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   Chapter 6 BY COURIER POST

An Unwilling Maid By Jeanie Gould Lincoln Characters: 13621

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


It had been a wild night, find the morning wind sobbed and sighed through the elms, which, denuded of their leaves, stood out tall and bare against the leaden sky, and there was a chill in the air that might betoken snow. Pamela Wolcott stood in the sitting-room window and sighed softly, as she gazed out at the November landscape, letting her fingers beat soft tattoo against the lozenge-shaped pane.

"Pamela," said Betty from the depths of a big chair, where she sat busily knitting a little stocking whose proportions suggested Miss Moppet, "I wish you would stop that devil's march. Believe me, you had much better come and talk to me, and so drive away the vapors, rather than stand there and worry over the whereabouts of Josiah."

"It will take more than that to drive away the thoughts I cannot help," said Pamela, coming back from the window and seating herself on the wide settle, for Pamela was somewhat given to seeking the warmest corner, and dreaded a New England winter. "It is full time I had some intelligence, for Josiah promised that he would take advantage of any courier who started for New London to dispatch me a letter, and you know that father had news two days since from Morristown, but nothing came for me. Betty, I am sore afraid of evil tidings."

"You are ever faint-hearted," said Betty, glancing compassionately at her sister.

"And I dreamed last night of a wedding," went on Pamela, "and that, you know, is an evil sign."

"Best not let Aunt Euphemia hear you," Replied Betty, with a smile. "You have been consulting Chloe, I am sure, as to the portents of dreams. Fie, Pamela; Josiah is strong and well, and there is not likely to be a movement of the troops just now, father says, so why worry? I am anxious because we hear nothing of Clarissa, and I think Aunt Euphemia is the same, for I heard her talking and sighing last night when Miss Bidwell carried up the night light. Dear Clarissa, how I wish I could see her again; I wonder if she be quite, quite happy shut up in New York among the Tories."

"No doubt; though when she married Gulian Verplanck we had little thought of the occupation of New York by the British. Do you recollect how pretty she looked on her wedding-day, Betty, and the little caps you and I wore,-mine with a knot of blue, and yours of rose-color? I found that ribbon one day last week, tucked away in a little box. Have you kept yours?"

"No," returned Betty, with a sudden blush and a quick, half-guilty throb of her heart, as she remembered in whose hand she had last seen that same bow of rose-color; "that is, I had it until last summer, when-I lost it." And Betty dropped two stitches in her confusion, which fortunately Pamela was too much engrossed in her own thoughts to notice.

"It is five years last May," said Pamela. "You and I were tiny things of ten and eleven years, and Oliver strutted about grand and dignified in a new coat. The first wedding in our family-I wonder whose be the next?"

"Yours, of course." said Betty quickly. "That is if you and Josiah can ever make up your minds. I will not be like you, Pamela, trust me, when my turn comes I'll know full well whether I will or I won't." And Betty tossed her saucy head with a mischievous laugh as there came a rap on the front door which caused both girls to start up and fly to the window.

"Why, 'tis Sally Tracy," cried Betty. "I did not know she had returned from her visit to Lebanon." And she ran rapidly along the hall, and opening the door, embraced her friend with all a girl's enthusiasm.

"Welcome, Sally," said Pamela, as the pair came hand in hand towards her, "Betty has been moping ever since you left, and had a desperate fit of industry from sheer loneliness. I really believe she has made a stocking and a half for Moppet-or was it a pair, Betty?"

"The second pair, if you please," retorted Betty, rejoiced to see Pamela smile, even if at her own expense; "and Miss Bidwell says they are every bit as fine as yours."

"They may well be that," said Pamela, whose pet detestation was the manufacture of woolen stockings (then considered one of the component parts of a girl's education in New England). "But Sally is such a marvelous knitter that she will no doubt rejoice at your success. Had you as severe weather in Lebanon as this? I am fearful that we will have a hard winter, the cold has set in so early."

