NO one had noticed the tête-a-tête which Flutters and Miss Pauline had been holding at a distance, only when Flutters came on the scene Hazel asked what had kept him so long, and he made some evasive reply. He hoped no one would ever know of the encounter. In the first place, because he foolishly felt he had somehow been gotten the best of, and, in the second place, because Miss Pauline had heard what he had fully intended no one of his new friends ever should hear.
As a member of the Van Vleet household, Starlight naturally felt a share in the responsibility of entertaining, and, taking Flutters under his wing, presented him to one and another of the family as “Flutters, the new boy over at the Bonifaces’.”
“No such thing,” said Miss Pauline when in turn Flutters was introduced to her; “he’s not a new Boniface at all; I know better than that, don’t I, dear?”
“Oh, what shall, what shall I say?” groaned Flutters inwardly; but Starlight dragged him away with the explanation that the young lady was not right in her mind, and so there was no necessity of saying anything.
It proved a most inviting table that the Van Vleets had spread for their Royalist friends. Two deep apple pies graced either end of it; a great platter of doughnuts or “oly keoks,” as the Dutch has it, had been placed in the centre, towered above, on one side, by a long-stemmed glass dish of preserved peaches, and, on the other side, by a similar dish of preserved pears. Frau Van Vleet presided over a large Delft teapot ornamented, as Washington Irving describes a similar pot, “with paintings of fat little Dutch shepherds and shepherdesses, tending pigs, with boats sailing in the air and houses built in the clouds, and sundry other ingenious Dutch fantasies.” As the kitchen table was not of the extension variety, and so not capable of accommodating the entire party, places had to be set for Hans, Harry Avery, and two of the Van Vleet sisters at a separate table in one corner.
At the back of Frau Van Vleet’s customary seat at the larger table was the great open fireplace, which was roomy enough to accommodate two people on each of the benches lining either side of it. On a crane, suspended over the crackling logs, hung a huge copper tea-kettle, from which Harry, since he had been staying with the Van Vleets, had taken upon himself the duty of refilling the Delft teapot whenever needed during the progress of a meal, and indeed had completely won the heart of the kind old Frau, as soon as he had come among them, by his eagerness to serve her in every possible way. To-night he was kept busy, for both Van Vleets and Bonifaces were famous tea-drinkers, only they managed the matter differently in those days. The lump of sugar was placed beside the cup, not in it, and people nibbled and sipped alternately. The principal hot dish of the tea-party was broiled ham, and, done to a turn and deliciously savory, was delicate enough to tempt almost any appetite. Then there were two blue china plates heaped with biscuits, every one of which, from very lightness, had risen and risen, till top and bottom were a long way apart; but notwithstanding these generous proportions, the two blue plates had been emptied and replenished more than once before all were satisfied.
Miss Pauline’s seat at the table had been placed at quite a distance from Flutters, but, without daring often to look in her direction, Flutters felt with considerable nervousness that her gaze was riveted almost constantly upon him. Finally, to his astonishment, and at a time when there had been a pause of several seconds, she announced very calmly, “Wainwright’s a nice little boy. I like his looks and he likes mine; don’t you, Wainwright?”
Flutters kept his eyes on his plate, and in his embarrassment swallowed two or three morsels of ham that were far too large in far too rapid succession. “She’ll tell it all, if they only give her time,” he thought savagely, but he did not intend to make any reply.
“She means you, Flutters,” whispered Miss Heide, who sat next to him. “You had better answer her, ‘that you do like her looks.’ We never differ with her. It is just a fancy of hers, this calling you Wainwright; but where could she ever have heard the name?”
“If it only were a fancy,” thought Flutters, while Miss Pauline sat, with her teacup poised in her pretty hand, waiting his reply.
“Yes, I like your looks,” said Flutters in a compulsory sort of way that made every one smile, while the color surged over his brown face.
“That’s right,” she answered complacently, “and I wouldn’t mind at all about your mother being colored, because that’s how you come by your dark skin, and your dark skin is the beauty of you.”
Miss Pauline was growing rather personal, and it certainly did look as though she knew what she was talking about; but fortunately no one attached any weight to what she said, and as she seemed inclined to follow up a line of thought which must at least be annoying to poor little Flutters, the sister who sat nearest her tried quietly to divert her, while another started a new topic of general conversation.
At last the meal was over, and Flutters was glad; nor was he the only one that felt relieved. Captain Boniface had finished his supper sometime before the others, and for the last ten minutes had been nervously taking up his tumbler and setting it down, and shifting his position in his chair, as though unable longer to keep his long legs penned under the narrow table. Mrs. Boniface had noticed it and wondered at it, and felt thankful when Frau Van Vleet pushed back her chair and so gave the signal to the others.
