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Marcy the Blockade Runner By Harry Castlemon Characters: 24958

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Never before had the hours hung as heavily upon Marcy Gray's hands as they did at the period of which we write. There was literally nothing he could do-at least that he wanted to do. He did not care to read anything except the newspapers, and they came only once a day; he had never learned how to lounge around and let the hours drag themselves away; he very soon grew weary of sailing about the sound in the Fairy Belle with the boy Julius for a companion; and so he spent a little of his time in visiting among the neighboring planters, and a good deal more in "pottering" among his mother's flower beds. Visiting was the hardest work he had ever done; but he knew he couldn't shirk it without exciting talk, and there was talk enough about him in the settlement already.

To a stranger it would have looked as though he had nothing to complain of. He was cordially received wherever he went, often heard himself spoken of as "one of our brave boys" (although what he had done that was so very brave Marcy himself could not understand), and visitors at Mrs. Gray's house were as numerous as they ever had been; but Marcy and his mother were people who could not be easily deceived by such a show of friendship. Some of it, as they afterward learned, was genuine; while the rest was assumed for the purpose of leading them on to "declare" themselves. It was a mean thing for neighbors to be guilty of, but you must remember that, like Rodney Gray when he wrote that mischievous letter to Bud Goble, they did not know all the time what they were doing. Of course the high-spirited Marcy grew restive under such treatment; and when, after long waiting, the postmaster handed him a letter from Captain Beardsley, ordering him to report on board the Osprey without loss of time, he did not feel as badly over it as he once thought he should. On the contrary, he appeared to be very jubilant when he showed the letter to Allison and half a score of other young rebels who were always to be found loafing around the post-office at mail time.

"I'm off to sea again," said he. "Now the Yankees had better look out."

"It must be an enjoyable life, Marcy," replied Allison. "You see any amount of fun and excitement, draw big prize-money in addition to your regular wages, and, better than all, you run no sort of risk. It may surprise you to know that I have been turning the matter over in my mind a good deal of late, and have come to the conclusion that I should enjoy being one of a privateer's crew. What do you think about it?"

"I am not acquainted with a single fellow who would enjoy it more," answered Marcy, who told himself that Allison was just coward enough to engage in some such disreputable business. "You are just the lad for it. It is such fun to bring a swift vessel to and haul down the old flag in the face of men who are powerless to defend it."

Sharp as Marcy Gray was, his strong love for the Union and his intense hatred for the business in which he was perforce engaged, sometimes led him to come dangerously near to betraying himself. Allison looked sharply at him, but there was nothing in Marcy's face to indicate that he did not mean every word he said.

"I am heartily glad I am going to sea again," continued the latter; and he told nothing but the truth. The companionship of the ignorant foreigners who composed the Osprey's crew was more to his liking than daily intercourse with pretended friends who were constantly watching for a chance to get him into trouble.

"Do you think I could get on with Captain Beardsley?" inquired Allison.

"You might. The crew was full when I left the schooner, but I will speak to the captain, if you would like to have me."

"I really wish you would, for I am anxious to do something for the glorious cause of Southern independence. When do you sail?"

"I don't know. About all the captain says in his letter is that he wants me to report immediately."

"Does he say whether or not the Hollins has been sold yet?"

"Oh, yes; he speaks of that, and congratulates me on the fact that I have eight hundred and seventy-live dollars more to my credit on the schooner's books than I did when I left her at Newbern."

"W-h-e-w!" whistled Allison. "How long did it take you to make the capture?"

"Four or five hours, I should say."

"Eight hundred and seventy-five dollars for four or five hours' work! Marcy, you have struck a gold mine. You will be as rich as Julius Caesar in less than a year."

"How long do you suppose Uncle Sam will allow such-such work to be kept up?" exclaimed Marcy.

"Oh, no doubt he would be glad to stop it now if he could; but when he tries it, he will find that he's got the hardest job on his hands he ever undertook. There never was a better place for carrying on such business than the waters of North Carolina. Our little inlets are too shallow to float a heavy man-of-war."

