Chapter 16

 

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Up | Lee In Virginia Preface | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 | Chapter 18 | Chapter 19 | Chapter 20

WITH LEE IN VIRGINIA

A Story Of The American Civil War.

by G.A. Henty

Chapter 16.  The Search for Dinah.

"By the by, Vincent," Mrs. Wingfield remarked next morning at breakfast, "I have parted with Pearson."

"I am glad to hear it, mother. What! did you discover at last that he was a scamp?"

"Several things that occurred shook my confidence in him, Vincent. The accounts were not at all satisfactory, and it happened quite accidentally that when I was talking one day with Mr. Robertson, who, as you know, is a great speculator in tobacco, I said that I should grow no more tobacco, as it really fetched nothing. He replied that it would be a pity to give it up, for so little was now cultivated that the price was rising, and the Orangery tobacco always fetched top prices. 'I think the price I paid for your crop this year must at any rate have paid for the labor that is to say, paid for the keep of the slaves and something over.' He then mentioned the price he had given, which was certainly a good deal higher than I had imagined. I looked to my accounts next morning, and found that Pearson had only credited me with one-third of the amount he must have received, so I at once dismissed him. Indeed, I had been thinking of doing so some little time before, for money is so scarce and the price of produce so low that I felt I could not afford to pay as much as I have been giving him."

"I am afraid I have been drawing rather heavily, mother," Vincent put in.

"I have plenty of money, Vincent. Since your father's death we have had much less company than before, and I have not spent my income. Besides, I have a considerable sum invested in house property and other securities. But I have, of course, since the war began been subscribing toward the expenses of the war--for the support of hospitals and so on. I thought at a time like this I ought to keep my expenses down at the lowest point, and to give the balance of my income to the State."

"How did Jonas take his dismissal, mother?"

"Not very pleasantly," Mrs. Wingfield replied; "especially when I told him that I had discovered he was robbing me. However, he knew better than to say much, for he has not been in good odor about here for some time. After the fighting near here there were reports that he had been in communication with the Yankees. He spoke to me about it at the time, but as it was a mere matter of rumor, originating, no doubt, from the fact that he was a Northern man by birth, I paid no attention to them."

"It is likely enough to be true," Vincent said. "I always distrusted the vehemence with which he took the Confederate side. How long ago did this happen?"

"It is about a month since I dismissed him."

"So lately as that! Then I should not be at all surprised if he had some hand in carrying off Dinah. I know he was in communication with Jackson, for I once saw them together in the street, and I fancied at the time that it was through him that Jackson learned that Dinah was here. It is an additional clew to inquire into, anyhow. Do you know what has become of him since he left you?"

"No; I have heard nothing at all about him, Vincent, from the day I gave him a check for his pay in this room. Farrell, who was under him, is now in charge of the Orangery. He may possibly know something of his movements."

"I think Farrell is an honest fellow," Vincent said "He was always about doing his work quietly never bullying or shouting at the hands, and yet seeing that they did their work properly. I will ride out and see him at once."

As soon as breakfast was over Vincent started, and found Farrell in the fields with the hands.

"I am glad to see you back, sir," the man said heartily.

"Thank you, Farrell. I am glad to be back, and I am glad to find you in Pearson's place. I never liked the fellow, and never trusted him."

"I did not like him myself, sir, though we always got on well enough together. He knew his work, and got as much out of the hands as any one could do; but I did not like his way with them. They hated him."

"Have you any idea where he went when he left here?"

"No, sir; he did not come back after he got his dismissal. He sent a man in a buggy with a note to me, asking me to send all his things over to Richmond. I expect he was afraid the news might get here as soon as he did, and that the hands would give him an unpleasant reception, as indeed I expect they would have done."

"You don't know whether he has any friends anywhere in the Confederacy to whom he would be likely to go?"

"I don't know about friends, sir; but I know he has told me he was overseer, or partner, or something of that sort, in a small station down in the swamps of South Carolina. I should think, from things he has let drop, that the slaves must have had a bad time of it. I rather fancy he made the place too hot for him, and had to leave; but that was only my impression."

"In that case he may possibly have made his way back there," Vincent said. "I have particular reasons for wishing to find out. You don't know anything about the name of the place?" The man shook his head.

"He never mentioned the name in my hearing."

