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   Chapter 16 OFF FOR THE FLEET.

Marcy the Blockade Runner By Harry Castlemon Characters: 19906

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Mrs. Gray was always uneasy when the boys were out of her sight, and that was not to be wondered at, for they so often brought her bad news when they came back. But on this particular evening they had no news of any sort, except that which shone from their radiant faces. Marcy thought he had good reason to feel light-hearted, for was he not getting the better of the secret enemies of whom he and his mother had stood so much in fear? Julius would carry no more reports to Hanson; Hanson himself would soon disappear from their sight; Captain Beardsley would be compelled to stop blockade running; and Colonel Shelby and his friends would have to act with the greatest caution in order to escape the vengeance of the Union men who held secret meetings somewhere in the woods. That was good news enough for one night, and Marcy was sorry that he was obliged to keep it from his mother. It was long after midnight when the boys went upstairs, and there they passed another half hour in ripping up one of Marcy's bed quilts to get at the flags that had been stitched into it.

"I hope there are no more privateers on the coast," said Marcy, as he drew one of the flags from its hiding place.

"So do I," replied Jack, "for if we should happen to run foul of one of them, my Confederate colors would be no protection whatever. The boarding officer would very naturally inquire: 'What are you doing out here so near the blockading fleet?' and no answer that we could give would satisfy him. Why don't you take the old one? It would be a pity to have that nice piece of silk whipped to tatters by a Cape Hatteras gale."

"My friend Dick Graham gave me that old flag," answered Marcy; "and I told him that the next time it was hoisted it would be in a breeze that was not tainted by any secession rag. I want to keep my promise if I can. Now, I will put what is left of the quilt in my trunk where mother can find it in the morning." After that the boys went to bed, but not to sleep. Marcy was too nervous. Thinking over the details of the remarkable story his brother had told him during the evening, and speculating upon the possible results of his trip to the blockading fleet, effectually banished slumber; and seeing how restless he was. Jack was considerate enough to stay awake to keep him company. The time passed more rapidly than it generally does under such circumstances, and it did not seem to them that they had been in bed an hour before they heard their mother's gentle tap at the door, and her voice telling them that the day was breaking.

"I told her we shouldn't need a warm breakfast," said Marcy. "But this looks as though she had stayed up all night on purpose to have one ready for us."

The only thing the boys had to do before they left the room was to hide some papers which they did not want anybody to see while they were gone-to wit, Marcy's leaves of absence, signed by Captain Beardsley, and the letter of recommendation that the master of the smuggling vessel had given Jack. These they slipped under the edge of the carpet, where the boys thought they would be safe (they little dreamed that the time would come when that same carpet would be torn up and cut into blankets for the use of Confederate soldiers); but the papers which related to the part he had taken in rescuing the brig Sabine from the hands of the Sumter's men, Jack put carefully into his pocket. They were documents that he would not be afraid or ashamed to show to the officers of the blockading fleet.

That was the last breakfast that Jack Gray ate under his mother's roof for long months to come. Realizing that it might be so, it required the exercise of all the will power he was master of to keep him from showing how very gloomy he felt over the coming separation. He was glad when the ordeal was over, when the last kiss and the last encouraging words had been given, and he and Marcy, with the two rival flags stowed away in a valise, were on their way to the creek. Greatly to Marcy's surprise, though not much to Jack's, they found the little skiff which did duty as the Fairy Belle's tender drawn out upon the bank, and Marcy was almost certain that he saw the woolly head of the boy Julius drawn out of sight behind the schooner's rail.

"What's the meaning of this?" he demanded. "Where are the ship-keepers?"

"Let's go aboard and find out," replied Jack, with a twinkle in his eye which said that he could tell all about it if he were so inclined. "I was afraid we would have to tow out to the river; but this is a topsail breeze that will take us down there without any trouble at all. Take the valise and get in and I will shove off."

