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The Bow of Orange Ribbon Part 38

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For, three weeks after that memorable April Sunday, Congress, in session at Philadelphia, had recognized the men in camp there as a Continental army, the nucleus of the troops that were to be raised for the defence of the country, and had commissioned Colonel Was.h.i.+ngton as commander-in-chief to direct their operations. Then every heart was in a state of the greatest expectation and excitement. No one remembered at that hour that the little army was without organization or discipline, most of its officers incompetent to command, its troops altogether unused to obey, and in the field without enlistment. Their few pieces of cannon were old and of various sizes, and scarce any one understood their service. There was no siege-train and no ordnance stores. There was no military chest, and nothing worthy the name of a _commissariat_.

Yet every one was sure that some bold stroke would be struck, and the war speedily terminated in victory and independence.

So New York was in the buoyant spirits of a young man rejoicing to run a race. The armourers, the saddlers, and the smiths were busy day and night; weapons were in every hand, the look of apprehended triumph on every face. In June the Van Heemskirk troops were ready to leave for Boston--nearly six hundred young men, full of pure purpose and brave thoughts, and with all their illusions and enthusiasms undimmed.

The day before their departure, they escorted Van Heemskirk to his house. Lysbet and Katherine saw them coming, and fell weeping on each other's necks--tears that were both joyful and sorrowful, the expression of mingled love and patriotism and grief. It would have been hard to find a n.o.bler-looking leader than Joris. Age had but added dignity to his fine bulk. His large, fair face was serene and confident. And the bright young lads who followed him looked like his sons, for most of them strongly resembled him in person; and any one might have been sure, even if the roll had not shown it, that they were Van Brunts and Van Ripers and Van Rensselaers, Roosevelts, Westervelts, and Terhunes.

They had a very handsome uniform, and there had been no uncertainty or dispute about it. Blue, with orange tr.i.m.m.i.n.gs, carried the question without one dissenting voice. Blue had been for centuries the colour of opposition to tyranny. The Scotch Covenanters chose it because the Lord ordered the children of Israel to wear a ribbon of blue that they might "look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; and seek not after their own heart and their own eyes, and be holy unto their G.o.d." (Num. xv. 38.) Into their cities of refuge in Holland, the Covenanters carried their sacred colour; and the Dutch Calvinists soon blended the blue of their faith with the orange of their patriotism. Very early in the American struggle, blue became the typical colour of freedom; and when Van Heemskirk's men chose the blue and orange for their uniform, they selected the colours which had already been famous on many a battle-field of freedom.

Katherine and Lysbet had made the flag of the new regiment--an orange flag, with a cl.u.s.ter of twelve blue stars above the word _liberty_. It was Lysbet's hands that gave it to them. They stood in a body around the open door of the Van Heemskirk house; and the pretty old lady kissed it, and handed it with wet eyes to the colour-sergeant. Katherine stood by Lysbet's side. They were both dressed as for a festival, and their faces were full of tender love and lofty enthusiasm. To Joris and his men they represented the womanhood dear to each individual heart. Lysbet's white hair and white cap and pale-tinted face was "the mother's face;" and Katherine, in her brilliant beauty, her smiles and tears, her s.h.i.+ning silks and glancing jewels, was the lovely subst.i.tute for many a precious sister and many a darling lady-love. But few words were said. Lysbet and Katherine could but stand and gaze as heads were bared, and the orange folds flung to the wind, and the inspiring word _liberty_ saluted with bright, upturned faces and a ringing shout of welcome.

Such a lovely day it was--a perfect June day; doors and windows were wide open; a fresh wind blowing, a hundred blended scents from the garden were in the air; and there was a suns.h.i.+ne that warmed everything to the core. If there were tears in the hearts of the women, they put them back with smiles and hopeful words, and praises of the gallant men who were to fight a n.o.ble fight under the banner their fingers had fas.h.i.+oned.

[Ill.u.s.tration: Lysbet's hands gave it to them]

It was to be the last evening at home for Joris and Bram and Hyde, and Everything was done to make it a happy memory. The table was laid with the best silver and china; all the dainties that the three men liked best were prepared for them. The room was gay with flowers and blue and orange ribbons, and bows of the same colours fluttered at Lysbet's breast and on Katherine's shoulder. And as they went up and down the house, they were both singing,--singing to keep love from weeping, and hope and courage from failing; Lysbet's thin, sweet voice seeming like the shadow of Katherine's clear, ringing tones,--

"Oh, for the blue and the orange, Oh, for the orange and the blue!

Orange for men that are free men, Blue for men that are true.

Over the red of the tyrant, b.l.o.o.d.y and cruel in hue, Fling out the banner of orange, With pennant and border of blue.

Orange for men that are free men, Blue for men that are true."

So they were singing when Joris and his sons came home.

There had been some expectation of Joanna and Batavius, but at the last moment an excuse was sent. "The child is sick, writes Batavius; but I think, then, it is Batavius that is afraid, and not the child who is sick," said Joris.

"To this side and to that side and to neither side, he will go; and he will miss all the good, and get all the bad of every side," said Bram contemptuously.

"I think not so, Bram. Batavius can sail with the wind. All but his honour and his manhood he will save."

"That is exactly true," continued Hyde. "He will grow rich upon the spoils of both parties. Upon my word, I expect to hear him say, 'Admire my prudence. While you have been fighting for an idea, I have been making myself some money. It is a principle of mine to attend only to my own affairs.'"

After supper Bram went to bid a friend good-by; and as Joris and Lysbet sat in the quiet parlour, Elder Semple and his wife walked in. The elder was sad and still. He took the hands of Joris in his own, and looked him steadily in the face. "Man Joris," he said, "what's sending you on sic a daft-like errand?"