"No matter how big the job may be, you will find that these small-fry privateers" (it was right on the end of Marcy's tongue to say "pirates") "will be swept from the face of the earth in less than a year; so that I shall have no chance to get rich. But I'll have to be going, for I must start for Newbern this very night. I suppose you will all be in the army by the time I get back, so good-by."

Allison and his friends shook hands with him, wished him another successful voyage, and Marcy mounted and rode away, his filly never breaking her lope until she turned through the gate into the yard, and drew up before the steps that led to the porch. His mother met him at the door and knew as soon as she looked at him that he had news for her.

"Yes, I've got orders from Beardsley," said the boy, without waiting to be questioned. "And if Jack were only here, and I was about to engage in some honorable business, I should be glad to go. Mother, on the day we captured the Hollins we robbed somebody of fifty-six thousand dollars."

"Oh, Marcy, is it not dreadful!" said Mrs. Gray.

"It is, for a fact. We're having a bully time now, but the day will come when we'll have to settle with the fiddler. You will see. Yes, the vessel and her cargo sold for fifty-six thousand dollars. Half of it went to the government, and half of the remainder was divided among the three officers, Beardsley getting the lion's share, I bet you. The sixteen members of the crew get an equal share of the other fourteen thousand, the difference in rank between the petty officers and foremast hands being so slight that Beardsley did not think it worth while to give one more than another; but he hints that he has got something laid by for me."

"My son, it will burn your fingers," said Mrs. Gray.

"I can't help it if it does. I'll have to take all he offers me, but, of course, I don't expect to keep it. Now, mother, please help me get off. The longer I fool around home the harder it will be to make a start."

Marcy wanted to caution his mother to look out for Hanson while he was gone; but he did not do it, for he well knew that she had enough to trouble her already, and that the mention of the overseer's name would awaken all her old fears of spies and organized bands of robbers. He sent word to Morris, the coachman, to have the carriage brought to the door, loitered about doing nothing while his mother packed his valise, and in twenty minutes more was on his way to Newbern, which he reached without any mishap, not forgetting, however, to send a telegram on from Boydtown informing Beardsley that his orders had been received, and that the pilot was on his way to join the Osprey.

"And I wish I might find her sunk at her dock, and so badly smashed that she never could be raised and repaired," was what he thought every time he looked out of the car window and ran his eyes over the crowds of excited people that were gathered upon the platforms of all the depots they passed. "But, after all, what difference does it make? If I don't go to sea I shall have to live among secret enemies, and I don't know but one thing is about as bad as the other. If any poor mortal ever lived this way before, I am sorry for him."

Although Marcy was almost a stranger in Newbern, he had no difficulty in finding his vessel when he got out of the cars. He walked straight to her, and while he was yet half a block away, the sight of her masts told him that she was still on top of the water. She would soon be ready to sail, too, for her crew were rushing her stores aboard, while Captain Beardsley walked his quarter-deck smoking a cigar and looking on. His face seemed to say that he was a little surprised to see his pilot; but if he was he did not show it in his greeting.

"Well, there, you did come back, didn't yon?" said he, extending his hand.

"Of course I came back," replied Marcy. "What else did yon expect me to do? I was on the road in less than two hours after your order came to hand."

"That's prompt and businesslike," said the captain approvingly. "But I didn't look for you to appear quite so soon. How's everybody to home?"

"All right as far as I could see; and Allison wants to join your crew."

"The idea!" exclaimed Captain Beardsley. "Well, he can just stay where he is for all of me, hollering for the Confederacy and doing never a thing to help us gain our independence. His place is in the army, and I won't have no haymakers aboard of me. See any Union folks while you was to home?"

"I saw and talked with one man who said he was for the Union," answered the young pilot. He was prepared for the question, and positive that if he managed the matter rightly, Beardsley would soon let him know whether or not he was concerned in that little plot, as Marcy believed he was. But, as it happened, no management was necessary, for keeping a secret was the hardest work Beardsley ever did.

"Did, hey?" he exclaimed, throwing the stump of his cigar over the stern and looking very angry indeed. "I always suspected that man Hanson. You discharged him, of course."

