Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: The Battle Ground
Author: Glasgow, Ellen Anderson Gholson
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Battle Ground" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



THE BATTLE GROUND

By Ellen Glasgow


To

The Beloved Memory of My Mother



CONTENTS


BOOK FIRST

GOLDEN YEARS

    I. “De Hine Foot er a He Frawg”
    II. At the Full of the Moon
  III. The Coming of the Boy
   IV. A House with an Open Door
    V. The School for Gentlemen
   VI. College Days


BOOK SECOND

YOUNG BLOOD

    I. The Major’s Christmas
   II. Betty dreams by the Fire
  III. Dan and Betty
   IV. Love in a Maze
    V. The Major loses his Temper
   VI. The Meeting in the Turnpike
  VII. If this be Love
 VIII. Betty’s Unbelief
   IX. The Montjoy Blood
    X. The Road at Midnight
   XI. At Merry Oaks Tavern
  XII. The Night of Fear
 XIII. Crabbed Age and Callow Youth
  XIV. The Hush before the Storm


BOOK THIRD

THE SCHOOL OF WAR

    I. How Merry Gentlemen went to War
   II. The Day’s March
  III. The Reign of the Brute
   IV. After the Battle
    V. The Woman’s Part
   VI. On the Road to Romney
  VII. “I wait my Time”
  VIII. The Altar of the War God
   IX. The Montjoy Blood again


BOOK FOURTH

THE RETURN OF THE VANQUISHED

    I. The Ragged Army
   II. A Straggler from the Ranks
  III. The Cabin in the Woods
   IV. In the Silence of the Guns
    V. “The Place Thereof”
    VI. The Peaceful Side of War.
  VII. The Silent Battle
 VIII. The Last Stand
   IX. In the Hour of Defeat
    X. On the March again
   XI. The Return



BOOK FIRST

GOLDEN YEARS



I

“DE HINE FOOT ER A HE FRAWG”


Toward the close of an early summer afternoon, a little girl came running
along the turnpike to where a boy stood wriggling his feet in the dust.

“Old Aunt Ailsey’s done come back,” she panted, “an’ she’s conjured the
tails off Sambo’s sheep. I saw ‘em hanging on her door!”

The boy received the news with an indifference from which it blankly
rebounded. He buried one bare foot in the soft white sand and withdrew it
with a jerk that powdered the blackberry vines beside the way.

“Where’s Virginia?” he asked shortly.

The little girl sat down in the tall grass by the roadside and shook her
red curls from her eyes. She gave a breathless gasp and began fanning
herself with the flap of her white sunbonnet. A fine moisture shone on her
bare neck and arms above her frock of sprigged chintz calico.

“She can’t run a bit,” she declared warmly, peering into the distance of
the long white turnpike. “I’m a long ways ahead of her, and I gave her the
start. Zeke’s with her.”

With a grunt the boy promptly descended from his heavy dignity.

“You can’t run,” he retorted. “I’d like to see a girl run, anyway.” He
straightened his legs and thrust his hands into his breeches pockets. “You
can’t run,” he repeated.

The little girl flashed a clear defiance; from a pair of beaming hazel eyes
she threw him a scornful challenge. “I bet I can beat you,” she stoutly
rejoined. Then as the boy’s glance fell upon her hair, her defiance waned.
She put on her sunbonnet and drew it down over her brow. “I reckon I can
run some,” she finished uneasily.

The boy followed her movements with a candid stare. “You can’t hide it,” he
taunted; “it shines right through everything. O Lord, ain’t I glad my
head’s not red!”

At this pharisaical thanksgiving the little girl flushed to the ruffled
brim of her bonnet. Her sensitive lips twitched, and she sat meekly gazing
past the boy at the wall of rough gray stones which skirted a field of
ripening wheat. Over the wheat a light wind blew, fanning the even heads of
the bearded grain and dropping suddenly against the sunny mountains in the
distance. In the nearer pasture, where the long grass was strewn with wild
flowers, red and white cattle were grazing beside a little stream, and the
tinkle of the cow bells drifted faintly across the slanting sunrays. It was
open country, with a peculiar quiet cleanliness about its long white roads
and the genial blues and greens of its meadows.

“Ain’t I glad, O Lord!” chanted the boy again.

The little girl stirred impatiently, her gaze fluttering from the
landscape.

“Old Aunt Ailsey’s conjured all the tails off Sambo’s sheep,” she remarked,
with feminine wile. “I saw ‘em hanging on her door.”

“Oh, shucks! she can’t conjure!” scoffed the boy. “She’s nothing but a free
nigger, anyway--and besides, she’s plum crazy--”

“I saw ‘em hanging on her door,” steadfastly repeated the little girl. “The
wind blew ‘em right out, an’ there they were.”

“Well, they wan’t Sambo’s sheep tails,” retorted the boy, conclusively,
“‘cause Sambo’s sheep ain’t got any tails.”

Brought to bay, the little girl looked doubtfully up and down the turnpike.
“Maybe she conjured ‘em _on_ first,” she suggested at last.

“Oh, you’re a regular baby, Betty,” exclaimed the boy, in disgust. “You’ll
be saying next that she can make rattlesnake’s teeth sprout out of the
ground.”

“She’s got a mighty funny garden patch,” admitted Betty, still credulous.
Then she jumped up and ran along the road. “Here’s Virginia!” she called
sharply, “an’ I beat her! I beat her fair!”

A second little girl came panting through the dust, followed by a small
negro boy with a shining black face. “There’s a wagon comin’ roun’ the
curve,” she cried excitedly, “an’ it’s filled with old Mr. Willis’s
servants. He’s dead, and they’re sold--Dolly’s sold, too.”

She was a fragile little creature, coloured like a flower, and her smooth
brown hair hung in silken braids to her sash. The strings of her white
pique bonnet lined with pink were daintily tied under her oval chin; there
was no dust on her bare legs or short white socks.

As she spoke there came the sound of voices singing, and a moment later the
wagon jogged heavily round a tuft of stunted cedars which jutted into the
long curve of the highway. The wheels crunched a loose stone in the road,
and the driver drawled a patient “gee-up” to the horses, as he flicked at
a horse-fly with the end of his long rawhide whip. There was about him an
almost cosmic good nature; he regarded the landscape, the horses and the
rocks in the road with imperturbable ease.

Behind him, in the body of the wagon, the negro women stood chanting the
slave’s farewell; and as they neared the children, he looked back and spoke
persuasively. “I’d set down if I was you all,” he said. “You’d feel better.
Thar, now, set down and jolt softly.”

But without turning the women kept up their tremulous chant, bending their
turbaned heads to the imaginary faces upon the roadside. They had left
their audience behind them on the great plantation, but they still sang to
the empty road and courtesied to the cedars upon the way. Excitement
gripped them like a frenzy--and a childish joy in a coming change blended
with a mother’s yearning over broken ties.

A bright mulatto led, standing at full height, and her rich notes rolled
like an organ beneath the shrill plaint of her companions. She was large,
deep-bosomed, and comely after her kind, and in her careless gestures there
was something of the fine fervour of the artist. She sang boldly, her full
body rocking from side to side, her bared arms outstretched, her long
throat swelling like a bird’s above the gaudy handkerchief upon her breast.

The others followed her, half artlessly, half in imitation, mingling with
their words grunts of self-approval. A grin ran from face to face as if
thrown by the grotesque flash of a lantern. Only a little black woman
crouching in one corner bowed herself and wept.

The children had fallen back against the stone wall, where they hung
staring.

“Good-by, Dolly!” they called cheerfully, and the woman answered with a
long-drawn, hopeless whine:--

  “Gawd A’moughty bless you twel we
          Meet agin.”

Zeke broke from the group and ran a few steps beside the wagon, shaking the
outstretched hands.

The driver nodded peaceably to him, and cut with a single stroke of his
whip an intricate figure in the sand of the road. “Git up an’ come along
with us, sonny,” he said cordially; but Zeke only grinned in reply, and the
children laughed and waved their handkerchiefs from the wall. “Good-by,
Dolly, and Mirandy, and Sukey Sue!” they shouted, while the women, bowing
over the rolling wheels, tossed back a fragment of the song:--

  “We hope ter meet you in heaven, whar we’ll
          Part no mo’,
  Whar we’ll part no mo’;
  Gawd A’moughty bless you twel we
          Me--et a--gin.”

“Twel we meet agin,” chirped the little girls, tripping into the chorus.

Then, with a last rumble, the wagon went by, and Zeke came trotting back
and straddled the stone wall, where he sat looking down upon the loose
poppies that fringed the yellowed edge of the wheat.

“Dey’s gwine way-way f’om hyer, Marse Champe,” he said dreamily. “Dey’s
gwine right spang over dar whar de sun done come f’om.”

“Colonel Minor bought ‘em,” Champe explained, sliding from the wall, “and
he bought Dolly dirt cheap--I heard Uncle say so--” With a grin he looked
up at the small black figure perched upon the crumbling stones. “You’d
better look out how you steal any more of my fishing lines, or I’ll sell
you,” he threatened.

“Gawd er live! I ain’ stole one on ‘em sence las’ mont’,” protested Zeke,
as he turned a somersault into the road, “en dat warn’ stealin’ ‘case hit
warn’ wu’th it,” he added, rising to his feet and staring wistfully after
the wagon as it vanished in a sunny cloud of dust.

Over the broad meadows, filled with scattered wild flowers, the sound of
the chant still floated, with a shrill and troubled sweetness, upon the
wind. As he listened the little negro broke into a jubilant refrain,
beating his naked feet in the dust:--

  “Gawd A’moughty bless you twel we
          Me--et a--gin.”

Then he looked slyly up at his young master.

“I ‘low dar’s one thing you cyarn do, Marse Champe.”

“I bet there isn’t,” retorted Champe.

“You kin sell me ter Marse Minor--but Lawd, Lawd, you cyarn mek mammy leave
off whuppin’ me. You cyarn do dat widout you ‘uz a real ole marster
hese’f.”

“I reckon I can,” said Champe, indignantly. “I’d just like to see her lay
hands on you again. I can make mammy leave off whipping him, can’t I,
Betty?”

But Betty, with a toss of her head, took her revenge.

“‘Tain’t so long since yo’ mammy whipped you,” she rejoined. “An’ I reckon
‘tain’t so long since you needed it.”

As she stood there, a spirited little figure, in a patch of faint sunshine,
her hair threw a halo of red gold about her head. When she smiled--and she
smiled now, saucily enough--her eyes had a trick of narrowing until they
became mere beams of light between her lashes. Her eyes would smile, though
her lips were as prim as a preacher’s.

Virginia gave a timid pull at Betty’s frock. “Champe’s goin’ home with us,”
 she said, “his uncle told him to--You’re goin’ home with us, ain’t you,
Champe?”

“I ain’t goin’ home,” responded Betty, jerking from Virginia’s grasp. She
stood warm yet resolute in the middle of the road, her bonnet swinging in
her hands. “I ain’t goin’ home,” she repeated.

Turning his back squarely upon her, Champe broke into a whistle of
unconcern. “You’d just better come along,” he called over his shoulder as
he started off. “You’d just better come along, or you’ll catch it.”

“I ain’t comin’,” answered Betty, defiantly, and as they passed away
kicking the dust before them, she swung her bonnet hard, and spoke aloud to
herself. “I ain’t comin’,” she said stubbornly.

The distance lengthened; the three small figures passed the wheat field,
stopped for an instant to gather green apples that had fallen from a stray
apple tree, and at last slowly dwindled into the white streak of the road.
She was alone on the deserted turnpike.

For a moment she hesitated, caught her breath, and even took three steps on
the homeward way; then turning suddenly she ran rapidly in the opposite
direction. Over the deepening shadows she sped as lightly as a hare.

At the end of a half mile, when her breath came in little pants, she
stopped with a nervous start and looked about her. The loneliness seemed
drawing closer like a mist, and the cry of a whip-poor-will from the little
stream in the meadow sent frightened thrills, like needles, through her
limbs.

Straight ahead the sun was setting in a pale red west, against which the
mountains stood out as if sculptured in stone. On one side swept the
pasture where a few sheep browsed; on the other, at the place where two
roads met, there was a blasted tree that threw its naked shadow across the
turnpike. Beyond the tree and its shadow a well-worn foot-path led to a
small log cabin from which a streak of smoke was rising. Through the open
door the single room within showed ruddy with the blaze of resinous pine.

The little girl daintily picked her way along the foot-path and through a
short garden patch planted in onions and black-eyed peas. Beside a bed of
sweet sage she faltered an instant and hung back. “Aunt Ailsey,” she called
tremulously, “I want to speak to you, Aunt Ailsey.” She stepped upon the
smooth round stone which served for a doorstep and looked into the room.
“It’s me, Aunt Ailsey! It’s Betty Ambler,” she said.

A slow shuffling began inside the cabin, and an old negro woman hobbled
presently to the daylight and stood peering from under her hollowed palm.
She was palsied with age and blear-eyed with trouble, and time had ironed
all the kink out of the thin gray locks that straggled across her brow. She
peered dimly at the child as one who looks from a great distance.

“I lay dat’s one er dese yer ole hoot owls,” she muttered querulously, “en
ef’n ‘tis, he des es well be a-hootin’ along home, caze I ain’ gwine be
pestered wid his pranks. Dar ain’ but one kind er somebody es will sass you
at yo’ ve’y do,’ en dat’s a hoot owl es is done loss count er de time er
day--”

“I ain’t an owl, Aunt Ailsey,” meekly broke in Betty, “an’ I ain’t hootin’
at you--”

Aunt Ailsey reached out and touched her hair. “You ain’ none er Marse
Peyton’s chile,” she said. “I’se done knowed de Amblers sence de fu’st one
er dem wuz riz, en dar ain’ never been a’er Ambler wid a carrot haid--”

The red ran from Betty’s curls into her face, but she smiled politely as
she followed Aunt Ailsey into the cabin and sat down in a split-bottomed
chair upon the hearth. The walls were formed of rough, unpolished logs, and
upon them, as against an unfinished background, the firelight threw reddish
shadows of the old woman and the child. Overhead, from the uncovered
rafters, hung several tattered sheepskins, and around the great fireplace
there was a fringe of dead snakes and lizards, long since as dry as dust.
Under the blazing logs, which filled the hut with an almost unbearable
heat, an ashcake was buried beneath a little gravelike mound of ashes.

Aunt Ailsey took up a corncob pipe from the stones and fell to smoking. She
sank at once into a senile reverie, muttering beneath her breath with
short, meaningless grunts. Warm as the summer evening was, she shivered
before the glowing logs.

For a time the child sat patiently watching the embers; then she leaned
forward and touched the old woman’s knee. “Aunt Ailsey, O Aunt Ailsey!”

Aunt Ailsey stirred wearily and crossed her swollen feet upon the hearth.

“Dar ain’ nuttin’ but a hoot owl dat’ll sass you ter yo’ face,” she
muttered, and, as she drew her pipe from her mouth, the gray smoke circled
about her head.

The child edged nearer. “I want to speak to you, Aunt Ailsey,” she said.
She seized the withered hand and held it close in her own rosy ones. “I
want you--O Aunt Ailsey, listen! I want you to conjure my hair coal black.”

She finished with a gasp, and with parted lips sat waiting. “Coal black,
Aunt Ailsey!” she cried again.

A sudden excitement awoke in the old woman’s face; her hands shook and she
leaned nearer. “Hi! who dat done tole you I could conjure, honey?” she
demanded.

“Oh, you can, I know you can. You conjured back Sukey’s lover from Eliza
Lou, and you conjured all the pains out of Uncle Shadrach’s leg.” She fell
on her knees and laid her head in the old woman’s lap. “Conjure quick and I
won’t holler,” she said.

“Gawd in heaven!” exclaimed Aunt Ailsey. Her dim old eyes brightened as she
gently stroked the child’s brow with her palsied fingers. “Dis yer ain’ no
way ter conjure, honey,” she whispered. “You des wait twel de full er de
moon, w’en de devil walks de big road.” She was wandering again after the
fancies of dotage, but Betty threw herself upon her. “Oh, change it! change
it!” cried the child. “Beg the devil to come and change it quick.”

Brought back to herself, Aunt Ailsey grunted and knocked the ashes from her
pipe. “I ain’ gwine ter ax no favors er de devil,” she replied sternly.
“You des let de devil alont en he’ll let you alont. I’se done been young,
en I’se now ole, en I ain’ never seed de devil stick his mouf in anybody’s
bizness ‘fo’ he’s axed.”

She bent over and raked the ashes from her cake with a lightwood splinter.
“Dis yer’s gwine tase moughty flat-footed,” she grumbled as she did so.

“O Aunt Ailsey,” wailed Betty in despair. The tears shone in her eyes and
rolled slowly down her cheeks.

“Dar now,” said Aunt Ailsey, soothingly, “you des set right still en wait
twel ter-night at de full er de moon.” She got up and took down one of the
crumbling skins from the chimney-piece. “Ef’n de hine foot er a he frawg
cyarn tu’n yo’ hyar decent,” she said, “dar ain’ nuttin’ de Lawd’s done
made es’ll do hit. You des wrop er hank er yo’ hyar roun’ de hine foot,
honey, en’ w’en de night time done come, you teck’n hide it unner a rock in
de big road. W’en de devil goes a-cotin’ at de full er de moon--en he been
cotin’ right stiddy roun’ dese yer parts--he gwine tase dat ar frawg foot a
mile off.”

“A mile off?” repeated the child, stretching out her hands.

“Yes, Lawd, he gwine tase dat ar frawg foot a mile off, en w’en he tase
hit, he gwine begin ter sniff en ter snuff. He gwine sniff en he gwine
snuff, en he gwine sniff en he gwine snuff twel he run right spang agin de
rock in de middle er de road. Den he gwine paw en paw twel he root de rock
clean up.”

The little girl looked up eagerly.

“An’ my hair, Aunt Ailsey?”

“De devil he gwine teck cyar er yo’ hyar, honey. W’en he come a-sniffin’ en
a-snuffin’ roun’ de rock in de big road, he gwine spit out flame en smoke
en yo’ hyar hit’s gwine ter ketch en hit’s gwine ter bu’n right black. Fo’
de sun up yo’ haid’s gwine ter be es black es a crow’s foot.”

The child dried her tears and sprang up. She tied the frog’s skin tightly
in her handkerchief and started toward the door; then she hesitated and
looked back. “Were you alive at the flood, Aunt Ailsey?” she politely
inquired.

“Des es live es I is now, honey.”

“Then you must have seen Noah and the ark and all the animals?”

“Des es plain es I see you. Marse Noah? Why, I’se done wash en i’on Marse
Noah’s shuts twel I ‘uz right stiff in de j’ints. He ain’ never let nobody
flute his frills fur ‘im ‘cep’n’ me. Lawd, Lawd, Marse Peyton’s shuts warn’
nuttin ter Marse Noah’s!”

Betty’s eyes grew big. “I reckon you’re mighty old, Aunt Ailsey--‘most as
old as God, ain’t you?”

Aunt Ailsey pondered the question. “I ain’ sayin’ dat, honey,” she modestly
replied.

“Then you’re certainly as old as the devil--you must be,” hopefully
suggested the little girl.

The old woman wavered. “Well, de devil, he ain’ never let on his age,” she
said at last; “but w’en I fust lay eyes on ‘im, he warn’ no mo’n a brat.”

Standing upon the threshold for an instant, the child reverently regarded
her. Then, turning her back upon the fireplace and the bent old figure, she
ran out into the twilight.



II

AT THE FULL OF THE MOON


By the light of the big moon hanging like a lantern in the topmost pine
upon a distant mountain, the child sped swiftly along the turnpike.

It was a still, clear evening, and on the summits of the eastern hills a
fringe of ragged firs stood out illuminated against the sky. In the warm
June weather the whole land was fragrant from the flower of the wild grape.

When she had gone but a little way, the noise of wheels reached her
suddenly, and she shrank into the shadow beside the wall. A cloud of dust
chased toward her as the wheels came steadily on. They were evidently
ancient, for they turned with a protesting creak which was heard long
before the high, old-fashioned coach they carried swung into view--long
indeed before the driver’s whip cracked in the air.

As the coach neared the child, she stepped boldly out into the road--it was
only Major Lightfoot, the owner of the next plantation, returning, belated,
from the town.

“W’at you doin’ dar, chile?” demanded a stern voice from the box, and, at
the words, the Major’s head was thrust through the open window, and his
long white hair waved in the breeze.

“Is that you, Betty?” he asked, in surprise. “Why, I thought it was the
duty of that nephew of mine to see you home.”

“I wouldn’t let him,” replied the child. “I don’t like boys, sir.”

“You don’t, eh?” chuckled the Major. “Well, there’s time enough for that, I
suppose. You can make up to them ten years hence,--and you’ll be glad
enough to do it then, I warrant you,--but are you all alone, young lady?”
 As Betty nodded, he opened the door and stepped gingerly down. “I can’t
turn the horses’ heads, poor things,” he explained; “but if you will allow
me, I shall have the pleasure of escorting you on foot.”

With his hat in his hand, he smiled down upon the little girl, his face
shining warm and red above his pointed collar and broad black stock. He was
very tall and spare, and his eyebrows, which hung thick and dark above his
Roman nose, gave him an odd resemblance to a bird of prey. The smile
flashed like an artificial light across his austere features.

“Since my arm is too high for you,” he said, “will you have my hand?--Yes,
you may drive on, Big Abel,” to the driver, “and remember to take out those
bulbs of Spanish lilies for your mistress. You will find them under the
seat.”

The whip cracked again above the fat old roans, and with a great creak the
coach rolled on its way.

“I--I--if you please, I’d rather you wouldn’t,” stammered the child.

The Major chuckled again, still holding out his hand. Had she been eighty
instead of eight, the gesture could not have expressed more deference. “So
you don’t like old men any better than boys!” he exclaimed.

“Oh, yes, sir, I do--heaps,” said Betty. She transferred the frog’s foot to
her left hand, and gave him her right one. “When I marry, I’m going to
marry a very old gentleman--as old as you,” she added flatteringly.

“You honour me,” returned the Major, with a bow; “but there’s nothing like
youth, my dear, nothing like youth.” He ended sadly, for he had been a gay
young blood in his time, and the enchantment of his wild oats had increased
as he passed further from the sowing of them. He had lived to regret both
the loss of his gayety and the languor of his blood, and, as he drifted
further from the middle years, he had at last yielded to tranquillity with
a sigh. In his day he had matched any man in Virginia at cards or wine or
women--to say nothing of horseflesh; now his white hairs had brought him
but a fond, pale memory of his misdeeds and the boast that he knew his
world--that he knew all his world, indeed, except his wife.

“Ah, there’s nothing like youth!” he sighed over to himself, and the child
looked up and laughed.

“Why do you say that?” she asked.

“You will know some day,” replied the Major. He drew himself erect in his
tight black broadcloth, and thrust out his chin between the high points of
his collar. His long white hair, falling beneath his hat, framed his ruddy
face in silver. “There are the lights of Uplands,” he said suddenly, with a
wave of his hand.

Betty quickened her pace to his, and they went on in silence. Through the
thick grove that ended at the roadside she saw the windows of her home
flaming amid the darkness. Farther away there were the small lights of the
negro cabins in the “quarters,” and a great one from the barn door where
the field hands were strumming upon their banjos.

“I reckon supper’s ready,” she remarked, walking faster. “Yonder comes
Peter, from the kitchen with the waffles.”

They entered an iron gate that opened from the road, and went up a lane of
lilac bushes to the long stuccoed house, set with detached wings in a grove
of maples. “Why, there’s papa looking for me,” cried the child, as a man’s
figure darkened the square of light from the hall and came between the
Doric columns of the portico down into the drive.

“You won’t have to search far, Governor,” called the Major, in his ringing
voice, and, as the other came up to him, he stopped to shake hands. “Miss
Betty has given me the pleasure of a stroll with her.”

“Ah, it was like you, Major,” returned the other, heartily. “I’m afraid it
isn’t good for your gout, though.”

He was a small, soldierly-looking man, with a clean-shaven, classic face,
and thick, brown hair, slightly streaked with gray. Beside the Major’s
gaunt figure he appeared singularly boyish, though he held himself severely
to the number of his inches, and even added, by means of a simplicity
almost august, a full cubit to his stature. Ten years before he had been
governor of his state, and to his friends and neighbours the empty honour,
at least, was still his own.

“Pooh! pooh!” the older man protested airily, “the gout’s like a woman, my
dear sir--if you begin to humour it, you’ll get no rest. If you deny
yourself a half bottle of port, the other half will soon follow. No, no, I
say--put a bold foot on the matter. Don’t give up a good thing for the sake
of a bad one, sir. I remember my grandfather in England telling me that at
his first twinge of gout he took a glass of sherry, and at the second he
took two. ‘What! would you have my toe become my master?’ he roared to the
doctor. ‘I wouldn’t give in if it were my whole confounded foot, sir!’ Oh,
those were ripe days, Governor!”

“A little overripe for the toe, I fear, Major.”

“Well, well, we’re sober enough now, sir, sober enough and to spare. Even
the races are dull things. I’ve just been in to have a look at that new
mare Tom Bickels is putting on the track, and bless my soul, she can’t hold
a candle to the Brown Bess I ran twenty years ago--you don’t remember Brown
Bess, eh, Governor?”

“Why, to be sure,” said the Governor. “I can see her as if it were
yesterday,--and a beauty she was, too,--but come in to supper with us, my
dear Major; we were just sitting down. No, I shan’t take an excuse--come
in, sir, come in.”

“No, no, thank you,” returned the Major. “Molly’s waiting, and Molly
doesn’t like to wait, you know. I got dinner at Merry Oaks tavern by the
way, and a mighty bad one, too, but the worst thing about it was that they
actually had the impudence to put me at the table with an abolitionist.
Why, I’d as soon eat with a darkey, sir, and so I told him, so I told him!”

The Governor laughed, his fine, brown eyes twinkling in the gloom. “You
were always a man of your word,” he said; “so I must tell Julia to mend her
views before she asks you to dine. She has just had me draw up my will and
free the servants. There’s no withstanding Julia, you know, Major.”

“You have an angel,” declared the other, “and she gets lovelier every day;
my regards to her,--and to her aunts, sir. Ah, good night, good night,” and
with a last cordial gesture he started rapidly upon his homeward way.

Betty caught the Governor’s hand and went with him into the house. As they
entered the hall, Uncle Shadrach, the head butler, looked out to reprimand
her. “Ef’n anybody ‘cep’n Marse Peyton had cotch you, you’d er des been
lammed,” he grumbled. “An’ papa was real mad!” called Virginia from the
table.

“That’s jest a story!” cried Betty. Still clinging to her father’s hand,
she entered the dining room; “that’s jest a story, papa,” she repeated.

“No, I’m not angry,” laughed the Governor. “There, my dear, for heaven’s
sake don’t strangle me. Your mother’s the one for you to hang on. Can’t you
see what a rage she’s in?”

“My dear Mr. Ambler,” remonstrated his wife, looking over the high old
silver service. She was very frail and gentle, and her voice was hardly
more than a clear whisper. “No, no, Betty, you must go up and wash your
face first,” she added decisively.

The Governor sat down and unfolded his napkin, beaming hospitality upon his
food and his family. He surveyed his wife, her two maiden aunts and his own
elder brother with the ineffable good humour he bestowed upon the majestic
home-cured ham fresh from a bath of Madeira.

“I am glad to see you looking so well, my dear,” he remarked to his wife,
with a courtliness in which there was less polish than personality. “Ah,
Miss Lydia, I know whom to thank for this,” he added, taking up a pale tea
rosebud from his plate, and bowing to one of the two old ladies seated
beside his wife. “Have you noticed, Julia, that even the roses have become
more plentiful since your aunts did us the honour to come to us?”

“I am sure the garden ought to be grateful to Aunt Lydia,” said his wife,
with a pleased smile, “and the quinces to Aunt Pussy,” she added quickly,
“for they were never preserved so well before.”

The two old ladies blushed and cast down their eyes, as they did every
evening at the same kindly by-play. “You know I am very glad to be of use,
my dear Julia,” returned Miss Pussy, with conscious virtue. Miss Lydia, who
was tall and delicate and bent with the weight of potential sanctity, shook
her silvery head and folded her exquisite old hands beneath the ruffles of
her muslin under-sleeves. She wore her hair in shining folds beneath her
thread-lace cap, and her soft brown eyes still threw a youthful lustre over
the faded pallor of her face.

“Pussy has always had a wonderful talent for preserving,” she murmured
plaintively. “It makes me regret my own uselessness.”

“Uselessness!” warmly protested the Governor. “My dear Miss Lydia, your
mere existence is a blessing to mankind. A lovely woman is never useless,
eh, Brother Bill?”

Mr. Bill, a stout and bashful gentleman, who never wasted words, merely
bowed over his plate, and went on with his supper. There was a theory in
the family--a theory romantic old Miss Lydia still hung hard by--that Mr.
Bill’s peculiar apathy was of a sentimental origin. Nearly thirty years
before he had made a series of mild advances to his second cousin, Virginia
Ambler--and her early death before their polite vows were plighted had, in
the eyes of his friends, doomed the morose Mr. Bill to the position of a
perpetual mourner.

Now, as he shook his head and helped himself to chicken, Miss Lydia sighed
in sympathy.

“I am afraid Mr. Bill must find us very flippant,” she offered as a gentle
reproof to the Governor.

Mr. Bill started and cast a frightened glance across the table. Thirty
years are not as a day, and, after all, his emotion had been hardly more
than he would have felt for a prize perch that had wriggled from his line
into the stream. The perch, indeed, would have represented more
appropriately the passion of his life--though a lukewarm lover, he was an
ardent angler.

“Ah, Brother Bill understands us,” cheerfully interposed the Governor. His
keen eyes had noted Mr. Bill’s alarm as they noted the emptiness of Miss
Pussy’s cup. “By the way, Julia,” he went on with a change of the subject,
“Major Lightfoot found Betty in the road and brought her home. The little
rogue had run away.”

Mrs. Ambler filled Miss Pussy’s cup and pressed Mr. Bill to take a slice of
Sally Lunn. “The Major is so broken that it saddens me,” she said, when
these offices of hostess were accomplished. “He has never been himself
since his daughter ran away, and that was--dear me, why that was twelve
years ago next Christmas. It was on Christmas Eve, you remember, he came to
tell us. The house was dressed in evergreens, and Uncle Patrick was making
punch.”

“Poor Patrick was a hard drinker,” sighed Miss Lydia; “but he was a citizen
of the world, my dear.”

“Yes, yes, I perfectly recall the evening,” said the Governor,
thoughtfully. “The young people were just forming for a reel and you and I
were of them, my dear,--it was the year, I remember, that the mistletoe was
brought home in a cart,--when the door opened and in came the Major. ‘Jane
has run away with that dirty scamp Montjoy,’ he said, and was out again and
on his horse before we caught the words. He rode like a madman that night.
I can see him now, splashing through the mud with Big Abel after him.”

Betty came running in with smiling eyes, and fluttered into her seat. “I
got here before the waffles,” she cried. “Mammy said I wouldn’t. Uncle
Shadrach, I got here before you!”

“Dat’s so, honey,” responded Uncle Shadrach from behind the Governor’s
chair. He was so like his master--commanding port, elaborate shirt-front,
and high white stock--that the Major, in a moment of merry-making, had once
dubbed him “the Governor’s silhouette.”

“Say your grace, dear,” remonstrated Miss Lydia, as the child shook out her
napkin. “It’s always proper to offer thanks standing, you know. I remember
your great-grandmother telling me that once when she dined at the White
House, when her father was in Congress, the President forgot to say grace,
and made them all get up again after they were seated. Now, for what are we
about--”

“Oh, papa thanked for me,” cried Betty. “Didn’t you, papa?”

The Governor smiled; but catching his wife’s eyes, he quickly forced his
benign features into a frowning mask.

“Do as your aunt tells you, Betty,” said Mrs. Ambler, and Betty got up and
said grace, while Virginia took the brownest waffle. When the thanksgiving
was ended, she turned indignantly upon her sister. “That was just a sly,
mean trick!” she cried in a flash of temper. “You saw my eye on that
waffle!”

“My dear, my dear,” murmured Miss Lydia.

“She’s des an out’n out fire bran’, dat’s w’at she is,” said Uncle
Shadrach.

“Well, the Lord oughtn’t to have let her take it just as I was thanking Him
for it!” sobbed Betty, and she burst into tears and left the table,
upsetting Mr. Bill’s coffee cup as she went by.

The Governor looked gravely after her. “I’m afraid the child is really
getting spoiled, Julia,” he mildly suggested.

“She’s getting a--a vixenish,” declared Mr. Bill, mopping his expansive
white waistcoat.

“You des better lemme go atter a twig er willow, Marse Peyton,” muttered
Uncle Shadrach in the Governor’s ear.

“Hold your tongue, Shadrach,” retorted the Governor, which was the harshest
command he was ever known to give his servants.

Virginia ate her waffle and said nothing. When she went upstairs a little
later, she carried a pitcher of buttermilk for Betty’s face.

“It isn’t usual for a young lady to have freckles, Aunt Lydia says,” she
remarked, “and you must rub this right on and not wash it off till
morning--and, after you’ve rubbed it well in, you must get down on your
knees and ask God to mend your temper.”

Betty was lying in her little trundle bed, while Petunia, her small black
maid, pulled off her stockings, but she got up obediently and laved her
face in buttermilk. “I don’t reckon there’s any use about the other,” she
said. “I believe the Lord’s jest leavin’ me in sin as a warnin’ to you and
Petunia,” and she got into her trundle bed and waited for the lights to go
out, and for the watchful Virginia to fall asleep.

She was still waiting when the door softly opened and her mother came in, a
lighted candle in her hand, the pale flame shining through her profile as
through delicate porcelain, and illumining her worn and fragile figure. She
moved with a slow step, as if her white limbs were a burden, and her head,
with its smoothly parted bright brown hair, bent like a lily that has begun
to fade.

She sat down upon the bedside and laid her hand on the child’s forehead.
“Poor little firebrand,” she said gently. “How the world will hurt you!”
 Then she knelt down and prayed beside her, and went out again with the
white light streaming upon her bosom. An hour later Betty heard her soft,
slow step on the gravelled drive and knew that she was starting on a
ministering errand to the quarters. Of all the souls on the great
plantation, the mistress alone had never rested from her labours.

The child tossed restlessly, beat her pillow, and fell back to wait more
patiently. At last the yellow strip under the door grew dark, and from the
other trundle bed there came a muffled breathing. With a sigh, Betty sat up
and listened; then she drew the frog’s skin from beneath her pillow and
crept on bare feet to the door. It was black there, and black all down the
wide, old staircase. The great hall below was like a cavern underground.
Trembling when a board creaked under her, she cautiously felt her way with
her hands on the balustrade. The front door was fastened with an iron chain
that rattled as she touched it, so she stole into the dining room, unbarred
one of the long windows, and slipped noiselessly out. It was almost like
sliding into sunshine, the moon was so large and bright.

From the wide stone portico, the great white columns, looking grim and
ghostly, went upward to the roof, and beyond the steps the gravelled drive
shone hard as silver. As the child went between the lilac bushes, the
moving shadows crawled under her bare feet like living things.

At the foot of the drive ran the big road, and when she came out upon it
her trailing gown caught in a fallen branch, and she fell on her face.
Picking herself up again, she sat on a loosened rock and looked about her.

The strong night wind blew on her flesh, and she shivered in the moonlight,
which felt cold and brazen. Before her stretched the turnpike, darkened by
shadows that bore no likeness to the objects from which they borrowed
shape. Far as eye could see, they stirred ceaselessly back and forth like
an encamped army of grotesques.

She got up from the rock and slipped the frog’s skin into the earth beneath
it. As she settled it in place, her pulses gave a startled leap, and she
stood terror-stricken beside the stone. A thud of footsteps was coming
along the road.

For an instant she trembled in silence; then her sturdy little heart took
courage, and she held up her hand.

“If you’ll wait a minute, Mr. Devil, I’m goin’ in,” she cried.

From the shadows a voice laughed at her, and a boy came forward into the
light--a half-starved boy, with a white, pinched face and a dusty bundle
swinging from the stick upon his shoulder.

“What are you doing here?” he snapped out.

Betty gave back a defiant stare. She might have been a tiny ghost in the
moonlight, with her trailing gown and her flaming curls.

“I live here,” she answered simply. “Where do you live?”

“Nowhere.” He looked her over with a laugh.

“Nowhere?”

“I did live somewhere, but I ran away a week ago.”

“Did they beat you? Old Rainy-day Jones beat one of his servants and he ran
away.”

“There wasn’t anybody,” said the boy. “My mother died, and my father went
off--I hope he’ll stay off. I hate him!”

He sent the words out so sharply that Betty’s lids flinched.

“Why did you come by here?” she questioned. “Are you looking for the devil,
too?”

The boy laughed again. “I am looking for my grandfather. He lives somewhere
on this road, at a place named Chericoke. It has a lot of elms in the yard;
I’ll know it by that.”

Betty caught his arm and drew him nearer. “Why, that’s where Champe lives!”
 she cried. “I don’t like Champe much, do you?”

“I never saw him,” replied the boy; “but I don’t like him--”

“He’s mighty good,” said Betty, honestly; then, as she looked at the boy
again, she caught her breath quickly. “You do look terribly hungry,” she
added.

“I haven’t had anything since--since yesterday.”

The little girl thoughtfully tapped her toes on the road. “There’s a
currant pie in the safe,” she said. “I saw Uncle Shadrach put it there. Are
you fond of currant pie?--then you just wait!”

She ran up the carriage way to the dining-room window, and the boy sat down
on the rock and buried his face in his hands. His feet were set stubbornly
in the road, and the bundle lay beside them. He was dumb, yet disdainful,
like a high-bred dog that has been beaten and turned adrift.

As the returning patter of Betty’s feet sounded in the drive, he looked up
and held out his hands. When she gave him the pie, he ate almost wolfishly,
licking the crumbs from his fingers, and even picking up a bit of crust
that had fallen to the ground.

“I’m sorry there isn’t any more,” said the little girl. It had seemed a
very large pie when she took it from the safe.

The boy rose, shook himself, and swung his bundle across his arm.

“Will you tell me the way?” he asked, and she gave him a few childish
directions. “You go past the wheat field an’ past the maple spring, an’ at
the dead tree by Aunt Ailsey’s cabin you turn into the road with the
chestnuts. Then you just keep on till you get there--an’ if you don’t ever
get there, come back to breakfast.”

The boy had started off, but as she ended, he turned and lifted his hat.

“I am very much obliged to you,” he said, with a quaint little bow; and
Betty bobbed a courtesy in her nightgown before she fled back into the
house.



III

THE COMING OF THE BOY


The boy trudged on bravely, his stick sounding the road. Sharp pains ran
through his feet where his shoes had worn away, and his head was swimming
like a top. The only pleasant fact of which he had consciousness was that
the taste of the currants still lingered in his mouth.

When he reached the maple spring, he swung himself over the stone wall and
knelt down for a drink, dipping the water in his hand. The spring was low
and damp and fragrant with the breath of mint which grew in patches in the
little stream. Overhead a wild grapevine was festooned, and he plucked a
leaf and bent it into a cup from which he drank. Then he climbed the wall
again and went on his way.

He was wondering if his mother had ever walked along this road on so
brilliant a night. There was not a tree beside it of which she had not told
him--not a shrub of sassafras or sumach that she had not carried in her
thoughts. The clump of cedars, the wild cherry, flowering in the spring
like snow, the blasted oak that stood where the branch roads met, the
perfume of the grape blossoms on the wall--these were as familiar to him as
the streets of the little crowded town in which he had lived. It was as if
nature had stood still here for twelve long summers, or as if he were
walking, ghostlike, amid the ever present memories of his mother’s heart.

His mother! He drew his sleeve across his eyes and went on more slowly. She
was beside him on the road, and he saw her clearly, as he had seen her
every day until last year--a bright, dark woman, with slender, blue-veined
hands and merry eyes that all her tears had not saddened. He saw her in a
long, black dress, with upraised arm, putting back a crepe veil from her
merry eyes, and smiling as his father struck her. She had always smiled
when she was hurt--even when the blow was heavier than usual, and the blood
gushed from her temple, she had fallen with a smile. And when, at last, he
had seen her lying in her coffin with her baby under her clasped hands,
that same smile had been fixed upon her face, which had the brightness and
the chill repose of marble.

Of all that she had thrown away in her foolish marriage, she had retained
one thing only--her pride. To the end she had faced her fate with all the
insolence with which she faced her husband. And yet--“the Lightfoots were
never proud, my son,” she used to say; “they have no false pride, but they
know their place, and in England, between you and me, they were more
important than the Washingtons. Not that the General wasn’t a great man,
dear, he was a very great soldier, of course--and in his youth, you know,
he was an admirer of your Great-great-aunt Emmeline. But she--why, she was
the beauty and belle of two continents--there’s an ottoman at home covered
with a piece of her wedding dress.”

And the house? Was the house still as she had left it on that Christmas
Eve? “A simple gentleman’s home, my child--not so imposing as Uplands, with
its pillars reaching to the roof, but older, oh, much older, and built of
brick that was brought all the way from England, and over the fireplace in
the panelled parlour you will find the Lightfoot arms.

“It was in that parlour, dear, that grandmamma danced a minuet with General
Lafayette; it looks out, you know, upon a white thorn planted by the
General himself, and one of the windows has not been opened for fifty
years, because the spray of English ivy your Great-aunt Emmeline set out
with her own hands has grown across the sash. Now the window is quite dark
with leaves, though you can still read the words Aunt Emmeline cut with her
diamond ring in one of the tiny panes, when young Harry Fitzhugh came in
upon her just as she had written a refusal to an English earl. She was
sitting in the window seat with the letter in her hand, and, when your
Great-uncle Harry--she afterwards married him, you know--fell on his knees
and cried out that others might offer her fame and wealth, but that he had
nothing except love, she turned, with a smile, and wrote upon the pane
‘Love is best.’ You can still see the words, very faint against the ivy
that she planted on her wedding day--”

Oh, yes, he knew it all--Great-aunt Emmeline was but the abiding presence
of the place. He knew the lawn with its grove of elms that overtopped the
peaked roof, the hall, with its shining floor and detached staircase that
crooked itself in the centre where the tall clock stood, and, best of all,
the white panels of the parlour where hung the portrait of that same
fascinating great-aunt, painted, in amber brocade, as Venus with the apple
in her hand.

And his grandmother, herself, in her stiff black silk, with a square of
lace turned back from her thin throat and a fluted cap above her corkscrew
curls--her daguerreotype, taken in all her pride and her precision, was
tied up in the bundle swinging on his arm.

He passed Aunt Ailsey’s cabin, and turned into the road with the chestnuts.
A mile farther he came suddenly upon the house, standing amid the grove of
elms, dwarfed by the giant trees that arched above it. A dog’s bark sounded
snappily from a kennel, but he paid no heed. He went up the broad white
walk, climbed the steps to the square front porch, and lifted the great
brass knocker. When he let it fall, the sound echoed through the shuttered
house.

The Major, who was sitting in his library with a volume of Mr. Addison open
before him and a decanter of Burgundy at his right hand, heard the knock,
and started to his feet. “Something’s gone wrong at Uplands,” he said
aloud; “there’s an illness--or the brandy is out.” He closed the book,
pushed aside the bedroom candle which he had been about to light, and went
out into the hall. As he unbarred the door and flung it open, he began at
once:--

“I hope there’s no ill news,” he exclaimed.

The boy came into the hall, where he stood blinking from the glare of the
lamplight. His head whirled, and he reached out to steady himself against
the door. Then he carefully laid down his bundle and looked up with his
mother’s smile.

“You’re my grandfather, and I’m very hungry,” he said.

The Major caught the child’s shoulders and drew him, almost roughly, under
the light. As he towered there above him, he gulped down something in his
throat, and his wide nostrils twitched.

“So you’re poor Jane’s boy?” he said at last.

The boy nodded. He felt suddenly afraid of the spare old man with his long
Roman nose and his fierce black eyebrows. A mist gathered before his eyes
and the lamp shone like a great moon in a cloudy circle.

The Major looked at the bundle on the floor, and again he swallowed. Then
he stooped and picked up the thing and turned away.

“Come in, sir, come in,” he said in a knotty voice. “You are at home.”

The boy followed him, and they passed the panelled parlour, from which he
caught a glimpse of the painting of Great-aunt Emmeline, and went into the
dining room, where his grandfather pulled out a chair and bade him to be
seated. As the old man opened the huge mahogany sideboard and brought out a
shoulder of cold lamb and a plate of bread and butter, he questioned him
with a quaint courtesy about his life in town and the details of his
journey. “Why, bless my soul, you’ve walked two hundred miles,” he cried,
stopping on his way from the pantry, with the ham held out. “And no money!
Why, bless my soul!”

“I had fifty cents,” said the boy, “that was left from my steamboat fare,
you know.”

The Major put the ham on the table and attacked it grimly with the
carving-knife.

“Fifty cents,” he whistled, and then, “you begged, I reckon?”

The boy flushed. “I asked for bread,” he replied, stung to the defensive.
“They always gave me bread and sometimes meat, and they let me sleep in the
barns where the straw was, and once a woman took me into her house and
offered me money, but I would not take it. I--I think I’d like to send her
a present, if you please, sir.”

“She shall have a dozen bottles of my best Madeira,” cried the Major. The
word recalled him to himself, and he got up and raised the lid of the
cellaret, lovingly running his hand over the rows of bottles.

“A pig would be better, I think,” said the boy, doubtfully, “or a cow, if
you could afford it. She is a poor woman, you know.”

“Afford it!” chuckled the Major. “Why, I’ll sell your grandmother’s silver,
but I’ll afford it, sir.”

He took out a bottle, held it against the light, and filled a wine glass.
“This is the finest port in Virginia,” he declared; “there is life in every
drop of it. Drink it down,” and, when the boy had taken it, he filled his
own glass and tossed it off, not lingering, as usual, for the priceless
flavour. “Two hundred miles!” he gasped, as he looked at the child with
moist eyes over which his red lids half closed. “Ah, you’re a Lightfoot,”
 he said slowly. “I should know you were a Lightfoot if I passed you in the
road.” He carved a slice of ham and held it out on the end of the knife.
“It’s long since you’ve tasted a ham like this--browned in bread crumbs,”
 he added temptingly, but the boy gravely shook his head.

“I’ve had quite enough, thank you, sir,” he answered with a quaint dignity,
not unlike his grandfather’s and as the Major rose, he stood up also,
lifting his black head to look in the old man’s face with his keen gray
eyes.

The Major took up the bundle and moved toward the door. “You must see your
grandmother,” he said as they went out, and he led the way up the crooked
stair past the old clock in the bend. On the first landing he opened a door
and stopped upon the threshold. “Molly, here is poor Jane’s boy,” he said.

In the centre of a big four-post bed, curtained in white dimity, a little
old lady was lying between lavender-scented sheets. On her breast stood a
tall silver candlestick which supported a well-worn volume of “The
Mysteries of Udolpho,” held open by a pair of silver snuffers. The old
lady’s face was sharp and wizened, and beneath her starched white nightcap
rose the knots of her red flannel curlers. Her eyes, which were very small
and black, held a flickering brightness like that in live embers.

“Whose boy, Mr. Lightfoot?” she asked sharply.

Holding the child by the hand, the Major went into the room.

“It’s poor Jane’s boy, Molly,” he repeated huskily.

The old lady raised her head upon her high pillows, and looked at him by
the light of the candle on her breast. “Are you Jane’s boy?” she questioned
in suspicion, and at the child’s “Yes, ma’am,” she said, “Come nearer.
There, stand between the curtains. Yes, you are Jane’s boy, I see.” She
gave the decision flatly, as if his parentage were a matter of her
pleasure. “And what is your name?” she added, as she snuffed the candle.

The boy looked from her stiff white nightcap to the “log-cabin” quilt on
the bed, and then at her steel hoops which were hanging from a chair back.
He had always thought of her as in her rich black silk, with the tight gray
curls about her ears, and at this revelation of her inner mysteries, his
fancy received a checkmate.

But he met her eyes again and answered simply, “Dandridge--they call me
Dan--Dan Montjoy.”

“And he has walked two hundred miles, Molly,” gasped the Major.

“Then he must be tired,” was the old lady’s rejoinder, and she added with
spirit: “Mr. Lightfoot, will you show Dan to Jane’s old room, and see that
he has a blanket on his bed. He should have been asleep hours ago--good
night, child, be sure and say your prayers,” and as they crossed the
threshold, she laid aside her book and blew out her light.

The Major led the way to “Jane’s old room” at the end of the hall, and
fetched a candle from somewhere outside. “I think you’ll find everything
you need,” he said, stooping to feel the covering on the bed. “Your
grandmother always keeps the rooms ready. God bless you, my son,” and he
went out, softly closing the door after him.

The boy sat down on the steps of the tester bed, and looked anxiously round
the three-cornered room, with its sloping windows filled with small, square
panes of glass. By the candlelight, flickering on the plain, white walls
and simple furniture, he tried to conjure back the figure of his
mother,--handsome Jane Lightfoot. Over the mantel hung two crude drawings
from her hand, and on the table at the bedside there were several books
with her name written in pale ink on the fly leaves. The mirror to the high
old bureau seemed still to hold the outlines of her figure, very shadowy
against the greenish glass. He saw her in her full white skirts--she had
worn nine petticoats, he knew, on grand occasions--fastening her coral
necklace about her stately throat, the bands of her black hair drawn like a
veil above her merry eyes. Had she lingered on that last Christmas Eve, he
wondered, when her candlestick held its sprig of mistletoe and her room was
dressed in holly? Did she look back at the cheerful walls and the stately
furniture before she blew out her light and went downstairs to ride madly
off, wrapped in his father’s coat? And the old people drank their eggnog
and watched the Virginia reel, and, when they found her gone, shut her out
forever.

Now, as he sat on the bed-steps, it seemed to him that he had come home for
the first time in his life. All this was his own by right,--the queer old
house, his mother’s room, and beyond the sloping windows, the meadows with
their annual yield of grain. He felt the pride of it swelling within him;
he waited breathlessly for the daybreak when he might go out and lord it
over the fields and the cattle and the servants that were his also. And at
last--his head big with his first day’s vanity--he climbed between the
dimity curtains and fell asleep.

When he awaked next morning, the sun was shining through the small square
panes, and outside were the waving elm boughs and a clear sky. He was
aroused by a knock on his door, and, as he jumped out of bed, Big Abel, the
Major’s driver and confidential servant, came in with the warm water. He
was a strong, finely-formed negro, black as the ace of spades (so the Major
put it), and of a singularly open countenance.

“Hi! ain’t you up yit, young Marster?” he exclaimed. “Sis Rhody, she sez
she done save you de bes’ puffovers you ever tase, en ef’n you don’ come
‘long down, dey’ll fall right flat.”

“Who is Sis Rhody?” inquired the boy, as he splashed the water on his face.

“Who she? Why, she de cook.”

“All right, tell her I’m coming,” and he dressed hurriedly and ran down
into the hall where he found Champe Lightfoot, the Major’s great-nephew,
who lived at Chericoke.

“Hello!” called Champe at once, plunging his hands into his pockets and
presenting an expression of eager interest. “When did you get here?”

“Last night,” Dan replied, and they stood staring at each other with two
pairs of the Lightfoot gray eyes.

“How’d you come?”

“I walked some and I came part the way on a steamboat. Did you ever see a
steamboat?”

“Oh, shucks! A steamboat ain’t anything. I’ve seen George Washington’s
sword. Do you like to fish?”

“I never fished. I lived in a city.”

Zeke came in with a can of worms, and Champe gave them the greater share of
his attention. “I tell you what, you’d better learn,” he said at last,
returning the can to Zeke and taking up his fishing-rod. “There’re a lot of
perch down yonder in the river,” and he strode out, followed by the small
negro.

Dan looked after him a moment, and then went into the dining room, where
his grandmother was sitting at the head of her table, washing her pink
teaset in a basin of soapsuds. She wore her stiff, black silk this morning
with its dainty undersleeves of muslin, and her gray curls fell beneath her
cap of delicate yellowed lace. “Come and kiss me, child,” she said as he
entered. “Did you sleep well?”

“I didn’t wake once,” answered the boy, kissing her wrinkled cheek.

“Then you must eat a good breakfast and go to your grandfather in the
library. Your grandfather is a very learned man, Dan, he reads Latin every
morning in the library.--Cupid, has Rhody a freshly broiled chicken for
your young master?”

She got up and rustled about the room, arranging the pink teaset behind the
glass doors of the corner press. Then she slipped her key basket over her
arm and fluttered in and out of the storeroom, stopping at intervals to
scold the stream of servants that poured in at the dining-room door. “Ef’n
you don’ min’, Ole Miss, Paisley, she done got de colick f’om a hull pa’cel
er green apples,” and “Abram he’s des a-shakin’ wid a chill en he say he
cyarn go ter de co’n field.”

“Wait a minute and be quiet,” the old lady responded briskly, for, as the
boy soon learned, she prided herself upon her healing powers, and suffered
no outsider to doctor her husband or her slaves. “Hush, Silas, don’t say a
word until I tell you. Cupid--you are the only one with any sense--measure
Paisley a dose of Jamaica ginger from the bottle on the desk in the office,
and send Abram a drink of the bitters in the brown jug--why, Car’line, what
do you mean by coming into the house with a slit in your apron?”

“Fo’ de Lawd, Ole Miss, hit’s des done cotch on de fence. All de ducks Aun’
Meeley been fattenin’ up fur you done got loose en gone ter water.”

“Well, you go, too, every one of you!” and she dismissed them with waves of
her withered, little hands. “Send them out, Cupid. No, Car’line, not a
word. Don’t ‘Ole Miss’ me, I tell you!” and the servants streamed out again
as they had come.

When he had finished his breakfast the boy went back into the hall where
Big Abel was taking down the Major’s guns from the rack, and, as he caught
sight of the strapping figure and kindly black face, he smiled for the
first time since his home-coming. With a lordly manner, he went over and
held out his hand.

“I like _you_, Big Abel,” he said gravely, and he followed him out into the
yard.

For the next few weeks he did not let Big Abel out of his sight. He rode
with him to the pasture, he sat with him on his doorstep of a fine evening,
and he drove beside him on the box when the old coach went out. “Big Abel
says a gentleman doesn’t go barefooted,” he said to Champe when he found
him without his shoes in the meadow, “and I’m a gentleman.”

“I’d like to know what Big Abel knows about it,” promptly retorted Champe,
and Dan grew white with rage and proceeded to roll up his sleeves. “I’ll
whip any man who says Big Abel doesn’t know a gentleman!” he cried, making
a lunge at his cousin. In point of truth, it was Champe who did the
whipping in such free fights; but bruises and a bleeding nose had never
scared the savage out of Dan. He would spring up from his last tumble as
from his first, and let fly at his opponent until Big Abel rushed, in
tears, between them.

From the garrulous negro, the boy soon learned the history of his
family--learned, indeed, much about his grandfather of which the Major
himself was quite unconscious. He heard of that kindly, rollicking early
life, half wild and wholly good-humoured, in which the eldest male
Lightfoot had squandered his time and his fortune. Why, was not the old
coach itself but an existing proof of Big Abel’s stories? “‘Twan’ mo’n
twenty years back dat Ole Miss had de fines’ car’ige in de county,” he
began one evening on the doorstep, and the boy drove away a brood of
half-fledged chickens and settled himself to listen. “Hadn’t you better
light your pipe, Big Abel?” he inquired courteously.

Big Abel shuffled into the cabin and came back with his corncob pipe and a
lighted taper. “We all ain’ rid in de ole coach den,” he said with a sigh,
as he sucked at the long stem, and threw the taper at the chickens. “De ole
coach hit uz th’owed away in de out’ouse, en I ‘uz des stiddyin’ ‘bout
splittin’ it up fer kindlin’ wood--en de new car’ige hit cos’ mos’ a mint
er money. Ole Miss she uz dat sot up dat she ain’ let de hosses git no
sleep--nor me nurr. Ef’n she spy out a speck er dus’ on dem ar wheels,
somebody gwine year f’om it, sho’s you bo’n--en dat somebody wuz me. Yes,
Lawd, Ole Miss she ‘low dat dey ain’ never been nuttin’ like dat ar car’ige
in Varginny sence befo’ de flood.”

“But where is it, Big Abel?”

“You des wait, young Marster, you des wait twel I git dar. I’se gwine git
dar w’en I come ter de day me an Ole Marster rid in ter git his gol’ f’om
Mars Tom Braxton. De car’ige hit sutney did look spick en span dat day, en
I done shine up my hosses twel you could ‘mos’ see yo’ face in dey sides.
Well, we rid inter town en we got de gol’ f’om Marse Braxton,--all tied up
in a bag wid a string roun’ de neck er it,--en we start out agin (en Ole
Miss she settin’ up at home en plannin’ w’at she gwine buy), w’en we come
ter de tave’n whar we all use ter git our supper, en meet Marse Plaintain
Dudley right face to face. Lawd! Lawd! I’se done knowed Marse Plaintain
Dudley afo’ den, so I des tech up my hosses en wuz a-sailin’ ‘long by, w’en
he shake his han’ en holler out, ‘Is yer wife done tied you ter ‘er ap’on,
Maje?’ (He knowed Ole Miss don’ w’ar no ap’on des es well es I knowed
hit--dat’s Marse Plaintain all over agin); but w’en he holler out dat, Ole
Marster sez, ‘Stop, Abel,’ en I ‘bleeged ter stop, you know, I wuz w’en Ole
Marster tell me ter.

“‘I ain’ tied, Plaintain, I’m tired,’ sez Ole Marster, ‘I’m tired losin’
money.’ Den Marse Plaintain he laugh like a devil. ‘Oh, come in, suh, come
in en win, den,’ he sez, en Ole Marster step out en walk right in wid Marse
Plaintain behint ‘im--en I set dar all night,--yes, suh, I set dar all
night a-hol’n’ de hosses’ haids.

“Den w’en de sun up out come Ole Marster, white es a sheet, with his han’s
a-trem’lin’, en de bag er gol’ gone. I look at ‘im fur a minute, en den I
let right out, ‘Ole Marster, whar de gol’?’ en he stan’ still en ketch his
breff befo’ he say, ‘Hit’s all gone, Abel, en de car’ige en de hosses dey’s
gone, too.” En w’en I bust out cryin’ en ax ‘im, ‘My hosses gone, Ole
Marster?’ he kinder sob en beckon me fer ter git down f’om my box, en den
we put out ter walk all de way home.

“W’en we git yer ‘bout’n dinner time, dar wuz Ole Miss at de do’ wid de sun
in her eyes, en soon es she ketch sight er Ole Marster, she put up her han’
en holler out, ‘Marse Lightfoot, whar de car’ige?’ But Ole Marster, he des
hang down his haid, same es a dawg dat’s done been whupped fur rabbit
runnin’, en he sob, ‘Hit’s gone, Molly en de bag er gol’ en de hosses,
dey’s gone, too, I done loss ‘em all cep’n Abel--en I’m a bad man, Molly.’
Dat’s w’at Ole Marster say, ‘I’m a bad man, Molly,’ en I stiddy ‘bout my
hosses en Ole Miss’ car’ige en shet my mouf right tight.”

“And Grandma? Did she cry?” asked the boy, breathlessly.

“Who cry? Ole Miss? Huh! She des th’ow up her haid en low, ‘Well, Marse
Lightfoot, I’m glad you kep’ Abel--en we’ll use de ole coach agin’,’ sez
she--en den she tu’n en strut right in ter dinner.”

“Was that all she ever said about it, Big Abel?”

“Dat’s all I ever hyern, honey, en I b’lieve hit’s all Ole Marster ever
hyern eeder, case w’en I tuck his gun out er de rack de nex’ day, he was
settin’ up des es prim in de parlour a-sippin’ a julep wid Marse Peyton
Ambler, en I hyern ‘im kinder whisper, ‘Molly, she’s en angel, Peyton--’ en
he ain’ never call Ole Miss en angel twel he loss ‘er car’ige.”



IV.

A HOUSE WITH AN OPEN DOOR


The master of Uplands was standing upon his portico behind the Doric
columns, looking complacently over the fat lands upon which his fathers had
sown and harvested for generations. Beyond the lane of lilacs and the two
silver poplars at the gate, his eyes wandered leisurely across the blue
green strip of grass-land to the tawny wheat field, where the slaves were
singing as they swung their cradles. The day was fine, and the outlying
meadows seemed to reflect his gaze with a smile as beneficent as his own.
He had cast his bread upon the soil, and it had returned to him threefold.

As he stood there, a small, yet imposing figure, in his white duck suit,
holding his broad slouch hat in his hand, he presented something of the
genial aspect of the country--as if the light that touched the pleasant
hills and valleys was aglow in his clear brown eyes and comely features.
Even the smooth white hand in which he held his hat and riding-whip had
about it a certain plump kindliness which would best become a careless
gesture of concession. And, after all, he looked but what he was--a bland
and generous gentleman, whose heart was as open as his wine cellar.

A catbird was singing in one of the silver poplars, and he waited, with
upraised head, for the song to end. Then he stooped beside a column and
carefully examined a newly planted coral honeysuckle before he went into
the wide hall, where his wife was seated at her work-table.

From the rear door, which stood open until frost, a glow of sunshine
entered, brightening the white walls with their rows of antlers and
gunracks, and rippling over the well-waxed floor upon which no drop of
water had ever fallen. A faint sweetness was in the air from the
honeysuckle arbour outside, which led into the box-bordered walks of the
garden.

As the Governor hung up his hat, he begun at once with his daily news of
the farm. “I hope they’ll get that wheat field done to-day,” he said: “but
it doesn’t look much like it--they’ve been dawdling over it for the last
three days. I am afraid Wilson isn’t much of a manager, after all; if I
take my eyes off him, he seems to lose his head.”

“I think everything is that way,” returned his wife, looking up from one of
the elaborately tucked and hemstitched shirt fronts which served to gratify
the Governor’s single vanity. “I’m sure Aunt Pussy says she can’t trust
Judy for three days in the dairy without finding that the cream has stood
too long for butter--and Judy has been churning for twenty years.” She cut
off her thread and held the linen out for the Governor’s inspection. “I
really believe that is the prettiest one I’ve made. How do you like this
new stitch?”

“Exquisite!” exclaimed her husband, as he took the shirt front in his hand.
“Simply exquisite, my love. There isn’t a woman in Virginia who can do such
needlework; but it should go upon a younger and handsomer man, Julia.”

His wife blushed and looked up at him, the colour rising to her beautiful
brow and giving a youthful radiance to her nunlike face. “It could
certainly go upon a younger man, Mr. Ambler,” she rejoined, with a touch of
the coquetry for which she had once been noted; “but I should like to know
where I’d find a handsomer one.”

A pleased smile broadened the Governor’s face, and he settled his waistcoat
with an approving pat. “Ah, you’re a partial witness, my dear,” he said;
“but I’ve an error to confess, so I mustn’t forego your favour--I--I bought
several of Mr. Willis’s servants, my love.”

“Why, Mr. Ambler!” remonstrated his wife, reproach softening her voice
until it fell like a caress. “Why, Mr. Ambler, you bought six of Colonel
Blake’s last year, you know and one of the house servants has been nursing
them ever since. The quarters are filled with infirm darkies.”

“But I couldn’t help it, Julia, I really couldn’t,” pleaded the Governor.
“You’d have done it yourself, my dear. They were sold to a dealer going
south, and one of them wants to marry that Mandy of yours.”

“Oh, if it’s Mandy’s lover,” broke in Mrs. Ambler, with rising interest,
“of course you had to buy him, and you did right about the others--you
always do right.” She put out her delicate blue-veined hand and touched his
arm. “I shall see them to-day,” she added, “and Mandy may as well be making
her wedding dress.”

“What an eye to things you have,” said the Governor, proudly. “You might
have been President, had you been a man, my dear.”

His wife rose and took up her work-box with a laugh of protest. “I am quite
content with the mission of my sex, sir,” she returned, half in jest, half
in wifely humility. “I’m sure I’d much rather make shirt fronts for you
than wear them myself.” Then she nodded to him and went, with her stately
step, up the broad staircase, her white hand flitting over the mahogany
balustrade.

As he looked after her, the Governor’s face clouded, and he sighed beneath
his breath. The cares she met with such serenity had been too heavy for her
strength; they had driven the bloom from her cheeks and the lustre from her
eyes; and, though she had not faltered at her task, she had drooped daily
and grown older than her years. The master might live with a lavish
disregard of the morrow, not the master’s wife. For him were the open
house, the shining table, the well-stocked wine cellar and the morning
rides over the dewy fields; for her the cares of her home and children, and
of the souls and bodies of the black people that had been given into her
hands. In her gentle heart it seemed to her that she had a charge to keep
before her God; and she went her way humbly, her thoughts filled with
things so vital as the uses of her medicine chest and the unexpounded
mysteries of salvation.

Now, as she reached the upper landing, she met Betty running to look for
her.

“O, mamma, may I go to fish with Champe and the new boy and Big Abel? And
Virginia wants to go, too, she says.”

“Wait a moment, child,” said Mrs. Ambler. “You have torn the trimming on
your frock. Stand still and I’ll mend it for you,” and she got out her
needle and sewed up the rent, while Betty hopped impatiently from foot to
foot.

“I think the new boy’s a heap nicer than Champe, mamma,” she remarked as
she waited.

“Do you, dear?”

“An’ he says I’m nicer than Champe, too. He fought Champe ‘cause he said I
didn’t have as much sense as he had--an’ I have, haven’t I, mamma?”

“Women do not need as much sense as men, my dear,” replied Mrs. Ambler,
taking a dainty stitch.

“Well, anyway, Dan fought Champe about it,” said Betty, with pride. “He’ll
fight about ‘most anything, he says, if he jest gets roused--an’ that
cert’n’y did rouse him. His nose bled a long time, too, and Champe whipped
him, you know. But, when it was over, I asked him if I had as much sense as
he had, and he said, ‘Psha! you’re just a girl.’ Wasn’t that funny, mamma?”

“There, there, Betty,” was Mrs. Ambler’s rejoinder. “I’m afraid he’s a
wicked boy, and you mustn’t get such foolish thoughts into your head. If
the Lord had wanted you to be clever, He would have made you a man. Now,
run away, and don’t get your feet wet; and if you see Aunt Lydia in the
garden, you may tell her that the bonnet has come for her to look at.”

Betty bounded away and gave the message to Aunt Lydia over the whitewashed
fence of the garden. “They’ve sent a bonnet from New York for you to look
at, Aunt Lydia,” she cried. “It came all wrapped up in tissue paper, with
mamma’s gray silk, and it’s got flowers on it--a lot of them!” with which
parting shot, she turned her back upon the startled old lady and dashed off
to join the boys and Big Abel, who, with their fishing-poles, had gathered
in the cattle pasture.

Miss Lydia, who was lovingly bending over a bed of thyme, raised her eyes
and looked after the child, all in a gentle wonder. Then she went slowly up
and down the box-bordered walks, the full skirt of her “old lady’s gown”
 trailing stiffly over the white gravel, her delicate face rising against
the blossomless shrubs of snowball and bridal-wreath, like a faintly tinted
flower that had been blighted before it fully bloomed. Around her the
garden was fragrant as a rose-jar with the lid left off, and the very paths
beneath were red and white with fallen petals. Hardy cabbage roses, single
pink and white dailies, yellow-centred damask, and the last splendours of
the giant of battle, all dipped their colours to her as she passed, while
the little rustic summer-house where the walks branched off was but a
flowering bank of maiden’s blush and microphylla.

Amid them all, Miss Lydia wandered in her full black gown, putting aside
her filmy ruffles as she tied back a hanging spray or pruned a broken
stalk, sometimes even lowering her thread lace cap as she weeded the tangle
of sweet Williams and touch-me-not. Since her gentle girlhood she had
tended bountiful gardens, and dreamed her virgin dreams in the purity of
their box-trimmed walks. In a kind of worldly piety she had bound her
prayer book in satin and offered to her Maker the incense of flowers. She
regarded heaven with something of the respectful fervour with which she
regarded the world--that great world she had never seen; for “the proper
place for a spinster is her father’s house,” she would say with her
conventional primness, and send, despite herself, a mild imagination in
pursuit of the follies from which she so earnestly prayed to be
delivered--she, to whom New York was as the terror of a modern Babylon, and
a Jezebel but a woman with paint upon her cheeks. “They tell me that other
women have painted since,” she had once said, with a wistful curiosity.
“Your grandmamma, my dear Julia, had even seen one with an artificial
colour. She would not have mentioned it to me, of course,--an unmarried
lady,--but I was in the next room when she spoke of it to old Mrs.
Fitzhugh. She was a woman of the world, was your grandmamma, my dear, and
the most finished dancer of her day.” The last was said with a timid pride,
though to Miss Lydia herself the dance was the devil’s own device, and the
teaching of the catechism to small black slaves the chief end of existence.
But the blood of the “most finished dancer of her day” still circulated
beneath the old lady’s gown and the religious life, and in her attenuated
romances she forever held the sinner above the saint, unless, indeed, the
sinner chanced to be of her own sex, when, probably, the book would never
have reached her hands. For the purely masculine improprieties, her charity
was as boundless as her innocence. She had even dipped into Shakespeare and
brought away the memory of Mercutio; she had read Scott, and enshrined in
her pious heart the bold Rob Roy. “Men are very wicked, I fear,” she would
gently offer, “but they are very a--a--engaging, too.”

To-day, when Betty came with the message, she lingered a moment to convince
herself that the bonnet was not in her thoughts, and then swept her
trailing bombazine into the house. “I have come to tell you that you may as
well send the bonnet back, Julia,” she began at once. “Flowers are much too
fine for me, my dear. I need only a plain black poke.”

“Come up and try it on,” was Mrs. Ambler’s cheerful response. “You have no
idea how lovely it will look on you.”

Miss Lydia went up and took the bonnet out of its wrapping of tissue paper.
“No, you must send it back, my love,” she said in a resigned voice. “It
does not become me to dress as a married woman. It may as well go back,
Julia.”

“But do look in the glass, Aunt Lydia--there, let me put it straight for
you. Why, it suits you perfectly. It makes you look at least ten years
younger.”

“A plain black poke, my dear,” insisted Aunt Lydia, as she carefully
swathed the flowers in the tissue paper. “And, besides, I have my old one,
which is quite good enough for me, my love. It was very sweet of you to
think of it, but it may as well go back.” She pensively gazed at the mirror
for a moment, and then went to her chamber and took out her Bible to read
Saint Paul on Woman.

When she came down a few hours later, her face wore an angelic meekness. “I
have been thinking of that poor Mrs. Brown who was here last week,” she
said softly, “and I remember her telling me that she had no bonnet to wear
to church. What a loss it must be to her not to attend divine service.”

Mrs. Ambler quickly looked up from her needlework. “Why, Aunt Lydia, it
would be really a charity to give her your old one!” she exclaimed. “It
does seem a shame that she should be kept away from church because of a
bonnet. And, then, you might as well keep the new one, you know, since it
is in the house; I hate the trouble of sending it back.”

“It would be a charity,” murmured Miss Lydia, and the bonnet was brought
down and tried on again. They were still looking at it when Betty rushed in
and threw herself upon her mother. “O, mamma, I can’t help it!” she cried
in tears, “an’ I wish I hadn’t done it! Oh, I wish I hadn’t; but I set fire
to the Major’s woodpile, and he’s whippin’ Dan!”

“Betty!” exclaimed Mrs. Ambler. She took the child by her shoulders and
drew her toward her. “Betty, did you set fire to the Major’s woodpile?” she
questioned sternly.

Betty was sobbing aloud, but she stopped long enough to gasp out an answer.

“We were playin’ Injuns, mamma, an’ we couldn’t make believe ‘twas real,”
 she said, “an’ it isn’t any fun unless you can make believe, so I lit the
woodpile and pretended it was a fort, an’ Big Abel, he was an Injun with
the axe for a tomahawk; but the woodpile blazed right up, an’ the Major
came runnin’ out. He asked Dan who did it, an’ Dan wouldn’t say ‘twas
me,--an’ I wouldn’t say, either,--so he took Dan in to whip him. Oh, I wish
I’d told! I wish I’d told!”

“Hush, Betty,” said Mrs. Ambler, and she called to the Governor in the
hall, “Mr. Ambler, Betty has set fire to the Major’s woodpile!” Her voice
was hopeless, and she looked up blankly at her husband as he entered.

“Set fire to the woodpile!” whistled the Governor. “Why, bless my soul, we
aren’t safe in our beds!”

“He whipped Dan,” wailed Betty.

“We aren’t safe in our beds,” repeated the Governor, indignantly. “Julia,
this is really too much.”

“Well, you will have to ride right over there,” said his wife, decisively.
“Petunia, run down and tell Hosea to saddle his master’s horse. Betty, I
hope this will be a lesson to you. You shan’t have any preserves for supper
for a week.”

“I don’t want any preserves,” sobbed Betty, her apron to her eyes.

“Then you mustn’t go fishing for two weeks. Mr. Ambler, you’d better be
starting at once, and don’t forget to tell the Major that Betty is in great
distress--you are, aren’t you, Betty?”

“Yes, ma’am,” wept Betty.

The Governor went out into the hall and took down his hat and riding-whip.

“The sins of the children are visited upon the fathers,” he remarked
gloomily as he mounted his horse and rode away from his supper.



V

THE SCHOOL FOR GENTLEMEN


The Governor rode up too late to avert the punishment. Dan had taken his
whipping and was sitting on a footstool in the library, facing the Major
and a couple of the Major’s cronies. His face wore an expression in which
there was more resentment than resignation; for, though he took blows
doggedly, he bore the memory of them long after the smart had ceased--long,
indeed, after light-handed justice, in the Major’s person, had forgotten
alike the sin and the expiation. For the Major’s hand was not steady at the
rod, and he had often regretted a weakness of heart which interfered with
a physical interpretation of the wisdom of Solomon. “If you get your
deserts, you’d get fifty lashes,” was his habitual reproof to his servants,
though, as a matter of fact, he had never been known to order one. His
anger was sometimes of the kind that appalls, but it usually vented itself
in a heightened redness of face or a single thundering oath; and a woman’s
sob would melt his stoniest mood. It was only because his daughter had kept
out of his sight that he had never forgiven her, people said; but there
was, perhaps, something characteristic in the proof that he was most
relentless where he had most loved.

As for Dan’s chastisement, he had struck him twice across the shoulders,
and when the boy had turned to him with the bitter smile which was Jane
Lightfoot’s own, the Major had choked in his wrath, and, a moment later,
flung the whip aside. “I’ll be damned,--I beg your pardon, sir,--I’ll be
ashamed of myself if I give you another lick,” he said. “You are a
gentleman, and I shall trust you.”

He held out his hand, but he had not counted on the Montjoy blood. The boy
looked at him and stubbornly shook his head. “I can’t shake hands yet
because I am hating you just now,” he answered. “Will you wait awhile,
sir?” and the Major choked again, half in awe, half in amusement.

“You don’t bear malice, I reckon?” he ventured cautiously.

“I am not sure,” replied the boy, “I rather think I do.”

Then he put on his coat, and they went out to meet Mr. Blake and Dr. Crump,
two hale and jolly gentlemen who rode over every Thursday to spend the
night.

As the visitors came panting up the steps, the Major stood in the doorway
with outstretched hands.

“You are late, gentlemen, you are late,” was his weekly greeting, to which
they as regularly responded, “We could never come too early for our
pleasure, my dear Major; but there are professional duties, you know,
professional duties.”

After this interchange of courtesies, they would enter the house and settle
themselves, winter or summer, in their favourite chairs upon the
hearth-rug, when it was the custom of Mrs. Lightfoot to send in a
fluttering maid to ask if Mrs. Blake had done her the honour to accompany
her husband. As Mrs. Blake was never known to leave her children and her
pet poultry, this was merely a conventionalism by which the elder lady
meant to imply a standing welcome for the younger.

On this evening, Mr. Blake--the rector of the largest church in
Leicesterburg--straightened his fat legs and folded his hands as he did at
the ending of his sermons, and the others sat before him with the strained
and reverential faces which they put on like a veil in church and took off
when the service was over. That it was not a prayer, but a pleasantry of
which he was about to deliver himself, they quite understood; but he had a
habit of speaking on week days in his Sunday tones, which gave, as it were,
an official weight to his remarks. He was a fleshy wide-girthed gentleman,
with a bald head, and a face as radiant as the full moon.

“I was just asking the doctor when I was to have the honour of making the
little widow Mrs. Crump?” he threw out at last, with a laugh that shook him
from head to foot. “It is not good for man to live alone, eh, Major?”

“That sentence is sufficient to prove the divine inspiration of the
Scriptures,” returned the Major, warmly, while the doctor blushed and
stammered, as he always did, at the rector’s mild matrimonial jokes. It
was twenty years since Mr. Blake began teasing Dr. Crump about his
bachelorship, and to them both the subject was as fresh as in its
beginning.

“I--I declare I haven’t seen the lady for a week,” protested the doctor,
“and then she sent for me.”

“Sent for you?” roared Mr. Blake. “Ah, doctor, doctor!”

“She sent for me because she had heart trouble,” returned the doctor,
indignantly. The lady’s name was never mentioned between them.

The rector laughed until the tears started.

“Ah, you’re a success with the ladies,” he exclaimed, as he drew out a
neatly ironed handkerchief and shook it free from its folds, “and no
wonder--no wonder! We’ll be having an epidemic of heart trouble next.”
 Then, as he saw the doctor wince beneath his jest, his kindly heart
reproached him, and he gravely turned to politics and the dignity of
nations.

The two friends were faithful Democrats, though the rector always began his
very forcible remarks with: “A minister knows nothing of politics, and I am
but a minister of the Gospel. If you care, however, for the opinion of an
outsider--”

As for the Major, he had other leanings which were a source of unending
interest to them all. “I am a Whig, not from principle, but from prejudice,
sir,” he declared. “The Whig is the gentleman’s party. I never saw a Whig
that didn’t wear broadcloth.”

“And some Democrats,” politely protested the doctor, with a glance at his
coat.

The Major bowed.

“And many Democrats, sir; but the Whig party, if I may say so, is the
broadcloth party--the cloth stamps it; and besides this, sir, I think its
‘parts are solid and will wear well.’”

