Courage At Fort McHenry
By Michael J. Foster

Chapter Two
Bullies and Beauties

       Baltimore seemed different to Jim now even though it hadn't changed at all since that morning. The people in the streets were going about their business, and the docks were still loaded with cargo. But for some reason, it all didn't seem to matter so much.
       Jim struggled with his feelings as he walked through the narrow city streets. He was sad, but angry at the same time. Jim decided to do the only thing he knew to do, and that was to complete his mission.

       Jim navigated the city streets thinking about what Major Armistead had told him. Jim watched the ground pass by while kicking small rocks, skipping them across the cobblestone. Suddenly, a stinging pain struck Jim's head.
       Jim looked up to see a couple of the Wilsons across the street laughing. Jim quickened his pace, fearful of what they might do to him.
       As he walked briskly away, Jim grabbed the side of his head behind his ear. His hand revealed something wet. It was blood.
       The bullies kept speed with Jim from the other side of the street.
       Jim was scared and began running down the nearest alley. He turned left down a narrow passage and through a small opening onto the adjacent street. Jim could barely hear the distant pounding of the feet chasing him over the intense pounding of his heart.
       Once on the next street he ran north towards home. Jim Looked back occasionally and whispered a short prayer under his ragged breath. Jim could see nobody behind him so he decided to stop for a moment and catch his breath.
       While his breathing began to normalize, his head really began to hurt. Jim could feel the warm blood running down his neck.
       Jim had only another few blocks to go, but he was paralyzed with fear. All Jim wanted to do was hide, to be invisible.
       "Get him, boys!"
       Jim was violently grabbed from behind and dragged into a dark alley kicking and thrashing about. Jim knew immediately he was in trouble when he recognized the dirty faces of the Wilson brothers.
       Two of them had his legs and two of them held his arms. Jim could see the other two younger brothers running along side laughing as they punched and kicked him.
       "Please stop!"
       The brothers ignored his cries. The more Jim pleaded, the more they beat him.
       They threw him to the ground and took turns kicking at his curled body.
       The oldest and biggest brother, Rufus, stepped forward. The others stopped their assault.
       "Hello Jim. Where ya going in such a hurry? Ya weren't running away, were ya?"
       Jim didn't answer but hid his face in his blood-stained sleeve.
       "You're always running from us. You're a coward, just like your Pa! The only difference is your Pa's dead! At least now there's one less yella-belly in town! Do ya know what we do to cowards?"
       Jim looked up with tears tracing lines through his dusty face.
       One of the boys keeping look-out at the alley's entrance shouted and pointed.
       "Look, look! There's that three-legged dog again. Come on, let's get him!"
       The boys wildly ran into the street, all except the biggest one who still stood over Jim.
       "What do ya think of that? I guess a crippled dog is worth more than a coward today."
       He gave Jim one last kick to the side and then ran after his brothers.
       Jim lay in the dirt until he felt it was safe to move. He crawled to the brick wall that lined the alley and leaned back gently against it. Reaching into his pocket, Jim found the note and sighed with relief. Other than a little creased, the message was safe.