"They have had one flurry of snow already," Sally answered, "but not so much wind as we of Litchfield rejoice in. But I had a merry visit and saw much company. Dolly bemoaned daily that you could not come, Pamela."

"I am to go later, after or about the day set apart for Thanksgiving. But you and Betty have much to say to each other, and I will not interrupt you; Miss Bidwell has something for me to do, I'll warrant; so, farewell for the present, Sally." And Pamela left the room.

"Come, sit beside me on the settle," said Betty, putting Sally in the warmest seat. "Your fingers are cold, and the room is not yet sufficiently warm. Well,"-with a significant smile,-"what have you to tell me?"

"Not what you think," with a smiling nod, "for Francis Plunkett is far too pressing for my taste,'' answered Sally.

"Ha, ha," quoth Betty, much amused, "is that the way you take it? Then I foresee that Francis will win for his much speaking."

"Indeed he will not; I teased him well the last evening, and he dare not resume the subject for a while at least."

"Then there is some one else," said Betty. "Can it be that Oliver"-

"Oh, no," cried Sally hastily; "Oliver has not such an idea, believe me, Betty."

"How can you answer for him?" retorted Betty, laughing. "But your tone answers for yourself, so I must guess again. I think I have heard something of a handsome young lawyer from Branford"-

"Fie!" cried Sally, in her turn averting her face quickly, but not before Betty had perceived her heightened color, "I have but met him three times, and there are plenty of other personable men as well as he, for while one stops with Dolly the officers from Fort Trumbull are ever coming and going, you know."

"Ah, Sally, you are growing giddy, I fear," continued Betty with comical pretense of solemnity. "I think it behooves me to caution you."

"Caution me, indeed!" laughed Sally. "Wait until we both go, as we all are invited to Hartford with Dolly this winter when the Assembly meets, and then see if you be not fully as giddy as I am."

"I do not believe that I can go to Hartford, Sally; you know Pamela is more Dolly's friend than mine, and I think she needs some diversion, for ever since Josiah had his commission and joined the Continental army, she has nearly moped herself to death. And Pamela is like my mother, not very strong; I can see that Aunt Euphemia is somew

hat troubled about her even now, so perhaps our fine schemes for a trip to Hartford may have to be given up, at least so far as my going is concerned."

Sally's face fell; the visit to Hartford had been so long talked of, and Betty's presence so much desired, that this was a dash of the coldest possible water.

"Oh, Betty, how truly sorry I shall be. But let us hope for the best. It will be a sad breaking up of all my plans for the winter if you cannot come. I was also to stop at Fairfield with Mrs. Sherman, but since the raid of last summer her health has been so shattered that all thoughts of visitors have to be abandoned, and therefore I was counting upon our merry visit to Dolly as compensation."

Sally looked so melancholy at this point that Betty took her hand and was about to take a rather more hopeful view of things, but the words died on her lips as the clatter of a horse's feet was heard outside, and both girls ran to the window in time to see the rider draw rein at the south door of the mansion and dismount in apparent haste.

"It is some dispatch," said Betty breathlessly. "Did you not see the bag he carried at the saddle? And there is my father-oh, Sally, I wonder if there be news from General Washington and the army?" and struck by the sudden fear of ill-tidings the girls ran hastily from the room.

In the wide hall stood Miss Bidwell, and beside her the stranger, saddle-bag in hand, as Miss Euphemia emerged from the dining-room, whence General Wolcott had preceded her.

"From the commander-in-chief, general," said the courier, touching his battered hat in salute, "and special dispatches from General Steuben. Also this private packet, which was lying waiting at King's Bridge Inn; I have been four days on the road, owing to my horse having lamed himself when near Chatham, and I could not make time on the nag which stands at your door."

"King's Bridge," murmured Miss Euphemia; "then there is news of Clarissa. Brother, have I your permission?"-as General Wolcott gave the small packet into her hand.

"Break the seals," said the general briefly, "and bring me the letters presently to my study. See that the horse and man be well taken care of; I may have to dispatch instant answer to these," and he went quickly down the hall, closing the door behind him.

