Farewells were promptly made, and, under the escort of Major Gibbs, they set out for the river. Once in the boat, Janice launched into an ecstatic eulogium on the commander-in-chief.
“Ay,” assented Mr. Meredith; “the general ’s a fine man in bad company. ’T is a mortal shame to think he’s like to come to the gallows.”
“Yes. They put a bold face on ’t, but after yesterday’s defeat they can’t hold the island another week; and when they lose it the rebellion is split, and that ’s an end to ’t. ’T will be all over in a month, mark me.”
Janice pulled a very serious face for a moment, and then asked: “Didst notice Colonel Brereton, dadda?”
“Ay. And a polite man he is. He not merely had us released, but I have in my pocket a protection from the general he got for me.”
“Didst not recognise him?”
“Recognise? Who? What?”
“Oh, nothing,” replied Janice.
The departure of the Merediths for headquarters under arrest had set Brunswick agog, and all sorts of surmises as to their probable guilt and fate had given the gossips much to talk of; their return, three days later, not merely unpunished, but with a protection from the commander-in-chief, set the village clacks still more industriously at work.
Events were moving so rapidly, however, that local affairs were quickly submerged. News of Washington’s abandonment of the island of New York and retreat into Westchester, pursued by Howe’s army, of the capture of Fort Washington and its garrison, of the evacuation of Fort Lee, of the steady dwindling of the Continental Army by the expiration of the terms of enlistment, and still more by wholesale desertions, reached the little community in various forms. But interesting though all this was for discussion at the tavern of an evening, or to fill in the vacant hour between the double service on a Sunday, it was still too distant to seem quite real, and so the stay-at-home farmers peacefully completed the getting in of their harvests, while the housewives baked and spun as of yore, both conscious of the conflict more through the gaps in the village society, caused by the absences of their more belligerently inclined neighbours, than from the actual clash of war.
The absent ones, it is needless to say, were the doughty warriors of the “Invincibles,” who had been called into service along with the rest of the New Jersey militia when Howe’s fleet had anchored in the bay of New York three months before, and who had since formed part of the troops defending the towns of Amboy and Elizabethport, but a few miles away, from the possible descent of the British forces lying on Staten Island. This arrangement not only spared them from all active service, thus saving the parents and wives of Brunswick from serious anxiety, but also permitted frequent home visits, with or without furlough, thus supplying the town with its chief means of news.