A War Debt by Sarah Orne Jewett
There was a tinge of autumn color on even the English elms as Tom
Burton walked slowly up Beacon Street. He was wondering all the way
what he had better do with himself; it was far too early to settle down
in Boston for the winter, but his grandmother kept to her old date for
moving up to town, and here they were. As yet nobody thought of braving
the country weather long after October came in, and most country houses
were poorly equipped with fireplaces, or even furnaces: this was some
years ago, and not the very last autumn that ever was.
There was likely to be a long stretch of good weather, a month at
least, if one took the trouble to go a little way to the southward. Tom
Burton quickened his steps a little, and began to think definitely of
his guns, while a sudden resolve took shape in his mind. Just then he
reached the doorsteps of his grandmother's fine old-fashioned house,
being himself the fourth Thomas Burton that the shining brass
door-plate had represented. His old grandmother was the only near
relative he had in the world; she was growing older and more dependent
upon him every day. That summer he had returned from a long wandering
absence of three years, and the vigorous elderly woman whom he had
left, busy and self-reliant, had sadly changed in the mean time; age
had begun to strike telling blows at her strength and spirits. Tom had
no idea of leaving her again for the long journeys which had become the
delightful habit of his life; but there was no reason why he should not
take a fortnight's holiday now and then, particularly now.
Has Mrs. Burton come down yet, Dennis? Is there any one with her?
asked Tom, as he entered.
There is not, sir. Mrs. Burton is in the drawing-room, answered
Dennis precisely. The tea is just going up; I think she was waiting
for you. And Tom ran upstairs like a schoolboy, and then walked
discreetly into the drawing-room. His grandmother gave no sign of
having expected him, but she always liked company at that hour of the
day: there had come to be too many ghosts in the empty chairs.
Can I have two cups? demanded the grandson, cheerfully. I don't
know when I have had such a walk! and they began a gay gossiping hour
together, and parted for a short season afterward, only to meet again
at dinner, with a warm sense of pleasure in each other's company. The
young man always insisted that his grandmother was the most charming
woman in the world, and it can be imagined what the grandmother thought
of Tom. She was only severe with him because he had given no signs of
wishing to marry, but she was tolerant of all delay, so long as she
could now and then keep the subject fresh in his mind. It was not a
moment to speak again of the great question that afternoon, and she had
sat and listened to his talk of people and things, a little plaintive
and pale, but very handsome, behind the tea-table.
At dinner, after Dennis had given Tom his cup of coffee and cigars,
and disappeared with an accustomed air of thoughtfully leaving the
family alone for a private interview, Mrs. Burton, who sometimes
lingered if she felt like talking, and sometimes went away to the
drawing-room to take a brief nap before she began her evening book, and
before Tom joined her for a few minutes to say good-night if he were
going out,Mrs. Burton left her chair more hurriedly than usual. Tom
meant to be at home that evening, and was all ready to speak of his
plan for some Southern shooting, and he felt a sudden sense of
Don't go away, he said, looking up as she passed. Is this a bad
No, no, my dear, said the old lady, hurrying across the room in an
excited, unusual sort of way. I wish to show you something while we
are by ourselves. And she stooped to unlock a little cupboard in the
great sideboard, and fumbled in the depths there, upsetting and
clanking among some pieces of silver. Tom joined her with a pair of
candles, but it was some moments before she could find what she wanted.
Mrs. Burton appeared to be in a hurry, which almost never happened, and
in trying to help her Tom dropped much wax unheeded at her side.
Here it is at last, she said, and went back to her seat at the
table. I ought to tell you the stories of some old silver that I keep
in that cupboard; if I were to die, nobody would know anything about
Do you mean the old French spoons, and the prince's porringer, and
those things? asked Tom, showing the most lively interest. But his
grandmother was busy unfastening the strings of a little bag, and shook
her head absently in answer to his question. She took out and handed to
him a quaint old silver cup with two handles, that he could not
remember ever to have seen.
What a charming old bit! said he, turning it about. Where in the
world did it come from? English, of course; and it looks like a
loving-cup. A copy of some old Oxford thing, perhaps; only they didn't
copy much then. I should think it had been made for a child. Tom
turned it round and round and drew the candles toward him. Here's an
inscription, too, but very much worn.
