At de Judgmen’ seat,
When de y’ea’th is bu’nin’
Beneath Jehovah’s feet.”
“I wish she would stop singing that dismal thing,” thought Bab; “she has been at it now for two whole days.”
began Louisa again, but she broke off to feel the edge of her knife with the pale inside skin of her flexible thumb, and the child who had been watching her a long time unaccountably shuddered.
“Why do you sharpen that new knife, Louisa?” she called to her, but Louisa ground on and made no answer. She had been very odd of late, restless and fierce with excitement, full of vague threats and muttering hints. Bab waited with growing impatience. “I am going down to tell her what I think of her!” she said to herself at last; but when she came out on the porch Louisa did not raise her eyes.
Now, there was a certain subject in regard to which Bab felt that she had been unusually lenient with Louisa; a clemency, in the light of present conduct, wholly undeserved.
“What would grandpapa say?” she asked slowly, after gazing at the offender for a few thoughtful moments, “if I told him I saw you going into the old black house across the street last night?”
Louisa sat upright and put her knife behind her. Bab little knew the terror and desperation that glared from the whites of her rolling negro eyes.
“What yo’ talkin’ about, Miss Bab? I ain’t been over yonder in a coon’s age, onless maybe I went ter get a little bokay o’ tansy fer my col’. I got a powerful bad col’,” and she coughed dolefully.
“You had better look out,” continued Bab, unmoved, “or you’ll be carried back and made a slave of again. There are some mighty queer people around that house. Harry Trescott saw three yesterday evening just after the gunboat came down. They landed from a skiff on the lower bank and crept up through the tavern yard behind the trellises. For that matter, I saw one of them myself this morning; he looked like Miss Jennie Beauchamp’s picture of her cousin Beauchamp St. Clair.”
“My lan’, Miss Bab!” said Louisa, “yo’ mustn’ get to tellin’ lies that way! Wha’ll yo’ go when you die?”
“I am not telling lies! White people don’t—nor steal, either, Louisa.” Here Bab tried to look severe and significant, but it was of no avail; Louisa was impervious.
“Like enough yo’ did see some po’r white trash, kin to de folks over dar,” she said, indifferently.
“It wasn’t poor white trash!” said Bab. “It was an officer and a gentleman, like Cousin Alexander. I saw him standing in the side window early this morning, and, Louisa, he had the most beautiful yellow hair!”
Louisa’s face took on a grayish pallor, but she laughed scornfully.
“You’ll be seein’ de angel Gabriel over dar nex’,” she said, contemptuously.
Bab was stung. “I’ll tell you what I did see over there!” she cried. “I saw Miss Jennie Beauchamp go past that house just about dusk. I can’t see what she was on that side for, unless it might have been to see the gunboats; but she dropped something by the step, and, Louisa, you weren’t getting tansy! You slipped out from behind the corner and picked up that little package and went in. I saw you, and if you don’t give that package back to Miss Jennie or me, I’ll tell mamma.”
“My Lawd, Miss Bab!” said Louisa, with a mixture of fright and cunning, “yo’ jes’ done gone clean crazy! If yo’ maw heard yo’ talkin’ dis yere way, she’d clap yo’ in a madhouse, sho’. Yo’ always fussing over dat Miss Jennie o’ yours.”
“You took that package,” insisted Bab. “I wouldn’t have believed it of you, Louisa!”
“Look heah, honey,” said Louisa, changing her tone to coaxing. “Don’t you go a-worrryin’ yo’ maw ’bout dat. I done guv dat package back to yo’ Miss Jennie an hour ago. You kin ask her if I didn’t. Now, don’t you go a-fussin’ yo’ po’r maw; she got troubles enough jes’ now.”
At that early age Bab had a great faculty for keeping things to herself; still she hesitated. “Why didn’t you call Miss Jennie back and give her the package right away?” she asked.
“Lawzee!” said Louisa, scornfully, “don’t you know any better’n dat? It’s de worse kin’ o’ luck to give back what yo’ pick up after dawk. I kep’ it till mawnin’ to change de luck.”
Bab had doubts which she did not express as to the validity of this omen, and Louisa fell to sharpening her knife again.
“Yo’ Miss Jennie bring me bad luck every time I see her,” she began; “yo’ jes’ tell her I wish she’d keep out o’ my sight, Miss Bab; yo’ heah?”
“Yes,” said Bab, with dignity, “I hear, but I do not mean to tell her that any more. I am not going to carry impertinent messages—” She stopped.
“Yo’ ain’t goin’ to carry messages fo’ no niggahs!” completed Louisa, admiringly. “I tell you, Miss Bab, yo’ come o’ de right kin’ o’ stock!”
“What is the right kind of stock?” asked Bab, carelessly—“good people?”
“My land, no!” answered Louisa. “Good people ain’t gen’rally no kin’ o’ stock at all!”
“But, Louisa,” hesitated Bab, “I don’t think you know.”
“You don’t think I know?” queried Louisa, in a high, shrill voice. “Ask Miss Jennie Bea’cham’ if I don’t know! Didn’t I b’long to her maw’s b’oder, ole Mars’ St. Clair? An’ wha’ll you fin’ better stock an’ wusser people dan dose ole Bea’cham’s an’ St. Clairs?”
“No such thing!” cried Bab, indignantly. “Would mamma let me be with Miss Jennie all the time if she came of bad people? As far as the war goes, I know that they are not on our side; but they are brave and honest, and think themselves as much in the right as we think ourselves; Miss Jennie said so.”
“Yes,” said Louisa, “an’ if Mars’ Bea’ch’ St. Clair comes along an’ bu’ns dis yere ole town down level wid de groun’, you’ll call dat mighty brave and hones’, too, won’t you?”
Bab looked startled. “What do you mean?” she said; but Louisa set to singing and sharpening her knife again.
At de Judgmen’ seat.”
“Don’t!” cried Bab, nervously. “I do hate that song; and are you never going to stop sharpening that knife?”
Louisa raised the thin blade and examined it; then, looking at the child with oddly narrowed eyelids, she slowly tested the edge, smiling with the sinister look of an ancient Egyptian.
“Don’t!” said Bab again; “your thumb makes me sick when you do that. Why do you want it so sharp?”
Louisa was silent a moment, looking over the child’s head as if at some far-off picture; then, in a low, sing-song voice, she began: “Who sol’ my ole moder away f’om her children? Yo’ Miss Jennie’s gran’paw. Who had my ole fader beat mos’ to de’f fer follern after his wife? Yo’ Miss Jennie’s uncle. An’ when Mars Bea’ch’ came into de prope’ty, who swopped off my little brudder fer a hoss? A hoss! a Kaintucky hoss!” Here Louisa rolled her eyes and ground her teeth horribly; then, with sudden quiet, she added: “Dat little brudder was about all I had lef’ den! Dey done carry him off a-cryin’ an’ a-sobbin’, an’ a-stretchin’ out his han’s to his Lou’—”
“I wouldn’t have let them,” cried Bab, her eyes stinging with tears of rage. “I would have fought and bit and tore—”
“I did,” said Louisa, “in my insides; an’ it’s a-fightin’ an’ a-bitin’ an’ a-t’arin’ roun’ dar yet.”
