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首页 » 儿童英文小说 » A Loyal Little Red-Coat » CHAPTER XXV.—A HAPPY DAY FOR AUNT FRANCES.
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OOD news or sorrowful news does not always come to one in the form of a carefully worded letter, as with Mrs. Boniface and Flutters, nor when, because a letter of some sort is expected, one is in a way prepared for it. More often it comes when you are least on the lookout for it, and when life is running on uneventfully in worn grooves, as though it must so run on forever.

And in this same unanticipated fashion some very good news came to Aunt Frances.

It was just at sunset, and she was out on the river in a little boat with Starlight. It had been one of those days that sometimes come in the latter part of May as harbingers of summer. The school-room had been close and warm, and Aunt Frances had left it with a headache, so that Starlight, with a loving thoughtfulness that always went straight to her heart, had proposed a row in the cool, early-evening air of the river, and Aunt Frances had accepted.

“Do not row hard, dear,” she said; “just paddle around leisurely not far from the shore. I like it just as well;” and Starlight, who also felt a little enervated by the languid day, was glad to take her at her word. Indeed, none of the people of this little story were feeling very bright and cheery just then. ‘Rather heavy-hearted,’ would have described them all in greater or less degree, and the fact that the Bonifaces were going away had much to do therewith. Even Hazel’s rosy anticipations of life under Old England’s glorious monarchy, paled a little, as she realized that such dear friends as Aunt Frances, Starlight, and the Marberrys must be left behind, as well as everything else familiar to her childhood. It had been decided that the Bonifaces should sail in the “Blue Bird,” when she returned to England in the middle of June, and the sight of her, as she lay at anchor in the harbor, was such a depressing one to Starlight, that he contrived, as they rowed about on the river, to keep his back turned toward her as much as possible.

“Then it is really settled, Starlight, that the Bonifaces are going?” said Aunt Frances, looking over toward the ship, and breaking a long pause, during which they had both sat thoughtfully silent.

“Yes,” Starlight answered resting on his oars. “I feel awfully sorry for them.”

“But they are not sorry for themselves, are they?” and Aunt Frances drawing up her sleeve put her hand over the boat’s side that the cool water might splash against it. “I imagined that Mrs. Boniface was glad to go back to England and to her father, whom she has not seen since she was married, twenty-five years ago.”

“Oh, yes, of course, she is glad on some accounts, but after all they go because they must; and, besides, it’s hard to go back to the country you came from without having made a success of things.

“But the war is entirely responsible for all the Captain’s troubles—everybody knows that well enough, and if any one deserves a pension from the Crown he certainly does. He has sacrificed health and friends and property in the service of the King.”

“That’s so,” said Starlight, “and it’s a cruel shame that people like the Bonifaces shouldn’t he treated decently, and that people like us, Aunt Frances, shouldn’t be allowed to live in the houses that belong to us.”

“Sh—, Starlight,” said Aunt Frances, “there are some things you know that it is better not to talk about any more; it only stirs us up and to no purpose;” whereupon Starlight obediently lapsed into silence, and nothing more was said till Aunt Frances, discovering a row-boat in the middle of the river, coming toward them, exclaimed, “Who’s that, I wonder!” for boats were not so numerous in those days as to come and go without notice. Starlight wondered too, but continued to row about in an aimless fashion, till first thing they knew the approaching boat was quite close upon them.

“Who can it be?” said Aunt Frances, softly, and Starlight had only time to reply, “It looks a little like Captain Wadsworth,” and Aunt Frances to see that he was right in his conjecture, before the boat came within speaking distance, and the Captain, touching his hat, said politely, “Miss Avery, I believe.”

“Yes, Captain Wadsworth;” for although Aunt Frances and the Captain had never before exchanged words, their faces were well known to each other. “Did you wish to see me?” she added, somewhat coldly.

The Captain was too much of a gentleman to show that he noticed her chilling manner, and remarked quite casually, “I merely came over to tell you that I have decided after all to give up the idea of making my home in this country, and that your home is at your disposal.”

