With Lee in Virginia by G. A. Henty
Chapter XIX. Free.
It was not until late in the afternoon that a white officer entered, and ordered the soldiers to conduct the prisoner to the general's tent.
"What is your name, sir, and who are you?" the general asked as he was brought in. "I hear that you were denounced by Lieutenant Jackson as being a spy, and that he addressed you as Vincent Wingfield. What have you got to say to the charge?"
"My name is Vincent Wingfield, sir," Vincent replied quietly. "I am upon the staff of General Wade Hampton, and in pursuance of my duty I came here to learn what I could of your movements and intentions."
The general was silent for a moment.
"Then, sir, as you are an officer, you must be well aware of the consequence of being discovered in disguise here. I regret that there is no course open to me but to order you to be shot as a spy to-morrow morning."
One of the officers who was standing by the general here whispered to him.
"Ah, yes, I remember," he said. "Are you the same officer, sir, who escaped from Elmira?"
"I am, sir," Vincent replied; "and at the same time aided in the escape of the man who denounced me to-day, and who then did his best to have me arrested by sending an anonymous letter stating the disguise in which I was making my way through the country. I was not surprised to find that he had carried his treachery further, and was now fighting against the men with whom he had formerly served."
"He deserved the fate that has befallen him," the general said. "Still this does not alter your position. I regret that I must order my sentence to he carried out."
"I do not blame you, sir. I knew the risks I ran when I accepted the mission. My only regret is that I failed in supplying my general with the information they required."
The general then turned to the officer who had brought Vincent up.
"This officer will remain in charge of your men for to-night, Captain Pearce. You will see that the sentence is carried into effect at daybreak. I need not tell you that a vigilant guard must be placed over him."
Vincent was again marched back to the village, but the officer halted the party when he arrived there.
"Stop here a few minutes, sergeant," be said. "That room is required for an officer's quarters. I will look round and find another place."
In a few minutes he returned, and Vincent was conducted to a shed standing in the garden of one of the houses.
"Place one man on guard at the door and another behind," he said to the sergeant. "Let the other two relieve them, and change the watch once an hour."
The sergeant saluted.
"De men hab been on duty since daylight, sah, and none of us hab had anything to eat."
"Oh, I forgot that," the officer replied. "Very well, I will send another party to relieve you at once."
In ten minutes another sergeant and four men arrived at the spot, and Tony and his companions returned to the camp.
As soon as Tony had devoured a piece of bread he left the camp, walked with careless gait through the camps behind, and went on until he reached a village in which were comparatively few soldiers. He went up to a woman who was standing at a door.
"Missus," ho said, "I hab got a letter to take, and I ain't bery sure as to de name. Will you kindly tell me what is de address writ on dis paper?"
The woman looked at it.
"Mrs. Grossmith, Worley Farm, near Union. That's about two miles along the road. If you go on any one will tell you which is Mrs. Grossmith's."
Tony hurried on, for he wanted to get back to the camp before it was dark. He had no difficulty in finding Worley Farm.
"Now, then, what do you want?" its owner said sharply, as she opened the door in reply to his knock. "There's nothing for you here. You can look round if you like. It's been all stripped clean days ago, so I tell you."
"Me no want anything, ma'am. Me hab a letter for you." The woman in surprise took the note and opened it. She read it through and looked earnestly at Tony.
"He says you are to be trusted," she said. "Is that so?"
"I would gib my life for him twenty times over," Tony replied. "He got me away from a brutal master and bought my wife out ob slavery for me. What does he say, ma'am? For de Lord sake tell me. Perhaps he tell me how to get him clar."
The woman read out the contents of the note.
"Dat's it, missus, sure enough; dat's the way," he exclaimed in delight. "Me tink and tink all day, and no manage to tink of anything except to shoot de sentry and fight wid de oders and get him out; but den all de oder sojers come running down, and no chance to escape. If me can get de spirits dat's easy enough. Me make dem all drunk as hogs."
"I can give you that," the woman said. "Is there anything else you will want? What are you going to do with him if you get him free? They will hunt you down like vermin."
"I tought we might get down to de river and get ober somehow. Dere will be no getting trou der cavalry. Dey will hab dem on every road."
