“Thank you,” said the girl, gratefully, as she took the pass.
“Didst see Mr. Washington when he was in town?” inquired the earl of Mr. Drinker.
“Not I,” replied the Quaker; “but friend Janice had word with him.”
“You seem to play your cards to stand well with both commanders, Miss Meredith,” intimated the officer, a little ironically. “Did the rebel general seem triumphant over his easy victory?”
“He said naught about it to me,” answered Janice.
“Within a few hours he’ll learn the difference between British regulars and half-drunk Hessians.” Cornwallis glanced out of the window to where, a quarter of a mile away, could be seen the camp-fires of the Continental force burning brightly. “He ’d best have done his bragging while he could.”
It was barely four o’clock the following morning when, after a breakfast by candle-light, the squire and Janice, the former only with much assistance and many groans, mounted Joggles and Brereton’s mare. Mr. Drinker rode with them through the village, on his way to join the Misses Drinker, who, two days before, on the first warning of a conflict, had been sent away to a friend’s, as would Janice have been also, had she not insisted on staying with her father. At the crossroads, therefore, after a due examination of their passes by the picket, adieux were made, and the guests, with many thanks, turned north on the Princeton post-road, while the host trotted off on the Pennington turnpike.
It was still dark when, an hour later, the riders reached Maidenhead, to find the second brigade of the British clustered about their camp-fires; but in the moment’s delay, while the officer of the day was scrutinising the safe-conduct, the drums beat the reveille, and the village street was alive with breakfast preparations as father and daughter were permitted to resume their journey. It was a clear, cold morning, and as the twilight slowly brightened into sunshine, the whole landscape glistened radiantly with a heavy hoar-frost that for the moment gleamed and shimmered as if the face of the country had been rubbed with some phosphorescent substance, or as if the riders were viewing it through prism glasses.
“Oh, dadda, isn’t it beautiful?” exclaimed Janice, delightedly, as they rode down the hill to the bridge over Stony Creek.
“What? Where?” demanded that worthy, looking about in all directions.
[Illustration: “’T is to rescue thee, Janice.”]
“The fields, and the trees, and—”
“Can’t ye keep your thoughts from gadding off on such nonsense, Jan?” cavilled her father, fretfully, his gouty foot putting him in anything but a sweet mood. “One would think ye had never seen pasture or woodland be—Ho!” he ejaculated, interrupting his reproof, “what ’s that sound?”
The words were but spoken when the front files of a regiment just topping the hill across the brook came in view and descended the road at quick step to the bridge, their gay scarlet uniforms, flying colours, and shining gun barrels adding still more to the brilliancy.