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´╗┐Title: Thankful Blossom
Author: Harte, Bret, 1836-1902
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Thankful Blossom" ***

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THANKFUL BLOSSOM


by

BRET HARTE



I

The time was the year of grace 1779; the locality, Morristown, New
Jersey.

It was bitterly cold.  A northeasterly wind had been stiffening the mud
of the morning's thaw into a rigid record of that day's wayfaring on
the Baskingridge road.  The hoof-prints of cavalry, the deep ruts left
by baggage-wagons, and the deeper channels worn by artillery, lay stark
and cold in the waning light of an April day.  There were icicles on
the fences, a rime of silver on the windward bark of maples, and
occasional bare spots on the rocky protuberances of the road, as if
Nature had worn herself out at the knees and elbows through long
waiting for the tardy spring.  A few leaves disinterred by the thaw
became crisp again, and rustled in the wind, making the summer a thing
so remote that all human hope and conjecture fled before them.

Here and there the wayside fences and walls were broken down or
dismantled; and beyond them fields of snow downtrodden and discolored,
and strewn with fragments of leather, camp equipage, harness, and
cast-off clothing, showed traces of the recent encampment and
congregation of men.  On some there were still standing the ruins of
rudely constructed cabins, or the semblance of fortification equally
rude and incomplete.  A fox stealing along a half-filled ditch, a wolf
slinking behind an earthwork, typified the human abandonment and
desolation.

One by one the faint sunset tints faded from the sky; the far-off
crests of the Orange hills grew darker; the nearer files of pines on
the Whatnong Mountain became a mere black background; and, with the
coming-on of night, came too an icy silence that seemed to stiffen and
arrest the very wind itself.  The crisp leaves no longer rustled; the
waving whips of alder and willow snapped no longer; the icicles no
longer dropped a cold fruitage from barren branch and spray; and the
roadside trees relapsed into stony quiet, so that the sound of horse's
hoofs breaking through the thin, dull, lustreless films of ice that
patched the furrowed road, might have been heard by the nearest
Continental picket a mile away.

Either a knowledge of this, or the difficulties of the road, evidently
irritated the viewless horseman.  Long before he became visible, his
voice was heard in half-suppressed objurgation of the road, of his
beast, of the country folk, and the country generally. "Steady, you
jade!"  "Jump, you devil, jump!"  "Curse the road, and the beggarly
farmers that durst not mend it!"  And then the moving bulk of horse and
rider suddenly arose above the hill, floundered and splashed, and then
as suddenly disappeared, and the rattling hoof-beats ceased.

The stranger had turned into a deserted lane still cushioned with
untrodden snow.  A stone wall on one hand--in better keeping and
condition than the boundary monuments of the outlying fields--bespoke
protection and exclusiveness.  Half-way up the lane the rider checked
his speed, and, dismounting, tied his horse to a wayside sapling.  This
done, he went cautiously forward toward the end of the lane, and a
farm-house from whose gable window a light twinkled through the
deepening night.  Suddenly he stopped, hesitated, and uttered an
impatient ejaculation.  The light had disappeared.  He turned sharply
on his heel, and retraced his steps until opposite a farm-shed that
stood a few paces from the wall. Hard by, a large elm cast the gaunt
shadow of its leafless limbs on the wall and surrounding snow.  The
stranger stepped into this shadow, and at once seemed to become a part
of its trembling intricacies.

At the present moment it was certainly a bleak place for a tryst. There
was snow yet clinging to the trunk of the tree, and a film of ice on
its bark; the adjacent wall was slippery with frost, and fringed with
icicles.  Yet in all there was a ludicrous suggestion of some sentiment
past and unseasonable: several dislodged stones of the wall were so
disposed as to form a bench and seats, and under the elm-tree's film of
ice could still be seen carved on its bark the effigy of a heart,
divers initials, and the legend, "Thine Forever."

The stranger, however, kept his eyes fixed only on the farm-shed and
the open field beside it.  Five minutes passed in fruitless expectancy.
Ten minutes!  And then the rising moon slowly lifted herself over the
black range of the Orange hills, and looked at him, blushing a little,
as if the appointment were her own.

The face and figure thus illuminated were those of a strongly built,
handsome man of thirty, so soldierly in bearing that it needed not the
buff epaulets and facings to show his captain's rank in the Continental
army.  Yet there was something in his facial expression that
contradicted the manliness of his presence,--an irritation and
querulousness that were inconsistent with his size and strength.  This
fretfulness increased as the moments went by without sign or motion in
the faintly lit field beyond, until, in peevish exasperation, he began
to kick the nearer stones against the wall.

"Moo-oo-w!"

The soldier started.  Not that he was frightened, nor that he had
failed to recognize in these prolonged syllables the deep-chested,
half-drowsy low of a cow, but that it was so near him--evidently just
beside the wall.  If an object so bulky could have approached him so
near without his knowledge, might not she--

"Moo-oo!"

He drew nearer the wall cautiously.  "So, Cushy!  Mooly!  Come up,
Bossy!" he said persuasively.  "Moo"--but here the low unexpectedly
broke down, and ended in a very human and rather musical little laugh.

"Thankful!" exclaimed the soldier, echoing the laugh a trifle uneasily
and affectedly as a hooded little head arose above the wall.

"Well," replied the figure, supporting a prettily rounded chin on her
hands, as she laid her elbows complacently on the wall,--"well, what
did you expect?  Did you want me to stand here all night, while you
skulked moonstruck under a tree?  Or did you look for me to call you by
name? did you expect me to shout out, 'Capt. Allan Brewster--'"

"Thankful, hush!"

"Capt. Allan Brewster of the Connecticut Contingent," continued the
girl, with an affected raising of a low, pathetic voice that was,
however, inaudible beyond the tree.  "Capt. Brewster, behold me,--your
obleeged and humble servant and sweetheart to command."

Capt. Brewster succeeded, after a slight skirmish at the wall, in
possessing himself of the girl's hand; at which; although still
struggling, she relented slightly.

"It isn't every lad that I'd low for," she said, with an affected pout,
"and there may be others that would not take it amiss; though there be
fine ladies enough at the assembly halls at Morristown as might think
it hoydenish?"

"Nonsense, love," said the captain, who had by this time mounted the
wall, and encircled the girl's waist with his arm.  "Nonsense! you
startled me only.  But," he added, suddenly taking her round chin in
his hand, and turning her face toward the moon with an uneasy
half-suspicion, "why did you take that light from the window?  What has
happened?"

"We had unexpected guests, sweetheart," said Thankful: "the count just
arrived."

"That infernal Hessian!"  He stopped, and gazed questioningly into her
face.  The moon looked upon her at the same time: the face was as
sweet, as placid, as truthful, as her own.  Possibly these two
inconstants understood each other.

"Nay, Allan, he is not a Hessian, but an exiled gentleman from
abroad,--a nobleman--"

"There are no noblemen now," sniffed the trooper contemptuously.
"Congress has so decreed it.  All men are born free and equal."

"But they are not, Allan," said Thankful, with a pretty trouble in her
brows: "even cows are not born equal.  Is yon calf that was dropped
last night by Brindle the equal of my red heifer whose mother come by
herself in a ship from Surrey?  Do they look equal?"

"Titles are but breath," said Capt. Brewster doggedly.  There was an
ominous pause.

"Nay, there is one nobleman left," said Thankful; "and he is my
own,--my nature's nobleman!"

Capt. Brewster did not reply.  From certain arch gestures and wreathed
smiles with which this forward young woman accompanied her statement,
it would seem to be implied that the gentleman who stood before her was
the nobleman alluded to.  At least, he so accepted it, and embraced her
closely, her arms and part of her mantle clinging around his neck.  In
this attitude they remained quiet for some moments, slightly rocking
from side to side like a metronome; a movement, I fancy, peculiarly
bucolic, pastoral, and idyllic, and as such, I wot, observed by
Theocritus and Virgil.

At these supreme moments weak woman usually keeps her wits about her
much better than your superior reasoning masculine animal; and, while
the gallant captain was losing himself upon her perfect lips, Miss
Thankful distinctly heard the farm-gate click, and otherwise noticed
that the moon was getting high and obtrusive.  She half released
herself from the captain's arms, thoughtfully and tenderly--but firmly.
"Tell me all about yourself, Allan dear," she said quietly, making room
for him on the wall,--"all, everything."

She turned upon him her beautiful eyes,--eyes habitually earnest and
even grave in expression, yet holding in their brave brown depths a
sweet, childlike reliance and dependency; eyes with a certain tender,
deprecating droop in the brown-fringed lids, and yet eyes that seemed
to say to every man who looked upon them, "I am truthful: be frank with
me."  Indeed, I am convinced there is not one of my impressible sex,
who, looking in those pleading eyes, would not have perjured himself on
the spot rather than have disappointed their fair owner.

Capt. Brewster's mouth resumed its old expression of discontent.

"Everything is growing worse, Thankful, and the cause is lost. Congress
does nothing, and Washington is not the man for the crisis.  Instead of
marching to Philadelphia, and forcing that wretched rabble of Hancock
and Adams at the point of the bayonet, he writes letters."

"A dignified, formal old fool," interrupted Mistress Thankful
indignantly; "and look at his wife!  Didn't Mistress Ford and Mistress
Baily, ay, and the best blood of Morris County, go down to his
Excellency's in their finest bibs and tuckers, and didn't they find my
lady in a pinafore doing chores?  Vastly polite treatment, indeed!  As
if the whole world didn't know that the general was taken by surprise
when my lady came riding up from Virginia with all those fine
cavaliers, just to see what his Excellency was doing at these assembly
balls.  And fine doings, I dare say."

"This is but idle gossip, Thankful," said Capt. Brewster with the
faintest appearance of self-consciousness; "the assembly balls are
conceived by the general to strengthen the confidence of the townsfolk,
and mitigate the rigors of the winter encampment.  I go there myself
rarely: I have but little taste for junketing and gavotting, with my
country in such need.  No, Thankful!  What we want is a leader; and the
men of Connecticut feel it keenly.  If I have been spoken of in that
regard," added the captain with a slight inflation of his manly breast,
"it is because they know of my sacrifices,--because as New England
yeomen they know my devotion to the cause.  They know of my suffering--"

The bright face that looked into his was suddenly afire with womanly
sympathy, the pretty brow was knit, the sweet eyes overflowed with
tenderness.  "Forgive me, Allan.  I forgot--perhaps, love--perhaps,
dearest, you are hungry now."

"No, not now," replied Captain Brewster, with gloomy stoicism; "yet,"
he added, "it is nearly a week since I have tasted meat."

"I--I--brought a few things with me," continued the girl, with a
certain hesitating timidity.  She reached down, and produced a basket
from the shadow of the wall.  "These chickens"--she held up a pair of
pullets--"the commander-in-chief himself could not buy: I kept them for
MY commander!  And this pot of marmalade, which I know my Allan loves,
is the same I put up last summer.  I thought [very tenderly] you might
like a piece of that bacon you liked so once, dear.  Ah, sweetheart,
shall we ever sit down to our little board?  Shall we ever see the end
of this awful war?  Don't you think, dear [very pleadingly], it would
be best to give it up? King George is not such a very bad man, is he?
I've thought, sweetheart [very confidently], that mayhap you and he
might make it all up without the aid of those Washingtons, who do
nothing but starve one to death.  And if the king only knew you,
Allan,--should see you as I do, sweetheart,--he'd do just as you say."

During this speech she handed him the several articles alluded to; and
he received them, storing them away in such receptacles of his clothing
as were convenient--with this notable difference, that with HER the act
was graceful and picturesque: with him there was a ludicrousness of
suggestion that his broad shoulders and uniform only heightened.

"I think not of myself, lass," he said, putting the eggs in his pocket,
and buttoning the chickens within his martial breast.  "I think not of
myself, and perhaps I often spare that counsel which is but little
heeded.  But I have a duty to my men--to Connecticut. [He here tied the
marmalade up in his handkerchief.]  I confess I have sometimes thought
I might, under provocation, be driven to extreme measures for the good
of the cause.  I make no pretence to leadership, but--"

"With you at the head of the army," broke in Thankful enthusiastically,
"peace would be declared within a fortnight."

