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   Chapter 2 HIDING THE FLAGS.

Marcy the Blockade Runner By Harry Castlemon Characters: 26084

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"I think I have taken the right course," soliloquized the young pilot, who mentally congratulated himself on the ease with which he had "got to windward" of this sneaking spy. "If I fight him with his own weapons I shall probably get more out of him than I could in any other way."

"You heared that I was a traitor?" exclaimed Kelsey, as soon as he could speak. "Mister Marcy, the man who told you that told you a plumb lie, kase I ain't. I whooped her up fur ole Car'liny when she went out, I done the same when our gov'ner grabbed the forts along the coast, an' I yelled fit to split when our folks licked 'em at Charleston. Any man in the settlement or in Nashville will tell ye that them words of mine is nothing but the gospel truth."

Marcy knew well enough that his visitor's words were true, but he shook his head in a doubting way, as he replied:

"That may all be; but I didn't hear you whoop and yell, and you must not expect me to take your word for it. You must bring some proof before I will talk to you."

"Why, how in sense could ye hear me whoop an' yell, seein' that you was away to school in the first place, an' off on the ocean with Beardsley in the next?" exclaimed Kelsey. "Ask Dillon, an' Colonel Shelby, an' the postmaster, an' see if they don't say it's the truth."

"You have mentioned the names of some of our most respected citizens," said Marcy slowly, as if he were still reluctant to be convinced of the man's sincerity. "And if they, or any of them, sent you up here to talk to my mother-why, then, I shall have to listen to you; but mind you, if you are trying to play a game on me--"

"Mister Marcy," said Kelsey solemnly, "I ain't tryin' to come no game.

Them men done it sure's you're born."

"Did what?"

"Sent me up here this mawnin'."

"That's one point gained, but won't mother be frightened when she hears of it?" thought Marcy, leaning his elbows on his knees and covering his face with his hands so that his visitor could not see it. "Some of the best men in the country have so far forgotten their manhood, and the friendship they once had for our family, that they can send this sneaking fellow here to worm something out of us."

"I don't believe a word of it," he cried, jumping to his feet and confronting his visitor.

"Ye-ye don't believe it?" faltered Kelsey, springing up in his turn. "Well, I-I-look a-here, Mister Marcy, mebbe this is something else you don't believe. Them men whose names I jest give you, say that you an' your maw an' all the rest of the Gray family is Union. What do ye say to that?"

"I say that they had better attend to their own business and let me attend to mine," answered Marcy. "Are Colonel Shelby and the rest of them for the Union?"

"Not much; an' nuther be I."

"Are you in favor of secession?"

"I reckon." replied Kelsey earnestly; and Marcy knew all the while that he could not have told what the word secession meant.

"Then why don't you prove it-you and Colonel Shelby, and the rest of the neighbors who are saying things behind my back that they don't care to say to my face? Why don't you prove your loyalty to the South by shouldering a musket and going into the army?"

"Why, we uns has got famblies to look out fur," exclaimed the visitor, who had never had this matter brought squarely home to him before.

"That makes no difference," answered the boy, who wondered if Kelsey's family would fare any worse while he was in the army than they did now, while he was out of it. "Every man in this country must show his good will in one way or another. And there's that loudmouthed fellow Allison, who went out of his way to insult me in the post-office just before I went to sea. Nashville is full of such braggarts as he is. When they can't find anything else to talk about they talk about me; and I have smelt powder while they haven't." ["No odds if it was our own powder and the wind blew the smoke into my face," he said to himself.]

By this time Marcy had the satisfaction of seeing that he had taken the wind completely out of Kelsey's sails, and that the man who had come there to trouble him was troubled himself. He even began to fear that he had gone too far, and that if he did not change his tactics the visitor would go away without giving a hint of the errand that had brought him to the house; for Kelsey picked up the hat he had placed upon the floor beside his chair, put it on his head and leaned forward with his hands on his knees, as if he were about to get upon his feet. That wouldn't do at all. There was something in the wind-something that Captain Beardsley, aided by Colonel Shelby and others, had studied up on purpose to get Marcy into a scrape of some kind, and Marcy was very anxious to know what it was.

"You hinted a while ago that Colonel Shelby had sent you here to tell me some bad news," said the young pilot, in a much pleasanter tone of voice than he had thus far used in addressing his visitor. "Are you ready now to obey orders and tell me what it is?"

