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The Winning of Miss Jimmie Tolliver


The Winning of Miss Jimmie Tolliver

A STORY OF CHRISTMAS '64


By WILLIAM MacLEOD RAINE


THE supple, lithe figure of the girl, dark-haired, dark-eyed, head thrown back defiantly, stood out in relief against the lattice where the honey-suckle climbed riotously to the piazza above. The lieutenant in blue who strode up to the great house with clanking spurs thought her a charming figure, proud as a Greek goddess and full of fire to the finger-tips. The audacity of her rage touched his imagination.

"Your ruffians may trample down our co'n, they may burn up our fences, they may eat right spang up the meat in our smoke-house, but I won't have them abuse the niggers on the place," the young rebel was telling Capt. Charles Berry, Company D, Seventeenth Ohio Volunteers, with as much assurance as if she had at hand a regiment to quell these hated turbulent "Yanks."

"If you can point out the man"—began the captain humbly.

The girl stamped her little foot impatiently.

"How can I tell the man? Find out who he is!" she stormed.

"Dey-all am the mos' shif'les', ornery, no-'caount Linkum Erpublican po' white trash I evah did see. 'Pears like de enjurin' time they-all up to some meanness. I yent have no truck with them. Yo' heah me?" added Aunt Becky, who stood behind her young mistress with arms akimbo, the flame of battle shining in her dusky face and the shrill voice carrying half a mile.

The captain's merry Irish eyes twinkled.

"Yes, I hear you, Mammy. Your voice is so soft and low it hardly reaches me, but I manage to get the drift of your remarks. This unsolicited testimonial as to the character of my men"—

"G'lang! Hit p'intedly does jes' natchelly give me the misery tuh see sech like romancin' roun'. Hit air a plumb scan'lous sight ter see."

"That will do, Aunt Becky," interrupted Miss Jimmie Tolliver. "You may go back to the kitchen. I reckon I c'n make out to say what needs be said!"

"I guess you can, Miss," agreed the captain admiringly, with a swift look at Lieutenant Allyn out of the tail of his eye. "Shouldn't wonder if it would do you a heap of good to free your mind about us for once. Now"—he stopped a moment to listen to a whispered message from an orderly—"I'm unfortunately called away on particular business, but if you have anything you'd like to say, you just speak it right out in meeting to this officer and he'll attend to it. Miss Tolliver, this is Lieut. Fordyce Allyn. Lieutenant Allyn—Miss Tolliver. Don't you be afraid of hurting his feelings, Miss Tolliver. He's only a Yank."

And Captain Berry went away chuckling at the situation in which he had contrived to leave his subordinate. It appeared that Miss Tolliver had a good deal to say that she had been saving up for the first Union officer that chanced to cross her path, and Fordyce Allyn got the benefit of it. He judged she could not be more than eighteen, but she was a very Katherine the Shrew in a modern way. He was told things about himself and his motives it is not often given a man to hear from such adorable lips at first acquaintance. Curiously enough, he found the situation more than tolerable. The angry, scornful eyes, the bare full pulsing throat, the great mass of blue-black hair, fascinated the young Federal, and he thought it quite natural that this young Arkansas beauty should think unkindly of the men that were fighting her kinsmen and destroying their property.

Her anger was stirred at the patient admiration of this enemy of the cause she loved, even though he were a handsome boyish young fellow with waving chestnut hair and a manner of almost jaunty cheerfulness—perhaps the more on that account. How dared he take the liberty to admire her! What arrant insolence! Presently there slipped out the worst anathema in her vocabulary.

"A Black Republican! A Yankee Abolitionist!"

Fordyce Allyn smiled. "You're wrong again, Miss Tolliver. As it happens, I've always been a Democrat—that is, before the war began, and in those days I was certainly not an abolitionist."

"At all events you are now. Yo' cayn't deny it. Why are yo' fighting to rob us of our property, then?" she retorted, very erect, very haughty, a fair, slim representative of the daughters of the race of cavaliers so soon to be extinct.

He said something about the principles that animated the North.

