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   Chapter 6 RUNNING THE BLOCKADE.

Marcy the Blockade Runner By Harry Castlemon Characters: 25667

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The gang of 'longshoremen, which was quickly sent on board the Hattie by the Englishman to whom we referred in the last chapter, worked to such good purpose that in just forty-eight hours from the time her lines were made fast to the wharf, the blockade-runner was ready for her return trip. Meanwhile Marcy Gray and the rest of the crew had little to do but roam about the town, spending their money and mingling with the citizens, the most of whom were as good Confederates as could have been found anywhere in the Southern States. Marcy afterward told his mother that if there were any Union people on the island they lived in the American Consulate, from whose roof floated the Stars and Stripes. Marcy was both astonished and shocked to find that nearly every one with whom he conversed believed that the Union was already a thing of the past, and that the rebellious States never could be whipped. One day he spoke to Beardsley about it, while the latter was pacing his quarter-deck smoking his after-dinner cigar.

"If those English sailors I was talking with a little while ago are so very anxious to see the Union destroyed, I don't see why they don't ship under the Confederate flag," said he. "But what has England got against the United States, anyway?"

"Man alive, she's got everything against 'em," replied the captain, in a surprised tone. "Didn't they lick old England twice, and ain't the Yankee flag the only one to which a British army ever surrendered? You're mighty right. She'd be glad to see the old Union busted into a million pieces; but she's too big a coward to come out and help us open and above board, and so she's helping on the sly. I wish the Yankees would do something to madden her, but they're too sharp. They have give up the Herald-the brig I was telling you about that sailed from Wilmington just before you came back from your furlong. She was a Britisher, yon know, and a warship took her prisoner; but the courts allowed that Wilmington wasn't blockaded at all, except on paper, and ordered her to be released. I only wish the Yankees had had the pluck to hold fast to her."

Marcy's thoughts had often reverted to the capture of the brig Herald and to Captain Beardsley's expressed wish that the act might lead to an open rupture between the United States and England, and he was glad to learn that there was to be no trouble on that score. But England could not long keep her meddlesome fingers out of our pie. She did all she dared to aid the Confederacy, and when the war was ended, had the fun of handing over a good many millions of dollars to pay for the American vessels that British built and British armed steamers had destroyed upon the high seas.

"I saw you bring aboard some little bundles a while ago," continued

Beardsley. "What was in 'em?"

"One of them contained two woolen dresses I bought for mother, and in the others there was nothing but medicine," said Marcy. "Woolen goods will be worth money by and by."

"Oh, yes; they'll run up a little. Things always do in war times. The money them medicines cost, you will be able to turn over about three times when we get back to Newbern. You'll clear about three hundred dollars, when you might just as well have made five thousand, if you'd took my advice and put in your seventeen hundred, as I wanted you to do."

Marcy made no reply, for he had grown weary of telling the captain that he intended to use that money for another purpose.

During the two days they remained in port two large steamers came in,

and on the way out they passed as many more, both of which showed the

English colors when Marcy, in obedience to Beardsley's orders, ran the

Confederate emblem up to the Hattie's peak.

"Everything that's aboard them ships is meant for us," said Captain Beardsley. "I know it, because there never was no such steamers sailing into this port before the war. Them fellows over the water are sending in goods faster'n we can take 'em out. Go aloft, Marcy, and holler the minute you see anything that looks like a sail or a smoke."

When the pilot had been discharged and the schooner filled away for home, her crew settled down to business again, and every man became alert and watchful. Those dreadful night runs on the way down Marcy always thought of with a shiver, and now he had to go through with them again; and one would surely have ended his career as a blockade-runner, for a while at least, had it not been for the credulity or stupidity of a Union naval captain. This particular night, for a wonder, was clear; the stars shone brightly, and Marcy Gray, who sat on the cross trees with the night-glass in his hand, had been instructed to use extra vigilance. There was a heavy ground swell on, showing that there had recently been a blow somewhere, and the schooner had just breeze enough to give her steerage way, with nothing to spare. Marcy was thinking of home, and wondering how much longer it would be necessary for him to lead this double life, when he saw something that called him back to earth again. He took a short look at it through his glass, and then said, in tones just loud enough to reach the ears of those below:

"On deck, there."

