After the group of officers came the rank and file,—lines of men no two of whom were dressed alike, many of them without coats, and some without shoes; old uniforms faded or soiled to a scarcely recognisable point, civilian clothing of all types, but with the hunting-shirt of linen or leather as the predominant garb; and equipped with every kind of gun, from the old Queen Anne musket which had seen service in Marlborough’s day to the pea rifle of the frontiers-man. A faint attempt to give an appearance of uniformity had been made by each man sticking a sprig of green leaves in his hat, yet had it not been for the guns, cartouch boxes, powder horns, and an occasional bayonet and canteen, only the regimental order, none too well maintained, differentiated the army from the mob which had preceded them.
While yet the girl gazed wistfully after the familiar figure, her ears were greeted with a still more familiar voice.
“Close up there and dress your lines, Captain Balch. If this is your ‘Column in parade,’ what, in Heaven’s name, is your ’March at ease’?” shouted Brereton, cantering along the column from the rear.
He caught sight of Janice as he rode up, and an exclamation of mingled surprise and pleasure burst from him. Throwing his bridle over a post, he sprang up the three steps, lustily hammered with the knocker, and in another moment was in the girl’s presence.
“This is luck beyond belief,” he exclaimed, as he seized her hand. “Your father wrote me from New York, begging that I see or send you word that he was well, and asking that you be permitted to join him. At Brunswick I learned you were here, but, seek you as I might, I could not get wind of your whereabout. And now I cannot bide to aid you, for we are in full march to meet the British.”
“They have landed at the head of the Chesapeake, so we are hastening to get between them and Philadelphia, and only diverged from our route to parade through the streets this morning, that the people might have a chance to see us, so ’t is given out, but in fact to overawe them; for the city is none too loyal to us, as will be shown in a few days, when they hear of our defeat.”
“You mean?” questioned the girl.
“General Washington, generous as he always is, has sent some of his best regiments to Gates, and so we are marching eleven thousand ill-armed and worse officered men, mostly new levies, to face on open ground nineteen thousand picked troops. What can come but defeat in the field? If it depended on us, the cause would be as good as ended, but they are beaten, thanks to their dirty politics, before they even face us.”
“I don’t understand.”