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NEAL, THE MILLER
A SON OF LIBERTY
BY JAMES OTIS
CHAPTER 1 THE PROJECT
"I FEAR you are undertaking too much, Neal. When a fellow lacks two years of his majority--"
"You forget that I have been my own master more than a year. Father gave me my time before he died, and that in the presence of Governor Wentworth himself."
"Why before him rather than 'Squire White?"
"I don't know. My good friend Andrew McCleary attended to the business for me, and to-day I may make contracts as legally as two years hence."
"Even with that advantage I do not see how it will be possible for you to build a grist-mill; or, if you should succeed in getting so far with the project, how you can procure the machinery. It is such an undertaking as Andrew McCleary himself would not venture." " Yet he has promised me every assistance in his power."
"And how much may that be? He has no friends at court who can--"
"Neither does he wish for one there, Stephen Kidder. He is a man who has the welfare of the colonists too much at heart to seek for friends near the throne."
"It is there he will need them if he hopes to benefit New Hampshire."
"Perhaps not. The time is coming when it behooves each of us to observe well the law regarding our arms."
"You mean the statute which declares that' every male from sixteen to sixty must have ready for use one musket and bayonet, a knapsack, cartridge-box, one pound of powder, twenty bullets and twelve flints?' "
"There is none other that I know of."
"Then I shall not be a law-breaker, for I am provided in due form. But what has that to do with your mill? I think you will find it difficult to buy the stamped paper necessary for the lawful making of your contracts unless you dispose of your outfit for war or hunting, which is the best to be found in Portsmouth."
"That I shall never do, even if I fail in getting the mill. Do you know, Stephen, that I was admitted to the ranks of the Sons of Liberty last night?"
"The honours are being heaped high on the head of the would-be miller of the Pascataqua," Kidder replied, with a laugh. " Do you expect the Sons of Liberty will do away with the necessity for stamped paper?"
"Who shall say? Much can--"
Walter Neal did not conclude the sentence, for at that instant two men passed, and a signal, so slight as not to be observed by his companion, was given by one of the new-comers, causing the young man to hasten away without so much as a word in explanation of his sudden departure, while Stephen Kidder stood gazing after him in blank amazement.
The two friends whose conversation was so suddenly interrupted were natives of the town of Portsmouth, in the Province of New Hampshire; and, had either had occasion to set down the date of this accidental meeting, it would have been written, October 26th, 1765.
As has been suggested, Walter Neal's ambition was to erect a grist-mill a certain distance up the Pascataqua River, where was great need of one, since land in that portion of the province was being rapidly settled; and, although without capital, he believed it might be possible for him to accomplish his desires.
He was favourably known to the merchants of Portsmouth, and thanks to the efforts of his friend, Andrew McCleary, -ten years his senior, -several tradesmen had intimated that perhaps they might advance sufficient money to start the enterprise in a limited way.
Neal had inherited a small amount of property from his father; but, like many of the farmers in the New World, he was sadly hampered by the lack of ready money. During several weeks prior to this accidental meeting with Stephen Kidder, he had been forced to temporarily abandon his scheming in regard to the mill, that he might try to raise sufficient money with which to pay the annual tax, already more than burdensome, upon his small estate.
As Neal hastened after the two men who had given him the signal to follow them, the most engrossing thought in his mind was as to how the amount of four pounds and seven shillings in cash could be raised without a sacrifice of the cattle from the home farm.
Ephraim Foulsham had partially agreed to advance the sum if he could be secured by a chattel-mortgage, and when Neal overtook those in advance he was speculating upon the possibility of getting the amount that day, lest execution should be issued against him.
That which he heard, however, speedily drove all thoughts of a personal nature from his mind. "Master McCleary would be pleased to see you, and quickly," one of the men said, in a low tone, when the three were where there was no other to overhear the conversation.
"Is it important I should go at once?"
"Yes; unless you would break the oath. you took last night."
Neal waited to ask no more questions. Ten minutes later he was at Samuel Leavitt's store, where he knew McCleary would be found at this time of the day.
Before Neal could speak, his friend walked quickly out of the building toward the shore of the harbour, giving the would-be mill-owner an expressive look, which plainly told that he was to follow.
Not until McCleary was at a point where no one could approach him without being seen did he halt, and then Neal was by his side.
"A messenger must be sent to Boston at once," the elder man said, in a low tone. "It is not generally known that you have been admitted to our association, therefore you are the one to go."
"When shall I start?"
"At once; there is no time to be lost. Will you ride my horse? "
"My Own will serve me better; suspicions might be aroused if I should be seen on yours."
"Very true; I had not thought of that. You are to make all speed, and go direct to Master Revere's. Say to him that George Messerve, who has been appointed distributor of the tax stamps for New Hampshire, will arrive in Boston shortly, if, indeed, he is not already there. Tell Master Revere that the feeling in our section grows stronger against this last imposition every day, until there is danger lest the excesses which marked the 26th of August in Boston may be repeated here. He will understand what it is we want him to do."
"Shall I have time -"
"You will not have time for delay. Start at once, and as you perform this mission, so will you be benefiting yourself in the project of the mill."
"It does not require I should know that in order to be faithful to the trust imposed upon me. I was about to ask if I should have time to attend to raising the amount of my taxes, for I have twice been warned that they are due".
"I will see to it that you do not suffer by the delay. Go at once, and let nothing detain you; we expect the message will be delivered early to- morrow morning." Neal's home lay two miles west of Portsmouth, and without waiting to attend to the business for which he had visited the town, he hastened toward it at a rapid pace. His mind was easy in regard to the payment of the taxes, for McCleary would keep every promise made, and when he returned it should be possible to make the necessary arrangements with Ephraim Foulsham within twenty-four hours.
When he arrived in view of the log-house which his father had built twenty years previous, Walter understood that something out of the ordinary course of events had happened. The doors of the barn were open, and his mother stood in front of the building, as if in deepest distress. A portion of the rail-fence which enclosed the buildings was torn down, and the cart that had been left by the side of the road was no longer to be seen.
"You could not borrow the money? " his mother said, interrogatively, while he was yet some distance away.
"I haven't had an opportunity to see Master Foulsham. What has happened?"
"The worst, my son, that could befall us at this time. The officers have attached the cattle and the horse. Even if you can borrow money, the costs of the action will eat up all we had to live on this coming winter."
"The horse gone!" Walter exclaimed, as if in bewilderment.
"We could better spare him just now than the cattle, because of the work yet to be done."
Neal was not at that moment thinking of the farm duties, nor yet of the mill, which was more distant in the future than before, but only of the fact that it was necessary he should be in Boston on the following morning.
Hurriedly he explained to his mother why it was he must leave home, and added in conclusion,-
"Master McCleary has promised that I shall not suffer because of the delay in paying the tax, and I am certain he will keep faith with me."
"And do you intend to leave home now?"
"I must; there are those who depend upon me, and they shall not be disappointed."
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