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- Miss Lou - 2/64 -
said Aun' Jinkey in an awed tone.
"No danger of uncle or aunt comparing me to the run, or anything else. They never had any children and don't know anything about young people. They have a sort of prim, old-fashioned ideal of what the girls in the Baron family should be, and I must become just such a girl--just like that stiff, queer old portrait of grandma when she was a girl. Oh, if they knew how tired of it all I am!"
"Bless yo' heart, Miss Lou, you ain' projeckin' anyting?"
"No, I'm just chafing and beating my wings like a caged bird."
"Now see yere, Miss Lou, isn't you onreason'ble? You hab a good home; mars'r en miss monstus pius, en dey bringin' you up in de nurter en 'monitions ob de Lawd." "Too much 'monition, Aun' Jinkey. Uncle and aunt's religion makes me so tired, and they make Sunday so awfully long. Their religion reminds me of the lavender and camphor in which they keep their Sunday clothes. And then the pages of the catechism they have always made me learn, and the long Psalms, too, for punishment! I don't understand religion, anyway. It seems something meant to uphold all their views, and anything contrary to their views isn't right or religious. They don't think much of you Baptists."
"We ain' sufrin' on dat 'count, chile," remarked Aun' Jinkey, dryly.
"There now, Aun' Jinkey, don't you see? Uncle owns you, yet you think for yourself and have a religion of your own. If he knew I was thinking for myself, he'd invoke the memory of all the Barons against me. I don't know very much about the former Barons, except that my father was one. According to what I am told, the girl Barons were the primmest creatures I ever heard of. Then uncle and aunt are so inconsistent, holding up as they do for my admiration Cousin Mad Whately. I don't wonder people shorten his name from Madison to Mad, for if ever there was a wild, reckless fellow, he is. Uncle wants to bring about a match, because Mad's plantation joins ours. Mad acted as if he owned me already when he was home last, and yet he knows I can't abide him. He seems to think I can be subdued like one of his skittish horses."
"You HAB got a heap on yo' min", Miss Lou, you sho'ly hab. You sut'ny t'ink too much for a young gyurl."
"I'm eighteen, yet uncle and aunt act toward me in some ways as if I were still ten years old. How can I help think ing? The thoughts come. You're a great one to talk against thinking. Uncle says you don't do much else, and that your thoughts are just like the smoke of your pipe."
Aun' Jinkey bridled indignantly at first, but, recollecting herself, said quietly: "I knows my juty ter ole mars'r en'll say not'n gin 'im. He bring you up en gib you a home, Miss Lou. You must reckermember dat ar."
"I'm in a bad mood, I suppose, but I can't help my thoughts, and it's kind of a comfort to speak them out. If he only WOULD give me a home and not make it so much like a prison! Uncle's honest, though, to the backbone. On my eighteenth birthday he took me into his office and formally told me about my affairs. I own that part of the plantation on the far side of the run. He has kept all the accounts of that part separate, and if it hadn't been for the war I'd have been rich, and he says I will be rich when the war is over and the South free. He said he had allowed so much for my bringing up and for my education, and that the rest was invested, with his own money, in Confederate bonds. That is all right, and I respect uncle for his downright integrity, but he wants to manage me just as he does my plantation. He wishes to produce just such crops of thoughts as he sows the seeds of, and he would treat my other thoughts like weeds, which must be hoed out, cut down and burned. Then you see he hasn't GIVEN me a home, and I'm growing to be a woman. If I am old enough to own land, am I never to be old enough to own myself?"
"Dar now, Miss Lou, you raisin' mo' questions dan I kin tink out in a yeah."
"There's dozens more rising in my mind and I can't get rid of them. Aunt keeps my hands knitting and working for the soldiers, and I like to do it. I'd like to be a soldier myself, for then I could go somewhere and do and see something. Life then wouldn't be just doing things with my hands and being told to think exactly what an old gentleman and an old lady think. Of course our side is right in this war, but how can I believe with uncle that nearly all the people in the North are low, wicked and vile? The idea that every Northern soldier is a monster is preposterous to me. Uncle forgets that he has had me taught in United States history. I wish some of them would just march by this out-of-the-way place, for I would like to see for myself what they are like."