“That Mars’ Bea’ch’ of yours was a coward,” said Bab, “a downright coward, to sell off a poor little boy that couldn’t help himself!”
“A coward!” cried Louisa, with a complete change of voice. “Who’s yo’ callin’ a coward? I ’clar’, Miss Bab, yo’ ain’t got no sense; callin’ Mars’ Bea’ch’ a coward! He’s got mo’ pluck in his little finger than yo’ whole Norf in dere whole bodies! It takes a mighty queer coward to row right into a town under de nose ob a big black gunboat, an’ go all ober it in de night—a mighty queer coward!”
“Oh,” said Bab, suddenly, “he was the man I saw this morning!”
Louisa leaned back nerveless against the railing of the porch, and her knife fell clattering to the pavement of the brick court. Bab ran down nimbly and picked it up.
“Give it back!” said Louisa, hoarsely.
“What is it for?” and Bab held the blade behind her.
“It’s fo’ a black heart!” said Louisa, fiercely; “a black heart I done tole you of two minutes ago!”
Bab’s face paled. “Do you mean the man I saw this morning?” she asked.
“I mean what I mean,” said Louisa, obstinately.
“It was the man at the window, then?”
“If you don’t gimme back my knife, Miss Bab,” said Louisa, leaning towards her, her white teeth gleaming between her curling lips, “there’ll be a window in a place you don’t expec’.”
Bab stood a little straighter and laughed. “What is it for?” she repeated.
Like a whirlwind Louisa descended on her, and before she could think the knife was gone. “What’s it fo’?” she whispered. “What’s it fo’? It’s fo’ de dibble himself, an’ yo’ tell yo’ Miss Jennie dat if she wants to hear any news ob him, she’ll fine it in de cotton-shed dis evenin’. Mine, I say!”
“I shall not mind!” cried Bab, wrenching herself free. “I shall never tell her anything again for you. How dare you touch me!”
At breakfast the next morning Bab made a request. “May I go down to the Seminary and see Miss Jennie to-day?” she asked.
“Don’t let her go,” said her Aunt Marian; “Jennie discourses of her ‘chivalry’ and her ‘country’ and her ‘cause,’ until poor Bab hasn’t a political principle left.”
“Poor Jennie!” said Bab’s mamma, “there is no one else with whom she dare discourse! But she has promised to go out to the Curtises and spend the day to-day.”
Bab sighed; in feud with Louisa, and deprived of Jennie Beauchamp for a whole day! Life looked dull indeed.
“I wonder whether it is safe out that way?” asked her aunt.
“Perfectly,” said Bab’s grandpapa. “General Pennington’s troops were to be in on the Cadiz road by four this morning, not five miles beyond the Curtis place, and the militia start out this afternoon by Wells Creek. Unless St. Clair gets wind of Pennington’s movements, he’s caught in about as nice a little trap as could possibly be devised. There will not even be a fight.”
“Louisa! you will let all those waffles slide on to the floor if you don’t take care!” said Bab, suddenly.
“Where is Chloe, Louisa?” asked Miss Marian.
“She done gone to de brew’ry to git some yeast,” said Louisa, leaving the room.
“If we intend to hide those things, we had better send Louisa up street,” said Miss Marian, emphatically. “She is possessed with a burning curiosity to find out everything that is going on.”
Bab’s grandfather laughed. “St. Clair is not coming,” he said; “there is not the slightest danger! He is caught, I tell you, beyond a doubt.”
“Unless he gets wind of Pennington’s movements,” said Miss Marian, significantly.
“And how should he get wind of Pennington’s movements?” added her father, irritably. “It is an absolute secret!”
“There is nothing easier. Let Jennie Beauchamp get hold of one or two people before she goes out to the Curtises this morning—”
“I am quite sure that Bab never would repeat the family conversation,” interrupted Bab’s mamma, with dignity.
“Louisa has not, probably, the same delicate sense of honor; and if that information once gets out to the Curtises, St. Clair will have it!”
“Come, Marian,” said her father, severely, “be more careful of your words! I would answer for my old friend Curtis’s loyalty with my life.”
“It is more probable that you will answer for his wife’s treason with your houses and barns,” said Miss Marian, smartly. “I think that the people in this town are mad to let Jennie Beauchamp run back and forth as she does. Who knows what information she carries?”
“She is not capable of treachery like that,” said Bab’s mamma, indignantly.
“I’m not sure that it would be treachery. If Alexander were in St. Clair’s place, and I knew that the information as to Pennington’s troops would prevent his being captured, do you think I would withhold it?”
“No one can say what you would do,” answered her father, serenely. “It would depend upon how recently you and he had quarreled, and whether the engagement were on or off.”
Bab’s mamma laughed, and Aunt Marian blushed. “A Southern girl ought not to be here at all,” she insisted. “Why does she not go home?”
“Because she cannot get home. There are two or three other Southern girls stranded down at the Seminary in the same way.”
“They are not petted by the whole town,” objected Aunt Marian.
“We are responsible for that, because we know her family,” said Bab’s mamma. “Besides, the others are so young. Jennie is nearly twenty.”
“When I was twenty I had finished my education,” said Miss Marian.
“As that was but three years ago, my dear,” said her father, “let me suggest that it is not too late now to resume it.”
Miss Marian rose laughing from the table, and Bab, who had been waiting impatiently for some one to move, took the opportunity to slip from the room.
“We ought to be more careful as to what we say before Bab,” said her aunt.
“Oh, nonsense!” said her mamma; “the child was ‘wool-gathering,’ as usual.”
Not long after, as Bab was leaning over the low gate that led from the narrow garden at the north of the house, she heard Louisa behind her.
“Let me by, Miss Bab; yo’ maw done sent me up street, an’ I’m in a hurry.” Bab moved aside with dignity. “Gwine to have comp’ny, we is,” said Louisa, passing her hastily, with a wicked grin. “Yo’ maw and yo’ gran’paw getting’ ready fo’ ’em up in de cawn-patch.”
“I wonder what she means!” murmured Bab. “I am going to see.”
She took her way up the garden to the corn-patch, slowly following the path, and looking down one green aisle after another; all were empty. “Louisa doesn’t know as much as she thinks!” was Bab’s inward comment as she entered between the shady stalks.
To any one watching, Bab’s proceedings would have seemed most eccentric, for after a moment’s search she took up a small wooden bucket which she found lying in the first furrow, and then, closing her eyes, she carefully picked her way in and out among the corn. Up and down the long rows, now squeezing herself gently between the stalks, her bucket on her arm and her hands outstretched, again turning solemnly around an indefinite number of times, she went, counting in an undertone up to five hundred; then, with a little breath of apprehension, she opened her eyes. “I was afraid I might come out on the edge,” she said to some indefinite listener, and, turning her bucket bottom up, she sat down upon it, resting her chin upon her hand while she looked straight up into the sky.
She was lost! and with the sense of direction the whole conventional world had fallen away. The corn tassels waved gently, showing against the deep blue overhead with the pinkish tint of ripe mignonette; the tall green stalks towered about her, and, nestling at the foot of each long, shining blade of leaf, the soft down of the sheathed ears fell out like babies’ hair; a white pigeon flew over like a flash from a mirror; the rounded edge of a fleecy cloud peeped down on her and withdrew; a catbird alighted, and, after looking at her sideways with a bold, bright glance, twice opened his saucy bill to cry, but flew away abashed; while with unheeding eyes Bab saw them all.
