"Mistress Betty, I salute you," said Geoffrey Yorke, bowing low, "and may I also beg your acceptance of a bunch of clove pinks? They were grown by my Dutch landlady in a box kept carefully in her kitchen window, and I know not whether she or I have watched them the more carefully, as I wished to be so fortunate as to have them bloom for you to-night."
"For me?" said Betty, in a delighted whisper, turning such glowing eyes upon him that the young man fell more madly in love with her than ever. "How kind!—and at this season? Oh, they are sweet, and recall the garden walk at home. Indeed, sir, I thank you," and scarcely thinking what she did, in her pleasure at his pretty attention, she thrust the bunch of pinks in her fichu, where they lay close to her white throat and gave her toilet the one touch of color for which she had longed. Small wonder that Geoffrey's handsome face lit up with triumph, or that Clarissa said to herself as the pair approached her, Betty dimpling with smiles, "What a charming couple they make! I wonder if my father would object?"
This was Clarissa's first appearance in society for many months, and the warmth with which she was greeted showed how large a place the New England girl had made in the regard of her husband's friends. The party was given chiefly for Betty, that she might have plenty of partners at the New Year ball; and although these were mostly young people, there was also a goodly sprinkling of dames and dowagers, who smiled approvingly when Betty was presented to them, before seating themselves at the all-absorbing card-tables. Cards were much the mode of the day, and an hour or more was given to them; then as the metheglin (a delicious beverage made of honey) and the mulled wine was passed, the younger portion of the company began moving through the suite of three rooms, breaking up into small groups as they did so.
Peter, who had constituted himself master of ceremonies for the fun in low life which was going on in the kitchen, darted up to Betty as she stood talking with Philip Livingston.
"They're just going to begin to dance," he said. "Miranda is perked out in a wonderful pink gown, and Aunt Dinah has her best turban on her head. Do, Betty, persuade some of the company to come out and see the negroes dance. Don't you hear the music beginning?"
Surely enough the distant scraping of the violin could be heard, and Betty, seizing Kitty by the hand, tripped up to Clarissa and repeated Peter's request. Clarissa hesitated an instant.
"Oh, Gulian," cried Betty, catching hold of her brother-in-law as he came forward, "may we not visit the kitchen and see the servants dance? Captain Yorke tells me that is what is done in England on Christmas Eve, and I am sure it would afford us all a new amusement."
Artful Betty! She knew full well that any suggestion of England and English ways would appeal to Gulian, and Yorke, who followed closely at her side, threw the potent weight of his opinion in the scale by saying quietly:—
"I am told your slaves have the very poetry of motion, Verplanck; permit me to escort Mistress Betty to the servants' hall."
"Servants' hall!" whispered Betty mischievously to Yorke as Gulian led the way with Clarissa; "we have nothing so fine in our humble colonies, sir; our kitchens must serve for our dusky retainers."
"You know I did not mean"—he began reproachfully. But seeing Betty's laughing eyes, he added, with a smile:—
"Nay, you shall not tease me into vexing you to-night if I can avoid it; I will strive to train my tongue to please you."
The kitchen presented a quaint and most picturesque appearance. It was a low, wide room, and around the wall ran shelves and dressers, on which the pewter plates and copper covers shone with such fine polish that one could almost see in their surfaces as in a mirror. Between those hung bunches of herbs and strings of bright-hued peppers, and in and out on the walls, and above, from the rafters, were Christmas greens, all arranged by the servants themselves, with that unerring eye for grace and color which is an attribute of the colored race. Aunt Dinah, the presiding genius of the kitchen, stood at one end of the room. Her large and portly person was clothed in a gay cotton print of many colors; and upon her head was twisted a bright silk handkerchief, with a most rakish-looking bow which reposed over her left ear. The Verplanck slaves, some twelve of them, were augmented in numbers by those of the Ludlow, De Lancey, and De Peyster families, and half filled the spacious kitchen us they stood back in rows, courtesying and bowing, showing their white teeth in smiles and low laughter, as they recognized some "young massa," or "ole madam" among the gentlemen and dames who smiled back upon their faithful, kindly faces.
The dance began with a special contra-dance, in which the performers copied with great exactness the profound bows and deep courtesies of the period, mimicking their masters and mistresses with curious grotesque grace. At the extreme end of the room, near Aunt Dinah, sat the fiddler, wielding his bow with an extra flourish befitting the occasion. Jan Steen was a well-known character, and his coming was looked upon as a special favor, only accorded to the servants because they belonged to the Verplancks, a family greatly honored and beloved among the Dutch settlers of Manhattan Island.
After the contra-dance was concluded, amid the applause and laughter of the spectators, four young slaves were singled out from the others, and took their places on the floor. Two of these were girls, pretty mulattoes, and two young, bright-colored negro men as their partners. To rather slow music they went through with a rhythmic dance, in which their figures swayed to and fro, chiefly from the waist, a gliding serpentine dance, evidently copied from the slaves of Martinique, and brought to New York by the French families. And then, to Peter's great delight, came the event of the evening, in his eyes,—the dance of Miranda with her new admirer from Broucklen Heights.
"Miranda is my maid," explained Clarissa to Madam De Lancey and Mrs. Morris, as they waited for the performers to take their places. "I fetched her from Connecticut when I was married, and she is, as you see, very pretty and most graceful. The dance is a species of Spanish dance, I fancy, for it is done with two scarfs of red and yellow; I purchased the stuff a year ago from a Dutch peddler, and Miranda begged it of me last week."
"Cousin Clarissa," said Peter, rushing up, "we will want more light to enable you to see this; the candles are getting low. With your permission, may Pompey light the big lantern on the wall?"
About the middle of the kitchen hung a lantern which had once been used for illuminating purposes outside the mansion. It contained a piece of tin which acted as a reflector; and Peter, who had never yet had the pleasure of seeing it lit, had amused himself that very morning by putting in the candles for which it was prepared, and informed Aunt Dinah that he meant to light it by way of a climax to the festivities of Christmas Eve.
"The big lantern?" replied Clarissa; "it has not been lit this three years."
"I made it ready this morning; oh, do say yes."
"Certainly," said Clarissa, smiling; "but tell Pompey to be careful, Peter."
Off flew Peter, and up on a bench mounted Pompey, nothing loth to add dignity to the scene by illuminating it. Jan Steen drew his bow across his violin with a long, sweet note, and out on the floor glided Miranda, holding the hand of a tall, athletic-looking young negro, whose motions were grace itself. They began at the top of the room, holding the scarfs aloft, and slowly made their way down until they were in the centre, when the full light gleamed strongly upon their raised arms, their heads well up. Soft murmurs of applause began to steal around the room. Betty stood with Captain Yorke and Kitty directly under the lantern, beating time with her fan.
"How graceful they are," said Yorke softly. "See, even their shadows on the wall opposite are picturesque and wild. How distinct the faces are!"
"Silhouettes!" burst in Kitty; "have you seen the pictures made by the new artist who came from Albany? Some folks like to be done thus, but for me I do not care for a black profile of my own face. They are cut skillfully enough in paper, however."
Betty, wondering what had possessed Kitty to set off on an animated description of silhouettes, looked up at the wall, and then her heart almost stood still. That fine, high forehead, the curving lips, the nose, with its clear-cut nostrils,—not even the disfiguring woolly wig, stiff collar, and blackened face and hands could disguise them to her. She gazed with sickening apprehension at the dancers; how often she had seen Oliver dancing with Miranda when they were children together at home, the performance usually taking place in the garret, for fear of scoldings upon the sinfulness of dancing from Chloe, Miranda's mother; oh, how did he dare do this here, where any moment might bring discovery and death? Why, why, had she failed to see and recognize him! his disguise was very perfect, and yet—
The applause rang out heartily as the dancers tripped faster and faster; Betty wondered if her torture would ever end. Perhaps it had only begun, for Oliver had said—
"Mistress Betty," spoke Yorke, and his voice was low and very tender, "may I offer you my arm? A glass of mulled wine would, I think, be of service to you." Stumbling a little in her agitation, Betty slipped through the door with him, on into the dining-room, where he placed her in a corner of the wide sofa and fetched the wine.
"Drink it, every drop," he said, smiling down at her with a masterful look in his dark eyes that Betty had never seen before. "Sweetheart, trust me, and sit here till I return."
Betty sipped her wine and the truant color came back to her cheeks, as she saw him vanish through the door.
"Have I grown a coward?" she thought indignantly. "I was brave up in the Litchfield hills—how dare I fail now! Captain Yorke must have seen—and yet, how could he know Oliver's face sufficiently well? Ah,"—and Betty almost cried out,—"it is I, miserable I, who have betrayed my brother. We are so strongly alike that"—
"Mistress Betty,"—Yorke was at her side again,—"I left you to bestow a few shillings on yonder fellow who danced so well, but I could not find him, and Mistress Kitty Cruger tells me he left at once for Breucklen Heights, whence he came, as there is a party crossing before daybreak. I trust you are better; the air was close in your kitchen."
Betty's two small hands clasped each other mutely; her large eloquent eyes were raised to his in the sweetest glance that ever maiden gave.
"God bless you!" she cried impulsively, and, turning, fled through the open door.
