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Important News

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Received by Grapevine, and confirmed by Fresh Fish

"General Lee is thought to be moving northward —" "Yaaaih! Yaaaaaihhh Yaaaaih!"

"He has certainly left the Rappahannock. Ewell has been observed moving toward the Valley, probably with the intention of falling on Milroy at Winchester —"

"Yaaaihhhh! Yaaaaaihhh! —"

"— and crossing the Potomac at Williamsport. Longstreet and A. P. Hill are in motion —"

"Yaaaih! Old Pete! Yaaaih! A. P. Hill!"

"If General Lee crosses the Potomac, surely all will be well. We trust in God that it's true."

"Amen," said the prisoners. "Amen, amen!"

The reader turned the page.

"Underground and Fresh Fish alike confirm our assurance that Vicksburg is NOT fallen! There is a rumour that provisions are becoming exhausted and that in Vicksburg, too, rats are speared. The Editors of THE PEN heartily wish that we might send a grape-vine to the beleaguered city, `Nothing is, but only thinking makes it so.' Think of your rat in terms of grace and you will find him good as squirrel."

"The above items exhaust the news of the outer world. THE PEN turns to the world around which runs the Dead Line. Incense first to the Muses! Lieutenant Lamar, th Georgia, favours us as follows: — "Oh, were I a boy in Georgia,
As now I am a man in Hell,
I would haste to the old school-house
With the ringing of the bell!

"Oh, were I a boy in Georgia
As now I am a man in jail,
To go to church on Sunday,
Be sure I would not fail!

"Oh, were I a boy in Georgia,
As now I am a man in chains,
I'd not take the eggs from the bird-nests,
Nor apples from old man Haines!

"Oh, were I a boy in Georgia,
As now I am a man in quod,
I'd be a better son to my mother,
Ere she lay beneath the sod!"

"In another vein Colonel Brown, Kentucky, contributes: —

Air. Within a mile of Edinboro' Town.
"'T was a mile within the Wilderness green,
In the rosy time of the year;
Artillery boomed and the fight was keen,
And many men found their bier.
There Marse Robert, grey and great,
Struck Joe Hooker, sure as fate!
The Yankee blenched and answering cried, `No, no, it will not dol
I cannot, cannot, winnot, winnot, munnot lose this battle too!'

"Stonewall had a way of falling from the blue,
From the blue and on the blue as well!
Their right he crumpled up and many he slew,
And came on their centre like —!
Stonewall Jackson, great and grey,
Fought Joe Hooker on this day!
Yet Hooker, fighting, frowned and cried, `No, no, it will not do!
I cannot, cannot, winnot, winnot, munnot lose this battle too!'

"Stuart shook his feather and hummed a merry tune,
Then swung the A. N. V. with might!
He struck Joe Hooker the crown aboon,
And put the blue army to flight!
Oh, Jeb Stuart, blithe and gay,
Beat Joe Hooker night and day!
And Hooker, fleeing, no more frowned and cried, `No, no, it will not dol
I cannot, cannot, winnot, winnot, munnot lose this battle too!'

" We pass from the service of the Muses to our editorial of the day.

PUBLIC IMPROVEMENTS AND THE CONDITION OF TRADE WITH A GLANCE AT THE PREDICAMENT OF THE UNEMPLOYED."

The really able editorial was read at length. As it had the quality of being applicable as well as dogmatic, as indeed it accurately portrayed the conditions and beliefs of all present, it received full attention and unanimous applause.

The reader bowed his thanks. "Gentlemen, in all our career, we have been actuated by one sole ambition, and that ambition, gentlemen, was to become without any reservation, the Voice of the People! To-night that ambition is realized. We see that we are IT — and we thank you, gentlemen, — we thank you! We will now pass to the Standing Committees and their reports. On Finance; on Sick and Destitute; on State of the Church; on Public Education; on Cleanliness; on the Fine Arts; on Amusements —"

After reports of committees came a page of advertisements.

