AN UNWILLING MAID
Being the History of Certain Episodes during the American Revolution in the Early Life of Mistress Betty Yorke, born Wolcott
By Jeanie Gould Lincoln
"O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?"
TO A NINETEENTH CENTURY GIRL.
A great-grandmother's bewitching face, Looks forth from this olden story, For Love is a master who laughs at place, And scoffs at both Whig and Tory.
To-day if he comes, as a conqueror may, To a heart untouched by his flame, Be loyal as she of the olden day, That Eighteenth Century dame!
I. MISS MOPPET
II. BULLETS FOR DEFENSE
III. OLIVER'S PRISONER
IV. FRIEND OR FOE
V. A LOYAL TRAITOR
VI. BY COURIER POST
VII. WHAT FOLLOWED A LETTER
VIII. INSIDE BRITISH LINES
IX. BETTY'S JOURNEY
X. A MAID'S CAPRICE
XI. ON THE COLLECT
XII. A FACE ON THE WALL
XIII. AT THE VLY MARKET
XIV. THE DE LANCEY BALL
XV. LOVE OR LOYALTY
XVI. MOPPET MAKES A DISCOVERY
XVII. A KNOT OF ROSE-COLORED RIBBON
It was a warm summer day. Not too warm, for away up in the Connecticut hills the sun seemed to temper its rays, and down among the shadows of the trees surrounding Great Pond there were cool, shady glades where one could almost fancy it was May instead of hot July.
At a point not far from the water, leaning against the trunk of a stately maple, stood a young man. His head, from which he had raised a somewhat old and weather-beaten hat, was finely formed, and covered with chestnut curls; his clothes, also shabby and worn, were homespun and ill-fitting, but his erect military carriage, with an indescribable air of polish and fine breeding, seemed strangely incongruous in connection with his apparel and travel-worn appearance.
"I wonder where I am," he said half aloud, as he surveyed the pretty sheet of water sparkling in the afternoon sun. "Faith, 'tis hard enough to be half starved and foot-sore, without being lost in an enemy's country. The woman who gave me that glass of milk at five o'clock this morning said I was within a mile of Goshen. I must have walked ten miles since then, and am apparently no nearer the line than I was yesterday—Hark! what's that?"—as a sound of voices struck his ear faintly, coming from some distance on his right. "Some one comes this direction. I had best conceal myself in these friendly bushes until I ascertain whether 'tis friend or foe."
So saying, he plunged hastily into a thicket of low-lying shrubs close at hand, and, throwing himself flat upon the ground under them, was comparatively secure from observation as long as he remained perfectly still. The next sound he heard was horses' feet, moving at a walk, and presently there came in view a spirited-looking bay mare and a gray pony, the riders being engaged in merry conversation.
"No, no, Betty," said the little girl of about nine years, who rode the pony; "it is just here, or a few rods farther on, where we had the Maypole set last year, and I know I can find the herbs which Chloe wants near by on the shore of the pond. Let's dismount and tie the horses here, and you and I can search for them."
"It's well I did not let you come alone," said the rider of the bay mare, laughing as she spoke. "Truly, Miss Moppet, you are a courageous little maid to wish to venture in these woods. Not that I am afraid," said Betty Wolcott suddenly, remembering the weight and dignity of her sixteen years as compared with her little sister, "but in these troublous times father says it were well to be careful."
"Since when have you grown so staid?" said Miss Moppet, shaking her long yellow hair back from her shoulders as she jumped off her pony and led him up to a young ash-tree, whose branches allowed of her securing him by the bridle to one of them, "Of all people in the world, Betty, you to read me a lecture on care-taking," and with a mischievous laugh the child fled around the tree in pretended dismay, as Betty sprang to the ground and shook her riding-whip playfully in her direction.
"Ungrateful Moppet," she said, as she tied both horses to the tree beside her, "did I not rescue you from punishment for dire naughtiness in the pantry and beg Aunt Euphemia to pardon you, and then go for the horses, which Reuben was too busy to saddle.
"Yes, my own dear Betty," cried the small sinner, emerging suddenly from the shelter and seizing her round the waist, "but you know this soberness is but 'skin-deep,' as Chloe says, and you need not cease to be merry because you are sixteen since yesterday. Come, let's find the herbs," and joining hands the two ran swiftly off to the shore, Betty tucking up her habit with easy grace as she went. The occupant of the covert raised his head carefully and looked after the pair, the sound of their voices growing faint as they pushed their way through the undergrowth which intercepted their progress.
"What a lovely creature!" he ejaculated, raising himself on one elbow. "I wonder who she is, and how she comes in this wild neighborhood. Perhaps I am not so very far off my road after all; they must have come from a not very distant home, for the horses are not even wet this warm day. Egad, that mare looks as if she had plenty of speed in her; 't would not be a bad idea to throw my leg over her back and be off, and so distance those who even now may be pursuing me." He half rose as the thought occurred to him, but in an instant sank back under the leaves.
"How would her mistress fare without her?" he said ruefully "'Tis not to be thought of; they may be miles from home, even here, and I am too much a squire of dames to take such unkind advantage. There must be some other way out of my present dilemma than this," and rolling over on the mixture of grass and dry leaves which formed his resting-place he lay still and began to ponder.
Half an hour passed; the shadows began to deepen as the sun crept down in the sky, and the horses whinnied at each other as if to remind their absent riders that supper-time was approaching. But the girls did not return, and the thoughts which occupied the young wanderer were so engrossing that he did not hear a cry which began faintly and then rose to a shriek agonized enough to pierce his reverie.
"Good heavens!" he cried, springing to his feet, as borne on the summer wind the frantic supplication came to him—
"Help, help! oh, will nobody come!" and then the sobbing cry again—"help!"
Tim tall muscular form straightened itself and sped through the bushes, crushing them down on either side with a strong arm, as he went rapidly in the direction of the cries.
"Courage! I am coming," he cried, as, gaining the shore of the pond, he saw what had happened. Just beyond his halting-place there was a jutting bank, and overhanging it a large tree, whose branches almost touched the water beneath. At the top of the bank stood the elder of the two girls; she had torn off the skirt of her riding-habit, and was about to leap down into the water where a mass of floating yellow hair and a wisp of white gown told their story of disaster. As he ran the stranger flung off his coat, but there was no time to divest himself of his heavy riding-boots, so in he plunged and struck out boldly with the air of a strong and competent swimmer.
The pond, like many of our small inland lakes, was shallow for some distance from the shore, and then suddenly shelved in unexpected quarters, developing deep holes where the water was so cold that its effect on a swimmer was almost dangerous. Into one of these depths the little girl had evidently plunged, and realizing the cause of her sudden disappearance the stranger dived with great rapidity at the spot where the golden hair had gone down. His first attempt failed; but as the child partially rose for the second time, he caught the little figure and with skillful hand supported her against his shoulder, as he struck out for the shore, which he reached quickly, but chilled almost to the bone from the coldness of the water.
"Do not be so alarmed," he said, as Betty, with pallid cheeks and trembling hands, knelt beside the unconscious child on the grass; "she will revive; her heart beats and she is not very cold. Let me find my coat," and he stumbled as he rose to go in search of it.
"It is here," gasped Betty; "I fetched it on my way down the slope; oh, sir, do you think she lives?"
For answer the young man produced from an inner pocket of his shabby garment a small flask, which he uncorked and held toward her.
"It is cognac," he said; "put a drop or two between her lips while I chafe her hands—so; see, she revives," as the white lids quivered for a second, and then the pretty blue eyes opened.
"Moppet, Moppet, my darling," cried her sister, "are you hurt? Did you strike anything in your fall?"
"Why, Betty!" ejaculated the child, "why are you giving me nasty stuff; here are the tansy leaves," and she held up her left hand, where tightly clenched she had kept the herbs, whose gathering on the edge of the treacherous bank had been her undoing.
"You are a brave little maid," said the stranger, as he put the flask to his own lips. "The shock will be all you have to guard against, and even that is passing;" for Miss Moppet had staggered upon her feet and was looking with astonished eyes at her dripping clothing.
"Did I fall, Betty?" she said. "Why my gown is sopping wet,—oh! have I been at the bottom of the pond?"
"You had stopped there, sweetheart, but for this good gentleman," said Betty, holding out a small, trembling hand to the stranger, a lovely smile dimpling her cheeks as she spoke. "Sir, with all my heart I thank you. My little sister had drowned but for your promptness and skill; I do not know how to express my gratitude."
"I am more than rewarded for my simple service," replied the young man, raising the pretty hand to his lips with a profound bow and easy grace, "but I am afraid your sister may get a chill, as the sun is so low in the sky: and if I may venture upon a suggestion, it would be well to ride speedily to some shelter where she can obtain dry clothing. If you will permit me to offer you the cape of my riding-coat (which is near at hand) I will wrap her in it at once, and then I think she will he safe from any after-effects of her cold bath in the pond."
"Oh, you are too kind," cried Betty, as the stranger disappeared in the underbrush. "Moppet, Moppet, what can we say to prove our gratitude? You had been drowned twice over but for him."
"Ask him to come to the manor," said Miss Moppet, much less agitated than her sister, and being always a small person of many resources. "Father will be glad to bid him welcome, and you know"—
"Yes," interrupted Betty, as their new friend appeared at her elbow with a cape of dark blue cloth over his arm.
"Here is my cape," he said, "and though not very large it will cover her sufficiently. Let me untie your horses and help you to mount."
"Oh, we can mount alone," said Miss Moppet, who had by this time recovered her spirits, "but you must come home with us; you are dripping wet yourself; and if you like, you may ride my pony. He has carried double before now, and I am but a light weight, as my father says."
"Will you not come home with us?" asked Betty wistfully. "My father, General Wolcott is away just now from the manor, but he will have warm welcome and hearty thanks, believe me, for the strength and courage which have rescued his youngest child from yonder grave," and Betty shuddered and grew pale again at the very thought of what Miss Moppet had escaped.
"General Wolcott," said the stranger, with a start. "Ah, then you are his daughters. And he is away?"
