Home  »  library  »  Song  »  George Houghton

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

George Houghton

The Legend of Walbach Tower

  • [Scene: Fort Constitution, on the island of Newcastle, off Portsmouth, New Hampshire,—Colonel Walbach commanding. Period, the fall of 1813.]

  • MORE ill at ease was never man than Walbach, that Lord’s day,

    When, spent with speed, a trawler cried, “A war-ship heads this way!”

    His pipe, half filled, to shatters flew; he climbed the ridge of knolls,

    And turning spy-glass toward the east, swept the long reach of Shoals.

    An hour he watched: behind his back the Portsmouth spires waxed red;

    Its harbor like a field of war, a brazen shield o’erhead.

    Another hour: the sundown gun the Sabbath stillness brake;

    When loud a second voice hallooed, “Two war-ships hither make!”

    Again the colonel scanned the east, where soon white gleams arose:

    Behind Star Isle they first appeared, then flashed o’er Smuttynose.

    Fleet-winged they left Duck Isle astern; when, rounding full in view,

    Lo! in the face of Appledore three Britishers hove to.

    “To arms, O townsfolk!” Walbach cried. “Behold these black hawk three!

    Whether they pluck old Portsmouth town rests now with you and me.

    “The guns of Kittery, and mine, may keep the channel clear,

    If but one pintle-stone be raised to ward me in the rear.

    “But scarce a score my muster-roll; the earthworks lie unmanned;

    (Whereof some mouthing spy, no doubt, has made them understand;)

    “And if, ere dawn, their long-boat keels once kiss the nether sands,

    My every port-hole’s mouth is stopped, and we be in their hands!”

    Then straightway from his place upspake the parson of the town:

    “Let us beseech Heaven’s blessing first!”—and all the folk knelt down.

    “O God, our hands are few and faint; our hope rests all with thee:

    Lend us thy hand in this sore strait,—and thine the glory be.”

    “Amen! Amen!” the chorus rose; “Amen!” the pines replied;

    And through the church-yard’s rustling grass an “Amen” softly sighed.

    Astir the village was awhile, with hoof and iron clang;

    Then all grew still, save where, aloft, a hundred trowels rang.

    None supped, they say, that Lord’s-day eve; none slept, they say, that night:

    But all night long, with tireless arms, each toiled as best he might.

    Four flax-haired boys of Amazeen the flickering torches stay,

    Peopling with Titan shadow-groups the canopy of gray;

    Grandsires, with frost above their brows, the steaming mortar mix;

    Dame Tarlton’s apron, crisp at dawn, helps hod the yellow bricks;

    While pilot, cooper, mackerelman, parson and squire as well,

    Make haste to plant the pintle-gun, and raise its citadel.

    And one who wrought still tells the tale, that as his task he plied,

    An unseen fellow-form he felt that labored at his side;

    And still to wondering ears relates, that as each brick was squared,

    Lo! unseen trowels clinked response, and a new course prepared.

    O night of nights! The blinking dawn beheld the marvel done,

    And from the new martello boomed the echoing morning gun.

    One stormy cloud its lips upblew; and as its thunder rolled,

    Old England saw, above the smoke, New England’s flag unfold.

    Then, slowly tacking to and fro, more near the cruisers made,

    To see what force unheralded had flown to Walbach’s aid.

    “God be our stay,” the parson cried, “who hearkened Israel’s wail!”

    And as he spake,—all in a line, seaward the ships set sail.