Put it down a minute, said Mrs. Burton impatiently. Every time I
have thought of it I have been more and more ashamed to have it in the
house. People weren't so shocked by such things at first; they would
only be sentimental about the ruined homes, and say that, 'after all,
it was the fortune of war.' That cup was stolen.
But who stole it? inquired Tom, with deep interest.
Your father brought it here, said Mrs. Burton, with great spirit,
and even a tone of reproach. My son, Tom Burton, your father, brought
it home from the war. I think his plan was to keep it safe to send back
to the owners. But he left it with your mother when he was ordered
suddenly to the front; he was only at home four days, and the day after
he got back to camp was the day he was killed, poor boy
I remember something about it now, Tom hastened to say. I
remember my mother's talking about the breaking up of Southern homes,
and all that; she never believed it until she saw the cup, and I
thought it was awfully silly. I was at the age when I could have blown
our own house to pieces just for the sake of the racket.
And that terrible year your grandfather's and your mother's death
followed, and I was left alone with youtwo of us out of the five that
had made my home
I should say one and a half, insisted Tom, with some effort. What
a boy I was for a grandson! Thank Heaven, there comes a time when we
are all the same age! We are jolly together now, aren't we? Come, dear
old lady, don't let's think too much of what's gone by; and he went
round the table and gave her a kiss, and stood there where she need not
look him in the face, holding her dear thin hand as long as ever she
I want you to take that silver cup back, Tom, she said presently,
in her usual tone. Go back and finish your coffee. She had seldom
broken down like this. Mrs. Burton had been self-possessed, even to
apparent coldness, in earlier life.
How in the world am I going to take it back? asked Tom, most
businesslike and calm. Do you really know just where it came from? And
then it was several years ago.
Your grandfather knew; they were Virginia people, of course, and
happened to be old friends; one of the younger men was his own
classmate. He knew the crest and motto at once, but there were two or
three branches of the family, none of them, so far as he knew, living
anywhere near where your father was in camp. Poor Tom said that there
was a beautiful old house sacked and burnt, and everything scattered
that was saved. He happened to hear a soldier from another regiment
talking about it, and saw him tossing this cup about, and bought it
from him with all the money he happened to have in his pockets.
Then he didn't really steal it himself! exclaimed Tom, laughing a
little, and with a sense of relief.
No, no, Tom! said Mrs. Burton impatiently. Only you see that it
really is a stolen thing, and I have had it all this time under my
roof. For a long time it was packed away with your father's war relics,
those things that I couldn't bear to see. And then I would think of it
only at night after I had once seen it, and forget to ask any one else
while you were away, or wait for you to come. Oh, I have no excuse. I
have been very careless, but here it has been all the time. I wish you
would find out about the people; there must be some one belonging to
themsome friend, perhaps, to whom we could give it. This is one of
the things that I wish to have done, and to forget. Just take it back,
or write some letters first: you will know what to do. I should like to
have the people understand.
I'll see about it at once, said Tom, with great zest. I believe
you couldn't have spoken at a better time. I have been thinking of
going down to Virginia this very week. I hear that they are in a hurry
with fitting out that new scientific expedition in Washington that I
declined to join, and they want me to come on and talk over things
before they are off. One of the men is a Virginian, an awfully good
fellow; and then there's Clendennin, my old chum, who's in Washington,
too, just now; they'll give me my directions; they know all Virginia
between them. I'll take the cup along, and run down from Washington for
a few days, and perhaps get some shooting.
Tom's face was shining with interest and satisfaction; he took the
cup and again held it under the candle-light. How pretty this old
chasing is round the edge, and the set of the little handles! Oh,
here's the motto! What a dear old thing, and enormously old! See here,
under the crest, and he held it toward Mrs. Burton:
Je vous en prie Bel-ami.
Mrs. Burton glanced at it with indifference. Yes, it is charming,
as you say. But I only wish to return it to its owners, Tom.
Je vous en prie Bel-ami.
