"Clarissa has been at death's door," cried Miss Euphemia, startled out of her usual composure. "I knew this long silence boded no good. Listen, I will read it," and the three girls gathered round her chair at once.
"Dear and Honored Aunt" (ran the letter), "I take up my pen, after many days of pain and dire distress, to send loving greetings to you, my Beloved father, and my dear sisters. For the hand of death was nearly upon me; thank God that I am still preserved to my dear Husband and to you.
"It was a very malignant and severe attack of Fever, and Gulian procured the services of no less than three Physicians, as for days I laid unconscious. My little baby died at two hours old, and I never saw him. Alas, how I have suffered! I am now very weak, altho' able to be dressed and sit up each day. This is my first letter; and I pine so sorely for you, my dear ones, that my dear Husband permits me to write, and begs with me that you will permit one of my sisters to come to me and cheer my heart"—
"Come to her! Good lack!" cried impetuous Betty, interrupting the reader, "how is one to go when the British are in occupation?"—
"How, indeed," sighed Miss Euphemia; "but perhaps the letter will tell," and she resumed her reading, after wiping her eyes softly. "Where was I?—oh"—
"Father will no doubt be able to procure a pass from General Washington, which will admit the bearer into the City, and Gulian will himself be ready when you advise us, and will await you at King's Bridge Inn. Dear Aunt, send me some one soon, and let me see a dear home face, else I shall die of grief and homesickness, far from my own people.
"Your loving and obedient niece,
By this time Pamela was sobbing aloud, and tears flowed down Miss Euphemia's cheeks, but Betty sprang to her feet with a little impatient stamp, crying,—
"Aunt, aunt, which of us shall go? Pamela, you are a gentle and charming nurse; shall it be you?"
"I!" sighed Pamela; "oh, I would go to the world's end for Clarissa."
"But this is to go to New York," cried Betty, with unconscious irony; "and as we can neither of us go alone, why could not my father arrange for one of us to accompany Mrs. Seymour, who leaves shortly to be near her brother for the winter? Did you not tell me, Sally, that she was going to New York?"
"Yes," answered Sally Tracy, "she has been making all manner of preparations, for, as you know, her brother is imprisoned in the city; and since her acceptance of the pleasure coach from the Mayor of New York (which he presented her with when he was released from Litchfield gaol), she has been pining to go to him. And, beside, she travels in her coach as far as possible; and my mother said last night that General Washington was to send her safe-conduct through our lines to the city."
"We must first consult your father," said Miss Euphemia gravely, much upset by the suggestion of making up her mind to do anything in haste, for she was a very deliberate person, and despised hurried decisions. "I will find him as soon as he has finished the dispatches, and, moreover, this letter to him from Gulian may have directions. I incline to think that you, Betty, will be the one to go. Pamela can scarce bear the journey in this weather," and gathering her papers carefully in her hand, Miss Euphemia left the room, and the girls gazed blankly at each other with startled eyes and throbbing hearts.
WHAT FOLLOWED A LETTER
"It was all decided last night," said Betty, tucking her little feet carefully under her gown and clasping her knees with her hands to keep them warm, as she sat in Moppet's chair, which stood close by the fire, where a log burned and crackled in the big chimney—a most unusual luxury for those days, and granted only to Moppet's youth and slight delicacy of constitution. "Father found the pass from General Washington among his dispatches brought by the courier; and as it includes Mrs. Seymour's maid, he arranged with her that I go instead, as Mrs. Seymour kindly says she can procure another attendant in New York. I can scarce believe it possible, Sally. Oh, fancy my having to live in a city occupied by the British!"
"Ah," sighed Miss Moppet, pressing her head against Betty's knee, and a spark of interest lighting up her doleful little face, "if only some of them be like my good"—
"Oh, some of the Tories may be passably amusing," said Betty hastily, giving Moppet a warning glance, as she checked the words on the child's lips by a soft touch of her hand. "I doubt not that Gulian, my brother-in-law, has fine qualities, else Clarissa had not been so fond of him as to leave us all and go so far from us. But I trust that even Gulian may not see fit to talk loyalist to me; my naughty tongue would get me into trouble straightway."
"You must learn to control your tongue, Betty," said Moppet primly, with a roguish twinkle of her eyes upward. "Miss Bidwell says mine is an unruly member, and told me a most dire tale of a little girl whose mother for punishment pricked her tongue with a hot bodkin."
"Ugh!" cried Sally, with a shudder, "that was in Puritan days, truly."
"I do not crave the hot bodkin," said Betty, laughing. "Miss Bidwell's tales are a trifle gruesome, Moppet."
"But I always do love a flimming tale, Betty" (this was Moppet's invariable rendering of the word "thrilling," which her lips had never yet conquered), "and some of them are most bloody ones, I assure you. Oh, Betty, Betty, what shall I do when you are gone!" and with a sudden realization of her loss, Moppet gave a quick sob which went to Betty's heart.
"Nay, sweetheart, be a brave little maid," she answered, fighting a small lump in her own throat. "I would I could take you with me; but as I cannot, you must hasten to learn how to make better pot-hooks and write me letters, which Aunt Euphemia will forward with hers. And, Moppet, I think I shall give you in special charge to Sally; how will that please you?"
"I love Sally," said the child simply, as the tender-hearted Sally knelt down beside her. "Will you help console me with my primer and that altogether dreadful sampler when my Betty is away?"
"Indeed will I," replied Sally, much amused with Moppet's view of the sampler; "and you shall come and see me every fine day, and the wet ones I am sure to be here with Pamela, who has proclaimed her intention of adopting me when Betty goes. And now I must be going, for it is nearly the dinner hour, and my mother says as I have dined here three days she bespeaks my presence for one out of four. So farewell until to-morrow, Betty, when I shall be here to see you start upon your travels."
Betty was busy enough all that day; indeed, nothing more than a confused recollection remained with her afterward of trunk and two small boxes to be packed; of Pamela's urging her acceptance of a new lute-string slip, rose-colored, which had recently come to her from Boston; of Miss Bidwell's innumerable stockings all tucked carefully away in one corner of the hair-covered brass-nailed box, and even Miss Moppet's tenderly cherished blue bag embroidered in steel beads, which had belonged to their mother, but which Moppet insisted could be used by Betty with great effect for her handkerchief at a ball.
"Ball, indeed," sighed Betty, whose brave heart was beginning to quail at thought of an untold length of separation from her beloved family. "I should think the hearts of the patriots imprisoned in New York would scarce be occupied with balls in such times as these."
"You mistake," said Pamela, who, truth to tell, half longed for Betty's opportunities, for was not her sister going somewhere near Josiah's post? "I am sure Clarissa's letter which you read me bade you bring all your best gowns and finery, and we have all heard how gay the army of occupation make the city."
"Aye, to those who are Tories," said Betty, with curling red lips, "but for me—oh, Miss Bidwell, if you put in another pair of stockings I shall require as many feet as a centipede, who I read has hundreds of them."
"Hundreds of feet?" echoed Miss Moppet. "Oh, Betty, do I live to hear you tell a fairy tale as if it were real?"
"Read your primer, and you will learn many wonderful things," quoth Betty, snatching up the child in her arms. "I shall take you straightway to bed, for we must be up betimes in the morning, you know."
Very carefully and tenderly did Betty bathe Moppet's sweet little face, comb and smooth the pretty curling hair, so like her own save in color, and then run the brass warming-pan, heated by live coals, through the sheets lest her tender body suffer even a slight chill. And when Moppet was safely lodged in bed Betty sat down beside her to hold her hand until she dropped asleep. But between excitement and grief the child's eyes would not close, and she asked question after question, until Betty finally announced she should answer no more.
Moppet lay still for some moments, and just as Betty was beginning to fancy that the long, dark eyelashes worn curling downward in sleepy comfort the dark blue eyes opened, and a dancing imp of mischief gleamed from their depths in Betty's face.
"When you meet Captain Yorke, Betty," whispered Moppet, "be sure you tell him how Oliver and Josiah hunted and hunted that morning, and how I never, never told"—
"Moppet," said Betty, turning a vivid pink in the firelight, "how can you!"—
"Yes," pursued Moppet relentlessly, "and you give him my love—heaps of it—and I just hope he may never get taken a prisoner during the whole war again."
"Go to sleep, dear," answered Betty, biting her lip; but her cheeks did not grow cool until long after the soft, regular breathing told that her little sister had gone into the land of dreams.
The Wolcott household was up early that cold winter morning, when Mrs. Seymour's coach, with its pair of sturdy, strong gray horses, drew up at the front door. It took some twenty minutes to bestow Betty's trunk and boxes on the rumble behind, during which time Mrs. Seymour alighted and received all manner of charges and advice from Miss Euphemia, who, now that Betty was fairly on the wing, felt much sinking of heart over her departure. Mrs. Seymour, a pretty young matron, whose natural gayety of spirit was only subdued by the anxiety she was suffering in regard to her only brother, now a prisoner in New York (and for whose exchange she was bringing great influence to bear in all directions), listened with much outward deference and inward impatience to the stately dame, and turned with an air of relief to General Wolcott when he announced that all was ready for their departure, and with much courtliness offered his hand to conduct her to her coach.
"That you will take the best care of my daughter I am assured, madam," said the gallant gentleman. "It is our great good fortune to have found this opportunity and your kind escort, for owing to the shortness of time I have not been able to notify my son-in-law of Betty's coming. But as you are going into the city yourself, I depend upon you to keep her with you until you can place her safely in Gulian Verplanck's hands. I trust that you have General Washington's pass close by you? It is quite possible that you may need it even before you reach White Plains; there are many marauding parties who infest the country beyond us."
"It is here, general," replied Mrs. Seymour, touching the breast of her gown. "I thought it well to carry it about my person, as I am told that even the Hessians respect General Washington's safe-conduct to enter New York."
