[Illustration: George Washington (In color)]
The reunion of the Merediths was so joyful a one that little thought was taken of the course of public events. Nor were they now in a position easily to learn of them. Philemon and his troop had hastened to rejoin at the first news of the British reverses, the remaining farm servants had one by one taken advantage of the anarchy of the last eight months secretly to desert, or boldly enlist, the squire’s gout prevented his going abroad, and the quiet was too great a boon to both Mrs. Meredith and Janice to make them wish for anything but its continuance.
If there was peace at Greenwood, it was more than could be said for the rest of the land. The Continental success at Princeton, small though it was in degree, worked as a leaven, and excited a ferment throughout the State. Every Whig whom the British successes had for a moment made faint-hearted, every farmer whose crops or stock had been seized, every householder on whom troops had been quartered, even Joe Bagby and the Invincibles took guns from their hiding-places and, forming themselves into parties, joined Washington’s army in the Jersey hills about Morristown, or, acting on their own account, boldly engaged the British detachments and stragglers wherever they were encountered. Withdrawn as the Merediths might be, the principal achievements were too important not to finally reach them, and by infinite filtration they heard of how the Waldeckers had been attacked at Springfield and put to flight, how the British had abandoned Hackensack and Newark without waiting for the assaults, and how at Elizabethtown they had been surprised and captured. Less than a month from the time that the royal army had practically held the Jerseys, it was reduced to the mere possession of Brunswick, Amboy, and Paulus Hook, and every picket or foraging party sent out from these points was almost certain of a skirmish.
It was this state of semi-blockade which gave the Merediths their next taste of war’s alarums. Late in February a company of foot and a half troop of horse, with a few waggons, made their appearance on the river road, and halted opposite the gate of Greenwood. Painful as was the squire’s foot, this sight was sufficient to make him bear the agony of putting it to the ground, and bring him limping to the door.
“How now! For what are ye come?” he shouted at a detachment which was already filing through the gate.
At the call, two officers who had been seemingly engaged in a discussion, rode toward the porch, and the moment they were within speaking distance one of them began an explanation.