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HOME > Classical Novels > The Blue Balloon > CHAPTER I.OLD GRIZZLY.
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 Thirty-three years ago, or, to be quite exact, in the month of May 1862, the great civil war in the United States of America was in full swing. The Federals had discovered that their boast that they would finish the whole affair in ninety days had been an empty one; while the Confederates, brave as they were, and fighting with all the vigour1 of men goaded2 to fury by the horrors of invasion, were learning by slow degrees, and in the teeth of their successes, that one Southerner could not whip five Yankees.  
The short remnant of summer which followed the first battle of Bull Run, or Manassas, as it was named in the South, had come to an end without startling incident; the dreary4 winter had dragged itself to a close, unmarked by aught but skirmishes and conflicts of minor5 importance; but in the spring of ’62 immense armies took the field, and campaigns were begun, 8compared with which all that had gone before was merely an insignificant7 prelude8.
At the first rumour9 that McClellan, stirring at last from his long and inglorious inactivity, was about to advance upon Richmond, the Confederate General Johnston at once evacuated10 Manassas, and fell back towards the threatened point; while Stonewall Jackson, who commanded the army of the Shenandoah, moved up the valley, so as to keep communication open with the defenders11 of the capital.
In the valley lay the town of Staunton, the capital of Augusta county, Virginia, and the presumed objective of one section of the Federal advance. Here, when the war began, lived a youth named Ephraim Sykes, more commonly known as ‘Old Grizzly12.’ Not that he at all resembled that ferocious13 animal either in person or in disposition14, for his manners were mild and inoffensive; but since his Christian15 name happened to coincide with the sobriquet16 usually bestowed17 upon the grizzly bear—namely, ‘Ephraim’—a happy thought occurred one day to a youthful wag of Staunton. So Ephraim Sykes was promptly18 dubbed19 ‘Old Grizzly,’ and as such was known ever afterwards.
Ephraim was between nineteen and twenty years of age, but looked much older, for he was tall and lank20, with a thoughtful face and a sallow complexion21, while an early and luxuriant crop of dark and curling hair flourished upon his thin cheeks and square, resolute22 chin. It was this chin, along with a pair of clear, steady, gray eyes, which conveyed to the physiognomist the impression that, shy and retiring as the lad was, beneath his unassuming exterior23 lurked24 the spirit of a lion, united to a will of iron.
9Ephraim was a ‘hand’ in one of the large ironworks in Staunton, but he owned a soul above his humble25 calling, and his mechanical genius was little short of marvellous. He was for ever inventing curious toys and handy appliances, which he traded off among the Staunton boys for sums very far below their actual value. The money thus obtained he devoted26 partly to the support of an aged27 aunt, who had brought him up since the death of his father and mother, and partly to the purchase of material for the manufacture of his inventions, or, as he himself styled them, his ‘notions.’ Education, in the ordinary sense of the word, he had never had, but he had managed, nevertheless, by his own efforts and quiet persistence28, to acquire an extraordinary amount of general and useful information: a neatly29 made bookcase, which stood against the wall of his little room, held a supply of books on science, mathematics, and the mechanical arts, which seemed curiously30 out of place in the homely31 cabin. But that Ephraim knew their use, and profited by the information he derived32 from the study of them, was evidenced by the character of the work he turned out, and the increasing favour in which he was held by Mr Coulter, the master of the works in which he was employed.
By the boys who formed his chief customers Grizzly was popularly supposed to be very rich, and the one fault they had to find with him was that he hoarded34 his gains in a miserly fashion, spending not a cent more than was absolutely necessary to provide himself and his aunt with the simple necessaries of life. Here, however, they misjudged Ephraim, for though it was true that he scraped and pinched and denied himself 10to put aside some small proportion of his not very extensive means, yet there was a purpose in what he did, and his motives35 were very different from those which the boys in their thoughtless way ascribed to him.
The fact was that poor Ephraim’s soul was fired with one strong and overmastering ambition. He longed to rise in the world. He dimly recognised his own powers, and felt within himself a capacity for progress which he could not but see was denied to the bulk of his fellow-workers. His shrewdness early taught him the value of money as a means to this end, and while others spent and squandered36, he added dollar after dollar to his little hoard33, and watched with keen satisfaction the slowly accumulating pile.
He was known to almost everybody in Staunton—there being few homes which did not possess some proof of his skill in handicraft—and he was a general favourite on account of his unfailing good-nature. For though careful, or mean as some called it, with his money, he was always willing to give the work of his hands, and many were the small boys whose happiness had been rendered unbounded by the acquisition of some precious plaything, for which they could not afford to pay, but which Ephraim had not the heart to deny them.
