MORE than one pair of ears heard the creak of the clumsy Dutch gate as it swung on its hinges for Hazel, for every door and window of Captain Wadsworth’s quarters stood wide open to catch all there was of any little cooling breeze which might bestir itself that close September morning. And more than one pair of eyes glancing in the same direction saw Hazel coming up the path and brightened at the sight of her. They knew her well, all those English soldiers, for she had often accompanied her father when he had come among them on business, and while he was busy here and there, had chattered in her frank, fearless way with one and another. Indeed, owing to her loyalist principles and a little red coat which she was in the habit of wearing, she was familiarly known among the rank and file of his Majesty’s service as “Little Red-Coat,” and often addressed by that name. But this was her first visit all by herself, and, to tell the truth, Hazel had some misgiving as to its propriety, and as to her own behavior in running off in this fashion, for she had announced her departure to no one. Her sister Josephine, however, had happened to see her taking her seat on the Albany stage, and wondered what she was up to. But “runaway” or no, the eyes that saw Hazel Boniface did nevertheless brighten at the sight of her, from those of Captain Wadsworth’s old body-servant, who was brushing the Captain’s clothes very vigorously from one of the dormer-windows in the steep sloping roof, to those of the Captain himself, who sat tipped back in a great arm-chair in a corner of the wide piazza.
“Good-morning, Hazel,” said the Captain, rising to meet her. “Have you come on some errand for your papa, or simply to pay us a nice little visit and cheer us up a bit? English soldiers need cheering nowadays, you know.”
“Yes, I know,” said Hazel, sympathetically; for, true to her Loyalist sentiments, she felt sorry enough that these same English soldiers had not been successful in the war they had been waging; but her mind was intent at present on her own private business.
“I have come just to make you a little visit, Captain Wadsworth,” she continued, “and to talk to you a little, and I don’t believe I can cheer you up at all, because I am pretty blue myself.”
The corners of Captain Wadsworth’s mouth twitched at the thought of such a fair and youthful little specimen indulging in the blues; but he succeeded in asking gravely, as he led the way indoors, “Why, how ever can that be? Come right into the office here and tell me all about it.”
“This isn’t the office at all,” she said, emphatically, as she took her seat on a little Dutch rocker that had been Aunt Frances’s sewing-chair. “This is the sitting-room, and it’s dreadful, Captain Wadsworth, to see it so dusty.”
Captain Wadsworth looked decidedly puzzled and astonished for a moment, then he added, slowly, “Oh, I see! I suppose you knew the people who used to own this house?”
“Yes, sir, and I know them now; they’re the very best friends I have; and, if you please, this house belongs to them still, and they would like to come back just as soon as you can move your men out, and,” noting a few unfamiliar objects in the room, “your furniture and other things.”
It must be confessed that this was rather a bold speech for a little maid to venture quite upon her own authority, but Hazel had made this visit for no other reason than plainly to speak her mind, and speak it she would, though she did have to screw her courage up to the very highest pitch in order to accomplish it.
“Do you mean to say, Miss Hazel, that you think we have no right here?” questioned the Captain..
“Yes, sir,” Hazel answered warmly, feeling, somehow, that Captain Wadsworth was open to conviction. “You see you really have no right here at all, and I thought that as soon as you understood that you would not stay another minute.”
“But the trouble is, I don’t understand it; the law says it belongs to me, you know.”
“Then I guess the law does not tell the truth, Captain Wadsworth, because even the law cannot make a thing so that isn’t so, can it?”
“Why, no, certainly not, and it isn’t supposed to even try to do that sort of thing, I take it.”
“But that’s just what it does exactly,” said Hazel, and in her eagerness she deserted the little rocker and came and leaned on the desk near to the Captain. “You know,” she said, confidentially, “I’m just as true to King George as true can be, and I am awful sorry his soldiers have been beaten, and I don’t think a country without a King is any good at all. Sometimes I’m almost ashamed that I was born here; but still, some very nice people, like Miss Avery and Starlight, do not think just as I do, and I think their rights ought to be respected.”
