“My Lord,” protested Sir William Erskine, when the order to encamp was given, “may not the enemy escape under cover of the night?”
“Where to?” demanded Cornwallis. “This time there will be no crossing of the Delaware, for we are too close on their heels; and if they retreat down the river, we can fight them when we please. A little success has undone Mr. Washington, and the fox is at last run to cover.”
While at supper, the British commander was informed by an orderly that two civilians desired word with him, and without leaving the table he granted an audience.
“A petticoat, eh?” he muttered, as a man and woman entered the room; and then as the lady pushed back her calash, he ordered: “A chair for Miss Meredith, sergeant.” The girl seated, he went on: “Sir William spoke of you to me just as I was leaving New York, and instructed me, if you were findable, to send you to New York. I’ faith, the general had more to say of your coming than he had of my teaching Mr. Washington a lesson. He told me to put you under charge of Lord Clowes without delay.”
“But he was captivated,” announced Mr. Drinker.
“So I learned at Princeton; therefore the matter must await my return.”
“I have come with the young lady, my Lord,” spoke up Mr. Drinker, “to ask thy indulgence in behalf of herself and her father.”
“Yes, Lord Cornwallis,” said Janice, finding her tongue and eager to use it. “We came here to see General Grant, but he was away, and dadda had a slight attack of the gout, from a cold he took, and then he very rashly drank too much at Colonel Rahl’s party, and that swelled his foot so that he’s lain abed ever since, till to-day, when we thought to set out for Brunswick; but the snow having melted, our sleigh could not travel, and every one expecting a battle wanted to get out of town themselves, so we could get no carriage, nor even a cart.” Here Miss Meredith paused for breath with which to go on.
“Friend Meredith,” said Mr. Drinker, taking up the explanation, “though not able to set foot to the ground, conceives that he can travel on horseback by easy riding; and rather than risk remaining in a town that is like to be the scene of to-morrow’s unrighteous slaughter, he hopes thee will grant him permission and a pass to return to Brunswick.”
“There will be no fight in the town to-morrow,” asserted Cornwallis; “but there may be some artillery firing before we can carry their position, so ’t is no place for non-combatants, much less women. You can’t do better than get back to Greenwood, where later I’ll arrange to fulfil Sir William’s orders. Make out a pass for two, Erskine. When do you wish to start, Miss Meredith?”
“Dadda said we’d get away before daylight, so as to be well out of town before the battle began.”
“Wisely thought. The second brigade lies at Maidenhead and the fourth at Princeton; and as both have orders to join me, you’ll meet them on the road. This paper, however, will make all easy.”