Lived in the saddle for years a score,
without learning that on a long march the value of thoroughly well fitting and comfortable nether integuments is "above rubies." And they did carry me right well and safely through many rough ways and much wild weather, impervious alike to water, mud, rain, or snow. I will give honor where honor is due. Fagg, of Panton street, was the architect. So I "set my foot down," literally and metaphorically, on this point, absolutely determined that boots and saddle-bags should share my fortunes. Eventually I compromised things, by investing in a colossal pair of overalls, warranted to smother and obliterate the proportions of any human legs, however encased beneath.
[Footnote 1: If this looks like an "advertisement," I can't help it, and only say that it is a disinterested one; it may be long before I need water-proofs again, and I owe their deserving manufacturer nothing but—justice.]
But during this discussion the other route came naturally into question. It was the one most generally attempted by horsemen, and during the last ten weeks had been traversed repeatedly with perfect success.
In this neighborhood there were one or two fords, easily crossed at ordinary seasons, and only impassable after continuous downfalls of snow or rain. In fact, the chief obstacle was not the river but the Chesapeake and Ohio canal, which runs close along the northern bank from Cumberland to Washington. It is not broad, but very deep, muddy, and precipitous, nor could I hear of any one who had succeeded in getting a horse across it, or who had even made the attempt. The only passages were by bridges over, and culverts under, the water-way. These were, of course, zealously guarded; but it was possible, occasionally, to attack a picket with an irresistible "silver spear;" and several instances had lately occurred of sentinels keeping their eyes and ears shut fast during the brief time required for a small mounted party to pass their posts. I do not mean to insinuate that venality was the general rule; so far from this being the case, I understood that it was necessary to make such overtures with great caution, while the negotiation involved certain delay and possible failure. Detachments were constantly shifted from point to point, and regiments from station to station. Some corps were notoriously more accessible than others. According to common report, the recruits from New England, Massachusetts, and Connecticut were the easiest to deal with, and the subalterns were said to be usually open to a fair offer. But perhaps this was a scandal after all; for the Marylander holds the Yankee proper in such bitter dislike and contempt that he would miss no chance of a by-blow.
Once over the river at this point and you were comparatively safe. There were no regular pickets or patrols on the further bank, and only scattered reconnoitering parties of cavalry were to be evaded. Under cover of darkness, with a good local guide, this was easily done—one long night's ride.
To this route my Mentor and I did at last seriously incline, for good and sufficient reasons.
The Southern "trooper" fares, I believe, far better in many ways than his Northern compeer. Besides being more carefully groomed and tended, he carries a rider better able to husband a failing animal's strength, so as to "nurse him home." But the "raiders" travel often far and fast through a country fetlock-deep on light land, where provender is scanty and shelter there is none. The daily wear and tear of horse-flesh during this last bitter winter has been something fearful, and even at the time I speak of the difficulty of obtaining a really serviceable "mount" in Virginia could hardly be over-estimated. From one thousand to one thousand five hundred dollars were spoken of as ordinary prices for a fair charger, and men willing to give that sum had been forced to go into South Carolina before they could suit themselves. In my own case the difficulty was increased; for in hard condition, without cloak, valise, or accoutrements, I drew fourteen stone one pound, in a common hunting-saddle. Now, an animal well up to that weight, with anything like action on a turn of speed, is right hard to find on the Transatlantic seaboard. Even in Maryland, where horse-flesh is comparatively plenty, and breeders of blood-stock abound, such a specimen is a rarity. Even among the stallions, I can scarcely remember one coming up to the standard of a real weight-carrier, with the exception of Black Hawk. I saw hundreds of active, wiry hackneys, excellently adapted for fast, light work, either in shafts or under saddle; their courage and endurance, too, are beyond question; but looking at them with a view to long, repeated marches (where—if ever—you ought to have ten "pounds in hand"), I decided that they were about able to carry—the boots honorably mentioned above. However, after mature consideration and long debate, it was settled that I should, if possible, be mounted before starting, instead of trusting to chance beyond the border. This, of course, decided the selection of routes: no quadruped could cross the Lower Potomac.
Some scores of miles up the country there lived, and I trust lives still, a certain small horse-dealer, a firm Secessionist at heart, well versed in the time-tables of the road southward; indeed, his house was, as it were, a principal station on the underground railway. He was reputed trustworthy, and fairly honest in traffic. I can indorse this conscientiously, only hoping that such a remarkable characteristic as the last named will not identify the individual to his hurt. I was at once put into communication with Mr. —— Symonds, let us call him, for the sake of old hippic memories. He spoke confidently as to my ultimate prospects of getting across, without pretending to fix an exact day, or even week. Shortly before my arrival he had forwarded several travelers, who arrived at their journey's end without the slightest let or hindrance. I suppose there is no indiscretion in saying that Lord Hartington and Colonel Leslie were among the fortunate ones. Mr. Symonds "thought he had something that would suit me," and, a few days later, the animal and the dealer paraded for inspection in Baltimore.
I was much pleased with both. The man seemed to understand his business thoroughly; without making extravagant promises, he expressed himself willing to serve my purpose to the utmost of his power, at any reasonable risk to himself, and spoke very moderately about the horse, asking for nothing more than a fair trial of his merits. I liked the animal better than anything I had seen so far. He was a dark-brown gelding, about 15.3, with strong, square hind-quarters, and a fair slope of shoulder—without much knee-action—but springy enough in his slow paces: his turn of speed was not remarkable, but he could last forever, and, if the ground were not too heavy, would gallop on easily for miles with a long, steady stride; like most Maryland-bred horses, he had wonderfully clean, flat legs: after the hardest day's work, I never saw a puff on them; he was not sulky or savage, but had a temper and will of his own; both of these, however, yielded, after a sharp wrangle or two, to the combined influence of coaxing and a pair of sharp English rowels: in the latter days of our acquaintance we never had a difference of opinion. Considering the scarcity of staunch horse-flesh, the price asked was very moderate, and I closed the bargain on the spot. I was assured that my new purchase was of the Black Hawk stock, and he was christened "Falcon" that same day.
So Mr. Symonds departed, promising to set all possible wheels to work, and to inform me of the earliest opportunity for a start, the first desideratum being, of course, a reliable guide.
I cannot say that the hours of my detention hung heavily. The social attractions of the place were ample enough to fill up afternoons and evenings right pleasantly. In the mornings, whenever the weather was not pitilessly bad, I rode or drove through the country round.
I think no one understands the full luxury of rapid motion without bodily exertion, till they have sat behind a pair of first-class American trotters. The "wagon," to begin with, is a mechanical triumph. It is wonderful to see such lightness combined with such strength and stability. I have seen one, after five years' constant usage over fearfully bad roads. It was owned by a man noted for reckless pace, where many Jehus drove furiously; not a bolt or joint had started, the hickory of shafts and spokes still seemed tough as hammered steel. These carriages are roomy enough, and fairly comfortable, when you are in them, but that same entrance is apt rather to puzzle a stranger. The fore and hind wheels are nearly the same height, and set very close together; even when the fore-carriage is turned so that they nearly lock, the space left for ascent between them is narrow indeed; this same arrangement renders, of course, impossible a sudden turn in a contracted circle. But the dames and demoiselles who put their trust in these rapid chariots, make a mock at such small difficulties. You are shamed into activity after once seeing your fair charge spring to her place, with graceful confidence, never soiling the skirt of her dainty robe.
The team that I used to drive constantly were fair, but not remarkable performers; their best mile-time was a trifle under three minutes twenty seconds. Their owner had not had leisure to keep them in steady exercise, so that at first they were very skittish, and prone to break; but they soon settled down to their work, and then did not pull an ounce too much for pleasure, even when spinning along at top-speed, with their small lean heads thrust eagerly forward, after the fashion of the barbs called "Drinkers of the Wind." Once I drove, in single harness, a trotter whose time was close on two minutes forty-five seconds; but this is not considered anything extraordinary, and the outside price of such an animal would be under one thousand dollars: once "inside the forties" the fancy prices begin, and go up rapidly to four thousand dollars, or higher.
It must be remembered that the roads in these parts cannot be compared, either for level or metal, with the highways over our champagne, they "cut up" fast in rough weather, and settle slowly, while the ground generally sinks and swells too abruptly to allow of a lengthened stretch at full speed. I often wished that the whole "turn-out" of which I have spoken could be transported, without the risk of sea-passage, into one of our eastern counties. I can hardly conceive a greater luxury to a "coachman" than sending such a pair along on the road leading into Norfolk from Newmarket.
I had been some time in Baltimore before I was honored by an introduction to the most renowned—it is a bold word—of all its beauties. To many, even in England, the name of "Flora Temple" will not sound strange: her great feat of the mile in two minutes nineteen seconds has never yet been equaled, and for the last three years she has rested idly on her laurels, in default of any challenger to dispute her sovereignty of the turf. Her owner, W. Macdonald, Esq., resides within a short distance of the city, and, I doubt not, would receive any stranger with the same courtesy that he extended to me. His stables are well worth a visit, for, besides the fair champion, they contain several other trotters of no mean repute (one team, the "Chicago Chestnuts," is a notoriety), and the carriages exemplify every improvement of American manufacture. The building itself is very peculiar—perfectly circular, with a diameter of one hundred feet, and a dome-roof rising to fifty feet at the crown. In the centre is a large fountain of white marble, round which is a broad tan-ride, and outside this again the stalls, horse boxes, harness and carriage apartments.
On the left-hand side of the entrance-arch is a large chamber, rush-strewn, like the firing-room of some ancient chatelaine, but brilliant with polished wood and metal, gorgeous with stained glass: that is the boudoir of the Queen of the Turf, and over the door-way are her titles of honor emblazoned. The Great Lady, as is the wont of her compeers, is somewhat capricious at times, and disinclined to parade her beauty before strangers; but she chanced to be in a special good humor that day, and allowed me to admire her "points" at leisure.