"Well, I dunno. I reckon mebbe I'd best ride down an' see the colonel first," replied the man. But his actions said plainly that he did know, and that he had no intention of facing his employer again until he could tell him that his instructions had been carried out.

"Of course, you must do as you think best about that; but if it is anything that concerns my mother or myself--"

"I should say so," exclaimed Kelsey. "I don't reckon it'll do any harm to tell you-but ain't there anybody to listen? It's very important an' private."

"I think you may speak with perfect freedom; but in order to make sure of it--" Marcy finished the sentence by getting up and closing both the doors that opened upon the veranda. "Now we're safe," said he; whereupon Kelsey revealed the whole plot in less than a score of words.

"Mebbe you don't know it," said he, in a whisper which was so loud and piercing that it could have been heard by an eavesdropper (if there had been one) at least fifty feet away, "but you are harboring a traitor right here on the place."

"Who is it?"

"Your mean sneak of an overseer."

It was now Marcy's turn to be astonished. He knew that there was not a word of truth in what the man said, and that if the overseer really was a Union man the planters round about would have sent a person of more influence and better social standing than Kelsey to tell him of it; but after all the plot was not as simple as it looked at first glance.

"Where's your proof?" was the first question he asked.

"Well, Hanson has been talkin' a heap to them he thought to be Union, but it turned out that they wasn't. They was true to the flag of the 'Federacy."

"What do Colonel Shelby and the rest want me to do?" inquired Marcy, catching at an idea that just then flashed through his mind. "If they will write me a note stating the facts of the case and asking me to discharge Hanson, I will attend to it before the sun goes down."

"Well, you see they don't keer to take a hand in the furse at all, seein' that there's so many Union folks in the settlement," said Kelsey. "They've got nice houses an' nigger quarters, an' they don't want 'em burned up."

"But they are willing that I should get into trouble by discharging Hanson, and put myself in the way of having my house and quarters destroyed, are they?" exclaimed the boy, his face growing red with indignation, although, as he afterward told his mother, there wasn't really anything to arouse his indignation. "You may tell those gentlemen that if they want the overseer run off the plantation, they can come here and do it. If the Union men are as vindictive as Colonel Shelby seems to think they are, I don't care to get them down on me."

"But the Union folks won't pester you uns," said Kelsey, speaking before he thought.

"Ah! Why won't they?"

"Kase-kase they think you're one of 'em."

"I don't see how they can think so when they know that I belong to a

Confederate privateer."

"Them men, whose names I give ye a minute ago, thought that mebbe you'd be willing to turn Hanson loose when you heared how he had been swingin' his tongue about that there money."

Kelsey had come to the point at last. He looked hard at Marcy to see what effect the words would have upon him, and Marcy returned his gaze with an impassive countenance, although he felt his heart sinking within him.

"What money?" he demanded, in so steady a voice that the visitor was fairly staggered. The latter believed that there was rich booty hidden somewhere about that old house, and he hoped in time to have the handling of some of it.

"I mean the money your maw got when she went to Richmon' an' around," replied the man, who, in coon hunters' parlance, began to wonder if he wasn't "barking up the wrong tree."

"Can you prove that she brought any money back with her?"

"No, I can't," answered Kelsey, in a tone which said as plainly as words that he wished he could. "I-me-I mean that the neighbors suspicion it."

"Oh, that's it. Let those officious neighbors keep on talking; and when they have talked themselves blind, you may tell them, for me, that what money we have is safe," said Marcy, with a good deal of emphasis on the adjective. "If you want to see what mother brought back from the city, go and look at the servants. Every one of them is dressed in a new suit. Now go on and tell me the bad news. I'm getting impatient to hear it."

"Heavings an' 'arth! Haven't I told it to ye already?" Kelsey almost shouted. "I think it is bad enough when you an' your maw are keepin', right here on the plantation, a man who is all the time waitin' an' watchin' fur a chance to do harm to both of ye. If you don't think so, all right. I was a fule fur comin' here, an' I reckon I'd best be lumberin'. If anything happens to ye, bear in mind that I give ye fair warnin'."

