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Chapter 25:

  • The journey resumed.
  • -- a midnight pursuit. -- a brave woman. -- a deadly encounter. -- Scobell Defends himself. -- death of a rebel spy.

While these events were occurring, General McClellan was advancing up the Peninsula towards Richmond. Yorktown had surrendered, the battle of Williamsburg had been fought, and the army was advancing to the Chickahominy.

Mrs. Lawton and John Scobell had been for some weeks in Richmond, during which time they had obtained much important information, Mrs. Lawton taking the role of a Southern lady from Corinth, Mississippi, and Scobell acting as her servant. Having determined to leave Richmond, they were on their way to join the Union forces, which, under General McClellan, had their headquarters on the Chickahominy at a point about ten miles from Wilson's Landing. Here, according to previous arrangement, they were to meet Mr. Lawton, who was also one of my operatives, and from that point were to proceed to the Union camp.

The landlady of the Glen House was a stanch friend to the Federals, and had on more than one occasion rendered valuable service to my operatives, [382] especially to Hugh Lawton. It was therefore at his suggestion that his wife and Scobell adopted the plan they did to leave Richmond and to reach our lines. As Uncle Gallus had stated, a man had stopped at the tavern the night before and had informed Mrs. Braxton, the landlady, that these parties would take that route from Richmond-and had left a note to be delivered to Mrs. Lawton, which contained instructions of her future line of travel.

The trip from Glendale was one attended with great risk, as the country, on that side of the river, was filled with the scouts of both armies, and if captured by the rebel scouts or pickets, the chances were that detection would be followed by serious consequences. Among my female operatives, however, none were clearer-headed or more resolute than Mrs. Lawton, who prior to this time had been a most efficient worker and had been remarkably successful on her trips into the lines of the enemy. In each case she had escaped with rare good fortune.

When Scobell entered the structure which the stranger had left, he found that it comprised but a single room, and immediately proceeded to make a thorough examination of its interior. A small fireplace on one side, which showed no signs of having been recently used, and a number of benches, were scattered about, In the corner of the room he saw the pack and several articles that had been worn by the peddler, which left no further room for doubt in [383] his mind as to the character of the individual he had been watching for so long a time.

He accordingly set out for Glendale, where he arrived just as the sun was sinking behind the western horizon. He narrated the particulars of his chase to Mrs. Lawton, who as convinced that the peddler was a rebel spy; but the question was-Was he upon their track? Did he suspect them? and if so, by what means had he discovered who they were and what their destination was?

Without attempting to settle these questions, however, they concluded to set out at once for the landing. The horses were brought to the door by Uncle Gallus, who was closely questioned as to whether a horseman answering the description given by Scobell had passed through the village that afternoon, did not remember having seen such a person. Believing that possibly the man might really have gone on to Richmond they concluded to start that night and hazard the consequences.

Both of them were well armed and were therefore fully prepared to defend themselves, unless attacked by numbers. They rode swiftly along at the free and sweeping gallop for which the southern saddle-horses are so famous, and feeling quite secure, they conversed pleasantly together on their way.

“ I guess we will get through all right, notwithstanding our fears to the contrary,” said Mrs. Lawton. [384]

“ I dunno about that,” replied, Scobell; “we're not through with our journey yet, and there's plenty of time for trouble yet. Perhaps we had better walk the horses a spell.”

“That is a good suggestion,” assented Mrs. Lawton, “we will walk them a mile or two, and then we will be enabled to go the faster.”

“ I tell you, missus,” said Scobell, “I wish we was at the landina; somehow I feel that there is yet danger ahead.”

“What makes you think so?” inquired Mrs. Lawton.

“ Well, I am afraid that confounded peddler will turn up before we get through.”

“Why, I can manage him myself,” laughed Mrs. Lawton, “and if that is all you fear, we are perfectly safe.”

“ Now you're pokin fun at me, missus; but you'll find that I can fight if I get the chance, and I was thinking more of you than of myself.”

“ Well, there's an old saying, John, don't cross a bridge until you reach it; so we won't borrow trouble until it comes.”

