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   Chapter 10 No.10

A Little Union Scout By Joel Chandler Harris Characters: 13679

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


It soon dawned on me that this surprising young woman was as nimble with her feet as a schoolboy. She scampered away from me in a way to put me on my mettle, and she must have run nearly half a mile before I could come up with her. I touched her on the shoulder lightly, crying "Caught!"

"There is no getting rid of you," she answered.

"Oh, but there is, as you will discover," I said. "Once with your kin-people, you will see no more of me." I was vexed, but my ill-humor seemed to add to her high spirits, and she talked away quite blithely. When we came to the door it was open, and the mother, who had been kind to me, stood there waiting. She was crying and wringing her hands, and, for a moment, I thought she had been maltreated by those whose duty it was to raid the house. But her trouble was of quite another kind.

"What have you done with her?" she asked.

"She is here with me," I replied. But when I turned to confirm my words, Jane Ryder had disappeared. I could only stare at the woman blankly and protest that she had been at my side a moment ago before. "I knew it!" wailed the woman. "First comes you to wheedle her away, and then come your companions to search the house for her. I knew how it would be. I never knew but one man you could trust with a woman, and he was so palsied that a child could push him over. And the little fool was fond of you, too." And with that she wailed louder than ever.

"But, my good woman--" I began.

"Don't good woman me!" she cried. "You don't look like that kind of a man, but I knew it; I knew how it would be!"

"Fiddlesticks and frog's eggs!" I cried. "Stop your crying. She is here somewhere. You know well enough that I wouldn't have returned without her. She came to the door with me. I'd have you to know, madam, that I'm not the man you take me for. Do you think I'd injure a hair of her head? It is you that have injured her by allowing her to masquerade as a man-a little thing like that, with nobody to advise her. You are her mother and pretend to be fond of her; why didn't you advise her against all this? Why didn't you take a hickory to her and compel her to remember her sex? You are the cause of it all-yes, you!"

I spoke in a very loud tone, for I was very angry, and I knew that the only way to contend with a woman was to make more noise than she could. Just as I was about to continue my railing protest, Jane Ryder came through an inner door, dressed, as she should be, in the garb of her sex. Her toilette would have been complete but for the fact that in her haste her hair had fallen loose from its fastenings and now flowed over her shoulders and down to her waist, black as night and as shiny as silk.

"I thank you both for your good opinions," she said, making a mock courtesy, "especially the chivalrous Mr. Carroll Shannon, with his straps, and his hickories, and his riding-whips, and I hope he will soon get a woman on whom he can use them all."

"Oh, Jane! Jane!" cried the other, "why will you worry those who love you? Why will you try them so?"

The young woman's face fell at that, and she seemed to be very contrite. She went quickly across the room and never paused until she found herself in the woman's arms, and showed her love by so many quaint and delicate little caresses, and had such a dainty and bewitching way about her, that no human could have held out against her. The woman's face had cleared on the instant and was no more clouded with grief and anxiety. "You see how she is," said the woman to me; "hurting you to the heart one minute and making you forget it the next."

"I see," I replied; "but you should control her. You should make her remember who and what she is, and not permit her to go about as a man or boy. Don't you know how dangerous it is?"

"Oh, but she's her own mistress," the woman explained. "She can wheedle, and no one can say her nay. But I'm glad she went away to-night, though I was terribly afraid for her. She had no more than got out of hearing before there came a pack of troopers, and nothing must do but they must search the whole house from top to bottom. They were hunting for Leroy, too, and if she had been here there would have been trouble."

"What did I tell you?" I exclaimed. "I captured her ahead of them, carried her to General Forrest, and now she is my prisoner. I am responsible for her."

"I believe I had rather the others had captured me," Jane Ryder declared. The woman looked at me and shook her head, as much as to say, "Never believe her."

"Why did you trouble yourself?" Jane Ryder inquired. "I am sure I never gave you any cause to worry yourself about me. If you think you have done me a service you were never more mistaken in your life. You have simply destroyed my usefulness for the time being; but you have given me an opportunity to show you what I think of your intermeddling."

"Jane! you know that he has meddled with you only for your own good," said the older woman. "You ought to thank him on your knees."

"On my knees!" she exclaimed angrily. "On my knees! I dare say he would like to see me on my knees before him, but he'll see me dead first." I was surprised at the heat she showed over the matter.

"Your mother," I said, "has simply used an unfortunate expression. You owe me nothing-and if you owed me everything a kind word would more than repay me."

She bit her lip, but made no reply. "It's her way," explained the mother, "and I'm free to say it's a very poor way. It has always been her way. Love her and she'll hurt you; do her a favor and she'll pretend to despise you. Her kind words are as scarce as pearls among the poor. Scarce, but when they are spoken they make up for all the rest. Don't be angry with her; a big man like you shouldn't care what a child like her says."

"Child! I am older than he is," said Jane Ryder.

"But age is not age unless it has experience and judgment," remarked the older woman, serenely. "Without them, age is another form of childishness."

"What are you going to do with me?" asked Jane Ryder, turning to me. She was evidently weary of a discussion of which she was the subject.

She had placed her finger squarely on my perplexity, for this was indeed the great problem that I had to solve-what should I do with her? Not to-morrow, nor the day after, but now-to-night. The question had occurred to me a dozen times, but I had put it aside, trusting its solution to the moment when it could be no longer postponed. I hesitated so long that both of the women sat staring at me. "You have not answered my question," said Jane Ryder, "and it is important that I should know."

"I might give you your parole for the night," I answered.

"You persist in regarding me as your prisoner?"

"I have my orders," I replied. "You know that as well as I do."