"Yes," said Betty, as they walked toward the tree where the horses were tied. "There has been a raid upon our coast by Governor Tryon and his Hessians; we got news three days ago of the movement of the Loyalists, and my father, with my brother Oliver, has gone to the aid of the poor people at Fairfield. Do you know of it, sir? Have you met any of our troops?"
"I have seen them," said the stranger briefly, with a half smile curving his handsome mouth, "but they are not near this point"—and beneath his breath he added, "I devoutly hope not."
"Which way are you traveling?" asked Betty, as she stood beside her bay mare. "Surely you will not refuse to come to the manor? Aunt Euphemia and my elder sister are there, and we will give you warm welcome."
"I thank you," said the stranger, with great courtesy, "but I must be on my way westward before night overtakes me. Can you tell me how many miles I am from Goshen, which I left this morning?"
"You are within Litchfield township," said Betty. "We are some four miles from my father's house. Pray, sir, come with us; I fear for your health from that sudden plunge into the icy waters of our pond."
"Oh, no," said the stranger, laughing. "I were less than man to mind a bath of this sort. With all my heart I thank you for your solicitude; that I am unable to accept your hospitality you must lay at the door of circumstances which neither you nor I can control."
"But your cape, sir," faltered Betty, her eyes dropping, as she blushed under the ardent yet respectful gaze which sought hers; "how are we to return that? And you may need it; I am sorely afraid you will yet suffer for your kindness."
"Not I," said the stranger, pressing her hand, as he gave the reins into her fingers; "as for the cape, keep it until we meet again, and—farewell!"
But Miss Moppet threw her arms around his neck as he bent over the gray pony and secured the cape more tightly around her small shoulders.
"I haven't half thanked you," she said, "but I will do so properly some day, when you come to Wolcott Manor. Farewell," and waving her little hand in adieu, the horses moved away, and were presently lost to sight in the underbrush.
"Egad!" said the stranger, gazing after thorn, as he picked up his coat and started for the spot where he had left his hat. "What a marvelous country it is! The soldiers are uncouth farmer lads, yet they fight and die like heroes, and the country maids have the speech and air of court ladies. Geoffrey Yorke, you have wandered far afield; I would you had time and chance to meet that lovely rebel again!" and with a deep-drawn sigh he plunged farther into the woods.
BULLETS FOE DEFENSE
"Oh, Betty, Betty," cried Miss Moppet, as the pair gained the more frequented road and cantered briskly on their homeward way, "what an adventure we have had! Aunt Euphemia will no doubt bestow a sound rating on me, for, alas!"—with a doleful glance downward—"see the draggled condition of my habit."
"Never mind your habit, Moppet," said Betty. "Thank Heaven instead that you are not lying stiff and cold at the bottom of the pond. You can never know the agony I suffered when I saw you fall; I should have plunged in after you in another second."
"Dearest Betty," said the child, looking lovingly at her, "I know you can swim, but you never could have held me up as that stranger did. Oh!" with sudden recollection, "we did not ask his name! Did you forget?"
"No," said Betty, "but when I told him ours and he did not give his name in return, I thought perhaps he did not care to be known, and of course forbore to press him."
"How handsome he was," said Moppet; "did you see his hair? And how tightly it curled, wet as it was? And his eyes—surely you noted his eyes, Betty?"
"Yes," replied Betty, blushing with remembrance of the parting glance the hazel eyes had bestowed upon her; "he is a personable fellow enough."
"Far handsomer than Josiah Huntington," said Moppet mischievously, "or even Francis Plunkett."
"What does a little maid like you know of looks?" said Betty reprovingly, "and what would Aunt Euphemia say to such comments, I wonder?"
"You'll never tell tales of me," said Moppet, with the easy confidence of a spoiled child. "Do you think he was a soldier—perhaps an officer from Fort Trumbull, like the one Oliver brought home last April?"
"Very likely," said Betty. "Are you cold, Moppet? I am so afraid you may suffer; stop talking so fast and muffle yourself more closely in the cape. We must be hastening home," and giving her horse the whip, they rode rapidly down hill.
Wolcott Manor, the house of which Betty spoke, was a fine, spacious house situated on top of the hills, where run a broad plateau which later in its history developed into a long and broad street, on either side of which were erected dwellings which have since been interwoven with the stateliest names in old Connecticut. The house was double, built in the style of the day, with a hall running through it, and large rooms on either side, the kitchen, bakery, and well-house all at the back, and forming with the buttery a sort of L, near but not connecting the different outhouses. It was shingled from top to bottom, and the dormer windows, with their quaint panes, rendered it both stately and picturesque. As the girls drew rein at the small porch, on the south side of the mansion, a tall, fine-looking woman of middle age, her gray gown tucked neatly up, and a snowy white apron tied around her shapely waist, appeared at the threshold of the door.
"Why, Betty," she said in a surprised voice, "you have been absent so long that I was about to send Reuben in search of you. The boxes are undone, and we need your help; Moppet—why, what ails the child?" and Miss Euphemia Wolcott paused in dismay us she surveyed Miss Moppet's still damp habit and disheveled hair.
"I've been at the very bottom of Great Pond." announced the child, enjoying the situation with true dramatic instinct, "and Betty has all the herbs for Chloe safe in her basket."
"What does the child mean" asked her bewildered aunt, unfastening the heavy cloth cape from the small shoulders, and perceiving that she had had a thorough wetting.
"It is true, Aunt Euphemia," said Betty, springing off her mare and throwing the reins to Reuben as he came slowly around the house. "We were on one of the hillocks overlooking the pond, and somehow—it all happened so swiftly that I cannot tell how—but Moppet must have ventured too near the edge, for the treacherous soil gave way, and down she pitched into the water before I could put out hand to stay her. I think I screamed, and then I was pulling off my habit-skirt to plunge after her when a young man ran hastily along the below and cried out to me, 'Courage!' and he threw off his coat and dived down, down,"—Betty shuddered and turned pale,—"and then he caught Moppet's skirt and held her up until he swam safely to shore with her. She was quite unconscious, but by chafing her hands and giving her some spirits (which the young stranger had in his flask) we recovered her, and, indeed, I think she is none the worse for her experience," and Betty put both arms around her little sister and hugged her warmly, bursting into tears, which until now had been so carefully restrained.
"Thank Heaven!" cried Miss Euphemia, kissing them both. "You could never have rescued her alone, Betty; perhaps you might both have drowned. Where is the brave young man who came to your aid? I trust you gave him clear directions how to reach the house."
"He would not come," answered Betty simply; "he said he was traveling westward, and I thought he seemed anxious to be off."
"But we pressed him, Aunt Euphemia," put in Moppet, "and I told him my pony could carry double. And I do not know how we will return his cape; do you?"
"You must come indoors at once and get dry clothing," said her aunt, "and I will tell Chloe to make you a hot posset lest you get a chill; run quickly, Moppet, and do not stand a moment longer in those wet clothes. Now, Betty," as the child disappeared inside, "have you any idea who this stranger can be, or whence he came?"
"I have not," said Betty, blushing rosy red (though she could not have told why) under her aunt's clone scrutiny.
"What did he look like?" questioned Miss Euphemia.
"Like a young man of spirit," said Betty, mischief getting the better of her, "and he had a soldierly air to boot and spoke with command."
"I trust with all due respect as well," said Miss Euphemia gravely.
"Truly, he both spoke and behaved as a gentleman should."
"Do you think it could be Oliver's friend, young Otis from Boston?" said Miss Euphemia. "He was to arrive in these parts this week."
"It may be he," said Betty, "ask Pamela, she has met him;" and as she turned to enter she almost fell into the arms of a tall, slender girl who was hurrying forth to meet her.
At first glance there was enough of likeness between the girls to say that they might be sisters, but the next made the resemblance less, and their dissimilarity of expression and coloring increased with acquaintance. Both had the same slender, graceful figure, but while Betty was of medium height, Pamela was distinctly taller than her sister, and her pretty head was covered with golden hair, while Betty's luxuriant locks were that peculiar shade which is neither auburn nor golden, but a combination of both, and her eyes were hazel-gray, with long lashes much darker than her hair. Both girls wore their hair piled on top of the head, as was the fashion of the time, and both were guiltless of powder, but Pamela's rebellious waves were trained to lie as close as she could make them, while Betty's would crop out into little dainty saucy curls over her forehead and down the nape of her slender neck in a most bewildering fashion. Their complexions, like Miss Moppet's, were exquisitely satin-like in texture, but there was no break in Pamela's smooth cheeks, whereas Betty's dimples lurked not only around her willful mouth, but perched high in her right cheek, and you found yourself unconsciously watching to see them come and go at the tricksy maid's changing will. There was but little more than a year's difference in their ages, yet Betty seemed almost a child beside Pamela's gracious stateliness.
"What is it all about?" asked the bewildered Pamela, catching hold of Betty. "Moppet dashes into the kitchen, damp and moist, and says she has been at the bottom of the pond, and orders hot posset, and you, Betty, have an air of fright"—
"I should think she might well," interrupted Miss Euphemia; "I will tell you, Pamela—Betty, go upstairs and change your habit for a gown, and then come down to assist me. We are about to mould the bullets."
"Oh, Aunt Euphemia!" cried Betty, interrupting in her turn, "I beg your pardon, but did those huge boxes contain the leaden statue of King George, as my father's letter advised us?"
"It was cut in pieces, Betty," said Pamela demurely.
"As if I didn't know that," flashed out Betty; "and that it disappeared after the patriots hauled it down in Bowling Green, and that General Washington recommended it should be used for the cause of Freedom, and that we are all to help transform it into bullets far our soldiers,—truly, Pamela, I have not forgot my father's account of it," and Betty vanished inside the door with a rebellious toss of her head, resenting the implied air of older sister which Pamela sometimes indulged in.
"Our little Moppet has come perilously near death," said Miss Euphemia, following Pamela into the house. "She has been rescued from drowning in Great Pond by a gentleman whom Betty had never seen before. She describes him as a fine personable youth, and I think it maybe Oliver's friend, young Otis, who in expected at the Tracys' on a visit from Boston."
