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Part III. Nathaniel Hawthorne

V. The Boston Massacre

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LITTLE ALICE, by her last remark, proved herself a good judge of what was expressed by the tones of Grandfather's voice. He had given the above description of the enmity between the townspeople and the soldiers in order to Prepare the minds of his auditors for a very terrible event. It was one that did more to heighten the quarrel between England and America than anything that had yet occurred.

Without further preface, Grandfather began the story of the Boston Massacre.

It was now the 8d of March, 1770. The sunset music of the British regiments was heard as usual throughout the town. The shrill fife and rattling drum awoke the echoes in King Street, while the last ray of sunshine was lingering on the cupola of the Town House. And now all the sentinels were posted. One of them marched up and down before the Custom House, treading a short path through the snow, and longing for the time when he would be dismissed to the warm fireside of the guard room. Meanwhile Captain Preston was, perhaps, sitting in our great chair before the hearth of the British Coffee House. In the course of the evening there were two or three slight commotions, which seemed to indicate that trouble was at hand. Small parties of young men stood at the corners of the streets or walked along the narrow pavements. Squads of soldiers who were dismissed from duty passed by them, shoulder to shoulder, with the regular step which they had learned at the drill. Whenever these encounters took place, it appeared to be the object of the young men to treat the soldiers with as much incivility as possible.

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"Turn out, you lobsterbacks!" one would say. "Crowd them off the sidewalks!" another would cry. "A redcoat has no right in Boston streets!"

"O, you rebel rascals!" perhaps the soldiers would reply, glaring fiercely at the young men. "Some day or other we'll make our way through Boston streets at the point of the bayonet!"

Once or twice such disputes as these brought on a scuffle; which passed off, however, without attracting much notice. About eight o'clock, for some unknown cause, an alarm-bell rang loudly and hurriedly.

At the sound many people ran out of their houses, supposing it to be an alarm of fire. But there were no flames to be seen, nor was there any smell of smoke in the clear, frosty air; so that most of the townsmen went back to their own firesides and sat talking with their wives and children about the calamities of the times. Others who were younger and less prudent remained in the streets; for there seems to have been a presentiment that some strange event was on the eve of taking place.

Later in the evening, not far from nine o'clock, several young men passed by the Town House and walked down King Street. The sentinel was still on his post in front of the Custom House, pacing to and fro; while, as he turned, a gleam of light from some neighboring window glittered on the barrel of his musket. At no great distance were the barracks and the guard-house, where his comrades were probably telling stories of battle and bloodshed.

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Grandfather's Chair
Nathaniel Hawthorne

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