Produced by Wendy Crockett, Tiffany Vergon, Juliet Sutherland, Charles Aldarondo, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
THE BATTLE GROUND
By ELLEN GLASGOW
The Beloved Memory of My Mother
I. “De Hine Foot er a He Frawg”
II. At the Full of the Moon
III. The Coming of the Boy
IV. A House with an Open Door
V. The School for Gentlemen
VI. College Days
I. The Major’s Christmas
II. Betty dreams by the Fire
III. Dan and Betty
IV. Love in a Maze
V. The Major loses his Temper
VI. The Meeting in the Turnpike
VII. If this be Love
VIII. Betty’s Unbelief
IX. The Montjoy Blood
X. The Road at Midnight
XI. At Merry Oaks Tavern
XII. The Night of Fear
XIII. Crabbed Age and Callow Youth XIV. The Hush before the Storm
THE SCHOOL OF WAR
I. How Merry Gentlemen went to War
II. The Day’s March
III. The Reign of the Brute
IV. After the Battle
V. The Woman’s Part
VI. On the Road to Romney
VII. “I wait my Time”
VIII. The Altar of the War God
IX. The Montjoy Blood again
THE RETURN OF THE VANQUISHED
I. The Ragged Army
II. A Straggler from the Ranks
III. The Cabin in the Woods
IV. In the Silence of the Guns
V. “The Place Thereof”
VI. The Peaceful Side of War.
VII. The Silent Battle
VIII. The Last Stand
IX. In the Hour of Defeat
X. On the March again
XI. The Return
“DE HINE FOOT ER A HE FRAWG”
Toward the close of an early summer afternoon, a little girl came running along the turnpike to where a boy stood wriggling his feet in the dust.
“Old Aunt Ailsey’s done come back,” she panted, “an’ she’s conjured the tails off Sambo’s sheep. I saw ’em hanging on her door!”
The boy received the news with an indifference from which it blankly rebounded. He buried one bare foot in the soft white sand and withdrew it with a jerk that powdered the blackberry vines beside the way.
“Where’s Virginia?” he asked shortly.
The little girl sat down in the tall grass by the roadside and shook her red curls from her eyes. She gave a breathless gasp and began fanning herself with the flap of her white sunbonnet. A fine moisture shone on her bare neck and arms above her frock of sprigged chintz calico.
“She can’t run a bit,” she declared warmly, peering into the distance of the long white turnpike. “I’m a long ways ahead of her, and I gave her the start. Zeke’s with her.”
With a grunt the boy promptly descended from his heavy dignity.
“You can’t run,” he retorted. “I’d like to see a girl run, anyway.” He straightened his legs and thrust his hands into his breeches pockets. “You can’t run,” he repeated.
The little girl flashed a clear defiance; from a pair of beaming hazel eyes she threw him a scornful challenge. “I bet I can beat you,” she stoutly rejoined. Then as the boy’s glance fell upon her hair, her defiance waned. She put on her sunbonnet and drew it down over her brow. “I reckon I can run some,” she finished uneasily.
The boy followed her movements with a candid stare. “You can’t hide it,” he taunted; “it shines right through everything. O Lord, ain’t I glad my head’s not red!”
At this pharisaical thanksgiving the little girl flushed to the ruffled brim of her bonnet. Her sensitive lips twitched, and she sat meekly gazing past the boy at the wall of rough gray stones which skirted a field of ripening wheat. Over the wheat a light wind blew, fanning the even heads of the bearded grain and dropping suddenly against the sunny mountains in the distance. In the nearer pasture, where the long grass was strewn with wild flowers, red and white cattle were grazing beside a little stream, and the tinkle of the cow bells drifted faintly across the slanting sunrays. It was open country, with a peculiar quiet cleanliness about its long white roads and the genial blues and greens of its meadows.
“Ain’t I glad, O Lord!” chanted the boy again.
The little girl stirred impatiently, her gaze fluttering from the landscape.
“Old Aunt Ailsey’s conjured all the tails off Sambo’s sheep,” she remarked, with feminine wile. “I saw ’em hanging on her door.”
“Oh, shucks! she can’t conjure!” scoffed the boy. “She’s nothing but a free nigger, anyway–and besides, she’s plum crazy–“
“I saw ’em hanging on her door,” steadfastly repeated the little girl. “The wind blew ’em right out, an’ there they were.”
“Well, they wan’t Sambo’s sheep tails,” retorted the boy, conclusively, “’cause Sambo’s sheep ain’t got any tails.”
Brought to bay, the little girl looked doubtfully up and down the turnpike. “Maybe she conjured ’em _on_ first,” she suggested at last.
“Oh, you’re a regular baby, Betty,” exclaimed the boy, in disgust. “You’ll be saying next that she can make rattlesnake’s teeth sprout out of the ground.”
“She’s got a mighty funny garden patch,” admitted Betty, still credulous. Then she jumped up and ran along the road. “Here’s Virginia!” she called sharply, “an’ I beat her! I beat her fair!”
A second little girl came panting through the dust, followed by a small negro boy with a shining black face. “There’s a wagon comin’ roun’ the curve,” she cried excitedly, “an’ it’s filled with old Mr. Willis’s servants. He’s dead, and they’re sold–Dolly’s sold, too.”
She was a fragile little creature, coloured like a flower, and her smooth brown hair hung in silken braids to her sash. The strings of her white pique bonnet lined with pink were daintily tied under her oval chin; there was no dust on her bare legs or short white socks.
As she spoke there came the sound of voices singing, and a moment later the wagon jogged heavily round a tuft of stunted cedars which jutted into the long curve of the highway. The wheels crunched a loose stone in the road, and the driver drawled a, patient “gee-up” to the horses, as he flicked at a horse-fly with the end of his long rawhide whip. There was about him an almost cosmic good nature; he regarded the landscape, the horses and the rocks in the road with imperturbable ease.
Behind him, in the body of the wagon, the negro women stood chanting the slave’s farewell; and as they neared the children, he looked back and spoke persuasively. “I’d set down if I was you all,” he said. “You’d feel better. Thar, now, set down and jolt softly.”
But without turning the women kept up their tremulous chant, bending their turbaned heads to the imaginary faces upon the roadside. They had left their audience behind them on the great plantation, but they still sang to the empty road and courtesied to the cedars upon the way. Excitement gripped them like a frenzy–and a childish joy in a coming change blended with a mother’s yearning over broken ties.
A bright mulatto led, standing at full height, and her rich notes rolled like an organ beneath the shrill plaint of her companions. She was large, deep-bosomed, and comely after her kind, and in her careless gestures there was something of the fine fervour of the artist. She sang boldly, her full body rocking from side to side, her bared arms outstretched, her long throat swelling like a bird’s above the gaudy handkerchief upon her breast.
The others followed her, half artlessly, half in imitation, mingling with their words grunts of self-approval. A grin ran from face to face as if thrown by the grotesque flash of a lantern. Only a little black woman crouching in one corner bowed herself and wept.
The children had fallen back against the stone wall, where they hung staring.
“Good-by, Dolly!” they called cheerfully, and the woman answered with a long-drawn, hopeless whine:–
“Gawd A’moughty bless you twel we
Zeke broke from the group and ran a few steps beside the wagon, shaking the outstretched hands.
The driver nodded peaceably to him, and cut with a single stroke of his whip an intricate figure in the sand of the road. “Git up an’ come along with us, sonny,” he said cordially; but Zeke only grinned in reply, and the children laughed and waved their handkerchiefs from the wall. “Good-by, Dolly, and Mirandy, and Sukey Sue!” they shouted, while the women, bowing over the rolling wheels, tossed back a fragment of the song:–
“We hope ter meet you in heaven, whar we’ll Part no mo’,
Whar we’ll part no mo’;
Gawd A’moughty bless you twel we
“Twel we meet agin,” chirped the little girls, tripping into the chorus.
Then, with a last rumble, the wagon went by, and Zeke came trotting back and straddled the stone wall, where he sat looking down upon the loose poppies that fringed the yellowed edge of the wheat.
“Dey’s gwine way-way f’om hyer, Marse Champe,” he said dreamily. “Dey’s gwine right spang over dar whar de sun done come f’om.”
“Colonel Minor bought ’em,” Champe explained, sliding from the wall, “and he bought Dolly dirt cheap–I heard Uncle say so–” With a grin he looked up at the small black figure perched upon the crumbling stones. “You’d better look out how you steal any more of my fishing lines, or I’ll sell you,” he threatened.
“Gawd er live! I ain’ stole one on ’em sence las’ mont’,” protested Zeke, as he turned a somersault into the road, “en dat warn’ stealin’ ‘case hit warn’ wu’th it,” he added, rising to his feet and staring wistfully after the wagon as it vanished in a sunny cloud of dust.
Over the broad meadows, filled with scattered wild flowers, the sound of the chant still floated, with a shrill and troubled sweetness, upon the wind. As he listened the little negro broke into a jubilant refrain, beating his naked feet in the dust:–
“Gawd A’moughty bless you twel we
Then he looked slyly up at his young master.
“I ‘low dar’s one thing you cyarn do, Marse Champe.”
“I bet there isn’t,” retorted Champe.
“You kin sell me ter Marse Minor–but Lawd, Lawd, you cyarn mek mammy leave off whuppin’ me. You cyarn do dat widout you ‘uz a real ole marster hese’f.”
“I reckon I can,” said Champe, indignantly. “I’d just like to see her lay hands on you again. I can make mammy leave off whipping him, can’t I, Betty?”
But Betty, with a toss of her head, took her revenge.
“‘Tain’t so long since yo’ mammy whipped you,” she rejoined. “An’ I reckon ’tain’t so long since you needed it.”
As she stood there, a spirited little figure, in a patch of faint sunshine, her hair threw a halo of red gold about her head. When she smiled–and she smiled now, saucily enough–her eyes had a trick of narrowing until they became mere beams of light between her lashes. Her eyes would smile, though her lips were as prim as a preacher’s.
Virginia gave a timid pull at Betty’s frock. “Champe’s goin’ home with us,” she said, “his uncle told him to–You’re goin’ home with us, ain’t you, Champe?”
“I ain’t goin’ home,” responded Betty, jerking from Virginia’s grasp. She stood warm yet resolute in the middle of the road, her bonnet swinging in her hands. “I ain’t goin’ home,” she repeated.
Turning his back squarely upon her, Champe broke into a whistle of unconcern. “You’d just better come along,” he called over his shoulder as he started off. “You’d just better come along, or you’ll catch it.”
“I ain’t comin’,” answered Betty, defiantly, and as they passed away kicking the dust before them, she swung her bonnet hard, and spoke aloud to herself. “I ain’t comin’,” she said stubbornly.
The distance lengthened; the three small figures passed the wheat field, stopped for an instant to gather green apples that had fallen from a stray apple tree, and at last slowly dwindled into the white streak of the road. She was alone on the deserted turnpike.
For a moment she hesitated, caught her breath, and even took three steps on the homeward way; then turning suddenly she ran rapidly in the opposite direction. Over the deepening shadows she sped as lightly as a hare.
