Mrs. Whately and her son went and came from their plantation and were troubled over the condition of things there. The slaves were in a state of sullen, smouldering rebellion and several of them had disappeared. "I fear Madison has been too arbitrary," she admitted to her brother.
Mr. Baron shrugged his shoulders and smoked in silence. Perhaps his preposterous niece had not been so crazy after all.
Between Maynard and Whately there were increasing evidences of trouble, which the mother of the latter did her best to avert by remonstrances and entreaty. On one occasion Whately had said a little irritably, "I say, Dr. Ackley, what's the use of Maynard's hanging around here? He is almost well enough for duty."
"It is chiefly out of consideration for you that I am keeping him," replied the surgeon gravely, in well-concealed mischief. "It is clear that he has entered the lists with you for your cousin's hand, and I could not further his suit better than by sending him away, especially if it were suspected that I did so at your instigation. He is doing well here, good-naturedly helps me in my writing and can soon go direct to his regiment. It seems to me that your cousin holds a pretty even balance between you, and all a man should want is a fair field."
Whately walked frowningly away, more than ever convinced that the surgeon was too good a friend of his rival to interfere.
At the close of the fourth day after the battle there was an arrival at The Oaks that greatly interested Miss Lou—a stately, white- haired old lady, the mother of Lieutenant Waldo. She was very pale and it would have been hard for Surgeon Ackley to meet her agonized look, her shrinking as if from a blow, were he unable to hold out any hope.
"Mrs. Waldo," he said gravely, "your son is living and there's a chance of his getting well. His cheerfulness and absolute quiet of mind may save him. If he had fretted or desponded he would have died before this."
"Yes," replied his mother with a great sigh of relief, "I know."
"Miss Baron, will you kindly prepare Waldo for his mother's visit? Meanwhile, I will tell her a little about his case and our management of it. He doesn't know that I sent for you, for I was not sure you could come."
"Is this Miss Baron and one of my son's nurses?"
"Yes, and doing more for him than I—giving him all the bovine nectar and honeyed words he can take."
"God bless you, my dear. Please let me kiss you."
When Miss Lou entered Waldo's tent he whispered with a laugh, "It's four hours since you were here."
"No, scarcely two."
"Well, I'm as hungry as if it were four hours."
"That's fine. You're getting right well. Will you be very good and quiet—not a bit excited, if I let some one else bring you your supper?"
She beamed upon him so joyously that he exclaimed aloud, with a rush of tears, "Ah! mother?"
The girl nodded and said, "Now remember, don't break her heart by being worse."
"Oh, how sweet and lovely of her! I'll get well now, sure."
"That's a nice way to treat your old nurse."
Smilingly he held out his hand and said, "You are almost as pretty and good as she is, but you aren't mother." Then he added in strong sympathy, "Forgive me. You haven't any, have you? You don't know about this mother love."
"I know enough about it to have the heartache for its lack. Now you must save your strength till she comes. Good-by."
From that hour he steadily gained, banishing the look of anxiety from his mother's face. Mrs. Whately sighed as she saw how her niece's heart warmed toward the stranger, and how strong an attachment was growing between them. "Louise is drifting away from us all," she thought, "yet I cannot see that she encourages Captain Maynard."
A genuine friendship had also grown between the girl and Captain Hanfield, the Federal officer, and she was heartily sorry when he told her that he would be sent to the railroad town the next day. "My wound isn't doing well and I seem to be running down," he explained. "Dr. Borden has been able to keep me thus far, but I must go to-morrow. Perhaps it's best. He is trying to get me paroled. If I could only get home to my wife and children I'd rally fast enough. I'm all run down and this climate is enervating to me."
She tried to hearten him by kind, hopeful words, and he listened to her with a wistful look on his handsome face. "How I'd like you to meet my little girl!" he said. "Won't I make her blue eyes open when I tell her about you!"
Another bond of union between them was the captain's acquaintance with Scoville, and he soon observed that she listened very patiently and attentively when he spoke of the brave scout's exploits. "I declare," he had said, laughing, "I keep forgetting that you are a Southern girl and that you may not enjoy hearing of the successes of so active an enemy."
"Lieutenant Scoville is not a personal enemy," she had replied guardedly. "He showed us all very great kindness, me especially. I wish that both you and he were on our side."
"Well, as you say down here, I reckon we are on YOUR side any way," had been the captain's smiling reply.
She spoke to Surgeon Ackley promptly about the prospects of a parole, but he said, "Impossible, Miss Baron. The question would at once arise, 'If granted to Hanfield, why not to others?' I reckon Borden has been trying to rally his friend by hopes even when knowing them baseless."
This proved to be the case, and the following day brought the young girl a strange and very sad experience. Dr. Borden appeared at breakfast looking troubled and perplexed. Miss Lou immediately inquired about the captain. The doctor shook his head saying, "He isn't so well. I'd like to speak with you by and by."
She was so depressed by the surgeon's aspect that she paid little heed to the conversation of her two admirers and soon left the table. Borden followed her, and when they were alone began sadly, "Miss Baron, perhaps I am going to ask of you far too much, but you have shown yourself to be an unusually brave girl as well as a kind- hearted one, Hanfield is an old friend of mine and perhaps I've done wrong to mislead him. But I didn't and couldn't foresee what has happened, and I did hope to start him in genuine convalescence, feeling sure that if he got well he would give up the hope of going home as a matter of course. So far from succeeding, a fatal disease has set in—tetanus, lock-jaw. He's dying and doesn't know it. I can't tell him. I've made the truth doubly cruel, for I've raised false hopes. He continually talks of home and his pleading eyes stab me. You can soften the blow to him, soothe and sustain him in meeting what is sure to come."
"Oh, is there no hope?"
"None at all. He can't live. If you feel that the ordeal would be too painful—I wouldn't ask it if I hadn't seen in you unexpected qualities."
"Oh, I must help him bear it; yet how can I? how shall I?"
"Well, I guess your heart and sympathy will guide you. I can't. I can only say you had better tell him the whole truth. He ought to know it for his own and family's sake now, while perfectly rational. Soften the truth as you can, but you can't injure him by telling it plainly, for he will die. God knows, were it my case, the tidings wouldn't seem so very terrible if told by a girl like you."
"Oh, but the tidings are so terrible to speak, especially to such a man. Think of his beautiful wife and daughter, of his never seeing them again. Oh, it's just awful," and her face grew white at the prospect.
"Yes, Miss Baron, it is. In the midst of all the blood and carnage of the war, every now and then a case comes up which makes even my calloused heart admit, 'It's just awful.' I'm only seeking to make it less awful to my poor friend, and perhaps at too great cost to you."
"Well, he on his side, and others on ours, didn't count the cost; neither must I. I must not think about it or my heart will fail me. I will go at once."
"Come then, and God help you and him."
A straw-bed had been made up in a large, airy box-stall where the captain could be by himself. Uncle Lusthah was in attendance and he had just brought a bowl of milk.
Borden had left Miss Lou to enter alone. The captain held out his hand and said cheerfully, "Well, it's an ill wind that blows nowhere. This one will blow me home all the sooner I trust, for it must be plainer now than ever that I need the home change which will put me on my feet again. You needn't look so serious. I feel only a little more poorly than I did—sore throat and a queer kind of stiffness in my jaws as if I had taken cold in them."
"Do I look very serious?" she faltered.
"Yes, you look as if troubled about something. But there, see what an egotistic fellow I am! As if you hadn't troubles of your own! pretty deep ones, too, I fear. Our coming here has given you a wonderful experience, Miss Baron. No matter; you've met it like a soldier and will have much to remember in after years. You can never become a commonplace woman now and there are such a lot of 'em in the world. When I remember all you have done for us it makes me ill to think of some in our town—giggling, silly little flirts, with no higher ambition than to strut down the street in a new dress."
"Oh, don't think of them or over-praise me. Perhaps if they had been here and compelled to face things they would have done better than I. A short time ago I didn't dream of these experiences, and then I would have said I couldn't possibly endure them."
"Well, you have," resumed the captain, who was slightly feverish, excited and inclined to talk. "One of my dearest hopes now is to get back to my little girl soon and deepen her mind by making her ashamed of the silly things in a girl's life. Of course I wish her to be joyous and happy as a young thing should be, as I think you would be if you had the chance. By means of your story I can make her ashamed ever to indulge in those picayune, contemptible feminine traits which exasperate men. I want her to be brave, helpful, sincere, like you, like her mother. How quickly poor Yarry recognized the spirit in which you came among us at first! Jove! I didn't think him capable of such feeling. I tell you, Miss Baron, the roughest of us reverence an unselfish woman—one who doesn't think of herself first and always. She mayn't be a saint, but if she has heart enough for sympathy and is brave and simple enough to bestow it just as a cool spring gushes from the ground, we feel she is the woman God meant her to be. Ah, uncle, that reminds me— another cup of that cold water. For some reason I'm awfully thirsty this morning."
Miss Lou listened with hands nervously clasping and unclasping, utterly at a loss to know how to tell the man, dreaming of home and planning for the future, that he must soon sleep beside poor Yarry. She had already taken to herself the mournful comfort that his grave also should be where she could care for it and keep it green.
"I wish to tell you more about my little Sadie and my wife. Some day, when this miserable war is over, you will visit us. We'll give you a reception then which may turn even your head. Ha! ha! you thought we'd be worse than Indians. Well, I'll show you a lot of our squaws in full evening dress and you'll own that my wife is the prettiest in the tribe. Every day, until we started on this blasted raid, I received a letter from her. I knew about as well what was going on at home as if there. With my wife it was love almost at first sight, but I can tell you that it's not 'out of sight out of mind' with us. Time merely adds to the pure, bright flame, and such a pair of lovers as we shall be when gray as badgers will be worth a journey to you."
