MoboReader> Literature > Marcy the Blockade Runner

   Chapter 17 AN UNEXPECTED MEETING.

Marcy the Blockade Runner By Harry Castlemon Characters: 21845

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"What is she, Jack?" said Marcy, in a suppressed whisper. "Do you make her out?"

His voice was husky, and he trembled as he asked the question, for he knew by the exclamation that fell from his brother's lips that those white sails were things he did not like to see.

"I make her out easy enough, in spite of her disguise," was Sailor Jack's reply. "And I would rather meet all the gunboats in Uncle Sam's navy than her."

"Disguise!" Marcy almost gasped. "You surely don't think--"

"No, I don't think anything about it," Jack interposed. "I know that that is Captain Beardsley's schooner. I wish from the bottom of my heart that she had been sunk or captured before she ever caught us here; but it is too late to get away from her. She will go by within less than twenty yards of us."

"And do you think Beardsley will know the Fairy Belle in her new dress?" asked Marcy, who had never before been so badly frightened.

"Being an old sailor he can't help it."

"Of course he will mistrust what brought us out here, and spread it all through the settlement," added Marcy.

"That is just what he will do," said Jack truthfully.

"And what will Shelby and Dillon and the rest of them do to us-to mother?"

"You must make it your business to see Aleck Webster as soon as you get home," replied Jack. "Tell him that Beardsley has returned, that he caught us out here, and that the time has come for him and his friends to show their hands. I think you will have time to see Aleck before Beardsley gets home, because he's got to go to Newbern with his cargo."

All this while Captain Beardsley's blockade-runner had been swiftly drawing near to the mouth of the Inlet, where the Fairy Belle lay rising and falling with the waves, and now she dashed by within less than a stone's throw of them. The boys, who were standing up in their skiff holding fast to the Fairy Belle's rail, could not see a man on her deck except the lookout in the bow and the sailor at the wheel. The lookout was Beardsley himself; Marcy and his brother would have recognized his tall form and broad shoulders anywhere. He kept his eyes fastened upon the Fairy Belle as he swept by, but he did not say a word or change his course by so much as an inch. In five minutes more he was out of sight.

"Now will somebody tell me what that old villain wants of a pilot?" exclaimed sailor Jack, as he climbed over the rail and turned about to help Marcy up. "He knows more about Crooked Inlet than you do, or he couldn't run it with all his muslin spread and no buoys to mark the channel."

"I always said he didn't need a pilot," replied Marcy. "He has kept me with him on purpose to torment mother."

"He'll not do it any longer," said Jack confidently. "You must send word to those Union men as soon as you get home. If you don't, Beardsley will make it so very hot for you that by the time the fire gets through burning mother won't have a roof to go under when it rains. Stand by, Julius."

Jack and the darkey went forward to hoist the headsails, and Marcy, filled with the most gloomy forebodings, undid the fastenings of the wheel and laid his uninjured hand upon one of the spokes. One after the other the sails were given to the breeze, lights were put out to show the first cruiser they met that they were honest folks going about honest business, and Jack came aft to relieve his brother.

"I have been thinking of Barrington," said the latter, as he backed away and leaned up against the rail. "It has somehow run in my mind that our little settlement would escape the horrors of war, but the events of the last half hour have opened my eyes. We're going to see trouble."

"I really believe you are," answered Jack. "And when it comes, you must show what you are made of. I have no fear but that you will stand up to the rack like a man."

"It isn't myself I care for; it's mother."

"I know; but when it comes to the pinch you will find that she's got more pluck than you have. That money is what scares me. If the suspicions of the authorities become aroused, look out. But don't lisp a word of that where mother can hear it."

"Oh, Marse Jack," exclaimed Julius, who just then came aft in two jumps, "de Yankees out da'."

"Out where?" inquired Jack, while Marcy's heart began beating like a trip-hammer. "Oh, yes; I see them now. Stand by with a lantern, Julius."

The darkey hastened forward to obey the order, muttering as he went that Marse Marcy would have to take de light kase he wasn't going nigh dem Yankees till he seed 'em fust, and the schooner held on her course. What the boys saw was a bright light shining through the darkness a short distance off the starboard bow, and what they heard a moment later was the puffing of a small but exceedingly active steam engine. The light presently disappeared but the puffing continued, increasing in force and frequency as the approaching launch gathered headway, and then came the hail:

"Schooner ahoy!" And almost in the same breath the same voice added:

"All ready with that howitzer."

