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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMiss Lou - Chapter 30. Glimpses Of Moods And Minds
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Miss Lou - Chapter 30. Glimpses Of Moods And Minds Post by :srinivasraju Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Payson Roe Date :May 2012 Read :849

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Miss Lou - Chapter 30. Glimpses Of Moods And Minds

CHAPTER XXX. GLIMPSES OF MOODS AND MINDS

Dr. Borden's predictions were verified in regard to his friend and patient, Captain Hanfield, but not before the officer had dictated calm, farewell letters to his wife and "little Sadie." To Miss Lou were left the serene, smiling likenesses, a grave to be cared for beside Yarry's, and a memory that could never be blotted out. She was kept from witnessing the terrible convulsions which began soon after her interview, but was present at his death and held his hand until it was cold and lifeless.

Within two weeks after the battle very few patients were left, and all these were to go with Dr. Ackley on the following day, Lieutenant Waldo excepted. He was still too weak to be moved. His mother had become so skilful in the care of his wound that she would be competent, with the help of an aged resident practitioner, to carry him through his convalescence. Mrs. Whately now spent most of the time on her plantation, her presence being needed there to remedy the effects, as far as possible, of the harsh measures at first adopted by her son. It was discouraging effort. The strong ebb tide in the old order of things had set in even far from the Union lines, and only the difficulty in reaching them prevented a general stampede of the negroes. As it was, two or three of her best hands would steal away from time to time, and run the gantlet of many dangers in their travel by night Northward. Her attempts to mollify and render her slaves contented were more than counterbalanced by the threats and severity of her son, who was too vacillating to adopt a fixed policy, and arbitrary by nature.

Her chief hope for him still centred in Miss Lou, upon whom his thoughts were fixed with a steadfastness and earnestness which his mother fondly believed would win her eventually, "I'm sure," she reasoned, "Captain Maynard has made no deep impression. He is about to depart. All will soon be gone, and the old monotony of plantation life will be resumed. After what has happened Louise will not be able to endure this. Madison will return, older and wiser from experience and she, with nothing else to occupy her thoughts will react, like all impulsive natures, from her opposition. Next to winning her or her favor from the start, he has scored a success in waking a hostility far removed from fatal indifference."

She maintained an affectionate manner toward her niece and never discussed the hope she entertained and expectation of calling her daughter. In truth, she had won the girl's respect and goodwill in a very high degree. She had been a kind and successful nurse among the wounded, confining her efforts chiefly to the Confederates. She had also been a dignified lady in all the scenes they had passed through. Her weakness was her son, yet the girl was compelled to admit that it was the weakness of love. In seeking to bring about the detested union a motherly heart and feeling toward her had ever been apparent.

The girl was already becoming depressed by a presentiment of the dull, stagnant days to come. Scoville had been lost in the great outside, unknown world completely. She was suffering from reaction after the strong excitements and fatigues of her experience. Her two lovers, remaining on the scene, possessed a sort of goading interest which compelled her to think of them, but she contemplated their near departure without regret. Nothing in her nature answered to their looks, words and evident desires. She felt that she would as soon marry one as the other, and that she would rather be buried beside Captain Hanfield and take the journey of which Uncle Lusthah had quaintly spoken than wed either. Yet in her lassitude she feared that she could now be compelled to marry either or any one if enough active force was employed, so strangely had ebbed her old fearless spirit.

It were with a kind of wondering pity that she looked at Maynard and saw the evidences of an honest, ardent attachment. "Why does he feel so?" she asked herself. "I have done nothing for him, given no encouragement, and would not care if I never saw him again. I merely wish him well, as I do so many others. Why can't he see this, and just act on the truth? He says he is coming to see me every chance he gets and tries to make me feel that he'll never give me up. Perhaps if I should let him speak plainly he would see how useless it all would be."

