PEGGY OWEN AND LIBERTY
BY LUCY FOSTER MADISON
"PEGGY OWEN, PATRIOT"
"PEGGY OWEN AT YORKTOWN"
ILLUSTRATED BY H. J. PECK
The Penn Publishing Company PHILADELPHIA MCMXIII
COPYRIGHT 1912 BY THE PENN PUBLISHING COMPANY
"The motto of our father-band Circled the world in its embrace: 'Twas Liberty throughout the land, And good to all their brother race. Long here—within the pilgrim's bell Had lingered—though it often pealed— Those treasured tones, that eke should tell Where freedom's proudest scroll was sealed! Here the dawn of reason broke On the trampled rights of man; And a moral era woke Brightest since the world began."
In "Peggy Owen," the first book of this series, is related the story of a little Quaker maid who lived across from the State House in Philadelphia, and who, neutral at first on account of her religion, became at length an active patriot. The vicissitudes and annoyances to which she and her mother are subjected by one William Owen, an officer in the English army and a kinsman of her father's, are also given.
"Peggy Owen, Patriot" tells of Peggy's winter at Middlebrook, in northern New Jersey, where Washington's army is camped, her capture by the British and enforced journey to the Carolinas, and final return home.
"Peggy Owen at Yorktown" details how Peggy goes to Virginia to nurse a cousin, who is wounded and a prisoner. The town is captured by the British under Benedict Arnold, the traitor, and Peggy is led to believe that he has induced the desertion of her friend, John Drayton. Drayton's rescue from execution as a spy and the siege of Yorktown follow.
In the present volume Peggy's friends rally about her when her Cousin Clifford is in danger of capture. The exciting events of the story show the unsettled state of the country after the surrender of Cornwallis.
I. A SMALL DINNER BECOMES A PARTY 11
II. PEGGY IS SURPRISED 26
III. ON THE HORNS OF A DILEMMA 40
IV. THE SEARCH 53
V. FRIENDS IN NEED 69
VI. APPEARANCES AGAINST HER 81
VII. DAVID OWEN IS INFORMED OF THE FACTS 94
VIII. BEFORE THE COUNCIL 108
IX. OUT OF THE FRYING-PAN INTO THE FIRE 120
X. A RACE FOR LIFE 134
XI. THE CHOICE OF FAIRFAX 144
XII. "THEY MUST GO HOME" 163
XIII. A WOMAN'S WIT 176
XIV. MARCHING ORDERS 194
XV. THE ATTACK ON THE BLOCKHOUSE 215
XVI. "OF WHAT WAS HE GUILTY?" 227
XVII. A GLIMPSE OF HOME 244
XVIII. HEROD OUT HERODED 256
XIX. THE TURN OF THE WHEEL 272
XX. A SLIGHT EMPHASIS OF "THAT" 285
XXI. CHOSEN BY LOT 303
XXII. WHAT CAN BE DONE? 318
XXIII. A LITTLE HUMOR DESPITE A GRIM SITUATION 334
XXIV. "THEE MAY TELL HIM AT THE LAST" 348
XXV. AT HEADQUARTERS 363
XXVI. THE ADVENTURE OF THE GLEN 376
XXVII. THE SAFEGUARD OF HIS HONOR 392
XXVIII. "HOW COULD SHE KNOW?" 407
XXIX. IN THE SHADOW OF DEATH 424
XXX. AND THEN THE END 437
"WHY, IT'S FATHER!" Frontispiece
"CLOSE THE DOOR" 47
THE TWO GIRLS SET FORTH 97
A SHOWER OF BULLETS FELL ABOUT THE SLEIGH 138
A CRY OF ANGUISH WENT UP 221
"WHERE IS THEE GOING?" 268
"I KNEEL TO YOU, SIR" 373
Peggy Owen and Liberty
A SMALL DINNER BECOMES A PARTY
"At Delaware's broad stream, the view begin Where jutting wharfs, food-freighted boats take in; Then, with the advancing sun direct your eye Wide opes the street with firm brick buildings high; Step, gently rising, over the pebbly way, And see the shops their tempting wares display."
—"Description of Philadelphia," Breitnal, 1729.
It was the first of March, 1782, and over the city of Philadelphia a severe storm was raging. A stiff wind, that lashed the black waters of the Delaware into sullen fury and sent the snow whirling and eddying before it, blew savagely from the northeast. The snow, which had begun falling the day before, had continued all night with such rigorous, relentless persistence that by the noon hour the whole city was sheeted with a soft white blanket that spread abroad a solemn stillness. The rolling wheels of the few vehicles in the streets were noiseless, and the sharp ring and clatter of horses' hoofs became a dull muffled tramp. High up overhead the snow settled on the church spires, clothing them in a garb of pure cold white, and drifted among the niches of the State House Tower, until the face of the great clock was hidden, and could scarce be told for what it was.
Just across from the State House, in the midst of extensive grounds, stood a large double brick house which was taking its share of the storm. There were piles of snow on the steps and broad piazzas, huge drifts against the fences, and great banks on the terraces of the gardens. The wind lashed the lithe limbs of the leafless trees of the orchard, shrieked through the sooty caverns of the wide chimneys, whistled merrily as it drove the snow against the windows, and rattled the casements with howls of glee as it went whirling by.
Storm-bound the mansion seemed, but its cold and wintry appearance was wholly on the outside, for within its walls there was no lack of cheerfulness and warmth. Great fires blazed on every hearth and puffed clouds of smoke through the broad chimneys, in defiance of the wind which strove there for the mastery. Between the heavy gusts of wind came gleeful bursts of laughter from the sitting-room as though the inmates were too happy to heed the driving storm without, and from the kitchen arose savory odors that spoke of tempting preparations for a bounteous meal, which further enhanced the air of geniality that pervaded the dwelling.
In this latter apartment were two persons: one, a serene faced woman of middle age who was busily engaged at the kneading board; the other, a slender maiden well covered by a huge apron and with sleeves rolled back, stood before a deal table reducing loaf sugar to usable shape. They were Mistress David Owen and her daughter Peggy.
"How it blows!" exclaimed the girl, looking up from her task as a sudden gust of wind flung the outside door wide, and sent the snow scurrying across the sanded floor of the kitchen. "What shall be done anent that door, mother?"
"Tell Sukey to bring a large stick of wood and put against it," returned the lady. "Then look to the oven, Peggy. 'Tis hard to get a clear fire with so much wind."
"I do believe that everything is going to be done to a turn in spite of it," remarked Peggy, a little frown of anxiety which had puckered her brow disappearing as she glanced into the great oven.
"Then as soon as thou hast set the table the dinner will be ready to take up. I make no doubt but that thy friends are hungry. And what a time they seem to be having," Mrs. Owen added as a merry peal of laughter came from the sitting-room.
"Are they not?" Peggy smiled in sympathy. "I am so glad they came yesterday. I fear me that they could not have reached here to-day in this dreadful storm. 'Tis too bad to have such weather now when 'tis Robert's first home leave in three years."
"Methinks that 'twould better come when one is on a furlough than in camp," remarked her mother gravely. "It must be terrible for the soldiers who lack so much to keep them comfortable."
"True," assented the girl soberly. "Would that the war were at an end, and the peace we long for had come in very truth."
"And so do we all, my daughter. 'Tis weary waiting, but we must of necessity possess ourselves with patience. But there! let not the thought of it sadden thee to-day. 'Tis long since thou hast had thy friends together. Enjoy the present, for we know not what the morrow may bring. And now——"
"Set the table," added Peggy with a laugh, as she rolled down her sleeves. "And don't thee dally too long talking with thy friends, Peggy. Thee didn't add that, mother."
"As thee knows thy weakness it might be well to bear it in mind," commented her mother with a smile.
The kitchen was the principal apartment of a long low building attached to the main dwelling by a covered entry way. Through this Peggy went to the hall and on to the dining-room, where she began laying the table. This room adjoined the sitting-room, and, as the bursts of merriment became more and more frequent, the maiden softly opened the connecting door and peeped in.
A tall youth of soldierly bearing, in the uniform of the Light Infantry, his epaulettes denoting the rank of major, leaned carelessly against one end of the mantelpiece. On a settle drawn up before the fire sat two girls. One held a book from which she was reading aloud, and both the other girl and the youth were so intent upon her utterances that they did not notice Peggy's entrance. They turned toward her eagerly as she spoke:
"Aren't you getting hungry, or are you too interested to stop for dinner?"
"'Tis quite time thee was coming, Peggy," cried the girl who had been reading, tossing back her curly locks that, innocent of powder, hung in picturesque confusion about her face. "I really don't know what we are to do with Betty here. Since she hath taken to young lady ways there's no living with her."
"What has thee been doing, Betty Williams?" queried Peggy with mock gravity, turning toward the other girl. Her hair was done high over a cushion, profusely powdered, and she waved a large fan languidly.
"Sally is just talking, Peggy," she said. "She and Robert seem to find much amusement in some of my remarks. 'Tis just nothing at all. Sally Evans is the one that needs to be dealt with."
"Sally hath been reading to us from your diary, which you kept for the Social Select Circle while you were in Virginia," explained Robert Dale. "We were much entertained anent the account of your bashful friend, Fairfax Johnson. Betty amused us by telling just what she would have done with him had she been in your place."
"I often wished for her," declared Peggy, smiling. "Poor Fairfax would mantle did a girl but speak to him. And yet he was so brave!"
"He was indeed," assented the youth with warm admiration. "Sally hath just read where he went to warn the Legislature of Virginia of Tarleton's coming despite the fact that he was ill. But, Peggy, we could not help but laugh over what he said to you. Read his words, Sally."
"'I said,'" read Sally picking up the book again, "'Friend Fairfax, thee always seems so afraid of us females, yet thee can do this, or aught else that is for thy country. Why is it?' And he replied:
"'To defend the country from the invader, to do anything that can be done to thwart the enemy's designs, is man's duty. But to face a battery of bright eyes requires courage, Mistress Peggy. And that I have not.'"
"Wasn't that fine?" cried Betty with animation. "I adore bravery and shyness combined. Methinks 'twould be delightsome to be the woman who could teach him how to face such a battery. Thee didn't live up to thy opportunity, Peggy. It was thy duty to cure such a fine fellow of bashfulness. It was thy duty, I say. Would I could take him in hand."
"Would that thee might, Betty," answered Peggy. "But I fear thee would have thy hands full."
"I wonder if thee has heard the latest concerning Betty's doings," broke in Sally. "Mr. Deering told me of it. Betty was dancing a measure with Colonel Middleton at the last Assembly when Mr. Deering came up to her and said:
"'I see that you are dancing with a man of war, Miss Betty.'
"'Yes, sir,' says Betty, 'but I think a tender would be preferable.'"
