Read CHAPTER XI of Among the Pines / South in Secession Time, free online book, by James R. Gilmore, on ReadCentral.com.

THE PURSUIT.

I sauntered out, after the events recorded in the last chapter, to inhale the fresh air of the morning. A slight rain had fallen during the night, and it still moistened the dead leaves which carpeted the woods, making an extended walk out of the question; so, seating myself on the trunk of a fallen tree, in the vicinity of the house, I awaited the hour for breakfast. I had not remained there long before I heard the voices of my host and Madam P on the front piazza:

“I tell you, Alice, I cannot must not do it. If I overlook this, the discipline of the plantation is at an end.”

“Do what you please with him when you return,” replied the lady, “but do not chain him up, and leave me, at such a time, alone. You know Jim is the only one I can depend on.”

“Well, have your own way. You know, my darling, I would not cause you a moment’s uneasiness, but I must follow up this d d Moye.”

I was seated where I could hear, though I could not see the speakers, but it was evident from the tone of the last remark, that an action accompanied it quite as tender as the words. Being unwilling to overhear more of a private conversation, I rose and approached them.

“Ah! my dear fellow,” said the Colonel, on perceiving me, “are you stirring so early? I was about to send to your room to ask if you’ll go with me up the country. My d d overseer has got away, and I must follow him at once.”

“I’ll go with pleasure,” I replied. “Which way do you think Moye has gone?”

“The shortest cut to the railroad, probably; but old Cæsar will track him.”

A servant then announced breakfast an early one having been prepared. We hurried through the meal with all speed, and the other preparations being soon over, were in twenty minutes in our saddles, and ready for the journey. The mulatto coachman, with a third horse, was at the door, ready to accompany us. As we mounted, the Colonel said to him:

“Go and call Sam, the driver.”

The darky soon returned with the heavy, ugly-visaged black who had been whipped, by Madam P ’s order, the day before.

“Sam,” said his master, “I shall be gone some days, and I leave the field-work in your hands. Let me have a good account of you when I return.”

“Yas, massa, you shill dat,” replied the negro.

“Put Jule Sam’s Jule into the woods, and see that she does full tasks,” continued the Colonel.

“Haint she wanted ’mong de nusses, massa?”

“Put some one else there give her field-work; she needs it.”

On large plantations the young children of the field-women are left with them only at night, and are herded together during the day, in a separate cabin, in charge of nurses. These nurses are feeble, sickly women, or recent mothers; and the fact of Jule’s being employed in that capacity was evidence that she was unfit for outdoor labor.

Madam P , who was waiting on the piazza to see us off, seemed about to remonstrate against this arrangement, but she hesitated a moment, and in that moment we had bidden her “Good-bye,” and galloped away.

We were soon at the cabin of the negro-hunter, and the coachman, dismounting, called him out.

“Hurry up, hurry up,” said the Colonel, as Sandy appeared, “we haven’t a moment to spare.”

“Jest so jest so, Cunnel; I’ll jine ye in a jiffin,” replied he of the reddish extremities.

Emerging from the shanty with provoking deliberation the impatience of my host had infected me the clay-eater slowly proceeded to mount the horse of the negro, while his dirt-bedraggled wife, and clay-encrusted children, followed close at his heels, the younger ones huddling around for the tokens of paternal affection usual at parting. Whether it was the noise they made, or their frightful aspect, I know not, but the horse, a spirited animal, took fright on their appearance, and nearly broke away from the negro, who was holding him. Seeing this, the Colonel said:

“Clear out, you young scare-crows. Into the house with you.”

“They arn’t no more scare-crows than yourn, Cunnel J ,” said the mother, in a decidedly belligerent tone. “You may ’buse my old man he kin stand it but ye shan’t blackguard my young ’uns!”

The Colonel laughed, and was about to make a good-natured reply, when Sandy yelled out:

“Gwo enter the house and shet up, ye .”

With this affectionate farewell, he turned his horse and led the way up the road.

The dog, who was a short distance in advance, soon gave a piercing howl, and started off at the speed of a reindeer. He had struck the trail, and urging our horses to their fastest speed, we followed.