Circumstances apparently favored the half-formed purpose. Languid from the heat of the day, she went out on the piazza after supper, sat down on the upper step and leaned against a rose-entwined pillar. Maynard was entranced by the picture she made and promptly availed himself of the opportunity. Every one else had disappeared except Zany, of whom glimpses could be caught through the open windows of the supper-room; but she did not count. Sitting on a lower step so as to be in a measure at her feet Maynard began.

"Miss Baron, I am thinking very sadly, if you are not, over the fact that I am to go away in the morning."

"Yes," she replied, half-consciously ignoring his personal view, "the old house and plantation will soon be as quiet and deserted as before."

"Do you regret this?"

"I scarcely know. I am very tired and feel sad over all that has happened. Perhaps I'll feel differently by and by, when I've rested and had time to think."

"Oh, Miss Baron, if you knew how earnestly I hope to be remembered in those thoughts, to give you something definite to think of."

She had scarcely the energy to check him, the thought occurring more than once, "I might just as well let him speak his mind and see how vain his hope is."

"You have not given me encouragement," he resumed. "You have seemed too preoccupied, sad or weary; but this phase of your life will pass away. Our glorious cause must soon be crowned with success. If I survive, may I not hope that when I come again you will give me a hearing, a chance? I can be patient, even though not patient by nature. I will do all that a man--"

"Captain," interrupted the girl, at last, "I suppose, from the books I've read, I should make some fine speeches about the honor you are bestowing on me, and all that. I'm too tired and sad for anything conventional and appropriate. I'm just going to answer you like a simple, honest girl. One of my chief reasons for sadness is that you feel as you do. I see no reason for it. I'm glad you say I've given you no encouragement, I know I have not. Why should you care so for me when I do not and cannot respond at all? I do sincerely wish you well, but it seems to me that it should be enough for a man when a girl listens to such words as yours in weary sadness only."

"It may be hard indeed for a man to recognize this truth, Miss Baron, but I am not speaking of the present--of the future rather. There has been much to make you sad and weary. Your very youth and high spirit will soon lead you to react from your present depression. Let me speak of the future. Please let me fill that with hope for you and for me."

"Oh, I don't know about the future. For some reason I dread even to think of it."

At this instant Whately galloped to the piazza, threw the reins on the neck of his horse as he dismounted, evidently not caring in his perturbation where the animal wandered. He was in a bad mood, for things were not going smoothly at home. The attitude of his rival at his cousin's feet stung him into a jealous rage and he remarked bitterly as he strode past them, "Don't let my inopportune arrival disturb this charming tete-a-tete. In fact, I had no business to remain at my uncle's home at all, even at the call of duty, after Captain Maynard signified his intention of making it the long- continued field of his operations."

Cut to the quick, Maynard sprang to his feet, but Miss Lou merely made a gesture of annoyance and went to her room.

"Lieutenant Whately," began the captain in low, stern tones, "were I not in some sense a guest, even though an unwelcome one--"

"You are no guest of mine, sir, nor indeed of anyone that I am aware of."

"Thank you. I was haunted by some restraining consideration of Southern hospitality, but if I am free--"

"You are perfectly free, sir," again interrupted Whately, dropping his hand on the hilt of his sabre. "Let me also add that a Southern gentleman would not have made Southern hospitality a subterfuge for an opportunity to press a suit repugnant to the family concerned. We have never failed in hospitality to any invited guest."

"Your words are offensive, sir."

"I mean them to be so."

"Very well; then I have but one answer. I challenge you. Choose your weapons, hour and place of meeting."

"Revolvers, if you please. Meet me back of the grove yonder, at the right of the house, at daybreak."

"I'll not fail you. There is no need of seconds in this affair, I take it, and we are to keep our purpose secret. Dr. Ackley would interfere and the family be distressed were our intentions known."

"No one need know till our shots are heard and then it will be too late to interfere. I insist that we fight to the death."

"Certainly, if that's your wish. Good-evening, sir."

