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One-eth by Tweet,
Two-eth by Tumblr,
Three-eth by Text
By Bruce Wetterau
Listen, my children, and you shall hear /
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere /
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five...
It's a far cry from even remotely credible, I know, but how different would the story of Revere's famous ride have been if the rebels and the redcoats had been armed with smartphones instead of rifles? True, there are those among us who would applaud such an outlandish revelation just to spare themselves thoughts of the bloodshed that followed, but in any event I earnestly commend you to explore this fantastic fiction solely for your amusement.
In a nod to the sensibilities of that time long ago--and in hopes of getting on with this tale--let us call them wisephones instead of you know what, and give no thought to how the colonial combatants might have recharged their batteries. As to the plethora of messaging mediums populating cyberspace today, I can see no reason why the same enterprising spirit could not have ruled in colonial times. And may even have left our forebears, like us, wondering why and to what purpose they all served. Now, with these preliminaries out of the way, let us get on with the story.
'Twas the afternoon of April 18th, 1775, when Paul Revere rushed into his silversmith shop and ignoring the din of metalwork then being wrought, immediately went to the window to see if anyone had followed. Shod in coat, waistcoat, breeches, and riding boots, he scanned the roadway outside and then smiled. Turning back to the door, he hung his black tricorn hat on a wooden peg jutting from the wall.
"Silas!" he exclaimed to his assistant, who just then was beating a sheet of silver into a bowl shape with a ballpeen hammer. "Stop ye that infernal racket. I have news!"
"Yes, sire," the tall, thin, aproned assistant responded. He was, if ever there was one, the spitting image of Washington Irving's character Icabod Crane: small of chin, large of nose, and bearing a constant demeanor of reticence, if not that of an animal verging on flight.
"Silas, I have heard it with mine own ears! I secreted mineself outside Gen. Gage's office whilst he spoke of his dastardly plan."
"What say he, sire?"
"That tonight he would set in motion three parts of his plan to put our colony back into His Majesty's yoke! For one, he wouldst sendeth a force of redcoats to Lexington to arrest John Hancock and Sam Adams, then sally on to Concord to destroy our Minutemen's cache of wisephones. For the last, the real battle. His men wouldst sendeth volley after volley of wisephone wisdoms far and wide, to wit saying falsely that His Majesty has proclaimed a refund of the tea tax and would forever abandon such hateful measures. I knowest from mine own ears that he lies, his sole purpose being to rouse the royalists and turn popular sentiment against us. Fake news! The cad!"
"But how, pray tell, may we fend off an attack of such terrible stripe?" Silas fairly trembled as he spoke. "Hast thou a plan?"
"Know ye any instance when I was lacking?"
"Nay, sire, nor any when I did not become entangled in a most discomforting way."
"Silas, steel thyself. The cause must be served!"
"But how canst our Minutemen tell true, when the redcoats will have plundered our wisephones? We'll have no tongue what to speak with in the wisdomspace."
"Patience, Silas. I will tell you all, but one detail is still amiss. Methinks Gen. Gage will be assembling his men this very afternoon, issuing their wisephones, schooling them in what falsehoods must be sent, and readying their boats to cross the Charles River. But he feared we might learn of his treacherous attack--and rightly so, by God I am proof of that, hah-hah! So for now he keeps his counsel on a single, crucial point."
"What be that, sire?"
"At the stroke of eight tonight, he will reveal to his men which tongue of the wisdomspace must be used--tweet, tumblr, or text--and then send his men on their way to do their worst. For his volleys of lies to be successful, he must focus all his firepower on just the one. Take heed, Silas. If we are to have any hope of countering his royalist lies, we must raise the alarm and fill the wisdomspace with truth against them."
"So we leave now for Lexington?"
"Did you not hear? We must know which tongue of the wisdomspace they will use before we can act."
"What then is your plan, sire?" Silas's voice quavered at the mild panic attack then overtaking his composure. What worried him now was his part in a scheme that might wind up putting a rope all too snugly about his neck.