It is hard to fancy a more faultless picture of compact activity and strength. Viewed from a distance, and, at first sight, her proportions deceive every one; you are surprised, indeed, when you come close to her withers, and find that you are standing by a veritable pony, barely reaching fourteen hands three inches. But look at the long slope of shoulder—the chest wide enough to give the largest lungs free play in their labor—the flat, square quarters, the muscular fullness of the upper limbs, so perfectly "let down," the clear, sinewy legs, without a curb-mark or windfall to tell tales of fearfully fast work and hard training—and you will wonder less how the championship was won. They say that the Queen was never fitter than now; yet since her zenith she has seldom rested, and is now long past the equine climacteric, and far advanced in her teens.
This part of America is so constantly visited by my compatriots, that it may be well, while we are on this subject, to say a few words about the sporting resources of Maryland.
There is very fair partridge-shooting in many districts. As I crossed the country in mid-winter, I could hardly judge of what the autumn cover would be; but I heard that of this there was no lack, and that in October the birds would lie right well, especially in the weedy stubbles, and along the brushy banks of water-courses. In many places a fair shot may reckon on from ten to fifteen brace, and I could name two guns that have not unfrequently bagged from thirty to fifty brace on the Eastern Shore; but I believe they shot with unusually "straight powder." There is a good show of woodcock at certain seasons; but it sounds strange to English ears when they speak of the season opening in June; the bird is much smaller than ours, weighing, I believe, about seven or eight ounces, and it is found much oftener in comparatively open ground than in thick woodland.
But the royal sport of Maryland is the wildfowl shooting on the Chesapeake Bay. The best of the season was passed long before my arrival; but in two visits to Carroll's Island, I saw enough to feel sure that my Baltimore friends vaunted not its capabilities in vain. I cannot remember having seen elsewhere so promising a "ducking-point." Imagine a low, marshy peninsula, verging landward into stunted woods, full of irregular water-courses and stagnant pools—tapering off seaward into a mere spit of sand, on which reeds and bent-grass scarcely deign to grow, towards the extreme point, just where the neck is narrowest, are the "blinds"—ten or twelve in number—a long gunshot apart, in which the "fowlers" lurk, waiting for their prey. On either side stretch the broad estuary of the Gunpowder River, and the broader waters of the Chesapeake, along whose shallows lie the banks of the wild celery on which the canvas-back loves to feed. Changing these feeding-grounds soon after dawn and shortly before sunset, the fowls naturally cross the neck of the little peninsula: they will never willingly pass over land, unless they can see water close beyond. Occasionally you may have fair shooting all through the day, but, as a rule, the above-mentioned hours are those alone when good "flying" may be reckoned on. When it is good, the sport must be superb: it is the very sublimation of "rocketing." You must hold straight and forward to stop a cock-pheasant whizzing over the leafless tree-tops—well up in the keen January wind; but a swifter traveler yet is the canvas-back drake, as he swings over the bar, at the fullest speed of his whistling pinions, disdaining to turn a foot from his appointed course, albeit vaguely suspecting the ambush below. The height of the "flying" varies, of course, greatly. I saw nothing brought down, to the best of my calculation, within forty-five or fifty yards, and most were much beyond that distance. At first you let several chances slip, believing them to be out of shot; but the mighty duck-guns, carrying five or six drams of strong coarse powder, do their work gallantly; and nothing can be more refreshing than the aplomb with which their victims, stricken down from that dizzy height, strike water, reeds, or sand.
Among the many varieties of fowl—varying from wild swan to widgeon—that are slain here, the canvas-back holds, by common consent, the pre-eminence for delicacy of flavor and tenderness of meat; but I confess I have thought almost as highly of an occasional "red-head" in perfect condition.
This, the most celebrated of all ducking points on the Chesapeake, is rented by a club, the members of which are all resident in Baltimore, or its neighborhood; the number, I think, is limited to twelve. When they muster in force, the sleeping accommodation must necessarily be limited, as Mr. Russell describes it; but there is room and verge enough in the quaint old homestead of the proprietor for any ordinary party. The burly host himself is quite in keeping with the place, and bears his part right jovially in the rough-and-ready revels that contrast not disagreeably with the social amenities left behind in the city. I spent some very pleasant hours of sunshine and twilight at the "Colonel's"; (he has as good a right to the title as many more pretentious dignitaries), though the "flying" was indifferent on both my visits. On the first occasion, though several varieties of fowl were bagged, we only secured one canvas-back, which was courteous enough to tumble to the stranger's gun. Sooth to say, the first interview with the uncompromising contraband who hakes you is a trial, and it is bitterly cold work for feet and fingers, when you first come into your "blind" under the early dawn; but the blood soon warms up as the warning cries from the markers become more frequent; the pulse quickens as the dark specks or lines loom nearer, defined against the dull red or silvery gray of the sky-line; chills and shivers are all forgotten, as your first "red-head," pioneer of a whole "skeen" from the river—crashes down yards behind you, on the hard, wet sand that fringes the bay.
In the genial October weather, during which comes the cream of the flying, the sojourn at Carroll's Island must be enviably delightful. But much I fear, that next autumn's prospects look brighter for the fowl than for their sedulous persecutors. Who can say what changes may have been wrought in the fortunes of some of those cheery sportsmen before next season shall open. Perhaps ere that the echoes of the Chesapeake will be waked by an artillery that would drown the roar even of the mighty duck-gun. The sea-fishing in the bay is remarkably good, but it is not greatly affected by amateurs; and very few yachts are seen on its usually placid waters. Almost all the streams round the Chesapeake, in spite of their being perpetually "thrashed," and never preserved, abound in small trout; but farther afield, in Northwestern Maryland, where the tributaries of the Potomac and Shenandoah flow down the woody ravines of Cheat Mountain and the Blue Ridge, there is room for any number of fly-rods, and fish heavy enough to bend the stiffest of them all.
Before troubles began, they used to hunt, after a fashion, in most of the upland districts; but the sport can hardly be very exciting. The gravest of the "potterings" of ancient days, when our great-grandsires used to "drag" up their fox while the dew lay heavy on the grass, was a "cracker" compared to one of these runs, as I heard them described. Three or four couple of cross-bred hounds do occasionally weary and worry to death their unhappy quarry, after three or four hours "ringing" through endless woodlands; unless, indeed, he goes earlier to ground, in which case he is dug out to meet a quicker and more merciful death. The fact, that a heavy fall of snow is supposed greatly to facilitate matters, about settles the question of "sport." I should like to ask Charles Payne, or Goddard, their opinion of "pricking" a fox. However, to ride straight and fast over such a country would be simply impossible; their detestable snake-fences meet you everywhere, with their projecting "zigzags" of loosely-piled rails; you can hardly ever get a chance of taking them in your stride, and they are a fair standing jump with the top bar removed, which generally involves dismounting. The name of poor Falcon had led me so far afield, that I must continue my own chronicle in another chapter.
In about ten days I heard from Mr. Symonds. The road was not yet open, but a party was waiting to start. He had secured me a henchman in the shape of a private in an Alabama regiment who was anxious to accompany any one south, without fee or reward. The man was said to be well acquainted with the country beyond the Potomac, besides being really honest and courageous. I had no reason to question these qualifications, though his tongue was apt to stir too loudly for prudence, and too fast for truth; while over the manner of his release (he had been for months a prisoner of war), there hung a mystery never cleared up satisfactorily. It was necessary, of course, that my squire should be mounted, and after some deliberation, it was settled that I should furnish him with a steed. I was moved thereto, partly from a wish to spare Falcon all dead weight in the shape of saddle-bags, partly from the knowledge that superfluous horse-flesh was a commodity easily and profitably disposed of in Secessia. I did not trouble myself much about my second horseman's mount, merely stipulating for a moderate animal at a moderate price. I bought indeed "in the dark," and did not see my purchase till the day before our first actual start. This last negotiation concluded, I had nothing to do but to abide patiently till it pleased others to sound "boot and saddle."
So day followed day till, in spite of all the social attractions of Baltimore, I began to chafe bitterly under the delay. I never could get rid of a half-guilty consciousness that I ought to be somewhere else, and that somewhere—far away. On the morning of 17th February, I was in the office of my friend and chief counselor, above mentioned, discussing the propriety of throwing aside the upper route altogether—selling back my cattle—and making my way as straight as possible to the shores of the Lower Potomac. We were actually debating the point when the door opened, and disclosed Mr. Symonds. He had come all in hot haste to tell us that a main obstacle was removed. The water had been let out of the Chesapeake and Ohio canal, so that it could now be easily crossed at any unguarded point. The picket was of necessity so widely scattered as to be easily evaded. The small party that my squire and I were to join, meant starting at latest on the following Friday or Saturday night. Mr. Symonds had no recent intelligence from the immediate bank of the river, but he believed that, in despite of the heavy rains and occasional snow storms, we should find one crossing place—White's Ford to wit—still barely practicable.
I was already furnished with sadlery, &c., but small final preparations and divers leave-takings filled up every spare minute till afternoon on the following day. I was to sleep the first night at a house only a few miles from Mr. Symonds', so as to be in readiness to start at two hours' notice, and my Mentor insisted on seeing me so far on my way. It had been snowing at intervals all the morning, and the flakes were driving thick and blindingly as we drove out of Baltimore. Our team faced the heavy road and frequent hills right gallantly, but the fifteen miles seemed long, that brought us to the door of our quarters, faces aching with the lash of sleet—beard and moustaches frozen to bitterness.
As my hosts were in nowise privy to my plans, I may venture to say, that for the next three days I was more or less a guest at Drohoregan Manor. This ancient homestead of the Carroll family is very well described by Mr. Russell in his "Diary:" his visit, however, was to the late Professor, who died last year. The law of primogeniture does not prevail here, and it was only an accidental succession of single heirs, that brought an undivided patrimony down to the present generation. One cannot help regretting that the estate is to be cut up now into five shares or more. Eleven thousand acres of fertile hill and dale, sinking and swelling gently, so as to attract all the benignity of sun or breeze—not more densely wooded than is common on our own western shores, and watered to an ornamental perfection—truly on any civilized land, such is a goodly heritage.