Their journey now lay through a richly cultivated district; on either side were fine farms, whose growing crops had not yet been touched by the ravages of war, and the country, under the soft light of the moon presented a scene of rare beauty. Away to the left ran the river, now bathed in a flood of silvery [385] light, which, emerging from a belt of woods, pursued its winding way until again lost to view in the woods that were sharply outlined at a distance. To their right the country was broken and hilly, and the landscape presented a rugged and picturesque appearance in marked contrast to the evidences of cultivation upon the other side. The night was soft and balmy, and the silence was only broken by the sound of the horses' hoofs as they slowly trotted along. It seemed difficult to believe that war was abroad in the land, and that even now, while in the enjoyment of apparent safety, danger was lurking on every hand.

Their horses being now sufficiently rested, they again pressed forward at a rapid pace until they were about five miles from the landing which was their point of destination. There Mrs. Lawton's husband was to meet her and the balance of the journey, to the Union camp would be free from danger, as the Federal pickets were posted across the river.

They were now approaching a patch of timber, through which they would be compelled to pass, and an instinctive feeling of dread came over both of them as they drew near to it. The trees grew close together, shutting out the light of the moon, and rendering the road extremely dark and gloomy.

“Just the place for an ambuscade,” said Mrs. Lawton shiveringly; “draw your pistols, John, and be ready in case of attack.”

Scobell silently did as he was directed, and riding [386] close together, they entered the wood. The darkness was so great, that they could distinguish objects but a short distance ahead of them. They passed safely through the wood, however, and as they emerged from the darkness, they congratulated themselves upon their good fortune, and began to think that they were unduly alarming themselves.

Their comforting reflections were of short duration, however, for scarcely had they left the wood, than they perceived four horsemen approaching them at a swift gallop. What to do now was a question to be decided promptly. To turn and retreat would certainly insure their capture, as the woods were just behind, and they were afraid to travel through them on a run-so they resolved to bravely continue their way, and trust to chance for their safe deliverance, should the new-comers prove to be foes.

A few hurried words were exchanged between them, as they arranged that each should select a man and fire on the instant they were challenged, and then they were to dash ahead, hoping by this bold and unexpected move to disconcert their assailants by killing or disabling two of their number, and thus effect their escape.

As the advancing party came closer, they divided, two going on each side of the road, leaving a space between them for our travelers to pass through. They were now close enough for my operatives to discover that two of them wore the uniform of Confederate [387] gray, with heavy sabres at their sides, while the others were apparently in citizens' clothes.

Scobell, who had been intently regarding them, now exclaimed:

“'Fore God, missus, that one on your side is the peddler!”

He had scarcely uttered these words, when one of the men called out:

Halt, and throw up your hands!

They were now nearly face to face with each other, and in a flash two sharp reports rang out on the still night air, and two of the men reeled and fell from their saddles.

“At 'em!” hissed Scobell, through his clenched teeth, as he plunged the spurs into his steed. The two animals sprang forward, like arrows from the string, and in a moment they had dashed past the others, who seemed dazed at the suddenness of their actions, and before they recovered themselves, my operatives were speeding like the wind some distance away.

“ Lay low to your saddle!” cried Scobell to his companion, “and turn your horse as far to the side of the road as you can,” at the same time turning his own animal close to the fence that ran along the roadside.

His directions were immediately followed by Mrs, Lawton, who retained a wonderful control over herself and the beast she rode. [388]

It was evident that their enemies had not been expecting such a result to their demand, and they sat for a time like statues; then, as if suddenly recollecting themselves, they wheeled their horses, and, discharging their revolvers in rapid succession, started in swift pursuit.

“ They'll never get us now,” said Scobell, “unless their horses are made of better stuff-than I think they are.”

The race now became an exciting one; the pursuers having emptied their weapons, without doing any harm to the escaping pair, did not take time to reload, but urged their horses to their utmost speed. They soon discovered that their horses were no match for those of the fugitives, and their curses were loud enough to be heard by both Scobell and his companion, as in spite of all their efforts they found themselves unable to lessen the distance between them.

Scobell several times ventured a look over his shoulder, to note the progress of their pursuers, and on each occasion, finding them still lagging behind, he uttered some encouraging remark to Mrs. Lawton, who was straining every nerve in the attempt to escape.

While indulging in one of these hasty observations, and forgetting for a moment the management of his horse, the animal suddenly swerved from the road, as if frightened at some object in advance of [389] them, and, stumbling, fell heavily to the ground, throwing Scobell over his head and into the ditch.

Scrambling quickly to his feet, the negro shouted to his companion:

Go ahead, don't mind me; save yourself!