Betty, with crimson cheeks, but brave smiling eyes, threw her arms fondly around Miss Euphemia, Pamela, Sally, and Miss Bidwell, all in turn, but Moppet's soft cry as she buried her face in her hands made her lip quiver, and as she bent her head for her father's farewell, a reluctant tear forced itself down her cheek.
"The God of our fathers be with you, my daughter," he said, taking her in his arms; "my love and blessing to Clarissa and her husband. Remain with them until I find safe opportunity to have you return to us; advise us often of your health and, I trust, continued well-being; keep a brave heart as befits your name and lineage; fare you well, fare you well!"
Betty sank back trembling into her seat beside Mrs. Seymour, the door was closed, and as the coach rolled off she caught a parting glimpse of Miss Moppet lifted high in General Wolcott's arms, kissing her hand fondly as she waved good-by.
INSIDE BRITISH LINES
"Drat that knocker!" said Peter Provoost.
The house stood on Wall Street, and to the fact that it like a few others has been built of brick, it owed its escape from the fire which ravaged, the city in 1776, the fire which also destroyed old Trinity Church, leaving the unsightly ruin standing for some years in what was aristocratic New York of the period. It was a square, comfortable-looking mansion, with the Dutch stoep in front, and the half-arch of small-paned glass above the front door, which was painted white and bore a massive brass knocker. That same knocker was a source of much irritation to Peter Provoost; for although he was of fair size for his thirteen years, he could barely reach it when mounted on the very tips of his toes, and even then never dared touch its shining surface unless his fingers were clean—a desirable state of neatness which, alas! did not often adorn the luckless Peter. For though tidy and careful enough when appearing before his guardians, Mr. and Mrs. Verplanck, it must be confessed that going to and from school Peter was prone to lay down both books and hat, oftentimes in the mud, and square himself pugnaciously if he chanced to meet one of the boys of the "Vly Market," who were wont to scoff and tease the Broadway boys unmercifully; and fierce battles were the frequent outcome of the feeling between the two sections, and in those Peter invariably took part.
The family was a small one, and consisted of Gulian Verplanck and his wife, his grandmother, Mrs. Effingham, a lovely old Quakeress, and Peter, who, having lost both parents at an early age, had remained in Albany with his other guardian, Mr. Abram Lansing, until some six months before, when it was decided that he should go to New York and be under the Verplanck eye; and although Peter had rebelled much against the plan in the first place, he found himself much happier under Clarissa's gentle rule, and positively adored her in consequence. The only lion in Peter's path at present was the strong Tory proclivity of the head of the house; and although he had been warned by his Albany friends to be prudent and respectful, the boy had inherited a sturdy patriotism which burned all the more hotly for its repression.
On this cold December afternoon Peter stood, books in hand, and surveyed that aggravating knocker from his stand on the sidewalk. He was painfully conscious that his feet were muddy, and his chubby fingers certainly needed soap and water; it was Friday, and Pompey, one of the black servants, had evidently been scrubbing the front steps. Therefore Peter debated whether it would be wiser to skirt around the mansion and gain entrance by the area steps, where no doubt he would encounter Dinah, the cook (who objected to invasions of unclean shoes), or boldly ascend the front steps, struggle with that balefully glittering knocker, and trust to Pompey's somewhat dim eyes to escape remonstrance before he could gain his own room and make himself presentable. The chances of a scolding seemed pretty equally balanced to Peter, and he heaved a deep sigh and put his foot on the first immaculate step before him as a hand fell on his shoulder and a merry voice said behind him:—
"What in the world are you pondering, Peter? I have watched you since I turned the corner of Broadway, and truly for once have seen you stand absolutely still. In some scrape with the Vly boys, I'll warrant; do you wish me to come in and plead for you?" and Kitty Cruger tripped lightly up the steps as she beckoned Peter to follow.
"Now you have done it—not I!" said Peter, with a mischievous chuckle, as he tore up after her.
"Done what?" asked mystified Kitty. She and Peter were fast friends.
"Muddied the clean steps," quoth Peter with gleeful brevity.
"Have I?" glancing down carelessly until she saw each dainty footprint plainly depicted on the white marble, side by side with Peter's heavier tracks. "Oh, what a shame," reaching up successfully to the brass knocker; "but I am sure Pompey will forgive me, and you can"—stopping short as the door opened and Pompey himself stood bowing low in the hall.
"Good-day, missy," said he, for Kitty Cruger was a frequent and welcome visitor at the Verplancks'. "Miss Clarissa is pretty well to-day, thank you, and ole madam is in the drawing-room—Law!" catching sight of Peter, who was skillfully slipping down the hall in Kitty's wake. "Dat you, Massa Peter? Reckon you better hurry, for it's mos' time for dinner, sah."
But Peter, with great discretion, paused not for reply as he vanished up a back stair-case and reached his own chamber, panting but triumphant.
"Good-day, dear grandma," said Kitty, crossing the hall as Pompey held open the door of the drawing-room; "I was detained by reason of the sewing-bee at the Morrises', and have barely time to see you and ask for Clarissa."
"How does thee do?" said Grandma Effingham, drawing her little drab shawl more closely around her shapely shoulders as she laid down her knitting. "I am pleased to see thee. Clarissa is somewhat stronger to-day; thee knows she has been more like her old self since Gulian dispatched the letters asking that one of her sisters be allowed to come to her. The poor child pines for a home face; it is natural; thee sees she has been long absent from her people."
"Surely it is almost time to get some reply," said Kitty, as she kissed the dear old Quakeress, for Kitty was one of Mrs. Effingham's grandchildren, although her mother had been read out of meeting for having married one of the "world's people." "I doubt that Clarissa will shortly begin to worry and grow ill again unless kind Providence sends some tidings."
"Nay, nay," said grandma gently. "If thee had half Clarissa's patience it would be thy gain, Kitty."
Grandma was such a quaint, pretty picture, as she sat in her straight-backed chair, with her Quaker cap and steel-gray silk gown, her sleeves elbow-cut, displaying still plump and rounded arms (although she was nearly seventy), and her smooth white fingers flew rapidly in and out of the blue yarn as she resumed her knitting of Peter's stocking. Peter was rather a godsend to grandma in the matter of stockings; no wool that was ever carded could resist his vigorous onslaughts, and it kept grandma busy all her spare moments to supply his restless feet with warm covering.
"Patience," echoed Kitty, with a comical sigh. "Nay, grandma, give me a few more years without it."
"Fie," said grandma, gazing at the bright face with her indulgent eye; "eighteen is full late to begin to learn to conform to thy elders. I was married and the twins were born at thy age, Kitty."
"Good lack," quoth Kitty. "Where are the men nowadays, grandma? Save for the redcoats, and I am not so daft over Sir Henry Clinton's gay officers as some—no doubt't is my Quaker blood—except for the officers, where are our gallants? Some of mine are up the Hudson beyond the neutral ground, others with the rebels at Morristown."
"Hush," said grandma, with an uneasy glance toward the door; "do not talk of rebels in this house; hadn't thee better run up and see Clarissa?"
"If Miss Kitty pleases," spoke the voice of Pompey at the door, "will she walk upstairs? Young madam wants to see her."
"Coming," said Kitty, kissing grandma fondly, and then following Pompey as he marched gravely up to open the door of Mrs. Verplanck's morning-room. It was a tiny apartment; for when Gulian Verplanck brought his young bride home he had added a room to the wing below, and as it greatly enlarged their bedroom, the happy idea had struck him to throw up a partition, corner-ways, which formed an irregularly shaped room opening on the passage, and gave Clarissa her own cherished den in that great house of square rooms and high ceilings. In it she had placed all her home belongings; her spinnet, which had been her mother's (brought by sloop to New York from New Haven), found the largest space there, and her grandmother's small spinning-wheel was in the corner near the chimney-piece which Gulian had contrived to have put in lest his delicate wife might suffer with cold.
Near the small log which blazed brightly on the hearth, in a low chair made somewhat easy with cushions, sat a fair, fragile-looking, girlish figure, in whose mournful dark eyes was something so pathetic that it suggested the old-time prophecy that such "die young." Clarissa Verplanck in that resembled none of her family, and the one reason for her father's and aunt's anxiety about her was that she was thought the image of a sister of her mother who fulfilled the prophecy. Be that as it may, Clarissa was anything but a mournful person in general; her spirits were somewhat prone to outrun her physical strength, and therefore her sad little appeal for one of her sisters to cheer her had come in the light of a demand to the Litchfield home, and alarmed them more than anything else could have done.
"Kitty, Kitty," said Clarissa, holding out a welcoming hand to her visitor, who seated herself on a cricket beside her, "why have you not been in this four days? I am truly glad to see you, for ever since Gulian and I dispatched our letters to my father I have been so cross and impatient that I fear my good husband is beginning to tire of his bargain, and lament a peevish wife."
"Heaven forgive you for the slander," retorted Kitty, laughing; "if ever there was a husband who adored the ground you walk on, Gulian is"—
"Thank you," said a quiet voice, as a tall dark man entered from the bedroom.
"Let me finish my sentence—Gulian is that benighted swain," burst in Kitty.
"Again, my thanks," answered Gillian gravely. To none but Clarissa was he ever seen to relax his serious manner; perhaps hers were the only eyes who saw the tenderness behind the stern, reserved exterior. He really liked his cousin; but although Kitty was not, like most people, afraid of him, it must be confessed that he wearied her, and she much preferred to have her gossip with Clarissa, when Gulian was safely out of the house.
"And now tell me about the letters," pursued Kitty. "You sent for your sister, grandma told me. Which one, Clarissa?"
"Indeed, I do not know; I left the choice to my father, but I think—I hope it may be Betty. I only wish I might have Moppet as well," and the quickly checked sigh told Gulian's keen ears what the unuttered thought had been.
"Betty—let me see—is that the sister next yourself?"
