A two-part story of love and adventure in the days when brother fought brother
JAMES H. POWER
IT WERE far better for us to receive the blows of Fate with a smile rather than to fret ourselves in an endeavor to unravel her skeins and to rail against what we mayhap deem our misfortune. While I can so philosophize at the present writing, yet I remember I was as impatient as any youth that summer afternoon in the year of grace 1862. But perhaps it were better, so that you can somewhat understand this memoir, that I digress for the present and tell you somewhat of my history.
My father—for the trading instinct was strong within him and the salt tang of the ocean in his blood through countless generations of forebears—was engaged in the West India trade. Then, Nova Scotia merchants bartered on the seven seas—traded the pine and hemlock of their forests and the codfish of their seas for the spices, fruits and rum of the West Indies, the silks of China, and the mantillas of Spain. Those were prosperous days for the merchants of little Nova Scotia.
I fear I must have been a precocious youth, for although I conned my three r’s without undue stupidity, I never took to book learning. Rather would I, when the opportunity allowed, play hooky, and with some boon companion wander down the harbor shore to Herring or Portuguese Coves and there play with the fisherboys. Sometimes if we were lucky enough, we would be taken out in the fishing-boats, and if a strike was made by the fishermen, we considered ourselves the most fortunate mortals alive. We hauled and tugged at the nets and were thrilled. To see those thousands of silver-bellied fish pour into the boats till they nearly swamped us was a sight worth witnessing.
Among all my acquaintances of the fisher lads, the one I liked best was Jock Flemming, a youth of my own age. He knew the Harbor, every nook and cranny; the rise and set of the tides; where the currents ran; where the treacherous shoals lay, and where they shelved off into deep water. From childhood he had followed the sea, and his knowledge of its ways was most uncanny. It was from him that I learned much of my knowledge of the sea and those things pertaining to navigation— where the “Big Bear” shone, and how to locate the pole star; what the “nimbus clouds” betokened, and what the “cirrus”; the significan ce of the sunset, and the signs of an approaching storm. Under his tutelage I became, as you may imagine, somewhat of a sailor. This, together with my expeditions in the fishing-boats, gave me a knowledge of the Harbor such as few of the city folks possessed. McNab’s and George’s Islands, Eastern Passage and Purcell’s cove were familiar sights to me.
I suppose I was sixteen or seventeen years of age when one day my father called me to his study. I remember it all so vividly now. My father cleared his throat; somewhat loudly, I thought, a sign of displeasure, and I steeled myself to face his wrath. I had not done well at school of late, and I knew that the dominie had reported my failures.
“Well,” he began, “have you anything to say for yourself?”
“No, sir!” I replied, for I knew ’twas useless to deny my backwardness in my studies, and I knew only too well how my father hated excuses.
“I see.” The words were spoken with a finality which I realized betokened utter surrender. “You apparently do not intend to study—”
“ ’Tis not that, sir,” I interrupted. “I am not interested in Latin and Greek—”
“No matter,” my father interrupted in turn, “ ’tis better then for you to leave them. You will start in at the wharf to-morrow. That is all. You may go.” I turned on my heel and left the room.
To-morrow I was to start to work in earnest, but I was resolved to have one final day of fun. I set out for Herring Cove with my friend, Jock Flemming.
Ah! What a day that was! Swimming in the coves and walking aimlessly over the headlands. As youngsters will, we ruminated on what we would do in after life. Stretched on the granite which abounded thereabouts, while we watched a sail in the distance, we speculated as to our future.
“I shall be a pilot,” Jock had said, while I chewed a tuft of kelp tossed up by the sea, or “skipped” a stone over the water. “What are you going to be?”
“Oh! I don’t know,” I answered, “perhaps a soldier; can’t tell what I want to be.” And that answer, that childish answer, seemed, as I view it now, to be a speech of wisdom, for to this day I can’t tell you what I want to be; and in truth, as I soliloquize, I have never had an opportunity to make a choice—Fate seemed to do it for me.
As we parted that night we both felt somewhat embarrassed—perhaps because we realized that it would be our last day together for some time. Little did we think that it would be the last for many years. As Jock turned to go—he had accompanied me part of the way to Halifax—he stopped and said: “You can always depend on me, Ned.” I shook his hand silently. There were tears in the eyes of both of us.
I was working on the wharf learning my father’s business from the bottom up, for perhaps four months, when the “crash” came.
