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   Chapter 5 No.5

Frank on the Lower Mississippi By Harry Castlemon Characters: 17744

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


A Run for Life.

rchie was as light of foot as an antelope, and fear lent him wings. In obedience to his cousin's instructions, he ran up the river, directing his course through a thick woods, jumping over logs and making his way through the bushes with a rapidity that surprised himself. The rebel who had discovered him followed for a short distance, but finding that he was losing ground, he stopped and fired his revolver in the direction he supposed Archie had gone; but the bullets went wide of the mark, and the latter, who now regarded his escape as a thing beyond a doubt, laughed when he thought how cleverly he had accomplished the object of the expedition.

Having reached a safe distance from the house, he stopped and listened. He distinctly heard the crackling of flames, and presently a bright light shone over the trees. The building was fairly in a blaze. He was, however, allowed scarcely a moment to congratulate himself, for the yells of the guerrillas plainly told him that they had discovered the fire, and were commencing pursuit. Archie again set out, intent on reaching clear ground as soon as possible, for he knew that no plan would be left untried to capture him. His situation was still any thing but a pleasant one, but he was sanguine of reaching the vessel in safety, until a long-drawn-out bay came echoing through the woods, and drove the blood back upon his heart. The rebels were following him with a blood-hound!

For a moment Archie staggered as though he had been struck a severe blow by some unseen hand, but quickly realizing the fact that his safety depended upon his own exertions and the use he made of the next few moments, he speedily recovered his presence of mind, and hastily securing his revolvers, which, up to this time, he had carried in the pockets of his pea-jacket, he pulled off that garment, and throwing it on the ground, started off at the top of his speed.

Being thus relieved of a great incumbrance, he made headway rapidly, but, fast as he ran, he heard that dreadful sound coming nearer, mingled with loud yells of triumph from the pursuing rebels He had, with surprise and indignation, listened to Frank's description of his run from Shreveport, when he and his companions had been pursued with blood-hounds, little imagining that he would ever be placed in a similar situation.

And how did it happen that he had not aroused the hound while he was about the house? Had he moved so silently that the animal had not heard him, or had he been in the building with the men? This question Archie could not answer. But one thing was certain, and that was that the hound was, at that very moment, on his trail, and unless he soon reached the river his capture was beyond a doubt. He, however, had no fears of being overpowered by the hound. He fully realized the fact that he would soon be overtaken, and had resolved to shoot the animal the moment he made his appearance.

The yells of the rebels grew fainter, and Archie knew he was gaining on them. This gave him encouragement. In fact, since the hound had opened on his trail, after the first momentary feeling of terror had vanished, he had retained his coolness in a remarkable degree, and had counted over his chances for capture and escape with surprising deliberation for one who had never before been placed in so exciting and dangerous a situation. We have seen that he felt fear. Had it been otherwise he must have possessed nerves of steel, or have been utterly destitute of the power of reasoning; but that fear did not so completely overpower him as it had but a short time before, when he lay behind the bush, and listened to the guerrilla's plan for the capture of the Boxer and her crew. On the contrary, it nerved him to make the greatest exertions to effect his escape.

In a few moments, to his great joy, he emerged from the woods and entered an open field, across which he ran with redoubled speed. Directly in front of him was another belt of timber, and beyond that lay the river, which, if he could reach, he would be safe. The baying of the hound had continued to grow louder and louder, and, when Archie had accomplished perhaps half the distance across the field, a crashing in the bushes and an impatient bark announced, in language too plain to be misunderstood, that the hound had discovered him.

In an instant he stopped, faced about, and drew one of his revolvers. Stooping down close to the ground, he finally discovered the hound, which approached with loud yelps, that were answered by triumphant cheers from the pursuing rebels. Waiting until the animal was so close to him that he presented a fair mark, Archie raised his revolver and fired. The hound bounded into the air, and, after a few struggles, lay motionless on the ground. Scarcely waiting to witness the effect of the shot, the young officer sprang to his feet, and again started for the river. The yells of the rebels-who had heard the shot, and knew, from the silence that followed, that the hound was dead-again arose fierce and loud; but Archie, knowing that his pursuers had now lost the power of following him with certainty, considered the worst part of the danger as past.

But he had to deal with those who could not be easily deceived. Colonel Harrison, knowing that the only chance for escape was by the river, had lined the banks with men, and, as Archie neared the woods, a voice directly in front of him called out:

"It's all up now, Yank! Drop that shootin'-iron, or you're a gone sucker!"

Archie's heart fairly came up into his mouth. He had little expected to find an enemy in that quarter, but, without waiting an instant, he turned and ran up the river again, hoping that he might soon be able to get above the sentinels. The rebel, hearing the sound of his footsteps, and knowing that he was retreating, shouted:

"Halt, Yank! halt! or I'll shoot-blamed if I don't!"

