“Odds my life!” burst out the baronet, as the second interloper, garbed in Continental dragoon uniform, entered and bowed respectfully to the company. “What ’s to pay here?”
“But nay,” went on Brereton, “I see your table is already filled, so we’ll not inconvenience you by our intrusion. Perhaps, however, Miss Janice will fill us each a glass from you bowl of punch. ’T is a long ride to Morristown, and a stirrup cup will not be amiss. Yet stay again. Let me first puff off my friend to you. Ladies and gentleman, Captain Henry Lee, better known as Light Horse Harry.”
“May I perish, but this impudence passes belief!” gasped one of the officers. “Dost think thou ’rt not prisoners?”
“Ho, Jack! I told thee thy harebrainedness and love of adventure would get us into the suds yet,” spoke up Lee. “Then the ninety light horse whom we left surrounding the house are thy troops?” he questioned laughingly, of the four officers.
“Devil pick your bones, the two of you!” swore Mobray. “Wast not enough that we should be so confoundedly gapped, but you must come with the bowl but half emptied. Hast thou no bowels for gentlemen and fellow-officers?”
“Fooh!” quizzed Brereton. “Pick up the bowl and down with it at a gulp, man. Never let it be said that an officer of the Welsh Fusileers made bones of a half-full—” There the speaker caught himself short, and suddenly turned his back on the table.
“Whom have we here?” demanded the baronet. “By Heavens, Charlie, who’d think—Does Sir William know of—?”
“’S death!” cried Jack, facing about, and meeting the questioner eye to eye. “Canst not hold thy tongue, man?” Then he went on less excitedly: “I am Leftenant-Colonel John Brereton, aide-de-camp to his Excellency General Washington.”
For a moment Sir Frederick stood speechless, then he held out his hand, saying: “And a good fellow, I doubt not, despite a bad trade. Fair lady,” he continued after the handshake, “since we are doomed for the moment to be captives of some one other than thee, help to cheer us in the exchange by filling us each a parting glass. Come, Charlie, canst give us one of thy old-time toasts?”
Brereton laughed, as he took a glass from the girl. “’T is hardly possible, with ladies present, to fit thy taste, Fred. However, here goes: Honour, fame, love, and wealth may desert us, but thirst is eternal.”
“Even in captivity, thank a kind Providence,” ejaculated one of the officers, as he set down his drained tumbler.
“Now, gentlemen, boots and saddles, an’ it please you,” suggested Lee, politely.
“Thee’ll not force a wounded man to take such exposure,” protested Mrs. Meredith. “Lieutenant Hennion—”
Brereton carried on the speech: “Can drink punch and study divinity. I’ll warrant he’s not so near to death’s door but he can bear one-half the ride of our poor starved troopers and beasts.”