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- Who Spoke Next - 1/7 -



With Illustrations by Billings and others


Boys are not apt to forget a promise of a story. Frank and Harry did not fail to call upon their mother for the history of the old musket.

"It appeared to me," said the mother, "that the old musket was not very willing to tell his story. He had a sort of old republican pride, and felt himself superior to the rest of the company in character and importance. When he had made himself heard in the world hitherto, it had always been by one short, but very decided and emphatic word; he despised any thing like a palaver; so he began very abruptly, and as if he had half a mind not to speak at all, because he could not speak in his own way.

"None but fools," said he, "have much to say about themselves-- 'Deeds, not words,' is a good motto for all. But as I would not be churlish, and as I have agreed, as well as the rest of my companions, to tell my story, I will mention what few things worth relating I can recollect.

I have no distinct consciousness, as my friend the pitcher or the curling tongs has, of what I was before the ingenuity of man brought me into my present form. I would only mention that all the different materials of which I was formed must have been perfect of their kind, or I could never have performed the duties required of me.

My first very distinct recollection is of being stood up in the way I am standing now, with a long row of my brethren, of the same shape and character as myself, as I supposed. This was in a large building somewhere in England. I, like the curling tongs, was at last packed up in a box, and brought to America, but it took a rather larger box to take me and my friends, than it took to pack up him and his friends, with all their thin straddle legs."

Creak went the curling tongs at this personal attack.

"We were brought to this country," continued the old musket, "by an Englishman. Little did he think how soon we should take part against our Fatherland, or he would have kept us at home.

One day, the elder brother of the gentleman who owned our little friend curling tongs came into the shop where I then was, and, after looking at all the muskets, selected me as one that he might trust. As he paid for me, he said to the man, "This is an argument which we shall soon have to use in defence of our liberties."

"I fear we shall," said the shopman, "and if many men are of your mind, I hope, sir, you will recommend my shop to them. I shall be happy to supply all true patriots with the very best English muskets."

My new master smiled, and took me home to his house in the country.

The family consisted of himself, his wife, and three children--two sons and a daughter. The eldest son was eighteen, the second sixteen, and the daughter fourteen. The mistress of the house turned pale when she saw my master bring me in and quietly set me down in a corner of the room behind the old clock.

Presently the two young men entered. The younger shuddered a little when he saw me, but the elder clapped his hands and exclaimed, "That's good! We have got a musket now, and the English will find out that we know how to use it!"

"Pray to God, my son," said his mother, "that we may never have to use it."

The boy did not give much heed to what his mother said, but took me up, examined me all over, and, after snapping my trigger two or three times, pronounced me to be a real good musket, and placed me again in the corner where his father had put me at first.

The next day, my master took me out to try me. I confess I was not pleased at the first charge with which I was loaded. When I felt the powder, ball, wadding and all, rammed down so hard, it was as disagreeable to me as a boy's first hard lesson in grammar is to him, and seemed to me as useless, for I did not then know what I was made for, nor of what use all this stuffing could be. But when my master pulled the trigger, and I heard the neighboring hills echo and reecho with the sound, I began to feel that I was made for something, and grew a little vain at the thought of the noise I should make in the world.

I did not then know all I was created for; it seemed to me that it was only to make a great noise. I soon learned better, and understood the purpose of my being more perfectly.

A few days after this, the family was all astir some time before sunrise. There was a solemn earnestness in their faces, even in the youngest of them, that was very impressive.

At last, my master took me up, put me in complete order, loaded me and set me down in the same place, saying as he did so, "Now all is ready." His wife sighed heavily. He looked at her and said, "My dear, would you not have us defend our children and firesides against the oppressors?"

"Yes," she said, "go, but my heart must ache at the thought of what may happen. If I could only go with you!"

They sat silent for a long time, holding each other's hands, and looking at their children, till, just at sunrise, his brother John, that sleeping child's grandfather, rushed into the house, crying, "They are in sight from the hill. Come, Tom, quickly, come to the church." My master seized me in a moment, kissed his wife and children, and without speaking hastened to the place where the few men of the then very small town were assembled to resist the invaders.

Presently about eight hundred men, all armed with muskets as good as I was, and of the same fashion, were seen. These men had two cannon with them which made a fearful show to the poor colonists, as the Americans were then called.

Our men were about one hundred in number. The lordly English marched up within a few rods of us, and one called out, "Disperse, you rebels. Lay down your arms, and disperse."

Our men did not however lay down their arms. My master grasped me tighter than before. We did not stir an inch. Immediately the British officers fired their pistols, then a few of their men fired their muskets, and, at last, the whole party fired upon our little band as we were retreating. They killed eight men, and then went on to Concord, to do more mischief there.

I felt a heavy weight fall upon me; it was my master's dead body; and so I learned what muskets were made for. His fingers were on the trigger; as he fell, he pulled it, and in that sound his spirit seemed to depart.

The British marched on to Concord, and the poor brave people of Lexington, who had so gallantly made the first resistance, were left to mourn over dead companions and friends.

Soon the eldest son of my master discovered his father among the slain. The poor fellow! I never shall forget his sorrow. He groaned as if his heart would break, and then he laid himself down on the ground by the side of his father's body, and wept bitterly.

One must be made of harder stuff than I am, to forget such a thing as this. I do not ever like to speak of it, or of the painful scene that followed. The poor widow and her fatherless children! It seemed a dreadful work that I and such as I were made to perform.

But there were other things to be thought of then. The British soon returned from Concord, where they had destroyed some barrels of flour and killed two or three men.

In the mean time, the men from all the neighboring towns collected together, armed with all the muskets they could find, and annoyed them severely on their return by firing on them from behind stone walls.

My master's brother took me from the corner where I had been again placed, and joined the party. He placed himself behind a fence by which they must pass, and took such good aim with me that down fell a man every time I spoke.

Other muskets performed the same work. What they did you may judge of, when I tell you that, while two hundred and seventy-three Englishmen fell that day, only eighty-eight Americans were killed. I will not talk of what I myself performed, for I despise a boaster, but I did my share of duty, I believe.

About two months after this, uncle John, as the children called him, came again to borrow me. He was going to join the few brave men who opposed the British force at Bunker or Breed's Hill.

"Sister," he said, "you will lend me the musket, will you not? I cannot afford to buy one, and we must teach these English what stuff we are made of."

"Let me go, Mother," said the eldest boy. "I am old enough now; I am almost nineteen; let me go."

His mother said nothing; she looked at the vacant chair which was called his father's; she considered a while, and then took me and put me into her son's hands.

"God bless you, William," she said, "and bring you back safe to us; but do your duty and fear nothing."

She kissed him, and he left her. I felt William's heart beat bravely as he shouldered me. He was a fine fellow. We were as one. I was proud of him, and he of me. No man and musket did better than

Who Spoke Next - 1/7

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