The worrisome afternoon finally ended, leaving the harassed man free to seek consolation from his jug. Mr. Baron relapsed into his quiet yet bitter mental protest. "Ole miss" maintained inexorable discipline over the yard and house slaves, keeping all busy in removing every stain and trace of the hospital. She governed by fear also, but it was the fear which a resolute, indomitable will produces in weaker natures.
Mrs. Waldo already felt uncomfortable. There was no lack of outward courtesy, but the two women had so little in common that there was almost a total absence of sympathy between them. The guests through the fortune of war resolved therefore to depart in a day or two, making the journey home by easy stages. Mrs. Whately was both polite and cordial, but she also felt that the family should be alone as soon as possible, that they were facing problems which could better be solved without witnesses. It was her hope now to nurse her charge back to health, and, by the utmost exercise of tact, gain such an ascendency over the girl as to win her completely. Granting that the matron's effort was part of a scheme, it was one prompted by deep affection, a yearning to call her niece daughter and to provide for the idolized son just the kind of wife believed to be essential to his welfare. Much pondering on the matter led her to believe that even if the tidings of Scoville's death had been the cause of the final prostrating shock, it was but the slight blow required to strike down one already feeble and tottering to her fall. "He probably made a strong, but necessarily a passing impression on the dear child's mind," she reasoned. "When she gets well she will think of him only as she does of the other Union soldiers who so interested her."
The object of this solicitude was docile and quiet, taking what was given her, but evidently exhausted beyond the power of thought or voluntary action.
The night passed apparently without incident, but it was a busy one for Chunk. He again summoned Jute and his other confederates to a tryst in the grove to impress them with his plans. It was part of his scheme to permit a few nights to pass quietly so that disturbances would not be associated with him, he being supposed far away. In the depths of the adjacent forest he had found safe shelter for himself and horse, and here, like a beast in its lair, he slept by day. The darkness was as light to him about the familiar plantation, and he prowled around at night unmolested.
During this second meeting he attempted little more than to argue his dusky associates out of their innate fear of spooks and to urge upon them patience in submitting to Perkins's rule a little longer. "I des tells you," he declared, "dey ain' no spooks fer us! Dere's spooks on'y fer dem w'at kills folks on de sly-like. If ole Perkins come rarin' en tarin' wid his gun en dawg, I des kill 'im ez I wud a rattler en he kyant bodder me no mo'; but ef I steal on 'im now en kill 'im in he sleep he ghos pester me ter daith. Dat de conslomeration ob de hull business. I doan ax you ter do any ting but he'p me skeer' im mos' ter daith. He watchin' lak a ole fox ter ke'p you en Zany yere. Ef you puts out, he riz de kentry en put de houn's arter you. We des got ter skeer 'im off fust. I'm studyin' how ter git dat dawg out'n de way. Des go on quiet few mo' days en ef you year quar noises up on de hill whar de sogers bur'ed you know hit me. Look skeered lak de oders but doan be fear'd en keep mum."
The next few days and nights passed in quiet and all began to breathe more freely. Even Aun' Jinkey rallied under the soothing influence of her pipe and the privilege of watching part of each day with Miss Lou. Slowly the girl began to grow better. Hoping not even for tolerance of her feelings in regard to Scoville, it was her instinct to conceal them from her relatives. She knew Mrs. Waldo would not reveal what Aun' Jinkey had told her, and understood the peculiar tenderness with which that lady often kissed her. She also guessed that while the stanch Southern friend had deep sympathy for her there was not very strong regret that the affair had ended in a way to preclude further complications.
"Remember, my dear," said Mrs. Waldo, in her affectionate parting, "that God never utterly impoverishes our lives. Only we ourselves can do that. You will get well and become happy in making others happy."
On the evening of that day, even Mr. Baron's routine was completely restored. His larder was meagre compared with the past, but with the exception that Mrs. Whately occupied the place of his niece at the table, and viands were fewer, all was as it had been. Zany's fears had subsided, leaving her inwardly chafing at the prospect of monotonous and indefinite years of work under "ole miss," with little chance of Chunk's return. Aun' Suke's taste of freedom had not been to her mind, so she was rather complacent than otherwise, and especially over the fact that there was so little to cook. The garden and Mr. Baron's good credit would insure enough plain food till the crops matured and the impoverishment caused by the raid was repaired. It certainly seemed when the sun set that evening that the present aspect of affairs might be maintained indefinitely in the little community.
Only one was not exactly at rest. Perkins felt as if something was in the air. There was a brooding, sullen quiet among the negroes which led him to suspect that they were waiting and hoping for something unknown to him. This was true of Uncle Lusthah and the majority. The crack of Union rifles was the "soun' f'um far away" they were listening for. By secret channels of communication tidings of distant battles were conveyed from plantation to plantation, and the slaves were often better informed that their masters. As for Perkins, he knew next to nothing of what was taking place, nor did he dream that he was daily addressing harsh words to conspirators against his peace.
The time had come when Chunk was ready to act. On the night in question a hot wind arose which blew from the little burial-place on the hill toward the house. "Hi! now's de charnce ter fix dat ar bizness!" and he made his preparations. Shortly before midnight he crept like a cat under the overseer's window. The heavy snoring rose and fell reassuringly, sweet as music to Chunk's ears. Not so the angry, restless growling of the savage bloodhound chained within. "But you doan kotch me dis yere time fer all yer fuss, Marse Grip," the negro muttered. "I done hab yer brekfus' ready fer yer! Dat'll settle yer hash,' and with deft hand a piece of poisoned meat was tossed close to the brute's feet as Chunk hastened away. Jute was next wakened and put on the watch. An hour later there came from the soldiers' cemetery the most doleful, unearthly sounds imaginable. No need for Jute and his confederates to arouse the other negroes in the quarters. A huddled frightened gang soon collected, Aun' Jinkey among them so scared she could not speak.
"Marse Perkins ought to know 'bout dis," cried Jute.
The suggestion was enough. The whole terror-stricken throng rushed in a body to the overseer's cottage and began calling and shrieking, "Come out yere! come out yere!" Confused in his sudden waking and thinking he was mobbed, he shouted through the window, "I'll shoot a dozen of yer ef yer don't clar out."
"Marse Perkins, des you lis'n," rose in chorus from those far beyond the fear of mortal weapons.