"Principles!" she echoed scornfully. "What sort of principle is it that incites those men to trample down our co'n and our cotton?" She swept round a hand to include the Federal camp. "I reckon it was principle that made them beat up old Dan because be w'udn't bring them whiskey."

The girl waited for no answer, but turning swiftly on her heel, marched with chin in air up the steps, through the "gallery," and into the house.

Lieutenant Allyn followed the young patrician with his eyes, a rueful smile twitching at his lips. "Guess she's all rebel," he was thinking. "Hates Yankees worse than snakes. My word, how she did walk into me! But what eyes—and what a wonderful voice!

Company D spent several days on the Tolliver plantation, but Fordyce Allyn made it a point to see that his men cut their own timber from the post oak lead that ran near their camp, and that they did not wantonly destroy the corn or the cotton. Small thanks he got for his pains from Miss Jimmie Tolliver, for when he chanced to meet her about the place My Lady Disdain gathered her patched skirt closer for fear of contamination and passed him with the coolest cut imaginable.

Cache swamp bordered the edge of the plantation, and through the slough ran a corduroy road toward the little town of Jacksonport. Along this road the remnant of the Tolliver household watched with undisguised relief the Federal soldiers ride away one day.

"What a God-forsaken country this is, Allyn!" cried Second Lieutenant Hooper in a sudden energy of homesickness, after they had entered the swamp.

Disgust was writ large on his face. His eyes wandered discontentedly over the scene of semi-tropical luxuriant verdure that stretched away on either hand. Cache bottom was a blaze of beautiful variegated color. The white dogwood blossoms, the yellow water lilies and the jasmine, the flame of scarlet buckeyes, together with a score of other color effects, ran rampant in wild splashes against the green background of moss-covered cypress roots, of leafing gum and hickory, or sprouting cane-brake. The effect was gorgeous enough to have suited a taste the most critical, but the very prodigality of this untamed Southern beauty wearied Hooper. He was thinking of a brown-eyed girl he had left in tears among the apple-blossoms of an orchard in the rolling hills of Ohio.

Fordyce Allyn laughed gaily. Nearly always there was a ripple of laughter in his manner.

"It isn't half bad. Did you ever see anything finer than that outlook to the left?"

"I'm not looking for scenery," grunted Hooper. "I haven't lost any myself. The whole place is alive with malaria and fever. Look at the sallow faces of the people who live here."

"My son, when you've been campaigning as long as Charley Berry you'll know when you're well off," said the captain placidly to Hooper. "If you had to sleep in that swamp with the water up to your mouth—Hello! Who the deuce is this scarecrow?"

A ragged tatterdemalion in what had once been a uniform of Confederate gray rode rapidly along a trail through the swamp to intersect them. He came galloping up and pulled his horse to a halt in front of Captain Berry.

"Be you-all the Yanks that have be'n a-campin' at the Tolliver place?" he demanded.

Berry nodded quietly, a hand resting on his pistol in his holster.

"Then I 'low tuh tell you-uns that the graybacks[1] air attacktin' the plantation right neow."

"You mean the guerrillas?"

"Tha's what I mean—Shep Dyson's jayhawkers."

"How do you know?" asked Berry sharply.

"I be'n one uv them till this evening [afternoon], but I'm durned if I stand by an' see Shep do Miss Jimmie a turrible meanness jes' because her brother Hal Tolliver whopped him oncet. Seems tha's a lot of money be'n hid summers araound the house by Tolliver to buy supplies an' Shep he got word uv it. Blame hit all, Miss Jimmie toted fixin's tuh Sis when she were dumb-chillin', an' I jes' natcherally cayn't let Shep do her ary harm, dod burn his hide, Naw, by thunder, I cayn't."

Captain Berry slewed round his head and barked out his orders curtly:

"Allyn, take two dozen troopers, ride to the plantation, and give the graybacks hell. If you capture any of them, hang the scoundrels on the spot."

