like to be sort of received every time I come. I just want to help those I can help, to get well."
"You have only to express your wishes, Miss Baron," was the hearty reply.
"Thank you. Is there anything more that I can do for you? Is there any one who specially needs—"
As she was glancing round her eyes fell upon Yarry. His face was so drawn and haggard with pain that, from an impulse of pity, she went directly to him and said gently, "I fear, sir, you are suffering very much."
"I be—oh, hang—there, there, miss, I'll stand it a little longer. I could stand hell-fire for your sake. I didn't mean to say that. Guess I better keep still."
His face, now seen attentively, revealed more to her in tuition than his words. She stooped by his side and said piteously, "Oh, you are suffering—I FEEL that you are suffering terribly. I must do something to relieve you."
"Oh, now, miss," he replied, forcing a ghastly sort of smile, "I'm all right, I be—well, I am. Bless your kind heart! Don't worry about me. I'll smoke my pipe and go to sleep pretty soon. You look tired yourself, little one. I will feel better if you won't worry about me, I be—well, I will. I'm just like the other fellows, you know."
"I reckon you are a brave, good-hearted man, to think of others when I KNOW you are suffering so much. I am having very strong soup made for one of our men, and I'll bring you some by and by," and with a lingering, troubled look into his rugged face, she departed.
His eyes followed her until she disappeared.
"Yarry, you are rewarded," Captain Hanfield remarked.
"—my reward. Fellers, she's just wearin' herself out for us. I don't want no reward for anything I can do for her. Well, I'm goin' to shut up now. The only thing I can do for her is to hold my tongue till it can't wag. I told her I'd smoke my pipe and go to sleep. I be—well, I will. Light it for me, Tom. When she comes, like enough I'll be asleep, a sort of DEAD sleep, yer know. Just let her think I'm dozin' after my pipe. Don't let her try to wake me and worry about me."
"All shall be as you wish, Yarry," said Captain Hanfield. "I tell you, men, few women ever received such a tribute as Yarry is paying this Southern girl. For one, I'm proud of him."
A BACKGROUND OF EGOTISM
When Miss Lou returned to the house supper was ready and she sat down weary, saddened and preoccupied by the scenes she had witnessed.
"You are going beyond your strength," said Captain Maynard, who had watched her coming back from the Federal wounded. "Cannot you be content to confine your ministrations to your friends only?"
"For once I can agree with Captain Maynard," Whately added stiffly. "I don't think it's right for you, cousin, to be going among those rough, brutal fellows."
Instantly her anger flamed at the injustice of the remark and she answered hotly, "I've found no rough, brutal fellows among the Yankees."
All smiled at her words, and Ackley remarked to one of the Union surgeons, "Dr. Borden, I thought our men could hold their own pretty well with the Army in Flanders, but you Yanks, I reckon, surpass all military organizations, past or present. There was one man especially who fairly made the night lurid and left a sulphurous odor after him when he was brought in. It would be rather rough on us all if we were where he consigned us with a vim that was startling. I certainly hope that Miss Baron is not compelled to hear any such language."
"I appeal to Miss Baron herself," said Dr. Borden, "if she has been offended in this respect to-day?"
"No, indeed, I have not," replied the girl indignantly. "I never was treated with more courtesy. I have not heard a rough word from the Yankees even when they did not know I was near, and that is more than I can say of our own men. Fight the Yankees all you please, but don't do them injustice."
In spite of the girl's flushed, incensed face, there was an explosion of laughter. "Pardon me, Miss Baron," said Ackley, "but you can't know how droll your idea of injustice to the Yankees seems to us. That you have such an idea, however, is a credit to you and to them also, for they must have been behaving themselves prodigiously."
"Yes, Dr. Ackley," replied Borden emphatically, "Miss Baron's impressions ARE a credit to her and to my patients. They promptly recognized her motives and character, and for her sake they pledged themselves that while here, where she is one of the nurses, they would not use language at any time which they would not have their mothers hear. That very man you speak of, who swore so last night, believes himself dying from his effort at self-restraint. This is not true, for he would have died anyhow, but his death is hastened by his effort. He has been in agony all day. Opiates make him worse, so there is no use of giving them. But I can tell you, no man in your Confederacy ever did a braver thing than he is doing this minute to show his respect for this young lady who has shown kindness to his comrades. I can assure you, Lieutenant Whately, that you need have no fears about your cousin when visiting my patients."
"What's the name of the soldier of whom you speak?" Miss Lou asked eagerly.
"He is called Yarry. I don't know any other name yet—been so busy dressing wounds."
"Thank you," faltered the girl, rising, her face showing signs of strong emotion.
"Oh, Louise! finish your supper," expostulated Mrs. Whately. "You must not let these scenes take so strong a hold"—but she was out of hearing. "I fear it's all going to be too much for her," sighed the lady in conclusion.
Mr. Baron and his wife exchanged grim glances from the head and foot of the table, as much as to say, "She has shaken off our control and we are not responsible," but Ackley remarked, "I agree with you, Dr. Borden, that it's fine to see a girl show such a spirit, and I congratulate you that your men are capable of appreciating it. By the way, Mrs. Whately, I have put her, with you, in charge of young Waldo and truly hope that among us we can bring him through."
"Mrs. Whately," said Captain Maynard, "I reckon more than one of us begin to regret already that we were not so desperately wounded as to need your attention and that of Miss Baron. We must remember, however, that she is not accustomed to these scenes, and I think we must try to make her forget them at the table. I suppose in the kindness of her heart she is now crying in her room over that Yankee." Whately shot a savage glance at the speaker which plainly implied, "It's none of your business where she is." Suddenly rising, he departed also, his mother's eyes following him anxiously.
Miss Lou was not crying in her room. As the level rays of the sun shone into the wide old barn, making the straw in a mow doubly golden, and transforming even the dusty cobwebs into fairy lacework, she crossed the threshold and paused for the first time in her impulsive haste to find and thank the dying man of whom she had been told. All eyes turned wonderingly toward her as she stood for a moment in the sunshine, as unconscious of herself, of the marvellous touch of beauty bestowed by the light and her expression, as if she had flown from the skies.
"Is there a soldier here named Yarry?" she began, then uttered a little inarticulate cry as she saw Captain Hanfield kneeling beside a man to whom all eyes directed her. "Oh, it's he," she sobbed, kneeling beside him also. "As soon as I heard I felt it was he who told me not to worry about him. Is—is he really dying?"
"Yes, I hope so, Miss Baron," replied the captain gravely. "He couldn't live and it's time he had rest."
The girl bent over the man, her hot tears falling on his face. He opened his eyes and looked vacantly at her for a moment or two, then smiled in recognition. It was the most pathetic smile she had ever imagined. "Don't worry," he whispered, "I'm just dozin' off."
"Oh, my poor, brave hero!" she said brokenly, "I know, I know it all. God reward you, I can't."
"Don't want no reward. I be—say, miss, don't wear—yourself—out fer us."
She took his cold hand and bowed her forehead upon it, sobbing aloud in the overpowering sense of his self-forgetfulness. "O God!" she cried, "do for this brave, unselfish man what I cannot. When, WHEN can I forget such a thing as this! Oh, live, please live; we will take such good care of you."
