The First "Huzzah!"
April 18, 1775
Travis Danvers squinted, trying to penetrate the darkness that shrouded the dusty road ahead, but he could see nothing other than the deep gray outline of low stone walls and the silhouettes of naked white birch trees that shimmered in the light of a bright half moon.
Yet he sensed something more.
The sounds of night had suddenly ceased. Crickets and peepers and night birds went silent all at once. Some distant vibration had spread alarm to sensitive antennae and all song and chatter had instantly stopped.
Then Travis saw it. Straight ahead. A pinpoint flicker of light. And the silence was broken by the muffled, high-pitched echo of a human voice and the unmistakable patter of a horse's hooves drumming toward him over hard ground.
It didn’t make sense. Why would anyone be riding hard on the road to Lexington in the middle of the night? And what was all the shouting about?
Travis stepped out of the shadows into the moonlight-mottled road and waited, calculating his next move. He could still hear the hoofbeats, much closer now. One horse, he decided, one rider. Any more than one and he would have hidden in the darkness on the chance it was a redcoat patrol.
Small chance, he mused. They'd never send out just one rider. They wouldn't dare.
Suddenly the horse and rider burst out of the darkness into the dim light, bearing down on him in a swirl of dust and staccato hoofbeets.
"Hello!" Travis called, waving his arms.
"Who's there?" shouted the rider pulling hard on the reins and drawing his mount to a halt.
"Travis Danvers—and who are you?"
"Travis! It's me. Paul Revere."
"Paul! I couldn't see you in the dark. Pray, what are you doing out here?"
"I have come from Boston," Revere replied, breathing heavily. "The British are on the move. I must find Adams and Hancock and warn them. I just escaped the clutches of a British patrol. They may not be far behind me."
"What's happening, Paul?"
"The redcoats are marching to Lexington—and to Concord according to Joseph Warren. They seek to arrest Adams and Hancock in Lexington and confiscate our munitions in Concord."
"Then it has begun, has it?"
For a moment Paul Revere just sat and stroked his horse's neck. It struck Travis that Revere's soft, cherubic features had more the look of a poet than of a freedom fighter.
"I don't know, Travis," Revere replied. "I am disposed to think it began years ago, even before you and I first met on the Boston piers."
"Yes," Travis murmured, "the tea party."
"We must hasten to alert the minutemen," Revere went on. "And Adams and Hancock.
"I'm headed for Salem and Marblehead," Danvers offered. "I shall do what I can, though the men of Marblehead are all at sea."
"Good. I shall be on my way then, Travis."
Revere turned his horse and started away. As he did he said with the hint of a smile, "Someday, Travis, I hope you tell me what your are doing out here in the middle of the night."
"Why, I was waiting for you, Paul," Travis answered with an innocent grin.
Revere gave a loud guffaw, slapped his horse and was gone.
With Revere and others spreading the alarm about the redcoats, the men of Massachusetts tumbled from their beds, grabbed their muskets and headed for assembly points.
Paul Revere's ride, however, came to an abrupt end just outside Lexington. Travis later learned that he had been captured by a British patrol. But in the chaos of the moment, with horses and men running every which way around them, the British patrol did not know what to do with Revere. They took his horse and left Revere standing alone in the middle of a field.
* * * * *
While Paul Revere rode into history, Travis Danvers quickened his pace to spread the alarm to Salem and Marblehead. He was glad Revere hadn't pushed him to explain why he was on the road, alone, in the middle of the night.
He knew Revere would see through any white lie he conjured up. The man was no fool. He'd suspect that the most likely reason a man would take a ten-mile hike at midnight—was a woman.
Tall, statuesque, serenely beautiful Betsy Haber was that woman.
