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   Chapter 12 CONFLICTING REPORTS.

Marcy the Blockade Runner By Harry Castlemon Characters: 24645

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


During the next three weeks Marcy Gray would have lived in a fever of suspense had it not been for the presence of courageous, happy-go-lucky sailor Jack. He could not for a moment forget the letters which, at Captain Beardsley's request, he had delivered to Colonel Shelby and the rest. Did they convey to those who received them the information that Beardsley no longer believed that there was money concealed in Mrs. Gray's house, or did they contain instructions concerning a new plot that was to be worked up against Marcy and his mother? The boys did not know, and never found out for certain what it was that the captain wrote in those letters. That night, after placing the captured Confederate flag upon the wall of the sitting-room, Jack turned the proceeds of the sale of his "venture" over to his mother, buried Marcy's prize money in one of the flower beds, and bright and early the next morning went to work to disguise the Fairy Belle so that "her own brother wouldn't know her." If the neighboring planters who visited them, and whom they visited in return, had any suspicion that the captured flag in the sitting-room did not express the political sentiments of the family, they said nothing to indicate it. Their life apparently was as quiet and peaceful as though such a thing as a slaveholders' rebellion had never been heard of; but one day it was broken up most unexpectedly, and young Allison was the first to tell them of it.

"Glorious victory of the Confederate arms," he shouted, jumping off the steps of the store in which the post-office was located, and running full tilt toward the place where Jack and Marcy were hitching their horses. "Didn't we always say the Northern people had no business alongside of us? The crowd in the post-office have cheered themselves hoarse, and you fellows ought to have been here to join in."

"Has there been another fight?" asked Jack. "Where did it take place and how much of a fight was it?"

"Well, you see," said Allison, "there hasn't exactly been any fight yet, but there's going to be if the cowardly Yankees will only give us a chance to get at them."

"Oh," said Jack, while an expression of disgust settled on his face. "Where is it going to come off and how do you happen to know so much about it?"

"Why, the authorities know all about it, and I suppose the papers got the information from them," replied Allison. "At any rate, there's a strong land and naval expedition being fitted out at Fortress Monroe, and it is coming down here to destroy forts Hatteras and Clark and block up Hatteras Inlet."

"And that expedition hasn't got here yet?"

"No. It's going to sail on Monday. We know all about it in spite of the efforts the Yankees have made to keep it secret."

"If the ships haven't even sailed yet, why do you raise such a row over a Confederate victory that is not won?" asked Jack.

"Oh, it's going to be won," said Allison confidently. "Everybody says so, and we thought we would begin to holler in time. What we are afraid of is, that old Hatteras will turn in and fight the battle for us by kicking up such a sea that the Yankee ships won't dare come near the Inlet. That would be bad for us, for of course if they keep beyond the range of our guns we can't sink them. Oh, they're bound to get a whipping if we can only get a chance to give it to them."

Although the Confederates boasted loudly of the strong fortifications which (so they said) had been thrown up everywhere along their coast, and even went so far as to warn the Federal government that the most powerful expedition that could be fitted out against these fortifications would be sure to meet with disaster, Marcy Gray was well aware that the coast was almost defenseless, because one of his papers, the Augusta Chronicle and Sentinel was brave enough to tell the truth now and then. Only a few days before, this paper had called upon the government to provide for coast defense by "organizing and drilling infantry and guerrillas at home," so that there would be no need to call upon the Confederate President for troops. The same paper also stated that the Union naval officers knew the bays and inlets along the coast like a book from surveys in their possession, and if so disposed, there were many places where they might raid and do damage before they could be driven off. But events proved that the Union forces did not go down to the coast of the Carolinas just to give the Confederates the fun of driving them off. When once they got a foothold there they kept it, in spite of all the efforts that were made to dislodge them.