The home-farm of Drohoregan Manor has long been celebrated for the breeding of a high-class stock of all kinds. I saw sheep there scarcely coarser than the average of Southdowns; and some fine, level, clean-limbed steers. Here has stood, for a dozen years past, the renowned Black Hawk, considered by many superior to his sire, the Morgan stallion of the same name. As I before said, he realized my idea of a thoroughbred weight carrier, better than anything I saw in Maryland; though if one of his stock—a brown two-year-old colt—"furnishes" according to present promise, he will probably be surpassed in his turn. There was a large number of colts and fillies well adapted for rapid road work; and I was not surprised to hear that at the sale which followed quickly on my visit, they fetched more than average prices. I did not think so highly of the cart stock, principally the produce of a big gray Pereheron horse. Both he and Black Hawk remain in their present quarters, for the late Colonel Carroll's eldest son retains the Manor House, and proposes, I believe, to continue both the farming and breeding establishments on no diminished scale. I rode up to Mr. Symonds' in the afternoon of the 19th; he was absent, but his wife informed me that it was possible—though scarcely probable—that our party would start the following night. Then, for the first time, I made acquaintance with my squire for the nonce—"Alick" he was called; I cannot remember his surname—he had a rugged, honest face, and a manner to match; but I was rather disconcerted at hearing that he knew no more of riding or stable work than he had picked up in a fortnight's irregular practice in an establishment where horses as well as men were taught to "rough it" in good earnest.
I liked my new purchase much more than my new acquaintance. The former was a raw-boned, leggy roan, with a coarse head, a dull eye, and a weakish neck, far too low in condition, as I saw and said at once; not fitted for long travel through a country where a horse must needs lose flesh daily, from pure lack of provender. However, there was no time to make a change, so I was fain to hope that easy journeys at first, and a light weight on his back, might gradually bring the ungainly beast into better form. It appeared that he was just recovering from the distemper and "sore tongue," which had followed each other in rapid succession. These two diseases are the terror and bane of Virginian and Maryland stables. An animal who has once surmounted them is supposed to be seasoned, and acquires considerable additional value, like a "salted" horse in Southern Africa.
So I returned to the Manor for that night, and thither, early the next morning, came Symonds in person. He informed me that the start from his house would not take place till after nightfall on the following evening, so that I had thirty vacant hours before me, I knew that the English mail had reached Baltimore, and it then seemed so uncertain when letters would reach me again, that I could not resist the temptation of securing my correspondence. My host was himself returning to the city, so I accepted the offer of a seat in his wagon, and we had a pleasant drive back through the clear frosty weather.
The next day—having made the Post-office "part," and said those few more last words that are forgotten at every leave-taking—I retraced my steps, by the afternoon train, to Ellicott's Mills, where I found a carriage from Drohoregan Manor awaiting me. At this point, the Patapsco hurries through a channel narrowed by embankments and encroachments of the granite cliffs, looking upon the yellow water streaked with huge foam-clots, chafing against its banks lip high. I could not but augur ill for our chances of traversing a wider and wilder stream. But it was too early then to think of desponding, so casting forebodings behind, I drove up to our rallying place, rattling over four long leagues under seventy minutes. The black ponies tossed their heads, and champed their bits, gayly, as they made best time over the last mile.
I found that the party that purposed actually to cross the Potomac was, from one cause or another, reduced to four, including myself and my attendant. A cousin of Symonds', hight Walter, with the same surname—there is a perfect clan of them in those parts—was to accompany us only to our first resting-place, a farm-house about eighteen miles off. Our proposed companions were both Maryland men; one had already served for some months in a regiment of Confederate cavalry, and was returning to his duty, after one of those furloughs—often self-granted—in which the Borderers are prone to indulge; the other was a mere youth, and had never seen a shot fired; but a more enthusiastic recruit could hardly be conceived.
Twilight had melted into darkness long before the rest of the party arrived; then an hour or more was consumed in the last preparations and refreshments. It was fully nine o'clock on the night of February 21st, when we started from Symonds' door, strengthened for the journey with a warm stirrup-cup, and warmer kind wishes from the family, including two very "sympathizing" damsels, who had come in from neighboring homesteads to bid the Southward-bound good speed.
Before we had ridden a mile, the Marylanders turned off to a house where they were to take up some letters, promising to rejoin us before we had gone a league. But we traversed more than that distance, at the slowest foot-pace, without being overtaken, and at length determined to wait for the laggards, drawing back about thirty paces off the path, into a glade where there was partial shelter from the icy wind that swept past, laden with coming snow. There we tarried for a long half-hour (told on my watch by a fusee-light), and still no signs of our companions. Symonds (the cousin), who abode with us still, began to mutter doubts, and the Alabama man to grumble curses (he had ever a fatal facility in blasphemy), and I own to having entertained divers disagreeable misgivings, though I carefully avoided expressing them. At last our guide thought it best that we should make our way to a lonely farm-house, about seven miles short of our night's destination, where, in any case, the party was to have called in passing. So we wound on through the narrow wood-paths in single file—sinking occasionally pastern-deep, where the thin ice over mud-holes supplanted the safe crackling snow-crests—traversing frequent fords, where rills had swollen into brooks and turbid streams; some of those gullies must have been dark even at noon-day, with overhanging cypress and pine; they were so bitterly black now that you were fain to follow close on the splash in your front, for no mortal ken could have pierced half a horse's length ahead. At length, we left the path altogether, and pulling down a snake fence, passed through the gap into open fields. It was all plain sailing here, and a great relief after groping through the dim woodland; we encountered no obstacle but an occasional "zigzag," easily demolished, till we came to a deep hollow, where the guide dismounted—evidently rather vague as to his bearings—and proceeded to feel his way. Somewhere about here there was a "branch" (or rivulet) to be crossed, and danger of bog and marsh if you went astray. At last he professed to have discovered the right point; but neither force nor persuasion could induce the stubborn brute he rode to face it. There was nothing for it but trying what "giving him a lead" would do. The place was evidently a small one, but the landing absolutely uncertain; so I put Falcon at it steadily, letting him have his head. Then first the poor horse displayed his remarkable talent for getting over difficulties in the dark, a talent that I have never seen equaled in any other animal, and which alone made him invaluable. He took off—almost at a stand—out of clay up to his hocks, exactly at the right time, and landed me on firm ground without a scramble. A minute afterward there came a rush, a splutter, and a crash, and a struggling mass rolled at my feet, gradually resolving itself into a man, a roan horse, and two saddle-bags. So sped Alabama's maiden leap. It was soft falling, however, and no harm beyond the breaking of a strap was done; but it was fully three-quarters of an hour before our united efforts got Symonds' refugee across. We accomplished it at last by hurling the brute backwards into the branch by main strength, and then wading ourselves through mud that just touched the upper edge of my thigh-boots. Once over, the track was easily found, and a barking chorus, performed by half a dozen vigilant mongrels, guided us up to the homestead we were seeking, just as the snow began to fall heavily. The stout farmer was soon on foot—men sleep lightly in these troublous times—proffering food, fire, and shelter. Our guide strongly advised our remaining there till we could gain some tidings of our lost companions; it seemed so unlikely that they should have passed or missed us on the road, that he could not but fear lest accident or treachery should have detained them; he offered himself to retrace our track, and make all inquiries, which he alone could do safely. So it was settled; and, after making the horses as comfortable as rude accommodation would allow, my squire and I betook ourselves to rest, not unwillingly, about three, A. M.
The traveler's first waking impulse leads him straight to the window or to the weather-glass. I turned away from the look-out in utter disgust; a hundred yards off, through the cloud of driving snow-flakes, and a level white mantel, rising up to the tower bars of the snake-fences, merged tillage into pasture undistinguishably. I chronicled that same day as the dreariest of all then remembered Sabbaths. Besides some odd numbers of an ancient Methodist magazine, there was no literature available, and all the letters that I cared to write had been dispatched before I left Baltimore.
