THE warm and hazy September days were over. The first of October had come in by the calendar, but although its sun had not yet peeped over the horizon, there were unmistakable signs in the east which heralded its coming. As for Hazel, she was up “with the lark,” as the saying goes, and with good reason, too, for never did any mere little feathered songstress have as much in hand as had she for that first day of October, and it all depended upon the weather.
What wonder, then, with so much on her mind, that the first ray of daylight succeeded in shimmering in beneath the long lashes of her eyes, first setting their lid a-tremble and then prying them open, so that their little owner soon found herself wide awake, and that the eventful day had dawned. But what sort of a day was it going to be, that was the all-important question. Hazel threw open the shutters of her window. The vine that crept along its sill was dripping wet—could it be raining? She stretched out a little brown hand that was all of a tremble with excitement, to test if rain were really falling. No, not a drop. It was dew on the vines, of course; how foolish not to have thought of that! But what made the sky so gray? Was it cloudy? Then she tripped over to the clock. Why, so early as that! Then perhaps the sun was not up yet. No, come to look again, of course it wasn’t, it was just daylight.
Having reached this conclusion, Hazel, wisely slipping into a flannel wrapper and a pair of bedroom slippers, sat down to wait the rising of that very lazy sun, and soon he came. She watched till he was full above the horizon, then assuring herself that there were no threatening clouds anywhere, crept back into bed, wrapper, slippers, and all, with a mind quite at ease, and in just the sort of a mood for the most refreshing of little morning naps.
One, two, one, two, Company F was marking time preparatory to marching on again, and Sergeant Bellows was in command.
It was two o’clock now, and the sun, for whose dawning Hazel had watched so eagerly, was well on his journey, and shining down on the burnished flint-locks and scarlet coats of Company F, coats which looked bravely in the morning sunlight, notwithstanding many a stain and mark of active service. But not for any skirmishing with their enemies were those English soldiers under marching orders, for never again were they to wage battle with the colonists on American soil. It was now nearly two years since the great battle of Yorktown, when the British soldiers had laid down their arms, and Lord Cornwallis’s sword had been surrendered to General Washington, and it would not be long before the whole army, under command of Sir Guy Carleton, would go sailing homeward down the harbor, and not a British roll-call, nor a soldier answering to it, would be heard anywhere in the land. But, somehow or other, notwithstanding all this, Company F, of His Majesty’s service, did not look very crestfallen, as they stood there marking time, until a great overhanging load of hay should leave the road clear ahead of them. They had had plenty of time to get used to the thought of not having beaten the Yankees; in fact, some of them went so far as to openly express their honest admiration for the plucky, desperate fashion in which those some poorly equipped Yankees had fought, and did not begrudge them their hard-earned victory. Then in seven weeks more they were to turn their faces toward home and England; toward England, which some of them had not seen for eight long years; toward home, where little children had outgrown their childhood, where dear wife faces had grown worn with waiting, and where white-haired mothers, wearied with watching, had perhaps been laid at rest in the little village churchyards. But, come weal or woe, they were soon going home; you could see their faces daily grow brighter with the thought, and happening this morning to have a most novel entertainment in prospect, what wonder that almost every one wore an amused smile, and that every eye twinkled merrily. The clumsy hay-load slowly moved out of the way, and then came the order, “For’ard, march!” from Sergeant Bellows, and off they went, with even swing up Broadway, turning off at the Albany coach road, and then on out into the country. “Halt!” called Sergeant Bellows at last, and Company F halted right in front of Captain Boniface’s cottage. It could not have been that they were not expected, for Hazel, with beaming smile, stood holding the gate wide open, and the men filed in and took their seats in chairs which had evidently been placed in rows in the garden for them. The chairs fronted the porch, and were grouped in semicircular shape about the wide steps leading up to it, at the top of which a curtain (for which two blanket shawls had been made to do duty) hung suspended, the cord that held it being fastened to the fluted column at either end. That the shawls were of widely differing plaids, and at great variance in the matter of color, only added to the generally fantastic effect. Without doubt there was going to be some sort of a performance, and it was easy now to guess that Hazel’s “‘rangements” had been in the line of preparation for it, and easy now to understand why her little ladyship had been up with the lark, to ascertain, if possible, what sort of a day it was going to be. Somehow or other I should not in the least wonder if the “Old Man of the Weather” loves to have a little child place implicit trust in him now and then’; surely he does, if he is at all like some of the rest of us whom you little folks call old. At any rate the weather not only favored Hazel’s project, but seemed just to give itself up to making everything comfortable for everybody. The sun saw to it that the old house cast a broad square shadow in front of it that was more than large enough to cover the space where the men were seated, and the wind saw to it that a sufficiently strong little breeze was blowing to temper the early afternoon sunshine, and everything conspired to make it a perfect October day, a sort of good example, as it were, for the thirty other October days that were to follow it.
