“Do I not deserve something at your hands, sir? Faithfully I have served you to my uttermost ability.”
“You ask what cannot be granted, Brereton; and from this refusal I must not recede. Now leave me, my boy, to read the despatches you have brought.”
There was that in the general’s manner which made impossible further entreaty, and the aide obeyed his behest. Yet such was the depth of his concern that he made a second appeal, two days later, when he brought a bunch of circular letters to the State governors, concerning quotas of provisions, which he had written, to his chief for signature.
“Will you not, sir,” he implored, “relent and add a postscript to Governor Livingston in favour of mercy for Mr. Meredith?”
“I have given you my reasons, Brereton, why I must not, and all further petitions can but pain us both.” Washington signed the series, and taking the sand-box, sprinkled the wet ink on each in turn. “Seal them, and see that they fail not to get into the post,” he ordered calmly. Yet as he rose to leave the room, he laid his hand affectionately on Jack’s shoulder, and said: “I grieve not to do it, my boy, for your sake and for hers.”
The aide took the chair the general had vacated, and began mechanically the closing of the letters; but when that to the Governor of New Jersey was reached, he paused in the process. After a little, he took from his pocket Janice’s frantic supplication, and reread it, his face displaying his response to her suffering. “And ten words would save him,” he groaned. His eye sought once more the unsealed letter, and stared at it fixedly. “At worst it will be my life, and that is worth little to me and nothing to any one else!” He snatched a pen hastily, dipped it in the ink, but as he set the tip to the paper, paused, his brow clouded. “To trick him after all his generosity!” For a trice Jack hesitated. “He stands too high to be injured by it,” he exclaimed. “It hurts not the cause, while ’t will kill her if they hang him.” Again he set pen to the paper, and wrote a postscript of four lines below Washington’s name. “’T is the devil’s work, or her good angel’s, that I had the writing of the letters, so the penmanship agrees,” he muttered, as he folded and sealed it. Gathering up the batch, he gave a reckless laugh. “I said I’d not lift finger to save him from the rope, and here I am taking his place on the gallows. Well, ’t is everything to do it for her, scorn and insult me as they may, and to die with the memory that my arms have held and my lips caressed her.”
It was two days of miserable doubt which Janice spent after despatching her letter to Brereton. Then something Mr. Drinker told his daughter brought some cheer to the girl.
“Friend Penrhyn informed me that Colonel Brereton rode into town this afternoon, Tabitha,” he said, at the supper table; “yet, though I went to the tavern to bespeak his company here this evening, I could not get word of him. ’T is neglectful treatment, indeed, of his old friends, that three times in succession he should pass through without dropping in upon us.”