"There, there, little one, don't—take on—so about—me. Ain't wuth it. I be—Say, I feel better—easier. Glad—you spoke—good word to God—for me. I be—I mean, I think—He'll hear—sech as you. I'm— off now. Don't—wear—yourself—"
Even in her inexperience she saw that he was dying, and when his gasping utterance ceased she had so supported his head that it fell back on her bosom. For a few moments she just cried helplessly, blinded with tears. Then she felt the burden of his head removed and herself lifted gently.
"I suspected something like this when you left the table, Miss Baron," said Dr. Borden.
"Oh, oh, oh, I feel as if he had died for me," she sobbed.
"He would a died for you, miss," said Tom, drawing his sleeve across his eyes, "so would we all."
"Miss Baron," resumed the doctor gravely, "remember poor Yarry's last words, 'Don't wear yourself—he couldn't finish the sentence, but you know what he meant. You must grant the request of one who tried to do what he could for you. As a physician also I must warn you to rest until morning. You can do more for these men and others by first doing as Yarry wished," and he led her away.
They had not gone far before they met Uncle Lusthah. The girl stopped and said, "Doctor, won't you let Uncle Lusthah bury him to- morrow down by the run? I'll show him the place."
"Yes, Miss Baron, we all will do anything you wish if you only rest to-night. I tell you frankly you endanger yourself and your chance to do anything more for the wounded by continuing the strain which these scenes put upon you."
"I reckon you're right," she said, "I feel as if I could hardly stand."
"I know. Take my arm and go at once to your room."
On the way they encountered Whately. "Cousin! where on earth have you been? You look ready to faint."
His presence and all that he implied began to steady her nerves at once, but she made no reply.
"She has witnessed a painful scene, Lieutenant," began the surgeon.
"You have no business to permit her to witness such scenes," Whately interrupted sternly. "You should see that she's little more than an inexperienced child and—"
"Hush, sir," said Miss Lou. "Who has given you the right to dictate to me or to this gentleman? I'm in no mood for any more such words, cousin. To-day, at least, no one has taken advantage of my inexperience. Good-evening," and she passed on, leaving him chafing in impatient anger and protest.
At the house Mrs. Whately began expostulations also, but the girl said, "Please don't talk to me now. By and by I will tell you what will touch all the woman in your heart."
"I earnestly suggest," added Dr. Borden, "that you take Miss Baron to her room, and that nothing more be said to disturb her. She is overwrought and has reached the limit of endurance."
The lady had the tact to acquiesce at once. After reaching her room Miss Lou exclaimed, "But I have not been to young Waldo."
"I have," replied her aunt, "and will see him again more than once before I retire. Louise, if you would not become a burden yourself at this time you must do as the doctor says."
Within an hour the girl was sleeping and her nature regaining the strength and elasticity of youth.
As Whately stood fuming where his cousin had left him, Perkins approached for the first time since they had parted in anger the night before.
"I reck'n Miss Baron's gone over ter the inemy," remarked the overseer.
"What do you mean?"
"Look yere, Leftenant, what's the use o' you bein' so gunpowdery with me? What's the use, I say? I mout be of some use ter you ef you wuz civil."
"Of what use were you last night? You allowed my prisoner to be carried off right under your nose."
"Who carried 'im off? Answer that."
"Why, some gawk of a Yank that you were too stupid to tell from me."
"P'raps hit was, p'raps hit wasn't."
"Who else could it be?"
"I s'picion who it was, but I'm not goin' ter talk to one who's got nothin' better to give me 'n uggly words."
"You don't mean to say—"
"I don't mean to say nothin' till I know who I'm talkin' ter."
Whately gave a long, low whistle and then muttered "Impossible!"
"Oh, sut'ny," remarked Perkins ironically.
The two men gave each other a long searching look; then Perkins resumed, "That's right, Leftenant, take yer bearin's. I don't see ez you kin do me any special good, ner harm nuther. Ef yer want no news or help from me, we kin sheer off right yere en now."
"I say your suspicion is absurd," resumed Whately, as if arguing with himself. "When the alarm, caused by firing, came last night, it happened she was in her room and was badly frightened."
"What time did the alarm happen?"
"About two o'clock."
"Wal, about midnight a figger that favored you 'mazingly, yes, ter yer very walk, came up boldly en sez ter me, nodding at the Yank, 'Leave 'im ter me.' The figger wasn't jes' dressed like you in 'Federate uniform, but I kin a'most swear the figger had on them clo's and that hat you're a wearin' now; arm in sling, too. What's mo', when I thought hit over I was cock sure the figger wuz shorter'n you air. I don't believe there's a Yank livin' that could a fooled me last night, 'less he had yer clo's on en yer walk."
"My uniform and hat hung on the chairs beside me, just where they had been put when I went to sleep."
"Jes' tell me ef the do' o' yer room wuz locked."
"I wasn't in a room. I slept at the end of the hall."
"Then enybody could git 'em en put 'em back while you wuz asleep."
"She couldn't knock you senseless. You're talking wild."
"I've schemed that out. Thar's tracks in the gyardin not so blinded but they kin give a hint ter a blind hoss. Thar's a track nigh whar I fell mighty like what that infernal nigger Chunk ud make. Beyond, ez ef some uns had hidden in the bushes, right in the gyarden bed, air two little woman-like tracks en two men tracks."
Whately ground his teeth and muttered an oath.
"I don't s'pose I kin prove anything 'clusive," resumed Perkins, "en I don't s'pose it ud be best ef I could. Ef she was up ter such deviltry, of co'se you don't want hit gen'ly known. Bigger ossifers 'n you ud have ter notice it. Ef I was in yu shoes howsomever, in huntin' shy game, I could use sech a clar s'picion agin her en be mo' on my gyard inter the bargain."
"I can use it and will," said Whately, sternly. "Perkins, keep your eyes wide open in my behalf. If that Yankee or Chunk ever come within our reach again—the nigger stole my horse and brought the Yank here too in time to prevent the wedding, I believe."
"Reck'n he did, Leftenant."
"Well, he and his master may be within our reach again. We had better not be seen much together. I will reward you well for any real service," and he strode away in strong perturbation.
"Hang your reward," muttered Perkins. "You think you're goin' ter use me when the boot's on t'other foot. You shall pay me fer doin' my work. I couldn't wish the gal nuthin' worse than ter marry you. That ud satisfy my grudge agin her, but ef I get my claws on that nigger en dom'neerin' Yank of a master"—his teeth came together after the grim fashion of a bulldog, by way of completing his soliloquy.
The spring evening deepened from twilight into dusk, the moon rose and shone with mild radiance over the scene that had abounded in gloom, tragedy and adventure the night before. The conflict which then had taken place now caused the pathetic life-and-death struggles occurring in and about the old mansion. In the onset of battle muscle and the impulse to destroy dominated; now the heart, with its deep longings, its memories of home and kindred, the soul with its solemn thoughts of an unknown phase of life which might be near, came to the fore, rendering the long, doubtful straggle complex indeed.
The stillness was broken only by the steps and voices of attendants and the irrepressible groans of those who watched for the day with hope that waxed and waned as the case might be. Uncle Lusthah yearned over the Federal wounded with a great pity, the impression that they were suffering for him and his people banishing sleep. He hovered among them all night long, bringing water to fevered lips and saying a word of Christian cheer to any who would listen.
