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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Battle Ground - BOOK FIRST - GOLDEN YEARS - Chapter VI - College Days
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The Battle Ground - BOOK FIRST - GOLDEN YEARS - Chapter VI - College Days Post by :smw51 Category :Long Stories Author :Ellen Glasgow Date :April 2011 Read :798

Click below to download : The Battle Ground - BOOK FIRST - GOLDEN YEARS - Chapter VI - College Days (Format : PDF)

The Battle Ground - BOOK FIRST - GOLDEN YEARS - Chapter VI - College Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"With affectionate greeting to grandma and yourself,

"Your dutiful grandson,
"DANDRIDGE MONTJOY."

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

"DAN."

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

"D."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Good gracious, Molly! You don't wish the lad was across the ocean, do
you?"

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

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

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

The Major started up as red as a beet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"'The stars in Rebel skies that shine
Are the bright orbs of Emmeline.'"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You'll look just lovely," returned Virginia, promptly, for she always said
the sweetest thing at the sweetest time.

"And I'm going to look like this when Dan comes home next summer," resumed
Betty, sedately.

"Not in Aunt Lydia's dress?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"About me?" returned Betty. "Oh, he doesn't say anything about me, except
that I am kind."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Hi, Ole Marster, w'at I gwine tie him wid?" he demanded gleefully.

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

"What's that on his cheek, Congo?" he asked in a whisper.

"Dat's des whar dey done hit 'im, Ole Marster. How I gwine tie 'im?"

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

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

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

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

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

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The Governor rode up too late to avert the punishment. Dan had taken hiswhipping and was sitting on a footstool in the library, facing the Majorand a couple of the Major's cronies. His face wore an expression in whichthere was more resentment than resignation; for, though he took blowsdoggedly, he bore the memory of them long after the smart had ceased--long,indeed, after light-handed justice, in the Major's person, had forgottenalike the sin and the expiation. For the Major's hand was not steady at therod, and he had often regretted a weakness of heart which interfered witha physical interpretation of the wisdom
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