"I heard you complaining to Baron de Riedesel yesterday of not being able to get a nurse. Will you not give me the place, and let my pay be for us all to live in your garret? We will make as little trouble—"
"Ach! Why deet I not it think before?" cried the baroness, boxing her own ear. "Cochon! Brute! You come, ma pauvre! Mais not as bonne, non, non."
"Indeed, Frederica, 't is the only way that we can. We could not live upon you without in some way making a return, and the paper money with which we furnished ourselves has gone on falling till now 't is worth but a threepence in the pound, so that we could not hope to pay for—"
"Bah! Who asks? You come as our guests; when you had ze plenty of milk and eggs you shared it weez us, and so now we share our plenty weez you. You, a proud girl, to be a nurse, indeet!"
"'T is that pride which asks it, my dear. Ah, if you only would let me! Mommy suffers so with the cold, and has such a frightful cough, that every day I fear to see it become a pneumonia, and—"
"Stop! I was ze wrong. Come as you please, a l'instant. Ah, ze leettle ones, zay will go craze for joy; ze baron he will geef no more eyes to ze wife who is losing her shape, and all ze officairs, zay will say, 'Gott! How I lofe children!' Mais, I will not angree be, but kiss you so, and so, and so. And to all will I say, 'Voila, deet efer woman haf such a frent for herself and such a second mutter for her children?'"
LVI A LIFE OF CAPTIVITY
The removal to Colle was made the same day, and Janice assumed her new charge. It was, as it proved, not a very onerous one, for the children were well mannered for their years, and, young as they were, in the German method they were kept pretty steadily at tasks, while an old servant of the general, a German Yager, was only too delighted at any time to assume care of them. Janice herself slept in the nursery, and at first Mr. and Mrs. Meredith were given, as suggested, accommodation in the garret. But the baron, not content with the space at his command, as soon as the weather permitted, had built a large dining-room and salon, separate from the house, and this supplied so much more space that the parents were given a good room on a lower floor.
The new arrangement not merely brought them comfort, but also pleasure. Mr. and Mrs. Meredith were treated as guests; and Madame de Riedesel made Janice quite as much her own companion as an attendant on the children. With her, once her nervousness was conquered, Janice talked French entirely; and more for amusement than for improvement, she began the study of German, with her friend as instructor; and, having as well the aid of every Brunswick officer, who only too gladly frequented the house, she was soon able to both read and speak it, to the delight of the baron, who preferred his native tongue; though his wife, German-born as she was, could not understand how any one who could talk French would for a moment willingly use any other tongue. Furthermore, they taught each other the various stitches in embroidery and crocheting each knew; and the German, who was an excellent housewife, not merely made Janice her assistant in the household cares, but, after expressing horror that the girl knew nothing of accounts, spent many hours inducting her into the mysteries by which she knew to a farthing how her money was expended.
Although these were all pastimes rather than labours to Janice, there were lighter hours in which she made a fourth at whist, learned chess from the general, and played on the harpsichord or sang to him. Once a week there was a musicale, at which all who could play on any instrument contributed a share, and dances and dinners were frequently given by the Riedesels and by General Phillips, the major-general in command of the British part of the Convention prisoners. Horses in plenty were in the stable, and the two ladies, well escorted by officers, took almost daily rides, the baroness making herself a figure of remark to the natives by riding astride her horse in a short skirt and long boots.
With the advent of summer, their pleasures became more pastoral. So soon as the weather permitted, the gentry of the neighbourhood came to call upon their foes, and this led to much dining about. Then, too, there were out-of-door fetes and picnics, oftentimes at long distances from the cantonment; so that ere many weeks the Riedesels and the Merediths had come to know both the people and the region intimately.
A sudden end came to these amusements by an untoward event. Janice and General de Riedesel had made the flower-garden at Colle their particular charge, working there, despite the heat, for hours each day, till early in August, when one day the baron was found lying in a pathway unconscious, his face blue, his hands white, and his eyes staring. He was hurriedly carried into the house, and when the army surgeon arrived, it was found to be a case of sunstroke. Though he was bled copiously, the sufferer improved but slowly, and before he was convalescent developed the "river" or "breakbone fever." Finally he was ordered over the mountains to the Warm Springs, to see whether their waters might not benefit him; and, leaving Mr. and Mrs. Meredith in charge, the baroness and Janice went with him, half as companions and half as nurses.
Upon their arrival there, they found the Springs so crowded that all the log cabins, which, by custom, fell to the first comers, were already occupied. Declining an offer from one of these to share lodgings, they set to work in a proper spot to make themselves comfortable; for, having foreseen this very possibility, they had come amply supplied with tents. Before they had well begun on their encampment, two negroes in white and red livery appeared, and the spokesman, executing a bow that would have done honour to a lord chamberlain, handed Madame de Riedesel a letter which read as follows:—
"Mrs. Washington preasent's her most respectful complements to the Barones de Reedaysell, and her sattisfacshon at being informed of her arival at the Springs. She beggs that if the barers of this can be of aney a sistance to the Barones in setling, that she will yuse them as long as they may be of sarvis to her.
"Mrs. Washington likewise bespeeks the honer of the Baroneses party to dinner today and beggs that if it will be aney conveenence to her, that she will sup as well."
Both offers Madame de Riedesel was only too glad to accept; and at the dinner hour, guided by the darkies, they made their way to Lady Washington's lodgings, to find a plump, smiling, little lady, who received them with much dignity, properly qualified with affability. The meal was spread underneath the trees, and they were quickly seated about the table and chatting genially over it.
Once the newness was taken off the acquaintance, the baroness made an appeal to the hostess for a favour. "Ah, Laty Washington," she begged, "ze surgeons, zay declare my goot husband he cannot recovair ze fevair in ze so hot climate, and zat ze one goot for him will be zat he to New York restores himself. I haf written ze prediction to Sir Henry Clinton, applicating zat he secure ze exchange of ze baron immediatement, mais, will you not also write to ze General Washington and ask him, also, zees zing to accomplish?"
"I would in a moment, gladly, baroness," replied Mrs. Washington, "but I assure you that the general would highly disapprove of my interfering in a public matter. Do not hesitate, however, to write yourself, for I can assure you he will do everything in his power to spare you anxiety or discomfort."
"Zen you zink he will my prayer grant?"
"I am sure he will, if it is possible, for, aside from his generous treatment of every one, let me whisper to you that 't is not a quality in his composition to say 'No' to a pretty woman."
"Oh, no, Frederika," broke in Janice; "you need not have the slightest fear of his Excellency. He is everything that is kind and great and generous!"
"What!" exclaimed Mrs. Washington. "You know the general, then?"
"Oh, yes," cried Janice, rapturously; "and if you but knew, Lady Washington, how we stand indebted to him at this very moment!"
The hostess smiled in response to the girl's enthusiasm. "'T is certain he refused you nothing, Miss Meredith," she said.
"Indeed, but he did," answered Janice, merrily. "Wouldst believe it, Lady Washington, though perhaps 't is monstrous bold of me to tell it, 't is he that has had to keep me at a distance, for I have courted him most outrageously!"
"'T is fortunate," replied the matron, "that he is a loyal husband, and that I am not a jealous wife, for 't is a way all women have with him. What think you a Virginian female, who happened to be passing through camp, had the forwardness to say to me but t' other day? 'When General Washington,' she writ, 'throws off the hero and takes up the chatty, agreeable companion, he can be downright impudent sometimes, Martha,—such impudence as you and I, and every woman, always like.'"
"Ah," asserted Madame de Riedesel, "ze goot men, zay all lofe us dearly. Eh, Janice?"
"What!" demanded the hostess. "Is your name Janice? Surely this is not my nice boy Jack's Miss Meredith?"
The girl reddened and then paled. "I beg, Lady Washington—" she began; but the baroness, who had noted her change of colour, cut her off.
"You haf a lofer," she cried, "and nevair one word to me told? Ach, ingrate! And your lofe I zought it was mine.
"Miss Meredith is very different, then, from a certain gentleman," remarked Mrs. Washington, laughingly. "I first gained his confidence when he lay wounded at headquarters winter before last; but once his secret was unbosomed, I could not so much as stop to ask how he did but he must begin and talk of nothing but her till he became so excited and feverish that I had to check or leave him for his own good."
"Indeed, Lady Washington," protested the girl, her lip trembling in her endeavour to keep back the tears, "once Colonel Brereton may have thought he cared for me, but, I assure you, 't was but a half-hearted regard, which long since died."
"'T is thy cruelty killed it, then," asserted Mrs. Washington, "for, unless my eyes and ears deceived me, never was there more eager lover than—"
"'T is not so; on the contrary, he won my heart and then broke it with his cruelty," denied the girl, the tears coming in spite of herself. "I pray you forgive my silly tears, and do not speak more of this matter," she ended.
"I cannot believe it of him," responded Lady Washington. "But 't was far from my thought to distress you, and it shall never be spoke of more."
The subject was instantly dropped; and though Janice saw much of Lady Washington during their three weeks' stay at the Springs, and a mutual liking sprang up between the two, never again was it broached save at the moment that they set out on their return to Colic, when her new friend, along with her farewell kiss, said, "I, too, shall soon leave the Springs, my dear, and journey ere long to join the general at headquarters for the winter. Have you any message for him?"
"Indeed, but I have," eagerly cried Janice. "Wilt take him my deepest thanks?"
"And no more?"
