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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Battle Ground - BOOK SECOND - YOUNG BLOOD - Chapter VII - If this be Love
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The Battle Ground - BOOK SECOND - YOUNG BLOOD - Chapter VII - If this be Love Post by :Frank_Harris Category :Long Stories Author :Ellen Glasgow Date :April 2011 Read :643

Click below to download : The Battle Ground - BOOK SECOND - YOUNG BLOOD - Chapter VII - If this be Love (Format : PDF)

The Battle Ground - BOOK SECOND - YOUNG BLOOD - Chapter VII - If this be Love

An hour later, Cephas, son of Cupid, gathering his basketful of chips at
the woodpile, beheld his young master approaching by the branch road, and
started shrieking for the house. "Hi! hit's Marse Dan! hit's Marse Dan!" he
yelled to his father Cupid in the pantry; "I seed 'im fu'st! Fo' de Lawd, I
seed 'im fu'st!" and the Major, hearing the words, appeared instantly at
the door of his library.

"It's the boy," he called excitedly. "Bless my soul, Molly, the boy has
come!"

The old lady came hurriedly downstairs, pinning on her muslin cap, and by
the time Dan had dismounted at the steps the whole household was assembled
to receive him.

"Well, well, my boy," exclaimed the Major, moving nervously about, "this is
a surprise, indeed. We didn't look for you until next week. Well, well."

He turned away to wipe his eyes, while Dan caught his grandmother in his
arms and kissed her a dozen times. The joy of these simple souls touched
him with a new tenderness; he felt unworthy of his grandmother's kisses and
the Major's tears. Why had he stayed away when his coming meant so much?
What was there in all the world worth the closer knitting of these strong
blood ties?

"By George, but I'm glad to get here," he said heartily. "There's nothing
I've seen across the water that comes up to being home again; and the sight
of your faces is better than the wonders of the world, I declare. Ah,
Cupid, old man, I'm glad to see you. And Aunt Rhody and Congo, how are you
all? Why, where's Big Abel? Don't tell me he isn't here to welcome me."

"Hyer I is, young Marster, hyer I is," cried Big Abel, stretching out his
hand over Congo's head, and "Hyer I is, too," shouted Cephas from behind
him. "I seed you fu'st, fo' de Lawd, I seed you fu'st!"

They gathered eagerly round him, and with a laugh, and a word for one and
all, he caught the outstretched hands, scattering his favours like a young
Jove. "Yes, I've remembered you--there, don't smother me. Did you think I'd
dare to show my face, Aunt Rhody, without the gayest neckerchief in Europe?
Why, I waited over in New York just to see that it was safe. Oh, don't
smother me, I say." The dogs came bounding in, and he greeted them with
much the same affectionate condescension, caressing them as they sprang
upon him, and pushing away the one that licked his face. When the overseer
ran in hastily to shake his hand, there was no visible change in his
manner. He greeted black and white with a courtesy which marked the social
line, with an affability which had a touch of the august. Had the gulf
between them been less impassable, he would not have dared the hearty
handshake, the genial word, the pat upon the head--these were a tribute
which he paid to the very humble.

When the servants had streamed chattering out through the back door, he put
his arms about the old people and led them into the library. "Why, what's
become of Champe?" he inquired, glancing complacently round the book-lined
walls.

"Ah, you mustn't expect to see anything of Champe these days," replied the
Major, waiting for Mrs. Lightfoot to be seated before he drew up his chair.
"His heart's gone roving, I tell him, and he follows mighty closely after
it. If you don't find him at Uplands, you've only to inquire at Powell
Hall."

"Uplands!" exclaimed Dan, hearing the one word. "What is he doing at
Uplands?"

The Major chuckled as he settled himself in his easy chair and stretched
out his slippered feet. "Well, I should say that he was doing a very
commendable thing, eh, Molly?" he rejoined jokingly.

"He's losing his head, if that's what you mean," retorted the old lady.

"Not his head, but his heart, my dear," blandly corrected the Major, "and I
repeat that it is a very commendable thing to do--why, where would you be
to-day, madam, if I hadn't fallen in love with you?"

Mrs. Lightfoot sniffed as she unwound her knitting. "I don't doubt that I
should be quite as well off, Mr. Lightfoot," she replied convincingly.

"Ah, maybe so, maybe so," admitted the Major, with a sigh; "but I'm very
sure that I shouldn't be, my dear."

