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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Battle Ground - BOOK SECOND - YOUNG BLOOD - Chapter III - Dan and Betty
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The Battle Ground - BOOK SECOND - YOUNG BLOOD - Chapter III - Dan and Betty Post by :James_Inform Category :Long Stories Author :Ellen Glasgow Date :April 2011 Read :2829

Click below to download : The Battle Ground - BOOK SECOND - YOUNG BLOOD - Chapter III - Dan and Betty (Format : PDF)

The Battle Ground - BOOK SECOND - YOUNG BLOOD - Chapter III - Dan and Betty

On the last day of the year the young men from Chericoke, as they rode down
the turnpike, came upon Betty bringing holly berries from the wood. She was
followed by two small negroes laden with branches, and beside her ran her
young setters, Peyton and Bill.

As Dan came up with her, he checked his horse and swung himself to the
ground. "Thank God I've passed the boundary!" he exclaimed over his
shoulder to the others. "Ride on, my lads, ride on! Don't prate of the
claims of hospitality to me. My foot is on my neighbours' heath; I'm host
to no man."

"Come, now, Beau," remonstrated Jack Morson, looking down from his saddle;
"I see in Miss Betty's eyes that she wants me to carry that holly--I swear
I do."

"Then you see more than is written," declared Champe, from the other side,
"for it's as plain as day that one eye says Diggs and one Lightfoot--isn't
it, Betty?"

Betty looked up, laughing. "If you are so skilled in foreign tongues, what
can I answer?" she asked. "Only that I've been a mile after this holly for
the party to-night, and I wouldn't trust it to all of you together--for
worlds."

"Oh, go on, go on," said Dan, impatiently, "doesn't that mean that she'll
trust it to me alone? Good morning, my boys, God be with you," and he led
Prince Rupert aside while the rest rode by.

When they were out of sight he turned to one of the small negroes, his hand
on the bridle. "Shall we exchange burdens, O eater of 'possums?" he asked
blandly. "Will you permit me to tote your load, while you lead my horse to
the house? You aren't afraid of him, are you?"

The little negro grinned. "He do look moughty glum, suh," he replied, half
fearfully.

"Glum! Why, the amiability in that horse's face is enough to draw tears.
Come up, Prince Rupert, your highness is to go ahead of me; it's to oblige
a lady, you know."

Then, as Prince Rupert was led away, Dan looked at Betty.

"Shall it be the turnpike or the meadow path?" he inquired, with the gay
deference he used toward women, as if a word might turn it to a jest or a
look might make it earnest.

"The meadow, but not the path," replied the girl; "the path is asleep under
the snow." She cast a happy glance over the white landscape, down the long
turnpike, and across the broad meadow where a cedar tree waved like a snowy
plume. "Jake, we must climb the wall," she added to the negro boy, "be
careful about the berries."

Dan threw his holly into the meadow and lifted Betty upon the stone wall.
"Now wait a moment," he cautioned, as he went over. "Don't move till I tell
you. I'm managing this job--there, now jump!"

He caught her hands and set her on her feet beside him. "Take your fence,
my beauties," he called gayly to the dogs, as they came bounding across the
turnpike.

Betty straightened her cap and took up her berries.

"Your tender mercies are rather cruel," she complained, as she did so.
"Even my hair is undone."

"Oh, it's all the better," returned Dan, without looking at her. "I don't
see why girls make themselves so smooth, anyway. That's what I like about
you, you know--you've always got a screw loose somewhere."

"But I haven't," cried Betty, stopping in the snow.

"What! if I find a curl where it oughtn't to be, may I have it?"

"Of course not," she answered indignantly.

"Well, there's one hanging over your ear now. Shall I put it straight with
this piece of holly? My hands are full, but I think I might manage it."

"Don't touch me with your holly!" exclaimed Betty, walking faster; then in
a moment she turned and stood calling to the dogs. "Have you noticed what
beauties Bill and Peyton have grown to be?" she questioned pleasantly.
"There weren't any boys to be named after papa and Uncle Bill, so I called
the dogs after them, you know. Papa says he would rather have had a son
named Peyton; but I tell him the son might have been wicked and brought his
hairs in sorrow to the grave."

