10 - CAPTURE
After enjoying this situation for some time the master arrived on an old horse - the most pitiful old plug I have ever saw in my whole lifetime, and the master was about as old and useless appearing as the old plug. The young dogs were trying to climb the tree when he came upon the scene '"What you doing up there?" he asked in a husky and shaky voice. "Why I'm trying to keep away from your hounds, of course" I said, quite out of patience with his question. I was gasping for breath and my heart was beating wildly, caused mostly by the awful run. "Well come down here" he drawled. "I will when you take your dogs away" I promptly said.
He had quite a formidable looking shotgun slung over his shoulders. He up'd the pups together, and while the old hound obediently stayed by the old horse, the old fellow proceeded to question me quite fully. I told him that in some way I got lost from my regiment and was now trying to find my way back to it. But it did not require the eyes of an experienced person to see that the time had been quite considerable since I had been with a regiment of soldiers. The stamp of prison fare was too plainly upon me to deceive the old fellow by such a story. He ordered me to return to the road I had just came on, while he and the hounds followed at an unsafe distance. "Now mind if you make a move, to get away, or refuse to go along, the old hound and I will take a hold of you" he warned me quite sternly.
But never the less I immediately began to scheme to escape from this feeble old captor. The best possible scheme I could think of was to pretend to stumble, then when they came up, to grab the shotgun, and the rest would be easy. The attempt at this trick proved to be that the old hound was just as the old fellow had warned me. Instantly it was ready to spring upon me.
After this scheme failed, I tried another. I told him that I would give him that I would give him half of my farm in Illinois if he would give me my freedom. But he proved to be absolutely impossible at bribery. So gave up trying any other scheme to escape.
His plantation was about four or five miles distance from where he captured me, but he didn't know anything about miles - "A right smart way" was his expression for "quite a distance". His house was a log one of several rooms. His family consisted of his wife and two daughters, all of whom were really pretty women. His wife appeared to be many years younger than he, and the daughters were grown to maturity. The plantation consisted of one thousand acres of pitch pine land. He had thirty eight slaves; the only team I saw upon the plantation was a bull and an old mule. The good horses and mules had all been pressed into the service of the army.
We had breakfast soon after I arrived of white bread - what a treat! and bacon, and all the milk I could drink. The cattle upon the plantation were very few; only four milk cows. The other cattle haven been taken by the Confederacy for beef for the army. There was one faithful old slave who had charge of the others in the absence of the master. After breakfast the master said to me "you can go around the place anywhere you like, but don't try to get outside of the yard, for if you do that old hound will take you for sure". I took his advice and the old hound never left her post the whole day.
When on the road to the plantation I found a confederate newspaper on the roadside. So after breakfast I commenced to read it with a good deal of interest and anxiety. And while I was deep in reading, the Mrs. came to me and said "can you-uns all read?" "Oh yes mam! up in our country nearly everyone, even children of six years of age can read. We have schools where all children go to learn to read, and to write, and decipher, and many other things." I said this with a good deal of pride. Her eyes opened in astonishment, "why are heartaches for the poor children of the South?", she was almost dazed by this information. Here was a whole family, wholly illiterate, and the owners of thirty eight slaves, but it was plain to see that the father and mother lamented the ignorance of their daughters - and which was proved when they told me that they would give me half of their plantation if I would stay with them and educate their daughters. Before this I had told them that I had taught school quite a good deal, so they thought me capable of doing the work and they were anxious now to have it done. "When the war is over you'll be without slaves and what will your plantation be worth without slaves?", but it seemed impossible for them that such would ever be so.
The business of the estate had been transacted by a relative from the East, but when the war came on he was pressed into service. So then the management of the plantation was left to John, the trustworthy slave, the one who I had tried to bribe one night. But he wouldn't say a single word the whole night through. These people had came to realize the difficulties and unpleasantness of illiteracy, so were very generous in their offer to help their daughters, to relieve them of further humiliation and loss from that condition. It was just too late to help them, but their parental love was just as strong as of the most literate parents.
They were sorely disappointed in my positive refusal to stay with them and occupy the dignified position of "tutor of the family". I should surely rejoiced in doing such a service, but I couldn't reconcile myself to do so under the circumstances. I just couldn't feel safe there, so the only alternative I had was to be turned over to the authorities.
Before I left I cut out the alphabet from the Macon newspaper and pasted it upon a board for the girls to learn to read from it, and in one day they had it thoroughly learned. How delighted they were to be able to do this in so short a time. They pleaded with me to stay and teach them all that I could, but I felt it would be impossible for me to do so. I was anxious to get back, even to prison- and soon to liberty, I believed.
They were very much discouraged because they were unable to get the food and clothing they had been accustomed to before the war. When I explained to them that many of these things came from New York and Boston, and that the blockade had stopped the transportation of these things, it was with difficulty that I made them understand just what a blockade was - and they thought their Merrimac was invincible, and could go into the northern waters without danger to itself. Poor ignorant people, they were unaware of the fate of their pride of the navy.