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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Voice Of The People - Book 3. When Fields Lie Fallow - Chapter 5
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The Voice Of The People - Book 3. When Fields Lie Fallow - Chapter 5 Post by :Teresa Category :Long Stories Author :Ellen Glasgow Date :May 2012 Read :1720

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The Voice Of The People - Book 3. When Fields Lie Fallow - Chapter 5

BOOK III. WHEN FIELDS LIE FALLOW CHAPTER V

Eugenia arranged the goldenrod in the great blue vases and sat in the deserted dining-room thinking of Nicholas. Where the damask curtains were drawn back from the windows a gray line of twilight landscape was visible, and a chill, transparent dusk filled the large room. Outside she would see the box-walk, a stretch of lawn, broken by flower-beds, and the avenue of cedars leading to the highway. From the porch floated the smoke of the general's pipe.

Her brow was on her hand and she sat so motionless that the place seemed deserted, save for an errant firefly that vainly palpitated in the gloom. The glow that had flamed beneath Nicholas's kiss still lingered in her face, and she was conscious of a faint, almost hysterical impulse to weep. The fever in her veins had given place to a still tremor which ran through her limbs. At first she felt rather than thought. She lapsed into an emotional reverie as delicate as the fragrance of the October roses on the table. There was a sensation of softness as when one lies full length in sunshine or is caressed by firelight. She felt it pervade her body even to the palms of her hands. Then her quick mind stirred, and she recalled the pressure of his arms, the light in his eyes, the quiver of his lips as they touched her hands. His strength had dominated her and it still held her--the firm note in the voice that trembled, the power in the hand that appealed, the almost savage vigour in the arms that he folded on his breast. She had succumbed less to his gentleness than to the knowledge that it was she alone who evoked that gentleness out of a nature almost adamantine, wholly masculine. His faults she knew to be the faults of one who had hewn his own road in life--a rugged surface--a strain of rigidity beneath--at worst a tendency to dogmatise--and knowing as she did her own control over them, they attracted rather than repelled her.

And yet in this pulsating recognition of his manhood there was mingled with an emotion half-maternal the memory of her own guardianship of his stunted childhood. To a woman at once rashly spirited and profoundly feminine the pathos of his boyish struggle appealed no less forcibly than did the virility of his manhood. She might have loved him less had her thought of him been untouched by pity.

She sat quietly in the twilight until Congo brought in the lamp and a prospect of supper. Then she rose and went to join her father on the porch.

"Why did you tell Mrs. Webb I would be a 'Daughter,' papa?" she gaily demanded.

The general took his pipe from his mouth and stared up at her.

"It's a good cause, Eugie," he replied, "and she's a remarkable woman. Her executive ability is astounding--absolutely astounding."

"I joined," said Eugenia. "I had to, after you said that. You know, I called on her the day I took Sally in."

The general lowered his eyes and thoughtfully regarded the light that was going gray in his pipe.

"Did she happen to say anything about--Dudley?" he inquired.

"Oh, yes. She said he sent me a message in a letter."

"Did she tell you what 'twas?"

"No. I didn't ask her."

He put the stem of his pipe between his teeth and hung on it desperately for a moment; then he took it out again.

"He's a fine young fellow," he said at last. "I don't know a finer--and, bless my soul! I'd see you married to him to-morrow."

But Eugenia laughed and beat his shoulder.

"You don't want to see me married to anybody," she said, "and you know it."

At the end of the ensuing week Dudley came to Kingsborough, and upon the first evening of his visit he walked out to Battle Hall. He was looking smooth and well groomed, and the mass of his thick dark hair waving over his white brow gave him an air of earnestness and ardour. Eugenia wondered that she had never noticed before that he was like the portrait of an old-time orator, and that his hands were finely rounded.

His voice, with its suggestion of suavity, fell soothingly on her nerves. She had never liked him so much, and she had never shown it so plainly. Once as she met his genial gaze she held her breath at the marvel that he should grow to love her, and in vain. Was it that beside his splendid shallows the more luminous depths of Nicholas's nature still showed supreme? Or was it a question of fate--and of first and last? Had Dudley come upon her in the red sunset, in the little shanty beside the road, would she have gone out to him in the mere leaping of youth and womanhood? Was it the moment, after all, and not the man? Or was it something more unerring still--more profound--the prophetic call of individual to individual, despite the specious pleading of the race? But she put the thought aside and returned casually to Dudley.