Tom repeated the words under his breath, and looked at the crest
I remember that your grandfather said it belonged to the Bellamys,
said his grandmother. Of course: how could I forget that? I have never
looked at it properly since the day I first saw it. It is a charming
mottothey were very charming and distinguished people. I suppose this
is a pretty way of saying that they could not live without their
friends. I beg of you, Belami;it is a quaint fancy; one might turn it
in two or three pretty ways.
Or they may have meant that they only looked to themselves for what
they wanted, Je vous en prie Bellamy! said Tom gallantly. All
right; I think that I shall start to-morrow or next day. If you have no
special plans, he added.
Do go, my dear; you may get some shooting, as you say, said Mrs.
Burton, a little wistfully, but kindly personifying Tom's inclination.
You've started me off on a fine romantic adventure, said the young
man, smiling. Come; my cigar's gone out, and it never was good for
much; let's go in and try the cards, and talk about things; perhaps
you'll think of something more about the Bellamys. You said that my
grandfather had a classmate
Mrs. Burton stopped to put the cup into its chamois bag again, and
handed it solemnly to Tom, then she took his arm, and dismissing all
unpleasant thoughts, they sat down to the peaceful game of cribbage to
while away the time. The grandson lent himself gayly to
pleasure-making, and they were just changing the cards for their books,
when one of the elder friends of the house appeared, one of the two or
three left who called Mrs. Burton Margaret, and was greeted
affectionately as Henry in return. This guest always made the dear lady
feel young; he himself was always to the front of things, and had much
to say. It was quite forgotten that a last charge had been given to
Tom, or that the past had been wept over. Presently, the late evening
hours being always her best, she forgot in eager talk that she had any
grandson at all, and Tom slipped away with his book to his own
sitting-room and his pipe. He took the little cup out of its bag again,
and set it before him, and began to lay plans for a Southern journey.
The Virginia country was full of golden autumn sunshine and blue
haze. The long hours spent on a slow-moving train were full of shocks
and surprises to a young traveler who knew almost every civilized
country better than his own. The lonely look of the fields, the trees
shattered by war, which had not yet had time enough to muffle their
broken tops with green; the negroes, who crowded on board the train,
lawless, and unequal to holding their liberty with steady hands, looked
poor and less respectable than in the old plantation daysit was as if
the long discipline of their former state had counted for nothing. Tom
Burton felt himself for the first time to have something of a
statesman's thoughts and schemes as he moralized along the way.
Presently he noticed with deep sympathy a lady who came down the
crowded car, and took the seat just in front of him. She carried a
magazine under her arm a copy ofBlackwood, which was presently
proved to bear the date of 1851, and to be open at an article on the
death of Wordsworth. She was the first lady he had seen that daythere
was little money left for journeying and pleasure among the white
Virginians; but two or three stations beyond this a group of young
English men and women stood with the gay negroes on the platform, and
came into the train with cheerful greetings to their friends. It seemed
as if England had begun to settle Virginia all over again, and their
clear, lively voices had no foreign sound. There were going to be races
at some court-house town in the neighborhood. Burton was a great lover
of horses himself, and the new scenes grew more and more interesting.
In one of the gay groups was a different figure from any of the
fresh-cheeked young wives of the English plantersa slender girl, pale
and spirited, with a look of care beyond her years. She was the queen
of her little company. It was to her that every one looked for approval
and sympathy as the laugh went to and fro. There was something so
high-bred and elegant in her bearing, something so exquisitely sure and
stately, that her companions were made clumsy and rustic in their looks
by contrast. The eager talk of the coming races, of the untried
thoroughbreds, the winners and losers of the year before, made more
distinct this young Virginia lady's own look of high-breeding, and
emphasized her advantage of race. She was the newer and finer Norman
among Saxons. She alone seemed to have that inheritance of swiftness of
mind, of sureness of training. It was the highest type of English
civilization refined still further by long growth in favoring soil. Tom
Burton read her unconscious face as if it were a romance; he believed
that one of the great Virginia houses must still exist, and that she
was its young mistress. The house's fortune was no doubt gone; the
long-worn and carefully mended black silk gown that followed the lines
of her lovely figure told plainly enough that worldly prosperity was a
thing of the past. But what nature could give of its best, and only age
and death could take away, were hers. He watched her more and more; at
one moment she glanced up suddenly and held his eyes with hers for one
revealing moment. There was no surprise in the look, but a confession
of pathos, a recognition of sympathy, which made even a stranger feel
that he had the inmost secret of her heart.