We were all well mounted, but the mare the Colonel had given me was a magnificent animal, as fleet as the wind, and with a gait so easy that her back seemed a rocking-chair. Saddle-horses at the South are trained to the gallop Southern riders not deeming it necessary that one’s breakfast should be churned into a Dutch cheese by a trotting nag, in order that he may pass for a horseman.

We had ridden on at a perfect break-neck pace for half an hour, when the Colonel shouted to our companion:

“Sandy, call the dog in; the horses wont last ten miles at this gait we’ve a long ride before us.”

The dirt-eater did as he was bidden, and we soon settled into a gentle gallop.

We had passed through a dense forest of pines, but were emerging into a “bottom country,” where some of the finest deciduous trees then brown and leafless, but bearing promise of the opening beauty of spring reared, along with the unfading evergreen, their tall stems in the air. The live-oak, the sycamore, the Spanish mulberry, the holly, and the persimmon gaily festooned with wreaths of the white and yellow jessamine, the woodbine and the cypress-moss, and bearing here and there a bouquet of the mistletoe, with its deep green and glossy leaves upturned to the sun flung their broad arms over the road, forming an archway grander and more beautiful than any the hand of man ever wove for the greatest hero the world has worshipped.

The woods were free from underbrush, and a coarse, wiry grass, unfit for fodder, and scattered through them in detached patches, was the only vegetation visible. The ground was mainly covered with the leaves and burrs of the pine.

We passed great numbers of swine, feeding on these burrs, and now and then a horned animal browsing on the cypress-moss where it hung low on the trees. I observed that nearly all the swine were marked, though they seemed too wild to have ever seen an owner, or a human habitation. They were a long, lean, slab-sided race, with legs and shoulders like deer, and bearing no sort of resemblance to the ordinary hog, except in the snout, and that feature was so much longer and sharper than the nose of the Northern swine, that I doubt if Agassiz would class the two as one species. However, they have their uses they make excellent bacon, and are “death on snakes.” Ireland itself is not more free from the serpentine race than are the districts frequented by these long-nosed quadrupeds.

“We call them Carolina race-horses,” said the Colonel, as he finished an account of their peculiarities.

“Race-horses! Why, are they fleet of foot?”

“Fleet as deer. I’d match one against an ordinary horse at any time.”

“Come, my friend, you’re practising on my ignorance of natural history.”

“Not a bit of it. See! there’s a good specimen yonder. If we can get him into the road, and fairly started, I’ll bet you a dollar he’ll beat Sandy’s mare on a half-mile stretch Sandy to hold the stakes and have the winnings.”

“Well, agreed,” I said, laughing, “and I’ll give the pig ten rods the start.”

“No,” replied the Colonel, “you can’t afford it. He’ll have to start ahead, but you’ll need that in the count. Come, Sandy, will you go in for the pile?”

I’m not sure that the native would not have run a race with Old Nicholas himself, for the sake of so much money. To him it was a vast sum; and as he thought of it, his eyes struck small sparks, and his enormous beard and mustachio vibrated with something that faintly resembled a laugh. Replying to the question, he said:

“Kinder reckon I wull, Cunnel; howsomdever, I keeps the stakes, ony how?”

“Of course,” said the planter, “but be honest win if you can.”

Sandy halted his horse in the road, while the planter and I took to the woods on either side of the way. The Colonel soon manoeuvred to separate the selected animal from the rest of the herd, and, without much difficulty, got him into the road, where, by closing down on each flank, we kept him till he and Sandy were fairly under way.

“He’ll keep to the road when once started,” said the Colonel, laughing: “and he’ll show you some of the tallest running you ever saw in your life.”

Away they went. At first the pig, seeming not exactly to comprehend the programme, cantered off at a leisurely pace, though he held his own. Soon, however, he cast an eye behind him halted a moment to collect his thoughts and reconnoitre and then, lowering his head and elevating his tail, put forth all his speed. And such speed! Talk of a deer, the wind, or a steam-engine they are not to be compared with it. Nothing in nature I ever saw run except, it may be, a Southern tornado, or a Sixth Ward politician could hope to distance that pig. He gained on the horse at every step, and it was soon evident that my dollar was gone!

“‘In for a shilling, in for a pound,’ is the adage, so, turning to the Colonel, I said, as intelligibly as my horse’s rapid pace and my excited risibilities would allow:

“I see I’ve lost, but I’ll go you another dollar that you can’t beat the pig!”

