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- The Battle Ground - 40/71 -
I do know that he will come back;" and the Governor, being wise in his generation, said nothing more.
That afternoon he went down into the country to inspect a decayed plantation which had come into his hands, and returning two days later, he rode into Leicesterburg and up to the steps of the little post-office, where, as usual, the neighbouring farmers lounged while they waited for an expected despatch, or discussed the midday mail with each newcomer. It was April weather, and the afternoon sunshine, having scattered the loose clouds in the west, slanted brightly down upon the dusty street, the little whitewashed building, and the locust tree in full bloom before the porch.
When he had dismounted, the Governor tied his horse to the long white pole, raised for that purpose along the sidewalk, and went slowly up the steps, shaking a dozen outstretched hands before he reached the door.
"What news, gentlemen?" he asked with his pleasant smile. "For two days I have been beyond the papers."
"Then there's news enough, Governor," responded several voices, uniting in a common excitement. "There's news enough since Tuesday, and yet we're waiting here for more. The President has called for troops from Virginia to invade the South."
"To invade the South," repeated the Governor, paling, and a man behind him took up the words and said them over with a fine sarcasm, "To invade the South!"
The Governor turned away and walked to the end of the little porch, where he stood leaning upon the railing. With his eyes on the blossoming locust tree, he waited, in helpless patience, for the words to enter into his thoughts and to readjust his conceptions of the last few months. There slowly came to him, as he recognized the portentous gravity in the air about him, something of the significance of that ringing call; and as he stood there he saw before him the vision of an army led by strangers against the people of its blood--of an army wasting the soil it loved, warring for an alien right against the convictions it clung to and the faith it cherished.
His brow darkened, and he turned with set lips to the group upon the steps. He was about to speak, but before the words were uttered, there was a cheer from the open doorway, and a man, waving a despatch in his hand, came running into the crowd.
"Last night there was a secret session," he cried gayly, "and Virginia has seceded! hurrah! hurrah! Virginia has seceded!" The gay voice passed, and the speaker, still waving the paper in his hand, ran down into the street.
The men upon the porch looked at one another, and were silent. In the bright sunshine their faces showed pale and troubled, and when the sound of cheers came floating from the courthouse green, they started as if at the first report of cannon. Then, raising his hand, the Governor bared his head and spoke:--
"God bless Virginia, gentlemen," he said.
* * * * *
The next week Champe came home from college, flushed with enthusiasm, eager to test his steel.
"It's great news, uncle," were his first joyful words, as he shook the Major's hand.
"That it is, my boy, that it is," chuckled the Major, in a high good-humour.
"I'm going, you know," went on the young man lightly. "They're getting up a company in Leicesterburg, and I'm to be Captain. I got a letter about it a week ago, and I've been studying like thunder ever since."
"Well, well, it will be a pleasant little change for you," responded the old man. "There's nothing like a few weeks of war to give one an appetite."
Mrs. Lightfoot looked up from her knitting with a serious face.
"Don't you think it may last months, Mr. Lightfoot?" she inquired dubiously. "I was wondering if I hadn't better supply Champe with extra underclothing."
"Tut-tut, ma'am," protested the Major, warmly. "Can't you leave such things as war to my judgment? Haven't I been in two? Months! Nonsense! Why, in two weeks we'll sweep every Yankee in the country as far north as Greenland. Two weeks will be ample time, ma'am."
"Well, I give them six months," generously remarked Champe, in defiance of the Major's gathering frown.
"And what do you know about it, sir?" demanded the old gentleman. "Were you in the War of 1812? Were you even in the Mexican War, sir?"
"Well, hardly," replied Champe, smiling, "but all the same I give them six months to get whipped."
"I'm sure I hope it will be over before winter," observed Mrs. Lightfoot, glancing round. "Things will be a little upset, I fear."
The Major twitched with anger. "There you go again--both of you!" he exclaimed. "I might suppose after all these years you would place some reliance on my judgment; but, no, you will keep up your croaking until our troops are dictating terms at Washington. Six months! Tush!"