Miss Lou wakened with the dawn and recognized with gladness that her strength and courage for work had been restored. Even more potent than thoughts of Scoville was the impulse to be at work again, especially among those with whom she inevitably associated him. Dressing hastily, she went first to see the old Confederate colonel. He was evidently failing fast Ackley and an attendant were watching him. He looked at the girl, smiled and held out his hand. She took it and sat down beside him.
"Ah!" he said feebly, "this is a good deal better than dying alone. Would you mind, my child, writing some things I would like to say to my family?"
Miss Lou brought her portfolio and tearfully received his dying messages.
"Poor little girl!" said the colonel, "you are witnessing scenes very strange to you. Try to keep your heart tender and womanly, no matter what you see. Such tears as yours reveal the power to help and bless, not weakness. I can say to YOU all the sacred, farewell words which would be hard to speak to others."
Brokenly, with many pauses from weakness, he dictated his last letter, and she wrote his words as well as she could see to do so. "They will be all the sweeter and more soothing for your tears, my dear," he said.
He kept up with wonderful composure until he came to his message to "little Hal," his youngest child. Then the old soldier broke down and reached out his arms in vain yet irrepressible longing. "Oh, if I could kiss the little fellow just once before—" he moaned.
For a few moments he and the girl at his side just wept together, and then the old man said almost sternly, "Tell him to honor his mother and his God, to live for the South, for which his father died. Say, if he will do this he shall have my blessing, not without. Now, my child, I trust this letter to you. Good-by and God bless you. I wish to be alone a little while and face the last enemy calmly."
As she knelt down and kissed him tears again rushed to his eyes and he murmured, "That was good and sweet of you, my child. Keep your heart simple and tender as it is now. Good-by."
Returning to her room with the portfolio she met her cousin in the upper hall. He fixed his eyes searchingly upon her and with the air of one who knew very much began, "Cousin Lou, my eyes are not so often blinded with tears as yours, yet they see more perhaps than you are aware of. I'm willing to woo you as gallantly as can any man, but you've got to keep some faith with me as the representative of our house and of the cause which, as a Southern girl, should be first always in its claims."
Her heart fluttered, for his words suggested both knowledge and a menace. At the same time the scenes she had passed through, especially the last, lifted her so far above his plane of life that she shrank from him with something very like contempt.
"Do you know what I have been writing?" she asked sternly.
"I neither know nor care. I only wish you to understand that you cannot trifle with me nor wrong me with impunity."
"Oh!" she cried, with a strong repellant gesture, "why can't YOU see and understand? You fairly make me loathe the egotism which, in scenes like these, can think only of self. As if I had either time or inclination to be trifling with you, whatever you mean by that. Brave men are dying heroically and unselfishly, thinking of others, while 'I, me and gallant wooing,' combined with vague threats against one whom you are in honor bound to protect, are the only words on your lips. How can you be so unmanly? What are you, compared with that noble old colonel whose last words I have just received? If you care a straw for my opinion, why are you so foolish as to compel me to draw comparisons? Do, for manhood's sake, forget yourself for once."
He was almost livid from rage as he replied harshly, "You'll rue these words!"
She looked at him scornfully as she said, "It's strange, but your words and expression remind me of Perkins. He might make you a good ally."
In his confusion and anger he blurted out, "Little wonder you think of him. You and that accursed nigger, Chunk—"
"Hush!" she interrupted in a low, imperious voice, "hush, lest as representative of our house you disgrace yourself beyond hope." And she passed quickly to her room.
Within less than an hour he was asking himself in bitter self- upbraiding, "What have I gained? What can I do? Prefer charges against my own cousin which I cannot prove? Impossible!—Oh, I've been a fool again. I should have kept that knowledge secret till I could use it for a definite purpose. I'll break her spirit yet."
If he had seen her after she reached her room he might have thought it broken then. Vague dread of the consequences of an act which, from his words, she believed he knew far more about than he did, mingled with her anger and feelings of repugnance. "Oh," she moaned, "it was just horrible; it was coming straight down from the sublime to the contemptible. That noble old colonel took me to the very gate of heaven. Now I'm fairly trembling with passion and fear. Oh, why will Cousin Mad always stir up the very worst of my feelings! I'd rather suffer and die as poor Yarry did than marry a man who WILL think only of his little self at such a time as this!"
AUN' JINKEY'S SUPREME TEST
The first long tragic day of hospital experience had so absorbed Miss Lou as to relegate into the background events which a short time before had been beyond her wildest dreams. In the utter negation of her life she had wished that something would happen, and so much had happened and so swiftly that she was bewildered. The strangest thing of all was the change in herself. Lovers of the Whately and Maynard type could only repel by their tactics. She was too high-spirited to submit to the one, and too simple and sincere, still too much of a child, to feel anything but annoyance at the sentimental gallantry of the other. The genial spirit of comradeship in Scoville, could it have been maintained through months of ordinary life, would probably have prepared the way for deeper feeling on the part of both, but there had been no time for the gradual development of goodwill and friendly understanding into something more. They had been caught in an unexpected whirl of events and swept forward into relations utterly unforeseen. He owed his escape from much dreaded captivity and his very life to her, and, as he had said, these facts, to her generous nature, were even more powerful in their influence than if she herself had received the priceless favors. At the same time, her course toward him, dictated at first by mere humanity, then goodwill, had made his regard for her seem natural even to her girlish heart. If she had read it all in a book, years before, she would have said, "A man couldn't do less than love one when fortune had enabled her to do so much for him." So she had simply approved of his declaration, down by the run, of affection for which she was not yet ready, and she approved of him all the more fondly because he did not passionately and arbitrarily demand or expect that she should feel as he did, in return. "I didn't," she had said to herself a score of times, "and that was enough for him."
When later, for his sake, she faced the darkness of midnight, a peril she dared not contemplate, and the cruel misjudgment which would follow her action if discovered, something deeper awoke in her nature—something kindled into strong, perplexing life when, in his passionate gratitude, he had snatched her in his arms and, as she had said, "given her his whole heart because he couldn't help himself." From that moment, on her part there had been no more merely kind, tranquil thoughts about Scoville, but a shy, trembling, blushing self-consciousness even when in solitude his image rose before her.
As she sought to regain composure after the last interview with her cousin, and to think of her best course in view of what seemed his dangerous knowledge, a truth, kept back thus far by solemn and absorbing scenes, suddenly became dear to her. The spirit of all- consuming selfishness again manifested by Whately, revealed as never before the gulf of abject misery into which she would have fallen as his wife. "If it hadn't been for Lieutenant Scoville I might now have been his despairing bond slave," she thought; "I might have been any way if the Northern officer were any other kind of a man, brutal, coarse, as I had been led to expect, or even indifferent and stupid. I might have been forced into relations from which I could not escape and then have learned afterward what noble, unselfish men there are in the world. Oh, I COULD marry Allan Scoville, I could love him and devote my life to him wholly, knowing all the time that I needn't protect myself, because he would always be a kinder, truer, better protector. How little I have done for him compared with that from which he has saved me!"
There was a knock at the door and Zany quickly entered. "I des slip off while ole miss in de sto'-room, ter gib you a warnin', Miss Lou. Hain't had no charnce till dis minit. Dat ar ole fox, Perkins, been snoopin' roun' yistidy arter we un's tracks en las' night he tell Mad Whately a heap ob his 'jecterin'."
