J. E. Chamberlain.

Cotton stealing. A novel online

. (page 16 of 29)
Online LibraryJ. E. ChamberlainCotton stealing. A novel → online text (page 16 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


'^ He burnt my plantation, gin, and quarters. It
was his gang that stole my cotton. Vengeance ! '*
The other lady placed her arm around her.

^^ Your name is Leette Ledonc. I am to meet you
here."

" Who told you ? '

" Kendal La Scheme."

" You know him ? "

" I am to be his wife."

"Wife!"

" I am ordered to tell you that none are worthy
to govern a kingdom who cannot govern themselves.
The vengeance of fury is impotent. Be calm and
obey."

Leette was silent. Comprehension of the genius
of the man who had become her master flashed, and
she, too proud to obey a woman, remained silent
until another figure passing made her ask :

" Who is that ? "

" The Adjutant General Hardone."



Digitized by VjOOQIC



OOTTOX STEALING. 257

" Charles Hardone.*'

" What do you know of him ? "

" Is that woman his wife ? '*

" No. His intended, Miss Sandison, daughter of
the banker. She came here to nurse that old man
yonder, Mr. Wirtman, the cashier. Everyone res-
pects him. Miss Sandison devotes her time to hospi-
tals and cares for the wounded. One of these im-
maculate Yankees. Her lover is very faithful."

" I will tempt and win him from her. Come with
me."

Will — ^whatisit? Purposeless; — ^with a purpose.
Time past, absolutely lost. Time future, pregnant
with the results of earnest, persistent labor ; a point,
aline divides purposeless from purpose. What is
will?

Leette went to her chamber. There at her dispo-
sal were garments adapted to adorn and enhance her
natural beauty. Leette selected from these, those
adapted to her style of beauty, with unerring judg-
ment. A slave performed menial oflSces, and she
consulted her companion on disputed questions of
toilet and taste. Engaged in the Eleusinian mys-
teries, she loosed her tongue from the stiff formalities
of indifference, made a virtue of necessity, and took the
leaguer of secret oaths into the sisterhood of a com-
mon confidence, the sympathy of common rebellion,
telling her the story of her wrong, and her will to be
revenged. Leette did not tell how La Scheme had
trampled on her love, never ! no, never ! Leette had
not asked the meaning of the firm set of her lip, the
17



Digitized



by Google



258 COTTON STEALTXa.

gritting of her teeth, when this other, by the word
wife told of La Scheme's perfidy. It meant re-
venge — without answer or even question, when,
where or how — revenge on some one, on something,
revenge in its first burst, in its full fury, was directed
on the burner of her house, on the invader of her
state, on the successful Yankee. As for La Scheme,
there was a suspension of feeling ; a question wheth-
er he was false. Let him if he dare. She was his .
master, he might think otherwise ; that will which he
had conquered was able to master him or any one.
Knowledge of his present plans, the will to thwart
them, made him her slave. Li an instant, Leette
Ledonc had become the woman Kendal La Scheme
had discovered, the Hazael who had evil concealed in
her nature to qualify her to be a devil, Jezebel.

When Leette, adorned with the best and latest
of the fashions — ^the first time Since the war com-
menced, — saw herself in the drawing-room mirror,
she was strangely startled. Never before had that
Leette been seen in a looking-glass. The inner wo-
man asked, "Who am I?" Thought, "Ah! I
remember. Good-bye, Leette. Good-bye forever.*'

The lady rose, astonished. ■ Some Southern women
would not resume the fashions because their rebel
sisters were reduced to single skirts and dresses.
Fashion belonged to the North. The South disdained
the Northern fashion. Leette in pride had rejected,
but now resumed, these garments, which transformed
her into a regal beauty.

Leette went to her entertainer, by proud manner



Digitized



by Google



COTTON STBALINO. 259

freezing any ^ ord which surprise or courtesy might
have prompted; took, as of right, the chief seat.
'With a gesture of command seated the lady who had
been with her at her side; then entered with skill
and easy self-possession into conversation. First,
saying to the lady :

" Bring the General here. Do not let him know
I wish to see him. You may say my plantation has
been destroyed by Federal soldiers, and I am a
Union woman."

The lady of the house found General Solenter in
conversation with Alina Sandison, Mr. Wirtman, smd
his adjutant. Addressing him, she said :

" General, you have never seen one of our South-
em belles. A young lady, whose plantation you
burned on your last raid down the river, has come
through the lines and sought refuge with me. I
have persuaded her to come down this evening, and I
would like to introduce you, if you have no objec-
tions.*'

^' She must be a rebel. Has she taken the oath
of allegiance? If she is as beautiful as you des-
cribe, she may be more dangerous than a regiment.**

" Oh, yes ; she is a good Unionist. She has been
under the cloud of circumstances, as have we all.
She was bom South. Her home was here until you
burned it, and now she has to seek safety elsewhere.
I think she has the proper protection papers. If
she has not, I ask you, as a gentleman, to assist
her."

