In which an adventurer becomes a lover and love risks all on a deed of great daring
J. H. POWER
The Story: One day, Ned Ecclestone, the harum-scarum son of a Halifax trader, is summoned to his father’s studij and informed that the family has lost its fortune, and that he, Ned, is to be apprenticed to Donald McKay, a famous ship-builder, of Boston. Civil war is raging in the United States and Ned finds Boston very bitter against Great Britain because of the latter’s sympathetic attitude toward the South. He manages to avoid trouble until he is mistaken for an Englishman and is chased and captured by a mob. Ultimately he finds himself a prisoner, working on railway construction in Pennsylvania. At the prison camp he strikes up a close friendship with Francis Williamson, a young Southerner. Together, the two decide to attempt an escape. They succeed and, despite hardships, meet no serious danger in their journey toward the South until they are offered a lift by a man who enforces his hospitality with a revolver.
THE house into which we were shown was typical of the farm houses of that part of the country and of the period of architecture in vogue eighty or one hundred years ago; which age I judged the house to be. One large room on the ground floor with a huge, roughhewn, brick fireplace, a table in one corner and to the side, did service as a living-room, dining room and kitchen. On the side farthest from the door and facing one as he entered, was a cupboard, in which pewter ware was hung and on the shelves of which mugs and saucers were arranged. A fire of huge pine logs burned merrily, lighting up the whole room. A woman sat spinning by the light of a candle, and as we entered she arose from the spinning-wheel.
“Evening, marm,” our companion laconically greeted her, as he stepped across the threshold.
The woman eyed him, and yet while she did not reply, the look she threw him was one of mingled hatred and contempt, I could have sworn.
We seated ourselves on chairs which stood around the fireplace and warmed our hands. For although late autumn, the drive had been chilly.
Without waiting for any request either on our part or that of her husband, for so I judged our host to be, the woman set about preparing a meal.
We sat, the four of us, for maybe ten minutes or so without speaking; our host eyeing Williamson and myself inquisitively, and every once and awhile casting enquiring glances toward the stranger whom he had called Cushing, and whom I felt he knew quite well. At last, as if in answer to one of these glances, Cushing nodded his head at us.
“Strangers I picked up,” he informed our host, and then fell silent. I knew that both men were waiting for some explanation.
“Yes,” I replied as I had once before informed Cushing, “down in this part of the country on a little business of a private nature.” I hoped to stifle any further enquiries, but I was not to be let off as easily as that.
“Not much business in this part of the country,” my host informed me, his tone one of curiosity, while Cushing eyed me narrowly.
“No,” I retorted, “not mercantile business; but there are matters of more moment that have to be attended to.”
“Government business?” This in the form of a question from Cushing.
I saw that both men were not at all satisfied and I resolved to see the farce through. I had, by this time, become convinced that the man Cushing was somehow or other connected with the Federalists, and his idea that I might also be likewise connected, together with his question which had served me for a cue, made me determined to play this game along the lines he had suggested.
I smiled knowingly. “Government business?” I repeated the question, “Maybe!”
Silence for a while; during which our host smoked as if in meditation, while the man called Cushing gazed into the fire. Then as if remembering my companion, our host turned to Williamson.
“You with this man?” he enquired of him.
Williamson nodded but did not speak. I noticed that our host reddened at what he deemed a discourtesy.
“He is dumb,” I hastened to explain to him. A look of surprise swept momentarily over his face, but at this moment his wife advanced.
“Your supper is ready,” she announced. While her remarks were addressed to us in general, she seemed to glance at Williamson as she spoke. My companion started, as I did myself, for well we might; the voice was low and soft and rolling, the voice of a southern woman.
We ate our supper in an almost funereal silence. The fare was simple but wholesome, and I ate ravenously oí it. Our meal finished, we sat before the fire, which was replenished ever and anon by our host with huge pine logs whose pungent odor filled the room. We sat thus, talking of nothing in particular; crops, the backwardness of the season, and once turning of a sudden to look at Williamson who was sitting farther back from the fire than the rest of us, I saw his hands moving queerly. I restrained my curiosity and brought my eyes back to the other men with something of an effort. When I thought it safe, I glanced cautiously at Williamson
whose fingers were still moving mysteriously.
What could it mean? Was it a signal to me?
