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CHAPTER XVIII.—MORE OF A RED-COAT THAN EVER.
HILE Hazel and Starlight, Flutters, John Thomas, and the Marberrys were so hugely enjoying watching the people down there on the floor of the Assembly, it so happened that some of the people were not enjoying themselves at all. Indeed, quite the contrary; for not a few were acting unkindly, and others were being treated unkindly; and if there is any enjoyment for anybody in that sort of a proceeding, one ought to be thankful not yet to have discovered it.

You know how it came about that Colonel and Mrs. Boniface went to the Assembly; it was simply because they felt they ought to. If the old friends were truly sorry for having been so unfriendly, would it not be ungracious for them to decline this invitation? Would it not look as if they themselves were still harboring ill-feeling? And you also know that Harry Avery had been consulted in the matter, and that his urgent advice had been, “Go, by all means.” So the Colonel and his wife had decided to accept quite in the face of all their preferences, and dreading the ordeal far more than either was willing to confess to the other. But alas! for the decision that cost them such a personal sacrifice, and alas! for the hopefulness of Harry’s buoyant temperament; for if Colonel and Mrs. Boniface ever had reason abundantly to regret any step they had ever taken, it was going to this Dancing Assembly; and if ever two proud and sensitive hearts were stung to the quick, theirs were that evening. It seems that Harry was mistaken in thinking that the invitation had been sent because of a general desire to make amends to the Bonifaces. True it was that two members of the Assembly Committee had insisted upon their being invited, hardly thinking, however, that they would come; but alas! in case they did come some other members had resolved to make it very uncomfortable for them. Somehow or other nothing seems so completely to change a warm human heart into something as cold and hard as a stone as what men call a strong party feeling, and party feeling ran very high in those days in which our great-grandfathers lived a hundred years ago. That is to say, men felt so sure that their own opinions were the only right ones that they fairly hated those who did not agree with them.

And so it happened that, with cheeks crimsoned from the insults they had received, and with blood tingling to their very finger tips Colonel and Mrs. Boniface left the room, sending word to Josephine (who had been screened from any insult by Harry’s chivalrous devotion) to follow them. Hazel suddenly missed them from the crowd below, and knew in a flash what had happened. Indeed, the color had flushed into her own round cheeks as she thought she saw a Mrs. Potter, whose husband was a leading Whig, pretend not to see that Mrs. Boniface had made a move toward shaking hands with her. But “No,” she thought, “I must be mistaken; no lady would be so rude.” So it would seem, little Hazel; but it often happens that things are not what they seem in this queer world of ours; and as Hazel’s dear mother learned to her sorrow, several others who called themselves ladies could be just as rude as Mrs. Potter, and some of them yet more rude. Fortunately for the Mar-berrys and Starlight and Flutters, the clock was just on the stroke of eight when Hazel made her unhappy discovery, for she could not have borne to have sat there another moment looking down on that brilliant company, many of whom, looking so fine and attractive, were at heart so cruel.

“Time’s up,” said Hazel, starting to creep round to the little door at the back of the gallery, and not trusting herself to say more than that for fear a trembling voice should betray her suppressed excitement.

Hazel was the acknowledged commander-in-chief of that little party, and difficult as it was to turn abruptly from the fascinating scene, the children dropped obediently on to all fours, and followed in her train. The Marberrys’ carriage was waiting at the door, and Flutters, after helping the others in, climbed onto the box beside Jake, the driver. It was wonderful the way in which he seemed always to know intuitively the “proper thing” to do. He was constantly placed on such an equal footing with the other children that it would have been only natural for him to have frequently forgotten that, after all, he was only Miss Hazel’s little servant; but somehow or other he never did forget it; perfectly free in his manner, and never in any sense servile, yet always betraying a little air of respectful deference that was simply charming. Indeed, body-servant or no, all the Bonifaces had grown to actually loving little Flutters, and Flutters knew it and was radiantly happy.

All the way home Hazel tried to be as merry as before. It would be such a pity, she thought unselfishly, to spoil the Marberrys’ good time; but she did not succeed very well.

“Are you tired, Hazel?” asked Milly, as they neared home.

“Yes, awfully tired,” and with this admission the tears sprang into her eyes; but fortunately it was too dark in the carriage for any one to see them. “It’s very uncomfortable,” she added, “to sit with your legs curled under you so long as we had to there in the gallery.”

