While this spectacle was affording infinite amusement to the officers and sentinels, Brereton, after helping Mrs. Meredith alight, went in search of Washington and in a few moments returned with him.
"We have made free with your home, as you see, Mrs. Meredith," apologised the commander-in-chief, as he shook her hand, "and I scarce know now whether to bid you welcome, or to ask leave for us to tarry till to-morrow. May we not effect a compromise by your dining and supping with me, and, in return, your favouring me and my family with a night's lodging?"
"Thou couldst not fail of welcome for far longer, General Washington," said Mrs. Meredith, warmly, "but thou art doubly so if Lady Washington is with thee."
"Nay; I meant my military family," explained the general. "Mrs. Washington retreated, ere the campaign opened, to Mount Vernon." Then he turned to the daughter and shook her hand. "Ah, Miss Janice," he said, "sorry reports we've had of thy goings on, and we greatly feared we had lost thee to the cause."
"Ah, no. your Excellency," protested the girl. "Though I did once pray that the British should capture Philadelphia, 't was not because I wished you beaten, but solely because it would bring dadda to us, and—and many a prayer I've made for you."
The general smiled. "'T will be glad news to some," he said, with a sidelong look at Brereton, "that thy sympathies have always been with us. I presume thou hast simply been doing the British soldiery all the harm that thou couldst under guise of friendliness. I'll warrant thou'st a greater tale of wounded officers than any of Morgan's riflemen, sharpshooters though they be."
"I would I could say I had been ever faithful, your Excellency, but I must own to fickleness."
"These are times that test loyalty to the full," replied Washington, "and there has been many a waverer in the land."
"Of that I know full well, your Excellency."
"Nay, Miss Meredith, thou needest not pretend that thou hast any knowledge of inconstancy. From that particular failing of mankind I'll agree to hold thee harmless."
"Your Excellency but compliments me," answered Janice, "in presuming me exempt from forgetfulness." And as she spoke the girl gave an unconscious glance at Brereton.
L ROSES AND HONEYSUCKLE
Dinner, which was actually being placed on the table in the tent at the moment the ladies arrived, cut short further conversation with either Washington or Sukey. Utterly forgetful of her duties to spit and oven, nothing would do the former cook but to follow Janice to her old room, where she summarily ordered Billy to clear out the clothing and accoutrements of its military tenants.
"Don't you stay, Sukey," said Janice, "if you are needed in the kitchen. His Excellency—"
"Dat I ain't, chile. Gin'l Washington he trabell wid his own cook, an' Peg an' I 'se only helpin' Mr. Lee set de table and carry de dishes. Now I help ma honey."
"Oh, Sukey," carolled Janice, "it is so good to be home again!"
"Guess Missus Sukey tink dat too," said William, halting in his labours. "She dun talk about nuthin' else but her pooty young missus."
"And how 's Blueskin, Billy?" questioned Janice.
"Lor' bless us, miss, dyar ain't no restrainin' ob dat steed wid de airs he put on since he dun took part at Monmouth an' hear the gin'l say what he tink oh dat feller Lee. I tell him if he doan behave better, de next time dyar 's goin' to be a battle, I jus' saddle up Nelson an' leave him behind."
"Now youse stop a-talkin' an' tote dem men's tings somewhars else. Missy Janice gwine to change her gown, an' we doan want nuttin' oh dat sort in hyar."
"I'll only smart myself a little and not change my frock, Sukey, because—"
"Dat youse must, honey, for I dun praise youse so dat I ain't gwine to have dem disappointed in youse. Who'll be to dinner to-day, Mr. Lee?"
"Gen'l Greene an' Lord Sterlin', an' de staff, an' de field an' brigades major ob de day."
"Dere, chile, now doan youse depreciate yourself to all dem. Jus' youse put on de pootiest dress youse hab an' do ole Sukey proud." Then, as she helped Janice to bedeck herself she poured out the story of their makeshift life, telling how, with what had been left of the poultry, and with the products of the small patch of the garden they had been able to till, the two slaves had managed to live the year through, taking the best care they could of their master's property, and hoping and praying daily for what had at last come to pass. The arraying would have been more speedy with the volunteer abigail out of the room; but not once did the mistress even suggest it, and, on the contrary, paused several times in the process to give the black a hug.
Finally, a call from her mother put an end to this frittering and hurried the girl downstairs. Washington gave his hand to Mrs. Meredith, and there was a contest of words among the numerous officers for the privilege of the girl's, till Lord Sterling asserted his prerogative of rank and carried her off. Her presence was indeed a boon to the twenty men who sat down at the table, and, accustomed as Janice was by this time to the attention of officers, she could not but be flattered by the homage and deference paid her, all the more, perhaps, that it was witnessed by Brereton. Nor did this cease with the withdrawal of the ladies, for a number of the younger blades elected for her society rather than for that of the bottle, and made themselves her escort in the tour of inspection which Janice insisted on making about the place; and had she needed to be helped or lifted over every fence, or even stone, they encountered, there would have been willing hands to do it. It is true she was teased not a little for her supposed British sympathies, but it was not done ill-naturedly, and the girl was now quick-witted and quick-tongued enough to protect herself.
This plurality of swains did not lessen as the afternoon advanced, for not one of the diners departed, and when tea-time had come, their ranks were swelled by a dozen new arrivals, giving both Mrs. Meredith and Janice all they could do to keep the assembly supplied with "dishes" of the cheerful but uninebriating beverage which had been so material a cause in the very embodying of this army. Then the officers idled about the lawn, each perhaps hoping for an invitation to stay on to the supper which so quickly followed the tea-drinking; and those who were fortunate enough to attain their wish did not hurry away once the meal was concluded. Only when Mrs. Meredith excused herself and her daughter on the ground of fatigue, did the youngsters recollect that there were camp duties which called them away.
"I fear me, Miss Janice," said the commander-in-chief, as the good-nights were being said, "that discipline would be maintained with difficulty were we long to remain encamped here. Personally, I cannot but regret that we move northward to-morrow; but for the good of the service I think 't is fortunate."
Drum beat and bugle call, sounding reveille, brought Janice back to consciousness the next morning; and it is to be suspected that she took some pains with her morning toilet, for by the time she descended tents were already levelled and regiments and artillery were filing past on the road.
"We have reason to believe that Sir Henry meditates a move up the Hudson against our post of West Point," Washington explained to Janice; "and so it is our duty to put ourselves within protecting distance, though I myself think he will scarce venture a blow, the more that he is strengthening his lines about New York. 'T is not a little pleasing to us that, after two years' fighting and manoeuvring, both armies are brought back to the very point they set out from, and that from being the attacking party, the British are now reduced to the use of spade and pick-axe for defence."
"I wish you were not leaving us, your Excellency," sighed Janice.
"'T is one of the penalties of war," replied the general, "that we are doomed to see little of the fair sex, and must be content with an occasional sip of their society. Should we winter near here, as now seems possible, I trust you will honour Mrs. Washington and myself with your company at headquarters. And one word ere we part, Mrs. Meredith. You must not think that we make free with people's property, as we seem to have done in your case. Finding your home unoccupied, I made bold to take it for my headquarters; but the quartermaster-general will pay you before we leave for such use as I have made of it."
"We could not accept anything, your Excellency," protested the hostess. "The obligation is with us, and I beg—"
"Be off with you to your stations, gentlemen," ordered Washington, as he rose from the table; and having cleared the room, he continued: "Nay, Mrs. Meredith, Congress allows me my expenses, and 't is only just that you should be paid. And however well provided you may be, a little ready money will surely not be amiss?"
"Your Excellency is more thoughtful of our future than we are ourselves," responded Mrs. Meredith. "For a moment I had forgot our position; we will gladly accept payment."
"Would that I could as easily pay you for the pleasure you have given me," said the general, shaking her hand. "Miss Janice, we'll do our best," he went on, "to tie the British soldiery into New York; but, whether we succeed or no, I wish to hear of no more philandering with their officers. 'T is hard enough to fight them in the field, without encountering them in our softer moments; so see to it that you save your smiles and blushes for us."
"I will, your Excellency," promised Janice, as she did both.
"Nay, nay, my child," he corrected, smiling. "I did not mean that thou shouldst blush and smile for me. I am a married man, and old enough to be thy father."
"'T is fortunate you are the first, your Excellency," laughed the girl in turn, "or the latter should not protect you." And as the general held out his hand she impulsively kissed it.
"I shall write Mrs. Washington that 't will never do for her to leave me during another campaign," replied the commander, reciprocating the salute. "Not but she will be very proud to think that so charming a maid honours her husband with such favours."
At the door the staff were already mounted and waiting their chief. Farewells were completed with all save Brereton, who for some reason had withdrawn a little from the group; and these done, the cavalcade trotted off.
No sooner was it upon the road than Brereton spurred up alongside of his superior, and, saluting, said in a dropped voice: "Your Excellency, I had something of moment to say to the Merediths, but 't was impossible to get private word, with all the idlers and racketers and Jack-a-dandies of the army running in and out upon them. May I not turn back? I will overtake you ere many hours."
"Think you, sir," asked Washington, gravely, "I have no occasion for my aides, that you make such a request?"