There is no flattery, however outrageous, that a man will not accept
from the woman whom he believes loves him.  He will perhaps doubt its
influence in the colder judgment of mankind; but he will consider that
this poor creature, at least, understands him, and in some vague way
represents the eternal but unrecognized verities. And when this is
voiced by lips that are young and warm and red, it is somehow quite as
convincing as the bloodless, remoter utterance of posterity.

Wherefore the trooper complacently buttoned the compliment over his
chest with the pullets.

"I think you must go now, Allan," she said, looking at him with that
pseudo-maternal air which the youngest of women sometimes assume to
their lovers, as if the doll had suddenly changed sex, and grown to
man's estate.  "You must go now, dear; for it may so chance that father
is considering my absence overmuch.  You will come again a' Wednesday,
sweetheart; and you will not go to the assemblies, nor visit Mistress
Judith, nor take any girl pick-a-back again on your black horse; and
you will let me know when you are hungry?"

She turned her brown eyes lovingly, yet with a certain pretty trouble
in the brow, and such a searching, pleading inquiry in her glance, that
the captain kissed her at once.  Then came the final embrace, performed
by the captain in a half-perfunctory, quiet manner, with a due regard
for the friable nature of part of his provisions.  Satisfying himself
of the integrity of the eggs by feeling for them in his pocket, he
waved a military salute with the other hand to Miss Thankful, and was
gone.  A few minutes later the sound of his horse's hoofs rang sharply
from the icy hillside.

But, as he reached the summit, two horsemen wheeled suddenly from the
shadow of the roadside, and bade him halt.

"Capt. Brewster, if this moon does not deceive me?" queried the
foremost stranger with grave civility.

"The same.  Major Van Zandt, I calculate?" returned Brewster
querulously.

"Your calculation is quite right.  I regret Capt. Brewster, that it is
my duty to inform you that you are under arrest."

"By whose orders?"

"The commander-in-chief's."

"For what?"

"Mutinous conduct, and disrespect of your superior officers."

The sword that Capt. Brewster had drawn at the sudden appearance of the
strangers quivered for a moment in his strong hand.  Then, sharply
striking it across the pommel of his saddle, he snapped it in twain,
and cast the pieces at the feet of the speaker.

"Go on," he said doggedly.

"Capt. Brewster," said Major Van Zandt, with infinite gravity, "it is
not for me to point out the danger to you of this outspoken emotion,
except practically in its effect upon the rations you have in your
pocket.  If I mistake not, they have suffered equally with your steel.
Forward, march!"

Capt. Brewster looked down, and then dropped to the rear, as the
discased yolks of Mistress Thankful's most precious gift slid slowly
and pensively over his horse's flanks to the ground.



II

Mistress Thankful remained at the wall until her lover had disappeared.
Then she turned, a mere lissom shadow in that uncertain light, and
glided under the eaves of the shed, and thence from tree to tree of the
orchard, lingering a moment under each as a trout lingers in the shadow
of the bank in passing a shallow, and so reached the farmhouse and the
kitchen door, where she entered. Thence by a back staircase she slipped
to her own bower, from whose window half an hour before she had taken
the signalling light. This she lit again and placed upon a chest of
drawers; and, taking off her hood and a shapeless sleeveless mantle she
had worn, went to the mirror, and proceeded to re-adjust a high horn
comb that had been somewhat displaced by the captain's arm, and
otherwise after the fashion of her sex to remove all traces of a
previous lover. It may be here observed that a man is very apt to come
from the smallest encounter with his dulcinea distrait, bored, or
shame-faced; to forget that his cravat is awry, or that a long blond
hair is adhering to his button.  But as to Mademoiselle--well, looking
at Miss Pussy's sleek paws and spotless face, would you ever know that
she had been at the cream-jug?

Thankful was, I think, satisfied with her appearance.  Small doubt but
she had reason for it.  And yet her gown was a mere slip of flowered
chintz, gathered at the neck, and falling at an angle of fifteen
degrees to within an inch of a short petticoat of gray flannel.  But so
surely is the complete mould of symmetry indicated in the poise or line
of any single member, that looking at the erect carriage of her
graceful brown head, or below to the curves that were lost in her
shapely ankles, or the little feet that hid themselves in the
broad-buckled shoes, you knew that the rest was as genuine and
beautiful.

Mistress Thankful, after a pause, opened the door, and listened. Then
she softly slipped down the back staircase to the front hall. It was
dark; but the door of the "company-room," or parlor, was faintly
indicated by the light that streamed beneath it.  She stood still for a
moment hesitatingly, when suddenly a hand grasped her own, and half
led, half dragged her, into the sitting-room opposite.  It was dark.
There was a momentary fumbling for the tinder-box and flint, a muttered
oath over one or two impeding articles of furniture, and Thankful
laughed.  And then the light was lit; and her father, a gray wrinkled
man of sixty, still holding her hand, stood before her.

"You have been out, mistress!"

"I have," said Thankful.

"And not alone," growled the old man angrily.

"No," said Mistress Thankful, with a smile that began in the corners of
her brown eyes, ran down into the dimpled curves of her mouth, and
finally ended in the sudden revelation of her white teeth,--"no, not
alone."

"With whom?" asked the old man, gradually weakening under her strong,
saucy presence.

"Well, father," said Thankful, taking a seat on a table, and swinging
her little feet somewhat ostentatiously toward him, "I was with Capt.
Allan Brewster of the Connecticut Contingent."

"That man?"

"That man!"

"I forbid you seeing him again."

Thankful gripped the table with a hand on each side of her, to
emphasize the statement, and swinging her feet replied,--

"I shall see him as often as I like, father."

"Thankful Blossom!"

"Abner Blossom!"

"I see you know not," said Mr. Blossom, abandoning the severely
paternal mandatory air for one of confidential disclosure, "I see you
know not his reputation.  He is accused of inciting his regiment to
revolt,--of being a traitor to the cause."

"And since when, Abner Blossom, have YOU felt such concern for the
cause?  Since you refused to sell supplies to the Continental
commissary, except at double profits? since you told me you were glad I
had not polities like Mistress Ford--"

"Hush!" said the father, motioning to the parlor.

"Hush," echoed Thankful indignantly.  "I won't be hushed! Everybody
says 'Hush' to me.  The count says 'Hush!'  Allan says 'Hush!'  You say
'Hush!'  I'm a-weary of this hushing.  Ah, if there was a man who
didn't say it to me!" and Mistress Thankful lifted her fine eyes to the
ceiling.

"You are unwise, Thankful,--foolish, indiscreet.  That is why you
require much monition."

Thankful swung her feet in silence for a few moments, then suddenly
leaped from the table, and, seizing the old man by the lapels of his
coat, fixed her eyes upon him, and said suspiciously.  "Why did you
keep me from going in the company-room?  Why did you bring me in here?"

Blossom senior was staggered for a moment.  "Because, you know, the
count--"

"And you were afraid the count should know I had a sweetheart? Well,
I'll go in and tell him now," she said, marching toward the door.

"Then, why did you not tell him when you slipped out an hour ago? eh,
lass?" queried the old man, grasping her hand.  "But 'tis all one,
Thankful: 'twas not for him I stopped you.  There is a young spark with
him,--ay, came even as you left, lass,--a likely young gallant; and he
and the count are jabbering away in their own lingo, a kind of Italian,
belike; eh, Thankful?"

"I know not," she said thoughtfully.  "Which way came the other?" In
fact, a fear that this young stranger might have witnessed the
captain's embrace began to creep over her.

"From town, my lass."

Thankful turned to her father as if she had been waiting a reply to a
long-asked question: "Well?"

"Were it not well to put on a few furbelows and a tucker?" queried the
old man.  "'Tis a gallant young spark; none of your country folk."

"No," said Thankful, with the promptness of a woman who was looking her
best, and knew it.  And the old man, looking at her, accepted her
judgment, and without another word led her to the parlor door, and,
opening it, said briefly, "My daughter, Mistress Thankful Blossom."

With the opening of the door came the sound of earnest voices that
instantly ceased upon the appearance of Mistress Thankful.  Two
gentlemen lolling before the fire arose instantly, and one came forward
with an air of familiar yet respectful recognition.

"Nay, this is far too great happiness, Mistress Thankful," he said,
with a strongly marked foreign accent, and a still more strongly marked
foreign manner.  "I have been in despair, and my friend here, the Baron
Pomposo, likewise."

The slightest trace of a smile, and the swiftest of reproachful
glances, lit up the dark face of the baron as he bowed low in the
introduction.  Thankful dropped the courtesy of the period,--i. e., a
duck, with semicircular sweep of the right foot forward.  But the right
foot was so pretty, and the grace of the little figure so perfect, that
the baron raised his eyes from the foot to the face in serious
admiration.  In the one rapid feminine glance she had given him, she
had seen that he was handsome; in the second, which she could not help
from his protracted silence, she saw that his beauty centred in his
girlish, half fawn-like dark eyes.

"The baron," explained Mr. Blossom, rubbing his hands together as if
through mere friction he was trying to impart a warmth to the reception
which his hard face discountenanced,--"the baron visits us under
discouragement.  He comes from far countries.  It is the custom of
gentlefolk of--of foreign extraction to wander through strange lands,
commenting upon the habits and doings of the peoples.  He will find in
Jersey," continued Mr. Blossom, apparently appealing to Thankful, yet
really evading her contemptuous glance, "a hard-working yeomanry, ever
ready to welcome the stranger, and account to him, penny for penny, for
all his necessary expenditure; for which purpose, in these troublous
times, he will provide for himself gold or other moneys not affected by
these local disturbances."

"He will find, good friend Blossom," said the baron in a rapid, voluble
way, utterly at variance with the soft, quiet gravity of his eyes,
"Beauty, Grace, Accomplishment, and--eh--Santa Maria, what shall I
say?"  He turned appealingly to the count.

"Virtue," nodded the count.

"Truly, Birtoo! all in the fair lady of thees countries.  Ah, believe
me, honest friend Blossom, there is mooch more in thees than in thoss!"

So much of this speech was addressed to Mistress Thankful, that she had
to show at least one dimple in reply, albeit her brows were slightly
knit, and she had turned upon the speaker her honest, questioning eyes.

"And then the General Washington has been kind enough to offer his
protection," added the count.

"Any fool--any one," supplemented Thankful hastily, with a slight
blush--"may have the general's pass, ay, and his good word.  But what
of Mistress Prudence Bookstaver?--she that has a sweetheart in
Knyphausen's brigade, ay,--I warrant a Hessian, but of gentle blood, as
Mistress Prudence has often told me,--and, look you, all her letters
stopped by the general, ay, I warrant, read by my Lady Washington too,
as if 'twere HER fault that her lad was in arms against Congress.
Riddle me that, now!"

"'Tis but prudence, lass," said Blossom, frowning on the girl. "'Tis
that she might disclose some movement of the army, tending to defeat
the enemy."

"And why should she not try to save her lad from capture or ambuscade
such as befell the Hessian commissary with the provisions that you--"

Mr. Blossom, in an ostensible fatherly embrace, managed to pinch
Mistress Thankful sharply.  "Hush, lass," he said with simulated
playfulness; "your tongue clacks like the Whippany mill.--My daughter
has small concern--'tis the manner of womenfolk--in politics," he
explained to his guests.  "These dangersome days have given her sore
affliction by way of parting comrades of her childhood, and others whom
she has much affected.  It has in some sort soured her."

Mr. Blossom would have recalled this speech as soon as it escaped him,
lest it should lead to a revelation from the truthful Mistress Thankful
of her relations with the Continental captain.  But to his
astonishment, and, I may add, to my own, she showed nothing of that
disposition she had exhibited a few moments before.  On the contrary,
she blushed slightly, and said nothing.