In quick succession my father lost his two ships at sea, and with the two ships went most of his fortune. When I met him at his request, in his study, in the same room in which a few months before he had decreed my future, I realized that disaster had overtaken him. He sat in his large armchair, his head bowed in his hands, and I noticed, with something akin to a shock, that gray streaked the erstwhile black hair. It is really strange how unobservant we are until a thing is thrust under our nose. As I entered he raised his head. What a change ! His face was wrinkled and seared. The ruddy complexion I had known was a dull gray.
“Come in, my boy, and take a seat,” he began. When I had seated myself, he continued: “No need to waste time in explanation, Ned; the fact is, I am ruined. No, no!” he waved his hand as if dismissing my question, “ ’tis no good in having false hopes. The ships have been lost. Lloyd’s report is correct. I have made the best arrangements I could. I shall have sufficient left so that your mother shall never want—I always looked out for that—but it is of yourself I would speak. There is no future here for you. I can struggle along some way, but you—you are young, and there is no need to suffer on my account.”
“But, perhaps, sir,” I interrupted, “I can help you.” My father smiled wanly. “No, my son, I am beyond help, but I have hopes to give you a good start. I am going to send you to Boston, to Donald McKay at East Boston; he is a friend of,mine. I have already written him,” and my father indicated a letter which lay on his desk. “Do you think you would like to work with McKay?”
What a needless question! What lad of my age in Nova Scotia had not heard of Donald McKay and his shipyard at East Boston? Who had not heard of the James Barnes and Flying Cloud? Would I like it? Working under a man who built sailing ships that crossed the Atlantic in ten days—what a question!
“Where am I to go?” I asked. Then realizing how thoughtless I was, I stopped. Here was my father, ruined, and his only thoughts were of my mother and myself. How I had misunderstood him ! I had always conceived of him as being without emotion; and did I not have reason to? Many a time I had seen him driving a relentless bargain with some captain or merchant, his mind precise and accurate, his face inscrutable. And yet here he was ruined, and his sole endeavor to have my mother provided for, and to obtain a livelihood for his son.
“Are you sure, sir, that I can be of no assistance to you?”
Once again my father smiled one of his rare smiles and shook his head.
"p VENTS, which in retrospect appear ludicrous, very often at the time of their happening seem serious and important, and I must confess, as I sat on the deck of the Spindrift, bound for Boston, the world appeared very gray and drear; and more so after I had read the letter which my mother had thrust into my hand, as I kissed her good-by on the wharf at Halifax. I have that letter still, and as I look at the legible but faded writing I realize the change in human customs but the steadfastness of mother love. What a quaint letter it is!
Halifax, April 8, 1861.
I cannot tell you how I grieve at your departure and pen cannot describe the hopes which I entertain for your success in a foreign land. I once had the satisfaction of conversing with you, but I cannot do this any longer, but I hope you will remember what I have often told you. Be gentle and kind to the weak, and always courteous to those of my sex.
I shall always think of you and pray for you each night—to God, to keep you pure and to watch over you.
And so, my dear son, may the best of Heaven’s Blessings await thee, peace and prosperity attend thee so long as Time shall remain.
Your loving mother,
Well do I remember how I cried over that letter. Boston in 1861 was somewhat of a city; at least so I thought, for at that time I had traveled but little, and in truth had never been out of my native province.
At about that time Donald McKay was at the zenith of his career, and perhaps it would be well for me to delay for a moment in this narrative of myself, to tell you somewhat of this man to whom I was to be apprenticed.
The McKay family, like my own, were of United Empire Loyalist descent, and had settled in Nova Scotia on the South Shore, in Shelburne County, having migrated there after the Revolutionary War.
When a young lad, Donald McKay developed a peculiar aptitude for shipbuilding, and while yet in his teens was familiar with all the shipyards in Shelburne County—yes, and in Lunenburg as well. He knew the master designers by name, their likes and dislikes. How a mast should be “stepped” and a “stem” turned.
At about the age of twenty he had gone to New York, having taken up the art as his life’s work. In a few years he became a designer on a small scale. From New York he went to Newbury port where he opened up his world-famous shipyards.
The most famous of his clipper ships were the Lightning, James Barnes, and Flying Cloud.
McKay had on one or two occasions built ships for my father, and between them a strong friendship had grown up.
On my arrival in Boston I sought out Donald McKay and delivered my father’s letter to him. Like most Scotsmen he was not given to loquacity. He expressed regret as to the untoward events which had befallen my father and asked a few questions about his health. The fact that I would find employment in his “yard” was taken for granted by myself and accepted on his part as a matter of course; from which you will surmise that Nova Scotians are clannish. I was set to work in the designing rooms as an apprentice.
rT'HE first month or so in Boston I felt lonely, bitterly lonely, and often sighed for the coves and headlands of Nova Scotia, and for my boyhood chum, Jock Flemming. This loneliness, however, soon passed. There was much to be seen which was of interest to a youth of my years, and I was young, ripe for adventure, and in love with life and living.