“Do you think so?” exclaimed Tilly; “why, I could have sat there till morning, and never known I had a leg, it was all so lovely!”

“So lovely!” echoed Milly in a tone of evident regret that it was over.

“Here we are,” said Hazel, as Flutters leaped down and opened the door for her; “good-night, Milly” (a kiss); “good-night, Tilly” (another kiss); “much obliged for the ride.”

“Much obliged for the lovely time,” the Marberrys called back, for Jake, impatient to get home and to bed, had immediately driven on.

“Why, it looks as though your father and mother were home,” Starlight exclaimed as they walked up the path.

“Yes, they are home, I know that,” said Hazel, excitedly, “and Josephine is home, and I know too that they’ve had a horrid time, and that they’ll never go to anything in New York again—never; and if there is a cowardly set of creatures in the world it’s the spiteful old Whigs.”

Starlight and Flutters stood aghast, while Hazel flew past them into the house, slamming the front door after her, as much as to say that no exasperating Whig should ever enter it again, not even if his name was Job Avery Starlight.

The boys sat down on the step of the porch and conversed in dazed, excited whispers as to what it could all mean.

Hazel flew up the stairs into her mother’s room and into her mother’s arms with one great sob.



0159

“Why, Hazel, my little daughter, what is the matter?” and Mrs. Boniface, whom Hazel had found sitting in a low rocker at the window, still in the dress she had worn to the ball, drew Hazel’s brown head on to her shoulder, and soothingly stroked the brown wavy hair; but the tears were in her own eyes, and her heart was very heavy.

Hazel could not speak at first for crying, but the caressing touch of that dear hand was wonderfully calming, and presently she was able to say, “I know all about it, mother. I know they treated you shamefully. I saw that horrid old Mrs. Potter when she—”

“Hazel! Hazel, dear, you must not talk like this.”

“But it’s true, every word of it is true, and tell me” (and Hazel straightened herself up and looked through blinding tears into her mother’s face), “didn’t they insult you? didn’t they treat you very rudely, and didn’t you all come home on that account?”

“Well, they certainly were not very kind, Hazel, and it seemed best for us to come home; but it is not worth caring too much about, you know.”

“And to think how friendly Mrs. Potter used to be, and how much she pretended to think of you, mother,” and Hazel becoming a little less excited, thoughtfully turned the little turquoise ring on her finger round and round, and shook her head sadly from side to side, as though her faith in human nature was forever shaken, as indeed it had reason to be.

It was a pretty picture, albeit a rather sad one, the mother and daughter, in the graceful costumes of a hundred years ago, sitting there in the low studded room, dimly lighted by the little rush-light on the mantel—a high narrow mantel, with the glowing embers on the andirons beneath it crackling loudly now and then, after the manner of a good fire that is slowly dying out. An oblong mirror, hung at a wide angle from the wall, surmounted the high mantel, and reflected the little rocker with its double load, and the pretty old-fashioned drapery at the window. It was not often that that little mirror, nor any other mirror for that matter, had the chance to frame a picture for itself full as lovely as ever artist dreamed of.

But while Hazel and her mother were talking, and Hazel herself was growing calmer and Mrs. Boniface’s heart lighter with the effort to cheer her, some other things were happening in which we have an interest. Captain Boniface was striding along the road that led on to the Marberrys, trying to walk off the angry feelings that threatened to get the mastery over him. There is nothing like a good brisk walk in bracing air to get a feverish, excited mind into normal condition, and the Captain knew it; but when the force of the angry mood had spent itself, there still was left to him a sense of sad hopelessness for which he saw no remedy. To have a little family on one’s hands and no money to care for them is enough to make the bravest heart heavy; but to have reached that point, and at the same time to see every chance of ever getting on one’s feet again absolutely taken away, is enough to break a man’s spirit. And matters had come to just that pass that evening with Captain Boniface. If the old friends had at last shown themselves friendly, he would have felt there was a hope of his making his services valuable to some of them, as indeed there would have been, for every one acknowledged Captain Boniface to be a man of rare ability. But it had now been shown him very plainly that there was no use in longer trying to stem the tide of hate and prejudice that set so strongly against him, and with the future a hopeless blank, he finally turned his face homeward. But the other thing that was happening, and in which we too have an interest, was of a cheerier sort, and was taking place at the Assembly, which had only fairly gotten under way when the Bonifaces left it.

