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Marcy the Blockade Runner By Harry Castlemon Characters: 25311

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

For the first time since sailor Jack came home he was the bearer of good news, and you may be sure that his mother was glad to listen to it. He declared that he took no stock whatever in the thousand and one conflicting reports that had come to him through the papers, and so suspicious had he become that the only thing that led him to believe the rebels had been worsted in the fight at Hatteras, was because they were willing to confess it themselves. Of course it would not be safe for him to try to carry out his resolve to enlist in the Union navy until he knew just how the land lay; and the only way in which he could find out would be to go to Newbern and make personal observations. If his mother did not object he would start the very next morning and take Marcy with him. This proposition startled Mrs. Gray, for she had looked upon another separation from Jack as something that was far in the future, and would not allow herself to think about it if she could help it. She said nothing discouraging, however, and Jack's programme was duly carried out.

The trip to Newbern was the most exciting and altogether disagreeable one that Marcy had ever taken on the cars. The train was crowded with soldiers, and among them were some boisterous and inquisitive ones who seemed to think it their duty to question every civilian who came on board. And they did not do it in the most gentlemanly manner, either. Before the train had left Boydtown a mile behind, a young man, dressed in a neat, clean uniform that had never seen a minute's service at the front, stopped in the aisle and laid his hand heavily on Jack's shoulder.

"Look here, my lad," said he, in a tone that was as offensive as his manner, "you are strong and able-bodied, are you not?"

"You'll think so if you don't take your hand off my collar mighty sudden," replied Jack, jumping from his seat.

"Hallo!" exclaimed the young man, starting back in some alarm when he saw the sailor's broad shoulders rising to a level with his own. "I wouldn't throw on any airs," he added, glancing around at his uniformed companions, who straightway became interested in the proceedings.

"I won't, and I don't mean to let you do so, either-not with me," replied Jack. "You seem to feel very important because you happen to have some good clothes on, but you haven't been under fire yet."

"Neither have you," answered the Confederate.

"That's all you know about it. Now go off and let me alone, or I'll pitch you through the window."

The young man fell back to call up re-enforcements, and Jack took his seat again.

"It's all right," said he, when he noticed the troubled expression on his brother's face. "Because he wears a uniform himself, he thinks he had a right to know why I haven't one also; but it is none of his business. Besides, it is nothing more than you did to Allison in the post-office at Nashville."

"But I was among friends when I backed Allison down, and these men are all strangers to us," replied Marcy.

"No matter for that. I judge by their looks that they are mostly Americans, and if they are they will see fair play. There will be a white man along to question us presently."

And sure enough there was. The defeated rebel drew back a little way to hold a council of war with some of his friends, and in a few minutes one of these friends, whose uniform was by no means as clean and neat as the others', arose from his seat and came down the aisle.

"Beg pardon, sir," said he respectfully. "I wish to offer a word of excuse for my impulsive young companion's conduct. He is a warm patriot--"

"So I see," said Jack, with a smile. "A good many get that way the minute they put on a gray suit; but my brother and I, who have already risked our lives and liberty, do not feel called upon to give an account of ourselves to every raw recruit who may demand it. If he had asked me a civil question I would have given him a civil answer."

"Of course; certainly. But I know you will overlook it this time. But are you two really in the service?"

"My brother has been on a privateer and now he belongs to a blockade-runner," answered Jack. "You see he's got a bad arm, don't you? The Yankees gave him that."

"Well, well!" exclaimed the man, who did not know what else to say. "He ought to have a uniform on."

"His crew don't have any," replied Jack. "And if you want to know what I have done-by the way, are you going to Newbern?"

The soldier said he was.

"Well, when you get there go to Parker & Wall's and ask them whether or not the supplies the West Wind brought down from Boston are going to be of any use to the Confederacy. I was second mate and pilot of that craft, and might have been on board of her yet if I had been inclined to stay; but if there is going to be a war I want a hand in it. I am going to Newbern to see if there is any chance for me to get into the navy."