Jack flushed with mortification and temper. "I supposed that, on the march, you could spare—"
"I can, my boy," interrupted the commander-in-chief with a change of manner, "and was but putting off a take-in on you. My own courting was done while colonel of the First Virginia regiment, and well I remember how galling the military duties were. 'T is to be feared I was not wholly candid in the reasons calling me from the regiment to Williamsburg, that I alleged to my superiors, for my business at the capital took few hours, and both going and returning I managed to stay many at 'White House.' May your wooing speed as prosperously," he finished, extending an arm and pressing his junior's hand warmly. "And if by chance you should not overtake us till to-morrow, I'll think of twenty years ago and spare you a reprimand."
"God save you, sir!" exclaimed Jack, in an undertone of gratitude. "I—I love—She is—is so dear to me, that I could not bear the thought of waiting." Wheeling his horse, the rider gave him the spur.
The moment the general and staff had trotted away, Mrs. Meredith turned to her daughter and asked, "Hast thou refused Colonel Brereton, Janice?"
"No, mommy," faltered the girl.
"Then why did he ride off without a word to either of us?"
"I—'t is—I can only think that—that he has come to care for Tibbie—being in and out of love easily—and so is ashamed of the part he has played."
"'T is evident that I was right in my view that thy vanity had misled thee," replied the mother. "But we'll not discuss its meaning now, for I must find out how we stand. Try to make thyself a task, child."
Her search for this took the maiden, closely followed by Clarion, to the garden, where she found that weeds, if nothing else, had thriven, though the perennials still made a goodly show. Before beginning a war on the former, she walked to a great tangle of honeysuckle that clustered about and overtopped a garden seat, to pluck a bunch and stick it in the neckerchief that was folded over her bosom; then she went to her favourite rose-bush and kissed the one blossom July had left to it. "I'll not pick you," she said, "since you are the only one."
The sound of galloping caught her attention as she raised her head and though she could not see the rider, her ears told her that he turned into Greenwood gate, even before the pace was slackened. Not knowing what it might bode, the girl stood listening, with an anxious look on her face. The cadence of the hoof-beats ended suddenly, and silence ensued for a time; then as suddenly, quick footsteps, accompanied by a tell-tale jingle and clank, came striding along the path from the kitchen to the port in the hedge. One glance Janice gave at the opposite entrance, as if flight were in her thoughts, then, with a hand resting on the back of the seat to steady herself, she awaited the intruder.
Brereton paused in the opening of the box, as his eyes rested on his love. "Would to Heaven," he exclaimed, "that I had my colours and the time to paint you as you stand!"
Both relieved and yet more frightened, Janice, in an attempt to conceal the latter feeling, remarked, "I thought you had departed, sir."
"Think you I'd rest content without farewell, or choose to have one with the whole staff as witnesses?" answered Jack, as he came forward. "Furthermore, I had some matters of which to speak that were not to be published to the world."
"Where I'd have her," interjected the officer; "for what I have to say is to you. First: I put the screws on old Hennion and Bagby, and have their word that they will not push their forfeiture bill, or in any other way molest you."
"We thank you deeply, Colonel Brereton."
"I rode to Brunswick and saw Parson McClave yesterday afternoon, to bespeak his aid, and he says he is certain you may live at peace here, if you will not seek to be rigorous with your tenants, and that he will do his best to keep the community from persecuting you."
"'T is glad news, indeed."
"Knowing how you were circumstanced, I then rode about your farms and held interview with a number of your tenants and pleaded with them that they pay a part of their arrears in supplies; and several of the better sort gave me their word that you should not want for food."
"'T was most thoughtful of you."
"Finally, I wrote a letter to your father, and have sent it under a flag that was going to New York, telling him that you were safe arrived at Greenwood."
"Ah, Colonel Brereton, how can we ever repay your kindness?" murmured the girl, her eyes brightened and softened by a mist of unshed tears.
"'T was done for my own ease. Think you I could have ridden away, not knowing what risk or privation you might have to suffer in my absence?"
"'T is only the greater cause for gratitude that you make your ease depend on ours."
"That empties my packet of advices," said the aide; "and —and—unless you have something to tell me, I'll—we'll say a farewell and I'll rejoin the army."
"Would that I could thank you, sir, as you deserve; but words mean so little that you have rendered me dumb," replied Janice, feelingly.
"Can you not—Have you nothing else to say to me?" he begged pleadingly.
"I—Indeed, I can think of nothing, Colonel Brereton," replied the maiden, very much flustered.
"Then good-by, and may God prosper you," ended Jack, sadly, taking her hand and kissing it gently. He turned with obvious reluctance, and went toward the house, but before he had reached the hedge he quickly retraced his steps. "I—I could not force my suit upon you when I found you in such helplessness—not even when you gave me the purse—though none but I can know what the restraint meant in torture," he burst out; "and it seems quite as ungenerous to try to advantage myself now of your moment's gratefulness. But my passion has its limits of control, and go I cannot without—without— Give me but a word, though it be a sentence of death to my heart's desire."
Janice, whose eyes had been dropped groundward during most of this colloquy, gave the pleader a come-and-go glance, then said breathlessly, "I—'T is—Wha—wha—What would you wish me to say?"
"What you can," cried the officer, impetuously.
"I—I would—'T is my desire to—to say what you would have me."
Both her hands were eagerly caught in those of the suppliant. "If you could—If—'T would be everything on earth— more than life itself to me—could you but give me the faintest hope that I might win you. Have you such an abhorrence of me that you cannot give me the smallest guerdon of happiness?"
"You err in supposing that I dislike you," protested Janice.
"Then why do you refuse all that is dearest to me? Why turn from a devotion that would make your happiness its own?"
"But I have n't," denied the girl, her heart beating wildly and her breath coming quickly.
As the words passed her lips, she was impulsively yet tenderly caught in her lover's arms and drawn to him. "What have you done, then?" he demanded almost fiercely.
"I—I—oh! I don't know," she gasped.
"Then, as you have pity in you, grant my prayer?"
For a moment Janice, with down-bent head, was silent. Then she raised her eyes to Jack's and said, "I will marry you, Colonel Brereton, if dadda will let me."
LI A FAREWELL AND A WELCOME
There was little weeding of the garden that fore-noon, unless the brushing off with Jack's gauntlets of some green moss from the garden seat, about which clustered the honeysuckle, can be considered such. Possibly this was done that more sprays of the vine might be plucked, for when Sukey, after repeated calls from the entry, finally came to summon them to dinner, Jack had a bunch of it, and a single rose, thrust in his sword knot.
There was a pretence of affected unconsciousness at the meal on the part of the three, and even of Peg, though the servant made it difficult to maintain the fiction by several times going off into fits of reasonless giggles not easy for those at table to ignore. The repast eaten, Brereton drew Mrs. Meredith aside for a word, and Janice took advantage of the freedom to escape to her room, where she buried her face in the pillow, as if she had some secret to confide to it.
From this she was presently roused by her mother's entrance, and as the girl, with flushed cheeks and questioning look, met her eyes, Mrs. Meredith said: "I think, my child, thou hast acted for the best, and we will hope thy father will think so."
"Oh, mommy, dost think he'll consent?"
"I fear not, but that must be as God wills it. Go down now, for Colonel Brereton says he must ride away, and only tarries for a word with thee."
Janice gave one glance at the mirror, and put her hands to her hair, with a look of concern. "'T is dreadfully disordered."
"He will not notice it, that I'll warrant," prophesied the matron.
With his horse's bridle over his arm, the lover was waiting for her on the front porch. "Will you not walk with me down the road a little way?" he begged. "'T is so hard to leave you."
"I—I think I had better not," urged the girl, showing trepidation. "'T would surely delay you too—"
"Ah, Janice," interrupted the lover, "why—what have I done that you should show such fear of me?"
"I'm not afraid of you," denied Janice, hurriedly; "and of course I'll go, if—if you think it best."
"Then what is it frightens you, sweetheart?" persisted Jack, as they set off.
The maiden scrutinised the ground and horizon as if seeking an explanation ere she replied shyly, "'T is—'t is indeed no fear of you, but you—you never ask permission."
The officer laughed exultingly. "Then may I put my arm about you?" he requested.
"'T will make walking too difficult."
"How know you that?" demanded Jack.
"'T is—'t is easily fancied."
Brereton's free arm encircled the girl. "Try to fancy it," he entreated. "And never again say that I do not ask permission."
A mile down the road Jack halted. "I'll not let you go further," he groaned; "nor must I linger, for reminder of my wound still troubles me if I ride too quick."
"Why did you not tell me you had been wounded when you took me away from the ball?" asked Janice, reproachfully.
"'T was not once in my thoughts that evening, nor was anything else save you."
"I can make all sorts of preserves and jellies and pickles, and next winter I'll send you some to camp."
"That you shall not," asserted the aide; "for the day we go into winter quarters sees me back here to dance at your wedding."
"Hadst better wait till thou art invited, sir?" suggested Janice, saucily.
"What? A revolt on my hands already!" exclaimed the officer.
"T is you are the rebel."
"Then you are my prisoner," retorted Jack, catching her in his arms.
"You Whigs are a lawless lot!"
"Toward avowed Tories, ay—and a good serve-out to them."
"But I gave my word to his Excellency that from henceforth I'd be Whiggish, so you've no right to treat me as one."
