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   Chapter 9 No.9

A Little Union Scout By Joel Chandler Harris Characters: 19594

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


I knew no more what I intended to do than the babe unborn. What I did know was that Jane Ryder was in that house, in all probability; and that fact stung me. She had aided me to escape, even though she had had a hand in my capture, and I felt that the least I could do would be to take her away from there, willingly if she could come, forcibly if she hesitated.

On the way to the camp I met Whistling Jim, and he stopped me. He was astride his horse and leading mine. "Dey er gwine on a ride now terreckly, Marse Cally, an' I lowed maybe you'd want ter go 'long wid um."

For answer I swung myself on my horse and, bidding the negro to follow if he desired, put spurs to the sorrel and went flying in the direction of the tavern. I did not turn my head to see whether Whistling Jim was following, but rode straight ahead. It strikes me as curious, even yet, that the darkness should have fallen so suddenly on that particular day. When Goodrum spoke to me I supposed that the sun was still shining; when I turned into the road that led to the house it was dark. I reached the place in the course of a quarter of an hour, and as I leaped from my horse I heard the negro coming close behind me. I waited for him to come up and dismount, and then I bade him knock at the door, and when it was opened I told him to stand by the horses.

The door was opened by the woman who had spoken so kindly with me. "You here again?" she cried with an air of surprise. "You would make it very hard for her if she were here, but I think she is gone. You'll not see her again, my dear, and I, for one, am glad of it. There's no one here but myself and my son."

"Your son is the one I want," I replied. "Tell him to come at once. I have news for him." The woman had no need to call him, however, for the inner door opened as I spoke, and out came Jane Ryder in the garb of a man-cloak, boots, and all.

I had an idea that she would shrink from me or show some perturbation; but I was never more mistaken in my life. In a perfectly easy and natural manner-the manner of a young man-she came up and held out her hand. "I think this is Mr. Shannon; Miss Ryder told me your name. I have to thank you for some recent kindness to her."

I shook her hand very cordially, saying that nothing I could do for Miss Ryder would be amiss. "As it happens," I went on, "I can do something for you now. Will you come with me?"

For one fleeting moment her woman's hesitation held her, and then her woman's curiosity prevailed. "With pleasure," she said.

As we started for the door the woman interfered. "I wouldn't go with him," she declared with some bluntness. "You don't have to go and you sha'n't. You don't know what he's up to."

This failed to have the effect I feared it would. "Don't you suppose I can take care of myself, mother?"

"I know what I know," replied the woman, sullenly, "and it wouldn't take much to make me tell it."

"Then, for heaven's sake, say what you have to say and be done with it," I exclaimed. "Only a very few minutes lie between this person and safety. If you have anything to tell out with it."

"Your blue eyes and baby face fooled me once, but they'll not fool me again. You know more than you pretend to know," said the woman.

"I know this: if this person remains here ten minutes longer he will regret it all the days of his life. Now, trust me or not, just as you please. If he is afraid to come with me let him say so, and I will bid him farewell forever and all who are connected with him. Do you trust me?" I turned to Jane Ryder and held out my hand.

"I do," she replied. She came nearer, but did not take my hand.

"Then, in God's name, come with me!" I cried. She obeyed my gesture and started for the door.

"Where are you going?" wailed the mother. "Tell me-tell me!"

I was sorry for her, but I made her no answer.

I anticipated this scene as little as I did the fact that Jane Ryder would come with me. I was prepared to carry her off if she refused, but I was ill prepared for the rumpus that this quiet-looking woman kicked up. She followed us to the door and stood wailing while I tried to persuade Jane Ryder to mount my horse. She hesitated, but I fairly lifted her into the saddle. The stirrup-straps were too short, but that made no difference. I sprang on the horse behind her, and, reaching forward, seized the reins and turned the horse's head in a direction that would bring us into the town by a detour, so that we should miss the Independents, who would follow the road that I had followed in coming.

"Where are you taking me?" inquired Jane Ryder.

"To safety," I replied. "The house is to be raided to-night, and I decided to bring you away. You saved me from a prison, and now I propose to save you."

