Billy Beckwith's Rebellion
I wasn't there at the real, honest-to-Bessie beginning which, I guess, goes back to the Revolution that failed, you know, old George by-damn Washington and all them hotheads, but I got hip deep into that sticky mess pretty early, out of just plain ordinary indolence and normal carelessness as well as my in-born curiosity which my mamma always said would get me in trouble. You couldn't say I was an "instigator." Not hardly. How about a supporter or helper, maybe even agitator? There's that's a good one, agitator, stirring 'em up; that was me. Least I tried. Sometimes I was along just for the ride, just to enjoy myself, but I did like to cause trouble.
And I must admit that I do like poking the high mucky-mucks in the eye now and again, especially them rich farts in the big wigs. And, as you will find, if you keep on reading, there were a couple of right pretty females involved; matter of fact, one that was more that just pretty; she was something, something really special.
Anyhow a lot of things had happened before we liberated Georgetown, that's for sure, and afterwards too when it got downright interesting, just a tad dangerous and a bit noisy when folks started pointing loaded firearms at each other. I am sure you know that when you poke a beehive, something is bound to happen, and it ain't always good. Sometimes it's honey, but not always.
I got to see and hear most of the main events, not that any of this will end up in the history books. Nor on tombstones neither for that matter. We was awful lucky that it turned out as good as it did with nary a man lost, me getting thoroughly laid and nobody hurt bad. Not counting Billy; guess he's kind'a lost, but shoot, he nearly always was. Fraid he ain't missed.
Billy Beckwith, he's about five years older'n me, he's the one you ought to talk to if you can find him. Don't think anybody's seen Billy since, well, since his rebellion ended, and he shrugged into that shabby old coat of his, been wearing that thing since Hector was weaned, he has.
Shoot, it really lasted just two days, more or less, but, of course, he'd hoped it would go a lot longer. Wait a minute; I'm not even sure what he hoped. Think it got his name attached to it 'cause it sounds good. Don't believe "Caleb Gally's Rebellion" or "Ned Beall's Revolt" would have quite the same ring.
Anyroad, at the end of January 1783 I finished up the time I owed Mr. Hite, the miserable, old, skinflint blacksmith out there on the washed out road to Log Town, and got paid off with some cheap clothes and wore out tools, no surprise. Some freedom dues they was! I'd had two years added for running away when we was over in Baltimore back about the time of the real Revolution when he bought my paper and I played soldier. I got apprenticed on account of I was an orphan and my dead folks owed money to a half dozen unhappy merchants
Only British soldiers I saw up close before this here trouble was back at that tavern that was Arnold County's courthouse; that was a long time ago, coon's age like the old folks say. Seen lots of Redcoated wabblers since then and so have a bunch of other fellers out here. History goes round and round it seems. Only one way to get off the carousel, and it ain't always pleasant. Sorry, sometimes I speak before I think; it's a failing.
Anyhow, some men had been meeting here and there since the long-hoped-for and now-generally-regretted Revolution ended down at Yorktown and all this area got changed to the Reserve; bunch of rebels done it, well, ex-rebels, anyway, that's what they was, including a few you'd have to say was hotheads if not chuckleheads or fools. And of course, it goes without saying, most of them was Scots.
I had planned to go west when I'd paid off my time, but that's closed now, so the law says. Lot a'men still headed out across the hills or down south, law or no law, and I might end up following them. Mighty pretty, them blue hills. Billy could have done just that. It's all Canadian now; that's what they tell me, Quebec and Roman, so they say. Damn shame, that's what it is, price of pride one feller done labeled it.
Anyways. So when I got shed of Hite, I was looking for a real job for real brass. Talked to the other local blacksmith, Micah Waters, a good man, ended up working for him later, but he didn't have enough work right then to take on another smith. Went down to Georgetown and hammered for a while making some wrought iron kitchen things for the smith that has a store down there by his forge on Water Street, near that old bridge, nice feller, but I spent more on the tarts and taverns than he was paying me so I had to get out of town 'fore them bar wipers and wagtails started trying to collect all the brass I owed.