I pondered on this, at the same time endeavoring to carry on a conversation with the two men at the fire, but my mind was in a whirl. I realized our danger. Was Williamson warning me of some disaster? A thousand and one questions I asked myself, and I was quickly working myself into a panic when on a sudden the mystery was explained.
I was feeling somewhat thirsty and raising my head to enquire of our host’s wife—who was sitting spinning in a corner of the large room—where I could get some water, I noticed that her fingers were as busy as Williamson’s had been a moment before. Then light flooded my senses. Those two were conversing in the “dumb language.” What did it all mean? As if in answer to my question, the woman arose and commenced to put her work away. Apparently this was the signal to retire, for our host knocked the ashes from his pipe, and taking from the mantelpiece a candle, which he lit, beckoned to Williamson and myself.
The room into which we were shown, while somewhat bare of furnishing, was immaculately clean. We bade our host “good night.”
Hardly had the door closed and his footsteps died away when I questioned Williamson.
Who was the woman? What had she said?
Who was Cushing? and countless other questions I cannot now remember. Finally Williamson broke silence, and his answer, as you will admit, gave me cause for surprise.
“Do you recall,” he asked, “that you twitted me on my despondency this afternoon?”
“Yes,” I replied, “but what had that to do with this? For God’s sake man, speak out!”
“Listen!” But everything was as silent as the grave. “Not so loud, Ned,” he warned.
I nodded in affirmation, for I had completely forgotten in my eagerness that Williamson was “dumb.” Then he continued. “From boyhood I have been troubled or favored, as you will, with presentiments. When my mother died—but no, I have not time for that.” He paused and then continued. “This afternoon I had one of those presentiments A feeling of disaster. We in the South are subject to such things,” and he smiled wanly.
“Felt that we were in for trouble and I am correct. Something tells me that I’ll never see my home again.” This more to himself than to me. Williamson paused, his voice was filled with emotion, but he continued: “Do you know who Cushing is?” I shook my head.
“A Northern spy who suspects that we are Southerners—at least that I am, and that you are in the employ of the South.”
“Who told you that?” I questioned.
“The woman downstairs; she’s a Southerner and true as steel. She spotted me as soon as I came in. She’s married to our host, I forgot to ask his name, but all her sympathies are with her native land. She was born in South Carolina—my own state. She believes Cushing intends to hand us over to the Federal authorities. We’re in West Virginia now, almost on the border line. A few hours tramp will land us in Virginia and then we’re safe. Her husband acts as a spy for the Federalists; that’s why he stays here. She’s going to help us to escape. When the two men are asleep she’s going to warn us. We can leave the house unobserved and by morning we should be in Virginia. But listen, Ned! I feel I shall never leave this house alive. Don’t interrupt me,” Williamson warned, as he saw me about to speak, “we haven’t time. If I shouldn’t come through, I want you to take this letter to my sister Lucinda. She lives in Wilmington, North Carolina. My father is with Lee, if he is not dead. You’ll promise me?”
I grasped his hand. “I promise,” I answered huskily as I shoved the letter inside my shirt.
Then he continued: “Better put the light out. No reason to arouse suspicion. The woman will waken us when it is time.” “Are you sure we can trust her?” I asked.
“Southerners never break their word,” he replied, in a voice which completely silenced me.
We blew out the candle and lay down on the bed, but not to sleep. Our nerves were so taut with expectancy that we started with every noise. The seconds seemed like hours and the hours eternity in themselves.
It must have been about two hours after we had retired, when we heard a scraping at our door. We listened breathlessly, and in the moonlight which seeped through the window we saw the door slowly open. Williamson was out of bed in an instant, and in stocking feet crept silently to where we could see in the indistinct light the shadowy form of some human. Then by straining my ears I could hear a muffled conversation and in a moment or so Williamson returned.
“The men are asleep,” he whispered, “and the door unlatched. Remember your promise to me,” he warned.