"If your ladyship were willing," said Janice, archly, "I would ask you to take him my love and a kiss."
"He shall have them, though I doubt not he would prefer such gifts without a proxy," promised Mrs. Washington, smiling. Then she whispered, "And can I not carry the same to some one else?"
"Never!" replied the girl, grave on the instant. "Once I cared for him, but such feeling as I had has long since died, and nothing can ever restore it."
Keenly desirous as the Merediths were for the well-being of the Riedesels, it was impossible for them not to feel a pang of regret when, one morning, the baroness broke the news to them that Washington had yielded to her prayer, that her husband and General Phillips had at last been exchanged, and that they were to set out within the week for New York. Yet, even in the departure, their benefactors continued their kindness; for, having rented Colle for two years, they placed the house at their disposal for the balance of the lease; and when, after tearful good-byes had been made and they were well started on their northern journey, Janice went to her room, she found a purse containing twenty guineas in gold as a parting gift from the general, a breastpin of price from the baroness, and a ring from Gustava, with a note attached to it in the English print which Janice had taught her, declaring her undying affection and her intention to ask God to change her to a boy that when she grew up she might return and wed her.
The months that drifted by after this departure were lean ones of incident. Succeeding as they did to the ample garden, poultry, pigs, and two cows which the baron had donated to them, they were quite at ease as to food. The junior officers who still remained in charge of the troops saw to it that they did not want for military servants, thus relieving them of all severe labour; and while they deeply felt the loss of the Riedesels, there was no lack of company.
The void the departure of the baroness and children made in Janice's life was partly filled by an acquaintance already made which now grew into a friendship. Soon after their settlement at Colle, Mrs. Jefferson, wife of the Governor, who lived but a few miles away at Monticello, had come to call on them, a visit which she was unable to repeat, owing to her breaking health, but this very invalidism, as it turned, tended to foster the intimacy. Her husband being compelled by public events to be at the capital, she was much alone, and often sent over an invitation to Janice to come and spend a few days with her. As a liking for the girl ripened, it induced an attempt to serve them.
"I have spoke to Thomas of your hard lot," she told Janice, "and repeated to him enough of the tale you told me to convince him that your father was not the active Tory he is reputed to be, and have at last persuaded him to write to Governor Livingston bespeaking a permission for you to return to your own home, if your father will but give his parole to take no part in public affairs."
"Oh, Mrs. Jefferson, how can we ever thank you?"
"I do not deserve it, believe me, Janice, for I long postponed what I knew I ought to do, through regret at the thought of losing your visits."
"That but deepens our thanks. If you—"
"I'll not listen to them now," replied the friend, "for who can say that they will come to aught? 'T will be time enough when it has really accomplished something."
Distant as they were from the active operations of the war, the inmates of Colle were kept pretty well informed of its progress, for it was a constant theme of conversation, and the movements were closely followed on the military maps of the officers who frequented the house. From them Janice heard how Clinton, despairing of conquering the Northern colonies by force of arms, had resorted to bribery, but only to win the services of an officer he did not wish, and not the desired post of West Point; and with tears in her eyes she listened to the news that Andre, setting ambition above honour, had paid for the lapse with his life. Then, as the tide of war shifted, it was explained to her why the British general, keeping tight hold on New York as a base for operations, transferred a material part of his forces to the South, where, in succession, he captured Savannah and Charleston, and almost without resistance overran the States of Georgia and the two Carolinas.
"You see, Miss Meredith," she was told, "the yeomanry of the Northern States are so well armed that we have found it impossible to hold the country against their militia; but in the Southern States, aside from the difference between the energetic Northerners and the more indolent Sonthrons, the long distances between the plantations, and the fact that the gentry don't dare to trust their slaves with weapons, make them practically defenceless. The plan now seems to be, therefore, to wear the Northern colonies out by our fleet and by occasional descents upon the towns of the coast, while we meantime conquer the Southern States. Had it been adopted from the first, the strength would have been sapped out of the rebellion and it would have been ended two years ago; but the new strategy cannot fail, even at this late date, to bring them to their knees in time."
An evidence of the truth of this surmise, and an abrupt ending to the peaceful life at Saratoga, came to the little settlement in the first week of the year 1781, when a post rider spurred into Charlottesville with a despatch to the County Lieutenant of Albemarle announcing that a British fleet had entered the Capes of the Chesapeake and seized the town of Portsmouth, and summoning the militia to embody, for Virginia was threatened with the fate which had already befallen her sister States to the southward.
LVII A PAPER MONEY AND MILITIA WAR
The alarm of the British invasion was sufficient to throw the whole of Virginia into a panic, but especially the neighbourhood about Charlottesville, for it was inferred that one purpose of their coming was to attempt to liberate the Convention prisoners. The cantonment, therefore, was hastily broken up, and all the troops were marched over the mountains to Winchester, or northward into Pennsylvania, scarcely time for them to pack their few possessions being accorded to them. From this deportation the Merediths were excepted, for as political prisoners, no mention of them was made in the orders issued by Washington and the Virginia Council; and so Colonel Bland left them unmolested, the sole residents of the once overcrowded village of huts. The removal of the prisoners proved a needless precaution, for, after remaining but a few days, the British fleet retired, having effected little save to frighten badly the people, but the apprehension subsided as quickly as it had come.
The hope of quiet was a false one, for in a few months a second expedition, under the command of Arnold, sailed up the James River and captured and burned Richmond. To face this new enemy, to which the militia of the State were deemed inadequate, Washington detached a brigade under the command of Lafayette from the Northern army, supposing the movement, like the previous one, a mere predatory expedition, which could be held in check by this number of troops; and upon news that General Phillips, with reinforcements, had joined Arnold, he further despatched a second brigade under Wayne.
Meantime, the force under Cornwallis, after overrunning North Carolina, now suddenly swung northward and effected a juncture with the British force in Virginia, raising it to such strength that Lafayette dared not risk a battle, and was left no option, as the British advanced inland, but to fall back rapidly toward the mountains.
These latter events succeeded one another with such rapidity that the people of Charlottesville first heard of some of them by the arrival of Governor Jefferson and the members of the Assembly, to which place they had voted an adjournment just previous to their being forced to abandon the capital. Sessions had scarcely been begun, however, when word was brought that the enemy was within a few miles of the town, and once again they took to their heels and fled over the mountains into the Shenandoah valley, escaping none too soon, as it proved, for Tarleton's cavalry rode into the streets of Charlottesville so close upon what was left of the government of Virginia that some of the members were captured.
The Merediths, two miles away at Saratoga, first heard the news of these latter events from a captain of militia, who, accompanied by six sullen-looking companions, rode up early on the morning of the raid and sharply ordered the three to mount the led horses he brought with him.
"I'm ridin'," he explained, "to collect the horses and alarm the hundreds towards Boswell's, and the county lieutenant ordered me to take you away from here. No, I can 't wait to have you pack."
"'T is surely not necessary that we should be treated so," pleaded Mr. Meredith. "My wife has not the strength to bear along—"
"Can 't help that. Like as not the British horse ha'n't had word that the Convention troops have been sent away, and will ride this far, and we reckon we can't have you givin' them no information," answered the man. "I don 't want no talk. Into the saddle with you."
Protests and prayers were absolutely unavailing, and the whole party hurriedly set off at the best pace the horses were able to go. As they journeyed, a halt was made at each cabin and each plantation, and every white man found was summarily ordered by the captain to get his gun and join the party; while at each place all the horses were impressed, not merely to carry those unprovided with one, but to prevent their falling into the hands of the foe. Nor did the captain pay more heed to the expostulations and grumblings of the men, at being called away from their crops at the busiest farming season, nor of the women, at being deprived of their protectors in times of such danger, than he had to the weaker ones of the Merediths.
"The invasion law just passed by the'sembly calls out every man as can fight, and declares every one as won't a traitor, so you can take your choice of shootin' at the British or bein' shot by us," was the captain's unvarying formula, be the complaints what they might.
As if to make the ill feeling the greater, too, he told the whole party at one point of the route, "If you-alls had been patriots and 'listed four weeks ago, you 'd every one of you've got a bounty of five hundred dollars of the money my saddle-bags is filled with; but you had n't spunk, so it serves you-ails good and handsome that now you've got to fight for 'nary a shillin'."
"We would n't have been a tinker's damn the richer if we had," snarled one of the unwilling conscripts. "I'd rather have a pound of hay than the same weight in cursed state money, for you can feed the hay to a hoss, but I'm consarned if t' other 's good for anythin'."
"Say, cap," asked a second, "has you ralely got them saddle-bags o' yourn filled with the stuff?"
"Ay. The presses were at Charlottesville busy strikin' it, and I was told to help save what was already printed from capture."
"Lord! the British would n't have seized that, with all the cord wood there is in Charlottesville, to say nothin' of grind-stones and ploughs and chimbleys built of brick and other things of value," asserted the original speaker.
"Might come handy along of all the terbacker they've took down to Petersburg. Do to light a pipe with, I reckon," suggested another.
"Say, cap," again spoke up the second speaker, "the raison as why I asked that there question is that we'll be gettin' to Hunker's ordinary at the four corners right smart off now, and I was calculatin' if you had enough of the rags with you to set us up a drink all round? 'T won't cost more 'n ten thousand dollars if Hunkers ain't in an avaricious mood."
