In their ragged regimentals
Stood the old Continentals,
IT was almost six o’clock on Friday evening, June 16, 1775, and the Continental troops in Cambridge, who had been ordered to provide themselves with packs and blankets and provisions for twenty-four hours, were gathering on the Common prepared to march to—some place, no one knew where.
All day long there had been drilling and drumming, orders flying and horsemen riding between Cambridge and Watertown, where the Provincial Congress was in session, and over everything hung a gritty haze.
From the high seat beside the driver of a heavy wagon, drawn up now at the edge of the Common, a boy was watching the dust rising around the feet of the soldiers as they paraded down the middle of the grass-edged streets. At every step it came up in billows like puffs of pale-brown smoke, so thick that the shadows of the foremost officers were cast across it by the low sun in long streaks, and growing so dense that the last of the companies disappeared altogether in a leathery mist which thinned gradually after they had passed.
“Once for all, Asa Pollard,” said the boy, imperiously, “will you take me with you or will you not?”
“Once for all, Tom Kettell,” said Asa Pollard, firmly, “I will not, and if you make any attempt to march with the troops you will be turned back before you reach the limits of the town.”
“Very well, then,” said the boy; “I shall go over there by myself.”
“Where?” asked the man, curiously.
“If you’ll take me, I’ll tell you.”
“You can’t tell me, because you do not know.”
“I do know. Dr. Warren came over from Watertown this morning to see Colonel Prescott; I held his horse while they talked, and heard every word. They mean to intrench—” He stopped maliciously.
“That is no news to me. I have the intrenching tools in the cart here.”
“But you do not know where they mean to intrench. There will be fighting, too.”
“So much the more reason that boys should stay at home.”
“I don’t believe it will be very killing fighting, Asa; let me come!”
“If you were only to be killed,” said Asa, unfeelingly, “it might be well enough. It would save your poor mother many an hour’s anxiety; but to hand you over to her maimed, a burden on her for the rest of your natural life—that I will not risk! Or if you are taken prisoner—”
“I shall never be taken alive!” cried Tom, lifting his head haughtily.
“Hoots! toots!” said Asa, contemptuously. “Whom have we here! Dr. Warren, or Colonel Prescott! ’Tis said they are resolved to die before they will be taken prisoner, but small fry like you and me are not even worthy to be hanged for traitors!”
“Better die in battle than be hanged on a British gallows,” said Tom.
“Faith! in the end,” said Asa, philosophically, “it seems pretty much the same thing to me.”
A long silence followed; Tom kicked his toes against the dashboard, and watched the declining sun impatiently.
“What are they waiting for?” he said, nodding in the direction of the troops who were drawn up in line upon the grass.
“They are waiting for several things,” said Asa, dryly—“for the officers to eat their suppers and wrangle over the distribution of troops, for news from reinforcements, for fresh ammunition, and for the President of Harvard College to offer a prayer.”
“Then I am going; for if they keep on in this way they will not reach Bunker Hill before morning.”
“Good-by,” said Asa, stolidly, not betraying by the quiver of a muscle or the winking of an eyelash the satisfaction he felt over this unexpected information, while Tom, climbing from the wagon, strode off, his shot-pouch and powder-horn slung over his shoulder, and his long flintlock musket resting comfortably, hunter’s fashion, in the crotch of his arm. It was so warm that he had left his coat at home, and the sleeves of his light homespun shirt came from beneath a long brown waistcoat; his short gray breeches were buttoned tightly at the knee, over thick-ribbed blue woolen stockings, and on his feet he wore heavy low shoes with large bright buckles. He struck into the dusty road leading eastward to the town of Charlestown, walking slowly. He had been running about Cambridge in the heat all the day long, and was very tired; and so it happened that, in spite of the fact that he was in no very great hurry to reach Bunker Hill, he was not sorry when a man driving a light wagon overtook him and offered him a ride.
There was a saddle-horse fastened behind; it was a handsome black animal with a heavy mane and long sweeping tail. Tom looked at it closely, and then, with a little start, turned his eyes on its master. He had scarcely noticed the man before. As he had climbed into the wagon he had fancied, from the blue smock and wide-sweeping hat, that his new acquaintance might be one of the farmers owning the broad meadows above the town of Charlestown; but now, as he looked, an expression of recognition came into his eyes. He glanced downward; the leg appearing below the coarse blue blouse was clad in a silk stocking, and the fine shoe covering the foot resting carelessly against the dashboard was ornamented with a handsome buckle.
“I held your horse for you this morning,” he said, a little shyly.
“You did!” exclaimed the stranger. A slight expression of annoyance came into his eyes, but he added quietly: “You know me, then?”
“You are the President of the Provincial Congress, Dr. Warren,” said Tom.
“Do you live in Charlestown?”
“I did live there,” said Tom, “but my mother has been shut up in Boston since the middle of April. General Gage has refused her passes, and so my aunt in Cambridge moved what she could of value to her house there, and took me with her.”
“Have you tidings of your mother? Is she in need?”
“Yes.” The answer was so short and forbidding that it took Dr. Warren by surprise; after one startled glance he made no further effort to talk, and before long seemed to have forgotten Tom’s presence altogether. Not, indeed, until they were descending the slope of ground to the left of Cobble Hill, and the Charlestown Common lay before them, did he break the silence.
“How do you come to have a permit to cross the ‘Neck’?” he asked, as if the thought had suddenly occurred to him.
For reasons of his own, Tom was startled. “It—it is another boy’s,” he stammered. “His father owns one of the big pastures on Breed’s Hill; they went in together this .morning to mow it.”
“Where?” asked Dr. Warren, abruptly.
“On the north side,” said Tom; adding, “He says there are not two hundred people in the town. I suppose the rest will leave in a body to-morrow—” He stopped; in his relief at getting away from one delicate subject he had plunged more seriously into another.
“And why ‘to-morrow’? What do you mean?” were the stern questions.
“Answer me! What do you know?”
“I only know what you said yourself when I held your horse this morning,” cried Tom, defensively. “You took no pains to speak low.”
“And whom have you told?”
“Why are you on your way to Charlestown?”
“I am not on my way to Charlestown,” said Tom. “I am going to Bunker Hill.”
“For what reason?”
“For a better reason than most of those have who are going,” said Tom, pushed to the wall. “They have kept my mother there starving in the heat for six weeks, and my little sister—my little sister, she died of it.” His voice sank to a husky whisper. “But they will find that I can shoot straight!” he added, fiercely, as he tightened his grasp on his musket.
“You do not know what you are saying,” said Dr. Warren. “Every straight shot means a man’s life, and revenge is not the spirit in which to serve your country. We shall have need of men to-morrow, not of vindictive lads.”