A visit to the shed which sheltered our horses, did not greatly raise one's spirits. Poor Falcon was hardy as a Shetlander, and in any ordinary weather I never thought of clothing him, but no wonder he shivered there, under a rug, coated inch-deep with snow; the rough-hewn sides and crazy roof gaping with fissures a hand-breadth wide and more, were scanty defense against the furious drift, which swept through, not to be denied. I tried to comfort my horse, by chafing his legs and ears till both were thoroughly warm, setting Alick at the same task with the roan; though clumsy and apt to be obstinate, he worked with a will. At last we had the satisfaction of seeing both animals feed, with an appetite that I, for one, could not but envy. Our hosts were so cordial in their honest hospitality, that one felt ungrateful in being so wearily bored. In the afternoon we had a visit from a neighboring farmer, who, I believe, had been summoned with the benevolent intent that he should enlighten or entertain the stranger. He was one of those stout, elderly men, who, by dint of a certain portliness of presence, gravity of manner, and slowness of speech, acquire in their own country much honor for social or political wisdom. He was quite up to the average rank of rustic oracles; nevertheless, our converse dragged heavily; it was "up hill all the way." There was a depressing formality about the whole arrangement; my interlocutor sat exactly opposite to me, putting one cut-and-dried question after another; never removing his eyes from my face, while I answered to the best of my power, save to glance at the silent audience, as though praying them to note such and such points carefully. I began to feel as I did in the schools long ago, when the viva voce examiner was putting me through my facings; and was really glad when the one-sided dialogue ended. The queries were very simple for the most part, relating chiefly to the sympathies and intentions of Great Britain, with regard to the war. On the latter point I could, of course, give no information beyond vague surmises, practically worthless; as to the former, I thought myself justified in saying that the balance of public feeling, in the upper and agricultural classes especially, leant decidedly southward. But here, as elsewhere, I found it impossible to make Secessionists understand or allow the wisdom, justice, or generosity of the non-interference policy hitherto pursued by our Government. This is not the time or place to discuss an important question of statecraft, nor am I presumptuous enough to assert that different and more decisive measures would have had all the good effect that their advocates insist upon; but however justifiable England's conduct may have been according to theories of international law, I fear the practical result will be that she has secured the permanent enmity of one powerful people, and the discontented distrust of another. It is ill trusting even proverbs implicitly; that old one, about the safe middle course, will break down, like the rest, sometimes. My pertinacious querist stopped, I suppose, when he had got to the end of his list, and apparently spent the rest of the evening in a slow process of digestion; for he would break out, now and then, at the most irrelevant times, with a repetition of one of his former interrogations, which I had to answer again, briefly as I might. About sundown le Bon Gualtier returned, sorely travel-worn himself, and with an utterly exhausted horse. He had ascertained that our companions had gone on, probably to our original destination of the previous night; though why they should have passed our present resting-place without calling there, remained a mystery; nor was that point ever satisfactorily explained. To proceed at once was impossible, for a fresh horse had to be found for our guide; this, a cousin of our host's offered to provide by the following evening (we could not venture to stir abroad in daylight); he also offered to make his way to the farm where the missing men were supposed to be, early in the morning, and to bring back certain intelligence of their movements. This was only one instance of the cordial kindness and hearty co-operation which I met with at the hands of these sturdy yeomen. Not only would they rise and open their doors at the untimeliest of hours, and entertain you with their choicest of fatlings, corn, and wine, but there was no amount of personal toil or risk that they would not gladly undergo to forward any southward-bound stranger on his way; nor could you have insulted your host more grossly than by hinting at pecuniary guerdon. Before midnight the snow had ceased to fall; the next morning broke bright and sunnily, though the frost still held on sharply. Two or three visitors, masculine and feminine, came in sleighs during the day, and altogether it passed much more rapidly than the preceding one. About four, P. M., our good-natured messenger returned; our comrades had duly reached the spot originally fixed for the Saturday night's halt, and had pursued their journey on the Sunday evening to the farm which was to be our last point before attempting the Potomac; their written explanation was very vague, but they promised to wait for us at the house they were then making for. We at once determined to press on thus far that night, though the score or more of miles of crow-flight between would certainly be lengthened at least a third, by the detours necessary to avoid probable pickets or outposts, and the deep snow must make the going fearfully heavy. Walter's fresh mount came down—a powerful, active mare, in good working condition, but with weak, cracked hoofs that would not have carried her a day's march on hard, stony roads.
Under the red sunset we started once more, with more good wishes; indeed, I had ridden a mile before my fingers forgot the parting hand-grip of my stalwart host.
Now in thinking or speaking of these night rides beforehand, one is apt to invest them with a slight tinge of romance and excitement, which is not unattractive. Let me say, that in practice, nothing can be more dreary and disagreeable. I can fancy a canter through or canter over some woodland paths, under the capricious light of a broad summer or autumn moon, with one or more pleasant companions, being both exhilarating and agreeable, but traverse the same number of miles in a night of winter or early spring, when you have to blunder on at a foot's pace in Indian file, thankful, indeed, when the snow or mud is only fetlock deep, where, if you are in mood for conversation, you, dare not often speak above a whisper (I never could see the sense of this, far out in the wilds, but the guides are imperative), where the solitary excitement is found in the possible proximity of a picket, or the probable depth of a ford. I think you would agree with me, that the only object in the journey on which your eyes or thoughts delight to dwell, is the "biggit land" that ends it.
On that especial night we had one thing in our favor—the reflection from the fresh white ground carpet would have prevented darkness, even without the light of a waxing moon. But it was slow and weary traveling. It would have been cruelty to have forced the horses beyond a walk through snow that in places was over their knees; besides which, we dared not risk a jingle of stirrup or bridle-bit, where an outlying picket might be within ear-shot. Twice we passed within twenty yards of where the fresh track showed that the patrol had recently turned at the end of his beat; but the guide knew the country thoroughly, and professed to have no fears. To speak the truth, I had heard him, when in the ingle-nook, and warm with Old Rye, vaunt so loudly his own sagacity and courage, that I conceived certain misgivings as to how far either were to be relied on. That night, however, he fully maintained part of his character by leading us safety and surely through a perfect labyrinth of tracks, sometimes diverging across the open country, and occasionally plunging into woodland where there was no vestige of a path.
I ought to be nearly weather-proof by this time; but, in spite of a warm riding-cloak and a casing of chamois leather from neck to ankle, I felt sometimes chilled to the marrow; my lips would hardly close round the pipe-stem, and even while I smoked the breath froze on my moustache, stiff and hard. My flask was full of rare country whisky, fiery hot from the still; but it seemed at last to have lost all strength, and was nearly tasteless. I would have given anything for a brisk trot or rattling gallop to break the monotonous foot-pace, but the reasons before stated forbade the idea: there was nothing for it, but to plod steadily onwards. Walter himself suffered a good deal in hands and feet; but the Alabama man, utterly unused to the lower extremes of temperature, only found relief from his misery in an occasional drowsiness that made him sway helplessly in his saddle. The last league of our route lay through the White Grounds. The valley of the Potomac widens here towards the north, and six thousand acres of forest stretch away—unbroken, save by rare islets of clearings. There was no visible track; but our guide struck boldly across the woodlands, taking bearings by certain landmarks and the steady moon. It was not dark even here; but low sweeping boughs and fallen trunks often hidden by snow, made the traveling difficult and dangerous. I ceased not to adjure Alick, who followed close in my rear, to keep fast hold of his horse's head. I doubt if he ever heard me, for he never intermitted a muttered running-fire of the most horrible execrations that I ever listened to even in this hard-swearing country. Whether this ebullition of blasphemy comforted him at the moment I cannot say; but, if "curses come home to roost," a black brood was hatched that night, unless one whole page be blotted out from the register of the Recording Angel.
Both men and horses rejoiced, I am sure, when, about two, A. M., we broke out into a wide clearing, and drew rein under the lee of outbuildings surrounding the desired homestead. The farmer was soon aroused, and came out to give us a hearty though whispered welcome. It is not indiscreet to record his name, for he has already "dree'd his doom;" he was noted among his fellows for cool determination in purpose and action, and truly, I believe that the yeomanry of Maryland counts no honester or bolder heart than staunch George Hoyle's.
Our last companions were sleeping placidly up-stairs—that was the best intelligence that our host could give us. He laughed at the idea of fording the Potomac, declaring that no living man or horse could stand, much less swim, in the stream. Knowing the character of the man, and his thorough acquaintance with the locality, one ought to have accepted his decision unquestioned; but I was not then so inured to disappointment as I became in later days, and wished to see for myself how the water lay. After a short sleep and hurried breakfast, Hoyle took me to a point whence we looked down on a long reach of the river. At the first glance through my field-glasses, every vestige of hope vanished. The fierce current—its sullen neutral tint checkered with frequent foam-clots—washed and weltered high against its banks, eddying and breaking savagely wherever it swept against jut of ground or ledge of rock, while ever and anon shot up above the turbid surface tossing trunk of uprooted alder or willow. Mazeppa's Ukraine stallion, or the mightiest destrier that ever Paladin bestrode, would have been whirled away like withered leaves, ere they had swum ten of the seven hundred yards that lay between us and the Virginia shore. I could hardly believe my eyes, when Hoyle pointed out to me the fording-place where, on the 23d of last December, he had crossed without wetting his horse's girth.
It was waste of time to look longer, so, in no pleasant mood, I returned to the farm-house, where a council of war was incontinently held. The Marylanders had already arranged their plan; they had a vague idea of some ferry to the northward, and intended to grope their way to it somehow. Before attempting this, it was necessary to divest themselves of any suspicious articles, either of baggage or accoutrement; indeed, they left every scrap of clothing behind, except what they carried on their persons, and one change of under-raiment sewn up in the folds of a rug. They meant to assume the character of small cattle-dealers, and as far as appearance went, succeeded perfectly—nothing more unmilitary can be conceived. Their horses were passably hardy and active, but stunted, mean-looking animals, while the saddle-gear would have been dear anywhere at five dollars. The men themselves had the lazy, slouching look peculiar to the hybrid class with which they wished to be identified. They were civil and sorry enough about the turn affairs had taken; but evidently quite determined that we should part company. The elder of the two took me aside, and spoke thus, as near as I can remember:
"Look here, Major, I'm right down sorry about this here; and I'd have liked well to have gone slick through with ye, but it won't work in the parts we're agoing to try. Four men and horses ain't so easy put up as two, and there ain't many as'll venture it. The sort of your brown horse is kind'er uncommon up along there, and they'd spot him if they didn't spot you, and you'd never get to look like a citizen—not if you was to shave and wear a wig. There's no two words about it: it ain't to be done."
I believe the man intended to gild the pill with a rough compliment; in any case, I was bound to swallow it. There was no sort of contract between us, nor any promise of remuneration; I only rode by sufferance in that company. I felt, too, that he was right: it would be very difficult for any Englishman—drilled or undrilled—to disguise himself as a Virginia cattle-dealer, so that keen native eyes could not detect the travestie. I do not think I should have pressed the point, even had I been in a position to do so; as it was, I yielded with good grace, only begging my late companions to let me have the earliest information as to the route, if they succeeded in getting through. This they readily promised; so, with the concurrence of the good Walter, I determined to fall back, for the present, on my original "base," with the consoling reflection that I was only imitating the most renowned Federal commanders.