Some men had been meeting in secret all right; lot a'people knew that. Officers had like a club, two clubs in fact, one-time Rebel officers that is, Continentals I guess is the right word. One was the Sons of Spartacus, called themselves Sparticans or Spartans or something like that. T'other was named the Benedict Arnold Society, bee-eh-ess, some called them "bastards." Think they liked that. Those were the militia officers, most of them, brevets and elected, all the same. Proud? Lord, they'd make a peacock blush. Rather not say too many names even though they are officers so most everybody knows. There was even a Quaker or two in that crowd. Honest.
Now men that was just privates and such, they'd been getting together, too, along with those like me who hadn't served out-of-state but who'd fought the damn Tories here at home, in and out of uniforms, home guards and irregulars you might say, night-riders some of us, some for profit as well as pleasure. Hite wouldn't let me join up, but I got in some licks along with men like my friend, Jimmy Griffith, brave as hell he is. Brave or plumb crazy. Hard to tell.
We'd been trying to protect the locals who were catching it from the other side after the fighting ended, from the damn lickspittle Tories who gloried in our defeat. We'd disrupted some of the land auctions and paid a few late night visits on them who thought they'd live in some dead Maryland Line sojer''s house and throw his widow and orphans out in the road. Fucking Scots had hard money, you know, so they was at every land sale, factors mostly, Glasgow tribe.
We hadn't shot nobody nor even tarred and feathered the lickspittles like they did back in the Seventies or hung 'em neither like they did up Fredrick way. Or worse. But we had raised some hell and scared some that deserved a first-rate scaring, have to admit that and shame the devil, whatever that means. There's some urine-stained drawers in a few Tory homes these days that I had something to do with, me and a few friends. Ain't bragging, but it's the god-honest truth.
By the end of 1783 we had figured out that there wasn't any real law in our part of the Province 'cept maybe the busy-body Tory militia and a couple of boozy Marines down in Georgetown and the court way up in Fredericktown. All that business about young Brookes and the Clagett murders smoked that. The sheriff's office was up in Frederick and about all we had representing Toryapolis was a worn down overseer of roads, Alexander Beall, who sometimes forgot he wasn't sheriff no more.
Beall had been short-lived Arnold County's one and only sheriff back during the Revolution, and some thought him a Tory-lover but that warn't fair, way I think. Fair, that's what he was. I didn't know him back then 'cept on sight, but Mr. Hite showed him respect and Micah Waters thought he was a pippin. Big fellow, he is, quiet but once he decides what's right, he does it, and you'd better stay out of his way. Did his job anyhow, back then when things was all topsy-turvy, everybody admitted that. Honest man most said, and that's not always the way to get popular and loved, is it? Specially when about half the people disagrees with the other half most of the time and all hades is breaking loose.
So with no law hereabouts to speak of, we started meeting together with some of the former officers and getting more organized, regular rules, meeting dates and all. You remember what old Franklin said about hanging together. I don't know whose idea it was. Finally the pot boiled over early in '84. It didn't take much. Sorry if that's kind of confused; I'll try to hold to the line from here on.
Here's the story - plain and not-so simple:
Alexander Beall's nephew had been fixing to marry up with this girl; betrothed's the word I was looking for, it was agreed by all and sundry, signed and sealed, the bann's read. Nelly Foster's her name, and her father's a bloody Tory that bought up two or three patriot farms after the governor took 'em, confiscated them you might say, and some did. I saw Nelly a time or two and she's a real pretty little thing, dark haired and quick on her feet, a daisy and a charmer.
Now the Beall boy, he did his service down with Nathaniel Greene, minor knee wounded, limps some in damp weather now and then, and he's been tending to his own business since Yorktown and trying to get hitched up and start his own family. He came to a couple of those veterans' meetings, but he wasn't a regular or anything, and he didn't jaw much. Kept his nose clean and his britches buttoned.