“I can fill a man’s place.”
“Not without the spirit and nerve of a man. You must go back.”
They were passing through the Charlestown Common, an unfenced grassy meadow on the mainland to the northwest of the town. The Cambridge road crossed it directly to the “Neck,” or isthmus which connected the mainland with the Charlestown peninsula.
“Do not send me back,” Tom pleaded. “Let me dig in the trenches, if you will not let me fight. It isn’t all revenge. You ought to know that I love my country!”
The world of reproachful admiration in that “you” touched Warren’s heart, but still he shook his head. “In the matter of to-morrow,” he said, “I have no authority. Colonel Prescott will be in command, and permission to join the troops must come from him. Still, you can do something for me, now, that, in a roundabout way, may serve a better cause.”
Tom’s face brightened.
“I have some friends in Charlestown who should leave there to-night with whatever goods they can carry with them. Take this wagon to the third house on the main street, and tell them, from me, that further delay were folly. By doing this you will save me much valuable time.”
He had descended from the wagon as he spoke, and was preparing to mount his horse. “You see that I trust you,” he said, turning to Tom with a smile. “Farewell!” He vaulted into the saddle and started off at a gallop.
“Farewell!” Tom shouted after him. “Until to-morrow!”
Wheeling his horse, Warren rode back a .few yards in Tom’s direction, commanding silence in a gesture so angry, so imperative, that the boy quaked in his shoes; then, turning again, he thundered down the road, the sparks from his horse’s hoofs flying behind him.
Without making another sound, Tom rose up in the wagon, and, waving his hat three times around his head, drove off standing; it seemed more heroic, and he felt as if he had just been knighted.
The presence of Warren had evidently been noted by the guardian of the Neck at the “Sun Tavern,” for Tom crossed and drove along the deserted streets of Charlestown unquestioned. It was quite dark by this time, and when he had delivered his message and left the wagon as directed, he took his gun and trudged up the hilly street to make a tour of inspection about his mother’s properly. Satisfied as to the safety of what remained in the house, he locked the door and went towards the barn.
It had been the scene of many a boyish romp; it had been an arsenal, a fortress, and the general storage-place for a little company of Charlestown lads who, under Tom’s command, spent their leisure-time in playing at being soldiers.
There was an old Massachusetts marine flag and a pot of dark-blue paint among the treasures he had there. He had kept them for a long time; the paint was very thick and the flag was in tatters, but the possession of them had implied great possibilities, and he fancied that the hour had come when they might be made useful.
“I am not going to leave these for the British!” he said to himself, and, picking them up, began to climb the hill through the narrow orchard at the back of the house. Beyond the orchard was a broad, sloping meadow where the grass was still uncut; he toiled through it with difficulty, and, after a sharp run up a steep bank, reached the top of what was then called Breed’s Hill. Crossing a level space, he put down his heavy musket, and, bestowing his flag and his paint-pot carefully under the gnarled root of an old apple-tree, flung himself panting on the ground. But for another tree at a distance of some ten or fifteen feet, the top of the hill was bare, and from where Tom was lying it sloped again rapidly northward to the marshy banks of the Mystic River. The grass in the fields on this side had been cut and stacked. To the east, beyond the low mound of Moulton’s Point at the end of the peninsula, he could see the lights of a British man-of-war in Boston Harbor. To the northwest, Bunker Hill rose softly rounding against the sky, and both it and Breed’s Hill were divided by fences of stone or rail into great irregular pastures. One of these fences ran down Breed’s Hill, from a little back of where Tom was lying, straight to the Mystic River. When he had sufficiently rested, Tom went and examined it, making up his mind to hide there if Asa were to drive him from the intrenchments which he expected would be made at Bunker Hill. Gathering three or four great armfuls of hay from the neighboring fields, he prepared himself a bed in the fence-corner, and then, taking his musket, he strolled back over the broad turnpike which led across Bunker Hill.
Once at the top, Tom threw himself again in the long grass to wait. In the clear starlight the Cambridge road glimmered, a pale gray line, on the other side of the mill-pond at the foot of the hill. The whole country was silent but for the croak of the frogs in the marshes below, and Tom could almost hear the lapping of the returning tide. He clasped his hands behind his head, and, lying on his back, looked up at the large bright summer stars; about him the grasses whispered faintly in the soft breezes that came in little puffs from the sea. He was reviewing the events of the day, and his dreams were full of Warren. Ever since, in the early morning, Tom had heard him say that in case of hard fighting he meant to join the troops, the boy had determined to be at his side. Since the fifth of the previous March, Warren had occupied Tom’s imagination to the exclusion of all other heroes, ancient and modern. He had seen the young man fearlessly enter the Old South Church, by the window behind the platform, and there, through his eloquence and personal courage, silence the crowd of British officers and men who had come, with threats of hanging the orator, purposely to create a disturbance. He had gazed after him entranced as he swept by on his beautiful black horse, incessantly active in public affairs; and as he thought of the morrow his mind was full of deeds of valor, wherein, at a sacrifice of his own life, he would save that of his chief and merit the everlasting gratitude of his country.
A clock in a house near the foot of the hill began to strike; he sat up to count the strokes. “Seven—eight—nine—ten!” he said aloud; but what was that continuing—Thud, thud, in the distance? For a moment he thought it was another clock; but down on the opposite side of the pond two tiny glows of light appeared, steadily advancing. In front of them the gray streaks of road still lay dim in the starlight; behind them it was gone.
“It is the troops from Cambridge,” Tom murmured.
As the lights approached, they broadened out into two long backward-streaming rays. “They have closed the slides of the dark-lantern in front,” said Tom to himself, after he had watched awhile the metallic gleams thrown from the sword-hilts and gun-barrels of the dark mass of men that stretched almost back to Cobble Hill. There were about twelve hundred of them, but save the muffled thud of feet not a sound came upward; there were no murmur of voices, no sharp tones of command; and although Tom knew who they were, knew them almost man by man, even down to the two grizzled sergeants who carried the dark-lanterns at the head of the-troops, he shuddered with a sense of mystery and foreboding. “They are like a regiment of statues,” he thought, “and to-morrow they may be all dead men!” On the Charlestown Common they halted, and one or two heavy carts rumbled up behind them. “There comes Asa and the rest with the intrenching tools. They are going to give them out.”
Part of the men gathered about the carts, and a small company of officers started up the road over the hill. Tom lay quiet in the grass and let them pass him. They were discussing hotly but with bated voices the propriety of intrenching the spot where they were then standing. “It is too far from Boston,” one of them said; “better take Breed’s Hill, further on.” “That were folly!” whispered another; “the position is too exposed.”
