“Explain yourself, my boy,” said Washington, kindly.
“Despite your decision, sir, I added a postscript in your letter to Governor Livingston touching upon the case of Mr. Meredith, and made you express a good opinion of him and a recommendation that he be dealt with leniently. I now hold in my hand a letter from a Trenton friend informing me that this recommendation induced the Governor to commute the death sentence into imprisonment. It is but the news I awaited before informing your Excellency of my breach of trust; and I should have made full confession to you within the hour, had you not sent for me, as I supposed, to charge me with this very treachery. And ’t was this of which I was thinking when I spoke expectingly of a court-martial.”
During the whole explanation, Washington had stood fixedly, his brows knit, and when the aide paused, he said nothing for a minute; then he asked:—
“Has there been aught in the past, sir, to have made me merit from you such a stab?”
“None, sir,” answered Jack, gravely. “And whatever reason I can find for the action in my own heart, there is nothing I can offer in its defence to you.”
Washington sat down at his desk and leaned his head on his hand. “Is it not enough,” he said, “that Congress is filled with my enemies, that the generals on whom I must depend are scheming my ruin and their own advancement, but that even within my own family I cannot find those who will be faithful to me? My God! is there no one I can trust?”
“Your Excellency’s every word,” said Jack, with tears in his eyes, “cuts me to the heart, the more that nothing you can say can increase the blame I put upon myself. I beg of you, sir, to believe me when I say that, be your grief what it may, it can never equal mine. And I beg that if my past relations to you plead ever so little for a merciful judgment of my conduct, you will remember that my betrayal was committed from no want of affection for you, but because one there was, and but one alone, whom I loved better.”
Washington rose and faced Brereton, his self-control regained. “Your lapse of duty to the cause we are engaged in, sir, and my sense of it, make it out of the question that I should ever again trust you; it is therefore impossible for me longer to retain you upon my staff. But your loyalty and past service speak loudly in your favour, and I shall not, therefore, push your public punishment further than to demand your resignation from my family, and so soon as there is a vacancy among the officers of the line you will take your place according to the date of your commission. The wrong you have done me personally is of a different nature, and ends from this moment the affection I have borne you and such friendship as has existed between us.”
The Governor had warned the Merediths that the removal to Charlottesville must await the chance of an empty army transport, or other means of conveyance, and for more than a month they waited, not knowing at what hour the order would come.