"But, Zany," said Miss Lou, "you don't think they KNOW anything."
"Reck'n hit's all des 'jecterin'," Zany replied. "Kyant be nufin' else. We des got ter face hit out. Doan you fear on me. We uns mus' des star stupid-like ef dey ax questions," and she whisked off again.
The girl felt that the spirit of Zany's counsel would be the best policy to adopt. While she might not "star stupid-like," she could so coldly ignore all reference to Scoville's escape as to embarrass any one who sought to connect her with it. In the clearer consciousness of her feeling toward the Union officer her heart grew glad and strong at the thought of the service she had rendered him, nor did it shrink at suffering for his sake. A gratitude quite as strong as his own now possessed her that he had been the means of keeping her from a union dreaded even as an ignorant child, and now known, by the love which made her a woman, to be earthly perdition.
"Having escaped that," she reflected, "there's nothing else I greatly fear," and she went down to breakfast resolving that she would be so faithful in her duties as a nurse that no one in authority would listen to her cousin or Perkins if they sought to make known their surmises.
Ignorant of her son's action and its results, Mrs. Whately met her niece kindly and insisted that she should not leave the dining-room until she had partaken of the breakfast now almost ready. Captain Maynard joined her with many expressions of a solicitude which the girl felt to be very uncalled for, yet in her instinct to propitiate every one in case her action should be questioned, she was more friendly to him than at any time before. Meanwhile, she was asking herself, "What would they do to me if all was found out?" and sustaining herself by the thought, "Whatever they do to me, they can't reach Lieutenant Scoville."
It was gall and bitterness to Whately to find her talking affably to Maynard, but before the meal was over she had the address to disarm him in some degree. For his own sake as well as hers and the family's she thought, "I must not irritate him into hasty action. If he should find out, and reveal everything, no matter what happened to me, he would bring everlasting disgrace on himself and relatives. I could at least show that my motives were good, no matter how soldiers, with their harsh laws, might act toward me; but what motive could excuse him for placing me, a young girl and his cousin, in such a position?"
Whately had already satisfied himself that no pretence of zeal for the service could conceal his real motive or save him from general scorn should he speak of the mere conjectures of a man like Perkins. He had never meant to speak of them publicly, simply to use his knowledge as a means of influencing his cousin. He now doubted the wisdom of this. Reacting from one mood to another, as usual, his chief hope now was that some unexpected turn of fortune's wheel would bring his opportunity. The one thing which all the past unfitted him to accept was personal and final denial. His egotism and impatience at being crossed began to manifest itself in another direction, one suggested by Maynard's evident susceptibility to his cousin's attractions. "Here is a chance," he thought, "of righting myself in Lou's eyes. If this fellow, thrown into her society by the fortune of war, not by courtesy, presumptuously goes beyond a certain point in his attentions, Cousin Lou will find that no knight of olden time would have fought for her quicker than I will. Mother says she is one who must have her romance. She may have it with a vengeance. It may open her eyes to the truth that a spirit like mine brooks no opposition, and when she sees that I am ready to face death for her she will admire, respect, and yield to a nature that is haughty and like that of the old nobility."
Thus he blinded himself in these vain, silly vaporings, the result of a false training and the reading of stilted romances. The thought of studying the girl's character, of doing and being in some degree what would be agreeable to her, never occurred to him. That kind of good sense rarely does occur to the egotistical, who often fairly exasperate those whom they would please by utter blindness to the simple things which ARE pleasing. Miss Lou had read more old romances than he, but she speedily outgrew the period in which she was carried away by the fantastic heroes described. They became in her fancy the other extreme of the matter-of-fact conditions in which her uncle and aunt had lived, and as we have seen, she longed to know the actual world, to meet with people who did not seem alien to her young and natural sympathies. Each new character she met became a kind of revelation to her. She was the opposite pole of the society belle, whose eyes have wearied of humanity, who knows little and cares less for anything except her mirrored image. With something of the round-eyed curiosity and interest of a child, she looked at every new face, asking herself, "What is he like?" not whether he will like and admire me, although she had not a little feminine pleasure in discovering that strangers were inclined to do this. Her disapproval of Maynard arose chiefly from the feeling that his gallantry at such a time, with the dead and dying all about them, was "more shocking than a game of cards on Sunday." She regarded his attentions, glances, tones, as mere well-bred persiflage, indulged in for his own amusement, and she put him down as a trifler for his pains. That he, as she would phrase it, "was just smitten without any rhyme or reason" seemed preposterous. She had done nothing for him as she had for Scoville. The friendly or the frankly admiring looks of strangers, the hearty gratitude and goodwill of the wounded, she could accept with as much pleasure as any of her sex; but she had not yet recognized that type of man who looks at a pretty woman and is disposed to make love to her at once. "Why does Captain Maynard stare at me so?" she asked herself, "when I don't care a thistle for him and never will. Why should I care? Why should he care? Does he think I'm silly and shallow enough to be amused by this kind of thing when that brave old colonel is dying across the hall?"
It was a relief to her to escape from him and Whately and to visit even poor Waldo, dying also, as she believed. "Dr. Ackley," she said, "you may trust me to give him his food now every two hours. I won't break down again."
"You did not break down, Miss Baron. All my nurses have their hours off. Why shouldn't you? I reckon," he added, smiling, "you'll have to obey my orders like the rest. I will go with you again on this visit."
To her the youth seemed ghastlier than ever, but the expression of gladness in his eyes was unchanged.
"Miss Baron feels very remorseful that she has not been to see you before," said Dr. Ackley, "but her labors yesterday were so many and varied that she had to rest. She will do better by you to-day."
Waldo could only reach his hand feebly toward her in welcome. She took the brown, shapely hand in both of hers and it made her sad to feel how cold and limp it was. "But a few hours ago," she thought, "it was striking blows with a heavy sabre."—"I have brought you some strong, hot soup," she said gently, "and shall bring it every two hours. You'll be very good and take it from me, won't you?"
He laughed as he nodded assent.
"When can I begin to read to him, doctor, to help him pass the time?"
"Perhaps to-morrow if he does well, but never more than a few minutes together until I permit. Slow and sure, Waldo, slow and sure are my orders, and you are too good a soldier to disobey."
He shook his head mischievously and whispered "Insubordinate."
The doctor nodded portentously and said, "If you and Miss Baron don't obey orders I'll put you both under arrest."
This seemed to amuse the young fellow immensely and he was about to speak again, but the surgeon put his finger to his lips and departed.
As she was feeding him with eyes full of gentle commiseration his lips framed the words, "You can talk to me."
She scarcely knew how to do this. There were questions she was eager to ask, for his strange, exuberant happiness under the circumstances were hard to understand, even after Dr. Ackley's explanation. She had never seen religion produce any such results. Uncle Lusthah seemed to her very sincere and greatly sustained in his faith, but he had always been to her a sorrowful, plaintive figure, mourning for lost kindred whom slavery had scattered. Like the ancient prophets also, his heart was ever burdened by the waywardness of the people whom he exhorted and warned. In young Waldo appeared a joyousness which nothing could quench. From the moment she obtained a clew to his unexpected behavior, everything in his manner accorded with the surgeon's explanation. In his boyish face and expression there was not a trace of the fanatical or abnormal. He seemed to think of Heaven as he did of his own home, and the thought of going to the one inspired much the same feeling as returning to the other.