Taking his arm, she drew the general away. On



Digitized



by Google



260 COTTON STEALING.

his part, turning to his friends, he invited them to
come. Mr. Wirtman declined; but the adjutant
general, putting Lina's hand in his arm, followed.
A general without his adjutant general is a house
without a wife. Passing through the drawing-room
door, the splendid beauty of Leette Ledonc came as
does sunlight on the eye when emerging from some
subterranean cavern.

" Is not she magnificent ! That is beauty. Lina,
I have heard of Southern beauty. I have seen it.
You do no know my contempt for all the females I
have seen South. They fell below my imagination.
So much is written of Southern beauty, I had con-,
ceived a grand ideal — ^a perfect woman. I was so
disappointed. This equals my grandest expectation.
Isn't she perfect ? What an eye ! "

" She seems to me too queenly, Charlie. I have a
choking sensation as I look at her. See that mouth !
It is unrelenting. She could kill her enemy. I hope
she will never hate me."

" I wonder who she can be. What a grand pres-
ence she has ! Scienter is fairly broken up. Bully !
Wont I have the joke on him ! Let us go and find
out who she is.'*

Leette had no intention of knowing Charles Ilar-
done at present. Taking the general's arm, she led
him in her promenade away from the place where the
two were standing, and so averted the threatened in-
troduction. Before she met the general, she had
requested her lady friend to perform on the piano
until she should stop her promenade. That lady



Digitized



by Google



COTTON STEALTNO. 261

asked to be excused : " Play for Federals — for mis-
erable Yankees ? No ! Her harp was on the wil-
lows/* In reply, Leetto said, "None are worthy to
govern a kingdom who cannot command themselves.
The vengeance of fury is impotent. Be cahn and
obey."

When Leette took the general's arm, this young
lady, turning to the mistress, said, " Ask me to play,
and take no denial.'* The hostess proposed music ;
invited others, who successively refused, and then
asked this one. She entered upon that line of ex-
cuses every lady-performer has by heart, until a
quick, imperious glance from Leette recalled her to
obedience, when she arose and sitting at the instru-
ment, ran a prelude upon the keys — such as an ac-
complished woman who has had no servile labor to
stiffen her delicate fingers, who has had harp-strings
and mother-of-pearl keys from infancy, can instinc-
tively perform — a combination of memory-thoughts
without words ; now wailing, now triumphant ; soft
on occasion, then increasing to victory. Forgefting
herself in her music, she fought the battle of the
Confederacy on the keys before her — skirmishing
the attack, charging on the double-quick, thundering
the repulse, mourning the dead ; weaving in snatches
of old lessons and old songs — the " Marseillaise of
Freedom**; "The Mocking Bird of the South,*'
and " The Bonnie Blue Flag, that bears a single
Star."

Lina Sandison, repelled [instinct] by Leette, had
no anxiety for acquaintance. The promenade re-



Digitized



by Google



262 OOTTON STEALING.

moved the event. This music drew the attention o^
Charlie, who was an enthusiast. Together the two,
pledged to be one, stood listening ; drawn near the
piano, to lose no single note of the varied harmony
80 lavishly shed in obedience to command.

This was Leette's time. Advancing in her walk
until she stood behind the performer with the gen-
eral; heedless of the music; near enough to be
heard by Charlie and Lina ; she said to the general :

" I was not to blame for the act of the guerillas."

" They killed five of my men, and wounded twenty.
I am not responsible for the results that followed.
Had I known you were a good Union lady, I should
have spared your mansion and quarters. The orders
are very strict, and must be obeyed. There is no
other way of preventing this outrage. Open warfare
is legitimate ; but to ambuscade a transport, and kill
as do those assassins, is not justified by any laws of
civilized warfare."

