English Literature

Marcy, The Blockade-Runner by Harry Castlemon

Marcy, The Blockade-Runner by Harry Castlemon

CHAPTER I.

MARCY HAS A VISITOR.

The boys who have read the first volume of this series of books, in which we followed the fortunes of our Union hero, Marcy Gray, and described the persevering but unsuccessful efforts he made to be true to his colors in deed as well as in spirit, will remember that we left him at his home near Nashville, North Carolina, enjoying a brief respite from the work he so heartily detested, that of privateering. He had made one voyage in the Osprey under Captain Beardsley, during which he assisted in capturing the schooner Mary Hollins, bound from Havana to Boston with an assorted cargo. When the prize was brought into the port of Newbern the whole town went wild with excitement, Captain Beardsley’s agent being so highly elated that he urged the master of the Osprey to run out at once and try his luck again, before the capture of the Hollins became known at the North. But Beardsley, who was afraid to trust landsharks any farther than he could see them, declared with a good deal of earnestness that he would not budge an inch until the legality of the capture had been settled by the courts, the vessel and cargo sold, and the dollars that belonged to him and his crew were planked down in their two hands. Knowing that it would take time to go through all these formalities, Marcy Gray asked for a leave of absence, which Beardsley granted according to promise, and in less than half an hour after the Osprey was hauled alongside the wharf, her disgusted young pilot, wishing from the bottom of his heart that she might sink out of sight before he ever saw her again, left her and went home as fast as the cars could take him. When we last saw him he had reached his mother’s house, and was reading a letter from his cousin, Rodney the Partisan a portion of which we gave to the reader at the close of the first volume of this series.

“Rodney is full of enthusiasm, isn’t he?” exclaimed Marcy, when he had finished reading the letter. “He says he looks for ‘high old times’ running the Yankees out of Missouri, but I am afraid he’ll not enjoy them as much as he thinks he will. Perhaps the Yankees are not good runners. But Rodney has been true to his colors and I have not. I said I never would fight against the Union, but I have stood by and seen a gun fired at the old flag; and I have no doubt that the skipper of the Hollins when he saw me aboard the privateer, took me for as good a rebel as there was in the crew. Perhaps he will see his mistake some day. I shall have to accept my share of the prize money, for if I don’t Beardsley’s suspicions will be aroused; but I’ll put it away and send it to the master of the Hollins the first good chance I get. Has Wat Gifford been here since I went to sea? You know he warned me of two secret enemies I would have to look out for, and hinted that he would some day tell me who the rest are.” [“But I think I know already,” added Marcy mentally.] While he was at sea he had had ample leisure to think over the situation, and had made up his mind that he knew right where the most serious danger that threatened him and his mother was coming from.

“Walter has been here,” replied Mrs. Gray, “and I understand that he has since gone back to the army, his furlough, which was a short one, having expired. I was glad to see Walter, for it was a very great relief to visit with some one to whom I knew I could talk freely; but I must say he left a very unpleasant impression on my mind. He told me, in so many words, that we are suspected of being traitors at heart, and that there are but few of our neighbors we can trust.”

“And who are they?” inquired Marcy. “When we know who our friends are, it will be no trouble for us to pick out our enemies.”

“I asked Walter that very question, and after some hesitation he was obliged to confess that he could not name a single person. There are some who denounce secession in the very strongest terms, but that doesn’t prove anything, for Walter has often done the same thing himself, and he is a rebel soldier,” said Mrs. Gray sadly. “Only think of it, Marcy! To not one of the many who were our warm friends in times past, can we go for advice and sympathy, now that trouble is coming upon us. Is it not dreadful?”

“Who cares for advice or sympathy?” exclaimed the boy wrathfully. “We’ve got each other and Jack to go to when the pinch comes, and outsiders can just mind their own business and live to themselves, and let us do the same. Traitors! That word doesn’t apply to us, mother.”

“I know it doesn’t; but for all that I am afraid that the ‘outsiders,’ as you call them, will not let us live to ourselves. Young Gifford almost as good as told me that some of our near neighbors intend to keep themselves posted in regard to our movements.”

“The—the impudence of the thing!” exclaimed the young pilot, pounding his knees with his clenched hands. “Who’s going to keep them posted? Where do they expect to get their information? Through the overseer?”

