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- The Battle Ground - 6/71 -
tied up in the bundle swinging on his arm.
He passed Aunt Ailsey's cabin, and turned into the road with the chestnuts. A mile farther he came suddenly upon the house, standing amid the grove of elms, dwarfed by the giant trees that arched above it. A dog's bark sounded snappily from a kennel, but he paid no heed. He went up the broad white walk, climbed the steps to the square front porch, and lifted the great brass knocker. When he let it fall, the sound echoed through the shuttered house.
The Major, who was sitting in his library with a volume of Mr. Addison open before him and a decanter of Burgundy at his right hand, heard the knock, and started to his feet. "Something's gone wrong at Uplands," he said aloud; "there's an illness--or the brandy is out." He closed the book, pushed aside the bedroom candle which he had been about to light, and went out into the hall. As he unbarred the door and flung it open, he began at once:--
"I hope there's no ill news," he exclaimed.
The boy came into the hall, where he stood blinking from the glare of the lamplight. His head whirled, and he reached out to steady himself against the door. Then he carefully laid down his bundle and looked up with his mother's smile.
"You're my grandfather, and I'm very hungry," he said.
The Major caught the child's shoulders and drew him, almost roughly, under the light. As he towered there above him, he gulped down something in his throat, and his wide nostrils twitched.
"So you're poor Jane's boy?" he said at last.
The boy nodded. He felt suddenly afraid of the spare old man with his long Roman nose and his fierce black eyebrows. A mist gathered before his eyes and the lamp shone like a great moon in a cloudy circle.
The Major looked at the bundle on the floor, and again he swallowed. Then he stooped and picked up the thing and turned away.
"Come in, sir, come in," he said in a knotty voice. "You are at home."
The boy followed him, and they passed the panelled parlour, from which he caught a glimpse of the painting of Great-aunt Emmeline, and went into the dining room, where his grandfather pulled out a chair and bade him to be seated. As the old man opened the huge mahogany sideboard and brought out a shoulder of cold lamb and a plate of bread and butter, he questioned him with a quaint courtesy about his life in town and the details of his journey. "Why, bless my soul, you've walked two hundred miles," he cried, stopping on his way from the pantry, with the ham held out. "And no money! Why, bless my soul!"
"I had fifty cents," said the boy, "that was left from my steamboat fare, you know."
The Major put the ham on the table and attacked it grimly with the carving-knife.
"Fifty cents," he whistled, and then, "you begged, I reckon?"
The boy flushed. "I asked for bread," he replied, stung to the defensive. "They always gave me bread and sometimes meat, and they let me sleep in the barns where the straw was, and once a woman took me into her house and offered me money, but I would not take it. I--I think I'd like to send her a present, if you please, sir."
"She shall have a dozen bottles of my best Madeira," cried the Major. The word recalled him to himself, and he got up and raised the lid of the cellaret, lovingly running his hand over the rows of bottles.
"A pig would be better, I think," said the boy, doubtfully, "or a cow, if you could afford it. She is a poor woman, you know."
"Afford it!" chuckled the Major. "Why, I'll sell your grandmother's silver, but I'll afford it, sir."
He took out a bottle, held it against the light, and filled a wine glass. "This is the finest port in Virginia," he declared; "there is life in every drop of it. Drink it down," and, when the boy had taken it, he filled his own glass and tossed it off, not lingering, as usual, for the priceless flavour. "Two hundred miles!" he gasped, as he looked at the child with moist eyes over which his red lids half closed. "Ah, you're a Lightfoot," he said slowly. "I should know you were a Lightfoot if I passed you in the road." He carved a slice of ham and held it out on the end of the knife. "It's long since you've tasted a ham like this--browned in bread crumbs," he added temptingly, but the boy gravely shook his head.
"I've had quite enough, thank you, sir," he answered with a quaint dignity, not unlike his grandfather's and as the Major rose, he stood up also, lifting his black head to look in the old man's face with his keen gray eyes.
The Major took up the bundle and moved toward the door. "You must see your grandmother," he said as they went out, and he led the way up the crooked stair past the old clock in the bend. On the first landing he opened a door and stopped upon the threshold. "Molly, here is poor Jane's boy," he said.
In the centre of a big four-post bed, curtained in white dimity, a little old lady was lying between lavender-scented sheets. On her breast stood a tall silver candlestick which supported a well-worn volume of "The Mysteries of Udolpho," held open by a pair of silver snuffers. The old lady's face was sharp and wizened, and beneath her starched white nightcap rose the knots of her red flannel curlers. Her eyes, which were very small and black, held a flickering brightness like that in live embers.
