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- Miss Lou - 40/64 -
"Mother," said her son, "I had cursed luck last night. I wish I had slept on the rain-soaked ground near my prisoners," and he told her what had happened.
"Oh, Madison!" sighed Mrs. Whately, "I wish this experience would teach you to be more guided by me. Louise cared nothing for this Yankee, except in a sort of grateful, friendly way. Through him, you could have done so much to disarm--"
"Oh, well, mother, the milk is spilled. If possible, let the whole affair be kept from her knowledge."
"Yes, I suppose that will be the best way. If she hears about it, we must try to explain by the usages of war. Now, Madison, you are cool. Let experience be your teacher, for you MUST face the truth. You must either give her up--"
"I'll never give her up."
"Then, as Major Brockton said, you must win her like a Southern gentleman. Her spirit is as high as yours. You can't continue to speak to her as you did last night and this morning. Try to realize the facts. In the seclusion of her bringing up, Louise has learned nothing of the conventionalities of society which might incline her toward a good match on general principles. So far from this, the many old-fashioned romances she has read have made her feel that she must and WILL have her romance. If you can make Louise feel that you love her so well as to become her gallant suitor, circumstances may soon give you great advantages. She may be cold and indifferent for a time, but like all passionate high-strung natures, present impulses against may turn just as strongly for you. At least, you have not to contend with that most fatal of all attitudes-- indifference. A great change in you will be a flattering tribute to her power to which no girl would be indifferent. I must tell you now once for all that I will not again assist in any high-handed measures against Louise. Not only the futility of such action, but my own dignity and sense of right, forbid it. I did not understand her at first. Now that I do, I am all the more eager to call her daughter; but I wish her to feel toward me as she should in such a relation. Yesterday, when I apologized and told her that I meant to treat her with kindness and fairness, she kissed me like the warm- hearted girl she is. I will help you win her as a man should win his wife; I will not be dragged into any more false positions which can end only in humiliation. I will be your tireless ally in the only way you can succeed, but in no other."
"Very well, mother, I agree," said Whately, whose nature it was to react from one extreme to another.
"Ah, now I have hope. How is your arm?"
"It pains horribly."
Mrs. Whately went to Miss Lou's room and said, "Forgive me for keeping you waiting. Madison is almost beside himself with pain in his arm, and I will be detained a little longer."
In her immense relief that she was not charged with all she dreaded, Miss Lou had leisure from her fears to feel commiseration for her cousin. When at last he appeared she said kindly, "I am sorry you are suffering so much."
"If I thought you really cared I wouldn't mind the pain," he replied. "Cousin Lou, I owe an apology, several, I reckon, but I've been so distracted between conflicting feelings, duties and pain, that I scarcely know what I say."
"You little know me if you think I'm weighing WORDS at this time," she replied. "Come, let us forget the past, shake hands and remember that we are simply cousins."
He took her hand instantly, but said, "You ask what is impossible. Suppose you had said, 'Just remember your arm is well from this moment,' would it be well? I cannot help my feelings toward you and don't wish to."
"Very well, then," she sighed, "I cannot help mine either. I don't wish to talk on that subject any more."
"Then I must plead by actions. Well, I must go now."
Mrs. Whately was much pleased, for her son was adopting just the course she desired. She added nothing and accompanied Louise downstairs.
The amputating table had been removed and the halls cleansed, but the unmistakable odor of the hospital pervaded the house. Every apartment on the first floor except the dining-room was filled with the wounded. Some were flushed and feverish by reason of their injuries, others, pallid from loss of blood and ebbing vital forces.
The Confederate general, with his staff, had already made a hasty breakfast and departed; through the open door came the mellow sound of bugles and the songs of birds, but within were irrepressible sighs and groans. Mrs. Whately entered the spacious parlor on the floor of which Confederate officers lay as close as space for attendance upon them permitted. The young girl paused on the threshold and looked around with a pitying, tearful face. A white- haired colonel was almost at her feet. As he looked up and recognized her expression, a pleased smile illumined his wan, drawn face. "Don't be frightened, my child," he said gently.