"Professor Bates thinks it will take a year," returned Champe, his interest overleaping his discretion.
"And when did he fight, sir?" inquired the Major.
"Well, any way, it's safer to prepare for six months," was Champe's rejoinder. "I shouldn't like to run short of things, you know."
"You'll do nothing of the kind, sir," thundered the Major. "It's going to be a two weeks' war, and you shall take an outfit for two weeks, or stay at home! By God, sir, if you contradict me again I'll not let you go to fight the Yankees."
Champe stared for an instant into the inflamed face of the old gentleman, and then his cheery smile broke out.
"That settles it, uncle," he said soothingly. "It's to be a war of two weeks, and I'll come home a Major-general before the holidays."
THE SCHOOL OF WAR
HOW MERRY GENTLEMEN WENT TO WAR
The July sun fell straight and hot upon the camp, and Dan, as he sat on a woodpile and ate a green apple, wistfully cast his eyes about for a deeper shade. But the young tree from which he had just shaken its last fruit stood alone between the scattered tents and the blur of willows down the gentle slope, and beneath its speckled shadow the mess had gathered sleepily, after the mid-day meal.
In the group of privates, stretched under the gauzy shade on the trampled grass, the first thing to strike an observer would have been, perhaps, their surprising youth. They were all young--the eldest hardly more than three and twenty--and the faces bore a curious resemblance in type, as if they were, one and all, variations from a common stock. There was about them, too, a peculiar expression of enthusiasm, showing even in the faces of those who slept; a single wave of emotion which, rising to its height in an entire people revealed itself in the features of the individual soldier. As yet the flower of the South had not withered on its stalk, and the men first gathered to defend the borders were men who embraced a cause as fervently as they would embrace a woman; men in whom the love of an abstract principle became, not a religion, but a romantic passion.
Beyond them, past the scattered tents and the piles of clean straw, the bruised grass of the field swept down to a little stream and the fallen stones that had once marked off the turnpike. Farther away, there was a dark stretch of pines relieved against the faint blue tracery of the distant mountains.
Dan, sitting in the thin shelter on the woodpile, threw a single glance at the strip of pines, and brought back his gaze to Big Abel who was splitting an oak log hard by. The work had been assigned to the master, who had, in turn, tossed it to the servant, with the remark that he "came out to kill men, not to cut wood."
"I say, Big Abel, this sun's blazing hot," he now offered cheerfully.
Big Abel paused for a moment and wiped his brow with his blue cotton sleeve.
"Dis yer ain' no oak, caze it's w'it-leather," he rejoined in an injured tone, as he lifted the axe and sent it with all his might into the shivering log, which threw out a shower of fine chips. The powerful stroke brought into play the negro's splendid muscles, and Dan, watching him, carelessly observed to a young fellow lying half asleep upon the ground, "Big Abel could whip us all, Bland, if he had a mind to."
Bland grunted and opened his eyes; then he yawned, stretched his arms, and sat up against the logs. He was bright and boyish-looking, with a frank tanned face, which made his curling flaxen hair seem almost white.
"I worked like a darky hauling yesterday," he said reproachfully, "but when your turn comes, you climb a woodpile and pass the job along. When we go into battle I suppose Dandy and you will sit down to boil coffee, and hand your muskets to the servants."
"Oh, are we ever going into battle?" growled Jack Powell from the other side. "Here I've been at this blamed drilling until I'm stiff in every joint, and I haven't seen so much as the tail end of a fight. You may rant as long as you please about martial glory, but if there's any man who thinks it's fun merely to get dirty and eat raw food, well, he's welcome to my share of it, that's all. I haven't had so much as one of the necessities of life since I settled down in this old field; even my hair has taken to standing on end. I say, Beau, do you happen to have any pomade about you? Oh, you needn't jeer, Bland, there's no danger of your getting bald, with that sheepskin over your scalp; and, besides, I'm willing enough to sacrifice my life for my country. I object only to giving it my hair
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