These were pretty big words, and the Captain looked as though he thought so; but even a very little woman, when she is very much in earnest, sometimes finds language at her command quite as astonishing to herself as to her hearers. “Rights ought to be respected”—certainly that did sound remarkable. Hazel herself wondered where she had picked up so fine an expression, and one that suited so well.
“Who is Starlight?” asked the Captain, willing to digress a little from the main point.
“The owner of this house,” said Hazel, not willing to digress at all.
“Why, I thought it used to belong to Miss Avery; the property certainly stood in her name.” The Captain was careful to use only the past tense. According to his way of thinking, that Starlight homestead was just as rightfully his as though he had bought and paid for it.
And so Hazel said, “Good-by, Captain,” and the Captain bowed her out of his office as gallantly as though she had been a little princess. Four or five of the men had gathered on the porch outside, thinking to have a chat with her when she should have finished her errand with the Captain, but Hazel, absorbed in her own thoughts, was about to pass them by without so much as a word.
“Look here, Miss Hazel, aren’t you going to speak to a fellow?” one of the men called after her. “Yes, of course I am,” Hazel replied, as though that had been her full intention, and, going back, held out her hand to Sergeant Bellows, the man who had called to her, and then, as it seemed to be expected of her, shook hands in a friendly way with the other men, all of whom she knew by name. But it was easy enough for the dullest among them to discover that her greeting lacked all its wonted cheeriness. Indeed, Hazel had not yet learned the need of disguising her real feelings, and always “carried her heart on her sleeve,” as the saying goes, so that you were at perfect liberty to share all its sentiments, whether of joy or sorrow. So it was not strange that for the third time she was questioned as to the reason for her evident depression. “Feeling a little down this morning, eh?” asked Sergeant Bellows.
Hazel nodded her head in assent. “There’s nothing an old sergeant could do for you, is there, Miss Hazel?”
“Nor a corporal?” asked one of the other men.
“Nor a high private?” asked another. Hazel took their offers of assistance in perfect good faith, and would not have hesitated to call upon any or all of them, but she really did not see how they could be of any use to her, and shook her head hopelessly.
“No, I think not. The only man who can help me now is Colonel Hamilton, and I don’t expect very much of him. What I came down for was to ask Captain Wadsworth if he would not let the people who own this house come back to it; but he does not think they own it at all any more, and I don’t see what they are ever going to do. How would you feel, I’d like to know,” she asked, eagerly, “if you were an aunt and a little boy, and had to run away from your home, and, when you wanted to come back, found an English Captain living in it, who said he was going to stay there?” Some of the men looked as though they could not possibly tell how they would feel if they were “an aunt and a little boy,” but they were saved the embarrassment of being obliged to answer such a difficult question by Hazel’s abrupt departure? She had suddenly spied a familiar hat lurking behind the shrubbery near the gate, and was off in a flash. “Good-by,” she called back, “some one is waiting for me.” Some one was waiting for her—some one had been waiting for her quite awhile and had grown rather impatient in the waiting.
“I thought you would never come, Hazel,” said the owner of the hat, as soon as she swept down upon him in his retreat behind the bushes.
“Why, I did not see you till a moment ago. How long have you been here, and when did you come?”
“I came over on the earliest ferry this morning. I pulled an oar and worked my way over. You know, Hazel, I do not like to ask Aunt Frances for money now if I can possibly help it.”
“Yes, I know,” she answered, sadly.
“I can’t tell you how it makes me feel, Hazel, to look up at the old house there with all those soldiers in it,” said Job, rather savagely, for, of course, the new-comer was none other than Starlight himself. “I’d just like to rush right in and choke every one of ‘em.”
“And I’d like to help you,” Hazel replied warmly.