All this was scarcely settled, when our host hurried in—rather a blank look on his bold face—to say that one of his contrabands had just come in, after an absence of two hours: he had taken one of his master's horses without leave, and absolutely declined to state where, or why, he had gone. As 1,800 Federals, including a regiment of cavalry, occupied Poolsville—only six miles off—it was easy to guess in what direction the "colored person" had wandered. There was no time for argument, and even chastisement was reserved for a more fitting season: in fifteen minutes more, we had ridden swiftly across the cleared lands, and with Hoyle for our pilot, were winding through the ravines and glades of the White Grounds. The day was dull and cloudy: so, having no sun to guide us, we, the strangers, speedily lost all idea of direction; even Walter, the confident, owned himself fairly puzzled. But our host led on at a steady pace, never pausing to consult landmarks or memory; evidently every bush and brake was familiar to him; there was not the ghost of a track, but we seemed generally to follow the winding of a rapid, shallow stream, up whose channel we often scrambled for forty yards or more.
We had na ridden a league, a league, O' leagues but barely three,
when we struck a path leading straight through the woods to Clarksburg—the first point on the proposed route of the two Marylanders: they meant to feel their way cautiously thence in a northwesterly direction; the elder had one or two acquaintances in the neighborhood of Frederick City that he hoped would assist them. So, with leave-takings, hurried but amicable, our party separated. We, the other three, proposed to make for our quarters of the last Sunday, and for ten miles further our kind host rode in our company, absolutely refusing to turn back till we were in a country that Walter knew right well, and might be considered comparatively safe; then he left us, proposing to return home by another and yet more circuitous route, so as to baffle possible pursuers. He did get home safe, but was arrested within the same week—not, I trust, before he had moderately chastised that treacherous contraband—and we met, two months later, in the old Capitol.
Three hours' more riding brought us within sight of the town, where we intended to refresh ourselves and our cattle, and, perhaps, to abide for the night. We relied so implicitly on the hospitality we were certain to find, that we had provided ourselves with no food of any sort; my flask, too, had been emptied on the previous night. Fancy our disgust, when we found the shutters closed, everything carefully locked up, and no living soul about the place but two helpless little colored persons of tender age. The whole family had gone out to a sledging "frolic," and would not return before late at night; it was then past P. M.; we had breakfasted lightly at seven, and been in the saddle ever since nine o'clock. We did discover some Indian corn for the horses, and left them to feed under their old shed, only removing bridles and loosening girths.
About ten minutes later, we were sitting under the house-porch—it was narrow and deep, as is the fashion in those parts, and boarded up the sides breast high—I was lighting a sullen pipe, hoping to deaden the hungry cravings which could not be satisfied, when I felt my arm pulled violently; a hoarse whisper said in my ear, "By G—d, they've got us," and turning, I met the good Walter's face, white, and convulsed with emotions which I care not to define or remember. Alick was already crouching below the boarding, and I stooped, too, mechanically; as I did so, I followed the direction of the guide's haggard eyes: by my faith, just where the wood opened on the clearing, about one hundred and eighty yards to our front, there sat on their horses six Federal dragoons, surveying the landscape with some interest. It was very odd to see them gazing straight down upon us, evidently unconscious of our proximity; but they were looking from light into the shadow of the porch: fortunately, too, the horses were well under cover. It chanced that, close to the gate in the outermost inclosure, there was a watering-pond; around and from this tracks of all kinds of cattle crossed and diverged in every direction; as we entered we had remarked many hoof-prints turning abruptly to the right, probably left by the sleighing party. The dragoons halted five minutes or so in consultation; then they turned and rode off quickly along that same right-hand track. The house was so evidently shut up, that I presume they thought it would be wasted time if they searched it then.
Resistance would have been utterly out of the question, even if the numbers had been more equal, for the only arms in the party were my own—a long hunting-knife worn in my belt, and a fire-shooter carried by Alick; so we prepared for escape instantly. I had to go round to the back of the house to get my hunting-cup, which I had left there. When I came out I found Walter already mounted; his mare was not in the same shed with our horses. In a few hurried words he explained that; it would be best for him to make off at once, and wait for us in the woods below, to which the clearing sloped down from the homestead. Though I had before formed my own opinion as to his vaunted valiance, I confess I was rather disappointed; but he was not a hireling, and I had no right to prevent him from looking after his own safety first; I only shrugged my shoulders without replying, and went into the other shed to help Alick saddle up. The Alabamian was much less delicate or more determined than myself; when he heard of Walter's intentions, his face darkened threateningly.
"By the ——!" he said, "he ain't going to quit after that fashion," and as he went out towards the corner where Walter still lingered, I saw his hand shift back to the butt of my revolver. Now, I was too sensible of the guide's good intentions and disinterested kindness to wish to press hardly on a temporary loss of nerve, so I busied myself with buckle and curb-link, and refrained from assisting at the debate; it was very brief, nor can I say if Alick's arguments were intimidating or conciliatory; I rather suspected the former, from the expression of his face when he returned, simply remarking, "I've made it all right, Major. He stops with us as long as we want him to."
Ten minutes afterwards we gained the shelter of the woods, and, keeping always well down in the gullies or hollows, were picking our way in a direction nearly parallel to that taken by our pursuers. This was our only course, as we dared not show ourselves as yet across open ground or along traveled roads. We might have ridden about a league and a half—it is difficult to judge distance in thick cover and over broken ground, when the pace is so constantly varied—our guide's confidence began to return, and, with it, his weakness for self-laudation. He began once more to recount his many narrow escapes, and was sanguine as to his chance of pulling through this—the closest shave of all. We were halting on the bank of a muddy, swollen stream, in some doubt whether we should try the treacherous bottom there or higher up, when, looking over my shoulder, I saw the figures of four horsemen, looming large against the red evening sky as they passed slowly across the sky-line, on the crest of some abrupt rising ground about 300 yards to our right: soon two more showed themselves, making the pursuing party complete; they were evidently retracing their steps—for what reason I know not. Almost at the same instant the Alabamian caught sight of the enemy; but before he could speak I touched our guide on the shoulder with my hunting-whip, pointing in the direction of the danger. If you ever saw a wing-tipped mallard's flurry when the retriever comes upon him unawares, you will have a good idea of how the valiant Walter "squattered" through the ford. The twilight was darkening fast, and, in the shadow of the ravine, we were almost safe from the eyes of our pursuers; but I marvel that even at such a distance their ears were not attracted by the flounder and the splash. My squire and I followed more leisurely; indeed, throughout, the former had displayed a creditable coolness and determination; also, he seemed to take very kindly to my own favorite motto, "Festina lente"—"More haste, worse speed."
That was our last look at the dragoons. We learnt afterwards that, later in the evening, they searched the farm-house (the family had just returned), and not only struck our trail through the woods, but held it within three miles of our resting-place for the night; there the numerous crossroads, and the utter confusion of many tracks, baffled our pursuers; probably, too, their horses by that time were in poor condition for following up an indefinite chase.
Alick and I determined to push for our original starting-point—the house of Symonds of that ilk. Another two hours' riding brought us to where a lane turned off towards Ben Gualtier's home. He was evidently anxious to find himself a free agent, and this time even the Alabamian did not seek to detain him. The rest of the road we had traversed, on the preceding Saturday, and we could hardly miss our way. So there I parted from my honest guide, with many kind wishes on his side, and hearty thanks on mine. I rather repent having alluded to that little nervousness; but, after all, it was hardly a question of physical courage; we sought to avoid imprisonment, not peril to life or limb.
My stout horse, Falcon, strode cheerily over the last of those dark, tiresome miles without a stumble or sign of weariness; but the roan's ears were drooping, and he slouched along heavily on his shoulders long before we saw the lights of Symonds' homestead, where we met a hearty if not a joyful welcome. We had not tasted food for thirteen hours, during which we had scarcely been out of the saddle; so even disappointment could not prevent our relishing to the uttermost the savory supper with which our hostess would fain have comforted us.
Our talk was chiefly of the future, about which Symonds did not despond, though he was disposed to blame, somewhat sharply, our late companions, for choosing to find their way South independently; I thought he was unjust then, and since that I have had ample evidence of their good intentions and good faith.
The next morning I rode Falcon down into Baltimore, there to await fresh tidings, leaving Alick and the roan at Symonds', to await fresh orders.
I had not been in Baltimore three days when my plans were somewhat altered by the introduction of a fresh agent. The guide, who accompanied Lord Hartington and Colonel Leslie, had returned unexpectedly, and Symonds pressed me strongly to secure his services. He had made the traverse several times successfully, and was thoroughly acquainted with most of the ground on both banks of the Potomac. He had now made his way on foot from the Shenandoah Valley, across the Alleghany Range, to Oakland; thence by the cars to somewhere near Sykesville, on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Here, the day began to break, and he would not trust farther to the short-sightedness of Federal officials; so he looked out for a soft place in a snowdrift, and leapt out, alighting without injury. The same reasons that made reticence useless in Hoyle's case apply here: to both men Republican justice has done its worst long ago. My new guide's name was Shipley. He was lying perdu in Baltimore when I first heard of him, so there was no difficulty in arranging an interview. After some hesitation, and not a little negotiation, Shipley agreed to pilot me through by one route or another. He was to ride my second horse, and keep the animal as a remuneration for his services, so soon as we should be fairly within Confederate lines. He would not promise to start before the expiration of a full week, as the clothes and other necessaries which he had come specially to obtain could not be got ready sooner. This new arrangement involved two changes which did not please me, viz., the elimination of poor Alick from the party, and the shifting of my saddle-bags from the roan on to Falcon, for the guide stipulated that each should carry his own baggage. Symonds, however, was very urgent that I should close with the conditions at once; he had the highest opinion of Shipley's talents and trustworthiness, and insisted that such a chance should not be let slip. He promised that Alick, if possible, should be provided with a mount, so as to be still enabled to accompany us. I could not, of course, be expected to increase my already double risk in horse-flesh.
