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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Battle Ground - BOOK SECOND - YOUNG BLOOD - Chapter II - Betty dreams by the Fire
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The Battle Ground - BOOK SECOND - YOUNG BLOOD - Chapter II - Betty dreams by the Fire Post by :mjsimpson Category :Long Stories Author :Ellen Glasgow Date :April 2011 Read :1020

Click below to download : The Battle Ground - BOOK SECOND - YOUNG BLOOD - Chapter II - Betty dreams by the Fire (Format : PDF)

The Battle Ground - BOOK SECOND - YOUNG BLOOD - Chapter II - Betty dreams by the Fire

Betty, lying back in the deep old carriage as it rolled through the storm,
felt a glow at her heart as if a lamp were burning there, shut in from the
night. Above the wind and the groaning of the wheels, she heard Hosea
calling to the horses, but the sound reached her through muffled ears.

"Git along dar!" cried Hosea, with sudden spirit, "dar ain' no oats dis
side er home, en dar ain' no co'n, nurr. Git along dar! 'Tain' no use
a-mincin'. Git along dar!"

The snow beat softly on the windows, and the Governor's profile was
relieved, fine and straight, against the frosted glass. "Are you asleep,
daughter?" he asked, turning to where the girl lay in her dark corner.

"Asleep!" She came back with a start, and caught his hand above the robe in
her demonstrative way. "Why, who can sleep on Christmas Eve? there's too
much to do, isn't there, mamma? Twenty stockings to fill and I don't know
how many bundles to tie up. Oh, no, I shan't sleep tonight."

"We might get up early to-morrow and do them," suggested Virginia, nodding
in her pink hood.

"You, at least, must go to bed, dear," insisted Mrs. Ambler. "Betty and I
will fix the things."

"Indeed, you shall go to bed, mamma," said Betty, sternly. "Papa and I
shall make Christmas this year. You'll help me, won't you, papa?"

"Well, my dear, I don't see how I can help myself," returned the Governor;
"I wasn't born to be the father of a Betty for nothing."

"Get along dar!" sang out Hosea again. "'Tain' no use a-mincin', gemmun.
Dar ain' no fiddlin' roun'. Git along dar!"

Miss Lydia had fallen asleep, with her head on her breast, but the sound
aroused her, and she opened her eyes and sat up very straight.

"Why, I declare I'd almost dropped off," she said. "Are we nearly there,
Peyton?"

"I think so," replied the Governor, "but the snow's so thick I can't see;"
he opened the window and put out his head. "Are we nearly there, Hosea?"

"We des done pas' de clump er cedars, suh," yelled Hosea through the storm.
"I'ud a knowd 'em ef dey'd come a-struttin' down de road--dey cyarn fool
me. Den we got ter pas' de wil' cher'y and de gap in de fence, en dar we
are."

"Yes, we're nearly there," said the Governor, as he drew in his head, and
Miss Lydia slept again until the carriage turned into the drive and stopped
before the portico.

Uncle Shadrach, in the open doorway, was grinning with delight. "Ef'n de
snow had er kep' you, dar 'ouldn't a been no Christmas for de res' er us,"
he declared.

"Oh, the snow couldn't keep us, Shadrach," returned the Governor, as he
gave him his overcoat, and set himself to unfastening his wife's wraps. "We
were too anxious to get home. There, Julia, you go to bed, and leave Betty
and myself to manage things. Don't say I can't do it. I tell you I've been
Governor of Virginia, and I'll not be daunted by an empty stocking. Now go
away, and you, too, Virginia--you're as sleepy as a kitten. Miss Lydia,
shall I take Mrs. Lightfoot's mixture to Miss Pussy, or will you?"

Miss Lydia took the pitcher, and Betty put her arm about her mother and led
her upstairs, holding her hand and kissing it as she went. She was always
lavish with little ways of love, but to-night she felt tenderer than
ever--she felt that she should like to take the world in her arms and hold
it to her bosom. "Dearest, sweetest," she said, and her voice was full and
tremulous, though still with its crisp brightness of tone. It was as if she
caressed with her whole being, with those hidden possibilities of passion
which troubled her yet, only as the vibration of strong music, making her
joy pensive and her sadness sweet. She felt that she was walking in a
pleasant and vivid dream; she was happy, she could not tell why; nor could
she tell why she was sorrowful.

In Mrs. Ambler's room they found Mammy Riah, awaiting her mistress's
return.

"Put her to bed, Mammy," she said; "she is all chilled by the drive," and
she gave her mother over to the old negress, and ran down again to the
dining room, where the Governor was standing surrounded by the Christmas
litter.

"Do you expect to straighten out all these things, daughter?" he asked
hopelessly.

"Why, there's hardly anything left to do," was Betty's cheerful assurance.
"You just sit down at the table and put the nuts into the toes of those
stockings, and I'll count out these print frocks."

The Governor obediently sat down and went to work. "I am moved to offer
thanks that we are not as the beasts that have four legs," he remarked
thoughtfully. "I shouldn't care to fill stockings for quadrupeds, Betty."

"Why, you goose, there's only one stocking for each child."