"It can hardly be he, aunt," said Pamela, "for Sally Tracy has just told me that he will not arrive for two days, and moreover he comes with Mrs. Footer and Patty Warren, who are glad to take him as escort in these troublous times, I will run up to Moppet, for the girls are waiting for you; the lead got somewhat overheated, and they want your advice as to using it."
Miss Euphemia went slowly down the hall and through the large dining-room, pausing as she passed to knock at a small door opening off the hall into a sitting-room.
"Are you there, Miss Bidwell?" she said, as a small elderly woman, with bent figure and pleasant, shrewd face, rose from her chair in response. "Will you kindly go up and see that Miss Moppet be properly rubbed and made dry, and let her take her hot posset, and then, if not too tired, she may come to me in the kitchen."
Miss Bidwell, who was at once house-keeper, manager, and confidential servant to the Wolcott household, gave a cheerful affirmative; and as she laid down the stocking she was carefully darning, and prepared to leave the room, Miss Euphemia resumed her interrupted walk toward the kitchen.
Standing and sitting around the great kitchen fireplace were a group of young people, whose voices rose in a lively chorus as she entered. Over the fire, on a crane, hung a large kettle, from the top of which issued sounds of spluttering and boiling, and a young man was in the act of endeavoring to lift it amid cries of remonstrance.
"Have a care, Francis," cried a pretty, roguish-looking girl in a gray homespun gown, brandishing a wet towel as she spoke; "hot lead will be your portion if you dare trifle with that boiling pot. What are we to do with it, Miss Euphemia?" as that lady came forward in haste; "a few drops of water flirted out of my towel and must have fallen inside, for 't is spluttering in terrific fashion."
"Shall I lift it off the fire?" asked the young man, whose name was Francis Plunkett.
"Certainly," said Miss Euphemia, inspecting the now tranquil kettle; "here are the moulds all greased; gently, now," as she put a small ladle inside the pot; "now move it slowly, and put the pot here beside me on the table."
"Will they really turn out bullets?" asked another girl in a whisper, as Sally Tracy moved a second big pot with the intention of hanging it on the fire, but was prevented by a tall, silent young man, who stopped his occupation of sorting out bits of lead to assist her.
"Thank you, Josiah," said Sally. "Turn out bullets, Dolly?—why, of course, when they come out of the moulds. What did you suppose we were all about?"
Dolly Trumbull (who was on a visit to the Wolcotts') looked shy and somewhat distressed, and promptly retired into a corner, where she resumed her conversation with her cousin, Josiah Huntington; and presently Betty came flying into the kitchen, her gown tucked up ready for work, and full of apologies for her tardy appearance. Sally Tracy, who was Betty's sworn friend and companion in all her fun and frolics, pounced upon her at once; but Miss Euphemia called them both to assist her with the moulds, Betty had to reserve the story of her adventure until a more propitious moment.
"Has there been any news from Oliver when he set forth on this last expedition?" asked Dolly.
"It is too soon yet to hear," said Josiah, "though possibly by to-morrow some intelligence may reach us. Francis and I did not reach here from New Haven for four days, and we return there on Saturday. As it was, I left only in obedience to my father's command, and brought news of Lyon's ravaging the city to General Wolcott, dodging Hessians and outlying marauders by the way. Do you stop here long, Dolly, or will you have my escort back to Lebanon?"
"I came for a month," answered Dolly; "I was ill of spring fever, and since then my mother thinks this mountain air benefits me. But you go back to your duties at Yale College, though it's early yet for them."
"My students and I have spent our vacation handling cartridges," said Josiah grimly, for he was a tutor at Yale, and had done yeoman service in the defense of New Haven. "'Tis a sorry sight to see our beautiful city now laid waste; but that our faith is strong in the Continental Congress and General Washington, I know not how heart could bear it."
"Who speaks of faith?" said Pamela's gentle voice, as she slipped into a chair on Dolly's right. "I think hope is ever a better watchword."
"Aye," murmured Huntington, as Dolly summoned courage to cross the room, "it is one I will carry ever with me, Pamela, if you bid me do so."
"I did not mean," faltered Pamela, casting down her dove-like eyes, but not so quickly that she did not see the ardent glance of her lover, "I—that is—oh yes, Aunt Euphemia," with sudden change of tone, "it is growing somewhat dark, and we had better leave the moulds to harden. Shall I tell Miss Bidwell that you are ready for supper?"
To which Miss Euphemia returned an affirmative, and the whole party trooped back to the dining-room, Pamela leading the way, and Huntington following her with a half-mischievous smile curving his usually grave mouth.
"I don't care anything about it," said Miss Moppet with decision. "It's a nasty, horrid letter, and I've made it over and over, and it will not get one bit plainer. Count one, two, jump one; then two stitches plain; it's no use at all, Miss Bidwell, I cannot make it any better." And with a deep sigh Miss Moppet surveyed her sampler, where she had for six weeks been laboriously trying to inscribe "Faith Wolcott, her sampler, aged nine," with little success and much loss of temper.
"W is a hard letter," said Miss Bidwell, laying down one of the perpetual stockings with which she seemed always supplied for mending purposes; "you will have to rip this out again; the first stroke is too near the letter before it;" and she handed the unhappy sampler back to the child.
"It's always like that," said Miss Moppet in a tone of exasperation. "I think a sampler is the very devil!"
"Oh," said Miss Bidwell in a shocked voice, "I shall have to report you as a naughty chit if you use such language."
"Well, it just is" said Moppet; "that's what the minister said in his sermon Sunday week, and you know, Miss Bidwell, that you admired it extremely, because I heard you tell Pamela so."
"Admired the devil?" said Miss Bidwell. "Child, what are you talking about?"
"The sermon," said Miss Moppet, breaking her silk for the fourth time; "the minister said the devil went roaring up and down the earth seeking whom he might devour. Wouldn't I like to hear him roar. Do you conceive it is like a bull or a lion's roar?"
"The Bible says a lion," said Miss Bidwell, looking all the more severe because she was so amused.
"I am truly sorry for that poor devil," said Miss Moppet, heaving a deep sigh. "Just think how tired he must become, and how much work he must have to do. O—o—oh!"—a prolonged scream—"he certainly has possession of my sampler"—dancing up and down with pain—"for that needle has gone one inch into my thumb!"
"Come here and let me bind it up," said Miss Bidwell, seizing the small sinner as she whirled past her. "How often must I tell you not to give way to such sinful temper? And talking about the devil is not proper for little girls."
"Why not just as well as for older folk?" said Moppet, submitting to have a soft bit of rag bound around the bleeding thumb. "I think the devil ought to be prayed for if he's such an abominable sinner—yes, I do." And Moppet, whose belief in a personal devil was evidently large, surveyed Miss Bidwell with uncompromising eyes.
"Tut!" said Miss Bidwell, to whom this novel idea savored of ungodliness, but wishing to be lenient toward the child whose adoring slave she was. "Miss Euphemia would be shocked to hear you."
"I shall not tell her," said the child shrewdly, "but I am going to pray for the devil each night, whether any one else does or not."
"As you cannot work any longer on the sampler, you had best go to Miss Pamela for your writing lesson," said Miss Bidwell.
"Pamela is out in the orchard with Josiah Huntington," said Moppet, "and she would send me forthwith into the house if I went near her."
"Then find Miss Betty and read her a page in the primer. You know you promised your father you would learn to read it correctly against his return."
"Betty is gossiping in the garret chamber with Sally Tracy; surely I must stop with you, Biddy, dear;" and Moppet twined her arms around Miss Bidwell's neck, with her little coaxing face upraised for a kiss. When Moppet said "Biddy dear" (which was her baby abbreviation for the old servant), she became irresistible; so Miss Bidwell, much relieved at dropping so puzzling a theological question as the propriety of supplications for the well-being of his Satanic majesty, proposed that she should tell Miss Moppet "a story," which met with delighted assent from the little girl.
Miss Bidwell's stories, which dated back for many years and always began with "when I was a little maid," were never failing in interest besides being somewhat lengthy, as Moppet insisted upon minute detail, and invariably corrected her when she chanced to omit the smallest particular. That the story had been often told did not make it lose any of its interest, and the shadows of the great elm which overhung the sitting-room windows grew longer, while the sun sank lower and lower unheeded, until Miss Bidwell, at the most thrilling part of her tale, where a bloodthirsty and evil-minded Indian was about to appear, suddenly laid down her work and exclaimed:—
"Hark! surely there is some one coming up the back path," and rising as she spoke, she hurried out to the side porch, closely followed by Moppet, who said to herself, with all a child's vivid and dramatic imagination, "Perhaps it's an Indian coming to tomahawk us in our beds!" which thought caused her to seize a fold of Miss Bidwell's gown tightly in her hand.
As they came into the hall they were joined by Miss Euphemia, who had also heard the sounds of approach; and as they emerged from the house two tall figures, dusty and travel-worn, confronted them, with Reuben following in their rear.
"Oliver!" exclaimed Miss Euphemia, as she recognized her youngest nephew in one of the wayfarers, "whence come you, and what news? Where is your honored father?"
"My father, madam," said Oliver Wolcott, uncovering his head as he motioned to Reuben to take his place near his companion, "my father is some thirty miles behind me, but hastening in this direction. What news?—Fairfield burnt, half its inhabitants homeless, but Tryon's marauders put to flight and our men in pursuit."
"And who is this gentleman?" said Miss Euphemia, as Oliver kissed her cheek and stepped back.
"'Tis more than I can answer," said Oliver, "for not one word concerning himself can I obtain from him. He is my prisoner, Aunt Euphemia; I found him lurking in the woods ten miles away this morning, and should perhaps have let him pass had not a low-lying branch of a tree knocked off his hat, when I recognized him for one of Tryon's crew."
"Speak more respectfully, sir," said the stranger suddenly, "to me, if not to those whom you term 'Tryon's crew.'"
"I grant the respect due your arm and strength," said Oliver, "for you came near leaving me in the smoke and din of Fairfield when you gave me this blow," and he touched the left side of his head, where could be seen some clotted blood among his hair. "Come, sir, my aunt has asked the question. Do you not reply to a lady?"
