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   Chapter 3 OLIVER'S PRISONER

An Unwilling Maid By Jeanie Gould Lincoln Characters: 11650

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


"I don't care anything about it," said Miss Moppet with decision. "It's a nasty, horrid letter, and I've made it over and over, and it will not get one bit plainer. Count one, two, jump one; then two stitches plain; it's no use at all, Miss Bidwell, I cannot make it any better." And with a deep sigh Miss Moppet surveyed her sampler, where she had for six weeks been laboriously trying to inscribe "Faith Wolcott, her sampler, aged nine," with little success and much loss of temper.

"W is a hard letter," said Miss Bidwell, laying down one of the perpetual stockings with which she seemed always supplied for mending purposes; "you will have to rip this out again; the first stroke is too near the letter before it;" and she handed the unhappy sampler back to the child.

"It's always like that," said Miss Moppet in a tone of exasperation. "I think a sampler is the very devil!"

"Oh," said Miss Bidwell in a shocked voice, "I shall have to report you as a naughty chit if you use such language."

"Well, it just is" said Moppet; "that's what the minister said in his sermon Sunday week, and you know, Miss Bidwell, that you admired it extremely, because I heard you tell Pamela so."

"Admired the devil?" said Miss Bidwell. "Child, what are you talking about?"

"The sermon," said Miss Moppet, breaking her silk for the fourth time; "the minister said the devil went roaring up and down the earth seeking whom he might devour. Wouldn't I like to hear him roar. Do you conceive it is like a bull or a lion's roar?"

"The Bible says a lion," said Miss Bidwell, looking all the more severe because she was so amused.

"I am truly sorry for that poor devil," said Miss Moppet, heaving a deep sigh. "Just think how tired he must become, and how much work he must have to do. O-o-oh!"-a prolonged scream-"he certainly has possession of my sampler"-dancing up and down with pain-"for that needle has gone one inch into my thumb!"

"Come here and let me bind it up," said Miss Bidwell, seizing the small sinner as she whirled past her. "How often must I tell you not to give way to such sinful temper? And talking about the devil is not proper for little girls."

"Why not just as well as for older folk?" said Moppet, submitting to have a soft bit of rag bound around the bleeding thumb. "I think the devil ought to be prayed for if he's such an abominable sinner-yes, I do." And Moppet, whose belief in a personal devil was evidently large, surveyed Miss Bidwell with uncompromising eyes.

"Tut!" said Miss Bidwell, to whom this novel idea savored of ungodliness, but wishing to be lenient toward the child whose adoring slave she was. "Miss Euphemia would be shocked to hear you."

"I shall not tell her," said the child shrewdly, "but I am going to pray for the devil each night, whether any one else does or not."

"As you cannot work any longer on the sampler, you had best go to Miss Pamela for your writing lesson," said Miss Bidwell.

"Pamela is out in the orchard with Josiah Huntington," said Moppet, "and she would send me forthwith into the house if I went near her."

"Then find Miss Betty and read her a page in the primer. You know you promised your father you would learn to read it correctly against his return."

"Betty is gossiping in the garret chamber with Sally Tracy; surely I must stop with you, Biddy, dear;" and Moppet twined her arms around Miss Bidwell's neck, with her little coaxing face upraised for a kiss. When Moppet said "Biddy dear" (which was her baby abbreviation for the old servant), she became irresistible; so Miss Bidwell, much relieved at dropping so puzzling a theological question as the propriety of supplications for the well-being of his Satanic majesty, proposed that she should tell Miss Moppet "a story," which met with delighted assent from the little girl.

Miss Bidwell's stories, which dated back for many years and always began with "when I was a little maid," were never failing in interest besides being somewhat lengthy, as Moppet insisted upon minute detail, and invariably corrected her when she chanced to omit the smallest particular. That the story had been often told did not make it lose any of its interest, and the shadows of the great elm which overhung the sitting-room windows grew longer, while the sun sank lower and lower unheeded, until Miss Bidwell, at the most thrilling part of her tale, where a bloodthirsty and evil-minded Indian was about to appear, suddenly laid down her work and exclaimed:-

"Hark! surely there is some one coming up the back path," and rising as she spoke, she hurried out to the side porch, closely followed by Moppet, who said to herself, with all a child's vivid and dramatic imagination, "Perhaps it's an Indian coming to tomahawk us in our beds!" which thought caused her to seize a fold of Miss Bidwell's gown tightly in her hand.

As they came into the hall they were joined by Miss Euphemia, who had also heard the sounds of approach; and as they emerged from the house two tall figures, dusty and travel-worn, confronted them, with Reuben following in their rear.

"Oliver!" exclaimed Miss Euphemia, as she recognized her youngest nephew in one of the wayfarers, "whence come you, and what news? Where is your honored father?"

"My father, madam," said Oliver Wolcott, uncovering his head as he motioned to Reuben to take his place near his companion, "my father is some thirty miles behind me, but hastening in this direction. What news?-Fairfield burnt, half its inhabitants homeless, but Tryon's marauders put to flight and our men in pursuit."

"And who is this gentleman?" said Miss Euphemia, as Oliver kissed her cheek and stepped back.