A few years before my arrival in Boston, the political parties of the States had been troubled over the slavery question. A great movement for the abolition of slavery had swept the Northern States, and, as you may well imagine, this movement was strongly opposed by the South where slavery was looked upon as a legitimate social usage.
On April 12, 1861, the Civil War became a fact when the Confederates fired the first shot at Fort Sumter, and strange to relate, it was on this identical date that I first stepped on American soil.
The attitude of England and, of course, Canada in this war was supposed to be one of strict neutrality, but their sympathy was all with the South; and Southern victories were celebrated with as great joy throughout Canada as they were in any part of the Confederacy. I suffered somewhat from the diplomatic position which my country took in this struggle. As the war progressed and England became frank in her sympathy with the South, my position in the McKay yards was not quite comfortable. Of course, my master was looked upon as American, as, in fact, he was, for he had become naturalized years before on moving to the States, but it was different with me.
One effective weapon employed by the North was the blockading of the Southern ports, which prevented the exportation of cotton to England and other continental countries, and the importation of munitions of war into the Confederacy. However, while the North was blockading the Southern ports, those in command of the military and naval forces south of the Mason-Dixon line were not sleeping. A bold stroke was planned and, with the connivance of the English Government, was successfully executed. A vessel was built at Birkenhead, England, in 1862, ostensibly for English parties, but as a matter of fact for the Confederacy. At Tercería, one of the Azores, she received guns, stores and coal. Captain Semmes—a southerner—then assumed command, and on August 24, 1862, named the vessel the Alabama and hoisted the Confederate flag. Before a month had passed she had destroyed countless Federal ships. When the facts of this breach of international law became known to the Federalists their wrath was unbounded.
I remember the afternoon, as well I might. I was sitting on Boston Common watching the pigeons cooing and whirling in the air. ‘ I suddenly became attracted by the raucous cries of the newsboys. “Xtra, Xtra, all about the new Confederate cruiser,” and as I looked across the square from whence came the cries, I could see a crowd collecting on Tremont Street. Something must have happened, I thought. I made my way toward the rapidly collecting throng of people, and as I came nearer, I realized that the report in the paper must be of grave moment. An ominous noise had already commenced, and the gathering of people, made up, as far as I could determine, from all classes, surged and swayed—a restless sea of humanity. I walked on, happy in my ignorance. As I reached the outskirts of the mass I plucked a man by the elbow.
“What’s the trouble, my friend?” I enquired. He turned, eyed me curiously for a moment or so, and his look changed from curiosity to one of hostility.
“What’s that to you?” he enquired impertinently.
“Nothing, my friend,” I replied, “only a civil question deserves a civil answer.”
“Look, an Englishman!” he shouted at the top of his lungs, meanwhile pointing at me. “An Englishman?” someone questioned. “Where is he?” Then such a bellowing as I have since seldom heard. The man to whom I had spoken seized me by the arm. “Here he is, let’s take him!” He did not finish what he had to say, for I acted quickly and at the same time foolishly. My closed fist traveled an inch or so, to come with an impact, with a sharp “crack” like a pistol shot, flush against his jaw a fraction of an inch below his right ear. What a sweet blow! He dropped like a felled ox and then I took to my heels.
I was always swift of foot, but terror lent me wings that afternoon. I ran with the swiftness of the moose I had often hunted in my native land. My position was far more difficult, for I had not only to outrun those who gave chase, but avoid those whom I met. It was not long before I realized that I was doomed to capture, and this because I had to cover almost twice the ground of those who pursued me. I had not run far before I became conspicuous, and cries of “Stop him—stop him!” followed me however much I doubled and twisted. I could not turn back—that meant certain capture, and I must perforce choose the route not of my own liking but the only one left open by my pursuers. My breath was failing me and my lungs were bursting, and worst of all, I was becoming more terrified each moment. I spied a side street, and down this I fled with the mob in full cry behind me. A wall loomed up before me. I was in a cul-de-sac, and then a mad joy seized me. If I was taken, I thought, it would be only after a struggle. I turned and waited, and I warrant you that I did not have long to wait. Those leading the crowd stopped, but only for an instant. I was by myself and numbers made them bold. I had only an instant to brace my back against, the wall before they were upon me. With all the strength in me I hit the first chin that came within my reach, and as I saw the man reel and fall, I laughed with something of a snarl. A rat will turn if cornered, and after the veneer of civilization has been dropped, we humans are like primitive beasts. For the next few minutes I forgot everything, except that I was hunted—hunted like an animal— and must expect little .mercy. Talk about “playing cricket.” Bah! That is the expression of the upper dog. Play the game his way if you wish to be considered a sport, but don’t enquire how that game is played.
