The two weeks of this chaos were succeeded by a third of unwonted calm, and then one morning as she opened the front door on her way to make her daily purchases, Janice's ears were greeted with the sound of military music. Turning up Second Street, curiosity hastening her steps, she became part of the crowd of women and children running toward the market, and arrived there just in time to see Harcourt's dragoons, followed by six battalions of grenadiers, march past to the tune of "God Save the King." Following these came Lord Cornwallis, and then four batteries of heavy artillery; and the crowd cheered the conquerors as enthusiastically and joyfully as they had Washington's ragged regiments so short a time before.
The advent of the British did not lessen the difficulties of Janice, as they not only promptly seized all the provisions of the town, but their main army, camped outside the city at Germantown, intercepted the few fresh supplies which the farmers successfully smuggled through Washington's lines above the city. Fresh beef rose to nine shillings the pound, bread to six shillings the quartern loaf and everything else in like ratio. Though Brereton's loan furnished her with the where-withal for the moment, each day's purchases made such inroads into it that the girl could not but worry over the future.
The stress she had foreseen came far sooner than even she had feared, or had reason to expect. Without warning, the tradespeople united in refusing to sell for Continental money; and Janice, when she went to make her usual purchases one day, found that she could buy nothing, and had but stinted and pinched herself only to husband what in a moment had become valueless.
At first the girl's distress was so great that she could think of no means of relief; but after hours of miserable and tearful worrying over her helplessness, her face suddenly brightened, and the cause of the change was revealed by her thrusting her hand into her neckerchief, to draw out the miniature of herself. With her knitting needle she pried up the glass and, removing the slip of ivory, laid it carefully in her housewife, heaving, let it be confessed, a little sigh, for it was hard to part with the one trinket she had ever owned. Unconscious of how many hours she had been dwelling on her troubles, she caught up her calash, and with the miniature frame in her hand, hurried to the front door; but the moment she had opened it, she was reminded that it was long after the closing of the markets, and so postponed whatever she had in mind for another day.
On the following morning she sallied forth, so engrossed in her difficulties, or her project, that she paid no heed to the distant sound of cannon, nor to the groups of townspeople who stood about on corners or stoops, evidently discussing something of interest; and it was only when she turned into the market-place, and found it empty alike of buyers and sellers that she was made to realise that something unusual was occurring.
"Why are all the stands closed this morning?" she asked of an urchin.
"'Cause nawthing 's come ter town along of the fightin'."
"Guess you 're a deefy," contemptuously suggested the youngster. "Don't you hear them guns? The grenadiers went out lickety split this mornin' and folks says they've got Washington surrounded, an'll have him captured by night. All the other boys hez gone out on the Germantown road ter see the fun, but daddy said he'd lick me if I went, so I did n't dare," he added dejectedly. "Hurrah! There come some more wounded!" he cried, with sudden cheerfulness and breaking into a run as an army van came in sight down Second Street.
The girl turned away and went into one of the few shops which had opened its shutters.
"You would not take Continental money yesterday," she said to the proprietor; "but perhaps you—you will—I thought—I have no other kind of money, but perhaps you will accept this in payment?" Janice, with a flushed, anxious face, unwrapped from her handkerchief and laid down on the counter the miniature frame.
The man took it up and eyed it for a moment, then raised it to his mouth and pressed his teeth on the edge; satisfied by the experiment, he scrutinised the brilliants. "How d' ye come by this?" he demanded suspiciously.
"Oh, indeed, sir," explained Janice, growing yet redder, "it is mine, I assure you, given me by—that is, he said I might keep it."
"'Tain't for me to say it ain't yourn," responded the shop-keeper; "but the times is bad times and there 's roguery of all sorts going on in the city." He looked it over again, and demanded, "Who does 'W. H. J. B.' mean?"
"I don't—I never knew," faltered Janice.
"Then where 's the picture that was in it?"
"I—I took it out," explained the girl, "not wishing to part with that."
"That's just what ye would have done if ye'd not come by it by rights, "replied the man.
"Then I'll put it back," hastily offered Janice, very much alarmed and flustered. "I—I never dreamed that—that the picture would make it worth any more."
"'T would have made it look more regular. How much d' ye want for it?"
"I thought—Would five pounds be too much?"
The shop-keeper laid the frame down on the counter and shoved it toward Janice. "No, I don't want it," he said.
"Would three pounds—?"
"I don't want it at no such price," interrupted the man.
"Oh," bewailed the girl, "what am I to do? The doctor said she was to have nourishing food; and I have nothing but a little corn meal left. Would you give me one pound for it?"
"I tell ye, I won't buy it at any price. And I don't even want it in the shop, so take it away. And if you want to keep out of jail, I would n't be offering it about; I've most a mind to call the watch myself, as 't is."
The threat was enough to make Janice catch up the bijou and leave the shop almost at a run; nor did her pace lessen as she hurried homeward, and, safely there, she fast bolted the door. This done, with hands which trembled not a little, she replaced her portrait in the frame, hoping dimly from what the shopkeeper had said, that this would help to prove her ownership. Yet all that day and the succeeding one she stayed within doors, dreading what might come; and any unusual noise outside set her heart beating with fear that it might portend the approach of a danger all the more terrible that it was indefinite. As if her suffering were not great enough, an added horror was the army vans loaded with groaning wounded, which rumbled by her door during the sleepless night she spent.
As time lessened her fright, her necessities grew more pressing, and finally became so desperate, that, braving everything, she went boldly to headquarters, and asked for Lord Cornwallis.
She was referred by the sentry at the stoop to a room on the ground floor, her entrance being accompanied by the man shouting down the hallway: "Here 's wan more av thim townsfolks, sir." Entering, Janice discovered two men seated at a table, each with a little pile of money at his elbow, passing the time with cards.
"Well," growled the one with his back to the door, "I suppose 't is the usual tale: No bread, no meat, no firewood; sick wife, sick baby, sick mother, sick anything that can be whined about. Body o' me, must we not merely die by bullets or starvation, but suffer a thousand deaths meantime with endless whimpering!
"Slowly, slowly, Mobray," advised he who faced Janice. "This is no nasal-voiced and putty-faced cowardly old Quaker. 'T is a damned pretty maid, with eyes and a waist and an ankle fit to be a toast. Ay, and she can mantle divinely, when she's admired!"
"Ye don't foist that take-in on me, John Andre! I score six to my suit, and a quint is twenty-one, and a card played is twenty-two.—Well, graycoat, say your say, and don't stand behind me as a kill-joy."
"I wish to see Lord Cornwallis, Sir Frederick," faltered Janice, nerved only by thought of her mother, and ready to sink through the floor in her mortification.
At the sound of a woman's voice the officer turned his head sharply, and with the first glance he was on his feet. "Miss Meredith," he cried, "a thousand pardons! Who 'd have thought to find you here? How can I serve you?"
"I wish to see Lord Cornwallis," repeated Janice.
"'T is evident you pay little heed to what has been occurring," replied Mobray, as he placed a chair for her. "We thought we had all the spirit beat out of Mr. Washington's pack o' ragamuffins; but, egad, day before yesterday, quite contrary to all the rules of polite warfare, and in a most un-gentlemanly manner, they set upon us as we lay encamped at Germantown, and wellnigh gave us a drubbing. Lord Cornwallis went to Sir William's assistance, running his grenadiers at double quick the whole distance, and he has not yet returned."
"We deemed rebellion well under our heel when we gained possession of its capital," chimed in Captain Andre; "but Mr. Washington seems in truth to make a fourth with 'a dog, a woman, and a chestnut-tree, the more they are beat the better they be.' Our very successes are teaching his army how to fight, and I fear me the day will come when we shall have thrashed them into a victory."
"But all this is not helping Miss Meredith," spoke up Mobray. "Lord Cornwallis being beyond reach, can I not be of aid?"
In a few words the girl poured out the tale of her mother's sickness, and then with less glibness, and with reddened cheeks, of her moneyless and foodless condition.
Before she had well finished, the baronet swept up his pile of money on the table and held out the handful of coins to the girl.
"Oh, no," cried Janice, shrinking back. "I—Oh, I thank you, but I can't take your—"
"Ah, Miss Meredith," pleaded Sir Frederick, "I was less proud last winter when we were half starving in scurvy-plagued and fever-stricken Brunswick."
"But food was nothing," exclaimed Janice, "and that is all I want; just enough for my mother. I thought Lord Cornwallis might—"
"In truth, Miss Meredith, you ask for what is far scarcer than guineas in these days," said Andre. "The rebels hold the forts in the lower Delaware so tenaciously that our supply ships have not yet been able to get up to us, and as Washington's army is between us and the back country, we are as near in a state of siege as nineteen thousand men were ever put by an inferior force."
"Our men are on quarter rations, and we officers fare but little better," grumbled Mobray.
"Then what am I to do?" cried Janice, despairingly.
"Come, Fred," said Andre, "can't something be done?"
Mobray shook his head gloomily. "I did my best yesterday to get the wounded rebels given some soup and wine, or at least beef and biscuit that was n't rotten or full of worms, but 't was not to be done; there 's too much profit in buying the worst and charging for the best."
"Damn the commissary! say I," growled Andre, "and let his fate be to starve ever after on the stuff he palms on us as fit to eat."
"Amen," remarked a voice outside, and Lord Clowes stepped into the room. "I'll take hell and army rations, Captain Andre, rather than lose the pleasure of your society," he added ironically.
"Small doubt I shall be found there," retorted Andre, derisively; "but I fear me we shall be no better friends, Baron Clowes, than we are here. There is a special furnace for paroled prisoners!"
"Blast thy tongue, but that insult shall cost thee dear!" returned the commissary, white with rage. "To whom shall I send my friend, sir?"
"Hold, Andre," broke in Mobray, "let me answer, not for you, but for the army." He faced Clowes and went on. "When you have surrendered yourself into the hands of the rebels, and have been properly exchanged, sir, you may be able to find a British officer to carry a challenge on your behalf; until then no man of honour would lower himself by fighting you."
"I make Sir Frederick's answer mine, my Lord," said Andre, "and I suggest, as a lady is present, that we put a finish to our war of words, which can come to nothing."
The commissary gave a quick glance about the room, and as he became aware of the presence of Janice, he uttered an exclamation and started forward with outstretched hand. "Miss Meredith!" he ejaculated. "By all that 's wonderful!"
