MoboReader > Literature > The Long Roll

   Chapter 3 THREE OAKS

The Long Roll By Mary Johnston Characters: 18044

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Having left behind him Allan Gold and the road to Thunder Run, Richard Cleave came, a little later, to his own house, old and not large, crowning a grassy slope above a running stream. He left the highway, opened a five-barred gate, and passed between fallow fields to a second gate, opened this and, skirting a knoll upon which were set three gigantic oaks, rode up a short and grass-grown drive. It led him to the back of the house, and afar off his dogs began to give him welcome. When he had dismounted before the porch, a negro boy with a lantern took his horse. "Hit's tuhnin' powerful cold, Marse Dick!"

"It is that, Jim. Give Dundee his supper at once and bring him around again. Down, Bugle! Down, Moira! Down, Baron!"

The hall was cold and in semi-darkness, but through the half-opened door of his mother's chamber came a gush of firelight warm and bright. Her voice reached him-"Richard!" He entered. She was sitting in a great old chair by the fire, idle for a wonder, her hands, fine and slender, clasped over her knees. The light struck up against her fair, brooding face. "It is late!" she said. "Late and cold! Come to the fire. Ailsy will have supper ready in a minute."

He came and knelt beside her on the braided rug. "It is always warm in here. Where are the children?"

"Down at Tullius's cabin.-Tell me all about it. Who spoke?"

Cleave drew before the fire the chair that had been his father's, sank into it, and taking the ash stick from the corner, stirred the glowing logs. "Judge Allen's Resolutions were read and carried. Fauquier Cary spoke-many others."

"Did not you?"

"No. They asked me to, but with so many there was no need. People were much moved-"

He broke off, sitting stirring the fire. His mother watched the deep hollows with him. Closely resembling as he did his long dead father, the inner tie, strong and fine, was rather between him and the woman who had given him birth. Wedded ere she was seventeen, a mother at eighteen, she sat now beside her first-born, still beautiful, and crowned by a lovely life. She had kept her youth, and he had come early to a man's responsibilities. For years now they had walked together, caring for the farm, which was not large, for the handful of servants, for the two younger children, Will and Miriam. The eighteen years between them was cancelled by their common interests, his maturity of thought, her quality of the summer time. She broke the silence. "What did Fauquier Cary say?"

"He spoke strongly for patience, moderation, peace-I am going to Lauderdale after supper."

"To see Judith?"

"No. To talk to Fauquier.... Maury Stafford is at Silver Hill." He straightened himself, put down the ash stick, and rose to his feet. "The bell will ring directly. I'll go upstairs for a moment."

Margaret Cleave put out a detaining hand. "One moment-Richard, are you quite, quite sure that she likes Maury Stafford so well?"

"Why should she not like him? He's a likable fellow."

"So are many people. So are you."

Cleave gave a short and wintry laugh. "I? I am only her cousin-rather a dull cousin, too, who does nothing much in the law, and is not even a very good farmer! Am I sure? Yes, I am sure enough!" His hand closed on the back of her chair; the wood shook under the sombre energy of his grasp. "Did I not see how it was last summer that week I spent at Greenwood? Was he not always with her?-supple and keen, easy and strong, with his face like a picture, with all the advantages I did not have-education, travel, wealth!-Why, Edward told me-and could I not see for myself? It was in the air of the place-not a servant but knew he had come a-wooing!"

"But there was no engagement then. Had there been we should have known it."

"No engagement then, perhaps, but certainly no discouragement! He was there again in the autumn. He was with her to-day." The chair shook again. "And this morning Fauquier Cary, talking to me, laughed and said that Albemarle had set their wedding day!"

His mother sighed. "Oh, I am sorry-sorry!"

"I should never have gone to Greenwood last summer-never have spent there that unhappy week! Before that it was just a fancy-and then I must go and let it bite into heart and brain and life-" He dropped his hand abruptly and turned to the door. "Well, I've got to try now to think only of the country! God knows, things have come to that pass that her sons should think only of her! It is winter time, Mother; the birds aren't mating now-save those two-save those two!"

