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   Chapter 6 No.6

Frank on the Lower Mississippi By Harry Castlemon Characters: 16687

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05

Frank turns Detective.

day or two after the arrival of the fleet at Alexandria, it became known that several persons belonging to the rebel secret service were hovering about in the vicinity of the village, with the intention of destroying some of the vessels by torpedoes-contrivances made to resemble pieces of coal-which were to be placed in those barges out of which the boats were supplied with fuel. By some means the names of these persons became known to the admiral, who issued a general order, calling on all the officers of the squadron to kill or capture them wherever found.

The same day the order was issued Frank obtained shore liberty, and while roaming about the town, espied a name on a sign that immediately attracted his attention. It was one of the names borne in the general order.

"There's one of the rascals, now," soliloquized Frank, "or, rather, where he has been. I wonder where he is. I'll see if I can't find out something about him. If he could be caught, he would be put in a place where he wouldn't lay any more plans to blow up Union gun-boats."

The sign which had attracted his attention bore the name and occupation of the individual in question-"S. W. ABBOTT, Chemist."

The store had been closed on the approach of the Union forces, and was now in the possession of several army surgeons and their assistants, who were overhauling its contents, and appropriating whatever they thought might be of service to them. A negro was leaning against the counter, and of him Frank inquired-

"Boy, do you belong here?"

"No, sar," he answered, indignantly; "I 'longs nowhar. I'se a free man, I is. I'se a soger."

"Never been in this town before?"

"No, sar."

Frank left the store, and walked slowly up the street toward the hotel, wondering where he could go to make inquiries concerning the man whom he wished to find. It was evident that this was the hardest task he had yet undertaken. He knew the rebel's name, and that was all. He had no idea how he looked, and, although the admiral's order stated that he was loitering about the village, he might, at that moment, be fifty miles away, or Frank might have already passed him on the street.

There were several men dressed in butternut clothes hanging about the hotel, and Frank determined to enter into conversation with one of them, and, if possible, learn something about Abbott. An opportunity was soon offered, for one of the butternuts approached him, and inquired-

"Got any Northern money-greenbacks?"

"Some," replied Frank.

"Wal," continued the man, "I'll give you five dollars in Confederate money fur one dollar in greenbacks. Is it a bargain?"

"Confederate money!" repeated Frank. "Of what use would it be to me? And I am greatly mistaken if it will be of use to you much longer."

"Wal, I want your money fur a keepsake," replied the man. "I know you-uns don't like our money, but we-uns hev got to use it or go without any,"

"Well, I'll trade," said Frank. "Your paper will no doubt be a curiosity to the folks at home." As he spoke, he produced the dollar, and the butternut drew out of his capacious pocket a huge roll of bills-tens, twenties, and fifties, enough to have made him independent if it had been good money-and selecting a five-dollar bill, handed it to Frank, who thrust it carelessly into his pocket.

"I'll allow that you-uns don't seem to be a bad lot of fellers," said the butternut; "but I don't see what you-uns want to come down hyar to fight we-uns for. We-uns never done nothing to you-uns."

"Every rebel I meet says the same thing," said Frank. "But who were the richest men in this place before the war broke out?"

The man mentioned several names, among which was that of Abbott, the chemist.

"Abbott, Abbott," repeated Frank, as if trying to recall the man to mind; "I've heard that name before. Is he a Northern man?"

"No; he's allers lived at the South. His house is right back of the hotel, third door from the corner, on the right-hand side as you go up the street."

Frank had learned something, but he did not think it safe to question the man further, for fear of exciting his suspicions; so, after a few unimportant remarks, he turned on his heel and walked into the hotel, which was used as the army head-quarters. Here he remained for nearly half an hour, to give the man of whom he had received his information time to leave the place, and then directed his steps toward Mr. Abbott's dwelling. He had no difficulty in finding it, for he followed the butternut's directions, and the rebel's name was borne on the door-plate. The house, however, was deserted; the blinds were closed, as were those of all the neighboring houses. Mr. Abbott, with his family, if he had any, had doubtless removed out of reach of the Union forces. Did he ever visit his home when in town? or did he make his head-quarters somewhere else? were questions that suggested themselves to Frank, but which, of course, he could not answer; neither did he dare to question any of the citizens, for they might be Mr. Abbott's friends, who would not fail to inform him that particular inquiries were being made, which would lead him to act more cautiously. Frank did not know what plan to adopt, but walked listlessly about the streets until he heard the Michigan's bell strike half-past three o'clock. He must be on board by four, as the admiral was to be there to inspect the vessel. He was reluctant to leave without having accomplished any thing more than the discovery of the rebel's dwelling; but there was no help for it, and he walked slowly toward the landing, where he found a boat waiting for him.

