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"A Most Delightful Evening"
They rode into Lexington and stopped where the road forked, the moonlight revealing directly ahead a triangular common. Major Mitchell stared back at the three-story, square-shaped building, a flickering light making pale two downstairs windows. "A tavern, I fairly own. Press on." With his left hand he indicated the Old Bay Road to Concord.
"That was them," Solomon Browner whispered. He stepped outside. Reverend Jonas Clarke, Captain John Parker, and Elijah Patterson occupied the doorsill.
Stepping into the moonlight, Reverend Clarke looked at his pocket watch. Parker, after glancing at Clarke, stared at the road.
Just what does he hope to see, now that they're gone? Solomon thought. Edging his way past the Captain and Patterson, he entered the building.
Years ago, plain-speaking, hard-working John Parker had earned the townspeople's respect. But now his shoulders stooped, his eyes looked tired, he moved slowly: at forty-six he was old. Solomon had noticed these changes two months earlier after he had returned from a horse-trading trip with his father to Hartford. Parker's physical bearing, his mediocre intelligence, and most everybody's expectation that British soldiers would soon be marching through the village had convinced some individuals, Solomon included, that Parker needed to be replaced.
Looked upon as a boy, not wanting to appear insolent, not wanting to give Elijah Patterson the opportunity to ridicule him, Solomon had kept his mouth shut. Older men, not he, needed to speak.
"They don't know exactly where your guests are, Jonas," Parker said. "They'll be riding past Lincoln a ways, I think." Solomon watched Parker's right hand, inside his coat, tug at his belt. "Maybe they'll be finding out, though. One way or the other, we'll see them come riding back."
We know that, Captain. Tell us what we don't know.
Believing Parker hadn't the ability to tell them, Solomon wanted to speak. To prove that a person's age didn't make him dumb, or intelligent. But it wasn't his place. And as for what needed to be done, it would be the Reverend who'd be doing the deciding.
"Solomon said Will Munroe put a guard at your house," Patterson remarked across Parker's body.
"Eight men, Will said. Nine countin' him," Solomon expanded. "Should be enough t'hold all of 'em off, I think." Not exactly brilliant, he realized, but it was what he, not Patterson, had the right to say!
"Elijah, Solomon, I want you to raise as many militiamen as you can and get them over to the Meeting House within the hour." Reverend Clarke walked to the center of the room. Patterson and Parker followed. "You do agree, don't you, John?"
"I do." Parker tapped three fingers on an edge of a table. His left hand became a fist. "What arresting's t'be done, we'll be the ones t'do it."
"Perhaps. At the very least, we must monitor their activity." Parker nodded. Clarke glanced at the doorway. "We'll need a patrol. Three men."
"Count me one of them!" Solomon exclaimed.
All three were looking long at him. They were judging him! Blood rushed to his face.
He could ride faster and farther than any of them! "I'm ready for it!" he declared. "Right now! Just give me a fresh horse!"
"You may take mine," Clarke answered. "You, Elijah!" he declared, barely pausing.
"I'll get your third man, Reverend. Jonathan Loring, I think."
"You get the minutemen out here first!" Parker exclaimed. "Then you see me! You don't go riding off!"
Parker's unexpected outburst startled them.
Two seconds later Solomon wanted to laugh.
The Reverend had bossed him, embarrassed him, in front of three of his militiamen. Everybody knew Clarke bossed him. Just as everybody knew Clarke and Parker were longtime friends. It had been Clarke that had gotten Parker elected! Not once, as far as Solomon knew, had Parker ever contradicted him. Nobody did, not Parker, not Solomon's father, probably the Reverend's High Whig houseguests.
The most Parker ever did what he was doing now, glaring at the moonlight was flash a bit of temper. And there was Reverend Clarke, still frowning. "The redcoats are after the munitions at Concord!" Parker said sharply, refusing to turn around. "Those riders are out there scouting that road!"
One word. All Reverend Clarke needed to cut a man in pieces was one word.
Solomon felt Parker's humiliation.
"They have t'pass through here again," Patterson said, ending five seconds of strained silence. "You're right, Captain."