“Through the overseer,” whispered Mrs. Gray, in reply.

“Are you afraid to speak the words out loud?” cried Marcy, who had seldom been so excited as he was at that moment. “Great Moses! Have things come to such a pass that we dare not talk in our ordinary tones in our own house, but must carry on our conversation in whispers?”

“I was in hopes that my letters would prepare you for something like this,” said his mother slowly.

“Well, they didn’t. Of course I knew I should find things changed, but I never thought we should be spied upon in our own house,” answered Marcy. “Traitors, are we, when we haven’t done the first thing to deserve the name! But is there no way in which that villain Hanson can be got rid of?”

“There is but one way that occurs to me now,” was the reply. “When his contract expires we can tell him that we do not intend to employ an overseer any longer.”

“And that will be almost a year from now,” groaned Marcy. “How can we live for so many months, knowing all the while that our every movement is watched, and that some one is constantly trying to catch every word we say? I don’t believe I can stand it. Did Gifford say anything about——”

Marcy paused, got upon his feet, and opened quickly, but silently, one after another, all the doors that led from the room in which he and his mother were sitting. There were no eavesdroppers among the servants yet but that was no sign that there wouldn’t be some to-morrow or next day. An overseer who was left as much to himself as Hanson was, held great power in his hands; and some negro servants are as open to bribery as some white people are. Having made sure that there was no one listening at the door, Marcy drew his chair close to his mother’s side before he spoke again.

“Did Gifford say anything about the money—the thirty thousand dollars in gold you have hidden in the cellar wall?” he asked, in suppressed tones.

“He did, and it troubles me more than anything else he said during his visit,” replied Mrs. Gray, glancing nervously around the room, as if she feared that there might be a listener concealed behind some of the chairs or under the sofa. “In spite of my utmost care, that matter, which I hoped to keep from the knowledge of even the most faithful among the servants, has become known. I cannot account for it. It fairly unnerves me to think of it, for it suggests a most alarming possibility.”

“Did Gifford say, in so many words, that you were known to have money in the house?”

“He did not. He said it was suspected.”

“And what is the alarming possibility you just spoke of?” continued
Marcy.

“Why, I am afraid that there is some trusted person nearer to me than the overseer is—some one right here in the house who has been watching me day and night,” answered his mother, shivering all over and drawing nearer to her sturdy son, as if for protection. “You don’t know how it makes me feel, or how keenly I have suffered since young Gifford’s visit.”

“I wish he had stopped away,” said Marcy, almost fiercely.

“I don’t,” replied his mother. “He meant it for the best, and wouldn’t have told me a word if I had not insisted. You must not blame Walter. It is best that I should understand the situation; and Marcy, you know you would not have told me a word of all this if Gifford had told it to you.”

“Perhaps he did say something to me about it,” answered the boy, with an air which said that his mother had not been telling him anything he did not know before. “But I have been more careful of your feelings than Gifford was.”

“And did you mean to leave me all in the dark and utterly ignorant of the perils that surround us?” said Mrs. Gray reproachfully. “Do you think that would have been just to me? Don’t imagine, because you are my protector and the only one I have to depend on while Jack is at sea, that you have all the courage there is between us. I know you would shield me entirely if you could, but it is impossible; and you must let me bear my part. I shall have to whether you consent or not. But you haven’t yet told me where you have been, how you captured that vessel, what the captain said about it, or—or anything,” she added, with a feeble attempt to bring the boy’s usual smile back to his face. “Remember, I am deeply interested in all that you do.”

“Well, you wouldn’t be if you had seen the cowardly work I helped Beardsley carry out,” replied Marcy. “In the first place, Crooked Inlet is buoyed in such a way that the stranger who tries to go through it will run his vessel so hard and fast aground that she will be likely to stay there until the waves make an end of her, or the shifting sands of the bar bury her out of sight.”

“That’s murderous,” exclaimed Mrs. Gray, with a shudder. “Is Captain
Beardsley about to turn wrecker?”

“He means to wreck any war vessel that may give chase to his schooner,” answered Marcy. “If we are pursued, I can take the Osprey through all right; but if the man-of-war attempts to follow us, and allows herself to be guided by the buoys, she’ll stick. Oh, it’s lovely business—a brave and honorable business,” exclaimed the boy, running his hands through his hair and tumbling it up as he used to do at school when he found anything in his books that was too hard for him. “I have the profoundest contempt for the villain who brought me into it, and despise myself for yielding to him.”

