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- Miss Lou - 4/64 -
"We wish you to have ideas, and have tried to inculcate right ideas."
"Which means only your ideas, uncle."
"Louise, are you losing your mind?"
"No, uncle, I am beginning to find it, and that I have a right to use it. I am willing to pay all due respect and deference to you and to aunt, but I protest against being treated as a child on one hand and as a wax figure which can be stood up and married to anybody on the other. I have patiently borne this treatment as long as I can, and I now reckon the time has come to end it."
Mr. Baron was thunderstruck and his wife was feeling for her smelling-bottle. Catching a glimpse of Zany, where she stood open- mouthed in her astonishment, her master said, sternly, "Leave the room!" Then he added to his niece, "Think of your uttering such wild talk before one of our people! Don't you know that my will must be law on this plantation?"
"I'm not one of your people," responded the girl, haughtily. "I'm your niece, and a Southern girl who will call no man master."
At this moment there was a knock at the door. Without waiting for it to be opened, a tall, lank man entered and said, hastily, "Mr. Baron, I reckon there's news which yer orter hear toreckly." He was the overseer of the plantation.
Mr. Baron was one of the few of the landed gentry in the region who was not known by a military title, and he rather prided himself on the fact. "I'm a man of peace," he was accustomed to say, and his neighbors often remarked, "Yes, Baron is peaceable if he has his own way in everything, but there's no young blood in the county more ready for a fray than he for a lawsuit." "Law and order" was Mr. Baron's motto, but by these terms he meant the perpetuity of the conditions under which he and his ancestors had thus far lived. To distrust these conditions was the crime of crimes. In his estimation, therefore, a Northern soldier was a monster surpassed only by the out-and-out abolitionist. While it had so happened that, even as a young man, his tastes had been legal rather than military, he regarded the war of secession as more sacred than any conflict of the past, and was willing to make great sacrifices for its maintenance. He had invested all his funds as well as those of his niece in Confederate bonds, and he had annually contributed a large portion of the product of his lands to the support of the army. Living remote from the scenes of actual strife, he had been able to maintain his illusions and hopes to a far greater extent than many others of like mind with himself; but as the war drew toward its close, even the few newspapers he read were compelled to justify their name in some degree by giving very unpalatable information. As none are so blind as those who will not see, the old man had testily pooh-poohed at what he termed "temporary reverses," and his immunity from disturbance had confirmed his belief that the old order of things could not materially change. True, some of his slaves had disappeared, but he had given one who had been caught such a lesson that the rest had remained quiet if not contented.
The news brought by his overseer became therefore more disturbing than the strange and preposterous conduct of his niece, and he had demanded excitedly, "What on earth's the matter, Perkins?"
"Well, sir, fur's I kin mek out, this very plantation's been p'luted by Yankee soldiers this very evenin'. Yes, sir."
"Great heavens! Perkins," and Mr. Baron sprang from his chair, then sank back again with an expression suggesting that if the earth opened next it could not be worse.
"Yes, sir," resumed Perkins, solemnly, "I drawed that much from Jute. He seen 'em hisself. I noticed a s'pressed 'citement en talk in the quarters this evenin', an' I follered hit right up an' I ast roun' till I pinned Jute. He was over the fur side of the run lookin' fur a stray crow, an' he seen 'em. But they was bein' chased lively. Mad Whately--beg pardon--Mr. Madison was arter them with whip and spur. Didn't yer hear a crack of a rifle? I did, and reckoned it was one o' the Simcoe boys out gunnin', but Jute says hit was one o' our men fired the shot, en that they chased the Yanks to'erds the big woods. They was all mounted en goin' it lickity switch. The thing that sticks in my crop isn't them few what Mr. Madison chased, but the main body they belongs to. Looks as ef there's goin' to be a raid down our way."
"If that is so," said Mr. Baron, majestically, "Lieutenant Whately proves that our brave men are not far off, either, and the way he chased some of them shows how all the vile invaders will eventually be driven out of the country. Be vigilant, Perkins, and let it be understood at the quarters that Lieutenant Whately is within call."
The overseer bowed awkwardly and limped away. His lameness had secured him immunity from military duty.
"Ah, that's a man for you," said Mr. Baron, glaring at his niece. "Your cousin is a true scion of Southern chivalry. That is the kind of a man you do not know whether you wish to marry or not--a brave defender of our hearths and liberties."
"If he wishes to marry me against my will, he's not a defender of my liberty," retorted the girl.
"If you had the spirit which should be your birthright your eyes would flash with joy at the prospect of seeing a hero who could thus chase your enemies from our soil. If you could only have seen him in his headlong--"
"I did see him."
"I saw Cousin Madison leading a dozen or more men in pursuit of half a dozen. That does not strike me as sublimely heroic."
"Why haven't you told me of this? How could you have seen him?" and the old man, in his strong excitement, rose from his chair.
"My reception when I entered was not conducive to conversation. I was merely sitting by the run and saw both parties gallop past."
"You should have come instantly to me."
"I'm sure I came in hastily," she replied, crimsoning in the consciousness of her secret, "but I was met as if I had been guilty of something awful."
"Well, if I had known," began her uncle, in some confusion, mistaking her color for an expression of anger.
"I think," remarked her aunt, coldly, "that Louise should have recognized that she had given you just cause for displeasure by her tardiness, unless it were explained, and she should have explained at once. I have no patience with the spirit she is displaying."
But Mr. Baron's mind had been diverted to more serious and alarming considerations than what he characterized mentally as "a girl's tantrum."
"It makes my blood boil," he said, "to think that this Northern scum is actually in our neighborhood, and might be at our doors but for my brave nephew. Thanks to him, they met a righteous reception on this plantation; thanks to him, in all probability, we are not now weltering in our blood, with the roof that shelters us blazing over our heads. If those marauders had found us unprotected, young woman, you would have rued the day. Their capacity for evil is only equalled by their opportunities. If your cousin had not flamed after them like an avenging sword you might have cried loudly enough for the one of whom, in your fit of unseemly petulance, you can speak so slightingly. I advise you to go to your room and thank Heaven for your escape."
"Uncle, are the people of the North savages?"
"Its soldiers are worse than savages. Have you not heard me express my opinion of them over and over again? Go to your room, and when you appear again, I trust it will be with the meekness and submission becoming in a young woman."
When the girl left Aun' Jinkey's cabin the young soldier looked after her with an expression of deep interest. "Who is she?" he asked.
"Dat's Miss Lou," said the old negress, forcing into his mouth another spoonful of her fiery decoction.
"Oh, that's enough, aunty, unless you wish to burn me out like a hollow log," and he struggled to his feet to ease his tendency to strangle. "Miss Lou? How should I know who she is?"
"Ob co'se," said Aun' Jinkey, dryly, "I ain' namin' her pedigree."
"You a Linkum man, ain' you?" Chunk asked, quickly.
"Yes, and Lincoln is a good friend of yours."
"Hi! I knows dat. W'at fer you so hidin'-in-de-grass, granny? No use bein' dat away wid a Linkum man."
"I ain' talkin' 'bout my young mistis to folks ez drap down fum de clouds."
"You wouldn't like me better if I came up from below, aunty. There now, I'm not a very bad fellow, and I belong to the army that's going to make you all free."
"I hasn't des tink out dis question ob bein' free yit. I'se too ole to wuk much an' old mars'r's took keer on me long time."
"Well, I'se tink it out," put in Chunk, decidedly; "en I'se able to wuk fer you en me too."
"You mighty peart, Chunk, co'tin' a gal lie a bean-pole a'ready. I
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