"Oh, Betty! Betty!" gasped Peggy when the merriment that greeted this had subsided. "How did thee dare?"
"La!" spoke Betty, arranging the folds of her paduasoy gown complacently, "when a man is so remiss as to forget the refreshments one must dare."
"I verily believe that she could manage your friend, Fairfax," commented Robert Dale laughing. "Would that I might be there to see it."
"I kept an account of everything he said for Betty's especial delectation," said Peggy. "She named him the 'Silent Knight,' and it was very appropriate."
"Now why for my delectation instead of thine, or Sally's?" queried Betty.
"Why, Sally and I are such workaday damsels that we are not accustomed to handling such problems," explained Peggy demurely. "Thou art the only belle in the Social Select Circle, and having been instructed in French, I hear very thoroughly, thou hast waxed proficient in matters regarding the sterner sex."
"Nonsense! Nonsense!" ejaculated Betty. She sat up quickly, and sniffed the air daintily. "Peggy Owen," she cried, "do I in very truth smell pepper-pot?"
"Thee does. I thought that would please thee. And Sally, too, but Robert——" She glanced at the lad inquiringly.
"Robert is enough of a Quaker to enjoy pepper-pot," answered he emphatically. "This weather is the very time for it too."
"We'll forgive thy desertion of us so long as thee was making pepper-pot," declared Sally.
"Well, Robert hath not had leave for three years, so mother and I thought we must do what we could to give him a good dinner."
"Does she mean by that that thee has not eaten in all that time, Robert?" demanded Betty slyly. "In truth 'twould seem so. I do believe that she hath done naught but move betwixt spit and oven this whole morning."
"I think I shall do justice to all such preparations," said the youth smiling. "I fancy that the most of us in the army would find little difficulty in keeping Peggy busy all the time."
"Hark!" exclaimed Sally. "I thought I heard some one call."
As the youth and the maidens assumed a listening attitude there came a faint "Hallo!" above the tumult of the wind. Sally ran to one of the windows that faced Chestnut Street, and flattened her nose against the glass in the endeavor to see out.
"'Tis a man on horseback," she cried. "He is stopping in front of the house. Now he is dismounting. Who can it be?"
"Some traveler, I make no doubt," remarked Peggy, coming to her side. "The storm hath forced him to stop for shelter. Ah! there is Tom ready to take his horse. He should have cleaned the steps, but he waited, I dare say, hoping that it would stop snow—— Why! it's father——" she broke off abruptly, making a dash for the door. "Tell mother, Sally."
"David, this is a surprise," exclaimed Mrs. Owen, coming quickly in answer to Sally's call, and reaching the sitting-room just as a tall man, booted and spurred, entered it from the hall. "Thee must be almost frozen after being exposed to the fury of such a storm."
"'Tis good to be out of it, wife," answered Mr. Owen, greeting her with affection. He stretched his hands luxuriantly toward the fire as Peggy relieved him of his hat and riding coat, and glanced about appreciatively. "How cozy and comfortable it is here! And what a merry party! It puts new heart into a man just to see so much brightness."
"We are to have pepper-pot, Mr. Owen," Betty informed him, drawing forward a large easy chair for his use while Sally ran to lay an extra plate on the table. "Doesn't it smell good?"
"It does indeed, Betty. The odor is delectable enough to whet the appetite to as keen an edge as the wind hath. Robert, 'tis some time since I have seen thee."
"I am on my first leave in three years, Mr. Owen. Are you on a furlough too, sir?"
"Nay, lad; I took one just after Yorktown, when I brought Peggy home from Virginia. General Washington, who, as thee doubtless knows, is still here in Philadelphia perfecting plans with Congress for next summer's campaign, hath sent for me to confer with him regarding the best means of putting down this illicit trade which hath sprung up of late. I do not know how long the conference will last, but it comes very pleasantly just now, as it enables me to have the comforts of home during this severe weather."
"When did you leave the Highlands, sir?"
"Four days since. The army had begun to hope that winter was over, as the ice was beginning to come down the Hudson. This storm hath dashed our hopes of an early spring."
"And must thee return there, David?" asked Mistress Owen.
"No; I am to go to Lancaster. This trade seems to be flourishing among the British prisoners stationed there. Congress had granted permission to England to keep them in supplies, and it seems that advantage is taken of this fact to include a great many contraband goods. These the prisoners, or their wives, are selling to the citizens of Lancaster and surrounding country. To such an extent hath the trade grown that it threatens to ruin the merchants of the place, who cannot compete with the prices asked. I am to look into the matter, and to stop the importation of such goods, if possible."
"'Tis openly talked that England will defer coming to terms of peace because she hopes to conquer us by this same trade," observed Robert Dale gravely.
"And is like to succeed if it cannot be put down," commented David Owen shaking his head. "All along the coast the British cruisers patrol to capture our merchantmen, and to obstruct our commerce. The Delaware is watched, our coasts are watched that we may not get goods elsewhere, or have any market for our produce. Unable to get what they want, our own people buy where they can without realizing the harm. 'Tis estimated from forty to fifty thousand pounds have been drawn by this means into New York in the past few months. If this continues the enemy will soon be possessed of all the hard money that hath come into the country through the French, and without money we can do naught. Our resources and industries have been ruined by the long war, and this latest scheme of England bids fair to undo what hath been accomplished by force of arms."
"And after Yorktown every one thought that of course peace was just a matter of a few months. That it would be declared at once," sighed Sally. "Oh, dear! It makes me sad to think the war is not over yet!"
"And I have been the marplot to spoil this merry company," said Mr. Owen contritely. "Let's declare a truce to the matter for the time being, and discuss that pepper-pot. Is't ready, lass?"
"Yes, father," answered Peggy rising. "And there is a good dinner beside. We will enjoy it the more for having thee with us."
"Thee must be hungry, David," observed Mistress Owen rising also. "The dinner is ready to put on the table, so thee is just in time. I——"
She stopped abruptly as high above the noise of the wind the brass knocker sounded.
"More company," exclaimed Betty gleefully as Peggy started for the hall. "Peggy, thy small dinner bids fair to become a party."
PEGGY IS SURPRISED
"The state that strives for liberty, though foiled And forced to abandon what she bravely sought, Deserves at least applause for her attempt, And pity for her loss. But that's a cause Not often unsuccessful."
—"The Task," Cowper.
Peggy was nearly blinded by the sudden rush of snow and wind that followed the opening of the great front door, and so for the moment did not recognize the two, a man and a woman, who stood there on the steps.
"Will ye enter, friends?" she asked courteously. "'Tis a fearful storm!"
"That it is, Peggy. We are mighty glad to reach shelter. Come, Fairfax! I told you that we should be welcome."
"Nurse Johnson," shrilled the girl in delight. "Why, come right in. Welcome? Of course thee is welcome. And thou also, Friend Fairfax. Why, we were speaking of thee but now. Mother, 'tis Friend Nurse, from Virginia."
"Come in, Friend Johnson," spoke Mrs. Owen warmly, coming in haste from the sitting-room. "Thee must be cold. 'Tis dreadful weather. Let me help thee with thy wraps."
"I was getting pretty cold," acknowledged Nurse Johnson. "We were on our way to the Jerseys, where my sister hath taken a farm. We thought to get to Burlington to-night, but the storm made traveling so difficult that I told Fairfax that I made no doubt you would put us up until 'twas over."
"'Twill give us great pleasure, Friend Nurse—I should say, Friend Johnson," answered Mistress Owen graciously. "We have heard Peggy talk of thee so much that we have fallen into her way of speaking of thee."
"Continue so to call me, Mrs. Owen. I like it," declared Nurse Johnson heartily.
"Peggy, see thou to the dishing up of the dinner, while I attend our friends," spoke her mother. "We were just on the point of taking it up when ye came," she explained. "Hot pepper-pot will warm ye better than anything."
"Isn't that our Silent Knight?" queried Betty, in a shrill whisper as Peggy was passing through the room.
"Yes, Betty. Shall I place him by thee at table?"
"See how she is priming for conquest," remarked Sally as Betty, nodding acquiescence, began unconsciously to smooth her hair. "She must tell us every word he says; must she not, Robert?"
"Of a verity," smiled the young man, his amusement plainly visible.
"I think thee has met with every one, Friend Nurse," observed Mrs. Owen entering at this moment with the new arrivals. "David ye know, of course. Sally and Betty ye met last year. Robert? No; ye do not know him. Robert Dale, of the army, Nurse Johnson. And this is Fairfax, her son, Robert. Ye should be good friends, as ye have both fought for the country."
"Thou hast forgot to give Robert his rank, Lowry," spoke Mr. Owen as the young men shook hands. "Friend Johnson, have this chair. Thou wilt find it easy and quite comfortable."
"Thy pardon, Robert," exclaimed Mrs. Owen. "I do not always remember that thou art Major Dale."
"I do not always remember it myself, madam," returned the youth modestly. "And I wish to be Robert to you always."
"How these children grow!" exclaimed Nurse Johnson sinking into the easy chair with a sigh of content. "It hardly seems possible that Fairfax is more than a boy; yet here he is a captain in the army."
"A captain?" ejaculated Peggy in surprise.
"Yes; it does seem strange, doesn't it? You see he served with the militia in Virginia during the last few years, and I presume would have stayed with it; but his uncle, my sister's husband, persuaded him to enlist with the regular army. He said that if he would enroll himself among the New Jersey troops he would get him a commission as captain, which he did. That is one of the reasons we are going to New Jersey."
"Thou wilt find it very comfortable here on the settle, Captain Johnson," spoke Betty sweetly, drawing her skirts aside with such an unmistakable gesture that Fairfax, flushing hotly, was obliged to seat himself beside her.
Peggy's glance met Sally's with quick understanding.
"I will help thee, Peggy," said Sally, rising. "Nay; we do not need thee, Mrs. Owen. Didst ever see Betty's equal?" she questioned as they reached the kitchen.
"Sally, she will never make him talk in the world," she declared. "Thou and I will have a good laugh at her when 'tis over. 'Twill give a fine chance to tease."
"'Tis just like a party," cried Betty as, a little later, they were gathered about the table. "'Tis charming to meet old friends! And everybody is here save thy cousins, Clifford and Harriet, Peggy. Oh, yes! and Captain Drayton."
"Captain Drayton is to go to Lancaster too, I understand," remarked Mr. Owen. "Did thee know, lass?"
"No, father. I thought he was still with General Greene. He returned to him after Yorktown."
"Yes, I know. This is but a recent arrangement. I shall be glad to have him at Lancaster. He is good help in a matter of the nature we shall find there."
"And the cousins?" inquired Nurse Johnson. "Did they go to New York from Yorktown? I have wondered anent it."