My arms worked like the pistons of a steam engine, out and in with lightning rapidity. I kicked and bit as opportunity presented. I had taken my stand in the angle formed by the meeting of two walls, and so, perforce, I could only be attacked by one or two at most at the same time. The fight did not last long. Suddenly I saw a blinding flash of fire. The earth seemed to come to meet me and then—abysmal darkness. I learned later I had been struck by a stone thrown by one of the mob. That for your fair play— and that with one man against hundreds. I awoke with a nauseating gnawing at my stomach and a dull ache in my head. That on which I lay was hard and damp, and as I forced my eyes open, I could only see in the dingy light, stone, stone, stone. Then for the first time my heart sank. I was in prison—in prison and without friends.
MY memory of the confinement I was compelled to undergo fails me at this late date. The only recollection I have is seemingly endless days; days of monotony; periods of light and darkness. Finally I lost all track of time. Oh, I didn’t care! How I cursed and reviled myself for being a fool; day by day my anger grew against those who held me and at what I considered an unjust imprisonment until my heart was filled with bitter, black, bleeding hatred of the North. I didn’t stop to realize how illogical or unjust I was for denouncing a cause for the work of a few adherents to that cause. My reason was warped by my hatred. So it was that religious zealots burned the innocent adherents of a sect not for anything they had done, but simply because they were the followers of a cause which those zealots persecuted.
I can remember being haled before a military tribunal; accused of inciting a riot, and after a deal of talking by some men in uniform—I was too disgusted and sick to listen—of being asked, “Have you anything to say?” I shook my head and was taken back to my cell.
No doubt you wonder why I did not ask for McKay. Think you, that having brought all this trouble on myself, I was to go whining like a cur to my master. Not much! Then again, it was the last thing I wished my people to find out. God knows but my father had troubles enough of his own, and what need to worry my mother?
We—there must have been six or seven of us as I now recall—were confined in a long narrow cell, built of huge irregular pieces of stone, at one end of which was a small heavily barred window through which the sickly rays of the sun filtered. The floor was covered with straw which did service for a mattress, and on which we slept or tried to sleep, for the floor was damp and infested with vermin. Ugh! What a vile place! We must have occupied this cell for five or six weeks and at the end of that time I was a sorry spectacle. I made no friends, and beyond answering a few questions in monosyllables when I first arrived, I conversed with no one. In fact, as I look back and think of things which happened, I believe that my fellow prisoners thought I was a spy, sent in by the authorities for information. But little hinges on this part of my incarceration, so I must go on.
At the end of five or six weeks, I would judge, I was aroused one morning by being roughly kicked by the ironshod boot of the guard, and as I scrambled to my feet, I saw that my fellow prisoners were already awake. There was a hush of expectancy and we did not have long to wait. After a hasty breakfast of cornmeal mush—I have never since been able to eat the stuff—with water, none too clean, to wash it down, we were mustered in the prison yard. Some method of selection was in progress, for shortly an officer came to our group, looked us over and then, turning to a sergeant, nodded in my direction. I have never been able to decide just why I was selected, for. God knows, none of us was very prepossessing, but the ways of Fate are inscrutable. Those of you who laugh at the mention of Fate, explain this to my satisfaction if you can. Had I not been chosen, no doubt I would have languished in a Northern prison until the end of the war, but being chosen, all that which now follows was the direct result of the action of the officer in singling me out.
The group to which I was allotted, after being outfitted with stout shoes and ill-fitting clothes, were entrained, after a short walk through the streets of Boston, for the purpose of being dispatched to work on the railroads in Pennsylvania. This, of course, I learned later. As our train left the station, we were the object of invective and insult. “White trash” and “Colonel” filled the air, and it was then I became aware for the first time that I was among a group of Southerners, prisoners of war. As I looked around me, I saw the smile of cold disdain on their faces as they listened to the jeers and catcalls of the crowd. Then I heard them speak, in the low, deep-throated, soft, sibilant tongue of the South. I sat back in my seat and closed my eyes.
Somehow or other the word had got around, as rumors will—the wilder and more improbable the rumor, the faster will it travel—that I was an English spy in the employ of the South. Often when the guard would be absent at one end of the car, would I be plied with all sorts of questions. “What was the Alabama like?” “Was she the only one?” and, of course, when I shook my head in genuine ignorance, proclaiming that ignorance, they would laugh delightedly and praise me to my face for a smart fellow; patting me on the back, winking at one another, and nodding their heads in approval at what they thought was my cleverness.
