With Lee in Virginia by G. A. Henty
Chapter XI. Fugitives.
On leaving the hotel Vincent walked a short distance, and then stopped until Dan came up to him.
"Anyting de matter, sah?"
"Yes, Dan. There is a notice in the paper that the police have obtained information that I am traveling disguised as a minister, and have a negro servant with me.."
"Who told dem dat?" Dan asked in surprise.
"We can talk about that presently, Dan; the great thing at present is to get away from here. The train for the south starts at ten. Give me the bag, and follow me at a distance. I will get you a ticket for Nashville, and as you pass me in the station I will hand it to you. It must not be noticed that we are traveling together. That is the only clew they have got."
Dan obeyed his instructions. The journey was a long one. The train was slow and stopped frequently; passengers got in and out at every station. The morning's news from the various points at which the respective forces were facing each other was the general topic of conversation, and Vincent was interested in seeing how the tone gradually changed as the passengers from St. Louis one by one left the train and their places were taken by those of the more southern districts, At first the sentiment expressed had been violently Northern, and there was no dissent from the general chorus of hope and expectation that the South were on their last legs and that the rebellion would shortly be stamped out; but gradually, as the train approached the State of Tennessee, the Unionist opinion, although expressed with even greater force and violence, was by no means universal. Many man read their papers in silence and took no part whatever in the conversation, but Vincent could see from the angry glances which they shot at the speakers that the sentiments uttered were distasteful to them. He himself had scarcely spoken during the whole journey. He had for some time devoted himself to the newspaper, and had then purchased a book from the newsboy who perambulated the cars. Presently a rough-looking man who had been among the wildest and most violent in his denunciation of the South said, looking at Vincent:
"I see by the papers to-day that one of the cursed rebel officers who gave them the slip at Elmira is traveling in the disguise of a minister. I guess it's mighty unpleasant to know that even if you meet a parson in a train like as not he is a rebel in disguise. Now, mister, may I ask where you have come from and where you are going to?"
"You may ask what you like," Vincent said quietly; "but I am certainly not going to answer impertinent questions."
A hum of approval was heard from several of the passengers.
"If you hadn't got that black coat on," the man said angrily, "I would put you off the car in no time."
"Black coat or no black coat," Vincent said, "you may find it more difficult than you think. My profession is a peaceful one; but even a peaceful man, if assaulted, may defend himself. You say it's unpleasant to know that if you travel with a man in a black coat he may be a traitor. It's quite as unpleasant to me to know that if I travel with a man in a brown one he may be a notorious ruffian, and may as likely as not have just served his time in a penitentiary."
Two or three of the passengers laughed loudly. The man, starting up, crossed the car to where Vincent was sitting and laid his hand roughly on his shoulder.
"You have got to get out!" he said. "No man insults Jim Mullens twice."
"Take your hand off my shoulder," Vincent said quietly, or you will be sorry for it."
The man shifted his hold to the collar of Vincent's coat amid cries of shame from some of the passengers, while the others ware silent, even those of his own party objecting to an assault upon a minister. It was only the fact that the fellow was a notorious local ruffian that prevented their expressing open disapproval of the act. As the man grasped Vincent's collar with his right hand Vincent saw his left go under his coat toward the pocket in the back of the trousers where revolvers were always carried. In an instant he sprang to his feet, and before the man, who was taken by surprise at the suddenness of the movement, could steady himself, he struck him a tremendous blow between the eyes, and at the same moment, springing at his throat, threw him backward on to the floor of the carriage. As he fell the man drew out his revolver, but Vincent grasped his arm and with a sharp twist wrenched the revolver from his grasp, and leaping up, threw it out of the open window. The ruffian rose to his feat, for a moment half dazed by the violence with which ha had fallen, and poured out a string of imprecations upon Vincent. The latter stood calmly awaiting a fresh attack. For a moment the ruffian hesitated, and then, goaded to fury by the taunting laughter of the lookers-on, was about to spring upon him when he was seized by two or three of the passengers.
"I reckon you have made a fool enough of yourself already," one of them said; "and we are not going to see a minister ill-treated, not if we know it."
"You need not hold him," Vincent said. "It is not because one wears a black coat and is adverse to fighting that one is not able to defend one's self. We all learn the same things at college whether we are going into the church or any other profession. You can let him alone if he really wants any more, which I do not believe. I should be ashamed of myself if I could not punish a ruffian of his kind."