Of course, after such a talk as this it was impossible for the brothers to keep to themselves as they would like to have done. The inquisitive rebel apologized to Jack and introduced his friends; and from that time forward there was a crowd of soldiers hanging about his seat all the while. Some of them had seen service and some hadn't; and the latter were particularly anxious to know how Marcy felt when that shrapnel came over the Hattie's bow and knocked him and Captain Beardsley down, and whether or not he was frightened and afraid he was going to be killed.

"The whole thing was done so quickly, and I was so excited, that I didn't have time to ask myself whether I was frightened or not," was Marcy's invariable reply; and it seemed to satisfy his questioners.

To Jack Gray's disappointment there was not a soldier in the car who could tell him anything definite regarding the situation at Hatteras Inlet; but some of them interested themselves in the matter, and finally discovered a citizen who knew all about it, but who, upon being questioned, proved to be almost as ignorant as the rest. The few things he did know, however, were very encouraging to Jack. The captured forts had not been destroyed, he said, and that seemed to indicate that the Yankees intended to place garrisons there. The vessels of the attacking fleet had not been sunk or scattered, and neither was there a sailor killed during the whole of the fight. The war vessels were still hanging around the Inlet, ready to go up or down the Sound, according to the orders they might receive from Washington, and the rebel garrison at Fort Ocracoke, which was located on the seaward face of Beacon Island a few miles below, as well as the troops who occupied the camp on the opposite side of the island, were trembling in their boots, and holding themselves ready to run at a moment's notice. He didn't know the first thing about naval matters, he said in conclusion. There might be a gunboat or two building in the river above Newbern, but he didn't think there was, and the only thing left for Jack was to ship on some blockade-runner. They still had the free use of Ocracoke and Oregon Inlets.

"I thank you for the information you have given me," said Jack. "I declare it is refreshing to find a man who can tell the truth. The falsehoods I have read and listened to during the last few days are enough to disgust anybody. The possession of Hatteras Inlet is important to the Federal government, and you'll find it out."

"We have found it out already," answered the citizen. "The Yankee ships are hauling in the prizes as fishermen haul in their catch with a drag net. You see, the blockade-runners that are bound in don't know that the Inlet has been captured, and neither do they find it out until they run slap into the arms of the cruisers, who are always on the watch for them. They had hardly ceased firing upon the forts before they captured five schooners."

"All in one day?" exclaimed Marcy.

"All in one day," repeated the citizen.

"Good enough," said Marcy, to himself. "I hope the Hattie was one of them." Then aloud he said: "Do you know the names of those schooners? The reason I ask is because my captain has had plenty of time to load up, run down to Nassau, and get back again. His name is Beardsley, and he commands the Hattie."

"Oh, yes. I heard about him, and when he gets back you will see an account of his daring exploit in the papers. That man has pluck, I tell you."

"What did he do, and why will the papers wait until he returns before saying anything about it?" inquired Marcy.

"He had taken his cargo of cotton on board, and was all ready to sail when word was received that the Yankee ships had appeared off Hatteras," answered the citizen. "No one supposed that he would think of going out, but he did; and the first thing we heard of him was that he had got safely off."

"He didn't run out of Hatteras, of course?"

"Certainly not. He stole a march on the Yankees and went down to


"Then I can't see what he did that was so daring," said Marcy, to himself. "The greatest coward in the world, if he can handle a vessel at all, ought to be able to run her out of a wide inlet when there is nothing to oppose him."

"And the reason our papers didn't speak of it is because we don't want the Yankees to be on the watch for him when he comes back," continued the citizen. "We can tell by the way they have acted since they captured the forts, that they know what is going on in the city as well as we do. They must get the papers regularly; and if we ever find out who is to blame for it, I wouldn't give much for his neck."

"Now that's what I call pluck," thought Marcy. "Captain Beardsley didn't show a particle when he ran out to sea under the guns of Fort Ocracoke, for there was nothing for him to be afraid of, all the blockaders, if there were any, having gone to Hatteras to help the fleet. But when a Union man, in such a nest of rebels as Newbern is, risks his life by sending information to the defenders of the old flag, he's got nerve. But I am sorry to hear that about Beardsley. He'll keep on running the blockade until he is captured, and what if I should chance to be aboard the schooner when that happens?"