Upstairs, in his bare, high-ceiled room, his hasty toilet made, he stood upon the hearth, beside the leaping fire, and looked about him. Of late-since the summer-everything was clarifying. There was at work some great solvent making into naught the dross of custom and habitude. The glass had turned; outlines were clearer than they had been, the light was strong, and striking from a changed angle. To-day both the sight of a face and the thought of an endangered State had worked to make the light intenser. His old, familiar room looked strange to him to-night. A tall bookcase faced him. He went across and stood before it, staring through the diamond panes at the backs of the books. Here were his Coke and Blackstone, Vattel, Henning, Kent, and Tucker, and here were other books of which he was fonder than of those, and here were a few volumes of the poets. Of them all, only the poets managed to keep to-night a familiar look. He took out a volume, old, tawny-backed, gold-lettered, and opened it at random-

Her face so faire, as flesh it seemed not,

But hevenly pourtraict of bright angels hew,

Cleare as the sky, withouten blame or blot-

A bell rang below. Youthful and gay, shattering the quiet of the house, a burst of voices proclaimed "the children's" return from Tullius's cabin. When, in another moment, Cleave came downstairs, it was to find them both in wait at the foot, illumined by the light from the dining-room door. Miriam laid hold of him. "Richard, Richard! tell me quick! Which was the greatest, Achilles or Hector?"

Will, slight and fair, home for the holidays from Lexington and, by virtue of his cadetship in the Virginia Military Institute, an authority on most things, had a movement of impatience. "Girls are so stupid! Tell her it was Hector, and let's go to supper! She'll believe you."

Within the dining-room, at the round table, before the few pieces of tall, beaded silver and the gilt-banded china, while Mehalah the waitress brought the cakes from the kitchen and the fire burned softly on the hearth below the Saint Memin of a general and law-giver, talk fell at once upon the event of the day, the meeting that had passed the Botetourt Resolutions. Miriam, with her wide, sensitive mouth, her tip-tilted nose, her hazel eyes, her air of some quaint, bright garden flower swaying on its stem, was for war and music, and both her brothers to become generals. "Or Richard can be the general, and you be a cavalryman like Cousin Fauquier! Richard can fight like Napoleon and you may fight like Ney!"

The cadet stiffened. "Thank you for nothing, Missy! Anyhow, I shan't sulk in my tents like your precious Achilles-just for a girl! Richard! 'Old Jack' says-"

"I wish, Will," murmured his mother, "that you'd say 'Major Jackson.'"

The boy laughed. "'Old Jack' is what we call him, ma'am! The other wouldn't be respectful. He's never 'Major Jackson' except when he's trying to teach natural philosophy. On the drill ground he's 'Old Jack.' Richard, he says-Old Jack says-that not a man since Napoleon has understood the use of cavalry."

Cleave, sitting with his eyes upon the portrait of his grandfather, answered dreamily: "Old Jack is probably in the right of it, Will. Cavalry is a great arm, but I shall choose the artillery."

His mother set down her coffee cup with a little noise, Miriam shook her hair out of her eyes and came back from her own dream of the story she was reading, and Will turned as sharply as if he were on the parade ground at Lexington.

"You don't think, then, that it is just all talk, Richard! You are sure that we're going to fight!"

"You fight!" cried Miriam. "Why, you aren't sixteen!"

Will flared up. "Plenty of soldiers have died at sixteen, Missy! 'Old Jack' knows, if you don't-"

"Children, children!" said Margaret Cleave, in a quivering voice. "It is enough to know that not a man of this family but would fight now for Virginia, just as they fought eighty odd years ago! Yes, and we women did our part then, and we would do it now! But I pray God, night and day-and Miriam, you should pray too-that this storm will not burst! As for you two who've always been sheltered and fed, who've never had a blow struck you, who've grown like tended plants in a garden-you don't know what war is! It's a great and deep Cup of Trembling! It's a scourge that reaches the backs of all! It's universal destruction-and the gift that the world should pray for is to build in peace! Tha

t is true, isn't it, Richard?"