“Oh, dear, what can the matter be?” screeched a great green parrot hanging in its cage by the doorway, and who had apparently been roused from deep reverie by the scraping of the chairs on the sanded floor. Mrs. Boniface gave a start of surprise, for the parrot had given exact expression to her own thoughts. She was watching her husband closely, and knew by experience that something was troubling him, and yet he had been so gay that very afternoon. “I believe it was all assumed,” she thought to herself, and the more she thought, the more assured she felt that she was right. Oh, how she longed to steal over to him and question him; but no, that would not do. Frau Van Vleet had arranged two chairs side by side for a neighborly chat, and there was no way out of it.
Now that the supper was over, the Misses Van Vleet’s domestic duties were over too, the clearing of the table being left to “Rhuna,” an old crone of a negro servant, who had been with them many years. Then, as was their wont, the young ladies resorted each to her particular rush- bottomed chair and the knitting of her own woollen stockings, while Josephine, with little Kate upon her lap, endeavored to make her exhibit some of her pretty accomplishments for their general amusement. Hazel, Starlight, and Flutters had accompanied Hans Van Vleet and his father off to the barn for the milking, while Captain Boniface and Harry, in close conversation, walked off toward the river. Harry had joined the Captain at a signal that he would like to speak to him, but he had not noticed his altered manner, and under the impression that he was in the best of spirits, was altogether unprepared for what lie was about to hear.
“Harry,” began the Captain seriously, “I have received the most distressing news within the last twenty-four hours.”
“You don’t mean it, sir,” with evident surprise; “I thought matters were looking brighter for you every day. I have reason to know that at least two of the signers of that insulting note you received are heartily ashamed of their behavior, and are actually on the look-out to atone for it in some fashion.”
“So I hear, and I am very grateful; but all that good news is offset by other news which has reached me this morning: some Tory friends of ours in South Carolina have just been brutally murdered by the Whigs,” and then the Captain excitedly narrated all the sad details of the tragedy so far as he knew them.
Harry listened attentively. “It is certainly very dreadful,” he said at last sadly; “but,” he added with characteristic honesty, “I have heard of some of the doings of those South Carolina Tories, and many of them, though possibly your friends were not among them, deserved harsh treatment, Captain Boniface.”
“Harry,” said the Captain abruptly, as though too busy with his own thoughts to have heard what was said, “tell me frankly, do you suppose this community will ever again treat me as a decent member of society?”
“Yes, Captain Boniface, I do, and I have something with me this moment that points that way,” and he handed him an unsealed envelope. It was addressed to the Captain, and he found it to contain a card of invitation, which read as follows: “The Executive Committee of the Assembly respectfully informs the ladies and gentlemen of New York that a dance will be given on Monday next at the City Assembly Rooms, to begin precisely at five o’clock. Price of tickets, six shillings.”
“So they ask us to the Assembly, do they?” said the Captain, glancing over it with evident surprise. “They have contrived to leave us very little heart for dancing,” he added sadly.
“But you will go,” urged Harry; “that invitation means even more than you suspect. It means, I think, that there is an organized effort on foot to fully reinstate you, and some other Tories as well, whom they have treated so uncivilly.”
“So you think it implies all that?” said the Captain, smiling incredulously at his enthusiasm.
“Yes, I’m sure it does, and you will go and take Mrs. Boniface and Miss Josephine; promise me, Captain.”
The Captain did not reply at once, and Harry had time to realize that in his earnestness he was rather overstepping bounds.
“Of course I do not mean to ask you to promise me,” he stammered, coloring up to the roots of his hair, “but you know what I mean. I am so anxious you should meet them half way.”
“And you think we really ought to go? Why, a Dancing Assembly is the last thing in the world we care to have a hand in. But Mrs. Boniface will not stir a step when she hears about this wholesale murder of the Bentons, so that settles it.”
“And you feel that you must tell her?”
“No, of course there is no must about it. I will think it over,” and then the Captain and Harry entered into a thorough discussion of the events that had led up to the sad consummation in South Carolina, and Harry had some facts at his command by which he succeeded in partially convincing the Captain that, in many cases, the Tories had been treated very much as they deserved.
“Well, Harry, you may be right, you may be right,” sighed the Captain, “but that does not make the sacrifice of my old friends any easier to bear.”
“Not a whit, sir, I can understand that,” and then they started toward the house, for they could see that Mrs. Boniface and Frau Van Vleet were taking formal leave of each other.
Twilight was settling down upon the river, and in those days, when it was the custom for fashionable dancing parties to begin at five o’clock, it was surely fitting that the same hour should conclude an unfashionable Dutch tea-party. Indeed, by the time darkness had fairly mastered the twilight, all the Van Vleets were snugly in bed, and only one light could be seen in the whole farm-house; that was in the window of Aunt Frances’s gable room. There she sat reading, by the light of a plump little Dutch candle, certain familiar passages from some dearly loved books. She knew most of them by heart, and yet to much pondering of the noble, uplifting thoughts of these comforting little books was due much of that cheerful courage which was such a help to everybody.
Meanwhile the “Grayling” sailed “up river” and “cross river,” and reached her dock. She had one more name on her list of cabin passengers, however, than when she had sailed that morning, for how could Aunt Frances say “No” when Hazel had come to her and begged that she would please be so very good as to let them have Starlight for over Sunday?