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   Chapter 5 A LOYAL TRAITOR

An Unwilling Maid By Jeanie Gould Lincoln Characters: 23064

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Betty stumbled blindly over the threshold, and with shaking fingers secured the outer bolt of the buttery door. Her head was whirling, and she dared not stop there even to think over this extraordinary adventure, for Moppet was doubtless waiting breathlessly for her return; and at the recollection Betty's nerves grew steadier, and she bethought herself that a glass of milk would be needed by the child and that she must take it to her. So she filled the smallest dipper, not wishing to go back into the china pantry for fear of noise, and, with the milk in hand, concluded it was wiser to seek the main staircase in the hall, rather than wake Reuben by drawing his attention to the exit on the garret stairway. And fortunate it was for Betty that she had so determined; for as she set her foot upon the first step of the stairs, she beheld Oliver leaning over the upper balustrade, gazing gravely down upon her.

"Good-morning," said Betty readily, in a cheerful undertone, as she reached his side; "you are up betimes, Oliver."

"Where have you been?" asked her brother.

"To the buttery," said Betty; "this is milk for Moppet. The child is wakeful, and needs it."

"Why did you not send Reuben?" asked Oliver, who was always kind and attentive to his sisters.

"Reuben?" echoed Betty. "Did you not set him as guard to your prisoner?" and then, her heart smiting her for the gibe, "Miss Bidwell lets no one meddle with her milk pans, and I knew best which were last night's milk," and she went up the hall with a naughty little throb of mingled mischief and triumph, as she thought how she had outwitted him, while the unsuspecting Oliver seated himself near the north chamber door.

Moppet, sitting up in bed, welcomed her sister with open arms, and drank the milk thirstily, as Betty told her that all was safe, and that Captain Yorke was now well on his way.

"I'm as glad as can be," said Moppet, who was troubled with no conscientious scruples whatsoever, and was now beginning to enjoy herself intensely at sharing a mystery with Betty; "I told him you were gone, after the big clock struck three, and oh, Betty, he kissed my hand through the hole in the chimney."

"Did he?" said Betty, flushing brightly under Moppet's keen glance.

"And I sat there and shivered," went on Moppet, discreetly dropping that branch of the subject, "for I could hear his feet as he climbed, and once he slipped and I was so frightened lest he should come tumbling down and our fine plot be discovered. Betty, Betty, what a fine flutter Oliver and Josiah will be in at breakfast!"

"Don't talk of it," said Betty, shivering in her turn; "go to sleep, Moppet, and I will fly to my chamber, for it is not well that I should be discovered here, dressed. Oliver is not one to notice; now lie still until you are called for rising;" and Betty tripped back to her own room, where, tearing off her dress, she threw her tired little self on the bed to rest, if not to sleep, for the short hours that remained before breakfast.

The Wolcott household was one that was early astir, however, and Chloe, the old colored cook, was out in the barn searching for eggs, and Miss Bidwell had laid the breakfast cloth and polished the silver by half past six, when Miss Euphemia knocked briskly at the door where Pamela and Dolly Trumbull were slumbering sweetly, and resolved that she would request Oliver to permit Captain Yorke to come down and breakfast with the family. "For," mused Miss Euphemia, "our obligations to that young man should make some difference, I think, in his treatment; I must try to persuade Oliver to detain him here until my brother's return, for although I did not think it prudent to say so, I confess I am no more anxious to keep him prisoner than Betty was."

But Miss Euphemia had not more than descended at half past seven precisely (her usual hour) when Oliver came hastily into the room, demanding a hammer and chisel, and with such evident dismay upon his countenance that Miss Euphemia asked if anything was the matter.

"I do not know," said Oliver, searching the drawer for the desired implements; "I called and knocked smartly at Captain Yorke's door to ask him if he desired hot water, and to offer him a change of clean linen (as we are much the same size and build); but although I made sufficient noise to wake the hardest sleeper, no response did I receive. Then I unbolted the door, intending to enter, but he has fastened it on the inside, and"-

"He is ill," cried Miss Euphemia, in alarm. "I noted he looked pale last night."