Parker blinked. Turning a bit, he touched his chin. "You'd best wear warm clothing, Elijah. Take some food," he said huskily, putting Patterson Solomon noticed in charge. "Could be a long night."
"Come by the parsonage, John," Clarke said to Parker, his eyebrows high. "The first opportunity you have."
Clarke exited the tavern.
Three miles west of Lexington Major Mitchell halted the group.
"Behind us, beyond these farm houses, is a pasture, with trees farther back. Across the road is a clump of trees through which the moon sheds little light." Moving his jawbone laterally, Mitchell visualized the location. "We might not find a better place of ambush." Turning his head, he glared at Grant, who, looking at Lumm, was about to speak. To Captain Cochrane, Mitchell said, "If upon second examination the place is to my liking, we shall set our snare, and wait to see what we shall catch!"
Solomon Browner's anger had come to full boil.
Elijah Patterson had announced his foolish plan to Captain Parker, and the militia leader had accepted it! Outside Buckman's, Solomon had stated his objections. Patterson had barely listened! Why? Because he was twenty-three? Because age boosted a man's intelligence? What, then, did that make Jonathan Loring, who was twenty-six?
Listening to Solomon's objections, Loring had said nary a word!
Because they were friends, Solomon reasoned. Because he wasn't a decision-maker, maybe. The least he could have said, once, was "Solomon's right."
Patterson's scheme was full of holes! Like, after they had sneaked up on the redcoat patrol, two of them were supposed to keep watch while the other rode back to find Parker. Guess who that was going to be! If, instead, the patrol turned back, according to Patterson, they would hear hoof beats and then one of them would gallop off to Lexington while the other two (Solomon and Loring) hid assuming they had time to and a safe place. "Going out t'detect them," Patterson had cautioned, "we'll have to move real slow. We don't want t'be making any noise!" Hah!
They had been out on the road for over an hour and had only just crossed the Lincoln/Lexington line! Three turtles could have gotten here sooner," Solomon groused.
Ten minutes. It would take them ten minutes to get past Josiah Nelson's pastures!
"I don't think they'll get too close to Concord," the Leader of the Patrol said, ending their lengthy silence.
"Be damn foolish if'n they did," Loring replied. The two friends were riding next to each other.
"They could be anywhere along here," Solomon said, twenty feet behind.
Patterson twisted about. "Solomon, we've got t'keep quiet. Don't talk, 'less it's important."
"You'd best keep that in mind," Solomon answered.
They rode on Solomon seething another quarter mile.
So what he had said was obvious. And what they were doing was probably what anybody would do, except he'd have had each rider spaced farther apart. But Patterson had been insulting. What made Patterson's remark about the redcoats not riding too close to Concord that important? Solomon took spiteful amusement at the way Patterson was holding his head, at an angle, as if to hear better. The man was a coffin-maker, for God's sake, not an Abenaki scout!
"The road looks a lot different at night," Loring said. Patterson nodded. "Doesn't look the same. I hardly recognize it."
"The Hartwell house is up ahead a ways. Hard not to recognize. Now be quiet so I can hear."
Having reached the crest of a gentle incline, they stopped to stare and listen. Again the sideways tilt of Patterson's head. This would be a good story to tell at the tavern! Solomon thought. Will Munroe would have the biggest laugh. Why, it would probably get told all over town!
Patterson put his horse forward. Loring caught up with him. Chuckling, Solomon followed.
Out of dark shadows horses' hooves pounded, large shapes lunged. One of the shapes leveled a pistol at Patterson's startled face.
"Stop where you are or you die!"
Two riders! Highwaymen! British uniforms!
"Move across the road! Into that pasture!" the soldier nearest Solomon ordered.
A section of fence railing had been taken down. Making eye contact with Solomon, Patterson nodded compliance.
They were escorted a good 100 yards across the pasture toward a wood out of which six more soldiers suddenly, rapidly galloped.
"To me!" a tall officer at the head of the group commanded.
For thirty seconds the officer scrutinized them. Patterson glanced at Solomon, then at Loring, made a minute hand gesture.
Bugger that! Solomon thought.
"What is your business on this road?!" the officer demanded.
"Our farm is down the road. And your business, sir?" Patterson responded. "What right have you to intercept us, and take us here like thieves?!"