Having given them all the information he could, the citizen went back to his own seat, and the boys were at last left to themselves. They hadn't learned much, and they did not learn any more when they reached Newbern. The fortifications below the city were being rapidly pushed to completion (negroes and poor whites did the work, the officers finding life in town much more to their liking than digging in the trenches), and there had been some talk of building gunboats to assist in the defence of the place; but so far nothing had been done about it. But, after all, there was no need of gunboats, for the thirty-one pieces of heavy artillery that had been planted on the works below, would send the Yankee fleet to the bottom in short order, should its commanding officer be so foolhardy as to bring it into the Neuse River. There was nothing to keep the boys in the city, for the West Wind, which Marcy wanted much to see, had already sailed for Nassau with a cargo of cotton; and after spending two days in making inquiries that did not bring them the information they desired, they took the cars for home. Old Morris, whom they found waiting for them at Boydtown depot, was both surprised and disappointed because they did not ride on the box with him, as they usually did; but as the boys wanted to be alone, they went inside.

"You haven't done much talking since we started," said Marcy, when Morris cracked his whip and drove away from the depot. "What's the matter?"

"I have been laying my plans," replied Jack. "But with all my thinking I haven't been able to decide upon anything further than this: As soon as it comes dark, we'll begin and load the Fairy Belle with provisions and such other things as we may be likely to stand in need of, and to-morrow morning we'll slip down and out."

"To-morrow night, you mean," suggested Marcy.

"No, to-morrow morning; just as soon as we have had breakfast. I am impatient to be off; and besides I really cannot afford to waste any more time. We must go at once or run the risk of missing the Federal fleet. It may be ordered somewhere else."

"But every one along the river will see us," protested Marcy.

"Who cares if they do? In fact I should care if they did not see us.

We'll hoist my Confederate flag at the peak as--"

"Why, Jack. And sail under a lie?"

"Now just listen at you" exclaimed Jack, shaking his finger at his brother. "Captain Semmes didn't sail under a

lie, I suppose, when he ran up the English colors to quiet the fears of the Herndon's commander, and neither did you when you hoisted the same flag to coax my vessel within reach of your guns."

"Do you imagine that I would have done such a thing if I had been in a position to refuse?" retorted Marcy, with some spirit. "I couldn't help myself."

"I know it; and can't you see that hoisting the rebel rag will help both of us? I can, and I only wish Nashville was situated on the river so that Allison and Shelby and the rest of those blatant traitors could see us as we go by. It will save you from a heap of questioning, and may be the means of keeping a roof over mother's head."

"But what will the Union men in the settlement think and do about it?"

"Not the first thing. There are but few of them, and they dare not say their souls are their own. They know they are watched as well as mother knows that she is watched, and there isn't one among them who dares lift his hand or say a word. For their own sakes, I hope they will not do anything to you and mother because they think we are rebels, for if they do, their houses will go up in smoke."

"But, Jack," persisted Marcy, "I wouldn't dare go alongside a Union gunboat with that flag on board my schooner."

"When the time comes, we will pull it down and hoist one of your Union flags in its place," was the answer.

"But suppose we should be seen by some one on shore who happened to have a strong spy-glass in his hand? Wouldn't I find myself in a fix when I got back?"

"It is no part of my programme to hug the shores so closely that our flag can be seen and recognized," replied Jack. "You are not going to get yourself into trouble by taking me down to the fleet. If I thought you were, I would not ask you to go; but that money in the cellar may be the means of turning you out of doors."

When the boys reached home, their mother saw at a glance that something had been decided upon, but she asked no questions until they were all seated at the supper table, and then they told her as much of their plans as they were willing Hanson should know, and no more.

"There isn't the sign of a navy in or about Newbern," said Jack, talking for the benefit of the girl who waited at table as well as for the information of any other eavesdropper who might chance to be hanging around. "But there must be some vessels fitting out at Edenton or somewhere else in these waters, and we intend to find out before we come back. We shall set out to morrow as soon as we have had breakfast, and in order to do that we must provision the Fairy Belle before we go to bed."

