HAZEL BONIFACE was a Loyalist, which means that she was a hearty little champion of King George the Third of England, and this notwithstanding she lived in America, and was born there. It had happened to be on a crisp October morning of the year 1773 that Hazel’s gray eyes first saw the light, and they no sooner saw the light than they saw a wonderful red coat, and just as soon as she was able to understand it, she learned that that red coat belonged to her papa, and that her papa belonged to King George’s army. So, after all, you see it was but natural that she should have been a little Loyalist from the start, and quite to have been expected that she should, grow more and more staunch with every year.
Now it chanced one midwinter afternoon, when Hazel was about six years old, that she came into the city—that is, into New York—on an errand with her father, and that she stood for a while watching a merry party of boys, who were having the jolliest sort of a time coasting down Powder House Hill, and skating on the clear, crystal ice of the Collect. The Collect and Powder House Hill! You never heard of them, did you, and yet may have lived in New York all your life; but you may believe the little New Yorkers of those days knew them and loved them.
The Collect (though where it got its name no one knows) was a beautiful sheet of water connected with the North River by a creek crossing Broadway, where we now have Canal street, and the hill where the Powder House stood was one of the pretty heights that bordered it. Wouldn’t some of the little people who live in that crowded part of the city to-day be surprised to know, that only a hundred years ago ponds and hills took the place of the level city streets, and that a boy could start way over east of Broadway, skate under the arch at Canal street, and then strike out across the broad Lispenard meadows straight to the North River? But those boys of the olden time, who were spending their short afternoon holiday there on the ice, were exactly like the boys of to-day, in that they were cutting up the very silliest sort of capers. Hazel, however, thought it all very funny, and longing for the time when she should have a pair of skates of her own, wondered if that boy with the pretty name—that boy the other boys called Starlight—would teach her how to use them. And so one time when he came gliding her way she called out, quite to the surprise of her father, whose hand she stood holding, “Will you teach me how to skate when I grow old enough, Starlight?”
“Bless your heart, yes,” came the answer, as soon as the finest little skater that ever buckled skates on the Collect could put the brakes to his winged feet, “but you must tell me your name, so that I shall know you when you grow up.”
“Hazel, Hazel Boniface,” she replied; “and is your name really Starlight? It’s a beautiful name.”
“Yes, Starlight’s my last name; my other name is Job; that isn’t so pretty, is it?”
“I should think not; I shall always call you just Starlight.”
And Hazel had been true to her word, and had always called Job just Starlight, and Job had been true to his promise, and had long ago taught Hazel to skate, for she was ten now and he fourteen, and they had been the best of friends this long while, notwithstanding Job was as zealous a Whig as was Hazel a Loyalist.
And now, for fear you should not happen to know just what is meant by Whig and Loyalist, you must—there is no help for it if you are to understand this story—put up with a solid little bit of history right here and now. You see Hazel was born in 1773, and as she has just scored a tenth birthday, that brings us to 1783, and 1783 found affairs in New York in a decidedly topsy-turvy state. A great war had been going on for eight long years called, as you know, the war of the Revolution, because the colonies in America had revolted, declaring their determination to be independent, and that King George of England should no longer be their king. And all that while, that is, during those eight long years, King George’s soldiers had been in possession of New York, and many of the Whigs—and Whigs, remember, are the people who sided against King George—had fled from their dwellings, and scores of Loyalists, pouring into the city to be under the protection of the English soldiers, had made their homes in the Whigs’ empty houses. But now matters were beginning to look very differently. The great war was over, the colonies had been successful, and although the English soldiers were still in New York, they were soon to go, every one of them, and the Whigs were returning in great numbers, and trying to turn out the Loyalists, whom they found living in their homes. Most of these Loyalists, however, were very loath to go, some of them, indeed, avowing that go they would not! No wonder, then, that affairs in New York in 1783 were in a decidedly topsy-turvy state; and this brings us to the real commencement of our story, and to Hazel, sitting alone on the porch of her home at Kings Bridge, and with a most woe-begone expression on her usually happy face. Suddenly a new thought seemed to strike her, and she started on a brisk little run for the gate; but it was simply that, hearing the sound of wheels in the distance, she knew that the Albany coach was coming, and the Albany coach was what she was waiting for. That was long before the days of railroads, and when all the travelling must needs be done in that “slow-coach” fashion.
The Albany stage was generally full inside, and, as Hazel expected, this morning was no exception; but that did not make the least difference in the world to her, for what she wanted was a seat beside Joe Ainsworth, the driver. Indeed, it was not an unusual thing for Hazel to ask for a ride into town, nor for Joe to grant it, so that the moment he spied her standing in the road ahead of him, he knew what it meant, and reined up his four dusty white horses.
Hazel looked very sweet and fresh, no doubt, in the eyes of the wearied travellers, who had journeyed all night in the jouncing stage, and, in fact, she would have looked sweet and fresh in the eyes of anybody whose eyes were good for very much. She wore a quaint little gown and kerchief, as yet without rumple or wrinkle, for it was but nine o’clock in the morning, and breakfast and a quiet little “think” on the porch had not proved in the least damaging to either skirt or kerchief. To tell the truth, Hazel had an intense regard for a fresh and dainty toilet, and somehow contrived to scale the side of the coach without in any way begriming her pretty dress, although she was obliged to make use of one great dusty wheel in ascending. First she planted both feet on its hub, and then by aid of Joe’s hand fairly bounded to her seat beside him with quite as much grace as a little deer of the forest, and a “little dear” she was in point of fact, if you alter but one letter in the spelling.
“Well, Miss Hazel,” said Joe, after he had started up his horses, “how are you this warm morning?” for it was early September, and the sun was already shining hotly down upon them.