"Ay, ay, sir," answered Jack promptly; and anticipating the next command he gave the wheel a rapid turn and spilled the sails, while Marcy took the lantern Julius gave him and held it over the side.

In five minutes more a large launch, carrying a crew of twenty men and a twelve-pound howitzer in the bow, came alongside, half a dozen pairs of brawny hands laid hold of the Fairy Belle's rail, and an officer, dressed in an ensign's uniform, came over the side, being immediately followed by four or five blue-jackets, armed with cutlasses. What sort of a reception they expected to meet at the hands of the Fairy Belle's crew it is hard to tell, but they were plainly surprised when they looked about her deck and found that there was no one there to oppose them.

"Who are you?" demanded the officer, as Jack slipped a becket over one of the spokes in the wheel and came forward to meet him. "What schooner is this and where are you going?"

"This schooner is the Fairy Belle and she is the property of my brother," answered Jack, waving his hand in Marcy's direction. "We are going to the blockading fleet. And as to who I am-will you be kind enough to run your eye over these? They will answer the question for you."

As Jack said this, he placed his papers in the officer's hand, while Marcy held up the lantern so that he could see to read them. He was by no means so surprised as Marcy expected him to be, and the reason was simple enough. Since the forts at Hatteras Inlet were captured, scarcely a day passed that some vessel of the blockading fleet did not hold communication with Union people on shore. There was more love for the old flag in that secession country than most of us dreamed of. If Marcy Gray had known this he would not have felt as uneasy as he did.

"I have been on the watch for an audacious little blockade-runner that slipped by one of our boats into this Inlet a few weeks ago," said the officer, as he folded the papers and handed them back to their owner. "You're quite sure you're not the fellow?"

"Do I answer his description?" asked Jack, in reply.

"Well, no; I can't say that you do. But it is very easy to disguise a vessel of this size."

"And it is just as easy for you to look around and see if I have any place to stow a cargo," said Jack. "Come below, if you please."

Taking the lantern from his brother's hand Jack led the way through the standing-room into the Fairy Belle's cabin, where he stopped to throw back the cushioned top of one of the lockers.

"Here's the flag I have sailed under ever since I was old enough to shin aloft," said he, taking up the carefully folded Union banner. "The other is the one Semmes's boarding officer hoisted on the Sabine when she was captured. When we took her out of the hands of the prize crew I hauled it down and kept it. It brought us safely by Plymouth and Roanoke Island, and I hope it will take my brother safely back."

With this introduction Jack went on to give the officer a hasty description of the state of affairs in and around the settlement in which his mother lived, and told what the Confederates were doing at Roanoke Island; and all the while he was leading the officer from one room to another and showing him all there was to be seen on the Fairy Belle. But he did not say a word about the Hattie. The officer did not know that that "audacious little blockade-runner" had slipped through his fingers, and Jack thought it would be the part of wisdom to steer clear of the subject of blockade-runners if he could. A reference to them might lead to some questions that he would not care to answer.

"I am entirely satisfied with your story," said the officer, when they returned to the deck. "But, all the same, I shall have to send you to my commander. I have no authority to act in a case like this."

"Very good, sir," replied Jack. "We are quite willing to go. Do I understand that you take the schooner out of our hands?"

"By no means," was the prompt reply. "I will put a petty officer aboard of you to act as your pilot, and you can run the vessel down yourselves. I must stay about here till daylight and look out for that blockade-runner. Bo'son's mate!"

The petty officer stepped forward and received some brief instructions from his superior, which were given in Jack's hearing.

"These are Union boys, and one of them has come out here to ship," said the officer. "I want you to pilot him to the Harriet Lane. You are not to interfere with the management of the schooner in any way, for she is not a prize. She sails under our flag. Tell the captain the same story you have told me," he added, turning to Jack, "and I think it will be all right. Good-bye."

With these parting words the officer and his boarding party clambered down into the launch, which put off to resume her useless vigil at the mouth of the Inlet; the boatswain's mate, at Jack's request, took his place at the wheel, and the Fairy Belle filled away on her course.

"All right so far," said Marcy, who breathed a great deal easier now than he did when the launch first hove in sight. "If the captain of the Harriet Lane treats us as well as that ensign did, I shall be glad I came out here."

"He will, sir," said the boatswain's mate, letting go of the wheel with one hand long enough to raise his forefinger to his cap. "He always does. We have often had shore boats, come off to us since we have been on the blockade."

"You have!" exclaimed Marcy, who was very much surprised. "And do you let them go ashore again when they get ready?"

