Having no watch to stand on this particular night, and having no fear of capture by cruisers or a fight with armed steam launches, Marcy soon fell asleep, to be awakened about midnight by a sound that sent the cold chills all over him. He could not have told just what it was, but all the same it frightened him. He sat up in bed and pulled one of his revolvers from under his pillow. He listened intently, and in a few seconds the sound was repeated. Then he knew that it was made by a pebble which some one in the yard below had tossed against his window. It was a signal of some sort, but who made it, and why should the visitor, whoever he might be, seek to arouse him without disturbing his mother?
"By gracious!" thought Marcy, resting his revolver on his knee with the muzzle turned toward the window, as if he half expected to see some one try to force an entrance there. "What can it mean! It may be a dangerous piece of business to draw the curtain and open that window, for how do I know but that there's somebody below waiting for a chance to pop me over? How do I know but those 'longshoremen have come up——"
When this thought passed through the boy's mind his fear gave place to indignation; and hesitating no longer he threw off the bedclothes and advanced toward the window, just as another pebble rattled against it. He dashed the curtain aside, threw up the sash, and thrust his head and his revolver out of the window. The night was so dark that he could not see a thing except the dark sky and the darker shadows of the trees against it.
"Who's there?" he demanded. "Speak quick."
"The despot's heel is on thy shore; His torch is at thy temple door. Avenge the patriotic gore That flecks the streets of Baltimore And be the battle queen of yore— Maryland! my Maryland!"
That was the answer he received to his challenge. It was given in a voice that he had never heard before, and Marcy was so utterly amazed that he could not interrupt the speaker, or say a word himself when the verse was concluded. It was part of a rebel song that had recently become very popular in Baltimore, but it had not yet reached North Carolina. For only an instant, however, did Marcy stand motionless and speechless, and then he pointed his weapon in the direction from which the voice sounded, saying in steady tones:
"If you don't give me an answer that I can understand, I'll cut loose. Who are you?"
"I am a homeless, friendless smuggler," replied the voice; and at the same instant a familiar bark, followed by an impatient whine, told the astonished Marcy that his faithful watchman, Bose, was under the window with the stranger. The unexpected discovery made every nerve in his body tingle with excitement, and his next words were uttered in a husky and indistinct tone.
"Jack!" he exclaimed. "Oh, Jack! Is that you?"
"It's I," answered the visitor, speaking in his natural voice this time. "I'm here safe and sound, and none the worse for having been a prisoner in the hands of that pirate, Captain Semmes."
"Go round to the front door and I will be right down," said Marcy, in suppressed tones. He could not imagine why his brother should make his presence known in this guarded way instead of boldly demanding admittance at the door, but he knew that there was some reason for it and conducted himself accordingly. He moved about his room very quietly while he dressed himself as well as he could with only one hand to work with, and then he caught up the lamp, hurried downstairs and made his way to his mother's room. His low tap met with an instant response.
"Oh, mother," exclaimed Marcy, "Jack's come home, and he's Union."
"Of course he is for the Union," answered Mrs. Gray calmly, although she was almost as highly excited as Marcy was. "I have never thought of him as being a rebel."
"The rebels had him prisoner," added Marcy; and with this bit of news to add to his mother's excitement, the boy ran to the front door. The moment he opened it a stalwart young fellow sprang upon the threshold with his arms spread out; but he stopped suddenly when his eyes fell upon Marcy's white face and upon the sling in which he carried his left hand.
"What's happened to you?" he demanded, as soon as he could speak.
"I got that while helping Captain Beardsley run a cargo of contraband goods through Crooked Inlet," replied Marcy, laughing at the expression of surprise and disgust that came upon the young sailor's bronzed face as he listened to the words. "First I was a privateer and now I am a blockade-runner."
"There must be some good reason for it, because I know as well as you do that you do not belong on that side of the house," said the returned wanderer, closing and locking the door after beckoning to Bose, who was never permitted to enter the house except upon extraordinary occasions. "I had a fine chance to become a rebel pirate. When the prize-master who was put aboard of us after we were captured, found that I was from a seceded State, he promised if I would ship on the Sumter to ask Captain Semmes——"
Just at this point the young sailor looked over his brother's shoulder and saw his mother coming along the hall. A second later he held her clasped in his arms. She looked very small and frail while standing beside that tall, broad-shouldered son, who was as fine a specimen of an American sailor as could be found anywhere outside of New England. Although he was but three years older than Marcy, who was by no means a puny fellow, he stood head and shoulders above him, and was built like a young Hercules. It was little wonder that Mrs. Gray and Marcy had awaited his coming with the greatest anxiety and impatience, or that the former should say to himself: "From this time on I can sleep in peace. Jack's got home and mother's property is safe."
"Now that you have got through saying 'hallo,' I'd like to have you tell me why you came home like a thief in the night instead of knocking at the door," said Marcy. "I don't know when I have been so frightened."