AT THE VLY MARKET
It was a bright sunny morning, but very cold, and snow lay packed hard and firm in the streets of New York, which, narrow as they were, afforded little opportunity for the sun's rays to penetrate with sufficient strength to warm the shivering pedestrians who were hurrying down Maiden Lane in the direction of the Vly Market. At the farthest end of the street were the shops, and one of these, "The Sign of the Cross Swords," stood within a stone's throw of the market itself. It was a small affair, with little grimy window-panes, where were displayed knives, scissors, and razors, with locks and keys of many odd sorts. At the door stood a half-grown boy, stamping his feet to keep warm, as he droned out in sing-song fashion: "Walk in, gentlefolk, and have your razors ground; we have all manner of kitchen furniture in cutlery within, also catgut and fiddle strings at most reasonable rates."
But these attractions did not appear to bring many customers inside the little shop, as the passersby seemed chiefly eager to gain the Vly Market, where the stalls were crowded with purchasers who were getting the good things there displayed to indulge in keeping New Year's day with the proper spirit of festivity; and the shop-boy was about to slip inside for the comfort of warming his fingers and toes, when a tall, slender fellow in fisherman's dress accosted him.
"Hey, you there! Have you fish-hooks and nets within?"
"Aye, sir, in plenty. Will it please you to enter?" And the boy made room for the stranger to pass through the narrow doorway. The shop was apparently empty, except for a middle-aged man who rose from his seat on a high stool near the window, where he was busily engaged in polishing a pair of razors. As he came forward, the fisherman addressed him:—
"Good day, friend. A frosty morning."
"But the wind will turn to east at sunset," said the other, with a quick glance from under his heavy eyebrows.
"A good wind, then, for the Sturdy Beggar," was the reply, as the fisherman clasped his hands behind his neck with a peculiar gesture.
"Then all's well," returned the shopkeeper, laying down his razors, and motioning his customer to come farther inside. "Whom do you seek here, sir?"
"Mynheer Wilhelm Hoffmeister, known commonly as 'Billy the fiddler.'"
"He is off on duty since last Tuesday, but must be here to-night to play at a grand ball given at one of the Tory houses; there must be news, for you are the third one who has asked for him since yesterday."
"News?" said the fisherman eagerly; "perhaps you have a billet for me?"
"And what may you be called?" asked the other cautiously.
"Jim Bates, from Breucklen Heights."
"Then you're all right, sir; why didn't you say so before?" and the man, casting a swift glance to make sure that the boy at the door was not looking, pulled a scrap of dirty paper from his pocket, which was instantly seized and opened by the fisherman. As he read the few words it contained, the anxious lines on his face grew deeper.
"It is the only way," he muttered to himself, as he tore the scrap into tiniest fragments, "but I must know from Kitty the hour." Then aloud, "Have you a bit of paper, friend, on which I can write a message?"
"Surely," said the shopkeeper; "wait here a moment until I fetch it," and he went hurriedly through a small door at the back of the shop, leaving the fisherman standing near the window, from which he could see the crowd outside. Suddenly the man uttered an exclamation, and made a dash for the door, nearly upsetting the boy on the threshold.
"Tell your master I will return shortly," he said hurriedly, and disappeared in the direction of the Vly Market.
It happened that Madam Cruger, thrifty housewife though she was, had forgotten to order an extra number of the large, flat seedcakes, known as New Year Cakes (and without which no gathering could be considered complete for New Year day, when they were handed to all callers with the accompanying glasses of mulled wine and metheglin), and had therefore dispatched her daughter, with a colored servant carrying a capacious basket on his arm, to purchase the dainty from the one stall in the Vly Market where the aristocratic folk were wont to deal. Truth to tell, Madam Cruger had made matters somewhat uncomfortable for her portly cook when she learned that the cakes made by that functionary were too few to meet her ideas of hospitality; and although Kitty knew that it would require speed on her part to go to the market and return in time to dress and be ready to receive their visitors in the drawing-room by twelve o'clock, she preferred to pour oil on the troubled waters and procure domestic peace at the expense of a little personal fatigue. Beside, it was not unpleasant to trip along with the merry crowd, bent on enjoying themselves, and Kitty knew that she would meet many an acquaintance, out, like herself, on some belated errand for New Year day.
But there was one occurrence for which Kitty had not bargained, and that befell her as she gained the market door. The fisherman, who had followed her as swiftly as he dared without creating notice, passed close at her elbow, then turned and met her face to face. Kitty grew a little pale as he touched his cap respectfully, but she stopped in obedience to the glance which met hers.
"A Happy New Year to you, my good man," she said. "I fear that you and your brother craftsmen suffer this terribly cold winter. Stand aside out of the chilly wind which meets us through the market door and I will speak to you. Cato," to her servant, "go on to Fran Hansel's stall, and let her weigh out five pounds of seedcakes for my mother; I will join you there in a moment," and she turned back to the fisherman, knowing that in the crowd she was comparatively safe, provided her voice was not loud enough to attract attention.
"What is it?" she murmured, almost breathless from excitement, yet striving to maintain a quiet, even careless exterior. "I hoped you had fulfilled your dangerous errand and gone hence two days ago."
"I cannot leave until my mission is completed; we have almost certain news of an incursion by the British across the Kill von Kull, which will do much injury to the peaceful country folk of Elizabethtown and Newark. The man they call 'Billy the fiddler' will have a message for me to-night of the greatest importance, and he plays with others at the De Lancey ball; are you to be there, and at what hour?"
"I, Oliver?" said Kitty, and turned rosy red as the incautious word escaped her; "all New York is going at eight o'clock, but what has that to do with"—
"This," whispered Oliver Wolcott, pulling his hat further down over his eyes, and motioning Kitty to walk a few steps away from the door: "I must be there."
"You are mad!" and Kitty turned pale at the idea.
"Oh, no, I am coming as one Diedrich Gansevoort, from Albany. Do not fear for me; my disguise will be very perfect, and I go introduced by Abram Lansing, from whom I bring a letter to Madam De Lancey. They are old friends, though he is as stanch a Whig as she a Tory. I tell you, Kitty, 't is of vital importance that I ascertain the facts of this rumored raid upon the patriots, and I must risk all to gain it. Warn Betty, lest she give way to alarm; be brave and fear nothing."
"A Happy New Year, Mistress Kitty," said a gentleman who approached her, followed by his negro servant. "I shall do myself the honor to pay my respects to your mother a little later;" and Mr. Van Brugh raised his three-cornered hat in courtly salute, staring hard at Kitty and the fisherman as he passed them.
"We are noticed," said Oliver calmly; "go on and do your errand."
"But I am so fearful for you," gasped poor Kitty, whose usual composure seemed to be deserting her. "You try me too far, unless I may do something to aid your escape, for a horrible sinking of my heart seems to bode no good to you."
"Put no faith in omens," answered Oliver, with a smile. "I shall be off at daybreak. Farewell, Kitty, and have no fear; I am well protected," and mingling in the crowd, he passed out of the market door and was gone.
With what courage she could summon, Kitty sped on to Fran Hansel's stand. The seedcakes had been weighed, decked with a handful of Christmas greens, and placed in the basket, and Kitty, after a few kind words to the old Dutch market-woman, made her way swiftly through the crowd and gained the street.
"I must warn Betty," she thought an she proceeded up Maiden Lane, and as she came to Queen Street she paused. "Go directly home," she said to her servant; "tell my mother I have stopped to see Grandma Effingham and wish her a Happy New Year. I will be back in time to dress," and off she sped in the direction of Wall Street.
Betty, who like Kitty, had been spending her morning assisting in preparations for the New Year callers who would present themselves later in the day, was dusting the quaint Dresden Shepherdess who presided over a corner of the drawing-room mantel, when a sharp knock at the front door announced a visitor; and she fled out of the drawing-room only to encounter Kitty in the hall.
"A Happy New Year to you," said Kitty, in a tone of gayety which she was far from feeling. "I ran over to give greeting to grandma, and as I came my petticoat gave way; let me mount to your chamber and fasten it before I go to grandma's."
"Certainly," said Betty, and seizing hands both girls ran rapidly up the staircase. Inside the small chamber, Kitty closed the door, and set her back against it.
"The petticoat is fast enough, Betty, but I have something grave to say. Oliver is still in the city—he goes to the De Lanceys' to-night—I was to warn you."
"In what disguise?" asked Betty breathlessly.
"Indeed, I know not, except that he will represent Mynheer Diedrich Gansevoort, from Albany; oh, Betty, I am sore afraid."
"Nay, wherefore?" and Betty's eyes sparkled as her color rose. "We Wolcotts are not wont to fail, and I am now too accustomed to Oliver's hairbreadth escapes for fright."
"You were well alarmed at the servants' dance; oh, how rash he is!"