The next day our hero, having hired a capital saddle-horse, a little
the worse for age, was finding his way eastward along the sandy roads.
The country was full of color; the sassafras and gum trees and oaks
were all ablaze with red and yellow. Now and then he caught a glimpse
of a sail on one of the wide reaches of the river which lay to the
northward; now and then he passed a broken gateway or the ruins of a
cabin. He carried a light gun before him across the saddle, and a
game-bag hung slack and empty at his shoulder except for a single plump
partridge in one corner, which had whirred up at the right moment out
of a vine-covered thicket. Something small and heavy in his coat pocket
seemed to correspond to the bird, and once or twice he unconsciously
lifted it in the hollow of his hand. The day itself, and a sense of
being on the road to fulfill his mission, a sense of unending leisure
and satisfaction under that lovely hazy sky, seemed to leave no place
for impatience or thought of other things. He rode slowly along, with
his eye on the roadside coverts, letting the horse take his own gait,
except when a ragged negro boy, on an unwilling, heavy-footed mule,
slyly approached and struck the dallying steed from behind. It was past
the middle of the October afternoon.
'Mos' thar now, Cun'l, said the boy at last, eagerly. See them
busted trees pas' thar, an' chimblies? You tu'n down nax' turn; ride
smart piece yet, an' you come right front of ol' Mars Bell'my's house.
See, he comin' 'long de road now. Yas, 'tis Mars Bell'my shore, an' 's
Tom had been looking across the neglected fields with compassion,
and wondering if such a plantation could ever be brought back to its
days of prosperity. As the boy spoke he saw the tall chimneys in the
distance, and then, a little way before him in the shadow of some
trees, a stately figure that slowly approached. He hurriedly
dismounted, leading his horse until he met the tall old man, who
answered his salutation with much dignity. There was something royal
and remote from ordinary men in his silence after the first words of
Yas, sir; that's Mars Bell'my, sir, whispered the boy on the mule,
reassuringly, and the moment of hesitation was happily ended.
I was on my way to call upon you, Colonel Bellamy; my name is
Burton, said the younger man.
Will you come with me to the house? said the old gentleman,
putting out his hand cordially a second time; and though he had frowned
slightly at first at the unmistakable Northern accent, the light came
quickly to his eyes. Tom gave his horse's bridle to the boy, who
promptly transferred himself to the better saddle, and began to lead
the mule instead.
I have been charged with an errand of friendship, said Tom. I
believe that you and my grandfather were at Harvard together. Tom
looked boyish and eager and responsive to hospitality at this moment.
He was straight and trim, like a Frenchman. Colonel Bellamy was much
the taller of the two, even with his bent shoulders and relaxed figure.
I see the resemblance to your grandfather, sir. I bid you welcome
to Fairford, said the Colonel. Your visit is a great kindness.
They walked on together, speaking ceremoniously of the season and of
the shooting and Tom's journey, until they left the woods and overgrown
avenue at the edge of what had once been a fine lawn, with clusters of
huge oaks; but these were shattered by war and more or less ruined. The
lopped trunks still showed the marks of fire and shot; some had put out
a fresh bough or two, but most of the ancient trees stood for their own
monuments, rain-bleached and gaunt. At the other side of the wide lawn,
against young woodland and a glimpse of the river, were the four great
chimneys which had been seen from the highroad. There was no dwelling
in sight at the moment, and Tom stole an apprehensive look at the grave
face of his companion. It appeared as if he were being led to the
habitation of ghosts, as if he were purposely to be confronted with the
desolation left in the track of Northern troops. It was not so long
since the great war that these things could be forgotten.
The Colonel, however, without noticing the ruins in any way, turned
toward the right as he neared them, and passing a high fragment of
brick wall topped by a marble ball or twowhich had been shot at for
marksand passing, just beyond, some huge clumps of box, they came to
a square brick building with a rude wooden addition at one side, and
saw some tumble-down sheds a short distance beyond this, with a negro
They came to the open door. This was formerly the billiard-room.
