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We hired team and wagon of the innkeeper, and a man to paddle up-river and return with the horses.
I had a brief talk with our tall prisoner while they were making ready.
"A word of business, your Lordship," I said as he came out, yawning, with the guard.
"Ah, well," said he, with a shiver, "I hope it is not so cold as the air."
"It is hopeful; it is cheering," was my answer.
"And the topic?"
"An exchange--for the ladies."
He thought a moment, slapping the dust off him with a glove.
"This kind of thing is hard on the trousers," he remarked carelessly. "I will consider; I think it could be arranged. Meanwhile, I give you my word of honor, you need have no worry."
We were off at daybreak with our prisoners; there were six of them in all. We put a fold of linen over the eyes of each, and roped them all together, so that they could sit or stand, as might please them, in the wagonbox.
"It's barbarity," said his Lordship, as we put on the fold. "You Yankees never knew how to treat a prisoner."
"Till you learnt us," said D'ri, quickly. "Could n't never fergit thet lesson. Ef I hed my way 'bout you, I 'd haul ye up t' th' top o' thet air dead pine over yender, 'n' let ye slide down."
"Rather too steep, I should say," said his Lordship, wearily.
"Ye wouldn't need no grease," said D'ri, with a chuckle.
We were four days going to the Harbor. My father and his men came with us, and he told us many a tale, that journey, of his adventures in the old war. We kept our promise, turning over the prisoners a little before sundown of the 16th. Each was given a great room and every possible comfort. I arranged soon for the release of all on the safe return of the ladies.
In the evening of the 17th his Lordship sent for me. He was a bit nervous, and desired a conference with the general and me. De Chaumont had been over to the headquarters that day in urgent counsel. He was weary of delay and planning an appeal to the French government. General Brown was prepared to give the matter all furtherance in his power, and sent quickly for the Englishman. They brought him over at nine o'clock. We uncovered his eyes and locked the door, and "gave him a crack at the old Madeira," as they used to say, and made him as comfortable as might be at the cheery fireside of the general.
"I've been thinking," said his Lordship. after a drink and a word of courtesy. I never saw a man of better breeding or more courage, I am free to say. "You may not agree it is possible, but, anyhow, I have been trying to think. You have been decent to me. I don't believe you are such a bad lot, after all; and while I should be sorry to have you think me tired of your hospitality, I desire to hasten our plans a little. I propose an exchange of--of--"
He hesitated, whipping the ashes off his cigar.
"Well--first of confidence," he went on. "I will take your word if you will take mine."
"In what matter?" the general inquired.
"That of the ladies and their relief," said he. "A little confidence will--will--"
"Grease the wheels of progress?" the general suggested, smiling.
"Quite so," he answered lazily. "To begin with, they are not thirty miles away, if I am correct in my judgment of this locality."
There was a moment of silence.
"My dear sir," he went on presently, "this ground is quite familiar to me. I slept in this very chamber long ago. But that is not here nor there. Day after to-morrow, a little before midnight, the ladies will be riding on the shore pike. You could meet them and bring them out to a schooner, I suppose--if--"
He stopped again, puffing thoughtfully.
"If we could agree," he went on. "Now this would be my view of it: You let me send a messenger for the ladies. You would have to take them by force somehow; but, you know, I could make it easy--arrange the time and place, no house near, no soldiers, no resistence but that of the driver, who should not share our confidence--no danger. You take them to the boats and bring them over; but, first--"
He paused again, looking at the smokerings above his head in a dreamy manner.
"'First,'" my chief repeated.
"Well," said he, leaning toward him with a little gesture, "to me the word of a gentleman is sacred. I know you are both gentlemen. I ask for your word of honor."
"To what effect?" the general queried.
"That you will put us safely on British soil within a day after the ladies have arrived," said he.
"It is irregular and a matter of some difficulty," said the general. "Whom would you send with such a message?"
"Well, I should say some Frenchwoman could do it. There must be one here who is clever enough."
"I know the very one," said I, with enthusiasm. "She is as smart and cunning as they make them."
"Very well," said the general; "that is but one step. Who is to capture them and take the risk of their own heads?"
"D'ri and I could do it alone," was my confident answer.
"Ah, well," said his Lordship, as he rose languidly and stood with his back to the fire, "I shall send them where the coast is clear--my word for that. Hang me if I fail to protect them."
"I do not wish to question your honor," said the general, "or violate in any way this atmosphere of fine courtesy; but, sir, I do not know you."
"Permit me to introduce myself," said the Englishman, as he ripped his coat-lining and drew out a folded sheet of purple parchment.
"I am Lord Ronley, fifth Earl of Pickford, and, cousin of his Most Excellent Majesty the King of England; there is the proof."
He tossed the parchment to the table carelessly, resuming his chair.
"Forgive me," said he, as the general took it. "I have little taste for such theatricals. Necessity is my only excuse."
"It is enough," said the other. "I am glad to know you. I hope sometime we shall stop fighting each other--we of the same race and blood. It is unnatural."
"Give me your hand," said the Englishman, with heartier feeling than I had seen him show, as he advanced. "Amen! I say to you."
"Will you write your message? Here are ink and paper," said the general.
His Lordship sat down at the table and hurriedly wrote these letters:--
"PRESCOTT, ONTARIO, November 17, 1813.
"To SIR CHARLES GRAVLEIGH, The Weirs, above Landsmere, Wrentham, Frontenac County, Canada.
"MY DEAR GRAVLEIGH: Will you see that the baroness and her two wards, the Misses de Lambert, are conveyed by my coach, on the evening of the 18th inst, to that certain point on the shore pike between Amsbury and Lakeside known as Burnt Ridge, there to wait back in the timber for my messenger? Tell them they are to be returned to their home, and give them my very best wishes. Lamson will drive, and let the bearer ride with the others.
"Very truly yours,
To whom it may concern.
"Mme. St. Jovite, the bearer, is on her way to my house at Wrentham, Frontenac County, second concession, with a despatch of urgent character. I shall be greatly favored by all who give her furtherance in this journey.
"Colonel of King's Guard."
For fear of a cipher, the general gave tantamount terms for each letter, and his Lordship rewrote them.
"I thought the name St. Jovite would be as good as any," he remarked.
The rendezvous was carefully mapped. The guard came, and his Lordship rose languidly.
"One thing more," said he. "Let the men go over without arms--if--if you will be so good."
"I shall consider that," said the general.
"And when shall the messenger start?"
"Within the hour, if possible," my chief answered.
As they went away, the general sat down with me for a moment, to discuss the matter.
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