"Let me get at him!" yelled Mullens; and the men who held him, taking Vincent at his word, released him. He rushed forward, but was received with another tremendous blow on the mouth. He paused a moment in his rush, and Vincent, springing forward, administered another blow upon the same spot, knocking him off his legs on to the floor. On getting up he gave no sign of a desire to renew the conflict. His lips were badly cut and the blood was streaming from his month, and he looked at Vincent with an air of absolute bewilderment. The latter, seeing that the conflict was over, quietly resumed his seat; while several of the passengers came up to him, and, shaking him warmly by the band, congratulated him upon having punished his assailant.
"I wish we had a few more ministers of your sort down this way," one said. "That's the sort of preaching fellows like this understand. It was well you got his six-shooter out of his hand, for he would have used it as sure as fate. He ought to have been lynched long ago, but since the troubles began these fellows have had all their own way. But look to yourself when he gets out; he belongs to a hand who call themselves Unionists, but who are nothing but plunderers and robbers. If you take my advice, when you get to the end of your journey you will not leave the station, but take a ticket straight back north. I tell you your life won't be safe five minutes when you once get outside the town. They daren't do anything there, for though folks have had to put up with a good deal they wouldn't stand the shooting of a minister; still, outside the town I would not answer for your life for an hour."
"I have my duties to perform," Vincent said, "and I shall certainly carry them through; but I am obliged to you for your advice I can quite understand that ruffian," and he looked at Mullens, who, with his handkerchief to his mouth, was sitting alone in a corner--for the rest had all drawn away from him in disgust--and glaring ferociously at him, "will revenge himself if he has the opportunity. However as far as possible I shall be on my guard."
"At any rate," the man said, "I should advise you when you get to Nashville to charge him with assault. We can all testify that he laid hands on you first. That way he will get locked up for some days anyhow, and you can go away about your business, and he won't know where to find you when he gets out."
"Thank you--that would be a very good plan; but I might lose a day or two in having to appear against him; I am pressed for time and have some important business on hand and I have no doubt I shall be able to throw him off my track, finish my business, and be off again before he can come across me."
"Well, I hope no harm will come of it," the other said. "I like you, and I never saw any one hit so quickly and so hard. It's a downright pity you are a preacher. My name's John Morrison, and my farm is ten miles from Nashville, on the Cumberland River. If you should be going in that direction I should be right glad if you would drop in on me."
The real reason that decided Vincent against following the advice to give his assailant in charge was that he feared he himself might be questioned as to the object of his journey and his destination. The fellow would not improbably say that he believed he was the Confederate officer who was trying to escape in the disguise of a clergyman and that he had therefore tried to arrest him. He could of course give no grounds for the accusation, still questions might be asked which would be impossible for him to answer; and, however plausible a story he might invent, the lawyer whom the fellow would doubtless employ to defend him might suggest that the truth of his statements might be easily tested by the despatch of a telegram, in which ease he would be placed in a most awkward situation. It was better to run the risk of trouble with the fellow and his gang than to do anything which might lead to inquiries as to his identity.
When the train reached Nashville, Vincent proceeded to an hotel. It was already late in the afternoon, for the journey had occupied more than thirty hours. As soon as it was dark he went out again and joined Dan, whom he had ordered to follow him at a distance and to be at the corner of the first turning to the right of the hotel as soon as it became dark. Dan was at the point agreed upon, and he followed Vincent until the latter stopped in a quiet and badly lighted street.
"Things are going badly, Dan. I had a row with a ruffian in the train, and he has got friends here, and this will add greatly to our danger in getting to our lines. I must get another disguise. What money have you left?"
"Not a cent, sah. I had only a five-cent piece left when we left St. Louis, and I spent him on bread on de journey."
"That is bad, Dan. I did not think your stock was so nearly expended."
"I had to keep myself, sah, and to pay for de railroad, and to buy dem tree suits of clothes, and to make de nigger I lodged with a present to keep him mouth shut."
