The tall green tree its shadow cast
Upon Howe's army that southward passed
From Gordon's Ford to the Quaker town,
Intending in quarters to settle down
Till snows were gone, and spring again
Should easier make a new campaign.
Beyond the fences that lined the way,
The fields of Captain Richardson lay;
His woodland and meadows reached far and wide,
From the hills behind to the Schuylkill's side,
Across the stream, in the mountain gorge,
He could see the smoke of the valley forge.
The Captain had fought in the frontier war;
When the fight was done, bearing seam and scar,
He marched back home to tread once more
The same tame round he had trod before,
And turn his thoughts with sighs of regret
To his ploughshares, wishing them sword-blades yet.
He put the meadow in corn that year,
And swore till his blacks were white with fear.
He plowed, and planted, and married a wife,
But life grew weary with inward strife.
His blood was hot and his throbbing brain
Beat with the surf of some far main.
Should he sack a town, or rob the mail,
Or on the wide seas a pirate sail?
He pondered it over, concluding instead,
To buy three steeds in Arabia bred,
On Sopus, Fearnaught, or Scipio,
He felt his blood more evenly flow.
To his daughter Tacey, the coming days
Brought health, and beauty, and graceful ways.
He taught her to ride his fleetest steed
At a five-barred fence, or a ditch at need,
And the Captain's horses, his hounds, and his child
Were famous from sea to forests wild.
Master and man from home were gone,
And Fearnaught held the stables alone,
And Mistress Tacey her spirit showed
The morning the British came down the road.
She hid the silver, and drove the cows
To the island behind the willow boughs.
Was time too short? or did she forget
That Fearnaught stood in the stables yet?
Across the fields to the gate she ran,
And followed the path 'neath the grape-arbors' span;
On the doorstep she paused and turned to see
The head of the line beneath the green tree.
The last straggler passed, the night came on,
And then 'twas discovered that Fearnaught was gone;
Sometime, somehow, from his stall he was led,
Where an old gray horse was left in his stead,
And Tacey must prove to her father that she
Had been prepared for the emergency.
For the words he scattered on kind soil fell,
And Tacey had learned his maxim well
In the stories he read. She remembered the art
That concealed the fear in Esther's heart;
How the words of the woman Abigail
Appeased the king's wrath, the deed of Jael!
How Judith went from the city's gate
Across the plain as the day grew late,
To the tent of the great Assyrian;
The leader exalted with horse and man,
And brought back his head, said Tacey: "Of course,
A more difficult feat than to bring back a horse."
In the English camp the reveille drum
Told the sleeping troops that the dawn had come,
And the shadows abroad that with night were blent
At the drum's tap startled, crept under each tent
As Tacey stole from the sheltering wood
Across the wet grass where the horse pound stood.
Hark! was it the twitter of frightened bird,
Or was it the challenge of sentry she heard?
She entered unseen, but her footsteps she stayed
When the old gray horse in the wood still, neighed,
Half hid in the mist a shape loomed tall,
A steed that answered her well-known call.
With freedom beyond for the recompense
She sprang to his back, and leaped the fence;
Too late the alarm; but Tacey heard
As she sped away how the camp was stirred,
The stamping of horses, the shouts of men
And the bugle's impatient call again.
Loudly and fast on the Ridge Road beat
The regular fall of Fearnaught's feet,
On his broad, bare back his rider's seat
Was as firm as the tread of the steed so fleet;
Small need of saddle, or bridle rein,
He answered as well her touch on his mane.
On down the hill by the river shore,
Faster and faster she rode than before;
Her bonnet fell back, her head was bare,
And the river breeze that freed her hair
Dispersed the fog, and she heard the shout
Of the troopers behind when the sun came out.
The wheel at Van Deering's had dripped nearly dry,
In Sabbath-like stillness the morning passed by;
Then the clatter of hoofs came down the hill,
And the white old miller ran out from the mill.
But he only saw through the dust of the road
The last red-coat that faintly showed.
To Tacey the sky, and the trees, and the wind
Seemed all to rush toward her, and follow behind,
Her lips were set firm, and pale was her cheek
As she plunged down the hill and through the creek,
The tortoise shell comb that she lost that day
The Wissahickon carried away.
On the other side up the stony hill
The feet of Fearnaught went faster still,
But somewhat backward the troopers fell,
For the hill, and the pace, began to tell
On their horses worn with a long campaign
O'er rugged mountains, and weary plain.
The road was deserted, for when men fought
A secret path the traveler sought;
Two scared idlers in Levering's Inn
Fled to the woods at the coming din,
The watch dog ran to bark his delight,
But pursued and pursuers were out of sight.
Surely the distance between them increased,
And the shouts of the troopers had long since ceased,
One after another pulled his rein
And rode with great oaths to the camp again.
Oft a look backward Tacey sent
To the fading red of the regiment.
She heard the foremost horseman call;
She saw the horse stumble, the rider fall;
She patted her steed and checked his pace
And leisurely rode the rest of the race.
When the Seven-Stars' sign on the horizon showed
Behind not a trooper was on the road.
In vain had they shouted who followed in chase,
In vain their wild ride; so ended the race.
Though fifty strong voices may clamor and call,
If she hear not the strongest, she hears not them all;
Though fifty fleet horses go galloping fast,
One swifter than all shall be furthest at last.
Said the well-pleased Captain when he came home:
"The steed shall be thine and a new silver comb.
'Twas a daring deed and bravely done."
As proud of the praise as the promise won,
The maiden stole from the house to feed
With a generous hand her gallant steed.
Unavailing the storms of the century beat
With the roar of thunder, or winter's sleet,
The mansion still stands, and is heard as of yore
The wind in the trees on the island's shore;
But the restless river its shore line wears
And no longer the island its old name bears.
And years that are gone in obscurity
Have enveloped the rider's memory,
But in Providence still abide her race,
Brave youths with her spirit, fair maids with her grace,
Undaunted they stand when fainter hearts flee,
Prepared whatsoever the emergency.