“But, Marcy, what else could you have done? Gilford assured me it was the only course open to you, and that by shipping as pilot on board that privateer you have somewhat allayed suspicion.”

“Mother,” said Marcy, placing his arm around her neck and whispering the words in her ear, “Captain Beardsley doesn’t need a pilot any more than he needs some one to command his piratical craft. I suspected as much all the while, and the minute we got up to Crooked Inlet I knew it. He can tell you more about the coast in five minutes than I could in an hour.”

“Of course, a trader——” began Mrs. Gray.

“Mother,” repeated Marcy, “Lon Beardsley is not and never has been a trader. He’s a smuggler between this country and Cuba. He says himself that he never made a voyage farther away from home than the West Indies. He knows every inch of the coast like a book.”

“Then what does he want of you?” inquired Mrs. Gray, with a look of surprise. “Why can he not permit you to stay at home in peace, as he knows I want you to do? Do you still think he wants to test your loyalty to the South?”

“That’s just what he is up to,” replied Marcy. “He came here in the hope that I would refuse his offer, so that he would have an excuse for getting me into trouble.”

Yes, that was one object Captain Beardsley had in view when he proposed to make Marcy Gray pilot of the privateer, but there was another behind it, and one that was much nearer to the smuggler’s heart. As Marcy had told his friend Wat Gifford, on the day the two held that confidential conversation in front of the Nashville post-office, Beardsley wanted to marry Mrs. Gray’s plantation; and when he found that he must give up all hope in that direction, like the poor apology for a man that he was, he hit upon a plan for taking vengeance upon Marcy’s mother. If she proved, when the test was applied, to be friendly to the South and its cause, he would not dare lift a finger against her or her property, for he knew that if he did his neighbors would quickly interest themselves in the matter; but if she would only refuse to permit Marcy to ship on board the privateer, then he would have a clear field for his operations. He could accuse Marcy’s mother of being a Yankee sympathizer, and that would turn the whole settlement against her at once, because she was already suspected of Union sentiments, and some of her nearest neighbors were so certain that she was loyal to the old flag and opposed to secession, that they thought it their duty to cease visiting her. It would be no trouble at all, Beardsley thought, to arouse public feeling against her; but unfortunately for the success of his plans, Mrs. Gray did not refuse her consent; the boy took the position offered him on the Osprey made one voyage at sea, and did his duty as faithfully as any other member of the crew.

“I know Beardsley wanted to find out where I stood,” repeated Marcy. “He expected and hoped that I would refuse to accept his proposition so that he would have an excuse for persecuting us; but being disappointed there, he intends to work in another direction. He means to make trouble on account of the money you have in the cellar.”

“But what business—what right has he with it?” said Mrs. Gray indignantly. “It’s ours.”

“I know it, and we’re going to keep it; but if Beardsley can make sure that you went to Richmond, Wilmington, and Newbern for money—and I think you will find that he looks to Hanson, the overseer, to furnish him with the proof, and bring a gang of longshoremen up here from Plymouth some dark night——”

“Oh, Marcy!” cried Mrs. Gray, starting from her chair and clasping her hands in alarm, “don’t speak of it!”

“I wish from the bottom of my heart that I need not have told you of it,” said the boy, getting upon his feet and pacing the floor with restless, angry strides. “But Wat Gifford believes that something of the sort is going to happen, and so do I. Wat didn’t say so, but I am sure that is what he would have told me if he had found me at home when he came here. You knew there was danger in every one of those gold pieces you brought home with you; else why did you take so much pains to put them where you thought no one would be likely to find them?”

“It is true I did know it, and was afraid that if the news got abroad in the settlement, some of our poor neighbors might be tempted to commit crime,” answered Mrs. Gray. “We never had so large an amount of money in the house before, and its presence troubles me greatly; but I never dreamed that we had anything to fear from an organized band of freebooters.”