Of course the news of their intended movements got noised among the servants, as the boys were sure it would, and when they were ready to set to work, there were any number of volunteers at hand to assist them, the boy Julius, who took it for granted that he was to be one of the crew, being particularly active and "bossy." He and another small darkey were sent off in a skiff to cast the schooner loose from her moorings and tow her to the shore, and the minute that duty had been performed he jumped out, seized a bundle which he had left on the bank, and was climbing back over the side with the agility of a monkey when Jack called to him:

"Avast, there. What are you about?" cried the sailor.

"Going to stow dis yere dunnage of mine in de fo'castle," replied

Julius, without stopping.

"Well, come back. You can't go this trip."

"Ain't I going to sea with Marse Marcy?" said Julius, who was almost ready to cry.

"Not this trip, I tell you. You are an Abolitionist, and we can't trust you. If I should get a chance to go into the navy I shall not want you around, for you would come back and blab it all over the neighborhood. Somebody must stay home and take care of mother. Come ashore and lend a hand with this grub."

"I jes' ain't going to do no such nigger's work as dat," replied Julius spitefully. "If I can't run on de schooner, I shan't help load her. I tell you dat for a fac'. I jes' hope she'll go to de bottom 'fore she sees Seven Mile creek agin."

The darkey emphasized his words by throwing his bundle as far as he could send it, and by flinging himself over the side as if he had been a bag of cotton. The moment his feet touched the ground he snatched up his property again and disappeared in the darkness.

"Sorry he went off mad," said Jack, "but it can't be helped. In times like these the only persons we can trust are those who can keep still tongues in their heads, and that is something Julius was never known to do. Now," he added, turning to the half a dozen blacks who remained, "if there are any among you who don't want to aid in loading a vessel that is going to hoist the Confederate colors to-morrow, you can go also."

"But, Marse Jack," exclaimed Morris, who had been waiting for an opportunity like this, "you ain't no rebel."

"Of course I am not. Who said I was?"

"But I mean, you don't go in for the 'Federacy; kase if you did go in for the 'Federacy, the Missus wouldn't luff you in the house. I don't see what you want with that rebel flag in the sitting-room, nohow. I just believe-"

"I don't care what you believe," interrupted Jack, who was afraid that the coachman was about to give utterance to some suspicions that would come too near the truth. "Are you for the Union?"

"Course I is, Marse Jack. And so be you."

"Are all the rest of you black ones for the Union, too?"

"Yes, sar, we is," was the unanimous response.

"Very well. I don't try to control your opinions; but if you are going to take sides with those who are coming down here to rob us of our property, you may trot right back to the quarter and leave us to do our own work. Off you go, now."

The astonished negroes urged and pleaded to no purpose. Jack, who thought he knew just what he was doing, would not listen to them, and finally they turned slowly and sorrowfully away, leaving Bose to act as sentry and bodyguard.

"If everybody on the place doesn't hear of this in less than half an hour and set you down for a rebel, it will not be your fault," said Marcy, when the negroes were out of ear-shot.

"I don't care what they set me down for, so long as they let you and mother alone while I am gone," replied Jack. "I have been here long enough to find out what is the matter with our neighbors. They are mad because we will not declare ourselves."

"And you think the safest plan is to make them believe, if you can, that we are Confederates," added Marcy. "But don't you know that this game of deception can't last forever? Now that the Yankees have got a foothold on the coast, what is there to hinder them from spreading all over the country? Suppose they should come here, and some Union man should tell them that we hoisted the first rebel flag that was seen in the settlement-then what?"

"Then will be the time for you to show how smart you are, for I shall not be here to help you. Now, Bose," he added, speaking as though the animal could understand every word he said, "you stay here and keep watch; and if you hear anybody sneaking up on us, take after him and hold him at bay till we come."

So saying he picked up the nearest basket and hoisted it over the schooner's side.

