The Merediths were awakened the next morning by sounds which told of the movements of troops, and all day long the regiments were marching to the river, and as fast as they could be ferried, were transferred to the Jersey side, the townspeople who, by choice or necessity, were left behind being helpless spectators meanwhile. Once again the streets of Philadelphia assumed the appearance of almost absolute desertion; for as the sun went down the prudent-minded retired within doors, taking good heed to bar shutters and bolt doors, and the precaution was well, for all night long men might be seen prowling about the streets,—jail-birds, British deserters, and other desperadoes, tempted by hope of plunder.
Fearful for their own safety, Mrs. Meredith and Janice failed not to use every means at hand to guard it, not merely closing and securing, so far as they were able, every possible entrance to the house, but as dark came on, their fear led them to ascend to the garret by a ladder through a trap, and drawing this up, they closed the entrance. Here they sat crouched on the bare boards, holding each other, for what seemed to them immeasurable hours; and such was the intensity of the nervous anxiety of waiting that it was scarcely added to, when, toward daybreak, both thought they detected the tread of stealthy footsteps through the rooms below. Of this they presently had assurance, for when the pound of horses’ hoofs was heard outside, the intruders, whoever they might be, were heard to run through the hall and down the stairs with a haste which proved to the miserable women that more than they had cause for fear.
Hardly had this sound died away when a loud banging on the front door reached even their ears, and after several repetitions new fear was given them by the crashing of wood and splintering of glass, which told that some one had broken in a shutter and window to effect an entrance. Once again footsteps on the stairs were heard, and a man rushed into the room underneath them and came to a halt.
“Do you find them?” he shouted to some companion, whose answer could not be heard. “What ho!” he went on in stentorian voice. Is there any one in this house who can give me word of a family of Merediths?”
Janice reached forward and raised the trap, but her mother caught her arm away, and the door fell with a bang.
“’T is all right, mommy,” the girl protested. “Didst not hear the jingle of his spurs? ’T is surely an officer, and we need not fear any such.”
Even as she spoke the trap was raised by a sabre from below. “Who ’s above?” the man demanded, and as Janice leaned forward and peeked through the opening, he went on, “I seek—” There he uncovered. “Ah, Miss Meredith, dark as it is above, I could pick you from a thousand by Colonel Brereton’s description. I was beginning to fear some misfortune had overtaken you. I am Captain McLane of the light horse. You can descend without fear.”