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- Miss Lou - 10/64 -
"Escort me, then, as I am, under your mother's care. Truly this would be a better way to win my heart than such hasty violence to all my feelings and wishes."
"My dear Louise, you may think me a hasty, inconsiderate wooer to- day, but that is because you do not know all that I know. I must, like your guardians, be guided by your best welfare. When you learn to know me as a kind, loyal, considerate husband, you will appreciate my most friendly and decisive action at this time. You are in great danger; you may soon be homeless. In the case of one so young and fair as you are, those who love you, as you know I do passionately, must act, not in accordance with your passing mood, but in a way to secure your peace and honor for all time."
"Oh, this is all a terrible dream! You can--you can protect me as your cousin, should I need any such protection, which I cannot believe. Northern soldiers are not savages. I know it! I know it!"
"How can you know it? Have I not seen more of them than you have? I tell you that for the honor of our house I shall and will give you the protection of my name at once. Your uncle and aunt feel as strongly as I do about it, and your happiness will be the only result. We Southern people take no chances in these matters."
Overwhelmed, frightened, bewildered, the girl left the room and mournfully climbed to her own apartment. She was too utterly absorbed in her own desperate plight to observe Zany whisking away in the background.
Mr. Baron was scarcely less miserable than his ward, yet from wholly different causes. His anxieties concerning her were deep indeed, his very solicitude impelling him toward the plan which he was eager to consummate. He was distracted by fears and forebodings of every kind of evil; he was striving to fortify his mind against the dire misgiving that the Confederacy was in a very bad way, and that a general breaking up might take place. Indeed his mental condition was not far removed from that of a man who dreads lest the hitherto immutable laws of nature are about to end in an inconceivable state of chaos. What would happen if the old order of things passed away and the abominable abolitionists obtained fall control? He felt as if the door of Dante's Inferno might be thrown wide at any moment. There was no elasticity in his nature, enabling him to cope with threatening possibilities; no such firmness and fortitude of soul as he might be required to exercise within the next few hours. To start with, he was wretched and distracted by the breaking up of the methodical monotony of his life and household affairs. Since general wreck and ruin might soon ensue, he had the impulses of those who try to secure and save what is most valuable and to do at once what seems vitally important. Amid all this confusion and excitement of mind his dominant trait of persistence asserted itself. He would continue trying to the last to carry out the cherished schemes and purposes of his life; he would not stultify himself by changing his principles, or even the daily routine of his life, as far as he could help himself. If events over which he had no control hastened action, such action should be in harmony with previous purpose to the extent of his power. The plan, therefore, of marrying his niece immediately to her cousin doubly commended itself to him. It would throw around her additional safeguards and relieve him in part from a heavy responsibility; it would also consummate one of the cherished intentions of his life. Things might take a happy turn for the better, and then just so much would be gained and accomplished.
Thus he reasoned, and his nephew spared no pains in confirming his views. The truth urged by his niece that she did not love her cousin seemed a small matter to the unemotional, legal mind of the old man when safety and solid interests were concerned. "A child like Louise," he said, "must be taken care of, not humored." Mrs. Baron had long since formed the habit of yielding complete deference to her husband, and now was sincerely in accord with his views. She had never had much heart; her marriage had satisfied her ambition, had been pleasing to her kith and kin, and she saw no good reason why her niece should not, under any circumstances, form a similar union. That the girl should revolt now, in the face of such urgent necessity, was mere perverseness. Sharing in her husband's anxieties and fears, she found solace and diversion of mind in her beloved housekeeping. Neither of the old people had the imagination or experience which could enable them to understand the terror and distress of their niece, whom with good intentions they were driving toward a hated union.
Dinner was served two hours later than usual--a fact in itself very disturbing to Mr. Baron; while Aun' Suke, compelled to cook again for the Confederate troopers, was in a state of suppressed irritation, leading her satellites to fear that she might explode. Small, pale and bloodless as "ole miss" appeared, none of her domestics dared to rebel openly; but if any little darky came within the reach of Aun' Suke's wooden spoon, she relieved her feelings promptly. In dining-room and kitchen, therefore, was seething and repressed excitement. The very air was electric and charged with rumors.