Travis had dined with Betsy Haber just hours before he met Paul Revere on the road to Lexington. And she was giving him fits. When he'd first laid eyes on Betsy Haber at a church dinner seven months ago, he'd felt a rush of excitement. She was so feminine and so elegant. And she smiled all the time. When she looked at him and pursed her lips as if to think, he felt a tingle from his loins to his scalp. He'd never had such feelings before. And he had been married. He had loved his wife, Leah, he was sure. They'd had a son, Adam. But Leah had rarely smiled. She had trouble adapting to the rugged world of Marblehead. She seemed weary and discontented after Adam was born and even told Travis she wished she'd never left England. Travis felt guilty about the life he had brought upon Leah, but he trusted time would change everything. It did. Leah contracted smallpox and died.
Travis was left heavy-laden. He felt responsible for Leah's death. His son, barely four years old, had seen his mother carried away, never to return, and didn't understand. For months Adam cried and whispered, "Momma," each mournful yearning a dagger in Travis's own heart. Travis withdrew, turned insular, rarely left his house, convinced by his Puritan ethics that it was his duty and penance to care for Adam alone. When he did venture out, it was for a walk with Adam or for church or to pick up supplies, but his senses were numb. He didn't feel the warmth of spring or hear the sermons in church or notice people who passed him by.
For nearly two years Travis trudged through life, his head held low, totally unprepared for the sudden, overwhelming attraction to Betsy Haber that shattered his self-imposed armor of exile like a lightening bolt.
When Besty told him she lived on a small farm on Dorchester Heights he did childish things. He created reasons to be in the area. He would suggest to Adam that it was a fine day to fly a kite and that Dorchester Heights was the best place to do it, though it was fifteen miles from Marblehead. At other times, when Adam was in school, Travis went to Dorchester Heights with no real reason in mind. If anyone asked, he decided, he'd say he came for the view.
Finally his ruses had worked. Betsy spied him one day when he was alone, slowly trudging past her farm. She had hailed him and come running from her small house to invite him in. And that's when the trouble began. Emotions he'd never felt before swept over him like a typhoon. He was so disconcerted by the excitement he felt that, for a moment, he could not speak. His throat constricted. What sounds he could utter were unnatural and high-pitched.
Though his incapacity did not last long, it was enough to embarrass him.
They had visited for a spell, comfortably, without awkwardness or pretense, acutely aware of each other, secretly studying one another, as if trying to understand what was causing the sweetness and glow that threatened to envelope the whole room.
When it was time for Travis to leave, they quickly agreed to meet again. Betsy suggested they rendezvous in Boston so Travis would not have to travel so far. They set the date for April 18.
When the day came, Travis was determined to be in control. As he traveled from Marblehead he practiced speaking in low, solemn tones. He established several subjects he could easily discuss—the ship's bell he would buy, the weather, the British ships in Marblehead Harbor. And when he did meet Betsy, he was gratified by his disciplined demeanor.
He laughed and chatted easily, without vocal paralysis. He was in the midst of privately congratulating himself on his preparations when, while crossing a street, Betsy put her arm in his. Her touch caused him to stiffen. Betsy felt him twitch and squeezed his arm, forcing him to look at her. She had looked up at him and smiled and whispered, "Are you quite all right?"
Travis cleared his throat and nodded but, for what seemed an eternity to him, could not utter a word. Betsy regarded him pleasantly, patted his arm as if he were a little boy and suggested they separate for a time. She had business to attend to and knew he did too. Thankful for the time to collect himself, Travis agreed. They decided to meet later the same day for dinner at the Blue Swan Inn in Metonomy, where Betsy was spending the night.
Going to dinner in Metonomy would add more than five miles to Travis's trip back to Marblehead and put him on the road in the middle of the night. When he was alone he chided himself for how senseless he'd become.
What am I doing? I'm nearly thirty-one years old. The things I feel are infantile and inexcusable. She is six years my junior. I have a son who considers me a giant among men. I'm a schooner captain. I can outsail the entire Royal Navy. I am personal friends with members of the provincial government. I can and will take control of this minor situation with Betsy Haber!
He knew in his heart, however, that he was lost. Images of Betsy tugged at him. Her full lower lip, the way it protruded just enough to make him fancy her as brooding, or defiant, or irresistibly sensuous. The sheen of her curly amber hair, the rise and fall of a pendant lying upon her quickening bosom, the regal way she carried herself. And her eyes! Those sparkling hazel eyes. They'd flash at him, disarm him, leave him feeling as if, in her presence, he was no more than a flat shadow.