"We spare nothing in our country's cause," said Betty, with a proud little toss of her head; "but, Kitty, forgive me if I appear intrusive—I am puzzled to know how and where you and Oliver"—
"You should have known long ago," interrupted Kitty, blushing deeply, "but, somehow, I never could approach near enough to your heart to confess that Oliver and I are trothplighted though my mother's consent is lacking. We met in Albany—again at West Point, and oh, Betty, how I have longed to tell you. I have seen you look at me with eyes so like his; with such scornful glance when I laugh and jest with those hateful redcoats, such kindly smile when I showed you that I am at heart a patriot. Forgive me, dear, and let us do all we can to help Oliver to-night, for he is determined to be at the De Lanceys' as by going there he can obtain certain important information for the cause of freedom."
Betty threw her arms around Kitty; why did she feel as if the innocent words stabbed her? Had the "hateful redcoats" ceased to be hateful to her?
"Trothplighted," she whispered, with wide-open eyes of delight; "I hoped as much—how happy my father will be when Oliver"—
"Nay, nay," cried blushing Kitty, "you go too fast; think of madam, my mother, and her antipathy to the 'rebels,' as she calls them, quite forgetting that my aunt (where I made my home in Albany for three years) is one, as well as her naughty daughter. Good lack! my fortunes were told long ago had I but bowed to her wishes; and at the moment, Betty,—to let you into a profound secret,—the most desirable husband for me in her eyes is Captain Yorke."
"Indeed!" said Betty coldly, but Kitty was too engrossed in her own discourse to notice.
"Not that he has such an idea, mind you; he loves to dance and jest with me, as a score of others do. But, Betty, your confidence in Oliver is well sustained so far, and it lightens my heart. Beside, there is no one here who would be apt to recognize him except you and me; though for the matter of that why Clarissa did not see and know his shadow at the servants' dance I have not yet ceased to marvel."
"You forget that she had no knowledge of his presence in New York, and Oliver has changed greatly since she saw him full three years ago."
"And now to grandma," said Kitty, releasing the latch of the door, which she had held carefully in her hand since entering the room, as a precaution against intruders; "and fare you well, Betty, till we meet at the ball to-night."
All through that New Year day Betty's heart throbbed with excitement, as a steady stream of visitors passed in and out of the mansion, where Grandma Effingham and Clarissa bade welcome to old friends and young ones, to stately gentlemen in small clothes and powdered queues, with a fine selection of British officers, beginning with Sir Henry Clinton, who arrived in great state and descended from his sleigh, with its coal-black horses, accompanied by his aides, for the English commander liked to conciliate the Tories of New York, and, as he was then making secret preparations to accompany an expedition to South Carolina, thought best to appear in public even more than usual.
"Mistress Betty," said Geoffrey Yorke, under cover of sipping a glass of port wine which she had offered him, "I drink to your very good health;" then softly, "I have not seen you for a week; have you been quite well since the Christmas party?"
"Is it so long?"—willfully; "Clarissa said you called one day."
"Surely—to ask for you, and you never came inside the room."
"Because I was busy, sir," replied Betty. Then relenting as a swift remembrance crossed her mind, "I was skating at the Collect, where I went with Peter late in the day."
"Will you dance with me to-night at the ball—promise me all the dances you can possibly spare?" and Geoffrey's voice took its most tender tone as he fixed his eyes on Betty's charming face.
"All my dances? Nay, two, possibly three, are as many as Clarissa would deem consistent with good manners," returned the maid, unable to forego the pleasure of teasing him; "indeed, I am bewildered even now remembering sundry engagements already made."
"The first dance, Betty," said Yorke pleadingly, as he saw the general taking leave, and prepared to accompany him. "Surely you will not deny me that grace?"
But Betty only gave him the tips of her fingers in reply as she swept a graceful courtesy. Was it the slight pressure of his hand which accompanied the farewell that made Geoffrey spring gayly into the sleigh and drive off with a half-boyish, half-triumphant smile?
THE DE LANCEY BALL
The De Lancey mansion, then one of the most famous houses in New York, was on the Bloomingdale Road, and the drive out Bowery Lane ran through meadow-land and green trees in summer, but over hard-packed snow and ice in winter, for it was part of the highroad to Albany. So both Grandma Effingham and Clarissa ordered the fur muffs and hot-water bottles for the feet placed carefully in the sleigh, which Pompey brought to the door just as the night watch went down the street, crying in his slow, bell-like tones, "Eight o'clock, and all's w-e-ll!" Betty, standing muffled in long cloak and fur hood, on the steps of the house, said to herself, with a thrill of excitement, "All's well; please God I may say as much when midnight sounds to-night."
The sleigh was a large, roomy one, with back and front seats, and its big hood was drawn up and extended like a roof over the top, covering the heads of its occupants, but open at the sides. Clarissa was seated first, and well wrapped in the bearskin robes which adorned the sleigh, and then Betty tripped lightly down to have her little feet bestowed in a capacious foot-muff, as she carefully tucked her new gown around her and sat beside Clarissa. Gulian, in full evening dress, with small clothes, plum-colored satin coat and cocked hat, took possession of the front seat. Pompey cracked his whip, and the spirited horses were off with a plunge and bound, as Peter, the irrepressible, shouted from the doorway, where with grandma he had been an interested spectator of proceedings, "A Happy New Year to us all, and mind, Betty, you only take the handsomest gallants for partners." De Lancey Place had been the scene of many festivities, and was famed far and wide for its hospitality, but (it was whispered) this New Year ball was to excel all others. The mansion stood in the centre of beautiful meadow-land, with a background of dark pines, and these showed forth finely against the snow which covered the lawns and feathered the branches of the tall oak-trees in front of the door. Lanterns gleamed here and there, up the drive and across the wide piazza; at the door were the colored servants, in livery imported direct from England, and from within came sounds of music. As Pompey swept his horses up to the step with an extra flourish of his whip, a group of British officers, who had just alighted from another sleigh, hastened to meet Clarissa and assist her descent.
"On my word, Clarissa," said Gulian, a few minutes later, as he offered her his hand to conduct her to the ballroom, "I never saw Betty look so lovely. Your pink brocade becomes her mightily, and her slender shape shows forth charmingly. Where did you procure those knots of rose-colored ribbon which adorn the waist? I do not remember them."
"That is my secret—and Betty's; she vowed the gown would not be complete without them, so I indulged the child, and I find her taste in dress perfect. Captain Sir John Faulkner seems greatly taken with her, does be not?"
"Aye, but let us hasten to find our hostess. They will be forming for the minuet directly, and you must dance it with me, sweet wife,—unless you prefer another partner."
Clarissa's response to this lover-like speech was evidently satisfactory, for presently Betty beheld her sister and Gulian take places at the head of the room, next Madam De Lancey, who opened her ball with Sir Henry Clinton. Betty, since her arrival in New York, had been trained and tutored for the minuet by both Clarissa and Kitty, and here was Captain Sir John Faulkner, an elderly but gallant beau, supplicating for the honor of her hand in the opening dance.
"I am loth to decline," began Betty, a little overpowered by the compliment, "but I have already promised this dance."
"To me," said Geoffrey Yorke, at her side, and looking up, Betty, for the first time, saw her lover in all the bravery of full uniform, powdered hair, and costly laces. If he had been strikingly handsome in the old homespun clothes in which he first appeared before her on the shores of Great Pond, he was ten times more so now. Betty forgot that his coat was scarlet, that he represented an odious king and all she had been taught to despise; she only saw the gallant manly form and loving eyes which met hers so frankly, and the hand she gave him trembled as he led her out upon the floor. For Betty did not know—though the realization came to her later, with bitter tears— that all unconsciously she had entered that fabled kingdom, the knowledge of which makes life a mystery, death a glory!
The music swelled on in slow and stately measure; jewels flashed in the blaze of wax candles, silken brocades rustled a soft accompaniment to the steps and courtesies of their fair wearers, as Betty dreamed her dream of happiness, only half aware that she was dreaming. And when, at the close of the minuet, Geoffrey led her to Clarissa, there was no lack of gallants nor partners, and Peter would have chuckled with delight could he have seen that no one was so eagerly sought for as the lovely, roguish maid, who wore the knots of rose-colored ribbon.
It was time for supper, and instruments were being tuned into order for a grand march, to be led by Madam De Lancey, when Betty, standing near a large Indian screen, talking with Mr. Van Brugh, who was a dear friend of her father's, became aware of subdued voices at her elbow, on the other side of the screen.
"I tell you I am right," said one of these testily; "I would stake my sword that he is not what he seems. I saw him exchange a bit of paper with yonder manikin fiddler, who has been under suspicion for some weeks, and cleverly they did it, too. It's not the first time, I'll warrant, that Mynheer von Gam—"
"No, no, not Von at all; you are safe to be mistaken, Colonel Tarleton; the gentleman is one Diedrich Gansevoort from the Albany beverwyck. Madam De Lancey herself made us acquainted; he is no spy."
Betty's heart sank. She murmured something in reply as Mr. Van Brugh paused. This was the famous and cruel Colonel Tarleton. If he had traced Oliver, then all was lost. She strained her ears for further information, smiling up at Mr. Van Brugh as she waved her fan gently to and fro.
"If you are so sure of it, why did he, an apparent stranger, have aught to communicate to that fiddler yonder? Go quietly through the crowd and watch the gentleman as he appears at supper; I'll have a word with Yorke on the subject," and they moved off in the direction of the ballroom.