In the silence that followed the rushing wind bore down to them a weird, dismal howl that in Perkins's ears met every ghostly requirement. His teeth began to chatter like castanets, and snatching his jug of corn whiskey he swallowed great draughts.
"We des tink you orter know 'bout dis," said Jute.
"Cert'ny," cried Perkins in his sudden flame of false courage. "I'll light a lantern and take twenty o' you hands round that place. Ef thar's a cuss yonder makin' this 'sturbance we'll roast 'im alive."
In a moment or two he dressed and came out with a light and his gun. Two revolvers were also stuck in his belt. As he appeared on the threshold there was a prolonged yell which curdled even his inflamed blood and sent some of the negro women into hysterics.
"Come on," shouted the overseer hoarsely, "thirty of yer ef yer afraid."
The crowd fell back. "We ain' gwine ter dat ar spook place, no mattah w'at you do to us."
"Perkins, what IS the matter?" Mr. Baron was heard shouting from the house.
"Reckon you better come out yere, sir."
"Are the hands making trouble?"
"No sir, sump'n quar's gwine on, what we kyant mek out yit."
Mr. Baron, wrapped in his dressing-gown, soon appeared on the scene, while Aun' Suke's domain contributed its quota also of agitated, half-dressed forms. Chunk could not resist the temptation to be a witness to the scene and in a copse near by was grinning with silent laughter at his success.
After learning what had occurred, Mr. Baron scoffed at their superstitions, sternly bidding all to go to their places and keep quiet. "Perkins, you've been drinking beyond reason," he warned his overseer in a low voice. "Get back to your room quick or you will be the laughing-stock of everybody! See here, you people, you have simply got into a panic over the howling of the wind, which happens to blow down from the graveyard to-night."
"Neber yeared de win' howl dataway befo'," the negroes answered, as in a mass they drifted back to the quarters.
Perkins was not only aware of his condition but was only too glad to have so good an excuse for not searching the cemetery. Scarcely had he been left alone, however, before he followed the negroes, resolved upon companionship of even those in whom he denied a humanity like his own. In the darkness Chunk found an opportunity to summon Jute aside and say, "Free er fo' ob you offer ter stay wid ole Perkins. Thet he'p me out."
Perkins accepted the offer gladly, and they agreed to watch at his door and in the little hallway.
"You mus' des tie up dat ar dawg ob yourn," first stipulated Jute.
"Why, whar in—is the dog? Hain't yeared a sound from 'im sence the 'sturbance begun."
"Dwags kyant stan' spooks nohow," remarked Jute.
"I've yeared that," admitted Perkins, looking around for the animal.
"Thar he is, un'er yo' baid," said Jute, peeking through the doorway.
The miserable man's hair fairly stood up when the brute was discovered stark and dead without a scratch upon him. Recourse was again had to the jug, and oblivion soon followed.
There was no more sleep at the quarters that night, and never was the dawn more welcome. It only brought a respite, however, for the impression was fixed that the place was haunted. There was a settled aspect of gloom and anxiety on every dusky face in the morning. Mr. Baron found his overseer incapacitated for duty, but the hands were rather anxious to go to work and readily obeyed his orders to do so. They clung to all that was familiar and every-day-like, while their fears and troubled consciences spurred them to tasks which they felt might be a sort of propitiation to the mysterious powers abroad. Zany was now sorry indeed that she had not gone with Chunk, and poor Aun' Jinkey so shook and trembled all day that Mrs. Whately would not let her watch by Miss Lou. Knowing much of negro superstitions she believed, with her brother and Mrs. Baron, that the graves on the place, together with some natural, yet unusual sounds, had started a panic which would soon die out.
When at last Perkins, shaky and nervous, reported the mysterious death of his dog, Mr. Baron was perplexed, but nothing more. "You were in no condition to give a sane account of anything that happened last night," he said curtly. "Be careful in the future. If you will only be sensible about it, this ridiculous scare will be to our advantage, for the hands are subdued enough now and frightened into their duty."
Perkins remained silent. In truth, he was more frightened than any one else, for the death of his dog appeared to single him out as a special object of ghostly hostility. He got through the day as well as he could, but dreaded the coming night all the more as he saw eyes directed toward him, as if he, in some way, were the cause of the supernatural visitation. This belief was due to the fact that Aun' Jinkey in her terror had spoken of Scoville's death, although she would not tell how she knew about it. "Perkins shoot at en try ter kill Marse Scoville," she had whispered to her cronies, "en now he daid he spook comin' yere ter hant de oberseer. We neber hab no quiet nights till dat ar Perkins go way fer good."
This rational explanation passed from lip to lip and was generally accepted. The coming night was looked forward to in deep apprehension, and by none more than by Perkins. Indeed, his fears so got the better of him that when the hands quit work he started for the nearest tavern and there remained till morning. Chunk was made aware of this fact, and the night passed in absolute quiet. All the negroes not in the secret now hoped that the overseer was the sole prey of the spook, and that if they remained quietly in their places they would be unmolested. Chunk and a few of the boldest of his fellow conspirators had full scope therefore to perfect their final arrangements. In a disused room of one of the outbuildings the most ragged and blood-stained uniforms of the Union soldiers had been cast and forgotten. These were carried to a point near the burying- ground, tried on and concealed. Chunk found it was no easy task to keep even the reckless fellows he had picked up to the sticking point of courage in the grewsome tasks he had in view, but his scoff, together with their mutual aid and comfort, carried them through, while the hope of speedy freedom inspired them to what was felt to be great risks.
On this occasion he dismissed them some little time before midnight, for he wished them to get rested and in good condition for what he hoped would be the final effort the following night. As he lingered in the still, starlit darkness he could not resist making an effort to see Zany, and so began hooting like an owl down by the run, gradually approaching nearer till he reached the garden. Zany, wakeful and shivering with nameless dread, was startled by the sound. Listening intently, she soon believed she detected a note that was Chunk's and not a bird's. Her first impression was that her lover had discovered that he could not go finally away without her and so had returned. Her fear of spooks was so great that her impulse was to run away with Chunk as far from that haunted plantation as he would take her. Trembling like a wind-shaken leaf, she stole into the garden shrubbery and whispered, "Chunk?"
"Hi! yere I is."
There was no tantalizing coquetry in Zany's manner now. In a moment she was in Chunk's arms sobbing, "Tek me way off fum dis place. I go wid you now, dis berry minute, en I neber breve easy till we way, way off enywhar, I doan keer whar. Oh, Chunk, you doan know w'at been gwine on en I darsn't tell you twel we gits way off."