Your grandfather would have kept many memories of it, said the host
simply. Will you go in, Mr. Burton? And Tom climbed two or three
perilous wooden steps and entered, to find himself in a most homelike
and charming place. There was a huge fireplace opposite the door, with
a thin whiff of blue smoke going up, a few old books on the high
chimney-piece, a pair of fine portraits with damaged frames, some old
tables and chairs of different patterns, with a couch by the square
window covered with a piece of fine tapestry folded together and still
showing its beauty, however raveled and worn. By the opposite window,
curtained only by vines, sat a lady with her head muffled in lace, who
greeted the guest pleasantly, and begged pardon for not rising from her
chair. Her face wore an unmistakable look of pain and sorrow. As Tom
Burton stood at her side, he could find nothing to say in answer to her
apologies. He was not wont to be abashed, and a real court could not
affect him like this ideal one. The poor surroundings could only be
seen through the glamour of their owner's presenceit seemed a most
I am sorry to have the inconvenience of deafness, said Madam
Bellamy, looking up with an anxious little smile. Will you tell me
again the name of our guest?
He is my old classmate Burton's grandson, of Boston, said the
Colonel, who now stood close at her side; he looked apprehensive as he
spoke, and the same shadow flitted over his face as when Tom had
announced himself by the oak at the roadside.
I remember Mr. Burton, your grandfather, very well, said Madam
Bellamy at last, giving Tom her hand for the second time, as her
husband had done. He was your guest here the autumn before we were
married, my dear; a fine rider, I remember, and a charming gentleman.
He was much entertained by one of our hunts. I saw that you also
carried a gun. My dear, and she turned to her husband anxiously, did
you bring home any birds?
Colonel Bellamy's face lengthened. I had scarcely time, or perhaps
I had not my usual good fortune, said he. The birds have followed the
grain-fields away from Virginia, we sometimes think.
I can offer you a partridge, said Tom eagerly. I shot one as I
rode along. I am afraid that I stopped Colonel Bellamy just as he was
I thank you very much, said Madam Bellamy. And you will take
supper with us, certainly. You will give us the pleasure of a visit? I
regret very much my granddaughter's absence, but it permits me to offer
you her room, which happens to be vacant. But Tom attempted to make
excuse. No, no, said Madam Bellamy, answering her own thoughts rather
than his words. You must certainly stay the night with us; we shall
make you most welcome. It will give my husband great pleasure; he will
have many questions to ask you.
Tom went out to search for his attendant, who presently clattered
away on the mule at an excellent homeward pace. An old negro man
servant led away the horse, and Colonel Bellamy disappeared also,
leaving the young guest to entertain himself and his hostess for an
hour, that flew by like light. A woman who is charming in youth is
still more charming in age to a man of Tom Burton's imagination, and he
was touched to find how quickly the first sense of receiving an
antagonist had given way before a desire to show their feeling of
kindly hospitality toward a guest. The links of ancient friendship
still held strong, and as Tom sat with his hostess by the window they
had much pleasant talk of Northern families known to them both, of
whom, or of whose children and grandchildren, he could give much news.
It seemed as if he should have known Madam Bellamy all his life. It is
impossible to say how she illumined her poor habitation, with what
dignity and sweetness she avoided, as far as possible, any reference to
the war or its effects. One could hardly remember that she was poor, or
ill, or had suffered such piteous loss of friends and fortune.
Later, when Tom was walking toward the river through the woods and
overgrown fields of the plantation, he came upon the ruins of the old
cabins of what must have been a great family of slaves. The crumbling
heaps of the chimneys stood in long lines on either side of a
weed-grown lane; not far beyond he found the sinking mounds of some
breastworks on a knoll which commanded the river channel. The very
trees and grass looked harrowed and distressed by war; the silence of
the sunset was only broken by the cry of a little owl that was begging
mercy of its fears far down the lonely shore.
At supper that night Burton came from his room to find Colonel
Bellamy bringing his wife in his arms to the table, while the old
bent-backed and gray-headed man servant followed to place her chair.