The old lady softened visibly, but she only remarked:--

"I'm glad that you have found it out, sir," and clicked her needles.

Dan, who had been wandering aimlessly about the room, threw himself into a
chair beside his grandmother and caught at her ball of yarn.

"It's Virginia, I suppose," he suggested.

The Major laughed until his spectacles clouded.

"Virginia!" he gasped, wiping the glasses upon his white silk handkerchief.
"Listen to the boy, Molly, he believes every last one of us--myself to
boot, I reckon--to be in love with Miss Virginia."

"If he does, he believes as many men have done before him," interposed Mrs.
Lightfoot, with a homely philosophy.

"Well, isn't it Virginia?" asked Dan.

"I tell you frankly," pursued the Major, in a confidential voice, "that if
you want a rival with Virginia, you'll be apt to find a stout one in Jack
Morson. He was back a week ago, and he's a fine fellow--a first-rate
fellow. I declare, he came over here one evening and I couldn't begin a
single quotation from Horace that he didn't know the end of it. On my word,
he's not only a fine fellow, but a cultured gentleman. You may remember,
sir, that I have always maintained that the two most refining influences
upon the manners were to be found in the society of ladies and a knowledge
of the Latin language."

Dan gave the yarn an impatient jerk. "Tell me, grandma," he besought her.

As was her custom, the old lady came quickly to the point and appeared to
transfix the question with the end of her knitting-needle. "I really think
that it is Betty, my child," she answered calmly.

"What does he mean by falling in love with Betty?" demanded Dan, while he
rose to his feet, and the ball of yarn fell upon the floor.

"Don't ask me what he means, sir," protested the Major. "If a man in love
has any meaning in him, it takes a man in love to find it out. Maybe you'll
be better at it than I am; but I give it up--I give it up."

With a gloomy face Dan sat down again, and resting his arms on his knees,
stared at the vase of golden-rod between the tall brass andirons. Cupid
came in to light the lamps, and stopped to inquire if Mrs. Lightfoot would
like a blaze to be started in the fireplace. "It's a little chilly, my
dear," remarked the Major, slapping his arm. "There's been a sharp change
in the weather;" and Cupid removed the vase of golden-rod and laid an
armful of sticks crosswise on the andirons.

"Draw up to the hearth, my boy," said the Major, when the fire burned.
"Even if you aren't cold, it looks cheerful, you know--draw up, draw up,"
and he at once began to question his grandson about the London streets,
evoking as he talked dim memories of his own early days in England. He
asked after St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey half as if they were personal
friends of whose death he feared to hear; and upon being answered that they
still stood unchanged, he pressed eagerly for the gossip of the Strand and
Fleet Street. Was Dr. Johnson's coffee-house still standing? and did Dan
remember to look up the haunts of Mr. Addison in his youth? "I've gotten a
good deal out of Champe," he confessed, "but I like to hear it again--I
like to hear it. Why, it takes me back forty years, and makes me younger."

And when Champe came in from his ride, he found the old gentleman upon the
hearth-rug, his white hair tossing over his brow, as he recited from Mr.
Addison with the zest of a schoolboy of a hundred years ago.

"Hello, Beau! I hope you got your clothes," was Champe's greeting, as he
shook his cousin's hand.

"Oh, they turned up all right," said Dan, carelessly, "and, by-the-way,
there was an India shawl for grandma in that very trunk."

Champe crossed to the fireplace and stood fingering one of the tall vases.
"It's a pity you didn't stop by Uplands," he observed. "You'd have found
Virginia more blooming than ever."

"Ah, is that so?" returned Dan, flushing, and a moment afterward he added
with an effort, "I met Betty in the turnpike, you know."

Six months ago, he remembered, he had raved out his passion for Virginia,
and to-day he could barely stammer Betty's name. A great silence; seemed to
surround the thought of her.

"So she told me," replied Champe, looking steadily at Dan. For a moment he
seemed about to speak again; then changing his mind, he left the room with
a casual remark about dressing for supper.

"I'll go, too," said Dan, rising from his seat. "If you'll believe me, I
haven't spoken to my old love, Aunt Emmeline. So proud a beauty is not to
be treated with neglect."