We must have traveled for three days before we reached our destination, some town, or rather village whose name I cannot now recall, situated, I should judge, near the central section of Pennsylvania. I was surprised to see a country not unlike my own Nova Scotia. ’Twas true, the salt tang of the ocean was wanting, but the hills were wooded slopes covered with pine and spruce and hemlock, down which ran numerous streams; and I again experienced a pang of homesickness.
The work we were set to do, building railroads, was not unpleasant. We were in the open continually and the days were yet warm, as it was early in October. At least warm for me, accustomed as I was to a northern climate, but somewhat cold for the Southerners as you may well imagine. But it was in the nights in particular that they felt the cold, and as October faded into November they really suffered. However, our captors were not unmindful of this, and timber was sent to construct camps as a shelter against the coming winter. Those who were acquainted with carpentry were set aside to complete this task, and on account of my training—apparently I was a marked man—I was given complete charge of the erection of our huts. Once again I cannot but help remark how strange are the ways of Fate, and you shall discern the reason of this remark shortly.
I was lying wrapped in my blanket, the first night after starting this work, my thoughts of distant home and of my mother and father, when I was startled by hearing “Ecclestone” whispered once or twice. I listened to be certain I was not dreaming, for it was a rule, carried out with the greatest strictness, that no talking was permitted after “lights out” had sounded. Then, “Ecclestone—Ecclestone,” accompanied by a dig in the ribs, which made me certain that I was awake. “Yes;” I answered cautiously. Then the feel of someone snuggling close to me, and I realized that the man who had spoken was he who occupied the space in the tent next to mine. It was Francis Williamson—nicknamed “Cotton.” I remember his name, as well I might, and as you will presently understand, but as to the remainder of my fellow prisoners their names have faded long since from my memory.
“You are listening?” the voice of Williamson queried.
“Yes;” I replied.
Then the voice continued: “Don’t interrupt me until you have heard what I have to say. Time is precious. The boys believe that you are an English spy in the employ of the South.”
I shrugged impatiently, for during my imprisonment a strong attachment had sprung up between this young Southerner a*id myself, and I had often related to him yarns of my beloved homeland and our mode of living in Nova Scotia. He in turn had often regaled me with tales of his Southern home, of cotton-fields and pickaninnies, and pretty dark-eyed girls. He must have felt my shrug of impatience, for he continued:
“No need to resent that, Ecclestone; they all believe it. Your protestations of innocence only confirm them in their belief. Sh-sh.”
I could hear the sentry approaching and I knew that my companion had done likewise. When the sentry’s footsteps died away, the voice resumed.
“You are in charge of construction of one of the camps and it might be possible to leave a board or two unnailed, or to draw the nails when the officer has examined them.” The voice died away. “Go on,” I whispered.
“We can trust you?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“Thought so,” the voice continued in a relieved tone. I smiled to myself as I heard the sigh of relief. Why shouldn’t I try to escape? What did I owe these Yankees anyway? Nothing, except to thank them for the misery that had befallen me.
“Anything to beat these Yankees,” I whispered back.
“Good!” the voice returned. “We plan to have you and some other of us, we cannot tell who it will be, slip away some night under cover of darkness. But we’ll plan all that later.
“Suppose I don’t occupy the shack myself?” I queried.
“Can’t tell,” Williamson answered. “Must trust to luck. We hope you will occupy the shack above all the others. Don’t much care who the other will be.”
“Why?” I asked.
“You must be one,” he continued, “You don’t speak like these Pennsylvania Dutchmen but you’ll pass as a Northerner. No Southerner would go ten miles in Pennsylvania before he would be detected. The man who goes with you will have to pretend he is a mute. Hope it is me. I can talk the deaf and dumb language. For the rest you must trust to luck.”
Then I saw it all and understood why my fellow prisoners were convinced I was a spy. The soft, sibilant, mouthing tone of the South could be detected anywhere, but my enunciation, while distinct from that of the Northerner, especially when I sounded my'r’s, could be passed for that of an educated New Englander and in particular for that of an inhabitant of Massachusetts.
It is of little import to tell you in detail every incident relating to our plans, and in truth, I have endeavored only to relate herein the outstanding features of this adventure.
