Before the campaign opened, Mr. Meredith had been loud and frequent in complaints over his lack of stock and labour with which to cultivate his farm. Had he been better situated, however, it is probable that his groans would have been multiplied fivefold, for he would have seen whatever he did rendered useless by this march and counter-march of belligerents. Thrice the tide of war rolled over Greenwood; and though there was not so much as a skirmish within hearing of the homestead, the effects were almost as serious to him and to his tenantry. When the British finally evacuated the Jerseys, scarce a fence was to be found standing in Middlesex County, having in the two months’ manoeuvring been taken for camp-fires, and the frames of many an outbuilding had been used for similar purposes.
The depleted larders of Greenwood, together with the small prospect of replenishing them from his own farm, drove the squire to the necessity of pressing his tenants for the half. yearly rentals. Whatever his needs, the attempt to collect them was thoroughly unwise; Mr. Meredith, as a fact, being in better fortune than many of his tenants, for they had seen their young crops ridden over, or used as pasture, by the cavalry of both sides, and were therefore not merely without means of paying rent, but were faced by actual want for their own families. The surliness or threats with which the squire’s demands were met should have proven to him their impolicy; but if to the simple-minded landlord a debt was a debt and only a debt, he was quickly to learn that there are various ways of payment. No sooner had the Continental army followed Howe across the Raritan, and thus left the country-side to the government, or lack of government, of its own people, than the tenants united in a movement designed to secure what might legally be termed a stay of proceedings, and which possessed the unlegal advantage of being at once speedy and effective.
One night in July the deep sleep of the master of Greenwood was interrupted by a heavy hand being laid on his shoulder, and ere he could blink himself into effective eyesight, he was none too politely informed by the spokesman of four masked men who had intruded into his conjugal chamber, that he was wanted below. While still dazed, the squire was pulled, rather than helped, out of bed, and Mrs. Meredith, who tried to help him resist, was knocked senseless on the floor. Down the stairs and out of the house he was dragged, his progress being encouraged by such cheering remarks as, “We’ll teach you what Toryism comes ter.” “Where ’s them tools of old George you’ve been a-feeding, now?” “Want your rents, do you? Well, pay day’s come.”