“No matter what is done there, the position here must be fortified; else, in case of retreat, what have we to fall back upon?” said a third.
They began to move about, taking measurements, and Tom, in fear of detection, hurried down the side of the hill out of their sight, and, coming up further along, retired to the fence-corner where he had made his bed of hay. Here he dozed and waited for the sound of picks on Breed’s Hill, but none came. Occasionally against the sky he could see a man’s figure moving in dim outline, nothing more; hours seemed to be passing. “They will quarrel over there until daybreak!” he muttered.
At last a little party of men came down the road towards Breed’s Hill. It was the same company of officers, still talking in low tones, still discussing endlessly the location of the intrenchments. Finally one of them stepped from the rest, and, with an assistant, began measuring and marking out the little plateau to which Tom had climbed on first leaving Charlestown. Another went back and returned with the greater portion of the troops. They had broken step and came down the hill at a lounging gait, their long muskets and fowling-pieces slanting across their shoulders this way and that, with little evidence of drill or discipline. Silent, grim, every man his own master, they surrounded the carts which had rolled up softly on the grass at the roadside, and, taking from them their picks and spades, set to work.
From his hiding-place in the corner Tom heard Colonel Prescott detail a small party of men to patrol the town, and, to his great delight, Asa Pollard was one of them. They started down the hill from a point very near where the boy was lying, and, by dint of creeping behind the stone fence, he managed to slip after them unobserved until they had almost reached the foot of the hill. Here Asa, who was looking restlessly from side to side, discovered him. “I thought so,” he muttered, and strode in Tom’s direction. “Go back!” he said, sternly, but in a whisper.
“You have no right to command me,” said Tom, stubbornly. “I mean to stay.”
“I am your mother’s cousin,” said Asa, “and you shall do as I tell you. Go back!”
“I shall not!” An angry discussion followed, which ended, however, in the boy’s obtaining permission to walk with the patrol until they were recalled to the intrenchments.
Entering Charlestown, they strolled along the walls and lower streets, watching the little city across the river. It seemed impossible that neither the sentries patrolling Boston, nor the watch on board the man-of-war, half-way across the Charles, should hear the sounds of labor going on at the top of Breed’s Hill; but the black water stretched out smoothly towards the colored lights at the bow and stern of the Lively, and the clear, faint “All’s well!” came over from the other side as the sentries, with glimmering lanterns, pursued their rounds in false security.
From time to time Colonel Prescott himself came down to satisfy his mind that no alarm had been given, and a little before four o’clock the patrol was recalled to the redoubt; here Asa insisted that Tom should turn his face towards Cambridge.
“I shall be challenged and sent back by the first sentry I meet,” objected Tom.
“You will not,” said Asa. “They all know you, and will be too glad to be quit of you!”
They had climbed the hill at almost the same spot that Tom had chosen the evening before, and just above the sudden steep ascent of ground the embankment of the redoubt loomed in the dim light, already nearly six feet high. Skirting the hill, they ascended the more gradual slope on the northern side; crossing, in order to gain it, a long breastwork, now not more than half completed, which extended north and south outside of and east of the redoubt. The two great apple-trees were on the north of the intrenchments, and at each one, in an embrasure, cannon were planted. Turning towards an open passage¬way, or sally-port, also on the northern side of the redoubt, Asa moved his hand in a gesture of farewell, and Tom, without responding to it, marched sullenly onward in the direction of the rail fence.
The rail fence was some distance back, and on reaching it Tom looked behind him. It was just dawn, but as yet nothing was very clear. Asa and the rest of the patrol had disappeared. Determined not to go to Cambridge if he could help it, Tom quickly climbed over the fence, and, dropping upon the hay in the corner, crouched down out of sight.
It was a soft bed, and the tired boy was soon fast asleep. A little old moon, pale and wan, was slowly fading in the delicately tinted eastern sky; and soon the round red edge of the sun came up over the islands in the shining harbor. But Tom was unconscious of the daybreak.
Suddenly the great boom of a gun seemed to fill the air to bursting, and Tom started to his feet; something from the south side of the hill came screaming overhead and fell, plowing up the ground on the northern slope below him. It was a cannon-ball from the Lively. Tom waited; another followed, and another. They had discovered the American intrenchments.
“When this stops,” thought Tom, “I’ll run for the redoubt; Asa can’t send me out in a rain of cannon-balls,” and, crouching a little, he watched the entrance. The firing seemed to be decreasing, and doing little or no damage; and the labor on the redoubt, so far as Tom could see, was almost finished. Tom was about to cross the fields when he saw Asa, spade in hand, come out of the northern passageway, and turn the angle of the fortification. “I’ll wait until I see him come back,” said Tom to himself, and, settling drowsily down in the hay once more, he fell asleep again. So soundly did he sleep that even the furious cannonading that began about three-quarters of an hour later did not awake him, and thus he missed sight of a little squad of men who sallied out from the cover of the intrenchments and hurried in again, bearing a heavy burden.
But finally something knocked the top rail from off the fence; Tom sat up and rubbed his eyes, watching the ball dully as it ricochetted down the hill, where he was surprised to see one or two soldiers dodging from haycock to haycock on the slope below; standing up, he caught sight of another skulking in the long grass at the side of the road to Bunker Hill. “They are running off,” he cried. “Hi, there!” He jumped to the top of the fence and shook his fist at them, and then remained there in overwhelming admiration.
Over on the redoubt another figure stood out clear against the morning sky. A tall, broad-shouldered old man was walking slowly around the parapet. He was dressed in full Continental uniform, buff knee-breeches, and bright blue coat with yellow facings that the sun brought out like gold; the keen steel of a little sword he held in his hand gleamed at every step. On the south side of the redoubt he stood a moment looking with careless interest at the seething little city below, removing his heavy cocked hat to enjoy the morning breeze; then, as if the whizzing balls were of no more moment than the downward dip of a flock of sooty swallows, he continued his leisurely promenade.
It was Colonel Prescott. Open-mouthed, Tom stared at him, forgetful of everything else, until, coming to that end of the parapet, the old officer stopped in astonishment. With uplifted face and rapt eyes Tom raised his fingers to his forehead in salute; the Colonel returned it gravely, as to an equal, motioning at the same time for Tom to approach.
He sprang from the fence; not for worlds would he have given way to the impulse which prompted him to race across the upward slope of the field between them. His head erect, he came slowly towards the fortification. A ball flew over; when he found that he had not dodged it as it passed, Tom felt a great joy; but his neck ached with the tension. Reaching the parapet, he halted.