At the end of a half mile, when her breath came in little pants, she stopped with a nervous start and looked about her. The loneliness seemed drawing closer like a mist, and the cry of a whip-poor-will from the little stream in the meadow sent frightened thrills, like needles, through her limbs.
Straight ahead the sun was setting in a pale red west, against which the mountains stood out as if sculptured in stone. On one side swept the pasture where a few sheep browsed; on the other, at the place where two roads met, there was a blasted tree that threw its naked shadow across the turnpike. Beyond the tree and its shadow a well-worn foot-path led to a small log cabin from which a streak of smoke was rising. Through the open door the single room within showed ruddy with the blaze of resinous pine.
The little girl daintily picked her way along the foot-path and through a short garden patch planted in onions and black-eyed peas. Beside a bed of sweet sage she faltered an instant and hung back. “Aunt Ailsey,” she called tremulously, “I want to speak to you, Aunt Ailsey.” She stepped upon the smooth round stone which served for a doorstep and looked into the room. “It’s me, Aunt Ailsey! It’s Betty Ambler,” she said.
A slow shuffling began inside the cabin, and an old negro woman hobbled presently to the daylight and stood peering from under her hollowed palm. She was palsied with age and blear-eyed with trouble, and time had ironed all the kink out of the thin gray locks that straggled across her brow. She peered dimly at the child as one who looks from a great distance.
“I lay dat’s one er dese yer ole hoot owls,” she muttered querulously, “en ef’n ’tis, he des es well be a-hootin’ along home, caze I ain’ gwine be pestered wid his pranks. Dar ain’ but one kind er somebody es will sass you at yo’ ve’y do,’ en dat’s a hoot owl es is done loss count er de time er day–“
“I ain’t an owl, Aunt Ailsey,” meekly broke in Betty, “an’ I ain’t hootin’ at you–“
Aunt Ailsey reached out and touched her hair. “You ain’ none er Marse Peyton’s chile,” she said. “I’se done knowed de Amblers sence de fu’st one er dem wuz riz, en dar ain’ never been a’er Ambler wid a carrot haid–“
The red ran from Betty’s curls into her face, but she smiled politely as she followed Aunt Ailsey into the cabin and sat down in a split-bottomed chair upon the hearth. The walls were formed of rough, unpolished logs, and upon them, as against an unfinished background, the firelight threw reddish shadows of the old woman and the child. Overhead, from the uncovered rafters, hung several tattered sheepskins, and around the great fireplace there was a fringe of dead snakes and lizards, long since as dry as dust. Under the blazing logs, which filled the hut with an almost unbearable heat, an ashcake was buried beneath a little gravelike mound of ashes.
Aunt Ailsey took up a corncob pipe from the stones and fell to smoking. She sank at once into a senile reverie, muttering beneath her breath with short, meaningless grunts. Warm as the summer evening was, she shivered before the glowing logs.
For a time the child sat patiently watching the embers; then she leaned forward and touched the old woman’s knee. “Aunt Ailsey, O Aunt Ailsey!”
Aunt Ailsey stirred wearily and crossed her swollen feet upon the hearth.
“Dar ain’ nuttin’ but a hoot owl dat’ll sass you ter yo’ face,” she muttered, and, as she drew her pipe from her mouth, the gray smoke circled about her head.
The child edged nearer. “I want to speak to you, Aunt Ailsey,” she said. She seized the withered hand and held it close in her own rosy ones. “I want you–O Aunt Ailsey, listen! I want you to conjure my hair coal black.”
She finished with a gasp, and with parted lips sat waiting. “Coal black, Aunt Ailsey!” she cried again.
A sudden excitement awoke in the old woman’s face; her hands shook and she leaned nearer. “Hi! who dat done tole you I could conjure, honey?” she demanded.
“Oh, you can, I know you can. You conjured back Sukey’s lover from Eliza Lou, and you conjured all the pains out of Uncle Shadrach’s leg.” She fell on her knees and laid her head in the old woman’s lap. “Conjure quick and I won’t holler,” she said.
“Gawd in heaven!” exclaimed Aunt Ailsey. Her dim old eyes brightened as she gently stroked the child’s brow with her palsied fingers. “Dis yer ain’ no way ter conjure, honey,” she whispered. “You des wait twel de full er de moon, w’en de devil walks de big road.” She was wandering again after the fancies of dotage, but Betty threw herself upon her. “Oh, change it! change it!” cried the child. “Beg the devil to come and change it quick.”
Brought back to herself, Aunt Ailsey grunted and knocked the ashes from her pipe. “I ain’ gwine ter ax no favors er de devil,” she replied sternly. “You des let de devil alont en he’ll let you alont. I’se done been young, en I’se now ole, en I ain’ never seed de devil stick his mouf in anybody’s bizness ‘fo’ he’s axed.”
She bent over and raked the ashes from her cake with a lightwood splinter. “Dis yer’s gwine tase moughty flat-footed,” she grumbled as she did so.
“O Aunt Ailsey,” wailed Betty in despair. The tears shone in her eyes and rolled slowly down her cheeks.
“Dar now,” said Aunt Ailsey, soothingly, “you des set right still en wait twel ter-night at de full er de moon.” She got up and took down one of the crumbling skins from the chimney-piece. “Ef’n de hine foot er a he frawg cyarn tu’n yo’ hyar decent,” she said, “dar ain’ nuttin’ de Lawd’s done made es’ll do hit. You des wrop er hank er yo’ hyar roun’ de hine foot, honey, en’ w’en de night time done come, you teck’n hide it unner a rock in de big road. W’en de devil goes a-cotin’ at de full er de moon–en he been cotin’ right stiddy roun’ dese yer parts–he gwine tase dat ar frawg foot a mile off.”
“A mile off?” repeated the child, stretching out her hands.
“Yes, Lawd, he gwine tase dat ar frawg foot a mile off, en w’en he tase hit, he gwine begin ter sniff en ter snuff. He gwine sniff en he gwine snuff, en he gwine sniff en he gwine snuff twel he run right spang agin de rock in de middle er de road. Den he gwine paw en paw twel he root de rock clean up.”
The little girl looked up eagerly.
“An’ my hair, Aunt Ailsey?”
“De devil he gwine teck cyar er yo’ hyar, honey. W’en he come a-sniffin’ en a-snuffin’ roun’ de rock in de big road, he gwine spit out flame en smoke en yo’ hyar hit’s gwine ter ketch en hit’s gwine ter bu’n right black. Fo’ de sun up yo’ haid’s gwine ter be es black es a crow’s foot.”
The child dried her tears and sprang up. She tied the frog’s skin tightly in her handkerchief and started toward the door; then she hesitated and looked back. “Were you alive at the flood, Aunt Ailsey?” she politely inquired.
“Des es live es I is now, honey.”
“Then you must have seen Noah and the ark and all the animals?”
“Des es plain es I see you. Marse Noah? Why, I’se done wash en i’on Marse Noah’s shuts twel I ‘uz right stiff in de j’ints. He ain’ never let nobody flute his frills fur ‘im ‘cep’n’ me. Lawd, Lawd, Marse Peyton’s shuts warn’ nuttin ter Marse Noah’s!”
Betty’s eyes grew big. “I reckon you’re mighty old, Aunt Ailsey–‘most as old as God, ain’t you?”
Aunt Ailsey pondered the question. “I ain’ sayin’ dat, honey,” she modestly replied.
“Then you’re certainly as old as the devil–you must be,” hopefully suggested the little girl.
The old woman wavered. “Well, de devil, he ain’ never let on his age,” she said at last; “but w’en I fust lay eyes on ‘im, he warn’ no mo’n a brat.”
Standing upon the threshold for an instant, the child reverently regarded her. Then, turning her back upon the fireplace and the bent old figure, she ran out into the twilight.
AT THE FULL OF THE MOON
By the light of the big moon hanging like a lantern in the topmost pine upon a distant mountain, the child sped swiftly along the turnpike.
It was a still, clear evening, and on the summits of the eastern hills a fringe of ragged firs stood out illuminated against the sky. In the warm June weather the whole land was fragrant from the flower of the wild grape.
When she had gone but a little way, the noise of wheels reached her suddenly, and she shrank into the shadow beside the wall. A cloud of dust chased toward her as the wheels came steadily on. They were evidently ancient, for they turned with a protesting creak which was heard long before the high, old-fashioned coach they carried swung into view–long indeed before the driver’s whip cracked in the air.
As the coach neared the child, she stepped boldly out into the road–it was only Major Lightfoot, the owner of the next plantation, returning, belated, from the town.
“W’at you doin’ dar, chile?” demanded a stern voice from the box, and, at the words, the Major’s head was thrust through the open window, and his long white hair waved in the breeze.
“Is that you, Betty?” he asked, in surprise. “Why, I thought it was the duty of that nephew of mine to see you home.”
“I wouldn’t let him,” replied the child. “I don’t like boys, sir.”
“You don’t, eh?” chuckled the Major. “Well, there’s time enough for that, I suppose. You can make up to them ten years hence,–and you’ll be glad enough to do it then, I warrant you,–but are you all alone, young lady?” As Betty nodded, he opened the door and stepped gingerly down. “I can’t turn the horses’ heads, poor things,” he explained; “but if you will allow me, I shall have the pleasure of escorting you on foot.”
With his hat in his hand, he smiled down upon the little girl, his face shining warm and red above his pointed collar and broad black stock. He was very tall and spare, and his eyebrows, which hung thick and dark above his Roman nose, gave him an odd resemblance to a bird of prey. The smile flashed like an artificial light across his austere features.
“Since my arm is too high for you,” he said, “will you have my hand?–Yes, you may drive on, Big Abel,” to the driver, “and remember to take out those bulbs of Spanish lilies for your mistress. You will find them under the seat.”
The whip cracked again above the fat old roans, and with a great creak the coach rolled on its way.
“I–I–if you please, I’d rather you wouldn’t,” stammered the child.
The Major chuckled again, still holding out his hand. Had she been eighty instead of eight, the gesture could not have expressed more deference. “So you don’t like old men any better than boys!” he exclaimed.
“Oh, yes, sir, I do–heaps,” said Betty. She transferred the frog’s foot to her left hand, and gave him her right one. “When I marry, I’m going to marry a very old gentleman–as old as you,” she added flatteringly.
“You honour me,” returned the Major, with a bow; “but there’s nothing like youth, my dear, nothing like youth.” He ended sadly, for he had been a gay young blood in his time, and the enchantment of his wild oats had increased as he passed further from the sowing of them. He had lived to regret both the loss of his gayety and the languor of his blood, and, as he drifted further from the middle years, he had at last yielded to tranquillity with a sigh. In his day he had matched any man in Virginia at cards or wine or women–to say nothing of horseflesh; now his white hairs had brought him but a fond, pale memory of his misdeeds and the boast that he knew his world–that he knew all his world, indeed, except his wife.
“Ah, there’s nothing like youth!” he sighed over to himself, and the child looked up and laughed.
“Why do you say that?” she asked.
