Brereton, with a touch of irritation, answered: “And you can ask? Even my vanity is forced to realise you waste little love on me that you need explanation. Sixty miles and over I have rid to-day solely that I might bide the night here, and not so much as a word of welcome do you give me. But I vow you shall love me some day even as I love you; that you too shall long for sight of me when I am away, and caress me as fondly when I return.”
“I did not mean that I was not glad to see you,” protested the maiden; “but—I thought I thought you could not leave the army.”
“Know then, madam,” banteringly explained the lover, “that the court-martial which has been trying Lee for his conduct at Monmouth has come to a verdict, which required transmission to Congress, for confirmation, and as I enjoy nothing better than two hundred and forty miles of riding in September heats and dust, I fairly went on my knees to his Excellency for permission to bear it. And now do you ask why I wished it? Do I not deserve something to lighten the journey? Ah, my sweet, if you care for me a little, prove it by once returning me one of my kisses!”
“With whom art thou speaking, daughter?” demanded Mrs. Meredith, losing patience at the continuance of the dialogue she could just realise.
“’T is I, John Brereton, Mrs. Meredith,” spoke up the intruder, “come in search of a night’s lodgings.”
[Illustration: “I love you for your honesty, Janice.”]
The information was enough to make the squire forget prudence, in the spleen it aroused. “Have done with your whispered prittle-prattle, Jan, and let me have sight of this fellow,” he called angrily.
“Mr. Meredith! you here?” cried the officer, springing to the doorway, to make sure that his ears did not deceive him.
“Ay, and no wonder ’t is a sad surprise to ye,” went on Mr. Meredith, irascibly. “There shall be no more stolen interviews—ay, or kisses—from henceforth, ye Jerry Sneak! Come out of the hall, Janice, and have done with this courting by stealth.”
“I call Heaven to witness,” retorted Jack, hotly, “if once I have acted underhand; and you have no right—”
“Pooh! ’t is not for a jail-bird and bond-servant and rebel to lay down the right and wrong to Lambert Meredith.”
“Oh, dadda—” expostulatingly began Janice.
“What is more,” continued the father, regardless of her protest, “I’ll have ye know that I take your behind-back wooing of my daughter as an insult, and will none of it.”
“Is it prudent, Lambert, needlessly to offend Colonel Brereton?” deprecated Mrs. Meredith.
“Ay. Let him give me up to the authorities,” sneered the husband. “’T will be all of a piece with his other doings.”
“To such an imputation I refuse to make denial,” said Brereton, proudly; “but be warned, sir, by the trials for treason now going on in Jersey and Pennsylvania, what fate awaits you if you are captured. Even I could not save you, I fear, after your taking office from the king, if you were caught thus.”