"Thank you for your information. Good-night!" and she was gone before I could say a word, even if I had known what to say. All I could do was to stare blankly at the door through which she had disappeared. I had known all along that if she once took the matter in her own hands I should be powerless, for she was a woman-and such a woman! I could no more hold her prisoner against her will than I could fly. My whole nature revolted at the thought of it. She was a woman-a dangerous woman, no doubt, but still a woman-and that settled it for me.

And then, after I had looked at the door long enough to stare it out of countenance, if it had had one, I turned to the mother and stared at her. There was just the shadow of a smile hovering around her lips, and it nettled me. "She is parading as a man," I said, "and I think I shall treat her as one. A man can be rapped on the head, tied up, and bundled about, without regard for his comfort."

"And yet," said the mother, with her knowing smile, "you wouldn't hurt a hair of her head, nor give her a moment's discomfort." She made the statement with so much complacency that I was more than irritated; I was vexed.

"If you knew me," I declared, "you wouldn't say that. I have no patience with women who try to play the man."

"I know you well enough to say what I have said," she replied. "You have a face that tells no lies-and more's the pity."

"Where has she gone?" I inquired.

"That I can't tell you," the mother replied; "but it would be the wonder of the world if she had gone to bed. We who love her have no power to control her. She needs a stronger hand than ours."

"I could tell you something if I would," she remarked presently; "but it would be like feeling my way in the dark, and I dare not. Yet there is another thing I will tell you that can do no harm, though I promised to keep it to myself. If you stay here you will get in trouble. The man you shot night before last has a brother, and this brother is determined to capture you. I'm telling you this because I think you are a good young man. I had a son once who, if he had lived, should be about your age, and I would have thanked any woman in the world to have given him the warning I have given you. You can gain nothing by remaining here. You can return in the morning. Jane will be here; she is not going to run away from you."

"Nevertheless, I must do my duty," I said. "With your permission, I shall remain here. Does Jane Ryder know of the purpose of this fellow?"

"Oh, no; I wouldn't tell her. She has trouble enough." She paused and hesitated. "Why not go? There is the door; it is unlocked and you will still have time to join your friends. This is all I can say to you-all I can do for you."

"No; you can pray for me. And another thing: if you hear any noise cover up your head and make Jane Ryder cover hers."

"I'm sure I don't know what to make of you," she said, puckering her forehead as she stood in the door.

"But I think I know what to make of you and your daughter," I replied, with a laugh.

"Above all things, don't misjudge us," and with that she was gone, closing the door behind her.

How long I sat there I know not; it may have been one hour or it may have been many; but some time during the night there came a rap at the door and the pictures of Jane Ryder were blotted out of the fire and went flitting up the chimney. The knocking was on the outer door, which was unlocked, as the woman had said, and I cried out, "Come in!" Responsive to the invitation, Whistling Jim made his appearance, and I was more than glad to see him. I discovered for the first time that I had been oppressed by my loneliness, for my spirits rose to a great height.

He seemed very glad to see me, for he laughed aloud. "I bet a dollar you ain't had no supper," he said, "an' I tuck an' brung you some. 'Tain't much, but it's better'n none." But I had no appetite. "I'm mighty glad I brung yo' pistols, too, kaze dey's sump'n wrong gwine on 'roun' here. I seed two er th'ee men prowlin' roun' in de bushes ez I come 'long. Marse Cally, how come you ter leave yo' pistols in yo' saddle? You ain't been a-doin' dataway. I speck dat ar little man you had up in front er you had sump'n ter do wid it." He laughed, but I found nothing humorous in the allusion. "Did I say 'oman, Marse Cally?" I shook my head. "Kaze ef I did, it slipped out des dry so. I wuz comin' atter you anyhow, but Marse Harry holla'd at me an' tol' me fer ter fin' you an' say dat de troops gwineter move in de mornin' an' our comp'ny starts fust."

I nibbled the food he had brought me, with some particularly heavy thoughts in regard to the course we were to take. Yesterday I was a boy, and a very foolish one, but to-day I felt myself to be a man. The feeling was the growth of a night, but it gave me new confidence in myself, and, coupled with it, an assurance that I had never had before, and that has remained with me all through the long years that have intervened. I think it must have caught the eye of Whistling Jim-the change, I mean-for he regarded me curiously and closely.

"Marse Cally," he said after a while, "I b'lieve you done got mo' settled, sence-dog ef I don't b'lieve dat it's been sence yistiddy! I dunner wharbouts de change is, but it sho' is dar. It mought be de way you look at me, an' it mought be de way you don't look at me-an' ef you ain't done grow'd bigger I ain't no nigger."

"I have only ceased to be giddy for the time being," I said. "I am afraid I have some serious work cut out for me to-night. If you want to go you are welcome to do so, and if you stay I'll be glad to have you. I don't know anyone I had rather have near me when a row springs up."

"Me, Marse Cally? You sholy don't mean me." It was plain that he was delighted. "You know how skeery I is, Marse Cally, when dey's a row gwine on. I can't he'p gittin' skeer'd ter save my life. But it's de same way 'bout leavin' you; I'm skeer'd ter leave you. I couldn't go out dat door fer ter save my life." Whistling Jim held out his long, slim hands where he could look at them. Then he ran the scale of an imaginary piano, once, twice, and shivered again. "I tell you, Marse Cally, I'm a-gittin' skeerder an' skeerder. I wish dey'd come on ef dey comin'."

"Well," said I, "I'll place the key of the door on the mantel here, and you can go out whenever you want to."

But he protested almost violently. "Don't you dast ter do dat, Marse Cally! You put dat key in yo' pocket, an' let it stay dar." Nevertheless, I laid it on the mantel. The negro looked at it more than once, and finally, as if taking leave of the temptation it represented, blew it a kiss from his long fingers.

As he sat down, four men filed into the room through the inner door, which had opened almost noiselessly.

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