"Ay, ay!" came the answer. "What's to do?"

"Lights straight ahead, sir."

"Throw a tarpaulin over that binnacle," commanded Beardsley; and a moment later Marcy saw him coming up. He gave the glass into his hands and moved aside so that the captain could find a place to stand on the crosstrees. Either the latter's eyes were sharper than Marcy's, or else he took time to make a more critical examination of the approaching vessel, for presently he hailed the deck in low but excited tones.

"I'm afraid we're in for it, Morgan," said he. "I do for a fact. Tumble up here and see what you think of her. I can make out that she is a heavy steamer," he added, as Marcy moved to the other side of the mast, and the mate came up and stood beside the captain, "and if she can't make us out, too, every soul aboard of her must be blind. Our white canvas must show a long ways in this bright starlight. What is she?"

"I give it up," replied the mate.

"She is coming straight for us, ain't she?"

"Looks like it. Suppose you change the course a few points and then we can tell for a certainty."

Captain Beardsley thought this a suggestion worth acting upon. He sent down the necessary orders to the second mate, who had been left in charge of the deck, and in a few minutes the schooner was standing off on the other tack, and rolling fearfully as she took the ground swell almost broadside on. Then there came an interval of anxiety and suspense, during which Marcy Gray strained his eyes until he saw a dozen lights dancing before them instead of two, as there ought to have been, and at last Captain Beardsley's worst fears were confirmed. The relative position of the red and green lights ahead slowly changed until they were almost in line with each other, and Marcy was sailor enough to know what that meant. The steamer had caught sight of the Hattie, was keeping watch of her, and had altered her course to intercept her. Marcy began to tremble.

"I know how a prison looks when viewed from the outside," he said to himself. "And unless something turns up in our favor, it will not be many days before I shall know how one looks on the inside."

It was plain that his two companions were troubled by the same gloomy thoughts, for he heard Beardsley say, in a husky voice:

"She ain't holding a course for nowhere, neither for the Indies nor the

Cape; she shifted her wheel when we did, and that proves that she's a

Yankee cruiser and nothing else. See any signs of a freshening

anywhere?"

"Nary freshening," replied the mate, with a hasty glance around the horizon. "There ain't a cloud as big as your fist in sight."

Of course Beardsley used some heavy words-he always did when things did not go to suit him-and then he said, as if he were almost on the point of crying with vexation:

"It's too bad for them cowardly Yankees to come pirating around here just at this time when we've got a big fortune in our hands. Them goods we've got below is worth a cool hundred thousand dollars in Newbern, if they're worth anything, and my commission will be somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty-five per cent.; dog-gone it all. Can't we do nothing to give her the slip? You ain't fitten to be a mate if you can't give a word of advice in a case like this."

"And if I wanted to be sassy I might say that you ain't fit to command a ship if you can't get her out of trouble when you get her into it. There can't no advice be given that I can see, unless it be to chuck the cargo over the side. I reckon that would be my way if I was master of the Hattie.

"But what good would that do?" exclaimed Beardsley. "Where are my dockyments to prove that I am an honest trader? And even if I had some, and the cargo was safe out of the hold and sunk to the bottom, I couldn't say that I am in ballast, because I ain't got a pound of any sort of ballast to show. Oh, I tell you we're gone coons, Morgan. Do the Yankees put striped clothes on their prisoners when they shove 'em into jail, I wonder?"

The mate, who had come to the wise conclusion that the only thing he could do was to make the best of the situation, did not answer the captain's last question. All he said was:

"If you dump the cargo overboard the Yankees won't get it!"

"But they'll get my schooner, won't they?" Beardsley almost shouted. "And do you reckon that I'm going to give them Newbern fellows the satisfaction of knowing that I saved their goods by sending them to the bottom? Not by a great sight. If that cruiser gets my property she'll get their'n, too. I don't reckon we'd have time to clear the hold anyway."

Marcy Gray had thought so all along. The lights were coming up at a hand gallop, and already they were much nearer than they seemed to be, for the shape of the steamer could be made out by the unaided eye. When Beardsley ceased speaking, the sound of a gong was clearly heard, and a minute later the steamer blew her whistle.