"Oh, no; the sister next to me in age died in infancy. Then comes Oliver, and then Pamela, who is seventeen now, and next my Betty. How I wonder if the girls have changed; five years makes a long gap, you know, and even my imagination can scarce fill it. Do you fancy we will hear soon, Gulian?"
"I cannot tell," he said gently, thinking how often he had sought reply to the same question in the past week, and longing tenderly to give her the expected pleasure.
"It may be that General Wolcott may find some chance opportunity to send his daughter at once, in which event you know there would scarce be time to hear before she would reach us."
"Oh, Gulian," cried Clarissa, clasping her hands, as a faint pink glow lit her pale face, "you did not say that before. If it were only possible"—
"Why not?" said Kitty encouragingly.
"But, Gulian, you said in the letter that you would await my sister at King's Bridge Inn. Surely you cannot go there and stop, waiting at the Inn for days?"
"I can ride out to-morrow, and, in fact, I hastened through some business at the wharf to-day which enabled me to have the day free. I can easily go to King's Bridge and inquire at the Inn for dispatches; you will not mind my being absent all day? Perhaps Kitty will come and bear you company while I am gone?"
"Right gladly," replied Kitty; "will you ride alone, Gulian?"
"I might, easily," said Gulian; "but when I procured a pass from Sir Henry Clinton yesterday (it is an eight days' pass, Clarissa) I found that Captain Yorke goes to-morrow to the neutral ground to inspect troops, and I think I shall take advantage of his company."
"I am glad of that," said Clarissa, putting her slender hand in Gulian's and looking with grateful eyes up at him, as he stood beside her chair. "Is he the aide-de-camp you told me of, Gulian, for whom you had taken a liking?"
"The same; a fine, manly fellow, the second son of Lord Herbert Yorke, one of my father's old friends in England. You were dancing with him at the De Lanceys' 'small and early,' were you not, Kitty, last week?"
"Yes," said Kitty, with a quick nod and a half frown, "he has the usual airs and graces of a newly arrived officer from the mother-country."
"Perhaps you find the colonists more to your mind," responded Gulian somewhat severely; but Clarissa gave his sleeve a warning twitch, as Kitty made answer with heightened color:—
"My own countrymen are ever first with me, as you know full well, Gulian, but one must dance sometimes to keep up one's heart in those times, and Captain Yorke has a passably good step which suits with mine."
What Gulian would have replied to this was never known, for at that moment an outcry arose in the hall, followed by the bump, bump of some heavy body rolling down the staircase, and Peter's boyish voice shouting out, between gasps of laughter,—
"Pompey, Pompey, I say!—it's nobody but me; oh, what a proper old goose it is; do, somebody come and thrash him."
In a second Gulian and Kitty were outside the door, and beheld at the foot of the winding stairs poor Pompey, picking himself up, with many groans and much rubbing of his shins, while Peter, rolling himself nearly double with laughter, stood midway of the flight, with a queer object in his hand which Gulian seized hastily.
"It's only a gourd," gasped Peter between paroxysms. "I kept it in my closet for a week, and half an hour ago I stole a bit of wick out of Dinah's pantry and dipped it well in melted tallow, and than stuck it inside, when, as you see, having carved out two eyes and a slit for the nose, it looks somewhat ghastly when the light comes forth."
"It's a debbil, debbil," cried Pompey. "Massa Peter sent me to find his skates, and dat awful face"—Pompey's teeth chattered, and Peter went off in a fresh burst of laughter.
"It soured him properly, Uncle Gulian; and though I ran after him and shook it (it only looks gruesome in the dark, you know) he never stopped, and he stumbled on the first step, and then he rolled—My! how he did bump"—and naughty Peter sat down on the stalls and held his sides for very merriment.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," said Gulian sternly, to whom practical jokes were an utter abomination, "and you deserve to be well punished. Pompey, stop groaning, and inform me at once whether you have sustained any injury by your fall."
"Law, Massa Gulian, you tink falling down dat stair gwine to hurt dis chile?" began Pompey, who entertained a warm affection for the mischievous Peter and dreaded nothing so much as a scolding from his master. "Dose stairs don't 'mount to nuffin; ef it had been de area steps dey moughten be dangerous. Massa knows boys mus' have dey fun: please 'cuse me for makin' such a bobbery."
"Well, I did it," said Peter sturdily, instantly sobered by the expression of his uncle's face, and his generous heart touched with Pompey's defense of his prank, "and nobody helped me, so let's have the whipping right off before dinner, please, Uncle Gulian, and then I can eat in peace—even if I am a trifle sore," wound up the sinner ruefully.
Gulian Verplanck's sense of humor was not keen, but the situation was too much for him, and a queer, grim smile lit up his eyes, as he said slowly:—
"As Pompey seems more frightened than hurt, and has interceded for you, I shall not punish you this time, Peter; but recollect that the very first occasion after this that you see fit to practice a joke on any member of my household, your skates will be confiscated for the remainder of the winter," and with a warning glance he followed Kitty back into his wife's room, leaving Pompey on the staircase, still rubbing his bruised shins, while the irrepressible Peter indulged once more in a convulsion of silent laughter which bent him double and threatened to burst every button off his tightly fitting jacket.
Mrs. Seymour, having had the advantage of some weeks to form her plans, had carefully arranged everything for her own comfort, so far as was possible, and Betty Wolcott, after the first pang of parting was over, began to enjoy the novelty of the journey most thoroughly. Except for a few days spent at Lebanon, Betty had never been from home in her life, and being, as we have seen, a bit of a philosopher in her own quaint fashion, after the first day spent in Mrs. Seymour's cheerful society she found herself much less homesick than she had expected. To begin with, the coach was, for those times, very comfortable. It was English-built, and had been provided with capacious pockets in unexpected places; it amused Betty exceedingly to find that she was seated over the turkey, ham, cake, and even a goodly pat of butter, carefully packed in a small stone jar, while another compartment held several changes of linen, powder, a small mirror, a rouge pot, and some brushes. Mrs. Seymour had been born and bred in New York, and many of her people were Tories; therefore she hoped to assist the brother who, breaking apart from the others, had taken up arms for the colonists.
Caesar, Mrs. Seymour's coachman, was a colored man of middle age, a slave of her father's, and, having been brought from New York to Connecticut, knew the route fairly well. They broke the journey first at a small roadside tavern, where the horses were baited, while Betty and Mrs. Seymour gladly descended, and warmed themselves well by the kitchen fire, taking a drink of warm milk, for which the good woman who had invited them inside refused payment. She was deeply interested when Mrs. Seymour told her of their errand, and followed them out to the door of the coach, bringing with her own hands the soapstone which she had carefully warmed for their feet, and she waved a kindly good-by as they rode off, delighted at seeing, for the first time in her life, a "pleasure coach."
The first night was spent by the travelers in Danbury, where they proceeded to the house of Mrs. Seymour's cousin, Mrs. Beebe, and were most warmly welcomed. The Beebe household, which consisted of Mrs. Beebe and seven children (Captain Beebe being with the Connecticut Rangers), trooped out, one and all, to meet them, to inspect the coach, interview Caesar, and admire the horses. Billy, the second boy, fraternized with Betty at once; and after learning all the mysteries of the coach pockets, helping Caesar to unharness, and superintending the fetching of an extra large log for the fireplace, he roasted chestnuts in the ashes as they sat around the chimney-piece, and told Betty thrilling stories of the attack on Danbury by the British.
"We dragged the feather-beds up to the window," said Billy, "and mother stuffed a pillow or two in the cracks. My, how the bullets did fly! The children were all bid to stay in the attic; but as the roof shelves, you know, it became pretty hot, especially when the fires began, and then mother did get frightened, more especially when she saw the blaze of the Woolford house, down the street. Didn't I just wish I was a man, to go and help father that day! Luckily for us, the wind was in the other direction; father said that was all that saved us."
"And Divine Providence, my son," said Mrs. Beebe's soft voice, as she laid a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Billy's only experience of war was a sharp one for a few hours. He has been longing ever since to join his father, but I can only find it in my mother's heart to rejoice that he is too young to do so. Now, Billy, light the candles; for if our friends must resume their journey to-morrow, it is full time to retire."
Betty found the little room assigned to her, with Billy's assistance, but before he left her he pointed out two small holes near the window frame, where bullets had entered and remained buried in the woodwork; and as Betty curled herself up in the centre of the great feather-bed, she thought, with a throb of her girlish heart, that perhaps she, too, might see some of the terrors of war before she returned to the shelter of her dear Litchfield home.
The next morning dawned cold and chilly; a few flakes of snow floated through the air, and Mrs. Beebe urged strongly the wisdom of lying over for twenty-four hours, lest a storm should come and render the roads impassable. But Mrs. Seymour, after a consultation with Caesar, decided that it was best to push on; winter was approaching, and each day made the journey less feasible. There was a fairly good road between them and White Plains, and now that she had started she was impatient to reach the city. Betty, too, was eager to be off, so with many warm thanks, they again packed the coach and said farewell to the hospitable Beebes, who had insisted on adding fresh stores of provisions to their hamper; and Billy's last act of friendliness was to slip into Betty's hand a package of taffy, of his own manufacture, which he assured her "was not over-sticky, provided you use care in biting it."
This part of the journey was cold and cheerless enough. The road wound somewhat, and the settlements were few, even the houses were far apart from each other; and although the hills were fewer, they heard Caesar admonish his horses more frequently than usual, and about four o'clock in the day they came to a full stop. The snow of the morning had turned into a sort of drizzling rain; and Caesar, dismounting from his seat, announced to his mistress that one of the horses had cast a shoe.
"What shall we do?" cried Mrs. Seymour in dismay, preparing to jump down into the mud and investigate matters.