"Well, I must try to find out, but I don't quite see how to set about it," Vincent said. "By the way, de you know where his clothes were sent to?"

"Yes; the man said that he was to take them to Harker's Hotel. It's a second-rate hotel not far from the railway station."

"Thank you. That will help me. I know the house. It was formerly used by Northern drummers and people of that sort."

After riding back to Richmond and putting up his horse, Vincent went to the hotel there. Although but a secondary hotel it was well filled, for people from all parts of the Confederacy resorted to Richmond, and however much trade suffered, the hotels of the town did a good business. He first went up to the clerk in a little office at the entrance.

"You had a man named Pearson," he said, "staying here about a month ago. Will you be good enough to tell me on what day he left?"

The clerk turned to the register, and said after a minute 's examination:

"He came on the 14th of November, and he left on the 20th."

This was two days after the date on which Dinah had been carried off.

In American hotels the halls are large and provided with seats, and are generally used as smoking and reading-rooms by the male visitors to the hotel. At Harker's Hotel there was a small bar at the end of the hall, and a black waiter supplied the wants of the guests seated at the various little tables. Vincent seated himself at one of these and ordered something to drink. As the negro placed it on the table he said:

"I will give you a dollar if you will answer a few questions."

"Very good, sah. Dat am a mighty easy way to earn a dollar."

"Do you remember, about a month ago, a man named Pearson being here?"

The negro shook his head.

"Me not know de names of de gentlemen, sah. What was de man like?"

"He was tall and thin, with short hair and a gray goatee--a regular Yankee."

"Me remember him, sah. Dar used to be plenty ob dat sort here. Don't see dem much now. Me remember de man, sah, quite well. Used to pass most of de day here. Didn't seem to have nuffin to do."

"Was he always alone, or did he have many people here to see him?"

"Once dar war two men here wid him, sah, sitting at dat table ober in de corner. Rough-looking fellows dey war. In old times people like dat wouldn't come to a 'spectable hotel, but now most ebery one got rough clothes, can't get no others, so one don't tink nuffin about it; but dose fellows was rough-looking besides dar clothes. Didn't like dar looks nohow. Dey only came here once. Dey was de only strangers that came to see him. But once Massa Jackson--me know him by sight--he came here and talk wid him for a long time. Earnest sort of talk dat seemed to be. Dey talk in low voice, and I noticed dey stopped talking when any one sat down near dem."

"You don't know where he went to from here, I suppose?"

"No, sah, dat not my compartment. Perhaps de outside porter will know. Like enough he take his tings in hand-truck to station. You like to see him, sah?"

"Yes, I should like to have a minute's talk with him. Here is your dollar."

The waiter rang a bell, and a minute later the outdoor porter presented himself.

"You remember taking some tings to station for a tall man wid gray goatee, Pomp?" the waiter asked. "It was more dan tree weeks ago. I tink he went before it was light in de morning. Me seem to remember dat."

The negro nodded.

"Me remember him bery well, sah. Tree heavy boxes and one bag, and he only give me quarter dollar for taking dem to de station. Mighty mean man dat."

"Do you know what train he went by?"

"Yes, sah, it was de six o'clock train for de souf."

"You can't find out wher his luggage was checked for?"

"I can go down to station, sah, and see if I can find out. Some of de men dar may remember."

"Here is a dollar for yourself," Vincent said, "and another to give to any of the men who can give you the news. When you have found out come and tell me. Here is my card and address."

"Bery well, sah. Next time me go up to station me find about it, for sure, if any one remember dat fellow."

In the evening the negro called at the house and told Vincent that he had ascertained that a man answering to his description and having luggage similar to that of Pearson had had it checked to Florence in South Carolina.

Vincent now called Dan into his counsel and told him what he had discovered. The young negro had already given proof of such intelligence that he felt sure his opinion would be of value.

"Dat all bery plain, sah," Dan said when Vincent finished his story. "Me no doubt dat old rascal Jackson give money to Pearson to carry off de gal. Ob course he did it just to take revenge upon Tony. Pearson he go into de plot, because, in de fust place, it vex Missy Wingfield and you bery much; in de second place, because Jackson gib him money; in de third place, because he get hold of negro slave worf a thousand dollar. Dat all quite clear. He not do it himself, but arrange wid oder fellows, and he stop quiet at de hotel for two days after she gone so dat no one can 'spect his having hand in de affair."