"I will," answered Marcy. "And in the mean time do you bear in mind that I am ready to discharge Hanson at any time Colonel Shelby proves to my satisfaction that he is a dangerous man to have around; but I shall make no move unless the colonel says so, for I don't want to get into trouble with my neighbors." ["I wonder if I have done the right thing," thought Marcy, as the visitor mounted his mule and rode out of the yard. "The next plotter I hear from will be Hanson himself."]

The boy remained motionless in his chair until Kelsey disappeared behind the trees that bordered the road, and then got up and walked into the sitting-room, where he found his mother pacing the floor. Her anxiety and her impatience to learn what it was that brought Kelsey to the house were so overpowering that she could not sit still.

"Another plot to ruin us," whispered the boy, as he entered the room and closed the door behind him.

"Oh, Marcy, it is just what I was afraid of," replied Mrs. Gray. "Who is at the bottom of it this time?"

"The same old rascal, Lon Beardsley; but he's got backing I don't like.

There's Colonel Shelby for one, the postmaster for another, and Major

Dillon for a third."

"The most influential men in the neighborhood," gasped Mrs. Gray, sinking into the nearest chair. "And the best."

"They used to be the best, but they are anything but that now. When men will stoop as low as they have, they are mean enough for anything. I suppose you ought to hear what that fellow said to me, but I don t know how I can tell it to you."

"Go on," said his mother, trying to bear up bravely. "I must hear every word."

Marcy knew that it was right and necessary that his mother should be kept fully informed regarding the plots that were laid against them, and that she should know what the planters were thinking and saying about her; for if she were kept in ignorance, she would be at a loss how to act and speak in a sudden emergency. She might be surprised into saying something in the presence of a secret enemy that would be utterly ruinous. So he drew a chair to her side and told her everything that had passed between Kelsey and himself. He did not try to smooth it over, but repeated the conversation word for word; and when he came to the end, his mother was as much in the dark as Marcy was himself. She said she couldn't understand it.

"There are but two things about it that are plain to me," answered Marcy, "perhaps three. One is that the house is watched by somebody, and that the neighbors knew I was at home almost as soon as you knew it yourself. Another is that the suspicions aroused in the minds of some of our watchful neighbors are so strong that they amount to positive conviction. They are as certain that there is money in this house as they would be if they had caught you in the act of hiding it."

"Doesn't that prove that the overseer is not the only spy there is on the place?" said Mrs. Gray. "And I was so careful."

"I never will believe that anybody watched you at night," said Marcy quickly. "The neighbors saw you when you went away and came back."

"But I brought goods with me on purpose to allay their suspicions."

"I am really afraid you didn't succeed. The other thing I know is, that you need not think yourself safe out of Captain Beardsley's reach even when he is at sea. As I said before, he has friends ashore to work for him while he is absent."

"What can we do? What do you advise?" asked his mother, after she had taken time to think the matter over.

"There is but one thing we can do, and that is to wait as patiently as we can and see what is going to happen next. This last plot is not fully developed yet, and until it is we must not make a move in any direction. I am as impatient as you are, and so I think I will ride out to the field and give the overseer a chance to say a word if he feels in the humor for it."

"Be very cautious, Marcy," said Mrs. Gray.

The young pilot replied that sleeping or waking he was always on the alert, and went out to the little log stable, which did duty as a barn, to saddle his horse. A long lane led through the negro quarter to the field in which the hands were putting in the time in clearing out fence corners and burning brush, while waiting for the early crops to get high enough for hoeing. The overseer's mule was hitched to the fence, and the overseer himself sat on a convenient stump, watching the hands at their work, and whittling the little switch that served him for a riding-whip. The man was almost a stranger to Marcy. The latter had seen and spoken to him a few times since his return from Barrington, but of course he did not like him, for he could not forget that his mother was afraid of him, and would be glad to see him leave the place. He liked him still less two minutes later, for, as he drew rein beside the overseer's perch, threw his right leg over the horn of his saddle and nodded to the man, the latter said, first looking around to make sure that none of the blacks were within hearing:

"I was sorry to see that man ride away from the big house a while ago."

"What man?" inquired Marcy. He looked over his shoulder and saw that the front of the house was entirely concealed from view, and that the road that ran before it "was shut out from sight by the trees and the whitewashed negro quarter. It followed then, as a matter of course, that Hanson could not have seen anybody ride away from the house. He was deep enough in the plot to know that if mother and son had not had a visitor, they ought to have had one.

