The Ride of Collins Graves

by John Boyle O'Reilly

AN INCIDENT OF THE FLOOD IN MASSACHUSETTS, ON MAY 16, 1874.

No song of a soldier riding down To the raging fight from Winchester town; No song of a time that shook the earth With the nations' throe at a nation's birth; But the song of a brave man, free from fear As Sheridan's self, or Paul Revere; Who risked what they risked, free from strife, And its promise of glorious pay—his life!
The peaceful valley has waked and stirred, And the answering echoes of life are heard: The dew still clings to the trees and grass, And the early toilers smiling pass, As they glance aside at the white-walled homes, Or up the valley, where merrily comes The brook that sparkles in diamond rills As the sun comes over the Hampshire hills.
What was it, that passed like an ominous breath— Like a shiver of fear, or a touch of death? What was it? The valley is peaceful still, And the leaves are afire on top of the hill. It was not a sound—nor a thing of sense— But a pain, like the pang of the short suspense That thrills the being of those who see At their feet the gulf of Eternity!
The air of the valley has felt the chill: The workers pause at the door of the mill; The housewife, keen to the shivering air, Arrests her foot on the cottage stair, Instinctive taught by the mother-love, And thinks of the sleeping ones above. Why start the listeners? Why does the course Of the mill-stream widen? Is it a horse— Hark to the sound of his hoofs, they say— That gallops so wildly Williamsburg way!
God! what was that, like a human shriek From the winding valley? Will nobody speak? Will nobody answer those women who cry As the awful warnings thunder by?
Whence come they? Listen! And now they hear The sound of the galloping horse-hoofs near; They watch the trend of the vale, and see The rider who thunders so menacingly, With waving arms and warning scream To the home-filled banks of the valley stream. He draws no rein, but he shakes the street With a shout and the ring of the galloping feet; And this the cry he flings to the wind: "To the hills for your lives! The flood is behind!"
He cries and is gone; but they know the worst— The breast of the Williamsburg dam has burst! The basin that nourished their happy homes Is changed to a demon—It comes! it comes!
A monster in aspect, with shaggy front Of shattered dwellings, to take the brunt Of the homes they shatter—white-maned and hoarse, The merciless Terror fills the course Of the narrow valley, and rushing raves, With Death on the first of its hissing waves, Till cottage and street and crowded mill Are crumbled and crushed.
But onward still, In front of the roaring flood is heard The galloping horse and the warning word. Thank God! the brave man's life is spared! From Williamsburg town he nobly dared To race with the flood and take the road In front of the terrible swath it mowed. For miles it thundered and crashed behind, But he looked ahead with a steadfast mind; "They must be warned!" was all he said, As away on his terrible ride he sped.
When heroes are called for, bring the crown To this Yankee rider: send him down On the stream of time with the Curtius old; His deed as the Roman's was brave and bold, And the tale can as noble a thrill awake, For he offered his life for the people's sake.