Now when the Major began to quote Mr. Addison, even the rector was silent,
save for an occasional prompting, as, “I was reading the _Spectator_ until
eleven last night, sir,” or “I have been trying to recall the lines in _The
Campaign_ before. ‘Twas then great Marlborough’s mighty soul was proved.”

This was the best of the day to Dan, and, as he turned on his footstool, he
did not even glare at Champe, who, from the window seat, was regarding him
with the triumphant eye with which the young behold the downfall of a
brother. For a moment he had forgotten the whipping, but Champe had not; he
was thinking of it in the window seat.

But the Major was standing on the hearth-rug, and the boy’s gaze went to
him. Tossing back his long white hair, and fixing his eagle glance on his
friends, the old gentleman, with a free sweep of his arm, thundered his
favourite lines:--

  “So, when an angel by divine command
  With rising tempests shakes a guilty land
  (Such as of late o’er pale Britannia passed),
  Calm and serene he drives the furious blast;
  And, pleased the Almighty’s orders to perform,
  Rides in the whirlwind and directs the storm.”

He had got so far when the door opened and the Governor entered--a little
hurriedly, for he was thinking of his supper.

“I am the bearer of an apology, my dear Major,” he said, when he had
heartily shaken hands all round. “It seems that Betty--I assure you she is
in great distress--set fire to your woodpile this afternoon, and that your
grandson was punished for her mischief. My dear boy,” he laid his hand on
Dan’s shoulder and looked into his face with the winning smile which had
made him the most popular man in his State, “my dear boy, you are young to
be such a gentleman.”

A hot flush overspread Dan’s face; he forgot the smart and the wounded
pride--he forgot even Champe staring from the window seat. The Governor’s
voice was like salve to his hurt; the upright little man with the warm
brown eyes seemed to lift him at once to the plane of his own chivalry.

“Oh, I couldn’t tell on a girl, sir,” he answered, and then his smothered
injury burst forth; “but she ought to be ashamed of herself,” he added
bluntly.

“She is,” said the Governor with a smile; then he turned to the others.
“Major, the boy is a Lightfoot!” he exclaimed.

“Ah, so I said, so I said!” cried the Major, clapping his hand on Dan’s
head in a racial benediction. “‘I’d know you were a Lightfoot if I met you
in the road’ was what I said the first evening.”

“And a Virginian,” added Mr. Blake, folding his hands on his stomach and
smiling upon the group. “My daughter in New York wrote to me last week for
advice about the education of her son. ‘Shall I send him to the school of
learning at Cambridge, papa?’ she asked; and I answered, ‘Send him there,
if you will, but, when he has finished with his books, by all means let him
come to Virginia--the school for gentlemen.’”

“The school for gentlemen!” cried the doctor, delightedly. “It is a prouder
title than the ‘Mother of Presidents.’”

“And as honourably earned,” added the rector. “If you want polish, come to
Virginia; if you want chivalry, come to Virginia. When I see these two
things combined, I say to myself, ‘The blood of the Mother of Presidents is
here.’”

“You are right, sir, you are right!” cried the Major, shaking back his
hair, as he did when he was about to begin the lines from _The Campaign_.
“Nothing gives so fine a finish to a man as a few years spent with the
influences that moulded Washington. Why, some foreigners are perfected by
them, sir. When I met General Lafayette in Richmond upon his second visit,
I remember being agreeably impressed with his dignity and ease, which, I
have no doubt, sir, he acquired by his association, in early years, with
the Virginia gentlemen.”

The Governor looked at them with a twinkle in his eye. He was aware of the
humorous traits of his friends, but, in the peculiar sweetness of his
temper, he loved them not the less because he laughed at them--perhaps the
more. In the rector’s fat body and the Major’s lean one, he knew that there
beat hearts as chivalrous as their words. He had seen the Major doff his
hat to a beggar in the road, and the rector ride forty miles in a snowstorm
to read a prayer at the burial of a slave. So he said with a pleasant
laugh, “We are surely the best judges, my dear sirs,” and then, as Mrs.
Lightfoot rustled in, they rose and fell back until she had taken her seat,
and found her knitting.

“I am so sorry not to see Mrs. Blake,” she said to the rector. “I have a
new recipe for yellow pickle which I must write out and send to her.” And,
as the Governor rose to go, she stood up and begged him to stay to supper.
“Mr. Lightfoot, can’t you persuade him to sit down with us?” she asked.

“Where you have failed, Molly, it is useless for me to try,” gallantly
responded the Major, picking up her ball of yarn.

“But I must bear your pardon to my little girl, I really must,” insisted
the Governor. “By the way, Major,” he added, turning at the door, “what do
you think of the scheme to let the Government buy the slaves and ship them
back to Africa? I was talking to a Congressman about it last week.”

“Sell the servants to the Government!” cried the Major, hotly. “Nonsense!
nonsense! Why, you are striking at the very foundation of our society!
Without slavery, where is our aristocracy, sir?”

“Oh, I beg your pardon,” said the Governor lightly. “Well, we shall keep
them a while longer, I expect. Good night, madam, good night, gentlemen,”
 and he went out to where his horse was standing.

The Major looked after him with a sigh. “When I hear a man talking about
the abolition of slavery,” he remarked gloomily, “I always expect him to
want to do away with marriage next--” he checked himself and coloured, as
if an improper speech had slipped out in the presence of Mrs. Lightfoot.
The old lady rose primly and, taking the rector’s arm, led the way to
supper.

Dan was not noticed at the table,--it was a part of his grandmother’s
social training to ignore children before visitors,--but when he went
upstairs that night, the Major came to the boy’s room and took him in his
arms.

“I am proud of you, my child,” he said. “You are my grandson, every inch of
you, and you shall have the finest riding horse in the stables on your
birthday.”

“I’d rather have Big Abel, if you please, sir,” returned Dan. “I think Big
Abel would like to belong to me, grandpa.”

“Bless my soul!” cried the Major. “Why, you shall have Big Abel and his
whole family, if you like. I’ll give you every darky on the place, if you
want them--and the horses to boot,” for the old gentleman was as unwise in
his generosity as in his wrath.

“Big Abel will do, thank you,” responded the boy; “and I’d like to shake
hands now, grandpa,” he added gravely; but before the Major left that night
he had won not only the child’s hand, but his heart. It was the beginning
of the great love between them.

For from that day Dan was as the light of his grandfather’s eyes. As the
boy strode manfully across the farm, his head thrown back, his hands
clasped behind him, the old man followed, in wondering pride, on his
footsteps. To see him stand amid the swinging cradles in the wheat field,
ordering the slaves and arguing with the overseer, was sufficient delight
unto the Major’s day. “Nonsense, Molly,” he would reply half angrily to his
wife’s remonstrances. “The child can’t be spoiled. I tell you he’s too fine
a boy. I couldn’t spoil him if I tried,” and once out of his grandmother’s
sight, Dan’s arrogance was laughed at, and his recklessness was worshipped.
“Ah, you will make a man, you will make a man!” the Major had exclaimed
when he found him swearing at the overseer, “but you mustn’t curse, you
really mustn’t, you know. Why, your grandmother won’t let me do it.”

“But I told him to leave that haystack for me to slide on,” complained the
boy, “and he said he wouldn’t, and began to pull it down. I wish you’d send
him away, grandpa.”

“Send Harris away!” whistled the Major. “Why, where could I get another,
Dan? He has been with me for twenty years.”

“Hi, young Marster, who gwine min’ de han’s?” cried Big Abel, from behind.

“Do you like him, Big Abel?” asked the child, for the opinion of Big Abel
was the only one for which he ever showed respect. “It’s because he’s not
free, grandpa,” he had once explained at the Major’s jealous questioning.
“I wouldn’t hurt his feelings because he’s not free, you know, and he
couldn’t answer back,” and the Major had said nothing more.

Now “Do you like him, Big Abel?” he inquired; and to the negro’s “He’s done
use me moughty well, suh,” he said gravely, “Then he shall stay,
grandpa--and I’m sorry I cursed you, Harris,” he added before he left the
field. He would always own that he was wrong, if he could once be made to
see it, which rarely happened.

“The boy’s kind heart will save him, or he is lost,” said the Governor,
sadly, as Dan tore by on his little pony, his black hair blown from his
face, his gray eyes shining.

“He has a kind heart, I know,” returned Mrs. Ambler, gently; “the servants
and the animals adore him--but--but do you think it well for Betty to be
thrown so much with him? He is very wild, and they deny him nothing. I wish
she went with Champe instead--but what do you think?”

“I don’t know, I don’t know,” answered the Governor, uneasily. “He told the
doctor to mind his own business, yesterday--and that is not unlike Betty,
herself, I am sorry to say--but this morning I saw him give his month’s
pocket money to that poor free negro, Levi. I can’t say, I really do not
know,” his eyes followed Betty as she flew out to climb behind Dan on the
pony’s back. “I wish it were Champe, myself,” he added doubtfully.

For Betty--independent Betty--had become Dan’s slave. Ever since the
afternoon of the burning woodpile, she had bent her stubborn little knees
to him in hero-worship. She followed closer than a shadow on his footsteps;
no tortures could wring his secrets from her lips. Once, when he hid
himself in the mountains for a day and night and played Indian, she kept
silence, though she knew his hiding-place, and a search party was out with
lanterns until dawn.

“I didn’t tell,” she said triumphantly, when he came down again.

“No, you didn’t tell,” he frankly acknowledged.

“So I can keep a secret,” she declared at last.

“Oh, yes, you can keep a secret--for a girl,” he returned, and added, “I
tell you what, I like you better than anybody about here, except grandpa
and Big Abel.”

She shone upon him, her eyes narrowing; then her face darkened. “Not better
than Big Abel?” she questioned plaintively.

“Why, I have to like Big Abel best,” he replied, “because he belongs to me,
you know--you ought to love the thing that belongs to you.”

“But I might belong to you,” suggested Betty. She smiled again, and,
smiling or grave, she always looked as if she were standing in a patch of
sunshine, her hair made such a brightness about her.

“Oh, you couldn’t, you’re white,” said Dan; “and, besides, I reckon Big
Abel and the pony are as much as I can manage. It’s a dreadful weight,
having people belong to you.”

Then he loaded his gun, and Betty ran away with her fingers in her ears,
because she couldn’t bear to have things killed.

A month later Dan and Champe settled down to study. The new tutor came--a
serious young man from the North, who wore spectacles, and read the Bible
to the slaves on the half-holidays. He was kindly and conscientious, and,
though the boys found him unduly weighed down by responsibility for the
souls of his fellows, they soon loved him in a light-hearted fashion. In a
society where even the rector harvested alike the true grain and the tares,
and left the Almighty to do His own winnowing, Mr. Bennett’s free-handed
fight with the flesh and the devil was looked upon with smiling tolerance,
as if he were charging a windmill with a wooden sword.

On Saturdays he would ride over to Uplands, and discuss his schemes for the
uplifting of the negroes with the Governor and Mrs. Ambler; and once he
even went so far as to knock at Rainy-day Jones’s door and hand him a
pamphlet entitled “The Duties of the Slaveholder.” Old Rainy-day, who was
the biggest bully in the county, set the dogs on him, and lit his pipe with
the pamphlet; but the Major, when he heard the story, laughed, and called
the young man “a second David.”

Mr. Bennett looked at him seriously through his glasses, and then his eyes
wandered to the small slave, Mitty, whose chief end in life was the finding
of Mrs. Lightfoot’s spectacles. He was an earnest young man, but he could
not keep his eyes away from Mitty when she was in the room; and at the old
lady’s, “Mitty, my girl, find me my glasses,” he felt like jumping from his
seat and calling upon her to halt. It seemed a survival of the dark ages
that one immortal soul should spend her life hunting for the spectacles of
another. To Mr. Bennett, a soul was a soul in any colour; to the Major the
sons of Ham were under a curse which the Lord would lighten in His own good
time.

But before many months, the young man had won the affection of the boys and
the respect of their grandfather, whose candid lack of logic was
overpowered by the reasons which Mr. Bennett carried at every finger tip.
He not only believed things, he knew why he believed them; and to the
Major, with whom feelings were convictions, this was more remarkable than
the courage with which he had handed his tract to old Rainy-day Jones.

As for Mr. Bennett, he found the Major a riddle that he could not read; but
the Governor’s first smile had melted his reserve, and he declared Mrs.
Ambler to be “a Madonna by Perugino.”

Mrs. Ambler had never heard of Perugino, and the word “Madonna” suggested
to her vague Romanist snares, but her heart went out to the stranger when
she found that he was in mourning for his mother. She was not a clever
woman in a worldly sense, yet her sympathy, from the hourly appeals to it,
had grown as fine as intellect. She was hopelessly ignorant of ancient
history and the Italian Renaissance; but she had a genius for the
affections, and where a greater mind would have blundered over a wound, her
soft hand went by intuition to the spot. It was very pleasant to sit in a
rosewood chair in her parlour, to hear her gray silk rustle as she crossed
her feet, and to watch her long white fingers interlace.

So she talked to the young man of his mother, and he showed her the
daguerrotype of the girl he loved; and at last she confided to him her
anxieties for Betty’s manners and the Governor’s health, and her timid
wonder that the Bible “countenanced” slavery. She was rare and elegant like
a piece of fine point lace; her hands had known no harder work than the
delicate hemstitching, and her mind had never wandered over the nearer
hills.

As time went on, Betty was given over to the care of her governess, and she
was allowed to run wild no more in the meadows. Virginia, a pretty prim
little girl, already carried her prayer book in her hands when she drove to
church, and wore Swiss muslin frocks in the evenings; but Betty when she
was made to hem tablecloths on sunny mornings, would weep until her needle
rusted.

On cloudy days she would sometimes have her ambitions to be ladylike, and
once, when she had gone to a party in town and seen Virginia dancing while
she sat against the wall, she had come home to throw herself upon the
floor.

“It’s not that I care for boys, mamma,” she wailed, “for I despise them;
but they oughtn’t to have let me sit against the wall. And none of them
asked me to dance--not even Dan.”

“Why, you are nothing but a child, Betty,” said Mrs. Ambler, in dismay.
“What on earth does it matter to you whether the boys notice you or not?”

“It doesn’t,” sobbed Betty; “but you wouldn’t like to sit against the wall,
mamma.”

“You can make them suffer for it six years hence, daughter,” suggested the
Governor, revengefully.

“But suppose they don’t have anything to do with me then,” cried Betty, and
wept afresh.

In the end, it was Uncle Bill who brought her to her feet, and, in doing
so, he proved himself to be the philosopher that he was.

“I tell you what, Betty,” he exclaimed, “if you get up and stop crying,
I’ll give you fifty cents. I reckon fifty cents will make up for any boy,
eh?”

Betty lay still and looked up from the floor.

“I--I reckon a dol-lar m-i-g-h-t,” she gasped, and caught a sob before it
burst out.

“Well, you get up and I’ll give you a dollar. There ain’t many boys worth
a dollar, I can tell you.”

Betty got up and held out one hand as she wiped her eyes with the other.

“I shall never speak to a boy again,” she declared, as she took the money.

That was when she was thirteen, and a year later Dan went away to college.



VI

COLLEGE DAYS


“My dear grandpa,” wrote Dan during his first weeks at college, “I think I
am going to like it pretty well here after I get used to the professors.
The professors are a great nuisance. They seem to forget that a fellow of
seventeen isn’t a baby any longer.

“The Arcades are very nice, and the maples on the lawn remind me of those
at Uplands, only they aren’t nearly so fine. My room is rather small, but
Big Abel keeps everything put away, so I manage to get along. Champe sleeps
next to me, and we are always shouting through the wall for Big Abel. I
tell you, he has to step lively now.

“The night after we came, we went to supper at Professor Ball’s. There was
a Miss Ball there who had a pair of big eyes, but girls are so silly.
Champe talked to her all the evening and walked out to the graveyard with
her the next afternoon. I don’t see why he wants to spend so much of his
time with young ladies. It’s because they think him good-looking, I reckon.

“We are the only men who have horses here, so I am glad you made me bring
Prince Rupert, after all. When I ride him into town, everybody turns to
look at him, and Batt Horsford, the stableman, says his trot is as clean as
a razor. At first I wished I’d brought my hunter instead, they made such a
fuss over Champe’s, and I tell you he’s a regular timber-topper.

“A week ago I rode to the grave of Mr. Jefferson, as I promised you, but I
couldn’t carry the wreath for grandma because it would have looked
silly--Champe said so. However, I made Big Abel get down and pull a few
flowers on the way.

“You know, I had always thought that only gentlemen came to the University,
but whom do you think I met the first evening?--why, the son of old
Rainy-day Jones. What do you think of that? He actually had the impudence
to pass himself off as one of the real Joneses, and he was going with all
the men. Of course, I refused to shake hands with him--so did Champe--and,
when he wanted to fight me, I said I fought only gentlemen. I wish you
could have seen his face. He looked as old Rainy-day did when he hit the
free negro Levi, and I knocked him down.

“By the way, I wish you would please send me my half-year’s pocket money in
a lump, if you can conveniently do so. There is a man here who is working
his way through Law, and his mother has just lost all her money, so, unless
some one helps him, he’ll have to go out and work before he takes his
degree. I’ve promised to lend him my half-year’s allowance--I said ‘lend’
because it might hurt his feelings; but, of course, I don’t want him to pay
it back. He’s a great fellow, but I can’t tell you his name--I shouldn’t
like it in his place, you know.

“The worst thing about college life is having to go to classes. If it
wasn’t for that I should be all right, and, anyway, I am solid on my Greek
and Latin--but I can’t get on with the higher mathematics. Mr. Bennett
couldn’t drive them into my head as he did into Champe’s.

“I hope grandma has entirely recovered from her lumbago. Tell her Mrs. Ball
says she was cured by using red pepper plasters.

“Do you know, by the way, that I left my half-dozen best waistcoats--the
embroidered ones--in the bottom drawer of my bureau, at least Big Abel
swears that’s where he put them. I should be very much obliged if grandma
would have them fixed up and sent to me--I can’t do without them. A great
many gentlemen here are wearing coloured cravats, and Charlie Morson’s
brother, who came up from Richmond for a week, has a pair of side whiskers.
He says they are fashionable down there, but I don’t like them.

“With affectionate greeting to grandma and yourself,

“Your dutiful grandson,

“DANDRIDGE MONTJOY.”

“P.S. I am using my full name now--it will look better if I am ever
President. I wonder if Mr. Jefferson was ever called plain Tom.

“DAN.”

“N.B. Give my love to the little girls at Uplands.

“D.”

The Major read the letter aloud to his wife while she sat knitting by the
fireside, with Mitty holding the ball of yarn on a footstool at her feet.

“What do you think of that, Molly?” he asked when he had finished, his
voice quivering with excitement.

“Red pepper plasters!” returned the old lady, contemptuously. “As if I
hadn’t been making them for Cupid for the last twenty years. Red pepper
plasters, indeed! Why, they’re no better than mustard ones. I reckon I’ve
made enough of them to know.”

“I don’t mean that, Molly,” explained the Major, a little crestfallen. “I
was speaking of the letter. That’s a fine letter, now, isn’t it?”

“It might be worse,” admitted Mrs. Lightfoot, coolly; “but for my part, I
don’t care to have my grandson upon terms of equality with any of that
rascal Jones’s blood. Why, the man whips his servants.”

“But he isn’t upon any terms, my dear. He refused to shake hands with him,
didn’t you hear that? Perhaps I’d better read the letter again.”

“That is all very well, Mr. Lightfoot,” said his wife, clicking her
needles, “but it can’t prevent his being in classes with him, all the same.
And I am sure, if I had known the University was so little select, I should
have insisted upon sending him to Oxford, where his great-grandfather went
before him.”

“Good gracious, Molly! You don’t wish the lad was across the ocean, do
you?”

“It matters very little where he is so long as he is a gentleman,” returned
the old lady, so sharply that Mitty began to unwind the worsted rapidly.

“Nonsense, Molly,” protested the Major, irritably, for he could not stand
opposition upon his own hearth-rug. “The boy couldn’t be hurt by sitting in
the same class with the devil himself--nor could Champe, for that matter.
They are too good Lightfoots.”

“I am not uneasy about Champe,” rejoined his wife. “Champe has never been
humoured as Dan has been, I’m glad to say.”

The Major started up as red as a beet.

“Do you mean that I humour him, madam?” he demanded in a terrible voice.

“Do pray, Mr. Lightfoot, you will frighten Mitty to death,” said his wife,
reprovingly, “and it is really very dangerous for you to excite yourself
so--you remember the doctor cautioned you against it.” And, by the time the
Major was thoroughly depressed, she skilfully brought out her point. “Of
course you spoil the child to death. You know it as well as I do.”

The Major, with the fear of apoplexy in his mind, had no answer on his
tongue, though a few minutes later he showed his displeasure by ordering
his horse and riding to Uplands to talk things over with the Governor.

“I am afraid Molly is breaking,” he thought gloomily, as he rode along.
“She isn’t what she was when I married her fifty years ago.”

But at Uplands his ill humour was dispelled. The Governor read the letter
and declared that Dan was a fine lad, “and I’m glad you haven’t spoiled
him, Major,” he said heartily. “Yes, they’re both fine lads and do you
honour.”

“So they do! so they do!” exclaimed the Major, delightedly. “That’s just
what I said to Molly, sir. And Dan sends his love to the little girls,” he
added, smiling upon Betty and Virginia, who stood by.

“Thank you, sir,” responded Virginia, prettily, looking at the old man with
her dovelike eyes; but Betty tossed her head--she had an imperative little
toss which she used when she was angry. “I am only three years younger than
he is,” she said, “and I’m not a little girl any longer--Mammy has had to
let down all my dresses. I am fourteen years old, sir.”

“And quite a young lady,” replied the Major, with a bow. “There are not two
handsomer girls in the state, Governor, which means, of course, that there
are not two handsomer girls in the world, sir. Why, Virginia’s eyes are
almost a match for my Aunt Emmeline’s, and poets have immortalized hers. Do
you recall the verses by the English officer she visited in prison?--

  “‘The stars in Rebel skies that shine
  Are the bright orbs of Emmeline.’”

“Yes, I remember,” said the Governor. “Emmeline Lightfoot is as famous as
Diana,” then his quick eyes caught Betty’s drooping head, “and what of this
little lady?” he asked, patting her shoulder. “There’s not a brighter smile
in Virginia than hers, eh, Major?”

But the Major was not to be outdone when there were compliments to be
exchanged.

“Her hair is like the sunshine,” he began, and checked himself, for at the
first mention of her hair Betty had fled.

It was on this afternoon that she brewed a dye of walnut juice and carried
it in secret to her room. She had loosened her braids and was about to
plunge her head into the basin when Mrs. Ambler came in upon her. “Why,
Betty! Betty!” she cried in horror.

Betty turned with a start, wrapped in her shining hair. “It is the only
thing left to do, mamma,” she said desperately. “I am going to dye it. It
isn’t ladylike, I know, but red hair isn’t ladylike either. I have tried
conjuring, and it won’t conjure, so I’m going to dye it.”

“Betty! Betty!” was all Mrs. Ambler could say, though she seized the basin
and threw it from the window as if it held poison. “If you ever let that
stuff touch your hair, I--I’ll shave your head for you,” she declared as
she left the room; but a moment afterward she looked in again to add, “Your
grandmamma had red hair, and she was the beauty of her day--there, now, you
ought to be ashamed of yourself!”

So Betty smiled again, and when Virginia came in to dress for supper, she
found her parading about in Aunt Lydia’s best bombazine gown.

“This is how I’ll look when I’m grown up,” she said, the corner of her eye
on her sister.

“You’ll look just lovely,” returned Virginia, promptly, for she always said
the sweetest thing at the sweetest time.

“And I’m going to look like this when Dan comes home next summer,” resumed
Betty, sedately.

“Not in Aunt Lydia’s dress?”

“You goose! Of course not. I’m going to get Mammy to make me a Swiss muslin
down to the ground, and I’m going to wear six starched petticoats because I
haven’t any hoops. I’m just wild to wear hoops, aren’t you, Virginia?”

“I reckon so,” responded Virginia, doubtfully; “but it will be hard to sit
down, don’t you think?”

“Oh, but I know how,” said Betty. “Aunt Lydia showed me how to do it
gracefully. You give a little kick--ever so little and nobody sees it--and
then you just sink into your seat. I can do it well.”

“You were always clever,” exclaimed Virginia, as sweetly as before. She was
parting her satiny hair over her forehead, and the glass gave back a
youthful likeness of Mrs. Ambler. She was the beauty of the family, and she
knew it, which made her all the lovelier to Betty.

“I declare, your freckles are all gone,” she said, as her sister’s head
looked over her shoulder. “I wonder if it is the buttermilk that has made
you so white?”

“It must be that,” admitted Betty, who had used it faithfully for the sixty
nights. “Aunt Lydia says it works wonders.” Then, as she looked at herself,
her eyes narrowed and she laughed aloud. “Why, Dan won’t know me,” she
cried merrily.

But whatever hopes she had of Dan withered in the summer. When he came home
for the holidays, he brought with him an unmistakable swagger and a supply
of coloured neckerchiefs. On his first visit to Uplands he called Virginia
“my pretty child,” and said “Good day, little lady,” to Betty. He carried
himself like an Indian, as the Governor put it, and he was very lithe and
muscular, though he did not measure up to Champe by half a head. It was the
Montjoy blood in him, people thought, for the Lightfoots were all of great
height, and he had, too, a shock of his father’s coarse black hair, which
flared stiffly above the brilliant Lightfoot eyes. As he galloped along the
turnpike on Prince Rupert, the travelling countrymen turned to look after
him, and muttered that “dare-devil Jack Montjoy had risen from his
grave--if he had a grave.”

Once he met Betty at the gate, and catching her up before him, dashed with
her as far as Aunt Ailsey’s cabin and back again. “You are as light as a
fly,” he said with a laugh, “and not much bigger. There, take your hair out
of my eyes, or I’ll ride amuck.”

Betty caught her hair in one hand and drew it across her breast. “This is
like--” she began gayly, and checked herself. She was thinking of “that
devil Jack Montjoy and Jane Lightfoot.”

“I must take my chance now,” said Dan, in his easy, masterful way. “You
will be too old for this by next year. Why, you will be in long dresses
then, and Virginia--have you noticed, by the way, what a beauty Virginia is
going to be?”

“She is just lovely,” heartily agreed Betty. “She’s prettier than your
Great-aunt Emmeline, isn’t she?”

“By George, she is. And I’ve been in love with Great-aunt Emmeline for ten
years because I couldn’t find her match. I say, don’t let anybody go off
with Virginia while I’m at college, will you?”

“All right,” said Betty, and though she smiled at him through her hair, her
smile was not so bright as it had been. It was all very well to hear
Virginia praised, she told herself, but she should have liked it better had
Dan been a little less emphatic. “I don’t think any one is going to run off
with her,” she added gravely, and let the subject of her sister’s beauty
pass.

But at the end of the week, when Dan went back to college, her loyal heart
reproached her, and she confided to Virginia that “he thought her a great
deal lovelier than Great-aunt Emmeline.”

“Really?” asked Virginia, and determined to be very nice to him when he
came home for the holidays.

“But what does he say about you?” she inquired after a moment.

“About me?” returned Betty. “Oh, he doesn’t say anything about me, except
that I am kind.”

Virginia stooped and kissed her. “You are kind, dear,” she said in her
sweetest voice.

And “kind,” after all, was the word for Betty, unless Big Abel had found
one when he said, “She is des all heart.” It was Betty who had tramped
three miles through the snow last Christmas to carry her gifts to the free
negro Levi, who was “laid up” and could not come to claim his share; and it
was Betty who had asked as a present for herself the lame boy Micah, that
belonged to old Rainy-day Jones. She had met Micah in the road, and from
that day the Governor’s life was a burden until he sent the negro up to her
door on Christmas morning. There was never a sick slave or a homeless dog
that she would not fly out to welcome, bareheaded and a little breathless,
with the kindness brimming over from her eyes. “She has her father’s head
and her mother’s heart,” said the Major to his wife, when he saw the girl
going by with the dogs leaping round her and a young fox in her arms. “What
a wife she would make for Dan when she grows up! I wish he’d fancy her.
They’d be well suited, eh, Molly?”

“If he fancies the thing that is suited to him, he is less of a man than I
take him to be,” retorted Mrs. Lightfoot, with a cynicism which confounded
the Major. “He will lose his head over her doll baby of a sister, I
suppose--not that she isn’t a good girl,” she added briskly. “Julia Ambler
couldn’t have had a bad child if she had tried, though I confess I am
surprised that she could have helped having a silly one; but Betty, why,
there hasn’t been a girl since I grew up with so much sense in her head as
Betty Ambler has in her little finger.”

“When I think of you fifty years ago, I must admit that you put a high
standard, Molly,” interposed the Major, who was always polite when he was
not angry.

“She spent a week with me while you were away,” Mrs. Lightfoot went on in
an unchanged voice, though with a softened face, “and, I declare, she kept
house as well as I could have done it myself, and Cupid says she washed the
pink teaset every morning with her own hands, and she actually cured
Rhody’s lameness with a liniment she made out of Jimson weed. I tell you
now, Mr. Lightfoot, that, if I get sick, Betty Ambler is the only girl I’m
going to have inside the house.”

“Very well, my dear,” said the Major, meekly, “I’ll try to remember; and,
in that case, I reckon we’d as well drop a hint to Dan, eh, Molly?”

Mrs. Lightfoot looked at him a moment in silence. Then she said “Humph!”
 beneath her breath, and took up her knitting from the little table at her
side.

But Dan was living fast at college, and the Major’s hints were thrown away.
He read of “the Ambler girls who are growing into real beauties,” and he
skipped the part that said, “Your grandmother has taken a great fancy to
Betty and enjoys having her about.”

“Here’s something for you, Champe,” he remarked with a laugh, as he tossed
the letter upon the table. “Gather your beauties while you may, for I
prefer bull pups. Did Batt Horsford tell you I’d offered him twenty-five
dollars for that one of his?”

Champe picked up the letter and unfolded it slowly. He was a tall, slender
young fellow, with curling pale brown hair and fine straight features. His
face, in the strong light of the window by which he stood, showed a tracery
of blue veins across the high forehead.

“Oh, shut up about bull pups,” he said irritably. “You are as bad as a
breeder, and yet you couldn’t tell that thoroughbred of John Morson’s from
a cross with a terrier.”

“You bet I couldn’t,” cried Dan, firing up; but Champe was reading the
letter, and a faint flush had risen to his face. “The girl is like a spray
of golden-rod in the sunshine,” wrote the Major, with his old-fashioned
rhetoric.

“What is it he says, eh?” asked Dan, noting the flush and drawing his
conclusions.

“He says that Aunt Molly and himself will meet us at the White Sulphur next
summer.”

“Oh, I don’t mean that. What is it he says about the girls; they are real
beauties aren’t they? By the way, Champe, why don’t you marry one of them
and settle down?”

“Why don’t you?” retorted Champe, as Dan got up and called to Big Abel to
bring his riding clothes. “Oh, I’m not a lady’s man,” he said lightly.
“I’ve too moody a face for them,” and he began to dress himself with the
elaborate care which had won for him the title of “Beau” Montjoy.

By the next summer, Betty and Virginia had shot up as if in a night, but
neither Champe nor Dan came home. After weeks of excited preparation, the
Major and Mrs. Lightfoot started, with Congo and Mitty, for the White
Sulphur, where the boys were awaiting them. As the months went on, vague
rumours reached the Governor’s ears--rumours which the Major did not quite
disprove when he came back in the autumn. “Yes, the boy is sowing his wild
oats,” he said; “but what can you expect, Governor? Why, he is not yet
twenty, and young blood is hot blood, sir.”

“I am sorry to hear that he has been losing at cards,” returned the
Governor; “but take my advice, and let him pick himself up when he falls to
hurt. Don’t back him up, Major.”

“Pooh! pooh!” exclaimed the Major, testily. “You’re like Molly, Governor,
and, bless my soul, one old woman is as much as I can manage. Why, she
wants me to let the boy starve.”

The Governor sighed, but he did not protest. He liked Dan, with all his
youthful errors, and he wanted to put out a hand to hold him back from
destruction; but he feared to bring the terrible flush to the Major’s face.
It was better to leave things alone, he thought, and so sighed and said
nothing.

That was an autumn of burning political conditions, and the excited slavery
debates in the North were reechoing through the Virginia mountains. The
Major, like the old war horse that he was, had already pricked up his ears,
and determined to lend his tongue or his sword, as his state might require.
That a fight could go on in the Union so long as Virginia or himself kept
out of it, seemed to him a possibility little less than preposterous.

“Didn’t we fight the Revolution, sir? and didn’t we fight the War of 1812?
and didn’t we fight the Mexican War to boot?” he would demand. “And, bless
my soul, aren’t we ready to fight all the Yankees in the universe, and to
whip them clean out of the Union, too? Why, it wouldn’t take us ten days to
have them on their knees, sir.”

The Governor did not laugh now; the times were too grave for that. His
clear eyes had seen whither they were drifting, and he had thrown his
influence against the tide, which, he knew, would but sweep over him in the
end. “You are out of place in Virginia, Major,” he said seriously.
“Virginia wants peace, and she wants the Union. Go south, my dear sir, go
south.”

During the spring before he had gone south himself to a convention at
Montgomery, and he had spoken there against one of the greatest of the
Southern orators. His state had upheld him, but the Major had not. He came
home to find his old neighbour red with resentment, and refusing for the
first few days to shake the hand of “a man who would tamper with the honour
of Virginia.” At the end of the week the Major’s hand was held out, but his
heart still bore his grievance, and he began quoting William L. Yancey, as
he had once quoted Mr. Addison. In the little meetings at Uplands or at
Chericoke, he would now declaim the words of the impassioned agitator as
vigorously as in the old days he had recited those of the polished
gentleman of letters. The rector and the doctor would sit silent and
abashed, and only the Governor would break in now and then with: “You go
too far, Major. There is a step from which there is no drawing back, and
that step means ruin to your state, sir.”

“Ruin, sir? Nonsense! nonsense! We made the Union, and we’ll unmake it when
we please. We didn’t make slavery; but, if Virginia wants slaves, by God,
sir, she shall have slaves!”

It was after such a discussion in the Governor’s library that the old
gentleman rose one evening to depart in his wrath. “The man who sits up in
my presence and questions my right to own my slaves is a damned black
abolitionist, sir,” he thundered as he went, and by the time he reached his
coach he was so blinded by his rage that Congo, the driver, was obliged to
lift him bodily into his seat. “Dis yer ain’ no way ter do, Ole Marster,”
 said the negro, reproachfully. “How I gwine teck cyar you like Ole Miss
done tole me, w’en you let yo’ bile git ter yo’ haid like dis? ‘Tain’ no
way ter do, suh.”

The Major was too full for silence; and, ignoring the Governor, who had
hurried out to beseech him to return, he let his rage burst forth.

“I can’t help it, Congo, I can’t help it!” he said. “They want to take you
from me, do you hear? and that black Republican party up north wants to
take you, too. They say I’ve no right to you, Congo,--bless my soul, and
you were born on my own land!”

“Go ‘way, Ole Marster, who gwine min’ w’at dey say?” returned Congo,
soothingly. “You des better wrop dat ar neck’chif roun’ yo’ thoat er Ole
Miss’ll git atter you sho’ es you live!”

The Major wiped his eyes on the end of the neckerchief as he tied it about
his throat. “But, if they elect their President, he may send down an army
to free you,” he went on, with something like a sob of anger, “and I’d like
to know what we’d do then, Congo.”

“Lawd, Lawd, suh,” said Congo, as he wrapped the robe about his master’s
knees. “Did you ever heah tell er sech doin’s!” then, as he mounted the
box, he leaned down and called out reassuringly, “Don’ you min’, Ole
Marster, we’ll des loose de dawgs on ‘em, dat’s w’at we’ll do,” and they
rolled off indignantly, leaving the Governor half angry and half apologetic
upon his portico.

It was on the way home that evening that Congo spied in the sassafras
bushes beside the road a runaway slave of old Rainy-day Jones’s, and
descended, with a shout, to deliver his brother into bondage.

“Hi, Ole Marster, w’at I gwine tie him wid?” he demanded gleefully.

The Major looked out of the window, and his face went white.

“What’s that on his cheek, Congo?” he asked in a whisper.

“Dat’s des whar dey done hit ‘im, Ole Marster. How I gwine tie ‘im?”

But the Major had looked again, and the awful redness rose to his brow.

“Shut up, you fool!” he said with a roar, as he dived under his seat and
brought out his brandy flask. “Give him a swallow of that--be quick, do you
hear? Pour it into your cup, sir, and give him that corn pone in your
pocket. I see it sticking out. There, now hoist him up beside you, and, if
I meet that rascal Jones, I’ll blow his damn brains out!”

The Major doubtless would have fulfilled his oath as surely as his twelve
peers would have shaken his hand afterwards; but, by the time they came up
with Rainy-day a mile ahead, his wrath had settled and he had decided that
“he didn’t want such dirty blood upon his hands.”

So he took a different course, and merely swore a little as he threw a roll
of banknotes into the road. “Don’t open your mouth to me, you hell hound,”
 he cried, “or I’ll have you whipped clean out of this county, sir, and
there’s not a gentleman in Virginia that wouldn’t lend a hand. Don’t open
your mouth to me, I tell you; here’s the price of your property, and you
can stoop in the dirt to pick it up. There’s no man alive that shall
question the divine right of slavery in my presence; but--but it is an
institution for gentlemen, and you, sir, are a damned scoundrel!”

With which the Major and old Rainy-day rode on in opposite ways.



BOOK SECOND

YOUNG BLOOD



I

THE MAJOR’S CHRISTMAS


On Christmas Eve the great logs blazed at Chericoke. From the open door the
red light of the fire streamed through the falling snow upon the broad
drive where the wheel ruts had frozen into ribbons of ice. The naked boughs
of the old elms on the lawn tapped the peaked roof with twigs as cold and
bright as steel, and the two high urns beside the steps had an iridescent
fringe around their marble basins.

In the hall, beneath swinging sprays of mistletoe and holly, the Major and
his hearty cronies were dipping apple toddy from the silver punch bowl half
hidden in its wreath of evergreens. Behind them the panelled parlour was
aglow with warmth, and on its shining wainscoting Great-aunt Emmeline,
under her Christmas garland, held her red apple stiffly away from the skirt
of her amber brocade.

The Major, who had just filled the rector’s glass, let the ladle fall with
a splash, and hurried to the open door.

“They’re coming, Molly!” he called excitedly, “I hear their horses in the
drive. No, bless my soul, it’s wheels! The Governor’s here, Molly! Fill
their glasses at once--they’ll be frozen through!”

Mrs. Lightfoot, who had been watching from the ivied panes of the parlour,
rustled, with sharp exclamation, into the hall, and began hastily dipping
from the silver punch bowl. “I really think, Mr. Lightfoot, that the house
would be more comfortable if you’d be content to keep the front door
closed,” she found time to remark. “Do take your glass by the fire, Mr.
Blake; I declare, I positively feel the sleet in my face. Don’t you think
it would be just as hospitable, Mr. Lightfoot, to open to them when they
knock?”

“What, keep the door shut on Christmas Eve, Molly!” exclaimed the Major
from the front steps, where the snow was falling on his bare head. “Why,
you’re no better than a heathen. It’s time you were learning your catechism
over again. Ah, here they are, here they are! Come in, ladies, come in. The
night is cold, but the welcome’s warm.--Cupid, you fool, bring an umbrella,
and don’t stand grinning there.--Here, my dear Miss Lydia, take my arm, and
never mind the weather; we’ve the best apple toddy in Virginia to warm you
with, and the biggest log in the woods for you to look at. Ah, come in,
come in,” and he led Miss Lydia, in her white wool “fascinator,” into the
house where Mrs. Lightfoot stood waiting with open arms and the apple
toddy. The Governor had insisted upon carrying his wife, lest she chill her
feet, and Betty and Virginia, in their long cloaks, fluttered across the
snow and up the steps. As they reached the hall, the Major caught them in
his arms and soundly kissed them. “It isn’t Christmas every day, you know,”
 he lamented ruefully, “and even our friend Mr. Addison wasn’t steeled
against rosy cheeks, though he was but a poor creature who hadn’t been to
Virginia. But come to the fire, come to the fire. There’s eggnog to your
liking, Mr. Bill, and just a sip of this, Miss Lydia, to warm you up. You
may defy the wind, ma’am, with a single sip of my apple toddy.” He seized
the poker and, while Congo brought the glasses, prodded the giant log until
the flames leaped, roaring, up the chimney and the wainscoting glowed deep
red.

“What, not a drop, Miss Lydia?” he cried, in aggrieved tones, when he
turned his back upon the fire.

Miss Lydia shook her head, blushing as she untied her “fascinator.” She was
fond of apple toddy, but she regarded the taste as an indelicate one, and
would as soon have admitted, before gentlemen, a liking for cabbage.

“Don’t drink it, dear,” she whispered to Betty, as the girl took her glass;
“it will give you a vulgar colour.”

Betty turned upon her the smile of beaming affection with which she always
regarded her family. She was standing under the mistletoe in her light blue
cloak and hood bordered with swan’s-down, and her eyes shone like lamps in
the bright pallor of her face.

“Why, it is delicious!” she said, with the pretty effusion the old man
loved. “It is better than my eggnog, isn’t it, papa?”

“If anything can be better than your eggnog, my dear,” replied the
Governor, courteously, “it is the Major’s apple toddy.” The Major bowed,
and Betty gave a merry little nod. “If you hadn’t put it so nicely, I
should never have forgiven you,” she laughed; “but he always puts it
nicely, Major, doesn’t he? I made him the other day a plum pudding of my
very own,--I wouldn’t even let Aunt Floretta seed the raisins,--and when it
came on burnt, what do you think he said? Why, I asked him how he liked it,
and he thought for a minute and replied, ‘My dear, it’s the very best burnt
plum pudding I ever ate.’ Now wasn’t that dear of him?”

“Ah, but you should have heard how he put things when he was in politics,”
 said the Major, refilling his glass. “On my word, he could make the truth
sound sweeter than most men could make a lie.”

“Come, come, Major,” protested the Governor. “Julia, can’t you induce our
good friend to forbear?”

“He knows I like to hear it,” said Mrs. Ambler, turning from a discussion
of her Christmas dinner with Mrs. Lightfoot.

“Then you shall hear it, madam,” declared the Major, “and I may as well say
at once that if the Governor hasn’t told you about the reply he made to
Plaintain Dudley when he asked him for his political influence, you haven’t
the kind of husband, ma’am, that Molly Lightfoot has got. Keep a secret
from Molly! Why, I’d as soon try to keep a keg full of brandy from
following an auger.”

“Auger, indeed!” exclaimed the little old lady, to whom the Major’s
facetiousness was the only serious thing about him. “Your secrets are like
apples, sir, that hang to every passer-by, until I store them away. Auger,
indeed!”

“No offence, my dear,” was the Major’s meek apology. “An auger is a very
useful implement, eh, Governor; and it’s Plaintain Dudley, after all, that
we’re concerned with. Do you remember Plaintain, Mrs. Ambler, a big ruddy
fellow, with ruffled shirts? Oh, he prided himself on his shirts, did
Plaintain!”

“A very becoming weakness,” said Mrs. Ambler, smiling at the Governor, who
was blushing above his tucks.

“Becoming? Well, well, I dare say,” admitted the Major. “Plaintain thought
so, at any rate. Why, I can see him now, on the day he came to the
Governor, puffing out his front, and twirling his white silk handkerchief.
‘May I ask your opinion of me, sir?’ he had the audacity to begin, and the
Governor! Bless my soul, ma’am, the Governor bowed his politest bow, and
replied with his pleasantest smile, ‘My opinion of you, sir, is that were
you as great a gentleman as you are a scoundrel, you would be a greater
gentleman than my Lord Chesterfield.’ Those were his words, ma’am, on my
oath, those were his words!”

“But he was a scoundrel!” exclaimed the Governor. “Why, he swindled women,
Major. It was always a mystery to me how you tolerated him.”

“And a mystery to Mrs. Lightfoot,” responded the Major, in a half whisper;
“but as I tell her, sir, you mustn’t judge a man by his company, or a
‘possum by his grin.” Then he raised a well-filled glass and gave a toast
that brought even Mr. Bill upon his feet, “To Virginia, the home of brave
men and,” he straightened himself, tossed back his hair, and bowed to the
ladies, “and of angels.”

The Governor raised his glass with a smile, “To the angels who take pity
upon the men,” he said.

“That more angels may take pity upon men,” added the rector, rising from
his seat by the fireside, with a wink at the doctor.

And the toast was drunk, standing, while the girls ran up the crooked stair
to lay aside their wraps in a three-cornered bedroom.

As Virginia threw off her pink cloak and twirled round in her flaring
skirts, Betty gave a little gasp of admiration and stood holding the
lighted candle, with its sprig of holly, above her head. The tall girlish
figure, in its flounces of organdy muslin, with the smooth parting of
bright brown hair and the dovelike eyes, had flowered suddenly into a
beauty that took her breath away.

“Why, you are a vision--a vision!” she cried delightedly.

Virginia stopped short in her twirling and settled the illusion ruche over
her slim white shoulders. “It’s the first time I’ve dressed like this, you
know,” she said, glancing at herself in the dim old mirror.

“Ah, I’m not half so pretty,” sighed Betty, hopelessly, “Is the rose in
place, do you think?” She had fastened a white rose in the thick coil on
her neck, where it lay half hidden by her hair.

“It looks just lovely,” replied Virginia, heartily. “Do you hear some one
in the drive?” She went to the window, and looked out into the falling
snow, her bare shoulders shrinking from the frosted pane. “What a long ride
the boys have had, and how cold they’ll be. Why, the ground is quite
covered with snow.” Betty, with the candle still in her hand, turned from
the mirror, and gave a quick glance through the sloping window, to the
naked elms outside. “Ah, poor things, poor things!” she cried.

“But they have their riding cloaks,” said Virginia, in her placid voice.

“Oh, I don’t mean Dan and Champe and Big Abel,” answered Betty, “I mean the
elms, the poor naked elms that wear their clothes all summer, and are
stripped bare for the cold. How I should like to warm you, you dear
things,” she added, going to the window. Against the tossing branches her
hair made a glow of colour, and her vivid face was warm with tenderness.
“And Jane Lightfoot rode away on a night like this!” she whispered after a
pause.

“She wore a muslin dress and a coral necklace, you know,” said Virginia, in
the same low tone, “and she had only a knitted shawl over her head when she
met Jack Montjoy at the end of the drive. He wrapped her in his cape, and
they rode like mad to the town--and she was laughing! Uncle Shadrach met
them in the road, and he says he heard her laughing in the wind. She must
have been very wicked, mustn’t she, Betty?”

But Betty was looking into the storm, and did not answer. “I wonder if he
were in the least like Dan,” she murmured a moment later.

“Well, he had black hair, and Dan has that,” responded Virginia, lightly;
“and he had a square chin, and Dan has that, too. Oh, every one says that
Dan’s the image of his father, except for the Lightfoot eyes. I’m glad he
has the Lightfoot eyes, anyway. Are you ready to go down?”

Betty was ready, though her face had grown a little grave, and with a last
look at the glass, they caught hands and went sedately down the winding
stair.

In the hall below they met Mrs. Lightfoot, who sent Virginia into the
panelled parlour, and bore Betty off to the kitchen to taste the sauce for
the plum pudding. “I can’t do a thing on earth with Rhody,” she remarked
uneasily, throwing a knitted scarf over her head as they went from the back
porch along the covered way that led to the brick kitchen. “She insists
that yours is the only palate in all the country she will permit to pass
judgment upon her sauce. I made the Major try it, and he thinks it needs a
dash more of rum, but Rhody says she shan’t be induced to change it until
she has had your advice. Here, Rhody, open the door; I’ve brought your
young lady.”

The door swung back with a jerk upon the big kitchen, where before the
Christmas turkeys toasting on the spit, Aunt Rhody was striding to and fro
like an Amazon in charcoal. From the beginning of the covered way they had
been guided by the tones of penetrant contempt, with which she lashed the
circle of house servants who had gathered to her assistance. “You des lemme
alont now,” was the advice she royally offered. “Ef you gwine ax me w’at
you’d better do, I des tell you right now, you’d better lemme alont.
Ca’line, you teck yo’ eyes off dat ar roas’ pig, er I’ll fling dis yer
b’ilin’ lard right spang on you. I ain’ gwine hev none er my cookin’
conjured fo’ my ve’y face. Congo, you shet dat mouf er yourn, er I’ll shet
hit wid er flat-iron, en den hit’ll be shet ter stay.”

Then, as Mrs. Lightfoot and Betty came in, she broke off, and wiped her
large black hands on her apron, before she waved with pride to the shelves
and tables bending beneath her various creations. “I’se done stuff dat ar
pig so full er chestnuts dat he’s fitten ter bus’,” she exclaimed proudly.
“Lawd, Lawd, hit’s a pity he ain’ ‘live agin des ter tase hese’f!”

“Poor little pig,” said Betty, “he looks so small and pink, Aunt Rhody, I
don’t see how you have the heart to roast him.”

“I’se done stuff ‘im full,” returned Aunt Rhody, in justification.

“I hope he’s well done, Rhody,” briskly broke in Mrs. Lightfoot; “and be
sure to bake the hams until the juice runs through the bread crumbs. Is
everything ready for to-morrow?”

“Des es ready es ef ‘twuz fer Kingdom Come, Ole Miss, en dar ain’ gwine be
no better dinner on Jedgment Day nurr, I don’ cyar who gwine cook hit. You
des tase dis yer sass--dat’s all I ax, you des tase dis yer sass.”

“You taste it, Betty,” begged Mrs. Lightfoot, shrinking from the
approaching spoon; and Betty tasted and pronounced it excellent, “and there
never was an Ambler who wasn’t a judge of ‘sass,” she added.

Moved by the compliment, Aunt Rhody fell back and regarded the girl, with
her arms akimbo. “I d’clar, her eyes do des shoot fire,” she exclaimed
admiringly. “I dunno whar de beaux done hid deyse’ves dese days; hit’s a
wonner dey ain’ des a-busin’ dey sides ter git yer. Marse Dan, now, whynt
he come a-prancin’ roun’ dese yer parts?”

Mrs. Lightfoot looked at Betty and saw her colour rise. “That will do,
Rhody,” she cautioned; “you will let the turkeys burn,” but as they moved
toward the door, Betty herself paused and looked back.

“I gave your Christmas gift to Uncle Cupid, Aunt Rhody,” she said; “he put
it under the joists in your cabin, so you mustn’t look at it till morning.”

“Lawd, chile, I’se done got Christmas gifts afo’ now,” replied Aunt Rhody,
ungratefully, “en I’se done got a pa’cel er no count ones, too. Folks dey
give Christmas gifts same es de Lawd he give chillun--dey des han’s out
w’at dey’s got on dey han’s, wid no stiddyin’ ‘bout de tase. Sakes er live!
Ef’n de Lawd hadn’t hed a plum sight ter git rid er, he ‘ouldn’t er sont
Ca’line all dose driblets, fo’ he’d done sont ‘er a husban’.”

“Husban’, huh!” exclaimed Ca’line, with a snort from the fireplace.
“Husban’ yo’se’f! No mo’ niggerisms fer me, ma’am!”

“Hold your tongue, Ca’line,” said Mrs. Lightfoot, sternly; “and, Rhody, you
ought to be ashamed of yourself to talk so before your Miss Betty.”

“Husban’, huh!” repeated the indignant Ca’line, under her breath.

“Hold your tongues, both of you,” cried the old lady, as she lifted her
silk skirt in both hands and swept from the kitchen.

When they reached the house again, they heard the Major’s voice, on its
highest key, demanding: “Molly! Why, bless my soul, what’s become of
Molly?” He was calling from the front steps, and the sound of tramping feet
rang in the drive below. Against the whiteness of the storm Big Abel’s face
shone in the light from the open door, and about him, as he held the
horses, Dan and Champe and a guest or two were dismounting upon the steps.

As the old lady went forward, Champe rushed into the hall, and caught her
in his arms.

“On my word, you’re so young I didn’t know you,” he cried gayly. “If you
keep this up, Aunt Molly, there’ll be a second Lightfoot beauty yet. You
grow prettier every day--I declare you do!”

“Hold your tongue, you scamp,” said the old lady, flushing with pleasure,
“or there’ll be a second Ananias as well. Here, Betty, come and wish this
bad boy a Merry Christmas.”

Betty looked round with a smile, but as she did so, her eyes went beyond
Champe, and saw Dan standing in the doorway, his soft slouch hat in his
hand, and a powdering of snow on his dark hair. He had grown bigger and
older in the last few months, and the Lightfoot eyes, with the Lightfoot
twinkle in their pupils, gave an expression of careless humour to his pale,
strongly moulded face. The same humour was in his voice even as he held his
grandfather’s hand.

“By George, we’re glad to get here,” was his greeting. “Morson’s been
cursing our hospitality for the last three miles. Grandpa, this is my
friend Morson--Jack Morson, you’ve heard me speak of him; and this is Bland
Diggs, you know of him, too.”

“Why, to be sure, to be sure,” cried the Major, heartily, as he held out
both hands. “You’re welcome, gentlemen, as welcome as Christmas--what more
can I say? But come in, come in to the fire. Cupid, the glasses!”

“Ah, the ladies first,” suggested Dan, lightly; “grace before meat, you
know. So here you are, grandma, cap and all. And Virginia;--ye gods!--is
this little Virginia?”

His laughing eyes were on her as she stood, tall and lovely, beneath a
Christmas garland, and with the laughter still in them, they blazed with
approval of her beauty. “Oh, but do you know, how did you do it?” he
demanded with his blithe confidence, as if it mattered very little how his
words were met.

“It wasn’t any trouble, believe me,” responded Virginia, blushing, “not
half so much trouble as you took to tie your neckerchief.”

Dan’s hand went to his throat. “Then I may presume that it is mere natural
genius,” he exclaimed.

“Genius, to grow tall?”

“Well, yes, just that--to grow tall,” then he caught sight of Betty, and
held out his hand again. “And you, little comrade, you haven’t grown up to
the world, I see.”

Betty laughed and looked him over with the smile the Major loved. “I
content myself with merely growing up to you,” she returned.

“Up to me? Why, you barely reach my shoulder.”

“Well, up to the greater part of you, at least.”

“Ah, up to my heart,” said Dan, and Betty coloured beneath the twinkle in
his eyes.

The colour was still in her face when the Major came out, with Mrs. Ambler
on his arm, and led the way to supper.

“All of us are hungry, and some of us have a day’s ride behind us,” he
remarked, as, after the rector’s grace, he stood waving the carving-knife
above the roasted turkey. “I’d like to know how often during the last hour
you’ve thought of this turkey, Mr. Morson?”

“It has had a fair share of my thoughts, I’m forced to admit, Major,”
 responded Jack Morson, readily. He was a hearty, light-haired young fellow,
with a girlish complexion and pale blue eyes, as round as marbles. “As fair
a share as the apple toddy has had of Diggs’s, I’ll be bound.”

“Apple toddy!” protested Diggs, turning his serious face, flushed from the
long ride, upon the Major. “I was too busy thinking we should never get
here; and we were lost once, weren’t we, Beau?” he asked of Dan.

“Well, I for one am safely housed for the night, doctor,” declared the
rector, with an uneasy glance through the window, “and I trust that Mrs.
Blake’s reproach will melt before the snow does. But what’s that about
being lost, Dan?”

“Oh, we got off the road,” replied Dan; “but I gave Prince Rupert the rein
and he brought us in. The sense that horse has got makes me fairly ashamed
of going to college in his place; and I may as well warn you, Mr. Blake,
that when I get ready to go to Heaven, I shan’t seek your guidance at
all--I’ll merely nose Prince Rupert at the Bible and give him his head.”

“It’s a comfort to know, at least, that you won’t be trusting to your own
deserts, my boy,” responded the rector, who dearly loved his joke, as he
helped himself to yellow pickle.

“Let us hope that the straight and narrow way is a little clearer than the
tavern road to-night,” said Champe. “I’m afraid you’ll have trouble getting
back, Governor.”

“Afraid!” took up the Major, before the Governor could reply. “Why, where
are your manners, my lad? It will be no ill wind that keeps them beneath
our roof. We’ll make room for you, ladies, never fear; the house will
stretch itself to fit the welcome, eh, Molly?”

Mrs. Lightfoot, looking a little anxious, put forward a hearty assent; but
the Governor laughed and threw back the Major’s hospitality as easily as it
was proffered.

“I know that your welcome’s big enough to hold us, my dear Major,” he said;
“but Hosea’s driving us, you see, and he could take us along the turnpike
blindfold. Why, he actually discovered in passing just before the storm
that somebody had dug up a sugar berry bush from the corner of your old
rail fence.”

“And we really must get back,” insisted Mrs. Ambler, “we haven’t even fixed
the servants’ Christmas, and Betty has to fill the stockings for the
children in the quarters.”

“Then if you will go, go you shall,” cried the Major, as heartily as he had
pressed his invitation. “You shall get back, ma’am, if I have to go before
you with a shovel and clear the snow away. So just a bit more of this roast
pig, just a bit, Governor. My dear Miss Lydia, I beg you to try that spiced
beef--and you, Mr. Bill?--Cupid, Mr. Bill will have a piece of roast pig.”

By the time the Tokay was opened, the Major had grown very jolly, and he
began to exchange jokes with the Governor and the rector. Mr. Bill and the
doctor, neither of whom could have told a story for his life, listened with
a kind of heavy gravity; and the young men, as they rattled off a college
tale or two, kept their eyes on Betty and Virginia.

Betty, leaning back in her high mahogany chair, and now and then putting in
a word with the bright effusion which belonged to her, gave ear half to the
Major’s anecdotes, and half to a jest of Jack Morson’s. Before her branched
a silver candelabrum, and beyond it, with the light in his face, Dan was
sitting. She watched him with a frank curiosity from eyes, where the smile,
with which she had answered the Major, still lingered in a gleam of
merriment. There was a puzzled wonder in her mind that Dan--the Dan of her
childhood--should have become for her, of a sudden, but a strong,
black-haired stranger from whom she shrank with a swift timidity. She
looked at Champe’s high blue-veined forehead and curling brown hair; he was
still the big boy she had played with; but when she went back to Dan, the
wonder returned with a kind of irritation, and she felt that she should
like to shake him and have it out between them as she used to do before he
went away. What was the meaning of it? Where the difference? As he sat
across from her, with his head thrown back and his eyes dark with laughter,
her look questioned him half humorously, half in alarm. From his broad brow
to his strong hand, playing idly with a little heap of bread crumbs, she
knew that she was conscious of his presence--with a consciousness that had
quickened into a living thing.

To Dan, himself, her gaze brought but the knowledge that her smile was upon
him, and he met her question with lifted eyebrows and perplexed amusement.
What he had once called “the Betty look” was in her face,--so kind a look,
so earnest yet so humorous, with a sweet sane humour at her own
bewilderment, that it held his eyes an instant before they plunged back to
Virginia--an instant only, but long enough for him to feel the thrill of an
impulse which he did not understand. Dear little Betty, he thought,
tenderly, and went back to her sister.

The next moment he was telling himself that “the girl was a tearing
beauty.” He liked that modest droop of her head and those bashful soft
eyes, as if, by George, as if she were really afraid of him. Or was it
Champe or Jack Morson that she bent her bewitching glance upon? Well,
Champe, or Morson, or himself, in a week they would all be over head and
ears in love with her, and let him win who might. It was mere folly, of
course, to break one’s heart over a girl, and there was no chance of that
so long as he had his horses and the bull pups to fall back upon; but she
was deucedly pretty, and if he ever came to the old house to live it would
be rather jolly to have her about. He would be twenty-one by this time next
year, and a man of twenty-one was old enough to settle down a bit. In the
meantime he laughed and met Virginia’s eye, and they both blushed and
looked away quickly.

But when they left the dining room an hour later, it was not Virginia that
Dan sought. He had learned the duties of hospitality in the Major’s school,
and so he sat down beside Miss Lydia and asked her about her window garden,
while Jack Morson made desperate love to his beautiful neighbour. Once,
indeed, he drew Betty aside for an instant, but it was only to whisper:
“Look here, you’ll be real nice to Diggs, won’t you? He’s bashful, you
know, and besides he’s awfully poor, and works like the devil. You make him
enjoy his holidays, and I--well, yes, I’ll let that fox get away next week,
I declare I will.”

“All right,” agreed Betty, “it’s a bargain. Mr. Diggs shall have a merry
Christmas, and the fox shall have his life. You’ll keep faith with me?”

“Sworn,” said Dan, and he went back to Miss Lydia, while Betty danced a
reel with young Diggs, who fell in love with her before he was an hour
older. The terms cost him his heart, perhaps, but there was a life at
stake, and Betty, who had not a touch of the coquette in her nature, would
have flirted open-eyed with the rector could she have saved a robin from
the shot. As for Diggs, he might have been a family portrait or a Christmas
garland for all the sentiment she gave him.

When she went upstairs some hours later to put on her wraps, she had
forgotten, indeed, that Diggs or his emotion was in existence. She tied on
her blue hood with the swan’s-down, and noticed, as she did so, that the
white rose was gone from her hair. “I hope I lost it after supper,” she
thought rather wistfully, for it was becoming; and then she slipped into
her long cloak and started down again. It was not until she reached the
bend in the staircase, where the tall clock stood, that she looked over the
balustrade and saw Dan in the hall below with the white rose in his hand.

She had come so softly that he had not heard her step. The light from the
candelabra was full upon him, and she saw the half-tender, half-quizzical
look in his face. For an instant he held the white rose beneath his eyes,
then he carefully folded it in his handkerchief and hid it in the pocket of
his coat. As he did so, he gave a queer little laugh and went quickly back
into the panelled parlour, while Betty glowed like a flower in the darkened
bend of the staircase.

When they called her and she came down the bright colour was still in her
face, and her eyes were shining happily under the swan’s-down border of her
hood. “This little lady isn’t afraid of the cold,” said the Major, as he
pinched her cheeks. “Why, she’s as warm as a toast, and, bless my soul, if
I were thirty years younger, I’d ride twenty miles tonight to catch a
glimpse of her in that bonny blue hood. Ah, in my day, men were men, sir.”

Dan, who had come back from escorting Miss Lydia to the carriage, laughed
and held out his arms.

“Let me carry you, Betty; I’ll show grandpa that there’s still a man
alive.”

“No, sir, no,” said Betty, as she stood on tiptoe and held her cheek to the
Major. “You haven’t a chance when your grandfather’s by. There, I’ll let
you carry the sleeping draught for Aunt Pussy; but my flounces, no, never!”
 and she ran past him and slipped into the carriage beside Mrs. Ambler and
Miss Lydia.

In a moment Virginia came out under an umbrella that was held by Jack
Morson, and the carriage rolled slowly along the drive, while the young men
stood, bareheaded, in the falling snow.

“Keep a brave heart, Morson,” said Champe, with a laugh, as he ran back
into the house, where the Major waited to bar the door, “remember, you’ve
known her but three hours, and stand it like a man. Well I’m off to bed,”
 and he lighted his candle and, with a gay “good night,” went whistling up
the stair.

In Dan’s bedroom, where he had crowded for the holidays, he found his
cousin, upon the hearth-rug, looking abstractedly into the flames.

As Champe entered he turned, with the poker in his hand, and spoke out of
the fulness of his heart:--

“She’s a beauty, I declare she is.”

Champe broke short his whistling, and threw off his coat.

“Well, I dare say she was fifty years ago,” he rejoined gravely.

“Oh, don’t be an utter ass; you know I mean Virginia.”

“My dear boy, I had supposed Miss Lydia to be the object of your
attentions. You mustn’t be a Don Juan, you know, you really mustn’t. Spare
the sex, I entreat.”

Dan aimed a blow at him with a boot that was lying on the rug. “Shut up,
won’t you,” he growled.

“Well, Virginia is a beauty,” was Champe’s amiable response. “Jack Morson
swears Aunt Emmeline’s picture can’t touch her. He’s writing to his father
now, I don’t doubt, to say he can’t live without her. Go down, and he’ll
read you the letter.”

Dan’s face grew black. “I’ll thank him to mind his own business,” he
grumbled.

“Oh, he thinks he’s doing it.”

“Well, his business isn’t either of the Ambler girls, and I’ll have him to
know it. What right has he got, I’d like to know, to come up here and fall
in love with our neighbours.”

“Oh, Beau, Beau! Why, it was only last week you ran him away from Batt
Horsford’s daughter. Are you going in for a general championship?”

“The devil! Sally Horsford’s a handsome girl, and a good girl, too; and
I’ll fight any man who says she isn’t. By George, a woman’s a woman, if she
is a stableman’s daughter!”

“Bravo!” cried Champe, with a whistle, “there spoke the Lightfoot.”

“She’s a good girl,” repeated Dan, furiously, as he flung the other boot at
his cousin. Champe caught the boot, and carefully set it beside the door.
“Well, she’s welcome to be, as far as I’m concerned,” he replied calmly.
“Turn not your speaking eye upon me. I harbour no dark intent, Sir
Galahad.”

“Damn Sir Galahad!” said Dan, and blew out the light.



II

BETTY DREAMS BY THE FIRE


Betty, lying back in the deep old carriage as it rolled through the storm,
felt a glow at her heart as if a lamp were burning there, shut in from the
night. Above the wind and the groaning of the wheels, she heard Hosea
calling to the horses, but the sound reached her through muffled ears.

“Git along dar!” cried Hosea, with sudden spirit, “dar ain’ no oats dis
side er home, en dar ain’ no co’n, nurr. Git along dar! ‘Tain’ no use
a-mincin’. Git along dar!”

The snow beat softly on the windows, and the Governor’s profile was
relieved, fine and straight, against the frosted glass. “Are you asleep,
daughter?” he asked, turning to where the girl lay in her dark corner.

“Asleep!” She came back with a start, and caught his hand above the robe in
her demonstrative way. “Why, who can sleep on Christmas Eve? there’s too
much to do, isn’t there, mamma? Twenty stockings to fill and I don’t know
how many bundles to tie up. Oh, no, I shan’t sleep tonight.”

“We might get up early to-morrow and do them,” suggested Virginia, nodding
in her pink hood.

“You, at least, must go to bed, dear,” insisted Mrs. Ambler. “Betty and I
will fix the things.”

“Indeed, you shall go to bed, mamma,” said Betty, sternly. “Papa and I
shall make Christmas this year. You’ll help me, won’t you, papa?”

“Well, my dear, I don’t see how I can help myself,” returned the Governor;
“I wasn’t born to be the father of a Betty for nothing.”

“Get along dar!” sang out Hosea again. “‘Tain’ no use a-mincin’, gemmun.
Dar ain’ no fiddlin’ roun’. Git along dar!”

Miss Lydia had fallen asleep, with her head on her breast, but the sound
aroused her, and she opened her eyes and sat up very straight.

“Why, I declare I’d almost dropped off,” she said. “Are we nearly there,
Peyton?”

“I think so,” replied the Governor, “but the snow’s so thick I can’t see;”
 he opened the window and put out his head. “Are we nearly there, Hosea?”

“We des done pas’ de clump er cedars, suh,” yelled Hosea through the storm.
“I’ud a knowd ‘em ef dey’d come a-struttin’ down de road--dey cyarn fool
me. Den we got ter pas’ de wil’ cher’y and de gap in de fence, en dar we
are.”

“Yes, we’re nearly there,” said the Governor, as he drew in his head, and
Miss Lydia slept again until the carriage turned into the drive and stopped
before the portico.

Uncle Shadrach, in the open doorway, was grinning with delight. “Ef’n de
snow had er kep’ you, dar ‘ouldn’t a been no Christmas for de res’ er us,”
 he declared.

“Oh, the snow couldn’t keep us, Shadrach,” returned the Governor, as he
gave him his overcoat, and set himself to unfastening his wife’s wraps. “We
were too anxious to get home. There, Julia, you go to bed, and leave Betty
and myself to manage things. Don’t say I can’t do it. I tell you I’ve been
Governor of Virginia, and I’ll not be daunted by an empty stocking. Now go
away, and you, too, Virginia--you’re as sleepy as a kitten. Miss Lydia,
shall I take Mrs. Lightfoot’s mixture to Miss Pussy, or will you?”

Miss Lydia took the pitcher, and Betty put her arm about her mother and led
her upstairs, holding her hand and kissing it as she went. She was always
lavish with little ways of love, but to-night she felt tenderer than
ever--she felt that she should like to take the world in her arms and hold
it to her bosom. “Dearest, sweetest,” she said, and her voice was full and
tremulous, though still with its crisp brightness of tone. It was as if she
caressed with her whole being, with those hidden possibilities of passion
which troubled her yet, only as the vibration of strong music, making her
joy pensive and her sadness sweet. She felt that she was walking in a
pleasant and vivid dream; she was happy, she could not tell why; nor could
she tell why she was sorrowful.

In Mrs. Ambler’s room they found Mammy Riah, awaiting her mistress’s
return.

“Put her to bed, Mammy,” she said; “she is all chilled by the drive,” and
she gave her mother over to the old negress, and ran down again to the
dining room, where the Governor was standing surrounded by the Christmas
litter.

“Do you expect to straighten out all these things, daughter?” he asked
hopelessly.

“Why, there’s hardly anything left to do,” was Betty’s cheerful assurance.
“You just sit down at the table and put the nuts into the toes of those
stockings, and I’ll count out these print frocks.”

The Governor obediently sat down and went to work. “I am moved to offer
thanks that we are not as the beasts that have four legs,” he remarked
thoughtfully. “I shouldn’t care to fill stockings for quadrupeds, Betty.”

“Why, you goose, there’s only one stocking for each child.”

“Ah, but with four feet our expectations might be doubled,” suggested the
Governor. “You can’t convince me that it isn’t a merciful providence, my
dear.”

When the stockings were filled and the packages neatly tied up and
separated, Uncle Shadrach came with a hamper, and Betty went out to the
kitchen to prepare for the morning gathering of the field hands and their
families. Returning after the work was over, she lingered a moment in the
path to the house, looking far across the white country. The snow had
ceased, and a single star was shining, through a rift in the scudding
clouds, straight overhead. From the northwest the wind blew hard, and the
fleecy covering on the ground was fast freezing a foot deep in ice. With a
shiver she drew her cloak about her and ran indoors and upstairs to where
Virginia lay asleep in the high, white bed.

In the great brick fireplace the logs had fallen apart, and she softly
pushed them together again as she threw on a knot of resinous pine. The
blaze shot up quickly, and blowing out the candle upon the bureau, she
undressed by the firelight, crooning gently as she did so in a voice that
was lower than the singing flames. With the glow on her bared arms and her
hair unbound upon her shoulders, she sat close against the chimney; and
while Virginia slept in the tester bed, went dreaming out into the night.

At first her dreams went back into her childhood, and somehow, she knew not
why, she could not bring back her childhood but Dan came with it. She
fancied herself in all kinds of impossible places, but she had no sooner
got safely into them than she looked up and Dan was there before her,
standing very still and laughing at her with his eyes. It was the same
thing even when she was a baby. Her earliest memory was of a May morning
when they took her out into a field of buttercups, and told her that she
might pluck her arms full if she could, and then, as she stretched out her
little hands and began to gather very fast, she looked across to where the
waving yellow buttercups stood up against the blue spring sky. That memory
had always been her own before; but now, when she went back to it, she knew
that all the time she had been gathering buttercups for Dan. And she had
plucked faster and faster only that she might have a bigger bunch for him
when the gathering was done. She saw herself working bonnetless in the
sunshine, her baby face red, her lips breathless, working so hard, she did
not know for whom. Oh, how funny that he should have been somewhere all the
time!

And again on the day when they gave her her first doll, and she let it fall
and cried her heart out over its broken pink face. She knew, at last, that
somewhere in that ugly town Dan had dropped his toy; and it was for that
she was crying, not for her own poor doll. Yes, all her life she had had
two griefs to weep for, and two joys to be glad over. She had been really a
double self from her babyhood up--from her babyhood up! It had been always
up, up, up--like a lark that rises to the sun. She had all her life been
rising to the sun, and she was warmed at last.

Then she asked herself if it were happiness, after all, this new
restlessness of hers. The melancholy of the early spring was there--the
roving impulse that comes on April afternoons when the first buds are on
the trees and the air is keen with the smell of the newly turned earth. She
felt that it was time for the spring to come again; she wanted to walk
alone in the woods and to watch the swallows flying from the north. And
again she wanted only to lie close upon the hearth and to hear the flames
leap up the chimney. One of her selves cried to be up and roaming; the
other to turn over on the rug and sleep again.

But gradually her thoughts returned to him, and she went over, bit by bit,
what he had said last evening, asking herself if he had meant much at this
time, or little at another. It seemed to her that she found new meanings
now in things that she had once overlooked. She read words in his eyes
which he had never spoken; and, one by one, she brought back each sentence,
each look, each gesture, holding it up to her remembrance, and laying it
aside to give place to the next. Oh, there were so many, so many!

And then from the past her dreams went groping out into the future,
becoming dimmer, and shaping themselves into unreal forms. Scattered
visions came drifting through her mind,--of herself in romantic adventures,
and of Dan--always of Dan--appearing like the prince in the fairy tale, at
the perilous moment. She saw herself on the breast of a great river, borne,
while she stretched her hands at a white rose-bush blooming in the clouds,
to a cataract which she could not see, though she heard its thunder far
ahead. She tried to call, but no sound came, for the water filled her
mouth. The river went on and on, and the falling of the cataract was in her
ears, when she felt Dan’s arm about her, and saw his eyes laughing at her
above the waters.

“Betty!” called Virginia, suddenly, rising on her elbow and rubbing her
eyes. “Betty, is it morning?”

Betty awoke with a cry, and stood up in the firelight.

“Oh, no, not yet,” she answered.

“What are you doing? Aren’t you coming to bed?”

“I--I was just thinking,” stammered Betty, twisting her hair into a rope;
“yes, I’m coming now,” and she crossed the room and climbed into the bed
beside her sister.

“I believe I fell asleep by the fire,” she said, as she turned over.



III

DAN AND BETTY


On the last day of the year the young men from Chericoke, as they rode down
the turnpike, came upon Betty bringing holly berries from the wood. She was
followed by two small negroes laden with branches, and beside her ran her
young setters, Peyton and Bill.

As Dan came up with her, he checked his horse and swung himself to the
ground. “Thank God I’ve passed the boundary!” he exclaimed over his
shoulder to the others. “Ride on, my lads, ride on! Don’t prate of the
claims of hospitality to me. My foot is on my neighbours’ heath; I’m host
to no man.”

“Come, now, Beau,” remonstrated Jack Morson, looking down from his saddle;
“I see in Miss Betty’s eyes that she wants me to carry that holly--I swear
I do.”

“Then you see more than is written,” declared Champe, from the other side,
“for it’s as plain as day that one eye says Diggs and one Lightfoot--isn’t
it, Betty?”

Betty looked up, laughing. “If you are so skilled in foreign tongues, what
can I answer?” she asked. “Only that I’ve been a mile after this holly for
the party to-night, and I wouldn’t trust it to all of you together--for
worlds.”

“Oh, go on, go on,” said Dan, impatiently, “doesn’t that mean that she’ll
trust it to me alone? Good morning, my boys, God be with you,” and he led
Prince Rupert aside while the rest rode by.

When they were out of sight he turned to one of the small negroes, his hand
on the bridle. “Shall we exchange burdens, O eater of ‘possums?” he asked
blandly. “Will you permit me to tote your load, while you lead my horse to
the house? You aren’t afraid of him, are you?”

The little negro grinned. “He do look moughty glum, suh,” he replied, half
fearfully.

“Glum! Why, the amiability in that horse’s face is enough to draw tears.
Come up, Prince Rupert, your highness is to go ahead of me; it’s to oblige
a lady, you know.”

Then, as Prince Rupert was led away, Dan looked at Betty.

“Shall it be the turnpike or the meadow path?” he inquired, with the gay
deference he used toward women, as if a word might turn it to a jest or a
look might make it earnest.

“The meadow, but not the path,” replied the girl; “the path is asleep under
the snow.” She cast a happy glance over the white landscape, down the long
turnpike, and across the broad meadow where a cedar tree waved like a snowy
plume. “Jake, we must climb the wall,” she added to the negro boy, “be
careful about the berries.”

Dan threw his holly into the meadow and lifted Betty upon the stone wall.
“Now wait a moment,” he cautioned, as he went over. “Don’t move till I tell
you. I’m managing this job--there, now jump!”

He caught her hands and set her on her feet beside him. “Take your fence,
my beauties,” he called gayly to the dogs, as they came bounding across the
turnpike.

Betty straightened her cap and took up her berries.

“Your tender mercies are rather cruel,” she complained, as she did so.
“Even my hair is undone.”

“Oh, it’s all the better,” returned Dan, without looking at her. “I don’t
see why girls make themselves so smooth, anyway. That’s what I like about
you, you know--you’ve always got a screw loose somewhere.”

“But I haven’t,” cried Betty, stopping in the snow.

“What! if I find a curl where it oughtn’t to be, may I have it?”

“Of course not,” she answered indignantly.

“Well, there’s one hanging over your ear now. Shall I put it straight with
this piece of holly? My hands are full, but I think I might manage it.”

“Don’t touch me with your holly!” exclaimed Betty, walking faster; then in
a moment she turned and stood calling to the dogs. “Have you noticed what
beauties Bill and Peyton have grown to be?” she questioned pleasantly.
“There weren’t any boys to be named after papa and Uncle Bill, so I called
the dogs after them, you know. Papa says he would rather have had a son
named Peyton; but I tell him the son might have been wicked and brought his
hairs in sorrow to the grave.”

“Well, I dare say, you’re right,” he stopped with a sweep of his hand, and
stood looking to where a flock of crows were flying over the dried spectres
of carrot flowers that stood up above the snow; “That’s fine, now, isn’t
it?” he asked seriously.

Betty followed his gesture, then she gave a little cry and threw her arms
round the dogs. “The poor crows are so hungry,” she said. “No, no, you
mustn’t chase them, Bill and Peyton, it isn’t right, you see. Here, Jake,
come and hold the dogs, while I feed the crows.” She drew a handful of corn
from the pocket of her cloak, and flung it out into the meadow.