“Wool-gathering” now, if you choose! and so deep in her occupation that soft voices and the sound of a spade in the thick garden loam did not disturb her, until—
“Where did Marian put those family papers?” she heard her grandfather say distinctly.
“In the flour-bin.” The answer was in her mother’s tones.
Rising, Bab parted the leaves and looked through. There, shining in a long, deep trench, which the old gentleman was just filling up with earth, lay all the household silver! Softly she turned, and tiptoed out of the corn-patch. Louisa was a witch: how did she come to know all this beforehand?
Just before reaching the house, Bab turned into a little side path that led past the smoke-house to the flower garden at the south. She always looked into the smoke-house whenever she passed it; its smell of fried ham and creosote had an attraction she never was able to explain; then, too, she cherished a dream of one day having it fitted up as a miniature dwelling, and paid it frequent visits in order to refresh her memory as to her plans. The door was standing half open, and, mounting the step, she pushed it gently.
“Katharina,” said a voice behind it, “hand me those jars. They shall not gormandize on my strawberry jam!”
“It is not mamma, Aunt Marian,” said Bab, putting in her head.
“Go away, go away, Bab!” cried her aunt; and Bab went on into the garden, thinking.
These were strange preparations for company!
She crossed the garden in a blaze of sunshine, and, stooping, crept into the shade of a clump of tall lilac-bushes, which grew next the cotton-sheds. Sitting down on a large flat stone, she leaned back against the boards and closed her eyes.
Who, then, were coming? The Chivalry? And at the thought her little heart glowed with reprehensible pleasure. She cared nothing for a “cause,” and loved but one “country”—a fertile land with a broad yellow river rolling slowly from around the upper bend and flowing downward into regions of indefinite poetry. But Chivalry! Chivalry was perhaps more real to Bab than was war to her mamma; and war in those days meant something: anger, hate, revenge; agony, grief, suspense; suffering, mourning, death.
But, oh, the brave men of Jennie Beauchamp’s idyls of the South! The splendid heroes, pinks of courtesy, paragons of courage, patterns of magnanimity! Before Bab’s inner eye they all defiled in stately procession, with the clink of spur and tinkling of delicate chain-armor; they carried gay pennons on the tops of their glittering lances, and the hoofs of their horses rattled bravely on the rough cobbles of the country roads.
And yet—and yet—fevered by irreconcilable rumors, poor Bab’s brain worked wearily, for the bravest, the stateliest, the most splendid in all this far-away country, where every man was brave and splendid, was Jennie’s cousin Beauchamp. Beauchamp St. Clair, who with his men had harried all summer long the country for miles about, while terror spread before him in vague and fearful rumors. And why did they hide the silver from the champions of a noble cause, and secrete the family archives in the flour-bin?
“Hist—S-s-s-s-s-t!” It was a way Louisa had of calling. Bab looked all about her; no one was in sight. “S-s-s-s-st!” It seemed to come from some one in the cotton-shed. Jumping lightly on the stone where she had been seated, Bab looked through a wide crack in the boards. At the far end of the shed Louisa was standing behind the doors peeping into the street, whence Jennie Beauchamp ran in breathless.
“Come further up!” cried Jennie, hurrying Louisa toward the part of the shed behind which Bab was standing. “How could you be so careless? To call me in broad daylight!”
Louisa made no answer, but, fumbling in her pocket, drew out a small square package.
“Aha!” thought Bab, “deceitful Louisa made me believe she gave that back yesterday;” and, more from a desire to see fair play than from curiosity, she stayed at her post.
Jennie tore open the letter and read rapidly. “Why is this so late?” she asked. “Wasn’t he there night before last? Did you get the package I dropped on the step? I ought to have had this yesterday.”
“I done sent word by Miss Bab,” answered Louisa, sullenly.
Bab turned away and looked into the pale, ghastly green of the lilac-bushes. What did it mean? Louisa carrying messages between Miss Jennie and some one else, and the package dropped on purpose!
She jumped down from the stone. “They would not like me to hear,” she said to herself, flushing; but just at that moment Louisa’s voice sounded close beside her.
“I ain’t heard one wu’d about Gen’1 Pennington nor his troops, an’ as near’s I kin make out de militia’s gwine ter stay right heah and take keer o’ de town!”
Bab threw back her head, startled. What was Louisa doing? But before she could answer her own question, with a faint rattle one of the loose boards in the side of the shed was shoved aside, and Louisa stepped out in front of her.
“What yo’ heah fo’, Miss Bab?” and she caught her by the arm.
“Why did you tell her that? About Pennington’s troops?” stammered Bab. “Let me go! Jennie! Miss Jennie!”
Instantly a soft hand was pressed to Bab’s mouth. “Yo keep yo’ tongue still,” said Louisa, sternly. “Is yo’ gwine to betray yo’ country?”
The whole current of Bab’s thoughts was changed by the contact of that yellow palm and the pressure of the pale, soft thumb which yesterday so often tried the knife-blade. She struggled a moment violently; then, her horrible repugnance overcoming her, she closed her eyes. Frightened at her sudden loss of color, Louisa loosed her hold, and Bab, still resting in her arms, drew back her head; great beads of perspiration stood on her forehead. “I am going to tell mamma about it,” she faltered.
“Tell her, tell her!” whispered Louisa. “Tell her, an’ dey’ll string yo’ little Miss Jennie up to de fust tree dey fin’ dat’s high enough—’twon't take long to fin’ one!”
“What would you care?” said Bab, standing upright.
“Wha’d I care?” cried Louisa. “If dey hung my little Miss Jen’? My little Miss Jen’, dat I hole in dese awms an’ nuss at dese breas’? Oh, my Lawd! my Lawd!” She sank down on the stone and rocked violently to and fro. “An’ dey keered fo’ me w’en I’se sick; and dey good ter me w’en I’se well,” looking up at Bab with large tears rolling down her face.
“But you ran away from them, Louisa.”
“Miss Bab,” said Louisa, solemnly, “if yo’d evah been a slave yo’d know dat ter git free, ter git free, Miss Bab, yo’d run away f’om de kingdom o’ heaven itself!” and, stooping, she crept to the other side of the bushes; there, straightening herself to her full height, she waited a moment. Bab could see her face through the branches. “Miss Bab,” she said, softly, “is yo’ gwine to tell yo’ maw?”
“No,” answered Bab, distinctly, and Louisa went away.
For the rest of the day the child wandered in and out among the flowers, oppressed with a burden of secrecy and apprehension. Late in the afternoon she watched the departure of the militia, and saw the women slowly turning homewards, crying in the streets. A stillness fell on all the town; the air was full of forebodings; the sun threw long shadows; and Louisa, down on the porch steps, went to sharpening her knife again; Bab could hear the ring of the steel on the stone, above the wailing of her song:
At de Judgmen’ seat,
W’en de yea’th is bu’nin’
Beneath Jehovah’s feet!”
