“No, indeed, your Excellency. One of thy staff—I know not his name, but the one who questioned dadda—was vastly polite, and gave his room to us.”
“That was Colonel Brereton,—the beau of my family. Look at him there! Wouldst think the coxcomb was in the charge this morning?”
Janice, for the first time, found courage to raise her eyes and glance along what to her seemed a sea of men’s faces, till they settled on the person Washington indicated. Then she gave so loud an exclamation of surprise that every one looked at her. Conscious of this, she was once more seized with stage fright, and longed to slip from her chair and hide herself under the table.
“What startled thee, my child?” asked the general.
“Oh—he—nothing—” she gasped. “Who—what didst thou say was his name?”
“Oh!” was all Janice replied, as she drew a long breath.
“’T will ne’er do to let him know you’ve honoured him by particular notice,” remarked the commander; “for both at Boston and New York the ladies have pulled caps for him to such an extent that ’t is like he’ll grow so fat with vanity that he’ll soon be unable to sit his horse.”
“Is—is he a Virginian, your Excellency?”
“No. ’T is thought he’s English.”
Janice longed to ask more questions, but did not dare, and as the bottle passed, the conversation became general, permitting her to become a listener. When the moment came for the ladies to withdraw, she followed her mother.
“Oh, mommy!” she said the instant she could, “didst recognise Charles?”
“Charles! What Charles?”
“Charles Fownes—our bond-servant—Colonel Brereton.”
“Nonsense, child! What maggot idea hast thee got now?”
“’T is he truly—and I never thought he could be handsome. But his being clean-shaven and wearing a wig—”
“No more of thy silly clack!” ordered her mother. “A runaway bond-servant on his Excellency’s staff, quotha! Though he does head the rebels, General Washington is a man of breeding and would never allow that.”
Before the men rose from the table the ladies were joined by Washington and Mr. Meredith.
“I have already expressed my regrets to your husband, Mrs. Meredith,” said the general, “that a suspicion against him should have put you all to such material discomfort, and I desire to repeat them to you. Yet however greatly I mourn the error for your sake, for my own it is somewhat balanced by the pleasure you have afforded me by your company. Indeed, ’t is with a certain regret that I received Colonel Brereton’s report, which, by completely exonerating Mr. Meredith, is like to deprive us of your presence.”
“Your Excellency is over-kind,” replied Mrs. Meredith, with an ease that excited the envy of her daughter.
“The general has ordered his barge for us, my dear,” said the squire, “and ’t is best that we get across the river while there ’s daylight, if we hope to be back at Greenwood by to-morrow evening.”