Miss Lou could maintain her self-control no longer. She burst into tears and sobbed helplessly.
"You poor little girl," exclaimed the captain in deep commiseration. "Here I've been talking like a garrulous fool when your heart is burdened with some trouble that perhaps you would like to speak to me about. Tell me, my child, just as little Sadie would."
"My heart is burdened with trouble, captain; it feels as if it would break when I hear you talk so. Would to God little Sadie were here, and your beautiful wife too! Oh, what shall I say? How can I, how can I?"
"Miss Baron!" he exclaimed, looking at her in vague alarm.
"Oh, Captain Hanfield, you are a brave, unselfish man like Yarry. Don't make it too hard for me. Oh, I feel as if I could scarcely breathe."
As he saw her almost panting at his side and tears streaming from her eyes, the truth began to dawn upon him. He looked at her steadily and silently for a moment, then reached out his hand as he said in an awed whisper, "Is it on account of me? Did Borden send you here?"
She took his hand, bowed her forehead upon it and wept speechlessly.
She felt it tremble for a moment, then it was withdrawn and placed on her bowed head. "So you are the angel of death to me?" the officer faltered.
Her tears were her only, yet sufficient answer. Both were silent, she not having the heart to look at him.
At last he said in deep tones, "I wasn't expecting this. It will make a great change in"—and then he was silent again.
She took his limp hand and bowed her forehead on it, as before feeling by some fine instinct that her unspoken sympathy was best.
It was. The brave man, in this last emergency, did as he would have done in the field at the head of his company if subjected to a sudden attack. He promptly rearranged and marshalled all his faculties to face the enemy. There was not a moment of despairing, vain retreat. In the strong pressure upon his mind of those questions which must now be settled once for all, he forgot the girl by his side. He was still so long that she timidly raised her head and was awed by his stern, fixed expression of deep abstraction. She did not disturb him except as the stifled sobs of her deep, yet now passing agitation convulsed her bosom, and she began to give her attention to Uncle Lusthah, hitherto unheeded. The old man was on his knees in a dusky corner, praying in low tones. "Oh, I'm so glad he's here," she thought. "I'm glad he's praying God to help us both." In the uncalculating sympathy and strength of her nature she had unconsciously entered into the dying man's experience and was suffering with him. Indeed, her heart sank with a deeper dread and awe than he from the great change which he had faced so often as to be familiar with its thought.
At last he seemed to waken to her presence and said compassionately, "Poor little girl! so all your grief was about me. How pale you are!"
"I do so wish you could go home," she breathed; "I am so very, VERY sorry."
"Well, Miss Baron," he replied with dignity, "I'm no better than thousands of others. I always knew this might happen any day. You have learned why it is peculiarly hard for me—but that's not to be thought of now. If I've got my marching orders, that's enough for a soldier. It was scarcely right in Borden to give you this heavy task. I could have faced the truth from his lips."
"He felt so dreadfully about it," she replied. "He said he had been giving you false hopes in trying to make you get well."
"Oh, yes, he meant kindly. Well, if it hasn't been too much for you, I'm glad you told me. Your sympathy, your face, will be a sweet memory to carry, G—od only knows where. Since it can't be little Sadie's face or my wife's I'm glad it's yours. What am I saying? as if I should forget their dear faces through all eternity."
"Ah! captain, I wish you could hear one of our soldiers, talk. Dying with him just means going to Heaven."
The officer shook his head. "I'm not a Christian," he said simply.
"Neither am I," she replied, "but I've been made to feel that being one is very different from what I once thought it was."
"Well, Miss Baron, what is it to be a Christian—what is your idea of it? There has always seemed to me such a lot of conflicting things to be considered—well, well, I haven't given the subject thought and it's too late now. I must give my mind to my family and—"
Uncle Lusthah stepped before him with clasped hands and quivering lips. "Ef marse cap'n des list'n ter de ole man a minit. I ain't gwine ter talk big en long. I kyant. I des wanter say I hab 'spearance. Dat sump'n, marse cap'n, you kyant say not'n agin— rale 'spearance, sump'n I KNOWS."
"Well, you kind old soul, what do you know?"
"P'raps des what mars'r knows ef he ony tinks a lil. Let us git right down ter de root ob de marter, kaze I feared dere ain' time fer 'locutions."
"Now you're right at least, uncle. I must set my house in order. I must write to my wife."
"Marse cap'n, you gwine on a journey. Wa't yo' wife wish mo'n dat you git ready fer de journey? She tek dat journey too, bime by soon, en you bof be at de same deah home."
"Ah, uncle, if that could be true, the sting of death would be gone."
"Sut'ny, marse cap'n. Didn't I know dat ar w'en I mek bole ter speak? Now des tink on hit, mars'r. Yere I is, an ole ign'rant slabe, kyant eben read de good Book. De worl' full ob poor folks lak me. Does you tink ef de Lawd mean ter sabe us't all He'd do hit in some long rounerbout way dat de wise people kyant mos' fin' out? No, bress He gret big heart, He des stan' up en say to all, 'Come ter me en I gib you res'."
"Yes, uncle, but I haven't gone to Him. I don't know how to go, and what's more, I don't feel it's right to go now at the last minute as if driven by fear."
"Now, cap'n, fergib de ole man fer sayin' you all wrong. Haint young mistis been breakin' her lil gyurlish heart ober yo' trouble? Am de Lawd dat die fer us wuss'n a graven himage? Doan He feel fer you mo'n we kin? I reck'n you got des de bes' kin' of prep'ration ter go ter 'Im. You got trouble. How He act toward folks dat hab trouble— ev'y kin' ob trouble? Marse cap'n, I des KNOWS dat de Lawd wanter brung you en yo' wife en dat lil Sadie I year you talk 'bout all togeder whar He is. I des KNOWS hit. Hit's 'spearance."
"Miss Baron," said the captain calmly, "Isn't it wonderful? This old slave says he knows what, if true, is worth more to me than all the accumulated wisdom of the world. What do you think of it?"
"It seems as if it ought to be true," she answered earnestly. "I never so felt before that it OUGHT to be true. We never should have been born, or given such love as you have for your dear ones, if it isn't true. Oh, to be just snatched hopelessly away from such ties is horrible. My whole soul revolts at it."
"See here, uncle," said the captain almost sternly, "I'm not going to groan, sigh, weep, and take on in any of your camp-meeting tactics. I am before the last great enemy and I know how to meet him like a man and soldier, if not a Christian. I'm willing to do anything not insincere or unmanly to meet my wife and children again. If my thought and feeling for them at this time isn't right, then I've been created wrong."
"Marse cap'n, I'se seen de mos' po'ful feelin's en miseries ob de 'victed ones vaperate lak de maunin' dew en I'se larn in my ole age dat de sabin po'r ain' in we uns, ner in any ting we is ob oursefs ner in w'at we po' lil chil'n of yearth kin do. De Lawd say, He come ter seek en sabe de loss; I wuz loss. De wuss ting He enemies cud speak agin 'Im wuz, Dis man 'ceiveth sinners: I wuz a sinner. I des arst 'Im ter sabe me, en He did. I des trus' 'Im fer life en death en does de bes' I kin. Dat's all. But hit's 'SPEARANCE, marse cap'n, en I KNOWS hit. Now, marse cap'n, w'at fo' you go way in the de dark, you dunno whar? De bressed Lawd say, I go ter prepare a place fer you. Now you des let young mistis write ter yo' folks dat you gwine wid Jesus ter dat ar place en dat you gwine ter wait fer dem dar en welcome urn home bime by des lak dey wud welcome you home way up Norf. Dat ud comf't em a heap, en hit's all true. I knows hit. Young mistis berry sens'ble w'en she say we neber orter be bawn ef hit ain' true."
The officer looked fixedly at the tearful, wrinkled face for a few moments and then said firmly, "I'll soon find out if it's true. If I do this thing at all, I'll do it in the only way I can. Miss Baron, you may write to my wife that I accept her faith. It's much the same as Uncle Lusthah's—too simple and unphilosophical, I used to think; but it meets my need now. I can't deal even with God in any other way than this. The mind he has endowed me with revolts at anything else as hypocritical. I can and do say that I will accept in grateful, downright sincerity the terms which Uncle Lusthah accepted, which my wife accepted. I submit myself to His will. I do this calmly, as I would give my hand and pledge my faith to a man, and I cannot do any more. Now He may do with me as He pleases. Miss Baron, you do the same and you'll be just as good—yes, a much better Christian than I, for I've done rough, bad things in my life. Don't you wait till you're in my extremity. I must say that I have a wretched sense of self-contempt that I am looking Heavenward with dying eyes. There's only one thing that reconciles me to it—the words 'Our Father.' God knows that I'd open my arms to my little Sadie under any possible circumstances. What the old man here says must be true, for to trifle with or mock a man in my position presupposes a degree of malignity inconceivable. I ask nothing better than that Christ will receive me as I would receive my child from world-wide wandering."
"Ah, bress He big gret heart," cried Uncle Lusthah, dropping on his knees, "w'en yo' fader en yo' moder forsook you den de Lawd took you up."
"Miss Baron, I wish to think a while and learn from Borden just how much time I have left. You will come to me again?"
"Yes, whenever you wish."