"A STITCH IN TIME SAVES NINE. — Bring your rips and rents to Captains Carter and Davenport, Division io. Entire satisfaction given. Charges moderate.

"INSTRUCTION IN ORATORY, and PARLOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS. Reginald De Launay, Division 13. I was once on the stage.

"INSTRUCTION ON THE BANJO. (First get your banjo.) John Paul, Lt. —th Alabama, Division 24.

"A FIRST-CLASS LAUNDRY. No pains spared, only soap. Patronize us. You will never regret it. Taylor and Nelson, North-west corner, Division 3, where you see the tub. No gentleman nowadays wears starched linen. One dislikes, too, a glaring white. And nobody likes a world too smooth. Our charges are moderate. We are Old Reliable.

"GUTTA–PERCHA RINGS, Ladies' Bracelets, Watch Chains, Walking-Sticks elaborately carved. Fancy Buttons. Just the things for mementoes of this summer-and-winter resort! Your lady-loves will prize them. Your grandchildren-to-be will treasure them. Call and look them over. Genuine bargains. Washington and Pinckney, Division 30, south side. Upper tier of bunks.

"HAVE YOUR HAIR CUT. It needs it. Barbering of all kinds done with expedition and neatness. We will shave you. We will shampoo you. Our terms are the most reasonable north of Mason and Dixon. Call and see our stock of Arabian perfumes. We are experimenting upon a substitute for soap. Smith and Smith, Division 33.

"COBBLE! COBBLE! COBBLE! Have your sole and uppers parted? Do you need a patch? Come and talk it over. We are amateurs, but we used to watch old Daddy Jim do it. We think we can help you. Our charges are not exorbitant. Porcher and Ravenel, Division 38.

"CIRCULATING LIBRARY. We are happy to inform the public that through the generosity of recent arrivals we have become possessed of another copy of `Les Miserables,' by Victor Hugo. We have also `Macaria,' by Miss Evans, Thackeray's `Vanity Fair,' and Virgil's `Ζneid.' At the closing of the meeting the chairman of the Library Committee will be happy to take names of applicants in order.

"We pass to NOTICE OF DEATHS. We mourn the loss of Brigadier-General — . This gallant gentleman and soldier passed away yesterday in the prison hospital. A kinsman, detained in this division, was allowed to be with him at the last. General asked that the twenty-third psalm be read, and when it was done he lay quiet for a while, then raised himself slightly in his bunk. `God save the South!' he said, and died. Major, South Carolina, is dead. Adjutant, Tennessee, is dead. Captain Virginia, is dead. Captain North Carolina, is dead. Lieutenant —, Virginia Cavalry, is dead.

Lieutenant —, Mississippi, is dead. We hear from the men's side that very many of our comrades in the ranks are dead. So be it! Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori."

There was a moment's pause in the reading. Resumed, The Pen took up the Continued Story, Instalment 5.

The Continued Story did not deal with war and war's alarms. The Continued Story was a story of domestic bliss. It was in the quietest vein; true love not too much crossed, marriage bells, home, a child, little details, a table set, flowers, robins singing, talk of a journey. Division 3, leaning forward, listened breathlessly. The instalment closed. "To be continued in our next." A sigh went through the hall.

The hour was almost up. The debate that was scheduled to follow The Pen had to be shortened. Even so, it took place, and so interesting was it that various blue guards and officials, drawn by echoes as of Demosthenes, came into the hall and made part of the audience.

"WOMAN: HER PLACE IN CREATION. DOES IT EQUAL THAT OF MAN?"

The negative, in this time and place and audience, received scant sympathy. In vain the collegian who had somewhat doubtfully undertaken it, piled Ossa on Pelion, Aristotle on St. Paul, Rousseau on Martin Luther. That woman-famished audience received quotation and argument in stony disapproval. The affirmative soared over Ossa without brushing a pinion. Amid applause from grey and blue alike, the affirmative, somewhere now among the stars, was declared to have won.