"Then I'll not," agreed the lover. "And since I plundered from you while you were against us, 't is only right that I should return what I took." He kissed her thrice tenderly. "Good-by, my sweet," he said, and, releasing her, mounted. "'T is fortunate I depend not on my own legs, for they 'd never consent to carry me away from you." He started his horse, but turned in his saddle to call back: "'T will not be later than the first of November, with or without permission," and throwing a last kiss with his hand, spurred away.
Till Jack passed from view, the girl's eyes followed him then, with a look of dreaminess in her eyes, she walked slowly back to Greenwood, so abstracted by her thoughts that she spoke not a word to the attendant hound.
Whatever might be the inclination of the girl, her mother gave her little chance to dream in the next few days. Not merely was there much about house and garden to be brought into order, but Mrs. Meredith succeeded in bargaining their standing crop of grass in exchange for a milch cow, and to Janice was assigned both its milking and care, while the chickens likewise became her particular charge. From stores in the attic the mother produced pieces of whole cloth, and Janice was set at work on dresses and underclothes to resupply their depleted wardrobes. Not content with this, Mrs. Meredith drew from the same source unspun wool and unhatchelled flax, and the girl was put to spinning both into thread and yarn, that Peg might weave them into cloth, against the need of winter. From five in the morning till eight at night there was occupation for all; and so tired was the maiden that she gladly enough heard her mother's decree that their small supply of candles should not be used, but that they should go to bed with the sun.
They were thus already asleep by ten o'clock one August evening, when there came a gentle knocking on the back door, which, after several repetitions, ceased, but only to be resumed a moment later on the front one. Neither summons receiving any attention, a succession of pebbles were thrown against Janice's window, finally bringing the sleeper back to wakefulness. Her first feeling, as she became conscious of the cause, was one of fear, and her instinct was to pay no attention to the outsider. After one or two repetitions, however, of the disquieting taps, she stole to the window, and, keeping herself hidden, peeped out. All she could see was a man standing close to a shrub, as if to take advantage of its concealment, who occasionally raised an arm and tossed a pebble against the panes. Really alarmed, the girl was on the point of seeking her mother, when her eyes took in the fact that Clarion was standing beside the cause of her fright, and seeking, so far as he could, to win his attention. Reassured, the girl raised the sash, and instantly her father's voice broke upon her ears.
"Down with ye, Jan," he said, "and let me get under cover."
Both anxious and delighted, the girl ran downstairs and unbarred the door.
"I had begun to fear me that I had been misinformed and that ye and your mother were not hereabout," the squire began; "so 't is indeed a joy to find ye safe." And then, after Mrs. Meredith had been roused, he explained his presence. "Though I could not get back to ye in Philadelphia, no worry I felt on your account, making sure that Lord Clowes would look to your safety. An anxious week I had after the army reached New York, till I received Colonel Brereton's letter telling me of your safety, though that only assured me as to the past, and I knew that any moment the rascally Whigs might take to persecuting ye again."
"Nay, Lambert," said Mrs. Meredith, "not a one has offered us the slightest annoyance. On the contrary, some of thy tenants have tendered us food in payment of rent, though I own that they insist upon hard bargains."
"I would I had as little complaint to make," responded the husband. "No sooner did Clinton reach New York than my appointment was taken from me, and but for Phil's kindness I should like to have starved. Though with little money himself, the boy would let me want for nothing, and but for him I should not even have been able to be here to-night"
"How was that, dadda?" asked Janice.
"'T is not to be whispered outside, Jan, but some of these same rebel Jerseymen—ay, and the Connecticut Yankees— much prefer the ring of British guineas to the brustle of the worthless paper money of the Whigs, so almost nightly boat-loads of provisions and forage steal out of the Raritan for New York, but for which the British army would be on short commons. Phil, who knew of this traffic, secured me passage on one of the empty boats."
"Then the villagers know thou hast returned?" exclaimed Mrs. Meredith, anxiously.
"Not they, for those in the business are as little anxious to have it known they have been in New York as I am to have it advertised that I am here at Greenwood, and there is little danger that either of us will blab."
"Had Lord Clowes arrived in New York, Lambert?" inquired Mrs. Meredith.
"That he had, and in a mighty dudgeon he was at first against all of us: with ye for what he took offence at in Philadelphia, and with me because I hold to my promise to Phil. But when he had word that I was coming here, he sought me out in a great turn-over, and said if I brought ye back to New York his house should be at our service, and that we should want for nothing. There is no doubt, lass, that he loves ye prodigious."
The girl shivered, August night though it was, but merely exclaimed, "You 'd not think of making us go to New York when we are under no necessity?"
"Not I, now that I know ye to be well off, which I feared ye were not. The nut to crack is to know whether I hadst best find safety by returning to New York, to live like a pauper on Phil, or seek to lie hid here for a three-months."
"And why three months, Lambert?" asked his wife.
"'T is thought that will serve to bring about a peace. Have ye not heard how this much-vaunted alliance with France has resulted? The French fleet and soldiers, united to a force under Sullivan, attempted to capture the British post at Newport, but oil and vinegar would not mix. The Parley-voos wanted to monopolise all the honour by having the Americans play second fiddle to them, but to this they 'd not consent; and while the two were quarrelling over it, like dogs over a bone, in steps the British, drubs the two of them, and carries off the prize. That gone, they've set to quarrelling as to whose fault it was. The feeling now is as bitter against the French as 't was against the British, and 't is thought that with this end to their hopes from the frog-eaters, they'll be glad enough to make a peace with us, the more that their paper money, the only thing that has kept them going this long, loses value daily, and they will soon have nothing with which to pay bills and soldiers."
"Thou hadst best stay here, Lambert," advised Mrs. Meredith. "'T will be more comfortable for thee, and far happier for us."
"Remember that I run the risk of capture, wife."
"Thou canst be kept concealed from all but Peg and Sukey, who are as faithful as we."
"And I am sure if by chance you were discovered," suggested Janice, haltingly, "that Colonel Brereton would—would —save you from ill treatment."
"Ay, Lambert," spoke up Mrs. Meredith, as her daughter looked appealingly to her. "There is something yet to be told, which has won us a strong friend who would never permit thee to suffer. Colonel Brereton, to whom we owe all our present safety, has declared his attachment to Janice, and seeks her—"
"Small doubt he has," derisively interjected the squire. "I make certain that every rebel, seeing the game drawing to a close, is seeking to feather his nest."
"Nay, Lambert. 'T is obvious he truly loves our—"
"He may, but it shall not help him to her or her acres," again interrupted the father. "The impudence of these Whigs passes belief. I hope ye sent him off with a bee in his breeches, Matilda."
"That we did not," denied Mrs. Meredith. "Nor wouldst thou, hadst thee been with us to realise all his goodness to us."
"Well, well," grumbled the father, resignedly, "I suppose if the times are such that we must accept favours of the rebels, we must not resent their insults. But 't is bitter to think of our good land come to such a pass that rogues like this Brereton and Bagby should dare obtrude their suits upon us."
"Oh, dadda," protested Janice, pleadingly, "'t was truly no insult he intended, but the—the highest—he spoke as if—as if—There was a tender respect in his every word and action, as if I might have been a queen. And I could not—Oh, mommy, please, please, tell it for me!"
"'T is best thou shouldst know at once, Lambert, that Janice favours his wooing."
"What!" roared the squire, looking incredulously from mother to daughter, and then, as the latter nodded her head, he cried, "I'll not believe it of ye, Jan, however ye may wag your pate. Wed a bondman! Have ye forgot your old pledge to me? Where 's your pride, child, that ye should even let the thought occur to ye?"
"But he is well born, dadda, far better than we ourselves, for he told me once that his great-grandfather was King of England," cried the girl, desperately.
"And ye believed the tale?"
"He would not lie to me, dadda, I am sure."
"Why think ye that?"
"Oh—he never—loving me, he never—can't you understand? He 'd not deceive me, dadda."
"Ye 're the very one he would, ye mean, and small wonder he takes advantage of ye if ye talk as foolishly to him as to me. Have done with all thought of the fellow and of his clankers concerning his birth. Whate'er he was, he is to-day a run-away bondservant and—"
"But, dadda, he is now a lieutenant-colonel and—"
"Of what? Where 's the honour in being in command of the riff-raff of the land? Dost not know that the most of their officers are made out of tapsters and tinkers and the like? Does it make a tavern idler or a bankrupt the less of either, that a pack of dunghills choose to dub him by another title? Once peace and law are come again, this same scalawag Brereton, or Fownes, or whatever he will then be, must return to my service and fulfil his bond, with a penalty of double time to boot. Proud ye'd be to see your spouse ordered to field or stable work every morning by my overseer!"
"'T would grieve me, dadda," replied the girl, gently, "because I know how proud he is, and how it would make him suffer; but 't would not lessen my respect or—or affection for him."
"What?" snorted Mr. Meredith once more. "Dost mean to tell me that thy heart is in this?"
"I—indeed, dadda," stammered Janice, colouring, "until— until this moment I thought 't was only for yours and mommy's sakes—though at times puzzled by—by I know not what —but now—"
"Well, out with it!" ordered the squire, as his daughter hesitated.
Janice faltered, then hurried to where her father sat, and, throwing herself on her knees, buried her face in his waistcoat. Something she said, but very sharp ears it needed to resolve the muffled sounds into the words, "Oh, dadda, I'm afraid that I care for him more than I thought."