"Ah, but with four feet our expectations might be doubled," suggested the
Governor. "You can't convince me that it isn't a merciful providence, my
dear."

When the stockings were filled and the packages neatly tied up and
separated, Uncle Shadrach came with a hamper, and Betty went out to the
kitchen to prepare for the morning gathering of the field hands and their
families. Returning after the work was over, she lingered a moment in the
path to the house, looking far across the white country. The snow had
ceased, and a single star was shining, through a rift in the scudding
clouds, straight overhead. From the northwest the wind blew hard, and the
fleecy covering on the ground was fast freezing a foot deep in ice. With a
shiver she drew her cloak about her and ran indoors and upstairs to where
Virginia lay asleep in the high, white bed.

In the great brick fireplace the logs had fallen apart, and she softly
pushed them together again as she threw on a knot of resinous pine. The
blaze shot up quickly, and blowing out the candle upon the bureau, she
undressed by the firelight, crooning gently as she did so in a voice that
was lower than the singing flames. With the glow on her bared arms and her
hair unbound upon her shoulders, she sat close against the chimney; and
while Virginia slept in the tester bed, went dreaming out into the night.

At first her dreams went back into her childhood, and somehow, she knew not
why, she could not bring back her childhood but Dan came with it. She
fancied herself in all kinds of impossible places, but she had no sooner
got safely into them than she looked up and Dan was there before her,
standing very still and laughing at her with his eyes. It was the same
thing even when she was a baby. Her earliest memory was of a May morning
when they took her out into a field of buttercups, and told her that she
might pluck her arms full if she could, and then, as she stretched out her
little hands and began to gather very fast, she looked across to where the
waving yellow buttercups stood up against the blue spring sky. That memory
had always been her own before; but now, when she went back to it, she knew
that all the time she had been gathering buttercups for Dan. And she had
plucked faster and faster only that she might have a bigger bunch for him
when the gathering was done. She saw herself working bonnetless in the
sunshine, her baby face red, her lips breathless, working so hard, she did
not know for whom. Oh, how funny that he should have been somewhere all the
time!

And again on the day when they gave her her first doll, and she let it fall
and cried her heart out over its broken pink face. She knew, at last, that
somewhere in that ugly town Dan had dropped his toy; and it was for that
she was crying, not for her own poor doll. Yes, all her life she had had
two griefs to weep for, and two joys to be glad over. She had been really a
double self from her babyhood up--from her babyhood up! It had been always
up, up, up--like a lark that rises to the sun. She had all her life been
rising to the sun, and she was warmed at last.

Then she asked herself if it were happiness, after all, this new
restlessness of hers. The melancholy of the early spring was there--the
roving impulse that comes on April afternoons when the first buds are on
the trees and the air is keen with the smell of the newly turned earth. She
felt that it was time for the spring to come again; she wanted to walk
alone in the woods and to watch the swallows flying from the north. And
again she wanted only to lie close upon the hearth and to hear the flames
leap up the chimney. One of her selves cried to be up and roaming; the
other to turn over on the rug and sleep again.

But gradually her thoughts returned to him, and she went over, bit by bit,
what he had said last evening, asking herself if he had meant much at this
time, or little at another. It seemed to her that she found new meanings
now in things that she had once overlooked. She read words in his eyes
which he had never spoken; and, one by one, she brought back each sentence,
each look, each gesture, holding it up to her remembrance, and laying it
aside to give place to the next. Oh, there were so many, so many!

And then from the past her dreams went groping out into the future,
becoming dimmer, and shaping themselves into unreal forms. Scattered
visions came drifting through her mind,--of herself in romantic adventures,
and of Dan--always of Dan--appearing like the prince in the fairy tale, at
the perilous moment. She saw herself on the breast of a great river, borne,
while she stretched her hands at a white rose-bush blooming in the clouds,
to a cataract which she could not see, though she heard its thunder far
ahead. She tried to call, but no sound came, for the water filled her
mouth. The river went on and on, and the falling of the cataract was in her
ears, when she felt Dan's arm about her, and saw his eyes laughing at her
above the waters.

"Betty!" called Virginia, suddenly, rising on her elbow and rubbing her
eyes. "Betty, is it morning?"

Betty awoke with a cry, and stood up in the firelight.

"Oh, no, not yet," she answered.

"What are you doing? Aren't you coming to bed?"

"I--I was just thinking," stammered Betty, twisting her hair into a rope;
"yes, I'm coming now," and she crossed the room and climbed into the bed
beside her sister.

"I believe I fell asleep by the fire," she said, as she turned over.

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On Christmas Eve the great logs blazed at Chericoke. From the open door thered light of the fire streamed through the falling snow upon the broaddrive where the wheel ruts had frozen into ribbons of ice. The naked boughsof the old elms on the lawn tapped the peaked roof with twigs as cold andbright as steel, and the two high urns beside the steps had an iridescentfringe around their marble basins.In the hall, beneath swinging sprays of mistletoe and holly, the Major andhis hearty cronies were dipping apple toddy from the silver punch bowl halfhidden in its wreath of evergreens. Behind
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