They came out upon Andre and challenged him. The latter knew that he had passed the American outposts and thought that he was near the British lines. He was not familiar with the geography of the upper east shore. He knew that the so-called neutral territory was overrun by two parties—the British being called the “Lower” and the Yankees the “Upper.”
“What party do you belong to?” Andre demanded.
“The Lower,” said one of the Yankees.
It was, no doubt, a deliberate lie calculated to inspire frankness in a possible Tory. That was the moment for Andre to have produced his passports, which would have opened the road for him. Instead he committed a fatal error, the like of which it would be hard to find in all the records of human action.
“I am a British officer,” he declared. “Please take me to your post.”
They were keen-minded men who quickly surrounded him. A British officer! Why was he in the dress of a Yankee farmer? The pass could not save him now from these rough, strong handed fellows. The die was cast. They demanded the right of search. He saw his error and changed his plea.
“I am only a citizen of New York returning from family business in the country,” he said.
He drew his gold watch from his pocket—that unfailing sign of the gentleman of fortune—and looked at its dial.
“You can see I am no common fellow,” he added. “Let me go on about my business.”
They firmly insisted on their right to search him. He began to be frightened. He offered them his watch and a purse full of gold and any amount of British goods to be allowed to go on his way.
Now here is the wonder and the mystery in this remarkable proceeding. These men were seeking plunder and here was a handsome prospect. Why did they not make the most of it and be content? The “skinners” were plunderers, but first of all and above all they were patriots. The spirit brooding over the Highlands of the Hudson and the hills of New England had entered their hearts. The man who called himself John Anderson was compelled to dismount and empty his pockets and take off his boots, in one of which was the damning evidence of Arnold’s perfidy. A fortune was then within the reach of these three hard-working men of the hills, but straightway they took their prisoner and the papers, found in his boot, to the outpost commanded by Colonel Jameson.
This negotiation for the sale of the United States had met with unexpected difficulties. The “skinners” had been as hard to buy as the learned diplomat.
THE LOVERS AND SOLOMON’S LAST FIGHT