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   Chapter 8 A NOISE AT THE WINDOW.

Marcy the Blockade Runner By Harry Castlemon Characters: 24054

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Mrs. Gray's countenance grew white with alarm. She flew down the steps, and throwing both her arms about her son's neck, hid her face on his shoulder and sobbed violently. Marcy put his uninjured arm around her, and his mother leaned so heavily upon it that the boy thought she was going to faint.

"Now see what you have done, you black rascal, by wagging your tongue so freely," said Marcy angrily. "I've the best notion in the world to have you sent to the field."

"But, moster," protested the frightened coachman, "de Yankees did shoot--"

"Hold your tongue! If you lisp another word I will have you sent to the overseer as sure as you are a living darkey. Now take those things out of the carriage and put them in my room; and when you have done that, go off somewhere and spend an hour or two every day telling the truth, so that you will get used to it. Come into the house," he added gently, leading his mother up the steps, "and I will tell you all about it. I wasn't shot. I was struck by a splinter."

"Oh, Marcy," sobbed Mrs. Gray, "your face tells a different story. You have suffered-you are suffering now; and there isn't a particle of color in your cheeks. Don't try to deceive me, for I must know the worst sooner or later."

"I am not trying to deceive you," answered Marcy, although he was trying to break the disagreeable news as gently as he could. "I was knocked down by a splinter and my arm was broken."

"There now," began his mother.

"But it's all right," Marcy hastened to add. "Beardsley set the bone in less than three hours after it was broken, and the surgeon I consulted in Newbern said he made a good job of it. I don't know what you think about it, but I am not sorry it happened."

"Oh, Marcy! why do you say that?"

"Because it gave me a chance to come home. To tell you the truth, blockade running is getting to be a dangerous business. We had four narrow escapes this trip. Beardsley's impudence and a Union captain's simplicity brought us out of the first scrape, a storm came to our aid in the second, sheer good luck and a favoring breeze saved us in the third, and a shot from the second mate's revolver brought us out of the fourth. We are liable to fall into the hands of the cruisers any day; and suppose I had been captured and thrown into a Northern prison! You might not have seen me again for a year or two; perhaps longer. Bring those bundles in here and take the valise upstairs," he added to the coachman, who just then passed along the hall with Marcy's luggage in his hands. "Open that bundle, mother. You need not be ashamed to wear those dresses, for they were bought in Nassau with honest money-money that I earned by doing duty as a foremast hand. I didn't pay any duty on them because no one asked me for it. And in fact I don't know whether there is a custom-house in Newbern or not. The box in the other bundle contains nothing but bottles of quinine."

"What induced you to get so much?" asked Mrs. Gray, who had wiped away her tears and was trying to look cheerful again.

"Captain Beardsley first called my attention to the fact that medicine had gone up in price, and I saw by a paper I got in Nassau that the rebels are already smuggling quinine across the Potomac," answered Marcy. "There's a good deal of ague about here, and we'd be in a pretty fix if we should all get down with it, and no medicine in the house to help us out." Here he got up and drew his chair closer to his mother's side, adding in a whisper, "I've twenty-one hundred dollars in gold in my valise, lacking what I paid for my railroad ticket, and nearly four hundred dollars of it belongs to me. The rest belongs to the captain of the Hollins."

"Do you still cling to the hope that you will some day meet him again?" asked his mother.

"I know it will be like hunting for a needle in a haystack, but if I don't find him I shall have the satisfaction of knowing that I tried to, and that I haven't spent any of his money. I'll keep it locked in my trunk until my arm gets so that I can handle a spade, and then I'll hide it in one of the flower beds. Now, how is everything about home? Has Kelsey shown his ugly face here since I went away, or have you heard anything from those 'secret enemies' that Wat Gifford spoke of? How has Hanson behaved himself?"