"Dey's no use at all of madam's gettin' out," said Caesar, holding the door of the coach,—"no use at all. I'se done got de shoe, 'cause I saw it a-comin' off, an' here it is. De horse will do well enuf, 'caise I'll drive wif care; but what I wants to say is that, 'cordin' to my judgment, we had oughter take a turn to de right, just hyar, which am in de direction ob Ridgefield, whar I ken fin' a blacksmith's shop, shuh. Ef madam pleases, it's goin' somewhat out of de direct way to White Plains, but what wid de weather, which madam can see is obstreperous an' onsartain, I'm ob de opinion dat Ridgefield am de best stoppin' place for dis night, anyhow;" and having delivered himself of this exhortation, Caesar touched his hat respectfully, but with an air of having settled the question.
"Very well," said Mrs. Seymour, for she knew Caesar and Caesar's ways, and moreover had much confidence in his ability to take care of her, as well as of his horses. "Then take the turn to the right, as you propose. Are you quite sure you are familiar with the road here, Caesar? It will be dark soon, and I confess I should not like to lose our way."
"Not gwine to lose de road wid dis chile on de box," said Caesar with fine disdain, as he climbed to his seat and rolled himself up warmly again, his teeth chattering as he did so. But he said to himself, as the horses started slowly, "Pray de Lord I ain't mistooken; don't want to fall into none ob dem old redcoats' han's, Caesar don't, dat's sartain."
Inside the coach, which lumbered on so slowly that it almost seemed to crawl, Mrs. Seymour and Betty tried to keep up their spirits by an occasional remark of cheerful character, and Betty suggested that perhaps some bread and cheese from the Beebe larder would prove satisfactory to Caesar; but on asking the question Caesar only shook his head, and responded that he was too busy looking after the horses to eat; and the long hours dragged on as it grew darker and darker. Betty rested her head against the door and peered out at the dripping trees, whose bare limbs stood like skeletons against the leaden sky. Mrs. Seymour had sunk into a fitful doze by her side. Suddenly the off horse gave a plunge, the coach tilted far to one side, and then righted itself as Caesar's loud "Whoa, dar! Steady! steady!" was heard. Then Betty saw half a dozen shadowy forms surround them, and a voice said sharply, "Who goes there? Halt!" and a hand was laid roughly on the door of the coach.
"Pray who are you who detain ladies on a journey?" said Mrs. Seymour, addressing the man nearest her. "I am in my own coach with a maid on our way to New York, and one of my horses has cast a shoe."
"Stand aside there," said another voice impatiently, as an officer dismounted from his horse, and flung the rein to one of the men. "If you are bound to a city occupied by the British, you must have safe-conduct, madam, else we are compelled to search and detain you."
For answer, Mrs. Seymour drew out a folded paper, which the officer, straining his eyes in the fast-fading daylight, read aloud, as follows:—
"After the expiration of eight days from the date hereof, Mrs. Seymour and maid have permission to go into the city of New York and to return again."
"Given at Morristown this second day of December.
"From the commander-in-chief," said the officer, raising his hat, as he motioned his men to stand back. "Madam, permit me to present myself as Lieutenant Hillhouse of the Connecticut Rangers, and pray command my services."
"Oh," gasped Betty, from the other side, "our own troops, thank Heaven!"
"Truly you are a welcome arrival," said Mrs. Seymour, with a light-hearted laugh. "Betty and I have passed a bad five minutes, fancying you were Hessians. I am on my way to the city to intercede for my brother, Captain Seymour's exchange, and, for the once, I do not mind telling you that my companion is Mistress Betty Wolcott, consigned to my care by her father, General Wolcott, as her sister, Mrs. Verplanck, lies ill in New York, and she goes there to see her, but she travels as my maid."
"I met Lieutenant Hillhouse last summer at my father's house," said Betty, as the young officer came around to her side of the coach, "and right glad I am to see you now, sir, instead of the redcoats whom Caesar, our coachman, has been imagining would start from every bush as we near White Plains."
"You are not above a mile from a little settlement called Ridgefield," answered the officer; "and while there is no tavern there, my men and I found fairly comfortable quarters to-day. If I may suggest, you should get there as soon as may be."
"We would be glad to," said Mrs. Seymour ruefully, "but one of my horses has cast a shoe, hence our slow progress. I am more than glad my servant has not mistaken the way."
"Madam oughter to know Caesar better," grumbled that worthy from the box.
"How long will it take you to drive the remaining mile?" said his mistress soothingly. "We may perhaps have your escort, lieutenant?"
"I am on my return there, madam; permit me to send my men in advance to arrange for your comfort, and I will with pleasure ride beside you until we arrive. Ridgefield lies beyond that turn," raising his whip to direct Caesar. "If it were not for the growing darkness, you would see the smoke from the chimney of the house where I am quartered;" and closing the door of the coach, the officer gave directions to his men, who marched quickly down the road, as he mounted and pursued his way with the ladies.
Just beyond the farmhouse which Lieutenant Hillhouse had pointed out as his temporary quarters stood a low, wooden structure, with a lean-to in the rear, and there Caesar drew up his tired horses. A rather cross-looking spinster stood in the door of the house, and as Betty and Mrs. Seymour alighted she said snappishly:—
"I don't own much room, as I told your men, Mister Lieutenant, but so long as you're not Hessians I'm willing to open my door for you. It won't be for long, will it?"
"Oh, no," replied Mrs. Seymour, with her pretty, gracious smile, "we are simply in need of a night's lodging. I think we have food enough in our hampers, and if you can give us hot milk I have coffee ready for making."
"I don't begrudge you nothing," said the woman in a softened tone, as Betty bade her a pleasant good-day, "but it's a poor place, anyhow," gazing up at the bare rafters, "and as I live here all alone I have to be precious careful of my few things."
"But it so neat and clean," said Betty, pulling a three-legged stool toward the fire, and surveying the recently scrubbed floor; "we are cold and weary, and you are very good to take us in."
Evidently the woman was amenable to politeness, for she bustled around and insisted upon making the coffee, which Caesar produced in due time from his hamper under the box-seat, and she laid a cloth on the pine-wood table, and at last, after disappearing for a few minutes into the darkness of a small inner room, reappeared with three silver spoons and two forks in her hand, which she laid carefully down beside the pewter plates on the table with an air of pride as she remarked, addressing no one in particular:—
"The forks was my grandmother's, and my father fetched the spoons from a voyage he made on the Spanish main, and he always said they was made of real Spanish dollars."
Thereupon Mrs. Seymour and Betty fell to admiring the queer-looking articles (which from their workmanship were really worthy of admiration), and the spinster relaxed her severe air sufficiently to accept a cup of the coffee they were drinking. And then Mrs. Seymour induced her to give consent that Caesar should have a shake-down in a corner of the kitchen, and although the bed which Betty and the pretty matron had to share was hard, it was clean, and the pillows soft, and they slept soundly and well amid their rough surroundings, and, to confess the truth, enjoyed the novelty of the situation.
Lieutenant Hillhouse aroused them early in the morning by a message; and as Mrs. Seymour was not ready to receive him, Betty ran out and met him at the door.
"You look so fresh and bright that I am sure your night spent upon the roadside has not harmed you," said the officer, bidding her good-morning. "I am off at once, as I carry an order to General Wolcott for quartermaster's stores in Litchfield. What shall I say to your father for you?"
"Oh," cried Betty, rejoiced at this chance to send word of mouth to her beloved ones, "how truly fortunate! Tell my father we are well and in good spirits, and hope to reach the neutral ground to-night at farthest."
"You may easily do that; the storm has passed, as you see, and if my friend Caesar can urge his horses somewhat, you are not likely to meet with detentions. One of my men has assisted in shoeing the horse, and if you can, you should start at once."
The coach and Mrs. Seymour appeared at this moment simultaneously, and the lieutenant insisted upon seeing the ladies safely started. Betty seized the opportunity to ask for news of Josiah Huntington, and was told of his having rendered good service, and that he gained in popularity daily.
"And Oliver—my brother," said Betty, leaning from the coach as they were about to move off: "what tidings of him?"
"He has not been with me," replied Hillhouse with some constraint; "indeed, I think he was to be sent on some special service."
"Give him my best affection," said Betty. "And oh, sir, to my little sister at home pray deliver my fondest love," and tears were brimming in Betty's eyes as Caesar flicked his whip at the horses' heads and the coach started.
The road being somewhat better than that already traveled, the miles which intervened between Ridgefield and White Plains were more briskly done, and Caesar had the satisfaction of pulling up his horses in good condition before the well-known tavern at the latter place in time for dinner. The somewhat pretentious sign hanging out over the door had been changed to suit the times and the tempers of the guests, for what had previously read "The King's Arms, Accommodations for Man and Beast," was now "The Washington Inn," and beneath it a picture in Continental uniform of a man whose rubicund countenance required considerable imagination to transform into a likeness of the commander-in-chief. As their happened to be a lack of hostlers, it took some time to get the horses baited, and it was later than Mrs. Seymour could have wished when Caesar finally made his appearance and informed his mistress that all was ready for their departure. The weather had been growing colder steadily, and greatly to their surprise the travelers learned that in all probability Harlem River was frozen, and grave doubts were expressed by mine host of the inn whether the ladies could gain their journey's end without much discomfort and exposure. But Mrs. Seymour and Betty were both of the opinion that it was inexpedient to linger longer on the road, so for the fourth time they climbed into the coach, and, muffling themselves as closely as possible to keep out the cold, pursued their onward way.
Five miles, eight miles, were covered with fair speed, and Betty's spirits were rising rapidly at the thought that New York and Clarissa were not far away, when Caesar turned around on his box, and, bringing his horses to a walk, said in an awestruck whisper,—
"'Fore de Lord, madam, I done suspect de redcoats is comin'; d'ye heah 'em from de woods ober dar?" pointing with trembling hand in the direction of a sound which rang out on the frosty air at first indistinctly, and then resolved itself into a song.
"Under the trees in sunny weather, Just try a cup of ale together. And if in tempest or in storm, A couple then, to make you warm,"—
sang a rollicking voice, in fairly good time and tune, as a group of men came in sight. As they neared the coach, the man in advance trolled out in an accent which betrayed his Teutonic origin,—
"But if the day be very cold, Then take a mug of twelve months old!"