Joris smiled, and grasped tighter his friend's hand. "So glad am I to see you at the last, Elder. As in you came, I was thinking about you.

Let us part good friends and brothers. If I come not back"--

"Tut, tut! You're sure and certain to come back; and sae I'll save the quarrel I hae wi' you until then. We'll hae mair opportunities; and I'll hae mair arguments against you, wi' every week that pa.s.ses. Joris, you'll no hae a single word to say for yoursel' then. Sae, I'll bide my time. I came to speak anent things, in case o' the warst, to tell you that if any one wants to touch your wife or your bairns, a brick in your house, or a flower in your garden-plat, I'll stand by all that's yours, to the last s.h.i.+lling I hae, and nane shall harm them. Neil and I will baith do all men may do. Scotsmen hae lang memories for either friend or foe. O Joris, man, if you had only had an ounce o' common wisdom!"

"I have a friend, then! I have you, Alexander. Never this hour shall I regret. If all else I lose, I have saved _mijn jongen_."

The old men bent to each other; there were tears in their eyes. Without speaking, they were aware of kindness and faithfulness and grat.i.tude beyond the power of words. They smoked a pipe together, and sometimes changed glances and smiles, as they looked at, or listened to, Lysbet and Janet Semple, who had renewed their long kindness in the sympathy of their patriotic hopes and fears.

Hyde and Katherine were walking in the garden, lingering in the sweet June twilight by the lilac hedge and the river-bank. All Hyde's business was arranged: he was going into the fight without any anxiety beyond such as was natural to the circ.u.mstances. While he was away, his wife and son were to remain with Lysbet. He could desire no better home for them; their lives would be so quiet and orderly that he could almost tell what they would be doing at every hour. And while he was in the din and danger of siege and battle, he felt that it would be restful to think of Katherine in the still, fair rooms and the sweet garden of her first home.

If he never came back, ample provision had been made for his wife and son's welfare; but--and he suddenly turned to Katherine, as if she had been conscious of his thoughts--"The war will not last very long, dear heart; and when liberty is won, and the foundation for a great commonwealth laid, why then we will buy a large estate somewhere upon the banks of this beautiful river. It will be delightful, in the midst of trees and parks, to build a grander Hyde Manor House. Most completely we will furnish it, in all respects; and the gardens you shall make at your own will and discretion. A hundred years after this, your descendants shall wander among the treillages and cut hedges and boxed walks, and say, 'What a sweet taste our dear great-great-grandmother had!'"

And Katharine laughed at his merry talk and forecasting, and praised his uniform, and told him how soldierly and handsome he looked in it. And she touched his sword, and asked, "Is it the old sword, my Richard?"

"The old sword, Kate, my sweet. With it I won my wife. Oh, indeed, yes!

You know it was pity for my sufferings made you marry me that blessed October day, when I could not stand up beside you. It has a fight twice worthy of its keen edge now." He drew it partially from its sheath, and mused a moment. Then he slowly untwisted the ribbon and ta.s.sel of bullion at the hilt, and gave it into her hand. "I have a better hilt-ribbon than that," he said; "and when we go into the house, I will re-trim my sword."

She thought little of the remark at the time, though she carefully put the tarnished ta.s.sel away among her dearest treasures; but it acquired a new meaning in the morning. The troops were to leave very early; and soon after dawn, she heard the clatter of galloping horses and the calls of the men as they reined up at their commander's door. Bram, as his father's lieutenant, was with them. The horses of Joris and Hyde were waiting.

They rose from the breakfast-table and looked at their wives. Lysbet gave a little sob, and laid her head a moment upon her husband's breast.

Katherine lifted her white face and whispered, with kisses, "Beloved one, go. Night and day I will pray for you, and long for you. My love, my dear one!"

There was hurry and tumult, and the stress of leave-taking was lightened by it. Katherine held her husband's hand till they stood at the open door. Then he looked into her face, and down at his sword, with a meaning smile. And her eyes dilated, and a vivid blush spread over her cheeks and throat, and she drew him back a moment, and pa.s.sionately kissed him again; and all her grief was lost in love and triumph. For, wound tightly around his sword-hilt, she saw--though it was brown and faded--her first, fateful love-token,--_The Bow of Orange Ribbon_.

[Ill.u.s.tration: Tail-piece]

POSTSCRIPT.

[QUOTATION FROM A LETTER DATED JULY 5, A.D. 1885.]

"Yesterday I went with my aunt to spend 'the Fourth' at the Hydes. They have the most delightful place,--a great stone house in a wilderness of foliage and beauty, and yet within convenient distance of the railroad and the river-boats. Why don't we build such houses now? You could make a ball-room out of the hall, and hold a grand reception on the staircase. Kate Hyde said the house is more than a hundred years old, and that the fifth generation is living in it. I am sure there are pictures enough of the family to account for three hundred years; but the two handsomest, after all, are those of the builders. They were very great people at the court of Was.h.i.+ngton, I believe. I suppose it is natural for those who have ancestors to brag about them, and to show off the old buckles and fans and court-dresses they have h.o.a.rded up, not to speak of the queer bits of plate and china; and, I must say, the Hydes have a really delightful lot of such bric-a-brac. But the strangest thing is the 'household talisman.' It is not like the luck of Eden Hall: it is neither crystal cup, nor silver vase, nor magic bracelet, nor an old slipper. But they have a tradition that the house will prosper as long as it lasts, and so this precious palladium is carefully kept in a locked box of carved sandal-wood; for it is only a bit of faded satin that was a love-token,--a St. Nicholas _Bow of Orange Ribbon_."

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