His heartiness was a tonic, and her vanity responded to the unaffected admiration in his eyes; but his chief claim to her regard lay in the fact that it was the general, and not herself, whom he endeavoured to propitiate.

"Well, my dear General!" he exclaimed cordially as he threw himself upon the worn horsehair sofa in what was called the "sitting-room," "I find your story about the fighting Texans capped by one Major Mason was telling me last night about the North Carolinians--" He got no farther.

"I've fought side by side with North Carolina regiments, and I tell you, sir, they're the best fighters God ever made!" cried the general. "Did you ever hear that story about 'em when I was wounded?"

Dudley shook his head and leaned forward, his hands clasped between his knees and an expression of flattering absorption on his face.

"I can't recall it now, sir," he delightfully lied.

The general cleared his throat, laid his pipe aside, and drew up his chair.

"It was in my last battle," he began. "You know I got that ball in my shoulder and was laid up when Lee surrendered--well, sir, I was propped up there close by a company of those raw-boned mountaineers from North Carolina, and they stood as still as the pine wood behind 'em, while their colonel swore at 'em like mad.

"'Damn you for a troop of babies!' he yelled. 'Ain't you goin' into the fight? Can't you lick a blamed Yankee?' And, bless your soul! those scraggy fellows stood stock still and sung out:

"'We ain't mad!'

"Well, sir, they'd no sooner yelled that back than a bullet whizzed along and took off one of their own men, and, on my oath, the bullet hadn't ceased singing in my ears before that company charged the enemy to a man--and whipped 'em, too, sir--whipped 'em clean off the field!"

He paused, clapped his knee, and roared.

"That's your North Carolinian," he said. "He's a God Almighty fighter, but you've got to make him mad first."

Miss Chris brought her knitting to the lamp, and Eugenia, sitting with her hands in her lap, followed the conversation with abstracted interest.

It was not until Dudley rose to go that he came over to her and took her hand.

"Good-night," he said, his ardent eyes upon her. "I'm to have that ride to-morrow? You know I came for it."

The unreasoning blood beat in her face as she turned away, and she was conscious that he had seen and misconstrued the senseless blush. It was her misfortune to go red or pale without cause and to show an impassive face above deep emotion.

The next morning she rode with Dudley, and the day after he came out before returning to Richmond. She experienced a certain pleasure in the contact with his bouyant optimism, but it was not without a sensation of relief that she watched him depart after his last visit. It seemed to leave her more to herself--and to Nicholas.

That afternoon she walked with him far across the fields, and they laid together phantasmal foundations of their future lives. Perhaps the chief thing to be said of their intercourse was that it was to each a mental stimulant as well as an emotional delight. Eugenia's quick, untutored mind, which had run to seed like an uncultivated garden, blossomed from contact with his practical, unpolished intellect. He taught her logic and a little law; she taught him poetry and passion. He argued his cases to her and swept her back into the days of his old political dreams--dreams from which he had awakened, but which still hovered as memories in his waking hours. Sometimes he brought his books to Battle Hall, and they read together beneath the general's unseeing eyes; but more often they sat side by side in the pasture or the wood, the volume lying open between them. He was the first man who had ever spurred her into thought; she was the first woman he had ever loved.

As they walked across the fields this afternoon they drifted back to the question of themselves and their own happiness. It was only a matter of waiting, she said, of the patient passage of time; and they were so sure of each other that all else was unimportant--to be disregarded.

"But am I sure of you?" he demanded.

It was not a personal distrust of Eugenia that he voiced; it was the hardened state of disbelief in his own happiness which showed itself when the first intoxication of passion was lived out.

"Why, of course you are," she readily rejoined. "Am I not sure of you? You are as much mine as my eyes--or my hand."

"Oh, I am different!" he exclaimed. "A beggar doesn't prove faithless to a princess--but what do you see in me, after all?"

She laughed. "I see a very moody lover."