       By mid-afternoon Jim was on the steps of number 60, Albemarle Street. He brushed the dirt off his clothes and straightened his hair. Jim generally felt better, but there wasn't much he could do about the dried blood in his hair and the blood stains on his shirt. He figured he could clean up when he got home. Jim knocked and waited.
       "Yes, can I help you boy?"
       Above the door was a girl leaning out of the second-floor window. She was definitely pretty and her pleasant smile was contagious.
       A smiling Jim stumbled back to see her better.
       "Y...Yes. I...I have an urgent message for Mary Pickersgill. I must see her at once."
       As quickly as the girl had appeared, she had vanished from her perch. Moments later the door opened. Jim stepped inside.
       The girl was even prettier up close. She was in a nice green dress. The blue ribbons in her hair matched her brilliant green eyes.
       Jim caught himself staring so began looking about to hide his embarrassment.
       The large room caught Jim by surprise. On every wall hung flags and banners of all colors. He recognized the colors of the 5th Regiment of Calvary and the 1st Artillery Regiment. Above the fireplace was fancy red, white, and blue bunting, the type used in parades on floats.
       With a concerned look, the girl noticed the blood and bruises but politely made no mention of them.
       "My name is Abigail. What's yours?"
       Jim eyes briefly met hers, and he quickly became flustered. With a red face Jim didn't know what to do except look at the floor and answer.
       "Jim. My name is Jim Adams."
       The obvious uneasiness that Abigail was creating in Jim amused her. She did all she could to keep from giggling at this odd creature in front of her.
       "Please wait here, Jim Adams."
       Abigail quietly excused herself through a doorway in the back of the shop. She smiled again at Jim before pulling a curtain closed across the doorway.
       Of course, Jim didn't mind waiting, especially since there was so much to look at. An open book on a small table depicted hundreds of flags in colored detail. As Jim flipped the pages he noticed hand-written notes in the margins with numbers.
       "Can I help you?"
       A startled Jim looked up to see a woman standing in front of him. He was so engrossed in the book that he failed to see her enter the room.
       "Uh, yes. Are you Mary Pickersgill?"
       "Yes, I am. What can I do for you?"
       Jim held up the sealed letter.
       "I have a message for you."
       Mary said nothing and showed little interest so Jim continued.
       "From Major Armistead. It is urgent."
       Mary eagerly rushed forward.
       "The Major? What's the message?"
       "It's sealed. I have been ordered to deliver it to you personally."
       Jim handed Mary the note. She opened it and began to read before correcting herself.
       "How rude of me. Would you care for a pastry?"
       Like any true soldier, Jim never turned down the opportunity for free food. Mary left the room and returned with a platter of assorted goodies.
       Mary read the letter as Jim stuffed his mouth with a strawberry tart. After she had finished reading, she looked up from the note. She looked at Jim and his ragged appearance for a few seconds before speaking.
       "What is your name?"
       Jim quickly chewed and swallowed.
       Mary pointed to Jim's wound as he carefully selected his next sweet with a pleasurable smile.
       "Are you well?"
       "Yes, why do you ask?"
       Jim had completely forgotten about his injuries and the mess his clothing was in.
       "Oh, you mean this."
       Jim touched the side of his head and flinched from the shot of pain.
       "I...I fell down."
       Mary inspected Jim's injuries and smiled a curious smile.
       "Fell down, huh? It looks more like you were thrown down."
       Eager to change the subject Jim quickly nodded towards the letter.
       "What was the message?"
       Mary sensed that Jim had been roughed up by someone, and that he was embarrassed to admit it. Since he was not seriously injured, she decided not to speak of it further.
       "Oh...well, actually Jim, it is very urgent.
       Sensing the seriousness of Mary's tone, Jim replaced a stack of cookies back on the platter.
       "I need your help."
       Jim perked up.
       "I need you to help me retrieve some things. Could you help me?"
       "Yes, of course. What can I do?"
       Mary stood up and walked to the door at the back of the room. She yelled into the back of the shop.
       "Abigail! Come here please!"

       Jim and Abigail walked together towards the harbor. Mary had asked Jim to accompany her niece to buy some material.
       "So what happened to your head."
       Jim hung on to what little dignity he had left and acted dumb.
       "What do you mean?"
       Abigail rolled her eyes and sighed. She tugged on his shirt where the blood had stained the fabric.
       "I think your head sprung a leak."
       While Abigail giggled at her own joke, Jim yanked his sleeve from her grip.
       "You wouldn't understand."
       Abigail took offense since she prided herself on being smart.
       "What do you mean I wouldn't understand?"
       "Well, you're a girl."
       Abigail suddenly stopped Jim in the middle of the street and defiantly placed her hands on her hips.
       Jim smirked and continued walking.
       "So you only know girl things. If I ever have a question about dolls or pink ribbons I'll let you know."
       This infuriated Abigail, and Jim knew it.
       "You are so rude, Jim Adams!"
       Abigail lifted the hem of her dress and walked briskly passed Jim with her nose in the air. Not to be outdone, Jim quickened his pace to match hers. As he caught up to her she increased her speed. Within seconds they were both laughing and running as fast as they could, weaving in and around the people and carts in the street.