"What!" for a third time demanded Mr. Meredith. "'T is not possible I hear ye aright, girl. Why, a nine-months ago ye were beseeching me, with your arms about my neck, to fulfil my word to Phil."
"But that was because I feared Lord Clowes," eagerly explained Janice, with her face withdrawn from its screen; "and then I did not love—or at least did not dream that I did."
"Pox me, but I believe Clowes is right when he says the sex are without stability," growled the squire, irascibly. "Put this fellow out of your thoughts, and remember that ye were promised long since."
"Oh, dadda, I want to be dutiful, and obedient I promise to be, but you would not have me marry with my heart given elsewhere. You could not be so cruel or—"
"Cease such bibble-babble, Jan. 'T is for your own good I am acting. Not merely is this fellow wholly beneath ye in birth and fortune, besides a rebel to our king, but there are facts about him of which ye have not cognisance that should serve to rouse your pride."
"What say ye to an intimacy twixt this same Brereton and Mrs. Loring?"
With the question the girl was on her feet, yet with down-hung head. "He—I know he does not care for her," she declared.
"Ye know nothing of the kind," retorted the squire. "I bear in my pocket a letter from her to him of so private a nature that she would not trust it to a flag, because then it must be read, which Lord Clowes brought to me with the request that I would in some way smuggle it to him."
"That means little," said Janice.
"And what say ye to his meeting her in New York, for that is the purpose of her letter to him?"
"How know you that?" cried Janice.
"Because she writ on the outside that the commander at Paulus Hook had been sent orders to pass him to New York."
"That proves no wrong on his part," answered the girl, her head proudly erect. "Nor will I believe any of him." And without further words she went from the room. But though she went to bed, she tossed restless and wakeful till the sun rose.
LII SCANT WELCOME FOR MAN AND BEAST
The concealment of the master of Greenwood proved easy affair, for it was now the harvest season and the neighbouring farmers were far too engaged by their own interests to have thought of anything else, while the four miles was distance sufficient to deter the villagers from keeping an eye on the daily household life. For their own comfort, a place of concealment was arranged for the squire in the garret behind the big loom; but thus assured of a retreat, he spent his time on the second floor, his only precautions being to avoid the windows in daylight hours and to keep Clarion at hand to give warning of any interloper.
In the next few days Mrs. Meredith twice reverted to the subject of their midnight discussion, but each time only to find her husband unyieldingly persistent that Janice was pledged to Philemon, and that if this bar did not exist, he would never countenance Brereton's suit. As for the girl, she shunned all allusion to the matter, taking refuge in a proud silence.
In September an unexpected event brought the difficulty to a crisis. One evening, after the work of the day was over, as they sat in Mrs. Meredith's room, waiting for the dusk to deepen enough for beds to become welcome, a creak of the stairs set all three to listening, and brought Clarion to his feet. Though no repetition of the sound followed, the dog, after a moment's attention, dashed out of the room and was heard springing and jumping about, with yelps betokening joyful recognition of some one. Reassured by this, yet wishing to know more, Janice hurried into the hall. Coming from the half-light, it was too dark for her to distinguish anything, so she was forced to grope her way to the stairs; but other eyes were keener, and Janice, without warning, was encompassed by a man's arms, which drew her to him that his lips might press an eager kiss upon hers.
"Who is it?" whispered the pilferer, after the theft.
"Oh, Colonel Brereton!" exclaimed the girl, in an undertone; "I knew at once, but—"
"Forgive me if I frightened you, sweetheart," begged the officer, softly. "I could not resist the impulse to surprise you, and so tied my horse down the road a bit, that I might steal in upon you unaware."
"But what brings you?" questioned the girl, anxiously.
Brereton, with a touch of irritation, answered: "And you can ask? Even my vanity is forced to realise you waste little love on me that you need explanation. Sixty miles and over I have rid to-day solely that I might bide the night here, and not so much as a word of welcome do you give me. But I vow you shall love me some day even as I love you; that you too shall long for sight of me when I am away, and caress me as fondly when I return."
"I did not mean that I was not glad to see you," protested the maiden; "but—I thought I thought you could not leave the army."
"Know then, madam," banteringly explained the lover, "that the court-martial which has been trying Lee for his conduct at Monmouth has come to a verdict, which required transmission to Congress, for confirmation, and as I enjoy nothing better than two hundred and forty miles of riding in September heats and dust, I fairly went on my knees to his Excellency for permission to bear it. And now do you ask why I wished it? Do I not deserve something to lighten the journey? Ah, my sweet, if you care for me a little, prove it by once returning me one of my kisses!"
"With whom art thou speaking, daughter?" demanded Mrs. Meredith, losing patience at the continuance of the dialogue she could just realise.
"'T is I, John Brereton, Mrs. Meredith," spoke up the intruder, "come in search of a night's lodgings."
The information was enough to make the squire forget prudence, in the spleen it aroused. "Have done with your whispered prittle-prattle, Jan, and let me have sight of this fellow," he called angrily.
"Mr. Meredith! you here?" cried the officer, springing to the doorway, to make sure that his ears did not deceive him.
"Ay, and no wonder 't is a sad surprise to ye," went on Mr. Meredith, irascibly. "There shall be no more stolen interviews—ay, or kisses—from henceforth, ye Jerry Sneak! Come out of the hall, Janice, and have done with this courting by stealth."
"I call Heaven to witness," retorted Jack, hotly, "if once I have acted underhand; and you have no right—"
"Pooh! 't is not for a jail-bird and bond-servant and rebel to lay down the right and wrong to Lambert Meredith."
"Oh, dadda—" expostulatingly began Janice.
"What is more," continued the father, regardless of her protest, "I'll have ye know that I take your behind-back wooing of my daughter as an insult, and will none of it."
"Is it prudent, Lambert, needlessly to offend Colonel Brereton?" deprecated Mrs. Meredith.
"Ay. Let him give me up to the authorities," sneered the husband. "'T will be all of a piece with his other doings."
"To such an imputation I refuse to make denial," said Brereton, proudly; "but be warned, sir, by the trials for treason now going on in Jersey and Pennsylvania, what fate awaits you if you are captured. Even I could not save you, I fear, after your taking office from the king, if you were caught thus."
"Wait till ye 're asked, and we'll see who first needs help, ye or I," retorted the squire. "Meantime understand that I'll not have ye at Greenwood, save as a bond-servant. My girl is promised to a man of property and respectability, and is to be had by no servant who dare not so much as let the world know who were his father and mother!"
It was now too dark to distinguish anything, so the others did not see how Brereton's face whitened. For a moment he was silent, then in a voice hoarsely strident he said: "No man but you could speak thus and not pay the full penalty of his words; and since you take so low an advantage of my position, further relations with you are impossible. Janice, choose between me and your father, for there can be but the one of us in your future life."
"Oh, Jack," cried the girl, imploringly, "you cannot—if you love me, you cannot ask such a thing of me."
"He puts it well," asserted Mr. Meredith. "Dost intend to obey me, child, or—"
"Oh, dadda," chokingly moaned Janice, "you know I have promised obedience, and never will I be undutiful, but—"
The aide, not giving her time to complete the sentence, vehemently exclaimed, "'T is as I might have expected! Lover good enough I am when you are in peril or want, but once saved, I am quickly taught that your favours are granted from policy and not from love."
"'T is not so," denied the girl, indignantly yet miserably; "I—"
"Be still, Jan," ordered the father. "Think ye, sir, Lambert Meredith's daughter would ever bring herself to wed a no-name and double-name fellow such as ye? Here is a letter I fetched to ye from that—Mrs. Loring: take it and go to her. She's the fit company for gentry of your breed, and not my girl."
"Beg of me forgiveness on your deathbed, or on mine, and I'll not pardon you the words you have just spoken," thundered the officer; "and though you stand on the gallows itself I will not stir finger to save you. Once for all, Janice, take choice between us."
"'T is an option you have no right to force upon me," responded the girl, desperately.
"Ay, pay no heed to what he says, Jan. Hand him this letter and let him go."
"If he wants it, he must take it himself," cried Janice. "I'll not touch her letter."
The indignant loathing in the tone of the speaker was too clearly expressed not to be understood, and Brereton replied to it rather than to her words. "I tried to speak to you of her—to tell you the whole wretched story, when last I saw you, but I could not bring myself in such hap—at such an hour—the moment was too untimely—and so I did not. Little I suspected that you already knew the facts of my connection with her."
"Despite the proof I myself had, I have ever refused to credit when told by others what you have just owned," declared the girl. "Nor will I listen to you. From the first I scorned and hated her, and now wish never to hear of the shameful creature again."
Without a word the officer passed into the hall, and began the descent. Before he had reached the foot of the stairs Janice was at its head.
"You'll not go without a good-by, Jack," she pleaded. "Obey dadda I ought—but—Oh, Jack—I will—if you will but come back—Yes, I will kiss you."
Brereton halted and clutched the banister, as if to prevent either departure or return, and could the girl have seen the look on his face she would have been in his arms before he had time to conquer himself. But in doubt as to what the pause indicated, she stood waiting, and after a moment's struggle Jack strode through the hallway and was gone. So long as his footsteps could be heard Janice stood listening to them, but when they had died out of hearing she went into her own room, and the parents heard the bolt shot.
