Read CHAPTER XXII of Twenty-Two Years a Slave‚ and Forty Years a Freeman, free online book, by Austin Steward, on ReadCentral.com.

NARROW ESCAPE OF A SMUGGLER.

From the time I first settled in Wilberforce, my house had ever been open to travelers and strangers; but a conversation I happened to overhear, led me to take a course different from what I had at first intended. I was at a public house about twenty miles from home, when I heard the landlord advising his guest to eat heartily, for, said he, “you will find nothing more worthy of your attention, until you reach Wilberforce. When you arrive at that settlement, inquire for A. Steward, from the States, and he will give you a meal fit for a prince.” I began to reflect on the subject and concluded, inasmuch as people would send company to me, it would be better to make some preparation for entertaining them. I had plenty of furniture, and all I needed was a larger supply of food, to commence keeping a tavern. This was easily obtained, and I opened a public house which was well patronized.

One day while I was absent from home, a man drove to the door the finest span of horses, I think I ever saw, black as jet, with proudly arched necks, and glossy tails that nearly swept the ground. The gentleman sprang from his carriage, bounded through the open door, and in the most excited manner, began to inquire “who owns this establishment? When will he return? Can I be accommodated? Can I see your barn?” &c. The stable boy took him to the barn, from whence he soon returned; his face flushed, and breathing so heavily as to be heard all through the apartment; trembling so violently that he could scarcely speak at all, but made out to inquire, if there was not some place besides the barn where he could put his horses? He was told that there was a small shelter built for cows, in bad weather, and the next moment he was examining it. In a very short time he had his horses and carriage stowed away in the cow-shed. He acted like a crazy man; but when he had secured his horses, he re-entered the house and frankly apologized for his conduct. I may as well tell you the truth, said he; I am suspected of smuggling goods; a reward is offered for my arrest, and the constables are on my track, in pursuit of me. My name is Cannouse, and I am from M , in Ontario County.”

But perhaps they can not prove you guilty of smuggling, said I, in an after conversation.

“Ah,” said he, “there is for me no such hope or probability; I have been engaged for the last few months in the sale of dress-goods and broad-cloths, and my exposure and flight is the consequence of my own folly. While in the village of St. Catharines, I took a young girl out to ride, after she had engaged to accompany another young fellow, which of course offended him; and he being too well posted up on my affairs, went directly to the custom house officer and informed against me. I was sitting in the parlor, perfectly at ease, when a young man, a relative of the young lady in question, burst into the room, shouting, ’Fly! fly! for your life! The officers are upon you!’ And I did fly; with barely time to reach the woods, for as I sprang through the back door, the officers entered through the front door. My horses were my first consideration; they had been raised by my father, and should I lose them, I should never dare to meet him again. In my hasty flight, I engaged the young man to conceal them till night, and then to drive them to a certain place where I would meet him. This he did, and I kept on my flight until I came to the house of a friend, where I halted to make inquiries. The gentleman had just come from London, and had seen handbills at every conspicuous place, describing me and my horses. I asked him what I should do? He said, ’you are not safe a moment; there is no hope but in flight; avoid the main road, and get to the colony if you can; if you succeed, go to A. Steward; he is an upright man and will never betray you for money,’ And here I am: if I am arrested, six months imprisonment, three hundred dollars fine, and the forfeiture of my father’s valuable and favorite horses, will be my portion. I have had no regular meal for the last three days, and my head aches violently.”

We gave him some refreshment, and conducted him to a room, assuring him that he should have it to himself. All remained quiet until midnight, when a man knocked cautiously at our door. I opened it myself, and a gentleman, looking carefully about the place, inquired,

“Are you full?”

“No,” said I.

“Have you any travelers here to night?”

“Yes.”

“How many?”

“Two.”

“Where are they?”

“In this room; walk in, sir.”

He took the light from my hand, and stepping lightly up to a bed, where two travelers were quietly sleeping, he closely examined their faces. He soon returned the light, and without further inquiry retired from the house. When his companions came up, I distinctly heard him tell them that the smuggler was not there.

“You may be mistaken,” said the other, “and we must search the barn for his horses.”

This they did thoroughly, after procuring a lantern; but without finding any thing to reward their diligent search; and they finally drove off.

When they had gone, Cannouse groaned most bitterly, and trembled from head to foot at the thought of his narrow escape. The next day an officer rode up to where the children were playing, with a handbill which he read, and inquired if they had seen a person bearing that description, pass that day? They answered negatively, and he rode on. The poor frightened Cannouse stayed with us a week; and nearly every day during the time, the house and barn were searched for him. The children kept watch, and when they saw any one coming they would let him know, in time to take himself and horses into a thicket near by. When he thought pursuit was over, he started to leave; but when, in a half hour after, a posse of men drove up to my door, flourishing their handbills, I thought it all over with Cannouse. I told them that he was not there; but they chose to have another search, and when they found nothing, the officer sprang into his carriage, exclaiming, “come on, boys; we’ll soon have him now; we have tracked him here, and he can’t be far off.”

Cannouse had left us, feeling quite secure; but he had traveled but a short distance, when he observed a horse shoe loose, and to get it fastened he drove down to a blacksmith’s shop, which happened to stand at the foot of a hill; and between it and the highway there had been left standing a clump of trees which nearly hid it from view. While there, getting his horse shod, the officers passed him unobserved, and he finally escaped.

Some time after, a gentleman called on us who had seen Cannouse in Michigan, where he was doing well. He had succeeded in reaching Detroit, from whence he passed safely to his home; but probably learned a lesson not to be forgotten. He was a talented young man one who would have felt deeply the disgrace of imprisonment, and it was indeed a pleasure to me to do what I could, to effect his release from an unenviable position. I would never have betrayed him; but happily I was not asked directly for him, until he was gone from my house and protection.