"Harriet went with Cousin William to New York; but Clifford was sent somewhere into the interior with the men. Thee remembers that all the majors and captains accompanied the men, to look after their welfare and to maintain discipline," explained Peggy.
"I rather liked Clifford," remarked the nurse. "He certainly earned our gratitude, Peggy, by protecting us when the British came to Williamsburgh. Did Peggy tell you about it, Mrs. Owen?"
"Yes; and so much else concerning the lad that I find myself quite anxious to see him," answered Mrs. Owen. "Peggy declares that he should have been her brother instead of Harriet's. He looks so much like David."
"I think I agree with her. The resemblance is remarkable. But why did he go under the name of Captain Williams? I never did understand it."
"'Twas because he went into the army without his father's permission," Peggy told her. "He feared that if he came to America under his own name Cousin William might use his influence to have him returned to England. 'Tis generally known, however, that he is Colonel William Owen's son, though he is called Captain Williams."
"Well, I hope the lad is well treated wherever he may be," said the nurse musingly. "I should not like harm to befall him; he was so considerate of us. What is the outlook for another summer, Mr. Owen?"
"The general is preparing for another campaign, Friend Johnson. The preparations are proceeding slowly, however, owing to the exhaustion of the country. Then, too, every state seems afraid of bearing more than its share of the war. There is much disinclination to vigorous exertion. His Excellency is pleading and entreating that the people may not let the late success of our arms render them insensible to the danger we still face. There is talk of a new commander for the British, I hear. Meantime, our coasts are harassed by the enemy, and our commerce is all but stopped. Could the general have followed out his wish, and laid siege to Charlestown after the success at Yorktown, we need not have prepared for another campaign."
And so the talk went on. It was never in the character and traditions of England to treat with an enemy in the hour of disaster. In its history treaties had, from time immemorial, followed upon victory, never upon defeat. It was therefore necessary as well as politic to grasp the full fruits of the brilliant success at Yorktown, and Washington, with the vigor which was one of the most striking traits of his well balanced nature, wished to carry its consequences to their utmost limit. But the French fleet under De Grasse refused to co-operate longer, and the general was forced to send his army back to the Hudson while he began preparations for another campaign. Meantime, the illicit trade assumed proportions that threatened to undo everything that had been gained by force of arms.
All these things were discussed, and Nurse Johnson gave them the latest news of the army in the South: General Greene had completely invested Charlestown, she said. General Wayne had been sent to Georgia and now lay before Savannah. The capitulation of the two places seemed but a question of time. The French still lay about Williamsburgh, having chosen that place for their winter quarters. It was reported that they would go north with the opening of spring. In turn, Mr. Owen told of the numerous raids that had been made, principally by refugees along the coast, the capture of the merchantmen, and the war at sea. Under cover of the conversation of their elders, Peggy was amused to see that Betty was talking animatedly to Fairfax Johnson. Presently, the dinner was finished, and she found herself alone in the dining-room with her girl friends.
"Peggy, thee maligned Captain Johnson," declared Betty closing the door of the sitting-room. "Get me a towel, Sally. We will both wipe the dishes." She polished a plate vigorously as she continued: "I found him most entertaining. He and his mother are going to northern New Jersey, where his aunt and uncle have a large farm. Plantation, he calls it. They grew very tired of being with the military so much at Williamsburgh, though no one could desire better troops than the allies. They intend to make their home in New Jersey if they like it. His aunt hath but one son, who is with the military on Tom's River."
Peggy gazed at her with an expression of the most intense astonishment.
"He told thee all that, Betty?" she exclaimed. "Why, thee is wonderful! In all the six or seven months that I knew him I never heard him say so much."
"He needs just a little encouragement," said Betty complacently. "He is really quite interesting. I enjoyed the conversation greatly. Sally Evans, whatever is the matter?"
"Oh! oh!" screamed Sally. "She enjoyed the conversation greatly. I should think she would. Why, she did all the talking. Robert and I commented upon it. Oh, Betty! Betty!"
"I did not do all the talking," retorted Betty indignantly. "How could I have learned all the things I have said if I did the talking?"
"The conversation went like this, Peggy," giggled Sally: "'Is the farm a large one that thy aunt hath taken, Friend Fairfax?' 'Yes,' answers he. Then Betty with a smile: 'I believe Southerners call a farm a plantation, do they not?' 'Yes,' he said. 'Is being with the military so much the reason thou and thy mother left Williamsburgh?' 'Yes,' he said again. 'It really must be tiresome,' goes on Betty, 'though it hath been said that the French are exceedingly well behaved troops. Does thee not think so, Friend Fairfax?' 'Yes,' he said once more. And that is the way the whole conversation went. I don't believe the poor fellow said anything else but that one word, yes."
"He did," declared Betty with heat. "I remember quite distinctly that once he said, 'It doth indeed;' and—and—oh! lots of other things. Ye are both just as mean as can be. And he did listen most attentively. I really enjoyed the talk, as I said."
"I'll warrant thee did," laughed Peggy while Sally was convulsed with mirth. "I think thee did well, Betty. Thou art to be congratulated."
"There, Sally Evans," cried Betty. "I knew that Peggy would think about it in the right way."
"Listen to her," sniffed Sally. "Didst ever hear the like? Betty," she ejaculated suddenly, "thee should not have helped with the dishes in such a gown. Thee has got a spot on it. This is no place for a belle. Suppose that thee goes back into the sitting-room now, and find out some more of Master Fairfax's plans."
"So thee can have a chance to talk me over with Peggy?" questioned Betty scornfully. "I don't see any spot."
"Here it is," answered Sally, lifting a fold of the pink paduasoy on which a small spot showed darkly. "It may be just water, which will not stain. I should not like anything to happen to that gown. Thee looks so charming in it."
"Thank thee, Sally," said Betty examining the spot critically, quite mollified by Sally's compliment. "I think 'twill be all right when 'tis dry. It might be as well, though, to go back to the sitting-room. I dare say they are wondering what hath become of us. Thee will come too, will thee not?"
"Yes, go; both of you," said Peggy, picking up the dish-pan, and starting for the kitchen. "I will come too in a few moments. No, Sally, thee cannot help in the kitchen. Sukey and I will finish the pots and pans. It won't take long. And thee needs to be there to keep Betty in order," she ended merrily.
"Well, if thee won't be long," agreed Sally reluctantly.
Both girls passed into the sitting-room, while Peggy proceeded to the kitchen. As has been said, the kitchen was attached to the main dwelling by a covered entry way. On one side of this was a door leading out to the west terrace, which, the girl noticed, was partly open.
"No wonder 'tis hard to keep the kitchen warm with that door open," she cried. "That must be some of Tom's carelessness. I must speak to him."
She put down the dish-pan on the wash bench, and went to the door to close it. As it resisted her efforts to shut she stepped outside to see what the trouble was. A startled ejaculation left her lips as the form of a man issued from behind it.
"What does thee wish, friend?" demanded Peggy sternly. "Why does thee not come to the door like an honest man instead of sneaking behind it? I shall call my father."
"Don't, Peggy," came in low tones from the man. "I was watching for you. Will you shelter an escaping prisoner, my cousin?"
"Clifford!" she cried in amazement. "Oh, Clifford!"
ON THE HORNS OF A DILEMMA
"Nature imprints upon whate'er we see, That has a heart and life in it, 'Be free.'"
"Yes, 'tis Clifford," he said in a low tone. "I have escaped from Lancaster, where I was a prisoner, and am trying to reach New York. I should not have troubled you, Peggy, but the storm is so severe that I can go no further. But, my cousin, it may be of risk to shelter me."
"Oh," she cried clasping her hands in dismay. "What shall I do? What shall I do? Why, Clifford, both father and Robert Dale are here. They are of the army, and may deem it their duty to give thee up."
"I see," he said with some bitterness. "I should not have troubled you, but I thought—— It did seem for the sake of our kinship that you would give me shelter at least for the night."
"Stop!" she cried, laying a detaining hand on his arm as he turned to go. "Thee is so hasty, Clifford. Of course I will help thee, but I must think how to do it. As I said, father and Major Dale are here; and Fairfax Johnson too. Of Virginia, thee remembers? Remain here for a moment, my cousin. I will send Sukey out of the kitchen, and then thee shall come in. 'Tis cold out here."
"After all," he said, his lips meeting in the straight line of determination that she remembered so well, "I do wrong to ask aught of you. There may be—nay, there is, risk in harboring me, Peggy. I must not get you into trouble. Is there not a barn where I could abide for the night?"
"Thee would freeze in the barn to-night," she cried. It had stopped snowing, but the wind had increased in violence, and it was growing colder. It would be bitter by night, the girl reflected, noticing the fact in a perfunctory manner. "I could not bear to think of thee there, my cousin. Thee is cold now. Thy lips are blue, and thou art shaking. Wait for a moment. Thee must."
She pushed him back behind the door, then catching up the dish-pan entered the kitchen hurriedly. Sukey, the black servant, was its only inmate.
"Sukey," said Peggy trying to speak naturally, "has thee seen to the beds yet? They should be well warmed for so cold a night as this will be. And the fires? Is there wood in plenty? I will set the kitchen in order if thee will look well to the up-stairs."
"Hit am done looked aftah," said Sukey drawing closer to the fire. "Eberyt'ing's all right, Miss Peggy. Now yer kin jest go right erlong ter yer fren's, and let ole Sukey red up."
"Thee must take more wood up-stairs," spoke the girl desperately. "There must be an abundance, Sukey. Does thee hear?"
"Yes'm; I heahs, Miss Peggy," answered the black rising, and giving her young mistress a keen glance. "I heahs, an' I'se gwine. Dem wood boxes am full, ebery one of dem, but I'se gwine. Ef yer want ter talk secrets yer might hab tole ole Sukey widouten makin' a 'scuse ter git rid ob hur."
"Oh, Sukey, forgive me," cried Peggy laughing in spite of her anxiety to get rid of the black. "Thee is the dearest thing that ever was. I do want the kitchen a little while. Go up to my room, and thee will find a string of yellow beads on the chest of drawers. Thee may have them, Sukey, if thee will stay up there for a little while."
"Yes'm," answered Sukey, preparing to take her departure. "I don't 'prove nohow de way you all takes on wid Miss Sally," she grumbled as she left the room.
Peggy sped to the entry as soon as the black had left it. "Come, Cousin Clifford," she called, and Clifford Owen stepped forth. "Sukey hath gone up-stairs, and thee can come in while I think what to do. Come!"
She led the way to the kitchen as she spoke, and her cousin followed her with visible reluctance. He brightened perceptibly at sight of the great fire of hickory logs that blazed in the fireplace.
"Sit here, my cousin," said Peggy placing a chair in the corner between the dresser and the wall where the light was shaded. "Keep thy beaver on thy head as the Friends do, then if any one should come in it will seem as though thou wert but a passer-by asking for something to warm thee."
