After receiving many invitations from his cousin Ned Hazard, Mark Littleton at last feels that he can no longer put off a visit to Virginia. He leaves his mother and his sisters in New York and begins his journey south. At Swallow Barn, his cousin’s home, Mark meets or renews acquaintance with a great many relatives and friends. Ned’s sister married Frank Meriwether, who is now the head of the family. The estate was left to Ned. It was heavily encumbered, and Frank paid off the heaviest debts and put the plantation on a paying basis. The house is filled with Meriwether and Hazard relatives, all permanent guests. Some perform small functions as a pretense of paying their own way, but their tasks are no more than token duties kindly thought up for them so that they will feel useful.
Mark finds life in Virginia restful and pleasant, for there is an unhurried rhythm about Swallow Barn that appeals to him. The plantation is filled with slaves and freed blacks who are fiercely loyal to Frank, a good master. Indeed, everyone loves Frank for his thoughtfulness and generosity. Mark’s special favorite, however, is his cousin Ned. The two young men are inseparable companions. Ned is a man of excellent spirits, always indulging in pranks and jokes. Swallow Barn will one day revert to him, but he is content to let Frank use it as his own, wanting only to have a good time without the need of responsibilities. Ned takes Mark on several excursions around the countryside and introduces him to local beauties of nature.
While Ned and Mark walk through the woods one day, they indulge in one of their favorite pastimes by singing their loudest, each trying to outdo the other. In one verse, Ned calls out the name of Bel Tracy. He is deeply chagrined when that lady, riding up unnoticed, answers him. Bel is the daughter of old Isaac Tracy, master of the neighboring estate, The Brakes. Ned’s confusion at being discovered by Bel makes Mark think that his cousin feels more than friendship for her. She teases him gently about his boisterous use of her name, leaving Ned stammering in confusion. Bel is accompanied by her sister and by Harvey Riggs, a Tracy kinsman. Harvey joins in the teasing, but Mark sees at once that it is good-natured teasing and that Harvey feels great friendship for Ned.
The two parties go back to Swallow Barn, where Harvey delivers a letter from Mr. Tracy to Frank. The subject matter is of long standing, and it affords Frank some amusement. For many years, Mr. Tracy imagined himself in possession of one hundred...
(The entire section is 1041 words.)