And then the conversation changed,--upon the weather, the hard winter,
the prospects of the Cause, a criticism upon the commander-in-chief's
management of affairs, the attitude of Congress, etc., between Mr.
Blossom and the count; characterized, I hardly need say, by that
positiveness of opinion that distinguishes the unprofessional.  In
another part of the room, it so chanced that Mistress Thankful and the
baron were talking about themselves; the assembly balls; who was the
prettiest woman in Morristown; and whether Gen. Washington's attentions
to Mistress Pyne were only perfunctory gallantry, or what; and if Lady
Washington's hair was really gray; and if that young aide-de-camp,
Major Van Zandt were really in love with Lady or whether his attentions
were only the zeal of a subaltern,--in the midst of which a sudden gust
of wind shook the house; and Mr. Blossom, going to the front door, came
back with the announcement that it was snowing heavily.

And indeed, within that past hour, to their astonished eyes the whole
face of nature had changed.  The moon was gone, the sky hidden in a
blinding, whirling swarm of stinging flakes.  The wind, bitter and
strong, had already fashioned white feathery drifts upon the threshold,
over the painted benches on the porch, and against the door-posts.

Mistress Thankful and the baron had walked to the rear door--the baron
with a slight tropical shudder--to view this meteorological change.  As
Mistress Thankful looked over the snowy landscape, it seemed to her
that all record of her past experience had been effaced: her very
footprints of an hour before were lost; the gray wall on which she
leaned was white and spotless now; even the familiar farm-shed looked
dim and strange and ghostly.  Had she been there? had she seen the
captain? was it all a fancy?  She scarcely knew.

A sudden gust of wind closed the door behind them with a crash, and
sent Mistress Thankful, with a slight feminine scream, forward into the
outer darkness.  But the baron caught her by the waist, and saved her
from Heaven knows what imaginable disaster; and the scene ended in a
half-hysterical laugh.  But the wind then set upon them both with a
malevolent fury; and the baron was, I presume, obliged to draw her
closer to his side.

They were alone, save for the presence of those mischievous
confederates, Nature and Opportunity.  In the half-obscurity of the
storm she could not help turning her mischievous eyes on his.  But she
was perhaps surprised to find them luminous, soft, and, as it seemed to
her at that moment, grave beyond the occasion.  An embarrassment
utterly new and singular seized upon her; and when, as she half feared
yet half expected, he bent down and pressed his lips to hers, she was
for a moment powerless.  But in the next instant she boxed his ears
sharply, and vanished in the darkness. When Mr. Blossom opened the door
to the baron he was surprised to find that gentleman alone, and still
more surprised to find, when they re-entered the house, to see Mistress
Thankful enter at the same moment, demurely, from the front door.

When Mr. Blossom knocked at his daughter's door the next morning it
opened upon her completely dressed, but withal somewhat pale, and, if
the truth must be told, a little surly.

"And you were stirring so early, Thankful," he said: "'twould have been
but decent to have bidden God-speed to the guests, especially the
baron, who seemed much concerned at your absence."

Miss Thankful blushed slightly, but answered with savage celerity, "And
since when is it necessary that I should dance attendance upon every
foreign jack-in-the-box that may lie at the house?"

"He has shown great courtesy to you, mistress, and is a gentleman."

"Courtesy, indeed!" said Mistress Thankful.

"He has not presumed?" said Mr. Blossom suddenly, bringing his cold
gray eyes to bear upon his daughter's.

"No, no," said Thankful hurriedly, flaming a bright scarlet;
"but--nothing. But what have you there? a letter?"

"Ay,--from the captain, I warrant," said Mr. Blossom, handing her a
three-cornered bit of paper: "'twas left here by a camp-follower.
Thankful," he continued, with a meaning glance, "you will heed my
counsel in season.  The captain is not meet for such as you."

Thankful suddenly grew pale and contemptuous again as she snatched the
letter from his hand.  When his retiring footsteps were lost on the
stairs she regained her color, and opened the letter.  It was slovenly
written, grievously misspelled, and read as follows:--


"SWEETHEART: A tyranous Act, begotten in Envy and Jealousie, keeps me
here a prisoner.  Last night I was Basely arrested by Servile Hands for
that Freedom of Thought and Expression for which I have already
Sacrifized so much--aye all that Man hath but Love and Honour.  But the
End is Near.  When for the Maintenance of Power, the Liberties of the
Peoples are subdued by Martial Supremacy and the Dictates of Ambition
the State is Lost.  I lie in Vile Bondage here in Morristown under
charge of Disrespeck--me that a twelvemonth past left a home and
Respectable Connexions to serve my Country.  Believe me still your own
Love, albeit in the Power of Tyrants and condemned it may be to the
scaffold.

"The Messenger is Trustworthy and will speed safely to me such as you
may deliver unto him.  The Provender sanktified by your Hands and made
precious by yr. Love was wrested from me by Servil Hands and the Eggs,
Sweetheart, were somewhat Addled.  The Bacon is, methinks by this time
on the Table of the Comr-in-Chief.  Such is Tyranny and Ambition.
Sweetheart, farewell, for the present.

ALLAN."


Mistress Thankful read this composition once, twice, and then tore it
up.  Then, reflecting that it was the first letter of her lover's that
she had not kept, she tried to put together again the torn fragments,
but vainly, and then in a pet, new to her, cast them from the window.
During the rest of the day she was considerably distraite, and even
manifested more temper than she was wont to do; and later, when her
father rode away on his daily visit to Morristown, she felt strangely
relieved.  By noon the snow ceased, or rather turned into a driving
sleet that again in turn gave way to rain.  By this time she became
absorbed in her household duties,--in which she was usually
skilful,--and in her own thoughts that to-day had a novelty in their
meaning.  In the midst of this, at about dark, her room being in the
rear of the house, she was perhaps unmindful of the trampling of horse
without, or the sound of voices in the hall below.  Neither was
uncommon at that time.  Although protected by the Continental army from
forage or the rudeness of soldiery, the Blossom farm had always been a
halting-place for passing troopers, commissary teamsters, and
reconnoitring officers.  Gen. Sullivan and Col. Hamilton had watered
their horses at its broad, substantial wayside trough, and sat in the
shade of its porch.  Miss Thankful was only awakened from her daydream
by the entrance of the negro farm-hand, Caesar.

"Fo' God, Missy Thankful, them sogers is g'wine into camp in the road,
I reckon, for they's jest makin' theysevs free afo' the house, and
they's an officer in the company-room with his spurs cocked on the
table, readin' a book."

A quick flame leaped into Thankful's cheek, and her pretty brows knit
themselves over darkening eyes.  She arose from her work no longer the
moody girl, but an indignant goddess, and, pushing the servant aside,
swept down the stairs, and threw open the door.

An officer sitting by the fire in an easy, lounging attitude that
justified the servant's criticism, arose instantly with an air of
evident embarrassment and surprise that was, however, as quickly
dominated and controlled by a gentleman's breeding.

"I beg your pardon," he said, with a deep inclination of his handsome
head, "but I had no idea that there was any member of this household at
home--at least, a lady."  He hesitated a moment, catching in the
raising of her brown-fringed lids a sudden revelation of her beauty,
and partly losing his composure.  "I am Major Van Zandt: I have the
honor of addressing--"

"Thankful Blossom," said Thankful a little proudly, divining with a
woman's swift instinct the cause of the major's hesitation.  But her
triumph was checked by a new embarrassment visible in the face of the
officer at the mention of her name.

"Thankful Blossom," repeated the officer quickly.  "You are, then, the
daughter of Abner Blossom?"

"Certainly," said Thankful, turning her inquiring eyes upon him. "He
will be here betimes.  He has gone only to Morristown."  In a new fear
that had taken possession of her, her questioning eyes asked, "Has he
not?"

The officer, answering her eyes rather than her lips, came toward her
gravely.  "He will not return to-day, Mistress Thankful, nor perhaps
even to-morrow.  He is--a prisoner."

Thankful opened her brown eyes aggressively on the major.  "A
prisoner--for what?"

"For aiding and giving comfort to the enemy, and for harboring spies,"
replied the major with military curtness.

Mistress Thankful's cheek flushed slightly at the last sentence: a
recollection of the scene on the porch and the baron's stolen kiss
flashed across her, and for a moment she looked as guilty as if the man
before her had been a witness to the deed.  He saw it, and
misinterpreted her confusion.

"Belike, then," said Mistress Thankful, slightly raising her voice, and
standing squarely before the major, "belike, then, I should be a
prisoner too; for the guests of this house, if they be spies, were MY
guests, and, as my father's daughter, I was their hostess; ay, man, and
right glad to be the hostess of such gallant gentlemen,--gentlemen, I
warrant, too fine to insult a defenceless girl; gentlemen spies that
did not cock their boots on the table, or turn an honest farmer's house
into a tap-room."

An expression of half pain, half amusement, covered the face of the
major, but he made no other reply than by a profound and graceful bow.
Courteous and deprecatory as it was, it apparently exasperated Mistress
Thankful only the more.

"And pray who are these spies, and who is the informer?" said Mistress
Thankful, facing the soldier, with one hand truculently placed on her
flexible hip, and the other slipped behind her. "Methinks 'tis only
honest we should know when and how we have entertained both."

"Your father, Mistress Thankful," said Major Van Zandt gravely, "has
long been suspected of favoring the enemy; but it has been the policy
of the commander-in-chief to overlook the political preferences of
non-combatants, and to strive to win their allegiance to the good cause
by liberal privileges.  But when it was lately discovered that two
strangers, although bearing a pass from him, have been frequenters of
this house under fictitious names--"

"You mean Count Ferdinand and the Baron Pomposo," said Thankful
quickly,--"two honest gentlefolk; and if they choose to pay their
devoirs to a lass--although, perhaps, not a quality lady, yet an honest
girl--"

"Dear Mistress Thankful," said the major with a profound bow and smile,
that, spite of its courtesy, drove Thankful to the verge of wrathful
hysterics, "if you establish that fact,--and, from this slight
acquaintance with your charms, I doubt not you will,--your father is
safe from further inquiry or detention.  The commander-in-chief is a
gentleman who has never underrated the influence of your sex, nor held
himself averse to its fascinations."

"What is the name of this informer?" broke in Mistress Thankful
angrily.  "Who is it that has dared--"

"It is but king's evidence, mayhap, Mistress Thankful; for the informer
is himself under arrest.  It is on the information of Capt. Allan
Brewster of the Connecticut Contingent."

Mistress Thankful whitened, then flushed, and then whitened again. Then
she stood up to the major.

"It's a lie,--a cowardly lie!"

Major Van Zandt bowed.  Mistress Thankful flew up stairs, and in
another moment swept back again into the room in riding hat and habit.

"I suppose I can go and see--my father," she said, without lifting her
eyes to the officer.

"You are free as air, Mistress Thankful.  My orders and instructions,
far from implicating you in your father's offences, do not even suggest
your existence.  Let me help you to your horse."

The girl did not reply.  During that brief interval, however, Caesar
had saddled her white mare, and brought it to the door. Mistress
Thankful, disdaining the offered hand of the major, sprang to the
saddle.

The major still held the reins.  "One moment, Mistress Thankful."

"Let me go!" she said, with suppressed passion.

"One moment, I beg."

His hand still held her bridle-rein.  The mare reared, nearly upsetting
her.  Crimson with rage and mortification, she raised her riding-whip,
and laid it smartly over the face of the man before her.

He dropped the rein instantly.  Then he raised to her a face calm and
colorless, but for a red line extending from his eyebrow to his chin,
and said quietly,--

"I had no desire to detain you.  I only wished to say that when you see
Gen. Washington I know you will be just enough to tell him that Major
Van Zandt knew nothing of your wrongs, or even your presence here,
until you presented them, and that since then he has treated you as
became an officer and a gentleman."

Yet even as he spoke she was gone.  At the moment that her fluttering
skirt swept in a furious gallop down the hillside, the major turned,
and re-entered the house.  The few lounging troopers who were witnesses
of the scene prudently turned their eyes from the white face and
blazing eyes of their officer as he strode by them.  Nevertheless, when
the door closed behind him, contemporary criticism broke out:--

"'Tis a Tory jade, vexed that she cannot befool the major as she has
the captain," muttered Sergeant Tibbitts.

