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   Chapter 3 No.3

Frank on the Lower Mississippi By Harry Castlemon Characters: 13853

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


Archie in a Predicament.

s soon as the young officers had reached the top of the bank, they paused to take their bearings, and to select some landmark that would enable them to easily find the boat again. Away off in the darkness they saw the twinkling of a light, which they knew was in the house which the guerrillas were using as their head-quarters.

"Now, Archie," said Frank, "take a good look at this big tree here" (pointing to the object in question) "so that you will know it again. The boat lies in the river exactly in a line with that tree. Now, if you should be separated from me and discovered, make straight for the cutter. But if you are cut off from it, run up the river until you get a little above where the vessel lies, and then jump in and swim out to her. Do you understand?"

"Yes," replied Archie.

"Be careful of your weapons," continued his cousin, "and keep them dry and ready for instant use. Don't be captured-whatever you do, don't be captured!"

"I'll look out for that," answered Archie "But, Frank," he continued, "why did you tell the men to pull back to the vessel if we should be cut off from the river? I should think that would be just the time you would want them to remain."

"Why," replied Frank, "the very first thing the rebels would think of, if we were discovered, would be to capture our boat, and while part of them were after us, the others would run to the river and gobble up boat, crew, and all. Then they would know that we were still on shore, and would scour the country to find us. But if the boat goes off to the vessel, the rebels will be more than half inclined to believe that we have gone off too, and, consequently, will not take the pains to hunt us which they would do if they knew we were still on shore. But let us be moving; we've no time to waste."

Frank started toward the house, carefully picking his way over the wet, slippery ground, now and then pausing to listen, and to reconnoiter as well as the darkness would permit, and finally stopped scarcely a stone's throw from the building. Not a guerrilla had they seen. Not dreaming that the "yankee gun-boatmen" would have the audacity to attack them when they knew the rebels were so far superior in numbers, the latter had neglected to post sentries, and Frank was satisfied that their approach had not been discovered.

"Now, Archie," said he, as they drew up behind a tree for concealment, "you stay here, and I'll see if I can set fire to that house."

"There are people in it," said his cousin; "I just saw a man pass by that window where the light is."

"Then they must look out for themselves," answered Frank. "That's what we have to do when they shoot into our cabin. Now, you stay here, and if you hear any shooting, run for the boat."

"What will you do?" asked Archie.

"Oh, I'll take care of myself. Good-bye."

As Frank spoke he moved silently toward the house, and was soon out of sight.

"Now," soliloquized Archie, "I am to stay here, am I? That's what I was ordered to do, but I don't know whether I'll obey or not. It is evident Frank left me here to keep me out of harm's way. Perhaps he thinks that because I have never smelt powder, I am a coward; but I'll show him that I am not."

So saying, Archie stepped out from behind his tree, and walked slowly toward the house. When he arrived opposite the window from which the light shone, he stopped and looked in. He did not, however, go up close to the window, or he certainly would have been seen; but he remained standing at a respectful distance, so that he would have some chance for escape, in case he should be discovered.

The sight that met his gaze would have been sufficient to deter most men from attempting to burn the house. The room was filled with men, some of whom were lying on the floor on their blankets, others sitting around the table, and one or two were walking about the apartment. In the corner stood their arms, ready to be seized at a moment's warning. And this was but one of the rooms; perhaps the whole house was filled with guerrillas.

"My eye!" said Archie to himself, "what a hornet's nest would be raised about our ears, if we should be discovered."

His heart beat faster than usual, as he moved back from the window, and walked silently around to the other side of the house. Here also was a window, from which a light shone, and as, like the other, it was destitute of a curtain, every thing that went on within could be plainly seen by Archie, who took his station behind some bushes that stood at a little distance from the house. The room had three occupants, whom Archie at once set down as officers. One of them carried his arm in a sling. He was a tall, powerful-looking man, and Archie recognized in him the daring rider of the white horse-the chief of the guerrillas.

"I wonder what the old chap would say if he knew I was about," thought Archie-"I, who gave him that wound. I'd be booked for Shreveport, certain."

He was interrupted in his meditations by the movements of the officers, who arose and approached the door, bringing their chairs with them. The storm had ceased, and as there was no longer any necessity of remaining in the house, the rebels were, no doubt, moving to cooler quarters. Archie at once thought of retreating; but the thought had scarcely passed through his mind, when the door opened, the rebels walked out on the portico, and seating themselves in their chairs, deposited their feet on the railing; while the young officer stretched himself out behind the bush, heartily wishing that he could sink into the ground out of sight.

"A very warm evening, colonel," said one of the rebels, fanning himself with his hat.

"Very," answered the guerrilla chief, gently moving his wounded arm, little dreaming that the one who gave him that wound was at that very moment lying behind the bushes into which he had just thrown the stump of his cigar. "It's very warm. I wish I had that rascally Yank that shot me," he added, "this wound is very painful."

Archie upon hearing this was almost afraid that the beating of his heart, which thumped against his ribs with a noise that frightened him, would certainly reveal to the rebels the fact that the "rascally Yank" was then in their immediate vicinity.

"But, if our plans work," continued the colonel, "in less than a week from this time they will all be on the way to Shreveport."

"May I ask, colonel," said the one who had not yet spoken, "how soon those boats will be ready?"

"Major Jackson reports that they will be finished by to-morrow night, and it will take all of one day to run them down the creek to the river."

"Then by Thursday evening," said the one who had first spoken, "we may be ready to make the attempt."

"Yes, if the night is favorable."

