The pretty, peaceful Jersey farm-land slopes gently
up from the Delaware River to the little hill which
Princeton crowns. It is uneventful country. The railway
does not cross it, nor any of the great motor trunk
roads. On the river itself there is no town of considerable
size, though on the map you read the quaint name of
Washington Crossing for a little hamlet of a few houses.
This will remind you of the great days when on these
sleepy fields great history was made. But the fields have
lain quiet in the sun now for more than a century, and
even the legends of Revolutionary days are for the most
part forgotten along these country roads.
As for modern legends, the very phrase seems proof of
their impossibility. And in spite of her spacious and resounding
past, New Jersey’s name now seems to mean
incorporations and mosquitoes and sea-bathing and popcorn-crisp
rather than either legend or romance. But
with the coming of the Great War strange things are
stirring in the world, and in the farthest corners of the
land the earth is shaken by the tramp of new armies. In
the skies by day and night there is a sign. And the things
one does not believe can happen may be happening, even
in New Jersey.
The small events on the Burridge Road which are here
set down cannot even be authenticated. There are people
down by the river who say they saw a single horseman
go through the village at dusk, but not one seems to know
which way he came. There is no ferry at Washington
Crossing and the bridge at Lambertville had, since three
that afternoon, been closed for repairs. What facts are
set down here—and indeed they are scarcely facts—were
acquired because a chauffeur missed the road and a
motor then broke down. What story there is—and indeed
there is perhaps not much story—has been pieced
together from fragments collected that afternoon and
evening. And if the chronicle as now written is vague, it
can be urged that, though it all happened so recently as
last year, it is already as indeterminate and misty as a
We may, however, begin with undisputed facts.
When her grandson enlisted for the war old Mrs. Buchan
became very genuinely dependent on the little farm that
surrounded the lovely old Colonial house on the Burridge
Road. (Meadows, and horses, and hay and the quality
and price of it, have much to do with our story—as, indeed,
befits a rural chronicle.) The farm had been larger
once, and the hospitality which the old house could dispense
more lavish. Indeed, the chief anecdote in its history
had been the stopping there once of Washington,
to dine and rest on his way to join the army in New
York. Old Mrs. Buchan, who, for all her gentleness, was
incurably proud, laid special stress on the fact that on
that night the great man had not been at an inn—which
was in the twentieth century to cheapen his memory by a
sign-board appeal to automobile parties—but at a gentleman’s
house. A gentleman’s house it still was; somehow
the Buchans had always managed to live like gentlemen.
But if George, the gay, agreeable last one of them, could
also live that way, it was because his grandmother practised
rigid heart-breaking economy. The stories of her
shifts and expedients were almost fables of the countryside.
When George came home—he had a small position
in a New York broker’s office—there was gaiety
and plenty. He might well have been deceived into
thinking that the little he sent home from New York was
ample for her needs. But when he went back his grandmother
lived on nothing, or less than that. She dressed
for dinner, so they said, in black silk and old lace, had
the table laid with Lowestoft china and the Buchan silver,
and ate a dish of corn-meal mush, or something cheaper
if that could be found!
George Buchan’s enlistment—it was in the aviation
service—had been early. And very early he was ordered
to France to finish his training there. Two days before
he expected his ship to sail the boy got a few hours’ furlough
and came to the Burridge Road to say good-by to
What was said we must imagine. He was all the old
lady had left in the world. But no one ever doubted that
she had kissed him and told him to go, and to hold his
head high as suited an American and a Buchan. Georgie
would perhaps have had no very famous career in Wall
Street, but no one doubted that he would make a good
soldier. There had always been a Buchan in the armies
of the Republic, his grandmother must have reminded
him. And very likely Georgie, kissing her, had reminded
her that there had always been a Buchan woman at home
to wish the men God speed as they marched away, and
told her too to hold her old head high.
There must have been some talk about the money that
there wouldn’t be now; without his little weekly check
she was indeed almost penniless. It is quite likely that
they spoke of selling the house and decided against it.
Part of the boy’s pay was of course to come to his grandmother,
but, as she explained, there were so many war
charities needing that, and then the wool for her knitting— She
must manage mostly with the farm. There
was always the vegetable-garden, and a few chickens,
and the green meadow, which might be expected to yield
a record crop of hay.
We may imagine that the two—old lady and boy—stepped
out for a moment into the moonlit night to look
at the poor little domain of Buchan that was left. Under
the little breeze that drifted up from the Delaware the
grass bent in long waves like those of the summer seas
that Georgie was to cross to France. As the Buchans
looked at it they might have felt some wonder at the
century-old fertility of the soil. Back in the days of the
Revolution Washington’s horse had pastured there one
night. Then, and in 1812, and during the great battle
of the States, the grass had grown green and the hay
been fragrant, and the fat Jersey earth had out of its
depths brought forth something to help the nation at war.
