With Lee in Virginia: A Story Of The American Civil War, by G. A. Henty, Chapter 4

With Lee in Virginia: A Story Of The American Civil War.

Chapter IV.
Safely Back.

When the ship came within a few hundred yards, Vincent stood up and waved his cap, and a minute later the ship was brought up into the wind and her sails thrown aback. The captain appeared at the side and shouted to the boat now but fifty yards away:

“What do you want there?”

“I have a passenger for England,” Vincent replied. “Will you take him?”

“Come alongside,” the captain said. “Why didn’t he come on hoard before I started?”

The boat was rowed alongside, and Vincent climbed on board. The captain greeted him as a stranger and led the way to his cabin.

“You have managed that well,” he said when they were alone, “and I am heartily glad that you have succeeded. I made you out two hours ago. We will stop here another two or three minutes so that the men may think you are bargaining for a passage for the negro, and then the sooner he is on board and you are on your way back the better, for the wind is rising, and I fancy it is going to blow a good deal harder before night.”

“And won’t you let me pay for the man’s passage, captain? It is only fair anyhow that I should pay for what he will eat.”

“Oh, nonsense!” the captain replied. “He will make himself useful and pay for his keep. I am only too glad to get; the poor fellow off. Now, we will have a glass of wine together and then say good-by.”

Two minutes later they returned to the deck. Vincent went to the side.

“Jump on board, Tony. I have arranged for your passage.”

The negro climbed up the side.

“Good-by, captain, and thank you heartily. Good-by, Tony.”

The negro could not speak, but he seized the hand Vincent held out to him and pressed it to his lips. Vincent dropped lightly into his boat; and pushed off from the side of the vessel. As he did so he heard orders shouted, the yards swung round, and the vessel almost at once began to move through the water.

“Now, Dan, up with the mast; and sail again; but let me put two reefs in first, the wind is getting up.”

In five minutes the sail was hoisted, and with Vincent at the helm and Dan sitting up to windward, was dashing through the water. Although Vincent understood the management of a sailing-boat on the calm waters of the rivers, this was his first experience of sea-sailing; and although the waves were still but small, he felt at first somewhat nervous as the boat dashed through them, sending up at times a sheet of spray from her bows. But he soon got over this sensation, and enjoyed the lively motion and the fresh wind. The higher points of the land were still visible; but even had they not been so it would have mattered little, as be had taken the precaution to bring with him a small pocket-compass. The wind was from the southwest;, and he was therefore able, with the sheet hauled in, to make for a point where he judged the mouth of the York River lay.

“Golly, massa! how de boat do jump up and down.”

“She is lively, Dan, and it would be just as well if we had some ballast on board; however, she has a good beam and walks along splendidly. If the wind keeps as it is, we shall be back at the mouth of the York in three or four hours. You may as well open that basket again and hand me that cold chicken and a piece of bread; cut the meat off the bones and put it on the bread, for I have only one hand disengaged; and hand me that bottle of cold tea. That’s right. Now you had better take something yourself. You must be hungry. We forgot all about the basket in our interest in the ship.”

Dan shook his head.

“A little while ago, massa, me seem berry hungry, now me doesn’t feel hungry at all.”

“That’s bad, Dan. I am afraid you are going to be seasick.”

Me no feel seasick, massa; only me don’t feel hungry.” But in a few minutes Dan was forced to confess that; he did feel ill, and a few moments afterward was groaning in the agonies of seasickness.

“Never mind, Dan,” Vincent said cheerfully. “You will be better after this.”

“Me not seasick, massa; de sea have nuffin to do with it;. It’s de boat dat will jump up and down instead of going quiet.”

“It’s all the same thing, Dan; and I hope she won’t jump about more before we get into the river.”

But in another half hour Vincent had to bring the boat’s head up to the wind, lower the lug, and tie down the last reef.

“There, she goes easier now, Dan,” he said, as the boat resumed her course; but Dan, who was leaning helplessly over the side of the boat, could see no difference.

Vincent, however, felt that; under her close sail the boat was doing better, and rising more easily on the waves, which were now higher and farther apart than before. In another hour the whole of the shore-line was visible; but the wind had risen so much that, even under her reduced sail, the boat had as much as she could carry, and often heeled over until her gunwale was nearly under water. Another hour and the shore was but some four miles away, but Vincent felt he could no longer hold on.