" You do not know who you may injure in this in-
discriminate destruction. I do not care so much for
myself in this instance as for one of your own Union
soldiers who had been taken in a skirmish by the
guerillas and left at my house. I took care of him
myself. The best Yankee I ever saw, gentle, patient
and brave — a hero. I learned to love him. He told
me his history. How he loved his mother ! I think
his father was dead, and she had married again."
Leette saw her arrow had struck. Lina Sandison's
attention had been gained. Leette put her hand
on the player's shoulder, and she ceased, turning



Digitized



by Google



gl OOTTON STEALING. 263

partly from the instrument. Leette fixed her eye on
the General, directing her conversation to him, not
losing a movement of either Charles Hardone or his
intended : " Poor fellow ! He had been wounded in
his right arm, had been ridden down and ribs were
broken ; his shoulder was injured, I think dislocated,
a sabre cut had lain open his temple, and his head
was otherwise bruised. The most dreadful sight you
ever saw. I nursed him until he was nearly well ;
his wound had closed up and he became the good
looking man he was. I think his brother had been
shot somewhere in Arkansas. I had to coax him
back to life, for he did not care to live. Poor fel-
low," she used the word as if it agreed with her feel-
ing, and drew a deep sigh, " he had been disappointed
in love. A noble man ; none but a Northern woman
would or could have trampled on such affection.**

Lina without introduction, interested, by premoni-
tion, asked, " What was his name ?*'

Leette, turning full upon her, answered, " James
Manet.**

" What became of him ?*' asked Hardone.

" The shell from the gun boat which set my house
on fire, burst near his bed, threw a beam on his body,
and he was burnt to death."

" Horrible !**

" Perhaps you knew him ?** This to Lina. To the
Gteneral, " Ajre these acquaintances of yours ?*'

^'Excuse me Miss Ledonc, permit me, — ^this is
Miss Sandison."

" Her first name V »



Digitized



by Google



264 COTTON STEALING. ^

" Alina,'* aiiswered Charlie.

" That cannot be, the one was called AUie."

" Tour friend seems moved,'* said Leette coldly.
To the performer, " Did you ever play ^ The Battle
of Prague V ** She answered,

" So long ago I have forgotten. Miss Ledonc,
Adjutant Hardone is a performer, and a beautiful
singer. Persuade him to sing something for us."

"General,** said Leette, with a bewitching smile,
the Adjutant is under your orders. Will you issue
one for the benefit of the company ?**

" Perhaps, Miss Ledonc, a request from one lovely
as yourself— one who has sheltered and nursed a
friend of Lieut. Hardone, for Manet was an intimate
friend before the war — may be more powerful than a
command.**

" A friend of yours !** offering her hand to the Ad-
jutant. " Then you must be a friend of mine. James
Manet was as fine a Yankee as I ever met. You
must have loved him. I loved him. Will you sing
for mc Adjutant ?**

Allic Sandison did not wait to hear what reply her
betrothe 1 would make. She knew certainly that
James was dead. His foster-father was in the next
room. To him she would break this news.

" Why does Miss Sandison leave us ?*' asked
Leette.

" James Manet's father is in that room,*' answered
the General. "When Miss Sandison came among
us, it was at the request of Manet's mother, Mr.
Wirtman being very sick. Misi^ Sandison had a
charge for this same Manet."



Digitized



byGoogle



. COTTON STEALING. 265

"Ah," interrupted Leette, "I may have touched a
tender cord. Was Manet a Corporal V*
" Adjutant, what was Manet ?"
" A Corporal, when he enlisted. Oh, it is the
same, I have no doubt. Lina feels badlj. His sis-
ter Lilly and she were great friends, before Lilly died.
I think Lilly gave her some charge for him. Lina
would have saved his life if he had been in the hospi-
tal ; she is a glorious nurse. She saved old Wirt-
man's life. I am sorry for Mrs. Wirtman. James
was her idol. Such is war. Poor fellow ! he had
hard luck."

Miss Ledonc prompts the pianist, " Adjt. Hardone
is not only a singer, he is a composer. He has songs
of all kinds."

"Really, Miss Ledonc, you must excuse me, I
have a very bad cold. I could not do justice to my
voice to-night."

" Now Adjutant, said Leette, coquetishly, "you
would not refuse me, I am not accustomed to denial,
and perhaps I will promise to grant your request
when you are very much in earnest."

" On such conditions I cannot refuse. But what
shall I sing ?"

" Love ! love ! We have the reality of war. Sing
of love ; an old song, one you made before there was
any war, when we were all brothers. Did you make
songs then ?"

Leette looked into his face with an earnest, inno-
cent question, as if the deep woman was not schem-
ing to measure his soul, to fathom the amount of pain



Digitized



by Google



266 COTTON STEALING.

. •

this death of an old friend, who had relinquished his
opportunity to gain a woman's love, abandoned it in
his favor when the right was certainly disputable, the
pain this death gave him.

" I did sometimes think I was a poet then, but
since I have been ashamed of my early efiforts, and
have almost forgotten them.**

" How can you say so. You are too proud. Ton
cannot forget. Do now, General, (flattering) sing us
one of those old love songs."

