Three days after the departure of Howe, the squire came into dinner, a paper in hand, and with a beaming face. “Fine news!” he observed. “I am not to be displaced.”
“Good!” cried the commissary, while Janice clapped her hands. “I spoke to Sir Henry strongly in your favour, and am joyed to hear that it has borne fruit.”
“How dost thou know, Lambert?” asked Mrs. Meredith.
“I have here an order to load the ‘Rose’ tender with such rebel property as the commissaries shall designate, and superintend its removal to New York. They ’d ne’er employ me on so long a job, were I marked to lose my employment, eh, Clowes?”
“Well reasoned. For ’t is not merely a task of time, but one of confidence. But look ye, man, if ye ’re indeed to make a voyage to York and back, which will likely take a month, ’t is best that we settle this question of marriage ere ye go. I’ve given Miss Janice time, I think ye’ll grant, and ’t will be an advantage in your absence that she and Mrs. Meredith have one bound to protect them.”
“I’d say ay in a moment, Clowes, but for my word to Hennion.”
“’T is a promise thou shouldst ne’er have made, and which it is now thy every interest to be quit of, let alone that ’t is so distasteful to thy daughter.”
“A promise is a promise,” answered the father, with an obstinate motion of head.
“And a fool ’s a fool,” retorted Clowes, losing his temper. “In counsel and aid I’ve done my best for ye; now go your gait, and see what comes of it.”
A week later, Mr. Meredith bade farewell to wife and daughter.
“I wish you were n’t going, dadda,” Janice moaned. “’T is so akin to last summer that it frights me.”
“Nay, lass, be grateful that I have the job to do, and that with good winds I shall return within a fortnight. Clowes has passed his word that ye shall want for nothing. I’ll be back ere ye know I’ve gone.”
There was a good cause, however, for the girl’s fear of the future, for in less than a week from her father’s sailing, on every street corner, in every tavern, and in every drawing-room of the town the news that Philadelphia was to be evacuated was being eagerly and anxiously discussed.
Confirmation of the rumour, so far as Mrs. Meredith and Janice were concerned, was first received through the commissary.
“Ay,” he told them, when questioned; “’t was decided at a council of war the very day Howe left us, and that was why we at once began transferring our stores and the seized property to New York, one cargo of which your husband was put in charge. ’T will tax our shipping to the utmost to save it all.”
“But why didst thou not warn us, so that we might have embarked with him?” asked Mrs. Meredith.
“’T was a military secret to be told to no one.”
“Can dadda return ere the evacuation begins?”