       Leaning over, resting their hands on their knees, Jim and Abigail tried to catch their breath.
       Jim tapped Abigail's shoulder.
       "I won."
       "No you didn't. I touched the wall first."
       "Who said we were racing to the wall? I passed the corner first."
       Abigail stepped up to the door of the shop and put her hand on the knocker.
       "You are so difficult. Let's just go in and place the order. It will probably take some time for them to get it together."
Jim and Abigail placed a large order for what seemed to be miles of fabric. Jim wondered what Mrs. Pickersgill would need of all this fabric and why it was so important. There were lengths of red, blue and white material. Jim figured that she must be making new uniforms for the soldiers at the Fort.

       Abigail was right. They were told by the shop owner that the order would take an hour, so Jim and Abigail walked along the harbor to pass the time.
       "So do you live at the Fort?"
       Jim laughed.
       "No. I just help out. I deliver messages and I clean, but whenever they need something from Baltimore, they usually ask me. For example, Captain Martin asked me to have a ring engraved for his fiancé. He's going to marry her when the timing is better."
       "Yes, after we whooped the British."
       Abigail thought to herself for a moment.
       "Oh, that sounds so romantic."
       Jim offered Abigail an expression of disgust over the mushy talk of romance. Abigail retaliated by slugging Jim on his shoulder.
       Jim was amused at her frustration, and besides, she only hit like a girl. Getting hit by one of the Wilsons was entirely different.
       Jim turned onto one of the long wooden piers. Abigail hesitated, but then followed him.
       "Where are we going?"
       "I'll show you."
       Jim and Abigail reached the end of the pier after a nice slow walk. Jim closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
       "Isn't this great?"
       Abigail looked around with a puzzled look on her face.
       Jim opened his eyes and stared at Abigail in disbelief.
       "All of this!"
       Abigail shrugged her shoulders.
       "All of what?"
       "The smell of the water, the feel of the breeze against your face, the sparkling water, and sound of the waves hitting the shore."
       Abigail closed her eyes.
       "Yes, I suppose it is nice. I never really thought of it like that before."
       Jim bent down and picked up a small piece of wood.
       "My father was a sailor. He used to tell me stories of life aboard the ships. He taught me to swim and how to tie knots."
       Jim tossed the piece of wood into the water.
       "So what does he do now?"
       Jim was confused at first by her question, but then realized the misunderstanding.
       "No. He's dead."
       Jim searched around his feet for something else to throw. He settled for an old rusty nail.
       "At least that's what they tell me. I hope he's still alive."
       "What happened, Jim."
       Jim threw the nail into the waves.
       "Father was a Privateer like the sailors on many of these ships. He helped capture British ships. I remember when he used to bring home gold coins and decorated knives, but I loved it best when he brought back books, especially the storybooks of adventure. I'll show you my collection some time."
       Abigail smiled. She nodded to let him know to continue with his story.
       "One day I was home with Aunt Sarah. Sarah used to stay with me when Father was away. We received news that his ship had been sunk in the Chesapeake. No survivors were ever found. That's when I moved here with Grandfather."
       With a concerned expression, Abigail put her hand on his back.
Abigail's touch surprised Jim, but he pretended not to notice because he liked it.
       "Where's your Mother?"
       Jim looked down into the water.
       "She died when I was young. I don't remember her too well, just what Father has told me."
       Jim and Abigail spent the next hour sitting on the pier's edge with their legs dangling above the water. They didn't talk much. They just listened to the waves breaking on the shore and felt the gentle breeze on their faces.

       It took two trips to haul all of the cloth that Mary needed. No sooner had Abigail and Jim returned with the material that Mary began working in the back room of her shop.
       Jim would have loved to stay with Mary and Abigail but the sun was setting and Grandfather would worry, so he went home. On the trip back home, Jim was no longer thinking about the danger at the Fort or even the injuries he had sustained. He had a grand time with Abigail, and the moments he spent with her made him somehow feel better.

Read Chapter 3

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