"That is just how I make it out, Dan; and now he has gone off to join them."

Dan thought for some time.

"Perhaps dey join him dar, sah, perhaps not; perhaps him send him baggage on there and get out somewhere on de road and meet them."

"That is likely enough, Dan. No doubt Dinah was taken away in a cart or buggy. As she left two days before he did, they may have gone from forty to sixty miles along the road, to some place where he may have joined them. The men who carried her off may either have come back or gone on with him. If they wanted to go south they would go on; if they did not, he would probably have only hired them to carry her off and hand her over to him when he overtook them. I will look at the timetable and see where that train stops. It is a fast train, I see," he said, after consulting it; it stops at Petersburg, fifteen miles on, and at Hicks Ford, which is about fifty miles. I should think the second place was most likely, as the cart could easily have got there in two days. Now, Dan, you had better start to-morrow morning, and spend two days there if necessary; find out if you can if on the twentieth of last month any one noticed a vehicle of any kind, with two rough men in it, and with, perhaps, a negro woman. She might not have been noticed, for she may have been lying tied up in the bottom of the cart, although it is more likely they frightened her by threats into sitting up quiet with them. They are sure not to have stopped at any decent hotel, but will have gone to some small place, probably just outside the town.

"I will go with you to Mr. Renfrew the first thing in the morning and get him to draw up a paper testifying that you are engaged in lawful business, and are making inquiries with a view to discovering a crime which has been committed, and recommending you to the assistance of the police in any town you may go to. Then if you go with that to the head constable at Hicks Ford he will tell you which are the places at which such fellows as these would have been likely to put up for the night, and perhaps send a policeman with you to make inquiries. If you get any news telegraph to me at once. I will start by the six o'clock train on the following morning. Do you be on the platform to meet me, and we can then either go straight on to Florence, or, should there be any occasion, I will get out there; but I don't think that is likely. Pearson himself will, to a certainty, sooner or later, go to Florence to get his luggage, and the only real advantage we shall get if your inquiries are successful will be to find out for certain whether he is concerned in the affair. We shall then only have to follow his traces from Florence."

Two days later Mr. Renfrew received a telegram from the head constable at Hicks Ford: "The two men with cart spent day here, 20th ult. Were joined that morning by another man--negro says Pearson. One man returned afternoon, Richmond. Pearson and the other drove off in buggy. A young negress and child were with them. Is there anything I can do?"

Mr. Renfrew telegraphed back to request that the men, who were kidnaping the female slave, should if possible be traced and the direction they took ascertained. He then sent the message across to Vincent, who at once went to his office.

"Now," the lawyer said, "you must do nothing rashly in this business, Vincent. They are at the best of time a pretty rough lot at the edge of these Carolina swamps, and at present things are likely to be worse than usual. If you were to go alone on such an errand you would almost certainly be shot. In the first place, these fellows would not give up a valuable slave without a struggle; and in the next place, they have committed a very serious crime. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that you should go armed with legal powers and backed by the force of the law. In the first place, I will draw up an affidavit and sign it myself, to the effect that a female slave, the property of Vincent Wingfield, has, with her male child, been kidnaped and stolen by Jonas Pearson and others acting in association with him, and that we have reason to know that she has been conveyed into South Carolina. This I will get witnessed by a justice of the peace, and will then take it up to Government House. There I will get the usual official request to the governor of South Carolina to issue orders that the aid of the law shall be given to you in recovering the said Dinah Morris and her child and arresting her abductors. You will obtain an order to this effect from the governor, and armed with it you will, as soon as you have discovered where the woman is, call upon the sheriff of the county to aid you in recovering her, and in arresting Pearson and his associates."

"Thank you, sir. That will certainly be the best way. I run plenty of risk in doing my duty as an officer of the state, and I have no desire whatever to throw my life away at the hands of ruffians such as Pearson and his allies."

Two hours later Vincent received from Mr. Renfrew the official letter to the governor of South Carolina, and at six o'clock next morning started for Florence. On the platform of the station at Hicks Ford Dan was waiting for him.

"Jump into the car at the end, Dan; I will come to you there, and you can tell me all the news. We are going straight on to Columbia. Now, Dan," Vincent went on when he joined him--for in no part of the United States were negroes allowed to travel in any but the cars set apart for them--"what is your news? The chief constable telegraphed that they had, as we expected, been joined by Pearson here."