In the hands of an experienced sailor, who would have humored the boat and eased her up a little to meet the seas, the entrance to the York River could no doubt have been reached with safety; but Vincent was ignorant of the art of sailing a boat in the sea, and she was shipping water heavily. Dan had for some time been bailing, having only undertaken the work in obedience to Vincent’s angry orders, being too ill to care much what became of them.

“Now, Dan, I am going to bring her head up to the wind, so get ready to throw off that halyard and gather in the sail as it; comes down. That’s right, man; now down with the mast;.”

Vincent had read that the best plan when caught in an open boat in a gale, was to tie the oars and mast, if she had one, together, and to throw them overboard with the head rope tied to them, as by that means the boat would ride head to sea. The oars, sculls, mast, and sail were firmly tied together and launched overboard, the rope being first taken off the anchor and tied round the middle of the clump of spars.

Vincent carefully played out the rope till some fifteen yards were over, then he fastened it to the ring of the head rope, and had the satisfaction of finding that the boat rode easily to the floating anchor, rising lightly over the waves, and not shipping a drop of water. He then took the bailer and got rid of the water that had found its way on board, Dan, after getting down the sail, having collapsed utterly.

“Now, Dan, sit up; there, man, the motion is much easier now, and we are taking no water on board. I will give you a glass of rum, that will put new strength into you. It’s lucky we put it in the basket in ease of emergency.”

The negro, whose teeth were chattering from cold, fright, and exhaustion, eagerly drank off the spirit. Vincent, who was wet to the skin with the spray, took a little himself, and then settled himself as comfortably as he could on the floor-boards in the stern of the boat, and quietly thought out the position. The wind was still rising, and a thick haze obscured the land. He had no doubt that by night it would be blowing a gale; but the boat rode so easily and lightly that he believed she would get through it.

They might, it was true, be blown many miles off the shore, and not be able to get back for some time, for the gale might last two or three days. The basket of provisions was, however, a large one. Dan had received orders to bring plenty and had obeyed them literally, and Vincent saw that the supply of food, if carefully husbanded, would last; without difficulty for a week. The supply of liquor was less satisfactory. There was the bottle of rum, two bottles of claret, and a two-gallon jar, nearly half empty, of water. The cold tea was finished.

“That would be a poor supply for a week for two of us,” Vincent; muttered, as he removed the contents of the basket and stored them carefully in the locker; “however, if it’s going to be a gale there is sure to be some rain with it, so I think we shall manage very well.”

By night it was blowing really heavily, but although the waves were high the boat shipped but little water. Dan had fallen off to sleep, and Vincent had been glad to wrap himself in the thick coat he had brought with him as a protection against the heavy dews when sleeping on the river. At times sharp rain squalls burst upon them, and Vincent had no difficulty in filling up the water-bottle again with the bailer.

The water was rather brackish, but not sufficiently so to be of consequence. All night the boat was tossed heavily on the waves. Vincent dozed off at times, rousing himself occasionally and bailing out the water, which came in the shape of spray and rain. The prospect in the morning was not cheering. Gray clouds covered the sky and seemed to come down almost on to the water, the angry sea was crested with white heads, and it seemed to Vincent wonderful that the boat should live in such a sea.

“Now, Dan, wake yourself up and get some breakfast,” Vincent said, stirring up the negro with his foot.

“Oh Lor’!” Dan groaned, raising himself into a sitting position from the bottom of the boat, “dis am awful; we neber see the shore no more, massa.”

“Nonsense, man,” Vincent said cheerily; “we are getting on capitally.”

“It hab been an awful night, sah.”

“An awful night! You lazy rascal, you slept like a pig all night, while I have been bailing the boat and looking out for you. It is your turn now, I can tell you. Well, do you feel ready for your breakfast?”

Dan, after a moment’s consideration, declared that he was. The feeling of seasickness had passed off, and except that he was wet through and miserable, he felt himself again, and could have eaten four times the allowance of food that Vincent handed him. A pannikin of rum and water did much to restore his life and vitality, and he was soon, with the light-heartedness of his race, laughing and chatting cheerfully.

“How long dis go on, you tink, sah?”

“Not long, I hope, Dan. I was afraid last night it was going to be a big gale, but I do not think it is blowing so hard now as it was in the night.”