Creeping silently, we passed the woman at our door, and as I looked back, for I was ahead, I saw Williamson kissing her lightly on the forehead. When he reached me, tears were in his eyes. Down the stairs we crept, hardly daring to breathe, and as a step creaked beneath our weight we stopped in breathless suspense. But no one apparently had heard us, and with our hearts thumping madly we reached the door. Luck till then was with us, but as that Dame will often prove fickle in the hour of need, she failed us. We opened the door wide and stepped out. Whether a breeze had sprung up, or whether the opening of the door, due to the architecture of the house, had caused a back draft, I never will be able to tell, but hardly had we stepped outside when the door behind us closed with a crash loud enough to awaken the dead. A few hundred yards away was the forest, dark and foreboding, but which was our goal of safety, and toward this we sped. We had not run fifty feet when the report of a gun broke the silence of the night and a cloud of dust ahead showed us where the shot had struck. Terror lent us wings, and on we raced. Another report and a shot whizzed by uncomfortably close. Fifty yards— twenty-five—safety was within our reach! Then a report and I was running alone. I turned back. Williamson was sprawled out on the turf. I bent over him and drew him to a sitting position. His back, where my arm clasped him, was damp and sticky.
“What’s the trouble, Francis?” I had no need for such a question. He looked up and smiled piteously. “You’ll keep your promise to me, Ned. You’ll give my letter to Lucinda?”
I nodded, for I could not speak. Another shot struck dangerously close. It was a moonlight night and silhouetted against the forest we made an excellent target for the man in the window, for with my face to the house I could see whence came the shots. A bullet whined overhead.
“Go on, Ned!” Williamson whispered. “You can do no good staying here. My presentiment was right. The letter . . . you’ll . . .”
I rose to my feet and shaking my clenched fist at the two men in the window, I shrieked a curse at them, and then, turning on my heel I plunged into the woods.
COULD, were it necessary to this memoir, relate to you the strange happenings which befell me in the months that followed. My meeting with the one-eyed beggar, a Federal spy, and how I overcame him. How I finally made my way into Virginia, and my enlistment in the Confederate army. How I served under Lee in the Battle of Antietam, and above all my meeting with “Stonewall” Jackson. All these things could I tell, and a lot more which I warrant would prove of interest; but I pass along to the time when I lay wounded in a Southern Hospital.
You who glory in war and military enterprise know not what you do. ’Tis very fine when the bands are playing and the people “huzzaing” as the soldier boys swing along in unison with the music; but to see those same men, as I have seen them, some days, nay hours later, black with powder, mutilated beyond the semblance of a human being, stiff and cold, faces distorted beyond recognition—and blood, blood, blood. That gives one pause for thought! My thoughts were those of cynicism and regret as I lay upon my bed. Yet so fickle and variable are one’s moods that as the days passed, I chafed at my confinement and longed to be up and about. Thinking thus, I remembered Francis Williamson and the promise I had made to him.
I reached for my coat and there, securely within the lining where I had sewn it for safety’s sake, I could feel the letter for his sister.
I had written to her once, telling her of her brother’s death and somewhat of the circumstances attending it, but whether she had received the letter I did not know. I copied the address from the superscription on the packet Williamson had given me, but now I resolved that when I should be permitted to leave the hospital I would seek her out. Late enough, I admitted, but what could I have done? I was a soldier, subject to the rules and regulations of the army and not my own master, to go willy-nilly where I chose. Two years had I served in the Southern Army; two years of hardship and privation and now I was resolved to take a holiday.
I caught myself thinking of this girl. What was she like? Was she beautiful? The more I thought of her, the more anxious did I become to be out and on my way.
IT WAS on an afternoon in the later part of June— the month of roses and of lovers—that I stood before the gate of a huge colonial mansion. The graveled driveway circled between a row of poplars and cypresses, straight, slender and aristocratic looking. Between the boughs I could see the house—dignified and somewhat austere—its ivory paint reflecting the gleam of the sunlight. Its shutters green and cool. The home of gentle blood and good breeding.
I followed the winding walk and as I emerged from beneath the trees, I saw on the lawn which fronted the house, an ancient darky, slowly but carefully cutting the greensward. As I approached he ceased his work and eyed me suspiciously, albeit respectfully.
“Is Mistress Lucinda Williamson at home?” I asked. For the moment he did not reply and then, perhaps his fear removed by the tone of my voice, he answered.
“Yes, massa. Does you wish to see her?”
“I have a message for Mistress Lucinda from Mr. Francis,” I told him.
The change that came over the old darky was miraculous. On a sudden, the tears welled from his eyes and rolled down his black cheeks.