"I isn't feared," replied Chunk easily.
"Dat's kaze you doan know. I des been tremblin' stiddy sence las' night en I'se feared hit begin eny minute now."
"Hit woan begin dis yere night," replied Chunk, soothingly and incautiously.
"How you know?" she asked quickly, a sudden suspicion entering her mind.
"Wat's ter begin?" answered Chunk, now on his guard. "De night am still, nobody roun'. I hang roun' a few nights twel I study out de bes' plan ter git away."
"Has you been hangin' roun' nights, Chunk?" Zany asked solemnly.
"How you talks, Zany! Does you s'pects I dar stay roun' whar Perkins am? He kill me. He done gone way to-night."
"How you know dat?"
"One de fiel'-hans tole me."
"Chunk, ef you up ter shines en doan tole me I done wid you. Hasn't I hep you out'n in eberyting so fur? Ef I fin' out you been skeerin me so wid eny doin's I des done wid you. I des feel hit in my bones you de spook. You kyant bamboozle me. I kin hep you—hab done hit afo'—en I kin hinder you, so be keerful. Dere's some dif'unce in bein' a spook yosef en bein' skeered ter death by a rale spook. Ef you tryin' ter skeer en fool me I be wuss on you ner eny Voodoo woman dat eber kunjurd folks."
The interview ended in Chunk's making a clean breast of it and in securing Zany as an ally with mental reservations. The thought that he had fooled her rankled.
Mr. Baron's expostulation and his own pressing interests induced Perkins to remain at home the following night. As Jute had seemed forgiving and friendly, the overseer asked him to bring two others and stay with him, offering some of the contents of the replenished jug as a reward. They sat respectfully near the door while Perkins threw himself on his bed with the intention of getting to sleep as soon as possible. "Are you shore ther wuz no 'sturbances last night?" he asked.
"Well, Marse Perkins," replied Jute, "you didn't s'pect we out lookin'. We wuz po'ful sleepy en roll we haids en er blankets en den 'fo' we knowed, hit sun-up. Folks say en de quarters dat ar spook ain' arter us."
"Who the devil is hit arter then?" was the angry response.
"How we know, mars'r? We neber try ter kill enybody."
"But I tell you I didn't kill him," expostulated their nervous victim.
"Didn't name no names, Marse Perkins. I on'y knows w'at I yeared folks tell 'bout spooks. Dey's mighty cur'us, spooks is. Dey des 'pear to git a spite agin some folks en dey ain' bodderin oder folks long ez dey ain' 'feered wid. I 'spect a spook dat wuz 'feered wid, get he dander up en slam roun' permiscus. I des tek a ole bull by de horns 'fo' I 'fere wid a spook," and Jute's companions grunted assent.
"W'at's the good o' yer bein' yere then?" Perkins asked, taking a deep draught.
"Well, now, Marse Perkins, you mus'n be onreasonbul. Wat cud we do? We des riskin' de wool on we haids stayin' yere fer comp'ny. Ef de spook come, 'spose he tink we no business yere en des lay we out lak he kunjer yo' dawg? We des tank you, Marse Perkins, fer anoder lil drap ter kep we sperets out'n we shoon," and Jute shuddered portentously.
"Well," said Perkins, with attempted bravado, "I rammed a piece o' silver down on the bullat in my gun. 'Twix 'em both—"
"Dar now, Marse Perkins, you des been 'posed on 'bout dat silber business. Ole Unc' Sampson w'at libed on de Simcoe place nigh on er hun'erd yeahs, dey say, tole me lots 'bout a spook dat boddered um w'en he a boy. Way back ole Marse Simcoe shot at de man dat hanker fer he darter. De man put out en get drownded, but dat doan make no dif'rence, Unc' Sampson say, kaze ole Marse Simcoe do he bes' ter kill der man. He sorter hab kill in he heart en Unc' Sampson low a spook know w'at gwine on in er man's in'erds, en dey des goes fer de man dat wanter kill um on de sly, en not dose dat kill in fa'r fight. Ole Unc' Sampson po'ful on spooks. He libed so long he get ter be sorter spook hesef, en dey say he talk ter um haf de time 'fo' he kiner des snuf out'n lak a can'l."
"He wuz a silly old fool," growled Perkins, with a perceptible tremor in his voice.
"Spect he wuz 'bout some tings," resumed Jute, "but know spooks, he sut'ny did. He say ole Marse Simcoe useter plug lead en silver right froo dat man dat want he darter, en dar was de hole en de light shin'in' froo hit. But de spook ain' min'in' a lil ting lak dat, he des come on all de same snoopin' roun' arter de ole man's darter. Den one mawnin' de ole man lay stiff en daid in he baid, he eyes starin' open ez ef he see sump'n he cudn't stan' no how. Dat wuz de las' ob dat ar spook, Unc' Sampson say, en he say spook's cur'us dat away. Wen dey sats'fy dere grudge dey lets up en dey doan foller de man dey down on kaze dey on'y po'r in de place whar de man 'lowed ter kill um."
Perkins took a mental note of this very important limitation of ghostly persecution, and resolved that if he had any more trouble all the crops in the State would not keep him within the haunted limit.
He whiled away the time by aid of his jug and Job-like comforters till it began to grow late and he drowsy.
Suddenly Jute exclaimed, "Hi! Marse Perkins, w'at dat light dancin' up yon'er by de grabeyard?"
The overseer rose with a start, his hair rising also as he saw a fitful jack-o'-lantern gleam, appearing and disappearing on the cemetery hill. As had been expected, he obeyed his impulse, pouring down whiskey until he speedily rendered himself utterly helpless; but while his intoxication disabled him physically, it produced for a time an excited and disordered condition of mind in which he was easily imposed upon. Jute shook him and adjured him to get up, saying, "I years quar soun's comin' dis way."
When satisfied that their victim could make no resistance, Jute and companions pretended to start away in terror. Perkins tried to implore them to remain, but his lips seemed paralyzed. A few moments later a strange group entered the cottage—five figures dressed in Federal uniforms, hands and faces white and ghastly, and two carrying white cavalry sabres. Each one had its finger on its lips, but Perkins was beyond speech. In unspeakable horror he stared vacantly before him and remained silent and motionless. The ghostly shapes looked at him fixedly for a brief time, then at one another, and solemnly nodded. Next, four took him up and bore him out, the fifth following with the jug. At the door stood an immovably tall form, surmounted by a cavalry hat and wrapped in a long army overcoat.