“Come up!” shouted Prescott. “We have need of men here!”
With a sudden swift run Tom scaled the six feet of crumbling earth between them. “They are deserting out there, Colonel,” he cried, with a backward sweep of the hand towards Bunker Hill. “I saw three of them.”
“Come,” said Colonel Prescott, his ruddy color deepening and his eyes flashing with anger. “Come and show those cowards that even our little lads excel them in courage. Do not dodge the balls! If you want to serve your country this day, now is your opportunity!”
With Prescott’s hand resting heavily on his arm, Tom dared not wince, as they slowly made the circuit of the redoubt. Opposite Boston they came to a pause. The whole town was humming and buzzing with excitement; troops mustering, bugles blowing, armed men marching, with glimpses of red coats and flashings of burnished steel in the sunlight. People were swarming on all the roofs and church steeples. “We have disturbed a hornet’s nest,” said Colonel Prescott, “and before long they will be about our ears. You had better return to Cambridge while you may.”
Tom looked up at him apprehensively. “Must I go back?” he said, meekly.
Colonel Prescott looked undecided. “No,” he said, finally, “you may stay,” and stepped down into the redoubt.
Tom scrambled down behind him, and, seizing a spade, .set to work on the side of the embankment, leveling earthen steps, which were then covered with boards in order that the men might stand more firmly when firing. Keeping his eye open for Asa, he worked diligently, but no Asa appeared. At last hunger and heat began to tell upon him; he had depended on a share of Asa’s rations, to which, in view of this contingency, he had contributed liberally the night before.
“I should like to see Asa’s face when he finds me here,” he said to Peter Brown, the man working next him. Peter looked at him a moment curiously; he was a member of Asa’s company, and knew Tom well.
“Asa will never find you here,” he said, slowly.
“And why not?”
“Because he is dead.”
“Dead!” The ground seemed to heave up beneath Tom’s feet.
“Yes, dead; and buried too, for that matter.”
“When?” Tom tried to say, “and how?” but no sound came from his trembling lips. Brown, however, understood.
“Only a short time ago,” he answered. “It caused such a panic that old Prescott ordered him to be buried immediately. The chaplain made a fine fuss about it; he tried twice to hold a service, but the Colonel broke it up both times. The truth is, a corpse in their midst was sadly frightening the men; none of them would work anywhere near the top of the redoubt until the Colonel walked around it and took you with him. That was a good thing to do, Tom; and you are a brave lad—too brave to break down now!”
Tom sank down on the lowest grade of the earthen steps, his gun resting idly between his knees. The sun was rising higher and higher in the heavens, and the heat was beginning to be intolerable. Everywhere the soldiers lay about on the trodden grass in pitiful exhaustion. They had worked in relays during the whole night; but few of them had heeded the order to provide themselves with rations, and now neither reinforcements for the weary nor provisions for the hungry were forthcoming. Long ago the daylight had brought clearly to view the exposed position of the Continental works, and the enemy, taking advantage of the high tide, moved three or four floating batteries up the river to play upon their defenses. The work was nearly done; the men from the other intrenchments had been called in, and had thrown themselves wearily on the ground with the rest. Every one seemed to have come to the end of his strength; the officers, haggard and grimy, stood about in groups, not speaking to each other, and at a short distance from the rest Colonel Prescott and General Putnam paced in angry discussion as to the intrenchment of Bunker Hill. “I cannot spare the men,” said Prescott; “and even if I could, they would run away as soon as they found themselves in the open field. Cover them to the waist and they fight like demons; otherwise they run—the Continentals are all afraid of their legs!”
“In case of a retreat,” urged Putnam, “the intrenching of Bunker Hill is absolutely necessary.”
Tom heard no more, as they passed by him and walked to the further end of the redoubt; but finally the old General seemed in part to have gained his point, for he rode off with a quantity of intrenching tools on his horse, followed by a small detachment of men, who later on justified Colonel Prescott’s unflattering predictions. Tom mounted to the top of the embankment to see them go, but before they were out of sight he turned in the opposite direction to look towards the city. Two great men-of-war were moving up the harbor to join the ships and transports already there; slowly they came into position, and then, with a sudden roar, cannon, at every point, belched shot on the Continentals.
The guns of the Falcon and the Lively swept the low grounds in front of Breed’s Hill in order to dislodge any troops that might be posted there to oppose a landing. The Somerset and two floating batteries at the ferry, near the North of Boston, and the battery on Copp’s Hill poured shot upon the American redoubt. The Glasgow frigate and the Symmetry transport, moved further up the river, raked the Charlestown Neck to prevent the arrival of reinforcements; and, as if heralded by all the uproar of battle, there came sweeping around from the other side of the Boston peninsula a long string of barges laden with the bright-coaled British, who landed battalion after battalion near Moulton’s Point, their brilliant arms flashing in the sun and the gorgeous red of their uniforms in insolent contrast with the motley little crowd opposed to them above.
“Look at them!” Tom heard a young officer near him exclaiming angrily; “look at them! They are eating their dinners under our eyes, and we have not even a flag to bid them defiance!”
They were both crouching down behind the earthworks out of the way of the balls. Turning to the young man eagerly, Tom started to speak, but hesitated.
“Boy, what are you about here?” exclaimed the young man, severely.
“I am about to fight,” said Tom, with dignity; “but never mind that: I have a flag;” and, climbing hastily down the embankment, he made his way in and out among the soldiers until he came to the foot of the apple-tree. Putting his hand in the hollow under the root, he pulled out his flag, and with it also his paint-pot. Taking both, he returned to his place on the intrenchment, and spread out his trophies for inspection.
“It looks like a sheet with a pine-tree in the corner!” said the young officer, discontentedly. “They will take it for a flag of truce.”
Tom stared at it a moment, and then, seizing the brush from his paint-pot, hastily made great strokes on the ragged white surface. “They will never take that for surrender!” he cried, and, springing to the flag-staff, he hastened it to the tackle and ran it up.
A fitful little breeze, blowing from the west, straightened the limp folds.
There was a burst of cheers and laughter from the disheartened Continentals; for, directly in the face of all that British magnificence, flaunted in great blue letters:
COME IF YOU DARE!
The cheers for Tom’s flag had scarcely died away when they suddenly swelled again into loud acclamations as the men caught sight of a slight figure walking leisurely along the road from Bunker Hill, heedless of the sweeping balls.
“Warren! Warren!” yelled Tom. “Warren! Warren!” the men shouted after.
