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Battle ground, p.1

Battle Ground, page 1

 

Battle Ground
 



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Battle Ground


  Produced by Wendy Crockett, Tiffany Vergon, JulietSutherland, Charles Aldarondo, Charles Franks and theOnline Distributed Proofreading Team

  THE BATTLE GROUND

  By Ellen Glasgow

  To

  The Beloved Memory of My Mother

  CONTENTS

  BOOK FIRST

  GOLDEN YEARS

  I. "De Hine Foot er a He Frawg" II. At the Full of the Moon III. The Coming of the Boy IV. A House with an Open Door V. The School for Gentlemen VI. College Days

  BOOK SECOND

  YOUNG BLOOD

  I. The Major's Christmas II. Betty dreams by the Fire III. Dan and Betty IV. Love in a Maze V. The Major loses his Temper VI. The Meeting in the Turnpike VII. If this be Love VIII. Betty's Unbelief IX. The Montjoy Blood X. The Road at Midnight XI. At Merry Oaks Tavern XII. The Night of Fear XIII. Crabbed Age and Callow Youth XIV. The Hush before the Storm

  BOOK THIRD

  THE SCHOOL OF WAR

  I. How Merry Gentlemen went to War II. The Day's March III. The Reign of the Brute IV. After the Battle V. The Woman's Part VI. On the Road to Romney VII. "I wait my Time" VIII. The Altar of the War God IX. The Montjoy Blood again

  BOOK FOURTH

  THE RETURN OF THE VANQUISHED

  I. The Ragged Army II. A Straggler from the Ranks III. The Cabin in the Woods IV. In the Silence of the Guns V. "The Place Thereof" VI. The Peaceful Side of War. VII. The Silent Battle VIII. The Last Stand IX. In the Hour of Defeat X. On the March again XI. The Return

  BOOK FIRST

  GOLDEN YEARS

  I

  "DE HINE FOOT ER A HE FRAWG"

  Toward the close of an early summer afternoon, a little girl came runningalong the turnpike to where a boy stood wriggling his feet in the dust.

  "Old Aunt Ailsey's done come back," she panted, "an' she's conjured thetails off Sambo's sheep. I saw 'em hanging on her door!"

  The boy received the news with an indifference from which it blanklyrebounded. He buried one bare foot in the soft white sand and withdrew itwith a jerk that powdered the blackberry vines beside the way.

  "Where's Virginia?" he asked shortly.

  The little girl sat down in the tall grass by the roadside and shook herred curls from her eyes. She gave a breathless gasp and began fanningherself with the flap of her white sunbonnet. A fine moisture shone on herbare neck and arms above her frock of sprigged chintz calico.

  "She can't run a bit," she declared warmly, peering into the distance ofthe long white turnpike. "I'm a long ways ahead of her, and I gave her thestart. Zeke's with her."

  With a grunt the boy promptly descended from his heavy dignity.

  "You can't run," he retorted. "I'd like to see a girl run, anyway." Hestraightened his legs and thrust his hands into his breeches pockets. "Youcan't run," he repeated.

  The little girl flashed a clear defiance; from a pair of beaming hazel eyesshe threw him a scornful challenge. "I bet I can beat you," she stoutlyrejoined. Then as the boy's glance fell upon her hair, her defiance waned.She put on her sunbonnet and drew it down over her brow. "I reckon I canrun some," she finished uneasily.

  The boy followed her movements with a candid stare. "You can't hide it," hetaunted; "it shines right through everything. O Lord, ain't I glad myhead's not red!"

  At this pharisaical thanksgiving the little girl flushed to the ruffledbrim of her bonnet. Her sensitive lips twitched, and she sat meekly gazingpast the boy at the wall of rough gray stones which skirted a field ofripening wheat. Over the wheat a light wind blew, fanning the even heads ofthe bearded grain and dropping suddenly against the sunny mountains in thedistance. In the nearer pasture, where the long grass was strewn with wildflowers, red and white cattle were grazing beside a little stream, and thetinkle of the cow bells drifted faintly across the slanting sunrays. It wasopen country, with a peculiar quiet cleanliness about its long white roadsand the genial blues and greens of its meadows.

