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首页 » 儿童英文小说 » A Loyal Little Red-Coat » CHAPTER XVI.—COLONEL HAMILTON “TAKES TO” HARRY.
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RIGHT and early on the Monday succeeding the Van Vleet tea-party, Harry Starlight set out for his call upon Colonel Hamilton. It proved to be a clear, bracing morning, the kind of a morning to inspire hope in hearts five times as old as Harry’s, only fortunately there are some hearts that never grow old at all, and to whom hope is just as true and beautiful-at sixty as sixteen. The moment he closed the door of the kitchen behind him, he drew one great, deep breath, as though longing to take in, in a permanent way if possible, all the exhilaration of the invigorating air, all the marvellous beauty of the wonderful out-of-door world. There had been a heavy frost the night before, but almost the first flash of sunrise had transformed it into an army of glistening drops, save where here and there, under the protecting chill of sombre shadows, the grass-blades still were cased in sheaths of crystal. The river was gray and white-capped, for the west wind would not leave it still enough to reflect the cloudless blue overhead, and the “Gretchen” tugged at her chain with various little creaks and groans, as though an anchor and a furled sail were more than sail-boat nature could endure when such a breeze was blowing. Indeed, as Harry freed her from her moorings, she fairly seemed to bound out into the river with the keen enjoyment of a creature alive in every part. It is hard to picture that East River as it looked a hundred years ago, with wooded and grass-grown banks in place of wharves and warehouses, and with only an occasional sail, where to-day the great, unwieldy ferry-boats plow from shore to shore, and an army of smaller craft steam noisily hither and thither. Now and then Harry would pass a market-boat loaded to the water’s edge with a tempting array of vegetables, and rowed by a marketwoman in her close-fitting Dutch cap, who would either wish him a cheery good-morning in matronly fashion, or bend lower over her oars, as became a young maiden. Half reluctantly did Harry hear the “Gretchen’s” keel scrape the pebbly shore, and exchange the breezy breadth of the river lor the city street, notwithstanding that street led straight up to Colonel Hamilton’s office. Then, somehow or other, he did not feel quite so buoyant as at the start, for hope has a trick of wavering a little, as she actually nears the verge of any decision. What if some one had already secured the place? What if the Colonel should not take to him? for Harry had great faith in and great respect for what may be called “taking to people.”

It so happened that he found only a boy in the Colonel’s office, a very dark little specimen of the negro race, who was brushing and dusting away in a manner that said very plainly, “I’s behin’ time dis mornin’,” which, by the way, was the rule and not the exception in the life of lazy little John Thomas.

“What time does Colonel Hamilton usually come in? asked Harry, when he saw that the boy was by far too busy to pay any attention to him.

“‘Long any minit; dat’s how I’s so flustered,” he replied, breathlessly, and with that sort of haste which invariably makes waste, he succeeded in upsetting all the contents of a generous scrap-basket exactly in the middle of the office floor. “Glory me!” was his one inelegant exclamation, and, dropping on to his knees, he began punching the accumulation of trash back into the basket, but with an energy that landed half of it upon the floor again.

“Look here, I’ll tend to that,” laughed Harry. “You see to your other work.” John Thomas looked up surprised, but seeing the offer was made in good faith, took Harry at his word, and flew to the office washstand, which was sadly in need of attention.

Just at this point there was a step in the hall, and glancing up from his homely, self-appointed task, Harry’s eyes met those of Colonel Hamilton, while the color flushed over his face.

“Well, my young friend,” said the Colonel, evidently much amused, “who set you at that work?”

“I was waiting for you, sir,” said Harry, putting the basket at one side, “and as your boy seemed to have been delayed, I was trying to lend a hand.”

“Very kind of you, sir; and as John has a way of being delayed every morning, he would no doubt like to make a permanent engagement with you.”

“I had rather you would do that, sir,” was on Harry’s lips, but he feared it might sound familiar; but Colonel Hamilton seemed to read his thoughts.

