"He'll make no rebel of me to my darling dadda, that I promise," asserted Janice, joyfully.
Mr. Meredith laughed still more heartily. "I'll rest content if ye don't declare independence of your old dad, and allegiance to him, within one month of marriage, Jan."
As he ended, came a knock on the door and an officer entered. "His Excellency directs me to say, Miss Meredith," he announced, "that the provost-marshal has orders to bring Colonel Hennion to you, whenever you are ready to see him."
"I'll see him now," replied the girl.
"Poor lad!" lamented the squire.
"Oh, dadda, what can I say to him?" grieved Janice.
"I know not, lass," replied the father, as he hastened to leave the room.
It was a hard interview the girl had with Colonel Hennion, but she went through with it bravely, telling all the circumstances. "'T is not merely that I owe him the fulfilment of the promise I made him before that to you was given, Phil," Janice ended, "but though I thought my love for him was dead, the moment I heard of how he had risked life and station to spare me grief; I—I—" There she ceased speaking, but her eyes and cheeks told eloquently what her tongue refused to put in words.
Philemon, with a sad face, took her hand. "I'll not make it the harder for you by protests or appeals, Janice," he said, "for, however it may pain me, I wish to spare you."
"Oh, don't, please," she sobbed. "If you—if you would only blame me."
"I can't do that," he replied simply. "And—and 't is as well, perhaps. General Washington just sent me word that I am only to be treated as a prisoner of war, but even when I am exchanged I must henceforth be an exile, with only my sword to depend upon; so it would have been no life for you."
"Oh, Phil, you'll take back Greenwood and Boxely, won't—"
"Only to have them taken by the state? Keep them, as I would have you, Janice, and if ever I am invalided, and the laws will let me, I'll come back and ask you for Boxely, provided I can bear the thought of—of—of a life of rust. Till then God prosper you and good-by."
For some time after Philemon left the room the girl wept, but by degrees the sobs ended, and she became calmer. Yet, as the tears ceased, some other emotion replaced them, for thrice, as she sat musing, her cheeks flushed without apparent reason, several times her brows wrinkled, as if some question were puzzling her; and once she started forward impulsively, some action determined, only to sink back, as if lacking courage. Suddenly she sprang to her feet, and, apparently afraid to give herself time for consideration, she ran, rather than walked, into the garden. Here she picked a single blossom from a rose bush, and such sprays of honeysuckle as she could find, and made them into a bunch. Kissing the flowers as if they were the dearest thing in the world, she hurried out of the garden, and glanced about. Seeing a soldier on the road, she hailed him and asked him whither he was going.
"Nowhere in pertickerler, miss."
"Dost know where General Brereton is to be found?" she asked boldly, though blushing none the less for some reason.
"I just seen him down ter Colonel Dayton's quarters."
"Wilt favour me by taking him these flowers?" Janice requested, holding them out with one hand, while her other tendered a Spanish milled dollar, her eyes dropped groundward, as if to hide something.
"Calkerlate I might; and who'll I say sent 'em?"
"I—say nothing at all—but just give him the bunch."
"Don't hardly worth seem carryin'," said the soldier, glancing at the flowers with open contempt, "an' sartin it ain't worth no sich money ter take 'em." Lest she would agree with him, however, he set off with celerity. "Like as not he'll give me a reprimand fer troublin' him with a gal's nonsense," he soliliquised, as he walked. "Swan ef I ain't most tempted ter throw 'em in the ditch."
Fortunately he did not commit the breach of faith, though there were distinct qualities of shame and apology in his voice and manner, when he walked up to a group of officers sitting under a tree, and said to one of them,—
"A gal gave me this, general, ter take ter you, an' she would hev it, though I told her she'd no business ter be botherin' yer with sich plumb foolishness."
The flowers were snatched rather than taken from his hand. "Where was she when she gave them to you?" demanded Brereton.
"I seen her go back inter the garding over ter Headquarters House, sir."