He lighted one of the tall candles upon the mantel-piece, and taking it in
his hand, crossed the hall and went into the panelled parlour, where
Great-aunt Emmeline, in the lustre of her amber brocade, smiled her
changeless smile from out the darkened canvas. There was wit in her curved
lip and spirit in her humorous gray eyes, and the marble whiteness of her
brow, which had brought her many lovers in her lifetime, shone undimmed
beneath the masses of her chestnut hair. With her fair body gone to dust,
she still held her immortal apple by the divine right of her remembered
beauty.

As Dan looked at her it seemed to him for the first time that he found a
likeness to Betty--to Betty as she smiled up at him from the hearth in Aunt
Ailsey's cabin. It was not in the mouth alone, nor in the eyes alone, but
in something indefinable which belonged to every feature--in the kindly
fervour that shone straight out from the smiling face. Ah, he knew now why
Aunt Emmeline had charmed a generation.

He blew out the candle, and went back into the hall where the front door
stood half open. Then taking down his hat, he descended the steps and
strolled thoughtfully up and down the gravelled drive.

The air was still moist, and beyond the gray meadows the white clouds
huddled like a flock of sheep upon the mountain side. From the branches of
the old elms fell a few yellowed leaves, and among them birds were flying
back and forth with short cries. A faint perfume came from the high urns
beside the steps, where a flowering creeper was bruised against the marble
basins.

With a cigar in his mouth, Dan passed slowly to and fro against the lighted
windows, and looked up tenderly at the gray sky and the small flying birds.
There was a glow in his face, for, with a total cessation of time, he was
back in Aunt Ailsey's cabin, and the rain was on the roof.

In one of those rare moods in which the least subjective mind becomes that
of a mystic, he told himself that this hour had waited for him from the
beginning of time--had bided patiently at the crossroads until he came up
with it at last. All his life he had been travelling to meet it, not in
ignorance, but with half-unconscious knowledge, and all the while the fire
had burned brightly on the hearth, and Betty had knelt upon the flat stones
drying her hair. Again it seemed to him that he had never looked into a
woman's face before, and the shame of his wandering fancies was heavy upon
him. He called himself a fool because he had followed for a day the flutter
of Virginia's gown, and a dotard for the many loves he had sworn to long
before. In the twilight he saw Betty's eyes, grave, accusing, darkened with
reproach; and he asked himself half hopefully if she cared--if it were
possible for a moment that she cared. There had been humour in her smile,
but, for all his effort, he could bring back no deeper emotion than pity or
disdain--and it seemed to him that both the pity and the disdain were for
himself.

The library window was lifted suddenly, as the Major called out to him that
"supper was on its way"; and, with an impatient movement of the shoulders,
he tossed his cigar into the grass and went indoors.

The next afternoon he rode over to Uplands, and found Virginia alone in the
dim, rose-scented parlour, where the quaint old furniture stood in the
gloom of a perpetual solemnity. The girl, herself, made a bright spot of
colour against the damask curtains, and as he looked at her he felt the
same delight in her loveliness that he felt in Great-aunt Emmeline's.
Virginia had become a picture to him, and nothing more.

When he entered she greeted him with her old friendliness, gave him both
her cool white hands, and asked him a hundred shy questions about the
countries over sea. She was delicately cordial, demurely glad.

"It seems an age since you went away," she said flatteringly, "and so many
things have happened--one of the big trees blew down on the lawn, and Jack
Powell broke his arm--and--and Mr. Morson has been back twice, you know."

"Yes, I know," he answered, "but I rather think the tree's the biggest
thing, isn't it?"

"Well, it is the biggest," admitted Virginia, sweetly. "I couldn't get my
arms halfway round it--and Betty was so distressed when it fell that she
cried half the day, just as if it were a human being. Aunt Lydia has been
trying to build a rockery over the root, and she's going to cover it with
portulaca." She went to the long window and pointed out the spot where it
had stood. "There are so many one hardly misses it," she added cheerfully.

At the end of an hour Dan asked timidly for Betty, to hear that she had
gone riding earlier with Champe. "She is showing him a new path over the
mountain," said Virginia. "I really think she knows them all by heart."

"I hope she hasn't taken to minding cattle," observed Dan, irritably. "I
believe in women keeping at home, you know," and as he rose to go he told
Virginia that she had "an Irish colour."

"I have been sitting in the sun," she answered shyly, going back to the
window when he left the room.

