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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Deliverance: A Romance Of The Virginia Tobacco Fields - Book II - The Temptation - Chapter V. The Glimpse of a Bride
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The Deliverance: A Romance Of The Virginia Tobacco Fields - Book II - The Temptation - Chapter V. The Glimpse of a Bride Post by :diveman Category :Long Stories Author :Ellen Glasgow Date :April 2011 Read :2976

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The Deliverance: A Romance Of The Virginia Tobacco Fields - Book II - The Temptation - Chapter V. The Glimpse of a Bride

The next morning he awoke with stiffened limbs and confusion in
his head, and for a time he lay idly looking at his little
window-panes, beyond which the dawn hung like a curtain. Then, as
a long finger of sunlight pointed through the glass, he rose with
an effort and, dressing himself hastily, went downstairs to
breakfast. Here he found that Zebbadee Blake, who had promised to
help him cut his crop, had not yet appeared, owing probably to
the excitement of Fletcher's runaway. The man's absence annoyed
him at first; and then, as the day broke clear and cold, he
succumbed to his ever present fear of frost and, taking his
pruning-knife from the kitchen mantelpiece, went out alone to
begin work on his ripest plants.

The sun had already tempered the morning chill in the air, and
the slanting beams stretched over the tobacco, which, as the dew
dried, showed a vivid green but faintly tinged with yellow--a
colour that even in the sparkling sunlight appeared always
slightly shadowed. To attempt alone the cutting of his crop,
small as it was, seemed, with his stiffened limbs, a particularly
trying task, and for a moment he stood gazing wearily across the
field. Presently, with a deliberate movement as if he were
stooping to shoulder a fresh burden, he slit the first ripe stalk
from its flaunting top to within a hand's-breadth of the ground;
then, cutting it half through near the roots, he let it fall to
one side, where it hung, slowly wilting, on the earth. Gradually,
as he applied himself to the work, the old zest of healthful
labour returned to him, and he passed buoyantly through the
narrow aisle, leaving a devastated furrow on either side. It was
a cheerful picture he presented, when Tucker, dragging himself
heavily from the house, came to the ragged edge of the field and
sat down on an old moss-grown stump. "Where's Zebbadee,
Christopher?" " He didn't turn up. It was that affair of the
accident, probably. Fletcher berated him, I reckon." "So you've
got to cut it all yourself. Well, it's a first-rate crop--the
very primings ought to be as good as some top leaves." "The
crop's
all right," responded Christopher, as his knife passed with a
ripping noise down the juicy stalk. "You know I made a fool of
myself yesterday, Uncle Tucker," he said suddenly, drawing back
when the plant fell slowly across the furrow, "and I'm so stiff
in the joints this morning I can hardly move. I met one of
Fletcher's farm wagons running away, with his boy dragged by the
reins, and--I stopped it." Tucker turned his mild blue eyes upon
him. Since the news of Appomattox nothing had surprised him, and
he was not surprised now--he was merely interested. "You couldn't
have helped it, I suspect," he remarked.

"I didn't know whose it was, you see," answered Christopher; "the
horses were new." "You'd have done it anyway, I reckon. At such
moments it's a man's mettle that counts, you know, and not his
emotions. You might have hated Fletcher ten times worse, but
you'd have risked your life to stop the horses all the same--
because, after all, what a man is is something different from how
he feels about things. It's in your blood to dare everything
whenever a chance offers, as it was in your father's before you.
Why, I've seen him stop on the way to a ball, pull off his coat,
and go up a burning ladder to save a woman's pet canary, and
then, when the crowd hurrahed him, I've laughed because I knew he
deserved nothing of the kind. With him it wasn't courage so much
as his inborn love of violent action--it cleared his head, he
used to say." Christopher stopped cutting, straightened himself,
and held his knife loosely in his hand. "That's about it, I
reckon," he returned. "I know I'm not a bit of a hero--if I'd
been in your place I'd have shown up long ago for a skulking
coward--but it's the excitement of the moment that I like. Why,
there's nothing in life I'd enjoy so much as knocking Fletcher
down--it's one of the things I look forward to that makes it all
worth while." Tucker laughed softly. It was a peculiarity of his
never to disapprove. That's a good savage instinct," he said,
with a humorous tremor of his nostrils, "and it's a saying of
mine, you know, that a man is never really--civilised until he
has turned fifty. We're all born mighty near to the wolf and
mighty far from the dog, and it takes a good many years to coax
the wild beast to lie quiet by the fireside. It's the struggle
that the Lord wants, I reckon; and anyhow, He makes it easier for
us as the years go on. When a man gets along past his fiftieth
year, he begins to understand that there are few things worth
bothering about, and the sins of his fellow mortals are not among
'em." " Bless my soul!" exclaimed Christopher in disgust, rapping
his palm smartly with the flat blade of his knife. "Do you mean
to tell me you've actually gone and forgiven Bill Fletcher?"
"Well, I wouldn't go so far as to water the grass on his grave,
"answered Tucker, still smiling, "but I've not the slightest
objection to his eating, sleeping, and moving on the surface of
the earth. There's room enough for us both, even in this little
county, and so long as he keeps out of my sight, as far as I am
concerned he absolutely doesn't exist. I never think of him
except when you happen to call his name. If a man steals my
money, that's his affair. I can't afford to let him steal my
peace of mind as well." With a groan Christopher went back to his
work. "It may be sense you're talking," he observed, "but it
sounds to me like pure craziness. It's just as well, either way,
I reckon, that I'm not in your place and you in mine--for if that
were so Fletcher would most likely go scot free." Tucker rose
unsteadily from the stump. "Why, if we stood in each other's
boots, "he said, with a gentle chuckle, "or, to be exact, if I
stood in your two boots and you in my one, as sure as fate, you'd
be thinking my way and I yours. Well, I wish I could help you,
but as I can't I'll be moving slowly back."

