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Marcy the Blockade Runner By Harry Castlemon Characters: 23312

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Things went on in this unsatisfactory way for a long time-so long, in fact, that Hanson began to grow discouraged. And well he might, for with all his scheming he had not been able to add a single scrap of information to the first report he made to Colonel Shelby. The boy Julius held manfully to his story-that Mrs. Gray was the best kind of a Confederate, that she had no money except the dollar she carried in her pocket-book-and the most cunningly worded cross-questioning could not draw anything else from him. In process of time Fort Sumter was fired upon, Marcy Gray came home from school, and then the overseer rubbed his hands joyously and told himself that he would soon know all about it. Well, he didn't, but Julius did; and this was the way it came about.

In the ceiling of the dining-room, to which apartment the family usually betook themselves when they had anything private to talk about, was a stovepipe hole, communicating with a store-room on the floor above. It happened that Julius was roaming about the house one day when Mrs. Gray had company at dinner, and the sound of voices coming up through this opening attracted his attention. He listened a moment, and found that he could plainly hear every word that was uttered in the room below; but he never would have thought of playing the part of eavesdropper if Hanson had not told him that he was expected to do it. Believing that he could add to his usefulness and better guard the interests of the family if he knew more about its private affairs, Julius hastened to the store-room the minute he saw Marcy and his mother going in to breakfast, and put his ear directly over the open stovepipe hole, and heard some things that made him tremble all over. There was money in the house after all-thirty thousand dollars all in gold; it was hidden in the cellar wall, and he could earn a nice little sum by carrying the news straight to the overseer, as he had solemnly promised to do; but he never thought of it. On the contrary he strove harder than ever to make Hanson believe that there was not a dollar in the house beyond the one Mrs. Gray kept in her pocket; because why, hadn't he heard her tell Marse Marcy so with his own two ears? If the overseer did not say "money" during their interviews, Julius did; but he did not dwell long enough on the subject to arouse the man's suspicions. More than that, Julius was brave enough to "take the bull by the horns," and one day he disheartened the overseer by declaring:

"I seen something dis day, Marse Hanson, dat done took my breff all plum away; I did so. Marse Marcy he come home a purpose to go into our army; and his mother she cried and cried, and pooty quick she say: 'My deah boy, dat man Linkum mus' be whopped; dat am de facs in de case'; and den she slap him on de back and sick him on. Yes, sar. I done see dat wid my own two eyes dis bery day."

The reason Hanson was disheartened was because he had been promised a liberal reward if he could bring evidence to prove that Mrs. Gray was opposed to secession, and that her journeys to Richmond and other cities had been made for the purpose of drawing funds from the banks; and when Marcy backed up the young negro's bold statement by shipping on board Captain Beardsley's privateer, Hanson came to the sorrowful conclusion that it was not in his power to earn that reward. He was none too good to bear false witness against Mrs. Gray, but he was afraid to do it. Sailor Jack might come home some day, and-well, Hanson had never seen sailor Jack but he had been told that he was a good one to let alone.

The long-expected wanderer returned in due time, and the wide-awake little negro was the second on the plantation to find it out, Bose being the first. Julius slept in the back part of the house, so close to Marcy's room that if the latter wanted anything during the night, all he had to do was to open his window and call out, and consequently it was no trouble at all for him to catch every word that passed between Jack and his brother. He was not far off when the sailor was admitted at the front door, and when he saw the reunited family go into the dining-room, he bounded up the back stairs into the store-room and placed his ear at the stovepipe hole-not because he wanted to repeat anything he heard, you will understand, but because he wanted to know what subjects to steer clear of in his interviews with the overseer. When he heard that Jack had passed himself off for a rebel, that he had brought a smuggler into a Southern port, and that he had made considerable money out of the sale of his venture, Julius thought it would help matters if the news were spread broadcast; and he lost no time in spreading it among the negroes, and by their aid it reached Nashville before the boys went there for their mail the next morning. He told about the Hattie's adventure with the steam launch, also (of course he made it more thrilling than it really was), and that was the way Captain Beardsley's daughter came to know so much about it; but he never said a word concerning Jack's short captivity in the hands of the Sumter's men.