“You will know some day,” replied the Major. He drew himself erect in his tight black broadcloth, and thrust out his chin between the high points of his collar. His long white hair, falling beneath his hat, framed his ruddy face in silver. “There are the lights of Uplands,” he said suddenly, with a wave of his hand.
Betty quickened her pace to his, and they went on in silence. Through the thick grove that ended at the roadside she saw the windows of her home flaming amid the darkness. Farther away there were the small lights of the negro cabins in the “quarters,” and a great one from the barn door where the field hands were strumming upon their banjos.
“I reckon supper’s ready,” she remarked, walking faster. “Yonder comes Peter, from the kitchen with the waffles.”
They entered an iron gate that opened from the road, and went up a lane of lilac bushes to the long stuccoed house, set with detached wings in a grove of maples. “Why, there’s papa looking for me,” cried the child, as a man’s figure darkened the square of light from the hall and came between the Doric columns of the portico down into the drive.
“You won’t have to search far, Governor,” called the Major, in his ringing voice, and, as the other came up to him, he stopped to shake hands. “Miss Betty has given me the pleasure of a stroll with her.”
“Ah, it was like you, Major,” returned the other, heartily. “I’m afraid it isn’t good for your gout, though.”
He was a small, soldierly-looking man, with a clean-shaven, classic face, and thick, brown hair, slightly streaked with gray. Beside the Major’s gaunt figure he appeared singularly boyish, though he held himself severely to the number of his inches, and even added, by means of a simplicity almost august, a full cubit to his stature. Ten years before he had been governor of his state, and to his friends and neighbours the empty honour, at least, was still his own.
“Pooh! pooh!” the older man protested airily, “the gout’s like a woman, my dear sir–if you begin to humour it, you’ll get no rest. If you deny yourself a half bottle of port, the other half will soon follow. No, no, I say–put a bold foot on the matter. Don’t give up a good thing for the sake of a bad one, sir. I remember my grandfather in England telling me that at his first twinge of gout he took a glass of sherry, and at the second he took two. ‘What! would you have my toe become my master?’ he roared to the doctor. ‘I wouldn’t give in if it were my whole confounded foot, sir!’ Oh, those were ripe days, Governor!”
“A little overripe for the toe, I fear, Major.”
“Well, well, we’re sober enough now, sir, sober enough and to spare. Even the races are dull things. I’ve just been in to have a look at that new mare Tom Bickels is putting on the track, and bless my soul, she can’t hold a candle to the Brown Bess I ran twenty years ago–you don’t remember Brown Bess, eh, Governor?”
“Why, to be sure,” said the Governor. “I can see her as if it were yesterday,–and a beauty she was, too,–but come in to supper with us, my dear Major; we were just sitting down. No, I shan’t take an excuse–come in, sir, come in.”
“No, no, thank you,” returned the Major. “Molly’s waiting, and Molly doesn’t like to wait, you know. I got dinner at Merry Oaks tavern by the way, and a mighty bad one, too, but the worst thing about it was that they actually had the impudence to put me at the table with an abolitionist. Why, I’d as soon eat with a darkey, sir, and so I told him, so I told him!”
The Governor laughed, his fine, brown eyes twinkling in the gloom. “You were always a man of your word,” he said; “so I must tell Julia to mend her views before she asks you to dine. She has just had me draw up my will and free the servants. There’s no withstanding Julia, you know, Major.”
“You have an angel,” declared the other, “and she gets lovelier every day; my regards to her,–and to her aunts, sir. Ah, good night, good night,” and with a last cordial gesture he started rapidly upon his homeward way.
Betty caught the Governor’s hand and went with him into the house. As they entered the hall, Uncle Shadrach, the head butler, looked out to reprimand her. “Ef’n anybody ‘cep’n Marse Peyton had cotch you, you’d er des been lammed,” he grumbled. “An’ papa was real mad!” called Virginia from the table.
“That’s jest a story!” cried Betty. Still clinging to her father’s hand, she entered the dining room; “that’s jest a story, papa,” she repeated.
“No, I’m not angry,” laughed the Governor. “There, my dear, for heaven’s sake don’t strangle me. Your mother’s the one for you to hang on. Can’t you see what a rage she’s in?”
“My dear Mr. Ambler,” remonstrated his wife, looking over the high old silver service. She was very frail and gentle, and her voice was hardly more than a clear whisper. “No, no, Betty, you must go up and wash your face first,” she added decisively.
The Governor sat down and unfolded his napkin, beaming hospitality upon his food and his family. He surveyed his wife, her two maiden aunts and his own elder brother with the ineffable good humour he bestowed upon the majestic home-cured ham fresh from a bath of Madeira.
“I am glad to see you looking so well, my dear,” he remarked to his wife, with a courtliness in which there was less polish than personality. “Ah, Miss Lydia, I know whom to thank for this,” he added, taking up a pale tea rosebud from his plate, and bowing to one of the two old ladies seated beside his wife. “Have you noticed, Julia, that even the roses have become more plentiful since your aunts did us the honour to come to us?”
“I am sure the garden ought to be grateful to Aunt Lydia,” said his wife, with a pleased smile, “and the quinces to Aunt Pussy,” she added quickly, “for they were never preserved so well before.”
The two old ladies blushed and cast down their eyes, as they did every evening at the same kindly by-play. “You know I am very glad to be of use, my dear Julia,” returned Miss Pussy, with conscious virtue. Miss Lydia, who was tall and delicate and bent with the weight of potential sanctity, shook her silvery head and folded her exquisite old hands beneath the ruffles of her muslin under-sleeves. She wore her hair in shining folds beneath her thread-lace cap, and her soft brown eyes still threw a youthful lustre over the faded pallor of her face.
“Pussy has always had a wonderful talent for preserving,” she murmured plaintively. “It makes me regret my own uselessness.”
“Uselessness!” warmly protested the Governor. “My dear Miss Lydia, your mere existence is a blessing to mankind. A lovely woman is never useless, eh, Brother Bill?”
Mr. Bill, a stout and bashful gentleman, who never wasted words, merely bowed over his plate, and went on with his supper. There was a theory in the family–a theory romantic old Miss Lydia still hung hard by–that Mr. Bill’s peculiar apathy was of a sentimental origin. Nearly thirty years before he had made a series of mild advances to his second cousin, Virginia Ambler–and her early death before their polite vows were plighted had, in the eyes of his friends, doomed the morose Mr. Bill to the position of a perpetual mourner.
Now, as he shook his head and helped himself to chicken, Miss Lydia sighed in sympathy.
“I am afraid Mr. Bill must find us very flippant,” she offered as a gentle reproof to the Governor.
Mr. Bill started and cast a frightened glance across the table. Thirty years are not as a day, and, after all, his emotion had been hardly more than he would have felt for a prize perch that had wriggled from his line into the stream. The perch, indeed, would have represented more appropriately the passion of his life–though a lukewarm lover, he was an ardent angler.
“Ah, Brother Bill understands us,” cheerfully interposed the Governor. His keen eyes had noted Mr. Bill’s alarm as they noted the emptiness of Miss Pussy’s cup. “By the way, Julia,” he went on with a change of the subject, “Major Lightfoot found Betty in the road and brought her home. The little rogue had run away.”
Mrs. Ambler filled Miss Pussy’s cup and pressed Mr. Bill to take a slice of Sally Lunn. “The Major is so broken that it saddens me,” she said, when these offices of hostess were accomplished. “He has never been himself since his daughter ran away, and that was–dear me, why that was twelve years ago next Christmas. It was on Christmas Eve, you remember, he came to tell us. The house was dressed in evergreens, and Uncle Patrick was making punch.”
“Poor Patrick was a hard drinker,” sighed Miss Lydia; “but he was a citizen of the world, my dear.”
“Yes, yes, I perfectly recall the evening,” said the Governor, thoughtfully. “The young people were just forming for a reel and you and I were of them, my dear,–it was the year, I remember, that the mistletoe was brought home in a cart,–when the door opened and in came the Major. ‘Jane has run away with that dirty scamp Montjoy,’ he said, and was out again and on his horse before we caught the words. He rode like a madman that night. I can see him now, splashing through the mud with Big Abel after him.”
Betty came running in with smiling eyes, and fluttered into her seat. “I got here before the waffles,” she cried. “Mammy said I wouldn’t. Uncle Shadrach, I got here before you!”
“Dat’s so, honey,” responded Uncle Shadrach from behind the Governor’s chair. He was so like his master–commanding port, elaborate shirt-front, and high white stock–that the Major, in a moment of merry-making, had once dubbed him “the Governor’s silhouette.”
“Say your grace, dear,” remonstrated Miss Lydia, as the child shook out her napkin. “It’s always proper to offer thanks standing, you know. I remember your great-grandmother telling me that once when she dined at the White House, when her father was in Congress, the President forgot to say grace, and made them all get up again after they were seated. Now, for what are we about–“
“Oh, papa thanked for me,” cried Betty. “Didn’t you, papa?”
The Governor smiled; but catching his wife’s eyes, he quickly forced his benign features into a frowning mask.
“Do as your aunt tells you, Betty,” said Mrs. Ambler, and Betty got up and said grace, while Virginia took the brownest waffle. When the thanksgiving was ended, she turned indignantly upon her sister. “That was just a sly, mean trick!” she cried in a flash of temper. “You saw my eye on that waffle!”
“My dear, my dear,” murmured Miss Lydia.
“She’s des an out’n out fire bran’, dat’s w’at she is,” said Uncle Shadrach.
“Well, the Lord oughtn’t to have let her take it just as I was thanking Him for it!” sobbed Betty, and she burst into tears and left the table, upsetting Mr. Bill’s coffee cup as she went by.
The Governor looked gravely after her. “I’m afraid the child is really getting spoiled, Julia,” he mildly suggested.
“She’s getting a–a vixenish,” declared Mr. Bill, mopping his expansive white waistcoat.
“You des better lemme go atter a twig er willow, Marse Peyton,” muttered Uncle Shadrach in the Governor’s ear.
“Hold your tongue, Shadrach,” retorted the Governor, which was the harshest command he was ever known to give his servants.
Virginia ate her waffle and said nothing. When she went upstairs a little later, she carried a pitcher of buttermilk for Betty’s face.
“It isn’t usual for a young lady to have freckles, Aunt Lydia says,” she remarked, “and you must rub this right on and not wash it off till morning–and, after you’ve rubbed it well in, you must get down on your knees and ask God to mend your temper.”
Betty was lying in her little trundle bed, while Petunia, her small black maid, pulled off her stockings, but she got up obediently and laved her face in buttermilk. “I don’t reckon there’s any use about the other,” she said. “I believe the Lord’s jest leavin’ me in sin as a warnin’ to you and Petunia,” and she got into her trundle bed and waited for the lights to go out, and for the watchful Virginia to fall asleep.
She was still waiting when the door softly opened and her mother came in, a lighted candle in her hand, the pale flame shining through her profile as through delicate porcelain, and illumining her worn and fragile figure. She moved with a slow step, as if her white limbs were a burden, and her head, with its smoothly parted bright brown hair, bent like a lily that has begun to fade.