"Much more likely 'tis some device to alarm us," said Oliver, seizing the chisel, and Miss Euphemia followed him as he went hurriedly up the front staircase. At its top stood Huntington.

"Captain Yorke is a sound sleeper," he said, addressing Oliver. "I have knocked at his door several times and get no response."

"My mind misgives me," said Oliver, fitting his chisel in the door and striking vigorously with the hammer; "and yet I made sure there was no chance for escape,-ha!" as the door swung open and discovered the closed shutters and the last flickering gleams of the dying candle upon the table. "Good heavens, Huntington, he has flown!"

"Flown!" cried Josiah, rushing after Oliver, as Miss Euphemia joined the party, and Pamela, with Dolly, opened her door across the hall, hearing the commotion. "And how? Surely not by the chimney?"

"I wish you had suggested that earlier," said Oliver bitterly. "I am a dolt and a fool's head not to have thoroughly examined it last night," and he rushed across into Betty's chamber to find a candle with which to investigate the treacherous exit.

"Have a care, Oliver," cried Betty, as her brother entered without knocking, to find her with her hair over her shoulders, brush in hand. "What do you please to want?"

"Your candle," said Oliver, catching up the one upon her table, and then pausing, as he was about to rush out again. "Did you hear any noises last night, Betty?"

"Noises?" answered Betty, facing him calmly, "of what nature?"

"In the great chimney," said Oliver, eying her sternly.

"I did not," said Betty, with truth, returning inward thanks that to that question she could reply without falsehood. "Why did you ask?"

"You will find out soon enough," said Oliver, dashing down the hall, without closing the door, and hurrying to the kitchen for a light. By the time he returned, he found Josiah half way up the chimney.

"Here are pegs," he called out, as Oliver sent the ray of the lighted candle upward. "'Tis easy enough to see how our prisoner escaped. Fool that I was not to have searched this place," and he let himself down again, where the bewildered group stood around the chimney-piece.

"The fault is mine alone," cried Oliver furiously; "let us get out on the roof and see if we can discover how he made his descent to the ground."

"By the great elm," exclaimed Pamela, who had unfastened the shutters with Josiah's help; "see, the branches overhang the roof just here, and I think there are some pieces of the bark on the ground below." All of which was true, and quick-witted of Pamela; but Moppet could have explained the presence of the bits of bark, for, as it happened, the child had emptied her apron under the elm the day before, and the bark was some she had gathered in the orchard for the bits of fungus which, at night, were phosphorescent, and which Moppet called "fairy lamps."

"True," said Josiah, leaning out of the window, "and there are footsteps in the tall grass yonder," pointing westward, where his keen eye perceived a fresh path broken in the meadow. "I must follow Oliver to the roof; this will be a dire blow to him, as he thought his prisoner so carefully guarded."

"How clever of him to escape under our very ears," said Dolly to Pamela; "how could Captain Yorke contrive to climb down so softly that no one heard him? Is not Miss Euphemia's chamber on this side?"

"Yes," said Pamela, turning away from the window, "and so is Moppet's; where is Aunt Euphemia?" and running out into the hall, she encountered both Betty and her aunt on the way to Moppet's apartment.

"Hush!" whispered Betty, with hand on the latch, "I hope she is still sleeping. Moppet came into my room in the night, Aunt Euphemia, and was so cold and shivering that I went back with her and put her to bed. I got a drink of milk for her, and it seemed to quiet her."

"That was quite right," said Miss Euphemia. "I have been afraid that the plunge in the pond did her some injury," and she opened the door softly, only to see Miss Moppet's curly head rise up from her pillow, and to hear her say with a sleepy yawn:-

"What is it all about? Where's Betty?"

"Here I am," said Betty, giving her a kiss. "Did you sleep soundly after the milk?"

"Yes, and I want some more," said Moppet, seizing the situation with such alacrity that Betty suspected on the instant that the keen little ears had been on the alert for more minutes than Moppet cared to acknowledge. "What are you all coming in for? Is it dinner-time?"