  "Ain't I glad, O Lord!" chanted the boy again.

  The little girl stirred impatiently, her gaze fluttering from thelandscape.

  "Old Aunt Ailsey's conjured all the tails off Sambo's sheep," she remarked,with feminine wile. "I saw 'em hanging on her door."

  "Oh, shucks! she can't conjure!" scoffed the boy. "She's nothing but a freenigger, anyway--and besides, she's plum crazy--"

  "I saw 'em hanging on her door," steadfastly repeated the little girl. "Thewind blew 'em right out, an' there they were."

  "Well, they wan't Sambo's sheep tails," retorted the boy, conclusively,"'cause Sambo's sheep ain't got any tails."

  Brought to bay, the little girl looked doubtfully up and down the turnpike."Maybe she conjured 'em _on_ first," she suggested at last.

  "Oh, you're a regular baby, Betty," exclaimed the boy, in disgust. "You'llbe saying next that she can make rattlesnake's teeth sprout out of theground."

  "She's got a mighty funny garden patch," admitted Betty, still credulous.Then she jumped up and ran along the road. "Here's Virginia!" she calledsharply, "an' I beat her! I beat her fair!"

  A second little girl came panting through the dust, followed by a smallnegro boy with a shining black face. "There's a wagon comin' roun' thecurve," she cried excitedly, "an' it's filled with old Mr. Willis'sservants. He's dead, and they're sold--Dolly's sold, too."

  She was a fragile little creature, coloured like a flower, and her smoothbrown hair hung in silken braids to her sash. The strings of her whitepique bonnet lined with pink were daintily tied under her oval chin; therewas no dust on her bare legs or short white socks.

  As she spoke there came the sound of voices singing, and a moment later thewagon jogged heavily round a tuft of stunted cedars which jutted into thelong curve of the highway. The wheels crunched a loose stone in the road,and the driver drawled a patient "gee-up" to the horses, as he flicked ata horse-fly with the end of his long rawhide whip. There was about him analmost cosmic good nature; he regarded the landscape, the horses and therocks in the road with imperturbable ease.

  Behind him, in the body of the wagon, the negro women stood chanting theslave's farewell; and as they neared the children, he looked back and spokepersuasively. "I'd set down if I was you all," he said. "You'd feel better.Thar, now, set down and jolt softly."

  But without turning the women kept up their tremulous chant, bending theirturbaned heads to the imaginary faces upon the roadside. They had lefttheir audience behind them on the great plantation, but they still sang tothe empty road and courtesied to the cedars upon the way. Excitementgripped them like a frenzy--and a childish joy in a coming change blendedwith a mother's yearning over broken ties.

  A bright mulatto led, standing at full height, and her rich notes rolledlike an organ beneath the shrill plaint of her companions. She was large,deep-bosomed, and comely after her kind, and in her careless gestures therewas something of the fine fervour of the artist. She sang boldly, her fullbody rocking from side to side, her bared arms outstretched, her longthroat swelling like a bird's above the gaudy handkerchief upon her breast.

  The others followed her, half artlessly, half in imitation, mingling withtheir words grunts of self-approval. A grin ran from face to face as ifthrown by the grotesque flash of a lantern. Only a little black womancrouching in one corner bowed herself and wept.

  The children had fallen back against the stone wall, where they hungstaring.

  "Good-by, Dolly!" they called cheerfully, and the woman answered with along-drawn, hopeless whine:--

  "Gawd A'moughty bless you twel we Meet agin."

  Zeke broke from the group and ran a few steps beside the wagon, shaking theoutstretched hands.