"I suspicioned it was that shiftless, do-nothing chap, Kelsey," replied the overseer. "Looked sorter like his mu-el."

"Oh, yes; Kelsey has been up to see us," answered Marcy. And then he tapped his boot with his whip and waited to see what was coming next. If the overseer wanted to talk, he might talk all he pleased; but Marcy was resolved that he would not help him along. Hanson twisted about on the stump, cleared his throat once or twice, and, seeing that the boy was not disposed to break the silence, said, as if he were almost afraid to broach the subject:

"Have much of anything to talk about?"

"He talked a good deal, but didn't say much."

"Mention my name?"

"Yes. He mentioned yours and Shelby's and Dillon's and the postmaster's."

"Say anything bad about us?" continued the overseer, after waiting in vain for the boy to go on and repeat the conversation he had held with Kelsey.

"Not so very bad," answered Marcy, looking up and down the long fence to see how the work was progressing.

"Looka-here, Mister Marcy," said Hanson desperately. "Kelsey told you I was Union, didn't he? Come now, be honest."

"If by being honest you mean being truthful, I want to tell you that I am never any other way," said the boy emphatically. "What object could I have in denying it? I don't care a cent what your politics are so long as you mind your own business, and don't try to cram your ideas down my throat. But I'll not allow myself to be led into a discussion. Kelsey did say that you are Union; and if you are, I don't see why you stay in this country. You can't get out any too quick."

"Are you going to discharge me?"

"No, I am not; and I sent word to Shelby and the rest that if they want you run off the place, they can come up here and do it. I shall have no hand in it."

Marcy could read the overseer's face a great deal better than the overseer could read Marcy's; and it would have been clear to a third party that Hanson was disappointed, and that there was something he wanted to say and was afraid to speak about. That was the money that was supposed to be concealed in the house.

"Was that all Kelsey said to you?" he asked, at length.

"Oh, no. He rattled on about various things-spoke of the ease with which the Osprey captured that Yankee schooner, and let fall a word or two about the battle in Charleston harbor."

"Is that all he said to you?"

"I believe he said something about being a good Confederate, and I asked him why he didn't prove it by shouldering a musket. I don't go about boasting of the great things I would do if I were only there. There's no need of it, for I have been there." ["But it was because I couldn't help myself," he added mentally.]

"But folks say you're Union, all the same," said Hanson.

"What folks? Are they soldiers?"

"No. Citizens."

"Then I don't care that what they say," replied Marcy, snapping his fingers in the air. "When they put uniforms on and show by their actions that they mean business, I will talk to them, and not before."

Marcy waited patiently for the overseer to say "money," and the latter waited impatiently for Marcy to say it; and when at last the boy made up his mind that he had heard all he cared to hear from Hanson, he brought his leg down from the horn of his saddle, placed his foot in the stirrup, and gathered up the reins as if he were about to ride away.

"Kelsey didn't say nothing to get you and your maw down on me, did he?" inquired Hanson, when he observed these movements.

"I shouldn't like for to lose my place just because I am strong for the

Union and dead against secession."

"If you lose your place on that account, it'll be because Colonel Shelby and his friends will have it so," answered Marcy. "You are hired to do an overseer's work; and as long as you attend to that and nothing else you will have no trouble with me. You may depend upon that."

"But before you go I'd like to know, pine-plank, whether you are friendly to me or not," continued Hanson, who was obliged to confess to himself that he had not learned the first thing, during the interview, that could be used against Marcy or his mother.

"I am a friend to you in this way," was the answer. "If I found you out there in the woods cold and hungry, and hiding from soldiers who were trying to make a prisoner of you, I would feed and warm you; and I wouldn't care whether you had a gray jacket or a blue coat on."

"He's a trifle the cutest chap I've run across in many a long day," muttered the overseer, as Marcy turned his filly about and rode away. "I couldn't make him tell whether he was Union or secesh, although I give him all the chance in the world, and he didn't say "money" a single time. Now, what's to be done? If the money is there and Beardsley is bound to have it, he'd best be doing something before that sailor gets back, for they say he's lightning and will fight at the drop of the hat. I reckon I'd better make some excuse to ride over town so't I can see Colonel Shelby."