“Where have we get to now, sah?”

“I don’t exactly know, Dan; but I do not suppose that we are very many miles away from shore. The mast and oars prevent our drifting fast, and I don’t think we are further off now than we were when we left that ship yesterday. But even if we were four or five times as far as that, we should not take very long in sailing back again when the wind drops, and as we have got enough to eat for a week we need not be uncomfortable about that.”

“Not much food for a week, Massa Vincent.”

“Not a very great deal, Dan; but quite enough to keep us going. You can make up for lost time when you get to shore again.”

In a few hours it was certain that the wind was going down. By midday the clouds began to break up, and an hour later the sun was shining brightly. The wind was still blowing strongly, but the sea had a very different appearance in the bright light of the sun to that which it had borne under the canopy of dark gray clouds. Standing up in the boat two hours later, Vincent could see no signs of land.

“How shall we find our way back, Massa Vincent?”

“We have got a compass; besides, we should manage very well even if we had not. Look at the sun, Dan. There it is right ahead of us. So, you know, that’s the west—that’s the way we have to go.”

“That very useful ob de sun, sah; but suppose we not live in de west de sun not point de way den.”

“Oh, yes, he would, just the same, Dan. We should know whether to go away from him, or to keep him on the right hand or on the left.”

This was beyond Dan. “And I s’pose the moon will show de way at night, massa?”

“The moon would show the way if she were up, but she is not always up; but I have got a compass here, and so whether we have the sun or the moon, or neither of them, I can find my way back to land.”

Dan had never seen a compass, and for an hour amused himself turning it round and round and trying to get it to point in some other direction than the north.

“Now, Dan,” Vincent said at last, “give me that compass, and get out the food. We will have a better meal than we did this morning, for now that the wind is going down there’s no chance of food running short. When we have had dinner we will get up the sail again. The sea is not so rough as it was, and it is certainly not so high as it was before we lowered the sail yesterday.”

“De waves berry big, massa.”

“They are big, Dan; but they are not so angry. The heads are not breaking over as they did last night, and the boat will go better over those long waves than she did through the choppy sea at the beginning of the gale.”

Accordingly the bundle of spars was pulled up alongside and lifted. The mast was set up and the sail hoisted. Dan in a few minutes forgot his fears and lost even his sense of uneasiness as he found the boat mounted wave after wave without shipping water. Several times, indeed, a shower of spray flew high up in the air, but the gusts no longer buried her so that the water came over the gunwale, and it was a long time before there was any occasion to use the bailer. As the sun set it could be seen that there was a dark line between it and the water.

“There is the land, Dan; and I do not suppose it is more than twenty miles away, for most of the coast lies low.”

“But how we find de York River, massa? Will de compass tell you dat?”

“No, Dan. I don’t know whether we have drifted north or south of it. At ordinary times the current runs up the coast, but the wind this morning was blowing from the north of west, and may have been doing so all through the night for anything I know. Well, the great thing is to make land. We are almost sure to come across some fishing-boats, but, if not, we must run ashore and find a house.”

They continued sailing until Vincent’s watch told him it was twelve o’clock, by which time the coast was quite close. The wind now almost dropped, and, lowering their sail, they rowed in until, on lowering the anchor, they found that it touched the ground. Then they lay down and slept till morning. Dan was the first to waken.

“Dar are some houses dere close down by the shore, sah, and some men getting out a boat;.”

“That’s all right, Dan,” Vincent said as he roused himself and looked over. “We shall learn soon where we are.”

In a quarter of an hour the fishing-boat put off, and the lads at once rowed to it.

“How far are we from the mouth of the York River?” Vincent asked the two negroes on board.

“About twenty miles, sah. Where you come from?”

“We were off the month of the river, and were blown off in the gale.”

“You tink yourself berry lucky you get back,” one of them said. “Berry foolish to go out like dat when not know how to get back.”

“Well, we have managed to get back now, you see, and none the worse for it. Now, Dan, up with the sail again.”

There was a light wind off shore, and all the reefs being shaken out the boat ran along fast.

“I should think we are going about five miles an hour, Dan. We ought to be off the mouth of the river in four hours. We must look out sharp or else we shall pass it, for many of these islets look just like the mouth of the river. However, we are pretty sure to pass several fishing-boats on our way, and we shall be able to inquire from them.”