"Yes, sah, dey war here for sure. When I get here I go straight to de constable and tell him dat I was in search of two men who had kidnaped Captain Wingfield's slave. De head constable he Richmond man, and ob course knew all about de family; so he take de matter up at once and send constable wid me to seberal places where it likely dat the fellows had put up, but we couldn't find nuffin about dem. Den next morning we go out again to village four mile out of de town on de north road, and dere we found sure 'nough dat two men, wid negro wench and chile, had stopped dere. She seem bery unhappy and cry all de time. De men say dey bought her at Richmond, and show de constable of de village de paper dat dey had bought a female slave Sally Moore and her chile. De constable speak to woman, but she seem frightened out of her life and no say anything. Dey drive off wid her early in de morning. Den we make inquiries again at de town and at de station. We find dat a man like Pearson get out. He had only little hand-bag with him. He ask one of de men at de station which was de way to de norf road. Den we find dat one of de constables hab seen a horse and cart wid two men in it, with negro woman and child. One of de men look like Yankee--dat what make him take notice of it. We s'pose dat oder man went back to Richmond again."

"That is all right, Dan, and you have done capitally. Now at Florence we will take up the hunt. It is a long way down there; and if they drive all the way, as I hope they will, it will take them a fortnight, so that we shall have gained a good deal of time on them. The people at the station are sure to remember the three boxes that lay there for so long without being claimed. Of course they may have driven only till they got fairly out of reach. Then they may either have sold the horse and trap, or the fellow Pearson has with him may have driven it back. But I should think they would most likely sell it. In that case they would not be more than a week from the time they left Richmond to the time they took train again for the south. However, whether they have got a fortnight or three weeks' start of us will not make much difference. With the description we can give of Pearson, and the fact that there was a negress and child, and those three boxes, we ought to be able to trace him."

It was twelve at night when the train arrived at Florence. As nothing could be done until next morning Vincent went to an hotel. As soon as the railway officials were likely to be at their offices he was at the station again. The tip of a dollar secured the attention of the man in the baggage-room.

"Three boxes and a black bag came on here a month ago, you say, and lay here certainly four or five days--perhaps a good deal longer. Of course I remember them. Stood up in that corner there. They had been checked right through. I will look at the hooks and see what day they went. I don't remember what sort of men fetched them away. Maybe I was busy at the time, and my mate gave them out. However, I will look first and see when they went. What day do you say they got here?"

"They came by the train that left Richmond at six o'clock on the morning of the 20th."

"Then they got in late that night or early next morning. Ah, the train was on time that day, and got in at half-past nine at night. Here they are--three boxes and a bag, numbers 15020, went out on the 28th. Yes, that's right enough. Now I will just ask my mate if he remembers about their going out."

The other man was called. Oh, yes, he remembered quite well the three boxes standing in the corner. They went out some time in the afternoon. It was just after the train came in from Richmond. He noticed the man that asked for them. He got him to help carry out the boxes and put them into a cart. Yes, he remembered there was another man with him, and a negress with a child. He wondered at the time what they were up to, but supposed it was all right. Yes, he didn't mind trying to find out who had hired out a cart for the job. Dessay he could find out by to-morrow--at any rate he would try. Five dollars are worth earning anyway.

Having put this matter in train, Vincent, leaving Dan at Florence, went down at once to Charleston. Here, after twenty-four hours' delay, he obtained a warrant for the arrest of Jonas Pearson and others on the charge of kidnaping, and then returned to Florence. He found that the railway man had failed in obtaining any information as to the cart, and concluded it must have come in from the country on purpose to meet the train.

"At any rate," Vincent said, "it must be within a pretty limited range of country. The railway makes a bend from Wilmington to this place and then down to Charleston, so this is really the nearest station to only a small extent of country."

"That's so," the railway man said. He had heard from Dan a good deal about the case, and had got thoroughly interested in it. "Either Marion or Kingstree would be nearer, one way or the other, to most of the swamp country. So it can't be as far as Conwayborough on the north or Georgetown on the south, and it must lie somewhere between Jeffries' Creek and Lynch's Creek; anyhow it would be in Marion County--that's pretty nigh sure. So if I were you I would take rail back to Marion Court house, and see the sheriff there and have a talk over the matter with him. You haven't got much to go upon, because this man you are after has been away from here a good many years and won't be known; besides, likely enough he went by some other name down here. Anyhow, the sheriff can put you up to the roads, and the best way of going about the job."

