Sunday, April 6, 2014

Scenes about Paul Revere

"Parson Larkin's Finest"
 
            The horse was slender, nervous. Good Yankee horses tended to be. Placing his left hand on the horse’s nose, speaking gently, Revere watched the animal’s alert eyes. “Good horse,” he said to Colonel Conant.

             “Parson Larkin's finest.”

     “He needs to be.” Richard Devens touched the straw-laden dirt with the end of his walking stick. “You should know, Revere, that I was detained by British officers along the Menotomy road!”

     Revere squinted.

     “I encountered them at dusk. Five or six officers. Several servants -- sergeants, I presume -- accompanying them. They demanded I direct them to ‘Clark's tavern’!”

     It took Revere a moment to comprehend Devens’s statement.

     He wondered how much more the General knew. Gage’s spy continued to do them damage.

     “I’ve dispatched a rider to warn Hancock. I shouldn’t be surprised if he’s intercepted. With this horse you might have better luck. I would advise you …”

     “Another express rider left Boston!” Revere interrupted. “A half hour before me. By Boston Neck.” He didn’t need this man's assessment.

     “Good.” Stepping back two feet, Devens crossed his forearms.

     Revere didn’t want to hear the man’s prattle. He needed to think. He set about shortening the stirrups’ leg length.

     “Which road will you take?” Colonel Conant asked.

     “The Cambridge road, then on to Menotomy.” He placed a forefinger under the girths.

     “That’s the road I was stopped on,” Devens said, testily.

     Revere studied the horse's bit. “Both roads might be patrolled. Time is important.” It was 11:25 o'clock.

     The horse tossed his head, stamped his hooves. Revere stroked the horse’s muscular neck.

     He mounted. The horse stepped backward. “I will alert as many households as I can,” he said, looking down. “Our message will get through. Whether or not I'm stopped.” He placed his right hand familiarly on the horse's neck. “But, I think, this animal will outrun any British plow horse.” He smiled, his irritation gone. He turned the horse onto the road.

     To his left, in the bright moonlight, he saw the dark waters of the Charles River. To his right he saw the Mystic. The smell of the sea was strong and rank.

     He would ride across this neck of salt marsh, moors, clay-pits, and brushwood at a pace that would neither fatigue his horse nor send them recklessly into an ambush. How far inland from their landing place the redcoats had marched he had no way of estimating. Reaching Cambridge, he would take the road through Menotomy to arrive at Lexington, a distance of eleven miles, less than a two hour ride, he thought. The other route, through Medford, across the Mystic, then to Menotomy -- bypassing Cambridge -- and then to Lexington would add at least a half-hour.

     His hands easy with the reins, his body accustomed to the horse’s hoof falls, Revere recalled other times he had delivered important news from Boston.

     He remembered best the morning after he had toppled East India chests of tea into the harbor. Other men, having slept through the night, could have delivered the news more easily to Committee of Correspondence leaders in New York and Philadelphia; but he, knowledgeable, entirely reliable, had volunteered.

     White spires above the bare branches of maples, birches, and beech had told him of the close proximity of each country town. In the better taverns he had enjoyed bowls of hot punch, tankards of flip, legs of lamb, country bread, butter, and roasted apples. He had returned to Boston eleven days after having left it, having averaged 63 miles a day in the saddle. It had been the first of three trips he had made to Philadelphia.

     He had savored each assignment.

     This ride, so perilous, so important, had its own satisfying enticements. A clear sky had that afternoon banished the threat of additional rain. He admired in the moonlight the angular shadows of solitary trees, sentinels, he mused, of an undisturbed wetland. He imagined farmers, directing oxen to their farthest fields, beholding God’s canopy of brittle lights: sensory gratifications to soothe the troubled soul, treacherous distractions to his purpose at hand!

     Riding past the Medford road, Revere scrutinized each approaching shadow. On a less bright night two weeks hence, the deciduous growth being then in full leaf, he would have seen nothing. Each shade stimulated his imagination.

     Beneath that tree, a mounted soldier. No. What was it? Having passed it, he would never know.

     Directly ahead another soldier! No. Something abandoned. Two empty casks, one atop the other, he guessed.

     His little horse steadfastly galloped. He thought that if he were challenged, the animal had enough run in him yet; but after they had ridden through Cambridge, perhaps not. More than likely they would be confronted there, not before.

     Another soldier! No, two! Holsters and cockades! Mounted! In the broad shadow where the road narrowed!

     They moved. One of them, leaving the shadow, raised a hand. The other, already ten yards beyond, turned his horse to block the road.

     Pushing hard against his stirrups, pulling his reins to his chest, Revere brought his horse to an abrupt stop. Yanking the reins sideways, he forced his mount to turn. Spurring the horse in the direction they had come, he heard the nearest officer shout.

     “Stop! By God, stop or I’ll shoot!”

     Parson Larkin’s finest sped toward the Medford road. Bent low over the horse’s neck, Revere calculated. A pistol shot would miss him, he thought, but maybe not the horse. Quick separation was essential!

     No shot was fired. Too far behind to waste ball and powder, he concluded. Or, too difficult to fire accurately.

     Wanting to know, Revere glanced backward. Twenty rods lay between. Parade horses, he derided.

     In a half minute he was at the junction.

     Down the Medford road his horse raced. Not until he looked across the field separating the two roads did Revere realize that his pursuers had anticipated his intent. He saw a horse and rider traversing the angle of the triangular field. Watching their up and down movement, he knew he would be losing half the distance he had gained. This time the soldier would attempt a shot. Revere demanded greater speed.

     Looking again, he saw that his pursuer had vanished! Two seconds later the horse’s head and neck appeared as if out of a hole. Revere saw nothing of the rider or of the other officer, who had apparently not joined the chase.

     Revere slowed his blowing horse to an easy walk. His own body adjusting to its rush of adrenaline, Revere marveled. Two officers had accosted him. Devens had seen, how many, seven? Nine? More, then, waited along the main road.