At last it was time for that mysterious many-colored curtain to be drawn aside, and certain vigorous jerkings of the shawls showed that an attempt was being made in that direction. What did it matter to Company F if it did not work with all the smoothness to be desired, since it finally disclosed to them as fair a little specimen of humanity as the eyes of most of them had ever rested upon. In the centre of the stage, or rather of that portion of the porch which had been divided off for it, sat Hazel’s little sister in an old-fashioned high-back chair, her pretty slippered feet reaching but a little way over its edge, and her little dimpled hands folded in her lap in most complacent fashion. She wore a short-waisted, quaint little white dress, barely short enough to show the prettily slippered feet.
Not at all dismayed was little Kate at the sight of so many soldiers seated there in such formal array before her. What was every beautiful Red Coat but another embodiment of her own dear papa; and not in the least alarmed was she by the loud applause which the mere sight of her elicited from admiring Company F. She turned her pretty head on one side and then on the other, her little face wreathed in smiles, and seeming to say in silent baby-fashion, “Thank you, gentlemen.” Not that she could not talk. No, indeed, do not think that for a moment; her baby tongue could move with all the insistent chatter of a little English sparrow; but the right time had not come yet. As soon as the applause had somewhat abated, Hazel herself appeared on the scene, arrayed in a jaunty little riding-habit, and with cheeks aglow with excitement, looking prettier, perhaps, than ever before in her life. As was to be expected, her appearance was the cause for renewed applause; but finally all was quiet, and she stepped forward to deliver a little speech which had been carefully thought over. She had insisted upon wearing her riding-habit, because, as she had told her mother, she was to be a sort of showman. Of course she did not want to wear boys’ clothes, but the riding-habit seemed sort of a go-between, “and more like the thing a lady who managed a private circus would wear.” So Mrs. Boniface consented, and Josephine, in helping Hazel to dress, had added an extra touch or two. Her habit was made of gray cloth, with a long, full skirt that came within a foot of the ground when Hazel was on her pony; but in order that she should be able to move about the platform as freely as was necessary, Josephine had caught the skirt up on one side, fastening it with two or three brilliant red chrysanthemums, and pinning a bunch of the same bright flowers against her waist. On her head she wore a black velvet jockey cap which had been sent her by her grandpa from England, and which completed the jauntiness of her costume.
“Members of Company F,” Hazel began, holding her riding-whip in both hands before her, “I wish to thank you for coming here this afternoon, and to tell you that I hope you will feel repaid for your long march out from the city.”
“No doubt about that, Miss Hazel,” Sergeant Bellows called out, heartily..
“Thank you, Sergeant;” but Hazel’s manner was somewhat stiff, as though she preferred that more formality should be observed. “But before commencing our performance,” she continued, “I must ask you to bear in mind that it is not an easy thing to get up a regular circus in a private family, ‘specially at such very short notice. There was no time to teach anything new, even to the baby, who learns very easily, and it was just by good luck that Prince and Kate and Delta knew some little tricks already. As for Flutters, it will not take you long to discover that his part of the performance needs no apology.”