"Well," said Miss Lou, after a little hesitancy, "it is a pleasure to wait on one who is so brave and cheerful. It makes me feel ashamed of worrying over my troubles."
He motioned her to get something under his pillow and she drew out a small Testament. With the ease of perfect familiarity he turned the leaves and pointed to the words, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." He looked up at her, smiled brightly, and shook his head when he saw tears in her eyes. Again he turned the leaves and pointed to other words, "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy." His expression was wonderfully significant in its content, for it was that of one who had explained and accounted for everything.
"Oh," she faltered, "I wish I felt as you do, believed as you do. I hope you will get strong soon. I would like to tell you some things which trouble me very much, and there is no one I can tell."
"By and by," he whispered. "Don't worry. All right."
"Oh, what does this mean?" she thought as she returned to the house. "Awfully wounded, suffering, dying perhaps, yet 'glad with an exceeding joy'! Uncle and aunt haven't any idea of such a religion, and for some reason Dr. Williams never gave me any such idea of it at church. Why didn't he? Was it my fault? What he said seemed just words that made little or no impression. Since he tried to marry me to Cousin Mad I feel as if I could scarcely bear the sight of him."
Yet he was the first one to greet her on the veranda. He spoke with formal kindness, but she responded merely by a grave salutation, and passed on, for she felt that he should have understood and protected her in the most terrible emergency of her young life.
Having looked after the safety of his family, he had returned with the best and sincerest intentions to minister to the wounded. If the good he would do corresponded with these intentions he would have been welcomed in most instances; but he possessed that unfortunate temperament which is only one remove for the better from a cold indifference to his sacred duties. He did not possess a particle of that mysterious, yet in his calling priceless, gift termed magnetism for the lack of a better definition. All respected him, few warmed toward him or thought of opening to him their hearts. His mind was literal, and within it the doctrines were like labelled and separate packages, from which he took from time to time what he wanted as he would supplies from a store-room. God was to him a Sovereign and a Judge who would save a few of the human race in exact accordance with the creed of the Church in which the good man had been trained. What would happen to those without its pale was one of those solemn mysteries with which he had naught to do. Conscientious in his idea of duty to the last degree, he nevertheless might easily irritate and repel many minds by a rigid presentation of the only formula of faith which he deemed safe and adequate. It seemed his chief aim to have every form and ceremony of his Church complied with, and then his responsibility ceased. He and Mr. Baron had taken solid comfort in each other, both agreeing on every point of doctrine and politics. Both men honestly felt that if the world could be brought to accept their view of life and duty little would be left to be desired. When summoned to perform the marriage ceremony Dr. Williams no more comprehended the desperate opposition of Miss Lou to the will of her guardian, the shrinking, instinctive protest of her woman's nature, than he did the hostility of so many in the world to the tenets of his faith. His inability to understand the feelings, the mental attitude of others who did not unquestioningly accept his views and approve the action of the "powers that be" was perhaps the chief obstacle to his usefulness. He was not in the least degree intolerant or vindictive toward those who opposed him; his feeling rather was, "This is your opportunity. I gladly afford it and there my responsibility ceases"—a comfortable sort of belief to many, but one that would not satisfy a warm, earnest nature like Paul's, who said, "To the weak I became as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some." Paul would have found some way to reach the ear and heart of nearly every wounded man in the extemporized hospital, but for the reasons suggested the visits of poor Dr. Williams soon began to be very generally dreaded. Old Uncle Lusthah had far better success with those who would listen to him.
Miss Lou soon found her way to the Federal wounded again. While agreeably to her wishes there was no formality in her reception, it was evident that the poor fellows had now learned to regard her with deep affection.
"I have told them all," said Dr. Borden who received her, "that you did as Yarry wished, that you took a good rest and were looking this morning as you should, and it has pleased them greatly. Phillips died last night, and has been removed. He hadn't any chance and did not suffer much. Remembering your wishes, we kept Yarry here. He lies there as if he were dozing after his pipe, as he wished you to think."
The girl stepped to the side of the dead soldier and for a moment or two looked silently into the still, peaceful face. Quietly and reverently the surgeon and others took off their hats and waited till she should speak. "Oh," she breathed softly at last, "how thoughtful and considerate you have been! You have made this brave, unselfish man look just as if he were quietly sleeping in his uniform. There is nothing terrible or painful in his aspect as he lies there on his side. Poor generous-hearted fellow! I believe he is at rest, as now he seems to be. I want you all to know," she added, looking round, "that he shall be buried where I can often visit his grave and keep it from neglect, for I can never forget the kindness that he—that you all have shown me. Dr. Borden, I will now show Uncle Lusthah the place where I wish the grave to be, and when all is ready I will come and follow poor Yarry to it. Do you think there ought to be a minister? There is one here now—Dr. Williams, who has a church near the Court House."
"Just as you wish, Miss Baron. For one, I think a prayer from Uncle Lusthah, as you call him, would do just as well and be more in accordance with Yarry's feelings if he could express them. The old negro has been in and out nearly all night, waiting on the men, and has won their goodwill. He certainly is a good old soul."
"I agree with the doctor," added Captain Hanfield. "Were it my case I'd ask nothing better than a prayer from Uncle Lusthah over my grave, for he has acted like a good, patient old saint among us."
A murmur of approval from the others followed these words, and so it was arranged. Uncle Lusthah was soon found, and he followed the girl to the shadow of a great pine by the run and adjacent to the grassy plot with which the girl would ever associate Allan Scoville. It was there that she had looked into his eyes and discovered what her own heart was now teaching her to understand.
Aun' Jinkey followed them from her cabin and asked, "Wat you gwine ter do yere, honey?"
"Bury here a Northern soldier who has done me a very great honor."
"Oh, Miss Lou, I des feared ter hab 'im so neah de cabin."
"Hush!" said the girl, almost sternly. "Uncle Lusthah, you ought to teach mammy better than that."
"Ah, youn' mistis, hit's bred in de bone. I des mourns ober my people, 'fusin' ter be comf'ted. Yere Aun' Jinkey, gittin' gray lak me. She a 'fessor ob religion, ye de word 'spook' set her all a tremble. Ef dey is spooks, Aun' Jinkey, w'at dat ter you? Dere's tunder en lightnin' en yearthquakes en wurin' iliments en all kin' ob miseries ob de body. Who gwine ter keep all dem fum yo' cabin? Reck'n you betteah trus' de Lawd 'bout spooks too."
"You don't believe in any such foolishness, Uncle Lusthah?"
"Well, young mistis, I gettin 'po'ful ole en I al'ays yeared on spooks sence I kin reckermember. I neber seed one fer sho, but I'se had strange 'sper'ences o' nights, en dar's dem w'at sez dey has seen de sperets ob de 'parted. I dunno. Dere's sump'n in folk's buzzums dat takes on quar sometimes, ez ef we libin' mighty close onter a worl' we kyant mos' al'ays see. Dat ar doan trouble me nohow, en Aun' Jinkey orter know bettah. Ef de Lawd 'mits spooks, dat He business. He 'mits lots ob tings we kyant see troo. Look at dese yere old han's, young mistis. Dey's wuked nigh on eighty yeah, yit dey neber wuked fer mysef, dey neber wuked fer wife en chil'n. Dat mo' quar dan spooks."