Marcy had plenty of questions to ask, but knowing that his brother would not take the least notice of them unless he felt like it, he stepped into the tender and picked up one of the oars. A few sturdy strokes sufficed to lay the skiff alongside the schooner, and the first thing Marcy did when he jumped aboard, leaving Jack to drop the small boat astern, was to look down the hatchway that led into the forecastle. There stood Julius, as big as life, with his feet spread out, his hands resting on his hips, and a broad grin on his face.

"What are you doing there, you imp of darkness?" exclaimed Marcy. "Didn't you understand that we don't want any Abolitionists aboard of us this trip?"

"G'long now, honey," replied the boy, turning his head on one side and waving Marcy away with his hand. "Ise heah 'cording to Marse Jack's orders."

"That's all right," said Jack, who had come aboard by this time and was making the skiff fast to the stern. "You see," he added, coming forward, "I wanted to make all the darkeys on the place think that I am going down to Newbern to join the rebel gunboat that so many people seem to think is being built there."

"Aw, g'long now, Marse Jack," said Julius. "Mebbe de niggahs all fools, but dey ain't none of dem b'lieves dat."

"You hold your tongue," said Jack good-naturedly. "Perhaps our darkeys are all right, and perhaps they are not. It won't do in times like these to trust too many with things that you don't want to have scattered broadcast over the neighborhood. Our nigs all know, Marcy, that you have been in the habit of taking Julius with you on all your trips about the coast, and when I told him to stay behind I did it with an object. I meant to take him and he knew it. You will need his help coming back, and his presence will give weight to the story we are going to tell the blockaders."

"But what will the hands say when they miss him?" inquired Marcy. "What will mother think?"

"Dey'll all think I done took to de swamp," declared Julius, with such a hearty guffaw that it made the boys laugh to hear it. "Dat's what I tole 'em all I going to do, and I ain't nevah coming back no mo' till Marse Marcy come too."

"You see he played his part well. There's the chink I promised you," said Jack, tossing a gold coin down to the boy, who scrambled for it as though some one was trying to get it away from him.

"But what has become of the two ship-keepers?" said Marcy. "They were told to remain on board till we came."

"Law-zee, Marse Marcy," exclaimed Julius, with another laugh, "you jes' oughter see dem niggahs hump demselves when I swum off to de schooner and cotch de bob-stay. 'Oh, dere's one of dem white things,' dey holler; but I ain't white and I knows it, and den dey run for de skiff and jump in and go off to de sho' so quick you can't see 'em for de foam dey riz in de watah."

"Did you scare them away?" exclaimed Marcy.

"I reckon so, sar; kase dere ain't nobody but Julius been on de schooner or 'bout it sence dat time."

"Well, let's get to work," said Jack. "Julius, you stay below till I tell you to come up, do you hear? If I see so much as a lock of your wool above the combings of the hatch, I'll chuck you over for the catfish."

A laughing response from the black boy showed just how much he feared that the sailor would carry this threat into execution; but it kept him below, and that was what Jack wanted. As matters stood now, Julius could account for his absence from the plantation by saying that he had got angry and run away because Jack ordered him to stay ashore; but he couldn't say that with any hope of being believed if any of the settlers along the coast saw him on board the schooner.

If Jack Gray had been so disposed, he could have taken the Fairy Belle into Pamlico Sound without showing her to the Plymouth people at all, for a small stream, called Middle River, and its tributaries, ran entirely around the city behind it, and out of sight of the fortifications that the Confederates had thrown up on the banks of the Roanoke. Starting from Pamlico River below Roanoke Island, a small boat, manned by those who were acquainted with the windings of the different channels, could come up through Middle River and Seven Mile Creek, passing within a few hundred yards of Captain Beardsley's house and Mrs. Gray's, and strike the Roanoke two miles above Plymouth. Please bear this in mind, for it is possible that we may have to speak of two expeditions that made use of these rear waterways to avoid the Confederate batteries. But there was no danger to be apprehended from the Plymouth people. The danger would come when the schooner passed outside and drew near to the blockading fleet; and that was the reason Jack had thought it best to disguise her.