Hazel concluded her little speech with a graceful bow, and, turning toward Kate, who still sat smiling, announced: “I have now the pleasure, gentlemen, of introducing to you Miss Kate Boniface, as fine a little three-year-old as ever was reared in Westchester County. Miss Kate is quite a favorite with the management, being, what we consider, a most gifted little lady. She has an original little dance of her own, one little song, and one little piece, which she speaks with dramatic effect.”
“Which s’all I do first, Hazel?” asked Kate, in a most audible whisper, when she saw that it was time for her to commence.
“Why, the dance of course, child,” Hazel answered, forgetting their relations of manager and artiste.
“But where’s de music?”
Sure enough, where was the music? “Job,” called Hazel, blushing up to the roots of her hair with embarrassment, “we are waiting for you.”
“Coming, Mrs. Manager,” came the answer, and a moment later Starlight bounded through the green boughs, which had been arranged at the back of the scene, violin in hand, and in a costume befitting the clown of the performance. His resemblance to the real article was truly quite remarkable, for Cousin Harry had taken a great deal of interest in his “make-up,” and the result was a face as white, with cheeks as red and eyebrows as high, black, and arching, as were ever attained by Mr. John Dreyfus, the English clown of world-renowned reputation. Starlight was able to play half-a-dozen tunes on an old violin which had belonged to his grandfather, and this formed a most attractive and most important feature of the Boniface circus. Otherwise Company F would have been obliged to forego little Kate’s dancing, than which nothing was ever daintier or prettier. But not an inch would her little ladyship move from her chair till Starlight had gone through a series of scrapings called “tuning up,” and a merry little dancing tune was well under way. Then she jumped down, and running to the front of the platform made the most bewitching of conventional little bows, pressing the fingers of both hands to her lips, as if generously to throw the sweetest of kisses broadcast. It was very evident, then, to the Red Coats—Miss Hazel to the contrary that there had been time enough to teach little Kate one new trick at any rate; but the glancing itself was a matter of Kate’s own creation, and of a sort that baffles description.
She had never seen any one dance, no one had taught her, but as naturally as a little duck takes to the water, had her little feet taken to dancing on that evening when, for the first time, Starlight had brought his violin to the Bonifaces’. For fully ten minutes, to the great delight of Company F, little Kate kept time in a variety of intricate and pretty little motions to the rhythm of the old violin a sort of dancing in which slow and graceful gestures of dimpled arms and hands played almost as important part as the little feet themselves. Indeed, the whole proceeding was a deliberate one, owing to an inability on Starlight’s part to play any faster; but to my thinking “The dancing was a matter of Kate’s own creation;” all the prettier for that, and far more becoming to such a dignified little maiden.
As for Company F, it would have liked nothing better than a whole half-hour of dancing; but “Mrs. Manager” wisely protested, and after the little song had been rendered with “violin accompaniment,” and the little piece spoken “with dramatic effect,” Miss Kate Boniface tripped from the stage ‘midst hearty peals of applause, and Mrs. Manager, as Starlight had called Hazel, came once more to the front.
“I shall now have the pleasure of acquainting you, gentlemen,” she said, with all the superiority of a veritable showman, “with my own little thoroughbred, one of the most knowing and accomplished of Shetland ponies. Mr. Lightfoot, will you have the kindness to bring Miss Gladys into the ring?” whereupon Starlight, otherwise Mr. Lightfoot, led the pony on to the stage, or, I should say, “into the ring,” as Hazel preferred to regard it from a strictly professional point of view. Gladys had been groomed by Starlight and Flutters to within an inch of her life, in preparation for the occasion, and, indeed, she sorely needed it. The fact was that she had been turned out for the last two months owing to an unfortunate gall on her back which had refused to heal under the saddle; so, while her mistress had been dependent upon Albany coaches for such excursions as she wished to take into the city, Miss Gladys had been kicking up her heels and running races with herself in the most inviting of clover fields. Only yesterday had she been enjoying all this freedom, with burrs in her tail and burrs in her mane, and with never so much as a halter, and here she was to-day tricked out in blue ribbons, with her coat smoothed down to look as silky as possible, and with her four pretty little hoofs oiled up to a state of shiny blackness, but without the sign of shoe on any one of them. There had been no time, indeed, to have Miss Gladys shod, nor was there any need of it, as, after today’s performance, back she was to go again, for at least another month more, to all the wild dissipation of pony life in a clover field. Of course she was astonished at the sight of the soldiers, but she had been rehearsing with Starlight and Hazel for a whole hour that morning in that sort of “box stall” which formed the scene of the circus, and so, being somewhat familiar with the place, contented herself with an occasional pricking-up of her black-pointed ears, which only gave her a more spirited look, and, on the whole, was extremely becoming.
