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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Battle Ground - BOOK SECOND - YOUNG BLOOD - Chapter I - The Major's Christmas
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The Battle Ground - BOOK SECOND - YOUNG BLOOD - Chapter I - The Major's Christmas Post by :ianb4info Category :Long Stories Author :Ellen Glasgow Date :April 2011 Read :2690

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The Battle Ground - BOOK SECOND - YOUNG BLOOD - Chapter I - The Major's Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Come, come, Major," protested the Governor. "Julia, can't you induce our
good friend to forbear?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I'se done stuff 'im full," returned Aunt Rhody, in justification.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Husban', huh!" repeated the indignant Ca'line, under her breath.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Genius, to grow tall?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Let me carry you, Betty; I'll show grandpa that there's still a man
alive."

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

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

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

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

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

"She's a beauty, I declare she is."

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

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

"Oh, don't be an utter ass; you know I mean Virginia."

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

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

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

Dan's face grew black. "I'll thank him to mind his own business," he
grumbled.

"Oh, he thinks he's doing it."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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