"Pay heed now Silas. Thou knowest the barmaid Molly MacGuire. I dare not say how, for modesty's sake, but she will be privy to the general's order almost as soon as it reaches his troops. I've instructed her to bring you that wisdom instantly, for you will have a crucial part to play!"
"Do I have to? Why can't she just wisdom you?"
"Because, dear Silas, I will be inland on the other side of the river. Methinks it wise to be a step ahead of the infernal redcoats."
"I could text you the wisdom..."
"No, no, Silas. I will be too far away. Wisdom only carries so far, you know."
"So what would you have me do?"
"Tonight, hence you get word from Molly, go ye to the top of the tower at the Old North Church. There you must hang one lantern if the British are tweeting their lying wisdoms," he said, holding up one finger. He leaned closer to Silas and raised a second finger. "Two lanterns, if they are tumblring wisdoms." Up went the third finger. "Three lanterns if they dare resort to texting wisdoms. I will be watchful for your signal and ride on into the night to raise the alarm throughout the countryside." His hand closed to a clenched fist. "To the wisephones, to the wisephones!" he exclaimed, his voice rising with the excitement stirring in his breast.
"But sire, those rickety old ladders in that tower...dreadful steep too. Might be the death of me afore even I set your signal. What if the signal must needs be three lanterns, and halfway up I drop one? It would smash to smithereens and then what would we do?" he asked, his voice bordering on falsetto now.
Revere could not help but see Silas winding himself up into a tizzy. "Deep breaths," Silas, "Deep breaths. Rest assured, all will go as planned if you do your part. I'll be ever vigilant tonight, and spying your signal, I'll be on my mission to warn the Minutemen. We will be ready for Gage's redcoats and his lies."
"Silas! The cause. You must!"
That evening at six, Silas watched Paul Revere row with muffled oars toward the Charleston shore as the moon rose over the river. The hulking black shadow of a British man-of-war lying at anchor nearby made Silas shudder at the thought of Revere's whispered last words. As the man melted into the night, he cautioned, "The cause, Silas. You must succeed at all costs." Revere's words did nothing to allay the sickening anxiety churning Silas's gut. The redcoats were everywhere in Boston, and suddenly alone, he felt naked despite the dark of night. Slinking back to Revere's shop, he cast furtive glances over his shoulder the whole way.
Molly's knock at the shop door startled Silas at half past eight. "Who be it?" he asked in a hushed voice through the door.
"Me, Silas. Molly. Open the dashed door!"
Silas opened it a crack and peered through the opening. "What then?"
"By text," she whispered and rushed off.
Gad! Three lanterns, Silas thought anxiously. What was sire thinking? I'm to carry three oil lanterns the size of water buckets up those decrepit old ladders, if ever I get to the blasted church. Silas broke out into a cold sweat, unconsciously rubbing the front of his neck at precisely the place where the noose would go. "Why does sire never think of these things?" Silas muttered out loud. "Any redcoat what sees me with three lanterns, my goose is as good as cooked."
Being loyal and true, but hating every minute of it, Silas stuffed into his coat pocket a length of rope and a tinderbox containing all he needed to light the lanterns. He took a deep breath, scooped up the three bulky oil lanterns--two in one hand and one in the other--and made a beeline for the nearest alleyway between buildings in the direction of Old North Church. As best he could, Silas stuck to the alleys to avoid being spotted by redcoats. Coming to the end of one, he would hang back in the shadows until the coast was clear, then quick step with lanterns rattling across the open roadway to the next one. By this circuitous route, Silas at last came upon the Old North Church later that evening. The column of redcoats, in high spirits at the thought of delivering a smashing blow to the rebels, had by then boarded long boats to make land on the north side of the Charles River. They were sure to catch the Minutemen cold.
