“Living jingo, but things is on the bounce,” cried the landlord, excitedly. “Here ’s news come that the British fleet of mor’n a hundred sail is arrived inside o’ Sandy Hook, an’ all the Jersey militia hez been ordered out, an’ here ’s a whole regiment o’ Pennsylvania ’Sociators on theer way tew Amboy tew help us fight ’em, an’ more comin’; an’ as if everythin’ was tew happen all tew once, here ‘s Congress gone an’ took John Bull by the horns in real arnest.” The cupbearer-to-man thrust a broadside, which he pulled from his pocket, into the squire’s hand, and hastened away cellar-ward.
The squire unrumpled the sheet, which was headed in bold-faced type:—
Congress, July 4, 1776,
A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States
of America in General Congress assembled.
Ere he had more than seen the words, he was interrupted by Joe, who, glass in hand, left the bench and came to the rider, where, in a low voice, he said:—
“You see, squire, the independents has outsharped the other party, and got the thing passed before Howe got here. It was a durned smart trick, and don’t leave either side nothing but to fight. I guess ’t won’t be long before you’ll be sorry enough you did n’t take up with my offer.”
Mr. Meredith, who had divided his attention between what his interlocutor was saying and the sentence, “When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,” concluded that human events could wait, and ceasing to read, he gave his attention to the speaker.
“If ye think to frighten or grieve me, ye are mightily out,” he trumpeted loudly. “Hitherto Britain has dealt gently with ye, but now ye’ll feel the full force of her wrath. A six weeks will serve to bring the whole pack of ye to your knees, whining for pardon.”
The prediction was greeted with a chorus of gibes and protests, and on the instant the squire was the centre of a struggling mass of militiamen and villagers, who roughly pulled him from his horse. But before they could do more, the colonel of the troops and the parson interfered, loudly commanding the mob to desist from all violence; and with ill grace and with muttered threats and angry noddings of heads, the crowd, one by one, went back to their glasses. That the interference was none too prompt was shown by the condition of the squire, for his hat, peruke, and ruffles were all lying on the ground in tatters, his coat was ripped down the back, and one sleeve hung by a mere shred.
“You do wrong to anger the people unnecessarily, sir,” said Mr. McClave, sternly. “Dost court ducking or other violence? Common prudence should teach you to be wiser.”
The squire hastily climbed into the saddle. From that vantage point he replied, “Ye need not think Lambert Meredith is to be frightened into dumbness. But there are some who will talk smaller ere long.” Then, acting more prudently than he spoke, he shook his reins and started Joggles homeward.