"No, I didn't," replied Marcy. "It wouldn't have been safe. I told Kelsey that if the colonel and his friends desired that he should be run off the place, they could attend to the matter themselves. I wouldn't have the first thing to do with it. I was given to understand that there were many Union men in the settlement, and I didn't care to give them an excuse for burning us out of house and home."

"That was perfectly right. And what did Shelby say?"

"I didn't hear, for he sent no message to me."

"Did you say anything to Hanson about it?"

"I did, and told him that as long as he attended strictly to his business he would have no trouble with me."

Marcy had purposely avoided speaking Colonel Shelby's name and Hanson's, preferring to let Captain Beardsley do it himself. The latter walked squarely into the trap without appearing to realize that he had done it, and the young pilot was satisfied that his commander was the man who needed watching more than anybody else.

"I can't say that I hope Beardsley will be killed or drowned during the cruise," thought Marcy. "But I do say that if he was out of the way I would have less trouble with my neighbors."

"Never mind," said Beardsley, after a little pause. "When I get home I will ask Shelby and Dillon to tell me all about it; and if that overseer of yourn is really Union, perhaps I can make him see that he had better go up to the United States, where he belongs."

The captain took a turn or two across the deck, looked up at the topmasts as he might have done if the schooner had been under way and he wanted to make sure that everything was drawing, and then he leaned up against the rail.

"Oh!" said he, as if the thought had just come to him, "what do you think of your good fortune? Eight hundred dollars don't grow in every boy's dooryard. I tell you. And, Marcy," he went on in a lower tone, "I've got as much more laid by for you. I told you I would do the fair thing, and I meant every word of it. You're pilot, you know."

"Thank you, sir," replied the boy-not because he felt grateful to Captain Beardsley for giving him nearly nine hundred dollars of another's man's money, but because he knew he was expected to say it.

"Seventeen hundred dollars and better will keep your folks in grub and clothes for quite a spell, won't it?" the captain continued. "But law! what am I saying? It ain't a drop in the bucket to such rich people as you be."

Marcy l

istened, but said nothing. He thought he knew what Beardsley had on his mind.

"Some folks pertend to think we're going to have the very toughest kind of a war, but I don't," said the latter. "The Yankees don't come of fighting stock, like we Southern gentlemen do; but if a war should come, I suppose your folks are well fixed for it?"

"About as well fixed as most of the planters in the settlement," answered the pilot. "You know we've had the best of crops for a year or two back."

"But I mean-you see-any money?" inquired the captain cautiously-so very cautiously that he thought it necessary to whisper the words.

"Oh, yes; we have money. How could we live without it?"

"That's so; how could you? I reckon you've got right smart of a lot, ain't you?"

"Mother has some in the bank at Wilmington, but just how much I don't know. I never asked her."

The young pilot's gaze was fastened upon the men who were at work getting the provisions aboard, but for all that, he could see that Beardsley was looking at him as if he meant to read his most secret thoughts.

"I don't believe there's no money in that there house," was what the captain was saying to himself.

"Sly old fox," thought Marcy. "I knew he would betray his secret if I only held my tongue and gave him a chance to do it." And then he asked the captain when he expected to get the schooner ready for sea, and whether or not any prizes had been brought into port during his absence.

"There's been one prize brought in worth ten thousand dollars more'n our'n, dog-gone it all-there she is right over there-and there's been three blockade-runners went out and two come in," was the captain's answer. "I didn't see why they should call 'em blockade-runners when we didn't think there was a blockade at all, excepting the paper one that appeared in Lincoln's proclamation; but seeing that the brig Herald ain't been heard from since she run out of Wilmington, I begin to mistrust that there's war vessels outside, and that the Osprey may have a chance to show her heels. If that happens we'll make the best time we know how for Crooked Inlet, and trust to you to bring us through."

"You won't need any help from me," was what the boy said to himself. "I'll bet my share of that prize-money, that if we get into trouble with a Union cruiser you will take command of the schooner yourself and sail her through Crooked Inlet as slick as falling off a log."