The construction of the shacks went on apace, and as the building neared completion, the inspection of it grew more lax. Our docility and apparent eagerness had lulled our captors into a sense of security. One afternoon, when the officer in charge of construction was away on a hunting excursion—for the mountains in the vicinity abounded in game— I thought the time was opportune to undertake the part allotted to me. Under the pretext of changing some of the planking on the side of the building, I removed, with the help of one or two of my men—for of necessity all the Southerners under me had knowledge of our plans and were sworn to secrecy—the timbers already there. When replacing them with the planks I had chosen, I nailed them loosely but with care, in order that their replacement would not be observed. I had waited to execute this manoeuvre until the buildings were almost finished; for had we been detected in this, our plan, perforce, was doomed to failure. Once again Luck was with us.
In a day or so the building was completed, and we waited with breathless expectancy to see who was to occupy it, Without an exception all the men who were engaged on its construction were to be housed there. Strangest of all. Francis Williamson was allotted the bunk next to mine.
I was awakened a night or so after we had been placed in our new quarters, by a whispering in my ear which I recognized as that of Williamson.
“Are you awake?” he asked me.
“Yes! What is it?”
“To-morrow’s the night and I’m the other man,” I was told. “Some of the boys will loosen the planks. The rest will open the door of the shack and start a riot. In the confusion—”
The voice died away. I heard the footsteps of the sentry outside.
The next day passed as a dream. We were back on the railroad now, erecting a bridge over a deep gorge which it was expected would keep us busy most of the winter. The afternoon waned into the gloaming of sunset, and on the first approach of darkness we were mustered and taken back to camp.
What a strange meal that supper was! Everyone trying to act natural and in doing so, acting most unnatural. That is the great secret of all acting, the ability to appear natural. Supper over, we filed to our shacks. When the bugle sounded “lights out,” we rolled into our bunks fully dressed with the exception of our boots, that is, Williamson and myself. I do not know how long I lay there; it must have been an hour or so, but it seemed to me like Eternity. Once or twice I heard a faint creak which I surmised was someone loosening the boards, and at each noise my heart leapt within me, thumping madly. Then suddenly, “Come, Ecclestone!” and at the same time felt the hand of Williamson in mine. We crawled quietly out of bed and laced our shoes. As my eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, I detected a small group of men huddled in the far corner of the building. With my hand in Williamson’s we carefully crept toward them. When we reached the group, we shook hands silently. We were huddled there for a moment or so, when someone shouted “Now!”
Then arose such a bedlam as I have since seldom heard—screeching and shrieking, punctuated with oaths as if the very fiends from the Pit were loose. I heard the guard running to the door, and as it creaked on its hinges we shoved the planks outward. They gave—thank God—and Williamson and myself, crouching like two rabbits, scurried into the night.
Our plans were well thought out. All the guards had left the back of our shack and rushed to the door at the first noise, leaving our way unguarded. A short run of a hundred yards or so carried us into the woods—to safety. We did not stop, but pressed on. We must have run for half an hour, when suddenly a shot broke the silence of the night. Then another report and then another.
We stopped for a moment, and looking back, saw the reflection of a fire in the sky; then we knew that our escape had been discovered. Williamson shivered.
“Thank God!” he said “that they have no bloodhounds.”
Then once more we took to our heels.
WE ran until the perspiration dripped from our bodies and our clothes were sodden masses of wool, our wills and the fear of capture giving us a vitality which we had never dreamed we possessed. But at length our legs would not perform their functions. We stumbled and fell; rose and staggered on and at length Williamson lurched, pitched forward and lay inert. With all the strength I could summon I hauled him beneath a bush, and hardly had I done so when a welcoming darkness enveloped me.
I do not know how long we slept, but when I awoke, the sun was shining brightly, and as I glanced in the heavens, I knew from its position that it was well on toward afternoon.
I shook the sleeping figure beside me, and with a gasp of surprise, mayhap fear, Williamson struggled to a sitting posture. His lips moved, but before he could utter a sound I clamped my hand over his mouth and at the same time beckoned to him to keep silent. He rubbed his eyes, not yet comprehending for the moment where he was. I took my hand from his mouth and grasped him by the arm. He looked around in a dazed fashion, and as recollection flooded his memory he grinned broadly. The grin was so infectious that I smiled in turn and then we sat like two schoolboys on the veriest lark, chuckling silently. Hunger was gnawing at my entrails and I drew my belt tighter. Williamson understood my signal, for he rubbed his stomach in turn.
