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- The Battle Ground - 30/71 -
hastily. "I'll do him the justice to admit that he's more of a fool than a villain--and I hardly know whether it's a compliment that I'm paying him or not. He got some quixotic notion into his head that Harry Maupin insulted the girl in his presence, and he called him to account for it. As if the honour of a barkeeper's daughter was the concern of any gentleman!"
"Oh!" cried Betty, and caught her breath. The word went out of her in a sudden burst of joy, but the joy was so sharp that a moment afterwards she hid her wet face in the bedclothes and sobbed softly to herself.
"I don't think Mr. Lightfoot would have taken it so hard but for Virginia," said the old lady, with her keen eyes on the girl. "You know he has always wanted to bring Dan and Virginia together, and he seems to think that the boy has been dishonourable about it."
"But Virginia doesn't care--she doesn't care," protested Betty.
"Well, I'm glad to hear it," returned Mrs. Lightfoot, relieved, "and I hope the foolish boy will stay away long enough for his grandfather to cool off. Mr. Lightfoot is a high-tempered man, my child. I've spent fifty years in keeping him at peace with the world. There now, run down and cheer him up."
She lay back among her pillows, and Betty leaned over and kissed her with cold lips before she dried her eyes and went downstairs to find the Major.
With the first glance at his face she saw that Dan's cause was hopeless for the hour, and she set herself, with a cheerful countenance, to a discussion of the trivial happenings of the day. She talked pleasantly of the rector's sermon, of the morning reading with Mrs. Lightfoot, and of a great hawk that had appeared suddenly in the air and raised an outcry among the turkeys on the lawn. When these topics were worn threadbare she bethought herself of the beauty of the autumn woods, and lamented the ruined garden with its last sad flowers.
The Major listened gloomily, putting in a word now and then, and keeping his weak red eyes upon his plate. There was a heavy cloud on his brow, and the flush that Betty had learned to dread was in his face. Once when she spoke carelessly of Dan, he threw out an angry gesture and inquired if she "found Mrs. Lightfoot easier to-night?"
"Oh, I think so," replied the girl, and then, as they rose from the table, she slipped her hand through his arm and went with him into the library.
"Shall I sit with you this evening?" she asked timidly. "I'd be so glad to read to you, if you would let me."
He shook his head, patted her affectionately upon the shoulder, and smiled down into her upraised face. "No, no, my dear, I've a little work to do," he replied kindly. "There are a few papers I want to look over, so run up to Molly and tell her I sent my sunshine to her."
He stooped and kissed her cheek; and Betty, with a troubled heart, went slowly up to Mrs. Lightfoot's chamber.
The Major sat down at his writing table, and spread his papers out before him. Then he raised the wick of his lamp, and with his pen in his hand, resolutely set himself to his task. When Cupid came in with the decanter of Burgundy, he filled a glass and held it absently against the light, but he did not drink it, and in a moment he put it down with so tremulous a hand that the wine spilled upon the floor.
"I've a touch of the gout, Cupid," he said testily. "A touch of the gout that's been hanging over me for a month or more."
"Huccome you ain' fit hit, Ole Marster?"
"Oh, I've been fighting it tooth and nail," answered the old gentleman, "but there are some things that always get the better of you in the end, Cupid, and the gout's one of them."
"En rheumaticks hit's anurr," added Cupid, rubbing his knee.
He rolled a fresh log upon the andirons and went out, while the Major returned, frowning, to his work.
He was still at his writing table, when he heard the sound of a horse trotting in the drive, and an instant afterwards the quick fall of the old brass knocker. The flush deepened in his face, and with a look at once angry and appealing, he half rose from his chair. As he waited the outside bars were withdrawn, there followed a few short steps across the hall, and Dan came into the library.
"I suppose you know what's brought me back, grandpa?" he said quietly as he entered.
The Major started up and then sat down again.
"I do know, sir, and I wish to God I didn't," he replied, choking in his anger.
Dan stood where he had halted upon his entrance, and looked at him with eyes in which there was still a defiant humour. His face was pale and his hair hung in black streaks across his forehead. The white dust of the turnpike had settled upon his clothes, and as he moved it floated in a little cloud about him.
