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- Miss Lou - 50/64 -
"God bless you, my dear. Please let me kiss you."
When Miss Lou entered Waldo's tent he whispered with a laugh, "It's four hours since you were here."
"No, scarcely two."
"Well, I'm as hungry as if it were four hours."
"That's fine. You're getting right well. Will you be very good and quiet--not a bit excited, if I let some one else bring you your supper?"
She beamed upon him so joyously that he exclaimed aloud, with a rush of tears, "Ah! mother?"
The girl nodded and said, "Now remember, don't break her heart by being worse."
"Oh, how sweet and lovely of her! I'll get well now, sure."
"That's a nice way to treat your old nurse."
Smilingly he held out his hand and said, "You are almost as pretty and good as she is, but you aren't mother." Then he added in strong sympathy, "Forgive me. You haven't any, have you? You don't know about this mother love."
"I know enough about it to have the heartache for its lack. Now you must save your strength till she comes. Good-by."
From that hour he steadily gained, banishing the look of anxiety from his mother's face. Mrs. Whately sighed as she saw how her niece's heart warmed toward the stranger, and how strong an attachment was growing between them. "Louise is drifting away from us all," she thought, "yet I cannot see that she encourages Captain Maynard."
A genuine friendship had also grown between the girl and Captain Hanfield, the Federal officer, and she was heartily sorry when he told her that he would be sent to the railroad town the next day. "My wound isn't doing well and I seem to be running down," he explained. "Dr. Borden has been able to keep me thus far, but I must go to-morrow. Perhaps it's best. He is trying to get me paroled. If I could only get home to my wife and children I'd rally fast enough. I'm all run down and this climate is enervating to me."
She tried to hearten him by kind, hopeful words, and he listened to her with a wistful look on his handsome face. "How I'd like you to meet my little girl!" he said. "Won't I make her blue eyes open when I tell her about you!"
Another bond of union between them was the captain's acquaintance with Scoville, and he soon observed that she listened very patiently and attentively when he spoke of the brave scout's exploits. "I declare," he had said, laughing, "I keep forgetting that you are a Southern girl and that you may not enjoy hearing of the successes of so active an enemy."
"Lieutenant Scoville is not a personal enemy," she had replied guardedly. "He showed us all very great kindness, me especially. I wish that both you and he were on our side."
"Well, as you say down here, I reckon we are on YOUR side any way," had been the captain's smiling reply.
She spoke to Surgeon Ackley promptly about the prospects of a parole, but he said, "Impossible, Miss Baron. The question would at once arise, 'If granted to Hanfield, why not to others?' I reckon Borden has been trying to rally his friend by hopes even when knowing them baseless."
This proved to be the case, and the following day brought the young girl a strange and very sad experience. Dr. Borden appeared at breakfast looking troubled and perplexed. Miss Lou immediately inquired about the captain. The doctor shook his head saying, "He isn't so well. I'd like to speak with you by and by."
She was so depressed by the surgeon's aspect that she paid little heed to the conversation of her two admirers and soon left the table. Borden followed her, and when they were alone began sadly, "Miss Baron, perhaps I am going to ask of you far too much, but you have shown yourself to be an unusually brave girl as well as a kind- hearted one, Hanfield is an old friend of mine and perhaps I've done wrong to mislead him. But I didn't and couldn't foresee what has happened, and I did hope to start him in genuine convalescence, feeling sure that if he got well he would give up the hope of going home as a matter of course. So far from succeeding, a fatal disease has set in--tetanus, lock-jaw. He's dying and doesn't know it. I can't tell him. I've made the truth doubly cruel, for I've raised false hopes. He continually talks of home and his pleading eyes stab me. You can soften the blow to him, soothe and sustain him in meeting what is sure to come."
"Oh, is there no hope?"
"None at all. He can't live. If you feel that the ordeal would be too painful--I wouldn't ask it if I hadn't seen in you unexpected qualities."
"Oh, I must help him bear it; yet how can I? how shall I?"