His coming seemed to put new courage into every heart. Entering the inclosure, he stood among the worn and dust-stained officers, dressed as for a festival. Colonel Prescott, who had drawn a long white linen garment, looking very much like a duster, and called a “banyan,” over his uniform, immediately offered him the command, but although he had that morning received the commission of Major-General, Warren refused, saying simply that he had come to fight in the ranks as a volunteer.
In the meantime Colonel Prescott had sent the artillery with two field-pieces under Captain Knowlton to the stone and rail fence where Tom had hidden earlier in the day. Throwing up a second fence in front of the first and filling in the space between with the cut grass from the fields, Knowlton made a breastwork reaching to the Mystic, seven hundred feet in length. Against it General Howe, the British commander, was then preparing to direct his right wing in person, while General Pigot directed the British left against the redoubt where Tom was stationed.
It was partly ignorance and partly pure animal courage that enabled Tom, musket in hand, to crouch down behind the high embankment and watch coolly as the British troops, loaded with their heavy knapsacks, toiled up the hill, through the long, tangling grass, on the Charlestown side of the fortification. To husband the scanty supply of Continental ammunition, Colonel Prescott had given orders that until the whites of the enemy’s eyes could be seen not a musket was to be fired, “And then aim at their waist-bands!”
On they came in careful precision, glittering in the pomp of war, magnificent in dogged, unreasoning courage, every man a tried soldier, commanded by trained and experienced officers; all that, arrayed against a little band of half-drilled militia and backwoods farmers, led by a few old soldiers, who of late years had been more familiar with acres of corn than with fields of battle.
Steadily the British mounted the hill, hampered at every step by the long, uncut grass, and keeping up a random fire as they advanced.
Silently, but in almost ungovernable excitement, the Americans waited behind their apparently deserted intrenchments,
Crack! Without a word of warning, the young lieutenant who had abetted Tom in the matter of the flag, snatched the musket from the boy’s hands, and, after firing it at the enemy, gave it back. Hastily reloading, Tom was preparing to follow his example and repeat the shot, when his gun suddenly flew up in his face, kicked up by an officer who ran around the top of the redoubt, heedless of the fire of the enemy.
“Wait until you see the whites of their eyes!” Colonel Prescott angrily remonstrated; and General Putnam, who had come down from Bunker Hill, threatened, amid a volley of oaths, to cut down the first man that disobeyed. It was horrible to wait thus with the bullets whizzing over them and the British showing nearer at every clearing of the smoke. Tom watched a tall grenadier in the front rank; he could see the gold lace on his uniform; he could see the bright buttons on his coat, and the flash of his grinding teeth as he lifted his musket to aim.
He could see the whites of his eyes! Tom felt as if he were choking.
A sheet of flame and a blare of noise burst from the dumb redoubt. The smoke cleared; they were still coming on—but the tall grenadier was not with them.
Tom raised himself on his hands and knees to the top of the redoubt, and stared in search of the stalwart figure, his eyes big with horror. “Boy, do you want to make a target of yourself?” cried Peter Brown, pulling him down. “Load, load! they will be on us in a minute.”
In a frenzy of haste Tom found himself reloading, but the choking in his throat was strangling him; his eyes grew dim, things grew black about him, and his hand trembled.
Another volley from the redoubt; the enemy went down in rows; men, live men, falling like corn-stalks before the sickle. It was horrible; and yet the survivors advanced over them, undeviating.
Another volley—the British wavered. Another—they turned and fled, leaving their dead behind them; and Tom, crying convulsively, threw himself face downward in the fresh-turned earth.
“Are you afraid?” some one touched him on the shoulder.
“No,” said Tom, shuddering; “but they are all dead out there, and I—myself—shot—” He buried his face more deeply in his hands.
“Did I not tell you that shooting straight meant something?”
Tom glanced upward; General Warren was bending over him.
“But I did not shoot straight! I fired at his arm, and I was so sure of my aim!” he groaned.
“Is this filling a man’s place?” asked Warren, severely. Get up!”
Tom staggered to his feet. “I am not afraid,” he protested; but as he spoke a strong shudder passed over him, and he turned an ashen color. Warren looked him keenly in the eyes; he returned the gaze without flinching.
“No,” said Warren, “you are not afraid, but the boy’s nerves have betrayed you. There is no going back now. You have chosen a man’s place—you must play a man’s part, and do it well!”
The firm compulsion of his voice steadied Tom; he took up his musket and returned to his post.
On every side the officers were driving the men back to their defenses; for, wild with what they imagined to be a final victory, many had leaped the intrenchments in pursuit of the British, who outnumbered the Continentals at this period of the fight about three to one.
Hot, red, wiping the grimy sweat of battle from their streaming brows, whereon the heavy hair lay wet and matted in plastered streaks, the men gathered panting in the dusty, trampled area of the redoubt, and, taking the ammunition dealt out to them, waited at their posts for what should come next.
There was no time to be lost, as the enemy were rallying for a second attack. They had brought their artillery to within nearly three hundred yards of the rail fence, and under cover of its fire were advancing on the Americans in their previous order.
From the corner where he had taken his stand, Tom saw them start.
“Look at the town!” he cried. “They have fired it in three places!” But as he spoke, the smoke dropped downward and hid the curling flames from view; it rolled up the hill in one rounding billow that seemed to reach the zenith, choking and blinding him with its arid heat, and spreading out over the sky until the diminishing sun shone through it without rays, round and angry, colored like blood.
“They will rush up the hill under cover of this, and try to take us by storm,” said Peter Brown, and a horror came down upon Tom. He could scarcely see the other side of the redoubt. All about him the men were coughing and gasping in the stifling atmosphere, and the murk surrounding them was full of death—murderous balls flying, singing a greeting as they crossed each other on their way to destroy. Tom tried to grapple the ground with his feet; he held his gun in the grip of a vise, standing as if turned to bronze. He dared not stir; he dared not even move an eyelid lest it break down his self-control and leave him a prey to overwhelming terror.
“The nerve of a man!” he groaned. “Give me the nerve of a man!”
The smoke thickened. Tom could hear Peter Brown’s quick, sharp breathing next him; it possessed a contagion of terror.
A hand stole along his arm, gently, for any sudden pressure would have finally wrecked his self-command, and Warren’s voice spoke clearly in his ear: “Stand as if the whole fate of the day depended upon you alone; one coward may give us all over to disgrace!”
“O for the nerve of a man!” prayed Tom; and then, for the first time that day, came a strong breeze, a breeze from the west, and the reek and smoke of the burning town blew away, far, far out to sea. Tom looked about for General Warren. He was in another part of the redoubt, cheering and encouraging the men.
