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The Picket Guard
"ALL quiet along the Potomac to-night!"
Except here and there a stray picket
Is shot, as he walks on his beat, to and fro,
By a rifleman hid in the thicket.
'Tis nothing! a private or two now and then
Will not count in the news of a battle;
Not an officer lost, only one of the men
Moaning out, all alone, the death rattle.
All quiet along the Potomac to-night!
Where the soldiers lie peacefully dreaming;
And their tents in the rays of the clear autumn moon,
And the light of their camp-fires are gleaming.
A tremulous sigh, as a gentle night-wind
Through the forest leaves slowly is creeping;
While the stars up above, with their glittering eyes,
Keep guard o'er the army sleeping.
There's only the sound of the lone sentry's tread
As he tramps from the rock to the fountain,
And thinks of the two on the low trundel bed,
Far away, in the cot on the mountain.
His musket falls slack, his face, dark and grim,
Grows gentle with memories tender,
As he mutters a prayer for the children asleep,
And their mother—"may heaven defend her!"
The moon seems to shine forth as brightly as then—
That night, when the love, yet unspoken,
Leaped up to his lips, and when low-murmured vows
Were pledged to be ever unbroken.
Then drawing his sleeve roughly over his eyes,
He dashes off tears that are welling;
And gathers the gun closer up to his breast
As if to keep down his heart's swelling.
He passes the fountain, the blasted pine-tree,
And his footstep is lagging and weary;
Yet onward he goes, through the broad belt of light,
Towards the shades of the forest so dreary.
Hark! was it the night-wind that rustled the leaves?
Was it the moonlight so wondrously flashing?
It looked like a rifle: "Ha! Mary, good-by!"
And his life-blood is ebbing and plashing.
"All quiet along the Potomac to-night!"
No sound save the rush of the river;
While soft falls the dew on the face of the dead,
And the picket's off duty forever!
Ethel Lynn Beers
All Quiet along the Potomac and other poems