Mrs. Gray's report was so satisfactory that Marcy was put quite at his ease. She had had nothing to worry over, she told him, except, of course, his absence and Jack's, and if she had not received so many warnings she would not have suspected that there were such things as secret enemies around her. But she had relaxed none of her vigilance, and was always on her guard when any of the neighbors came to see her. It was a dreadful way to live, but there was no help for it.

By the time Marcy had removed some of the stains of travel from his face and clothing, supper was announced; and as he had to talk about something during the meal, he entertained his mother with a minute description of the exciting incidents that happened during the Hattie's homeward run. He could talk of these things in his ordinary tone of voice, and he did not care who overheard him. More than that, he was satisfied that every word he uttered in the presence of the girl who waited at table would go straight to Hanson's ears, and he was really talking for Hanson's benefit. He retired at an early hour, after his arm had been bathed and bandaged again (his mother could not keep back her tears when she saw how inflamed and angry it looked), and left his lamp burning, as he had done every night since his friend Gifford dropped that hint about a visit from an organized band of 'longshoremen. Before he got into bed he unlocked his valise and took from it two things that his mother knew nothing about,-a brace of heavy revolvers,-which he placed where he could get his hands upon them at a moment's warning. "Thank goodness the old flag is above me once more, and not that secession rag that Beardsley seems to be so proud of," thought Marcy, as he pounded his pillow into shape and drew the quilts over his shoulders. "If Colonel Shelby and the rest knew that there are two Union flags somewhere among these bedclothes, how long do you suppose this house would stand? If those men are such good rebels, I can't for the life of me understand why they don't go into the service, instead of staying at home and making trouble for their neighbors. I should think they would be ashamed of themselves."

There were plenty of such men all over the South, and Marcy Gray was not the only one who wondered why they did not hasten to the front, seeing that they were so very hostile to the Yankees and their sympathizers, and professed so much zeal for the cause of Southern independence. His cousin Rodney often asked himself the same question while Dick Graham was staying at his father's house, waiting for a chance to get across the Mississippi River. Tom Randolph, who could not forget that Captain Hubbard's Rangers had refused to give him the office he wanted, was Rodney's evil genius. Although Tom became in time commander of a small company of Home Guards, he could be for the old flag or against it, as circumstances seemed to require. When the Union forces took possession of Baton Rouge and the gunboats anchored in front of the city, Randolph sent more than one squad of Yankee cavalry to search Mr. Gray's house for firearms, and took measures to keep Rodney, Dick Graham, and the other discharged Confederates in constant trouble; but when General Breckenridge and his army appeared, and it began to look as though the rebels were about to drive the Union forces out and take possession of Baton Rouge and the surrounding country, Tom Randolph gave his scouts the names of all the Union men in Mooreville and vicinity, and of course they did not escape persecution. But Tom, sly as he was, could not play a double part forever. His sin found him out and his punishment came close upon the heels of it. We shall tell all about it in its proper place.

Having no watch to stand on this particular night, and having no fear of capture by cruisers or a fight with armed steam launches, Marcy soon fell asleep, to be awakened about midnight by a sound that sent the cold chills all over him. He could not have told just what it was, but all the same it frightened him. He sat up in bed and pulled one of his revolvers from under his pillow. He listened intently, and in a few seconds the sound was repeated. Then he knew that it was made by a pebble which some one in the yard below had tossed against his window. It was a signal of some sort, but who made it, and why should the visitor, whoever he might be, seek to arouse him without disturbing his mother?

"By gracious!" thought Marcy, resting his revolver on his knee with the muzzle turned toward the window, as if he half expected to see some one try to force an entrance there. "What can it mean! It may be a dangerous piece of business to draw the curtain and open that window, for how do I know but that there's somebody below waiting for a chance to pop me over? How do I know but those 'longshoremen have come up--"

When this thought passed through the boy's mind his fear gave place to indignation; and hesitating no longer he threw off the bedclothes and advanced toward the window, just as another pebble rattled against it. He dashed the curtain aside, threw up the sash, and thrust his head and his revolver out of the window. The night was so dark that he could not see a thing except the dark sky and the darker shadows of the trees against it.