Dan went quickly out to Prince Rupert, but with his foot in the stirrup, he
saw Miss Lydia training a coral honeysuckle at the end of the portico, and
turned away to help her fasten up a broken string. "It blew down
yesterday," she explained sadly. "The storm did a great deal of damage to
the flowers, and the garden looked almost desolate this morning, but Betty
and I worked there until dinner. I tell Betty she must take my place among
the flowers, she has such a talent for making them bloom. Why, if you will
come into the garden, you will be surprised to see how many summer plants
are still in blossom."

She spoke wistfully, and Dan looked down on her with a tender reverence
which became him strangely. "Why, I shall be delighted to go with you," he
answered. "Do you know I never see you without thinking of your roses? You
seem to carry their fragrance in your clothes." There was a touch of the
Major's flattery in his manner, but Miss Lydia's pale cheeks flushed with
pleasure.

Smiling faintly, she folded her knitted shawl over her bosom, and he
followed her across the grass to the little whitewashed gate of the garden.
There she entered softly, as if she were going into church, her light steps
barely treading down the tall grass strewn with rose leaves. Beyond the
high box borders the gay October roses bent toward her beneath a light
wind, and in the square beds tangles of summer plants still flowered
untouched by frost. The splendour of the scarlet sage and the delicate
clusters of the four-o'clocks and sweet Williams made a single blur of
colour in the sunshine, and under the neatly clipped box hedges, blossoms
of petunias and verbenas straggled from their trim rows across the walk.

As he stood beside her, Dan drew in a long breath of the fragrant air. "I
declare, it is like standing in a bunch of pinks," he remarked.

"There has been no hard frost as yet," returned Miss Lydia, looking up at
him. "Even the verbenas were not nipped, and I don't think I ever had them
bloom so late. Why, it is almost the first of October."

They strolled leisurely up and down the box-bordered paths, Miss Lydia
talking in her gentle, monotonous voice, and Dan bending his head as he
flicked at the tall grass with his riding-whip.

"He is a great lover of flowers," said the old lady after he had gone, and
thought in her simple heart that she spoke the truth.

For two days Dan's pride held him back, but the third being Sunday, he went
over in the afternoon with the pretence of a message from his grandmother.
As the day was mild the great doors were standing open, and from the drive
he saw Mrs. Ambler sitting midway of the hall, with her Bible in her hand
and her class of little negroes at her feet. Beyond her there was a strip
of green and the autumn glory of the garden, and the sunlight coming from
without fell straight upon the leaves of the open book.

She was reading from the gospel of St. John, and she did not pause until
the chapter was finished; then she looked up and said, smiling: "Shall I
ask you to join my class, or will you look for the girls out of doors?
Virginia, I think, is in the garden, and Betty has just gone riding down
the tavern road."

"Oh, I'll go after Betty," replied Dan, promptly, and with a gay "good-by"
he untied Prince Rupert and started at a canter for the turnpike.

A quarter of a mile beyond Uplands the tavern road branched off under a
deep gloom of forest trees. The white sand of the turnpike gave place to a
heavy clay soil, which went to dust in summer and to mud in winter,
impeding equally the passage of wheels. On either side a thick wood ran for
several miles, and the sunshine filtered in bright drops through the green
arch overhead.

When Dan first caught sight of Betty she was riding in a network of sun and
shade, her face lifted to the bit of blue sky that showed between the
tree-tops. At the sound of his horse she threw a startled look behind her,
and then, drawing aside from the sunken ruts in the "corduroy" road,
waited, smiling, until he galloped up.

"Why, it's never you!" she exclaimed, surprised.

"Well, that's not my fault, Betty," he gayly returned. "If I had my way, I
assure you it would be always I. You mustn't blame a fellow for his ill
luck, you know." Then he laid his hand on her bridle and faced her sternly.

"Look here, Betty, you haven't been treating me right," he said.

She threw out a deprecating little gesture. "Do I need to put on more
humility?" she questioned, humbly. "Is it respect that I have failed in,
sir?"

"Oh, bosh!" he interposed, rudely. "I want to know why you went riding
three afternoons with Champe--it wasn't fair of you, you know."

Betty sighed sadly. "No one has ever asked me before why I went riding with
Champe," she confessed, "and the mighty secret has quite gnawed into my
heart."

"Share it with me," begged Dan, gallantly, "only I warn you that I shall
have no mercy upon Champe."

"Poor Champe," said Betty.

"At least he went riding with you three afternoons--lucky Champe!"

