The Battle Ground
Part 4 out of 8
senses, gaining a brief mastery, became almost feverishly alert; he felt
the night wind in his face, he heard the ceaseless stirring of the leaves,
and he saw the sparkle of the gravel in the yellow shine that streamed from
the library windows. But with his first step, his first movement, there
came a swift recoil of his anger, and he told himself with a touch of
youthful rhetoric, "that come what would, he was going to the devil--and
He had reached the gate and his hand was upon the latch, when he heard the
house door open and shut behind him and his name called softly from the
He turned impulsively and stood waiting, while Betty came quickly through
the lamplight that fell in squares upon the drive.
"Oh, come back, Dan, come back," she said breathlessly.
With his hand still on the gate he faced her, frowning.
"I'd die first, Betty," he answered.
She came swiftly up to him and stood, very pale, in the faint starlight
that shone between the broken clouds. A knitted shawl was over her
shoulders, but her head was bare and her hair made a glow around her face.
Her eyes entreated him before she spoke.
"Oh, Dan, come back," she pleaded.
He laughed angrily and shook his head.
"I'll die first, Betty," he repeated. "Die! I'd die a hundred times first!"
"He is so old," she said appealingly. "It is not as if he were young and
quite himself, Dan--Oh, it is not like that--but he loves you, and he is so
"Don't, Betty," he broke in quickly, and added bitterly, "Are you, too,
"I am for the best in you," she answered quietly, and turned away from him.
"The best!" he snapped his fingers impatiently. "Are you for the shot at
Maupin? the night I spent in gaol? or the beggar I am now? There's an equal
choice, I reckon."
She looked gravely up at him.
"I am for the boy I've always known," she replied, "and for the man who was
here two weeks ago--and--yes, I am for the man who stands here now. What
does it matter, Dan? What does it matter?"
"O, Betty!" he cried breathlessly, and hid his face in his hands.
"And most of all, I am for the man you are going to be," she went on
slowly, "for the great man who is growing up. Dan, come back!"
His hands fell from his eyes. "I'll not do that even for you, Betty," he
answered, "and, God knows, there's little else I wouldn't do for
you--there's nothing else."
"What will you do for yourself, Dan?"
"For myself?" his anger leaped out again, and he steadied himself against
the gate. "For myself I'll go as far as I can from this damned place. I
wish to God I'd fallen in the road before I came here. I wish I'd gone
after my father and followed in his steps. I'll live on no man's charity,
so help me God. Am I a dog to be kicked out and to go whining back when the
door opens? Go--I'll go to the devil, and be glad of it!" For a moment
Betty did not answer. Her hands were clasped on her bosom, and her eyes
were dark and bright in the pallor of her face. As he looked at her the
rage died out of his voice, and it quivered with a deeper feeling.
"My dear, my dearest, are you, too, against me?" he asked.
She met his gaze without flinching, but the bright colour swept suddenly to
her cheeks and dyed them crimson.
"Then if you will go, take me with you," she said.
He fell back as if a star had dropped at his feet. For a breathless instant
she saw only his eyes, and they drew her step by step. Then he opened his
arms and she went straight into them.
"Betty, Betty," he said in a whisper, and kissed her lips.
She put her hands upon his shoulders, and stood with his arms about her,
looking up into his face.
"Take me with you--oh, take me with you," she entreated. "I can't be left.
Take me with you."
"And you love me--Betty, do you love me?"
"I have loved you all my life--all my life," she answered; "how can I begin
to unlove you now--now when it is too late? Do you think I am any the less
yours if you throw me away? If you break my heart can I help its still
"Betty, Betty," he said again, and his voice quivered.
"Take me with you," she repeated passionately, saying it over and over
again with her lips upon his arm.
He stooped and kissed her almost roughly, and then put her gently away from
"It is the way my mother went," he said, "and God help me, I am my father's
son. I am afraid,--afraid--do you know what that means?"
"But I am not afraid," answered the girl steadily.
He shivered and turned away; then he came back and knelt down to kiss her
skirt. "No, I can't take you with me," he went on rapidly, "but if I live
to be a man I shall come back--I _will_ come back--and you--"
"And I am waiting," she replied.
He opened the gate and passed out into the road.
"I will come back, beloved," he said again, and went on into the darkness.
Leaning over the gate she strained her eyes into the shadows, crying his
name out into the night. Her voice broke and she hid her face in her arm;
then, fearing to lose the last glimpse of him, she looked up quickly and
sobbed to him to come back for a moment--but for a moment. It seemed to
her, clinging there upon the gate, that when he went out into the darkness
he had gone forever--that the thud of his footsteps in the dust was the
last sound that would ever come from him to her ears.
Had he looked back she would have gone straight out to him, had he raised a
finger she would have followed with a cheerful face; but he did not look
back, and at last his footsteps died away upon the road.
When she could see or hear nothing more of him, she turned slowly and crept
toward the house. Her feet dragged under her, and as she walked she cast
back startled glances at the gate. The rustling of the leaves made her
stand breathless a moment, her hand at her bosom; but it was only the wind,
and she went step by step into the house, turning upon the threshold to
throw a look behind her.
In the hall she paused and laid her hand upon the library door, but the
Major had bolted her out, and she heard him pacing with restless strides up
and down the room. She listened timidly awhile, then, going softly by, went
up to Mrs. Lightfoot.
The old lady was asleep, but as the girl entered she awoke and sat up, very
straight, in bed. "My pain is much worse, Betty," she complained. "I don't
expect to get a wink of sleep this entire night."
"I thought you were asleep when I came in," answered Betty, keeping away
from the candlelight; "but I am so sorry you are in pain. Shall I make you
a mustard plaster?"
Though she smiled, her voice was spiritless and she moved with an effort.
She felt suddenly very tired, and she wanted to lie down somewhere alone in
"I'd just dropped off when Mr. Lightfoot woke me slamming the doors,"
pursued the old lady, querulously. "Men have so little consideration that
nothing surprises me, but I do think he might be more careful when he knows
I am suffering. No, I won't take the mustard plaster, but you may bring me
a cup of hot milk, if you will. It sometimes sends me off into a doze."
Betty went slowly downstairs again and heated the milk on the dining-room
fire. When it was ready she daintily arranged it upon a tray and carried it
upstairs. "I hope it will do you good," she said gently as she gave it to
the old lady. "You must try to lie quiet--the doctor told you so."
Mrs. Lightfoot drank the milk and remarked amiably that it was "very nice
though a little smoked--and now, go to bed, my dear," she added kindly. "I
mustn't keep you from your beauty sleep. I'm afraid I've worn you out as it
Betty smiled and shook her head; then she placed the tray upon a chair, and
went out, softly closing the door after her.
In her own room she threw herself upon her bed, and cried for Dan until the
THE ROAD AT MIDNIGHT
When Dan went down into the shadows of the road, he stopped short before he
reached the end of the stone wall, and turned for his last look at
Chericoke. He saw the long old house, with its peaked roof over which the
elm boughs arched, the white stretch of drive before the door, and the
leaves drifting ceaselessly against the yellow squares of the library
windows. As he looked Betty came slowly from the shadow by the gate, where
she had lingered, and crossed the lighted spaces amid the falling leaves.
On the threshold, as she turned to throw a glance into the night, it seemed
to him, for a single instant, that her eyes plunged through the darkness
into his own. Then, while his heart still bounded with the hope, the door
opened, and shut after her, and she was gone.
For a moment he saw only blackness--so sharp was the quick shutting off of
the indoor light. The vague shapes upon the lawn showed like mere drawings
in outline, the road became a pallid blur in the formless distance, and the
shine of the lamplight on the drive shifted and grew dim as if a curtain
had dropped across the windows. Like a white thread on the blackness he saw
the glimmer beneath his grandmother's shutters, and it was as if he had
looked in from the high top of an elm and seen her lying with her candle on
As he stood there the silence of the old house knocked upon his heart like
sound--and quick fears sprang up within him of a sudden death, or of Betty
weeping for him somewhere alone in the stillness. The long roof under the
waving elm boughs lost, for a heartbeat, the likeness of his home, and
became, as the clouds thickened in the sky, but a great mound of earth over
which the wind blew and the dead leaves fell.
But at last when he turned away and followed the branch road, his racial
temperament had triumphed over the forebodings of the moment; and with the
flicker of a smile upon his lips, he started briskly toward the turnpike.
As the mind in the first ecstasy of a high passion is purified from the
stain of mere emotion, so the Major, and the Major's anger, were forgotten,
and his own bitter resentment swept as suddenly from his thoughts. He was
overpowered and uplifted by the one supreme feeling from which he still
trembled. All else seemed childish and of small significance beside the
memory of Betty's lips upon his own. What room had he for anger when he was
filled to overflowing with the presence of love?
The branch road ran out abruptly into the turnpike, and once off the
familiar way by his grandfather's stone wall, he felt the blackness of the
night close round him like a vault. Without a lantern there was small hope
of striking the tavern or the tavern road till morning. To go on meant a
night upon the roadside or in the fields.
As he stretched out his arm, groping in the blackness, he struck suddenly
upon the body of the blasted tree, and coming round it, his eyes caught the
red light of free Levi's fire, and he heard the sound of a hammer falling
upon heated iron. The little path was somewhere in the darkness, and as he
vainly sought for it, he stumbled over a row of stripped and headless
cornstalks which ran up to the cabin door. Once upon the smooth stone
before the threshold, he gave a boyish whistle and lifted his hand to
knock. "It is I, Uncle Levi--there are no 'hants' about," he cried.
The hammer was thrown aside, and fell upon the stones, and a moment
afterward, the door flew back quickly, showing the blanched face of free
Levi and the bright glow of the hearth. "Dis yer ain' no time fur pranks,"
said the old man, angrily. "Ain't yer ever gwine ter grow up, yit?" and he
added, slowly, "Praise de Lawd hit's you instid er de devil."
"Oh, it's I, sure enough," returned Dan, lightly, as he came into the
cabin. "I'm on my way to Merry Oaks Tavern, Uncle Levi,--it's ten miles
off, you know, and this blessed night is no better than an ink-pot. I'd
positively be ashamed to send such a night down on a respectable planet.
It's that old lantern of yours I want, by the way, and in case it doesn't
turn up again, take this to buy a new one. No, I can't rest to-night. This
is my working time, and I must be up and doing." He reached for the rusty
old lantern behind the door, and lighted it, laughing as he did so. His
face was pale, and there was a nervous tremor in his hands, but his voice
had lost none of its old heartiness. "Ah, that's it, old man," he said,
when the light was ready. "We'll shake hands in case it's a long parting.