Having secured their horses and listened to all that young Allison had to tell them concerning the glorious victory that had not yet been won, the brothers bent their steps toward the post-office, where they found a crowd of men and boys who seemed to be trying to make themselves ridiculous. They acted in the same senseless way that those travelling companions did whom Marcy Gray found on the train when he left Barrington, and could not have been more excited and jubilant if the five war ships and two transport steamers, that were to operate against the forts at Hatteras Inlet, had already been wrecked on the bar or sent to the bottom by Confederate shells. One of these two things was sure to happen to that expedition; they had not the slightest doubt on that point.

Marcy and his brother did not linger long at the post-office after they received their mail, for the boyish antics and confident boastings of the crowd that filled every foot of space between the two counters, were more than they could stand. Pleading business as an excuse, they got away as soon as they could, and unfolded their papers when they were in their saddles, only to find that Allison had told them about all there was to be learned regarding the Hatteras expedition. There were the editorials, of course, and when the boys glanced over them they knew where that crowd in the post-office got its inspiration.

"These editors remind me of Allison," said Marcy. "Seated in their comfortable rooms, hundreds of miles away from the threatened point, they speak of our coming victory and the pounding we are going to give the Yankee ships the minute they come within range. But I'll tell you one thing, Jack-that expedition isn't strong enough."

"Don't worry about that," replied Jack. "Uncle Sam won't send a boy to mill as long as he's got a man handy. If they sail from Fortress Monroe on Monday, they ought to get here on Tuesday afternoon at the latest. Probably the fight will begin on Wednesday. Now let's watch the weather, and see whether or not Allison's amiable wish is likely to be gratified. Now Marcy, I will tell you something. If the Federals win a victory they will garrison those forts to break up blockade running, and carry on operations farther down the coast. As soon as we hear they are doing that, you must stand by with the Fairy Belle."

"She'll be ready when you want her, but it is the hardest task one brother ever put upon another," answered Marcy.

"I am sorry to ask you to do it," said Jack, "but it is my only chance; and you can see for yourself that I can't live at home. Our whole family is under suspicion; and if I don't get away while I can, there will be such a pressure brought to bear upon me by and by, that I shall be forced to enter the rebel service or take to the swamps."

"Why Jack, you know you wouldn't do such a thing as that," exclaimed

Marcy.

"Hide in the swamps? I'd do it in a minute sooner than lift a hand against the flag that your grandfather and mine died under, and under which I have sailed the world over. Why Marcy, you claim to love the old flag, but I tell you that you don't know any more about it than the man in the moon. Now don't get huffy, but wait until you have laid for long weeks in a foreign port, thousands of miles from home and friends, looking for a cargo which takes its own time in coming, and surrounded by people whose hostility to all white men is such that they would cut your throat in a second if they were not afraid of the consequences, and let some one on deck report a stranger inside. You look over the side and see a handsome ship standing in with the Stars and Stripes waving in the air. When you have felt every nerve in you thrill with excitement and pride, as I have on such occasions, then you can talk of your love for the old flag. I'll fight for it as long as I can stand; but I'll starve and die in the swamp before I will fight against it."

Sailor Jack spoke with unusual warmth, and if Marcy's patriotism had been on the wane, his brother's earnest words would have infused new life and strength into it. If the Northern people, with their immense resources, were animated by the same spirit, it would not be long, he told himself, before the old flag would crowd its secession rival to the wall. Of course Mrs. Gray was very much alarmed by the startling news the boys brought from Nashville, and she straightway began talking of hiding the money Jack had given her, and of stowing the family silver in some safe place; but Jack laughed at the idea.

"Why, mother, the Northern soldiers are not coming down here to steal our valuables," said he. "They are not robbers."

"But have you never read how lawless all soldiers are?" inquired Mrs. Gray. "They take delight in despoiling an enemy. It seems to be part of their creed. And then-look a' that," she added, pointing toward the rebel flag.

"That will not be in sight when the Federals come around here," replied Marcy. "I'll make it my business to get it out of the way, and then I'll rip up one of my bed quilts and show them my Union colors."