The officer had been absolutely inattentive to the complaints and growls, but the quizzing made him lose his temper. "You-alls shut your jaws, the lot of you, or when we reach the roundyvous this evenin' I'll report you to the kurnel and you'll get the guard-house or worse," he threatened. "I'm danged if I don't believe every one of you-alls is a Tory at heart."
"A little more o' this'll make me one," muttered a man who hitherto had been silent, but he spoke so low as to be heard by his fellow unfortunates only, and not by the captain.
"Don 't talk to me of the tyranny of Britain after this!" responded his immediate neighbour.
The militia officer would have done better to let the dissatisfaction find its vent in jokes; for, deprived of this outlet, the malcontents took to whispering among themselves in a manner that boded ill for something or somebody. But he was too busy securing each new recruit and each horse to give attention to the signs that might have warned him.
A rude awakening came to the captain when the motley cavalcade drew up at the ordinary at the cross-roads, for as he was in the act of dismounting, two of the party, who had been more expeditious in their movements, caught him by the leg as he swung it clear of the saddle, and brought him violently to the ground. He was held in that position while his hands and feet were tied with his own bridle, as many of the men as could get about him assisting in the operation, while the remainder, the Merediths excepted, kept up a chorus of approving remarks, or of gibing and mocking comments on the officer's half-smothered menaces and oaths. Once secured, he was dragged to the guide-post, and with his stirrup straps was fastened to it securely. This done, his saddle-bags were pulled off his horse and the paper money was emptied out and heaped about his feet. Meantime, and as an evidence of how carefully every detail of their revenge had been planned, one of the ring-leaders had disappeared into the tavern, and now returned with a lighted brand.
"You can threat and cuss all you hanker," he chuckled. "If we ain't to have no bounty, we'll give you some of ourn," he added malignantly, as he stooped and set fire to the pile of bills.
"Oh, don't!" screamed Janice. "Dadda, stop them!
"For shame!" echoed Mr. Meredith, swinging out of his saddle, in which hitherto he had remained a passive spectator.
"Hands off," warned the torch-bearer, "if you don't want to be tied alongside of him."
There was nothing to do, and the ladies were only able to turn their backs on the sight; but they could not thus escape the howls of terror and pain that the miserable victim uttered, though the squire sought to save them from this by taking hold of the two bridles and leading their horses away.
This movement served to attract their attention to something hitherto not observed, and which the absorption of the militia in their revenge still prevented them from noting. On the road by which they had come arose a thick cloud of dust, out of which horsemen seemed to be riding, but, though they came on at a hand gallop, the screen, swept onward by the breeze, kept pace with the riders, and even at times hid now one, now all, from view, causing the squire, who first caught sight of the phenomenon, to rub his eyes, that he might have assurance that it was not a phantasm of his brain. Of this another sense furnished quick evidence, for even above the jeers of the torturers and the shrieks of the tortured sounded the clatter of hoofs. At the first warning, cries of alarm escaped from many mouths, and with the fright of guilt, there was a wild stampede for the horses; before the half of them were in the saddle, the thunder of a column of horse was close upon them, and as, mounted and unmounted, they scattered, there came a rush of red-coated troopers in amongst them. Loud above the tumult and uproar came the sharp order,—
"Capture what men you can, but don't let a horse escape!"
Mr. Meredith, the moment the militia had deserted the fire, rushed forward, and with three kicks scattered the flaming currency from about the man's legs,—a proceeding which attracted the attention of the officer who gave the order.
"What is the meaning of this?" he demanded, but all the reply he received was a startled exclamation which burst from the squire.
"What!" he ejaculated. "Why, this passes very belief! Pox me, if 't is not Phil Hennion."
LVIII FROM BLUE RIDGE TO TIDE WATER
For a few moments the mingled exclamations, greetings, and questions were too broken and mixed to tell any of them much, but the first surprise over, the Merediths explained their presence.
"I knew from the baroness that you were at Colle, and bitter was the disappointment when I found you gone this morning. But my grief then makes me but the happier now."
"But how came ye here, lad?" questioned the squire.
"We were sent on a raid to Charlottesville, with orders to rejoin the main army at Point of Fork, and I was detached by Colonel Tarleton this morning to take this route, hoping to get more information concerning Lafayette's whereabouts and movements."
"I heard this fellow," said Mr. Meredith, indicating the still captive and moaning man, "who is a captain of militia, tell the men he was draughting that they were to march, as soon as embodied, to join the rebel army at Raccoon Ford."
"Hah! the junction with Wayne's force emboldens him to show us something more than his back at last. 'T is all I wish to learn, and we can now take the shortest road to rejoin Lord Cornwallis. Strap me! but 't was a heaven-sent chance that we should come just in the nick o' time to rescue you. There shall be no more captivity, that I can promise you." He turned to the now reassembled squadron, and ordered, "Parole your prisoners, Captain Cameron, and let them go. You, Lieutenant Beatty, bring up the best extra mount you have, and arrange as comfortable a place as possible for the ladies in one of the baggage-waggons."
"A suggestion, major," spoke up another officer. "Sergeant McDonald reports that there is a chaise in the tavern barn, and—"
"Put horse to it, and have it out before you set fire to the buildings," interrupted Hennion.
"What!" ejaculated Mr. Meredith. "Art thou a major, Phil?"
"Ay, squire. I've fought my way up two grades since last we met."
There was a greater change in the officer than of rank, for his once long and ungainly frame had broadened and filled out into that of a well-formed, powerful man. His face, too, had lost its lankness, to its great improvement, for the features were strong, and, with the deep tan which the Southern campaigns had given it, had become, from being one of positive homeliness, one of decided distinction. But the most marked alteration was in his speech and bearing, for all trace of the awkward had disappeared from both; he spoke with facility and authority, and he sat his horse with soldierly erectness and ease.
The ladies were soon bestowed in the chaise, the bugle sounded, and the flying column resumed its movement. Little they saw of the commander all day, for he rode now with the foremost troop, and now with the rear one, keenly alert to all that was taking place, asking questions at each farmhouse as to roads, bridges, rivers, distances, the people, and everything which could be of value. Only when the heat of the day came, and they halted for a few hours' rest at a plantation, did he come to them, and then only for a brief word as to their accommodation. He offered Mrs. Meredith and Janice the best the house afforded, but, with keen recollections of their own sufferings, they refused to dispossess the women occupants from their home, and would accept in food and lodgings only what they had to spare. Indeed, though as far as possible it had been kept from their sight, the march had brought a realising sense to them, almost for the first time, of the full horror of the war, and made them appreciate that their own experience, however bad they had deemed it, was but that of hundreds. The day had been one long scene of rapine and destruction. At each plantation they had seen all serviceable horses seized, and the rest of the stock, young or old, slaughtered, all provisions of use to the army made prize of, and the remainder, with the buildings that held it, put to the torch, and the young crops of wheat, corn, and tobacco, so far as time allowed, destroyed. Under cover of all this, too, there was looting by the dragoons, which the officers could not prevent, try their best.
There was a still worse terror, of which, fortunately, the Merediths saw nothing. Large numbers of the negroes took advantage of the incursion, and indeed were encouraged by the cavalry, to escape from slavery by following in the rear of the column; and as the white men were either with the Virginia militia, or were in hiding away from the houses, the women were powerless to prevent the blacks from plundering, or from any other excess it pleased them to commit. The Old Dominion, the last State of the thirteen to be swept over by the foe, was harried as the Jerseys had been, but by troops made less merciful by many a fierce conflict, and by its own servitors, debased by slavery to but one degree above the brute. Only with death did the people forget the enormities of those few months, when Cornwallis's army cut a double swath from tide water almost to the mountains, and Tarleton's and Simcoe's cavalry rode whither they pleased; and the hatred of the British and the fear of their own slaves outlasted even the passing away of the generation which had suffered.
It was on the afternoon of the following day that the detachment effected a juncture with the main army, and so soon as Major Hennion had reported, Lord Cornwallis, who was quartered at Elk Hill, an estate of Jefferson's, sent word that he wished to see Mr. Meredith at once, and extended an invitation to them all to share the house. He questioned the squire for nearly an hour as to the whereabouts of the Convention prisoners, the condition of the State, and the feeling of the people.
"All you tell me tallies with such information as I have procured elsewhere," he ended; "and had I but a free hand I make certain I could destroy Lafayette and completely subjugate the State in one campaign."
"Surely, my Lord, you could not better serve the king. Virginia has been the great hot-bed of sedition, and if she were once smothered, the fire would quickly die out."
"Almost the very words I writ to Sir Henry, but he declares it out of the question to leave me the troops with which to effect it. As you no doubt are aware, a French force has been landed at Rhode Island, and is even now on its march to join Mr. Washington; and, by a fortunate interception of some of his despatches to Congress, we have full information that the united force intend an attack on New York. So I am ordered to fall down to a good defensive post on the Chesapeake and to send a material part of my army to his aid."
When finally the interview was ended, and Mr. Meredith asked one of the aides to take him to his room, it was explained that Mrs. Meredith and her daughter had been put in one and that he was to have a share of another.
"You 'd have had the floor or a tent, sir," his guide told him, as he threw open the door, "but for Lord Clowes saying he'd take you in."
Surely enough, it was the commissary who warmly grasped the squire's hand as he entered, and who cried, "Welcome to ye, friend Meredith! I heard of your strange arrival from nowhere, and glad I was to be assured ye were still in the flesh and once more among friends."