"I don't know but you are right," said the girl thoughtfully. "I didn't know you felt so about being free. Aun' Jinkey never seemed to trouble much about it."
"I'se 'feared Aun' Jinkey tink a heap on de leeks en inions ob Egypt."
"Dar now, Uncle Lusthah, you po'ful good man, but you owns up you doan know nufin' 'bout spooks, en I knows you doan know nufin' 'bout freedom."
"Yes I does," replied Uncle Lusthah. "Ef de day come w'en I kin stan' up en say fer sho, 'I own mysef, en God ony my Mars'r,' I kin starbe ef dat He will. En dat' minds me, young mistis. IS we free? Perkins growlin' roun' agin dis mawnin', en say we he'p 'bout de horspital ter-day, but we all go ter wuk ter-morrer. I 'lowed he orter talk ter us 'bout wages en he des larf en cuss me. Wat's gwine ter be de end? Marse Scoville en de big Linkum gin'ral say we free, en Perkins larf 'temptuous like. We des all a-lookin' ter you, young mistis."
"Oh, uncle! what can I do?"
"Shame on you, Uncle Lusthah, fer pilin' up sech a heap ob 'plexity on my honey," cried Aun' Jinkey, who was as practical as she was superstitious. "I kin tell you w'at ter do. I doan projeck en smoke in my chimbly-corner fer not'n. W'at kin you do but do ez you tole twel Marse Scoville en de Linkum gin'ral come agin? S'pose you say you woan wuk en woan 'bey, how you hole out agin Perkins en Mad Whately? Dey'd tar you all ter pieces. Dey say dis wah fer freedom. Whar yo' patience twel de wah'll end? De Yanks mus' do mo' dan say we free; dey mus' keep us free. Dar Aun' Suke. She say she free one minit en a slabe nex' minute twel her haid mos' whirl off her shol'ers. Now she say, 'I doan know 'bout dis freedom business; I does know how ter cook en I'se gwinter cook twel dey gets troo a whirlin' back en forth.' You says I mus' trus' de Lawd 'bout spooks, Uncle Lusthah. W'y kyant you trus' de Lawd 'bout freedom?"
The old man shook his head sorrowfully, for Aun' Suke and Aun' Jinkey's philosophy didn't satisfy him. "I'se willin' ter do my shar," he said musingly, "de Lawd knows I be. Ef I cud die lak po' Marse Yarry en de oders fer freedom I'se willin' ter die."
"Now, Uncle Lusthah, your strong feeling and not your good sense speaks," said Miss Lou, who had been thinking earnestly, meanwhile recalling Scoville's prediction that the negroes might come to her for help and counsel. "Aun' Jinkey is certainly right in this case, and you must tell all our people from me that their only safe course now is to obey all orders and bide their time. Perkins' authority would be sustained by all the soldiers on the place and anything like disobedience would be punished severely. If what Lieutenant Scoville and the Northern general said is true you will soon be free without useless risks on your part. If that time comes I want you and mammy to stay with me. You shall be as free as I am and I'll give you wages."
"Dar now, young mistis, ef I know I free I bress de Lawd fer de charnce ter gib my wuk ter you. Dere's a po'ful dif'unce 'twix' bein' took en kep en des gibin' yosef out ob yo' own heart. Slav'y couldn't keep me fum gibin' mysef ter de Lawd en I been He free man many a long yeah, en I be yo' free man, too, fer lub."
"Look yere, now, honey," added Aun' Jinkey, wiping her eyes with her apron, "you kin bury sogers all 'bout de cabin ef you wanter. Uncle Lusthah kyant do mo' fer you, honey, ner me, tookin resks ob spooks. Des bury dem sogers, ef you wanter, right un'er my win'er."
TRUTH IF THE HEAVENS FALL
It was quite natural that the thoughts of Perkins and Mr. Baron should turn toward the growing crops, neglected by reason of events unprecedented in their experience. The announcement to the slaves, first by Scoville and later confirmed by General Marston, of freedom, had staggered both employer and overseer, but every hour since the departure of the raiding Union column had been reassuring.
It is not within the province of this story to follow the fortunes of that force, since it is our modest purpose merely to dwell on those events closely related to the experiences of the Southern girl who has won our attention. She had suddenly become secondary in her uncle's thoughts. A phase of the war, like a sudden destructive storm, had been witnessed; like a storm, he hoped that it and its effects would pass away. The South was far from being subdued; the issue of the conflict unknown. He was the last man in the Confederacy to foresee and accept new conditions, especially when he still believed the Southern cause would triumph.
As the confusion of his mind, after the battle, passed he began to look around and consider what should be done, what could be saved out of what at first appeared a wreck. When Dr. Ackley assured him that the house and plantation would be rapidly abandoned as a hospital, hope and courage revived, while to these was added the spur of necessity.
He knew that he must "make his crops," or his fortunes would be desperate. Remembering the value of timely labor in the spring season, he was eager on this second day after the battle to put his slaves to work again at their interrupted avocations. Accordingly he held a consultation with his nephew and Dr. Ackley.
"The hands are becoming demoralized," he said, "by unaccustomed duties and partial idleness. Some are sullen and others distracted by all kinds of absurd expectations. Uncle Lusthah, the leader and preacher among them, even had the impudence to ask Perkins about wages. The Yankee officers, when here, told them they were free, and they wish to act as if they were. The sooner that notion is taken out of their heads the better. This can be done now while my nephew is here to enforce authority, better than when we are alone again. It seems to me that a certain number could be detailed for regular hospital duty and the rest put to work as usual."
"I agree with you, certainly," replied Surgeon Ackley. "Give me a dozen men and half a dozen women to wash and cook, and I can get along. Lieutenant Whately, you, at your uncle's suggestion, can make the detail and enforce discipline among the rest."
"I was going to speak to you about this very matter, uncle," said Whately. "My overseer has been over and I find the black imps on our place are in much the same condition as yours, a few venturing to talk about wages or shares in the crop and all that nonsense. I sent him back with half a dozen men, armed to the teeth, and told him to put the hands at work as usual. Mother is going to ride over and spend part of the day. I don't wish her to be there alone just yet, and I shall gallop over in time to be on hand when she arrives. Things are getting settled, my arm is not so painful, and it is time we pulled ourselves and everything together. You struck the right note when you said, 'Now is the time to enforce authority.' It must be done sharply too, and these people taught the difference between the Yanks' incendiary talk and our rights and positive commands. From what Perkins says, this old Uncle Lusthah is a fire-brand among your people. Give your overseer his orders and I'll see that he carries them out."
Perkins was summoned, acquainted with the policy—just to his mind— resolved upon, told to pick out the detail for hospital duty and to have the rest ready for work after an early dinner.
"Go right straight ahead, Perkins," added Whately, "and let me know if one of these Yankee-made freemen so much as growls."
Dr. Borden was not the kind of man to take upon himself undue responsibility. He had therefore mentioned to Surgeon Ackley Miss Baron's wish to give Yarry a special burial by the run and that she expected to be present.