“Oh, I’m very well then,” after a moment’s pause, “No, I don’t believe I am very well, either, because, Joe, I feel very blue.”
“Blue!” exclaimed Joe; “you blue! Why, you ought not to learn even the meaning of the word these twenty years yet.”
“Some children learn it very young, Joe,” with a real little sigh.
“But what in creation have you to be blue about, I’d like to know? Perhaps you have gotten a spot on that pretty Sunday frock of yours,” for Joe knew Hazel’s little weakness in that direction.
“Joe!” said Hazel, indignantly, and with such a world of reproof in her tone that Joe had to pretend to cough to keep from laughing. “If you think a moment, Joe, I’m sure you will remember that I have reason to feel very, very blue indeed.”
Hazel was so serious that Joe felt in duty bound to put his thinking-cap on, and ransacked his brain for the possible occasion of her depression. Hazel, with childish dignity, did not offer to help him in the matter, and they drove for a few moments in a silence broken only by the creak of the weather-beaten stage, and the regular, monotonous rattle of the loose-fitting harness. Down through the dusty yellow leaves of the roadside trees the sunlight filtered, to the dustier hedges below, and there was little or no life in the air. Indeed, it was a morning when one had need to be very much preoccupied not to feel blue, as Hazel called it, and a discriminating person might have deemed the weather in a measure responsible for her down-heartedness. Meanwhile the horses jogged along at the merest little pretence of a trot, and, missing the customary, “Get-up, Jenny!” and “Whist there, Kate!” subsided into a walk, varied more than once by a deliberate standstill, whenever the “off-leader” saw fit to dislodge a persistent fly by the aid of a hind hoof. “Look here, driver!” called one of the passengers at last, “there’s a snail on the fence there, that will beat us into town if you don’t look out.” The fact was, Joe had not only put his thinking-cap on, but had pulled it so far down over his ears, that he had quite forgotten all about his horses and Hazel, and his thoughts had gone “wool-gathering,” as old people’s thoughts have a fashion of going. “Get along with you,” he called to the tired team, thoroughly roused from his reveries, and spurring them into greater activity with his long whip-lash; then, turning to Hazel, he said—“Come to think of it, I should not wonder if you are blue about that little Starlight matter.”
“Little Starlight matter! Do you think it’s a little matter, Mr. Ainsworth, to be kept out of your house and have a lot of soldiers living in it?”
“But they are King George’s soldiers; that ought to make it all right in your eyes, Miss Hazel.”
“Oh, the men are not to blame; they have to do as the officers tell them; but I hate that old Captain Wadsworth. Sometimes I think I’ll write and tell King George what a dreadful man he is, for I don’t believe he knows. But, after all, they say it’s an American, our own Colonel Hamilton, that’s most to blame.”
“Alexander Hamilton! Why, how’s that?” exclaimed Joe, knowing well enough, but wishing to hear Hazel grow eloquent on the subject.
“Well, this is how it is, Mr. Ainsworth,” and Hazel folded her hands and composed herself for what promised to be quite a long story. “You know the Starlights. Well, they’ve lived right on that same piece of land ever since Job’s great-great-grandfather, who was an Englishman, married a Dutch wife and came to live in New York. Why, there weren’t more than half-a-dozen houses here when they came, and if anybody has a right to their land and their house, they have. They used to be a very big family, the Starlights did, but now there’s only Job left and his Aunt Frances. She’s the loveliest lady, Joe, and so very fond of Starlight (that’s Job), and Starlight is just as good to her as a boy can be. Well, one night, nearly two years ago, a party of English soldiers (some of them were awful bad fellows, Joe, even if they were the King’s men) went about the street doing just about as they pleased, and Miss Avery—that is, Aunt Frances—was very much frightened, as well she might be, and the next day she packed up and took the ferry to Paulus Hook, to stay with some friends of hers, who live over there and own a big farm.”
“You mean the Van Vleets, don’t you?” questioned Joe, now wisely dividing his attention between Hazel’s narrative and his horses, who were only too quick to detect any lack of vigilance on his part.
“Yes, do you know them, Joe?”
“Know ‘em like a book, Miss Hazel. Old Jacob Van Vleet has been over the road with me scores of times.”
“Well, they’re very kind people, Joe, and Starlight and his aunt are living there still, only now that the war is over they want to come back.”
“And that’s not an easy thing to do, is it,” laughed Joe, “when your house is full of English officers and their men?”
“But the soldiers have no right there, Joe, and the worst of it is, Captain Wadsworth says he is going to resign his commission and stay after his men go back to England, and make it his own home. He says it belongs to him. It was given to him, after Miss Avery left it, by what they call a military order. But, military order or no, Joe, that house belongs to Aunt Frances.”
“Of course it would seem so, Miss Hazel—”
“And if it hadn’t been for Colonel Alexander Hamilton she’d be in it to-day, Joe. You see she went to law about it, and they say Colonel Hamilton, who took Captain Wadsworth’s side, is so smart and so handsome that he just talked the court into deciding against her.”
“It certainly was mighty queer in Lawyer Hamilton,” said Joe, meditatively, “to turn against his own side in that fashion; but, Miss Hazel, why don’t you go and see him about it?”
Hazel looked up a moment with a questioning gaze to see if he Were quite in earnest.
“That is just what I am going to do this very day,” she answered, reassured, “and first I want to see Captain Wadsworth. Let me down at the Starlights’ gate, please.”
So a few moments later the Albany coach reined up in front of the Starlight homestead, and Hazel, jumping quickly down from the coach with a “Thank you for the ride, Joe,” swung open the old Dutch gate with an air well calculated to make the heart of Captain Wadsworth quake.