"Ye've clear surprised my breath out of my windpipe," returned the squire. "Who 'd have thought to find ye here?"
"And where else should I be, but where there 's an army to be fed, and crops to feed them? I' faith, never was there a richer harvest field for one who knows how to garner it. Why, man, aside from the captures of tobacco, now worth a great price, and other gains, over six thousand pounds I've made in the last two years, by shipping niggers, who think they are escaping to freedom, to our West India islands, and selling them to the planters there. This war is a perfect gold mine.
"Little of that it 's been to me," lamented his listener.
"Ye can make it such, an' it please ye. She perceived me not, but I saw your daughter as ye rode up, and though I thought myself well cured of the infatuation, poof! one gloat was enough to set my blood afire, as if I were but a boy of eighteen again. Lord Clowes, with a cool ninety thousand, is ready to make her fortune and yours."
"Nay, Clowes, ye know I've passed my word to Hennion, and—"
"Who'll not outlive the war, ye may make sure. The fellow 's made himself known through the army by the way he puts himself forward in every engagement. Some one of these devilish straight-shooting riflemen will release that promise for ye."
"I trust not; but if it so falls, there 'd still be a bar to your wish. The girl dislikes ye very—"
"Dost not know that is no bad beginning? Nay, man, see if I bring her not round, once I have a clear field. I've thought it out even now while I've waited for ye. We'll sail for New York on one of the ships that carries Lord Cornwallis's reinforcements to Clinton, and as 't will be some years still ere the country is entirely subdued, out of the question 't will be that ye go to Greenwood. I will resign my post, being now rich enough, and we'll all go to London, where I'll take a big house, and ye shall be my guests. Once let the girl taste of high life, with its frocks and jewels and carriages, and all that tempts the sex, and she'll quickly see their provider in a new light."
"'T is little ye know of my lass, Clowes."
"Tush! I know women to the very bottom; and is she more than a woman?"
Their conference was ended by the call to supper, and in the hallway the baron attempted as hearty a greeting with the ladies as he had with the squire. Though taken by surprise, a distant curtsey was all he gained from them, and do his best, he could get little of their conversation during the meal.
On rising, Philemon, who had been a guest at table, drew the squire to one side. "The legion is ordered on a foray to destroy the military stores at Albemarle Court-house, and in this hot weather we try to do our riding at night, to spare our cattle, so we shall start away about eleven o'clock. His Lordship tells me that the army will begin to fall down to the coast in a day or two, so it may be a some time before I see you again. Have you money?"
"A bare trifle, but I'll not further rob ye, lad, till I get to the end of my purse.
"Do not fear to take from me, sir. A major's pay is very different from a cornet's. 'T will make me feel easier, and, in fact, 't will be safer with you than with me," Phil said, as he forced a rouleau of coin into the squire's palm. Then, not waiting for Mr. Meredith's protests or thanks, he crossed to where Janice was talking with three of the staff and broke in upon their conversation: "Janice, a soldier goes or stays not as he pleases, but as the bugle orders, and there is more work cut out for us, but this evening I am free. Wilt come and stroll along the river-bank for an hour?"
"Dash your impudence, Hennion!" protested one of the group. "Do you think you fellows of the cavalry can plunder everything? Pay no heed to him, Miss Meredith, I beg of you."
"Ay," echoed another, 't is the artillery the major should belong to, for he'd do to repair the brass cannon."
The girl stood irresolute for a breath, then, though she coloured, she said steadily, "Certainly, if you wish it, Philemon."
While they were passing the rows of camp-fires and tents, the major was silent, but once these were behind them he said:—
"'T would be idle, Janice, to make any pretence of why I wished to see you apart. You must know it as well as I."
"I suppose I do, Philemon," assented the girl, quietly.
"A long time we've been parted, but not once has my love for you lessened, and—and in Philadelphia you held out a little hope that I've lived on ever since. You said that the squire held to his promise, and that—did you—do you still think as you—"
"Have you spoken to dadda?"
"No. For—for I was afraid he'd force you against your will. Once I was eager to take you even so, but I hope you won't judge me for that. I was an unthinking boy then."
"We all make mistakes, Philemon, and would that I could outlive mine as well as you have yours," Janice answered gently.
"If dadda still—Before I answer—I—something must be told that I wish—oh, how I wish, for your sake and for mine!—had never been. I gave—I tried to be truthful to you, Philemon, but, unknown to myself, some love I gave to —to one I need not name, and though I—though he quickly killed it, 't is but fair that you should know that the little heart—for I—I fear me I am cold by nature—I had to give was wasted on another. But if, after this confession, you still would have me for a wife, and dadda and mommy wish it, I will wed you, and try my best to be dutiful and loving."
"'T is all I ask," eagerly exclaimed Philemon, as he caught her hand, and drew her toward him. "Ah, Janice, if you but knew how I love—"
"Ho! there ye are," came the voice of the commissary not five paces away. "I saw ye go toward the river, and followed."
"My Lord, Miss Meredith and I are engaged in a private conversation, and cannot but take your intrusion amiss."
"Fudge, man, is not the night hot enough but ye must blaze up so? Nor is the river-bank your monopoly."
"Keep it all, then, and a good riddance to the society you enjoy it with. Come, Janice, we'll back to the house."
At the doorway Philemon held out his hand. "We ride away while you will be sleeping, but 't is a joyous heart you let me carry."
"I am glad if I—if you are happy," responded the girl, as she let him press her fingers. Then, regardless of the sentry, she laid her free hand on Phil's arm impulsively and imploringly, as she added, "Oh, Philemon, please—whatever else you are, please don't be hard and cruel to me."
"I'll try my best not to be, though 't is difficult for a soldier to be otherwise; but, come what may, I'll never pain or deny you knowingly, Janice."
"'T is all I beg. But be kind and generous, and I'll love you in time."
Rub-a-dub went the drums, sounding tattoo, and the beating brought several officers scurrying out of the house. Philemon kissed the girl's hand, and hurried away to his squadron.
Two days the army remained encamped at the Fork, then by easy marches it followed the river down to Richmond, where a rest was taken. Once again getting in motion, it fell back on Williamsburg and halted, for it was now the height of summer, and the heat so intense that the troops were easily exhausted. Finally, the British retired across the James River, and took up a position at Portsmouth.
In the month thus spent, not once was Major Hennion able to get a word with Janice, for Lafayette followed closely upon the heels of the invaders until they were safe over the James, and there was constant skirmishing between the van and rear and two sharp encounters, which kept Tarleton's and Simcoe's cavalry, when they had rejoined, fully occupied in covering the retreat, while the Merediths and other loyalists who had joined the army travelled with the baggage in the advance.
The occupation of Portsmouth was brief, for upon the engineers reporting that the site was not one which could be fortified, the British general put his troops on board of such shipping as he could gather and transferred them bodily to Yorktown. Here he set the army, and the three thousand negroes who had followed them, leisurely to laying out lines of earthworks, that he might hold the post with the reduced number which would be left him after he detached the reinforcements needed at New York, and despatched a sloop-of-war to Clinton, with word that he but awaited the arrival of transports to send him whatever regiments he should direct.
If Hennion, by his constant service at the front, was helpless to assist his friends, Clowes, who was always with the baggage train, was unending in his favours. He secured them a stock of clothing, and assigned to them two admirable servants from the horde of runaway slaves; he promptly procured for them a more comfortable travelling carriage, and he made their lodgings a matter of daily concern, so that they always fared with the best, while his gifts of wine and other delicacies were almost embarrassingly frequent. At Yorktown, too, where the village of about sixty houses supplied but the poorest and scantiest accommodations for both man and beast, he managed to have the custom-house assigned for his own use, and then placed all the rooms the Merediths needed at their disposal. If Janice's preferences had been spoken and regarded, everything he did in their behalf would have been declined; but her mother's real need of the comforts of life, and her father's love of them, were arguments too strong for her own wishes, and by placing them under constant obligation to the baron made it impossible for her not to treat him with outward courtesy whenever he sought their company, which was with every opportunity. Yet it was in vain that the commissary plied her with his old-time arts of manner and tongue. Even the slow mind of the squire took note that he gained no ground with his daughter.
"'T is a tougher task ye've undertaken even than ye counted upon," he said, one evening over the wine, as Janice left the table at the earliest possible instant.
"Tut! give me time. I'll bring her around yet."
"I warned ye the maid had ye deep in her bad books."
"What 's a month? If a woman yields in that time, a man may save himself the parson's fee, and it please him."
"Still, though she is a good lass in most things, I must own to ye that she bath a strange vein of obstinacy in her, which she comes by from her mother."
"Then I'll use that same obstinacy to win her. Dost not know that every quality in a female is but a means by which to ensnare her? Let me once know a woman's virtues and frailties, and I'll make each one of them serve my suit."
"'T is more than a month ye've been striving to win her regard."
"Ay; but for some reason, in Philadelphia I could ne'er keep my head when with her, and as often went back as forward, curse it! 'Better slip with foot than with tongue,' runs the old saying, and I did both with her. I've learned my lesson now, and once give me a clear field and ye shall see how 't will be."
The squire shook his head. "She's promised to Major Hennion, and after much folly and womanishness at last she's found her mind, and tells me she will cheerfully wed him."
"And how will the lot of ye live, man?" asked Clowes, crossly. "Hast not had word that Jersey has enacted a general act of forfeiture and escheatage 'gainst all Royalists?"