“Now, Miss Gladys,” said Hazel, when she had-succeeded in getting her posed to her liking, “I would like you to answer a few questions, and for each correct answer you shall have a beautiful lump of white sugar. Mr. Lightfoot, have you the sugar ready?”
“Yes, Mrs. Manager,” answered Starlight, who, in his capacity of clown, was endeavoring all the while to keep up a funny sort of byplay, and sometimes succeeding; “yes, Mrs. Manager, the sugar is all ready. I have placed, as you perceive, five lumps upon either extended palm, and would like to make this arrangement, that when the pony makes a mistake I may be allowed to eat the sugar.”
“Very well, Mr. Lightfoot, I am quite agreeable to the arrangement; but, if I am not mistaken, the pony thinks you are likely to fare rather poorly; how about that, Miss Gladys? Do you intend that Mr. Lightfoot shall enjoy more than one of those lumps of sugar?” Hazel stood leaning against the pony’s side, lightly swinging her riding-whip in apparently aimless fashion in her left hand, but in answer to her question, Miss Gladys shook her pretty head from side to side with as decided an assertion in the negative as though she had been able to voice an audible “No.”
“There! what did I tell you, Mr. Lightfoot?”
“Why! did Miss Gladys answer? I didn’t hear her.”
“Of course you did not hear her. She answered by shaking her head. Ponies can’t talk.”
“What! can’t Miss Gladys say a word?”
“No, certainly not.”
“Not even neigh?”
“That’s a very bad pun, Mr. Lightfoot. Don’t you think so, Miss Gladys?” Up and down went the pony’s head in ready assent.
“Two questions answered with remarkable judgment. Now, two lumps of sugar, if you please, Mr. Lightfoot.”
Gladys eagerly ate the sugar from Hazel’s gloved hand (for sugar was one of the few creature delights a clover field failed to offer, that is, in any form more concrete than the sweetness of a withered clover head), and looked as though perfectly willing to continue the process for an almost indefinite period. Indeed, for a long time Hazel continued to ply her with questions of great moment to Company F, such as, “Is Sergeant Bellows the best sergeant in his regiment?”
“Is ‘Company F’ the finest company?” and so on, to all of which Miss Gladys gave only the most complimentary of answers. Just when this part of the performance was coming to a close, Mr. Lightfoot stepped up to the pony, and said, in beseeching fashion, “Look here, Miss Gladys, on the whole, you think I’m a pretty good sort of a fellow, now, don’t you?” The pony looked at Starlight a moment, and then shook her head, “Yes,” in a most decided manner. “That’s a darling,” Starlight exclaimed, swinging himself on to Gladys’s back, in compliance with an order received from Hazel, and with his head resting on her mane and his arms clasped round her prettily-arched neck, rode off the stage. The soldiers, of course, were at first considerably astonished at the pony’s intelligent answers, but it did not take most of them long to discover that the shakings of Miss Gladys’s head were in every case controlled by a touch of Hazel’s whip. A gentle application of the lash on the right foreleg for yes and the same motion on the left one for no. Hazel had tried to conceal this little motion as best she could, but it was naturally not an easy matter, and when Miss Gladys had been kind enough to answer “Yes” to Mr. Lightfoot’s question, it was only because Hazel’s whip was in Starlight’s hand, and the pony, felt the same familiar sensation upon her left foreleg.