"I reckon you think it's a pretty bad thing, eh?" he questioned coolly, though his hands trembled.
The Major's eyes flashed ominously from beneath his heavy brows.
"Pretty bad?" he repeated, taking a long breath. "If you want to know what I think about it, sir, I think that it's a damnable disgrace. Pretty bad!--By God, sir, do you call having a gaol-bird for a grandson pretty bad?"
"Stop, sir!" called Dan, sharply. He had steadied himself to withstand the shock of the Major's temper, but, in the dash of his youthful folly, he had forgotten to reckon with his own. "For heaven's sake, let's talk about it calmly," he added irritably.
"I am perfectly calm, sir!" thundered the Major, rising to his feet. The terrible flush went in a wave to his forehead, and he put up one quivering hand to loosen his high stock. "I tell you calmly that you've done a damnable thing; that you've brought disgrace upon the name of Lightfoot."
"It is not my name," replied Dan, lifting his head. "My name is Montjoy, sir."
"And it's a name to hang a dog for," retorted the Major.
As they faced each other with the same flash of temper kindling in both faces, the likeness between them grew suddenly more striking. It was as if the spirit of the fiery old man had risen, in a finer and younger shape, from the air before him.
"At all events it is not yours," said Dan, hotly. Then he came nearer, and the anger died out of his eyes. "Don't let's quarrel, grandpa," he pleaded. "I've gotten into a mess, and I'm sorry for it--on my word I am."
"So you've come whining to me to get you out," returned the Major, shaking as if he had gone suddenly palsied.
Dan drew back and his hand fell to his side.
"So help me God, I'll never whine to you again," he answered.
"Do you want to know what you have done, sir?" demanded the Major. "You have broken your grandmother's heart and mine--and made us wish that we had left you by the roadside when you came crawling to our door. And, on my oath, if I had known that the day would ever come when you would try to murder a Virginia gentleman for the sake of a bar-room hussy, I would have left you there, sir."
"Stop!" said Dan again, looking at the old man with his mother's eyes.
"You have broken your grandmother's heart and mine," repeated the Major, in a trembling voice, "and I pray to God that you may not break Virginia Ambler's--poor girl, poor girl!"
"Virginia Ambler!" said Dan, slowly. "Why, there was nothing between us, nothing, nothing."
"And you dare to tell me this to my face, sir?" cried the Major.
"Dare! of course I dare," returned Dan, defiantly. "If there was ever anything at all it was upon my side only--and a mere trifling fancy."
The old gentleman brought his hand down upon his table with a blow that sent the papers fluttering to the floor. "Trifling!" he roared. "Would you trifle with a lady from your own state, sir?"
"I was never in love with her," exclaimed Dan, angrily.
"Not in love with her? What business have you not to be in love with her?" retorted the Major, tossing back his long white hair. "I have given her to understand that you are in love with her, sir."
The blood rushed to Dan's head, and he stumbled over an ottoman as he turned away.
"Then I call it unwarrantable interference," he said brutally, and went toward the door. There the Major's flashing eyes held him back an instant.
"It was when I believed you to be worthy of her," went on the old man, relentlessly, "when--fool that I was--I dared to hope that dirty blood could be made clean again; that Jack Montjoy's son could be a gentleman."
For a moment only Dan stood motionless and looked at him from the threshold. Then, without speaking, he crossed the hall, took down his hat, and unbarred the outer door. It slammed after him, and he went out into the night.
A keen wind was still blowing, and as he descended the steps he felt it lifting the dampened hair from his forehead. With a breath of relief he stood bareheaded in the drive and raised his face to the cool elm leaves that drifted slowly down. After the heated atmosphere of the library there was something pleasant in the mere absence of light, and in the soft rustling of the branches overhead. The humour of his blood went suddenly quiet as if he had plunged headlong into cold water.
While he stood there motionless his thoughts were suspended, and his senses, gaining a brief mastery, became almost feverishly alert; he felt the night wind in his face, he heard the ceaseless stirring of the leaves, and he saw the sparkle of the gravel in the yellow shine that streamed from the library windows. But with his first step, his first movement, there came a swift recoil of his anger, and he told himself with a touch of youthful rhetoric, "that come what would, he was going to the devil--and going speedily."
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