"That I'd not," answered the squire, pulling a long face. "I suppose that has taken Greenwood from us?"
"Ay, for I saw the very advertisement of the sale, and have not told ye before merely to spare you distress. And 't will strip Hennion of his acres as well, I take it. Wilt deliberately marry her to a penniless man?"
"Boxely never was his, and I doubt not his scamp of a father will find some way to save it to him. I'll not tarry longer, for 't is ill news ye have just broke to me, and I must carry it to Matilda. It gives us but a black future to which to look forward."
Mr. Meredith gone from the room, the commissary took from his pocket a copy of Gaines' "New York Gazette and Weekly Mercury," which had come to him but that morning, and re-read an account it contained, taken from the "New Jersey Gazette," of the sale of Greenwood to Esquire Hennion. "'T is my devil's ill luck that he, of all men, should buy it," he muttered. "However, if I can but get them to New York, away from this dashing dragoon, and then persuade them to cross the Atlantic, 't will matter not who owns it." He rose, stretched himself, and as he did so, he repeated the words:—
"I and chance, against any two; Time and I against chance and you."
LIX TRAITORS IN THE REAR
On a broiling August day in the year 1781, an officer rode along the Raritan between Middle-Brook and Brunswick. As he approached the entrance of Greenwood, he slowed his horse, and after a moment's apparent hesitation, finally turned him through the gateway. Once at the porch he drew rein and looked for a time at the paintless clap-boards, broken window-panes, and tangle of vines and weeds, all of which told so plainly the story of neglect and desertion. Starting his steed, he passed around to the kitchen door, and rapped thrice with the butt of a pistol without gaining any reply. Wheeling about, he was returning to the road when an idea seemed to come to him, for, altering direction, he pulled on his bridle, and turned his horse into the garden, now one dense overgrowth. Guiding him along one of the scarcely discernible paths, he checked him at a garden seat, and leaning in his saddle plucked half a dozen sprays of honeysuckle from the vine which surmounted it. He touched them to his lips, and gave his horse the spur. He held the sprays in his hand as he rode, occasionally raising them to his face until he was on the edge of Brunswick village, then he slipped them into his sword sash.
Giving his horse into the hands of the publican at the tavern, he crossed the green to the parsonage and knocked. "Is Parson McClave within?" he inquired of the hired girl.
"Come in, come in, Colonel Brereton," called a voice from the sitting-room; "and all the more welcome are you that I did not know you were in these parts."
"My regiment was ordered across the river to Chatham last week, to build ovens for the coming attack on New York, and I took a few hours off to look up old friends," Brereton answered in a loud voice. "Where can we safely talk?" he whispered.
"I'll leave my sermon even as it is," said the presbyter, "and it being hot here, let us into the meeting-house yard, where we'll get what breeze comes up the river. Eager I am to learn of what the army is about."
Once they were seated among the gravestones, the colonel said "I need not tell you that five times in the last two months the continental post-riders have been waylaid 'twixt Brunswick and Princeton by scoundrels in the pay of the British. Only once, fortunately, was there information of the slightest importance, but 't is something that must be stopped; and General Washington, knowing of my familiarity with this neighbourhood, directed me to discover and bring the wretches to punishment. Because I can trust you, I come to ask if you have any information or even inkling that can be of service?"
"Surely, man, you do not suspect any one in my parish?" replied the clergyman.
Brereton smiled slightly. "There is little doubt that the secret Tories of Monmouth County are concerned; but there is some confederate in Brunswick, who, whether he takes an active share, supplies them with information concerning the routes, days, and hours of the posts. I see, however, you have no light to shed on the matter."
"'T is all news to me," answered the minister, shaking his head. "I knew that there was some illicit trading with New York, but that we had real traitors amongst us I never dreamed."
"Trap them I will, before many weeks," asserted the officer. "If in no other way, I'll—"
The sentence was interrupted by the clang of the church bell above them.
"Bless me!" cried McClave, springing to his feet. "Your call has made me forget the auction, which, as justice of the peace, I must attend."
"For the sale of Greenwood under the statute."
The officer frowned. "I feared it when I read of the passing of a general act of forfeiture and escheatage," he muttered, "though I still hoped 't would not extend to them."
Together the two men crossed the green to the town hall, where now a crowd, consisting of almost every inhabitant of the village and of the outlying farms, was assembled. The officer, a scowl on his face, paused in the doorway and glanced about, then threaded his way to where two negresses stood weeping, and began talking to them. Meanwhile, the clergyman, pushing on through the throng, joined Esquire Hennion and Bagby, who for some reason were suspiciously eying each other on the platform.
"I intend to bid on the property, McClave," announced the Honourable Joseph, "so 't is best that the squire takes charge of the sale."
"Thet 'ere is jes what I'm a-calkerlatin' ter do, likewise," responded Hennion, with an ugly glance at Joe, "so I guess yer'll hev ter assoom the runnin' of the perseedins yerself, paason."
There was a moment's consultation, and then Justice McClave stepped forward and read in succession the text of an act of the New Jersey Assembly, a proclamation of the Governor, and an advertisement from the "New Jersey Gazette" by which documents, and by innumerable whereases and therefores, it was set forth that a state of war existed with Great Britain; that sundry inhabitants of the State, forgetful of their just duty and allegiance, had aided and abetted the common enemy; that by these acts they placed themselves outside of the laws of the commonwealth, their property became forfeited, and was ordered sold for the benefit of the State; that the property of one Lambert Meredith, who had been attainted, both by proclamation and by trial, of high treason, was therefore within the act; and, finally, that there would be sold to the highest bidder, at the court-house of the town of Brunswick, on the sixteenth day of August next ensuing, the said property of the said Lambert Meredith; namely, "Two likely negro women, who can cook and spin," and thirty thousand acres of choice arable farm and wood lands under cultivation lease, with one house, one stable, and corn-cribs and other outbuildings thereto appertaining.
It took not five minutes to sell the sobbing slaves, the tavern-keeper buying Sukey for the sum of forty-one pounds, and the clergyman announcing himself at the end of the bidding as the purchaser of Peg for thirty-nine pounds, six.
Then amidst a silence which told of the interest of the crowd, the auctioneer read out a description of the bounds and acreage of Greenwood, and asked for bids.
"Nine thousand pounds," instantly offered Bagby.
"Five hunded more," rejoined Hennion.
"Ten thousand," snapped Joe.
"Five hunded more," snarled his rival bidder.
"Eleven thousand," came Joe's counter bid.
"And five hundred."
Bagby hesitated, scowling, then said, "Sixteen thousand."
"Yer might ez waal quit, Joe," interjected Squire Hennion. "I hez more 'n' yer hev, an' I intends ter buy it. Nineteen my bid, pa'son."
"Twenty," burst out Joe, malignantly.
Hennion's face in turn grew red with anger, and he half rose, his fist clinched, but recollecting himself he resumed his seat.
"Going at twenty-five," announced McClave. "Will any one give more?"
A breathless pause came, while Bagby's countenance assumed a look of sudden anxiety. "I did n't say twenty-five," he quickly denied; "I said twenty-two."
A wave of contradiction swept through the hall.
Nothing daunted, the honourable Joseph repeated his assertion.
"He, he, he!" chuckled Hennion, "thet comes of biddin' more money than yers hev."
"We'll call it twenty-two thousand," said McClave, "since Mr. Bagby persists. Will you give any more?"
"One hunded more," said Hennion; and nobody offering above him, it was knocked down at that price.
As the sale was declared completed, Bagby rose. "At least, I made you pay double for it," he growled spitefully to his competitor.
"Yer did, consarn yer," was Hennion's reply; but then a smile succeeded the angry look on the shrewd face. "I did n't pay more 'n a third of what 't is wuth, then."
"'T will be a dear buy, that I warn you," retorted Joseph, angrily. "I'll pay you off yet for bidding me out of it."
"Yer be keerful what yer do, or I'll do some payin' off myself," warned Hennion.
Brereton, who had stayed through the sale, with a contemptous shrug of the shoulders, walked over to the ordinary. Here he ate a silent supper, and then mounting his horse set off on his evening ride back to his regiment.
Half-way between Brunswick and Greenwood, while his thoughts were dwelling on the day's doings, and on what effect it would have on those far away in the mountains of Virginia, he was brought back to the present by hearing his name called in a low voice from behind a wall.
"Who 's that?" he demanded, halting his horse.
"Are you alone?"
"Yes," replied the officer, as he drew out a pistol from the holster.
"No occasion for that, colonel," said Joe Bagby's unmistakable accents, as the man climbed over the stones and came forward. "It's me," he announced. "Just walk your horse slow, so I can keep beside you, for I've something to tell you, and I don't want to stand still here in the road."
"Well, what is it?" questioned Brereton, as he started his horse walking.
"I rather guess you came to town on business, did n't you?"
"Might be something to do with the sale of Greenwood."
"But more likely 't was something to do with public matters?"
"What would you give to catch them as was concerned in the killing of the post-riders?"
Not a motion or sound did Jack give to betray himself. "That lies outside of my work," he said. "'T is the business of the secret service."
"Do you mean that, if I can put you in the way of laying hands on the whole gang, you won't do it?"
"If you choose to tell me what you know, I'll report it, for what it 's worth, to headquarters, and General Washington will take such actions as he judges fit."
"There won't be time for that," asserted Joe. "It's to-morrow the thing 's to be played."
"The robbing of the mail."
"How know you that?"