[Footnote 1: A topical song then in vogue in New York. (See Story of the City of New York.)]
"Hello, halt there!" came the command, as the singer seized the horse by the bridle, and another soldier dragged Caesar roughly from his seat; "who are you, and whence bound?"
"Ask my mistress," gasped Caesar, almost convinced that his last hour had come, but still having firm faith in Mrs. Seymour. "Dun you know how to speak to a lady?"
"I have safe-conduct from General Washington to enter New York," said Mrs. Seymour calmly, extending her hand with the precious paper toward the first speaker. The man took it, and gazed stupidly at it. Evidently being German, he could not read it; but having turned it upside down and gazed at it for some seconds, he gave a drunken leer as he peered inside the coach.
"What you got in your hamper? blenty cognac, eh? Give us a pottle; that's better than mugs of ale, eh, poys?" and he laughed uproariously.
"I shall give you nothing," said Mrs. Seymour firmly; "if you cannot read my safe-conduct yourself, is there not one of your men who can?"
The Hessian was about to make angry reply, when a young fellow, evidently an Englishman, shoved his way through the men to the coach door.
"Stop that, Joris," he said, prodding the corporal with his elbow; "give me the paper; I can read it." But Joris, who evidently had reached the stage of ugly intoxication, did not choose to give it up, and stood his ground.
"Ve wants cognac," he shouted, "an' you comes out, lady, an' ve'll find for ourselves vhat you is," and seizing Mrs. Seymour by the arm he attempted to drag her from her seat with some violence.
"The pistol, Betty!" cried the plucky little woman as her feet touched the ground; but as Betty, with equally reckless courage, drew their only weapon from its hiding-place, the young Englishman rushed at Joris with an oath, exclaiming,—
"Look out, you fool—here comes the officer's patrol," and there was a clatter of horses' feet, a swift rush, and a voice demanding in stern fashion, "Stand back, there! Whose coach is this? What do you mean, fellow, by handling a lady in that manner?" and Geoffrey Yorke struck Joris a blow with his sheathed sword which nearly sobered him on the spot.
Back into the corner of the coach sank Betty, and as she pulled her hood still farther over her face, she felt as if every drop of blood she possessed was tingling in her cheeks, as she saw Geoffrey, hat in hand, dismount and read General Washington's safe-conduct.
"I deeply regret, madam," he said, with stately courtesy to Mrs. Seymour, "that a corporal's guard should have caused you such annoyance, and I shall see that the fellow who treated you so roughly be properly punished. Meantime, if you intend to enter New York you will be obliged to leave your coach a mile farther on, and cross the river on horseback. King's Bridge, as you may know, was fired some months ago by the rebels, and the flatboat used for ferrying has been abandoned on account of the ice. It will afford me pleasure to do what I can for your comfort and that of your companion. But it is my duty, unfortunately, to make passing search of your coach; will you pardon me if I do so?"
As he spoke, Captain Yorke advanced to the door and extended his hand to assist the occupant of the vehicle to alight, but Betty, ignoring assistance, attempted to spring past him to the ground. As the willful maiden did so the topknot of her hood caught in a provoking nail of the open door and was violently pulled from her head: and as her lovely, rosy face almost brushed his sleeve, Geoffrey started back with a low cry,—
A MAID'S CAPRICE
"Mistress Betty, sir," came the swift whisper in retort, and with so haughty a gesture that Geoffrey stepped back as if he had been struck, while Betty, with a slight inclination of her head, passed on to where Mrs. Seymour stood with Caesar on the other side of the coach. But if she expected him to follow she was swiftly made aware of her mistake, for Geoffrey merely pursued his intention of searching the pockets of the coach, and when he emerged from it he came, hat in hand, toward the ladies with face more calm and unruffled than Betty's own.
"If you will resume your seats," he said, addressing Mrs. Seymour, without a glance at Betty, who (now that her anger born partly of terror had passed) stole a quick look at him, and as quickly looked away, "I will ride on before you and be waiting at the river; if it be safe, you will cross on horseback; if not, on foot, and I shall take great pleasure in seeing that you reach King's Bridge Inn in safety." Whereupon he escorted Mrs. Seymour to the coach, and when he turned to assist Betty found that she was in the act of climbing inside by the other door, where Caesar stood in attendance.
"What a provoking child it is!" said Geoffrey to himself as he flung into his saddle, smiling at the recollection of Betty's rebuke and proud little toss of her head. "'Mistress Betty'! Very well, so be it; and thanks to the star of good fortune which guided my steps up the road to-day. I wonder how she comes here, and why," and Captain Yorke gave his horse the spur as he galloped on.
Some distance behind him the coach lumbered forward, and Mrs. Seymour's tongue rattled on gayly. So engrossed was she with being nearly at her journey's end, and their good luck at having fallen in with Yorke, that Betty's silence passed unnoticed.
"To think that we should meet again," ran Betty's thoughts. "'Betty,' forsooth! How dare he use my name so freely! What would Mrs. Seymour have thought had she heard him, and how could I possibly have explained with any air of truth unless I told her the whole story—which I would rather die at once than do. He has not changed at all; I should have known him anywhere, even in that hateful scarlet coat, which becomes him so mightily. I wonder if my rebuke was too severe"—and here she became conscious of Mrs. Seymour again.
"Yorke—did not that handsome young officer say his name was Yorke? Why, then he must have some kinship with the Earl of Hardwicke; very probably this young man may be a grandson of the earl. I must ask my sister; she will have some information about it."
"Worse and worse," thought Betty. "A British officer—kinsman of an earl—oh, me, in what a coil am I enveloped! But at least my father knows all, and he would not hold me disloyal."
The coach bumped and jolted along, and finally came to a standstill, while Caesar's voice was heard addressing some one. Betty looked out of the window and behold a dismal prospect enough. The bank shelved gradually down to the river, which at this point was narrow, and between them and the other shore stretched a mixture of snow and ice; she could distinguish the flat-bottomed boat used for ferrying purposes stuck fast almost in the middle of the stream.
"How are we to cross?" said Mrs. Seymour dolefully, looking down at her feet. "I wish I had an extra pair of woolen stockings to pull over my shoes; the snow and ice will be cold walking. What are they doing to the horses?"
"Will it please you to alight, madam?" said Geoffrey, springing from his saddle at the door of the coach. "My men are of the opinion that the ice will not bear so much weight as your coach with you ladies and Caesar in it, but if you can mount your horses we can lead them and you can cross in safety. Meanwhile Caesar can remain here to guard your property, and when my men fetch the horses back they can assist him to transport the coach to the other side. I hope the plan meets your approbation. It seems the only feasible one, provided you ladies can ride without a saddle."
"Bless me," cried Mrs. Seymour, "I shall surely slip off on the ice! Betty here is a horsewoman, but, alas! I am not."
"Then we must contrive a way," replied Geoffrey. "If a blanket be strapped over my saddle I think you can sit on it.—Caesar, put one of those blankets on my horse instead of yours."
"Oh, that will do nicely; how kind you are, Captain Yorke."
"Will the young lady be able to ride one of your horses?" asked Geoffrey, addressing Mrs. Seymour.
"I can ride anything," said Betty hastily, "for my mare is"—and then she bit her lip and colored brightly as Geoffrey turned toward her.
"You will be quite safe, for I shall lead your horse myself. Let me first attend Mrs. Seymour."
Between terror and small gasps of laughter Mrs. Seymour's mounting was accomplished, and then Geoffrey (artful fellow!) summoned a tall, good-looking trooper from the patrol, and, placing the reins in Mrs. Seymour's hand, gave directions to the man.
"You will hold the horse by the bridle and guide every step with care, letting the lady put her hand on your shoulder to steady herself. Be watchful of the air-holes; I think you know the path well."
"Yes, captain," said the trooper, saluting respectfully. "Am I to dismount the lady at the Inn?"
"Aye; go down the path before me;" and Geoffrey turned toward Betty, but again the mischievous maid had been too quick for him, and he beheld her already mounted on one of the coach horses, where she sat demurely and at ease awaiting him. Geoffrey seized the bridle and walked slowly down the bank, taking great care of his own steps lest he should by slipping cause the horse to stumble, and in a few seconds they were slowly picking their way over the rough ice. The horse's hoofs crunched into the snow, and Betty held her breath, and a little thrill went over her as she fancied she heard the ice crack under them.
"Oh!"—a half-involuntary cry escaped her, and Geoffrey looked up reassuringly as he stroked the horse's neck and checked him for a brief second. Mrs. Seymour and the trooper were somewhat in advance and had almost reached the opposite shore.
"I—you—that is"—faltered Betty, meekly dropping her eyelids—"Oh, sir, do you really think we shall gain the Inn safely?"
"There is no cause for fear," said Geoffrey coldly. "I know the path;" and he plodded on in silence. Another few rods, a slip, a half halt; but this time it was Yorke who stumbled and fell on one knee.
"Confound my sword," he cried, recovering his feet. "But we are nearly there. See, Mrs. Seymour has gained the road and is riding on to the Inn."
No reply from Betty; in truth, if he had but known it, she dared not trust her voice lest its first sound should be a sob. And Yorke, divided between amusement and wrath at her perversity, vowed he would say no more until she grew less capricious.
The road was well trodden and the snow light as the pair pursued it in silence. The famous hostelry known as King's Bridge Inn was upon the highway going up the Hudson, where Spuyten Duyvil Creek ran down to Harlem River, and many a rendezvous and intrigue had been carried on within its low, wide rooms since the Colonies had declared their independence of British rule. As Yorke approached the door, inside which Mrs. Seymour had already disappeared, a tall, dark man in riding-boots and long coat came hastily forth, and as Betty dropped the reins of her horse he was at her side. "Oh, Gulian," cried she, stretching out both hands, "don't you know me? 'Tis I, Betty Wolcott; have I outgrown your recollection?"