"Well, you want some clothes, anyhow; you can't go about in these soldier clothes. The first Yank you came across would shoot you for a deserter, and the first of our men as a traitor. Well, by the time you get back to-night, that is if you do come back, I will get up a chest I've get buried with my men's clothes in it. They didn't want to take them away to the war with them, so I hid them up."
She had by this time dug up the keg from its hiding-place, and now filled Tony's canteen.
"Tank you, missus; de Lord bress you for what you've done, wheder I get Massa Wingfield off or wheder we bofe get killed ober de job. But I must get back as fast as I can. Ef it was dark before I got to camp dey would wonder whar I had been."
"Oh, you have plenty of time," the woman said; "it won't be dark till eight o'clock, and it's not seven yet. I will set to and boil a good chunk of pork and bake some cakes. It's no use getting out of the hands of the Yanks and then going and getting starved in the swamps."
Directly Tony got back to his regiment he strolled over to the shed where Vincent was confined. Two sentinels were on duty, the sergeant and the two other men were lying at full length en the ground some twenty yards away. Their muskets were beside them, and it was evident to Tony by the vigilant watch that they kept upon the shed that their responsibility weighed heavily upon them and that Captain Pearce had impressed upon them that if the prisoner escaped they would certainly be shot.
"Well, Sergeant John Newson," Tony began, "I hab just walked ober to see how you getting on. It am a mighty 'sponsible business dis. I had six hours of him, and it make de perspiration run down my back to tink what a job it would be for me if dat fellow was to run away."
"Dat's just what dis chile feel, Sergeant Tony Morris; I am zactly like dat, and dat's what dese men feel too. We am all on guard. De captain say, put two on guard at de shed and let de oders relieb dem ebery hour. So dey shall; but dose off duty must watch just the same. When it gets dark we get close up, so as to be ready to jump in directly we hear a stir. Dis fellow no fool us."
"Dat's the way, Sergeant Newson, dat am de way. Neber close your eye, but keep a sharp look on dem. It's a pity dat you not in camp to-night."
"How am dat, how am dat?" the sergeant asked.
"To tell you de truf, sergeant, tree or four ob us hab smuggled in some spirits, and you are one of dose who would hab come in for a share of it if you had been dere."
"Golly!" the sergeant exclaimed; "but dat is bery unfortunate. Can't you manage to bring me a little here?"
"Well, you know, it's difficult to get out ob camp."
"Oh, you could get through. Dere is no fear about you being caught."
"I don't know," Tony replied with an air of reluctance. "Well, I will see about it. Ef I can crawl troo de sentries, and bring some for you and de oders, I will. It will help keep you awake and keep out de damp.
"Dat's right down good ob you," the other said cordially. "You good man, Tony Morris; and if I can do as much for you anoder time, I do it."
Having settled this, Tony went round to the hospital tent in rear of the regiment, having tied up his face with a handkerchief.
"Well, what is it, sergeant?" the negro, who acted as an orderly and sometimes helped the surgeon mix his drugs, asked. "De doctor am gone away, and I don't 'spect he come back again to-night."
"Dat am bery bad ting," Tony said dolefully. "Can't you do something for me, Sam Smith? I tink you know quite as much about de medicines as de doctor himself."
"Not quite so much, sergeant, not quite so much; but I'se no fool, and my old mother she 'used to make medicine for de plantation and knew a heap about herbs, so it am natural dat I should take to it. What can I gib you?"
"Well, Sam, you see sometimes I'se 'flicted dre'fful wid de faceache him just go jump, jump, jump, as ef he bust right up. Mose times I find de best ting am to put a little laudabun in my mouf, and a little on bit of rag and put him outside. De best ting would be for you to gib me little bottle of him; den when de pain come on I could jess take him, and not be troubling you ebery day. And Sam, jus you whisper--I got hold of a little good stuff. You gib me tin mug; me share what I hab got wid you."
The negro grinned with delight, and going into the tent brought out a tin mug.
"Dat's all right, Sam; but you hab no brought de bottle of laudabun too. You just fetch dat, and I gib you de spirit."
The negro went in again, and in two minutes returned with a small bottle of laudanum.
"Dat's a fair exchange," Tony said, taking it, and handing to the man his mug half full of spirit.