He shuffled off on his crutches, painfully swinging himself a
step at a time, and Christopher, after a moment's puzzled stare
at his pathetic figure, returned diligently to his work.

His passage along the green aisle was very slow, and when at last
he reached the extreme end by the little beaten path and felled
the last stalk on his left side he straightened himself for a
moment's rest, and stood, bareheaded, gazing over the broad
field, which looked as if a windstorm had blown in an even line
along the edge, scattering the outside plants upon the ground.
The thought of his work engrossed him at the instant, and it was
with something of a start that he became conscious presently of
Maria Fletcher's voice at his back. Wheeling about dizzily, he
found her leaning on the old rail fence, regarding him with
shining eyes in which the tears seemed hardly dried.

"I have just left Will," she said; "the doctor has set his leg
and he is sleeping. It was my last chance--I am going away
to-morrow--and I wanted to tell you--I wanted so to tell you how
grateful we feel."

The knife dropped from his hand, and he came slowly along the
little path to the fence.

"I fear you've got an entirely wrong idea about me, "he answered.
"It was nothing in the world to make a fuss over--and I swear to
you if it were the last word I ever spoke--I did not know it was
your brother."

"As if that mattered!" she exclaimed, and he remembered vaguely
that he had heard her use the words before. "You risked your life
to save his life, we know that. Grandpa saw it all--and the
horses dragged you, too. You would have been killed if the others
hadn't run up when they did. And you tell me--as if that made it
any the less brave that you didn't know it was Will."

"I didn't, "he repeated stubbornly. "I didn't."

"Well, he does, " she responded, smiling; "and he wants to thank
you himself when he is well enough."

"If you wish to do me a kindness, for heaven's sake tell him not
to," he said irritably. "I hate all such foolishness it makes me
out a hypocrite!"

"I knew you'd hate it; I told them so," tranquilly responded the
girl. "Aunt Saidie wanted to rush right over last night, but I
wouldn't let her. All brave men dislike to have a fuss made over
them, I know."

"Good Lord!" ejaculated Christopher, and stopped short,
impatiently desisting before the admiration illumining her eyes.
>From her former disdain he had evidently risen to a height in
her regard that was romantic in its ardour. It was in vain that
he told himself he cared for one emotion as little as for the
other--in spite of his words, the innocent fervour in her face
swept over the barrier of his sullen pride.

"So you are going away to-morrow, "he said at last; "and for
good?"

"For good, yes. I go abroad very unexpectedly for perhaps five
years. My things aren't half ready, but business is of more
importance than a woman's clothes."

"Will you be alone?"

"Oh, no."

"Who goes with you?" he insisted bluntly.

As she reddened, he watched the colour spread slowly to her
throat and ear.

"I am to be married, you know," she answered, with her accustomed
composure of tone.

His lack of gallantry was churlish.

"To that dummy with the brown mustache?" he inquired.

A little hysterical laugh broke from her, and she made a hopeless
gesture of reproof. "Your manners are really elementary," she
remarked, adding immediately: "I assure you he isn't in the least
a dummy--he is considered a most delightful talker."

He swept the jest impatiently aside.

"Why do you do it?" he demanded.

"Do what?"

"You know what I mean. Why do you marry him?"