"Cert'ny, sir. They come and go betwixt two days-not because they are afraid of us, but because they must look out that the rebels ashore don't hear of it. Some of the boats get news from Newbern every day or so."

"We know that," answered Jack. "And we heard a reb

el say, not long ago, that if the Newbern people could find out who it is that sends off the papers so regularly they would make short work of him. How much farther have we to go?"

"Not more than ten miles, sir. We'll see our lights directly."

"Do you know anything about this little blockade-runner that your launch is watching for?" inquired Marcy. "Who is she? What's her name and where does she hail from?"

"We know all about her, sir, for we chased her once when she was the privateer Osprey. She belongs up Roanoke River, but she runs the blockade out of Newbern. Her captain-what's this his name is again?-Beardsley, used to be a smuggler; and if we get our hands on him we'll be likely to remember him for that. Our Uncle Sam ain't so broke up yet but what he can deal with men who have violated his laws."

"I hope to goodness you may get your hands upon him," thought Marcy, who was surprised at the extent and accuracy of the blue-jacket's information. It proved beyond a doubt that there were Union men ashore who kept the Yankee commanders posted, and Marcy wished he knew who they were. He might find it convenient to appeal to them if he and his mother got into trouble with Captain Beardsley.

The strong breeze being in her favor, the Fairy Belle made good speed along the coast, and in due time the warning lights of the Union war vessel showed themselves through the darkness. It was not customary for the Union cruisers to show lights and thus point out their position to vessels that might approach the coast with the intention of running the blockade, but being anchored off an inlet that was known to be in full possession of our forces, the captain of the Harriet Lane knew that no such vessels would come near him. While the blue-jacket was explaining this to the boys, a hoarse voice came from the gunboat's deck.

"Schooner ahoy!" it roared.

"No, no!" replied the man at the Fairy Belle's wheel.

"That's a little the queerest answer to a hail I ever heard," was

Jack's comment.

"Be ready to stand by the sheets fore and aft, for we must round to under her stern and come up on her port side," said the boatswain's mate. "The answer was all right, sir, and in strict accordance with naval rules. Had I been a captain, I should have given the name of my ship. Had I been a wardroom officer, I should have answered, 'Ay, ay!' But being neither one nor the other, I gave the same reply that the steerage officers have to give."

"And what answer would you have given if the admiral was aboard of us?" inquired Jack.

"I should have said 'Flag,' sir. You give different replies for different ranks so that the officer of the deck may know how to receive the people that are coming aboard. It would make him awful mad if you gave such an answer that he would extend wardroom honors to a steerage officer. Now, stand by to slack away and haul in."

Five minutes' skilful manoeuvring sufficed to bring the schooner around the stern of the gunboat and up to an open gangway, in which stood the officer of the deck and one of the ship's boys, who held a lighted lantern in his hand. To the former the boatswain's mate reported:

"A shore boat, sir, with a couple of Union boys aboard. Mr. Colson sent me down here with her. One of 'em wants to ship, sir. He's got papers."

"Let them come aboard," said the officer.

"It was easy enough for Jack to obey the order, for the gangway was low; but Marcy, having but one hand to work with, required a good deal of assistance. As there was considerable swell on, Julius and the boatswain's mate remained on board the schooner to fend her off with the aid of boat-hooks.

"I have come off to ship under the old flag, sir," was the way in which

Jack introduced himself and his business.

"Are you an able seaman?" inquired the officer.

"I am, sir, and there is the proof."

Jack produced his papers, and the officer of the deck read them by the light of the lantern, Marcy improving the opportunity to make a hasty inspection of his surroundings. He didn't see much except the big guns which had aided in the reduction of the forts along the coast, the quartermaster on the bridge, and a few men lying on deck, apparently fast asleep, but he took note of the fact that everything was as neat as his mother's kitchen. By the time he had made these observations the officer had finished reading Jack's letters of recommendation. When he handed them back, all he had to say was:

"So you have had some experience with that pirate, Semmes, have you? I wish we had been around there about the time he captured your vessel. We will attend to your case in the morning. The doctor and paymaster are asleep, and it isn't worth while to rout them out just to ship one man."

"It will not be necessary for my brother to lie alongside all night, will it, sir?"

"Oh, no. Boatswain's mate, you go back and report to Mr. Colson."

"Very good, sir," replied the petty officer, with his finger to his cap.

"May I make bold to inquire if you have any papers aboard that you can spare?" continued Jack, who would not have thought of asking such a question if he had had a blue shirt on and been sworn into the service. "We'd like some Northern papers, if you have them, for as we are situated we get the news from only one side."