Perhaps you wonder how it was that a little country pony was so unusually accomplished. Well, to tell the truth, Captain Boniface deserved all the credit of it, and Hazel none at all. When Hazel herself was but a week old that pony had been bought for her, and, as soon as she was able to take notice of anything, Gladys used to be trotted out daily for her inspection. And so it happened that while Captain Boniface was waiting for his little daughter to grow large enough to ride her, he used to amuse himself, and Hazel as well, by endeavoring to teach the pony a few knowing tricks. They had required a world of patience, and with none of them had he been so successful as with what he called the “pony shake,” and which just had been exhibited to so much advantage.
“That Miss Hazel’s a cute un,” said one of the soldiers, in the little intermission that followed the exit of the pony.
“Cute’s no name for it,” answered Sergeant Bellows.
“She reminds me of my own little girl at home, whom I haven’t seen in a five-year,” said the other, while a little mistiness betrayed itself in his soldier eyes.
“She may mind ye of her,” answered the Sergeant, not unkindly, “but there isn’t a child anywhere, I’m thinking, that can hold a candle to Miss Hazel.” You see Sergeant Bellows was an old bachelor, and without a relative in the world whom he cared for, and perhaps that accounted in a measure for his adoration of Hazel, though, no doubt, the little daughter of the red-haired soldier, who-was probably red-haired too, was just as charming in the eyes of her father as Hazel in the eyes of the lonely old Sergeant. But further discussion as to comparative merits was brought to an end by the reappearance of Starlight on the stage, accompanied by his dog, Lord Nelson, who, much against his will, had been dragged aboard of the “Gretchen” that morning, and imported from his kennel at Paulus Hook especially for the occasion. Lord Nelson possessed quite a varied set of accomplishments, none of them very remarkable, however, and after Lord Nelson came Flutters! Flutters in velvet and spangles, Flutters of The Great English Circus, and who straightway proceeded to make the eyes of Company F open wide with astonishment at his truly wonderful tumbling and somersaults. There was no slipping of the little knee-cap to-day. It seemed to Flutters quite impossible in the happy life he was leading, that knee-caps or anything else that concerned him should ever get much out of order again.
As may be easily imagined, the audience would not be satisfied till Flutters had favored them with repeated encores, but when the performance was at last concluded, there was a call for the entire troupe, and, in response, out they came, hand-in-hand, Hazel and Kate, Starlight and Flutters; Starlight leading Lord Nelson with the hand that was free, and Flutters Miss Gladys. A low, smiling bow from them all—for even Gladys and Lord Nelson were made to give a compulsory nod—then the line retreated a foot or two, the shawl-curtain dropped into place, and the entertainment was over. At least so thought Company F, but it was mistaken, for no sooner had Hazel and Starlight disappeared behind the curtain, than out they came in front of it, and then down among the soldiers, Starlight carrying a tray full of glasses filled with the most inviting lemonade, and Hazel following with an old-fashioned silver cake-basket heaped high with delicious sponge cake of Josephine’s best manufacture. Then for half-an-hour they had quite a social time of it. Captain and Mrs. Boniface, who had watched the performance from two comfortable chairs at the rear of Company F, were talking with some of the men; Flutters, who, for very good reasons, was still in costume, was the centre of another little group; while Kate, from the safe vantage point of Josephine’s lap, chatted away, to the great entertainment of old Sergeant Bellows. Suddenly the Sergeant seemed to recall something important, for he jumped up, seized his hat, and began passing it from one to another of the men, all of whom had, apparently, come prepared for this feature of the entertainment.
Hazel was greatly relieved when she saw the hat in active circulation. She had felt afraid that the Sergeant had forgotten this part of the programme, and did not fancy the idea of having to remind him of it. Indeed he had come pretty near forgetting it, so absorbed had he been in the charms of little Kate, but as a result of the collection taken up by the Sergeant, Hazel found herself in possession of a contribution sufficiently generous to purchase a fine little outfit for Flutters. And so it came about that Flutters had a “benefit” and Company F an afternoon of what they termed “rare good fun.”