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   Chapter 10 A COOL PROPOSITION.

Marcy the Blockade Runner By Harry Castlemon Characters: 21750

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Although the captain and Jack had not spoken to the first mate since the brig was captured, except it was in the presence of some member of the prize-crew, they had scowled and winked at him as often as the opportunity was presented, and the mate knew well enough what they meant by it and what they intended to do. He determined to do his part. He managed to exchange a few words with some of the brig's crew, whom he instructed to stand by him and be ready to lend a hand when the time came. He saw Jack make the first capture, with Smith's aid and Stebbins's, and by adroitly engaging the other three members of the prize-crew in conversation, it is probable that he kept them from taking note of what was going on in the waist. When he saw Jack make a rush for the companion-ladder, he seized the nearest Confederate, his men quickly overpowered the other two, and then he marched aft to tell his captain the good news. It was all done in less than two minutes, and Captain Semmes was none the wiser for it. The surprise was complete. There was not a shot fired, and the movements of the Yankee sailors were so rapid that resistance was useless.

"You've got the brig all to yourself again, Cap'n," said the mate. "What shall I do with these varmints?"

"Send them down here," was the reply. "And tell Stebbins to send his man down also."

As the four prisoners filed into the cabin, Jack was rather surprised to see that they did not appear to be at all cast down by the sudden and unexpected turn affairs had taken. Indeed, one of them, who spoke with a rich Irish brogue, boldly declared:

"Sure it's not mesilf that cares at all, at all. I've had enough of the bloody hooker."

"Have a care," whispered Jack, nudging him in the ribs with his elbow. "Your commanding officer is in that state-room. He can hear every word you say."

"Sorry a wan of me cares whether he can or not," replied the sailor. "We were promised big wages and prize-money by the bushel if we would help capture the Yankee ships on the high seas. We've took two prizes besides this wan, and the Herndon but we put the torch to thim, and niver a cint of prize-money is there forninst the name of Paddy Scanlan on the books."

"Well, Paddy," said the captain, with a laugh, "you may abuse the rebels all you please, and no one aboard my vessel will say a thing to you. Now, will you give your word of honor that you will behave yourselves as long as you stay aboard of me?"

"Sure I will," replied the sailor earnestly.

"I mean all of you rebels," said the captain. "You treated us very civilly while we were your prisoners, and I want to treat you in the same way if you will let me. Let's have your promise."

It was given without a moment's hesitation, and was to the effect that as long as they remained on the Sabine they would make no disturbance, but would in all respects conduct themselves with as much propriety as though they had been regularly shipped as members of her crew.

"As long as you stand to that agreement I will allow you the liberty of the deck, beginning to-morrow morning," said the captain. "But I tell you plainly that if you go back from your word, I will have you in irons before you know what is the matter with you. Smith, stand at the foot of the ladder until you are relieved. On deck the rest of us!"

Never had the Sabine's crew worked harder than they did on this particular night to bring their vessel about and get her on her course again; but this time the skipper did not intend to make for the port to which his cargo was consigned. He told his mates that as soon as the brig rounded the western end of the island of Cuba, he would fill away for Key West, which was the nearest Federal naval station.

"I won't trust myself and my ship in these waters an hour longer than I am obliged to," he declared. "How do I know but that there may be a dozen or more vessels like the Sumter cruising about here, watching their chance to make bonfires of the defenseless merchant vessels? Now let this be a standing order: While we are under way we'll not speak a single ship, no matter what flag she floats. If you see a sail, run away from it."

"And strict obedience to that order saved our bacon," said Jack, in conclusion. "We got up to Key West without any mishap, turned our prisoners over to the commandant of the station, and then filled away for Boston, taking with us a cargo that ought to have gone another way. We were warned to look out for little privateers-sailing vessels with one or two guns aboard-and the navy fellows told us that the coasts of North and South Carolina were particularly dangerous; but our brig was a grayhound, the captain had the fullest confidence in her, and so he held his course. But we kept a bright lookout night and day, and were almost worn out with watching by the time we reached our home port."

"You didn't see anything of those privateers, did you?" said Mrs. Gray.

"Yes; we sighted one somewhere in the latitude of Sandy Point," answered Jack. "She fired a couple of shells at us, and tried to lay herself across our course; but she couldn't make it. We ran away from her as if she had been anchored."

"What sort of a looking craft was she?" exclaimed Marcy, starting up in his chair.

