“Are ye all mad?” fumed the commissary.
“He ever had the art of getting the women on his side, Clowes,” laughed Sir William, good-naturedly. “How the dear creatures love a man of fire! Look you, boy, with such a friend as Mrs. Loring—to say nothing of others—no limit can be set to your advancement, if you will but put foolish pride in your pocket, and throw in your lot with us.”
“I’d sooner starve with Washington than feast with you.”
“That ’s easily done!” remarked Loring, jeeringly.
“Not so easily as in your prisons,” retorted Jack.
“Don’t be foolish and stick to your tantrums, lad,” persuaded Howe.
“Is a man foolish who elects to stick to the winning side? For you are beaten, Sir William, and none know it better than you.”
“Damn thy tongue!” roared Howe, springing up.
“Don’t blame him for it, William,”
cried Mrs. Loring.
“How can he be other than a lad of spirit?”
Howe fell back into his seat. “There ’t is again. Ah, gentlemen, the sex beat us in the end! Well, Jane, since thou ’t commander-in-chief, please issue thy orders.”
“Set him free at once.”
“We can scarce do that, though we’ll not hang him as a spy, lest all the caps go into mourning. Commissary Loring, he is yours; we will hold him as a prisoner of war.”
“Do that and you must answer for it,” said Jack. “You can hang me as a spy, if you choose, but yesterday I rode into Germantown under a flag of truce, and on your own pass, as one of the commissioners of exchange. What word will you send to General Washington if you attempt to hold me prisoner?”
“Well done!” exclaimed Howe. “One would almost think it had been prearranged. Release his arms, sergeant. Loring, let the boy have a horse and a pass to Germantown. I rely on your honour, sir, that you take no advantage of what you have seen or heard within our lines.”
Jack bowed assent without a word.
“And now, sir, that you are free,” went on Sir William, “have you no thanks for us?”
“Ah, Charlie,” begged Mrs. Loring, “just a single word of forgiveness.”
Without a sign to show he heard her, Jack went to Janice and took her hand. “Don’t forget my pledge. Save you I can, if you will but let me.” He stooped his head slightly and hesitated for a moment, his eyes fixed on her lips, then he kissed her hand.
And as he did so, Mrs. Loring burst into tears. “You are killing me by your cruelty,” she cried.
“Ah, Colonel Brereton, say something kind to her!” begged the girl, impulsively.
Wheeling about, Jack strode forward, till he stood beside the woman. “This scoundrel,” he began, indicating Clowes with a contemptuous gesture, “is seeking to force Miss Meredith into a marriage: save her from that, and the wrong you did me is atoned.”
“I will; I will!” replied Mrs. Loring, lifting her head eagerly. “I’ll—Ah, Charlie, one kiss—just one to show that I am forgiven—No, not for that,” she hurriedly added, as the aide drew back—“to show—for what I will do for her. Everything I can I will—Just one.”