"The gibe is unworthy of you," said the other, lifting the hat which had been drawn down closely over his brow; "and I"—
"Oh, Oliver, 'tis my good kind gentleman!" cried Moppet, darting forward and seizing the stranger by the hand; "he plunged into Great Pond last night and pulled me forth when I was nearly drowning, and we begged him to come home with us, did we not, Betty?"—seeing her sister standing in the doorway. "Betty, Betty, come and tell Oliver he has made a mistake."
A smile lit up the stranger's handsome face as he bowed low to Betty, who came swiftly to his side as she recognized him.
"Will you not bring the gentleman in, Oliver?" she said. "The thanks which are his due can hardly be well spoken on our doorstep," and Betty drew herself up, and waved her hand like the proud little maid she was, her eyes sparkling, her breast heaving with the excitement she strove to suppress.
Oliver looked from Moppet to Betty, in bewilderment then back at his prisoner, who seemed the most unconcerned of the group.
"You are right, Betty," said Miss Euphemia, beginning to understand the situation. "Will you walk in, sir, and let me explain to my nephew how greatly we are indebted to you?" And she led the way into the mansion, the others following, and opened the door of the parlor on the left, Reuben, obedient to a sign from Oliver, remaining with Miss Bidwell in the hall.
The stranger declined the chair which Oliver courteously offered him, and remained standing near Betty, Moppet clinging to his hand and looking up gratefully into his face while Miss Euphemia related to her nephew the story of Moppet's rescue from her perilous accident of the previous day.
"A brave deed!" cried Oliver impetuously, as he advanced with outstretched hand toward his prisoner, "and with all my heart, sir, I thank you. Forgive my pettish speech of a moment since; you were right to reprove me. No one appreciates a gallant foe more than I; and though the fortune of war has to-day made you my prisoner, to-morrow may make me yours."
"I thank you," said the stranger, giving his hand as frankly in return. "Believe me, my plunge in the pond was hardly worth the stress you are kind enough to lay upon it, and but for the mischance to my little friend here," smiling at Miss Moppet, who regarded him with affectionate eyes, "is an affair of little moment. May I ask where you will bestow me for the night, and also the privilege of a dip in cold water, as I am too soiled and travel-worn to sit in the presence of ladies, even though your prisoner."
"Prisoner!" echoed Betty, with a start. "Surely, Oliver, you will not hold as a prisoner the man who saved our little Moppet's life, and that, too (though he makes so light of it) at the risk of his own?"
"You will let him go free, brother Oliver," cried Moppet, flying to the young officer's side; "you surely will not clap him into jail?"
"It was my purpose," said Oliver, looking from one to the other, "to confine you until to-morrow and then carry you to headquarters, where General Putnam will determine your ultimate fate. I certainly recognize you as the author of this cut on my head. Do you belong to the British army or are you a volunteer accompanying Tryon in his raid upon our innocent and unoffending neighbors at Fairfield?"
"Sir," said the other haughtily, "I pardon much to your youthful patriotism, which looks upon us as invaders. My name is Geoffrey Yorke, and I have the honor to bear his majesty's commission as captain in the Sixty-fourth Regiment of Foot."
Betty gave a faint exclamation. Oliver Wolcott stepped forward.
"Captain Yorke," he said, "I regret more than I can say my inability, which you yourself will recognize, to bid you go forth free and in safety. My duty is unfortunately but too plain. I, sir, serve the Continental Congress, and like you hold a captain's commission. I should be false alike to my country and my oath of allegiance did I permit you to escape; but there is one favor I can offer you; give me your parole, and allow me and my family the pleasure of holding you as a guest, not prisoner, while under our roof."
Geoffrey Yorke hesitated; he opened his lips to speak, when some instinct made him glance at Betty, who stood directly behind her brother. Her large, soft eyes were fixed on his with most beseeching warning, and she raised her dainty finger to her lips as she slowly, almost imperceptibly, shook her head.
"Captain Wolcott," he said, "I fully appreciate your kindness and the motive which prompts it. I have landed on these shores but one short month ago, and Sir Henry Clinton ordered me—but these particulars will not interest you. I thank you for your offer, but I decline to take parole, and prefer instead the fortunes of war."
"Then, sir, I have no choice," said Oliver. "Aunt Euphemia, will you permit me to use the north chamber? I will conduct you there, Captain Yorke, and shall see that you are well guarded for the night." And with a courtly bow to the ladies Geoffrey Yorke followed his captain from the room, as Moppet threw herself into Betty's arms and sobbed bitterly.
FRIEND OR FOE
Betty Wolcott sat alone in her own room, thinking intently. The windows were all open, and the soft night air blew the dainty curls off her white forehead and disclosed the fact of her very recent tears. Never, in all her short, happy life, had Betty been so moved as now, for the twin passions of gratitude and loyalty were at war within her, and she realized, with a feeling akin to dismay, that she must meet the responsibility alone, that those of her household were all arrayed against her.
"If my father were but at home," said Betty to herself, "he would know and understand, but Oliver will not listen, no, not even when I implored him to keep Captain Yorke close prisoner here for two days by which time my father is sure to arrive. Aunt Euphemia is too timid and Pamela is much the same; as Josiah happens to agree perfectly with Oliver, Pamela could never be induced to see how cruel it is to repay our debt in this way. Oliver is but a boy,"—and Betty's lips curved in scorn over her brother's four years' seniority,—"and—and—oh! I am, indeed, astray. What, here I am, one of the loyal Wolcotts,—a family known all through the land as true to the cause of Freedom and the Declaration,—and here I sit planning how to let a British officer, foe to my country, escape from my father's house. I wonder the walls do not open and fall on me," and poor Betty gazed half fearfully overhead, as if she expected the rafters would descend upon the author of such treasonable sentiments. "But something must be done," she thought rapidly. "I care not whether he be friend or foe, I take the consequences; be mine the blame," and she lifted her pretty head with an air of determination, as a soft knock fell upon her chamber door; but before she could rise to open it, the latch was raised and a little figure, all in white, crept inside.
"I can't sleep, Betty," sobbed Moppet, as her sister gathered the child in her arms; "it's too, too dreadful. Will General Putnam hang my dear, kind gentleman as the British hanged Captain Nathan Hale, and shall we never, never see him more?"
"Dear heart," said Betty, smoothing the yellow hair, and tears springing again to her eyes as she thought of the brave, manly face of her country's foe. "No, Moppet, Captain Yorke is not a spy, as, alas! was poor Nathan Hale, but"—
"Betty," whispered Moppet, so low that she was evidently alarmed at her own daring, "why can't we let him go free and never tell Oliver a word about it?"
"How did you come to think of that?" said Betty, astonished.
"I am afraid it is the devil prompting me," said Moppet, with a sigh, partly over her own iniquity, and part in wonderment as to whether that overworked personage was somewhere soaring in the air near at hand; "but I always thought the British were big ogres, with fierce eyes and red whiskers, and I am sure my good, kind gentleman is very like ourselves."
Betty was betrayed into a low laugh. Moppet was always original, but this was delicious.
"No, child," she said softly, "the British are some bad, some good, and there are no doubt cruel men to be found in all wars. Moppet, as you came by the north door, whom did you see on guard in the hall?"
"Josiah Huntington," said Moppet promptly; "but you heard what Oliver said at supper?"
"Yes," answered Betty, "Oliver was so weary that Josiah was to watch until twelve o'clock; then, at midnight, Reuben was to guard the hall until four in the morning, when Oliver would take his place until breakfast. Did you note the time on the hall clock?"
"It was half past eleven," said Moppet; "the half hour sounded as I rapped."
Betty sat pondering for a moment, then she slid Moppet gently from her lap to the floor and rose.
"Moppet," she said gravely, "you are a little maid, but you have a true heart, and I believe you can keep a secret. I am going to try to release Captain Yorke, and I think you can help me. I bind you to keep silent, except to our dear and honored father, and even to him you shall not speak until I permit you. Promise me, dear heart?"
"I promise," said Moppet solemnly, and Betty knew that, no matter what happened, she could depend on her devoted little sister.
"Moppet," said Betty, "I have a plan, but 'tis a slender one. Do you recollect how close the great elm-tree boughs come to your window?"
"I can put out my hand and nearly reach them," said Moppet; "you remember Reuben cut the bough nearest, but oh, Betty, the tree has a limb which runs an arm's length only from the north chamber."
"So I thought," answered Betty, who was busily engaged in changing her light summer gown for one of homespun gray; "and now, Moppet, you and I must go into your room for the next part of my plot. I must speak to Captain Yorke, and can you guess how I shall manage to do it?"
Moppet's eyes grew large and round with excitement. "I know," she whispered breathlessly, "through my doll's dungeon. Oh, Betty, how lucky 'tis that Oliver never once dreamed of that!"
"I doubt if he even knows its existence," said Betty. "There goes the clock," as the slow, solemn voice of the timepiece sounded out on the night, "It is twelve o'clock, and Reuben will be coming upstairs from the kitchen. Hark!"—extinguishing her candle and opening her door softly. "Josiah has gone to the turn on the stairs, and is speaking to Reuben; quick, Moppet, if you come still as a mouse they will not see us before we can gain your door," and with swift, soft steps the two small figures stole across the hall in the semi-darkness which the night lamp standing near the great clock but served to make visible, and in another second, panting and eager, they stood safely within Moppet's chamber, clinging to each other, as they quickly fastened the latch.
Moppet's chamber was a small one, and occupied the center of the house, Miss Euphemia's being upon one side, and the north chamber (as one of the great rooms was called) upon the other. The great chimney of the mansion ran up between the large and small room, and what Moppet called her "doll's dungeon" was a hollow place, just high enough for the child to reach, in the back of the chimney. For some purpose of ventilation there was an opening from this aperture into the north chamber. It was covered with a piece of movable iron; and in summer, when no fire was used in that part of the house, Moppet took great delight in consigning her contumacious doll (a rag baby of large size and much plainness of feature) to what she was pleased to call her "dungeon." To-night Betty's quick wit had divined what an important factor the aperture might prove to her, and directly she had secured the door, she walked softly toward the chimney, and felt in the darkness for the movable bit of iron which filled the back.