Starlight looked up astonished. It was something new for Hazel to side against the Red-Coats, and he gave a low whistle of surprise.
“Yes, really, I would,” Hazel reiterated. “If King George’s men had beaten you Americans, I suppose you wouldn’t have expected to get your home back again; but to think that you have beaten, and yet that Captain Wadsworth says he is going to stay in it, and that a great lawyer, and one of your own officers like Colonel Hamilton, says he has a right to—well, I can’t understand it.”
“Neither can I,” said Starlight, indignantly; and both children seriously shook their heads from side to side, as there was no gainsaying that great man. By mutual consent the children had turned their backs on the homestead and their faces in the direction of Hazel’s home.
To say that, side by side, they strolled up the Bowery, and that now and then Hazel would pause a moment to pick a plumy spray of asters, growing by the wayside, must sound funny enough in the ears of any one who knows what the Bowery is to-day. Can it be possible that that great busy thoroughfare, with its block after block of cheap shops, crowded tenements, dime museums, and who knows what, less than a hundred years ago was a country lane? and where to-day train after train goes whizzing by on its mid-air track, birds sang in apple-tree boughs and children gathered daisies in spring-time and golden rod in autumn? Yes, my dear, it is possible; for who can measure the great transforming power of even a single century, and Father Time has never wrought vaster or more rapid changes than in the self-same hundred years which lie between the childhood of Starlight and Hazel, in 1783, and yours of to-day.
So, true it was that our little friends strolled up Bowery Lane, for that was the pleasantest way home, and true it was that the lane was skirted with orchards and the gardens of old Dutch homesteads, where almost every variety of autumn flower was blooming, in a blaze of color, in the early September weather.
At the prospect of a visit from Starlight, Hazel had at once abandoned all thought of an immediate call upon Lawyer Hamilton. Even that important matter could be postponed for the delight of companionship with this old friend, a companionship sadly interfered with by all the untoward circumstances of the times in which they lived.
“And Colonel Hamilton says,” Starlight resumed, after five or ten minutes, which had been devoted to a plying of eager questions regarding each others general welfare, “that Captain Wadsworth can stay in our house, does he?”
“I don’t know exactly what he says; something like that, I guess; but I am going to find out for myself, and ask him the reasons, too. I was going there this morning if you had not come.”
“You are awfully good, Hazel.”
“I’m glad you think so, Starlight, ’cause I know some people who don’t,” and Hazel indulged in a little sigh. “I suppose I shall have a scolding when I get home, this very morning, for I sort of ran away. I saw the Albany coach coming, and I had to hurry so in time to stop it, that I did not think to ask Josephine’s leave or anybody’s.”
“But Josephine saw you go. That’s the way I found you. She saw Joe Ainsworth help you on to the coach, and I thought perhaps you’d gone down to the homestead, for that’s where you always used to come on the Albany coach, you know.” It was Starlight’s turn for a sigh now, and he drew such a heavy one that it seemed fairly to come from the bottom of his boots.
“Say, Starlight,” said Hazel, suddenly, and, no doubt, with a desire to brighten matters up a bit, “an English circus came to town to-day. They open to-morrow. Can you stay over tomorrow?”
“Yes, till the day after. I heard about the circus. I’ve never been to a circus in my life, and I’d give—why, I’d give anything I own to go, and if that wouldn’t do, I half believe I’d almost hook something.” The question of ways and means was ever present nowadays to poor Job with his sadly depleted pocket-book.
“I don’t believe you’ll need to hook anything, Starlight,” answered Hazel, with an implied rebuke, which was, of course, quite proper, “I have a little money of my own.”
“Of course, I don’t mean I really would, Hazel. I should think you’d know that I’m rather above that sort of thing. If you don’t, you ought to, by this time. I only meant that I should very much like to go.”
“Then next time you had better be more careful to say just what you mean, Job.” Whenever Hazel had any little reproof to administer she thought it much more impressive to make use of Starlight’s solemn little first name.