"Deserters," the officer said. "We are in search of deserters. I want your names!"
Each responded, Solomon's words a whisper.
"You say you have a farm 'down the road,' but you have different surnames. Answer my original question. What business do you have on this road?!"
"I said I was returnin' to my farm! These men live on farms farther along!"
Solomon was amazed. He had never seen Patterson so angry. Deserters!" the officer had said. Bloody hell! He was angry, too!
The officer looked at him. "You, tell me! I desire the names of your neighbors?!"
Solomon turned his head. Patterson was looking at his reins.
"You, answer my question! Not your companion!"
"Ebenezer Jones," Solomon began. It was a made-up name.
"Jonathan Williams ... Jonas Harrison." His throat was thick! He cleared it.
"Pray tell, what are the names of those who reside within Lexington?" The officer tilted his head.
"Which ones?" Solomon recognized his natural voice. "Too many of them t'name."
"Name a few, their location, ... their livelihood."
"Why?" Talking helped. He felt less afraid.
"If you are who you say you are, not a deserter who skillfully dissembles, then you will have little difficulty. Mind you, I desire quick answers!"
Solomon discovered that he could not invent names fast enough. He began to identify actual people. All the while the officer scrutinized, interrupted, demanded to be told where specific individuals lived. Finally, Solomon stopped. It was a game. The bony-faced officer was playing him!
"I've said enough. If you don't believe me now, you're not going to."
"Perhaps," the officer said. "You must not suppose that. I am nearly convinced you are what you say. Proceed."
The officer nodded. Solomon began again but stopped. The man was taking too much pleasure! That had been the whole purpose! "You have enough."
The officer pointed his chin. "You have not mentioned several with whom I have some acquaintance. The Clark family for one. Where in Lexington do they reside?"
Solomon opened his mouth to speak but didn't. Blood rushed beneath his skin. He, so critical of Patterson, had been tricked!
"Look me full in the face, boy! If you cannot tell me where this Clark resides, I will know you to be a cowardly deserter and I will not tarry in meting justice!"
"Nothing more! As sure as gold not one word more!"
The officer scowled.
Solomon wanted to pull the bastard down.
"Captain Cohrane!" the blackguard officer declared. "You will keep them separated. See to it that each is interrogated in turn." His eyes returned to Solomon.
"Before this night is done, you will curse your recalcitrance!"
Lieutenant Frederick MacKenzie was in a temper.
At 10 p.m., expecting to witness an expeditious loading, the adjutant of the 23rd Regiment had led his two companies to the bottom of Boston Common. No officer had been assigned to direct the sundry grouping of companies to pre-selected boats. MacKenzie had witnessed, instead, bunches of soldiers herded on the upslope of the Common, empty boats bobbing at the shoreline, and forty to fifty soldiers caterwauling and blatterooning between.
"Who's in charge here?! Who is responsible for this?!" MacKenzie had demanded.
"Colonel Smith, sir," an ensign belonging to the 10th Regiment had answered. "My captain's orders are to do nothing until the Colonel arrives. He's late."
Lieutenant MacKenzie had then understood. Disdaining the ensign's explanation, MacKenzie had loaded his men immediately into four boats. Junior officers of other companies had thereafter followed his example.
Thirty minutes had passed. Riding the negligible current, the occupied boats awaited Smith's appearance. They would have to be rowed across the river twice. MacKenzie thought about the hot biscuits and honey that Nancy had promised him upon his return. Two months ago he had scoffed at General Gage's solicitation of officers who could draw and spy, a message about which she had teased and then interrogated him. The General's reckless choice of Colonel Smith warranted least of all jest! Far more consequential than solicitation of spies was this!
Walking rapidly across Hanover Street, Paul Revere turned inward at Joseph Warren's residence, the messenger that had summoned him at 10 p.m. lagging far behind. Expecting a summons that afternoon, Revere was somewhat surprised that it had arrived at this late hour. But General Gage would not have wanted to begin the transport sooner, even though a crossing in the dark would be nearly as conspicuous. Anyone witnessing the massing of troops at the bottom of the Common and the hurried preparations of officers billeted in private homes would recognize a major undertaking was in the doing.