  The driver nodded peaceably to him,
and cut with a single stroke of hiswhip an intricate figure in the sand of the road. "Git up an' come alongwith us, sonny," he said cordially; but Zeke only grinned in reply, and thechildren laughed and waved their handkerchiefs from the wall. "Good-by,Dolly, and Mirandy, and Sukey Sue!" they shouted, while the women, bowingover the rolling wheels, tossed back a fragment of the song:--

  "We hope ter meet you in heaven, whar we'll Part no mo', Whar we'll part no mo'; Gawd A'moughty bless you twel we Me--et a--gin."

  "Twel we meet agin," chirped the little girls, tripping into the chorus.

  Then, with a last rumble, the wagon went by, and Zeke came trotting backand straddled the stone wall, where he sat looking down upon the loosepoppies that fringed the yellowed edge of the wheat.

  "Dey's gwine way-way f'om hyer, Marse Champe," he said dreamily. "Dey'sgwine right spang over dar whar de sun done come f'om."

  "Colonel Minor bought 'em," Champe explained, sliding from the wall, "andhe bought Dolly dirt cheap--I heard Uncle say so--" With a grin he lookedup at the small black figure perched upon the crumbling stones. "You'dbetter look out how you steal any more of my fishing lines, or I'll sellyou," he threatened.

  "Gawd er live! I ain' stole one on 'em sence las' mont'," protested Zeke,as he turned a somersault into the road, "en dat warn' stealin' 'case hitwarn' wu'th it," he added, rising to his feet and staring wistfully afterthe wagon as it vanished in a sunny cloud of dust.

  Over the broad meadows, filled with scattered wild flowers, the sound ofthe chant still floated, with a shrill and troubled sweetness, upon thewind. As he listened the little negro broke into a jubilant refrain,beating his naked feet in the dust:--

  "Gawd A'moughty bless you twel we Me--et a--gin."

  Then he looked slyly up at his young master.

  "I 'low dar's one thing you cyarn do, Marse Champe."

  "I bet there isn't," retorted Champe.

  "You kin sell me ter Marse Minor--but Lawd, Lawd, you cyarn mek mammy leaveoff whuppin' me. You cyarn do dat widout you 'uz a real ole marsterhese'f."

  "I reckon I can," said Champe, indignantly. "I'd just like to see her layhands on you again. I can make mammy leave off whipping him, can't I,Betty?"

  But Betty, with a toss of her head, took her revenge.

  "'Tain't so long since yo' mammy whipped you," she rejoined. "An' I reckon'tain't so long since you needed it."

  As she stood there, a spirited little figure, in a patch of faint sunshine,her hair threw a halo of red gold about her head. When she smiled--and shesmiled now, saucily enough--her eyes had a trick of narrowing until theybecame mere beams of light between her lashes. Her eyes would smile, thoughher lips were as prim as a preacher's.

  Virginia gave a timid pull at Betty's frock. "Champe's goin' home with us,"she said, "his uncle told him to--You're goin' home with us, ain't you,Champe?"

  "I ain't goin' home," responded Betty, jerking from Virginia's grasp. Shestood warm yet resolute in the middle of the road, her bonnet swinging inher hands. "I ain't goin' home," she repeated.

  Turning his back squarely upon her, Champe broke into a whistle ofunconcern. "You'd just better come along," he called over his shoulder ashe started off. "You'd just better come along, or you'll catch it."

  "I ain't comin'," answered Betty, defiantly, and as they passed awaykicking the dust before them, she swung her bonnet hard, and spoke aloud toherself. "I ain't comin'," she said stubbornly.

  The distance lengthened; the three small figures passed the wheat field,stopped for an instant to gather green apples that had fallen from a strayapple tree, and at last slowly dwindled into the white streak of the road.She was alone on the deserted turnpike.

  For a moment she hesitated, caught her breath, and even took three steps onthe homeward way; then turning suddenly she ran rapidly in the oppositedirection. Over the deepening shadows she sped as lightly as a hare.

