THE BATTLE GROUND
THE BATTLE GROUND
The Beloved Memory of My Mother
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
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
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
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
"DE HINE FOOT ER A HE FRAWG"
Toward the close of an early summer afternoon a little girl came running
along 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 the
tails off Sambo's sheep. I saw 'em hanging on her door!"
The boy received the news with an indifference from which it blankly
rebounded. He buried one bare foot in the soft white sand and withdrew it
with 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 her
red curls from her eyes. She gave a breathless gasp and began fanning
herself with the flap of her white sunbonnet. A fine moisture shone on her
bare neck and arms above her frock of sprigged chintz calico.
"She can't run a bit" she declared warmly peering into the distance of
the long white turnpike. "I'm a long ways ahead of her and I gave her the
start. 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." He
straightened his legs and thrust his hands into his breeches pockets. "You
can't run" he repeated.
The little girl flashed a clear defiance; from a pair of beaming hazel eyes
she threw him a scornful challenge. "I bet I can beat you" she stoutly
rejoined. 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 can
run some" she finished uneasily.
The boy followed her movements with a candid stare. "You can't hide it" he
taunted; "it shines right through everything. O Lord ain't I glad my
head's not red!"
At this pharisaical thanksgiving the little girl flushed to the ruffled
brim of her bonnet. Her sensitive lips twitched and she sat meekly gazing
past the boy at the wall of rough gray stones which skirted a field of
ripening wheat. Over the wheat a light wind blew fanning the even heads of
the bearded grain and dropping suddenly against the sunny mountains in the
distance. In the nearer pasture where the long grass was strewn with wild
flowers red and white cattle were grazing beside a little stream and the
tinkle of the cow bells drifted faintly across the slanting sunrays. It was
open country with a peculiar quiet cleanliness about its long white roads
and 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 the
"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 free
nigger anyway--and besides she's plum crazy--"
"I saw 'em hanging on her door" steadfastly repeated the little girl. "The
wind 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'll
be saying next that she can make rattlesnake's teeth sprout out of the
"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 called
sharply "an' I beat her! I beat her fair!"
A second little girl came panting through the dust followed by a small
negro boy with a shining black face. "There's a wagon comin' roun' the
curve" she cried excitedly "an' it's filled with old Mr. Willis's
servants. He's dead and they're sold--Dolly's sold too."
She was a fragile little creature coloured like a flower and her smooth
brown hair hung in silken braids to her sash. The strings of her white
pique bonnet lined with pink were daintily tied under her oval chin; there
was no dust on her bare legs or short white socks.
As she spoke there came the sound of voices singing and a moment later the
wagon jogged heavily round a tuft of stunted cedars which jutted into the
long 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 at
a horse-fly with the end of his long rawhide whip. There was about him an
almost cosmic good nature; he regarded the landscape the horses and the
rocks in the road with imperturbable ease.
Behind him in the body of the wagon the negro women stood chanting the
slave's farewell; and as they neared the children he looked back and spoke
persuasively. "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 their
turbaned heads to the imaginary faces upon the roadside. They had left
their audience behind them on the great plantation but they still sang to
the empty road and courtesied to the cedars upon the way. Excitement
gripped them like a frenzy--and a childish joy in a coming change blended
with a mother's yearning over broken ties.
A bright mulatto led standing at full height and her rich notes rolled
like an organ beneath the shrill plaint of her companions. She was large
deep-bosomed and comely after her kind and in her careless gestures there
was something of the fine fervour of the artist. She sang boldly her full
body rocking from side to side her bared arms outstretched her long
throat swelling like a bird's above the gaudy handkerchief upon her breast.
The others followed her half artlessly half in imitation mingling with
their words grunts of self-approval. A grin ran from face to face as if
thrown by the grotesque flash of a lantern. Only a little black woman
crouching in one corner bowed herself and wept.
The children had fallen back against the stone wall where they hung
"Good-by Dolly!" they called cheerfully and the woman answered with a
long-drawn hopeless whine:--
"Gawd A'moughty bless you twel we
Zeke broke from the group and ran a few steps beside the wagon shaking the
The driver nodded peaceably to him and cut with a single stroke of his
whip an intricate figure in the sand of the road. "Git up an' come along
with us sonny" he said cordially; but Zeke only grinned in reply and the
children laughed and waved their handkerchiefs from the wall. "Good-by
Dolly and Mirandy and Sukey Sue!" they shouted while the women bowing
over 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
"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 back
and straddled the stone wall where he sat looking down upon the loose
poppies that fringed the yellowed edge of the wheat.
"Dey's gwine way-way f'om hyer Marse Champe" he said dreamily. "Dey's
gwine right spang over dar whar de sun done come f'om."
"Colonel Minor bought 'em" Champe explained sliding from the wall "and
he bought Dolly dirt cheap--I heard Uncle say so--" With a grin he looked
up at the small black figure perched upon the crumbling stones. "You'd
better look out how you steal any more of my fishing lines or I'll sell
you" 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 hit
warn' wu'th it" he added rising to his feet and staring wistfully after
the wagon as it vanished in a sunny cloud of dust.