When Geoffrey Yorke had finished the ample and delicious supper with which Miss Euphemia's hospitable and pitying soul had furnished him, he lighted his candle and made thorough search of his temporary prison to ascertain whether he could escape therefrom. Betty's gesture of disapproval when he was about to give his parole had seemed to promise him assistance; could it be possible that the lovely little rebel's heart was so moved with pity?"
"Sweet Betty," thought Geoffrey, "was ever maid so grateful for a small service! I wish with all my soul I might have chance and opportunity to do her a great one, for never have I seen so bewitching and dainty a creature," and Geoffrey's heart gave a mad leap as he remembered the tearful, beseeching glance which Betty had bestowed upon him as Oliver had conducted him from her presence.
The windows, of which there were two, looking north, received his first attention, but he found them amply secured; and although a strong arm might wrench them open, it would be attended by such noise as could not fail to attract the attention of his guard posted outside the door. This reflection prompted him to inspect the door; and discovering an inside bolt as well as the outer one, he drew it, thus assuring his privacy from intrusion. The large chimney was his next point of investigation; and although the flue seemed somewhat narrow, Geoffrey decided that it afforded some slight chance, provided he had the means of descent when once he reached the roof. Back to the windows again; yes, the great elm of which Moppet had spoken stood like a tall sentinel guarding the mansion, and Geoffrey felt confident that he could crawl from roof to tree and thus reach the ground. To be sure, it was most hazardous; there was the chance of some one sleeping in the chambers near who might hear even so slight a noise; he might become wedged in the chimney, or—pshaw! one must risk life, if need be, for liberty; and here Geoffrey smiled, as it occurred to him that this was what these very colonists were engaged in doing, and for a moment the British officer felt a throb of sympathy hitherto unknown to him. He had landed at New York but a month before, filled with insular prejudices and contempt for these country lads and farmers, whom he imagined composed the Continental army; but the fight at Fairfield, which was carried on by the Hessians with a brutality that disgusted him, and the encounter with such a family as this under whose roof he was, began to open his eyes, and he acknowledged frankly to himself that young Oliver Wolcott was both a soldier and a gentleman.
"The boy looked every inch a soldier," thought Geoffrey, "when he refused his sister's pleading; faith, he is made of firm stuff to withstand her. Oh, Betty, Betty! I wonder if the fortunes of war will ever let me see your face again," and with a sigh compounded of many things, Geoffrey picked up a book that was lying on the table, and resolved to read until it should be far on into the night, when he would make a bold attempt to escape.
The clock on the stairs struck twelve and Geoffrey, roused from the light slumber into which he had fallen, heard the steps outside his door as Josiah Huntington was joined by Reuben, who was to relieve his guard, and straightened himself, with a long breath, as he rose from his chair. As he did so, he became conscious of a slight, very slight, noise in the direction of the chimney; and turning his eyes toward it, a soft whisper reached his ear.
"Captain Yorke," murmured the sweetest voice in the world; and as the slight grating noise ceased, to his amazement a little white hand beckoned him to approach a small aperture, which he now perceived in the bricks about four feet from the floor. Very softly Geoffrey obeyed the summons, and cautiously made his way to the chimney.
"Kneel down and put your ear near me," said Betty, and the tall soldier dropped on one knee obediently; "be very careful, for though Aunt Euphemia's chamber is on this side, and she is usually a sound sleeper, it might be our ill fortune that to-night she would wake. I have made up my mind, sir; I cannot keep you prisoner under a roof that but for you might be mourning my little sister dead."
"I pray you say no more of that," interrupted Geoffrey softly. "I am more than repaid by your interest in my unhappy condition."
"It may be wrong, it doubtless is," said Betty, sighing, "but I have two plans for your escape. Tell me, are your windows securely fastened?"
"Too strongly to be tampered with except by making noise that is certain to be overheard," returned Geoffrey.
"Then we must try other means; if you can but manage to scale the chimney,—and I think there are still some pegs inside which Reuben put there in the spring when he went up after burning it out,—if you can reach the roof by the chimney you will find on the south side, close to the chimney itself, a trap-door which lets down by a ladder into our garret. The ladder is stationary, and I will meet you there at its foot, and from the garret there is a back stairway, down which you may creep to the buttery, and once there 'tis but a step outside when I open the door."
"God bless you," whispered Geoffrey, feeling a mad desire to kiss the pretty pink ear and soft cheek which he could just see by the dim light of Miss Moppet's candle; "shall I start at once?"
"No," returned Betty, "Josiah Huntington has just sought his chamber, and he will be watchful. Wait until you hear the old clock on the staircase strike three; that is the hour, I have been told, when all sleep most soundly. Then Moppet will tell you if all goes right, for I shall be waiting for you, as I said, above;" and with a soft "be very, very careful to make no noise," Betty moved away from the "doll's dungeon" and Yorke bounded to his feet.
"Now, Moppet," said Betty softly, "let me wrap you well in your woolen habit, lest you take cold."
"Oh, Betty darling," whispered the child, "how will you ever gain the garret stairs when Reuben is watching? He will be sure to think it strange; can I not go for you?"
"No, never," said Betty tenderly. "I will slip by Reuben, and you must not fret. Sit here on my knee and go fast asleep until I wake you."
Moppet nestled her little head down obediently on Betty's shoulder; but try hard though she did to keep her eyes wide open, sleep at last overcame her,—sleep so profound after all this excitement that Betty was able to lay her softly upon her bed without awaking, and for the remainder of those long hours Betty kept her vigil alone. It was nervous work: for determined though she was to release Yorke, Betty possessed a most sensitive and tender conscience, and love for her country and her people was as the air she breathed. It proved the tenacity of her purpose and the strength of her will that, notwithstanding her many misgivings, when she heard the clock sound the quarter she rose from her low seat by the window, where she had been gazing out into the night, and whispered softly to Moppet that it was time to wake. The child sprang up, alert and quick as Betty herself, and listened to her sister's last warning instructions to have no fear, but wait quietly for her return, and when the clock struck the hour to whisper through the hole in the chimney to Yorke that she had gone.
Very softly, her slippers held tightly in her hand, Betty pulled up the latch of the bedroom door and stepped into the almost dark hall. The night lamp had partly died out, but there was still enough of its flickering light to permit her, when her eyes grew accustomed to it, to see the dim outline of Reuben's figure sitting on a stool at the door of the north chamber. In order to reach the garret from this part of the house she must go directly down the hall to where it parted at the L, where the stairs reaching the garret were shut off by a door, on the other aide of which was a square landing, where you could turn down and descend directly from the garret to the buttery. Once past Reuben, she would feel comparatively safe, for although Oliver's room was opposite he was too weary to be wakeful. It took scarcely a minute to creep toward Reuben, and Betty drew a quick breath of relief when she perceived that the farmer-bred lad, unaccustomed to night watches, and feeling that his prisoner was secure behind the bolted door, had fallen fast asleep. Another minute and she had fairly flown through the hall and reached the door of the garret stairs; she recollected that the latch had a troublesome creak occasionally; indeed, she had noticed it only that very day, as she and Sally Tracy had mounted to their eyrie in the big dormer window of the garret, where safe from all ears they were wont to confide their girlish secrets to each other.
"Pray Heaven it creak not to-night," said Betty to herself as she gently and steadily pulled the handle of the latch and saw the dreaded door open to her hand. Inside stepped Betty, and made breathless pause while she closed it, and the amiable latch fell softly down again into its place. Swift as a flash the girlish figure flitted up the winding narrow stairs, and gasping but triumphant Betty seated herself on the lowest step of the trap-ladder to await the coming of Geoffrey Yorke.
In the bedroom below, Miss Moppet, whose soul was thrilling with mingled delight and terror at being an actor in a "real story," waited as she was told until she heard the deep voice of the clock, sounding rather more awful than usual, say "one, two, three!" and then tiptoeing over the bare floor she opened with small trembling fingers the tiny aperture and whispered, "Are you there?" starting back half frightened as the instant answer came, close beside her:
"Yes, is it time?"
"Betty is in the garret by now," she faltered. "Oh, sir, be careful and fare you well!"
For answer Geoffrey Yorke bent down, and taking the small cold fingers extended to him, pressed a kiss on them, and with a soft "farewell" began his passage up the chimney.
It was no such very difficult task he found, to his satisfaction, for Betty was right, and by feeling carefully with his hands he perceived the friendly pegs which Reuben had inserted, and of which Oliver had no knowledge, else he would not have trusted so agile and strong a prisoner within their reach. Geoffrey's broad shoulders were the only sufferers, but the rough homespun which covered them was a better protection than his uniform would have been, and he again blessed the good fortune which had thrown the disguise in his way as he left Fairfield four days before.
Betty, sitting on the ladder step, straining her ears to catch the first sound, became conscious of a light sound as Geoffrey swung himself from the chimney top to the roof, and she sped up the ladder to unhook the door of the trap just as he reached it.
"Speak not a word," she said in his ear, as he set his foot on the ladder, "but fasten the hook lest they discover that the door has been opened. Now, give me your hand," and in the darkness the strong, manly hand closed firmly over her dainty fingers with a clasp which, strangely enough, inspired her with fresh courage.
"Stop," said Betty suddenly, as they were at the top stair, "you must remove your boots: the slightest creak might wake the sleepers at the end of the hall."
It took but a second of time to follow her directions; and then very softly, with many pauses, the pair crept down the winding stairs, and Betty involuntarily held her breath until the last step was safely passed and she raised the latch of the buttery door.
"If Miss Bidwell has locked it," came the swift thought,—but, no! like everything else that dreadful night, fortune seemed to favor Betty, and with a long-drawn sigh she drew her companion across the threshold and instantly shot the bolt behind her.
A faint glow of dawn crept through the pantry windows, and Betty paused a moment and regarded the rows of milk pans which adorned the shelves of the small room with grave intentness.