So we struck hands on the bargain, and I resigned myself pretty contentedly to another delay. The days passed rapidly, as they always did in Baltimore on most afternoons. I rode Falcon out for exercise and "schooling." He soon became very clever at the only obstacles you encounter in crossing this country—timber fences, and small brooks with steep broken banks; though, to the last, he always would hang a little in taking off, he never dreamt of refusing.
Before the week was quite out, Alick came down from Symonds', bringing tidings of our late companions, the two Marylanders. They had succeeded in crossing by a horse-ferry at Shepherdstown—a small village not far from Sharpsburg, and about seven miles from the battle-field of Antietam. The letter was written from the south bank of the Potomac, and furnished us with all the necessary names and halting-points on the route. Now, everything looked promising again. It was soon settled that Alick and Shipley should make their way across the country to Sharpsburg with the two horses (this was the latter's own arrangement, and he, too, was unkind enough to object to my un-citizenlike appearance). I was to meet them there, at a certain house, on a certain day, traveling by another route—through Frederick city. Thither I betook myself by the train leaving Baltimore, on the afternoon of March the 10th, arriving at Frederick nearly two hours behind time, in consequence of a difficulty between the wheels and the rails, the latter having become sulkily slippery with the sleet that came on in earnest after nightfall. Very early the next morning I started for Petersville, near which village, in the shadow of the South Mountain, lay the country-house of the good-natured friend who had offered to forward me to Sharpsburg.
I shall not easily forget that drive; the distance was rather under fourteen miles, and it was performed in something over four hours; yet the load consisted simply of my driver, myself, and my saddle-bags, in the lightest conceivable wagon, drawn by a pair of horses especially selected for strength rather than speed. We traveled on a broad turnpike, not inferior, I was told, in ordinary times to the average of such roads; in many places the mud literally touched the axles, and more than once we should have been set fast in spite of the struggles of our team, if I had not lightened the weight by descending into a quagmire that reached fully half-way up my thigh-boots.
At last we struggled through, reaching my friend's house with no other damage than some strained spokes and a broken spring. There I found horses ready caparisoned, and a faithful contraband to guide me on my way. The ride was as pleasant as the drive had been disagreeable. It was positive rest to exchange the jolting and jerking of the carriage for the familiar sway of the saddle. I had a strong hackney under me, a bright clear sky overhead, and a companion who, if not brilliantly amusing, was very passably intelligent.
He was able to tell me all about the South Mountain fight: indeed, our route lay right across the centre of that bloody battle-ground. Riding along the valley, with the hills on our left, we soon came to Birkettsville: close above was the scene of the most furious assaults, and the most obstinate struggle. The quaint little hamlet—reminding you of a Dutch village—looked cheerful enough now, as the sun shimmered over the dark-red bricks, and glistening roofs grouped round a more glittering chapel-cupola; but one could not help remembering, that thither, on a certain afternoon, in just such pleasant weather, came maimed men by hundreds, crawling or being carried in; and that for weeks after, scarce one of those cozy houses but sheltered some miserable being moaning his tortured life away. The undulating champaign between the Catoctin and South Mountains, that forms the broad Middletown valley, seems to invite the manoeuvres of infantry battalions; but, climbing the steep ascent in the teeth of musketry and field-batteries, must have been sharp work indeed, though the assailing force doubtless far outnumbered the defenders. I think the carrying of those heights one of the most creditable achievements in the war.
The terrible handwriting of the God of Battles is still very plainly to be discerned; all along the mountain-side trees—bent, blasted, and broken—tell where round-shot or grape tore through; and scored bark, closing often over imbedded bullets, shows where beat most stormily the leaden hail. Near the crest of the mountain, there are several patches of ground, utterly differing in color from the soil around, and evidently recently disturbed. You want no guide to tell you that in those Golgothas moulder corpses by hundreds, cast in, pell-mell, with scanty rites of sepulture. Besides these common trenches, there are always some single graves, occasionally marked by a post with initials roughly carved. It is good to see that, after the bitter fight, some were found, not so weary or so hurried, but that they could find time to do a dead comrade—perhaps even a dead enemy—one last kindness.
Descending from the ridge, we rode some way up a narrow valley—where overhanging pine-woods and soft green pastures, traversed by rapid streams, reminded me often of the Ardennes—and then climbed the Elk Range, beyond which lies the field of Antietam. We soon crossed the creek, along whose banks was waged that fierce battle that made men think as lightly of the South Mountain fight as if it had been but a passing skirmish, and I rode up to the appointed meeting-place in Sharpsburg just a few minutes in advance of the appointed hour.
My first question, after making myself known to the good man of the house, was naturally, of my horses and men. Will you be kind enough to fancy my feelings, when I heard that they were miles away, and—the reason why. Three days before the ferry-boat had been carried away and shattered by the floods; nothing but a skiff could cross till a cable was rigged from bank to bank; there was no chance of this being completed before the beginning of the following week. The neighborhood was too dangerous to linger in; there was a provost-marshal guard actually stationed in Sharpsburg: so my men, hearing of the disaster on their road, had very properly remained at their last halting-place, about ten miles farther up the country. I was so savagely disappointed that I hardly listened to my new friend, as he proceeded to give some useful hints on our route and conduct, whenever we should succeed in getting over the river. I only remember one suggestion: "if I was stopped anywhere this side of Winchester, I might give a fictitious name, and say that I was going to visit my son, an officer in the Federal army." Now, as I have barely entered on my eighth lustre, I can only suppose that the great bitterness of my heart imparted to my face, for the moment, a helpless—perhaps imbecile—look of senility. I had no alternative, however, but to retreat, as my men had done; the place was evidently too hot to hold me: already, through the window, I saw a shabby dragoon paying auspicious attention to my horses, contraband, and saddle-bags. I was greatly relieved, on going out, to find that the warrior was too stupidly drunk, to be actuated by anything beyond an idle, purposeless curiosity. So, after receiving directions as to where I was likely to rejoin my companions, I set my face northeast again, and rode out into the deepening darkness with feelings not much less sullen than the black rock of clouds massed up behind, that broke upon, us, right soon, with wind and drenching ruin.
My horse, as well as I, must have been glad when we reached the homestead we were seeking, for throughout the afternoon I had ridden quickly wherever there was level ground, calculating on a night's rest in Sharpsburg. I had some difficulty in convincing the farmer that I was a true man and no spy; having once realized the fact, he showed himself not less hospitable than his fellows. I was not surprised to find my men gone; with all his good-will to the cause, their host had not dared to entertain such suspicious strangers longer than twenty-four hours: keen eyes and ready tongues were rife all around, and we had proof already, in poor George Hoyle's case, how quickly and sternly the charge of "harboring disaffected persons" could be acted upon: he had sent the men to separate secluded farm-houses, whence they could be summoned at a few hours' warning. He strongly advised me to wait elsewhere till the horse ferry was reestablished, of which he promised to give me the very earliest intelligence: so I at once determined to take the Hagerstown stage to Frederick next morning (the house stood not many yards from the main road), and the rail from thence back to Baltimore, leaving men and horses in their present quarters. It was evident that the honest Irishman spoke (he was an emigrant of twenty years' standing) thus in perfect sincerity, from no lack of hospitality, though in poor mood for conviviality. I did strive hard, all that evening, to meet his simple, social overtures half-way, simply that I might not appear ungracious or ungrateful.
The homestead nestles close to the foot of the South Mountain, near Middleton Gap, some miles north of the point where I had crossed that day. We talked, of course, about the battles (they were within sound, though not sight, of Antietam). I found that a field-hospital had been established in the field immediately adjoining the orchard, and that some of the wounded, chiefly Confederates, who could not be moved, had lain there for many days. I asked the good wife how she felt while the Southern army was marching past her doors, "Well," she said, "I wasn't greatly skeared, only I thought I'd pull down the new parlor-curtains; but they behaved right well, and didn't meddle with nothin' to signify; not like them Yankees, who are always pickin' and stealin'. But I'd like to get right out of this country, anyhow; we'll never do no good here while the war lasts."
I wonder how many voices, if they dared speak out, would join in the dreary "refrain of those last few words?"
No note-worthy incident marked my journey back to Baltimore. I remained there till the following Tuesday, and, in that interval, received a note from Shipley, which both puzzled and disquieted me; it was purposely vague and obscure; but, as far as I could make out, the writer thought it would be better at once to make for some point northwest of Cumberland—to retrace, in fact, the route that he had himself recently traversed; I rather inferred that he meant to move in that direction without waiting for me, leaving me to make my way to a rendezvous which he would appoint by letter. Now, of all parties concerned in the expedition the one whose safety I valued next to my own was Falcon. I had been loth to trust him, so far, to a rider about whose qualifications I knew nothing—except that it was very unlikely he would have good "hands." I had no notion of risking the good horse, without me, on an indefinitely long journey, where he might be indifferently cared for. I wrote at once to stop any such movement; and with this I was forced to be content.
Late on the Monday evening, the expected summons reached me—sent specially by train. The next morning I started for Frederick, whence I intended to drive through Middletown to Boonesborough, near which was the place of meeting. The first thing I saw in the morning paper, when I began to read it in the cars, was a fresh general order, suggestive of most unpleasant misgivings. General Kelly had just succeeded to the command of Maryland Heights, and of the division specially selected for picket duty on the river. This—his first order—enjoined the seizure of all boats of every description between Monocacy creek and St. John's (comprising the whole of the Upper Potomac); no passenger or merchandise could be conveyed from Maryland into Virginia without a proper pass, and then only at the two specified places—Harper's Ferry and Point of Rocks; any one transgressing this edict was liable to arrest and trial by martial law.
Throwing down the ill-omened journal, I could not forbear a muttered quotation: "The day looks dark for England." Nevertheless, I drove on straight from Frederick, determined to prove what the morrow would bring forth. It was late when we reached the small roadside hotel, on the ridge of the South Mountain, where I had arranged to halt for the night; but, late as it was, I had time to hear fresh evil tidings before I slept.