Fordyce Allyn had learnt his riding at the Point, but he had never taken a ride before to compare with this wild rush over the rotten corduroy road which crumbled beneath the hoofs of his flying horse. Many a hole they missed by the fraction of an inch. More than once his horse went staggering, but just saved itself from a fall. Crane-brake and hickory lead, slough, bayou, and swamp, flashed past unheeded. He knew nothing but the mad desire to get back in time to save Jimmie Tolliver. Good God! If he should be too late, if that devil, Dyson, should have murdered her before he reached her. The guerrilla's long record of crime and murder rose up to appal the young man. The horror of it mounted to his brain, and he drove the spurs in fiercely against the bleeding sides of his willing horse. When he broke from the forest he rode alone his men hopelessly in the rear. Through dead cotton stalks and across a field of young corn he dashed, lifting his mount at the fences like a hunter. Long before he reached the house he heard scattering shots, followed by a sinister silence.

The lieutenant flung himself from the animal and strode through the sorghum patch toward the house. From the cedars at one end of the gallery there came to him the sound of a voice, an ominous, wicked voice, vindictive, with the rasp of a sullen threat to it.

"An' so I swore I'd git even with Mist' Hal Tolliver, an' by Gawd I 'low tuh do hit. When Shep Dyson says he'll do a thing he allus makes out tuh do hit. Ain't that right, Batt? He neveh rues back. We've got yo' brother where the wool is short, an' I 'low Miss Jimmie, we'll hafter skin ye outer money yo' brother left here."

"I tell you he didn't leave any money."

There was a note of appeal in the voice that went to Allyn's heart, but he noticed with an odd little thrill of pride that the words fell firm and clear. The girl was gray as ashes, but her brave eyes never wavered.

"Shucks? Tha' isn't ary sense a-talkin' that er way You speak right out now, Miss Jimmie, an' we-all won't devil you ary bit. I'd hate tu tuh do you-all ary meanness but in co'se business is business"

The sentinel of the jaywhackers caught sight of the blue-coated officer striding forward through the sorghum. He gave a yell of warning and fired at random. Next moment Allyn cut him down with his cavalry sabre. The guerrillas, startled, caught sight of the troopers as they came riding out of the woods. They broke for their horses with a wild dash. Allyn flung himself forward, pistol in hand. Some scattering shots flew past him, and one, better aimed, stung his shoulder. Next moment he threw himself on Dyson, who struggled desperately to escape and reach his horse. The two men went down together locked in each other's arms, swaying to and fro in their struggles.

When Lieutenant Hooper came upon them after his return from the pursuit of the graybacks he found Allyn astride the leader of the guerillas, with a pistol at his head, and the face the young officer turned to Hooper looked like the day of judgment come to earth.

II.

"Chris'mas gif', stranger!"

She that made the appeal was a sad-eyed young woman in homespun, and she pressed a sallow baby to her sunken breast. From between her lips the inevitable twig of the snuff-chewer projected, sign-manual of the Southern woman of her class.

Allyn, ready to mount, was standing by his horse with one hand resting on the horn of his saddle. He was a little surprised that a white woman should ask to be remembered but his hand dived into his pocket for some small change. The woman came nearer and began speaking in a low, hurried voice.

"If you-all air the Yank that had Shep Dyson strung up fer jayhawkin' I 'low you better light a shuck outer this yere place. The guerrillas air a-layin' fer you-all tuh kill you. They-uns air aimin' tuh waylay you-all the yon side uv Cache bottom. Bat Snellings an' his graybacks done swore tuh git even with you-all, I 'low you better burn the wind back tuh Newport."

The young cavalryman looked down at her in doubt. He knew that the guerrillas had been looking for a chance to kill him from ambush. Probably they had a spy to keep them informed of his whereabouts. In all likelihood the woman's story was true; still it might be a trap. He stood balancing a half-dollar in his hand, pretending—for the benefit of any spy that might be loafing in front of the store—to be tormenting her before he handed over the silver.

The woman appeared to read his doubts.

"Do you-all recomember Bud Sutherland—the man that warned you-uns that the guerrillas were attacktin' the Tolliver place? The graybacks toled him into the slough and killed him up next week. I'm the Widow Sutherland, an' I'd walk barefoot through hell tuh git even with Bat Snellings."