"Leftenant Scoville!" gasped Perkins.
The figure, as if the joints of its back were near the ground, made a portentous inclination of assent and then pointed with another white sabre to the hill, leading the way. Perkins tried to shout for help, but his tongue seemed powerless, as in fact it was, from terror and liquor combined. He felt himself carried swiftly and, as he thought, surely, to some terrible doom.
At last his bearers stopped, and Perkins saw the mounds of the Union dead rising near. He now remembered in a confused way that one more grave had been dug than had proved necessary, and he uttered a low howl as he felt himself lowered into it. Instantly the tall figure which appeared to direct everything threatened him with a ghostly sabre, and an utter paralysis of unspeakable dread fell upon him.
For a few moments they all stood around and pointed at him with ghostly white fingers, then gradually receded until out of sight. After a time Perkins began to get his voice, when suddenly his tormentors appeared in terrible guise. Each white, ghostly face was lighted up as by a tongue of fire; terrible eyes gleamed from under wide-crowned cavalry hats and a voice was heard, in a sepulchral whisper, "Nex' time we come fer you, we bury you!"
At this instant came a flash of lightning, followed by a tremendous clap of thunder. The jaws of the figures dropped, the burning splinters of light-wood they carried dropping down into the grave, and on its half-lifeless occupant. The ghosts now disappeared finally—in fact took to their heels; all except Chunk, who secured the jug, nodded thrice portentously at Perkins and then retired also, not a little shaken in his nerves, but sufficiently self- controlled to rally his panic-stricken followers and get them to remove their disguises before wrapping their heads in blankets. Having removed and hidden all traces of the escapade he hooted for the alert Zany, who had been tremblingly on the watch in spite of her knowledge of what was going on. As she fled with Chunk before the coming storm she gasped between the gusts, "I declar, Chunk, sech doin's gwine ter brung a judgment."
Even Chunk inclined to this view for a time, as the lightning blazed from sky to earth, and the thunder cracked and roared overhead. The rain poured in such torrents that he feared Perkins might be drowned in the grave where he had been placed. As for Aun' Jinkey, she stared at her unexpected visitors in speechless perplexity and terror until the fury of the tempest had passed, their voices could be heard.
UNCLE LUSTHAH EXHORTS
The heavy thunder shower which came and passed quickly, combined with a consciousness of their high-handed performances, so awed Chunk and Zany and oppressed them with misgivings that they were extremely reticent, even to Aun' Jinkey. Chunk appeared profoundly ignorant of the ghostly disturbances, trying to say unconcernedly, "I foun' hit a orful long en skeery trable ter de Un'on lines en I says ter mysef, 'De Yanks fin' me down yere quicker ner I fin' dem up Norf. Dey be comin' dis away agin sho'."
"I des tells you we all git whip nigh ter daith ef you ain' mo' keerful," said Aun' Jinkey, solemnly. "I kyant stan' de goin's on. I gwine ter pieces ev'y day en nights git'n wusser'n de days. De gust ober en you bettah light out. Ef Zany missed dey come yere lookin' fer her."
They needed no urging to depart, for Zany was now as scared as Chunk had ever wished her to be, but her terrors were taking a form which inclined her to cling to the old landmarks rather than risk she knew not what, in running away. As she and Chunk were stealing toward the kitchen a flash of lightning from the retiring storm revealed a startling figure—that of Perkins, drenched and bedraggled, his eyes almost starting from their sockets as he staggered toward his cottage. Chunk's courage at last gave way; he turned and fled, leaving Zany in the lurch. Frightened almost to the point of hysterics, she crept to her bed and shook till morning, resolving meanwhile to have done with Chunk and all his doings. The next day Mrs. Baron found her the most diligent and faithful of servants.
Perkins reached his door and looked into the dark entrance, the gusts having blown out the light. He shook his head, muttered something unintelligible, and then bent his uncertain steps to the tavern. The next morning Mr. Baron suspected where he was and went to see him. The overseer was found to be a pitiable spectacle, haggard trembling, nervous in the extreme, yet sullen and reticent and resolute in his purpose never to set foot on the plantation again. Mr. Baron then closed all business relations and sent over the man's belongings. Perkins became a perplexing problem to Mr. Baron and his household and a terrible tradition to the negroes, who regarded him as a haunted man. Every day and night passed in quietness after his departure enabled them to breathe more freely and to become more assured that he "wuz de on'y one de spooks arter."
Chunk felt that he had disgraced himself by running away and leaving Zany, and did not venture back till the second night after the culmination of his schemes. He found Jute and his associates scared, sullen and inclined to have little to do with him in their present mood. Then he hooted in vain for Zany. The girl heard him but made no sign, muttering, "Sence you runned away en lef me I'se done wid runnin' away. You tootin' lak a squinch-owl en kin kep comp'ny wid squinch-owls."
Only Aun' Jinkey gave him food and a sort of fearful welcome, and poor Chunk found himself at last a very unhappy and skulking outlaw.
Mr. Baron gradually rallied under his increased responsibilities and resolved to be his own overseer. Although an exacting master, the negroes knew he was not a severe one if they did their work fairly well. The spook scare had given Uncle Lusthah renewed influence and he used it in behalf of peace and order. "Our fren Miss Lou, sick," he urged. "We mek her trouble en we mek oursefs trouble ef we doan go on peac'ble. What kin we do eny way at dis yer time? De Norf fightin' fer us en hit all 'pen' on de Norf. We mus' kep a gwine ez we is till de times en seasons ob de Lawd is 'vealed."
And so for a period, quiet again settled down on the old plantation. Mrs. Whately and Aun' Jinkey nursed Miss Lou into a slow, languid convalescence, till at last she was able to sit in an easy-chair on the piazza. This she would do by the hour, with a sad, apathetic look on her thin face. She was greatly changed, her old rounded outlines had shrunken and she looked frail enough for the winds to blow away. The old, fearless, spirited look in her blue eyes had departed utterly, leaving only an expression of settled sadness, varied by an anxious, expectant gaze, suggesting a lingering hope that some one might come or something happen to break the dreadful silence which began, she felt, when Scoville fell from his horse in the darkening forest. It remained unbroken, and her heart sank into more hopeless despondency daily. Aun' Jinkey and Zany were charged so sternly to say nothing to disturb the mind of their young mistress that they obeyed. She was merely given the impression that Perkins had gone away of his own will, and this was a relief. She supposed Chunk had returned to his Union friends, and this also became the generally accepted view of all except Aun' Jinkey.