With a wild impulse to escape, Bab fled to the barn and hid in the hay.
There, tired out, she must have fallen asleep. How long a time passed she could not tell, but when she awoke it was evening. The sunshine no longer filtered in between the chinks of the boards; the long beams of dancing motes were gone, and the golden browns in the wood and gleams of yellow in the hay were all toning down to uniform chilly gray.
It was late; and yet the cow had not come home! Everything was still; there was no movement in the busy alley behind the barn, no sound came from the house. Perhaps Beauchamp St. Clair had gone through the town! Winged with terror at what he might have left behind him, Bab flew down the path as if pursued, but as she came in sight of the back-parlor window she slackened her pace. Behind the green drapery of wistaria sat her mamma in a cool white dress, her head bent over her book. She could hear Louisa’s voice out in the street as she berated the dilatory cowboy, who, with a company of little ragamuffins, was playing that he was Beauchamp St. Clair raiding the town. Everything looked safe and serene. Aunt Marian and grandpapa were walking among the flowers, the latter with a watering-pot, the former with her thin muslin gown lifted in a great puff to avoid the moisture; the locusts were wheezing and singing in the ailantus trees—and Beauchamp St. Clair seemed like an evil dream.
But not a dream that passed! For all night, in the sultry, damp river air, the locusts droned unceasingly, and Bab, sleeping lightly, heard soft footsteps and whispered voices, people moving without lights, people watching, waiting in still suspense.
Some one came to the bedside, shook and turned the creased, hot pillow, pushed the damp hair from her forehead, and drew the wrinkled sheet into cool smoothness.
“Do you think he will burn the town to-night?” she murmured, sleepily.
“Not to-night,” said her mamma as she stooped to kiss her; “and now go to sleep, for it is almost morning.” And, soothed and assured, Bab rested.
And now dawned another weary day of aimless wandering about the gardens, of hidden fears, of innumerable false alarms, and of that terrible ennui which is sometimes revealed to the heart of a child.
Unconsciously rejoicing that the afternoon was almost over, Bab leaned from the upper window watching Louisa, who again sharpened her knife and sang her song.
“It makes the air tremble,” Bab murmured, fancying that she saw its mournful cadences vibrate in the pulsing quiver of the heated atmosphere.
The hot, hot weather seemed to spring from somewhere underground and come up to her in stifling puffs loaded with heavy perfume from the thousands of flowers in the gardens; for every flower that grows in summer was there, and the great plots were covered with brilliant bloom like acres of gorgeous carpeting. Flowers, flowers, flowers! so thick that the green scarcely showed, separated by tiny paths and bordered with rows of brilliant portulaca. In the midst of them, with snowy hair and deep blue eyes, Bab’s grandfather walked serenely content.
“Miss Bab,” said Louisa, looking up, “I’m a-gwine ter milk dat cow;” but Miss Bab shook her head. Without another word, Louisa walked up the long path to the barn; the child watched her in unconscious approval; secretly she had practiced holding herself like Louisa, poised back and stately, but the effect was in some way lacking; she set it down to deficiency in color.
Glancing up as Louisa went by, the old gentleman caught sight of the pale little face at the window and beckoned Bab to come down, but again she languidly shook her head, and he went away. The heat, the perfume, the shrill droning of the locusts, caused a throbbing in her temples, and she did not wish to move.
At de Judgmen’ seat!”
came down from the stable-yard with a loud ring of triumph that made Bab clap her hands to her ears.
“I do believe that Louisa is glad of it,” she said, and continued moodily staring before her with her chin in the palms of her hands and her two little forefingers doing vigilant duty as stoppers. “No, dear, I told you I was not coming!” she added, addressing her grandfather, who appeared in the distance carrying something carefully in his hand. Advancing slowly towards the low fence that separated the brick court below from the rest of the garden, he placed a large leaf heaped with raspberries on top of a post and stole quietly out of sight. Bab drew down her eyebrows in a frown, but her mouth smiled in spite of it. She was not proof against temptation; and, after all, the garden was cooler than the house, and the raspberries were fresh from the vine. A little reluctant to renounce her role of martyr, she went out and walked slowly up the path, down which, before long, she saw Louisa returning with the brimming pail of milk upon her head.
“Yo’ jes’ come along,” she said, “an’ I’ll give you a tum’ler full wid de foam on it.”
“I ain’t a-gwine ter eat anybody!” said Louisa, indignantly. “My Lawd! chile, what yo’ ’fraid of?”
“I am not afraid of anything,” said Bab, turning back with her.
“What is it, den, in the name o’ sense?” asked Louisa, going into the kitchen and pouring out a large glass of foaming milk.
Bab took it, and as she was drinking Louisa asked another question: “Ain’t yo’ gwine ter giv’ one mo’ little message to yo’ Miss Jennie fo’ Louisa?” she said, coaxingly.
Bab removed her glass from her lips. “No,” she said, and began drinking again.
“’Tisn’t much,” said Louisa. “Jes’ yo’ tell her de debbil’s done cotch’.”
“I shall not,” said Bab, firmly; “and if I see you giving any more letters to her I shall tell mamma. Besides, I don’t believe she has come back from the Curtises yet.”
“She done come back half an hour ago,” said Louisa, eagerly. “Jes’ yo’ tell her, Miss Bab; ’tain’t gwine ter do no harm.”
“No!” cried Bab, handing back the glass. Louisa took it, and then, wholly unaware she had done so, dropped it on the floor.
“Oh, Louisa!” cried Bab. “That was one of the cut-glass ones!” But Louisa only looked downward, and slowly stirred the pieces with her toe.
“Yo’ah a mighty disobligin’ chile,” she said at last; “an’ if yo’ don’ tell Miss Jennie Bea’champ dis evenin’ dat de debbil’s done cotch’, yo’ll be sorry fo’ it.”
Bab made no answer, but a few minutes later, when her mamma sent her down to the Seminary to ask Jennie to come up to tea, she made up her mind that Louisa’s message should never be delivered.
There was something almost pathetic in the little Southerner’s eagerness to accept the invitation; anything in those days of suspense—anything but to be left alone!
“What has Louisa been saying lately?” she asked, as she and Bab came up the street together. Bab flushed violently.
“Tell me,” said Jennie; “does she want me to keep out of the way?”
“No,” said Bab.
“What was it, then? Come, tell me. She doesn’t mean anything; they are all like that.”
“They are all like what?” queried Bab, scornfully. “Do they all get a long knife ready to kill people?”
Jennie looked grave. “Is she doing that again?” she asked. “Poor old Louisa! She never was quite the same after they took that little brother of hers away. I suppose it is the hot weather and the excitement. Still, she wouldn’t do any harm; she is just devoted to Beauchamp. Poor, faithful old thing!”
Bab was only a very little girl, but all there was of her was thoroughly feminine, and now an ardent desire to shake this easy confidence, and to shake it to the very core, possessed her.
“I do not call Louisa faithful or devoted to anybody,” said Bab, with an air of knowing far more than she chose to explain.
Jennie’s eyes began to glisten. “What did she tell you?” she asked, eagerly.
“It is not what she told me; it is what she told you yesterday in the cotton-shed.”