They had reached a little deserted spring in the pasture called "Poplar Spring," after the six great poplars which grew beside it. Eugenia seated herself on a fallen log beside the tiny stream which trickled over the smooth, round stones, bearing away, like miniature floats, the yellow leaves that fell ceaselessly from the huge branches above.

"I don't believe you know how I love you," he said suddenly.

"Tell me," she insatiably demanded.

"If I could tell you I shouldn't love you as I do. There are some things one can't talk about--but you are life itself--and you are all heaven and all hell to me."

"I don't want to be hellish," she put in provokingly.

"But you are--when I think you may slip from me, after all."

The yellow leaves fluttered over them--over the fallen log and over the bright green moss beside the little spring. As Eugenia turned towards him, a single leaf fell from her hair to the ground.

"Oh! You are thinking of Dudley Webb!" she said, and laughed because jealousy was her own darling sin.

"Yes, I am thinking--" he began, when she stopped him.

"Well, you needn't. You may just stop at once. I--love--you--Nick--Burr. Say it after me."

He shook his head. Her hand lay on the log beside him, and his own closed over it. As it did so, she contrasted its hardened palm with the smooth surface of Dudley Webb's. The contrast touched her, and, with a swift, warm gesture, she raised the clasped hands to her cheek.

"I told you once I liked your hand," she said. "Well--I love it."

He turned upon her a hungry glance.

"I would work it to the bone for you," he answered. "But--it is long to wait."

"Yes, it is long to wait," she repeated, but her tone had not the heaviness of his. Waiting in its wider sense means little to a woman--and in a moment she cheerfully returned to a prophetic future.

A few days later Bernard came, and she saw Nicholas less often. Her affection for her brother, belonging, as it did, to the dominant family feeling which possessed her soul, was filled with an almost maternal solicitude. He absorbed her with a spasmodic, half selfish, wholly insistent appeal. She received his confidences, wrote his letters, and tied his cravats. Upon his last visit home he had spent the greater part of his time in Kingsborough; now he rode in seldom, and invariably returned in a moody and depressed condition.

"You're worth the whole bunch of them," he had said to her of other girls, "you dear old Eugie."

And she had warmed and laid a faithful hand on his arm. It was characteristic of her that no call for affection went disregarded--that the sensitive fibres of her nature quivered beneath any caressing hand.

"Do you really like me best?" she asked.

"Don't I?" He laughed his impulsive, boyish laugh--"I'll prove it by letting you go in for the mail this afternoon. I detest Kingsborough!"

"Oh! No, no, I love it, but I suppose it is dull for you."

She ordered the carriage and went upstairs to put on her hat. When she came down Bernard was not in sight, and she drove off, wondering why he or any one else should detest Kingsborough.

She performed her mission at the post-office, and was mentally weighing the probabilities of Nicholas having finished work for the day, when, in passing along the main street, she saw him come to the door of his office with a round, rosy girl, whom she recognised as Bessie Pollard.

She had intended to take him out with her, but as she caught sight of his visitor she gave them both a condescending nod and ordered Sampson to drive on. She felt vaguely offended and sharply irritated with herself for permitting it. Her annoyance was not allayed by the fact that Amos Burr stopped her in the road to inform her that his wife was fattening a brood of turkeys which she would like to deliver into the hands of Miss Chris. As he stood before her, hairy, ominous, uncouth, she realised for the first time the full horror of the fact that he was father to the man she loved. Hitherto she had but dimly grasped the idea. Nicholas had been associated in her thoughts with the judge and her earlier school days; and she had conceived of his poverty and his people only in the heroic measures that related to his emancipation from them. Now she felt that had she, in the beginning, seen him side by side with his father, she could not have loved him. She flinched from Amos Burr's shaggy exterior and drew back haughtily.

"I have nothing to do with the housekeeping," she said. "You may ask Aunt Chris."

He spat a mouthful of tobacco juice into the dust and fingered the torn brim of his hat.

"I wish you'd jest speak to Miss Chris about 'em," he returned, "an' send me word by Nick." He gave an awkward lurch on his feet.

The colour flamed in Eugenia's face.

"Aunt Chris will send for the turkeys," she said hurriedly. "Drive on, Sampson."

She sat splendidly erect, but the autumn landscape was blurred by a sudden gush of tears.