Thus urged, Hardone seated himself and sang the
same song, the same air, that James Manet heard
when he relinquished claim to Allie Sandison's love.
Allie Sandison, now a true woman, heard those words,
that chorus —

Love*8 sweet tone, love alone,
Proving that though time roll by,
Love can never die,

and the evening before the war came back into her
mind as a picture. The sofa, the piano — ^her piano,
Charlie singing, his abrupt invitation, her answer,
the good-night, and that NO so clear that James* voice
seemed in her ear. Then the good-bye in the church
yard. Henry dead, James, both dead. Lilly Sue
gone, and James Manet loved her, and went to the
war because he loved her ; killed, too, when a prisoner,
by a shell from one of our own gun-boats. She re-
membered her dream.

"Beautiful, beautiful,** exclaimed Leette. "Tou
are a poet. You must sing often to me.'*

At this moment, Kendal La Scheme came to the
general and shook hands cordially with him.



Digitized



by Google



COTTON STBALINa. 267

" Who is that man ? " asked Leeite.

" One of our cotton speculators."

"Is that so?*'

" Tes. Very successful. He has made a million
of dollars.'*

" Will you introduce me ? I have cotton to sell."

" You, cotton to sell ! How much ? I can help
you."

" Is it possible ! How fortunate ! You know I
have lost everything save a few bales of cotton, ^hich
are hidden away to keep the Confederates from burn-
ing them. If you will be so kind as to show me
what I am to do, you will put me under the greatest
obligations which I shall be most happy to repay."

General Scienter speaking to Leette says :

" Miss Ledonc, permit me to make you acquainted
with Mr. La Scheme." She bowed most distantly,
then moved away with Charles Hardone.

" One of these aristocrats who think the ground
too good for their feet," said La Scheme.

" Or perhaps you are too good a Union man," sug-
gested the general.

" I do not know. She may have some cotton some-
where. Then she will talk to me if I show the green-
backs. Money buys them all, General. She
wouldn't be bad to take, eh. General? "



Digitized



by Google



CHAPTER XXin.

A woman, really fallen, is nearer the devil than a
fallen man. Leette hated herself because she loved
La Scheme. Hated him because he had deceived
her. Yet loved him because he hated the Yankees.
Admired him for his manly physique^, was fascinated
by his animal magnetism. Yea, verily, wept for vex-
ation in her thought-moments, because she had to
love. She acknowledged to herself that he might
trample, discard, neglect ; yet would, could not but
love him. This galled her pride, and tears brought
no relief. She took vengeance on her own weakness
by revenge on others.* How a proud heart is cauter-
ized by seeing itself read, understood, and applauded
by the one of all others it would deceive ! Yet, even
in this comes consolation.

La Scheme avoided Leette's presence in person;
making care for her comfort keep an unseen pres-
ence in constant memory. The lady of the League
took her home.

"How long have you known Mr. La Scheme?"
Leette asked when they were in their apartments.



Digitized



by Google



COTTON STEAJ.ING. 269

" Since Memphis was taken. Not until very re-
cently has he formed the League. Very few are
permitted to enter, lest all should not be true. You,
chosen to danger, are appointed to command ; we to
obey. Visitors will come to see you ; each of whom
will leave a parcel, which must be passed safely
through the lines. Ignorance tells no tales. Most
of those who come here will know you only by the
sympathy of rebellion. You must do the rest.
Kendal has great confidence in those he cuts away
and sends abroad to pilot their own course. I know
you are a pilot since last night."

^'I am a pilot— captain and men to spare. La
Scheme is right."

The mansion of Leette's friends had been erected
by cultivated taste, regardless of expense; had
been furnished after its master and mistress returned
from travel in foreign parts, where they came in
contact with every appliance of elegant life and lux-
urious ease. Its pictures were painted by masters
of olden time ; were paid for with the wages of men
and women, and by the sale of their children. Its
carpets were soft as down ; its library adorned with
elegant editions of standard works. Music and art
were not neglected. The owner of thousands of
human beings and large plantations, in Tennessee,
Mississippi, and Arkansas, had all that heart could
wish. Why not ? The garden was -beautiful as
Eden. Prolific in shrubbery; box-wood borders;
roses, whose fragrance and name was legion ;
climbing, twining woodbines ; grapes ; honey-suckles ;



Digitized



by Google



270 COTTON STEALINa.

hedges of eyergreen ; magnolias and peach-trees ; an-
nuals and perennials ; and the fairy, spidery crape-
myrtle ; evergreens trimmed into polygons and dia-
monds. All this without sacrificing the green lawn.
A conservatory, a small fountain, wide walks, nar-
row paths, a summer-house, an arbor, bee-hives, —
all of these, and more, were arranged with skill by
lavish expense of labor and exquisite taste. A
flower of the Spice Islands transplanted.