Jennie grew pale. “What do you know about the cotton-shed ?” she asked.
“I saw you in there, and heard Louisa tell you all wrong about Pennington’s men and the militia.”
“But what of Pennington’s men and the militia?”
“Pennington’s men came in by the Cadiz road early yesterday morning, and the militia went out by Well’s Creek in the afternoon, and Louisa heard it all at breakfast, for grandpapa forgot she was in the room. What do you think of that, Jennie Beauchamp?”
Jennie Beauchamp apparently thought a great deal of it. Bab had every reason to be satisfied with the effect of her communication; staggering backward, the young girl leaned against the fence, pale with terror and dismay.
“Jennie,” cried Bab, “does it make much difference?”
“Difference!” groaned Jennie. “And Louisa knew it all the time! She did it on purpose, so that they might walk into a trap! She is like the rest of them—treacherous, treacherous to the bottom of their hearts! Oh, Bab, why did not you come and tell me?”
“But, Jennie,” said Bab, defensively, “you know you were not here; and, besides, how could I tell you? It wouldn’t do to let you spoil things for our side—and, of course, we wouldn’t like very much to have all our houses burned, and our horses—” Bab stopped; it was a delicate subject. “Not that we don’t burn your houses and take your horses when we get a chance,” she concluded, with impartial apology.
Jennie smiled faintly; she had gathered sufficient self-control to resume their walk, and they went on for a space in silence.
“I haven’t told any one,” Bab began, in a minute, looking carefully the other way. “But, oh, Jennie, Jennie, mamma said you couldn’t be treacherous!”
“Bab, Bab,” said Jennie, “you break my heart! If it had been anybody but Beauchamp! And now everything hangs on a chance!”
They had almost come to the front gate of Bab’s house.
“What are all those horses? Who has come?” exclaimed Jennie.
Bab looked at the tired steeds tied by the tree-boxes, in amazement; but before she could answer, a series of shrieks sounded from the back of the garden, and Louisa, mad with excitement, dashed out of the servants’ entrance a little further on.
“T’ank de Lawd! Bress de Lawd!” she yelled, going down the street in great leaping jumps. “He done deliber up de enemy into our han’s. Vict’ry! Vict’ry! Glory an’ vict’ry! Wha’ shall I find him? Deliber him, Lawd, deliber up the enemy! So shall we slay him! So shall we conquer him! Vict’ry, Lawd, oh vict’ry!” and, shaking the long, bright knife over her head, she leapt on like a panther out of the woods.
“Oh, Jennie,”' cried Bab, “what will she do with that knife? And do you hear the noise up street?” For in the direction towards which Louisa was running a great sound of shouting and cheering had arisen, guns were being fired and the bells of the churches were beginning to ring all over the town. “What is it?” cried Bab.
“Come into the house,” said Jennie, trembling violently, yet apparently sharing in Louisa’s exultation. “Do not be afraid, Bab; no matter what happens, harm shall not come near you or yours. You have all been kind to me.” She hurried the child along the walk of flagstones that led to the front door, and entered.
Yes; it was the rattle of swords and clink of spurs, and the men who wore them had been riding hard in the heat and dust; the bright straps and gold on their shoulders were tarnished; but they stood about, a long roomful, straight, brave, and exultant, as Jennie had been the moment before, and all—in blue!
“Jennie!” Bab’s mother had exclaimed, coming forward in dismay. “Oh, my dear child, I never knew, or I should not have sent for you! There has been a little skirmish—and—and—a not unexpected victory!”
“A defeat?” asked Jennie, in a hoarse, low voice. “A defeat?” She looked at Bab’s mother stupidly, and the poor lady’s heart was torn with compassion.
“Do not take it that way, dear! Do not take it that way!”
“And Beauchamp, my cousin Beauchamp St. Clair?”
“Beauchamp St. Clair, my dear young lady,” said a big officer who had crossed the floor on hearing Jennie’s last two words, “Beauchamp St. Clair is now safely lodged in the county jail. You have no further cause for fear; the days of his marauding are over, and—”
“Oh, General!” cried Bab’s mamma, “what have you done?” for without a word Jennie sank senseless on the floor.
Bab fled to her room and flung herself sobbing on the bed. In the excitement and hurry of a houseful of unexpected guests she was completely forgotten by all but Louisa, who came up in the twilight bringing her supper.
“Whyn’t yo’ tell her, Miss Bab?” said Louisa, reproachfully. “Ef yo’ hadn’t been so mighty disobligin’ an’ s’picious, yo’d ’a’ saved her all dat.”
“She is not dead, is she, Louisa?” faltered Bab. “Have you seen her?”
“Yes, I seed her; reckon she don’t think her old Lou’ sech a no-count niggah as she did!” Louisa chuckled; but, as Bab continued eating her supper without further questions, the woman sank into a chair and turned her face to the window. Bab looked up at her from time to time; she wore a steadfast, dog-like look of long-suffering devotion that struck even the child as a contrast.
“What makes you so different?” she asked.
“De worl’, chile; de worl’ makes me diffunt. Dey’s things yo’ think yo’ll do, an’ yo’ can’t; an dey’s things yo’ think yo’ neber can, an’ yo’ do! Dat’s it!”
“Louisa,” said Bab, in a frightened voice, “what did you do with your knife?”
Louisa was silent. Inside of the room the shadows had increased to blackness, for the shutters to the east were closed, and the fading light from the sky, falling through the western window at the head of the bed, seemed all to gather on Bab’s clear white features as she leaned anxiously forward. Louisa rose, and as she stepped back with the empty supper-tray in her hands her dusky color blended with the darkness, until Bab could only see her patient eyes.
“My knife kin wait,” she said, and noiselessly went away.
Bab leaned back again on the pillow, too weary to think. She had “cried all her tears,” but the sobs still came in long, fluttering breaths, as if the little body grieved on when the spent mind was prostrate. The grinding notes of the locusts in the ailantus trees beat on her temples and rasped her nerves; at last, stopping her ears, she put her head between the pillows, and there, in spite of the stifling heat, she fell asleep.
Beat, beat; beat, beat—Bab dreamed that her heart was thumping in her breast like a hammer, coming up in her throat to choke her, while the song of the locusts had grown into a long, clear note like a clarion. She sat up, startled. It was a clarion, a bugle—in those war-times all the children knew a bugle; and the heart-throbs were outside in the street—tramp, tramp; tramp, tramp.
It was still quite dark in the room, but the moonlight outside, shining between the slats of the closed shutters, made a series of narrow white bars on the drawn blinds. Bab gazed at them, listening intently to the tread of thousands of feet shaking the house with their rhythm. There was also a murmur of voices and an irregular patter of passers-by on the bricks of the sidewalk; it was all low, subdued, but once in a while would come the clatter of a horse’s hoofs, followed by sharp words of command.
It was an army!
But what army? Had Beauchamp St. Clair broken jail? Then Bab, remembering how he had threatened to burn the town, felt definitely that as invaders the chivalry possessed no charms. She stole to the window, and, drawing up the blind, opened a crack in the shutters.