"'Tis more than I can answer," said Oliver, "for not one word concerning himself can I obtain from him. He is my prisoner, Au

nt Euphemia; I found him lurking in the woods ten miles away this morning, and should perhaps have let him pass had not a low-lying branch of a tree knocked off his hat, when I recognized him for one of Tryon's crew."

"Speak more respectfully, sir," said the stranger suddenly, "to me, if not to those whom you term 'Tryon's crew.'"

"I grant the respect due your arm and strength," said Oliver, "for you came near leaving me in the smoke and din of Fairfield when you gave me this blow," and he touched the left side of his head, where could be seen some clotted blood among his hair. "Come, sir, my aunt has asked the question. Do you not reply to a lady?"

"The gibe is unworthy of you," said the other, lifting the hat which had been drawn down closely over his brow; "and I"-

"Oh, Oliver, 'tis my good kind gentleman!" cried Moppet, darting forward and seizing the stranger by the hand; "he plunged into Great Pond last night and pulled me forth when I was nearly drowning, and we begged him to come home with us, did we not, Betty?"-seeing her sister standing in the doorway. "Betty, Betty, come and tell Oliver he has made a mistake."

A smile lit up the stranger's handsome face as he bowed low to Betty, who came swiftly to his side as she recognized him.

"Will you not bring the gentleman in, Oliver?" she said. "The thanks which are his due can hardly be well spoken on our doorstep," and Betty drew herself up, and waved her hand like the proud little maid she was, her eyes sparkling, her breast heaving with the excitement she strove to suppress.

Oliver looked from Moppet to Betty, in bewilderment then back at his prisoner, who seemed the most unconcerned of the group.

"You are right, Betty," said Miss Euphemia, beginning to understand the situation. "Will you walk in, sir, and let me explain to my nephew how greatly we are indebted to you?" And she led the way into the mansion, the others following, and opened the door of the parlor on the left, Reuben, obedient to a sign from Oliver, remaining with Miss Bidwell in the hall.

The stranger declined the chair which Oliver courteously offered him, and remained standing near Betty, Moppet clinging to his hand and looking up gratefully into his face while Miss Euphemia related to her nephew the story of Moppet's rescue from her perilous accident of the previous day.

"A brave deed!" cried Oliver impetuously, as he advanced with outstretched hand toward his prisoner, "and with all my heart, sir, I thank you. Forgive my pettish speech of a moment since; you were right to reprove me. No one appreciates a gallant foe more than I; and though the fortune of war has to-day made you my prisoner, to-morrow may make me yours."

"I thank you," said the stranger, giving his hand as frankly in return. "Believe me, my plunge in the pond was hardly worth the stress you are kind enough to lay upon it, and but for the mischance to my little friend here," smiling at Miss Moppet, who regarded him with affectionate eyes, "is an affair of little moment. May I ask where you will bestow me for the night, and also the privilege of a dip in cold water, as I am too soiled and travel-worn to sit in the presence of ladies, even though your prisoner."

"Prisoner!" echoed Betty, with a start. "Surely, Oliver, you will not hold as a prisoner the man who saved our little Moppet's life, and that, too (though he makes so light of it) at the risk of his own?"

"You will let him go free, brother Oliver," cried Moppet, flying to the young officer's side; "you surely will not clap him into jail?"

"It was my purpose," said Oliver, looking from one to the other, "to confine you until to-morrow and then carry you to headquarters, where General Putnam will determine your ultimate fate. I certainly recognize you as the author of this cut on my head. Do you belong to the British army or are you a volunteer accompanying Tryon in his raid upon our innocent and unoffending neighbors at Fairfield?"

"Sir," said the other haughtily, "I pardon much to your youthful patriotism, which looks upon us as invaders. My name is Geoffrey Yorke, and I have the honor to bear his majesty's commission as captain in the Sixty-fourth Regiment of Foot."

Betty gave a faint exclamation. Oliver Wolcott stepped forward.

"Captain Yorke," he said, "I regret more than I can say my inability, which you yourself will recognize, to bid you go forth free and in safety. My duty is unfortunately but too plain. I, sir, serve the Continental Congress, and like you hold a captain's commission. I should be false alike to my country and my oath of allegiance did I permit you to escape; but there is one favor I can offer you; give me your parole, and allow me and my family the pleasure of holding you as a guest, not prisoner, while under our roof."

Geoffrey Yorke hesitated; he opened his lips to speak, when some instinct made him glance at Betty, who stood directly behind her brother. Her large, soft eyes were fixed on his with most beseeching warning, and she raised her dainty finger to her lips as she slowly, almost imperceptibly, shook her head.

"Captain Wolcott," he said, "I fully appreciate your kindness and the motive which prompts it. I have landed on these shores but one short month ago, and Sir Henry Clinton ordered me-but these particulars will not interest you. I thank you for your offer, but I decline to take parole, and prefer instead the fortunes of war."

"Then, sir, I have no choice," said Oliver. "Aunt Euphemia, will you permit me to use the north chamber? I will conduct you there, Captain Yorke, and shall see that you are well guarded for the night." And with a courtly bow to the ladies Geoffrey Yorke followed his captain from the room, as Moppet threw herself into Betty's arms and sobbed bitterly.

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