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A Ride to Remember
The tiny, tidy houses of the colonies were huddled close together in the deserted streets as if to keep warm in the crisp, daunting September breezes of New York in 1777. The sun had dimmed hours ago, and the unrest and dissent of rebellion lingered in the gloomy streets from the arched backs of the alley cats to the funnels of smoke snaking from the chimneys.
However, the contents of these houses were peacefully sleeping. This included the house of Colonel Henry Ludington, the esteemed militia officer and proud father of eight. His children included Sybil, their oldest, Rebecca, Mary, Archibald, Henry, Derrick, Tertullus, and Abbigail. They were blissfully unaware of the fire raging in Danbury, the militia’s storage place for their supplies, until they heard the news that would forever change their lives.
The entire household was awakened by the sharp rapping on the door. Colonel Ludington hurried to answer it, while his wife rushed to the children’s rooms to calm them. Sybil hastily put on a worn, pale blue dress over her nightgown, and scrambled down the stairs. At the door, a ragged messenger was speaking with her father in a hushed but urgent tone.
“Colonel Ludington, sir, the British are burning Danbury!” the messenger paused, trying desperately to catch his breath, “the militia must be mustered, and the other towns must be warned!”
The colonel pondered this for a moment, a look of shock upon his face. “I cannot ride out to warn those in Stormville and Carmel,” he replied, troubled, “if I am to organize the troops here.”
“Sir, with all respect, I cannot go any further. I have ridden seventeen miles to get here, and am not familiar with the route to Stormville.” Indeed, the messenger was in no condition to continue riding. His hair and torn uniform were soaked by the pouring rain.
“Who shall I send to warn the others?” the colonel asked, “I have so few soldiers nearby, I cannot spare any. If the British are advancing as fast as you say, it will be a matter of hours before they reach Carmel!” They both considered options, casting each idea aside. When Sybil spoke up, both their heads turned in surprise.
“I will go, father,” Sybil spoke timidly at first, noting their puzzled gazes, “I know the fastest way, and I can ride Star. She is the fastest horse in the barn.” Her confidence grew, and she added, “Besides, you cannot spare one of the men to ride.”
Her father pondered this, gazing at Sybil’s eager face. “Very well,” he sighed, “you may go. Be careful – go to Stormville first, then Carmel. Watch out for British troops coming this way. Use my saddle. Travel as fast as you can. Time is of the essence.” He conceded reluctantly, realizing that he had no other choice. The messenger stared in disbelief and awe of Sybil’s courage as she slipped on shoes and ran to the barn.
Sybil threw open the wide red doors. She hastened to Star’s stall, and patted Star on the back. “Come on, girl,” she whispered, her voice trembling, “it’s time to go.” She fastened the cinch on the well-worn saddle, and led Star out of the barn.
The Colonel watched Sybil ride off, his wife beside him. “May God go with you,” he whispered silently. He pulled his wife close, and shut the house door. It was in Sybil’s hands now.
Star’s hooves flew over the gravel, a phantom in the night. Routes flew through Sybil’s mind, and she quickly chose to leave the road and travel through the woods. This way she could avoid any soldiers until she got to Stormville. The trees stood dark and daunting before her, a reminder of the price of failure. She spurred Star onward, bouncing back and forth as shadows danced around her.
By the time she neared the crossroads on the outskirts of Stormville, the rain had soaked her to the skin, the chill piercing her very bones. She shivered, but tried hard to put it out of her mind. She reminded herself of the task at hand, and continued into town. Like Fredericksburg had been two hours ago, Stormville was unaware of the danger at hand. She halted at the first house she came to, and ran to the door.
Out of breath, she panted her warning summon. “The British have burned Danbury, and are coming this way! All militiamen are to rally in Fredericksburg under Colonel Ludington!” She then remounted Star, and continued to go from house to house, raising the alarm.
She neared the last house on this block. She delivered the same message, but the paused and added “wake the rest of the city, and ring the church bells. I must continue on to Carmel now.” The dumbstruck villager nodded, and shouted back into the house.
As Sybil rode through the town, she saw the faint glow of candlelight spreading throughout the streets, and knew that she had done her job here. However, Carmel had yet to be warned, and no one had offered to take her place, nor offered her a fresh horse. Star was tired, and neighed reluctantly as Sybil urged her onward. Seeing her strong steed weary, Sybil decided to stay on the roads on the way to Carmel. Not only would it be faster than traveling through the forests, but it would be easier for Star, who clearly needed a break. She stroked Star’s mane, and whispered reassuringly in her ear. “It’s going to be okay,” she said, “Just twenty more miles.” Star seemed to get the message, and caught a second wind. She trod over the gravel with grace and speed, her muscles rippling under her brown hide.
The time flew for Sybil, but she was promptly reminded of the danger when she heard noises up ahead. Her heart raced as she shoed Star over into the trees nearby. She lay in hiding, hoping that these were merely militia soldiers heading to Fredericksburg. However, the flickering torchlight revealed the terrible and prim red uniforms of British soldiers. They were loud and drunk. A few still carried half-full bottles, calling out to others in this unorganized mob. Many bore torches, swaggering from side to side in their drunkenness. Sybil knew she could outride these foot soldiers, but fear still abided in her heart. Please don’t see me, she prayed.
Her prayer was heard, and the soldiers passed by without a second glance. With renewed vigor, she rode on. She was alert for the noises of approaching soldiers. Star’s hooves pounded on the gravel in a steady beat. Soon, the lights of Carmel shone before her. She heard the church bells ringing, and relief flooded through her. Thankfully, the town had already been warned, and the troops summoned. Sybil spurred Star, and turned to start her journey homewards. Exhausted, she realized that the blood-red sun had begun to rise, highlighting the pillar of smoke seeping from Danbury. It was a magnificent sight, but Sybil was too tired to enjoy it. She started forward one last time, the sunrise of liberty lighting her way.