"Yes, it is true," said Richard. "Don't, Will," as the boy began to speak. "Don't let's talk any more about it to-night. After all, a deal of storms go by-and it's a wise man who can read Time's order-book." He rose from the table. "It's like the fable. The King may die, the Ass may die, the Philosopher may die-and next Christmas maybe the peacefullest on record! I'm going to ride to Lauderdale for a little while, and, if you like, I'll ask about that shotgun for you."

A few minutes later and he was out on the starlit road to Lauderdale. As he rode he thought, not of the Botetourt Resolutions, nor of Fauquier Cary, nor of Allan Gold, nor of the supper table at Three Oaks, nor of a case which he must fight through at the court house three days hence, but of Judith Cary. Dundee's hoofs beat it out on the frosty ground. Judith Cary-Judith Cary-Judith Cary! He thought of Greenwood, of the garden there, of a week last summer, of Maury Stafford-Stafford whom at first meeting he had thought most likable! He did not think him so to-night, there at Silver Hill, ready to go to Lauderdale to-morrow!-Judith Cary-Judith Cary-Judith Cary. He saw Stafford beside her-Stafford beside her-Stafford beside her-

"If she love him," said Cleave, half aloud, "he must be worthy. I will not be so petty nor so bitter! I wish her happiness.-Judith Cary-Judith Cary. If she love him-"

To the left a little stream brawled through frosty meadows; to the right rose a low hill black with cedars. Along the southern horizon stretched the Blue Ridge, a wall of the Titans, a rampart in the night. The line was long and clean; behind it was an effect of light, a steel-like gleaming. Above blazed the winter stars. "If she love him-if she love him-" He determined that to-night at Lauderdale he would try to see her alone for a minute. He would find out-he must find out-if there were any doubt he would resolve it.

The air was very still and clear. He heard a carriage before him on the road. It was coming toward him-a horseman, too, evidently riding beside it. Just ahead the road crossed a bridge-not a good place for passing in the night-time. Cleave drew a little aside, reining in Dundee. With a hollow rumbling the carriage passed the streams. It proved to be an old-fashioned coach with lamps, drawn by strong, slow grey horses. Cleave recognized the Silver Hill equipage. Silver Hill must have been supping with Lauderdale. Immediately he divined who was the horseman. The carriage drew alongside, the lamps making a small ring of light. "Good-evening, Mr. Stafford!" said Cleave. The other raised his hat. "Mr. Cleave, is it not? Good-evening, sir!" A voice spoke within the coach. "It's Richard Cleave now! Stop, Ephraim!"

The slow grey horses came to a stand. Cleave dismounted, and came, hat in hand, to the coach window. The mistress of Silver Hill, a young married woman, frank and sweet, put out a hand. "Good-evening, Mr. Cleave! You are on your way to Lauderdale? My sister and Maury Stafford and I are carrying Judith off to Silver Hill for the night.-She wants to give you a message-"

She moved aside and Judith took her place-Judith in fur cap and cloak, her beautiful face just lit by the coach lamp. "It's not a message, Richard. I-I did not know that you were coming to Lauderdale to-night. Had I known it, I-Give my love, my dear love, to Cousin Margaret. I would have come to Three Oaks, only-"

"You are going home to-morrow?"

"Yes. Fauquier wishes to get back to Albemarle-"

"Will you start from Lauderdale?"

"No, from Silver Hill. He will come by for me. But had I known," said Judith clearly, "had I known that you would ride to Lauderdale to-night-"

"You would dutifully have stayed to see a cousin," thought Cleave in savage pain. He spoke quietly, in the controlled but vibrant voice he had used on the hilltop. "I am sorry that I will not see you to-night. I will ride on, however, and talk to Fauquier. You will give my love, will you not, to all my cousins at Greenwood? I do not forget how good all were to me last summer!-Good-bye, Judith."

She gave him her hand. It trembled a little in her glove. "Come again to Greenwood! Winter or summer, it will be glad to see you!-Good-bye, Richard."

Fur cap, cloak, beautiful face, drew back. "Go on, Ephraim!" said the mistress of Silver Hill.

The slow grey horses put themselves into motion, the coach passed on. Maury Stafford waited until Cleave had remounted. "It has been an exciting day!" he said. "I think that we are at the parting of the ways."