"Well, I guess your heart and sympathy will guide you. I can't. I can only say you had better tell him the whole truth. He ought to know it for his own and family's sake now, while perfectly rational. Soften the truth as you can, but you can't injure him by telling it plainly, for he will die. God knows, were it my case, the tidings wouldn't seem so very terrible if told by a girl like you."
"Oh, but the tidings are so terrible to speak, especially to such a man. Think of his beautiful wife and daughter, of his never seeing them again. Oh, it's just awful," and her face grew white at the prospect.
"Yes, Miss Baron, it is. In the midst of all the blood and carnage of the war, every now and then a case comes up which makes even my calloused heart admit, 'It's just awful.' I'm only seeking to make it less awful to my poor friend, and perhaps at too great cost to you."
"Well, he on his side, and others on ours, didn't count the cost; neither must I. I must not think about it or my heart will fail me. I will go at once."
"Come then, and God help you and him."
A straw-bed had been made up in a large, airy box-stall where the captain could be by himself. Uncle Lusthah was in attendance and he had just brought a bowl of milk.
Borden had left Miss Lou to enter alone. The captain held out his hand and said cheerfully, "Well, it's an ill wind that blows nowhere. This one will blow me home all the sooner I trust, for it must be plainer now than ever that I need the home change which will put me on my feet again. You needn't look so serious. I feel only a little more poorly than I did--sore throat and a queer kind of stiffness in my jaws as if I had taken cold in them."
"Do I look very serious?" she faltered.
"Yes, you look as if troubled about something. But there, see what an egotistic fellow I am! As if you hadn't troubles of your own! pretty deep ones, too, I fear. Our coming here has given you a wonderful experience, Miss Baron. No matter; you've met it like a soldier and will have much to remember in after years. You can never become a commonplace woman now and there are such a lot of 'em in the world. When I remember all you have done for us it makes me ill to think of some in our town--giggling, silly little flirts, with no higher ambition than to strut down the street in a new dress."
"Oh, don't think of them or over-praise me. Perhaps if they had been here and compelled to face things they would have done better than I. A short time ago I didn't dream of these experiences, and then I would have said I couldn't possibly endure them."
"Well, you have," resumed the captain, who was slightly feverish, excited and inclined to talk. "One of my dearest hopes now is to get back to my little girl soon and deepen her mind by making her ashamed of the silly things in a girl's life. Of course I wish her to be joyous and happy as a young thing should be, as I think you would be if you had the chance. By means of your story I can make her ashamed ever to indulge in those picayune, contemptible feminine traits which exasperate men. I want her to be brave, helpful, sincere, like you, like her mother. How quickly poor Yarry recognized the spirit in which you came among us at first! Jove! I didn't think him capable of such feeling. I tell you, Miss Baron, the roughest of us reverence an unselfish woman--one who doesn't think of herself first and always. She mayn't be a saint, but if she has heart enough for sympathy and is brave and simple enough to bestow it just as a cool spring gushes from the ground, we feel she is the woman God meant her to be. Ah, uncle, that reminds me-- another cup of that cold water. For some reason I'm awfully thirsty this morning."
Miss Lou listened with hands nervously clasping and unclasping, utterly at a loss to know how to tell the man, dreaming of home and planning for the future, that he must soon sleep beside poor Yarry. She had already taken to herself the mournful comfort that his grave also should be where she could care for it and keep it green.
"I wish to tell you more about my little Sadie and my wife. Some day, when this miserable war is over, you will visit us. We'll give you a reception then which may turn even your head. Ha! ha! you thought we'd be worse than Indians. Well, I'll show you a lot of our squaws in full evening dress and you'll own that my wife is the prettiest in the tribe. Every day, until we started on this blasted raid, I received a letter from her. I knew about as well what was going on at home as if there. With my wife it was love almost at first sight, but I can tell you that it's not 'out of sight out of mind' with us. Time merely adds to the pure, bright flame, and such a pair of lovers as we shall be when gray as badgers will be worth a journey to you."
Miss Lou could maintain her self-control no longer. She burst into tears and sobbed helplessly.
"You poor little girl," exclaimed the captain in deep commiseration. "Here I've been talking like a garrulous fool when your heart is burdened with some trouble that perhaps you would like to speak to
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