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VII THE SILENT BATTLE DESPITE the cheerfulness of Betty's letters, there were times during the next dark years when it seemed to her that starvation must be the only end. The negroes had been freed by the Governor's will, but the girl could not turn them from their homes, and, with the exception of the few field hands who had followed the Union army, they still lived in their little cabins and drew their daily rations from the storehouse. Betty herself shared their rations of cornmeal and bacon, jealously guarding her small supplies of milk and eggs for Mrs. Ambler and the two old ladies. "It makes no difference what I eat," she would assure protesting Mammy Riah. " I am so strong, you see, and besides I really like Aunt Floretta's ashcakes." Spring and summer passed, with the ripened vegetables which Hosea had planted in the garden, and the long winter brought with it the old daily struggle to make the slim barrels of meal last until the next harvesting. It was in this year that the four women at Uplands followed the Major's lead and invested their united fortune in Confederate bonds. " We will rise or fall with the government," Mrs. Ambler had said with her gentle authority. "Since we have given it our best, let it take all freely." " Surely money is of no matter," Betty had an45 ° The Silent Battle 4S1 swered, lavishly disregardful of worldly goods. " Do you think we might give our jewels, too? I have grandma's pearls hidden beneath the floor, you know." "If need be -let us wait, dear," replied her mother, who, grave and pallid as a ghost, would eat nothing that, by any chance, could be made to reach the army. "I do not want it, my child, there are so many hungrier than I," she would say when Betty brought her dainty little trays from the pantry. "But I am hungry for you, mamma - take it for my sake," the girl would beg, on the point of tears. "You are starving, that is "it - and yet it does not feed the army." In these days it seemed to her that all the anguish of her life had centred in the single fear of losing her mother. At times she almost reproached herself with loving Dan too much, and for months she would resolutely keep her thoughts from following him, while she laid her impassioned service at her mother's feet. Day or night there was hardly a moment when she was not beside her, trying, by very force of love, to hold her back from the death to which she went with her slow and stately tread. For Mrs. Ambler, who had kept her strength for a year after the Governor's death, seemed at last to be gently withdrawing from a place in which she found herself a stranger. There was nothing to detain her now; she was too heartsick to adapt herself to many changes; loss and approaching poverty might be borne by one for whom the chief thing yet remained, but she had seen this go, and so she The Battle-Ground waited, with her pensive smile, for the moment when she too might follow. If Betty were not looking she would put her untasted food aside; but the girl soon found this out, and watched her every mouthful with imploring eyes. " Oh, mamma, do it to please me," she entreated. " Well, give it back, my dear," Mrs. Ambler answered , complaisant as always, and when Betty triumphantly declared, " You feel better now - you know you do, you dearest," she responded readily :- "Much better, darling; give me some straw to plait - I have grown to like to have my hands busy. Your old bonnet is almost gone, so I shall plait you one of this and trim it with a piece of ribbon Aunt Lydia found yesterday in the attic." " I don't mind going bareheaded, if you wiJI only eat." "I was never a hearty eater. Your father used to say that I ate less than a robin. It was the custom for ladies to have delicate appetites in my day, you see; and I remember your grandma's amazement when Miss Pokey Mickleborough was asked at our table what piece of chicken she preferred, and answered quite aloud, 'Leg, if you please.' She was considered very indelicate by your grandma, who had never so much as tasted any part except the...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780817388294
Related ISBN
9780817310417
MARC Record
OCLC
47010965
Pages
559
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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