Silas, upon reaching the church, made his way to the bell ringer's room, part way up the eight-story-high steeple. There he looked up at the first of the series of rickety ladders that would take him up to the big windows at the top of the steeple--or send him on a freefall to his death. His hands shook uncontrollably as he fashioned the rope from his pocket into a sling to hang two lanterns over his back, leaving one hand free for grasping a step above him, his only handhold on the way up, should a rung beneath his feet suddenly fail. With his other hand he would hold the lantern high above his head to light the way up.
Silas lighted a taper with flint and steel, then with one lantern lighted, started his climb to the top of the steeple by way of the narrow ladders. Cold fear ruled him now, stoked by the ominous creaking and groaning of the ladder rungs complaining under the weight of him. Weak in the knees, he hugged the ladder for dear life and slid up one step at a time, daring not a single glance in the dreaded direction of down.
Up Silas went, shaking like a leaf and dead certain the ladder would give way at any moment. Up into the bell chamber, then for a seeming eternity onto more ladders past the tops of the bells and through a trap door to a room enclosed only by louvers on all four sides of the steeple. Silas's heart stopped there when a flock of pigeons, startled by his arrival, took to wing. Only his being halfway up through the trap door opening saved him from tumbling over backward off the ladder and plummeting to an awful death in the darkness below.
Then came two more ladders and at long last a platform at the steeple's top surrounded by large windows, one on each side of the steeple. Relieved to at last have a solid floor under his feet, Silas chose the north window and gazed out across the Charles River toward where he guessed Paul Revere eagerly awaited his signal.
Now to work. His hands still shaking, Silas took another thin wooden taper from his tinderbox and used it to light the remaining two lanterns. With that done, he blew out the flame on the taper, dropped it, and turned to the north-facing window. Fortunately, the sill for the large window was wide enough to set the lanterns on, so he arranged them there a foot or two apart.
Silas gave a great sigh of relief at having accomplished his mission, though he wasn't sure just when it should end. Revere had said he would be watching...but what if he had been distracted? Silas decided to leave the lanterns in the window for the count of one thousand. More than that and the redcoats might well see the signal and thinking something was amiss, come after him.
He had just counted out to seven hundred thirty-nine when he noticed the smoke and flames on the floor well behind him. Somehow an ember from the taper had found its way into some debris and threatened to turn the steeple itself into one hell of a signal. In full panic mode now, Silas desperately stomped the flames with his boot heel and then whipped off his coat, hoping to smother the fire.
Paul Revere had waited and waited on a bald hilltop with a clear view across the Charles to the Old North Church steeple. His horse, saddled and ready lest a redcoat should spot him, grazed idly, blissfully ignorant of the historic moment fast approaching. Revere had almost given up hope that Silas would come through when he saw the three lights appear in the church steeple. So, he thought, Gage will soon be texting. We'll be ready for him!
Naturally, Revere wanted to send the alarm right away. But this was such a historic moment he could not resist taking a picture of those three glorious lights in the church tower. His idea had worked! It took him but a few moments to ready his wisephone and hold it up to take a selfie of him looking at the distant lights in Old North Church steeple. Turned that way anew, he spied the three lights from before, but now there was a flickering light of fire behind them. "Silas! What have ye done!" he uttered to himself. "Is this a new signal, or hast thou screwed up?"
In all events, he decided, he had the original expected signal. There was not a moment to lose or the redcoats would get Hancock and Adams in their clutches. He must set the alarm to flying from one Minuteman to another, alerting the countryside and flooding the wisesphere with true wisdom against Gage's fake news. Primed like a coiled spring to his purpose, he raised his wisephone, his thumbs at the ready, and switched it on.
But hell and damnation! The screen did not alight and the dashed thing only wheezed once before falling dead silent. (Wisephones back then did not vibrate, they wheezed.)
"The fate of our young nation hangs in the balance," Revere said aloud, "and mine blasted battery chooses this moment to die!" Revere thought not of that selfie, and damning wisephones one and all, exclaimed aloud, "Mine horse is saddled and ready, my route is clear. We shall do it the old-fashioned way!" (In this we may have the origin of the oft used exclamation, "Get a horse!")