There was no need, however, to do this. It was just the four hours from the time of starting when they saw some eight or ten fishing-boats ahead of them.

“I expect that that is the entrance to the river. When we get half a mile further we shall see it open.”

On approaching the fishing-boats they recognized at once the appearance of the shore, as they had noticed it when fishing there before, and were soon in the entrance to the river.

It will be high tide in about two hours,” Vincent said, “according to the time it was the other day. I am afraid when it turns we shall have to get down our sails; there will be no beating against both wind and tide. Then we must get out oars and row. There is very little tide close in by the bank, and every little gain will be a help. We have been out four days. It is Thursday now, and they will be beginning to get very anxious at home, so we must do our best to get back.”

Keeping close under the bank, they rowed steadily, making on an average about two miles an hour. After five hours’ rowing they tied up to the bank, had a meal, and rested until tide turned; then they again hoisted their sail and proceeded on their way. Tide carried them just up to the junction of the two rivers, and landing at Cumberland they procured beds and slept till morning.

Another long day’s work took them up to the plantation of Mr. Furniss, and fastening up the boat, and carrying the sails and oars on shore, they started on their walk home.

“Why, Vincent, where on earth have you been all this time?” Mrs. Wingfield said as her son entered. “You said you might be away a couple of nights; and we expected you back on Wednesday at the latest, and now it is Friday evening.”

“Well, mother, we have had great fun. We went sailing about right down to the mouth of the York River. I did not calculate that it would take me more than twice as long to get back as to get down; but as the wind blew right down the river it was precious slow work, and we had to row all the way. However, it has been a jolly trip, and I feel a lot better for it.”

“You don’t look any better for it,” Annie said. “The skin is all off your face, and you are as red as fire. Your clothes look shrunk as well as horribly dirty. You are quite an object, Vincent.”

“We got caught in a heavy gale,” Vincent said, “and got a thorough ducking. As to my face, a day or two will set it all to rights again; and so they will my hands, I hope, for I have got nicely blistered tugging at those oars. And now, mother, I want some supper, for I am as hungry as a hunter. I told Dan to go into the kitchen and get a good square meal.”

The next morning, just after breakfast, there was the sound of horses’ hoofs outside the house, and, looking out, Vincent saw Mr. Jackson, with a man he knew to be the sheriff, and four or five others. A minute later one of the servants came in, and said that the sheriff wished to speak to Mrs. Wingfield.

“I will go out to him,” Mrs. Wingfield replied. Vincent followed her to the door.

“Mrs. Wingfield,” the sheriff said, “I am the holder of a warrant; to search your slave-huts and grounds for a run-away negro named Anthony Moore, the property of Mr. Jackson here.”

“Do you suppose, sir,” Mrs. Wingfield asked angrily, “that I am the sort of person to give shelter to runaway slaves?”

No, madam, certainly not,” the sheriff replied; “no one would suppose for a moment that Mrs. Wingfield of the Orangery would have anything to do with a runaway, but Mr. Jackson here learned only yesterday that the wife of this slave was here, and every one knows that where the wife is the husband is not likely to be far off.”

“I suppose, sir,” Mrs. Wingfield said coldly, “that there was no necessity for me to acquaint Mr. Jackson formerly with the fact that I had purchased through my agent the woman he sold to separate her from her husband.”

“By no means, madam, by no means; though, had we known it before, it might have been some aid to us in our search. Have we your permission to see this woman and to question her?”

“Certainly not,” Mrs. Wingfield said; “but if you have any question to ask I will ask her and give you her answer.”

“We want to know whether she has seen her husband since the day of his flight from the plantation?”

“I shall certainly not ask her that question, Mr. Sheriff. I have no doubt that, as the place from which he has escaped is only a few miles from here, he did come to see his wife. It would have been very strange if he did not. I hope that by this time the man is hundreds of miles away. He was brutally treated by a brutal master, who, I believe, deliberately set to work to make him run away, so that he could hunt him down and punish him. I presume, sir, you do not wish to search this house, and you do not suppose that the man is hidden here. As to the slave-huts and the plantation, you can, of course, search them thoroughly; but as it is now more than a fortnight since the man escaped, it is not likely you will find him hiding within a few miles of his master’s plantation.”

So saying she went into the house and shut the door behind her.

