An end came, however, to this period of quiet. Early in November vague rumours, growing presently to specific statements, told the villagers that their day was approaching. The British troops on Staten Island were steadily reinforced; the small boats of the line-of-battle ships and frigates were gathered opposite Amboy and Paulus Hook; large supplies of forage and cattle were massed at various points. Everything betokened an intended descent of the royal army into New Jersey; that the new-made State was to be baptised with blood.
The successive defeats of the Continental army wonderfully cooled many of the townspeople who but a few months before had vigorously applauded and saluted the glowing lines of the Declaration of Independence, when it had been read aloud to them by the Rev. Mr. McClave. One of the first evidences of this alteration of outward manner, if not of inward faith, was shown in the sudden change adopted by the community toward the household of Greenwood. When the squire had departed in custody he apparently possessed not one friend in Brunswick, but within a month of his return the villagers, the parson excepted, were making bows to him, in the growing obsequiousness of which might be inferred the growing desperation of the Continental cause. Yet another indication was the appearance of certain of the,” Invincibles,” who came straggling sheepishly into town one by one—“Just ter see how all the folks wuz”—and who, for reasons they kept more private, failed to rejoin their company after having satisfied their curiosity. Most incriminating of all, however, was the return of Bagby from the session of the Legislature then being held in Princeton, and his failure to go to Amboy to take command of his once gloried-in company.
“’T would n’t be right to take the ordering away from Zerubbabel just when there ’s a chance for fighting, after he’s done the work all summer,” was the captain’s explanation of his conduct; and though his townsmen may have suspected another motive, they were all too bent on staying at home themselves, and were too busy taking in sail on the possibility of having to go about on another tack, to question his reasons.
If the mountain would not go, Mahomet would come; and one evening late in November, while the wind whistled and the rain beat outside the “Continental Tavern,” as it was now termed, the occupants of the public room suddenly ceased from the plying of glasses and pipes, upon the hurried entrance of a man.
“The British is comin’!” he bellowed, bringing every man to his feet by the words.
“How does yer know?” demanded Squire Hennion.
“I wuz down ter the river ter see if my boat wuz tied fast enuf ter stand the blow an’ I hearn the tramp of snogers comin’ across the bridge.”
“The bridge!” shouted Bagby. “Then they must be— Swamp it! there is n’t more than time enough to run.”
Clearly he spoke truly, for even as he ended his sentence the still unclosed door was filled by armed men. A cry of terror broke from the tavern frequenters, but in another moment this was exchanged for others of relief and welcome, when man after man entered and proved himself to be none other than an invincible.