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American History Stories, Volume II by  Mara L. Pratt

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PAUL REVERE'S RIDE


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PAUL REVERE'S RIDE

[41]

Listen, my children, and you shall hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.

On the eighteenth of April in 'Seventy-five;

Hardly a man is now alive

Who remembers that famous day and year.


He said to his friend, "If the British march

By land or sea from the town to-night,

Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch

Of the North Church tower as a signal light,

One if by land, and two if by sea,

And I on the opposite shore will be

Ready to ride and spread the alarm

Through every Middlesex village and farm,

For the country-folk to be up and to arm."


Then he said "Goodnight!" and with muffled oar

Silently rowed to the Charlestwon shore,

Just as the moon rose over the bay,

Where swinging wide at her moorings lay

The Somerset, British man-of-war;

A phantom ship, with each mast and spar

Across the moon like a prison bar,

And a huge black hulk that was magnified

By its own reflection in the tide.


Meanwhile, his friend, through alley and street,

Wanders and watches with eager ears,

Till in the silence around him he hears

The muster of men at the barrack door,

The sounds of arms, and the tramp of feet,

[42]

And the measured tread of the grenadiers

Marching down to their boats on the shore.


Then he climbed to the tower of the Church,

Up the wooden stairs with stealthy tread,

To the belfry chamber overhead,

And startled the pigeons from their porch.

On the somber rafters, that round him made

Masses and moving shapesof shade,—

Up the light ladder, slender and tall,

To the highest window in the wall,

Where he paused to listen and look down

A moment on the roofs of the town,

And the moonlight flowing over all.



Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,

Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride

On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere

Now he patted his horse's side,

Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,

Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,

And turned and tightened his saddle girth;

But mostly he watched with eager search

The belfry-tower of the Old North Church

As it rose above the graves on the hill,

Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.


And lo! as he looks, on the belfry's height

A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!

He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns

But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight

A second lamp in the belfry burns!


[43]

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,

A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,

And beneath from the pebbles, in passing, a spark

Struck out by a steed that flies fearless and fleet:

That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,

The fate of a nation was riding that night;



It was twelve by the village clock

When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.

He heard the crowing of the cock,

And the barking of the farmer's dog,

And felt the damp of the river fog,

That rises after the sun goes down.


It was one by the village clock,

When he rode into Lexington.

He saw the gilded weathercock

Swim in the moonlight as he passed,

And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare,

Gaze at him with a spectral glare,

As if they already stood aghast

At the bloody work they would look upon.


It was two by the village clock,

When he came to the bridge in Concord town.

He heard the bleating of the flock,

And the twitter of the birds among the trees,

And felt the breath of the morning breeze

Blowing over the meadows brown.



So through the night rode Paul Revere;

And so through the night went his cry of alarm

To every Middlsex village and farm,—

A cry of defiance and not of fear,


[44]

A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,

And a word that shall echo forevermore!

For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,

Through all our history, to the last,

In the hour of darkness and peril and need,

The people will waken and listen to hear

The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,

And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

In the little town of Lexington, a hundred brave minute-men awaited the coming of the British army. Of course there was no hope that a hundred farmer-soldiers could drive back the large army, but they were ready to do what they could.


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Up came the red-coats with Major Pitcairn at their head. "Disperse, ye rebels," cried the major; "disperse! throw down your arms and disperse!" But the brave minute-men stood their ground. They neither threw down their arms nor did they disperse. Then one of the British officers, angry that they [45] should dare defy him, discharged his pistol into the little band.

Now the minute-men, who had been told not to fire until they were fired upon, promptly returned fire, wounding three of the British soldiers. This was answered by a fierce volley from the British, and when the army passed on, they left eight brave farmer-soldiers dead upon the green.

Then, on the troops marched straight to Concord, their band playing Yankee Doodle — a song which had been composed by them to deride the colonists.

"Play Yankee Doodle, you old lobster backs," cried some boys from behind a fence; "but look out, Lord Percy, that you don't play 'Chevy Chase' when you come back."

Now, as it happens that "Chevy Chase," was an old song of a battle in which this very Lord Percy's ancestors had figured, and had been defeated, you can imagine the young officer didn't enjoy the boy's joke very well; especially when some of his fellow-officers, who could appreciate a good joke even if they couldn't appreciate the courage of the colonists, joined in the laugh against him.

On reaching Concord, the troops took possession of the ammunition, rolled a hundred barrels of flour into the river, and started on, intending to cross the bridge at Concord. But there they found the brave minute-men mustered on the bridge, a hundred and fifty strong.


[Illustration]

CONCORD BRIDGETHE SCENE OF THE FIGHT

[47] Immediately the command to fire was given, and two of the minute-men fell dead. Now there blazed back a volley from the little band, which compelled the British troops to fall back. From that moment the colonists had the best of the British troops.

Another volley, and away went the red-coats in full retreat back towards Lexington, the minute-inen in full pursuit. On, on, the red-coats ran, while from every house and barn, from behind every fence and bush, rang the quick snap of muskets, shooting down the red-coats at every step. On, on, they ran, panting for breath (their tongues, so an English historian says, hanging out of their mouths), until they came into Lexington again.

Here they were met by Lord Percy's troops. These troops formed a hollow square about them ; and they, breathless and exhausted, sank upon the ground, too breathless even to tell what had happened. Lord Percy's troops thus closed about them, and led them, when they had gained strength enough to march again, back to Boston. But all the way they were pursued and shot at on all sides by the colonists concealed by the roadside, until they were glad indeed, at sunset, to get back under the protection of the guns of the British man-of-war.

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