“Tush! British officers never—”
“’T is not the officers, but the common soldiers who straggle from the lines for plunder and—while the pigs of Hessians and Waldeckers, sold by their princes at so much per head, cannot be controlled, even by their own officers. See, here, is the broadside of which I spoke. I have seen every affidavit, and swear to you that they are genuine. Don’t—you can’t risk such a fate for Mrs. Meredith or—” Brereton stopped, unable to say more, and thrust the paper he held in his hand into that of the squire.
“I’ll have none of your Whig lies puffed on me!” persisted the squire, obstinately.
The officer started to argue; but as he did so the gallop of a horse’s feet was heard, and Colonel Laurens came dashing up. Throwing himself from the saddle, he flung into the tavern; and that he brought important news was so evident that Brereton hurriedly left Mr. Meredith and followed. Barely a moment passed when aide after aide issued from the inn, and, mounting, spurred away in various directions. The results were immediate. The carts were hurriedly put in train and started southward on the Princeton post-road, smoke began to rise from the bridge, the batteries limbered up, and the regiments on the green fell in and then stood at ease.
While these obvious preparations for a retreat were in progress a coloured man appeared, leading so handsome and powerful a horse that Janice, who had much of her father’s taste, gave a cry of pleasure and, jumping from her perch, went forward to stroke the beast’s nose.
“What a beauty!” she cried.
“Yes, miss, dat Blueskin,” replied the darky, grinning proudly. “He de finest horse from de Mount Vernon stud, but he great villain, jus’ de same. He so obstropolus when he hear de guns dat the gin’l kian’t use him, an’ has tu ride ole Nelson when dyars gwine tu be any fightin’.”
Janice leaned forward and kissed the “great villain” on his soft nose, and then turned to find the general standing in the doorway watching her.
“I have not time to attend to your complaints, gentlemen,” he announced to the two esquires and the group of farmers, all of whom started forward at his appearance. “File your statements and claims with the commissary-general, and in due time they’ll receive attention.” Then he came toward his horse, and as he recognised the not easily forgotten face he uncovered. “I trust Miss Janice remembers me!” he said, a smile succeeding the careworn look of the previous moment, and added: “Had ye been kind, ye’d have kept that caress for the master.”
Janice coloured, but replied with a mixture of assurance and shyness: “Blueskin could not ask for it, but your Excellency—” Then she paused and coloured still more.
Washington laughed, and, stooping, kissed her hand. “Being a married man, must limit the amount of his yielding to temptation,” he said, finishing the sentence for the girl. “I would I were to have the honour of your company at dinner once more, but your friends, the British, will not give us the time. So I must mount and say farewell.”