"Betty, indeed," replied Gulian Verplanck, lifting her off the horse, "and right glad am I to welcome you. What good fortune brought you in contact with Captain Yorke's patrol? Had I known of your near approach, I should myself have ridden forth with him, but the air was chilly and I deemed it more prudent to stop at the Inn until to-morrow."
"Since I see you safe"—began Geoffrey, as Betty half turned toward him.
"You do not know whom you have so kindly assisted," broke in Verplanck; "this is Mistress Betty Wolcott, sister to my wife. Betty, I present to you Captain Geoffrey Yorke, aide to Sir Henry Clinton, and my friend."
Betty executed her most stately and deepest courtesy, and Yorke swept his hat gracefully to the very ground; but as she raised her eyes she said, with a mischievous glance, "I am pleased to learn the name of this gentleman. Sir, I thank you," and giving him a little gracious nod, Betty vanished inside the open door of the Inn.
"Verplanck," called Geoffrey, as his friend was about to follow her, "I shall go directly back to the city, for Sir Henry has to make ready dispatches for England and will need me. Mrs. Seymour's coach will be brought over at once; my men are assisting the negro servant in the transit. Do you follow me shortly?"
"Unless the ladies are too weary we will go at once, for I can obtain fresh horses here and the Inn seems somewhat over-crowded to stop the night. But if you are in haste, Yorke, do not wait."
"Very well, then, I will depart at once. But you must have at least two of my men as escort for the coach and yourself. You know there are plenty of footpads outlying the city."
"I accept the escort gladly," said Verplanck. "Farewell, then, and my hearty thanks."
Betty and Mrs. Seymour had been ushered into a small bedchamber, where they were making some slight changes of dress when Gulian Verplanck knocked at the door and informed them that the coach would shortly be ready for the continuation of their journey. Betty followed him back into the waiting-room, where a good fire was burning, and Verplanck sought to find a seat for her near the hearth. The room was occupied by perhaps a dozen persons, all men: some troopers, and a group of traders whose bundles of furs, lying on the floor beside the table where they were partaking of glasses of home-brewed beer, told their occupation. On one settle, close by the chimney, sat an old man, somewhat ragged, who had fallen asleep with his head resting against his bundle and stick, which shared the bench with him; on the other sat a slight youth dressed in homespun clothing, who instantly rose as Betty approached, and offered her his seat.
"I am warmed enough," he said, as Verplanck gave brief thanks; "besides there is room here. Wake up, grandfather," and he gave the sleeping man a gentle push as he squeezed himself down beside him.
"Stay here till the coach is ready, Betty," said Verplanck. "Mrs. Seymour will join you presently," and he departed to hasten the hostlers, who could be heard outside, evidently engaged in harnessing the horses they were to use.
Betty looked around her curiously. The room, with its low ceilings, dark rafters, and sanded floor, was fairly tidy, and, in the light and shade of the shifting fire, picturesque and strange. A short, thick-set man, evidently the host, a comfortable-looking Dutchman, bustled in and out, giving directions in a perfectly audible aside to a maid, who wore a queer straight cap and brought in trays of beer to the thirsty party of traders. A little boy in one corner was playing with some nails and a pewter plate; each time he dropped the nails, making a jingling noise, the landlord said, "Hush, there, Hans," in a loud whisper, to which the child paid no attention. Betty wondered if it was his son, and felt as if she would like to go over and play with him; and then thought, with a half-homesick longing, of Moppet and the dear New England home. Far, far away ran Betty's thoughts, as minute after minute sped along and no one came to disturb her reverie. So engrossed was she that not even a low, but distinctly spoken "hist," which came from the settle near her, aroused her until it had been given the third time. Then she started; there was something familiar in the sound—was any one speaking to her?
"Hist! do not look this way," whispered a voice which came from the pair opposite her on the other side of the chimney. "Contrive to pass near me as you go out—be cautious!"
"All ready, Betty?" said Mrs. Seymour's gay voice, as she came across the room toward her. "Where is Mr. Verplanck?"
"Here," answered Gulian, from the other door. "Hasten, Betty; the horses are eager to be off."
"I am coming," replied Betty, as she rose hurriedly and dropped her silk reticule directly in front of the mysterious pair on the settle. The boy darted up, giving the bag a furtive kick which sent it under the bench.
"I'll reach it for you, madam," he said aloud, diving down for it as Betty paused a brief second. The old man stirred sleepily, raised his head from his bundle, and keen bright eyes that Betty knew well flashed into hers as he whispered rapidly:—
"Show no alarm, Betty, but no matter how or where you see me, make no sign of recognition."
"Here's your bag," said the boy, springing to his feet. But Betty, never stopping to thank him, ran rapidly across the room, out of the door, and darted into the waiting coach, afraid to even glance behind her, her heart sinking with dismay, for the voice and eyes of that ragged old man were those of her brother Oliver!
ON THE COLLECT
"Peter, Peter," said Grandma Effingham in a tone of gentle remonstrance, "if thee would only let the ball alone Tabitha would keep quiet."
"Stop it, Peter," said Betty, from the doorway, as the irrepressible youngster rolled over and over on the rug, himself, the gray cat, and the ball of gray yarn hopelessly entangled. "Much you deserve all the stockings that grandma knits for you so perseveringly; just look at the condition of that ball"—and by a skillful flank movement she rescued the yarn as Tabitha's pranks and Peter's tumble came to a hasty conclusion, and the chief culprit gained his feet and began to apologize for his frolic, as the cat fled through the door.
"I was just waiting for you, Betty; you girls take such a long time to put on your capes and furbelows. I'll warrant Kitty will detain us when we stop for her, and we must hasten, for the sun will not stay up much longer. Just let me find my muffler and my skates," and off tore Peter, while Betty tucked up her gown preparatory to an afternoon on the Collect Pond, whose frozen surface was the resort of all fashionable New York, both those who joined the skaters, and others who watched them from the surrounding banks, making a gay, bright winter scene for the spectators as well as the participants.
It was some three weeks since Betty's eventful journey, and as the strangeness of her new home and surroundings wore off she was beginning to enjoy herself. First of all, the dear happiness of being once more with Clarissa, who had brightened and strengthened each day since her arrival; then Grandma Effingham's storehouse of anecdotes and pleasant stories, to which Betty listened with delight and the respectful deference that youth of those days paid to age; and last (though Betty would have denied it stoutly) the frequent visits to the Verplancks of a certain tall soldier, whose red coat made her eyes sparkle with disdain, even while her heart beat quicker at sound of his voice. Truly, Betty's soul was torn within her, and for every smile that Yorke succeeded in winning he was sure to receive such dainty snubs, such mischievous flouting following swiftly after, that he almost despaired of ever carrying the outworks, much less the citadel of the willful maid's heart.
Kitty Cruger had received Betty most cordially, but the acquaintance had not yet progressed toward intimacy. On several occasions when Betty had been especially teasing, Yorke had seen fit to retaliate by seeking Kitty's side, and, although he was far from suspecting it, he had thus piqued his little lady-love extremely. For Kitty was a reigning belle, and the toast of the British officers as she had been of the Continentals, and she liked Yorke and Yorke's attentions. If Betty had only known whose face came oftenest in Kitty's dreams, and that a blue sword-knot was her most cherished possession, perhaps the dawning jealousy which she felt toward her would never have existed. Who can say?
The winter had set in with great rigor, and the troops had even crossed on the ice from Staten Island to the city; sad tales reached Betty's watchful ears of privations endured in the army of General Washington, and it made her cheeks burn and tingle to hear the jests and laughter of the Tory guests who visited the house, at the expense of the so-called "rebels" against King George. Of Oliver, Betty had no sign; whether he had been in the city and accomplished whatever mission he had in view, she knew not. She did not dare to confide in Clarissa, for even had her sister's health permitted, Betty deemed it scarcely safe to put her to the test of loyalty as between husband and brother.
All these thoughts and many more were crowding Betty's brain as she ran down the steps of the Verplanck mansion and followed Peter toward Queen Street, where Kitty lived. The sun shone brightly and the air was crisp and clear; Betty looked charming in her dainty hood, tied with a rose-colored ribbon which nestled softly under her chin and played at confining the dancing curls. Contrary to Peter's expectations, Kitty was watching for them, and they proceeded with some speed along the snowy streets until they reached the Minetta Water, as the small stream was called which wound its way across the Lispenard Meadows, and connected the "Collect" (or Fresh Water Pond) with the Hudson River. At the end of Great Queen Street was a wooden bridge, and crossing it, the little party continued up Magazine Street until they reached the Collect Pond, on two sides of which were low buildings of various kinds, being rope-walks, furnaces, tanneries, and breweries, all run by water from the pond. Betty thought she should some day like to come out and investigate them with Peter; they were not very sightly, but they might prove interesting. These buildings shut out the view, and until Betty stood on the very bank she had no idea how brilliant a scene the Collect presented. The ground on the north side between them and Broadway rose to the height of a hundred feet, and this hillside was covered with spectators who were watching the skaters with which the ice was alive. Among the crowd were many women of fashion, muffled in their furs, carrying huge muffs to keep their fingers warm, and scarlet uniforms, dotted here and there, served to heighten the effect of brilliancy and animation. As they turned the corner of a furnace whose big chimney had sheltered them for a moment, a young man darted up the bank and greeted Kitty.
"How late you are," he said reproachfully. "Philip Livingston and I have been watching for you this hour. The ice is in fine condition; may I put on your skates?"
While young De Lancey was thus engaged Peter and Betty were making ready also. Up in the Litchfield hills, where the winter set in early and lasted late, Betty had learned to use her skates well, and she and her brother Oliver had been the best skaters in the township when she was hardly more than a child. Even the timid Pamela had gained boldness and dexterity on the clear, frozen pond; and therefore when Betty, with the ease of a practiced skater, glided off without assistance, Peter flew after her in round-eyed amazement.
