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XIV THE HUSH BEFORE THE STORM THE autumn crept into winter; the winter went by, short and fitful, and the spring unfolded slowly. With the milder weather the mud dried in the roads, and the Major and the Governor went daily into Leicesterburg. The younger man had carried his oratory and his influence into the larger cities of the state, and he had come home, at the end of a month of speech-making, in a fervour of almost boyish enthusiasm . " I pledge my word for it, Julia," he had declared to his wife, "it will take more than a RepUblican President to sever Virginia from the Unionin fact, I'm inclined to think that it will take a thunderbolt from heaven, or the Major for a despot! " When, as the spring went on, men came from the political turmoil to ask for his advice, he repeated the words with a conviction that was in itself a ring of emphasis. "We are in the Union, gentlemen, for better or for worse" - and of all the guests who drank his Madeira under the pleasant shade of his maples, only the Major found voice to raise a protest. " We'll learn, sir, we'll live and learn," interposed the old gentleman. The Battle-Ground " Let us hope we shall live easily," said the doctor, lifting his glass. "And learn wisdom," added the rector, with a chuckle. Through the spring and summer they rode leisurely back and forth, bringing bundles of newspapers when they came, and taking away with them a memory of the broad white portico and the mellow wine. The Major took a spasmodic part in the discussions of peace or war, sitting sometimes in a moody silence, and flaring up, like an exhausted candle, at the news of an abolition outbreak. In his heart he regarded the state of peace as a mean and beggarly condition and the sure resort of bloodless cowards; but even a prospect of the inspiring dash of war could not elicit so much as the semblance of his old ardour. His smile flashed but seldom over his harsh features - it needed indeed the presence of Mrs. Ambler or of Betty to bring it forth - and his erect figure had given way in the chest, as if a strong wind bent him forward when he walked. " He has grown to be an old man," his neighbours said pityingly; and it is true that the weight of his years had fallen upon him in a night - as if he had gone to bed in a hale old age, with the sap of youth in his veins, to awaken with bleared eyes and a trembling hand. Since the day of his wife's return from the tavern, when he had peered from his hiding -place in his library window, he had not mentioned his grandson by name; and yet the thought of him seemed forever lying beneath his captious The Hush before the Storm 2.7I exclamations. He pricked nervously at the subject , made roundabout allusions to the base ingratitude from which he suffered; and the desertion of Big Abel had damned for him the whole faithful race from which the offender sprang. "They are all alike," he sweepingly declared. "There is not a trustworthy one among them. They'll eat my bread and steal my chickens, and then run off with the first scapegrace that gives them a chance." "I think Big Abel did just right," said Betty, fearlessly. The old gentleman squared himself to fix her with his weak red eyes. "Oh, you're just the same," he returned pettishly , " just the same." " But I don't steal your chickens, sir," protested the girl, laughing. The Major grunted and looked down at her in angry silence; then his face relaxed and a frosty smile played about his lips. " You are young, my child," he replied, in a kind of austere sadness, " and youth is always an enemy to the old - to the old," he repeated quietly, and looked at his wrinkled hand. But in the excitement of the next autumn, he showed for a time a revival of his flagging spirit. When the elections came he followed them with an absorption that had in it all the violence of a mental malady. The four possible Presidents that stood before the people were drawn for him in bold lines of black and white - the outward and visible distinction between, on the one side, the three " ad- 272...


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