"Good-evening," and Whately went to his room to remove the dust of his ride and prepare for the late supper which his aunt had ordered for him.

This lady, hearing his step in the hall, hastened downstairs and called for Zany. "Yassum," came in quick response. The young woman emerged from the dining-room looking as stolid as a wooden image.

"Attend to Lieutenant Whately's supper and see that he has the best you can get for him."

"Yassum."

Mrs. Baron then repaired to her husband's office, where he and Surgeon Ackley were closeted, making up the accounts relating to the occupation of the property for hospital purposes. Maynard lighted his pipe, and strolled out into the grounds. He was in a cold, deadly mood of anger. There was just enough sting of truth in Whately's words to make the insult unendurable. Added to this was intense exasperation that he had been interrupted at a critical and, as he believed, a hopeful, moment. He had seen that the girl was not ready for his suit or that of any one at present, but was quite sure he could have won permission to renew his addresses in the future. Now--well, he was ready enough to fight to the death and utterly oblivious of the still, serene beauty of the night. He appeared but a shadow as he walked quietly under the trees, but it was a shadow of death. An hour since and he was but a passionate youth, full of ardent love and longing, vaguely inspired, under the influence of his passion, toward all noble enthusiasms. At the touch of a few words his heart overflowed with bitterness, and a cold, vindictive hate rendered the hours interminable till he could aim a bullet at his rival's heart, reckless meantime that another bullet was aimed at his.

In his walk he passed the tent in which Lieutenant Waldo and his mother were talking quietly of their home and the prospects of maintaining it during the troublous times clearly foreseen.

"Mother," said Waldo, "have you any definite idea as to the success of our arms?"

"No, Vincent, nor do I suppose we can at this remote plantation. We only know that there is heavy fighting at various points and great successes are claimed; but it seems very hard to get at the real truth. Our chief confidence must be in the sacredness and justness of our cause and in the prayers of so many sincere hearts to the God of justice. In giving you, my son, to our country, when you were scarcely more than a boy, you can understand why I feel that such sacrifices cannot be in vain. Now that I have watched beside you in your patient, heroic suffering, the feeling becomes a conviction that our sunny land must be enriched and blessed for all time by such blood as yours."

"Well, mother, I do not begrudge my blood or my life. You have taught me that to die is gain; but almost hourly I pray for recovery that I may soon rejoin my regiment and do more toward achieving our liberty. How strange it is that men of the North should be animated by much the same spirit! Miss Baron has been showing me the lovely faces of the wife and daughter of a Federal officer who died heroically a few days ago. She says the war is all a dreadful mystery to her."

"I am beginning to understand her better," replied Mrs. Waldo musingly, "for to some extent she has given me her confidence. If she had been brought up as you have been she would feel as you do. I can see why her uncle and aunts have not won her sympathy, while her cousin's conduct has been well calculated to alienate her. I can also understand why the negroes on the place have so enlisted her sympathy. I do not think they have been treated very harshly, but it is too clear that they are regarded simply as property, and Mr. Baron has allowed himself to be represented among them by a brutal, coarse-fibred man. If she had been your sister and had witnessed the spirit in which our slaves are governed and cared for she would feel as you do, not vindictive hatred of the North--such feeling is not permissible toward any of the human race--but a stern, lofty spirit of independence, such as our fathers had in separating from England."

"Well, she is a brave, good girl, mother, and has been as kind to me as if I were her brother."

"Very true, Vincent. She is a remarkably good girl for one brought up as she has been. She has told me much about her past repressed, unhappy life. I hope she may visit us some day."