"No," interrupted Pamela, "we have not even had breakfast. Captain Yorke has escaped in the night"-

"Escaped!" cried Moppet, the liveliest curiosity in her tone. "Oh, I'm so glad! Aren't you, Betty?"

"Better not let Oliver hear you say that," said Pamela in an undertone as Miss Euphemia drew Betty aside.

"How did he get out?" said Moppet, giving way to laughter. "Oh, what a ruffle Oliver must be in."

"Naughty child," said Pamela, but unable to help smiling at Moppet's view of the situation. "Did you happen to hear any noises on the roof or in the big elm last night?"

"Not a sound," said Moppet, like Betty rejoicing inwardly that she could reply truthfully, for the little maid had never told a lie in her short life, and had indeed spent a wakeful half hour that very morning wondering how she would be able to evade any questions that might be put to her. "Did Captain Yorke climb out of his window and go down the big elm, Pamela? Do you know I thought of that at supper."

"He could not open the window, Moppet," answered Pamela, "but he did go down the tree from the roof, whence he climbed from the chimney here."

"Moppet, you must instantly dress or you will lake cold," said Miss Euphemia, interrupting, to Betty's relief, "and I will be glad if Betty will assist you, for I must go down and see if breakfast be still hot, as no one is ready yet to eat it," and out went Miss Euphemia, calling the others to follow her.

"What do you think of all this?" asked Pamela of Betty.

"What do you suppose?" flashed out Betty, whose quick tongue had been so long restrained that it was absolute relief to her to speak her mind. "I am as glad as I can possibly be that Captain Yorke has escaped, and if that be disloyal"-finished the spirited little maid, mindful of Patrick Henry-"make the most of it!"

"Oh, Betty!" cried Pamela, shocked beyond expression.

"It is I that should be shocked, not you," went on Betty. "Do you hold Moppet's dear life as nothing? Do you not wish to acknowledge an obligation when it is doubly due? I am ashamed of you, Pamela,-you and Oliver. I would my father were here to make you see both sides of a question clearly."

"Betty, Betty," implored Pamela, bursting into tears, "do I not love our little sister as well as you? You do mistake me; I did not dare go counterwise to Oliver and Josiah, but indeed I love you for your courage."

"There, say no more," said Betty, dropping the brush with which she was reducing Moppet's rebellious locks to order, and rushing into Pamela's arms with quick repentance. "I am cross and upset this morning, and not fit to talk to you, my gentle Pamela, so go down and make the coffee and forgive my petulance."

Dolly, who had witnessed this little sisterly passage of arms in shy fright, put her hand in Pamela's and whispered, as they gained the staircase:-

"Dry your eyes, Pamela dear; Betty is most forward to speak thus to her elder sister."

"There you mistake," said Pamela, changing front with true feminine inconsistency. "Betty is quite right, and I am displeased,-yes downright displeased with myself that I did not side with her last night," and with unwonted color flushing her usually pale cheeks Pamela walked into the breakfast-room, Dolly following meekly behind her.

Meanwhile, Oliver and Josiah were upon the roof of the mansion conducting most careful investigation. They had decided that it was useless to pursue Yorke, for he might have many hours in advance of them, and they must take the chances that he would be recaptured by some of Putnam's men, especially if he again mistook the country and went west instead of north. They climbed through the trap-door, but as the heavy dews had not yet begun there was no trace of footsteps upon the roof beyond a faint mark, which might be the spot where the prisoner had dropped from the chimney. It was quite possible for an agile fellow, accustomed to use his muscle, to clamber down the sloping roof to the elm and escape to the ground by its branches, and that he was not heard was partly due to his own care and the unusually heavy slumbers of the inmates of the mansion. Having reached this conclusion, Oliver was fain to make the best of it, and in much chagrin descended to the breakfast-table.