"Dat am someting like," the black said, looking with delight at the liberal allowance. "Me drink him de last ting at night, den me go to sleep and no one 'spect nuffin'. Whereber you get dat spirit?"
"Never you mind, Sam," Tony said with a grin. "Dar's more where dat comes from, and maybe you will get anoder taste ob it."
Then after leaving the hospital tent he poured half the spirits away, for he had not now to depend upon the effect of that alone; and it were bettor not to give it too strong, for that might arouse the suspicion of the guard. Then he uncorked the bottle of laudanum.
"I don't know how much to gib," he said to himself. "No good to kill dem. Me don't 'spect de stuff bery strong. Dese rogues sell all sorts of stuff to de government. Anyting good enough for de soldier. Dey gib him rotten boots, and rotten cloth, and bad powder, and all sorts of tings. I spect dey gib him bad drugs too. However, me must risk it. Dis bottle not bery big, anyhow-won't hold more dan two or three teaspoon. Must risk him."
So saying he poured the contents of the vial into the canteen, and then going to a water-cart filled it up. He waited until the camp was quiet, and then, taking off his boots and fastening in his belt his own bayonet and that of one of the men sleeping near, he quietly and cautiously made his way out of camp. There were no sentries placed here, for there was no fear whatever of an attack, and he had little difficulty in making his way round to the back of the village to the spot where Vincent was confined. He moved so quietly that he was not perceived until he was within a few yards of the shed.
"Sergeant Newson, am you dere?"
"Bress me, what a start you hab given me, for suah!" the sergeant said. "I did not hear you coming.
"You didn't s'pose I was coming along shouting and whistling, Sergeant Newson? Don't you talk so loud. Dar am no saying who's about."
"Hab you brought de stuff?"
"You don't suppose I should hab come all dis way to tell you I hab not got it. How am de prisoner?"
"Oh, he's dere all right. My orders was to look in at dat little winder ebery five minutes, and dat when it began to get dark me was to tie him quite tight, and me hab done so. And one of de sentries goes in every five minutes and feels to see if de ropes are tight. He am dar, sure enough."
"Dat's quite right, Sergeant Newson. I knew when you came to have me as de captain knew what he was doing when he choose you for dis job. He just pick out de man he considers de very best in de regiment. Now, here is de spirit; and fuss-rate stuff it am, too."
"Golly, but it am strong!" the sergeant said, taking a long gulp at the canteen. "Dat warm de cockles ob de heart in no time. Yes, it am good stuff-just de ting for dis damp air. I hear as a lot of de white soldiers are down wid de fever already, and dere will be lots and lots more if we stop here long. Here, you two men, take a drink of dis; but mind, you mustn't tell no one 'bout it. Dis a secret affair."
The two negroes each took a long drink, and returned the canteen with warm expressions of approval.
"De oder men are on duty," the sergeant said with the air of a man who knew his business; "dey mustn't hab none of it, not until dey comes off. As we are de relief, it am proper and right dat we drink a drop out of a canteen ef we want it."
"Quite so, Sergeant Newson," Tony said in a tone of admiration. "Dat's de way to manage dese tings--duty first and pleasure afterward."
"It am nearly time to relieve guard," the other said; "and den dey can have a drink."
In five minutes the two soldiers relieved those on guard, and they also took a long drink at the canteen, to which the sergeant also again applied his lips.
Now I must be going," Tony said. "I will leave the canteen with you, sergeant. I have got some more of the stuff over there, and I dare say you will like another drink before morning."
So saying he stole away, but halted and lay down twenty yards distant. In ten minutes he heard the sergeant say:
"I feel as if I could do just five minutes' sleep. You keep your eyes on de shed, and ef you hear any officer coming his rounds you wake me up."
Tony waited another half-hour and then crawled up. The sergeant was lying on his back sound asleep; the two men with him were on their faces, with their rifles pointing toward the shed, as if they had dropped off to sleep while they were staring at it. Then he crawled on to the shed. The soldier on sentry at the back had grounded his musket and was leaning against the shed fast asleep, while the one at the door had apparently slid down in a sitting position and was snoring.
"I hope I haben't given it to dem too strong," Tony said to himself; "but it can't be helped anyhow."