Still, though many sought his acquaintance, Grizzly allowed himself the luxury of but one friend, the only boy, perhaps, in all Staunton who thoroughly37 understood and properly appreciated him, Lucius Markham. And him Ephraim simply worshipped. The contrast between the two was almost absurd, for Lucius was what is called a gentleman, and with his fair hair, 11blue eyes, and aristocratic bearing, stood out in curious relief beside the rough working-lad whom he had selected for his crony. Yet the two were inseparable, and Lucius, who was three years younger than Ephraim, and high-spirited and self-willed, would listen to no remonstrances39 on the part of his parents, who looked askance upon this ill-assorted companionship, but spent as much of his spare time as he possibly could by Ephraim’s side, often in the latter’s little workshop, where he watched admiringly the processes which neither could his head understand nor his hands execute.
As for Ephraim, Lucius was his hero, and he adored him with a dog-like affection, which the other, though he certainly returned it, yet received with a lofty air of patronage40, as became the son and heir of so important a personage as Mr Markham of Markham Hall.
When the war broke out, the enthusiasm of the two lads knew no bounds. The Staunton artillery41, in which Mr Markham held a commission, had been almost the first to take the field, and had played an important part in the capture of Harper’s Ferry and the arsenal42. Lucius had therefore a personal interest in the war from the very beginning, and great indeed was his delight when he was allowed to pay a visit to his father at the camp at Harper’s Ferry, where the impetuous young Southerners were receiving their first lessons in the art of real war from generals and captains who were afterwards destined43 to write their names large upon the scroll44 of Fame.
On his return to Staunton, Lucius flew to the house of his friend, burning to impart his new experiences.
‘Hello, Aunty Chris!’ he shouted, bursting into the 12little cabin where the old woman sat darning Ephraim’s socks. ‘Where’s Grizzly?’
‘Hyar I am,’ said Ephraim, coming out of his den3 with a jack-plane in one hand and a piece of walnut45 wood in the other. ‘How ye comin’ along, Luce?’ he added, his eyes beaming affectionately upon his friend.
‘Oh!’ cried Lucius, not troubling to return the salute46, ‘I tell you I’ve had such a time at the Ferry. They are all there—father, and General Harper, and General Harman, and Captain Imboden, and all the rest of them; and Major Jackson of the Military Institute way down in Lexington has been made a colonel and put in command over the whole lot of them. They didn’t like it at first, but they’ve got used to it now, and my! don’t he just make them work. They were having a picnic before he came, but I guess he didn’t help to whip the Mexicans for nothing.’
‘Do tell,’ remarked Ephraim.
‘I should say so,’ went on Lucius. ‘He’s a stark47 fighter, he is, and he keeps them down to it. They’re drilling and marching, and marching and drilling, all day long; and at night they have camp-fires, and sentries48, and everything. You never saw such a show. And oh! Grizzly, what do you think? Captain Imboden let me fire off a cannon49.’
‘Ye don’t say so!’ exclaimed Ephraim, his sallow face lighting50 up. ‘How many Yanks did ye shoot?’
Lucius burst out laughing. ‘Why, it wasn’t loaded, stupid,’ he said, ‘except with blank cartridge51. But I touched her off, and she made an awful good row.’
‘I reckon,’ said Ephraim simply, adding with some anxiety in his voice: ‘Then ye warn’t in no battle, Luce?’
‘Battle! No,’ answered Lucius. ‘There hasn’t been one so far, and I imagine they wouldn’t have had me around while it was going on. There’s sure to be one soon, though; so they all say. Don’t I wish we could be there to see it. There’ll only be one, you know,’ he added confidently. ‘We shall whip the Yanks, and then everybody will come home again.’
‘Thet’s so,’ remarked Ephraim sententiously, ‘’ceptin’ them as is killed, of co’se.’ He fell to considering the piece of wood which he held in his hand.
‘What are you making there?’ demanded Lucius.
‘A gun-stock. I got a bar’l in thar.’
‘I’ll come and watch you,’ said Lucius, ‘and then I can tell you all about the camp.’
He followed Ephraim into his workshop and sat down upon the edge of a small tub, in which were set two huge glass jars, partly filled with fluid.
‘Don’t ye set down thar,’ cried Ephraim, pushing him off. ‘Jerushy! A little more and ye’d have been through the roof.’
‘Why, what’s in them?’ inquired Lucius, looking rather scared, as he shifted his seat to the dusty bench at which Ephraim worked.