The bush under which we were sitting was one of a clump on the crest of a hill which was fairly wooded, and from no great distance, I judged, came the sound of running water. At least, I thought, we shall not die of thirst. I was in absolute ignorance as to our whereabouts and I doubted if my companion was any the wiser. In any event we could gain nothing by sitting here, and I determined at least to slake my thirst. Beckoning to Williamson to follow, I set out in the direction from whence came the sound of trickling water. We had not far to go, bent double and moving cautiously, before we came to a woodland stream which chattered noisily over its rocky bottom. We flung ourselves on its bank and drank noisily. I was about to arise when my eyes caught in the depths below me the movement of some object. I waved Williamson back. Fortune was with us if my skill had not deserted me. ’Twould not be long before our hunger would be appeased. In a minute or so, I drew my hand from the water and cast a wriggling object at Williamson’s feet.
“Trout!” he ejaculated.
In ten or fifteen minutes, four or five of these speckled beauties lay on the grassy bank. We did not dare light a fire to cook them; but think you that we did not enjoy our meal! Never did I relish food so, and never had I more need of it.
With the approach of darkness we set out. Our exact whereabouts was unknown to either of us, but we turned our faces to the south. When the Pole Star made its appearance in the heavens, I directed our course from its position in the sky. All night we traveled, and, as the day broke in the east we flung ourselves, footsore and weary, beneath some pines to sleep the sleep of the exhausted.
For three days and nights we traveled in this wise, our only food small animals which we killed, for the woods abounded with squirrels, rabbits and birds of all sorts, and our drink—water from the numerous mountain streams which we passed on our journey.
On the morning of the fourth day I was awakened by the sound of human voices, and peering from beneath the overhanging rock under which we had taken shelter, I saw two men, dressed as prospectors, pickaxe and shovel on shoulder, pass along a well-beaten path, within a stone’s throw from where we lay. I placed a warning hand on the shoulder of my companion, and in a minute or so the voices died away. These were the first humans we had seen since our flight. We were congratulating ourselves on our good fortune when suddenly an inspiration seized me. Surely, I thought, these prospectors must have a cabin nearabouts. The sun told me that it was yet early in the morning and I readily surmised that the men were on their way to work. I communicated my thoughts to Williamson.
Without more ado we set out, taking care to be readily able to conceal ourselves, should we hear the approach of footsteps in the direction from whence the men had come. We had not gone far when we detected a solitary cabin standing in the bush. We took up a position of vantage and waited. For an hour or so we controlled our impatience but no sign of life could we detect. Then throwing caution to the winds, we came out and walked boldly to the cabin. With our hearts thumping madly we pushed open the door. The cabin was deserted, but a swift glance at the interior told us that it had been occupied, and that, not so many hours ago. A fire was smouldering in the stove on which a kettle sat. Cups hung from pegs, and dishes were placed neatly on a shelf on the wall. A barrel of flour stood in the corner. A rude cupboard which was built in the side of the wall, was well stocked with provender. Without a word we fell upon the provisions ravenously. Our hunger allayed, we appraised our situation. It was not improbable that the owner or owners of the cabin might appear at any moment and it was necessary that we should act quickly.
We selected what provisions we could carry easily, and which would last us, if we used them sparingly, for a week or more. Above all, it was necessary that we should get some clothes. Those which we wore, from their military appearance would be bound to attract suspicion should we meet anyone, and this was the last thing we wished to happen.
We rummaged around, and under one of the bunks we found two portmanteaus well stocked with clothes, rough but serviceable. From these we outfitted ourselves and when the metamorphosis was complete, as two respectable prospectors as ever searched the hills of Pennsylvania surveyed one another in that cabin. ' We made a bundle of our own clothes, since we wished to leave no clue as to who had helped themselves in the owner’s absence, and swinging the door open, stepped out into the sunlight. Not a human being was in sight; the mountains seemed lifeless; animation appeared suspended.
The country through which we passed was sparsely settled, and on this account we did not conceal ourselves but kept boldly to the roads, traveling by day and sleeping by night.
Once and awhile we passed farmhouses, but no longer endeavored to remain unobserved, and boldly walked into the farmyards asking for the owner. At least, I asked and did all the talking, for, as you will remember, Williamson must needs play the part of a mute. Sometimes the owners were at home; more often we learned that they were serving in the Federal Army. Our request was usually for some food and, if late in the afternoon, permission to use the hay-loft for the night. Food was never refused us and often we were given a bed in the house itself. As to money we had no need of it, for our hosts would indignantly spurn any suggestion of payment. However on occasion, should we happen to accept the hospitality of some woman whose men-folk were in the army, we endeavored to repay her generosity by performing some chore around the house—cutting and stacking wood, breaking a piece of ground or what-not.
We did not always escape without questioning. Why weren’t we in the army? What part of the country did we belong to? Where were we going? And a hundred and one such questions.