After Jack had been at home long enough to find out how things stood, he set himself at work to learn who it was that kept certain people in the neighborhood so well posted in regard to his mother's private affairs. He said not a word to anybody, but worked in secret, for he believed that his efforts would result in the unearthing of a spy who lived in the house. It would add to his mother's troubles if she knew that Jack believed, as she did, that there was some trusted servant who kept an eye on her movements and went to the overseer with a report of them-so he kept his own counsel, and laid siege to Hanson the very first thing. The latter wasn't sharp enough to hold his own with any such fellow as Jack Gray, and Jack learned all he cared to know about Hanson in less than two days. The next step was to find the servant on whom the overseer depended for his information. This looked like a hopeless task, but fortune favored him. One morning he stood in front of the mirror in Marcy's room performing his toilet. The door, which was behind and a little to one side of him, was open, and the lower end of the long hall was plainly reflected upon the polished surface of the looking-glass. So was the slim, agile figure of the small darkey who slipped out of one of the rooms, ran along the hall with the speed of the wind, and disappeared down the back stairs.

"That's Julius," said Jack, whose first thought was to call the boy back and make him give an account of himself. "He has been up to some mischief, I'll warrant; but I will see if I can find out what it is before hauling him over the coals."

So saying Jack stepped into the hall, and the first door he opened was the one leading into the store-room. There was the open stovepipe hole, and through it voices came up from the room below. He bent a little closer to it, and distinctly heard his mother tell one of the girls to put breakfast on the table and ring the bell for the boys. In an instant the whole secret flashed upon him. He said not a word, but as soon as he returned from the post-office, and Marcy had ridden to the field to carry some instructions to the overseer, Jack went up to his room, leaving orders with one of the girls to send Julius there at once. When he came, the first thing Jack did was to lock the door and put the key in his pocket.

"Now, Julius," said he, in his most solemn tones, his face at the same time taking on a fierce frown, "if you are an innocent boy, if you have been strictly honest and truthful ever since I have been at sea, if you have obeyed your mistress and kept your hands off things that do not belong to you--"

"Oh, Marse Jack," exclaimed the frightened boy. "Suah hope to die I nevah--"

"Don't interrupt me," commanded Jack, with a still more savage frown. "I'll show you in a minute that I have it in my power to find out just what you have done while I have been gone, from the time you stole--"

"Marse Jack, I nevah took dat breastpin; suah hope to die if I did," began Julius.

"Hal-lo!" thought Jack. "I've got on to something when I least expected it. That's what comes of knowing how to handle a darkey. I didn't even know that mother had lost a breastpin."

"I haven't asked you whether you stole it or not," he said, aloud. "There is no need that I should ask you any questions, for I have a way of finding out everything I want to know. If you have been an honest, truthful boy during the last two years, sit down in that chair; but I warn you that if you are deceiving me, it will drop to pieces with you and let you down on the floor. Sit down!"

"Oh, Marse Jack," cried the darkey, backing away from the chair. "Don't

I done tol' you dat I didn't took it?"

"Do you stick to that story?" demanded Jack.

"Yes, sar. I stick to it till I plum dead."

"All right. I hope you are telling me the truth, and I'll very soon find out whether you are or not. The Yankees are coming right through this country some day, and I don't want to give you up to them, as I am afraid I shall have to do. You have heard Aunt Mandy tell her pickaninnies what awful fellows the Yankees are, have you not? Why, Julius, it scares me to think of them. If a live Yankee was in this room this minute,-don't get behind me, for I wouldn't try to help you if one should walk in and carry you off,-if one came in and sat down in that chair that will fall to pieces if you touch it, and you should take off his hat and his right boot, you would find that he had horns and a cloven hoof-a hoof like an ox instead of a foot like yours."

"Look a hyar, Marse Jack," exclaimed Julius, clinging to the sailor with one trembling hand while he pointed toward the wash-stand with the other. "Wha-wha' you doing da'? Wha' dat white stuff for?"

While Jack was telling the boy what terrible fellows the Yankees were supposed to be, he had slowly and solemnly filled a goblet with water from the pitcher, and then in the same solemn and deliberate way drew forth his ditty-bag and took from it a small bottle containing a harmless-looking white powder known to the druggists as citrate of magnesia. He held it at arm's length as if he were afraid of it, and that made Julius so weak with terror that he could scarcely keep his feet.

"Do you want to know what-look out for yourself, now! If it explodes when I remove the cork, look out! Do you want to know what this is?" said Jack. "Then I must whisper the words to you, for it would never do to say them out loud. It is my enchanted looking-glass-my fetich-my voodoo charm."

That was too much for Julius. With a wild scream he jumped for the door; but it was locked, and he could not get out.

"Now watch," continued Jack, who knew that he would get at the truth of the whole matter in a minute more. "To begin with, I shall command my enchanted looking-glass to show me the likeness of the villain who stole that breastpin; and in the next, I shall tell it to show me the place where it is now. Now, stand by to look in and tell me who you see there."

He poured a small portion of the white powder into the goblet, whose contents at once began to bubble and boil in the most unaccountable manner. When the water boiled up to the top and ran over on the wash-stand, Jack commanded Julius to look in and tell him what he saw there; but the boy sprang away and curled himself up on the floor in the farthest corner of the room.

