Once again his prediction was wrong. “That marplot of a rebel general has schemed a new method of troubling us,” he grumbled angrily a week later. “Instead of wintering his troops in a town, as any other commander would, our spies bring us word that he has marched them to a strong position on Valley Creek, a bare twenty miles from here, and has them all as busy as beavers throwing up earthworks and building huts. If God does n’t kindly freeze the devil’s brood, they’ll tie us into our lines just as they did last winter, and give us an ounce of lead for every pound of forage we seek. No sooner do we beat them, and take possession of a town, than they close in and put us in a state of siege, just as if they were the superior force. Small wonder that Sir William has written the Ministry that America can’t be conquered, and asking his Majesty’s permission to resign. A curse on the man who conceived such a mode of warfare!”
No sooner had the British returned from their brief sally than they settled into winter quarters, and gave themselves up to such amusements as the city afforded or they could create.
The commissary had taken good heed to have one of the finest of the deserted Whig houses in the city assigned to him, and whatever it had once lacked had been supplied. A coach, a chair, and four saddle-horses were at his beck and call; a dozen servants, some military and some slave, performed the household and stable work; a larder and a cellar, filled to repletion, satisfied every creature need, and their contents were served on plate and china of the richest.
“I’ faith,” explained the officer, when Mr. Meredith commented on the completeness and elegance of the establishment, “’t is something to be commissary-general in these times; and since the houses about Germantown were to be destroyed, ’t was contrary to nature not to take from them what would serve to make me comfortable. Their owners, be they friends or foes, are none the poorer, for they think it all perished in the flames, as it would have done but for my forethought.”
However lavish the hospitality of Lord Clowes could be under these circumstances, it was not popular with the army, and such officers as came to eat and drink at his table were more remarkable for their gastronomic abilities than for their wits and manners. In his civilian guests the quality was better, the man being so powerful through his office that the best of the townsfolk only too gladly gathered about his table when they were bidden,—an eagerness at which the commissary jeered even while he invited them.
“They are all to be bought,” he sneered. “There is Tom Willing, who made the most part of his money importing Guinea niggers, and now is in a mortal funk lest some of it, like them, shall run away. Two years ago he was a member of the rebel Congress and a partner of that desperate speculator Morris, with a hand thrust deep in the Continental treasury rag-bag. Now he has trimmed ship better than any of his slavers ever did, gone about on the opposite tack, and is so loyal to British rule that his greatest ambition is to get his other hand in some government contracts. He and his pretty wife will dine here every time they are asked, and so will all the rest, ye’ll see.”