It was a warm summer day. Not too warm, for away up in the Connecticut hills the sun seemed to temper its rays, and down among the shadows of the trees surrounding Great Pond there were cool, shady glades where one could almost fancy it was May instead of hot July.
At a point not far from the water, leaning against the trunk of a stately maple, stood a young man. His head, from which he had raised a somewhat old and weather-beaten hat, was finely formed, and covered with chestnut curls; his clothes, also shabby and worn, were homespun and ill-fitting, but his erect military carriage, with an indescribable air of polish and fine breeding, seemed strangely incongruous in connection with his apparel and travel-worn appearance.
“I wonder where I am,” he said half aloud, as he surveyed the pretty sheet of water sparkling in the afternoon sun. “Faith, ’tis hard enough to be half starved and foot-sore, without being lost in an enemy’s country. The woman who gave me that glass of milk at five o’clock this morning said I was within a mile of Goshen. I must have walked ten miles since then, and am apparently no nearer the line than I was yesterday—Hark! what’s that?”—as a sound of voices struck his ear faintly, coming from some distance on his right. “Some one comes this direction. I had best conceal myself in these friendly bushes until I ascertain whether ’tis friend or foe.”
So saying, he plunged hastily into a thicket of low-lying shrubs close at hand, and, throwing himself flat upon the ground under them, was comparatively secure from observation as long as he remained perfectly still. The next sound he heard was horses’ feet, moving at a walk, and presently there came in view a spirited-looking bay mare and a gray pony, the riders being engaged in merry conversation.
“No, no, Betty,” said the little girl of about nine years, who rode the pony; “it is just here, or a few rods farther on, where we had the Maypole set last year, and I know I can find the herbs which Chloe wants near by on the shore of the pond. Let’s dismount and tie the horses here, and you and I can search for them.”
“It’s well I did not let you come alone,” said the rider of the bay mare, laughing as she spoke. “Truly, Miss Moppet, you are a courageous little maid to wish to venture in these woods. Not that I am afraid,” said Betty Wolcott suddenly, remembering the weight and dignity of her sixteen years as compared with her little sister, “but in these troublous times father says it were well to be careful.”
“Since when have you grown so staid?” said Miss Moppet, shaking her long yellow hair back from her shoulders as she jumped off her pony and led him up to a young ash-tree, whose branches allowed of her securing him by the bridle to one of them, “Of all people in the world, Betty, you to read me a lecture on care-taking,” and with a mischievous laugh the child fled around the tree in pretended dismay, as Betty sprang to the ground and shook her riding-whip playfully in her direction.