The breeze being light and the channel crooked, it took the schooner an hour or more to work out of the creek under her jib, but when the rapid current of the Roanoke took her in its grasp, and the fore and main sails were run up, she sped along at a much livelier rate. As the Fairy Belle approached the town the roar of the morning gun reverberated along the river's wooded shores, and the Confederate colors were run up to the top of a tall flagstaff.

"Now comes something I do

n't at all like," said Jack. "We will run our own rebel rag up to the peak, and when we come abreast of the town we'll salute the colors on shore."

"How do you perform that ceremony anyhow?" asked Marcy.

"By lowering and hoisting the flag three times in quick succession," replied Jack. "It takes two to do it as it ought to be done, but of course you can't manage the halliards with only one hand. All I ask of you is to hold the wheel. I don't suppose those haymakers in the fort will have the sense to answer the salute, but we don't care for that. It may save us the trouble of going ashore to listen to questions that we can't answer with anything but lies."

The first gray-coated sentry they passed looked at them doubtfully, as though he did not know whether it was best to halt them or not, but probably the sight of the flag they carried settled the matter for him. At any rate he did not challenge them, and neither did any of the other sentinels they saw along the bank; but one of the numerous little groups which had assembled, as if by magic, to see them go by, hailed them with the inquiry:

"Where do you uns think you are going?"

"We hope to see Newbern some day or other," was Jack's reply. "Now stand by the wheel, Marcy, and I will see what I can do with the halliards."

The ceremony of saluting the Confederate flag was duly performed, but, as Jack had predicted, no notice was taken of the courtesy. The soldiers looked on in silence, and probably there was not one among them who knew why the Fairy Belle's colors were hauled down and up again so many times; but when Jack made the halliards fast to the cleat and took his brother's place at the wheel, the same voice called out:

"Will you uns bring us some late papers when you come back?"

The sailor replied that he would think about it, and then he said to

Marcy:

"You want to have your wits about you when you pass this place on your way home. If they hail you and ask where your partner is, you can tell them that I am in the navy. If they inquire where Julius was that they didn't see him when we went down, he was below attending to his duties; and if they ask about the papers, you were so busy that you couldn't get them."

The next place where Jack wanted to show his captured flag was in Croatan Sound. The Confederate force which had been mustered to defend these waters, having been compelled to abandon, one after the other, all the forts they had erected to defend the various inlets leading to the open sea, were concentrating on Roanoke Island, which they were preparing to hold at all risks. They were building forts, fitting out gunboats, and sinking obstructions in the channels. Everything was well under way when the boys went through, their captured banner serving as a passport here as it had done at Plymouth. They took the deepest interest in all they saw, little dreaming that the day would come when the big guns, which now offered no objection to their progress, would pour a hot fire of shot and shell upon both of them. Sailor Jack would have been delighted if some one in whom he had perfect confidence had assured him that such would be the case, but Marcy would have been overwhelmed with astonishment.

"This island is already historic," said Jack, as the little schooner dashed by the unfinished walls of Fort Bartow, and he waved his hat in response to a similar salute from one of the working party on shore, "and it'll not be many weeks before it will be more so."

"What has ever happened here to give this lonely island a place in history?" inquired Marcy.

"I am surprised at you," answered Jack. "Here you are, a North Carolina boy born and bred, and you don't know the history of your own State. Well, I didn't know it, either, until I happened to pick up an old magazine, thousands of miles from home, and read something about it-not because I cared a snap for history, which is awful dry stuff to me, but because I had nothing else to do just then. Of course you know that many of the Croatan Indians, who have gray eyes and speak the English language of three hundred years ago, claim to be descendants of Sir Walter Raleigh's lost colony, don't you? Well, that colony was planted here in 1585 on the shores of Shallow Bag Bay, which lies on the seaward side, and a little to the northeast of the fort we just passed. They were the forerunners of the English-speaking millions now on this side of the big pond. Here, on the 18th of August, 1587, Virginia Dare, the first white American, was born. The county of which this island forms a part was named after her family. Now tell Julius to bring up some supper, and while we are eating it we'll take a slant over toward the main shore. There may be some sailor men among those soldiers for all we know, and, if they are watching our movements, we want to make them believe that we are holding a course for the lower end of the Sound, and that we have no intention of going near any of the inlets."

