It was after nightfall ere there was any variation of the monotonous quiet; and indeed the tall clock had just announced the usual bedtime of the family when Clarion’s bark made the squire sit up from his drowse before the fire, and set all listening. Presently came the now familiar sound of hoof-beat and sabre-clank; springing to his feet and seizing a candle, Mr. Meredith was at the front door as a troop trotted in from the road.
“What cheer?” called the master of Greenwood.
“’T was played to a nicety,” answered the voice of Harcourt, as he threw himself from the saddle. “Sound the stable call, bugler. Dismount your prisoner, sergeant, and bring him in,” he ordered; and then continued to the host: “We had the tavern surrounded, Mr. Meredith, ere they so much as knew, bagged our game, and here we are.”
The words served to carry the two to the parlour, and closely following came a sergeant and trooper, while between them, clothed in a very soiled dressing-gown and a still dirtier shirt, in slippers, his queue still undressed, and with hands tied behind his back, walked the general who but a few hours before had been boasting of how he was to save the Continental cause.
“If you have pity in you,” besought the prisoner, “let me warm myself. What method of waging war is it which forces a man to ride thirty miles in such weather in such clothes? For the sake of former humanity, Mr. Meredith, give me something hot to drink.”
In the excitement and confusion of the new arrivals, Janice had seen her chance, and, intent upon making her own statement of justification, she once again stole from the parlour and into the kitchen, so softly that the occupants of neither room were aware of escape or advent. She found the prisoner still tied to his chair, his body and head hanging forward in an attitude denoting weariness, Sukey engaged in cutting slices of bacon in probable expectation of demands from the new-comers, while the single trooper on guard had just opened the entry door, and was shouting inquiries concerning the success of the raid to his fellow-dragoons as they passed to the stable.
Acting on a sudden impulse which gave her no time for consideration, Janice caught the knife from the hand of Sukey, and, with two hasty strokes, cut the cord where it was passed through the slats of the chair-back, setting the prisoner free.
“Fo’ de good Lord in hebin—” began the cook, in amazement; but, as the import of her young mistress’s act dawned upon her, she ran to the fireplace and, catching up a log of wood, held it out to Brereton.