The Battle Ground
Part 2 out of 8
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
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
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
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
"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,
"You can make them suffer for it six years hence, daughter," suggested the
"But suppose they don't have anything to do with me then," cried Betty, and
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,
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
"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.
"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,
"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.
"N.B. Give my love to the little girls at Uplands.
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
"Good gracious, Molly! You don't wish the lad was across the ocean, do
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
"What is it he says, eh?" asked Dan, noting the flush and drawing his
"He says that Aunt Molly and himself will meet us at the White Sulphur next
"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
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
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.
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
"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
"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,
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"Damn Sir Galahad!" said Dan, and blew out the light.
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,
"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
"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,"
"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
"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
"Do you expect to straighten out all these things, daughter?" he asked
"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
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
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.
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
"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
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
"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
"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
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,
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
"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
"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
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
"Virginia!" her voice was a little startled. "Oh, Virginia thinks they're
"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
"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
"A most appropriate taste," faltered Diggs, from his chair beneath the hall
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
"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
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
"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
"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
The little old lady received this flower of speech with more than ordinary
"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.
"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
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."
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
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
"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
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,
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
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
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.
Back to Full Books