The moon was glittering all along the broad river in shining ripples, and for a dazzled instant it seemed almost as if the water had risen into the street below. Row on row, the slanting bayonets caught the gleam and passed; file after rile of men went by. The garden was filled with people and the sidewalks thronged; but there was no noise, no shouting—only the vague, deep murmur of many voices everywhere, while the dust hovered over all like a mist. “If they were our men, the people would be cheering,” Bab thought.
A sudden sharp order and they halted, facing the house; with a long rattle, all their guns came down at once. The child shrank back. Were they going to fire?
But no; they were stacking arms in the middle of the street—as the gypsies do with the forked sticks upon which they hang their kettles. The people on the sidewalks crowded towards them; there was a low interchange of words and thanks; the men seemed to be taking supper. Bab watched with fascinated eyes. What might it mean?
“Bab,” said her mother’s voice behind her, “I am glad you are awake. Come down and help hand water to the soldiers. They have been marching all day, and the officers will not allow them to cross the pavement for a drink.”
“Are they our men?” asked Bab, hesitating.
“Our men!—of course they are. It is the regiment that captured Beauchamp St. Clair and all his force.”
Bab went down stairs and for an hour or more stood with Louisa offering water to the thirsty soldiers, who, after drinking, dropped down and slept in the street, pillowed on their blankets. Time came at last to close the house, and Bab’s mother came for her. The few men still awake crowded to the curbstone to shake hands with the child, and as she passed up the little front garden one after another of the prostrate forms under the syringa bushes raised a head and bid her good night.
“They allowed the sick ones to come in,” said her mother.
The soldier on guard at the door stepped aside and presented arms as they passed. All through the rooms of the lower floor the officers were lying to snatch a moment’s rest.
Bab’s mother half carried the weary child up to the bedroom. The moonlight was streaming across the floor from the open window; all was quiet. Without, the sentinel marched slowly up and down, his boots ringing on the flagstones; occasionally a weary man in the yard below would groan in his sleep, for some of them were wounded. Undressing in silence, Bab stretched her tired limbs luxuriously in the cool linen sheets. “It is good to be in bed!” she said. But Bab’s mother looked out of the window and sighed.
A mist now marked the course of the river, rising in billows to half the height of the towering hills; and shining through its veil of haze, with long rows of lights blending and iridescent, a great steamboat was turning the bend. On it came, panting, puffing, all its reflections deadened in the vapor-covered water. Then a mounted officer rode clattering down the street, and orders pelted in with the short, sharp rattle of summer hail. There was another call on the bugle; the slumbering forms turned over and rose to their feet. Silently and swiftly they rolled away their blankets, and fell into line.
“Bab,” called her mother, softly; but Bab was asleep. Away down the street another order was shouted, the column moved onward, and from far at the head of it a single voice began to sing:
Man after man took it up, until, tramp, tramp, in heavy time to the measure, it seemed as if an army of deliverance were marching and singing:
Frightened, Bab sprang from the bed.
“Come here,” said her mother.
The thin mist had spread over everything, and company after company passed by—vague ghosts with gray bayonets pointing in lines across their shoulders; shadowy, but treading mightily, while the song rolled up like a paean from a thousand voices:
His soul goes marching on!”
Bab’s heart swelled in her bosom, and she burst into tears.
Fainter and fainter grew the singing; the last man passed down the mist-filled street; the last command echoed back dully, falling as if from somewhere overhead; while the fog crept higher and higher until it reached and overran the green crowns of the encircling hills—and the little town lay beneath it like a city under the sea.
It was clear the next morning, clear and cool, and Bab went down to the Seminary corner to see the prisoners pass on their way to the station. She felt a little guilty at having practiced a deception on Louisa which had sent her on the same errand in a wrong and opposite direction. “You can’t depend upon Louisa at all,” she said to herself in her own defense. “There is no knowing what she might do with that knife.”
She and Jennie leaned over the walled terrace that rose some ten or fifteen feet above the sidewalk.
“Cousin Alexander is going to let them keep their swords,” said Bab, carelessly. “I heard him tell mamma.”
“What for?” said Jennie, who was looking anxiously up the street.
“Because it is a kind of a—oh, you know what—a parole.”
“Parole!” repeated Jennie, irritably. “I wish you would think of what you are saying, Bab! They are not on parole.”
“Very well,” said Bab, peaceably, “perhaps they are not; but I know they are going to have their swords, because it puts them, in a sort of a way, on their honor not to try and get away.”
“Nonsense!” said Jennie.
“We shall see; very soon, too,” said Bab, “for I hear the people cheering up on Third Street.”
The Seminary terrace was on a corner, the two streets sloping down to it on either side. Jennie rose, and, after looking in the direction Bab indicated, mounted the coping, and, standing on tiptoe, tried to see as far as she could up the other road. “Where is Louisa?” she said to herself, anxiously.
“You need not be afraid of Louisa,” Bab assured her, cheerfully. “I told her that Cousin Alexander thought it best for them to come down Market Street. He did, too—only the other officers wouldn’t agree.”
“What did you do that for?” cried Jennie, springing down from the coping.
“I know it wasn’t very true,” began Bab, hanging her head; “but Louisa is so—so—queer, and with that sharp knife—”
“Will you never be like other children?” cried Jennie, with a desperate anger that frightened poor Bab. “Must you always reason everything out? Where is she? Answer me!”
“She is down at the other corner,” faltered Bab; and Jennie turned and ran toward the gate.
“But they are coming!” cried Bab.
The young girl stopped. “Have all of them their hats on?” she called over her shoulder.
Bab leaned over the coping as far as she dared, and looked up the street. “I can hardly see; they are too far off; but I think that one of them is bare-headed.”
Jennie gave a little groan, and stood for a moment in an agony of indecision; then, running back to Bab, she dropped a small bunch of red and white flowers in her lap.
“Bab,” she said, taking the child by the shoulders, “now don’t reason, don’t think, and don’t,” in a voice sharp with anxiety, “don’t even look into this bouquet!” for Bab had lifted it to her face; “but drop them right on the man without a hat. And, Bab, darling Bab, for the love of God, don’t miss him!” She turned and ran.
“But, Jennie, what would mamma—” began Bab.
And Jennie, still running, looked back and called: “Don’t reason, Bab! Your mamma wouldn’t mind so long as you didn’t ask her,” and with this she cleared the high stone steps in two jumps, and raced up the hilly street.
It ascended rapidly, and Bab, who was sitting on the corner of the wall, divided her attention between the flying figure on the one hand and the procession slowly advancing on the other. “She sees Louisa,” she said to herself, as Jennie, stopping at the top, began waving her hat, with its long gray veil; and then, as her glance strayed back to the flowers, “Oh, how can I give a message to a Rebel?” she thought. “What would grandpapa say? There is a paper twisted in with these; if Cousin Alexander finds me out he will have me shot. I should deserve it, too! It is being a traitor to my country! Oh,” Bab wailed aloud, “I am afraid that I am reasoning, and if I reason I never can do it!”
She closed her eyes tight, and thrust her two forefingers into her ears; but the disputations were internal, and continued in spite of her, while the tramp of men and the roar of the crowd came steadily nearer. Bab took down her hands and looked.