The mistress of Fairford was entirely lame and helpless, but she sat at
the head of her table like a queen. There was a bunch of damask-roses
at her plate. The Colonel himself was in evening dress, antique in cut,
and sadly worn, and Tom heartily thanked his patron saint that the boy
had brought his portmanteau in good season. There was a glorious light
in the room from the fire, and the table was served with exquisite
care, and even more luxurious delay, the excellent fish which the
Colonel himself must have caught in his unexplained absence, and Tom's
own partridge, which was carved as if it had been the first wild turkey
of the season, were followed by a few peaches touched with splendid
color as they lay on a handful of leaves in a bent and dented pewter
plate. There seemed to be no use for the stray glasses, until old
Milton produced a single small bottle of beer, and uncorked and poured
it for his master and his master's guest with a grand air. The Colonel
lifted his eyebrows slightly, but accepted its appearance at the proper
They sat long at table. It was impossible to let one's thought dwell
upon any of the meagre furnishings of the feast. The host and hostess
talked of the days when they went often to France and England, and of
Tom's grandfather when he was young. At last Madam Bellamy left the
table, and Tom stood waiting while she was carried to her own room. He
had kissed her hand like a courtier as he said good-night. On the
Colonel's return the old butler ostentatiously placed the solitary
bottle between them and went away. The Colonel offered some excellent
tobacco, and Tom begged leave to fetch his pipe. When he returned he
brought with it the chamois-skin bag that held the silver cup, and laid
it before him on the table. It was like the dread of going into battle,
but the moment had arrived. He laid his hand on the cup for a moment as
if to hide it, then he waited until his pipe was fairly going.
This is something which I have come to restore to you, sir, said
Tom presently, taking the piece of silver from its wrappings. I
believe that it is your property.
The old Colonel's face wore a strange, alarmed look; his thin cheeks
grew crimson. He reached eagerly for the cup, and held it before his
eyes. At last he bent his head and kissed it. Tom Burton saw that his
tears began to fall, that he half rose, turning toward the door of the
next room, where his wife was; then he sank back again, and looked at
his guest appealingly.
I ask no questions, he faltered; it was the fortune of war. This
cup was my grandfather's, my father's, and mine; all my own children
drank from it in turn; they are all gone before me. We always called it
our lucky cup. I fear that it has come back too lateThe old man's
voice broke, but he still held the shining piece of silver before him,
and turned it about in the candle-light.
Je vous en prie Bel-ami.
he whispered under his breath, and put the cup before him on the
Shall we move our chairs before the fire, Mr. Burton? My dear wife
is but frail, said the old man, after a long silence, and with
touching pathos. She sees me companioned for the evening, and is glad
to seek her room early; if you were not here she would insist upon our
game of cards. I do not allow myself to dwell upon the past, and I have
no wish for gay company; he added, in a lower voice, My daily dread
in life is to be separated from her.
As the evening wore on, the autumn air grew chilly, and again and
again the host replenished his draughty fireplace, and pushed the box
of delicious tobacco toward his guest, and Burton in his turn ventured
to remember a flask in his portmanteau, and begged the Colonel to taste
it, because it had been filled from an old cask in his grandfather's
cellar. The butler's eyes shone with satisfaction when he was
unexpectedly called upon to brew a little punch after the old Fairford
fashion, and the later talk ranged along the youthful escapades of
Thomas Burton the elder to the beauties and the style of Addison; from
the latest improvement in shot-guns to the statesmanship of Thomas
Jefferson, while the Colonel spoke tolerantly, in passing, of some
slight misapprehensions of Virginia life made by a delightful young
writer, too early lostMr. Thackeray.