Such a field as that by the old white house can scarcely
be thought of as a wild, primeval thing; it has lived too
long under the hand of man. This was a Buchan field,
George’s meadow, and by moonlight it seemed to wave
good-by to him.
“You aren’t dependent on me now, dear,” he may
have said, with his arm around his grandmother. “I
just leave you to our little garden patch and our chickens
and the green meadow.”
“You mustn’t worry, dear. They’ll take care of me,”
she must have answered.
So George went away; and the night after, the night
before he sailed, the horseman and his company came.
It was at dusk, and a gossamer silvery mist had drifted
up from the Delaware. He had hitched his horse by the
gate. He was in riding-breeches and gaiters and a
rather old-fashioned riding-coat. And in the band of his
hat he had stuck a small American flag which looked
oddly enough almost like a cockade. He knocked at the
door, quite ignoring the new electric bell which George
had installed one idle Sunday morning when his grandmother
had felt he should have been at church. As
it happened, old Mrs. Buchan had been standing by
the window, watching the mist creep up and the twilight
come, thinking of Georgie so soon to be upon the
water. As the horseman knocked she, quite suddenly
and quite contrary to her usual custom, went herself to
His hat was immediately off, swept through a nobler
circle than the modern bow demands, and he spoke with
the elaboration of courtesy which suited his age; for,
though his stride was vigorous, he was no longer young.
It was a severe, careworn face of a stern, almost hard,
nobility of expression. Yet the smile when it came was
engaging, and old Mrs. Buchan, as she smiled in return,
found herself saying to herself that no Southerner, however
stern, could fail to have this graceful lighter side.
For his question had been put in the softer accents of
Virginia and of the states farther south.
“I’ve lost my way,” he began, with the very slightest,
small, gay laugh. But he was instantly serious. “It is
so many, many years since I was here.”
Mrs. Buchan pointed up the road.
“That is the way to Princeton.”
“Princeton, of course. That’s where we fought the
British and beat them. It seems strange, does it not, that
we now fight with them?”
“We must forget the Revolution now, must we not?”
This from Mrs. Buchan.
“Forget the Revolution!” he flashed back at her, almost
angrily. Then more gently: “Perhaps. If we remember
liberty!” He glanced an instant up the road to
Princeton hill and then went on. “They fought well
then, madam. As a soldier I am glad to have such good
allies. But I was forgetting. Yonder lies Princeton, and
from there there is the post-road to New York, is there
not? I must be in New York by morning.”
Mrs. Buchan was old-fashioned, but she found herself
murmuring amazedly something about railroads and
motor-cars. But he did not seem to hear her.
“Yes,” he continued, “I must be in New York by
morning. The first transport with our troops sails for
“I know,” she said, proudly. “My grandson, George
Buchan, sails for France.”
“George Buchan? There was a George Buchan
fought at Princeton, I remember.”
“There was. And another George Buchan in the War
of Eighteen-twelve. And a John in the Mexican War.
And a William in eighteen sixty-three. There was no
one in the Spanish War—my son was dead and my
grandson was too young. But now he is ready.”
“Every American is ready,” her visitor answered. “I
“You?” she broke out. And for the first time she
seemed to see that his hair was white. “Are you
“Every one who has ever fought for America is going.
There is a company of them behind me. Listen.”
Down the road there was faintly to be heard the clatter
“Some joined me in Virginia, some as we crossed the
Potomac by Arlington, where there is a house which
once belonged to a relative of mine. And there were
others, old friends, who met me as we came through
Valley Forge in Pennsylvania. You would not now know
Valley Forge,” he finished, half to himself.
The river mist had crept farther up and was a little
thicker now. The moon had risen and the mist shimmered
and shone almost as if by its own light. The world
was indeed of the very substance of a dream. The hoofbeats
on the road grew nearer, and at last, while old Mrs.
Buchan stood in a kind of amazed silence, they came into
sight, even then mere shadowy, dim, wavering figures behind
the gossamer silver veil which had drifted there
from the lovely Delaware. The horses looked lean and
weary, though perhaps this was a trick of the moonlight.
Yet they dropped their heads and began eagerly to crop
the short, dusty grass by the roadside. The moonlight
seemed to play tricks with their riders, too. For in the
fog some of them seemed to have almost grotesquely old-fashioned
clothes, though all had a sort of military cut
to them. Some few, indeed, were trim and modern. But
the greater part were, or seemed to Mrs. Buchan to be, in
shabby blue or worn gray. The chance combination of
the colors struck her. She was an old woman and she
could remember unhappy far-off days when blue and
gray had stood for the fight of brother against brother.