He opened the door and entered the shed.
"Are you awake, Marse Wingfield?"
"Yes, I am awake, Tony. Thank God you have come! How did you manage it?"
"I hab managed it, sah, and dey are all fast asleep," Tony said, as he cut the ropes which bound Vincent.
"Now, sah, let's be going quick. Dar am no saying when dey may come round to look after de guards. Dat's what I hab been worrying about de last quarter ob an hour."
Vincent sprang to his feet as the ropes fell from him, and grasped Tony's hand.
"Here am a bayonet, sah. I hope we sha'n't want to use dem, but dar am no saying."
They made their way cautiously across the fields till they approached another camp. A few sentries were walking up and down in front of it, but they crawled round these and passed through the space between the regiment and that next to it. Several other camps were passed; and then, when Vincent knew that they were well in rear of the whole of them, they rose to their feet and started forward at a run. Suddenly Tony touched Vincent, and they both stood still. A distant shout came through the air, followed by another and another.
"I 'spect dey hab found out we have gone, sah. Dey go round two or tree times in de night to sec dat de sentries are awake. Now, sah, come along."
They were on the road now, and ran at full speed until they approached Union. They left the track as they neared the village, and as they did so they heard the sound of a horse at full gallop behind them.
"That's an orderly taking the news of our escape. Sheridan's cavalry are scattered all over the country, and there are two squadrons at Union Grove. The whole country will be alive at daybreak."
Making their way through the fields they soon struck the track leading to Worley Farm, and in a few minutes were at the door. The woman opened it at once.
"I have been watching for you," she said, "and I am real glad you have got safe away. Wait a minute and I will strike a light."
"You had better not do that," Vincent said. "They have got the alarm at Union Grove already, and if any one caught sight of a light appearing in your window, it would bring them down here at once."
"They can't see the house from Union," the woman said. "Still, perhaps it will be best. Now, sir, I can't do anything for you, because my men's clothes are the same sort of cut as yours; but here's a suit for this man."
Thanking her warmly Vincent handed the things to Tony.
"Make haste and slip them on. Tony; and make your other things up into a bundle and bring them with you for a bit. We must leave nothing here, for they will search the whole country to-morrow. We will take the horse away too; not that we want it, but it would never do for it to be found here."
"Will you take your letter again?" the woman asked.
"No, I will leave it with you. It will be no use now if I get through, but if you hear to-morrow or next day that I am caught, please carry it as we arranged. What is this?" he asked as the woman handed him a bundle.
"Here are eight or ten pounds of pork," she said, "and some corn-cakes. If you are hiding away you will want something, and I reckon anyhow you won't be able to make your way to our people for a bit. Now, if you are ready I will start with you."
"You will start with us!" Vincent repeated in surprise.
"Certainly I will start with you," the woman said. "How do you think you would be able to find your way a dark night like this? No, sir; I will put you on your way till morning. But, in the first place, which line do you mean to take?"
"I do not think there is much chance of getting back the way we came," Vincent said. "By morning Sheridan's cavalry will have got a description of me, and they will be scouring the whole country. The only chance will be to go north and cross the river somewhere near Norfolk."
"I think, sah, you better go on wid your horse at once. No use wait for me. I come along on foot, find my own way."
"No, Tony, I shall certainly not do that. We will either get off or be taken together. Well, I think the best plan will be to go straight down to the river. How far is it away?"
"About fifteen miles," the woman said.
"If we got there we can get hold of a boat somehow, and either cross and then make straight for Richmond on foot, or go up the river in the boat and land in the rear of our lines. That we can settle about afterward. The first thing is to get to the river bank. We are not likely to meet with any interruption in that direction. Of course the cavalry are all on the other flank, and it will be supposed that I shall try either to work round that way or to make straight through the lines. They would hardly suspect that I shall take to the river, which is covered with their transports and store-ships."
"I think that is the best plan," the woman said. "There are scarce any villages between this and the river. It's only just when you cross the road between Petersburg and Williamsburg that you would be likely to meet a soul, even in the daytime. There is scarce even a farmhouse across this section. I know the country pretty well. Just stop a minute and I will run up to the wood and fetch down the horse. There's a big wood about a mile away, and you can turn him in there."