"Who's there?" he demanded. "Speak quick."

"The despot's heel is on thy shore;

His torch is at thy temple door.

Avenge the patriotic gore

That flecks the streets of Baltimore

And be the battle queen of yore-

Maryland! my Maryland!"

That was the answer he received to his challenge. It was given in a voice that he had never heard before, and Marcy was so utterly amazed that he could not interrupt the speaker, or say a word himself when the verse was concluded. It was part of a rebel song that had recently become very popular in Baltimore, but it had not yet reached North Carolina. For only an instant, however, did Marcy stand motionless and speechless, and then he pointed his weapon in the direction from which the voice sounded, saying in steady tones:

"If you don't give me an answer that I can understand, I'll cut loose.

Who are you?"

"I am a homeless, friendless smuggler," replied the voice; and at the same instant a familiar bark, followed by an impatient whine, told the astonished Marcy that his faithful watchman, Bose, was under the window with the stranger. The unexpected discovery made every nerve in his body tingle with excitement, and his next words were uttered in a husky and indistinct tone.

"Jack!" he exclaimed. "Oh, Jack! Is that you?"

"It's I," answered the visitor, speaking in his natural voice this time. "I'm here safe and sound, and none the worse for having been a prisoner in the hands of that pirate, Captain Semmes."

"Go round to the front door and I will be right down," said Marcy, in suppressed tones. He could not imagine why his brother should make his presence known in this guarded way instead of boldly demanding admittance at the door, but he knew that there was some reason for it and conducted himself accordingly. He moved about his room very quietly while he dressed himself as well as he could with only one hand to work with, and then he caught up the lamp, hurried downstairs and made his way to his mother's room. His low tap met with an instant response.

"Oh, mother," exclaimed Marcy, "Jack's come home, and he's Union."

"Of course he is for the Union," answered Mrs. Gray calmly, although she was almost as highly excited as Marcy was. "I have never thought of him as being a rebel."

"The rebels had him prisoner," added Marcy; and with this bit of news to add to his mother

's excitement, the boy ran to the front door. The moment he opened it a stalwart young fellow sprang upon the threshold with his arms spread out; but he stopped suddenly when his eyes fell upon Marcy's white face and upon the sling in which he carried his left hand.

"What's happened to you?" he demanded, as soon as he could speak.

"I got that while helping Captain Beardsley run a cargo of contraband goods through Crooked Inlet," replied Marcy, laughing at the expression of surprise and disgust that came upon the young sailor's bronzed face as he listened to the words. "First I was a privateer and now I am a blockade-runner."

"There must be some good reason for it, because I know as well as you do that you do not belong on that side of the house," said the returned wanderer, closing and locking the door after beckoning to Bose, who was never permitted to enter the house except upon extraordinary occasions. "I had a fine chance to become a rebel pirate. When the prize-master who was put aboard of us after we were captured, found that I was from a seceded State, he promised if I would ship on the Sumter to ask Captain Semmes--"

Just at this point the young sailor looked over his brother's shoulder and saw his mother coming along the hall. A second later he held her clasped in his arms. She looked very small and frail while standing beside that tall, broad-shouldered son, who was as fine a specimen of an American sailor as could be found anywhere outside of New England. Although he was but three years older than Marcy, who was by no means a puny fellow, he stood head and shoulders above him, and was built like a young Hercules. It was little wonder that Mrs. Gray and Marcy had awaited his coming with the greatest anxiety and impatience, or that the former should say to himself: "From this time on I can sleep in peace. Jack's got home and mother's property is safe."

"Now that you have got through saying 'hallo,' I'd like to have you tell me why you came home like a thief in the night instead of knocking at the door," said Marcy. "I don't know when I have been so frightened."