She sat down upon the bedside and laid her hand on the child’s forehead. “Poor little firebrand,” she said gently. “How the world will hurt you!” Then she knelt down and prayed beside her, and went out again with the white light streaming upon her bosom. An hour later Betty heard her soft, slow step on the gravelled drive and knew that she was starting on a ministering errand to the quarters. Of all the souls on the great plantation, the mistress alone had never rested from her labours.
The child tossed restlessly, beat her pillow, and fell back to wait more patiently. At last the yellow strip under the door grew dark, and from the other trundle bed there came a muffled breathing. With a sigh, Betty sat up and listened; then she drew the frog’s skin from beneath her pillow and crept on bare feet to the door. It was black there, and black all down the wide, old staircase. The great hall below was like a cavern underground. Trembling when a board creaked under her, she cautiously felt her way with her hands on the balustrade. The front door was fastened with an iron chain that rattled as she touched it, so she stole into the dining room, unbarred one of the long windows, and slipped noiselessly out. It was almost like sliding into sunshine, the moon was so large and bright.
From the wide stone portico, the great white columns, looking grim and ghostly, went upward to the roof, and beyond the steps the gravelled drive shone hard as silver. As the child went between the lilac bushes, the moving shadows crawled under her bare feet like living things.
At the foot of the drive ran the big road, and when she came out upon it her trailing gown caught in a fallen branch, and she fell on her face. Picking herself up again, she sat on a loosened rock and looked about her.
The strong night wind blew on her flesh, and she shivered in the moonlight, which felt cold and brazen. Before her stretched the turnpike, darkened by shadows that bore no likeness to the objects from which they borrowed shape. Far as eye could see, they stirred ceaselessly back and forth like an encamped army of grotesques.
She got up from the rock and slipped the frog’s skin into the earth beneath it. As she settled it in place, her pulses gave a startled leap, and she stood terror-stricken beside the stone. A thud of footsteps was coming along the road.
For an instant she trembled in silence; then her sturdy little heart took courage, and she held up her hand.
“If you’ll wait a minute, Mr. Devil, I’m goin’ in,” she cried.
From the shadows a voice laughed at her, and a boy came forward into the light–a half-starved boy, with a white, pinched face and a dusty bundle swinging from the stick upon his shoulder.
“What are you doing here?” he snapped out.
Betty gave back a defiant stare. She might have been a tiny ghost in the moonlight, with her trailing gown and her flaming curls.
“I live here,” she answered simply. “Where do you live?”
“Nowhere.” He looked her over with a laugh.
“I did live somewhere, but I ran away a week ago.”
“Did they beat you? Old Rainy-day Jones beat one of his servants and he ran away.”
“There wasn’t anybody,” said the boy. “My mother died, and my father went off–I hope he’ll stay off. I hate him!”
He sent the words out so sharply that Betty’s lids flinched.
“Why did you come by here?” she questioned. “Are you looking for the devil, too?”
The boy laughed again. “I am looking for my grandfather. He lives somewhere on this road, at a place named Chericoke. It has a lot of elms in the yard; I’ll know it by that.”
Betty caught his arm and drew him nearer. “Why, that’s where Champe lives!” she cried. “I don’t like Champe much, do you?”
“I never saw him,” replied the boy; “but I don’t like him–“
“He’s mighty good,” said Betty, honestly; then, as she looked at the boy again, she caught her breath quickly. “You do look terribly hungry,” she added.
“I haven’t had anything since–since yesterday.”
The little girl thoughtfully tapped her toes on the road. “There’s a currant pie in the safe,” she said. “I saw Uncle Shadrach put it there. Are you fond of currant pie?–then you just wait!”
She ran up the carriage way to the dining-room window, and the boy sat down on the rock and buried his face in his hands. His feet were set stubbornly in the road, and the bundle lay beside them. He was dumb, yet disdainful, like a high-bred dog that has been beaten and turned adrift.
As the returning patter of Betty’s feet sounded in the drive, he looked up and held out his hands. When she gave him the pie, he ate almost wolfishly, licking the crumbs from his fingers, and even picking up a bit of crust that had fallen to the ground.
“I’m sorry there isn’t any more,” said the little girl. It had seemed a very large pie when she took it from the safe.
The boy rose, shook himself, and swung his bundle across his arm.
“Will you tell me the way?” he asked, and she gave him a few childish directions. “You go past the wheat field an’ past the maple spring, an’ at the dead tree by Aunt Ailsey’s cabin you turn into the road with the chestnuts. Then you just keep on till you get there–an’ if you don’t ever get there, come back to breakfast.”
The boy had started off, but as she ended, he turned and lifted his hat.
“I am very much obliged to you,” he said, with a quaint little bow; and Betty bobbed a courtesy in her nightgown before she fled back into the house.
THE COMING OF THE BOY
The boy trudged on bravely, his stick sounding the road. Sharp pains ran through his feet where his shoes had worn away, and his head was swimming like a top. The only pleasant fact of which he had consciousness was that the taste of the currants still lingered in his mouth.
When he reached the maple spring, he swung himself over the stone wall and knelt down for a drink, dipping the water in his hand. The spring was low and damp and fragrant with the breath of mint which grew in patches in the little stream. Overhead a wild grapevine was festooned, and he plucked a leaf and bent it into a cup from which he drank. Then he climbed the wall again and went on his way.
He was wondering if his mother had ever walked along this road on so brilliant a night. There was not a tree beside it of which she had not told him–not a shrub of sassafras or sumach that she had not carried in her thoughts. The clump of cedars, the wild cherry, flowering in the spring like snow, the blasted oak that stood where the branch roads met, the perfume of the grape blossoms on the wall–these were as familiar to him as the streets of the little crowded town in which he had lived. It was as if nature had stood still here for twelve long summers, or as if he were walking, ghostlike, amid the ever present memories of his mother’s heart.
His mother! He drew his sleeve across his eyes and went on more slowly. She was beside him on the road, and he saw her clearly, as he had seen her every day until last year–a bright, dark woman, with slender, blue-veined hands and merry eyes that all her tears had not saddened. He saw her in a long, black dress, with upraised arm, putting back a crepe veil from her merry eyes, and smiling as his father struck her. She had always smiled when she was hurt–even when the blow was heavier than usual, and the blood gushed from her temple, she had fallen with a smile. And when, at last, he had seen her lying in her coffin with her baby under her clasped hands, that same smile had been fixed upon her face, which had the brightness and the chill repose of marble.
Of all that she had thrown away in her foolish marriage, she had retained one thing only–her pride. To the end she had faced her fate with all the insolence with which she faced her husband. And yet–“the Lightfoots were never proud, my son,” she used to say; “they have no false pride, but they know their place, and in England, between you and me, they were more important than the Washingtons. Not that the General wasn’t a great man, dear, he was a very great soldier, of course–and in his youth, you know, he was an admirer of your Great-great-aunt Emmeline. But she–why, she was the beauty and belle of two continents–there’s an ottoman at home covered with a piece of her wedding dress.”
And the house? Was the house still as she had left it on that Christmas Eve? “A simple gentleman’s home, my child–not so imposing as Uplands, with its pillars reaching to the roof, but older, oh, much older, and built of brick that was brought all the way from England, and over the fireplace in the panelled parlour you will find the Lightfoot arms.
“It was in that parlour, dear, that grandmamma danced a minuet with General Lafayette; it looks out, you know, upon a white thorn planted by the General himself, and one of the windows has not been opened for fifty years, because the spray of English ivy your Great-aunt Emmeline set out with her own hands has grown across the sash. Now the window is quite dark with leaves, though you can still read the words Aunt Emmeline cut with her diamond ring in one of the tiny panes, when young Harry Fitzhugh came in upon her just as she had written a refusal to an English earl. She was sitting in the window seat with the letter in her hand, and, when your Great-uncle Harry–she afterwards married him, you know–fell on his knees and cried out that others might offer her fame and wealth, but that he had nothing except love, she turned, with a smile, and wrote upon the pane ‘Love is best.’ You can still see the words, very faint against the ivy that she planted on her wedding day–“
Oh, yes, he knew it all–Great-aunt Emmeline was but the abiding presence of the place. He knew the lawn with its grove of elms that overtopped the peaked roof, the hall, with its shining floor and detached staircase that crooked itself in the centre where the tall clock stood, and, best of all, the white panels of the parlour where hung the portrait of that same fascinating great-aunt, painted, in amber brocade, as Venus with the apple in her hand.
And his grandmother, herself, in her stiff black silk, with a square of lace turned back from her thin throat and a fluted cap above her corkscrew curls–her daguerreotype, taken in all her pride and her precision, was tied up in the bundle swinging on his arm.
He passed Aunt Ailsey’s cabin, and turned into the road with the chestnuts. A mile farther he came suddenly upon the house, standing amid the grove of elms, dwarfed by the giant trees that arched above it. A dog’s bark sounded snappily from a kennel, but he paid no heed. He went up the broad white walk, climbed the steps to the square front porch, and lifted the great brass knocker. When he let it fall, the sound echoed through the shuttered house.
The Major, who was sitting in his library with a volume of Mr. Addison open before him and a decanter of Burgundy at his right hand, heard the knock, and started to his feet. “Something’s gone wrong at Uplands,” he said aloud; “there’s an illness–or the brandy is out.” He closed the book, pushed aside the bedroom candle which he had been about to light, and went out into the hall. As he unbarred the door and flung it open, he began at once:–
“I hope there’s no ill news,” he exclaimed.
The boy came into the hall, where he stood blinking from the glare of the lamplight. His head whirled, and he reached out to steady himself against the door. Then he carefully laid down his bundle and looked up with his mother’s smile.
“You’re my grandfather, and I’m very hungry,” he said.
The Major caught the child’s shoulders and drew him, almost roughly, under the light. As he towered there above him, he gulped down something in his throat, and his wide nostrils twitched.
“So you’re poor Jane’s boy?” he said at last.
The boy nodded. He felt suddenly afraid of the spare old man with his long Roman nose and his fierce black eyebrows. A mist gathered before his eyes and the lamp shone like a great moon in a cloudy circle.
The Major looked at the bundle on the floor, and again he swallowed. Then he stooped and picked up the thing and turned away.
“Come in, sir, come in,” he said in a knotty voice. “You are at home.”
The boy followed him, and they passed the panelled parlour, from which he caught a glimpse of the painting of Great-aunt Emmeline, and went into the dining room, where his grandfather pulled out a chair and bade him to be seated. As the old man opened the huge mahogany sideboard and brought out a shoulder of cold lamb and a plate of bread and butter, he questioned him with a quaint courtesy about his life in town and the details of his journey. “Why, bless my soul, you’ve walked two hundred miles,” he cried, stopping on his way from the pantry, with the ham held out. “And no money! Why, bless my soul!”
“I had fifty cents,” said the boy, “that was left from my steamboat fare, you know.”
The Major put the ham on the table and attacked it grimly with the carving-knife.
“Fifty cents,” he whistled, and then, “you begged, I reckon?”