Ackley good-naturedly acquiesced, saying, "I suppose there can be no objection to burying the man in a place of Miss Baron's selection, instead of the one designated by Mr. Baron. It's but a small concession to her who is so kindly bent on making herself useful. Let her have her own way in the whole affair."
The spirit of Yarry's turbulent career seemed destined to break out afresh over his final disposition. Uncle Lusthah went to the quarters in order to obtain the aid of two or three stout hands in digging the grave. It so happened that his visit took place during the adoption of Mr. Baron's policy in dealing with his property and just before Perkins received his instructions. The negroes not engaged in labor relating to the hospital gathered around Uncle Lusthah in the hope of receiving some advice from Miss Lou. Mournfully the old man told them what she and Aun' Jinkey had said, adding, "I doan see no oder way fer us des at dis time ob our triberlation. Ole Pharo sut'ny got he grip on us agin, he sut'ny hab fer a spell. But brudren en sistas, hit ony lak a cloud comin' 'cross de risin' sun. Let us des wait pashently de times en seasons ob de Lawd who alone kin brung de true 'liverance."
When he saw the deep, angry spirit of protest he threw up his hands, crying, "Wat de use? I warn you; I 'treat you, be keerful. Wat could us do wid our bar han's agin armed men? I tells you we mus' wait or die lak Moses 'fo' we enter de promis lan'." Then he told them about Yarry and asked for two or three to volunteer to dig the grave.
A score stepped forward and nearly all expressed their purpose to attend the funeral. The old man persuaded all but three to remain near the quarters at present, saying, "So many gwine wid me mout mek trouble, fer Perkins look ugly dis mawnin'."
"We ugly too," muttered more than one voice, but they yielded to Uncle Lusthah's caution.
In going to the run Uncle Lusthah and his assistants had to pass somewhat near the house, and so were intercepted by Perkins and Whately, both eager to employ at once the tactics resolved upon.
"Where the devil are you goin' with those men and shovels?" shouted Perkins.
"We gwine ter dig a grabe fer a Linkum soger down by de run," replied Uncle Lusthah quietly. "That ain't the place ter plant the Yanks, you old fool. Go back to the quarters. No words. Leftenant Whately will detail the hands fer sech work. Back with you. Why in- don't you mind?"
"I hab my orders fum—"
"Silence!" thundered Whately. "Obey, or you'll go back at the point of the sabre."
Uncle Lusthah and his companions still hesitated, for they saw Miss Lou running toward them. She had lingered to talk with Aun' Jinkey and was returning when she heard Perkins' high, harsh words. The overseer was in a rage, and limped hastily forward with uplifted cane, when he was suddenly confronted by the hot face and flashing eyes of Miss Lou.
"Don't you dare strike Uncle Lusthah," she said sternly.
Her appearance and attitude evoked all the pent-up hate and passion in the man's nature and he shouted, "By the 'tarnal, I will strike 'im. I've got my orders en I'll find out yere en now whether a traitor girl or a Southern officer rules this place."
Before the blow could descend she sprang forward, seized his wrist and stayed his hand.
"Wretch! murderer! coward!" she cried.
"Oh, come, Cousin Lou, this won't do at all," began Whately, hastening up.
An ominous rush and trampling of feet was heard and an instant later the negroes were seen running toward them from the quarters and all points at which the sounds of the altercation reached them.
"Turn out the guard," shouted Whately. "Rally the men here with carbines and ball-cartridges." He whirled Perkins aside, saying, "Get out of the way, you fool." Then he drew his sabre and thundered to the negroes, "Back, for your lives!"
They hesitated and drew together. Miss Lou went directly toward them and implored, "Go back. Go back. Do what I ask and perhaps I can help you. If you don't, no one can or will help you. See, the soldiers are coming."
"We'll 'bey you, young mistis," said Uncle Lusthah, "but we uns lak ter hab 'splained des what we got ter 'spect. We kyant die but oncet, en ef we kyant eben bury de sogers dat die fer us—"
"Silence!" shouted Whately. "Forward here, my men. Form line! Advance! Shoot the first one that resists." He then dashed forward, sought to encircle his cousin with his arm and draw her out of the way.
She eluded him and turned swiftly toward the advancing line of men, crying, "Stop, if there is a drop of Southern blood in your veins." They halted and stared at her. She resumed, "You will have to walk over me before you touch these poor creatures. Uncle" (for Mr. Baron now stood aghast on the scene), "as you are a man, come here with me and speak, explain to your people. That is all they ask. They have been told that they were free, and now the oldest and best among them, who was doing my bidding, almost suffered brutal violence from a man not fit to live. Where is the justice, right, or sense in such a course? Tell your people what you wish, what you expect, and that they will be treated kindly in obeying you."
She recognized that every moment gained gave time for cooler thoughts and better counsels, also for the restraining presence of others who were gathering upon the scene. It was in the nature of her headlong cousin to precipitate trouble without thought of the consequences; but as she spoke she saw Surgeons Ackley and Borden running forward. Captain Maynard was already at her side, and Whately looked as if he could cut his rival down with the weapon in his hand. While Mr. Baron hesitated Mrs. Whately also reached her niece and urged, "Brother, I adjure you, go and speak to your people. They are your people and you should tell them what to expect before you begin to punish. Go with Surgeon Ackley and settle this question once for all."
"Yes, Mr. Baron," said Ackley sternly, "we must settle this question promptly. Such uproar and excitement are bad for my patients and not to be permitted for an instant."
It was evident that the surgeon was terribly angry. He had been brought up in the old regular army, and anything like insubordination or injury to his patients were things he could not tolerate. Mr. Baron went forward with him and said in a low tone:
"You are virtually in command here and all know it. A few words from you will have more effect than anything I can say."
"Very well, then," responded the resolute surgeon, and he strode toward the negroes, not noticing that Miss Lou kept almost at his side.
"Look here, you people," he began harshly, "do you think I will permit such disturbances? They may be the death of brave men. Quit your nonsense at once. You are simply what you've always been. Yankee words don't make you free any more than they make us throw down our arms. What happened to the general who said you were free? We fought him and drove him away. There is only one thing you can do and MUST do—go to work as before, and woe be to those who make trouble. That's all."
"No," cried Miss Lou, "that surely cannot be all."
"Miss Baron! What can you mean?"
"I mean that these poor creatures are looking to me, trusting in me, and I have promised to intercede in their behalf. Tell them at least this, you or uncle, that if they obey and work quietly and faithfully they shall not be treated harshly, nor subjected to the brutal spite of that overseer, Perkins."
"Truly, Miss Baron, you can scarcely expect me to interfere with your uncle's management of his property. The only thing I can and will do is to insist on absolute quiet and order on the place. In this case every one must obey the surgeon-in-charge. Do you understand that?" he concluded, turning to the negroes. "Neither you nor any one else can do anything to injure my patients. As you value your lives, keep quiet. I will not permit even a harsh, disturbing sound. Do not dare to presume on Miss Baron's kindness, mistaken in this crisis. This unruly, reckless spirit must be stamped out now. Your owner and master will tell you what he expects, and I will have the first man who disobeys SHOT. Miss Baron, you must come with me."