A few minutes later they started, Vincent leading the horse and Tony carrying the bundle of food and his castoff uniform. The woman led them by farm roads, sometimes turning off to the right or left, but keeping her way with a certainty which showed how well she was acquainted with the country. Several times they could hear the dull sound of bodies of cavalry galloping along the roads; but this died away as they got further into the country. The horse had been turned loose a mile from their starting place. Vincent removed the bridle and saddle, saying: "He will pick up enough to feed on here for some time. When he gets tired of the wood he can work his way out into a clearing."
Here Tony hid away his uniform among some thick bushes, and the three walked steadily along until the first tinge of daylight appeared on the sky. Then the woman stopped.
"The river is not more than half a mile in front of you," she said; "so I will say good-by."
"What will you do?" Vincent asked. "You might be questioned as you get near home."
"I am going to put up at the last house we passed," she said, "about three miles back. I know the people there, and they will take me in. I will stop there for a day or two, maybe, then walk back, so I shall have a true story to tell. That's all right."
Vincent said good-by to her, with many hearty thanks for the services she had rendered him, and had almost to force her to take notes for two hundred dollars from the bundle he had sewn up in the lining of his coat.
"You have saved my life," he said, "and some day I hope to be able to do more to show my gratitude; but you must take this anyhow to tide you over the hard times, and find food for your husband and sons when they come back from the war."
As soon as the woman had turned back Vincent and Tony continued on their way. The former had, as soon as they were fairly out from the Federal camp, told Tony in a few words that his wife was safe at home and their boy flourishing, and he now gave him further details of them.
"And how came you to enter the army, Tony?"
"Well, sah, dere wasn't much choice about it. de Northern people, dey talk mighty high about der love for de negro, but I don't see much of it in der ways. Why, sab, dey is twice as scornful ob a black man as de gentleman is in de Souf. I list in de army, sah, because dey say dey go to Richmond, and den I find Dinah and de boy."
"Well, Tony, I little thought when I did you a service that it would be the means of you being able to save my life some day."
"Not much in dat, sah. You sabe my life, because dey would, for suah, hab caught me and killed me. Den you save my wife for me, den you pay out dat Jackson, and now you hab killed him. I could hab shouted for joy, sah, when I saw you hit him ober de head wid de shovel, and I saw dat dis time he gib no more trouble to no one. I should hab done for him bery soon, sah. I had my eye upon him, and the fust time we go into battle he get a ball in his back. Lucky he didn't see me. He not officer ob my company, and me look quite different in de uniform to what me was when I work on de plantation; but I know him, and wheneber I see him pass I hung down my head and I say to myself, 'My time come soon, Massa Jackson; my time come bery soon, and den we get quits.'"
"It is wrong to nourish revenge, Tony; but I really can't blame you very much as to that fellow. Still, I should have blamed you if you had killed him--blamed you very much. He was a bad man, and he treated you brutally, but you see he has been already punished a good deal."
"Yes, you knock him down, sah. Dat bery good, but not enough for Tony."
"But that wasn't all, Tony. You see, the affair set all my friends against him, and his position became a very unpleasant one. Then, you see, if it hadn't been for you he would probably have got through to our lines again after he had escaped with me. Then, you see, his father, out of revenge, stole Dinah away."
"Stole Dinah!" Tony exclaimed, stopping in his work. "Why, sah, you hab been telling me dat she is safe and well wid Mrs. Wingfield."
"So she is, Tony. But he stole her for all that, and had her carried down into Carolina; but I managed to bring her back. It's a long story, but I will tell you about it presently. Then the knowledge that I had found Dinah, and the fear of punishment for his share of taking her away, caused old Jackson to fly from the country, getting less than a quarter of the sum his estate would have fetched two or three years ago. That was what made him and his son turn Unionists. So, you see, Jackson was heavily punished for his conduct to you, and it did not need for you to revenge yourself."
"So he was, sah, so he was," Tony said thoughtfully. "Yes, it does seem as if all dese tings came on kinder one after de oder just out ob dat flogging he gabe me; and now he has got killed for just de same cause, for if he hadn't been obliged to turn Unionist he wouldn't have been in dat dar battery at de time you came dere. Yes, I sees dat is so, sah; and I'se glad now I didn't hab a chance ob shooting him down, for I should have done so for suah ef I had."