Over the broad meadows filled with scattered wild flowers the sound of
the chant still floated with a shrill and troubled sweetness upon the
wind. 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
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 leave
off whuppin' me. You cyarn do dat widout you 'uz a real ole marster
"I reckon I can" said Champe indignantly. "I'd just like to see her lay
hands on you again. I can make mammy leave off whipping him can't I
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 she
smiled now saucily enough--her eyes had a trick of narrowing until they
became mere beams of light between her lashes. Her eyes would smile though
her 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
"I ain't goin' home" responded Betty jerking from Virginia's grasp. She
stood warm yet resolute in the middle of the road her bonnet swinging in
her hands. "I ain't goin' home" she repeated.
Turning his back squarely upon her Champe broke into a whistle of
unconcern. "You'd just better come along" he called over his shoulder as
he started off. "You'd just better come along or you'll catch it."
"I ain't comin'" answered Betty defiantly and as they passed away
kicking the dust before them she swung her bonnet hard and spoke aloud to
herself. "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 stray
apple 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 on
the homeward way; then turning suddenly she ran rapidly in the opposite
direction. 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 she
stopped with a nervous start and looked about her. The loneliness seemed
drawing closer like a mist and the cry of a whip-poor-will from the little
stream in the meadow sent frightened thrills like needles through her
Straight ahead the sun was setting in a pale red west against which the
mountains stood out as if sculptured in stone. On one side swept the
pasture where a few sheep browsed; on the other at the place where two
roads met there was a blasted tree that threw its naked shadow across the
turnpike. Beyond the tree and its shadow a well-worn foot-path led to a
small log cabin from which a streak of smoke was rising. Through the open
door 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 a
short garden patch planted in onions and black-eyed peas. Beside a bed of
sweet sage she faltered an instant and hung back. "Aunt Ailsey" she called
tremulously "I want to speak to you Aunt Ailsey." She stepped upon the
smooth 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 hobbled
presently to the daylight and stood peering from under her hollowed palm.
She was palsied with age and blear-eyed with trouble and time had ironed
all the kink out of the thin gray locks that straggled across her brow. She
peered 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 "en
ef'n 'tis he des es well be a-hootin' along home caze I ain' gwine be
pestered wid his pranks. Dar ain' but one kind er somebody es will sass you
at yo' ve'y do' en dat's a hoot owl es is done loss count er de time er
"I ain't an owl Aunt Ailsey" meekly broke in Betty "an' I ain't hootin'
Aunt Ailsey reached out and touched her hair. "You ain' none er Marse
Peyton's chile" she said. "I'se done knowed de Amblers sence de fu'st one
er 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 as
she followed Aunt Ailsey into the cabin and sat down in a split-bottomed
chair upon the hearth. The walls were formed of rough unpolished logs and
upon them as against an unfinished background the firelight threw reddish
shadows of the old woman and the child. Overhead from the uncovered
rafters hung several tattered sheepskins and around the great fireplace
there 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 unbearable
heat 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. She
sank at once into a senile reverie muttering beneath her breath with
short meaningless grunts. Warm as the summer evening was she shivered
before the glowing logs.
For a time the child sat patiently watching the embers; then she leaned
forward 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" she
muttered and as she drew her pipe from her mouth the gray smoke circled
about 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. "I
want 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 she
leaned nearer. "Hi! who dat done tole you I could conjure honey?" she
"Oh you can I know you can. You conjured back Sukey's lover from Eliza
Lou and you conjured all the pains out of Uncle Shadrach's leg." She fell
on her knees and laid her head in the old woman's lap. "Conjure quick and I
won't holler" she said.
"Gawd in heaven!" exclaimed Aunt Ailsey. Her dim old eyes brightened as she
gently stroked the child's brow with her palsied fingers. "Dis yer ain' no
way ter conjure honey" she whispered. "You des wait twel de full er de
moon w'en de devil walks de big road." She was wandering again after the
fancies of dotage but Betty threw herself upon her. "Oh change it! change
it!" cried the child. "Beg the devil to come and change it quick."
Brought back to herself Aunt Ailsey grunted and knocked the ashes from her
pipe. "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's
bizness '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 and
rolled slowly down her cheeks.
"Dar now" said Aunt Ailsey soothingly "you des set right still en wait
twel ter-night at de full er de moon." She got up and took down one of the
crumbling skins from the chimney-piece. "Ef'n de hine foot er a he frawg
cyarn tu'n yo' hyar decent" she said "dar ain' nuttin' de Lawd's done
made 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 in
de big road. W'en de devil goes a-cotin' at de full er de moon--en he been
cotin' right stiddy roun' dese yer parts--he gwine tase dat ar frawg foot a
"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 tase
hit he gwine begin ter sniff en ter snuff. He gwine sniff en he gwine
snuff en he gwine sniff en he gwine snuff twel he run right spang agin de
rock in de middle er de road. Den he gwine paw en paw twel he root de rock
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' en
a-snuffin' roun' de rock in de big road he gwine spit out flame en smoke
en 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 tightly
in her handkerchief and started toward the door; then she hesitated and
looked back. "Were you alive at the flood Aunt Ailsey?" she politely
"Des es live es I is now honey."
"Then you must have seen Noah and the ark and all the animals?"