"I saved you? You are mistaken; it was that foolish woman, Miss Ryder."

"Well, she said that you are her dearest friend, and I'm saving you to please her."

"You needn't hold me so tight. I'm in no danger of falling off. Where are you taking me?"

"To General Forrest." She caught her breath, and then did her utmost to fling herself from the horse. When she found that her strength was not equal to the task of removing my arms or lifting them so she could slip from the saddle, she began to use her tongue, which has ever been woman's safest weapon.

"You traitor!" she cried; "oh, you traitor! I wish I had died before I ever saw you."

"But this is the safest course," I insisted. "You will see, and then you will thank me for bringing you away."

"And I thought you were a gentleman; I took you for an honest man. Oh, if hate could kill you you would fall dead from this horse. What have I done that I should come in contact with such a villain?"

"If hate could kill you, you would fall dead from this horse."

"You have a pistol," I said-I had felt it against my arm-"and it is easy for you to use it. If you think so meanly of me why not rid the earth of such a villain?"

"Do you know who I am?" she asked with a gasp of apprehension.

"Why, certainly," I answered. "Do you think I'd be taking the trouble to save you else?"

"Trouble to save me? Save me? Why, I hope your savage General will hang me as high as Haman."

"He would if he were a savage," I said, "and he would if you were a man. And he may put you in prison as it is; you would certainly go there if captured by the Forty Thieves. I am taking one chance in a thousand. But better for you to be in prison, where you will be safe, than for you to be going around here masquerading as a man and subjecting yourself to the insults of all sorts of men."

"You are the only man that has ever insulted me. Do you hear? You-gentleman!" she hissed. "Can't you see that I despise you? Won't you believe it? Does it make no difference?"

"Not the least in the world," I replied. "Now, you must compose yourself; you can be brave enough when you will-I think you are the bravest woman I ever saw--"

"I wish I could say you are a brave man; but you are an arrant coward: you, the soldier that plans to capture women."

"You must compose yourself," I repeated.

"In a few minutes we shall be in the presence of General Forrest, and I should like to see you as calm as possible. I don't know, but I think you will be safe. It was our only chance." The nearer we drew to headquarters the more my anxiety rose; yes, and my sympathy. "By the living Lord," I cried, "you shall be safe!"

"Noble gentleman! to entrap a woman and then declare she shall not be entrapped! To gain whatever honor there may be in a woman's capture by running ahead of his ruffians and capturing her himself! This is Southern manliness-this is Southern chivalry! I am glad I know it for what it really is. Do you know," she went on, "that I really thought-that-I-I-- You are the first man I was ever deceived in-I--"

"Come now," said I, not unmoved, for my feelings ran far ahead of hers and I knew what she would say and how hurt she was; "come now, you must be calm. Everything depends on that-everything."

Near General Forrest's headquarters I dismounted and walked by the side of my horse. Then when Whistling Jim came up, and I would have helped her from the saddle, "Don't touch me!" she exclaimed. She jumped from the saddle to the ground and stood before me, and for the first time I was ashamed and afraid. "This way," I said. Then to the guard at the door, "Private Shannon, of Captain Forrest's company, to see the General."

"He's right in there," said the guard with good-natured informality. I rapped at the inner door, and heard the well-known voice of General Forrest bidding me to enter.

I saluted, and he made some motion with his hand, but his eye wandered over me and rested on my companion. Then, after a moment, they returned to me. "What's the matter, Shannon?"

"I have brought to you here one who came to my rescue last night when I had been captured by a scouting party. We had gone to see the young fellow who, you will remember, was wounded in our last affair at the river-you saw him in the cabin. He was carried away the next day by his friends, but grew so ill that he could be taken no farther than the house on the turnpike two miles from town."

"You didn't let 'em git you just dry so, did you?" he asked. And then I gave him the details of the affair from beginning to end. "I thought Herndon was mighty keen to go," he remarked with a laugh. "You say this young fellow fixed it so you could git away? And then you went back and captured him? That don't look fair, does it?" He regarded me with serious countenance.