"Well, I dare say, you're right," he stopped with a sweep of his hand, and
stood looking to where a flock of crows were flying over the dried spectres
of carrot flowers that stood up above the snow; "That's fine, now, isn't
it?" he asked seriously.

Betty followed his gesture, then she gave a little cry and threw her arms
round the dogs. "The poor crows are so hungry," she said. "No, no, you
mustn't chase them, Bill and Peyton, it isn't right, you see. Here, Jake,
come and hold the dogs, while I feed the crows." She drew a handful of corn
from the pocket of her cloak, and flung it out into the meadow.

"I always bring corn for them," she explained; "they get so hungry, and
sometimes they starve to death right out here. Papa says they are
pernicious birds; but I don't care--do you mind their being pernicious?"

"I? Not in the least. I assure you I trouble myself very little about the
morals of my associates. I'm not fond of crows; but it is their voices
rather than their habits I object to. I can't stand their eternal
'cawing!'--it drives me mad."

"I suppose foxes are pernicious beasts, also," said Betty, as she walked
on; "but there's an old red fox in the woods that I've been feeding for
years. I don't know anything that foxes like to eat except chickens, but I
carry him a basket of potatoes and turnips and bread, and pile them up
under a pine tree; it's just as well for him to acquire the taste for them,
isn't it?"

She smiled at Dan above her fur tippet, and he forgot her words in watching
the animation come and go in her face. He fell to musing over her decisive
little chin, the sensitive curves of her nostrils and sweet wide mouth, and
above all over her kind yet ardent look, which gave the peculiar beauty to
her eyes.

"Ah, is there anything in heaven or earth that you don't like?" he asked,
as he gazed at her.

"That I don't like? Shall I really tell you?"

He bent toward her over his armful of holly.

"I have a capacious breast for secrets," he assured her.

"Then you will never breathe it?"

"Will you have me swear?" he glanced about him.

"Not by the inconstant moon," she entreated merrily.

"Well, by my 'gracious self'; what's the rest of it?"

She coloured and drew away from him. His eyes made her self-conscious, ill
at ease; the very carelessness of his look disconcerted her.

"No, do not swear," she begged. "I shall trust you with even so weighty a
confidence. I do not like--"

"Oh, come, why torture me?" he demanded.

She made a little gesture of alarm. "From fear of the wrath to come," she
admitted.

"Of my wrath?" he regarded her with amazement. "Oh, don't you like
_me_?" he exclaimed.

"You! Yes, yes--but--have mercy upon your petitioner. I do not like your
cravats."

She shut her eyes and stood before him with lowered head.

"My cravats!" cried Dan, in dismay, as his hand went to his throat, "but my
cravats are from Paris--Charlie Morson brought them over. What is the
matter with them?"

"They--they're too fancy," confessed Betty. "Papa wears only white, or
black ones you know."

"Too fancy! Nonsense! do you want to send me back to grandfather's stocks,
I wonder? It's just pure envy--that's what it is. Never mind, I'll give you
the very best one I've got."

Betty shook her head. "And what should I do with it, pray?" she asked.
"Uncle Shadrach wouldn't wear it for worlds--he wears only papa's clothes,
you see. Oh, I might give it to Hosea; but I don't think he'd like it."

"Hosea! Well, I declare," exclaimed Dan, and was silent.

When he spoke a little later it was somewhat awkwardly.

"I say, did Virginia ever tell you she didn't like my cravats?" he
inquired.

"Virginia!" her voice was a little startled. "Oh, Virginia thinks they're
lovely."

"And you don't?"

"No, I don't."

"Well, you are a case," he said, and walked on slowly.

They were already in sight of the house, and he did not speak again until
they had passed the portico and entered the hall. There they found Virginia
and the young men, who had ridden over ahead of them, hanging evergreens
for the approaching party. Jack Morson, from the top of the step-ladder,
was suspending a holly wreath above the door, while Champe was entwining
the mahogany balustrade in running cedar.

"Oh, Betty, would it be disrespectful to put mistletoe above General
Washington's portrait?" called Virginia, as they went into the hall.