"And going to try her tricks on the general," added Private Hicks.

Howbeit both these critics may have been wrong.  For as Mistress
Thankful thundered down the Morristown road she thought of many things.
She thought of her sweetheart Allan, a prisoner, and pining for HER
help and HER solicitude; and yet--how dared he--if he HAD really
betrayed or misjudged her!  And then she thought bitterly of the count
and the baron, and burned to face the latter, and in some vague way
charge the stolen kiss upon him as the cause of all her shame and
mortification.  And lastly she thought of her father, and began to hate
everybody.  But above all and through all, in her vague fears for her
father, in her passionate indignation against the baron, in her fretful
impatience of Allan, one thing was ever dominant and obtrusive; one
thing she tried to put away, but could not,--the handsome, colorless
face of Major Van Zandt, with the red welt of her riding-whip overlying
its cold outlines.



III

The rising wind, which had ridden much faster than Mistress Thankful,
had increased to a gale by the time it reached Morristown.  It swept
through the leafless maples, and rattled the dry bones of the elms.  It
whistled through the quiet Presbyterian churchyard, as if trying to
arouse the sleepers it had known in days gone by.  It shook the blank,
lustreless windows of the Assembly Rooms over the Freemasons' Tavern,
and wrought in their gusty curtains moving shadows of those amply
petticoated dames and tightly hosed cavaliers who had swung in "Sir
Roger," or jigged in "Money Musk," the night before.

But I fancy it was around the isolated "Ford Mansion," better known as
the "headquarters," that the wind wreaked its grotesque rage. It howled
under its scant eaves, it sang under its bleak porch, it tweaked the
peak of its front gable, it whistled through every chink and cranny of
its square, solid, unpicturesque structure. Situated on a hillside that
descended rapidly to the Whippany River, every summer zephyr that
whispered through the porches of the Morristown farm-houses charged as
a stiff breeze upon the swinging half doors and windows of the "Ford
Mansion"; every wintry wind became a gale that threatened its security.
The sentry who paced before its front porch knew from experience when
to linger under its lee, and adjust his threadbare outer coat to the
bitter north wind.

Within the house something of this cheerlessness prevailed.  It had an
ascetic gloom, which the scant firelight of the reception-room, and the
dying embers on the dining-room hearth, failed to dissipate.  The
central hall was broad, and furnished plainly with a few rush-bottomed
chairs, on one of which half dozed a black body-servant of the
commander-in-chief.  Two officers in the dining-room, drawn close by
the chimney-corner, chatted in undertones, as if mindful that the door
of the drawing-room was open, and their voices might break in upon its
sacred privacy.  The swinging light in the hall partly illuminated it,
or rather glanced gloomily from the black polished furniture, the
lustreless chairs, the quaint cabinet, the silent spinet, the
skeleton-legged centre-table, and finally upon the motionless figure of
a man seated by the fire.

It was a figure since so well known to the civilized world, since so
celebrated in print and painting, as to need no description here.  Its
rare combination of gentle dignity with profound force, of a set
resoluteness of purpose with a philosophical patience, have been so
frequently delivered to a people not particularly remarkable for these
qualities, that I fear it has too often provoked a spirit of playful
aggression, in which the deeper underlying meaning was forgotten.  So
let me add that in manner, physical equipoise, and even in the mere
details of dress, this figure indicated a certain aristocratic
exclusiveness.  It was the presentment of a king,--a king who by the
irony of circumstances was just then waging war against all kingship; a
ruler of men, who just then was fighting for the right of these men to
govern themselves, but whom by his own inherent right he dominated.
From the crown of his powdered head to the silver buckle of his shoe he
was so royal that it was not strange that his brother George of England
and Hanover--ruling by accident, otherwise impiously known as the
"grace of God"--could find no better way of resisting his power than by
calling him "Mr. Washington."

The sound of horses' hoofs, the formal challenge of sentry, the grave
questioning of the officer of the guard, followed by footsteps upon the
porch, did not apparently disturb his meditation.  Nor did the opening
of the outer door, and a charge of cold air into the hall that invaded
even the privacy of the reception-room, and brightened the dying embers
on the hearth, stir his calm pre-occupation.  But an instant later
there was the distinct rustle of a feminine skirt in the hall, a
hurried whispering of men's voices, and then the sudden apparition of a
smooth, fresh-faced young officer over the shoulder of the unconscious
figure.

"I beg your pardon, general," said the officer doubtingly, "but--"

"You are not intruding, Col. Hamilton," said the general quietly.

"There is a young lady without who wishes an audience of your
Excellency.  'Tis Mistress Thankful Blossom,--the daughter of Abner
Blossom, charged with treasonous practice and favoring the enemy, now
in the guard-house at Morristown."

"Thankful Blossom?" repeated the general interrogatively.

"Your Excellency doubtless remembers a little provincial beauty and a
famous toast of the country-side,--the Cressida of our Morristown epic,
who led our gallant.  Connecticut captain astray--"

"You have the advantages, besides the better memory of a younger man,
colonel," said Washington, with a playful smile that slightly reddened
the cheek of his aide-de-camp.  "Yet I think I HAVE heard of this
phenomenon.  By all means, admit her--and her escort."

"She is alone, general," responded the subordinate.

"Then the more reason why we should be polite," returned Washington,
for the first time altering his easy posture, rising to his feet, and
lightly clasping his ruffled hands before him.  "We must not keep her
waiting.  Give her access, my dear colonel, at once; and even as she
came,--ALONE."

The aide-de-camp bowed and withdrew.  In another moment the half-opened
door swung wide to Mistress Thankful Blossom.

She was so beautiful in her simple riding-dress, so quaint and original
in that very beauty, and, above all, so teeming with a certain vital
earnestness of purpose just positive and audacious enough to set off
that beauty, that the grave gentleman before her did not content
himself with the usual formal inclination of courtesy, but actually
advanced, and, taking her cold little hand in his, graciously led her
to the chair he had just vacated.

"Even if your name were not known to me, Mistress Thankful," said the
commander-in-chief, looking down upon her with grave politeness,
"nature has, methinks, spared you the necessity of any introduction to
the courtesy of a gentleman.  But how can I especially serve you?"

Alack! the blaze of Mistress Thankful's brown eyes had become somewhat
dimmed in the grave half-lights of the room, in the graver, deeper
dignity of the erect, soldier-like figure before her.  The bright color
born of the tempest within and without had somehow faded from her
cheek; the sauciness begotten from bullying her horse in the last
half-hour's rapid ride was so subdued by the actual presence of the man
she had come to bully, that I fear she had to use all her self-control
to keep down her inclination to whimper, and to keep back the tears,
that, oddly enough, rose to her sweet eyes as she lifted them to the
quietly critical yet placid glance of her interlocutor.

"I can readily conceive the motive of this visit, Miss Thankful,"
continued Washington, with a certain dignified kindliness that was more
reassuring than the formal gallantry of the period; "and it is, I
protest, to your credit.  A father's welfare, however erring and weak
that father may be, is most seemly in a maiden--"

Thankful's eyes flashed again as she rose to her feet.  Her upper lip,
that had a moment before trembled in a pretty infantine distress, now
stiffened and curled as she confronted the dignified figure before her.
"It is not of my father I would speak," she said saucily: "I did not
ride here alone to-night, in this weather, to talk of HIM; I warrant HE
can speak for himself.  I came here to speak of myself, of lies--ay,
LIES told of me, a poor girl; ay, of cowardly gossip about me and my
sweetheart, Capt. Brewster, now confined in prison because he hath
loved me, a lass without polities or adherence to the cause--as if
'twere necessary every lad should ask the confidence or permission of
yourself or, belike, my Lady Washington, in his preferences."

She paused a moment, out of breath.  With a woman's quickness of
intuition she saw the change in Washington's face,--saw a certain cold
severity overshadowing it.  With a woman's fateful persistency--a
persistency which I humbly suggest might, on occasion, be honorably
copied by our more politic sex--she went on to say what was in her,
even if she were obliged, with a woman's honorable inconsistency, to
unsay it an hour or two later; an inconsistency which I also humbly
protest might be as honorably imitated by us--on occasion.

"It has been said," said Thankful Blossom quickly, "that my father has
given entertainment knowingly to two spies,--two spies that, begging
your Excellency's pardon, and the pardon of Congress, I know only as
two honorable gentlemen who have as honorably tendered me their
affections.  It is said, and basely and most falsely too, that my
sweetheart, Capt. Allan Brewster, has lodged this information.  I have
ridden here to deny it.  I have ridden here to demand of you that an
honest woman's reputation shall not be sacrificed to the interests of
politics; that a prying mob of ragamuffins shall not be sent to an
honest farmer's house to spy and spy--and turn a poor girl out of doors
that they might do it. 'Tis shameful, so it is; there! 'tis most
scandalous, so it is: there, now!  Spies, indeed! what are THEY, pray?"

In the indignation which the recollection of her wrongs had slowly
gathered in her, from the beginning of this speech, she had advanced
her face, rosy with courage, and beautiful in its impertinence, within
a few inches of the dignified features and quiet gray eyes of the great
commander.  To her utter stupefaction, he bent his head and kissed her,
with a grave benignity, full on the centre of her audacious forehead.

"Be seated, I beg, Mistress Blossom," he said, taking her cold hand in
his, and quietly replacing her in the unoccupied chair.  "Be seated, I
beg, and give me, if you can, your attention for a moment.  The officer
intrusted with the ungracious task of occupying your father's house is
a member of my military family, and a gentleman.  If he has so far
forgotten himself--if he has so far disgraced himself and me as--"

"No! no!" uttered Thankful, with feverish alacrity, "the gentleman was
most considerate.  On the contrary--mayhap--I"--she hesitated, and then
came to a full stop, with a heightened color, as a vivid recollection
of that gentleman's face, with the mark of her riding-whip lying across
it, rose before her.

"I was about to say that Major Van Zandt, as a gentleman, has known how
to fully excuse the natural impulses of a daughter," continued
Washington, with a look of perfect understanding; "but let me now
satisfy you on another point, where it would seem we greatly differ."

He walked to the door, and summoned his servant, to whom he gave an
order.  In another moment the fresh-faced young officer who had at
first admitted her re-appeared with a file of official papers.  He
glanced slyly at Thankful Blossom's face with an amused look, as if he
had already heard the colloquy between her and his superior officer,
and had appreciated that which neither of the earnest actors in the
scene had themselves felt,--a certain sense of humor in the situation.

Howbeit, standing before them, Col. Hamilton gravely turned over the
file of papers.  Thankful bit her lips in embarrassment.  A slight
feeling of awe, and a presentiment of some fast-coming shame; a new and
strange consciousness of herself, her surroundings, of the dignity of
the two men before her; an uneasy feeling of the presence of two ladies
who had in some mysterious way entered the room from another door, and
who seemed to be intently regarding her from afar with a curiosity as
if she were some strange animal; and a wild premonition that her whole
future life and happiness depended upon the events of the next few
moments,--so took possession of her, that the brave girl trembled for a
moment in her isolation and loneliness.  In another instant Col.
Hamilton, speaking to his superior, but looking obviously at one of the
ladies who had entered, handed a paper to Washington, and said, "Here
are the charges."

"Read them," said the general coldly.

Col. Hamilton, with a manifest consciousness of another hearer than
Mistress Blossom and his general, read the paper.  It was couched in
phrases of military and legal precision, and related briefly, that upon
the certain and personal knowledge of the writer, Abner Blossom of the
"Blossom Farm" was in the habit of entertaining two gentlemen, namely,
the "Count Ferdinand" and the "Baron Pomposo," suspected enemies of the
cause, and possible traitors to the Continental army.  It was signed by
Allan Brewster, late captain in the Connecticut Contingent.

As Col. Hamilton exhibited the signature, Thankful Blossom had no
difficulty in recognizing the familiar bad hand and equally familiar
mis-spelling of her lover.