"Aha! That shows that I did not make a mistake in going to so much trouble to be on the safe side. You are afraid of the neighbors, are you? I read the papers when I could get them, and among other things I learned that the South is divided against itself, and that few men know for certain who their friends are. Let's go somewhere and sit down."

Jack led his mother into the sitting-room. Marcy following with the lamp, and taking care to see that all the doors were closed before he seated himself.

"I should judge from your actions, Marcy, that this family is divided against itself, and that you are afraid to trust the servants," said Jack. "If that's the case, the papers told the truth. Now tell me how you got that bad arm. Were you shot?"

Marcy did not spend much time on his story, for he was impatient to learn when and where his brother had been captured, and how he had managed to escape after a prize crew had been thrown aboard his vessel. He simply told of his experience in the blockade-runner Hattie, leaving his exploits in the Osprey to be narrated at some future time.

"I am glad the Hattie got through the blockade all right seeing that you were aboard of her," said Jack, when Marcy brought his story to a close. "But if Uncle Sam doesn't do something to break up blockade-running, he'll have a war on his hands that will make him open his eyes. It will not take me five minutes to tell my story. I was a prisoner not more than twelve hours, and during that time not the first exciting thing happened. If it hadn't been for the fact that there was a strange officer in command of the brig, and that our old man was walking around with his hands in his pockets, saying nothing, we wouldn't have known that we were prisoners at all."

With this introduction the returned sailor settled into an easy position among the sofa pillows and related his experience very nearly as follows, with this exception: He quite forgot to say that he was the one who first conceived the idea of taking the Sabine out of the hands of the prize crew that Semmes had placed aboard of her, and that, if it had not been for his courage and prompt action, the brig would either have been sold for the benefit of the Confederate Government, or burned in the Caribbean Sea after her neutral cargo had been put ashore.

It happened on the morning of July 4, and the Sabine, in company with the brig Herndon, was sailing along the southern coast of Cuba, having recently left the port of Trinidad-de-Cuba with a cargo of sugar and molasses, which was consigned to an English port in the Island of Jamaica. Although there was some sea on and rain squalls were frequent, there was but little breeze, and consequently the Sabine could not have run into neutral waters even if second mate Jack Gray, who had charge of the deck, had known that the steamer that was bearing down upon her was the freebooter, Sumter.

"What do you mean by neutral waters?" Marcy wanted to know.

"Why, every country that owns a strip of seacoast owns also the waters for three miles out," replied Jack. "And inside of that marine league, as it is called, the cruisers of one nation mustn't trouble the ships of another with which it happens to be at war. For example, if two armed vessels belonging to two different nations who are at loggerheads, happen to sail into the same neutral port, they can't fight there, but must go outside; and if one of them runs out, the other must wait twenty-four hours before following her."

The coast of Cuba was in plain view when the Sumter was sighted, but as there was little breeze stirring, and the brigs could not escape, Captain Semmes was not obliged to resort to the cowardly trick he usually practiced-that is, hoisting the English ensign to quiet the fears of the crew of the unlucky vessels he intended to destroy. He began business at once; and the first thing that drew the attention of second mate Jack Gray, as he planked the quarter-deck thinking of almost everything except Confederate war vessels, was the roar of a thirty-two pounder. Jack looked up to see a thick cloud of white smoke floating slowly away from the side of the steamer, and to take note of the fact that a peculiar looking flag floated from her peak. Jack had never seen it before, but he knew in a minute what it was. At the same time he noticed that the Herndon which was half a mile or so in advance of the Sabine had backed her main topsail and hoisted her own colors-the Stars and Stripes.

"Tumble up here, Captain," exclaimed Jack, rushing to the top of the companion-ladder. "There's a rebel steamer on the lee bow, speaking to us."

"I wondered what that noise was," said the captain, as he came up the ladder in two jumps, and saw that a boat had already been lowered from the steamer and was putting off to take charge of the Herndon.