"What did I tell you, Morgan?" whined the captain. "She's slowing up, and that whistle means for us to show lights. The next thing we shall see will be a small boat coming off. I hope the swell'll turn it upside down and drown every mother's son of her crew that-On deck, there," he shouted, in great consternation. "Get out lights, and be quick about it. She'll be on top of us directly."

"She can see us as well without lights as she can with 'em," growled the mate, as he backed down slowly from the crosstrees. "I don't care if she cuts us down. I'd about as soon go to the bottom as to be shut up in a Yankee prison."

Marcy Gray was almost as badly frightened as Beardsley seemed to be. The steamer was dangerously near, and her behavior and the schooner's proved the truth of what he had read somewhere, that "two vessels on the ocean seemed to exercise a magnetic influence upon each other, so often do collisions occur when it looks as though there might be room for all the navies of the world to pass in review." So it was now. The two vessels drifted toward each other, broadside on, and the breeze was so light that the Hattie was almost helpless; but the stranger was well handled; her huge paddle wheels, which up to this moment had hung motionless in the water, began to turn backward, and presently Marcy let go his desperate clutch upon the stay to which he was clinging, and drew a long breath of relief. Whatever else the cruiser might do to the Hattie she did not mean to send her to the bottom.

"Schooner ahoy!" came the hail.

"On board the steamer," answered Captain Beardsley, who had been allowed a little leisure in which to recover his wits and courage.

"What schooner is that?"

"The Hattie of New York," shouted Beardsley. "Homeward bound from

Havana with a cargo of sugar. Who are you?"

"The United States supply steamer Adelaide. What are you doing a hundred miles eastward of your course, and showing no lights?" asked the voice; and Marcy fully expected that the next words would be, "I'll send a boat aboard of you."

"I'm afraid of privateers," was Beardsley's response. "I heered there was some afloat, and I can't afford to fall in with any of 'em, kase everything I've got on 'arth is this schooner. If I lose her I'm teetotally ruined."

"Well, then, why don't you hold in toward Hatteras, where you will be safe? There's a big fleet in there, and in a few days there'll be more."

"You don't tell me! Much obleeged for the information! I will put that way as fast as this breeze will take me. Seen anything suspicious? No? Then good-by and farewell."

Beardsley shouted out some orders,

the schooner filled away so as to pass under the steamer's stern, and to Marcy's unbounded astonishment she was permitted to go in peace. The stranger's gong sounded again, and she also went on her way. There was scarcely a word spoken above a whisper until her lights had disappeared; then the schooner's own lanterns were hauled down, her head was turned to the point of the compass toward which it had been directed when the steamer was first discovered, and Captain Beardsley was himself again.

"By gum!" said he, striding up and down the deck, pausing now and then to go through the undignified performance of shipping his mates on the back. "By gum, I done it, didn't I! What sort of a Yankee do you reckon I'd make, Marcy? I talked just like one-through the nose, you know. Pretty good acting; don't you think so?"

"It was good enough to save the schooner," replied Marcy.

"And that was what I meant to do if I could. I wouldn't have give a dollar for my chances of getting shet of that steamer till she began to back away to keep from running us down, and then something told me that I'd be all right if I put a bold face on the matter. And that's what I done. Oh, I'm a sharp one, and it takes a better man than a Yankee to get ahead of me. I was really much obliged to him for telling me of that blockading fleet at Hatteras, for now I'll know better than to go nigh that place. Hold the old course, Morgan, and that will take us out of the way of coasters and cruisers, both. I'll go below and turn in for a short nap."

"If I should follow this business until I am gray-headed I don't think I should ever again have so narrow an escape," said Marcy to himself, as he too went below to take a little needed rest. "Why, it seems like a dream; and somehow I can hardly bring myself to believe it really happened. If the Yankees talk the way Captain Beardsley did, all I can say for them is that they are queer folks."

It seemed as though the schooner's crew could never get through talking about their short interview with the supply steamer, for every one of them had given up all hope of escape, and looked for nothing else but to see an armed boat put off to test the truth of Captain Beardsley's statements regarding the Hattie and her cargo. The mate, Morgan, was completely bewildered. He could not understand how a man who had showed a disposition to cry when he saw his vessel in danger, could be so cool and even impudent when the critical moment came.