Mobray made an impulsive movement as Clowes stooped and kissed the girl's hand, almost as if intending to strike the baron; but checking himself; he sarcastically remarked, with a frowning face: "If you enjoy the favour of his Lordship, Miss Meredith, you need not look further for help. We fellows who fight for our country barely get enough to keep life in us, but the commissariat knows not short commons. Mr. Commissary-General, you have an opportunity to aid Miss Meredith that you should not have were it in my power to forestall you."
"Come to my office, Miss Janice," requested Clowes, perhaps glad to get away from the presence of the young officers. He led the way across the hallway to another room, and, after the two were seated, would have taken the girl's hand again had she not avoided his attempt.
In the fewest possible words Janice retold her plight, broken only by interjections of sympathy from her listener, and by two futile endeavours to gain possession of her hand.
"Have no fear of any want in the future," he exclaimed heartily. "In truth, Miss Meredith, on our entrance we seized much that was unfit for the troops, while since then the military necessities have compelled the destruction of many of the finest houses about Germantown, and I took good care that what store of delicacies and wines they might hold should not be destroyed along with them. But give me thy number, and thy mother shall have all that she needs." Clowes caught the maiden's hand, and though she rose with the action, and slightly shrank away from him, this time he had his will and kissed it hotly.
Janice gave the address and thanked him with warm words of gratitude, somewhat neutralised by her trying to free her hand.
Instead of yielding to her wish, the commissary only tightened his grasp. "Ye have owed me something for long," he said, drawing her toward him in spite of her striving. "Surely I have earned it to-day."
"Lord Clowes, I beg—" began Janice; but there she ended the plea, and, throwing her free arm as a shield before her face, she screamed.
Instantly there was a sound of a falling chair, and both the card-players burst into the room.
Quick as they were, Clowes had already dropped his hold, and at a respectful distance was saying: "The wine and food shall reach ye within the hour, Miss Meredith."
Janice silently curtseyed her thanks, and darted past the young officers, alike anxious to escape explanation to them, or further colloquy with her persecutor.
In this latter desire the girl secured but a brief postponement, for she was not long returned when the knocker summoned her to the front door, and on the steps stood the commissary and two soldiers laden with a basket apiece.
"Ye see I'm true to my word, Miss Meredith," said Lord Clowes. "Give me the whiskets, and be off with ye," he ordered to the men; and then to the girl continued: "Where will ye have them bestowed?"
"Oh, I'll not trouble thee," protested Janice, blocking the entrance, "just hand them to me."
"Nay, 't is no trouble," the officer assured her, setting one foot over the sill. "And, besides, I have word of your father to tell ye."
Reluctantly the maiden gave him passage, and pointed out a place of deposit in the entry for his burden. Then she fell back to the staircase, and went up a few steps. Yet she eagerly questioned: "What of my father?"
Clowes came to the foot of the ascent. "He is on one of the transports in the lower Delaware, and as soon as we can reduce the rebel works, and break through their cursed chevaux-de-frise, he will come up to Philadelphia."
"Oh," almost carolled Janice, "what joyous news!"
"And does the bringer deserve no reward?"
"For that, and for the food, I thank you deeply, Lord Clowes," said the girl, warmly.
"I'm not the man to take my pay in mere lip music," answered the commissary. "Harkee, Miss Meredith, there is a limit to my forbearance of thy skittishness. Thou wast ready enough to wed me once, and I have never released thee from the bargain. Henceforth I expect a lover's privileges until they can be made those of a husband." Clowes took two steps, upward.
"I think, Lord Clowes, that 't is hardly kind of you to remind me of my shame," replied Janice, with a gentle dignity very close to tears. "Deceitful I was and disobedient, and no one can blame me more than I have come to blame myself. But you are not the one to speak of it nor to pretend that my giddy conduct was any pledge."
"Then am I to understand that I was lover enough when thy needs required it, but that now I am to be jilted?" demanded the man, harshly.
"Your version is a cruel one that I am sure you cannot think just."
"Ye hold to it that ye are not bound to me?"
The commissary fell back to where he had set the baskets. "In your necessity ye felt otherwise, and I advise ye to remember that ye still require my aid. I am not one of those who lavish favours and expect no return, though a good friend to those who make it worth my while. If I am to have naught from ye, ye shall have naught from me." He picked up the baskets. "Here is milk, bread, meat, jellies, and wines, to be had for a price, and only for a price."
"Oh, prithee, Lord Clowes," begged Janice, despairingly, "you cannot seek to advantage yourself of my desperate plight. All I had to give my mother this morning was some water gruel, and I have not tasted food myself for a twenty-four hours."
"Your anxiety for your mother cannot be over great. I only ask ye to avow that ye consented to become my wife, and should have done so, had we been left free."
The girl wavered; then buried her face in her hands, and in a scarcely audible voice said: "I did intend—for a brief space—did think to—to marry you."
"And ye've never given a promise to another man?"
Clowes set down the baskets. "That is all I wished acknowledged," he said. "I'll ask no more till ye have decided whether ye will be true to the troth ye have just confessed, Janice." He opened the front door, and added as he passed out: "When these supplies are exhausted, ye know where more is to be had."
XL THE BATTLE FOR FOOD AND FORAGE
When Janice came to examine the contents of the baskets, she was somewhat disappointed at the mess of pottage for which she had half bartered herself. Though every article the commissary had enumerated was to be found, it was in meagre quantities, and the girl was shrewd-witted enough to divine the giver's intention,—that she should be quickly forced again to appeal to him. Her mother's requirements and her own hunger, however, prevented dwelling on the future, and scarcely had these been attended to, when Mobray and Andre appeared, to inquire if her immediate needs were supplied, and with a plan of assistance.
"Miss Meredith," said Mobray, "Captain Andre and I have had assigned to us for quarters the Franklin house down on Second Street; and he and I have agreed that, if Mrs. Meredith can be moved, you are to come and share it with us."
"We ask it as a favour, which, if granted, will make us the envy of the army," remarked Andre. "And it will, I trust, not be an entirely one-sided benefit. The old fox's den is more than comfortable, Mobray and I have a couple of rankers as servants, one of whom has more or less attached to him a woman who cooks well enough to make even the present ration eatable, and, lastly, though our presence may be something of a handicap, yet in such unsettled times one must tolerate the dogs if they but keep out the wolves. Hang and whip as we may, the men will plunder, and some in high office are little better. Alone here, you are scarcely safe, but with us you need have no fear."
Janice attempted some objections, but her previous helplessness and loneliness, as well as her recent fright from the commissary, made them faint-hearted, and it needed little urgence to win her consent to the plan. Her mother approving, a surgeon and an ambulance were secured, and before nightfall the removal was safely accomplished.
When, after the first good night's sleep she had enjoyed since her mother sickened, the girl was summoned to breakfast, she found that others had been more wakeful. In the middle of the table was a pail of milk, a pile of eggs, four unplucked fowls, and two sucking pigs, arranged with some pretence of ornament, with two officer's sword-knots to better the attempt at decoration, and the whole surmounted by a placard reading: "Only the brave deserve the fare."
"Gaze, Miss Meredith!', cried Andre, jubilantly. "See the results of a valour of which you were the inspiration! Marathon, Cressy, Fontenoy, and Quebec pale before the march, the conflict, and the retreat of last night, the glories of which would ne'er be credited, even alas! were it not necessary that they should ne'er be told."
"We held counsel concerning our larder," Sir Frederick explained, as the girl looked questioningly from man to man, "and agreed that since you had honoured us, we could not dare to starve you and Mrs. Meredith on salt pork and sea biscuit. So, last night, Andre and I, with our two servants, laid hold of a boat, crossed the Delaware, levied tribute on a fat Jersey farm, and returned ere day had come. Item.—To disobeying the general orders by stealing through the lines: one hundred lashes on the bare back. Item.—For ordering a soldier to break the rules of war: ten days in the guardhouse. Item. —For plundering, contrary to proclamation: death by shooting. Wilt drop a tear o'er my grave, fair lady?"
"Oh, sirs!" exclaimed Janice, "you should not—to take such risk—"
"Not since I went birds-nesting in Kent have I had such a night's sport," declared Andre, gleefully. "And the thought that we were checkmating that scoundrel Clowes did not bate the pleasure. If he were fit company for gentlemen we have him to dinner to-day, just to spoil his appetite with sight of our cates."
"You do not like— Why do you call Lord Clowes scoundrel?" asked Janice.
Mobray shrugged his shoulders as he made answer: "On enough grounds and to boot. But 't is sufficient that he gave his parole to the rebels, and then broke it by escaping to our lines. He is a living daily disgrace to the uniform we all wear, and yet his influence is so powerful with Sir William that we can do nothing against him. Pray Heaven that some day he'll not be able to keep in the rear, and that the rebels recapture and give him the rope he merits."
In contrast to the past, the next few days were very happy ones to Janice. Her mother mended steadily, and was soon able to come to meals and to stay downstairs. The servants relieved the girl of all the household drudgery, and spared her from all dwelling on her empty purse. As for the young officers, they could not do enough to entertain her, and, it is to be suspected, themselves. Piquet was quite abandoned, and in place of it nothing would do Andre but he must teach Janice to paint. Not to be thrown in the background, Mobray produced his flute, and, thanks to a fine harpsichord Franklin had imported for his daughter, was able to have numberless duets with the maiden. Then they took short rides to the south of the city, where the Delaware and Schuylkill safeguarded a restricted territory from rebel intrusion, and daily walks along the river-front or in the State House Gardens, where one of the bands of a few regiments garrisoning the city played every afternoon for the amusement of the officers and townspeople, and where Janice was made acquainted with many a young macaroni officer or feminine toast. Save for the high price of provisions, and the constant war talk, Philadelphia bore little semblance to being in a state of semi-siege, and the prize which two armies were striving to hold or win, not by actual conflict, but by a strategy which aimed to keep closed or to open sources of supplies.
Late in October Howe's army fell back from Germantown and took position just outside the city, where it was set to work throwing up lines of fortifications. And a startling rumour which seemed to come from nowhere, but which, in spite of denials from headquarters, spread like wildfire, supplied a reason for both the retrograde movement and the construction of blockhouses and redoubts.
"The rebels have the effrontery to give it out that they have captured General Burgoyne's whole force," sneeringly announced Mobray, as he returned from guard mount. "There seems no limit to the size of their lies."