This is a jolly world. Uncle Levi,--good-by, and God bless you," and,
leaving the old man speechless on the hearth, he closed the door and went
out into the night.
On the turnpike again, with the lantern swinging in his hand, he walked
rapidly in the direction of the tavern road, throwing quick flashes of
light before his footsteps. Behind him he heard the falling of free Levi's
hammer, and knew that the old negro was toiling at his rude forge for the
bread which he would to-morrow eat in freedom.
With the word he tossed back his hair and quickened his steps, as if he
were leaving servitude behind him in the house at Chericoke; and, as the
anger blazed up within his heart he found pleasure in the knowledge that at
last he was starting out to level his own road. Under the clouds on the
long turnpike it all seemed so easy--as easy as the falling of free Levi's
hammer, which had faded in the distance.
What was it, after all? A year or two of struggle and of attainment, and he
would come back flushed with success, to clasp Betty in his arms. In a
dozen different ways he pictured to himself the possible manner of that
home-coming, obliterating the year or two that lay between. He saw himself
a great lawyer from a little reading and a single speech, or a judge upon
his bench, famed for his classic learning and his grave decisions. He had
only to choose, he felt, and he might be anything--had they not told him so
at college? did not even his grandfather admit it? He had only to
choose--and, oh, he would choose well--he would choose to be a man, and to
come riding back with his honours thick upon him.
Looking ahead, he saw himself a few years hence, as he rode leisurely
homeward up the turnpike, while the stray countrymen he met took off their
harvest hats, and stared wonderingly long after he was gone. He saw the
Governor hastening to the road to shake his hand, he saw his grandfather
bowed with the sense of his injustice, tremulous with the flutter of his
pride; and, best of all, he saw Betty--Betty, with the rays of light
beneath her lashes, coming straight across the drive into his arms.
And then all else faded slowly from him to give place to Betty, and he saw
her growing, changing, brightening, as he had seen her from her childhood
up. The small white figure in the moonlight, the merry little playmate,
hanging on his footsteps, eager to run his errands, the slender girl, with
the red braids and the proud shy eyes, and the woman who knelt upon the
hearth in Aunt Ailsey's cabin, smiling up at him as she dried her
hair--all gathered round him now illuminated against the darkness of the
night. Betty, Betty,--he whispered her name softly beneath his breath, he
spoke it aloud in the silence of the turnpike, he even cried it out against
the mountains, and waited for the echo--Betty, Betty. There was not only
sweetness in the thought of her, there was strength also. The hand that had
held him back when he would have gone out blindly in his passion was the
hand of a woman, not of a girl--of a woman who could face life smiling
because she felt deep in herself the power to conquer it. Two days ago she
had been but the girl he loved, to-night, with her kisses on his lips, she
had become for him at once a shield and a religion. He looked outward and
saw her influence a light upon his pathway; he turned his gaze within and
found her a part of the sacred forces of his life--of his wistful
childhood, his boyish purity, and the memory of his mother.
He had passed Uplands, and now, as he followed the tavern way, he held the
flash of his lantern near the ground, and went slowly by the crumbling
hollows in the strip of "corduroy" road. There was a thick carpet of moist
leaves underfoot, and above the wind played lightly among the overhanging
branches. His lantern made a shining circle in the midst of a surrounding
blackness, and where the light fell the scattered autumn leaves sent out
gold and scarlet flashes that came and went as quickly as a flame. Once an
owl flew across his path, and startled by the lantern, blindly fluttered
off again. Somewhere in the distance he heard the short bark of a fox; then
it died away, and there was no sound except the ceaseless rustle of the
By the time he came out of the wood upon the open road, his high spirits
had gone suddenly down, and the visions of an hour ago showed stale and
lifeless to his clouded eyes. After a day's ride and a poor dinner, the
ten-mile walk had left him with aching limbs, and a growing conviction that
despite his former aspirations, he was fast going to the devil along the
tavern road. When at last he swung open the whitewashed gate before the
inn, and threw the light of his lantern on the great oaks in the yard, the
relief he felt was hardly brighter than despair, and it made very little
difference, he grimly told himself, whether he put up for the night or kept
the road forever. With a clatter he went into the little wooden porch and
knocked upon the door.
He was still knocking when a window was raised suddenly above him, and a
man's voice called out, "if he wanted a place for night-hawks to go on to
hell." Then, being evidently a garrulous body, the speaker leaned
comfortably upon the sill, and sent down a string of remarks, which Dan
promptly shortened with an oath.
"Hold your tongue, Jack Hicks," he cried, angrily, "and come down and open
this door before I break it in. I've walked ten miles to-night and I can't
stand here till morning. How long has it been since you had a guest?"
"There was six of 'em changin' stages this mornin'," drawled Jack, in
reply, still hanging from the sill. "I gave 'em a dinner of fried chicken
and battercakes, and two of 'em being Yankees hadn't never tasted it
befo'--and a month ago one dropped in to spend the night--"
He broke off hastily, for his wife had joined him at the window, and as Dan
looked up with the flash of the lantern in his face, she gave a cry and
called his name.
"Put on your clothes and go down, you fool," she said, "it's Mr. Dan--don't
you see it's Mr. Dan, and he's as white as yo' nightshirt. Go down, I tell
you,--go down and let him in." There was a skurrying in the room and on the
staircase, and a moment later the door was flung open and a lamp flashed in
"Walk in, suh, walk right in," said Jack Hicks, hospitably, "day or night
you're welcome--as welcome as the Major himself." He drew back and stood
with the lamplight full upon him--a loose, ill-proportioned figure, with a
flabby face and pale blue eyes set under swollen lids.
"I want something to eat, Jack," returned Dan, as he entered and put down
his lantern, "and a place to sleep--in fact I want anything you have to
Then, as Mrs. Hicks appeared upon the stair, he greeted her, despite his
weariness, with something of his old jesting manner. "I am begging a
supper," he remarked affably, as he shook her hand, "and I may as well
confess, by the way, that I am positively starving."
The woman beamed upon him, as women always did, and while she led the way
into the little dining room, and set out the cold meat and bread upon the
oil-cloth covering of the table, she asked him eager questions about the
Major and Mrs. Lightfoot, which he aroused himself to parry with a tired
laugh. She was tall and thin, with a wrinkled brown face, and a row of curl
papers about her forehead. Her faded calico wrapper hung loosely over her
nightgown, and he saw her bare feet through the cracks in her worn-out
"The poor young gentleman is all but dead," she said at last. "You give him
his supper, Jack, and I'll go right up to fix his room. To think of his
walkin' ten miles in the pitch blackness--the poor young gentleman."
She went out, her run down slippers flapping on the stair, and Dan, as he
ate his ham and bread, listened impatiently to the drawling voice of Jack
Hicks, who discussed the condition of the country while he drew apple cider
from a keg into a white china pitcher. As he talked, his fat face shone
with a drowsy good-humour, and his puffed lids winked sleepily over his
expressionless blue eyes. He moved heavily as if his limbs were forever
coming in the way of his intentions.
"Yes, suh, I never was one of them folks as ain't satisfied unless they're
always a-fussin'," he remarked, as he placed the pitcher upon the table.
"Thar's a sight of them kind in these here parts, but I ain't one of 'em.
Lord, Lord, I tell 'em, befo' you git ready to jump out of the fryin' pan,
you'd better make mighty sure you ain't fixin' to land yo'self in the fire.
That's what I always had agin these here abolitionists as used to come
pokin' round here--they ain't never learned to set down an' cross thar
hands, an' leave the Lord to mind his own business. Bless my soul, I reckon
they'd have wanted to have a hand in that little fuss of Lucifer's if
they'd been alive--that's what I tell 'em, suh. An' now thar's all this
talk about the freein' of the niggers--free? What are they goin' to do with
'em after they're done set 'em free? Ain't they the sons of Ham? I ask 'em;
an' warn't they made to be servants of servants like the Bible says? It's a
bold man that goes plum agin the Bible, and flies smack into the face of
God Almighty--it's a bold man, an' he ain't me, suh. What I say is, if the
Lord can stand it, I reckon the rest of the country--"
He paused to draw breath, and Dan laid down his knife and fork and pushed
back his chair. "Before you begin again, Jack," he said coolly, "will you
spare enough wind to carry me upstairs?"
"That's what I tell 'em," pursued Jack amiably, as he lighted a candle and
led the way into the hall. "They used to come down here every once in a
while an' try to draw me out; and one of 'em 'most got a coat of tar an'
feathers for meddlin' with my man Lacy; but if the Lord--here we are, here
He stopped upon the landing and opened the door of a long room, in which
Mrs. Hicks was putting the last touches to the bed. She stopped as Dan came
in, and by the pale flicker of a tallow candle stood looking at him from
the threshold. "If you'll jest knock on the floor when you wake up, I'll
know when to send yo' hot water," she said, "and if thar's anything else
you want, you can jest knock agin."
With a smile he thanked her and promised to remember; and then as she went
out into the hall, he bolted the door, and threw himself into a chair
beside the window. Sleep had quite deserted him, and the dawn was on the
mountains when at last he lay down and closed his eyes.
AT MERRY OAKS TAVERN
Upon awaking his first thought was that he had got "into a deucedly
uncomfortable fix," and when he stretched out his hand from the bedside the
need of fresh clothes appeared less easy to be borne than the more abstract
wreck of his career. For the first time he clearly grasped some outline of
his future--a future in which a change of linen would become a luxury; and
it was with smarting eyes and a nervous tightening of the throat that he
glanced about the long room, with its whitewashed walls, and told himself
that he had come early to the end of his ambition. In the ill-regulated
tenor of his thoughts but a hair's breadth divided assurance from despair.
Last night the vaguest hope had seemed to be a certainty; to-day his fat
acres and the sturdy slaves upon them had vanished like a dream, and the
building of his fortunes had become suddenly a very different matter from
the rearing of airy castles along the road.
As he lay there, with his strong white hands folded upon the quilt, his
eyes went beyond the little lattice at the window, and rested upon the dark
gray chain of mountains over which the white clouds sailed like birds.
Somewhere nearer those mountains he knew that Chericoke was standing under
the clouded sky, with the half-bared elms knocking night and day upon the
windows. He could see the open doors, through which the wind blew steadily,
and the crooked stair down which his mother had come in her careless
It seemed to him, lying there, that in this one hour he had drawn closer
into sympathy with his mother, and when he looked up from his pillow, he
half expected to see her merry eyes bending over him, and to feel her thin
and trembling hand upon his brow. His old worship of her awoke to life, and
he suffered over again the moment in his childhood when he had called her
and she had not answered, and they had pushed him from the room and told
him she was dead. He remembered the clear white of her face, with the
violet shadows in the hollows; and he remembered the baby lying as if
asleep upon her bosom. For a moment he felt that he had never grown older
since that day--that he was still a child grieving for her loss--while all
the time she was not dead, but stood beside him and smiled down upon his
pillow. Poor mother, with the merry eyes and the bitter mouth.
