Made fairly desperate, Janice was actually raising her head to protest, when Harcourt and Philemon entered.
“One moment, madam,” intervened the colonel. “I have been plying our prisoner with questions, and have some to ask of your daughter. Now, Miss Meredith, Lee’s letter, that we found on the prisoner, has told us all we need, but we want to test the prisoner’s statements by yours. Look to it that you speak us truly, for if we find any false swearing or quibbling, ’t will fare ill with you.” Then for three or four minutes the officer examined the girl concerning her first interview with the rebel officer, seeking to gain additional information as to Lee’s whereabout. Finding that Janice really knew nothing more than had been overheard in the Van Meter barn, he ended the examination by turning to Philemon and saying:—
“Sound boots and saddles, Lieutenant Hennion. You can guide us, I take it, to this tavern from which General Lee writes?”
“That I kin,” asserted Phil, “though ’t will be a stiff ride ter git there afore morning.”
As the two officers went toward the door Janice made her petition anew. “Colonel Harcourt, may I have word with Colonel—with the prisoner, that he shall not think ’t was my treachery?” she pleaded.
“I advise agin it, Colonel Harcourt,” interjected Philemon, his face red with some emotion. “That prisoner’s a sly, sneaky tyke, and—”
“Get the troop mounted, Mr. Hennion,” commanded his superior. “Mr. Meredith, I leave our captive in charge of a sergeant and two troopers, with orders that if I am not back within twenty-four hours he be taken to Brunswick. Whether we succeed or fail in our foray, Sir William shall hear of the service you have been to us.” Unheeding Janice’s plea, the colonel left the room, and a moment later the bugle sounded in quick succession, “To horse,” “The march,” and “By fours, forward.”
Interest in the departing cavalry drew the elders to the windows, and in this preoccupation Janice saw her opportunity to gain by stealth what had been denied her. Slipping silently from the parlour, she sped through hall and dining-room, pausing only when the kitchen doorway was attained, her courage wellnigh gone at the thought that the aide might refuse to believe her protestations of innocence. Certainty that she had but a moment in which to explain prevented hesitancy, and she entered the kitchen.
The two troopers were already stretched at full length on the floor, their feet to the fire, while the sergeant sat by the table, with a pitcher of small beer and a pipe to solace his particular hours of guard mount over the prisoner. The latter was seated near the fire, his arms drawn behind him by a rope which passed through the slats of the chair back. So far as these fetters would permit, Brereton was slouched forward, with his chin resting on his chest in a most break-neck attitude, sound asleep. There could be no doubt about it, beyond credence though it was to the girl! While she had been miserably conceiving the officer as ablaze with wrath at her, he, with the philosophy of the experienced soldier, had lost not a moment in getting what rest he could after his forty-eight hours of hard riding.