The boy flushed. “I asked for bread,” he replied, stung to the defensive. “They always gave me bread and sometimes meat, and they let me sleep in the barns where the straw was, and once a woman took me into her house and offered me money, but I would not take it. I–I think I’d like to send her a present, if you please, sir.”
“She shall have a dozen bottles of my best Madeira,” cried the Major. The word recalled him to himself, and he got up and raised the lid of the cellaret, lovingly running his hand over the rows of bottles.
“A pig would be better, I think,” said the boy, doubtfully, “or a cow, if you could afford it. She is a poor woman, you know.”
“Afford it!” chuckled the Major. “Why, I’ll sell your grandmother’s silver, but I’ll afford it, sir.”
He took out a bottle, held it against the light, and filled a wine glass. “This is the finest port in Virginia,” he declared; “there is life in every drop of it. Drink it down,” and, when the boy had taken it, he filled his own glass and tossed it off, not lingering, as usual, for the priceless flavour. “Two hundred miles!” he gasped, as he looked at the child with moist eyes over which his red lids half closed. “Ah, you’re a Lightfoot,” he said slowly. “I should know you were a Lightfoot if I passed you in the road.” He carved a slice of ham and held it out on the end of the knife. “It’s long since you’ve tasted a ham like this–browned in bread crumbs,” he added temptingly, but the boy gravely shook his head.
“I’ve had quite enough, thank you, sir,” he answered with a quaint dignity, not unlike his grandfather’s and as the Major rose, he stood up also, lifting his black head to look in the old man’s face with his keen gray eyes.
The Major took up the bundle and moved toward the door. “You must see your grandmother,” he said as they went out, and he led the way up the crooked stair past the old clock in the bend. On the first landing he opened a door and stopped upon the threshold. “Molly, here is poor Jane’s boy,” he said.
In the centre of a big four-post bed, curtained in white dimity, a little old lady was lying between lavender-scented sheets. On her breast stood a tall silver candlestick which supported a well-worn volume of “The Mysteries of Udolpho,” held open by a pair of silver snuffers. The old lady’s face was sharp and wizened, and beneath her starched white nightcap rose the knots of her red flannel curlers. Her eyes, which were very small and black, held a flickering brightness like that in live embers.
“Whose boy, Mr. Lightfoot?” she asked sharply.
Holding the child by the hand, the Major went into the room.
“It’s poor Jane’s boy, Molly,” he repeated huskily.
The old lady raised her head upon her high pillows, and looked at him by the light of the candle on her breast. “Are you Jane’s boy?” she questioned in suspicion, and at the child’s “Yes, ma’am,” she said, “Come nearer. There, stand between the curtains. Yes, you are Jane’s boy, I see.” She gave the decision flatly, as if his parentage were a matter of her pleasure. “And what is your name?” she added, as she snuffed the candle.
The boy looked from her stiff white nightcap to the “log-cabin” quilt on the bed, and then at her steel hoops which were hanging from a chair back. He had always thought of her as in her rich black silk, with the tight gray curls about her ears, and at this revelation of her inner mysteries, his fancy received a checkmate.
But he met her eyes again and answered simply, “Dandridge–they call me Dan–Dan Montjoy.”
“And he has walked two hundred miles, Molly,” gasped the Major.
“Then he must be tired,” was the old lady’s rejoinder, and she added with spirit: “Mr. Lightfoot, will you show Dan to Jane’s old room, and see that he has a blanket on his bed. He should have been asleep hours ago–good night, child, be sure and say your prayers,” and as they crossed the threshold, she laid aside her book and blew out her light.
The Major led the way to “Jane’s old room” at the end of the hall, and fetched a candle from somewhere outside. “I think you’ll find everything you need,” he said, stooping to feel the covering on the bed. “Your grandmother always keeps the rooms ready. God bless you, my son,” and he went out, softly closing the door after him.
The boy sat down on the steps of the tester bed, and looked anxiously round the three-cornered room, with its sloping windows filled with small, square panes of glass. By the candlelight, flickering on the plain, white walls and simple furniture, he tried to conjure back the figure of his mother,–handsome Jane Lightfoot. Over the mantel hung two crude drawings from her hand, and on the table at the bedside there were several books with her name written in pale ink on the fly leaves. The mirror to the high old bureau seemed still to hold the outlines of her figure, very shadowy against the greenish glass. He saw her in her full white skirts–she had worn nine petticoats, he knew, on grand occasions–fastening her coral necklace about her stately throat, the bands of her black hair drawn like a veil above her merry eyes. Had she lingered on that last Christmas Eve, he wondered, when her candlestick held its sprig of mistletoe and her room was dressed in holly? Did she look back at the cheerful walls and the stately furniture before she blew out her light and went downstairs to ride madly off, wrapped in his father’s coat? And the old people drank their eggnog and watched the Virginia reel, and, when they found her gone, shut her out forever.
Now, as he sat on the bed-steps, it seemed to him that he had come home for the first time in his life. All this was his own by right,–the queer old house, his mother’s room, and beyond the sloping windows, the meadows with their annual yield of grain. He felt the pride of it swelling within him; he waited breathlessly for the daybreak when he might go out and lord it over the fields and the cattle and the servants that were his also. And at last–his head big with his first day’s vanity–he climbed between the dimity curtains and fell asleep.
When he awaked next morning, the sun was shining through the small square panes, and outside were the waving elm boughs and a clear sky. He was aroused by a knock on his door, and, as he jumped out of bed, Big Abel, the Major’s driver and confidential servant, came in with the warm water. He was a strong, finely-formed negro, black as the ace of spades (so the Major put it), and of a singularly open countenance.
“Hi! ain’t you up yit, young Marster?” he exclaimed. “Sis Rhody, she sez she done save you de bes’ puffovers you ever tase, en ef’n you don’ come ‘long down, dey’ll fall right flat.”
“Who is Sis Rhody?” inquired the boy, as he splashed the water on his face.
“Who she? Why, she de cook.”
“All right, tell her I’m coming,” and he dressed hurriedly and ran down into the hall where he found Champe Lightfoot, the Major’s great-nephew, who lived at Chericoke.
“Hello!” called Champe at once, plunging his hands into his pockets and presenting an expression of eager interest. “When did you get here?”
“Last night,” Dan replied, and they stood staring at each other with two pairs of the Lightfoot gray eyes.
“How’d you come?”
“I walked some and I came part the way on a steamboat. Did you ever see a steamboat?”
“Oh, shucks! A steamboat ain’t anything. I’ve seen George Washington’s sword. Do you like to fish?”
“I never fished. I lived in a city.”
Zeke came in with a can of worms, and Champe gave them the greater share of his attention. “I tell you what, you’d better learn,” he said at last, returning the can to Zeke and taking up his fishing-rod. “There’re a lot of perch down yonder in the river,” and he strode out, followed by the small negro.
Dan looked after him a moment, and then went into the dining room, where his grandmother was sitting at the head of her table, washing her pink teaset in a basin of soapsuds. She wore her stiff, black silk this morning with its dainty undersleeves of muslin, and her gray curls fell beneath her cap of delicate yellowed lace. “Come and kiss me, child,” she said as he entered. “Did you sleep well?”
“I didn’t wake once,” answered the boy, kissing her wrinkled cheek.
“Then you must eat a good breakfast and go to your grandfather in the library. Your grandfather is a very learned man, Dan, he reads Latin every morning in the library.–Cupid, has Rhody a freshly broiled chicken for your young master?”
She got up and rustled about the room, arranging the pink teaset behind the glass doors of the corner press. Then she slipped her key basket over her arm and fluttered in and out of the storeroom, stopping at intervals to scold the stream of servants that poured in at the dining-room door. “Ef’n you don’ min’, Ole Miss, Paisley, she done got de colick f’om a hull pa’cel er green apples,” and “Abram he’s des a-shakin’ wid a chill en he say he cyarn go ter de co’n field.”
“Wait a minute and be quiet,” the old lady responded briskly, for, as the boy soon learned, she prided herself upon her healing powers, and suffered no outsider to doctor her husband or her slaves. “Hush, Silas, don’t say a word until I tell you. Cupid–you are the only one with any sense–measure Paisley a dose of Jamaica ginger from the bottle on the desk in the office, and send Abram a drink of the bitters in the brown jug–why, Car’line, what do you mean by coming into the house with a slit in your apron?”
“Fo’ de Lawd, Ole Miss, hit’s des done cotch on de fence. All de ducks Aun’ Meeley been fattenin’ up fur you done got loose en gone ter water.”
“Well, you go, too, every one of you!” and she dismissed them with waves of her withered, little hands. “Send them out, Cupid. No, Car’line, not a word. Don’t ‘Ole Miss’ me, I tell you!” and the servants streamed out again as they had come.
When he had finished his breakfast the boy went back into the hall where Big Abel was taking down the Major’s guns from the rack, and, as he caught sight of the strapping figure and kindly black face, he smiled for the first time since his home-coming. With a lordly manner, he went over and held out his hand.
“I like _you_, Big Abel,” he said gravely, and he followed him out into the yard.
For the next few weeks he did not let Big Abel out of his sight. He rode with him to the pasture, he sat with him on his doorstep of a fine evening, and he drove beside him on the box when the old coach went out. “Big Abel says a gentleman doesn’t go barefooted,” he said to Champe when he found him without his shoes in the meadow, “and I’m a gentleman.”
“I’d like to know what Big Abel knows about it,” promptly retorted Champe, and Dan grew white with rage and proceeded to roll up his sleeves. “I’ll whip any man who says Big Abel doesn’t know a gentleman!” he cried, making a lunge at his cousin. In point of truth, it was Champe who did the whipping in such free fights; but bruises and a bleeding nose had never scared the savage out of Dan. He would spring up from his last tumble as from his first, and let fly at his opponent until Big Abel rushed, in tears, between them.
From the garrulous negro, the boy soon learned the history of his family–learned, indeed, much about his grandfather of which the Major himself was quite unconscious. He heard of that kindly, rollicking early life, half wild and wholly good-humoured, in which the eldest male Lightfoot had squandered his time and his fortune. Why, was not the old coach itself but an existing proof of Big Abel’s stories? “‘Twan’ mo’n twenty years back dat Ole Miss had de fines’ car’ige in de county,” he began one evening on the doorstep, and the boy drove away a brood of half-fledged chickens and settled himself to listen. “Hadn’t you better light your pipe, Big Abel?” he inquired courteously.
Big Abel shuffled into the cabin and came back with his corncob pipe and a lighted taper. “We all ain’ rid in de ole coach den,” he said with a sigh, as he sucked at the long stem, and threw the taper at the chickens. “De ole coach hit uz th’owed away in de out’ouse, en I ‘uz des stiddyin’ ’bout splittin’ it up fer kindlin’ wood–en de new car’ige hit cos’ mos’ a mint er money. Ole Miss she uz dat sot up dat she ain’ let de hosses git no sleep–nor me nurr. Ef’n she spy out a speck er dus’ on dem ar wheels, somebody gwine year f’om it, sho’s you bo’n–en dat somebody wuz me. Yes, Lawd, Ole Miss she ‘low dat dey ain’ never been nuttin’ like dat ar car’ige in Varginny sence befo’ de flood.”