Then as he looked the face grew younger, though the smile did not change,
and he saw that it was Betty, after all--Betty with the tenderness in her
eyes and the motherly yearning in her outstretched arms. The two women he
loved were forever blended in his thoughts, and he dimly realized that
whatever the, future made of him, he should be moulded less by events than
by the hands of these two women. Events might subdue, but love alone could
create the spirit that gave him life.
There was a tap at his door, and when he arose and opened it, Mrs. Hicks
handed in a pitcher of hot water and inquired "if he had recollected to
knock upon the floor?"
He set the water upon the table, and after he had dressed brushed
hopelessly, with a trembling hand, at the dust upon his clothes. Then he
went to the window and stood gloomily looking down among the great oak
trees to the strip of yard where a pig was rooting in the acorns.
A small porch ran across the entrance to the inn, and Jack Hicks was
already seated on it, with a pipe in his mouth, and his feet upon the
railing. His drowsy gaze was turned upon the woodpile hard by, where an old
negro slave was chopping aimlessly into a new pine log, and a black urchin
gathering chips into a big split basket. At a little distance the Hopeville
stage was drawn out under the trees, the empty shafts lying upon the
ground, and on the box a red and black rooster stood crowing. Overhead
there was a dull gray sky, and the scene, in all its ugliness, showed
stripped of the redeeming grace of lights and shadows.
Jack Hicks, smoking on his porch, presented a picture of bodily comfort and
philosophic ease of mind. He was owner of some rich acres, and his
possessions, it was said, might have been readily doubled had he chosen to
barter for them the peace of perfect inactivity. To do him justice the idea
had never occurred to him in the light of a temptation, and when a
neighbour had once remarked in his hearing that he "reckoned Jack would
rather lose a dollar than walk a mile to fetch it," he had answered
blandly, and without embarrassment, that "a mile was a goodish stretch on a
sandy road." So he sat and dozed beneath his sturdy oaks, while his wife
went ragged at the heels and his swarm of tow-headed children rolled
contentedly with the pigs among the acorns.
Dan was still looking moodily down into the yard, when he heard a gentle
pressure upon the handle of his door, and as he turned, it opened quickly
and Big Abel, bearing a large white bundle upon his shoulders, staggered
into the room.
"Ef'n you'd des let me knowed hit, I could er brung a bigger load," he
While he drew breath Dan stared at him with the blankness of surprise.
"Where did you come from, Big Abel?" he questioned at last, speaking in a
Big Abel was busily untying the sheet he had brought, and spreading out the
contents upon the bed, and he did not pause as he sullenly answered:--
"Who sent you?"
Big Abel snorted. "Who gwine sen' me?" he demanded in his turn.
"Well, I declare," said Dan, and after a moment, "how did you get away,
"Lawd, Lawd," returned Big Abel, "I wa'n' bo'n yestiddy nur de day befo'.
Terreckly I seed you a-cuttin' up de drive, I knowed dar wuz mo' den wuz in
de tail er de eye, en w'en you des lit right out agin en bang de do' behint
you fitten ter bus' hit, den I begin ter steddy 'bout de close in de big
wa'drobe. I got out one er ole Miss's sheets w'en she wa'n' lookin, en I
tie up all de summer close de bes' I kin--caze dat ar do' bang hit ain'
soun' like you gwine be back fo' de summer right plum hyer. I'se done heah
a do' bang befo' now, en dars mo' in it den des de shettin' ter stay shet."
"So you ran away?" said Dan, with a long whistle.
"Ain't you done run away?"
"I--oh, I was turned out," answered the young man, with his eyes on the
negro. "But--bless my soul, Big Abel, why did you do it?"
Big Abel muttered something beneath his breath, and went on laying out the
"How you gwine git dese yer close ef I ain' tote 'em 'long de road?" he
asked presently. "How you gwine git dis yer close bresh ef I ain' brung hit
ter you? Whar de close you got? Whar de close bresh?"
"You're a fool, Big Abel," retorted Dan. "Go back where you belong and
don't hang about me any more. I'm a beggar, I tell you, and I'm likely to
be a beggar at the judgment day."
"Whar de close bresh?" repeated Big Abel, scornfully.
"What would Saphiry say, I'd like to know?" went on Dan. "It isn't fair to
Saphiry to run off this way."
"Don' you bodder 'bout Saphiry," responded Big Abel. "I'se done loss my
tase fur Saphiry, young Marster."
"I tell you you're a fool," snapped out Dan, sharply.
"De Lawd he knows," piously rejoined Big Abel, and he added: "Dar ain' no
use a-rumpasin' case hyer I is en hyer I'se gwine ter stay. Whar you run,
dar I'se gwine ter run right atter, so 'tain' no use a-rumpasin'. Hit's a
pity dese yer ain' nuttin' but summer close."
Dan looked at him a moment in silence, then he put out his hand and slapped
him upon the shoulder.
"You're a fool--God bless you," he said.
"Go 'way f'om yer, young Marster," responded the negro, in a high
good-humour. "Dar's a speck er dut right on yo' shut."
"Then give me another," cried Dan, gayly, and threw off his coat.
When he went down stairs, carefully brushed, a half-hour afterward, the
world had grown suddenly to wear a more cheerful aspect. He greeted Mrs.
Hicks with his careless good-humour, and spoke pleasantly to the dirty
white-haired children that streamed through the dining room.
"Yes, I'll take my breakfast now, if you please," he said as he sat down at
one end of the long, oilcloth-covered table. Mrs. Hicks brought him his
coffee and cakes, and then stood, with her hands upon a chair back, and
watched him with a frank delight in his well-dressed comely figure.
"You do favour the Major, Mr. Dan," she suddenly remarked.
He started impatiently. "Oh, the Lightfoots are all alike, you know," he
responded. "We are fond of saying that a strain of Lightfoot blood is good
for two centuries of intermixing." Then, as he looked up at her faded
wrapper and twisted curl papers, he flinched and turned away as if her
ugliness afflicted his eyes. "Do not let me keep you," he added hastily.
But the woman stooped to shake a child that was tugging at her dress, and
talked on in her drawling voice, while a greedy interest gave life to her
worn and sallow face. "How long do you think of stayin'?" she asked
curiously, "and do you often take a notion to walk so fur in the dead of
night? Why, I declar, when I looked out an' saw you I couldn't believe my
eyes. That's not Mr. Dan, I said, you won't catch Mr. Dan out in the pitch
darkness with a lantern and ten miles from home."
"I really do not want to keep you," he broke in shortly, all the
good-humour gone from his voice.
"Thar ain't nothin' to do right now," she answered with a searching look
into his face. "I was jest waitin' to bring you some mo' cakes." She went
out and came in presently with a fresh plateful. "I remember jest as well
the first time you ever took breakfast here," she said. "You wa'n't more'n
twelve, I don't reckon, an' the Major brought you by in the coach, with Big
Abel driving. The Major didn't like the molasses we gave him, and he pushed
the pitcher away and said it wasn't fit for pigs; and then you looked about
real peart and spoke up, 'It's good molasses, grandpa, I like it.' Sakes
alive, it seems jest like yestiddy. I don't reckon the Major is comin' by
to-day, is he?"
He pushed his plate away and rose hurriedly, then, without replying, he
brushed past her, and went out upon the porch.
There he found Jack Hicks, and forced himself squarely into a discussion of
his altered fortunes. "I may as well tell you, Jack," he said, with a touch
of arrogance, "that I'm turned out upon the world, at last, and I've got to
make a living. I've left Chericoke for good, and as I've got to stay here
until I find a place to go, there's no use making a secret of it."
The pipe dropped from Jack's mouth, and he stared back in astonishment.
"Bless my soul and body!" he exclaimed. "Is the old gentleman crazy or is
"You forget yourself," sharply retorted Dan.
"Well, well," pursued Jack, good-naturedly, as he knocked the ashes from
his pipe and slowly refilled it. "If you hadn't have told me, I wouldn't
have believed you--well, well." He put his pipe into his mouth and hung on
it for a moment; then he took it out and spoke thoughtfully. "I reckon I've
known you from a child, haven't I, Mr. Dan?" he asked.
"That's so, Jack," responded the young man, "and if you can recommend me, I
want you to help me to a job for a week or two--then I'm off to town."
"I've known you from a child year in an' year out," went on Jack, blandly
disregarding the interruption. "From the time you was sech a
pleasant-spoken little boy that it did me good to bow to you when you rode
by with the Major. 'Thar's not another like him in the country,' I said to
Bill Bates, an' he said to me, 'Thar's not a man between here an'
Leicesterburg as ain't ready to say the same.' Then time went on an' you
got bigger, an' the year came when the crops failed an' Sairy got sick, an'
I took a mortgage on this here house--an' what should happen but that you
stepped right up an' paid it out of yo' own pocket. And you kept it from
the Major. Lord, Lord, to think the Major never knew which way the money
"We won't speak of that," said Dan, throwing back his head. The thought
that the innkeeper might be going to offer him the money stung him into
But Jack knew his man, and he would as soon have thought of throwing a
handful of dust into his face. "Jest as you like, suh, jest as you like,"
he returned easily, and went on smoking.
Dan sat down in a chair upon the porch, and taking out his knife began idly
whittling at the end of a stick. A small boy, in blue jean breeches,
watched him eagerly from the steps, and he spoke to him pleasantly while he
cut into the wood.
"Did you ever see a horse's head on a cane, sonny?"
The child sucked his dirty thumb and edged nearer.
"Naw, suh, but I've seen a dawg's," he answered, drawing out his thumb like
a stopper and sticking it in again.
"Well, you watch this and you'll see a horse's. There, now don't take your
He whittled silently for a time, then as he looked up his glance fell on
the stagecoach in the yard, and he turned from it to Jack Hicks.
"There's one thing on earth I know about, Jack," he said, "and that's a
"Not a better jedge in the county, suh," was Jack's response.
As Dan whittled a flush rose to his face. "Does Tom Hyden still drive the
Hopeville stage?" he asked.
"Well, you see it's this way," answered Jack, weighing his words. "Tom he's
a first-rate hand at horses, but he drinks like a fish, and last week he
married a wife who owns a house an' farm up the road. So long as he had to
earn his own livin' he kept sober long enough to run the stage, but since
he's gone and married, he says thar's no call fur him to keep a level
head--so he don't keep it. Yes, that's about how 'tis, suh."