"Paul, they've begun." Grasping Revere's right arm, Warren directed the silversmith into his study. Rejecting chairs, each stood.
"You must go again to warn our friends." Warren placed his hands atop the closest high-back chair. "And the town militias!"
"You should know ... as a precaution ... that I have sent a rider across the Neck." Eyebrows arched, Warren studied Revere's face. "I did so a half hour ago. He may pass the guard, but we cannot be certain."
"William Dawes." Warren read Revere's perplexed expression. "Billy Dawes, the young cordwainer. Last September he helped remove the four brass cannon from the gun house."
"I do know him. He's young."
"Twenty-three. Courageous, a play actor of sorts. More to our advantage is the soldiers at the Gate don't know him. Nor does anybody else, save the officer he knocked to the street recently for insulting his wife." Warren smiled, guardedly.
Revere had devised a way to have his message carried into the country should he be seized crossing the River. Not entirely satisfied, Warren had initiated his own plan, couched to Revere as cautionary. The good doctor had not wanted to do him injury. He was not offended. Dawes's participation mattered to him not one straw. What mattered was that Warren, trusting his own considerable lights, had acted. It was yet another example of why his leadership was widely esteemed.
"How are you to proceed?" the doctor asked, satisfied apparently that he had not offended.
"Exactly as we had decided. I should reach Charlestown past 11 p.m. if I evade the Somerset. Whether I do or not, the lanterns will alert Colonel Conant." He stopped, a sudden upsurge of emotion affecting his ability to speak. "And you?" he fairly whispered.
"I will stay here awhile." Warren averted Revere's eyes. His fingertips brushed twice the top of the chair in front of him. "Useful information may yet be forthcoming." He returned Revere's stare. "If the General had wanted to arrest me, Paul, I would have been at the Province House days before! Seated comfortably, I should imagine, sipping his Madeira!" His eyes sparkled.
"Then I will see you ..."
"In a day or two. Be assured!" He gazed across the room, at the silk drapery, the mantelpiece figurines, the latticed window. He touched briefly the bridge of his nose. "God protect you," he said, offering Revere a sudden, strained smile.
"God protect us all."
A hundred yards from the shoreline of Boston Common, Hugh, Earl Percy, feigning indifference, watched the final company of regulars clamber into the three remaining boats. The past forty-five minutes he had watched agitated junior officers locate, remove, and relocate their charges across the upslope of the Common. Because none of the waiting boats had been assigned to specific units, the more assertive officers had attempted to commandeer those closest. Arguments and the co-mingling of companies had resulted. Percy had observed in the rank and file a gamut of conduct, little of it exemplary.
Ten rods to Percy's left, surrounded by a crowd of company captains, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith was seated on a chair, carried down, Percy assumed, from one of the barracks. "His attention is yet misdirected!" Percy muttered. If he, Percy, were commander, ... He wasn't!
Two hours ago General Gage had informed Earl Percy of Smith's appointment. The General had summoned Percy to the Province House to apprise him of his subordinate assignment. First, however, had been Gage's revelation that Colonel Smith was to lead. No! Percy had silently reacted. "I have placed Major Pitcairn second in command," the General had thereafter stated.
At once Percy had recognized Gage's reasoning. He had not wanted to offend his most senior field officer. An awful decision. Gage's selection of Pitcairn, however, had been astute. Honest, efficient, fair-minded, and shrewd, John Pitcairn had the ability to correct Smith's worst mistakes. Perhaps Smith would seek Pitcairn's counsel. Better yet, he might delegate to the Scotsman all decision-making responsibility.
These hurried thoughts had preceded Gage's announcement of Percy's assignment. "You shall command a sizeable force to be made ready to reinforce Colonel Smith and his men at or near the vicinity of Concord should events deem that action necessary." So, the General has his own doubts, Percy had thought. "But I don't think the rebels will fight."
Riding past tall, peak-roofed buildings during his return to his residence, Percy had pondered Gage's decision. A part of Percy's creed was his belief that in combat a commanding general should utilize the entirety of his resources. That meant employing to maximum benefit his best field officer. The General had chosen to proceed differently, presuming that the colonials would not contest Smith, saving Percy to avert calamity should his judgment be proven deficient.