Up to this time Julius had kept below out of sight; but his forced inactivity did not wear very heavily upon him, for he had been asleep all the while. He was prompt to respond to Marcy's call, and took Jack's place at the wheel while the two boys were eating the cold supper he brought up for them. It was quite safe for him to stay on deck now, for it was almost dark, and besides it was not likely that he would be seen by any one on shore who knew him. When he had satisfied his appetite Jack hauled down the Confederate colors and asked his brother where he should hide them.

"It looks to me like a dangerous piece of business for you to hide them anywhere," replied Marcy, who had been thinking the matter over. "It looks sneaking, too. We are all right and we know it. We are never going to get through Crooked Inlet without meeting that steam launch or another one like her, and if the officer in command shouldn't be satisfied with your story or with your papers either, and should take it into his head to give the Fairy Belle a thorough overhauling, then what? If he found that flag stowed away in some secret place, he'd make prisoners of us, sure pop."

"If I didn't think it would be of use to you when you come back I would tie a weight to it and chuck it overboard," said Jack. "On the whole I think we'd better not try to hide it. The honest way is the best where Yankees are concerned. I'll put it in the locker alongside our own flag."

It was about twenty-five miles across the Sound to Crooked Inlet, and the schooner covered this distance in four hours. Of course Captain Beardsley's buoys had been lifted and carried away long before this time, and the only safe way to take the vessel into open water was to pull her through with the skiff which was towing astern. Although that would involve three or four hours of hard work, it was not a thing to be dreaded; but the thought of what they might meet before or after they got through, almost made Marcy's hair stand on end.

The night being clear and starlight, Marcy had no trouble in piloting the Fairy Belle into the mouth of the Inlet. Then the sails were hauled down, the skiff was pulled alongside, and a tow-line got out.

"Now, Julius," said Jack impressively, "stand by to turn over a new leaf. Quit lying and tell the honest truth."

"Now, Marse Jack," protested Julius.

"I know what you want to say," interrupted the sailor, "but we have no time for nonsense. I don't care what sort of lies you tell those rebels round home, but nothing but the truth will answer our purpose here. We've got to go aboard some ship-we can't get out of that; and while the captain is questioning Marcy and me, some other officer may be questioning you. If your story doesn't agree with ours in every particular, all of us will find ourselves in trouble. Tell them who we are, where we came from, why we are here, and all about it."

"But, Marse Jack," said the darkey, who seemed to have forgotten something until this moment, "I dunno if I want to go 'mong dem Yankees. I don't want to see no horns an' huffs."

"It's too late to think of that now," replied the sailor. "But I will tell you this for your encouragement: You won't see any horns and hoofs if you do just as you are told. But if you begin lying, you'll see and hear some things that will make your eyes bung out as big as my fist. Crawl over, Marcy, and I will hand you the boat-hook."

Marcy clambered into the skiff followed by Julius, Jack lingering behind long enough to lash the rudder amidships. Then he also took his place in the tender and picked up one of the oars, Julius took the other, Marcy knelt in the bow to feel for the channel with his boathook, and the work of towing the schooner through the Inlet was begun. There was not a buoy in sight, and when he removed them the officer whose business it was to guard that particular part of the coast must have thought he had done his full duty, for the active little launch that Marcy so much dreaded did not put in her appearance. They passed through the Inlet without running the Fairy Belle aground or seeing anything alarming; and it was not until the broad Atlantic opened before them that the long-expected hail came.

"Not a thing in sight," said Jack, with some disappointment in his tones. "I was in hopes we could get through with our business so that you could return to the Sound before daylight, but perhaps it is just as well as it is. You want to keep away from those soldiers long enough to make them believe that you have been to Newbern. Haul the skiff alongside, and we'll fill away for Hatteras."

"Jack, Jack!" exclaimed Marcy suddenly, "there comes something."

Looking in the direction indicated by his brother's finger, the experienced sailor distinctly made out the white canvas of a natty little schooner that was holding in for the Inlet. It was the most unwelcome sight he had seen for many a day.

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