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   Chapter 5 A CAT WITHOUT CLAWS.

Marcy the Blockade Runner By Harry Castlemon Characters: 22565

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"I really believe I've got a hold on the old rascal at last," said Marcy to himself, as he leaned against the rail and watched the men, who, under direction of the mates, were hard at work getting the howitzers ashore. "From this time on he had better be careful how he treats my mother, for he may fall into the hands of the Yankees some day; and if that ever happens, I will take pains to see that he doesn't get back to Nashville in a hurry. I'll go any lengths to get a letter to the Secretary of the Treasury, telling him just who and what Beardsley is, and then perhaps he will stand a chance of being tried for something besides piracy and blockade-running."

Marcy's first care was to write to his mother. While omitting no item of news, he took pains to word the letter so cautiously that it could not be used against him in case some of his secret enemies in and around Nashville, the postmaster and Colonel Shelby, for instance, took it into their heads to open and read it instead of sending it to its address. They had showed him that they were quite mean enough to do it. Then he went ashore to mail the letter and take notes, and was not long in making up his mind that he was not the only one who thought there was going to be a war. Although the Newbern people were very jubilant over the great victory at Bull Run, they did not act as though they thought that that was the last battle they would have to fight before their independence would be acknowledged, for Marcy saw infantry companies marching and drilling in almost every street through which he passed, and every other man and boy he met was dressed in uniform. As he drew near to the post-office he ran against a couple of young soldiers about his own age, or, to be more exact, they ran against him; for they were coming along with their arms locked, talking so loudly that they could have been heard on the opposite side of the street, and when the Osprey's pilot turned out to let them pass, they tried to crowd him off into the gutter. But Marcy, beside being a sturdy fellow, knew how to stand up for his rights. He braced his foot firmly against the curbstone and met the shock of the collision so vigorously that those who would have sent him headlong into the street were sent backward themselves, and came very near going head first down the stairs that led into a basement restaurant.

"Don't you think I ought to have a little of this sidewalk?" he asked good-naturedly, as the two straightened up and faced him with clenched hands and flashing eyes.

"Then put on a uniform and you can have as much of it as you want," said one, in reply.

"How long have you had those good clothes of yours?" inquired Marcy.

"Were they in the fight at Bull Run?"

"Of course not. We only enlisted a week ago, but we show our good will and you don't."

"Then you have never smelled powder or heard the noise of the enemy's guns?"

"It isn't likely, for there's been no fighting around here," said the same speaker, who began to wonder if he and his companions hadn't made a mistake.

"Then go and get some experience before you take it upon yourselves to shove a veteran into the ditch," said Marcy loftily. "I've been in the service ever since President Davis issued his call for privateers. You've heard of the Osprey, haven't you? Well, I belong to her."

"Is that so?" exclaimed the other, extending his hand, which the pilot was prompt to accept. "I am sorry we insulted you and beg your pardon for it. But you ought to wear something to show who you are, for the folks around here don't think much of citizens unless they have declared their intention of enlisting as soon as they can get their affairs in shape."

"I knew why you bumped up against me, and that was the reason I didn't get mad at it," answered Marcy. "You don't seem to have much to do; and if you will walk up to the post-office with me, I'll show you over the Osprey, if you would like to take a look at her. But we'll have to be in a hurry if we want to see her with the guns aboard, for she is being changed into a blockade-runner."

"Ah! That's the money-making business," said one of the recruits with enthusiasm. "I wish I knew something about boats, so that I could go into it myself. What wages do you get?"

"Five hundred dollars for the run to Nassau and back."

The eyes of Marcy's new friends grew to twice their usual size. They looked hard at him to see if he was really in earnest, and then whistled in concert.

"It's worth it," continued Marcy, "and I don't believe you could get men to go into it for less. From the time we leave the protection of the forts at Hatteras to the time we get back, we shall be in constant fear of capture. We know something of the dangers of the business, for we had two narrow escapes during our last cruise."

Of course the recruits wanted to know all about it, and as they faced around and walked with him, Marcy gave them a short history of what the schooner had done since she went into commission. When he told how neatly that Yankee brig had slipped through Captain Beardsley's fingers, his companions looked at him in surprise.

"What a pity," said one. "And yet you talk as if you were glad of it."

"I talk as if it was a brave and skilful act, and so it was," answered

Marcy. "You would say the same if you had been there and seen it done."

"No, I wouldn't. The Yankees are not brave and skilful, and they can't do anything to make me think they are. How will they feel when they see our President sitting in the White House, dictating terms of peace to them? I hope our company will be there to witness the ceremony."