"Oh, I know you have had lots of expenses, Dan, and I am sure that you have not wasted your money; but I had not thought about it. I have only got ten dollars left, and we may have a hundred and fifty miles to travel before we are safe. Anyhow, you must get another disguise, and trust to luck for the rest. We have tramped a hundred and fifty miles before now without having anything beyond what we could pick up on the road. Here's the money. Get a rough suit of workingman's clothes, and join me here again in an hour's time. Let us find out the name of the street before we separate, for we may miss our way and not be able to meet again."
Passing up into the busy streets, Vincent presently stopped and purchased a paper of a newsboy who was running along shouting, "News from the war. Defeat of the rebels. Fight in a railway car near Nashville; a minister punishes a border ruffian."
"Confound those newspaper fellows!" Vincent muttered to himself as he walked away. "They pick up every scrap of news. I suppose a reporter got hold of some one who was in the car." Turning down a quiet street, he opened the paper and by the light of the lamp read a graphic and minute account of the struggle in the train.
"I won't go back to the hotel," he said to himself. "I shall be having reporters to interview me. I shall be expected to give them a history of my whole life; where I was born, and where I went to school, and whether I prefer beef to mutton, and whether I drink beer, and a thousand other things. No; the sooner I am away the better. As to the hotel, I have only had one meal, and they have got the bag with what clothes there are; that will pay them well." Accordingly when he rejoined Dan he told him that they would start at once.
"It is the best way, anyhow," he said. "To-morrow, no doubt, the fellow I had the row with will be watching the hotel to see which way I go off, but after once seeing me go to the hotel he will not guess that I shall be starting this evening. What have you got left, Dan?"
"I got two dollars, sah."
"That makes us quite rich men. We will stop at the first shop we come to and lay in a stock of bread and a pound or two of ham."
"And a bottle of rum, sah. Berry wet and cold sleeping out of doors now, sah. Want a little comfort anyhow."
"Very well, Dan; I think we can afford that."
"Get one for half a dollar, massa. Could not lay out half a dollar better."
Half an hour later they had left Nashville behind them, and were tramping along the road toward the east, Dan carrying a bundle in which the provisions were wrapped, and the neck of the bottle of rum sticking out of his pocket. As soon as they were well in the country Vincent changed his clothes for those Dan had just bought him, and making the others up into a bundle continued his way.
"Why you not leave dem black clothes behind, sah? What good take dem wid you?"
"I am not going to carry them far, Dan. The first wood or thick clump of bushes we come to I shall hide them away; but if you were to leave them here they would be found the first thing in the morning, and perhaps be carried into the town and handed over to the police, and they might put that and the fact of my not having returned to the hotel--which is sure to be talked about--together, and come to the conclusion that either Mullens was right and that I was an escaped Confederate, or that I had been murdered by Mullens. In either case they might get up a search, and perhaps send telegrams to the troops in the towns beyond us. Anyhow, it's best the clothes should not be found."
All night they tramped along, pausing only for half an hour about midnight, when Dan suggested that as he had only had some bread to eat--and not too much of that--during the last forty-eight hours, he thought that he could do with some supper. Accordingly the bundle was opened, and they sat down and partook of a hearty meal. Dan had wisely taken the precaution of having the cork drawn from the bottle when he bought it, replacing it so that it could be easily extracted when required, and Vincent acknowledged that the spirit was a not unwelcome addition to the meal. When morning broke they had reached Duck's River, a broad stream crossing the road.
Here they drew aside into a thick grove, and determined to get a few hours' sleep before proceeding. It was nearly midday before they woke and proceeded to the edge of the trees. Vincent reconnoitered the position.
"It is just as well we did not try to cross, Dan. I see the tents of at least a regiment on the other bank. No doubt they are stationed there to guard the road and railway bridge. This part of the country is pretty equally divided in opinion, though more of the people are for the South than for the North; but I know there are guerrilla parties on both sides moving about, and if a Confederate band was to pounce down on these bridges and destroy them it would cut the communication with their army in front, and put them in a very ugly position if they were defeated. No doubt that's why they have stationed that regiment there. Anyhow, it makes it awkward for us. We should be sure to be questioned where we are going, and as I know nothing whatever of the geography of the place we should find it very difficult to satisfy them. We must cross the river somewhere else. There are sure to be some boats somewhere along the banks; at any rate, the first thing to do is to move further away from the road."