"Well, then, good-by for a short time. Thank God for sending me such an angel of death. You stay with me, uncle, till I send you for Borden."
GLIMPSES OF MOODS AND MINDS
Dr. Borden's predictions were verified in regard to his friend and patient, Captain Hanfield, but not before the officer had dictated calm, farewell letters to his wife and "little Sadie." To Miss Lou were left the serene, smiling likenesses, a grave to be cared for beside Yarry's, and a memory that could never be blotted out. She was kept from witnessing the terrible convulsions which began soon after her interview, but was present at his death and held his hand until it was cold and lifeless.
Within two weeks after the battle very few patients were left, and all these were to go with Dr. Ackley on the following day, Lieutenant Waldo excepted. He was still too weak to be moved. His mother had become so skilful in the care of his wound that she would be competent, with the help of an aged resident practitioner, to carry him through his convalescence. Mrs. Whately now spent most of the time on her plantation, her presence being needed there to remedy the effects, as far as possible, of the harsh measures at first adopted by her son. It was discouraging effort. The strong ebb tide in the old order of things had set in even far from the Union lines, and only the difficulty in reaching them prevented a general stampede of the negroes. As it was, two or three of her best hands would steal away from time to time, and run the gantlet of many dangers in their travel by night Northward. Her attempts to mollify and render her slaves contented were more than counterbalanced by the threats and severity of her son, who was too vacillating to adopt a fixed policy, and arbitrary by nature.
Her chief hope for him still centred in Miss Lou, upon whom his thoughts were fixed with a steadfastness and earnestness which his mother fondly believed would win her eventually, "I'm sure," she reasoned, "Captain Maynard has made no deep impression. He is about to depart. All will soon be gone, and the old monotony of plantation life will be resumed. After what has happened Louise will not be able to endure this. Madison will return, older and wiser from experience and she, with nothing else to occupy her thoughts will react, like all impulsive natures, from her opposition. Next to winning her or her favor from the start, he has scored a success in waking a hostility far removed from fatal indifference."
She maintained an affectionate manner toward her niece and never discussed the hope she entertained and expectation of calling her daughter. In truth, she had won the girl's respect and goodwill in a very high degree. She had been a kind and successful nurse among the wounded, confining her efforts chiefly to the Confederates. She had also been a dignified lady in all the scenes they had passed through. Her weakness was her son, yet the girl was compelled to admit that it was the weakness of love. In seeking to bring about the detested union a motherly heart and feeling toward her had ever been apparent.
The girl was already becoming depressed by a presentiment of the dull, stagnant days to come. Scoville had been lost in the great outside, unknown world completely. She was suffering from reaction after the strong excitements and fatigues of her experience. Her two lovers, remaining on the scene, possessed a sort of goading interest which compelled her to think of them, but she contemplated their near departure without regret. Nothing in her nature answered to their looks, words and evident desires. She felt that she would as soon marry one as the other, and that she would rather be buried beside Captain Hanfield and take the journey of which Uncle Lusthah had quaintly spoken than wed either. Yet in her lassitude she feared that she could now be compelled to marry either or any one if enough active force was employed, so strangely had ebbed her old fearless spirit.
It were with a kind of wondering pity that she looked at Maynard and saw the evidences of an honest, ardent attachment. "Why does he feel so?" she asked herself. "I have done nothing for him, given no encouragement, and would not care if I never saw him again. I merely wish him well, as I do so many others. Why can't he see this, and just act on the truth? He says he is coming to see me every chance he gets and tries to make me feel that he'll never give me up. Perhaps if I should let him speak plainly he would see how useless it all would be."
Circumstances apparently favored the half-formed purpose. Languid from the heat of the day, she went out on the piazza after supper, sat down on the upper step and leaned against a rose-entwined pillar. Maynard was entranced by the picture she made and promptly availed himself of the opportunity. Every one else had disappeared except Zany, of whom glimpses could be caught through the open windows of the supper-room; but she did not count. Sitting on a lower step so as to be in a measure at her feet Maynard began.
"Miss Baron, I am thinking very sadly, if you are not, over the fact that I am to go away in the morning."
"Yes," she replied, half-consciously ignoring his personal view, "the old house and plantation will soon be as quiet and deserted as before."
"Do you regret this?"
"I scarcely know. I am very tired and feel sad over all that has happened. Perhaps I'll feel differently by and by, when I've rested and had time to think."
"Oh, Miss Baron, if you knew how earnestly I hope to be remembered in those thoughts, to give you something definite to think of."
She had scarcely the energy to check him, the thought occurring more than once, "I might just as well let him speak his mind and see how vain his hope is."
"You have not given me encouragement," he resumed. "You have seemed too preoccupied, sad or weary; but this phase of your life will pass away. Our glorious cause must soon be crowned with success. If I survive, may I not hope that when I come again you will give me a hearing, a chance? I can be patient, even though not patient by nature. I will do all that a man—"
"Captain," interrupted the girl, at last, "I suppose, from the books I've read, I should make some fine speeches about the honor you are bestowing on me, and all that. I'm too tired and sad for anything conventional and appropriate. I'm just going to answer you like a simple, honest girl. One of my chief reasons for sadness is that you feel as you do. I see no reason for it. I'm glad you say I've given you no encouragement, I know I have not. Why should you care so for me when I do not and cannot respond at all? I do sincerely wish you well, but it seems to me that it should be enough for a man when a girl listens to such words as yours in weary sadness only."
"It may be hard indeed for a man to recognize this truth, Miss Baron, but I am not speaking of the present—of the future rather. There has been much to make you sad and weary. Your very youth and high spirit will soon lead you to react from your present depression. Let me speak of the future. Please let me fill that with hope for you and for me."
"Oh, I don't know about the future. For some reason I dread even to think of it."
At this instant Whately galloped to the piazza, threw the reins on the neck of his horse as he dismounted, evidently not caring in his perturbation where the animal wandered. He was in a bad mood, for things were not going smoothly at home. The attitude of his rival at his cousin's feet stung him into a jealous rage and he remarked bitterly as he strode past them, "Don't let my inopportune arrival disturb this charming tete-a-tete. In fact, I had no business to remain at my uncle's home at all, even at the call of duty, after Captain Maynard signified his intention of making it the long- continued field of his operations."
Cut to the quick, Maynard sprang to his feet, but Miss Lou merely made a gesture of annoyance and went to her room.
"Lieutenant Whately," began the captain in low, stern tones, "were I not in some sense a guest, even though an unwelcome one—"
"You are no guest of mine, sir, nor indeed of anyone that I am aware of."
"Thank you. I was haunted by some restraining consideration of Southern hospitality, but if I am free—"
"You are perfectly free, sir," again interrupted Whately, dropping his hand on the hilt of his sabre. "Let me also add that a Southern gentleman would not have made Southern hospitality a subterfuge for an opportunity to press a suit repugnant to the family concerned. We have never failed in hospitality to any invited guest."
"Your words are offensive, sir."
"I mean them to be so."
"Very well; then I have but one answer. I challenge you. Choose your weapons, hour and place of meeting."
"Revolvers, if you please. Meet me back of the grove yonder, at the right of the house, at daybreak."
"I'll not fail you. There is no need of seconds in this affair, I take it, and we are to keep our purpose secret. Dr. Ackley would interfere and the family be distressed were our intentions known."
"No one need know till our shots are heard and then it will be too late to interfere. I insist that we fight to the death."
"Certainly, if that's your wish. Good-evening, sir."
"Good-evening," and Whately went to his room to remove the dust of his ride and prepare for the late supper which his aunt had ordered for him.
This lady, hearing his step in the hall, hastened downstairs and called for Zany. "Yassum," came in quick response. The young woman emerged from the dining-room looking as stolid as a wooden image.
"Attend to Lieutenant Whately's supper and see that he has the best you can get for him."
Mrs. Baron then repaired to her husband's office, where he and Surgeon Ackley were closeted, making up the accounts relating to the occupation of the property for hospital purposes. Maynard lighted his pipe, and strolled out into the grounds. He was in a cold, deadly mood of anger. There was just enough sting of truth in Whately's words to make the insult unendurable. Added to this was intense exasperation that he had been interrupted at a critical and, as he believed, a hopeful, moment. He had seen that the girl was not ready for his suit or that of any one at present, but was quite sure he could have won permission to renew his addresses in the future. Now—well, he was ready enough to fight to the death and utterly oblivious of the still, serene beauty of the night. He appeared but a shadow as he walked quietly under the trees, but it was a shadow of death. An hour since and he was but a passionate youth, full of ardent love and longing, vaguely inspired, under the influence of his passion, toward all noble enthusiasms. At the touch of a few words his heart overflowed with bitterness, and a cold, vindictive hate rendered the hours interminable till he could aim a bullet at his rival's heart, reckless meantime that another bullet was aimed at his.
In his walk he passed the tent in which Lieutenant Waldo and his mother were talking quietly of their home and the prospects of maintaining it during the troublous times clearly foreseen.
"Mother," said Waldo, "have you any definite idea as to the success of our arms?"
"No, Vincent, nor do I suppose we can at this remote plantation. We only know that there is heavy fighting at various points and great successes are claimed; but it seems very hard to get at the real truth. Our chief confidence must be in the sacredness and justness of our cause and in the prayers of so many sincere hearts to the God of justice. In giving you, my son, to our country, when you were scarcely more than a boy, you can understand why I feel that such sacrifices cannot be in vain. Now that I have watched beside you in your patient, heroic suffering, the feeling becomes a conviction that our sunny land must be enriched and blessed for all time by such blood as yours."