"La! Sir Frederick," exclaimed Janice, "'t is just what Colonel—what somebody predicted. He said that if General Washington could but keep Sir William busy until it would be too late for him to go General Burgoyne's aid, all would be well at the end of the campaign."
"And having conceived the hope, they seek to bolster their cause by spreading the tale abroad," scoffed the baronet.
"'Facile est inventis addere,'" laughed Andre. "They are merely settling the moot point as to who is the father of invention."
"What rebel was it bubbled the conceit to you, Miss Meredith?" inquired Mobray.
"'T was Colonel Brereton," replied the girl, with a faint hesitation. Then she added, as if a new idea occurred to her, "So you see the American is not the father of invention, Colonel Brereton being an Englishman." Though spoken as an assertion, the statement had a definite question in it.
"Who is this fellow, who, like Charles Lee, fights against his own country?" asked Andre.
"No one you ever knew, John," replied Mobray; "but I, who do, have it not in my heart to blame him."
"Wilt not tell us his history?" begged Janice, eagerly. "Once he said his great-grandfather was King of England, and since then I've so longed to know it!"
"'T is truth he spoke, poor fellow, but he was an old-time friend of mine, which would be enough to seal my lips respecting his sorry tale, since he wishes oblivion for it. But I am his debtor as well, for he it was who helped me to a prompt exchange when I was taken prisoner last spring."
"Of course I would not have thee tell me anything that is secret," remarked Janice. Then, after a moment, she went on, "There is, however, something of which you may be able to inform me?"
"But name your desire."
"I must get it," announced the girl, and she left the room and went upstairs. But once in the upper hallway, she did not go to her room, merely pausing long enough to take the miniature from its abiding spot, and then returned. "Wilt tell me if the diamonds are false?" she requested, placing the ornament in Andre's hand.
"No, for a certainty," replied the captain.
"Then is it not worth five pounds?" exclaimed Janice.
"Five pounds," laughed Andre, derisively. "'T is easily worth five hundred!"
"Oh, never!" cried the girl.
"Ay. Am I not right, Mobray?"
"Beyond question. And then 't is not worth the portrait it encircles," asserted Mobray, gallantly.
"And yet I could not get one pound for it," marvelled Janice, and told the two officers how she had sought to barter it.
"'T is evident you asked too little, Miss Meredith," surmised Andre, "and so made him suspect your title."
"Would that you might offer it to me at a hundred times five pounds!" bemoaned the baronet. "To think of such a pearl being cast before such swine
"Who painted it, Miss Meredith?" asked Andre.
"'T was Colonel Brereton."
Mobray looked up quickly at her, then once more at the miniature. He turned it over, and as the initials on the back caught his eye, he frowned, but more with intentness than anger. For a moment he held it, then handed it to Janice with the remark, "Know you the frame's history?"
"Only that it once held another portrait, and that of a most beautiful girl."
"Whom he forgot, it appears, once you were seen, for which small blame to him, Miss Meredith," replied Mobray, as he rose and left the room, his face set sternly, as if he were fighting some emotion.
For two days the young officers continued to get infinite amusement out of the rebel news, but on the third their gibes and flouts ceased, and a sudden gravity ensued, the cause of which was explained to the women that evening when the time had come for "good-night."
"Ladies," said Andre, "the route is ordered before daybreak to-morrow, so we must say a farewell to you now, and leave you for a time to the sole charge of Mrs. O'Flaherty. She has orders from us, and from her putative spouse, to take the greatest care of you both, and we have endeavoured to arrange that you shall want for nothing during what we fervently hope will be but a brief absence."
"For what are you leaving us?" asked Mrs. Meredith.
"In truth, 't is a sorry business," growled Mobray. "Confirmation came last night of Burgoyne's capitulation, and this means that General Gates's army will at once effect a juncture with Washington's, and the combined force will give us more than we bargained to fight. Burgoyne's fiasco makes it all the more necessary that we hold Philadelphia, and so, as our one chance, we must, ere the union is effected, capture the forts on the Delaware, that our warships and supplies may come to us, lest, when the moment arrives for our desperate struggle, we be handicapped by short commons and no line of retreat."
"Wilt pray for our success, Miss Meredith?"
"Ay," urged the baronet, "for whatever your sympathies, remember that we fight this time to reunite you with your father."
And that night Janice made her first plea in behalf of the British arms.
The absence of Mobray and Andre brought the commissary once again to the fore. Previous to their departure he had dropped in upon the Merediths, only to receive a cool greeting from Janice, and such cold ones from the two captains as discouraged repetition. Now, relieved of their supercilious taunts and affronts, the baron became a daily visitor. He always brought gifts of delicacies, paid open court to Mrs. Meredith, and never once recurred to the words he had wrung from Janice, for the time making himself both useful and entertaining. From his calls the ladies learned the course of the war and of what the distant cannonading meant: of the bloody repulse of Donop's Hessians at Red Bank, of the burning of the Augusta 64, of the bombardment of the forts on Mud Island, and of the other desperate fighting by which the British struggled to free their jugular vein, the river, from the clutch of Washington's forces.
It was Clowes who brought them the best proof of the final triumph of the royal army, for one November morning he broke in upon their breakfast, unannounced, and with him came Mr. Meredith.
Had the squire ever doubted the affection of his wife and daughter, the next few minutes of inarticulate but ecstatic delight would have convinced him once for all. Mrs. Meredith, who, since her fever, had been unwontedly gentle and affectionate, welcomed him as he had not been greeted in years; and Janice, shifting from tears to laughter and back again, wellnigh choked him in her delight. Breakfast was forgotten, while the exile was made to tell all his adventures, and of how finally he had escaped from the ship on which perforce he had been for three months.
"'T was desperate fighting on both sides, but we were too many for them, and the river is free at last. The transport 'Surrey' was third to come up to the city, and the moment I was ashore I sought out Lord Clowes, hoping to get word of ye, and was not disappointed. Pox me! but I'd begun to think that never again should I see ye!"
There was so much to tell and to listen to in the next few days that the reunited family gave little heed to public events, though warm salutations and thanks were lavished on Mobray and Andre upon the return of the regiments which had operated against the forts.
An enforced change speedily brought them back to the present. The mustering of all the royal army, now swelled by reinforcements of three thousand troops hurriedly summoned from New York, compelled a rebilleting of the troops, and nine more officers were assigned by the quartermaster-general to the Franklin house, overcrowding it to such an extent as to end the possibility that it should longer shelter the Merediths. The squire went to Sir William Erskine, only to be told that as he was a civilian, the Quartermaster's Department could, or at least would, do nothing for him. An appeal to Clowes resulted better, for that officer offered to share his own lodgings with his friends,—a generosity which delighted Mr. Meredith, but which put an anxious look on his daughter's face and a scowl on that of Mobray.
"I make no doubt 't was a well-hatched scheme from the start," he asserted. "Lord Clowes and Erskine are but Tom Tickle and Tom Scratch."
With the same thought in her own mind, Janice took the first opportunity to beg her father to seek further rather than accept the commissary's hospitality.
"Nay, lass," replied Mr. Meredith. "Beggars cannot be choosers, and that is what we are. Remember that I am without money, and have been so ever since those rascals hounded me from home. Had not Lord Clowes generously stepped forward as he has, we should be put to it to get through the winter without being frozen or starved. And your mother's health is not such as could stand either, that ye know."
"You are quite right, dadda," assented the girl, as she stooped and kissed him. "I—I had a reason—which now I will not trouble you with—and selfishly forgot both mommy and our poverty." Then flinging her arms about his neck, she hid her head against his shoulder and said: "I am promised —you have given Philemon your word, and you'll not go back on it, will you, dadda?" almost as if she were making a prayer.
"Odds my life! what scatter-brains women are born with!" marvelled Mr. Meredith. "No wonder the adage runs that 'a woman's mind and a winter's wind oft change'! In the name of evil, Jan, what started ye off on that tangent?"
"You will keep faith with him, dadda?" pleaded the daughter.
"Of course I will," affirmed the squire. "And glad I am, lass, to find that ye've come to see that I knew not merely what was best for ye, but what would make ye happiest. If the poor lad is ever exchanged, 't will be glad news for him."
The removal to the commissary's quarters might have been for a time postponed, for barely had the new arrangement been achieved when another manoeuvre wellnigh emptied the city of the British troops. Massing fourteen thousand soldiers, Howe sallied forth to attack the Continental army in its camp at Whitemarsh.
"We have word," Lord Clowes explained, "that Gates is playing his own game, and, instead of bringing his army to Mr. Washington's aid, he keeps tight hold of it, and has, after needless delay, sent him but a bare four thousand men. So, in place of waiting for an attack, Sir William intends to drive the rebels back into the hills, that we may obtain fresh provisions and forage as we need them."
The movement proved but a march up a hill to march down again, and four days later saw the British troops back in Philadelphia with only a little skirmishing and some badly frosted toes and ears to show for the sally, the young officers tingling and raging with shame at not having been allowed to fight the inferior Continental army.
The commissary, however, took it philosophically. "Their position was too strong, and they shoot too straight," he told his guests. "It will all turn for the best, since no army can keep the field in such weather, and Washington will be forced to go into winter quarters. He must then fall back on Lancaster and Reading, out of striking distance, leaving us free to forage on the country at will."
Once again his prediction was wrong. "That marplot of a rebel general has schemed a new method of troubling us," he grumbled angrily a week later. "Instead of wintering his troops in a town, as any other commander would, our spies bring us word that he has marched them to a strong position on Valley Creek, a bare twenty miles from here, and has them all as busy as beavers throwing up earthworks and building huts. If God does n't kindly freeze the devil's brood, they'll tie us into our lines just as they did last winter, and give us an ounce of lead for every pound of forage we seek. No sooner do we beat them, and take possession of a town, than they close in and put us in a state of siege, just as if they were the superior force. Small wonder that Sir William has written the Ministry that America can't be conquered, and asking his Majesty's permission to resign. A curse on the man who conceived such a mode of warfare!"
XLI WINTER QUARTERS
No sooner had the British returned from their brief sally than they settled into winter quarters, and gave themselves up to such amusements as the city afforded or they could create.