“No sir!” the Colonel got out in the breaks of his laughing explosions; “you can’t hedge on me in that manner. I’ll go a dollar that you can’t do it, and your mare is the fastest on the road. She won me a thousand not a month ago.”

“Well, I’ll do it Sandy to have the stakes.”

“Agreed,” said the Colonel, and away we went.

The swinish racer was about a hundred yards ahead when I gave the mare the reins, and told her to go. And she did go. She flew against the wind with a motion so rapid that my face, as it clove the air, felt as if cutting its way through a solid body, and the trees, as we passed, seemed struck with panic, and running for dear life in the opposite direction.

For a few moments I thought the mare was gaining, and I turned to the Colonel with an exultant look.

“Don’t shout till you win, my boy,” he called out from the distance where I was fast leaving him and Sandy.

I did not shout, for spite of all my efforts the space between me and the pig seemed to widen. Yet I kept on, determined to win, till, at the end of a short half-mile, we reached the Waccamaw the swine still a hundred yards ahead! There his pigship halted, turned coolly around, eyed me for a moment, then with a quiet, deliberate trot, turned off into the woods.

A bend in the road kept my companions out of sight for a few moments, and when they came up I had somewhat recovered my breath, though the mare was blowing hard, and reeking with foam.

“Well,” said the Colonel, “what do you think of our bacon ‘as it runs?’”

“I think the Southern article can’t be beat, whether raw or cooked, standing or running.”

At this moment the hound, who had been leisurely jogging along in the rear, disdaining to join in the race in which his dog of a master and I had engaged, came up, and dashing quickly on to the river’s edge, set up a most dismal howling. The Colonel dismounted, and clambering down the bank, which was there twenty feet high, and very steep, shouted:

“The d d Yankee has swum the stream!”

“Why so?” I asked.

“To cover his tracks and delay pursuit; but he has overshot the mark. There is no other road within ten miles, and he must have taken to this one again beyond here. He’s lost twenty minutes by this manoeuvre. Come, Sandy, call in the dog, we’ll push on a little faster.”

“But he tuk to t’other bank, Cunnel. Shan’t we trail him thar?” asked Sandy.

“And suppose he found a boat here,” I suggested, “and made the shore some ways down?”

“He couldn’t get Firefly into a flat we should only waste time in scouring the other bank. The swamp this side the next run has forced him into the road within five miles. The trick is transparent. He took me for a fool,” replied the Colonel, answering both questions at once.

I had reined my horse out of the road, and when my companions turned to go, was standing at the edge of the bank, overlooking the river. Suddenly I saw, on one of the abutments of the bridge, what seemed a long, black log strange to say, in motion!

“Colonel,” I shouted, “see there! a live log as I’m a white man!”

“Lord bless you,” cried the planter, taking an observation, “it’s an alligator!”

I said no more, but pressing on after the hound, soon left my companions out of sight. For long afterward, the Colonel, in a doleful way, would allude to my lamentable deficiency in natural history particularly in such branches as bacon and “live logs.”

I had ridden about five miles, keeping well up with the hound, and had reached the edge of the swamp, when suddenly the dog darted to the side of the road, and began to yelp in the most frantic manner. Dismounting, and leading my horse to the spot, I made out plainly the print of Firefly’s feet in the sand. There was no mistaking it that round shoe on the off forefoot. (The horse had, when a colt, a cracked hoof, and though the wound was outgrown, the foot was still tender.) These prints were dry, while the tracks we had seen at the river were filled with water, thus proving that the rain had ceased while the overseer was passing between the two places. He was therefore not far off.

The Colonel and Sandy soon rode up.

“Caught a live log! eh, my good fellow?” asked my host, with a laugh.

“No; but here’s the overseer as plain as daylight; and his tracks not wet!”

Quickly dismounting, he examined the ground, and then exclaimed:

“The d l it’s a fact here not four hours ago! He has doubled on his tracks since, I’ll wager, and not made twenty miles we’ll have him before night, sure! Come, mount quick.”

We sprang into our saddles, and again pressed rapidly on after the dog, who followed the scent at the top of his speed.

Some three miles more of wet, miry road took us to the run of which the Colonel had spoken. Arrived there, we found the hound standing on the bank, wet to the skin, and looking decidedly chop-fallen.