"Will he, indeed?" thought Betty, as she saw Geoffrey coming toward her from the hall; "not while I can hold him at my side," and with somewhat paler face, but with calm demeanor she moved away, obedient to Geoffrey's request that she should go to supper.
Kitty Cruger's evening, unlike Betty's, had been full of dangerous excitement. Arriving at the ball with her mother, she had been dancing with her usual spirit, keeping, however, anxious watch for Oliver. But she perceived no one whom she could possibly imagine was he, even in disguise, and therefore it was with almost a shock of dismay that she found herself stopped, as she was passing the supper-room door, by her hostess, who "craved the favor of presenting a gentleman just arrived from Albany, who knew her family there." Kitty dropped her most formal courtesy and raised her eyes to the face of the stranger. Verily, Oliver possessed positive genius for disguises, and troubled as she was Kitty could not restrain a smile as she recognized in the rubicund countenance and somewhat portly form of the gentleman bowing before her an admirable caricature of no less a person than her respected uncle, Cornelius Lansing, an antiquated Albany beau.
Yorke, with Betty, was just inside the door as the pair entered, and as Kitty perceived them she paused for a moment to say good-evening.
"Where have you been? I was looking for you. Permit me to present Mynheer Gansevoort, of Albany. Mistress Betty Wolcott and Captain Yorke. As for you, sir,"—to Yorke, with a playful tap of her fan to engage his attention,—"you have not yet claimed my hand for a dance. Pray, what excuse can you devise for such neglect?"
Betty seized her opportunity. She must warn Oliver at all hazards. "Have you lately arrived?" she said, fixing her eyes on him; then, in so low a whisper that it barely reached him by motion of her lips, "You are watched; be careful!"
"I am somewhat deaf," returned Oliver, with great readiness, bending his ear toward her. "By whom?"—with equal caution.
"Colonel Tarleton. Escape as speedily as you can."
"Did you speak?" said Geoffrey, turning suddenly, to Betty's dismay, and casting a penetrating glance at Oliver, which he returned with the utmost calmness.
"This gentleman is somewhat deaf, I find," answered Betty. "It is a sad affliction, sir; has it troubled you long?"
"Some years. May I offer Captain Yorke a pinch of snuff?" and the pretended Mynheer Gansevoort produced a gold snuff-box from his waistcoat pocket, which he courteously extended to the English officer.
"You must excuse me; I have not yet acquired the habit," replied Geoffrey. "A glass of wine with you, sir, instead, if you will do me the honor."
"With great pleasure." And as they moved a step onward, Kitty passed first with Yorke, thereby giving Betty time to whisper to Oliver what she had overheard behind the screen.
"Your very good health, sir," said Geoffrey, as he took the glasses of port wine from a servant standing near the lavishly filled table; "and if you will not consider me intrusive, do you purpose stopping in New York?"
"That is as may be," replied the other. "I am not, however, returning to Albany immediately. Will you name a toast?"
"Aye," said Yorke quickly, raising his glass, with a searching look into Oliver's eyes,—"To your safe return to the Albany beverwyck; the climate of New York is somewhat unhealthy at present."
"Yorke," said a young officer, coming hastily up behind the group, "Colonel Tarleton desires speech with you for a moment; you will find him and Sir Henry by the screen in the ballroom."
"You heard?" whispered Betty, as Geoffrey left them; "Captain Yorke has recognized you—fly, fly, at once!"
"Is there another exit from this room, Kitty?" asked Oliver, finishing his glass of wine as he spoke, and handing the empty glass to the waiting servant.
"Only the window behind us," gasped Kitty; "quick! they are all too busy eating and drinking to notice if you slip through the curtains, and the balcony is but a few feet from the ground."
"Then I must run for it. Farewell," murmured Oliver, as the heavy damask curtains dropped back over his vanishing figure. The two girls gazed into each other's faces with dilated eyes and quivering lips. Would the alarm be speedily given, and would they see him captured and carried to certain death? For one breathless moment they listened, and then Kitty turned sick and faint; her eyes closed as Betty flung an arm around her waist.
"Some wine at once," she said aloud, and two gentlemen sprang forward to assist her to place Kitty in a chair. "She is affected by the heat of the room; it will pass in a moment," and she gave the reviving girl a good hard pinch, which made her start in her chair. "Oh, Gulian, I am glad you are here. Had you not better seek Madam Cruger?"
"No, no," cried Kitty, struggling to rise, and most heartily ashamed of herself for her lack of self-control. "My mother is not strong and must not be alarmed. I am better; will you come into the hall with me, Betty? It is cooler there."
"Of course, and you can rest awhile; Gulian will bring us supper."
But supper and everything connected with it was far from Betty's thoughts; all she wished was a few words with Kitty alone, which she knew Gulian's absence would give her.
"Betty," said Kitty the instant he left them, "you do not know half the danger. If he has not the means of escape close at hand—if the British officers arrest the fiddler—Oliver is totally lost. Can you see through yonder door if the man be there still with the others?" Betty rose from her chair and stepped inside the ballroom, now nearly deserted, for the guests were all at supper. She glanced eagerly toward the upper end of the room; no, the manikin fiddler had disappeared. Then an idea darted into her quick brain; inaction under the circumstances was maddening; back she darted to Kitty's side.
"Kitty, come with me instantly. We will muffle ourselves in our cloaks and hoods and steal forth for a moment. I'll find Pompey and our sleigh, and if worst comes, let Oliver fly in that fashion; Gulian's horses are fleet enough to distance pursuers."
Without another word both girls flew into the room near the front door where they had left their wraps. Not a soul was there; the servants had gone elsewhere, knowing that their services would not be required until the early morning hours, when the ball broke up. It took but a moment pounce on their cloaks, and Betty also seized a long dark wrap, which lay conveniently at her hand, thinking it might be useful. Out into the hall they dashed swiftly and silently, past the lanterns on the broad piazza; and as luck had it, Pompey himself, who had come up to witness the festivities from the outside, popped up at the steps.
"What you 'so doin' hyar, little missy?" he began wonderingly, but Betty cut him short.
"Fetch the sleigh at once, Pompey. Mistress Kitty is ill, and I want to take her home."
Pompey, somewhat alarmed at the tone and catching sight of Betty's white face and burning eyes, vanished on the instant. The girls drew into the shadow as far as they were able, and holding their breath peered into the darkness.
"What is that?" whispered Kitty, as a swift footstep crossed the piazza. "Oh, 'tis Yorke! Have a care, Betty, or we are discovered," and she endeavored to drag her farther back against the wall. As she did so, the crouching figure of a man rose up against the trunk of one of the oak-trees on the lawn; it was Oliver. His padded coat cast off, they could dimly distinguish his tall slender form. Some singular instinct for which he could never account made Yorke pause as he set his foot on the threshold of the front door; he wheeled just in time to see Betty's face, as one pale ray from a distant lantern fell across it.
"Betty, what are you doing here?" he cried, darting to her side. At that instant a sound of voices broke on the stillness of the night; it came from behind the mansion in the direction of the pine woods.
"Kitty is ill," faltered Betty. "I am taking her home—do not, I pray you, detain me—oh, there is Pompey"—as the welcome sound of sleigh-bells rang out on the frosty air. "Geoffrey, Geoffrey, let me go!"
Her tone of agonized supplication went to Geoffrey's heart. Kitty flew down the steps into the sleigh, unassisted, and Betty followed, her hand in Yorke's. There arose a hoarse shout "The spy, the spy—he has escaped by the road!" and as Betty set her foot on the runner, a dark figure vaulted over Kitty and buried itself in the robes at the bottom of the sleigh.
"At last, sweetheart, I pay my debt," whispered Yorke in her ear, as he thrust Betty safely into the seat. "Pompey, drive for your life!" The startled negro needed no second bidding, down came the whip-lash on the horses' backs, and with a furious plunge, a mad rear, they were off, a quarter of a mile ahead before their pursuers turned the corner of the mansion.
Oh, that wild race through the snow! Even in after years, when long days of happiness had crowded out much of those stirring times from Betty's mind, a shudder would creep over her, and closing her eyes she could see again the tall gaunt trees, the frozen road, the snow that glittered so still and cold in the cruel starlight, and hear the distant shouts that she feared told of pursuit. On they flew, Oliver giving occasional directions to the trembling and excited Pompey. Now that he knew the danger, the faithful negro would have died sooner than fail to carry the fugitive into comparative safety. On, through the Lispenard meadows, on,—until they struck Broadway; no pursuers within sight, and at Crown Street Oliver bade him turn in the direction of the river, and drive down until he reached the slip which lay at the foot of the street. All was still. Save an occasional belated pedestrian, nothing seemed stirring, and as they neared the dingy old tavern at the Sign of the Sturdy Beggar, Pompey pulled up his smoking, panting horses.
"Don't want to got too near dose lights," he said, pointing to the swinging lantern which adorned the hostelry; "darsen't let nobody see my young mistress; Massa Gulian would flog Pompey for shuah if dis tale gets tole."
"You're right, Pompey," answered Oliver, springing up and flinging the long dark cloak with which Betty had provided herself around his shoulders; "take the ladies home slowly. Kitty, my beloved, farewell—farewell, Betty, brave little soul that you are; I'll tell my father how your quick wits came to my relief. Here I cross the river on the ice, and, God willing, reach the commander-in-chief with the tidings he desires by eight o'clock in the morning."