The fear that had taken possession of Marcy's mother-that possibly the Union forces might ascend the Roanoke River, capture Plymouth, and devastate the surrounding country-now took possession of Marcy also. Northern soldiers had not yet been given an opportunity to show the merciful way in which the inhabitants of captured cities were to be treated during the war, and Marcy may be pardoned for looking into the future with fear and trembling. The neighboring planters and their families did much to add to Mrs. Gray's fears and Marcy's, as well as to increase the general feeling of uneasiness which began spreading through the settlement as soon as the newspapers arrived. If they believed, as the Charleston and Newbern editors seemed to believe,-that the attack on Hatteras Inlet was sure to end in failure,-they nevertheless thought it the part of wisdom to prepare for the worst; and they at once began the work of concealing everything that was likely to excite the cupidity of the lawless Union soldiers. Remembering what their Mobile papers had said about the ragged, half-starved appearance of the Massachusetts troops who marched through the streets of Baltimore, they even hid their clothing and carted the contents of their smoke-houses and corn-cribs into the woods. But busy as they were, some of the women found time to run over and compare notes with Mrs. Gray, and see what she thought about it; and because she tried to accept Jack's view of the situation, and believed that there would be no invasion of the Union forces, the visitors went away to spread the report elsewhere that Mrs. Gray wasn't afraid of the Yankees because she sympathized with them.

"Would you believe it, she isn't hiding a thing," said one of these gossips. "She looks white, but she can't make me think that she's frightened as long as she sits there in her rocking-chair as cool as a cucumber. I know that Jack belongs to a blockade-runner, that Jack piloted a Yankee smuggler into one of our ports, and that Mrs. Gray has a Confederate flag hung up in her sitting-room; but I don't care for that. She's Union, the whole family is Union, and I know it."

Mrs. Gray and the boys always looked troubled after an interview with one of these busybodies, who did not scruple to magnify every rumor that came to their ears, and wished from the bottom of their hearts that they would stay at home and attend to the business of hiding their valuables; but when the day drew to a close the gossips ceased to trouble them, for they were afraid to go out of doors after dark.

"And betwe

en you and me I don't blame them for being afraid," said Jack, when he and Marcy went up to bed. "It is in times like these that the turbulent and vicious members of the community show their hands. The rebels have been maltreating Union people all over the South, and I don't know why we should expect to escape. Well," he added, shoving a brace of revolvers under his pillow, while Marcy provided for his own defence in the same way, "if anybody comes we'll give him as good as he sends, provided he gives us half a chance."

The moment Jack Gray opened his eyes the next morning he jumped out of bed and drew the curtain. "All right so far," said he, in a satisfied tone; "and that rebel Allison is in a fair way to be disappointed."

"But you must remember that the fleet hasn't arrived off the cape yet," Marcy reminded him. "With the best of luck it cannot get there until late this afternoon. I wish we could go down and watch the fight."

"I wish we could be in it," replied Jack, "for I just know it will end in a Union victory."

But as they could do neither one thing nor the other, they were obliged to possess their souls in patience. Of course they went to Nashville after breakfast, and of course, too, they found in the post-office the same excited and confident crowd they had met the day before, who had all sorts of stories to tell them.

"Report says that the most of the Union ships foundered before they were fairly out of sight of Fortress Monroe," shouted Allison, in great glee. "I am sorry for that, for I wanted our boys to have the honor of sending them to the bottom."

"Another report says that one of the old tubs that the Yankees were using for a transport ship sprung a leak and went down with every soul on board," said a second speaker.

"Why didn't the other vessels save them?" asked Marcy.

"They couldn't. There was a heavy gale on."

"Who brought these reports?" inquired Jack.

"The papers, of course."

"How did the papers get them, seeing that all telegraphic communication with the North is cut off?" continued Jack.

"It makes no difference how they got the news so long as they got it," exclaimed Allison. "You talk and act as though you don't want to believe it."