The fierce gleam of deadly hatred in her eyes was convincing. Allyn doubted no longer. It was quite plain she hated the guerrillas and their leader with the memory of an injured woman who never forgets.

"The trouble is that I've got to go. My busines will not wait," he said aloud, more to himself than to her.

"Then take the swamp road an' split the wind fer fair, for if they-uns cotch ye they'll roast ye alive."

He dropped the silver into her hand and turned away with an easy simulated laugh. As far as the wood he followed the upper road, then under the shadow of the timber cut across to the swamp trail. His mind was full of uneasy misgivings. Every crouching cypress knee to his alert and excited vision was a jaywhacker on the watch for him. At every rustling twig he slewed his head round, a pistol lying ready in his hand. So far as the eye could reach the brake extended, a dismal waste of overflow out of which rose cypress trees, thick-trunked to the water line, and gaunt tupelo-gums. A monochrome of utter dreariness prevailed. A paralysis of nerve-will began to creep over him. From behind any tree he might be picked off and thrown to rot in the horrible green waters of the swamp. For hours he rode along the corduroy road through squatting cypress knees, which hunched uncannily from the slough in the dim light like leering gnomes. He could have cried out with joy when at last the ground rose and the forest opened to the Tolliver plantation.

Half a dozen hounds came yelping down the path to meet him as he rode forward. Aunt Becky appeared on the piazza to call them back.

"Come yere, yo' Caesar. Haint yo' got no sense, Jeff Davis? Whaffer yo' go traipsing daown tuh devil eve'y strangah that comes?" Then she caught sight of the blue uniform. "Hm! A biggity Linkum man!" she snorted contemptuously, and disappeared at once into the kitchen.

It was Christmas day of the year '64, and still the war dragged wearily on, though the end had long been inevitable. Even the Southern fire-eaters knew they were fighting against hope for a lost cause. Arkansas was in the hands of the Federals, and the beaten Confederates had retreated sullenly to join Johnson or Bragg. Typical of the state, the plantation looked utterly desolate. Rotting fences, burnt cotton gins, untilled fields, and roofless cabins confronted Allyn on every side. The great house itself was charred at one end where a company of Northern cavalry had fired it but had been in too great a hurry to complete their work. Roving bands from first one army and then the other had come foraging for food, cattle, and horses till none were left. A little patch of ragged corn and a few hills of sweet potatoes had alone been under cultivation this year.

A young girl came out of the gallery and down the steps to welcome Allyn. The sun was in her eyes and she did not recognize him for a moment.

"Won't you light? Here, Jim, take the gentleman's horse!"

The sweet Southern intonation that is less an accent than a drawl thrilled the young officer. He rejoiced in her splendid youth, her free carriage, the little familiar turn of the head. Nothing about her graceful, impulsive manner escaped him. Even the old-fashioned, faded, much-patched dress appealed subtly to his heart-strings.

"It's your Black Republican come back to quarter himself on the enemy," laughed Allyn as he dismounted.

The eager sparkle that came into her luminous eyes he thought adorable.

"On Christmas day you're welcome, no matter who you are," she told him.

"No exceptions at all? Not even a Yankee abolitionist?" he asked gaily.

"I reckon we c'n find a place even for him to-day." Then she added mischievously: "I'm expecting Brother Hal and some of his friends to join us. He'll be right glad to meet you."

"Afraid I can't wait long enough to see them. If you'll fix me up a snack I'll be moving on," he laughed. Much as he admired Miss Tolliver, Allyn felt that he could pay too great a price for the pleasure of an hour with her.

He had no fancy for a year in a Southern military prison. Hal Tolliver would have to wait till the war was over for the pleasure of his acquaintance.

While Allyn was eating the lunch which Miss Jimmie Tolliver had set before him Aunt Becky burst into the room.

"De graybacks done comin', Miss Jimmie. Dey sho' is. I 'low they-uns a-gwine t' kill we-uns. Oh, Lordy, yere dey is!"

There came to them the noise of many feet trampling through the hall. The door was burst open and a motley crew stood in the room, threatening, storming, cursing. Unkempt, unshaven, and ragged they were, the villainous offscouring of the countryside, too vile to be tolerated by either army. At their head was Bat Snellings. He took off his slouch hat with an awkward attempt at a bow.