That night, although he retired early, he slept but little, but tossed restlessly about in his bunk, endeavoring to conjure up some plan by which he might capture the rebel; and when he fell asleep, he dreamed about the subject uppermost in his mind. He thought that, after several days' patient watching, he finally discovered his man; but all attempts to capture him were unavailing. When he pursued, the rebel would disappear in a magical way, that was perfectly bewildering. Finally, he dreamed that the rebel assumed the offensive, and one day he met him in the street, carrying in his hand something that looked like a lump of coal, which he threw at Frank. It proved, however, to be a torpedo, for it exploded with a loud report, and as Frank sprang over a fence that ran close by the sidewalk, to escape, he came violently in contact with the walls of a house. At this stage of his dream he was suddenly awakened. To his no small amazement, he found himself stretched on the floor of his room, his head jammed against the door, through which one of the wardroom boys, a very small specimen of a contraband, was endeavoring to escape, while the look of terror depicted on his face, and the energy with which he strove to open the door, showed that he had sustained something of a fright. On the opposite side of the room stood the doctor, who gazed at Frank for a moment with open mouth and eyes, and then threw himself on the bed, convulsed with laughter.

Frank rose slowly to his feet, and commenced drawing on his clothes, while the little negro disappeared through the door like a flash.

"Mr. Nelson," said the doctor, as soon as he could speak, "you can't make that jump again, sir. I came in to awaken you," he continued, "and was just going to put my hand on you, when you sprang out of your bunk upon your trunk, and then back again; and just as the darkey was coming in, you made another jump, and landed against the door, frightening him so that I actually believe he turned pale. Were you dreaming?"

"Yes," answered Frank, with a laugh; "I was getting out of the way of a torpedo."

"Well, you certainly jumped far enough to get out of the way of almost any thing," replied the doctor, after he had indulged in another hearty fit of laughter. "Hurry up; breakfast is nearly ready."

Frank felt the effects of his agility in the shape of a severe pain over his left eye, which had been occasioned by his head coming in contact with the door-knob, and his "big jump" was the source of a good deal of merriment at the breakfast-table.

Frank went ashore in the ten-o'clock boat, and, after strolling about with his companions for a short t

ime, invented a satisfactory excuse for his absence, and started toward Mr. Abbott's house, which, to his joy, he found open, with a negro engaged in sweeping the steps.

"Boy, who lives here?" he inquired.

The negro gave the desired information, adding: "He ain't hyar though, but missus will be home dis arternoon."

"Where's your master?"

"Oh, he done gone off somewhar. I 'spects he don't like for to see you Yankee sogers hyar."

As the negro ceased speaking, having finished his work, he turned and went into the house, while Frank was about to move away, wondering what was the next thing to be done, when a boy approached and opened the gate.

"What do you want?" asked Frank.

The boy held up a letter which he carried in his hand, and Frank, seeing that it was addressed to Mrs. Abbott, at once concluded that it contained information which might be of the greatest value to him.

"It is all right," said he; "I'll attend to it;" at the same time taking the note and handing some money to the boy, who departed well satisfied. Frank then walked down the street, and, as soon as he was out of sight of the house, opened the letter and read as follows:


"Will be at home at eight o'clock this evening. Have my baggage ready to start for Shreveport early in the morning."

No name was signed to the note, but Frank was certain that he now had the matter in his own hands, and that any preparations Mrs. Abbott might make for her husband's journey to Shreveport would only be thrown away. He at once directed his steps toward the landing, hailed his vessel for a boat, and when he had arrived on board and reported to the captain, showed that gentleman the note, at the same time requesting permission to remain on shore after dark, in order to capture the rebel.

"I should be only too happy to allow you to do so, Mr. Nelson," said the captain, "for you seem to be particularly fortunate in every thing of this description you undertake. But, as it is the admiral's order that all officers repair on board their vessels at sundown, he must be consulted in regard to the matter. Orderly, tell the officer of the deck to have the gig called away. We will go up to the flag-ship," he continued, "and talk to the admiral."

The gig was soon manned, and after Frank had buckled on his sword (for all officers visiting the flag-ship were required to wear their side-arms), he stepped into the boat with the captain, and in a short time they were in the presence of the admiral. The captain, in a few words, explained the nature of the visit, showed him the note Frank had intercepted, and ended by repeating the young officer's request that he might be allowed to remain on shore after dark.