She rose to her feet.  With eyes that showed her present trouble and
perplexity as frankly as they had a moment before blazed with her
indignation, she met, one by one, the glances of the group who now
seemed to be closing round her.  Yet with a woman's instinct she felt,
I am constrained to say, more unfriendliness in the silent presence of
the two women than in the possible outspoken criticism of our
much-abused sex.

"Of course," said a voice which Thankful at once, by a woman's unerring
instinct, recognized as the elder of the two ladies, and the legitimate
keeper of the conscience of some one of the men who were present,--"of
course Mistress Thankful will be able to elect which of her lovers
among her country's enemies she will be able to cling to for support in
her present emergency.  She does not seem to have been so special in
her favors as to have positively excluded any one."

"At least, dear Lady Washington, she will not give it to the man who
has proven a traitor to HER," said the younger woman impulsively.
"That is--I beg your ladyship's pardon"--she hesitated, observing in
the dead silence that ensued that the two superior male beings present
looked at each other in lofty astonishment.

"He that is trait'rous to his country," said Lady Washington coldly,
"is apt to be trait'rous elsewhere."

"'Twere as honest to say that he that was trait'rous to his king was
trait'rous to his country," said Mistress Thankful with sudden
audacity, bending her knit brows on Lady Washington.  But that lady
turned dignifiedly away, and Mistress Thankful again faced the general.

"I ask your pardon," she said proudly, "for troubling you with my
wrongs.  But it seems to me that even if another and a greater wrong
were done me by my sweetheart, through jealousy, it would not justify
this accusation against me, even though," she added, darting a wicked
glance at the placid brocaded back of Lady Washington, "even though
that accusation came from one who knows that jealousy may belong to the
wife of a patriot as well as a traitor."  She was herself again after
this speech, although her face was white with the blow she had taken
and returned.

Col. Hamilton passed his hand across his mouth, and coughed slightly.
Gen. Washington, standing by the fire with an impassive face, turned to
Thankful gravely:--

"You are forgetting, Mistress Thankful, that you have not told me how I
can serve you.  It cannot be that you are still concerned in Capt.
Brewster, who has given evidence against your other--FRIENDS, and
tacitly against YOU.  Nor can it be on their account, for I regret to
say they are still free and unknown.  If you come with any information
exculpating them, and showing they are not spies or hostile to the
cause, your father's release shall be certain and speedy.  Let me ask
you a single question:  Why do you believe them honest?"

"Because," said Mistress Thankful, "they were--were--gentlemen."

"Many spies have been of excellent family, good address, and fair
talents," said Washington gravely; "but you have, mayhap, some other
reason."

"Because they talked only to ME," said Mistress Thankful, blushing
mightily; "because they preferred my company to father's; because"--she
hesitated a moment--"because they spoke not of politics, but--of--that
which lads mainly talk of--and--and,"--here she broke down a
little,--"and the baron I only saw once, but he"--here she broke down
utterly--"I know they weren't spies: there, now!"

"I must ask you something more," said Washington, with grave kindness:
"whether you give me the information or not, you will consider, that,
if what you believe is true, it cannot in any way injure the gentlemen
you speak of; while, on the other hand, it may relieve your father of
suspicion.  Will you give to Col. Hamilton, my secretary, a full
description of them,--that fuller description which Capt. Brewster, for
reasons best known to yourself, was unable to give?"

Mistress Thankful hesitated for a moment, and then, with one of her
truthful glances at the commander-in-chief, began a detailed account of
the outward semblance of the count.  Why she began with him, I am
unable to say; but possibly it was because it was easier, for when she
came to describe the baron, she was, I regret to say, somewhat vague
and figurative.  Not so vague, however, but that Col. Hamilton suddenly
started up with a look at his chief, who instantly checked it with a
gesture of his ruffled hand.

"I thank you.  Mistress Thankful," he said quite impassively, "but did
this other gentleman, this baron--"

"Pomposo," said Thankful proudly.  A titter originated in the group of
ladies by the window, and became visible on the fresh face of Col.
Hamilton; but the dignified color of Washington's countenance was
unmoved.

"May I ask if the baron made an honorable tender of his affections to
you," he continued, with respectful gravity,--"if his attentions were
known to your father, and were such as honest Mistress Blossom could
receive?"

"Father introduced him to me, and wanted me to be kind to him. He--he
kissed me, and I slapped his face," said Thankful quickly, with cheeks
as red, I warrant, as the baron's might have been.

The moment the words had escaped her truthful lips, she would have
given her life to recall them.  To her astonishment, however, Col.
Hamilton laughed outright, and the ladies turned and approached her,
but were checked by a slight gesture from the otherwise impassive
figure of the general.

"It is possible, Mistress Thankful," he resumed, with undisturbed
composure, "that one at least of these gentlemen may be known to us,
and that your instincts may be correct.  At least rest assured that we
shall fully inquire into it, and that your father shall have the
benefit of that inquiry."

"I thank your Excellency," said Thankful, still reddening under the
contemplation of her own late frankness, and retreating toward the
door.  "I--think--I--must--go--now.  It is late, and I have far to
ride."

To her surprise, however, Washington stepped forward, and, again taking
her hands in his, said with a grave smile, "For that very reason, if
for none other, you must be our guest to-night, Mistress Thankful
Blossom.  We still retain our Virginian ideas of hospitality, and are
tyrannous enough to make strangers conform to them, even though we have
but perchance the poorest of entertainment to offer them.  Lady
Washington will not permit Mistress Thankful Blossom to leave her roof
to-night until she has partaken of her courtesy as well as her counsel."

"Mistress Thankful Blossom will make us believe that she has at least
in so far trusted our desire to serve her justly, by accepting our poor
hospitality for a single night," said Lady Washington, with a stately
courtesy.

Thankful Blossom still stood irresolutely at the door.  But the next
moment a pair of youthful arms encircled her; and the younger
gentlewoman, looking into her brown eyes with an honest frankness equal
to her own, said caressingly, "Dear Mistress Thankful, though I am but
a guest in her ladyship's house, let me, I pray you, add my voice to
hers.  I am Mistress Schuyler of Albany, at your service, Mistress
Thankful, as Col. Hamilton here will bear me witness, did I need any
interpreter to your honest heart.  Believe me, dear Mistress Thankful,
I sympathize with you, and only beg you to give me an opportunity
to-night to serve you.  You will stay, I know, and you will stay with
me; and we shall talk over the faithlessness of that over-jealous
Yankee captain who has proved himself, I doubt not, as unworthy of YOU
as he is of his country."

Hateful to Thankful as was the idea of being commiserated, she
nevertheless could not resist the gentle courtesy and gracious sympathy
of Miss Schuyler.  Besides, it must be confessed that for the first
time in her life she felt a doubt of the power of her own independence,
and a strange fascination for this young gentlewoman whose arms were
around her, who could so thoroughly sympathize with her, and yet allow
herself to be snubbed by Lady Washington.

"You have a mother, I doubt not?" said Thankful, raising her
questioning eyes to Miss Schuyler.

Irrelevant as this question seemed to the two gentlemen, Miss Schuyler
answered it with feminine intuition: "And you, dear Mistress Thankful--"

"Have none," said Thankful; and here, I regret to say, she whimpered
slightly, at which Miss Schuyler, with tears in her own fine eyes, bent
her head suddenly to Thankful's ear, put her arm about the waist of the
pretty stranger, and then, to the astonishment of Col. Hamilton,
quietly swept her out of the august presence.

When the door had closed upon them, Col. Hamilton turned
half-smilingly, half-inquiringly, to his chief.  Washington returned
his glance kindly but gravely, and then said quietly,--

"If your suspicions jump with mine, colonel, I need not remind you that
it is a matter so delicate that it would be as well if you locked it in
your own breast for the present; at least, that you should not intimate
to the gentleman whom you may have suspected, aught that has passed
this evening."

"As you will, general," said the subaltern respectfully; "but may I
ask"--he hesitated--"if you believe that anything more than a passing
fancy for a pretty girl--"

"When I asked your silence, colonel," interrupted Washington kindly,
laying his hand upon the shoulder of the younger man, "it was because I
thought the matter sufficiently momentous to claim my own private and
especial attention."

"I ask your Excellency's pardon," said the young man, reddening through
his fresh complexion like a girl; "I only meant--"

"That you would ask to be relieved to-night," interrupted Washington,
with a benign smile, "forasmuch as you wished the more to show
entertainment to our dear friend Miss Schuyler, and her guest; a
wayward girl, colonel, but, methinks, an honest one. Treat her of your
own quality, colonel, but discreetly, and not too kindly, lest we have
Mistress Schuyler, another injured damsel, on our hands;" and with a
half playful gesture peculiar to the man, and yet not inconsistent with
his dignity, he half led, half pushed his youthful secretary from the
room.

When the door had closed upon the colonel, Lady Washington rustled
toward her husband, who stood still, quiet and passive, on the
hearthstone.

"You surely see in this escapade nothing of political intrigue--no
treachery?" she said hastily.

"No," said Washington quietly.

"Nothing more than an idle, wanton intrigue with a foolish, vain
country girl?"

"Pardon me, my lady," said Washington gravely.  "I doubt not we may
misjudge her.  'Tis no common rustic lass that can thus stir the
country side.  'Twere an insult to your sex to believe it.  It is not
yet sure that she has not captured even so high game as she has named.
If she has, it would add another interest to a treaty of comity and
alliance."

"That creature!" said Lady Washington,--"that light-o'-love with her
Connecticut captain lover!  Pardon me, but this is preposterous;" and
with a stiff courtesy she swept from the room, leaving the central
figure of history--as such central figures are apt to be left--alone.

Later in the evening Mistress Schuyler so far subdued the tears and
emotions of Thankful, that she was enabled to dry her eyes, and
re-arrange her brown hair in the quaint little mirror in Mistress
Schuyler's chamber; Mistress Schuyler herself lending a touch and
suggestion here and there, after the secret freemasonry of her sex.
"You are well rid of this forsworn captain, dear Mistress Thankful; and
methinks that with hair as beautiful as yours, the new style of wearing
it, though a modish frivolity, is most becoming.  I assure you 'tis
much affected in New York and Philadelphia,--drawn straight back from
the forehead, after this manner, as you see."

The result was, that an hour later Mistress Schuyler and Mistress
Blossom presented themselves to Col. Hamilton in the reception-room,
with a certain freshness and elaboration of toilet that not only quite
shamed the young officer's affaire negligence, but caused him to open
his eyes in astonishment.  "Perhaps she would rather be alone, that she
might indulge her grief," he said doubtingly, in an aside to Miss
Schuyler, "rather than appear in company."

"Nonsense," quoth Mistress Schuyler.  "Is a young woman to mope and
sigh because her lover proves false?"

"But her father is a prisoner," said Hamilton in amazement.

"Can you look me in the face," said Mistress Schuyler mischievously,
"and tell me that you don't know that in twenty-four hours her father
will be cleared of these charges?  Nonsense!  Do you think I have no
eyes in my head?  Do you think I misread the general's face and your
own?"

"But, my dear girl," said the officer in alarm.

"Oh! I told her so, but not WHY," responded Miss Schuyler with a wicked
look in her dark eyes, "though I had warrant enough to do so, to serve
you for keeping a secret from ME!"

And with this Parthian shot she returned to Mistress Thankful, who,
with her face pressed against the window, was looking out on the
moonlit slope beside the Whippany River.

For, by one of those freaks peculiar to the American springtide, the
weather had again marvellously changed.  The rain had ceased, and the
ground was covered with an icing of sleet and snow, that now glittered
under a clear sky and a brilliant moon.  The northeast wind that shook
the loose sashes of the windows had transformed each dripping tree and
shrub to icy stalactites that silvered under the moon's cold touch.