There was something in the girl's eyes the next morning which prevented either father or mother from recurring to the scene, and time did not make it easier; for Janice, with a proudly sad face, did her tasks in an almost absolute silence, which told more clearly than words her misery. Probably the matter would have eventually been reopened, but two days brought a new difficulty which gave both Mr. and Mrs. Meredith something else for thought.
Its first warning was from the hound, who roused his master, as he dozed in an easy-chair one sleepy afternoon, by a growl, and the squire's own ears served to tell him that horsemen were entering the gate. The women on the floor below also heard the sounds, and with a call to make sure that the refugee was seeking his hiding-place, the mother and daughter hurried to the front door to learn what the incursion might portend.
From the porch they could see a half-dozen riders in uniform, who had drawn rein just inside the gateway, while yet another, accompanied by two dogs, rode up to where they were standing.
"'T is General Lee," exclaimed Mrs. Meredith, as he came within recognising distance. "Probably he wishes a night's lodging."
It was far from what the officer wanted, as it proved; for when he had come within good speaking distance he called angrily, "Ho! ye are there, are ye, hussy? Still busily seeking, I suppose, to be a pick-thanks with those in power by casting ridicule on those they are caballing to destroy."
"I know not the cause for thy extraordinary words, General Lee," replied Mrs. Meredith, with much dignity, "and can only conclude that a warm afternoon has tempted thee into a too free use of the bottle."
"Bah!" ejaculated Lee. "My bicker is not with ye, but with your girl, who, it seems, has a liking for mischief and slander."
"I am ignorant to what thee refers, sir, and cannot believe—" began the mother.
"Deny if you can that she limned the caricature of me which was handed about the theatre, and made me and my dogs the laugh of the town for a week?" interrupted Lee. "Only three days since I had a letter from a friend in Philadelphia, telling me a journal of hers had been examined by the council, and that therein she confessed it as her work."
"Indeed, General Lee," said Mrs. Meredith, apologetically, "the child meant no—"
"I tell you I'm not to be mollified by any woman's brabble," blustered Lee. "I know 't is part and parcel of an attempt to ruin my character. Even to this silly witling, all are endeavouring to break me down by one succession of abominable, damnable lies. The very court that has been trying me would not believe that white was white as regards me, or that black was black as regards this G. Washington, whom the army and the people consider as an infallible divinity, when he is but a bladder of emptiness and pride. I am now on my way to get their verdict against me, and in favour of this Great Gargantua, or Lama Babek—for I know not which to call him—set aside, and I stopped in passing to tell you that I—"
What the general intended was not to be known, for at this point there came that which turned his thoughts. One of his dogs, an English spaniel, neither interested in Janice's caricature of Lee, nor in Lee's abuse of Washington, took advantage of his master's preoccupation to steal into the house,— a proceeding which Clarion evidently resented, for suddenly from within came loud yaps and growls, which told only too plainly that if there was no protector of the household from the anger of the general, there was one who objected to the intrusion of his dog. Scarcely had the sounds of the fight begun than shrill yelps of pain indicated that one participant was getting very much the worst of it, and which, was quickly shown by the general roaring an oath and a command that they stop the "murder of my Caesar." The din was too great within, however, for Clarion to hear the order that both ladies shouted to him, though it is to be questioned if he would have heeded them if he had; and with another oath Lee was out of his saddle and into the house, his riding-whip raised to take summary vengeance.
Just as the general entered the hallway, the spaniel, wriggling free from the hound's onslaught, fled upstairs, closely pursued by the other dog, and after the two stamped the officer. On the second floor the fugitive faltered, to cast an agonised glance behind him, but sight of Clarion's open mouth was enough, and up the garret stairs he fled. At the top he once more paused, looking in all directions for a haven of refuge; and seeing a man in the act of retreating behind the loom in the corner, he fled to him for protection. When Lee entered the garret, only Clarion, every bristle on end, was in view, standing guard over a corner of the room; and striding to him, the general lashed him twice with his riding-whip ere the transgressor, with howls of surprised pain, fled. Then Lee peered behind the loom in search of his favourite.
"Devil seize me!" he exclaimed. "What have we here? Ho! a good find," he jeered, as he made out the squire. He rushed to one of the windows, threw it up, and called a summons to the group of horsemen, then came back as the squire crawled from his retreat. "Little did I reck," gloated Lee, "when I read at the tavern this very day the governor's proclamation attainting you, that ye'd come to be my prize. And poetic justice it is that I should have the chance to avenge in you the insult of your daughter."
LIII UNDER SHADOW OF THE GALLOWS
No prayer the women could make served to sway Lee from his purpose, and without delay the prisoner was mounted behind one of the escort, taken to Brunswick, and handed over to the authorities. When Mrs. Meredith and Janice, who followed on foot, reached the town, it was to find that the squire was to be carried to Trenton the next morning. A plea was made that they should be permitted to accompany him, but it was refused, and a bargain was finally made with the publican to carry them.
The following evening saw them all in Trenton, Mr. Meredith in jail, and the ladies once more at the Drinkers'. It was too late for anything to be attempted that night; but early the next day Mrs. Meredith, with Mr. Drinker, called on Governor Livingston to plead for mercy.
"Had he come in and delivered himself up, there might have been some excuse for special lenience," the Governor argued; "but captured as he was, there can be none. The people have suffered so horribly in the last two years that they wish a striking example made of some prominent Tory, and will not brook a reasonless pardon. He must stand his trial under the statute and proclamation, and of that there can be but one outcome."
When the suppliants returned with this gloomy prediction, Janice, who held herself accountable for the calamity, primarily by having secured the appointment of her father, and still more by drawing the caricature which had brought such disaster, was so overcome that for a time the mother's anxieties were transferred to her. Realising this, after the first wild outburst of grief and horror were over, Janice struggled desperately to regain self-control; and when the two had gone to bed, she successfully resisted her longing to give way once more to tears, though no sleep came to her the night through. Yet, if she brought pale cheeks and tired eyes to the breakfast table, there was determination rather than despair in her face and manner, as if in her long vigil she had thought out some deliverance.
In what this consisted was shown by her whispered request to Mr. Drinker, the moment the meal had been despatched, to learn for her if Joe Bagby was in town, and to arrange for an interview. Within the hour her emissary returned with the member of Assembly.
"I suppose you have heard, Mr. Bagby, of my father's capture," she said, without even the preliminary of a greeting.
"Yes, miss," said Bagby, awkwardly and shamefacedly; "'t is news that did n't stop travelling, and 't was all over Trenton before he'd been an hour in town. One way or another, he and I have n't got on well, but I did n't wish him or you any such bad luck, and I'm real sorry it 's come about."
"I wished to see you to ask—to beg," went on the girl, "that you would persuade the Governor to set him free."
"But he'd not have the right to do that," replied Joe. "He only can pardon the squire after the trial. And right now I want to say that if you have n't settled on any lawyer, I will take the case and do my best for your dad, and let you take your own time as to paying me."
"Oh, Mr. Bagby," pleaded Janice, "Mr. Drinker is sure that he will be convicted of treason. Can you not do something to stop it?"
"I am afraid he is right, miss. About his only chance will be for the Governor to pardon him."
"But only yesterday he said he should not," wailed Janice. "Can you not persuade him?"
"Guess 't would be only be a waste of my time," answered Joe. "He and I have disagreed over some appointments, and we are n't much of friends in consequence. But aside from that, he's a great trimmer for popularity, and the people just now are desperate set on having the Tories punished."
"Don't say that," besought the girl. "Surely, if—if— if I promise to marry you, cannot you save him?"
"If 't was a bridge to be built, or a contract for uniforms, or something of that sort, I'd have real influence in the Assembly; but I am afraid I can't fix this matter. The Governor's a consarned obstinate man most times, and I don't believe he'll listen to any one in this. What I can do, though, if you'll just do what you offered, miss, will be to save your property from all risk of being taken from you."
"Don't speak of it to me," cried Janice, wildly. "Do you think we could care for such a thing now?"
"Property 's property," said Joe, "and 't is n't a good thing to forget, no matter what happens. However, that can wait. Now, about my being your lawyer?"
"I will speak to my mother," replied the girl, sadly, "and let you know her wishes." And the words were so evidently a dismissal that Bagby took his departure.
Without pausing to mourn over the failure, Janice procured paper and pen, and set about a letter; but it was long in the writing, for again and again the pages were torn up. Finally, in desperation, she let her quill run on, regardless of form, grammar, erasures, or the blurs caused by her own tears, until three sheets had been filled with incoherent prayers and promises. "If only you can save him," one read, "nothing you ask of me, even to disobeying him, even to running off with you, will I refuse. I will be your very slave." If ever a proud girl humbled herself, Janice did so in this appeal.
The reading of the missive was begun the next day by an officer seated in the "public" of the City Tavern of Philadelphia, but after a very few lines he rose and carried it to his own room, and there completed it. Then folding it up, he thrust it into his pocket, once more descended the stairs, and inquired of the tavern-keeper: "'T was reported that General Lee came to town yesterday; dost know where he lodges?"
"I hearn he was at the Indian King."
"Thanks," responded the questioner, and then asked: "One thing more. Hast a stout riding-whip you can lend me for a few minutes?"
"Ay, Colonel Brereton. Take any that suits you from the rack."
The implement secured, the officer set out down the street, with a look that boded ill for somebody.