“Lawdy, Lawdy, poor Mr. Francis. Oh my! Oh my!” he groaned. Without a word, he beckoned to me and turned on his heel. I followed him to the steps of the house and so on into the hallway; from which he led me to a great room, heavily carpeted and richly furnished. It was more like a sepulchre than the abode of humans. I looked cut of the windows but not a sign of life could be seen. “All available men away to the war,” I thought.
“So you have come at last.” I heard a voice and wheeled around. A moment before, all had been dull and gray, but now the beauty of life fairly dazzled me.
Were I to say that the woman was pretty, I should lie basely. Were I to say she was handsome, I should do her an injustice. I stood spellbound, gaping at her like a bashful country lad at his jill. I went all a-trembling and my head was in a whirl.
Her gown of flowered muslin fell from her waist to sweep the ground almost. Slim and willowy was she, as the reed at the brookside. The billowy folds of her dress drooping with careless grace hardly concealed the dainty feet, encased in buckled shiny patent leather, which looked for all the world like two little mice. Her bodice fitted tightly jealous, concealing and yet accentuating the swell of her bosom. Hair, the color of midnight, was piled in high confusion over a shapely brow, and ringlets of curls fell upon her shoulders. Eyes, heavy lidded, of an amazing brown, peered lazily beneath perfectly arched brows. The nose was straight and delicately moulded, and the mouth, with upward quirks at the corners, was as scarlet as a robin’s breast. Was it any wonder that I fell a-trembling when I saw this vision?
“So you have come at last,” she repeated. In silence I crossed the room to where she stood. “I have come,” I answered, as I bent to kiss the hand she extended, at the same time handing her the packet.
Late into the afternoon we talked. She must know everything. First, of her brother’s death, to which she listened with tears sparkling in her eyes and with never a word of regret, except that he could no longer fight for the Cause. When that was finished, glad was I of it, for her unspoken sorrow cut me to the heart, while her courage thrilled me. Now it was of myself that she must learn. How had I met Francis? What was I doing in Boston? When I had told her of my father’s failure, she laid her little hand on mine, and at the touch of it I thrilled strangely.
As the shadows lengthened, I arose. “I must be going, but I will come again if I may,” I said.
“Going! Going where?”
“To seek some lodgings,” I replied.
She jumped to her feet, her cheeks the color of fire.
“Will not my brother’s friend accept the hospitality of his sister’s roof?” she asked.
“But, but ...” I stammered.
“There are no ‘buts’,” she replied.
The days that followed were ones never to be forgotten. How I dreaded the approach of each night; for then, perforce, I must lose her company and when the darkness had fallen, I cursed its laggard footsteps. Turning and tossing in my bed, I waited eagerly for the first gray streak of dawn. Then I knew that each moment lessened my absence from her side. You must think that I was mad. Yes, mad with love of her I was, and reckoned little of the consequence. An unknown soldier of fortune I, but determined to drink the cup of pleasure to its very dregs. Not once did an expression of my love for her escape my lips. Content was I that I should be her guest, honored by her presence and bound by chains of love to her far stronger than did ever galley-chains bind slaves of ancient Rome.
I told her of my home in little Nova Scotia. The ways and customs of my people. Of boyhood dreams and youth’s wild ventures. Of Jock Flemming and of my frolics with the fisher-folk. She marveled at my description of our winter. The biting wind, the whirling snow and frozen ponds whereon we skated, till her eyes in wonder wide would open and her little brows would pucker in amazement. But of all the things I told, the harbor bore the greatest interest. I related to her how the great Duc d’Anville’s fleet was trapped two hundred years or so ago, his crew laid low with fever, how the ships rotted at their moorings and sank, and even yet on some clear days, how one could see the outlines of their hulks, a hundred feet or so below the water.
The days sped all too quickly. I was beginning to think of my return to the army, when one evening as we sat conversing, she turned to me, and with her cheeks suffused with blushes, she asked:
“Suppose I were to ask you to do me a favor, would you do it?”
“Why ask the obvious?” I retorted.
“You will have to go on a journey,” she replied.
“What of that. I must needs return to the army in a day or so.”
a day or
“But if you do what I ask you, it will not be necessary to return to the army,” she interrupted.
“You are not asking me to desert?” I queried.