Between two squads of soldiers, that marched in front and behind, came a little band of men, easily distinguishable from the Federal officers, and that not by their raiment only, talking, laughing, with their heads borne proudly, looking every trivial gazer down with haughty eyes. They strode along, their swords at their sides, with far more of the conqueror than of the captive in gait and mien. Bab’s chivalry, after all!
“Oh,” she sighed, “what big, splendid men, and so few soldiers for a guard!”
Perhaps the same thought occurred to her cousin Alexander, the officer in command, for he marched beside them, looking grave and anxious.
Poor Bab! The moment of decision had arrived, and her rebellious mind was reasoning turbulently all the time! Where had she seen that bare-headed man before? She had no eyes for Louisa coming down the hill with her long jumping bounds. Her whole attention was riveted on the advancing procession, with Beauchamp St. Clair in its midst, the sun shining on his short, curling yellow hair. Suddenly Bab remembered—she had seen him at the window of the old frame house.
The little squad of soldiers passed from under, and filed to the right. Between them and the prisoners was a slowly widening space of ten feet and more; and between the prisoners and the river was nothing but the length of one short square!
As St. Clair came on, laughing and jesting, taller by a full head than all his comrades, he glanced upward. Then his ruddy, sunburned face turned white, and he faltered slightly in the free onward swing of his gait. No one was there but a child. There was no signal to warn or prepare him! It was a blow.
To stun, or to sting?
Fortunately, the latter. And, since Fate was against him—in the person of that idly-gazing child—he drew his sword and bid her defiance in a gay salute.
Fate was propitiated, for Bab dropped the flowers.
Dexterously St. Clair caught them in one hand and thrust them in the bosom of his jacket. Her cousin Alexander looked up uneasily, but, seeing only Bab, turned away relieved. St. Clair, however, his whole frame braced and tightened as for a spring, stepped a little in advance of the others towards the corner, and as he did so Louisa, rushing forward with a loud scream, flung herself at his feet. The whole column was thrown into confusion; Louisa crying and shouting; Jennie running forward as if to drag her away. A sudden mêlée among the men behind, as the prisoners scattered right and left to draw off attention, and Beauchamp St. Clair, flinging back his naked sword among his enemies, sped away down the empty street.
“Shoot him down!” cried some one; but, light as a piece of thistledown, Jennie followed behind him, darting with arms outstretched from side to side; and while the men, groaning in irresolution, aimed, and took their pieces down, and aimed again, St. Clair reached the corner, and was gone.
It was all over in three minutes. The soldiers gave chase, but succeeded in catching only Jennie and Louisa. Then began a morning of search. They searched the negro cabins and low taverns on Water Street; they searched the wharves and machine-shops; they turned over every half-burned brick in the cellars of the old flour-mill; the empty cotton-sheds resounded with the tread of the soldiers; and, last of all, the old frame house was ransacked from bottom to top—but no Beauchamp St. Clair.
Frightened at her cousin’s reproaches, dismayed at the result of her concession to Jennie, ashamed and exultant all at once, poor Bab spent the remainder of the morning in alternate tears and secret rejoicing. He had escaped, and it was her fault! He had escaped, and, worst of all, she was glad of it!
No one approved of her; nobody loved her; nobody came and talked to her all day long, until, towards five o’clock in the afternoon, her mamma bade her go out in the garden for a little fresh air.
“Am I so wicked—am I, mamma?” protested poor Bab.
Laughing, her mamma stooped and kissed her. “I don’t blame you!” she whispered; and Bab, as she went towards her refuge under the lilac bushes by the cotton-shed, made up her mind never to tell this. “For if I told, they would think that mamma was as bad as I,” she reflected.
She crept into the shade, and sat down, but had hardly been there five minutes when some sense of restlessness impelled her to get upon the stone and look into the shed. No one was there. She could see down the long, empty vista to where a little peep of blue sky and the Virginia hills came through the street-doors, which had been left ajar by the searchers in the morning. Several bales of damaged cotton stood piled at one end, and the evening sun came through the chinks of the boards in a long row of parallel rays. It was all so quiet, so deserted, that Bab, suddenly recollecting Louisa’s loose board, pushed it aside and stepped in. Above her was the high, brown, boarded roof, its rows of bare beams and girders hung here and there with dangling wisps of dusty cotton; cotton lay trampled into the earthy floor, where, between its sodden meshes, the grass had sprouted in pale tufts, like fine green wire; but to Bab there was nothing sordid in any of it. She felt inexpressibly uplifted—it was like having a church all to herself. Remembering that her grandfather disliked to have the doors of the shed left open, she slowly went down and closed them, and then, as slowly, she came back, the alternate bars of light and shadow flashing on her fair hair and dazzling her eyes as she walked.
The cotton-bales piled in a low pyramid in front of her were most inviting things to climb, and, meaning to gain a longer vista of sunbeams and rafters, she went towards them and put her foot on the lowest; it was a high step for short legs, and she caught the rough wrapping with which it was bound, to drag herself up; her foot slipped, the bale rolled towards her, and would perhaps have struck her had she not jumped backward.
“What a light bale!” she murmured. “Why, the inside is all hollowed out, and—” But she said no more, for the displaced cotton had exposed two long-spurred cavalry boots, worn by some one concealed behind the rest of the pile of bales. Bab’s heart beat violently, but she was not frightened. Stepping softly forward, she looked down on a tall man lying on his side asleep, his head pillowed on his arm.
It was Beauchamp St. Clair; overcome by heat and fatigue, he had evidently crept from the lair which Louisa had hollowed for him, and now lay moving his head uneasily as a streak of sunlight from a knot-hole in the back of the shed fell across his closed eyelids.
“If I could only shade them!” thought Bab, and as she looked about her helplessly in search of something broad enough for a shelter, her glance fell on the wide white sun-bonnet which she carried more frequently on her arm than on her head. Her eyes lighted up with a gleam of childish mischief; stealing forward, with the utmost care she placed the bonnet, crown up, on the face of the sleeper, and then, after clasping her hands in an ecstasy of silent amusement, she pushed back the cotton-bale and stole away—not as surprised as she might have been at his not awaking; but a man who has passed day after day in the saddle, and night after night in anxiety, will sleep soundly in a moment of security even if the very jaws of death yawn beyond it.
Pushing the board back, and coming out from under the bushes, she saw her grandfather leaning over the front fence talking to one of the officers; walking up to them, she slipped her hand under the old gentleman’s arm.
“We have made a most thorough search,” the officer was saying. “We went through your cotton-sheds the first thing.”
“Ah,” thought Bab, “he hadn’t got there then.” Leaning forward a little, she happened to notice that the long bar which fastened the great shed doors was swinging loosely, while the padlock was hanging to the hasp; and then, remembering her dear grandpapa’s pet foible, a piece of spontaneous guile occurred to Bab, for which, in after life, she could never quite forgive herself.
“Grandpapa,” she said, “the bar of the shed is undone, and the Water Street boys are sure to get in there and smoke.”
“There is really great danger of fire in these sheds,” said her grandfather to the officer, and, swinging Bab lightly over the fence, he bade her go close the bar. Willingly she went and tried to place the heavy iron on the hasp, but, seeing it was too great a weight for her slender arms, the young officer came to her aid and closed and locked the padlock; a little squad of soldiers going by just then saluted as they passed—and Louisa, watching all from an upper window, sank down on the floor of the attic and rolled about in silent laughter.