Tom Burton had never enjoyed an evening more; the romance, the
pathos of it, as he found himself more and more taking his
grandfather's place in the mind of this hereditary friend, waked all
his sympathy. The charming talk that never dwelt too long or was
hurried too fast, the exquisite faded beauty of Madam Bellamy, the
noble dignity and manliness of the old planter and soldier, the perfect
absence of reproach for others or whining pity for themselves, made the
knowledge of their regret and loss doubly poignant. Their four sons had
all laid down their lives in what they believed from their hearts to be
their country's service; their daughters had died early, one from
sorrow at her husband's death, and one from exposure in a forced flight
across country; their ancestral home lay in ruins; their beloved cause
had been put to shame and defeatyet they could bow their heads to
every blast of misfortune, and could make a man welcome at their table
whose every instinct and tradition of loyalty made him their enemy. The
owls might shriek from the chimneys of Fairford, and the timid wild
hares course up and down the weed-grown avenues on an autumn night like
this, but a welcome from the Bellamys was a welcome still. It seemed to
the young imaginative guest that the old motto of the house was never
so full of significance as when he fancied it exchanged between the
Colonel and himself, Southerner and Northerner, elder and younger man,
conquered and conqueror in an unhappy war. The two old portraits, with
their warped frames and bullet-holes, faded and gleamed again in the
firelight; the portrait of an elderly man was like the Colonel himself,
but the woman, who was younger, and who seemed to meet Tom's eye gayly
enough, bore a resemblance which he could only half recall. It was very
late when the two men said good-night. They were each conscious of the
great delight of having found a friend. The candles had flickered out
long before, but the fire still burned, and struck a ray of light from
the cup on the table.
The next morning Burton waked early in his tiny sleeping-room. The
fragrance of ripe grapes and the autumn air blew in at the window, and
he hastened to dress, especially as he could hear the footstep and
imperious voice of Colonel Bellamy, who seemed to begin his new day
with zest and courage in the outer room. Milton, the old gray-headed
negro, was there too, and was alternately upbraided and spoken with
most intimately and with friendly approval. It sounded for a time as if
some great excitement and project were on foot; but Milton presently
appeared, eager for morning offices, and when Tom went out to join the
Colonel he was no longer there. There were no signs of breakfast. The
birds were singing in the trees outside, and the sun shone in through
the wide-opened door. It was a poor place in the morning light. As he
crossed the room he saw an old-fashioned gift-book lying on the couch,
as if some one had just laid it there face downward. He carried it with
him to the door; a dull collection enough, from forgotten writers of
forgotten prose and verse, but the Colonel had left it open at some
lines which, with all their faults, could not be read without sympathy.
He was always thinking of his wife; he had marked the four verses
because they spoke of her.
Tom put the old book down just as Colonel Bellamy passed outside,
and hastened to join him. They met with pleasure, and stood together
talking. The elder man presently quoted a line or two of poetry about
the beauty of the autumn morning, and his companion stood listening
with respectful attention, but he observed by contrast the hard,
warriorlike lines of the Colonel's face. He could well believe that,
until sorrow had softened him, a fiery impatient temper had ruled this
Southern heart. There was a sudden chatter and noise of voices, and
they both turned to see a group of negroes, small and great, coming
across the lawn with bags and baskets, and after a few muttered words
the old master set forth hurriedly to meet them, Tom following.
Be still, all of you! said the Colonel sternly. Your mistress is
still asleep. Go round to Milton, and he will attend to you. I'll come
They were almost all old people, many of them were already infirm,
and it was hard to still their requests and complaints. One of the
smaller children clasped Colonel Bellamy about the knees. There was
something patriarchal in the scene, and one could not help being sure
that some reason for the present poverty of Fairford was the necessity
for protecting these poor souls. The merry, well-fed colored people,
who were indulging their late-won liberty of travel on the trains, had
evidently shirked any responsibilities for such stray remnants of
humanity. Slavery was its own provider for old age. There had once been
no necessity for the slaves themselves to make provision for winter, as
even a squirrel must. They were worse than children now, and far more
appealing in their helplessness.
The group slowly departed, and Colonel Bellamy led the way in the
opposite direction, toward the ruins of the great house. They crossed
the old garden, where some ancient espaliers still clung to the broken
brick-work of the walls, and a little fruit still clung to the knotted
branches, while great hedges of box, ragged and uncared for, traced the
old order of the walks. The heavy dew and warm morning sun brought out
that antique fragrance,the faint pungent odor which wakes the utmost
memories of the past. Tom Burton thought with a sudden thrill that the
girl with the sweet eyes yesterday had worn a bit of box in her dress.
