They were right; the next day the General told them that the “Smithhurst” would sail that afternoon with prisoners of war from the “Vigilant,” a captured French vessel. “She is one of the ships that Governor Shirley has sent for to guard the coast,” he said to Elizabeth speaking of the “Smithhurst.” “She goes to Boston first to report and discharge her prisoners. Be ready at four o’clock. If I can, I will take you to the vessel myself; but if that is impossible, everything is arranged for your comfort. Your father is at the battery, I have just left him there. He is undeniably fond of powder. I’ve told him about this.” Elizabeth was in one of the hospital tents when Pepperell came to her with this news. She staid there with Nancy all the morning, and at noon when her father came and took her away for awhile to rest, she had an earnest talk with him upon some subject that left her grave and pleased.
After a time she went back to the hospitals again. At the last moment the General sent an escort with word that he had been detained. Just before this message arrived, Elizabeth called her maid aside.
“Nancy,” she said, “you see how many of our soldiers are here, hundreds of them, almost thousands. They are fighting for our homes, even if the battle-ground is so far away. And see how many have been sent in, in the short time we have been here. Do you want to desert them? Tell me how you feel? Shall we go back to our comfortable home, and leave all this suffering behind us, when we might do our little to help? Shall we, Nancy? I have no right to insist upon your staying; but don’t you think we ought to stay? and won’t you stay with me?”
“Indeed I will,” was the quick answer. “I hated to leave the poor fellows, but I did not see what else to do. The General won’t like it one bit though. And your father, Mistress Elizabeth?”
“The General has no authority over me. I’m not one of his soldiers. And as to my father, it’s all right with him.”
Yet she felt very desolate when the ship which was to have carried them had gone with its companion vessel, and from the door of one of the hospital tents she stood watching the white sails in the distance. But it was not that resolution had failed her; for she would have made the same decision over again if she had been called upon at the moment.
THE NIGHT ATTACK.
As Elizabeth stood at the door of the hospital tent looking after the Smithhurst, General Pepperell came along, alone, in a brown study, his brows knit and his face troubled. For though the French ship-of-war, “Vigilant” had been captured, Louisburg had not, and every day was adding to the list of soldiers in the hospitals. But when he saw her, he stopped, and his expression, at first of surprise, changed to anger.
“What does this mean?” he said abruptly. “The ship has sailed. I sent you word in time.”