As if the din were not sufficient, Miss Drinker, in her fright at the assault directed against the barrier to which she had pinned her own reliance of safety, promptly gave vent to a series of shrieks, intermixed, when breath failed, with gasping predictions to the girls as to the fate that awaited them, scaring the maidens most direfully. Their terror was not lessened by the growing volume of shouts outside the house, and by the rub-a-dub-dub of the drums, and the tantara of the bugles, as the “To arms” was sounded along the village street. Barely had they heard Rahl and the other officers go plunging downstairs, when the scattering crack of muskets began to be heard, swelling quickly into volleys and then into the unmistakable platoon firing, which bespoke an attack in force. Finally, and as a last touch to their alarm, came the roar of artillery, as Forrest’s and Knox’s batteries opened fire.
The whole conflict took not over thirty-five minutes, but to the three bedfellows it seemed to last for hours. The silence that then fell so suddenly proved even more awful, however, and became quickly so insupportable that Janice was for getting out of bed to learn its cause, a project that Miss Drinker prohibited. “I know not what is transpiring,” she avowed, “but whatever the disturbance, our danger is yet to come.”
The event verified her opinion, for presently heavy and hurried footsteps of many men sounded below stairs, terminating the brief silence. With little delay the tramp of boots came upstairs, and a loud rap on the door drew a stifled cry from the spinster as she buried her head under the bedclothes, and made the two girls clutch each other with fright.
“Open!” called a commanding voice. “Open, I say!” it repeated, as no answer came. “Batter it in, then!” and at the order the stocks of two muskets shattered the door panels; the bureau was tipped over on its face with a crash, and Brereton, sword in hand, jumped through the breach.
It was an apparently empty room into which the aide entered, but a mound under the bedclothes told a different tale.
“Here are other Hessian pigs who’ve drunk more than they’ve bled,” he sneered, as he tossed back the counterpane and blankets with his sword-point, thus uncovering three becapped heads, from each of which issued a scream, while three pairs of hands wildly clutched the covering.
The nightcaps so effectually disguised the faces that not a one did the officer recognise in his first hasty glance.
“Ho!” he jeered. “Small wonder the fellow lay abed. Come, up with you, my Don Juan,” he added, prodding Miss Drinker through the bedclothes with his sword. “’T is no time for bearded men to lie abed.”
“Help, help!” shrieked Janice, and “’T is my aunt!” cried Tabitha, in unison, but the spinster’s fear was quite forgot in the insulting allusion to the somewhat noticeable hirsute adornment on her face; sitting up in bed, she pointed at the door, and sternly ordered, “Cease from insulting gentlewomen, brute, and leave this chamber!”