"Well, she was a fore-and-after and had figures painted on her sails to make us believe that she was a pilot boat," answered Jack, somewhat surprised at his brother's earnestness. "But she was about four times too big for a pilot boat. She hoisted Union colors, and when she found that she could not decoy us within range that way, she ran up the secession rag and cut loose with her bow-chaser; but she might as well have saved her ammunition, for she didn't come anywhere near us."

"And neither did the rifle-shots that you fired in return come anywhere near us," added Marcy.

"Anywhere near you?" exclaimed Jack, starting up in his turn. "What do you mean? What do you know about it?"

"I know all about it, for I was there," replied Marcy. "It was I who ran up those flags, and although I didn't dream that you were on the brig, you can't imagine how delighted I was when I saw that she was bound to give us the slip. That privateer was Captain Beardsley's schooner, and I was aboard of her in the capacity of pilot."

Sailor Jack settled back in his chair as if to say that that was the most astounding thing he had ever heard in his life.

"Pilot!" he exclaimed, at length. "Lon Beardsley doesn't need a pilot on this coast. He has smuggled more than one cargo of cigars through these inlets."

"I know that. But you are aware that Beardsley has been our enemy for years. He couldn't find any way to take revenge until this war broke out, and then he began troubling us. He knew, and he knows to-day, that I am Union all over, and down on secession and all who favor it, and when he offered me the pilot's berth and promised to do the fair thing by me, he was in hopes that mother would refuse to let me go; then, don't you see, he would have had an excuse to set our rebel neighbors against us on the ground that we were traitors to our State."

"I always knew that Lon Beardsley was beneath contempt, but this rather gets ahead of me," said Jack hotly.

"But it so happened that we saw through his little game. Mother never said a word, and I shipped as pilot aboard the privateer Osprey" continued Marcy. "And, Jack (here he got up, moved his chair close to the sofa on which his brother was sitting and lowered his voice to a whisper), I was on her when she made her first and only capture, and upstairs in my valise I have seventeen hundred dollars in gold, my share of the money the Mary Hollins brought when she was condemned and sold in the port of Newbern."

"That would be a nice little sum of money if it had been earned in an honorable way," observed Jack.

"But it wasn't," said Marcy, "and consequently I don't intend to keep it. I'm going to give it back to the one to whom it belongs. Oh, you needn't laugh. I mean it!"

"I know you do, and I hope that you will some day find the man; but I am afraid you won't. Where is Beardsley now?"

"I left him at Newbern. The presence of the cruisers on the coast frightened him so that he gave up privateering-he didn't want to run the risk of being captured with guns aboard of him for fear that he might be treated as a pirate-and took to running the blockade. We made one successful trip, taking out cotton and bringing back an assorted cargo worth somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred thousand dollars, and it was while we were trying to make Crooked Inlet on our way home that we came the nearest to being captured. We ran foul of a howitzer launch, which turned loose on us with shrapnel and canister, and gave me this broken arm and Beardsley a black and blue shoulder."

"I wish from the bottom of my heart that she had given him a broken head," said Jack. "Were you much hurt?"

"I don't mind it in the least," answered Marcy. "It has given me a chance to visit with mother and you. But I don't quite understand why you came home as you did. What made you so sly about it? Go more into particulars, but don't talk too loud."

"Is it a fact that you are afraid to converse in ordinary tones in your own house?" said Jack, looking inquiringly at his mother.

"Marcy and I have been very cautious, for we don't know whom to trust," answered Mrs. Gray. "One of our principal sources of anxiety is the money we have hidden in the cellar wall."

"Thirty thousand dollars!" whispered Marcy in his brother's ear. "Mother brought it home herself and spent three nights in fixing a place for it."

"Holy Moses!" said Jack under his breath. "Do the neighbors know it?"

"They suspect it, and that is what troubles us."

"I don't wonder at it. Why, mother, there are plenty of white trash about here who would rob you in a minute if they thought they could do it without bringing harm to themselves. I declare, I am almost afraid to leave home again."

"Oh, Jack!" said his mother, the tears starting to her eyes; "you surely will not leave me again."

"Not if you bid me stay, but I didn't think you would do it, knowing, as I did, that you are strong for the Union. That was the reason I came home in the night and threw stones at Marcy's window. I intended, after a short visit, to show my love for the old flag by making my way out to the blockading fleet, and shipping with the first commander who would take me. Consequently, I did not want to let any of the neighbors know that I came home at all. I was sure that there must be some Union people here, but of course I don't know who they are any more than I know who the rebels are; so I thought it best to keep my movements a secret. However, I might as well have saved myself the trouble," added Jack, while an express

ion of anxiety settled upon his bronzed features; "of course I can't keep out of sight of the servants, and if there are any treacherous ones among them, as you seem to think, they will blab on me to the first rebel they can find."