It was of Louisa, in fact, that the young officer wished to speak; it had been thought best to let her go free, he said, because they hoped that if she were left to herself and well watched she might prove a clue to St. Clair’s hiding-place. “We are going to send little Miss Beauchamp to some friends she has in Washington, and from thence, if possible, across the lines to her family,” he said, “but we cannot afford to lose St. Clair; he means more to them at this stage of affairs than a whole army.”
And as Bab listened her conscience awoke and plagued her sorely. For the remainder of the evening she had no rest from it; she could not eat, and when bedtime came she could not sleep, for the locusts in the ailantus trees kept saying perpetually, “She’s a—,” “She’s a—,” “She’s a—,” while the katydids in the syringa bushes under her window answered in chorus: “Traitor—tra-a-aitor—traa-a-a-itor!”
Bab rose at last and flung her slipper into the midst of these latter torments. “I’m not a traitor!” she whispered angrily. “What difference does one Beauchamp St. Clair make? It is not as if I were helping to hide a whole army; it is not!”
But the locusts went on : “She’s a—,” “She’s a—,” “She’s a—”
Before the katydids recovered from their fright, however, a great tumult arose down by the water-side. Men ran up to the house; there was a great search for Louisa, who was not to be found. Lights began to appear on the river, and people from every side seemed to be running in that direction.
“What is it, mamma?” called Bab, hearing her mother and aunt talking in low voices on the front steps.
“St. Clair has escaped,” said her mother; “he was seen with Louisa in a skiff half way across the river. We are going over to the edge of the hill on the other side of the street. Don’t be afraid.”
Bab was in no way frightened—she never was—but she waited in suspense, watching the torches and lanterns beginning to flicker up and down the opposite hills; men were shouting, and the broad river was full of boats. Suddenly, from just beneath her, in the shadow of the thick shrubbery at the servants’ gate, she heard a voice say distinctly: “Good-by, Louisa; tell little Miss Bab that I’ve kept her sunbonnet to remember her by.”
“Fo’ de love o’ Gawd, Mars Beach’, hurry,” said Louisa; “de moon’ll be up in half a minute!”
Bab leaned out as far as she dared. There was a rustle among the shrubbery below her, and out into the narrow bricked pathway stepped Louisa and Beauchamp St. Clair.
“Hurry, Mars’ Beach’, hurry!” insisted Louisa. “Dere’s a little yaller ridge o’ moon showin’ above de tree-tops now.”
“I wish I had some kind of a weapon,” said St. Clair. “Can’t you go back and get me a carving-knife or something, Louisa? There is plenty of time.”
“Dey’s no time at all, Mars’ Beach’! Go, go!”
“Yes, there is plenty of time,” said St. Clair, giving her a little push towards the house. “Run along now, and get me a knife.”
Louisa ran back a few steps, and then, wheeling suddenly, she rushed at St. Clair and fairly pushed him out of the gate. “Take dis yere!” she panted, thrusting something into his hand. “I done got it ready fo’ you long ago!”
Bab saw it reflect the lamp-light from the parlor window. “She’s given him the knife that she sharpened to kill him with!” she whispered. “Oh, he’s going! If only no one will look this way!”
Slowly, as if in pure bravado, the gigantic man lounged across the street; for one moment the rays from the “little yaller ridge o’ moon” struck on his bright, fair hair—he had not even taken the precaution of covering it—and in the next the shadows of the old frame house had swallowed him up, while down below a crouching, stooping figure crept softly away beneath the bushes.
Before long the lights on the river disappeared and the people began to disperse. Bab’s mother and aunt returned. “It is a false alarm,” they called, cheerfully; “go back to bed, Bab.” And Bab went; but the locusts filled the air with “She’s a—,” “She’s a—,” “She’s a—,” and the katydids, taking heart of grace at the absence of further hostilities, responded loudly: “Tra-a-a-ai-tor—tra-a-a-a-ai-tor—tra-a-a-a-ai-tor!” until she covered up her head and cried herself to sleep.
Early the next morning Bab opened her eyes in the twilight, and wondered why she was unhappy. Never before could she remember wishing that a day had not come; yet now, to make it shorter, she was trying to go to sleep again. It was a first awakening to care. Rising at last, she went to the window; a thick fog shut off the outer world, all but the pointed black gable of the old frame house and the softly curving tops of the beeches and oaks on the summit of the opposite hill. The sky was bright, but pale, and through the beeches she could see a great red curve slowly mounting, but the oaks looked black against it. Suddenly a keen ray of light fell across the ragged upper surface of the mist, striking the window in the gable of the frame house; and there, leaning out, carelessly secure in the thickness of the fog, was Beauchamp St. Clair watching the sunrise.
Bab’s heart stood still. “He does not see that it is clear this way; he will be taken!” she thought, and all her struggles returned. “More than an army,” she murmured, “more than an army. I can’t do it!” and without further hesitation she called as loudly as she dared a little yodel that Jennie had taught her,
With a start St. Clair turned and saw the child standing with warning hand in the sunshine. It was the little lady upon whom his safety now for the third time depended, and, trusting her like a true knight, he threw her a kiss and withdrew.
Chivalry, chivalry! what charming method lies in your madness! Bab was beatified.
“He knew I would not tell!” she said, softly, and, going back to bed, settled drowsily down among the pillows. The air in the room seemed to grow cooler, and a delicious consciousness of sleep weighed upon her heavy eyelids. “If I had done anything wrong I should not be so comfortable,” was her last reflection.
When she awoke the room was darker; the shutters she had left open were half bowed together, and through them there fell on her ears the gentle, continuous music of light rain, with a soft gurgle of dropping water.
“Yo’ sleepin’ mighty late, honey.” It was Louisa, who stood at the bedside waiting.
“Why, Louisa!” said Bab, sitting up in surprise, “that mist turned to rain. I thought it meant another hot day. I am glad of it; the attic in the old frame house must be—”
“Hush-s-s-s-sh!” whispered Louisa, fearfully. “He ain’t dah now; he done got away.”
“He done got away?” echoed Bab, incredulously, forgetful of grammar. “How?”
“In dat blessed, blessed mis’. It thicken’ up like de pillar-of-cloud-by-day, ’bout half-pas’ fo’ ’clock. Oh, Miss Bab, Miss Bab!” Louisa sank down on her knees by the bed and began to sob wildly. “Pray, pray, pray for de peace ob Jerusalem, de peace ob Jerusalem!”
“Divided Allegiances” by Mary Tappan Wright was originally published as a four part serial in Christian Union v. 45, no. 6, February 6, 1892, v. 45, no. 7, February 13, 1892, v. 45, no. 8, February 20, 1892, and v. 45, no. 9, February 27, 1892; reprinted in Beginning Alone, and Other Stories by Mary Tappan Wright, edited by Brian Kunde, Mountain House, Fleabonnet Press, 2008.
The work of Mary Tappan Wright here reproduced is in the public domain. All other material in this edition is ©2008-2009 by Brian Kunde.
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This page last updated 3/11/2009.
Published by Fleabonnet Press.