Here and there, under the straying boughs of the shrubbery, bloomed a
late scarlet poppy from some scattered seed of which such old soil
might well be full. It was a barren, neglected garden enough, but still
full of charm and delight, being a garden. There was a fine fragrance
of grapes through the undergrowth, but the whole place was completely
ruined; a little snake slid from the broken base of a sun-dial; the
tall chimneys of the house were already beginning to crumble, and birds
and squirrels lived in their crevices and flitted about their lofty
tops. At some distance an old negro was singing,it must have been
Milton himself, still unbesought by his dependents, and the song was
full of strange, monotonous wails and plaintive cadences, like a lament
for war itself, and all the misery that follows in its train.
Colonel Bellamy had not spoken for some moments, but when they
reached the terrace which had been before the house there were two
flights of stone steps that led to empty air, and these were still
adorned by some graceful railings and balusters, bent and rusty and
You will observe this iron-work, sir, said the Colonel, stopping
to regard with pride almost the only relic of the former beauty and
state of Fairford. My grandfather had the pattern carefully planned in
Charleston, where such work was formerly well done by Frenchmen. He
stopped to point out certain charming features of the design with his
walking-stick, and then went on without a glance at the decaying
chimneys or the weed-grown cellars and heaps of stones beneath.
The lovely October morning was more than half gone when Milton
brought the horse round to the door, and the moment came to say
farewell. The Colonel had shown sincere eagerness that the visit should
be prolonged for at least another day, but a reason for hurry which the
young man hardly confessed to himself was urging him back along the way
he had come. He was ready to forget his plans for shooting and
wandering eastward on the river shore. He had paid a parting visit to
Madam Bellamy in her own room, where she lay on a couch in the
sunshine, and had seen the silver cupa lucky cup he devoutly hoped it
might indeed beon a light stand by her side. It held a few small
flowers, as if it had so been brought in to her in the early morning.
Her eyes were dim with weeping. She had not thought of its age and
history, neither did the sight of such pathetic loot wake bitter
feelings against her foes. It was only the cup that her little children
had used, one after another, in their babyhood; the last and dearest
had kept it longest, and even he was deadfallen in battle, like the
She wore a hood and wrapping of black lace, which brought out the
delicacy of her features like some quaint setting. Her hand trembled as
she bade her young guest farewell. As he looked back from the doorway
she was like some exiled queen in a peasant's lodging, such dignity and
sweet patience were in her look. I think you bring good fortune, she
said. Nothing can make me so happy as to have my husband find a little
As the young man crossed the outer room the familiar eyes of the old
portrait caught his own with wistful insistency. He suddenly suspected
the double reason: he had been dreaming of other eyes, and knew that
his fellow-traveler had kept him company. Madam Bellamy, he said,
turning back, and blushing as he bent to speak to her in a lower
voice,the portrait; is it like any one? is it like your
granddaughter? Could I have seen her on my way here?
Madam Bellamy looked up at his eager face with a light of unwonted
pleasure in her eyes. Yes, said she, my granddaughter would have
been on her way to Whitfields. She has always been thought extremely
like the picture: it is her great-grandmother. Good-by; pray let us see
you at Fairford again; and they said farewell once more, while Tom
Burton promised something, half to himself, about the Christmas hunt,
Je vous en prie, Belle amie,
he whispered, and a most lovely hope was in his heart.
You have been most welcome, said the Colonel at parting. I beg
that you will be so kind as to repeat this visit. I shall hope that we
may have some shooting together.
I shall hope so too, answered Tom Burton, warmly. Then, acting
from sudden impulse, he quickly unslung his gun, and begged his old
friend to keep itto use it, at any rate, until he came again.
The old Virginian did not reply for a moment. Your grandfather
would have done this, sir. I loved him, and I take it from you both. My
own gun is too poor a thing to offer in return. His voice shook; it
was the only approach to a lament, to a complaint, that he had made.
This was the moment of farewell; the young man held the Colonel's
hand in a boyish eager grasp. I wish that I might be like a son to
you, he said. May I write, sometimes, and may I really come to
The old Colonel answered him most affectionately, Oh yes; we must
think of the Christmas hunt, he said, and so they parted.
Tom Burton rode slowly away, and presently the fireless chimneys of
Fairford were lost to sight behind the clustering trees. The noonday
light was shining on the distant river; the road was untraveled and
untenanted for miles together, except by the Northern rider and his