In response to this request the messenger boy was commanded to run down to the wardroom and bring up any papers he might find on the table there, and while awaiting his return Jack turned to say a parting word to his brother.

"Now Marcy," said he, "you've got to look out for yourself-and for mother. Not knowing what dangers you are likely to meet, I can't give you a word of advice; you will have to be on the alert and act according to circumstances. See Aleck Webster at the post-office, and tell him to put a stopper on those secret enemies of ours the first thing he does. You have seen me talking with him, and will know him the minute you see him. I shall trust you to communicate with me as often as you can, though I can't ask you to write to me. Tell mother you left me well and in good spirits. Good-bye."

"Why, my lad, things must be in a bad way in your part of the country," said the officer of the deck, who had heard all Jack had to say to his brother.

"They are indeed, sir," answered the sailor. "It is easy enough for you Northern folks to be loyal to the old flag, but it is as much as one's life is worth down here."

The messenger boy having returned by this time, Marcy took the papers he handed him, gave Jack's hand a parting shake, and was assisted over the side.

"Shove her bow off, Snowball," commanded the boatswain's mate, as he moved aft to take his place at the wheel, and let her drift astern. "Come back here, sir, and sit down," he added, in a vain effort to cheer Marcy up a little. "He's a fine lad. I'll warrant, that brother of yours."

"He is, indeed," replied Marcy proudly. "And a sailor man, too, I think you will find."

He had never before felt so gloomy and downhearted as he did at that moment, and he didn't care to talk. Calling Julius aft to strike a light for him, he went into the cabin and tried to read, leaving the man-of-war's man to sail the schooner, which he was able to do without help from anybody. In the bundle of papers that the messenger boy gave him, Marcy was glad to find three that were published in Newbern. These he kept out to be read at once, intending when he passed Plymouth to throw them ashore for the soldiers; but the Northern papers he stowed away in one of the lockers beside the flags. He wanted time to read them carefully, for he believed they would tell him the truth; and that was something he had not heard for many a day. It seemed to him that he had not been below more than half an hour when he heard a hail, to which the hoarse voice of the man at the wheel responded. A moment later it added:

"On deck, if you please, sir. I've got to leave you now. My launch is close aboard."

She was almost alongside by the time Marcy reached the deck, and five minutes later the officer in command of her again came over the rail; but this time he came alone. There were no blue-jackets with drawn cutlasses at his heels.

"I guess you've had luck," were the first words he said. "I don't see the other fellow anywhere."

"No, sir. We left him aboard your vessel," replied Marcy. "He will be examined and sworn in in the morning. By the way, what did the officer of the deck mean when he said that the paymaster was asleep as well as the doctor? What has the paymaster to do with swearing him in?"

"He or his clerk has to take the descriptive lists, you know, sir," replied the sailor. "Then he gets an order from the captain to give the men their clothes and small stores-tobacco, soap, sewing silk, and the like, you know, sir. I was told to come back and report to you, Mr. Colson."

"Very good. Get aboard the launch. Can you and the moke get along by yourselves?" he continued, turning to Marcy. "I see you have but one hand."

"Oh, yes, sir; we'll get along all right," answered Marcy, who was very much afraid that the officer would ask him how he had got hurt. "Seen anything of that blockade-runner since we left?"

"I haven't seen a thing except this schooner to-night," was the reply; and Marcy judged from the tone in which the words were uttered that the officer was much disgusted at being obliged to stay out there all night in an open boat for nothing. No doubt he would have been still more disgusted to learn that if he had been two miles farther up the coast he would have had a chance of capturing the "audacious" little vessel that he was looking for.

The officer wasted no words in leave-taking, but went at once, and Marcy Gray felt more gloomy than ever when he found himself alone on the ocean with nobody but the boy Julius for a companion. He sent the latter to the wheel and went forward to act as lookout and pilot, intending to follow Captain Beardsley's example and run through Crooked Inlet under full sail. He thought he could remember about where the buoys had been placed, and besides he had the flood tide to help him. If he succeeded, he would run across the Sound and hunt up some little bay in which he could go into hiding until such time as he thought it safe to come out and start for home.

This programme was duly carried out, and the good luck that had thus far attended him stayed with him to the end. He piloted the schooner through the Inlet without the least trouble, ran across the Sound without being seen by anybody, and put into the mouth of a little bayou, where he tied up and turned in for a much needed rest. He remained there all that day and the ensuing night, and at sunrise on the following morning ran Sailor Jack's Confederate flag up to the Fairy Belle's peak, and stood boldly out for Roanoke Island.

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