“I always bring corn for them,” she explained; “they get so hungry, and
sometimes they starve to death right out here. Papa says they are
pernicious birds; but I don’t care--do you mind their being pernicious?”

“I? Not in the least. I assure you I trouble myself very little about the
morals of my associates. I’m not fond of crows; but it is their voices
rather than their habits I object to. I can’t stand their eternal
‘cawing!’--it drives me mad.”

“I suppose foxes are pernicious beasts, also,” said Betty, as she walked
on; “but there’s an old red fox in the woods that I’ve been feeding for
years. I don’t know anything that foxes like to eat except chickens, but I
carry him a basket of potatoes and turnips and bread, and pile them up
under a pine tree; it’s just as well for him to acquire the taste for them,
isn’t it?”

She smiled at Dan above her fur tippet, and he forgot her words in watching
the animation come and go in her face. He fell to musing over her decisive
little chin, the sensitive curves of her nostrils and sweet wide mouth, and
above all over her kind yet ardent look, which gave the peculiar beauty to
her eyes.

“Ah, is there anything in heaven or earth that you don’t like?” he asked,
as he gazed at her.

“That I don’t like? Shall I really tell you?”

He bent toward her over his armful of holly.

“I have a capacious breast for secrets,” he assured her.

“Then you will never breathe it?”

“Will you have me swear?” he glanced about him.

“Not by the inconstant moon,” she entreated merrily.

“Well, by my ‘gracious self’; what’s the rest of it?”

She coloured and drew away from him. His eyes made her self-conscious, ill
at ease; the very carelessness of his look disconcerted her.

“No, do not swear,” she begged. “I shall trust you with even so weighty a
confidence. I do not like--”

“Oh, come, why torture me?” he demanded.

She made a little gesture of alarm. “From fear of the wrath to come,” she
admitted.

“Of my wrath?” he regarded her with amazement. “Oh, don’t you like
_me_?” he exclaimed.

“You! Yes, yes--but--have mercy upon your petitioner. I do not like your
cravats.”

She shut her eyes and stood before him with lowered head.

“My cravats!” cried Dan, in dismay, as his hand went to his throat, “but my
cravats are from Paris--Charlie Morson brought them over. What is the
matter with them?”

“They--they’re too fancy,” confessed Betty. “Papa wears only white, or
black ones you know.”

“Too fancy! Nonsense! do you want to send me back to grandfather’s stocks,
I wonder? It’s just pure envy--that’s what it is. Never mind, I’ll give you
the very best one I’ve got.”

Betty shook her head. “And what should I do with it, pray?” she asked.
“Uncle Shadrach wouldn’t wear it for worlds--he wears only papa’s clothes,
you see. Oh, I might give it to Hosea; but I don’t think he’d like it.”

“Hosea! Well, I declare,” exclaimed Dan, and was silent.

When he spoke a little later it was somewhat awkwardly.

“I say, did Virginia ever tell you she didn’t like my cravats?” he
inquired.

“Virginia!” her voice was a little startled. “Oh, Virginia thinks they’re
lovely.”

“And you don’t?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Well, you are a case,” he said, and walked on slowly.

They were already in sight of the house, and he did not speak again until
they had passed the portico and entered the hall. There they found Virginia
and the young men, who had ridden over ahead of them, hanging evergreens
for the approaching party. Jack Morson, from the top of the step-ladder,
was suspending a holly wreath above the door, while Champe was entwining
the mahogany balustrade in running cedar.

“Oh, Betty, would it be disrespectful to put mistletoe above General
Washington’s portrait?” called Virginia, as they went into the hall.

“I don’t think he’d mind--the old dear,” answered Betty, throwing her
armful of holly upon the floor. “There, Dan, the burden of the day is
over.”

“And none too soon,” said Dan, as he tossed the holly from him. “Diggs, you
sluggard, what are you sitting there in idleness for? Miss Pussy, can’t you
set him to work?”

Miss Pussy, who was bustling in and out with a troop of servants at her
heels, found time to reply seriously that she really didn’t think there was
anything she could trust him with. “Of course, I don’t mind your amusing
yourselves with the decorations,” she added briskly, “but the cooking is
quite a different thing, you know.”

“Amusing myself!” protested Dan, in astonishment. “My dear lady, do you
call carrying a wagon load of brushwood amusement? Now, I’ll grant, if you
please, that Morson is amusing himself on the step-ladder.”

“Keep off,” implored Morson, in terror; “if you shake the thing, I’m gone,
I declare I am.”

He nailed the garland in place and came down cautiously. “Now, that’s what
I call an artistic job,” he complacently remarked.

“Why, it’s lovely,” said Virginia, smiling, as he turned to her. “It’s
lovely, isn’t it, Betty?”

“As lovely as a crooked thing can be,” laughed Betty. She was looking
earnestly at Virginia, and wondering if she really liked Jack Morson so
very much. The girl was so bewitching in her red dress, with the flush of
a sudden emotion in her face, and the shyness in her downcast eyes.

“Oh, that isn’t fair, Virginia,” called Champe from the steps. “Save your
favour for the man that deserves it--and look at me.” Virginia did look at
him, sending him the same radiant glance.

“But I’ve many ‘lovelies’ left,” she said quickly; “it’s my favourite
word.”

“A most appropriate taste,” faltered Diggs, from his chair beneath the hall
clock.

Champe descended the staircase with a bound.

“What do I hear?” he exclaimed. “Has the oyster opened his mouth and
brought forth a compliment?”

“Oh, be quiet,” commanded Dan, “I shan’t hear Diggs made fun of, and it’s
time to get back, anyway. Well, loveliest of lovely ladies, you must put on
your prettiest frock to-night.”

Virginia’s blush deepened. Did she like Dan so very much? thought Betty.

“But you mustn’t notice me, please,” she begged, “all the neighbours are
coming, and there are so many girls,--the Powells and the Harrisons and the
Dulaneys. I am going to wear pink, but you mustn’t notice it, you know.”

“That’s right,” said Jack Morson, “make him do his duty by the County, and
keep your dances for Diggs and me.”

“I’ve done my duty by you, sir,” was Dan’s prompt retort, “so I’ll begin to
do my pleasure by myself. Now I give you fair warning, Virginia, if you
don’t save the first reel for me, I’ll dance all the rest with Betty.”

“Then it will be a Betty of your own making,” declared Betty over her
shoulder, “for this Betty doesn’t dance a single step with you to-night, so
there, sir.”

“Your punishment be on your own head, rash woman,” said Dan, sternly, as he
took up his riding-whip. “I’ll dance with Peggy Harrison,” and he went out
to Prince Rupert, lifting his hat, as he mounted, to Miss Lydia, who stood
at her window above. A moment later they heard his horse’s hoofs ringing in
the drive, and his voice gayly whistling:--

  “They tell me thou’rt the favor’d guest.”

When the others joined him in the turnpike, the four voices took up the
air, and sent the pathetic melody fairly dancing across the snow.

  “Do I thus haste to hall and bower
    Among the proud and gay to shine?
  Or deck my hair with gem and flower
    To flatter other eyes than thine?
  Ah, no, with me love’s smiles are past;
  Thou hadst the first, thou hadst the last.”

The song ended in a burst of laughter, and up the white turnpike, beneath
the melting snow that rained down from the trees, they rode merrily back to
Chericoke.

In the carriage way they found the Major, wrapped in his broadcloth cape,
taking what he called a “breath of air.”

“Well, gentlemen, I hope you had a pleasant ride,” he remarked, following
them into the house. “You didn’t see your way to stop by Uplands, I
reckon?”

“That we did, sir,” said Diggs, who was never bashful with the Major. “In
fact, we made ourselves rather useful, I believe.”

“They’re charming young ladies over there, eh?” inquired the Major,
genially; and a little later when Dan and he were alone, he put the same
question to his grandson. “They’re delightful girls, are they not, my boy?”
 he ventured incautiously. “You have noticed, I dare say, how your
grandmother takes to Betty--and she’s not a woman of many fancies, is your
grandmother.”

“Oh, but Virginia!” exclaimed Dan, with enthusiasm. “I wish you could have
seen her in her red dress to-day. You don’t half realize what a thundering
beauty that girl is. Why, she positively took my breath away.”

The Major chuckled and rubbed his hands together.

“I don’t, eh?” he said, scenting a romance as an old war horse scents a
battle. “Well, well, maybe not; but I see where the wind blows anyway, and
you have my congratulations on either hand. I shan’t deny that we old folks
had a leaning to Betty; but youth is youth, and we shan’t oppose your
fancy. So I congratulate you, my boy, I congratulate you.”

“Ah, she wouldn’t look at me, sir,” declared Dan, feeling that the pace was
becoming a little too impetuous. “I only wish she would; but I’d as soon
expect the moon to drop from the skies.”

“Not look at you! Pooh, pooh!” protested the old gentleman, indignantly.
“Proper pride is not vanity, sir; and there’s never been a Lightfoot yet
that couldn’t catch a woman’s eye, if I do say it who should not. Pooh,
pooh! it isn’t a faint heart that wins the ladies.”

“I know you to be an authority, my dear grandpa,” admitted the young man,
lightly glancing into the gilt-framed mirror above the mantel. “If there’s
any of your blood in me, it makes for conquest.” From the glass he caught
the laughter in his eyes and turned it on his grandfather.

“It ill becomes me to rob the Lightfoots of one of their chief
distinctions,” said the Major, smiling in his turn. “We are not a proud
people, my boy; but we’ve always fought like men and made love like
gentlemen, and I hope that you will live up to your inheritance.”

Then, as his grandson ran upstairs to dress, he followed him as far as Mrs.
Lightfoot’s chamber, and informed her with a touch of pomposity: “That it
was Virginia, not Betty, after all. But we’ll make the best of it, my
dear,” he added cheerfully. “Either of the Ambler girls is a jewel of
priceless value.”

The little old lady received this flower of speech with more than ordinary
unconcern.

“Do you mean to tell me, Mr. Lightfoot, that the boy has begun already?”
 she demanded, in amazement.

“He doesn’t say so,” replied the Major, with a chuckle; “but I see what he
means--I see what he means. Why, he told me he wished I could have seen her
to-day in her red dress--and, bless my soul, I wish I could, ma’am.”

“I don’t see what good it would do you,” returned his wife, coolly. “But
did he have the face to tell you he was in love with the girl, Mr.
Lightfoot?”

“Have the face?” repeated the Major, testily. “Pray, why shouldn’t he have
the face, ma’am? Whom should he tell, I’d like to know, before he tells his
grandfather?” and with a final “pooh, pooh!” he returned angrily to his
library and to the _Richmond Whig_, a paper he breathlessly read and
mightily abused.

Dan, meanwhile, upstairs in his room with Champe, was busily sorting his
collection of neckwear.

“Look here, Champe, I’ll give you all these red ties, if you want them,” he
generously concluded. “I believe, after all, I’ll take to wearing white or
black ones again.”

“What?” asked Champe, in astonishment, turning on his heel. “Have the skies
fallen, or does Beau Montjoy forsake the fashions?”

“Confound the fashions!” retorted Dan, impatiently. “I don’t care a jot for
the fashions. You may have all these, if you choose,” and he tossed the
neckties upon the bed.

Champe picked up one and examined it with interest.

“O woman,” he murmured as he did so, “your hand is small but mighty.”



IV.

LOVE IN A MAZE


Despite Virginia’s endeavour to efface herself for her guests, she shone
unrivalled at the party, and Dan, who had held her hand for an ecstatic
moment under the mistletoe, felt, as he rode home in the moonlight
afterwards, that his head was fairly on fire with her beauty. She had been
sweetly candid and flatteringly impartial. He could not honestly assert
that she had danced with him oftener than with Morson, or a dozen others,
but he had a pleasant feeling that even when she shook her head and said,
“I cannot,” her soft eyes added for her, “though I really wish to.” There
was something almost pitiable, he told himself in the complacency with
which that self-satisfied ass Morson would come and take her from him. As
if he hadn’t sense enough to discover that it was merely because she was
his hostess that she went with him at all. But some men would never
understand women, though they lived to be a thousand, and got rejected once
a day.

Out in the moonlight, with the Governor’s wine singing in his blood, he
found that his emotions had a way of tripping lightly off his tongue. There
were hot words with Diggs, who hinted that Virginia was not the beauty of
the century, and threats of blows with Morson, who too boldly affirmed that
she was. In the end Champe rode between them, and sent Prince Rupert on his
way with a touch of the whip.

“For heaven’s sake, keep your twaddle to yourselves!” he exclaimed
impatiently, “or take my advice, and make for the nearest duck pond. You’ve
both gone over your depth in the Governor’s Madeira, and I advise you to
keep quiet until you’ve had your heads in a basin of ice water. There, get
out of my road, Morson. I can’t sit here freezing all night.”

“Do you dare to imply that I am drunk, sir?” demanded Morson, in a fury.
“Bear witness, gentlemen, that the insult was unprovoked.”

“Oh, insult be damned!” retorted Champe. “If you shake your fist at me
again, I’ll pitch you head over heels into that snowdrift.”

“Pitch whom, sir?” roared Morson, riding at the wall, when Diggs caught his
bridle and roughly dragged him back.

“Come, now, don’t make a beast of yourself,” he implored.

“Who’s a beast?” was promptly put by Morson; but leaving it unanswered,
Diggs wheeled his horse about and started up the turnpike. “You’ve let Beau
get out of sight,” he said. “We’d better catch up with him,” and he set off
at a gallop.

Dan, who had ridden on at Champe’s first words, did not even turn his head
when the three came abreast with him. The moonlight was in his eyes, and
the vision of Virginia floated before him at his saddle bow. He let the
reins fall loosely on Prince Rupert’s neck, and as the hoofs rang on the
frozen road, thrust his hands for warmth into his coat. In another dress,
with his dark hair blown backward in the wind, he might have been a
cavalier fresh from the service of his lady or his king, or riding
carelessly to his death for the sake of the drunken young Pretender.

But he was only following his dreams, and they hovered round Virginia,
catching their rosy glamour from her dress. In the cold night air he saw
her walking demurely through the lancers, her skirt held up above her satin
shoes, her coral necklace glowing deeper pink against her slim white
throat. Mistletoe and holly hung over her, and the light of the candles
shone brighter where her radiant figure passed. He caught the soft flash of
her shy brown eyes, he heard her gentle voice speaking trivial things with
profound tenderness. His hand still burned from the light pressure of her
finger tips. Oh, his day had come, he told himself, and he was furiously in
love at last.

As for going back to college, the very idea was absurd. At twenty years it
was quite time for him to settle down and keep open house like other men.
Virginia, in rose pink, flitted up the crooked stair and across the white
panels of the parlor, and with a leap, his heart went after her. He saw
Great-aunt Emmeline lean down from her faded canvas as if to toss her apple
at the young girl’s feet. Ah, poor old beauty, hanging in a gilded frame,
what was her century of dust to a bit of living flesh that had bright eyes
and was coloured like a flower?

When he was safely married he would have his wife’s portrait hung upon the
opposite wall, only he rather thought he should have the dogs in and let
her be Diana, with a spear instead of an apple in her hand. Two beauties in
one family--that was something to be proud of even in Virginia.

It was at this romantic point that Champe shattered his visions by shooting
a jest at him about the “love sick swain.”

“Oh, be off, and let a fellow think, won’t you?” he retorted angrily.

“Do you hear him call it thinking?” jeered Diggs, from the other side.

“He doesn’t call it mooning, oh, no,” scoffed Champe.

“Oh, there’s nothing half so sweet in life,” sang Morson, striking an
attitude that almost threw him off his horse.

“Shut up, Morson,” commanded Diggs, “you ought to be thankful if you had
enough sense left to moon with.”

“Sense, who wants sense?” inquired Morson, on the point of tears. “I have
heart, sir.”

“Then keep it bottled up,” rejoined Champe, coolly, as they turned into the
drive at Chericoke.

In Dan’s room they found Big Abel stretched before the fire asleep; and as
the young men came in, he sat up and rubbed his eyes.

“Hi! young Marsters, hit’s ter-morrow!” he exclaimed.

“To-morrow! I wish it were to-morrow,” responded Dan, cheerfully. “The fire
makes my head spin like a top. Here, come and pull off my coat, Big Abel,
or I’ll have to go to bed with my clothes on.”

Big Abel pulled off the coat and brushed it carefully; then he held out his
hand for Champe’s.

“I hope dis yer coat ain’ gwine lose hit’s set ‘fo’ hit gits ter me,” he
muttered as he hung them up. “Seems like you don’ teck no cyar yo’ clothes,
nohow, Marse Dan. I’se de wuss dress somebody dis yer side er de po’ w’ite
trash. Wat’s de use er bein’ de quality ef’n you ain’ got de close?”

“Stop grumbling, you fool you,” returned Dan, with his lordly air. “If it’s
my second best evening suit you’re after, you may take it; but I tell you
now, it’s the last thing you’re going to get out of me till summer.”

Big Abel took down the second best suit of clothes and examined them with
an interest they had never inspired before. “I d’clar you sutney does set
hard,” he remarked after a moment, and added, tentatively, “I dunno whar de
shuts gwine come f’om.”

“Not from me,” replied Dan, airily; “and now get out of here, for I’m going
to sleep.”

But when he threw himself upon his bed it was to toss with feverish
rose-coloured dreams until the daybreak.

His blood was still warm when he came down to breakfast; but he met his
grandfather’s genial jests with a boyish attempt at counter-buff.

“Oh, you needn’t twit me, sir,” he said with an embarrassed laugh; “to wear
the heart upon the sleeve is hereditary with us, you know.”

“Keep clear of the daws, my son, and it does no harm,” responded the Major.
“There’s nothing so becoming to a gentleman as a fine heart well worn, eh,
Molly?”

He carefully spread the butter upon his cakes, for his day of love-making
was over, and his eye could hold its twinkle while he watched Dan fidget in
his seat.

Mrs. Lightfoot promptly took up the challenge. “For my part I prefer one
under a buttoned coat,” she replied briskly; “but be careful, Mr.
Lightfoot, or you will put notions into the boys’ heads. They are at the
age when a man has a fancy a day and gets over it before he knows it.”

“They are at the age when I had my fancy for you, Molly,” gallantly
retorted the Major, “and I seem to be carrying it with me to my grave.”

“It would be a dull wit that would go roving from Aunt Molly,” said Champe,
affectionately; “but there aren’t many of her kind in the world.”

“I never found but one like her,” admitted the Major, “and I’ve seen a good
deal in my day, sir.”

The old lady listened with a smile, though she spoke in a severe voice.
“You mustn’t let them teach you how to flatter, Mr. Morson,” she said
warningly, as she filled the Major’s second cup of coffee--“Cupid, Mr.
Morson will have a partridge.”

“The man who sits at your table will never question your supremacy, dear
madam,” returned Jack Morson, as he helped himself to a bird. “There is
little merit in devotion to such bounty.”

“Shall I kick him, grandma?” demanded Dan. “He means that we love you
because you feed us, the sly scamp.”

Mrs. Lightfoot shook her head reprovingly. “Oh, I understand you, Mr.
Morson,” she said amiably, “and a compliment to my housekeeping never goes
amiss. If a woman has any talent, it will come out upon her table.”

“You’re right, Molly, you’re right,” agreed the Major, heartily. “I’ve
always held that there was nothing in a man who couldn’t make a speech or
in a woman who couldn’t set a table.”

Dan stirred restlessly in his chair, and at the first movement of Mrs.
Lightfoot he rose and went out into the hall. An hour later he ordered
Prince Rupert and started joyously to Uplands.

As he rode through the frosted air he pictured to himself a dozen different
ways in which it was possible that he might meet Virginia. Would she be
upon the portico or in the parlour? Was she still in pink or would she wear
the red gown of yesterday? When she gave him her hand would she smile as
she had smiled last night? or would she stand demurely grave with down
dropped lashes?

The truth was that she did none of the things he had half expected of her.
She was sitting before a log fire, surrounded by a group of Harrisons and
Powells, who had been prevailed upon to spend the night, and when he
entered she gave him a sleepy little nod from the corner of a rosewood
sofa. As she lay back in the firelight she was like a drowsy kitten that
had just awakened from a nap. Though less radiant, her beauty was more
appealing, and as she stared at him with her large eyes blinking, he wanted
to stoop down and rock her off to sleep. He regarded her calmly this
morning, for, with all his tenderness, she did not fire his brain, and the
glory of the vision had passed away. Half angrily he asked himself if he
were in love with a pink dress and nothing more?

An hour afterward he came noisily into the library at Chericoke and aroused
the Major from his Horace by stamping distractedly about the room.

“Oh, it’s all up with me, sir,” he began despondently. “I might as well go
out and hang myself. I don’t know what I want and yet I’m going mad because
I can’t get it.”

“Come, come,” said the Major, soothingly. “I’ve been through it myself,
sir, and since your grandmother’s out of earshot, I’d as well confess that
I’ve been through it more than once. Cheer up, cheer up, you aren’t the
first to dare the venture--_Vixere fortes ante Agamemnona_, you know.”

His assurance was hardly as comforting as he had intended it to be. “Oh, I
dare say, there’ve been fools enough before me,” returned Dan, impatiently,
as he flung himself out of the room.

He grew still more impatient when the day came for him to return to
college; and as they started out on horseback, with Zeke and Big Abel
riding behind their masters, he declared irritably that the whole system of
education was a nuisance, and that he “wished the ark had gone down with
all the ancient languages on board.”

“There would still be law,” suggested Morson, pleasantly. “So cheer up,
Beau, there’s something left for you to learn.”

Then, as they passed Uplands, they turned, with a single impulse, and
cantered up the broad drive to the portico. Betty and Virginia were in the
library; and as they heard the horses, they came running to the window and
threw it open.

“So you will come back in the summer--all of you,” said Virginia,
hopefully, and as she leaned out a white camellia fell from her bosom to
the snow beneath. In an instant Jack Morson was off his horse and the
flower was in his hand. “We’ll bring back all that we take away,” he
answered gallantly, his fair boyish face as red as Virginia’s.

Dan could have kicked him for the words, but he merely said savagely, “Have
you left your pocket handkerchief?” and turned Prince Rupert toward the
road. When he looked back from beneath the silver poplars, the girls were
still standing at the open window, the cold wind flushing their cheeks and
blowing the brown hair and the red together.

Virginia was the first to turn away. “Come in, you’ll take cold,” she said,
going to the fire. “Peggy Harrison never goes out when the wind blows, you
know, she says it’s dreadful for the complexion. Once when she had to come
back from town on a March day, she told me she wore six green veils. I
wonder if that’s the way she keeps her lovely colour?”

“Well, I wouldn’t be Peggy Harrison,” returned Betty, gayly, and she added
in the same tone, “so Mr. Morson got your camellia, after all, didn’t he?”

“Oh, he begged so hard with his eyes,” answered Virginia. “He had seen me
give Dan a white rose on Christmas Eve, you know, and he said it wasn’t
fair to be so unfair.”

“You gave Dan a white rose?” repeated Betty, slowly. Her face was pale, but
she was smiling brightly.

Virginia’s soft little laugh pealed out. “And it was your rose, too,
darling,” she said, nestling to Betty like a child. “You dropped it on the
stair and I picked it up. I was just going to take it to you because it
looked so lovely in your hair, when Dan came along and he would have it,
whether or no. But you don’t mind, do you, just a little bit of white
rosebud?” She put up her hand and stroked her sister’s cheek. “Men are so
silly, aren’t they?” she added with a sigh.

For a moment Betty looked down upon the brown head on her bosom; then she
stooped and kissed Virginia’s brow. “Oh, no, I don’t mind, dear,” she
answered, “and women are very silly, too, sometimes.”

She loosened Virginia’s arms and went slowly upstairs to her bedroom, where
Petunia was replenishing the fire. “You may go down, Petunia,” she said as
she entered. “I am going to put my things to rights, and I don’t want you
to bother me--go straight downstairs.”

“Is you gwine in yo’ chist er draws?” inquired Petunia, pausing upon the
threshold.

“Yes, I’m going into my chest of drawers, but you’re not,” retorted Betty,
sharply; and when Petunia had gone out and closed the door after her, she
pulled out her things and began to straighten rapidly, rolling up her
ribbons with shaking fingers, and carefully folding her clothes into
compact squares. Ever since her childhood she had always begun to work at
her chest of drawers when any sudden shock unnerved her. After a great
happiness she took up her trowel and dug among the flowers of the garden;
but when her heart was heavy within her, she shut her door and put her
clothes to rights.

Now, as she worked rapidly, the tears welled slowly to her lashes, but she
brushed them angrily away, and rolled up a sky-blue sash. She had worn the
sash at Chericoke on Christmas Eve, and as she looked at it, she felt, with
the keenness of pain, a thrill of her old girlish happiness. The figure of
Dan, as he stood upon the threshold with the powdering of snow upon his
hair, rose suddenly to her eyes, and she flinched before the careless
humour of his smile. It was her own fault, she told herself a little
bitterly, and because it was her own fault she could bear it as she should
have borne the joy. There was nothing to cry over, nothing even to regret;
she knew now that she loved him, and she was glad--glad even of this. If
the bitterness in her heart was but the taste of knowledge, she would not
let it go; she would keep both the knowledge and the bitterness.

In the next room Mammy Riah was rocking back and forth upon the hearth,
crooning to herself while she carded a lapful of wool. Her cracked old
voice, still with its plaintive sweetness, came faintly to the girl who
leaned her cheek upon the sky-blue sash and listened, half against her
will:--

  “Oh, we’ll all be done wid trouble, by en bye, little chillun,
    We’ll all be done wid trouble, by en bye.
  Oh, we’ll set en chatter wid de angels, by en bye, little chillun,
    We’ll set en chatter wid de angels, by en bye.”

The door opened and Virginia came softly into the room, and stopped short
at the sight of Betty.

“Why, your things were perfectly straight, Betty,” she exclaimed in
surprise. “I declare, you’ll be a real old maid.”

“Perhaps I shall,” replied Betty, indifferently; “but if I am, I’m going to
be a tidy one.”

“I never heard of one who wasn’t,” remarked Virginia, and added, “you’ve
put all your ribbons into the wrong drawer.”

“I like a change,” said Betty, folding up a muslin skirt.

  “Oh, we’ll slip en slide on de golden streets, by en bye,
         little chillun,
    We’ll slip en slide on de golden streets, by en bye,”

sang Mammy Riah, in the adjoining room.

“Aunt Lydia found six red pinks in bloom in her window garden,” observed
Virginia, cheerfully. “Why, where are you going, Betty?”

“Just for a walk,” answered Betty, as she put on her bonnet and cloak. “I’m
not afraid of the cold, you know, and I’m so tired sitting still,” and she
added, as she fastened her fur tippet, “I shan’t be long, dear.”

She opened the door, and Mammy Riah’s voice followed her across the hall
and down the broad staircase:--

  “Oh, we’ll ride on de milk w’ite ponies, by en bye, little chillun,
    We’ll ride on de milk w’ite ponies, by en bye.”

At the foot of the stair she called the dogs, and they came bounding
through the hall and leaped upon her as she crossed the portico. Then, as
she went down the drive and up the desolate turnpike, they ran ahead of her
with short, joyous barks.

The snow had melted and frozen again, and the long road was like a gray
river winding between leafless trees. The gaunt crows were still flying
back and forth over the meadows, but she did not have corn for them to-day.
Had she been happy, she would not have forgotten them; but the pain in her
breast made her selfish even about the crows.

With the dogs leaping round her, she pressed bravely against the wind,
flying breathlessly from the struggle at her heart. There was nothing to
cry over, she told herself again, nothing even to regret. It was her own
fault, and because it was her own fault she could bear it quietly as she
should have borne the joy.

She had reached the spot where he had lifted her upon the wall, and leaning
against the rough stones she looked southward to where the swelling meadows
dipped into the projecting line of hills. He was before her then, as he
always would be, and shrinking back, she put up her hand to shut out the
memory of his eyes. She could have hated that shallow gayety, she told
herself, but for the tenderness that lay beneath it--since jest as he might
at his own scars, when had he ever made mirth of another’s? Had she not
seen him fight the battles of free Levi? and when Aunt Rhody’s cabin was in
flames did he not bring out one of the negro babies in his coat? That
dare-devil courage which had first caught her girlish fancy, thrilled her
even to-day as the proof of an ennobling purpose. She remembered that he
had gone whistling into the burning cabin, and coming out again had coolly
taken up the broken air; and to her this inherent recklessness was clothed
with the sublimity of her own ideals.

The cold wind had stiffened her limbs, and she ran back into the road and
walked on rapidly. Beyond the whitened foldings of the mountains a deep red
glow was burning in the west, and she wanted to hold out her hands to it
for warmth. Her next thought was that a winter sunset soon died out, and as
she turned quickly to go homeward, she saw that she was before Aunt
Ailsey’s cabin, and that the little window was yellow from the light
within.

Aunt Ailsey had been dead for years, but the free negro Levi had moved into
her hut, and as Betty looked up she saw him standing beneath the blasted
oak, with a bundle of brushwood upon his shoulder. He was an honest-eyed,
grizzled-haired old negro, who wrung his meagre living from a blacksmith’s
trade, bearing alike the scornful pity of his white neighbours and the
withering contempt of his black ones. For twenty years he had moved from
spot to spot along the turnpike, and he had lived in the dignity of
loneliness since the day upon which his master had won for himself the
freedom of Eternity, leaving to his servant Levi the labour of his own
hands.

As the girl spoke to him he answered timidly, fingering the edge of his
ragged coat.

Yes, he had managed to keep warm through the winter, and he had worn the
red flannel that she had given him.

“And your rheumatism?” asked Betty, kindly.

He replied that it had been growing worse of late, and with a sympathetic
word the girl was passing by when some newer pathos in his solitary figure
stayed her feet, and she called back quickly, “Uncle Levi, were you ever
married?”

“Dar, now,” cried Uncle Levi, halting in the path while a gleam of the
wistful humour of his race leaped to his eyes. “Dar, now, is you ever hyern
de likes er dat? Mah’ed! Cose I’se mah’ed. I’se mah’ed quick’en Marse
Bolling. Ain’t you never hyern tell er Sarindy?”

“Sarindy?” repeated the girl, questioningly.

“Lawd, Lawd, Sarindy wuz a moughty likely nigger,” said Uncle Levi,
proudly; “she warn’ nuttin’ but a fiel’ han’, but she ‘uz a moughty
likely nigger.”

“And did she die?” asked Betty, in a whisper.

Uncle Levi rubbed his hands together, and shifted the brushwood upon his
shoulder.

“Who say Sarindy dead?” he demanded sternly, and added with a chuckle, “she
warn’ nuttin’ but a fiel’ han’, young miss, en I ‘uz Marse Bolling’s body
sarvent, so w’en dey sot me loose, dey des sol’ Sarindy up de river. Lawd,
Lawd, she warn’ nuttin’ but a fiel’ han’, but she ‘uz pow’ful likely.”

He went chuckling up the path, and Betty, with a glance at the fading
sunset, started briskly homeward. As she walked she was asking herself, in
a wonder greater than her own love or grief, if Uncle Levi really thought
it funny that they sold Sarindy up the river.



V

THE MAJOR LOSES HIS TEMPER


When Betty reached home the dark had fallen, and as she entered the house
she heard the crackling of fresh logs from the library, and saw her mother
sitting alone in the firelight, which flickered softly on her pearl-gray
silk and ruffles of delicate lace.

She was humming in a low voice one of the old Scotch ballads the Governor
loved, and as she rocked gently in her rosewood chair, her shadow flitted
to and fro upon the floor. One loose bell sleeve hung over the carved arm
of the rocker, and the fingers of her long white hand, so fragile that it
was like a flower, played silently upon the polished wood.

As the girl entered she looked up quickly. “You haven’t been wandering off
by yourself again?” she asked reproachfully.

“Oh, it is quite safe, mamma,” replied Betty, impatiently. “I didn’t meet a
soul except free Levi.”

“Your father wouldn’t like it, my dear,” returned Mrs. Ambler, in the tone
in which she might have said, “it is forbidden in the Scriptures,” and she
added after a moment, “but where is Petunia? You might, at least, take
Petunia with you.”

“Petunia is such a chatterbox,” said Betty, tossing her wraps upon a chair,
“and if she sees a cricket in the road she shrieks, ‘Gawd er live, Miss
Betty,’ and jumps on the other side of me. No, I can’t stand Petunia.”

She sat down upon an ottoman at her mother’s feet, and rested her chin in
her clasped hands.

“But did you never go walking in your life, mamma?” she questioned.

Mrs. Ambler looked a little startled. “Never alone, my dear,” she replied
with dignity. “Why, I shouldn’t have thought of such a thing. There was a
path to a little arbour in the glen at my old home, I remember,--I think it
was at least a quarter of a mile away,--and I sometimes strolled there with
your father; but there were a good many briers about, so I usually
preferred to stay on the lawn.”

Her voice was clear and sweet, but it had none of the humour which gave
piquancy to Betty’s. It might soothe, caress, even reprimand, but it could
never jest; for life to Mrs. Ambler was soft, yet serious, like a continued
prayer to a pleasant and tender Deity.

“I’m sure I don’t see how you stood it,” said Betty, sympathetically.

“Oh, I rode, my dear,” returned her mother. “I used to ride very often with
your father or--or one of the others. I had a brown mare named Zephyr.”

“And you never wanted to be alone, never for a single instant?”

“Alone?” repeated Mrs. Ambler, wonderingly, “why, of course I read my Bible
and meditated an hour every morning. In my youth it would have been
considered very unladylike not to do it, and I’m sure there’s no better way
of beginning the day than with a chapter in the Bible and a little
meditation. I wish you would try it, Betty.” Her eyes were upon her
daughter, and she added in an unchanged voice, “Don’t you think you might
manage to make your hair lie smoother, dear? It’s very pretty, I know; but
the way it curls about your face is just a bit untidy, isn’t it?”

Then, as the Governor came in from his day in town, she turned eagerly to
hear the news of his latest speech.

“Oh, I’ve had a great day, Julia,” began the Governor; but as he stooped to
kiss her, she gave a little cry of alarm. “Why, you’re frozen through!” she
exclaimed. “Betty, stir the fire, and make your father sit down by the
fender. Shall I mix you a toddy, Mr. Ambler?”

“Tut, tut!” protested the Governor, laughing, “a touch of the wind is good
for the blood, my dear.”

There was a light track of snow where he had crossed the room, and as he
rested his foot upon the brass knob of the fender, the ice clinging to his
riding-boot melted and ran down upon the hearth.

“Oh, I’ve had a great day,” he repeated heartily, holding his plump white
hands to the flames. “It was worth the trip to test the spirit of Virginia;
and it’s sound, Julia, as sound as steel. Why, when I said in my
speech--you’ll remember the place, my dear--that if it came to a choice
between slavery and the Union, we’d ship the negroes back to Africa, and
hold on to the flag, I was applauded to the echo, and it would have done
you good to hear the cheers.”

“I knew it would be so, Mr. Ambler,” returned his wife, with conviction.
“Even if they thought otherwise I was sure your speech would convince them.
Dr. Crump was talking to me only yesterday, and he said that he had heard
both Mr. Yancey and Mr. Douglas, and that neither of them--”

“I know, my love, I know,” interposed the Governor, waving his hand. “I
have myself heard the good doctor commit the same error of judgment. But,
remember, it is easy to convince a man who already thinks as you do; and
since the Major has gone over to the Democrats, the doctor has grown
Whiggish, you know.”

Mrs. Ambler flushed. “I’m sure I don’t see why you should deny that you
have a talent for oratory,” she said gravely. “I have sometimes thought it
was why I fell in love with you, you made such a beautiful speech the first
day I met you at the tournament in Leicesterburg. Fred Dulany crowned me,
you remember; and in your speech you brought in so many lovely things about
flowers and women.”

“Ah, Julia, Julia,” sighed the Governor, “so the sins of my youth are
rising to confound me,” and he added quickly to Betty, “Isn’t that some one
coming up the drive, daughter?”

Betty ran to the window and drew back the damask curtains. “It’s the Major,
papa,” she said, nodding to the old gentleman through the glass, “and he
does look so cold. Go out and bring him in, and don’t--please don’t talk
horrid politics to-night.”

“I’ll not, daughter, on my word, I’ll not,” declared the Governor, and he
wore the warning as a breastplate when he went out to meet his guest.

The Major, in his tight black broadcloth, entered, with his blandest smile,
and bowed over Mrs. Ambler’s hand.

“I saw your firelight as I was passing, dear madam,” he began, “and I
couldn’t go on without a glimpse of you, though I knew that Molly was
waiting for me at the end of three cold miles.”

He put his arm about Betty and drew her to him.

“You must borrow some of your sister’s blushes, my child,” he said; “it
isn’t right to grow pale at your age. I don’t like to see it,” and then, as
Virginia came shyly in, he held out his other hand, and accused her of
stealing his boy’s heart away from him. “But we old folks must give place
to the young,” he continued cheerfully; “it’s nature, and it’s human
nature, too.”

“It will be a dull day when you give place to any one else, Major,”
 returned the Governor, politely.

“And a far off one I trust,” added Mrs. Ambler, with her plaintive smile.

“Well, maybe so,” responded the Major, settling himself in an easy chair
beside the fire. “Any way, you can’t blame an old man for fighting for his
own, as my friend Harry Smith put it when he lost his leg in the War of
1812. ‘By God, it belongs to me,’ he roared to the surgeon, ‘and if it
comes off, I’ll take it off myself, sir.’ It took six men to hold him, and
when it was over all he said was, ‘Well, gentlemen, you mustn’t blame a man
for fighting for his own.’ Ah, he was a sad scamp, was Harry, a sad scamp.
He used to say that he didn’t know whether he preferred a battle or a
dinner, but he reckoned a battle was better for the blood. And to think
that he died in his bed at last like any Christian.”

“That reminds me of Dick Wythe, who never needed any tonic but a fight,”
 returned the Governor, thoughtfully. “You remember Dick, don’t you,
Major?--a hard drinker, poor fellow, but handsome enough to have stepped
out of Homer. I’ve been sitting by him at the post-office on a spring day,
and seen him get up and slap a passer-by on the face as coolly as he’d take
his toddy. Of course the man would slap back again, and when it was over
Dick would make his politest bow, and say pleasantly, ‘Thank you, sir, I
felt a touch of the gout.’ He told me once that if it was only a twinge, he
chose a man of his own size; but if it was a positive wrench, he struck out
at the biggest he could find.”

The Major leaned back, laughing. “That was Dick, sir, that was Dick!” he
exclaimed, “and it was his father before him. Why, I’ve had my own blows
with Taylor Wythe in his day, and never a hard word afterward, never a
word.” Then his face clouded. “I saw Dick’s brother Tom in town this
morning,” he added. “A sneaking fellow, who hasn’t the spirit in his whole
body that was in his father’s little finger. Why, what do you suppose he
had the impudence to tell me, sir? Some one had asked him, he said, what he
should do if Virginia went to war, and he had answered that he’d stay at
home and build an asylum for the fools that brought it on.” He turned his
indignant face upon Mrs. Ambler, and she put in a modest word of sympathy.

“You mustn’t judge Tom by his jests, sir,” rejoined the Governor,
persuasively. “His wit takes with the town folks, you know, and I hear that
he’s becoming famous as a post-office orator.”

“There it is, sir, there it is,” retorted the Major. “I’ve always said that
the post-offices were the ruin of this country--and that proves my words.
Why, if there were no post-offices, there’d be fewer newspapers; and if
there were fewer newspapers, there wouldn’t be the _Richmond Whig_.”

The Governor’s glance wandered to his writing table.

“Then I should never see my views in print, Major,” he added, smiling; and
a moment afterward, disregarding Mrs. Ambler’s warning gestures, he plunged
headlong into a discussion of political conditions.

As he talked the Major sat trembling in his chair, his stern face flushing
from red to purple, and the heavy veins upon his forehead standing out like
cords. “Vote for Douglas, sir!” he cried at last. “Vote for the biggest
traitor that has gone scot free since Arnold! Why, I’d sooner go over to
the arch-fiend himself and vote for Seward.”

“I’m not sure that you won’t go farther and fare worse,” replied the
Governor, gravely. “You know me for a loyal Whig, sir, but I tell you
frankly, that I believe Douglas to be the man to save the South. Cast him
off, and you cast off your remaining hope.”

“Tush, tush!” retorted the Major, hotly. “I tell you I wouldn’t vote to
have Douglas President of Perdition, sir. Don’t talk to me about your
loyalty, Peyton Ambler, you’re mad--you’re all mad! I honestly believe that
I am the only sane man in the state.”

The Governor had risen from his chair and was walking nervously about the
room. His eyes were dim, and his face was pallid with emotion.

“My God, sir, don’t you see where you are drifting?” he cried, stretching
out an appealing hand to the angry old gentleman in the easy chair.

“Drifting! Pooh, pooh!” protested the Major, “at least I am not drifting
into a nest of traitors, sir.”

And with his wrath hot within he rose to take his leave, very red and
stormy, but retaining the presence of mind to assure Mrs. Ambler that the
glimpse of her fireside would send him rejoicing upon his way.

Such burning topics went like strong wine to his head, and like strong wine
left a craving which always carried him back to them in the end. He would
quarrel with the Governor, and make his peace, and at the next meeting
quarrel, without peace-making, again.

“Don’t, oh, please don’t talk horrid politics, papa,” Betty would implore,
when she saw the nose of his dapple mare turn into the drive between the
silver poplars.

“I’ll not, daughter, I give you my word I’ll not,” the Governor would
answer, and for a time the conversation would jog easily along the well
worn roads of county changes and by the green graves of many a long dead
jovial neighbour. While the red logs spluttered on the hearth, they would
sip their glasses of Madeira and amicably weigh the dust of “my friend Dick
Wythe--a fine fellow, in spite of his little weakness.”

But in the end the live question would rear its head and come hissing from
among the quiet graves; and Dick Wythe, who loved his fight, or Plaintain
Dudley, in his ruffled shirt, would fall back suddenly to make way for the
wrangling figures of the slaveholder and the abolitionist.

“I can’t help it, Betty, I can’t help it,” the Governor would declare, when
he came back from following the old gentleman to the drive; “did you see
Mr. Yancey step out of Dick Wythe’s dry bones to-day? Poor Dick, an honest
fellow who loved no man’s quarrel but his own; it’s too bad, I declare it’s
too bad.” And the next day he would send Betty over to Chericoke to stroke
down the Major’s temper. “Slippery are the paths of the peacemaker,” the
girl laughed one morning, when she had ridden home after an hour of
persuasion. “I go on tip-toe because of your indiscretions, papa. You
really must learn to control yourself, the Major says.”

“Control myself!” repeated the Governor, laughing, though he looked a
little vexed. “If I hadn’t the control of a stoic, daughter, to say nothing
of the patience of Job, do you think I’d be able to listen calmly to his
tirades? Why, he wants to pull the Government to pieces for his pleasure,”
 then he pinched her cheek and added, smiling, “Oh, you sly puss, why don’t
you play your pranks upon one of your own age?”

Through the long winter many visits were exchanged between Uplands and
Chericoke, and once, on a mild February morning, Mrs. Lightfoot drove over
in her old coach, with her knitting and her handmaid Mitty, to spend the
day. She took Betty back with her, and the girl stayed a week in the queer
old house, where the elm boughs tapped upon her window as she slept, and
the shadows on the crooked staircase frightened her when she went up and
down at night. It seemed to her that the presence of Jane Lightfoot still
haunted the home that she had left. When the snow fell on the roof and the
wind beat against the panes, she would open her door and look out into the
long dim halls, as if she half expected to see a girlish figure in a muslin
gown steal softly to the stair.

Dan was less with her in that stormy week than was the memory of his
mother; even Great-aunt Emmeline, whose motto was written on the ivied
glass, grew faint beside the outcast daughter of whom but one pale
miniature remained. Before Betty went back to Uplands she had grown to know
Jane Lightfoot as she knew herself.

When the spring came she took up her trowel and followed Aunt Lydia into
the garden. On bright mornings the two would work side by side among the
flowers, kneeling in a row with the small darkies who came to their
assistance. Peter, the gardener, would watch them lazily, as he leaned upon
his hoe, and mutter beneath his breath, “Dat dut wuz dut, en de dut er de
flow’r baids warn’ no better’n de dut er de co’n fiel’.”

Betty would laugh and shake her head as she planted her square of pansies.
She was working feverishly to overcome her longing for the sight of Dan,
and her growing dread of his return.

But at last on a sunny morning, when the lilacs made a lane of purple to
the road, the Major drove over with the news that “the boys would not be
back again till autumn. They’ll go abroad for the summer,” he added
proudly. “It’s time they were seeing something of the world, you know. I’ve
always said that a man should see the world before thirty, if he wants to
stay at home after forty,” then he smiled down on Virginia, and pinched her
cheek. “It won’t hurt Dan, my dear,” he said cheerfully. “Let him get a
glimpse of artificial flowers, that he may learn the value of our own
beauties.”

“Of Great-aunt Emmeline, you mean, sir,” replied Virginia, laughing.

“Oh, yes, my child,” chuckled the Major. “Let him learn the value of
Great-aunt Emmeline, by all means.”

When the old gentleman had gone, Betty went into the garden, where the
grass was powdered with small spring flowers, and gathered a bunch of white
violets for her mother. Aunt Lydia was walking slowly up and down in the
mild sunshine, and her long black shadow passed over the girl as she knelt
in the narrow grass-grown path. A slender spray of syringa drooped down
upon her head, and the warm wind was sweet with the heavy perfume of the
lilacs. On the whitewashed fence a catbird was calling over the meadow, and
another answered from the little bricked-up graveyard, where the gate was
opened only when a fresh grave was to be hollowed out amid the periwinkle.

As Betty knelt there, something in the warm wind, the heavy perfume, or the
old lady’s flitting shadow touched her with a sudden melancholy, and while
the tears lay upon her lashes, she started quickly to her feet and looked
about her. But a great peace was in the air, and around her she saw only
the garden wrapped in sunshine, the small spring flowers in bloom, and Aunt
Lydia moving up and down in the box-bordered walk.



VI

THE MEETING IN THE TURNPIKE


On a late September afternoon Dan rode leisurely homeward along the
turnpike. He had reached New York some days before, but instead of hurrying
on with Champe, he had sent a careless apology to his expectant
grandparents while he waited over to look up a missing trunk.

“Oh, what difference does a day make?” he had urged in reply to Champe’s
remonstrances, “and after going all the way to Paris, I can’t afford to
lose my clothes, you know. I’m not a Leander, my boy, and there’s no Hero
awaiting me. You can’t expect a fellow to sacrifice the proprieties for
his grandmother.”

“Well, I’m going, that’s all,” rejoined Champe, and Dan heartily responded,
“God be with you,” as he shook his hand.

Now, as he rode slowly up the turnpike on a hired horse, he was beginning
to regret, with an impatient self-reproach, the three tiresome days he had
stolen from his grandfather’s delight. It was characteristic of him at the
age of twenty-one that he began to regret what appeared to be a pleasure
only after it had proved to be a disappointment. Had the New York days been
gay instead of dull, it is probable that he would have ridden home with an
easy conscience and a lordly belief that there was something generous in
the spirit of his coming back at all.

A damp wind was blowing straight along the turnpike, and the autumn fields,
brilliant with golden-rod and sumach, stretched under a sky which had
clouded over so suddenly that the last rays of sun were still shining upon
the mountains.

He had left Uplands a mile behind, throwing, as he passed, a wistful glance
between the silver poplars. A pink dress had fluttered for an instant
beyond the Doric columns, and he had wondered idly if it meant Virginia,
and if she were still the pretty little simpleton of six months ago. At the
thought of her he threw back his head and whistled gayly into the
threatening sky, so gayly that a bluebird flying across the road hovered
round him in the air. The joy of living possessed him at the moment, a mere
physical delight in the circulation of his blood, in the healthy beating of
his pulses. Old things which he had half forgotten appealed to him suddenly
with all the force of fresh impressions. The beauty of the September
fields, the long curve in the white road where the tuft of cedars grew, the
falling valley which went down between the hills, stood out for him as if
bathed in a new and tender light. The youth in him was looking through his
eyes.

And the thought of Virginia went merrily with his mood. What a pretty
little simpleton she was, by George, and what a dull world this would be
were it not for the pretty simpletons in pink dresses! Why, in that case
one might as well sit in a library and read Horace and wear red flannel.
One might as well--a drop of rain fell in his face and he lowered his head.
When he did so he saw that Betty was coming along the turnpike, and that
she wore a dress of blue dimity.

In a flash of light his first wonder was that he should ever have preferred
pink to blue; his second that a girl in a dimity gown and a white chip
bonnet should be fleeing from a storm along the turnpike. As he jumped from
his horse he faced her a little anxiously.

“There’s a hard shower coming, and you’ll be wet,” he said.

“And my bonnet!” cried Betty, breathlessly. She untied the blue strings and
swung them over her arm. There was a flush in her cheeks, and as he drew
nearer she fell back quickly.

“You--you came so suddenly,” she stammered.

He laughed aloud. “Doesn’t the Prince always come suddenly?” he asked. “You
are like the wandering princess in the fairy tale--all in blue upon a
lonely road; but this isn’t just the place for loitering, you know. Come up
behind me and I’ll carry you to shelter in Aunt Ailsey’s cabin; it isn’t
the first time I’ve run away, with you, remember.” He lifted her upon the
horse, and started at a gallop up the turnpike. “I’m afraid the steed
doesn’t take the romantic view,” he went on lightly. “There, get up,
Barebones, the lady doesn’t want to wet her bonnet. Lean against me, Betty,
and I’ll try to shelter you.”

But the rain was in their faces, and Betty shut her eyes to keep out the
hard bright drops. As she clung with both hands to his arm, her wet cheek
was hidden against his coat, and the blue ribbons on her breast were blown
round them in the wind. It was as if one of her dreams had awakened from
sleep and come boldly out into the daylight; and because it was like a
dream she trembled and was half ashamed of its reality.

“Here we are!” he exclaimed, in a moment, as he turned the horse round the
blasted tree into the little path amid the vegetables. “If you are soaked
through, we might as well go on; but if you’re half dry, build a fire and
get warm.” He put her down upon the square stone before the doorway, and
slipping the reins over the branch of a young willow tree, followed her
into the cabin. “Why, you’re hardly damp,” he said, with his hand on her
arm. “I got the worst of it.”

He crossed over to the great open fireplace, and kneeling upon the hearth
raked a hollow in the old ashes; then he kindled a blaze from a pile of
lightwood knots, and stood up brushing his hands together. “Sit down and
get warm,” he said hospitably. “If I may take upon myself to do the duties
of free Levi’s castle, I should even invite you to make yourself at home.”
 With a laugh he glanced about the bare little room,--at the uncovered
rafters, the rough log walls, and the empty cupboard with its swinging
doors. In one corner there was a pallet hidden by a ragged patchwork quilt,
and facing it a small pine table upon which stood an ash-cake ready for the
embers.

The laughter was still in his eyes when he looked at Betty. “Now where’s
the sense of going walking in the rain?” he demanded.

“I didn’t,” replied Betty, quickly. “It was clear when I started, and the
clouds came up before I knew it. I had been across the fields to the woods,
and I was coming home along the turnpike.” She loosened her hair, and
kneeling upon the smooth stones, dried it before the flames. As she shook
the curling ends a sparkling shower of rain drops was scattered over Dan.

“Well, I don’t see much sense in that,” he returned slowly, with his gaze
upon her.

She laughed and held out her moist hands to the fire. “Well, there was more
than you see,” she responded pleasantly, and added, while she smiled at him
with narrowed eyes, “dear me, you’ve grown so much older.”

“And you’ve grown so much prettier,” he retorted boldly.

A flush crossed her face, and her look grew a little wistful. “The rain has
bewitched you,” she said.

“You may call me a fool if you like,” he pursued, as if she had not spoken,
“but I did not know until to-day that you had the most beautiful hair in
the world. Why, it is always sunshine about you.” He put out his hand to
touch a loose curl that hung upon her shoulder, then drew it quickly back.
“I don’t suppose I might,” he asked humbly.

Betty gathered up her hair with shaking hands, which gleamed white in the
firelight, and carelessly twisted it about her head.

“It is not nearly so pretty as Virginia’s,” she said in a low voice.

“Virginia’s? Oh, nonsense!” he exclaimed, and walked rapidly up and down
the room.

Beyond the open door the rain fell heavily; he heard it beating softly on
the roof and dripping down upon the smooth square stone before the
threshold. A red maple leaf was washed in from the path and lay a wet bit
of colour upon the floor. “I wonder where old man Levi is?” he said
suddenly.

“In the rain, I’m afraid,” Betty answered, “and he has rheumatism, too; he
was laid up for three months last winter.”

She spoke quietly, but she was conscious of a quiver from head to foot, as
if a strong wind had swept over her. Through the doorway she saw the young
willow tree trembling in the storm and felt curiously akin to it.

Dan came slowly back to the hearth, and leaning against the crumbling
mortar of the chimney, looked thoughtfully down upon her. “Do you know what
I thought of when I saw you with your hair down, Betty?”

She shook her head, smiling.

“I don’t suppose I’d thought of it for years,” he went on quickly; “but
when you took your hair down, and looked up at me so small and white, it
all came back to me as if it were yesterday. I remembered the night I first
came along this road--God-forsaken little chap that I was--and saw you
standing out there in your nightgown--with your little cold bare feet. The
moonlight was full upon you, and I thought you were a ghost. At first I
wanted to run away; but you spoke, and I stood still and listened. I
remember what it was, Betty.--‘Mr. Devil, I’m going in,’ you said. Did you
take me for the devil, I wonder?”

She smiled up at him, and he saw her kind eyes fill with tears. The
wavering smile only deepened the peculiar tenderness of her look.

“I had been sitting in the briers for an hour,” he resumed, after a moment;
“it was a day and night since I had eaten a bit of bread, and I had been
digging up sassafras roots with my bare fingers. I remember that I rooted
at one for nearly an hour, and found that it was sumach, after all. Then I
got up and went on again, and there you were standing in the moonlight--”
 He broke off, hesitated an instant, and added with the gallant indiscretion
of youth, “By George, that ought to have made a man of me!”

“And you are a man,” said Betty.

“A man!” he appeared to snap his fingers at the thought. “I am a
weather-vane, a leaf in the wind, a--an ass. I haven’t known my own mind
ten minutes during the last two years, and the only thing I’ve ever gone
honestly about is my own pleasure. Oh, yes, I have the courage of my
inclinations, I admit.”

“But I don’t understand--what does it mean?--I don’t understand,” faltered
Betty, vaguely troubled by his mood.

“Mean? Why, it means that I’ve been ruined, and it’s too late to mend me.
I’m no better than a pampered poodle dog. It means that I’ve gotten
everything I wanted, until I begin to fancy there’s nothing under heaven I
can’t get.” Then, in one of his quick changes of temper, his face cleared
with a burst of honest laughter.

She grew merry instantly, and as she smiled up at him, he saw her eyes like
rays of hazel light between her lashes. “Has the black crow gone?” she
asked. “Do you know when I have a gray day Mammy calls it the black crow
flying by. As long as his shadow is over you, there’s always a gloom at the
brain, she says. Has he quite gone by?”

“Oh, he flew by quickly,” he answered, laughing, “he didn’t even stay to
flap his wings.” Then he became suddenly grave. “I wonder what kind of a
man you’ll fall in love with, Betty?” he said abruptly.

She drew back startled, and her eyes reminded him of those of a frightened
wild thing he had come upon in the spring woods one day. As she shrank from
him in her dim blue dress, her hair fell from its coil and lay like a gold
bar across her bosom, which fluttered softly with her quickened breath.

“I? Why, how can I tell?” she asked.

“He’ll not be black and ugly, I dare say?”

She shook her head, regaining her composure.

“Oh, no, fair and beautiful,” she answered.

“Ah, as unlike me as day from night?”

“As day from night,” she echoed, and went on after a moment, her girlish
visions shining in her eyes:--

“He will be a man, at least,” she said slowly, “a man with a faith to fight
for--to live for--to make him noble. He may be a beggar by the roadside,
but he will be a beggar with dreams. He will be forever travelling to some
great end--some clear purpose.” The last words came so faintly that he bent
nearer to hear. A deep flush swept to her forehead, and she turned from him
to the fire. These were things that she had hidden even from Virginia.

But as he looked steadily down upon her, something of her own pure fervour
was in his face. Her vivid beauty rose like a flame to his eyes, and for a
single instant it seemed to him that he had never looked upon a woman until
to-day.

“So you would sit with him in the dust of the roadside?” he asked, smiling.

“But the dust is beautiful when the sun shines on it,” answered the girl;
“and on wet days we should go into the pine woods, and on fair ones rest in
the open meadows; and we should sing with the robins, and make friends with
the little foxes.”

He laughed softly. “Ah, Betty, Betty, I know you now for a dreamer of
dreams. With all your pudding-mixing and your potato-planting you are
moon-mad like the rest of us.”

She made a disdainful little gesture. “Why, I never planted a potato in my
life.”

“Don’t scoff, dear lady,” he returned warningly; “too great literalness is
the sin of womankind, you know.”

“But I don’t care in the least for vegetable-growing,” she persisted
seriously.

The humour twinkled in his eyes. “Thriftless woman, would you prefer to
beg?”

“When the Major rode by,” laughed Betty; “but when I heard you coming, I’d
lie hidden among the briers, and I’d scatter signs for other gypsies that
read, ‘Beware the Montjoy.’”

His face darkened and he frowned. “So it’s the Montjoy you’re afraid of,”
 he rejoined gloomily. “I’m not all Lightfoot, though I’m apt to forget it;
the Montjoy blood is there, all the same, and it isn’t good blood.”

“Your blood is good,” said Betty, warmly.

He laughed again and met her eyes with a look of whimsical tenderness.
“Make me your beggar, Betty,” he prayed, smiling.

“You a beggar!” She shook a scornful head. “I can shut my eyes and see your
fortune, sir, and it doesn’t lie upon the roadside. I see a well-fed
country gentleman who rises late to breakfast and storms when the birds are
overdone, who drinks his two cups of coffee and eats syrup upon his
cakes--”

“O pleasant prophetess!” he threw in.

“I look and see him riding over the rich fields in the early morning,
watching from horseback the planting and the growing and the ripening of
the corn. He has a dozen servants to fetch the whip he drops, and a dozen
others to hold his bridle when he pleases to dismount; the dogs leap round
him in the drive, and he brushes away the one that licks his face. I see
him grow stout and red-faced as he reads a dull Latin volume beside his
bottle of old port--there’s your fortune, sir, the silver, if you please.”
 She finished in a whining voice, and rose to drop a courtesy.

“On my word, you’re a witch, Betty,” he exclaimed, laughing, “a regular
witch on a broomstick.”

“Does the likeness flatter you? Shall I touch it up a bit? Just a dash more
of red in the face?”

“Well, I reckon it’s true as prophecy ever was,” he said easily. “It isn’t
likely that I’ll ever be a beggar, despite your kindly wishes for my soul’s
welfare; and, on the whole, I think I’d rather not. When all’s said and
done, I’d rather own my servants and my cultivated acres, and come down
late to hot cakes than sit in the dust by the roadside and eat sour grapes.
It may not be so good for the soul, but it’s vastly more comfortable; and
I’m not sure that a fat soul in a lean body is the best of life, Betty.”

“At least it doesn’t give one gout,” retorted Betty, mercilessly, adding as
she went to the door: “but the rain is holding up, and I must be going.
I’ll borrow your horse, if you please, Dan.” She tied on her flattened
bonnet, and with her foot on the threshold, stood looking across the wet
fields, where each spear of grass pieced a string of shining rain drops.
Over the mountains the clouds tossed in broken masses, and loose streamers
of vapour drifted down into the lower foldings of the hills. The cool smell
of the moist road came to her on the wind.

Dan unfastened the reins from the young willow, and led the horse to the
stone at the entrance. Then he threw his coat over the dampened saddle and
lifted Betty upon it. “Pooh! I’m as tough as a pine knot.” He scoffed at
her protests. “There, sit steady; I’d better hold you on, I suppose.”

Slipping the reins loosely over his arm, he laid his hand upon the blue
folds of her skirt. “If you feel yourself going, just catch my shoulder,”
 he added; “and now we’re off.”

They left the little path and went slowly down the turnpike, under the
dripping trees. Across the fields a bird was singing after the storm, and
the notes were as fresh as the smell of the rain-washed earth. A fuller
splendour seemed to have deepened suddenly upon the meadows, and the
golden-rod ran in streams of fire across the landscape.

“Everything looks so changed,” said Betty, wistfully; “are you sure that we
are still in the same world, Dan?”

“Sure?” he looked up at her gayly. “I’m sure of but one thing in this life,
Betty, and that is that you should thank your stars you met me.”

“I don’t doubt that I should have gotten home somehow,” responded Betty,
ungratefully, “so don’t flatter yourself that you have saved even my
bonnet.” From its blue-lined shadow she smiled brightly down upon him.

“Well, all the same, I dare to be grateful,” he rejoined. “Even if you
haven’t saved my hat,--and I can’t honestly convince myself that you
have,--I thank my stars I met you, Betty.” He threw back his head and sang
softly to himself as they went on under the scudding clouds.



VII

IF THIS BE LOVE


An hour later, Cephas, son of Cupid, gathering his basketful of chips at
the woodpile, beheld his young master approaching by the branch road, and
started shrieking for the house. “Hi! hit’s Marse Dan! hit’s Marse Dan!” he
yelled to his father Cupid in the pantry; “I seed ‘im fu’st! Fo’ de Lawd, I
seed ‘im fu’st!” and the Major, hearing the words, appeared instantly at
the door of his library.

“It’s the boy,” he called excitedly. “Bless my soul, Molly, the boy has
come!”

The old lady came hurriedly downstairs, pinning on her muslin cap, and by
the time Dan had dismounted at the steps the whole household was assembled
to receive him.

“Well, well, my boy,” exclaimed the Major, moving nervously about, “this is
a surprise, indeed. We didn’t look for you until next week. Well, well.”

He turned away to wipe his eyes, while Dan caught his grandmother in his
arms and kissed her a dozen times. The joy of these simple souls touched
him with a new tenderness; he felt unworthy of his grandmother’s kisses and
the Major’s tears. Why had he stayed away when his coming meant so much?
What was there in all the world worth the closer knitting of these strong
blood ties?

“By George, but I’m glad to get here,” he said heartily. “There’s nothing
I’ve seen across the water that comes up to being home again; and the sight
of your faces is better than the wonders of the world, I declare. Ah,
Cupid, old man, I’m glad to see you. And Aunt Rhody and Congo, how are you
all? Why, where’s Big Abel? Don’t tell me he isn’t here to welcome me.”

“Hyer I is, young Marster, hyer I is,” cried Big Abel, stretching out his
hand over Congo’s head, and “Hyer I is, too,” shouted Cephas from behind
him. “I seed you fu’st, fo’ de Lawd, I seed you fu’st!”

They gathered eagerly round him, and with a laugh, and a word for one and
all, he caught the outstretched hands, scattering his favours like a young
Jove. “Yes, I’ve remembered you--there, don’t smother me. Did you think I’d
dare to show my face, Aunt Rhody, without the gayest neckerchief in Europe?
Why, I waited over in New York just to see that it was safe. Oh, don’t
smother me, I say.” The dogs came bounding in, and he greeted them with
much the same affectionate condescension, caressing them as they sprang
upon him, and pushing away the one that licked his face. When the overseer
ran in hastily to shake his hand, there was no visible change in his
manner. He greeted black and white with a courtesy which marked the social
line, with an affability which had a touch of the august. Had the gulf
between them been less impassable, he would not have dared the hearty
handshake, the genial word, the pat upon the head--these were a tribute
which he paid to the very humble.

When the servants had streamed chattering out through the back door, he put
his arms about the old people and led them into the library. “Why, what’s
become of Champe?” he inquired, glancing complacently round the book-lined
walls.

“Ah, you mustn’t expect to see anything of Champe these days,” replied the
Major, waiting for Mrs. Lightfoot to be seated before he drew up his chair.
“His heart’s gone roving, I tell him, and he follows mighty closely after
it. If you don’t find him at Uplands, you’ve only to inquire at Powell
Hall.”

“Uplands!” exclaimed Dan, hearing the one word. “What is he doing at
Uplands?”

The Major chuckled as he settled himself in his easy chair and stretched
out his slippered feet. “Well, I should say that he was doing a very
commendable thing, eh, Molly?” he rejoined jokingly.

“He’s losing his head, if that’s what you mean,” retorted the old lady.

“Not his head, but his heart, my dear,” blandly corrected the Major, “and I
repeat that it is a very commendable thing to do--why, where would you be
to-day, madam, if I hadn’t fallen in love with you?”

Mrs. Lightfoot sniffed as she unwound her knitting. “I don’t doubt that I
should be quite as well off, Mr. Lightfoot,” she replied convincingly.

“Ah, maybe so, maybe so,” admitted the Major, with a sigh; “but I’m very
sure that I shouldn’t be, my dear.”

The old lady softened visibly, but she only remarked:--

“I’m glad that you have found it out, sir,” and clicked her needles.

Dan, who had been wandering aimlessly about the room, threw himself into a
chair beside his grandmother and caught at her ball of yarn.

“It’s Virginia, I suppose,” he suggested.

The Major laughed until his spectacles clouded.

“Virginia!” he gasped, wiping the glasses upon his white silk handkerchief.
“Listen to the boy, Molly, he believes every last one of us--myself to
boot, I reckon--to be in love with Miss Virginia.”

“If he does, he believes as many men have done before him,” interposed Mrs.
Lightfoot, with a homely philosophy.

“Well, isn’t it Virginia?” asked Dan.

“I tell you frankly,” pursued the Major, in a confidential voice, “that if
you want a rival with Virginia, you’ll be apt to find a stout one in Jack
Morson. He was back a week ago, and he’s a fine fellow--a first-rate
fellow. I declare, he came over here one evening and I couldn’t begin a
single quotation from Horace that he didn’t know the end of it. On my word,
he’s not only a fine fellow, but a cultured gentleman. You may remember,
sir, that I have always maintained that the two most refining influences
upon the manners were to be found in the society of ladies and a knowledge
of the Latin language.”

Dan gave the yarn an impatient jerk. “Tell me, grandma,” he besought her.

As was her custom, the old lady came quickly to the point and appeared to
transfix the question with the end of her knitting-needle. “I really think
that it is Betty, my child,” she answered calmly.

“What does he mean by falling in love with Betty?” demanded Dan, while he
rose to his feet, and the ball of yarn fell upon the floor.

“Don’t ask me what he means, sir,” protested the Major. “If a man in love
has any meaning in him, it takes a man in love to find it out. Maybe you’ll
be better at it than I am; but I give it up--I give it up.”

With a gloomy face Dan sat down again, and resting his arms on his knees,
stared at the vase of golden-rod between the tall brass andirons. Cupid
came in to light the lamps, and stopped to inquire if Mrs. Lightfoot would
like a blaze to be started in the fireplace. “It’s a little chilly, my
dear,” remarked the Major, slapping his arm. “There’s been a sharp change
in the weather;” and Cupid removed the vase of golden-rod and laid an
armful of sticks crosswise on the andirons.

“Draw up to the hearth, my boy,” said the Major, when the fire burned.
“Even if you aren’t cold, it looks cheerful, you know--draw up, draw up,”
 and he at once began to question his grandson about the London streets,
evoking as he talked dim memories of his own early days in England. He
asked after St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey half as if they were personal
friends of whose death he feared to hear; and upon being answered that they
still stood unchanged, he pressed eagerly for the gossip of the Strand and
Fleet Street. Was Dr. Johnson’s coffee-house still standing? and did Dan
remember to look up the haunts of Mr. Addison in his youth? “I’ve gotten a
good deal out of Champe,” he confessed, “but I like to hear it again--I
like to hear it. Why, it takes me back forty years, and makes me younger.”

And when Champe came in from his ride, he found the old gentleman upon the
hearth-rug, his white hair tossing over his brow, as he recited from Mr.
Addison with the zest of a schoolboy of a hundred years ago.

“Hello, Beau! I hope you got your clothes,” was Champe’s greeting, as he
shook his cousin’s hand.

“Oh, they turned up all right,” said Dan, carelessly, “and, by-the-way,
there was an India shawl for grandma in that very trunk.”

Champe crossed to the fireplace and stood fingering one of the tall vases.
“It’s a pity you didn’t stop by Uplands,” he observed. “You’d have found
Virginia more blooming than ever.”

“Ah, is that so?” returned Dan, flushing, and a moment afterward he added
with an effort, “I met Betty in the turnpike, you know.”

Six months ago, he remembered, he had raved out his passion for Virginia,
and to-day he could barely stammer Betty’s name. A great silence; seemed to
surround the thought of her.

“So she told me,” replied Champe, looking steadily at Dan. For a moment he
seemed about to speak again; then changing his mind, he left the room with
a casual remark about dressing for supper.

“I’ll go, too,” said Dan, rising from his seat. “If you’ll believe me, I
haven’t spoken to my old love, Aunt Emmeline. So proud a beauty is not to
be treated with neglect.”

He lighted one of the tall candles upon the mantel-piece, and taking it in
his hand, crossed the hall and went into the panelled parlour, where
Great-aunt Emmeline, in the lustre of her amber brocade, smiled her
changeless smile from out the darkened canvas. There was wit in her curved
lip and spirit in her humorous gray eyes, and the marble whiteness of her
brow, which had brought her many lovers in her lifetime, shone undimmed
beneath the masses of her chestnut hair. With her fair body gone to dust,
she still held her immortal apple by the divine right of her remembered
beauty.

As Dan looked at her it seemed to him for the first time that he found a
likeness to Betty--to Betty as she smiled up at him from the hearth in Aunt
Ailsey’s cabin. It was not in the mouth alone, nor in the eyes alone, but
in something indefinable which belonged to every feature--in the kindly
fervour that shone straight out from the smiling face. Ah, he knew now why
Aunt Emmeline had charmed a generation.

He blew out the candle, and went back into the hall where the front door
stood half open. Then taking down his hat, he descended the steps and
strolled thoughtfully up and down the gravelled drive.

The air was still moist, and beyond the gray meadows the white clouds
huddled like a flock of sheep upon the mountain side. From the branches of
the old elms fell a few yellowed leaves, and among them birds were flying
back and forth with short cries. A faint perfume came from the high urns
beside the steps, where a flowering creeper was bruised against the marble
basins.

With a cigar in his mouth, Dan passed slowly to and fro against the lighted
windows, and looked up tenderly at the gray sky and the small flying birds.
There was a glow in his face, for, with a total cessation of time, he was
back in Aunt Ailsey’s cabin, and the rain was on the roof.

In one of those rare moods in which the least subjective mind becomes that
of a mystic, he told himself that this hour had waited for him from the
beginning of time--had bided patiently at the crossroads until he came up
with it at last. All his life he had been travelling to meet it, not in
ignorance, but with half-unconscious knowledge, and all the while the fire
had burned brightly on the hearth, and Betty had knelt upon the flat stones
drying her hair. Again it seemed to him that he had never looked into a
woman’s face before, and the shame of his wandering fancies was heavy upon
him. He called himself a fool because he had followed for a day the flutter
of Virginia’s gown, and a dotard for the many loves he had sworn to long
before. In the twilight he saw Betty’s eyes, grave, accusing, darkened with
reproach; and he asked himself half hopefully if she cared--if it were
possible for a moment that she cared. There had been humour in her smile,
but, for all his effort, he could bring back no deeper emotion than pity or
disdain--and it seemed to him that both the pity and the disdain were for
himself.

The library window was lifted suddenly, as the Major called out to him that
“supper was on its way”; and, with an impatient movement of the shoulders,
he tossed his cigar into the grass and went indoors.

The next afternoon he rode over to Uplands, and found Virginia alone in the
dim, rose-scented parlour, where the quaint old furniture stood in the
gloom of a perpetual solemnity. The girl, herself, made a bright spot of
colour against the damask curtains, and as he looked at her he felt the
same delight in her loveliness that he felt in Great-aunt Emmeline’s.
Virginia had become a picture to him, and nothing more.

When he entered she greeted him with her old friendliness, gave him both
her cool white hands, and asked him a hundred shy questions about the
countries over sea. She was delicately cordial, demurely glad.

“It seems an age since you went away,” she said flatteringly, “and so many
things have happened--one of the big trees blew down on the lawn, and Jack
Powell broke his arm--and--and Mr. Morson has been back twice, you know.”

“Yes, I know,” he answered, “but I rather think the tree’s the biggest
thing, isn’t it?”

“Well, it is the biggest,” admitted Virginia, sweetly. “I couldn’t get my
arms halfway round it--and Betty was so distressed when it fell that she
cried half the day, just as if it were a human being. Aunt Lydia has been
trying to build a rockery over the root, and she’s going to cover it with
portulaca.” She went to the long window and pointed out the spot where it
had stood. “There are so many one hardly misses it,” she added cheerfully.

At the end of an hour Dan asked timidly for Betty, to hear that she had
gone riding earlier with Champe. “She is showing him a new path over the
mountain,” said Virginia. “I really think she knows them all by heart.”

“I hope she hasn’t taken to minding cattle,” observed Dan, irritably. “I
believe in women keeping at home, you know,” and as he rose to go he told
Virginia that she had “an Irish colour.”

“I have been sitting in the sun,” she answered shyly, going back to the
window when he left the room.

Dan went quickly out to Prince Rupert, but with his foot in the stirrup, he
saw Miss Lydia training a coral honeysuckle at the end of the portico, and
turned away to help her fasten up a broken string. “It blew down
yesterday,” she explained sadly. “The storm did a great deal of damage to
the flowers, and the garden looked almost desolate this morning, but Betty
and I worked there until dinner. I tell Betty she must take my place among
the flowers, she has such a talent for making them bloom. Why, if you will
come into the garden, you will be surprised to see how many summer plants
are still in blossom.”

She spoke wistfully, and Dan looked down on her with a tender reverence
which became him strangely. “Why, I shall be delighted to go with you,” he
answered. “Do you know I never see you without thinking of your roses? You
seem to carry their fragrance in your clothes.” There was a touch of the
Major’s flattery in his manner, but Miss Lydia’s pale cheeks flushed with
pleasure.

Smiling faintly, she folded her knitted shawl over her bosom, and he
followed her across the grass to the little whitewashed gate of the garden.
There she entered softly, as if she were going into church, her light steps
barely treading down the tall grass strewn with rose leaves. Beyond the
high box borders the gay October roses bent toward her beneath a light
wind, and in the square beds tangles of summer plants still flowered
untouched by frost. The splendour of the scarlet sage and the delicate
clusters of the four-o’clocks and sweet Williams made a single blur of
colour in the sunshine, and under the neatly clipped box hedges, blossoms
of petunias and verbenas straggled from their trim rows across the walk.

As he stood beside her, Dan drew in a long breath of the fragrant air. “I
declare, it is like standing in a bunch of pinks,” he remarked.

“There has been no hard frost as yet,” returned Miss Lydia, looking up at
him. “Even the verbenas were not nipped, and I don’t think I ever had them
bloom so late. Why, it is almost the first of October.”

They strolled leisurely up and down the box-bordered paths, Miss Lydia
talking in her gentle, monotonous voice, and Dan bending his head as he
flicked at the tall grass with his riding-whip.

“He is a great lover of flowers,” said the old lady after he had gone, and
thought in her simple heart that she spoke the truth.

For two days Dan’s pride held him back, but the third being Sunday, he went
over in the afternoon with the pretence of a message from his grandmother.
As the day was mild the great doors were standing open, and from the drive
he saw Mrs. Ambler sitting midway of the hall, with her Bible in her hand
and her class of little negroes at her feet. Beyond her there was a strip
of green and the autumn glory of the garden, and the sunlight coming from
without fell straight upon the leaves of the open book.

She was reading from the gospel of St. John, and she did not pause until
the chapter was finished; then she looked up and said, smiling: “Shall I
ask you to join my class, or will you look for the girls out of doors?
Virginia, I think, is in the garden, and Betty has just gone riding down
the tavern road.”

“Oh, I’ll go after Betty,” replied Dan, promptly, and with a gay “good-by”
 he untied Prince Rupert and started at a canter for the turnpike.

A quarter of a mile beyond Uplands the tavern road branched off under a
deep gloom of forest trees. The white sand of the turnpike gave place to a
heavy clay soil, which went to dust in summer and to mud in winter,
impeding equally the passage of wheels. On either side a thick wood ran for
several miles, and the sunshine filtered in bright drops through the green
arch overhead.

When Dan first caught sight of Betty she was riding in a network of sun and
shade, her face lifted to the bit of blue sky that showed between the
tree-tops. At the sound of his horse she threw a startled look behind her,
and then, drawing aside from the sunken ruts in the “corduroy” road,
waited, smiling, until he galloped up.

“Why, it’s never you!” she exclaimed, surprised.

“Well, that’s not my fault, Betty,” he gayly returned. “If I had my way, I
assure you it would be always I. You mustn’t blame a fellow for his ill
luck, you know.” Then he laid his hand on her bridle and faced her sternly.

“Look here, Betty, you haven’t been treating me right,” he said.

She threw out a deprecating little gesture. “Do I need to put on more
humility?” she questioned, humbly. “Is it respect that I have failed in,
sir?”

“Oh, bosh!” he interposed, rudely. “I want to know why you went riding
three afternoons with Champe--it wasn’t fair of you, you know.”

Betty sighed sadly. “No one has ever asked me before why I went riding with
Champe,” she confessed, “and the mighty secret has quite gnawed into my
heart.”

“Share it with me,” begged Dan, gallantly, “only I warn you that I shall
have no mercy upon Champe.”

“Poor Champe,” said Betty.

“At least he went riding with you three afternoons--lucky Champe!”

“Ah, so he did; and must I tell you why?”

He nodded. “You shan’t go home until you do,” he declared grimly.

Betty reached up and plucked a handful of aspen leaves, scattering them
upon the road.

“By what right, O horse-taming Hector (isn’t that the way they talk in
Homer?)”

“By the right of the strongest, O fair Helena (it’s the way they talk in
translations of Homer).”

“How very learned you are!” sighed Betty.

“How very lovely you are!” sighed Dan.

“And you will really force me to tell you?” she asked.

“For your own sake, don’t let it come to that,” he replied.

“But are you sure that you are strong enough to hear it?”