"Whose boy, Mr. Lightfoot?" she asked sharply.
Holding the child by the hand, the Major went into the room.
"It's poor Jane's boy, Molly," he repeated huskily.
The old lady raised her head upon her high pillows, and looked at him by the light of the candle on her breast. "Are you Jane's boy?" she questioned in suspicion, and at the child's "Yes, ma'am," she said, "Come nearer. There, stand between the curtains. Yes, you are Jane's boy, I see." She gave the decision flatly, as if his parentage were a matter of her pleasure. "And what is your name?" she added, as she snuffed the candle.
The boy looked from her stiff white nightcap to the "log-cabin" quilt on the bed, and then at her steel hoops which were hanging from a chair back. He had always thought of her as in her rich black silk, with the tight gray curls about her ears, and at this revelation of her inner mysteries, his fancy received a checkmate.
But he met her eyes again and answered simply, "Dandridge--they call me Dan--Dan Montjoy."
"And he has walked two hundred miles, Molly," gasped the Major.
"Then he must be tired," was the old lady's rejoinder, and she added with spirit: "Mr. Lightfoot, will you show Dan to Jane's old room, and see that he has a blanket on his bed. He should have been asleep hours ago--good night, child, be sure and say your prayers," and as they crossed the threshold, she laid aside her book and blew out her light.
The Major led the way to "Jane's old room" at the end of the hall, and fetched a candle from somewhere outside. "I think you'll find everything you need," he said, stooping to feel the covering on the bed. "Your grandmother always keeps the rooms ready. God bless you, my son," and he went out, softly closing the door after him.
The boy sat down on the steps of the tester bed, and looked anxiously round the three-cornered room, with its sloping windows filled with small, square panes of glass. By the candlelight, flickering on the plain, white walls and simple furniture, he tried to conjure back the figure of his mother,--handsome Jane Lightfoot. Over the mantel hung two crude drawings from her hand, and on the table at the bedside there were several books with her name written in pale ink on the fly leaves. The mirror to the high old bureau seemed still to hold the outlines of her figure, very shadowy against the greenish glass. He saw her in her full white skirts--she had worn nine petticoats, he knew, on grand occasions--fastening her coral necklace about her stately throat, the bands of her black hair drawn like a veil above her merry eyes. Had she lingered on that last Christmas Eve, he wondered, when her candlestick held its sprig of mistletoe and her room was dressed in holly? Did she look back at the cheerful walls and the stately furniture before she blew out her light and went downstairs to ride madly off, wrapped in his father's coat? And the old people drank their eggnog and watched the Virginia reel, and, when they found her gone, shut her out forever.
Now, as he sat on the bed-steps, it seemed to him that he had come home for the first time in his life. All this was his own by right,--the queer old house, his mother's room, and beyond the sloping windows, the meadows with their annual yield of grain. He felt the pride of it swelling within him; he waited breathlessly for the daybreak when he might go out and lord it over the fields and the cattle and the servants that were his also. And at last--his head big with his first day's vanity--he climbed between the dimity curtains and fell asleep.
When he awaked next morning, the sun was shining through the small square panes, and outside were the waving elm boughs and a clear sky. He was aroused by a knock on his door, and, as he jumped out of bed, Big Abel, the Major's driver and confidential servant, came in with the warm water. He was a strong, finely-formed negro, black as the ace of spades (so the Major put it), and of a singularly open countenance.
"Hi! ain't you up yit, young Marster?" he exclaimed. "Sis Rhody, she sez she done save you de bes' puffovers you ever tase, en ef'n you don' come 'long down, dey'll fall right flat."
"Who is Sis Rhody?" inquired the boy, as he splashed the water on his face.
"Who she? Why, she de cook."
"All right, tell her I'm coming," and he dressed hurriedly and ran down into the hall where he found Champe Lightfoot, the Major's great-nephew, who lived at Chericoke.
"Hello!" called Champe at once, plunging his hands into his pockets and presenting an expression of eager interest. "When did you get here?"
"Last night," Dan replied, and they stood staring at each other with two pairs of the Lightfoot gray eyes.
"How'd you come?"
"I walked some and I came part the way on a steamboat. Did you ever see a steamboat?"
"Oh, shucks! A steamboat ain't anything. I've seen George Washington's
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