"Well, being in politics, colonel, I make it my business to know most things that is happening in the county. Now, I've been ferreting for some time to get at this post-riding business, and at last I've found out how it 's done. And they 're going to do it again to-morrow night just this side of Rocky Hill."
For a moment Brereton was silent. "How is it done?" he asked.
"It's this way. One of Moody's gang is working with Squire Hennion as hired man; and when Hennion knows that a rider is due, he drops into the ordinary, and, casual like, finds out all he can as to when he rides on, and by what road. Then he hurries off home and tells his man, and he goes and tells Moody, who gets his men together and does the business."
"I see. And how can we know where they set the ambush, so as to set a counter one?"
"It's easy as can be. When they have the mail, it 's to Hennion's barn they all goes, where they cut it open and takes out everything as Clinton will pay for, and sends it off at once on one of the boats of provisions as old Hennion is stealing into New York two or three times a week."
"Ah, that 's where he's got the money to buy Greenwood, is it?"
"Yes; I tell you he's a traitor if there ever was one, colonel. But I guess he'll be nabbed now. All you've got to do is to hide your men in the barn to-morrow night, and you'll take the whole lot red-handed."
"And I suppose you tell me this to get your revenge for this afternoon."
"Just a little, colonel; but don't forget I'm a patriot, who 's always trying to serve his country. Now I'll tell you how we'll do it. You bring your men down t' other side of the river to Meegan's place; and as soon as it 's dark, I'll come across the river in a sloop I own and will bring you right over to Hennion's wharf, from which it will be easy to steal into his barn without no one seeing us."
Brereton made no answer for a minute, then said, "Very well; I'll adopt your plan."
"I suppose there'll be some reward coming to me, colonel?"
"Undoubtedly," replied Jack, but with a twitch of contempt. "Is that all?"
"That's enough to do the business, I guess," rejoined Joe. "About nine clock I'll allow to be at Meegan's," he said.
Without a word of assent, Jack quickened his pace. When he had gone fifty feet he looked back, but already the informer had disappeared. "What dirty work every man must do on occasion!" he muttered. "I'd suspect the scoundrel but for what I heard this afternoon, and he has it all so pat that he's probably been in it himself more or less. However, it promises well; and 't will he a service of the utmost importance if we can but break up the murdering gang and bring them to justice, for 't is no time to have Clinton reading all our secrets."
It was midnight when Brereton trotted into Chatham and dismounting from his horse walked wearily into his tent.
His servant, sleeping on the floor, waked, and hastily rose. "A despatch, sir, from headquarters," he said, taking a paper from his pocket.
"When did it arrive?" demanded Jack, as he examined the seal, to make sure that it had not been tampered with, and then broke the letter open.
"Four hours ago, sir, by special courier.'
What Brereton read was this:—
Headquarters, August 16, 1781. Sir,—Should you have already taken steps looking to the discovery and seizure of those concerned in the late robbing of the mails, you will hold all such proceedings in abeyance until further orders. For military reasons it is even desired that the post-bag which will be sent through to-morrow should fall into the hands of the enemy, and you will act accordingly. I have the honour to be, Yr. Obedt. hble Servt. Go. Washington. To Colonel Brereton, Commanding the 3rd. New Jersey Regt., Stationed at Chatham.
Jack whistled softly, then smiled, "Joe will have a long wait," he chuckled. "I wonder what 's up."
He knew three days later, for orders came to him to put his regiment in motion and march for Philadelphia, and the bearer of the despatch added that the united forces of Washington and Rochambeau were already across the Hudson and would follow close upon his heels.
"We've made Sir Henry Clinton buy the information that we intend to attack New York," the aide told him, "and now we are off to trap Cornwallis in Virginia."
LX THE SPINNING OF THE WEB
Owing to the impossibility of the horses of Tarleton's and Simcoe's legions being ferried on the small boats which transported the foot troops from Portsmouth to Yorktown, they had been left behind the rest of the army, with directions to put themselves on board the frigate and sloops of war and effect a landing at Hampton or thereabouts. This gave the commissary still more time free from the presence of Major Hennion, but he had little reason to think it of advantage to him. At meal hours, since they had but one table, Janice could not avoid his company, but otherwise she very successfully eluded him. Much of each day she spent with her mother, who was ailing, and kept her room, and she made this an excuse for never remaining in those shared by all in common. When she went out of doors, which, owing to the August heats, was usually towards evening, she always took pains that the baron should not be in a position to join her, or even to know of her having sallied forth. With the same object, she generally, as soon as she left the house, hurried through the little village and past the rows of tents of the encampment on the outskirts and the lines of earthworks upon which the soldiery and negroes were working, until she reached the high point of land to the east, which opened on Chesapeake Bay, where, feeling secure, she could enjoy herself in the orchard of the Moore house, in the woods to the southward, or with sewing or a book, merely sit on the extreme point gazing off at the broad expanse of water.
She was thus engaged on the afternoon of the 28th of August, when the rustle of footsteps made her look up from her book, only to find that her precautions for once were futile, as it was the commissary who was hastening toward her.
"I needed this," he began, "to prove to me that you were not a witch, as well as a bewitcher, for, verily, I had begun to think that by some black art ye flew out of your window at will. Nay," he protested, as Janice, closing her book, rose, "call ye this fair treatment, Miss Meredith? Surely, if ye have no gratitude yourself, ye should at least remember what I am doing for your father and mother, and not seek to shun me as if I were the plague, rather than a man nigh mad with love for ye."
"'T is that very fact, Lord Clowes," replied Janice, gravely, "which has forced avoidance of you upon me. Surely you must understand that, promised now as I am to another, both by my father's word and by my own, your suit cannot fail to distress me?"
"Is 't possible that, to please others, thee intends, then, to force thyself to marry this long-legged dragoon?" protested Clowes. "Hast thy father not told thee of thy own loss of Greenwood and of his undoubted loss of Boxely?"
"Our loss of property, my Lord, but makes it all the more important that we save our good name; and if our change of circumstance does not alter Major Hennion's wishes, as I am certain it will not, we shall keep faith with him."
"Even though Lord Clowes offers ye position, wealth, and a home for your parents, not a one of which he can give?"
"Were I not promised, Lord Clowes, nothing could induce me to marry you."
"Why not?" questioned the baron, warmly.
"Methinks, if you but search the past, sir, you cannot for an instant be in doubt. Obligations you have heaped upon us at moments, for every one of which I thank you, but never could I bring myself to feel respect, far less affection for you."
The commissary, with knitted brows, started to speak, but checked himself and took half a dozen strides. Returning, he said:—
"Miss Meredith, 't is not just to judge the future by the past. Can ye not understand that what I did in Philadelphia, ay, every act of mine at which ye could take offence in our whole acquaintance, has been done on heated impulse? If ye but knew a man's feelings when he loves as I love, and finds no response to his passion in the object of it, ye would pardon my every act."
"'T is not alone your conduct to us, Lord Clowes, but as well that to others which has confirmed me in my conviction."
"Ye would charge me with—"
"'T is not I alone, my Lord, that you have deceived or injured, and you cannot plead for those the excuse you plead to me."
"'T is the circumstances of my parole of which ye speak?" demanded the baron.
"Of that and other things which have come to my knowledge."
Again the suitor hesitated before saying, with a suggestion of glibness: "Miss Meredith, every ounce of blame ye put upon my conduct I accept honestly and regretfully, but did ye but know all, I think ye would pity rather than judge me in that heart which seems open to every one but me. From the day my father died in the debtor's prison and I was thrown a penniless boy of twelve upon the world, it has been one long fight to keep head above water, till I got this appointment. The gentlemen of the army have told ye that I was a government spy, I doubt not. I wonder what they would have been in my straits! Think ye any man is spy by choice? Am I worse than the men who hired me to do the work, and who gained praise and rewards, even to the blue ribbon, by the information I had got for them, while only scorn and shame was my portion? Think ye a life given to indirection and worming, to prying and scheming, is one of self-choice? Hitherto I have done the dirty work of ministers,—ay, of kings; but from the day I leave this country, that is over and done with for ever, and their once tool, now rich, will take his place among the very best of England's peers, for money will buy a man anything in London nowadays. 'T is not alone that I love ye nigh to desperation that I beg your love; 't is that your love will help to make me the honest-living man I ambition to be. But grant the longing of my life, and I'll pledge ye happiness. Ye shall write your own marriage settlement, a house, carriages, jewels—"
"Indeed, Lord Clowes, even were my feelings less strong, you ask for what is now impossible."
"Because your father, with a short-sightedness that is wellnigh criminal, has tied ye to this fellow! Can't ye perceive that the greatest service ye can render him will be to relieve him of the promise he has not the courage to end? In a six-months he'll bless ye for the deed, if ye will but do it."
Almost as if he had come to protect his rights, the voice of Major Hennion broke in upon them. "Everywhere have I sought you for upwards of an hour," he said, as he hurried toward them, "and began to fear that some evil had befallen you." He caught Janice's hand eagerly and kissed it.
"But when did you arrive?" exclaimed the girl.
"The legions were landed at Hampton Road this morning and reached camp an hour gone," explained the major. Still retaining her hand, he turned to Clowes and said, "If I understood you aright, my Lord, you told me you knew not where Miss Meredith was to be found?"
"And Miss Meredith will bear me out in the statement, sir, though I am quite willing that my word should stand by itself," retorted the commissary, tartly. "Nor am I in the habit of having it questioned by colonial striplings," he added insultingly.