“Yes—and no,” she returned. “But before I tell you what it is I want you to do, you must swear to me that you will grant my request. If you do not care to help me . . .”
“You know that is not so. I never can repay you for all your kindnesses,” I blurted out with heat.
“I am not asking you to repay a debt, it is myself who is indebted to you . . .
my brother . . .
“Forgive me,” I pleaded, “I did not wish to . .
“You are forgiven!” She smiled at me with a smile for which a man would pledge his soul, and it was on that instant that I was determined.
“What is it you wish?” I asked.
“You will do it for me?” she questioned.
“Anything! Ask it!”
“I want you to go to Halifax,” she replied.
“Go to Halifax?” I was stunned. For what reason could she wish that I should return to Halifax, if not desiring to be rid of me? ’Twas no reason that, because I loved her, she should love me in return. Most likely she was already plighted to someone else and if that was so, ’twas well for me to go. Then I heard her asking.
“You are willing to go?”
“But you do not wish to ask me why? Do you not think it strange that I should ask you to go to Halifax?” It was my turn now. If she did not love me and only wished to be rid of me, I was determined to show her that I too was proud—proud at least of my country.
“Mistress Williamson,” I said, rising to my feet, “when we Nova Scotians pass our word and bind ourselves to an undertaking, we do so without any questioning or reservations. I give you good night.” “Listen! Listen, Ned!”
At the sound of my name, I stopped. She rose in turn and came toward me, passing her arm under mine.
“Our soldiers are in need of ammunition, Ned.” Once again she had called me by my Christian name. “The Confederacy have outfitted a vessel—a fast vessel called the Tallahassee. She is supposed to be a commerce destroyer, and no doubt she will destroy some Yankee ships, but her main object is to procure ammunition for the forces. We have an agent in Nova Scotia— in Halifax—who is procuring ammunition for us. The Tallahassee will run from Wilmington to Halifax. On the way she will destroy some Federal commerce, but this only for a blind, and put into Halifax ostensibly for coal, but in reality to ship the ammunition gathered there. This must never leak out, since England would be accused of a violation of neutrality.’
I saw it all. “But why—what am I to do?”
“You’ll pilot the Tallahassee in and out of Halifax harbor,” she replied. “I’ve told Colonel Taylor, her commander, about you and of your knowledge of the harbor.”
Once again that night I was speechless. Can you blame me? At the beginning of this memoir I remarked upon the vagaries of Fate. Do you wonder?
“You’ll do it?” I heard her ask entreatingly.
I brought myself to realities. “Of course!” I replied. “And you’ll come back—come back to me,” she whispered.
In the dark I could see her eyes sparkling with expectancy. Her mouth was a scarlet rosebud, and the smell of musk was in her hair, as I leant over and strained her to me.
HTEN days or so after I had reported to Captain Taylor, the commander of the Tallahassee, we dropped down the river to await a favorable opportunity for running the gauntlet of the blockade, for Wilmington was situated thirty miles inland on the Cape Fear River. I shall not relate the misfortune that attended our first two efforts to slip out unobserved by the Federal fleet which blockaded the coast, but at last we were successful.
Taking advantage of a moonless night with only a few fleeting clouds in the sky, we steamed slowly toward the coast. As we approached the bar which fronted the river’s mouth, our hearts fell a-beating madly, and as the leadsman called out the depth of water in a muffled tone, our hearts rose in our throats as the water commenced to shoal: “By the mark three, and a quarter less three—and a half—and a quarter two.” She scraped, shivered in all her length but did not stop. Then the words which set our hearts a-thumping once again: “And a half two.” Colonel Taylor, the commander, the chief engineer, and myself were on the bridge and at the last words the colonel turned to the chief engineer.
“Open her out and let her go for all she is worth.”
The engineer left the bridge and an instant later I felt the deck tremble under me. With a convulsive shudder we surged ahead into the darkness
On our run north we were chased on more than one occasion by Federal cruisers but we were fast and always eluded them.
We had been cruising in the North Atlantis destroying Federal Commerce for three weeks or more, when one day Colonel Taylor called me to the bridge
“In an hour or so at most, Ecclestone, I should pick up Chebucto Head, the entrance of Halifax harbor,” he told me. “The ship is then yours.”