In due time all thoughts of the enemy they had left astern gave way to speculations concerning those they might find before them. The latitude of Hatteras Inlet was thought to be particularly dangerous; but that was passed in the night and Marcy breathed easily again, until Beardsley began to take a slant in toward the shore, and then there was another season of suspense. But the day drew to a close without bringing any suspicious smoke or sail to add to their fears, and when darkness came Crooked Inlet was not more than thirty miles away. If the strong and favoring wind that then filled the schooner's sails held out, her keel would be plowing the waters of the Sound by midnight or a little later, and Captain Beardsley's commission would be safe. At least that was what the latter told Marcy; and, while he talked, he jingled some keys in his pocket with as much apparent satisfaction as though they were the dollars he hoped to put there in a few days more. But the old saying that there is many a slip came very near holding true in Beardsley's case. The latter was so certain that he had left all danger behind him, and that he had nothing more to do but sail in at his leisure and land his cargo when he got ready, that he did not think it worth while to man the crosstrees after nightfall; consequently there was no watchful lookout to warn him of the suspicious looking object that moved slowly out of the darkness a mile or so ahead, and waited for him to come up. About eleven o'clock Marcy Gray strolled forward and climbed out upon the bowsprit to see if he could discover any signs of the land, which, according to his calculations, ought not to be far distant.

"I might as well be out here as anywhere else," he thought, pulling out the night-glass, which he had taken the precaution to bring with him. "Of course the skipper will run her through without any aid from me, as he did before, and so-what in the world is that? Looks like a smooth round rock; but I know it isn't, for there's nothing of that sort about this Inlet."

Marcy took another look through the glass, then backed quickly but noiselessly down from his perch and ran aft to the quarter-deck. The captain was standing there joking with his mates, and congratulating them and himself on the safe and profitable run the Hattie had made; and as Marcy came up he threw back his head and gave utterance to a hoarse laugh, which, in the stillness of the night, could have been heard half a mile away.

"Captain! Captain!" exclaimed Marcy, in great excitement, "for goodness' sake don't do that again! Keep still! There's a ship's long boat filled with men right ahead of us."

It seemed to Marcy that Beardsley wilted visibly when this astounding piece of news was imparted to him. His hearty laugh was broken short off in the middle, so to speak, and when turned so that the light from the binnacle shone upon his face, Marcy saw that it was as white as a sheet.

"No!" he managed to gasp.

"Why, boy, you're scared to death," said one of the mates, rather contemptuously. "Where's the ship for the long boat to come from?"

"I don't know anything about that," answered Marcy hurriedly. "I only tell you what I saw with my own eyes. Here's the glass. Captain. Go for'ard and take a look for yourself."

The captain snatched the glass with almost frantic haste and ran toward the bow, followed by the mates and all the rest of the crew, with the exception of the man at the wheel. With trembling hands Beardsley raised the binoculars, but almost immediately took them down again to say, in frightened tones:

"For the first time in my life I have missed my reckoning. We're lost, and the Yankee fleet may be within less than a mile of us. Take a look, Morgan. I never saw that rock before."

"But I tell you it isn't a rock," protested Marcy. "It is a boat, and she's lying head on so that she won't show as plainly as she would if she lay broadside to us. Do you see those long black streaks on each side? Those are oars, and they were in motion when I first saw them."

The mate was so long in making his observations that Marcy grew impatient, and wondered at his stupidity. He could see without the aid of a glass that it was a boat and nothing else; and more than that, the schooner had by this time drawn so near her that he could make out two suspicious objects in her bow-one he was sure was a howitzer, and the other looked very like the upright, motionless figure of a blue-jacket, awaiting the order from the officer in command to pull the lock-string. An instant later a second figure arose, as if from the stern-sheets, and the command came clear and distinct:

"Heave to, or we'll blow you out of the water!"

"Now I hope you are satisfied!" exclaimed Marcy.

He expected to see Beardsley wilt again; but he did nothing of the sort. It required an emergency to bring out what there was in him, and when he saw that he must act, he did it without an instant's hesitation.

"Lay aft, all hands!" was the order he gave. "Marcy, stand by to watch the buoys in the Inlet. Morgan, go to the wheel and hold her just as she is. Don't luff so much as a hair's breadth. We'll run them Yankees down. It's our only chance."

