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An Unwilling Maid By Jeanie Gould Lincoln Characters: 13802

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

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 K

nox 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.

It would be vain to describe Betty's emotion as from the windows of the Verplanck mansion she watched the troops and the civil concourse, and realized that at last, after long years of heroic endurance, of gallant fighting, of many privations, the freedom of the Colonies was an accomplished fact. Miss Moppet and Peter flew from one window to another and cheered and shouted to their hearts' content. Even Grandma Effingham and Clarissa waved their handkerchiefs, while Gulian, on the doorstep, raised his cocked hat in courtly salute to General Washington. Gulian was beginning to learn that perhaps one might find something to be proud of in America, even if we were lacking in the rank and titles he so admired.

Oliver's wedding, which was set for six o'clock, to allow the commander-in-chief to be present before the banquet at Fraunces's Tavern, was to be on as grand a scale as Madam Cruger's ideas could make it; for having consented to her daughter's marriage, that stately dame proposed to yield in her most gracious fashion. It took some time to dress Miss Moppet in the silken petticoat and puffed skirt, the tiny mobcap and white ribbons, which Kitty had considered proper for the occasion, and Betty found she must hasten her own toilet, or be late herself. Moppet followed her up to the old room where Betty had spent so many hours of varied experience, and assisted to spread out once again the flowered brocade, which had not seen the light of day since the De Lancey ball.

"Here are your slippers, Betty; how nicely they fit your foot."

"Yes," said Betty, her thoughts far across the sea, as she slipped on one of them.

"I hope those are wedlock shoes," quoth Moppet, with a queer, mischievous glance, as she tied the slipper strings around the slender ankle. But Betty did not heed her; she was busy undoing the knots of rose-colored ribbon on the waist, which she had once placed there with such coquettish pride.

"What are you about?" cried Moppet, seizing her sister's hand as she was in the act of snipping off one with the scissors. "Oh, Betty, the gown will not be half so pretty without them."

"Nay, child, rose-colored ribbons are not for me to-day; I am grown too old and sad," said Betty softly, looking with tender eyes into Moppet's face.

"Did ever I hear such fal-lal nonsense," and Moppet's foot came down in a genuine hot-tempered stamp which made Betty start, "Betty, Betty, I will not have it-pray put them back this moment;" then in the coaxing voice which she knew always carried her point, "What would Oliver and Kitty say if you were not as gay as possible to grace their wedding? Oh, fie, Betty dear!"

As usual Moppet had her way, and when the pair alighted at the Cruder door Betty's knots of rose-color were in their accustomed place.

Within the mansion all was light and gay. Weddings in those times were conducted with even more pomp and ceremony than in our day, and the entertainments, though not upon the present scale, were fully as lavish. Wax candles shone at every possible point, and lit up the broad reception-hall, the polished floors and high ceilings, while mirrors on mantels and walls reflected back many times the stately figures which passed and repassed before them. And then there came a pause, when voices were hushed, and down the oak staircase came Kitty, led by Gulian Verplanck (her nearest male relative), wearing a white satin petticoat (though somewhat scanty to our ideas in width and length), and over it a, train of silver brocade, stiff and rustling, while a long scarf of Mechlin lace covered her pretty dark head and hung in soft folds down her back. The high-heeled slippers, the long lace mitts, with their white bows at the elbow, completed her toilet. She stood before the assembled company a fair young bride of the olden days, and behind her came Miss Moppet and Peter Provoost, holding her silver train with the tips of their fingers. Oliver, in full Continental uniform, his cocked hat under his arm, awaited her at the end of the great drawing-room, and with somewhat shortened service, the rector of old St. Paul's said the words which made the pair man and wife.

Betty was standing near the mantel, laughing and chatting gayly with several of her former New York gallants, when she beheld her father advancing toward her on the arm of a gentleman. Surely she knew that tall, elegant figure, that erect, graceful carriage? But the scarlet uniform which was so familiar was absent; this was the satin coat, small-clothes, and powdered hair of a civilian. Betty's head swam, her brilliant color came and went, as her father said quietly!-

"My daughter, an old acquaintance desires that I should recall him to your recollection; I trust it is not necessary for me to present to your favor my friend, Mr. Geoffrey Yorke."

Betty's knees shook as she executed her most elaborate courtesy, and as if in a dream she heard General Wolcott say to Yorke, with a somewhat quizzical smile, "Perhaps you will kindly take Betty to the library, where I will myself join you later after escorting General Washington to the banquet."

Betty never knew how she crossed that room; every effort of her mind was concentrated in the thought that she must not betray herself. What did all this mean? Such a blaze of sunshine had fallen upon her that she did not dare look at it; she only realized that her hand was in Geoffrey's until they reached the quiet and deserted library, and then he was at her feet.

"Sweetheart, sweetheart," he said, "you will not refuse to hear me now? I have resigned the army, I have left England forever (unless you yourself will some day accompany me there to meet my people), I have thrown in my fortunes with the United States, and doubt not I will prove as faithful a servant to your Commonwealth as I ever was to King George," and kissing her hand, he, laid in it the faded knot of rose-colored ribbon.

"But, Geoffrey" she faltered, "my father"-

"Did not General Wolcott himself bid me fetch you here? Ah. Betty, the conditions are all fulfilled, and you are still unwilling."

She looked at him for a moment in silence, and then her most mischievous smile dawned in Betty's eyes as she hid Geoffery's little knot of ribbon in her gown.

"My heart but not my will, consents," she said, "Dare you take such a naughty, perverse rebel in hand for life?"

"I dare all for love of Betty Wolcott," cried the triumphant lover, while from the door a small person In mobcap surveyed the pair with very round and most enraptured eyes.

"It's just like a fairy tale," quoth Miss Moppet, "and I'm in it!"

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