Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Before and After (05/14/09)
- TITLE: And Still She Waves
By Patricia Turner
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“It appears that the best weather for the attack might be in a few days,” the speaker glanced warily at two of his dinner companions, including the attorney.
“Dear God, let me get to my countrymen and somehow warn them,” thought the attorney, wondering how much longer these negotiations would drag on.
“Mr. Key, are you in any discomfort?” Admiral Cochran’s Scottish lilt was pleasant enough. A handsome and courteous man, he was nevertheless, still the enemy.
Key kept his reply short. “Indeed not. You are most gracious, sir.”
Key’s companion, Colonel John Skinner, tried to turn the conversation back to the business for which the pair had come aboard. “And do we have an agreement of terms pertaining to the release of the doctor?” He referred to Dr. William Beanes, a friend of attorney Key, and a prisoner of the British navy, having been arrested in Key’s own home.
“The letters you brought with you from our own prisoners regarding the kindness of the doctor have been very persuasive, and well received.” Rear Admiral Cockburn was reserved in his response.
“Posh Admiral! Enough evasiveness man.” Cochran’s voice sounded almost as impatient as had Skinner’s. Turning to the Americans, Cochran continued. “We have no reason to hold your doctor friend any longer. I release him to you.”
“Now having said that,” he added, a cautionary tone coming into his voice, “the two of you know far too much about our battle plans and our armament. We must insist that you remain onboard the Tonnant as our, shall we say, guests, until we’ve concluded our mission here.”
“Certainly you realize that detaining us will be seen as an act of war…” began Skinner.
Cochran raised a dismissive hand and turned without further word to his officers.
A young lieutenant appeared. “Gentlemen, if you would come with me please.”
Beanes was brought to their quarters, and the three men exchanged handshakes and salutations. Beanes enquired about his family, then about the news. Key and Skinner caught him up quickly on what they had learned.
Days passed slowly. Key wrote in his journal as he looked toward the west longingly.
Finally, the three men were allowed to return to their own sloop, but still under guard.
“They must be planning to attack soon,” observed Skinner.
Sure enough, two days later, on the 13th of September, an increase in naval activity could be observed from the sloop. Looking toward the coast, the three could clearly see the Stars and Stripes floating on an easterly breeze above Fort McHenry. Pride swelled their breasts, even as tears stung their eyes.
As twilight approached a sense of calm as before a storm settled over the sea and the coastline.
Suddenly, as the last embers of light receded into darkness, the flares of British bombs and rockets began to rain down on the city and on its fort.
Key strained to see the fort and its flag. Smoke and flashes of artillery obscured his view for countless hours as the night wore on.
Key bowed his head in fervent prayer. “Lord, the battle is in Your hands alone. Preserve our country and our homes. Be with our families and our countrymen.” His prayers persevered throughout the uncertain night. Key also prayed for the British seamen.
From time to time, a flash would illuminate a hopeful sight: the flag still flew over Fort McHenry.
Toward daybreak, Beanes joined Key on the bridge. Together, the two friends watched anxiously. “Lord, be with us,” breathed the doctor.
Dawn broke on the 14th and as the three Americans and Cochran’s fleet watched, the Stars and Stripes, having been raised over the fort to greet the new day, unfurled on the wind.
“Look, there she is!” Skinner exclaimed. Breaking into cheers, the Americans hailed the welcome and wondrous sight.
“After the darkest night, shines the brightest day!” Beanes was exultant.
Key, also an amateur poet, filled with inspiration and thankfulness penned the words that would become the national anthem of the nation he loved so dearly.
O! say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming.
Author’s note: A fictional account based on the true story. The characters are actual historical persons involved in the Battle of 1812. Following is the last stanza of the song The Star Spangled Banner as penned by Francis Scott Key:
O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust.'
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
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