The mismanagement that Percy had witnessed the past forty-five minutes had laid bare the importance of Gage's calculation.
Vulgar townsmen were gathering ever closer along the down slope. Most were of the worst element: artful, hypocritical, cruel! As was many a regular riding now the gentle current! Miscreants of every stripe abounded!
Like footpads out of black alleyways, these city villains were claiming ownership of the slope! Some stared, some were amused, many hurled insults at the soldiers, several of whom, revealed by the light of the moon, gestured and shouted back. Not willing to tolerate the scapegraces yet another minute, Percy walked aggressively up the hill.
He came upon a group of five standing in his way. To avoid interrogation and insult, he began a wide detour. Three turned to face him; one of them spoke.
"The British've marched, but they'll miss their aim."
Percy marked him. They reciprocated. One man's eyes traveled the length of his uniform.
"What aim?" he responded, his irritation evident.
"Why, the cannon at Concord," the gray-haired man said, smirking.
Percy stepped past them. With long strides he ascended the hill. A second cluster of men, blocking his way, scattered.
That the soldiers were "on the march" was evident. But to know precisely their purpose and destination!
"Where's Hamilton?! Who here has seen Hamilton?! Lickspittle jackanapes!"
Suppressing a grin, Ensign Jeremy Lister watched his captain, Lawrence Parsons, vociferate.
"He's in the barrack, sir," a corporal responded, separating himself from four soldiers calf deep in the water.
"Two messengers say he isn't! If he is, I'll court martial him!"
Lister had come to the shoreline both to watch the departure of several friends and discover what the surprise muster meant. They, subalterns of light infantry units, had received training in flanking maneuvers. He had not.
Although amused by Captain Parsons' tirade, he felt deprived.
"Ensign Lister." The young man pivoted. "Have you seen Hamilton?"
"Of course today! Somebody reported to me he was sick! Pansy-mouthed faggot!" Parsons glared up the slope. "We sneak our men down here. Our sergeants wake them with hands over their mouths! Everybody is quiet, does his job, and we're ready to load and Hamilton's not here! The fawning little ape!"
"I haven't seen him, sir. Not since yesterday." One of Lister's friends waved at him from a nearby boat.
"He dishonors me! He dishonors the regiment! He ... ah, here now! Here now we might hear something!"
A squat, beefy soldier was hurrying down the slope. Grasping his bullet pouch, halting ten feet away, he shook his head.
"What is it?!" Parsons scowled.
"Lieutenant Hamilton wishes t'inform you," the sergeant said in a neutral voice, "he's too sick t'go."
"Damn him! I will court martial him!"
"Sir! I, sir, volunteer!" Lister responded.
Captain Parsons stared at him no longer than a second. "Get your equipment!" he commanded. "Do not make the entire company wait!"
Lister sprinted up the hill.
Having dragged his trailing leg awkwardly through his opened bedroom window, Robert Newman lowered himself onto the roof of the abutting shed. For a good twenty seconds he listened. Across and down the roof he then proceeded, slowly silently, he prayed lest he be heard by the British officers downstairs at their game of whist. He had excused himself from the general company ten minutes earlier, telling his mother that he was tired and wanted to retire. At the edge of the roof, listening, staring, he detected no one in the street. Carefully, soundlessly, he lowered himself, his shoes reaching the top of an upright, empty flour barrel. Crouched atop the barrel, he extended his left leg until the toe of his shoe touched the pavement.
Had they heard him? Stiff as a grave marker, he listened.
The dark shape of Christ Church dwarfed him. He moved quickly across the street into its shadow. A young man, twenty-three, he was the church sexton. His older brother was the organist. Times were hard; Newman did not like his job; too bad. When Paul Revere had explained to him what he had wanted, Newman had been eager to participate. Afterward, he had reckoned the peril.
Hearing footsteps on the cobblestones, he stepped behind the church's corner. John Pulling emerged from the darkness. "Sssst! Over here!" Newman whispered.
Pulling was a church vestryman. Revere had recruited him to be Newman's lookout.
"Not here yet?" Pulling asked.