"'Tis a beautiful sight, ladies," said a bluff, hearty, middle-aged
man, joining the group by the window.  "But God send the spring to us
quickly, and spare us any more such cruel changes!  My lady moon looks
fine enough, glittering in yonder treetops; but I doubt not she looks
down upon many a poor fellow shivering under his tattered blankets in
the camp beyond.  Had ye seen the Connecticut tatterdemalions file by
last night, with arms reversed, showing their teeth at his Excellency,
and yet not daring to bite; had ye watched these faint-hearts, these
doubting Thomases, ripe for rebellion against his Excellency, against
the cause, but chiefly against the weather,--ye would pray for a thaw
that would melt the hearts of these men as it would these stubborn
fields around us. Two weeks more of such weather would raise up not one
Allan Brewster, but a dozen such malcontent puppies ripe for a
drum-head court-martial."

"Yet 'tis a fine night, Gen. Sullivan," said Col. Hamilton, sharply
nudging the ribs of his superior officer with his elbow.  "There would
be little trouble on such a night, I fancy, to track our ghostly
visitant."  Both of the ladies becoming interested, and Col. Hamilton
having thus adroitly turned the flank of his superior officer, he went
on, "You should know that the camp, and indeed the whole locality here,
is said to be haunted by the apparition of a gray-coated figure, whose
face is muffled and hidden in his collar, but who has the password pat
to his lips, and whose identity hath baffled the sentries.  This
figure, it is said, forasmuch as it has been seen just before an
assault, an attack, or some tribulation of the army, is believed by
many to be the genius or guardian spirit of the cause, and, as such,
has incited sentries and guards to greater vigilance, and has to some
seemed a premonition of disaster.  Before the last outbreak of the
Connecticut militia, Master Graycoat haunted the outskirts of the
weather-beaten and bedraggled camp, and, I doubt not, saw much of that
preparation that sent that regiment of faint-hearted onion-gatherers to
flaunt their woes and their wrongs in the face of the general himself."

Here Col. Hamilton, in turn, received a slight nudge from Mistress
Schuyler, and ended his speech somewhat abruptly.

Mistress Thankful was not unmindful of both these allusions to her
faithless lover, but only a consciousness of mortification and wounded
pride was awakened by them.  In fact, during the first tempest of her
indignation at his arrest, still later at the arrest of her father, and
finally at the discovery of his perfidy to her, she had forgotten that
he was her lover; she had forgotten her previous tenderness toward him;
and, now that her fire and indignation were spent, only a sense of
numbness and vacancy remained.  All that had gone before seemed not
something to be regretted as her own act, but rather as the act of
another Thankful Blossom, who had been lost that night in the
snow-storm: she felt she had become, within the last twenty-four hours,
not perhaps ANOTHER woman, but for the first time a WOMEN.

Yet it was singular that she felt more confused when, a few moments
later, the conversation turned upon Major Van Zandt: it was still more
singular that she even felt considerably frightened at that confusion.
Finally she found herself listening with alternate irritability, shame,
and curiosity, to praises of that gentleman, of his courage, his
devotion, and his personal graces.  For one wild moment Thankful felt
like throwing herself on the breast of Mistress Schuyler, and
confessing her rudeness to the major; but a conviction that Mistress
Schuyler would share that secret with Col. Hamilton, that Major Van
Zandt might not like that revelation, and, oddly enough associated with
this, a feeling of unconquerable irritability toward that handsome and
gentle young officer, kept her mouth closed.  "Besides," she said to
herself, "he ought to know, if he's such a fine gentleman as they say,
just how I was feeling, and that I don't mean any rudeness to him;" and
with this unanswerable feminine logic poor Thankful to some extent
stilled her own honest little heart.

But not, I fear, entirely.  The night was a restless one to her: like
all impulsive natures, the season of reflection, and perhaps distrust,
came to her upon acts that were already committed, and when reason
seemed to light the way only to despair.  She saw the folly of her
intrusion at the headquarters, as she thought, only when it was too
late to remedy it; she saw the gracelessness and discourtesy of her
conduct to Major Van Zandt, only when distance and time rendered an
apology weak and ineffectual.  I think she cried a little to herself,
lying in the strange gloomy chamber of the healthfully sleeping
Mistress Schuyler, the sweet security of whose manifest goodness and
kindness she alternately hated and envied; and at last, unable to stand
it longer, slipped noiselessly from her bed, and stood very wretched
and disconsolate before the window that looked out upon the slope
toward the Whippany River. The moon on the new-fallen, frigid, and
untrodden snow shone brightly.  Far to the left it glittered on the
bayonet of a sentry pacing beside the river-bank, and gave a sense of
security to the girl that perhaps strengthened another idea that had
grown up in her mind.  Since she could not sleep, why should she not
ramble about until she could?  She had been accustomed to roam about
the farm in all weathers and at all times and seasons.  She recalled to
herself the night--a tempestuous one--when she had risen in serious
concern as to the lying-in of her favorite Alderney heifer, and how she
had saved the life of the calf, a weakling, dropped apparently from the
clouds in the tempest, as it lay beside the barn.  With this in her
mind, she donned her dress again, and, with Mistress Schuyler's mantle
over her shoulders, noiselessly crept down the narrow staircase, passed
the sleeping servant on the settee, and, opening the rear door, in
another moment was inhaling the crisp air, and tripping down the crisp
snow of the hillside.

But Mistress Thankful had overlooked one difference between her own
farm and a military encampment.  She had not proceeded a dozen yards
before a figure apparently started out of the ground beneath her, and,
levelling a bayoneted musket across her path, called, "Halt!"

The hot blood mounted to the girl's cheek at the first imperative
command she had ever received in her life: nevertheless she halted
unconsciously, and without a word confronted the challenger with her
old audacity.

"Who comes there?" reiterated the sentry, still keeping his bayonet
level with her breast.

"Thankful Blossom," she responded promptly.

The sentry brought his musket to a "present."  "Pass, Thankful Blossom,
and God send it soon and the spring with it, and good-night," he said,
with a strong Milesian accent.  And before the still-amazed girl could
comprehend the meaning of his abrupt challenge, or his equally abrupt
departure, he had resumed his monotonous pace in the moonlight.
Indeed, as she stood looking after him, the whole episode, the odd
unreality of the moonlit landscape, the novelty of her position, the
morbid play of her thoughts, seemed to make it part of a dream which
the morning light might dissipate, but could never fully explain.

With something of this feeling still upon her, she kept her way to the
river.  Its banks were still fringed with ice, through which its dark
current flowed noiselessly.  She knew it flowed through the camp where
lay her faithless lover, and for an instant indulged the thought of
following it, and facing him with the proof of his guilt; but even at
the thought she recoiled with a new and sudden doubt in herself, and
stood dreamily watching the shimmer of the moon on the icy banks, until
another, and, it seemed to her, equally unreal vision suddenly stayed
her feet, and drove the blood from her feverish cheeks.

A figure was slowly approaching from the direction of the sleeping
encampment.  Tall, erect, and habited in a gray surtout, with a hood
partially concealing its face, it was the counterfeit presentment of
the ghostly visitant she had heard described. Thankful scarcely
breathed.  The brave little heart that had not quailed before the
sentry's levelled musket a moment before now faltered and stood still,
as the phantom with a slow and majestic tread moved toward her.  She
had only time to gain the shelter of a tree before the figure,
majestically unconscious of her presence, passed slowly by.  Through
all her terror Thankful was still true to a certain rustic habit of
practical perception to observe that the tread of the phantom was quite
audible over the crust of snow, and was visible and palpable as the
imprint of a military boot.

The blood came back to Thankful's cheek, and with it her old audacity.
In another instant she was out from the tree, and tracking with a light
feline tread the apparition that now loomed up the hill before her.
Slipping from tree to tree, she followed until it passed before the
door of a low hut or farm-shed that stood midway up the hill.  Here it
entered, and the door closed behind it.  With every sense feverishly
alert, Thankful, from the secure advantage of a large maple, watched
the door of the hut.  In a few moments it re-opened to the same figure
free of its gray enwrappings.  Forgetful of every thing now, but
detecting the face of the impostor, the fearless girl left the tree,
and placed herself directly in the path of the figure.  At the same
moment it turned toward her inquiringly, and the moonlight fell full
upon the calm, composed features of Gen. Washington.

In her consternation Thankful could only drop an embarrassed courtesy,
and hang out two lovely signals of distress in her cheeks.  The face of
the pseudo ghost alone remained unmoved.

"You are wandering late, Mistress Thankful," he said at last, with a
paternal gravity; "and I fear that the formal restraint of a military
household has already given you some embarrassment. Yonder sentry, for
instance, might have stopped you."

"Oh, he did!" said Thankful quickly; "but it's all right, please your
Excellency.  He asked me 'Who went there,' and I told him; and he was
vastly polite, I assure you."

The grave features of the commander-in-chief relaxed in a smile. "You
are more happy than most of your sex in turning a verbal compliment to
practical account.  For know then, dear young lady, that in honor of
your visit to the headquarters, the password to-night through this
encampment was none other than your own pretty patronymic,--'Thankful
Blossom.'"

The tears glittered in the girl's eyes, and her lip trembled; but, with
all her readiness of speech, she could only say, "Oh, your Excellency."

"Then you DID pass the sentry?" continued Washington, looking at her
intently with a certain grave watchfulness in his gray eyes. "And
doubtless you wandered at the river-bank.  Although I myself, tempted
by the night, sometimes extend my walk as far as yonder shed, it were a
hazardous act for a young lady to pass beyond the protection of the
line."

"Oh! I met no one, your Excellency," said the usually truthful Thankful
hastily, rushing to her first lie with grateful impetuosity.

"And saw no one?" asked Washington quietly.

"No one," said Thankful, raising her brown eyes to the general's.

They both looked at each other,--the naturally most veracious young
woman in the colonies, and the subsequent allegorical impersonation of
truth in America,--and knew each other lied, and, I imagine, respected
each other for it.

"I am glad to hear you say so, Mistress Thankful," said Washington
quietly; "for 'twould have been natural for you to have sought an
interview with your recreant lover in yonder camp, though the attempt
would have been unwise and impossible."

"I had no such thought, your Excellency," said Thankful, who had really
quite forgotten her late intention; "yet, if with your permission I
could hold a few moments' converse with Capt. Brewster, it would
greatly ease my mind."

"'Twould not be well for the present," said Washington thoughtfully.
"But in a day or two Capt. Brewster will be tried by court-martial at
Morristown.  It shall be so ordered that when he is conveyed thither
his guard shall halt at the Blossom Farm.  I will see that the officer
in command gives you an opportunity to see him.  And I think I can
promise also, Mistress Thankful, that your father shall be also present
under his own roof, a free man."

They had reached the entrance to the mansion, and entered the hall.
Thankful turned impulsively, and kissed the extended hand of the
commander.  "You are so good!  I have been so foolish--so very, very
wrong," she said, with a slight trembling of her lip.  "And your
Excellency believes my story; and those gentlemen were NOT spies, but
even as they gave themselves to be."

"I said not that much," replied Washington with a kindly smile, "but no
matter.  Tell me rather, Mistress Thankful, how far your acquaintance
with these gentlemen has gone; or did it end with the box on the ear
that you gave the baron?"

"He had asked me to ride with him to the Baskingridge, and I--had
said--yes," faltered Mistress Thankful.

"Unless I misjudge you, Mistress Thankful, you can without great
sacrifice promise me that you will not see him until I give you my
permission," said Washington, with grave playfulness.

The swinging light shone full in Thankful's truthful eyes as she lifted
them to his.

"I do," she said quietly.

"Good-night," said the commander, with a formal bow.

"Good-night, your Excellency."



IV

The sun was high over the Short Hills when Mistress Thankful, the next
day, drew up her sweating mare beside the Blossom Farm gate. She had
never looked prettier, she had never felt more embarrassed, as she
entered her own house.  During her rapid ride she had already framed a
speech of apology to Major Van Zandt, which, however, utterly fled from
her lips as that officer showed himself respectfully on the threshold.
Yet she permitted him to usurp the functions of the grinning Caesar,
and help her from her horse; albeit she was conscious of exhibiting the
awkward timidity of a bashful rustic, until at last, with a stammering,
"Thank ye," she actually ran up stairs to hide her glowing face and far
too conscious eyelids.