"Yes, sir, but not until I have spoken the truth about this affair. All your power, Dr. Ackley, cannot keep me dumb when I see such injustice. You are threatening and condemning without having heard a word of explanation. Uncle Lusthah and those with him were simply doing my bidding. Can you think I would stand by and see him cursed and beaten? These people have not shown any unruly, reckless spirit. They may well be bewildered, and they only asked what they must expect. God is my witness, I will cry out 'Shame!' with, my last breath if they are treated brutally. They will be quiet, they will do their duty if treated kindly. They shall not appeal to me for justice and mercy in vain. My words may not help them, but I shall not stand tamely by like a coward, but will call any man on earth coward who butchers one of these unarmed negroes."
She stood before them all possessed by one thought—justice. Her face was very pale, but stern, undaunted and noble in its expression. She was enabled to take her course from the courage, simplicity and unconventionality of her nature, becoming utterly absorbed by her impulse to defend those who looked to her, neither regarding nor fearing, in her strong excitement, the consequences to herself.
Dr. Borden was hastening forward to remind Ackley of his promise concerning Yarry's grave, and to show the girl that he at least would stand with her; but his chief waved him back. The old surgeon of the regular army could appreciate courage, and the girl's words and aspect pierced the thick crust of his military and professional armor, touching to the quick the man within him. He saw in the brave young face defiance of him, of the whole world, in her sense of right, and he had the innate nobility of soul to respect her motive and acknowledge the justice of her action. Watching her attentively until she was through speaking he took off his hat, stepped forward and gave her his hand.
"You are a brave girl," he said frankly. "You are doing what you think is right and I am proud of you. Tell these people yourself to go back to their quarters, behave themselves and obey their rightful master. After your words in their behalf any one who does not obey deserves to be shot."
She was disarmed and subdued at once. "Ah, doctor," she faltered, tears in her eyes, "now you've conquered me." Then turning toward the negroes she cried, "Do just as Dr. Ackley has said. Go quietly to work and be patient. Uncle Lusthah, you know I told you to do so before all this happened. I tell you so again and shall expect you to use all your influence to keep perfect order."
"We 'bey you, young mistis; we tank you fer speakin' up fer us," and the old man led the way toward the quarters, followed by all his flock.
Dr. Ackley gave his arm to the girl and led her to the house. Captain Maynard took off his hat in a very deferential manner as she passed; she walked on unheeding the salutation. Whately frowned at him and dropped his hand on the hilt of his sabre. At this pantomime Maynard smiled contemptuously as he walked away. In a few moments the scene was as quiet and deserted as it had been crowded and threatening.
On the way to the house Miss Lou explained more fully the circumstances relating to the dead soldier, Yarry, and Ackley said good-naturedly, "I'll have Uncle Lusthah and two others detailed to dig the grave and you can carry out your intentions; but, Miss Baron, you must be careful in the future how you let your inexperience and enthusiasm involve you in conflict with all recognized authority. We are safely out of this scrape; I can't answer for anything more."
"Believe me," she said earnestly, "I don't wish to make trouble of any kind, and after your course toward me, I will seek to carry out your orders in every way. If I dared I would ask one favor. Uncle Lusthah is too old to work in the field and he is a kind, good old man. If you would have him detailed to wait on the wounded—"
"Yes, yes, I will. You are a brave, good-hearted girl and mean well. I shall rely on your promise to work cordially with me hereafter. Now go to your room and get calm and rested. You are trembling like a frightened bird. I'll see your uncle, cousin and Dr. Borden. You shall bury your chivalrous Yank just as you wish. Then all must go according to regulations."
She smiled as she gave him her hand, saying, "You may put me under arrest if I don't mind you in everything hereafter."
"Well," muttered the surgeon, as he looked after her, "to think that a girl should have a probe long and sharp enough to go straight to the heart of a man of my age! No wonder Maynard and Whately are over head and ears."
"ANGEL OF DEATH"
It would seem as if the brief tempest of the morning had cleared the air. Two strong natures had asserted themselves. Surgeon Ackley's recognition of Miss Lou's spirit and the justice of her plea turned out to be as politic as it was sincere and unpremeditated. The slaves learned all they could hope from her or any one now in authority and were compelled to see the necessity of submission. Whately was taught another lesson concerning the beauties of headlong action, while even his egotism was not proof against the feeling that his cousin's straightforward fearlessness would baffle all measures opposed to her sense of right. As for Perkins, he began to fear as well as hate her, seeing her triumph again. The only reward of his zeal had been Whately's words, "Get out of the way, you fool." Thereafter, with the exception of the girl's scathing words, he had been ignored. He had been made to feel that Ackley's threats had a meaning for him as well as for the negroes, and that if he needlessly provoked trouble again he would be confronted with the stern old army surgeon. Having known Whately from a boy he stood in little fear of him, but was convinced that he could not trifle with Ackley's patience an instant. He now recognized his danger. In his rage he had forgotten the wide difference in rank between the girl he would injure and himself. The courtesy promptly shown to her by Maynard and especially by the surgeon-in-chief taught him that one whom he had scarcely noticed as she grew up a repressed, brooding child and girl, possessed by birth the consideration ever shown to a Southern lady. He knew what that meant, even if he could not appreciate her conduct. Maynard had scowled upon him; Mrs. Whately bestowed merely a glance of cold contempt, while her son had failed him utterly as an ally. He therefore sullenly drove his malice back into his heart with the feeling that he must now bide his time.
Even Mr. Baron was curt and said briefly before he left the ground, "Be sure you're right before you go ahead. Hereafter give your orders quietly and let me know who disobeys."
The old planter was at his wit's end about his niece, but even he was compelled to see that his former methods with her would not answer. New ideas were being forced upon him as if by surgical operations. Chief among them was the truth that she could no longer be managed or restrained by fear or mere authority on the part of any one. He would look at her in a sort of speechless wonder and ask himself if she were the child to whom he had supposed himself infallible so many years. His wife kept on the even tenor of her way more unswervingly than any one on the place. She was as incapable of Dr. Ackley's fine sentiment as she was of her nephew's ungovernable passion. She neither hoped nor tried to comprehend the "perversity" of her niece, yet, in the perplexed conditions of the time, she filled a most important and useful niche. Since the wounded men were to be fed, she became an admirable commissary general, preventing waste and exacting good wholesome cookery on the part of Aun' Suke and her assistants.
Poor Yarry was buried quietly at last, Miss Lou, with Dr. Borden, Captain Hanfield and two or three of his comrades standing reverently by the grave while Uncle Lusthah offered his simple prayer. Then the girl threw upon the mound some flowers she had gathered and returned to her duties as nurse. The remains of the old Confederate colonel were sent to his family, with the letter which Miss Lou had written for him. Every day the numbers in the hospital diminished, either by death or by removal of the stronger patients to the distant railroad town. Those sent away in ambulances and other vehicles impressed into the service were looked after by Surgeon Ackley with official thoroughness and phlegm; in much the same spirit and manner Dr. Williams presided over the departure of others to the bourne from which none return, then buried them with all proper observance. Uncle Lusthah carried around by a sort of stealth his pearl of simple, vital, hope-inspiring faith, and he found more than one ready to give their all for it. The old man pointed directly to Him who "taketh away the sin of the world," then stood aside that dying eyes might look. With the best intentions Dr. Williams, with his religious formulas, got directly in the way, bewildering weak minds with a creed.