"I think I have laid that little scheme most effectually," was what Marcy Gray said to himself as he rode away from the stump on which the overseer was sitting. "They haven't got a thing out of me, and I have left the matter in their own hands. If there is anything done toward getting Hanson away from this country (and I wish to goodness there might be), Shelby and his hypocritical gang can have the fun of doing it, and shoulder all the responsibility afterward."

But what was the object of the plot? That was what "banged" Marcy, and he told his mother so after he had given her a minute description of his brief interview with the overseer. Was it possible that there were some strong Union men in the neighborhood, and that Beardsley hoped Marcy would incur their enmity by discharging Hanson on account of his alleged principles? Marcy knew better than to believe that, and so did his mother.

"I'll tell you what I think to be the most reasonable view of the case," said the boy, after taking a few turns across the floor and spending some minutes in a brown study. "Beardsley knows there is no man in the family; that we'd be only too glad to have somebody to go to for advice; and he hoped we would take that ignorant Hanson for a counselor, if he could make us believe that he was really Union. But Hanson didn't fool me, for he didn't go at it in the right way. He's secesh all over. The next thing on the program will be something else."

"I trust it will not be a midnight visit from a mob," said his mother, who trembled at the bare thought of such a thing.

"So do I; but if they come, we'll see what they will make by it. They might burn the house without finding anything to reward them for their trouble."

"Oh, Marcy. You surely don't think they would do anything so barbarous."

"They might. Think of what that Committee of Safety did at Barrington."

"But what would we do?"

"Live in the quarter, as Elder Bowen and the other Union men in Barrington did after their houses were destroyed. And if they burned the servants' homes as well as our own, We'd throw up a shelter of some sort in the woods. I don't reckon that Julius and I have forgotten how to handle axes and build log cabins. The practice we have had in building turkey traps would stand-- Say," whispered Marcy suddenly, at the same time putting his arm around his mother's neck and speaking the words close to her ear, "if a mob should come here to-night and go over the house, we'd be ruined. There are those Union flags, you know."

"I never once thought of them," was the frightened answer. "Suppose I had had a mob for visitors while you were at sea? Our home would be in ashes now. Those flags are dangerous things, and must be disposed of without loss of time. I am sorry you brought them home with you. Don't you think you had better destroy them while you have them in mind?"

"Of course I will do it if you say so, and think it will make you feel any safer; but I was intending-you see--"

His countenance fell, and his mother was quick to notice it. "What did you intend to do with them?" she asked.

"One of them used to float over the academy," replied Marcy. "Dick Graham, a Missouri boy, than whom a better fellow never lived, stole it out of the colonel's room one night because he did not want to see it insulted and destroyed, as it would have been if Rodney and his friends could have got their hands upon it. He gave it to me because he knew it would some day be something to feel proud over, and said he hoped to hear that it had been run up again."

"But, Marcy, you dare not hoist it here," exclaimed Mrs. Gray.

"Not now; but there may come a time when I shall dare do it. The other flag-well, the other was made by a Union girl in Barrington, who had to work on it by stealth, because her sister, and every other member of her family except her father, were the worst kind of secesh. Rodney thought sure he was going to put the Stars and Bars on the tower when the Union colors were stolen, but our fellows got mine up first, and would have kept it there if they had had to fight to do it. But I'll put them in the stove if you think best."

"You need not do anything of the kind," said Mrs. Gray, whose patriotism had been awakened by the simple narrative. "I shall not permit a party of beardless boys to show more loyalty than I am willing to show myself."

"Bully for you, mother!" cried Marcy. "We'll see both of them in the air before many months more have passed over our heads. Now, think of some good hiding place for them, and I'll put them there right away. Not in the ground, you know, for if the Union troops should ever come marching through here, we should want to get them out in a hurry."

"How would it do to sew them up in a bed-quilt?" said Mrs. Gray, suggesting the first "good hiding place" that came into her mind.

"That's the very spot," replied Marcy. "Put them in one of mine, and then I shall have the old flag over me every night."

No time was lost in carrying out this decision, and in a few minutes mother and son were locked in the boy's room, and busy stitching the precious pieces of bunting into one of the quilts. It never occurred to them to ask what they would do or how they would feel if some half-clad, shivering rebel should find his way into the room and walk off with that quilt without so much as saying "by your leave." Probably they never dreamed that the soldiers of the Confederacy would be reduced to such straits.

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