The Countersign

A poem by Michael Earls

"Ready I ride to the Chief for the sign,"
Said little Dan O'Shea,
"Though never I come from the picket's line,
But a faded suit of grey:
Yet over my death will the road be safe,
And the regiment march away."

"In a mother's name, I bless thee, lad,"
The Colonel drew him near:
"But first in the name of God," said Dan,
"And then is my mother's dear---
Her own good lips that taught me well,
With the Cross of Christ no fear."

Quickly he rode by valley and hill,
On to the outpost line,
Till the pickets arise by wall and mound,
And the levelled muskets shine;
"Halt!" they cried, "count three to death,
Or give us the countersign."

Lightly the lad leaped from his steed,
No fear was in his sigh,
But a mother's face and a home he loved
Under an Irish sky:
He made the Sign of the Cross and stood,
Bravely he stood to die.

Lips in a prayer at the blessed Sign,
And calmly he looked around,
And wonder seized his waiting soul
To hear no musket sound,
But only the pickets calling to him,
Heartily up the mound.

For this was the order of Beauregard
Around his camp that day---
The Sign of the Cross was countersign,
(And a blessing to Dan O'Shea)
And the word came quick to Colonel Smith
For the muster of the grey.

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