"I think so. You will be at Silver Hill throughout the week?"

"No, I think that I, too, will ride toward Albemarle to-morrow. It is worth something to be with Fauquier Cary a little longer."

"That is quite true," said Cleave slowly. "I do not ride to Albemarle to-morrow, and so I will pursue my road to Lauderdale and make the most of him to-night!" He turned his horse, lifted his hat. Stafford did likewise. They parted, and Cleave presently heard the rapid hoofbeat overtake the Silver Hill coach and at once change to a slower rhythm. "Now he is speaking with her through the window!" The sound of wheel and hoof died away. Cleave shook Dundee's reins and went on toward Lauderdale. Judith Cary-Judith Cary-There are other things in life than love-other things than love-other things than love.... Judith Cary-Judith Cary....

At Three Oaks Margaret Cleave rested upon her couch by the fire. Miriam was curled on the rug with a book, an apple, and Tabitha the cat. Will mended a skate-strap and discoursed of "Old Jack." "It's a fact, ma'am! Wilson worked the problem, gave the solution, and got from Old Jack a regular withering up! They'll all tell you, ma'am, that he excels in withering up! 'You are wrong, Mr. Wilson,' says he, in that tone of his-dry as tinder, and makes you stop like a musket-shot! 'You are always wrong. Go to your seat, sir.' Well, old Wilson went, of course, and sat there so angry he was shivering. You see he was right, and he knew it. Well, the day went on about as usual. It set in to snow, and by night there was what a western man we've got calls a 'blizzard.' Barracks like an ice house, and snowing so you couldn't see across the Campus! 'T was so deadly cold and the lights so dismal that we rather looked forward to taps. Up comes an orderly. 'Mr. Wilson to the Commandant's office!'-Well, old Wilson looked startled, for he hadn't done anything; but off he marches, the rest of us predicting hanging. Well, whom d' ye reckon he found in the Commandant's office?"

"Old Jack?"

"Good marksmanship! It was Old Jack-snow all over, snow on his coat, on his big boots, on his beard, on his cap. He lives most a mile from the Institute, and the weather was bad, sure enough! Well, old Wilson didn't know what to expect-most likely hot shot, grape and canister with musketry fire thrown in-but he saluted and stood fast. 'Mr. Wilson,' says Old Jack, 'upon returning home and going over with closed eyes after supper as is my custom the day's work, I discovered that you were right this morning and I was wrong. Your solution was correct. I felt it to be your due that I should tell you of my mistake as soon as I discovered it. I apologise for the statement that you were always wrong. You may go, sir.' Well, old Wilson never could tell what he said, but anyhow he accepted the apology, and saluted, and got out of the room somehow and back to barracks, and we breathed on the window and made a place through which we watched Old Jack over the Campus, ploughing back to Mrs. Jack through the blizzard! So you see, ma'am, things like that make us lenient to Old Jack sometimes-though he is awfully dull and has very peculiar notions."

Margaret Cleave sat up. "Is that you, Richard?" Miriam put down Tabitha and rose to her knees. "Did you see Cousin Judith? Is she as beautiful as ever?" Will hospitably gave up the big chair. "You must have galloped Dundee both ways! Did you ask about the shotgun?"

Cleave took his seat at the foot of his mother's couch. "Yes, Will, you may have it.-Fauquier sent his love to you, Mother, and to Miriam. They leave for Greenwood to-morrow."

"And Cousin Judith," persisted Miriam. "What did she have on? Did she sing to you?"

Cleave picked up her fallen book and smoothed the leaves. "She was not there. The Silver Hill people had taken her for the night. I passed them on the road.... There'll be thick ice, Will, if this weather lasts."

Later, when good-night had been said and he was alone in his bare, high-ceiled room, he looked, not at his law books nor at the poet's words, left lying on the table, but he drew a chair before the fireplace, and from its depths he raised his eyes to his grandfather's sword slung above the mantel-shelf. He sat there, long, with the sword before him; then he rose, took a book from the case, trimmed the candles, and for an hour read of the campaigns of Fabius and Hannibal.

* * *

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares