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- Miss Lou - 3/64 -
could become, and her woman's soul was touched that one who looked so strong, who had been so vital a moment before, should now lie there in pathetic and appealing helplessness. Was that fine, manly face the visage of one of the terrible, bloodthirsty, unscrupulous Yankees? Even as she ran to Aun' Jinkey's cottage for help the thought crossed her mind that the world was not what it had been represented to her, and that she must learn to think and act for herself.
As she approached, Chunk, Aun' Jinkey's grandson, appeared coming from the mansion house. He was nicknamed "Chunk" from his dwarfed stature and his stout, powerful build. Miss Lou put her finger to her lips, glanced hastily around, and led the way into the cabin. She hushed their startled exclamations as she told her story, and then said, "Aun' Jinkey, if he's alive, you must hide him in your loft there where Chunk sleeps. Come with me."
In a few moments all three were beside the unconscious form. Chunk instantly slipped his hand inside the soldier's vest over his heart. "Hit done beats," he said, quickly, and without further hesitation he lifted the man as if he had been a child, bore him safely to the cabin, and laid him on Aun' Jinkey's bed. "Hi, granny, whar dat hot stuff you gib me fer de belly misery?"
Aun' Jinkey had already found a bottle containing a decoction of the wild ginger root, and with pewter spoon forced some of the liquid into the man's mouth. He struggled slightly and began to revive. At last he opened his eyes and looked with an awed expression at the young girl who stood at the foot of the bed.
"I hope you feel better now," she said, kindly.
"Are you--am I alive?" he asked.
"Dar now, mars'r, you isn't in heb'n yet, dough Miss Lou, standin' dar, mout favor de notion. Des you took anoder swaller ob dis ginger-tea, en den you see me'n Chunk ain' angels."
Chunk grinned and chuckled. "Neber was took fer one in my bawn days."
The young man did as he was bidden, then turned his eyes wistfully and questioningly from the two dark visages back to the girl's sympathetic face.
"You remember," she said, "you were being chased, and turned your horse toward a steep bank, which you didn't see, and fell."
"Ah, yes--it's all growing clear. You were the woman I caught glimpse of."
She nodded and said: "I must go now, or some one will come looking for me. I won't speak--tell about this. I'm not on your side, but I'm not going to get a helpless man into more trouble. You may trust Aun' Jinkey and her grandson."
"Dat you kin, mars'r," Chunk ejaculated with peculiar emphasis.
"God bless you, then, for a woman who has a heart. I'm quite content that you're not an angel," and a smile so lighted up the soldier's features that she thought she had never seen a pleasanter looking man.
Worried indeed that she was returning so much later than usual, she hastened homeward. Half-way up the path to the house she met a tall, slender negro girl, who exclaimed, "Hi, Miss Lou, ole miss des gettin' 'stracted 'bout you, en mars'r sez ef you ain' at supper in five minits he's gwine down to Aun' Jinkey en know what she mean, meckin' sech' sturbence in de fambly."
"How absurd!" thought the girl. "Being a little late is a disturbance in the family." But she hastened on, followed by the girl, who was employed in the capacity of waitress. This girl, Zany by name, resented in accordance with her own ideas and character the principle of repression which dominated the household. She threw a kiss toward the cabin under the trees and shook with silent laughter as she muttered, "Dat fer you, Chunk. You de beat'nst nigger I eber see. You mos' ez bro'd ez I is high, yit you'se reachin' arter me. I des like ter kill mysef lafin' wen we dance tergeder," and she indulged in a jig-step and antics behind Miss Lou's back until she came in sight of the windows, then appeared as if following a hearse.
Miss Lou entered the rear door of the long, two-story house, surrounded on three sides by a wide piazza. Mr. Baron, a stout, bald-headed old gentleman, was fuming up and down the dining-room while his wife sat in grim silence at the foot of the table. It was evident that they had made stiff, old-fashioned toilets, and both looked askance at the flushed face of the almost breathless girl, still in her simple morning costume. Before she could speak her uncle said, severely, "Since we have waited so long, we will still wait till you can dress."
The girl was glad to escape to her room in order that she might have time to frame some excuse before she faced the inquisition in store for her.