What a home those wealthy Southerners had !
Nature opened a full lap and besought them to adorn
life with beauty. God gave them the richest, most
glorious part of the Union. They cursed it first with
slavery, then with rebellion. Satan and his angels
fell from heaven.

Such a home La Scheme gave Leette Ledonc, as a
base of operations. Master and mistress were her
slaves. The gentleman she called Uncle was an ab-
sent rebel. The lady she called Aunt, the young
ladies she called Cousins, were too bitter secesh to
open shutters or doors to the invader. Leette threw
everything open. They would not complain of sol-
diers, whose taste for beauty picked flowers and ever-
geens (with the license of children on May-day) in a
rebel's garden. A few regiments of lovers of nature
would pick all the flowers in Paradise. If that Par-
adise was in rebellion, would trample the borders,
break down the plants, ruin the walks, and make
the Garden of Eden a desert. Leette would not
complain, would do better— obtain a guard which
should protect the premises and her contraband of



Digitized



by Google



COTTON STEALING. 271

war. A bold woman, Leette, to beard the lion in his
den. Many an old man has lost his spectacles over
his nose.

To this end Leette prepared an entertainment of
the rarest viands, exhausting the sutler's stock of del-
icacies and the wines of the wholesale dealer. It
would not cost more than one bale of cotton. Every-
thing was skillfully prepared by servants, who were
personally attached to those who loaned them to ac-
complish the mission entrusted to her care.

General Scienter and staflF were special guests,
treated with distinguished consideration. No one
obnoxious to the federals was permitted to be pres-
ent. No one whose hatred to the Yankees was be-
yond control, who could not hide and conceal con-
tempt and scorn, so deep it could not slip from the
eye or curl on the lip, was invited. A sort of living
torture, where the victim is self-immolated.

In the beautiful, glorious sunset, she led them to
easy seats on the colonnaded portico, whence they
could look over the broad river, glistening with gold,
to the opposite bank; before them the treasure of
art, and still more distant the wild realm of trees,
rolling their forest of green, in long waves, toward
the setting sun. A slave brought a box of fragrant
cigars, and the gentlemen were left to enjoy their
ease.

On her return, the General, feeling that glow of
enjoyment, compounded of good feeding, good drink-
ing, good smoking, coolness after a tropical day, fell
into the trap set so deftly.



Digitized



by Google



272 COTTON STEALING.

" This is magnificent ! Such scenery ! Such lux-
uriance ! Such beauty ! I could live here forever.
No wonder your people love their homes. I should
fight for them if in your places.

Leette quietly pointed to the fence, which had
been torn ofi" for fuel, and through which, as if by her
orders, certainly for her benefit, two soldier boys
made entrance to the garden, pulled some flowers,
and quietly looked at the General on the piazza.

Volunteer officers, who owe their position to ability,
to patriotic devotion to the cause of their coun-
try, who have won their spurs in rf'air fight, are res-
pected. These men were not afraid. When they
enlisted in his company, be had promised them a
sergoantcy for obtaining five men. This they had
done, and he violated his word. To be sure, he was
now general, but they knew him before he was even a
captain ; and as their eyes caught sight of him in
magnificent ease, they cursed from the select vocabu-
lary of a soldier's oaths; ending eachbrimstony com-
mendation with words like villain, rascal, and devil.

He heard no sound, but seeing their eyes, and
knowing their cause for hate, comprehended the sig-
nification of their low ejaculations. It angered
him, and Leette's look of silent comment on his power-
lessness [military despotism cannot bind the soul]
touched him to the quick. Gen. Solenter turned ab-
ruptly to his adjutant :

" Order a detail to do guard-duty on these pre-
mises to-morrow morning and continue the same until
further orders. You understand ? "



Digitized



by Google



COTTON STEALING, 273

Hardone looked at him with surprise ; then at Le^
ette ; then at the soldiers, before he answered, " I
do/'

" Attend to it, then.*' To Leette he said, " If my
men give you trouble let me know of it immediately.
I will teach them to respect private property."

Leette could not keep joy from her eyes, though
no action expressed emotion. In that cellar was con-
cealed a hundred pounds of rifle powder, in her
trunk a box of opium, in her wardrobe and drawers



Online LibraryJ. E. ChamberlainCotton stealing. A novel → online text (page 16 of 29)