“Go on, sir!” ordered Washington, sternly.
“And is driving in our skirmishes. He has report that ’t is the first of the whole English army, which is pressing on by forced marches.”
“’T is time, then, that we were on the wing,” asserted the general, rising. “Colonel Webb, tell General St. Clair to hold the enemy in check as long as he can. You, Baylor, direct Colonel Forrest to plant his guns on the green, to cover the rearguard. General Greene, let the army file off on the road to Somerset Court-house.”
The orders given, he turned to make his farewell to Janice. “This time Lord Cornwallis did not cheat us of our meal, though he prevents our lingering long at table. You should know best, sir,” he said to the esquire, “what course to pursue, but I advise you to start for Greenwood without delay, for there will be some skirmishing through the town, and the British commander is not likely to be in the best of moods.”
“We’ll be off at once,” assented Mr. Meredith.
“Then Miss Janice will allow me the office of mounting her,” solicited the general, as they all went to the door. “Is not that Colonel Brereton’s mare?” he continued, as the orderly brought up the horses.
“Yes, your Excellency,” stammered Janice. “’T was by a strange chance—”
“No doubt, no doubt—” interrupted Washington, smiling.
“Belike he wants her back,” intimated the squire, glancing anxiously at the aide, who stood, with folded arms, watching the scene.
“I think he’ll not grudge the loan, in consideration of the rider,” insinuated Washington. “The more that Congress has just voted him a sword and horse for his conduct at Trenton. How is it, Brereton?”
With a shrug of the shoulders Jack muttered, “’T is no time to demand her back, got though she was by a trick,” and walked away.
“You have not shown him the paper?” questioned Janice, as she settled herself in the saddle.
“No, my child,” replied Washington. “He returned from Baltimore only last evening, and there has been no time since. But rest easy, he shall see it. Keep good wishes for us, and fare thee well.”
Two hours later the British marched into Princeton. But the Continental forces had made good their retreat, and all that was left to their pursuers was to march on wearily to Brunswick to save the broken regiments and the magazines that had been lost in spite of them, had Washington possessed but a few fresh troops. The English general had been out-manoeuvred, his best brigade cut to pieces, and the army he had thought to annihilate was safe among the hills of New Jersey.
“Confound the fox!” stormed Cornwallis. “Can I never come up with him?”
“He ’s got safe off twice, my lord; the third time is proverbial, and the odds must turn,” urged Erskine.
“Pray Heaven that some day we may catch him in a cul-de-sac from which there can be no retreat.”