“So saying, he directed the whole of his men to enter a swamp meadow which was behind the shanty, and had been rendered hard and porous by the weather. Here he directed them to spread their blankets, and lie down with the locks of their muskets between their knees, and the muzzle protected by a wooden stopper kept for the purpose. Nick enforced this command with an explanation of its advantages: the snow being dry, and not subject to drift, would soon cover them, keeping them quite warm, and would also conceal them at their ease. The porous quality of the ground would enable them to distinguish the distant approach of the enemy, and therefore they could snatch a few moments sleep in the snow. To prevent its being fatal or injurious, he made each man, previous to lying down, drink freely of rye whiskey. Four long hours elapsed, by which time the hardy patriots were completely under the snow, being covered with nearly eight inches of it.
“The keenest eye, or acutest cunning, could not have detected in those undulating hillocks aught but the natural irregularities of swampy ground.
“At length, about two o’clock in the morning, John arrived with his devoted followers. They were right thankful for the shelter of the shanty, and McPherson swore he would report John’s generous conduct at head-quarters, and procure him a deserved reward.
“‘Wait,’ said John; ’I have not done the half that I intend to do for you.’
“Nick, whose bed was nearest the hovel, now arose, and placed himself against it, that he might be ready to act when John’s signal was given. He first, however, awoke his men, without permitting them to rise, by the summary process of slightly pricking each one with the sharp point of a bayonet.
“The tories, stowed like sheep in the little hut, soon began to drink, and, as they did so, became very valorous and boastful. McPherson, singularly communicative to John, detailed his atrocities on the route with savage exultation. He feared no assault—not he! He was strong enough to repel any handful of half-starved, skulking outlaws. If he caught any of the Cow-boys he would hang them to their own trees, and manure the soil with the blood of their women.
“John had crept to the door by degrees, and now stood with his hand upon the raised latchet. He applauded the officer’s remarks, and was willing, he said, to aid him in the deed he contemplated. He then proposed a toast, and, filling a tin-cup with liquor, said in a loud voice, ‘Hurrah for Ginral Washington, and down with the red-coats!’ The liquor was dashed in McPherson’s face, and John vanished from the hut. Nick immediately summoned his men by a repetition of the toast, and the fifty hillocks of snow were suddenly changed, as if by magic, into as many armed and furious ‘rebels.’ Before the Skinners could recover from the momentary surprise into which this curious incident had thrown them, a volley of powder and shot had been fired into their midst. Dashing like a frightened hare through the open door, McPherson beheld his assailants. His fears magnified their numbers, and, conceiving there was no hope in fight, he summoned his men to follow him in flight.