"I don't think he'd mind--the old dear," answered Betty, throwing her
armful of holly upon the floor. "There, Dan, the burden of the day is
over."

"And none too soon," said Dan, as he tossed the holly from him. "Diggs, you
sluggard, what are you sitting there in idleness for? Miss Pussy, can't you
set him to work?"

Miss Pussy, who was bustling in and out with a troop of servants at her
heels, found time to reply seriously that she really didn't think there was
anything she could trust him with. "Of course, I don't mind your amusing
yourselves with the decorations," she added briskly, "but the cooking is
quite a different thing, you know."

"Amusing myself!" protested Dan, in astonishment. "My dear lady, do you
call carrying a wagon load of brushwood amusement? Now, I'll grant, if you
please, that Morson is amusing himself on the step-ladder."

"Keep off," implored Morson, in terror; "if you shake the thing, I'm gone,
I declare I am."

He nailed the garland in place and came down cautiously. "Now, that's what
I call an artistic job," he complacently remarked.

"Why, it's lovely," said Virginia, smiling, as he turned to her. "It's
lovely, isn't it, Betty?"

"As lovely as a crooked thing can be," laughed Betty. She was looking
earnestly at Virginia, and wondering if she really liked Jack Morson so
very much. The girl was so bewitching in her red dress, with the flush of
a sudden emotion in her face, and the shyness in her downcast eyes.

"Oh, that isn't fair, Virginia," called Champe from the steps. "Save your
favour for the man that deserves it--and look at me." Virginia did look at
him, sending him the same radiant glance.

"But I've many 'lovelies' left," she said quickly; "it's my favourite
word."

"A most appropriate taste," faltered Diggs, from his chair beneath the hall
clock.

Champe descended the staircase with a bound.

"What do I hear?" he exclaimed. "Has the oyster opened his mouth and
brought forth a compliment?"

"Oh, be quiet," commanded Dan, "I shan't hear Diggs made fun of, and it's
time to get back, anyway. Well, loveliest of lovely ladies, you must put on
your prettiest frock to-night."

Virginia's blush deepened. Did she like Dan so very much? thought Betty.

"But you mustn't notice me, please," she begged, "all the neighbours are
coming, and there are so many girls,--the Powells and the Harrisons and the
Dulaneys. I am going to wear pink, but you mustn't notice it, you know."

"That's right," said Jack Morson, "make him do his duty by the County, and
keep your dances for Diggs and me."

"I've done my duty by you, sir," was Dan's prompt retort, "so I'll begin to
do my pleasure by myself. Now I give you fair warning, Virginia, if you
don't save the first reel for me, I'll dance all the rest with Betty."

"Then it will be a Betty of your own making," declared Betty over her
shoulder, "for this Betty doesn't dance a single step with you to-night, so
there, sir."

"Your punishment be on your own head, rash woman," said Dan, sternly, as he
took up his riding-whip. "I'll dance with Peggy Harrison," and he went out
to Prince Rupert, lifting his hat, as he mounted, to Miss Lydia, who stood
at her window above. A moment later they heard his horse's hoofs ringing in
the drive, and his voice gayly whistling:--

"They tell me thou'rt the favor'd guest."

When the others joined him in the turnpike, the four voices took up the
air, and sent the pathetic melody fairly dancing across the snow.

"Do I thus haste to hall and bower
Among the proud and gay to shine?
Or deck my hair with gem and flower
To flatter other eyes than thine?
Ah, no, with me love's smiles are past;
Thou hadst the first, thou hadst the last."

The song ended in a burst of laughter, and up the white turnpike, beneath
the melting snow that rained down from the trees, they rode merrily back to
Chericoke.

In the carriage way they found the Major, wrapped in his broadcloth cape,
taking what he called a "breath of air."

"Well, gentlemen, I hope you had a pleasant ride," he remarked, following
them into the house. "You didn't see your way to stop by Uplands, I
reckon?"

"That we did, sir," said Diggs, who was never bashful with the Major. "In
fact, we made ourselves rather useful, I believe."