  At the end of a half mile, when her breath came in little pants, shestopped with a nervous start and looked about her. The loneliness seemeddrawing closer like a mist, and the cry of a whip-poor-will from the littlestream in the meadow sent frightened thrills, like needles, through herlimbs.

  Straight ahead the sun was setting in a pale red west, against which themountains stood out as if sculptured in stone. On one side swept thepasture where a few sheep browsed; on the other, at the place where tworoads met, there was a blasted tree that threw its naked shadow across theturnpike. Beyond the tree and its shadow a well-worn foot-path led to asmall log cabin from which a streak of smoke was rising. Through the opendoor the single room within showed ruddy with the blaze of resinous pine.

  The little girl daintily picked her way along the foot-path and through ashort garden patch planted in onions and black-eyed peas. Beside a bed ofsweet sage she faltered an instant and hung back. "Aunt Ailsey," she calledtremulously, "I want to speak to you, Aunt Ailsey." She stepped upon thesmooth round stone which served for a doorstep and looked into the room."It's me, Aunt Ailsey! It's Betty Ambler," she said.

  A slow shuffling began inside the cabin, and an old negro woman hobbledpresently to the daylight and stood peering from under her hollowed palm.She was palsied with age and blear-eyed with trouble, and time had ironedall the kink out of the thin gray locks that straggled across her brow. Shepeered dimly at the child as one who looks from a great distance.

  "I lay dat's one er dese yer ole hoot owls," she muttered querulously, "enef'n 'tis, he des es well be a-hootin' along home, caze I ain' gwine bepestered wid his pranks. Dar ain' but one kind er somebody es will sass youat yo' ve'y do,' en dat's a hoot owl es is done loss count er de time erday--"

  "I ain't an owl, Aunt Ailsey," meekly broke in Betty, "an' I ain't hootin'at you--"

  Aunt Ailsey reached out and touched her hair. "You ain' none er MarsePeyton's chile," she said. "I'se done knowed de Amblers sence de fu'st oneer dem wuz riz, en dar ain' never been a'er Ambler wid a carrot haid--"

  The red ran from Betty's curls into her face, but she smiled politely asshe followed Aunt Ailsey into the cabin and sat down in a split-bottomedchair upon the hearth. The walls were formed of rough, unpolished logs, andupon them, as against an unfinished background, the firelight threw reddishshadows of the old woman and the child. Overhead, from the uncoveredrafters, hung several tattered sheepskins, and around the great fireplacethere was a fringe of dead snakes and lizards, long since as dry as dust.Under the blazing logs, which filled the hut with an almost unbearableheat, an ashcake was buried beneath a little gravelike mound of ashes.

  Aunt Ailsey took up a corncob pipe from the stones and fell to smoking. Shesank at once into a senile reverie, muttering beneath her breath withshort, meaningless grunts. Warm as the summer evening was, she shiveredbefore the glowing logs.

  For a time the child sat patiently watching the embers; then she leanedforward and touched the old woman's knee. "Aunt Ailsey, O Aunt Ailsey!"

  Aunt Ailsey stirred wearily and crossed her swollen feet upon the hearth.

  "Dar ain' nuttin' but a hoot owl dat'll sass you ter yo' face," shemuttered, and, as she drew her pipe from her mouth, the gray smoke circledabout her head.

  The child edged nearer. "I want to speak to you, Aunt Ailsey," she said.She seized the withered hand and held it close in her own rosy ones. "Iwant you--O Aunt Ailsey, listen! I want you to conjure my hair coal black."

  She finished with a gasp, and with parted lips sat waiting. "Coal black,Aunt Ailsey!" she cried again.

  A sudden excitement awoke in the old woman's face; her hands shook and sheleaned nearer. "Hi! who dat done tole you I could conjure, honey?" shedemanded.