"Dar, dar, Miss Lou, you gittin' too bumptious. You like de fus' woman who want ter know too much,"
"No," said the girl, her blue eyes becoming dark and earnest, "I want to know what's true, what's right. I can't believe that uncle and aunt's narrow, exclusive, comfortless religion came from heaven; I can't believe that God agrees with uncle as to just what a young girl should do and think and be, but uncle seems to think that the wickedest thing I can do is to disagree with him and aunt. Uncle forgets that there are books in his library, and books make one think. They tell of life very different from mine. Why, Aun' Jinkey, just think what a lonely girl I am! You are about the only one I can talk to. Our neighbors are so far away and we live so secluded that I scarcely have acquaintances of my own age. Aunt thinks young girls should be kept out of society until the proper time, and that time seems no nearer now than ever. If uncle and aunt loved me, it would be different, but they have just got a stiff set of ideas about their duty to me and another set about my duty to them. Why, uncle laughed at a kitten the other day because it was kittenish, but he has always wanted me to behave with the solemnity of an old cat. Oh, dear! I'm SO tired. I wish something WOULD happen."
"Hit brokes me all up ter year you talk so, honey, en I bless de Lawd 'tain' likely any ting gwinter hap'n in dese yere parts. De wah am ragin' way off fum heah, nobody comin' wid news, en bimeby you gits mo' settle down. Some day you know de valley ob peace en quietness."
"See here, Aun' Jinkey," said the girl, with a flash of her eyes, "you know the little pond off in the woods. That's more peaceful than the run, isn't it? Well, it's stagnant, too, and full of snakes. I'd like to know what's going on in the world, but uncle of late does not even let me read the county paper. I know things are not going to suit him, for he often frowns and throws the paper into the fire. That's what provokes me--the whole world must go just to suit him, or else he is angry."
"Well, now, honey, you hab 'lieve yo' min', en I specs you feel bettah. You mus' des promis yo' ole mammy dat you be keerful en not rile up ole mars'r, kase hit'll ony be harder fer you. I'se ole, en I knows tings do hap'n dough dey of'un come slowlike. You des gwine troo de woods now, en kyant see fur; bimeby you come ter a clearin'. Dat boy ob mine be comin' soon fer his pone en bacon. I'se gwinter do a heap ob tinkin' on all de questions you riz."
"Yes, Aun' Jinkey, I do feel better for speaking out, but I expect I shall do a heap of thinking too. Good-by," and she strolled away toward the brook.
It was a moody little stream which Miss Lou was following. She did not go far before she sat down on a rock and watched the murmuring waters glide past, conscious meantime of a vague desire to go with them into the unknown. She was not chafing so much at the monotony of her life as at its restrictions, its negation of all pleasing realities, and the persistent pressure upon her attention of a formal round of duties and more formal and antiquated circle of thoughts. Only as she stole away into solitudes like the one in which she now sat dreaming could she escape from the hard materialism of routine, and chiding for idleness usually followed. Her aunt, with an abundance of slaves at her command, could have enjoyed much leisure, yet she was fussily and constantly busy, and the young girl could not help feeling that much which she was expected to do was a mere waste of time.
The serene beauty of the evening, the songs of the mocking and other birds, were not without their effect, however, and she said aloud: "I might be very happy even here if, like the birds, I had the heart to sing--and I would sing if I truly lived and had something to live for."
The sun was approaching the horizon, and she was rising wearily and reluctantly to return when she heard the report of firearms, followed by the sound of swiftly galloping horses. Beyond the brook, on the margin of which she stood, rose a precipitous bank overhung with vines and bushes, and a few rods further back was a plantation road descending toward a wide belt of forest. A thick copse and growth of young trees ran from the top of the bank toward the road, hiding from her vision that portion of the lane from which the sounds were approaching. Suddenly half a dozen cavalrymen, whom she knew to be Federals from their blue uniforms, galloped into view and passed on in the direction of the forest. One of the group turned his horse sharply behind the concealing copse and spurred directly toward her. She had only time to throw up her hands and utter an involuntary cry of warning about the steep bank, when the horse sprang through the treacherous shrubbery and fell headlong into the stream. The rider saw his peril, withdrew his feet from the stirrups, and in an instinctive effort for self-preservation, threw himself forward, falling upon the sand almost at the young girl's feet. He uttered a groan, shivered, and became insensible. A moment or two later a band in gray galloped by wholly intent upon the Federals, who had disappeared spurring for the woods, and she recognized her cousin, Madison Whately, leading the pursuit. Neither he nor any of his party looked her way, and it was evident that the Union soldier who had so abruptly diverged from the road behind the screening copse had not been discovered. The sounds died away as speedily as they had approached, and all became still again. The startled birds resumed their songs; the injured horse moved feebly, and the girl saw that it was bleeding from a wound, but the man at her feet did not stir. Truly something had happened. What should she do? Breaking the paralysis of her fear and astonishment, she stepped to the brook, gathered up water in her hands, and dashed it into the face of the unconscious man. It had no effect. "Can he be dead?" she asked herself in horror. He was as pale as his bronzed features
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