An hour later she remembered that she had promised to let Nicholas join her in the pasture, and she left the house with the grievance still at her heart.

When she saw him it broke out abruptly.

"I am surprised that you keep up with such people," she said.

He looked at her blankly.

"If you mean Bessie Pollard," he rejoined, "she was in trouble and came to me for advice. I couldn't help her, but I could at least be civil. She was kind to me when I was in her father's store."

"I do not care to be reminded that you were ever in such a position."

He flinched, but answered quietly:

"I am afraid you will have to face it," he said. "If you become my wife, you will, unfortunately, have to face a good deal that you might escape by marrying in your own class--I am not in your class, you know," he slowly added.

She was conscious of a cloudy irritation which was alien to her usually beaming moods. The figure of Amos Burr loomed large before her, and she hated herself for the discovery that she was tracing his sinister likeness in his son. No, it was only the hair--that was all, but she loathed the obvious colour.

Her lip trembled and she set her teeth into it.

"You might at least allow me to forget it," she retorted.

"Why should you wish to forget it? I think I shall be proud of it when I have risen far enough above it to claim you. It is no small thing to be a self-made man."

She resented the assurance of his tone.

"It is strange that you do not consider my view of it."

"Your view--what is it?"

"That I do not wish the man I love to--to speak to that Pollard girl," she gasped.

"Since you wish it, I will avoid her in future. She is nothing to me; but I can't refuse to speak to her. You are unreasonable."

She was regarding the hovering shade of Amos Burr.

"If you think me unreasonable," she returned, "we may as well--"

He reached her side by a single step and flung his arm about her. Then he looked into her face and laughed softly.

"May as well what--dearest?" he asked.

She shook an obstinate head.

"You don't love me," was her inevitable feminine challenge.

He laughed again. "Do I love you?" he demanded as he looked at her.

She did not answer, but the shade of Amos Burr melted afar.

Nicholas bent over her with abrupt intensity and kissed her lips until his kisses hurt her.

"Do I love you--now?" he asked.

"Yes--yes--yes." She freed herself with a laugh that dispelled the lingering cloud. "You may convince me next time without violence," she affirmed radiantly.

As he watched her his large nostrils twitched whimsically. "You were saying that we might as well--"

"Go home to supper," she finished triumphantly. "The sun has set."

When she left him a little later at the end of the avenue she flew joyously up the narrow walk. She was softly humming to herself, and as she stepped upon the porch the song ran lightly into words.


"I love Love, though he has wings,
And like light can flee--"


she sang, and paused within the shadow of the porch to glance through the long window that led into the sitting-room. The heavy curtains obstructed her gaze, and she had put up her hand to push them aside, when her father's voice reached her, and at his words her outstretched arm fell slowly to her side.

"It's that girl of Jerry Pollard's," he was saying. "She's gotten into trouble, and that Burr boy's mixed up in it; the young rascal!"

Miss Chris's placid voice floated in.

"I can't believe it," she charitably murmured; and Bernard, who was on the hearth rug, turned at the sound.

"It's all gossip, you know," he said.

Eugenia pushed aside the curtains and stepped into the room. Her hands hung at her sides, and the animation had faded from her glance. Her face looked white and drawn.

"It is not true," she said steadily. "Papa, it is not true."

"I--I'm afraid it is, daughter," gasped the general. There was an abashed embarrassment in his attitude and his hands shook. He had hoped to keep such facts beyond the utmost horizon of his daughter's life.

Eugenia crossed to the hearth rug and stood looking into Bernard's face. She made an appealing gesture with her hands.

"Bernard, it is not true," she said.

He turned away from her and, nervously lifting the poker, divided the smouldering log. A red flame shot up, illuminating the gathered faces that stood out against the dusk. The glare lent a grotesque irony to the flabby, awe-stricken features of the general, brightened the boyish ill-humour in Bernard's eyes, and played peaceably over Miss Chris's tranquil countenance.

"Bernard, it is not true," she said again.

The poker fell with a clatter to the hearth; and the noise irritated her. Bernard put out a sudden, soothing hand.

"It is what they say in Kingsborough," he answered.

She turned from him to the window, pushed the curtains aside, and went out again into the sunset.

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