Constitutional traits often assert themselves in a manner contrary to the prevailing characteristics of a region. Instead of the easy- going habits of life common to so many of his neighbors, Mr. Baron was a martinet by nature, and the absence of large, engrossing duties permitted his mind to dwell on little things and to exaggerate them out of all proportion. Indeed, it was this utter lack of perspective in his views and judgments which created for Miss Lou half her trouble. The sin of tardiness which she had just committed was treated like a great moral transgression, or rather it was so frowned upon that it were hard to say he could show his displeasure at a more heinous offence. The one thought now in Mr. Baron's mind was that the sacred routine of the day had been broken. Often there are no greater devotees to routine than those who are virtually idlers. Endowed with the gift of persistence rather than with a resolute will, it had become second nature to maintain the daily order of action and thought which he believed to be his right to enforce upon his household. Every one chafed under his inexorable system except his wife. She had married when young, had grown up into it, and supplemented it with a system of her own which took the form of a scrupulous and periodical attention to all little details of housekeeping. There was a constant friction, therefore, between the careless, indolent natures of the slaves and the precise, exacting requirements of both master and mistress. Miss Lou, as she was generally called on the plantation, had grown up into this routine as a flower blooms in a stiff old garden, and no amount of repression, admonition and exhortation, not even in her younger days of punishment, could quench her spirit or benumb her mind. She submitted, she yielded, with varying degrees of grace or reluctance. As she increased in years, her thoughts, as we have seen, were verging more and more on the border of rebellion. But the habit of obedience and submission still had its influence. Moreover, there had been no strong motive and little opportunity for independent action. Hoping not even for tolerance, much less for sympathy, she kept her thoughts to herself, except as she occasionally relieved her mind to her old mammy, Aun' Jinkey.
She came into the dining-room hastily at last, but the expression of her face was impassive and inscrutable. She was received in solemn silence, broken at first only by the long formal grace which Mr. Baron never omitted and never varied. In her rebellious mood the girl thought, "What a queer God it would be if he were pleased with this old cut-and-dried form of words! All the time uncle's saying them he is thinking how he'll show me his displeasure."
Mr. Baron evidently concluded that his best method at first would be an expression of offended dignity, and the meal began in depressing silence, which Mrs. Baron was naturally the first to break. "It must be evident to you, Louise," she said in a thin, monotonous voice, "that the time has come for you to consider and revise your conduct. The fact that your uncle has been kept waiting for his supper is only one result of an unhappy change which I have observed, but have forborne to speak of in the hope that your own conscience and the influence of your past training would lead you to consider and conform. Think of the precious moments, indeed I may say hours, that you have wasted this afternoon in idle converse with an old negress who is no fit companion for you! You are becoming too old--"
"Too old, aunt? Do you at last recognize the fact that I am growing older?"
With a faint expression of surprise dawning in her impassive face Mrs. Baron continued: "Yes, old enough to remember yourself and not to be compelled to recognize the duties of approaching womanhood. I truly begin to feel that I must forbid these visits to an old, ignorant and foolish creature whose ideas are totally at variance with all that is proper and right."
"Uncle thinks I have approached womanhood sufficiently near to know something of my business affairs, and even went so far as to suggest his project of marrying me to my cousin in order to unite in sacred-- I mean legal bonds the two plantations."
The two old people looked at each other, then stared at their niece, who, with hot face, maintained the pretence of eating her supper. "Truly, Louise," began Mr. Baron, solemnly, "you are indulging in strange and unbecoming language. I have revealed to you your pecuniary affairs, and I have more than once suggested an alliance which is in accordance with our wishes and your interests, in order to prove to you how scrupulous we are in promoting your welfare. We look for grateful recognition and a wise, persistent effort on your part to further our efforts in your behalf."
"It doesn't seem to me wise to talk to a mere child about property and marriage," said the girl, breathing quickly in the consciousness of her temerity and her rising spirit of rebellion.
"You are ceasing to be a mere child," resumed her uncle, severely.
"That cannot be," Miss Lou interrupted. "You and aunt speak to me as you did years ago when I was a child. Can you expect me to have a woman's form and not a woman's mind? Are women told exactly what they must think and do, like little children? Aunt threatens to forbid visits to my old mammy. If I were but five years old she couldn't do more. You speak of marrying me to my cousin as if I had merely the form and appearance of a woman, and no mind or wishes of my own. I have never said I wanted to marry him or any one."
"Why, Louise, you are verging toward flat rebellion," gasped her uncle, laying down his knife and fork.
"Oh, no, uncle! I'm merely growing up. You should have kept the library locked; you should never have had me taught to read, if you expected me to become the mere shell of a woman, having no ideas of
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