The commissary had taken good heed to have one of the finest of the deserted Whig houses in the city assigned to him, and whatever it had once lacked had been supplied. A coach, a chair, and four saddle-horses were at his beck and call; a dozen servants, some military and some slave, performed the household and stable work; a larder and a cellar, filled to repletion, satisfied every creature need, and their contents were served on plate and china of the richest.
"I' faith," explained the officer, when Mr. Meredith commented on the completeness and elegance of the establishment, "'t is something to be commissary-general in these times; and since the houses about Germantown were to be destroyed, 't was contrary to nature not to take from them what would serve to make me comfortable. Their owners, be they friends or foes, are none the poorer, for they think it all perished in the flames, as it would have done but for my forethought."
However lavish the hospitality of Lord Clowes could be under these circumstances, it was not popular with the army, and such officers as came to eat and drink at his table were more remarkable for their gastronomic abilities than for their wits and manners. In his civilian guests the quality was better, the man being so powerful through his office that the best of the townsfolk only too gladly gathered about his table when they were bidden,—an eagerness at which the commissary jeered even while he invited them.
"They are all to be bought," he sneered. "There is Tom Willing, who made the most part of his money importing Guinea niggers, and now is in a mortal funk lest some of it, like them, shall run away. Two years ago he was a member of the rebel Congress and a partner of that desperate speculator Morris, with a hand thrust deep in the Continental treasury rag-bag. Now he has trimmed ship better than any of his slavers ever did, gone about on the opposite tack, and is so loyal to British rule that his greatest ambition is to get his other hand in some government contracts. He and his pretty wife will dine here every time they are asked, and so will all the rest, ye'll see."
During the first days in their new domiciliary, Janice showed the utmost nervousness, seldom leaving her mother's or father's side, and never venturing into the hallways without a previous peep to see that they were empty. As the weeks wore on without any attempt on the commissary's part to surprise her into a tete-a-tete, to recur to the words he had forced her to utter, or to be anything but a polite, entertaining, and thoughtful host, the girl gained courage, and little by little took life more equably. She would have been been less easy, though better able to understand his conduct, had she overheard or had repeated to her a conversation between Lord Clowes and her father on the day that they first took up their new abode.
"A beggar's thanks are lean ones, Clowes," the squire had said, over the wine; "but if ever the dice cease from throwing me blanks, ye shall find that Lambert Meredith has not forgot your loans of home and money."
"Talk not to me in such strain, Meredith," replied the host, with the frank, hearty manner he could so well command. "I ask no better payment than your company, but 't is in your power to shift the debt onto my shoulders at any time, and by a single word at that."
"It has scarce slipped thy memory that in a moment's mistrust of thee—which I now concede was both unfriendly and unjustifiable—I sought to run off with thy beautiful maid. She was ready to marry me out of hand; but give thy consent as well, and I shall be thy debtor for life."
"Ye know—" began Mr. Meredith.
"And what is more," went on the suitor, "though 't is not for me to make boast, I can assure ye that Lord Clowes is no bad match. In the last two years I've salted down nigh sixty thousand pounds in the funds and bank stock."
"Adzooks!" aspirated the squire. "How did ye that?"
"Hah, hah!" laughed the commissary, triumphantly. "That is what it is to play the cards aright. 'T was all from being carried on that cursed silly voyage to the Madeiras which at that moment I deemed the work of the Evil One himself. I could get but a passage to Halifax, and by luck I arrived there just as Sir William put in with the fleet from Boston. We had done a stroke or two of business in former times, and so I was able to gain his ear, and unfold a big scheme to him."
"And what was that?"
"Hah! a great scheme," reiterated Clowes, smacking his lips, after a long swallow of spirits. "Says I, make me commissary-general, and I'll make our fortunes. We'll impress food and forage, and the government shall pay us for every pound of—"
"'T was madness," broke in Mr. Meredith. "Dost not know that nothing has so stirred the people as the taking their crops without payment?"
"Like as not," assented the commissary; "but 't is also the way to subdue them. They began a war, and they must pay the usual penalty until they are sickened of it. And since the seizures were to be made, 't was too good a chance not to turn an honest penny. Pray Heaven they don't lay down their arms too soon, for I ambition to be wealthier still. Canst hope better for your daughter than that she be made Lady Clowes, and rich to boot?"
"She's promised—" began the squire, but once again the suitor cut him off.
"She herself told me she is pledged to no one but me."
"Nay, I've passed my word to Leftenant Hennion."
"Chut! A subaltern who'll bless his stars if he ever is allowed to starve on a captain's pay. Thou canst not really mean to do thy daughter such an injury?"
My word is passed; and Lambert Meredith breaks not that. The lad 's a good boy, too, who'll make her a good husband, with a fine estate, if peace ever comes again in the land."
The officer thrummed a moment on the table. "Then 't is only thy word to this fellow, and no want of friendliness that leads thee to give me nay?" he asked.
"Of that ye may be sure," assented Mr. Meredith, eagerly availing himself of the easy escape from the quandary that his host made for him.
"And but for the promise ye'd give her to me?"
The father hesitated and swallowed before he made reply, and when the words came, it was with an observable reluctance that he said: "Ye should know that."
"That is all I ask," cried the commissary. "I knew ye were not the man to eat another's bread and not do what ye could for him. We'll not hope for harm to the lad, but if the camp fever or small-pox or aught else should come to him, I'll remind ye of the promise ye've just spoken, sure that the man who won't break his word to one won't to t' other."
"That ye may tie to," acceded Mr. Meredith, though with a dubious manner, as if something perplexed him. And in his own room that evening he paused for a moment after removing his wig and remarked to himself: "Promise I suppose I did, though I ne'er intended it. Well, let 's hope that Phil gets her; and if some miscarriage prevents, 't is something that she should be made great and rich, though I wish the money had come in some more honest way to a more honest man."
As for the commissary, once retired to his own room, he wrote a letter which he superscribed "To David Sproat, Deputy Commissary of Prisoners at New York." But this done, he tore it up, and tossed the fragments into the fire, with the remark: "Why should I put my name to it, when Loring or Cunningham can give the order just as well? I'll see one or t' other to-morrow, and so prevent all chance of its being traced to me." Then he sat looking for a time at the embers reflectively. "'T is folly to want her," he said finally, as he rose and began the removal of his coat, "now that ye need not her money; but she's enough to tempt any man with blood in his veins, and I can afford the whim. Keep that blood in check, however, till ye have her fast; and do not frighten her as ye have done. To think of Lord Clowes, cool enough to match any man, losing his head over a whiffling bit of woman-flesh! What devil's baits they are!"
Put at ease by the commissary's conduct toward her, Janice entered eagerly into the gaiety with which the army beguiled the tedium of winter quarters. Dislike of Clowes precluded Andre and Mobray from coming to the house, but they saw much of the maiden elsewhere. She and Peggy Chew had been made known to each other by Andre early in the British occupation, and they promptly established the warm friendship that girls of their age so easily form, and spent many hours together. The two captains were quick to discover that the Chew house was a pleasant one, and became almost as constant visitors there as Janice herself. At Andre's suggestion the painting lessons were resumed, with Miss Chew as an additional pupil, and he undertook to teach them French as well; the music, too, was revived for Mobray's benefit, though now more often as a trio or quartette; and many other pleasures were shared in common. Both young officers were deeply concerned in the series of plays for which the theatre was being made ready; and the girls not merely heard them rehearse their respective parts, but with scissors and needles helped to make costumes for the amateur actors.
"Oh!" sighed Janice one day, after hearing Mobray through his lines in "The Deuce is in Him," "I'd give a finger but to see it played."
"See it!" exclaimed the baronet. "Of course you'll see it."
"They say there 's a great demand for places," demurred Peggy.
"Have no fear as to that," said Andre. "Do you think I've risked my neck painting the curtain and scenery, and worked myself thin over it generally, not to get what I deserve in return. My name was next down after Sir William's for a box, and in it such beauty shall be exhibited that 't is likely we poor Thespians will get not so much as a look from the exquisites of the pit."
"Lack-a-day!" grieved Janice, "mommy will never hear of my going to see a play. I've not so much as dared to tell her that I'm helping you."
"Devil seize me, but you shall attend, if it takes a provost guard to do it," predicted Mobray.
Neither the protests nor prayers of the baronet, however, served to gain Mrs. Meredith's consent that her daughter should enter what she called "The Devil's Pit," but what he could not bring to pass the commissary did.
"I have bespoke a box for the first performance at the theatre," Lord Clowes announced at dinner one evening, "and bid ye all as my guests."
"'T is a sinful place, to which I will never lend my countenance," said Mrs. Meredith, with such promptness as to suggest a forestalling of her husband and daughter.
The commissary bowed his head in apparent acquiescence, but when he and the squire were left to their wine he recurred to the matter.
"I look to ye, Meredith," he said, "to overcome your wife's absurd whimsey."
"'T is useless to argue with Matilda when her mind 's made up," answered the husband, dejectedly. "That I have learned time and again."
"And so 't is with all women, if a man 's so foolish as to argue. Didst ever hear of ignorance paying heed to reason? There's but one way to deal with the sex: 'Do this, do that; ye shall, ye sha'n't,' is all the vocabulary a man needs to make matrimony agreeable. Put your foot down, and, mark me, she'll come to heel like a spaniel. But go ye must, for Sir William makes it a positive point that all of prominence attend the theatre and assembly, that the public may learn that the gentry are with us."
"They brought no clothes for such occasions," objected the squire, falling back on a new line of defence.
"Take fifty pounds more from me; 't will be money well spent."
"I like not to increase my borrowings, and especially for female fallals and furbelows."
"Nonsense, man; don't shy at a few hundred pounds. Ye know one year of order and rents will pay all ye owe me twice over. Ye must not displeasure Sir William for such a sum."
So it came to pass that the squire, when they rejoined the ladies, emboldened by his wine, promptly let fall the observation that he had decided they were all to go to the theatre.
"Thou heardst me say that I am principled against it," dissented Mrs. Meredith.
"Tush, Matilda! I gave in to your Presbyterian swaddling clothes and lacing-strings at Greenwood, but now ye must do as I say. So get ye to a mercer's to-morrow, and set to on proper clothes."
"Dost wish to see thy wife and daughter damned, Lambert?"
"Ay, if that 's to be my fate, and so should ye. Go I shall to the theatre, and so shall Janice. If ye prefer salvation to our company, stay at home."
