“’T is the very thing I’d have for ye, Jan,” exclaimed the squire.
“Oh, dadda, I’ll not leave you.”
“That ye shall, for I’ll be busy with this scheme of Bagby’s, and the tavern is no place for ye, child, let alone what ye’ll be forever dwelling on if ye have no distraction.”
“An’ his Excellency,” said the messenger, “done tell me to say dat he done holds you’ parole ob honour, an’ dat, if you doan’ come back with me in de coach, he done send de provost gyard to fotch youse under arrest. What ’s mo, Miss, dat big villin, Blueskin, will be powerful joyed to see youse again.”
On a night of the most intense darkness a strange-looking craft was stealing slowly up the Raritan, quite as much helped in its progress by the flood-tide as by the silent stroke of the oars, about which were wound cloths where they rubbed against the thole-pins. The rowers knelt on the bottom of the boat, so that nothing but their heads projected above the gunwale, which set low in the water, and to which were tied branches of trees, concealing it so completely that at ten feet distance on any ordinarily clear night it would have been difficult to know that it was not a drifting limb.
Lying at full length in the bottom of the boat were two men, one of whom from time to time moved impatiently.
“Will we never get there?” he finally whispered.
“Slow work it is,” replied the other, in the lowest of voices, “but it has to be done careful.”
“I understood you the river was open once more.”
“Ay. We had word the regiments had been withdrawn, to go north with the main army; but this is only the second night the boats have ventured in, and cautious we’ve always had to be.”
The note of a crow came floating over the water, and at the sound the last speaker raised himself on his elbow and deliberately began counting in a low voice. As he spoke the number “ten,” once again came the discordant “caw, caw,” and instantly the counter opened his mouth and sent forth an admirable imitation of the cry of a screech-owl. Counting once again to ten, he repeated the shriek, then listened.
In a moment the first splash of oars reached them.
“This way,” softly called the man, and put out his hand to prevent a small boat colliding with the larger one.
“Thought I heard a bird just now,” remarked the solitary occupant.
“If you did, ’t was a king bird.”
“I have n’t much to-night,” announced the new arrival, as he handed a small packet into the boat. “It contains a paper from No. 2, giving the decisions of the last council of war, and the line of march they have adopted for next week.”
The one in the larger boat pulled up a cleverly fitted board in the bottom of the boat, and taking out a letter, slipped the just received parcel into the cavity and dropped the plank back into place. “There’s a letter for you,” he said, passing it to the new-comer. Without another word the stranger shoved off and in a moment was lost in the darkness.