Adventure of a Spy

I HAVE lately returned from the South, but my exact whereabouts in that region, far obvious reasons, it would not be politic to state. Suspected of being a Northerner, it was to my advantage to court obscurity. Known as a spy, “a short shrift” and a ready rope would have prevented the blotting of this paper. Hanging, disguised, on the outskirts of a camp, mixing with its idlers, laughing at their jokes, examining their arms, counting their numbers, endeavoring to discover the plans of their leaders, listening to this party and pursuing that, joining in the chorus of a rebel song, betting on rebel success, cursing abolitionism, despising Northern fighters, laughing at their tactics, and sneering at their weapons, praising the beauty of Southern belles and decrying that of Northern, calling New York a den of cutthroats and New Orleans a paradise of immaculate chivalry, is but a small portion of the practice of my profession as a spy. This may not seem honorable nor desirable. As to the honor, let the country benefited by the investigations and warnings of the spy be judge; and the danger, often incurred, is more serious and personal than that of the battle field, which may, perhaps, detract from its desirability.

It was a dark night. Not a star on the glimmer. I had collected my quotum of intelligence, and was on the move for the Northern lines. I was approaching the banks of a stream whose waters I had to cross, and had then some miles to traverse before I could reach the pickets of our gallant troops. A feeling of uneasiness began to creep over me; I was on the outskirt of a wood fringing the dark waters at my feet, whose presence could scarcely be detected but for their sullen murmurs as they rushed through the gloom. The wind sighed in gentle accordance. I walked forty or fifty yards along the bank. I then crept on all fours along the ground, and groped with my hands. I paused − I groped again − my breath thickened − perspiration oozed from every pore, and I was prostrated with horror. I had missed my landmark, and knew not where I was. Below or above, beneath the shelter of the bank, lay the skiff I had hidden ten days before, when I commenced my operations among the followers of Jeff Davis.

As I stood gasping for breath, with all the unmistakable proofs of my calling about me, the sudden cry of a bird, or plunging of a fish, would act like magnetism upon my frame, not wont to shudder at a shadow. No matter how pressing the danger may be, if a man sees an opportunity of escape he breathes with freedom. But let him be surrounded by darkness, impenetrable at two yards' distance, within rifle's length of concealed foes, for what knowledge be has to the contrary; knowing too, with painful certainty, the detection of his presence would reward him with a sudden and violent death, and if he breathes no faster, he is more fitted for a hero than I am.

In the agony of that moment—in the sudden and utter helplessness I felt to discover my true bearings— I was about to let myself gently into the stream, and breast its current for life or death. There was no alternative. The Northern pickets must be reached in safety before the morning broke, or I should soon swing between heaven and earth, from some green limb in the dark forest in which I stood.

At that moment the low, sullen bay of a bloodhound struck my ear. The sound was reviving—the fearful stillness broken. The uncertain dread flew before the certain danger. I was standing to my middle in the shallow bed of the river, just beneath the jutting banks. After a pause of a few seconds, I began to creep mechanically and stealthily down the stream, followed, as I knew, from the rustling of the grass and frequent breaking of twigs, by the insatiable brute, although, by certain uneasy growls, I felt assured he was at fault. Something struck against my breast.  I could not prevent a slight cry from escaping me, as, stretching out my hand, I grasped the gunwale of a boat moored beneath the bank. Between surprise and joy I felt half choked.

In an instant I had scrambled on board, and began to search for the painter in the bow, in order to cast her from her fastenings. Suddenly a bright ray of moon-light—the first gleam of hope in that black night—fell directly on the spot, revealing the silvery stream, my own skiff (hidden there ten days before), lighting the deep shadows of the verging wood, and, on the log half buried in the bank, and from which I had that instant cast the line that had bound me to it, the supple form of the crouching bloodhound, his red eyes gleaming in the moonlight, jaws distended, and poising for the spring. With one dart the light skiff was yards out in the stream, and the savage after it. With an oar I aimed a blow at his head, which, however, he eluded with ease. In the effort thus made, the boat careened over toward my antagonist, who made a desperate effort to get his fore paws over the side, at the same time seizing the gunwale with his teeth. Now or never was my time. I drew my revolver, and placed the muzzle between his eyes, but hesitated to fire, for that one report might bring on me a volley from the shore. Meantime the strength of the dog careened the frail craft so much that the water rushed over the side, threatening to swamp her. I changed my tactics, threw my revolver into the bottom of the skiff, and grasping my “Bowie,” keen as a Malay creese, and glittering as I released it from the sheath, like a moonbeam on the stream. In an instant I had severed the sinewy throat of the bound, cutting through brawn and muscle to the nape of the neck. The tenacious wretch gave a wild, convulsive leap half out of the water, then sank and was gone. Five minutes' pulling landed me on the other side of the river, and in an hour after I was among friends within the Northern lines.


Brockett, Dr. L. P., The Camp, The Battle Field, and the Hospital; or, Lights and Shadows of the Great Rebellion, Philadelphia: National Publishing Company, 1866


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