A sob from Kitty, a low "God guard you!" from Betty, and Oliver vanished as Pompey turned his horses and proceeded leisurely back to Broadway. The girls were literally too spent with emotion to do more than sink down breathless among the fur robes, and not one word did they exchange as they drove through Wall Street and finally drew up at the Verplancks' door. On the steps stood Gulian, a tall and silent figure, awaiting the truants.
"What does this mean?" he began sternly, as he lifted Kitty out. "Did the hue and cry for that wretched, miserable Whig spy frighten the horses? Clarissa is nearly distracted"—
"I will explain all to your satisfaction," interrupted Betty. "Meantime, listen, and be thankful;" and as she held up a warning hand, they heard through the stillness of the night the watchman's distant cry float down the frosty air:—
"Half past three o'clock—and all's—well!"
LOVE OR LOYALTY
"Do you mean to tell me that you, Clarissa's sister, had anything to do with the escape of a Whig spy?"
"Even so," said Betty calmly, though her face was pale and her brilliant eyes burning with excitement.
"Damnation!" retorted Gulian angrily. "Even your mistaken ideas of patriotism could hardly carry a well-behaved maiden so far."
"Gulian! how dare you!"
"What am I to conclude?" with a scornful wave of his hand; "your story is somewhat disjointed. Kitty is taken ill; you suddenly decide to carry her off in my sleigh without farewell of any kind to your hostess, without paying your sister or me the respect to ask permission. Then you state that a man—confound the beggar's impudence!—sprang into the sleigh, and you were foolish enough to fetch him out of the danger of pursuit, all because of loyalty to the cause of so-called freedom. I cannot understand—Stay! Captain Yorke was on the steps as I came out, hearing the shouts; did he witness this extraordinary occurrence?"
"I told you the fugitive had concealed himself in the bottom of the sleigh before I entered it," said Betty, terror seizing her lest a chance word should implicate Geoffrey in the matter. "Would you have me turn a helpless man loose among your Hessians? I have too vivid recollection of Nathan Hale's fate to contribute another victim to English mercy."
The taunt stung Verplanck, for, like many of the more liberal Tories, he had deeply deplored the tragic ending of the gallant Hale, although forced to regard it as one of the stern necessities of war. He bit his lip as he answered:—
"Thank you, Betty; I am glad Clarissa does not regard me as quite so bloodthirsty as you evidently deem me." Then, eying her keenly, as if struck by a sudden thought, "Did you know the man, or was it all pure patriotism?"
"Yes," returned Betty, filled with indignation at the sneer, and facing him with all her native courage; "yes, I know him well."
"Know him?" echoed the bewildered Gulian, "are you mad or am I dreaming?"
"Neither, I trust. The Whig spy, as you are pleased to call him, was my brother, Oliver Wolcott. Thank God that he has made good his escape, and congratulate yourself, Gulian, that you aided, even remotely, in it."
"Betty, Betty, if this be true, I trust Clarissa does not know."
"Never fear," with a choking sob; "I shall not tell her. She suffers enough, poor soul, with her husband upon one side and her people upon the other of this most cruel war."
"Betty, go to your chamber," said Gulian sternly. "I will myself escort Kitty to her own door, and impress upon her the necessity of keeping the matter a close secret. My mortification would be great were it known. Why, it might even endanger my friendship with Sir Henry Clinton."
Betty left the room, but her lip curled as she said to herself, "A Tory to the tips of his fingers; God forbid that I should ever feel what Clarissa must."
Very little sleep visited Betty that night (or what remained of it) as she lay with open eyes that strained into the growing dawn, picturing to herself Oliver's flight across the North River, and hoping fervently that she had thrown the pursuit skillfully off his track. When at last she fell into a doze it was nearly seven o'clock in the morning, and Miranda, who softly entered the room, bringing fresh water, halted at the pillow, loth to waken her.
"Mistress Betty," she whispered. No reply, but the sleeper turned uneasily, and then opened her eyes. "I certainly do hate to call you, but jes' look here; what you say for dat, little missy?" and Miranda held up a letter. "Dat was left wif me at daybreak by de young boy who came wif Sambo—missy knows who I mean,"—rolling her eyes fearfully around the room,—"and he said tell you that Jim Bates, of Breucklen Heights, had tole him to fetch it to you."
Betty seized the package; it consisted of a half-sheet of paper which inclosed a letter, doubled over and sealed with wax in the fashion of the day.
"I am safely across the river," wrote Oliver on the outer sheet, "and send this to ease your mind and Kitty's. Moppet's letter came to me inside one from my father by private hand a few days since, on chance of my being able to give it you. My service in the city is over, my object attained; hereafter I shall be on duty with our troops. God be with you till we meet again."
Betty broke the seal of her letter and between sobs and laughter deciphered the queer pot-hooks and printed letters with which Miss Moppet had covered the pages. Dear little Moppet; Betty could almost see the frowns and puckered brow with which the child had penned the words.
"My Betty dear," the letter ran, "we miss you sorely, especially the Mare and me. She whinnies when I seek the Stable, and I was going to say I cry too, but never mind." (This was partly erased, but Betty made it out.) "It is so cold the Chickens are kept in the kitchen at night lest they freeze. We hope it may thaw soon, as we Desire to get the maple syrup from the trees. Aunt Euphemia is well. Miss Bidwell is still knitting Socks for our poor soldiers, and I made Half of one, but the Devil tempted me with Bad temper and I threw it on the Fire, for which I was well Punished. Pamela cries much; I do not see why she is so Silly. Sally Tracy is the only merry one, now you are away; she spends too much, time, to my thinking, reading and walking with a young Gentleman who comes from Branford. I have not yet learned how to spell his Name, but you may Guess who I mean. When are you coming home, Betty? I want so to see your dear face. My Respects to Gulian and Clarissa, and Obedience to Grandma—I do not Recollect her whole Name. My Sampler is more perfectly Evil than ever, but I have completed the Alphabet and I danced on it, which Miss Bidwell said was Outrageous naughty, but my temper Felt calmed afterward. It has taken four Days to write this, farewell, from your lonesome little sister,
"Nota Bene. I send my Love to You know Who."
There were others of the Verplanck household who slept late that morning. Gulian's usually calm and somewhat phlegmatic temper had been moved to its depths by the startling and most unexpected revelation of Oliver Wolcott's identity with the spy, whose escape Betty had aided and in which he was also indirectly implicated by the use of his horses and servant. Gulian's strict sense of justice told him that Betty was right in seizing the means at hand to rescue her brother, but that did not lessen his irritation at being used for anything which appertained to the Whig cause, for Gulian Verplanck was a Tory to the backbone. Educated in England, brought up to consider that the divine right of kings was a sacred principle, he carried his devotion to the Tories to such an extent that had he foreseen the conflict between King and Colonies it is safe to say he would never have wedded Clarissa Wolcott. His love for his wife was too great to permit him to regret his marriage, and he was too thorough a gentleman to annoy her by alluding to their political difference of opinion, except occasionally, when his temper got the better of him, which, to do him justice, was seldom. But Clarissa's very love for him rendered her too clear-sighted not to perceive the state of his mind, and the unspoken agitation which she suffered on this score had been partly the cause of her homesickness and longing for her sister's companionship. He had been both kind and considerate in sending for Betty; his conscience approved the action; and now to have this escapade as the outcome was, to a man of his somewhat stilted and over-ceremonious ideas, a blow of the most annoying description.
When he sallied forth from his house some two hours later than his wont, on his way to the wharf, where his business was located, he congratulated himself that he had so far escaped questioning from his wife on the occurrences of the night before. When Betty left him, he had taken Kitty home in the sleigh, and refrained from lecturing her except so far as insisting upon her not mentioning the matter of Oliver's escape to her mother. Exhausted as she was, mirth-loving Kitty was moved to a smile as she listened to Gulian's labored sentences, in which he endeavored to convince his listener and himself that what he considered almost a crime against the King's majesty—permitting the escape of a rebel spy—was, so far as Betty was concerned, a meritorious act. So Kitty promised, with the utmost sincerity, that not one syllable would she breathe of the matter to her mother, or, in fact, to any human being, and hugged herself mentally as she thought of Gulian's horror if he only knew what a personal interest she had in that night's mad race for freedom. Clarissa, sweet soul, had lain down quietly, when told that their horses had nearly run away, being badly frightened by the hue and cry of an escaping rebel; and uttering heartfelt thanksgivings that Pompey had brought the girls home in safety, she went fast asleep and remained so long after Gulian had risen, breakfasted, and gone down Maiden Lane.
Business was somewhat dull that morning, and Gulian was conscious that each time his office door opened he feared some one would enter who had learned, he hardly knew how, of his having been connected with the hateful affair occupying his thoughts. It was therefore with a genuine feeling of relief that just as he was preparing to lock up his books he heard the outer door open, and a familiar voice inquire if he was within.