"It is a lady, General, and I did not want her to fall in rough hands." He uttered an exclamation of impatience and surprise, and made an indignant gesture. "Now, look here

, Shannon, that is a matter that I won't tolerate. I've a great mind to--" He paused, hearing the voice of his wife, who was visiting him. "Go back in there and tell Mrs. Forrest to come in here a minute, and do you stay out till I call you. I'm going to look into this business, and if it ain't perfectly square all the way through you'll pay for it."

I hunted for Mrs. Forrest, hat in hand, and soon found her. I must have had a queer expression on my face, for she observed it. "You must be frightened," she said.

"I am, madam, for another as well as myself," and then I told her, as we walked along very slowly, just how the matter lay. She regarded me very seriously for a moment, and then smiled. She was a handsome lady, and this smile of hers, full of promise as it was, made her face the most beautiful I have ever seen before or since. It is a large saying, but it is true.

I remember that I remained in the corridor cooling my heels a weary time, but finally Mrs. Forrest came out. "You may go in now," she said. "It is all right; I'm glad I was called; I think I have made the General understand everything as I do. There are some things that men do not understand as well as women, and it is just as well that they do not. I am sure you will be very kind to that little woman in there."

I tried to thank her, but there is a gratitude that cannot be expressed in words, and I could but stand before her mumbling with my head bent. "I know what you would say," she remarked, graciously. "The General and I have perfect confidence in you."

I went into the room where General Forrest and Jane Ryder were. "Shannon, what are you and Herndon up to? What do you mean by going on in this way?" He spoke with some severity, but there was a humorous twinkle in his blue-gray eyes. "More than that, you took occasion to prejudice the jury. What did you say to Mrs. Forrest?"

"I simply asked her to be kind to the lady in here."

"Well, she was all of that," said the General, "and she threatened me with her displeasure if I wasn't kind to you, and as she's the only human being that I'm really afeared of, I reckon I'll have to let you off this time. Oh, you needn't look so smiling; you are to be punished, and that heavily. You are to be responsible for this young woman. You are to take charge of her and restore her to her own people-mind you, to her own people. You are responsible to me, and I reckon you know what that means; if you don't you can just ask somebody that knows me."

I knew what it meant well enough, and I knew what his words meant. "The lady is as safe with me, General, as if she were in her mother's arms."

"Now, that's the way to talk, and I believe you," said General Forrest.

All this time Jane Ryder had said not a word. She sat very quietly, but there was not a sign of gloom or dejection in her face. But uneasiness looked from her eyes. She spoke presently, while General Forrest was looking through a large morocco memorandum-book that was a little the worse for wear. "If you please," she said, "I should like to go back to my friends to-night, if they are not all killed. They can do you no harm even if they are alive. They are only a couple of women."

"Well, they are not killed," replied General Forrest without looking up. "Wimmen make war on me and do a lot of damage, but I don't make war on them. I'm letting you off on a technicality, Miss Ryder. You are not a spy; you have never been inside my lines until to-night; and yet you were in a fair way to find out a good many things that the other side would like to know."

"I never found out as much as I'd like to know," she replied; "and since he came bothering me I haven't found out anything."

Apparently General Forrest ignored the remark. He turned to me with a slip of paper in his hand. "You'll have to change your name, Shannon. This passport is made out to someone else. Read it."

He handed it to me, and I read aloud: "The bearer of this, Captain Francis Leroy, is authorized to pass in and out the Federal lines, night or day, without let or hindrance." It was signed by a great man at Washington and counter-signed by one almost as great.

"Why, that belongs to me," said Jane Ryder; "where did you find it?"

"I reckon it's just a duplicate," said the General, smiling. "I've had it some time."

A little frown of perplexity appeared above Jane Ryder's eyes, and if it had never gone away until she solved the mystery of this passport it would have been there yet, for neither one of us ever knew where General Forrest obtained the precious document.

"You will want to go out of my lines, Shannon, and you'll want to come back, so I'll fix it up for you." He went into the next room and dictated to an orderly, and presently brought me a paper signed with his own name, and I have it yet.