"The folks around here and Wilmington have been hoping that the Herald might be captured, and that the United States people will have the backbone to hold fast to her," added Captain Beardsley.

"Why do they hope for any such bad luck as that?" inquired Marcy, considerably surprised.

"May be it wouldn't be bad luck. You see she is a Britisher, the Herald is, and her cargo was consigned to an English house all fair and square. A blockade, to be legal and binding upon foreign nations, must be effectual," said the captain, quoting the language his agent had often used in his hearing. "A paper blockade won't do; and if the Yankees can't send ships enough here to shut up our ports completely, any Britisher or Frenchman can run in and out as often as he feels like it, and the Yankees dassent do a thing to him. If the Herald has been captured she will have to be given up."

"But suppose Uncle Sam won't give her up?"

"We are hoping he won't, for that will get the British folks down on him; and between the two of us we'll give him such a licking that he'll never get over it. See?"

Yes; Marcy saw, now that the situation had been explained to him, but it was something he had never thought of before. Almost the first lesson he learned in history was that England had no love for the United States, and if she took a hand in the war that was surely coming, why then--

"Why, then, France may help Uncle Sam," exclaimed Marcy. "She has always been friendly to us, and didn't she send troops here during our Revolutionary war to help us whip the English?"

"She did; but what was the reason she sent them troops over here?" demanded the captain, who had heard this question discussed a good many times while Marcy was at home on his leave of absence. "Was it because she had any love for republican-republican-ah-er-institutions? No, sir. It was because she wanted to spite the English for taking Canady away from her. France won't lift a hand to help the Yankees if we get into a row with them."

Beardsley took another turn about his quarter-deck, lighted a fresh cigar, and became confidential.

"Something tells me that this business of privateering ain't a going to last long, and so I think some of dropping it and starting out in another," said he. "Any idea what it is?"

Marcy replied that he had not.

"Well, it's trading-running the blockade."

"To what ports?" asked the boy.

"I can't rightly tell till I get some word from them vessels that's just went out," was the answer. "But it'll be Nassau or Havana, one of the two. I'll take cotton out-cotton is king, you know, and must be had to keep all them working people in England from starving-and bring medicine back. Medicine is getting skurse and high-priced already. And percussion caps. They're the things you can make money on. Why, I have heard it said that there wasn't enough gun caps in the Confederacy to fight a battle with till Captain Semmes made that tower of his through the Northern States, buying powder and bullets, and making contracts with the dollar-loving Yankees to build cannon to shoot their own kin with. But I want to see how the land lays before I go into the business of running the blockade. If there's big risk and little profit I ain't in."

"What port will you run out of?" was Marcy's next question; and when the captain said it would probably be Wilmington, the boy was delighted, for he expected to hear him announce that after he gave up privateering and took to blockade-running he would no longer need the services of a pilot. But if such a thought came into Beardsley's mind he did not speak it aloud. Just then he was called to another part of the deck and Marcy picked up his valise and went below.

"Beardsley doesn't mean to let me go," he soliloquized, as he tossed the valise into his bunk and opened the locker in which he had stowed his bedding for safe-keeping. "He's got me fast, and there's no chance for escape as long as the Osprey remains in commission. Well, there's one comfort: Beardsley is not a brave man, and he'll make haste to lay the schooner up the minute he has reason to believe that it is growing dangerous outside."

Marcy went on deck again, and having nothing to do with the loading of the vessel, sauntered around with his hands in his pockets. He fully expected that Beardsley would have something more to say about the money that was supposed to be hidden in Mrs. Gray's house; but he didn't, for the captain had almost come to the conclusion that there was no money there. If there was, Marcy could not be surprised into acknowledging the fact, and so Beardsley thought it best to let the matter drop until he could go home and hold a consultation with the overseer.