"Come here!" said Jack sternly. "You won't? Then I'll look myself. Ah! What is this I see

? Julius, come here this instant and tell me who this is."

Jack emphasized the order by taking the negro by the back of the neck and lifting him to his feet; but he soon found that he could not hold him there without the use of more strength than he cared to put forth. Julius was like an eel in his grasp. As fast as he raised him from the floor he would somehow manage to slip back again; and all the while he begged and pleaded so loudly that Jack was forced to desist for fear that his mother would hear the uproar, and come to the door to ask what was the matter.

"You are afraid to look in that goblet and you dare not sit in the chair," said Jack at length. "That proves that you did take the pin. Now where is it? If I have to fill my enchanted glass again, I'll make you look in it whether you want to or not. Where is it?"


"De oberseer got it," was the reply that made the sailor wonder whether he was awake or dreaming. "Suah's you born, de oberseer done made me gib it to him."

Jack had not the least doubt of it, but in order to test the boy's sincerity, he told him to sit down in the chair, assuring him, at the same time, that he had nothing to fear. As he had atoned for his guilt by making a confession, the chair would hold him up as it would anybody else. Julius tremblingly obeyed, and when he found that the chair really did support him, he gained courage, and with a little questioning told the whole story pretty nearly as we have told it, with this difference: He omitted some important items which we have been obliged to explain in order to make the narrative clear to the reader. It was a very nice scheme, Jack told himself, but he had not yet got the game as completely in his own hands as he determined to have it.

"Julius," said he impressively, "do you know what will happen to you if you fail to prove the truth of this most remarkable tale? You'll be sold down South before the week is over. A darkey who has been as carefully brought up as you have wouldn't last long in the cotton fields."

"But, Marse Jack," said Julius earnestly, "I kin prove dat I ain't tole you nuffin but the gospel truth. I kin fotch you de pin; but you musn't luff de oberseer whop me."

"He shall not put a hand on you," Jack assured him. "Keep away from the quarter, take no more reports to him, and I will stand between you and all harm."

As he said this he unlocked the door, and the darkey disappeared like a flash. He was gone about half an hour, and when he returned he handed Jack the breastpin, which was wrapped in a piece of newspaper. The overseer being away in the field and his cabin unlocked, it was a matter of no difficulty for the darkey to rummage his bureau drawers until he found the object of which he was in search. Whether or not Hanson ever discovered that he had been robbed of the "charm" that gave him such power over Julius, Jack never knew. If he did, he never said a word about it while he remained on that plantation.

But this was not the only good work Jack Gray did during the first two weeks he passed at home. When the West Wind was a day out from Boston, he accidentally learned that one of his best foremast hands was a resident of his own State, and that his father, who was a strong Union man, lived but an hour's ride from Nashville. Of course the two became friends at once. All the lightest and easiest jobs about deck seemed to fall into Aleck Webster's hands, and Jack won the good will of his mess by taking it upon himself to see that their food was not only abundant, but that it was well-cooked and properly served. They talked over the situation as often as they could get together, and not knowing just how matters stood at home they concluded that they had better not recognize each other after they reached Newbern. If, after they had passed a few days at their respective homes, they thought it safe to do so, they could very easily bring about a meeting, and who could tell but that they might find opportunity to work together for the good of the old flag, or for the relief of some persecuted Unionist? Jack knew of one Unionist who was persecuted by being watched by rebel neighbors, and that one was his mother. He and Webster met at the post-office one morning, but they met as strangers. In fact his shipmate was a stranger to all present, for his father, who was a small farmer, had moved into that section from Georgia while Aleck was at sea. Having the misfortune to be a "cracker," or a poor white, Mr. Webster was rather looked down on by such men as Colonel Shelby and Major Dillon, but Jack Gray was not that sort. Aleck was a good sailor, and such a man was worth more in a gale at sea than a landsman who could call upon his bank account for a hundred thousand dollars.

During his first interview with his old shipmate Jack Gray heard some things that made him open his eyes. It was true, as he afterward told Marcy, that the Union men in the neighborhood were few in number, and that they dared not say out loud that their souls were their own; but they were well organized, and by no means afraid to follow the example set them by the rebels, and act in secret. Aleck said that there were about twenty of them all told, and no one could join their company unless he was vouched for by every man in it. They calculated to defend themselves and one another. They would not go into the Confederate service, and if they were crowded upon too closely they would take to the swamps and fight it out with any force that might be sent against them. They were well armed and resolute, and Aleck said they would be in just the right humor to deal with Hanson's case when it was brought to their notice at their next meeting.