Anyhow, damn if her father, after agreeing to the match and then putting Ned off for about two years, he says no, she can't marry no damnable rebel. They turned to argufying, right there in the girl's brick house down in Georgetown, and I guess some names was called, and Ned Beall hit the man right in the mouth. Knocked out a couple of teeth, they said, blood all over the place, girl and her mother a'screaming and Mr. Foster going for a gun. Ned, he runs for it but right into the arms of Constable Wainright and couple of his bully boys. They club him down and haul him off to the town cells. He, as they say, had his cods in a cloven stick; in durance vile the educated calls it.
Word of this gets out the road to the tavern where we used to have a courthouse. Weren't the only inn out there, but it was clean and the cook was damn good, a slave of course. I was there once for some kind of legal business when I was a bondman. I guess the Frederick stage brought the news; that's the usual way. It's back to every day now that the rolling road's in fair shape. By the time we heard it, a foul gang of Tories was beating up every poor old patriot in Georgetown; you know how stories grow; embroidery's what the womenfolk call it. Bullshite's another name.
So we had a meeting, and Billy Beckwith, who'd been wounded up north and froze his ass as well, and Richard Johns, who was in the Maryland Navy, they volunteered, sort of, with some loud, and perhaps alcoholic, encouragement, to go down to Georgetown and see what was going on and find out how Ned was being treated. Lot of other men asked to go with them, but the cooler heads, and we had a few, said we didn't want to make things worse or look like a mob was coming. Didn't take much to stir folks up back then. Broke the monotony some say, like a tavern brawl between friends.
Now remember this here was winter time, January, cold as bloody hell, but they rode down there and asked around and came back in about four hours or so. We hung about the tavern there joshing with Annie and Stud and drinking beer and eating gravy and bread and whatnot. Don't think they had no pie. Cracked a few walnuts. Some played whist and others darts or just drank. Some men were roasting chestnuts, and I know there was at least one good card game going on, and the draught boards were always busy. So they got back, our emissaries, how you like that word, eh? And we put away our cards, lit our pipes, sat down and listened.
Ned had a knot on his head, they said, and a black eye and a fat lip and a couple of mashed fingers, but shoot, that's not much worse than some men get on Saturday night just being sociable. A lot of what we'd heard was flam, but Nelly's father was swearing out all kinds of warrants and such, and it looked like Ned was going to be a guest of the town for a while 'less a couple of people went bond for him. Now you know his family's dirt poor and more'n likely owes the next three crops to their factor like most farmers out here.
So we discussed who would be willing to sign and risk some land or money, not that Ned wouldn't show up. We figured that most of the Scots, like the Peter family, was doing fine, but we weren't going to get anything there, like milking a stone goat. As tight-fisted a bunch that ever walked the Earth, they are. There's a lot of Beall land down in Georgetown 'cept the town has taken most of it now, and I guess the Bealls out here and them down there don't speak or something. Don't even say the name the same way neither. So that leaves the Brooke family we decided, the Quakers in general, that had enough to risk and might do it, being charitable and all as they claim. Interesting folks, them Quakers.
Now the way the land lies, the Quakers that fought in the Revolution are kind of outcasts from them that refused to fight because of their religion. Don't speak but they're still, well, still friends, and not speaking is how they worship, so I've been told. Anyroad, Mr. Johns, who's a Quaker, said he'd go talk to James Brooke, who signed up for the militia and fought with the irregulars once or twice, and then together they'd go visit his Uncle James who has miles of land and maybe some he'd be willing to pledge to get Ned out. That was the end of that meeting 'cept for the drinking that followed. As I recall, we quit when the keg was empty.
Next thing we hear Ned's going to be transported to Annapolis to stand trial, and they've charged him with a felony, don't know which one, but serious nohow. We met in Faulk's barn after that bit of bad news. There was too many of us to fit in the tavern. Must have been a fifty or sixty men, easy. I know there was at least one Magruder there though I think he was calling himself McGregor now, the family's old name I believe. I guess Lloyd Beall was the ranking officer present. He always liked being called "captain." He spoke for moderation and patience, said he was sure it was going to all "work out" and "blow over." Kind of surprised me since every time I'd heard him before it had been nothing but "bloody" this and "bloody" that where the British, Tories and their friends were concerned.