Firing as they advanced, up the hill again the British were toiling—slipping in the warm, bloody grass, stumbling over the dead as if they had been logs of wood, while the men in the redoubt waited as before—waited until every bullet was sure of its mark before they poured their leaden hail upon the enemy.
Long lines of them fell; here officers were left standing without a man to command; there men hesitated, dismayed at the wholesale destruction of their leaders. The deadly fire of those merciless “country bumpkins,” fighting in their shirt-sleeves for their own land, began to carry with it an individuality of terror; each man felt himself the mark of a pair of keen eyes glancing with certain aim along the murderous barrel of the musket. Their confidence was broken. For the second time they broke, and fled in disorder to the shore, where, for a space, the surviving officers tried in vain to rally them.
It was towards the middle of the afternoon; all the roofs in Boston were black with people, and the hills around were covered with spectators who had been standing under the bare blue skies the livelong day, watching this one spot, rolling with smoke, shot with dull red streaks from crackling musketry, and reverberating with the hoarse roar of artillery.
The third attack was a long time coming, and gave the Americans ample leisure to look their situation in the face.
Tom, worn out, hungry, and hollow-eyed, stretched himself on the board along the highest of the tier of steps just below the top of the parapet. The powder was being distributed in another part of the inclosure, and Brown, pitying the boy’s exhaustion, had gone to get the supply for both. He had been very kind to Tom throughout the day, sharing the scanty loaf of bread which was all that remained at noon of his rations, and allowing him to drink of the meager supply of beer which came over at about two o’clock from Cambridge; but now, as he tendered him his ammunition, Tom looked in amazement at the small iron cup containing a few grains of powder and two or three bullets. “Is that all?” cried Tom. “Why, there is hardly enough for three rounds!”
“It is all there is,” said Brown. “See, I have no more myself. They tore up the last artillery cartridges to get this.”
Tom thought a moment, and then, climbing down, began to gather the stones that lay thick in the inclosure, and, bringing them up, piled them in a heap at his feet.
“What are you going to do with those stones?” asked Brown.
“Use them,” said Tom, “when my powder is out.”
“It is a good plan,” said Brown, beginning, with some others, to follow Tom’s example. Soon the stones lay in little cairns under the inner edge of the parapet, and Tom, with the rest, set to work to make up the cartridges for their guns.
“With proper reinforcements we could drive them to their ships to-day,” grumbled one of the men. “Where is the artillery?”
“What are they about in Cambridge?” growled another. “Where are the other regiments?”
“I will tell you if you wish to know,” said Brown. “A couple of men from Gardiner’s regiment came in not long ago, and I heard them report. Young Gridley has the artillery on Cobble Hill; the reinforcements are all along the line from Cambridge to the Neck; the few of them that could be driven across the enemy’s fire there are dodging behind the trees and rocks on Bunker Hill, or leaving the field in squads for every slightest excuse; there’s not a company there in any kind of order; it looks as if there were treachery somewhere.”
“Hush!” said Tom. “Here is Colonel Prescott.”
Passing around the lines, Colonel Prescott was stopping at every group of men with words of good cheer and encouragement.
“Fight your best, my men!” he cried. “Fight your best; if we drive them back again, the day is ours!” He mounted the steps, somewhat further to the left, and looked out; his keen, restless eyes swept the entire field; then, with a long breath, he turned and came down again, but with what seemed a heavier tread, and passed along the rest of the line in silence.
“I have fought with him before,” said a gray-haired private who had been peering for some time intently over the edge of the parapet. “He is too old a soldier not to know what the enemy mean by moving their artillery around there. If they go much further, they will send the balls into the sallyport. They completely rake the breastwork as it is.”
“I do not believe they mean to come up again,” said Peter Brown. “They are taking too long about it.”
“They are not only coming up again,” said the gray-haired private, “but they mean to stay when they come. They formed into columns and started some minutes ago. See, on three sides of us. It looks as if the whole force were centering on the redoubt. I fear me that this time they will swallow us up!”
“If they try it they will find us a pretty choky mouthful!” said Brown, grimly, “Tom, Colonel Prescott has ordered the men without bayonets to the back of the redoubt; you had better go now.”
“If the men without bayonets go to the back,” said Tom, “who will stay in the front?”
Brown laughed and looked around; there was but one bayonet among them.
“You had better let him stay,” said the gray-haired veteran. “We shall need his like.”
“Men!” cried Colonel Prescott, from the middle of the redoubt, “they are almost upon us. Be ready for them when they come!” and with a mighty cheer the men responded, shouting tumultuously:
“We are ready for them again!”
There had been a rush from the breastworks, the men driven into shelter by the artillery; and now a young officer crossing the sallyport suddenly threw his arms above his head and fell; the British were throwing their balls into the redoubt!
“Here they are!” cried Brown.
Discarding their unwieldy knapsacks, they were more than half-way up the hill, under cover of their heavy artillery fire. With the exception of a mere demonstration against the rail fence, their whole force was concentrated upon the redoubt.
“Reserve your fire! Reserve your fire until you have them within twenty yards!” shouted Prescott; and the men lingered, biding their time.
It was a forlorn stand, but they held to it, unswerving.
The slaughter was horrible; the British line bent and curved inward.
“Fire again, fire again!” called Peter Brown to the men on his left.
“We cannot,” yelled one of them. “Our powder is out!”
A British officer turned one startled glance behind him and then sprang down among his breaking troops. With the flat of his sword he smote them right and left, shouting as he urged them forward. Word seemed to speed along the whole line. Forming again, they sprang up the hillside, making no attempt to return the scattering fire of the Continentals.
“That fool’s yell has settled it! We lose the day, and even yet we might have saved it!” said Brown, furiously. “But if they win they shall pay the pipers!”
At a half run the British came on, their left arms dragging a little at their sides with the weight of their heavy guns, while with their right hands they seized upon anything they could to aid them in scaling the last ridge of earth that separated them from their antagonists. A shower of stones hurtled down upon them, and their suspicions as to the American loss of ammunition were confirmed.
The redoubt was now surrounded on three sides, and in the breasts of the Americans there was nothing left but pure fight, which, whatever may be its weapons, makes itself bitterly felt. Tom and his companions stood back to back, their muskets “clubbed,” ready for murderous work with the heavy stocks.
Over the tops of the Continental intrenchments the British bayonets began to bristle like a sudden gigantic growth of horrible thorns, and out from among them a splendid soldier, shouting, “The day is ours!” sprang to the edge of the southern parapet. There was the crack of a musket and he pitched backward out of sight, while the whole rank following were mowed down behind him. But the British were not disheartened; slipping and scrambling, they swarmed up the height, officers and men alike.