‘They’re chemicals—different sorts, ye know,’ explained Grizzly. ‘Just’s long as they’re by themselves they’re all right, ye onderstand; but wanst they come together there’s the all-firedest kick-up ye ever see.’
‘What a fellow you are!’ said Lucius, glancing round the room with its mixture of tools, cog-wheels, small 16engine bars, glass retorts, and what not. ‘You’ll blow your own head off some of these fine days.’
‘I nearly done it last Toosday,’ grinned Ephraim genially52; ‘and old Aunty Chris war thet skeert, she run down the street hollerin’ thieves and murder.’ He laughed quietly at the recollection.
‘That’s all very well,’ said Lucius; ‘but you shouldn’t leave them so close to one another if they are so dangerous as you say they are.’
‘Thet’s so,’ acquiesced53 Ephraim, removing one of the jars to a corner of the room. ‘It don’t matter a cob of corn what goes wrong with me, but I ’low I’d never forgive myself if harm came to you.’
‘How’s the pile, Grizzly?’ asked Lucius irrelevantly54.
‘It’s growing, sonny; it’s growing. It ain’t the wuth of a gold mine yet; but it’s coming along. War ye wanting a trifle, maybe?’
‘Who, me?’ answered Lucius loftily. ‘I should say not. I’ve got plenty.’ He rattled55 the money in his pocket as he spoke56. ‘But I say, Grizzly, when do you think it will be big enough to let you go to college?’
Ephraim’s eyes glistened57. ‘Maybe two years,’ he replied; ‘that is, ef trade keeps steady. It seems a long time, don’t it? But it’s a little while when ye reckon I’ve worked and waited five years for’t already.’
Lucius looked at him admiringly. ‘You’ll do big things yet, if only you get the chance, Grizzly,’ he said. ‘And if you weren’t so mighty58 proud, you could have had the chance long ago. Father would give me the money for you, if you’d let me ask him. I know he would.’
17‘No, Luce,’ returned Ephraim, laying a hairy paw affectionately on his friend’s shoulder. ‘I know ye’d do it and willin’, jest ez I’d give you the best I had; but I med up my mind long ago thet ef I couldn’t work it out myself I wouldn’t be wuth no one’s workin’ it out for me, and thet’s the fact. It’ll come in time, I know thet. And besides I’m used to waitin’.’ He sighed, though, as he said it.
‘It does seem a shame,’ burst out Lucius, ‘that a great empty-headed noodle like me should have more money than he knows what to do with, while a clever, enterprising fellow like you, with a brain full of notions, should be kept back because you haven’t got any. I’——
‘Oh, shet yer head, Luce,’ interrupted Ephraim good-humouredly. ‘Ef I war all ye make me out ter be, I’d hev been thar long ago, dollars or no dollars. Maybe it’s best as it is,’ he concluded; ‘for ef I war ready ter go now, I reckon this old war would come in the way of it.’
‘Pooh! the war,’ ejaculated Lucius contemptuously. ‘I tell you there’s going to be no war. Father says there’ll be a battle likely—just one, and that will settle the Yankees and their bounce for good and all.’
‘Maybe,’ nodded Ephraim. ‘We’re going ter see.’
‘Well, if there is a war,’ proclaimed Lucius, ‘I am going to join in. So there.’
‘You!’ exclaimed Ephraim in unaffected astonishment59. ‘Why, Luce, they wouldn’t have ye. Ye’re too young.’
‘What of that?’ retorted Lucius, flushing. ‘I am sixteen. I can carry a gun. What more do they want?’
18‘A heap, I reckon,’ said Ephraim, eyeing him along the gun-stock he was planing. ‘But no matter for that, Luce. Yer par6 would never let ye go.’
‘Maybe then I’d go without asking him,’ muttered Lucius rebelliously60.
Ephraim laid down the gun-stock and approached him. ‘See hyar, Luce,’ he said anxiously, ‘ye ain’t got no idees in yer head, hev ye?’
Lucius burst out laughing. ‘Well, you have a way of putting things,’ he cried. ‘I believe I have just one, and that is, I am going to be a soldier.’
Ephraim considered a moment. ‘Waal,’ he said at last, ‘ef thet’s so, I believe I’ll hev to volunteer ter look after ye.’
Lucius roared afresh at this. ‘A pretty soldier you would make, Grizzly,’ he shouted. ‘I fancy I see you ambling61 along with a gun over your shoulder. Why, I believe you’d be scared to death the moment you let it off.’
‘Maybe I would,’ admitted Ephraim candidly62. ‘I ’low I han’t been used to shootin’. But anyway, Luce, whar ye kin38 lead, I reckon I’ll do my best ter foller.’

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