The Shepherdstown ferry was in working order at noon on the Monday. The same evening, soon after dusk, four mounted men, with two led horses, rode down, requiring to be set across instantly. The ferryman objected, stating that his orders were imperative against putting any one over, after sundown, without a special pass. The men insisted, stating that they bore dispatches from Kelly to Milroy, and enforced their demands with threats. The unhappy ferryman was totally unarmed, and only wished to escape. They shot him to death without further parley, under the eyes of his mother and sister, who saw all from their windows. Then they ferried themselves and their horses across, and left the boat on the Virginia, bank, after knocking out two or three of her planks. Naturally there was a great revulsion of popular feeling in the country, and there had been a real emeute round the murdered man's grave. When they had buried him, that day, in Sharpsburg, no one, suspected of Southern sympathies, could venture openly to appear. From all that I could learn, the authors of that butchery were not Confederate soldiers, or even guerrillas, but purely and simply horse-thieves, who had come over with the sole object of plunder, tempted by the enormous prices that horse-flesh could then command in Virginia.
Very early the next morning I had a visit from the Irishman, who lived hard by. Things did not look less gloomy when I had heard what he had to tell. To begin with, that unlucky tongue of Alick's had been doing all sorts of mischief. He never touched strong liquors, so there was not even that excuse for his imprudence. Instead of remaining quiet in the secluded retreat to which he had been, sent, he would persist in hanging about in the immediate neighborhood of Boonesborough, and appeared to have spoken freely about our projects, greatly exalting and exaggerating their importance; indeed, he could scarcely have said more if we had been traveling as accredited agents between two belligerent powers. Such vainglorious garrulity was not only intensely provoking, but involved real peril to all parties concerned. I thought the Irishman was perfectly right in taking that blundering bull by the horns, and acting decisively on his own responsibility, inasmuch as there was no time to communicate with me. He insisted that the Alabamian should quit the neighborhood without an hour's delay—there had already been talk of his arrest—furnishing him with certain necessaries and a few dollars on my account. In despite of the edict aforesaid, there were still punts and skiffs concealed all along the river bank, and a footman unencumbered with baggage could always be put over without difficulty. Indeed, Alick had actually crossed into Virginia, and returned safely, while he was loitering about Boonesborough. I never saw the Alabamian again, though I heard from him once, as will appear hereafter. He carried away with him my best wishes and my revolver; I hope both have profited him. Where caution or diplomacy are not required, his sterling honesty and dogged courage will always stand him and others in good stead; if his superiors can only tie up his tongue, I believe they will "make a man of him yet."
As to Shipley, I found that it was not considered prudent for him to await my arrival there, as a search might be made over the Irishman's premises at any moment. He had been sent back on the previous afternoon to a house near Newmarket, a village some thirty miles east of Boonesborough, so that we must almost have crossed on the high road leading to Frederick city; there I was certain to find both him and Falcon.
The Irishman was decidedly of opinion that to persevere in our enterprise at the Shepherdstown ferry or anywhere in the immediate neighborhood, would be not only the height of rashness, but absolute waste of time. He advised our striking northward at once, by the Cumberland route, which then appeared to be the only one offering possible chances of success. Even on the Lower Potomac, the cordon of pickets and guard-boats had been so strengthened of late as to become well nigh impervious, and captures were of hourly occurrence.
Slowly—and I fear rather sullenly—I admitted the justice of my friend's counsel, as I walked down to his stable, where the roan had been standing since Alick's departure. Perhaps even while I write, the war-tide is surging backwards and forwards once again past the doors of that cozy homestead; but I trust its roof-tree is still inviolate by fire or sword, and that no rude hand has scorched or torn the "new parlor-curtains," in which my trim little hostess took an innocent pride. It was past noon when I bade farewell to my friends, and mounted the roan, to strike Shipley's back trail. There was a light blue sky overhead, though the wind blew intensely cold, and hoofs on the hard frozen ground rang as on pavement. For the first eighteen miles or so, which brought us to Frederick, my horse stepped out cheerily enough, though he carried far more weight than he had yet been burdened with, in the shape of myself and full saddle-bags. Here we baited, an obscure inn which had been recommended to me as "safe;" and late in the afternoon held on for Newmarket. I found the farm-house I sought without any difficulty, but the owner was down in the village, a mile or so off. Without dismounting, I asked to see the mistress, and a thin, sickly-looking woman came to the door. At my first question—relating of course to Shipley—a glimmer of distrust dawned on her pale, vague face. "There was no one there except her own family, and she had never seen or heard of a man on a brown horse." I was too thoroughly inured to disappointment by this time to feel angry—much less surprised—at anything in that line. Evidently I had to do with one of those impracticable yet timorous females—strong in their very weakness—who will persist in bearing a meek false-witness till the examiner's patience fails. So my answer was quiet enough. "Pardon me, I think your memory is treacherous. You surely must at least once in your natural life, have seen or heard of 'a man on a brown horse.' But if you have known nothing of such a remarkable pair within—the last month for instance, I fear you can't help me much. If you will tell me where to find your husband, in Newmarket, and allow me to light my pipe, I'll not trouble you any more." These benevolences the pale woman did not withhold, but she saw me depart with a wintry smile, and I heard her distinctly mutter to a handmaiden—fearfully arid and adust—who peered over her mistress' shoulder, "There's another on 'em, I know."
I found the husband in Newmarket, easily enough—at the "store," of course: this is invariably the centre of all gossiping and liquoring-up, in such villages as cannot boast a public bar-room. When I delivered certain verbal credentials, he was disposed to be more communicative than his spouse; but his information was not very clear or satisfactory. It appeared that on the previous morning, some hour before dawn a man had knocked at the door and asked for shelter: from the description, I at once recognized my guide and Falcon. But, for once, Shipley's over-caution told against him: he not only declined to give his name, but would not state, precisely, whence he came or whither he was going: there were many Federal spies about, laying traps for Southern sympathizers; so the former got suspicious, and instead of welcoming the stranger, prayed him to pass on his way. This solitary instance of inhospitality is thus, I think, easily accounted for. I could not blame my "informant;" but the state of things was enough to chafe even a meek temper: the roan's long legs had begun to tire under the unwonted weight before I reached Newmarket, and he rolled fearfully in the slowest trot; yet I had sworn not to sleep before I laid my hand on Falcon's mane, and I felt, with every fresh check, more savagely determined to keep the trail as long as horse-flesh would last under me. I knew there were few places in that county where Shipley would dare to trust himself even for a night's lodging: some of his relations lived within half a league of Symonds; and, if he meant fairly by me and mine, he was certain to advise the latter of his return: so I resolved to push straight on for my old quarters. Between me and the wished for gite there lay sixteen miles of hilly road—darkling every minute faster.
I do not care to remember that dreary ride—or rather, walk—for two hours, at least, of the distance were done on foot. For awhile I had pleasanter companions than my own sullen thoughts: a pair of blue-birds kept with me, for two or three miles at least, fluttering and twittering along the fences by my side, with the prettiest sociability—sometimes ahead, sometimes behind—never more than a dozen yards off; their brilliant plumage shot through the twilight like jets of sapphire flame: I felt absurdly sorry when they disappeared at last into the deepening blackness. I had been warned of the probability of encountering a cavalry picket somewhere on my road: so I was not greatly surprised when the possible peril became a certain one. I was riding slowly up a low, steep hill, about ten miles from Newmarket (I think the two or three houses are dignified by the name of Rockville), when I saw the indistinct forms of several horses, and the taller figure of one mounted man, standing out against the clear night-sky on the very crest of the ascent. I drew rein instinctively; but in that particular frame of mind, I don't think I should have turned back, if the gates of the old Capitol had stood open across the road. So I jogged steadily on, trying to look as innocently unconscious as possible. Seven or eight horses were picketed to some posts outside what I conclude was a whisky store; the troopers were all comforting themselves within: the intense cold had probably made the solitary sentinel drowsy, for his head drooped low on his breast, and he never lifted it as I rode past. I could not attempt to make a run of it, so I did not quicken my speed, when the danger was left behind: indeed I halted more than once, listening for the sound of hoofs in my rear, in which case I meant to have made a plunge into the black woods on either side, so as to let the pursuit pass. Hearing nothing, I dismounted again, and strode on rather more cheerfully.
The roan was not more glad than his rider, when we groped our way up the lane, leading through fields to Symonds' homestead. The good wife came out quickly, in answer to my hail, her husband being absent, as usual.
"Oh, Major," she said, "I can't say how glad I am to see you. Shipley's so anxious about you: he hasn't been gone half an hour."
"And the brown horse?" I broke in.
"He's in the stable; and looking right well."
With a huge sigh of relief I flung myself out of the saddle.
"That'll do," I said, "Mrs. Symonds; I don't want to hear another word, unless it relates to—ham and eggs."
Truly, I fear that the neat-handed Phillis must have been aweary that night before she had satisfied Gargantua. A messenger soon summoned Shipley, and he was with me before midnight; he explained all his movements satisfactorily, and I could not but acknowledge he had acted throughout discreetly and well. We sat far into the morning, discussing future plans. Ultimately it was settled that he should start with the roan, so soon as the animal should be rested and fit for the road, traveling by moderate stages, to some resting-place near Oakland. The rendezvous was to be determined by information he would receive in those parts; and I was to be advised of it by a letter left for me in Cumberland. Shipley reckoned that it would take him ten days at least to make his point. This interval I was to spend in Baltimore; from which I was to proceed, with my horse, to Cumberland, in the cars. This plan had the double advantage of saving Falcon over two hundred miles of march, and of enabling my guide to make his way, more securely, as a solitary traveler. He could not trust himself on the railroad, nor would it have been safe to attempt the transport of two horses.
