“That remains to be seen,” responded the officer.
“’T is quite of a piece that a runaway redemptioner should return with other thieves and rob his master!” fumed the owner of Greenwood.
Brereton grew red, and retorted: “I am not in command of this force, and rode out with them at some sacrifice to save you from possible violence or unnecessary discomfort. Since you choose to insult me, I will not remain. Do your duty, sergeant,” was the officer’s parting injunction as he wheeled his horse and started toward the road.
“Stick him with yer bagonet, Pelatiah,” ordered the sergeant, motioning toward the squire, who, still sitting in the doorway, very effectually blocked the way. Pelatiah, duly obedient, pricked the well-developed calf of the master of Greenwood, bringing that individual to his feet with another howl, which drew sympathetic shrieks from Mrs. Meredith and Janice.
Evidently the cries made it impossible for Colonel Brereton to hold to his intention, for he once again turned his horse and came riding back. By the time he reached the door the squire had been shoved to one side, and the men could be heard ransacking the larder and cellar none too quietly.
“Though you slight my services,” the aide explained, “I’ll bide for the present.”
Meanwhile the parties that had been detached to the other points could be seen harnessing oxen and horses to the hay cart, farm waggons, and even the big coach, and loading them from the corn-crib and barn. Presently the cortege started for the house, and here more stores of various kinds were loaded.
During the whole of this operation the squire kept busily expressing his opinions of the proceedings of the foragers, of the army to which they belonged, and of the Continental cause generally, which, but for the presence of the staff officer, would have probably led to his ducking in the horse trough, or to some other expression of the party’s displeasure.
“I see ye take good care to steal all my horses, so that I shall not be able to ride to Brunswick and report ye to the commander,” he railed, just as the last armful of hams and sides of bacon was thrown into the coach. “We heard tales of how ye robbed and plundered about York, unbeknownst to the general, and I’ve no doubt ye are thieving now without his knowledge.”
“If you want to get to Brunswick you shall have a lift,” offered the aide. “We’ll drive you there, and I’ll see to it that you have a horse to bring you back.”
“Ay. And leave my wife and daughter to be outraged by you villainous Whigs.”
Again Brereton lost his temper. “I challenge you to prove one case of our army insulting a woman,” he cried. “And hast heard of the doings of the last few days? Of the conduct of British soldiers to the women of Hackensack and Elizabethtown, or of the brutality of the Hessians at Rahway? At this very moment Mr. Collins is printing for us broadsides of the affidavits of the poor miserable victims, in the hopes that we can rouse the country by them.”