“I am strong enough for anything,” he assured her, “except suspense.”

“Well, if I must, then let me whisper it--I went because--” she drew back,
“I implore you not to uproot the forest in your wrath.”

“Speak quickly,” urged Dan, impatiently.

“I went because--brace yourself--I went because he asked me.”

“O Betty!” he cried, and caught her hand.

“O Dan!” she laughed, and drew her hand away.

“You deserve to be whipped,” he went on sternly. “How dare you play with
the green-eyed monster I’m wearing on my sleeve? Haven’t you heard his
growls, madam?”

“He’s a pretty monster,” said Betty. “I should like to pat him.”

“Oh, he needs to be gently stroked, I tell you.”

“Does he wake often--poor monster?”

Dan lowered his abashed eyes to the road.

“Well, that--ah, that depends--” he began awkwardly.

“Ah, that depends upon your fancies,” finished Betty, and rode on rapidly.

It was a moment before he came up with her, and when he did so his face was
flushed.

“Do you mind about my fancies, Betty?” he asked humbly.

“I?” said Betty, disdainfully. “Why, what have I to do with them?”

“With my fancies? nothing--so help me God--nothing.”

“I am glad to hear it,” she replied quietly, stroking her horse. Her cheeks
were glowing and she let the overhanging branches screen her face. As they
rode on silently they heard the rustling of the leaves beneath the horses’
feet, and the soft wind playing through the forest. A chain of lights and
shadows ran before them into the misty purple of the distance, where the
dim trees went up like gothic spires.

Betty’s hands were trembling, but fearing the stillness, she spoke in a
careless voice.

“When do you go back to college?” she inquired politely.

“In two days--but it’s all the same to you, I dare say.”

“Indeed it isn’t. I shall be very sorry.”

“You needn’t lie to me,” he returned irritably. “I beg your pardon, but a
lie is a lie, you know.”

“So I suppose, but I wasn’t lying--I shall be very sorry.”

A fiery maple branch fell between them, and he impatiently thrust it aside.

“When you treat me like this you raise the devil in me,” he said angrily.
“As I told you before, Betty, when I’m not Lightfoot I’m Montjoy--it may be
this that makes you plague me so.”

“O Dan, Dan!” she laughed, but in a moment added gravely: “When you’re
neither Lightfoot nor Montjoy, you’re just yourself, and it’s then, after
all, that I like you best. Shall we turn now?” She wheeled her horse about
on the rustling leaves, and they started toward the sunset light shining
far up the road.

“When you like me best,” said Dan, passionately. “Betty, when is that?” His
ardent look was on her face, and she, defying her fears, met it with her
beaming eyes. “When you’re just yourself, Dan,” she answered and galloped
on. Her lips were smiling, but there was a prayer in her heart, for it
cried, “Dear God, let him love me, let him love me.”



VIII

BETTY’S UNBELIEF


“Dear God, let him love me,” she prayed again in the cool twilight of her
chamber. Before the open window she put her hands to her burning cheeks and
felt the wind trickle between her quivering fingers. Her heart fluttered
like a bird and her blood went in little tremours through her veins. For a
single instant she seemed to feel the passage of the earth through space.
“Oh, let him love me! let him love me!” she cried upon her knees.

When Virginia came in she rose and turned to her with the brightness of
tears on her lashes.

“Do you want me to help you, dear?” she asked, gently.

“Oh, I’m all dressed,” answered Virginia, coming toward her. She held a
lamp in her hand, and the light fell over her girlish figure in its muslin
gown. “You are so late, Betty,” she added, stopping before the bureau.
“Were you by yourself?”

“Not all the way,” replied Betty, slowly.

“Who was with you? Champe?”

“No, not Champe--Dan,” said Betty, stooping to unfasten her boots.

Virginia was pinning a red verbena in her hair, and she turned to catch a
side view of her face.

“Do you know I really believe Dan likes you best,” she carelessly remarked.
“I asked him the other afternoon what colour hair he preferred, and he
snapped out, ‘red’ as suddenly as that. Wasn’t it funny?”

For a moment Betty did not speak; then she came over and stood beside her
sister.

“Would you mind if he liked me better than you, dear?” she asked,
doubtfully. “Would you mind the least little bit?”

Virginia laughed merrily and stooped to kiss her.

“I shouldn’t mind if every man in the world liked you better,” she answered
gayly. “If they only had as much sense as I’ve got, they would, foolish
things.”

“I never knew but one who did,” returned Betty, “and that was the Major.”

“But Champe, too.”

“Well, perhaps,--but Champe’s afraid of you. He calls you Penelope, you
know, because of the ‘wooers.’ We counted six horses at the portico
yesterday, and he made a bet with me that all of them belonged to the
‘wooers’--and they really did, too.”

“Oh, but wooing isn’t winning,” laughed Virginia, going toward the door.
“You’d better hurry, Betty, supper’s ready. I wouldn’t touch my hair, if I
were you, it looks just lovely.” Her white skirts fluttered across the
dimly lighted hall, and in a moment Betty heard her soft step on the stair.

Two days later Betty told Dan good-by with smiling lips. He rode over in
the early morning, when she was in the garden gathering loose rose leaves
to scatter among her clothes. There had been a sharp frost the night
before, and now as it melted in the slanting sun rays, Miss Lydia’s summer
flowers hung blighted upon their stalks. Only the gay October roses were
still in their full splendour.

“What an early Betty,” said Dan, coming up to her as she stood in the wet
grass beside one of the quaint rose squares. “You are all dewy like a
flower.”

“Oh, I had breakfast an hour ago,” she answered, giving him her moist hand
to which a few petals were clinging.

“Ye Gods! have I missed an hour? Why, I expected to sit waiting on the
door-step until you had had your sleep out.”

“Don’t you know if you gather rose leaves with the dew on them, their
sweetness lasts twice as long?” asked Betty.

“So you got up to gather ye rosebuds, after all, and not to wish me God
speed?” he said despondently.

“Well, I should have been up anyway,” replied Betty, frankly. “This is the
loveliest part of the day, you know. The world looks so fresh with the
first frost over it--only the poor silly summer flowers take cold and die.”

“If you weren’t a rose, you’d take cold yourself,” remarked Dan, pointing,
with his riding-whip, to the hem of her dimity skirt. “Don’t stand in the
grass like that, you make me shiver.”

“Oh, the sun will dry me,” she laughed, stepping from the path to the bare
earth of the rose bed. “Why, when you get well into the sunshine it feels
like summer.” She talked on merrily, and he, paying small heed to what she
said, kept his ardent look upon her face. His joy was in her bright
presence, in the beauty of her smile, in the kind eyes that shone upon him.
Speech meant so little when he could put out his arm and touch her if he
dared.

“I am going away in an hour, Betty,” he said, at last.

“But you will be back again at Christmas.”

“At Christmas! Heavens alive! You speak as if it were to-morrow.”

“Oh, but time goes very quickly, you know.”

Dan shook his head impatiently. “I dare say it does with you,” he returned,
irritably, “but it wouldn’t if you were as much in love as I am.”

“Why, you ought to be used to it by now,” urged Betty, mercilessly. “You
were in love last year, I remember.”

“Betty, don’t punish me for what I couldn’t help. You know I love you.”

“Oh, no,” said Betty, nervously plucking rose leaves. “You have been too
often in love before, my good Dan.”

“But I was never in love with you before,” retorted Dan, decisively.

She shook her head, smiling. “And you are not in love with me now,” she
replied, gravely. “You have found out that my hair is pretty, or that I can
mix a pudding; but I do not often let down my hair, and I seldom cook, so
you’ll get over it, my friend, never fear.”

He flushed angrily. “And if I do not get over it?” he demanded.

“If you do not get over it?” repeated Betty, trembling. She turned away
from him, strewing a handful of rose leaves upon the grass. “Then I shall
think that you value neither my hair nor my housekeeping,” she added,
lightly.

“If I swear that I love you, will you believe me, Betty?”

“Don’t tempt my faith, Dan, it’s too small.”

“Whether you believe it or not, I do love you,” he went on. “I may have
been a fool now and then before I found it out, but you don’t think that
was falling in love, do you? I confess that I liked a pair of fine eyes or
rosy cheeks, but I could laugh about it even while I thought it was love I
felt. I can’t laugh about being in love with you, Betty.”

“I thank you, sir,” replied Betty, saucily.

“When I saw you kneeling by the fire in free Levi’s cabin, I knew that I
loved you,” he said, hotly.

“But I can’t always kneel to you, Dan,” she interposed.

He put her words impatiently aside, “and what’s more I knew then that I had
loved you all my life without knowing it,” he pursued. “You may taunt me
with fickleness, but I’m not fickle--I was merely a fool. It took me a long
time to find out what I wanted, but I’ve found out at last, and, so help me
God, I’ll have it yet. I never went without a thing I wanted in my life.”

“Then it will be good for you,” responded Betty. “Shall I put some rose
leaves into your pocket?” She spoke indifferently, but all the while she
heard her heart singing for joy.

In the rage of his boyish passion, he cut brutally at the flowers growing
at his feet.

“If you keep this up, you’ll send me to the devil!” he exclaimed.

She caught his hand and took the whip from his fingers. “Ah, don’t hurt the
poor flowers,” she begged, “they aren’t to blame.”

“Who is to blame, Betty?”

She looked up wistfully into his angry face. “You are no better than a
child, Dan,” she said, almost sadly, “and you haven’t the least idea what
you are storming so about. It’s time you were a man, but you aren’t, you’re
just--”

“Oh, I know, I’m just a pampered poodle dog,” he finished, bitterly.

“Well, you ought to be something better, and you must be.”

“I’ll be anything you please, Betty; I’ll be President, if you wish it.”

“No, thank you, I don’t care in the least for Presidents.”

“Then I’ll be a beggar, you like beggars.”

“You’ll be just yourself, if you want to please me, Dan,” she said
earnestly. “You will be your best self--neither the flattering Lightfoot,
nor the rude Montjoy. You will learn to work, to wait patiently, and to
love one woman. Whoever she may be, I shall say, God bless her.”

“God bless her, Betty,” he echoed fervently, and added, “Since it’s a man
you want, I’ll be a man, but I almost wish you had said a President. I
could have been one for you, Betty.”

Then he held out his hand. “I don’t suppose you will kiss me good-by?” he
pleaded.

“No, I shan’t kiss you good-by,” she answered.

“Never, Betty?”

Smiling brightly, she gave him her hand. “When you have loved me two years,
perhaps,--or when you marry another woman. Good-by, dear, good-by.”

He turned quickly away and went up the little path to the gate. There he
paused for an instant, looked back, and waved his hand. “Good-by, my
darling!” he called, boldly, and passed under the honeysuckle arbour. As he
mounted his horse in the drive he saw her still standing as he had left
her, the roses falling about her, and the sunshine full upon her bended
head.

Until he was hidden by the trees she watched him breathlessly, then,
kneeling in the path, she laid her cheek upon the long grass he had trodden
underfoot. “O my love, my love,” she whispered to the ground.

Miss Lydia called her from the house, and she went to her with some loose
roses in her muslin apron. “Did you call me, Aunt Lydia?” she asked,
lifting her radiant eyes to the old lady’s face. “I haven’t gathered very
many leaves.”

“I wanted you to pot some white violets for me, dear,” answered Miss Lydia,
from the back steps. “My winter garden is almost full, but there’s a spot
where I can put a few violets. Poor Mr. Bill asked for a geranium for his
window, so I let him take one.”

“Oh, let me pot them for you,” begged Betty, eager to be of service. “Send
Petunia for the trowel, and I’ll choose you a lovely plant. It’s too bad to
see all the dear verbenas bitten by the frost.” She tossed a rose into Miss
Lydia’s hands, and went back gladly into the garden.

A fortnight after this the Major came over and besought her to return with
him for a week at Chericoke. Mrs. Lightfoot had taken to her bed, he said
sadly, and the whole place was rapidly falling to rack and ruin. “We need
your hands to put it straight again,” he added, “and Molly told me on no
account to come back without you. I am at your mercy, my dear.”

“Why, I should love to go,” replied Betty, with the thought of Dan at her
heart. “I’ll be ready in a minute,” and she ran upstairs to find her
mother, and to pack her things.

The Major waited for her standing; and when she came down, followed by
Petunia with her clothes, he helped her, with elaborate courtesy, into the
old coach before the portico.

“It takes me back to my wedding day, Betty,” he said, as he stepped in
after her and slammed the door. “It isn’t often that I carry off a pretty
girl so easily.”

“Now I know that you didn’t carry off Mrs. Lightfoot easily,” returned
Betty, laughing from sheer lightness of spirits. “She has told me the whole
story, sir, from the evening that she wore the peach-blow brocade, that
made you fall in love with her on the spot, to the day that she almost
broke down at the altar. You had a narrow escape from bachelorship, sir, so
you needn’t boast.”

The Major chuckled in his corner. “I don’t doubt that Molly told you so,”
 he replied, “but, between you and me, I don’t believe it ever occurred to
her until forty years afterwards. She got it out of one of those silly
romances she reads in bed--and, take my word for it, you’ll find it
somewhere in the pages of her Mrs. Radcliffe, or her Miss Burney. Molly’s a
sensible woman, my child,--I’m the last man to deny it--but she always did
read trash. You won’t believe me, I dare say, but she actually tried to
faint when I kissed her in the carriage after her wedding--and, bless my
soul, I came to find that she had ‘Evelina’ tucked away under her cape.”

“Why, she is the most sensible woman in the world,” said Betty, “and I’m
quite sure that she was only fitting herself to your ideas, sir. No, you
can’t make me believe it of Mrs. Lightfoot.”

“My ideas never took the shape of an Evelina,” dissented the Major, warmly,
“but it’s a dangerous taste, my dear, the taste for trash. I’ve always said
that it ruined poor Jane, with all her pride. She got into her head all
kind of notions about that scamp Montjoy, with his pale face and his long
black hair. Poor girl, poor girl! I tried to bring her up on Homer and
Milton, but she took to her mother’s bookshelf as a duck to water.” He
wiped his eyes, and Betty patted his hand, and wondered if “the scamp
Montjoy” looked the least bit like his son.

When they reached Chericoke she shook hands with the servants and ran
upstairs to Mrs. Lightfoot’s chamber. The old lady, in her ruffled
nightcap, which she always put on when she took to bed, was sitting upright
under her dimity curtains, weeping over “Thaddeus of Warsaw.” There was a
little bookstand at her bedside filled with her favourite romances, and at
the beginning of the year she would start systematically to read from the
first volume upon the top shelf to the last one in the corner near the
door. “None of your newfangled writers for me, my dear,” she would protest,
snapping her fingers at literature. “Why, they haven’t enough sentiment to
give their hero a title--and an untitled hero! I declare, I’d as lief have
a plain heroine, and, before you know it, they’ll be writing about their
Sukey Sues, with pug noses, who eloped with their Bill Bates, from the
nearest butcher shop. Ugh! don’t talk to me about them! I opened one of Mr.
Dickens’s stories the other day and it was actually about a chimney
sweep--a common chimney sweep from a workhouse! Why, I really felt as if I
had been keeping low society.”

Now, as she caught sight of Betty, she laid aside her book, wiped her eyes
on a stiffly folded handkerchief, and became cheerful at once. “I warned
Mr. Lightfoot not to dare to show his face without you,” she began; “so I
suppose he brought you off by force.”

“I was only too glad to come,” replied Betty, kissing her; “but what must I
do for you first? Shall I rub your head with bay rum?”

“There’s nothing on earth the matter with my head, child,” retorted Mrs.
Lightfoot, promptly, “but you may go downstairs, as soon as you take off
your things, and make me some decent tea and toast. Cupid brought me up two
waiters at dinner, and I wouldn’t touch either of them with a ten-foot
pole.”

Betty took off her bonnet and shawl and hung them on a chair. “I’ll go down
at once and see about it,” she answered, “and I’ll make Car’line put away
my things. It’s my old room I’m to have, I suppose.”

“It’s the whole house, if you want it, only don’t let any of the darkies
have a hand at my tea. It’s their nature to slop.”

“But it isn’t mine,” Betty answered her, and ran, laughing, down into the
dining room.

“Dar ain’ been no sich chunes sense young Miss rid away in de dead er de
night time,” muttered Cupid, in the pantry. “Lawd, Lawd, I des wish you’d
teck up wid Marse Champe, en move ‘long over hyer fer good en all. I reckon
dar ‘ud be times, den, I reckon, dar ‘ould.”

“There are going to be times now, Uncle Cupid,” responded Betty,
cheerfully, as she arranged the tray for Mrs. Lightfoot. “I’m going to make
some tea and toast right on this fire for your old Miss. You bring the
kettle, and I’ll slice the bread.”

Cupid brought the kettle, grumbling. “I ain’ never hyern tell er sich a
mouf es ole Miss es got,” he muttered. “I ain’ sayin’ nuttin’ agin er
stomick, case she ain’ never let de stuff git down dat fur--en de stomick
hit ain’ never tase it yit.”

“Oh, stop grumbling, Uncle Cupid,” returned Betty, moving briskly about the
room. She brought the daintiest tea cup from the old sideboard, and leaned
out of the window to pluck a late microphylla rosebud from the creeper upon
the porch. Then, with the bread on the end of a long fork, she sat before
the fire and asked Cupid about the health and fortunes of the house
servants and the field hands.

“I ain’ mix wid no fiel’ han’s,” grunted Cupid, with a social pride
befitting the Major. “Dar ain’ no use er my mixin’ en I ain’ mix. Dey stay
in dere place en I stay in my place--en dere place hit’s de quarters, en my
place hit’s de dinin’ ‘oom.”

“But Aunt Rhody--how’s she?” inquired Betty, pleasantly, “and Big Abel? He
didn’t go back to college, did he?”

“Zeke, he went,” replied Cupid, “en Big Abel he wuz bleeged ter stay behint
‘case his wife Saphiry she des put ‘er foot right down. Ef’n he ‘uz gwine
off again, sez she, she ‘uz des gwine tu’n right in en git mah’ed agin. She
ain’ so sho’, nohow, dat two husban’s ain’ better’n one, is Saphiry, en she
got ‘mos’ a min’ ter try hit. So Big Abel he des stayed behint.”

“That was wise of Big Abel,” remarked Betty. “Now open the door, Uncle
Cupid, and I’ll carry this upstairs,” and as Cupid threw open the door, she
went out, holding the tray before her.

The old lady received her graciously, ate the toast and drank the tea, and
even admitted that it couldn’t have been better if she had made it with her
own hands. “I think that you will have to come and live with me, Betty,”
 she said good-humouredly. “What a pity you can’t fancy one of those useless
boys of mine. Not that I’d have you marry Dan, child, the Major has spoiled
him to death, and now he’s beginning to repent it; but Champe, Champe is a
good and clever lad and would make a mild and amiable husband, I am sure.
Don’t marry a man with too much spirit, my dear; if a man has any extra
spirit, he usually expends it in breaking his wife’s.”

“Oh, I shan’t marry yet awhile,” replied Betty, looking out upon the
falling autumn leaves.

“So I said the day before I married Mr. Lightfoot,” rejoined the old lady,
settling her pillows, “and now, if you have nothing better to do, you might
read me a chapter of ‘Thaddeus of Warsaw’; you will find it to be a book of
very pretty sentiment.”



IX

THE MONTJOY BLOOD


In the morning Betty was awakened by the tapping of the elm boughs on the
roof above her. An autumn wind was blowing straight from the west, and when
she looked out through the small greenish panes of glass, she saw eddies of
yellowed leaves beating gently against the old brick walls. Overhead light
gray clouds were flying across the sky, and beyond the waving tree-tops a
white mist hung above the dim blue chain of mountains.

When she went downstairs she found the Major, in his best black broadcloth,
pacing up and down before the house. It was Sunday, and he intended to
drive into town where the rector held his services.

“You won’t go in with me, I reckon?” he ventured hopefully, when Betty
smiled out upon him from the library window. “Ah, my dear, you’re as fresh
as the morning, and only an old man to look at you. Well, well, age has its
consolations; you’ll spare me a kiss, I suppose?”

“Then you must come in to get it,” answered Betty, her eyes narrowing.
“Breakfast is getting cold, and Cupid is calling down Aunt Rhody’s wrath
upon your head.”

“Oh, I’ll come, I’ll come,” returned the Major, hurrying up the steps, and
adding as he entered the dining room, “My child, if you’d only take a fancy
to Champe, I’d be the happiest man on earth.”

“Now I shan’t allow any matchmaking on Sunday,” said Betty, warningly, as
she prepared Mrs. Lightfoot’s breakfast. “Sit down and carve the chicken
while I run upstairs with this.”

She went out and came back in a moment, laughing merrily. “Do you know, she
threatens to become bedridden now that I am here to fix her trays,” she
explained, sitting down between the tall silver urns and pouring out the
Major’s coffee. “What an uncertain day you have for church,” she added as
she gave his cup to Cupid.

With his eyes on her vivid face the old man listened rapturously to her
fresh young voice--the voice, he said, that always made him think of clear
water falling over stones. It was one of the things that came to her from
Peyton Ambler, he knew, with her warm hazel eyes and the sweet, strong
curve of her mouth. “Ah, but you’re like your father,” he said as he
watched her. “If you had brown hair you’d be his very image.”

“I used to wish that I had,” responded Betty, “but I don’t now--I’d just as
soon have red.” She was thinking that Dan did not like brown hair so much,
and the thought shone in her face--only the Major, in his ignorance,
mistook its meaning.

After breakfast he got into the coach and started off, and Betty, with the
key basket on her arm, followed Cupid and Aunt Rhody into the storeroom.
Then she gathered fresh flowers for the table, and went upstairs to read a
chapter from the Bible to Mrs. Lightfoot.

The Major stayed to dinner in town, returning late in a moody humour and
exhausted by his drive. As Betty brushed her hair before her bureau, she
heard him talking in a loud voice to Mrs. Lightfoot, and when she went in
at supper time the old, lady called her to her bedside and took her hand.

“He has had a touch of the gout, Betty,” she whispered in her ear, “and he
heard some news in town which upset him a little. You must try to cheer him
up at supper, child.”

“Was it bad news?” asked Betty, in alarm.

“It may not be true, my dear. I hope it isn’t, but, as I told Mr.
Lightfoot, it is always better to believe the worst, so if any surprise
comes it may be a pleasant one. Somebody told him in church--and they had
much better have been attending to the service, I’m sure,--that Dan had
gotten into trouble again, and Mr. Lightfoot is very angry about it. He had
a talk with the boy before he went away, and made him promise to turn over
a new leaf this year--but it seems this is the most serious thing that has
happened yet. I must say I always told Mr. Lightfoot it was what he had to
expect.”

“In trouble again?” repeated Betty, kneeling by the bed. Her hands went
cold, and she pressed them nervously together.

“Of course we know very little about it, my dear,” pursued Mrs. Lightfoot.
“All we have heard is that he fought a duel and was sent away from the
University. He was even put into gaol for a night, I believe--a Lightfoot
in a common dirty gaol! Well, well, as I said before, all we can do now is
to expect the worst.”

“Oh, is that all?” cried Betty, and the leaping of her heart told her the
horror of her dim foreboding. She rose to her feet and smiled brightly down
upon the astonished old lady.

“I don’t know what more you want,” replied Mrs. Lightfoot, tartly. “If he
ever gets clean again after a whole night in a common gaol, I must say I
don’t see how he’ll manage it. But if you aren’t satisfied I can only tell
you that the affair was all about some bar-room wench, and that the papers
will be full of it. Not that the boy was anything but foolish,” she added
hastily. “I’ll do him the justice to admit that he’s more of a fool than a
villain--and I hardly know whether it’s a compliment that I’m paying him or
not. He got some quixotic notion into his head that Harry Maupin insulted
the girl in his presence, and he called him to account for it. As if the
honour of a barkeeper’s daughter was the concern of any gentleman!”

“Oh!” cried Betty, and caught her breath. The word went out of her in a
sudden burst of joy, but the joy was so sharp that a moment afterwards she
hid her wet face in the bedclothes and sobbed softly to herself.

“I don’t think Mr. Lightfoot would have taken it so hard but for Virginia,”
 said the old lady, with her keen eyes on the girl. “You know he has always
wanted to bring Dan and Virginia together, and he seems to think that the
boy has been dishonourable about it.”

“But Virginia doesn’t care--she doesn’t care,” protested Betty.

“Well, I’m glad to hear it,” returned Mrs. Lightfoot, relieved, “and I hope
the foolish boy will stay away long enough for his grandfather to cool off.
Mr. Lightfoot is a high-tempered man, my child. I’ve spent fifty years in
keeping him at peace with the world. There now, run down and cheer him up.”

She lay back among her pillows, and Betty leaned over and kissed her with
cold lips before she dried her eyes and went downstairs to find the Major.

With the first glance at his face she saw that Dan’s cause was hopeless for
the hour, and she set herself, with a cheerful countenance, to a discussion
of the trivial happenings of the day. She talked pleasantly of the rector’s
sermon, of the morning reading with Mrs. Lightfoot, and of a great hawk
that had appeared suddenly in the air and raised an outcry among the
turkeys on the lawn. When these topics were worn threadbare she bethought
herself of the beauty of the autumn woods, and lamented the ruined garden
with its last sad flowers.

The Major listened gloomily, putting in a word now and then, and keeping
his weak red eyes upon his plate. There was a heavy cloud on his brow, and
the flush that Betty had learned to dread was in his face. Once when she
spoke carelessly of Dan, he threw out an angry gesture and inquired if she
“found Mrs. Lightfoot easier to-night?”

“Oh, I think so,” replied the girl, and then, as they rose from the table,
she slipped her hand through his arm and went with him into the library.

“Shall I sit with you this evening?” she asked timidly. “I’d be so glad to
read to you, if you would let me.”

He shook his head, patted her affectionately upon the shoulder, and smiled
down into her upraised face. “No, no, my dear, I’ve a little work to do,”
 he replied kindly. “There are a few papers I want to look over, so run up
to Molly and tell her I sent my sunshine to her.”

He stooped and kissed her cheek; and Betty, with a troubled heart, went
slowly up to Mrs. Lightfoot’s chamber.

The Major sat down at his writing table, and spread his papers out before
him. Then he raised the wick of his lamp, and with his pen in his hand,
resolutely set himself to his task. When Cupid came in with the decanter of
Burgundy, he filled a glass and held it absently against the light, but he
did not drink it, and in a moment he put it down with so tremulous a hand
that the wine spilled upon the floor.

“I’ve a touch of the gout, Cupid,” he said testily. “A touch of the gout
that’s been hanging over me for a month or more.”

“Huccome you ain’ fit hit, Ole Marster?”

“Oh, I’ve been fighting it tooth and nail,” answered the old gentleman,
“but there are some things that always get the better of you in the end,
Cupid, and the gout’s one of them.”

“En rheumaticks hit’s anurr,” added Cupid, rubbing his knee.

He rolled a fresh log upon the andirons and went out, while the Major
returned, frowning, to his work.

He was still at his writing table, when he heard the sound of a horse
trotting in the drive, and an instant afterwards the quick fall of the old
brass knocker. The flush deepened in his face, and with a look at once
angry and appealing, he half rose from his chair. As he waited the outside
bars were withdrawn, there followed a few short steps across the hall, and
Dan came into the library.

“I suppose you know what’s brought me back, grandpa?” he said quietly as he
entered.

The Major started up and then sat down again.

“I do know, sir, and I wish to God I didn’t,” he replied, choking in his
anger.

Dan stood where he had halted upon his entrance, and looked at him with
eyes in which there was still a defiant humour. His face was pale and his
hair hung in black streaks across his forehead. The white dust of the
turnpike had settled upon his clothes, and as he moved it floated in a
little cloud about him.

“I reckon you think it’s a pretty bad thing, eh?” he questioned coolly,
though his hands trembled.

The Major’s eyes flashed ominously from beneath his heavy brows.

“Pretty bad?” he repeated, taking a long breath. “If you want to know what
I think about it, sir, I think that it’s a damnable disgrace. Pretty
bad!--By God, sir, do you call having a gaol-bird for a grandson pretty
bad?”

“Stop, sir!” called Dan, sharply. He had steadied himself to withstand the
shock of the Major’s temper, but, in the dash of his youthful folly, he had
forgotten to reckon with his own. “For heaven’s sake, let’s talk about it
calmly,” he added irritably.

“I am perfectly calm, sir!” thundered the Major, rising to his feet. The
terrible flush went in a wave to his forehead, and he put up one quivering
hand to loosen his high stock. “I tell you calmly that you’ve done a
damnable thing; that you’ve brought disgrace upon the name of Lightfoot.”

“It is not my name,” replied Dan, lifting his head. “My name is Montjoy,
sir.”

“And it’s a name to hang a dog for,” retorted the Major.

As they faced each other with the same flash of temper kindling in both
faces, the likeness between them grew suddenly more striking. It was as if
the spirit of the fiery old man had risen, in a finer and younger shape,
from the air before him.

“At all events it is not yours,” said Dan, hotly. Then he came nearer, and
the anger died out of his eyes. “Don’t let’s quarrel, grandpa,” he pleaded.
“I’ve gotten into a mess, and I’m sorry for it--on my word I am.”

“So you’ve come whining to me to get you out,” returned the Major, shaking
as if he had gone suddenly palsied.

Dan drew back and his hand fell to his side.

“So help me God, I’ll never whine to you again,” he answered.

“Do you want to know what you have done, sir?” demanded the Major. “You
have broken your grandmother’s heart and mine--and made us wish that we had
left you by the roadside when you came crawling to our door. And, on my
oath, if I had known that the day would ever come when you would try to
murder a Virginia gentleman for the sake of a bar-room hussy, I would have
left you there, sir.”

“Stop!” said Dan again, looking at the old man with his mother’s eyes.

“You have broken your grandmother’s heart and mine,” repeated the Major, in
a trembling voice, “and I pray to God that you may not break Virginia
Ambler’s--poor girl, poor girl!”

“Virginia Ambler!” said Dan, slowly. “Why, there was nothing between us,
nothing, nothing.”

“And you dare to tell me this to my face, sir?” cried the Major.

“Dare! of course I dare,” returned Dan, defiantly. “If there was ever
anything at all it was upon my side only--and a mere trifling fancy.”

The old gentleman brought his hand down upon his table with a blow that
sent the papers fluttering to the floor. “Trifling!” he roared. “Would you
trifle with a lady from your own state, sir?”

“I was never in love with her,” exclaimed Dan, angrily.

“Not in love with her? What business have you not to be in love with her?”
 retorted the Major, tossing back his long white hair. “I have given her to
understand that you are in love with her, sir.”

The blood rushed to Dan’s head, and he stumbled over an ottoman as he
turned away.

“Then I call it unwarrantable interference,” he said brutally, and went
toward the door. There the Major’s flashing eyes held him back an instant.

“It was when I believed you to be worthy of her,” went on the old man,
relentlessly, “when--fool that I was--I dared to hope that dirty blood
could be made clean again; that Jack Montjoy’s son could be a gentleman.”

For a moment only Dan stood motionless and looked at him from the
threshold. Then, without speaking, he crossed the hall, took down his hat,
and unbarred the outer door. It slammed after him, and he went out into the
night.

A keen wind was still blowing, and as he descended the steps he felt it
lifting the dampened hair from his forehead. With a breath of relief he
stood bareheaded in the drive and raised his face to the cool elm leaves
that drifted slowly down. After the heated atmosphere of the library there
was something pleasant in the mere absence of light, and in the soft
rustling of the branches overhead. The humour of his blood went suddenly
quiet as if he had plunged headlong into cold water.

While he stood there motionless his thoughts were suspended, and his
senses, gaining a brief mastery, became almost feverishly alert; he felt
the night wind in his face, he heard the ceaseless stirring of the leaves,
and he saw the sparkle of the gravel in the yellow shine that streamed from
the library windows. But with his first step, his first movement, there
came a swift recoil of his anger, and he told himself with a touch of
youthful rhetoric, “that come what would, he was going to the devil--and
going speedily.”

He had reached the gate and his hand was upon the latch, when he heard the
house door open and shut behind him and his name called softly from the
steps.

He turned impulsively and stood waiting, while Betty came quickly through
the lamplight that fell in squares upon the drive.

“Oh, come back, Dan, come back,” she said breathlessly.

With his hand still on the gate he faced her, frowning.

“I’d die first, Betty,” he answered.

She came swiftly up to him and stood, very pale, in the faint starlight
that shone between the broken clouds. A knitted shawl was over her
shoulders, but her head was bare and her hair made a glow around her face.
Her eyes entreated him before she spoke.

“Oh, Dan, come back,” she pleaded.

He laughed angrily and shook his head.

“I’ll die first, Betty,” he repeated. “Die! I’d die a hundred times first!”

“He is so old,” she said appealingly. “It is not as if he were young and
quite himself, Dan--Oh, it is not like that--but he loves you, and he is so
old.”

“Don’t, Betty,” he broke in quickly, and added bitterly, “Are you, too,
against me?”

“I am for the best in you,” she answered quietly, and turned away from him.

“The best!” he snapped his fingers impatiently. “Are you for the shot at
Maupin? the night I spent in gaol? or the beggar I am now? There’s an equal
choice, I reckon.”

She looked gravely up at him.

“I am for the boy I’ve always known,” she replied, “and for the man who was
here two weeks ago--and--yes, I am for the man who stands here now. What
does it matter, Dan? What does it matter?”

“O, Betty!” he cried breathlessly, and hid his face in his hands.

“And most of all, I am for the man you are going to be,” she went on
slowly, “for the great man who is growing up. Dan, come back!”

His hands fell from his eyes. “I’ll not do that even for you, Betty,” he
answered, “and, God knows, there’s little else I wouldn’t do for
you--there’s nothing else.”

“What will you do for yourself, Dan?”

“For myself?” his anger leaped out again, and he steadied himself against
the gate. “For myself I’ll go as far as I can from this damned place. I
wish to God I’d fallen in the road before I came here. I wish I’d gone
after my father and followed in his steps. I’ll live on no man’s charity,
so help me God. Am I a dog to be kicked out and to go whining back when the
door opens? Go--I’ll go to the devil, and be glad of it!” For a moment
Betty did not answer. Her hands were clasped on her bosom, and her eyes
were dark and bright in the pallor of her face. As he looked at her the
rage died out of his voice, and it quivered with a deeper feeling.

“My dear, my dearest, are you, too, against me?” he asked.

She met his gaze without flinching, but the bright colour swept suddenly to
her cheeks and dyed them crimson.

“Then if you will go, take me with you,” she said.

He fell back as if a star had dropped at his feet. For a breathless instant
she saw only his eyes, and they drew her step by step. Then he opened his
arms and she went straight into them.

“Betty, Betty,” he said in a whisper, and kissed her lips.

She put her hands upon his shoulders, and stood with his arms about her,
looking up into his face.

“Take me with you--oh, take me with you,” she entreated. “I can’t be left.
Take me with you.”

“And you love me--Betty, do you love me?”

“I have loved you all my life--all my life,” she answered; “how can I begin
to unlove you now--now when it is too late? Do you think I am any the less
yours if you throw me away? If you break my heart can I help its still
loving you?”

“Betty, Betty,” he said again, and his voice quivered.

“Take me with you,” she repeated passionately, saying it over and over
again with her lips upon his arm.

He stooped and kissed her almost roughly, and then put her gently away from
him.

“It is the way my mother went,” he said, “and God help me, I am my father’s
son. I am afraid,--afraid--do you know what that means?”

“But I am not afraid,” answered the girl steadily.

He shivered and turned away; then he came back and knelt down to kiss her
skirt. “No, I can’t take you with me,” he went on rapidly, “but if I live
to be a man I shall come back--I _will_ come back--and you--”

“And I am waiting,” she replied.

He opened the gate and passed out into the road.

“I will come back, beloved,” he said again, and went on into the darkness.

Leaning over the gate she strained her eyes into the shadows, crying his
name out into the night. Her voice broke and she hid her face in her arm;
then, fearing to lose the last glimpse of him, she looked up quickly and
sobbed to him to come back for a moment--but for a moment. It seemed to
her, clinging there upon the gate, that when he went out into the darkness
he had gone forever--that the thud of his footsteps in the dust was the
last sound that would ever come from him to her ears.

Had he looked back she would have gone straight out to him, had he raised a
finger she would have followed with a cheerful face; but he did not look
back, and at last his footsteps died away upon the road.

When she could see or hear nothing more of him, she turned slowly and crept
toward the house. Her feet dragged under her, and as she walked she cast
back startled glances at the gate. The rustling of the leaves made her
stand breathless a moment, her hand at her bosom; but it was only the wind,
and she went step by step into the house, turning upon the threshold to
throw a look behind her.

In the hall she paused and laid her hand upon the library door, but the
Major had bolted her out, and she heard him pacing with restless strides up
and down the room. She listened timidly awhile, then, going softly by, went
up to Mrs. Lightfoot.

The old lady was asleep, but as the girl entered she awoke and sat up, very
straight, in bed. “My pain is much worse, Betty,” she complained. “I don’t
expect to get a wink of sleep this entire night.”

“I thought you were asleep when I came in,” answered Betty, keeping away
from the candlelight; “but I am so sorry you are in pain. Shall I make you
a mustard plaster?”

Though she smiled, her voice was spiritless and she moved with an effort.
She felt suddenly very tired, and she wanted to lie down somewhere alone in
the darkness.

“I’d just dropped off when Mr. Lightfoot woke me slamming the doors,”
 pursued the old lady, querulously. “Men have so little consideration that
nothing surprises me, but I do think he might be more careful when he knows
I am suffering. No, I won’t take the mustard plaster, but you may bring me
a cup of hot milk, if you will. It sometimes sends me off into a doze.”

Betty went slowly downstairs again and heated the milk on the dining-room
fire. When it was ready she daintily arranged it upon a tray and carried it
upstairs. “I hope it will do you good,” she said gently as she gave it to
the old lady. “You must try to lie quiet--the doctor told you so.”

Mrs. Lightfoot drank the milk and remarked amiably that it was “very nice
though a little smoked--and now, go to bed, my dear,” she added kindly. “I
mustn’t keep you from your beauty sleep. I’m afraid I’ve worn you out as it
is.”

Betty smiled and shook her head; then she placed the tray upon a chair, and
went out, softly closing the door after her.

In her own room she threw herself upon her bed, and cried for Dan until the
morning.



X

THE ROAD AT MIDNIGHT


When Dan went down into the shadows of the road, he stopped short before he
reached the end of the stone wall, and turned for his last look at
Chericoke. He saw the long old house, with its peaked roof over which the
elm boughs arched, the white stretch of drive before the door, and the
leaves drifting ceaselessly against the yellow squares of the library
windows. As he looked Betty came slowly from the shadow by the gate, where
she had lingered, and crossed the lighted spaces amid the falling leaves.
On the threshold, as she turned to throw a glance into the night, it seemed
to him, for a single instant, that her eyes plunged through the darkness
into his own. Then, while his heart still bounded with the hope, the door
opened, and shut after her, and she was gone.

For a moment he saw only blackness--so sharp was the quick shutting off of
the indoor light. The vague shapes upon the lawn showed like mere drawings
in outline, the road became a pallid blur in the formless distance, and the
shine of the lamplight on the drive shifted and grew dim as if a curtain
had dropped across the windows. Like a white thread on the blackness he saw
the glimmer beneath his grandmother’s shutters, and it was as if he had
looked in from the high top of an elm and seen her lying with her candle on
her breast.

As he stood there the silence of the old house knocked upon his heart like
sound--and quick fears sprang up within him of a sudden death, or of Betty
weeping for him somewhere alone in the stillness. The long roof under the
waving elm boughs lost, for a heartbeat, the likeness of his home, and
became, as the clouds thickened in the sky, but a great mound of earth over
which the wind blew and the dead leaves fell.

But at last when he turned away and followed the branch road, his racial
temperament had triumphed over the forebodings of the moment; and with the
flicker of a smile upon his lips, he started briskly toward the turnpike.
As the mind in the first ecstasy of a high passion is purified from the
stain of mere emotion, so the Major, and the Major’s anger, were forgotten,
and his own bitter resentment swept as suddenly from his thoughts. He was
overpowered and uplifted by the one supreme feeling from which he still
trembled. All else seemed childish and of small significance beside the
memory of Betty’s lips upon his own. What room had he for anger when he was
filled to overflowing with the presence of love?

The branch road ran out abruptly into the turnpike, and once off the
familiar way by his grandfather’s stone wall, he felt the blackness of the
night close round him like a vault. Without a lantern there was small hope
of striking the tavern or the tavern road till morning. To go on meant a
night upon the roadside or in the fields.

As he stretched out his arm, groping in the blackness, he struck suddenly
upon the body of the blasted tree, and coming round it, his eyes caught the
red light of free Levi’s fire, and he heard the sound of a hammer falling
upon heated iron. The little path was somewhere in the darkness, and as he
vainly sought for it, he stumbled over a row of stripped and headless
cornstalks which ran up to the cabin door. Once upon the smooth stone
before the threshold, he gave a boyish whistle and lifted his hand to
knock. “It is I, Uncle Levi--there are no ‘hants’ about,” he cried.

The hammer was thrown aside, and fell upon the stones, and a moment
afterward, the door flew back quickly, showing the blanched face of free
Levi and the bright glow of the hearth. “Dis yer ain’ no time fur pranks,”
 said the old man, angrily. “Ain’t yer ever gwine ter grow up, yit?” and he
added, slowly, “Praise de Lawd hit’s you instid er de devil.”

“Oh, it’s I, sure enough,” returned Dan, lightly, as he came into the
cabin. “I’m on my way to Merry Oaks Tavern, Uncle Levi,--it’s ten miles
off, you know, and this blessed night is no better than an ink-pot. I’d
positively be ashamed to send such a night down on a respectable planet.
It’s that old lantern of yours I want, by the way, and in case it doesn’t
turn up again, take this to buy a new one. No, I can’t rest to-night. This
is my working time, and I must be up and doing.” He reached for the rusty
old lantern behind the door, and lighted it, laughing as he did so. His
face was pale, and there was a nervous tremor in his hands, but his voice
had lost none of its old heartiness. “Ah, that’s it, old man,” he said,
when the light was ready. “We’ll shake hands in case it’s a long parting.
This is a jolly world. Uncle Levi,--good-by, and God bless you,” and,
leaving the old man speechless on the hearth, he closed the door and went
out into the night.

On the turnpike again, with the lantern swinging in his hand, he walked
rapidly in the direction of the tavern road, throwing quick flashes of
light before his footsteps. Behind him he heard the falling of free Levi’s
hammer, and knew that the old negro was toiling at his rude forge for the
bread which he would to-morrow eat in freedom.

With the word he tossed back his hair and quickened his steps, as if he
were leaving servitude behind him in the house at Chericoke; and, as the
anger blazed up within his heart he found pleasure in the knowledge that at
last he was starting out to level his own road. Under the clouds on the
long turnpike it all seemed so easy--as easy as the falling of free Levi’s
hammer, which had faded in the distance.

What was it, after all? A year or two of struggle and of attainment, and he
would come back flushed with success, to clasp Betty in his arms. In a
dozen different ways he pictured to himself the possible manner of that
home-coming, obliterating the year or two that lay between. He saw himself
a great lawyer from a little reading and a single speech, or a judge upon
his bench, famed for his classic learning and his grave decisions. He had
only to choose, he felt, and he might be anything--had they not told him so
at college? did not even his grandfather admit it? He had only to
choose--and, oh, he would choose well--he would choose to be a man, and to
come riding back with his honours thick upon him.

Looking ahead, he saw himself a few years hence, as he rode leisurely
homeward up the turnpike, while the stray countrymen he met took off their
harvest hats, and stared wonderingly long after he was gone. He saw the
Governor hastening to the road to shake his hand, he saw his grandfather
bowed with the sense of his injustice, tremulous with the flutter of his
pride; and, best of all, he saw Betty--Betty, with the rays of light
beneath her lashes, coming straight across the drive into his arms.

And then all else faded slowly from him to give place to Betty, and he saw
her growing, changing, brightening, as he had seen her from her childhood
up. The small white figure in the moonlight, the merry little playmate,
hanging on his footsteps, eager to run his errands, the slender girl, with
the red braids and the proud shy eyes, and the woman who knelt upon the
hearth in Aunt Ailsey’s cabin, smiling up at him as she dried her
hair--all gathered round him now illuminated against the darkness of the
night. Betty, Betty,--he whispered her name softly beneath his breath, he
spoke it aloud in the silence of the turnpike, he even cried it out against
the mountains, and waited for the echo--Betty, Betty. There was not only
sweetness in the thought of her, there was strength also. The hand that had
held him back when he would have gone out blindly in his passion was the
hand of a woman, not of a girl--of a woman who could face life smiling
because she felt deep in herself the power to conquer it. Two days ago she
had been but the girl he loved, to-night, with her kisses on his lips, she
had become for him at once a shield and a religion. He looked outward and
saw her influence a light upon his pathway; he turned his gaze within and
found her a part of the sacred forces of his life--of his wistful
childhood, his boyish purity, and the memory of his mother.

He had passed Uplands, and now, as he followed the tavern way, he held the
flash of his lantern near the ground, and went slowly by the crumbling
hollows in the strip of “corduroy” road. There was a thick carpet of moist
leaves underfoot, and above the wind played lightly among the overhanging
branches. His lantern made a shining circle in the midst of a surrounding
blackness, and where the light fell the scattered autumn leaves sent out
gold and scarlet flashes that came and went as quickly as a flame. Once an
owl flew across his path, and startled by the lantern, blindly fluttered
off again. Somewhere in the distance he heard the short bark of a fox; then
it died away, and there was no sound except the ceaseless rustle of the
trees.

By the time he came out of the wood upon the open road, his high spirits
had gone suddenly down, and the visions of an hour ago showed stale and
lifeless to his clouded eyes. After a day’s ride and a poor dinner, the
ten-mile walk had left him with aching limbs, and a growing conviction that
despite his former aspirations, he was fast going to the devil along the
tavern road. When at last he swung open the whitewashed gate before the
inn, and threw the light of his lantern on the great oaks in the yard, the
relief he felt was hardly brighter than despair, and it made very little
difference, he grimly told himself, whether he put up for the night or kept
the road forever. With a clatter he went into the little wooden porch and
knocked upon the door.

He was still knocking when a window was raised suddenly above him, and a
man’s voice called out, “if he wanted a place for night-hawks to go on to
hell.” Then, being evidently a garrulous body, the speaker leaned
comfortably upon the sill, and sent down a string of remarks, which Dan
promptly shortened with an oath.

“Hold your tongue, Jack Hicks,” he cried, angrily, “and come down and open
this door before I break it in. I’ve walked ten miles to-night and I can’t
stand here till morning. How long has it been since you had a guest?”

“There was six of ‘em changin’ stages this mornin’,” drawled Jack, in
reply, still hanging from the sill. “I gave ‘em a dinner of fried chicken
and battercakes, and two of ‘em being Yankees hadn’t never tasted it
befo’--and a month ago one dropped in to spend the night--”

He broke off hastily, for his wife had joined him at the window, and as Dan
looked up with the flash of the lantern in his face, she gave a cry and
called his name.

“Put on your clothes and go down, you fool,” she said, “it’s Mr. Dan--don’t
you see it’s Mr. Dan, and he’s as white as yo’ nightshirt. Go down, I tell
you,--go down and let him in.” There was a skurrying in the room and on the
staircase, and a moment later the door was flung open and a lamp flashed in
the darkness.

“Walk in, suh, walk right in,” said Jack Hicks, hospitably, “day or night
you’re welcome--as welcome as the Major himself.” He drew back and stood
with the lamplight full upon him--a loose, ill-proportioned figure, with a
flabby face and pale blue eyes set under swollen lids.

“I want something to eat, Jack,” returned Dan, as he entered and put down
his lantern, “and a place to sleep--in fact I want anything you have to
offer.”

Then, as Mrs. Hicks appeared upon the stair, he greeted her, despite his
weariness, with something of his old jesting manner. “I am begging a
supper,” he remarked affably, as he shook her hand, “and I may as well
confess, by the way, that I am positively starving.”

The woman beamed upon him, as women always did, and while she led the way
into the little dining room, and set out the cold meat and bread upon the
oil-cloth covering of the table, she asked him eager questions about the
Major and Mrs. Lightfoot, which he aroused himself to parry with a tired
laugh. She was tall and thin, with a wrinkled brown face, and a row of curl
papers about her forehead. Her faded calico wrapper hung loosely over her
nightgown, and he saw her bare feet through the cracks in her worn-out
leather slippers.

“The poor young gentleman is all but dead,” she said at last. “You give him
his supper, Jack, and I’ll go right up to fix his room. To think of his
walkin’ ten miles in the pitch blackness--the poor young gentleman.”

She went out, her run down slippers flapping on the stair, and Dan, as he
ate his ham and bread, listened impatiently to the drawling voice of Jack
Hicks, who discussed the condition of the country while he drew apple cider
from a keg into a white china pitcher. As he talked, his fat face shone
with a drowsy good-humour, and his puffed lids winked sleepily over his
expressionless blue eyes. He moved heavily as if his limbs were forever
coming in the way of his intentions.

“Yes, suh, I never was one of them folks as ain’t satisfied unless they’re
always a-fussin’,” he remarked, as he placed the pitcher upon the table.
“Thar’s a sight of them kind in these here parts, but I ain’t one of ‘em.
Lord, Lord, I tell ‘em, befo’ you git ready to jump out of the fryin’ pan,
you’d better make mighty sure you ain’t fixin’ to land yo’self in the fire.
That’s what I always had agin these here abolitionists as used to come
pokin’ round here--they ain’t never learned to set down an’ cross thar
hands, an’ leave the Lord to mind his own business. Bless my soul, I reckon
they’d have wanted to have a hand in that little fuss of Lucifer’s if
they’d been alive--that’s what I tell ‘em, suh. An’ now thar’s all this
talk about the freein’ of the niggers--free? What are they goin’ to do with
‘em after they’re done set ‘em free? Ain’t they the sons of Ham? I ask ‘em;
an’ warn’t they made to be servants of servants like the Bible says? It’s a
bold man that goes plum agin the Bible, and flies smack into the face of
God Almighty--it’s a bold man, an’ he ain’t me, suh. What I say is, if the
Lord can stand it, I reckon the rest of the country--”

He paused to draw breath, and Dan laid down his knife and fork and pushed
back his chair. “Before you begin again, Jack,” he said coolly, “will you
spare enough wind to carry me upstairs?”

“That’s what I tell ‘em,” pursued Jack amiably, as he lighted a candle and
led the way into the hall. “They used to come down here every once in a
while an’ try to draw me out; and one of ‘em ‘most got a coat of tar an’
feathers for meddlin’ with my man Lacy; but if the Lord--here we are, here
we are.”

He stopped upon the landing and opened the door of a long room, in which
Mrs. Hicks was putting the last touches to the bed. She stopped as Dan came
in, and by the pale flicker of a tallow candle stood looking at him from
the threshold. “If you’ll jest knock on the floor when you wake up, I’ll
know when to send yo’ hot water,” she said, “and if thar’s anything else
you want, you can jest knock agin.”

With a smile he thanked her and promised to remember; and then as she went
out into the hall, he bolted the door, and threw himself into a chair
beside the window. Sleep had quite deserted him, and the dawn was on the
mountains when at last he lay down and closed his eyes.



XI

AT MERRY OAKS TAVERN


Upon awaking his first thought was that he had got “into a deucedly
uncomfortable fix,” and when he stretched out his hand from the bedside the
need of fresh clothes appeared less easy to be borne than the more abstract
wreck of his career. For the first time he clearly grasped some outline of
his future--a future in which a change of linen would become a luxury; and
it was with smarting eyes and a nervous tightening of the throat that he
glanced about the long room, with its whitewashed walls, and told himself
that he had come early to the end of his ambition. In the ill-regulated
tenor of his thoughts but a hair’s breadth divided assurance from despair.
Last night the vaguest hope had seemed to be a certainty; to-day his fat
acres and the sturdy slaves upon them had vanished like a dream, and the
building of his fortunes had become suddenly a very different matter from
the rearing of airy castles along the road.

As he lay there, with his strong white hands folded upon the quilt, his
eyes went beyond the little lattice at the window, and rested upon the dark
gray chain of mountains over which the white clouds sailed like birds.
Somewhere nearer those mountains he knew that Chericoke was standing under
the clouded sky, with the half-bared elms knocking night and day upon the
windows. He could see the open doors, through which the wind blew steadily,
and the crooked stair down which his mother had come in her careless
girlhood.

It seemed to him, lying there, that in this one hour he had drawn closer
into sympathy with his mother, and when he looked up from his pillow, he
half expected to see her merry eyes bending over him, and to feel her thin
and trembling hand upon his brow. His old worship of her awoke to life, and
he suffered over again the moment in his childhood when he had called her
and she had not answered, and they had pushed him from the room and told
him she was dead. He remembered the clear white of her face, with the
violet shadows in the hollows; and he remembered the baby lying as if
asleep upon her bosom. For a moment he felt that he had never grown older
since that day--that he was still a child grieving for her loss--while all
the time she was not dead, but stood beside him and smiled down upon his
pillow. Poor mother, with the merry eyes and the bitter mouth.

Then as he looked the face grew younger, though the smile did not change,
and he saw that it was Betty, after all--Betty with the tenderness in her
eyes and the motherly yearning in her outstretched arms. The two women he
loved were forever blended in his thoughts, and he dimly realized that
whatever the future made of him, he should be moulded less by events than
by the hands of these two women. Events might subdue, but love alone could
create the spirit that gave him life.

There was a tap at his door, and when he arose and opened it, Mrs. Hicks
handed in a pitcher of hot water and inquired “if he had recollected to
knock upon the floor?”

He set the water upon the table, and after he had dressed brushed
hopelessly, with a trembling hand, at the dust upon his clothes. Then he
went to the window and stood gloomily looking down among the great oak
trees to the strip of yard where a pig was rooting in the acorns.

A small porch ran across the entrance to the inn, and Jack Hicks was
already seated on it, with a pipe in his mouth, and his feet upon the
railing. His drowsy gaze was turned upon the woodpile hard by, where an old
negro slave was chopping aimlessly into a new pine log, and a black urchin
gathering chips into a big split basket. At a little distance the Hopeville
stage was drawn out under the trees, the empty shafts lying upon the
ground, and on the box a red and black rooster stood crowing. Overhead
there was a dull gray sky, and the scene, in all its ugliness, showed
stripped of the redeeming grace of lights and shadows.

Jack Hicks, smoking on his porch, presented a picture of bodily comfort and
philosophic ease of mind. He was owner of some rich acres, and his
possessions, it was said, might have been readily doubled had he chosen to
barter for them the peace of perfect inactivity. To do him justice the idea
had never occurred to him in the light of a temptation, and when a
neighbour had once remarked in his hearing that he “reckoned Jack would
rather lose a dollar than walk a mile to fetch it,” he had answered
blandly, and without embarrassment, that “a mile was a goodish stretch on a
sandy road.” So he sat and dozed beneath his sturdy oaks, while his wife
went ragged at the heels and his swarm of tow-headed children rolled
contentedly with the pigs among the acorns.

Dan was still looking moodily down into the yard, when he heard a gentle
pressure upon the handle of his door, and as he turned, it opened quickly
and Big Abel, bearing a large white bundle upon his shoulders, staggered
into the room.

“Ef’n you’d des let me knowed hit, I could er brung a bigger load,” he
remarked sternly.

While he drew breath Dan stared at him with the blankness of surprise.
“Where did you come from, Big Abel?” he questioned at last, speaking in a
whisper.

Big Abel was busily untying the sheet he had brought, and spreading out the
contents upon the bed, and he did not pause as he sullenly answered:--

“Ole Marster’s.”

“Who sent you?”

Big Abel snorted. “Who gwine sen’ me?” he demanded in his turn.

“Well, I declare,” said Dan, and after a moment, “how did you get away,
man?”

“Lawd, Lawd,” returned Big Abel, “I wa’n’ bo’n yestiddy nur de day befo’.
Terreckly I seed you a-cuttin’ up de drive, I knowed dar wuz mo’ den wuz in
de tail er de eye, en w’en you des lit right out agin en bang de do’ behint
you fitten ter bus’ hit, den I begin ter steddy ‘bout de close in de big
wa’drobe. I got out one er ole Miss’s sheets w’en she wa’n’ lookin, en I
tie up all de summer close de bes’ I kin--caze dat ar do’ bang hit ain’
soun’ like you gwine be back fo’ de summer right plum hyer. I’se done heah
a do’ bang befo’ now, en dars mo’ in it den des de shettin’ ter stay shet.”

“So you ran away?” said Dan, with a long whistle.

“Ain’t you done run away?”

“I--oh, I was turned out,” answered the young man, with his eyes on the
negro. “But--bless my soul, Big Abel, why did you do it?”

Big Abel muttered something beneath his breath, and went on laying out the
things.

“How you gwine git dese yer close ef I ain’ tote ‘em ‘long de road?” he
asked presently. “How you gwine git dis yer close bresh ef I ain’ brung hit
ter you? Whar de close you got? Whar de close bresh?”

“You’re a fool, Big Abel,” retorted Dan. “Go back where you belong and
don’t hang about me any more. I’m a beggar, I tell you, and I’m likely to
be a beggar at the judgment day.”

“Whar de close bresh?” repeated Big Abel, scornfully.

“What would Saphiry say, I’d like to know?” went on Dan. “It isn’t fair to
Saphiry to run off this way.”

“Don’ you bodder ‘bout Saphiry,” responded Big Abel. “I’se done loss my
tase fur Saphiry, young Marster.”

“I tell you you’re a fool,” snapped out Dan, sharply.

“De Lawd he knows,” piously rejoined Big Abel, and he added: “Dar ain’ no
use a-rumpasin’ case hyer I is en hyer I’se gwine ter stay. Whar you run,
dar I’se gwine ter run right atter, so ‘tain’ no use a-rumpasin’. Hit’s a
pity dese yer ain’ nuttin’ but summer close.”

Dan looked at him a moment in silence, then he put out his hand and slapped
him upon the shoulder.

“You’re a fool--God bless you,” he said.

“Go ‘way f’om yer, young Marster,” responded the negro, in a high
good-humour. “Dar’s a speck er dut right on yo’ shut.”

“Then give me another,” cried Dan, gayly, and threw off his coat.

When he went down stairs, carefully brushed, a half-hour afterward, the
world had grown suddenly to wear a more cheerful aspect. He greeted Mrs.
Hicks with his careless good-humour, and spoke pleasantly to the dirty
white-haired children that streamed through the dining room.

“Yes, I’ll take my breakfast now, if you please,” he said as he sat down at
one end of the long, oilcloth-covered table. Mrs. Hicks brought him his
coffee and cakes, and then stood, with her hands upon a chair back, and
watched him with a frank delight in his well-dressed comely figure.

“You do favour the Major, Mr. Dan,” she suddenly remarked.

He started impatiently. “Oh, the Lightfoots are all alike, you know,” he
responded. “We are fond of saying that a strain of Lightfoot blood is good
for two centuries of intermixing.” Then, as he looked up at her faded
wrapper and twisted curl papers, he flinched and turned away as if her
ugliness afflicted his eyes. “Do not let me keep you,” he added hastily.

But the woman stooped to shake a child that was tugging at her dress, and
talked on in her drawling voice, while a greedy interest gave life to her
worn and sallow face. “How long do you think of stayin’?” she asked
curiously, “and do you often take a notion to walk so fur in the dead of
night? Why, I declar, when I looked out an’ saw you I couldn’t believe my
eyes. That’s not Mr. Dan, I said, you won’t catch Mr. Dan out in the pitch
darkness with a lantern and ten miles from home.”

“I really do not want to keep you,” he broke in shortly, all the
good-humour gone from his voice.

“Thar ain’t nothin’ to do right now,” she answered with a searching look
into his face. “I was jest waitin’ to bring you some mo’ cakes.” She went
out and came in presently with a fresh plateful. “I remember jest as well
the first time you ever took breakfast here,” she said. “You wa’n’t more’n
twelve, I don’t reckon, an’ the Major brought you by in the coach, with Big
Abel driving. The Major didn’t like the molasses we gave him, and he pushed
the pitcher away and said it wasn’t fit for pigs; and then you looked about
real peart and spoke up, ‘It’s good molasses, grandpa, I like it.’ Sakes
alive, it seems jest like yestiddy. I don’t reckon the Major is comin’ by
to-day, is he?”

He pushed his plate away and rose hurriedly, then, without replying, he
brushed past her, and went out upon the porch.

There he found Jack Hicks, and forced himself squarely into a discussion of
his altered fortunes. “I may as well tell you, Jack,” he said, with a touch
of arrogance, “that I’m turned out upon the world, at last, and I’ve got to
make a living. I’ve left Chericoke for good, and as I’ve got to stay here
until I find a place to go, there’s no use making a secret of it.”

The pipe dropped from Jack’s mouth, and he stared back in astonishment.

“Bless my soul and body!” he exclaimed. “Is the old gentleman crazy or is
you?”

“You forget yourself,” sharply retorted Dan.

“Well, well,” pursued Jack, good-naturedly, as he knocked the ashes from
his pipe and slowly refilled it. “If you hadn’t have told me, I wouldn’t
have believed you--well, well.” He put his pipe into his mouth and hung on
it for a moment; then he took it out and spoke thoughtfully. “I reckon I’ve
known you from a child, haven’t I, Mr. Dan?” he asked.

“That’s so, Jack,” responded the young man, “and if you can recommend me, I
want you to help me to a job for a week or two--then I’m off to town.”

“I’ve known you from a child year in an’ year out,” went on Jack, blandly
disregarding the interruption. “From the time you was sech a
pleasant-spoken little boy that it did me good to bow to you when you rode
by with the Major. ‘Thar’s not another like him in the country,’ I said to
Bill Bates, an’ he said to me, ‘Thar’s not a man between here an’
Leicesterburg as ain’t ready to say the same.’ Then time went on an’ you
got bigger, an’ the year came when the crops failed an’ Sairy got sick, an’
I took a mortgage on this here house--an’ what should happen but that you
stepped right up an’ paid it out of yo’ own pocket. And you kept it from
the Major. Lord, Lord, to think the Major never knew which way the money
went.”

“We won’t speak of that,” said Dan, throwing back his head. The thought
that the innkeeper might be going to offer him the money stung him into
anger.

But Jack knew his man, and he would as soon have thought of throwing a
handful of dust into his face. “Jest as you like, suh, jest as you like,”
 he returned easily, and went on smoking.

Dan sat down in a chair upon the porch, and taking out his knife began idly
whittling at the end of a stick. A small boy, in blue jean breeches,
watched him eagerly from the steps, and he spoke to him pleasantly while he
cut into the wood.

“Did you ever see a horse’s head on a cane, sonny?”

The child sucked his dirty thumb and edged nearer.

“Naw, suh, but I’ve seen a dawg’s,” he answered, drawing out his thumb like
a stopper and sticking it in again.

“Well, you watch this and you’ll see a horse’s. There, now don’t take your
eyes away.”

He whittled silently for a time, then as he looked up his glance fell on
the stagecoach in the yard, and he turned from it to Jack Hicks.

“There’s one thing on earth I know about, Jack,” he said, “and that’s a
horse.”

“Not a better jedge in the county, suh,” was Jack’s response.

As Dan whittled a flush rose to his face. “Does Tom Hyden still drive the
Hopeville stage?” he asked.

“Well, you see it’s this way,” answered Jack, weighing his words. “Tom he’s
a first-rate hand at horses, but he drinks like a fish, and last week he
married a wife who owns a house an’ farm up the road. So long as he had to
earn his own livin’ he kept sober long enough to run the stage, but since
he’s gone and married, he says thar’s no call fur him to keep a level
head--so he don’t keep it. Yes, that’s about how ‘tis, suh.”

Dan finished the stick and handed it to the child. “I tell you what, Jack,”
 he said suddenly, “I want Tom Hyden’s place, and I’m going to drive that
stage over to Hopeville this afternoon. Phil Banks runs it, doesn’t
he?--well, I know him.” He rose and stood humorously looking out upon the
coach. “There’s no time like the present,” he added, “so I begin work
to-day.”

Jack Hicks silently stared up at him for a moment; then he coughed and
exclaimed hoarsely:--

“The jedgment ain’t fur off,” but Dan laughed the prophecy aside and went
upstairs to write to Betty.

“I’ve got a job, Big Abel,” he began, going into his room, where the negro
was pressing a pair of trousers with a flatiron, “and what’s more it will
keep me till I get another.”

Big Abel gloomily shook his head. “We all ‘ud des better go ‘long home ter
Ole Miss,” he returned, for he was in no mood for compromises. “Caze I ain’
use ter de po’ w’ite trash en dey ain’ use ter me.”

“Go if you want to,” retorted Dan, sternly, “but you go alone,” and the
negro, protesting under his breath, laid the clothes away and went down to
his breakfast.

Dan sat down by the window and wrote a letter to Betty which he never sent.
When he thought of her now it was as if half the world instead of ten miles
lay between them; and quickly as he would have resented the hint of it from
Jack Hicks, to himself he admitted that he was fast sinking where Betty
could not follow him. What would the end be? he asked, and disheartened by
the question, tore the paper into bits and walked moodily up and down the
room. He had lived so blithely until to-day! His lines had fallen so
smoothly in the pleasant places! Not without a grim humour he remembered
now that last year his grievance had been that his tailor failed to fit
him. Last year he had walked the floor in a rage because of a wrinkled
coat, and to-day--His road had gone rough so suddenly that he stumbled like
a blind man when he tried to go over it in his old buoyant manner.

An hour later he was still pacing restlessly to and fro, when the door
softly opened and Mrs. Hicks looked in upon him with a deprecating smile.
As she lingered on the threshold, he stopped in the middle of the room and
threw her a sharp glance over his shoulder.

“Is there anything you wish?” he questioned irritably.

Shaking her head, she came slowly toward him and stood in her soiled
wrapper and curl papers, where the gray light from the latticed window fell
full upon her.

“It ain’t nothin’,” she answered hurriedly. “Nothin’ except Jack’s been
tellin’ me you’re in trouble, Mr. Dan.”

“Then he has been telling you something that concerns nobody but myself,”
 he replied coolly, and continued his walking.

There was a nervous flutter of her wrapper, and she passed her knotted hand
over her face.

“You are like yo’ mother, Mr. Dan,” she said with an unexpectedness that
brought him to a halt. “An’ I was the last one to see her the night she
went away. She came in here, po’ thing, all shiverin’ with the cold, an’
she wouldn’t set down but kep’ walkin’ up an’ down, up an’ down, jest like
you’ve been doin’ fur this last hour. Po’ thing! Po’ thing! I tried to make
her take a sip of brandy, but she laughed an’ said she was quite warm, with
her teeth chatterin’ fit to break--”

“You are very good, Mrs. Hicks,” interrupted Dan, in an affected drawl
which steadied his voice, “but do you know, I’d really rather that you
wouldn’t.”

Her sallow face twitched and she looked wistfully up at him.

“It isn’t that, Mr. Dan,” she went on slowly, “but I’ve had trouble myself,
God knows, and when I think of that po’ proud young lady, an’ the way she
went, I can’t help sayin’ what I feel--it won’t stay back. So if you’ll
jest keep on here, an’ give up the stage drivin’ an’ wait twil the old
gentleman comes round--Jack an’ I’ll do our best fur you--we’ll do our
best, even if it ain’t much.”

Her lips quivered, and as he watched her it seemed to him that a new
meaning passed into her face--something that made her look like Betty and
his mother--that made all good women who had loved him look alike. For the
moment he forgot her ugliness, and with the beginning of that keener
insight into life which would come to him as he touched with humanity, he
saw only the dignity with which suffering had endowed this plain and simple
woman. The furrows upon her cheeks were no longer mere disfigurements; they
raised her from the ordinary level of the ignorant and the ugly into some
bond of sympathy with his dead mother.

“My dear Mrs. Hicks,” he stammered, abashed and reddening. “Why, I shall
take a positive pleasure in driving the stage, I assure you.”

He crossed to the mirror and carefully brushed a stray lock of hair into
place; then he took up his hat and gloves and turned toward the door. “I
think it is waiting for me now,” he added lightly; “a pleasant evening to
you.”

But she stood straight before him and as he met her eyes his affected
jauntiness dropped from him. With a boyish awkwardness he took her hand and
held it for an instant as he looked at her. “My dear madam, you are a good
woman,” he said, and went whistling down to take the stage.

Upon the porch he found Jack Hicks seated between a stout gentleman and a
thin lady, who were to be the passengers to Hopeville; and as Dan appeared
the innkeeper started to his feet and swung open the door of the coach for
the thin lady to pass inside. “You’ll find it a pleasant ride, mum,” he
heartily assured her. “I’ve often taken it myself an’, rain or shine,
thar’s not a prettier road in all Virginny,” then he moved humbly back as
Dan, carelessly drawing on his gloves, came down the steps. “I hope we
haven’t hurried you, suh,” he stammered.

“Not a bit--not a bit,” returned Dan, affably, slipping on his overcoat,
which Big Abel had run up to hold for him.

“You gwine git right soakin’ wet, Marse Dan,” said Big Abel, anxiously.

“Oh, I’ll not melt,” responded Dan, and bowing to the thin lady he stepped
upon the wheel and mounted lightly to the box.

“There’s no end to this eternal drizzle,” he called down, as he tucked the
waterproof robe about him and took up the reins.

Then, with a merry crack of the whip, the stage rolled through the gate and
on its way.

As it turned into the road, a man on horseback came galloping from the
direction of the town, and when he neared the tavern he stood up in his
stirrups and shouted his piece of news.

“Thar was a raid on Harper’s Ferry in the night,” he yelled hoarsely. “The
arsenal has fallen, an’ they’re armin’ the damned niggers.”



XII

THE NIGHT OF FEAR


Late in the afternoon, as the Governor neared the tavern, he was met by a
messenger with the news; and at once turning his horse’s head, he started
back to Uplands. A dim fear, which had been with him since boyhood, seemed
to take shape and meaning with the words; and in a lightning flash of
understanding he knew that he had lived before through the horror of this
moment. If his fathers had sinned, surely the shadow of their wrong had
passed them by to fall the heavier upon their sons; for even as his blood
rang in his ears, he saw a savage justice in the thing he feared--a
recompense to natural laws in which the innocent should weigh as naught
against the guilty.

A fine rain was falling; and as he went on, the end of a drizzling
afternoon dwindled rapidly into night. Across the meadows he saw the lamps
in scattered cottages twinkle brightly through the dusk which rolled like
fog down from the mountains. The road he followed sagged between two gray
hills into a narrow valley, and regaining its balance upon the farther
side, stretched over a cattle pasture into the thick cover of the woods.

As he reached the summit of the first hill, he saw the Major’s coach
creeping slowly up the incline, and heard the old gentleman scolding
through the window at Congo on the box.

“My dear Major, home’s the place for you,” he said as he drew rein. “Is it
possible that the news hasn’t reached you yet?”

Remembering Congo, he spoke cautiously, but the Major, in his anger, tossed
discretion to the winds.

“Reached me?--bless my soul!--do you take me for a ground hog?” he cried,
thrusting his red face through the window. “I met Tom Bickels four miles
back, and the horses haven’t drawn breath since. But it’s what I expected
all along--I was just telling Congo so--it all comes from the mistaken
tolerance of black Republicans. Let me open my doors to them to-day, and
they’ll be tempting Congo to murder me in my bed to-morrow.”

“Go ‘way f’om yer, Ole Marster,” protested Congo from the box, flicking at
the harness with his long whip.

The Governor looked a little anxiously at the negro, and then shook his
head impatiently. Though a less exacting master than the Major, he had not
the same childlike trust in the slaves he owned.

“Shall you not turn back?” he asked, surprised.

“Champe’s there,” responded the Major, “so I came on for the particulars. A
night in town isn’t to my liking, but I can’t sleep a wink until I hear a
thing or two. You’re going out, eh?”

“I’m riding home,” said the Governor, “it makes me uneasy to be away from
Uplands.” He paused, hesitated an instant, and then broke out suddenly.
“Good God, Major, what does it mean?”

The Major shook his head until his long white hair fell across his eyes.

“Mean, sir?” he thundered in a rage. “It means, I reckon, that those damned
friends of yours have a mind to murder you. It means that after all your
speech-making and your brotherly love, they’re putting pitchforks into the
hands of savages and loosening them upon you. Oh, you needn’t mind Congo,
Governor. Congo’s heart’s as white as mine.”

“Dat’s so, Ole Marster,” put in Congo, approvingly.

The Governor was trembling as he leaned down from his saddle.

“We know nothing as yet, sir,” he began, “there must be some--”

“Oh, go on, go on,” cried the Major, striking the carriage window. “Keep up
your speech-making and your handshaking until your wife gets murdered in
her bed--but, by God, sir, if Virginia doesn’t secede after this, I’ll
secede without her!”

The coach moved on and the Governor, touching his horse with the whip, rode
rapidly down the hill.

As he descended into the valley, a thick mist rolled over him and the road
lost itself in the blur of the surrounding fields. Without slackening his
pace, he lighted the lantern at his saddle-bow and turned up the collar of
his coat about his ears. The fine rain was soaking through his clothes, but
in the tension of his nerves he was oblivious of the weather. The sun might
have risen overhead and he would not have known it.

With the coming down of the darkness a slow fear crept, like a physical
chill, from head to foot. A visible danger he felt that he might meet face
to face and conquer; but how could he stand against an enemy that crept
upon him unawares?--against the large uncertainty, the utter ignorance of
the depth or meaning of the outbreak, the knowledge of a hidden evil which
might be even now brooding at his fireside?

A thousand hideous possibilities came toward him from out the stretch of
the wood. The light of a distant window, seen through the thinned edge of
the forest; the rustle of a small animal in the underbrush; the drop of a
walnut on the wet leaves in the road; the very odours which rose from the
moist earth and dripped from the leafless branches--all sent him faster on
his way, with a sound within his ears that was like the drumming of his
heart.

To quiet his nerves, he sought to bring before him a picture of the house
at Uplands, of the calm white pillars and the lamplight shining from the
door; but even as he looked the vision of a slave-war rushed between, and
the old buried horrors of the Southampton uprising sprang suddenly to life
and thronged about the image of his home. Yesterday those tales had been
for him as colourless as history, as dry as dates; to-night, with this new
fear at his heart, the past became as vivid as the present, and it seemed
to him that beyond each lantern flash he saw a murdered woman, or an infant
with its brains dashed out at its mother’s breast. This was what he feared,
for this was what the message meant to him: “The slaves are armed and
rising.”

And yet with it all, he felt that there was some wild justice in the thing
he dreaded, in the revolt of an enslaved and ignorant people, in the
pitiable and ineffectual struggle for a freedom which would mean, in the
beginning, but the power to go forth and kill. It was the recognition of
this deeper pathos that made him hesitate to reproach even while his
thoughts dwelt on the evils--that would, if the need came, send him
fearless and gentle to the fight. For what he saw was that behind the new
wrongs were the old ones, and that the sinners of to-day were, perhaps, the
sinned against of yesterday.

When at last he came out into the turnpike, he had not the courage to look
among the trees for the lights of Uplands; and for a while he rode with his
eyes following the lantern flash as it ran onward over the wet ground. The
small yellow circle held his gaze, and as if fascinated he watched it
moving along the road, now shining on the silver grains in a ring of sand,
now glancing back from the standing water in a wheelrut, and now
illuminating a mossy stone or a weed upon the roadside. It was the one
bright thing in a universe of blackness, until, as he came suddenly upon an
elevation, the trees parted and he saw the windows of his home glowing upon
the night. As he looked a great peace fell over him, and he rode on,
thanking God.

When he turned into the drive, his past anxiety appeared to him to be
ridiculous, and as he glanced from the clear lights in the great house to
the chain of lesser ones that stretched along the quarters, he laughed
aloud in the first exhilaration of his relief. This at least was safe, God
keep the others.

At his first call as he alighted before the portico, Hosea came running for
his horse, and when he entered the house, the cheerful face of Uncle
Shadrach looked out from the dining room.

“Hi! Marse Peyton, I ‘lowed you wuz gwine ter spen’ de night.”

“Oh, I had to get back, Shadrach,” replied the Governor. “No, I won’t take
any supper--you needn’t bring it--but give me a glass of Burgundy, and then
go to bed. Where is your mistress, by the way? Has she gone to her room?”

Uncle Shadrach brought the bottle of Burgundy from the cellaret and placed
it upon the table.

“Naw, suh, Miss July she set out ter de quarters ter see atter Mahaley,” he
returned. “Mahaley she’s moughty bad off, but ‘tain’ no night fur Miss
July--dat’s w’at I tell ‘er--one er dese yer spittin’ nights ain’ no night
ter be out in.”

“You’re right, Shadrach, you’re right,” responded the Governor; and rising
he drank the wine standing. “It isn’t a fit night for her to be out, and
I’ll go after her at once.”

He took up his lantern, and as the old negro opened the doors before him,
went out upon the back porch and down the steps.

From the steps a narrow path ran by the kitchen, and skirting the
garden-wall, straggled through the orchard and past the house of the
overseer to the big barn and the cabins in the quarters. There was a light
from the barn door, and as he passed he heard the sound of fiddles and the
shuffling steps of the field hands in a noisy “game.” The words they sang
floated out into the night, and with the squeaking of the fiddles followed
him along his path.

When he reached the quarters, he went from door to door, asking for his
wife. “Is this Mahaley’s cabin?” he anxiously inquired, “and has your
mistress gone by?”

In the first room an old negro woman sat on the hearth wrapping the hair of
her grandchild, and she rose with a courtesy and a smile of welcome. At the
question her face fell and she shook her head.

“Dis yer ain’ Mahaley, Marster,” she replied. “En dis yer ain’ Mahaley’s
cabin--caze Mahaley she ain’ never set foot inside my do’, en I ain’ gwine
set foot at her buryin’.” She spoke shrilly, moved by a hidden spite, but
the Governor, without stopping, went on along the line of open doors. In
one a field negro was roasting chestnuts in the embers of a log fire, and
while waiting he had fallen asleep, with his head on his breast and his
gnarled hands hanging between his knees. The firelight ran over him, and as
he slept he stirred and muttered something in his dreams.