“Death and d n!” shouted the Colonel; “the dog has swum the run, and lost the trail on the other side! The d d scoundrel has taken to the water, and balked us after all! Take up the dog, Sandy, and try him again over there.”

The native spoke to Cæsar, who bounded on to the horse’s back in front of his master. They then crossed the stream, which there was about fifty yards wide, and so shallow that in the deepest part the water merely touched the horse’s breast; but it was so roiled by the recent rain that we could not distinguish the foot-prints of the horse beneath the surface.

The dog ranged up and down the opposite bank, but all to no purpose: the overseer had not been there. He had gone either up or down the stream in which direction, was now the question. Calling Sandy back to our side of the run, the Colonel proceeded to hold a ‘council of war.’ Each one gave his opinion, which was canvassed by the others, with as much solemnity as if the fate of the Union hung on the decision.

The native proposed we should separate one go up, another down the stream, and the third, with the dog, follow the road; to which he thought Moye had finally returned. Those who should explore the run would easily detect the horse’s tracks where he had left it, and then taking a straight course to the road, all might meet some five miles further on, at a place indicated.

I gave my adhesion to Sandy’s plan, but the Colonel overruled it on the ground of the waste of time that would be incurred in thus recovering the overseer’s trail.

“Why not,” he said, “strike at once for the end of his route? Why follow the slow steps he took in order to throw us off the track? He has not come back to this road. Ten miles below there is another one leading also to the railway. He has taken that. We might as well send Sandy and the dog back and go on by ourselves.”

“But if bound for the Station, why should he wade through the creek here, ten miles out of his way? Why not go straight on by the road?” I asked.

“Because he knew the dog would track him, and he hoped by taking to the run to make me think he had crossed the country instead of striking for the railroad.”

I felt sure the Colonel was wrong, but knowing him to be tenacious of his own opinions, I made no further objection.

Directing Sandy to call on Madam P and acquaint her with our progress, he then dismissed the negro-hunter, and once more led the way up the road.

The next twenty miles, like our previous route, lay through an unbroken forest. As we left the watercourses, we saw only the gloomy pines, which there the region being remote from the means of transportation were seldom tapped, and presented few of the openings that invite the weary traveller to the dwelling of the hospitable planter.

After a time the sky, which had been bright and cloudless all the morning, grew overcast, and gave out tokens of a coming storm. A black cloud gathered in the west, and random flashes darted from it far off in the distance; then gradually it neared us; low mutterings sounded in the air, and the tops of the tall pines a few miles away, were lit up now and then with a fitful blaze, all the brighter for the deeper gloom that succeeded. Then a terrific flash and peal broke directly over us, and a great tree, struck by a red-hot bolt, fell with a deafening crash, half way across our path. Peal after peal followed, and then the rain not filtered into drops as it falls from our colder sky, but in broad, blinding sheets poured full and heavy on our shelterless heads.

“Ah! there it comes!” shouted the Colonel. “God have mercy upon us!”

As he spoke, a crashing, crackling, thundering roar rose above the storm, filling the air, and shaking the solid earth till it trembled beneath our horses’ feet, as if upheaved by a volcano. Nearer and nearer the sound came, till it seemed that all the legions of darkness were unloosed in the forest, and were mowing down the great pines as the mower mows the grass with his scythe. Then an awful, sweeping crash thundered directly at our backs, and turning round, as if to face a foe, my horse, who had borne the roar and the blinding flash till then unmoved, paralyzed with dread, and panting for breath, sunk to the ground; while close at my side the Colonel, standing erect in his stirrups, his head uncovered to the pouring sky, cried out:

“THANK GOD, WE ARE SAVED!”

There not three hundred yards in our rear, had passed the TORNADO uprooting trees, prostrating dwellings, and sending many a soul to its last account, but sparing us for another day! For thirty miles through the forest it had mowed a swath of two hundred feet, and then moved on to stir the ocean to its briny depths.

With a full heart, I remounted, and turning my horse, pressed on in the rain. We said not a word till a friendly opening pointed the way to a planter’s dwelling. Then calling to me to follow, the Colonel dashed up the by-path which led to the mansion, and in five minutes we were warming our chilled limbs before the cheerful fire that roared and crackled on its broad hearth-stone.