This was a point Marcy did not care to discuss with the two recruits, for fear he might say something to arouse in their minds a suspicion that he was not intensely loyal to the Confederacy, even if he did sail under its flag; so he inquired if there were anything else but drilling and marching going on in Newbern.

"Not much else in the city," replied one of the young soldiers. "But there's a heap going on about five miles below. There's a corps of engineers down there laying out a system of fortifications which are to be a mile long. It will take eight or nine thousand men to garrison them, and they will be defended by thirty-one guns."

"But I don't see any sense in it," said the other, who seemed to think he had learned considerable of the art of war since he put on his gray jacket. "A Yankee army will never come so far south as Newbern, and their gunboats can't get past the forts at Hatteras."

But, all the same, the Confederate authorities thought the works ought to be pushed to completion, and so they were; but they did not amount to much, for Burnside's troops captured them after a four hours' fight, with the loss of only ninety-one men killed, the garrison retreating to Newbern and taking the cars for Goldsborough. When Marcy heard of it a few months later, he wondered if his new acquaintances were in the fight, and if they still held to the opinion that the Yankees were not brave.

After leaving the post-office they spent an hour on board the Osprey and parted at last well pleased with the result of their meeting, and fully satisfied in their own minds that the Yankees had been so badly whipped at Bull Run that they would never dare face the Confederate soldiers again. At least the two recruits were satisfied of it; but Marcy thought he knew better.

On the morning of the next day but one, a tug came alongside and towed the schooner up to a warehouse, where there was a load of cotton waiting for her; and for want of something better to do, Marcy hunted up a cotton-hook and assisted in rolling the heavy bales on board. The little vessel was so changed in appearance that a landsman would hardly have recognized her. The treacherous figure "9," which Beardsley had caused to be painted on her sails, in the hope that merchant vessels would take her for a harmless pilot-boat, was not to be seen; all the black paint about her, from the heel of her bowsprit to the crosstrees, had given place to a bluish-white; and on both sides of her bow and over her cabin door the name Hattie appeared in large gilt letters.

"Now, when them Hollins men get home and try to give the war ships a description of the privateer that captured them, they will be mighty apt to shoot wide of the mark, won't they?" said Captain Beardsley, who was much pleased with the work the painters had done under his instructions. "There ain't the first thing aboard of us to show that we used to be engaged in the privateering business. Oh, I'm a sharp one, and it takes something besides a Yankee to get the start of me."

Beardsley was so impatient to get to sea, and so very anxious to handle the fortune he was sure he was going to make by his first attempt at blockade running, that he employed all the men that could be worked to advantage, and took on board every bale he could possibly find room for. The deck load was so large that it threatened to interfere with the handling of the sails! and when a tug pulled the schooner's head around till it pointed down the river, she set so low in the water that she could not show her usual speed, even with the tide in her favor, and Tierney said in Marcy's hearing that he believed he could hoist a sail in a washing-tub and reach Nassau before the schooner could leave the sand dunes of Hatteras out of sight. But the captain did not seem to think he had made any mistake in loading his vessel, although he did show some anxiety for her safety; for when she reached Crooked Inlet he walked aft and took charge of the wheel himself, and without saying one word to the young fellow whom he called his pilot, until he saw the latter looking at him as if he wanted to know what Beardsley meant by such work.

"There, now," said the captain, by way of explanation, "I thought you was below; I did for a fact. And so I said to myself that I wouldn't bother you, but would try and take her through without your help, just to see if I could do it, you know. Supposing you was the only one aboard who knew the channel, and something should happen to you, and I should want to come through here in a hurry to get out of the way of a war ship that was close in my wake; wouldn't I be in a pretty fix? Now stand by, so't you can give me a word in case I don't hold her just right."

"You old hypocrite," thought Marcy. "If that was the first lie you ever told it would choke you. So he thinks something is going to happen to me, does he? Now what does he mean by that?"

Captain Beardsley had done nothing more than Marcy expected him to do, but he did not have a word of fault to find with it, as a regular pilot would have done when he saw his business taken out of his hands in so unceremonious a fashion. If the skipper was willing to pay him five hundred dollars for doing nothing, the boy didn't think he ought to complain. He took his stand close by the captain's side, but he did not touch the wheel, nor did he so much as look at the black and red buoys that marked the channel. He was turning these words over in his mind: "Suppose something should happen to you!" Was he to understand that Beardsley had made up his mind to

get rid of him in some way?