The Fairy Belle having been built under sailor Jack's personal supervision, was especially adapted for the service for which she was intended, that of single-handed cruiser. Although she was provided with top-masts, she had no sails for them, and all the sheets and halliards were made to lead aft, so that they were under complete control of the boy at the helm, who could put his hand upon any of them without moving from the cock-pit. Beginning forward, there was the chain locker, which contained all the extra cordage the schooner was likely to need during a cruise, and also served as a place of storage for the ground tackle when not in use. Abaft of that was a forecastle, with bunks for two hands, and then came a small but convenient galley, with cupboards and dishes in plenty, from which a door gave entrance into a neatly furnished cabin. It was all there, too, no space being taken up with state-rooms. An upholstered locker, running the full length of each side of the cabin, not only served as receptacles for hunting and fishing outfits, canned provisions, flags, and clothing, but could easily be made into beds that would accommodate four boys. Nothing had been omitted that could in any way add to the comfort of her master and crew, and her speed, under the four sails she usually carried, was all that could be desired. She had sailed over nearly every mile of Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds, and been fifty miles outside the sand dunes; but that was before Yankee gunboats with their sharp-eyed lookouts were known upon the coast. When Marcy made those trips he had but one flag-one that was known and respected the world over; but when he went outside this time he would have two, either of which might be the means of sending him and his brother to prison.

It did not take the boys more than ten minutes to put their supplies aboard the schooner, and while they were about it they talked in their ordinary tones, so that their words could have been heard and understood by any one who thought it worth while to come to the top of the bank and listen to them; but they were careful to weigh the words before they uttered them, and the sequel proved that the precaution was not a needless one. After everything had been stowed in its proper place and the hatches were fastened down. Jack said:

"Of course we can't leave her alone; we must have some one to watch her. So if you will keep an eye on her, I'll go to the house and send Morris and Julius down." At the same time he pointed to Bose; and Marcy, comprehending his meaning, seized the dog by the neck to keep him from following Jack, who lumbered up the bank, making any amount of noise, and singing a sailor ditty as he went.

Scarcely had the words of the song died away in the distance, when something that sounded suspiciously like the breaking of twigs came to Marcy's ears, and at the same instant the faithful watch-dog tore himself loose from his master's detaining grasp and bounded up the bank, barking fierce and loud at every jump. This must have been what Jack was thinking of when he left Bose behind. As quickly as he could Marcy got upon his feet and shouted words of encouragement to his four-footed friend.

"Pull him down," he yelled. "Pull the spy down and let me see who he is."

The dog heard the command and probably tried to obey it, for his bark changed to an angry snarl, and a second later a familiar but frightened voice cried out:

"Call him off, Mister Marcy! Call him off! He'll eat me up if you don't."

"It's nothing more than I expected," thought the boy, who was in no particular hurry to give ear to the entreaty. "Now who is it that carries news to him from the house? That's the next thing to be found out."

"Is that you, Hanson?" he exclaimed, as if he were much surprised. "Come away, Bose. What brought you down here, and why did you come in that sneaking way? Jack will be mad enough to knock you down," he added, when he stood face to face with the overseer.

"Why Mr. Marcy, I had no thought of playing the part of a sneak," protested the man. "I couldn't make head or tail of what the darkey tried to tell me, but I knew there was something going on in the creek, and thought it my duty to come down and take a look at things. I didn't know you was here."

"You are Union, are you not?" said Marcy, who knew there wasn't a word of truth in the overseer's story.

"Of course I am, and so are you. So is Mr. Jack."

"Well, if he is, what is that Confederate flag doing in the house?"

"It's put there a purpose to fool folks. The niggers don't know what to think about it, but I do; and I think it was a good idee on your part. There's plenty of folks about here who would be glad to see harm come to you, but I'm watching 'em."

"So am I; and some day, when they least expect it, I will bring some of them up with a round turn. I hear Jack coming, and you had better get out of his way. He'd just as soon pick a quarrel with you as not."

But the overseer did not want Jack to pick a quarrel with him, so he took Marcy at his word. He went away more mystified than ever. Were the Grays Union or Confederate? He would have given almost anything he possessed to have his doubts on this point cleared up, and the men for whom he was working in secret would have done the same thing.

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