Mr. Meredith, from the box, had been shrieking affirmations of his loyalty to King George without the slightest heed being paid to him; but there is a limit to passivity, and as the two men on the wheel struggled which should first gain the desired prize, the squire kicked out twice with his foot in rapid succession, sending both disputants back into the crowd of troopers. Howls of rage arose on all sides; and it would have fared badly with the master of Greenwood had not the noise brought an officer up.
“Here, here!” he cried sharply, “what ’s all this pother about?”
“’T is a damned Whig, who is—”
“A lie!” roared the squire. “There is no better subject of King George living than Lambert Meredith.”
The officer jeered. “That’s what every rebel claims of late. Not one breathes in the land, if you’d but believe the words of you turncoats.”
“’T is not a lie,” spoke up Janice, her face blazing with temper and her fists clinched as if she intended to use them. “Dadda always—”
“Ho!” exclaimed the officer, “what a pretty wench! Art a rebel, too? for if so, I’ll see to it that guard duty falls to me. Come, black eyes, one kiss, and I’ll send the men to right about.”
Janice caught the whip from its socket and raised it threateningly, just as another officer from a newly arrived company came spurring up and, without warning, began to strike right and left with the flat of his sword. “Off with you, you damned rapscallions!” he shouted. “Leftenant Bromhead, where are your manners?”
“And where are yours, Mr. Hennion, that ye dare speak so to your superior officer?” demanded the lieutenant.
There was no mistaking Philemon, changed though he was. He wore a fashionable wig, and his clothes fitted well a figure that, once shambling and loose-jointed, had now all the erectness of the soldier, but the face was unchanged.
“I’ll not quarrel with you now,” swaggered Philemon. “If you want ter fight later I’m your man, an’ if you want ter go before Colonel Harcourt with a complaint I’ll face you. But now I’ve other matters.” He turned to the trio on the box, and exclaimed as he doffed his hat: “Well, squire, didst ever expect sight of me again? An’ how do Mrs. Meredith and Janice? Strap my vitals, if I’ve seen such beauty since I left Brunswick,” he added airily, and making Janice feel very much put out of countenance.
“Welcome, Philemon!” cried Mrs. Meredith, “and doubly welcome at such a moment.”
“Ay,” shouted the squire, heartily. “Ye arrived just in the nick o’ time to save your bride, Phil.” A remark which sent the whip rattling to the ground from the hands of Janice. “An’ ye a king’s officer!” he ended. “Bubble your story to us, lad.”
“There ain’t much ter tell as you don’t know already. Sir William put no faith in the news I carried, thinkin’ it but a Whig trick, and so they held me prisoner. But later, when ’t was too late ter use it, they learned the word I brought them was true; so they set me free, and as there was no gettin’ away from Boston, the general gave me a cornetcy, that I should not starve.”