Everything was ready for us to take our leave, and we did so. "You are a different man from what I thought you," said Jane Ryder to General Forrest, "and I have to thank you for your kindness and consideration."

"It ain't what people think of you-it's what you are that counts," replied General Forrest. I have thought of this homely saying hundreds of times, and it rings truer every time I repeat it to myself. It covers the whole ground of conscience and morals.

As I was going out, Jane Ryder being in advance, the General said to me again, "Don't make no mistake about what I mean. You are responsible to me for the safety of that young lady. I believe in you, but I may be wrong. If I am wrong you'd just as well go out and hang yourself and save me the trouble."

"You needn't worry about me, General. I can take care of myself," declared Jane Ryder. We went out of the house and came to where Whistling Jim was holding the horses. I dismissed him then and there, and told him to put his horse in the stable and have plenty of feed for mine. But Jane Ryder, for reasons of her own, preferred to walk, so that Whistling Jim went away with the two horses and we were left to ourselves.

I remember that I said very little during that long walk, and all the burden of the conversation fell on the young woman. She was not at all elated over the narrow escape she had had, and preferred to make light of it, but I knew that, under different circumstances, she would have been put in prison in Richmond, and I think that her nature would have succumbed to close confinement.

"You have had your way, after all, but I am not sure that I like it," she said. She waited for me to make some reply, but none was forthcoming. "I hope you don't think you have won a great victory. If I had been a man, perhaps the victory would have been the other way."

"I didn't compel you to come with me," I remarked.

"You mean I came of my own accord. If I did, it was to avoid a scene before my mother-the lady you saw at the house. I didn't want her to hear you bluster and threaten; and, besides, I wanted to tell you what I think of you. We have both had our way. My mother thinks you are a gentleman in a way, and I know what I know."

I trudged along by her side silently; I had no relish for an argument in which I was sure to get the worst of it. In some matters a man is no match for a woman: he cannot cope with her in a war of words. Nor will silence discomfit them. At least, it had no such effect in this instance, for the more I was silent, the louder and faster she talked, and, apparently, the angrier she became.

"You will boast, no doubt," said she, "and tell your comrades how you lorded it over a young fellow who turned out to be a woman-how you compelled her to go with you to General Forrest's headquarters. But how did you know me? How did you know who I was?"

I laughed aloud. "Why, I'd know you through a thousand disguises, as I knew you here that first night."

"I don't believe it; you didn't know me that first night; you had never seen me but once before, and you couldn't have known me. How did you know me to-night? You won't answer, or if you do you'll say you knew me by my swagger. Anything to insult a woman. I'd like to be a man for a few hours just to see how they feel toward women-just how much more contempt they feel than they show. I tell you, you didn't know me that first night."

"Then why did I insist on going home with you?"

This rather stumped her. "Because-because you thought I was a slip of a lad, and you knew you could impose on me. If you had known I was a woman, you wouldn't have called me a little devil-Yes, you would!" she quickly added. "You would have abused me worse than that if you had known I was a woman. How did you know-if you knew?"

"By your eyes; the moment I looked into them fairly I said to myself, 'Here's Jane Ryder again; no one has eyes like hers!'"

She was silent for a little space, and then, "Did it never occur to you that it would be politer to refer to me as Miss Jane Ryder?" Now, I had never thought of her as Miss Jane Ryder, and I told her so. "Are my eyes so peculiar that you would know them anywhere? Are they positively hideous, as the young women say?" I hesitated, and she went on, "But why do I ask? No matter what you think, it can never, never make any difference to me, after the way you have treated me to-night, and I hope that when you bid me good-by, as you will have to do directly, that I shall never see you again."

"That is the talk of a child, and you are supposed to be a grown woman," I replied. "You know very well that I am obliged to carry out the orders of my General, no matter how much they go against the grain."

She stopped in the road and tried to read my face even in the dark. "Do you really mean that?" and then, without waiting for an answer, she turned and ran, and I followed the best I could.

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