"Is this yere Lieutenant Allyn?" he asked, a note of cruel suavity in his voice.

Fordyce Allyn inclined his head slightly in stern silence. It was as if an infusion of starch had stiffened him suddenly. He knew that no concession he might make would save his life, and he resolved to show these scoundrels that an officer of the United States army would not stoop to ask mercy of them.

"Air you-all the same Allyn that hanged Shep Dyson?" the guerrilla leader asked with an ugly smile.

Again the lieutenant bowed.

A suggestion of triumph began to creep into the manner of the ruffian. His eyes glittered evilly.

"Mought I ask huccome you-all tuh hang Shep without ary trial?"

Allyn's face was as uncompromising as Ohio granite.

"I had him hanged because he was a murdering villian taken in the act—just as I should hang you if I captured you," the young officer finished grimly.

"Jes' so." Bat still smiled, but the smile was not good to see. The devils grin so when they wreak their malice on victims delivered to them. The guerrilla's sallow hand rasped slowly back and forth along the side of his unshaven cheek. "Jes' so. Tha' too bad—too bad. Durned if hit ain't, because"—His cruel beady eyes circled round the room to include his men in the jest, "because we-uns hev got a little program arranged tuh entertain you-all, Lieutenant; mought be called a sorter barbecue, I reckon."

The girl's troubled eyes went from the jaywhacker to the white stern face of the young soldier. It needed no divination to tell her of something tragic in the situation, even though there was still a wheedling, obsequious note in the voice of Snellings. The manner of Fordyce Allyn stirred the depths of her admiration. His simple manly words affected her as nothing ever had before. Here was a brave man going quietly to his death like a soldier without either fear or bravado. Through all her desperate terror for him there ran the thrill of pride at his contempt for them. She felt the blood surge in rapid beats at her temples even while her mind groped wildly for some hope of escape.

"We-all air right glad tuh meet up with you-all. Durned if we ain't. We be'n a-lookin' forward to this yere pleasant evenin' fer a right smart time, fer true. 'Pears like we cudn't wait ary longer, consequence is we drapped in kinder friendly-like tuh welcome you-all to our midst. We be'n cravin' tuh give you-all a warm welcome, an' dad burn my hide we 'low tuh do hit."

"You're not going to—to—hurt him?" asked the girl tensely, with dilated eyes.

The low, fiendish laugh of the guerrilla echoed through the room and made the girl shudder. It was a saying in the country that when Bat Snellings laughed somebody else was due to groan, and there was reason for it.

"We aim tuh devil him some."

Jimmie Tolliver's eyes went back to Fordyce Allyn—to the man she loved. She admitted it to herself now, even though he were thrice a Yankee, and her heart cried out wildly in protest against the impending murder. To Bat Snellings and his men she pleaded with a gray face for the life she could not see put out.

"Naw, by Gawd, we 'low tuh be shet uv him. He ain't got no sense nohow. Huccome he tuh be yere without ary escort? I 'low he air a plumb idjit not wuth savin'. I ain't nevah hearn tell that Yanks are so durned seldom nohow. You-all c'n git another sweetheart summers, I reckon."

Fordyce Allyn stood erect and unflinching with folded arms, a strange, eager, almost triumphant, light of victory shining in his face. The uplift and the thrill that ofttimes come to men in deadly peril were surging through him.

"You have done your best for me, Miss Tolliver, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart; God knows how much. But it is quite useless to ask mercy of these men, I think you had better leave the house," he told her with an almost smiling gentleness of manner.

"I reckon we-uns won't inconvenience the lady. If you-all air quite ready we'll be a-puttin' out fer the slough, Lieutenant. In co'se I hate tuh interrupt you' dinnah, 'cause it's the last yo' liable tuh eat fer a while, onless ha'nts (ghosts) eat like we-all, but if yo' quite ready"—

"May I have a word with Miss Tolliver?" asked the young man with an even voice.