"Ah, so he did; and must I tell you why?"

He nodded. "You shan't go home until you do," he declared grimly.

Betty reached up and plucked a handful of aspen leaves, scattering them
upon the road.

"By what right, O horse-taming Hector (isn't that the way they talk in
Homer?)"

"By the right of the strongest, O fair Helena (it's the way they talk in
translations of Homer)."

"How very learned you are!" sighed Betty.

"How very lovely you are!" sighed Dan.

"And you will really force me to tell you?" she asked.

"For your own sake, don't let it come to that," he replied.

"But are you sure that you are strong enough to hear it?"

"I am strong enough for anything," he assured her, "except suspense."

"Well, if I must, then let me whisper it--I went because--" she drew back,
"I implore you not to uproot the forest in your wrath."

"Speak quickly," urged Dan, impatiently.

"I went because--brace yourself--I went because he asked me."

"O Betty!" he cried, and caught her hand.

"O Dan!" she laughed, and drew her hand away.

"You deserve to be whipped," he went on sternly. "How dare you play with
the green-eyed monster I'm wearing on my sleeve? Haven't you heard his
growls, madam?"

"He's a pretty monster," said Betty. "I should like to pat him."

"Oh, he needs to be gently stroked, I tell you."

"Does he wake often--poor monster?"

Dan lowered his abashed eyes to the road.

"Well, that--ah, that depends--" he began awkwardly.

"Ah, that depends upon your fancies," finished Betty, and rode on rapidly.

It was a moment before he came up with her, and when he did so his face was
flushed.

"Do you mind about my fancies, Betty?" he asked humbly.

"I?" said Betty, disdainfully. "Why, what have I to do with them?"

"With my fancies? nothing--so help me God--nothing."

"I am glad to hear it," she replied quietly, stroking her horse. Her cheeks
were glowing and she let the overhanging branches screen her face. As they
rode on silently they heard the rustling of the leaves beneath the horses'
feet, and the soft wind playing through the forest. A chain of lights and
shadows ran before them into the misty purple of the distance, where the
dim trees went up like gothic spires.

Betty's hands were trembling, but fearing the stillness, she spoke in a
careless voice.

"When do you go back to college?" she inquired politely.

"In two days--but it's all the same to you, I dare say."

"Indeed it isn't. I shall be very sorry."

"You needn't lie to me," he returned irritably. "I beg your pardon, but a
lie is a lie, you know."

"So I suppose, but I wasn't lying--I shall be very sorry."

A fiery maple branch fell between them, and he impatiently thrust it aside.

"When you treat me like this you raise the devil in me," he said angrily.
"As I told you before, Betty, when I'm not Lightfoot I'm Montjoy--it may be
this that makes you plague me so."

"O Dan, Dan!" she laughed, but in a moment added gravely: "When you're
neither Lightfoot nor Montjoy, you're just yourself, and it's then, after
all, that I like you best. Shall we turn now?" She wheeled her horse about
on the rustling leaves, and they started toward the sunset light shining
far up the road.

"When you like me best," said Dan, passionately. "Betty, when is that?" His
ardent look was on her face, and she, defying her fears, met it with her
beaming eyes. "When you're just yourself, Dan," she answered and galloped
on. Her lips were smiling, but there was a prayer in her heart, for it
cried, "Dear God, let him love me, let him love me."

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"Dear God, let him love me," she prayed again in the cool twilight of herchamber. Before the open window she put her hands to her burning cheeks andfelt the wind trickle between her quivering fingers. Her heart flutteredlike a bird and her blood went in little tremours through her veins. For asingle instant she seemed to feel the passage of the earth through space."Oh, let him love me! let him love me!" she cried upon her knees.When Virginia came in she rose and turned to her with the brightness oftears on her lashes."Do you want me to help you, dear?" she
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On a late September afternoon Dan rode leisurely homeward along theturnpike. He had reached New York some days before, but instead of hurryingon with Champe, he had sent a careless apology to his expectantgrandparents while he waited over to look up a missing trunk."Oh, what difference does a day make?" he had urged in reply to Champe'sremonstrances, "and after going all the way to Paris, I can't afford tolose my clothes, you know. I'm not a Leander, my boy, and there's no Heroawaiting me. You can't expect a fellow to sacrifice the proprieties forhis grandmother.""Well, I'm going, that's all," rejoined Champe,
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