Mrs. Whately came to spend part of the time at The Oaks and part on her own plantation, where her presence was needed. Her devotion would have won Miss Lou's whole heart but for the girl's ever- present consciousness of Mad Whately in the background. The mother now had the tact to say nothing about him except in a natural and general way, occasionally trying the experiment of reading extracts from his brief letters, made up, as they were, chiefly of ardent messages to his cousin. These Miss Lou received in silence and unfeigned apathy.
The respite and quiet could not last very long in these culminating months of the war. Without much warning even to the negroes, who appeared to have a sort of telegraphic communication throughout the region, a Union column forced its way down the distant railroad and made it a temporary line of communication. Mr. Baron suddenly woke up to the fact that the nearest town was occupied by the Federals and that his human property was in a ferment. A foraging party soon appeared in the neighborhood and even visited him, but his statement of what he had suffered and the evident impoverishment of the place led the Union officer to seek more inviting fields.
Partly to satisfy her own mind as well as that of her niece, Mrs. Whately asked after Scoville, but could obtain no information. The troops in the vicinity were of a different organization, the leader of the party a curt, grizzled veteran, bent only on obtaining supplies. Miss Lou, sitting helplessly in her room, felt instinctively that she did not wish even to speak to him.
To Chunk, this Union advance was a godsend. He immediately took his horse to the railroad town, sold it for a small sum, and found employment at the station, where his great strength secured him good wages. He could handle with ease a barrel akin to himself in shape and size.
Uncle Lusthah suddenly found immense responsibility thrust upon him. In the opinion of the slaves the time and seasons he had predicted and asked his flock to wait for had come. Negroes from other and nearer plantations were thronging to the town, and those at The Oaks were rapidly forming the purpose to do likewise. They only waited the sanction of their religious teacher to go almost in a body. The old preacher was satisfied they would soon go any way, unless inducements and virtual freedom were offered. He therefore sought Mr. Baron and stated the case to him.
The old planter would listen to nothing. He was too honorable to temporize and make false promises. "Bah!" he said, irritably, "the Yanks will soon be driven off as they were before. I can't say you are free! I can't give you a share in the crops! It's contrary to the law of the State and the whole proper order of things. I wouldn't do it if I could. What would my neighbors think? What would I think of myself? What a fine condition I'd be in after the Yanks are all driven from the country! No, I shall stand or fall with the South and maintain the institutions of my fathers. If you people leave me now and let the crops go to waste you will soon find yourselves starving. When you come whining back I'll have nothing to feed you with."
Uncle Lusthah cast an imploring look on Miss Lou where she sat in her chair, with more interest expressed in her wan face than she had shown for a long time.
"Uncle Lusthah," she said earnestly, "don't you leave me. As soon as I am able I'll buy you of uncle and set you free. Then you can always work for me."
"I doan wanter lebe you, young mistis, I sut'ny doan, ner der ole place whar I al'ays libed. But freedom sweet, young mistis, en I wanter feel I free befo' I die."
"You shall, Uncle Lusthah. You have earned YOUR freedom, anyway."
"Tut, tut, Louise, that's no way to talk," said her uncle testily.
The old slave looked from one to the other sorrowfully, shook his head and slowly retired.
"Remember what I said," Miss Lou called after him, and then sank back in her chair.
Uncle Lusthah had to relate the result of his conference, and the consequence was an immediate outbreak of a reckless, alienated spirit. That afternoon the field hands paid no attention to Mr. Baron's orders, and he saw that slaves from other plantations were present. Uncle Lusthah sat at his door with his head bowed on his breast. His people would listen to him no more, and he himself was so divided in his feelings that he knew not what to say.
"Hit may be de Lawd's doin's ter set He people free," he muttered, "but somehow I kyant brung mysef ter lebe dat po' sick chile. Ole mars'r en ole miss kyant see en woan see, en dat lil chile w'at stan' up fer us in de 'stremity ob triberlation be lef wid no one ter do fer her. I berry ole en stiff in my jints en I cud die peaceful ef I know I free; but hit 'pears that de Lawd say ter me, 'Uncle Lusthah, stay right yere en look arter dat lil sick lam'. Den I mek you free w'en de right time come.'"
Uncle Lusthah soon had the peace of the martyr who has chosen his course. Mr. Baron also sat on his veranda with head bowed upon his breast. He too had chosen his course, and now in consequence was sunk in more bitter and morose protest than ever. Events were beyond his control and he knew it, but he would neither yield nor change. This was the worst that had yet befallen him. Black ruin stared him in the face, and he stared back with gloomy yet resolute eyes. "I will go down with my old colors flying," he resolved, and that was the end of it.
His wife was with him in sympathy, but her indomitable spirit would not be crushed. She was almost ubiquitous among the house and yard slaves, awing them into a submission which they scarcely understood and inwardly chafed at. She even went to the quarters and produced evident uneasiness by her stern, cutting words. None dared reply to her, but when the spell of her presence was removed all resumed their confused and exultant deliberations as to their future course.
Aun' Jinkey, sitting with Miss Lou, scoffed at the idea of going away. "Long ez my chimly-corner en my pipe dar I dar too," she said. "Dis freedom business so mux up I kyant smoke hit out nohow."
Zany was in a terribly divided state of mind. Were it not for Miss Lou, she would have been ready enough to go, especially as she had heard that Chunk was at the railroad town. Her restless spirit craved excitement and freedom: a townful of admirers, with Chunk thrown in, was an exceedingly alluring prospect. With all her faults, she had a heart, and the sick girl had won her affection unstintedly. When therefore Miss Lou summoned her and fixed her sad, pleading blue eyes upon her, the girl threw her apron over her head and began to cry "Doan say a word, Miss Lou," she sobbed, "doan ax me not ter go kase ef you does I kyant go."
"Sech foolishness!" ejaculated Aun' Jinkey with a disdainful sniff. "She lebe you des lak a cat dat snoop off enywhar en arter enybody w'at got mo' vittles. Wat she keer?"