"It is no concern of yours how I talk and act, you stay-at-home blow-hard. My common sense will not let me believe any such reports, which are not reports at all, but something those newspaper men made up all out of their own heads, on purpose to give such fellows as you a subject to talk about. Some of the fleet may have sprung a leak-probably they did if they were not seaworthy; but it wasn't in a gale. I watched the weather closely last night, and if there had been a blow outside we should have felt some of the force of it," said Jack. He spoke calmly enough, but he gave Allison such a look that the latter did not think it safe to say another word until the brothers were well on their way toward home.

During the rest of the day Jack and Marcy did little else but stroll about the grounds and talk-they had no heart for work of any sort. Every time Jack took out his watch he would offer some such remark as this: "If the expedition has had no bad luck, it ought to be off such and such a place by this time;" and at three in the afternoon he electrified his brother by declaring confidently: "Now the ships are off Hatteras, and are probably looking about for a good place to put the troops ashore." And subsequent events proved that he guessed pretty close to the mark, for history says, "By two o'clock on Tuesday the fleet arrived off Hatteras, and the Monticello was despatched to reconnoiter the position, and to look out a suitable landing-place."

Thus far everything had gone well. The weather was all that could be desired, and the hearts of the loyal people along that coast beat high with hope; but when Jack Gray drew the window curtain on Wednesday morning, he turned to his brother with a look of disappointment on his face.

"They will probably try to land some of the troops to-day to cut off the retreat of the Fort Hatteras garrison after the war ships have whipped them," said he. "But if they don't get about it pretty soon, I am afraid they'll not make it. It's going to blow by-and-by, and if the wind comes from the southeast, as it generally does, the ships will have to make an offing to secure their own safety."

And that was just the way things turned out. That morning some of General Butler's troops were landed a few miles from the forts under cover of some of the gunboats, while the others opened a hot fire upon the fortifications. The battle thus commenced lasted from nine o'clock until almost night, and then Fort Clark was abandoned, while the flag was hauled down on Fort Hatteras in token of surrender, whereupon the Monticello steamed into the inlet; but when she came within a few hundred yards of the fort, the heavy guns of the Confederates opened upon her with such terrible effect that she was badly cut up, and in danger of sinking. The man in command of the fort who was guilty of this act of treachery was Commodore Barron, formerly of the United States Navy. He would have scorned to do such a thing while the old flag waved above him, but when he threw off his allegiance to the government he had sworn to defend, he threw off his manhood with it. But he gained nothing by it. The battle was fiercely renewed by the Union forces, and the next day Commodore Barron hoisted the white flag and surrendered himself and his garrison unconditionally. In going off to the fleet he was obliged to pass close under the guns of the Wabash, a fine vessel which, six months before, he had himself commanded with honor.

While these events were taking place at Hatteras Inlet, Marcy and his brother remained at home, waiting with as much patience as they could to see how the battle was going to end. They knew there was a battle going on, for they heard about it when they went to the post-office on Thursday morning; and if they had believed all that was told them, they would have gone home very much disheartened. One man assured them (and he got his information from his papers) that the remnant of the fleet, that is to say all the vessels that had not been wrecked when the expedition left Fortress Monroe, had made its appearance in due time, begun the assault in the most gallant manner, and the few that had not been sunk or disabled by the seventeen heavy guns of the forts, had been scattered by the gale. The flag of the Confederacy waved triumphant, and Hatteras Inlet was yet open to blockade-runners.

When the two were on their way home, and each had read all he cared to read in papers that did not give any reliable information, Marcy inquired:

"How much of those stories do you believe?"

"Not quite half," replied Jack. "Perhaps some of the attacking fleet were sunk; they are liable to be when they go into action. But I believe that if our fellows were whipped, they were whipped by the gale and not by the forts. We ought to hear something definite in the course of a few days."

And they heard something the very next morning; but even then, to quote from Jack, who was very much disgusted when he said it, they "didn't get the straight of the story." Young Allison did not come out to greet them when they drew up their horses at the hitching-rack (he objected to being called a stay-at-home blow-hard), but Colonel Shelby and his intimate friend, Dillon, were standing close by, and the boys noticed that they looked very solemn.

