Read CHAPTER XVII of Cudjo's Cave , free online book, by J. T. Trowbridge, on ReadCentral.com.

PENN’S FOOT KNOCKS DOWN A MUSKET.

Weeks passed. But now every day brought to Penn increasing anxiety of mind with regard to his situation. His abhorrence of war was as strong as ever; and his great principle of non-resistance had scarcely been shaken. But how was he to avoid participating in scenes of violence if he remained in Tennessee? And how was his escape from the state to be effected?

“You are welcome to a home with us as long as you will stay,” said Pomp. “I shall miss you even Cudjo will hate to see you go.”

Penn thanked him, fully appreciating their kindness; but his heart was yearning for other things.

Day after day he lingered still, however. The difficulties in the way of escape thickened, instead of diminishing. In February, as I have said, the people had voted against secession. Not content with this, the governor called an extra session of the legislature, which proceeded to carry the state out of the Union by fraud. On the sixth of May an ordinance of separation was passed, to be submitted to the vote of the people on the eighth of June. But without waiting for the will of the people to be made manifest, the authors of this treason went on to act precisely as if the state had seceded. A league was formed with the confederate states, the control of all the troops raised in Tennessee was given to Davis, and troops from the cotton states were rushed in to make good the work thus begun. The June election, which took place under this reign of terror, resulted as was to have been expected. Rebel soldiers guarded the polls. Few dared to vote openly the Union ticket; while those who deposited a close ticket were “spotted.” Thus timid men were frightened from the ballot-box; while soldiers from the cotton states voted in their places. Then, as it was charged, there were the grossest frauds in counting the votes. And so Tennessee “seceded.”

The state authorities had also achieved a politic stroke by disarming the people. Every owner of a gun was compelled to deliver it up, or pay a heavy fine. The arms thus secured went to equip the troops raised for the Confederacy; while the Union cause was left crippled and defenceless. Many firelocks were of course kept concealed: some were taken to pieces, and the pieces scattered, the barrel here, the stock there, and the lock in still another place, to come together again only at the will of the owner: but, as a general thing, the loyalists could not be said to have arms. It was in those times that the precaution of Stackridge and his fellow-patriots was justified. The secrecy with which they had conducted their night-meetings and drills, though seemingly unnecessary at first, saved them from much inconvenience when the full tide of persecution set in. They were suspected indeed, and it was believed they had arms; but they still met in safety, and the place where their arms were deposited remained undiscovered.

All this time, Penn had no money with which to defray the expenses of travel. When his school was broken up, several hundred dollars were due him for his services. This sum the trustees of the Academy placed to his credit in the Curryville Bank; but, in consequence of a recent enactment, designed to rob and annoy loyal men, he could not draw the money without appearing personally, and first taking the oath of allegiance to the confederate government. This, of course, was out of the question.

Meanwhile he learned to rough it on the mountain with the fugitives. Pomp taught him the use of the rifle, and he was soon able to shoot, dress, and cook his own dinner. He grew robust with the exercise and exposure. But every day his longing eyes turned towards the valley where the friends were whom he loved, and whom he resolved at all hazards to visit again, if for the last time.

At length, one morning at breakfast, he informed Pomp and Cudjo of his intention to leave them, to return secretly to the village, place himself under the protection of certain Unionists he knew, and attempt, with their assistance, to make his way out of the state.

“Why go down there at all?” said Pomp. “If you are determined to leave us, let me be your guide. I will take you over the mountains into Kentucky, where you will be safe. It will be a long, hard journey; but you are strong now; we will take it leisurely, killing our game by the way.”

“You are very kind and

Penn blushed and stammered. The truth was, he was willing to risk his life to see Virginia once more; and the thought of quitting the state without bidding her good by was intolerable to him.

“And what?” said Pomp, smiling intelligently.

“And I may possibly be glad to accept your proposal. But I am determined to try the other way first.”

Both Pomp and Cudjo endeavored to dissuade him from the undertaking, but in vain. That evening he took his departure. The blacks accompanied him to the foot of the mountain. Notwithstanding the friendship and gratitude he had all along felt towards them, he had not foreseen how painful would be the separation from them.