"Well, mother, I do not begrudge my blood or my life. You have taught me that to die is gain; but almost hourly I pray for recovery that I may soon rejoin my regiment and do more toward achieving our liberty. How strange it is that men of the North should be animated by much the same spirit! Miss Baron has been showing me the lovely faces of the wife and daughter of a Federal officer who died heroically a few days ago. She says the war is all a dreadful mystery to her."
"I am beginning to understand her better," replied Mrs. Waldo musingly, "for to some extent she has given me her confidence. If she had been brought up as you have been she would feel as you do. I can see why her uncle and aunts have not won her sympathy, while her cousin's conduct has been well calculated to alienate her. I can also understand why the negroes on the place have so enlisted her sympathy. I do not think they have been treated very harshly, but it is too clear that they are regarded simply as property, and Mr. Baron has allowed himself to be represented among them by a brutal, coarse-fibred man. If she had been your sister and had witnessed the spirit in which our slaves are governed and cared for she would feel as you do, not vindictive hatred of the North—such feeling is not permissible toward any of the human race—but a stern, lofty spirit of independence, such as our fathers had in separating from England."
"Well, she is a brave, good girl, mother, and has been as kind to me as if I were her brother."
"Very true, Vincent. She is a remarkably good girl for one brought up as she has been. She has told me much about her past repressed, unhappy life. I hope she may visit us some day."
Meantime, the subject of this conversation sat at her window looking out into the warm, fragrant, starlit night. The words of Maynard, the passionate resentment of her cousin toward the young captain merely added to the heavy burden of experience which had been crowded into the past few weeks. "Oh," she sighed longingly, "if I could only see Allan Scoville! He is so strong, unselfish and restful. I could tell him everything. He would know just how weary and depressed I am, nor would he want me to do what I can't, what I'm not ready for. Oh, what a blessed thing it would be to have a friend near who wasn't always exacting or expecting or passionately urging something or other. I wouldn't need urging in his case, and would even know his hand would be the first to restrain me for my own good. Where is he now? Oh, he'd be here if my thoughts could bring him, yet my two lovers would be eager to take his life. Lovers indeed! Well, it's a strange, tangled up world that I'm learning about."
Meantime Zany, bursting with her secret, was unable to tell any one, and not yet sure she wished to tell. For one at her point of civilization her motives were a little complex and sophisticated. In a vicarious way she felt not a little the elation of many a high- born dame that two men were about to fight over her young mistress, regarding it as an undeniable compliment. She was also inclined to indulge the cynical thought that it might save Miss Lou, Scoville, Chunk—indeed, all in whom she was interested—further trouble if, as she phrased it, "Dat ar young cap'n gib Mad Whately he way onst too of'un. He des natchelly bawn ter mek folks trouble en I reck'n we git on wid he spook bettah ner hesef."
Whately would not have relished his supper if he had divined the thoughts of his waitress. As it was, he had little appetite for it and paid his respects chiefly to his uncle's decanter. He felt no need of false courage, but was irritated and depressed over the general aspect of affairs, and here was an easy way of raising his spirits. By the time he was ready to dispense with Zany's services he was so affected by his potations that his aunt, who had appeared on the scene, hastened his retirement. He told the sergeant of the guard to have him called at daybreak and was soon asleep.
The indomitable housekeeper, Mrs. Baron, kept the girl busy until everything was put away and the dining-room in perfect order. Meantime Zany concluded that she had better tell Miss Lou. Her young mistress might blame her severely if she did not, and keeping such a secret over night would also be a species of torture.
When she was dismissed she watched her opportunity, whisked up to Miss Lou's room, and was glad to find the girl still awake.
"Oh, Miss Lou," she whispered breathlessly, "I des got de orfulest, quarest news, en I darsn't kep hit eny longer. Marse cap'n en Mad Whately gwine ter fight 'bout you fo' sun-up."
"Dey sut'ny is. Dey gwine ter fight one anoder 'bout you wid 'volvers—fight ter de deth dey said. I yeared dem troo de dine-room winders."
"Oh, Zany! this is horrible!"
"Hit mout be wuss. Yo' cousin hot fer hit. He say orful tings ter marse cap'n who didin't gib back a inch en sez, sez he, 'I challing you. Shoose yo' weapons en place ob meetin" Dem he berry words. Den yo' cousin shose 'volvers en de far side ob de grobe up dar en said 'we fight ter de deth.' Deth useter seem orful, Miss Lou, but sech a heap ob mens die dat ef Mad Whately des set on dyin', w'y not let 'im hab he way? Dat orter suit 'im bes'. I reck'n he mek we uns en Marse Scoville en Chunk berry lil trouble arter he dead."
"Zany, Zany, that's a dreadful way to look at it. You should know better. This meeting must be prevented. Where is my cousin?"
"He des sound a sleep ez a log," and she made it clear that there would be no use in trying to remonstrate with him.
"Where's Captain Maynard?"
"Dunno. Sleepin' in he tent too, s'pose. Hit too late now, Miss Lou, ter do anyting fo' mawnin'."
The girl thought deeply a few moments and then muttered, "Shame on them both!"
"Dar now, Miss Lou, you doan reckermember dey payin' you a big compelment."
"I shall tell them to their faces how I regard this outrage rather. Still, for their sakes, as well as my own, I will keep the affair quiet if I can. Zany, you must stay with me to-night and at the earliest dawn we must watch them and be on the ground as soon as they are."
"Berry well, Miss Lou. I lak not'n bettah."
"Go to sleep, then. I won't sleep to-night."
THE DUELLISTS VANQUISHED
Zany's tidings brought the spur of a great necessity to Miss Lou's jaded spirit, and as her waking thoughts dwelt on the proposed encounter, a slow, deep anger was kindled in her mind. "What right have they to do such a thing?" she asked herself over and over again. Even more than at, the barbarism of the act she revolted at its injustice. "I never wronged either of them," she repeated, "and here they are recklessly bent on what would imbitter my life. The idea of being fought about! Two animals couldn't do worse."
And so the long night was passed in bitter, painful thoughts. With the dawning the bird's innocent songs jarred on her overwrought senses. She looked out of the window by which she had kept her vigil, inhaled the dewy freshness of the air and then bathed her tired, hot eyes.
"To think that men would disturb the peace of such a morning by their miserable, causeless hate! Where is Madison's love for his mother? Why don't they remember the distress and horror that would follow their mad act? Zany, wake up. It is time we were on the watch."
Even as she spoke there was a heavy step in the outer hall, that of the sergeant coming to wake Lieutenant Whately. Miss Lou glanced from her window in time to see Captain Maynard striding from his tent toward the grove which would screen the combatants from observation. Waiting a few moments for the sergeant to retire she and Zany slipped down and out before Whately left his room. They reached the grove from the back entrance of the house, and concealing themselves in some copse-wood, watched for Whately's coming. He soon appeared, walking rapidly as if fearing to be behind time. He was in fact some moments late, having stopped to advise Perkins of the affair on hand. He passed so near his cousin's leafy screen that she could look into his flushed, troubled face and could hear him mutter, "Curse it all! I'm forever getting into scrapes."
For the first time since Zany's news, pity overcame her anger and she murmured, "Poor spoiled boy! It's well for you and your mother that I'm here."
Swiftly she followed him through the still dusky grove, keeping the boles of trees between herself and his form. Beyond the grove was an open grassy field, facing the east, where the light was distinct. Clearly outlined against the rose-tinted horizon was the figure of Maynard standing with his arms folded and his back toward them, apparently lost in deep thought.
"Well, sir," said Whately sternly, "I suppose I should asked your pardon for keeping you waiting."
"I reckon there's plenty of time for the purpose of our meeting," replied Maynard coolly. "Since you are the challenged party and we have no seconds, arrange the matter to suit yourself."
Whately was about to pace off the ground when a girl's voice rang out clearly, "Stop that!"
"Miss Baron!" cried Maynard, taking off his hat.
Whately threw back his head proudly. This was better than he had dreamed, for now his cousin would be compelled to recognize his high and haughty spirit. A glance at the girl's pale, stern face as she stepped out between them was not altogether reassuring. She glanced coldly from one to the other for a moment and then said firmly, "I have something to say about this affair."
"Pardon me, Miss Baron," Maynard began, bowing, "if I am compelled to disabuse your mind. This is a little matter between Lieutenant Whately and myself. I am surprised beyond measure that he has invited you to be present."
"That's a lie," thundered Whately, drawing his weapon from his belt.
"Stop, both of you," cried the girl. "Captain Maynard, my cousin has not invited me. Your purpose of meeting was discovered by accident and revealed to me late last night—too late for me to do anything then. All the long night I have sat at my window that I might be in time to keep you from disgracing yourselves and me."
"Great heavens! Miss Baron, you do me injustice," cried Maynard. "I have been insulted. I never thought of wronging you. Perish such a thought!"
"Evidently neither of you has thought of me, nor cared for me or others. Yourselves, your own vindictive feelings have engrossed you wholly, yet I know I'm the innocent cause of this brutal encounter, and the world would know me to be the cause whether it believed me innocent or not. I tell you plainly that if you fight I shall brand you both unworthy the name of gentlemen and I shall proclaim to all your outrage to me."
"Outrage to you, Miss Baron?" said Maynard, with a bitter, incredulous laugh.
"Yes," she replied, turning upon him fiercely. "What can you think of me when you fight about me like a wild beast?"