Richard Johns reported that several members of the Quaker community was willing to pledge for a bond, but the way he understood it, it was too late. Ned Beall was being sent over to the Bay in chains to await trial. That's when Billy Beckwith stood up.
Now I've heard Beckwith before, and he can spout, 'specially when he's got a few tots of black strap inside him. But this time he was cold sober, and he stuck to the subject and didn't wander around in his interesting way. He said we had to stand up for our rights or we wouldn't have none left. Said that's what we'd fought for anyhow. Rights. One of our rights was a trial by a jury of our neighbors, he said. Don't think her said "peers" like I heard later. Ned Beall didn't have no neighbors in Annapolis, Billy said, fact no decent man did, he said, and that got a good laugh. So it wasn't right taking Ned over there for punching Mr. Foster in the nose. Somebody in the crowd yelled, "mouth" and a few laughed, but Billy glared and made a wry face, squinting his eyes.
Billy said it was like when the Brits tried to take smugglers over to London for trial 'cause Maryland juries wouldn't convict them. I hadn't heard of that, but he said it was so back before the Revolution. "We gotta send somebody down there that they'll listen to," Billy said. "Once they get Ned to the Tory capital, it might be too late. They might hang him."
Most seemed to agree judging from the mumbling and the shuffling about. I listened to a lot of windy palaver about who and how many to send, and "Captain" Beall's name came up right away, but he declined with a smile and pointed to a man sitting on the side of a stall, way in the back, chewing on a root of some kind, sassafras maybe.
"Send my cousin, Alexander Beall," the one-time captain said. "I think he knows the constable down there, and he's the only one here who has a Provincial job. The government, such as it is, trusts him."
So everybody turned around and looked, and Alexander Beall, who's a pretty fair-sized man, 'bout fifty I guess and worn around the edges, grizzled some, he hopped down and walked up front. He got up on the feed box where Billy had stood, sucked his teeth, wiping his nose on his hand and said he'd do it. Said he'd tell the law in Georgetown that people out here were mad and thought Ned had the right to be tried where he hit that man, by a jury of his peers. That's the word he used, "peers." Then he said he'd like to have another man go down with him to represent the rest of us, and he looked around and his eyes lit on me. Maybe it's because I was about the only one there bigger than he is. I go about fifteen stone.
Beall said, "What's your name?" squinting at me like he should have remembered, and I told him, and he said, "You busy?" and I said no so he said, "Let's go." And we got in his light rig and headed off for Georgetown, just like that. Didn't even have time to take a piss. He had an animal skin rug that we put across our laps, wolf or some such, and that helped, but that wagon wasn't much for springs. On the way down the old rolling road, we talked about the troubles and Mr. Hite and blacksmithing and women and I-don't-know-what-all. By the time we came down that first cobblestoned hill, I guess he knew me pretty good, and I liked and respected him. He was a calm man. I wished I had a bottle of something keep us warm.
Mr. Beall left his wagon at a stable in the care of a white-haired slave who was bigger'n either of us, and we walked over to the constable's office. He introduced me to Mr. Wainright who found another chair in his back room, and we sat down in front of his small desk. Now the constable, William Wainright, is a kind of straight up and down man, thin and very careful in the way he moves and what he says and how he dresses. He wears a good wig, a light brown one, and real fine clothes, including a short, embroidered waistcoat, kind of fancy dress for a law man, but I found out later he has long irons in several fires and don't have to worry about his income. He doesn't carry a pistol or sword but a thin cane instead. Mr. Beall thinks maybe he's got a knife inside that cane, but I couldn't tell.