I returned to my quarters and clothed in my oilskins I remounted the bridge. Slowly we crept through the fog—still slower. Then we heard the bell buoys ringing and then, the granite cliffs of Chebucto loomed ahead.
Was not this a strange occurrence? Here was I in command of a vessel—yes, and a warship of a great power at that. Had stranger events ever befallen man?
As we crept slowly up the harbor, the fog commenced to lift and familiar landmarks came to view. How well I remembered the harbor. I was amazed. Not once did I falter or hesitate but rapped out my commands with decision and certainty. Past Sambro we clipped. Then Herring and Portuguese Coves came to view. Miles to the eastward I could see the surf beating on Devil’s Island. Almost simultaneously in the west I saw McNab’s Island and George’s Island and, sloping from the water’s edge, Citadel Hill reared itself against the horizon.
The Haligonians wondered at our navigation in making port, but we left them in ignorance; for it was agreed that I was not to let myself be known on our arrival, even to my people.
All that afternoon and night we coaled, and when the sun set, our bunkers were not nearly filled. There was still some ammunition to be got on board. How we escaped detection I never can tell, and yet those things are done and no doubt will be in the future.
As you may well imagine, I was anxious to set foot on soil. For a month or more we had been cruising in the North Atlantic, and yet I must possess my patience till darkness fell, for I could not risk detection in the daylight. Toward seven or eight o’clock, when it was quite dark, I stepped down the gangplank.
Through the narrow, winding, dingy streets that I had known so well in my boyhood days, I strode till I came opposite my father’s house. The shutters were drawn and fastened, but I could see, filtering through the partitions of the shutters, the light from the lamps. Who was in the room? My mother, mayhap, and my father. I was on the point of mounting the steps and rapping with the brass knocker on the door; then I checked myself. I had passed my word. The fate of our expedition might rest on that, and with a heavy heart I turned on my heel.
For an hour or two I wandered in a desultory fashion through the old military city, and at last grown weary, I turned my footsteps in the direction of my ship.
I walked to the wharf and as I did so, I saw someone slink behind some barrels as if fearful of detection. Perhaps the authorities had got wind of our real reason for coming. At any rate I would find out. I crossed the wharf to where the barrels stood.
“Come out of that,” I demanded. There was no answer. “Come out or I will fire. One—two—” and at the word “two” the figure of a man took shape. “What do you want?” I asked.
“Nothing, nothing!” he replied.
Where had I heard that voice? In that instant I ransacked my memory. The man’s hat was pulled down over his brow so that I could not see his features very plainly and then, thank God, the moon came out from behind the cloud and it became as light as day. All this time the stranger was edging closer to me, and had it not been for the moon, I had stepped aside. But on the moment he was about to pass, I recognized him, or thought I did. My clenched fist traveled a bare two inches to his jaw, and down he went. I whistled shrilly. In a moment the guard on the wharf came running to me.
“What is it, Mr. Ecclestone?”
“Quick, grab this man!” and with the guard at his legs and myself at his head we carried him to the ship. Up the gangplank we bore the limp figure and laid him on the deck.
“Get Colonel Taylor!” I ordered one of the men, and to another, “A lantern!” In the lantern’s light I gazed at the unconscious man. I had been correct. The man was Cushing, the Federal spy whom Williamson and I had met in the wilds of West Virginia two years or more ago.
I had hardly made certain of my discovery when Colonel Taylor made his appearance.
“What’s the trouble, Ecclestone?” he questioned.
The man on the deck groaned. He was becoming conscious. I nodded at Cushing. “This man is a Federal spy,” I replied.
“A Federal spy!” Taylor was incredulous. “Are you certain?”
“As certain of it as I am that you are commander of the Tallahassee,” I retorted. Then I told him my story. All the while, Cushing, held securely by two sailors, glared at me malevolently. When I was finished, Taylor stood in contemplation for a second or two.
“This may be serious,” he spoke half to himself. “Bring him to my cabin!” he ordered.
Below, in Taylor’s cabin we plied Cushing with questions. Was the Tallahassee's destination known to the Federal navy? What Federal cruisers were in these waters? But to all our queries he turned a deaf ear. Suddenly Taylor jumped from the chair on which he had been sitting.
“Search him!” he commanded.
The sailors went about their task with great gusto, and while one was ripping the lining of Cushing’s coat, a sealed packet fell to the floor. The sailor picked it up and handed it to his commander.