When Betsy entered the dining room of the Blue Swan Inn Travis lurched from his chair to greet her and knocked over an imported crystal water tumbler. It drenched one of his legs before smashing to bits on the floor.
They dined on pork loin, vegetables and freshly baked buns. Travis finally relaxed and they talked. Betsy told Travis she'd been an orphan for fourteen years. Her father had died of pneumonia in the winter of '60 and her mother had simply given up and died, too, within six months. Betsy had lived and worked with a farming family in Vermont until four years ago, when Jason Colbert, a distant cousin of her father's, had died and left her the farm on Dorchester Heights. She'd leased the land to other farmers and used the small income to become a partner in a blacksmith shop in Boston.
Travis told Betsy about his sailing and his son and, finally, his wife. He still felt grief, he said, but mostly he couldn't shake off the heavy burden of regret. He confessed that he felt guilty for forcing upon Leah a life she didn't want, that she'd be alive and happy somewhere if he hadn't married her.
Betsy let him talk, and when he was through she said, "Leah chose you, Travis. She had good years with you. You are kind and sensitive, and I know Leah thanks you for what you tried to do for her. Someday maybe I'll find a man like you."
Her last words were still singing in his ears when he began his trek to Marblehead and met up with Paul Revere.
He quickened his pace, anxious to reach Marblehead and his militia regiment, hoping the British foray onto the mainland was just saber-rattling, not the portent of some greater threat to his country—or to his courtship of Betsy.
* * * * *
As the sky lightened on the morning of April 19, seven hundred British regulars appeared on the outskirts of Lexington. A detachment of soldiers left the main formation and marched to Lexington Green. Roused from their beds by Paul Revere and other nightriders, a collection of Massachusetts militia and minutemen had gathered on the green. But they had no leader, no plan. As the detachments of redcoats appeared they had no idea of what to do. They shouted at the British soldiers, insulted them, raised their fists in defiance, and were about to disperse, simply walk away, when a shot was fired.
No one knows who fired the first shot; whether it came from the redcoats or from an overzealous patriot, whether it was accidental or intentional, whether it was from a pistol or a musket, but it was forever "the shot heard 'round the world."
Immediately more shots were fired. Eight Americans died. Ten were wounded. Two British were hit by musket balls, but there were no redcoat fatalities.
Later that day the redcoats marched into Concord—and soon wished they hadn't. Several thousand Massachusetts men had gathered there. Still virtually leaderless, but incited by news of what had happened in Lexington, these men acted individually or in small groups. They attacked the British formation from behind trees and buildings and stone walls. They peppered the redcoats from the front, the flanks, the rear. In every way they ignored the traditions and "etiquette" of warfare and forced His Majesty's troops to flee. Bloodied, beaten and screaming in panic, they redcoats stumbled from Concord in full retreat. Word reached Boston of the turn of events, and loyalists and patriots alike rushed to Beacon Hill to see what would happen next. What they saw was inconceivable: the royal troops running for Charlestown, running for their lives with motley farmers chasing them, shouting "Huzzah! Huzzah!"
Exhausted, humiliated, with scores of dead men, the British streamed across Charlestown Neck, the narrow strip of land connecting Charlestown to the mainland. Finally, they were safe. If the Americans tried to follow across the sixty-yard wide strip they'd be blasted to bits by the royal man-of-war, the Somerset.
The patriots realized the danger and stopped, cutting off all pursuit. The British quickly sent ferries for their troops and returned them across the 580 yards of channel water to Boston. With nothing else to do, the minutemen and militia spread out on the mainland, set up camps, and laid siege to Boston, cutting off all passage to the mainland.
After one day of hostilities, the war lapsed into its first stalemate. The rebels sat in their camps on the mainland and snarled at the redcoats who, in several places, were less than three hundred yards away.
Firefly by Rich Hughes, copyright 2002. Used by permission. All rights reserved.