“But where is it, Big Abel?”
“You des wait, young Marster, you des wait twel I git dar. I’se gwine git dar w’en I come ter de day me an Ole Marster rid in ter git his gol’ f’om Mars Tom Braxton. De car’ige hit sutney did look spick en span dat day, en I done shine up my hosses twel you could ‘mos’ see yo’ face in dey sides. Well, we rid inter town en we got de gol’ f’om Marse Braxton,–all tied up in a bag wid a string roun’ de neck er it,–en we start out agin (en Ole Miss she settin’ up at home en plannin’ w’at she gwine buy), w’en we come ter de tave’n whar we all use ter git our supper, en meet Marse Plaintain Dudley right face to face. Lawd! Lawd! I’se done knowed Marse Plaintain Dudley afo’ den, so I des tech up my hosses en wuz a-sailin’ ‘long by, w’en he shake his han’ en holler out, ‘Is yer wife done tied you ter ‘er ap’on, Maje?’ (He knowed Ole Miss don’ w’ar no ap’on des es well es I knowed hit–dat’s Marse Plaintain all over agin); but w’en he holler out dat, Ole Marster sez, ‘Stop, Abel,’ en I ‘bleeged ter stop, you know, I wuz w’en Ole Marster tell me ter.
“‘I ain’ tied, Plaintain, I’m tired,’ sez Ole Marster, ‘I’m tired losin’ money.’ Den Marse Plaintain he laugh like a devil. ‘Oh, come in, suh, come in en win, den,’ he sez, en Ole Marster step out en walk right in wid Marse Plaintain behint ‘im–en I set dar all night,–yes, suh, I set dar all night a-hol’n’ de hosses’ haids.
“Den w’en de sun up out come Ole Marster, white es a sheet, with his han’s a-trem’lin’, en de bag er gol’ gone. I look at ‘im fur a minute, en den I let right out, ‘Ole Marster, whar de gol’?’ en he stan’ still en ketch his breff befo’ he say, ‘Hit’s all gone, Abel, en de car’ige en de hosses dey’s gone, too.” En w’en I bust out cryin’ en ax ‘im, ‘My hosses gone, Ole Marster?’ he kinder sob en beckon me fer ter git down f’om my box, en den we put out ter walk all de way home.
“W’en we git yer ’bout’n dinner time, dar wuz Ole Miss at de do’ wid de sun in her eyes, en soon es she ketch sight er Ole Marster, she put up her han’ en holler out, ‘Marse Lightfoot, whar de car’ige?’ But Ole Marster, he des hang down his haid, same es a dawg dat’s done been whupped fur rabbit runnin’, en he sob, ‘Hit’s gone, Molly en de bag er gol’ en de hosses, dey’s gone, too, I done loss ’em all cep’n Abel–en I’m a bad man, Molly.’ Dat’s w’at Ole Marster say, ‘I’m a bad man, Molly,’ en I stiddy ’bout my hosses en Ole Miss’ car’ige en shet my mouf right tight,”
“And Grandma? Did she cry?” asked the boy, breathlessly.
“Who cry? Ole Miss? Huh! She des th’ow up her haid en low, ‘Well, Marse Lightfoot, I’m glad you kep’ Abel–en we’ll use de ole coach agin’,’ sez she–en den she tu’n en strut right in ter dinner.”
“Was that all she ever said about it, Big Abel?”
“Dat’s all I ever hyern, honey, en I b’lieve hit’s all Ole Marster ever hyern eeder, case w’en I tuck his gun out er de rack de nex’ day, he was settin’ up des es prim in de parlour a-sippin’ a julep wid Marse Peyton Ambler, en I hyern ‘im kinder whisper, ‘Molly, she’s en angel, Peyton–‘ en he ain’ never call Ole Miss en angel twel he loss ‘er car’ige.”
A HOUSE WITH AN OPEN DOOR
The master of Uplands was standing upon his portico behind the Doric columns, looking complacently over the fat lands upon which his fathers had sown and harvested for generations. Beyond the lane of lilacs and the two silver poplars at the gate, his eyes wandered leisurely across the blue green strip of grass-land to the tawny wheat field, where the slaves were singing as they swung their cradles. The day was fine, and the outlying meadows seemed to reflect his gaze with a smile as beneficent as his own. He had cast his bread upon the soil, and it had returned to him threefold.
As he stood there, a small, yet imposing figure, in his white duck suit, holding his broad slouch hat in his hand, he presented something of the genial aspect of the country–as if the light that touched the pleasant hills and valleys was aglow in his clear brown eyes and comely features. Even the smooth white hand in which he held his hat and riding-whip had about it a certain plump kindliness which would best become a careless gesture of concession. And, after all, he looked but what he was–a bland and generous gentleman, whose heart was as open as his wine cellar.
A catbird was singing in one of the silver poplars, and he waited, with upraised head, for the song to end. Then he stooped beside a column and carefully examined a newly planted coral honeysuckle before he went into the wide hall, where his wife was seated at her work-table.
From the rear door, which stood open until frost, a glow of sunshine entered, brightening the white walls with their rows of antlers and gunracks, and rippling over the well-waxed floor upon which no drop of water had ever fallen. A faint sweetness was in the air from the honeysuckle arbour outside, which led into the box-bordered walks of the garden.
As the Governor hung up his hat, he begun at once with his daily news of the farm. “I hope they’ll get that wheat field done to-day,” he said: “but it doesn’t look much like it–they’ve been dawdling over it for the last three days. I am afraid Wilson isn’t much of a manager, after all; if I take my eyes off him, he seems to lose his head.”
“I think everything is that way,” returned his wife, looking up from one of the elaborately tucked and hemstitched shirt fronts which served to gratify the Governor’s single vanity. “I’m sure Aunt Pussy says she can’t trust Judy for three days in the dairy without finding that the cream has stood too long for butter–and Judy has been churning for twenty years.” She cut off her thread and held the linen out for the Governor’s inspection. “I really believe that is the prettiest one I’ve made. How do you like this new stitch?”
“Exquisite!” exclaimed her husband, as he took the shirt front in his hand. “Simply exquisite, my love. There isn’t a woman in Virginia who can do such needlework; but it should go upon a younger and handsomer man, Julia.”
His wife blushed and looked up at him, the colour rising to her beautiful brow and giving a youthful radiance to her nunlike face. “It could certainly go upon a younger man, Mr. Ambler,” she rejoined, with a touch of the coquetry for which she had once been noted; “but I should like to know where I’d find a handsomer one.”
A pleased smile broadened the Governor’s face, and he settled his waistcoat with an approving pat. “Ah, you’re a partial witness, my dear,” he said; “but I’ve an error to confess, so I mustn’t forego your favour–I–I bought several of Mr. Willis’s servants, my love.”
“Why, Mr. Ambler!” remonstrated his wife, reproach softening her voice until it fell like a caress. “Why, Mr. Ambler, you bought six of Colonel Blake’s last year, you know and one of the house servants has been nursing them ever since. The quarters are filled with infirm darkies.”
“But I couldn’t help it, Julia, I really couldn’t,” pleaded the Governor. “You’d have done it yourself, my dear. They were sold to a dealer going south, and one of them wants to marry that Mandy of yours.”
“Oh, if it’s Mandy’s lover,” broke in Mrs. Ambler, with rising interest, “of course you had to buy him, and you did right about the others–you always do right.” She put out her delicate blue-veined hand and touched his arm. “I shall see them to-day,” she added, “and Mandy may as well be making her wedding dress.”
“What an eye to things you have,” said the Governor, proudly. “You might have been President, had you been a man, my dear.”
His wife rose and took up her work-box with a laugh of protest. “I am quite content with the mission of my sex, sir,” she returned, half in jest, half in wifely humility. “I’m sure I’d much rather make shirt fronts for you than wear them myself.” Then she nodded to him and went, with her stately step, up the broad staircase, her white hand flitting over the mahogany balustrade.
As he looked after her, the Governor’s face clouded, and he sighed beneath his breath. The cares she met with such serenity had been too heavy for her strength; they had driven the bloom from her cheeks and the lustre from her eyes; and, though she had not faltered at her task, she had drooped daily and grown older than her years. The master might live with a lavish disregard of the morrow, not the master’s wife. For him were the open house, the shining table, the well-stocked wine cellar and the morning rides over the dewy fields; for her the cares of her home and children, and of the souls and bodies of the black people that had been given into her hands. In her gentle heart it seemed to her that she had a charge to keep before her God; and she went her way humbly, her thoughts filled with things so vital as the uses of her medicine chest and the unexpounded mysteries of salvation.
Now, as she reached the upper landing, she met Betty running to look for her.
“O, mamma, may I go to fish with Champe and the new boy and Big Abel? And Virginia wants to go, too, she says.”
“Wait a moment, child,” said Mrs. Ambler. “You have torn the trimming on your frock. Stand still and I’ll mend it for you,” and she got out her needle and sewed up the rent, while Betty hopped impatiently from foot to foot.
“I think the new boy’s a heap nicer than Champe, mamma,” she remarked as she waited.
“Do you, dear?”
“An’ he says I’m nicer than Champe, too. He fought Champe ’cause he said I didn’t have as much sense as he had–an’ I have, haven’t I, mamma?”
“Women do not need as much sense as men, my dear,” replied Mrs. Ambler, taking a dainty stitch.
“Well, anyway, Dan fought Champe about it,” said Betty, with pride. “He’ll fight about ‘most anything, he says, if he jest gets roused–an’ that cert’n’y did rouse him. His nose bled a long time, too, and Champe whipped him, you know. But, when it was over, I asked him if I had as much sense as he had, and he said, ‘Psha! you’re just a girl.’ Wasn’t that funny, mamma?”
“There, there, Betty,” was Mrs. Ambler’s rejoinder. “I’m afraid he’s a wicked boy, and you mustn’t get such foolish thoughts into your head. If the Lord had wanted you to be clever, He would have made you a man. Now, run away, and don’t get your feet wet; and if you see Aunt Lydia in the garden, you may tell her that the bonnet has come for her to look at.”
Betty bounded away and gave the message to Aunt Lydia over the whitewashed fence of the garden. “They’ve sent a bonnet from New York for you to look at, Aunt Lydia,” she cried. “It came all wrapped up in tissue paper, with mamma’s gray silk, and it’s got flowers on it–a lot of them!” with which parting shot, she turned her back upon the startled old lady and dashed off to join the boys and Big Abel, who, with their fishing-poles, had gathered in the cattle pasture.
Miss Lydia, who was lovingly bending over a bed of thyme, raised her eyes and looked after the child, all in a gentle wonder. Then she went slowly up and down the box-bordered walks, the full skirt of her “old lady’s gown” trailing stiffly over the white gravel, her delicate face rising against the blossomless shrubs of snowball and bridal-wreath, like a faintly tinted flower that had been blighted before it fully bloomed. Around her the garden was fragrant as a rose-jar with the lid left off, and the very paths beneath were red and white with fallen petals. Hardy cabbage roses, single pink and white dailies, yellow-centred damask, and the last splendours of the giant of battle, all dipped their colours to her as she passed, while the little rustic summer-house where the walks branched off was but a flowering bank of maiden’s blush and microphylla.