Mr. Jackson ground his teeth with rage, but the sheriff rode off toward the slave-huts without a word. The position of Mrs. Wingfield of the Orangery, connected as she was with half the old families of Virginia, and herself a large slave-owner, was beyond suspicion, and no one would venture to suggest that such a lady could have the smallest sympathy for a runaway slave.

“She was down upon you pretty hot, Mr. Jackson,” the sheriff said as they rode off. “You don’t seem to be in her good books.” Jackson muttered an imprecation.

“It is certainly odd,” the sheriff went on, “after what you were telling me about her son pitching into Andrew over flogging this very slave, that she should go and buy his wife. Still, that’s a very different thing from hiding a runaway. I dare say that, as she says, the fellow came here to see his wife when he first ran away; but I don’t think you will find him anywhere about here now. It’s pretty certain from what we hear that he hasn’t made for the North, and where the fellow can be hiding I can’t think. Still the woods about this country are mighty big, and the fellow can go out on to the farms and pick corn and keep himself going for a long time. Still, he’s sure to be brought up sooner or later.”

A thorough search was made of the slave-huts, and the slaves were closely questioned, but all denied any knowledge of the runaway. Dan escaped questioning, as he had taken up Vincent’s horse to the house in readiness for him to start as soon as he had finished breakfast.

All day the searchers rode about the plantation examining every clump of bushes, and assuring themselves that none of them had been used as a place of refuge for the runaway.

“It’s no good, Mr. Jackson,” the sheriff said at last. “The man may have been here; he ain’t here now. The only place we haven’t; searched is the house, and you may be quite sure the slaves dare not conceal him there. Too many would get to know it. No, sir, he’s made a bolt of it, and you will have to wait now till he is caught by chance, or shot by some farmer or other in the act of stealing.”

“I would lay a thousand dollars,” Andrew Jackson exclaimed passionately, “that young Wingfield knows something about his whereabouts, and has lent him a hand!”

“Well, I should advise you to keep your mouth shut about it till you get some positive proof,” the sheriff said dryly. “I tell you it’s no joke to accuse a member of a family like the Wingfields of helping runaway slaves to escape.”

“I will bide my time,” the planter said. “You said that some day you would lay hands on Tony dead or alive. You see if some day I don’t lay hands on young Wingfield.”

Well, it seems, Mr. Jackson,” the sheriff remarked with a sneer, for he was out of temper at the ill success of the day’s work, “that he has already laid hands on your son. It seems to me quite as likely that he will lay hands on you as you on him.”

Two days afterward as Vincent was riding through the streets of Richmond he saw to his surprise Andrew Jackson in close conversation with Jonas Pearson.

“I wonder what those two fellows are talking about?” he said to himself. “I expect Jackson is trying to pump Pearson as to the doings at the Orangery. I don’t like that fellow, and never shall, and he is just the sort of man to do one a bad turn if he had the chance. However, as I have never spoken to him about that affair from beginning to end, I don’t see that he can do any mischief if he wants to.”

Andrew Jackson, however, had obtained information which he considered valuable. He learned that Vincent had been away in a boat for five days, and that his mother had been very uneasy about him. He also learned that the boat was one belonging to Mr. Furniss, and that it was only quite lately that Vincent had taken to going out sailing.

After considerable trouble he succeeded in getting at one of the slaves upon Mr. Furniss’ plantation. But he could only learn from him that Vincent had been unaccompanied when he went out in the boat either by young Furniss or by any of the plantation hands; that he had taken with him only his own slave, and had come and gone as he chose, taking out and fastening up the boat himself, so that no one could say when he had gone out, except that his horse was put up at the stables. The slave said that certainly the horse bad only stood there on two or three occasions, and then only for a few hours, and that unless Mr. Wingfield had walked over he could never have had the boat out all night, as the horse certainly had not stood all night in the stables.

Andrew Jackson talked the matter over with his son, and both agreed that Vincent’s conduct was suspicious His own people said he had been away for five days in the boat. The people at Furniss’ knew nothing about this, and therefore there must be some mystery about it, and they doubted not that that mystery was connected with the runaway slave, and they guessed that he had either taken Tony and landed him near the mouth of the York River on the northern shore, or that he had put him on board a ship. They agreed, however, that whatever their suspicious, they had not sufficient grounds for openly accusing Vincent of aiding their runaway.

Return to With Lee in Virginia