"Had you not better take a glass of milk?" she said. "You may have to travel far without food, although I am sure that should you ask for it at any of our Connecticut farmhouses you would be cheerfully supplied," and raising the neat dipper she filled it and handed it to Geoffrey, who took it gratefully from her hand.
"And now put on your boots, for freedom lies beyond that door," she said, still in softest tones, as she unbolted the other door which led directly outside. "I must go with you as far as the barn, for you will need my mare to take you out of danger of pursuit."
"No, no," answered Geoffrey, speaking for the first time as they sped rapidly over the grass, "I will not take her; you have dared much for me, and I fear censure and harm may come to you for releasing me should you be discovered."
"Censure," said Betty, throwing back her small head haughtily, "wherefore? Do you think I shall conceal my share in this night's work? Oliver is but a hot-headed boy; had my father been at home it would have been different, and to him I shall make my confession, that I have given liberty to—oh, I cannot say a foe, after what you have done for me—to a British officer who comes to slay my countrymen!"
"Never your foe, Betty," cried Yorke, confronting her with face as pale as her own, and in his admiration of her spirit and nobility forgetting all else. "Say, rather, your adoring friend, who one day, God willing, hopes to prove to you that there are British hearts which are true and honest as yours, and that none will be more loyal to you than mine own."
A hot wave of color flashed up over Betty's charming face; her lips trembled, but no words came from them. What was this impetuous young man daring to say to her?
"The dawn is breaking over yonder hills," Geoffrey rushed on, "and before the sun rises I must be as many miles away as my feet can carry me. Farewell, farewell!—may God bless and keep you always. Go back straightway into the mansion; I shall not stir step until I see you safe." And through her brimming tears Betty realized that his kisses were falling on her hands, as without a word she turned and fled toward the open door. But when she reached it some new-born impulse tearing madly at her heart made her pause, and looking back she saw Geoffrey lift something from the grass at his feet which he waved toward her as he sped down the path, and raising her hand to her gown she knew that he had carried with him her breast-knot of rose-colored ribbon.
A LOYAL TRAITOR
Betty stumbled blindly over the threshold, and with shaking fingers secured the outer bolt of the buttery door. Her head was whirling, and she dared not stop there even to think over this extraordinary adventure, for Moppet was doubtless waiting breathlessly for her return; and at the recollection Betty's nerves grew steadier, and she bethought herself that a glass of milk would be needed by the child and that she must take it to her. So she filled the smallest dipper, not wishing to go back into the china pantry for fear of noise, and, with the milk in hand, concluded it was wiser to seek the main staircase in the hall, rather than wake Reuben by drawing his attention to the exit on the garret stairway. And fortunate it was for Betty that she had so determined; for as she set her foot upon the first step of the stairs, she beheld Oliver leaning over the upper balustrade, gazing gravely down upon her.
"Good-morning," said Betty readily, in a cheerful undertone, as she reached his side; "you are up betimes, Oliver."
"Where have you been?" asked her brother.
"To the buttery," said Betty; "this is milk for Moppet. The child is wakeful, and needs it."
"Why did you not send Reuben?" asked Oliver, who was always kind and attentive to his sisters.
"Reuben?" echoed Betty. "Did you not set him as guard to your prisoner?" and then, her heart smiting her for the gibe, "Miss Bidwell lets no one meddle with her milk pans, and I knew best which were last night's milk," and she went up the hall with a naughty little throb of mingled mischief and triumph, as she thought how she had outwitted him, while the unsuspecting Oliver seated himself near the north chamber door.
Moppet, sitting up in bed, welcomed her sister with open arms, and drank the milk thirstily, as Betty told her that all was safe, and that Captain Yorke was now well on his way.
"I'm as glad as can be," said Moppet, who was troubled with no conscientious scruples whatsoever, and was now beginning to enjoy herself intensely at sharing a mystery with Betty; "I told him you were gone, after the big clock struck three, and oh, Betty, he kissed my hand through the hole in the chimney."
"Did he?" said Betty, flushing brightly under Moppet's keen glance.
"And I sat there and shivered," went on Moppet, discreetly dropping that branch of the subject, "for I could hear his feet as he climbed, and once he slipped and I was so frightened lest he should come tumbling down and our fine plot be discovered. Betty, Betty, what a fine flutter Oliver and Josiah will be in at breakfast!"
"Don't talk of it," said Betty, shivering in her turn; "go to sleep, Moppet, and I will fly to my chamber, for it is not well that I should be discovered here, dressed. Oliver is not one to notice; now lie still until you are called for rising;" and Betty tripped back to her own room, where, tearing off her dress, she threw her tired little self on the bed to rest, if not to sleep, for the short hours that remained before breakfast.
The Wolcott household was one that was early astir, however, and Chloe, the old colored cook, was out in the barn searching for eggs, and Miss Bidwell had laid the breakfast cloth and polished the silver by half past six, when Miss Euphemia knocked briskly at the door where Pamela and Dolly Trumbull were slumbering sweetly, and resolved that she would request Oliver to permit Captain Yorke to come down and breakfast with the family. "For," mused Miss Euphemia, "our obligations to that young man should make some difference, I think, in his treatment; I must try to persuade Oliver to detain him here until my brother's return, for although I did not think it prudent to say so, I confess I am no more anxious to keep him prisoner than Betty was."
But Miss Euphemia had not more than descended at half past seven precisely (her usual hour) when Oliver came hastily into the room, demanding a hammer and chisel, and with such evident dismay upon his countenance that Miss Euphemia asked if anything was the matter.
"I do not know," said Oliver, searching the drawer for the desired implements; "I called and knocked smartly at Captain Yorke's door to ask him if he desired hot water, and to offer him a change of clean linen (as we are much the same size and build); but although I made sufficient noise to wake the hardest sleeper, no response did I receive. Then I unbolted the door, intending to enter, but he has fastened it on the inside, and"—
"He is ill," cried Miss Euphemia, in alarm. "I noted he looked pale last night."
"Much more likely 'tis some device to alarm us," said Oliver, seizing the chisel, and Miss Euphemia followed him as he went hurriedly up the front staircase. At its top stood Huntington.
"Captain Yorke is a sound sleeper," he said, addressing Oliver. "I have knocked at his door several times and get no response."
"My mind misgives me," said Oliver, fitting his chisel in the door and striking vigorously with the hammer; "and yet I made sure there was no chance for escape,—ha!" as the door swung open and discovered the closed shutters and the last flickering gleams of the dying candle upon the table. "Good heavens, Huntington, he has flown!"
"Flown!" cried Josiah, rushing after Oliver, as Miss Euphemia joined the party, and Pamela, with Dolly, opened her door across the hall, hearing the commotion. "And how? Surely not by the chimney?"
"I wish you had suggested that earlier," said Oliver bitterly. "I am a dolt and a fool's head not to have thoroughly examined it last night," and he rushed across into Betty's chamber to find a candle with which to investigate the treacherous exit.
"Have a care, Oliver," cried Betty, as her brother entered without knocking, to find her with her hair over her shoulders, brush in hand. "What do you please to want?"
"Your candle," said Oliver, catching up the one upon her table, and then pausing, as he was about to rush out again. "Did you hear any noises last night, Betty?"
"Noises?" answered Betty, facing him calmly, "of what nature?"
"In the great chimney," said Oliver, eying her sternly.
"I did not," said Betty, with truth, returning inward thanks that to that question she could reply without falsehood. "Why did you ask?"
"You will find out soon enough," said Oliver, dashing down the hall, without closing the door, and hurrying to the kitchen for a light. By the time he returned, he found Josiah half way up the chimney.
"Here are pegs," he called out, as Oliver sent the ray of the lighted candle upward. "'Tis easy enough to see how our prisoner escaped. Fool that I was not to have searched this place," and he let himself down again, where the bewildered group stood around the chimney-piece.
"The fault is mine alone," cried Oliver furiously; "let us get out on the roof and see if we can discover how he made his descent to the ground."
"By the great elm," exclaimed Pamela, who had unfastened the shutters with Josiah's help; "see, the branches overhang the roof just here, and I think there are some pieces of the bark on the ground below." All of which was true, and quick-witted of Pamela; but Moppet could have explained the presence of the bits of bark, for, as it happened, the child had emptied her apron under the elm the day before, and the bark was some she had gathered in the orchard for the bits of fungus which, at night, were phosphorescent, and which Moppet called "fairy lamps."
"True," said Josiah, leaning out of the window, "and there are footsteps in the tall grass yonder," pointing westward, where his keen eye perceived a fresh path broken in the meadow. "I must follow Oliver to the roof; this will be a dire blow to him, as he thought his prisoner so carefully guarded."
"How clever of him to escape under our very ears," said Dolly to Pamela; "how could Captain Yorke contrive to climb down so softly that no one heard him? Is not Miss Euphemia's chamber on this side?"
"Yes," said Pamela, turning away from the window, "and so is Moppet's; where is Aunt Euphemia?" and running out into the hall, she encountered both Betty and her aunt on the way to Moppet's apartment.
"Hush!" whispered Betty, with hand on the latch, "I hope she is still sleeping. Moppet came into my room in the night, Aunt Euphemia, and was so cold and shivering that I went back with her and put her to bed. I got a drink of milk for her, and it seemed to quiet her."
"That was quite right," said Miss Euphemia. "I have been afraid that the plunge in the pond did her some injury," and she opened the door softly, only to see Miss Moppet's curly head rise up from her pillow, and to hear her say with a sleepy yawn:—
"What is it all about? Where's Betty?"
"Here I am," said Betty, giving her a kiss. "Did you sleep soundly after the milk?"
"Yes, and I want some more," said Moppet, seizing the situation with such alacrity that Betty suspected on the instant that the keen little ears had been on the alert for more minutes than Moppet cared to acknowledge. "What are you all coming in for? Is it dinner-time?"
"No," interrupted Pamela, "we have not even had breakfast. Captain Yorke has escaped in the night"—
"Escaped!" cried Moppet, the liveliest curiosity in her tone. "Oh, I'm so glad! Aren't you, Betty?"