During the rest of that day Major Van Zandt quietly kept out of the
way, without obtrusively seeming to avoid her.  Yet, when they met
casually in the performance of her household duties, the innocent
Mistress Thankful noticed, under her downcast penitential eyelids, that
the eyes of the officer followed her intently.  And thereat she fell
unconsciously to imitating him; and so they eyed each other furtively
like cats, and rubbed themselves along the walls of rooms and passages
when they met, lest they should seem designedly to come near each
other, and enacted the gravest and most formal of genuflexions,
courtesies, and bows, when they accidentally DID meet.  And just at the
close of the second day, as the elegant Major Van Zandt was feeling
himself fast becoming a drivelling idiot and an awkward country booby,
the arrival of a courier from headquarters saved that gentleman his
self-respect forever.

Mistress Thankful was in her sitting-room when he knocked at her door.
She opened it in sudden, conscious trepidation.

"I ask pardon for intruding, Mistress Thankful Blossom," he said
gravely; "but I have here"--he held out a pretentious document--"a
letter for you from headquarters.  May I hope that it contains good
news,--the release of your father.--and that it relieves you from my
presence, and an espionage which I assure you cannot be more unpleasant
to you than it has been to myself."

As he entered the room, Thankful had risen to her feet with the full
intention of delivering to him her little set apology; but, as he ended
his speech, she looked at him blankly, and burst out crying.

Of course he was in an instant at her side, and holding her cold little
hand.  Then she managed to say, between her tears, that she had been
wanting to make an apology to him; that she had wanted to say ever
since she arrived that she had been rude, very rude, and that she knew
he never could forgive her; that she had been trying to say that she
never could forget his gentle forbearance: "only," she added, suddenly
raising her tear-fringed brown lids to the astonished man, "YOU
WOULDN'T EVER LET ME!"

"Dear Mistress Thankful," said the major, in conscience-stricken
horror, "if I have made myself distant to you, believe me it was only
because I feared to intrude upon your sorrow.  I really--dear Mistress
Thankful--I--"

"When you took all the pains to go round the hall instead of through
the dining-room, lest I should ask you to forgive me," sobbed Mistress
Thankful, "I thought--you--must--hate me, and preferred to--"

"Perhaps this letter may mitigate your sorrow, Mistress Thankful," said
the officer, pointing to the letter she still held unconsciously in her
hand.

With a blush at her pre-occupation, Thankful opened the letter.  It was
a half-official document, and ran as follows:--


"The Commander-in-Chief is glad to inform Mistress Thankful Blossom
that the charges preferred against her father have, upon fair
examination, been found groundless and trivial.  The Commander-in-Chief
further begs to inform Mistress Blossom that the gentleman known to her
under the name of the 'Baron Pomposo' was his Excellency Don Juan
Morales, Ambassador and Envoy Extraordinary of the Court of Spain, and
that the gentleman known to her as the 'Count Ferdinand' was Senor
Godoy, Secretary to the Embassy.  The Commander-in-Chief wishes to add
that Mistress Thankful Blossom is relieved of any further obligation of
hospitality toward these honorable gentlemen, as the Commander-in-Chief
regrets to record the sudden and deeply-to-be-deplored death of his
Excellency this morning by typhoid fever, and the possible speedy
return of the Embassy.

"In conclusion, the Commander-in-Chief wishes to bear testimony to the
Truthfulness, Intuition, and Discretion of Mistress Thankful Blossom.

"By order of his Excellency,
  "Gen. GEORGE WASHINGTON.

"ALEX. HAMILTON, Secretary.

"To Mistress THANKFUL BLOSSOM, of Blossom Farm."


Thankful Blossom was silent for a few moments, and then raised her
abashed eyes to Major Van Zandt.  A single glance satisfied her that he
knew nothing of the imposture that had been practised upon her,--knew
nothing of the trap into which her vanity and self-will had led her.

"Dear Mistress Thankful," said the major, seeing the distress in her
face, "I trust the news is not ill.  Surely I gathered from the
sergeant that--"

"What?" said Thankful, looking at him intently.

"That in twenty-four hours at furthest your father would be free, and
that I should be relieved--"

"I know that you are a-weary of your task, major," said Thankful
bitterly: "rejoice, then, to know your information is correct, and that
my father is exonerated--unless--unless this is a forgery, and Gen.
Washington should turn out to be somebody else, and YOU should turn out
to be somebody else--"  And she stopped short, and hid her wet eyes in
the window-curtains.

"Poor girl!" said Major Van Zandt to himself.  "This trouble has
undoubtedly frenzied her.  Fool that I was to lay up the insult of one
that sorrow and excitement had bereft of reason and responsibility!
'Twere better I should retire at once, and leave her to herself," and
the young man slowly retreated toward the door.

But at this moment there were alarming symptoms of distress in the
window-curtain; and the major paused as a voice from its dimity depths
said plaintively, "And YOU are going without forgiving me!"

"Forgive YOU, Mistress Thankful," said the major, striding to the
curtain, and seizing a little hand that was obtruded from its
folds,--"forgive you? rather can you forgive me for the folly--the
cruelty of mistaking--of--of"--and here the major, hitherto famous for
facile compliments, utterly broke down.  But the hand he held was no
longer cold, but warm and intelligent; and in default of coherent
speech he held fast by that as the thread of his discourse, until
Mistress Thankful quietly withdrew it, thanked him for his forgiveness,
and retired deeper behind the curtain.

When he had gone, she threw herself in a chair, and again gave way to a
passionate flood of tears.  In the last twenty-four hours her pride had
been utterly humbled: the independent spirit of this self-willed little
beauty had met for the first time with defeat. When she had got over
her womanly shock at the news of the sham baron's death, she had, I
fear, only a selfish regard at his taking off; believing that if living
he would in some way show the world--which just then consisted of the
headquarters and Major Van Zandt--that he had really made love to her,
and possibly did honorably love her still, and might yet give her an
opportunity to reject him.  And now he was dead, and she was held up to
the world as the conceited plaything of a fine gentleman's masquerading
sport.  That her father's cupidity and ambition made him sanction the
imposture, in her bitterness she never doubted.  No!  Lover, friend,
father--all had been false to her, and the only kindness she had
received was from the men she had wantonly insulted.  Poor little
Blossom! indeed, a most premature Blossom; I fear a most unthankful
Blossom, sitting there shivering in the first chill wind of adversity,
rocking backward and forward, with the skirt of her dimity short-gown
over her shoulders, and her little buckled shoes and clocked stockings
pathetically crossed before her.

But healthy youth is re-active; and in an hour or two Thankful was down
at the cow-shed, with her arms around the neck of her favorite heifer,
to whom she poured out much of her woes, and from whom she won an
intelligent sort of slobbering sympathy.  And then she sharply scolded
Caesar for nothing at all, and a moment after returned to the house
with the air and face of a deeply injured angel, who had been
disappointed in some celestial idea of setting this world right, but
was still not above forgiveness,--a spectacle that sunk Major Van Zandt
into the dark depths of remorse, and eventually sent him to smoke a
pipe of Virginia with his men in the roadside camp; seeing which,
Thankful went early to bed, and cried herself to sleep.  And Nature
possibly followed her example; for at sunset a great thaw set in, and
by midnight the freed rivers and brooks were gurgling melodiously, and
tree and shrub and fence were moist and dripping.

The red dawn at last struggled through the vaporous veil that hid the
landscape.  Then occurred one of those magical changes peculiar to the
climate, yet perhaps pre-eminently notable during that historic winter
and spring.  By ten o'clock on that 3d of May, 1780, a fervent
June-like sun had rent that vaporous veil, and poured its direct rays
upon the gaunt and haggard profile of the Jersey hills.  The chilled
soil responded but feebly to that kiss; perhaps a few of the willows
that yellowed the river-banks took on a deeper color.  But the country
folk were certain that spring had come at last; and even the correct
and self-sustained Major Van Zandt came running in to announce to
Mistress Thankful that one of his men had seen a violet in the meadow.
In another moment Mistress Thankful had donned her cloak and pattens to
view this firstling of the laggard summer.  It was quite natural that
Major Van Zandt should accompany her as she tripped on; and so, without
a thought of their past differences, they ran like very children down
the moist and rocky slope that led to the quaggy meadow.  Such was the
influence of the vernal season.

But the violets were hidden.  Mistress Thankful, regardless of the wet
leaves and her new gown, groped with her fingers among the withered
grasses.  Major Van Zandt leaned against a bowlder, and watched her
with admiring eyes.

"You'll never find flowers that way," she said at last, looking up to
him impatiently.  "Go down on your knees like an honest man. There are
some things in this world worth stooping for."

The major instantly dropped on his knees beside her.  But at that
moment Mistress Thankful found her posies, and rose to her feet. "Stay
where you are," she said mischievously, as she stooped down, and placed
a flower in the lapel of his coat.  "That is to make amends for my
rudeness.  Now get up."

But the major did not rise.  He caught the two little hands that had
seemed to flutter like birds against his breast, and, looking up into
the laughing face above him, said, "Dear Mistress Thankful, dare I
remind you of your own words, that 'there be some things worth stooping
for'?  Think of my love, Mistress Thankful, as a flower,--mayhap not as
gracious to you as your violets, but as honest and--and--and--as--"

"Ready to spring up in a single night," laughed Thankful.  "But no; get
up, major!  What would the fine ladies of Morristown say of your
kneeling at the feet of a country girl,--the play and sport of every
fine gentleman?  What if Mistress Bolton should see her own cavalier,
the modish Major Van Zandt, proffering his affections to the disgraced
sweetheart of a perjured traitor?  Leave go my hand, I pray you,
major,--if you respect--"

She was free, yet she faltered a moment beside him, with tears
quivering on her long brown lashes.  Then she said tremulously, "Rise
up, major.  Let us think no more of this.  I pray you forgive me, if I
have again been rude."

The major struggled to rise to his feet.  But he could not.  And then I
regret to have to record that the fact became obvious that one of his
shapely legs was in a bog-hole, and that he was perceptibly sinking out
of sight.  Whereat Mistress Thankful trilled out a three-syllabled
laugh, looked demure and painfully concerned at his condition, and then
laughed again.  The major joined in her mirth, albeit his face was
crimson.  And then, with a little cry of alarm, she flew to his side,
and put her arms around him.

"Keep away, keep away, for Heaven's sake, Mistress Blossom," he said
quickly, "or I shall plunge you into my mishap, and make you as
ridiculous as myself."

But the quick-witted girl had already leaped to an adjacent bowlder.
"Take off your sash," she said quickly; "fasten it to your belt, and
throw it to me."  He did so.  She straightened herself back on the
rock.  "Now, all together," she cried, with a preliminary strain on the
sash; and then the cords of her well-trained muscles stood out on her
rounded arms, and, with a long pull and a strong pull and a pull all
together, she landed the major upon the rock.  And then she laughed;
and then, inconsistent as it may appear, she became grave, and at once
proceeded to scrape him off, and rub him down with dried leaves, with
fern-twigs, with her handkerchief, with the border of her mantle, as if
he were a child, until he blushed with alternate shame and secret
satisfaction.

They spoke but little on their return to the farm-house, for Mistress
Thankful had again become grave.  And yet the sun shone cheerily above
them; the landscape was filled with the joy of resurrection and new and
awakened life; the breeze whispered gentle promises of hope, and the
fruition of their hopes in the summer to come.  And these two fared on
until they reached the porch, with a half-pleased, half-frightened
consciousness that they were not the same beings who had left it a
half-hour before.

Nevertheless at the porch Mistress Thankful regained something of her
old audacity.  As they stood together in the hall, she handed him back
the sash she had kept with her.  As she did so, she could not help
saying, "There are some things worth stooping for, Major Van Zandt."