"But, colonel, all these gun-boats are supplied with hot water, and that, you know, is the w

orst kind of an enemy to fight. Men will run from that who wouldn't flinch before cold steel."

"Oh, we must take the Yanks by surprise, of course. The boats will hold fifty men each, and we must drop down the river so that we will land one on each side of the vessel. If the night is dark-and we shall not make the attempt unless it is-we can get within pistol-shot of her before we are discovered, and by the time their men get fairly out of bed she's ours. Hark! what noise was that?"

The rebels listened for a moment, and one of them replied:

"I didn't hear any thing."

"Well, I did," returned the colonel, "and it sounded very much like some one shouting for help. I'm certain I heard it."

Archie, who lay in his concealment, trembling like a leaf, was also confident that he had heard something that sounded like a call for assistance. What if it was Frank in danger, and shouting to the cutter's crew for help? The thought to Archie was a terrible one, and he forgot the dangers of his own situation, and thought only of his cousin. But if Frank was in trouble, why did he not give the signal to the cutter's crew? Archie waited and listened for it, but did not hear it given.

While these thoughts were passing through his mind, the rebels sat on the portico listening, and at length the colonel said:

"I know I hear something now, but it is the tramping of a horse. I suppose it is Tibbs, coming with the mail."

The colonel's surmise proved to be correct, for in a few moments a man rode up, and dismounting so close to Archie that the latter could have touched him, tied his horse to the very bush which formed his concealment; then, throwing a pair of well-filled saddle-bags across his shoulder, he ran up the steps, saying:

"Good evening, gentlemen. What! colonel, are you wounded?" he added, on seeing the rebel's bandaged arm.

"Yes; this makes four times I have been shot while in the service. But how is the mail?"

"Rather heavy," answered the man. "If you have any letters to go, you will have to furnish another bag-these are full."

"All right," said the colonel; then raising his voice, he called out, "Bob! Bob! Where is that black rascal?"

"Heyar, sar," answered a voice, and presently a negro came around the corner of the house, and removing his tattered hat, stood waiting for orders.

"Bob," said the colonel, "tell Stiles that the mail is all ready to go across the river."

Stiles! How Frank would have started could he have heard that name! He would have known then, had he not before been aware of the fact, that he was again among Colonel Harrison's Louisiana Wild-cats.

The negro, in obedience to his orders, disappeared, but soon returned, with the intelligence that Stiles was not to be found.

"Not to be found," echoed the colonel; "that's twice he has failed me. But this mail must not be delayed. Tell Damon I want to see him."

The negro again disappeared, and in a few moments came back with a soldier, to whom the colonel said:

"Damon, here's a mail that must go across the river to-night. Can you pull an oar?"

"Yas," replied the man.

"Then get some one to go with you, and start at once. The skiff, you know, is in the creek, just above where that Yankee gun-boat lies."

"Yas," answered the man again, as he took the mail-bags which the colonel handed him.

"This one," continued the rebel, pointing to a small canvas bag which one of his officers had just brought out of the house-"this one contains my mail-all official documents, to go to Richmond. Be careful of it. Don't let the Yankees get hold of you."

"No," replied the soldier, as he shouldered the mail and disappeared.

The conversation that followed, of which Archie heard every word, served to convince him that, although the rebels kept up a bold front, and appeared sanguine of success in their attempts to destroy the Government, yet among themselves they acknowledged their cause to be utterly hopeless unless some bold stroke could be made to "dishearten the Yankees."

In spite of Archie's dangerous situation, which had tried his nerves severely, he listened to every word that was uttered, and even became interested in what the rebels were saying. Now and then he was called to a sense of his situation by the movements of the horse, which, being restive, came very near stepping on him as he pranced about.

Damon had been gone about half an hour, and the colonel had just commenced explaining to the man who had brought the mail the manner in which the capture of the Boxer was to be effected, when suddenly the report of a pistol startled every one on the portico. A moment afterward came another, which was followed by a yell of agony.

"What's that?" exclaimed the colonel, springing from his chair in alarm. "Are we attacked? Get out there, every mother's son of you!" he continued, as the men, having been aroused by the noise, came pouring out of the rooms in which they were quartered. "Every man able to draw a saber get out there! Run for the river! That's where the reports sounded, and if there are any boats there capture them. That will keep the Yankees on shore, and we can hunt them up at our leisure!"

The men ran out of the house and started for the river at the top of their speed, at the same time yelling with all the strength of their lungs, while the colonel and his officers ran into their room, and hastily seizing such weapons as came first to their hands, followed after. To describe Archie's feelings, as he lay there behind that bush and listened to the sounds of pursuit, were impossible. The noise the rebels made seemed to bewilder him completely, for he lay on the ground several moments, it seemed to him, without the power to move hand or foot.

Suddenly the thought struck him that now was the time to accomplish the object of the expedition. The house was deserted, and the yells, which grew fainter and fainter, told him that the rebels were getting further away. Yes, it was now or never. In an instant, Archie's courage and power of action returned. Springing to his feet, he ran to the end of the portico, on which were piled several bales of hay and bundles of fodder, which the rebels no doubt intended for their horses. But Archie determined that they should be put to a different use, for he quickly drew from his pocket two large bottles filled with coal oil, which he threw over the hay. He then applied a match, and in an instant it was in a blaze. He waited a moment to see it fairly started, and then sprang off the portico. As he passed the door, he heard an ejaculation of surprise, followed by the report of a pistol, and the noise of a bullet as it whizzed past his head. It frightened him, and at the same time acted upon him as the crack of a whip does upon a spirited horse; for when the rebel who fired the shot had reached the portico, Archie had disappeared in the darkness.

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