That old-fashioned law of a partner for the evening, to be chosen by lot, of course applied only to the young folks, and the more staid, middle-aged, and elderly people were free to chat with each other, else why should they have cared to go to the ball at all?

Now it happened that Aunt Frances, who was quite in ignorance of the sad experiences of the Bonifaces, was having a most satisfactory conversation with a Mrs. Rainsford, a near neighbor, whom she had not seen since her flight from home nearly two years before, for Mrs. Rainsford was able to answer a great many questions which Aunt Frances had been longing to ask about her own home, and the care it was having.

“No, I should not think the place had been greatly abused,” said Mrs. Rainsford, while Aunt Frances sat, an eager listener. “Captain Wadsworth moved his men down to the barracks at Fort George a month ago, and since then he has been giving the house a thorough overhauling. You know he has resigned his commission, and intends to remain in this country.”

“Yes; and I know, too, that he intends to remain in my home,” sighed Aunt Frances. “I wonder if he would sell it to me, though, for that matter, it’s as much mine to-day as it ever was. But there’s no use to talk about that either, for I have saved from the wreck barely money enough to live upon.”

“But, Miss Avery,” said Mrs. Rainsford in a serious whisper, that was scarcely audible above the music, “I’ll tell you one thing: I do not believe Captain Wadsworth will remain in your house very long.”

“Indeed! why not?” and Aunt Frances’s elevated eyebrows betrayed her surprise.

“Why, because it is going to be so very uncomfortable for all Loyalists here in the city.”

“I do not quite see what you mean, Mrs. Rainsford.”

“No, of course not, dear,” replied Mrs. Rainsford (seeming to regard Aunt Frances in the light of an older daughter, though, in point of fact, there was but little difference in their ages.) “No, of course not; your kind heart would never dream of such things as are happening on every side. The leading Whigs, now that the Revolution has been successful, say that they’ll make this town too hot to hold a single Tory, and, mark my words, they’ll do it, too. Perhaps you haven’t noticed how the Bonifaces were treated tonight; they went home some time ago.”

“Why, Mrs. Rainsford, can that be possible?” questioned Aunt Frances, looking vainly about the room in search of her friends; “I call that cruelty of the most unwarrantable sort.”

“Yes, it must be very humiliating to say the least; but then they have brought it upon themselves, you must remember,” for Mrs. Rainsford was herself a most ardent Whig, and thought the Loyalists, whether English or American, should be made to pay very dearly for their behavior.

“You ought to have seen your garden this summer, Miss Avery,” continued Mrs. Rainsford, reverting to their former subject. “Captain Wadsworth must be very fond of flowers. He took the best of care of it.”

“I think I could not have borne to see it, Mrs. Rainsford.”

“No, perhaps not, dear child; and to think that you really have Alexander Hamilton to thank for it all. You must hate him. He is here to-night, you know, with his young wife. I don’t wonder she turned the heads of the officers at Morristown. You know she went to visit her aunt while Washington had his headquarters there, and Hamilton was his aide-de-camp, and fell in—”

“Sh—” interrupted Aunt Frances, who saw that Colonel Hamilton was not very far off, and might easily overhear what they were saying; and, indeed, he was not far off, for the very good reason that, in the company of his friend, Major Potter, every step was bringing him nearer.

Imagine, if you can, Aunt Frances’s surprise when Major Potter, whom she knew quite well, paused before her, and bowing low, with old-time grace and courtliness, said slowly, “May I take the liberty, Miss Avery, of presenting my friend, Colonel Hamilton?”



0163

Aunt Frances was, of course, greatly confused, though too much of a lady to betray it; but Mrs. Rainsford, astonished beyond measure, and not always at her ease, was quite glad to slip away from an interview that promised to be, to say the least, embarrassing.

Colonel Hamilton took the seat she left vacant. “I begged the favor of an introduction, Miss Avery, and am very glad to meet you,” he said, politely.

“I must not doubt your sincerity, Colonel Hamilton,” Aunt Frances replied with no little dignity, “but perhaps you do not recognize in me the Miss Avery whom you lately defeated in the courts.”