"I am prepared to fight Lieutenant Whately on entirely different grounds," he replied, his face flushing hotly at her words.
"You cannot do it, sir. I would know, and so would all, that I was the cause. What right, sir, have you to imbitter my life, to fill my days and nights with horror? I never wronged you."
"But, Miss Baron, in all ages such encounters have been common enough when a man received ample provocation, as I have."
"So much the worse for the ages then. I say that you both were about to commit a selfish, cowardly, unmanly act that would have been an outrage in its cruelty to an innocent girl, to whom you had been making false professions of regard."
"Now, by the God who made me, that's not true, Miss Baron."
"Cousin Lou, you are beside yourself," cried Whately.
"Miss Baron," said Maynard, coming to her side and speaking with great earnestness, "I can endure any charge better than your last. No man ever declared truer love than I to you."
"I can tell you of a man who has declared truer love," she replied, looking him steadily in the eyes.
"Who in God's name?" he asked savagely.
"Any man who thought more of the girl than of himself," she answered with passionate pathos in her tones, "any man who considered her before his own reckless, ungovernable feelings, who would save her heart from sorrow rather than gratify his anger. Any man who asks, What is best for the woman I love? instead of What's my humor? what will please me? Suppose you both had carried out your savage impulses, and lay on this ground, wounded or dead, what would be said at the house there about me? What would be your mother's fate, Madison, that you might gratify a causeless spite? Have you no home, Captain Maynard, no kindred who would always curse my name? If you had died like the brave men who lie in yonder graves your friends would ever speak your name proudly; but even I, all inexperienced, know the world well enough to be only too sure, they would hang their heads and say you flung away your life for a heartless girl who was amusing herself at your expense. Fight if you will, but if you do, I pledge you my word that I will never willingly look upon either of you again, living or dead!"
She was about to turn away when Maynard rushed before her exclaiming, "Miss Baron, I beg your pardon, I ask your forgiveness. I never saw this act in the light you place it."
"There, cousin," added Whately with a sort of shamefaced laugh, "I'm hanged if you aren't in the right and I in the wrong again. As you say, the bullet that killed me might do worse by mother, and I should have thought of that. As for you, we didn't think you'd look at it this way. There's plenty of girls who'd think it a big feather in their caps to have men fight about 'em."
"I can't believe it."
"It's true, nevertheless," said Maynard earnestly. "What can I do to right myself in your eyes?"
"If you wish to be men whose friendship I can value, shake hands and use your weapons for your country. If you truly care for my good opinion, forget yourselves long enough to find out what DOES please me and not rush headlong into action I detest. Consider the rights, feelings and happiness of others."
"Well, Whately, what do you say?" asked Maynard with a grim laugh. "I am ready to obey Miss Baron as I would my superior officer," and he held out his hand.
Whately took it with an answering laugh, saying, "There's nothing else left us to do. After her words, we could no more fight each other than shoot her."
"Thank you. I—I—Zany," she faltered, turning deathly white. She would have fallen had not her cousin sprung to her aid, supporting her to a seat on a moss-grown log lying near.
For a few moments the long strain and reaction proved too much for her, and she sat, pale and panting, her head resting against Zany, who had rushed from her covert. The young men were overwhelmed with compunction and alarm, but she retained and silenced them by a gesture. "I'll be—better—in a moment," she gasped.
It proved but a partial giving way of her nervous force. In a few moments she added, "Please go back to the house by different ways. No one need know anything about this. No, don't call any one. I'll get better faster if left with Zany. I beg you do as I ask and then my mind will be at rest."
"There, Miss Baron," said the remorseful Maynard, "I pledge you my word I'll never fight a duel. I can prove my courage sufficiently against the enemy."
She smiled, held out her hand, which he carried to his lips and reluctantly departed.
"See here, Cousin Lou," said Whately impulsively, "I'm going to give you an honest, cousinly kiss. I'm not so feather-headed as not to know you've got us both out of a devil of a scrape."
He suited the action to his words, and strode off in time to intercept Perkins, who had the scent of a vulture for a battle. "We have arranged the affair for the present," said the young officer curtly, "and won't need any graves to-day. Keep mum about this."
"I'll keep my mouth close enough till I kin begin ter bite on my own account," muttered the overseer as he sullenly followed.
That morning Miss Lou stood on the veranda and bade farewell, one after another, to those with whom she had been associated so strangely and unexpectedly. There was an unwonted huskiness in Dr. Borden's voice, and Ackley, usually so grim and prompt, held the girl's hand lingeringly as he tried to make a joke about her defying him and the whole Confederacy. It was a dismal failure. Regarding him with her weary eyes, she said:
"Doctor, you had wit enough and heart enough to understand and subdue me. Haven't I minded you since?"
"I'm a little afraid you'd still get the upper hand if you often looked at me as you do now. I shall find out, however, if you will obey one more order. Miss Baron, you MUST rest. Your pulse indicates unusual exhaustion. You have tried to do too much, and I expect those young men have been making such fierce and counter claims that you are all worn out. Ah, if I had been only twenty years younger I would have won you by a regular course of scientific love-making."
"I don't know anything about science and wouldn't understand you. So it is better as it is, for I do understand what a good, kind friend you've been. You knew all the while that I was little more than an ignorant child, yet your courtesy was so fine that you treated me like a woman. I hope we shall meet again in brighter days. Yes, I will obey you, for I feel the need of rest."
"I shall come again and take my chances," said Maynard in parting.
Mercurial Whately, forgetting his various troubles and experiences in the excitement of change and return to active duty, bade her a rather boisterous and good-hearted farewell. His mind was completely relieved as to Maynard, and he did not dream of Scoville as a serious rival.
"It's only a question of time," he thought, "and at present mother can do the courting better than I can. When I return Lou will be so desperately bored by her stupid life here as to be ready for any change."
The remaining patients looked at her and Mrs. Whately very wistfully and gratefully, speaking reluctant adieus. When all were gone the girl, feeling that she had reached the limit of endurance, went to her room and slept till evening. It was the sleep of exhaustion, so heavy that she came down to a late supper weak and languid. But youth is elastic, the future full of infinite possibilities. Scoville's words haunted her like sweet refrains of music. No matter how weary, perplexed and sad she was, the certainty of her place in his thoughts and heart sustained her and was like a long line of light in the west, indicating a clearing storm. "He WILL come again," she often whispered to herself; "he said he would if he had to come on crutches. Oh, he DOES love me. He gave me his love that night direct, warm from his heart, because he couldn't help himself. He thought he loved me before—when, by the run, he told me of it so quietly, so free from all exaction and demands; but I didn't feel it. It merely seemed like bright sunshine of kindness and goodwill, very sweet and satisfying then. But when we were parting, when his tones trembled so, when overcome, he lost restraint and snatched me to HIS heart—then I learned that I, too, had a heart."
If she had been given time this new heart-life, with thoughts and hopes springing from it like flowers, would have restored her elasticity. Scoville's manly visage, his eyes, so often mirthful, always kind, would have become so real to her fancy that the pallid, drawn features of the suffering, the dying and the dead, would have faded from her memory. So would have faded also the various aspects of passion from which she had shrunk, frightened by its hot breath. Her days would have been filled with the beautiful, innocent dreams of a young girl's first love so inspired as to cast out fear.
But the ruthless Moloch of war could not permit anything so ideal, so heavenly, as this.
Mrs. Waldo came down from the apartment to which her son had been removed and joined the girl on the veranda. "Ah!" she exclaimed, "I have taken solid comfort all day in the thought that you were sleeping, and now you are still resting. I want to see the color in your cheeks again, and the tired look all gone from your eyes before we go."
"You don't know how I dread to have you go," replied Miss Lou. "From the first your son did more for me than I could do for him. The smile with which he always greeted me made me feel that nothing could happen beyond remedy, and so much that was terrible was happening."
"Well, my child, that's the faith I am trying to cherish myself and teach my boy. It is impossible for you to know what a black gulf opened at my feet when my noble husband was killed early in the war. Such things, happily, are known only by experience, and many escape. Then our cause demanded my only son. I face death with him in every battle, every danger. He takes risks without a thought of fear, and I dare not let him know the agony of my fear. Yet in my widowhood, in the sore pressure of care and difficulty in managing a large plantation in these times, I have found my faith in God's love adequate to my need. I should still find it so if I lost my boy. I could not escape the suffering, but I would not sorrow as without hope."
"How much I would give for the certainty of such a faith!" said Miss Lou sadly. "Sometimes, since Captain Hanfield died, I think I feel it. And then—oh, I don't know. Things might happen which I couldn't meet in your spirit. If I had been compelled to marry my cousin I feel that I should have become hard, bitter and reckless."
"You poor, dear little girl! Well, you were not compelled to marry him. Don't you see? We are saved from some things and given strength to bear what does happen. Don't you worry about yourself, my dear. Just look up and trust. Happily, the sun of God's love shines on just the same, unaffected by the passing clouds of our feelings and experiences. He sees the end and knows all about the peaceful, happy eternity before us. You dear, worn-out little child! His love is ever about you like my arms at this moment," and the old lady drew the girl to her in an impulse of motherly tenderness.
"Oh, Mrs. Waldo, you make me feel what it is to have no mother," sobbed Miss Lou.
"Well, my dear, that's your heavy cross. Sooner or later, in some form, a cross burdens every human soul, too often many crosses. All I ask of you is not to try to bear them alone. See how faith changed everything for Captain Hanfield in his extremity. He is now in the better home, waiting for his dear ones."