The chairman of the evening rose. " Gentlemen, the hour is passed. May you rest well, and have pleasant dreams! To-morrow night the Musical Club will delight us. We extend to the gentlemen of the North whom I see among us a cordial invitation to honour us again. Good night — good night!"

Division 3 streamed beneath the smoky lamps out of the close and dark hall into the dark and close rooms. In each of these were tiers of bunks, none too wide. Each boasted one grated window which let in a very little of the summer night. The doors clanged behind the entering men; outside in the hall and at all exits the sentries were posted. Within a few minutes the doors were opened again. "Rounds!" Officer in blue, men in blue, swinging lantern, vague breath of the outer world — the guardian group went through each room, examining keenly the tiers of bunks each with its shadowy reclining or sitting inmate, lifting the lantern to peer into corners, shaking the window bars to see that there had been no filing. Ten minutes, and with or without a gruff "good night!" rounds were over.

A half hour passed, an hour passed. It was a dark night and breathless. The stars that might be seen through the window, above the stockade, showed like white-hot metal points stuck through a heavy pall. Without the door of a room in which were packed twenty officers sounded, passing, the tread of the sentry. The sound died down the hall.

A man stepped lightly and quietly from his bunk. Another left his as quietly, — another, — another. Those in the upper tier swung themselves down, noiseless as cats. All twenty were out on the floor. Whatever of clothing had been laid aside was resumed. Two men took their places by the door, ear to the heavy panel. Two watched at the window. All movement was made with the precision of the drill-yard and in the quietude of the tomb. In the corner, near the window, was a bunk in which had slept and waked a lieutenant of nineteen, a light, thin, small-boned youngster. Now four men, bending over, lifted noiselessly the boards upon which the lieutenant had lain. Below, stretched smooth, stained and coloured like the floor, was a bit of tarpaulin, obtained after God knows what skilful manoeuvring! The men turned this back. Beneath gaped a ragged hole, a yard across, black and deep. Up came a colder air and an earthy smell.

In this room Maury Stafford was the leader. With a whispered word he put his hands on the edge of the excavation and swung himself down, dropping at last several feet to the floor of the tunnel. One by one the twenty followed, the four from door and window coming last. As best they could, these pulled the boards of the lieutenant's bunk in place over the entrance to that underground, which, with heart-stifling delays and dangers, they had digged. For months they had been digging — a hundred and odd men conspiring together, digging in the night-time, with infinite caution, with strange, inadequate tools, in darkness and silence and danger, a road to Freedom.

From either side of them came a tapping sound, three taps, one tap, four taps, one tap. They made the return signal. "Trenck," said a low voice down the tunnel. "Latude," answered one of the twenty. "All right!" came back the voice; "Latude, lead the way."

The men who replaced the boards had given a last backward look to the room and the window through which came the starlight. The slight and thin lieutenant was one of them. "I reckon even at home, in the four-poster in the best room, I'll dream for a while that there's a black, empty coal-mine below me! — Shh! — All right, sir."

There was a column moving through the tunnel, the tunnel into which from the several conspiring rooms there were openings, all masked, all concealed and guarded, one by this means, one by that, but alike with the infinite sharpened ingenuity of trapped creatures. The disposal of the earth that was burrowed out — genius had gone to that, genius and a patience incredible. Inch by inch the way had opened. There has been the measuring, too, the calculation of distance. . . . They must dig upward and out at some point beyond the stockade — not too far beyond; they could not afford to dig forever.

The tunnel was finished. To-night they were coming out, coming out somewhere beyond the stockade. There was a rugged gully, they knew, and then at a little distance, the river — the river that, on the other side, laved the Virginian shore. Let them but surprise, overpower whatever picket force might be stationed beyond the stockade, get to the river. Trust them to swim the river!

They crept — a hundred and odd men — through the stifling passage. They could not stand upright. The sweat drenched their bodies, their hands were wet against the walls. The tunnel that they had been digging for ages had never appeared a short one; tonight it seemed to stretch across infinity. At last they reached the end, the upward slope and then the round chamber that they had made beyond — beyond the stockade! The head of the line had a bit of candle, hoarded against this moment. The spurt of the match caused a start throughout the stretched line, the pale flicker of the candle showed drawn faces.

