“With more than pleasure,” assented Mrs. Meredith; “and if ’t will not trouble thee, we will avail ourselves of thy escort even now.”
“Would that such trouble were commoner!” responded Andre, holding open the door.
“Then we’ll get our coverings without delay.”
Lord Clowes, with a deepened scowl on his face, intercepted them at the door. “One word in private with these ladies,” he said to the captain. Then, as Andre with a bow passed out first, he continued, to the women: “I have warned ye that we must be aboard ship ere ten. Refuse me my will, and ye’ll not be able to rejoin Mr. Meredith. Take my offer, or remain in the city.”
“We shall remain,” responded Mrs. Meredith.
“With your husband a warden of the seized property of the rebels, and known to have carried away a ship-load of it? Let me warn ye that the rebels whom we drove out of Philadelphia will be in no sweet mood when they return and find what we have destroyed or carried off. Hast heard how the Bostonians treated Captain Fenton’s wife and fifteen-year-old daughter? Gentlewomen though they were, the mob pulled them out of their house, stripped them naked in the public streets, smeared them with tar and feathers, and then walked them as a spectacle through the town. And Fenton had done far less to make himself hated than Mr. Meredith. Consider their fate, and decide if marriage with me is the greater evil.”
“Every word thou hast spoken, Lord Clowes,” replied Mrs. Meredith, “has tended to make us think so.”
“Then may you reap the full measure of your folly,” raged the commissary.
“Come, Janice,” said her mother; and the two, without a parting word, left him. Once upstairs, Janice flung her arms about Mrs. Meredith’s neck.
“Oh, mother,” she cried, “please, please forgive me! I have ever thought you hard and stern to me, but now I know you are not.”
Strive as those at the supper might, they could not make it a merry meal. The officers, with a sense of defeat at heart, and feeling that they were abandoning those who had shown them only kindness, had double cause to feel depressed, while the ladies, without knowledge of what the future might contain, could not but be anxious, try their all. And as if these were not spectres enough at the feast, a question of Mrs. Meredith as to Mobray added one more gloomy shadow.
“Fred? alas!” one of the officers replied. “He was sold out, and the poor fellow was lodged in the debtors’ prison, as you know. As we chose not to have them fall into the hands of the rebels, a general jail delivery was ordered this morning, which set him at large.”
“And what became of him?” asked Janice.