“On the contrary,” replied the Colonel with a deferential air, for Aunt Frances was by many years his senior, “that is the very reason why I wished to meet you. I feel myself to have been the cause—”

“Excuse me, Colonel Hamilton, but I desire neither apologies nor sympathy.” For with all her sweetness, Aunt Frances was high spirited; she thought the Colonel’s manner was a little patronizing.

But Colonel Hamilton was high spirited too, and was on his feet in a moment. “It was not my intention to offer either sympathy or apologies. I bid you good-evening, Miss Avery.”

But Aunt Frances said quickly, “In that case I should prefer you to remain, Colonel Hamilton.”

“Thank you,” and the Colonel, with no little dignity, resumed his seat, while Aunt Frances condescended to add:

“I did not mean to be rude, but I wished you to understand my position.”

“It was because I wished you to understand mine that I sought this interview, Miss Avery; but I see I have need to be very careful as to my choice of words.”

Aunt Frances smiled, as much as to say, “Quite right, Colonel Hamilton.”

“I hope you realize,” he said, “that my argument in Captain Wadsworth’s case was founded on the most sincere convictions;” and the Colonel half betrayed the admiration which Aunt Frances somehow inspired in him, notwithstanding her high-spiritedness.

“I never questioned that, Colonel Hamilton.”

“So I felt I had reason to believe, when I found you had urged your nephew to make application for the vacancy in my office.”

“Why, I told Harry it was hardly necessary to volunteer the fact of our relationship,” said Aunt Frances, with unconcealed surprise.

“He evidently did not agree with you then, for he had been with me scarce twenty-four hours before he told me he was your nephew. I suppose you thought, if I knew it, that it might count against him; on the contrary, let me assure you it has helped him. It is no light thing, Miss Avery, to have done any one an injury, whether from conscientious motives or not; and I shall welcome every chance to atone for it that comes within my power. I can imagine, in part at least, what it must mean to be banished from the home of a life-time under any circumstances, and especially when you feel that you have still a perfect right to be there.”

This looked a little like sympathy on the Colonel’s part, but it was too kindly meant to be rejected. They were treading, however, dangerously near the region of Aunt Frances’s proud sensitiveness, so she changed the direction somewhat by asking, “But Harry is able to rise on his own merits, is he not, Colonel Hamilton?”

“Abundantly; that was one thing I desired to tell you. He has unusual capacity, and is remarkably efficient. I think his future assured. As for me, it is a great satisfaction to know you do not question my sincerity. And now, Miss Avery, I will not detain you longer, and will say good-evening.”

“Good-evening, Colonel Hamilton.”

And so the Colonel went back to his pretty young wife in the farther corner of the room, and Aunt Frances, with a tumult of thoughts in her heart, rejoined the Van Vleets, and was glad to find them making ready to go down to the clumsy barge, which, manned by two of the farm hands, was waiting to carry them home across the moonlit river. How much she had to think over; and what had Colonel Hamilton told her but that he would lose no chance to atone for what his duty, as he understood it, had compelled him to do. But one thing Colonel Hamilton had not told her, but which was very true, nevertheless, and that was, that one of the strongest impulses toward this same atoning had come to him in the form of a call from a very earnest and winsome little maiden one sunny September morning. “Yes, what may it not mean?” thought Aunt Frances, and a hope that she had not dared to cherish for a long, long time shaped itself once more before her. Perhaps it might come about that she should have her home again some day; surely it was not impossible, since Colonel Hamilton himself was enlisted in her favor. And this was the man whom she thought her worst enemy—whom she had said she would go a long way to avoid meeting. Very thankful was she now that the Colonel had given her no opportunity to carry out her intention. So there is this comfort: if some sorry things happened at the Assembly, some other things happened that were not sorry at all.

Meanwhile poor Starlight and Flutters sat shivering on the front porch. Captain Boniface had come home, but had quietly entered the house at the rear, and the children had not heard him.

“Really, I think we had better go in now,” said Flutters, as though he had brought the same inducement to bear upon Starlight several times before.

“You may go if you like,” answered Starlight. “It’s different with you, you live here; but you don’t catch me going in at a door that’s been slammed in my face, unless the some-one who slammed it comes out and gets me.”

So Flutters stretched and yawned and shivered a moment longer, and then decided to quit the dreary scene.

“Now, don’t you tell Hazel that I’m out here, Flutters. Promise me.”

“Not if she asks me?”