"'Fore George, but that smells good," ejaculated Clifford as the girl placed a bowl of smoking hot pepper-pot before him. "What is it, Peggy?"
"'Tis pepper-pot, Clifford. 'Tis made nowhere else in the states but here in Philadelphia. It hath dumplings in it, which pleases most boys. And now let me think while thee is getting warm."
Clifford regarded her anxiously for a moment, then the seductive aroma of the pepper-pot overcame whatever of uneasiness that he may have felt, and he fell to with a relish. Meantime Peggy's brows were puckered in thought. What should she do with him? she asked herself in perplexity. The temper of the people was such that it would not easily brook any indulgence to the enemy. The penalty for harboring, or aiding and abetting an escaping prisoner was fine, imprisonment, and sometimes even public whipping. Should her father, pure patriot though he was, be suspected of giving aid to one of the British prisoners it would go hard with him. Not even his previous good record would save him from the punishment. And so the girl found herself confronted with a serious problem. She could not let her cousin go forth in such weather, and yet her father must not be implicated in his escape. The house was full. Where could the lad stay?
At this moment her eye fell upon a trap-door in the ceiling. There had been until of late a ladder leading up to it, but two of the rounds had been broken and it had been removed to the carpenter's shop. The door opened into an airy apartment extending the whole length of the kitchen, which was used for drying herbs which were cultivated in ample quantities in the garden. Indeed the Owen house was the only place in the city at the time where herbs could be had, and it was a pleasure to Peggy and her mother to be able to answer the demand for them. Could Clifford but climb up there, she reflected, he would be safe for a time.
"Can thee climb, my cousin?" she cried eagerly. "Because if thee can thee can stay up in the kitchen chamber."
"Is it warm?" asked the youth, casting a longing glance at the fire.
"Of a verity. It could not be otherwise, being above the kitchen. Thee must not linger, Clifford. Some one is apt to come in at any moment. See the door up there? Well, thee will have to get on the table and I will hand thee a chair. Standing on that thee must try to push the door open, and then draw thyself up into the room above. With the door closed thou wilt be safe from prying eyes, yet thou wilt be able to hear all that goes on below."
"That is fine, Peggy," commented the youth, his eyes lighting up. "You are a cousin worth having, and have thought to some purpose."
He vaulted lightly upon the table as he spoke, and taking the chair that Peggy handed him placed it firmly upon the table, mounting thereupon. With a creek that set the girl's heart to beating the trap-door was swung open, and the youth drew himself slowly into the chamber above.
"I say," he said, peering down at Peggy, laughingly, "this is jolly. It's as warm as toast and there is a fur robe up here. If I don't answer you at any time you will know, my cousin, that I have gone to sleep."
"Close the door, Clifford," exclaimed Peggy. "I shall be uneasy until thou art hidden."
"Don't be that, little cousin," he said almost gaily. "I feel like another man already. I shall do royally, and I doubt if any one would think of looking up here for an escaped Englishman."
He closed the door as he finished speaking, and heaving a sigh of relief Peggy lifted the chair from the table and set it against the wall. She had scarcely resumed her task of washing the pots and pans when the door opened and Sally entered. She glanced about expectantly.
"I thought I heard thee talking to some one," she remarked. "Isn't thee ever going to get through with those pots and pans, Peggy? Let me help thee. We want thee to come in with us."
"Now you all jest go right erlong," spoke Sukey, who had followed Sally into the room. "Yer ma, she come up and she say, 'Tell Miss Peggy dat she am wanted in de sittin'-room right now.' Jest go right erlong, chile. Sukey'll finish up heah."
"All right, Sukey." Peggy relinquished the task to the black, and started for the door, saying in a tone that Clifford might hear: "I will be out presently to see how thee gets along."
"Ef I doan git erlong any fas'er dan you all dese dishes gwine ter be heah twel Chrismus," grumbled the darkey. "An' some-body's muss'd my floah."
Peggy gave a startled glance at the sand, where telltale traces of her cousin's presence were plainly in evidence. From the entry door to the kitchen were tracks of snow, and on the sand in the kitchen there were wet spots where the snow had melted. Clearly they must be obliterated.
"I'll fix the floor, Sukey," she said, beginning to brush up the wet sand. "Sally, bring some dry sand from the box, please, and we will have this fixed in a jiffy. Thee must not expect thy floor to keep just so, Sukey, when there is so much company."
Presently, the floor resanded and the entry way swept, the two girls started for the sitting-room. Peggy was thoughtful and Sally too, for the nonce, was silent.
"Clifford will be all right where he is for a short time," mused Peggy. "If he has to stay there for any length of time, though, 'twill be most uncomfortable. I wonder if it would not be best to consult with mother? Perchance she could think of some way out of the difficulty."
She brightened at the thought, and just then Sally opened the door of the sitting-room. Mr. Owen was in his great easy chair with his wife, and Mrs. Johnson sitting near, interested listeners to some narrative. The young people had withdrawn to the far side of the apartment and formed a little group by themselves, of which Betty was the center. She was giving an animated account of a recent assembly, and the youths were so absorbed in the recital that they did not hear the two girls approach. A smile came to Peggy's lips.
"Why, Betty is in truth a belle, Sally," she whispered. "How pretty she hath grown! That gown doth indeed become her as thee said. It may be that we tease her too much, for she is of a certainty entertaining. I have never seen Fairfax so interested."
Betty caught sight of them before Sally could reply.
"Have ye come at last?" she cried. "I thought thee was never coming, Peggy. It is not treating us right to leave us alone so long. And what does thee think? Sally talks of going home. Has she told thee?"
"Oh, Sally!" uttered Peggy reproachfully. "Thee can't mean it? Why, mother and I expect all of you to stay the night. Beside, 'tis too cold for thee to go out."
"The very thing I told her," exclaimed Betty. "And she said," and a note of indignation quavered into Betty's voice, "that if it were warm enough to need a fan it was warm enough to go out."
"But, Betty, why do you use a fan in such weather?" questioned Robert Dale laughing. "Here it is so cold that we can scarce keep warm, and Mistress Owen hath called Sukey twice to attend the fire. Yet there you sit and wave that fan. I have wished to ask you about it all day."
"Why, Robert, does thee not know that a fan is to a woman what a gun is to a soldier—a weapon of offense and of defense?" explained Betty airily. "When one is conversing should a pause occur in the conversation one may offset any embarrassment by fanning slowly. So!" She plied the fan to and fro as she explained.
"And do you need it often, Betty?" he asked slyly.
"Now that is mean, Robert. I would not have thought it of thee," pouted Betty. "I shall tell no more secrets anent the use of the fan, sir. Thee would not insinuate anything so ungallant, would thee, Captain Johnson?"
"No," answered the youth blushing deeply at being so appealed to, and speaking with difficulty. "I would not, Mistress Betty. You—you mean—there would be no pause, would there?" He stopped short as a burst of merriment in which even Betty joined broke from the others. "What did I say?" he asked in alarm. "What is it?"
At this moment there came the sound of many feet in the hallway, and Sukey's voice was heard protesting loudly:
"Dar ain't nobody heah but de fambly, Mistah Officah. De fambly and der company. 'Tain't no mannah ob use disturbin' dem. Der ain't no Britisher 'roun' heah nohow."
"Why, what does this mean?" ejaculated Mr. Owen, rising and going to the door. "What is the matter, Sukey?" he asked as he threw it open.
"Like bloodhounds now they search me out,— Hark, to the whistle and the shout! If farther through the wilds I go, I only fall upon the foe; I'll couch me here till evening gray, Then darkling try my dangerous way."
—Sir Walter Scott.
Sukey was standing before the entrance valiantly trying to keep the half dozen men who stood in the hall from entering. She turned toward her master with relief.
"Dese men dey sayin' dat dere's a Bristisher 'roun' heah," she explained. "Dey would come in. I dun my bes' ter keep dem from 'sturbin' yer."
"That is all right, Sukey," he said kindly. "Perhaps these friends have good reason for coming."
"That we have, Mr. Owen," cried one stepping forward. "I am William Will, Sheriff of the city and county of Philadelphia. With me is Mr. Ledie, Commissioner of Prisoners. We are on the track of some prisoners who have escaped from Lancaster. One hath been traced to this house. We have reason to believe that he is in hiding somewhere about the premises. I am sorry to disturb you, sir, but 'tis my duty to make a thorough search of the dwelling."
"Thou art quite welcome to make the search, Friend Will," returned Mr. Owen courteously. "I think thee will find thyself mistaken about any one being in hiding here unless he hath concealed himself in the barn. I have neither seen nor heard anything of any one."
"Then with your permission we will begin right away," said the sheriff. "Do two of you take the barns and outbuildings; two others the gardens and orchard, while Mr. Ledie and I will make a thorough investigation of the house. We will begin with this room, Mr. Ledie," he continued stepping inside the sitting-room. "Your pardon, ladies. Knowing that every well affected inhabitant of the county will cheerfully assist in the apprehension of an escaped prisoner my presence, I trust, will be excused. These seem to be good American citizens, Mr. Owen," with a keen glance about that embraced every member of the company. "Your wife and daughter I know by sight, and these two young ladies also. This gentleman's uniform speaks for itself, and this young man is without doubt an American."
"Yes; he hath served with the militia in Virginia against the enemy, and hath recently obtained a captain's commission in the regular troops of New Jersey," explained David Owen. "He is Captain Johnson, who with his mother will stop with us until after the storm hath passed."
"I see," remarked the sheriff, passing into the dining-room. "Everything seems to be all right in these two rooms, Mr. Ledie. Now," addressing the company collectively, "there is one thing more: Does each one of you affirm that you have not seen any one who might be an escaped prisoner?"
Peggy's heart beat so wildly at this that she feared it could be heard. She had risen at the sheriff's entrance, and stood with pale face waiting the discovery that she was afraid was imminent. She said nothing as the sheriff asked his question. The others had spoken quickly disclaiming any knowledge of such person, and she hoped the fact that she had made no reply would escape notice. To her relief Sally spoke up:
"Will thee let us see him if thee finds him, Friend Will? Especially if he be good looking."
"Oh, yes, Friend Will," broke in Betty. "Do let us have a look at him if thee catches him."
"Now, now," protested the officer, "I'm not going to grant any indulgences to further an Englishman's enjoyment. I know your sex, Miss Sally. If the fellow is good looking I'll have all of you girls on my back to let him off. And the temper of the people won't permit such things at present. Well, there is nothing to be gained here. We will take the up-stairs now."
"I think I shall accompany you," spoke Mr. Owen. "I like not to think of any prowlers about. I wonder where he escaped from, and if there is but one?"