Meantime, the subject of this conversation sat at her window looking out into the warm, fragrant, starlit night. The words of Maynard, the passionate resentment of her cousin toward the young captain merely added to the heavy burden of experience which had been crowded into the past few weeks. "Oh," she sighed longingly, "if I could only see Allan Scoville! He is so strong, unselfish and restful. I could tell him everything. He would know just how weary and depressed I am, nor would he want me to do what I can't, what I'm not ready for. Oh, what a blessed thing it would be to have a friend near who wasn't always exacting or expecting or passionately urging something or other. I wouldn't need urging in his case, and would even know his hand would be the first to restrain me for my own good. Where is he now? Oh, he'd be here if my thoughts could bring him, yet my two lovers would be eager to take his life. Lovers indeed! Well, it's a strange, tangled up world that I'm learning about."

Meantime Zany, bursting with her secret, was unable to tell any one, and not yet sure she wished to tell. For one at her point of civilization her motives were a little complex and sophisticated. In a vicarious way she felt not a little the elation of many a high- born dame that two men were about to fight over her young mistress, regarding it as an undeniable compliment. She was also inclined to indulge the cynical thought that it might save Miss Lou, Scoville, Chunk--indeed, all in whom she was interested--further trouble if, as she phrased it, "Dat ar young cap'n gib Mad Whately he way onst too of'un. He des natchelly bawn ter mek folks trouble en I reck'n we git on wid he spook bettah ner hesef."

Whately would not have relished his supper if he had divined the thoughts of his waitress. As it was, he had little appetite for it and paid his respects chiefly to his uncle's decanter. He felt no need of false courage, but was irritated and depressed over the general aspect of affairs, and here was an easy way of raising his spirits. By the time he was ready to dispense with Zany's services he was so affected by his potations that his aunt, who had appeared on the scene, hastened his retirement. He told the sergeant of the guard to have him called at daybreak and was soon asleep.

The indomitable housekeeper, Mrs. Baron, kept the girl busy until everything was put away and the dining-room in perfect order. Meantime Zany concluded that she had better tell Miss Lou. Her young mistress might blame her severely if she did not, and keeping such a secret over night would also be a species of torture.

When she was dismissed she watched her opportunity, whisked up to Miss Lou's room, and was glad to find the girl still awake.

"Oh, Miss Lou," she whispered breathlessly, "I des got de orfulest, quarest news, en I darsn't kep hit eny longer. Marse cap'n en Mad Whately gwine ter fight 'bout you fo' sun-up."

"What!"

"Dey sut'ny is. Dey gwine ter fight one anoder 'bout you wid 'volvers--fight ter de deth dey said. I yeared dem troo de dine-room winders."

"Oh, Zany! this is horrible!"

"Hit mout be wuss. Yo' cousin hot fer hit. He say orful tings ter marse cap'n who didin't gib back a inch en sez, sez he, 'I challing you. Shoose yo' weapons en place ob meetin" Dem he berry words. Den yo' cousin shose 'volvers en de far side ob de grobe up dar en said 'we fight ter de deth.' Deth useter seem orful, Miss Lou, but sech a heap ob mens die dat ef Mad Whately des set on dyin', w'y not let 'im hab he way? Dat orter suit 'im bes'. I reck'n he mek we uns en Marse Scoville en Chunk berry lil trouble arter he dead."

"Zany, Zany, that's a dreadful way to look at it. You should know better. This meeting must be prevented. Where is my cousin?"

"He des sound a sleep ez a log," and she made it clear that there would be no use in trying to remonstrate with him.

"Where's Captain Maynard?"

"Dunno. Sleepin' in he tent too, s'pose. Hit too late now, Miss Lou, ter do anyting fo' mawnin'."

The girl thought deeply a few moments and then muttered, "Shame on them both!"

"Dar now, Miss Lou, you doan reckermember dey payin' you a big compelment."

"I shall tell them to their faces how I regard this outrage rather. Still, for their sakes, as well as my own, I will keep the affair quiet if I can. Zany, you must stay with me to-night and at the earliest dawn we must watch them and be on the ground as soon as they are."

"Berry well, Miss Lou. I lak not'n bettah."

"Go to sleep, then. I won't sleep to-night."

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