The captain knew that there were rebel privateers afloat, for in a foreign port he had read of the escape of the Savannah from Charleston on June 2, and of the inglorious ending of her short career as a freebooter. The Savannah captured one merchantman with a cargo of sugar, and afterward gave chase to a brig, which turned out to be the man of war Perry. The Savannah was captured after a little race, and her crew were sent to New York as prisoners. But the captain of the Sabine never knew until that moment that the rebels had let loose steam vessels to prey upon the commerce of the Northern States. He looked at the "pirate," which, having sent off a boat to complete the capture of the Herndon had put herself in motion again and was drawing closer to the Sabine glanced up at the sails, and then turned his wistful eyes toward the Cuban coast line.

"There isn't the ghost of a chance," said Jack, who easily read the thoughts that were passing in the mind of his commander. "If we try to run and she doesn't feel like chasing us, she'll shoot us into little bits."

"She's got five guns," remarked the first mate, who was making a close examination of the steamer through the spyglass. "She's loading one of them, and it might be a good plan for us to come to and show colors."

These words brought the captain to his senses. He gave the necessary orders, and in a few minutes the brig's maintopsail had been backed and the Union emblem was floating from her peak. There were an astonished lot of men aboard of her, and they were so angry, too, that they could not stand still. They clenched their hands and gritted their teeth when they saw a boat filled with armed men put off from the steamer, and when the boarding officer came over the side and informed the captain of the Sabine in courteous tones, that his vessel was a prize to the Confederate cruiser Sumter they could scarcely control themselves.

"I suppose I shall have to give in," said the Yankee skipper. "But I tell you plainly that if I had five guns and as many men as you've got, one or the other of us would have been on his way to the bottom before this time."

"Oh, I don't doubt that you would make us plenty of trouble if you had the power," said the rebel officer, with a smile. "But, fortunately, you haven't got it. I shall have to ask you to get your papers and go off to the Sumter with me. What's your cargo, where from, and whither bound?" he added, turning to Jack, when the captain had disappeared in the cabin.

The second mate did not waste any time or words in giving the desired information.

"Ah! A neutral cargo bound from one neutral port to another," said the officer. "I am sorry to hear that."

"Why are you?" inquired Jack.

"Because under the circumstances we cannot destroy your vessel."

"What's the use of being so mean just because you happen to possess the power?" said Jack.

"Young man," replied the officer sharply, "we are bound to harass you Yankees all we can and in every way we can. That's what your people are doing to us. But what else can we do? France and England have denied us the privilege of taking our prizes into any of their ports, and there's but one course left for us to pursue. But Spain hasn't spoken yet, and perhaps we shall test her friendship for us by taking you into a Cuban port."

Things turned out just as the boarding officer thought they would. The captain of the brig was taken off to the Sumter, and after his papers had been examined he was sent back, and a prize crew, consisting of a midshipman and four sailors, was placed on board the brig. Both prizes were then taken in tow by the Sumter, which steamed away for the harbor of Cienfuegos, Captain Semmes laboring under the delusion that Spain would permit him to have his Yankee prizes condemned and sold in a Spanish port. The Confederate midshipman commanded the brig, the Yankee sailors sullenly performed the little work there was to be done, and the four Confederate sailors stood around and kept watch of them.

Only one thing that was worthy of note occurred during the day. The Sumter steamed slowly along the coast, making not more than five knots an hour, and the Yankee sailors, enraged over the loss of their vessel, and looking forward to nothing else but a long term of confinement in a Southern prison, were very uneasy, and naturally enough they wanted to exchange opinions on the situation; but that was something the midshipman would not permit. He was vigilant, and would not allow the brig's crew to get together for fear that they might hatch up a plan for recapturing their property. If a couple of them got near enough together to whisper a few words to each other, he would call out roughly:

"What are you about, there? Get farther apart, you two."

This state of affairs continued until night came and darkness settled down over the Caribbean Sea, and then Captain Semmes himself did something that caused the heart of every one of the Sabine's crew to beat high with hope.

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