So, on the following day, I made—anything but a triumphant—entry into Baltimore. Kindly greetings and condolences could not enable me during that last visit to shake off a restless discontent—a gloomy distrust of the future—a vague sense of shameful defeat.
FALLEN ACROSS THE THRESHOLD.
Early on Monday, the 30th of April, I addressed myself to the journey once more, taking the cars to Cumberland, whither Falcon had preceded me by two days, and this time I bound myself by a vow—not lightly to be broken—that I would not see Baltimore again, of free will or free agency, till I had heard the tuck of Southern drums. The most remarkable part of the road is from Point of Rocks to Harper's Ferry, inclusive, where the rails find a narrow space to creep between the river and the cliffs of Catoctin and Elk Mountains. The last-named spot is especially picturesque, standing on a promontory washed on either side by the Potomac and Shenandoah, with all the natural advantages of abrupt rocks, feathery hanging woods, and broken water. Thenceforward there is little to interest or to compensate for the sluggishness of pace and frequency of delays. The track winds on always through the same monotony of forest and hill, plunging into the gorges and climbing the shoulders of bluffs, with the audacity of gradient and contempt of curve that marks the handiwork of American engineers. I wonder that one of these did not take Mount Cenis in hand, and save the monster tunnel. The line was strongly picketed; everywhere you saw the same fringe of murky-white tents, and at every station the same groups of squalid soldiery.
What especially exasperated me was, the incessant and continuous neighborhood of the Potomac. If you left it for a few minutes you were certain to come upon it again before the eye had time to forget the everlasting foam-splashed ochre of the sullen current, and at each fresh point it met you undiminished in volume, unabated in turbulency. Long before this I had begun to look at the river in the light of a personal enemy. I think that Xerxes, in the matter of the Hellespont, did wisely and well. Did I possess his resources of men and money, I would fain do so and more likewise to that same Potomac, subdividing its waters till the pet spaniel of "my Mary Jane" should ford them without wetting the silky fringes of her trailing ears.
Theoretically, a road passing through leagues of forest-clad hills ought to be pleasant, if not interesting; practically, you are bored to death before you get half way through. There is a remarkable scarcity of anything like fine-grown, timber; the underwood is luxuriant enough, especially where the mountain laurel abounds; but in ten thousand acres of stunted firwood, you would look in vain for any one tree fit to compare with the gray giants that watch over Norwegian fiords, or fit to rank in "the shadowy army of the Unterwalden pines."
We reached Cumberland shortly after sundown; my first visit was to the stables, where I hoped to find Falcon. Imagine my disgust on hearing that, through an accident on the line, the unlucky horse had been shut up for forty-six hours in his box, with provender just enough for one day. He had been well tended, however, and judiciously fed in small quantities at frequent intervals, and, barring that he looked rather "tucked up," did not seem much the worse for his enforced fast.
I found Shipley's letter, too, where I had been told to expect it; he had got so far without let or hindrance; the meeting-place was set about forty miles northwest of Cumberland. I spent the evening, not unpleasantly, partly at the house of a "sympathizing" resident to whom I had been recommended; partly in the society of the most miraculous Milesian I ever encountered—off the stage or out of a book. He was stationed in Cumberland on some sort of recruiting service, and from dawn to midnight never ceased to oil his already lissom tongue with "caulkers" of every imaginable liquor. I was told that at no hour of the twenty-four had any man seen him thoroughly drunk or decently sober. When we first met, his cups had brought him nearly to the end of the belligerent or irascible stage; he was then inveighing against the dwellers in the Shenandoah Valley, where he had lately been quartered, for their want of patriotism in declining to furnish their defenders with gratuitous whisky and tobacco; threatening the most dreadful reprisals when he should visit "thim desateful Copperhids" again. Suddenly, without any warning, he slid into the maudlin phase, taking his parable of lamentation against "this crule warr."
"I weep, sirr," said he, "over the rrupture of mee adhopted counthree—the counthree that resaved mee with opin arrums, when I was floying from the feece of toirants," &c., &c.
When he informed me that he belonged to Mulligan's division, the words, "I suppose so," escaped me, involuntary. Truly, if the rest of the brigade resembled the specimen before me, only the mighty Celt, whom Thackeray had made immortal, could command it. I shall never again look on the "stock" freshman as an exaggeration or caricature.
I waited, the next morning, till a heavy snowstorm had resolved itself into a thin, driving sleet; then my saddle-bags were strapped on Falcon, and I set forth alone, the good horse striding away, as strong under me as if he had never heard of short commons. We baited at Frostburgh, a small village set on a hill mined and tunneled with coalpits; fifteen miles or so beyond this was the roadside inn, where I proposed to halt for the night. The sun had long set when I rode up to the spectral-looking white house; remarking with no pleasant surprise, that not a vestige of smoke rose from its gaunt chimneys. At the gate there stood a cart laden with some sort of household goods. Near this, a man, who lounged up, seeing me draw rein, to ask my business. It appeared that a "flitting" had taken place that very day, and that he—the good man—was then betaking himself, with the residue of the chattels, to their new home, about five miles back on the Frostburgh road, whither his family had already gone. The next chance of a billet was at Grantsville, two leagues farther on. Now that sounds too absurdly short a distance to disquiet any traveler; but neither is the fatal straw in the camel's load a ponderous thing, per se. Both Falcon and I had reckoned that our day's work was done when we climbed the last hill, so it was in some discontent that we set our faces once more against the black road, and the stinging sleet, and the bitter north wind.
Amongst Mrs. Browning's earlier poems, there is one to my mind almost peerless for sweet sonority of verse-music, and simplicity of strength. If it chance that any reader of mine has not admired "The Rhyme of the Duchess May," this page, at least, has not been written in vain. My saddle-bags held no volume other than a note-book, but that ballad in manuscript was nearly the last gift bestowed on me in Baltimore. Never was mortal mood less romantic than mine, so I cannot account for the fancy which impelled me, there and then, to recite aloud, how
The bridegroom led the flight, on his red roan steed of might; And the bride lay on his arm, still, as tho' she feared no harm, Smiling out into the night. "Fearest thou?" he said at last. "Nay," she answered him in haste, "Not such death as we could find; only life with one behind, Ride on—fast as fear—ride fast."
I found one listener, more appreciative than the wild pine-barren, that surely had never been waked by rhythmic sound since the birthday of Time. Falcon pricked his ears, and champed his bit cheerily, as he mended his pace without warning of spur. As for myself—the pure, earnest Saxon diction proved a more efficient "comforter" than "the many-colored scarf round my neck, wrought by the same kind white hands beyond the sea;" hands that, even now, I venture to salute with the lips of a grateful spirit, in all humility and honor.
So the way did not seem so long that brought us through the straggling, dim-lighted streets of Grantsville, up to the porch of its single hostelry, where, after some parley, I found a fair chance of supper and bed, and a heavy-handed Orson to help me in racking up Falcon.
It would be very unfair to draw a comparison between an ordinary roadside inn in England and its synonym up in the country of America; a better parallel is a speculative railway tavern verging always on bankruptcy. There is an utter absence of the old-fashioned coziness which enables you easily to dispense with luxuries. You enter at once into a stifling, stove heated bar-room, defiled with all nicotine abominations, where, for the first few minutes, you draw your breath hard, and then settle down into a dull, uneasy stupor, conscious of nothing except a weight tightening around your temples like a band of molten iron. That is the only guest-chamber, save a parlor in the rear, the ordinary withdrawing-room and nursery of the family, where you take your meals in an atmosphere impregnated with babies and their concomitants. The fare is not so bad, after all, and monotony does not prevent chicken and ham fixings from being very acceptable after a long, fasting ride. It blew a gale that night from the northwest, and the savage wind—laden with sheets of snow—hurled itself against eaves and gable till the crazy tenement quivered from roof-tree to foundation beams. I went to my unquiet rest early, chiefly to avoid an importunate reveler in the bar-room, who "wished to put to the stranger a few small questions," troublesome to answer, that I had not patience to evade.
It was high noon on the following day when I set forth again. The snow had ceased to fall two hours before, but I wished to give it time to settle; besides, any tracks would greatly help me over the rough cross-country road I had to travel. My route-bill enjoined me to call at a certain house where the lane turned off from the highway, to obtain further instructions. These were duly given me by the farmer, an elderly man, with a wild, gray beard, vague, red eyes, and a stumbling incoherence of speech. He repeatedly professed himself "pure and clear as the dew of Heaven." These characteristics applied probably to his principles—patriotic or private; they certainly did not to his directions, which led me two miles astray, before I had ridden twice that distance; no trifling error, when you had to struggle back over steep, broken ground, through drifts fully girth deep.
However, as evening closed in, I "made" Accident—the point where I ought to have found Shipley. He was a very good guide—when you caught him—but such a perfect ignis fatuus, when once out of sight, that I was not at all surprised at hearing he had gone on, the night before, to a farm-house—more safe and secluded, certainly—about sixteen miles off. My informant offered to pilot me thither so soon as it should be thoroughly dark. This offer I accepted at once, only hoping that Falcon would, like myself, consider it "all in the day's work."
I shall never forget my halt at Accident, if only on account of the martyrdom I endured at the hands of some small, pale boys, children of the house wherein I abode. I had just settled myself to smoke a meditative pipe before supper, when they came in, with a formidable air of business about all the three; they drew up a little bench, exactly opposite to my rocking-chair, fixing themselves, and me, into a deliberate stare. Every now and then the spokes-boy of the party—he was the oldest, evidently, but his face was smaller and whiter, and his eyes were more like little black beads than those of either of his brethren—would fire off a point-blank pistol-shot of a question; when this was answered or evaded, they resumed their steady stare. I was lapsing rapidly into a helpless imbecility under the horrible fascination, when their mother summoned me to supper; they vanished then, with a derisive chuckle, to which they were certainly entitled: for they had utterly discomfited the stranger within their gates.