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XI THE RETURN As they passed from the shadow of the tavern road, the afternoon sunlight was slanting across the turnpike from the friendly hills, which alone of all the landscape remained unchanged. Loyal, smiling, guarding the ruined valley like peaceful sentinels, they had suffered not so much as an added wrinkle upon their brows. As Dan had left them five long years ago, so he found them now, and his heart leaped as he stood at last face to face. He was like a man who, having hungered for many days, finds himself suddenly satisfied again. Amid a blur of young foliage they saw first the smoking chimneys of Uplands, and then the Doric columns beyond a lane of flowering lilacs. The stone wall had crumbled in places, and strange weeds were springing up among the high blue-grass; but here and there beneath the maples he caught a glimpse of small darkies uprooting the intruders, and beyond the garden, in the distant meadows, ploughmen were plodding back and forth in the purple furrows. Peace had descended here at least, and, with a smile, he detected Betty's abounding energy in the moving spirit of the place. He saw her in the freshly swept walks, in the small negroes weeding the blue-grass lawn, in the distant ploughs 499 Sao The Battle-Ground that made blots upon the meadows. For a moment he hesitated, and laid his hand upon the iron gate; then, stifling the temptation, he turned back into the white sand of the road. Bdore he met Betty's eyes, he meant that his peace should be made with the old man at Chericoke. Big Abel, tramping at his side, opened his mouth from time to time to let out a rapturous exclamation . "Dar 'tis! des look at it!" he chuckled, when Uplands had been left far behind them. "Dat's de ve'y same clump er cedars, en dat's de wil' cher'y lyin' right flat on hit's back - dey's done cut it down ter git de cher'ies." " And the locust! Look, the big locust tree is still there, and in full bloom! " "Lawd, de 'simmons! Dar's de 'simmon tree way down yonder in the meadow, whar we all use ter set ouah ole hyar traps. You ain' furgot dose ole hyar traps, Marse Dan? " " Forgotten them! good Lord! " said Dan; "why I remember we caught five one Christmas morning, and Betty fed them and set them free again." " Dat she did, suh, dat she did! Hit's de gospel trufe! " " We never could hide our traps from Betty," pursued Dan, in delight. "She was a regular fox for scenting them out - I never saw such a nose for traps as hers, and she always set the things loose and smashed the doors." "We hid 'em one time way way in de thicket by de ice pond," returned Big Abel, " but she spied 'em out. Yes, Lawd, she spied 'em out fo' ouah backs wuz turnt." The Return 501 He talked on rapidly while Dan listened with a faint smile about his mouth. Since they had left the tavern road, Big Abel's onward march had been accompanied by ceaseless ejaculations. His joy was childlike, unrestrained, full of whimsical surprises - the flight of a bluebird or the recognition of a shrub beside the way sent him with shining eyes and quickened steps along the turnpike. From free Levi's cabin, which was still standing, though a battle had raged in the fallen woods beyond it, and men had fought and been buried within a stone's throw of the doorstep, they heard the steady falling of a hammer and caught the red glow from the rude forge at which the old negro worked. With the half-forgotten sound, Dan returned as if in a vision to his last night at Chericoke, when he had run off in his boyish folly, with free Levi's hammer beating in his ears. Then he had dreamed of coming back again, but not like this. He had meant to ride proudly up the turnpike, with his easily won honours on his head, and in his hands his magnanimous forgiveness for all who had done him wrong. On that day he had pictt:red the Governor hurrying to the turnpike as he passed, and he had seen his grandfather, shy of apologies, eager to make amends. That was his dream, and to-day he came back...


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