"Pray come in at once, Yorke," he said, throwing open the door of his private room with alacrity, as he held out a hand of welcome to his visitor. "Did you rise early this morning? I am ashamed to own how late I was, but the balls at De Lancey Place are promoters of sleep next day, I find."
"I can usually plead guilty to sleep," replied Yorke, throwing off his military cloak, and taking the chair which Gulian offered him, "but I had to be stirring early to-day, for Sir Henry had pressing affairs, and I was at headquarters before seven o'clock."
"Did you take horse in pursuit of the spy last night?" asked Gulian, with somewhat heightened color.
"Not I," answered Yorke carelessly; "the poor devil had luck on his wide, or doubled marvelously well on his pursuers, for I am told that not a trace of him nor of his confederate, the little fiddler, did our men find. It's well for them, as Sir Henry was much enraged and their shrift would have been short, I fear, had they been captured."
"These rebels grow bolder than ever," said Gulian, uttering a secret thanksgiving which spoke better for his kindness of heart than his loyalty to King and Crown; "I marvel at their adroitness."
"So do we all;—but, Verplanck, I came on a different errand to-day than politics. I came"—and Geoffrey hesitated, as a questioning look came on Gulian's face—"I came—I—In short, am I right in esteeming you for the present as brother and guardian to Mistress Betty Wolcott?"
"Aye; in her father's absence, of course, I stand in that relation toward her. Well, what of Betty?"
"Only this," and rising, Yorke bowed in courtly fashion: "I have the honor to ask your permission to pay my addresses to your sister, Mistress Betty."
"To Betty?" was Gulian's astonished and delighted response. "You surprise me. Your acquaintance is but recent, and, I think, somewhat formal?"
"Love is hardly a matter of time or formality," returned Yorke, with a smile, as a remembrance of his first meeting with Betty occurred to him, "and that I do truly and honestly love her you have my honorable assurance. Do you give me your permission to proceed in the matter?"
"With all my heart," said Gulian, this new aspect of things driving all unpleasantness connected with Betty from his head; "but her father's consent is, I fear me, quite a different matter."
"That is not for to-day," cried the lover, as he shook Gulian's hand with almost boyish delight, "and to-morrow may take care of itself if I can but gain Betty's ear."
"But my consent and Clarissa's can be but conditional," proceeded Gulian, his habitual caution returning to him. "I am not sure that I should be altogether justified—Nay," seeing Yorke's face cloud with keen disappointment, "I will myself lay the matter before Betty, and endeavor to ascertain if she may be well disposed toward you."
"Heaven forbid!" thought the impetuous lover. But he only said aloud, "Thank you, Verplanck, I am delighted to receive your sanction. How are you spending the afternoon?"
"I have business at Breucklen Heights, but I shall be at home this evening, when I will approach Betty in the matter, and tell my wife of the honor you do us. For I have not forgotten my many visits to your father, Lord Herbert, at Yorke Towers, and the kindness extended me while in England. Indeed, Yorke, for my personal share in the matter, I know of no alliance which could gratify me more."
This was unwonted warmth on Gulian's part, and Yorke, feeling it to be such, grasped his hand warmly at parting, as he flung himself in his saddle, and rode gayly up Maiden Lane.
But the "best laid plans o' mice and men" often meet with unsuspected hindrances, as both Gulian and Yorke were destined to discover. What special imp prompted Betty to sally forth for a walk after dinner, thereby missing a call from Yorke (who came thus early to prevent Gulian's intended interview), it would be vain to speculate; but when the maid returned, feeling more like her old happy self than she had done in weeks, the irony of fate prompted an encounter with her brother-in-law at the library door.
"I have somewhat to say to you, Betty," began Gulian, with an air of importance, which set Betty's nerves on edge at once. If there was one thing more than another that annoyed her it was Gulian's pompous manner. "Will you come inside before going upstairs? I will not detain you long."
Wondering what could have occurred to wipe out the displeasure with which he had dismissed her to bed the last time they met, Betty followed him, and throwing off her hood and cloak seated herself calmly as Gillian entered and closed the door with the solemnity he considered befitting the occasion.
"I had the unhappiness—the very great unhappiness," he began, "to feel much displeased with you last night; but upon thinking the whole matter over carefully, I am convinced that in assisting your unfortunate brother to escape you did your best under the circumstances, and were justified in yielding to a very natural and proper sisterly impulse."
"Thank you," said Betty demurely, but with a sparkle of fun in her liquid eyes as she turned them upon Gulian, secretly amused at this curiously characteristic apology.
"We will dismiss that event and endeavor to forget it; I only wish, to repeat my injunction that I desire Clarissa should know nothing of the matter." He paused, and Betty made a movement of assent.
"How old are you, Betty?" came the next remark.
"I am turned sixteen," replied Betty, somewhat surprised at the question.
"So I thought." Gulian paused again to give weight and dignity to the disclosure. "You are now of a marriageable age. I have this morning received a proposal for your hand."
"Indeed," said Betty calmly, "And who, pray, has done me that honor, in this city, where I am but a recent comer?"
"Precisely what I remarked; the acquaintance has been, perhaps, unduly short. But nevertheless a most honorable and distinguished gentleman intends to offer you, through me, his hand"—
"He had been wiser to present me with his heart," interrupted Betty, with a mischievous laugh. But mirth died on her lips as Gulian, frowning slightly, proceeded with his story in his own way.
"His hand, and I presume his heart; do not be flippant, Betty; it ill becomes you. This young gentleman will be called upon to fill a high position; he is the son of a man of title and"—
"Stay," said Betty coldly. "It is not necessary to rehearse his advantages. May I ask the name of this somewhat audacious gentleman?"
"Audacious?" ejaculated Gulian, falling back a step to gaze full at the haughty face uplifted toward him. "Surely you misunderstand me. Pending your father, General Wolcott's consent, I trust you are able to perceive the advantages of this match, for Captain Geoffrey Yorke is a son of Lord Herbert Yorke, and grandson of the Earl of Hardwicke. It is an exceptionally good offer, in my opinion, for any colonist, as in this country, alas, we have no rank. Moreover, Betty, when the war ends it will be wise to have some affiliation with the mother country, and by so doing be in a position to ask protection for your unhappy and misguided relatives who now bear arms against the King."
Up rose Mistress Betty, her slender form trembling with indignation, her eyes flashing, and her cheeks scarlet.—
"I would to God," she cried passionately, "that my father could hear you insult his child, his country, and his cause. There is no need for you to ask his consent to my marriage with Captain Yorke, for here, this moment, I promptly decline any alliance which possesses the advantages you so feelingly describe."
"Betty, Betty "—Gulian saw his mistake, but it was too late; on rushed the torrent of her indignation.
"I wish you—and him—to understand that Betty Wolcott is heart and soul with her 'misguided relatives' in rebellion against British rule; that nothing—no, nothing, would induce her to wed an enemy to her country."
"Nothing, Betty?" said a manly voice behind her, as Yorke himself crossed the threshold, where for the last few seconds he had been an angry listener to Gulian's blunders. "Surely you will grant me a moment to plead on my own behalf?"
"And wherefore?" cried Betty. "You sent your message by him," with a scornful wave of her hand toward Gulian's retreating figure; "through him, then, receive my reply."
"I will not," said Geoffrey firmly, as the door closed behind Verplanck. "Sweetheart, will you listen to me?"
"It is useless," murmured Betty, with a choking sob. "I was mad to even dream it might be possible. Gulian has made it all too plain to me."
"Nay, you must and shall hear me. I will not leave you until I tell you that I love you devotedly; ah, why should politics and war come between our hearts? Consider, Betty, I will do all a gentleman and a man of honor can to please you"—
"But you cannot desert your own people," she said despairingly. "I could not love you if you did, for, Geoffrey, it is but due you to confess in this hour of parting that you are very, very dear to me," and the last words just reached his eager ears as Betty sank, trembling, into a chair.
"Dearest," he cried, kissing the little hand which lay in his, "will you not bid me hope? Think, the tide may turn; we are both young, and who can predict the fortunes of war? I will not bind you, but to you I must myself be bound by the passionate love I bear you."
"Oh, Geoffrey, my beloved, it cannot be! I know what my dear and honored father would say. God guard you—farewell!"
He caught the dainty form in his arms, he held her next his heart and vowed that come what would he defied fate itself to separate her from him. "See," he cried, snatching the knot of rose-colored ribbon from his breast, "I will wear this token always as I have done since the day it dropped from your gown on the grass. If it be twenty years, I will yet come, with your father's consent, to win you, and then, then, sweetheart, may I claim my reward?"
"I cannot wed my country's foe," she faltered. "Oh, Geoffrey, be merciful—let me go." At that moment there came a violent knock upon the street door, a sound of voices, and Pompey's slow step approaching the library door.
"An express for Massa Captain brought by Sir Henry's orderly," said the faithful old negro, handing a sealed envelope to Yorke, as he closed the door behind him. Yorke tore it open; it fell from his hand. For a moment he stood, tall, gallant, and brave, before Betty; his eyes met hers in long, lingering farewell.
"Sir Henry leads the expedition to South Carolina to-night, Betty, and I go with him. Nay, sweetheart, sweetheart, we shall meet again in happier days."