Amid them all, Miss Lydia wandered in her full black gown, putting aside her filmy ruffles as she tied back a hanging spray or pruned a broken stalk, sometimes even lowering her thread lace cap as she weeded the tangle of sweet Williams and touch-me-not. Since her gentle girlhood she had tended bountiful gardens, and dreamed her virgin dreams in the purity of their box-trimmed walks. In a kind of worldly piety she had bound her prayer book in satin and offered to her Maker the incense of flowers. She regarded heaven with something of the respectful fervour with which she regarded the world–that great world she had never seen; for “the proper place for a spinster is her father’s house,” she would say with her conventional primness, and send, despite herself, a mild imagination in pursuit of the follies from which she so earnestly prayed to be delivered–she, to whom New York was as the terror of a modern Babylon, and a Jezebel but a woman with paint upon her cheeks. “They tell me that other women have painted since,” she had once said, with a wistful curiosity. “Your grandmamma, my dear Julia, had even seen one with an artificial colour. She would not have mentioned it to me, of course,–an unmarried lady,–but I was in the next room when she spoke of it to old Mrs. Fitzhugh. She was a woman of the world, was your grandmamma, my dear, and the most finished dancer of her day.” The last was said with a timid pride, though to Miss Lydia herself the dance was the devil’s own device, and the teaching of the catechism to small black slaves the chief end of existence. But the blood of the “most finished dancer of her day” still circulated beneath the old lady’s gown and the religious life, and in her attenuated romances she forever held the sinner above the saint, unless, indeed, the sinner chanced to be of her own sex, when, probably, the book would never have reached her hands. For the purely masculine improprieties, her charity was as boundless as her innocence. She had even dipped into Shakespeare and brought away the memory of Mercutio; she had read Scott, and enshrined in her pious heart the bold Rob Roy. “Men are very wicked, I fear,” she would gently offer, “but they are very a–a–engaging, too.”
To-day, when Betty came with the message, she lingered a moment to convince herself that the bonnet was not in her thoughts, and then swept her trailing bombazine into the house. “I have come to tell you that you may as well send the bonnet back, Julia,” she began at once. “Flowers are much too fine for me, my dear. I need only a plain black poke.”
“Come up and try it on,” was Mrs. Ambler’s cheerful response. “You have no idea how lovely it will look on you.”
Miss Lydia went up and took the bonnet out of its wrapping of tissue paper. “No, you must send it back, my love,” she said in a resigned voice. “It does not become me to dress as a married woman. It may as well go back, Julia.”
“But do look in the glass, Aunt Lydia–there, let me put it straight for you. Why, it suits you perfectly. It makes you look at least ten years younger.”
“A plain black poke, my dear,” insisted Aunt Lydia, as she carefully swathed the flowers in the tissue paper. “And, besides, I have my old one, which is quite good enough for me, my love. It was very sweet of you to think of it, but it may as well go back.” She pensively gazed at the mirror for a moment, and then went to her chamber and took out her Bible to read Saint Paul on Woman.
When she came down a few hours later, her face wore an angelic meekness. “I have been thinking of that poor Mrs. Brown who was here last week,” she said softly, “and I remember her telling me that she had no bonnet to wear to church. What a loss it must be to her not to attend divine service.”
Mrs. Ambler quickly looked up from her needlework. “Why, Aunt Lydia, it would be really a charity to give her your old one!” she exclaimed. “It does seem a shame that she should be kept away from church because of a bonnet. And, then, you might as well keep the new one, you know, since it is in the house; I hate the trouble of sending it back.”
“It would be a charity,” murmured Miss Lydia, and the bonnet was brought down and tried on again. They were still looking at it when Betty rushed in and threw herself upon her mother. “O, mamma, I can’t help it!” she cried in tears, “an’ I wish I hadn’t done it! Oh, I wish I hadn’t; but I set fire to the Major’s woodpile, and he’s whippin’ Dan!”
“Betty!” exclaimed Mrs. Ambler. She took the child by her shoulders and drew her toward her. “Betty, did you set fire to the Major’s woodpile?” she questioned sternly.
Betty was sobbing aloud, but she stopped long enough to gasp out an answer.
“We were playin’ Injuns, mamma, an’ we couldn’t make believe ’twas real,” she said, “an’ it isn’t any fun unless you can make believe, so I lit the woodpile and pretended it was a fort, an’ Big Abel, he was an Injun with the axe for a tomahawk; but the woodpile blazed right up, an’ the Major came runnin’ out. He asked Dan who did it, an’ Dan wouldn’t say ’twas me,–an’ I wouldn’t say, either,–so he took Dan in to whip him. Oh, I wish I’d told! I wish I’d told!”
“Hush, Betty,” said Mrs. Ambler, and she called to the Governor in the hall, “Mr. Ambler, Betty has set fire to the Major’s woodpile!” Her voice was hopeless, and she looked up blankly at her husband as he entered.
“Set fire to the woodpile!” whistled the Governor. “Why, bless my soul, we aren’t safe in our beds!”
“He whipped Dan,” wailed Betty.
“We aren’t safe in our beds,” repeated the Governor, indignantly. “Julia, this is really too much.”
“Well, you will have to ride right over there,” said his wife, decisively. “Petunia, run down and tell Hosea to saddle his master’s horse. Betty, I hope this will be a lesson to you. You shan’t have any preserves for supper for a week.”
“I don’t want any preserves,” sobbed Betty, her apron to her eyes.
“Then you mustn’t go fishing for two weeks. Mr. Ambler, you’d better be starting at once, and don’t forget to tell the Major that Betty is in great distress–you are, aren’t you, Betty?”
“Yes, ma’am,” wept Betty.
The Governor went out into the hall and took down his hat and riding-whip.
“The sins of the children are visited upon the fathers,” he remarked gloomily as he mounted his horse and rode away from his supper.
THE SCHOOL FOR GENTLEMEN
The Governor rode up too late to avert the punishment. Dan had taken his whipping and was sitting on a footstool in the library, facing the Major and a couple of the Major’s cronies. His face wore an expression in which there was more resentment than resignation; for, though he took blows doggedly, he bore the memory of them long after the smart had ceased–long, indeed, after light-handed justice, in the Major’s person, had forgotten alike the sin and the expiation. For the Major’s hand was not steady at the rod, and he had often regretted a weakness of heart which interfered with a physical interpretation of the wisdom of Solomon. “If you get your deserts, you’d get fifty lashes,” was his habitual reproof to his servants, though, as a matter of fact, he had never been known to order one. His anger was sometimes of the kind that appalls, but it usually vented itself in a heightened redness of face or a single thundering oath; and a woman’s sob would melt his stoniest mood. It was only because his daughter had kept out of his sight that he had never forgiven her, people said; but there was, perhaps, something characteristic in the proof that he was most relentless where he had most loved.
As for Dan’s chastisement, he had struck him twice across the shoulders, and when the boy had turned to him with the bitter smile which was Jane Lightfoot’s own, the Major had choked in his wrath, and, a moment later, flung the whip aside. “I’ll be damned,–I beg your pardon, sir,–I’ll be ashamed of myself if I give you another lick,” he said. “You are a gentleman, and I shall trust you.”
He held out his hand, but he had not counted on the Montjoy blood. The boy looked at him and stubbornly shook his head. “I can’t shake hands yet because I am hating you just now,” he answered. “Will you wait awhile, sir?” and the Major choked again, half in awe, half in amusement.
“You don’t bear malice, I reckon?” he ventured cautiously.
“I am not sure,” replied the boy, “I rather think I do.”
Then he put on his coat, and they went out to meet Mr. Blake and Dr. Crump, two hale and jolly gentlemen who rode over every Thursday to spend the night.
As the visitors came panting up the steps, the Major stood in the doorway with outstretched hands.
“You are late, gentlemen, you are late,” was his weekly greeting, to which they as regularly responded, “We could never come too early for our pleasure, my dear Major; but there are professional duties, you know, professional duties.”
After this interchange of courtesies, they would enter the house and settle themselves, winter or summer, in their favourite chairs upon the hearth-rug, when it was the custom of Mrs. Lightfoot to send in a fluttering maid to ask if Mrs. Blake had done her the honour to accompany her husband. As Mrs. Blake was never known to leave her children and her pet poultry, this was merely a conventionalism by which the elder lady meant to imply a standing welcome for the younger.
On this evening, Mr. Blake–the rector of the largest church in Leicesterburg–straightened his fat legs and folded his hands as he did at the ending of his sermons, and the others sat before him with the strained and reverential faces which they put on like a veil in church and took off when the service was over. That it was not a prayer, but a pleasantry of which he was about to deliver himself, they quite understood; but he had a habit of speaking on week days in his Sunday tones, which gave, as it were, an official weight to his remarks. He was a fleshy wide-girthed gentleman, with a bald head, and a face as radiant as the full moon.
“I was just asking the doctor when I was to have the honour of making the little widow Mrs. Crump?” he threw out at last, with a laugh that shook him from head to foot. “It is not good for man to live alone, eh, Major?”
“That sentence is sufficient to prove the divine inspiration of the Scriptures,” returned the Major, warmly, while the doctor blushed and stammered, as he always did, at the rector’s mild matrimonial jokes. It was twenty years since Mr. Blake began teasing Dr. Crump about his bachelorship, and to them both the subject was as fresh as in its beginning.
“I–I declare I haven’t seen the lady for a week,” protested the doctor, “and then she sent for me.”
“Sent for you?” roared Mr. Blake. “Ah, doctor, doctor!”
“She sent for me because she had heart trouble,” returned the doctor, indignantly. The lady’s name was never mentioned between them.
The rector laughed until the tears started.
“Ah, you’re a success with the ladies,” he exclaimed, as he drew out a neatly ironed handkerchief and shook it free from its folds, “and no wonder–no wonder! We’ll be having an epidemic of heart trouble next.” Then, as he saw the doctor wince beneath his jest, his kindly heart reproached him, and he gravely turned to politics and the dignity of nations.
The two friends were faithful Democrats, though the rector always began his very forcible remarks with: “A minister knows nothing of politics, and I am but a minister of the Gospel. If you care, however, for the opinion of an outsider–“
As for the Major, he had other leanings which were a source of unending interest to them all. “I am a Whig, not from principle, but from prejudice, sir,” he declared. “The Whig is the gentleman’s party. I never saw a Whig that didn’t wear broadcloth.”
“And some Democrats,” politely protested the doctor, with a glance at his coat.
The Major bowed.
“And many Democrats, sir; but the Whig party, if I may say so, is the broadcloth party–the cloth stamps it; and besides this, sir, I think its ‘parts are solid and will wear well.'”
Now when the Major began to quote Mr. Addison, even the rector was silent, save for an occasional prompting, as, “I was reading the _Spectator_ until eleven last night, sir,” or “I have been trying to recall the lines in _The Campaign_ before. ‘Twas then great Marlborough’s mighty soul was proved.”
