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The First Capture; or, Hauling Down the Flag of England By Harry Castlemon Characters: 12327

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

"Say, hold on, friend," said Zeke, reaching out his hand and laying a grip on the storekeeper's collar. "We don't want any men like you aboard here. That's the way ashore."

"Who made you master of this vessel?" answered the man, thrusting Zeke's arm aside. "The captain says the wounded men are on board this ship and I want to see who they are. Just keep your hands to yourself."

Zeke's whole appearance changed as if by magic. The good-natured smile gave place to a frown, and the hand which the storekeeper had thrown aside speedily caught its grip again, and this time it was there to stay. With the other hand he caught the man below the waist-band, and a moment afterward he gave a puff like a tired locomotive and the storekeeper was swung clear of the deck. Lifting his victim until he was at arm's length above his head he walked across the deck to the other side, and sent him headlong into the water. It was an exhibition of strength on Zeke's part that no one had ever seen before. He leaned over the rail until the man's face appeared at the surface and then shook his fist at him.

"Now don't you wish you had gone back my way?" said he. "Swim around the sloop and get somebody to help you out. You can't come aboard here."

"There," said Enoch. "Ledyard is a Tory sure enough. Zeke knew it all the time and took this way to wash some of his meanness out of him. I will have to go to his store to get some more powder," he added, holding up his horn so that he could see the inside of it. "I shot most of what I had away at the Britishers who manned this schooner. Come on, Caleb. I think we can get ashore now."

The boys made another attempt this time and were successful. Every one they saw on the wharf was a provincial and wanted to shake hands with them. Of course, too, everybody wanted to know what sort of treatment Caleb had met with at the hands of the Britishers, but the boys answered in as few words as possible and as soon as they were out of the crowd they broke into a run, headed for home.

"Come in and let mother thank you for rescuing me," said Caleb, as they stopped at his gate. "She can do it better than I can."

"I did not have more to do with your rescue than a dozen other men who were with me," replied Enoch. "Let me go home first and then I will come back."

Caleb reluctantly let his friend go, and Enoch kept on his way toward home. He was thinking over the incidents that had happened during the fight and which he wanted to tell for his mother's satisfaction, when he came opposite the house in which James Howard lived. He kept on without giving a thought to James except to wonder how he would feel to know that the schooner, in which he had so much confidence, had been beaten by an unarmed sloop, when he saw the boy at the gate waiting for him. His face was very pale, but it gave place to a flush of anger when he noticed the smile with which Enoch greeted him. He backed away from the gate as our hero approached, and this showed that he did not mean to let himself get within reach of a provincial's arm.

"You think you are smart, don't you?" was the way in which he opened the conversation.

"Well-yes; almost anybody would think himself smart under the circumstances," said Enoch. "We whipped them in a fair fight."

"I do not believe it," returned James hotly.

"I do not ask you to take my word for it, but the wharf is not but a little way off, and you can go down and see for yourself," said Enoch.

"We heard the firing, and we came to the conclusion that your sloop had got sunk out of sight," said James. "But I see that the schooner brought her back with her."

Enoch made no reply. He wanted to see how much James knew about the fight.

"How many of the men were killed and wounded on your side?" continued James, after a moment's pause.

"About half."

"I tell you the regulars fought, did they not? How many of them were hit on their side?"

"About half."

"Do you mean to say that you killed as many of them as they did of you?" asked James, who was plainly astonished to hear it.

"That is what I mean to say. We boarded their vessel and pulled down her flag--"

"I tell you I don't believe any such stuff," shouted James, who was more surprised the longer the story went on. "You will never get your hands on that flag."

"Go down and see. That is all you have got to do."

"I will wager that Captain Moore laid some of you fellows out. Was that he standing on the rail waving his hat to us?"

"No, it could not have been Captain Moore. He is dead."

"What!" James almost stammered. "Did one of you men dare to draw a weapon on him?"

"Yes, they did. He had weapons in his own hand--"

"Of course he did. He was defending his vessel."

"And we wanted to take it and we were stronger than he was."

"If some of you don't get your necks stretched before long I shall miss my guess," said James, walking up and down the path like a boy who had been bereft of his senses. "You have committed piracy, every one of you."

"And you would be the first to grab a rope and haul us up, I suppose? Look here, James, Caleb has got back now--"

"Oh! Did you find him and turn him loose? Then he will not have to go to New York to pay his fine?"

"Not by a long shot. I found him locked in the brig and let him out."

This news was more than James could stand. He pulled off his hat, dug his fingers into his head and acted altogether like a boy who was almost ready to go insane.

"And if you are wise you and Emerson Miller will stay close about the house," said Enoch, shifting his rifle to his other shoulder. "The first time he catches you on the street he will have his pay for that. So you want to watch out."

Enoch walked on toward his home and James went into the house so bewildered that he hardly knew which end he stood on. He found his father in the dining-room, pacing up and down the floor with his hands behind his back, but that terrible scowl that had come to his face when he first heard that James had been whipped by a rebel, was not there. His face was pale and his hands trembled.