"I can never forget what faith has done for you and your son, Mrs. Waldo. Surgeon Ackley said that your son's absolute quiet and cheerfulness of mind during the first critical days saved his life."
"Yes, I know that," Mrs. Waldo replied with her low, sweet laugh. "Faith is often more useful in helping us to live than in preparing us to die. It saved my life, too, I'm sure, after my husband died. I had no right to die then, for Vincent and, far more, my daughters, still needed me."
For a time they sat on the piazza steps in silence, the old lady keeping her arm caressingly about the girl, whose head drooped on the motherly bosom overflowing with sympathy. Only the semi-tropical sounds of night broke the stillness. The darkness was relieved by occasional flashes along the horizon from a distant thunder-shower. Miss Lou thought, "Have I ever known a peace so deep and sweet as this?"
There was a hasty, yet stealthy step along the hall to the door, yet the girl had no presentiment of evil. The warm, brooding, fragrant darkness of the night was not more undisturbed than her mind.
"Miss Lou," said Zany in a loud whisper.
What a shock came with that brief utterance! A flash of lightning direct from the sky could not have produced such sudden dread and presentiment of trouble. Truly, a woman listens more with her heart than her ears, and even in Zany's whisper there was detected a note of tragedy.
After an instant Miss Lou faltered, "What is it, Zany?"
"Ef you gwine ter yo' room soon I des he'p you undress."
How well the girl knew that the faithful slave meant other and less prosaic help! She rose at once, kissed Mrs. Waldo good-night and excused herself. When Zany had lighted the candle her scared, troubled face revealed at once that she had tidings of dire import.
Miss Lou seized the girl with a grip which hurt her arm, demanding, "Have you heard anything about—about Lieutenant Scoville?"
"Now, Miss Lou, you gotter be brabe en not look at me dat away. Kaze ef you does, w'at I gwine ter do? I kyant stan' it nohow."
"Oh! oh!" Miss Lou gasped, "wait a moment, not yet—wait. I must get breath. I know, I know what's coming. Chunk is back and—and—O God, I can't bear it, I cannot, I cannot!"
"Dar now, Miss Lou, des lis'n. P'raps tain ez bad ez you tink. P'raps w'en Chunk 'splain all you see tain ez bad. Hi! Miss Lou, you musn't took on so," for the girl was wringing her hands and rocking back and forth in agony. "Folks s'picion dat Chunk yere en dat ud be de eend ob him, sho. He ain' seen Marse Scoville daid sho. He on'y see 'im fall. Chunk wanter see you en he mighty skeery 'bout hit, kaze ef Perkins get on he track he done fer. He ain' see he granny yit en he darsn't come dar twel hit late. He larn ter toot lak a squinch-owl frum Marse Scoville en he tole me dat when he come agin he toot. I nigh on run my legs off follerin' up tootin's o' nights, fer dey wuz on'y pesky squinch-owls arter all. Dis eb'nin' I year a toot dat flutter my heart big en I knowed 'twuzn't no squinch-owl dis time, sho," and so Zany ran on in her canny shrewdness, for she perceived she was gaining Miss Lou's attention and giving time for recovery from the blow.
Miss Lou had a despairing conviction that Chunk would not have returned alone unless his master was dead, but her mind quickly seized upon the element of uncertainty and she was eager to see the negro.
"We mus' wait, we sut'ny mus', twel Chunk kin creep ter he granny's cabin."
"I can't wait, Zany. It wouldn't be best, either for me or Chunk. It's not very late yet, and I could visit Aun' Jinkey without exciting remark if you go with me. It's too dark for Chunk to be seen and I'd protect him with my life. I must get better ground for hope or my heart will break. Pretend I wish a glass of water and see if we can't slip out now."
This Zany did, discovering that Mrs. Baron was with her husband in his office and that Mrs. Waldo had returned to her son's room.
In a few moments Miss Lou was sitting by Aun' Jinkey and tremblingly telling her fears. Meanwhile Zany scouted around to insure immunity from observation.
"You po', po' chile!" groaned Aun' Jinkey. "I wuz a-hopin' dat now you hab a time ob peace en quietness, en you des gwine ter be s'pended 'twixt hebin en yearth."
"Oh, I fear he's dead, my heart tells me he's dead. Oh, mammy, mammy, how can God be so cruel? I don't know who caused this war or who's to blame, but I feel now as if I could TORTURE them."
"I'se feared dat ain' de right speret, honey."
"How can one have the right spirit when mocked by such a hope as I've had? It needn't have happened. Oh, Mrs. Waldo, I could tell you NOW I'm no Christian at all. I say it needn't have happened. And then think how Uncle Lusthah prayed!"
"Chunk down dar by de run, Miss Lou," whispered Zany. "I lis'n wid all my years en eyes."
"Miss Lou, I'se yere in de shadder ob dis bush," Chunk called softly.
"Tell me everything."
"Darsn't twel I feels mo' safe, Miss Lou. Kin on'y say now Marse Scoville des dote on you en he ax questions 'bout you sence you lil gyurl. Hun'erds ob times he say, 'Chunk, we go back some day, sho!' But he do he duty brabe. I go wid 'im ev'ywhar en onst, des on de aige ob night, he wuz ridin' long wid 'bout twenty ob he men en dis ting happen. We didn't tink any Rebs roun' en I'd been kep' back tryn' ter git a chicken fer mars'r's supper. Ez I riz a hill, ridin' right smart I see our folks goin' easy en car'less inter a woods. I seed 'em all ez plain ez eber see anybody, en Marse Scoville ride at de haid. Sudden dere was flash, flash, bang, bang, all troo de woods. Marse Scoville fell right off he hoss, he sut'ny did. Den lots ob Johnnies run in de road fore en hind our mens. I see dere wuz no chaince fer me ter do any ting but git away en lil chaince fer dat, fer two Rebs on horses come tarin' arter me. Ef hit hadn't come dark sudden en my hoss wuzn't a flyer I'se been cotched sho. 'Fo' de Lawd, Miss Lou, dat all I know."
"He's dead," said the girl in a hoarse whisper.
"I orful feared he is, Miss Lou," assented the matter-of-fact Chunk. "De Rebs so neah w'en dey fiah, en Marse Scoville sut'ny did go off he hoss sudden. I been a week gittin' yere en I neber git yere ef de cullud people didn't he'p me long nights."
The girl stood silent and motionless. Suddenly Zany grasped her hand and whispered, "I yeared steps. Come ter de cabin. Be off, Chunk."
They had scarcely reached Aun' Jinkey's door before a shadow approached and the harsh voice of Perkins asked, "What's goin' on yere?"
"My young mistis des seein' her mammy 'bout her clos," replied the quick-witted Zany.
"I thought I yeared voices down by the run."
"Reck'n you bettah go see," said Zany in rather high tones.
"What the dev—what makes yer speak so loud? a warnin'?"
"Tain' my place ter pass wuds wid you, Marse Perkins. Dem I serbs doan fin' fault."
"I reckon Mr. Baron'll do mo'n find fault 'fore long. I bettah say right yere en now I've got my orders 'bout that nigger Chunk. Nobody kin save 'im ef caught. You've been followed before in your night- cruisin' en you're lookin' fer some one. Ef there's trouble, Miss Baron kyant say I didn't give warnin'. Now that the sogers is gone I'm held 'sponsible fer what goes on," and he stalked away.
He did not wish to come into an open collision with Miss Lou again if he could help it—not at least while the Waldos remained. He had concluded that by a warning he might prevent trouble, his self- interest inclining him to be conservative. Confederate scrip had so lost its purchasing power that in its stead he had recently bargained with Mr. Baron for a share in the crops. Thus it happened that the question of making a crop was uppermost in his mind. Until this object was secured he feared to array the girl openly against him, since her influence might be essential in controlling the negroes. If policy could keep them at work, well and good; if the harshest measures seemed best to him he was ready to employ them.
Not only was he puzzled, but Zany also and Aun' Jinkey were sore perplexed at Miss Lou's silence. She had stood motionless and unheeding through the colloquy with the overseer, and now remained equally deaf and unresponsive to the homely expressions of sympathy and encouragement of the two women. They could not see her face, but quickly felt the dread which anything abnormal inspires in the simple-minded. Prone to wild abandon in the expression of their own strong emotions, the silent, motionless figure of the young girl caused a deeper apprehension than the most extravagant evidences of grief.
"Aun' Jinkey," whispered Zany, "you mus' des he'p me git her to her room."
She went with them without word or sign. Their alarm was deepened when they saw her deathly pale and almost rigid features by the light of her candle.
"Miss Lou, honey, speak ter yo' ole mammy. You broke my heart w'en you look dat away."
"I tell you he's dead," whispered the girl.
"Dis ter'ble," groaned the old woman. "'Fo' de Lawd I dunno w'at er do."
Zany felt instinctively that the girl was beyond their simple ministrations and she was desperately afraid that if Mrs. Baron came Chunk's presence would be revealed by words spoken unconsciously. She and Aun' Jinkey promptly agreed that Mrs. Waldo was their only hope and Zany flew to summon her.
Fortunately the lady had not retired and she came at once. "Louise, Miss Baron, what is the matter?" she asked in strong solicitude.
"I tell you, he's dead," again whispered the girl, looking as if a scene of horror were before her eyes. "The Rebs were so near when they fired, and he fell off his horse sudden. Ch—"
Quick as light Zany's hand was over the girl's mouth. The scared face and trembling form of the young negress did not escape Mrs. Waldo's quick eye.