He then turned his attention to his horse, which had now recovered his feet, and stood panting and trembling in every nerve both from fright and excessive exertion. Listening intently, he could hear the clatter of hoofs of the horse rode by Mrs. Lawton, in the distance, while coming closer every instant was the noise of the approaching horsemen. They had discovered his misfortune, and were now shouting and yelling with triumph at the possibility of capturing at least one of the party. There was no time for mounting, even if his horse was unhurt, and Scobell determined to make a bold stand and sell his life dearly, while he would assuredly prevent the capture of Mrs. Lawton.

Leading his horse to the side of the road, he placed himself behind him, and resting his trusty weapon across the saddle, he awaited the coming of the approaching horsemen. He calmly waited until the two men were within a few yards of him, and then, taking as good aim as the light of the moon enabled him to do, he fired. The horseman nearest him uttered a scream of anguish, and, throwing up both hands, toppled from the saddle and fell upon the ground, while his frightened horse, with a snort of [390] terror, wheeled around and dashed off in the direction from whence he had come.

The remaining man stopped his horse with a jerk that drew him back upon his haunches, and then, turning swiftly around, set off in the opposite direction, while the bullets from Scobell's weapon whistled in dangerously close proximity to his ears.

Scobell, seeing that three of the pursuers were either dead or badly wounded, proceeded to reload his weapon, and was preparing to remount his horse and follow after Mrs. Lawton, when he heard the tramp of horses' feet coming from the direction in which she had gone. From the noise they made, he was convinced that the approaching party numbered at least a score, and that they were riding at a sweeping gallop. A bend in the road, however, hid them from his view, and he was unable to determine whether they were friends or foes. In an instant later they swept into full sight, and, to his intense relief, he discovered that they were Union cavalrymen, and that Mrs. Lawton and her husband were at their head.

“Hello, John!” exclaimed Lawton, as they came up, “are you hurt?”

“No,” replied Scobell.

“What has become of your assailants?”

“ Two of them we left a mile or two back, one is lying there in the road and the other, so far as I [391] know, is making tracks for Richmond,” answered Scobell.

“You are a brave fellow, Scobell,” said the Captain of the squad, coming forward. “You were lucky in escaping their bullets, and still more so that you didn't break your neck when your horse fell with you, at the speed you were going.”

“He fell on his head, I reckon,” ventured one of the soldiers, waggishly, “which accounts for his not being hurt.”

“That's so,” replied Scobell, in all seriousness, “I landed right square on my head in that ditch.”

A roar of laughter followed this remark, and Scobell added, good-naturedly:

It might have killed one of you fellows, but it didn't even give me the headache. I am glad, though, it wasn't the missus' horse, or things might have turned out different.

The Captain now cut short the conversation by ordering four of the party to pursue the flying rebel, and, if possible, effect his capture, while the rest proceeded to hunt up those that had been injured. The man whom Scobell had shot last was soon found; he was dead, the ball having entered his skull. Riding back to the spot where the first encounter took place, they discovered the dead body of the peddler, or spy, who had met his doom from the bullet of Mrs. Lawton, while his companion, with a shattered arm, was [392] sitting up, and nearly faint from loss of blood, and suffering intense pain.

Having captured two of the horses ridden by the party, and bandaging the shattered arm as well as they were able, the wounded man was placed on one of the animals and under an escort they were conveyed to the Union lines.

Two shallow graves were hastily dug, and in them were placed the bodies of the two dead men. The party sent after the escaped soldier soon returned, reporting that he had obtained too much the start of them to be overtaken, and they were compelled to give up the chase.

The entire party then returned to the Landing, and in the morning my operatives were put across the river, where they reported in due time at headquarters, where they detailed fully the information which they had gleaned in the rebel capital.

It was subsequently learned that the peddler was a rebel spy, and for some time past had been visiting the Union camps gathering information, which he had no doubt conveyed to the rebels. On his person were found papers which fully confirmed this, and that they failed to reach their destination on account of his death, was a fortunate occurrence for the Union cause.

How he had discovered the character of my operatives is a mystery yet unsolved, as his wounded companion, when examined the next day, stated that [393] he had met him that night for the first time, and had at his request accompanied him in the trip which had ended so disastrously. He further stated that his party belonged to a band of independent scouts, which had but lately been attached to Lee's Army, and were assigned to Gen. Stuart's Cavalry. Mr.Lawton and Mrs. Lawton and Scobell soon afterwards returned to Washington, where they were allowed to rest themselves for a time before being again called upon.

A dead shot.

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