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Thankful Blossom Bret Harte

Chapter III

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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.

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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.

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Thankful Blossom
Bret Harte

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