"Well, the agony is over," said the colonel.

"Have you received some reliable news at last?" exclaimed Jack. "How did it come out? Which whipped?"

"Oh, the Federals overcame us with the force of numbers aided by their long-range guns," answered the colonel. "My paper acknowledges a defeat, but says it doesn't amount to anything, for it will not help the enemy in any way."

"It will close Hatteras against blockade-runners, will it not?" said

Marcy.

"Oh, that doesn't amount to a row of pins," said the colonel. "We have

Wilmington, Charleston, and a dozen other ports that the Yankees can't

shut up for want of a suitable fleet. They haven't stationed a ship off

Crooked Inlet yet, and you and Captain Beardsley--"

"I know they haven't put a ship there," Marcy interposed. "But if they didn't have the wickedest kind of a steam launch at that very place the last time I came through, I don't want to lay up anything for old age. That night's work put the blockaders on their guard, and we can't use that Inlet any more. Beyond a doubt they pulled up our buoys, and more than that, they'll watch it as a terrier watches a rathole. Beardsley will have to lay his schooner up or go somewhere else."

"You will go with him, I suppose?" said Dillon carelessly.

"I am ordered to report at the end of ninety days," replied Marcy, who knew that the question was meant for a "feeler." "If I live I shall do so; and I expect to stay with the schooner as long as she is in the business."

"As for me, I shall report in less than ninety days," said Jack. "I've a notion to start for Newbern to-morrow; and if I find that things are working as I should like to have them, I will return and say good-bye to mother, and some fine morning you'll see Marcy ride down to the post-office alone."

"Good for you, Jack!" exclaimed the colonel, thrusting out his hand. "I looked for something like this when I heard that you had purchased a Confederate flag and brought it home with you. Where did you get the flag, if it is a fair question?"

"Of a good Confederate," replied Jack readily. "He left it in a certain place, and when I saw my chance I took it."

"Had to take it on the sly, did you? Then there must have been some

Union men hanging around."

"There were, several of them; and they were fighting mad, too. But I got away with the flag."

"I hope it will not be the means of bringing mischief to you and your mother," said the colonel; "but if I were in your place, I wouldn't make it so conspicuous. Now, when you go to Newbern to enlist in the army--"

"But if I go there, it will not be for any such purpose," interrupted Jack. "On land I am as awkward as a mud-turtle; but when I am at sea, I can get about with the best of them. I shall go into the navy if I can get the chance."

"Never fear. You'll get the chance easy enough. When you return I should like to have you tell me how things look on our side, and what the Yankees are doing at the Inlet."

"You mustn't be surprised if I don't," answered Jack, "for I may slip back and slip out again without taking time to say good-bye to anybody. When I fail to come to town with Marcy, you may know that I am in the navy."

When the boys went in after their mail, they found a silent and sulky-looking company leaning against the counters. They said not a word to the new-comers or to one another, but simply stared at the floor, apparently absorbed with gloomy reflections. Jack and his brother were glad to find them so, for it gave them an opportunity to secure their mail without delay and get away by themselves, where they could exult to their hearts' content over the victory at Hatteras.

"What is this new notion you have taken into your head all of a sudden?" was the first question Marcy propounded. "You haven't any idea of going to Newbern."

"Yes, I think it would be a good plan," said Jack. "I want to know just where the Union fleet is, and what it is doing, and I can't depend upon these lying rebel papers to tell me. So the only thing I can do is to find out for myself; for of course I don't want to run outside in the Fairy Belle unless I know of a certainty that there is a gunboat there to receive me. If Beardsley's schooner is in port I'll take a look at her, and then I can tell whether or not she is the one that chased the Sabine."

"She's the one," replied Marcy. "But you'll not know her. She is disguised."

Jack said he didn't care if she had been painted a dozen different colors since he saw her, she couldn't fool him. He would look at her "general make-up;" and while he was describing some peculiarities in the Hattie's rigging that Marcy had not noticed himself, they rode through the gate into the yard.

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