"Father," whispered James

, as though he hardly knew how to communicate to him the news he had just heard, "the dog is dead. Captain Moore has been killed and the rebels have taken the schooner."

His father fairly gasped for breath. He raised his hands above his head as if to say that he did not want to hear any more, and then groped his way to a lounge and sank down upon it.

"I have just seen Enoch out there and he told me all about it," continued James. "The firing that we heard did not hurt the sloop at all. And the worst of it is, Caleb has been turned loose and now I have got to stay about the house."

"Oh Lord! Oh Lord!" groaned Mr. Howard.

"Now have I got to stand that?" said James in a resolute tone. He was always brave enough when he was in his own house and a perfect coward when he got out of it. Perhaps his father could think of some other way to get rid of Caleb and of Enoch, too.

"Am I, a good, loyal friend of the King, and ready to go into a fight for him this minute, to be shut up in the house just because I say that those men, every one of them, had ought to have their necks stretched to pay them for what they have done?" continued James. "There must be some way in which we can get the start of those rebels."

"I don't really see what you can do," said Mr. Howard. "The rebels are stronger than we are, and I guess both of us will have to stay in the house from this time on. Such a thing was never heard of before. Thirteen little colonies getting up a rebellion in the face of the King!"

"But there must be some way out of it?"

"Of course there is. Let the King send over an army to whip the rebels into submission. But before that thing can happen they may work their sweet will of us. I don't know any better way that we can do but to pack up and go to New York."

"And leave this beautiful place to the rebels?" exclaimed James. "I tell you I should hate to do that."

"I don't know what else we can do. We shall be among friends there, and can say what we think without some paltry little rebel telling us that we had better keep our mouths shut. But go away and leave me alone for a while, James. The news you have brought to me almost drives me crazy. Do you know that Captain Moore has been killed?"

"All I know about it is what Enoch told me. He said that the captain had weapons in his hand, but that the attacking party was too strong for him. He was the best man that ever lived, too, and I tell you it would give me joy to have hold of one end of a rope while the other was fast around the necks of those people."

"Be careful that you don't say that where anybody can hear it," said his father. "The rebels are in high feather now that they have got a victory, and they would be right on hand for something desperate."

Mr. Howard settled himself into a comfortable position on the lounge and James, taking this as a hint that his presence was no longer desirable, picked up his cap and walked out on the porch.

"I wish I dared go down to the wharf," said he. "But if I do that Caleb Young will be out, and there's no telling what he will do to me. I wish somebody would come along and give me some news of that fight."

But James waited a long time before he got it. Enoch and Caleb were at home and holding their mothers spellbound with the various incidents that transpired before their sight, while James walked up and down the porch feeling as though he did not have a friend in the world. He looked in vain for Emerson Miller, but that worthy, who probably knew or suspected that Caleb Young had been found and released by this time, was not at all anxious to be seen in James's company and wisely kept his distance.

"Well, mother, I have got back and there is not a mark on me," shouted Enoch, as he burst open the kitchen door and sprang into the presence of her who told him that she did not want him to get his gun into any bad habits. "I shot away all my powder and lead, and I guess that some of the Tories that I aimed at have something to remember me by. Why don't you say that you are glad to see me?"

"How about Caleb?" said his mother. "Is he all right?"

"I did not ask him, but I don't think he heard a bullet while he was in the brig."

His mother had been knitting when he came in, and the Book lay in front of her, open, on her knee. She put the Book and her knitting away and got up, and folded Enoch to her breast. She made no remark, but the boy was satisfied from the strength of her embrace that she was glad to welcome him home. Enoch then sat down and told her everything connected with the fight, not forgetting how Zeke had ducked the storekeeper in the harbor.

"I never saw such an exhibition of strength in my life," said he, with enthusiasm. "He took the man this way"-here he got up and elevated his arms straight above his head-"walked across the boat with him and chucked him into the water. He would not let him come back aboard the sloop either, but told him to swim around and get somebody to help him out. I wish all the men we have were like Zeke."

Of course there were many questions to be asked and answered on both sides-Mrs. Crosby was anxious to learn how the different men with whom she was acquainted had behaved during the fight, and Enoch was equally desirous to know how the Tories they had left behind them conducted themselves while they were at sea-and it was almost dark before they had got through talking.

"I was particularly anxious to know what the Tories would do when they heard that firing," said Enoch. "I was afraid they would be excited and do something that we would have to settle with them for."

"Well, they did not," said Mrs. Crosby. "James and Emerson walked up and down in front of our house when they heard the shooting going on, and asked us to listen to it. 'Aha!' they said. 'The rebels are getting their fill now. After Captain Moore sinks that sloop he will have all he can do to pick up the dead and wounded ones.' It seems to me that they must be utterly confounded by the victory of the sloop over an armed vessel."

"Not only that, but they utterly refused to believe it," said Enoch.

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