"Suppose we go too," said Robert Dale, addressing Fairfax. "We might be of assistance to the sheriff."
The three left the room, and the women and the girls drew close together while overhead, in every room, and without in the barn and other buildings the search was prosecuted. Nurse Johnson shivered as the sounds of the hunt came to them.
"A man hunt is always such a dreadful thing," she remarked. "And whether it be for a slave or an enemy, I find my sympathy going with the hunted. I hope they won't find this poor fellow. Yet I have no love for the English."
"Thee is like the rest of us," replied Mistress Owen. "A good hater of the enemy in the aggregate, but a commiserator of one who happens to be in a plight. Peggy, how restless thee is!"
"I am, mother," answered Peggy rising, and going to the window. "This hath upset me."
"It is in truth a most unpleasant ending to an otherwise pleasant day," commented her mother.
Peggy made no further remark, but wandered restlessly about, finally going into the dining-room. She was filled with apprehension lest at any moment Clifford's hiding-place should be discovered. He must not stay, she reflected. It was no longer safe to conceal him anywhere on the premises. But where could he go? At this point in her musings she felt an arm slip about her waist, and turned to find Sally Evans beside her.
"And who is it, Peggy?" whispered Sally. "I know that 'tis some one thee knows, else thee would not have helped him."
"Oh, Sally! how did thee know that 'twas I who helped any one?" asked Peggy alarmed. "Did I show it so plainly? Does thee think the sheriff could tell that I knew aught?"
"Nay," Sally whispered back. "I knew because I know thee so well. Thee remembers I thought I heard thee talking with some one in the kitchen. Who is it?"
"Clifford," whispered Peggy.
"Harriet's brother?" asked Sally, after a little gasp of surprise.
"Yes; he hath escaped from Lancaster, and is trying to get to New York. I could not do otherwise than help him, Sally. He would not have come here had not the storm rendered traveling difficult. But father must not know. 'Twould go hard with him were it known that he assisted Clifford, if he should assist him. He might not do it. Thee knows how he feels about such things. He might deem it right to give Clifford up even though he be our cousin. I want father to do right, Sally, but I don't want Clifford given up, either."
"Why, of course thee doesn't," answered Sally briskly. "And of course, Peggy, 'tis quite right for thy father to feel as he does. I dare say Robert and Fairfax feel the same toward any who is an enemy to the country. 'Tis right for them, but we females are made of softer stuff. Don't worry, but let thy cousin go home with me. Mother and I will be glad to conceal him until the weather permits him to continue his journey."
"Oh, Sally! does thee mean that?" cried Peggy breathlessly.
"I do, Peggy. Thee would be surprised to know how many of the British we have helped during the war. As a whole I dislike them intensely," and Sally drew her lips together vindictively. "When there is a battle I rejoice when we defeat them; but when any of them are in trouble, or danger, I never can think of them only as mothers' sons, and so, and so——"
Peggy leaned forward and kissed her.
"I think thee is the dearest girl in the world, Sally Evans," she said. "Does thee remember that there is a penalty for harboring escaping prisoners?"
"Well, yes; but friendship would not be worth much if it were not willing to incur some risk," answered her friend sagely. "Where is he?"
"In the chamber above the kitchen, Sally. Let's go out there. I am consumed with anxiety lest he be discovered."
The sheriff, followed by his associate Mr. Ledie, David Owen, Robert and Fairfax, having made the rounds of the house came into the entry way just as Sally and Peggy entered it. The men who had been detailed to make the search of the outbuildings and grounds joined them a few moments later.
"He stood just here," observed the sheriff indicating the place behind the door. "You can see his tracks. What puzzles me is the fact that there are no further traces. He did not go away, as there are no tracks leading away from this place. Neither are there any inside, and the sand on the kitchen floor hath not been disturbed save by the darkey."
"Hast thou searched the wash-house and the servants' quarters?" queried Mr. Owen anxiously. "They are all in this building."
"We have looked through it thoroughly," declared the sheriff emphatically. "And the barn, and all other buildings. 'Tis most mysterious. He hath disappeared as unaccountably as though whisked out of sight on a witch's broom. Well, boys, scatter about the grounds again, and see if you can't find some trace. Some one in the house hath aided in the escape," he said, turning again to Mr. Owen as the men obeyed his order.
"I do not see who could have done so," returned David Owen with a troubled look. "There is not one of the household who is not a consistent Whig, and there hath been no opportunity for anything of the sort. When we have not been together in the sitting-room we have been at the table. The girls washed the dishes in the dining-room, but joined us immediately afterward. From the laughter that accompanied the act I would be willing to wager that no British prisoner had any share in it."
Peggy did not see the quick glance that passed between Robert Dale and Fairfax Johnson. She had been absent from the room fully a half hour longer than the other girls, but evidently her father had not noticed the fact. Fairfax Johnson spoke abruptly:
"Suppose we take a look about the grounds, Major Dale."
"Your pardon, gentlemen," interposed Sheriff Will. "I cannot allow you to go unless one of my men accompanies you. You see all of you are more or less under suspicion until the matter is cleared up, and I prefer that you remain in sight."
"Just as you say, sir," replied the youth quickly. "I thought only to be of service."
"I see not where the fellow could have gone," mused David Owen, whose distress was evident. "Would that he might be found, if only to release us from suspicion."
"Well, have you found anything?" demanded the sheriff as his men reentered the dwelling. "Come into the kitchen, boys. It grows cold."
"And dark, Mr. Will," announced one of the men. "Too dark to see much. We shall have to give up for the night."
"I fear so," answered the sheriff grumblingly. His manner showed that he was far from satisfied with the result of the search. The house had been gone through thoroughly, and every place that could afford a possible hiding-place ransacked. David Owen and the two youths were of the army. The family was noted for its patriotism, and had offered no objection to the search, yet he showed that he was reluctant to give up. He stood meditatively before the fire, his hands clasped behind him, his glance roving about the room. Suddenly he started forward, and an excited "Ah!" escaped him.
Peggy turned pale, for his eye was resting upon the trap-door. Her father's glance followed the sheriff's.
"If any went through that door, Friend Will," he said casually, "'twas one who is much younger than either of us. In truth, none but a slender youth could draw himself through that door."
"True," answered the officer gazing at the door thoughtfully. "True, Mr. Owen, yet am I minded to explore it. I like not to leave any place unsearched. It may be that our man is young, and that that is the very place where he lies concealed. Is there a ladder?"
"There was one, but 'tis at the carpenter's shop to be mended," answered Mr. Owen. He looked vaguely about the kitchen. "I see not how thee is to get up," he said.
"I think I could get up there." Fairfax Johnson sprang lightly upon the table as he spoke. "Will some one hand me a chair?"
"That's the idea," cried the sheriff approvingly. "Still, young man, before you undertake this you must understand that there is risk attending it. You will be completely at the mercy of any one who happens to be up there. You understand that, don't you?"
"Well, some one must go," replied Fairfax. "One of your men would take the risk in case I don't. Won't he?"
"Yes; but—— Well, go on." A chair was passed up to him, and the youth mounting it pushed the trap-door back slowly.
Peggy's hand involuntarily went to her heart, and she trembled so that she could scarcely stand. The watchers grew very still as Fairfax Johnson stood for a moment before swinging himself up through the opening. Sally gave a little gasp as he disappeared into the darkness.
"What if—if he should shoot?" she murmured unconsciously speaking aloud.
"'Tis what I'm afraid of," answered Sheriff Will. "What is it?" he cried, springing upon the table and mounting the chair in a vain effort to see what was taking place in the attic. "Have you found him?" For an unmistakable chuckle came from overhead. It sounded to Peggy as though it were her cousin's voice. She told herself that she was mistaken, however, when Fairfax Johnson appeared at the opening.
"It's a rug," he called, a broad smile illuminating his countenance. "When I stumbled over it I thought it was a bear. I suppose Miss Peggy hath put it up here anent her housekeeping time. Shall I throw it down?"
"No," answered Sheriff Will, in disgusted tones. "If that's all there is up there you might as well come down. We are not hunting articles to set Miss Peggy up."
"If any of the rest of you wish to come up I think I could help draw him up." The youth leaned over the side of the opening suggestively.
"No, no," interposed Mr. Ledie, commissioner of prisoners. "The fellow is evidently not up there, and there is no use wasting time. He must be somewhere else about the premises, or else we have overlooked his tracks."
"I don't see how we could," declared the sheriff. "Anyhow, 'tis getting too dark to do any more to-night. You seem to have found some cobwebs, if you did not find a prisoner, my friend," he said as Fairfax Johnson swung himself down to the table. "I suppose that we must wish you good-night, Mr. Owen. We may drop in to-morrow."
"Nay, gentlemen, go not so," spoke Mr. Owen. "Come, refresh yourselves, I pray you. You will take supper with us after so hard a search. It will not be long before 'tis ready, and 'tis o'er cold to go forth without something warming. Lass, canst thou not help Sukey to get it quickly?"
"Yes, father," answered Peggy. She was quite herself by this time, but filled with amazement at Fairfax. What a queer compound he was, she thought, glancing over to where the youth stood. He was blushing as Sally helped him to remove the cobwebs from his clothing, and seemed unable to answer the chaff with which she and Robert were plying him. Yet but a short time since he had made that little joke concerning the fur rug and her housekeeping. Had he really seen Clifford?
"Let all of us young people help," cried Betty gayly coming into the kitchen as Mr. Owen with the sheriff and his men left it.
"Thy help must be confined to the dining-room, Betty," answered Peggy. "Thee must not be out here in that gown."
"Then I will set the table," said Betty. "My, my! what a party we're having."
"And we will help too, Peggy," spoke Robert Dale. "Have you nothing that two great fellows like the captain and myself can do?"
"Plenty, plenty," laughed Peggy. "Thee may slice the roast beef, Robert, while Friend Fairfax may take the ham. Sally and I will attend to the bread and cake. Sukey, will thee need more wood?"
"No'm," grumbled Sukey. "I shouldn't t'ink yer pa'd want ter feed dem folkes aftah de way dey done pried 'roun' inter ebberyt'ing."
"Well, it is annoying, of course, Sukey, but after all they were but doing their duty," answered Peggy slowly.
"Yes'm," said the black giving her young mistress a sharp look, then turning she busied herself about the fire.
Each one was attending strictly to the task before him, and resolving to embrace the opportunity to talk a few moments with Fairfax Johnson, Peggy took the loaf of bread she was cutting over to the table where the youth was slicing ham.
FRIENDS IN NEED
"Thanks for the sympathies that ye have shown! Thanks for each kindly word, each silent token, That teaches me, when seeming most alone, Friends are around us, though no word be spoken."
