“We are escortin’ Miss Shy Anna—who ain’t really very shy—to see all her friends of The Blended Rose and of The Burning Mountain, an’ as we hate airs an’ pride, we demands that each give her a kiss. Just make a way for Miss Meredith to come and give her the chaste salute,” he ordered of the throng.
“Thou wilt not insist on such a humiliation for my daughter,” appealed Mrs. Meredith.
“Insult!” cried the leader. “Who dares to say ’t ain’t an honour to kiss one dressed in such clothes? Give the miss a little help, boys, but gently. Don’t do her no harm.”
A dozen men were through the gate before the sentence was finished, but outcries and a surge of the mob at this point gave a new bent to the general attention. A horseman from the direction opposite to that from which the crowd had come was spurring, with little heed, through the mass, and the clamour and movement were due to the commotion he precipitated.
In twenty seconds the rider, who was well coated with dust, and whose horse was lathered with the sweat of fast riding, had come abreast of the cart, and Janice gave a cry of joy. “Oh, Colonel Brereton,” she called, “save us, I beg!”
“What are you about?” demanded the new-comer, sternly, of the crowd.
“We ‘re celebratin’ independence,” explained he in the cart, “and all we wants of this miss is that she buss her friend Miss Shy Anna. They both is British sympathisers.”
“Be off with you, every doodle and rag-tail of you!” ordered the officer, angrily.
“And who are you?” demanded one; and another, emboldened by distance, recommended, “Pull him off his horse.”
Twenty hands seized hold of Brereton; but as they did so, the aide, realising his mistake, retrieved it by a sudden change of manner. “I am an aide of General Washington,” he shouted, “and I bring news of a great battle.”
An uproar of questions broke out, drowning every other sound, till, by raising his hand, the aide procured silence.
“I must carry the despatches to Congress; but come with me, and I’ll give you the tale the moment they are safe delivered.”
With a rush the crowd followed him, as he moved forward, deserting the cart and its occupants, who hastily descended, and hurried after the throng. But Jack was not so forgetful, and turning in his saddle, he called back, “I’ll return as soon as I can.”
The patience of the two homeless women was heavily taxed before Brereton returned, but finally, after nearly two hours’ waiting, he came, almost running along the street.
“Neither the Congress nor the populace were to be put off,” he began to explain, ere he was within the gate, “and I have had to retail again and again the story of the fight, and tell ‘how our army swore in Flanders.’ But I dared not break away from them through fear they would follow me back and force me to play hare to their hounds once more. ’T is a great relief to know that you are safe,” Jack declared, as he shook their hands warmly.