"I say, Betty," he exclaimed, breathless with his effort to catch her, "how you do fly! My eye! there isn't one of these New York dames or maids who can equal you," and he chuckled with triumph as Betty began to execute some very difficult motions which she and Oliver had often practiced together.
"Give me your hand, Peter; there, now, glide this way, and take the outside roll—oh! have a care; if you turn like that you will surely catch your skate in mine. That's better; now cross hands, and go gently; see, I am cutting a face on the ice."
Surely enough, as Peter glanced behind he saw a gigantic profile grow on the smooth surface beneath Betty's little foot, and the skaters around them paused to wonder and admire.
"There," said Betty, making a final flourish, "come back to the bank and let us find Kitty." But as they flew along Betty saw a familiar red coat appear beside Kitty's advancing figure, so dropping Peter's hand she dashed off in an opposite direction. She headed for the north bank, which was less crowded, but slacked her speed a little, fearing an air-hole, as she debated which way to turn.
"Mistress Betty," said a voice just behind her, and with a little start she realized that the obnoxious scarlet coat had reached her side, "will you skate a turn with me down the pond?"
"Surely," and Betty's most roguish smile beamed into Yorke's eyes as she wheeled toward him. "Perhaps you will try a race with me, Captain Yorke?"
"With pleasure, and for what stakes?" returned Yorke, bending down to secure a strap which he felt loosen.
"I meant but a trial of speed to the bridge there, where we cross the Minetta Water. A stake? Well, name it."
"A knot of rose-colored ribbon," said Yorke softly.
"Another!" cried Betty unguardedly, and could have promptly bitten her tongue for the betrayal of her thought.
"Ah, then you do remember?" asked Yorke. "In what have I so deeply offended that I can scarce gain speech of you! Why do you flout one who longs to show you his devotion?"
"You forget, sir," said Betty coldly, "the coat you wear. Do you fancy that scarlet commends itself to a rebel maid like me, or that the cause you represent can be aught but hateful to a loyal Wolcott?"
"Betty, Betty! I do beseech you"—
"Nay, we will put entreaty outside the question. A race, I think I said, Captain Yorke. I will make the stake that self-same bow of rose-color—if you have kept it so long."
An indignant flush dyed Yorke's face. "So be it," he said briefly, and in a flash they were off; she, graceful, and almost like a winged bird, as she sped along; and he, tall, straight, and muscular, with a long, staying stroke, which impelled Betty's admiration. The distance to the bridge was a good half mile, and the spectators on the hill presently perceived the racing pair, and from the cries and shouts which arose she learned, to her added chagrin, that they were seen, and their trial of speed would be eagerly followed. On flew Betty, so intent upon reaching her goal that she never noticed how Yorke crept closer and closer; they were almost to the bridge, when his voice sounded at her shoulder:—
"You should have the race, sweetheart, but I cannot part with the ribbon," and with a sudden rush Yorke darted past her and gained the bridge barely three seconds in advance.
"Forgive me," he had time to whisper, as Betty stood still, with flashing eyes and half-quivering lip, while they waited for Peter, Kitty, and Philip Livingston, who had followed them down the course; "'twas too dear a stake for me to lose." But as the words left his lips, to his astonishment and delight, with all a child's frankness, Betty gave him her hand.
"Nay, you won the race fairly, and Betty Wolcott craves your pardon."
"Oh, my eye!" shouted Peter, as he flung himself between them; "'t was the prettiest race of the season, was it not, Kitty? Do, do try a game with the rest of us, and I'll be your hurlie myself."
A hurlie, be it known, was a small boy or man who, in the fashion of a ball-game of the day, propelled the balls along the icy surface of the pond with a long, sharp-pointed stick, and the race was accorded to whoever first caught the ball,—often a trial of both speed and endurance when the course was a long one.
"Are you deserting me, Peter?" put in Kitty playfully; "the other hurlies are busy with the De Lancey party; we must have two or three at least."
Yorke moved a step forward; his first impulse was to offer his services to Kitty, as he had done before, but some fine instinct warned him not to jeopardize his half-reconciliation with Betty, and before he could speak, Philip Livingston whistled to a tall, slight lad who was standing looking at them from the bank close at hand. In response the lad ran down, leaped on the ice, and said pleasantly,—
"Your pleasure, sir. Did you call me?"
"Can you drive a ball for me?" asked Philip; "if so, I'll promise you a shilling for an hour of your time."
"Indeed I will," said the boy; "but let me first go tell Jim Bates, there, who maybe will be returning to Paulus Hook, and I'll just bid him wait for me over yonder in the tan-yard until you gentlefolks have had your game."
Off darted the new recruit, and was seen to join a man wearing the wide hat and somewhat greasy garb of a fisherman, who, after a few words, nodded assent, and with somewhat slouching gait proceeded leisurely across the bridge in the direction of the tan-yard referred to. Amid much laughter the game began; some other acquaintances came down the bank and joined them, and presently Betty found herself darting over the ice hither and thither, following Peter's purposely erratic course, and pursuing the ball, determined this time to outdo Yorke, who followed her every motion, and whom she again began to tease and laugh at. But to Yorke anything was better than her scorn or displeasure, and when, by a lucky stroke and a quick turn of her skates, Betty bent down and captured the elusive ball, he was the first to raise a shout of triumph, in which the merry party joined with the heartiness of good-fellowship and breeding.
It was growing dark and cold as Betty climbed up the bank and seated herself on a pile of boards, while Peter unstrapped her skates. As she looked up, she saw Yorke and Philip Livingston talking with the boy who had been hurlie for Kitty, and it crossed her mind to wonder where Kitty had vanished. So she rose to her feet and walked leisurely along with Peter toward the tan-yard and turned the corner of the furnace chimney. As she did so, she almost stumbled against a man, who drew back suddenly; on the other side stood Kitty, and Betty distinctly saw a piece of white paper pass from Kitty's muff into the hand of the stranger, whom she instantly recognized as the greasy fisherman who had crossed the bridge half an hour before.
A FACE ON THE WALL
Betty sat in her favorite seat, a low, three-legged cricket, on the side farthest from the fire in Clarissa's little morning-room; it was the day before Christmas, and Betty's fingers were busy tying evergreens into small bunches and wreaths. Of these a large hamperful stood at her elbow, and Peter was cutting away the smaller branches, with a face of importance.
"So you have never kept Christmas before," said he, pausing in his cheerful whistle, which he kept up under his breath like a violin obligato to his whittling of boughs; "and you don't believe in Kris Kringle and his prancing reindeers? My, what fun we boys had up in the old Beverwyck at Albany last year," and Peter chuckled at the recollection of past pranks. "Down here in the city it is chiefly New Year day which is observed, but thank fortune Gulian is sufficiently Dutch to believe in St. Nicholas."
"Yes?" murmured Betty, her thoughts far away as she wondered what Moppet was doing up in the Litchfield hills, and whether Oliver had got back safely to the army again. Surely, he had cautioned her not to recognize him, but luckily her fortitude had not been put to proof. And then she wondered what secret mission Kitty had been engaged upon that day at Collect Pond. Somehow Kitty and she had been more confidential since then; and one night, sitting by the fire in Betty's room, Kitty had confessed that she too was a rebel—yes, a sturdy, unswerving rebel, true to the Colonies and General Washington, and Betty's warm heart had gone forth toward her from that very moment.
"Clarissa has a huge crock full of olykeoks in the pantry," pursued Peter, to whom the Dutch dainty was sufficiently toothsome; "and Pompey has orders to brew a fine punch made of cider and lemons for the servants, and oh! Betty, do you know that Miranda has a new follower? His name is Sambo, and he comes from Breucklen Heights; he has been practicing a dance with her, and old Jan Steen, the Dutch fiddler, has promised to come and play for them and their friends in the kitchen, and for my part I think there will be more fun there than at Clarissa's card-party—don't you? Wake up, Betty; I don't believe you've heard one word I've been saying."
"Indeed I have," replied Betty, returning to her present surroundings with a start. "A dance, Peter? Why, it seems to me the servants have great liberty here."
"Don't you give yours a holiday up in New England? I thought you had negro servants as well as we?"
"So we do; you know that Miranda is the daughter of our old cook, Chloe. She came here with Clarissa when she was a bride; oh, we have a few negro servants in dear New England, Peter, but not so many as here. Gulian told me that there are some three thousand slaves owned in the city and its environs. But our negroes go to church and pray; they do not dance, and I know Chloe would be shocked with Miranda's flippant ways. She was ever opposed to dancing."
"Don't be prim, Betty."
"I—prim?"—and Betty went off into a shout of girlish laughter, as she flung a pine needle at Peter, who dodged it successfully; "that I live to hear myself called what I have so often dubbed Pamela. Fie, Peter, let Miranda dance if she will; I should love to see her. It would be far more amusing than cards."
"Betty," said Peter, edging nearer her and lowering his voice to a whisper, "I heard that the Sons of Liberty had another placard up near the Vly Market last night, and that Sir Henry Clinton is in great wrath because they are growing daring again. My! wouldn't I just like to see one of them; but they say (so Pompey told me) that they are all around us in different disguises. That's why they're so difficult to catch; it would go hard with them if the Hessians lay hands on the author of the placards."
"But they will not; I heard Gulian say only last night that the cleverness with which the placards are prepared and placed was wonderful. Who tells you these things, Peter? Do have a care, for we are under Gulian's roof, and he would be very angry if he knew that your and my sympathies are all on the side of the Whigs."
"Oh, I hear things," murmured Peter evasively. Then whispering in Betty's ear, "Did you ever hear Kitty speak of Billy the fiddler?"