Leaving Silas to his own fate, Revere swung himself up into the saddle and made off at breakneck pace, circling north away from Boston and then west for Lexington. Along the dark and lonely lanes, Revere pressed on through Middlesex where every soul--but him!--lay blissfully asleep in their bed. Or so he thought. Farther along the darkened byways, he spied two men on horses near a tree. Closing on them, he suddenly realized they were redcoats and took flight. One he left in the dust. The other unwittingly rode into a marsh while trying to cut him off.
Thrilled by his escape, Revere rode on, ever more determined to complete his mission. At last making the tiny village of Medford Town, Revere stopped and dismounted before a two story village house. Surely, he thought, some good soul therein will have a wisephone to raise the alarm. He beat unmercifully on the front door, yelling, "Awake! Awake, ye lazy citizens. The emergency has arrived."
Finally there came the sound of an upstairs window thrust open and an angry response to Revere's relentless pounding.
"That you again, Revere? Ye was just here two days ago and now ye wakes me in midst the night, the stars ashining."
"The redcoats are coming, the redcoats are coming ye sleepy dolt! Hast thou a wisephone to spread the alarm?"
"Dash it, Revere. Tell it to Lexington. I've got fields to plow this morn, cows to milk, and a wagon to mend. Send me a wisemail and leave me to sleep in peace!"
Whereupon the window slammed shut. Cursing under his breath about royalist sympathizers, Revere mounted his steed and rode off to the west toward Lexington, tormented by the vain hope of finding someone with a wisephone.
At about midnight, Revere rode into Lexington--a clutch of two-story homes, a church, and two taverns. Being admitted to the house where Hancock and Adams were staying, he wasted not a moment warning them both of the approaching peril. They readily agreed to flee for Woburn, but not before providing their savior with food and drink. It was after Revere had drained his first pint that Hancock delivered the sad news: just that day his wisephone had slipped from his hand and his horse had trod on it. Then Adams reported he had left his at home, fearing a redcoat might stop him and confiscate it. So, they decided, Revere would have to continue his journey to Concord. The Minuteman store of wisephones there was too important to risk his searching for a wisephone by knocking on doors in the dark of night. Revere might well be caught by a redcoat or a royalist sympathizer.
As Revere raised his second pint to his lips, there came an unexpected knock at the door. All eyes turned intently to Hancock who paused, then opened the door to one William Dawes, a second Sons of Liberty rider sent from Boston to raise the alarm. Likewise supplied with a pint, he reported regretfully that a British patrol had stopped him and confiscated his wisephone. That said, he quickly agreed to accompany Revere the rest of the way to Concord.
The pair had only gotten beyond Lexington when the young Dr. Samuel Prescott, recognized as another member of the Sons of Liberty, caught up with them. Now three in number, they had better odds of completing their mission to Concord, but still no wisephone. In his haste to catch up with them, Dr. Prescott had left his wisephone on the nightstand.
Utterly frustrated now, Revere fumed, "Bloody hell! Has no one this blasted night got a wisephone?" The three rode abreast on the open road, with Dawes and Prescott on either side of Revere.
"We be too much depending on wisephones today," Dr. Prescott said a bit defensively.
"They be much fragile and short of range, true enough," Dawes agreed. "Good not much these days beyond one hilltop to the next."
"But we have many hilltops and Sons of Liberty ready to wisdom from each and every one," Revere countered.
"Had King George his way, every man jack of us would haff one," Prescott observed.
"Aye, the gold he makes from the patents lines his pockets, not ours," Dawes grumbled. "Mine cost me four horses and two sheep. An outrage if I may say so."
"More than the money, King George wants us all to have one so that he may control us by his dishonest wisdoms," Revere said.