They had now reached the river. The sun was just showing above the horizon, and the broad sheet of water was already astir. Steamers were making their way up from the mouth of the river laden with stores for the army. Little tugs were hurrying to and fro. Vessels that had discharged their cargo wore dropping down with the tide, while many sailing-vessels lay at anchor waiting for the turn of tide to make their way higher up. Norfolk was, however, the base from which the Federal army drew the larger portion of its stores; as there were great conveniences for landing here, and a railway thence ran up to the rear of their lines. But temporary wharfs and stages had been erected at the point of the river nearest to their camps in front of Petersburg, and here the cattle and much of the stores required for the army were landed. At the point at which Vincent and Tony had struck the river the banks wore somewhat low. Here and there were snug farms, with the ground cultivated down to the river. The whole country was open and free from trees, except where small patches had been left. It was in front of one of these that Vincent and Tony wore now standing.
"I do not think there is any risk of pursuit now, Tony. This is not the line on which they will be hunting us. The question is--how are we to get across?"
"It's too far to swim, sah."
"I should think it was," Vincent said with a laugh. "It's three or four miles, I should say, if it's a foot. The first question is--where are we to get a boat? I should think that some of these farmhouses are sure to have boats, but the chances are they have been seized by the Yankees long ago. Still they may have some laid up. The Yanks would not have made much search for those, though they would no doubt take all the larger boats for the use of the troops or for getting stores ashore. Anyhow, I will go to the next farmhouse and ask."
"Shall I go, sah?"
"No, Tony, they would probably take you for a runaway. No, I will go. There can be no danger. The men are all away, and the women are sure to be loyal. I fancy the few who were the other way before will have changed their minds since the Yanks landed."
They followed the bank of the river for a quarter of a mile, and then Vincent walked on to a small farmhouse standing on the slope fifty yards from the water. Two or three children who were playing about outside at once ran in upon seeing a stranger, and a moment later two women came out. They were somewhat reassured when they saw Vincent approaching alone.
"What is it, stranger?" one of them asked. "Do you want a meal? We have got little enough to offer you, but what there is you are welcome to; the Yanks have driven off our cows and pigs and the two horses, and have emptied the barns, and pulled up all the garden stuff, and stole the fowls, and carried off the bacon from the beams, so we have got but an empty larder. But as far as bread and molasses go, you are welcome."
"Thank you," Vincent said; "I am not in want of food. What I am in want of is a boat."
"Boat!" the women repeated in surprise.
"Yes, I want to got across to the other side, or else to get up the river and land between Petersburg and Bermuda."
"Sakes alive!" the woman exclaimed; "what do you want to do that for?"
"I will tell you," Vincent replied. "I know I can trust my life to any woman in the Confederacy. I am one of General Wade Hampton's officers, and I have come through their lines to find out what they are doing. I have been caught once, but managed to slip through their hands, but there is no possibility of making my way back across the country, for the Yankee cavalry are patrolling every road, and the only chance I have is of getting away by boat."
"Step right in, sir," the woman said. "It's a real pleasure to us to have one of our officers under our roof."
"I have a friend with me," Vincent said; "a faithful negro, who has helped me to escape, and who would be hung like a dog if they could lay hands on him."
"Bring him in, sir, the woman said hospitably. "I had four or five niggers till the Yanks came, but they all ran away 'cause they knew they would either be set to work or made to fight; so they went. They said they would come back again when the trouble is over; maybe they will and maybe they won't. At first the niggers about here used to look for the Yanks coming, but as the news got about of what happened to those they took from their masters, they concluded they were better off where they were. Call your boy in, sir; call him in."
Vincent gave a shout, and Tony at once came up.
"Thank you, we don't want anything to eat," Vincent went on as the woman began to put some plates on the table. "We have just had a hearty meal, and have got enough food for three or four days in that bundle. But we want a boat, or, if we can't find that, some sailors' clothes. If I had them I would keep along the river down to Norfolk. The place will be full of sailors. We should not be likely to be noticed there."
"I can't help you in that," the woman said; "but there are certainly some boats laid up along the shore. Now, Maria, who has got boats that haven't been taken?"
