This movement served to attract their attention to something hitherto not observed, and which the absorption of the militia in their revenge still prevented them from noting. On the road by which they had come arose a thick cloud of dust, out of which horsemen seemed to be riding, but, though they came on at a hand gallop, the screen, swept onward by the breeze, kept pace with the riders, and even at times hid now one, now all, from view, causing the squire, who first caught sight of the phenomenon, to rub his eyes, that he might have assurance that it was not a phantasm of his brain. Of this another sense furnished quick evidence, for even above the jeers of the torturers and the shrieks of the tortured sounded the clatter of hoofs. At the first warning, cries of alarm escaped from many mouths, and with the fright of guilt, there was a wild stampede for the horses; before the half of them were in the saddle, the thunder of a column of horse was close upon them, and as, mounted and unmounted, they scattered, there came a rush of red-coated troopers in amongst them. Loud above the tumult and uproar came the sharp order,—
“Capture what men you can, but don’t let a horse escape!”
Mr. Meredith, the moment the militia had deserted the fire, rushed forward, and with three kicks scattered the flaming currency from about the man’s legs,—a proceeding which attracted the attention of the officer who gave the order.
“What is the meaning of this?” he demanded, but all the reply he received was a startled exclamation which burst from the squire.
“What!” he ejaculated. “Why, this passes very belief! Pox me, if ’t is not Phil Hennion.”
For a few moments the mingled exclamations, greetings, and questions were too broken and mixed to tell any of them much, but the first surprise over, the Merediths explained their presence.
“I knew from the baroness that you were at Colle, and bitter was the disappointment when I found you gone this morning. But my grief then makes me but the happier now.”
“But how came ye here, lad?” questioned the squire.
“We were sent on a raid to Charlottesville, with orders to rejoin the main army at Point of Fork, and I was detached by Colonel Tarleton this morning to take this route, hoping to get more information concerning Lafayette’s whereabouts and movements.”
“I heard this fellow,” said Mr. Meredith, indicating the still captive and moaning man, “who is a captain of militia, tell the men he was draughting that they were to march, as soon as embodied, to join the rebel army at Raccoon Ford.”
“Hah! the junction with Wayne’s force emboldens him to show us something more than his back at last. ’T is all I wish to learn, and we can now take the shortest road to rejoin Lord Cornwallis. Strap me! but ’t was a heaven-sent chance that we should come just in the nick o’ time to rescue you. There shall be no more captivity, that I can promise you.” He turned to the now reassembled squadron, and ordered, “Parole your prisoners, Captain Cameron, and let them go. You, Lieutenant Beatty, bring up the best extra mount you have, and arrange as comfortable a place as possible for the ladies in one of the baggage-waggons.”