"He didn't say when. Any time, I suspect." He was right. Soon they heard aggressive footsteps. Paul Revere's broad figure approached.
"Nervous?" Revere asked, joining them at the church's darkest corner.
"You become accustomed to it." For perhaps ten seconds Revere gazed at the deserted street.
Newman was taken by the silversmith's air of confidence.
"The British soldiers are in the boats," Revere informed. "Go easy. Take your time. But do your work to its completion. If I'm arrested, our fortune may rest entirely upon what you accomplish." He patted Newman's left shoulder. "I must prepare to leave. God be with you."
Newman listened to Revere's footfalls and then, too soon, but the night sounds.
It was too late to renege.
"All right," he said, raising angrily his hands. He pulled out of his side coat pocket a ring of keys. He inserted a long key into the lock of the side entrance door. He turned the key and pushed open the door. Pulling nodded. Newman closed the door, locked it, and in darkness felt his way to a closet. Leaving it, carrying two lanterns, he moved to the stairway that led to the belfry.
Past the bell loft he climbed, the eight great bells within somnolent. He reached the highest window. To the north he saw in the moonlight the shoulder of Copp's Hill. Beyond lay the mouth of the Charles River and the glimmering lights of the Somerset, a moving, ethereal flicker.
He reached downward, lit the lanterns, and raised them chest high. Somewhere amid the lights of Charlestown, beyond the Somerset, Sons of Liberty were watching. They would now know that Gage's soldiers were crossing the Back Bay.
Having counted to twenty, he set the lanterns down below the window. He extinguished them. Such a short while they had glowed, but Mr. Revere had assured him that patriots of Liberty would be watching. He had not wanted others, especially sailors on the man-of-war, to see them!
Other people, however, just might! An officer, taking a brisk walk along Snow Street. Newman imagined others: a soldier at the burying ground engaging a whore, sentries idling at the Charlestown Ferry. How swiftly might the source of that strange illumination be determined? How soon might soldiers be dispatched to investigate?
He heard unnatural sounds in the street! Sounds loud enough to startle him. What was Pulling doing? His heart thumped.
He waited a full minute.
He imagined Pulling arrested, soldiers posted silently outside the main entrance. Impeded by doubt, by anxiety, he tarried.
Ashamed of his cowardice, he willed himself down the dark stairway. He returned the lanterns to the closet. Then, to the opposite end of the church he walked, stopping to listen after each step. Eventually, he reached the window farthest from the main entrance. He opened it, not without some noise, listened again to silence, climbed through it, and placed his shoes on firm soil.
Five minutes later he was standing on the roof of the shed adjacent to his bedroom window. He eased himself soundlessly over the sill. Leaving his outer garments on the floor, he climbed into his bed. For at least an hour he lay still, his agitated mind imagining frightful consequences.
Below, concluding a most delightful evening, the officers jested and guffawed.
"What do we have here?!" Colonel Smith had blocked Lister's way to the boat. Standing beside Smith, Major John Pitcairn stared. Two aides, behind the officers, squinted. "You shall not accompany us!" Smith raised his chin. "We are not accepting volunteers!"
"Sir, I am replacing a sick officer," Lister said stiltedly.
"On whose authority may I ask?"
"Captain Parsons, sir."
"And where is Captain Parsons? I wish to speak to him."
"I believe he's in one of the boats, sir."
Colonel Smith glanced, perfunctorily, at the nearest boat. "I see."
Lister moved his feet.
Smith cleared his throat.
"Simply put, I will not let you go!"
"But, sir, the company requires my presence!"
"You have not had the necessary training. I think not!" Smith's small, round eyes censured him.
Lister stammered, gestured expansively. "Sir, my absence'll reflect upon the honor of our regiment!"
Again, Colonel Smith raised his chin. Eyebrows high, he stared. "How so, ensign?"
"The 10th'll be the only regiment whose two flank companies will not have their full complement of officers!"
The Colonel touched the base of his chin. He nodded ever so slightly. "I fairly admit that the honor of one's regiment must be preserved!" He glanced at Pitcairn, who had turned his attention to the boats. Smith thereupon straightened. "Seen in that light, ensign, I shall permit you to serve."