“Take him away!” Taylor ordered the men. When they had left the cabin with the prisoner, Taylor opened the packet. The seal had already been broken, apparently by Cushing, for the contents were instructions addressed to him.
What we learned filled us with dismay. Our destination had been betrayed to (the Federal navy; and the writing, not two weeks old, informed Cushing that a formidable flotilla would be off Halifax harbor to prevent our escape. It would be folly now to leave the harbor. We would be blown from the water by the Federal flotilla outside. If we remained we would be interned to the end of the war. Our adventure was at an end. We had failed. That meant nothing to me. What was important was that I might lose Lucinda. I might never see her again—at the best, not for years. The thought chilled the very blood within my veins—and my heart ached dully. Then a thought struck me—a veritable inspiration.
V\7ITHIN the hour I left the Tallahassee ’ ’ in a small boat, manned by five or six of her crew. We had not gone far before a breeze sprang up and hoisting a small sail we bowled along at a goodly rate of speed. The lights of York Redoubt blinked in the westward and as we neared Purcell’s Cove above which the Fort loomed, gray and menacing in the darkness, I ordered the men to maintain absolute silence. Past the Cove we crept, beneath the cliffs on which the Fort perched, and without observance or challenge on into the darkness.
Then on a sudden the shore curved inward, crescent shaped. I saw the homes of Herring Cove; their painted sides of white reminded me of a flock of leghorns roosted together for the night. I threw the tiller sharply to port and with her sail fluttering in the breeze, we rounded the headland of the Cove, and there catching the wind on the other tack we sailed into the little harbor. A minute or so later we brought up on the shelving beach, on which as a lad I had played and many a time helped the fishermen unload their catch. How memories flood one’s mind at times.
I strode up the beach, leaving the men who had accompanied me in charge of the boat, my feet slipping on the rounded rocks and pebbles and making a resounding clatter in the silence. I had not gone far, when lights commenced to flash in the windows and men half-clad appeared in the doorways. Of this I took little heed. No one questioned or molested me, those awake, thinking no doubt that I was some officer from the Fort who had overstayed his leave and was taking this, means of rejoining his regiment.
Then I came to the house I sought. The passing years had made little change. I would have known it anywhere. The fence surrounding the yard was covered, as I had seen it many times before, with fishing-nets placed there for drying. I opened the gate, and walking up the short stone-flagged walk I knocked loudly on the door. I had not long to wait. First, the sound of someone groping and stumbling in the dark. Then light seeped below the door, the latch clicked and the door flung open.
I recognized him on the instant. “Jock Flemming, I am come home,” I said. His recognition of me was not as ready, but as he lifted the lantern which he held in his hand, so that the light fell upon my face, he hesitated but a moment.
“Ned Ecclestone! What brings you here?” Before I could reply he grasped me by the arm. “Come in—come in!” at the same time pulling me into the house and shutting the door behind him. Then he continued, his thoughts all for my safety—“The soldiers, they are not after you?”
I laughed openly, and as my laughter rang through the house his look of anxiety turned to one of amazement and then to curiosity.
“But if the soldiers do not want you, what are you doing here?”
Then as the night sped on, I told him of my life in Boston; how I was captured and imprisoned; my days of labor as a military prisoner in Pennsylvania; my escape with Williamson; how Williamson was killed; my life in the Confederate army under Lee; why I was a member of the crew of the '1 'x'Äa\a*see; how the Federal cruisers were a.ready at the harbor’s mouth; my meeting with Lucinda—yes, and above all else, my love for her. Then, when I was through, he asked once again: “Why have you come to me?”
Then I told him of my plan. I wanted him to pilot the Tallahassee through the tricky Eastern Passage, another channel from the harbor to the sea, and unknown, I vowed, to the Federal cruisers.
He did not answer for a while.
“How much do you draw, Ned?”
“Thirteen feet or more.”
“H’mm. May do it. I reckon the smallest depth of water at low tide is seven feet. A good tide will take us through; but how about turning. There are some mighty nasty corners to get around.”
“The Tallahassee is a twin screw. Taylor can turn her on her beam ends,” I answered. “But you will pilot us out. You must, Jock. I tell you Lucinda is waiting for me.”