Dan finished the stick and handed it to the child. "I tell you what, Jack,"
he said suddenly, "I want Tom Hyden's place, and I'm going to drive that
stage over to Hopeville this afternoon. Phil Banks runs it, doesn't
he?--well, I know him." He rose and stood humorously looking out upon the
coach. "There's no time like the present," he added, "so I begin work
Jack Hicks silently stared up at him for a moment; then he coughed and
"The jedgment ain't fur off," but Dan laughed the prophecy aside and went
upstairs to write to Betty.
"I've got a job, Big Abel," he began, going into his room, where the negro
was pressing a pair of trousers with a flatiron, "and what's more it will
keep me till I get another."
Big Abel gloomily shook his head. "We all 'ud des better go 'long home ter
Ole Miss," he returned, for he was in no mood for compromises. "Caze I ain'
use ter de po' w'ite trash en dey ain' use ter me."
"Go if you want to," retorted Dan, sternly, "but you go alone," and the
negro, protesting under his breath, laid the clothes away and went down to
Dan sat down by the window and wrote a letter to Betty which he never sent.
When he thought of her now it was as if half the world instead of ten miles
lay between them; and quickly as he would have resented the hint of it from
Jack Hicks, to himself he admitted that he was fast sinking where Betty
could not follow him. What would the end be? he asked, and disheartened by
the question, tore the paper into bits and walked moodily up and down the
room. He had lived so blithely until to-day! His lines had fallen so
smoothly in the pleasant places! Not without a grim humour he remembered
now that last year his grievance had been that his tailor failed to fit
him. Last year he had walked the floor in a rage because of a wrinkled
coat, and to-day--His road had gone rough so suddenly that he stumbled like
a blind man when he tried to go over it in his old buoyant manner.
An hour later he was still pacing restlessly to and fro, when the door
softly opened and Mrs. Hicks looked in upon him with a deprecating smile.
As she lingered on the threshold, he stopped in the middle of the room and
threw her a sharp glance over his shoulder.
"Is there anything you wish?" he questioned irritably.
Shaking her head, she came slowly toward him and stood in her soiled
wrapper and curl papers, where the gray light from the latticed window fell
full upon her.
"It ain't nothin'," she answered hurriedly. "Nothin' except Jack's been
tellin' me you're in trouble, Mr. Dan."
"Then he has been telling you something that concerns nobody but myself,"
he replied coolly, and continued his walking.
There was a nervous flutter of her wrapper, and she passed her knotted hand
over her face.
"You are like yo' mother, Mr. Dan," she said with an unexpectedness that
brought him to a halt. "An' I was the last one to see her the night she
went away. She came in here, po' thing, all shiverin' with the cold, an'
she wouldn't set down but kep' walkin' up an' down, up an' down, jest like
you've been doin' fur this last hour. Po' thing! Po' thing! I tried to make
her take a sip of brandy, but she laughed an' said she was quite warm, with
her teeth chatterin' fit to break--"
"You are very good, Mrs. Hicks," interrupted Dan, in an affected drawl
which steadied his voice, "but do you know, I'd really rather that you
Her sallow face twitched and she looked wistfully up at him.
"It isn't that, Mr. Dan," she went on slowly, "but I've had trouble myself,
God knows, and when I think of that po' proud young lady, an' the way she
went, I can't help sayin' what I feel--it won't stay back. So if you'll
jest keep on here, an' give up the stage drivin' an' wait twil the old
gentleman comes round--Jack an' I'll do our best fur you--we'll do our
best, even if it ain't much."
Her lips quivered, and as he watched her it seemed to him that a new
meaning passed into her face--something that made her look like Betty and
his mother--that made all good women who had loved him look alike. For the
moment he forgot her ugliness, and with the beginning of that keener
insight into life which would come to him as he touched with humanity, he
saw only the dignity with which suffering had endowed this plain and simple
woman. The furrows upon her cheeks were no longer mere disfigurements; they
raised her from the ordinary level of the ignorant and the ugly into some
bond of sympathy with his dead mother.
"My dear Mrs. Hicks," he stammered, abashed and reddening. "Why, I shall
take a positive pleasure in driving the stage, I assure you."
He crossed to the mirror and carefully brushed a stray lock of hair into
place; then he took up his hat and gloves and turned toward the door. "I
think it is waiting for me now," he added lightly; "a pleasant evening to
But she stood straight before him and as he met her eyes his affected
jauntiness dropped from him. With a boyish awkwardness he took her hand and
held it for an instant as he looked at her. "My dear madam, you are a good
woman," he said, and went whistling down to take the stage.
Upon the porch he found Jack Hicks seated between a stout gentleman and a
thin lady, who were to be the passengers to Hopeville; and as Dan appeared
the innkeeper started to his feet and swung open the door of the coach for
the thin lady to pass inside. "You'll find it a pleasant ride, mum," he
heartily assured her. "I've often taken it myself an', rain or shine,
thar's not a prettier road in all Virginny," then he moved humbly back as
Dan, carelessly drawing on his gloves, came down the steps. "I hope we
haven't hurried you, suh," he stammered.
"Not a bit--not a bit," returned Dan, affably, slipping on his overcoat,
which Big Abel had run up to hold for him.
"You gwine git right soakin' wet, Marse Dan," said Big Abel, anxiously.
"Oh, I'll not melt," responded Dan, and bowing to the thin lady he stepped
upon the wheel and mounted lightly to the box.
"There's no end to this eternal drizzle," he called down, as he tucked the
waterproof robe about him and took up the reins.
Then, with a merry crack of the whip, the stage rolled through the gate and
on its way.
As it turned into the road, a man on horseback came galloping from the
direction of the town, and when he neared the tavern he stood up in his
stirrups and shouted his piece of news.
"Thar was a raid on Harper's Ferry in the night," he yelled hoarsely. "The
arsenal has fallen, an' they're armin' the damned niggers."
THE NIGHT OF FEAR
Late in the afternoon, as the Governor neared the tavern, he was met by a
messenger with the news; and at once turning his horse's head, he started
back to Uplands. A dim fear, which had been with him since boyhood, seemed
to take shape and meaning with the words; and in a lightning flash of
understanding he knew that he had lived before through the horror of this
moment. If his fathers had sinned, surely the shadow of their wrong had
passed them by to fall the heavier upon their sons; for even as his blood
rang in his ears, he saw a savage justice in the thing he feared--a
recompense to natural laws in which the innocent should weigh as naught
against the guilty.
A fine rain was falling; and as he went on, the end of a drizzling
afternoon dwindled rapidly into night. Across the meadows he saw the lamps
in scattered cottages twinkle brightly through the dusk which rolled like
fog down from the mountains. The road he followed sagged between two gray
hills into a narrow valley, and regaining its balance upon the farther
side, stretched over a cattle pasture into the thick cover of the woods.
As he reached the summit of the first hill, he saw the Major's coach
creeping slowly up the incline, and heard the old gentleman scolding
through the window at Congo on the box.
"My dear Major, home's the place for you," he said as he drew rein. "Is it
possible that the news hasn't reached you yet?"
Remembering Congo, he spoke cautiously, but the Major, in his anger, tossed
discretion to the winds.
"Reached me?--bless my soul!--do you take me for a ground hog?" he cried,
thrusting his red face through the window. "I met Tom Bickels four miles
back, and the horses haven't drawn breath since. But it's what I expected
all along--I was just telling Congo so--it all comes from the mistaken
tolerance of black Republicans. Let me open my doors to them to-day, and
they'll be tempting Congo to murder me in my bed to-morrow."
"Go 'way f'om yer, Ole Marster," protested Congo from the box, flicking at
the harness with his long whip.
The Governor looked a little anxiously at the negro, and then shook his
head impatiently. Though a less exacting master than the Major, he had not
the same childlike trust in the slaves he owned.
"Shall you not turn back?" he asked, surprised.
"Champe's there," responded the Major, "so I came on for the particulars. A
night in town isn't to my liking, but I can't sleep a wink until I hear a
thing or two. You're going out, eh?"
"I'm riding home," said the Governor, "it makes me uneasy to be away from
Uplands." He paused, hesitated an instant, and then broke out suddenly.
"Good God, Major, what does it mean?"
The Major shook his head until his long white hair fell across his eyes.
"Mean, sir?" he thundered in a rage. "It means, I reckon, that those damned
friends of yours have a mind to murder you. It means that after all your
speech-making and your brotherly love, they're putting pitchforks into the
hands of savages and loosening them upon you. Oh, you needn't mind Congo,
Governor. Congo's heart's as white as mine."
"Dat's so, Ole Marster," put in Congo, approvingly.
The Governor was trembling as he leaned down from his saddle.
"We know nothing as yet, sir," he began, "there must be some--"
"Oh, go on, go on," cried the Major, striking the carriage window. "Keep up
your speech-making and your handshaking until your wife gets murdered in
her bed--but, by God, sir, if Virginia doesn't secede after this, I'll
secede without her!"
The coach moved on and the Governor, touching his horse with the whip, rode
rapidly down the hill.
As he descended into the valley, a thick mist rolled over him and the road
lost itself in the blur of the surrounding fields. Without slackening his
pace, he lighted the lantern at his saddle-bow and turned up the collar of
his coat about his ears. The fine rain was soaking through his clothes, but
in the tension of his nerves he was oblivious of the weather. The sun might
have risen overhead and he would not have known it.
With the coming down of the darkness a slow fear crept, like a physical
chill, from head to foot. A visible danger he felt that he might meet face
to face and conquer; but how could he stand against an enemy that crept
upon him unawares?--against the large uncertainty, the utter ignorance of
the depth or meaning of the outbreak, the knowledge of a hidden evil which
might be even now brooding at his fireside?
A thousand hideous possibilities came toward him from out the stretch of
the wood. The light of a distant window, seen through the thinned edge of
the forest; the rustle of a small animal in the underbrush; the drop of a
walnut on the wet leaves in the road; the very odours which rose from the
moist earth and dripped from the leafless branches--all sent him faster on
his way, with a sound within his ears that was like the drumming of his
To quiet his nerves, he sought to bring before him a picture of the house
at Uplands, of the calm white pillars and the lamplight shining from the
door; but even as he looked the vision of a slave-war rushed between, and
the old buried horrors of the Southampton uprising sprang suddenly to life
and thronged about the image of his home. Yesterday those tales had been
for him as colourless as history, as dry as dates; to-night, with this new
fear at his heart, the past became as vivid as the present, and it seemed
to him that beyond each lantern flash he saw a murdered woman, or an infant
with its brains dashed out at its mother's breast. This was what he feared,
for this was what the message meant to him: "The slaves are armed and
And yet with it all, he felt that there was some wild justice in the thing
he dreaded, in the revolt of an enslaved and ignorant people, in the
pitiable and ineffectual struggle for a freedom which would mean, in the
beginning, but the power to go forth and kill. It was the recognition of
this deeper pathos that made him hesitate to reproach even while his
thoughts dwelt on the evils--that would, if the need came, send him
fearless and gentle to the fight. For what he saw was that behind the new
wrongs were the old ones, and that the sinners of to-day were, perhaps, the
sinned against of yesterday.
