Chapter 1. Off For California—My Troubles Begin in Wilmington—Taken for a Deserter—A Drummer Comes to My Rescue.
I had been grocery clerk for my people at Tarboro; water boy at the age of 14 at the Buffalo Lithia Springs in Virginia, where I made scores of friends from all parts of the country; drygoods salesman for Chas. Broadway Rouss, New York City; waiter in a Coney Island restaurant; bell-boy in the Fifth Avenue Hotel, New York City; waiter in Buffalo, N. Y., where I had gone to be treated by the famous Dr. R. V. Pierce for asthma; traveling agent through the South for Jas. M. Davis, New York, with stereoscopic views, at which I cleared over $400.00 in one summer's canvass, nearly ruining my vocal organs; Bible agent through the country for J. S. Peele & Co.; stenographer, bookkeeper, and scores of other things I engaged in, too numerous to mention.The train, which was to mark the beginning of more adventures, hardships and trials than I, at that time, could possibly imagine, pulled into the station at Tarboro, N.C., and bidding my brother good-bye, I got aboard.
I had four dollars in money, several letters of recommendation, and a ticket. Among the letters was a note of commendation, kindly given me by Mr. John F. Shackelford, of the Bank of Tarboro, and another one, equally as highly appreciated, from Mr. Frank Powell, the editor of the Tarboro Southerner. The ticket was labeled Wilmington, N. C., and had been purchased merely as a blind to my parents, who were unaware of the fact that I had come home from school "flat-broke," and as a consequence, of course, unable to purchase my fare to the West.
Parting with my mother affected me no little, for it was my intention not to return home for several years.
Tarboro was soon left behind, however, and now other and graver thoughts began to take possession of me. What was I to do in Wilmington with only four dollars? And how was I to get out of the town anyway, unless I purchased another ticket?
During all of my travels, I had never yet beaten the railroad company out of a penny, and just how I was going to board a train without being caught and locked up was the question.Little did I think at that time how expert and bold I was to become at this kind of thing before reaching far off Tucson, Arizona.
The train pulled under the shed at Wilmington just after dark. It was with great reluctance I got out of my seat; in fact, all the other passengers had alighted when I got my bundles together.I would have sworn that there was a big, blue-coated officer waiting to put handcuffs on me the moment I stepped from the car platform, but no such thing happened. Instead the whole train was deserted and the porter informed me that I had better hurry, if I wanted to get through the exit before it closed.
Regaining courage, I hurried along in the direction the other passengers had taken, and a few moments later emerged on Front street, Wilmington's busiest thoroughfare.
I was by no means a stranger to Wilmington, and, therefore, had little trouble in finding a good place at which to put up, without going to an expensive hotel.
Leaving my few belongings behind, I started out afterwards to retrace my steps back to the depot and railroad yards for the purpose of obtaining any information I could regarding the schedule of the trains.About midway the bridge, which connects the depot with Front street, I noticed two colored men engaged in watching the trains shift in and out of the yards. I at once decided that here was an opportunity to start the ball rolling, and accordingly approached them and told them where I wanted to go. In return they informed me that they were not trainmen, as I had supposed, but were employed on the steamboat Perdy.
The name of their Captain was Archie Marine, they said, and added that he was a good, freehearted sort of a man, and might be able to help me get down the coast on a boat. One of them offered to conduct me to the Perdy's wharf, and a short time later we were on board.The engineer of the boat was the only man on board when we arrived, and he informed me that the Captain hadn't shown up since late in the afternoon.
A significant twinkle of the eye accompanied this remark, and not being altogether blind, I concluded that the Perdy's captain was in some respects the same as all other sea-faring men.
"Do you know where he generally holds forth when on shore?" I asked."No, but probably some of the crew on shore can tell you, if you can find them," he replied.
Disappointed, I made my way up town again.