"Aha! That shows that I did not make a mistake in going to so much trouble to be on the safe side. You are afraid of the neighbors, are you? I read the papers when I could get them, and among other things I learned that the South is divided against itself, and that few men know for certain who their friends are. Let's go somewhere and sit down."
Jack led his mother into the sitting-room. Marcy following with the lamp, and taking care to see that all the doors were closed before he seated himself.
"I should judge from your actions, Marcy, that this family is divided against itself, and that you are afraid to trust the servants," said Jack. "If that's the case, the papers told the truth. Now tell me how you got that bad arm. Were you shot?"
Marcy did not spend much time on his story, for he was impatient to learn when and where his brother had been captured, and how he had managed to escape after a prize crew had been thrown aboard his vessel. He simply told of his experience in the blockade-runner Hattie, leaving his exploits in the Osprey to be narrated at some future time.
"I am glad the Hattie got through the blockade all right seeing that you were aboard of her," said Jack, when Marcy brought his story to a close. "But if Uncle Sam doesn't do something to break up blockade-running, he'll have a war on his hands that will make him open his eyes. It will not take me five minutes to tell my story. I was a prisoner not more than twelve hours, and during that time not the first exciting thing happened. If it hadn't been for the fact that there was a strange officer in command of the brig, and that our old man was walking around with his hands in his pockets, saying nothing, we wouldn't have known that we were prisoners at all."
With this introduction the returned sailor settled into an easy position among the sofa pillows and related his experience very nearly as follows, with this exception: He quite forgot to say that he was the one who first conceived the idea of taking the Sabine out of the hands of the prize crew that Semmes had placed aboard of her, and that, if it had not been for his courage and prompt action, the brig would either have been sold for the benefit of the Confederate Government, or burned in the Caribbean Sea after her neutral cargo had been put ashore.
It happened on the morning of July 4, and the Sabine, in company with the brig Herndon, was sailing along the southern coast of Cuba, having recently left the port of Trinidad-de-Cuba with a cargo of sugar and molasses, which was consigned to an English port in the Island of Jamaica. Although there was some sea on and rain squalls were frequent, there was but little breeze, and consequently the Sabine could not have run into neutral waters even if second mate Jack Gray, who had charge of the deck, had known that the steamer that was bearing down upon her was the freebooter, Sumter.
"What do you mean by neutral waters?" Marcy wanted to know.
"Why, every country that owns a strip of seacoast owns also the waters for three miles out," replied Jack. "And inside of that marine league, as it is called, the cruisers of one nation mustn't trouble the ships of another with which it happens to be at war. For example, if two armed vessels belonging to two different nations who are at loggerheads, happen to sail into the same neutral port, they can't fight there, but must go outside; and if one of them runs out, the other must wait twenty-four hours before following her."
The coast of Cuba was in plain view when the Sumter was sighted, but as there was little breeze stirring, and the brigs could not escape, Captain Semmes was not obliged to resort to the cowardly trick he usually practiced—that is, hoisting the English ensign to quiet the fears of the crew of the unlucky vessels he intended to destroy. He began business at once; and the first thing that drew the attention of second mate Jack Gray, as he planked the quarter-deck thinking of almost everything except Confederate war vessels, was the roar of a thirty-two pounder. Jack looked up to see a thick cloud of white smoke floating slowly away from the side of the steamer, and to take note of the fact that a peculiar looking flag floated from her peak. Jack had never seen it before, but he knew in a minute what it was. At the same time he noticed that the Herndon which was half a mile or so in advance of the Sabine had backed her main topsail and hoisted her own colors—the Stars and Stripes.
"Tumble up here. Captain," exclaimed Jack, rushing to the top of the companion-ladder. "There's a rebel steamer on the lee bow, speaking to us."
"I wondered what that noise was," said the captain, as he came up the ladder in two jumps, and saw that a boat had already been lowered from the steamer and was putting off to take charge of the Herndon.
The captain knew that there were rebel privateers afloat, for in a foreign port he had read of the escape of the Savannah from Charleston on June 2, and of the inglorious ending of her short career as a freebooter. The Savannah captured one merchantman with a cargo of sugar, and afterward gave chase to a brig, which turned out to be the man of war Perry. The Savannah was captured after a little race, and her crew were sent to New York as prisoners. But the captain of the Sabine never knew until that moment that the rebels had let loose steam vessels to prey upon the commerce of the Northern States. He looked at the "pirate," which, having sent off a boat to complete the capture of the Herndon had put herself in motion again and was drawing closer to the Sabine glanced up at the sails, and then turned his wistful eyes toward the Cuban coast line.
"There isn't the ghost of a chance," said Jack, who easily read the thoughts that were passing in the mind of his commander. "If we try to run and she doesn't feel like chasing us, she'll shoot us into little bits."
"She's got five guns," remarked the first mate, who was making a close examination of the steamer through the spyglass. "She's loading one of them, and it might be a good plan for us to come to and show colors."