Try as she did to look demure and avoid speaking upon the subject which all were discussing, Betty could not keep her dancing eyes in order, and before the meal was over she flashed so roguish a glance at Oliver that, irritated at her mute opposition, he could not refrain from saying:-

"There sits Betty looking fairly pleased because she has her own way, and apparently cares nothing for the escape of an enemy to her country."

"Fie, Oliver," spoke up Pamela with unusual fire, "Betty is as loyal as you or I, and you are unfair to tax her because she heartily disapproves of your course in regard to Captain Yorke's detention after the signal service he has rendered to all us Wolcotts."

"Pamela!" cried Oliver, good temper returning, and gazing in comic dismay at his favorite sister, much as he would at a dove who had ruffled its plumes. "This from you, Pamela? If Betty be allowed to demoralize the family in this wise, I think it were well my father takes you all in hand."

"Heyday?" said a kindly voice from the door of the sitting-room, as a fine-looking man dressed in the Continental uniform entered the room. "Who is it that requires my parental hand, Oliver, and why do you so lament my absence?"

"Father, father!" shrieked Miss Moppet, tumbling out of her chair and flinging her arms around General Wolcott's neck as he stooped down to embrace her. "Oh, we're so glad you are come. Why didn't you get here last night?"

"Because I lay over at General Putnam's headquarters," said her father. "Oliver, you will find Captain Seymour and Lieutenant Hillhouse on the porch. See that their horses be taken and fed, and bid them come to breakfast."

Oliver disappeared in haste, and Josiah, with an apology to Miss Euphemia, followed him; while General Wolcott, casting off his hat and gloves, seated himself with Moppet on his knee, and Miss Bidwell appeared from the kitchen with fresh reinforcements of breakfast for the newcomers. Betty, busying herself by fetching cups and saucers from the china pantry, caught fragments of the conversation, and became aware that Miss Moppet was telling the story of her adventure at Great Pond, in the child's most dramatic fashion, and that Miss Euphemia was also adding her testimony to the tale as it went on. They were presently interrupted by the entrance of Oliver with his father's two aids, and the large mahogany table was surrounded by guests, whose appetites bid fair to do justice to Miss Bidwell's breakfast.

No sooner was the meal fairly under way than Oliver, eager to hear his father's opinion, began the story of his capture of the day before, and related how and where he had found Captain Yorke, and how safely he supposed he had imprisoned him in the north chamber, from which his clever and ready escape had been made. Oliver's narrative was interrupted by exclamations from the officers and questions from his father, who displayed keen interest in the matter.

"Father," said Moppet, seeing that the most important point had been omitted in Oliver's story, and venturing to join in the conversation, as few children of that period would have done, "Oliver's prisoner was my good kind gentleman who pulled me out of the pond, and I am very, very glad he has got away-aren't you?"

"I was indeed hard bestead, sir," burst in Oliver. "Here were Betty and Moppet insisting that I must let Captain Yorke go free because of his gallant act (which I fully appreciate), and the gentleman refusing his parole because he preferred to take the chances of war, while I felt it my sworn duty to detain him and to forward him to General Putnam without delay, as I know we are in need of exchange for several of our officers now held by Sir Henry Clinton, and this man is of Clinton's staff, and therefore a most valuable capture. Was I to blame for retaining him?"

General Wolcott hesitated, but as he was about to make reply his eye fell upon Betty, who confronted him across the table with parted lips and large, beseeching eyes so full of entreaty that he changed the words almost upon his lips.

"It is a delicate question, my son," he said gravely, "and one I would rather not discuss at the present moment. More especially"-and a half-quizzical smile lit up his grave but kindly face as he turned toward Miss Moppet and gently pinched her little ear,-"more especially as the gentleman has taken the law in his own hands and escaped from Wolcott Manor despite the fact that as it is the residence of a Continental officer and the sheriff of Litchfield County it might be supposed to have exceptional reasons for detaining him. Captain Seymour, I will be glad to sign the papers of which General Putnam has need, and we will go at once to my library, for you must be off by noon."