"They will tell the overseer of it," said Marcy. "He's a sneak and a spy as well as a rebel."

"Why do you keep him, then?" demanded Jack. "Why didn't you kick him off the place as soon as you found out that he could not be trusted?"

"I hired him for a year," answered Mrs. Gray. "And if I should discharge him on account of his political opinions, can you not see that I would give the rebels in the settlement the very opportunity that I believe they are waiting for-the opportunity to persecute me?"

"Perhaps there is something in that," said Jack thoughtfully. "I must say that this is a nice way to live. But the Confederates can't say a word against you now, because Marcy sails under their flag."

"If anybody tells you that story don't you believe a word of it," said Marcy. "They know why I went aboard that privateer as well as if I had told them all about it. But, Jack, what did you mean when you told me that you were a homeless, friendless smuggler?"

"I am not exactly homeless and friendless," replied the sailor, with a hearty laugh, "but it is a fact that I am a smuggler in a small way. When I found myself safe in Boston, the first thing I thought of was getting home. I first decided I would go to Washington and try to get a pass through the Union lines; but I soon found that that wouldn't do, for I saw by the papers that the Federals were straining every nerve to close the Potomac against smugglers and mail-carriers, and that satisfied me that no passes were granted. My only hope then was to get here by water. I met my captain every day or two, and he helped me out by securing me a berth on the schooner, West Wind. He never said a word to me about the character of the vessel, although he must have known all about it and given me a good recommend besides, for the day after I went aboard. Captain Frazier called me into his cabin, and took me into his confidence.

"I thought the master of the Sabine was a strong Union man," said Marcy. "But this looks as though he was giving aid and comfort to the rebels."

"Well, no; he didn't mean it that way. He was giving aid and comfort to me, don't you see? He wanted to help me get home, and I assure you I was glad of the chance he gave me. Captain Frazier was an old friend of his. He happened to find out that Frazier was about to turn an honest penny by selling the Confederates medicine and other little things of which they stood in need, and instead of betraying him, he recommended me as a suitable man for second mate, for I was a tolerable sailor, and well acquainted with the coasts of the Carolinas. I accepted the position when it was offered me, and brought the West Wind through Oregon Inlet as slick as you please, although the channel doesn't run within a hundred yards of where it did the last time I went through there."

"Did you take out a venture?"

"Of course. I risked about two-thirds of my hard-earned wages."

"What did you buy?"

"Quinine, calomel, and about half a dozen different kinds of quack medicines in the shape of pills and tonics. But there was where I made a mistake. I ought to have put all the money in quinine. If I had, I would have made two or three hundred dollars more than I did. As it was I cleared about twelve hundred. And that reminds me that I left my grip-sack on the gallery."

He and Marcy went out to bring it in, and when they returned, Jack was slapping the side of the valise to make the gold pieces jingle.

"My son, I am very sorry you did it," said Mrs. Gray reproachfully.

"Very sorry indeed."

"Why, mother, just listen to this," replied Jack, hitting the valise another sounding whack.

"I hear it," said his mother. "But when you brought those things down here and piloted that vessel through the blockade, didn't you violate the laws of your country? Did you not render yourself liable to arrest and imprisonment?"

"Well, to be honest, I did; but you see I was looking into the future. When I reached Newbern I wasn't home by a long shot. There's a right smart stretch of country between that place and this. I walked nearly every step of the way from Boydtown, and every man I met was the hottest kind of a rebel, or professed to be. When questioned, as I often was, I could tell a truthful story about being second mate of a schooner that had slipped into Newbern with a lot of goods for the Confederacy, and furthermore, I had the documents to prove it," said Jack, drawing an official envelope from an inside pocket. "This is a strong letter from the captain of the West Wind, recommending me to any blockade-running shipmaster who may be in need of a coast pilot and second mate; but I never expect to use it. Here are some documents of an entirely different character," and as he said this, the sailor thrust his hand into the leg of his boot and pulled forth another large envelope. "This contains two letters, one from the master of the Sabine, and the other from her owners; and they give a flattering history of the part I took in recapturing the brig. These letters may be of use to me when the time comes for me to ship on a blockader."