After the first glance, his master passed him by and moved on to the
adjoining cabin. “Does Mahaley live here?” he asked again and yet again,
until, suddenly, he had no need to put the question for from the last room
he heard a low voice praying, and upon looking in saw his wife kneeling
with her open Bible near the bedside.

With his hat in his hand, he stood within the shadow of the doorway and
waited for the earnest voice to fall silent. Mahaley was dying, this he saw
when his glance wandered to the shrunken figure beneath the patchwork
quilt; and at the same instant he realized how small a part was his in
Mahaley’s life or death. He should hardly have known her had he met her
last week in the corn field; and it was by chance only that he knew her now
when she came to die.

As he stood there the burden of his responsibility weighed upon him like
old age. Here in this scant cabin things so serious as birth and death
showed in a pathetic bareness, stripped of all ceremonial trappings, as
mere events in the orderly working out of natural laws--events as
seasonable as the springing up and the cutting down of the corn. In these
simple lives, so closely lived to the ground, grave things were sweetened
by an unconscious humour which was of the soil itself; and even death lost
something of its strangeness when it came like the grateful shadow which
falls over a tired worker in the field.

Mrs. Ambler finished her prayer and rose from her knees; and as she did so
two slave women, crouching in a corner by the fire, broke into loud
moaning, which filled the little room with an animal and inarticulate sound
of grief.

“Come away, Julia,” implored the Governor in a whisper, resisting an
impulse to close his ears against the cry.

But his wife shook her head and spoke for a moment with the sick woman
before she wrapped her shawl about her and came out into the open air. Then
she gave a sigh of relief, and, with her hand through her husband’s arm,
followed the path across the orchard.

“So you came home, after all,” she said. For a moment he made no response;
then, glancing about him in the darkness, he spoke in a low voice, as if
fearing the sound of his own words.

“Bad news brought me home, Julia,” he replied, “At the tavern they told me
a message had come to Leicesterburg from Harper’s Ferry. An attack was made
on the arsenal at midnight, and, it may be but a rumour, my dear, it was
feared that the slaves for miles around were armed for an uprising.”

His voice faltered, and he put out his hand to steady her, but she looked
up at him and he saw her clear eyes shining in the gloom.

“Oh, poor creatures,” she murmured beneath her breath.

“Julia, Julia,” he said softly, and lifted the lantern that he might look
into her face. As the light fell on her he knew that she was as much a
mystery to him now as she had been twenty years ago on her wedding-day.

When they went into the house, he followed Uncle Shadrach about and
carefully barred the windows, shooting bolts which were rusted from disuse.
After the old negro had gone out he examined the locks again; and then
going into the hall took down a bird gun and an army pistol from their
places on the rack. These he loaded and laid near at hand beside the books
upon his table.

There was no sleep for him that night, and until dawn he sat, watchful, in
his chair, or moved softly from window to window, looking for a torch upon
the road and listening for the sound of approaching steps.



XIII

CRABBED AGE AND CALLOW YOUTH


With the morning came trustier tidings. The slaves had taken no part in the
attack, the weapons had dropped from the few dark hands into which they had
been given, and while the shots that might bring them freedom yet rang at
Harper’s Ferry, the negroes themselves went with cheerful faces to their
work, or looked up, singing, from their labours in the field. In the green
valley, set amid blue mountains, they moved quietly back and forth, raking
the wind-drifts of fallen leaves, or ploughing the rich earth for the
autumn sowing of the grain.

As the Governor was sitting down to breakfast, the Lightfoot coach rolled
up to the portico, and the Major stepped down to deliver himself of his
garnered news. He was in no pleasant humour, for he had met Dan face to
face that morning as he passed the tavern, and as if this were not
sufficient to try the patience of an irascible old gentleman, a spasm of
gout had seized him as he made ready to descend.

But at the sight of Mrs. Ambler, he trod valiantly upon his gouty toe, and
screwed his features into his blandest smile--an effort which drew so
heavily upon the source of his good-nature, that he arrived at Chericoke an
hour later in what was known to Betty as “a purple rage.”

“You know I have always warned you, Molly,” was his first offensive thrust
as he entered Mrs. Lightfoot’s chamber, “that your taste for trash would be
the ruin of the family. It has ruined your daughter, and now it is ruining
your grandson. Well, well, you can’t say that it is for lack of warning.”

From the centre of her tester bed, the old lady calmly regarded him. “I
told you to bring back the boy, Mr. Lightfoot,” she returned. “You surely
saw him in town, didn’t you?”

“Oh, yes, I saw him,” replied the Major, loosening his high black stock.
“But where do you suppose I saw him, ma’am? and how? Why, the young
scapegrace has actually gone and hired himself out as a stagedriver--a
common stagedriver. And, bless my soul, he had the audacity to tip his hat
to me from the box--from the box with the reins in his hand, ma’am!”

“What stage, Mr. Lightfoot?” inquired his wife, with an eye for
particulars.

“Oh, I wash my hands of him,” pursued the Major, waving her question aside.
“I wash my hands of him, and that’s the end of it. In my day, the young
were supposed to show some respect for their elders, and every calf wasn’t
of the opinion that he could bellow like a bull--but things are changed
now, and I wash my hands of it all. A more ungrateful family, I am willing
to maintain, no man was ever blessed with--which comes, I reckon, from
sparing the rod and spoiling the child--but I’m sure I don’t see how it is
that it is always your temper that gets inherited.”

The personal note fell unheeded upon his wife’s ears.

“You don’t mean to tell me that you came away and left the boy sitting on
the box of a stagecoach?” she demanded sharply.

“Would you have me claim a stagedriver as a grandson?” retorted the Major,
“because I may as well say now, ma’am, that there are some things I’ll not
stoop to. Why, I’d as lief have an uncle who was a chimney sweep.”

Mrs. Lightfoot turned uneasily in bed. “It means, I suppose, that I shall
have to get up and go after him,” she remarked, “and you yourself heard the
doctor tell me not to move out of bed for a week. It does seem to me, Mr.
Lightfoot, that you might show some consideration for my state of health.
Do ride in this afternoon, and tell Dan that I say he must behave himself
properly.”

But the Major turned upon her the terrific countenance she had last seen on
Jane’s wedding day, and she fell silent from sheer inability to utter a
protest befitting the occasion.

“If that stagedriver enters my house, I leave it, ma’am,” thundered the old
gentleman, with a stamp of his gouty foot. “You may choose between us, if
you like,--I have never interfered with your fancies--but, by God, if you
bring him inside my doors I--I will horsewhip him, madam,” and he went
limping out into the hall.

On the stair he met Betty, who looked at him with pleading eyes, but fled,
affrighted, before the colour of his wrath; and in his library he found
Champe reading his favourite volume of Mr. Addison.

“I hope you aren’t scratching up my books, sir,” he observed, eying the
pencil in his great-nephew’s hand.

Champe looked at him with his cool glance, and rose leisurely to his feet.
“Why, I’d as soon think of scrawling over Aunt Emmeline’s window pane,” he
returned pleasantly, and added, “I hope you had a successful trip, sir.”

“I got a lukewarm supper and a cold breakfast,” replied the Major
irritably, “and I heard that the Marines had those Kansas raiders entrapped
like rats in the arsenal, if that is what you mean.”

“No, I wasn’t thinking of that,” replied Champe, as quietly as before. “I
came home to find out about Dan, you know, and I hoped you went into town
to look him up.”

“Well, I didn’t, sir,” declared the Major, “and as for that scamp--I have
as much knowledge of his whereabouts as I care for.--Do you know, sir,” he
broke out fiercely, “that he has taken to driving a common stage?”

Champe was sharpening his pencil, and he did not look up as he answered.
“Then the sooner he leaves off the better, eh, sir?” he inquired.

“Oh, there’s your everlasting wrangling!” exclaimed the Major with a
hopeless gesture. “You catch it from Molly, I reckon, and between you,
you’ll drive me into dotage yet. Always arguing! Never any peace. Why, I
believe if I were to take it into my head to remark that white is white,
you would both be setting out to convince me that it is black. I tell you
now, sir, that the sooner you curb that tendency of yours, the better it
will be.”

“Aren’t we rather straying from the point?” interposed Champe half angrily.

“There it is again,” gasped the Major.

The knife slipped in Champe’s hand and scratched his finger. “Surely you
don’t intend to leave Dan to knock about for himself much longer?” he said
coolly. “If you do, sir, I don’t mind saying that I think it is a damn
shame.”

“How dare you use such language in my presence?” roared the old gentleman,
growing purple to the neck. “Have you, also, been fighting for barmaids and
taking up with gaol-birds? It is what I have to expect, I suppose, and I
may as well accustom my ears to profanity; but damn you, sir, you must
learn some decency;” and going into the hall he shouted to Congo to bring
him a julep.

Champe said nothing more; and when the julep appeared on a silver tray, he
left the room and went upstairs to where Betty was waiting. “He’s awful,
there’s no use mincing words, he’s simply awful,” he remarked in an
exhausted voice.

“But what does he say? tell me,” questioned Betty, as she moved to a little
peaked window which overlooked the lawn.

“What doesn’t he say?” groaned Champe with his eyes upon her as she stood
relieved against the greenish panes of glass.

“Do you think I might speak to him?” she persisted eagerly.

“My dear girl, do you want to have your head bitten off for your pains? His
temper is positively tremendous. By Jove, I didn’t know he had it in him
after all these years; I thought he had worn it out on dear Aunt Molly. And
Beau, by the way, isn’t going to be the only one to suffer for his daring,
which makes me wish that he had chosen to embrace the saintly instead of
the heroic virtues. I confess that I could find it in my heart to prefer
less of David and more of Job.”

“How can you?” remonstrated Betty. She pressed her hands together and
looked wistfully up at him. “But what are you going to do about it?” she
demanded.

For a moment his eyes dwelt on her.

“Betty, Betty, how you care!” he exclaimed.

“Care?” she laughed impatiently. “Oh, I care, but what good does that do?”

“Would you care as much for me, I wonder?” She smiled up at him and shook
her head.

“No, I shouldn’t, Champe,” she answered honestly.

He turned his gaze away from her, and looked through the dim old window
panes out upon the clustered elm boughs.

“Well, I’ll do this much,” he said in a cheerful voice. “I’ll ride to the
tavern this morning and find out how the land lies there. I’ll see Beau,
and I’ll do my best for him, and for you, Betty.” She put out her hand and
touched his arm. “Dear Champe!” she exclaimed impulsively.

“Oh, I dare say,” he scoffed, “but is there any message?”

“Tell him to come back,” she answered, “to come back now, or when he will.”

“Or when he will,” he repeated smiling, and went down to order his horse.

At the tavern he found Jack Hicks and a neighbouring farmer or two, seated
upon the porch discussing the raid upon Harper’s Ferry. They would have
drawn him into the talk, but he asked at once for Dan, and upon learning
the room in which he lodged, ran up the narrow stair and rapped upon the
door. Then, without waiting for a response, he burst into the room with
outstretched hand. “Why, they’ve put you into a tenpin alley,” were his
words of greeting.

With a laugh Dan sprang up from his chair beside the window. “What on earth
are you doing here, old man?” he asked.

“Well, just at present I’m trying to pull you out of the hole you’ve
stumbled into. I say, in the name of all that’s rational, why did you allow
yourself to get into such a scrape?”

Dan sat down again and motioned to a split-bottomed chair he had used for a
footstool.

“There’s no use going into that,” he replied frowning, “I raised the row
and I’m ready to bear the consequences.”

“Ah, that’s the point, my dear fellow; Aunt Molly and I have been bearing
them all the morning.”

“Of course, I’m sorry for that, but I may as well tell you now that things
are settled so far as I am concerned. I’ve been kicked out and I wouldn’t
go back again if they came for me in a golden chariot.”

“I hardly think that’s likely to happen,” was Champe’s cheerful rejoinder.
“The old gentleman has had his temper touched, as, I dare say, you’re
aware, and, as ill-luck would have it, he saw you on the stagecoach this
morning. My dear Beau, you ought to have crawled under the box.”

“Nonsense!” protested Dan, “it’s no concern of his.” He turned his flushed
boyish face angrily away.

Champe looked at him steadily with a twinkle in his eyes. “Well, I hope
your independence will come buttered,” he remarked. “I doubt if you will
find the taste of dry bread to your liking. By the way, do you intend to
enter Jack Hicks’s household?”

“For a fortnight, perhaps. I’ve written to Judge Compton, and if he’ll take
me into his office, I shall study law.”

Champe gave a long whistle. “I should have supposed that your taste would
be for tailoring,” he observed, “your genius for the fashions is immense.”

“I hope to cultivate that also,” said Dan, smiling, as he glanced at his
coat.

“What? on bread and cheese and Blackstone?”

“Oh, Blackstone! I never heard he wasn’t a well-dressed old chap.”

“At least you’ll take half my allowance?”

Dan shook his head. “Not a cent--not a copper cent.”

“But how will you live, man?”

“Oh, somehow,” he laughed carelessly. “I’ll live somehow.”

“It’s rather a shame, you know,” responded Champe, “but there’s one thing
of which I am very sure--the old gentleman will come round. We’ll make him
do it, Aunt Molly and I--and Betty.”

Dan started.

“Betty sent you a message, by the way,” pursued Champe, looking through the
window. “It was something about coming home; she says you are to come home
now--or when you will.” He rose and took up his hat and riding-whip.

“Or when I will,” said Dan, rising also. “Tell her--no, don’t tell her
anything--what’s the use?”

“She doesn’t need telling,” responded Champe, going toward the door; and he
added as they went together down the stair, “She always understands without
words, somehow.”

Dan followed him into the yard, and watched him, from under the oaks beside
the empty stagecoach, as he mounted and rode away.

“For heaven’s sake, remember my warning,” said Champe, turning in the
saddle, “and don’t insist upon eating dry bread if you’re offered butter.”

“And you will look after Aunt Molly and Betty?” Dan rejoined.

“Oh, I’ll look after them,” replied the other lightly, and rode off at an
amble.

Dan looked after the horse and rider until they passed slowly out of sight;
then, coming back to the porch, he sat down among the farmers, and
listened, abstractedly, to the drawling voice of Jack Hicks.

When Champe reached Chericoke, he saw Betty looking for him from Aunt
Emmeline’s window seat; and as he dismounted, she ran out and joined him
upon the steps.

“And you saw him?” she asked breathlessly.

“It was pleasant to think that you came to meet me for my own sake,” he
returned; and at her impatient gesture, caught her hand and looked into her
eyes.

“I saw him, my dear,” he said, “and he was in a temper that would have
proved his descent had he been lost in infancy.”

She eagerly questioned him, and he answered with forbearing amusement. “Is
that all?” she asked at last, and when he nodded, smiling, she went up to
Mrs. Lightfoot’s bedside and besought her “to make the Major listen to
reason.”

“He never listened to it in his life, my child,” the old lady replied, “and
I think it is hardly to be expected of him that he should begin at his
present age.” Then she gathered, bit by bit, the news that Champe had
brought, and ended by remarking that “the ways of men and boys were past
finding out.”

“Do you think the Major will ever forgive him?” asked Betty, hopelessly.

“He never forgave poor Jane,” answered Mrs. Lightfoot, her voice breaking
at the mention of her daughter. “But whether he forgives him or not, the
silly boy must be made to come home; and as soon as I am out of this bed,
I must get into the coach and drive to that God-forsaken tavern. After ten
years, nothing will content them, I suppose, but that I should jolt my
bones to pieces.”

Betty looked at her anxiously. “When will you be up?” she inquired,
flushing, as the old lady’s sharp eyes pierced her through.

“I really think, my dear, that you are less sensible than I took you to
be,” returned Mrs. Lightfoot. “It was very foolish of you to allow yourself
to take a fancy to Dan. You should have insisted upon preferring Champe, as
I cautioned you to do. In entering into marriage it is always well to
consider first, family connections and secondly, personal disposition; and
in both of these particulars there is no fault to be found with Champe. His
mother was a Randolph, my child, which is greatly to his credit. As for
Dan, I fear he will make anything but a safe husband.”

“Safe!” exclaimed Betty indignantly, “did you marry the Major because he
was ‘safe,’ I wonder?”

Mrs. Lightfoot accepted the rebuke with meekness.

“Had I done so, I should certainly have proved myself to be a fool,” she
returned with grim humour, “but since you have fully decided that you
prefer to be miserable, I shall take you with me tomorrow when I go for
Dan.”

But on the morrow the old lady did not leave her bed, and the doctor, who
came with his saddlebags from Leicesterburg, glanced her over and ordered
“perfect repose of mind and body” before he drank his julep and rode away.

“Perfect repose, indeed!” scoffed his patient, from behind her curtains,
when the visit was over. “Why, the idiot might as well have ordered me a
mustard plaster. If he thinks there’s any ‘repose’ in being married to Mr.
Lightfoot, I’d be very glad to have him try it for a week.”

Betty made no response, for her throat was strained and aching; but in a
moment Mrs. Lightfoot called her to her bedside and patted her upon the
arm.

“We’ll go next week, child,” she said gently. “When you have been married
as long as I have been, you will know that a week the more or the less of a
man’s society makes very little difference in the long run.”

And the next week they went. On a ripe October day, when the earth was all
red and gold, the coach was brought out into the drive, and Mrs. Lightfoot
came down, leaning upon Champe and Betty.

The Major was reading his Horace in the library, and though he heard the
new pair of roans pawing on the gravel, he gave no sign of displeasure. His
age had oppressed him in the last few days, and he carried stains, like
spilled wine, on his cheeks. He could not ease his swollen heart by
outbursts of anger, and the sensitiveness of his temper warned off the
sympathy which he was too proud to unbend and seek. So he sat and stared at
the unturned Latin page, and the hand he raised to his throat trembled
slightly in the air.

Outside, Betty, in her most becoming bonnet, with her blue barege shawl
over her soft white gown, wrapped Mrs. Lightfoot in woollen robes, and
fluttered nervously when the old lady remembered that she had left her
spectacles behind.

“I brought the empty case; here it is, my dear,” she said, offering it to
the girl. “Surely you don’t intend to take me off without my glasses?”

Mitty was sent upstairs on a search for them, and in her absence her
mistress suddenly decided that she needed an extra wrap. “The little white
nuby in my top drawer, Betty--I felt a chill striking the back of my neck.”

Betty threw her armful of robes into the coach, and ran hurriedly up to the
old lady’s room, coming down, in a moment, with the spectacles in one hand
and the little white shawl in the other.

“Now, we must really start, Congo,” she called, as she sat down beside Mrs.
Lightfoot, and when the coach rolled along the drive, she leaned out and
kissed her hand to Champe upon the steps.

“It is a heavenly day,” she said with a sigh of happiness. “Oh, isn’t it
too good to be real weather?”

Mrs. Lightfoot did not answer, for she was busily examining the contents of
her black silk bag.

“Stop Congo, Betty,” she exclaimed, after a hasty search. “I have forgotten
my handkerchief; I sprinkled it with camphor and left it on the bureau.
Tell him to go back at once.”

“Take mine, take mine!” cried the girl, pressing it upon her; and then
turning her back upon the old lady, she leaned from the window and looked
over the valley filled with sunshine.

The whip cracked, the fat roans kicked the dust, and on they went merrily
down the branch road into the turnpike; past Aunt Ailsey’s cabin, past the
wild cherry tree, where the blue sky shone through naked twigs; down the
long curve, past the tuft of cedars--and still the turnpike swept wide and
white, into the distance, dividing gay fields dotted with browsing cattle.
At Uplands Betty caught a glimpse of Aunt Lydia between the silver poplars,
and called joyfully from the window; but the words were lost in the
rattling of the wheels; and as she lay back in her corner, Uplands was left
behind, and in a little while they passed into the tavern road and went on
beneath the shade of interlacing branches.

Underfoot the ground was russet, and through the misty woods she saw the
leaves still falling against a dim blue perspective. The sunshine struck in
arrows across the way, and far ahead, at the end of the long vista, there
was golden space.

With the ten miles behind them, they came to the tavern in the early
afternoon, and, as a small tow-headed boy swung open the gate, the coach
rolled into the yard and drew up before the steps.

Jack Hicks started from his seat, and throwing his pipe aside, came
hurriedly to the wheels, but before he laid his hand upon the door, Betty
opened it and sprang lightly to the ground, her face radiant in the shadow
of her bonnet.

“Let me speak, child,” called Mrs. Lightfoot after her, adding, with
courteous condescension, “How are you, Mr. Hicks? Will you go up at once
and tell my grandson to pack his things and come straight down. As soon as
the horses are rested we must start back again.”

With visible perturbation Jack looked from the coach to the tavern door,
and stood awkwardly scraping his feet upon the road.

“I--I’ll go up with all the pleasure in life, mum,” he stammered; “but I
don’t reckon thar’s no use--he--he’s gone.”

“Gone?” cried the aghast old lady; and Betty rested her hand upon the
wheel.

“Big Abel, he’s gone, too,” went on Jack, gaining courage from the
accustomed sound of his own drawl. “Mr. Dan tried his best to git away
without him--but Lord, Lord, the sense that nigger’s got. Why, his marster
might as well have tried to give his own skin the slip--”

“Where did they go?” sharply put in the old lady. “Don’t mumble your words,
speak plainly, if you please.”

“He wouldn’t tell me, mum; I axed him, but he wouldn’t say. A letter came
last night, and this morning at sunup they were off--Mr. Dan in front, and
Big Abel behind with the bundle on his shoulder. They walked to
Leicestersburg, that’s all I know, mum.”

“Let me get inside,” said Betty, quickly. Her face had gone white, but she
thanked Jack when he picked up the shawl she dropped, and went steadily
into the coach. “We may as well go back,” she added with a little laugh.

Mrs. Lightfoot threw an anxious look into her face.

“We must consider the horses, my dear,” she responded. “Mr. Hicks, will you
see that the horses are well fed and watered. Let them take their time.”

“Oh, I forgot the horses,” returned Betty apologetically, and patiently sat
down with her arm leaning in the window. There was a smile on her lips, and
she stared with bright eyes at the oak trees and the children playing among
the acorns.



XIV

THE HUSH BEFORE THE STORM


The autumn crept into winter; the winter went by, short and fitful, and the
spring unfolded slowly. With the milder weather the mud dried in the roads,
and the Major and the Governor went daily into Leicesterburg. The younger
man had carried his oratory and his influence into the larger cities of the
state, and he had come home, at the end of a month of speech-making, in a
fervour of almost boyish enthusiasm.

“I pledge my word for it, Julia,” he had declared to his wife, “it will
take more than a Republican President to sever Virginia from the Union--in
fact, I’m inclined to think that it will take a thunderbolt from heaven, or
the Major for a despot!”

When, as the spring went on, men came from the political turmoil to ask for
his advice, he repeated the words with a conviction that was in itself a
ring of emphasis.

“We are in the Union, gentlemen, for better or for worse”--and of all the
guests who drank his Madeira under the pleasant shade of his maples, only
the Major found voice to raise a protest.

“We’ll learn, sir, we’ll live and learn,” interposed the old gentleman.

“Let us hope we shall live easily,” said the doctor, lifting his glass.

“And learn wisdom,” added the rector, with a chuckle.

Through the spring and summer they rode leisurely back and forth, bringing
bundles of newspapers when they came, and taking away with them a memory of
the broad white portico and the mellow wine.

The Major took a spasmodic part in the discussions of peace or war, sitting
sometimes in a moody silence, and flaring up, like an exhausted candle, at
the news of an abolition outbreak. In his heart he regarded the state of
peace as a mean and beggarly condition and the sure resort of bloodless
cowards; but even a prospect of the inspiring dash of war could not elicit
so much as the semblance of his old ardour. His smile flashed but seldom
over his harsh features--it needed indeed the presence of Mrs. Ambler or of
Betty to bring it forth--and his erect figure had given way in the chest,
as if a strong wind bent him forward when he walked.

“He has grown to be an old man,” his neighbours said pityingly; and it is
true that the weight of his years had fallen upon him in a night--as if he
had gone to bed in a hale old age, with the sap of youth in his veins, to
awaken with bleared eyes and a trembling hand. Since the day of his wife’s
return from the tavern, when he had peered from his hiding-place in his
library window, he had not mentioned his grandson by name; and yet the
thought of him seemed forever lying beneath his captious exclamations. He
pricked nervously at the subject, made roundabout allusions to the base
ingratitude from which he suffered; and the desertion of Big Abel had
damned for him the whole faithful race from which the offender sprang.

“They are all alike,” he sweepingly declared. “There is not a trustworthy
one among them. They’ll eat my bread and steal my chickens, and then run
off with the first scapegrace that gives them a chance.”

“I think Big Abel did just right,” said Betty, fearlessly.

The old gentleman squared himself to fix her with his weak red eyes.

“Oh, you’re just the same,” he returned pettishly, “just the same.”

“But I don’t steal your chickens, sir,” protested the girl, laughing.

The Major grunted and looked down at her in angry silence; then his face
relaxed and a frosty smile played about his lips.

“You are young, my child,” he replied, in a kind of austere sadness, “and
youth is always an enemy to the old--to the old,” he repeated quietly, and
looked at his wrinkled hand.

But in the excitement of the next autumn, he showed for a time a revival of
his flagging spirit. When the elections came he followed them with an
absorption that had in it all the violence of a mental malady. The four
possible Presidents that stood before the people were drawn for him in bold
lines of black and white--the outward and visible distinction between, on
the one side, the three “adventurers” whom he heartily opposed, and, on the
other, the “Kentucky gentleman,” for whom he as heartily voted. There was
no wavering in his convictions--no uncertainty; he was troubled by no
delicate shades of indecision. What he believed, and that alone, was
God-given right; what he did not believe, with all things pertaining to it,
was equally God-forsaken error.

Toward the Governor, when the people’s choice was known, he displayed a
resentment that was almost touching in its simplicity.

“There’s a man who would tear the last rag of honour from the Old
Dominion,” he remarked, in speaking of his absent neighbour.

“Ah, Major,” sighed the rector, for it was upon one of his weekly visits,
“what course would you have us gird our loins to pursue?”

“Course?” promptly retorted the Major. “Why, the course of courage, sir.”

The rector shook his great head. “My dear friend, I fear you recognize the
virtue only when she carries the battle-axe,” he observed.

For a moment the Major glared at him; then, restrained by his inherited
reverence for the pulpit, he yielded the point with the soothing
acknowledgment that he was always “willing to make due allowance for
ministers of the gospel.”

“My dear sir,” gasped Mr. Blake, as his jaw dropped. His face showed
plainly that so professional an allowance was exactly what he did not take
to be his due; but he let sleeping dangers lie, and it was not until a
fortnight later, when he rode out with a copy of the _Charleston Mercury_
and the news of the secession of South Carolina, that he found the daring
to begin a direct approach.

It was a cold, bright evening in December, and the Major unfolded the paper
and read it by the firelight, which glimmered redly on the frosted window
panes. When he had finished, he looked over the fluttering sheet into the
pale face of the rector, and waited breathlessly for the first decisive
words.

“May she depart in peace,” said the minister, in a low voice.

The old gentleman drew a long breath, and, in the cheerful glow, the other,
looking at him, saw his weak red eyes fill with tears. Then he took out his
handkerchief, shook it from its folds, and loudly blew his nose.

“It was the Union our fathers made, Mr. Blake,” he said.

“And the Union you fought for, Major,” returned the rector.

“In two wars, sir,” he glanced down at his arm as if he half expected to
see a wound, “and I shall never fight for another,” he added with a sigh.
“My fighting days are over.”

They were both silent, and the logs merrily crackled on the great brass
andirons, while the flames went singing up the chimney. A glass of Burgundy
was at the rector’s hand, and he lifted it from the silver tray and sipped
it as he waited. At last the old man spoke, bending forward from his
station upon the hearth-rug.

“You haven’t seen Peyton Ambler, I reckon?”

“I passed him coming out of town and he was trembling like a leaf,” replied
the rector. “He looks badly, by the way. I must remember to tell the doctor
he needs building up.”

“He didn’t speak about this, eh?”

“About South Carolina? Oh, yes, he spoke, sir. It happened that Jack Powell
came up with him when I did--the boy was cheering with all his might, and I
heard him ask the Governor if he questioned the right of the state to
secede?”

“And Peyton said, sir?” The Major leaned eagerly toward him.

“He said,” pursued the rector, laughing softly. “‘God forbid, my boy, that
I should question the right of any man or any country to pursue folly.’”

“Folly!” cried the Major, sharply, firing at the first sign of opposition.
“It was a brave deed, sir, a brave deed--and I--yes, I envy the honour for
Virginia. And as for Peyton Ambler, it is my belief that it is he who has
sapped the courage of the state. Why, my honest opinion is that there are
not fifty men in Virginia with the spirit to secede--and they are women.”

The rector laughed and tapped his wine-glass.

“You mustn’t let that reach Mrs. Lightfoot’s ears, Major,” he cautioned,
“for I happen to know that she prides herself upon being what the papers
call a ‘skulker.’” He stopped and rose heavily to his feet, for, at this
point, the door was opened by Cupid and the old lady rustled stiffly into
the room.

“I came down to tell you, Mr. Lightfoot, that you really must not allow
yourself to become excited,” she explained, when the rector had comfortably
settled her upon the hearth-rug.

“Pish! tush! my dear, there’s not a cooler man in Virginia,” replied the
Major, frowning; but for the rest of the evening he brooded in troubled
silence in his easy chair.

In February, a week after a convention of the people was called at
Richmond, the old gentleman surrendered to a sharp siege of the gout, and
through the long winter days he sat, red and querulous, before the library
fire, with his bandaged foot upon the ottoman that wore Aunt Emmeline’s
wedding dress. From Leicesterburg a stanch Union man had gone to the
convention; and the Major still resented the selection of his neighbours as
bitterly as if it were an affront to aspirations of his own.

“Dick Powell! Pooh! he’s another Peyton Ambler,” he remarked testily, “and
on my word there’re too many of his kind--too many of his kind. What we
lack, sir, is men of spirit.”

When his friends came now he shot his angry questions, like bullets, from
the fireside. “Haven’t they done anything yet, eh? How much longer do you
reckon that roomful of old women will gabble in Richmond? Why, we might as
well put a flock of sheep to decide upon a measure!”

But the “roomful of old women” would not be hurried, and the Major grew
almost hoarse with scolding. For more than two months, while North and
South barked at each other across her borders, Virginia patiently and
fruitlessly worked for peace; and for more than two months the Major
writhed a prisoner upon the hearth.

With the coming of the spring his health mended, and on an April morning,
when Betty and the Governor drove over for a quiet chat, they found him
limping painfully up and down the drive with the help of a great
gold-knobbed walking-stick.

He greeted them cordially, and limped after them into the library where
Mrs. Lightfoot sat knitting. While he slowly settled his foot, in its loose
“carpet” slipper, upon the ottoman, he began a rambling story of the War of
1812, recalling with relish a time when rations grew scant in camp, and
“Will Bolling and myself set out to scour the country.” His thoughts had
made a quick spring backward, and in the midst of events that fired the
Governor’s blood, he could still fondly dwell upon the battles of his
youth.

The younger man, facing him upon the hearth, listened with his patient
courtesy, and put in a sympathetic word at intervals. No personal anxiety
could cloud his comely face, nor any grievance of his own sharpen the edge
of his peculiar suavity. It was only when he rose to go that he voiced, for
a single instant, his recognition of the general danger, and replied to the
Major’s inquiry about his health with the remark, “Ah, grave times make
grave faces, sir.”

Then he bowed over Mrs. Lightfoot’s hand, and with his arm about Betty went
out to the carriage.

“The Major’s an old man, daughter,” he observed, as they rolled rapidly
back to Uplands.

“You mean he has broken--” said Betty, and stopped short.

“Since Dan went away.” As the Governor completed her sentence, he turned
and looked thoughtfully into her face. “It’s hard to judge the young, my
dear, but--” he broke off as Betty had done, and added after a pause, “I
wonder where he is now?”

Betty raised her eyes and met his look. “I do not know,” she answered, “but
I do know that he will come back;” and the Governor, being wise in his
generation, said nothing more.

That afternoon he went down into the country to inspect a decayed
plantation which had come into his hands, and returning two days later, he
rode into Leicesterburg and up to the steps of the little post-office,
where, as usual, the neighbouring farmers lounged while they waited for an
expected despatch, or discussed the midday mail with each newcomer. It was
April weather, and the afternoon sunshine, having scattered the loose
clouds in the west, slanted brightly down upon the dusty street, the little
whitewashed building, and the locust tree in full bloom before the porch.

When he had dismounted, the Governor tied his horse to the long white pole,
raised for that purpose along the sidewalk, and went slowly up the steps,
shaking a dozen outstretched hands before he reached the door.

“What news, gentlemen?” he asked with his pleasant smile. “For two days I
have been beyond the papers.”

“Then there’s news enough, Governor,” responded several voices, uniting in
a common excitement. “There’s news enough since Tuesday, and yet we’re
waiting here for more. The President has called for troops from Virginia to
invade the South.”

“To invade the South,” repeated the Governor, paling, and a man behind him
took up the words and said them over with a fine sarcasm, “To invade the
South!”

The Governor turned away and walked to the end of the little porch, where
he stood leaning upon the railing. With his eyes on the blossoming locust
tree, he waited, in helpless patience, for the words to enter into his
thoughts and to readjust his conceptions of the last few months. There
slowly came to him, as he recognized the portentous gravity in the air
about him, something of the significance of that ringing call; and as he
stood there he saw before him the vision of an army led by strangers
against the people of its blood--of an army wasting the soil it loved,
warring for an alien right against the convictions it clung to and the
faith it cherished.

His brow darkened, and he turned with set lips to the group upon the steps.
He was about to speak, but before the words were uttered, there was a cheer
from the open doorway, and a man, waving a despatch in his hand, came
running into the crowd.

“Last night there was a secret session,” he cried gayly, “and Virginia has
seceded! hurrah! hurrah! Virginia has seceded!” The gay voice passed, and
the speaker, still waving the paper in his hand, ran down into the street.

The men upon the porch looked at one another, and were silent. In the
bright sunshine their faces showed pale and troubled, and when the sound of
cheers came floating from the courthouse green, they started as if at the
first report of cannon. Then, raising his hand, the Governor bared his head
and spoke:--

“God bless Virginia, gentlemen,” he said.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next week Champe came home from college, flushed with enthusiasm, eager
to test his steel.

“It’s great news, uncle,” were his first joyful words, as he shook the
Major’s hand.

“That it is, my boy, that it is,” chuckled the Major, in a high
good-humour.

“I’m going, you know,” went on the young man lightly. “They’re getting up a
company in Leicesterburg, and I’m to be Captain. I got a letter about it a
week ago, and I’ve been studying like thunder ever since.”

“Well, well, it will be a pleasant little change for you,” responded the
old man. “There’s nothing like a few weeks of war to give one an appetite.”

Mrs. Lightfoot looked up from her knitting with a serious face.

“Don’t you think it may last months, Mr. Lightfoot?” she inquired
dubiously. “I was wondering if I hadn’t better supply Champe with extra
underclothing.”

“Tut-tut, ma’am,” protested the Major, warmly. “Can’t you leave such things
as war to my judgment? Haven’t I been in two? Months! Nonsense! Why, in two
weeks we’ll sweep every Yankee in the country as far north as Greenland.
Two weeks will be ample time, ma’am.”

“Well, I give them six months,” generously remarked Champe, in defiance of
the Major’s gathering frown.

“And what do you know about it, sir?” demanded the old gentleman. “Were you
in the War of 1812? Were you even in the Mexican War, sir?”

“Well, hardly,” replied Champe, smiling, “but all the same I give them six
months to get whipped.”

“I’m sure I hope it will be over before winter,” observed Mrs. Lightfoot,
glancing round. “Things will be a little upset, I fear.”

The Major twitched with anger. “There you go again--both of you!” he
exclaimed. “I might suppose after all these years you would place some
reliance on my judgment; but, no, you will keep up your croaking until our
troops are dictating terms at Washington. Six months! Tush!”

“Professor Bates thinks it will take a year,” returned Champe, his interest
overleaping his discretion.

“And when did he fight, sir?” inquired the Major.

“Well, any way, it’s safer to prepare for six months,” was Champe’s
rejoinder. “I shouldn’t like to run short of things, you know.”

“You’ll do nothing of the kind, sir,” thundered the Major. “It’s going to
be a two weeks’ war, and you shall take an outfit for two weeks, or stay at
home! By God, sir, if you contradict me again I’ll not let you go to fight
the Yankees.”

Champe stared for an instant into the inflamed face of the old gentleman,
and then his cheery smile broke out.

“That settles it, uncle,” he said soothingly. “It’s to be a war of two
weeks, and I’ll come home a Major-general before the holidays.”



BOOK THIRD

THE SCHOOL OF WAR



I

HOW MERRY GENTLEMEN WENT TO WAR


The July sun fell straight and hot upon the camp, and Dan, as he sat on a
woodpile and ate a green apple, wistfully cast his eyes about for a deeper
shade. But the young tree from which he had just shaken its last fruit
stood alone between the scattered tents and the blur of willows down the
gentle slope, and beneath its speckled shadow the mess had gathered
sleepily, after the mid-day meal.

In the group of privates, stretched under the gauzy shade on the trampled
grass, the first thing to strike an observer would have been, perhaps,
their surprising youth. They were all young--the eldest hardly more than
three and twenty--and the faces bore a curious resemblance in type, as if
they were, one and all, variations from a common stock. There was about
them, too, a peculiar expression of enthusiasm, showing even in the faces
of those who slept; a single wave of emotion which, rising to its height in
an entire people revealed itself in the features of the individual soldier.
As yet the flower of the South had not withered on its stalk, and the men
first gathered to defend the borders were men who embraced a cause as
fervently as they would embrace a woman; men in whom the love of an
abstract principle became, not a religion, but a romantic passion.

Beyond them, past the scattered tents and the piles of clean straw, the
bruised grass of the field swept down to a little stream and the fallen
stones that had once marked off the turnpike. Farther away, there was a
dark stretch of pines relieved against the faint blue tracery of the
distant mountains.

Dan, sitting in the thin shelter on the woodpile, threw a single glance at
the strip of pines, and brought back his gaze to Big Abel who was splitting
an oak log hard by. The work had been assigned to the master, who had, in
turn, tossed it to the servant, with the remark that he “came out to kill
men, not to cut wood.”

“I say, Big Abel, this sun’s blazing hot,” he now offered cheerfully.

Big Abel paused for a moment and wiped his brow with his blue cotton
sleeve.

“Dis yer ain’ no oak, caze it’s w’it-leather,” he rejoined in an injured
tone, as he lifted the axe and sent it with all his might into the
shivering log, which threw out a shower of fine chips. The powerful stroke
brought into play the negro’s splendid muscles, and Dan, watching him,
carelessly observed to a young fellow lying half asleep upon the ground,
“Big Abel could whip us all, Bland, if he had a mind to.”

Bland grunted and opened his eyes; then he yawned, stretched his arms, and
sat up against the logs. He was bright and boyish-looking, with a frank
tanned face, which made his curling flaxen hair seem almost white.

“I worked like a darky hauling yesterday,” he said reproachfully, “but when
your turn comes, you climb a woodpile and pass the job along. When we go
into battle I suppose Dandy and you will sit down to boil coffee, and hand
your muskets to the servants.”

“Oh, are we ever going into battle?” growled Jack Powell from the other
side. “Here I’ve been at this blamed drilling until I’m stiff in every
joint, and I haven’t seen so much as the tail end of a fight. You may rant
as long as you please about martial glory, but if there’s any man who
thinks it’s fun merely to get dirty and eat raw food, well, he’s welcome to
my share of it, that’s all. I haven’t had so much as one of the necessities
of life since I settled down in this old field; even my hair has taken to
standing on end. I say, Beau, do you happen to have any pomade about you?
Oh, you needn’t jeer, Bland, there’s no danger of your getting bald, with
that sheepskin over your scalp; and, besides, I’m willing enough to
sacrifice my life for my country. I object only to giving it my hair
instead.”

“I believe you’ll find a little in my knapsack,” gravely replied Dan, to be
assailed on the spot by a chorus of comic demands.

“I say, Beau, have you any rouge on hand? I’m growing pale. Please drop a
little cologne on this handkerchief, my boy. May I borrow your powder puff?
I’ve been sitting in the sun. Don’t you want that gallon of stale
buttermilk to take your tan off, Miss Nancy?”

“Oh, shut up!” cried Dan, sharply; “if you choose to turn pigs simply
because you’ve come out to do a little fighting, I’ve nothing to say
against it; but I prefer to remain a gentleman, that’s all.”

“He prefers to remain a gentleman, that’s all,” chanted the chorus round
the apple tree.

“And I’ll knock your confounded heads off, if you keep this up,” pursued
Dan furiously.

“And he’ll knock our confounded heads off, if we keep this up,” shouted the
chorus in a jubilant refrain.

“Well, I’ll tell you one thing,” remarked Jack Powell, feeling his
responsibility in the matter of the pomade. “All I’ve got to say is, if
this is what you call war, it’s a pretty stale business. The next time I
want to be frisky, I’ll volunteer to pass the lemonade at a Sunday-school
picnic.”

“And has anybody called it war, Dandy?” inquired Bland, witheringly.

“Well, somebody might, you know,” replied Jack, opening his fine white
shirt at the neck, “did I hear you call it war, Kemper?” he asked politely,
as he punched a stout sleeper beside him.

Kemper started up and aimed a blow at vacancy. “Oh, you heard the devil!”
 he retorted.

“I beg your pardon; it was mistaken identity,” returned Jack suavely.

“Look here, my lad, don’t fool with Kemper when he’s hot,” cautioned Bland,
“He’s red enough to fire those bales of straw. I say, Kemper, may I light
my pipe at your face?”

“Shut up, now, or he’ll be puffing round here like a steam engine,” said a
small dark man named Baker, “let smouldering fires lie on a day like this.
Give me a light, Dandy.”

Jack Powell held out his cigar, and then, leaning back against the tree,
blew a cloud of smoke about his head.

“I’ll be blessed if I don’t think seven hours’ drill is too much of a bad
thing,” he plaintively remarked; “and I may as well add, by the bye, that
the next time I go to war, I intend to go in the character of a
Major-general.”

“Make it Commander-in-chief. Don’t be too modest, my boy.”

“Well, you may laugh if you like,” pursued Jack, “but between you and me,
it was all the fault of those girls at home--they have an idea that
patriotism never trims its sleeves, you know. On my word, I might have been
Captain of the Leicesterburg Guards after Champe Lightfoot joined the
cavalry; but such averted looks were turned from me by the ladies, that I
had to jump into the ranks merely to reinstate myself in their regard. They
made even Governor Ambler volunteer as a private, I believe, but he was
lucky and got made a Colonel instead.”

Bland laughed softly.

“That reminds me of our Colonel,” he observed. “I overheard him talking to
himself the other day, and he said: ‘All I ask is not to be in command of a
volunteer regiment in hell.’”

“Oh, he won’t,” put in Dan; “all the volunteers will be in heaven--unless
they’re sent down below because they were too big fools to join the
cavalry.”

“Then, in heaven’s name, why didn’t you join the cavalry?” inquired Baker.

Dan looked at him a moment, and then threw the apple core at a water bucket
that stood upside down upon the grass. “Well, I couldn’t go on my own
horse, you see,” he replied, “and I wouldn’t go on the Government’s. I
don’t ride hacks.”

“So you came into the infantry to get court-martialled,” remarked Bland.
“The captain said down the valley, you’ll remember, that if the war lasted
a month, you’d be court-martialled for disobedience on the thirtieth day.”

Dan growled under his breath. “Well, I didn’t enter the army to be hectored
by any fool who comes along,” he returned. “Look at that fellow Jones, now.
He thinks because he happens to be Lieutenant that he’s got a right to
forget that I’m a gentleman and he’s not. Why, the day before we came up
here, he got after me at drill about being out of step, or some little
thing like that; and, by George, to hear him roar you’d have thought that
war wasn’t anything but monkeying round with a musket. Why, the rascal came
from my part of the country, and his father before him wasn’t fit to black
my boots.”

“Did you knock him down?” eagerly inquired Bland.

“I told him to take off his confounded finery and I would,” answered Dan.
“So when drill was over, we went off behind a tent, and I smashed his nose.
He’s no coward, I’ll say that for him, and when the Captain told him he
looked as if he’d been fighting, he laughed and said he had had ‘a little
personal encounter with the enemy.’”

“Well, I’m willing enough to do battle for my country,” said Jack Powell,
“but I’ll be blessed if I’m going to have my elbow jogged by the poor white
trash while I’m doing it.”

“He was scolding at us yesterday because when we were detailed to clean out
the camp, we gave the order to the servants,” put in Baker. “Clean out the
camp! Does he think my grandmother was a chambermaid?” He suddenly broke
off and helped himself to a drink of water from a dripping bucket that a
tall mountaineer was passing round the group.

“Been to the creek, Pinetop?” he asked good-humouredly.

The mountaineer, who had won his title from his great height, towering as
he did above every man in the company, nodded drowsily as he settled
himself upon the ground. He was lithe and hardy as a young hickory, and his
abundant hair was of the colour of ripe wheat. At the call to arms he had
come, with long strides, down from his bare little cabin in the Blue Ridge,
bringing with him a flintlock musket, a corncob pipe, and a stockingful of
Virginia tobacco. Since the day of his arrival, he had accepted the pointed
jokes of the mess into which he had drifted, with grave lips and a flicker
of his calm blue eyes. They had jeered him unmercifully, and he had
regarded them with serene and wondering attention. “I say, Pinetop, is it
raining up where you are?” a wit had put to him on the first day, and he
had looked down and answered placidly:--

“Naw, it’s cl’ar.”

As he sat down in the group beside the woodpile, Bland tossed him the
latest paper, but carefully folding it into a square, he laid it aside, and
stretched himself upon the brown grass.

“This here’s powerful weather for sweatin’,” he pleasantly observed, as he
pulled a mullein leaf from the foot of the apple tree and placed it over
his eyes. Then he turned over and in a moment was sleeping as quietly as a
child.

Dan got down from the logs and stood thoughtfully staring in the direction
of the happy little town lying embosomed in green hills. That little town
gave to him, as he stood there in the noon heat, a memory of deep gardens
filled with fragrance, of open houses set in blue shadows, and of the
bright fluttering of Confederate flags. For a moment he looked toward it
down the hot road; then, with a sigh, he turned away and wandered off to
seek the outside shadow of a tent.

As he flung himself down in the strip of shade, his gaze went longingly to
the dim chain of mountains which showed like faint blue clouds against the
sky, while his thoughts returned, as a sick man’s, to the clustered elm
boughs and the smooth lawn at Chericoke, and to Betty blooming like a
flower in a network of sun and shade.

The memory was so vivid that when he closed his eyes it was almost as if he
heard the tapping of the tree-tops against the roof, and felt the pleasant
breeze blowing over the sweet-smelling meadows. He looked, through his
closed eyes, into the dim old house, seeing the rustling grasses in the
great blue jar and their delicate shadow trembling on the pure white wall.
There was the tender hush about it that belongs to the memories of dead
friends or absent places; a hush that was reverent as a Sabbath calm. He
saw the shining swords of the Major and the Major’s father; the rear door
with the microphylla roses nodding upon the lintel, and, high above all,
the shadowy bend of the staircase, with Betty standing there in her cool
blue gown.

He opened his eyes with a start, and pillowing his head on his arm, lay
looking off into the burning distance. A bee, straying from a field of
clover across the road, buzzed, for a moment, round his face, and then
knocked, with a flapping noise, against the canvas tent. Far away, beyond
the murmur of the camp, he heard a partridge whistling in a tangled meadow;
and at the same instant his own name called through the sunlight.

“I say, Beau, Beau, where are you?” He sat up, and shouted in response, and
Jack Powell came hurriedly round the tent to fling himself down upon the
beaten grass.

“Oh, you don’t know what you missed!” he cried, chuckling. “You didn’t stay
long enough to hear the joke on Bland.”

“I hope it’s a fresh one,” was Dan’s response. “If it’s that old thing
about the mule and the darky, I may as well say in the beginning that I
heard it in the ark.”

“Oh, it’s new, old man. He made the mistake of trying to get some fun out
of Pinetop, and he got more than he bargained for, that’s all. He began to
tease him about those blue jean trousers he carries in his knapsack. You’ve
seen them, I reckon?”

Dan nodded as he chewed idly at a blade of grass. “I tried to get him to
throw them away yesterday,” he said, “and he did go so far as to haul them
out and look them over; but after meditating a half hour, he packed them
away again and declared there was ‘a sight of wear left in them still.’ He
told me if he ever made up his mind to get rid of them, and peace should
come next day, he’d never forgive himself.”

“Well, I warned Bland not to meddle with him,” pursued Jack, “but he got
bored and set in to make things lively. ‘Look here, Pinetop,’ he began,
‘will you do me the favour to give me the name of the tailor who made your
blue jeans?’ and, bless your life, Pinetop just took the mullein leaf from
his eyes, and sang out ‘Maw.’ That was what Bland wanted, of course, so,
without waiting for the danger signal, he plunged in again. ‘Then if you
don’t object I should be glad to have the pattern of them,’ he went on, as
smooth as butter. ‘I want them to wear when I go home again, you know. Why,
they’re just the things to take a lady’s eye--they have almost the fit of a
flour-sack--and the ladies are fond of flour, aren’t they?’ The whole crowd
was waiting, ready to howl at Pinetop’s answer, and, sure enough, he raised
himself on his elbow, and drawled out in his sing-song tone: ‘I say, Sonny,
ain’t yo’ Maw done put you into breeches yit?’”

“It serves him right,” said Dan sternly, “and that’s what I like about
Pinetop, Jack, there’s no ruffling him.” He brushed off the bee that had
fallen on his head, and dodged as it angrily flew back again.

“Some of the boys raised a row when he came into our mess,” returned Jack,
“but where every man’s fighting for his country, we’re all equal, say I.
What makes me dog-tired, though, is the airs some of these fool officers
put on; all this talk about an ‘officer’s mess’ now, as if a man is too
good to eat with me who wouldn’t dare to sit down to my table if he had on
civilian’s clothes. It’s all bosh, that’s what it is.”

He got up and strolled off with his grievance, and Dan, stretching himself
upon the ground, looked across the hills, to the far mountains where the
shadows thickened.



II

THE DAY’S MARCH


In the gray dawn tents were struck, and five days’ rations were issued with
the marching orders. As Dan packed his knapsack with trembling hands, he
saw men stalking back and forth like gigantic shadows, and heard the hoarse
shouting of the company officers through the thick fog which had rolled
down from the mountains. There was a persistent buzz in the air, as if a
great swarm of bees had settled over the misty valley. Each man was asking
unanswerable questions of his neighbour.

At a little distance Big Abel, with several of the company “darkies” was
struggling energetically over the property of the mess, storing the cooking
utensils into a stout camp chest, which the strength of several men would
lift, when filled, into the wagon. Bland, who had just tossed his overcoat
across to them, turned abruptly upon Dan, and demanded warmly “what had
become of his case of razors?”

“Where are we going?” was Dan’s response, as he knelt down to roll up his
oilcloth and blanket. “By Jove, it looks as if we’d gobble up Patterson for
breakfast!”

“I say, where’s my case of razors?” inquired Bland, with irritation. “They
were lying here a moment ago, and now they’re gone. Dandy, have you got my
razors?”

“Look here, Beau, what are you going to leave behind?” asked Kemper over
Bland’s shoulder.

“Leave behind? Why, dull care,” rejoined Dan gayly. “By the way, Pinetop,
why don’t you save your appetite for Patterson’s dainties?”

Pinetop, who was leisurely eating his breakfast of “hardtack” and bacon,
took a long draught from his tin cup, and replied, as he wiped his mouth on
his shirt sleeve, that he “reckoned thar wouldn’t be any trouble about
finding room for them, too.” The general gayety was reflected in his face;
he laughed as he bit deeply into his half-cooked bacon.

Dan stood up and nervously strapped on his knapsack; then he swung his
canteen over his shoulder and carefully tightened his belt. His face was
flushed, and when he spoke his voice quivered with emotion. It seemed to
him that the delay of every instant was a reckless waste of time, and he
trembled at the thought that the enemy might be preparing to fall upon them
unawares; that while the camp was swarming like an ant’s nest, Patterson
and his men might be making good use of the fleeting moments.

“Why the devil don’t we move? We ought to move,” he said angrily, as he
glanced round the crowded field where the men were arraying themselves in
all the useless trappings of the Southern volunteer. Kemper was busily
placing his necessary toilet articles in his haversack, having thrown away
half his rations for the purpose; Jack Powell, completely dressed for the
march, was examining his heavy revolver, with the conscious pride a field
officer might have felt in his sword. As he stuck it into his belt, he
straightened himself with a laugh and jauntily set his small cap on his
curling hair; he was clean, comely, and smooth-shaven as if he had just
stepped from a hot bath and the hands of his barber.

“You may roll Dandy in the dust and he’ll come out washed,” Baker had once
forcibly remarked.

“I say, boys, why don’t we start?” persisted Dan impatiently, flicking with
his handkerchief at a grain of sand on his high boots. Then, as Big Abel
brought him a cup of coffee, he drank it standing, casting eager glances
over the rim of his cup. He had an odd feeling that it was all a great fox
hunt they were soon to start upon; that they were waiting only for the
calling of the hounds. The Major’s fighting blood had stirred within his
grandson’s veins, and generations of dead Lightfoots were scenting the
coming battle from the dust. When Dan thought now of the end to which he
should presently be marching, it suggested to him but a quickened
exhilaration of the pulses and an old engraving of “Waterloo,” which hung
on the dining-room wall at Chericoke. That was war; and he remembered
vividly the childish thrill with which he had first looked up at it. He saw
the prancing horses, the dramatic gestures of the generals with flowing
hair, the blur of waving flags and naked swords. It was like a page torn
from the eternal Romance; a page upon which he and his comrades should play
heroic parts; and it was white blood, indeed, that did not glow with the
hope of sharing in that picture; of hanging immortal in an engraving on the
wall.

The “fall in” of the sergeant was already sounding from the road, and, with
a last glance about the field, Dan ran down the gentle slope and across the
little stream to take his place in the ranks of the forming column. An
officer on a milk-white horse was making frantic gestures to the line, and
the young man followed him an instant with his eyes. Then, as he stood
there in the warm sunshine, he felt his impatience prick him like a needle.
He wanted to push forward the regiments in front of him, to start in any
direction--only to start. The suppressed excitement of the fox hunt was
upon him, and the hoarse voices of the officers thrilled him as if they
were the baying of the hounds. He heard the musical jingle of moving
cavalry, the hurried tread of feet in the soft dust, the smothered oaths of
men who stumbled over the scattered stones. And, at last, when the sun
stood high above, the long column swung off toward the south, leaving the
enemy and the north behind it.

“By God, we’re running away,” said Bland in a whisper. With the words the
gayety passed suddenly from the army, and it moved slowly with the
dispirited tread of beaten men. The enemy lay to the north, and it was
marching to the south and home.

As it passed through the fragrant streets of Winchester, women, with
startled eyes, ran from open doors into the deep old gardens, and watched
it over the honeysuckle hedges. Under the fluttering flags, past the long
blue shadows, with the playing of the bands and the clatter of the
canteens--on it went into the white dust and the sunshine. From a wide
piazza, a group of schoolgirls pelted the troops with roses, and as Dan
went by he caught a white bud and stuck it into his cap. He looked back
laughing, to meet the flash of laughing eyes; then the gray line swept out
upon the turnpike and went down the broad road through the smooth green
fields, over which the sunlight lay like melted gold.

Dan, walking between Pinetop and Jack Powell, felt a sudden homesickness
for the abandoned camp, which they were leaving with the gay little town
and the red clay forts, naked to the enemy’s guns. He saw the branching
apple tree, the burned-out fires, the silvery fringe of willows by the
stream; and he saw the men in blue already in possession of his woodpile,
broiling their bacon by the logs that Big Abel had cut.

At the end of three miles the brigades abruptly halted, and he listened,
looking at the ground, to an order, which was read by a slim young officer
who pulled nervously at his moustache. Down the column came a single
ringing cheer, and, without waiting for the command, the men pushed eagerly
forward along the road. What was a forced march of thirty miles to an army
that had never seen a battle?

As they went on a boyish merriment tripped lightly down the turnpike; jests
were shouted, a wit began to tease a mounted officer who was trying to
reach the front, and somebody with a tenor voice was singing “Dixie.” A
stray countryman, sitting upon the wall of loose stones, was greeted
affectionately by each passing company. He was a big, stupid-looking man,
with a gray fowl hanging, head downward, from his hand, and as he responded
“Howdy,” in an expressionless tone, the fowl craned its long neck upward
and pecked at the creeper on the wall.

“Howdy, Jim!” “Howdy, Peter!” “Howdy, Luke!” sang the first line. “How’s
your wife?” “How’s your wife’s mother?” “How’s your sister-in-law’s uncle?”
 inquired the next. The countryman spat into the ditch and stared solemnly
in reply, and the gray fowl, still craning its neck, pecked steadily at the
leaves upon the stones.

Dan looked up into the blue sky, across the open meadows to the far-off low
mountains, and then down the long turnpike where the dust hung in a yellow
cloud. In the bright sunshine he saw the flash of steel and the glitter of
gold braid, and the noise of tramping feet cheered him like music as he
walked on gayly, filled with visions. For was he not marching to his chosen
end--to victory, to Chericoke--to Betty? Or if the worst came to the
worst--well, a man had but one life, after all, and a life was a little
thing to give his country. Then, as always, his patriotism appealed to him
as a romance rather than a religion--the fine Southern ardour which had
sent him, at the first call, into the ranks, had sprung from an inward, not
an outward pressure. The sound of the bugle, the fluttering of the flags,
the flash of hot steel in the sunlight, the high old words that stirred
men’s pulses--these things were his by blood and right of heritage. He
could no more have stifled the impulse that prompted him to take a side in
any fight than he could have kept his heart cool beneath the impassioned
voice of a Southern orator. The Major’s blood ran warm through many
generations.

“I say, Beau, did you put a millstone in my knapsack?” inquired Bland
suddenly. His face was flushed, and there was a streak of wet dust across
his forehead. “If you did, it was a dirty joke,” he added irritably. Dan
laughed. “Now that’s odd,” he replied, “because there’s one in mine also,
and, moreover, somebody has stuck penknives in my boots. Was it you,
Pinetop?”

But the mountaineer shook his head in silence, and then, as they halted to
rest upon the roadside, he flung himself down beneath the shadow of a
sycamore, and raised his canteen to his lips. He had come leisurely at his
long strides, and as Dan looked at him lying upon the short grass by the
wall, he shook his own roughened hair, in impatient envy. “Why, you’ve
stood it like a Major, Pinetop,” he remarked.

Pinetop opened his eyes. “Stood what?” he drawled.

“Why, this heat, this dust, this whole confounded march. I don’t believe
you’ve turned a hair, as Big Abel says.”

“Good Lord,” said Pinetop. “I don’t reckon you’ve ever ploughed up hill
with a steer team.”

Without replying, Dan unstrapped his knapsack and threw it upon the
roadside. “What doesn’t go in my haversack, doesn’t go, that’s all,” he
observed. “How about you, Dandy?”

“Oh, I threw mine away a mile after starting,” returned Jack Powell, “my
luxuries are with a girl I left behind me. I’ve sacrificed everything to
the cause except my toothbrush, and, by Jove, if the weight of that goes on
increasing, I shall be forced to dispense with it forever. I got rid of my
rations long ago. Pinetop says a man can’t starve in blackberry season, and
I hope he’s right. Anyway, the Lord will provide--or he won’t, that’s
certain.”

“Is this the reward of faith, I wonder?” said Dan, as he looked at a lame
old negro who wheeled a cider cart and a tray of green apple pies down a
red clay lane that branched off under thick locust trees. “This way, Uncle,
here’s your man.”

The old negro slowly approached them to be instantly surrounded by the
thirsty regiment.

“Howdy, Marsters? howdy?” he began, pulling his grizzled hair. “Dese yer’s
right nice pies, dat dey is, suh.”

“Look here, Uncle, weren’t they made in the ark, now?” inquired Bland
jestingly, as he bit into a greasy crust.

“De ark? naw, suh; my Mehaley she des done bake ‘em in de cabin over
yonder.” He lifted his shrivelled hand and pointed, with a tremulous
gesture, to a log hut showing among the distant trees.

“What? are you a free man, Uncle?”

“Free? Go ‘way f’om yer! ain’ you never hyearn tell er Marse Plunkett?”

“Plunkett?” gravely repeated Bland, filling his canteen with cider. “Look
here, stand back, boys, it’s my turn now.--Plunkett--Plunkett--can I have a
long-lost friend named Plunkett? Where is he, Uncle? has he gone to fight?”

“Marse Plunkett? Naw, suh, he ain’ fit nobody.”

“Well, you tell him from me that he’d better enlist at once,” put in Jack
Powell. “This isn’t the time for skulkers, Uncle; he’s on our side, isn’t
he?” The old negro shook his head, looking uneasily at the froth that
dripped from the keg into the dust.

“Naw, suh, Marse Plunkett, he’s fur de Un’on, but he’s pow’ful feared er de
Yankees,” he returned.

Bland broke into a laugh. “Oh, come, that’s downright treason,” he
protested merrily. “Your Marse Plunkett’s a skulker sure enough, and you
may tell him so with my compliments. You’re on the Yankee side, too, I
reckon, and there’re bullets in these pies, sure as I live.”

The old man shuffled nervously on his bare feet.

“Go ‘way, Marster, w’at I know ‘bout ‘sides’?” he replied, tilting his keg
to drain the last few drops into the canteen of a thirsty soldier. “I’se on
de Lawd’s side, dat’s whar I is.”

He fell back startled, for the call of “Column, forward!” was shouted down
the road, and in an instant the men had left the emptied cart, and were
marching on into the sunny distance.

As the afternoon lengthened the heat grew more oppressive. Straight ahead
there was dust and sunshine and the ceaseless tramp, and on either side the
fresh fields were scorched and whitened by a powdering of hot sand. Beyond
the rise and dip of the hills, the mountains burned like blue flames on the
horizon, and overhead the sky was hard as an inverted brazier.

Dan had begun to limp, for his stiff boots galled his feet. His senses were
blunted by the hot sand which filled his eyes and ears and nostrils, and
there was a shimmer over all the broad landscape. When he shook his hair
from his forehead, the dust floated slowly down and settled in a scorching
ring about his neck.

The day closed gradually, and as they neared the river, the mountains
emerged from obscure outlines into wooded heights upon which the trees
showed soft and gray in the sunset. A cool breath was blown through a strip
of damp woodland, where the pale bodies of the sycamores were festooned in
luxuriant vines, and from the twilight long shadows stretched across the
red clay road. Then, as they went down a rocky slope, a fringe of willows
appeared suddenly from the blur of green, and they saw the Shenandoah
running between falling banks, with the colours of the sunset floating like
pink flowers upon its breast.

With a shout the front line plunged into the stream, holding its heavy
muskets high above the current of the water, and filing upon the opposite
bank, into a rough road which wound amid the ferns.

Midway of the river, near the fording point, there was a little island
which lay like a feathery tree-top upon the tinted water; and as Dan went
by, he felt the brush of willows on his face and heard the soft lapping of
the small waves upon the shore. The keen smell of the sycamores drifted to
him from the bank that he had left, and straight up stream he saw a single
peaked blue hill upon which a white cloud rested. For a moment he lingered,
breathing in the fragrance, then the rear line pressed upon him, and,
crossing rapidly, he stood on the rocky edge, shaking the water from his
clothes. Out of the after-glow came the steady tramp of tired feet, and
with aching limbs, he turned and hastened with the column into the mountain
pass.



III

THE REIGN OF THE BRUTE


The noise of the guns rolled over the green hills into the little valley
where the regiment had halted before a wayside spring, which lay hidden
beneath a clump of rank pokeberry. As each company filled its canteens, it
filed across the sunny road, from which the dust rose like steam, and stood
resting in an open meadow that swept down into a hollow between two gently
rising hills. From the spring a thin stream trickled, bordered by short
grass, and the water, dashed from it by the thirsty men, gathered in
shining puddles in the red clay road. By one of these puddles a man had
knelt to wash his face, and as Dan passed, draining his canteen, he looked
up with a sprinkling of brown drops on his forehead. Near him, unharmed by
the tramping feet, a little purple flower was blooming in the mud.

Dan gazed thoughtfully down upon him and upon the little purple flower in
its dangerous spot. What did mud or dust matter, he questioned grimly, when
in a breathing space they would be in the midst of the smoke that hung
close above the hill-top? The sound of the cannon ceased suddenly, as
abruptly as if the battery had sunk into the ground, and through the sunny
air he heard a long rattle that reminded him of the fall of hail on the
shingled roof at Chericoke. As his canteen struck against his side, it
seemed to him that it met the resistance of a leaden weight. There was a
lump in his throat and his lips felt parched, though the moisture from the
fresh spring water was hardly dried. When he moved he was conscious of
stepping high above the earth, as he had done once at college after an
over-merry night and many wines.

Straight ahead the sunshine lay hot and still over the smooth fields and
the little hollow where a brook ran between marshy banks. High above he saw
it flashing on the gray smoke that hung in tatters from the tree-tops on
the hill.

An ambulance, drawn by a white and a bay horse, turned gayly from the road
into the meadow, and he saw, with surprise, that one of the surgeons was
trimming his finger nails with a small penknife. The surgeon was a slight
young man, with pointed yellow whiskers, and light blue eyes that squinted
in the sunshine. As he passed he stifled a yawn with an elaborate
affectation of unconcern.

A man on horseback, with a white handkerchief tied above his collar,
galloped up and spoke in a low voice to the Colonel. Then, as his horse
reared, he glanced nervously about, grew embarrassed, and, with a sharp
jerk of the bridle, galloped off again across the field. Presently other
men rode back and forth along the road; there were so many of them that Dan
wondered, bewildered, if anybody was left to make the battle beyond the
hill.

The regiment formed into line and started at “double quick” across the
broad meadow powdered white with daisies. As it went into the ravine,
skirting the hillside, a stream of men came toward it and passed slowly to
the rear. Some were on stretchers, some were stumbling in the arms of
slightly wounded comrades, some were merely warm and dirty and very much
afraid. One and all advised the fresh regiment to “go home and finish
ploughing.” “The Yankees have got us on the hip,” they declared
emphatically. “Whoopee! it’s as hot as hell where you’re going.” Then a
boy, with a blood-stained sleeve, waved his shattered arm in the air and
laughed deliriously. “Don’t believe them, friends, it’s glorious!” he
cried, in the voice of the far South, and lurched forward upon the grass.

The sight of the soaked shirt and the smell of blood turned Dan faint. He
felt a sudden tremor in his limbs, and his arteries throbbed dully in his
ears. “I didn’t know it was like this,” he muttered thickly. “Why, they’re
no better than mangled rabbits--I didn’t know it was like this.”

They wound through the little ravine, climbed a hillside planted in thin
corn, and were ordered to “load and lie down” in a strip of woodland. Dan
tore at his cartridge with set teeth; then as he drove his ramrod home, a
shell, thrown from a distant gun, burst in the trees above him, and a red
flame ran, for an instant, along the barrel of his musket. He dodged
quickly, and a rain of young pine needles fell in scattered showers from
the smoked boughs overhead. Somewhere beside him a man was groaning in
terror or in pain. “I’m hit, boys, by God, I’m hit this time.” The groans
changed promptly into a laugh. “Bless my soul! the plagued thing went right
into the earth beneath me.”

“Damn you, it went into my leg,” retorted a hoarse voice that fell suddenly
silent.

With a shiver Dan lay down on the carpet of rotted pine-cones and peered,
like a squirrel, through the meshes of the brushwood. At first he saw only
gray smoke and a long sweep of briers and broom-sedge, standing out dimly
from an obscurity that was thick as dusk. Then came a clatter near at hand,
and a battery swept at a long gallop across the thinned edge of the pines.
So close it came that he saw the flashing white eyeballs and the spreading
sorrel manes of the horses, and almost felt their hot breath upon his
cheek. He heard the shouts of the outriders, the crack of the stout whips,
the rattle of the caissons, and, before it passed, he had caught the
excited gestures of the men upon the guns. The battery unlimbered, as he
watched it, shot a few rounds from the summit of the hill, and retreated
rapidly to a new position. When the wind scattered the heavy smoke, he saw
only the broom-sedge and several ridges of poor corn; some of the gaunt
stalks blackened and beaten to the ground, some still flaunting their brave
tassels beneath the whistling bullets. It was all in sunlight, and the gray
smoke swept ceaselessly to and fro over the smiling face of the field.

Then, as he turned a little in his shelter, he saw that there was a single
Confederate battery in position under a slight swell on his left. Beyond it
he knew that the long slope sank gently into a marshy stream and the broad
turnpike, but the brow of the hill went up against the sky, and hidden in
the brushwood he could see only the darkened line of the horizon. Against
it the guns stood there in the sunlight, unsupported, solitary, majestic,
while around them the earth was tossed up in the air as if a loose plough
had run wild across the field. A handful of artillerymen moved back and
forth, like dim outlines, serving the guns in a group of fallen horses that
showed in dark mounds upon the hill. From time to time he saw a rammer
waved excitedly as a shot went home, or heard, in a lull, the hoarse voices
of the gunners when they called for “grape!”

As he lay there, with his eyes on the solitary battery, he forgot, for an
instant, his own part in the coming work. A bullet cut the air above him,
and a branch, clipped as by a razor’s stroke, fell upon his head; but his
nerves had grown steady and his thoughts were not of himself; he was
watching, with breathless interest, for another of the gray shadows at the
guns to go down among the fallen horses.

Then, while he watched, he saw other batteries come out upon the hill; saw
the cannon thrown into position and heard the call change from “grape!” to
“canister!” On the edge of the pines a voice was speaking, and beyond the
voice a man on horseback was riding quietly back and forth in the open.
Behind him Jack Powell called out suddenly, “We’re ready, Colonel Burwell!”
 and his voice was easy, familiar, almost affectionate.

“I know it, boys!” replied the Colonel in the same tone, and Dan felt a
quick sympathy spring up within him. At that instant he knew that he loved
every man in the regiment beside him--loved the affectionate Colonel, with
the sleepy voice, loved Pinetop, loved the lieutenant whose nose he had
broken after drill.

At a word he had leaped, with the others, to his feet, and stood drawn up
for battle against the wood. Then it was that he saw the General of the day
riding beside fluttering colours across the waste land to the crest of the
hill. He was rallying the scattered brigades about the flag--so the fight
had gone against them and gone badly, after all.

Around him the men drifted back, frightened, straggling, defeated, and the
broken ranks closed up slowly. The standards dipped for a moment before a
sharp fire, and then, as the colour bearers shook out the bright folds,
soared like great red birds’ wings above the smoke.

It seemed to Dan that he stood for hours motionless there against the
pines. For a time the fight passed away from him, and he remembered a
mountain storm which had caught him as a boy in the woods at Chericoke. He
heard again the cloud burst overhead, the soughing of the pines and the
crackling of dried branches as they came drifting down through interlacing
boughs. The old childish terror returned to him, and he recalled his mad
rush for light and space when he had doubled like a hare in the wooded
twilight among the dim bodies of the trees. Then as now it was not the open
that he feared, but the unseen horror of the shelter.

Again the affectionate voice came from the sunlight and he gripped his
musket as he started forward. He had caught only the last words, and he
repeated them half mechanically, as he stepped out from the brushwood. Once
again, when he stood on the trampled broom-sedge, he said them over with a
nervous jerk, “Wait until they come within fifty yards--and, for God’s
sake, boys, shoot at the knees!”

He thought of the jolly Colonel, and laughed hysterically. Why, he had been
at that man’s wedding--had kissed his bride--and now he was begging him to
shoot at people’s knees!

With a cheer, the regiment broke from cover and swept forward toward the
summit of the hill. Dan’s foot caught in a blackberry vine, and he stumbled
blindly. As he regained himself a shell ripped up the ground before him,
flinging the warm clods of earth into his face. A “worm” fence at a little
distance scattered beneath the fire, and as he looked up he saw the long
rails flying across the field. For an instant he hesitated; then something
that was like a nervous spasm shook his heart, and he was no more afraid.
Over the blackberries and the broom-sedge, on he went toward the swirls of
golden dust that swept upward from the bright green slope. If this was a
battle, what was the old engraving? Where were the prancing horses and the
uplifted swords?

Something whistled in his ears and the air was filled with sharp sounds
that set his teeth on edge. A man went down beside him and clutched at his
boots as he ran past; but the smell of the battle--a smell of oil and
smoke, of blood and sweat--was in his nostrils, and he could have kicked
the stiff hands grasping at his feet. The hot old blood of his fathers had
stirred again and the dead had rallied to the call of their descendant. He
was not afraid, for he had been here long before.

Behind him, and beside him, row after row of gray men leaped from the
shadow--the very hill seemed rising to his support--and it was almost
gayly, as the dead fighters lived again, that he went straight onward over
the sunny field. He saw the golden dust float nearer up the slope, saw the
brave flags unfurling in the breeze--saw, at last, man after man emerge
from the yellow cloud. As he bent to fire, the fury of the game swept over
him and aroused the sleeping brute within him. All the primeval instincts,
throttled by the restraint of centuries--the instincts of bloodguiltiness,
of hot pursuit, of the fierce exhilaration of the chase, of the death
grapple with a resisting foe--these awoke suddenly to life and turned the
battle scarlet to his eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

Two hours later, when the heavy clouds were smothering the sunset, he came
slowly back across the field. A gripping nausea had seized upon him--a
nausea such as he had known before after that merry night at college. His
head throbbed, and as he walked he staggered like a drunken man. The
revulsion of his overwrought emotions had thrown him into a state of
sensibility almost hysterical.

The battle-field stretched grimly round him, and as the sunset was blotted
out, a gray mist crept slowly from the west. Here and there he saw men
looking for the wounded, and he heard one utter an impatient “Pshaw!” as he
lifted a half-cold body and let it fall. Rude stretchers went by him on
either side, and still the field seemed as thickly sown as before; on the
left, where a regiment of Zouaves had been cut down, there was a flash of
white and scarlet, as if the loose grass was strewn with great tropical
flowers. Among them he saw the reproachful eyes of dead and dying horses.

Before him, on the gradual slope of the hill, stood a group of abandoned
guns, and there was something almost human in the pathos of their utter
isolation. Around them the ground was scorched and blackened, and scattered
over the broken trails lay the men who had fallen at their post. He saw
them lying there in the fading daylight, with the sponges and the rammers
still in their hands, and he saw upon each man’s face the look with which
he had met and recognized the end. Some were smiling, some staring, and one
lay grinning as if at a ghastly joke. Near him a boy, with the hair still
damp on his forehead, had fallen upon an uprooted blackberry vine, and the
purple stain of the berries was on his mouth. As Dan looked down upon him,
the smell of powder and burned grass came to him with a wave of sickness,
and turning he stumbled on across the field. At the first step his foot
struck upon something hard, and, picking it up, he saw that it was a Minie
ball, which, in passing through a man’s spine, had been transformed into a
mass of mingled bone and lead. With a gesture of disgust he dropped it and
went on rapidly. A stretcher moved beside him, and the man on it, shot
through the waist, was saying in a whisper, “It is cold--cold--so cold.”
 Against his will, Dan found, he had fallen into step with the men who bore
the stretcher, and together they kept time to the words of the wounded
soldier who cried out ceaselessly that it was cold. On their way they
passed a group on horseback and, standing near it, a handsome artilleryman,
who wore a red flannel shirt with one sleeve missing. As Dan went on he
discovered that he was thinking of the handsome man in the red shirt and
wondering how he had lost his missing sleeve. He pondered the question as
if it were a puzzle, and, finally, yielded it up in doubt.

Beyond the base of the hill they came into the small ravine which had been
turned into a rude field hospital. Here the stretcher was put down, and a
tired-looking surgeon, wiping his hands upon a soiled towel, came and knelt
down beside the wounded man.

“Bring a light--I can’t see--bring a light!” he exclaimed irritably, as he
cut away the clothes with gentle fingers.

Dan was passing on, when he heard his name called from behind, and turning
quickly found Governor Ambler anxiously regarding him.

“You’re not hurt, my boy?” asked the Governor, and from his tone he might
have parted from the younger man only the day before.

“Hurt? Oh, no, I’m not hurt,” replied Dan a little bitterly, “but there’s a
whole field of them back there, Colonel.”

“Well, I suppose so--I suppose so,” returned the other absently. “I’m
looking after my men now, poor fellows. A victory doesn’t come cheap, you
know, and thank God, it was a glorious victory.”

“A glorious victory,” repeated Dan, looking at the surgeons who were
working by the light of tallow candles.

The Governor followed his gaze. “It’s your first fight,” he said, “and you
haven’t learned your lesson as I learned mine in Mexico. The best, or the
worst of it, is that after the first fight it comes easy, my boy, it comes
too easy.”

There was hot blood in him also, thought Dan, as he looked at him--and yet
of all the men that he had ever known he would have called the Governor the
most humane.

“I dare say--I’ll get used to it, sir,” he answered. “Yes, it was a
glorious victory.”

He broke away and went off into the twilight over the wide meadow to the
little wayside spring. Across the road there was a field of clover, where a
few campfires twinkled, and he hastened toward it eager to lie down in the
darkness and fall asleep. As his feet sank in the moist earth, he looked
down and saw that the little purple flower was still blooming in the mud.



IV

AFTER THE BATTLE


The field of trampled clover looked as if a windstorm had swept over it,
strewing the contents of a dozen dismantled houses. There were stacks of
arms and piles of cooking utensils, knapsacks, half emptied, lay beside the
charred remains of fires, and loose fence rails showed red and white
glimpses of playing cards, hidden, before the fight, by superstitious
soldiers.

Groups of men were scattered in dark spots over the field, and about them
stragglers drifted slowly back from the road to Centreville. There was no
discipline, no order--regiment was mixed with regiment, and each man was
hopelessly inquiring for his lost company.