"Oh, mommy, please, please go," eagerly implored Janice. "Captain Andre assures me that 't is not in the least evil."
With tears in her eyes, Mrs. Meredith rose. "'T is not right; but if sin thou must, I too will eat of the fruit, rather than be parted from thee." She kissed both Mr. Meredith and Janice with an almost savage tenderness, and passed hurriedly from the room, leaving a very astounded husband and a very delighted daughter.
The girl's delight was not lessened the next day when they went a-shopping, and with the purchases a sudden end was put to her help of the theatricals, and even, temporarily, to the French and painting lessons. If ever maid was grateful for the weary hours of training in fine sewing and embroidery, Janice was, as she toiled, with cheeks made hectic by excitement, over the frock in which her waking thoughts were centred. When finally the day came for the trying on, and it fulfilled her highest expectation, her ecstasy, unable to contain itself, was forced to find expression, and she poured the rapture out in a letter to Tabitha, though knowing full well that only by the luckiest chance could it ever be sent.
"Only to think of it, Tibbie!" she wrote. "We are to have plays given by the officers, and weekly dancing assemblies, and darling dadda says I am to go to both; and all my gowns being monstrous nugging and frumpish, he told mommy to see that I had a new one, though where the money came from (for though I did every stitch myself, it cost a pretty penny—no less than seventeen pounds and eight shillings, Tibbie!) I have puzzled not a little to fancy. I fear me I cannot describe it justly to you, but I will do my endeavour. 'T is a black velvet with pink satin sleeves and stomacher, and a pink satin petticoat, over which is a fall of white crape; the sides open in front, spotted all over with gray embroidery, and the edge of the coat and skirt trimmed with gray fur. Oh, Tibbie, 't is the most elegant and dashy robing that ever was! Pray Heaven I don't dirt it for it is to serve for the whole winter! Peggy has three new frocks, and Margaret Shippen four, but mine is the prettiest, and by tight lacing (though no tighter than theirs) I make my waist an ell smaller than either. In addition, I have a nabob of gray tabby silk trimmed with the same fur, which has such a sweet and modish air that I could cry at having to remove it but for what it would conceal. I intend to ask Peggy if 't would be citified and a la mode to keep it on for a little while after entering the box by the plea that the playhouse is cold. The high mode now is to dress the hair enormous tall—a good eight inches, Tibbie—over a steel frame, powdered mighty white, and to stick a mouchet or two on the face. It seems to me I cannot wait for the night, yet my teeth rattle and my hands tremble and I am all in a shake whenever I think of it; if I can but keep from being mute as a stock-fish, and gawkish, for I am all alive with fear that I shall be both, and shame us all! Peggy has taught me the minuet glide and curtsey and languish, and I am to step it at the first Assembly with Captain Andre,— such a pretty, engaging fellow, Tibbie, who will never swing for want of tongue; and Lord Rawdon has bespoke my hand for the quadrille,—a stern, frowning man, who frights me greatly, but 't is a monstrous distinction I need scarce say to be asked by one who will some day be an earl, Tibbie—and I dance the Sir Roger de Coverley with Sir Frederick Mobray, who is delightsome, too, by his rallying, performs most entrancingly on the flute, and is one of the best bowlers in the weekly cricket matches, but who is said to play very deep at Pharaoh in the club the officers have established; and to keep a great number of fighting cocks on which he wagers vast sums—if rumour speaks true, as high as a hundred guineas on a single main, Tibbie—at the cock-pit they have set up. A great crowd assembled yesterday to see him and Major Tarleton ride their chargers from Sixth Street to the river on a bet, and he lost because a little girl toddled out from the sidewalk and he pulled up, while the major, who is a wonderful horseman, spurred and leaped over her. But he was blamed for taking the risk, for his horse might not have risen, so Colonel Harcourt told Nancy Bond. 'T was Major Tarleton, I daresay you recollect; who was at our house when General Lee was captivated; and P. Hennion then told me he was considered the most reckless and dare-devil officer in the cavalry, but a cruel man. 'Mr. Lee,' as they all term him, here,—for they will not give the Whigs any titles,—has just been brought to Philadelphia and is at large on parole, pending an exchange, which has been delayed because 't is feared by the British that any convention may be taken as a recognition of the rebels, and be so considered by France and Spain.
"So much has happened," the letter-writer continued a week later, "I scarce know where to begin, Tibbie, nor how to convey to you the wondrous occurrences. Oh, Tibbie, Tibbie, plays are the most amazing and marvellous things in the world! Not a one of the officers could I recognise, so changed they were, and they did us females to the life. 'T was so enchanting that at times I found myself gasping through very forgetfulness to breathe, and I was dreadfully rallied and quizzed because I burst into tears when the poor minor seemed to have lost both his love and his property. But how can I touch off my feelings, when, in the fourth act; the villain was detected; and all ended as it should! And, oh! Tibbie, mommy enjoyed it nearly as much as I, though the farce at the end vastly shocked her—and, indeed, Tibbie, 't was most indelicate, and made me blush a scarlet, and all the more that Sir William whispered that he enjoyed the broad parts through my cheeks—and she says if dadda insists, we'll go again, though not to stay to the farce. We had to sit in Lord Clowes' box—which sadly affronted Captain Andre —and Sir William, who has hitherto kept himself muck secluded; made his first appearance in public, and, as you wilt have inferred, visited our box during a part of the performance, drawing all eyes upon us, which agitated me greatly. Dadda told him I was learning to sketch, and nothing would do but I must give him an example, so on the back of the play-bill I made a caricature of General Lee, which was extravagantly praised, and was passed from hand to hand all over the house, and excited a titter wherever it went, for the general was in attendance; but judge of my feelings, Tibbie, when an officer passed it to Lee himself! He fell into a mighty rage, and demanded aloud to know who had thus insulted him, and but for Lord Clowes and Sir William preventing me, I'd have fled from the place, I was in such a panic. Pray Heaven he never learn! I dare not repeat to thee half the civil things which were said of this 'sweet creature,' as they styled me, for fear thou'lt think me vain. 'As thee is, I doubt not,' I hear thee say. Saucy Tibbie Drinker!"
At the very time that this account was being penned, some twenty miles away, a man was also writing, and a paragraph in his letter read:—
"Our going into winter quarters, instead of keeping the field, can have been reprobated only by those gentlemen who think soldiers are made of stocks and stones and equally insensible to frost and snow; and, moreover, who conceived it easily practicable for an inferior army, under the disadvantages we are known to labour under, to confine a superior one, in all respects well appointed and provided for a winter's campaign, within the city of Philadelphia, and to cover from depredation and waste the States of Pennsylvania and Jersey. But what makes this matter still more extraordinary in my eye is that those very gentlemen—who well know that the path of this army from Whitemarsh to Valley Forge might have been tracked by the blood of footprints, and that not a boot or shoe had since been issued by the commissaries: who are well apprised of the nakedness of the troops from ocular demonstration; whom I myself informed of the fact that some brigades had been four days without meat, and were unsupplied with the very straw to save them from sleeping on the bare earth floors of the huts, so that one-third of this army should be in hospitals, if hospitals there were, and that even the common soldiers had been forced to come to my quarters to make known their wants and suffering —should think a winter's campaign and the covering of these States from the invasion of an enemy so easy and practical a business. I can assure those gentlemen that it is a much easier and less distressing thing to draw remonstrances in a comfortable room by a good fireside than to keep a cold, bleak hill and sleep under frost and snow without clothes or blankets. However, although they seem to have little feeling for the naked and distressed soldiers, I feel superabundantly for them, and from my soul I pity those miseries which it is neither in my power to relieve nor prevent.
"It is for these reasons that I dwelt upon the subject to Congress; and it adds not a little to my other difficulties and distress to find that much more is expected of me than it is possible to perform, the more that upon the ground of safety and policy I am obliged to conceal the true state of this army from public view, and thereby expose myself to detraction and calumny."
The letter completed, the man took up the tallow dip, and passed from the cramped, chilly room in which he had sat to a still more cold and contracted hallway. Tiptoeing up a stairway, he paused a moment to listen at a door, then entered.
"I heard your voice, Brereton, so knew you were waking. Well, Billy, how does the patient?"
"Pohly, massa, pohly. De doctor say de ku'nel 'ud do fus-class ef he only would n't wherrit so, but he do nothin' but toss an' act rambunctious, an' dat keep de wound fretted an' him feverish."
"And fret I will," came a voice from the bed, "till I've done with this feather-bed coddling and am allowed to take my share of the work and privation."
"Nay, my boy," said Washington, coming to the bedside and laying his hand kindly on Jack's shoulder; "there is naught to be done, and you are well out of it. Give the wound its chance to heal."
Brereton gave a flounce. "Do, in the name of mercy, Billy, get me a glass of water," he begged querulously. Then, after the black had departed, he asked: "What has Congress done?"
"They have voted Gates president of the Board of War, with almost plenary powers."
"A fit reward for his holding back until too late the troops that would have put us, and not the British, in Philadelphia this winter. You won't let their ill-treatment force you into a resignation, sir?"
"I have put my hand to the plough and shall ne'er turn back. If I leave the cause, it will be by their act and not mine.
"Congress may hamper and slight you, sir, but will not dare to supersede you, for very fear of their own constituents. The people trust you, if the politicians don't."
"Set your mind on more quieting things, Brereton," advised Washington, taking the young fellow's hand affectionately. "May you have a restful night."
"One favour before you go, your Excellency," exclaimed Jack, as the general turned. "I—Could n't—Does McLane still get his spies into the city?"
"Could he—Wilt ask him—to—to make inquiry—if possible—of one—concerning Miss Janice Meredith, and let me know how she fares?"
The general pressed the aide's hand, and was opening his lips, when a figure, covered by a negligee night-gown of green silk, appeared at the door.
"I've heard thee exciting John for the last half-hour, Mr. Washington," she said upbraidingly. "I am amazed at thy thoughtlessness."
"Nay, Patsy, I but stopped in to ask how he did and to bid him a good-night," replied Washington, gently.
"A half-hour," reiterated Mrs. Washington, sternly, "and now you still tarry."
"Only because you block the doorway, my dear," said the husband, equably. "If I delayed at all, 't was because Brereton wished to set in train an inquiry concerning his sweetheart."