They walked for two or three miles across the country. The fields for the most part were deserted, and although here and there they saw cultivated patches, it was evident that most of the inhabitants had quitted that part of the country, which had been the scene of almost continued fighting from the commencement of the war; the sufferings of the inhabitants being greatly heightened by the bands of marauders who moved about plundering and destroying under the pretense of punishing those whom they considered hostile to the cause in whose favor--nominally, at least--they had enrolled themselves. The sight of ruined farms and burned houses roused Vincent's indignation; for in Virginia private property had, up to the time of Pope's assuming command of the army, been respected, and this phase of civil war was new and very painful to him.
"It would he a good thing," he said to Dan, "if the generals on both sides in this district would agree to a month's truce, and join each other in hunting down and hanging these marauding scoundrels. On our side Mosby and a few other leaders of bands composed almost entirely of gentlemen, have never been accused of practices of this kind; but, with these exceptions, there is little to choose between them."
After walking for four or five miles they again sat down till evening, and then going down to the river endeavored to find a boat by which they could cross, but to their disappointment no craft of any kind was visible, although in many places there were stages by the riverside, evidently used by farmers for unloading their produce into boats. Vincent concluded at last that at some period of the struggle all the boats must have been collected and either sunk or carried away by one of the parties to prevent the other crossing the river.
Hitherto they had carefully avoided all the farmhouses that appeared to be inhabited; but Vincent now determined to approach one of them and endeavor to gain some information as to the distance from the next bridge, and whether it was guarded by troops, and to find out if possible the position in which the Northern forces in Tennessee were at present posted--all of which points he was at present ignorant of. He passed two or three large farmhouses without entering, for although the greater part of the male population were away with one or other of the armies, he might still find two or three hands in such buildings. Besides, it was now late, and whatever the politics of the inmates they would be suspicious of such late arrivals, and would probably altogether refuse them admittance. Accordingly another night was spent in the wood.
The next morning, after walking a mile or two, they saw a house at which Vincent determined to try their fortune. It was small, but seemed to have belonged to people above the class of farmer. It stood in a little plantation, and was surrounded by a veranda. Most of the blinds were down, and Vincent judged that the inmates could not be numerous.
"You remain here, Dan, and I will go and knock at the door. It is better that we should not be seen together." Vincent accordingly went forward and knocked at the door. An old negress opened it.
"We have nothing for tramps," she said. "De house am pretty well cleared out ob eberyting." She was about to shut the door when Vincent put his foot forward and prevented it closing. "Massa Charles," the negress called out, "bring yo' shot-gun quick; here am tief want to break into the house."
"I am neither a thief nor a tramp," Vincent said; "and I do not want anything, except that I should be glad to buy a loaf of bread if you have one that you could spare. I have lost my way, and I want to ask directions."
"Dat am pretty likely story," the old woman said. "Bring up dat shot-gun quick, Massa Charles."
"What is it, Chloe?" another female voice asked.
"Here am a man pretend he hab lost his way and wants to buy a loaf. You stand back, Miss Lucy, and let your broder shoot de villain dead."
"I can assure you that I am not a robber, madam," Vincent said through the partly opened door. "I am alone, and only beg some information, which I doubt not you can give me."
"Open the door, Chloe," the second voice said inside; "that is not the voice of a robber."
The old woman reluctantly obeyed the order and opened the door, and Vincent saw in the passage a young girl of some sixteen years old. He took off his hat.
"I am very sorry to disturb you," he said; "but I am an entire stranger here, and am most desirous of crossing the river, but can find no boat with which to do so."
"Why did you not cross by the bridge?" the girl asked. "How did you miss the straight road?"
"Frankly, because there were Northern troops there," Vincent said, "and I wish to avoid them if possible."
"You are a Confederate?" the girl asked, when the old negress interrupted her:
"Hush! Miss Lucy, don't you talk about dem tings; der plenty of mischief done already. What hab you to do wid one side or do oder?"
The girl paid no attention to her words, but stood awaiting Vincent's answer. He did not hesitate. There was something in her face that told him that, friend or foe, she was not likely to betray a fugitive, and he answered:
"I am a Confederate officer, madam. I have made my escape from Elmira prison, and am trying to find my way back into our lines."
