Early the next morning I went for a walk unable to sleep knowing how my mother was suffering only two blocks away. As I walked the sun was not yet on the horizon, but the fresh air did wonders for my attitude and my fertile young mind. We would never rescue the women as long as someone offered up a pessimistic answer for each equation. As I walked the idea dawned upon me that this was a mission for a lone operator. This jail break would take nerves of steel and no mistakes, a convincing demeanor and unwavering courage. I would have to think on my feet to warn the women ahead of time so they would not give me away as I knew all three and they knew me. Unknown circumstances would dictate the outcome, but so would a sharp presence and a vigorous awareness, yet would such awareness be enough to overcome the unknown circumstances?
Pulling General Grey’s note from my lapel which had been left for me at mothers and signed by General John B. Grey I looked the document over and suddenly I knew what I needed to precede. I hastened back to the barn and under the glow of a lantern I forged my own note ordering the release of the prisoners into the custody of the guard bearing the note whereby they would be delivered to the office of General John B. Grey for questioning. As a youngster working for the Morse Telegraph Company I had whimsically forged every signature I could upon a message which I received over the telegraph. I had a grand imagination at the time and duly used my mind's eye to the fullest of my ability. I would imagine for a moment what someone’s signature might look like and then I would hasten to apply my interpretation to the particular message in question. Sometimes this got me in trouble with the recipient, but most times they had no problem with a young boy sprouting his wings and making use of his fertile imagination. On this morning however I had an example of the man’s signature in my pocket so little imagination was needed, all I had to do was duplicate his scribble and this I did with glee.
Once I had my note sufficiently crafted I turned the lamp back down and looked across at Samuel who had awakened.
“What are you doing Ab?”
“I have an errand to run. I’ll be back in less than an hour,” I offered quietly.
Samuel seemed satisfied and let me go. Had he began to talk I believe the others would have awakened and I would have never gotten out of the barn without an argument.
It was in my mind to handle this prior to daybreak just before the guards changed shifts. They would be the most tired and less prone to suspect deceit and chicanery. I had to work fast and with confidence. Sam did not miss the fact that when I left the barn I was in full Yankee attire.
In complete Yankee dress and bearing a rifle I entered the jail on Gratoit Street to find the majority of the guards sleeping. One lone guard sat behind a desk nursing his alertness in an attempt to overcome his sleepiness. I walked directly to him and laid down my hand written forgery from General John B. Grey.
“The General wants these three prisoners in his office for questioning when he arrives later this morning,” I informed the guard.
The corporal fumbled with the note for a moment and then looked up at me. He seemed unsure or suspicious about something, but he never vocalized his concerns. Eventually he gave up whatever it was he was about to say and quipped. “Last cell on the left down the hall,”
“That one,” he said pointing to the east wing. “You’ll need the keys, just make sure you leave them here on your way out.”
Picking up the keys I started down the darkened hallway moving slowly and quietly. I picked up a lantern from a small table half way down the hall and carried the light I needed with me. When I reached their cell I put the key in the lock and turned it over. The door moved squeaking as it opened under my left hand. I sat my rifle down in the hallway and put my forefinger to my lips indicating for the women to be silent.
“Shhhh,” I said “We are going to walk out of here, but you have to look somber and displeased, so wipe the smiles off your faces until we are on the street. Otherwise I’ll be joining you,” I whispered to them.
I’ll give them credit I did not have to repeat myself. The closer we came to the entrance the more somber they looked. I placed my lantern back on the wall and when we entered the room where the guards had been sleeping two more of them were now scratching their eyes awake, but of no mind to challenge a fellow soldier. I placed the keys on the table in front of the corporal and pushed my mother softly in the back.
“Come on now, move it. We don’t want to keep General Grey waiting,” I ordered.
All three ladies stepped outside and halted as I pulled the door to. Before they could engage me in any idle conversation which might give me away I intervened.
“Head toward the riverfront,” I ordered loudly as the Generals office was in the same direction. If the Yankee’s were watching I did not want to give them any reason to suspect anything wrong so we headed south and east. Samuel’s sister started to say something but I cut her off.
“No talking,” I hastily ordered and she got the hint. I didn’t want anything to give us away at this point, not when we were so close to safety.
I walked the women steadily toward the wharf and when we were five blocks from the riverfront I walked them around the corner and soon we started west on Salisbury Street. This was the long way around but thirty minutes later as the sun was coming up in the east I opened the barn door and the women stepped inside to be greeted by a throng of jubilant supporters. Samuel Clemens studied me with an upturned eye wondering what I had done to free the ladies and I knew in due time I would have to tell him.
Excerpted from "Captain Grimes" by John T Wayne. Copyright © 2015 by John T Wayne. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.