"He must not stay there, Mistress Peggy," said Fairfax in a low tone as the maiden joined him. "The sheriff is not satisfied, and I doubt not will make the search again. He will not wish me to go above again, but will choose one of his own men. It is not safe for your cousin."
"Thee saw him, then?" breathed Peggy. "Oh, Friend Fairfax, how good thee is not to betray him."
"It is your cousin," he said simply. "It was my duty, but friendship hath a duty too. But of that more anon. The thing to do now is to get him down from there while they are at supper."
"Sally says he may go home with her," Peggy told him eagerly. "Will thee help us to manage it, Friend Fairfax?"
"I'll do what I can," he promised earnestly. "Is she not talking of going after supper?"
"Let him get down, then, while they are at table, and come boldly to the front door for her. 'Twould be quite natural for some one to call for her, would it not?"
"Why, 'tis the very thing," cried Peggy. "Of course her mother would send for her on such a night. Only I like not to send her away before she hath finished her supper. 'Tis monstrously inhospitable."
"'Twill be easier to get him away then than at any other time," he declared. "She will mind it not if she really wishes to aid you."
"She will do anything for me," said Peggy tremulously. Her heart was very full of love toward these friends for the aid they were rendering. "Friend Fairfax, thee has certainly hit upon the very thing."
"And his boots," continued the youth. "He hath on the English top-boots of narrow make. 'Twas by them that he was so easily traced. Of late we of the states have manufactured our own boots, and all citizens wear them save the macaronis. They are not so well finished," he glanced at his own boots as he spoke with something of regret, "but 'tis that very thing that makes the difference. I have another pair in my portmanteau, Mistress Peggy. I will get them, and you must contrive to have your cousin wear them. He can take his own with him. In this manner the snow will give no trace of his going, for the boots are such as all citizens wear."
"Thank thee," said Peggy gratefully. "Thee has taken a great load from my mind, Friend Fairfax. I make no doubt but that all will fall out as thee has planned. What is it, Betty?"
"I was just wondering what there was about slicing cold ham that called for such absorbing interest," cried Betty who vacillated between the kitchen and the dining-room. "Robert spoke to thee once, and I asked Captain Johnson a question. Neither of you deigned to answer us."
"Thee may take my place and find the secret," said Peggy mischievously, so relieved over the plan as outlined by Fairfax that she could enjoy the diffidence that once more overwhelmed him at Betty's approach. "I will help Sally with that cake."
"'Tis just the thing," declared Sally as Peggy unfolded the arrangement. "And how simple! I like thy friend, Peggy, and yet I cannot help but laugh at his blushes and shyness."
"I feel the same, Sally," confessed Peggy with remorse. "He is a dear lad, for all his diffidence, and yet there are times when I am beset with a desire to tease him. Why is it, I wonder, that we females delight to torment such even though they are in very truth heroes?"
"I know not," answered Sally. "I only know that 'tis true, and 'tis pity we are so constituted. And see, Peggy! The poor fellow is so beset by Betty that he can scarce cut the ham. Shall we go to his rescue?"
"Indeed 'tis time," laughed Peggy. "Everything is ready for the supper too. Robert, thee has cut that beef well. I knew not that the domestic arts were so well taught in camp."
"We learn many things, Peggy," returned he. "Camp hath taught me to carve all foods. And not only the art of carving hath been taught me, but the far greater one of obtaining the food to carve. Our friend yonder hath evidently not had so much experience, or else Betty's presence hath converted his fingers into thumbs."
"'Tis Betty, I fear," answered Peggy with a laugh. "Do help him, Robert, while the rest of us carry in the things."
Fairfax resigned the ham to Robert Dale with relief, but did not stay to profit by his expertness. Instead he took a large platter which Peggy was carrying from her, and passed through the entry into the dining-room.
"I will run up for the boots," he told the girl on coming back to the hallway. "I shall put them in the entry way."
Peggy nodded, and went in to see that all was in readiness for the meal. The sheriff and his men viewed the bountifully spread table with looks of complacence, and presently every one was gathered around the table. As was natural in the daughter of the house Peggy assisted in the waiting, and was back and forth from the kitchen with tea, hot chocolate, rusks, or whatever might be needed. At length, the opportunity she wished for came, and she found herself alone in the kitchen with Sukey safe for the time being in the dining-room. She lost not a moment.
"Clifford," she called softly.
"Yes, my cousin." The trap-door was swung back, and Clifford Owen's face appeared at the opening. "I say," he said, "that was a close shave, wasn't it? If our friend Fairfax had not been the prince of good fellows where would I be now?"
"Where thee will be unless thee acts quickly," replied his cousin. "He fears that the sheriff will make another search. Thee must swing thyself down, Clifford." She placed a chair upon the table as she finished speaking, and held it to steady it. In an instant he stood beside her.
"Thou art to go home with my friend, Sally Evans," explained the girl. "'Tis dangerous to stay here, my cousin."
"Yes, I know," he answered. "I heard them talking. I tell you I held my breath when Fairfax stumbled over me."
"Yes, yes," she said hurriedly. "Thee must not talk now, Clifford, but act. Fairfax brought down a pair of his boots for thee. Thou art to put them on, and carry thine own. Thine are of English make, and leave telltale marks. Then thee must betake thyself to the front door, and sound the knocker boldly. Thou art to say that thou hast come for Mistress Sally Evans. Sally will join thee, and take thee to her mother's where thee can remain safely until 'tis fitting weather for thee to pursue thy journey to New York. Does thee understand?"
"Peggy," he said sorrowfully, "I am putting too much risk upon you and this friend of yours. I might as well let the sheriff take me and be done with it. I will do it rather than cause you so much worry."
"Oh, will thee hurry," pleaded the girl bringing the boots from the entry way. "There is so little time, my cousin. To-morrow I will come to thee at Sally's, and then we can have a long talk. Now thee must act. Sukey may come in at any time. Or Tom. Oh!" in a despairing tone as the latch of the door leading into the main building clicked its warning. "'Tis too late. Why, 'tis Sally!"
"Thee forgot the quince conserve, Peggy," said Sally trying vainly to act as though Peggy was alone. "Thy mother sent me for it. She told Sukey to come, but I jumped up and said that I would get it."
"Sally, this is Clifford," spoke Peggy. "And oh, he won't hurry. He talks of trouble and worry when he should be doing. Clifford, this is my dearest friend, Sally Evans."
"Truly thee would better be in haste," said Sally, making her best bow. "Thee must see that every moment adds to thy cousin's distress, and also to thy danger. I marvel that the sheriff's men have left us so long alone. Mother and I will in truth welcome thee."
"But I have no claim upon you," he expostulated. "For you to take such a risk for an Englishman——"
"As an Englishman thee hasn't a particle of claim, of course," interrupted Sally. "As an Englishman thee deserves anything that might happen, but as a human being in distress thee has every claim upon us. Now hadn't thee better be moving? Where is the conserve, Peggy?"
"How do I know that I can trust you?" he said abruptly.
"Clifford!" exclaimed Peggy indignantly, but Sally laughed, and swept him a deep courtesy.
"Peggy must have told thee what an ogress I am," she said. "Know then, Friend Clifford, that I have a deep and dark dungeon where I cast all Englishmen of thy profession. If thee is afraid thee would better take thy chances with the night and storm."
"Afraid?" he echoed, a deep flush mantling his brow. "I, Clifford Owen, afraid?"
"Then thee had better put on those boots, and be about thy departure," said Sally calmly. "Peggy, if we don't take in those conserves the supper will be over. Hurry, friend. Keep thy cloak well about thee to hide that uniform, and on no account venture into the hall. Thee will not have to wait for me. Come, Peggy."
But before Peggy followed her she ran to Clifford and clasped his hand.
"'Tis the only way, my cousin," she whispered. "And oh, do be quick."
"I will, Peggy," he replied. "Fear nothing. I will carry out my part."
With palpitating heart Peggy went with Sally into the dining-room, and resumed her task of waiting on the table. Sally reseated herself and joined merrily in the conversation. It seemed a long time ere the great knocker on the front door sounded. In reality it was but a few moments after the girls left the kitchen. Sukey entered the hall to answer it before Peggy could reach the door. The darkey reentered the room almost immediately.
"A pusson has come fer Miss Sally," she announced. "He say he am come ter take her home."
"He?" Sheriff Will looked up with a laugh. "Come, come! that sounds interesting. Let's have him in, Miss Sally, and see what he looks like."
"Yes, my dear," spoke Mrs. Owen. "Thee has not finished thy supper. Sit down, and thy escort shall come in, and have supper too."
Peggy's heart almost stopped beating at this, and the color forsook Sally's cheeks. Neither of them had foreseen anything of this kind, and they were rendered speechless by the untoward incident. Sally was saved the necessity of a reply by Robert Dale.
"I think I object, Mistress Owen," he said speaking with deliberation. "Any one who is going to take Sally away from us doesn't deserve any supper. I was promising myself the pleasure of seeing her home."
"Oh, ho!" roared the sheriff. "Sits the wind in that quarter!"
"Never mind, Mrs. Owen," spoke Sally, her quick wit taking advantage of the diversion. "I will bring him to see thee when Robert isn't about. And I really must go. Mother expected me this afternoon, but so much hath happened that I overstayed my time. I dare say she is waiting supper for me. Good-night, and good-bye to all," she added. She made a fetching little mouth at Robert as she went through the door but her eyes held a look of gratitude.
Peggy accompanied her into the hall. Clifford was waiting outside on the steps, and none of the three spoke until, wrapped and bundled for the trip, Sally joined him.
"I'll never forget this, Sally," murmured Peggy, giving her friend a little squeeze. "And I'll be down to-morrow."
"Be sure to," answered Sally. "Come, friend," turning to Clifford. "We must not linger."
Full of relief and gladness Peggy reentered the dining-room.
APPEARANCES AGAINST HER
"Who trusts himself to woman, or to waves, Should never hazard what he fears to lose."
During the evening Peggy congratulated herself more than once that Clifford was well away from the house; for the sheriff, in company with her father, again went over the dwelling. Every nook that might afford a hiding-place was examined thoroughly, and, as Fairfax had foreseen, another man was sent up to search the kitchen chamber. At length, all his joviality gone, Sheriff Will sat down by the sitting-room fire in puzzled perplexity.
"I can't understand it," he said more to himself than to Mr. Owen. "We have found no track going away. His boots make an impression that could not be mistaken. Unless he hath taken wings unto himself he should be somewhere in the house."
"Nay, friend; it cannot be," replied Mr. Owen, shaking his head positively. "We have searched every place that 'twould be possible for a man to be concealed. We have even gone into places where no one, not a member of the family, would think of hiding."
"That's just it," exclaimed the officer. "Some member of the family helped him. Were it not so we could not have missed the fellow."