"Zany, what are you concealing?" she asked, sternly. "What does all this mean?"
"Dar now, misus," answered Aun' Jinkey with a certain simple dignity, "we mus' des trus you. I'se yeared you a lubin' serbent ob de Lawd. Ef you is, you am' gwine ter bring mis'ry on mis'ry. We mus' brung Miss Lou roun' sudden 'fo' ole miss comes. He'p us git young mistis sens'ble en I tell you eberyting I kin. Dere ain' not'n bade 'bout dis honey lam' ob mine."
They undressed the girl as if she were a helpless child and put her to bed, and then Zany went downstairs to keep Mrs. Baron out of the way if possible, at the same time listening intently for any signs of trouble to Chunk.
Miss Lou's over-taxed mind had given way, or rather was enchained by a spell of horror to the scenes presented all too vividly in Chunk's bald statement. Her nervous force had been too enfeebled and exhausted to endure the shock of an impression so tremendous in its tragic reality that her faculties had no power to go beyond it. Chunk's words had brought her to a darkening forest and her dead lover, and there she stayed.
Seeing how unconscious she was Aun' Jinkey whispered enough in explanation to enable Mrs. Waldo to comprehend the girl's condition.
"We must make her sleep," said the lady decisively, and under her wise ministrations the stricken girl soon looked almost as if she were dead. Having kindly reassured and dismissed Aun' Jinkey, Mrs. Waldo watched Miss Lou as she would have kept vigil with one of her own daughters.
Perkins was very ill at ease that night, from a haunting suspicion that Chunk had returned. "Pesky nigger'll have a revolver, too, most likely, en be crazy ter use it! Haint been 'mong them cussed Yanks fer nothin'!" There was therefore little disposition for a night hunt after one who knew every inch of the region besides being as stealthy and agile as a cat. The blow from which his head still ached had a warning significance. Coarse, ignorant and superstitious, he was an easy victim to the tormenting fears of his own bad conscience. The graves by the run and the extemporized cemetery further away had even greater terrors for him than for Aun' Jinkey. Even his whiskey jug could not inspire sufficient courage to drive him at night far from his own door. Though both hating and despising Whately, yet the absence of the young officer and his force was now deeply regretted, as they had lent a sense of security and maintained the old order of existing authority. Now he was thrown chiefly on his own responsibility, for Mr. Baron was broken and enfeebled by what he had passed through. Avarice spurned Perkins to carry through the crops in which he had an interest, while his hope of revenge on Chunk, Scoville and Miss Lou also tended to keep him at a post which he foresaw would be one of difficulty and danger. He had no doubt that the Union officer and his freedman would return as soon as they could, and for the chance of wreaking his vengeance he was the more willing to remain in what he feared would be a spook-infested region. "Onst squar with them, en crops realized," he muttered, "I kin feel mo' comft'ble in other parts. To-morrer, ef Chunk en that scout's in these diggin's I'll know hit."
He was aware that the few dogs left on the plantation would make no trouble for one they knew as well as they did Chunk, but he could rely on the brute which he kept in his own quarters—a bloodhound, savage to every one except his master.
"Grip will smell out the cussed nigger in the mawnin' ef he's been around," he assured himself before beginning his nightly debauch. "What's mo', Miss Baron ain't so high en mighty now she knows I'm comin' to be the rale boss on the place. She didn't even squeak w'en I gin my warnin' ter night."
Although Chunk knew his danger and was cautious, he was disposed on the first night of his arrival to take some serious risks in order to carry out the schemes dwelt upon during the long days of skulking home. Naturally fearless he had acquired much of Scoville's soldier- like and scouting spirit. The young officer had associated his dwarfish follower with the service rendered by Miss Lou and was correspondingly grateful. Chunk therefore received much consideration and good counsel by which he had profited. Especially had Scoville scoffed at the negro's superstitions, telling him that a fool afraid of spooks was neither fit to be a free man nor a soldier.
Since Chunk had no imagination and believed absolutely in his master there were no more "spooks" for him, but he knew well the dread inspired by that word on the plantation, and it was his purpose to avail himself of these deep-rooted fears. He heard the colloquy between Zany and the overseer very distinctly, but so far from running away, dogged the latter home. Long knife and revolver were handy in his belt and a heavy club was carried also. Since no soldiers were around, Perkins was not to be dreaded in the night, when once his resting-place was known. Crouching a long time in the shadow of some cedars Chunk watched the overseer's window, but the light was not extinguished. A sudden suspicion dawned on our watcher, causing him to chuckle low with delight. "Hi! he des feared of sleepin' in de dark, en dat can'le bu'n all night!" Gliding a few steps nearer brought to the quick ear a resounding snore, accompanied with a warning growl from, the bloodhound. "I des fix 'em bof fo' I froo," and the brawny hand clutched with greater force the heavy club it carried.
"Nex', some dem fellers mus' be tole ter he'p," and Chunk crept away to the quarters. It was an easy task to waken and enlist Jute, well known to be one of the most disaffected and fearless among the hands. The two started off to a grove which none could approach without being seen, and had a long whispered consultation. As a result, Jute returned to the quarters and brought back three others whom he knew would enter into the schemes on foot. By midnight Chunk had six of the braver and more reckless spirits among the slaves bound to him by such uncouth oaths as he believed would hold them most strongly. Then they returned to their cabins while the chief conspirator (after again reconnoitring the overseer's cottage) sought the vicinity of his granny's home.
With mistaken kindness and much shrewdness Chunk had resolved upon a course that would fill the old woman's life with terror. He adopted the policy of not letting her know anything of his plans, so that she could honestly say "I dunno" and prove the fact by her manner. He instinctively felt that it would have a very bad look if superstitious Aun' Jinkey remained composed and quiet through the scenes he purposed to bring about. Her sincere and very apparent fears were to be his allies. It was part of his scheme also that Zany should be very badly frightened and made eager to run away with him as soon as he and the others were ready for departure.
By a preconcerted signal he summoned Aun' Jinkey who was much affected by the thought that she was bidding her grandson a good-by which might be final, but oppressed with fear, she was at the same time eager he should go. Putting into his hands a great pone of corn bread she urged, "Des light out, Chunk, light out sud'n. 'Twix de baid news en Miss Lou en w'at Perkins do ef he cotch you, I des dat trembly, I kyant stan'."
"Perkins asleep, granny. I'se off now fer good, but I comin' back fer you some day."
He disappeared, and too perturbed to think of sleep the old woman tottered back to her chimney-corner. A few moments later she shuddered at the hooting of a screech-owl, even though she surmised Chunk to be the bird. Not so Zany, who answered the signal promptly. In a tentative way Chunk sought to find if she was then ready to run away, but Zany declared she couldn't leave Miss Lou "lookin ez if she wuz daid." Thinking it might be long indeed before she saw her suitor again, she vouchsafed him a very affectionate farewell which Chunk remorselessly prolonged, having learned in his brief campaigning not to leave any of the goods the gods send to the uncertainties of the future. When at last he tore himself away, he muttered, "Speck she need a heap ob scarin' en she git all she wants. Ef dat ar gyurl doan light out wid me nex' time I ax her, den I eats a mule." And then Chunk apparently vanished from the scene.
The next morning Miss Lou awoke feeble, dazed and ill. In a little while her mind rallied sufficiently to recall what had happened, but her symptoms of nervous prostration and lassitude were alarming. Mrs. Whately was sent for, and poor Mr. Baron learned, as by another surgical operation, what had been his share in imposing on his niece too severe a strain. Mrs. Waldo whispered to Miss Lou, "Your mammy has told me enough to account for the shock you received and your illness. Your secret is safe with me."
Meantime the good lady thought, "It will all turn out for the best for the poor child. Such an attachment could only end unhappily, and she will get over it all the sooner if she believes the Yankee officer dead. How deeply her starved nature must have craved sympathy and affection to have led to this in such a brief time and opportunity!"
As may be supposed, Aun' Jinkey had been chary of details and had said nothing of Scoville's avowal. The mistress of the plantation looked upon her niece's illness as a sort of well earned "judgment for her perversity," but all the same, she took care that the strongest beef tea was made and administered regularly. Mrs. Whately arrived and became chief watcher. The stricken girl's physical weakness seemed equalled only by a dreary mental apathy. There was scarcely sufficient vital force left even for suffering, a fact recognized by the aunt in loving and remorseful solicitude.
By the aid of his bloodhound Perkins discovered that some one whom he believed to be Chunk had been about, and he had secret misgivings as he thought of the negro's close proximity. He had already learned what a blow Chunk could deal and his readiness to strike. Taking the dog and his gun he had cautiously followed the run into which the tracks led until satisfied that the man he was following had taken horse and was beyond pursuit. On his return he learned of Miss Lou's illness and so ventured to threaten Aun' Jinkey.
"Yer do know 'bout that cussed grandson o' yourn. Kyant fool Grip, en he' smelled out all the nigger's tracks. Now ef yer don't tell the truth I'll raise the kentry 'roun' en we'll hunt 'im to the eends of the yearth."
"Well den, Marse Perkins," admitted the terror-stricken woman, "I des tell you de truf. Dat gran'boy ob min' des come ter say good-by. Marse Scoville daid en Chunk mos' up Norf by dis time, he went away so sud'n."
"That Yankee cuss dead?" cried Perkins in undisguised exultation.
"Marse Scoville daid, shot of'n he hoss long way f'um yere," replied Aun' Jinkey sorrowfully. "He kyant harm you ner you 'im no mo', ner Chunk neider."