When at last he came out into the turnpike, he had not the courage to look
among the trees for the lights of Uplands; and for a while he rode with his
eyes following the lantern flash as it ran onward over the wet ground. The
small yellow circle held his gaze, and as if fascinated he watched it
moving along the road, now shining on the silver grains in a ring of sand,
now glancing back from the standing water in a wheelrut, and now
illuminating a mossy stone or a weed upon the roadside. It was the one
bright thing in a universe of blackness, until, as he came suddenly upon an
elevation, the trees parted and he saw the windows of his home glowing upon
the night. As he looked a great peace fell over him, and he rode on,
When he turned into the drive, his past anxiety appeared to him to be
ridiculous, and as he glanced from the clear lights in the great house to
the chain of lesser ones that stretched along the quarters, he laughed
aloud in the first exhilaration of his relief. This at least was safe, God
keep the others.
At his first call as he alighted before the portico, Hosea came running for
his horse, and when he entered the house, the cheerful face of Uncle
Shadrach looked out from the dining room.
"Hi! Marse Peyton, I 'lowed you wuz gwine ter spen' de night."
"Oh, I had to get back, Shadrach," replied the Governor. "No, I won't take
any supper--you needn't bring it--but give me a glass of Burgundy, and then
go to bed. Where is your mistress, by the way? Has she gone to her room?"
Uncle Shadrach brought the bottle of Burgundy from the cellaret and placed
it upon the table.
"Naw, suh, Miss July she set out ter de quarters ter see atter Mahaley," he
returned. "Mahaley she's moughty bad off, but 'tain' no night fur Miss
July--dat's w'at I tell 'er--one er dese yer spittin' nights ain' no night
ter be out in."
"You're right, Shadrach, you're right," responded the Governor; and rising
he drank the wine standing. "It isn't a fit night for her to be out, and
I'll go after her at once."
He took up his lantern, and as the old negro opened the doors before him,
went out upon the back porch and down the steps.
From the steps a narrow path ran by the kitchen, and skirting the
garden-wall, straggled through the orchard and past the house of the
overseer to the big barn and the cabins in the quarters. There was a light
from the barn door, and as he passed he heard the sound of fiddles and the
shuffling steps of the field hands in a noisy "game." The words they sang
floated out into the night, and with the squeaking of the fiddles followed
him along his path.
When he reached the quarters, he went from door to door, asking for his
wife. "Is this Mahaley's cabin?" he anxiously inquired, "and has your
mistress gone by?"
In the first room an old negro woman sat on the hearth wrapping the hair of
her grandchild, and she rose with a courtesy and a smile of welcome. At the
question her face fell and she shook her head.
"Dis yer ain' Mahaley, Marster," she replied. "En dis yer ain' Mahaley's
cabin--caze Mahaley she ain' never set foot inside my do', en I ain' gwine
set foot at her buryin'." She spoke shrilly, moved by a hidden spite, but
the Governor, without stopping, went on along the line of open doors. In
one a field negro was roasting chestnuts in the embers of a log fire, and
while waiting he had fallen asleep, with his head on his breast and his
gnarled hands hanging between his knees. The firelight ran over him, and as
he slept he stirred and muttered something in his dreams.
After the first glance, his master passed him by and moved on to the
adjoining cabin. "Does Mahaley live here?" he asked again and yet again,
until, suddenly, he had no need to put the question for from the last room
he heard a low voice praying, and upon looking in saw his wife kneeling
with her open Bible near the bedside.
With his hat in his hand, he stood within the shadow of the doorway and
waited for the earnest voice to fall silent. Mahaley was dying, this he saw
when his glance wandered to the shrunken figure beneath the patchwork
quilt; and at the same instant he realized how small a part was his in
Mahaley's life or death. He should hardly have known her had he met her
last week in the corn field; and it was by chance only that he knew her now
when she came to die.
As he stood there the burden of his responsibility weighed upon him like
old age. Here in this scant cabin things so serious as birth and death
showed in a pathetic bareness, stripped of all ceremonial trappings, as
mere events in the orderly working out of natural laws--events as
seasonable as the springing up and the cutting down of the corn. In these
simple lives, so closely lived to the ground, grave things were sweetened
by an unconscious humour which was of the soil itself; and even death lost
something of its strangeness when it came like the grateful shadow which
falls over a tired worker in the field.
Mrs. Ambler finished her prayer and rose from her knees; and as she did so
two slave women, crouching in a corner by the fire, broke into loud
moaning, which filled the little room with an animal and inarticulate sound
"Come away, Julia," implored the Governor in a whisper, resisting an
impulse to close his ears against the cry.
But his wife shook her head and spoke for a moment with the sick woman
before she wrapped her shawl about her and came out into the open air. Then
she gave a sigh of relief, and, with her hand through her husband's arm,
followed the path across the orchard.
"So you came home, after all," she said. For a moment he made no response;
then, glancing about him in the darkness, he spoke in a low voice, as if
fearing the sound of his own words.
"Bad news brought me home, Julia," he replied, "At the tavern they told me
a message had come to Leicesterburg from Harper's Ferry. An attack was made
on the arsenal at midnight, and, it may be but a rumour, my dear, it was
feared that the slaves for miles around were armed for an uprising."
His voice faltered, and he put out his hand to steady her, but she looked
up at him and he saw her clear eyes shining in the gloom.
"Oh, poor creatures," she murmured beneath her breath.
"Julia, Julia," he said softly, and lifted the lantern that he might look
into her face. As the light fell on her he knew that she was as much a
mystery to him now as she had been twenty years ago on her wedding-day.
When they went into the house, he followed Uncle Shadrach about and
carefully barred the windows, shooting bolts which were rusted from disuse.
After the old negro had gone out he examined the locks again; and then
going into the hall took down a bird gun and an army pistol from their
places on the rack. These he loaded and laid near at hand beside the books
upon his table.
There was no sleep for him that night, and until dawn he sat, watchful, in
his chair, or moved softly from window to window, looking for a torch upon
the road and listening for the sound of approaching steps.
CRABBED AGE AND CALLOW YOUTH
With the morning came trustier tidings. The slaves had taken no part in the
attack, the weapons had dropped from the few dark hands into which they had
been given, and while the shots that might bring them freedom yet rang at
Harper's Ferry, the negroes themselves went with cheerful faces to their
work, or looked up, singing, from their labours in the field. In the green
valley, set amid blue mountains, they moved quietly back and forth, raking
the wind-drifts of fallen leaves, or ploughing the rich earth for the
autumn sowing of the grain.
As the Governor was sitting down to breakfast, the Lightfoot coach rolled
up to the portico, and the Major stepped down to deliver himself of his
garnered news. He was in no pleasant humour, for he had met Dan face to
face that morning as he passed the tavern, and as if this were not
sufficient to try the patience of an irascible old gentleman, a spasm of
gout had seized him as he made ready to descend.
But at the sight of Mrs. Ambler, he trod valiantly upon his gouty toe, and
screwed his features into his blandest smile--an effort which drew so
heavily upon the source of his good-nature, that he arrived at Chericoke an
hour later in what was known to Betty as "a purple rage."
"You know I have always warned you, Molly," was his first offensive thrust
as he entered Mrs. Lightfoot's chamber, "that your taste for trash would be
the ruin of the family. It has ruined your daughter, and now it is ruining
your grandson. Well, well, you can't say that it is for lack of warning."
From the centre of her tester bed, the old lady calmly regarded him. "I
told you to bring back the boy, Mr. Lightfoot," she returned. "You surely
saw him in town, didn't you?"
"Oh, yes, I saw him," replied the Major, loosening his high black stock.
"But where do you suppose I saw him, ma'am? and how? Why, the young
scapegrace has actually gone and hired himself out as a stagedriver--a
common stagedriver. And, bless my soul, he had the audacity to tip his hat
to me from the box--from the box with the reins in his hand, ma'am!"
"What stage, Mr. Lightfoot?" inquired his wife, with an eye for
"Oh, I wash my hands of him," pursued the Major, waving her question aside.
"I wash my hands of him, and that's the end of it. In my day, the young
were supposed to show some respect for their elders, and every calf wasn't
of the opinion that he could bellow like a bull--but things are changed
now, and I wash my hands of it all. A more ungrateful family, I am willing
to maintain, no man was ever blessed with--which comes, I reckon, from
sparing the rod and spoiling the child--but I'm sure I don't see how it is
that it is always your temper that gets inherited."
The personal note fell unheeded upon his wife's ears.
"You don't mean to tell me that you came away and left the boy sitting on
the box of a stagecoach?" she demanded sharply.
"Would you have me claim a stagedriver as a grandson?" retorted the Major,
"because I may as well say now, ma'am, that there are some things I'll not
stoop to. Why, I'd as lief have an uncle who was a chimney sweep."
Mrs. Lightfoot turned uneasily in bed. "It means, I suppose, that I shall
have to get up and go after him," she remarked, "and you yourself heard the
doctor tell me not to move out of bed for a week. It does seem to me, Mr.
Lightfoot, that you might show some consideration for my state of health.
Do ride in this afternoon, and tell Dan that I say he must behave himself
But the Major turned upon her the terrific countenance she had last seen on
Jane's wedding day, and she fell silent from sheer inability to utter a
protest befitting the occasion.
"If that stagedriver enters my house, I leave it, ma'am," thundered the old
gentleman, with a stamp of his gouty foot. "You may choose between us, if
you like,--I have never interfered with your fancies--but, by God, if you
bring him inside my doors I--I will horsewhip him, madam," and he went
limping out into the hall.
On the stair he met Betty, who looked at him with pleading eyes, but fled,
affrighted, before the colour of his wrath; and in his library he found
Champe reading his favourite volume of Mr. Addison.
"I hope you aren't scratching up my books, sir," he observed, eying the
pencil in his great-nephew's hand.
Champe looked at him with his cool glance, and rose leisurely to his feet.
"Why, I'd as soon think of scrawling over Aunt Emmeline's window pane," he
returned pleasantly, and added, "I hope you had a successful trip, sir."
"I got a lukewarm supper and a cold breakfast," replied the Major
irritably, "and I heard that the Marines had those Kansas raiders entrapped
like rats in the arsenal, if that is what you mean."