"In that, friend, thou art mistaken. I believe that I could give an account of the actions and whereabouts of each member, yea, I will include our guests also, since my arrival home."
"What time was that, sir?"
"About one of the clock, I should judge."
"Well, the matter is beyond me," responded the sheriff rising. "There is naught to do but to go home and think it over."
And to Peggy's great relief he left, taking his men with him. The occurrence seemed to have thrown a damper over the spirits of the party, even Betty being unusually silent, so the household soon separated for the night.
It was not until the afternoon of the next day that Peggy found an opportunity of going to Sally's. By that time, accompanied by Robert Dale, Betty had left for home; Mr. Owen had taken Fairfax with him into the city, the two ladies were deep in conversation on the mysteries of preserve making, and Peggy was at liberty. With a word of explanation to her mother the girl slipped on her wraps, and started for Sally's house.
Though still cold the day was clear and bright. The footways had not been cleared of snow, but paths had been beaten by the impact of many feet, and Peggy found walking not at all difficult. As she turned into Fourth Street she was astonished to encounter Sheriff Will. He returned her courteous greeting with an abrupt bow, and passed on.
"I wonder if he is going to the house again," she mused, stopping to look after him. "He must be," she concluded as she saw that he turned into Chestnut Street. "He is not satisfied about not finding Clifford. Oh, dear! what would have happened if Sally had not taken my cousin home with her? Well, I must hasten."
A brisk walk soon brought her to Sally's house on Little Dock Street. The dwelling was of stone. It was two stories in height, with a high-pitched roof, and with a garret room lighted in front by three dormer windows, and in the rear by a dormer on each side. Sally herself came to the door in answer to the knocker.
"I have been watching for thee all day, Peggy," she cried, drawing her into the room. The front door did not open into an entry, but directly into a large room occupied as a sitting-room. "I thought thee would never come. Thy cousin hath worried lest some ill had befallen thee. Come in, and tell me all that happened after we left. Was it not fine in Robert to speak as he did? Does thee think that he knew what we were about? And oh, Peggy! I do like thy cousin so much. Thee remembers how we used to laugh at Harriet because she was always extolling her brother at the expense of any youth she met? Well, I blame her no longer. Mother, too, is charmed with him. Well, why doesn't thee talk, and tell me all that hath occurred?"
Peggy laughed outright.
"I was just waiting for a chance, Sally," she replied. "Let me see. About Robert first: How could he have known anything anent Clifford, yet what he said was so opportune? It hath puzzled me. I know not what we should have done had he not so spoken. I could think of naught to say, and I saw that thee was affected in the same manner. Where is my cousin? Let us go to him at once, for I must not stay long. I will tell ye both what hath occurred."
"Come," quoth Sally, leading the way to the staircase, which was at the back of the house, and approached from a side entrance. "We have put him in the front chamber, which contains the 'Auger Hole.' Thee remembers it, Peggy? For further safety we have drawn the bedstead in front of the door. Unless 'twas known no one would think of looking in that closet for a hiding-place. There is also an old loom in a corner up attic which might serve right well for concealment, but mother thought the chamber with the 'Auger Hole' best; although we showed Clifford both places."
"Thee has done thy best, Sally," remarked Peggy approvingly. The "Auger Hole," as it was playfully called, had been built, for what reason was not known, as a place of concealment. It was a small room, entirely dark, which could be approached only through a linen closet. In order to get at it, the linen had to be taken from the shelves, the shelves drawn out, and a small door opened at the back of the closet, quite low down, so that the room could be entered only by stooping. Its existence was known to but few people. So Peggy smiled with satisfaction, as she added: "I dare say that he will not need to use either. Thee would never be suspected of having a British prisoner in hiding."
"True," answered Sally, "but 'tis as well to be prepared for an emergency. Here we are, Peggy."
"And how does thee do to-day, my cousin?" cried Peggy as her friend opened the door.
Clifford Owen rose from the easy chair drawn up before the fire, and turned toward her beamingly. Peggy reflected that she had never seen him appear to better advantage. His fine eyes were glowing, his form was erect, and his manner held a graciousness that was charming.
"Well, my little cousin! well indeed," he responded. "Methought that fur rug yesterday was sumptuous after my experience with the wind and snow, but your friends have lodged me like a king. Yon tester bed feels as though 'twere meant for royalty. I doubt if King George rests upon one so easy."
"It wouldn't rest easy if I had the making of it," spoke Sally pertly.
"The sheriff made another search after thee left, my cousin," interposed Peggy hastily. "And, just as Fairfax thought, he sent another man to explore the kitchen chamber. What if thee had been there?"
"'Twould have been all up with me," remarked Clifford easily. "How seemed he, Peggy? Suspicious?"
"He was greatly dissatisfied," returned Peggy, a troubled look clouding her eyes. "He said that some member of the family must have helped in the escape, though father insisted that it could not be. And oh! I met him as I was coming here."
"Who? The sheriff?" questioned Clifford startled.
"Yes; he was going to our house, I think. At least I saw him turn into Chestnut Street."
"Did he turn to watch you, Peggy?" inquired her cousin with some anxiety.
"Why no; why should he?" asked she simply.
"Because——" he began, when a loud peal of the knocker brought the remark to an abrupt stop.
Sally arose with precipitancy.
"Mother is busy in the kitchen," she said. "'Twill be best for me to see who it is. I don't believe that 'tis any one who will wish to come up here, but if it should be thy cousin must run for the closet, Peggy. I will leave the door ajar, and should I be saying anything when I come to the stairway thee will know that 'tis some one who insists upon coming up."
The two cousins sat in silence as Sally went down-stairs, fearful of what the visit might portend. Peggy was openly anxious, and Clifford, too, seemed uneasy. The murmur of voices could be heard, and while the words could not be distinguished it seemed to Peggy that the tones were those of command. A slight commotion followed as though several persons had entered the dwelling, and presently the stairway door opened and closed quickly.
"Peggy!" came in a shrill whisper from the foot of the stairs. Peggy was out of the chamber and at the head of the stairs in an instant. Sally stood below, and though the stairway was so dimly lighted that Peggy could scarcely distinguish the outlines of her form, she knew that her friend was greatly excited. She was telling her something in so low a tone that Peggy could hardly hear what it was, but she gathered enough to send her flying back to her cousin.
"'Tis the sheriff," she cried. "Get into the closet, quick."
Clifford Owen stayed not for a second bidding. He darted into the closet back of the great tester bed, and the door of the concealed room clicked softly. In anticipation of such an emergency the shelves had been removed, and Peggy now replaced them. Hurriedly she tossed some piles of linen on them, and then resumed her seat before the fire. She had barely done so when the door opened, and Sally, followed by Sheriff Will and two of his men, appeared on the threshold. To Peggy's amazement the girl was laughing.
"What does thee think, Peggy?" she cried gaily. "The sheriff insists that he must look here for that escaped prisoner. He hath almost scared mother out of her wits, and now he is trying to fright us. I have told him to search all he wishes."
"I hope that you are as innocent as you appear, Miss Sally," spoke Sheriff Will gruffly. "I've a suspicion that you two fooled me nicely last night, but 'twon't happen again. I said down-stairs that I was aware that the closet in this room concealed a hiding-place."
"La, la!" laughed Sally saucily. "So thee did. And how will thee find it, friend?"
"Sam, give a hand with this bed, will you?" ordered the sheriff.
To Peggy's consternation the men moved the heavy bedstead out into the room, and Sheriff Will opened the door of the closet. Deliberately he threw the linen on the floor, and began to draw out the shelves. A mist swam before her eyes. She felt her senses going, and then sat up suddenly as Sally ran to the door, now fully exposed to view.
"Doesn't thee want me to open it for thee, Friend Will?" she asked merrily. "Behold what thee will behold!" With this she flung wide the door.
"Sally!" gasped Peggy in agonized tones. "Oh, Sally, how could thee?" For the open door revealed Clifford Owen sitting on the floor of the concealed room.
All the color faded from Sally's face at sight of him. She stood a picture of consternation, looking from one cousin to the other seemingly unable to speak.
"Thank you, Miss Sally," spoke Sheriff Will sarcastically. "'Twas well played, but I think you overreached yourself for the nonce. Something went awry. Come out, young fellow! 'Tis a pretty chase you've given me. Come out, or I'll shoot."
"I yield, sir," answered Clifford Owen crawling out. "I yield—to treachery. I congratulate you, Mistress Sally. The dungeon of which you spoke was not so much of a myth as I had supposed."
But at that Sally regained her tongue.
"Peggy," she cried flinging herself down beside her friend, "didn't thee hear me? I said the loom. I said the loom, Peggy. Oh, I never meant—I didn't think he was there. Tell him, Peggy! Make him believe me. Thee knows that I wouldn't do such a thing. Tell him, Peggy."
"'Thus do all traitors,'" quoted Clifford with an upward curl of his lip. "'If their purgation did consist in words, they are as innocent as grace itself.' I was a fool to trust a woman. Officer, take me where you must. Any place is preferable to breathing the same air with treachery."
"Clifford, Clifford!" cried Peggy going to him. "I am so sorry that it hath come out so. Oh, Clifford, what can I do for thee now? And Sally! I know that it happened as she hath said. She would not——"
"You can do naught, my cousin," answered he, his eyes softening as they rested upon her. "You, at least, are guiltless of overt act toward me."
"And Sally also," she began eagerly, but the boy's lips set in a straight line.
"We will not discuss it," he answered loftily. "I hope that no trouble will come to you, Peggy."
"Trouble," echoed Sheriff Will "They shall both be indicted for this. 'Twas a neat trick, but ye won't find the Supreme Executive Council so easily deluded. Was your father concerned in this, Miss Peggy?"
"No," replied she quickly. "He knows no more of it than thee does, Friend Will. I alone am to blame for all that hath occurred. Sally only helped for friendship sake."
"You shall hear of it," spoke the sheriff grimly. "Come on, young man. We have wasted too much time on you already."
"Don't hurry him away, Friend Will," pleaded Sally sobbing. "Let me tell him how it was. Do let me talk to him a moment."
"Lead on," commanded Clifford, turning his back upon her decidedly. "Why dally longer?"
Without another glance at the weeping Sally he was led away between two of the men.
DAVID OWEN IS INFORMED OF THE FACTS
"Why are our bodies soft, and weak, and smooth, Unapt to toil, and trouble in the world, But that our soft conditions, and our hearts, Should well agree with our external parts?"
—"Taming of the Shrew."
"I didn't mean it, Peggy," sobbed Sally over and over. "Thee knows that I didn't mean it to turn out so. Thee knows that I wouldn't do such a thing, doesn't thee? I said the loom. Truly I said the loom. I ran to the stairway just as quickly as I could after the sheriff said he knew of the closet, and I called to thee to tell him to go to the loom. And thee didn't hear me? Oh, Peggy! Peggy I thee knows that I wouldn't betray thy cousin knowingly. Thee knows it, Peggy?"
