in the wood lot next to the burying grounds, Sylvanus Wood had tried to attach
meaning to particular sounds. The beating of a drum had preceded the shouts of
individual officers. Later, he had heard the strident voice of one officer. A
colossal musket volley had made him start. Three massive, deep-throated shouts
had quickened his pulse. Hoarse commands had followed. Finally, he had heard
the marching sound of hundreds of feet.
trill of fifes and the tattoo of drums told Sylvanus of the column’s fading
proximity. Leaving the grove of pine, catching sight of trailing militiamen on
road, Sylvanus felt the strong tug of obligation. His compulsion to return to
where he had stood, to where comrades had died, was stronger.
Wood walked abashedly across the Common’s sparse grass. From different edges of
the field other men were converging, six contorted bodies their lodestone. Three, Sylvanus saw, had fallen where
Captain Parker had stood!
militiaman who had hurried across the grass from the northeast side of the
field was staring at them. He was John Munroe. Staring back at his nephew, arms
out, hands open as if to embrace him, old Robert Munroe was as indifferent to
life and death as the hat that lay next to him. Blood stained the leather coat
below the neck, where the ball had penetrated.
walked past them. Several feet away lay the twisted corpse of Jonas Parker, his
coat and the grass beside him recipient of the esteemed veteran’s blood. His
hat lay open to the sky. Sylvanus saw inside it the musket balls, wadding, and
flints that Jonas had intended to use. He recalled how the man had touched the
brim of his hat when Sylvanus had been introduced. Jonas Parker had said that
he would not run from the British. Because he had fled, Sylvanus had lived.
saw what happened. He got hit and dropped t'his knees.” Someone behind Sylvanus
had spoken. Sylvanus did not recognize the man. Tolerating Sylvanus’s stare,
the militiaman nodded. “He fired his musket just the same! Lobsterback stuck him.” The stranger stared at the Concord road. “Old Jonas
never had a chance.”
grimaced agreement. He walked, morosely, toward the Meeting House. Halfway
there, he paused to watch two wounded men being tended. He recalled the beating
of the drum, the cordiality of strangers, the talk of old veterans. Like an
excited child he had courted Captain Parker's favor. How easily he had been
to rid himself of shame, he loitered beside the large oak stump near the back
of the Meeting House. Close by, Jonas Parker had asked, “What's it t'be, John?
Hide or go out on the Common?” Live or
take a musket ball or the blade of a bayonet!
walked past the southwest corner of the building. Two men were carrying a
wounded man to the front door. The man’s face was the color of slate.
Captain was wounded in the leg,” a tall, dark-haired man exiting the building
said to someone behind Wood. For a moment Sylvanus thought the man was speaking
at the Reverend's house, I figure.”
two men were silent a moment, each staring northward.
… Captain Parker know his cousin's dead?”
Sylvanus asked. His tone of voice surprised him.
taller of the two looked at Sylvanus. After a moment, he nodded.
the first thing he knew, I'd say,”
the older man answered.
you were there?” Sylvanus responded. He grimaced. Needing to say something, he
taller man stared at him an entire five seconds. “We don't know you,” he said.
Sylvanus Wood; no, you wouldn’t.” He paused. “I live in Woburn. I stood near the Captain, 'til after
the first volley, when he said t'take care of ourselves.” Looking down, he saw
a gash mark across the top of his right shoe.
had made an enemy of this man.
all right. We all ran. Except those that got shot.” The older man likewise
stared at his shoes.
taller man walked away. After glancing at Wood, the older man strode after him.
two men who had carried the wounded man inside the building, having exited,
stamped their feet. One of them, a stout man with graying temples, glanced
sideways at Sylvanus. “Need your help carryin' in the wounded,” he said.
walked over to them.
third man, who had come around the far corner of the building, joined them.
