“’T is a false rumour,” replied Brereton. “If I could I’d see that he failed of an exchange till the end of the war; and I would that one of our officers in your hands could be kept by you for an equal term.”
“Who is that?” asked Mobray.
“That rascal, Charles Lee,” muttered Brereton. “But, though he openly schemed against General Washington, and sought to supersede him, his Excellency is above resentment, and has instructed us to obtain his exchange among the first.”
In the arrangement of details of the cartel Brereton showed himself curiously variable, at times sitting completely abstracted from what was being discussed, and then suddenly entering into the discussions, only to compel an entire going over of points already deemed settled, and raising difficulties which involved much waste of time.
“Confound it!” said O’Hara presently, after a glance at his watch. “At this rate we shall have to take a second day to it.”
“Beyond question,” assented Jack, with a suggestion of eagerness. “Gentlemen, I invite you to dinner, and there are good sleeping-rooms above.”
“’T is out of the question,” replied Stevens. “We officers give a masked ball in the city to-night, and I am one of the managers.”
“Well, then,” urged Brereton, “at least stay and dine with me at three, and you shall be free to leave by six. ’T is not much over an hour’s ride to the city.”
“That we’ll do with pleasure,” assented O’Hara.
“Go on with the discussion, then, while I speak to the landlord,” remarked Jack, rising and passing to the kitchen. “We wish a dinner for six,” he informed the publican, “by three o’clock” Then in a low voice he continued: “And hark you! One thing I wish done that is peculiar. Give us such whiskey as we call for of thy best, with lemons and sugar, but in place of hot water in the kettle, see to it that as often as it is replenished, it be filled with thy newest and palest rum. Understand?”
“Jerusalem!” ejaculated mine host. “You gentlemen of the army must have swingeing strong heads to dilute whiskey with raw rum.”
“I trust not,” replied the aide, drily.
When dinner was announced Brereton drew Grayson aside for a moment and whispered: “’T is a matter of life and death to me that these fellows be made too drunk to ride, Will, yet to keep sober myself. You’ve got the head and stomach of a ditcher; wilt make a sacrifice of yourself for my sake?”
“And but deem it sport,” replied Grayson, with a laugh; and as he took his place at the table he remarked: “Gentlemen, we have tested British valour, we have tested British. courtesy, and found them not wanting, but we understand that, though you turn not your backs to either our soldiery or our ladies, there is one thing which can make you tremble, and that is our good corn whiskey.”
“Odds life!” cried O’Hara, “who has so libelled us? Man, we’d start three glasses ahead of you, and then drink you under the table, on a challenge, but for this ball that we are due at.”