As Dan stepped over the fallen fence upon the crushed pink heads of the
clover, he came upon a circle of privates making merry over a lunch basket
they had picked up on the turnpike--a basket brought by one of the
Washington parties who had gayly driven out to watch the battle. A broken
fence rail was ablaze in the centre of the group, and as the red light fell
on each soiled and unshaven face, it stood out grotesquely from the
surrounding gloom. Some were slightly wounded, some had merely scented the
battle from behind the hill--all were drinking rare wine in honour of the
early ending of the war. As Dan looked past them over the darkening meadow,
where the returning soldiers drifted aimlessly across the patches of red
light, he asked himself almost impatiently if this were the pure and
patriotic army that held in its ranks the best born of the South? To him,
standing there, it seemed but a loosened mass, without strength and without
cohesion, a mob of schoolboys come back from a sham battle on the college
green. It was his first fight, and he did not know that what he looked upon
was but the sure result of an easy victory upon the undisciplined ardour of
raw troops--that the sinews of an army are wrought not by a single trial,
but by the strain of prolonged and strenuous endeavour.

“I say, do you reckon they’ll lemme go home ter-morrow?” inquired a
slightly wounded man in the group before him. “Thar’s my terbaccy needs
lookin’ arter or the worms ‘ull eat it clean up ‘fo’ I git thar.” He shook
the shaggy hair from his face, and straightened the white cotton bandage
about his chin. On the right side, where the wound was, his thick sandy
beard had been cut away, and the outstanding tuft on his left cheek gave
him a peculiarly ill-proportioned look.

“Lordy! I tell you we gave it ter ‘em!” exclaimed another in excited jerks.
“Fight! Wall, that’s what I call fightin’, leastways it’s put. I declar’ I
reckon I hit six Yankees plum on the head with the butt of this here
musket.”

He paused to knock the head off a champagne bottle, and lifting the broken
neck to his lips drained the foaming wine, which spilled in white froth
upon his clothes. His face was red in the firelight, and when he spoke his
words rolled like marbles from his tongue. Dan, looking at him, felt a
curious conviction that the man had not gone near enough to the guns to
smell the powder.

“Wall, it may be so, but I ain’t seed you,” returned the first speaker,
contemptuously, as he stroked his bandage. “I was thar all day and I ain’t
seed you raise no special dust.”

“Oh, I ain’t claimin’ nothin’ special,” put in the other, discomfited.

“Six is a good many, I reckon,” drawled the wounded man, reflectively, “and
I ain’t sayin’ I settled six on ‘em hand to hand--I ain’t sayin’ that.” He
spoke with conscious modesty, as if the smallness of his assertion was
equalled only by the greatness of his achievements. “I ain’t sayin’ I
settled more’n three on ‘em, I reckon.”

Dan left the group and went on slowly across the field, now and then
stumbling upon a sleeper who lay prone upon the trodden clover, obscured by
the heavy dusk. The mass of the army was still somewhere on the long
road--only the exhausted, the sickened, or the unambitious drifted back to
fall asleep upon the uncovered ground.

As Dan crossed the meadow he drew near to a knot of men from a Kentucky
regiment, gathered in the light of a small wood fire, and recognizing one
of them, he stopped to inquire for news of his missing friends.

“Oh, you wouldn’t know your sweetheart on a night like this,” replied the
man he knew--a big handsome fellow, with a peculiar richness of voice.
“Find a hole, Montjoy, and go to sleep in it, that’s my advice. Were you
much cut up?”

“I don’t know,” answered Dan, uneasily. “I’m trying to make sure that we
were not. I lost the others somewhere on the road--a horse knocked me
down.”

“Well, if this is to be the last battle, I shouldn’t mind a scratch
myself,” put in a voice from the darkness, “even if it’s nothing more than
a bruise from a horse’s hoof. By the bye, Montjoy, did you see the way
Stuart rode down the Zouaves? I declare the slope looked like a field of
poppies in full bloom. Your cousin was in that charge, I believe, and he
came out whole. I saw him afterwards.”

“Oh, the cavalry gets the best of everything,” said Dan, with a sigh, and
he was passing on, when Jack Powell, coming out of the darkness, stumbled
against him, and broke into a delighted laugh.

“Why, bless my soul, Beau, I thought you’d run after the fleshpots of
Washington!” His face was flushed with excitement and the soft curls upon
his forehead were wet and dark. Around his mouth there was a black stain
from bitten cartridges. “By George, it was a jolly day, wasn’t it, old
man?” he added warmly.

“Where are the others?” asked Dan, grasping his arm in an almost frantic
pressure.

“The others? they’re all right--all except poor Welch, who got a ball in
his thigh, you know. Did you see him when he was taken off the field? He
laughed as he passed me and shouted back that he ‘was always willing to
spare a leg or two to the cause!’”

“Where are you off to?” inquired Dan, still grasping his arm.

“I? oh, I’m on the scent of water. I haven’t learned to sleep dirty yet,
which Bland says is a sign I’m no soldier. By the way, your darky, Big
Abel, has a coffee-boiler over yonder in the fence corner. He’s been
tearing his wool out over your absence; you’d better ease his mind.” With a
laugh and a wave of his hand, he plunged into the darkness, and Dan made
his way slowly to the campfire, which twinkled from the old rail fence. As
he groped toward it curses sprang up like mustard from the earth beneath.
“Get off my leg, and be damned,” growled a voice under his feet. “Oh, this
here ain’t no pesky jedgment day,” exclaimed another just ahead. Without
answering he stepped over the dark bodies, and, ten minutes later, came
upon Big Abel waiting patiently beside the dying fire.

At sight of him the negro leaped, with a shout, to his feet; then,
recovering himself, hid his joy beneath an accusing mask.

“Dis yer coffee hit’s done ‘mos’ bile away,” he remarked gloomily. “En ef’n
it don’ tase like hit oughter tase, ‘tain’ no use ter tu’n up yo’ nose,
caze ‘tain’ de faul’ er de coffee, ner de faul’ er me nurr.”

“How are you, old man?” asked Bland, turning over in the shadow.

“Who’s there?” responded Dan, as he peered from the light into the
obscurity.

“All the mess except Welch, poor devil. Baker got his hair singed by our
rear line, and he says he thinks it’s safer to mix with the Yankees next
time. Somebody behind him shot his cowlick clean off.”

“Cowlick, the mischief!” retorted Baker, witheringly. “Why, my scalp is as
bald as your hand. The fool shaved me like a barber.”

“It’s a pity he didn’t aim at your whiskers,” was Dan’s rejoinder. “The
chief thing I’ve got against this war is that when it’s over there won’t be
a smooth-shaven man in the South.”

“Oh, we’ll stand them up before our rear line,” suggested Baker, moodily.
“You may laugh, Bland, but you wouldn’t like it yourself, and if they keep
up their precious marksmanship your turn will come yet. We’ll be a regiment
of baldheads before Christmas.”

Dan sat down upon the blanket Big Abel had spread and leaned heavily upon
his knapsack, which the negro had picked up on the roadside. A nervous
chill had come over him and he was shaking with icy starts from head to
foot. Big Abel brought a cup of coffee, and as he took it from him, his
hand quivered so that he set the cup upon the ground; then he lifted it and
drank the hot coffee in long draughts.

“I should have lost my very identity but for you, Big Abel,” he observed
gratefully, as he glanced round at the property the negro had protected.

Big Abel leaned forward and stirred the ashes with a small stick.

“En I done fit fer ‘em, suh,” he replied. “I des tell you all de fittin’
ain’ been over yonder on dat ar hill caze I’se done fit right yer in dis
yer fence conder, en I ain’ fit de Yankees nurr. Lawd, Lawd, dese yer folks
es is been a-sniffin’ roun’ my pile all day, ain’ de kinder folks I’se used
ter, caze my folks dey don’ steal w’at don’ b’long ter ‘em, en dese yer
folks dey do. Ole Marster steal? Huh! he ‘ouldn’t even tech a chicken dat
‘uz roos’in in his own yard. But dese yer sodgers!--Why, you cyarn tu’n yo’
eye a splinter off de vittles fo’ dey’s done got ‘em. Dey poke dey han’s
right spang in de fire en eat de ashes en all.”

He went off grumbling to lie down at a little distance, and Dan sat
thoughtfully looking into the smouldering fire. Bland and Baker, having
heatedly discussed the details of the victory, had at last drifted into
silence; only Pinetop was awake--this he learned from the odour of the
corncob pipe which floated from a sheltered corner.

“Come over, Pinetop,” called Dan, cordially, “and let’s make ready for the
pursuit to-morrow. Why, to-morrow we may eat a civilized dinner in
Washington--think of that!”

He spoke excitedly, for he was still quivering from the tumult of his
thoughts. There was no sleep possible for him just now; his limbs twitched
restlessly, and he felt the prick of strong emotion in his blood.

“I say, Pinetop, what do you think of the fight?” he asked with an
embarrassed boyish eagerness. In the faint light of the fire his eyes
burned like coals and there was a thick black stain around his mouth. The
hand in which he had held his ramrod was of a dark rust colour, as if the
stain of the battle had seared into the skin. A smell of hot powder still
hung about his clothes.

The mountaineer left the shadow of the fence corner and slowly dragged
himself into the little glow, where he sat puffing at his corncob pipe. He
gave an easy, sociable nod and stared silently at the embers.

“Was it just what you imagined it would be?” went on Dan, curiously.

Pinetop took his pipe from his mouth and nodded again. “Wall, ‘twas and
‘twan’t,” he answered pleasantly.

“I must say it made me sick,” admitted Dan, leaning his head in his hand.
“I’ve always been a fool about the smell of blood; and it made me downright
sick.”

“Wall, I ain’t got much of a stomach for a fight myself,” returned Pinetop,
reflectively. “You see I ain’t never fought anythin’ bigger’n a skunk until
to-day; and when I stood out thar with them bullets sizzlin’ like fryin’
pans round my head, I kind of says to myself: ‘Look here, what’s all this
fuss about anyhow? If these here folks have come arter the niggers, let ‘em
take ‘em off and welcome.’ I ain’t never owned a nigger in my life, and,
what’s more, I ain’t never seen one that’s worth owning. ‘Let ‘em take ‘em
and welcome,’ that’s what I said. Bless your life, as I stood out thar I
didn’t see how I was goin’ to fire my musket, till all of a jiffy a thought
jest jumped into my head and sent me bangin’ down that hill. ‘Them folks
have set thar feet on ole Virginny,’ was what I thought ‘They’ve set thar
feet on ole Virginny, and they’ve got to take ‘em off damn quick!’”

His teeth closed over his pipe as if it were a cartridge; then, after a
silent moment, he opened his mouth and spoke again.

“What I can’t make out for the life of me,” he said, “is how those boys
from the other states gave thar licks so sharp. If I’d been born across the
line in Tennessee, I wouldn’t have fired my musket off to-day. They wan’t
a-settin’ thar feet on Tennessee. But ole Virginny--wall, I’ve got a
powerful fancy for ole Virginny, and they ain’t goin’ to project with her
dust, if I can stand between.” He turned away, and, emptying his pipe,
rolled over upon the ground.

Dan lay down upon the blanket, and, with his hand upon his knapsack, gazed
at the small red ember burning amid the ashes. When the last spark faded
into blackness it was as if his thoughts went groping for a light. Sleep
came fitfully in flights and pauses, in broken dreams and brief awakenings.
Losing himself at last it was only to return to the woods at Chericoke and
to see Betty coming to him among the dim blue bodies of the trees. He saw
the faint sunshine falling upon her head and the stir of the young leaves
above her as a light wind passed. Under her feet the grass was studded with
violets, and the bonnet swinging from her arm was filled with purple
blossoms. She came on steadily over the path of grass and violets, but when
he reached out to touch her a great shame fell over him for there was blood
upon his hand.

There was something cold in his face, and he emerged slowly from his sleep
into the consciousness of dawn and a heavy rain. The swollen clouds hung
close above the hills, and the distance was obscured by the gray sheets of
water which fell like a curtain from heaven to earth. Near by a wagon had
drawn up in the night, and he saw that a group of half-drenched privates
had already taken shelter between the wheels. Gathering up his oilcloth, he
hastily formed a tent with the aid of a deep fence corner, and, when he had
drawn his blanket across the opening, sat partly protected from the shower.
As the damp air blew into his face, he became quickly and clearly awake,
and it was with the glimmer of a smile that he looked over the wet meadow
and the sleeping regiments. Then a shudder followed, for he saw in the
lines of gray men stretched beneath the rain some likeness to that other
field beyond the hill where the dead were still lying, row on row. He saw
them stark and cold on the scorched grass beside the guns, or in the thin
ridges of trampled corn, where the gay young tassels were now storm-beaten
upon the ripped-up earth. He saw them as he had seen them the evening
before--not in the glow of battle, but with the acuteness of a brooding
sympathy--saw them frowning, smiling, and with features which death had
twisted into a ghastly grin. They were all there--each man with open eyes
and stiff hands grasping the clothes above his wound.

But to Dan, sitting in the gray dawn in the fence corner, the first horror
faded quickly into an emotion almost triumphant. The great field was
silent, reproachful, filled with accusing eyes--but was it not filled with
glory, too? He was young, and his weakened pulses quickened at the thought.
Since men must die, where was a brighter death than to fall beneath the
flutter of the colours, with the thunder of the cannon in one’s ears? He
knew now why his fathers had loved a fight, had loved the glitter of the
bayonets and the savage smell of the discoloured earth.

For a moment the old racial spirit flashed above the peculiar sensitiveness
which had come to him from his childhood and his suffering mother; then the
flame went out and the rows of dead men stared at him through the falling
rain in the deserted field.



V

THE WOMAN’S PART


At sunrise on the morning of the battle Betty and Virginia, from the
whitewashed porch of a little railway inn near Manassas, watched the
Governor’s regiment as it marched down the single street and into the red
clay road. Through the first faint sunshine, growing deeper as the sun rose
gloriously above the hills, there sounded a peculiar freshness in the
martial music as it triumphantly floated back across the fields. To Betty
it almost seemed that the drums were laughing as they went to battle; and
when the gay air at last faded in the distance, the silence closed about
her with a strangeness she had never felt before--as if the absence of
sound was grown melancholy, like the absence of light.

She shut her eyes and brought back the long gray line passing across the
sunbeams: the tanned eager faces, the waving flags, the rapid, almost
impatient tread of the men as they swung onward. A laugh had run along the
column as it went by her and she had smiled in quick sympathy with some
foolish jest. It was all so natural to her, the gayety and the ardour and
the invincible dash of the young army--it was all so like the spirit of Dan
and so dear to her because of the likeness.

Somewhere--not far away, she knew--he also was stepping briskly across the
first sun rays, and her heart followed him even while she smiled down upon
the regiment before her. It was as if her soul were suddenly freed from her
bodily presence, and in a kind of dual consciousness she seemed to be
standing upon the little whitewashed porch and walking onward beside Dan at
the same moment. The wonder of it glowed in her rapt face, and Virginia,
turning to put some trivial question, was startled by the passion of her
look.

“Have--have you seen--some one, Betty?” she whispered.

The charm was snapped and Betty fell back into time and place.

“Oh, yes, I have seen--some one,” her voice thrilled as she spoke. “I saw
him as clearly as I see you; he was all in sunshine and there was a flag
close above his head. He looked up and smiled at me. Yes, I saw him! I saw
him!”

“It was Dan,” said Virginia--not as a question, but in a wondering assent.
“Why, Betty, I thought you had forgotten Dan--papa thought so, too.”

“Forgotten!” exclaimed Betty scornfully. She fell away from the crowd and
Virginia followed her. The two stood leaning against the whitewashed wall
in the dust that still rose from the street. “So you thought I had
forgotten him,” said Betty again. She raised her hand to her bosom and
crushed the lace upon her dress. “Well, you were wrong,” she added quietly.

Virginia looked at her and smiled. “I am almost glad,” she answered in her
sweet girlish voice. “I don’t like to have Dan forgotten even if--if he
ought to be.”

“I didn’t love him because he ought to be loved,” said Betty. “I loved him
because I couldn’t help it--because he was himself and I was myself, I
suppose. I was born to love him, and to stop loving him I should have to be
born again. I don’t care what he does--I don’t care what he is even--I
would rather love him than--than be a queen.” She held her hands tightly
together. “I would be his servant if he would let me,” she went on. “I
would work for him like a slave--but he won’t let me. And yet he does love
me just the same--just the same.”

“He does--he does,” admitted Virginia softly. She had never seen Betty like
this before, and she felt that her sister had become suddenly very strange
and very sacred. Her hands were outstretched to comfort, but Betty turned
gently away from her and went up the narrow staircase to the bare little
room where the girls slept together.

Alone within the four white walls she moved breathlessly to and fro like a
woodland creature that has been entrapped. At the moment she was telling
herself that she wanted to keep onward with the army; then her courage
would have fluttered upward like the flags. It was not the sound of the
cannon that she dreaded, nor the sight of blood--these would have nerved
her as they nerved the generations at her back--but the folded hands and
the terrible patience that are the woman’s share of a war. The old fighting
blood was in her veins--she was as much the child of her father as a son
could have been--and yet while the great world over there was filled with
noise she was told to go into her room and pray. Pray! Why, a man might
pray with his musket in his hand, that was worth while.

In the adjoining room she saw her mother sitting in a square of sunlight
with her open Bible on her knees.

“Oh, speak, mamma!” she called half angrily. “Move, do anything but sit so
still. I can’t bear it!” She caught her breath sharply, for with her words
a low sound like distant thunder filled the room and the little street
outside. As she clung with both hands to the window it seemed to her that a
gray haze had fallen over the sunny valley. “Some one is dead,” she said
almost calmly, “that killed how many?”

The room stifled her and she ran hurriedly down into the street, where a
few startled women and old men had rushed at the first roll of the cannon.
As she stood among them, straining her eyes from end to end of the little
village, her heart beat in her throat and she could only quaver out an
appeal for news.

“Where is it? Doesn’t any one know anything? What does it mean?”

“It means a battle, Miss, that’s one thing,” remarked on obliging
by-stander who leaned heavily upon a wooden leg. “Bless you, I kin a’most
taste the powder.” He smacked his lips and spat into the dust. “To think
that I went all the way down to Mexico fur a fight,” he pursued
regretfully, “when I could have set right here at home and had it all in
old Virginny. Well, well, that comes of hurryin’ the Lord afo’ he’s ready.”

He rambled on excitedly, but Betty, frowning with impatience, turned from
him and walked rapidly up and down the single street, where the voices of
the guns growled through the muffling distance. “That killed how many? how
many?” she would say at each long roll, and again, “How many died that
moment, and was one Dan?”

Up and down the little village, through the heavy sunshine and the white
dust, among the whimpering women and old men, she walked until the day wore
on and the shadows grew longer across the street. Once a man had come with
the news of a sharp repulse, and in the early afternoon a deserter
straggled in with the cry that the enemy was marching upon the village. It
was not until the night had fallen, when the wounded began to arrive on
baggage trains, that the story of the day was told, and a single shout went
up from the waiting groups. The Confederacy was established! Washington was
theirs by right of arms, and tomorrow the young army would dictate terms of
peace to a great nation! The flags waved, women wept, and the wounded
soldiers, as they rolled in on baggage cars, were hailed as the deliverers
of a people. The new Confederacy! An emotion half romantic, half maternal
filled Betty as she bent above an open wound--for it was in her blood to do
battle to the death for a belief, to throw herself into a cause as into the
arms of a lover. She was made of the stuff of soldiers, and come what might
she would always take her stand upon her people’s side.

There were cheers and sobs in the little street about her; in the distance
a man was shouting for the flag, and nearer by a woman with a lantern in
her hand was searching among the living for her dead. The joy and the
anguish of it entered into the girl like wine. She felt her pulses leap and
a vigour that was not her own nerved her from head to foot. With that power
of ardent sacrifice which lies beneath all shams in the Southern heart, she
told herself that no endurance was too great, no hope too large with which
to serve the cause.

The exaltation was still with her when, a little later, she went up to her
room and knelt down to thank God. Her people’s simple faith was hers also,
and as she prayed with her brow on her clasped hands it was as if she gave
thanks to some great warrior who had drawn his sword in defence of the land
she loved. God was on her side, supreme, beneficent, watchful in little
things, as He has been on the side of all fervent hearts since the
beginning of time.

But after her return to Uplands in midsummer she suffered a peculiar
restlessness from the tranquil August weather. The long white road
irritated her with its aspect of listless patience, and at times she wanted
to push back the crowding hills and leave the horizon open to her view.
When a squadron of cavalry swept along the turnpike her heart would follow
it like a bird while she leaned, with straining eyes, against a great white
column. Then, as the last rider was blotted out into the landscape, she
would clasp her hands and walk rapidly up and down between the lilacs. It
was all waiting--waiting--waiting--nothing else.

“Something must happen, mamma, or I shall go mad,” she said one day,
breaking in upon Mrs. Ambler as she sorted a heap of old letters in the
library.

“But what? What?” asked Virginia from the shadow of the window seat.
“Surely you don’t want a battle, Betty?”

Mrs. Ambler shuddered.

“Don’t tempt Providence, dear,” she said seriously, untying a faded ribbon
about a piece of old parchment. “Be grateful for just this calm and go out
for a walk. You might take this pitcher of flaxseed tea to Floretta’s
cabin, if you’ve nothing else to do. Ask how the baby is to-day, and tell
her to keep the red flannel warm on its chest.”

Betty went into the hall after her bonnet and came back for the pitcher.
“I’m going to walk across the fields to Chericoke,” she said, “and Hosea is
to bring the carriage for me about sunset. We must have some white silk to
make those flags out of, and there isn’t a bit in the house.”

She went out, stepping slowly in her wide skirts and holding the pitcher
carefully before her.

Floretta’s baby was sleeping, and after a few pleasant words the girl kept
on to Chericoke. There she found that the Major had gone to town for news,
leaving Mrs. Lightfoot to her pickle making in the big storeroom, where the
earthenware jars stood in clean brown rows upon the shelves. The air was
sharp with the smell of vinegar and spices, and fragrant moisture dripped
from the old lady’s delicate hands. At the moment she had forgotten the war
just beyond her doors, and even the vacant places in her household; her
nervous flutter was caused by finding the plucked corn too large to salt.

“Come in, child, come in,” she said, as Betty appeared in the doorway.
“You’re too good a housekeeper to mind the smell of brine.”

“How the soldiers will enjoy it,” laughed Betty in reply. “It’s fortunate
that both sides are fond of spices.”

The old lady was tying a linen cloth over the mouth of a great brown jar,
and she did not look up as she answered. “I’m not consulting their tastes,
my dear, though, as for that, I’m willing enough to feast our own men so
long as the Yankees keep away. This jar, by the bye, is filled with
‘Confederate pickle’--it was as little as I could do to compliment the
Government, I thought, and the green tomato catchup I’ve named in honour of
General Beauregard.”

Betty smiled; and then, while Mrs. Lightfoot stood sharply regarding
Car’line, who was shucking a tray of young corn, she timidly began upon her
mission. “The flags must be finished, and I can’t find the silk,” she
pleaded. “Isn’t there a scrap in the house I may have? Let me look about
the attic.”

The old lady shook her head. “I haven’t allowed anybody to set foot in my
attic for forty years,” she replied decisively. “Why, I’d almost as soon
they’d step into my grandfather’s vault.” Then as Betty’s face fell she
added generously. “As for white silk, I haven’t any except my wedding
dress, and that’s yellow with age; but you may take it if you want it. I’m
sure it couldn’t come to a better end; at least it will have been to the
front upon two important occasions.”

“Your wedding dress!” exclaimed Betty in surprise, “oh, how could you?”

Mrs. Lightfoot smiled grimly.

“I could give more than a wedding dress if the Confederacy called for it,
my dear,” she answered. “Indeed, I’m not perfectly sure that I couldn’t
give the Major himself--but go upstairs and wait for me while I send
Car’line for the keys.”

She returned to the storeroom, and Betty went upstairs to wander leisurely
through the cool faintly lighted chambers. They were all newly swept and
scented with lavender, and the high tester beds, with their slender fluted
posts, looked as if they had stood spotless and untouched for generations.
In Dan’s room, which had been his mother’s also, the girl walked slowly up
and down, meeting, as she passed, her own eyes in the darkened mirror. Her
mind fretted with the thought that Dan’s image had risen so often in the
glass, and yet had left no hint for her as she looked in now. If it had
only caught and held his reflection, that blank mirror, she could have
found it, she felt sure, though a dozen faces had passed by since. Was
there nothing left of him, she wondered, nothing in the place where he had
lived his life? She turned to the bed and picked up, one by one, the
scattered books upon the little table. Among them there was a copy of the
“Morte d’Arthur,” and as it fell open in her hand, she found a bit of her
own blue ribbon between the faded leaves. A tremor ran through her limbs,
and going to the window she placed the book upon the sill and read the
words aloud in the fragrant stillness. Behind her in the dim room Dan
seemed to rise as suddenly as a ghost--and that high-flown chivalry of his,
which delighted in sounding phrases as in heroic virtues, was loosened from
the leaves of the old romance.

“For there was never worshipful man nor worshipful woman but they loved one
better than another, and worship in arms may never be foiled; but first
reserve the honour to God, and secondly the quarrel must come of thy lady;
and such love I call virtuous love.”

She leaned her cheek upon the book and looked out dreamily into the green
box mazes of the garden. In the midst of war a great peace had come to her,
and the quiet summer weather no longer troubled her with its unbroken calm.
Her heart had grown suddenly strong again; even the long waiting had become
but a fit service for her love.

There was a step in the hall and Mrs. Lightfoot rustled in with her wedding
dress.

“You may take it and welcome, child,” she said, as she gave it into Betty’s
arms. “I can’t help feeling that there was something providential in my
selecting white when my taste always leaned toward a peach-blow brocade.
Well, well, who would have believed that I was buying a flag as well as a
frock? If I’d even hinted such a thing, they would have said I had the
vapours.”

Betty accepted the gift with her pretty effusion of manner, and went
downstairs to where Hosea was waiting for her with the big carriage. As she
drove home in a happy revery, her eyes dwelt contentedly on the sunburnt
August fields, and the thought of war did not enter in to disturb her
dreams.

Once a line of Confederate cavalrymen rode by at a gallop and saluted her
as her face showed at the window. They were strangers to her, but with the
peculiar feeling of kinship which united the people of the South, she
leaned out to wish them “God speed” as she waved her handkerchief.

When, a little later, she turned into the drive at Uplands, it was to find,
from the prints upon the gravel, that the soldiers had been there before
her. Beyond the Doric columns she caught a glimpse of a gray sleeve, and
for a single instant a wild hope shot up within her heart. Then as the
carriage stopped, and she sprang quickly to the ground, the man in gray
came out upon the portico, and she saw that it was Jack Morson.

“I’ve come for Virginia, Betty,” he began impulsively, as he took her hand,
“and she promises to marry me before the battle.”

Betty laughed with trembling lips. “And here is the dress,” she said gayly,
holding out the yellowed silk.



VI

ON THE ROAD TO ROMNEY


After a peaceful Christmas, New Year’s Day rose bright and mild, and Dan as
he started from Winchester with the column felt that he was escaping to
freedom from the tedious duties of camp life.

“Thank God we’re on the war-path again,” he remarked to Pinetop, who was
stalking at his side. The two had become close friends during the dull
weeks after their first battle, and Bland, who had brought a taste for the
classics from the lecture-room, had already referred to them in pointless
jokes as “Pylades and Orestes.”

“It looks mighty like summer,” responded Pinetop cheerfully. He threw a
keen glance up into the blue clouds, and then sniffed suspiciously at the
dust that rose high in the road. “But I ain’t one to put much faith in
looks,” he added with his usual caution, as he shifted the knapsack upon
his shoulders.

Dan laughed easily. “Well, I’m heartily glad I left my overcoat behind me,”
 he said, breathing hard as he climbed the mountain road, where the red clay
had stiffened into channels.

The sunshine fell brightly over them, lying in golden drops upon the fallen
leaves. To Dan the march brought back the early winter rides at Chericoke,
and the chain of lights and shadows that ran on clear days over the tavern
road. Joyously throwing back his head, he whistled a love song as he
tramped up the mountain side. The irksome summer, with its slow fevers and
its sharp attacks of measles, its scarcity of pure water and supplies of
half-cooked food, was suddenly blotted from his thoughts, and his first
romantic ardour returned to him in long draughts of wind and sun. After
each depression his elastic temperament had sprung upward; the past months
had but strengthened him in body as in mind.

In the afternoon a gray cloud came up suddenly and the sunshine, after a
feeble struggle, was driven from the mountains. As the wind blew in short
gusts down the steep road, Dan tightened his coat and looked at Pinetop’s
knapsack with his unfailing laugh.

“That’s beginning to look comfortable. I hope to heaven the wagons aren’t
far off.”

Pinetop turned and glanced back into the valley. “I’ll be blessed if I
believe they’re anywhere,” was his answer.

“Well, if they aren’t, I’ll be somewhere before morning; why, it feels like
snow.”

A gust of wind, sharp as a blade, struck from the gray sky, and whirlpools
of dead leaves were swept into the forest. Falling silent, Dan swung his
arms to quicken the current of his blood, and walked on more rapidly. Over
the long column gloom had settled with the clouds, and they were brave lips
that offered a jest in the teeth of the wind. There were no blankets, few
overcoats, and fewer rations, and the supply wagons were crawling somewhere
in the valley.

The day wore on, and still the rough country road climbed upward embedded
in withered leaves. On the high wind came the first flakes of a snowstorm,
followed by a fine rain that enveloped the hills like mist. As Dan stumbled
on, his feet slipped on the wet clay, and he was forced to catch at the
bared saplings for support. The cold had entered his lungs as a knife, and
his breath circled in a little cloud about his mouth. Through the storm he
heard the quick oaths of his companions ring out like distant shots.

When night fell they halted to bivouac by the roadside, and until daybreak
the pine woods were filled with the cheerful glow of the campfires. There
were no rations, and Dan, making a jest of his hunger, had stretched
himself in the full light of the crackling branches. With the defiant
humour which had made him the favourite of the mess, he laughed at the
frozen roads, at the change in the wind, at his own struggles with the wet
kindling wood, at the supply wagons creeping slowly after them. His courage
had all the gayety of his passions--it showed itself in a smile, in a
whistle, in the steady hand with which he played toss and catch with fate.
The superb silence of Pinetop, plodding evenly along, was as far removed
from him as the lofty grandeur of the mountains. A jest warmed his heart
against the cold; with set lips and grave eyes, he would have fallen before
the next ridge was crossed.

Through the woods other fires were burning, and long reddish shadows crept
among the pine trees over the rotting mould. For warmth Dan had spread a
covering of dried leaves over him, raking them from sheltered corners of
the forest. When he rose from time to time during the night to take his
turn at replenishing the fire the leaves drifted in gravelike mounds about
his feet.

For three days the march was steadily upward over long ridges coated deep
with ice. In the face of the strong wind, which blew always down the steep
road, the army passed on, complaining, cursing, asking a gigantic question
of its General. Among the raw soldiers there had been desertions by the
dozen, filling the streets of the little town with frost-bitten
malcontents. “It was all a wild goose chase,” they declared bitterly, “and
if Old Jack wasn’t a March hare--well, he was something madder!”

Dan listened to the curses with his ready smile, and walked on bravely.
Since the first evening he had uttered no complaint, asked no question. He
had undertaken to march, and he meant to march, that was all. In the front
with which he veiled his suffering there was no lessening of his old
careless confidence--if his dash had hardened into endurance it wore still
an expression that was almost debonair.

So as the column straggled weakly upward, he wrung his stiffened fingers
and joked with Jack Powell, who stumbled after him. The cold had brought a
glow to his tanned face, and when he lifted his eyes from the road Pinetop
saw that they were shining brightly. Once he slipped on the frozen mud, and
as his musket dropped from his hand, it went off sharply, the load entering
the ground.

“Are you hurt?” asked Jack, springing toward him; but Dan looked round
laughing as he clasped his knee.

“Oh, I merely groaned because I might have been,” he said lightly, and
limped on, singing a bit of doggerel which had taken possession of his
regiment.

  “Then let the Yanks say what they will,
    We’ll be gay and happy still;
  Gay and happy, gay and happy,
    We’ll be gay and happy still.”

On the third day out they reached a little village in the mountains, but
before the week’s end they had pushed on again, and the white roads still
stretched before them. As they went higher the tracks grew steeper, and now
and then a musket shot rang out on the roadside as a man lost his footing
and went down upon the ice. Behind them the wagon train crept inch by inch,
or waited patiently for hours while a wheel was hoisted from the ditch
beside the road. There was blood on the muzzles of the horses and on the
shining ice that stretched beyond them.

To Dan these terrible days were as the anguish of a new birth, in which the
thing to be born suffered the conscious throes of awakening life. He could
never be the same again; something was altered in him forever; this he felt
dimly as he dragged his aching body onward. Days like these would prove the
stuff that had gone into the making of him. When the march to Romney lay
behind him he should know himself to be either a soldier or a coward. A
soldier or a coward! he said the words over again as he struggled to keep
down the pangs of hunger, telling himself that the road led not merely to
Romney, but to a greater victory than his General dreamed of. Romney might
be worthless, after all, the grim march but a mad prank of Jackson’s, as
men said; but whether to lay down one’s arms or to struggle till the end
was reached, this was the question asked by those stern mountains. Nature
stood ranged against him--he fought it step by step, and day by day.

At times something like delirium seized him, and he went on blindly,
stepping high above the ice. For hours he was tortured by the longing for
raw beef, for the fresh blood that would put heat into his veins. The
kitchen at Chericoke flamed upon the hillside, as he remembered it on
winter evenings when the great chimney was filled with light and the crane
was in its place above the hickory. The smell of newly baked bread floated
in his nostrils, and for a little while he believed himself to be lying
again upon the hearth as he thrilled at Aunt Rhody’s stories. Then his
fancies would take other shapes, and warm colours would glow in red and
yellow circles before his eyes. When he thought of Betty now it was no
longer tenderly but with a despairing passion. He was haunted less by her
visible image than by broken dreams of her peculiar womanly beauties--of
her soft hands and the warmth of her girlish bosom.

But from the first day to the last he had no thought of yielding; and each
feeble step had sent him a step farther upon the road. He had often fallen,
but he had always struggled up again and laughed. Once he made a ghastly
joke about his dying in the snow, and Jack Powell turned upon him with an
oath and bade him to be silent.

“For God’s sake don’t,” added the boy weakly, and fell to whimpering like
a child.

“Oh, go home to your mother,” retorted Dan, with a kind of desperate
cruelty.

Jack sobbed outright.

“I wish I could,” he answered, and dropped over upon the roadside.

Dan caught him up, and poured his last spoonful of brandy down his throat,
then he seized his arm and dragged him bodily along.

“Oh, I say don’t be an ass,” he implored. “Here comes old Stonewall.”

The commanding General rode by, glanced quietly over them, and passed on,
his chest bowed, his cadet cap pulled down over his eyes. A moment later
Dan, looking over the hillside, at the winding road, saw him dismount and
put his shoulder to a sunken wheel. The sight suddenly nerved the younger
man, and he went on quickly, dragging Jack up with him.

That night they rested in a burned-out clearing where the pine trees had
been felled for fence rails. The rails went readily to fires, and Pinetop
fried strips of fat bacon in the skillet he had brought upon his musket.
Somebody produced a handful of coffee from his pocket, and a little later
Dan, dozing beside the flames, was awakened by the aroma.

“By George!” he burst out, and sat up speechless.

Pinetop was mixing thin cornmeal paste into the gravy, and he looked up as
he stirred busily with a small stick.

“Wall, I reckon these here slapjacks air about done,” he remarked in a
moment, adding with a glance at Dan, “and if your stomach’s near as empty
as your eyes, I reckon your turn comes first.”

“I reckon it does,” said Dan, and filling his tin cup, he drank scalding
coffee in short gulps. When he had finished it, he piled fresh rails upon
the fire and lay down to sleep with his feet against the embers.

With the earliest dawn a long shiver woke him, and as he put out his hand
it touched something wet and cold. The fire had died to a red heart, and a
thick blanket of snow covered him from head to foot. Straight above there
was a pale yellow light where the stars shone dimly after the storm.

He started to his feet, rubbing a handful of snow upon his face. The red
embers, sheltered by the body of a solitary pine, still glowed under the
charred brushwood, and kneeling upon the ground, he fanned them into a
feeble blaze. Then he laid the rails crosswise, protecting them with his
blanket until they caught and flamed up against the blackened pine.

Near by Jack Powell was moaning in his sleep, and Dan leaned over to shake
him into consciousness. “Oh, damn it all, wake up, you fool!” he said
roughly, but Jack rolled over like one drugged and broke into frightened
whimpers such as a child makes in the dark. He was dreaming of home, and as
Dan listened to the half-choked words, his face contracted sharply. “Wake
up, you fool!” he repeated angrily, rolling him back and forth before the
fire.

A little later, when Jack had grown warm beneath his touch, he threw a
blanket over him, and turned to lie down in his own place. As he tossed a
last armful on the fire, his eyes roamed over the long mounds of snow that
filled the clearing, and he caught his breath as a man might who had waked
suddenly among the dead. In the beginning of dawn, with the glimmer of
smouldering fires reddening the snow, there was something almost ghastly in
the sloping field filled with white graves and surrounded by white
mountains. Even the wintry sky borrowed, for an hour, the spectral aspect
of the earth, and the familiar shapes of cloud, as of hill, stood out with
all the majesty of uncovered laws--stripped of the mere frivolous effect of
light or shade. It was like the first day--or the last.

Dan, sitting watchful beside the fire, fell into the peculiar mental state
which comes only after an inward struggle that has laid bare the sinews of
one’s life. He had fought the good fight to the end, and he knew that from
this day he should go easier with himself because he knew that he had
conquered.

The old doubt--the old distrust of his own strength--was fallen from him.
At the moment he could have gone to Betty, fearless and full of hope, and
have said, “Come, for I am grown up at last--at last I have grown up to my
love.” A great tenderness was in his heart, and the tears, which had not
risen for all the bodily suffering of the past two weeks, came slowly to
his eyes. The purpose of life seemed suddenly clear to him, and the large
patience of the sky passed into his own nature as he sat facing the white
dawn. At rare intervals in the lives of all strenuous souls there comes
this sense of kinship with external things--this passionate recognition of
the appeal of the dumb world. Sky and mountains and the white sweep of the
fields awoke in him the peculiar tenderness he had always felt for animals
or plants. His old childish petulance was gone from him forever; in its
place he was aware of a kindly tolerance which softened even the common
outlines of his daily life. It was as if he had awakened breathlessly to
find himself a man.

And Betty came to him again--not in detached visions, but entire and
womanly. When he remembered her as on that last night at Chericoke it was
with the impulse to fall down and kiss her feet. Reckless and blind with
anger as he had been, she would have come cheerfully with him wherever his
road led; and it was this passionate betrayal of herself that had taught
him the full measure of her love. An attempt to trifle, to waver, to
bargain with the future, he might have looked back upon with tender scorn;
but the gesture with which she had made her choice was as desperate as his
own mood--and it was for this one reckless moment that he loved her best.

The east paled slowly as the day broke in a cloud, and the long shadows
beside the fire lost their reddish glimmer. A little bird, dazed by the
cold and the strange light, flew into the smoke against the stunted pine,
and fell, a wet ball of feathers at Dan’s feet. He picked it up, warmed it
in his coat, and fed it from the loose crumbs in his pocket.

When Pinetop awoke he was gently stroking the bird while he sang in a low
voice:--

  “Gay and happy, gay and happy,
    We’ll be gay and happy still.”



VII

“I WAIT MY TIME”


When he returned to Winchester it was to find Virginia already there as
Jack Morson’s wife. Since her marriage in late summer she had followed her
husband’s regiment from place to place, drifting at last to a big yellow
house on the edge of the fiery little town. Dan, passing along the street
one day, heard his name called in a familiar voice, and turned to find her
looking at him through the network of a tall, wrought-iron gate.

“Virginia! Bless my soul! Where’s Betty?” he exclaimed amazed.

Virginia left the gate and gave him her hand over the dried creepers on the
wall.

“Why, you look ten years older,” was her response.

“Indeed! Well, two years of beggary, to say nothing of eight months of war,
isn’t just the thing to insure immortal youth, is it? You see, I’m turning
gray.”

The pallor of the long march was in his face, giving him a striking though
unnatural beauty. His eyes were heavy and his hair hung dishevelled about
his brow, but the change went deeper still, and the girl saw it. “You’re
bigger--that’s it,” she said, and added impulsively, “Oh, how I wish Betty
could see you now.”

Her hand was upon the wall and he gave it a quick, pleased pressure.

“I wish to heaven she could,” he echoed heartily.

“But I shall tell her everything when I write--everything. I shall tell her
that you are taller and stronger and that you have been in all the fights
and haven’t a scar to show. Betty loves scars, you see, and she doesn’t
mind even wounds--real wounds. She wanted to go into the hospitals, but I
came away and mamma wouldn’t let her.”

“For God’s sake, don’t let her,” said Dan, with a shudder, his Southern
instincts recoiling from the thought of service for the woman he loved.
“There are a plenty of them in the hospitals and it’s no place for Betty,
anyway.”

“I’ll tell her you think so,” returned Virginia, gayly. “I’ll tell her
that--and what else?”

He met her eyes smiling.

“Tell her I wait my time,” he answered, and began to talk lightly of other
things. Virginia followed his lead with her old shy merriment. Her marriage
had changed her but little, though she had grown a trifle stately, he
thought, and her coquetry had dropped from her like a veil. As she stood
there in her delicate lace cap and soft gray silk, the likeness to her
mother was very marked, and looking into the future, Dan seemed to see her
beauty ripen and expand with her growing womanhood. How many of her race
had there been, he wondered, shaped after the same pure and formal plan.

“And it is all just the same,” he said, his eyes delighting in her beauty.
“There is no change--don’t tell me there is any change, for I’ll not
believe it. You bring it all back to me,--the lawn and the lilacs and the
white pillars, and Miss Lydia’s garden, with the rose leaves in the paths.
Why are there always rose leaves in Miss Lydia’s paths, Virginia?”

Virginia shook her head, puzzled by his whimsical tone.

“Because there are so many roses,” she answered seriously.

“No, you’re wrong, there’s another reason, but I shan’t tell you.”

“My boxes are filled with rose leaves now,” said Virginia. “Betty gathered
them for me.”

The smile leaped to his eyes. “Oh, but it makes me homesick,” he returned
lightly. “If I tell you a secret, don’t betray me, Virginia--I am downright
homesick for Betty.”

Virginia patted his hand.

“So am I,” she confessed, “and so is Mammy Riah--she’s with me now, you
know--and she says that I might have been married without Jack, but never
without Betty. Betty made my dress and iced my cake and pinned on my veil.”

“Ah, is that so?” exclaimed Dan, absent-mindedly. He was thinking of Betty,
and he could almost see her hands as she pinned on the wedding veil--those
small white hands with the strong fingers that had closed about his own.

“When you get your furlough you must go home, Dan,” Virginia was saying;
“the Major is very feeble and--and he quarrels with almost everyone.”

“My furlough,” repeated Dan, with a laugh. “Why, the war may end to-morrow
and then we’ll all go home together and kill the fatted calf among us. Yes,
I’d like to see the old man again before I die.”

“I pray every night that the war may end tomorrow,” said Virginia, “but it
never does.” Then she turned eagerly to the Governor, who was coming toward
them under the leafless trees along the street.

“Here’s Dan, papa, do make him come in and be good.”

The Governor, holding himself erect in his trim gray uniform, insisted,
with his hand upon Dan’s shoulder, that Virginia should be obeyed; and the
younger man, yielding easily, followed him through the iron gate and into
the yellow house.

“I don’t see you every day, my boy, sit down, sit down,” began the
Governor, as he took his stand upon the hearth-rug. “Daughter, haven’t you
learned the way to the pantry yet? Dan looks as if he’d been on starvation
rations since he joined the army. They aren’t living high at Romney, eh?”
 and then, as Virginia went out, he fell to discussing the questions on all
men’s lips--the prospect of peace in the near future; hopes of intervention
from England; the attitude of other foreign powers; and the reasons for the
latest appointments by the President. When the girl came in again they let
such topics go, and talked of home while she poured the coffee and helped
Dan to fried chicken. She belonged to the order of women who delight in
feeding a hungry man, and her eyes did not leave his face as she sat behind
the tray and pressed the food upon him.

“Dan thinks the war will be over before he gets his furlough,” she said a
little wistfully.

A shadow crossed the Governor’s face.

“Then I may hope to get back in time to watch the cradles in the wheat
field,” he remarked. “There’s little doing on the farm I’m afraid while I’m
away.”

“If they hold out six months longer--well, I’ll be surprised,” exclaimed
Dan, slapping the arm of his chair with a gesture like the Major’s.
“They’ve found out we won’t give in so long as there’s a musket left; and
that’s enough for them.”

“Maybe so, maybe so,” returned the Governor, for it was a part of his
philosophy to cast his conversational lines in the pleasant places. “Please
God, we’ll drink our next Christmas glass at Chericoke.”

“In the panelled parlour,” added Dan, his eyes lighting.

“With Aunt Emmeline’s portrait,” finished Virginia, smiling.

For a time they were all silent, each looking happily into the far-off
room, and each seeing a distinct and different vision. To the Governor the
peaceful hearth grew warm again--he saw his wife and children gathered
there, and a few friendly neighbours with their long-lived, genial jokes
upon their lips. To Virginia it was her own bridal over again with the fear
of war gone from her, and the quiet happiness she wanted stretching out
into the future. To Dan there was first his own honour to be won, and then
only Betty and himself--Betty and himself under next year’s mistletoe
together.

“Well, well,” sighed the Governor, and came back regretfully to the
present. “It’s a good place we’re thinking of, and I reckon you’re sorry
enough you left it before you were obliged to. We all make mistakes, my
boy, and the fortunate ones are those who live long enough to unmake them.”

His warm smile shone out suddenly, and without waiting for a reply, he
began to ask for news of Jack Powell and his comrades, all of whom he knew
by name. “I was talking to Colonel Burwell about you the other day,” he
added presently, “and he gave you a fighting record that would do honour to
the Major.”

“He’s a nice old chap,” responded Dan, easily, for in the first years of
the Army of Northern Virginia the question of rank presented itself only
upon the parade ground, and beyond the borders of the camp a private had
been known to condescend to his own Colonel. “A gentleman fights for his
country as he pleases, a plebeian as he must,” the Governor would have
explained with a touch of his old oratory. “He’s a nice old chap himself,
but, by George, the discipline fits like a straight-jacket,” pursued Dan,
as he finished his coffee. “Why, here we are three miles below Winchester
in a few threadbare tents, and they make as much fuss about our coming into
town as if we were the Yankees themselves. Talk about Romney! Why, it’s no
colder at Romney than it was here last week, and yet Loring’s men are
living in huts like princes.”

“Show me a volunteer and I’ll show you a grumbler,” put in the Governor,
laughing.

“Oh, I’m not grumbling, I’m merely pointing out the facts,” protested Dan;
then he rose and stood holding Virginia’s hand as he met her upward glance
with his unflinching admiration. “Come again! Why, I should say so,” he
declared. “I’ll come as long as I have a collar left, and then--well, then
I’ll pass the time of day with you over the hedge. Good-by, Colonel,
remember I’m not a grumbler, I’m merely a man of facts.”

The door closed after him and a moment later they heard his clear whistle
in the street.

“The boy is like his father,” said the Governor, thoughtfully, “like his
father with the devil broken to harness. The Montjoy blood may be bad
blood, but it makes big men, daughter.” He sighed and drew his small figure
to its full height.

Virginia was looking into the fire. “I hope he will come again,” she
returned softly, thinking of Betty.

But when he called again a week later Virginia did not see him. It was a
cold starlit night, and the big yellow house, as he drew near it, glowed
like a lamp amid the leafless trees. Beside the porch a number of cavalry
horses were fastened to the pillars, and through the long windows there
came the sound of laughter and of gay “good-bys.”

The “fringe of the army,” as Dan had once jeeringly called it, was merrily
making ready for a raid.

As he listened he leaned nearer the window and watched, half enviously, the
men he had once known. His old life had been a part of theirs and now,
looking in from the outside, it seemed very far away--the poetry of war
beside which the other was mere dull history in which no names were
written. He thought of Prince Rupert, and of his own joy in the saddle, and
the longing for the raid seized him like a heartache. Oh, to feel again the
edge of the keen wind in his teeth and to hear the silver ring of the hoofs
on the frozen road.


                   “Jine the cavalry,
                   Jine the cavalry,
  If you want to have a good time jine the cavalry.”

The words floated out to him, and he laughed aloud as if he had awakened
from a comic dream.

That was the romance of war, but, after all, he was only the man who bore
the musket.



VIII

THE ALTAR OF THE WAR GOD


With the opening spring Virginia went down to Richmond, where Jack Morson
had taken rooms for her in the house of an invalid widow whose three sons
were at the front. The town was filled to overflowing with refugees from
the North and representatives from the South, and as the girl drove through
the crowded streets, she exclaimed wonderingly at the festive air the
houses wore.

“Why, the doors are all open,” she observed. “It looks like one big
family.”

“That’s about what it is,” replied Jack. “The whole South is here and
there’s not a room to be had for love or money. Food is getting dear, too,
they say, and the stranger within the gates has the best of everything.” He
stopped short and laughed from sheer surprise at Virginia’s loveliness.

“Well, I’m glad I’m here, anyway,” said the girl, pressing his arm, “and
Mammy Riah’s glad, too, though she won’t confess it.--Aren’t you just
delighted to see Jack again, Mammy?”

The old negress grunted in her corner of the carriage. “I ain’ seed no use
in all dis yer fittin’,” she responded. “W’at’s de use er fittin’ ef dar
ain’ sumpen’ ter fit fer dat you ain’ got a’ready?”

“That’s it, Mammy,” replied Jack, gayly, “we’re fighting for freedom, and
we haven’t had it yet, you see.”

“Is dat ar freedom vittles?” scornfully retorted the old woman. “Is it
close? is it wood ter bu’n?”

“Oh, it will soon be here and you’ll find out,” said Virginia, cheerfully,
and when a little later she settled herself in her pleasant rooms, she
returned to her assurances.

“Aren’t you glad you’re here, Mammy, aren’t you glad?” she insisted, with
her arm about the old woman’s neck.

“I’d des like ter git a good look at ole Miss agin,” returned Mammy Riah,
softening, “caze ef you en ole Miss ain’ des like two peas in a pod, my
eyes hev done crack wid de sight er you. Dar ain’ been nuttin’ so pretty es
you sence de day I dressed ole Miss in ‘er weddin’ veil.”

“You’re right,” exclaimed Jack, heartily. “But look at this, Virginia,
here’s a regular corn field at the back. Mrs. Minor tells me that
vegetables have grown so scarce she has been obliged to turn her flower
beds into garden patches.” He threw open the window, and they went out upon
the wide piazza which hung above the young corn rows.

During the next few weeks, when Jack was often in the city, an almost
feverish gayety possessed the girl. In the war-time parties, where the
women wore last year’s dresses, and the wit served for refreshment, her
gentle beauty became, for a little while, the fashion. The smooth bands of
her hair were copied, the curve of her eyelashes was made the subject of
some verses which _The Examiner_ printed and the English papers quoted
later on. It was a bright and stately society that filled the capital that
year; and on pleasant Sundays when Virginia walked from church, in her
Leghorn bonnet and white ruffles flaring over crinoline as they neared the
ground, men, who had bled on fields of honour for the famous beauties of
the South, would drop their talk to follow her with warming eyes. Cities
might fall and battles might be lost and won, but their joy in a beautiful
woman would endure until a great age.

At last Jack Morson rode away to service, and the girl kept to the quiet
house and worked on the little garments which the child would need in the
summer. She was much alone, but the delicate widow, who had left her couch
to care for the sick and wounded soldiers, would sometimes come and sit
near her while she sewed.

“This is the happiest time--before the child comes,” she said one day, and
added, with the observant eye of mothers, “it will be a boy; there is a
pink lining to the basket.”

“Yes, it will be a boy,” replied Virginia, wistfully.

“I have had six,” pursued the woman, “six sons, and yet I am alone now.
Three are dead, and three are in the army. I am always listening for the
summons that means another grave.” She clasped her thin hands and smiled
the patient smile that chilled Virginia’s blood.

“Couldn’t you have kept one back?” asked the girl in a whisper.

The woman shook her head. Much brooding had darkened her mind, but there
was a peculiar fervour in her face--an inward light that shone through her
faded eyes.

“Not one--not one,” she answered. “When the South called, I sent the first
two, and when they fell, I sent the others--only the youngest I kept back
at first--he is just seventeen. Then another call came and he begged so
hard I let him go. No, I gave them all gladly--I have kept none back.”

She lowered her eyes and sat smiling at her folded hands. Weakened in body
and broken by many sorrows as she was, with few years before her and those
filled with inevitable suffering, the fire of the South still burned in her
veins, and she gave herself as ardently as she gave her sons. The pity of
it touched Virginia suddenly, and in the midst of her own enthusiasm she
felt the tears upon her lashes. Was not an army invincible, she asked, into
which the women sent their dearest with a smile?

Through the warm spring weather she sat beside the long window that gave on
the street, or walked slowly up and down among the vegetable rows in the
garden. The growing of the crops became an unending interest to her and she
watched them, day by day, until she learned to know each separate plant and
to look for its unfolding. When the drought came she carried water from the
hydrant, and assisted by Mammy Riah sprinkled the young tomatoes until they
shot up like weeds. “It is so much better than war,” she would say to Jack
when he rode through the city. “Why will men kill one another when they
might make things live instead?”

Beside the piazza, there was a high magnolia tree, and under this she made
a little rustic bench and a bed of flowers. When the hollyhocks and the
sunflowers bloomed it would look like Uplands, she said, laughing.

Under the magnolia there was quiet, but from her front window, while she
sat at work, she could see the whole overcrowded city passing through sun
and shadow. Sometimes distinguished strangers would go by, men from the far
South in black broadcloth and slouch hats; then the President, slim and
erect and very grave, riding his favourite horse to one of the encampments
near the city; and then a noted beauty from another state, her chin lifted
above the ribbons of her bonnet, a smile tucked in the red corners of her
lips. Following there would surge by the same eager, staring throng--men
too old to fight who had lost their work; women whose husbands fought in
the trenches for the money that would hardly buy a sack of flour; soldiers
from one of the many camps; noisy little boys with tin whistles; silent
little girls waving Confederate flags. Back and forth they passed on the
bright May afternoons, filling the street with a ceaseless murmur and the
blur of many colours.

And again the crowd would part suddenly to make way for a battalion
marching to the front, or for a single soldier riding, with muffled drums,
to his grave in Hollywood. The quick step or the slow gait of the riderless
horse; the wild cheers or the silence on the pavement; the “Bonnie Blue
Flag” or the funeral dirge before the coffin; the eager faces of men
walking to where death was or the fallen ones of those who came back with
the dead; the bold flags taking the wind like sails or the banners furled
with crepe as they drooped forward--there was not a day when these things
did not go by near together. To Virginia, sitting at her window, it was as
if life and death walked on within each other’s shadow.

Then came the terrible days when the city saw McClellan sweeping toward it
from the Chickahominy, when senators and clergymen gathered with the slaves
to raise the breastworks, and men turned blankly to ask one another “Where
is the army?” With the girl the question meant only mystification; she felt
none of the white terror that showed in the faces round her. There was in
her heart an unquestioning, childlike trust in the God of battles--sooner
or later he would declare for the Confederacy and until then--well, there
was always General Lee to stand between. Her chief regret was that the
lines had closed and her mother could not come to her as she had promised.

In the intense heat that hung above the town she sat at her southern
window, where the river breeze blew across the garden, and watched placidly
the palm-leaf fan which Mammy Riah waved before her face. The magnolia tree
had flowered in great white blossoms, and the heavy perfume mingled in
Virginia’s thoughts with the yellow sunshine, the fretful clamour, and the
hot dust of the city. When at the end of May a rain storm burst overhead
and sent the wide white petals to the earth, it was almost a relief to see
them go. But by the morrow new ones had opened, and the perfume she had
sickened of still floated from the garden.

That afternoon the sound of the guns rolled up the Williamsburg road, and
in the streets men shouted hoarsely of an engagement with the enemy at
Seven Pines. With the noise Virginia thrilled to her first feeling of
danger, starting from a repose which, in its unconsciousness, had been as
profound as sleep. The horror of war rushed in upon her at the moment, and
with a cry she leaned out into the street, and listened for the next roll
of the cannon.

A woman, with a scared face, looked up, saw her, and spoke hysterically.

“There’s not a man left in the city,” she cried. “They’ve taken my father
to defend the breastworks and he’s near seventy. If you can sew or wash or
cook, there’ll be work enough for you, God knows, to-morrow!”

She hurried on and Virginia, turning from the window, buried herself in the
pillows upon the bed, trying in vain to shut out the noise of the
cannonading and the perfume of the magnolia blossoms which came in on the
southern breeze. With night the guns grew silent and the streets empty, but
still the girl lay sleepless, watching with frightened eyes the shadow of
Mammy Riah’s palm-leaf fan.

At dawn the restless murmur began again, and Virginia, looking out in the
hot sunrise, saw the crowd hastening back to the hospitals lower down. They
were all there, all as they had been the day before--old men limping out
for news or returning beside the wounded; women with trembling lips and
arms filled with linen; ambulances passing the corner at a walk, surrounded
by men who had staggered after them because there was no room left inside;
and following always the same curious, pallid throng, fresh upon the scent
of some new tragedy. Presently the ambulances gave out, and yet the wounded
came--some walking, and moaning as they walked, some borne on litters by
devoted servants, some drawn in market wagons pressed into use. The great
warehouses and the churches were thrown open to give them shelter, but
still they came and still the cry went up, “Room, more room!”

Virginia watched it all, leaning out to follow the wagons as they passed
the corner. The sight sickened her, but something that was half a ghastly
fascination, and half the terror of missing a face she knew, kept her hour
after hour motionless upon her knees. At each roll of the guns she gave a
nervous shiver and grew still as stone.

Then, as she knelt there, a man, in clerical dress, came down the pavement
and stopped before her window. “I hope your husband’s wound was not
serious, Mrs. Morson,” he said sympathetically. “If I can be of any
assistance, please don’t hesitate to call on me.”

“Jack wounded!--oh, he is not wounded,” replied Virginia. She rose and
stood wildly looking down upon him.

He saw his mistake and promptly retracted what he could.

“If you don’t know of it, it can’t be true,” he urged kindly. “So many
rumours are afloat that half of them are without foundation. However, I
will make inquiries if you wish,” and he passed on with a promise to return
at once.

For a time Virginia stood blankly gazing after him; then she turned
steadily and took down her bonnet from the wardrobe. She even went to the
bureau and carefully tied the pink ribbon strings beneath her chin.

“I am going out, Mammy Riah,” she said when she had finished. “No, don’t
tell me I mustn’t--I am going out, I say.”

She stamped her foot impatiently, but Mammy Riah made no protest.

“Des let’s go den,” she returned, smoothing her head handkerchief as she
prepared to follow.

The sun was already high above, and the breeze, which had blown for three
days from the river, had dropped suddenly since dawn. Down the brick
pavement the relentless glare flashed back into the sky which hung hot blue
overhead. To Virginia, coming from the shade of her rooms, the city seemed
a furnace and the steady murmur a great discord in which every note was one
of pain.

Other women looking for their wounded hurried by her--one stopped to ask if
she had been into the unused tobacco warehouse and if she had seen there a
boy she knew by name? Another, with lint bandages in her hand, begged her
to come into a church hard by and assist in ravelling linen for the
surgeons. Then she looked down, saw the girl’s figure, and grew nervous.
“You are not fit, my dear, go home,” she urged, but Virginia shook her head
and smiled.

“I am looking for my husband,” she answered in a cold voice and passed on.
Mammy Riah caught up with her, but she broke away. “Go home if you want
to--oh, go back,” she cried irritably. “I am looking for Jack, you know.”

Into the rude hospitals, one after one, she went without shuddering,
passing up and down between the ghastly rows lying half clothed upon the
bare plank floors. Her eyes were strained and eager, and more than one
dying man turned to look after her as she went by, and carried the memory
of her face with him to death. Once she stopped and folded a blanket under
the head of a boy who moaned aloud, and then gave him water from a pitcher
close at hand. “You’re so cool--so cool,” he sobbed, clutching at her
dress, but she smiled like one asleep and passed on rapidly.

When the long day had worn out at last, she came from an open store filled
with stretchers, and started homeward over the burning pavement. Her search
was useless, and the reaction from her terrible fear left her with a sudden
tremor in her heart. As she walked she leaned heavily upon Mammy Riah, and
her colour came and went in quick flashes. The heat had entered into her
brain and with it the memory of open wounds and the red hands of surgeons.
Reaching the house at last, she flung herself all dressed upon the bed and
fell into a sleep that was filled with changing dreams.

At midnight she cried out in agony, believing herself to be still in the
street. When Mammy Riah bent over her she did not know her, but held out
shaking hands and asked for her mother, calling the name aloud in the
silent house, deserted for the sake of the hospitals lower down. She was
walking again on and on over the hot bricks, and the deep wounds were
opening before her eyes while the surgeons went by with dripping hands.
Once she started up and cried out that the terrible blue sky was crushing
her down to the pavement which burned her feet. Then the odour of the
magnolia filled her nostrils, and she talked of the scorching dust, of the
noise that would not stop, and of the feeble breeze that blew toward her
from the river. All night she wandered back and forth in the broad glare of
the noon, and all night Mammy Riah passed from the clinging hands to the
window where she looked for help in the empty street. And then, as the gray
dawn broke, Virginia put her simple services by, and spoke in a clear
voice.

“Oh, how lovely,” she said, as if well pleased. A moment more and she lay
smiling like a child, her chin pressed deep in her open palm.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the full sunrise a physician, who had run in at the old woman’s cry,
came from the house and stopped bareheaded in the breathless heat. For a
moment he stared over the moving city and then up into the cloudless blue
of the sky.

“God damn war!” he said suddenly, and went back to his knife.



IX

THE MONTJOY BLOOD AGAIN


A month later Dan heard of Virginia’s death when, at the end of the Seven
Days, he was brought wounded into Richmond. As he lay upon church cushions
on the floor of an old warehouse on Main Street, with Big Abel shaking a
tattered palm-leaf fan at his side, a cavalryman came up to him and held
out a hand that trembled slightly from fatigue.

“I heard you were here. Can I do anything for you, Beau?” he asked.

For an instant Dan hesitated; then the other smiled, and he recognized Jack
Morson.

“My God! You’ve been ill!” he exclaimed in horror. Jack laughed and let his
hand fall. The boyish colour was gone from his face, and he wore an
untrimmed beard which made him look twice his age.

“Never better in my life,” he answered shortly. “Some men are made of
india-rubber, Montjoy, and I’m one of them. I’ve managed to get into most
of these blessed fights about Richmond, and yet I haven’t so much as a pin
prick to show for it. But what’s wrong with you? Not much, I hope. I’ve
just seen Bland, and he told me he thought you were left at Malvern Hill
during that hard rain on Tuesday night. How did you get knocked over,
anyway?”

“A rifle ball went through my leg,” replied Dan impatiently. “I say, Big
Abel, can’t you flirt that fan a little faster? These confounded flies
stick like molasses.” Then he held up his left hand and looked at it with a
grim smile. “A nasty fragment of a shell took off a couple of my fingers,”
 he added. “At first I thought they had begun throwing hornets’ nests from
their guns--it felt just like it. Yes, that’s the worst with me so far;
I’ve still got a bone to my leg, and I’ll be on the field again before
long, thank God.”

“Well, the worst thing about getting wounded is being stuffed into a hole
like this,” returned Jack, glancing about contemptuously. “Whoever has had
the charge of our hospital arrangements may congratulate himself that he
has made a ghastly mess of them. Why, I found a man over there in the
corner whose leg had mortified from sheer neglect, and he told me that the
supplies for the sick had given out, and they’d offered him cornbread and
bacon for breakfast.”

Dan began to toss restlessly, grumbling beneath his breath. “If you ever
see a ball making in your direction,” he advised, “dodge it clean or take
it square in the mouth; don’t go in for any compromises with a gun, they
aren’t worth it.” He lay silent for a moment, and then spoke proudly. “Big
Abel hauled me off the field after I went down. How he found me, God only
knows, but find me he did, and under fire, too.”

“‘Twuz des like pepper,” remarked Big Abel, fanning briskly, “but soon es I
heah dat Marse Dan wuz right flat on de groun’, I know dat dar warn’ nobody
ter go atter ‘im ‘cep’n’ me. Marse Bland he come crawlin’ out er de bresh,
wuckin’ ‘long on his stomick same es er mole, wid his face like a rabbit
w’en de dawgs are ‘mos’ upon ‘im, en he sez hard es flint, ‘Beau he’s down
over yonder, en I tried ter pull ‘im out, Big Abel, ‘fo’ de Lawd I did!’
Den he drap right ter de yerth, en I des stop long enough ter put a tin
bucket on my haid ‘fo’ I began ter crawl atter Marse Dan. Whew! dat ar
bucket hit sutney wuz a he’p, dat ‘twuz, case I des hyeard de cawn
a-poppin’ all aroun’ hit, en dey ain’ never come thoo yit.

“Well, suh, w’en I h’ist dat bucket ter git a good look out dar dey wuz
a-fittin’ twel dey bus’, a-dodgin’ in en out er de shucks er wheat dat dey
done pile ‘mos’ up ter de haids. I ain’ teck but one good look, suh, den I
drap de bucket down agin en keep a-crawlin’ like Marse Bland tole me twel I
git ‘mos’ ter de cawn fiel’ dat run right spang up de hill whar de big guns
wuz a-spittin’ fire en smoke. En sho’ ‘nough dar wuz Marse Dan lyin’ unner
a pine log dat Marse Bland hed roll up ter ‘im ter keep de Yankees f’om
hittin’ ‘im; en w’en he ketch sight er me he des blink his eyes fur a
minute en laugh right peart.

“‘Wat dat you got on yo’ haid, Big Abel?’ he sez.”

“Big Abel’s a hero, there’s no mistake,” put in Dan, delighted. “Do you
know he lifted me as if I were a baby and toted me out of that God-forsaken
corn field in the hottest fire I ever felt--and I tipped the scales at a
hundred and fifty pounds before I went to Romney.”

“Go way, Marse Dan, you ain’ nuttin’ but a rail,” protested Big Abel, and
continued his story. “Atter I done tote him outer de cawn fiel’ en thoo de
bresh, den I begin ter peer roun’ fer one er dese yer ambushes, but dere
warn’ nairy one un um dat warn’ a-bulgin’ a’ready. I d’clar dey des bulged
twel dey sides ‘mos’ split. I seed a hack drive long by wid two gemmen
a-settin’ up in hit, en one un em des es well es I is,--but w’en I helt
Marse Dan up right high, he shake his haid en pint ter de udder like he
kinder skeered. ‘Dis yer’s my young brudder,’ he sez, speakin’ sof’; ‘en
dis yer’s my young Marster,’ I holler back, but he shake his haid agin en
drive right on. Lawd, Lawd, my time’s ‘mos’ up, I ‘low den--yes, suh, I
do--but w’en I tu’n roun’ squintin’ my eyes caze de sun so hot--de sun he
wuz kinder shinin’ thoo his back like he do w’en he hu’t yo’ eyes en you
cyan’ see ‘im--dar came a dump cyart a-joltin’ up de road wid a speckled
mule hitch ter it. A lot er yuther w’ite folks made a bee line fer dat ar
dump cyart, but dey warn’ ‘fo’ me, caze w’en dey git dar, dar I wuz
a-settin’ wid Marse Dan laid out across my knees. Well, dey lemme go--dey
bleeged ter caze I ‘uz gwine anyway--en de speckled mule she des laid back
‘er years en let fly fer Richmon’. Yes, suh, I ain’ never seed sech a mule
es dat. She ‘uz des es full er sperit es a colt, en her name wuz Sally.”

“The worst of it was after getting here,” finished Dan, who had lain
regarding Big Abel with a proud paternal eye, “they kept us trundling round
in that cart for three mortal hours, because they couldn’t find a hole to
put us into. An uncovered wagon was just in front of us, filled with poor
fellows who had been half the day in the sweltering heat, and we made the
procession up and down the city, until at last some women rushed up with
their servants and cleared out this warehouse. One was not over sixteen and
as pretty as a picture. ‘Don’t talk to me about the proper authorities,’
she said, stamping her foot, ‘I’ll hang the proper authorities when they
turn up--and in the meantime we’ll go to work!’ By Jove, she was a trump,
that girl! If she didn’t save my life, she did still better and saved my
leg.”

“Well, I’ll try to get you moved by to-morrow,” said Jack reassuringly.
“Every home in the city is filled with the wounded, they tell me, but I
know a little woman who had two funerals from her house to-day, so she may
be able to find room for you. This heat is something awful, isn’t it?”

“Damnable. I hope, by the way, that Virginia is out of it by now.”

Jack flinched as if the words struck him between the eyes. For a moment he
stood staring at the straw pallets along the wall; then he spoke in a queer
voice.

“Yes, Virginia’s out of it by now; Virginia’s dead, you know.”

“Dead!” cried Dan, and raised himself upon his cushion. The room went black
before him, and he steadied himself by clutching at Big Abel’s arm. At the
instant the horrors of the battle-field, where he had seen men fall like
grass before the scythe, became as nothing to the death of this one young
girl. He thought of her living beauty, of the bright glow of her flesh, and
it seemed to him that the earth could not hide a thing so fair.

“I left her in Richmond in the spring,” explained Jack, gripping himself
hard. “I was off with Stuart, you know, and I thought her mother would get
to her, but she couldn’t pass the lines and then the fight came--the one at
Seven Pines and--well, she died and the child with her.”

Dan’s eyes grew very tender; a look crept into them which only Betty and
his mother had seen there before.

“I would have died for her if I could, Jack, you know that,” he said
slowly.

Jack walked off a few paces and then came back again. “I remember the
Governor’s telling me once,” he went on in the same hard voice, “that if a
man only rode boldly enough at death it would always get out of the way. I
didn’t believe it at the time, but, by God, it’s true. Why, I’ve gone
straight into the enemy’s lines and heard the bullets whistling in my ears,
but I’ve always come out whole. When I rode with Stuart round McClellan’s
army, I was side by side with poor Latane when he fell in the skirmish at
Old Church, and I sat stock still on my horse and waited for a fellow to
club me with his sabre, but he wouldn’t; he looked at me as if he thought I
had gone crazy, and actually shook his head. Some men can’t die, confound
it, and I’m one of them.”

He went out, his spurs striking the stone steps as he passed into the
street, and Dan fell back upon the narrow cushions to toss with fever and
the memory of Virginia--of Virginia in the days when she wore her rose-pink
gown and he believed he loved her.

At the door an ambulance drew up and a stretcher was brought into the
building, and let down in one corner. The man on it was lying very still,
and when he was lifted off and placed upon the blood-soaked top of the long
pine table, he made no sound, either of fear or of pain. The close odours
of the place suddenly sickened Dan and he asked Big Abel to draw him nearer
the open window, where he might catch the least breeze from the river; but
outside the July sunlight lay white and hot upon the bricks, and when he
struggled up the reflected heat struck him down again. On the sidewalk he
saw several prisoners going by amid a hooting crowd, and with his old
instinct to fight upon the weaker side, he hurled an oath at the tormenters
of his enemies.

“Go to the field, you crows, and be damned!” he called.

One of the prisoners, a ruddy-cheeked young fellow in private’s clothes,
looked up and touched his cap.

“Thank you, sir, I hope we’ll meet at the front,” he said, in a rich Irish
brogue. Then he passed on to Libby prison, while Dan turned from the window
and lay watching the surgeon’s faces as they probed for bullets.

It was a long unceiled building, filled with bright daylight and the
buzzing of countless flies. Women, who had volunteered for the service,
passed swiftly over the creaking boards, or knelt beside the pallets as
they bathed the shattered limbs with steady fingers. Here and there a child
held a glass of water to a man who could not raise himself, or sat fanning
the flies from a pallid face. None was too old nor too young where there
was work for all.

A stir passed through the group about the long pine table, and one of the
surgeons, wiping the sweat from his brow, came over to where Dan lay, and
stopped to take breath beside the window.

“By Jove, that man died game,” he said, shaking his handkerchief at the
flies. “We took both his legs off at the knee, and he just gripped the
table hard and never winked an eyelash. I told him it would kill him, but
he said he’d be hanged if he didn’t take his chance--and he took it and
died. Talk to me about nerve, that fellow had the cleanest grit I ever
saw.”

Dan’s pulses fluttered, as they always did at an example of pure pluck.

“What’s his regiment?” he asked, watching the two slaves who, followed by
their mistresses, were bringing the body back to the stretcher.

“Oh, he was a scout, I believe, serving with Stuart when he was wounded.
His name is--by the way, his name is Montjoy. Any relative of yours, I
wonder?”

Raising himself upon his elbow, Dan turned to look at the dead man beside
him. A heavy beard covered the mouth and chin, but he knew the sunken black
eyes and the hair that was like his own.

“Yes,” he answered after a long pause, “he is a relative of mine, I think;”
 and then, while the man lay waiting for his coffin, he propped himself upon
his arm and followed curiously the changes made by death.

At his first recognition there had come only a wave of repulsion--the old
disgust that had always dogged the memory of his father; then, with the
dead face before his eyes, he was aware of an unreasoning pride in the
blood he bore--in the fact that the soldier there had died pure game to the
last. It was as a braggart and a bully that he had always thought of him;
now he knew that at least he was not a craven--that he could take blows as
he dealt them, from the shoulder out. He had hated his father, he told
himself unflinchingly, and he did not love him now. Had the dead man opened
his eyes he could have struck him back again with his mother’s memory for a
weapon. There had been war between them to the grave, and yet, despite
himself, he knew that he had lost his old boyish shame of the Montjoy
blood. With the instinct of his race to glorify physical courage, he had
seen the shadow of his boyhood loom from the petty into the gigantic. Jack
Montjoy may have been a scoundrel,--doubtless he was one,--but, with all
his misdeeds on his shoulders, he had lived pure game to the end.

A fresh bleeding of Dan’s wound brought on a sudden faintness, and he fell
heavily upon Big Abel’s arm. With the pain a groan hovered an instant on
his lips, but, closing his eyes, he bit it back and lay silent. For the
first time in his life there had come to him, like an impulse, the
knowledge that he must not lower his father’s name.



BOOK FOURTH

THE RETURN OF THE VANQUISHED



I

THE RAGGED ARMY


The brigade had halted to gather rations in a corn field beside the road,
and Dan, lying with his head in the shadow of a clump of sumach, hungrily
regarded the “roasting ears” which Pinetop had just rolled in the ashes. A
malarial fever, which he had contracted in the swamps of the Chickahominy,
had wasted his vitality until he had begun to look like the mere shadow of
himself; gaunt, unwashed, hollow-eyed, yet wearing his torn gray jacket and
brimless cap as jauntily as he had once worn his embroidered waistcoats.
His hand trembled as he reached out for his share of the green corn, but
weakened as he was by sickness and starvation, the defiant humour shone all
the clearer in his eyes. He had still the heart for a whistle, Bland had
said last night, looking at him a little wistfully.

As he lay there, with the dusty sumach shrub above him, he saw the ragged
army pushing on into the turnpike that led to Maryland. Lean, sun-scorched,
half-clothed, dropping its stragglers like leaves upon the roadside,
marching in borrowed rags, and fighting with the weapons of its enemies,
dirty, fevered, choking with the hot dust of the turnpike--it still pressed
onward, bending like a blade beneath Lee’s hand. For this army of the sick,
fighting slow agues, old wounds, and the sharp diseases that follow on
green food, was becoming suddenly an army of invasion. The road led into
Maryland, and the brigades swept into it, jesting like schoolboys on a
frolic.

Dan, stretched exhausted beside the road, ate his ear of corn, and idly
watched the regiment that was marching by--marching, not with the even
tread of regular troops, but with scattered ranks and broken column, each
man limping in worn-out shoes, at his own pace. They were not fancy
soldiers, these men, he felt as he looked after them. They were not
imposing upon the road, but when their chance came to fight, they would be
very sure to take it. Here and there a man still carried his old squirrel
musket, with a rusted skillet handle stuck into the barrel, but when before
many days the skillet would be withdrawn, the load might be relied upon to
wing straight home a little later. On wet nights those muskets would stand
upright upon their bayonets, with muzzles in the earth, while the rain
dripped off, and on dry days they would carry aloft the full property of
the mess, which had dwindled to a frying pan and an old quart cup; though
seldom cleaned, they were always fit for service--or if they went foul what
was easier than to pick up a less trusty one upon the field. On the other
side hung the blankets, tied at the ends and worn like a sling from the
left shoulder. The haversack was gone and with it the knapsack and the
overcoat. When a man wanted a change of linen he knelt down and washed his
single shirt in the brook, sitting in the sun while it dried upon the bank.
If it was long in drying he put it on, wet as it was, and ran ahead to fall
in with his company. Where the discipline was easy, each infantryman might
become his own commissary.

Dan finished his corn, threw the husks over his head, and sat up, looking
idly at the irregular ranks. He was tired and sick, and after a short rest
it seemed all the harder to get up and take the road again. As he sat there
he began to bandy words with the sergeant of a Maryland regiment that was
passing.

“Hello! what brigade?” called the sergeant in friendly tones. He looked fat
and well fed, and Dan felt this to be good ground for resentment.

“General Straggler’s brigade, but it’s none of your business,” he promptly
retorted.

“General Straggler has a pretty God-forsaken crew,” taunted the sergeant,
looking back as he stepped on briskly. “I’ve seen his regiments lining the
road clear up from Chantilly.”

“If you’d kept your fat eyes open at Manassas the other day, you’d have
seen them lining the battle-field as well,” pursued Dan pleasantly, chewing
a long green blade of corn. “Old Stonewall saw them, I’ll be bound. If
General Straggler didn’t win that battle I’d like to know who did.”

“Oh, shucks!” responded the sergeant, and was out of hearing.

The regiment passed by and another took its place. “Was that General Lee
you were yelling at down there, boys?” inquired Dan politely, smiling the
smile of a man who sits by the roadside and sees another sweating on the
march.

“Naw, that warn’t Marse Robert,” replied a private, limping with bare feet
over the border of dried grass. “‘Twas a blamed, blank, bottomless well,
that’s what ‘twas. I let my canteen down on a string and it never came back
no mo’.”