“Some were wounded on the Bedford
side,” he said, without introduction. Sylvanus felt even more the outsider.
taken care of, Winsett,” the second man, his mouth twisted, said. “They’re
bein’ takin' t’ the Reverend's house.”
began their walk toward the middle of the Common.
we get all the wounded, we'll take in the dead,” the gray-haired man said, neither
looking to his left nor right.
man gave Sylvanus a peculiar look.
seen three or four,” Sylvanus said. He had meant the dead. Had he made this man
think he didn't want to carry in the wounded?!
that,” the second man said. “John Brown died near the swamp north of the
Common, I was told. We'll have t'get him. An' Robert Harrison told me Samuel
Hadley's behind a wall in John Buckman's garden.”
Porter, he didn't make it neither.” His lips compressed, the third man,
Winsett, shook his head. “He was caught scouting. When the shooting started, he
tried t'run down the Bedford
was with him. They caught me after they did him.”
you didn’t try t’ run, did you?” the second militiaman responded.
Winsett looked off across the field.
Porter’s from Woburn,”
Sylvanus said, softly. Hard-working Asahel Porter, close to his own age, father
of a year old son. Always keen to help somebody. Because of it he was dead.
just rushed away from me. Left me. Then
would have done that, Sylvanus thought. I wouldn’t have tried right away to
hid behind a tree just off the road,” Winsett said. “I saw Jonathan Harrington drag himself off the Common to that
house o' his; I was thinkin' a redcoat was gonna see him and bayonet him, but
that didn't happen.”
man that had been captured and that had escaped brought his left shirtsleeve
across his mouth. Having everybody’s attention, he hesitated, inhaled,
afterward blinked. “Must have been fifty feet or so,” he said. “He got t’his
doorstep. Ruth came screamin' out the door and flung herself down.” His voice
quavered. “Went over there as soon as they left. Jonathan died right there on
his doorstep. His nine year old boy … saw it all from upstairs.”
Harrington was shot down, too. Just outside the Meeting House,” the second man
said. “Him and some other men were inside gettin' powder.” He, too, blinked.
“They tried t'run for it, so I heard.”
they reached the two wounded men that Sylvanus had seen being tended, three men
they be moved into the Meeting House?” the leader of Wood's group asked.
walked out of the trees just awhile ago. Collapsed right here. S'pect so. We'll
take them there right now.”
we’ll be movin’ on.”
third man, Winsett, the one that had witnessed Jonathan Harrington's death,
hesitated. He looked at Sylvanus’s companions, briefly, then stooped to grasp a
leg of one of the wounded.
he’s helpin’,” the second militiaman said, after they had walked a distance.
reached the bodies of Robert Munroe, Jonas Parker, and, five yards away, a
militiaman that Sylvanus didn’t know. Sylvanus stared at the pine trees into
which he had fled. “We’d best get started,” he heard the gray-haired man say.
Sylvanus sensed they were not yet ready.
we'll take Isaac Muzzy first,” the gray-templed man said, grimacing. “Someone
will have t’tell old John. Maybe he already knows.”
does.” The other man pulled his hat
down about his head. “I seen him go off down the road after the redcoats.”
stared a bit longer at Muzzy, they took each of the dead man's arms. Sylvanus
lifted the legs.
didn't think this would happen,” the second man said when they had stopped half
way to the Meeting House.
guess them that did weren’t out here,” the other one said, with restrained
next time they will.”
expect not,” the gray-haired man said.
completed the trip in silence.
the Meeting House the two Lexington
men started a conversation with a man tearing cloth. Feeling ill, Sylvanus
exited. For a short while he stood at the southwest corner, facing the Concord road. “Shame’s squeezing my heart,” he said.
Parker. Asahel Porter. Other men he’d never met. For what?! Angrily, he gripped the barrel of his musket, which
minutes earlier he had propped against the building’s wall.
marched to Concord.
They’d be marching back!
time he would not run and hide. Nor would he stand in the open. From a secure
place off the road he would burn every ounce of powder, fire every musket ball