Bright and early the next morning the privateer cast off her fasts and stood down the river, reaching the sound in time to catch the flood tide that hurried her up toward Crooked Inlet. It was now the middle of July, and the Union and the Confederacy stood fairly opposed to each other. The Confederate Government, having established itself at Richmond, had pushed its outposts so far to the north that their sentries could see the dome of the Capitol across the Potomac. There were nearly eight hundred thousand square miles in the eleven seceded States, and of this immense territory all that remained to the Union were the few acres of ground enclosed within the walls of Fortress Monroe and Forts Pickens, Taylor, and Jefferson. Loyal Massachusetts men had been murdered in the streets of Baltimore; battles of more or less importance had been fought both in the East and West, and on the very day that Marcy joined the privateer, the future leader of the Army of the Potomac won a complete victory over the rebel forces at Rich Mountain. The Richmond papers had very little to say about this fight, except to assure their readers that it was a matter of no consequence whatever; but they had a good deal to say concerning the "gallant exploit" that Captain Semmes had performed a few days before at the passes of the Mississippi. Well, it was a brave act-one worthy of a better cause-to run the little Sumter out in the face of a big ship like the Brooklyn and when Marcy read of it he recalled what his Cousin Rodney had once said to him while they were talking about sailor Jack, who was then somewhere on the high seas:

"He may never get back," said Rodney. "We'll have a navy of our own one of these days, and then every ship that floats the old flag will have to watch out. We'll light bonfires on every part of the ocean."

That was just what Captain Semmes intended to do, and history tells how faithfully he carried out the instructions of the Richmond Government.

Somewhat to Marcy's surprise, Captain Beardsley turned the command over to him when the schooner reached Crooked Inlet, and Marcy took her safely through and out to sea. If there were any war ships on the coast-and it turned out that there were, for the brig Herald had been captured and taken to a Northern port-they were stationed farther down toward Hatteras Inlet, and the schooner's lookouts did not see any of them until she had been some hours at sea. At daylight on the morning of the third day out the thrilling cry from the crosstrees "sail ho!" created a commotion on the privateer's deck, and brought Marcy Gray up the ladder half dressed.

"Where away?" shouted Captain Beardsley.

"Broad on our weather beam and standing straight across our bows," was the encouraging response from aloft.

"Can you make her out?" asked the captain, preparing to mount to the crosstrees with a spy-glass in his hand. "You're sure she isn't a cruiser?"

"No, sir. She's a brig, and she's running along with everything set."

"Then we must cut her off or she'll get away from us. Put a fifteen-second shell in that bow gun, Tierney! Stand by the color halliards, Marcy!"

These orders were obeyed with an "Ay, ay, sir," although the brig was yet so far away that she could not be seen from the deck; but as the two vessels were sailing diagonally toward each other, she did not long remain invisible. The moment Marcy caught sight of her top-hamper, and while he stood with the halliards in his hand waiting for the order to run up the Stars and Stripes, Captain Beardsley began swearing most lustily and shouting orders to his mates, the sheets were let out, the helm put down, and the privateer fell off four or five points. Marcy knew the meaning of this before the excited and angry Beardsley yelled, at the top of his voice:

"The rascal is trying to dodge us. He's got lookouts aloft. Run up that flag, Marcy, and see if that won't quiet his feelings. Them war ships down to Hatteras have posted him, and if we don't handle ourselves just right we'll never bring him within range."

Marcy lost no time in running up the old flag; but if the master of the brig saw it he was not deceived by it. He showed no disposition to run back to Hatteras, and put himself under protection of the war ships there, as Marcy thought and hoped he would, but put his vessel before the wind, squared his yards, and trusted to his heels. It looked to Marcy like a most desperate undertaking, for you will remember that the schooner was far ahead of the brig, and that the merchant captain was about to run by her. It didn't seem possible that he could succeed, but the sequel proved that he knew just what his vessel was capable of doing. She came up at a "hand gallop," and finally showed herself from water-line to main-truck in full view of the privateer's crew. Her canvas loomed up like a great white cloud, and her low, black hull, by comparison, looked no bigger than a lead pencil. She went like the wind, and Marcy Gray told himself that she was the most beautiful object he had ever seen.

"I hope from the bottom of my heart that she will get away," was the one thought that filled his mind.

Perhaps the wish would have been even more fervent if he had known who was aboard that brig.

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