With fingers that trembled somewhat, Miss Euphemia opened the cover, and disclosed three letters to the eager eyes of the girls, who stood breathless beside her.

"One for your father (it is Gulian Verplanck's hand), this for me, from Clarissa, and the smaller one for you, Betty; let us go into the sitting-room and read ours together."

"None for me?" said Pamela's despairing voice, with a sob treading on the words; "oh, I fear me some evil has befallen Josiah."

"No, no," whispered Betty, stealing her hand lovingly into her sister's, as she pulled her gently into the room; "father has the dispatches; these are but the long-looked-for letters from New York, Pamela, and I'll wager there is something from Josiah among father's packets. Let us see what my letter says," and Betty, having seated Pamela and Sally on the settle, placed herself on a convenient cricket, and broke the seal of her letter. But before her eyes had time to see more than "Dearest Betty," she was interrupted by a sudden exclamation from her aunt.

"Clarissa has been at death's door," cried Miss Euphemia, startled out of her usual composure. "I knew this long silence boded no good. Listen, I will read it," and the three girls gathered round her chair at once.

"Dear and Honored Aunt" (ran the letter), "I take up my pen, after many days of pain and dire distress, to send loving greetings to you, my Beloved father, and my dear sisters. For the hand of death was nearly upon me; thank God that I am still preserved to my dear Husband and to you.

"It was a very malignant and severe attack of Fever, and Gulian procured the services of no less than three Physicians, as for days I laid unconscious. My little baby died at two hours old, and I never saw him. Alas, how I have suffered! I am now very weak, altho' able to be dressed and sit up each day. This is my first letter; and I pine so sorely for you, my dear ones, that my dear Husband permits me to write, and begs with me that you will permit one of my sisters to come to me and cheer my heart"-

"Come to her! Good lack!" cried impetuous Betty, interrupting the reader, "how is one to go when the British are in occupation?"-

"How, indeed," sighed Miss Euphemia; "but perhaps the letter will tell," and she resumed her reading, after wiping her eyes softly. "Where was I?-oh"-

"Father will no doubt be able to procure a pass from General Washington, which will admit the bearer into the City, and Gulian will himself be ready when you advise us, and will await you at King's Bridge Inn. Dear Aunt, send me some one soon, and let me see a dear home face, else I shall die of grief and homesickness, far from my own people.

"Your loving and obedient niece,

"CLARISSA VERPLANCK."

By this time Pamela was sobbing aloud, and tears flowed down Miss Euphemia's cheeks, but Betty sprang to her feet with a little impatient stamp, crying,-

"Aunt, aunt, which of us shall go? Pamela, you are a gentle and charming nurse; shall it be you?"

"I!" sighed Pamela; "oh, I would go to the world's end for Clarissa."

"But this is to go to New York," cried Betty, with unconscious irony; "and as we can neither of us go alone, why could not my father arrange for one of us to accompany Mrs. Seymour, who leaves shortly to be near her brother for the winter? Did you not tell me, Sally, that she was going to New York?"

"Yes," answered Sally Tracy, "she has been making all manner of preparations, for, as you know, her brother is imprisoned in the city; and since her acceptance of the pleasure coach from the Mayor of New York (which he presented her with when he was released from Litchfield gaol), she has been pining to go to him. And, beside, she travels in her coach as far as possible; and my mother said last night that General Washington was to send her safe-conduct through our lines to the city."

"We must first consult your father," said Miss Euphemia gravely, much upset by the suggestion of making up her mind to do anything in haste, for she was a very deliberate person, and despised hurried decisions. "I will find him as soon as he has finished the dispatches, and, moreover, this letter to him from Gulian may have directions. I incline to think that you, Betty, will be the one to go. Pamela can scarce bear the journey in this weather," and gathering her papers carefully in her hand, Miss Euphemia left the room, and the girls gazed blankly at each other with startled eyes and throbbing hearts.

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