Wainright said "good day" and looked at me careful, like he was going to know me next time he saw me. He welcomed Alexander Beall like they was old friends, small smile from Wainright, bigger one from Beall. There was some chitchat about past times, mention of a fancy woman, and then Mr. Beall got down to the Ned Beall thing. Mr. Wainright said that he had met the young man, and he smiled again when he said that. "He has a hard head, much like yours I think. Suppose it runs in the family." He said that with a very small smile.
Mr. Beall smiled back at him and said he'd take that as a compliment. They fenced around a while like that, but after a bit, Mr. Beall asked if it were true that Ned was going to be taken to Annapolis for trial. Mr. Wainright said, "Tomorrow or the next day."
"That's a very bad idea, Wainright," Alexander Beall said in a chilly way. "A very bad idea indeed. Just plain wrong." You could almost see icicles on his words. It was like a quick change in the weather, a sudden storm, a leaf whipper.
Wainright just sat there, very upright, with his fingers together in front of him, tapping each other, and he inhaled and lifted one eyebrow. A couple of deep lines appeared right above his thin nose, and a knot started jumping at the corner of his jaw bone.
"There are many men out my way who would take offense at that," Beall said. "They think it is wrong to try a man in a different jurisdiction. You and I both know they are right. British law, eh?"
"Generally I'd agree," said the constable after a bit of lip licking. "But we do not have the machinery here in Georgetown to stage a proper trial for a man charged with a felony, so says our one and only magistrate, and you out in what they are calling the Western Reserve have lost your county government and its jurisdiction altogether. We could take him over to Prince George's, I suppose, where there's a proper courtroom in Marlboro, but I thought Annapolis would be better. Georgetown, after all, is a creature of the Maryland Assembly. The whole thing's very unfortunate and should have been settled quietly, but that pompous ass Foster has raised such a frightful smell that we must waste time with a trial, I fear. The man does claim some powerful friends who, unfortunately, have the Governor's ear, and since Foster is a militia officer, of sorts, striking him was a serious offense."
"We have a place that's been used as a courthouse," Mr. Beall told him, not mentioning that it was a tavern. "We conducted a number of trials during the Revolution, the revolt as you call it, including one for murder, and have several experienced justices in the neighborhood. What Georgetown has suffered, I fear, is years of martial law and now I hear your militia is being revived." He snorted and adjusted his vest. "Arnold County did not go through that misfortune, thank the Lord."
"Are you suggesting that we take this man out to your local for trial?" Wainright asked, lifting one eyebrow again.
"It's no provincial court, I admit, but that would be more in keeping with his rights rather than taking him to Annapolis where there's nothing left but gloating Tories, pious Anglicans, Loyalists as you prefer to call 'em." Beall crossed his legs and leaned back in his chair, folding his arms.
"Oh, rights is it? Hm. I seem to have heard that siren song somewhere before. What rights are we discussing here, my friend?" Wainright asked, sitting up even straighter and getting kind of testy; his voice rising some, his small mouth now a thin line.
"I think Governor Eden would support a man being tried by a jury of his peers in the jurisdiction where his alleged crime was committed, don't you?" Beall stated, leaning forward and putting one of his big hands on Wainright's desk. The front legs of his chair banged back to the floor, and I heard him exhale.
"Not if his peers was a bunch of boozing rebels and the defunct jurisdiction a hotbed of anti-government activities, he wouldn't." The constable's color was rising a bit. "I know that tavern, used to be Hungerford's, right? And I know there have been meetings, right?"
I guess I must have cleared my throat or shuffled my feet or something because they both stopped and looked at me. "Did you say something, Mr. Gally?" the constable asked, adjusting his neckcloth, his cheeks reddening.
"No sir," I answered. "But you ought to know that's there's as many out there in the country who supported the king and the governor as there was that fought or talked against them."
"That so?" he said like it warn't a question.
"Yes, it's true," Alexander Beall added, giving me a small smile, "maybe even more if you count the ones who whiffled like a weathervane or stood neutral and, of course, the Quakers; most of them were caught in the middle. We could easily find a jury that could render a fair decision. Think we could even do that right here in Georgetown if you wanted, but that might be harder."