"If that is what he wants, why didn't he pay me off while we were in Newbern?" was the question Marcy asked himself. "But for some reason or other it doesn't suit him to have me at home with mother; and that makes me think that there's going to be an attempt made to steal the money she has hidden in the cellar wall. Oh, how I wish Jack was at home."

When the schooner was clear of the Inlet, Beardsley gave the boy a wink as if to say, "I did take her through, didn't I?" held a short consultation with the mates, during which the course was determined upon, then mounted to the cross trees with his glass in his hand; and after sweeping it around the horizon, gave the cheering information to those below that there was nothing in sight. But there was something in sight a few hours later-something that put Beardsley in such a rage that he did not get over it for a day or two. It was a schooner a little larger than his own, and she was standing directly across the Hattie's bows. She did not show any disposition to "dodge" as the brig had done, but held straight on her course, and this made Captain Beardsley suspect that there might be a cruiser following in her wake to see that she did not get into trouble. But if there was, his glass failed to reveal the fact, and this suggested an idea to him. When the stranger's topsails could be seen from the Hattie's deck he shouted down to his mate:

"Say, Morgan, I'll tell you what's the matter with that fellow. He don't know that there's such things as privateers afloat, and he ain't seen nary cruiser to warn him. That's why he don't sheer off."

"I reckon you're right, cap'n," replied the mate. "It's plain that he ain't afraid of us."

"Well, if I am right," continued Beardsley, "it proves that the war ships off Hatteras have went off somewheres, and that the coast below is all clear; don't you think so? What do you say if we make a straight run for our port? We'll save more than a week by it."

"I'm agreeable," answered the mate, who, upon receiving a nod from the captain, gave the necessary orders, and in a few minutes the Hattie was close-hauled and running in such a direction that if the two vessels held on their way, they would pass almost within hailing distance of each other. Of course the captain of the stranger must have witnessed this manoeuvre, but he did not seem to be surprised or troubled by it; for he kept straight on and in another hour dashed by within less than a quarter of a mile of Captain Beardsley, who lifted his hat and waved it to a small party of men, her officers probably, who were standing on her quarter deck. In response to the salutation the Stars and Stripes were hoisted at her peak.

"If she had done that three weeks ago wouldn't I have brought that flag down with a jerk?" exclaimed Beardsley angrily. "Did anybody ever hear of such luck? Why didn't she show up when we had them howitzers aboard? They don't know what to make of us, for I can see two fellows with glasses pointed at us all the time. Run up that Yankee flag, Marcy."

The latter was prompt to obey the order, and he was quite willing to do it, since it was not in Beardsley's power to do any harm to the handsome stranger. After being allowed to float for a few minutes the two flags were hauled down and stowed away in their respective chests, and the little vessels parted company without either one knowing who the other was. But there was an angry lot of men on board the Hattie. Beardsley showed that he was one of them by the hard words he used when he came down from aloft and sent a lookout up to take his place, and Tierney, after shaking his fist at the Yankee, shut one eye, glanced along the rail with the other, as he had glanced through the sights of the howitzer he once commanded, and then jerked back his right hand as if he were pulling a lock-string. Marcy Gray was the only one aboard who carried a light heart.

After the schooner's course was changed there was a good deal of suppressed excitement among the crew, for Captain Beardsley was about to take what some of them thought to be a desperate risk. Probably there were no cruisers off Hatteras when that merchant vessel passed, but that was all of fifteen or twenty hours ago, and they had had plenty of time to get back to their stations. So a bright lookout was kept by all hands, and Beardsley or one of the mates went aloft every few minutes to take a peep through the glass. Marcy thought there was good cause for watchfulness and anxiety. In the first place, the Bahama Islands, of which Nassau, in the Island of New Providence, was the principal port, lay off the coast of Florida, and about five hundred miles southeast of Charleston. They must have been at least twice as far from Crooked Inlet, so that Captain Beardsley, by selecting Newbern as his home port, ran twice the risk of falling into the hands of the Federal cruisers that he would if he had decided to run his contraband cargo into Savannah or Charleston.

"It seems to me that the old man ought to have learned wisdom after living for so many years in defiance of the law," thought Marcy, when it came his turn to go aloft and relieve the lookout. "Of course a smuggler has to take his chances with the revenue cutters he is liable to meet along the coast, as well as with the Custom House authorities, and I should think that constant fear of capture would have made him sly and cautious; but it hasn't."-"Nothing in sight, sir," he said, in answer to an inquiry from the officer who had charge of the deck.