She gave a little cry and flung herself into his arms; she kissed him with all her warm frank heart on her lips, and then she slipped from his embrace and was gone as Yorke dashed from the house, mounted his horse, and galloped swiftly away.
MOPPET MAKES A DISCOVERY
It was early autumn in Connecticut, and the maples had put on their most gorgeous robes of red and yellow. The weather had been mild for that region up to the middle of October, when a sudden light frost had flung its triumphant banner over hill and dale with a glow and glory seen to its greatest perfection in New England. The morning air was somewhat fresh, and Miss Bidwell, hearing Moppet's feet flying along the hall, opened the door of the sitting-room and called the child.
"You will need your tippet if you are going beyond the orchard, and I think perhaps your hood."
"Hood!" echoed Miss Moppet disdainfully, shaking her yellow curls over her shoulders until they danced almost of themselves; "I do not need to be muffled up as if I were a little girl, Miss Bidwell. You forget I was twelve years old yesterday," and she waltzed around the room, spreading her short skirt in a courtesy, to Miss Bidwell's admiring gaze.
"Indeed, I am likely to recollect when I myself arranged the twelve candles in your birthday cake."
"To be sure!" cried Moppet, with swift repentance, "and such an excellent, rich cake as it was, too. Do you think"—insinuatingly—"that I might have a slice, a very tiny slice, before I go forth with Betty to gather nuts in the Tracys' woods?"
"No," replied Miss Bidwell, laughing, "you will assuredly be ill if you touch one morsel before dinner. Run along, Miss Moppet, I see your sister waiting for you at the gate," and Moppet, with a jump and a skip, flew off through the side door and down the path, at the end of which stood Betty.
It was a very lovely Betty over whom the October sunshine played that morning, but to a keenly observant eye a different Betty from her who had danced at the De Lancey ball, now nearly three years past. This Betty had grown slightly taller, and there was an air of quiet dignity about her which suggested Pamela. But the beautiful merry eyes had deepened in expression, and it was, if anything, a still more attractive face than of old, although the fair unconsciousness of childhood had departed; and if mischief still lurked in the dimpled cheeks, that was because Betty's heart could never grow old; no matter what life might hold for her of joy or sorrow, she would always be to a certain extent a child. And well for her that it was so; do we not all know a few rare natures whose fascination dwells in this very quality?
The years had gone swiftly for Betty. Shortly after her parting with Yorke an opportunity had occurred for her return to Litchfield, and although Clarissa lamented her departure Betty was eager to fly home. Gulian had done his best to smooth over his ill-judged and ill-tempered effort to arrange her matrimonial affairs, and one of Betty's minor annoyances was her sister's evident disappointment at Yorke's rejection. Only once had she forgotten herself and flashed out upon Clarissa, peremptorily forbidding further discussion, and Clarissa had been positively aghast at the impetuous little creature who confronted her with flashing eyes and quivering lips, and had speedily warned Gulian never to broach the subject to Betty again. Peter was Betty's closest friend in those stormy days. The urchin had a shrewd perception of how matters stood, and many a time had Betty hugged him for very gratitude when he made a diversion and carried her off to some boyish haunt in the city or to the Collect, thereby giving her opportunity to regain the self-control and spirit necessary to appear as usual. For Betty was formed of gallant stuff. No matter if her heart ached to bursting for sight of Geoffrey, if her ears longed, oh, so madly, for the sound of his voice; she could suffer, aye, deeply and long, but she could also be brave and hide even the appearance of a wound. That Gulian, and even Clarissa, considered her a heartless coquette troubled her not at all, and so Betty danced and laughed on to the end of her sojourn in New York.
It had always been a source of thankfulness to her that she had been able to go home before Geoffrey's return from the expedition to South Carolina, for she sometimes doubted her own ability to withstand his personal appeal if again exerted. That he had returned and then, shortly after, gone upon another detail, she had heard incidentally from Oliver during one of her brother's flying visits to Litchfield on his way to New London with dispatches. Oliver had been greatly touched by Yorke's conduct in the matter of his escape, but if he suspected that Betty's lovely face had anything to do with the British officer's kindly blindness, he was too clever to hint as much, for which forbearance Betty thanked him in the depths of her heart. The only way in which he showed his suspicion was in the occasional bits of news concerning Yorke with which he favored her. At the battle of Cowpens Yorke had been wounded and taken prisoner, and it fell to Oliver Wolcott to arrange for his exchange. Then, for the first time, were Oliver's surmises changed to certainties, for one night when he had been attending the prisoner, whose wound was nearly healed, Yorke broke silence and in the frankest, most manly fashion demanded news of his little sweetheart, and told Oliver of his hopes and fears. Nothing could have appealed so directly to the brother as Yorke's avowal that Betty had refused him because of the coat he wore, and his eyes filled as he said, boyishly enough, "Egad, Yorke, she has all the Wolcott pluck and patriotism; though were this vexed question of independence settled, I wish with all my heart that you may yet conquer this unwilling maid whom I call sister."
Yorke smiled, but he did not consider it necessary to add that Betty had once let compassion and gratitude get the better of her loyalty in the matter of a prisoner, to Oliver's own discomfiture.
There had been some changes in the Wolcott home: Pamela had gone forth from the mansion a bride, after Cornwallis had surrendered at Yorktown, and Josiah Huntington had worn a major's uniform on his wedding-day. Betty had scarcely recovered from that break in the home circle when Sally Tracy, with many blushes and much laughter, confessed that she, too, was about to follow Pamela's example, and that a certain Mr. James Gould, the gentleman from Branford, of whom Moppet had been so suspicious, was the lucky individual upon whom she intended to bestow her hand. Verily, with all these wedding-bells sounding, Betty began to feel that she was likely to be left alone, but who only laughed gayly when twitted with her fancy for maidenhood, and danced as merrily at Sally's wedding as if her heart had lain light in her bosom instead of aching bitterly for one whom she began to fear she should never see more.
Little did Betty guess that bright October morning, when she and Moppet went forth bent on a nutting excursion, that a courier was even now speeding on his way whose coming would change the tide of her whole existence. And when, as noon struck, Oliver Wolcott dismounted at the door of his home and, walking straight to his father's study, delivered a packet from General Wolcott to Miss Euphemia, his next move was a descent upon Miss Bidwell's parlor and a hasty demand for Betty. So when Moppet and Betty appeared, rosy with success and a fair-sized bag of nuts as the result of their joint labors, they found the household in a state of suppressed excitement, and lo! the cause was Oliver's approaching marriage.
"You see," explained Oliver, when he finally got Betty to himself for a walk in the orchard after dinner, "now that the treaty has been signed in Paris, the British will soon evacuate New York, and when our army enters, there will be grand doings to celebrate the event, and my father must ride at the head of the Connecticut troops on that day. I, too, Betty, God willing, shall be with the Rangers, and thinking the date will be about a month hence, Kitty and Madam Cruger have set our wedding-day as the 25th of November. I gave you Kitty's letter"—
"Yes, and a dear, kind letter it is. She bids me for her bridesmaid, Oliver, and says that Moppet and Peter will hold her train, after the new English fashion (which no doubt is her mother's suggestion, for I think Kitty does not much affect fancies which come across the water), and, oh, Oliver, I do indeed wish you joy," and Betty's eyes brimmed full of tears as she gave him her hand.
"I know you love Kitty," said Oliver, kissing her cheek, "and we can afford to forgive a wedding after the English mode, as, if I gain my Kitty, I care but little how she comes."
"Betty, Betty," called Moppet's voice from the upper path, "do come in if you and Oliver have finished your chat, for Miss Bidwell desires your opinion on some weighty matter connected with our journey to New York."
"I will come," answered Betty; then turning bank with, as careless an air as she could summon, "Do you happen to have heard aught of your quondam prisoner, Captain Yorke?"
"Yorke!" replied Oliver, avoiding her eye as be stooped to throw a stick from the path,—"Yorke! oh, aye, I did hear that he was invalided and went home several months ago. I fancy it was not so much his health (for he looked strong enough to my thinking the last time I met him) but more his disgust with the turn things were taking; for you know, Betty, since the surrender at Yorktown the British have been more insolent and overbearing than ever, and Yorke is too much a gentleman, no matter what his political color, to be dragged into quarrels which I hear are incessant in the city, and the cause of many duels."
"Duels!" cried Betty, as the color left her checks; "oh, I hope he—that is—I hope nobody whom I know has been engaged in one."
"Not I," returned Oliver, with a mischievous glance. "So you might even be sorry for a foe, eh, Betty?" But Betty went flying up the path and did not deign to reply.
Miss Moppet, childlike, was perfectly overjoyed at the prospect of a wedding in which she was to play a part, and flew from her aunt to Miss Bidwell and Betty, then back to her aunt again in a twitter of excitement at the combination of a journey and festivity as well. General Wolcott's letter to his sister was full of important news. As the seat of Congress was Annapolis, General Wolcott, who was a member of that body, had decided to close the manor house for the winter and take a house in New York for his family, and he sent minute and particular directions for leaving all home affairs in the hands of Miss Bidwell and Reuben until their return to Litchfield in the spring. Oliver's intended marriage had hastened this decision, and there would be barely time to settle matters and reach New York in season for the wedding. They were to stop with Clarissa, who had written most pleading letters, and after that visit would take possession of their new quarters.
