As Hennion took it, he said: “I will endeavour not to fail your Lordship in either respect; in going, however, I have one favour to crave of you. I leave behind me my promised bride, Miss Meredith; and I beg of you that she shall not want for any service that your Lordship can render her, or that I could do were I but here.”
“’T is given,” promised the earl, and on the word Hennion hurried from the room. Crossing the street, he knocked at the custom-house, and of the servant inquired, “Is Miss Meredith within?”
“No, sir,” replied the soldier.
Where is she?”
“I know not, sir. She left the house an hour ago.”
With something suspiciously like an oath, the major turned away and, hurrying along the street, descended that which sloped down the bluff to the river. Here stood an officer, while in the water lay a flatboat which already held, besides two rowers, a horse and a pair of fat saddle-bags. Without a word Phil jumped in and the rowers struck their oars into the water.
At the same time that Major Hennion’s party had been despatched to gain news of the fleet, other troops of Tarleton’s and Simcoe’s cavalry had been thrown out on scouting parties across the peninsula to the James, and the following day they brought word that the French were busily engaged in landing troops from their ships at Jamestown, with the obvious intention of effecting a junction with Lafayette’s brigades, which were at Williamsburg. A council of war was held that evening to debate whether the British force should not march out and attack them; but it was recognised that even if they completely crushed the French and Americans, they had themselves made escape southward impossible by the care with which they had destroyed the bridges and ferries in their march into Virginia, while if they fled northward, they would certainly have to fight Washington’s army long before they could reach New York. It was therefore unanimously voted that the least hazardous course was to remain passive in their present position.
Five days after this decision, a deserter from Lafayette’s camp came into the British lines, bringing with him the news that it was openly talked in Williamsburg that Washington and Rochambeau, with their armies, were coming to join the troops already in Virginia. Nor were the British long able to continue their doubting of his assertions, for a Tory brought in the same tale, and with it a copy of the “Baltimore Journal,” which printed the positive statement that the Northern army was on the march southward and was already arrived at Wilmington. A second council of war was therefore summoned to debate once again their difficulties; but ere the general and field officers had met, a schooner, eluding the French vessels which blockaded the mouth of the river, arrived from New York, bringing a despatch from Sir Henry Clinton, in which he assured the encircled general that the British fleet would quickly sail to relieve him, and that he himself, with four thousand men, would follow close upon its heels. The order for the council was therefore recalled; and Cornwallis turned the whole energies of the force under his command to strengthening his lines and in other ways making ready to resist the gathering storm.