Down came the apron, revealing black eyes blazing through the tears which were dashed right and left as Zany cried, "You ole himage, w'at you keer? You tink a hun'erd times mo' ob yer pipe ner Miss Lou. Long ez you kin smoke en projeck in dat ar ole cabin hole you woan lebe his 'less you turned out. I des gwine ter stay out'n spite en doan wanter go a hun'erd mile ob dat gran'boy ob yourn."
"There, Zany," said Miss Lou gently, holding out her hand. "I understand you and Aun' Jinkey both, and you both are going to stay out of love for me. I reckon you won't be sorry in the end."
Up went the apron again and Zany admitted, "I kyant lebe you, Miss Lou, I des kyant," as she rushed away to indulge in the feminine relief of tears without stint.
Mr. and Mrs. Baron passed a sleepless night, for even the question of food would be problematical if all the able-bodied men and women on the place went away. In the early dawn there were ominous sounds at the quarters, and as the light increased a spectacle which filled the old planter and his wife with rage was revealed. The quarters were empty and all were trooping toward the avenue with bundles containing their belongings. This was to be expected, but the act which excited the direst indignation was the hitching of the only pair of mules left on the place that were worth anything to the old family carriage. Aun' Suke was waddling toward this with the feeling that a "char'ot wuz waitin' fer her now, sho!"
Mr. and Mrs. Baron looked at each other in quick, comprehensive sympathy, then hastily and partially dressed. Mr. Baron took his revolver while "ole miss" snatched a sharp carving-knife from the dining-room. By the time they reached the scene, Aun' Suke filled the back seat of the carriage and the rest of the space was being filled with babies.
"Stop that!" shouted Mr. Baron. "Before I'll let you take my mules I'll shoot 'em both."
"Ole miss" wasted no time in threats—she simply cut the traces and there were Aun' Suke and the babies stranded. The negroes drew together on one side and master and mistress on the other. The faces of the latter were aglow with anger; on the countenances of the former were mingled perplexity and sullen defiance, but the old habit of deference still had its restraining influence.
"Go and starve and leave us to starve, if you will," shouted Mr. Baron, "but you shall steal none of my property."
Angry mutterings began among the negroes, and it were hard to say how the scene would have ended if old Uncle Lusthah had not suddenly appeared between the opposing parties, and held up his hand impressively.
"I gib up my charnce ter be free," he began with simple dignity. "My body 'longs ter you yit, mars'r en misus; but not my speret. Out'n dat I gwine ter speak plain fer de fear ob man clean gone fum me. Mars'r, w'at I say ter you? Lak ole Pharo, you t'ink yo'sef bigger'n de Lawd. Ef you'd done spoke ter de hans en say 'des go home en dar de crops en shar' togeder' dey ud stayed en wucked fer you 'tented like, but you des talk lak ole Pharo. Now de people gwine en you kyant stop dem. We knowed 'bout de prokermation ob de gre't Linkum. We know we bin free dis long time. We al'ays know you no right ter keep us slabes. Dis yer God's worl'. Hit don't 'long ter you en misus. He ain't stoppin' ter 'suit you 'bout He doin's. Ef you s'mitted ter He will you'd a gwine 'long easy lak de crops grow in spring-time. Now hit des de same ez ef you plant de crops in de fall en'spect de Lawd ter turn de winter inter summer ter please you. I berry ole en had 'spearance. I'se prayed all de long night en de Lawd's gib me ter see inter de futer. Lak Moses I may never git in de promised lan' ob freedom, but hit dar en you kyant kep de people out'n hit. Ef you doan bend ter He will, you breaks. Wen all de han's gone en de fiel's is waste t'ink ober de trufe. De Lawd did'n mek dis yer worl' ter suit you en misus. P'raps He t'ink ez much ob dem po' souls dar (pointing at the negroes) ez ob yourn. Didn't I stan' wid dem w'at die ter mek us free? Der blood wateh dis hull lan' en I feels hit in my heart dat de Lawd'll brung up a crap dis lan' neber saw befo'. Please reckermember, mars'r en misus, de gre't wuck ob de Lawd gwine right along des ez ef you ain' dar."
Then the old man turned to the negroes and in his loud, melodious voice concluded, "I gibs you one mo' 'zortation. You IS free, but ez I say so of'un you ain' free ter do foolishness. Tek yo' wibes en chil'un; dey yourn. Tek yo' clo'es; you arned urn en much mo', but you kyant tek de mules en de ker'age: dey mars'r's. Go en wuck lak men en wimmin fer hon'st wages en show you fit ter be free. Reckermember all I tole you so of'un. De Lawd go wid you en kep you in de way ob life everlas'in'."
The better element among the negroes prevailed, for they felt that they had had a spokesman who voiced their best and deepest feelings. One after another came and wrung the hand of the old man and departed. To "Pharo" and his wife few vouchsafed a glance, for they had cut the cord of human sympathy. Many messages of affection, however, were left for Miss Lou. The mothers took the babies from the carriage, Aun' Suke was helped out and she sulkily waddled down the avenue with the rest. By the time she reached the main road her powers of locomotion gave out, causing her to drop, half-hysterical, by the wayside. Some counselled her to go back, saying they would come for her before long; but pride, shame and exhaustion made it almost as difficult to go back as to go forward, and so she was left lamenting. With stern, inflexible faces, master and mistress watched their property depart, then returned to the house, while Uncle Lusthah mended the harness temporarily and took the carriage back to its place. Standing aloof, Zany had watched the scene, wavering between her intense desire to go and her loyalty to Miss Lou. The sick girl had conquered, the negress winning an heroic victory over herself. When she entered the back door of the mansion, her face rigid from the struggle she had passed through, she was in no lamb- like mood. Neither was her mistress, who was angrier than she had ever been in her life.
"Well," she said to Zany in cold, cutting tones, "what are you doing here? Looking around for something to carry off before you go also?"
Stung to the quick by this implied charge and lack of appreciation of her great self-sacrifice, Zany replied hotly, "I done wid you, misus. I tek no mo' orders fum you. I stay fer sump'n you doan know not'n 'bout—lub, but lub fer Miss Lou. Ef she kyant 'tect em 'gin you den I go."
