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   Chapter 6 No.6

A Little Union Scout By Joel Chandler Harris Characters: 9616

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

The man regarded me with an amazement that soon flamed up into anger. His under-jaw stuck out ferociously, and the veins on his neck and forehead were swollen with indignation. Before he could say anything Jasper Goodrum intervened. "This is partly my affair," he said to the short-haired man, "and you'd better leave this countryman alone."

"You're wrong," said the man; "it is not your affair. How can it be when I don't know you?"

"Still," insisted Goodrum, "you'd better not bother the countryman. You'll git yourself in trouble."

"Trouble!" he snorted. "Say! that's what I'm after. He's waded into the creek and he can't git out without wettin' his feet." Then he turned to me, his eyes full of venomous rage. "Say! what do you take me for?" He came closer and stuck his ugly mug near my face.

My reply was made with an exceedingly willing mind. I struck him on the jaw with my open hand and sent him reeling. He recovered his balance almost instantly and made at me with a roar of rage and pain, but he never reached me, for Whistling Jim ran into him head down like a bull. The result was a collision that put the man out of business and knocked all the fight out of him. He lay on the floor and rolled about in an agony of pain, and the negro stood over him, apparently waiting for a fitting opportunity to put in the finishing touch, but his hard head had done the work for the time being.

Whistling Jim ran into him head down like a bull.

I judged that the ruffian had friends among the guests, but when I turned to keep an eye on them the room was clear. Even the landlord had retired. The lad was standing by my side, and my impression is that he was holding me by the sleeve of my coat. I turned to him, and I was more certain than ever that he was either Jane Ryder or her brother. But it was only when she spoke again that I was sure-for not even a twin brother could simulate that round and singularly mellow voice. "I am afraid you have made matters somewhat hard for me," she said, somewhat sadly, "and heaven knows that I have had trouble enough for one night."

"Well, you will have no more trouble here, at any rate," I said.

"I'd feel easier if I were sure of that," she remarked.

"Be assured," I answered. "When I leave this house you will go with me. I propose to take you to your friends, if you have any in the neighborhood; otherwise you go with me. You shall not stay here for that ruffian to abuse and misuse you."

"I'll go with you as far as the door if only to thank you for the unnecessary protection you have given me. There are many things that you do not understand."

"And many that I do," I replied as significantly as I dared. "I want no thanks, and you shall not remain in this house to-night. That is settled." She made a birdlike movement with her head and shoulders, looked me up and down, and smiled, but she saw that I was in earnest, and the smile left her face.

"Where shall I go?" she asked.

"Anywhere but here," I answered. "Anywhere away from that," I pointed to the man on the floor. He had raised himself to a sitting posture, and was rocking himself to and fro with his arms hugging his knees, apparently in great pain.

"He is not always as you see him to-night," she insisted. Then she turned to me impulsively, "I'll go with you; I know a house where I have very dear friends. But I must tell my friend here good-night-the lady you spoke with." She ran into the inner room, and then I heard her going lightly upstairs. She came down in a moment with color in her face and with some agitation in her manner. She seized me by the sleeve in a way that no man would have thought of, exclaiming, "Let us go at once-come!" Her sudden anxiety to be off took me entirely by surprise.

"You have a horse?" I said, hearing the jingling of her spurs. But she declared that her horse was well enough off where he was. "Come!" she said; "let us be off!"

"With all my heart," I replied. I was so highly elated that I forgot for the moment that I was dealing with a woman, and I threw my arm lightly over her shoulder with a gesture of friendliness and protection.

She threw it off and shrank from it as if it were a serpent. "What do you mean?" she cried. Her face was red with anger, and her eyes were blazing with scorn. "Don't dare to touch me!" For an instant I knew not what to do or say, and then it suddenly occurred to me that it would be well to hide from her the fact that I knew who she was and so I made a great pretence of anger. I seized her by the arm. "If you give me another word of your impertinence I'll carry out my threat of half an hour ago."