“Now for the glory of the marines!” cried Major Pitcairn, mounting glittering to the top of the rampart, only to fall back into the arms of his son, dying.
“Alas! I have lost a father!” mourned the youth, and in deep voices the men around groaned in answer:
“We have all lost a father!” but they pressed on revengeful.
A hand-to-hand mêlée began, the British slowly crowding the Continentals out of the redoubt. Flushed and furious, bringing down his heavy musket blow after blow until the shattered stock hung rattling from the empty barrel, Tom was pressed back, with the men of Prescott’s regiment around him. So thick was the dust that as he neared the sallyport he could scarcely see the British pouring over the southern walls of the embankment.
Everywhere the Continental officers were cheering on their men with a spirit and exhilaration that extracted the sting from defeat, General Warren and Colonel Prescott moving from place to place always in the thickest of the fight. The latter, continuing to give his orders with perfect self-command, faced the oncoming numbers with keen, businesslike, practical coolness.
“Take to your heels, you little lad!” he cried as he struggled forward against a crowd of men who were pushing him past the spot where Tom, with Peter Brown, was fighting desperately. “Take to your heels, and let the full-grown men do battle!”
“Come on!” cried Peter Brown, and, breaking away, he sprang over the wall to the west and ran for the shelter of Bunker Hill; but Tom, scarcely turning, held his ground.
“I shall not go until he does!” he said to himself, his eyes fixed on Warren as he pressed from group to group with words of encouragement.
The fight had become a mere groaning stress of men. To the listening spectators on the hills and the housetops silence had replaced the roar of artillery, and over the trampled area on Breed’s Hill the broiling four o’clock sun was reflected in a light-red haze from the dust of the conflict. The crack of musketry at the rail fence showed where the Connecticut men were keeping back the enemy and covering the retreat, which had begun to show signs of confusion.
Tom had contrived in the course of the contest to wedge himself in among the little band of men who had gathered at the last about the spot where General Warren was fighting, with the calm face of an avenging angel; pale, serene, but hopeless, prolonging his stay in what in another might almost be called wanton recklessness.
“Does he wish to be killed?” thought Tom, and then remembered what he had heard the day before. “He will not be taken alive!” thought Tom. “Neither shall I.”
A final squad of reluctant men, Prescott among them, were being driven, step by step, through the northern sallyport. Warren, with Tom at his side, followed close behind them, the last to leave the redoubt.
One division of the British had made their way around the northeastern bend of the breastwork, while another had come around the angle of the redoubt itself; thus the retreating Americans were compelled to run the gauntlet.
Interposing himself between his men and the grenadiers, Prescott retired slowly, stepping backward with long strides and parrying the bayonet thrusts with his incessantly vigilant sword. His soiled and bloody linen banyan was torn and slashed, two or three gashes had even been made in his waistcoat, but he was himself untouched, and his ruddy color remained unchanged.
There was no firing at this stage of the fight, because, for a distance of twenty yards or more, friend and foe were alike undistinguishable; but as the Americans freed themselves from the crush, a panic seemed to overtake them, and they fled wildly for the neighboring hill.
Warren, behind them, came slowly and heavily, burdened with intolerable despondency of defeat. Tom still kept near him, stumbling forward as he looked up into his heartbroken face, and vaguely divining his need of consolation.
“We are not beaten,” he said at last; but Warren shook his head almost impatiently; comfort was not bearable.
There was a shout and cheer from the British as they took final possession of the redoubt, immediately followed by a hail of bullets that, for the most part, passed over the heads of Tom and his companion; but the flying Americans on the slope of Bunker Hill were cut down by it with ghastly destruction.
Warren saw them fall, with a piteous groan. “It is well,” he murmured, “to die for one’s country; but what a sacrifice!”
“We are not beaten,” repeated Tom, doggedly. “We shall never be beaten!”
With a sudden illumination of hope, Warren smiled. There was another volley from the redoubt; they seemed to be moving in the midst of a storm of lead.
Warren turned towards Tom as if to speak, and then fell forward on his face. He was dead.
Tom knelt by the side of his fallen leader, stupefied but not afraid.
“Stop! Oh, stop!” he cried, as men from the rail fence hastened by him, turning, as they fled, to ward off the stab of a bayonet or falling wounded from more distant shots; but none heeded.
Fewer and fewer grew the numbers of the flying Continentals, and the hillside was soon covered by their pursuers; the troops on Bunker Hill stampeded at last like frightened sheep. “Make a stand here!” shouted old Putnam, swearing and cursing like a madman. “In God’s name form and give them one shot more!” But they swept by him like a stampede of wild cattle. “It is enough to make an angel swear!” he cried, with tears of rage.
And through it all the boy stood guard, striding across his beloved dead. Amid the sickening thud of the heavy gun-stocks on living flesh, the sudden breathless “Ah!” of dying wounded, remorselessly stabbed by the brutal grenadiers; through the sights of maddened faces, staring, blood-injected eyeballs, agonized forms sinking member by member into contorted death—in the midst of that rout he watched without flinching, his broken gun clubbed fiercely in his hands.
Cheers of triumph began to go up from the victors. The thought of the exultation with which a knowledge of the death of Warren would fill them gave Tom almost the strength of madness. With incredible exertions he dragged the body from their path, and sank down with it under a low tree a little to one side. “Run, boy, run!” shouted the last of the fugitives; but Tom shook his head.
“They may desert you,” he muttered, looking at the dead, set face; “but not I.”
Approaching in the distance came a party of prisoners under the guard of three or four grenadiers, whose leader, a tremendous fellow with his arm in a sling, called loudly to Tom to surrender.
Mechanically Tom staggered to his feet, still clutching his broken musket; then, stooping, he drew the dead man’s hat over his face.
“Come,” said the grenadier, impatiently, leaving his party, and advancing to where the boy was standing. “Come, surrender!”
“You?” said Tom, dully, allowing the broken weapon to be taken from his hands. “You? I thought I had shot you.”
“You did?” said the grenadier, dryly. “Who is this fine gentleman?” advancing his foot towards the prostrate figure.
“Dare to touch him!” shrieked Tom, throwing himself upon him furiously. The big man laughed, and caught him with his single hand.
“You have surrendered,” he said. “You are beaten, you know.”
“We are not beaten!” shouted Tom. “We will never be beaten!” To own to defeat seemed like treachery to the dead.
“Why, you young catamount!” said the grenadier, giving him a good-natured shake. “Come along!”
Poor Tom! he felt coming over him again that terrible inclination to cry; to throw himself down on the ground, and sob and groan until his tired nerves were stilled in exhaustion. Struggling painfully against it, he followed his captors to the ferry, where the prisoners were being embarked for Boston.
