“We’ll show ’em what the Jarsey game-cocks kin do, an don’t you be afeared, kun’l.”
As the assertion was made, a group of officers appeared on the brow of the ravine, and the colonel turned and went forward to meet them as they descended.
“How far in advance are your pickets, Colonel Brereton?” one of them asked.
“About three hundred paces, your Excellency.”
“And is the ground open?” demanded a second of the party, with a markedly French accent.
“There is some timber cover, General du Portail, but ’t is chiefly open and rolling.”
“We wish, sir, to advance as far as can be safely effected,” said Washington, “and shall rely on you for guidance.”
“This way, sir,” answered Brereton; and the whole party ascended out of the hollow through a side ravine which brought them into a clump of poplars occupied by a party of skirmishers, and which commanded a view of the British earthworks. Halting at the edge of the timber, glasses were levelled, and each man began a study of the enemy’s lines. Scarcely had they taken position when a puff of smoke rose from one of the redoubts, and a shell came screeching towards them, passing high enough to cut the branches of the trees over their heads, and bringing them falling among the group. A minute later a solid shot struck directly in their front, causing all except the commander-in-chief to fall back out of sight among the trees; but he, apparently unmoved by the danger, calmly continued observing the enemies’ works, and though directly in their view, for some reason they did not fire again.
When Washington finally turned about and rejoined the group, he said to Brereton: “Keep your men, sir, as they are at present disposed, out of sight of the batteries, till evening; then push your pickets forward as close to the town as they can venture, with orders to fall back, unless attacked, only with daylight. Last night the British put outside their lines a number of blacks stricken with the small-pox; you will order your skirmishers, therefore, to fire on them if they endeavour to repeat the attempt, for even the dictates of humanity cannot allow us to jeopardise the health of our army. Hold your regiment in readiness to move out at nightfall in support of the pioneers who will begin breaking ground this evening. Further and specific orders will reach you later through the regular channels.”
It was already dark when Brereton, guiding General du Portail and the engineers, once more came out upon the plain. Following after them were a corps of sappers and miners, regiments detailed as pioneers, carrying intrenching tools, regiments armed as usual, to support them if attacked, and carts loaded with bags of sand, empty barrels, fascines, and gabions. Advancing cautiously, each man keeping touch with the one in front of him, they went forward until within six hundred yards of the British position. Without delay, by means of lanterns which were screened from