"Better not let Oliver hear you say that," said Pamela in an undertone as Miss Euphemia drew Betty aside.
"How did he get out?" said Moppet, giving way to laughter. "Oh, what a ruffle Oliver must be in."
"Naughty child," said Pamela, but unable to help smiling at Moppet's view of the situation. "Did you happen to hear any noises on the roof or in the big elm last night?"
"Not a sound," said Moppet, like Betty rejoicing inwardly that she could reply truthfully, for the little maid had never told a lie in her short life, and had indeed spent a wakeful half hour that very morning wondering how she would be able to evade any questions that might be put to her. "Did Captain Yorke climb out of his window and go down the big elm, Pamela? Do you know I thought of that at supper."
"He could not open the window, Moppet," answered Pamela, "but he did go down the tree from the roof, whence he climbed from the chimney here."
"Moppet, you must instantly dress or you will lake cold," said Miss Euphemia, interrupting, to Betty's relief, "and I will be glad if Betty will assist you, for I must go down and see if breakfast be still hot, as no one is ready yet to eat it," and out went Miss Euphemia, calling the others to follow her.
"What do you think of all this?" asked Pamela of Betty.
"What do you suppose?" flashed out Betty, whose quick tongue had been so long restrained that it was absolute relief to her to speak her mind. "I am as glad as I can possibly be that Captain Yorke has escaped, and if that be disloyal"—finished the spirited little maid, mindful of Patrick Henry—"make the most of it!"
"Oh, Betty!" cried Pamela, shocked beyond expression.
"It is I that should be shocked, not you," went on Betty. "Do you hold Moppet's dear life as nothing? Do you not wish to acknowledge an obligation when it is doubly due? I am ashamed of you, Pamela,—you and Oliver. I would my father were here to make you see both sides of a question clearly."
"Betty, Betty," implored Pamela, bursting into tears, "do I not love our little sister as well as you? You do mistake me; I did not dare go counterwise to Oliver and Josiah, but indeed I love you for your courage."
"There, say no more," said Betty, dropping the brush with which she was reducing Moppet's rebellious locks to order, and rushing into Pamela's arms with quick repentance. "I am cross and upset this morning, and not fit to talk to you, my gentle Pamela, so go down and make the coffee and forgive my petulance."
Dolly, who had witnessed this little sisterly passage of arms in shy fright, put her hand in Pamela's and whispered, as they gained the staircase:—
"Dry your eyes, Pamela dear; Betty is most forward to speak thus to her elder sister."
"There you mistake," said Pamela, changing front with true feminine inconsistency. "Betty is quite right, and I am displeased,—yes downright displeased with myself that I did not side with her last night," and with unwonted color flushing her usually pale cheeks Pamela walked into the breakfast-room, Dolly following meekly behind her.
Meanwhile, Oliver and Josiah were upon the roof of the mansion conducting most careful investigation. They had decided that it was useless to pursue Yorke, for he might have many hours in advance of them, and they must take the chances that he would be recaptured by some of Putnam's men, especially if he again mistook the country and went west instead of north. They climbed through the trap-door, but as the heavy dews had not yet begun there was no trace of footsteps upon the roof beyond a faint mark, which might be the spot where the prisoner had dropped from the chimney. It was quite possible for an agile fellow, accustomed to use his muscle, to clamber down the sloping roof to the elm and escape to the ground by its branches, and that he was not heard was partly due to his own care and the unusually heavy slumbers of the inmates of the mansion. Having reached this conclusion, Oliver was fain to make the best of it, and in much chagrin descended to the breakfast-table.
Try as she did to look demure and avoid speaking upon the subject which all were discussing, Betty could not keep her dancing eyes in order, and before the meal was over she flashed so roguish a glance at Oliver that, irritated at her mute opposition, he could not refrain from saying:—
"There sits Betty looking fairly pleased because she has her own way, and apparently cares nothing for the escape of an enemy to her country."
"Fie, Oliver," spoke up Pamela with unusual fire, "Betty is as loyal as you or I, and you are unfair to tax her because she heartily disapproves of your course in regard to Captain Yorke's detention after the signal service he has rendered to all us Wolcotts."
"Pamela!" cried Oliver, good temper returning, and gazing in comic dismay at his favorite sister, much as he would at a dove who had ruffled its plumes. "This from you, Pamela? If Betty be allowed to demoralize the family in this wise, I think it were well my father takes you all in hand."
"Heyday?" said a kindly voice from the door of the sitting-room, as a fine-looking man dressed in the Continental uniform entered the room. "Who is it that requires my parental hand, Oliver, and why do you so lament my absence?"
"Father, father!" shrieked Miss Moppet, tumbling out of her chair and flinging her arms around General Wolcott's neck as he stooped down to embrace her. "Oh, we're so glad you are come. Why didn't you get here last night?"
"Because I lay over at General Putnam's headquarters," said her father. "Oliver, you will find Captain Seymour and Lieutenant Hillhouse on the porch. See that their horses be taken and fed, and bid them come to breakfast."
Oliver disappeared in haste, and Josiah, with an apology to Miss Euphemia, followed him; while General Wolcott, casting off his hat and gloves, seated himself with Moppet on his knee, and Miss Bidwell appeared from the kitchen with fresh reinforcements of breakfast for the newcomers. Betty, busying herself by fetching cups and saucers from the china pantry, caught fragments of the conversation, and became aware that Miss Moppet was telling the story of her adventure at Great Pond, in the child's most dramatic fashion, and that Miss Euphemia was also adding her testimony to the tale as it went on. They were presently interrupted by the entrance of Oliver with his father's two aids, and the large mahogany table was surrounded by guests, whose appetites bid fair to do justice to Miss Bidwell's breakfast.
No sooner was the meal fairly under way than Oliver, eager to hear his father's opinion, began the story of his capture of the day before, and related how and where he had found Captain Yorke, and how safely he supposed he had imprisoned him in the north chamber, from which his clever and ready escape had been made. Oliver's narrative was interrupted by exclamations from the officers and questions from his father, who displayed keen interest in the matter.
"Father," said Moppet, seeing that the most important point had been omitted in Oliver's story, and venturing to join in the conversation, as few children of that period would have done, "Oliver's prisoner was my good kind gentleman who pulled me out of the pond, and I am very, very glad he has got away—aren't you?"
"I was indeed hard bestead, sir," burst in Oliver. "Here were Betty and Moppet insisting that I must let Captain Yorke go free because of his gallant act (which I fully appreciate), and the gentleman refusing his parole because he preferred to take the chances of war, while I felt it my sworn duty to detain him and to forward him to General Putnam without delay, as I know we are in need of exchange for several of our officers now held by Sir Henry Clinton, and this man is of Clinton's staff, and therefore a most valuable capture. Was I to blame for retaining him?"
General Wolcott hesitated, but as he was about to make reply his eye fell upon Betty, who confronted him across the table with parted lips and large, beseeching eyes so full of entreaty that he changed the words almost upon his lips.
"It is a delicate question, my son," he said gravely, "and one I would rather not discuss at the present moment. More especially"—and a half-quizzical smile lit up his grave but kindly face as he turned toward Miss Moppet and gently pinched her little ear,—"more especially as the gentleman has taken the law in his own hands and escaped from Wolcott Manor despite the fact that as it is the residence of a Continental officer and the sheriff of Litchfield County it might be supposed to have exceptional reasons for detaining him. Captain Seymour, I will be glad to sign the papers of which General Putnam has need, and we will go at once to my library, for you must be off by noon."
Some two hours later, as Betty sat watching in her chamber window, she saw the horses led around to the front door, and shortly after knew from the sounds below that Pamela and Dolly wore bidding the young officers good-by; so, waiting until the sound of their horses' feet had died away in the distance, Betty, with outward composure but much inward dismay, tripped softly downstairs and knocked at the door of the library.
"Pray Heaven he be alone," she sighed as she heard her father's voice bid her enter, and then she crossed the threshold and confronted him.
"Father," she said, steadying herself by one small hand pressed downward on the table behind which he sat, "I—that is—I have something to tell you."
General Wolcott raised his head from the paper which he had been carefully reading and looked kindly at her.
"What is it, my child?" he asked reassuringly, motioning her to a chair. "I thought at breakfast that you had the air of being in distress."
"Nay, I am hardly that," replied Betty, clinging to the table, "except so far as I may have incurred your censure, though I hope not your displeasure. Father, Oliver has told you of the escape of Captain Yorke, which causes him much chagrin and anger. Blame no one but me, for I myself released him."
"You!" exclaimed General Wolcott.
"Yes, I," said Betty, growing paler. "If you had but been here or I known that you were so near us, there had been no such need for haste, and I would have been spared this confession."
"How did you arrange the escape?" said her father quietly.
"It was this way," faltered Betty, but gaining courage as she proceeded. "Oliver would not listen, though I begged and plead with him to delay until your arrival. He was so eager to deliver his captive to General Putnam that I made no impression. Father, the Englishman had saved our Moppet's life at the risk of his own; he did not pause to ask whether she was friend or foe when he rushed to her rescue—could we he less humane? I do not know what they do to prisoners,"—and Betty strangled a swift sob,—"but I could not bear to think of a gallant gentleman, be he British or American, confined in a prison, and so I resolved I would assist his escape. I waited until midnight, and then I spoke to him through the aperture in the great chimney and instructed him how to climb up through it by the pegs Reuben had left there, and I stole to the garret and waited until he came. Ruben did not see me pass the door of the north chamber, for he was asleep (do not tell this to Oliver, as it might bring reproof upon poor Reuben, who was too weary to be of much service as a sentinel), and I brought Captain Yorke safely down the stairs which lead from the garret to the buttery. Once there, all was easy; I opened the door, and—and—I even offered him the mare, father, I was in such fear of his recapture; but he stoutly refused to take her. This is all. If I am a traitor, dear father, punish me as I deserve, but never think me disloyal to you or to my country."
There was a pause, as Betty's sweet, passionate tones ceased; she stood with head thrown back, but downcast eyes, as fair a picture us ever greeted father's eye.