"True enough that be, Revere," Dr. Prescott said forcefully, "But the wisephone is a double-edged sword. Tonight we will turn his device against him and his minions."
Revere and Dawes responded solemnly as one, "Amen." But in the blink of an eye, the three rode headlong into a British squad blocking the road. At the sound of "Halt and surrender your wisephones," Revere yelled, "We ain't got one damn phone!" Then instantly, as if by secret prearranged signal, the three Sons of Liberty scattered in three different directions. Dawes broke back the way they had come, while Prescott spurred his horse smartly first to the right and then, jumping a fence, galloped full speed ahead for Concord. Revere, breaking left had the misfortune to ride directly into the arms of the British, who blocked his every avenue of escape.
Forced to dismount, Revere was relieved of his wisephone, rudely questioned, and set free without his horse. A disconsolate, suddenly lonely Revere walked the miles back to Hancock's house in Lexington, unsure if any of his compatriots had made Concord to raise the alarm. He could not know it then, but Dr. Prescott had indeed reached Concord.
So, in the wee hours of April 19, wisdoms were sent far and wide--hill top by hill top--while alerted Minutemen, ready to fight to the death with their thumbs, gathered in ever greater numbers at Concord. Those needing wisephones were issued them and a hundred or so Minutemen were hastily organized to meet the British head on.
The first skirmish at Lexington early that morning saw the Minutemen vastly outnumbered by the redcoats, who were some seven hundred strong. Imagine the scene, hundreds of heads lowered, the shuffling of more than a thousand feet, and the blur of a thousand thumbs tapping out the king's lies on the one side, while on the other the Minutemen countered with truthful wisdoms, tongue-out emojis, and thumbs down dislikes to the king's lies. The battle royal for the wisdomspace lasted but a few precious minutes. Despite heroically texting wisdoms to the very last, eight of the Minutemen were taken prisoner and had their wisephones smashed.
Savoring their temporary victory, the redcoats marched to Concord but to no avail, because the Minuteman cache of wisephones was long gone. After a fruitless search, the redcoats began what started as an orderly march back toward Boston. They had every reason to be supremely confident. With superior numbers and schooled in the ways of battle, the redcoats had bested the rebels at Lexington. But the rebels had learned a thing or two as well.
Hiding behind trees and in the underbrush, small bands of Minutemen resorted to deadly, Indian-style, hit-and-run attacks on the redcoat column all the way back to Boston, thereby inflicting heavy losses of wisephones due to broken screens, dead batteries, and capture by the enemy. British style warfare of tightly massed troops all texting as one was no match for the fleet-of-finger-and-foot Minutemen. Time after time, the sudden spike in nearby wisdom traffic alerted British commanders to a rebel sneak attack. But as the massed redcoats, heads down and texting madly, advanced toward the Minutemen, those among their number began stumbling on the uneven ground. Falling like ninepins against one another, they bruised and battered each other, broke their wisephones, and faltered in the wisdomspace before the onslaught of rebel wisdoms.
For their part, having grown up in the rough country, the rebels learned long ago that you cannot text and walk at the same time. Unbeknownst to the British, Minutemen established "the brother system" for wisephone attacks. One man, head down and thumbs flying over the keyboard, did the texting. His "brother in thumbs" guided him with eyes forward and a hand on his shoulder. In that way, the Minutemen could easily advance over any rough ground. The added benefit of there being two of them meant they could easily overpower a single redcoat and capture his wisephone.
By these clever modifications to the art of war, the rebels decimated the British column on the way back to Boston. And after some years of keying multitudes of true wisdoms and hateful emojis against British fake news, these same rebels did finally end British rule over America and her wisdomspace.
History, being a fickle master, has anointed Revere a hero for devising the signal that ignited the fire of revolution, even though, in truth, he failed to complete his mission. Silas--no known last name--lit a fire of a different sort, and so is remembered today only by the scorched floorboards high up in the steeple of the Old North Church. Such are the fortunes of war.