"Thank you, sir." Lister saluted him. The Colonel turned away.
Lister stepped through the shallow water. His left hand on the gunwale of the nearest boat, he stared at the shoreline. Not counting the two senior officers and their truckling aides, he would be the last soldier loaded. "What a fellow you are," he muttered.
"How could this be?! I have spoken about it only to you, and my wife!" General Gage resumed his pacing, then stopped. "Colonel Smith does not know! He has sealed orders, which he is to open once he reaches Cambridge!"
"Sir, is there anyone else, someone, maybe an unguarded remark?"
Hands pressed against the small of his back, the General scowled. "Yes. Yes," he said, nodding, "those officers who must perform special duties. Major Mitchell. He and junior officers of his selection. I sent them into the country to intercept express riders!" Gage's eyes evaded Percy's. "Also, this afternoon, several artillery men on horses, with disassembling tools, to hide in the woods beyond Menotomy, where they are to await Smith's column. I must emphasize, all of them are loyal soldiers, hand-picked men, sworn to secrecy!"
"Yes sir. Indeed, I take your point." Percy unclasped his hands, lowered them below his waist. "What I have described to you wears, now that you have spoken, a different aspect."
"Rife speculation. Sir, put yourself in their stead. Munitions in Concord. Soldiers embarking in boats. Concord seventeen miles away. The stores common knowledge throughout this city. I find this explanation compelling."
"Just so." Gage nodded. "Determined whether by deduction or hard evidence, the horse is out of the barn! The question that is germane, Colonel Percy, is, Do I abort the raid?!" Staring over Percy's left shoulder, Gage rubbed the joints of his right hand.
Percy gazed through the window that overlooked Orange Street. Expecting the sound of a horse's hooves or the wheels of a wagon, he heard nothing. "Sir, even if the foray's advent is common knowledge outside this building," he said, "it may yet not be anticipated in Concord. You have only this evening deployed the soldiers."
The General sighed. He stared at the floor. Percy empathized. Often before battle, and most definitely thereafter, plans went awry. Expect the unexpected, the old adage went. Do thereafter what appears right. Still, ...
"We can expect now a concerted attempt to alert the militia. Major Mitchell bears a grave responsibility."
Gage crossed the room. For perhaps twenty seconds he stared out the one window. Head raised, shoulders straight, he turned. "Come what may, we shall finish this. An early start on the road to Concord, arrival at dawn, a swift conclusion to our business, it can yet be done. I do not see why this cannot succeed, as planned!"
Percy recalled Colonel Smith's tardy arrival at the shoreline. He visualized the chaotic embarkation.
"I still believe that confronted by our disciplined soldiers the provincial farmer will desist. He is not a coward, but he is practical. At times he is very shrewd."
"At times, yes. I do agree."
"So we shall go as planned." Hands joined, General Gage fixated on two picture frames, slightly off kilter, on the near wall. "I am confident of success," he declared. Eye pouches visible, he turned to his subordinate. "Notwithstanding, you had best sleep lightly, for I will not hesitate to require your service."
Softly, softly, the muffled oars dipped into the water. The boat was marking a broad semi-circle about the Somerset, turning ever so slightly against its cable.
The boat's occupants did not speak. Joshua Bentley and Thomas Richardson were laboring to bring the boat closer to the mouth of the river. Neither man glanced at the Somerset's dark hull. Paul Revere, motionless as stone, regarded little else.
Up current, longboats were ferrying soldiers to Lechmere's Point. If he and they in the boat reached the Charlestown landing, he would have little time to act following his conversation with Colonel Conant.
He glanced at the North Boston skyline, confident that the lanterns had been lit and the Colonel and those assisting him had witnessed them. How long would they wait for his arrival before deciding that he had been taken? Because of their hesitancy, how late would be his replacement's departure?
These questions did not require answers. Having left the Somerset behind, the little boat now approached the Old Battery. He and they at the oars had won. Joy replaced trepidation. Impulsively, Revere lifted Richardson's feet. The muscular rower let loose a robust oath.
Laughing yet, Revere saw over Richardson's left shoulder one of Colonel Conant's militiamen, gesturing at the edge of the Battery dock. Waving his arms, Revere shouted.