And he did shoot, and Archie heard the bullet as it sung through the air behind him.

The rebel, without stopping to load his gun, started in pursuit; but Archie, who was running for his life, soon left him behind. As the latter ran he heard shots fired on all sides of him, showing that he was completely surrounded.

Escape seemed utterly impossible; and fearing that he might run into the very midst of the guerrillas when he least expected it, he threw himself behind a log in the edge of the woods, and awaited the issue of events with feelings that can not be described. He now had little hope of being able to elude his pursuers, who, he was certain, would keep the river closely guarded until daylight, when they would soon discover his hiding-place. He could not go on without fear of running against some of his enemies, in the dark, and to remain where he was, appeared equally dangerous. But of one thing he was certain-and as the thought passed through his mind, he clutched his revolvers desperately-and that was, if he was captured, it would require more than one man to do it.

Presently he heard footsteps approaching, and two rebels came up. One of them he knew, by his voice, was the very man who had just fired at him.

"I know he went this yere way," said he.

"Wal, hold on a minit," said the other, panting loudly; "let's rest a leetle-I'm nigh gin out;" and he seated himself so close to Archie that, had it been daylight, he would certainly have been discovered.

"I'll be dog-gone," said the one who had first spoken, "ef this 'ere night's work don't beat all natur'. Them ar Yanks ain't no fools, dog ef they ar!"

"Who'd a thought it?" returned his companion. "Them ar two fellers come out here an' burn a house with more'n three hundred men in it? Dog-gone! But how did that other feller get away?"

"Oh, he had a boat," answered the other, "an he got thar afore we could ketch him. He's on board his gun-boat afore this time. I jest ketched a glimpse of him as he was goin' down the bank. He had Damon by the neck, an' he was makin' him walk turkey, now I tell yer."

"Damon ketched!" ejaculated his companion. "An' what's come on the kernel's mail?"

"Gone up-the hul on it! Damon's got the bracelets on by this time. But come, let's go on."

All this while the rebels had been coming up, and Archie could hear them in the woods, on all sides of him, yelling and swearing, like demons. He had one source of consolation, however-his cousin was safe; and, judging by the rebels' conversation, he had not gone back to the vessel empty-handed.

Archie lay for some time listening to the movements of the rebels, almost afraid to breathe lest it should be overheard, when he was suddenly startled by a stunning report, which was followed by a hissing and shrieking in the air; a bright light shone in his eyes for an instant, and the next, the woods echoed with the bursting of a shell. The guer

rillas had scarcely time to recover from their astonishment when there came another, and another, each one followed by groans and cries of anguish that made the young officer shudder.

Frank Nelson had gained the Boxer in safety, and although surprised and alarmed at the absence of Archie-who, he thought, would make the best of his way back to the vessel when left to himself-he knew by the yelling of the rebels, and the pistol-shots that were occasionally heard, that they had not yet captured him. The noise of the chase plainly told the Boxer's crew that the fugitive was making the best of his way up the river, and Frank had opened fire on the rebels to create, if possible, a diversion in his cousin's favor. His shells were thrown with fatal accuracy, and the guerrillas, taken completely by surprise, and having no levee to protect them, beat a hasty retreat.

Although threatened by a new danger, Archie was so overjoyed that he could scarcely refrain from shouting, and as soon as he was satisfied that his pursuers were out of hearing, he crawled from his concealment and ran toward the river. The shells still kept dropping into the woods at regular intervals, making music most pleasant to Archie's ears, for he knew that as long as the fire was continued, his chances for escape were increased. But in his eagerness he never thought of the men who had been posted on the bank, and as he dashed through the woods, several shots were fired at him by the rebels concealed in the bushes. But he reached the water in safety, and struck out for the vessel. A few random shots were fired at him, which Archie heard as they whistled past him; but his good fortune had not deserted him, and he again escaped unhurt. The reports of the guns on board the Boxer pointed out the direction in which he was to go, and in a quarter of an hour he was within hailing-distance of the vessel. The splashing he made in the water soon attracted the attention of the sentry on the forecastle, who, having been instructed by Frank, had kept a good look-out. A rope was thrown to Archie, who was pulled on board the vessel in a state of complete exhaustion.

Frank was soon informed of the safe return of his cousin, and Archie, almost too weak to speak plainly, was carried to his room, where, after being divested of his wet clothes, he was put to bed, and left in a sound sleep. The next morning, however, he appeared in the mess-room, as lively as ever, and none the worse for his long run; while Frank, who began to suffer from his wound, was confined to his bed.

The latter listened to his cousin's narration of the part he had borne in the expedition, and in admiration of Archie's bravery, forgot the lecture he had intended to administer. The officers, who had not expected such an exhibition of courage in one whose cheek had blanched at the whistle of a rebel bullet, were astonished, and it is needless to say that no more jokes were indulged in at the expense of the "green paymaster."