"Well, I don't want a trial here, that's certain. We have cock fights, bar brawls and slave auctions, next there'll be bear baiting I'm sure. I have very few men to keep order here, Beall. You know that."
"Yes," Mr. Beall nodded, "but I'm afraid there are a fairly large number out my way who wouldn't admire your shipping Ned off to Annapolis for trial based on the charge of a loud and infamous Tory, and a rich one at that. They could cause some serious disorder. They're in, I fear, a mean mood." Beall stopped and took a breath. "There's a girl involved, too."
"That sounds like a threat, sir," Wainright said, calm as pond ice. He made a face like he was chewing on something and squirmed in his chair. "Mr. Foster is a clever man, of established repute in the business community, if a bit overbearing at times. I must tread on eggs, you understand. The boy doesn't deny hitting him, does he?"
"I haven't talked to him," Beall said. "May I?"
"Of course, of course." Wainright smiled. "Capital idea. Come along, both of you."
We went into the back room of his office and down some narrow stairs to a small pair of cells. Ned Beall, who was about my age I guess, was manacled to an iron ring in one of them. His shirt was bloody and he was barefoot. Constable Wainright let us into the brick-walled room with its small, high window and then locked the thick, wooden door behind us.
Mr. Beall shook his nephew's hand and introduced me, and Ned shook my hand too and we howdied. His paw was near as big and hard as mine. They sat on the floor, and I squatted since there was only a straw pallet for a bed and a foul slop bucket in the room. Ned gave his untied hair a Welsh combing and folded up his long legs, Indian fashion.
"Hear you've got some girl trouble, Ned," Mr. Beall started with a grin.
"Yep, y'heard right." Ned Beall smiled despite his bruises. Around his left eye was a lot of different colors, most shades of purple and green, and two fingers on his left hand were wrapped together with a piece of rag.
"What happened, Ned?" his uncle asked.
"Nelly's rotten father thinks he can get her to marry some damn, foppish Sandy he does business with. That's what's the whole matter." His lip was still swollen so the words came out rather soft, but his eyes were hard.
"Damn shame, " I said.
"Ain't' it," he answered. "You married?"
"Just finished being a redemptioner," I told him, using the wrong but softer word.
He nodded and looked at his uncle.
"They tell you about going to Annapolis for a trial?" Mr. Beall asked.
"Yep. Told the constable that was a bunch of horseshit, too."
"Did you hit her father?"
"Sure I did," Ned said, sticking out his chin. "You should've heard what he called me and said about General Greene and the Maryland Line. Riled me. I can't take that from nobody, and then he was pushing me out the door, saying he didn't want me to see Nelly no more, poking my chest and hitting me on the back. He's not some little weakling, probably outweighs me even if he's older."
"What's Nelly say?" Alexander Beall asked, wrinkling his forehead.
"Haven't seen her since. Don't know what she'd say now."
"Want me to go see her?" Mr. Beall asked him.
"Maybe," Ned answered, after thinking about it. He spat into his slop bucket. "Yes, might do some good. You can tell her I still love her and still think we ought to go and get married and tell her farting father to go to hell. She's of age, Uncle Alex." Then he told his uncle where his girl lived, up on the hillside.
"I'll go over and see them and then come back here. They feed you?"
"Jus' corn mush," Ned said, looking downcast. "Innards are gnawing at me."
"I'll bring you something," his uncle said, clapping him on the shoulder. "Come on, Caleb,"
We got up and knocked on the door, and a deputy let us out and said the constable would be back in an hour or so. We told him we would be too and went out on the cold, steep street.
Alexander Beall pulled out two shillings and gave them to me. "Go down and visit a couple of taverns. Ask some questions and listen to what people are saying. We need to know if folks are talking about this and if they're for or against Ned. Meet you back here in an hour or so."