“Possibly you came to see about making an engagement with me,” he said, kindly, looking for the moment most intently at Harry in a way that showed he was mentally taking his measure. Meanwhile he had hung up his coat and hat, and dropped into a high-backed, uncomfortable and unpainted wooden chair, very different from the upholstered, revolving contrivances that we find in offices nowadays.

“Yes, sir,” said Harry, in answer to the Colonel’s question, and still standing; “I heard that you wanted a clerk, and I should be very grateful if you would let me see if I could fill the place.”

“What is your name?”

“Harry Starlight Avery, if you wish it in full, sir.”

“Will you be seated, Mr. Avery?” said the Colonel, with his habitual kindly courtesy; whereupon John Thomas flourished a bedraggled feather brush over a dusty chair—the same one upon which Hazel had sat during her recent important interview—and placed it near the Colonel’s, with all the importance of a drum-major on parade.

“I have heard the name of Starlight before,” Colonel Hamilton said thoughtfully, “but where I cannot remember.” Then, and as though he had no time to devote to mere rumination at that hour of the morning, he asked, “Are you a native of New York, Mr. Avery?”

“No, sir; my home is in New London.”

“Then you are a long ways from it now” (for distances were distances in those days); “how does that happen?”

“I enlisted on a privateer,” Harry answered, coloring slightly.

“So that is how,” and the Colonel gave him the benefit of another scrutinizing look.

“Have you ever had a position in a lawyer’s office?”

“No, sir; I am sorry to say I haven’t; but it’s just the sort of position I have always wanted. Of course you would have to tell me just about everything at the start, but not more than once, I hope, sir.”

This is the right sort of spirit, thought the Colonel, beginning to run through some papers on a letter-file, for, as usual, he had a very busy day before him.

“How long ago did you enlist on the privateer?” making a little memorandum of some other matters on a sheet of paper as he spoke.

“Nearly two years ago.”

“How long were you aboard of her?”

“Only a month, sir.”

“And where were you the remainder of the time?”

“On the ‘Jersey,’ sir.”

There was no dividing of attention now, and the Colonel laid aside the quill pen he had just filled with ink.

“Do you mean to say you were a prisoner aboard of her?”

“Yes, sir.”

“For nearly two years?”

“Yes, sir.”

“That is enough for me. Any poor fellow that has braved the horrors of that den for even a month ought to have the best sort of a chance. I will engage you on the spot, Mr. Avery. If you have been a ‘Jersey’ prisoner, that is enough for me. I am willing to try a ‘green hand,’ who has had to endure that experience.”

“You are very kind, Colonel Hamilton,” and Harry’s grateful appreciation showed plainly in his face.

“Could you stay to-day,” asked the Colonel, “and let me set you right to work at some copying? I think we can come to a satisfactory arrangement about terms when I am not so hurried.”

Of course Harry stayed—stayed through one of the busiest and happiest days of his life; and not until twilight had long settled down on the river did he step aboard of the “Gretchen” and set sail for the old Van Vleet Farm.

When the wind is right in your favor, and you have little to do but mind your helm, you have a fine chance for a quiet think—that is, if you are any sort of a sailor; and Harry improved the opportunity and thought hard—thought of all that the day’s good fortune might mean to him: of ability to pay his own way for the first time in his life; of a little money to be sent off now and then to the younger brothers in New London, and then, in a vague sort of a way, of a home of his own some day. Meantime all the while there would be the constant daily companionship with Colonel Hamilton himself, who seemed to him (as indeed to many another, and in the face, too, of his extreme youthfulness) at once the noblest, the kindest, and by far the greatest man he had ever met. What a pity, he thought, that he should have sided against Aunt Frances!

But of one thing Harry felt sure, which was that he had certainly “taken to” Colonel Alexander Hamilton; and there was another thing just as sure which he did not know about, and that was that the Colonel had decidedly “taken to” Harry.


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