"Why the devil didn't you let us know Chunk was here las' night?"
"He my gran'son," was the simple reply.
"Well he isn't Zany's grandson! Now I know w'at she was snoopin' round nights fer, en Mrs. Baron'll know, too, 'fore I'm five minutes older."
Aun' Jinkey threw up her hands and sank back into her chair more dead than alive. She, too, had been taxed beyond endurance and all her power to act had ceased with her final effort to show that pursuit of Chunk would be useless.
Perkins speedily obtained an audience with Mrs. Baron, who became deeply incensed and especially against Zany. The inexorable old lady, however, never acted from passion. She nodded coldly to the overseer, saying, "I will inform Mr. Baron and he will give you your orders in regard to the offenders."
Zany was too alert not to observe the interview and the omens of trouble in the compressed lips of "ole miss" and the steel-like gleam of her eyes. The moment Mrs. Baron was closeted with her husband the girl sped to the cabin. "Did you tell Perkins Chunk been yere?" she demanded fiercely.
"Fo' de Lawd I des gwine all ter pieces," gasped Aun' Jinkey.
"Hope ter grashus yer does, en de pieces neber come tergedder agin," said Zany in contemptuous anger and deep alarm.
Under the spur of tremendous excitement she hastened back, thinking as she ran, "Miss Lou too sick ter do anyting. I des got ter 'peal ter Miss Whately, er ole miss hab me whipped haf ter daith." When in response to a timid knock Mrs. Whately peered out of her niece's room she found a trembling suppliant with streaming eyes. Noiselessly shutting the door the matron said warningly:
"Don't you know Miss Lou's life depends on quiet?"
"How she gwine ter hab quiet w'en ole miss gwine ter hab Marse Perkins whip me'n Aun' Jinkey ter daith?"
"Nonsense! Why should either of you be punished?"'
"Well missus, I 'fess ter you," sobbed Zany, "kaze you got more feelin' fer us. Chunk come las' night ter say good-by ter he granny'n me, en den he put out fer good, en ain' comin' back no mo'. Perkins en he dog foun' hit out dis mawnin', en Aun' Jinkey tole 'im, too, I reck'n, she all broke up. Perkins been talkin' ter ole miss en she look lak she al'ways does w'en ders no let up. Hit ud des kill Miss Lou if she knew me'n Aun' Jinkey wuz bein' whipped."
"Zany," said Mrs. Whately in rising anger, "you both had full warning. You knew what Chunk had done. He stole my son's horse and one from his master also, beside doing other things that could not be forgiven."
"Please reckermember, missus, dat Chunk en me is mighty sweet on each oder en he Aun' Jinkey gran'boy. Tain' dat we 'prove of his goin's on, but how cud we tell on 'im en see 'im daid, w'en he des come ter say good-by. Oh, ef Miss Lou on'y well she neber let dat ole Perkins tech us."
"I will see your master before anything is done," said Mrs. Whately with troubled face. "Go to your work now. I will get Mrs. Waldo to watch in my place after a while."
Mr. Baron was depressed physically and mentally by the trying events of the past few weeks, but the fact that Chunk had ventured on the place again and had been permitted to escape angered him deeply. He also accepted the view of his wife and overseer that all discipline among the slaves would soon be at an end if so serious an offence were overlooked. It would be a confession of weakness and fear they believed which would have a most demoralizing effect in the quarters. Chunk represented the worst offences of which the slaves could be guilty; the most solemn warnings had been given against aiding and abetting him in any way. To do nothing now would be a virtual permission of lawlessness. There was no thought of mercy for Zany, but Aun' Jinkey's age, feebleness, together with her relations to Chunk and Miss Lou, complicated matters.
Husband and wife were still consulting when Mrs. Whately joined them. Mrs. Baron did not welcome her guest, feeling that this was purely a personal affair, and was in no mood to brook interference.
"I can't be absent long," began Mrs. Whately, "Zany has told me everything and—"
"I think, sister, that Mr. Baron and I can manage this matter," interrupted Mrs. Baron coolly.
"No doubt you can," Mrs. Whately replied with dignity. "I did not come down to interfere with your domestic affairs. There is one point on which I have a right to speak and must speak. You can't punish Aun' Jinkey and Zany now if knowledge of such punishment can in any way reach our niece. No matter how much they may deserve it, I say you cannot do it. I promised Zany nothing, held out no hope to her of escape, but to you I will speak plainly. If you should excite and disturb Louise now, you might easily cause her death. If you feel that you cannot overlook the offence (and I know how serious a one it is) wait till I can remove Louise to my own house. You will find that Dr. Pelton when he arrives will confirm my words."
Mr. Baron weakened. He had not the relentless will of his wife, who interposed with cutting emphasis, "There is no need of Louise's knowing anything about it till she is much better, and it would be well for her to learn then, as well as the slaves, that there is still a master and mistress."
"It may be long before Louise is much better," Mrs. Whately replied gravely. "She has been subjected to a strain for which my conscience reproaches me, however it may be with yours. She is in a very critical state, and seemingly from some recent shock."
"Can the news Chunk brought have had any such effect?" broke forth Mrs. Baron indignantly—"news of the death of that Yankee whom she met and treated as a social equal sorely against my will?"
"Lieutenant Scoville dead!" exclaimed Mrs. Whately looking shocked and sad.
"Yes, so Chunk told his granny."
Mrs. Whately was troubled indeed. Perhaps there had been much more than she had suspected. If so, this fact would account for the girl's extreme prostration. To bring these tidings might have been one of Chunk's chief motives in venturing on his brief visit. Miss Lou might know all about the visit and even have seen Chunk herself. If this were true, punishment of those who were in a sense her accomplices would be all the more disastrous. The perplexed matron felt that she must have more time to think and to acquire fuller knowledge of the affair.
"Brother," she said finally, "you are the guardian of Louise and in authority. She is now helpless and at present quiet. If quiet of mind and body can be maintained long enough she will no doubt get well. In a sense I am now her physician, and I say as Surgeon Ackley said of his patients, she cannot be disturbed. I positively forbid it. Dr. Pelton who must soon be here will take the same ground. Public opinion will support him and me in holding you responsible if you order anything endangering your ward's life and health at this time. Mrs. Waldo and her son would be witnesses. How far the former is acquainted with affairs we do not know. She watched with Louise all last night. If you act hastily you may be sorry indeed. I am trying kindness and conciliation with my people and they are doing better. I fear your policy is mistaken. Chunk is gone and beyond punishment. It is asking much to expect that his grandmother and the girl who loves him after her fashion would give information against him. It would seem that only the two slaves and Perkins know of this visit. Affairs are bad enough with you as it is and you can easily make them much worse. If you must punish for effect, take some stout field hand who is insubordinate or lazy. At any rate I love Louise and hope some day to call her daughter, and I will not have her life endangered. That's all I have to say."
Mr. Baron's flame of anger had died out. His views had not been changed by his harsh experience, but he had been compelled to see that there were times when he could not have his own way. So he said testily, "Well, well, we'll have to let the matter rest a while, I suppose."
Mrs. Whately departed. Mrs. Baron put her thin lips together in a way which meant volumes, and went out on her housekeeping round, giving orders to Zany in sharper, more metallic tones than usual. The delinquent herself had overheard enough of the conversation to learn that the evil day had at least been put off and to get some clew as to the future.
CHUNK PLAYS SPOOK
Since Mr. Baron had yielded for the present, Mrs. Whately was glad nothing need be said to the physician concerning their affairs. His positive injunction of quiet was sufficient, and now that Mr. Baron was impressed with its need and had had time for sober second thought, he concluded that he had trouble enough on hand as it was. He felt that every quiet day gained was so much toward securing the absolutely essential crops. Perkins was therefore summoned and the situation in part explained.
The overseer was in unusual good-humor over the death of Scoville, and if Chunk had escaped finally, there was compensation in the thought of having no more disturbance from that source. So, fortunately for poor Zany, avarice came to the fore and Perkins agreed that the best thing to do was to bend every energy to "making the crops," using severity only in the furtherance of this end.
"Beg pardon, Mr. Baron, but I must have sump'n up and down clar. There's been so many bosses of late en my orders been knocked eendwise so of'en that I don't know, en the hands don't know whether I've got any po'r or no. Ef this thing 'bout Chunk gits out, en nobody punished, the fiel'-hans natchelly think we darsn't punish. Mought es well give up then."
"Punish as much as you think necessary to keep the quarter-hands at work. Then it is plain," replied Mr. Baron.
Very seldom had Perkins been in so complacent and exultant a mood as when he left the presence of Mr. Baron that morning. But his troubles began speedily. Jute had slept little the night before and was stupid and indifferent to his work in the afternoon. Finding threats had little effect, the overseer struck a blow with his cane. The negro turned fiercely but was confronted with a revolver. He resumed work doggedly, his sullen look spreading like the shadow of a cloud to the faces of the others. So many began to grow indifferent and reckless that to punish all was out of the question. Perkins stormed and threatened, striking some here and there, almost beside himself from increasing anxiety and rage. Whichever way he turned a dark vindictive face met his eyes. The slaves had enjoyed a brief sense and sweet hope of freedom; he was seeking to refasten the yoke with brutal hands and it galled as never before. Even his narrow arbitrary nature was impressed with the truth that a great change was taking place; that a proclamation issued hundreds of miles away was more potent than his heavy hand. He was as incapable of any policy other than force as was his employer of abandoning the grooves in which his thoughts had always run.