They had two makeshift picks. How the iron had been obtained and the handles fashioned would make a long story. There had been a sifting of the stronger men to the front; now two of these, standing in the round chamber, raised and swung the picks and attacked the tunnel's roof. Earth fell with a hollow sound. The hearts of that company beat in response. They were all bowed in the tunnel; their faces gleamed with sweat; their gleaming hands trembled where they pressed them against the walls. The blows of the picks made music, music that agonized while it charmed. They saw the sky and the open country and the river mirroring the stars. They had not a firearm nor a sword among them, but a few had pocket-knives, and others jagged bits of sheet-iron, billets of wood, even sharpened stones. Now and then the line whispered, but it never spoke aloud. The two at the end of the tunnel gave the picks to another two; the iron swung, the earth fell. To the strained hearing of all it fell ever with a more hollow and thunderous sound. Moreover, the sense of space changed, and time likewise. They knew this very long and dark passage so well; every inch of it was familiar; had they not been digging it since the dawn of time? To-night it was luridly strange. Legions of drums beat in the brain, and there were flashes of colour before the eyes. The line was caught in a strange vein of Becoming, and what would Become no man knew. The hundred and odd hoped for the best, but surely all things were becoming portentous.

The two in the round chamber changed again — Maury Stafford now stood there with another. Rhythmically the picks struck the roof, rhythmically the earth fell. Since Sharpsburg of what had not Maury Stafford thought? The mind had tried to become and remain stoical, the mind had sickened, the mind had recovered; it had known the depths and the middle spaces and the blank wind-swept heights; the depths again, the middle spaces, the heights, and every point between. There had been changes in its structure. In its legions of warring elements some, long dominant, had taken a lower place; others were making good their claims to the thrones. He had been well-nigh a year in prison, and a year in prison counted five of earth. He had seen the minds of others dulled; all things sent to sleep except suffering and useless anger, or suffering and useless despondency. He, too, had known dulness for a time, but it had passed. There came in its place a certain lucidity, a certain hardness, and at the same time a widening. The prison bars held the physical man, but the wings of the inner man had broadened and they beat at vaster walls.

The picks struck, the earth fell. Behind him he heard the breathing of the men. He, too, was dizzy from exertion, from the air of the tunnel. As he worked he was saying over to himself, over and over, old lines that came into his head —

"This ae night, this ae night,
Every night and all.
Fire and sleet and candlelight
And Christ receive thy soul —"

The officer working with him uttered a low exclamation. "Look!" Stafford looked, then turned his head. "Be ready, all of you! We're nearly through."

The earth fell, the rift widened. Down into the breathless tunnel, like wine to the exhausted, came a gust of night air. The long queue of waiting men quivered. The hole in the roof widened... . The workers were now working very cautiously, very quietly. Even in the dead of the night, even well beyond the stockade, even, as they hoped, in the bottom of the gully running down to the river, there might be wakeful ears. The workers made the least possible noise, the hundred and odd waiting prisoners made none at all. Crouched in silence they breathed the night air and the sweat dried upon them. . . . The hole in the roof became large enough to let a man through. Footholds had already been made along the side of the tunnel. The workers laid down their picks, mounted, and tried their weight upon the edges of the opening. The earth held. "Ready!" breathed Stafford. "McCarthy, you go first."

McCarthy drew himself up and out of the tunnel. "Now, Lamar!" Lamar followed. The queue moved a step forward. The third man had his hands on the edge of the hole. McCarthy's form appeared above, blocking the starlight, McCarthy's face down bent, waxen as the almost burned-out taper which threw against it a little quivering light. McCarthy's whisper came down. "O my God, my God! We turned and dug obliquely.... We're still inside the stockade!"

There sounded the discharge of a sentry's piece, followed by a hallooing and the noise of running feet.

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