"His what?" exclaimed the dame. "Let me pass in, Mr. Washington. John must tell me all about her this moment."
"You said he should sleep, Patsy," replied the general, smiling. "Come to our room, my dear, and I'll tell you somewhat of her."
But however much may have been told in the privacy of the connubial chamber, one fact was not stated: That far back in the bottom drawer of the bureau in which Janice kept her clothes lay a half-finished silk purse, to which not a stitch bad been added since the day that the muttering of the guns of Brandywine had sounded through the streets of Philadelphia.
XLII BARTER AND SALE
The first check to Janice's full enjoyment of the novel and delightful world into which she had plunged so eagerly came early in March. "I have ill news for thee, my child," Mr. Meredith apprised her, as he entered the room where she was sitting. "I just parted from Mr. Loring, the Commissary of Prisoners, and he asked if Philemon Hennion were not a friend of ours, and then told me that the deputy-commissary at Morristown writ him last week that the lad had died of the putrid fever."
"I am very sorry," the girl said, with a genuine regret in her voice. "He—I wish—I can't but feel that 't is something for which I am to blame."
"Nay, don't lay reproach on yeself, Jan," advised the father, little recking of what was in his daughter's mind. "If we go to blaming ourselves for the results of well-considered conduct, there is no end to sorrow. But I fear me his death will bring us a fresh difficulty. We'll say nothing of the news to Lord Clowes, and trust that he hear not of it; for once known, he'll probably begin teasing us to let him wed ye."
"Dadda!" cried Janice, "you never would—would give him encouragement? Oh, no, you—you love me too much."
"Ye know I love ye, Jan, and that whatever I do, I try to do my best for ye. But—"
"Then don't give him any hope. Oh, dadda, if you knew how I—"
"He 's not the man I'd pick for ye, Jan, that I grant. Clowes is—"
"He beguiled me shamefully—and he broke his parole— and he takes mean advantage whene'er he can—and he crawls half the time and bullies the rest—and when he's polite he makes me shudder or grow cold—and when he's—"
"Now, don't fly into a flounce or a ferment till ye've listened to what I have to say, child. 'T is—"
"Oh, dadda, no! Don't—"
"Hark to me, Janice, and then ye shall have all the speech ye wish. By this time, lass, ye are old enough to know that life is not made up of doing what one wishes, but doing what one can or must. The future for us is far blacker than I have chosen to paint to ye. Many of the British officers themselves now concede that the subduing of the rebels will be a matter of years, and that ere it is accomplished, the English people may tire of it; and though I'll ne'er believe that our good king will abandon to the rule and vengeance of the Whigs those who have remained loyal to him, yet the outlook for the moment is darkened by the probability that France will come to the assistance of the rebels. The Pennsylvania Assembly has before it an act of attainder and forfeiture which will drive from the colony all those who have held by the king, and take from them their lands; and as soon as the Jersey Assembly meets, it will no doubt do the same, and vote us into exile and poverty. Even if my having taken no active part should save me from this fate, the future is scarce bettered, for 't will take years for the country to recover from this war, and rents will remain unpaid. Nor is this the depth of our difficulties. Already I am a debtor to the tune of nigh four hundred pounds to Lord Clowes—"
"Dadda, no!" cried the girl. "Don't say it!"
"Ay. Where didst thou suppose the money came from on which I lived in New York and all of us here? Didst think thy gown came from heaven?"
"I'd have died sooner than owe it to him," moaned Janice. "How could you let me go to the expense?"
"'T was not to be avoided, Jan. As Sir William's wish was that we should lend our countenance to the festivities, 't would not have done to displeasure him, and since I was to be debtor to Lord Clowes, another fifty pounds was not worth balking at. More still I'll have to ask from him, I fear, ere we are safe out of this wretched coil."
"Oh, prithee, dadda," implored the girl, "do not take another shilling. I'll work my fingers to the bone—do anything —rather than be indebted to him!"
"'T is not to be helped, child. Think ye work is to be obtained at such a time, with hundreds in the city out of employment and at the point of starvation? Thank your stars, rather, that we have a friend who not merely gives us a shelter and food, but advances us cash enough to make us easy. Dost think I have not tried for employment myself? I've been to merchant after merchant to beg even smouting work, and done the same to the quartermaster's and commissary's departments, but nothing wage-earning is to be had."
"'T is horrible!" despairingly wailed Janice.
"That it might be blacker can at least be said, and that is why I wish thee not to let thy feelings set too strongly against Lord Clowes. Here 's a peer of England, Jan, with wealth as well, eager to wed thee. He is not what I would have him, but it would be a load off my mind and off thy mother's to feel that thy future at least is made safe and—"
"I'd die sooner than live such a future," cried the girl. "I could not live with him!"
"Yet ye ran off with this man."
"But then I did not know him as I know him now. You won't force me, will you, dadda?"
"That I'll not; but act not impulsively, lass. Talk with thy mother, and view it from all sides. And meantime, we'll hope he'll not hear of the poor lad's death."
Left alone by her father to digest this advice, Janice lapsed into a despondent attitude, while remarking: "'T is horrible, and never could I bring myself to it. Starvation would be easier." She sat a little time pondering; then, getting her cloak, calash, and pattens, she set forth, the look of thought displaced by one of determination. A hurried walk of a few squares brought her to the Franklin house, where she asked for Andre.
"Miss Meredith," cried the captain, as he appeared at the door, "this is indeed an honour! But why tarry you outside?"
"I fear me, Captain Andre, that I am doing a monstrous bold thing, and therefore will not enter, but beg of you instead that you walk with me a little distance, for I am in a real difficulty and would ask your help."
The officer caught up his hat and sword, and in a moment they were walking down Second Street. Several times Janice unsuccessfully sought to begin her tale, but Andre finally had to come to her assistance.
"You surely do not fear to trust me, Miss Meredith, and you cannot doubt the surety of assistance, if it be within my power?"
For a moment the girl's lips trembled; then she said," Dost truly think the miniature frame I showed thee is worth as much as five hundred pounds?"
"I think 't is, beyond doubt."
"And dost thou think that thee couldst obtain four hundred pounds for it?"
"Of that I can scarce give assurance, for 't is a question whether a purchaser can be found for it. Yet I make small doubt, Miss Meredith," he added, "that if you will leave your portrait in it, one man there is in Philadelphia will gladly buy it at that price, though he run in debt to do it. If you desire to sell it, why do you not offer it to Mobray?"
The girl had coloured with Andre's first remark, and ere he had completed his speech, her cheeks were all aglow. "I— I could not offer it to him. Surely you can understand that 't would be impossible?" she stammered.
"I suppose I am dull-witted not to know it," said Andre, hurriedly, in evident desire to lessen her embarrassment. "However, 't was but a suggestion, and if you desire to sell, I will gladly undertake to negotiate it for you."
"Oh, will you?" cried the girl, eagerly. "'T will so greatly service me."
Without more ado, she held out her hand, which contained the miniature, and after a second outburst of thanks, quite unconscious of the fact that she was leaving him abruptly, she hurried away, not homeward, but in a direction which presently brought her to a house before which a sentry paced, where she stopped.
"Is Sir William within?" she asked of the uniformed servant who answered her knock; and when told that he was, added: "Wilt say that Miss Meredith begs speech with him?"
The servant showed her into the parlour, then passed into the room back of it, and Janice heard the murmur of his words as he delivered her message.
"Miss Meredith," cried a woman's voice. "What does that puss want with you, Sir William?"
The bass of a masculine reply came to the visitor's ears, though pitched too low for her to distinguish words.
"I know better than to take any man's oath concerning that," retorted the feminine speaker; and on the last word the door was flung wider open, and a woman of full figure and of very pronounced beauty burst into the room where the girl sat, closely followed, if not in fact pursued, by the British commander-in-chief. "What do you want with Sir William?" she demanded.
Janice had risen, half in fright and half in courtesy; but the cry she uttered, even as the inquiry was put, was significant of something more than either.
"Well," went on the questioner, "art struck with a syncope that thou dost nothing but gape and stare at me?"
"I beg your pardon," faltered the girl. "I recognised— that is—I mean, 't was thy painting that—"
"Malapert!" shrieked the woman. "How dare you say I paint! Dost have the vanity to think thou 'rt the only one with a red and white skin?"
"Oh, indeed, madam," gasped Janice, "I alluded not to thy painting and powdering, but to the miniature that—"
"Sir William," screamed the dame, too furious even to heed the attempted explanation, "how can you stand there and hear this hussy thus insult me?"
"Then in Heaven's name get back to the room from which you should ne'er have come," muttered Howe, crossly.
"And leave you to the tete-a-tete you wish with this bold minx."
"Ay, leave me to learn why Miss Meredith honours me with this visit."
"You need not my absence, if that is all you wish to know. 'T would be highly wrong to leave a miss, however artful, unmatronised. Here I stay till I see cause to change my mind."
Sir William said something below his breath with a manner suggestive of an oath, shrugged his shoulders, and turned to Janice. "Old friends are not to be controlled, Miss Meredith," he said, "and since we are to have a third for our interview, let me make you known to each other. Mrs. Loring, Miss Meredith."
"I pray you, madam, to believe," entreated Janice, even as she made her curtsey, "that you entirely misinterpreted—"
"I care not what you meant," broke in Mrs. Loring, without the pretence of returning the obeisance. "Say your say to Sir William, and be gone."
"Damn you, Jane!" swore the general, bursting into a rage. "If you cannot behave yourself I will call in the servants and have you put from the room. Please be seated, Miss Meredith, and tell me in what manner I can serve you."
"I came, Sir William, to beg that you would give my father some position by which he could earn a living. We are totally without money, and getting daily deeper in debt."
"Your wish is a command," replied Sir William, gallantly, "but are you sure 't is best? Remember that the moment your father takes position from me he commits himself far more in the cause than he has hitherto, and the rebels are making it plain they intend to punish with the utmost severity all who take sides with us."
"But even that is better than—than—than living on charity," exclaimed Janice. "I assure you that anything is better—"
"Enough!" declared the general, as the girl hesitated. "Your father shall be gazetted one of the wardens of abandoned property at once. 'T will give him a salary and fees as well."