"Come in, sir," the girl said, holding out her hand. "We are Secessionists, heart and soul. My father and my brother are with our troops--that is, if they are both alive. I have little to offer you, for the Yankee bands have been here several times, have driven off our cattle, emptied our barns, and even robbed our hen-nests, and taken everything in the house they thought worth carrying away. But whatever there is, sir, you are heartily welcome to. I had a paper yesterday--it is not often I get one--and I saw there that three of our officers had escaped from Elmira. Are you one of them?"
"Yes, madam. I am Lieutenant Wingfield."
"Ah! then you are in the cavalry. You have fought under Stuart," the girl said. "The paper said so. Oh, how I wish we had Stuart and Stonewall Jackson on this side! we should soon drive the Yankees out of Tennessee."
"They would try to, anyhow," Vincent said, smiling, "and if it were possible they would assuredly do it. I was in Ashley's horse with the Stonewall division through the first campaign in the Shenandoah Valley and up to Bull Run, and after that under Stuart. But is not your brother here? Your servant called to him."
"There is no one here but ourselves," the girl replied. "That was a fiction of Chloe's, and it has succeeded sometimes when we have had rough visitors. And now what can I do for you, sir? You said you wanted to buy a loaf of bread, and therefore, I suppose, you are hungry. Chloe, put the bacon and bread on the table, and make some coffee. I am afraid that is all we can do, sir, but such as it is you are heartily welcome to it."
"I thank you greatly," Vincent replied, "and will, if you will allow me, take half my breakfast out to my boy who is waiting over there."
"Why did you not bring him in?" the girl asked. "Of course he will be welcome too."
"I did not bring him in before because two men in these days are likely to alarm a lonely household; and I would rather not bring him in now, because, if by any possibility the searchers, who are no doubt after me, should call and ask you whether two men, one a white and the other a negro, had been here, vou could answer no."
"But they cannot be troubling much about prisoners," the girl said. "Why, in the fighting here and in Missouri they have taken many thousands of prisoners, and you have taken still more of them in Virginia; surely they cannot trouble themselves much about one getting away."
"I am not afraid of a search of that kind, Vincent said; "but, unfortunately, on my way down I had a row in the train with a ruffian named Mullens, who is, I understand, connected with one of these bands of brigands, and I feel sure that he will hunt me down if he can."
The girl turned pale.
"Oh!" she said, "I saw that in the paper too, but it said that it was a minister. And it was you who beat that man and threw his revolver out of the window? Oh, then, you are in danger indeed, sir. He is one of the worst ruffians in the State, and is the leader of the party who stripped this house and threatened to burn it to the ground. Luckily I was not at home, having gone away to spend the night with a neighbor. His band have committed murders all over the country, hanging up defenseless people on pretense that they were Secessionists. They will show you no mercy if they catch you."
"No. I should not expect any great mercy if I fell into their hands, Miss Lucy. I don't know your other name."
"My name is Kingston. I ought to have introduced myself to you at once."
"Now you understand, Miss Kingston, how anxious I am to get across the river, and that brings me to the question of the information I want you to give me. How far is it from the next bridge on the south, and are there any Federal troops there?"
"It is about seven miles to the bridge at William sport, we are just halfway between that and the railway bridge at Columbus. Yes, there are certainly troops there--"
"Then I see no way for it but to make a small raft to carry us across, Miss Kingston. I am a good swimmer, but the river is full and of considerable width; still, I think I can get across. But my boy cannot swim a stroke."
"I know where there is a boat hid in the wood near the river," the girl said. "It belongs to a neighbor of ours, and when the Yankees seized the boats he had his hauled up and hidden in the woods. He was a Southerner, heart and soul, and thought that he might be able sometimes to take useful information across the river to our people; but a few weeks afterward his house was attacked by one of these bands--it was always said it was that of Mullens--and he was killed defending it to the last. He killed several of the band before he fell, and they were so enraged that after plundering it they set it on fire and fastened the door, and his wife and two maid-servants were burned to death."
"I wish instead of throwing his pistol out of the window I had blown his brains out with it," Vincent said; "and I would have done so if I had known what sort of fellow he was. However, as to the boat, can you give me instructions where to find it, and is it light enough for two men to carry?"
"Not to carry, perhaps, but to push along. It is a light boat he had for pleasure. He had a large one, but that was carried away with the others. I cannot give you directions, but I can lead you to the place."