Five minutes later, with one hand held behind his back, he stood in the doorway of the public room of another ordinary, arriving just in time to hear a man proclaim in stentorian tones:—
"I tell ye, any other general in the world than General Howe would have beat General Washington; and any other general in the world than General Washington would have beat General Howe."
"Hush!" said a man. "Here is one of his aides."
"Think ye I care?" roared Lee. "Colonel Brereton and all others of his staff know too well the truth of what I say to dare resent it. The more that hear me, the better."
Brereton strode forward to within three feet of Lee. "You owe your immunity," he said, struggling to speak quietly, "to the very man you are abusing, for not one of his family but would have challenged you after your insulting letters to him, had not General Washington commanded us all to refrain, lest, if any of his staff called you out, it should seem like his personal persecution. Your conduct to him was outrage enough to make me wish to kill you, but now you have given me a stronger reason, and this time there is no high-minded man to save you from my vengeance, you cur!" There was a quick motion of Jack's arm, a swishing sound, and the whip was furiously lashed full across the general's face.
Lee, white with rage, save where a broad red welt stretched from ear to chin, staggered to his feet, pulling at his sword as he rose, but his three companions united to restrain him.
"Take your satisfaction like a gentleman, sir," insisted one, "and not like a tavern broiler."
"I shall see Major Franks within the hour," remarked Brereton, "and have no doubt he will represent me. But if you wish a meeting, you must act promptly, for I shall not remain in the city later than noon to-morrow."
It was just after dawn the next morning that five horsemen turned off from the Frankford road into a meadow, and struck across it to a piece of timber on the other side. One of them was left with the horses, and the remainder took their way to an open spot, where the trees had been felled. Here the four paired off; and the couples held a brief consultation.
"I care not what the terms be," Brereton ended, "so long as you secure the privilege of advancing, for one of us goes not off the field unhurt."
The seconds held a conference, and then separated. Each gave his principal a pistol, and stationed him so that they stood some twenty paces apart.
"Gentlemen, with your weapons pointed groundward, on the word, you will walk toward each other, and fire when it pleases you," ordered Major Edwards. "Are you ready? Go!"
The duellists, with their pistol hands dropped, walked steadily forward, one, two, three, four, five strides.
"'T is murder, not satisfaction, they seek!" ejaculated Franks, below his breath.
Another and yet another step each took, until there was not twenty feet between the two; then Lee halted and coolly raised his arm; one more step Brereton took as he did so, and not pausing to steady his body, his pistol was swung upward so quickly that it flashed first. Lee's went off a second later, and both men stood facing each other, the smoking barrels dropped, and each striving to see through the smoke of his own discharge. Thus they remained for a moment, then Lee dropped his weapon, staggered, and with the words, "I am hit," went on one knee, and then sank to the ground.
Brereton walked back to his original position, and stood calmly waiting the report of his second, who, with Edwards, rushed to the wounded man's assistance.
"He is struck in the groin," Franks presently informed him; "and while not dangerous, 't will be a month before he's good for anything."
"You mean good for nothing," replied Jack. "I meant to make it worse, but must rest content. As I told you, I ride north without delay, so will not even return to the city. Thank you, David, for helping me, and good-by."
Five hours later, Lee was lying in the Pennsylvania hospital, and Brereton was riding into Trenton. Without the loss of a moment, the aide sought an interview with the Governor, clearly with unsatisfactory results; for when he left that official his face was anxious, and not even tarrying to give his mare rest, he mounted and spurred northward, spending the whole night in the saddle. Pausing at Newark only to breakfast, he secured a fresh horse, and reached Fredericksburg a little before nightfall. Seeking out the commander-in-chief, he delivered certain papers he carried; but before the general could open them, he said:—
"Your Excellency, I wish speech with you on a matter of life and death. To no other man in the world would I show this letter, but I beg of you to read it, sir, and do what you can for my sake and for theirs."
Washington took the sheets held out to him and slowly read them from beginning to end. "'T is a sad tale the poor girl tells," he said when he had finished; "but, my boy, however much I may pity and wish to aid them, my duty to the cause to which I have dedicated my life—"
"Ah, your Excellency," burst out Jack, "in just this one instance 't will surely not matter. A word from you to Governor Livingston—"
Washington shook his head. "I have ever refrained from interfering in the civil line," he said, "and one breaking of the rule would destroy the fabric I have reared with so much pains. If I have gained influence with the people, with the army, and with the State officials, it is because I have ever refused to allow personal considerations to shape my conduct; and that reputation it is my duty to maintain at all hazards, that what I advise and urge shall never be open to the slightest suspicion of any other motive than that of the public good. It is a necessity which has caused me pain in the past, and which grieves me at this moment, but I hold a trust. Do not make its performance harder than it need be."
"Do I not deserve something at your hands, sir? Faithfully I have served you to my uttermost ability."
"You ask what cannot be granted, Brereton; and from this refusal I must not recede. Now leave me, my boy, to read the despatches you have brought."
There was that in the general's manner which made impossible further entreaty, and the aide obeyed his behest. Yet such was the depth of his concern that he made a second appeal, two days later, when he brought a bunch of circular letters to the State governors, concerning quotas of provisions, which he had written, to his chief for signature.
"Will you not, sir," he implored, "relent and add a postscript to Governor Livingston in favour of mercy for Mr. Meredith?"
"I have given you my reasons, Brereton, why I must not, and all further petitions can but pain us both." Washington signed the series, and taking the sand-box, sprinkled the wet ink on each in turn. "Seal them, and see that they fail not to get into the post," he ordered calmly. Yet as he rose to leave the room, he laid his hand affectionately on Jack's shoulder, and said: "I grieve not to do it, my boy, for your sake and for hers."
The aide took the chair the general had vacated, and began mechanically the closing of the letters; but when that to the Governor of New Jersey was reached, he paused in the process. After a little, he took from his pocket Janice's frantic supplication, and reread it, his face displaying his response to her suffering. "And ten words would save him," he groaned. His eye sought once more the unsealed letter, and stared at it fixedly. "At worst it will be my life, and that is worth little to me and nothing to any one else!" He snatched a pen hastily, dipped it in the ink, but as he set the tip to the paper, paused, his brow clouded. "To trick him after all his generosity!" For a trice Jack hesitated. "He stands too high to be injured by it," he exclaimed. "It hurts not the cause, while 't will kill her if they hang him." Again he set pen to the paper, and wrote a postscript of four lines below Washington's name. "'T is the devil's work, or her good angel's, that I had the writing of the letters, so the penmanship agrees," he muttered, as he folded and sealed it. Gathering up the batch, he gave a reckless laugh. "I said I'd not lift finger to save him from the rope, and here I am taking his place on the gallows. Well, 't is everything to do it for her, scorn and insult me as they may, and to die with the memory that my arms have held and my lips caressed her."
LIV A GAIN AND A LOSS
It was two days of miserable doubt which Janice spent after despatching her letter to Brereton. Then something Mr. Drinker told his daughter brought some cheer to the girl.
"Friend Penrhyn informed me that Colonel Brereton rode into town this afternoon, Tabitha," he said, at the supper table; "yet, though I went to the tavern to bespeak his company here this evening, I could not get word of him. 'T is neglectful treatment, indeed, of his old friends, that three times in succession he should pass through without dropping in upon us."
"He may still come, father," suggested Tabitha; and more than she spent the evening in a state of expectancy. But bedtime arrived; and the morrow came and went without further news of him who had now become Janice's sole hope, and then she learned that he had ridden northward.
"I knew his temper was hot," she sobbed in her own room, "but never did I believe he could be so cruel as to come and go without word or sign."
From the trial, which occurred but three days after this crushing disappointment, the public were excluded, not even Mrs. Meredith and Janice being permitted to attend. The result, therefore, was first brought them by Bagby, who, though his services had been refused by Mr. Meredith, had succeeded in being present.
"The squire's lawyer," he told them, "was n't up to a trick or two that I had thought out, and which might have done something; but he made a pretty good case, if he could n't save him. Morris's charge was enough to convict, but every juryman was ready to vote 'Guilty' before the Chief Justice had so much as opened his mouth."
"Is there nothing to do?" cried Mrs. Meredith.
"I'll see the Governor, and I'll get my friends to see him," promised Bagby; "but don't you go to raising your hopes, for there is n't one chance in a hundred now."
Once again Mrs. Meredith sought interview with Livingston, but the Governor refused to even see her; and both Mr. Drinker's and Bagby's attempts succeeded little better, for they could only report that he declined to further discuss the matter, and that the execution was set for the following Friday.
Abandoning all hope, therefore, Mrs. Meredith wrote a letter, merely begging that they might spend the last night with Mr. Meredith in the jail; and when the next morning she received a call from the Governor, she only inferred that it was in relation to her plea.
"It has been far from my wish, Mrs. Meredith," Livingston said, "to bring suffering to you more than to any one else, and the position I have taken as regards your husband was only that which I deemed most for the good of the State, and most in accord with public opinion. The vipers of our own fireside require punishment; your husband had made himself one of the most conspicuous and unpopular of these by the office he held under the king, and no reason could I discover why he should not reap the punishment he fitly deserved. But this morning a potent one was furnished me, for I received a letter from General Washington, speaking in high terms of Mr. Meredith, and expressing a hope that we will not push his punishment to the extreme of the law. It is the first time his Excellency has ever ventured an opinion in a matter outside of his own concern, and I conclude that he believes stringent justice in this case will injure more than aid our cause; and as the use of his name furnishes me with an explanation that will satisfy the Assembly and people of this State, I can be less rigorous. That you should not endure one hour more of anxiety than need be, I have hurried to you, to tell you that I shall commute his sentence to imprisonment with the other political prisoners in Virginia."