"Ah, Sir William, how can I ever thank you enough?" murmured the girl, feeling, indeed, as if an end had come to her troubles. She made a deep curtsey to Mrs. Loring, a second to the general, and then took the hand he offered her to the front door. "I beg, Sir William," she said at parting, "that you will assure Mrs. Loring that I really did not—"
The general interrupted her with a laugh. "A man with an evil smell takes offence at every wrinkled nose," he asserted, "and you hit upon a subject on which my friend has perhaps cause to be sensitive."
Janice ran rather than walked the whole way home, and, not stopping when she reached the house to tell her father of her successful mission, or even to remove her cloak and calash, she tripped upstairs to her room, went straight to her bureau, and, pulling open the bottom drawer, took from it the unset miniature, and scrutinised it closely for a moment. "'T is she beyond question!" the girl ejaculated. "And I always thought of her as a young female, never suspecting it might have been some time painted. Why, she is a good ten years older than Colonel Brereton, or at least eight, let alone that she paints and powders! If that is the ill-mannered creature he gave his love to, I have little pity for him."
This decided, the maiden sought out her father and informed him of her mission and its successful result.
"Why, Jan," exclaimed her father, "thou 'rt indeed a wonderful lass to have schemed and carried it through. I'd have spoken to Sir William myself, but he keeps himself so secluded that never a chance have I had to speak to him save in public. It is for the best, however, for I doubt not he paid more heed to thy young lips than ever he would to mine. Hadst thou told me, however, I would have gone with thee, for it must have been a tax on thy courage to have ventured alone."
I did n't even let myself think of it," replied the daughter, "and, indeed, 't was so much easier than the thought of your further increasing your debt to Lord Clowes that 't was nothing." Then, after a slight pause, she asked: "Dadda, who is the Mrs. Loring I found at Sir William's?"
"Humph!" grunted the squire, with obvious annoyance. "'T is the wife of Joshua Loring, commissary of prisoners."
"Has she been long married to him?" asked Janice.
"That I know not; and the less ye concern yourself, Jan, with her, the better."
Despite this recommendation, Janice once again repeated her question, this time making it to Andre at the Assembly that evening.
"I know not," the captain told her, pursing up his lips and raising his eyebrows. Then he called to his opposite in the quadrille: "Cathcart, can you tell me how long Mrs. Loring has rejoiced in that title of honour?"
The earl laughed as if Andre had said something witty, and made reply: "Since ever I can remember, and that is a full five years."
When later the dancers adjourned to the supper-room, Lord Cathcart tossed a billet across the table to Andre, and he in turn passed it to Mobray, who was squiring Janice. The baronet held it so that she could see the message as well, and inscribed on the paper were the lines:—
"Your question don't think me a moment ignoring: 'How long has she honoured the surname of Loring?' Wiseacre, first tell, how a man without honour Could ever confer that fair jewel upon her?"
Sir Frederick, before handing it back, took Janice's pencil from her dancing-card, and scribbled on the back of the quip:—
"The answer is plain, for by means of her face, The lady secured him an honourable place. In return for the favour, by clergy and vow, She made sure of her honour, but who knows when or Howe?"
And from that interchange of epigrams Janice asked no further questions relative to Mrs. Loring, unless it might be of herself.
XLIII A CHOICE OF EVILS
At this ball Janice was gladdened by word from Andre that he had effected the sale of the miniature, though he maintained absolute silence as to who the purchaser was, nor did she choose to inquire. The next morning brought a packet from him containing a rouleau of guineas, and so soon as they were counted, the girl hurried to the room on the ground floor which the commissary had taken as a half office, and, after an apology for the unannounced intrusion, said,—
"You have been good enough, Lord Clowes, to favour us with sundry loans, for which we can never be grateful enough, but 't is now in our power to repay them."
"Pay me!" cried the baron, incredulously.
"Yes," replied Janice, laying down the pile of gold on the desk. "Wilt tell me the exact amount?"
The guineas were too indisputable for Clowes to question the girl's ability to carry out her intention, but he demanded, "How came you by such a sum of gold?"
"'T is—That concerns thee not," replied the girl, with spirit.
"And does thy father know?"
"I ask you, Lord Clowes," Janice responded, "to tell me the amount we owe you."
For a moment the officer sat with a scowl on his face, then suddenly he threw it off, and with a hearty, friendly manner said: "Nay, Miss Meredith, think naught of it. You 're welcome ten times over to the money, and what more ye shall ever need." He rose as he spoke, and held out his hand toward the girl. "Generosity is not the monopoly of razorless youngsters of twenty."
Janice, ignoring the hand, said: "Once again, Lord Clowes, I ask you to inform me of the amount of our debt, which if you will not tell me, you will force me to leave all the money."
The angry frown returned to the commissary's face, and all the reply he made was to touch a bell. "Tell Mr. Meredith I would have word with him in my office," he said to the servant. Then he turned to Janice and remarked, "If ye insist on knowing the amount, 't is as well that your father give it to ye, since clearly ye trust me in nothing."
"Oh, Lord Clowes," begged Janice, "wilt thou not let me pay this without calling in dadda? I—I acted without first speaking to him, and I fear me—" There her words were cut short by the entrance of the squire.
"I sent for ye, man, to help us unsnarl a coil. Your daughter insists on repaying the money I have loaned ye, and I thought it best ye should be witness to the transaction." As he ended he pointed to the pile of coin.
"Odds bodikins!" exclaimed Mr. Meredith, as his eye followed the motion. "And where got ye such a sum, Jan?"
"Oh, dadda," faltered the girl, "'t is a long story, of which I promise to make you a full narration, once we are alone, though I fear me you will think that I have done wrong. But, meantime, will you not tell me how much you owe Lord Clowes, and let me pay him? Believe me, the money is honestly come by."
"No doubt, no doubt," said the commissary, with a rough laugh. "Young macaronis are oft known to give girls hundreds of pounds and get nothing in return."
All the reply Janice made was to go to the door. "Whenever you will come to the parlour, dadda, you shall know all, but I will not stay here to endure such speeches."
Without thought of the gold, Mr. Meredith was hurrying after his daughter, when Clowes interrupted him.
"The explanation is simple enough, Meredith," he said, "and I cannot but take it in bad part that your maid should borrow of Mobray in order to repay my loan to you."
"I cannot believe that that is the explanation, Clowes," protested Mr. Meredith. "But if it is, be assured that the money shall be returned him, and we will still stand your debtors." Then he sought his daughter, and she poured out to him the whole story of the miniature.
"Wrong I may have been, dadda, to have taken it to begin with, but Colonel Brereton refused to receive it from me, and when he himself placed it about my picture, I could not but feel that it had truly become mine, and that I could dispose of it."
"But who bought it of ye, Jan?" inquired the parent.
"That I know not," said the girl, though hesitating and colouring at the question in her own mind whether she were not prevaricating, for Andre's face and her own suspicions had really convinced her who was the nameless buyer. "Captain Andre assured me that the frame was fully worth five hundred pounds."
"That I will not gainsay, lass," replied the squire, "and the only blame I will lay on ye is that ye did not consult me before acting, for I could have negotiated it as well, and should have so managed as not to have offended Clowes. However, I make no doubt he'll not hold rancour when he knows that the money came by the sale of a piece of jewelry, and was not merely borrowed. Did ye take your picture from the frame?"
"No, dadda. I did so once before, only to bring suspicion on myself; so this time I let it remain."
"Ye might as well have removed it," said Mr. Meredith, "for it could have added no money value to it." Yet the squire had once been a lover, and should have known otherwise. This said, he returned to Clowes, and sought to mollify him by a statement of how the money had been obtained.
"Humph!" grunted the baron. "She'd better have brought the trinket to me, for I'd gladly have been the purchaser, for more even than she got by it."
"I told the lass she should have left the sale of it to me," answered the squire, "but ye know what women are."
"Egad, I sometimes think, shallow as the sex is, no man fully knows that. However, we will waste no further parley on the matter. Put the money in your purse, man, for your future needs, and think naught about the debt to me."
"Nay, Clowes. Since the money is here, 't is as well to pay up." And protest and argue as the commissary would, nothing would do the squire but to count out the amount on the spot from the heap of guineas, and to pocket, not without some satisfaction, the small surplus that remained. Then he left the room in great good cheer; but for some time after he was gone, the baron, leaving the gold piled on the table, paced the room in an evident fit of temper, while muttering to himself and occasionally shaking his head threateningly.
The gazetting of Mr. Meredith served only to increase this half-stifled anger, and on the very evening his appointment was announced in the "Pennsylvania Ledger," the commissary recurred to his proposal.
"I heard by chance to-day that young Hennion had fallen a victim to the camp fever," he told the squire, "and only held my tongue before the ladies through not wishing to be the reporter of bad tidings—though, as I understood it, neither Mrs. Meredith nor Miss Janice really wished the match."
The father took time over a swallow of Madeira, then said: "'T is a grievous end for the good lad."
"Ay, though I am not hypocrite enough to pretend that it affects me save for its freeing of your daughter, and so removing the one objection ye made to my taking her to wife."
Once more the squire gained a moment's breathing space over his wine before he replied: "Ye know, Clowes, that I'd willingly give ye the girl, but I find that she will have none of it, and 't is a matter on which I choose not to force her inclination."
"Well said; and I am the last man to wish an unwilling spouse," responded the aspirant. "But ye know women's ways enough not to be their dupes. In truth, having no stability of mind, the sex resemble a ship without a rudder, veering with every shift of the wind, and never sailing two days alike. But put a man at the helm, and they steer as straight a course as could be wished. Janice was hot to wed me once, and though she took affront later because she held me responsible for her punishment, yet she herself owned, but a few weeks ago, that she was still bound to me, which shows how little her moods mean. Having your consent secured, it will take me but a brief wooing to gain hers, that ye shall see."
"Well," rejoined Mr. Meredith, "she's now old enough to know her own mind, and if ye can win her assent to your suit, mine shall not be lacking. But 't is for ye to do that."
"Spoken like a true friend, and here 's my hand on it," declared the commissary. "But there is one matter in which I wish ye to put an interfering finger, not so much to aid me as to save the maid from hazard. That fopling Mobray is buzzing about her and pilfering all the sweets that can be had short of matrimony—"
"Nay, Clowes, he's no intriguer against my lass, that I am bound to say. 'T was only this morning, the moment he had news of Hennion's death, he came to me like a man, to ask permission to address her."