He went his way, and I headed down toward the river. Over the shingled rooftops I could see the old, gray Potomac sliding past and the bare trees along the distant Virginia shore and on that big island. Off to the left, down river, four bare masts poked above the wooden stores, stone houses and low-lying warehouses. I'd spent some time in Georgetown and knew most of the ordinaries. I warn't going to waste my time and money at the big, black City Tavern across from the constable's office and jail, nothing but buckle-shoed Tories and ledger-bound Scots in there with the glowing candles, white napery and shining silver.
At the Fountain Inn I got a sausage and a beer and asked around about Ned. Most of the leather-aprons at this dingy and foul smelling Irish beauty didn't seem interested, had enough troubles on their own pewter plates and wooden trenchers. At the somewhat brighter Anchor all the talk was fishing and blatherskite, but at the Sailors' Tavern I bought a round for the men at the bar for eight pence and found some real interest in Ned's case. Two or three said they were surprised that he'd be sent off for trial and didn't think it was right. Time I'd drunk up Mr. Beall's money, the innkeeper was looking at me like he was trying to remember if I owed him, and I had recalled that I did. I had some idea about how Georgetown's pub dwellers were thinking on this day, but I didn't believe it would make Mr. Beall very happy. He was waiting for me outside the constable's front door, and we went in together.
"I've got some food for my nephew," Mr. Beall told Mr. Wainright showing him a package wrapped in brown paper.
"You didn't tell me you were his uncle, did you? I supposed he was a distant cousin or some such," the constable asked as he led us back to the cells.
"Thought I had. But it doesn't matter, the principle's the thing, Wainright. It'd be wrong not to try him here or out where he lives."
"You might be right, but it's out of my hands, and the Annapolis court is hardly a Star Chamber, you know." He let us back into the cell and locked the door. Mr. Beall gave Ned the food he brought, and we stood and watched him gobble it down. The three of us crowded the small space where Ned lived, but then all of us's bigger than most. Smell got a little ripe. Doubt any of us had bathed that month.
"I talked to Nelly and her mother," Mr. Beall told him. "Her father was off to appear before the grand jury to get you indicted. Just as well I guess. The mother's kind of on pins and needles but at least understands the problem. Nelly's still ready to marry you but does not want to spite her father. She loves him too, you know. And she wants one of those farms for her dowry. That's a good, smart girl you've got here, Ned. We've got to get this here business settled, and Mr. Foster calmed down. Nelly said to tell you she wouldn't marry anybody else, no matter what her father wants."
Ned beamed as he chewed, a wad in his cheek, relief on his battered face. "Thanks," he said, after he swallowed some. "Makes me feel a lot better. Thanks for the ham and pickles too, real good. I'll save the pasty for later."
"We've got to be going," his uncle told him. "There's a bunch of people out in the country ready to come down here with torches and axes to get you out by force. Some would enjoy burning Georgetown to the ground with all the Scots and their account books in it."
"Sounds good," Ned said with a smile on his battered face.
'Don't it?" I put in just to be friendly.
"So stay alert, Ned," Mr. Beall said and slapped him on the back. "And don't do nothing dumb. You may be hearing from us soon. We're working to raise bond money if they'll allow it, with the Quakers by the way. But right now I've got to get back and calm these hot heads down. They're probably sitting out there soaking up ardent spirits and getting madder by the minute."
"Thanks for coming," Ned said, and we knocked to leave his cell.
Back upstairs, Mr. Beall explained to the constable what was going on and suggested what might happen if worse came to worse and asked for him to delay the prisoner transfer if he could. He said he would try and said he would talk to the magistrate, Mr. Peter, about a bond and wouldn't do anything for a day anyhow. He reminded Mr. Beall that "insurrection" was very serious business. He shook Beall's hand and said, "I want both of you to remember that. They will not tolerate any more rebellion. None."
As they were parting, Mr. Beall asked, "How's the big Swede?"
The constable smiled and replied, "Utmarkt which is better than gud," least that's what it sounded like.