“No, not if she asks you fifty times.” Starlight was angry, and not without reason, but he did not believe impetuous Hazel would give him another thought, and so he looked about to see how he could most comfortably pass the night on the porch, for he knew nowhere to go at that late hour. Perhaps it was a pity for a fellow to be so proud, but he could not help it. He wondered if other people’s pride made the blood rush so hotly through their veins, and made their hearts thump like trip hammers; there was one good thing about it, though: it helped to keep him a little warmer out there in the chill November evening.

Flutters groped his way forlornly to bed, for all the lights were out in the house. He longed to knock at Hazel’s door and tell her about Starlight, and his hand actually doubled itself in a preparatory way as he passed her door; but no, it would not do. Starlight would never forgive him; besides, he had promised.

But fortunately it was not to be an out-all-night experience, after all, for Starlight. Hazel’s room was directly under the roof of the high, pillared porch, and as, just before getting into bed, she leaned out to close the blinds, so that the morning sun should not wake such a tired and sorrowful little body too early, she saw some dark thing lying under the mat on the porch. At first she thought it was the Marberrys’ dog, who occasionally made them a visit, so she called, “Bruno! Bruno!” in a penetrating whisper, but the dark object showed no signs of life. Then she said, “Who is it?” and the dark object moved a little and replied sullenly, “Who do you suppose?”

“Why, Job Starlight, what are you doing out there; you’ll catch your death of cold.”

“I know it,” said Starlight, for by this time even his pride had cooled down a little, and his teeth were chattering, “and there’ll be no one to blame for it but yourself, Hazel Boniface.”

“What do you mean?” asked Hazel; but as she spoke a conviction of just exactly what he meant swept over her. “Haven’t you been in since I left you on the porch?”

“No, I haven’t been in since you slammed the door in my face and said if there was a cowardly set of spiteful old creatures in the world it was the Whigs.”

“I did not call you a——” and then Hazel realized that it was very foolish, as well as very cold, to stand talking there in that way, so she called down, “But wait a minute, and I’ll come and let you in.” Then she closed the shutters and hurriedly slipped into her wrapper and slippers, and in a twinkling the hall lamp was lighted and the hall door thrown open; but Starlight was in no hurry to enter—not he; he was going to see this thing through in right dignified fashion, notwithstanding, now that the prospect looked more cheerful, he could himself see a funny side to the proceeding.

“I did not mean you were cowardly or spiteful, Starlight,” Hazel said again. “I meant all the other Whigs. Do, please, come in.”

“Then why did you slam the door in this Whig’s face, I’d like to know,” and Starlight was so gracious as to advance as far as the broad, old-fashioned door-sill; “besides, all the other Whigs are not spiteful and cowardly. Aunt Frances isn’t, and——”

“Starlight,” interrupted Hazel, “this is very mean of you. If you knew what we’d had to bear to-night you wouldn’t blame me for anything. I was very angry, I know, but I am very sorry, and now—won’t you please come in?”

Certainly this was as much as the most aggrieved of individuals could desire, and Starlight walked in, and dignity and resentment and everything else were forgotten as Hazel with tearful eyes told him of the evenings experiences. “Yes,” she said at the close of her narration, “I saw Mrs. Potter with my own eyes refuse to shake hands with mamma, and if it hadn’t been time then to come home I do not know what I ever should have done.”

Starlight drew a deep sigh, but Hazel had grown a full inch in his estimation. It was real plucky in her to have kept her forlorn discovery to herself all the way home; he could almost understand now how she had slammed the door when she reached it. But what a shame it was that a family like the Bonifaces should be so shamefully treated! “Well, it’s too bad, Hazel, that’s all I can say,” he said; “but I suppose we may as well go to bed. It must be very late.”

“Why, where is Flutters?” asked Hazel, for the first time recalling his existence.

“Here,” answered a voice from the top of the hall stairway; “I was just coming down to see if I could not make Starlight come in.”

“I don’t believe anybody could have made him,” said Hazel; “the Starlights must be a very proud family.”

“So must the Bonifaces,” answered Starlight, with the shadow of a smile; “but, then, I like proud families.”

“And so do I,” said Hazel.

A few moments afterward the little trio separated, and with the thought of “Better late than never,” Starlight crept gratefully into the bed of the little hall room, whose blankets and coverlid had been carefully folded back for him, full five hours before, by Dinah’s kind black hands.


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