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- Miss Lou - 6/64 -
At last he ventured to whisper, "Aun' Jinkey, I am as hungry as a wolf."
"Hesh!" said the old woman softly. Then she rose, knocked the ashes from her pipe with great deliberation, and taking a bucket started for the spring. In going and coming she looked very sharply in all directions, thus satisfying herself that no one was watching the cabin. Re-entering, she whispered, "Kin you lif de trap-do'?"
Scoville opened it, and was about to descend. "No, you kyant do dat," interposed Aun' Jinkey, quickly. "Lie down up dar, en I han' you Chunk's supper. He gits his'n at de big house. You's got ter play possum right smart, mars'r, or you git cotched. Den we cotch it, too. You 'speck I doan know de resk Chunk en me tookin?"
"Forgive me, Aunt Jinkey. But your troubles will soon be over and you be as free as I am."
"I doesn't want no sech freedom ez you got, mars'r, hid'n en scrugin' fum tarin' en rarin' red-hot gallopers ez Mad Whately en his men. Dey'd des bun de ole cabin en me in't ef dey knowed you's dar. Bettah stop yo' mouf wid yo' supper."
This Scoville was well contented to do for a time, while Aun' Jinkey smoked and listened with all her ears. Faint sounds came from the house and the negro quarters, but all was still about the cabin. Suddenly she took her pipe from her mouth and muttered, "Dar goes a squinch-owl tootin'. Dat doan mean no good."
"Aunt Jinkey," said Scoville, who was watching her, "that screech- owl worries you, doesn't it?"
"Dere's mo' kin's ob squinch-owls dan you 'lows on, mars'r. Some toots fer de sake ob tootin' en some toots in warnin'."
"That one tooted in warning. Don't be surprised if you hear another very near." He crawled to the cranny under the eaves and Aun' Jinkey fairly jumped out of her chair as she heard an owl apparently hooting on the roof with a vigor and truth to nature that utterly deceived her senses. Scoville repeated the signal, and then crept back to the chink in the floor. The old woman was trembling and looking round in dismayed uncertainty. "There," he said, with a low laugh, "that squinch-owl was I, and the first you heard was one of my men. Now, like a good soul, make pones and fry bacon for five men, and you'll have friends who will take good care of you and Chunk."
"De Lawd he'p me! w'at comin' nex'? Miss Lou wuz a wishin' sump'n ud hap'n--w'at ain' gwinter hap'n?"
"Nothing will happen to harm you if you do as I say. Our men may soon be marching this way, and we'll remember our friends when we come."
"I des hope dere'll be sump'n lef ob me ter reckermember," said Aun' Jinkey, but she rose to comply with the soldier's requirement, feeling that her only course was to fall in with the wishes of whoever happened to be uppermost in the troublous times now foreseen. She was in a terribly divided state of mind. The questions she had smoked and thought over so long now pressed with bewildering rapidity and urgency. An old family slave, she had a strong feeling of loyalty to her master and mistress. But they had been partially alienating Miss Lou, for whom she would open her veins, while her grandson was hot for freedom and looked upon Northern soldiers as his deliverers. Aun' Jinkey was not sure she wished to be delivered. That was one of the points she was not through "projeckin'" about. Alas! events would not wait for her conclusions, although more time had been given her than to many others forced to contemplate vast changes. With a shrewd simplicity she decided that it would be wise to keep on friendly terms with all the contending powers, and do what in her judgment was best for each.
"Hit des took all de 'visions we got," she remarked, disconsolately.
"You'll soon have visions of more to eat and wear than ever blessed your eyes," said Scoville, encouragingly.
"Hi! granny," said Chunk, peeping in at the door.
"How you start me!" ejaculated the old woman, sinking into her chair.
"That you, Chunk?" asked Scoville. "Is the coast clear?"
"I reck'n. Keep shy yet a while, mars'r." A few words explained the situation, and Chunk added: "You des feed dem Yankees big, granny. I'se pervide mo'. I mus' go now sud'n. Made Aun' Suke b'lebe dat I knowed ob chickens w'at roos' in trees, en dey tinks I'se lookin' fer um. High ole times up ter de house," and he disappeared in the darkness.