"Ho, he's deeper bitten by her charms than I thought! retorted the suitor. "Or, on second thought, more like 't is a last desperate leap to save himself from ruin. Let me warn ye that he has enough paper out to beggar him thrice over, and 't is only a question of time ere his creditors come down on him and force him to sell his commission; after which he must sink into beggary."
"I sorrow to hear it. He 's a likely lad, and has kindly stood us in stead more than once."
"And just because of his taking parts, he is likely to keep your girl's heart in a state of incertitude, for 't is only mortal for eighteen to fancy twenty more than forty-four. Therefore, unless ye want a gambling bankrupt for a son-in-law, give him his marching orders."
"I'll not do that after his kindness to my wife and child; but I'll take good care to warn Janice."
"Look that ye don't only make him the more interesting to her. Girls of her age think little of where the next meal is to come from, and dote on the young prodigal."
"Have no fear on that score," replied the father.
On the morning following this conversation Janice was stopped by the commissary as she was passing his office. "Will ye give me the honour of your presence within for a moment?" he requested. "I have something of import to say to ye."
With a little trepidation the girl entered, and took the seat he placed for her.
Taking a standing position at a respectful distance, Lord Clowes without circumlocution plunged at once into the object of the interview. "That I have long wished ye for my wife, Miss Meredith," he said with frank bluffness, "is scarce worth repeating. That in one or two instances I have given ye cause to blame or doubt me, I am full conscious; 't is not in man, I fear, to love such beauty, grace, and elegance, and keep his blood ever within bounds. 'T was this led me to suggest our elopement, and to my effort to bind ye to the troth. In both of these I erred, and now crave a pardon. Ye can scarce hold me guilty that my love made me hot for the quickest marriage I could compass, or that, believing ye in honour pledged to me, I should seek to assure myself of the plight from your own lips, ungenerous though it was at the moment. It has since been my endeavour to show that I regretted my impulsive persecution, and I trust that my long forbearance and self-effacement have proved to ye that your comfort and happiness are the first object of my heart."
"You have been very good to us all," answered Janice, "and I would that I were able to repay in full measure all we owe to you. But—"
"Ye can, and by one word," interjected the suitor.
"But, Lord Clowes," she continued, with a voice that trembled a little, "I cannot yield to thy wish. Censurable I know myself to be—and no one can upbraid me more than I upbraid myself—yet between the two wrongs I must choose, and 't is better for both of us that I break the implied promise, entered into at a moment when I was scarce myself than to make a new one which I know to be false from the beginning, and impossible to fulfil."
"Of the old promise we will say naught, Miss Meredith," replied the baron. "If your sense of right and wrong absolve ye, Baron Clowes is not the man to insist upon it. But there is still a future that ye must not overlook. 'T will be years, if ever, ere ye once again enjoy your property, and though this appointment—which is like to prove dear-bought—for the moment enables ye to face the world, it is but a short-lived dependence. To ye I will confide what is as yet known to but a half-dozen: his Majesty has accepted Sir William resignation, and he leaves us so soon as Sir Henry Clinton arrives. The new commander will have his own set of hungry hangers-on to provide with places, and your father's days will be numbered. In my own help I shall be as unstinting as in the past, but it is quite on the cards that I, too, lose my appointment, in which case I shall return to England. Would not a marriage with me make—"
"But I love you not," broke in Janice.
"Ye have fallen in love with that—"
"I love no one, Lord Clowes; and indeed begin to fear that I was born without a heart."
"Then your objection is that of a very young girl who knows nothing of the world. Miss Meredith, the women who marry for love are rare indeed, and but few of them fail of a bitter disappointment. I cannot hope that my arguments will convince ye of this, but counsel with your parents, and ye'll find they bear me out. On the one side stands eventual penury and perhaps violence for ye all; on the other, marriage with a man who, whatever his faults, loves ye hotly, who will give ye a title and wealth, and who will see to it that your parents want for nothing. 'T is an alternative that few women would hesitate over, but I ask no answer now, and would rather that ye give none till ye have taken consideration upon it."
Janice rose. "I—I will talk with dadda and mommy," she said, "and learn their wishes." But even as she spoke the words a slight shiver unsteadied her voice.
XLIV A CARTEL OF EXCHANGE
After Janice left him the commissary-general mounted a horse, and, riding to the Franklin house, asked for Captain Mobray. "I have called, sir," he announced, as the baronet entered the room, "on two matters—"
"Have they to do with the service, my Lord?" interrupted Mobray; "for otherwise I must decline—"
"First," the caller went on unheedingly, "a number of past-due bills of yours have come into my possession in exchange for special victuals or stores, and I wish to learn your intention concerning them."
"I—In truth—I—" haltingly began Sir Frederick, his face losing colour as he spoke. "I have had the devil's turn of luck of late, and—and I am not in a position to take them up at the moment. I trust that you'll give me time, and not press me too harshly."
With a smile that expressed irony qualified by enjoyment, the creditor replied: "'T is a pleasure to aid a man to whom I am indebted for so much courtesy."
Sir Frederick's ashen hue changed to a ruddy one, as he said: "Lord Clowes, 't is a bitter mouthful for a man to eat, but I ask your clemency till my luck changes, for change it must, since cards and dice cannot always run against one. I know I deserve it not at your hands, after what has passed—"
"Cease your stuttering, man," ordered the commissary. "Had I revenge in my heart I'd have sent the bailiff not come myself. The bills shall wait your convenience, and all I ask for the lenience is that ye dine with me and do me one service. Ye did me a bad stroke with Miss Meredith; now I ask ye to offset it by telling her what my vengeance has been."
Mobray hesitated. "Lord Clowes, I will do nothing to trick Miss Meredith, desperately placed as I am."
"Chut! Who talks of trickery? Ye told her the facts of my parole; therefore ye owe it to me, even though it may not serve your own suit, to tell her as well what is in my favour."
"And so help you to win her. I cannot do her that wrong, my Lord."
"Is it worse to tell her only the truth about me than to seek to persuade her into a marriage with a bankrupt?"
"You state it unsparingly."
"Not more so, I doubt not, than ye did the matter of my parole—which some day I shall be able to justify, and the gentlemen of the army will then sing a very altered tune— with this difference, that I say it to your face and ye did not."
With bowed head Sir Frederick answered: "You are right, my Lord, and I will say what I can in your favour to Miss Meredith."
"Spoke like an honest man. Fare ye well till next Wednesday, when I shall look for ye to a three-o'clock dinner."
Whatever pain and shame the words cost him, honourably the baronet fulfilled his promise by going to the commissary's quarters the following day and telling Janice the facts. The girl listened to his explanation with a face grave almost to sadness. "I—What you have told me, Sir Frederick," she said gently at the end, "is of much importance to me just at this time, and I thank you."
"I know, I know," groaned the young officer, miserably, "and 't is only part of my horrible run of luck that I should—that—ah—Take him, Miss Meredith, and end my torture."
"Can you advise me to marry Lord Clowes?"
"After his generosity to me, in honour I must say nothing against him, but 't is asking too much of human nature for me to aid his suit."
"I—oh, I know not what to do!" despairingly wailed the girl. "Mommy says 't is for me to decide, and dadda thinks I cannot do better, and to the ear it seems indeed the only thing to do. Yet I shudder every time I think of it, and twice, when I have dreamed that I was his wife, I have waked the whole house with my screams to be saved from him."
"Miss Meredith," burst out the baronet, "give me the right to save you. You know I love you to desperation; that I would live to make you—"
"Ah, pray, Sir Frederick," begged Janice, "do not add to my pain and difficulty. What you wish—"
"I crave a pardon for my words. 'T was a moment's selfish forgetfulness of you and of my own position, that shall not occur again." Mobray stooped and kissed a loose end of the handkerchief the girl held, and hurried from the room.
As he was catching up his cloak and sabre in the hallway, the door of the office opened. "Come in here a moment, Sir Frederick," requested the commissary.
"I have done as I promised, and that is all I can do at the moment," almost sobbed the young fellow. "Nor will I dine here Wednesday, though you do your worst."
"Tush! Do as ye please as to that, but come in here now, for I have a thing to say that concerns Miss Meredith's happiness."
"And what is that?" demanded the baronet, as he entered.
"I see by the G. O. that ye are named one of the commissioners to arrange a cartel of exchange with the rebels at Germantown to-day."
"Would to God it were to arrange a battle in which I might fall!"
"'T is likely lists of prisoners will be shown, and should ye chance to see the name of Leftenant Hennion on any of those handed in by the rebels I recommend that ye do not advertise the fact when ye return to Philadelphia."
"But the fellow's dead."
"Ye have been long enough in the service to know that some die whose names never get on any return, and so some are reported dead who decline to be buried. Let us not beat about the bush as to what I mean. We are each doing our best to obtain possession of this lovely creature, but the father holds to his promise to the long-legged noodle, and, if he is alive, our suits are hopeless. So let them continue to suppose him—"
"Mine is so already," groaned Mobray. "But if 't were not, I would not filch a woman's love by means of a deceit. Nor—"
"Fudge! Hear me through. The girl has always hated the match, which was one of her old fool of a father's conceiving, and will thank any one who saves her from the fellow. Let her say nay to us both, and it please her, but don't force her to a marriage of compulsion by needless blabbing."
"I will hold my peace, if that seems best for Miss Meredith; not otherwise, my Lord," answered Mobray, flinging from the room.
The baronet mounted his horse, and, stabbing his spurs into him, galloped madly down Market Street, and then up Second Street to where it forked into two country roads. Here the lines of British fortifications intersected it, and a picket of cavalry forced the rider to draw rein and show his pass. This done, he rode on, though at a more easy pace, and an hour later entered the village of Germantown. In front of the Roebuck Inn a guidon, from which depended a white flag, had been thrust into the ground, and grouped about the door of the tavern was a small party of Continental light horse. Trotting up to them, Mobray dismounted, and, after an inquiry and a request to one of them to take his horse, he entered the public room. To its one occupant, who was seated before the fire, he said: "The dragoons outside told me the reb—the Continental commissioners were here. Canst tell me where they are to be found, fellow?"
The person addressed rose from his seat, revealing clothes so soiled and tattered, and a pair of long boots of such shabby appearance, as to give him the semblance of some runaway prentice or bond-servant, but over his shoulder passed a green ribbon and sword sash which marked their wearer as a field officer; and as the baronet realised this he removed his hat and bowed.