Entering a drug store, and calling for a directory, I soon found Marine's residence address, and a half hour later I had reached his home.Several children met me at the door, and in response to my query, summoned their mother, a very pleasant-faced woman, as I recall her, who at once seemed to know that I was in trouble.
She gave me explicit directions how to find her husband."Please tell him to come home at once, if you find him," she said. It was after 11 o'clock when I bade the lady good-night.
After losing all this time, I was determined to find Marine now, if I had to traverse every street in Wilmington.
Having canvassed views in the town, I had no trouble in finding the section the lady had directed me to.
The place I entered was a kind of half grocery store and half saloon—the saloon, of course, being in the rear.
On entering, my attention was directed to a party of four men, evidently seamen, judging from their language, who were in the front part of the store engaged in a conversation that could easily have been heard a block away.
At last I felt sure I had cornered my man.
It has always been my belief that I was especially blessed with the knack of making friends with a stranger, and this talent, which is the only one I think I ever possessed, had certainly had ample opportunity in my varied life to develop into an art.
"Hello, mates!" I sang out, approaching the quartet with a smile—what wonders a smile will work when used right—"I'm looking for Archie Marine, fellows. Do you know where he is to-night?"
Immediately one of the men stepped forward.
"My name is Marine," he said, "What's up?"
He had a pleasant way of speaking, and it was soon apparent that he embodied all the good qualities which the two darkies on Front street bridge had invested him with.
"It's something important, Marine; come with me and I'll tell you."
Without a word the man turned his back upon the jolly companions with whom he had been lately carousing, and together we left the place.
We went two blocks up the street, and here, under the shelter of a drug store, I told him I wanted to get as far down the coast as Jacksonville, Fla.
He said he thought he could help me do so.
"The boats no longer run from here to Georgetown, S.C.," he said, "but there's a boat from Wilmington to Southport, N. C., daily for seventy-five cents, and you can easily walk across the sands from Southport to Georgetown in a day and a half. You'll not be lonesome," he added, "for there are houses every few miles, and I'll write you a note to a friend of mine in Georgetown, who'll take you to Charleston, S. C., and another note to the engineer who runs between Charleston and Jacksonville."
This was great! I was to get nearly a thousand miles on my journey without incurring the risk of beating a train. The mere contemplation of beating a train seemed to stir up all the animosity in my nature towards all train officials.
What! I, John R. Peele, the boy who had always been so careful at home about washing his face and keeping his clothes brushed, attempt to hide on a train, and beat his fare?
No, I was to preserve my dignity and travel like a gentleman on a large steamboat to Jacksonville, and then other means would surely present themselves, as probably another boat ran from Jacksonville to Galveston, Texas.
Splendid idea! Why the trip was going to prove easy—a regular "cinch," and I could afford to laugh at the train people now, and that for a good long time, too, but alas! my joy was short-lived, for I was soon to learn the truth of the old adage: "The best laid plans ofttimes go astray."
We entered the drug store, and Marine, after much effort, composed the notes, which he wrote down in my memorandum book.
The following is a reproduction of one of them, verbatim, taken from the same little book, which I yet own:
Mr. J. Dunn wil you bee kind enough to help my yung friend over to J. and let me hear from you oblige"
I was also given a letter of introduction to his brother, William Marine, who is a very popular Jacksonville citizen, and who is superintendent of the Clyde Line Docks in that city.The author desires to publicly thank Mr. Marine through this book for that service, and feels confident, had he ever reached Georgetown, the notes would undoubtedly have been of much assistance.
At 2 p. m. the following day I boarded the boat for Southport, and knowing how I was to travel on leaving home, I had only brought along one suit of clothes, which I had on.
It was a nice fitting khaki suit, with prominent brass buttons, and seemed to be the very thing for the wear and tear of a long journey. It was a homeguard suit, though I was no homeguard, and had never been one, but purchased the suit just before leaving home.
Now, as the reader may not be aware, Southport is a favorite camping resort of North Carolina's home guards, and as luck would have it, there was a company encamped there at this particular time.