“And the fear of what Beardsley will do, if he finds out that the money is really in the house, is what troubles me,” said the young pilot dolefully. “That man is capable of any desperate deed when he thinks he has the power on his side. I know you never thought of such a thing at the time, but your trips about the country, which Wat Gifford says could not have been made without an object of some sort, have excited a good deal of talk among the neighbors. Captain Beardsley posted Hanson, and Hanson, so Wat told me, is more to be feared than any one else, for he is right here on the place. These secret enemies will drive us both crazy.”

“We’ll not give them the satisfaction of knowing that they can trouble us in the least,” replied his mother, with dignity. “Now we will dismiss them entirely from our minds, while you tell me all the interesting things that happened during your cruise.”

“There isn’t a thing to tell,” was Marcy’s answer. “We sighted the Hollins inside Diamond Shoals, threw a couple of shrapnel at her and she came to; that’s all there was of it. Her skipper was a sailorman all over, and plucky, too; and if he had had anything to fight with, he would have made things lively for us. I never before felt so sorry for anybody as I did for him; but of course I didn’t have a chance to tell him so. I may some day meet him under different circumstances.”

When the boy said this he did not really believe that such a thing ever could occur, but nevertheless it did. Strange things happen in this world sometimes, and in process of time it came about that the young pilot again stood face to face with the master of the Mary Hollins no longer a prisoner pleading with Captain Beardsley that his men might not be ironed like felons, but standing free on the quarter-deck of an armed vessel, with a hundred blue-jackets ready to do his bidding, and the Stars and Stripes waving proudly and triumphantly above him. And Beardsley—he was there, too; and perhaps we shall see what sort of heart he kept up when he found himself thrust into the “brig” so quickly that he did not have time to tell what his name was.

“How long does your leave of absence extend?” inquired Mrs. Gray, after a little pause.

“Until I am ordered to report,” replied Marcy, with a laugh. “Perhaps the captain didn’t know I wrote it out that way, but that isn’t my fault. It was his business to read the paper before signing it. If he wants me he will have to send for me. You ought to have heard that Newbern mob whoop and yell when the crew of the Hollins were marched off to jail. They called them ‘Abolitionists’ and ‘nigger-lovers’; but the prisoners kept their eyes straight to the front, and marched on as though they didn’t hear a word of it. It was a shame to treat brave men that way.”

Just as the young pilot ceased speaking there was a gentle knock at the door; and so sudden and unexpected was it, that it brought both him and his mother to their feet in a twinkling. How long had the person who gave that knock been within reach of the door, was the first thought that arose in the mind of each. Had some one crept along the hall and listened at the key-hole in the hope of hearing some of their conversation?

“If that is the case,” Marcy whispered to his mother, “she has had her trouble for her pains. We haven’t said a dozen words that could have been heard the length of this room. ‘Come in!'”

The door opened to admit one of the numerous female house servants, who announced that there was a gentleman on the gallery who had called to see Mrs. Gray on very important private and particular business.

“She looks innocent enough,” thought Marcy, who could not bring himself to believe, as his mother evidently did, that some of the domestics were watching their movements and reporting the result of their observations to the overseer. “I don’t think she heard a word, and she certainly could not have seen anything.” And then, finding that his mother was looking at him as if she meant him to understand that she knew what the visitor’s business was, and desired him to take it off her hands, he said, aloud: “Who is the gentleman, and do you know what he’s got to say that is so very important and particular?”

“I don’t know, sah, what he want to speak about,” answered the girl, “but de man is Mr. Kelsey.”

Marcy could hardly keep back an exclamation of disgust, and in an instant he was on his guard. The man’s name and the message he had sent in warned him to be on the lookout for treachery. Kelsey was one of Beardsley’s “renters”—that is to say, he hired from the captain a few acres of ground, on which he managed to raise enough corn and potatoes to keep his family from absolute want, and a little log cabin in which he found shelter when he was not absent on his hunting and thieving expeditions. Marcy had not seen him since his return from Barrington, but he had heard of him as a red-hot Confederate who went about declaring that hanging was too good for Yankees and their sympathizers. When Marcy heard of this, he told himself that the man was another Bud Goble, who, when the pinch came, would take to the woods and stay there as long as danger threatened.

“I’ll be with him directly,” he said, addressing himself to the girl, who went out, closing the door behind her.

“What in the name of wonder can that worthless man want with me?” whispered Mrs. Gray, when she thought she had given the domestic time to get out of hearing. “He has never been in this house before except to beg.”