"Nor am I—" began Philemon, heatedly; but Janice checked him by laying her free hand on his arm.
"'T is naught to take umbrage at, Phil," she said dissuadingly, "and do not by quarrelling over a foolish nothing spoil my pleasure in seeing you."
"That I'll not," acceded the major, heartily. "Ah, Janice," he cried, unable to contain himself even before the baron, "if you knew the thrill your words give me. Are you truly glad to see me?"
"Yes, Phil, or I would not say so," answered the girl, ingenuously.
Lord Clowes, a scowl on his face, turned from the two, to avoid sight of Hennion's look of gladness. This brought him gazing seaward, and he gave an exclamation. "Ho! What 's here?"
The two faced about at his question, to see, just appearing from behind the curve of the land to the southward, a full-rigged ship, one mass of canvas from deck to spintle-heads, and with a single row of ports which bespoke the man-of-war.
"'T is a frigate," announced Clowes, "and no doubt sent to convoy the transports we have been awaiting. Yes; there comes another. 'T is the fleet, beyond question," he continued, as the first vessel having opened from the land, the bowsprit of a second began to appear.
The three stood silent as the two ships towering pyramids of sails, making them marvels of beauty, swept onward with slow dignity across the mouth of the York River, at this point nearly three miles wide, toward the Gloucester shore. Before they had gone a quarter of a mile, a third and larger vessel came sweeping into view, her two rows of ports showing her to be a line-of-battle ship. Barely was she clear of the land when a string of small flags broke out from her mizzen rigging, and almost as if by magic, the yard arms of all three vessels were alive with men, and royals, top gallants, and mainsails with machine-like precision were dewed up and furled, and each ship, stripped of all but its topsails, rounded to, with its head to the wind.
"That is a strange manoeuvre," remarked Philemon. "Why stop they outside, instead of sailing up the river?"
"They've hove to, no doubt, to wait a pilot, being strangers to the waters," surmised Clowes, wheeling and looking up the river townwards. "Ay, there goes some signal from the 'Charon's' truck," he went on, as the British frigate anchored off the town displayed three flags at her masthead.
Janice, thankful for the diversion the arrivals had caused, said something to Philemon in a low voice, and they set out toward the town. Not noticing the obvious attempt to escape from his society, or to outward appearance perturbed, the baron put himself alongside the two, and walked with them until the custom-house was reached.
"Will you come in, Philemon, and see dadda and mommy?" questioned the girl, as the three halted at the doorway.
As she spoke, an orderly, who a moment before had come out of headquarters, made towards the major, and, saluting, said, "Colonel Tarleton directs that you report at headquarters without delay, sir."
"My answer is made for me, Janice," sighed Philemon. "I fear me 't is some vidette duty, and that once again we are doomed to part, just as I thought my hour had come. Many more of such disappointments will turn me from a soldier into a Quaker. However, 't is possible his Lordship wants but to put some questions, and, if so, I'll be with you shortly." He crossed the street and entered the Nelson house.
Shown by the orderly to the room where Cornwallis was, he found with him his colonel and a man in the uniform of a naval officer.
"Ah, here he is," said the British general. "Major Hennion, the three ships which have taken station at the mouth of the river pay no heed to the 'Charon's 'signals, nor are theirs to be read by our book, so 't is feared that they are French ships. As 't is impossible to believe they would thus boldly venture into the bay if alone, we wish to know if there are others below. Furnish Lieutenant Foley with a mount, and, with an escort of a troop, guide him over the road you came to-day to some spot where a view of the roadstead at Old Point Comfort is to be commanded." Speaking to the naval officer, he enjoined, "You will carefully observe any shipping there may be, sir, and of what force, and report to me with the least possible delay."
It was a little after ten o'clock on the following day when a troop of hot and weary-looking horses and men clattered along the main street of the town and drew up in front of headquarters. Throwing himself from the saddle, Major Hennion hurried into the house. The moment he was in the presence of Cornwallis, he said: "'T is as you surmised, general. Between thirty and forty sail stretch from Lynnhaven Bay to the mouth of the James, and though 't was difficult to exactly estimate their force, they are mostly men of war, and some even three-deckers."
"Beyond question 't is the French West India fleet," burst from Cornwallis. For a moment he was silent, then sternly demanded, "Where is Lieutenant Foley?"
"The gentlemen of the navy, sir, are more used to oak than to leather, and we set him such a pace that twelve miles back he could no longer sit his saddle, and we left him leading his horse, thinking this information could not be brought you too soon."
"It but proves the old saying that 'Ill news has wings,'" replied the earl, steadily, as he walked to the window and looked out into the garden. Here he stood silently for so long that finally Hennion spoke.
"I beg your pardon, general," he said, "but am I dismissed?"
All the reply Cornwallis made him was to ask, "When you first came amongst us, major, you spoke with the barbaric provincialism and nasal twang of your countrymen, but in your years with us you have lost them. Could you upon occasion resume both?"
"Indeed, my Lord," replied the officer, smiling, "'t is even yet a constant struggle to keep from it."
"The word you bring must be got to Clinton without question of fail and with the least possible delay. Are you willing to volunteer for a service of very great risk?"
"Does your Lordship for a moment question it?"
"Not I. To-night we will try to steal a small sloop out of the river with a despatch for Clinton; but we must not place our whole dependence on this means, and a second must be sent him overland. Get you a meal, sir, and a fresh horse, and from some civilian or negro procure such clothes as are fitting for a travelling peddler. I will order you a pack and a stock of such things as are appropriate from the public stores, and you shall at once be rowed across the river and must make your way as best you can northward to New York. Dost understand?"
"Ay, my Lord," replied Major Hennion, his hand already on the door-latch.
Left alone, Cornwallis stood for a moment, his lips pressed together, then summoning an aide, he gave him certain directions, after which, going to his writing-desk, he pulled out a drawer and from it took quite a batch of Continental and State currency. Seating himself at his desk, he laid one of the notes upon it, and taking his penknife he very neatly and dexterously split the bill through half its length. Taking from his pocket a wallet, he drew from it a sheet of paper covered with numbers and syllables, which was indorsed, "Cipher No. I." Writing on a scrap of paper a few words, he then alternately looked at what he had penned and at the cipher, taking down on one of the inner surfaces of the bill a series of numbers. Scarcely had he done his task when a knock came at the door, and in response to his summons a negress entered.
"'Scuse me, your Lordship," she said with a bob. "De captain, he say youse done want a leetle flour gum."
"Yes. Give it to me and leave the room," answered the earl.
Touching his finger in the saucer she had brought, Cornwallis rubbed it inside the split along the three edges, and then laying the bill on his desk, he patted the edges where they had been split, together, wiping them clean with his handkerchief. Running over the pile of currency, he sorted out some fifty notes, then taking a sheet of paper, he began a letter.
Before the earl had finished what he was writing, he was again interrupted, and the new-comer proved to be Major Hennion, clothed in an old suit of butternut-coloured linen. And as if in laying aside his red coat, shorts, and boots he had as well laid aside military rank, he seemed to have already reverted to his old slouch.
"Good," exclaimed Cornwallis, as he rose. "Are your other preparations all made?"
"Every one, general; and my horse and pack are already at the river-side."
The earl took the pile of sorted bills from his desk and handed them to Hennion. "There is the money to pay your way," he said, "all Continental Loan office or Virginia currency, save one of North Carolina for forty shillings, which on no account are you to part with, even if any one in the States to the northward will accept it, for I have split it open and written within it to Sir Henry Clinton the news I have to tell. Say to him that a few moments in water will serve to part the edges where they have been gummed together. I give you the note, that if you are caught, you may still find some means to send it on. But lest by mischance it should be lost or taken from you, and you should yet be able to reach New York, I have here the words I have written in cipher within the bill. Have you a good memory?"
"For facts, if not for words, my Lord."
The general took up from his desk the little memorandum he had written before using his cipher and read out: "An enemy's fleet within the Capes. Between thirty and forty ships of war, mostly large." "Spare not your speed, sir, yet take no unnecessary risk," ended the earl, as he held out his hand.
As Hennion took it, he said: "I will endeavour not to fail your Lordship in either respect; in going, however, I have one favour to crave of you. I leave behind me my promised bride, Miss Meredith; and I beg of you that she shall not want for any service that your Lordship can render her, or that I could do were I but here."
"'T is given," promised the earl, and on the word Hennion hurried from the room. Crossing the street, he knocked at the custom-house, and of the servant inquired, "Is Miss Meredith within?"
"No, sir," replied the soldier.
Where is she?"
"I know not, sir. She left the house an hour ago."
With something suspiciously like an oath, the major turned away and, hurrying along the street, descended that which sloped down the bluff to the river. Here stood an officer, while in the water lay a flatboat which already held, besides two rowers, a horse and a pair of fat saddle-bags. Without a word Phil jumped in and the rowers struck their oars into the water.
At the same time that Major Hennion's party had been despatched to gain news of the fleet, other troops of Tarleton's and Simcoe's cavalry had been thrown out on scouting parties across the peninsula to the James, and the following day they brought word that the French were busily engaged in landing troops from their ships at Jamestown, with the obvious intention of effecting a junction with Lafayette's brigades, which were at Williamsburg. A council of war was held that evening to debate whether the British force should not march out and attack them; but it was recognised that even if they completely crushed the French and Americans, they had themselves made escape southward impossible by the care with which they had destroyed the bridges and ferries in their march into Virginia, while if they fled northward, they would certainly have to fight Washington's army long before they could reach New York. It was therefore unanimously voted that the least hazardous course was to remain passive in their present position.