"There's no one within hearing," said Betty, as she finished her twelfth wreath and laid it carefully on the floor beside her cricket. "Get the other big branch outside the door, and sit down here close by me while you pull the twigs off; then you can tell me safely, for Clarissa is sleeping, and she will call me when she wakes. Of course I never heard of the man you mention."
Peter threw back his howl in a prolonged chuckle, as he followed Betty's instructions and edged his cricket close to her elbow.
"Man!—well, he's more like a monkey than anything. He only comes to my shoulder, and yet he's old enough to be my father."
"A dwarf, do you mean?"
"No, not precisely; the boys call him a manikin, for he's not deformed; only very, very small; not above four feet high. He is Dutch and has been a drummer, it's whispered, in General Washington's army. They say he was in the battle of Harlem Lane, and beat the rally for our troops when Knowlton fell. The Vly boys are great friends with him."
"But, I thought you were at daggers drawn with the boys of the Vly Market, Peter? Surely, you told me blood-curdling tales of the fights between them and you Broadway boys?"
"Oh, aye, but that's for right of way" and don't mean much except when we are actually punching each other's heads. Billy can tell great yarns; how his eyes flash when he speaks of the prison ships, though I only heard him once, when Jan Steen was talking foolish Tory stuff."
"Do you think 'Billy the fiddler,' as you call him, is one of the Sons of Liberty?"
"H-u-s-h!" and Peter looked fearfully around. "I don't dare say, but I'm sure he's true and steady. Betty, I wish I was a little taller; if I were I'd run away some fine morning and go for a drummer boy with General Washington."
Betty looked up with affectionate eyes at the sturdy urchin. "I know how you feel, Peter; but wait a bit. It's sad and disheartening enough now, God knows, but perhaps better days may dawn for the patriots. My father says we must keep up our hearts as best we can, and trust in God and the Continental Congress. Did I tell you how we moulded the bullets last summer? We kept the tally, and over forty-two thousand cartridges were made from the statue of King George, so the women of Litchfield have contributed their aid to the cause in good practical fashion."'
"Aye, that was fine! It must have been jolly fun, too."
"It was very hot," said Betty, laughing; "we tried it in our big kitchen, but finally had to melt the lead in larger kettles hung over a crane in the shed down in orchard. Aunt Euphemia thought we would fire the house, and for many nights Miss Bidwell and she, protected by Reuben with a lantern, paraded the place before closing up, hunting for stray sparks which she fancied might fly in the wrong direction."
"What a lot this hamper holds," said Peter, diving down into it. "You've made enough wreaths to decorate the rooms, I'm sure, and your hands are getting black."
"Never mind my hands; soap and water will cleanse them. Clarissa wants a 'real English Christmas,' she said, and poor dear! she shall have it. It does my heart good to see her brighten and glow like her old pretty self."
"You can thank Captain Yorke for putting the 'real English Christmas' into her head; there's a fine Tory for you, Betty. Sometimes I forget he's one of our foes—he's almost nice enough to be a patriot."
"He thinks he is one, Peter; he owes his loyalty to his king, and were less than a man not to give his services where ordered."
"Ha, ha!" quoth Peter teasingly; "you'll be as bad as Kitty presently."
"How so?" returned Betty, biting her lip as she turned her face away from Peter's roguish eyes.
"Why, Kitty had a walk-over course with the scarlet coats until you came, and Captain Yorke was one of her gallants. But now I find him at your elbow whenever you give him half a chance. But I've seen you snub him well, too; you girls are such changeable creatures. I'd not have a scarlet coat dancing around after me if I were you, Betty;" and Peter endeavored to look sage and wise as he cocked his head on one side like a conceited sparrow. What reply Betty might have made to his pertness was uncertain, but at that moment both doors of the room opened and Clarissa entered by one as Kitty flew in the other.
"How industrious you are," cried Kitty, as she bade them all good-day; "the rooms will be a bower of green, such as Captain Yorke tells about. I came, Clarissa, to beg a note of invitation for Peggy Van Dam. She has but just returned from Albany, and will be mightily pleased to be bidden to your card-party."
"I wondered if she would be in time," said Clarissa, seating herself at her claw-legged, brass-mounted writing-table. "Has she changed much, Kitty—not that I mean"—and Clarissa's sentence ended in a laugh.
"There was room for it," finished Kitty. "No, she is just the same: aping youth, with the desire to conceal age."
"Oh, Kitty, that's the severest speech I ever knew you guilty of!"
"Ill-natured, aye," quoth Kitty, with a comical sigh; "the world's awry this morning and I must vent my crossness on somebody, so let it be Peggy. But if I can carry her your note it will atone for my peevish speech a dozen times, for is not Captain Sir John Faulkner coming, and you know as well as all of us that Peggy's airs and graces are most apparent in his company."
Betty looked quickly up into Kitty's face as she rattled on gayly, and detected an air of trouble and anxiety that was most unusual. And as they presently followed Clarissa downstairs, she paused at the landing and slid her little fingers into Kitty's as she whispered:—
"What's amiss? You are worried, I perceive; can I help you?" Kitty started, and turning her head over her shoulder said softly:—
"Not now, but I know that you are true-hearted and quick-witted; I dare not say one word more," and with an affectionate pressure, she dropped Betty's hand and ran swiftly down the staircase.
The drawing-room in the Verplanck mansion was high of ceiling, a spacious, stately room, and its quaint, straight-backed chairs, stuffed ottomans, and carved mahogany sofas were the acme of elegance of those days. The highly polished floor had received extra attention from Pompey and his assistants, while the mirrors shone brightly and reflected the candles of the brass sconces on either side of their glittering surfaces. Betty, at Clarissa's request, superintended the placing of the card-tables, and also that of a huge silver salver, on which the tiny cups for chocolate and the tall glasses for mulled wine would be served from a table in the dining-room early in the evening before supper; also a famous bowl of Indian china, where hot caudle would appear, caudle being an English compound with which Betty was not familiar. Peter explained it to her with due regard to detail; and smacked his lips over the bottle as it smoked away on Dinah's kitchen table, where he had invited Betty to come out and see it.
"Dinah makes a sort of posset first, of oaten-meal, and then she puts in coriander seeds, and raisins, all carefully stoned (I ought to know that, for I helped her one mortal hour last night and got my fingers sticky with the plagued stones), and some cloves in a muslin bag, which are let lie till the caudle boils, and then removed, and last of all, just as it's ready to serve, she pops in a good half bottle of cognac—my! but it's prime!" and Peter cut a pigeon-wing and gave a regular Mohawk war-whoop, as he danced around the kitchen and disappeared through the door just in time to avoid Dinah's wet dishcloth, which she sent spinning at his close-cropped pate.
Betty stood in her small chamber at six o'clock that evening, contemplating her gown with critical eye. Parties in those days were early affairs, and in New York were known to assemble as early as half past seven. The lanterns which hung outside every seventh house for the purpose of lighting the streets were lit by the watchmen at half past six, for the winter days were short, and the denizens of Wall Street were wont to pick their way most carefully since the great fire, the debris of which in many instances was still left to disfigure the sites where had stood stately mansions. Betty deliberated for some minutes; here were two gowns: one must be worn to-night for her dear Clarissa; the other kept for the De Lancey ball, an event over which all fashionable New York was agog, and which would take place on New Year's night, just one week ahead.
On the high, four-posted bed lay the gowns; one, which had been her mother's, was a white satin petticoat, over which was worn a slip of India muslin covered with fine embroidery, so daintily worked that it was almost like lace itself. The dames of Connecticut, and, indeed, of all New England, were much more sober in their dress than those of New York, where the Dutch love of color still lingered, and the Tories clung to the powdered heads and gay fashions of the English court circles. The other gown (which in her secret soul Betty longed to wear) had been given her by Gulian, who was the most generous of men, and who admired his pretty sister-in-law far more than he would have told her. A ship had recently arrived from England bringing him a box of gowns and gewgaws ordered long since for his wife, and of these Gulian had made Clarissa happy by bidding her bestow on Betty a gown such as he considered fitting for a grand festivity like the De Lanceys' New Year ball.
"Alack!" sighed the pretty maid to herself, as she contemplated the white satin, "I will not even raise the paper which contains Clarissa's present, for both she and Gulian have set their hearts upon my wearing it on New Year's day, so 't is useless to fill my breast with discontent when I have so good a gown as this to wear to-night. The skirt is a little frayed—oh! how vexing!" and Betty flew to her reticule for needle and thread to set a timely stitch; "now that will not show when the muslin slip goes over." Another anxious moment, and with a sigh of relief Betty slipped on the short waist with its puffed sleeves and essayed to pin the fichu daintily around her neck. Then she dived down to the very depths of a chest of drawers, whence she produced a small box, and out of this came a single string of pearls,—the pearls which her mother had worn upon her wedding-day, and Pamela had pressed into her hand at parting. Next, Betty with cautious steps, candle in hand, approached the mirror, which graced the farther end of her tiny chamber, and holding it at arm's length surveyed herself as far as she could see, which was not below her dainty waist, as suited the dimensions of the mirror aforesaid.
"I am too white," thought Betty, with a little frown, all unconscious of her lovely coloring and exquisite red-gold hair, which, guiltless of powder, was massed as usual on top of her head and clustered in wayward little curls on the nape of her snowy neck and over her white forehead; "but never mind,"—with childlike philosophy,—"my gown for the New Year ball has both breast and shoulder knots of rose-color; I wish I dare steal one for to-night! But perhaps Clarissa would not be pleased, so I will descend as I am. I hear Peter clattering on the staircase; he is no doubt superintending the servants' dance," and Betty extinguished her candle and tripped lightly down past Clarissa's door.
From the sounds and lights she became aware that she was late, and had lingered too long over her toilet, so she hesitated for a brief moment as she reached the door of the drawing-room, where she could see Clarissa and Grandma Effingham standing with a number of guests, both dames and gentlemen. As she paused on the threshold a graceful, girlish picture, a tall form emerged from the dim shades of the hall, and a hand met hers.