This was the best of the day to Dan, and, as he turned on his footstool, he did not even glare at Champe, who, from the window seat, was regarding him with the triumphant eye with which the young behold the downfall of a brother. For a moment he had forgotten the whipping, but Champe had not; he was thinking of it in the window seat.
But the Major was standing on the hearth-rug, and the boy’s gaze went to him. Tossing back his long white hair, and fixing his eagle glance on his friends, the old gentleman, with a free sweep of his arm, thundered his favourite lines:–
“So, when an angel by divine command With rising tempests shakes a guilty land (Such as of late o’er pale Britannia passed), Calm and serene he drives the furious blast; And, pleased the Almighty’s orders to perform, Rides in the whirlwind and directs the storm.”
He had got so far when the door opened and the Governor entered–a little hurriedly, for he was thinking of his supper.
“I am the bearer of an apology, my dear Major,” he said, when he had heartily shaken hands all round. “It seems that Betty–I assure you she is in great distress–set fire to your woodpile this afternoon, and that your grandson was punished for her mischief. My dear boy,” he laid his hand on Dan’s shoulder and looked into his face with the winning smile which had made him the most popular man in his State, “my dear boy, you are young to be such a gentleman.”
A hot flush overspread Dan’s face; he forgot the smart and the wounded pride–he forgot even Champe staring from the window seat. The Governor’s voice was like salve to his hurt; the upright little man with the warm brown eyes seemed to lift him at once to the plane of his own chivalry.
“Oh, I couldn’t tell on a girl, sir,” he answered, and then his smothered injury burst forth; “but she ought to be ashamed of herself,” he added bluntly.
“She is,” said the Governor with a smile; then he turned to the others. “Major, the boy is a Lightfoot!” he exclaimed.
“Ah, so I said, so I said!” cried the Major, clapping his hand on Dan’s head in a racial benediction. “‘I’d know you were a Lightfoot if I met you in the road’ was what I said the first evening.”
“And a Virginian,” added Mr. Blake, folding his hands on his stomach and smiling upon the group. “My daughter in New York wrote to me last week for advice about the education of her son. ‘Shall I send him to the school of learning at Cambridge, papa?’ she asked; and I answered, ‘Send him there, if you will, but, when he has finished with his books, by all means let him come to Virginia–the school for gentlemen.'”
“The school for gentlemen!” cried the doctor, delightedly. “It is a prouder title than the ‘Mother of Presidents.'”
“And as honourably earned,” added the rector. “If you want polish, come to Virginia; if you want chivalry, come to Virginia. When I see these two things combined, I say to myself, ‘The blood of the Mother of Presidents is here.'”
“You are right, sir, you are right!” cried the Major, shaking back his hair, as he did when he was about to begin the lines from _The Campaign_. “Nothing gives so fine a finish to a man as a few years spent with the influences that moulded Washington. Why, some foreigners are perfected by them, sir. When I met General Lafayette in Richmond upon his second visit, I remember being agreeably impressed with his dignity and ease, which, I have no doubt, sir, he acquired by his association, in early years, with the Virginia gentlemen.”
The Governor looked at them with a twinkle in his eye. He was aware of the humorous traits of his friends, but, in the peculiar sweetness of his temper, he loved them not the less because he laughed at them–perhaps the more. In the rector’s fat body and the Major’s lean one, he knew that there beat hearts as chivalrous as their words. He had seen the Major doff his hat to a beggar in the road, and the rector ride forty miles in a snowstorm to read a prayer at the burial of a slave. So he said with a pleasant laugh, “We are surely the best judges, my dear sirs,” and then, as Mrs. Lightfoot rustled in, they rose and fell back until she had taken her seat, and found her knitting.
“I am so sorry not to see Mrs. Blake,” she said to the rector. “I have a new recipe for yellow pickle which I must write out and send to her.” And, as the Governor rose to go, she stood up and begged him to stay to supper. “Mr. Lightfoot, can’t you persuade him to sit down with us?” she asked.
“Where you have failed, Molly, it is useless for me to try,” gallantly responded the Major, picking up her ball of yarn.
“But I must bear your pardon to my little girl, I really must,” insisted the Governor. “By the way, Major,” he added, turning at the door, “what do you think of the scheme to let the Government buy the slaves and ship them back to Africa? I was talking to a Congressman about it last week.”
“Sell the servants to the Government!” cried the Major, hotly. “Nonsense! nonsense! Why, you are striking at the very foundation of our society! Without slavery, where is our aristocracy, sir?”
“Oh, I beg your pardon,” said the Governor lightly. “Well, we shall keep them a while longer, I expect. Good night, madam, good night, gentlemen,” and he went out to where his horse was standing.
The Major looked after him with a sigh. “When I hear a man talking about the abolition of slavery,” he remarked gloomily, “I always expect him to want to do away with marriage next–” he checked himself and coloured, as if an improper speech had slipped out in the presence of Mrs. Lightfoot. The old lady rose primly and, taking the rector’s arm, led the way to supper.
Dan was not noticed at the table,–it was a part of his grandmother’s social training to ignore children before visitors,–but when he went upstairs that night, the Major came to the boy’s room and took him in his arms.
“I am proud of you, my child,” he said. “You are my grandson, every inch of you, and you shall have the finest riding horse in the stables on your birthday.”
“I’d rather have Big Abel, if you please, sir,” returned Dan. “I think Big Abel would like to belong to me, grandpa.”
“Bless my soul!” cried the Major. “Why, you shall have Big Abel and his whole family, if you like. I’ll give you every darky on the place, if you want them–and the horses to boot,” for the old gentleman was as unwise in his generosity as in his wrath.
“Big Abel will do, thank you,” responded the boy; “and I’d like to shake hands now, grandpa,” he added gravely; but before the Major left that night he had won not only the child’s hand, but his heart. It was the beginning of the great love between them.
For from that day Dan was as the light of his grandfather’s eyes. As the boy strode manfully across the farm, his head thrown back, his hands clasped behind him, the old man followed, in wondering pride, on his footsteps. To see him stand amid the swinging cradles in the wheat field, ordering the slaves and arguing with the overseer, was sufficient delight unto the Major’s day. “Nonsense, Molly,” he would reply half angrily to his wife’s remonstrances. “The child can’t be spoiled. I tell you he’s too fine a boy. I couldn’t spoil him if I tried,” and once out of his grandmother’s sight, Dan’s arrogance was laughed at, and his recklessness was worshipped. “Ah, you will make a man, you will make a man!” the Major had exclaimed when he found him swearing at the overseer, “but you mustn’t curse, you really mustn’t, you know. Why, your grandmother won’t let me do it.”
“But I told him to leave that haystack for me to slide on,” complained the boy, “and he said he wouldn’t, and began to pull it down. I wish you’d send him away, grandpa.”
“Send Harris away!” whistled the Major. “Why, where could I get another, Dan? He has been with me for twenty years.”
“Hi, young Marster, who gwine min’ de han’s?” cried Big Abel, from behind.
“Do you like him, Big Abel?” asked the child, for the opinion of Big Abel was the only one for which he ever showed respect. “It’s because he’s not free, grandpa,” he had once explained at the Major’s jealous questioning. “I wouldn’t hurt his feelings because he’s not free, you know, and he couldn’t answer back,” and the Major had said nothing more.
Now “Do you like him, Big Abel?” he inquired; and to the negro’s “He’s done use me moughty well, suh,” he said gravely, “Then he shall stay, grandpa–and I’m sorry I cursed you, Harris,” he added before he left the field. He would always own that he was wrong, if he could once be made to see it, which rarely happened.
“The boy’s kind heart will save him, or he is lost,” said the Governor, sadly, as Dan tore by on his little pony, his black hair blown from his face, his gray eyes shining.
“He has a kind heart, I know,” returned Mrs. Ambler, gently; “the servants and the animals adore him–but–but do you think it well for Betty to be thrown so much with him? He is very wild, and they deny him nothing. I wish she went with Champe instead–but what do you think?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” answered the Governor, uneasily. “He told the doctor to mind his own business, yesterday–and that is not unlike Betty, herself, I am sorry to say–but this morning I saw him give his month’s pocket money to that poor free negro, Levi. I can’t say, I really do not know,” his eyes followed Betty as she flew out to climb behind Dan on the pony’s back. “I wish it were Champe, myself,” he added doubtfully.
For Betty–independent Betty–had become Dan’s slave. Ever since the afternoon of the burning woodpile, she had bent her stubborn little knees to him in hero-worship. She followed closer than a shadow on his footsteps; no tortures could wring his secrets from her lips. Once, when he hid himself in the mountains for a day and night and played Indian, she kept silence, though she knew his hiding-place, and a search party was out with lanterns until dawn.
“I didn’t tell,” she said triumphantly, when he came down again.
“No, you didn’t tell,” he frankly acknowledged.
“So I can keep a secret,” she declared at last.
“Oh, yes, you can keep a secret–for a girl,” he returned, and added, “I tell you what, I like you better than anybody about here, except grandpa and Big Abel.”
She shone upon him, her eyes narrowing; then her face darkened. “Not better than Big Abel?” she questioned plaintively.
“Why, I have to like Big Abel best,” he replied, “because he belongs to me, you know–you ought to love the thing that belongs to you.”
“But I might belong to you,” suggested Betty. She smiled again, and, smiling or grave, she always looked as if she were standing in a patch of sunshine, her hair made such a brightness about her.
“Oh, you couldn’t, you’re white,” said Dan; “and, besides, I reckon Big Abel and the pony are as much as I can manage. It’s a dreadful weight, having people belong to you.”
Then he loaded his gun, and Betty ran away with her fingers in her ears, because she couldn’t bear to have things killed.
A month later Dan and Champe settled down to study. The new tutor came–a serious young man from the North, who wore spectacles, and read the Bible to the slaves on the half-holidays. He was kindly and conscientious, and, though the boys found him unduly weighed down by responsibility for the souls of his fellows, they soon loved him in a light-hearted fashion. In a society where even the rector harvested alike the true grain and the tares, and left the Almighty to do His own winnowing, Mr. Bennett’s free-handed fight with the flesh and the devil was looked upon with smiling tolerance, as if he were charging a windmill with a wooden sword.
On Saturdays he would ride over to Uplands, and discuss his schemes for the uplifting of the negroes with the Governor and Mrs. Ambler; and once he even went so far as to knock at Rainy-day Jones’s door and hand him a pamphlet entitled “The Duties of the Slaveholder.” Old Rainy-day, who was the biggest bully in the county, set the dogs on him, and lit his pipe with the pamphlet; but the Major, when he heard the story, laughed, and called the young man “a second David.”
Mr. Bennett looked at him seriously through his glasses, and then his eyes wandered to the small slave, Mitty, whose chief end in life was the finding of Mrs. Lightfoot’s spectacles. He was an earnest young man, but he could not keep his eyes away from Mitty when she was in the room; and at the old lady’s, “Mitty, my girl, find me my glasses,” he felt like jumping from his seat and calling upon her to halt. It seemed a survival of the dark ages