“I never quitted friends more reluctantly!” he said, choked with his emotion. “Never, never shall I forget you never shall I forget those rambles on the mountains, those days and nights in the cave! Let me hope we shall meet again, when I can make you some return for your kindness.”

“We may meet again, and sooner than you suppose,” said Pomp. “If you find escape too difficult, be sure and come back to us. Ah, I seem to foresee that you will come back!”

With this prediction ringing in his ears, and filling him with vague forebodings, Penn went his way; while the negroes, having shaken hands with him in sorrowful silence, returned to their savage mountain home, which had never looked so lonely to them as now, since their beloved and gentle guest had departed.

The night was not dark, and Penn, having been guided to a bridle-path that led to the town, experienced no difficulty in finding his way on alone. He approached the minister’s house from the fields. Although late in the evening, the windows were still lighted. He was surprised to see men walking to and fro by the house, and to hear their footsteps on the piazza floor. He drew near enough to discern that they carried muskets. Then the truth flashed upon him: they were soldiers guarding the house.

Whether they were there to protect the venerable Unionist from mob-violence, or to prevent his escape, Penn could only conjecture. In either case it would have been extremely indiscreet for him to enter the house. Bitter disappointment filled him, mingled with apprehensions for the safety of his friends, and remorse at the thought that he himself had, although unintentionally, been instrumental in drawing down upon them the vengeance of the secessionists.

Penn next thought of Stackridge. It was indeed upon that sturdy patriot that he relied chiefly for aid in leaving the state. He took a last, lingering look at the minister’s house, the windows whose cheerful light had so often greeted him on his way thither, in those delightful winter evenings which were gone, never to return, the soldiers on the piazza, symbolizing the reign of terror that had commenced, and with a deep inward prayer that God would shield with his all-powerful hand the beleaguered family, he once more crossed the fields.

By a circuitous route he came in sight of Stackridge’s house. There were lights there also, although it must have been now near midnight. And as Penn discerned them, he became aware of loud voices engaged in angry altercation around the farmer’s door. It was no time for him to approach. He stole away as noiselessly as he had come. In the still, quiet night he paused, asking himself what he should do.

The Academy was not far off. He remembered that he had left there, among other things, a pocket Bible, a gift from his sister, which he wished to preserve. Perhaps it was there still; perhaps he could get in and recover it. At all events, he had plenty of leisure on his hands, and could afford to make the trial.

He heard the mounted patrol pass by, and waited for the sound of hoofs to die in the distance. Then cautiously he drew near the gloomy and silent school-house. Not doubting but the door was locked, for he still had the key with him which he had turned for the last time when he walked out in defiance of the lynchers, he resolved not to unlock it, but to keep in the rear of the building, and enter, if possible, by a window.

The window was unfastened, as it had ever remained since he had opened it, on that memorable occasion, to communicate with Carl. Softly he raised the sash, and softly he crept in. His foot, however, struck an object on the desk, and swept it down. It fell with a loud, rattling sound upon the floor.

It was a musket; the owner of which bounded up on the instant from a bench where he was lying, and seized Penn by the leg. The school-house had been turned into a barrack-room for recruits, and the late master found that he had descended upon a squad of confederate soldiers.

Lights were struck, and the sleepy sentinels, rubbing their eyes open, recognized, struggling in the arms of their companion, the unfortunate young Quaker.

“I knowed ’twas him! I knowed ’twas him!” cried his overjoyed captor, who proved to be no other than Silas Ropes’s worthy friend Gad. “I heern him gittin’ inter the winder, but I kept dark till he knocked my gun down; then I grabbed him! He’s a traitor, and this time will meet a traitor’s doom!”

“My friends,” said Penn, recovering from the agitation of his first surprise and struggle, “I am in your power. It is perhaps the best thing that could happen to me; for I have committed no crime, and I cannot doubt but that I shall receive justice all the sooner for this accident. You need not take the trouble to bind me; I shall not attempt to escape.”

His captors, however, among whom he recognized with some uneasiness more than one of those who had been engaged in lynching him, persisted in binding him upon a bench, in no very comfortable position, and then set a guard over him for the remainder of the night.