Dan lowered his eyes, and critically regarded the tattered banner of the
regiment, covered with the names of the battles over which it had hung
unfurled. “Tennessee, aren’t you?” he asked, following the flag.

The private shook his head, and stooped to remove a pebble from between his
toes.

“Naw, we ain’t from Tennessee,” he drawled. “We’ve had the measles--that’s
what’s the matter with us.”

“You show it, by Jove,” said Dan, laughing. “Step quickly, if you
please--this is the cleanest brigade in the army.”

“Huh!” exclaimed the private, eying them with contempt. “You look like it,
don’t you, sonny? Why, I’d ketch the mumps jest to look at sech a set o’
rag-a-muffins!”

He went on, still grunting, while Dan rose to his feet and slung his
blanket from his shoulder. “Look here, does anybody know where we’re going
anyway?” he asked of the blue sky.

“I seed General Jackson about two miles up,” replied a passing countryman,
who had led his horse into the corn field. “Whoopee! he was going at a
God-a’mighty pace, I tell you. If he keeps that up he’ll be over the
Potomac before sunset.”

“Then we are going into Maryland!” cried Jack Powell, jumping to his feet.
“Hurrah for Maryland! We’re going to Maryland, God bless her!”

The shouts passed down the road and the Maryland regiment in front sent
back three rousing cheers.

“By Jove, I hope I’ll find some shoes there,” said Dan, shaking the sand
from his ragged boots, and twisting the shreds of his stockings about his
feet. “I’ve had to punch holes in my soles and lace them with shoe strings
to the upper leather, or they’d have dropped off long ago.”

“Well, I’ll begin by making love to a seamstress when I’m over the
Potomac,” remarked Welch, getting upon his feet. “I’m decidedly in need of
a couple of patches.”

“You make love! You!” roared Jack Powell. “Why, you’re the kind of thing
they set up in Maryland to keep the crows away. Now if it were Beau, there,
I see some sense in it--for, I’ll be bound, he’s slain more hearts than
Yankees in this campaign. The women always drain out their last drop of
buttermilk when he goes on a forage.”

“Oh, I don’t set up to be a popinjay,” retorted Welch witheringly.

“Popinjay, the devil!” scowled Dan, “who’s a popinjay?”

“Wall, I’d like a pair of good stout breeches,” peacefully interposed
Pinetop. “I’ve been backin’ up agin the fence when I seed a lady comin’ for
the last three weeks, an’ whenever I set down, I’m plum feared to git up
agin. What with all the other things,--the Yankees, and the chills, and the
measles,--it’s downright hard on a man to have to be a-feared of his own
breeches.”

Dan looked round with sympathy. “That’s true; it’s a shame,” he admitted
smiling. “Look here, boys, has anybody got an extra pair of breeches?”

A howl of derision went up from the regiment as it fell into ranks.

“Has anybody got a few grape-leaves to spare?” it demanded in a high
chorus.

“Oh, shut up,” responded Dan promptly. “Come on, Pinetop, we’ll clothe
ourselves to-morrow.”

The brigade formed and swung off rapidly along the road, where the dust lay
like gauze upon the sunshine. At the end of a mile somebody stopped and
cried out excitedly. “Look here, boys, the persimmons on that tree over
thar are gittin’ ‘mos fit to eat. I can see ‘em turnin’,” and with the
words the column scattered like chaff across the field. But the first man
to reach the tree came back with a wry face, and fell to swearing at “the
darn fool who could eat persimmons before frost.”

“Thar’s a tree in my yard that gits ripe about September,” remarked
Pinetop, as he returned dejectedly across the waste. “Ma she begins to dry
‘em ‘fo’ the frost sets in.”

“Oh, well, we’ll get a square meal in the morning,” responded Dan, growing
cheerful as he dreamed of hospitable Maryland.

Some hours later, in the warm dusk, they went into bivouac among the trees,
and, in a little while, the campfires made a red glow upon the twilight.

Pinetop, with a wooden bucket on his arm, had plunged off in search of
water, and Dan and Jack Powell were sent, in the interests of the mess, to
forage through the surrounding country.

“There’s a fat farmer about ten miles down, I saw him,” remarked a lazy
smoker, by way of polite suggestion.

“Ten miles? Well, of all the confounded impudence,” retorted Jack, as he
strolled off with Dan into the darkness.

For a time they walked in silence, depressed by hunger and the exhaustion
of the march; then Dan broke into a whistle, and presently they found
themselves walking in step with the merry air.

“Where are your thoughts, Beau?” asked Jack suddenly, turning to look at
him by the faint starlight.

Dan’s whistle stopped abruptly.

“On a dish of fried chicken and a pot of coffee,” he replied at once.

“What’s become of the waffles?” demanded Jack indignantly. “I say, old man,
do you remember the sinful waste on those blessed Christmas Eves at
Chericoke? I’ve been trying to count the different kinds of meat--roast
beef, roast pig, roast goose, roast turkey--”

“Hold your tongue, won’t you?”

“Well, I was just thinking that if I ever reach home alive I’ll deliver the
Major a lecture on his extravagance.”

“It isn’t the Major; it’s grandma,” groaned Dan.

“Oh, that queen among women!” exclaimed Jack fervently; “but the wines are
the Major’s, I reckon,--it seems to me I recall some port of which he was
vastly proud.”

Dan delivered a blow that sent Jack on his knees in the stubble of an old
corn field.

“If you want to make me eat you, you’re going straight about it,” he
declared.

“Look out!” cried Jack, struggling to his feet, “there’s a light over there
among the trees,” and they walked on briskly up a narrow country lane which
led, after several turnings, to a large frame house well hidden from the
road.

In the doorway a woman was standing, with a lamp held above her head, and
when she saw them she gave a little breathless call.

“Is that you, Jim?”

Dan went up the steps and stood, cap in hand, before her. The lamplight was
full upon his ragged clothes and upon his pallid face with its strong
high-bred lines of mouth and chin.

“I thought you were my husband,” said the woman, blushing at her mistake.
“If you want food you are welcome to the little that I have--it is very
little.” She led the way into the house, and motioned, with a pitiable
gesture, to a table that was spread in the centre of the sitting room.

“Will you sit down?” she asked, and at the words, a child in the corner of
the room set up a frightened cry.

“It’s my supper--I want my supper,” wailed the child.

“Hush, dear,” said the woman, “they are our soldiers.”

“Our soldiers,” repeated the child, staring, with its thumb in its mouth
and the tear-drops on its cheeks.

For an instant Dan looked at them as they stood there, the woman holding
the child in her arms, and biting her thin lips from which hunger had
drained all the red. There was scant food on the table, and as his gaze
went back to it, it seemed to him that, for the first time, he grasped the
full meaning of a war for the people of the soil. This was the real
thing--not the waving banners, not the bayonets, not the fighting in the
ranks.

His eyes were on the woman, and she smiled as all women did upon whom he
looked in kindness.

“My dear madam, you have mistaken our purpose--we are not as hungry as we
look,” he said, bowing in his ragged jacket. “We were sent merely to ask
you if you were in need of a guard for your smokehouse. My Colonel hopes
that you have not suffered at our hands.”

“There is nothing left,” replied the woman mystified, yet relieved. “There
is nothing to guard except the children and myself, and we are safe, I
think. Your Colonel is very kind--I thank him;” and as they went out she
lighted them with her lamp from the front steps.

An hour later they returned to camp with aching limbs and empty hands.

“There’s nothing above ground,” they reported, flinging themselves beside
the fire, though the night was warm. “We’ve scoured the whole country and
the Federals have licked it as clean as a plate before us. Bless my soul!
what’s that I smell? Is this heaven, boys?”

“Licked it clean, have they?” jeered the mess. “Well, they left a sheep
anyhow loose somewhere. Beau’s darky hadn’t gone a hundred yards before he
found one.”

“Big Abel? You don’t say so?” whistled Dan, in astonishment, regarding the
mutton suspended on ramrods above the coals.

“Well, suh, ‘twuz des like dis,” explained Big Abel, poking the roast with
a small stick. “I know I ain’ got a bit a bus’ness ter shoot dat ar sheep
wid my ole gun, but de sheep she ain’ got no better bus’ness strayin’ roun’
loose needer. She sutney wuz a dang’ous sheep, dat she wuz. I ‘uz des
a-bleeged ter put a bullet in her haid er she’d er hed my blood sho’.”

As the shout went up he divided the legs of mutton into shares and went off
to eat his own on the dark edge of the wood.

A little later he came back to hang Dan’s cap and jacket on the branches of
a young pine tree. When he had arranged them with elaborate care, he raked
a bed of tags together, and covered them with an army blanket stamped in
the centre with the half obliterated letters U. S.

“That’s a good boy, Big Abel, go to sleep,” said Dan, flinging himself down
upon the pine-tag bed. “Strange how much spirit a sheep can put into a man.
I wouldn’t run now if I saw Pope’s whole army coming.”

Turning over he lay sleepily gazing into the blue dusk illuminated with the
campfires which were slowly dying down. Around him he heard the subdued
murmur of the mess, deep and full, though rising now and then into a
clearer burst of laughter. The men were smoking their brier-root pipes
about the embers, leaning against the dim bodies of the pines, while they
discussed the incidents of the march with a touch of the unconquerable
humour of the Confederate soldier. Somebody had a fresh joke on the
quartermaster, and everybody hoped great things of the campaign into
Maryland.

“I pray it may bring me a pair of shoes,” muttered Dan, as he dropped off
into slumber.

The next day, with bands playing “Maryland, My Maryland,” and the Southern
Cross taking the September wind, the ragged army waded the Potomac, and
passed into other fields.



II

A STRAGGLER FROM THE RANKS


In two weeks it swept back, wasted, stubborn, hungrier than ever. On a
sultry September afternoon, Dan, who had gone down with a sharp return of
fever, was brought, with a wagonful of the wounded, and placed on a heap of
straw on the brick pavement of Shepherdstown. For two days he had been
delirious, and Big Abel had held him to his bed during the long nights when
the terrible silence seemed filled with the noise of battle; but, as he was
lifted from the wagon and laid upon the sidewalk, he opened his eyes and
spoke in a natural voice.

“What’s all this fuss, Big Abel? Have I been out of my head?”

“You sutney has, suh. You’ve been a-prayin’ en shoutin’ so loud dese las’
tree days dat I wunner de Lawd ain’ done shet yo’ mouf des ter git rid er
you.”

“Praying, have I?” said Dan. “Well, I declare. That reminds me of Mr.
Blake, Big Abel. I’d like to know what’s become of him.”

Big Abel shook his head; he was in no pleasant humour, for the corners of
his mouth were drawn tightly down and there was a rut between his bushy
eyebrows.

“I nuver seed no sich place es dis yer town in all my lifetime,” he
grumbled. “Dey des let us lie roun’ loose on de bricks same es ef we ain’
been fittin’ fur ‘em twel we ain’ nuttin’ but skin en bone. Dose two wagon
loads er cut-up sodgers hev done fill de houses so plum full dat dey sticks
spang thoo de cracks er de do’s. Don’ talk ter me, suh, I ain’ got no use
fur dis wah, noways, caze hit’s a low-lifeted one, dat’s what ‘tis; en ef
you’d a min’ w’at I tell you, you’d be settin’ up at home right dis minute
wid ole Miss a-feedin’ you on br’ile chicken. You may fit all you wanter--I
ain’ sayin’ nuttin’ agin yo’ fittin ef yo’ spleen hit’s up--but you could
er foun’ somebody ter fit wid back at home widout comin’ out hyer ter git
yo’se’f a-jumbled up wid all de po’ white trash in de county. Dis yer wah
ain’ de kin’ I’se use ter, caze hit jumbles de quality en de trash
tergedder des like dey wuz bo’n blood kin.”

“What are you muttering about now, Big Abel?” broke in Dan impatiently.
“For heaven’s sake stop and find me a bed to lie on. Are they going to
leave me out here in the street on this pile of straw?”

“De Lawd he knows,” hopelessly responded Big Abel. “Dey’s a-fixin’ places,
dey sez, dat’s why all dese folks is a-runnin’ dis away en dat away like
chickens wid dere haids chopped off. ‘Fo’ you hed yo’ sense back dey wanted
ter stick you over yonder in dat ole blue shanty wid all de skin peelin’
off hit, but I des put my foot right down en ‘lowed dey ‘ouldn’t. W’at you
wan’ ketch mo’n you got fur?”

“But I can’t stay here,” weakly remonstrated Dan, “and I must have
something to eat--I tell you I could eat nails. Bring me anything on God’s
earth except green corn.”

The street was filled with women, and one of them, passing with a bowl of
gruel in her hand, came back and held it to his lips.

“You poor fellow!” she said impulsively, in a voice that was rich with
sympathy. “Why, I don’t believe you’ve had a bite for a month.”

Dan smiled at her from his heap of straw--an unkempt haggard figure.

“Not from so sweet a hand,” he responded, his old spirit rising strong
above misfortune.

His voice held her, and she regarded him with a pensive face. She had known
men in her day, which had declined long since toward its evening, and with
the unerring instinct of her race she knew that the one before her was well
worth the saving. Gallantry that could afford to jest in rags upon a pile
of straw appealed to her Southern blood as little short of the heroic. She
saw the pinch of hunger about the mouth, and she saw, too, the singular
beauty which lay, obscured to less keen eyes, beneath the fever and the
dirt.

“The march must have been fearful--I couldn’t have stood it,” she said,
half to test the man.

Rising to the challenge, he laughed outright. “Well, since you mention it,
it wasn’t just the thing for a lady,” he answered, true to his salt.

For a moment she looked at him in silence, then turned regretfully to Big
Abel.

“The houses have filled up already, I believe,” she said, “but there is a
nice dry stable up the street which has just been cleaned out for a
hospital. Carry your master up the next square and then into the alley a
few steps where you will find a physician. I am going now for food and
bandages.”

She hurried on, and Big Abel, seizing Dan beneath the arms, dragged him
breathlessly along the street.

“A stable! Huh! Hit’s a wunner dey ain’ ax us ter step right inter a nice
clean pig pen,” he muttered as he walked on rapidly.

“Oh, I don’t mind the stable, but this pace will kill me,” groaned Dan.
“Not so fast, Big Abel, not so fast.”

“Dis yer ain’ no time to poke,” replied Big Abel, sternly, and lifting the
young man in his arms, he carried him bodily into the stable and laid him
on a clean-smelling bed of straw. The place was large and well lighted, and
Dan, as he turned over, heaved a grateful sigh.

“Let me sleep--only let me sleep,” he implored weakly.

And for two days he slept, despite the noise about him. Dressed in clean
clothes, brought by the lady of the morning, and shaved by the skilful hand
of Big Abel, he buried himself in the fresh straw and dreamed of Chericoke
and Betty. The coil of battle swept far from him; he heard none of the fret
and rumour that filled the little street; even the moans of the men beneath
the surgeons’ knives did not penetrate to where he lay sunk in the stupor
of perfect contentment. It was not until the morning of the third day, when
the winds that blew over the Potomac brought the sounds of battle, that he
was shocked back into a troubled consciousness of his absence from the
army. Then he heard the voices of the guns calling to him from across the
river, and once or twice he struggled up to answer.

“I must go, Big Abel--they are in need of me,” he said. “Listen! don’t you
hear them calling?”

“Go way f’om yer, Marse Dan, dey’s des a-firin’ at one anurr,” returned Big
Abel, but Dan still tossed impatiently, his strained eyes searching through
the door into the cloudy light of the alley. It was a sombre day, and the
oppressive atmosphere seemed heavy with the smoke of battle.

“If I only knew how it was going,” he murmured, in the anguish of
uncertainty. “Hush! isn’t that a cheer, Big Abel?”

“I don’ heah nuttin’ but de crowin’ er a rooster on de fence.”

“There it is again!” cried Dan, starting up. “I can swear it is our side.
Listen--go to the door--by God, man, that’s our yell! Ah, there comes the
rattle of the muskets--don’t you hear it?”

“Lawd, Marse Dan, I’se done hyern dat soun’ twel I’m plum sick er it,”
 responded Big Abel, carefully measuring out a dose of arsenic, which had
taken the place of quinine in a country where medicine was becoming as
scarce as food. “You des swallow dis yer stuff right down en tu’n over en
go fas’ asleep agin.”

Taking the glass with trembling hands, Dan drained it eagerly.

“It’s the artillery now,” he said, quivering with excitement. “The
explosions come so fast I can hardly separate them. I never knew how long
shells could screech before--do you mean to say they are really across the
river? Go into the alley, Big Abel, and tell me if you see the smoke.”

Big Abel went out and returned, after a few moments, with the news that the
smoke could be plainly seen, he was told, from the upper stories. There was
such a crowd in the street, he added, that he could barely get
along--nobody knew anything, but the wounded, who were arriving in great
numbers, reported that General Lee could hold his ground “against Lucifer
and all his angels.”

“Hold his ground,” groaned Dan, with feverish enthusiasm, “why, he could
hold a hencoop, for the matter of that, against the whole of North America!
Oh, but this is worse than fighting. I must get up!”

“You don’ wanter git out dar in dat mess er skeered rabbits,” returned Big
Abel. “You cyarn see yo’ han’ befo’ you fur de way dey’s w’igglin’ roun’ de
street, en w’at’s mo’ you cyarn heah yo’ own w’uds fur de racket dey’s
a-kickin’ up. Des lis’en ter ‘em now, des lis’en!”

“Oh, I wish I could tell our guns,” murmured Dan at each quick explosion.
“Hush! there comes the cheer, now--somebody’s charging! It may be our
brigade, Big Abel, and I not in it.”

He closed his eyes and fell back from sheer exhaustion, still following, as
he lay there, the battalion that had sprung forward with that charging
yell. Gray, obscured in smoke, curved in the centre, uneven as the
Confederate line of battle always was--he saw it sweep onward over the
September field. At the moment to have had his place in that charge beyond
the river, he would have cheerfully met his death when the day was over.

Through the night he slept fitfully, awaking from time to time to ask
eagerly if it were not almost daybreak; then with the dawn the silence that
had fallen over the Potomac seemed to leave a greater blank to be filled
with the noises along the Virginia shore. The hurrying footsteps in the
street outside kept up ceaselessly until the dark again; mingled with the
cries of the wounded and the prayers of the frightened he heard always that
eager, tireless passing of many feet. So familiar it became, so constant an
accompaniment to his restless thoughts, that when at last the day wore out
and the streets grew empty, he found himself listening for the steps of a
passer-by as intently as he had listened in the morning for the renewed
clamour of the battle on the Maryland fields.

The stir of the retreat did not reach the stable where he lay; all night
the army was recrossing the Potomac, but to Dan, tossing on his bed of
straw, it lighted the victor’s watch-fires on the disputed ground. He had
not seen the shattered line of battle as it faced disease, exhaustion, and
an army stronger by double numbers, nor had he seen the gray soldiers lying
row on row where they had kept the “sunken road.” Thick as the trampled
corn beneath them, with the dust covering them like powder, and the
scattered fence rails lying across their faces, the dead men of his own
brigade were stretched upon the hillside, but through the long night he lay
wakeful in the stable, watching with fevered eyes the tallow dips that
burned dimly on the wall.

In the morning a nurse, coming with a bowl of soup, brought the news that
Lee’s army was again on Virginia soil.

“McClellan has opened a battery,” she explained, “that’s the meaning of
this fearful noise--did you ever hear such sounds in your life? Yes, the
shells are flying over the town, but they’ve done no harm as yet.”

She hastened off, and a little later a dishevelled straggler, with a cloth
about his forehead, burst in at the open door.

“They’re shelling the town,” he cried, waving a dirty hand, “an’ you’ll be
prisoners in an hour if you don’t git up and move. The Yankees are comin’,
I seed ‘em cross the river. Lee’s cut up, I tell you, he’s left half his
army dead in Maryland. Thar! they’re shellin’ the town, sho’ ‘nough!”

With a last wave he disappeared into the alley, and Dan struggled from his
bed and to the door. “Give me your arm, Big Abel,” he said, speaking in a
loud voice that he might be heard above the clamour. “I can’t stay here. It
isn’t being killed I mind, but, by God, they’ll never take me prisoner so
long as I’m alive. Come here and give me your arm. You aren’t afraid to go
out, are you?”

“Lawd, Marse Dan, I’se mo’ feared ter stay hyer,” responded Big Abel, with
an ashen face. “Whar we gwine hide, anyhow?”

“We won’t hide, we’ll run,” returned Dan gravely, and with his arm on the
negro’s shoulder, he passed through the alley out into the street. There
the noise bewildered him an instant, and his eyes went blind while he
grasped Big Abel’s sleeve.

“Wait a minute, I can’t see,” he said. “Now, that’s right, go on. By
George, it’s bedlam turned loose, let’s get out of it!”

“Dis away, Marse Dan, dis away, step right hyer,” urged Big Abel, as he
slipped through the hurrying crowd of fugitives which packed the street.
White and black, men and women, sick and well, they swarmed up and down in
the dim sunshine beneath the flying shells, which skimmed the town to
explode in the open fields beyond. The wounded were there--all who could
stand upon their feet or walk with the aid of crutches--stumbling on in a
mad panic to the meadows where the shells burst or the hot sun poured upon
festering cuts. Streaming in noisy groups, the slaves fled after them,
praying, shrieking, calling out that the day of judgment was upon them, yet
bearing upon their heads whatever they could readily lay hands on--bundles,
baskets, babies, and even clucking fowls tied by the legs. Behind them went
a troop of dogs, piercing the tumult with excited barks.

Dan, fevered, pallid, leaning heavily upon Big Abel, passed unnoticed amid
a throng which was, for the most part, worse off than himself. Men with old
wounds breaking out afresh, or new ones staining red the cloths they wore,
pushed wildly by him, making, as all made, for the country roads that led
from war to peace. It was as if the hospitals of the world had disgorged
themselves in the sunshine on the bright September fields.

Once, as Dan moved slowly on, he came upon a soldier, with a bandage at his
throat sitting motionless upon a rock beside a clump of thistles, and moved
by the expression of supreme terror on the man’s face, he stopped and laid
a hand upon his shoulder.

“What’s the trouble, friend--given up?” he asked, and then drew back
quickly for the man was dead. After this they went on more rapidly, flying
from the horrors along the road as from the screaming shells and the dread
of capture.

At the hour of sunset, after many halts upon the way, they found themselves
alone and still facing the open road. Since midday they had stopped for
dinner with a hospitable farmer, and, some hours later, Big Abel had
feasted on wild grapes, which he had found hidden in the shelter of a
little wood. In the same wood a stream had tinkled over silver rocks, and
Dan, lying upon the bank of moss, had bathed his face and hands in the
clear water. Now, while the shadows fell in spires across the road, they
turned into a quiet country lane, and stood watching the sun as it dropped
beyond the gray stone wall. In the grass a small insect broke into a low
humming, and the silence, closing the next instant, struck upon Dan’s ears
like a profound and solemn melody. He took off his cap, and still leaning
upon Big Abel, looked with rested eyes on the sloping meadow brushed with
the first gold of autumn. Something that was not unlike shame had fallen
over him--as if the horrors of the morning were a mere vulgar affront which
man had put upon the face of nature. The very anguish of the day obtruded
awkwardly upon his thoughts, and the wild clamour he had left behind him
showed with a savage crudeness against a landscape in which the dignity of
earth--of the fruitful life of seasons and of crops--produced in a solitary
observer a quiet that was not untouched by awe. Where nature was suggestive
of the long repose of ages, the brief passions of a single generation
became as the flicker of a candle or the glow of a firefly in the night.

“Dat’s a steep road ahead er us,” remarked Big Abel suddenly, as he stared
into the shadows.

Dan came back with a start.

“Where shall we sleep?” he asked. “No, not in that field--the open sky
would keep me awake, I think. Let’s bivouac in the woods as usual.”

They moved on a little way and entered a young pine forest, where Big Abel
gathered a handful of branches and kindled a light blaze.

“You ain’ never eat nigger food, is you, Marse Dan?” he inquired as he did
so.

“Good Lord!” ejaculated Dan, “ask a man who has lived two months on
corn-field peas if he’s eaten hog food, and he’ll be pretty sure to answer
‘yes.’ Do you know we must have crawled about six miles to-day.” He lay
back on the pine tags and stared straight above where the long green
needles were illuminated on a background of purple space. A few fireflies
made golden points among the tree-tops.

“Well, I’se got a hunk er middlin’,” pursued Big Abel thoughtfully, “a
strip er fat en a strip er lean des like hit oughter be--but a nigger
‘ooman she gun hit ter me, en I ‘low Ole Marster wouldn’t tech hit wid a
ten-foot pole.” He stuck the meat upon the end of Dan’s bayonet and held it
before the flames. “Ole Marster wouldn’t tech hit, but den he ain’ never
had dese times.”

“You’re right,” replied Dan idly, filling his pipe and lighting it with a
small red ember, “and all things considered, I don’t think I’ll raise any
racket about that middling, Big Abel.”

“Hit ain’ all nigger food, no how,” added Big Abel reflectively, “caze de
‘ooman she done steal it f’om w’ite folks sho’s you bo’n.”

“I only wish she had been tempted to steal some bread along with it,”
 rejoined Dan.

Big Abel’s answer was to draw a hoecake wrapped in an old newspaper from
his pocket and place it on a short pine stump. Then he reached for his
jack-knife and carefully slit the hoecake down the centre, after which he
laid the bacon in slices between the crusts.

“Did she steal that, too?” inquired Dan laughing.

“Naw, suh, I stole dis.”

“Well, I never! You’ll be ashamed to look the Major in the face when the
war is over.”

Big Abel nodded gloomily as he passed the sandwich to Dan, who divided it
into two equal portions. “Dar’s somebody got ter do de stealin’ in dis yer
worl’,” he returned with rustic philosophy, “des es dar’s somebody got ter
be w’ite folks en somebody got ter be nigger, caze de same pusson cyarn be
ner en ter dat’s sho’. Dar ain’ ‘oom fer all de yerth ter strut roun’ wid
dey han’s in dey pockets en dey nose tu’nt up des caze dey’s hones’. Lawd,
Lawd, ef I’d a-helt my han’s back f’om pickin’ en stealin’ thoo dis yer
wah, whar ‘ould you be now--I ax you dat?”

Catching a dried branch the flame shot up suddenly, and he sat relieved
against the glow, like a gigantic statue in black basalt.

“Well, all’s fair in love and war,” replied Dan, adjusting himself to
changed conditions. “If that wasn’t as true as gospel, I should be dead
to-morrow from this fat bacon.”

Big Abel started up.

“Lis’en ter dat ole hoot owl,” he exclaimed excitedly, “he’s a-settin’
right over dar on dat dead limb a-hootin’ us plum in de mouf. Ain’ dat like
‘em, now? Is you ever seed sech airs as dey put on?”

He strode off into the darkness, and Dan, seized with a sudden homesickness
for the army, lay down beside his musket and fell asleep.



III

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS


At daybreak they took up the march again, Dan walking slowly, with his
musket striking the ground and his arm on Big Abel’s shoulder. Where the
lane curved in the hollow, they came upon a white cottage, with a woman
milking a spotted cow in the barnyard. As she caught sight of them, she
waved wildly with her linsey apron, holding the milk pail carefully between
her feet as the spotted cow turned inquiringly.

“Go ‘way, I don’t want no stragglers here,” she cried, as one having
authority.

Leaning upon the fence, Dan placidly regarded her.

“My dear madam, you commit an error of judgment,” he replied, pausing to
argue.

With the cow’s udder in her hand the woman looked up from the streaming
milk.

“Well, ain’t you stragglers?” she inquired.

Dan shook his head reproachfully.

“What air you, then?”

“Beggars, madam.”

“I might ha’ knowed it!” returned the woman, with a snort. “Well, whatever
you air, you kin jest as eas’ly keep on along that thar road. I ain’t got
nothing on this place for you. Some of you broke into my smokehouse night
befo’ last an’ stole all the spar’ ribs I’d been savin’. Was you the ones?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Oh, you’re all alike,” protested the woman, scornfully, “an’ a bigger set
o’ rascals I never seed.”

“Huh! Who’s a rascal?” exclaimed Big Abel, angrily.

“This is the reward of doing your duty, Big Abel,” remarked Dan, gravely.
“Never do it again, remember. The next time Virginia is invaded we’ll sit
by the fire and warm our feet. Good morning, madam.”

“Why ain’t you with the army?” inquired the woman sharply, slapping the cow
upon the side as she rose from her seat and took up the milk pail. “An
officer rode by this morning an’ he told me part of the army was campin’
ten miles across on the other road.”

“Did he say whose division?”

“Oh, I reckon you kin fight as well under one general as another, so long
as you’ve got a mind to fight at all. You jest follow this lane about three
miles and then keep straight along the turnpike. If you do that I reckon
you’ll git yo’ deserts befo’ sundown.” She came over to the fence and stood
fixing them with hard, bright eyes. “My! You do look used up,” she admitted
after a moment. “You’d better come in an’ git a glass of this milk befo’
you move on. Jest go roun’ to the gate and I’ll meet you at the po’ch. The
dog won’t bite you if you don’t touch nothin’.”

“All right, go ahead and hide the spoons,” called Dan, as he swung open the
gate and went up a little path bordered by prince’s feathers.

The woman met them at the porch and led them into a clean kitchen, where
Dan sat down at the table and Big Abel stationed himself behind his chair.

“Drink a glass of that milk the first thing,” she said, bustling heavily
about the room, and browbeating them into submissive silence, while she
mixed the biscuits and broke the eggs into a frying-pan greased with bacon
gravy. Plump, hearty, with a full double chin and cheeks like winter
apples, she moved briskly from the wooden safe to the slow fire, which she
stirred with determined gestures.

“It’s time this war had stopped, anyhow,” she remarked as she slapped the
eggs up into the air and back again into the pan. “An’ if General Lee ever
rides along this way I mean to tell him that he ought to have one good
battle an’ be done with it. Thar’s no use piddlin’ along like this twil
we’re all worn out and thar ain’t a corn-field pea left in Virginny. Look
here (to Big Abel), you set right down on that do’ step an’ I’ll give you
something along with yo’ marster. It’s a good thing I happened to look
under the cow trough yestiddy or thar wouldn’t have been an egg left in
this house. That’s right, turn right in an’ eat hearty--don’t mince with
me.” Big Abel, cowed by her energetic manner, seated himself upon the door
step, and for a half-hour the woman ceaselessly plied them with hot
biscuits and coffee made from sweet potatoes.

“You mustn’t think I mind doing for the soldiers,” she said when they took
their leave a little later, “but I’ve a husban’ with General Lee and I
can’t bear to see able-bodied men stragglin’ about the country. No, don’t
give me nothin’--it ain’t worth it. Lord, don’t I know that you don’t git
enough to buy a bag of flour.” Then she pointed out the way again and they
set off with a well-filled paper of luncheon.

“Beware of hasty judgments, Big Abel,” advised Dan, as they strolled along
the road. “Now that woman there--she’s the right sort, though she rather
took my breath away.”

“She ‘uz downright ficy at fu’st,” replied Big Abel, “but I d’clar dose
eggs des melted in my mouf like butter. Whew! don’t I wish I had dat ole
speckled hen f’om home. I could hev toted her unner my arm thoo dis wah des
es well es not.”

The sun was well overhead, and across the landscape the heavy dew was
lifted like a veil. Here and there the autumn foliage tinted the woods in
splashes of red and yellow; and beyond the low stone wall an old sheep
pasture was ablaze in goldenrod. From a pointed aspen beside the road a
wild grapevine let down a fringe of purple clusters, but Big Abel, with a
full stomach, passed them by indifferently. A huge buzzard, rising suddenly
from the pasture, sailed slowly across the sky, its heavy shadow skimming
the field beneath. As yet the flames of war had not blown over this quiet
spot; in the early morning dew it lay as fresh as the world in its
beginning.

At the end of the lane, when they came out upon the turnpike, they met an
old farmer riding a mule home from the market.

“Can you tell me if McClellan has crossed the Potomac?” asked Dan, as he
came up with him. “I was in the hospital at Shepherdstown, and I left it
for fear of capture. No news has reached me, but I am on my way to rejoin
the army.”

“Naw, suh, you might as well have stayed whar you were,” responded the old
man, eying him with the suspicion which always met a soldier out of ranks.
“McClellan didn’t do no harm on this side of the river--he jest set up a
battery on Douglas hill and scolded General Lee for leaving Maryland so
soon. You needn’t worry no mo’ ‘bout the Yankees gittin’ on this side--thar
ain’t none of ‘em left to come, they’re all dead. Why, General Lee cut ‘em
all up into little pieces, that’s what he did. Hooray! it was jest like
Bible times come back agin.”

Then, as Dan moved on, the farmer raised himself in his stirrups and called
loudly after him. “Keep to the Scriptures, young man, and remember Joshua,
Smite them hip an’ thigh, as the Bible says.”

All day in the bright sunshine they crept slowly onward, halting at brief
intervals to rest in the short grass by the roadside, and stopping to ask
information of the countrymen or stragglers whom they met. At last in the
red glow of the sunset they entered a strip of thin woodland, and found an
old negro gathering resinous knots from the bodies of fallen pines.

“Bless de Lawd!” he exclaimed as he faced them. “Is you done come fer de
sick sodger at my cabin?”

“A sick soldier? Why, we are all sick soldiers,” answered Dan. “Where did
he come from?” The old man shook his head, as he placed his heavy split
basket on the ground at his feet.

“I dunno, marster, he ain’ come, he des drapped. ‘Twuz yestiddy en I ‘uz
out hyer pickin’ up dis yer lightwood des like I is doin’ dis minute, w’en
I heah ‘a-bookerty! bookerty! bookerty!’ out dar in de road ‘en a w’ite
hoss tu’n right inter de woods wid a sick sodger a-hangin’ ter de saddle.
Yes, suh, de hoss he come right in des like he knowed me, en w’en I helt
out my han’ he poke his nose spang inter it en w’innied like he moughty
glad ter see me--en he wuz, too, dat’s sho’. Well, I ketch holt er his
bridle en lead ‘im thoo de woods up ter my do’ whar he tu’n right in en
begin ter nibble in de patch er kebbage. All dis time I ‘uz ‘lowin’ dat de
sodger wuz stone dead, but w’en I took ‘im down he opened his eyes en axed
fur water. Den I gun ‘im a drink outer de goa’d en laid ‘im flat on my bed,
en in a little w’ile a nigger come by dat sez he b’longed ter ‘im, but
befo’ day de nigger gone agin en de hoss he gone, too.”

“Well, we’ll see about him, uncle, go ahead,” said Dan, and as the old
negro went up the path among the trees, he followed closely on his
footsteps. When they had gone a little way the woods opened suddenly and
they came upon a small log cabin, with a yellow dog lying before the door.
The dog barked shrilly as they approached, and a voice from the dim room
beyond called out:--

“Hosea! Are you back so soon, Hosea?”

At the words Dan stopped as if struck by lightning, midway of the vegetable
garden; then breaking from Big Abel, he ran forward and into the little
cabin.

“Is the hurt bad, Governor?” he asked in a trembling voice.

The Governor smiled and held out a steady hand above the ragged patchwork
quilt. His neat gray coat lay over him and as Dan caught the glitter and
the collar he remembered the promotion after Seven Pines.

“Let me help you, General,” he implored. “What is it that we can do?”

“I have come to the end, my boy,” replied the Governor, his rich voice
unshaken. “I have seen men struck like this before and I have lived twelve
hours longer than the strongest of them. When I could go no farther I sent
Hosea ahead to make things ready--and now I am keeping alive to hear from
home. Give me water.”

Dan held the glass to his lips, and looking up, the Governor thanked him
with his old warm glance that was so like Betty’s. “There are some things
that are worth fighting for,” said the older man as he fell back, “and the
sight of home is one of them. It was a hard ride, but every stab of pain
carried me nearer to Uplands--and there are poor fellows who endure worse
things and yet die in a strange land among strangers.” He was silent a
moment and then spoke slowly, smiling a little sadly.

“My memory has failed me,” he said, “and when I lay here last night and
tried to recall the look of the lawn at home, I couldn’t remember--I
couldn’t remember. Are there elms or maples at the front, Dan?”

“Maples, sir,” replied Dan, with the deference of a boy. “The long walk
bordered by lilacs goes up from the road to the portico with the Doric
columns--you remember that?”

“Yes, yes, go on.”

“The maples have grown thick upon the lawn and close beside the house there
is the mimosa tree that your father set out on his twenty-first birthday.”

“The branches touch the library window. I had them trimmed last year that
the shutters might swing back. What time is it, Dan?”

Dan turned to the door.

“What time is it, Big Abel?” he called to the negro outside.

“Hit’s goin’ on eight o’clock, suh,” replied Big Abel, staring at the west.
“De little star he shoots up moughty near eight, en dar he is a-comin’.”

“Hosea is there by now,” said the Governor, turning his head on a pillow of
pine needles. “He started this morning, and I told him to change horses
upon the road and eat in the saddle. Yes, he is there by now and Julia is
on the way. Am I growing weaker, do you think? There is a little brandy on
the chair, give me a few drops--we must make it last all night.”

After taking the brandy he slept a little, and awaking quietly, looked at
Dan with dazed eyes.

“Who is it?” he asked, stretching out his hand. “Why, I thought Dick Wythe
was dead.”

Dan bent over him, smoothing the hair from his brow with hands that were
gentle as a woman’s.

“Surely you haven’t forgotten me,” he said.

“No--no, I remember, but it is dark, too dark. Why doesn’t Shadrach bring
the candles? And we might as well have a blaze in the fireplace to-night.
It has grown chilly; there’ll be a white frost before morning.”

There was a basket of resinous pine beside the hearth, and Dan kindled a
fire from a handful of rich knots. As the flames shot up, the rough little
cabin grew more cheerful, and the Governor laughed softly lying on his
pallet.

“Why, I thought you were Dick Wythe, my boy,” he said. “The light was so
dim I couldn’t see, and, after all, it was no great harm, for there was not
a handsomer man in the state than my friend Dick--the ladies used to call
him ‘Apollo Unarmed,’ you know. Ah, I was jealous enough of Dick in my day,
though he never knew it. He rather took Julia’s fancy when I first began
courting her, and, for a time, he pretended to reform and refused to touch
a drop even at the table. I’ve seen him sit for hours, too, in Julia’s
Bible class of little negroes, with his eyes positively glued on her face
while she read the hymns aloud. Yes, he was over head and ears in love with
her, there’s no doubt of that--though she has always denied it--and, I dare
say, he would have been a much better man if she had married him, and I a
much worse one. Somehow, I can’t help feeling that it wasn’t quite just,
and that I ought to square up things with Dick at Judgment Day. I shouldn’t
like to reap any good from his mistakes, poor fellow.” He broke off for an
instant, lay gazing at the lightwood blaze, and then took up the thread.
“He had his fall at last, and it’s been on my conscience ever since that I
didn’t toss that bowl of apple toddy through the window when I saw him
going towards it. We were at Chericoke on Christmas Eve in a big snowstorm,
and Dick couldn’t resist his glass--he never could so long as there was a
drop at the bottom of it--the more he drank, the thirstier he got, he used
to say. Well, he took a good deal, more than he could stand, and when the
Major began toasting the ladies and called them the prettiest things God
ever made, Dick flew into a rage and tried to fight him. ‘There are two
prettier sights than any woman that ever wore petticoats,’ he thundered;
‘and (here he ripped out an oath) I’ll prove it to you at the sword’s point
before sunrise. God made but one thing, sir, prettier than the cobwebs on a
bottle of wine, and that’s the bottle of wine without the cobwebs!’ Then he
went at the Major, and we had to hold him back and rub snow on his temples.
That night I drove home with Julia, and she accepted me before we passed
the wild cherry tree on the way to Uplands.”

As he fell silent the old negro, treading softly, came into the room and
made the preparations for his simple supper, which he carried outside
beneath the trees. In a little bared place amid charred wood, a fire was
started, and Dan watched through the open doorway the stooping figures of
the two negroes as they bent beside the flames. In a little while Big Abel
came into the room and beckoned him, but he shook his head impatiently and
turned away, sickened by the thought of food.

“Go, my boy,” said the Governor, as if he had seen it through closed eyes.
“I never saw a private yet that wasn’t hungry--one told me last week that
his diet for a year had varied only three times--blackberries, chinquapins,
and persimmons had kept him alive, he said.”

Then his mind wandered again, and he talked in a low voice of the wheat
fields at Uplands and of the cradles swinging all day in the sunshine. Dan,
moving to the door, stared, with aching eyes, at the rich twilight which
crept like purple mist among the trees. The very quiet of the scene grated
as a discord upon his mood, and he would have welcomed with a feeling of
relief any violent manifestation of the savagery of nature. A storm, an
earthquake, even the thunder of battle he felt would be less tragic than
just this pleasant evening with the serene moon rising above the hills.

Turning back into the room, he drew a split-bottomed chair beside the
hearth, and began his patient watch until the daybreak. Under the patchwork
quilt the Governor lay motionless, dead from the waist down, only the
desire in his eyes struggling to keep the spirit to the clay. Big Abel and
the old negro made themselves a bed beneath the trees, and as they raked
the dried leaves together the mournful rustling filled the little cabin.
Then they lay down, the yellow dog beside them, and gradually the silence
of the night closed in.

After midnight, Dan, who had dozed in his chair from weariness, was
awakened by the excited tones of the Governor’s voice. The desire was
vanquished at last and the dying man had gone back in delirium to the
battle he had fought beyond the river. On the hearth the resinous pine
still blazed and from somewhere among the stones came the short chirp of a
cricket.

“Oh, it’s nothing--a mere scratch. Lay me beneath that tree, and tell
Barnes to support D. H. Hill at the sunken road. Richardson is charging us
across the ploughed ground and we are fighting from behind the stacked
fence rails. Ah, they advance well, those Federals--not a man out of line,
and their fire has cut the corn down as with a sickle. If Richardson keeps
this up, he will sweep us from the wood and beyond the slope. No, don’t
take me to the hospital. Please God, I’ll die upon the field and hear the
cannon at the end. Look! they are charging again, but we still hold our
ground. What, Longstreet giving way? They are forcing him from the
ridge--the enemy hold it now! Ah, well, there is A. P. Hill to give the
counter stroke. If he falls upon their flank, the day is--”

His voice ceased, and Dan, crossing the room, gave him brandy from the
glass upon the chair. The silence had grown suddenly oppressive, and as the
young man went back to his seat, he saw a little mouse gliding like a
shadow across the floor. Startled by his footsteps, it hesitated an instant
in the centre of the room, and then darted along the wall and disappeared
between the loose logs in the corner. Often during the night it crept out
from its hiding place, and at last Dan grew to look for it with a certain
wistful comfort in its shy companionship.

Gradually the stars went out above the dim woods, and the dawn whitened
along the eastern sky. With the first light Dan went to the open door and
drew a deep breath of the refreshing air. A new day was coming, but he met
it with dulled eyes and a crippled will. The tragedy of life seemed to
overhang the pleasant prospect upon which he looked, and, as he stood
there, he saw in his vision of the future only an endless warfare and a
wasted land. With a start he turned, for the Governor was speaking in a
voice that filled the cabin and rang out into the woods.

“Skirmishers, forward! Second the battalion of direction! Battalions,
forward!”

He had risen upon his pallet and was pointing straight at the open door,
but when, with a single stride, Dan reached him, he was already dead.



IV

IN THE SILENCE OF THE GUNS


At noon the next day, Dan, sitting beside the fireless hearth, with his
head resting on his clasped hands, saw a shadow fall suddenly upon the
floor, and, looking up, found Mrs. Ambler standing in the doorway.

“I am too late?” she said quietly, and he bowed his head and motioned to
the pallet in the corner.

Without seeing the arm he put out, she crossed the room like one bewildered
by a sudden blow, and went to where the Governor was lying beneath the
patchwork quilt. No sound came to her lips; she only stretched out her hand
with a protecting gesture and drew the dead man to her arms. Then it was
that Dan, turning to leave her alone with her grief, saw that Betty had
followed her mother and was coming toward him from the doorway. For an
instant their eyes met; then the girl went to her dead, and Dan passed out
into the sunlight with a new bitterness at his heart.

A dozen yards from the cabin there was a golden beech spreading in wide
branches against the sky, and seating himself on a fallen log beneath it,
he looked over the soft hills that rose round and deep-bosomed from the dim
blue valley. He was still there an hour later when, hearing a rustle in the
grass, he turned and saw Betty coming to him over the yellowed leaves. His
first glance showed him that she had grown older and very pale; his second
that her kind brown eyes were full of tears.

“Betty, is it this way?” he asked, and opened his arms.

With a cry that was half a sob she ran toward him, her black skirt sweeping
the leaves about her feet. Then, as she reached him, she swayed forward as
if a strong wind blew over her, and as he caught her from the ground, he
kissed her lips. Her tears broke out afresh, but as they stood there in
each other’s arms, neither found words to speak nor voice to utter them.
The silence between them had gone deeper than speech, for it had in it all
the dumb longing of the last two years--the unshaken trust, the bitterness
of the long separation, the griefs that had come to them apart, and the
sorrow that had brought them at last together. He held her so closely that
he felt the flutter of her breast with each rising sob, and an anguish that
was but a vibration from her own swept over him like a wave from head to
foot. Since he had put her from him on that last night at Chericoke their
passion had deepened by each throb of pain and broadened by each step that
had led them closer to the common world. Not one generous thought, not one
temptation overcome but had gone to the making of their love to-day--for
what united them now was not the mere prompting of young impulse, but the
strength out of many struggles and the fulness out of experiences that had
ripened the heart of each.

“Let me look at you,” said Betty, lifting her wet face. “It has been so
long, and I have wanted you so much--I have hungered sleeping and waking.”

“Don’t look at me, Betty, I am a skeleton--a crippled skeleton, and I will
not be looked at by my love.”

“Your love can see you with shut eyes. Oh, my best and dearest, do you
think you could keep me from seeing you however hard you tried? Why,
there’s a lamp in my heart that lets me look at you even in the night.”

“Your lamp flatters, I am afraid to face it. Has it shown you this?”

He drew back and held up his maimed hand, his eyes fastened upon her face,
where the old fervour had returned.

With a sob that thrilled through him, she caught his hand to her lips and
then held it to her bosom, crooning over it little broken sounds of love
and pity. Through the spreading beech above a clear gold light filtered
down upon her, and a single yellow leaf was caught in her loosened hair. He
saw her face, impassioned, glorified, amid a flood of sunshine.

“And I did not know,” she said breathlessly. “You were wounded and there
was no one to tell me. Whenever there has been a battle I have sat very
still and shut my eyes, and tried to make myself go straight to you. I have
seen the smoke and heard the shots, and yet when it came I did not know it.
I may even have laughed and talked and eaten a stupid dinner while you were
suffering. Now I shall never smile again until I have you safe.”

“But if I were dying I should want to see you smiling. Nobody ever smiled
before you, Betty.”

“If you are wounded, you will send for me. Promise me; I beg you on my
knees. You will send for me; say it or I shall be always wretched. Do you
want to kill me, Dan? Promise.”

“I shall send for you. There, will that do? It would be almost worth dying
to have you come to me. Would you kiss me then, I wonder?”

“Then and now,” she answered passionately. “Oh, I sometimes think that wars
are fought to torture women! Hold me in your arms again or my heart will
break. I have missed Virginia so--never a day passes that I do not see her
coming through the rooms and hear her laugh--such a baby laugh, do you
remember it?”

“I remember everything that was near to you, beloved.”

“If you could have seen her on her wedding day, when she came down in her
pink crepe shawl and white bonnet that I had trimmed, and looked back,
smiling at us for the last time. I have almost died with wanting her
again--and now papa--papa! They loved life so, and yet both are dead, and
life goes on without them.”

“My poor love, poor Betty.”

“But not so poor as if I had lost you, too,” she answered; “and if you are
wounded even a little remember that you have promised, and I shall come to
you. Prince Rupert and I will pass the lines together. Do you know that I
have Prince Rupert, Dan?”

“Keep him, dear, don’t let him get into the army.”

“He lives in the woods night and day, and when he comes to pasture I go
after him while Uncle Shadrach watches the turnpike. When the soldiers come
by, blue or gray, we hide him behind the willows in the brook. They may
take the chickens--and they do--but I should kill the man who touched
Prince Rupert’s bridle.”

“You should have been a soldier, Betty.”

She shook her head. “Oh, I couldn’t shoot any one in cold blood--as you
do--that’s different. I’d have to hate him as much--as much as I love you.”

“How much is that?”

“A whole world full and brimming over; is that enough?”

“Only a little world?” he answered. “Is that all?”

“If I told you truly, you would not believe me,” she said earnestly. “You
would shake your head and say: ‘Poor silly Betty, has she gone moon mad?’”

Catching her in his arms again, he kissed her hair and mouth and hands and
the ruffle at her throat. “Poor silly Betty,” he repeated, “where is your
wisdom now?”

“You have turned it into folly, sad little wisdom that it was.”

“Well, I prefer your folly,” he said gravely. “It was folly that made you
love me at the first; it was pure folly that brought you out to me that
night at Chericoke--but the greatest folly of all is just this, my dear.”

“But it will keep you safe.”

“Who knows? I may get shot to-morrow. There, there, I only said it to feel
your arms about me.”

Her hands clung to him and the tears, rising to her lashes, fell fast upon
his coat.

“Oh, don’t let me lose you,” she begged. “I have lost so much--don’t let me
lose you, too.”

“Living or dead, I am yours, that I swear.”

“But I don’t want you dead. I want the feel of you. I want your hands, your
face. I want _you_.”

“Betty, Betty,” he said softly. “Listen, for there is no word in the world
that means so much as just your name.”

“Except yours.”

“No interruptions, this is martial law. Dear, dearest, darling, are all
empty sounds; but when I say ‘Betty,’ it is full of life.”

“Say it again, then.”

“Betty, do you love me?”

“Ask: ‘Betty, is the sun shining?’”

“It always shines about you.”

“Because my hair is red?”

“Red? It is pure gold. Do you remember when I found that out on the hearth
in free Levi’s cabin? The colour went to my head, but when I put out my
hand to touch a curl, you drew away and fastened them up again. Now I have
pulled them all down and you dare not move.”

“Shall I tell you why I drew away?”

The tears were still on her lashes, but in the exaltation of a great
passion, life, death, the grave, and things beyond had dwindled like stars
before the rising sun.

“You told me then--because I was ‘a pampered poodle dog.’ Well, I’ve
outgrown that objection certainly. Let us hope you have a fancy for lean
hounds.”

She put up her hands in protest.

“I drew away partly because I knew you did not love me,” she said, meeting
his eyes with her clear and ardent gaze, “but more because--I knew that I
loved you.”

“You loved me then? Oh, Betty, if I had only known!”

“If you had known!” She covered her face. “Oh, it was terrible enough as it
was. I wanted to beat myself for shame.”

“Shame? In loving me, my darling?”

“In loving you like that.”

“Nonsense. If you had only said to me: ‘My good sir, I love you a little
bit,’ I should have come to my senses on the spot. Even pampered poodle
dogs are not all fat, Betty, and, as it was, I did come to the years of
discretion that very night. I didn’t sleep a wink.”

“Nor I.”

“I walked the floor till daybreak.”

“And I sat by the window.”

“I hurled every hard name at myself that I could think of. ‘Dolt and idiot’
seemed to stick. By George, I can’t get over it. To think that I might have
galloped down that turnpike and swept you off your feet. You wouldn’t have
withstood me, Betty, you couldn’t.”

“Yet I did,” she said, smiling sadly.

“Oh, I didn’t have a fair chance, you see.”

“Perhaps not,” she answered, “though sometimes I was afraid you would hear
my heart beating and know it all. Do you remember that morning in the
garden with the roses?--I wouldn’t kiss you good-by, but if you had done it
against my will I’d have broken down. After you had gone I kissed the grass
where you had stood.”

“My God! I can’t leave you, Betty.”

She met his passionate gaze with steady eyes.

“If you were not to go I should never have told you,” she answered; “but if
you die in battle you must remember it at the last.”

“It seems an awful waste of opportunities,” he said, “but I’ll make it up
on the day that I come back a Major-general. Then I shall say ‘forward,
madam,’ and you’ll marry me on the spot.”

“Don’t be too sure. I may grow coy again when the war is over.”

“When you do I’ll find the remedy--for I’ll be a Major-general, then, and
you a private. This war must make me, dear. I shan’t stay in the ranks much
longer.”

“I like you there--it is so brave,” she said.

“But you’ll like me anywhere, and I prefer the top--the very top. Oh, my
love, we’ll wring our happiness from the world before we die!”

With a shiver she came back to the earth.

“I had almost forgotten him,” she said in keen self-reproach, and went
quickly over the rustling leaves to the cabin door. As Dan followed her the
day seemed to grow suddenly darker to his eyes.

On the threshold he met Mrs. Ambler, composed and tearless, wearing her
grief as a veil that hid her from the outside world. Before her calm gray
eyes he fell back with an emotion not unmixed with awe.

“I did the best I could,” he said bluntly, “but it was nothing.”

She thanked him quietly, asking a few questions in her grave and gentle
voice. Was he conscious to the end? Did he talk of home? Had he expressed
any wishes of which she was not aware?

“They are bringing him to the wagon now,” she finished steadily. “No, do
not go in--you are very weak and your strength must be saved to hold your
musket. Shadrach and Big Abel will carry him, I prefer it to be so. We left
the wagon at the end of the path; it is a long ride home, but we have
arranged to change horses, and we shall reach Uplands, I hope, by sunrise.”

“I wish to God I could go with you!” he exclaimed.

“Your place is with the army,” she answered. “I have no son to send, so you
must go in his stead. He would have it this way if he could choose.”

For a moment she was silent, and he looked at her placid face and the
smooth folds of her black silk with a wonder that checked his words.

“Some one said of him once,” she added presently, “that he was a man who
always took his duty as if it were a pleasure; and it was true--so true. I
alone saw how hard this was for him, for he hated war as heartily as he
dreaded death. Yet when both came he met them squarely and without looking
back.”

“He died as he had lived, the truest gentleman I have ever known,” he said.

A pleased smile hovered for an instant on her lips.

“He fought hard against secession until it came,” she pursued quietly, “for
he loved the Union, and he had given it the best years of his life--his
strong years, he used to say. I think if he ever felt any bitterness toward
any one, it was for the man or men who brought us into this; and at last he
used to leave the room because he could not speak of them without anger. He
threw all his strength against the tide, yet, when it rushed on in spite of
him, he knew where his duty guided him, and he followed it, as always, like
a pleasure. You thought him sanguine, I suppose, but he never was so--in
his heart, though the rest of us think differently, he always felt that he
was fighting for a hopeless cause, and he loved it the more for very pity
of its weakness. ‘It is the spirit and not the bayonet that makes history,’
he used to say.”

Heavy steps crossed the cabin floor, and Uncle Shadrach and Big Abel came
out bringing the dead man between them. With her hand on the gray coat,
Mrs. Ambler walked steadily as she leaned on Betty’s shoulder. Once or
twice she noticed rocks in the way, and cautioned the negroes to go
carefully down the descending grade. The bright leaves drifted upon them,
and through the thin woods, along the falling path, over the lacework of
lights and shadows, they went slowly out into the road where Hosea was
waiting with the open wagon.

The Governor was laid upon the straw that filled the bottom, Mrs. Ambler
sat down beside him, and as Betty followed, Uncle Shadrach climbed upon the
seat above the wheel.

“Good-by, my boy,” said Mrs. Ambler, giving him her hand.

“Good-by, my soldier,” said Betty, taking both of his. Then Hosea cracked
the whip and the wagon rolled out into the road, scattering the gray dust
high into the sunlight.

Dan, standing alone against the pines, looked after it with a gnawing
hunger at his heart, seeing first Betty’s eyes, next the gleam of her hair,
then the dim figures fading into the straw, and at last the wagon caught up
in a cloud of dust. Down the curving road, round a green knoll, across a
little stream, and into the blue valley it passed as a speck upon the
landscape. Then the distance closed over it, the sand settled in the road,
and the blank purple hills crowded against the sky.



V

“THE PLACE THEREOF”


In the full beams of the sun the wagon turned into the drive between the
lilacs and drew up before the Doric columns. Mr. Bill and the two old
ladies came out upon the portico, and the Governor was lifted down by Uncle
Shadrach and Hosea and laid upon the high tester bed in the room behind the
parlour.

As Betty entered the hall, the familiar sights of every day struck her eyes
with the smart of a physical blow. The excitement of the shock had passed
from her; there was no longer need to tighten the nervous strain, and
henceforth she must face her grief where the struggle is always hardest--in
the place where each trivial object is attended by pleasant memories. While
there was something for her hands to do--or the danger of delay in the long
watch upon the road--it had not been so hard to brace her strength against
necessity, but here--what was there left that she must bring herself to
endure? The torturing round of daily things, the quiet house in which to
cherish new regrets, and outside the autumn sunshine on the long white
turnpike. The old waiting grown sadder, was begun again; she must put out
her hands to take up life where it had stopped, go up and down the shining
staircase and through the unchanged rooms, while her ears were always
straining for the sound of the cannon, or the beat of a horse’s hoofs upon
the road.

The brick wall around the little graveyard was torn down in one corner,
and, while the afternoon sun slanted between the aspens, the Governor was
laid away in the open grave beneath rank periwinkle. There was no minister
to read the service, but as the clods of earth fell on the coffin, Mrs.
Ambler opened her prayer book and Betty, kneeling upon the ground, heard
the low words with her eyes on the distant mountains. Overhead the aspens
stirred beneath a passing breeze, and a few withered leaves drifted slowly
down. Aunt Lydia wept softly, and the servants broke into a subdued
wailing, but Mrs. Ambler’s gentle voice did not falter.

“He, cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a
shadow, and never continueth in one stay.”

She read on quietly in the midst of the weeping slaves, who had closed
about her. Then, at the last words, her hands dropped to her sides, and she
drew back while Uncle Shadrach shovelled in the clay.

“It is but a span,” she repeated, looking out into the sunshine, with a
light that was almost unearthly upon her face.

“Come away, mamma,” said Betty, holding out her arms; and when the last
spray of life-everlasting was placed upon the finished mound, they went out
by the hollow in the wall, turning from time to time to look back at the
gray aspens. Down the little hill, through the orchard, and across the
meadows filled with waving golden-rod, the procession of white and black
filed slowly homeward. When the lawn was reached each went to his
accustomed task, and Aunt Lydia to her garden.

An hour later the Major rode over in response to a message which had just
reached him.

“I was in town all the morning,” he explained in a trembling voice, “and I
didn’t get the news until a half hour ago. The saddest day of my life,
madam, is the one upon which I learn that I have outlived him.”

“He loved you, Major,” said Mrs. Ambler, meeting his swimming eyes.

“Loved me!” repeated the old man, quivering in his chair, “I tell you,
madam, I would rather have been Peyton Ambler’s friend than President of
the Confederacy! Do you remember the time he gave me his last keg of brandy
and went without for a month?”

She nodded, smiling, and the Major, with red eyes and shaking hands,
wandered into endless reminiscences of the long friendship. To Betty these
trivial anecdotes were only a fresh torture, but Mrs. Ambler followed them
eagerly, comparing her recollections with the Major’s, and repeating in a
low voice to herself characteristic stories which she had not heard before.

“I remember that--we had been married six months then,” she would say, with
the unearthly light upon her face. “It is almost like living again to hear
you, Major.”

“Well, madam, life is a sad affair, but it is the best we’ve got,”
 responded the old gentleman, gravely.

“He loved it,” returned Mrs. Ambler, and as the Major rose to go, she
followed him into the hall and inquired if Mrs. Lightfoot had been
successful with her weaving. “She told me that she intended to have her old
looms set up again,” she added, “and I think that I shall follow her
example. Between us we might clothe a regiment of soldiers.”

“She has had the servants brushing off the cobwebs for a week,” replied the
Major, “and to-day I actually found Car’line at a spinning wheel on the
back flagstones. There’s not the faintest doubt in my mind that if Molly
had been placed in the Commissary department our soldiers would be living
to-day on the fat of the land. She has knitted thirty pairs of socks since
spring. Good-by, my dear lady, good-by, and may God sustain you in your
double affliction.”

He crossed the portico, bowed as he descended the steps, and, mounting in
the drive, rode slowly away upon his dappled mare. When he reached the
turnpike he lifted his hat again and passed on at an amble.

During the next few months it seemed to Betty that she aged a year each
day. The lines closed and opened round them; troops of blue and gray
cavalrymen swept up and down the turnpike; the pastures were invaded by
each army in its turn, and the hen-house became the spoil of a regiment of
stragglers. Uncle Shadrach had buried the silver beneath the floor of his
cabin, and Aunt Floretta set her dough to rise each morning under a loose
pile of kindling wood. Once a deserter penetrated into Betty’s chamber, and
the girl drove him out at the point of an old army pistol, which she kept
upon her bureau.

“If you think I am afraid of you come a step nearer,” she had said coolly,
and the man had turned to run into the arms of a Federal officer, who was
sweeping up the stragglers. He was a blue-eyed young Northerner, and for
three days after that he had set a guard upon the portico at Uplands. The
memory of the small white-faced girl, with her big army pistol and the
blazing eyes haunted him from that hour until Appomattox, when he heaved a
sigh of relief and dismissed it from his thoughts. “She would have shot the
rascal in another second,” he said afterward, “and, by George, I wish she
had.”

The Governor’s wine cellar was emptied long ago, the rare old wine flowing
from broken casks across the hall.

“What does it matter?” Mrs. Ambler had asked wearily, watching the red
stream drip upon the portico. “What is wine when our soldiers are starving
for bread? And besides, war lives off the soil, as your father used to
say.”

Betty lifted her skirts and stepped over the bright puddles, glancing
disdainfully after the Hessian stragglers, who went singing down the drive.

“I hope their officers will get them,” she remarked vindictively, “and the
next time they offer us a guard, I shall accept him for good and all, if he
happens to have been born on American soil. I don’t mind Yankees so
much--you can usually quiet them with the molasses jug--but these
foreigners are awful. From a Hessian or a renegade Virginian, good Lord
deliver us.”

“Some of them have kind hearts,” remarked Mrs. Ambler, wonderingly. “I
don’t see how they can bear to come down to fight us. The Major met General
McClellan, you know, and he admitted afterwards that he shouldn’t have
known from his manner that he was not a Southern gentleman.”

“Well, I hope he has left us a shoulder of bacon in the smokehouse,”
 replied Betty, laughing. “You haven’t eaten a mouthful for two days,
mamma.”

“I don’t feel that I have a right to eat, my dear,” said Mrs. Ambler. “It
seems a useless extravagance when every little bit helps the army.”

“Well, I can’t support the army, but I mean to feed you,” returned Betty
decisively, and she went out to ask Hosea if he had found a new hiding
place for the cattle. Except upon the rare mornings when Mr. Bill left his
fishing, the direction of the farm had fallen entirely upon Betty’s
shoulders. Wilson, the overseer, was in the army, and Hosea had gradually
risen to take his place. “We must keep things up,” the girl had insisted,
“don’t let us go to rack and ruin--papa would have hated it so,” and, with
the negro’s aid, she had struggled to keep up the common tenor of the old
country life.

Rising at daybreak, she went each morning to overlook the milking of the
cows, hidden in their retreat among the hills; and as the sun rose higher,
she came back to start the field hands to the ploughing and the women to
the looms in one of the detached wings. Then there was the big storehouse
to go into, the rations of the servants to be drawn from their secret
corners, the meal to be measured, and the bacon to be sliced with the care
which fretted her lavish hands. After this there came the shucking of the
corn, a negro frolic even in war years, so long as there was any corn to
shuck, and lastly the counting of the full bags of grain before the heavy
wagon was sent to the little mill beside the river. From sunrise to sunset
the girl’s hands were not idle for an instant, and in the long evenings, by
the light of the home-made tallow dips, which served for candles, she would
draw out a gray yarn stocking and knit busily for the army, while she
tried, with an aching heart, to cheer her mother. Her sunny humour had made
play of a man’s work as of a woman’s anxiety.

Sometimes, on bright mornings, Mr. Bill would stroll over with his rod upon
his shoulder and a string of silver perch in his hand. He had grown old and
very feeble, and his angling had become a passion mightier than an army
with bayonets. He took small interest in the war--at times he seemed almost
unconscious of the suffering around him--but he enjoyed his chats with
Union officers upon the road, who occasionally capped his stories of big
sport with tales of mountain trout which they had drawn from Northern
streams. He would sit for hours motionless under the willows by the river,
and once when his house was fired, during a raid up the valley, he was
heard to remark regretfully that the messenger had “scared away his first
bite in an hour.” Placid, wide-girthed, dull-faced, innocent as a child, he
sat in the midst of war dangling his line above the silver perch.



VI

THE PEACEFUL SIDE OF WAR


On a sparkling January morning, when Lee’s army had gone into winter
quarters beside the Rappahannock, Dan stood in the doorway of his log hut
smoking the pipe of peace, while he watched a messmate putting up a chimney
of notched sticks across the little roadway through the pines.

“You’d better get Pinetop to daub your chinks for you,” he suggested. “He
can make a mixture of wet clay and sandstone that you couldn’t tell from
mortar.”

“You jest wait till I git through these shoes an’ I’ll show you,” remarked
Pinetop, from the woodpile, where he was making moccasins of untanned beef
hide laced with strips of willow. “I ain’t goin’ to set my bar’ feet on
this frozen groun’ agin, if I can help it. ‘Tain’t so bad in summer, but, I
d’clar it takes all the spirit out of a fight when you have to run
bar-footed over the icy stubble.”

“Jack Powell lost his shoes in the battle of Fredericksburg,” said Baker,
as he carefully fitted his notched sticks together. “That’s why he got
promoted, I reckon. He stepped into a mud puddle, and his feet came out but
his shoes didn’t.”

“Well, I dare say, it was cheaper for the Government to give him a title
than a pair of shoes,” observed Dan, cynically. “Why, you are going in for
luxury! Is that pile of oak shingles for your roof? We made ours of rails
covered with pine tags.”

“And the first storm that comes along sweeps them off--yes, I know. By the
way, can anybody tell me if there’s a farmer with a haystack in these
parts?”

“Pinetop got a load about three miles up,” replied Dan, emptying his pipe
against the door sill. “I say, who is that cavalry peacock over yonder? By
George, it’s Champe!”

“Perhaps it’s General Stuart,” suggested Baker witheringly, as Champe came
composedly between the rows of huts, pursued by the frantic jeers of the
assembled infantry.

“Take them earrings off yo’ heels--take ‘em off! Take ‘em off!” yelled the
chorus, as his spurs rang on the stones. “My gal she wants ‘em--take ‘em
off!”

“Take those tatters off your backs--take ‘em off!” responded Champe, genial
and undismayed, swinging easily along in his worn gray uniform, his black
plume curling over his soft felt hat.

As Dan watched him, standing in the doorway, he felt, with a sudden
melancholy, that a mental gulf had yawned between them. The last grim
months which had aged him with experiences as with years, had left Champe
apparently unchanged. All the deeper knowledge, which he had bought with
his youth for the price, had passed over his cousin like the clouds,
leaving him merely gay and kind as he had been of old.

“Hello, Beau!” called Champe, stretching out his hand as he drew near. “I
just heard you were over here, so I thought I’d take a look. How goes the
war?”

Dan refilled his pipe and borrowed a light from Pinetop.

“To tell the truth,” he replied, “I have come to the conclusion that the
fun and frolic of war consist in picket duty and guarding mule teams.”

“Well, these excessive dissipations have taken up so much of your time that
I’ve hardly laid eyes on you since you got routed by malaria. Any news from
home?”

“Grandma sent me a Christmas box, which she smuggled through, heaven knows
how. We had a jolly dinner that day, and Pinetop and I put on our first
clean clothes for three months. Big Abel got a linsey suit made at
Chericoke--I hope he’ll come along in it.”

“Oh, Beau, Beau!” lamented Champe. “How have the mighty fallen? You aren’t
so particular now about wearing only white or black ties, I reckon.”

“Well, shoestrings are usually black, I believe,” returned Dan, with a
laugh, raising his hand to his throat.

Champe seated himself upon the end of an oak log, and taking off his hat,
ran his hand through his curling hair. “I was at home last summer on a
furlough,” he remarked, “and I declare, I hardly knew the valley. If we
ever come out of this war it will take an army with ploughshares to bring
the soil up again. As for the woods--well, well, we’ll never have them back
in our day.”

“Did you see Uplands?” asked Dan eagerly.

“For a moment. It was hardly safe, you know, so I was at home only a day.
Grandpa told me that the place had lain under a shadow ever since
Virginia’s death. She was buried in Hollywood--it was impossible to bring
her through the lines they said--and Betty and Mrs. Ambler have taken this
very hardly.”

“And the Governor,” said Dan, with a tremor in his voice as he thought of
Betty.

“And Jack Morson,” added Champe, “he fell at Brandy Station when I was with
him. At first he was wounded only slightly, and we tried to get him to the
rear, but he laughed and went straight in again. It was a sabre cut that
finished him at the last.”

“He was a first-rate chap,” commented Dan, “but I never knew exactly why
Virginia fell in love with him.”

“The other fellow never does. To be quite candid, it is beyond my
comprehension how a certain lady can prefer the infantry to the
cavalry--yet she does emphatically.”

Dan coloured.

“Was grandpa well?” he inquired lamely.

With a laugh Champe flung one leg over the other, and clasped his knee.

“It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good,” he responded. “Grandpa’s
thoughts are so much given to the Yankees that he has become actually
angelic to the rest of us. By the way, do you know that Mr. Blake is in the
army?”

“What?” cried Dan, aghast.

“Oh, I don’t mean that he really carries a rifle--though he swears he would
if he only had twenty years off his shoulders--but he has become our
chaplain in young Chrysty’s place, and the boys say there is more gun
powder in his prayers than in our biggest battery.”

“Well, I never!” exclaimed Dan.

“You ought to hear him--it’s better than fighting on your own account. Last
Sunday he gave us a prayer in which he said: ‘O Lord, thou knowest that we
are the greatest army thou hast ever seen; put forth thy hand then but a
very little and we will whip the earth.’ By Jove, you look cosey here,” he
added, glancing into the hut where Dan and Pinetop slept in bunks of straw.
“I hope the roads won’t dry before you’ve warmed your house.” He shook
hands again, and swung off amid the renewed jeers that issued from the open
doorways.

Dan watched him until he vanished among the distant pines, and then,
turning, went into the little hut where he found Pinetop sitting before a
rude chimney, which he had constructed with much labour. A small book was
open on his knee, over which his yellow head drooped like a child’s, and
Dan saw his calm face reddened by the glow of the great log fire.

“Hello! What’s that?” he inquired lightly.

The mountaineer started from his abstraction, and the blood swept to his
forehead as he rose from the half of a flour barrel upon which he had been
sitting.

“‘Tain’t nothin’,” he responded, and as he towered to his great height his
fair curls brushed the ceiling of crossed rails. In his awkwardness the
book fell to the floor, and before he could reach it, Dan had stooped, with
a laugh, and picked it up.

“I say, there are no secrets in this shebang,” he said smiling. Then the
smile went out, and his face grew suddenly grave, for, as the book fell
open in his hand, he saw that it was the first primer of a child, and on
the thumbed and tattered page the word “RAT” stared at him in capital
letters.

“By George, man!” he exclaimed beneath his breath, as he turned from
Pinetop to the blazing logs.

For the first time in his life he was brought face to face with the tragedy
of hopeless ignorance for an inquiring mind, and the shock stunned him, at
the moment, past the power of speech. Until knowing Pinetop he had, in the
lofty isolation of his class, regarded the plebeian in the light of an
alien to the soil, not as a victim to the kindly society in which he
himself had moved--a society produced by that free labour which had
degraded the white workman to the level of the serf. At the instant the
truth pierced home to him, and he recognized it in all the grimness of its
pathos. Beside that genial plantation life which he had known he saw rising
the wistful figure of the poor man doomed to conditions which he could not
change--born, it may be, like Pinetop, self-poised, yet with an untaught
intellect, grasping, like him, after the primitive knowledge which should
be the birthright of every child. Even the spectre of slavery, which had
shadowed his thoughts, as it had those of many a generous mind around him,
faded abruptly before the very majesty of the problem that faced him now.
In his sympathy for the slave, whose bondage he and his race had striven to
make easy, he had overlooked the white sharer of the negro’s wrong. To men
like Pinetop, slavery, stern or mild, could be but an equal menace, and yet
these were the men who, when Virginia called, came from their little cabins
in the mountains, who tied the flint-locks upon their muskets and fought
uncomplainingly until the end. Not the need to protect a decaying
institution, but the instinct in every free man to defend the soil, had
brought Pinetop, as it had brought Dan, into the army of the South.

“Look here, old man, you haven’t been quite fair to me,” said Dan, after
the long silence. “Why didn’t you ask me to help you with this stuff?”

“Wall, I thought you’d joke,” replied Pinetop blushing, “and I knew yo’
nigger would.”

“Joke? Good Lord!” exclaimed Dan. “Do you think I was born with so short a
memory, you scamp? Where are those nights on the way to Romney when you
covered me with your overcoat to keep me from freezing in the snow? Where,
for that matter, is that march in Maryland when Big Abel and you carried me
three miles in your arms after I had dropped delirious by the roadside? If
you thought I’d joke you about this, Pinetop, all I can say is that you’ve
turned into a confounded fool.”

Pinetop came back to the fire and seated himself upon the flour barrel in
the corner. “‘Twas this way, you see,” he said, breaking, for the first
time, through his strong mountain reserve. “I al’ays thought I’d like to
read a bit, ‘specially on winter evenings at home, when the nights are long
and you don’t have to git up so powerful early in the mornings, but when I
was leetle thar warn’t nobody to teach me how to begin; maw she didn’t know
nothin’ an’ paw he was dead, though he never got beyond the first reader
when he was ‘live.”

He looked up and Dan nodded gravely over his pipe.

“Then when I got bigger I had to work mighty hard to keep things goin’--an’
it seemed to me every time I took out that thar leetle book at night I got
so dead sleepy I couldn’t tell one letter from another; A looked jest like
Z.”

“I see,” said Dan quietly. “Well, there’s time enough here anyhow. It will
be a good way to pass the evenings.” He opened the primer and laid it on
his knee, running his fingers carelessly through its dog-eared pages. “Do
you know your letters?” he inquired in a professional tone.

“Lordy, yes,” responded Pinetop. “I’ve got about as fur as this here
place.” He crossed to where Dan sat and pointed with a long forefinger to
the printed words, his mild blue eyes beaming with excitement.

“I reckon I kin read that by myself,” he added with an embarrassed laugh.
“T-h-e c-a-t c-a-u-g-h-t t-h-e r-a-t. Ain’t that right?”

“Perfectly. We’ll pass on to the next.” And they did so, sitting on the
halves of a divided flour barrel before the blazing chimney.

From this time there were regular lessons in the little hut, Pinetop
drawling over the soiled primer, or crouching, with his long legs twisted
under him and his elbows awkwardly extended, while he filled a sheet of
paper with sprawling letters.

“I’ll be able to write to the old woman soon,” he chuckled jubilantly, “an’
she’ll have to walk all the way down the mounting to git it read.”

“You’ll be a scholar yet if this keeps up,” replied Dan, slapping him upon
the shoulder, as the mountaineer glanced up with a pleased and shining
face. “Why, you mastered that first reader there in no time.”

“A powerful heap of larnin’ has to pass through yo’ head to git a leetle to
stick thar,” commented Pinetop, wrinkling his brows. “Air we goin’ to have
the big book agin to-night?”

“The big book” was a garbled version of “Les Miserables,” which, after
running the blockade with a daring English sailor, had passed from regiment
to regiment in the resting army. At first Dan had begun to read with only
Pinetop for a listener, but gradually, as the tale unfolded, a group of
eager privates filled the little hut and even hung breathlessly about the
doorway in the winter nights. They were mostly gaunt, unwashed volunteers
from the hills or the low countries, to whom literature was only a vast
silence and life a courageous struggle against greater odds. To Dan the
picturesqueness of the scene lent itself with all the force of its strong
lights and shadows, and with the glow of the pine torches on the open page,
his eyes would sometimes wander from the words to rest upon the kindling
faces in the shaggy circle by the fire. Dirty, hollow-eyed, unshaven, it
sat spellbound by the magic of the tale it could not read.

“By Gosh! that’s a blamed good bishop,” remarked an unkempt smoker one
evening from the threshold, where his beef-hide shoes were covered with
fine snow. “I don’t reckon Marse Robert could ha’ beat that.”

“Marse Robert ain’t never tried,” put in a companion by the fire.

“Wall, I ain’t sayin’ he had,” corrected the first speaker, through a cloud
of smoke. “Lord, I hope when my time comes I kin slip into heaven on Marse
Robert’s coat-tails.”

“If you don’t, you won’t never git thar!” jeered the second. Then they
settled themselves again, and listened with sombre faces and twitching
lips.

It was during this winter that Dan learned how one man’s influence may fuse
individual and opposing wills into a single supreme endeavour. The Army of
Northern Virginia, as he saw it then, was moulded, sustained, and made
effective less by the authority of the Commander than by the simple power
of Lee over the hearts of the men who bore his muskets. For a time Dan had
sought to trace the groundspring of this impassioned loyalty, seeking a
reason that could not be found in generals less beloved. Surely it was not
the illuminated figure of the conqueror, for when had the Commander held
closer the affection of his troops than in that ill-starred campaign into
Maryland, which left the moral victory of a superb fight in McClellan’s
hands? No, the charm lay deeper still, beyond all the fictitious aids of
fortune--somewhere in that serene and noble presence he had met one evening
as the gray dusk closed, riding alone on an old road between level fields.
After this it was always as a high figure against a low horizon that he had
seen the man who made his army.

As the long winter passed away, he learned, not only much of the spirit of
his own side, but something that became almost a sunny tolerance, of the
great blue army across the Rappahannock. He had exchanged Virginian tobacco
for Northern coffee at the outposts, and when on picket duty along the cold
banks of the river he would sometimes shout questions and replies across
the stream. In these meetings there was only a wide curiosity with little
bitterness; and once a friendly New England picket had delivered a
religious homily from the opposite shore, as he leaned upon his rifle.

“I didn’t think much of you Rebs before I came down here,” he had concluded
in a precise and energetic shout, “but I guess, after all, you’ve got souls
in your bodies like the rest of us.”