Some two hours later, as Betty sat watching in her chamber window, she saw the horses led around to the front door, and shortly after knew from the sounds below that Pamela and Dolly wore bidding the young officers good-by; so, waiting until the sound of their horses' feet had died away in the distance, Betty, with outward composure but much inward dismay, tripped softly downstairs and knocked at the door of the library.

"Pray Heaven he be alone," she sighed as she heard her father's voice bid her enter, and then she crossed the threshold and confronted him.

"Father," she said, steadying herself by one small hand pressed downward on the table behind which he sat, "I-that is-I have something to tell you."

General Wolcott raised his head from the paper which he had been carefully reading and looked kindly at her.

"What is it, my child?" he asked reassuringly, motioning her to a chair. "I thought at breakfast that you had the air of being in distress."

"Nay, I am hardly that," replied Betty, clinging to the table, "except so far as I may have incurred your censure, though I hope not your displeasure. Father, Oliver has told you of the escape of Captain Yorke, which causes him much chagrin and anger. Blame no one but me, for I myself released him."

"You!" exclaimed General Wolcott.

"Yes, I," said Betty, growing paler. "If you had but been here or I known that you were so near us, there had been no such need for haste, and I would have been spared this confession."

"How did you arrange the escape?" said her father quietly.

"It was this way," faltered Betty, but gaining courage as she proceeded. "Oliver would not listen, though I begged and plead with him to delay until your arrival. He was so eager to deliver his captive to General Putnam that I made no impression. Father, the Englishman had saved our Moppet's life at the risk of his own; he did not pause to ask whether she was friend or foe when he rushed to her rescue-could we he less humane? I do not know what they do to prisoners,"-and Betty strangled a swift sob,-"but I could not bear to think of a gallant gentleman, be he British or American, confined in a prison, and so I resolved I would assist his escape. I waited until midnight, and then I spoke to him through the aperture in the great chimney and instructed him how to climb up through it by the pegs Reuben had left there, and I stole to the garret and waited until he came. Ruben did not see me pass the door of the north chamber, for he was asleep (do not tell this to Oliver, as it might bring reproof upon poor Reuben, who was too weary to be of much service as a sentinel), and I brought Captain Yorke safely down the stairs which lead from the garret to the buttery. Once there, all was easy; I opened the door, and-and-I even offered him the mare, father, I was in such fear of his recapture; but he stoutly refused to take her. This is all. If I am a traitor, dear father, punish me as I deserve, but never think me disloyal to you or to my country."

There was a pause, as Betty's sweet, passionate tones ceased; she stood with head thrown back, but downcast eyes, as fair a picture us ever greeted father's eye.

"A loyal traitor, Betty," said General Wolcott slowly; "and I think that it were well I should look after the condition of my chimneys."

Scarcely daring to believe her ears, Betty looked up, and in another second she had thrown her arms around her father's neck, sobbing softly as he caressed her.

"'Twas a daring, mad scheme, my child," said General Wolcott, his own eyes not quite guiltless of moisture; "but bravely carried out; and looking at the matter much as you do, I cannot find it in my heart to censure you. Captain Yorke is doubtless a manly foe, and of such I have no fear. It shall be our secret, yours and mine, Betty; we will not even tell Oliver just now, else it might make sore feeling between you. For Oliver was right, and"-smiling kindly, "so were you. Everything depends upon the point of view, my daughter; but let me beg you never to try your hand again to assist the escape of a British officer, or it might cost me the friendship of General Washington."

"Father, dear father!" cried Betty, overjoyed to find judgment so lenient accorded her, "I crave your pardon; 'twas alone for Moppet's sake."

"Aye," said General Wolcott, and then paused a brief second, for his wife's death, had been the forfeit paid for Moppet's birth, and this was one reason why the child had become the family idol. "Now run away, for I must close these papers in time for Oliver, who rides dispatch to Fort Trumbull to-night. And, Betty," as she stood glowing and smiling before him "my child, you grow more like your mother every day." and with a hasty movement General Wolcott turned away to conceal his emotion, as Betty went quickly from the room.

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