Most of the afternoon was spent in plans for their journey, with Oliver as escort, and many a sigh rose almost to Betty's lips as these recalled that other journey when her heart had been as light as Moppet's was now. But she put all thought aside with a resolute heart, and finally receiving directions from Miss Euphemia in regard to a chest of winter clothing packed safely away in the garret, she concluded to give Moppet's restless hands some occupation, and bade the child accompany her upstairs.
The old garret looked familiar enough. Even the wooden stools which had served as seats for her and Sally Tracy in the old childish days stood in the same corner under the dormer window, through which the sun was even now pouring its setting rays. The chest was unlocked, and presently a goodly pile of clothing lay upon the floor ready to be carried below.
"Let me have my worsted jacket, and my flannel wrapper (indeed, I do believe they are too small for me; can I find others in New York, Betty?), and this pretty hood of Pamela's. Betty, Betty, do you think Miss Bidwell could cut this one smaller for me? May I just run down and ask? I will return at once."
"Yes," said Betty, intent upon counting a heap of stockings; "please fetch me a pair of scissors when you come up again."
Off flew Moppet, marking her progress down the garret stairs by various exclamations as she dropped the jacket and tripped on the wrapper, but, finally reached the bottom in safety, Betty went on overlooking the chest; there were many articles to select from, and a red skirt of Moppet's which did not appear to be forthcoming. She ran her hand down to the very bottom of the chest, and feeling some garment made of smooth cloth with a gleam of red in it, dragged it forth and held it up to the light. As she did so, her hand struck something hard and round.
"What have I found?" thought Betty, but the next moment she saw that what she held was an officer's dark blue riding-cape fastened with brass buttons, on each of which was engraved a crown, and the cape was lined with British scarlet.
"What have you got there?" said Moppet's voice, as she appeared at her side. "Why, 'tis Captain Yorke's cape that he muffled me in the day I fell into Great Pond—Oh, Betty, Betty, what is amiss?"
Down on her knees fell Betty. She buried her face in the cape's folds, and tears rolled down her cheeks as she tried to say, "It is nothing, nothing, I am tired—I am—Oh, Geoffrey, Geoffrey, I think my heart is breaking."
Miss Moppet opened her eyes to their widest; then slowly and deliberately she grasped the situation in "high Roman fashion."
"Betty Wolcott, do I live to see you weep over a scarlet coat!"
No answer; indeed, Betty scarcely heard the words. The flood-gates were let loose and the agony of days and months must have its way.
"Betty!" this time the voice of reproving patriotism quavered somewhat. "I do believe you are worse than Pamela." But Betty sobbed on,—sobs that fairly racked her slender body.
"Well, I don't care what anybody says,"—and Moppet flung the Whig cause to the wind as she cast herself down beside Betty,—"he's dear and handsome and brave; whether he be British or Yankee, I love him, and so do you, naughty, naughty Betty!"
And with her head on Miss Moppet's sympathizing shoulder, and Miss Moppet's loving arms clasped around her neck, Betty Wolcott whispered her confession and was comforted.
A KNOT OF ROSE-COLORED RIBBON
The sun rose bright and clear over the Bay of New York. It had been a somewhat gray dawn, but the fog and mist had gradually rolled away, and the day bid fair to be one of those which Indian summer occasionally gives in our northern climate. All around Fort George and the Battery the British troops were making ready for departure; the ships for their transportation to England lay out in the bay, for this was the 25th of November in the year of our Lord 1783.
The streets in the upper part of the city were filled with a different kind of crowd, but one equally eager to be off and away. Many of the Tories and sympathizers with the Crown had found New York a most unpleasant dwelling-place since the signing of the treaty in which "The United States of America" were proclaimed to the world an independent Power, and Sir Guy Carleton, the British commander, had more trouble in providing transportation for this army of discontented refugees than for his own soldiers. However, the day was fixed, the ships ready to weigh anchor, and the Army of Occupation about to bid adieu to American shores forever.
"Peter," said Miss Moppet, as she danced merrily out of the breakfast-room, "you are sure, quite sure that the grand procession, with General Washington at its head, will come past this door? Because we are all cordially bidden to Mistress Kitty's and perhaps Betty may prefer to go there."
"But it will be a far better sight here," returned Peter; "it is sure to pass our door, for I heard Oliver tell Aunt Clarissa so last night just as he was going out."
"Oliver has overmuch on his mind to-day," remarked Moppet shrewdly; "to ride with his troop in the morning and be married at evening is quite enough to make him forget the route of a procession. Do you think we might go out on the doorstep and see if there be any sign of its approach?"
"Why not? It will be royal fun to see the British soldiers come down from the Government House, and hear the hoots and howls the Broadway and Vly boys are bound to give them. For once all the boys of the city are of one mind—except the Tory boys, and they don't count for much hereafter."
"I wouldn't jeer at a fallen foe if I were you, Peter," said Moppet, severely, as she took up a position on the stoop, and leaned her elbows on the iron railing; "my father says that is not manly, and besides I do suppose there may be some decent Britishers."
"I never knew but one," retorted Peter stoutly. "What knowledge have you of them, I'd like to know?"
"Not much," evasively. "Who was the one you mention?"
"My! but he was a prime skater; how he and Betty used to fly over Collect Pond that winter. Do you skate up in Litchfield, Moppet?"
"Yes, of course; that's where Betty learned with Oliver."
"Oh, aye, I remember; when she cut a face on the ice the day she raced with Captain Yorke she told me her brother had taught her."
At this moment there was sound of a distant bugle; both children ran down to the foot of the steps and gazed eagerly up the street. But it was a false alarm, and after a few moments spent in fruitless watching they returned to their post of observation on the stoop.
"Peter," began Moppet presently, with true feminine persistency, "what were you saying about a British officer who knew Betty?"
"Captain Yorke? He was aide to Sir Henry Clinton."
"Was he? Will he go off to-day with all the other redcoats?"
"He sailed away to England some months ago,—I recollect he came to bid good-by to Clarissa,—but do you know, Moppet," lowering his voice, with a glance over his shoulder to be certain that he was not overheard, "I think I saw him two days ago."
"In New York?" said Moppet, with a start. "Why you said he'd gone to England."
"But he could come back, surely. Moppet, I think he was proper fond of Betty."
"Peter Provoost, do you fancy that my sister would smile on a scarlet coat? You ought to be ashamed of yourself," and Moppet looked the picture of virtuous indignation.
"Well, I've seen her do it," retorted Peter, not in the least abashed, "and what's more I heard him call her 'sweetheart' once."
"Oh, Peter!" Moppet's curiosity very nearly got the better of her discretion; but she halted in time, and bit her tongue to keep it silent.
"And if you won't tell—promise?"—Moppet nodded—"not a word, mind, even to Betty—where do you think I saw Captain Yorke the other day? You'll never guess;—it was at Fraunces's Tavern on Broad Street, and he was in earnest conversation with General Wolcott."
"With my father?" This time Moppet's astonishment was real, and Peter chuckled at his success in news-telling.
"Children," called a voice from the hall, "where are you? Do you want to come with me on an errand for Clarissa near Bowling Green, which must be done before the streets are full of the troops?"
"Surely," cried both voices, as Peter dashed in one direction after his cocked hat, and Miss Moppet flew in another for the blue hood. Betty waited until the pair returned, laughing and panting, and then taking a hand of each she proceeded up Wall Street to Broadway, and down that thoroughfare toward Bowling Green. Before they had quite reached their destination the sound of bugle and trumpet made them turn about, and Peter suggested that they should mount a convenient pair of steps in front of a large white house, which had apparently been closed by its owners, for a number of bystanders were already posted there. They were just in time, for around the corner of William Street came a group of officers on horseback, their scarlet uniforms glittering in the sun. It was Sir Guy Carleton and his staff, on their way to the Battery, where they would take boats and be rowed over to a man-of-war which awaited them in the bay. A murmur, then louder sounds of disapprobation, started up from the street.
"There they go!" cried a voice, "and good riddance to Hessians and Tories."
Betty's cheeks flushed. Oh, those hateful scarlet coats, symbols of what had caused her so much misery. And yet—with another and deeper wave of color—it was Geoffrey's uniform and these were his brother officers, going where they would see him; oh, why, why, was fate so unkind, and life so hard! Another moment and they were out of sight, but keen-eyed Moppet caught a glimpse of Betty's downcast face and said to herself, "Oh, I dare not tell her; I wish I did."
Out on Bowery Lane and away up in Harlem, over King's Bridge, with measured step and triumphant hearts the Continentals were entering the city. What a procession was that, with General Washington and Governor Clinton at its head, and how all loyal New York spread its banners to the wind and shouted loud and long to welcome it! There were the picked men of the army, the heroes of an hundred fights, the men of Massachusetts who had been at Lexington and Bunker Hill; General Knox in command, and General Wolcott with his Connecticut Rangers, while Oliver rode proudly at the head of his company. It was a slow march, down the Bowery and through Chatham and Queen streets to Wall, thence up to Broadway, where the column halted.