We fetched Mr. Beall's wagon and drove up and down all those damn hills and in and out of most of the bigger ruts and back to the tavern. It was almost dark time we got there and colder'n hell. I was glad to have some of Stud's terrible coffee that had been sitting on the back of the stove all day and wished I had time to climb in Annie's bed and let her warm me up.
Alexander Beall told the men to go home and said that he trusted the constable not to do anything right away. Then that damned Beckwith stood on a bench and yelled when everybody started talking and some began putting coats on to leave. I guess maybe thirty or so men were still there, filled both sides of the tavern. Stud had put out all the beer and ale he had and sent around to the town's other ordinary for some of theirs. Billy Beckwith shouted for quiet and said, "Wait! Damn it, wait!"
I think that word started it, the whole thing, just "Wait." Hell of a thing to put in some history book.
"If we do something tonight, they won't have time to get ready for us which they can do tomorrow. Alex Beall might trust that scrawny Wainright character, but I'll be damned if I do." Beckwith was a medium-sized man with matted hair who needed a shave, but somehow he demanded attention. His oft-darned stockings and tattered breeches were topped by what looked like his uniform jacket with the fancy lapels cut off and no buttons left on the cuffs.
In the general hubbub that followed, most of the officers followed Lloyd Beall's lead and left. One said, extra loud, that the meeting reminded him of when the militia elected their officers and called that "the worst idea ever." Beckwith stood and watched them go, and when the door closed, he waved and said, "Good riddance." Some men cheered.
"Go home," Beckwith demanded, "and get your weapon and tote as much lead and powder as you can. Dress extra warm and stuff your pockets with food. Beg, borrow or steal a horse if you ain't got one you can ride. Git back here soon as you can. If you come here and we're gone, follow us on down to Georgetown. We'll stop on that last big ridge just before you head into town, Dunbarton Hill, and get organized." He took a deep breath, sniffed, looked around and said, loudly, "Let's do it."
"What're we going to do?" somebody asked as men started pushing chairs back and pulling on their coats.
"Git Ned Beall out of jail," Billy Beckwith said. "That's first and then we're going to take over that lousy town and see who'll join us. Maybe its time for another revolution; maybe not. Don't matter none. Tomorrow morning we ought to know if we've got enough support down there to do any more mischief. If it looks too dangerous or the Redcoats show up, we'll traipse back here and fade into the countryside, just John Farmer. But maybe this is the time and the cause, maybe."
Alexander Beall stepped up beside Beckwith and raised his hand. He was a sight bigger and a good bit older than Billy. He looked baked and worried. "I'm not going with you. I ain't against this, but I don't think it's necessary. Constable Wainright's an honorable man. He told me he'd wait at least a day, isn't that right Caleb?
I yelled out, "Right, he said that. I heard him."
"So there's no need to be doing this on a cold, dark night. Not even a moon out there." Mr. Beall's voice carried in every corner. "We can see about a bond, get his release tomorrow." He looked around. "Do it legal."
"Better safe than sorry," Billy Beckwith said, not even looking up at Mr. Beall. "Ned wouldn't appreciate us waiting I don't think. Know I wouldn't. Aren't you men tired of the damn Tories running everything? Let's do it, do it right and do it now!"
As the crowd milled and dispersed, some to their horses or mules, many to a long walk home, Billy Beckwith and Alexander Beall stood looking at each other.
Finally Mr. Beall put out his hand and said, "Good luck, Billy. I hope this works and don't hurt Ned. You know the British don't play games with rebels. They got plenty of rope."
Beckwith took his hand and replied, "I know. I saw them leave Boston with their sluts. Saw what they did to prisoners in New York and at Trenton, the bastards. I didn't see no boys in this crowd, no donkeys or conies either. They're all old enough to understand what's happening."
"Are you sure you are?" Mr. Beall asked.
Billy Beckwith didn't answer. He buttoned up his threadbare coat, tied his knitted scarf around his head and headed out into the cold, stumping along with the odd gait that was his permanent reminder of the revolution that failed.