“A pretty brag,” scoffed Brereton, “since you have an excuse to avoid its test. But come, we have three good hours; but drink Grayson even in that time, and I will warrant you’ll not be able to sit your horses. Come, fill up your glasses from decanter and kettle, and I will give you a toast to begin, to which you must drink bumpers. Here ’s to the soldier who fights and loves, and may he never lack for either.”
Four hours later, when Brereton rose from the table, Stevens and O’Hara were lying on the floor, Boudinot was fallen forward, his head resting among the dishes on the table, fast asleep, and Mobray and Grayson, clasped in each other’s arms, were reeling forth different ditties under the impression that they were singing the same song. Tiptoeing from the room, the aide went to the kitchen door and said to the publican, “Order one of the dragoons to make ready Captain Mobray’s horse, as he wishes to ride back to Philadelphia.” In the passageway he took from the hook the hat, cloak, and sword of the young officer, and, removing his own sash and sabre, donned the three. Stealing back to the scene of the revel, he found Mobray and Grayson now lying on the floor as well, unconscious, though still affectionately holding each other. Kneeling gently, he searched the pockets of the unconscious man until the passport was lighted upon. Thrusting it into his belt, he stole from the room.
“What are the orders for us, sir?” asked the dragoon who held Mobray’s horse, as the aide mounted.
With an almost perfect imitation of the baronet’s voice, Brereton answered, “Colonel O’Hara will issue directions later,” and then as he cantered down the road he added gleefully: “Considerably later. What luck that it should be Fred, whose voice I know so well that I can do it to the life whenever I choose!” Then he laughed with a note of deviltry. “I am popping my head into a noose,” he said; “but whether ’t is that of hangman or matrimony, time only will show.”
The ball had been in full progress for an hour when a masker, who from his entrance had stood leaning against the wall, suddenly left his isolated position and walked up to one of the ladies.
“Conceal your face and figure as you will, Miss Meredith, you cannot conceal your grace. Wilt honour me with this quadrille?”
“La, Sir Frederick! That you should know me, and I never dream it was you!” exclaimed the girl, as she gave her hand and let him lead her to where the figures were being formed. “There have been many guesses among the caps as to the identity of him who has held himself so aloof, but not a one suggested you. The disguise makes you look a good three inches taller.”
As they took position a feminine domino came boldly across the room to them. “Is this the way you keep your word, Sir William?” she demanded in a low voice, made harsh and grating by the fury it expressed.