But she had not calculated upon the audacity of the man; and as she
turned to fly she was caught by his strong arm, and pinioned to his
side.  She struggled, honestly I think, and perhaps more frightened at
her own feelings than at his strength; but it is to be recorded that he
kissed her in a moment of comparative yielding, and then, frightened
himself, released her quickly, whereat she fled to her room, and threw
herself panting and troubled upon her bed.  For an hour or two she lay
there, with flushed cheeks and conflicting thoughts.  "He must never
kiss me again," she said softly to herself, "unless"--but the
interrupting thought said, "I shall die if he kiss me not again; and I
never can kiss another."  And then she was roused by a footstep upon
the stair, which in that brief time she had learned to know and look
for, and a knock at the door. She opened it to Major Van Zandt, white
and so colorless as to bring out once more the faint red line made by
her riding-whip two days before, as if it had risen again in
accusation.  The blood dropped out of her cheeks as she gazed at him in
silence.

"An escort of dragoons," said Major Van Zandt slowly, and with military
precision, "has just arrived, bringing with them one Capt. Allan
Brewster, of the Connecticut Contingent, on his way to Morristown to be
tried for mutiny and treason.  A private note from Col. Hamilton
instructs me to allow him to have a private audience with you--if YOU
so wish it."

With a woman's swift and too often hopeless intuition, Thankful knew
that this was not the sole contents of the letter, and that her
relations with Capt. Brewster were known to the man before her. But she
drew herself up a little proudly, and, turning her truthful eyes upon
the major, said, "I DO so wish it."

"It shall be done as you desire, Mistress Blossom," returned the
officer with cold politeness, as he turned upon his heel.

"One moment, Major Van Zandt," said Thankful swiftly.

The major turned quickly; but Thankful's eyes were gazing thoughtfully
forward, and scarcely glanced at him.  "I would prefer," she said
timidly and hesitatingly, "that this interview should not take place
under the roof where--where--where--my father lives.  Half-way down the
meadow there is a barn, and before it a broken part of the wall,
fronting on a sycamore-tree.  HE will know where it is.  Tell him I
will see him there in half an hour."

A smile, which the major had tried to make a careless one, curled his
lip satirically as he bowed in reply.  "It is the first time," he said
dryly, "that I believe I have been honored with arranging a tryst for
two lovers; but believe me, Mistress Thankful, I will do my best.  In
half an hour I will turn my prisoner over to you."

In half an hour the punctual Mistress Thankful, with a hood hiding her
pale face, passed the officer in the hall, on the way to her
rendezvous.  An hour later Caesar came with a message that Mistress
Thankful would like to see him.  When the major entered the
sitting-room, he was shocked to find her lying pale and motionless on
the sofa; but as the door closed she rose to her feet, and confronted
him.

"I do not know," she said slowly, "whether you are aware that the man I
just now parted from was for a twelvemonth past my sweetheart, and that
I believed I loved him, and KNEW I was true to him.  If you have not
heard it, I tell you now, for the time will come when you will hear
part of it from the lips of others, and I would rather you should take
the whole truth from mine.  This man was false to me.  He betrayed two
friends of mine as spies.  I could have forgiven it, had it been only
foolish jealousy; but it was, I have since learned from his own lips,
only that he might gratify his spite against the commander-in-chief by
procuring their arrest, and making a serious difficulty in the American
camp, by means of which he hoped to serve his own ends.  He told me
this, believing that I sympathized with him in his hatred of the
commander-in-chief, and in his own wrongs and sufferings.  I confess to
my shame, Major Van Zandt, that two days ago I did believe him, and
that I looked upon you as a mere catch-poll or bailiff of the tyrant.
That I found out how I was deceived when I saw the commander-in-chief,
you, major, who know him so well, need not be told.  Nor was it
necessary for me to tell this man that he had deceived me: for I felt
that--that--was--not--the--only reason--why I could no longer
return--his love."

She paused, as the major approached her earnestly, and waved him back
with her hand.  "He reproached me bitterly with my want of feeling for
his misfortunes," she went on again: "he recalled my past
protestations; he showed me my love-letters; and he told me that if I
were still his true sweetheart I ought to help him.  I told him if he
would never call me by that name again; if he would give up all claim
to me; if he would never speak, write to me, nor see me again; if he
would hand me back my letters,--I would help him."  She stopped: the
blood rushed into her pale face.  "You will remember, major, that I
accepted this man's love as a young, foolish, trustful girl; but when I
made him this offer--he--he accepted it."

"The dog!" said Major Van Zandt.  "But in what way could you help this
double traitor?"

"I HAVE helped him," said Thankful quietly.

"But how?" said Major Van Zandt.

"By becoming a traitor myself," she said, turning upon him almost
fiercely.  "Hear me!  While you were quietly pacing these halls, while
your men were laughing and talking in the road, Caesar was saddling my
white mare, the fleetest in the country.  He led her to the lane below.
That mare is now two miles away, with Capt. Brewster on her back.  Why
do you not start, major?  Look at me.  I am a traitor, and this is my
bribe;" and she drew a package of letters from her bosom, and flung
them on the table.

She had been prepared for an outbreak or exclamation from the man
before her, but not for his cold silence.  "Speak," she cried at last,
passionately.  "Speak!  Open your lips, if only to curse me! Order in
your men to arrest me.  I will proclaim myself guilty, and save your
honor.  But only speak!"

"May I ask," said Major Van Zandt coldly, "why you have twice honored
me with a blow?"

"Because I loved you; because, when I first saw you I saw the only man
that was my master, and I rebelled; because, when I found I could not
help but love you, I knew I never had loved before, and I would wipe
out with one stroke all the past that rose in judgment against me;
because I would not have you ever confronted with one endearing word of
mine that was not meant for you."

Major Van Zandt turned from the window where he had stood, and faced
the girl with sad resignation.  "If I have in my foolishness, Mistress
Thankful, shown you how great was your power over me, when you
descended to this artifice to spare my feelings by confessing your own
love for me, you should have remembered that you were doing that which
forever kept me from wooing or winning you.  If you had really loved me
your heart, as a woman's, would have warned you against that which my
heart, as a gentleman's, has made a law of honor; when I tell you, as
much for the sake of relieving your own conscience as for the sake of
justifying mine, that if this man, a traitor, my prisoner, and your
recognized lover, had escaped from my custody without your assistance,
connivance, or even knowledge, I should have deemed it my duty to
forsake you until I caught him, even if we had been standing before the
altar."

Thankful heard him, but only as a strange voice in the distance, as she
stood with fixed eyes, and breathless, parted lips before him. Yet even
then I fear that, womanlike, she did not comprehend his rhetoric of
honor, but only caught here and there a dull, benumbing idea that he
despised her, and that in her effort to win his love she had killed it,
and ruined him forever.

"If you think it strange," continued the major, "that, believing as I
do, I stand here only to utter moral axioms when my duty calls me to
pursue your lover, I beg you to believe that it is only for your sake.
I wish to allow a reasonable time between your interview with him, and
his escape, that shall save you from any suspicion of complicity.  Do
not think," he added with a sad smile, as the girl made an impatient
step toward him, "do not think I am running any risk.  The man cannot
escape.  A cordon of pickets surrounds the camp for many miles.  He has
not the countersign, and his face and crime are known."

"Yes," said Thankful eagerly, "but a part of his own regiment guards
the Baskingridge road."

"How know you this?" said the major, seizing her hand.

"He told me."

Before she could fall on her knees, and beg his forgiveness, he had
darted from the room, given an order, and returned with cheeks and eyes
blazing.

"Hear me," he said rapidly, taking the girl's two hands, "you know not
what you've done.  I forgive you.  But this is no longer a matter of
duty, but my personal honor.  I shall pursue this man alone.  I shall
return with him, or not at all.  Farewell.  God bless you!"

But before he reached the door she caught him again.  "Only say you
have forgiven me once more."

"I do."

"Guert!"

There was something in the girl's voice more than this first utterance
of his Christian name, that made him pause.

"I told--a--lie--just--now.  There is a fleeter horse in the stable
than my mare; 'tis the roan filly in the second stall."

"God bless you!"

He was gone.  She waited to hear the clatter of his horse's hoofs in
the roadway.  When Caesar came in a few moments later, to tell the news
of Capt. Brewster's escape, the room was empty; but it was soon filled
again by a dozen turbulent troopers.

"Of course she's gone," said Sergeant Tibbitts: "the jade flew with the
captain."

"Ay, 'tis plain enough.  Two horses are gone from the stable besides
the major's," said Private Hicks.

Nor was this military criticism entirely a private one.  When the
courier arrived at headquarters the next morning, it was to bring the
report that Mistress Thankful Blossom, after assisting her lover to
escape had fled with him.  "The renegade is well off our hands," said
Gen. Sullivan gruffly: "he has saved us the public disgrace of a trial.
But this is bad news of Major Van Zandt."

"What news of the major?" asked Washington quickly.

"He pursued the vagabond as far as Springfield, killing his horse, and
falling himself insensible before Major Merton's quarters. Here he
became speedily delirious, fever supervened, and the regimental
surgeon, after a careful examination, pronounced his case one of
small-pox."

A whisper of horror and pity went around the room.  "Another gallant
soldier, who should have died leading a charge, laid by the heels by a
beggar's filthy distemper," growled Sullivan.  "Where will it end?"

"God knows," said Hamilton.  "Poor Van Zandt!  But whither was he
sent,--to the hospital?"

"No: a special permit was granted in his case; and 'tis said he was
removed to the Blossom Farm,--it being remote from neighbors,--and the
house placed under quarantine.  Abner Blossom has prudently absented
himself from the chances of infection, and the daughter has fled.  The
sick man is attended only by a black servant and an ancient crone; so
that, if the poor major escapes with his life or without disfigurement,
pretty Mistress Bolton of Morristown need not be scandalized or
jealous."



V

The ancient crone alluded to in the last chapter had been standing
behind the window-curtains of that bedroom which had been Thankful
Blossom's in the weeks gone by.  She did not move her head, but stood
looking demurely, after the manner of ancient crones, over the summer
landscape.  For the summer had come before the tardy spring was scarce
gone, and the elms before the window no longer lisped, but were
eloquent in the softest zephyrs.  There was the flash of birds in among
the bushes, the occasional droning of bees in and out the open window,
and a perpetually swinging censer of flower incense rising from below.
The farm had put on its gayest bridal raiment; and looking at the old
farm-house shadowed with foliage and green with creeping vines, it was
difficult to conceive that snow had ever lain on its porches, or
icicles swung from its mossy eaves.

"Thankful!" said a voice still tremulous with weakness.

The ancient crone turned, drew aside the curtains, and showed the sweet
face of Thankful Blossom, more beautiful even in its paleness.

"Come here, darling," repeated the voice.

Thankful stepped to the sofa whereon lay the convalescent Major Van
Zandt.

"Tell me, sweetheart," said the major, taking her hand in his, "when
you married me, as you told the chaplain, that you might have the right
to nurse me, did you never think that if death spared me I might be so
disfigured that even you, dear love, would have turned from me with
loathing?"

"That was why I did it, dear," said Thankful mischievously.  "I knew
that the pride, and the sense of honor, and self-devotion of some
people, would have kept them from keeping their promises to a poor
girl."

"But, darling," continued the major, raising her hand to his lips,
"suppose the case had been reversed: suppose you had taken the disease,
that I had recovered without disfigurement, but that this sweet face--"

"I thought of that too," interrupted Thankful.  "Well, what would you
have done, dear?" said the major, with his old mischievous smile.

"I should have died," said Thankful gravely.

"But how?"

"Somehow.  But you are to go to sleep, and not ask impertinent and
frivolous questions; for father is coming to-morrow."

"Thankful, dear, do you know what the trees and the birds said to me as
I lay there tossing with fever?"

"No, dear."

"Thankful Blossom!  Thankful Blossom!  Thankful Blossom is coming!"

"Do you know what I said, sweetheart, as I lifted your dear head from
the ground when you reeled from your horse just as I overtook you at
Springfield?"

"No, dear."

"There are some things in life worth stooping for."

And she winged this Parthian arrow home with a kiss.





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