The general, without a word of explanation or apology to his fellow officers, started away almost at a run. Halting suddenly after he had gone some fifty feet, he fumbled in his pocket, and pulling out three or four coins, he tossed back a gold piece to the man; then hastened away.
"Waal!" ejaculated the soldier, as he stooped and picked it up. "A hard dollar from a gal was bad enough, but I did n't expect ter see the general go clean crazy like that. A louis, as I'm a livin' sinner!
When Jack entered the hedge, one glance he took, and then strode to the garden seat. "I know you would not torture me with false hopes, yet I—I dare not believe the message I would give the world to read in these," he said hoarsely.
The girl put her hand gently on his arm. "They say, Jack," she replied, her eyes upturned to his, "whatever you would wish they might."
On the words, her lover's arms were about her.
"Then they say that I am forgiven and—"
"Oh, Jack," cried Janice despairingly, "can you ever forgive me—"Can I ever atone—ever thank you for all—"
"Hush, my sweet. Put the past, as I will, out of mind for ever."
"I will, I will—but, oh, Jack, I must tell you how I have suffered—how my heart nearly broke—so that you may know how happy I am!"
"Oh, sweetheart," cried Brereton, clasping her tightly. "Do you mean—can the flowers truly say that you really love me?"
"They can, but never how much."
"Then tell me yourself."
"No words can."
"Ah, sweetheart, try," besought Brereton.
"Then stoop and let me whisper it," said the girl, and obediently Jack bent his head. But what she had to tell was told by her lips upon his.
It was Billy Lee who finally interrupted them. "You'll 'scuse me, Gen'l an' Missy Janice," he called, apologetically, from the opening in the hedge, "but Lady Washington dun send me to 'splain dat if she delay de dinner any mo' dat Gen'l Brereton suttinly be late at de cote-martial." And as a second couple made a hurried if reluctant exodus from paradise, he continued, "I dun tender youse my bestest felicitations, sah. Golly! Won't Missis Sukey and dat Blueskin dun be pleased."
"She will be when she and Peg are bought and safe back at Greenwood, Billy, as they soon will be," predicted Brereton.
In the dining room stood the commander-in-chief and Mrs. Washington, and as Jack and Janice entered it through one of the windows, the latter caught the girl in her arms, and kissed her warmly.
"Oh, Lady Washington," cried the maiden, ecstatically, "how can I ever thank you!"
"That is my duty, Janice, not yours," asserted Brereton, taking the matron's hand and kissing it.
Janice, her eyes starry with happiness, crossed to General Washington. "Oh, your Excellency," she begged, her hand on his arm, "there is but one flaw in my gladness, and 't is that for my sake he lost your trust and affection. Will you— oh, won't you forgive him, as he has me, and let my joy be perfect?"
Washington smiled indulgently into the winsome face, and turning to Brereton, held out his hand. "You have secured an able pleader," he said, "and I cannot find it in my heart to give her nay at any such time. Indeed," he added, as Jack eagerly took the proffered peace-offering, "'t is to be feared, my boy, that had she but made her prayer to me instead of you, I should have found it difficult not to be equally faithless to my duty."
Janice stooped and kissed the two hands as they clasped each other, then, as her father entered the room, she sped to him, and throwing her arms about his neck, kissed him as well.
"Mr. Meredith," said Jack, tendering his hand a little doubtfully, "a bondservant of yours ran off while yet there was four years of service due to you. He is ready now to fulfil the bond, nor will he complain if you enforce the legal penalty of double time."
"'T is lucky for me, general," answered the squire, heartily, "that ye acknowledge my claim, for I take it that, my lass having sworn a new allegiance, I shall need a hold on you, if I am to retain any lien on her."
"Nay, Mr. Meredith," said Washington, "you need not fear that the new tie will efface the old one. We have ended the mother country's rule of us, but 't is probable her children will never cease to feel affection for the one who gave them being; and so you will find it with Miss Janice."