"I think that would be the best way," Vincent said. "We shall be able to see the county map too and to learn all the geography of the place."

"You have got your six-shooters with you, I suppose, because you are as likely as not to have to use them?"

"Yes, we have each got a Colt; and as I have had a good deal of practice, it would be awkward for Pearson if he gives me occasion to use it."

"After what I hear of the matter," the man said, "I should say your best plan is just to shoot him at sight. It's what would serve him right. You bet there will be no fuss over it. It will save you a lot of trouble anyway."

Vincent laughed.

"My advice is good," the man went on earnestly. "They are a rough lot down there, and hang together. You will have to do it sudden, whatever you do, or you will get the hull neighborhood up agin you."

On reaching Marion Courthouse they sought out the sheriff, produced the warrant signed by the States' authority, and explained the whole circumstances.

"I am ready to aid you in any way I can," the sheriff said when he concluded; "but the question is, where has the fellow got to? You see he may be anywhere in this tract;" and he pointed out a circle on the map of the county that hung against the wall. "That is about fifty mile across, and a pretty nasty spot, I can tell you. There are wide swamps on both sides of the creek, and rice grounds and all sorts. There ain't above three or four villages altogether, but there may be two or three hundred little plantations scattered about, some big and some little. We haven't got anything to guide us in the slightest, not a thing, as I can see."

"The man who was working under Pearson, when he was with us, told me he had got the notion that he had had to leave on account of some trouble here. Possibly that might afford a clew."

"It might do so," the sheriff said. "When did he come to you?"

"I think it was when I was six or seven years old. That would be about twelve or thirteen years ago; but, of course, he may not have come direct to us after leaving here."

"We can look anyway," the sheriff said, and, opening a chest, he took out a number of volumes containing the records of his predecessors. "Twelve years ago! Well, this is the volume. Now, Captain Wingfield, I have got some other business in hand that will take me a couple of hours. I will leave you out this volume and the one before it and the one after it, and if you like to go through them you may come across the description of some man wanted that agrees with that of the man you are in search of."

It took Vincent two hours and a half to go through the volume, but he met with no description answering to that of Pearson.

"I will go through the first six months of the next year," he said to himself, taking up that volume, "and the last six months of the year before."

The second volume yielded no better result, and he then turned back to the first of the three books. Beginning in July, he read steadily on until he came to December. Scarcely had he begun the record of that month than he uttered an exclamation of satisfaction.

"December 2nd.--Information laid against gang at Porter's Station, near Lynch's Creek. Charged with several robberies and murders in different parts of the county. Long been suspected of having stills in the swamps. Gang consists of four besides Porter himself. Names of gang, Jack Haverley, Jim Corben, and John and James Porter. Ordered out posse to start to-morrow.

"December 5th.--Returned from Porter's Station. Surprised the gang. They resisted. Haverley, Corben, and James Porter shot. John Porter escaped, and took to swamp. Four of posse wounded; one, William Hannay, killed. Circulated description of John Porter through the county. Tall and lean; when fifteen years old shot a man in a brawl, and went north. Has been absent thirteen years. Assumed the appearance of a northern man and speaks with Yankee twang. Father was absent at the time of attack. Captured three hours after. Declares he knows nothing about doings of the gang. Haverley and Corben were friends of his sons. Came and went when they liked. Will be tried on the 15th."

On the 16th there was another entry:

"William Porter sentenced to three years' imprisonment for giving shelter to gang of robbers. Evidence wanting to show he took any actual part in their crimes."

The sheriff had been in and out several times during the five hours that Vincent's search had taken up. When he returned again Vincent pointed out the entry he had found.