"There, Sally," soothed Peggy. "I know that thee would do naught that was not honorable. I see it all. All that was intended. Thee thought that Clifford would go up attic behind the loom, and that by assuming a bold front thee could deceive the sheriff into believing that he was not on the place. Sheriff Will would naturally go to the closet, as he knew of it. I am to blame too, Sally. It was just a miserable misapprehension on both our parts."
"But Clifford will always believe that I betrayed him," said Sally chokingly, lifting her tear-stained face. "And oh, I did like him so much! What will they do with him, Peggy?"
"I don't know," answered Peggy thoughtfully. "Take him back to Lancaster, probably. Father said this morning that the sheriff told him a number of the prisoners had escaped. Clifford, it seems, had stopped at the sheriff's own house to inquire the way to the State House. I told him, I remember, that we lived just across from it. His cloak had fallen apart and disclosed his uniform, and some one suspected that 'twas one of the British prisoners. The sheriff was not at home at the time, but when he came he was told of the occurrence, and at once went in pursuit of him. But now," Peggy concluded soberly, "we must take heed to ourselves. I hope that he believed me when I told him that father had naught to do with the matter. If only the punishment would fall on me, and not on thee, or father, I would not mind what happened."
"Thee must go to him at once and unravel the whole affair," counseled Mrs. Evans who had joined them as soon as the sheriff left. "'Tis best that he should know of it at once. Sally, thee must go with Peggy, and tell of thy share in it."
"Yes, mother," assented Sally meekly. "Peggy, will thee ever love me again?"
"I haven't stopped yet, Sally," replied Peggy kissing her. "Thee must not feel so bad. After all the sheriff might have found him up attic. Thee knows how carefully he searches."
"I would not have been to blame for that, Peggy. Now Clifford will always believe that I did it on purpose."
"Perchance there may come a time when thee can explain all to him," comforted her friend. "Let us go to father now, Sally. He must know all that hath occurred."
Without further ado the two girls set forth for Peggy's home. The distant hills that ridged the west bank of the Schuylkill stretched a luminous belt in the glistening sunshine. The city was clothed in a garb of pure white, a dazzling garment that was symbolical of the peace with which The Founder desired his beloved city to be filled. But there was little peace in the hearts of the two maidens who wended their way sadly and silently toward the Owen home in Chestnut Street.
David Owen, his wife, Nurse Johnson, Robert and Fairfax were assembled in the living-room of the dwelling. They rose with exclamations of dismay at sight of Peggy's pale face, and Sally's red eyes.
"What hath happened, lass?" cried her father. "Thou art in trouble. Is it of a serious nature?"
"Yes, father," answered the girl tremulously. "It may be grave trouble for thee, though it should be for me alone, as I am solely to blame." She paused for a moment to steady her voice, then continued: "Father, the escaped prisoner whom the sheriff sought was Clifford. He came here yesterday just after dinner asking for shelter. I could not turn him away in such a storm. Indeed, he would not have sought us out at all had it not been for the weather. And—and I hid him in the kitchen chamber."
"Clifford!" ejaculated her father. "Thy Cousin Clifford? But where is he now? The kitchen chamber was searched, but we found no one there. Where is he?"
"The sheriff hath him," Peggy told him chokingly. "Sally took him home with her last night, and I went there to see him this afternoon. I met the sheriff in Fourth Street as I left here, and he must have followed me; for I had scarce begun to talk to Clifford when he came and took my cousin. He talks of an indictment."
Both girls were crying by this time, and with an exclamation of concern Mrs. Owen hastened to them, and drew them into an embrace.
"There! There!" she said soothingly. "David will manage it somehow. Don't sob so, Sally. After all thee is not so much to blame. Perchance the Council will excuse what thee did, as 'twas to help Peggy."
"I don't care for the old Council," flashed Sally through her tears. "'Tis that Peggy's cousin thinks that I betrayed him. I thought he was up attic, and he wasn't. I told Peggy to tell him to go there, but she did not hear me. Thee knows my fault, Mrs. Owen," she wailed in an agony of self-reproach. "Thee knows just how froward and saucy I can be, and I was just that way with the sheriff, and—and pert. He spoke of the closet, showing that he knew of it, and I was so sure that Clifford was up attic that I asked the sheriff if I should open the door for him. I did, and there was Clifford," she ended with a fresh burst of tears.
"I know just how you feel," interposed Nurse Johnson sympathetically. "And so the prisoner was Clifford? Well, I am sorry that he was taken. Tell us all about it, Peggy."
"Yes, lass," spoke David Owen. "Calm thyself as soon as may be, and let me know the matter in detail. I must know all concerning it."
Mr. Owen spoke gravely. Well he knew what the feeling was toward those who assisted prisoners of war in escaping. Aiding or abetting the enemy in any way was not tolerated, either in the city or the country at large. The systematic cruelties practiced toward the American prisoners both in the dreadful prison ships and the jails, the barbarities perpetrated toward their countrymen in the South, the harassing of the coasts, the raids of the refugees, the capture of their merchantmen by British privateers; all these things and many others served to keep the hearts of Americans inflamed with rancor toward the English. They were not disposed to overlook any indulgence displayed toward such an enemy.
Presently Peggy had so far recovered her usual composure that she was able to relate succinctly all that had occurred. Her father listened attentively.
"Why did thee not come to me for aid, lass?" he asked when she had finished the recital.
"Why, father, 'twould go hard with thee were it to become known that thee had given aid to a prisoner," answered Peggy. "I wished to keep thee clear of it. Then, too, thee might have deemed it duty to give up my cousin, and I could not bear that; yet I should want thee to do what was right."
"I think I understand, lass," he said, "'Twas most ingenious to think of having him come to the door as Sally's escort. I knew not that thou hadst so much of daring in thee to originate such a plan."
Peggy flushed scarlet at this. She had suppressed all mention of Fairfax's connection with the matter, wishing not to implicate him. So she stared at her father in an embarrassed silence, uneasy at the praise she did not merit.
"But why was he not discovered?" went on David Owen musingly. "The room was searched twice. By the way," turning suddenly toward Fairfax Johnson, "captain, was it not thee who went up there first?"
"It was, sir," answered the young man promptly. "I stumbled over Clifford, who was lying wrapped up in a fur rug. He chuckled as I did so, and I knew at once who it was. I had known him in Williamsburgh, you remember."
"Why didst thou not cry out? Thou wert taken unawares, as it were. I marvel at thy command," and Mr. Owen regarded him keenly.
"Well," hesitated the youth, "I went up there because I suspected that Miss Peggy had some one hidden there, and I wanted to help her."
"Thou knew of it? But how?"
"Because she was out of the room longer than any one after dinner, and had time to make arrangements of that nature if she so desired, sir. Then too she did not reply when the sheriff asked us all to say whether we had seen anything of a British prisoner."
"All this went on, and I saw naught of it!" exclaimed Mr. Owen. "Why! where were my eyes? I would have affirmed that I could account for every action of every member of the household."
"We younger people were together a great deal yesterday, sir. We had more opportunities for observing if anything was amiss with one of our number than you would have."
"Was it thou who wast responsible for the plan of getting away?" questioned Mr. Owen. "Methought 'twas too daring to have originated with Peggy."
"Well, yes," acknowledged Fairfax flushing. "The daring lay only in the execution of it. The girls and Clifford furnished that."
"But to risk thy liberty for such a thing, lad! Was it worth while to jeopardize thy new commission to aid Peggy with her cousin?"
Fairfax stirred restlessly.
"But I was under great obligations to Clifford too, sir," he made answer presently. "He kept my mother from molestation in Williamsburgh when the enemy was in possession of the place. I was in duty bound to help him."
"And next I shall hear that Robert hath been concerned in the affair too," uttered David Owen, turning to Robert Dale with a glimmer of a smile. "I begin to believe that there hath been a regular conspiracy among you young people. Speak up, lad. What did thee do?"
"Very little," answered the youth frankly. "Not so much as I should have liked to do, Mr. Owen. I did not know that 'twas Peggy's cousin whom she was hiding. I did know that there was some one. I suspected who Sally's escort might be, and when I saw that she was dismayed at the prospect of having to bring him to the table, I spoke as I did to help her."
"Without knowing who it might be, Robert?" exclaimed Mr. Owen in amazement.
"Peggy would conceal no one without thinking it right, sir," returned Robert simply. "I think we all know that is the reason we stood by her."
"Well, upon my word!" David Owen rubbed his hands thoughtfully. "And how is Betty concerned?"
"Betty is entirely exempt from the matter, I believe," remarked Major Dale smiling. "The rest of us are guilty."
"Did I do wrong, father?" asked Peggy timidly. "Is thee angry with me?"
"Nay, lass. With thy soft heart thee could not do otherwise. Yesterday was no day to turn any one from shelter, even though he were not thy cousin. I would not have thee insensible to mercy, no matter who asked it. I grieve only that such an act should involve thy young friends in consequences which may prove of serious character to all concerned."
"We are willing to abide by the consequences," spoke the two youths simultaneously. Mr. Owen shook his head.
"Nay," he said. "I will not permit it. Peggy alone must be held responsible for what hath occurred. 'Tis just and right. I will see if aught can be done with the Council. I want also to find where Clifford hath been put, to see if I shall be allowed to do anything for him. At times food and comforts are given to prisoners, and perchance we may be permitted to do this for him."
"And oh, Mr. Owen! if thee does see him, tell him how it happened," pleaded Sally. "I could bear a term of imprisonment better than that he should esteem me a treacherous friend."
"I will do what I can, Sally," he promised her.
David Owen was absent for nearly two hours, and an anxious time of waiting it proved. The girls were comforted and petted by the two ladies, while the youths made them relate over and over all the incidents leading to the capture of Clifford. At length Mr. Owen returned.
"Clifford is in the new jail pending his return to Lancaster," he told them. "I saw and talked with him. I told him all that thee wished, Sally, and that thee had naught to do with his capture. He exonerates Peggy from all thought of treachery, but I grieve to say that the lad exhibits a perverse disbelief in thee, Sally. He would hear of no excuse for thee, though I tried to make him understand how it all came about."
"I knew it," said Sally with tears. "I knew he would not believe in me."
"Never mind, Sally," said Peggy. "I will try to see him, and I will make him listen to reason."
"Thee will not be permitted, lass. It was granted me as a great favor, but, because of the aid which thou didst render him, 'twould be most unwise for thee to seek to see him. I arranged with Mr. Ledie that as much comfort should be given him as is compatible with his state as prisoner. 'Tis all that can be done."