A NEW ROUTINE
It certainly was a dismal, shrunken household that Mrs. Baron presided over that morning. Aun' Jinkey came to the rescue and prepared a meagre breakfast. Miss Lou's room being on the side of the house furthest from the scenes of the early morning, she had slept on till Zany wakened her. She listened in a sort of dreary apathy to all that had occurred, feeling that she was too weak physically and too broken-spirited to interfere. She also had the impression that it would have been of no use—that her uncle and aunt were so fixed in their ways and views that nothing but harsh experience could teach them anything. In answer to Zany's appeal for protection against "ole miss" Miss Lou said, "We won't say anything more about it now till you get over your hurt feelings, which are very natural. Of course my aunt can't punish you—that's out of the question now, but by and by I reckon you will do for her out of love for me when you see it will save me trouble. You have done a good, unselfish act in staying with me, and having begun so well, you will keep on in the same way. After all of the rest get free you will, too. What's more, when I come into my property I'll make free all who stand by me now."
So Zany brought her up a nice little breakfast and was comforted.
When at last the young girl with weak, uncertain steps came down to her easy-chair on the piazza, she found her uncle gloomily smoking, and her aunt solacing her perturbed mind with her chief resource— housekeeping affairs. Little was said beyond a formal greeting.
As Miss Lou sat gazing vacantly and sadly down the avenue, a huge figure appeared, making slow, painful progress toward the house. At last Aun' Suke was recognized, and the truth flashed across the girl's mind that the fat old cook had found she could not get away. Finally the woman sat down under a tree not far from the house, not only overcome by heat and fatigue, but also under the impression that she must open negotiations before she could expect to be received.
"There," said Mr. Baron grimly, "is one of them coming back already. They'll be sneaking, whining back when the crops are spoiled and it's too late."
Miss Lou rose feebly and got an old sunshade from the hall.
"Louise, you are not able—I forbid it."
The girl felt she had strength to get to the old woman but not enough to contend with her uncle, so she went slowly down the steps without a word. Mr. Baron growled, "I might as well speak to the wind as to anybody on the place any more."
When Aun' Suke saw the girl coming to her she scrambled to her feet, and holding up her hands ejaculated all sorts of remorseful and deprecatory comments.
"Welcome back," said Miss Lou kindly, when in speaking distance. "There, don't go on so. Sit down and I'll sit down with you." She sank at the foot of the tree and leaned against it, panting.
"I des feels ez ef de yeth ud op'n en swaller me," began the poor renegade, quivering with emotion.
"Don't talk so, Aun' Suke. I'm not strong enough to stand foolishness. You will go back with me and stay with Uncle Lusthah and Aun' Jinkey and Zany. You will cook for us all just the same and by and by you will be as free as I am."
"Well, Miss Lou, I comin' back lak de perdigous son, but ole miss ain' got no fatted calf fer me, ner you neider, I reckon. I des feered on w'at ole miss say en do."
"Aun' Suke," said the girl, taking the woman's great black hand, "you stand by me and I'll stand by you. When I get stronger we'll see what's best to be done. Now I can't think, I don't know. I only feel that we must help one another till all is clearer."
Mrs. Baron accepted Aun' Suke's presence in the kitchen again in grim silence. She believed it the earnest of the speedy return of all the others, and resolved to bide her time when the Southern armies restored completely the old order of things.
Mrs. Whately drove over during the day and was aghast at what had occurred.
"I have kept the great majority of my hands by conciliation and promising them a share in the crops. Indeed, I had virtually to treat them as if free. It was either that or ruin."
"Well," growled her brother, "you can't keep that pace and I wouldn't begin it."
"I can only do the best I can, from day to day," sighed the lady, "and I've been almost distracted."
After showing her affectionate solicitude for Miss Lou she returned, feeling that her presence at home was now hourly needed.
Gradually the little household began to adjust itself to the new order of things, and day by day Mr. and Mrs. Baron were compelled to see that the few servants who ministered to them were kept at their tasks by an influence in which they had no part. Almost imperceptibly, Miss Lou regained her strength, yet was but the shadow of her former self. Uncle Lusthah gave his attention to the garden, already getting weed-choked. The best he could hope to do was to keep up a meagre supply of vegetables, and Zany in the cool of the day often gave him a helping hand.
Late one afternoon Miss Lou, feeling a little stronger, went to Aun' Jinkey's cabin and sat down on the doorstep.
"Oh, mammy," she sighed, "I'm so tired, I'm so tired; yet I can do nothing at all."
"You po' lil chile," groaned Aun' Jinkey, "how dif'ernt you looks ner w'en you fus sot dar en wish sump'n happen."
"Oh," cried the girl almost despairingly, "too much has happened! too much has happened! How can God let such troubles come upon us?"
"Eben Uncle Lusthah hab ter say he dunno. He say he des gwine ter hole on twel de eend, en dat all he kin do."
"Oh, mammy, I'm all at sea. I haven't any strength to hold on and there doesn't seem anything to hold on to. Oh, mammy, mammy, do you think he's surely dead?"
"I feared he is," groaned Aun' Jinkey. "Dey say he spook come arter Perkins en dat w'y de oberseer clared out."
"Oh, horrible!" cried the girl. "If his spirit could come here at all would it not come to me instead of to that brutal wretch? Oh, mammy, I don't know which is worse, your religion or your superstition. You believe in a God who lets such things happen and you can think my noble friend would come back here only to scare a man like Perkins. It's all just horrible. Oh, Allan, Allan, are you so lost to me that you can never look goodwill into my eyes again?"
Tears rushed to her eyes for the first time since she heard the dreadful tidings, and she sobbed in her mammy's arms till exhausted.
That outburst of grief and the relief of tears given by kindly nature was the decisive point in Miss Lou's convalescence. She was almost carried back to her room and slept till late the following day. When she awoke she felt that her strength was returning, and with it came the courage to take up the burdens of life. For weeks it was little more than the courage of a naturally brave, conscientious nature which will not yield to the cowardice and weakness of inaction. The value of work, of constant occupation, to sustain and divert the mind, was speedily learned. Gradually she took the helm of outdoor matters from her uncle's nerveless hands. She had a good deal of a battle in respect to Chunk. It was a sham one on the part of Zany, as the girl well knew, for Chunk's "tootin'" was missed terribly. Mr. and Mrs. Baron at first refused point-blank to hear of his returning.
"Uncle," said his ward gravely, "is only your property at stake? I can manage Chunk, and through him perhaps get others. I am not responsible for changes which I can't help; I am to blame if I sit down idly and helplessly and do nothing better than fret or sulk. Your bitter words of protest are not bread and bring no money. For your sakes as well as my own you must either act or let me act."
