“Thanks to you,” replied Mrs. Meredith “’T was indeed a mercy of God that thou cam’st when thou didst.”
Pray give my mare, who has done her seventy miles since daylight, some share,” laughed the officer, heartily.
“Oh, Colonel Brereton, what do we not owe to you?” exclaimed Janice, warmly.
A few words told their champion of their plight and stirred him to hot anger.
“By heavens!” he growled; “I would that my general were here to curse the beldame, as he did Lee at Monmouth. Once you are cared for, I’ll return and see that she hear one man’s opinion of her. Follow me, and I’ll soon put you in comfort.” Getting a trunk on each shoulder, he set off down the street.
Did I understand thee aright in inferring that General Washington so far forgot himself as to use profane language?” asked Mrs. Meredith as they walked.
“Ay, Laus Deo!”
“I can’t think of him as doing that,” ejaculated Janice.
“’T was glorious to hear him, for he spoke with righteous anger as an angel from heaven might, and his every word was well deserved. Indeed, had I been in command, Lee should have had a file of soldiers before sundown for his conduct.”
“What did he?”
“Everything that an honourable man should not,” answered the aide, warmly. “Finding that Gates had lost favour with Congress, and had failed in his attempt to supplant Washington, he at once resumed his old intriguing. But, worse still, once we were across the Delaware and in full cry after the British, he persisted in the Council of War in asserting that ’t would he madness to bring on a general engagement, and that we should keep at a comfortable distance and merely annoy them by detachment,—counsel that would have done credit to the most honourable Society of Midwives, and to them only, and which could mean naught but that he did not wish my general to reap the glory of defeating the British. Voted down, my fine gentleman at first refused the command of the advance; but once he saw that the attack had promise of success, he asserted his claim as senior officer to command it, only, it would seem, with the object of preventing its success, for at the moment of going into action he predicted to Lafayette that our troops could not stand against the British, and instead of supporting those engaged, he allowed them to be thrown into confusion and was the first to join in the retreat which he himself had brought about. ’T was at this moment, when he was actually heading the rout, that my general cantered up to him and demanded, ‘By God, sir, what is the meaning of this disorderly retreat?’ Lee began a stuttering explanation that did n’t explain, so his Excellency repeated his question. ’You know that the attack was contrary to my advice and opinion,’ stammered Lee, and then Washington thundered out, ’Then you should not have insisted on the command. You’re a damned poltroon!’ And ’t was what the whole army thought and wanted said.”