"No, I wasn't thinking of that," replied Champe, as quietly as before. "I
came home to find out about Dan, you know, and I hoped you went into town
to look him up."
"Well, I didn't, sir," declared the Major, "and as for that scamp--I have
as much knowledge of his whereabouts as I care for.--Do you know, sir," he
broke out fiercely, "that he has taken to driving a common stage?"
Champe was sharpening his pencil, and he did not look up as he answered.
"Then the sooner he leaves off the better, eh, sir?" he inquired.
"Oh, there's your everlasting wrangling!" exclaimed the Major with a
hopeless gesture. "You catch it from Molly, I reckon, and between you,
you'll drive me into dotage yet. Always arguing! Never any peace. Why, I
believe if I were to take it into my head to remark that white is white,
you would both be setting out to convince me that it is black. I tell you
now, sir, that the sooner you curb that tendency of yours, the better it
"Aren't we rather straying from the point?" interposed Champe half angrily.
"There it is again," gasped the Major.
The knife slipped in Champe's hand and scratched his finger. "Surely you
don't intend to leave Dan to knock about for himself much longer?" he said
coolly. "If you do, sir, I don't mind saying that I think it is a damn
"How dare you use such language in my presence?" roared the old gentleman,
growing purple to the neck. "Have you, also, been fighting for barmaids and
taking up with gaol-birds? It is what I have to expect, I suppose, and I
may as well accustom my ears to profanity; but damn you, sir, you must
learn some decency;" and going into the hall he shouted to Congo to bring
him a julep.
Champe said nothing more; and when the julep appeared on a silver tray, he
left the room and went upstairs to where Betty was waiting. "He's awful,
there's no use mincing words, he's simply awful," he remarked in an
"But what does he say? tell me," questioned Betty, as she moved to a little
peaked window which overlooked the lawn.
"What doesn't he say?" groaned Champe with his eyes upon her as she stood
relieved against the greenish panes of glass.
"Do you think I might speak to him?" she persisted eagerly.
"My dear girl, do you want to have your head bitten off for your pains? His
temper is positively tremendous. By Jove, I didn't know he had it in him
after all these years; I thought he had worn it out on dear Aunt Molly. And
Beau, by the way, isn't going to be the only one to suffer for his daring,
which makes me wish that he had chosen to embrace the saintly instead of
the heroic virtues. I confess that I could find it in my heart to prefer
less of David and more of Job."
"How can you?" remonstrated Betty. She pressed her hands together and
looked wistfully up at him. "But what are you going to do about it?" she
For a moment his eyes dwelt on her.
"Betty, Betty, how you care!" he exclaimed.
"Care?" she laughed impatiently. "Oh, I care, but what good does that do?"
"Would you care as much for me, I wonder?" She smiled up at him and shook
"No, I shouldn't, Champe," she answered honestly.
He turned his gaze away from her, and looked through the dim old window
panes out upon the clustered elm boughs.
"Well, I'll do this much," he said in a cheerful voice. "I'll ride to the
tavern this morning and find out how the land lies there. I'll see Beau,
and I'll do my best for him, and for you, Betty." She put out her hand and
touched his arm. "Dear Champe!" she exclaimed impulsively.
"Oh, I dare say," he scoffed, "but is there any message?"
"Tell him to come back," she answered, "to come back now, or when he will."
"Or when he will," he repeated smiling, and went down to order his horse.
At the tavern he found Jack Hicks and a neighbouring farmer or two, seated
upon the porch discussing the raid upon Harper's Ferry. They would have
drawn him into the talk, but he asked at once for Dan, and upon learning
the room in which he lodged, ran up the narrow stair and rapped upon the
door. Then, without waiting for a response, he burst into the room with
outstretched hand. "Why, they've put you into a tenpin alley," were his
words of greeting.
With a laugh Dan sprang up from his chair beside the window. "What on earth
are you doing here, old man?" he asked.
"Well, just at present I'm trying to pull you out of the hole you've
stumbled into. I say, in the name of all that's rational, why did you allow
yourself to get into such a scrape?"
Dan sat down again and motioned to a split-bottomed chair he had used for a
"There's no use going into that," he replied frowning, "I raised the row
and I'm ready to bear the consequences."
"Ah, that's the point, my dear fellow; Aunt Molly and I have been bearing
them all the morning."
"Of course, I'm sorry for that, but I may as well tell you now that things
are settled so far as I am concerned. I've been kicked out and I wouldn't
go back again if they came for me in a golden chariot."
"I hardly think that's likely to happen," was Champe's cheerful rejoinder.
"The old gentleman has had his temper touched, as, I dare say, you're
aware, and, as ill-luck would have it, he saw you on the stagecoach this
morning. My dear Beau, you ought to have crawled under the box."
"Nonsense!" protested Dan, "it's no concern of his." He turned his flushed
boyish face angrily away.
Champe looked at him steadily with a twinkle in his eyes. "Well, I hope
your independence will come buttered," he remarked. "I doubt if you will
find the taste of dry bread to your liking. By the way, do you intend to
enter Jack Hicks's household?"
"For a fortnight, perhaps. I've written to Judge Compton, and if he'll take
me into his office, I shall study law."
Champe gave a long whistle. "I should have supposed that your taste would
be for tailoring," he observed, "your genius for the fashions is immense."
"I hope to cultivate that also," said Dan, smiling, as he glanced at his
"What? on bread and cheese and Blackstone?"
"Oh, Blackstone! I never heard he wasn't a well-dressed old chap."
"At least you'll take half my allowance?"
Dan shook his head. "Not a cent--not a copper cent."
"But how will you live, man?"
"Oh, somehow," he laughed carelessly. "I'll live somehow."
"It's rather a shame, you know," responded Champe, "but there's one thing
of which I am very sure--the old gentleman will come round. We'll make him
do it, Aunt Molly and I--and Betty."
"Betty sent you a message, by the way," pursued Champe, looking through the
window. "It was something about coming home; she says you are to come home
now--or when you will." He rose and took up his hat and riding-whip.
"Or when I will," said Dan, rising also. "Tell her--no, don't tell her
anything--what's the use?"
"She doesn't need telling," responded Champe, going toward the door; and he
added as they went together down the stair, "She always understands without
Dan followed him into the yard, and watched him, from under the oaks beside
the empty stagecoach, as he mounted and rode away.
"For heaven's sake, remember my warning," said Champe, turning in the
saddle, "and don't insist upon eating dry bread if you're offered butter."
"And you will look after Aunt Molly and Betty?" Dan rejoined.
"Oh, I'll look after them," replied the other lightly, and rode off at an
Dan looked after the horse and rider until they passed slowly out of sight;
then, coming back to the porch, he sat down among the farmers, and
listened, abstractedly, to the drawling voice of Jack Hicks.
When Champe reached Chericoke, he saw Betty looking for him from Aunt
Emmeline's window seat; and as he dismounted, she ran out and joined him
upon the steps.
"And you saw him?" she asked breathlessly.
"It was pleasant to think that you came to meet me for my own sake," he
returned; and at her impatient gesture, caught her hand and looked into her
"I saw him, my dear," he said, "and he was in a temper that would have
proved his descent had he been lost in infancy."
She eagerly questioned him, and he answered with forbearing amusement. "Is
that all?" she asked at last, and when he nodded, smiling, she went up to
Mrs. Lightfoot's bedside and besought her "to make the Major listen to
"He never listened to it in his life, my child," the old lady replied, "and
I think it is hardly to be expected of him that he should begin at his
present age." Then she gathered, bit by bit, the news that Champe had
brought, and ended by remarking that "the ways of men and boys were past
"Do you think the Major will ever forgive him?" asked Betty, hopelessly.
"He never forgave poor Jane," answered Mrs. Lightfoot, her voice breaking
at the mention of her daughter. "But whether he forgives him or not, the
silly boy must be made to come home; and as soon as I am out of this bed,
I must get into the coach and drive to that God-forsaken tavern. After ten
years, nothing will content them, I suppose, but that I should jolt my
bones to pieces."
Betty looked at her anxiously. "When will you be up?" she inquired,
flushing, as the old lady's sharp eyes pierced her through.
"I really think, my dear, that you are less sensible than I took you to
be," returned Mrs. Lightfoot. "It was very foolish of you to allow yourself
to take a fancy to Dan. You should have insisted upon preferring Champe, as
I cautioned you to do. In entering into marriage it is always well to
consider first, family connections and secondly, personal disposition; and
in both of these particulars there is no fault to be found with Champe. His
mother was a Randolph, my child, which is greatly to his credit. As for
Dan, I fear he will make anything but a safe husband."
"Safe!" exclaimed Betty indignantly, "did you marry the Major because he
was 'safe,' I wonder?"
Mrs. Lightfoot accepted the rebuke with meekness.
"Had I done so, I should certainly have proved myself to be a fool," she
returned with grim humour, "but since you have fully decided that you
prefer to be miserable, I shall take you with me tomorrow when I go for
But on the morrow the old lady did not leave her bed, and the doctor, who
came with his saddlebags from Leicesterburg, glanced her over and ordered
"perfect repose of mind and body" before he drank his julep and rode away.
"Perfect repose, indeed!" scoffed his patient, from behind her curtains,
when the visit was over. "Why, the idiot might as well have ordered me a
mustard plaster. If he thinks there's any 'repose' in being married to Mr.
Lightfoot, I'd be very glad to have him try it for a week."
Betty made no response, for her throat was strained and aching; but in a
moment Mrs. Lightfoot called her to her bedside and patted her upon the
"We'll go next week, child," she said gently. "When you have been married
as long as I have been, you will know that a week the more or the less of a
man's society makes very little difference in the long run."
And the next week they went. On a ripe October day, when the earth was all
red and gold, the coach was brought out into the drive, and Mrs. Lightfoot
came down, leaning upon Champe and Betty.
The Major was reading his Horace in the library, and though he heard the
new pair of roans pawing on the gravel, he gave no sign of displeasure. His
age had oppressed him in the last few days, and he carried stains, like
spilled wine, on his cheeks. He could not ease his swollen heart by
outbursts of anger, and the sensitiveness of his temper warned off the
sympathy which he was too proud to unbend and seek. So he sat and stared at
the unturned Latin page, and the hand he raised to his throat trembled
slightly in the air.
Outside, Betty, in her most becoming bonnet, with her blue barege shawl
over her soft white gown, wrapped Mrs. Lightfoot in woollen robes, and
fluttered nervously when the old lady remembered that she had left her
"I brought the empty case; here it is, my dear," she said, offering it to
the girl. "Surely you don't intend to take me off without my glasses?"
