One night, near the middle of summer, Jake, a burly negro, came earlier than usual, and seeking Alice, thrust into her hand a note from Colonel Tiffton. It read as follows:
“DEAR ALICE: I have a suspicion that the villainous scamps, headed by Harney, mean to steal horses from Spring Bank to-night, hoping by that means to engage you in a bit of a fight. In short, Harney was heard to say, ’I’ll have every horse from Spring Bank before to-morrow morning; and if that Yankee miss appears to dispute my claim, as I trust she will, I’ll have her, too;’ and then the bully laid a wager that ‘Major Alice,’ as he called you, would be his prisoner in less than forty-eight hours.
“I hope it is not true, but if he does come, please keep quietly in the house, and let him take every mother’s son of a horse. I shall be around watching, but hanged if it will do to identify myself with you as I wish to do. They’d shoot me like a dog.”
To say that Alice felt no fear would be false. There was a paling of the cheek and a sinking of the heart as she thought of what the fast-falling night might bring. But her trust was not in her own strength, and dismissing Jake from her presence, she bent her face upon the piano lid and prayed most earnestly to be delivered from the approaching peril, to know just what to do, and how to act; then summoning the entire household to the large sitting-room, she explained to them what she had heard, and asked what they must do.
“Shall we lock ourselves inside the house and let them have the horses, or shall we try to keep them?”
It took a few minutes for the negroes to recover from their fright, and when they had done so Claib was the first to speak.
“Please, Miss Ellis, Massa Hugh’s last words to me was: ’Mind, boy, you takes good keer of de hosses.’ Massa Hugh sot store by dem. He not stay quiet in de chimbly corner and let Sudden ’Federacy stole ’em.”
“Dem’s my theology, Miss Ellis,” chimed in Uncle Sam, rising and standing in the midst of the dark group assembled near the door. “I’se for savin’ de horses.”
“An’ I’se for shootin’ Harney,” interrupted the little Mug, her eyes flashing, and her nostrils dilating as she continued: “I knows it’s wicked, but I hates him, an’ I never tole you how I seen him in de woods one day, an’ he axes me ’bout my Miss and Mars’r Hugh—did they writ often, an’ was they kinder sparkin’? I told him none of his bizness, and cut and run, but he bawl after me and say how’t he steal Miss Ellis some night and make her be his wife. I flung a rock at him, big rock, too, and cut again. Ugh!”