Perkins, the overseer, was at his wits' end, also, about the field- hands. They were impassive or sullen before his face, and abounding in whispers and significant glances behind his back. What they knew, how much they knew, he could not discover by any ingenuity of questioning or threatening, and he was made to feel that excessive harshness might lead to serious trouble. Disturbing elements were on all sides, in the air, everywhere, yet he could not lay his finger on any particular culprit.
Of all the slaves on the plantation, Chunk appeared the most docile and ready to oblige every one. He waited on the Confederate troopers with alacrity, and grinned at their chaffing with unflagging good- nature. In all the little community, which included an anxious Union scout, Chunk was about the most serene and even-pulsed individual. Nature had endowed him with more muscle than nerves, more shrewdness than intellect, and had quite left out the elements of fear and imagination. He lived intensely in the present; excitement and bustle were congenial conditions, and his soul exulted in the prospect of freedom. Moreover, the fact that he had proved himself to Zany to be no longer a mere object for ridicule added not a little to his elation. Shrewd as himself, she was true to her word of keeping an eye on him, and she was compelled to see that he was acting his part well.
Miss Lou positively refused to come down to dinner. She had buried her face in her pillow, and was almost crying her eyes out; for in the confusion of her mind, resulting from her training and inexperience, she feared that if all her kin insisted on her marriage, and gave such reasons as had been urged upon her, she must be married. She was sorely perplexed. Could the Yankees be such ravening wolves as her uncle and cousin represented them to be? Certainly one was not, but then he might be different from the others because he had been to college and was educated.
"He said he would be glad to do me any kindness," she sobbed. "Oh, if he could only prevent this marriage! Yet what can he do? I could not even speak to a stranger of my trouble, much less to a Northern soldier. I wish I could see my old mammy. She's the only one who in the least understands me and feels a little like a mother toward me. Oh, what a dreadful thing to be a motherless girl at such a time!"
The powers below stairs concluded that it would be best to leave Miss Lou to herself for a time, that she might think over and become reconciled to the need and reasonableness of their action, but Mrs. Baron considerately sent up her dinner by Zany. The unhappy girl shook her head and motioned the tray away.
"Hi, now, Miss Lou, w'at you tookin on so fer?" asked the diplomatic Zany.
"For more than you can understand."
"I un'erstan's a heap mo'n you tink," said Zany, throwing off all disguise in her strong sympathy. "Marse Whately des set out ter mar'y you, ez ef you wuz a post dat cud be stood up en mar'd to enybody at eny time. Hi! Miss Lou, I'se bettah off dan you, fer I kin pick en choose my ole man."
"Everybody in the world is better off than I am."
"I wudn't stan' it, Miss Lou. I sut'ny wudn't. I'd runned away."
"How could I run away? Where could I go to?"
"See yere, Miss Lou," and Zany sank her voice to a whisper, "dere's a Linkum man"--
"Hush! how did you know that?"
"Chunk en me's fren's. Don' be 'feard, fer I'd like ter see de gyurl dat kin beat me playin' possum. Dat Linkum man he'p you ter run away."
"For shame, Zany! The idea of my going away with a stranger!"
"'Pears to me I'se rudder runned away wid one man dan hab anoder man runned away wid me."
"Don't ever speak to me of such a thing again."
"Well, den, Miss Lou, de niggahs on dis plantashon des lub you, en dey ain' hankerin' arter Marse Whately. Ef you say de wud, I des belebe dey riz right up again dis mar'age."
"Oh, horrible!" said the girl, in whose mind had been instilled the strong and general dread of a negro insurrection. "There, Zany, you and Chunk mean kindly, but neither you nor any one can help me. If either does or says anything to make a disturbance I'll never forgive you. My cousin and the men with him would kill you all. I'd rather be left alone, for I must think what to do."
"I ain' sayin' not'n, Miss Lou, sence dat yo' 'quest, but doan you gib up," and Zany took her departure, resolving to have a conference with Chunk at the earliest possible moment.
The impossible remedies suggested by Zany depressed Miss Lou all the more, for they increased her impression of the hopeless character of her position. She felt that she was being swept forward by circumstances hard to combat, and how to resist or whether she could resist, were questions which pressed for an immediate answer. She possessed a temperament which warned her imperatively against this
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