"Toby shore. This yere train stops fer good-byes uv the dear departed. We plumb cayn't do enough fer you-all, we-uns air so fair petted on yo'," said Bat jocosely. Then, a minute later: "But I'll have tuh ask yo' tuh git a move on yo'. We-uns have got tuh be skedadlin' right along."

"Reckon you bettah wait a minute, Bat."

The drawling voice fell like a splash of icy water on the guerrilla. He wheeled round with a face grown suddenly gray to see a figure standing at the door—the easy, graceful, nonchalant figure of a Confederate officer lounging against the side of the doorway. He held a pistol negligently in his hand, but he had not taken the trouble to cock it,

"Captain Hal Tolliver!" cried one of the graybacks, his chin falling.

"At your service. What can I do for you—before I hang you?" drawled the gentle voice. Allyn noticed even then that it had the same quality of caressing softness as his sister's had. "No, I wouldn't shoot if I were you, Bat, You see I happen to have a troop of soldiers with me in and about the house. Reckon I've sorter got the dead wood on you. Maybe you bettah drop those guns: keep you from doing anything rash. Yes, sir! Right on the floor. That's good. Now we know they won't go off accidental like."

"I was jes' a-foolin', Captain Tolliver. I didn't aim tuh devil Miss Jimmie ary a bit. An' this yere Yank gen'elman—I was jes' a-funnin'," whined Snellings, great beads of perspiration breaking out on his face.

"Yes? Well, I'm not. That's the difference between us, you infernal scoundrel," answered Tolliver composedly.

"I know you-all air a gen'elman uv quality, Cap'n Tolliver, an' I give yo' my word tuh quit jayhawkin' if yo' let me off this yere oncet time. Hit ain't wuth yo' while tuh keep me ter trial," besought the ruffian.

"Quite right, Bat. It w'ud be a plumb waste of time, so I'm going to hang you right away to a sour apple tree, as the Yanks say," agreed the young Confederate cheerfully. "Casey take this fellow out to the slash and hang him at once. You may hold the rest pending an investigation. Tha' ain't no use wheedling me, Bat. You got to the end of your rope in mo'e ways than one. I allow to give this caounty a rest from you and your gang of beauties. Happy to meet you, Lieutenant Allyn. Sister Jim was writing me how you-all fixed up the graybacks when they bothered her before. Glad I got here in time to keep that damned scoundrel—Excuse me, sister, I cleah forgot you were here—that blanked scoundrel from devilin' you. Hope you'll pardon me if I leave you for a minute while I attend to locking up the rest of them."

Fordyce Allyn found himself alone with Miss Tolliver. During the last half hour he had been face to face with death, and in that time the veil of conventionality and of differing beliefs had been rent asunder. His eyes had looked love into hers, and she had flashed the message back to him. She had pleaded for his life as for the life of one she loved. But now that the stress of the crisis was past the memory of her words lashed her. What would he think? How could she justify herself.

The young man, grown suddenly timid, shifted uneasily in his place. He could not get back readily to trivialities, nor did he want to let the favorable moment slip away. Presently he crossed the room and shyly took her hand. The long curving lashes drooped over her averted eyes.

"I've come for my Christmas gift."

The color flared into her cheeks, and Fordyce, greatly daring, let a hand fall on her shoulder. She let it rest there.

"I—do—not—understand."

"Oh, yes, you do, Jimmie. I'm offering an exchange of gifts. The one I offer is a poor enough one, but it is all yours if you will have it. I love you, dear. I've been loving you all this time. Didn't you know that?"

"How could I? You never said anything."

So softly the words fell they scarce reached him. He smiled ever so little.

"No, you didn't give me much chance, you know."

The pink and white chased each other with bewitching confusion through her cheeks. Fordyce Allyn's heart began to sing "Hallelujahs." He turned her face toward him with a gentle boldness.

"May I kiss you, Jimmie?"

No answer in words, but Miss Tolliver inclined her head almost imperceptibly toward him. Allyn touched the beautiful oval of her cheek with his lips.

"You are my Christmas gift, sweetheart," he said.

Jimmie flashed radiant eyes on him.


  1. It must be borne in mind that the graybacks were guerillas, not Confederates.
 

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1954, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 60 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.