The scene of gratitude and joy that ensued was not describable, and some hours passed before either mother or daughter became sufficiently composed to take thought of the future. Then, by permission of the jailer, they saw Mr. Meredith and discussed the problem before them. Neither wife nor daughter could bear the thought of again being separated from the squire, and begged so earnestly to be allowed to share the half-captivity, half-exile, that had been decreed him, that he could not deny them, the more that his own heart-strings in reality drew the same way, and only his better judgment was opposed to it.
"'T will be a hard journey, wife," he urged, "and little comfort we're like to find at the end of it. For me there can be no escape, but 't is not necessary that ye should bear it, for 't is to be hoped ye can live on at Greenwood, as ye have already."
"We should suffer more, Lambert, in being separated from thee."
"Oh, dadda, nothing could be worse than that," cried Janice, her arms about his neck.
"Have your way, then," finally acceded their lord and master.
This settled, they set about such preparations as were possible. From Mr. Drinker a loan of five thousand dollars— equal to a hundred pounds, gold—was secured, and a bargain struck with a farmer to bring from Greenwood such supplies of clothes as Mrs. Meredith wrote to Sukey to pack and send. To most the prospect would not have been a cheering one, but after the last few days it seemed truly halcyon, and Janice was scarcely able to contain her happiness. She poured her warmest gratitude and thanks out in a letter to Washington, which would have surprised him not a little had he ever received it, but the mail in which it went was captured, and it was a British officer in New York who ultimately read it. Nor did this effusion satisfy her.
"Oh, mommy," she joyfully bubbled, as they were preparing for bed, "was there ever a greater or nobler or kinder man than General Washington?"
And though the first frost of the season was forming crystals on the panes, she knelt down in her short night-rail on a lamb's wool rug, so small that her little feet rested on the cold boards, and prayed for the general as he had probably never been prayed for,—prayed until she was shivering so that her mother interfered and ordered her to come to bed.
Her prayers were far more needed by some one else. From the commission of his wrong, Brereton made it a point to meet the post-rider as he trotted up to headquarters each afternoon, and on the third day after the action of the Governor, he found in the mail a letter which told him of the success of his trick. While he was still reading, Colonel Hamilton came to him with a message that Washington desired his presence and, squaring his shoulders and setting his mouth as if in preparation for an ordeal, Jack hastened to obey, though, as he came to the closed doorway he hesitated for a moment before he knocked, much as if his courage failed him.
Upon entrance, he found his superior striding up and down the room, a newspaper in his hand, and without preliminary word the general gave expression to his obvious anger.
"I would have you know, Colonel Brereton," sternly he began, "that I am not the man to overlook disobedience of my orders, nor pass over, without a rebuke, such disrespect as you have shown me."
"I do not deny that your Excellency has cause for complaint," replied Jack, steadily; "and in acting as I did I was fully prepared for whatever results might flow from it, even the penalty of life itself; but, believe me, sir, my chief grief will ever be the having deceived you, and my real punishment can be inflicted by no court-martial you may order, but will be in the loss of your trust and esteem."
"You speak in riddles, sir," responded Washington, halting in his walk. "Cause for anger I have richly, for, as I told my whole family, any challenge they might send General Lee would, by the public, be ascribed to persecution. But you know as well as I that your duel with him is no offence to submit to a court-martial, and that you should pretend that I have any such recourse is adding insincerity to the original fault. You have—"
"That, sir, is a charge I indignantly deny," interrupted Jack, warmly, "and I was referring—"
"No denial can justify your conduct, sir," broke in Washington, wrathfully. "You have exposed me to the criticism and misapprehension of the public. By your disregard of my orders and my wishes, you have deservedly forfeited all right to my favour or my affection."
"Your Excellency forgets—"
"I forget nothing," thundered the general. "'T is you have forgotten the respect and obedience due me from all my family and—"
"Think you an aide is but a slave," retorted Brereton, hotly, "and that he possesses no right of independent action? Nor did I conceive that your Excellency would ever judge me unheard. I did—"
"The case is too palpable for—"
"Yet misjudge me you have, for I did not challenge Lee because he had insulted you, but because he was shamefully persecuting the woman I love."
Washington, who had resumed his angry pacing of the room, once again halted. "Explain your meaning, sir."
"In your heat, your Excellency has clearly forgot the tale Miss Meredith's letter told of General Lee's conduct as regards herself and her father. With the feeling I bear for her, human nature could not brook such behaviour, and it was that for which I challenged him."
The general stood silent for a moment, then said, "I have been too hasty in my action, Brereton, and have drawn a conclusion that was not justified. I owe you an apology for my words, and trust that this acknowledgment will end the misunderstanding." He offered his hand, as he ended, to the aide.
"I thank your Excellency," answered Jack, "for your prompt reparation, but before accepting it and taking your hand, sir, it is my painful necessity to tell you that I have fully merited all the anger you have expressed. Guiltless as I am of fault as regards General Lee, I have committed a far greater offence against you,—a wrong, sir, which, done with however much deliberation, has caused me unending pain and remorse."
"Explain yourself, my boy," said Washington, kindly.
"Despite your decision, sir, I added a postscript in your letter to Governor Livingston touching upon the case of Mr. Meredith, and made you express a good opinion of him and a recommendation that he be dealt with leniently. I now hold in my hand a letter from a Trenton friend informing me that this recommendation induced the Governor to commute the death sentence into imprisonment. It is but the news I awaited before informing your Excellency of my breach of trust; and I should have made full confession to you within the hour, had you not sent for me, as I supposed, to charge me with this very treachery. And 't was this of which I was thinking when I spoke expectingly of a court-martial."
During the whole explanation, Washington had stood fixedly, his brows knit, and when the aide paused, he said nothing for a minute; then he asked:—
"Has there been aught in the past, sir, to have made me merit from you such a stab?"
"None, sir," answered Jack, gravely. "And whatever reason I can find for the action in my own heart, there is nothing I can offer in its defence to you."
Washington sat down at his desk and leaned his head on his hand. "Is it not enough," he said, "that Congress is filled with my enemies, that the generals on whom I must depend are scheming my ruin and their own advancement, but that even within my own family I cannot find those who will be faithful to me? My God! is there no one I can trust?"
"Your Excellency's every word," said Jack, with tears in his eyes, "cuts me to the heart, the more that nothing you can say can increase the blame I put upon myself. I beg of you, sir, to believe me when I say that, be your grief what it may, it can never equal mine. And I beg that if my past relations to you plead ever so little for a merciful judgment of my conduct, you will remember that my betrayal was committed from no want of affection for you, but because one there was, and but one alone, whom I loved better."
Washington rose and faced Brereton, his self-control regained. "Your lapse of duty to the cause we are engaged in, sir, and my sense of it, make it out of the question that I should ever again trust you; it is therefore impossible for me longer to retain you upon my staff. But your loyalty and past service speak loudly in your favour, and I shall not, therefore, push your public punishment further than to demand your resignation from my family, and so soon as there is a vacancy among the officers of the line you will take your place according to the date of your commission. The wrong you have done me personally is of a different nature, and ends from this moment the affection I have borne you and such friendship as has existed between us."
LV PRISONERS OF WAR
The Governor had warned the Merediths that the removal to Charlottesville must await the chance of an empty army transport, or other means of conveyance, and for more than a month they waited, not knowing at what hour the order would come.
Finally they were told to be ready the following morning; and at daybreak the three, with a guard, were packed into a hay cart, the larger part of the townsfolk collecting to view their departure. Nor did Mr. Bagby, who had made a number of calls upon them in the interval, fail to appear for a good-by.
"Just you remember, miss," he urged, "that my arguments and General Washington's was what saved your dad, and that I can still do a lot to save your property. Don't forget either that I'm going to go on rising. Only think it over well, and you'll see which side your bread is buttered on, for, if you are mighty good-looking, you 're no fool."
"Thank you, Mr. Bagby, for everything you have done or tried to do," replied the girl; and the squire, who had heard the whole speech, said nothing, though the effort to remain silent was clearly a severe one.
"Whither do we go first?" asked Mrs. Meredith of the driver, after the ferry-boat had left the Jersey shore and the spectators both behind.
"Our orders is to take you to Reading, an' hand you over to the officer in charge of the Convention snogers, pervided the last detachment hev n't left theer; if they hev, we are to lick up till we overtake them."
"What regiment is that?" questioned Janice.
"Guess ye 're a bit green on what 's goin' on," chuckled one of the guard. "Them 's poppy-cock, hifalutin, by-the-grace-of-God an' King Georgie, come-in-an'-surrender-afore-we-extirpate-yer, Johnny Burgoyne's army, as did a little capitulatin' themselves. We've kep' 'em about Boston till we've got tired of teamin' pork an' wheat to 'em, an' now we're takin' 'em to where the pigs an' wheat grows, to save us money, an' to show 'em the size of the country they calkerlated to overrun. I guess they'll write hum that that job 's a good one to sub-let, after they've hoofed it from Cambridge to Charlottesville."