"A loyal traitor, Betty," said General Wolcott slowly; "and I think that it were well I should look after the condition of my chimneys."
Scarcely daring to believe her ears, Betty looked up, and in another second she had thrown her arms around her father's neck, sobbing softly as he caressed her.
"'Twas a daring, mad scheme, my child," said General Wolcott, his own eyes not quite guiltless of moisture; "but bravely carried out; and looking at the matter much as you do, I cannot find it in my heart to censure you. Captain Yorke is doubtless a manly foe, and of such I have no fear. It shall be our secret, yours and mine, Betty; we will not even tell Oliver just now, else it might make sore feeling between you. For Oliver was right, and"—smiling kindly, "so were you. Everything depends upon the point of view, my daughter; but let me beg you never to try your hand again to assist the escape of a British officer, or it might cost me the friendship of General Washington."
"Father, dear father!" cried Betty, overjoyed to find judgment so lenient accorded her, "I crave your pardon; 'twas alone for Moppet's sake."
"Aye," said General Wolcott, and then paused a brief second, for his wife's death, had been the forfeit paid for Moppet's birth, and this was one reason why the child had become the family idol. "Now run away, for I must close these papers in time for Oliver, who rides dispatch to Fort Trumbull to-night. And, Betty," as she stood glowing and smiling before him "my child, you grow more like your mother every day." and with a hasty movement General Wolcott turned away to conceal his emotion, as Betty went quickly from the room.
BY COURIER POST
It had been a wild night, find the morning wind sobbed and sighed through the elms, which, denuded of their leaves, stood out tall and bare against the leaden sky, and there was a chill in the air that might betoken snow. Pamela Wolcott stood in the sitting-room window and sighed softly, as she gazed out at the November landscape, letting her fingers beat soft tattoo against the lozenge-shaped pane.
"Pamela," said Betty from the depths of a big chair, where she sat busily knitting a little stocking whose proportions suggested Miss Moppet, "I wish you would stop that devil's march. Believe me, you had much better come and talk to me, and so drive away the vapors, rather than stand there and worry over the whereabouts of Josiah."
"It will take more than that to drive away the thoughts I cannot help," said Pamela, coming back from the window and seating herself on the wide settle, for Pamela was somewhat given to seeking the warmest corner, and dreaded a New England winter. "It is full time I had some intelligence, for Josiah promised that he would take advantage of any courier who started for New London to dispatch me a letter, and you know that father had news two days since from Morristown, but nothing came for me. Betty, I am sore afraid of evil tidings."
"You are ever faint-hearted," said Betty, glancing compassionately at her sister.
"And I dreamed last night of a wedding," went on Pamela, "and that, you know, is an evil sign."
"Best not let Aunt Euphemia hear you," Replied Betty, with a smile. "You have been consulting Chloe, I am sure, as to the portents of dreams. Fie, Pamela; Josiah is strong and well, and there is not likely to be a movement of the troops just now, father says, so why worry? I am anxious because we hear nothing of Clarissa, and I think Aunt Euphemia is the same, for I heard her talking and sighing last night when Miss Bidwell carried up the night light. Dear Clarissa, how I wish I could see her again; I wonder if she be quite, quite happy shut up in New York among the Tories."
"No doubt; though when she married Gulian Verplanck we had little thought of the occupation of New York by the British. Do you recollect how pretty she looked on her wedding-day, Betty, and the little caps you and I wore,—mine with a knot of blue, and yours of rose-color? I found that ribbon one day last week, tucked away in a little box. Have you kept yours?"
"No," returned Betty, with a sudden blush and a quick, half-guilty throb of her heart, as she remembered in whose hand she had last seen that same bow of rose-color; "that is, I had it until last summer, when—I lost it." And Betty dropped two stitches in her confusion, which fortunately Pamela was too much engrossed in her own thoughts to notice.
"It is five years last May," said Pamela. "You and I were tiny things of ten and eleven years, and Oliver strutted about grand and dignified in a new coat. The first wedding in our family—I wonder whose be the next?"
"Yours, of course." said Betty quickly. "That is if you and Josiah can ever make up your minds. I will not be like you, Pamela, trust me, when my turn comes I'll know full well whether I will or I won't." And Betty tossed her saucy head with a mischievous laugh as there came a rap on the front door which caused both girls to start up and fly to the window.
"Why, 'tis Sally Tracy," cried Betty. "I did not know she had returned from her visit to Lebanon." And she ran rapidly along the hall, and opening the door, embraced her friend with all a girl's enthusiasm.
"Welcome, Sally," said Pamela, as the pair came hand in hand towards her, "Betty has been moping ever since you left, and had a desperate fit of industry from sheer loneliness. I really believe she has made a stocking and a half for Moppet—or was it a pair, Betty?"
"The second pair, if you please," retorted Betty, rejoiced to see Pamela smile, even if at her own expense; "and Miss Bidwell says they are every bit as fine as yours."
"They may well be that," said Pamela, whose pet detestation was the manufacture of woolen stockings (then considered one of the component parts of a girl's education in New England). "But Sally is such a marvelous knitter that she will no doubt rejoice at your success. Had you as severe weather in Lebanon as this? I am fearful that we will have a hard winter, the cold has set in so early."
"They have had one flurry of snow already," Sally answered, "but not so much wind as we of Litchfield rejoice in. But I had a merry visit and saw much company. Dolly bemoaned daily that you could not come, Pamela."
"I am to go later, after or about the day set apart for Thanksgiving. But you and Betty have much to say to each other, and I will not interrupt you; Miss Bidwell has something for me to do, I'll warrant; so, farewell for the present, Sally." And Pamela left the room.
"Come, sit beside me on the settle," said Betty, putting Sally in the warmest seat. "Your fingers are cold, and the room is not yet sufficiently warm. Well,"—with a significant smile,—"what have you to tell me?"
"Not what you think," with a smiling nod, "for Francis Plunkett is far too pressing for my taste,'' answered Sally.
"Ha, ha," quoth Betty, much amused, "is that the way you take it? Then I foresee that Francis will win for his much speaking."
"Indeed he will not; I teased him well the last evening, and he dare not resume the subject for a while at least."
"Then there is some one else," said Betty. "Can it be that Oliver"—
"Oh, no," cried Sally hastily; "Oliver has not such an idea, believe me, Betty."
"How can you answer for him?" retorted Betty, laughing. "But your tone answers for yourself, so I must guess again. I think I have heard something of a handsome young lawyer from Branford"—
"Fie!" cried Sally, in her turn averting her face quickly, but not before Betty had perceived her heightened color, "I have but met him three times, and there are plenty of other personable men as well as he, for while one stops with Dolly the officers from Fort Trumbull are ever coming and going, you know."
"Ah, Sally, you are growing giddy, I fear," continued Betty with comical pretense of solemnity. "I think it behooves me to caution you."
"Caution me, indeed!" laughed Sally. "Wait until we both go, as we all are invited to Hartford with Dolly this winter when the Assembly meets, and then see if you be not fully as giddy as I am."
"I do not believe that I can go to Hartford, Sally; you know Pamela is more Dolly's friend than mine, and I think she needs some diversion, for ever since Josiah had his commission and joined the Continental army, she has nearly moped herself to death. And Pamela is like my mother, not very strong; I can see that Aunt Euphemia is somewhat troubled about her even now, so perhaps our fine schemes for a trip to Hartford may have to be given up, at least so far as my going is concerned."
Sally's face fell; the visit to Hartford had been so long talked of, and Betty's presence so much desired, that this was a dash of the coldest possible water.
"Oh, Betty, how truly sorry I shall be. But let us hope for the best. It will be a sad breaking up of all my plans for the winter if you cannot come. I was also to stop at Fairfield with Mrs. Sherman, but since the raid of last summer her health has been so shattered that all thoughts of visitors have to be abandoned, and therefore I was counting upon our merry visit to Dolly as compensation."
Sally looked so melancholy at this point that Betty took her hand and was about to take a rather more hopeful view of things, but the words died on her lips as the clatter of a horse's feet was heard outside, and both girls ran to the window in time to see the rider draw rein at the south door of the mansion and dismount in apparent haste.
"It is some dispatch," said Betty breathlessly. "Did you not see the bag he carried at the saddle? And there is my father—oh, Sally, I wonder if there be news from General Washington and the army?" and struck by the sudden fear of ill-tidings the girls ran hastily from the room.
In the wide hall stood Miss Bidwell, and beside her the stranger, saddle-bag in hand, as Miss Euphemia emerged from the dining-room, whence General Wolcott had preceded her.
"From the commander-in-chief, general," said the courier, touching his battered hat in salute, "and special dispatches from General Steuben. Also this private packet, which was lying waiting at King's Bridge Inn; I have been four days on the road, owing to my horse having lamed himself when near Chatham, and I could not make time on the nag which stands at your door."
"King's Bridge," murmured Miss Euphemia; "then there is news of Clarissa. Brother, have I your permission?"—as General Wolcott gave the small packet into her hand.
"Break the seals," said the general briefly, "and bring me the letters presently to my study. See that the horse and man be well taken care of; I may have to dispatch instant answer to these," and he went quickly down the hall, closing the door behind him.
With fingers that trembled somewhat, Miss Euphemia opened the cover, and disclosed three letters to the eager eyes of the girls, who stood breathless beside her.
"One for your father (it is Gulian Verplanck's hand), this for me, from Clarissa, and the smaller one for you, Betty; let us go into the sitting-room and read ours together."
"None for me?" said Pamela's despairing voice, with a sob treading on the words; "oh, I fear me some evil has befallen Josiah."
"No, no," whispered Betty, stealing her hand lovingly into her sister's, as she pulled her gently into the room; "father has the dispatches; these are but the long-looked-for letters from New York, Pamela, and I'll wager there is something from Josiah among father's packets. Let us see what my letter says," and Betty, having seated Pamela and Sally on the settle, placed herself on a convenient cricket, and broke the seal of her letter. But before her eyes had time to see more than "Dearest Betty," she was interrupted by a sudden exclamation from her aunt.