All the anger died out of her eyes. "You hurt me," she said almost in a whisper. "Oh, pray pardon me; I have travelled far to-day, and I am weak and ner

vous. Why did you come here to-night? But for you--" she paused and glanced up into my face, and placed her hand on mine. And then I would have known if I had not known before that she was no other than Jane Ryder, the little lady of the top-buggy. I looked in her eyes, and they fell; in her face, and it was covered with blushes; and somehow I was happier than I had been in many a long day.

"Come!" said I with some sternness, and held out my hand to her. Instinctively she seized it and clung to it as we went out into the night, followed by Whistling Jim.

"I have a friend who lives farther up the road," she said. "It is not far, but perhaps it is farther than you care to come-and you have no overcoat." I was not thinking of what she was saying, but of the warm little hand that nestled so confidingly in mine. I knew then, or thought I knew, that this little hand so soft and white, nestling in my big paw like a young bird under its mother's wing, had the power to make or mar my life. But, as is ever the way with birdlike things, the hand slipped from its nest and left it empty.

She was worrying about the ruffian we had left on the floor. "The trouble with him," I said, "is that he is selling information to both sides. He is an impostor. I think he is the scout they call Leroy." Whereupon she gave utterance to a laugh so merry that it sounded out of place in the gloomy woods. It brought Whistling Jim alongside to see what the trouble was. He said he thought the young master was crying. She laughed again, and then suddenly paused.

"We are very near the house," she said, "and all who live there are my friends. I shall be perfectly safe there. You have been very kind to me-kinder than you know. We have both seen each other at our very worst. Should we meet again, I hope we shall appear to better advantage."

She had entirely recovered her self-possession, but in doing so she forgot the part she was playing, forgot that she was arrayed in the toggery of a man, and was now altogether a woman. I do not remember all that was said, but I tried as hard as I could to conceal from her the fact that I had discovered her sex and her identity; I had not the least desire to humiliate her by airing my penetration. She stood silent for a while, as if in thought, or perhaps she was waiting for me to say farewell.

"You will do well to go in," I said. "The night is cold and damp."

"The cold and the damp are nothing to me," she replied. "I am warm enough. You were speaking a while ago of Frank Leroy. Don't forget that he is the best friend I have in the world except my mother. Good-night!" She held out her hand, and again it nestled, white and soft and warm, in my great paw, and stayed there a moment. The little hand must have been frightened, for it fluttered slightly and then flew back to its mistress.

I said good-night, but it was not a very gracious farewell, I am afraid. "I knew I had something to say to you," she remarked. "In the house there is a young Federal officer who was wounded some time ago. He has been in a very bad way, but he is better now. While he was at the worst of his illness he was constantly calling the names of some friends he has among the rebels. One of them he seems to be specially fond of-he calls him Harry Herndon. The other he calls Carroll Shannon. It may be that you know them."

"I am acquainted with Herndon," I replied. "Shannon I have never met, and I have no desire to meet him."

She was silent a moment, and then went on: "I thought that if the two would take the trouble to call on the wounded man it would do him good-though I am astonished that he should desire to see rebels and traitors. I hate them all without exception, and the more I see of them the more I hate them."

The little lady had worked herself into a grand fury against the rebels, and I am sure she believed what she said for the moment. "I shall take pleasure in informing Herndon that his friend is here," said I. "Shannon, as I have told you, I never met."

"You are fortunate," she replied. "I met him once, and it needed only a glance to tell me what he was."

"And what was he?" I inquired.

"The matter is not worth speaking of," she said. "I have just as much contempt for him as you have. Good-night!" and once more the little fluttering hand touched mine, and away she marched into the darkness. At the steps she turned and listened, but, as neither Whistling Jim nor I had stirred out of our tracks, she could hear nothing. "Why don't you go?" she called.

"I want to see you safe in the house," I said.

"You are taking a deal of responsibility on yourself," she responded. "You must think me a child or a woman." With that she slipped through the door, which yielded to her touch, and disappeared in the house.

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