The departure had been well timed, for when they drove into Reading, about five, long lines of men, garbed in green or red uniforms, were answering the roll-call as a preliminary to having quarters for the night assigned to them in the court-house, churches, and school. After much search, the officer in command was found, and the prisoner turned over to him, to his evident displeasure.
"Heavens!" he complained, "is it not bad enough to move two thousand troops, a third of whom no man can understand the gibberish of, to say nothing of General de Riedesel's wife and children, but I must have other women to look out for? I wish that Governor Livingston would pardon less and hang more!"
Unpromising as this beginning was, it proved a case of growl and not of bite, for the colonel speedily secured a night's lodging for them in a private house, and the next morning made a place for the two women beside the driver of one of the carts of the baggage train, the squire being ordered to march on foot with the column.
The journey proved a most trying one. The November rains, which wellnigh turned the roads from aids into obstacles, so impeded them that frequently they were not able to compass more than six or seven miles in a day, and it sometimes happened, therefore, that they were not able to reach the village or town on which they had been billeted, and were compelled to spend the night in the open fields, often with scanty supplies of provisions as an additional discomfort. From the inhabitants of the villages and farms, too, they met with more kicks than ha'pence. Again and again the people refused to sell anything to those whom they considered their enemies, and some even denied them the common courtesy of a drink of water. The chief amusement of the children along the route was to shout opprobrious or derisive epithets as they passed, not infrequently accompanied with stones, rotten apples, and now and then the still more objectionable egg. The squire's opinion of Whiggism went to an even lower pitch, but his womenkind bore it unflinchingly and uncomplainingly, happy merely in the escape from greater suffering.
As for Janice, she took what came with such merriness and good cheer that she was soon friends not merely with a number of their fellow-companions in misery, the British and Brunswick officers, but with the officers of their escort of Continental troops, and they were all quickly vying to do the little they could to add to the Merediths' comfort and ease. Of the miserable lodgings, whether in town or field, they were sure to be given the least poor; no matter how short were the commons, their needs were supplied; at every halting-place they received the first firewood cut; and time and again some one of the officers dismounted that Mr. Meredith might take his place in the saddle for an hour.
The girl made a yet more fortunate acquaintance on a night of especial discomfort and privation, after they had crossed the Pennsylvania boundary and were well into the semi-wilderness of the Blue Ridge Mountains. A washed away bridge so delayed their morning progress that they had advanced only a little over five miles, and were still four miles from their appointed camping ground, when the first snowstorm of the season set in, and compelled them to bivouac along the road-side. The ration issued to each prisoner on that particular afternoon consisted of only a half-pound of salt pork and a handful of beans; and as she had frequently done before, Janice set out to make a tour of the straggling farms of the neighbourhood, in the hope of purchasing milk, eggs, or other supplies to eke the scanty fare. At the first log cabin she came to she made her request, and for a moment was hopeful, for the woman replied:—
"Yes. I have eggs and milk and chickens, and vegetables in a great plenty, but—"
"And what are your prices?"
"—But not a morsel of anything do you get. You come to our land to kill us and to waste our homes. Now it is our turn to torment you. I feed no royalists."
Her second application drew forth an even sterner rebuff, for the housewife, before Janice had said half of her speech, cried, "Be off with you, you Tory! think you I would give help to such nasty dogs?"
The third attempt was equally futile, for she was told: "Not for a thousand dollars would I give you anything, and if you would all die of hunger, 't would be so much the better."
The maiden was long since too accustomed to this treatment to let it discourage her, and in her fourth essay she was more fortunate. While the woman was refusing, the farmer himself appeared upon the scene, and moved by pity, or perhaps by the youth and beauty of the petitioner, vetoed his wife's decision, and not merely filled her pail with milk, but added a small basket of eggs and apples, declining to accept the one hundred dollars in Continental bills she tendered.
Her quest had taken Janice nearly two miles away from her quarters, and in returning with this wealth she was compelled to pass the length of the encampment. This brought her presently to a large tent, from which issued the sobs of a child, intermixed with complaints in French of cold and hunger, with all of which a woman's voice was blended, seeking to comfort the weeper.
On impulse, the girl turned aside and looked through the half-closed flap. Within she saw a woman of something over thirty years of age, with a decidedly charming face, sitting on a camp-stool with a child of about three years old in her arms and two slightly older children at her feet, from one of whom came the wails.
"We do not know each other, Madame de Riedesel," Janice apologised in the best French she could frame, "but Captain Geismar and others have told me so much about you that I— I—" There Janice came to a halt, and then in English, colouring as she spoke, she went on, "'T is mortifying, but though I thought I had become quite a rattler in French, the moment I need it, I lose courage."
"Ach!" cried Madame de Riedesel. "Nevair think. I speak ze Anglais parfaitement. Continuez."
"I was passing," explained Janice, mightily relieved, "and hearing what your little girl was saying, I made bold to intrude, in the hope that you will let me share my milk and eggs with the children." As she spoke, Janice held out to each of the three a rosy-cheeked apple, and the sobs had ended ere her explanation had.
"Ah!" cried the woman, "zees must be ze Mees Meredeez whom zay told me was weez ze waggons in ze rear, and who, zay assure me, was a saint. Zat must you be, to offer your leettle store to divide with me. Too well haf I learned how difficile it ees to get anyzing from zeese barbarians."
"They are hard, madame," explained Janice, "because they deem us foes."
"But women cannot be zare enemies, and yet ze women ze worst are. Ma foi! Weez ze army I kept through ze wilderness, ze bois, from Canada, and not one unkind or insult did I receef, till I came to where zere were zose of my own sex. Would you beleef it, in Boston ze femme zay even spat at me when I passed zem on ze street. And since from Cambridge we started, when I haf wished for anyzing, my one prayer zat it shall be a man and not a woman I must ask it has been. Ze women, I say it weez shame, are ze brutes, and ze men, zay seek to be gentle, mais, helas! zay are born of ze women!
Janice, pouring half her milk into an empty bowl that was on the table, and dividing her eggs, smiled archly as she said, "I fear, then, that my call is not a welcome one, since, helas! I am a woman."
The baroness spilled the little girl from lap to floor as she sprang to her feet and clasped the caller in her arms. "You are une ange," she cried," and I geef you my lofe, not for now, but for ze all time for efer."
The acquaintance thus begun ripened rapidly. In her gratitude for the kindness, Madame de Riedesel, who had a roomy calash and a light baggage waggon, insisted that Janice and Mrs. Meredith should quit the springless army van in the rear and travel henceforth with the advance in one or the other of her vehicles, giving them far greater ease and comfort. Sometimes the children were sent with the baggage, and the three ladies used the calash, but more often Janice and Madame de Riedesel rode in it, with a child on each lap, and one sandwiched in between them, and the squire took the empty seat beside Mrs. Meredith in the waggon.
A second generosity of the new friend was her quickly offering to share with them the large officer's marquee that her husband's rank had secured for her, with the comfortable beds that formed a part of her camp equipment; and as they had hitherto been cramped into a small field tent, with only blankets and dead leaves laid on the frozen ground to sleep upon, the invitation was a still greater boon. Close packing it was, but the weather was now so cold that what was lost in space was made up for in warmth.
It was early in January that they finally reached their destination, —an improvised village of log huts, some two miles from Charlottesville, named Saratoga, from the capitulation that had served to bring it into being; but so far as the Merediths were concerned, it meant a change rather than a lessening of the privation. The cabin to which they were assigned consisted of one windowless room, and was without a chimney. They were necessarily without furniture, their sole stock beyond their own clothing being a few blankets and cooking utensils, which they had brought with them. Nor were they able to purchase much that they needed at the neighbouring town, for their cash had been seriously depleted by what they had bought in Trenton, and by the expenses of the march, while what was left had shrunk in value in the two months' march from fifty dollars to seventy-five dollars, paper, for one in gold.
Seeking to make the best of it, the three set to work diligently. From a neighbouring mill slabs were procured, which, being cut the right length and laid on logs, were made to do for beds, and others served to make an equally rough table. Sections of logs were utilised for chairs, and the squire built a crude fireplace a few feet from the doorway. At best, however, the discomfort was really very great. Even with the door closed, the cabin was cold almost beyond the point of endurance, and if it was not left open, the only light that came to them was through the chinks of the logs. Yet their suffering was far less than that of the troops, for many of the huts were unfinished when they arrived, and with three feet of snow on the ground, most of them were compelled to roof their own quarters and even in some cases entirely build them, as a first step to protection.
General de Riedesel, who had gone before his wife with the first detachment, that he might arrange a home in advance, had rented "Colle," the large house of Philip Mazzei, close to the log barracks. Madame de Riedesel was therefore at once in possession of comfortable quarters, and upon hearing from Janice how they were living, she offered her a home with them.
"Come to us, liebling," she begged. "Ze children zay lofe you so zat almost jealous I am; alreaty my goot husband he says ze Mees Meredeez ees charmant, and I—ah, I neet not tell it, for it tells itself."
"If it were right I would, Frederica, and I cannot thank you enough for wanting me; but ever since mommy had the fever she has not been really strong, and both she and dadda need me. Perhaps though, if you and the children—whom I dearly love—truly like me, you will help me in another way?"