Mitty was sent upstairs on a search for them, and in her absence her
mistress suddenly decided that she needed an extra wrap. "The little white
nuby in my top drawer, Betty--I felt a chill striking the back of my neck."
Betty threw her armful of robes into the coach, and ran hurriedly up to the
old lady's room, coming down, in a moment, with the spectacles in one hand
and the little white shawl in the other.
"Now, we must really start, Congo," she called, as she sat down beside Mrs.
Lightfoot, and when the coach rolled along the drive, she leaned out and
kissed her hand to Champe upon the steps.
"It is a heavenly day," she said with a sigh of happiness. "Oh, isn't it
too good to be real weather?"
Mrs. Lightfoot did not answer, for she was busily examining the contents of
her black silk bag.
"Stop Congo, Betty," she exclaimed, after a hasty search. "I have forgotten
my handkerchief; I sprinkled it with camphor and left it on the bureau.
Tell him to go back at once."
"Take mine, take mine!" cried the girl, pressing it upon her; and then
turning her back upon the old lady, she leaned from the window and looked
over the valley filled with sunshine.
The whip cracked, the fat roans kicked the dust, and on they went merrily
down the branch road into the turnpike; past Aunt Ailsey's cabin, past the
wild cherry tree, where the blue sky shone through naked twigs; down the
long curve, past the tuft of cedars--and still the turnpike swept wide and
white, into the distance, dividing gay fields dotted with browsing cattle.
At Uplands Betty caught a glimpse of Aunt Lydia between the silver poplars,
and called joyfully from the window; but the words were lost in the
rattling of the wheels; and as she lay back in her corner, Uplands was left
behind, and in a little while they passed into the tavern road and went on
beneath the shade of interlacing branches.
Underfoot the ground was russet, and through the misty woods she saw the
leaves still falling against a dim blue perspective. The sunshine struck in
arrows across the way, and far ahead, at the end of the long vista, there
was golden space.
With the ten miles behind them, they came to the tavern in the early
afternoon, and, as a small tow-headed boy swung open the gate, the coach
rolled into the yard and drew up before the steps.
Jack Hicks started from his seat, and throwing his pipe aside, came
hurriedly to the wheels, but before he laid his hand upon the door, Betty
opened it and sprang lightly to the ground, her face radiant in the shadow
of her bonnet.
"Let me speak, child," called Mrs. Lightfoot after her, adding, with
courteous condescension, "How are you, Mr. Hicks? Will you go up at once
and tell my grandson to pack his things and come straight down. As soon as
the horses are rested we must start back again."
With visible perturbation Jack looked from the coach to the tavern door,
and stood awkwardly scraping his feet upon the road.
"I--I'll go up with all the pleasure in life, mum," he stammered; "but I
don't reckon thar's no use--he--he's gone."
"Gone?" cried the aghast old lady; and Betty rested her hand upon the
"Big Abel, he's gone, too," went on Jack, gaining courage from the
accustomed sound of his own drawl. "Mr. Dan tried his best to git away
without him--but Lord, Lord, the sense that nigger's got. Why, his marster
might as well have tried to give his own skin the slip--"
"Where did they go?" sharply put in the old lady. "Don't mumble your words,
speak plainly, if you please."
"He wouldn't tell me, mum; I axed him, but he wouldn't say. A letter came
last night, and this morning at sunup they were off--Mr. Dan in front, and
Big Abel behind with the bundle on his shoulder. They walked to
Leicestersburg, that's all I know, mum."
"Let me get inside," said Betty, quickly. Her face had gone white, but she
thanked Jack when he picked up the shawl she dropped, and went steadily
into the coach. "We may as well go back," she added with a little laugh.
Mrs. Lightfoot threw an anxious look into her face.
"We must consider the horses, my dear," she responded. "Mr. Hicks, will you
see that the horses are well fed and watered. Let them take their time."
"Oh, I forgot the horses," returned Betty apologetically, and patiently sat
down with her arm leaning in the window. There was a smile on her lips, and
she stared with bright eyes at the oak trees and the children playing among
THE HUSH BEFORE THE STORM
The autumn crept into winter; the winter went by, short and fitful, and the
spring unfolded slowly. With the milder weather the mud dried in the roads,
and the Major and the Governor went daily into Leicesterburg. The younger
man had carried his oratory and his influence into the larger cities of the
state, and he had come home, at the end of a month of speech-making, in a
fervour of almost boyish enthusiasm.
"I pledge my word for it, Julia," he had declared to his wife, "it will
take more than a Republican President to sever Virginia from the Union--in
fact, I'm inclined to think that it will take a thunderbolt from heaven, or
the Major for a despot!"
When, as the spring went on, men came from the political turmoil to ask for
his advice, he repeated the words with a conviction that was in itself a
ring of emphasis.
"We are in the Union, gentlemen, for better or for worse"--and of all the
guests who drank his Madeira under the pleasant shade of his maples, only
the Major found voice to raise a protest.
"We'll learn, sir, we'll live and learn," interposed the old gentleman.
"Let us hope we shall live easily," said the doctor, lifting his glass.
"And learn wisdom," added the rector, with a chuckle.
Through the spring and summer they rode leisurely back and forth, bringing
bundles of newspapers when they came, and taking away with them a memory of
the broad white portico and the mellow wine.
The Major took a spasmodic part in the discussions of peace or war, sitting
sometimes in a moody silence, and flaring up, like an exhausted candle, at
the news of an abolition outbreak. In his heart he regarded the state of
peace as a mean and beggarly condition and the sure resort of bloodless
cowards; but even a prospect of the inspiring dash of war could not elicit
so much as the semblance of his old ardour. His smile flashed but seldom
over his harsh features--it needed indeed the presence of Mrs. Ambler or of
Betty to bring it forth--and his erect figure had given way in the chest,
as if a strong wind bent him forward when he walked.
"He has grown to be an old man," his neighbours said pityingly; and it is
true that the weight of his years had fallen upon him in a night--as if he
had gone to bed in a hale old age, with the sap of youth in his veins, to
awaken with bleared eyes and a trembling hand. Since the day of his wife's
return from the tavern, when he had peered from his hiding-place in his
library window, he had not mentioned his grandson by name; and yet the
thought of him seemed forever lying beneath his captious exclamations. He
pricked nervously at the subject, made roundabout allusions to the base
ingratitude from which he suffered; and the desertion of Big Abel had
damned for him the whole faithful race from which the offender sprang.
"They are all alike," he sweepingly declared. "There is not a trustworthy
one among them. They'll eat my bread and steal my chickens, and then run
off with the first scapegrace that gives them a chance."
"I think Big Abel did just right," said Betty, fearlessly.
The old gentleman squared himself to fix her with his weak red eyes.
"Oh, you're just the same," he returned pettishly, "just the same."
"But I don't steal your chickens, sir," protested the girl, laughing.
The Major grunted and looked down at her in angry silence; then his face
relaxed and a frosty smile played about his lips.
"You are young, my child," he replied, in a kind of austere sadness, "and
youth is always an enemy to the old--to the old," he repeated quietly, and
looked at his wrinkled hand.
But in the excitement of the next autumn, he showed for a time a revival of
his flagging spirit. When the elections came he followed them with an
absorption that had in it all the violence of a mental malady. The four
possible Presidents that stood before the people were drawn for him in bold
lines of black and white--the outward and visible distinction between, on
the one side, the three "adventurers" whom he heartily opposed, and, on the
other, the "Kentucky gentleman," for whom he as heartily voted. There was
no wavering in his convictions--no uncertainty; he was troubled by no
delicate shades of indecision. What he believed, and that alone, was
God-given right; what he did not believe, with all things pertaining to it,
was equally God-forsaken error.
Toward the Governor, when the people's choice was known, he displayed a
resentment that was almost touching in its simplicity.
"There's a man who would tear the last rag of honour from the Old
Dominion," he remarked, in speaking of his absent neighbour.
"Ah, Major," sighed the rector, for it was upon one of his weekly visits,
"what course would you have us gird our loins to pursue?"
"Course?" promptly retorted the Major. "Why, the course of courage, sir."
The rector shook his great head. "My dear friend, I fear you recognize the
virtue only when she carries the battle-axe," he observed.
For a moment the Major glared at him; then, restrained by his inherited
reverence for the pulpit, he yielded the point with the soothing
acknowledgment that he was always "willing to make due allowance for
ministers of the gospel."
"My dear sir," gasped Mr. Blake, as his jaw dropped. His face showed
plainly that so professional an allowance was exactly what he did not take
to be his due; but he let sleeping dangers lie, and it was not until a
fortnight later, when he rode out with a copy of the _Charleston Mercury_
and the news of the secession of South Carolina, that he found the daring
to begin a direct approach.
It was a cold, bright evening in December, and the Major unfolded the paper
and read it by the firelight, which glimmered redly on the frosted window
panes. When he had finished, he looked over the fluttering sheet into the
pale face of the rector, and waited breathlessly for the first decisive
"May she depart in peace," said the minister, in a low voice.
The old gentleman drew a long breath, and, in the cheerful glow, the other,
looking at him, saw his weak red eyes fill with tears. Then he took out his
handkerchief, shook it from its folds, and loudly blew his nose.
"It was the Union our fathers made, Mr. Blake," he said.
"And the Union you fought for, Major," returned the rector.
"In two wars, sir," he glanced down at his arm as if he half expected to
see a wound, "and I shall never fight for another," he added with a sigh.
"My fighting days are over."
They were both silent, and the logs merrily crackled on the great brass
andirons, while the flames went singing up the chimney. A glass of Burgundy
was at the rector's hand, and he lifted it from the silver tray and sipped
it as he waited. At last the old man spoke, bending forward from his
station upon the hearth-rug.
"You haven't seen Peyton Ambler, I reckon?"
"I passed him coming out of town and he was trembling like a leaf," replied
the rector. "He looks badly, by the way. I must remember to tell the doctor
he needs building up."
"He didn't speak about this, eh?"
"About South Carolina? Oh, yes, he spoke, sir. It happened that Jack Powell
came up with him when I did--the boy was cheering with all his might, and I
heard him ask the Governor if he questioned the right of the state to
"And Peyton said, sir?" The Major leaned eagerly toward him.
"He said," pursued the rector, laughing softly. "'God forbid, my boy, that
I should question the right of any man or any country to pursue folly.'"
"Folly!" cried the Major, sharply, firing at the first sign of opposition.
"It was a brave deed, sir, a brave deed--and I--yes, I envy the honour for
Virginia. And as for Peyton Ambler, it is my belief that it is he who has
sapped the courage of the state. Why, my honest opinion is that there are
not fifty men in Virginia with the spirit to secede--and they are women."