And this was the report that was sent down by every lookout who went aloft during the next four days; and what a time of excitement and suspense that was for Marcy Gray and all the rest of the Hattie's crew. Perhaps there was not so much danger of being run down at night by some heavy vessel as there would have been a few months before, but Marcy's nerves thrilled with apprehension when he stood holding fast to the rail during the lonely mid-watch, and the schooner, with the spray dashing wildly about her bows and everything drawing, was running before a strong wind through darkness so black that her flying-jib-boom could not be seen, and there was no light on board except the one in the binnacle.

"I know it's dangerous and I don't like it any better than you do," Beardsley said to him one night. "But think of the money there is in it, and what a fule you were for not taking out a venture when I gave you the chance. I bought four bales apiece for the mates, and they will pocket the money that you might have had just as well as not."

"But I want to use my seventeen hundred dollars," replied Marcy; and so he did. He still clung to the hope that he might some day have an opportunity to return it to the master of the Hollins, and that was the reason he was unwilling to run the risk of losing it.

"Go and tell that to the marines," said Captain Beardsley impatiently. "They'll believe anything, but I won't. You don't need it; your folks don't, and I know it. Keep a bright lookout for lights, hold a stiff upper lip, and I will take you safely through."

And so he did. Not only were the Federal war ships accommodating enough to keep out of the way, but the elements were in good humor also. The schooner had a fair wind during the whole of her perilous journey, and in due time it wafted her into the port of Nassau. Although Marcy Gray had never been there before, he had heard and read of New Providence as a barren rock, with scarcely soil enough to produce a few pineapples and oranges, and of Nassau as a place of no consequence whatever so far as commerce was concerned. It boasted a small sponge trade, exported some green turtles and conch-shells, and was the home of a few fisherman and wreckers; this was all Marcy thought there was of Nassau, and consequently his surprise was great when he found himself looking out upon the wharves of a thriving, bustling little town. The slave-holders' rebellion, "which brought woe and wretchedness to so many of our States, was the wind that blew prosperity to Nassau." When President Lincoln's proclamation, announcing the blockade of all the Confederate ports was issued, Nassau took on an air of business and importance, and at once became the favorite resort of vessels engaged in contraband trade. There were Northern men there too, and Northern vessels as well; for, to quote from the historian, "The Yankee, in obedience to his instincts of traffic, scented the prey from afar, and went there to turn an honest penny by assisting the Confederates to run the blockade." The supplies which the Confederates had always purchased in the North, and of which they already began to stand in need, were shipped from Europe in neutral vessels; and being consigned to a neutral port (for Nassau belonged to England), they were in no danger of being captured by our war ships during the long voyage across the Atlantic. It was when these supplies were taken from the wharves and placed in the holds of vessels like the Hattie that the trouble began, and men like Captain Beardsley ran all the risk and reaped the lion's share of the profits. Almost the first thing that drew Marcy's attention was the sight of a Union and Confederate flag floating within a few rods of each other.

"What's the meaning of that?" he asked of Beardsley, as soon as he found opportunity to speak to him. "We don't own this town, do we?"

"No; but we've got a Consulate here," was the reply. "I don't know's I understand just what that means, but it's some sort of an officer that our government has sent here to look out for our interests. If a man wants to go from here to our country, he must go to that Consulate and get a pass before any blockade-runner will take him. Now don't you wish you had took my advice and brought out a venture?"

"It's too late to think of that now," answered Marcy. "And your own profits are not safe yet. It must be all of a thousand miles from here to Newbern, and perhaps we'll not have as good luck going as we did coming. I am to have a hundred dollars to spend here, am I not?"

"Course. That's what I promised before you and the rest signed articles.

I'll give it to you the minute this cotton is got ashore and paid for.

What you going to do with it?"

"I thought I would invest it in medicine."

"Your head's level. You couldn't make bigger money on anything else."

"And as it is my own money and the captain of the Hollins has no interest in it, I shall feel quite at liberty to spend it as I choose," soliloquized Marcy, as the captain turned away to meet the representative of the English house to which his cargo of cotton was consigned. "Besides, I must keep up appearances, or I'll get into trouble."

"Turn to, all hands, and get off the hatches," shouted one of the mates.

"Lively now, for the sooner we start back the sooner we'll get there."

Marcy did not know whether or not he was included in this order addressed to "all hands," but as the officer looked hard at him he concluded he was. At any rate he was willing to work, if for no other purpose than to keep him from thinking. Somehow he did not like to have his mind dwell upon the homeward run.

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