At Fort McHenry
By Michael J. Foster
Bullies and Beauties
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
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
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.
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.
he walked briskly away, Jim grabbed the side
of his head behind his ear. His hand revealed
something wet. It was blood.
bullies kept speed with Jim from the other side
of the street.
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.
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.
his breathing began to normalize, his head really
began to hurt. Jim could feel the warm blood
running down his neck.
had only another few blocks to go, but he was
paralyzed with fear. All Jim wanted to do was
hide, to be invisible.
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
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.
brothers ignored his cries. The more Jim pleaded,
the more they beat him.
threw him to the ground and took turns kicking
at his curled body.
oldest and biggest brother, Rufus, stepped forward.
The others stopped their assault.
Jim. Where ya going in such a hurry? Ya weren't
running away, were ya?"
didn't answer but hid his face in his blood-stained
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?"
looked up with tears tracing lines through his
of the boys keeping look-out at the alley's
entrance shouted and pointed.
look! There's that three-legged dog again. Come
on, let's get him!"
boys wildly ran into the street, all except
the biggest one who still stood over Jim.
do ya think of that? I guess a crippled dog
is worth more than a coward today."
gave Jim one last kick to the side and then
ran after his brothers.
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.
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.
can I help you boy?"
the door was a girl leaning out of the second-floor
window. She was definitely pretty and her pleasant
smile was contagious.
smiling Jim stumbled back to see her better.
I...I have an urgent message for Mary Pickersgill.
I must see her at once."
quickly as the girl had appeared, she had vanished
from her perch. Moments later the door opened.
Jim stepped inside.
girl was even prettier up close. She was in
a nice green dress. The blue ribbons in her
hair matched her brilliant green eyes.
caught himself staring so began looking about
to hide his embarrassment.
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.
a concerned look, the girl noticed the blood
and bruises but politely made no mention of
name is Abigail. What's yours?"
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.
My name is Jim Adams."
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
wait here, Jim Adams."
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.
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
I help you?"
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.
yes. Are you Mary Pickersgill?"
I am. What can I do for you?"
held up the sealed letter.
have a message for you."
said nothing and showed little interest so Jim
Major Armistead. It is urgent."
eagerly rushed forward.
Major? What's the message?"
sealed. I have been ordered to deliver it to
handed Mary the note. She opened it and began
to read before correcting herself.
rude of me. Would you care for a pastry?"
any true soldier, Jim never turned down the
opportunity for free food. Mary left the room
and returned with a platter of assorted goodies.
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
is your name?"
quickly chewed and swallowed.
pointed to Jim's wound as he carefully selected
his next sweet with a pleasurable smile.
why do you ask?"
had completely forgotten about his injuries
and the mess his clothing was in.
you mean this."
touched the side of his head and flinched from
the shot of pain.
inspected Jim's injuries and smiled a curious
down, huh? It looks more like you were thrown
to change the subject Jim quickly nodded towards
was the message?"
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.
actually Jim, it is very urgent.
the seriousness of Mary's tone, Jim replaced
a stack of cookies back on the platter.
need your help."
need you to help me retrieve some things. Could
you help me?"
of course. What can I do?"
stood up and walked to the door at the back
of the room. She yelled into the back of the
Come here please!"
and Abigail walked together towards the harbor.
Mary had asked Jim to accompany her niece to
buy some material.
what happened to your head."
hung on to what little dignity he had left and
do you mean?"
rolled her eyes and sighed. She tugged on his
shirt where the blood had stained the fabric.
think your head sprung a leak."
Abigail giggled at her own joke, Jim yanked
his sleeve from her grip.
took offense since she prided herself on being
do you mean I wouldn't understand?"
you're a girl."
suddenly stopped Jim in the middle of the street
and defiantly placed her hands on her hips.
smirked and continued walking.
you only know girl things. If I ever have a
question about dolls or pink ribbons I'll let
infuriated Abigail, and Jim knew it.
are so rude, Jim Adams!"
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.
over, resting their hands on their knees, Jim
and Abigail tried to catch their breath.
tapped Abigail's shoulder.
you didn't. I touched the wall first."
said we were racing to the wall? I passed the
stepped up to the door of the shop and put her
hand on the knocker.
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.
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
do you live at the Fort?"
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."
after we whooped the British."
thought to herself for a moment.
that sounds so romantic."
offered Abigail an expression of disgust over
the mushy talk of romance. Abigail retaliated
by slugging Jim on his shoulder.
was amused at her frustration, and besides,
she only hit like a girl. Getting hit by one
of the Wilsons was entirely different.
turned onto one of the long wooden piers. Abigail
hesitated, but then followed him.
are we going?"
and Abigail reached the end of the pier after
a nice slow walk. Jim closed his eyes and took
a deep breath.
looked around with a puzzled look on her face.
opened his eyes and stared at Abigail in disbelief.
shrugged her shoulders.
smell of the water, the feel of the breeze against
your face, the sparkling water, and sound of
the waves hitting the shore."
closed her eyes.
I suppose it is nice. I never really thought
of it like that before."
bent down and picked up a small piece of wood.
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."
tossed the piece of wood into the water.
what does he do now?"
was confused at first by her question, but then
realized the misunderstanding.
searched around his feet for something else
to throw. He settled for an old rusty nail.
least that's what they tell me. I hope he's
threw the nail into the waves.
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
smiled. She nodded to let him know to continue
with his story.
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."
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.
looked down into the water.
died when I was young. I don't remember her
too well, just what Father has told me."
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.
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.
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.