Five days after this decision, a deserter from Lafayette's camp came into the British lines, bringing with him the news that it was openly talked in Williamsburg that Washington and Rochambeau, with their armies, were coming to join the troops already in Virginia. Nor were the British long able to continue their doubting of his assertions, for a Tory brought in the same tale, and with it a copy of the "Baltimore Journal," which printed the positive statement that the Northern army was on the march southward and was already arrived at Wilmington. A second council of war was therefore summoned to debate once again their difficulties; but ere the general and field officers had met, a schooner, eluding the French vessels which blockaded the mouth of the river, arrived from New York, bringing a despatch from Sir Henry Clinton, in which he assured the encircled general that the British fleet would quickly sail to relieve him, and that he himself, with four thousand men, would follow close upon its heels. The order for the council was therefore recalled; and Cornwallis turned the whole energies of the force under his command to strengthening his lines and in other ways making ready to resist the gathering storm.
LXI IN THE TOILS
On the morning of the 6th of October, twelve thousand American and French soldiers lay encamped in the form of a broad semi-circle almost a mile from the British earthworks about Yorktown. Still nearer, in a deep ravine, above which were some outworks that had been abandoned by the British on the approach of the allies, were the outposts; and these, lacking tents, had hutted themselves with boughs. Intermittently came the roar of a cannon from the British lines, and those in the hollow could occasionally see and hear a shell as it screeched past them overhead; but they gave not one-tenth the heed to it that they gave to the breakfast they were despatching. Indeed, their sole grumblings were at the meagreness of the ration which had been dealt out to them the night before ere they had been marched forward into their present position; and as a field officer, coming from the American camp, descended into the ravine, these found open expression.
"'T is mighty fine fer the ginral ter say in the ginral orders that he wants us if attacked ter rely on the bagonet," spoke up one of the murmurers loud enough to make it evident that he intended the officer to overhear him; "but no troops kin fight on a shred o' salt pork and a mouthful of collards."
The officer halted, and speaking more to all those within hearing than to the man, said: "You got as good as any of the Continental regiments, boys, and better than some."
"That may be, kun'l," answered the complainant, "but how about the dandies?"
"Yes," assented the officer. "We sent the French regiments all the flour and fresh meat the commissaries could lay hands on, I grant you. Is there one of you who would have kept it from them for his own benefit?"
"P'raps not," acknowledged another, "but that don't make it any the less unfairsome."
"Remember they come to help us, and are really our guests. Nor are they accustomed to the privation we know too well. General Washington has surety that you can fight on an empty stomach, for you've done it many a time, but he is not so certain of the French."
The remark was greeted with a general laugh, which seemed to dissipate the grievance.
"Lord!" exclaimed a corporal; "them fine birds do need careful tending."
"'T ain't ter be wondered at thet the Frenchies is so keerful ter bring their tents with 'em," remarked a third. "Whatever would happen ter one o' them Soissonnais fellers, with his rose-coloured facings an' his white an' rose feathers, if he had ter sleep in a bowery along o' us? Some on 'em looks so pretty, thet it don't seem right ter even trust 'em out in a heavy dew." As he ended, the speaker looked down at his own linen overalls. "T ain't no shakes they laughs a bit at us an won't believe we are really snogers."
"'T is for us to make them laugh the other way before we've done Cornwallis's business," remarked the officer. "But make up your minds to one thing, boys, if their caps are full of feathers and their uniforms more fit for a ball-room than for service, these same fine-plumaged birds can fight; and there must be no lagging if we are to prove ourselves their betters, or even their equals."
"We'll show 'em what the Jarsey game-cocks kin do, an don't you be afeared, kun'l."
As the assertion was made, a group of officers appeared on the brow of the ravine, and the colonel turned and went forward to meet them as they descended.
"How far in advance are your pickets, Colonel Brereton?" one of them asked.
"About three hundred paces, your Excellency."
"And is the ground open?" demanded a second of the party, with a markedly French accent.
"There is some timber cover, General du Portail, but 't is chiefly open and rolling."
"We wish, sir, to advance as far as can be safely effected," said Washington, "and shall rely on you for guidance."
"This way, sir," answered Brereton; and the whole party ascended out of the hollow through a side ravine which brought them into a clump of poplars occupied by a party of skirmishers, and which commanded a view of the British earthworks. Halting at the edge of the timber, glasses were levelled, and each man began a study of the enemy's lines. Scarcely had they taken position when a puff of smoke rose from one of the redoubts, and a shell came screeching towards them, passing high enough to cut the branches of the trees over their heads, and bringing them falling among the group. A minute later a solid shot struck directly in their front, causing all except the commander-in-chief to fall back out of sight among the trees; but he, apparently unmoved by the danger, calmly continued observing the enemies' works, and though directly in their view, for some reason they did not fire again.
When Washington finally turned about and rejoined the group, he said to Brereton: "Keep your men, sir, as they are at present disposed, out of sight of the batteries, till evening; then push your pickets forward as close to the town as they can venture, with orders to fall back, unless attacked, only with daylight. Last night the British put outside their lines a number of blacks stricken with the small-pox; you will order your skirmishers, therefore, to fire on them if they endeavour to repeat the attempt, for even the dictates of humanity cannot allow us to jeopardise the health of our army. Hold your regiment in readiness to move out at nightfall in support of the pioneers who will begin breaking ground this evening. Further and specific orders will reach you later through the regular channels."
It was already dark when Brereton, guiding General du Portail and the engineers, once more came out upon the plain. Following after them were a corps of sappers and miners, regiments detailed as pioneers, carrying intrenching tools, regiments armed as usual, to support them if attacked, and carts loaded with bags of sand, empty barrels, fascines, and gabions. Advancing cautiously, each man keeping touch with the one in front of him, they went forward until within six hundred yards of the British position. Without delay, by means of lanterns which were screened from the foe by being carried in half-barrels, the engineering tapes were laid down, and with pick and shovel the fatigue party went to work, the eagerness of the men being such that, despite of orders, the men from the supporting regiments, leaving their muskets in charge of their fellow-soldiers, would join in the toil. Nor did their colonels reprove them for this; but, on the contrary, Brereton, finding six men from one company engaged in rolling a large rock out of the ditch and to the top of the rapidly waxing pile of earth in its rear, said approvingly: "Well done, boys. I've a wager with the Marquis de Chastellux that an American battery fires the first shot, and I see you intend that I shall win the bet."
"Arrah, 't is in yez pocket aready, colonel," cried one of the sappers. "Sure, how kin a Frinchman expect to bate us whin nary ground-hog nor baver, the aither av thim, is theer in his counthry to tache him how to work wid earth an' timber?"
So well was the night spent that when morning dawned the British found a long line of new earthworks stretched along their front; and though instantly their guns began cannonading them, the men were now protected and could dig on, unheeding of the fire. Indeed, such was the enthusiasm that when at six o'clock the order came for the regiments to fall in, and it was found that they were to be replaced by fresh troops, there was open grumbling. "'T is we did the work," complained a sergeant, "and now them fellows who slept all night will steal the glory."
"Not a bit of it, boys," denied Brereton, as he was passing down the lines preparatory to giving the order of march. "There are still redoubts to be made and the guns are not up yet. 'T will come our turn in the trenches again before they are."
Their commander spoke wittingly, for two days it took to get the trenches, and the redoubts thrown out in advance of them, completed, and the heavy siege-guns were not moved forward until after dark on the 8th. All night long and the most of the following morning the men toiled, placing them in position, paying no attention to the unceasing thunder of the British guns, unless to stop momentarily and gaze with admiration at the shells, each with its tail of fire, as they curved through the air, or to crack a joke over some one which flew especially near.
"Bark away," laughed one, as he affectionately patted a twenty-four pounder just moved into its position, while shaking his other fist toward Yorktown. "Scold while ye kin, for 't is yer last chance. Like men, we've sat silent for nine days, an' let ye, like women, do the talkin', but it 's to-morrow mornin' ye'll find that, if we've kept still, it 's not been for want of a tongue."
It was noon when Brereton came hurrying into the battery to find the men sleeping among the guns, where they had dropped after their hard labour.
"How is it, Jack?" questioned the officer in command.
"General du Portail has reported the battery completed, and he tells me we've beat the French by at least two hours."
A wild yell of joy broke from one of the apparently unconscious men, bringing most of the sleepers scrambling to their feet and grasping for their weapons. "I said they could never dig in them clothes!" he cried.
"'T is however to be another 'Gentlemen of the guards, fire first,'" went on Brereton. "General Washington, as a compliment to the French, has decided that their guns shall fire the first shot."
A growl came from the captain of the nearest cannon. "I promised the old gal," he muttered discontentedly, his hand on his thirty-two pounder, "that she should begin it, an' she's sighted to knock over that twelve pounder that 's been teasin' us, or may I never fire gun agin."
"She'll do it just as well on the second shot," said Colonel Lamb, "and who cares which fires first, since we've beat them."
It was three o'clock when Washington and Rochambeau, accompanied by their staffs, came out of the covert-way which permitted entrance and egress to a French redoubt, from the trenches in its rear, and infantry and gunners came to the "present."