“This is but a little lad,” said the grenadier in the ear of the sergeant who was entering the names. “Let him go; he will be of more hindrance to us than help to the enemy.”
“It is well,” said the sergeant, scribbling in his list; the grenadier looked over his shoulder at the entry and smiled.
“It is a poor reward for a day’s fighting to be put down plainly as ‘A Lad—Dismissed;’ and then—to be beaten to boot,” he said, tormentingly.
“My name is Tom Kettell,” said Tom, trying to be dignified, while he struggled obstinately with his tears. “And I told you that we were not beaten; but even if we were, I suppose it is English generosity to twit us with defeat.”
“Ah, well,” said the grenadier, leading him off by the shoulder, “you are poor shots, you Americans. If you had only been able to handle a musket better, I should not have been here to ask the sergeant to let you go.”
“You asked him to let me go, when you knew I shot you?” cried Tom.
“Your aim is too bad to make it worth while to keep you,” said the other, tauntingly.
“But I meant to hit you in the arm!” Tom burst forth, impetuously, “and when you fell I thought you were dead; I did not want to kill you, but”—he broke off abruptly.
Giving him a little push, with a great laugh, the gigantic grenadier strode away.
“Soldiers do not cry!” he called over his shoulder. “Go home to your mother.”
But Tom had neither home nor mother to whom he could turn. He was so weak that he reeled a little in his walk, as he set his face towards the battle-field. Skirting the burning town to the north, he found his mother’s house still blazing, the barn in ruins. He only shook his head and staggered onward, intending to walk out along the main road to the foot of the hill where Warren was lying. As the houses grew more scattered, there seemed to have been less destruction from fire, and although they were all of them riddled with balls, some few were left standing. Behind one of them—it happened to be the very house where he had left the wagon the night before—a low spring-house nestled under a thick clump of lilac-bushes. Tom stumbled to the step and looked down through the open door; inside the pans of milk were standing about unhurt. Conscious all at once of his hunger and fatigue, he plunged into the cool, damp place, and, after drinking greedily, climbed quickly up the hill, and, propping himself against the apple-tree, set himself to watch the dead.
With a great parade, the British, under General Howe, took possession of Bunker Hill; on the main street two regiments were stationed in a long line from the Burial Hill in Charlestown to the Neck. The artillery fire had stripped the trees below him like an autumn gale, and through their broken and almost leafless branches he could catch glimpses of red coats and shining arms. Once in a while a bugler would send some call, or a burst of cheering would come over from the other height; and at intervals a long roar proclaimed where the British guns, like angry dogs afraid to follow, growled threateningly in the rear of the retreating Continentals.
“They will be careful how they tackle us again!” said Tom, scowling fiercely; and then, pulling his hat over his eyes, he remained so still that the British soldiers who came out later with stretchers to take up their wounded thought that he also had fallen, and left him for dead.
Fortunately, he had been able to drag the body of Warren away from the general path, and now, as a little more quiet fell on the British encampment, about sundown he fell into a fitful sleep.
A sound of low voices near him waked him. He sat up, quietly; he was too tired to be startled, and, noiselessly taking off his heavy hat, looked about him.
The night had fallen, and a little below him, on the grass, two British officers were standing looking down to the left where Charlestown still lit the sky with the glare of its blazing houses.
“Why does the General insist on all this intrenching? We ought to advance upon the enemy without delay and follow up our victory,” said one of them.
“We shall be well off if they do not fall upon us in the early morning and drive us straight to our ships.”
“They fought like devils,” said the first.
“Like men, you mean,” said the other; “and they caused our tough old soldiers to feel it as well. I doubt not an order to advance would cause them to mutiny now. We hung two grenadiers this morning for trying to desert to the Continental lines.”
“And well they deserved it,” said the first; “but it has been a disastrous day for us from the beginning. They tell me those louts in the redoubt had worked in relays the whole night; and then to inflict such crippling loss on our best troops! Nigh upon fifteen hundred men among the killed and wounded—a greater number than they had in the field themselves! They are dangerous, and I do maintain that we should follow up our victory. They know they are beaten now, and we should crush them in the beginning.”
“The trouble is that, with the spirit they have shown to-day, they will never know that they are beaten. They have made a fortification in a single night that would do credit to the work of days. They have held it at fearful odds against the flower of the British Army. They have quitted themselves like heroes; and as for crushing them—I promise you that the forces of the universe will not crush them so long as they hold to the right as they held to-day! Our policy is to recognize them as brave men and honest gentlemen, and treat them with the fairness their merit demands.”
“These are un-English doctrines, worthy of a disciple of Mr. Burke. I tell you they are a set of rascally traitors and rebels,” said the first; “and those who abet them are in no whit better than they!” He strode off up the hill as he finished, but the other sprang after him.
“I demand an explanation,” Tom heard him say, in an angry tone; but the reply was lost in the distance.
Tom leaned his elbow on his hand and looked about him; he had no idea of the hour. The fires of Howe’s bivouac on Bunker Hill had died down to spots of glowing embers; but the flames in Charlestown still mounted high, with the threatening roll of far-off thunder. To see men’s homes thus going to destruction had something about it even more calamitous than battle itself. On the long street below, the watch went back and forth with moving lights; sharp orders, the clatter of horsemen, even shouts, rose above the steady murmur of voices that filled the night. Below lay the silent gray tombs on Charlestown Burial Hill, and at its foot the broad water stretched across to the marshes slowly disappearing under the flowing tide. Far to the right, on Winter and Prospect Hills, flickered the fires of the American encampments. The whole country seemed to be restless, fevered, and sleepless; even the stars looked hot and dim in the angry, smoky sky.
Little by little, Tom sank down now by the side of his dead commander. Over from above came a long, sighing groan. Some one, deserted, was dying; but the boy did not know it. Unconscious of the terrible things hidden beyond the hill, Tom slept the deep slumber of youth and utter weariness, murmuring even in his dreams, “We are not beaten!”
“A Lad—Dismissed” by Mary Tappan Wright was originally published as a six part serial in
The Outlook v. 48, no. 2, July 8, 1893, v. 48, no. 3, July 15, 1893, v. 48, no. 4, July 22, 1893,
v. 48, no. 5, July 29, 1893, v. 48, no. 6, August 5, 1893, and v. 48, no. 7, August 12, 1893; reprinted in
Beginning Alone, and Other Stories by Mary Tappan Wright, edited by Brian Kunde, Mountain House,
Fleabonnet Press, 2008.
The work of Mary Tappan Wright here reproduced is in the public domain. All other material in this edition is
©2008-2009 by Brian Kunde.