"My mother rather took me to task because I helped that smuggler into port, but if you can give me the assurance that these Union men will stand between her and that cowardly overseer she's got on the place, I shall be glad I became a smuggler for the time being," said Jack.

"I can give you that assurance, Mr. Gray," said Aleck positively. "That's just what the company, or society, or whatever you have a mind to call it, was got together for. I know, because I was present at their last meeting, and the whole thing was explained to me before I took the oath to stand by it. Why can't you come down and join us?"

"We're not on board ship now, and my name is Jack. There's no Mister about it," was the reply. "I am in full sympathy with you and with the object for which you have been brought together, and if I was going to stay at home I should surely ask you to hand in my name. But my mother will be defenseless when I go into the navy and Marcy leaves to join that blockade-runner, and if Shelby and Beardsley and Hanson should find out that I knew there was an organization like yours in existence, they would burn up everything we've got. We can't discharge Hanson without bringing ourselves into serious trouble; and if you fellows could think up some way to drive him off the place, and bring old Beardsley home so that my brother wouldn't have to go blockade running any more, you would make us all your everlasting debtors."

"If you wanted to write to this Captain Beardsley you would address him at Newbern, wouldn't you? All right. We meet somewhere in the woods next Wednesday night, and then we will talk it over and see what can be done for you."

Jack Gray always was light-hearted and jolly, no matter whether things worked to suit him or not; but Marcy and his mother thought they had never seen him quite so much at peace with himself and all the world as he appeared to be after this interview with Aleck Webster. If those Union men were in earnest and did what his shipmate thought they certainly would do, there might be a fight right there on the plantation; and that was the reason Jack did not take his mother into his confidence. To quote from Marcy, she had enough to trouble her already. If the attempt to drive the overseer from the place was made and resulted in failure, it would probably lead to some vigorous action on the part of Colonel Shelby and his friends; and that was the reason Jack did not tell Marcy of it. If a difficulty arose, he wanted Marcy to be able to say that he did not know a thing about it. But this particular night might be the last one he would ever spend with his brother, and he thought it prudent to make a clean breast of the matter.

"That is my story," said Jack, in conclusion. "What do you think of it?"

"I think you have worked to some purpose," replied Marcy, who could not yet understand how Jack had done all this without his knowledge. "But there is one thing you have yet to explain. You told me that I need not go back to the Hattie if I don't want to. I certainly do not want to, but how shall I get out of it?"

This was the way Jack explained that. On the Thursday morning following the day on which he held his first interview with Aleck Webster, he met him again, and the young fellow had startling news for him. After the two had seated themselves on a low fence a little way from the store, Aleck fastened his gaze upon a paper he held in his hand and said:

"It is just as I told you it would be. Our men were all mad when I told them that Unionists, and women at that, were being mistreated right here under their very noses, and them setting around like bumps on a log and doing nothing to stop it, and it's my private opinion that if that overseer of your'n had been handy last night, they would have used him rough. He'll get out; I can promise you that."

"Well, look here, Aleck. My brother is going to take me down to the blockading fleet in a few days, and I wish you wouldn't make a move until we are gone. Then folks can't say we had a hand in it or knew anything about it."

"Very good, sir. We'll look out for that. And perhaps you and your brother will be glad to learn that Captain Beardsley will be warned to-day that if he don't quit blockade running and bringing in supplies for the Confederacy, he will miss some of his buildings when he gets back."

"That will bring him sure," said Jack gleefully. "You can't touch him in a worse place than his pocket. But you didn't say anything about his forcing Marcy into the rebel service, did you? For if you did, he'll bounce my folks the minute he gets home."

"If he tries it, may be he'll miss some more buildings when he gets up in the morning," said Aleck.

"But he'll not let you or anybody know that he is working against them," said Jack. "He's too sharp for that."

"If anything happens to your folks we will lay it to him and act accordingly," said Aleck, with a laugh. "But the man who was told to write that letter to Beardsley will take care to word it so that he can't lay the blame on any one person's shoulders. You tell your brother that if he doesn't want to go blockade running again, he needn't go; for his schooner is about to quit the business."

"Do I know any of those Union men?" inquired Marcy.

"Probably you are acquainted with all of them, but they will make no sign," replied Jack. "The only one I know is Aleck Webster. I tell you it was a lucky thing for all of us when Captain Frazier took me aboard the West Wind. Now you take charge of this pin, and when the agony is all over, when Beardsley has been brought home and Hanson has been taken care of, give it to mother and tell her how you came by it. Perhaps the story will prove as interesting to her as I hope it has been to you. Now, let's go into the house. She will wonder what is keeping us out so long."

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