The rector laughed and tapped his wine-glass.
"You mustn't let that reach Mrs. Lightfoot's ears, Major," he cautioned,
"for I happen to know that she prides herself upon being what the papers
call a 'skulker.'" He stopped and rose heavily to his feet, for, at this
point, the door was opened by Cupid and the old lady rustled stiffly into
"I came down to tell you, Mr. Lightfoot, that you really must not allow
yourself to become excited," she explained, when the rector had comfortably
settled her upon the hearth-rug.
"Pish! tush! my dear, there's not a cooler man in Virginia," replied the
Major, frowning; but for the rest of the evening he brooded in troubled
silence in his easy chair.
In February, a week after a convention of the people was called at
Richmond, the old gentleman surrendered to a sharp siege of the gout, and
through the long winter days he sat, red and querulous, before the library
fire, with his bandaged foot upon the ottoman that wore Aunt Emmeline's
wedding dress. From Leicesterburg a stanch Union man had gone to the
convention; and the Major still resented the selection of his neighbours as
bitterly as if it were an affront to aspirations of his own.
"Dick Powell! Pooh! he's another Peyton Ambler," he remarked testily, "and
on my word there're too many of his kind--too many of his kind. What we
lack, sir, is men of spirit."
When his friends came now he shot his angry questions, like bullets, from
the fireside. "Haven't they done anything yet, eh? How much longer do you
reckon that roomful of old women will gabble in Richmond? Why, we might as
well put a flock of sheep to decide upon a measure!"
But the "roomful of old women" would not be hurried, and the Major grew
almost hoarse with scolding. For more than two months, while North and
South barked at each other across her borders, Virginia patiently and
fruitlessly worked for peace; and for more than two months the Major
writhed a prisoner upon the hearth.
With the coming of the spring his health mended, and on an April morning,
when Betty and the Governor drove over for a quiet chat, they found him
limping painfully up and down the drive with the help of a great
He greeted them cordially, and limped after them into the library where
Mrs. Lightfoot sat knitting. While he slowly settled his foot, in its loose
"carpet" slipper, upon the ottoman, he began a rambling story of the War of
1812, recalling with relish a time when rations grew scant in camp, and
"Will Bolling and myself set out to scour the country." His thoughts had
made a quick spring backward, and in the midst of events that fired the
Governor's blood, he could still fondly dwell upon the battles of his
The younger man, facing him upon the hearth, listened with his patient
courtesy, and put in a sympathetic word at intervals. No personal anxiety
could cloud his comely face, nor any grievance of his own sharpen the edge
of his peculiar suavity. It was only when he rose to go that he voiced, for
a single instant, his recognition of the general danger, and replied to the
Major's inquiry about his health with the remark, "Ah, grave times make
grave faces, sir."
Then he bowed over Mrs. Lightfoot's hand, and with his arm about Betty went
out to the carriage.
"The Major's an old man, daughter," he observed, as they rolled rapidly
back to Uplands.
"You mean he has broken--" said Betty, and stopped short.
"Since Dan went away." As the Governor completed her sentence, he turned
and looked thoughtfully into her face. "It's hard to judge the young, my
dear, but--" he broke off as Betty had done, and added after a pause, "I
wonder where he is now?"
Betty raised her eyes and met his look. "I do not know," she answered, "but
I do know that he will come back;" and the Governor, being wise in his
generation, said nothing more.
That afternoon he went down into the country to inspect a decayed
plantation which had come into his hands, and returning two days later, he
rode into Leicesterburg and up to the steps of the little post-office,
where, as usual, the neighbouring farmers lounged while they waited for an
expected despatch, or discussed the midday mail with each newcomer. It was
April weather, and the afternoon sunshine, having scattered the loose
clouds in the west, slanted brightly down upon the dusty street, the little
whitewashed building, and the locust tree in full bloom before the porch.
When he had dismounted, the Governor tied his horse to the long white pole,
raised for that purpose along the sidewalk, and went slowly up the steps,
shaking a dozen outstretched hands before he reached the door.
"What news, gentlemen?" he asked with his pleasant smile. "For two days I
have been beyond the papers."
"Then there's news enough, Governor," responded several voices, uniting in
a common excitement. "There's news enough since Tuesday, and yet we're
waiting here for more. The President has called for troops from Virginia to
invade the South."
"To invade the South," repeated the Governor, paling, and a man behind him
took up the words and said them over with a fine sarcasm, "To invade the
The Governor turned away and walked to the end of the little porch, where
he stood leaning upon the railing. With his eyes on the blossoming locust
tree, he waited, in helpless patience, for the words to enter into his
thoughts and to readjust his conceptions of the last few months. There
slowly came to him, as he recognized the portentous gravity in the air
about him, something of the significance of that ringing call; and as he
stood there he saw before him the vision of an army led by strangers
against the people of its blood--of an army wasting the soil it loved,
warring for an alien right against the convictions it clung to and the
faith it cherished.
His brow darkened, and he turned with set lips to the group upon the steps.
He was about to speak, but before the words were uttered, there was a cheer
from the open doorway, and a man, waving a despatch in his hand, came
running into the crowd.
"Last night there was a secret session," he cried gayly, "and Virginia has
seceded! hurrah! hurrah! Virginia has seceded!" The gay voice passed, and
the speaker, still waving the paper in his hand, ran down into the street.
The men upon the porch looked at one another, and were silent. In the
bright sunshine their faces showed pale and troubled, and when the sound of
cheers came floating from the courthouse green, they started as if at the
first report of cannon. Then, raising his hand, the Governor bared his head
"God bless Virginia, gentlemen," he said.
* * * * *
The next week Champe came home from college, flushed with enthusiasm, eager
to test his steel.
"It's great news, uncle," were his first joyful words, as he shook the
"That it is, my boy, that it is," chuckled the Major, in a high
"I'm going, you know," went on the young man lightly. "They're getting up a
company in Leicesterburg, and I'm to be Captain. I got a letter about it a
week ago, and I've been studying like thunder ever since."
"Well, well, it will be a pleasant little change for you," responded the
old man. "There's nothing like a few weeks of war to give one an appetite."
Mrs. Lightfoot looked up from her knitting with a serious face.
"Don't you think it may last months, Mr. Lightfoot?" she inquired
dubiously. "I was wondering if I hadn't better supply Champe with extra
"Tut-tut, ma'am," protested the Major, warmly. "Can't you leave such things
as war to my judgment? Haven't I been in two? Months! Nonsense! Why, in two
weeks we'll sweep every Yankee in the country as far north as Greenland.
Two weeks will be ample time, ma'am."
"Well, I give them six months," generously remarked Champe, in defiance of
the Major's gathering frown.
"And what do you know about it, sir?" demanded the old gentleman. "Were you
in the War of 1812? Were you even in the Mexican War, sir?"
"Well, hardly," replied Champe, smiling, "but all the same I give them six
months to get whipped."
"I'm sure I hope it will be over before winter," observed Mrs. Lightfoot,
glancing round. "Things will be a little upset, I fear."
The Major twitched with anger. "There you go again--both of you!" he
exclaimed. "I might suppose after all these years you would place some
reliance on my judgment; but, no, you will keep up your croaking until our
troops are dictating terms at Washington. Six months! Tush!"
"Professor Bates thinks it will take a year," returned Champe, his interest
overleaping his discretion.
"And when did he fight, sir?" inquired the Major.
"Well, any way, it's safer to prepare for six months," was Champe's
rejoinder. "I shouldn't like to run short of things, you know."
"You'll do nothing of the kind, sir," thundered the Major. "It's going to
be a two weeks' war, and you shall take an outfit for two weeks, or stay at
home! By God, sir, if you contradict me again I'll not let you go to fight
Champe stared for an instant into the inflamed face of the old gentleman,
and then his cheery smile broke out.
"That settles it, uncle," he said soothingly. "It's to be a war of two
weeks, and I'll come home a Major-general before the holidays."
THE SCHOOL OF WAR
HOW MERRY GENTLEMEN WENT TO WAR
The July sun fell straight and hot upon the camp, and Dan, as he sat on a
woodpile and ate a green apple, wistfully cast his eyes about for a deeper
shade. But the young tree from which he had just shaken its last fruit
stood alone between the scattered tents and the blur of willows down the
gentle slope, and beneath its speckled shadow the mess had gathered
sleepily, after the mid-day meal.
In the group of privates, stretched under the gauzy shade on the trampled
grass, the first thing to strike an observer would have been, perhaps,
their surprising youth. They were all young--the eldest hardly more than
three and twenty--and the faces bore a curious resemblance in type, as if
they were, one and all, variations from a common stock. There was about
them, too, a peculiar expression of enthusiasm, showing even in the faces
of those who slept; a single wave of emotion which, rising to its height in
an entire people revealed itself in the features of the individual soldier.
As yet the flower of the South had not withered on its stalk, and the men
first gathered to defend the borders were men who embraced a cause as
fervently as they would embrace a woman; men in whom the love of an
abstract principle became, not a religion, but a romantic passion.
Beyond them, past the scattered tents and the piles of clean straw, the
bruised grass of the field swept down to a little stream and the fallen
stones that had once marked off the turnpike. Farther away, there was a
dark stretch of pines relieved against the faint blue tracery of the
Dan, sitting in the thin shelter on the woodpile, threw a single glance at
the strip of pines, and brought back his gaze to Big Abel who was splitting
an oak log hard by. The work had been assigned to the master, who had, in
turn, tossed it to the servant, with the remark that he "came out to kill
men, not to cut wood."
"I say, Big Abel, this sun's blazing hot," he now offered cheerfully.
Big Abel paused for a moment and wiped his brow with his blue cotton
"Dis yer ain' no oak, caze it's w'it-leather," he rejoined in an injured
tone, as he lifted the axe and sent it with all his might into the
shivering log, which threw out a shower of fine chips. The powerful stroke
brought into play the negro's splendid muscles, and Dan, watching him,
carelessly observed to a young fellow lying half asleep upon the ground,
"Big Abel could whip us all, Bland, if he had a mind to."
Bland grunted and opened his eyes; then he yawned, stretched his arms, and
sat up against the logs. He was bright and boyish-looking, with a frank
tanned face, which made his curling flaxen hair seem almost white.
"I worked like a darky hauling yesterday," he said reproachfully, "but when
your turn comes, you climb a woodpile and pass the job along. When we go
into battle I suppose Dandy and you will sit down to boil coffee, and hand
your muskets to the servants."
"Oh, are we ever going into battle?" growled Jack Powell from the other
side. "Here I've been at this blamed drilling until I'm stiff in every
joint, and I haven't seen so much as the tail end of a fight. You may rant
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