To each or any of these my reply was that my friend and myself had been prospecting in the mountains of Pennsylvania and, having lately heard of the war, were now on our way home to see our families before enlisting. This, or some slight variation when the occasion or nature of the enquiry demanded, usually served.
We had traveled, I suppose, for two weeks, since we were in no hurry; food was easy to obtain and haste would have lent suspicion to our movements, when I noticed that Williamson was growing uneasy. His usual cheerfulness was replaced by long silences and periods of brooding; and for hours at a time, when in these moods, he would not speak. I said nothing for the first few times, but as these grew more frequent, I resolved to enquire of my companion the reason for this strange behavior. It was late one beautiful Fall afternoon, when Williamson had been more depressed than usual, that I determined to broach the subject.
We were trudging along a country road which after the autumn rains was soft and springy to the foot. Side by side we strode, Williamson talking gaily of his Southern home, when of a sudden he stopped in the middle of his conversation and trudged along with downcast eyes. I waited for a moment or so, and when he did not renew his narrative I decided to enquire the reason.
“See here, Williamson, what is the trouble?” I asked.
He did not answer for some moments, and then made a wry sort of smile twisting his mouth, which I shall remember to my dying day.
“Do you believe in presentiments?” he asked.
I was about to reply, I know not what, to this strange question, when suddenly the sound of carriage wheels broke the silence, and looking back we could see on the brow of the hill we had just descended, a horse and carriage driven by a lone man. Very soon the vehicle drew abreast of and was about to pass us, when the driver, thinking better, brought his horse to a standstill. We saluted him; which greeting the stranger, watching us narrowly, returned.
“Where you going?” he opened up, by way of conversation, in a voice with a distinct nasal twang.
Without replying I pointed in the direction we had been traveling.
“Want a lift?”
I replied, politely I thought, that we would be obliged if he would so accommodate us.
“Git in!” was his only response.
I clambered into the seat alongside him and Williamson stretched himself in the bottom of the wagon, with his back against the seat on which we sat. We traveled in this manner for an hour or so. I was silent, for I felt it necessary to find out something concerning our benefactor before I dared venture on any conversation, because at this time we were still ignorant as to our exact whereabouts; and for some reason which I cannot explain, I felt that the stranger’s show of generosity was only a sham. Williamson, of course, was silent, playing his part of a mute.
On a sudden the stranger spoke.
“What part of Massachusetts do you come from?” he asked.
X hesitated for a moment, then, “BOSD„:: ”
“Your friend?” he enquired, indicating Williamson with a backward motion of his thumb.
“Same place,” I replied.
“H-m,” was all he said.
We continued on in silence for ten or fifteen minutes when the stranger again commenced his questioning.
“Long way from home, my friend?”
“Yes” I returned, then added, “On a little business.”
I saw the light of interest leap in the stranger’s eyes, and I knew that for the time his suspicion was supplanted by his curiosity, and I was determined to play up to it for all I was worth. I had need to; for I had been convinced from the first that the stranger was not satisfied that we were two peaceful and innocent travelers.
“On business,” he repeated, in a tone which betokened inquisitiveness and at the same time demanding an explanation.
I smiled and shook my head. “I don’t wish to appear discourteous, my friend,” I replied, “but it is a little private business.” I emphasized the word “private.”
We drove on in silence again. By this time darkness had fallen and the moon was rising in the heavens. We had gone for perhaps three miles, from the time of our last conversation, when on a sudden the stranger turned his horse into a side road, and as he did so, I rose from my seat.
“Pardon me,” I said; “I have to thank you for your courtesy in driving us so far, but you are no longer going in our direction. If you will stop your horse, my companion and myself will alight.
The stranger looked up at me and smiled.
“The night is coming on,” he said, “Might as well sleep in a bed. At the end of this lane is a farmhouse. I know the farmer. He will put us up for the night.
“I thank you,” I replied with severity, “but I have other plans.”
“Better come with me,” he returned, his voice as smooth as silk, all the while playing with some object in his hand. As I gazed at it in the darkness, I distinguished the outlines of a pistol. I sank down beside him.
“What does this mean?” I demanded. Then deciding on a bold stroke, “I’ll have this outrage reported to Washington.”
The stranger did not answer me. In five minutes or so we perceived some pinpoints of light in the darkness. Shortly afterward the black mass of a house took indistinct form. A dog barked, and as we drew up in the farmyard, the door of the house opened and we could see the flames playing on the hearth inside.
“Who’s that?” someone demanded.
“It’s me—Cushing!” our fellow traveler shouted back.
A man advanced toward us, rifle in hand. “Ah!” I thought, “we must be near Virginia.”