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One Of The Boys Of '76 By Mary Clark Huntington

One Of The Boys Of '76 By Mary Clark Huntington image
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From the Sunday Republieau. It was the year of our Lord 177G. All KnyUnd was ringine with reports of her rebellious colonial offspriiifr; theincipient republic was in a state of ferment and of preparation for war. The first American gunboaU liad just been launched and proudl}' sailed nbout tlie New Enjfland coasts, wliich Briti8h crulsers kept in constaut alarm. On the deck of one of these cruisers, ns lenvlng Newport it moved tlirough the blue ocean waters toward New hondón, a crowd had gathered about a burly middlc-aged man in eoptairj's uniform, and a slight young fellow of perhaps twenty. "Well, well, my little man! So we have caught you again," said the captain, clapping him on the ahoulder. "As you've run away twice before, perhaps you think to give us the slip athird time; but," with a volley of oaths, " you never were more mistaken. Sweiir to show allegiancc to your rightful soveroigu or -die for a traitor ? '' The eyes which looked back at hhn were as unllinchinff as the captain' own. For generations the Otis courage had held its name even in deadly peril and tliis relative and namesake of James Otis, the eloquent pleader for Independa ence, could meet his end as behooved one of his race. " I am an independent citizen of Connectlcut, and owe no allegiance to a tyrant," hesaid proudly. The captain burHt into a laugh in which hiH men joineil. "Tliis scion of liberty crows loud- siiütll (rood will besuch fluunting, though, for in six months all these ' independent cilizi'ns' will be oreeplng back to Motlier KiiKland'g knees like so many wlii])ped chlldren." The tcornfnl laugh had brought a llush to the youth's face, and now he said with heat : " rore probably Motlier England will discover that her children have come of afte beyond dispute, and will go home with the whipping reversed." " Come, come, enough of parley. You shall swing Irom yonder yard-arm in llfteen miuutes, my young braggart, lf you will not figlit under our colors. Will you figbt witli us? Yes, or no 1" There was 110 relenting in the captain's voice, do touch of pity on all those staring faces. Deatli orlife? Ah, small wonder if in sucli stress brave hearls shriuk, and yieldingto tlie fear of doom are branded by those who have never met like trial as cowards and traitors! " Speak ! the captain comniiinded. And tlie prisouer answered iirmly, " No." The captain's face grew daik witli wrath tliat tliis stripling should stand before liiin and defy bis fate, and the thouglit that mucli might be done if iicli pluck was but enlisted for royalty only roughened lus tone as it raug over the deck. "In the name of the king I condeinn yon as a rebel ! Up with the rope, men." And as the men wen went off with alacrity he began a measured stride up and down the deck, watching as they executed bis bidding. James Otls folded bis arms and gazed over the sparkling white-crested swells to where New London's shores lay fair in the distance. Only a few more moment's sight of a worid which seemed doubly beautiful now that he should so soou leave it lorever. Death ! And such an ignominious one! To fall tightlnsf for his country - ah, that would be noble! but to hang at a yard-arm like any criminal. The purposes of bis young m.inhood rose up before him like mocking gliosts of what might have been. He thought of the farui on a Connecticut hillside where his chililhood had been spent, the old red house uitb Ita two guanling button wood trees. Peihaps even now his inother was thinking that her son inight soon be home, or his father was going down to the ollice in expectation of "a letter from Jamie." The recalling of this boylsh name broughl a blur to bis eye and a weakening for one instant of bis resolution. Hut no ! far liotter tliat they should nevor learn li is fate than that he should return to thein a traitor to his country. He could hear the men laughing and joking as they knotted tne hempen cord. "A gritty rebel, that," said one, nodding towarcl bim. "Grit? No, sbeer obstinacy !" growleil another. "These Yankees are all alike. Thi8one,"coHtemptuousIy, "has got off so sllck twice before he probably thinks be'll slip out of this noose." "Ha! ha! It's a alipnoose, you know," joked a third. " But by good King George, I wish all the colonists in as sure u place.1' The men aloft carne down to the deck. The captain moved toward the prisoner. Even tbeii one word could remove the death im-nace of that waying cord. Would that word be spoken? The captain's hand dropped beavily down upon the prisoner'.s slioulder. J$ut With his grim "Time'a up Go forward there!" a cry of " Ship ahcad!" came also. And bearing down upon them showed an enemy with guns grimly threa tening. "To the guns, men. Not a moment to be lost, swore the captain. And in the hurried preparation for immediate action the prisoner was forgotten. "Boom ! boom ! " cuallenged the brave little American, who could show only half the guos of her adversary. " Boom ! boom ! '' answered the English cruiser. Spars began to fall and men drop wounded as the front mouths below the starry flagkeptup a telling fire, but the heavier guns would aoon disable " that Yankee Doodle canoe,1' as the captain averred with a string of blighting adjectives. A daring project flashed into the mind of James ütis. At least he would once more serve his country and die in the doing rather than swing from a British yard-arm'? None noticed as he slipped to the gangway. nd presen ti y in the dimnes? of the hold a Üash of blue light revealed a slender snake-like tbing reaching to the store of powder - then the flash was gone and a tiny spark of lire crept along the coil. Uiiconscious of rapidly approaching doom the sturdy Engüsh seamen hurli-d deflance at tbeir foe. One of the men as be ran for more powder to the nearest supply saw a ilark object moving tlirough the water away from the cannonading cruiser. Hark ! above the din of battle soundcd au awful boom which seemed to rock the ocean's depths and sway the very air. Spars and huil feil splintered about the swiuuner; shattered bodies sliocked bis sigbt: one of the massive cannons sank before him with a hiss as the hot Iron cleft the water. And in place of the instant death to which be luid looked forward upon the greatship's explosión, life wasstill his - he moved unhurt, preserved as by a miracle. It was several moments before he could trust liimself to look behiud - the horror of it all was so strong upon biiii. W'licn he did look the surprised American ship was moving away, unconscious that one whose hand had destroyed their enemy was still in existence; and where the ill-fated cruiser had been only a few llght substances floated upon the shiinmenng water. Two miles bofore him rose the shore. He was a good swimmer, and the distance rapidly lessened. But the late stram on his nerves had been so intense that as he swam the sun seemed glaring into his braiu, and each stroke seemed to take a In-art, beat from his strength. But there was only a half-mlle between him and the shore - now only a quarter. And slowly, more slowly he swam. The glaze of weakness before his eycs made sky and water seem of braen hue. Could he hold out ? But here was shore crowdcd witli people who had anxiously watelied the the battle between the two ships, wonderingly, thankfully Men the British cruiser shivered all in a moment, and the strry emblem of thcir country fluiter safely away. Now all eyes were on the swinvner - there were surprised cries - questioningshouts. Furtherup the shore row-boats were already pushing off to go to his aid, before they could rcach him the men nearest him ruslied breast deep into the water, many hands were stretched to help him, and with all things reeling before lus exhausted visión, James Ols was held in safe and kindly grasp. When speech returned to hlm he was lying on the grassy bank, the glad sunshine falling on his face, the blue water lapping at his feet, all about him anxious questlonings from an excited crowd. He told his story In the fewest possible words, but the telling brought tears from the women, exclamatlons from the men, and when he bad llnished cbeer after cheer rang out for the deed and the hero of the deed.


Ann Arbor Courier
Old News