“And he wouldn’t be here now if he hadn’t been sent,” replied the boy.

“Oh, Marcy!” said his mother.

“That is just what I mean. It isn’t old clothes or grub that he is after this time.”

“But Beardsley couldn’t have put him up to anything. He is in Newbern.”

“No odds. He left plenty of friends behind to do his dirty work, and this fellow, Kelsey, is one of them. It will take a sharper man than he is to pull the wool over my eyes.”

“Don’t be over-confident, my son. He is not too insignificant—no one is too insignificant these times to do us some terrible injury. Be careful how you treat him and what you say to him. It might be dangerous to make him angry, for he has powerful friends behind him. Don’t be gone long, for I shall be uneasy until you return.”

“I’ll be right back,” promised Marcy; and, giving his mother a reassuring kiss, he left the room and went out on the porch to see what Beardsley’s friend and spy wanted.

The latter looked just as he did the last time Marcy saw him—too lazy to take a long breath. He was tall and lank, his hair fell down upon his shoulders, his whiskers were as tangled and matted as a little brush heap—in short, he was as fine a specimen of a poor white as one could find anywhere in the seceded States. He looked stupid as well as shiftless, but the young pilot knew he wasn’t. He was as sly as a fox and as cunning as well, and Marcy confessed to himself that he stood more in fear of him than he did of Captain Beardsley. When the man heard Marcy’s step upon the porch, he tried to assume the servile air which was characteristic of poor Southern whites before the war; but he did not succeed very well. His manner seemed to say that he knew he was dealing with one he could crush whenever he felt like it, and of whom he need not stand in fear; and Marcy was quick to notice it.

“Sarvent, sah,” said Kelsey, rising to his feet and taking off his tattered hat, which, however, he almost instantly replaced. “I heared that you had got back again from sea, an’ that you had whopped the Yankees first time tryin’, same as our fellers done down to Charleston.”

“Yes, sir,” replied Marcy, seating himself, and depositing his feet on the railing, as if to indicate that he was quite at the service of his friend Kelsey as long as the latter wanted to talk to him. “We whipped them, and we could do the same thing again.” [“And that’s nothing but the truth,” he added, to himself. “When an armed vessel meets one that’s not armed, the helpless one is bound to go under every time.”]

It is hard to tell just what Kelsey expected the boy to say in response to his greeting, but in spite of his usual self-control his face showed that he had not looked for any such answer as this. Marcy spoke and acted as if he were delighted with the success that had attended the Osprey’s first cruise at sea, and proud of being able to say that he was one of her crew.

“You sent in word that you desired to see my mother on very particular business,” continued Marcy. “She doesn’t feel like seeing anybody to-day—upset by the war news, you know—and I am here to speak for her. It’s nothing bad, I hope?”

Kelsey straightened up on his seat and assumed a business air, as if these words had suggested an idea to him.

“Yes, it’s kinder bad,” said he. “We uns know that you are true blue, fur if you wasn’t you wouldn’t be on that privateer; an’ if your maw wasn’t true blue, she wouldn’t a let you go.”

[“That sounds exactly like Beardsley,” said Marcy, to himself.] “Well, what of it? Didn’t I do my duty faithfully?”

“I ain’t sayin’ nothing agin that,” replied the man hastily.
“But—you’re fur Jeff Davis, ain’t you?”

Instead of answering in words, Marcy pulled down the corner of his right eye and looked at Kelsey as if to ask him if he saw anything green in it.

“What do ye mean by them movements?” demanded the visitor.

“I mean that I am not going to talk politics with you,” was the reply. “This settlement is full of traitors, and I’m going to hold my tongue unless I know who I am talking to. If I do that, I shan’t get into trouble by speaking too freely in the hearing of a Yankee spy.”

“But look a-here, Mister Marcy,” protested Kelsey.

“If you came to pry into our private affairs, you might as well jump on your mule and go home, for you’ll not get a word from me. I ought to put the dogs on you, for if all I hear is true you’re the worst kind of a traitor.” [“And so you are,” thought Marcy, closely watching the effect of his words, although he did not seem to be doing so; “you’re a traitor to the old flag.”]

The visitor was astonished beyond measure, and it was fully a minute before he could collect his wits sufficiently to frame a reply.

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