In nervous haste Aun' Jinkey prepared the ample supper. Scoville hooted again, a shadowy form stole to the cabin for the food, and disappeared again toward the run. Then Aun' Jinkey prepared to compose her nerves by another smoke.
"Hand me up a coal for my pipe, also," said Scoville, "and then we'll have a sociable time."
"I des feared onsosh'ble times dis eb'nin'," remarked Aun' Jinkey.
"If you knew how my bones ached, you'd help me pass the time."
"Reck'n mine ache, too, 'fo' I troo wid dis bus'ness."
"No, Aunt Jinkey, you won't be punished for doing a good deed. Your young mistress is on your side, anyway. Who is she?"
"Young mistis ain' got no po'r ef dey fin's out. She nuff ter do ter hol' 'er own."
"How comes it she's friendly to 'we uns,' as you say down here?"
"She ain' friendly. You drap at her feet ez ef you wuz dead, en she hab a lil gyurlish, soft heart, dat's all. Didn't she tole you dat she ain' on yo' side?"
"Well, bless her heart, then."
"I circumscribe ter dat ar."
"Aren't you on our side?"
"I'se des 'twix en 'tween all de sides."
"You're all right, Aunt Jinkey. I'd trust you with my life."
"Reck'n you hab ter dis eb'nin'."
"Well, about Miss Lou--you say she has trouble to hold her own. How's that?"
"Dem's fambly matters."
"And so none of my business, unless she tells me herself."
"How she gwine ter tol' you tings?"
"Ah, Aunt Jinkey, you've vegetated a great while in these slow parts. I feel it in my bones, sore as they are, that some day I'll give you a new dress that will make you look like a spike of red hollyhocks. You'll see changes you don't dream of."
"My haid whirlin' now, mars'r. Hope ter grashus I kin do my wuk ter- morrer in peace and quietness."
There was neither peace nor quietness at the mansion. Whately, with a soldier's instincts to make the most of passing opportunities, added to the hasty tendencies of his own nature, was not only enjoying the abundant supper, but feasting his eyes meantime on the charms developed by his cousin in his absence. He knew of his uncle's wish to unite the two plantations, and had given his assent to the means, for it had always been his delight to tease, frighten, and pet his little cousin, whose promise of beauty had been all that he could desire. Now she evoked a sudden flame of passion, and his mind, which leaped to conclusions, was already engaged in plans for consummating their union at once. He sought to break down her reserve by paying her extravagant compliments, and to excite her admiration by accounts of battles in which he would not have posed as hero so plainly had he not been flushed with wine. There was an ominous fire in her eyes scarcely in accord with her cool demeanor. Unused to the world, and distrusting her own powers, she made little effort to reply, taking refuge in comparative silence. This course encouraged him and her uncle. The former liked her manifestation of spirit as long as he believed it to be within control. To his impetuous, imperious nature the idea of a tame, insipid bride was not agreeable; while Mr. Baron, still under the illusion that she was yet but a submissive child, thought that her bad mood was passing and would be gone in the morning. He little dreamed how swiftly her mind was awakening and developing under the spur of events. She did not yet know that her cousin was meditating such a speedy consummation of his purpose, but was aware that he and all her relatives looked upon her as his predestined wife. Now, as never before, she shrank from the relation, and in the instinct of self- preservation resolved never to enter into it.
Her long, rebellious reveries in solitude had prepared her for this hour, and her proud, excited spirit surprised her by the intensity of its passionate revolt. Not as a timid, shrinking maiden did she look at her cousin and his men feasting on the piazza. She glanced at him, then through the open windows at their burly forms, as one might face a menace which brought no thought of yielding.
The family resemblance between Whately and herself was strong. He had her blue eyes, but they were smaller than hers, and his expression was bold, verging toward recklessness. Her look was steady and her lips compressed into accord with the firm little chin.
Mrs. Baron's ideas of decorum soon brought temporary relief. She also saw that her nephew was becoming too excited to make a good impression, so she said, "Louise, you may now retire, and I trust that you will waken tomorrow to the truth that your natural guardians can best direct your thoughts and actions."
Whately was about to rise in order to bid an affectionate good- night, but the girl almost fled from the room. In the hall she met Chunk, who whispered, "Linkum man gittin' peart, Miss Lou."
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