"They're charming young ladies over there, eh?" inquired the Major,
genially; and a little later when Dan and he were alone, he put the same
question to his grandson. "They're delightful girls, are they not, my boy?"
he ventured incautiously. "You have noticed, I dare say, how your
grandmother takes to Betty--and she's not a woman of many fancies, is your
grandmother."

"Oh, but Virginia!" exclaimed Dan, with enthusiasm. "I wish you could have
seen her in her red dress to-day. You don't half realize what a thundering
beauty that girl is. Why, she positively took my breath away."

The Major chuckled and rubbed his hands together.

"I don't, eh?" he said, scenting a romance as an old war horse scents a
battle. "Well, well, maybe not; but I see where the wind blows anyway, and
you have my congratulations on either hand. I shan't deny that we old folks
had a leaning to Betty; but youth is youth, and we shan't oppose your
fancy. So I congratulate you, my boy, I congratulate you."

"Ah, she wouldn't look at me, sir," declared Dan, feeling that the pace was
becoming a little too impetuous. "I only wish she would; but I'd as soon
expect the moon to drop from the skies."

"Not look at you! Pooh, pooh!" protested the old gentleman, indignantly.
"Proper pride is not vanity, sir; and there's never been a Lightfoot yet
that couldn't catch a woman's eye, if I do say it who should not. Pooh,
pooh! it isn't a faint heart that wins the ladies."

"I know you to be an authority, my dear grandpa," admitted the young man,
lightly glancing into the gilt-framed mirror above the mantel. "If there's
any of your blood in me, it makes for conquest." From the glass he caught
the laughter in his eyes and turned it on his grandfather.

"It ill becomes me to rob the Lightfoots of one of their chief
distinctions," said the Major, smiling in his turn. "We are not a proud
people, my boy; but we've always fought like men and made love like
gentlemen, and I hope that you will live up to your inheritance."

Then, as his grandson ran upstairs to dress, he followed him as far as Mrs.
Lightfoot's chamber, and informed her with a touch of pomposity: "That it
was Virginia, not Betty, after all. But we'll make the best of it, my
dear," he added cheerfully. "Either of the Ambler girls is a jewel of
priceless value."

The little old lady received this flower of speech with more than ordinary
unconcern.

"Do you mean to tell me, Mr. Lightfoot, that the boy has begun already?"
she demanded, in amazement.

"He doesn't say so," replied the Major, with a chuckle; "but I see what he
means--I see what he means. Why, he told me he wished I could have seen her
to-day in her red dress--and, bless my soul, I wish I could, ma'am."

"I don't see what good it would do you," returned his wife, coolly. "But
did he have the face to tell you he was in love with the girl, Mr.
Lightfoot?"

"Have the face?" repeated the Major, testily. "Pray, why shouldn't he have
the face, ma'am? Whom should he tell, I'd like to know, before he tells his
grandfather?" and with a final "pooh, pooh!" he returned angrily to his
library and to the _Richmond Whig_, a paper he breathlessly read and
mightily abused.

Dan, meanwhile, upstairs in his room with Champe, was busily sorting his
collection of neckwear.

"Look here, Champe, I'll give you all these red ties, if you want them," he
generously concluded. "I believe, after all, I'll take to wearing white or
black ones again."

"What?" asked Champe, in astonishment, turning on his heel. "Have the skies
fallen, or does Beau Montjoy forsake the fashions?"

"Confound the fashions!" retorted Dan, impatiently. "I don't care a jot for
the fashions. You may have all these, if you choose," and he tossed the
neckties upon the bed.

Champe picked up one and examined it with interest.

"O woman," he murmured as he did so, "your hand is small but mighty."

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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 thenight. Above the wind and the groaning of the wheels, she heard Hoseacalling to the horses, but the sound reached her through muffled ears."Git along dar!" cried Hosea, with sudden spirit, "dar ain' no oats disside er home, en dar ain' no co'n, nurr. Git along dar! 'Tain' no usea-mincin'. Git along dar!"The snow beat softly on the windows, and the Governor's profile wasrelieved, fine and straight, against the frosted glass. "Are
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