“These are times that test loyalty to the full,” replied Washington, “and there has been many a waverer in the land.”
“Of that I know full well, your Excellency.”
“Nay, Miss Meredith, thou needest not pretend that thou hast any knowledge of inconstancy. From that particular failing of mankind I’ll agree to hold thee harmless.”
“Your Excellency but compliments me,” answered Janice, “in presuming me exempt from forgetfulness.” And as she spoke the girl gave an unconscious glance at Brereton.
Dinner, which was actually being placed on the table in the tent at the moment the ladies arrived, cut short further conversation with either Washington or Sukey. Utterly forgetful of her duties to spit and oven, nothing would do the former cook but to follow Janice to her old room, where she summarily ordered Billy to clear out the clothing and accoutrements of its military tenants.
“Don’t you stay, Sukey,” said Janice, “if you are needed in the kitchen. His Excellency—”
“Dat I ain’t, chile. Gin’l Washington he trabell wid his own cook, an’ Peg an’ I ‘se only helpin’ Mr. Lee set de table and carry de dishes. Now I help ma honey.”
“Oh, Sukey,” carolled Janice, “it is so good to be home again!”
“Guess Missus Sukey tink dat too,” said William, halting in his labours. “She dun talk about nuthin’ else but her pooty young missus.”
“And how ’s Blueskin, Billy?” questioned Janice.
“Lor’ bless us, miss, dyar ain’t no restrainin’ ob dat steed wid de airs he put on since he dun took part at Monmouth an’ hear the gin’l say what he tink oh dat feller Lee. I tell him if he doan behave better, de next time dyar ‘s goin’ to be a battle, I jus’ saddle up Nelson an’ leave him behind.”
“Now youse stop a-talkin’ an’ tote dem men’s tings somewhars else. Missy Janice gwine to change her gown, an’ we doan want nuttin’ oh dat sort in hyar.”
“I’ll only smart myself a little and not change my frock, Sukey, because—”
“Dat youse must, honey, for I dun praise youse so dat I ain’t gwine to have dem disappointed in youse. Who’ll be to dinner to-day, Mr. Lee?”
[Illustration: “Washington has crossed the Delaware!”]
“Gen’l Greene an’ Lord Sterlin’, an’ de staff, an’ de field an’ brigades major ob de day.”
“Dere, chile, now doan youse depreciate yourself to all dem. Jus’ youse put on de pootiest dress youse hab an’ do ole Sukey proud.” Then, as she helped Janice to bedeck herself she poured out the story of their makeshift life, telling how, with what had been left of the poultry, and with the products of the small patch of the garden they had been able to till, the two slaves had managed to live the year through, taking the best care they could of their master’s property, and hoping and praying daily for what had at last come to pass. The arraying would have been more speedy with the volunteer abigail out of the room; but not once did the mistress even suggest it, and, on the contrary, paused several times in the process to give the black a hug.