"And a very slim one it is," thought Marcy, as he took the glass from the mate's hand and directed it toward the point where he thought the entrance of the Inlet ought to be. "The cruiser to which this boat belongs can't be far away, and she will come up the minute she hears the roar of the howitzer."

"Heave to, or we'll sink you!" came the order, in louder and more emphatic tones.

"Starboard a spoke or two. Steady at that," said Beardsley, turning about and addressing the man who had been stationed in the waist to pass his commands. "Ten to one they'll miss us, but all the same I wish I knew how heavy them guns of their'n is."

"They have but one," replied Marcy, wondering at the captain's coolness.

"Can't you see it there in the bow?"

"Well, if it's a twenty-four pounder, like them old ones of our'n, and they hit us at the water-line, they'll tear a hole in us as big as a barn door."

All this while the schooner had been bearing swiftly down upon the launch, and when the officer in command of her began to see through Beardsley's little plan, he at once proceeded to set in motion one of his own that was calculated to defeat it. His howitzer was loaded with a five-second shrapnel, and this he fired at the schooner at a point-blank range of less than a hundred yards. He couldn't miss entirely at that short distance, but the missile flew too high to hull the blockade-runner. It struck the flying jib-boom, breaking it short off and rendering that sail useless, glanced and splintered the rail close by the spot where the captain and his pilot were standing, went shrieking off over the water, and finally exploding an eighth of a mile astern. The skipper and Marcy were both prostrated by a splinter six feet long and four inches thick that was torn from the rail; but they scrambled to their feet again almost as soon as they touched the deck, and when they looked ahead, fully expecting to find the launch under the schooner's fore-foot and on the point of being run down, they saw an astonishing as well as a most discouraging sight. The boat was farther away than she was before, and her whole length could be seen now, for not only was she broadside on, but the darkness above and around her, which had hitherto rendered her shape and size somewhat indistinct, was lighted up by a bright glare that shot up from somewhere amidships, and the sound of escaping steam could be plainly heard.

[Illustration: CAPTAIN BEARDSLEY SURPRISED.]

"Oh, my shoulder! Dog-gone it all, my shoulder!" cried Beardsley, placing the instep of his left foot behind his right knee and hopping about as if it were the lower portion of his anatomy that had been injured instead of the upper. "She's got a steam ingine aboard of her, and them oars of her'n was only meant for snooping up and down the coast quiet and still' so't nobody couldn't hear 'em. We're gone this time, Morgan; and I tell you that for a fact!"

The moment Marcy Gray recovered his feet he made an effort to pick up the glass that had fallen from his grasp, but to his surprise, his left hand refused to obey his will. When he made a second attempt, he found that he could not move his hand at all unless he raised his arm at the shoulder. He was not conscious of much pain, although he afterward said that his arm felt a good deal as it did when Dick Graham accidentally hit his biceps with a swiftly pitched ball. But his right hand was all right, and with it he snatched up the glass and levied it at the Inlet, which to his great delight he could plainly see straight ahead.

"Mind what you are about, Captain," said he, as soon as he could induce the man to stand still and listen to him. "That first buoy is a black one, and you want to leave it to port. If you keep on as you are holding now you will leave it to starboard, and that will run you hard and fast aground."

"Don't make much odds which way we go," whined Beardsley, holding fast to his elbow with one hand and to his shoulder with the other. "Just look what them Yankees is a doing!"

The captain became utterly disheartened when he saw that his plan for sinking the launch and making good his escape into the Inlet was going to end in failure, and Marcy did not blame him for it. The officer in command of the small boat, whoever he might be, was a determined and active fellow; his crew were picked men; his little craft was a "trotter," and he knew how to handle both of them. He had been sent out by one of the blockading squadron to patrol the coast and watch for just such vessels as the Hattie was, and although he had steam up all the while, he used his twenty-four muffled oars, twelve on a side, as his motive power; and this enabled him to slip along the coast without making the least sound to betray his presence. As luck would have it, he had not discovered Crooked Inlet. If he had, he would have lifted the buoys, and it might have led to extra watchfulness on the part of the blockading fleet. But he had discovered the Hattie and his actions proved that he did not mean to let her escape if he could help it.

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