“I was just a-tellin’ Captain Plunkett that we’d done a mighty bad stroke this mornin’, but that this ’ud be a worse one, for—”
“Why, it ’s Phil!” cheerfully exclaimed Mr. Meredith. “Welcome, lad, and all the more that I feared ’t was another call the thieving Whigs were about to pay my cribs and barn. Where have ye been, lad? But, rather, in with ye and your friend,” he said, interrupting his own question, as the other officer approached, “and tell your errand over a bottle where there’s more warmth.”
“It’s such a mighty sorry errand, squire,” replied Philemon, with evident reluctance, and reddening, “that it won’t take many words ter tell. We was sent out yestere’en toward Somerset Court-house, a-foragin’, and this mornin’ as we was returnin’, we was set upon by the rebels.”
“Devil burn it!” muttered the captain, “what do you call such mode of warfare? At Millstone Ford, where they attacked us, they scattered like sheep as we deployed for a charge. But the moment we were on the march in column, ping, ping, ping from every bit of cover, front, flank, and rear, and each bullet with a billet at that, no matter what the distance. Not till we reached Middle Brook did their stinging fire cease.”
“And ‘stead of bringin’ into Brunswick forty carts of food and forage, and a swipe of cattle,” groaned Philemon, “we has only four waggon-loads of wounded ter show for our raid.”
“With the post nigh to short commons,” went on Plunkett. “Therefore, Mr. Meredith, we are put to the necessity of taking a look at your barn and granaries.
“What!” roared the squire, incredulously, yet with a wrath in his voice that went far to show that conviction rather than disbelief was his true state of mind. “’T is impossible that British regulars will thieve like the rebels.”
Both the officers flushed, and Philemon began a faltering explanation and self-exculpation, but he was cut short by his superior saying sharply: “Tush, sir, such language will not make us deal the more gently with your cribs; so if you ’d save something, mend your speech.”
“I done my best, squire,” groaned Philemon, “ter dissuade Captain Plunkett, but General Grant’s orders was not ter come back without a train.”
“Then at least ye’ll have the grace to pay for what ye take? Ye’ll be no worse than the rebel, that I’ll lay to.”
“Ay, and so we should, could we pay in the same worthless brown paper. In truth, sir, ’t was General Howe’s and the commissary’s orders that nothing that we seize was to be paid for, so if thou hast a quarrel ’t is with those whom Mr. Hennion says are thy good friends. Here ’s a chance, therefore, to exhibit the loyalty which the lieutenant has been dinging into my ears for the last half-mile.”
“Belza burn the lot of ye!” was the squire’s prompt expression of his loyalty.
Neither protests nor curses served, however, to turn the marauders from their purpose. Once again the outbuildings and store-rooms of Greenwood were ransacked and swept clear of their goodly plenty, and once again, as if to deepen the sense of injury, the stable was made to furnish the means with which the robbery was to be completed.