"I should not be at all surprised if that's our man," the sheriff said. "I know old Porter well, for he is still alive and bears a pretty bad reputation still, though we have never been able to bring him to book. I remember all the circumstances of that affair, for I served upon the posse. While Porter was in prison his house was kept for him by a married daughter and her husband. There was a strong suspicion that the man was one of the gang too, but we couldn't prove it. They have lived there ever since. They have got five or six field hands, and are said to be well off. We have no doubt they have got a still somewhere in the swamps, but we have never been able to find it. I will send a man off to-morrow to make inquiries whether any stranger has arrived there lately. Of course, Pearson will not have kept that name, and he will not have appeared as John Porter, for he would be arrested on a fresh warrant at once for his share in that former business. I think, Captain Wingfield, you had better register at the hotel here under some other name. I don't suppose that he has any fear of being tracked here; still it is just possible his father may have got somebody here and at Florence to keep their eyes open and let him know if there are any inquiries being made by strangers about a missing negress. One cannot be too careful. If he got the least hint, his son and the woman would be hidden away in the swamps before we could get there, and there would be no saying when we could find him."

Vincent took the sheriff's advice, and entered his name in the hotel book as Mr. Vincent. Late in the evening the sheriff came round to him.

"I have just sent summonses to six men. I would rather have had two or three more, but young men are very scarce around here now; and as with you and myself that brings it up to eight that ought to be sufficient, as these follows will have no time to summon any of their friends to their assistance. Have you a rifle, Captain Wingfield?"

"No; I have a brace of revolvers."

"They are useful enough for close work," the sheriff said, "but if they see us coming, and barricade their house and open fire upon us, you will want something that carries further than a revolver. I can lend you a rifle as well as a horse if you will accept them."

Vincent accepted the offer with thanks. The next morning at daylight he went round to the sheriff's house, where six determined-looking men, belonging to the town or neighboring farms, were assembled. Slinging the rifle that the sheriff handed him across his back, Vincent at once mounted, and the party set off at a brisk trot.

"My man came back half an hour ago," the sheriff said to Vincent as they rode along. "He found out that a man answering to your description arrived with another at Porter's about a fortnight ago, and is staying there still. Whether they brought a negress with them or not no one seems to have noticed. However, there is not a shadow of doubt that it is our man, and I shall be heartily glad to lay hold of him; for a brother of mine was badly wounded in that last affair, and though he lived some years afterward he was never the same man again. So I have a personal interest in it, you see."

"How far is it to Porter's?"

"About thirty-five miles. We shall get there about two o'clock, I reckon. We are all pretty well mounted and can keep at this pace, with a break or two, till we get there. I propose that we dismount when we get within half a mile of the place. We will try and get hold of some one who knows the country well, and get him to lead three of us round through the edge of the swamp to the back of the house. It stands within fifty yards of the swamp. I have no doubt they put it there so that they might escape if pressed, and also to prevent their being observed going backward and forward to that still of theirs."

This plan was followed out. A negro lad was found who, on the promise of a couple of dollars, agreed to act as guide. Three of the party were then told off to follow him, and the rest, after waiting for half an hour to allow them to make the detour, mounted their horses and rode down at a gallop to the house. When they were within a short distance of it they heard a shout, and a man who was lounging near the door ran inside. Almost instantly they saw the shutters swing back across the windows, and when they drew up fifty yards from the door the barrels of four rifles were pushed out through slits in the shutters.

The sheriff held up his hand. "William Porter, I want a word with you."

A shutter in an upper room opened, and an elderly man appeared with a rifle in his hand.

"William Porter," the sheriff said, "I have a warrant for the arrest of two men now in your house on the charge of kidnaping a female slave, the property of Captain Wingfield here. I have no proof that you had any share in the matter, or that you are aware that the slave was not honestly obtained. In the second place, I have a warrant for the arrest of your son John Porter, now in your house and passing recently under the name of Jonas Pearson, on the charge of resisting and killing the officers of the law on the 5th of December, 1851. I counsel you to hand over these men to me without resistance. You know what happened when your sons defied the law before, and what will happen now if you refuse compliance."

"Yah!" the old man shouted. "Do you suppose we are going to give in to five men? Not if we know it. Now, I warn you, move yourself off while I let you, else you will get a bullet in you before I count three."

"Very well, then. You must take the consequences," the sheriff replied, and at once called the party to fall back.

"We must dismount," he said in answer to Vincent's look of surprise; "they would riddle us here on horseback in the open. Besides we must dismount to break in the door."

They rode back a quarter of a mile, and then dismounted. The sheriff took two heavy axes that hung from his saddle, and handed them to two of the men.