Again she bit back a laugh. It was all very primitive, very
savage, she told herself; it was, above all, different from any
of the life that she had known, and yet, in a mysterious way, it
was familiar, as if the unrestrained emotion in his voice stirred
some racial memory within her brain.

"Why do I marry him?" She drew a step away, looking at sky and
field. "Why do I marry him?" She hesitated slightly, "Oh, for
many reasons, and all good ones--but most of all because I love
him."

"You do not love him."

"I beg your pardon, but I do."

For the first time in her life, as her eyes swept over the
landscape, she was conscious of a peculiar charm in the wildness
of the country, in the absence of all civilising influences--in
the open sky, the red road, the luxuriant tobacco, the coarse
sprays of yarrow blooming against the fence; in the homely tasks,
drawing one close to the soil, and the harvesting of the ripened
crops, the milking of the mild-eyed cows, and in the long still
days, followed by the long still nights.

Their eyes met, and for a time both were silent. She felt again
the old vague trouble at his presence, the appeal of the rustic
tradition, the rustic temperament; of all the multiplied
inheritances of the centuries, which her education had not
utterly extinguished.

"Well, I hope you'll live to regret it," he said suddenly, with
bitter passion.

The words startled her, and she caught her breath with a tremor.

"What an awful wish!" she exclaimed lightly.

"It's an honest one."

"I'm not sure I shouldn't prefer a little polite lying."

"You won't get it from me. I hope you'll live to regret it. Why
shouldn't I?"

"Oh, you might at least be decently human. If you hadn't been so
brave yesterday, I might almost think you a savage to-day."

"I didn't do that on purpose, I told you," he returned angrily.

"You can't make me believe that--it's no use trying."

"I shan't try--though it's the gospel truth--and you'll find it
out some day."

"When?"

"Oh, when the time comes, that's all."

"You speak in riddles," she said, "and I always hated guessing."
Then she held out her hand with a pleasant, conventional smile.
"I am grateful to you in spite of everything," she said; "and now
good-by."

His arms hung at his side. "No, I won't shake hands," he
answered. "What's the use?"

"As you please--only, it's the usual thing at parting."

"All the same, I won't do it," he said stubbornly. "My hands are
not clean." He held them out, soiled with earth and the stains
from the tobacco.

For an instant her eyes dwelt upon him very kindly.

"Oh, I shan't mind the traces of honest toil," she said; but as
he still hung back, she gave a friendly nod and went quickly
homeward along the road. As her figure vanished among the trees,
a great bitterness oppressed him, and, picking up his knife, he
went back doggedly to his work.

In the kitchen, when he returned to dinner some hours later, he
found Cynthia squinting heavily over the torn coat.

"I must say you ruined this yesterday," she remarked, looking up
from her needle, "and if you'd listened to me you could have
stopped those horses just as well in your old jean clothes. I had
a feeling that something was going to happen, when I saw you with
this on."

"I don't doubt it," he responded, woefully eyeing the garment
spread on her knees, "and I may as well admit right now that I
made a mess of the whole thing. To think of my wasting the only
decent suit I had on a Fletcher--after saving up a year to buy
it, too."

Cynthia twitched the coat inside out and placed a square patch
over the ragged edges of the rent. "I suppose I ought to be
thankful you saved the boy's life," she observed, "but I can't
say that I feel particularly jubilant when I look at these
armholes. Of course, when I first heard of it the coat seemed a
mere trifle, but when I come to the mending I begin to wish you'd
been heroic in your everyday clothes. There'll have to be a patch
right here, but I don't reckon it will show much. Do you mind?"

"I'd rather wear a mustard plaster than a patch any time," he
replied gravely; "but as long as there's no help for it, lay them
on--don't slight the job a bit because of my feelings. I can
stand pretty well having my jean clothes darned and mended, but I
do object to dressing up on Sundays in a bedquilt."

"Well, you'll have to, that's all," was Cynthia's reassuring
rejoinder. "It's the price you pay for being a hero when you
can't afford it."

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Two days later Christopher met Fletcher in the little room behindthe store and paid down the three hundred dollars in the presenceof Sam Murray. Several loungers, who had been seasoning theirdrinks with leisurely stories, hastily drained their glasses andwithdrew at Fletcher's entrance, and when the three men cametogether to settle the affair of the mortgage they were alone inthe presence of the tobacco-stained walls, the square pine tablewith its dirty glasses, and the bills of notice posted beside thedoor. Among them Christopher had seen the public advertisement ofhis farm--a rambling statement in large letters, signifying thatthe place would be sold for
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