“Why ask me that, Ned?” Then he recalled to me the day we had parted on the Herring Cove road. The next day when I was to go to work on my father’s wharf. “Do you remember what I promised you?” he asked.
In my memory’s eye came flooding back that night. The moon high in the heavens, and yet, a band of molten silver in the waters of the harbor. Two boys, husky-throated with tears in their eyes. Then I seemed to hear Jock say: “You know, you can always depend on me, Ned.” I brought myself back to the present with something of an effort.
“Can you do it?” I said.
“When do you want to go? To-morrow night. Good! There’ll be a full tide. I’ll pilot you through, even were the devil and his legions bound to stop you.” Then he added somewhat hastily: “I take no responsibility for turning the ship. You say she has twin screws. I don’t know much about such contraptions.”
“Never fear about that,” I smiled.
We talked together after that, for somewhat of an hour, till the gray dawn streaked the sky, warning me ’twas time to take my departure.
“To-night, at eight, I’ll be aboard,” Jock assured me.
“To-night, at eight,” I repeated, as I swung on my heel in the direction of the beach.
All the way up the harbor, my thoughts were of Lucinda, far away in Wilmington. “You’ll come back to me, Ned.” I seemed to hear her whispering.
As I clambered up the starboard side of the Tallahassee, Taylor greeted me.
“I have a pilot who’ll take us out,” I said in answer to his questioning look. “He comes aboard to-night at eight. Be ready!” My eyes filled with sleep, I stumbled down the companionway.
I must have slept a long time, for when I awoke, the shadows were lengthening, and when I had made my toilet it was already dusk. I made my way on deck. Colonel Taylor was pacing nervously up and down the bridge.
“Are you sure you can trust your man to take us out?” he asked as I approached.
“As certain as I am that the sun will rise to-morrow,” I replied. “He knows the harbor, every nook and cranny of it. He’ll take us out to sea through an unused channel—Eastern Passage. Have you everything in preparation?”
He nodded his head.
The day dragged slowly and at last dusk merged into darkness.
I was standing on the bridge with Colonel Taylor, my thoughts far distant from Halifax, when I was attracted by the sound of boat jarring against boat, and looking in the direction from whence came the noise, I saw the figure of a man clambering up our starboard side. A moment later he stepped upon the deck.
“Jock! Jock!” I called softly.
He heard my hail and traversing the deck, mounted the ladder to the bridge. The introductions were curt. While waiting for Jock, I had told Taylor somewhat of his history, our boyhood ventures together, Jock’s knowledge of the harbor, and of his skill as a pilot. Jock Flemming was all business.
“There is a good tide to-night and water enough; but I am afraid we’ll have some difficulty with the corners.”
“But, pilot, with our twin screws I can turn her around on her centre as I turn this ruler,” Taylor told him.
“Well, I never was shipmate with the likes of ’em, but if you’ll steer her, I’ll find the water.”
“Are you certain, pilot, there is water enough? We can’t run ashore at this time.” Taylor threw me a look of doubt.
“You shan’t touch anything but the eel grass,” Jock assured him.
Again Taylor looked at me, but Jock laughed grimly as he remarked: “Don’t be feared. I’ll take you out all right. You won’t see any of your Federal friends off Chebucto Head to-night.”
The moon was old and on the wane, with dark leaden-colored clouds flitting across its face driven by a south wind as we cast our lines from the wharf. We steamed slowly down the harbor.
At times we barely seemed to move and I thought we were aground. At others, a cliff would loom a few feet away but with a twist of the helm Jock would bring the Tallahassee into the centre of the Channel. At sharp turns we would send a boat ahead with a light to guide our way. Again, the lead would show there was hardly room between our keel and our open hand, and at times like these my heart would drop to my boots. Taylor and myself were bathed in perspiration but Jock stood at the wheel, solemnly chewing his tobacco, his face expressionless.
The minutes wore away in an agonizing silence. The suspense was terrific and then on a sudden I saw two pin points of light.
“Look!” I cried, pointing in their direction.
“Devil’s Island,” Jock informed us.
The channel broadened and deepened and a strange tremor shook our ship. Then I laughed with the sheer joy of it. “The Atlantic. Mother Atlantic,” I sobbed.
In the binnacle light I could see Lucinda smiling at me.