"I should not like you to do that," Vincent said. "We might he caught, and your share in the affair might be suspected."
"Oh! there is no fear of that," the girl said; "besides, I am not afraid of danger."
"I don't think it is right, Miss Kingston, for a young lady like you to be living here alone with an old servant in such times as these. You ought to go into a town until it's all over."
"I have no one to go to," the girl said simply. "My father bought this place and moved here from Georgia only six years ago, and all my friends are in that State. Except our neighbors round here I do not know a soul in Tennessee. Besides, what can I do in a town? We can manage here, because we have a few fowls, and some of our neighbors last spring plowed an acre or two of ground and planted corn for us, and I have a little money left for buying other things; but it would not last us a month if we went into a town. No, I have nothing to do but to stay here until you drive the Yankees back. I will willingly take you down to the boat to-night. Chloe can come with us and keep me company on the way back. Of course it would not be safe to cross in the daytime."
"I thank you greatly, Miss Kingston, and shall always remember your kindness. Now, when I finish my meal I will go out and join my boy, and will come for you at eight o'clock; it will be quite dark then."
"Why should you not stay here till then, Mr. Wingfield? It is very unlikely that any one will come along."
"It is unlikely, but it is quite possible," Vincent replied, "and were I caught here by Mullens, the consequence would be very serious to you as well as to myself. No, I could not think of doing that. I will go out, and come back at eight o'clock. I shall not be far away; but if any one should come and inquire, you can honestly say that you do not know where I am."
"I have two revolvers here, sir; in fact I have three. I always keep one loaded, for there is never any saying whether it may not be wanted; the other two I picked up last spring. There was a fight about a quarter of a mile from here and after it was over and they had moved away, for the Confederates won that time and chased them back toward Nashville, I went out with Chloe with some water and bandages to see if we could do anything for the wounded. We were at work there till evening, and I think we did some good. As we were coming back I saw something in a low bush, and going there found a Yankee officer and his horse both lying dead; they had been killed by a shell, I should think. Stooping over to see if he was quite dead I saw a revolver in his belt and another in the holster of his saddle, so I took them out and brought them home, thinking I might give them to some of our men, for we were then, as we have always been, very short of arms; but I never had an opportunity of giving them away, and I am very glad now that I have not. Here they are, sir, and two packets of cartridges, for they are of the same size as those of the pistol my father gave me when he went away. You are heartily welcome to them."
"Thank you extremely," Vincent said, as he took the pistols and placed the packets of ammunition in his pocket. "We cut two heavy sticks the night we left Nashville so as to be able to make something of a fight; but with these weapons we shall feel a match for any small parties we may meet. Then at eight o'clock I will come back again."
"I shall be ready," the girl said; "but I wish you would have stopped, there are so many things I want to ask you about, and these Yankee papers, which are all we see now, are full of lies."
"They exaggerate their successes and to some extent conceal their defeats," Vincent said; "but I do not think it is the fault of the newspapers, whose correspondents do seem to me to try and tell the truth to their readers, but of the official despatches of the generals. The newspapers tone matters down, no doubt, because they consider it necessary to keep up the public spirit; but at times they speak out pretty strongly too. I am quite as sorry to leave as you can be that I should go, Miss Kingston, but I am quite sure that it is very much the wisest thing for me to do. By the way, if I should not be here by half-past eight I shall not come at all, and you will know that something has occurred to alter our plans. I trust there is no chance of anything doing so, but it is as well to arrange so that you should not sit up expecting me. Should I not come back you will know that I shall be always grateful to you for your kindness, and that when this war is over, if I am alive, I will come back and thank you personally."
"Good-by till this evening!" the girl said. "I will not even let myself think that anything can occur to prevent your return."
"Golly, Massa Vincent, what a time you hab been!" Dan said when Vincent rejoined him. "Dis child began to tink dat somefing had gone wrong, and was going in anoder five minutes to knock at do door to ask what dey had done to you."
"It is all right, Dan, I have had breakfast, and have brought some for you; here is some bread and bacon and a bottle of coffee."
"Dat good, massa; my teeth go chatter chatter wid sleeping in dese damp woods; dat coffee do me good, sah. After dat I shall feel fit for anyting."