"I don't see how you got out of Boston with your contraband cargo," said

Marcy. "How did you clear at the custom house?"

"Why, bless you, our cargo was all right," replied Jack, "and so were our papers. The cargo was brought aboard in broad daylight, and consigned to a well-known American firm in Havana; but the little articles that were brought aboard after dark and scattered around among the barrels and boxes in the hold, would have sent the last one of us to jail if they had been discovered."

"Oh, Jack!" exclaimed Mrs. Gray, "how could you do it? I can't see how you could bring yourself to take so much risk."

"I did it to keep up appearances; and hasn't Marcy done the same thing and with your consent? Didn't he join that privateer and run the risk of being captured or killed by the Yankees because you and he thought it policy for him to do so? I am not a policy man, but in times like these one can't always do as he wants to."

There were so many things to talk about, and such a multitude of questions to be asked and answered on both sides, that the little clock on the mantel struck four different hours before any one thought of going to bed; and then Jack did not go to his own room, but passed the rest of the night with Marcy, for the latter hinted very strongly that he had some things to say to him that he did not care to mention in his mother's presence.

"She has enough to bother her already," said he, as he closed and locked the door of his room; "and although I have no secrets from her, I don't like to speak to her on disagreeable subjects. I wish she could forget that money in the cellar wall and the hints Wat Gifford gave her about 'longshoremen coming up here from Plymouth some dark night to steal it."

Sailor Jack, who was standing in front of the bureau putting away his letters of recommendation and the canvas bag that contained his money, turned quickly about and looked at his brother without speaking.

"Of course I don't know that such a thing will ever happen," continued Marcy, "but I do know for a fact that Beardsley and a few others are very anxious to find out whether or not there are any funds in the house. Beardsley tried his level best to pump me, and Colonel Shelby sent that trifling Kelsey up here for the same purpose. Now what difference does it make to them whether mother has money or not, unless they mean to try to take it from her?"

"Marcy," said Jack, who had backed into the nearest chair, "I wish that money was a thousand miles from here. You haven't anything to fear from those wharf-rats at Plymouth; but if the Confederate authorities find out about it, and can scrape together evidence enough to satisfy them that mother is Union, they'll come down on this house like a nighthawk on a June bug. And, worse than that, Beardsley may contrive to have mother put under arrest."

"No!" gasped Marcy. "What for?"

"Don't you know that the Richmond Government has instructed its loyal subjects to repudiate the debts they owe to Northern men and to turn the amount of those debts into the Confederate treasury?"

"Well, what of it? We don't owe anybody a red cent."

"No odds. If Beardsley wants evidence to prove that we do owe some

Northern house for the supplies we have been receiving, and that we are

holding back the money instead of giving it to the Confederacy-if

Beardsley needs evidence to prove all that he can easily find it."

"Why, the-the villain!" exclaimed Marcy, who had never been more astounded.

"He's worse than that, and he'll do worse than that if he sees half a chance," said Jack, with a sigh. "I wish the Yankees might get hold of him, and that some one would tell them who and what he is, for I judge from what you have told me that he is at the bottom of all mother's troubles. Now, let me tell you: you must stay at home and take care of mother, and I will ship on a war vessel and do my share toward putting down this rebellion."

"But how can I stay at home?" interrupted Marcy. "My leave is for only ninety days, and Beardsley looks for me to join the schooner as soon as my arm gets well."

"All right. No doubt you will have to do it; but you'll not make many more trips on that blockade-runner. It'll not be long before all our ports will be sealed up tight as a brick by swift steamers, and sailing vessels will stand no show of getting out or in. I know Lon Beardsley, and he will quit blockade running when he thinks it's time, the same as he quit privateering. Why, Marcy, you can't imagine what an uproar there is all over the North. They're getting ready to give the South particular fits."

"Then the result of the fight at Bull Run didn't frighten or discourage them?"

"Man alive, if you had had as much to do with Northern people as I have, you would know that they don't understand the words. They've got their blood up at last, and now they mean business. Recruits are coming in faster than they can equip and send them off. And I can't stay behind. Mother must let me go."

"Do you think of enlisting on one of the blockading fleet?"

"I do."

"But how are you going to get to it? It's off Hatteras."

"So I supposed. Where's the Fairy Belle?"

"Great Scott!" ejaculated Marcy "Do you expect me to take you out on her?"

"Well, yes; I had rather calculated on it." Marcy was profoundly astonished. He threw himself upon the bed, propped his head up with his uninjured hand, and looked at his brother without saying a word.

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