  "Oh, you can, I know you can. You conjured back Sukey's lover from ElizaLou, and you conjured all the pains out of Uncle Shadrach's leg." She fellon her knees and laid her head in the old woman's lap. "Conjure quick and Iwon't holler," she said.

  "Gawd in heaven!" exclaimed Aunt Ailsey. Her dim old eyes brightened as shegently stroked the child's brow with her pals
ied fingers. "Dis yer ain' noway ter conjure, honey," she whispered. "You des wait twel de full er demoon, w'en de devil walks de big road." She was wandering again after thefancies of dotage, but Betty threw herself upon her. "Oh, change it! changeit!" cried the child. "Beg the devil to come and change it quick."

  Brought back to herself, Aunt Ailsey grunted and knocked the ashes from herpipe. "I ain' gwine ter ax no favors er de devil," she replied sternly."You des let de devil alont en he'll let you alont. I'se done been young,en I'se now ole, en I ain' never seed de devil stick his mouf in anybody'sbizness 'fo' he's axed."

  She bent over and raked the ashes from her cake with a lightwood splinter."Dis yer's gwine tase moughty flat-footed," she grumbled as she did so.

  "O Aunt Ailsey," wailed Betty in despair. The tears shone in her eyes androlled slowly down her cheeks.

  "Dar now," said Aunt Ailsey, soothingly, "you des set right still en waittwel ter-night at de full er de moon." She got up and took down one of thecrumbling skins from the chimney-piece. "Ef'n de hine foot er a he frawgcyarn tu'n yo' hyar decent," she said, "dar ain' nuttin' de Lawd's donemade es'll do hit. You des wrop er hank er yo' hyar roun' de hine foot,honey, en' w'en de night time done come, you teck'n hide it unner a rock inde big road. W'en de devil goes a-cotin' at de full er de moon--en he beencotin' right stiddy roun' dese yer parts--he gwine tase dat ar frawg foot amile off."

  "A mile off?" repeated the child, stretching out her hands.

  "Yes, Lawd, he gwine tase dat ar frawg foot a mile off, en w'en he tasehit, he gwine begin ter sniff en ter snuff. He gwine sniff en he gwinesnuff, en he gwine sniff en he gwine snuff twel he run right spang agin derock in de middle er de road. Den he gwine paw en paw twel he root de rockclean up."

  The little girl looked up eagerly.

  "An' my hair, Aunt Ailsey?"

  "De devil he gwine teck cyar er yo' hyar, honey. W'en he come a-sniffin' ena-snuffin' roun' de rock in de big road, he gwine spit out flame en smokeen yo' hyar hit's gwine ter ketch en hit's gwine ter bu'n right black. Fo'de sun up yo' haid's gwine ter be es black es a crow's foot."

  The child dried her tears and sprang up. She tied the frog's skin tightlyin her handkerchief and started toward the door; then she hesitated andlooked back. "Were you alive at the flood, Aunt Ailsey?" she politelyinquired.

  "Des es live es I is now, honey."

  "Then you must have seen Noah and the ark and all the animals?"

  "Des es plain es I see you. Marse Noah? Why, I'se done wash en i'on MarseNoah's shuts twel I 'uz right stiff in de j'ints. He ain' never let nobodyflute his frills fur 'im 'cep'n' me. Lawd, Lawd, Marse Peyton's shuts warn'nuttin ter Marse Noah's!"

  Betty's eyes grew big. "I reckon you're mighty old, Aunt Ailsey--'most asold as God, ain't you?"

  Aunt Ailsey pondered the question. "I ain' sayin' dat, honey," she modestlyreplied.

  "Then you're certainly as old as the devil--you must be," hopefullysuggested the little girl.

  The old woman wavered. "Well, de devil, he ain' never let on his age," shesaid at last; "but w'en I fust lay eyes on 'im, he warn' no mo'n a brat."

  Standing upon the threshold for an instant, the child reverently regardedher. Then, turning her back upon the fireplace and the bent old figure, sheran out into the twilight.

 
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