The honorable old planter was touched at his most sensitive point, and reluctantly conceded, saying, "Oh, well, if you think you can save any of your property out of the wreck, employ Chunk on your own responsibility."
So Chunk was reinstated in his granny's cabin and given a share in all he could raise and secure of the crops. The negro was as shrewd as Jacob of old, but like the Hebrew patriarch could do much under the inspiration of his twofold affection for Zany and his young mistress.
And so the summer and early fall wore away. The railroad line of communication was maintained, and upon it drifted away Mr. Baron's former slaves and the great majority of the others in the neighborhood. The region in which the plantation was situated was so remote and sparsely settled that it was a sort of border land, unclaimed and unvisited by any considerable bodies from either party. Rev. Dr. Williams' congregation had shrunken to a handful. He officiated at one end of the church, and his plump, black-eyed daughter led the singing at the other, but it was observed that she looked discontented rather than devotional. She was keenly alive to the fact that there was not an eligible man left in the parish. Uncle Lusthah patiently drove the mules every clear Sunday morning and Mr. and Mrs. Baron sat in the carriage whose springs Aun' Suke had sorely tried; but Miss Lou would not go with them. After his readiness to marry her to her cousin she felt it would be worse than mockery to listen to Dr. Williams again.
But a deep, yet morbid spiritual change was taking place in the girl. As of old, she thought and brooded when her hands were busy, and during her long, solitary evenings on the piazza. Strange to say, she was drawing much of her inspiration from a grave—the grave of a rough, profane soldier whom she knew only as "Yarry." There was something in his self-forgetful effort in her behalf, even when in the mortal anguish of death, which appealed to her most powerfully. His heroism, expecting, hoping for no reward, became the finest thing in her estimation she had ever witnessed. Her own love taught her why Scoville was attracted by her and became ready to do anything for her. "That's the old, old story," she mused, "ever sweet and new, yet old as the world. Poor Yarry was actuated by a purely unselfish, noble impulse. Only such an impulse can sustain and carry me through my life. No, no, Mrs. Waldo, I can never become happy in making others happy. I can never be happy again. The bullet which killed Allan Scoville pierced my heart also and it is dead, but that poor soldier taught me how one can still live and suffer nobly, and such a life must be pleasing to the only God I can worship." All wondered at the change gradually taking place in the girl. It was too resolute, too much the offspring of her will rather than her heart to have in it much gentleness, but it was observed that she was becoming gravely and patiently considerate of others, even of their faults and follies. As far as possible, her uncle and aunt were allowed their own way without protest, the girl sacrificing her own feelings and wishes when it was possible. They at last began to admit that their niece was manifesting a, becoming spirit of submission and deference, when in fact her management of their affairs was saving them from an impoverishment scarcely to be endured.
For Mrs. Whately the girl now had a genuine and strong affection, chilled only by her belief that the plan in regard to the son was ever in the mother's mind. So indeed it was. The sagacious woman watched Miss Lou closely and with feelings of growing hope as well as of tenderness. The girl was showing a patience, a strength of mind, and, above all, a spirit of self-sacrifice which satisfied Mrs. Whately that she was the one of all the world for her son.
"I do believe," she thought, "that if I can only make Louise think it will be best for us all as well as Madison, she will yield. The spirit of self-sacrifice seems her supreme impulse. Her sadness will pass away in time, and she would soon learn to love the father of her children. What's more, there is something about her now which would hold any man's love. See how her lightest wish controls those who work for her, even that harum-scarum Zany."
In the late autumn a long-delayed letter threw Mrs. Whately into a panic of fear and anxiety. A surgeon wrote that her son had been severely wounded and had lost his left arm, but that he was doing well.
Here the author laid down his pen. In Mr. Roe's journal, under date of July 11, is an entry alluding to a conversation with a friend. That conversation concerned the conclusion of this book, and was, in effect, substantially the same as the outline given by him in a letter, part of which is quoted as follows:
"It is not my purpose to dwell further on incidents connected with the close of the war, as the book may be considered too long already. It only remains for me now to get all my people happy as soon as possible. Zany and Chunk 'make up,' and a good deal of their characteristic love-making will be worked in to relieve the rather sombre state of things at this stage. Whately returns with his empty sleeve, more of a hero than ever in his own eyes and his mother's. Miss Lou thinks him strangely thoughtful and considerate in keeping away, as he does, after a few short visits at The Oaks. The truth is, he is wofully disappointed at the change in his cousin's looks. This pale, listless, hollow-eyed girl is not the one who set him to reading 'Taming of the Shrew.' That her beauty of color and of outline could ever return, he does not consider; and in swift revulsion of feeling secretly pays court elsewhere.
"Mrs. Whately, however, makes up for her son's deficiencies. Utterly ignorant how affairs are shaping, she works by her representations upon Miss Lou's sympathies until the weary consent is wrung from the poor girl—'Nothing matters to me any more! If it makes you all happy—why—then—But I must wait a year.' She feels that her love for Allan Scoville will never be less, and that this period of time is little enough to devote to him in silent memory.
"The delighted aunt hastens to report to her son, who stares rather blankly, for a lover, as he hears of this concession on his cousin's part, and without answer, he orders his horse and rides furiously away. The ride is one that has been very frequently taken since the young man's return, and pretty soon he is in earnest conversation with the rosy-cheeked, black-eyed daughter of Dr. Williams. There seems to be very good understanding between the two, and later, just at the final scene, it will come out as effectively as can be portrayed the startling news of their secret marriage.
"The days go on. One afternoon in the late autumn, Aun' Jinkey, smoking and 'projeckin'' as usual in her cabin, has a vision which fairly sends her heart, as she will express it, 'right troo de mouf.' Was it a 'spook,' or had the dead really come back to life? And I hear her exclaim, throwing up her hands, 'Bress de Lawd, Marse Scoville, dat you? Whar you drap fum dis yere time? I doan almos' know you widout de un'fo'm!'
"But the 'vision' will not stop to narrate to the old aunty of his capture, imprisonment and illness, his release and hurried journey North. He catches sight of the slight figure of Miss Lou in the distance near the run, and in a moment is beside her. 'Only death could keep me from seeking you and living for you always, did I not tell you, my darling, my darling?'
"And here I will leave them. The reader's imagination will picture more if more is wished. It is better so."