The swift glance of her secured attention took in his condition. His right arm was gone and he appeared ghastly from loss of blood. In her deep emotion she dropped on her knees beside him, took his cold hand and kissed it as she said, "Please let me help you and others get well."
The old man was strongly touched by her unexpected action, and he faltered, "Well, my child, you make us all feel that our Southern girls are worth fighting for and, if need be, dying for. Yes, you can help us, some of us, in our dying perhaps, as well as in our mending. My battles are over. You can help best by caring for younger, stronger men."
"Such men will not begrudge you anything, sir."
"Bravo!" cried half a dozen voices, and an officer near added, "Miss Baron speaks as well and true as you fought, Colonel."
She looked hastily around. Seeing many friendly smiles and looks of honest goodwill and admiration she rose confusedly, saying, "I must go to work at once."
"I think, Louise," said Mrs. Whately, joining her in the hall, "we can accomplish most if we work much together and under the directions of the surgeons. It is evident from the numbers of the wounded that time, strength, food--everything will have to be used to the best advantage. I'm glad that we both got some sleep last night. Now, I insist. Before you do a thing you must have a cup of hot coffee and some nourishing food yourself. The best impulses in the world are not equal to the tasks before us. Indeed, we shall fail these poor men in their sore need if we do not keep our strength. The worst is yet to come. As far as you can, control your feelings, for emotion wears faster than work. Let's first go to the kitchen."
Zany followed from the dining-room with her hands full of dishes. She gave Miss Lou a swift, significant glance, and that was all. Even she was sobered by the scenes witnessed that morning and the thought of Chunk's indefinite absence. Aun' Suke sat dozing in a corner, absolutely worn out, and other negroes from the quarters had been pressed into the service. Mrs. Baron was superintending their efforts to supply soup and such articles of diet as the surgeons had ordered. "Ole miss" now shone to advantage and had the executive ability of a general. In cool, sharp, decisive tones she gave her orders, which were obeyed promptly by assistants awed into forgetfulness of everything else except the great, solemn emergency. All differences had disappeared between the two ladies, and they began consulting at once how best to meet the prolonged demands now clearly foreseen.
"The confusion and conflicting requirements are just awful," said Mrs. Baron. "As soon as possible, we must bring about some system and order. One of the first things to do is to get as many provisions and delicacies as possible under lock and key, especially the coffee and sugar. They are going to give out anyway, before long."
Miss Lou stole away and ran to Aun' Jinkey's cabin. Soldiers had taken possession of it and were cooking and eating their breakfasts. Some recognized the girl politely as she stood at the door, while others continued their occupation in stolid indifference. Aun' Jinkey rose tottering from a corner and came to the doorstep. "You see how 'tis, honey," she said. "Dey des gwine on ez ef I ain' yere. I a hun'erd yeahs ol'er dan I wuz w'en you want sump'n ter hap'n."
"Take courage, mammy," Miss Lou whispered. "Chunk's safe. Have YOU had any breakfast?"
"I can't eat, honey, w'en ev'yting des a whirlin'."
The girl darted away and in a few moments returned with a cup of coffee. Entering the cabin, she said, "Fair play, gentlemen. This is my old mammy's cabin and this her place here in the corner by the hearth. Will you do me the favor of being kind to her and letting her remain undisturbed? Then you can use her fireplace all you please."
The Southern soldiers, understanding so well the relation between the girl and the old woman, agreed with many good-natured protestations, offering to share with Aun' Jinkey their rude breakfast.
By the time the girl had returned to the house, she found that Zany and others had prepared a second breakfast in the dining-room for the family and such of the officers whose wounds were so slight as to permit their presence at the table. Miss Lou was placed between her cousin and a young, dark-eyed officer who was introduced as Captain Maynard. He also carried his left arm in a sling.
Mrs. Whately sat in Mr. Baron's place, since he, after a night's vigils, had retired to obtain a little sleep. "Louise," said the lady, "you will have to begin being useful at once. You have a disabled man on either side of you for whom you must prepare food."
"Miss Baron," said Captain Maynard gallantly, "I am already more than reconciled to my wound. Anything that you prepare for me will be ambrosia."
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