"I reckoned we should have trouble," he said. "However, I hope we sha'n't have to use these. My idea is to crawl up through the corn-field until we are within shooting distance, and then to open fire at the loopholes. They have never taken the trouble to grub up the stumps, and each man must look out for shelter. I want to make it so hot for them that they will try to bolt to the swamp, and in that case they will be covered by the men there. I told them not to fire until they got quite close; so they ought to dispose of three of them, and as they have got pistols they will be able to master the others; besides, directly we hear firing behind, we shall jump up and make a rush round. Do you, sir, and James Wilkins here, stop in front. Two of them might make a rush out behind, and the others, when they have drawn us off, bolt in front."

Several shots were fired at the party as they made their way across to the end of the field, where the tall stalks of maize were still standing, though the corn had been gathered weeks before. As soon as they reached the shelter they separated, each crawling through the maize until they arrived within fifty yards of the house. There were, as the sheriff had said, many stumps still standing, and each ensconced himself behind one of those, and began to reply to the fire that the defenders had kept up whenever they saw a movement among the corn stalks.

At such a distance the shutters were but of slight advantage to the defenders of the house; for the assailants were all good shots, and the loopholes afforded excellent targets at such a distance. After a few shots had been fired from the house the fire of the defenders ceased, the men within not daring to protrude the rifles through the loopholes, as every such appearance was instantly followed by a couple of shots from the corn patch.

"Give me one of those axes," the sheriff said. "Now, Withers, do you make a rush with me to the door. Get your rifle loaded before you start, and have your revolver handy in your belt. Now, Captain Wingfield, do you and the other two keep a sharp lookout at the loopholes, and see that they don't get a shot at us as we run. Now, Withers," and the sheriff ran forward. Two rifles were protruded through the loopholes. Vincent and his companions fired at once. One of the rifles gave a sharp jerk and disappeared, the other was fired, and Withers dropped his axe, but still ran forward. The sheriff began an onslaught at the door, his companion's right arm being useless. A minute later the sharp crack of rifles was heard in the rear, and the sheriff and two men rushed in that direction, while Vincent and the other lay watching the door. Scarcely had the sheriff's party disappeared round the house than the door was thrown open, and Pearson ran out at full speed. Vincent leaped to his feet.

"Surrender," he said, "or you are a dead man."

Jonas paused for a moment with a loud imprecation, and then leveling a revolver, fired. Vincent felt a moment's pain in the cheek, but before he could level his rifle his companion fired, and Pearson fell forward dead. A minute later the sheriff and his party ran round.

"Have you got him?" he asked.

"He will give no more trouble, sheriff," the young man who fired said. "I fancy I had him plum between the eyes. How about the others?"

"Dick Matheson is killed; he got two bullets in his body. The other man is badly wounded. There are no signs of old Porter."

They now advanced to the door, which stood open. As the sheriff entered there was a sharp report, and he fell back shot through the heart. The rest made a rush forward. Another shot was fired, but this missed them, and before it could be repeated they had wrested the pistol from the hand of Matheson's wife. She was firmly secured, and they then entered the kitchen, where, crouched upon the floor, lay some seven or eight negro men and women in an agony of terror. Vincent's question, "Dinah, where are you?" was answered by a scream of delight; and Dinah, who had been covering her child with her body, leaped to her feet.

"It's all right, Dinah," Vincent said; "but stay here, we haven't finished this business yet."

"I fancy the old man's upstairs," one of the men said. "It was his rifle, I reckon, that disappeared when we fired."

It was as he expected. Porter was found dead behind the loophole, a bullet having passed through his brain. The deputy-sheriff, who was with the party, now took the command. A cart and horse were found in an out-building; in these the wounded man, who was one of those who had taken part in the abduction of Dinah, was placed, together with the female prisoner and the dead body of the sheriff. The negroes were told to follow; and the horses having been fetched the party mounted and rode off to the next village, five miles on their way back. Here they halted for the night, and the next day went on to Marion Courthouse, Vincent hiring a cart for the conveyance of Dinah and the other women. It was settled that Vincent's attendance at the trial of the two prisoners would not be necessary, as the man would be tried for armed resistance to the law, and the woman for murdering the sheriff. The facts could be proved by other witnesses, and as there could be no doubt about obtaining convictions, it would be unnecessary to try the charge against the man for kidnaping. Next day, accordingly, Vincent started with Dinah and Dan for Richmond. Two months afterward he saw in the paper that Jane Matheson had been sentenced to imprisonment for life, the man to fourteen years.

 

 

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