For two months Frank held his position as executive officer of the Boxer, during which time the vessel was twice inspected by the admiral. He now had little to do beyond the regular routine of ship duties, for the guerrilla-station had been broken up by the burning of the plantation-house, and vessels were seldom fired into on the Boxer's beat. But this was not to continue long, for, one day, the dispatch-boat brought orders for him to report on board the Michigan-which lay at the mouth of Red River-as executive officer of that vessel.

This was still another advancement, for the Michigan was an iron-clad, mounted fourteen guns, and had a crew of one hundred and seventy men. But Frank would have preferred to remain in his present position. After considerable hard work, he had brought the Boxer's crew into an admirable state of discipline; every thing about decks went off as smoothly as could be desired, and besides, Archie was on board, and he did not wish to leave him. But he never hesitated to obey his orders, and as soon as he had packed his trunk, and taken leave of his messmates, he went on board the dispatch-boat, and in a few days arrived at his new vessel.

The captain of the Michigan had written to the admiral, requesting that a "first-class, experienced officer" might be sent him for an executive, but when Frank presented himself and produced his orders, that gentleman was astonished. After regarding the young officer sharply for a moment, he said:

"The admiral, no doubt, knows his own business, but let me tell you, young man, that you have no easy task before you."

He no doubt thought that a person of Frank's years was utterly incapable of filling so responsible a position. The latter, with his usual modesty, replied that he would endeavor to do his duty, and after he had seen his baggage taken care of, he went into the wardroom, where he found a young officer seated at the table reading. He arose as Frank entered, and thrusting out his hand, greeted him with-

"I'm glad to meet you again, Mr. Nelson, and among friends, too."

It was George Le Dell, the escaped prisoner, whom he had met during his memorable flight from Shreveport. Frank had not seen him, nor even heard of him, since he had left him on board the Ticonderoga; but here he was, "among the defenders of the Old Flag" again, in fulfillment of the promise he had made his rebel father, in the letter which Frank had read to his fellow fugitives in the woods, where they had halted for the day. He was not changed-his face still wore that sorrowful expression-and Frank found that he rarely took part in the conversation around the mess-table. He was an excellent officer, the especial favorite of the captain, and beloved by all his messmates, who, very far from suspecting the cause of his quiet demeanor, called him "Silence."

Frank heartily returned his cordial greeting, and the two friends talked for a long time of scenes through which they had passed together-subjects still fresh in their memories-until the entrance of an officer put a stop to the conversation. Frank understood, by this, that he was the only one of the ship's company who knew any thing of George's past history.

The change from the cool, comfortable quarters of the Boxer to the hot wardroom of the ironclad was not an agreeable one; but Frank was not the one to complain, and he entered upon his duties with his accustomed cheerfulness and alacrity. He was allowed very little rest. The captain of the Michigan-which was the flag-ship of the third division of the squadron-was a regular officer, who believed in always keeping the men busy at something, and Frank was obliged to be on his feet from morning until night. The decks were scrubbed every day, the bright work about the guns and engines cleaned, the small boats washed out, and then came quarters, and drilling with muskets or broad-swords. After this, if there was nothing else to be done, the outside of the vessel was scrubbed, or the chimneys repainted. In short, the Michigan was the pattern of neatness, and her crew, being constantly drilled, knew exactly what was required of them, and were ready for any emergency.

For several months little occurred to relieve the monotony of ship-life beyond making regular trips from one end of their beat to the other; but when spring opened, gun-boats and transports, loaded with soldiers, began to assemble, and preparations were made for the Red River expedition. At length every thing was ready, and one pleasant morning the gun-boats weighed their anchors and led the way up the river.

Frank stood on deck as the vessels steamed along, and could not help drawing a contrast between his present position and the one in which he was placed when he first saw Red River. Then, he and his companions were fugitives from a rebel prison; they had been tracked by bloodhounds, and followed by men at whose hands, if retaken, they could expect nothing but death. He remembered how his heart bounded with joy on the morning when he and his associates, in their leaky dug-out, had arrived in sight of the Mississippi. Then, he was ragged, hatless, and almost shoeless, weary with watching, and living in constant fear of recapture. Now, he was among friends, the Old Flag waved above him, and he was the second in command of one of the finest vessels in the squadron.

The passage up the river was without incident worthy of note, and in a short time they arrived at the obstructions which the rebels had placed in the river nine miles below Fort De Russy. A vast amount of time and labor had been expended upon these obstructions, but they were speedily cleared away, and the fleet passed on. They had expected a stubborn resistance at the fort, but it had been captured by the army after a short engagement, and the gun-boats kept on to Alexandria.

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