“What do you mean?” said Aunt Frances, unable to believe that she heard aright. As for Starlight, he lost an oar overboard from sheer excitement, which the man who was rowing Captain Wadsworth was kind enough to fish out for him.

“I mean,” said the Captain, “that you are free to enter your own home at once; I propose to sail for England very soon and have already vacated it.”

“I do not understand you,” for Aunt Frances was more confused than she had ever been in her life. “I can pay nothing for it. If you consider that you have a right to live in it, you must consider that you also have a right to sell it.”

The Captain bit his lip, at a loss what to say, and Aunt Frances realized that she was acting unkindly and perhaps rudely.

“Do you mean,” she asked, “that there is nothing for me to do but simply to walk into my old home?” and her face brightened unconsciously as she spoke.

“That is exactly what I mean, Miss Avery.”

“You are very kind, Captain Wadsworth. You can hardly wonder, I am sure, that I cannot find words in which to thank you.”

“Why should you thank me?” the Colonel replied half mischievously. “You have felt all along that the place rightfully belonged to you.”

“But you had the law on your side, so what did it matter how I thought or felt?”

“It mattered a great deal, Miss Avery; so much that, law on my side or no, I confess to you that I have not felt very comfortable in your home, particularly since I moved my men out, and have had the place to myself. Indeed, I’ve never really felt at home in the country, and half regret having resigned my commission.”

“You can imagine that all this is a great surprise to me,” said Aunt Frances, never looking handsomer in her life, “though I acknowledge having cherished just a faint little hope lately that it might come about some day.”

“Why lately, if I may ask, Miss Avery?”.

“Because,” said Aunt Frances, blushing a little, “Colonel Hamilton told me at the Assembly that he was sorry to have been the means of depriving me of my home, and that he would endeavor to make any reparation within his power. Will you think me rude in asking if he has in any way influenced your decision?”

“Colonel Hamilton? No, not in the least; but I believe the arguments of a certain little woman, who came to me several months ago, have had much to do with it.”

“I know who it was,” exclaimed Starlight, eagerly, unable to keep silent another moment; “I believe it was Hazel Boniface.”

“And I believe you are her friend, ‘Starlight,’” said the Captain, having made up his mind to that fact much earlier in the conversation.

Starlight said “Yes, sir,” with a beaming look which plainly declared that he was proud to have that honor.

All this while Peter, the Captain’s man, had sat an interested listener, enjoying everything with much the same relish perhaps as you or I would enjoy the happy ending of a rather harrowing play, only this was by so much the better, because it was real and not “make believe.” To keep the boats from drifting apart, Peter kept a firm hand upon the rail of Starlight’s boat, and Starlight’s upon his. Indeed, I think there was a tacit understanding between them that on no account were those two boats to be allowed to diverge a hair’s-breadth until this whole delightful matter should be unalterably settled.

Of course Starlight’s remark about Hazel had been another surprise to Aunt Frances, and when Captain Wadsworth went on to tell her all about Hazel’s call in the warm September weather of the preceding autumn, and how deep a hold her childish earnestness had taken upon him, it seemed to Aunt Frances as though she could not wait to give her successful little champion such a hug as she had never had in her life before.

“She went to see Colonel Hamilton too,” said Starlight in the pause that followed Captain Wadsworth’s narration.

“Then perhaps that partly accounts for Colonel Hamilton’s kind feeling,” said Aunt Frances slowly, as a new light seemed to shine in upon the whole transaction.

“I think it highly probable, Miss Avery. The old prophecy that a little child shall lead them is more often fulfilled, even in this world, I think, than most of us have any idea of.”

Meantime the current of the river had carried the boats close into shore, and Aunt Frances, with the charm of manner that was always natural to her, asked the Captain to come up to the house, and he came up, and accepted the Van Vleets’ cordial invitation to stay to supper, and not until the moon was high over the river did he call to Peter to row him back to New York; and if the Colonel’s body had grown as light as his heart, old Peter’s load would have been scarce heavier than a feather.


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