“I reckon we have. Any coffee over your side?”

“Plenty. The war’s interfered considerably with the tobacco crop, ain’t
it?”

“Well, rather; we’ve enough for ourselves, but none to offer our visitors.”

“Look here, are all these things about you in the papers gospel truth?”

“Can’t say. What things?”

“Do you always carry bowie knives into battle?”

“No, we use scissors--they’re more convenient.”

“When you catch a runaway nigger do you chop him up in little pieces and
throw him to the hogs?”

“Not exactly. We boil him down and grease our cartridges.”

“After Bull Run did you set up all the live Zouaves you got hold of as
targets for rifle practice?”

“Can’t remember about the Zouaves. Rather think we made them into flags.”

“Well, you Rebels take the breath out of me,” commented the picket across
the river; and then, as the relief came, Dan hurried back to look for the
mail bag and a letter from Betty. For Betty wrote often these days--letters
sometimes practical, sometimes impassioned, always filled with cheer, and
often with bright gossip. Of her own struggle at Uplands and the long days
crowded with work, she wrote no word; all her sympathy, all her large
passion, and all her wise advice in little matters were for Dan from the
beginning to the end. She made him promise to keep warm if it were
possible, to read his Bible when he had the time, and to think of her at
all hours in every season. In a neat little package there came one day a
gray knitted waistcoat which he was to wear when on picket duty beside the
river, “and be very sure to fasten it,” she had written. “I have sewed the
buttons on so tight they can’t come off. Oh, if I had only papa and
Virginia and you back again I could be happy in a hovel. Dear mamma says
so, too.”

And after much calm advice there would come whole pages that warmed him
from head to foot. “Your kisses are still on my lips,” she wrote one day.
“The Major said to me, ‘Your mouth is very warm, my dear,’ and I almost
answered, ‘you feel Dan’s kisses, sir.’ What would he have said, do you
think? As it was I only smiled and turned away, and longed to run straight
to you to be caught up in your arms and held there forever. O my beloved,
when you need me only stretch out your hands and I will come.”



VII

THE SILENT BATTLE


Despite the cheerfulness of Betty’s letters, there were times during the
next dark years when it seemed to her that starvation must be the only end.
The negroes had been freed by the Governor’s will, but the girl could not
turn them from their homes, and, with the exception of the few field hands
who had followed the Union army, they still lived in their little cabins
and drew their daily rations from the storehouse. Betty herself shared
their rations of cornmeal and bacon, jealously guarding her small supplies
of milk and eggs for Mrs. Ambler and the two old ladies. “It makes no
difference what I eat,” she would assure protesting Mammy Riah. “I am so
strong, you see, and besides I really like Aunt Floretta’s ashcakes.”

Spring and summer passed, with the ripened vegetables which Hosea had
planted in the garden, and the long winter brought with it the old daily
struggle to make the slim barrels of meal last until the next harvesting.
It was in this year that the four women at Uplands followed the Major’s
lead and invested their united fortune in Confederate bonds. “We will rise
or fall with the government,” Mrs. Ambler had said with her gentle
authority. “Since we have given it our best, let it take all freely.”

“Surely money is of no matter,” Betty had answered, lavishly disregardful
of worldly goods. “Do you think we might give our jewels, too? I have
grandma’s pearls hidden beneath the floor, you know.”

“If need be--let us wait, dear,” replied her mother, who, grave and pallid
as a ghost, would eat nothing that, by any chance, could be made to reach
the army.

“I do not want it, my child, there are so many hungrier than I,” she would
say when Betty brought her dainty little trays from the pantry.

“But I am hungry for you, mamma--take it for my sake,” the girl would beg,
on the point of tears. “You are starving, that is it--and yet it does not
feed the army.”

In these days it seemed to her that all the anguish of her life had centred
in the single fear of losing her mother. At times she almost reproached
herself with loving Dan too much, and for months she would resolutely keep
her thoughts from following him, while she laid her impassioned service at
her mother’s feet. Day or night there was hardly a moment when she was not
beside her, trying, by very force of love, to hold her back from the death
to which she went with her slow and stately tread.

For Mrs. Ambler, who had kept her strength for a year after the Governor’s
death, seemed at last to be gently withdrawing from a place in which she
found herself a stranger. There was nothing to detain her now; she was too
heartsick to adapt herself to many changes; loss and approaching poverty
might be borne by one for whom the chief thing yet remained, but she had
seen this go, and so she waited, with her pensive smile, for the moment
when she too might follow. If Betty were not looking she would put her
untasted food aside; but the girl soon found this out, and watched her
every mouthful with imploring eyes.

“Oh, mamma, do it to please me,” she entreated.

“Well, give it back, my dear,” Mrs. Ambler answered, complaisant as always,
and when Betty triumphantly declared, “You feel better now--you know you
do, you dearest,” she responded readily:--

“Much better, darling; give me some straw to plait--I have grown to like to
have my hands busy. Your old bonnet is almost gone, so I shall plait you
one of this and trim it with a piece of ribbon Aunt Lydia found yesterday
in the attic.”

“I don’t mind going bareheaded, if you will only eat.”

“I was never a hearty eater. Your father used to say that I ate less than a
robin. It was the custom for ladies to have delicate appetites in my day,
you see; and I remember your grandma’s amazement when Miss Pokey
Mickleborough was asked at our table what piece of chicken she preferred,
and answered quite aloud, ‘Leg, if you please.’ She was considered very
indelicate by your grandma, who had never so much as tasted any part except
the wing.”

She sat, gentle and upright, in her rosewood chair, her worn silk dress
rustling as she crossed her feet, her beautiful hands moving rapidly with
the straw plaiting. “I was brought up very carefully, my dear,” she added,
turning her head with its shining bands of hair a little silvered since the
beginning of the war. “‘A girl is like a flower,’ your grandpa always said.
‘If a rough wind blows near her, her bloom is faded.’ Things are different
now--very different.”

“But this is war,” said Betty.

Mrs. Ambler nodded over the slender braid.

“Yes, this is war,” she added with her wistful smile, and a moment
afterward looked up again to ask in a dazed way:--

“What was the last battle, dear? I can’t remember.”

Betty’s glance sought the lawn outside where the warm May sunshine fell in
shafts of light upon the purple lilacs.

“They are fighting now in the Wilderness,” she answered, her thoughts
rushing to the famished army closed in the death grapple with its enemy.
“Dan got a letter to me and he says it is like fighting in a jungle, the
vines are so thick they can’t see the other side. He has to aim by ear
instead of sight.”

Mrs. Ambler’s fingers moved quickly.

“He has become a very fine man,” she said. “Your father always liked
him--and so did I--but at one time we were afraid that he was going to be
too much his father’s son--he looked so like him on his wild days,
especially when he had taken wine and his colour went high.”

“But he has the Lightfoot eyes. The Major, Champe, even their Great-aunt
Emmeline have those same gray eyes that are always laughing.”

“Jane Lightfoot had them, too,” added Mrs. Ambler. “She used to say that to
love hard went with them. ‘The Lightfoot eyes are never disillusioned,’ she
once told me. I wonder if she remembered that afterwards, poor girl.”

Betty was silent for a moment.

“It sounds cruel,” she confessed, “but you know, I have sometimes thought
that it may have been just a little bit her fault, mamma.”

Mrs. Ambler smiled. “Your grandpa used to say ‘get a woman to judge a woman
and there comes a hanging.’”

“Oh, I don’t mean that,” responded Betty, blushing. “Jack Montjoy was a
scoundrel, I suppose--but I think that even if Dan had been a scoundrel,
instead of so big and noble--I could have made his life so much better just
because I loved him; if love is only large enough it seems to me that all
such things as being good and bad are swallowed up.”

“I don’t know--your father was very good, and I loved him because of it. He
was of the salt of the earth, as Mr. Blake wrote to me last year.”

“There has never been anybody like papa,” said Betty, her eyes filling.
“Not even Dan--for I can’t imagine papa being anything but what he was--and
yet I know even if Dan were as wild as the Major once believed him to be, I
could have gone with him not the least bit afraid. I was so sure of myself
that if he had beaten me he could not have broken my spirit. I should
always have known that some day he would need me and be sorry.”

Tender, pensive, bred in the ancient ways, Mrs. Ambler looked up at her and
shook her head.

“You are very strong, my child,” she answered, “and I think it makes us all
lean too much upon you.”

Taking her hand, Betty kissed each slender finger. “I lean on you for the
best in life, mamma,” she answered, and then turned to the window. “It’s
my working time,” she said, “and there is poor Hosea trying to plough
without horses. I wonder how he’ll manage it.”

“Are all the horses gone, dear?”

“All except Prince Rupert and papa’s mare. Peter keeps them hidden in the
mountains, and I carried them the last two apples yesterday. Prince Rupert
knew me in the distance and whinnied before Peter saw me. Now I’ll send
Aunt Lydia to you, dearest, while I see about the weaving. Mammy Riah has
almost finished my linsey dress.” She kissed her again and went out to
where the looms were working in one of the detached wings.

The summer went by slowly. The famished army fell back inch by inch, and at
Uplands the battle grew more desperate with the days. Without horses it was
impossible to plant the crops and on the open turnpike swept by bands of
raiders as by armies, it was no less impossible to keep the little that was
planted. Betty, standing at her window in the early mornings, would glance
despairingly over the wasted fields and the quiet little cabins, where the
negroes were stirring about their work. Those little cabins, forming a
crescent against the green hill, caused her an anxiety before which her own
daily suffering was of less account. When the time came that was fast
approaching, and the secret places were emptied of their last supplies,
where could those faithful people turn in their distress? The question
stabbed her like a sword each morning before she put on her bonnet of
plaited straw and ran out to make her first round of the farm. Behind her
cheerful smile there was always the grim fear growing sharper every hour.

Then on a golden summer afternoon, when the larder had been swept by a band
of raiders, she became suddenly aware that there was nothing in the house
for her mother’s supper, and, with the army pistol in her hand, set out
across the fields for Chericoke. As she walked over the sunny meadows, the
shadow that was always lifted in Mrs. Ambler’s presence fell heavily upon
her face and she choked back a rising sob. What would the end be? she asked
herself in sudden anguish, or was this the end?

Reaching Chericoke she found Mrs. Lightfoot and Aunt Rhody drying sliced
sweet potatoes on boards along the garden fence, where the sunflowers and
hollyhocks flaunted in the face of want.

“I’ve just gotten a new recipe for coffee, child,” the old lady began in
mild excitement. “Last year I made it entirely of sweet potatoes, but Mrs.
Blake tells me that she mixes rye and a few roasted chestnuts. Mr.
Lightfoot took supper with her a week ago, and he actually congratulated
her upon still keeping her real old Mocha. Be sure to try it.”

“Indeed I shall--the very next time Hosea gets any sweet potatoes. Some
raiders have just dug up the last with their sabres and eaten them raw.”

“Well, they’ll certainly have colic,” remarked Mrs. Lightfoot, with
professional interest.

“I hope so,” said Betty, “but I’ve come over to beg something for mamma’s
supper--eggs, chickens, anything except bacon. She can’t touch that, she’d
starve first.”

Looking anxious, Mrs. Lightfoot appealed to Aunt Rhody, who was busily
spreading little squares of sweet potatoes on the clean boards. “Rhody,
can’t you possibly find us some eggs?” she inquired.

Aunt Rhody stopped her work and turned upon them all the dignity of two
hundred pounds of flesh.

“How de hens gwine lay w’en dey’s done been eaten up?” she demanded.

“Isn’t there a single chicken left?” hopelessly persisted the old lady.

“Who gwine lef’ ‘em? Ain’ dose low-lifeted sodgers dat rid by yestiddy done
stole de las’ one un ‘um off de nes’?”

Mrs. Lightfoot sternly remonstrated.

“They were our own soldiers, Rhody, and they don’t steal--they merely
take.”

“I don’ see de diffunce,” sniffed Aunt Rhody. “All I know is dat dey pulled
de black hen plum off de nes’ whar she wuz a-settin’. Den des now de
Yankees come a-prancin’ up en de ducks tuck ter de water en de Yankees dey
went a-wadin’ atter dem. Yes, Lawd, dey went a-wadin’ wid dey shoes on.”

The old lady sighed.

“I’m afraid there’s nothing, Betty,” she said, “though Congo has gone to
town to see if he can find any fowls, and I’ll send some over if he brings
them. We had a Sherman pudding for dinner ourselves, and I know the sorghum
in it will give the Major gout for a month. Well, well, this is war, I
reckon, and I must say, for my part, I never expected it to be conducted
like a flirtation behind a fan.”

“I nuver seed no use a-fittin’ unless you is gwine ter fit in de yuther
pusson’s yawd,” interpolated Aunt Rhody. “De way ter fit is ter keep
a-sidlin’ furder f’om yo’ own hen roos’ en nigher ter de hen roos’ er de
somebody dat’s a-fittin’ you.”

“Hold your tongue, Rhody,” retorted Mrs. Lightfoot, and then drew Betty a
little to one side. “I have some port wine, my dear,” she whispered, “which
Cupid buried under the old asparagus bed, and I’ll tell him to dig up
several bottles and take them to you. The other servants don’t know of it,
so I can’t get it out till after dark. Poor Julia! how does she stand these
terrible days?”

Betty’s lips quivered. “I have to force her to eat,” she replied, “and it
seems almost cruel--she is so tired of life.”

“I know, my dear,” responded the old lady, wiping her eyes; “and we have
our troubles, too. Champe is in prison now, and Mr. Lightfoot is very much
upset. He says this General Grant is not like the others, that he knows
him--and he’s the kind to hang on as long as he’s alive.”

“But we must win in the end,” said Betty, desperately; “we have sacrificed
so much, how can it all be lost?”

“That’s what Mr. Lightfoot says--we’ll win in the end, but the end’s a long
way off. By the way, did you know that Car’line had run off after the
Yankees? When I think how that girl had been spoiled!”

“Oh, I wish they’d all go,” returned Betty. “All except Mammy and Uncle
Shadrach and Hosea--and even they make starvation that much nearer.”

“Well, we shan’t starve yet awhile, dear; I’m in hopes that Congo will
ransack the town. If you would only stay.”

But Betty shook her head and went back across the meadows, walking rapidly
through the lush grass of the deserted pastures. Her mind was so filled
with Mrs. Lightfoot’s forebodings, that when, in climbing the low stone
wall, she saw the free negro, Levi, coming toward her, she turned to him
with a gesture that was almost an appeal for sympathy.

“Uncle Levi, these are sad times now,” she said. “I am looking for
something for mamma’s supper and I can find nothing.”

The old negro, shabbier, lonelier, poorer than ever, shambled up to the
wall where she was standing and uncovered a split basket full of eggs.

“I’se got a pa’cel er hens hid in de woods over yonder,” he explained, “en
I keep de eggs behin’ de j’ists in my cabin. Sis Floretty she tole me dat
de w’ite folks wuz wuss off den de niggers now, so I brung you dese.”

“Oh, Uncle Levi!” cried Betty, seizing his gnarled old hands. As she looked
at his stricken figure a compassion as acute as pain brought the quick
tears to her eyes. She remembered the isolation of his life, the scornful
suspicion he had met from white and black, and the injustice that had set
him free and sold Sarindy up the river.

“You wuz moughty good ter me,” muttered free Levi, shuffling his bare feet
in the long grass, “en Marse Dan, he wuz moughty good ter me, too, ‘fo’ he
went away on dat black night. I ‘members de time w’en dat ole Rainy-day
Jones up de big road (we all call him Rainy-day caze he looked so sour) had
me right by de collar wid de hick’ry branch a sizzlin’ in de a’r, en I des
‘lowed de een had mos’ come. Yes, Lawd, I did, but I warn’ countin’ on
Marse Dan. He warn’ mo’n wais’ high ter ole Rainy-day, but de furs’ thing I
know dar wuz ole Rainy-day on de yerth wid Marse Dan a-lashin’ ‘im wid de
branch er hick’ry.”

“We shall never forget you--Dan and I,” answered Betty, as she took the
basket, “and when the time comes we will repay you.”

The old negro smiled and turned from her, and Betty, quickening her pace,
ran on to Uplands, reaching the house a little breathless from the long
walk.

In the chamber upstairs she found Mrs. Ambler sitting before the window
with her open Bible on the sill, where a spray of musk roses entered from
the outside wall.

“All well, mamma?” she asked in a cheerful voice.

Mrs. Ambler started and turned slowly from the window.

“I see a great light on the road,” she murmured wonderingly.

Crossing to where she sat, Betty leaned out above the climbing roses and
glanced to the mountains huddled against the sky.

“It is General Sheridan going up the valley,” she said.



VIII

THE LAST STAND


In the face of a damp April wind a remnant of Lee’s army pushed forward
along an old road skirted by thin pine woods. As the column moved on
slowly, it threw out skirmishers on either flank, where the Federal cavalry
hovered in the distance. Once in an open clearing it formed into a hollow
square and marched in battle line to avoid capture. While the regiments
kept in motion the men walked steadily in the ranks, with their hollowed
eyes staring straight ahead from their gaunt, tanned faces; but at the
first halt they fell like logs upon the roadside, sleeping amid the sound
of shots and the stinging cavalry. With the cry of “Forward!” they
struggled to their feet again, and went stumbling on into the vast
uncertainty and the approaching night. Breathless, starving, with their
rags pinned together, and their mouths bleeding from three days’ rations of
parched corn, they still kept onward, marching with determined eyes to
whatever and wherever the end might be. Petersburg had fallen, Richmond was
in flames behind them, the Confederacy was, perhaps, buried in the ruins of
its Capitol, but Lee was still somewhere to the front, so his army
followed.

“How long have we been marching, boys? I can’t remember,” asked Dan, when,
after a short rest, they formed again and started forward over the old
road. In the tatters of his gray uniform, with his broken shoes tied on his
feet and his black hair hanging across his eyes, he might have been one of
the beggars who warm themselves in the sun of Southern countries.

“Oh, I reckon we left the Garden of Eden about six thousand years ago,”
 responded a wag from somewhere--he was too tired to recognize the voice.
“There! the skirmishers have struck that blamed cavalry again. Plague them!
They’re as bad as wasps!”

“Has anybody some parched corn?” inquired Bland, plaintively. “I’ll trade a
whole raw ear for it. It makes my gums bleed so, I can’t chew it.”

Dan plunged his hand into his pocket, and drew out the corn which he had
shelled and parched at the last halt. As he exchanged it for the “whole raw
ear,” he fell to wondering vaguely what had become of Big Abel since that
dim point in eternity when they had left the trenches that surrounded
Petersburg. Then time was divided into periods of nights and days, now
night and day alike were made up in breathless marching, in throwing out
skirmishers against those “wasps” of cavalrymen, and in trying to force
aching teeth to grind parched corn. Panting and sick with hunger, he
struggled on like a driven beast that sees the place ahead, where he must
turn and grapple for the end with the relentless hunter on his track.

As the day ended the moist wind gathered strength and sang in his ears as
he crept forward--now sleeping, now waking, for a time filled with warm
memories of his college life, and again fighting over the last hopeless
campaign from the Wilderness to the trenches where Petersburg had fallen.
They had yielded step by step, but the great hunter had pressed on, and now
the thin brigades were gathering for the last stand together.

Overhead he heard the soughing of the pines, and around him the steady
tramp of feet too tired to lift themselves from out the heavy mud. Straight
above in the muffled sky a star shone dimly, and for a time he watched it
in his effort to keep awake. Then he began on the raw corn in his pocket,
shelling it from the cob as he walked along; but when the taste of blood
rose to his lips, he put the ear away again, and stooped to rub his eyes
with a handful of damp earth. Then, at last, in sheer desperation, he
loosened the grip upon his thoughts, and stumbled on, between waking and
sleeping, into the darkness that lay ahead.

In the road before him the door at Chericoke opened wide as on the old
Christmas Eves, and he saw the Major and the Governor draining their
glasses under the garlands of mistletoe and holly, while Betty and
Virginia, in dresses of white tarleton, stood against the ruddy glow that
filled the panelled parlour. The cheerful Christmas smell was in the
air--the smell of apple toddy, of roasted turkey, of plum pudding in a
blaze of alcohol. As he entered after his long ride from college, Betty
came up to him and slipped a warm white hand into his cold one, while he
met the hazel beams from beneath her lashes.

“I hope you have brought Jack Morson,” she said. “Virginia is waiting. See
how lovely she looks in her white flounces, with the string of coral about
her neck.”

“But the war, Betty?” he asked, with blinking eyes, and as he put out his
hand to touch the pearls upon her bosom, he saw that it was whole again--no
wound was there, only the snowflakes that fell from his sleeve upon her
breast. “What of the war, dear? I must go back to the army.”

Betty laughed long and merrily.

“Why, you’re dreaming, Dan,” she said. “It all comes of those wicked
stories of the Major’s. In a moment you will believe that this is really
1812, and you’ve gone without your rations.”

“Thank God!” he cried aloud, and the sound of his own voice woke him, as he
slipped and went down in a mudhole upon the road. The Christmas smell faded
from his nostrils; in its place came the smoke from Pinetop’s pipe--a
faithful friend until the last. Overhead the star was still shining, and to
the front he heard a single shot from the hovering cavalry, withdrawing for
the night.

“God damn this mud!” called a man behind him, as he lurched sideways from
the ranks. Farther away three hoarse voices, the remnant of a once famous
glee club, were singing in the endeavour to scare off sleep:--

  “Rally round the flag, boys, rally once again!”

And suddenly he was fighting in the tangles of the Wilderness, crouching
behind a charred oak stump, while he loaded and fired at the little puffs
of smoke that rose from the undergrowth beyond. He saw the low marshland,
the stunted oaks and pines, and the heavy creepers that were pushed aside
and trampled underfoot, and at his feet he saw a company officer with a
bullet hole through his forehead and a covering of pine needles upon his
face. About him the small twigs fell, as if a storm swept the forest, and
as he dodged, like a sharpshooter from tree to tree, he saw a rush of flame
and smoke in the distance where the woods were burning. Above the noise of
the battle, he heard the shrieks of the wounded men in the track of the
fire; and once he met a Union and a Confederate soldier, each shot through
the leg, drawing each other back from the approaching flames. Then, as he
passed on, tearing at the cartridges with his teeth, he came upon a
sergeant in Union clothes, sitting against a pine stump with his cocked
rifle in his hand, and his eyes on the wind-blown smoke. A moment before
the man may have gone down at his shot, he knew--and yet, as he looked, an
instinct stronger than the instinct to kill was alive within him, and he
rushed on, dragging his enemy with him from the terrible woods. “I hope you
are not much hurt,” he said, as he placed him on the ground and ran back to
where the line was charging. “One life has been paid for,” he thought, as
he rushed on to kill--and fell face downward on the wheel-ruts of the old
road.

  “Rally round the flag, boys, rally once again,”

sang the three hoarse voices, straining against the wind.

Dan struggled to his feet, and the scene shifted.

He was back in his childhood, and the Major had just brought in a slave he
had purchased from Rainy-day Jones--“the plague spot in the county,” as the
angry old gentleman declared.

Dan sat on the pile of kindling wood upon the kitchen hearth and stared at
the poor black creature shivering in the warmth, his face distorted with
the toothache, and a dirty rag about his jaw. He heard Aunt Rhody snorting
indignantly as she basted the turkeys, and he watched his grandmother
bustling back and forth with whiskey and hot plasters.

“Who made slavery, sir?” asked the boy suddenly, his hands in his breeches
pockets and his head bent sideways.

The Major started.

“God, sir,” he promptly replied.

“Then I think it very strange of God,” said the boy, “and when I grow up, I
shall set them all free, grandpa--I shall set them free even if I have to
fight to do it, sir.”

“What! like poor free Levi?” stormed the Major.

“Wake up, confound you!” bawled somebody in his ear. “You’ve lurched
against my side until my ribs are sore. I say, are you going on forever,
anyhow? We’ve halted for the night.”

“I can’t stop!” cried Dan, groping in the darkness, then he fell heavily
upon the damp ground, while a voice down the road began shouting, “Detail
for guard!” Half asleep and cursing, the men responded to their names and
hurried off, and as the silence closed in, the army slept like a child upon
the roadside.

With the first glimmer of dawn they were on the march again, passing all
day through the desolate flat country, where the women ran weeping to the
doorways, and waved empty hands as they went by. Once a girl in a homespun
dress, with a spray of apple blossoms in her black hair, brought out a
wooden bucket filled with buttermilk and passed it along the line.

“Fight to the end, boys,” she cried defiantly, “and when the end comes,
keep on fighting. If you go back on Lee there’s not a woman in Virginia
will touch your hand.”

“That’s right, little gal!” shrieked a husky private. “Three cheers for
Marse Robert! an’ we’ll whip the earth in our bar’ feet befo’ breakfast.”

“All the same I wish old Stonewall was along,” muttered Pinetop. “If I
could jest see old Stonewall or his ghost ahead, I’d know thar was an open
road somewhere that Sheridan ain’t got his eye on.”

As the sun rose high, refugees from Richmond flocked after them to shout
that the town had been fired by the citizens, who had moved, with their
families, to the Capitol Square as the flames spread from the great tobacco
warehouses. Men who had wives and children in the city groaned as they
marched farther from the ashes of their homes, and more than one staggered
back into the ranks and went onward under a heavier burden.

“Wall, I reckon things are fur the best--or they ain’t.” remarked Pinetop,
in a cheerful tone. “Thar’s no goin’ agin that, you bet. What’s the row
back thar, I wonder?”

The hovering enemy, grown bolder, had fallen upon the flank, and the
stragglers and the rear guard were beating off the cavalry, when a regiment
was sent back to relieve the pressure. Returning, Pinetop, who was of the
attacking party, fell gravely to moralizing upon the scarcity of food.

“I’ve tasted every plagued thing that grows in this country except dirt,”
 he observed, “an’ I’m goin’ to kneel down presently and take a good square
mouthful of that.”

“That’s one thing we shan’t run short of,” replied Dan, stepping round a
mud hole. “By George, we’ve got to march in a square again across this
open. I believe when I set out for heaven, I’ll find some of those
confounded Yankee troopers watching the road.”

Forming in battle line they advanced cautiously across the clearing, while
the skirmishing grew brisker at the front. That night they halted but once
upon the way, standing to meet attack against a strip of pines, watching
with drawn breath while the enemy crept closer. They heard him in the
woods, felt him in the air, saw him in the darkness--like a gigantic coil
he approached inch by inch for the last struggle. Now and then a shot rang
out, and the little band thrilled to a soldier, and waited breathlessly for
the last charge that might end it all.

“There’s only one thing worse than starvation, and it’s defeat!” cried Dan
aloud; then the column swung on and the cry of “Close up, there! close up!”
 mingled in his ears with the steady tramp upon the road.

In the early morning the shots grew faster, and as the column stopped in
the cover of a wood, the bullets came singing among the tree-tops, from the
left flank where the skirmishers had struck the enemy. During the short
rest Dan slept leaning against a twisted aspen, and when Pinetop shook him,
he awoke with a dizziness in his head that sent the flat earth slamming
against the sky.

“I believe I’m starving, Pinetop,” he said, and his voice rang like a bell
in his ears. “I can’t see where to put my feet, the ground slips about so.”

For answer Pinetop felt in his pocket and brought out a slice of fat bacon,
which he gave to him uncooked.

“Wait till I git a light,” he commanded. “A woman up the road gave me a
hunk, and I’ve had my share.”

“You’ve had your share,” repeated Dan, greedily, his eyes on the meat,
though he knew that Pinetop was lying.

The mountaineer struck a match and lighted a bit of pine, holding the bacon
to the flame until it scorched.

“You’d better git it all in yo’ mouth quick,” he advised, “for if the smell
once starts on the breeze the whole brigade will be on the scent in a
minute.”

Dan ate it to the last morsel and licked the warm juice from his fingers.

“You lied, Pinetop,” he said, “but, by God, you saved my life. What place
is this, I wonder. Isn’t there any hope of our cutting through Grant’s
lines to-day?”

Pinetop glanced about him.

“Somebody said we were comin’ on to Sailor’s Creek,” he answered, “and it’s
about as God-forsaken country as I care to see. Hello! what’s that?”

In the road there was an abandoned battery, cut down and left to rot into
the earth, and as they swept past it at “double quick,” they heard the
sound of rapid firing across the little stream.

“It’s a fight, thank God!” yelled Pinetop, and at the words a tumultuous
joy urged Dan through the water and over the sharp stones. After all the
hunger and the intolerable waiting, a chance was come for him to use his
musket once again.

As they passed through an open meadow, a rabbit, starting suddenly from a
clump of sumach, went bounding through the long grass before the thin gray
line. With ears erect and short white tail bobbing among the broom-sedge,
the little quivering creature darted straight toward the low brow of a
hill, where a squadron of cavalry made a blue patch on the green.

“Geriminy! thar goes a good dinner,” Pinetop gasped, smacking his lips.
“An’ I’ve got to save this here load for a Yankee I can’t eat.”

With a long flying leap the rabbit led the charge straight into the enemy’s
ranks, and as the squirrel rifles rang out behind it, a blue horseman was
swept from every saddle upon the hill.

“By God, I’m glad I didn’t eat that rabbit!” yelled Pinetop, as he reloaded
and raised his musket to his shoulder.

Back and forth before the line, the general of the brigade was riding
bareheaded and frantic with delight. As he passed he made sweeping gestures
with his left hand, and his long gray hair floated like a banner upon the
wind.

“They’re coming, men!” he cried. “Get behind that fence and have your
muskets ready to pick your man. When you see the whites of his eyes fire,
and give the bayonet. They’re coming! Here they are!”

The old “worm” fence went down, and as Dan piled up some loose rails before
him, a creeping brier tore his fingers until the blood spurted upon his
sleeve. Then, kneeling on the ground, he raised his musket and fired at one
of the skirmishers advancing briskly through the broom-sedge. In an instant
the meadow and the hill beyond were blue with swarming infantry, and the
little gray band fell back, step by step, loading and firing as it went
across the field. As the road behind it closed, Dan turned to battle on his
own account, and entering a thinned growth of pines, he dodged from tree to
tree and aimed above the brushwood. Near him the colour bearer of the
regiment was fighting with his flagstaff for a weapon, and out in the
meadow a member of the glee club, crouching behind a clump of sassafras as
he loaded, was singing in a cracked voice:--

  “Rally round the flag, boys, rally once again!”

Then a bullet went with a soft thud into the singer’s breast, and the
cracked voice was choked out beneath the bushes.

Gripped by a sudden pity for the helpless flag he had loved and followed
for four years, Dan made an impetuous dash from out the pines, and tearing
the colours from the pole, tossed them over his arm as he retreated rapidly
to cover. At the instant he held his life as nothing beside the faded strip
of silk that wrapped about his body. The cause for which he had fought, the
great captain he had followed, the devotion to a single end which had kept
him struggling in the ranks, the daily sacrifice, the very poverty and cold
and hunger, all these were bound up and made one with the tattered flag
upon his arm. Through the belt of pines, down the muddy road, across the
creek and up the long hill, he fell back breathlessly, loading and firing
as he went, with his face turned toward the enemy. At the end he became
like a fox before the hunters, dashing madly over the rough ground, with
the colours blown out behind him, and the quick shots ringing in his ears.

Then, as if by a single stroke, Lee’s army vanished from the trampled
broom-sedge and the strip of pines. The blue brigades closed upon the
landscape and when they opened there were only a group of sullen prisoners
and the sound of stray shots from the scattered soldiers who had fought
their way beyond the stream.



IX

IN THE HOUR OF DEFEAT


As the dusk fell Dan found himself on the road with a little company of
stragglers, flying from the pursuing cavalry that drew off slowly as the
darkness gathered. He had lost his regiment, and, as he went on, he began
calling out familiar names, listening with strained ears for an answer that
would tell of a friend’s escape. At last he caught the outlines of a
gigantic figure relieved on a hillock against the pale green west, and,
with a shout, he hurried through the swarm of fugitives, and overtook
Pinetop, who had stooped to tie his shoe on with a leather strap.

“Thank God, old man!” he cried. “Where are the others?”

Pinetop, panting yet imperturbable, held out a steady hand.

“The Lord knows,” he replied. “Some of ‘em air here an’ some ain’t. I was
goin’ back agin to git the flag, when I saw you chased like a fox across
the creek with it hangin’ on yo’ back. Then I kinder thought it wouldn’t do
for none of the regiment to answer when Marse Robert called, so I came
along right fast and kep’ hopin’ you would follow.”

“Here I am,” responded Dan, “and here are the colours.” He twined the silk
more closely about his arm, gloating over his treasure in the twilight.

Pinetop stretched out his great rough hand and touched the flag as gently
as if it were a woman.

“I’ve fought under this here thing goin’ on four years now,” he said, “and
I reckon when they take it prisoner, they take me along with it.”

“And me,” added Dan; “poor Granger went down, you know, just as I took it
from him. He fell fighting with the pole.”

“Wall, it’s a better way than most,” Pinetop replied, “an’ when the angel
begins to foot up my account on Jedgment Day, I shouldn’t mind his cappin’
the whole list with ‘he lost his life, but he didn’t lose his flag.’ To
make a blamed good fight is what the Lord wants of us, I reckon, or he
wouldn’t have made our hands itch so when they touch a musket.”

Then they trudged on silently, weak from hunger, sickened by defeat. When,
at last, the disorganized column halted, and the men fell to the ground
upon their rifles, Dan kindled a fire and parched his corn above the coals.
After it was eaten they lay down side by side and slept peacefully on the
edge of an old field.

For three days they marched steadily onward, securing meagre rations in a
little town where they rested for a while, and pausing from time to time,
to beat off a feigned attack. Pinetop, cheerful, strong, undaunted by any
hardship, set his face unflinchingly toward the battle that must clear a
road for them through Grant’s lines. Had he met alone a squadron of cavalry
in the field, he would, probably, have taken his stand against a pine, and
aimed his musket as coolly as if a squirrel were the mark. With his sunny
temper, and his gloomy gospel of predestination, his heart could swell with
hope even while he fought single-handed in the face of big battalions. What
concerned him, after all, was not so much the chance of an ultimate victory
for the cause, as the determination in his own mind to fight it out as long
as he had a cartridge remaining in his box. As his fathers had kept the
frontier, so he meant, on his own account, to keep Virginia.

On the afternoon of the third day, as the little company drew near to
Appomattox Court House, it found the road blocked with abandoned guns, and
lined by exhausted stragglers, who had gone down at the last halting place.
As it filed into an open field beyond a wooded level, where a few campfires
glimmered, a group of Federal horsemen clattered across the front, and, as
if by instinct, the column formed into battle line, and the hand of every
man was on the trigger of his musket.

“Don’t fire, you fools!” called an officer behind them, in a voice sharp
with irritation. “The army has surrendered!”

“What! Grant surrendered?” thundered the line, with muskets at a trail as
it rushed into the open.

“No, you blasted fools--we’ve surrendered,” shouted the voice, rising
hoarsely in a gasping indignation.

“Surrendered, the deuce!” scoffed the men, as they fell back into ranks.
“I’d like to know what General Lee will think of your surrender?”

A little Colonel, with his hand at his sword hilt, strutted up and down
before a tangle of dead thistles.

“I don’t know what he thinks of it, he did it,” he shrieked, without
pausing in his walk.

“It’s a damn lie!” cried Dan, in a white heat. Then he threw his musket on
the ground, and fell to sobbing the dry tearless sobs of a man who feels
his heart crushed by a sudden blow.

There were tears on all the faces round him, and Pinetop was digging his
great fists into his eyes, as a child does who has been punished before his
playmates. Beside him a man with an untrimmed shaggy beard hid his
distorted features in shaking hands.

“I ain’t blubberin’ fur myself,” he said defiantly, “but--O Lord, boys--I’m
cryin’ fur Marse Robert.”

Over the field the beaten soldiers, in ragged gray uniforms, were lying
beneath little bushes of sassafras and sumach, and to the right a few
campfires were burning in a shady thicket. The struggle was over, and each
man had fallen where he stood, hopeless for the first time in four long
years. Up and down the road groups of Federal horsemen trotted with
cheerful unconcern, and now and then a private paused to make a remark in
friendly tones; but the men beneath the bushes only stared with hollow eyes
in answer--the blank stare of the defeated who have put their whole
strength into the fight.

Taking out his jack-knife, Dan unfastened the flag from the hickory pole on
which he had placed it, and began cutting it into little pieces, which he
passed to each man who had fought beneath its folds. The last bit he put
into his own pocket, and trembling like one gone suddenly palsied, passed
from the midst of his silent comrades to a pine stump on the border of the
woods. Here he sat down and looked hopelessly upon the scene before
him--upon the littered roads and the great blue lines encircling the
horizon.

So this was the end, he told himself, with a bitterness that choked him
like a grip upon the throat, this the end of his boyish ardour, his dream
of fame upon the battle-field, his four years of daily sacrifice and
suffering. This was the end of the flag for which he was ready to give his
life three days ago. With his youth, his strength, his very bread thrown
into the scale, he sat now with wrecked body and blighted mind, and saw his
future turn to decay before his manhood was well begun. Where was the old
buoyant spirit he had brought with him into the fight? Gone forever, and in
its place he found his maimed and trembling hands, and limbs weakened by
starvation as by long fever. His virile youth was wasted in the slow
struggle, his energy was sapped drop by drop; and at the last he saw
himself burned out like the battle-fields, where the armies had closed and
opened, leaving an impoverished and ruined soil. He had given himself for
four years, and yet when the end came he had not earned so much as an empty
title to take home for his reward. The consciousness of a hard-fought fight
was but the common portion of them all, from the greatest to the humblest
on either side. As for him he had but done his duty like his comrades in
the ranks, and by what right of merit should he have raised himself above
their heads? Yes, this was the end, and he meant to face it standing with
his back against the wall.

Down the road a line of Federal privates came driving an ox before them,
and he eyed them gravely, wondering in a dazed way if the taste of victory
had gone to their heads. Then he turned slowly, for a voice was speaking at
his side, and a tall man in a long blue coat was building a little fire
hard by.

“Your stomach’s pretty empty, ain’t it, Johnny?” he inquired, as he laid
the sticks crosswise with precise movements, as if he had measured the
length of each separate piece of wood. He was lean and rawboned, with a
shaggy red moustache and a wart on his left cheek. When he spoke he showed
an even row of strong white teeth.

Dan looked at him with a kind of exhausted indignation.

“Well, it’s been emptier,” he returned shortly.

The man in blue struck a match and held it carefully to a dried pine
branch, watching, with a serious face, as the flame licked the rosin from
the crossed sticks. Then he placed a quart pot full of water on the coals,
and turned to meet Dan’s eyes, which had grown ravenous as he caught the
scent of beef.

“You see we somehow thought you Johnnies would be hard up,” he said in an
offhand manner, “so we made up our minds we’d ask you to dinner and cut our
rations square. Some of us are driving over an ox from camp, but as I was
hanging round and saw you all by yourself on this old stump, I had a
feeling that you were in need of a cup of coffee. You haven’t tasted real
coffee for some time, I guess.”

The water was bubbling over and he measured out the coffee and poured it
slowly into the quart cup. As the aroma filled the air, he opened his
haversack and drew out a generous supply of raw beef which he broiled on
little sticks, and laid on a spread of army biscuits. The larger share he
offered to Dan with the steaming pot of coffee.

“I declare it’ll do me downright good to see you eat,” he said, with a
hospitable gesture.

Dan sat down beside the bread and beef, and, for the next ten minutes, ate
like a famished wolf, while the man in blue placidly regarded him. When he
had finished he took out a little bag of Virginian tobacco and they smoked
together beside the waning fire. A natural light returned gradually to
Dan’s eyes, and while the clouds of smoke rose high above the bushes, they
talked of the last great battles as quietly as of the Punic Wars. It was
all dead now, as dead as history, and the men who fought had left the
bitterness to the camp followers or to the ones who stayed at home.

“You have fine tobacco down this way,” observed the Union soldier, as he
refilled his pipe, and lighted it with an ember. Then his gaze followed
Dan’s, which was resting on the long blue lines that stretched across the
landscape.

“You’re feeling right bad about us now,” he pursued, as he crossed his legs
and leaned back against a pine, “and I guess it’s natural, but the time
will come when you’ll know that we weren’t the worst you had to face.”

Dan held out his hand with something of a smile.

“It was a fair fight and I can shake hands,” he responded.

“Well, I don’t mean that,” said the other thoughtfully. “What I mean is
just this, you mark my words--after the battle comes the vultures. After
the army of fighters comes the army of those who haven’t smelled the
powder. And in time you’ll learn that it isn’t the man with the rifle that
does the most of the mischief. The damned coffee boilers will get their
hands in now--I know ‘em.”

“Well, there’s nothing left, I suppose, but to swallow it down without any
fuss,” said Dan wearily, looking over the field where the slaughtered ox
was roasting on a hundred bayonets at a hundred fires.

“You’re right, that’s the only thing,” agreed the man in blue; then his
keen gray eyes were on Dan’s face.

“Have you got a wife?” he asked bluntly.

Dan shook his head as he stared gravely at the embers.

“A sweetheart, I guess? I never met a Johnnie who didn’t have a
sweetheart.”

“Yes, I’ve a sweetheart--God bless her!”

“Well, you take my advice and go home and tell her to cure you, now she’s
got the chance. I like your face, young man, but if I ever saw a
half-starved and sickly one, it is yours. Why, I shouldn’t have thought you
had the strength to raise your rifle.”

“Oh, it doesn’t take much strength for that; and besides the coffee did me
good, I was only hungry.”

“Hungry, hump!” grunted the Union soldier. “It takes more than hunger to
give a man that blue look about the lips; it takes downright starvation.”
 He dived into his haversack and drew out a quinine pill and a little bottle
of whiskey.

“If you’ll just chuck this down it won’t do you any harm,” he went on, “and
if I were you, I’d find a shelter before I went to sleep to-night; you
can’t trust April weather. Get into that cow shed over there or under a
wagon.”

Dan swallowed the quinine and the whiskey, and as the strong spirit fired
his veins, the utter hopelessness of his outlook muffled him into silence.
Dropping his head into his open palms, he sat dully staring at the
whitening ashes.

After a moment the man in blue rose to his feet and fastened his haversack.

“I live up by Bethlehem, New Hampshire,” he remarked, “and if you ever come
that way, I hope you’ll look me up; my name’s Moriarty.”

“Your name’s Moriarty, I shall remember,” repeated Dan, trying, with a
terrible effort, to steady his quivering limbs.

“Jim Moriarty, don’t you forget it. Anybody at Bethlehem can tell you about
me; I keep the biggest store around there.” He went off a few steps and
then came back to hold out an awkward hand in which there was a little heap
of silver.

“You’d just better take this to start you on your way,” he said, “it ain’t
but ninety-five cents--I couldn’t make out the dollar--and when you get it
in again you can send it to Jim Moriarty at Bethlehem, New Hampshire.
Good-by, and good luck to you this time.”

He strode off across the field, and Dan, with the silver held close in his
palm, flung himself back upon the ground and slept until Pinetop woke him
with a grasp upon his shoulder.

“Marse Robert’s passin’ along the road,” he said. “You’d better hurry.”

Struggling to his feet Dan rushed from the woods across the deserted field,
to the lines of conquered soldiers standing in battle ranks upon the
roadside. Between them the Commander had passed slowly on his dapple gray
horse, and when Dan joined the ranks it was only in time to see him ride
onward at a walk, with the bearded soldiers clinging like children to his
stirrups. A group of Federal cavalrymen, drawn up beneath a persimmon tree,
uncovered as he went by, and he returned the salute with a simple gesture.
Lonely, patient, confirmed in courtesy, he passed on his way, and his
little army returned to camp in the strip of pines.

“‘I’ve done my best for you,’ that’s what he said,” sobbed Pinetop. “‘I’ve
done my best for you,’--and I kissed old Traveller’s mane.”

Without replying, Dan went back into the woods and flung himself down on
the spread of tags. Now that the fight was over all the exhaustion of the
last four years, the weakness after many battles, the weariness after the
long marches, had gathered with accumulated strength for the final
overthrow.

For three days he remained in camp in the pine woods, and on the third,
after waiting six hours in a hard rain outside his General’s tent, he
secured the little printed slip which signified to all whom it might
concern that he had become a prisoner upon his parole. Then, after a
sympathetic word to the rest of the division, shivering beneath the
sassafras bushes before the tent, he shook hands with his comrades under
arms, and started with Pinetop down the muddy road. The war was over, and
footsore, in rags and with aching limbs, he was returning to the little
valley where he had hoped to trail his glory.

Down the long road the gray rain fell straight as a curtain, and on either
side tramped the lines of beaten soldiers who were marching, on their word
of honour, to their distant homes. The abandoned guns sunk deep in the mud,
the shivering men lying in rags beneath the bushes, and the charred remains
of campfires among the trees were the last memories Dan carried from the
four years’ war.

Some miles farther on, when the pickets had been passed, a man on a black
horse rode suddenly from a little thicket and stopped across their path.

“You fellows haven’t been such darn fools as to give your parole, have
you?” he asked in an angry voice, his hand on his horse’s neck. “The fight
isn’t over yet and we want your muskets on our side. I belong to the
partisan rangers, and we’ll cut through to Johnston’s army before daylight.
If not, we’ll take to the mountains and keep up the war forever. The
country is ours, what’s to hinder us?”

He spoke passionately, and at each sharp exclamation the black horse rose
on his haunches and pawed the air.

Dan shook his head.

“I’m out on parole,” he replied, “but as soon as I’m exchanged, I’ll fight
if Virginia wants me. How about you, Pinetop?”

The mountaineer shuffled his feet in the mud and stood solemnly surveying
the landscape.

“Wall, I don’t understand much about this here parole business,” he
replied. “It seems to me that a slip of paper with printed words on it that
I have to spell out as I go, is a mighty poor way to keep a man from
fightin’ if he can find a musket. I ain’t steddyin’ about this parole, but
Marse Robert told me to go home to plant my crop, and I am goin’ home to
plant it.”

“It is all over, I think,” said Dan with a quivering lip, as he stared at
the ruined meadows. The smart was still fresh, and it was too soon for him
to add, with the knowledge that would come to him from years,--“it is
better so.” Despite the grim struggle and the wasted strength, despite the
impoverished land and the nameless graves that filled it, despite even his
own wrecked youth and the hard-fought fields where he had laid it
down--despite all these a shadow was lifted from his people and it was
worth the price.

They passed on, while the black horse pawed the dust, and the rider hurled
oaths at their retreating figures. At a little house a few yards down the
road they stopped to ask for food, and found a woman weeping at the kitchen
table, with three small children clinging to her skirts. Her husband had
fallen at Five Forks, she said, the safe was empty, and the children were
crying for bread. Then Dan slipped into her hand the silver he had borrowed
from the Union soldier, and the two returned penniless to the road.

“At least we are men,” he said almost apologetically to Pinetop, and the
next instant turned squarely in the mud, for a voice from the other side
had called out shrilly:--

“Hi, Marse Dan, whar you gwine now?”

“Bless my soul, it’s Big Abel,” he exclaimed.

Black as a spade and beaming with delight, the negro emerged from the swarm
upon the roadside and grasped Dan’s outstretched hands.

“Whar you gwine dis away, Marse Dan?” he inquired again.

“I’m going home, Big Abel,” responded Dan, as they walked on in a row of
three. “No, don’t shout, you scamp; I’d rather lie down and die upon the
roadside than go home like this.”

“Well, you ain’ much to look at, dat’s sho’,” replied Big Abel, his face
shining like polished ebony, “en I ain’ much to look at needer, but dey’ll
have ter recollect de way we all wuz befo’ we runned away; dey’ll have ter
recollect you in yo’ fine shuts en fancy waistcoats, en dey’ll have ter
recollect me in yo’ ole uns. Sakes alive! I kin see dat one er yourn wid de
little bit er flow’rs all over hit des es plain es ef ‘twuz yestiddy.”

“The waistcoats are all gone now,” said Dan gravely, “and so are the
shirts. The war is over and you are your own master, Big Abel. You don’t
belong to me from this time on.”

Big Abel shook his head grinning.

“I reckon hit’s all de same,” he remarked cheerfully, “en I reckon we’d es
well be gwine on home, Marse Dan.”

“I reckon we would,” said Dan, and they pushed on in silence.



X

ON THE MARCH AGAIN


That night they slept on the blood-stained floor of an old field hospital,
and the next morning Pinetop parted from them and joined an engineer who
had promised him a “lift” toward his mountains.

As Dan stood in the sunny road holding his friend’s rough hand, it seemed
to him that such a parting was the sharpest wrench the end had brought.

“Whenever you need me, old fellow, remember that I am always ready,” he
said in a husky voice.

Pinetop looked past him to the distant woods, and his calm blue eyes were
dim.

“I reckon you’ll go yo’ way an’ I’ll go mine,” he replied, “for thar’s one
thing sartain an’ that is our ways don’t run together. It’ll never be the
same agin--that’s natur--but if you ever want a good stout hand for any
uphill ploughing or shoot yo’ man an’ the police git on yo’ track, jest
remember that I’m up thar in my little cabin. Why, if every officer in the
county was at yo’ heels, I’d stand guard with my old squirrel gun and maw
would with her kettle.”

Then he shook hands with Big Abel and strode on across a field to a little
railway station, while Dan went slowly down the road with the negro at his
side.

In the afternoon when they had trudged all the morning through the heavy
mud, they reached a small frame house set back from the road, with some
straggling ailanthus shoots at the front and a pile of newly cut hickory
logs near the kitchen steps. A woman, with a bucket of soapsuds at her
feet, was wringing out a homespun shirt in the yard, and as they entered
the little gate, she looked at them with a defiance which was evidently the
result of a late domestic wrangle.

“I’ve got one man on my hands,” she began in a shrill voice, “an’ he’s as
much as I can ‘tend to, an’ a long sight mo’ than I care to ‘tend to. He
never had the spunk to fight anythin’ except his wife, but I reckon he’s
better off now than them that had; it’s the coward that gets the best of
things in these days.”

“Shut up thar, you hussy!” growled a voice from the kitchen, and a fat man
with bleared eyes slouched to the doorway. “I reckon if you want a supper
you can work for it,” he remarked, taking a wad of tobacco from his mouth
and aiming it deliberately at one of the ailanthus shoots. “You split up
that thar pile of logs back thar an’ Sally’ll cook yo’ supper. Thar ain’t
another house inside of a good ten miles, so you’d better take your chance,
I reckon.”

“That’s jest like you, Tom Bates,” retorted the woman passionately. “Befo’
you’d do a lick of honest work you’d let the roof topple plum down upon our
heads.”

For an instant Dan’s glance cut the man like a whip, then crossing to the
woodpile, he lifted the axe and sent it with a clean stroke into a hickory
log.

“We can’t starve, Big Abel,” he said coolly, “but we are not beggars yet by
a long way.”

“Go ‘way, Marse Dan,” protested the negro in disgust. “Gimme dat ar axe en
set right down and wait twel supper. You’re des es white es a sheet dis
minute.”

“I’ve got to begin some day,” returned Dan, as the axe swung back across
his shoulder. “I’ll pay for my supper and you’ll pay for yours, that’s
fair, isn’t it?--for you’re a free man now.”

Then he went feverishly to work, while Big Abel sat grumbling on the
doorstep, and the farmer, leaning against the lintel behind him, watched
the lessening pile with sluggish eyes.

“You be real careful of this wood, Sally, an’ it ought to last twel
summer,” he observed, as he glanced to where his wife stood wringing out
the clothes. “If you warn’t so wasteful that last pile would ha’ held out
twice as long.”

Dan chopped steadily for an hour, and then giving the axe to Big Abel, went
into the little kitchen to eat his supper. The woman served him sullenly,
placing some sobby biscuits and a piece of cold bacon on his plate, and
pouring out a glass of buttermilk with a vicious thrust of the pitcher.
When he asked if there was a shelter close at hand where he might sleep,
she replied sourly that she reckoned the barn was good enough if he chose
to spend the night there. Then as Big Abel finished his job and took his
supper in his hand, they left the house and went across the darkening
cattle pen, to a rotting structure which they took to be the barn. Inside
the straw was warm and dry, and as Dan flung himself down upon it, he
gasped out something like a prayer of thanks. His first day’s labour with
his hands had left him trembling like a nervous woman. An hour longer, he
told himself, and he should have gone down upon the roadside.

For a time he slept profoundly, and then awaking in the night, he lay until
dawn listening to Big Abel’s snores, and staring straight above where a
solitary star shone through a crack in the shingled roof. From the other
side of a thin partition came the soft breathing and the fresh smell of
cows, and, now and then, he heard the low bleating of a new-born calf.

He had been dreaming of a battle, and the impression was so vivid that, as
he opened his eyes, he half imagined he still heard the sound of shots. In
his sleep he had saved the flag and won promotion after victory, and for a
moment the trampled straw seemed to him to be the battle-field, and the
thin boards against which he beat the enemy’s resisting line. As he came
slowly to himself a sudden yearning for the army awoke within him. He
wanted the red campfires and his comrades smoking against the dim pines;
the peaceful bivouac where the long shadows crept among the trees and two
men lay wrapped together beneath every blanket; above all, he wanted to see
the Southern Cross wave in the sunlight, and to hear the charging yell as
the brigade dashed into the open. He was homesick for it all to-night, and
yet it was dead forever--dead as his own youth which he had given to the
cause.

Sharp pains racked him from head to foot, and his pulses burned as if from
fever. It was like the weariness of old age, he thought, this utter
hopelessness, these strained and quivering muscles. As a boy he had been
hardy as an Indian and as fearless of fatigue. Now the long midnight
gallops on Prince Rupert over frozen roads returned to him like the dim
memories from some old romance. They belonged to the place of
half-forgotten stories, with the gay waistcoats and the Christmas
gatherings in the hall at Chericoke. For a country that was not he had
given himself as surely as the men who were buried where they fought, and
his future would be but one long struggle to adjust himself to conditions
in which he had no part. His proper nature was compacted of the old life
which was gone forever--of its ease, of its gayety, of its lavish
pleasures. For the sake of this life he had fought for four years in the
ranks, and now that it was swept away, he found himself like a man who
stumbles on over the graves of his familiar friends. He remembered the
words of the soldier in the long blue coat, and spoke them half aloud in
the darkness: “There’ll come a time when you’ll find out that the army
wasn’t the worst you had to face.” The army was not the worst, he knew this
now--the grapple with a courageous foe had served to quicken his pulses and
nerve his hand--the worst was what came afterward, this sense of utter
failure and the attempt to shape one’s self to brutal necessity. In the
future that opened before him he saw only a terrible patience which would
perhaps grow into a second nature as the years went on. In place of the old
generous existence, he must from this day forth wring the daily bread of
those he loved, with maimed hands, from a wasted soil.

The thought of Betty came to him, but it brought no consolation. For
himself he could meet the shipwreck standing, but Betty must be saved from
it if there was salvation to be found. She had loved him in the days of his
youth--in his strong days, as the Governor said--now that he was worn out,
suffering, gray before his time, there was mere madness in his thought of
her buoyant strength. “You may take ten--you may take twenty years to
rebuild yourself,” a surgeon had said to him at parting; and he asked
himself bitterly, by what right of love dared he make her strong youth a
prop for his feeble life? She loved him he knew--in his blackest hour he
never doubted this--but because she loved him, did it follow that she must
be sacrificed?

Then gradually the dark mood passed, and with his eyes on the star, his
mouth settled into the lines of smiling patience which suffering brings to
the brave. He had never been a coward and he was not one now. The years had
taught him nothing if they had not taught him the wisdom most needed by his
impulsive youth--that so long as there comes good to the meanest creature
from fate’s hardest blow, it is the part of a man to stand up and take it
between the eyes. In the midst of his own despair, of the haunting memories
of that bland period which was over for his race, there arose suddenly the
figure of the slave the Major had rescued, in Dan’s boyhood, from the power
of old Rainy-day Jones. He saw again the poor black wretch shivering in the
warmth, with the dirty rag about his jaw, and with the sight he drew a
breath that was almost of relief. That one memory had troubled his own
jovial ease; now in his approaching poverty he might put it away from him
forever.

In the first light of a misty April sunrise they went out on the road
again, and when they had walked a mile or so, Big Abel found some young
pokeberry shoots, which he boiled in his old quart cup with a slice of
bacon he had saved from supper. At noon they came upon a little farm and
ploughed a strip of land in payment for a dinner that was lavishly pressed
upon them. The people were plain, poor, and kindly, and the farmer followed
Dan into the field with entreaties that he should leave the furrows and
come in to meet his family. “Let yo’ darky do a bit of work if he wants
to,” he urged, “but it makes me downright sick to see one of General Lee’s
soldiers driving my plough. The gals are afraid it’ll bring bad luck.”

With a laugh, Dan tossed the ropes to Big Abel, who had been breaking clods
of earth, and returned to the house, where he was placed in the seat of
honour and waited on by a troop of enthusiastic red-cheeked maidens, each
of whom cut one of the remaining buttons from his coat. Here he was asked
to stay the night, but with the memory of the blue valley before his eyes,
he shook his head and pushed on again in the early afternoon. The vision of
Chericoke hung like a star above his road, and he struggled a little nearer
day by day.

Sometimes ploughing, sometimes chopping a pile of logs, and again lying for
hours in the warm grass by the way, they travelled slowly toward the valley
that held Dan’s desire. The chill April dawns broke over them, and the
genial April sunshine warmed them through after a drenching in a pearly
shower. They watched the buds swell and the leaves open in the wood, the
wild violets bloom in sheltered places, and the dandelions troop in ranks
among the grasses by the road. Dan, halting to rest in the mild weather,
would fall often into a revery long and patient, like those of extreme old
age. With the sun shining upon his relaxed body and his eyes on the bright
dust that floated in the slanting beams, he would lie for hours speechless,
absorbed, filled with visions. One day he found a mountain laurel flowering
in the woods, and gathering a spray he sat with it in his hands and dreamed
of Betty. When Big Abel touched him on the arm he turned with a laugh and
struggled to his feet. “I was resting,” he explained, as they walked on.
“It is good to rest like that in mind and body; to keep out thoughts and
let the dreams come as they will.”

“De bes’ place ter res’ is on yo’ own do’ step,” Big Abel responded, and
quickening their pace, they went more rapidly over the rough clay roads.

It was at the end of this day that they came, in the purple twilight, to a
big brick house and found there a woman who lived alone with the memories
of a son she had lost at Gettysburg. At their knock she came herself, with
a few old servants, prompt, tearful, and very sad; and when she saw Dan’s
coat by the light of the lamp behind her, she put out her hands with a cry
of welcome and drew him in, weeping softly as her white head touched his
sleeve.

“My mother is dead, thank God,” he murmured, and at his words she looked up
at him a little startled.

“Others have come,” she said, “but they were not like you; they did not
have your voice. Have you been always poor like this?”

He met her eyes smiling.

“I have not always been a soldier,” was his answer.

For a moment she looked at him as if bewildered; then taking a lamp from an
old servant, she led the way upstairs to her son’s room, and laid out the
dead man’s clothes upon his bed.

“We keep house for the soldiers now,” she said, and went out to make things
ready.

As he plunged into the warm water and dried himself upon the fresh linen
she had left, he heard the sound of passing feet in the broad hall, and
from the outside kitchen there floated a savoury smell that reminded him of
Chericoke at the supper hour. With the bath and the clean clothes his old
instincts revived within him, and as he looked into the glass he caught
something of the likeness of his college days. Beau Montjoy was not starved
out after all, he thought with a laugh, he was only plastered over with
malaria and dirt.

For three days he remained in the big brick house lying at ease upon a sofa
in the library, or listening to the tragic voice of the mother who talked
of her only son. When she questioned him about Pickett’s charge, he raised
himself on his pillows and talked excitedly, his face flushing as if from
fever.

“Your son was with Armistead,” he said, “and they all went down like
heroes. I can see old Armistead now with his hat on his sword’s point as he
waved to us through the smoke. ‘Who will follow me, boys?’ he cried, and
the next instant dashed straight on the defences. When he got to the second
line there were only six men with him, beside Colonel Martin, and your son
was one of them. My God! it was worth living to die like that.”

“And it is worth living to have a son die like that,” she added, and wept
softly in the stillness.

The next morning he went on again despite her prayers. The rest was all too
pleasant, but the memory of his valley was before him, and he thirsted for
the pure winds that blew down the long white turnpike.

“There is no peace for me until I see it again,” he said at parting, and
with a lighter step went out upon the April roads once more.

The way was easier now for his limbs were stronger, and he wore the dead
man’s shoes upon his feet. For a time it almost seemed that the strength of
that other soldier, who lay in a strange soil, had entered into his veins
and made him hardier to endure. And so through the clear days they
travelled with few pauses, munching as they walked from the food Big Abel
carried in a basket on his arm.

“We’ve been coming for three weeks, and we are getting nearer,” said Dan
one evening, as he climbed the spur of a mountain range at the hour of
sunset. Then his glance swept the wide horizon, and the stick in his hand
fell suddenly to the ground; for faint and blue and bathed in the sunset
light he saw his own hills crowding against the sky. As he looked his heart
swelled with tears, and turning away he covered his quivering face.



XI

THE RETURN


As they passed from the shadow of the tavern road, the afternoon sunlight
was slanting across the turnpike from the friendly hills, which alone of
all the landscape remained unchanged. Loyal, smiling, guarding the ruined
valley like peaceful sentinels, they had suffered not so much as an added
wrinkle upon their brows. As Dan had left them five long years ago, so he
found them now, and his heart leaped as he stood at last face to face. He
was like a man who, having hungered for many days, finds himself suddenly
satisfied again.

Amid a blur of young foliage they saw first the smoking chimneys of
Uplands, and then the Doric columns beyond a lane of flowering lilacs. The
stone wall had crumbled in places, and strange weeds were springing up
among the high blue-grass; but here and there beneath the maples he caught
a glimpse of small darkies uprooting the intruders, and beyond the garden,
in the distant meadows, ploughmen were plodding back and forth in the
purple furrows. Peace had descended here at least, and, with a smile, he
detected Betty’s abounding energy in the moving spirit of the place. He saw
her in the freshly swept walks, in the small negroes weeding the blue-grass
lawn, in the distant ploughs that made blots upon the meadows. For a moment
he hesitated, and laid his hand upon the iron gate; then, stifling the
temptation, he turned back into the white sand of the road. Before he met
Betty’s eyes, he meant that his peace should be made with the old man at
Chericoke.

Big Abel, tramping at his side, opened his mouth from time to time to let
out a rapturous exclamation.

“Dar ‘tis! des look at it!” he chuckled, when Uplands had been left far
behind them. “Dat’s de ve’y same clump er cedars, en dat’s de wil’ cher’y
lyin’ right flat on hit’s back--dey’s done cut it down ter git de
cher’ies.”

“And the locust! Look, the big locust tree is still there, and in full
bloom!”

“Lawd, de ‘simmons! Dar’s de ‘simmon tree way down yonder in the meadow,
whar we all use ter set ouah ole hyar traps. You ain’ furgot dose ole hyar
traps, Marse Dan?”

“Forgotten them! good Lord!” said Dan; “why I remember we caught five one
Christmas morning, and Betty fed them and set them free again.”

“Dat she did, suh, dat she did! Hit’s de gospel trufe!”

“We never could hide our traps from Betty,” pursued Dan, in delight. “She
was a regular fox for scenting them out--I never saw such a nose for traps
as hers, and she always set the things loose and smashed the doors.”

“We hid ‘em one time way way in de thicket by de ice pond,” returned Big
Abel, “but she spied ‘em out. Yes, Lawd, she spied ‘em out fo’ ouah backs
wuz turnt.”

He talked on rapidly while Dan listened with a faint smile about his mouth.
Since they had left the tavern road, Big Abel’s onward march had been
accompanied by ceaseless ejaculations. His joy was childlike, unrestrained,
full of whimsical surprises--the flight of a bluebird or the recognition of
a shrub beside the way sent him with shining eyes and quickened steps along
the turnpike.

From free Levi’s cabin, which was still standing, though a battle had raged
in the fallen woods beyond it, and men had fought and been buried within a
stone’s throw of the doorstep, they heard the steady falling of a hammer
and caught the red glow from the rude forge at which the old negro worked.
With the half-forgotten sound, Dan returned as if in a vision to his last
night at Chericoke, when he had run off in his boyish folly, with free
Levi’s hammer beating in his ears. Then he had dreamed of coming back
again, but not like this. He had meant to ride proudly up the turnpike,
with his easily won honours on his head, and in his hands his magnanimous
forgiveness for all who had done him wrong. On that day he had pictured the
Governor hurrying to the turnpike as he passed, and he had seen his
grandfather, shy of apologies, eager to make amends.

That was his dream, and to-day he came back footsore, penniless, and in a
dead man’s clothes--a beggar as he had been at his first home-coming, when
he had stood panting on the threshold and clutched his little bundle in his
arms.

Yet his pulses stirred, and he turned cheerfully to the negro at his side.

“Do you see it, Big Abel? Tell me when you see it.”

“Dar’s de cattle pastur’,” cried Big Abel, “en dey’s been a-fittin’
dar--des look.”

“It must have been a skirmish,” replied Dan, glancing down the slope. “The
wall is all down, and see here,” his foot struck on something hard and he
stooped and picked up a horse’s skull. “I dare say a squad of cavalry met
Mosby’s rangers,” he added. “It looks as if they’d had a little frolic.”

He threw the skull into the pasture, and followed Big Abel, who was
hurrying along the road.

“We’re moughty near dar,” cried the negro, breaking into a run. “Des wait
twel we pass de aspens, Marse Dan, des wait twel we pass de aspens, den
we’ll be right dar, suh.”

Then, as Dan reached him, the aspens were passed, and where Chericoke had
stood they found a heap of ashes.

At their feet lay the relics of a hot skirmish, and the old elms were
perforated with rifle balls, but for these things Dan had neither eyes nor
thoughts. He was standing before the place that he called home, and where
the hospitable doors had opened he found only a cold mound of charred and
crumbled bricks.

For an instant the scene went black before his eyes, and as he staggered
forward, Big Abel caught his arm.

“I’se hyer, Marse Dan, I’se hyer,” groaned the negro in his ear.

“But the others? Where are the others?” asked Dan, coming to himself. “Hold
me, Big Abel, I’m an utter fool. O Congo! Is that Congo?”

A negro, coming with his hoe from the corn field, ran over the desolated
lawn, and began shouting hoarsely to the hands behind him:--

“Hi! Hit’s Marse Dan, hit’s Marse Dan come back agin!” he yelled, and at
the cry there flocked round him a little troop of faithful servants,
weeping, shouting, holding out eager arms.

“Hi! hit’s Marse Dan!” they shrieked in chorus. “Hit’s Marse Dan en Brer
Abel! Brer Abel en Marse Dan is done come agin!”

Dan wept with them--tears of weakness, of anguish, of faint hope amid the
dark. As their hands closed over his, he grasped them as if his eyes had
gone suddenly blind.

“Where are the others? Congo, for God’s sake, tell me where are the
others?”

“We all’s hyer, Marse Dan. We all’s hyer,” they protested, sobbing. “En Ole
Marster en Ole Miss dey’s in de house er de overseer--dey’s right over dar
behine de orchard whar you use ter projick wid de ploughs, en Brer Cupid
and Sis Rhody dey’s a-gittin’ dem dey supper.”

“Then let me go,” cried Dan. “Let me go!” and he started at a run past the
gray ruins and the standing kitchen, past the flower garden and the big
woodpile, to the orchard and the small frame house of Harris the overseer.

Big Abel kept at his heels, panting, grunting, calling upon his master to
halt and upon Congo to hurry after.

“You’ll skeer dem ter deaf--you’ll skeer Ole Miss ter deaf,” cried Congo
from the rear, and drawing a trembling breath, Dan slackened his pace and
went on at a walk. At last, when he reached the small frame house and put
his foot upon the step, he hesitated so long that Congo slipped ahead of
him and softly opened the door. Then his young master followed and stood
looking with blurred eyes into the room.

Before a light blaze which burned on the hearth, the Major was sitting in
an arm chair of oak splits, his eyes on the blossoming apple trees outside,
and above his head, the radiant image of Aunt Emmeline, painted as Venus in
a gown of amber brocade. All else was plain and clean--the well-swept
floor, the burnished andirons, the cupboard filled with rows of blue and
white china--but that one glowing figure lent a festive air to the poorly
furnished room, and enriched with a certain pomp the tired old man, dozing,
with bowed white head, in the rude arm chair. It was the one thing saved
from the ashes--the one vestige of a former greatness that still remained.

As Dan stood there, a clock on the mantel struck the hour, and the Major
turned slowly toward him.

“Bring the lamps, Cupid,” he said, though the daylight was still shining.
“I don’t like the long shadows--bring the lamps.”

Choking back a sob, Dan crossed the floor and knelt down by the chair.

“We have come back, grandpa,” he said. “We beg your pardon, and we have
come back--Big Abel and I.”

For a moment the Major stared at him in silence; then he reached out and
felt him with shaking hands as if he mistrusted the vision of his eyes.

“So you’re back, Champe, my boy,” he muttered. “My eyes are bad--I thought
at first that it was Dan--that it was Dan.”

“It is I, grandpa,” said Dan, slowly. “It is I--and Big Abel, too. We are
sorry for it all--for everything, and we have come back poorer than we went
away.”

A light broke over the old man’s face, and he stretched out his arms with a
great cry that filled the room as his head fell forward on his grandson’s
breast. Then, when Mrs. Lightfoot appeared in the doorway, he controlled
himself with a gasp and struggled to his feet.

“Welcome home, my son,” he said ceremoniously, as he put out his quivering
hands, “and welcome home, Big Abel.”

The old lady went into Dan’s arms as he turned, and looking over her head,
he saw Betty coming toward him with a lamp shining in her hand.

“My child, here is one of our soldiers,” cried the Major, in joyful tones,
and as the girl placed the lamp upon the table, she turned and met Dan’s
eyes.

“It is the second time I’ve come home like this, Betty,” he said, “only I’m
a worse beggar now than I was at first.”

Betty shook his hand warmly and smiled into his serious face.

“I dare say you’re hungrier,” she responded cheerfully, “but we’ll soon
mend that, Mrs. Lightfoot and I. We are of one mind with Uncle Bill, who,
when Mr. Blake asked him the other day what we ought to do for our returned
soldiers, replied as quick as that, ‘Feed ‘em, sir.’”

The Major laughed with misty eyes.

“You can’t get Betty to look on the dark side, my boy,” he declared, though
Dan, watching the girl, saw that her face in repose had grown very sad.
Only the old beaming smile brought the brightness now.

“Well, I hope she will turn up the cheerful part of this outlook,” he said,
surrendering himself to the noisy welcome of Cupid and Aunt Rhody.

“We may trust her--we may trust her,” replied the old man as he settled
himself back into his chair. “If there isn’t any sunshine, Betty will make
it for us herself.”

Dan met the girl’s glance for an instant, and then looked at the old
negroes hanging upon his hands.

“Yes, the prodigal is back,” he admitted, laughing, “and I hope the fatted
calf is on the crane.”

“Dar’s a roas’ pig fur ter-morrow, sho’s you bo’n,” returned Aunt Rhody.
“En I’se gwine to stuff ‘im full.” Then she hurried away to her fire, and
Dan threw himself down upon the rug at the Major’s feet.

“Yes, we may trust Betty for the sunshine,” repeated the Major, as if
striving to recall his wandering thoughts. “She’s my overseer now, you
know, and she actually looks after both places in less time than poor
Harris took to worry along with one. Why, there’s not a better farmer in
the county.”

“Oh, Major, don’t,” begged the girl, laughing and blushing beneath Dan’s
eyes. “You mustn’t believe him, Dan, he wears rose-coloured glasses when he
looks at me.”

“Well, my sight is dim enough for everything else, my dear,” confessed the
old man sadly. “That’s why I have the lamps lighted before the sun goes
down--eh, Molly?”

Mrs. Lightfoot unwrapped her knitting and the ivory kneedles clicked in the
firelight.

“I like to keep the shadows away myself,” she responded. “The twilight used
to be my favourite hour, but I dread it now, and so does Mr. Lightfoot.”

“Well, the war’s given us that in common,” chuckled the Major, stretching
out his feet. “If I remember rightly you once complained that our tastes
were never alike, Molly.” Then he glanced round with hospitable eyes. “Draw
up, my boy, draw up to the fire and tell your story,” he added invitingly.
“By the time Champe comes home we’ll have rich treats in store for the
summer evenings.”

Betty was looking at him as he bent over the thin flames, and Dan saw her
warm gaze cloud suddenly with tears. He put out his hand and touched hers
as it lay on the Major’s chair, and when she turned to him she was smiling
brightly.

“Here’s Cupid with our supper,” she said, going to the table, “and dear
Aunt Rhody has actually gotten out her brandied peaches that she kept
behind her ‘jists.’ If you ever doubted your welcome, Dan, this must banish
it forever.” Then as they gathered about the fruits of Aunt Rhody’s
labours, she talked on rapidly in her cheerful voice. “The silver has just
been drawn up from the bottom of the well,” she laughed, “so you mustn’t
wonder if it looks a little tarnished. There wasn’t a piece missing, which
is something to be thankful for already, and the port--how many bottles of
port did you dig up from the asparagus bed, Uncle Cupid?”

“I’se done hoed up ‘mos’ a dozen,” answered Cupid, as he plied Dan with
waffles, “en dey ain’ all un um up yit.”

“Well, well, we’ll have a bottle after supper,” remarked the Major,
heartily.

“If there’s anything that’s been improved by this war it should be that
port, I reckon,” said Mrs. Lightfoot, her muslin cap nodding over the high
old urns.

“And Dan’s appetite,” finished Betty, merrily.

When they rose from the table, the girl tied on her bonnet of plaited straw
and kissed Mrs. Lightfoot and the Major.

“It is almost mamma’s supper time,” she said, “and I must hurry back. Why,
I’ve been away from her at least two hours.” Then she looked at Dan and
shook her head. “Don’t come,” she added, “it is too far for you, and Congo
will see me safely home.”

“Well, I’m sorry for Congo, but his day is over,” Dan returned, as he took
up his hat and followed her out into the orchard. With a last wave to the
Major, who watched them from the window, they passed under the blossoming
fruit trees and went slowly down the little path, while Betty talked
pleasantly of trivial things, cheerful, friendly, and composed. When she
had exhausted the spring ploughing, the crops still to be planted and the
bright May weather, Dan stopped beside the ashes of Chericoke, and looked
at her with sombre eyes.

“Betty, we must have it out,” he said abruptly. “I have thought over it
until I’m almost mad, and I see but one sensible thing for you to do--you
must give me up--my dearest.”

A smile flickered about Betty’s mouth. “It has taken you a long time to
come to that conclusion,” she responded.

“I hoped until the end--even after I knew that hope was folly and that I
was a fool to cling to it. I always meant to come back to you when I got
the chance, but not like this--not like this.”

At the pain in his eyes the girl caught her breath with a sob that shook
her from head to foot. Pity moved her with a passion stronger than mere
love, and she put out her protecting arms with a gesture that would have
saved him from the world--or from himself.

“No, like this, Dan,” she answered, with her lips upon his coat.

He kissed her once and drew back.

“I never meant to come home this way, Betty,” he said, in a voice that
trembled from its new humility.

“My dear, my dear, I have grown to think that any way is a good way,” she
murmured, her eyes on the blackened pile that had once been Chericoke.

“It is not right,” he went on; “it is not fair. You cannot marry me--you
must not.”

Again the humour quivered on the girl’s lips.

“I don’t like to seem too urgent,” she returned, “but will you tell me
why?”

“Why?” he repeated bitterly. “There are a hundred why’s if you want them,
and each one sufficient in itself. I am a beggar, a failure, a wreck, a
broken-down soldier from the ranks. Do you think if it were anything less
than pure madness on your part that I should stand here a moment and talk
like this?--but because I am in love with you, Betty, it doesn’t follow
that I’m an utter ass.”

“That’s flattering,” responded Betty, “but it doesn’t explain just what I
want to know. Look me straight in the eyes--no evading now--and answer what
I ask. Do you mean that we are to be neighbours and nothing more? Do you
mean that we are to shake hands when we meet and drop them afterward? Do
you mean that we are to stand alone together as we are standing now--that
you are never to take me in your arms again? Do you mean this, my dear?”

“I mean--just that,” he answered between his teeth.

For a moment Betty looked at him with a laugh of disbelief. Then, biting
the smile upon her lips, she held out her hand with a friendly gesture.

“I am quite content that it should be so,” she said in a cordial voice. “We
shall be very good neighbours, I fancy, and if you have any trouble with
your crops, don’t hesitate to ask for my advice. I’ve become an excellent
farmer, the Major says, you know.” She caught up her long black skirt and
walked on, but when he would have followed, she motioned him back with a
decisive little wave. “You really mustn’t--I can’t think of allowing it,”
 she insisted. “It is putting my neighbours to unheard-of trouble to make
them see me home. Why, if I once begin the custom, I shall soon have old
Rainy-day Jones walking back with me when I go to buy his cows.” Still
smiling she passed under the battle-scarred elms and stepped over the
ruined gate into the road.

Leaning against a twisted tree in the old drive, Dan watched her until her
black dress fluttered beyond the crumbled wall. Then he gave a cry that
checked her hastening feet.

“Betty!” he called, and at his voice she turned.

“What is it, dear friend?” she asked, and, standing amid the scattered
stones, looked back at him with pleading eyes.

“Betty!” he cried again, stretching out his arms; and as she ran toward
him, he went down beside the ashes of Chericoke, and lay with his face half
hidden against a broken urn.

“I am coming,” called Betty, softly, running over the fallen gate and along
the drive. Then, as she reached him, she knelt down and drew him to her
bosom, soothing him as a mother soothes a tired child.

“It shall be as you wish--I shall be as you wish,” she promised as she held
him close.

But his strength had come back to him at her touch, and springing to his
feet, he caught her from the ground as he had done that day beside the
cabin in the woods, kissing her eyelids and her faithful hands.

“I can’t do it, Betty, it’s no use. There’s still some fight left in me--I
am not utterly beaten so long as I have you on my side.”

With a smile she lifted her face and he caught the strong courage of her
look.

“We will begin again,” she said, “and this time, my dear, we will begin
together.”





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Battle Ground" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home