"Certainly," replied the admiral, "certainly. If you succeed, young man, we shall have one less of these secret-service fellows to fear." Then, turning to one of his clerks, he gave him an order which Frank did not hear, after which he asked:

"How did you discover the whereabouts of this man Abbott, Mr. Nelson?"

Frank then proceeded to give the admiral an account of all he had done, how he had seen the rebel's name on the sign, learned his residence, and secured the note. To all of which the latter listened with attention.

"I hope you will succeed in capturing him," said he. "If you do, bring him here; I want a look at him. Here," he continued, as his clerk handed him a letter, "is a request that the provost-marshal will furnish you with a pass. Good luck to you, young man."

Their business being finished, Frank followed the captain out of the cabin, and returned on board the Michigan.

All that afternoon Frank was in a fever of excitement. He was impatient for the night to come, that he might know whether or not his attempt was to be crowned with success. A hundred things might happen to prevent it. The rebel might not come home, or the note might have been written with the intention of having it intercepted, in order to throw the one into whose hands it might fall on the wrong scent; or it might be written in cipher, and mean directly opposite to what Frank had supposed. But he consoled himself with the thought that he had done, and would still continue to do, all in his power to obey the admiral's general order, and if he failed, the blame would not rest with him.

When the sundown boat was called away, Frank, after exchanging his uniform for a citizen's dress, and his cap for a tattered slouch-hat, thrust a revolver into his pocket, stepped into the cutter, and was soon set on shore. He walked directly to the office of the provost-marshal, which was in the hotel, and finding that officer at his desk, handed him the admiral's note, which ran as follows:


"OFF ALEXANDRIA, LA., March 20, 1864.

"SIR:-Please furnish the bearer, Acting Ensign Frank Nelson, with a pass. He has important business to perform, which may detain him on shore most of the night, and it is absolutely necessary, for the successful accomplishment of his mission, that he should not be interfered with. Very respectfully, your obd't serv't.,

DAVID D. PORTER, Rear Admiral,

Com'd'g Miss. Squadron.

U. S. Provost Marshal,

Alexandria, La.

"Your business must be important indeed, judging by the language of this note," said the marshal. "You shall not be troubled."

While he was speaking he had been writing an order commanding "all guards and patrols to allow the bearer the freedom of the city, as he was under special orders from the admiral, and must not be detained."

"There," said he, after he had finished the pass and handed it to Frank. "That will take you through all right. You have my best wishes for your success."

Frank thanked him, and putting the pass carefully away in his pocket, walked out of the hotel fully satisfied on one point, and that was, if his success depended upon the good wishes of his friends, failure was impossible. He walked slowly down the street toward the place where the soldiers were encamped; for as it lacked fully an hour and a half of the appointed time, he did not wish to be seen loitering about the house, as it might excite the suspicions of its inmates, who would not fail to send word to Mr. Abbott that the house was being watched. Time moved altogether too slowly for the impatient young officer, but at length he heard the flag-ship's bell strike half-past seven, and as it had begun to grow dark, he walked toward the house, and took his station in the shadow of some trees on the opposite side of the street. At the end of an hour his patience was rewarded, for he heard the sound of approaching footsteps, and a man passed by the house. Frank knew, from the suspicious manner in which he gazed about, that if it was not the man for whom he was waiting, it was some other guilty fellow who ought to be secured. Presently he returned, and after again looking cautiously about him, ascended the steps and knocked lightly at the door, which was almost instantly opened, and a voice exclaimed:

"Massa Abbott, I'se glad to"-

The rest of the sentence Frank did not hear, for the moment the man entered the hall, the door was closed again. Now was the time for Frank, who hastily crossed the street, and noiselessly ascended the steps. Here he paused for a moment to draw his revolver, and then suddenly opened the door and sprang into the hall. He was met by the negro, the same, no doubt, whom he had heard welcoming his master, who, not liking the looks of the huge six-shooter which the officer flourished before his eyes, beat a hasty retreat. Frank kept on and entered the parlor, where he found his man standing in the middle of the floor, pale and breathless. No one else was in the room.

"Mr. Abbott," said Frank, "you're my prisoner!"

The man, who was so terrified that he seemed to have lost even the power of speech, surrendered his weapons and submitted to his captor, who led him out of the house and toward the flag-ship, which they reached in safety. The admiral received Frank with great cordiality, and after listening to his account of the manner in which the capture of the prisoner had been effected, he ordered the cutter called away, and the young officer, rejoicing over his success, was sent on board his vessel.

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