Another and yet another step each took, until there was not twenty feet between the two; then Lee halted and coolly raised his arm; one more step Brereton took as he did so, and not pausing to steady his body, his pistol was swung upward so quickly that it flashed first. Lee’s went off a second later, and both men stood facing each other, the smoking barrels dropped, and each striving to see through the smoke of his own discharge. Thus they remained for a moment, then Lee dropped his weapon, staggered, and with the words, “I am hit,” went on one knee, and then sank to the ground.
Brereton walked back to his original position, and stood calmly waiting the report of his second, who, with Edwards, rushed to the wounded man’s assistance.
“He is struck in the groin,” Franks presently informed him; “and while not dangerous, ’t will be a month before he’s good for anything.”
“You mean good for nothing,” replied Jack. “I meant to make it worse, but must rest content. As I told you, I ride north without delay, so will not even return to the city. Thank you, David, for helping me, and good-by.”
Five hours later, Lee was lying in the Pennsylvania hospital, and Brereton was riding into Trenton. Without the loss of a moment, the aide sought an interview with the Governor, clearly with unsatisfactory results; for when he left that official his face was anxious, and not even tarrying to give his mare rest, he mounted and spurred northward, spending the whole night in the saddle. Pausing at Newark only to breakfast, he secured a fresh horse, and reached Fredericksburg a little before nightfall. Seeking out the commander-in-chief, he delivered certain papers he carried; but before the general could open them, he said:—
“Your Excellency, I wish speech with you on a matter of life and death. To no other man in the world would I show this letter, but I beg of you to read it, sir, and do what you can for my sake and for theirs.”
Washington took the sheets held out to him and slowly read them from beginning to end. “’T is a sad tale the poor girl tells,” he said when he had finished; “but, my boy, however much I may pity and wish to aid them, my duty to the cause to which I have dedicated my life—”
“Ah, your Excellency,” burst out Jack, “in just this one instance ’t will surely not matter. A word from you to Governor Livingston—”
Washington shook his head. “I have ever refrained from interfering in the civil line,” he said, “and one breaking of the rule would destroy the fabric I have reared with so much pains. If I have gained influence with the people, with the army, and with the State officials, it is because I have ever refused to allow personal considerations to shape my conduct; and that reputation it is my duty to maintain at all hazards, that what I advise and urge shall never be open to the slightest suspicion of any other motive than that of the public good. It is a necessity which has caused me pain in the past, and which grieves me at this moment, but I hold a trust. Do not make its performance harder than it need be.”