“Why went he to the stable rather than to the house in the first case?” demanded her father.
Janice looked surprised. “He knew the troopers were here,” she explained.
The squire was about to speak, when Clowes’ hand on his shoulder checked him. “There’s more here than we understand,” the latter whispered. “Let me ask the questions.” He came to the fire and said:—
“Why did he take this route, if he was bearing despatches?”
The first sign of colour came creeping back into the pale cheeks of the girl, as she recalled the double motive the aide had given. “Colonel Brereton said he did not know the westerly roads, and so—”
“Colonel Brereton!” rapped out her father. “And what was he doing hereabout? Plague take the scamp that he must be forever returning to worry us!”
“How much of a force had he with him?” asked the commissary.
“He was alone,” replied Janice.
“Alone!” exclaimed the baron, incredulously; then his face lost its look of surprise. “He came by stealth to see you,
There was enough truth in the supposition to destroy the last visible signs of the girl’s swoon, and she responded over-eagerly: “I told you he was on a mission for his Excellency, and but stopped here to get a fresh horse.”
“Ay,” growled the squire, “he steals himself, then steals my crop, and now turns horse thief.”
“He was not stealing, dadda,” denied Janice. “His own horse was tired, so he left her and said he’d return Joggles some time to-morrow evening.”
Clowes whistled softly, as he and the squire exchanged glances. Just as the former was about to resume his questioning, the sound of the front door being violently thrown open gave him pause, and the next instant Phil hurriedly entered the room.
“The troopers at the stable say ye found Captain Boyde. Is he bad hurt?” he demanded.
“To the death,” spoke up the squire, for once missing the commissary’s attempt to keep him silent. “Hast caught Brereton?”
[Illustration: “Stay and take his place, Colonel!”]
Janice had sprung to her feet and now stood listening, with a half-eager, half-frightened look.
“Brereton!” cried Philemon. “Did he head the party?”
The growing complexity was too much for the patience of the simple-minded owner of Greenwood. “May Belza have us all,” he fumed, “if I can see the bottom or even the sides of this criss-cross business. Just tell us a straight tale, lad, if we are not to have the jingle brains.”
“’T is a swingeing bad business,” groaned Phil. “Our troop rode over from Princeton ter-day, an’ the houses at Brunswick bein’ full of soldiers, I tells ’em that we could find quarters here. We was gropin’ our way when the enemy set upon us, an’ in the surprise cuts down the captain, an’ captures three of our men.”
“Dost mean to say ye let one man kill your captain and take three of ye prisoners?” scoffed the squire.