“I’ll leave my sermon even as it is,” said the presbyter, “and it being hot here, let us into the meeting-house yard, where we’ll get what breeze comes up the river. Eager I am to learn of what the army is about.”
Once they were seated among the gravestones, the colonel said “I need not tell you that five times in the last two months the continental post-riders have been waylaid ’twixt Brunswick and Princeton by scoundrels in the pay of the British. Only once, fortunately, was there information of the slightest importance, but ’t is something that must be stopped; and General Washington, knowing of my familiarity with this neighbourhood, directed me to discover and bring the wretches to punishment. Because I can trust you, I come to ask if you have any information or even inkling that can be of service?”
“Surely, man, you do not suspect any one in my parish?” replied the clergyman.
Brereton smiled slightly. “There is little doubt that the secret Tories of Monmouth County are concerned; but there is some confederate in Brunswick, who, whether he takes an active share, supplies them with information concerning the routes, days, and hours of the posts. I see, however, you have no light to shed on the matter.”
“’T is all news to me,” answered the minister, shaking his head. “I knew that there was some illicit trading with New York, but that we had real traitors amongst us I never dreamed.”
“Trap them I will, before many weeks,” asserted the officer. “If in no other way, I’ll—”
The sentence was interrupted by the clang of the church bell above them.
“Bless me!” cried McClave, springing to his feet. “Your call has made me forget the auction, which, as justice of the peace, I must attend.”
“For the sale of Greenwood under the statute.”
The officer frowned. “I feared it when I read of the passing of a general act of forfeiture and escheatage,” he muttered, “though I still hoped ’t would not extend to them.”
[Illustration: “Have I won?”]
Together the two men crossed the green to the town hall, where now a crowd, consisting of almost every inhabitant of the village and of the outlying farms, was assembled. The officer, a scowl on his face, paused in the doorway and glanced about, then threaded his way to where two negresses stood weeping, and began talking to them. Meanwhile, the clergyman, pushing on through the throng, joined Esquire Hennion and Bagby, who for some reason were suspiciously eying each other on the platform.
“I intend to bid on the property, McClave,” announced the Honourable Joseph, “so ’t is best that the squire takes charge of the sale.”
“Thet ‘ere is jes what I’m a-calkerlatin’ ter do, likewise,” responded Hennion, with an ugly glance at Joe, “so I guess yer’ll hev ter assoom the runnin’ of the perseedins yerself, paason.”