"I expect the Johnsons have got one," the other woman replied. "They had a small boat the boys and girls used to go out fishing in. I don't think the Yanks have got that. I expect they hid it away somewhere; but I don't know as they would let you have it. She is a close-fisted woman is Sarah Johnson."
"I could pay her for its value," Vincent said.
"Oh, well, if you could pay her she would let you have it. I don't say she wouldn't, anyhow, seeing as you are an officer, and the Yanks are after you. Still, she is close is Sarah Johnson, and I don't know as she is so set on the Confederacy as most people. I tell you what I will do, sir. I will go down and say as a stranger wants to buy her boat, and no questions asked. She is just to show where the boat is hidden, and you are to pay for it and take it away when you want it."
"That would be a very good plan," Vincent said, "if you wouldn't mind the trouble."
"The trouble is nothing," she said. "Johnson's place ain't above a mile along the shore."
"I will go with you until you get close to the house," Vincent said; "then, when you hear what she wants for the boat, I will give you the money for it, and you can show me where it is hidden."
This was accordingly done. Mrs. Johnson, after a considerable amount of bargaining with Vincent's guide, agreed to take twenty dollars for the boat, and upon receiving the money sent down one of her boys with her to show her where it was hidden. It was in a hole that had been scooped out in the steep bank some ten foot above the water's edge, and was completely hidden from the sight of any one rowing past by a small clump of bushes. When the boys had returned to the farmhouse the woman took Vincent to the spot, and they then went back together.
Here he and Tony had a long talk as to whether it would be better to put out at once or to wait till nightfall. It was finally determined that it was best to make an immediate start. A boat rowed by two men would attract little attention. It might belong to any of the ships at anchor in the river, and might be supposed to have gone on shore to fetch eggs or chickens, or with a letter or a message.
"You see, both shores are in the hands of the Yankees," Vincent said, "and there will not be any suspicion of a boat in the daytime. At night we might be hailed, and if we gave no answer fired upon, and that night bring a gunboat along to see what was the matter. No, I think it will be far best to go on boldly. There are not likely to be any bodies of Federal troops on the opposite shore except at Fortress Monroe, and perhaps opposite the point where they have got their landing below Petersburg. Once ashore we shall be safe. The peninsula opposite is covered with forest and swamp, and we shall have no difficulty in getting through however many troops they may have across it. You know the place pretty well, don't you, Tony?"
Tony nodded. "Once across, sah, all de Yank army wouldn't catch us. Me know ob lots ob hiding-places."
"Them broad hats will never do," the woman said; "but I have got some blue nightcaps I knitted for my husband. They are something like the caps I have seen some sailors wear; anyhow, they will pass at a distance, and when you take your coats and vests off, them colored flannel shirts will be just the right thing."
"That will do capitally, and the sooner we are off the better," Vincent said, and after heartily thanking the two women, and bestowing a present upon each of the children, they started along the shore.
The boat was soon got into the water, the oars put out, and they started. The tide was just low now, and they agreed to pull along at a short distance from the shore until it turned. As soon as it did so the vessels at anchor would be getting up sail to make up to the landing-place, and even had any one on board noticed the boat put out, and had been watching it, they would have other things to think about.
"It is some time since we last rowed in a boat together, Tony."
"About three years, sah; dat time when you got me safe away. I had a bad fright dat day you left me, sah. It came on to blow bery hard, and some ob de men told me dat dey did not tink you would ever get back to shore. Dat made me awful bad, sah; and me wish ober and ober again dat me hab died in de forest instead ob your taking me off in a boat and trowing away your life. I neber felt happy again, sah, till I got your letter up in Canady, and knew you had got back safe dat day."
"We had a narrow squeak of it, Tony, and were blown some distance up. We were nearly swamped a score of times, and Dan quite made up his mind that it was all up with us. However, we got through safe, and I don't think a soul, except perhaps Jackson and that rascally overseer of ours, who afterward had a hand in carrying off your wife, and lost his life in consequence, ever had a suspicion we had been doing more than a long fishing expedition. I will tell you all about it when we are going through the woods. Now I think it's pretty nearly dead water, and we will begin to edge across."