Into her eyes the tears came, yet she suddenly smiled
through them—a pair of quite young men lounged
toward the fence, and then stood at ease there, the blue-clad
arm of one affectionately and boyishly thrown
around the other’s gray shoulder.
“These go with you?” asked old Mrs. Buchan, still
held by her memories.
“Yes. They are of all kinds and all ages, and some
of them were not always friends. But you see—” He
smiled and pointed to the lads by the fence. “One of
them is from Virginia and the other from Ohio. Virginia
and Ohio fought once. But I only say that I can remember
that Ohio was part of Virginia once long ago.
And is not Virginia part of Ohio and Ohio part of Virginia
again now? I should be pushing on, however, not
talking. It is the horses that are tired, not the men.”
“And hungry?” suggested Mrs. Buchan.
“The horses, yes, poor beasts!” he answered. “For
the men it does not matter. Yet we must reach New
York by morning. And it is a matter of some five-and-fifty
“Rest a half-hour and let the horses graze. You can
make it by sunrise.”
Mrs. Buchan went a little way down the path. It was
lined with pink and white clove-pinks and their fragrance
was sweet in the night.
“Open the gate there to the left, men,” she called out,
and her voice rang, to her, unexpectedly strong and clear.
“Let the horses graze in my green meadow if they will.”
They gave an answering cheer from out the mist. She
saw the meadow gate swing open and the lean horses pass
through, a long, long file of them.
“But they will spoil your hay crop,” objected the
horseman. “And it should be worth a fair sum to you.”
Mrs. Buchan drew herself up. “It is of no consequence,”
He bowed again.
“But I don’t understand,” she almost pleaded, staring
again at his white hair and the little flag in his hatband
that looked so oddly like a cockade. “You say you sail
to-morrow with my boy?”
“I think you understand as well as any one.”
“Do I?” she whispered. And the night suddenly
seemed cold and she drew her little shawl of Shetland
wool more tightly about her shoulders. Yet she was not
Her guest stooped and, rising, put one of her sweet-smelling
clove-pinks in his button-hole.
“If you permit, I will carry it for your boy to France.
We are extra men, supercargo,” he went on. “We shall
cross with every boat-load of boys who sail for France—we
who fought once as they must fight now. They
said of me, only too flatteringly, that I was first in peace.
Now I must be first in war again. I must be on the first
troop-ship that goes. And I shall find friends in France.
We have always had friends in France, I imagine, since
those first days. Of course, madam, you are too young
to remember the Marquis de la Fayette.”
“Yes, I am too young,” answered old Mrs. Buchan.
And she smiled through her tears at the thought of her
“You’re a mere chit of a girl, of course,” he laughed—one
of the few times his gravity was relaxed. “Shall
I know your boy, I wonder?” Then, without waiting for
her answer, “The George Buchan who fought at the
battle of Princeton was about twenty-two, slim and
straight, with blue eyes and brown hair and an honest,
gallant way with him, and a smile that one remembered.”
“You will know my boy,” she told him. “And I
think he will know you, General.”
Even now she swears she does not quite know what
she meant by this. The magic of the June night had
for the moment made everything possible. Yet she will
not to this day say who she thinks the horseman may
have been. Only that George would know him, as she
“I want them all to know that I am there,” he had replied.
“They will know. They will remember their
country’s history even as we remember. And when the
shells scream in the French sky they will not forget the
many times America has fought for liberty. They will
not forget those early soldiers. And they will not forget
Grant and Lee and Lincoln. The American eagle,
madam, has a very shrill note. I think it can be heard
above the whistle of German shrapnel.”
He drank a glass of sherry before he went, and ate a
slice of sponge-cake. Perhaps altogether he delayed a
scant quarter of an hour. The lean horses came streaming
forth from the green meadow, a long, long file; and
while the moon and the river mist still made it a world
of wonder, the company, larger somehow than she had
thought it at first, clattered off up the Princeton road
toward New York and salt water and the ships.
The mist cleared for a moment and the great green
meadow was seen, so trampled that it seemed that a thousand
horses must have trampled it. Al Fenton, dignified
by Mrs. Buchan as “the farmer,” had now belatedly
roused and dressed himself. He stood by the old lady’s
side and dejectedly surveyed the ruin of the hay crop.
He is a sober, stupid, serious witness of what had happened.
And this is important; for when the sun rose,
and Mrs. Buchan opened her window, the breeze from
the river rippled in long green waves over a great green
meadow where the grass still pointed heavenward, untrampled,
undisturbed. The Buchan meadow could still,
as George had believed it would, take care of his grandmother.
This is the story, to be believed, or not, as you like.
They do as they like about it in Jersey. But old Mrs.
Buchan believes that with each American troop-ship there
will sail supercargo, extra men. And she believes that
with these extra men we cannot lose the fight. George,
too, writes home to her that we shall win.