These words brought the captain to his senses. He gave the necessary orders, and in a few minutes the brig's maintopsail had been backed and the Union emblem was floating from her peak. There were an astonished lot of men aboard of her, and they were so angry, too, that they could not stand still. They clenched their hands and gritted their teeth when they saw a boat filled with armed men put off from the steamer, and when the boarding officer came over the side and informed the captain of the Sabine in courteous tones, that his vessel was a prize to the Confederate cruiser Sumter they could scarcely control themselves.
"I suppose I shall have to give in," said the Yankee skipper. "But I tell you plainly that if I had five guns and as many men as you've got, one or the other of us would have been on his way to the bottom before this time."
"Oh, I don't doubt that you would make us plenty of trouble if you had the power," said the rebel officer, with a smile. "But, fortunately, you haven't got it. I shall have to ask you to get your papers and go off to the Sumter with me. What's your cargo, where from, and whither bound?" he added, turning to Jack, when the captain had disappeared in the cabin.
The second mate did not waste any time or words in giving the desired information.
"Ah! A neutral cargo bound from one neutral port to another," said the officer. "I am sorry to hear that."
"Why are you?" inquired Jack.
"Because under the circumstances we cannot destroy your vessel."
"What's the use of being so mean just because you happen to possess the power?" said Jack.
"Young man," replied the officer sharply, "we are bound to harass you Yankees all we can and in every way we can. That's what your people are doing to us. But what else can we do? France and England have denied us the privilege of taking our prizes into any of their ports, and there's but one course left for us to pursue. But Spain hasn't spoken yet, and perhaps we shall test her friendship for us by taking you into a Cuban port."
Things turned out just as the boarding officer thought they would. The captain of the brig was taken off to the Sumter, and after his papers had been examined he was sent back, and a prize crew, consisting of a midshipman and four sailors, was placed on board the brig. Both prizes were then taken in tow by the Sumter, which steamed away for the harbor of Cienfuegos, Captain Semmes laboring under the delusion that Spain would permit him to have his Yankee prizes condemned and sold in a Spanish port. The Confederate midshipman commanded the brig, the Yankee sailors sullenly performed the little work there was to be done, and the four Confederate sailors stood around and kept watch of them.
Only one thing that was worthy of note occurred during the day. The Sumter steamed slowly along the coast, making not more than five knots an hour, and the Yankee sailors, enraged over the loss of their vessel, and looking forward to nothing else but a long term of confinement in a Southern prison, were very uneasy, and naturally enough they wanted to exchange opinions on the situation; but that was something the midshipman would not permit. He was vigilant, and would not allow the brig's crew to get together for fear that they might hatch up a plan for recapturing their property. If a couple of them got near enough together to whisper a few words to each other, he would call out roughly:
"What are you about, there? Get farther apart, you two."
This state of affairs continued until night came and darkness settled down over the Caribbean Sea, and then Captain Semmes himself did something that caused the heart of every one of the Sabine's crew to beat high with hope.
THE "SUMTER" LOSES A PRIZE.
While the majority of the Sabine's crew chafed and fretted like captive birds which beat their wings against the bars of their cage to no purpose, there were two who stood aloof from every one and from each other; who never spoke a word, but who nevertheless came to a perfect understanding through the interchange of frequent and expressive glances. They were the captain and Jack Gray. Each one knew as well as if the other had explained it to him, that both had resolved upon the same thing—that before the sun rose again the Sabine must be taken out of the hands of the prize crew, and her course shaped toward a Northern port, no matter what the risk might be.
"I knew, although I had no chance to speak to the old man about it, that our first hard work must be to disarm those five rebels," said Jack, in telling his story. "I knew it would be easy enough to do that if we all moved together, for there was but one native American in the prize crew—the midshipman—and he was a little whiffet to be strangled with a finger and thumb. Even the fact that we were in the middle of the tow, the Sumter ahead and the Herndon behind, wouldn't have made any difference to us if we had had control of the brig, because a few lusty blows with an axe would have severed the two hawsers and the darkness would have aided us in making our escape; but the trouble was, the elements were against us. The wind would not come up, and of course it would be of no use for us to take the brig unless we had a breeze to help us draw off."
While the captain and his vigilant second mate were waiting and watching in the hope that something might unexpectedly turn up in their favor, Captain Semmes came to their aid. The Sumter with her heavy tow and little breeze to help her, was making headway altogether too slowly to suit him; and besides, it had occurred to him that it might be well to run ahead and find out what the authorities at Cienfuegos thought of him and his government, and whether or not they would permit Yankee prizes to be condemned and sold in that port. The first intimation the brig's crew had that Captain Semmes was about to cast off his tow was a warning whistle from the Sumter. This was followed by a sudden slackening of the hawser, and a few minutes later the Sumter's black hulk showed itself on the starboard bow. She was backing water.
"Sabine ahoy!" came the hail.
"On board the Sumter! replied the midshipman.
"Cast off the Herndon's hawser and stand by to pass it aboard of us."
The midshipman responded with an "Ay, ay, sir!" and ordered the brig's crew to lay aft and hold themselves in readiness to cast off when they received the word. It took half an hour to transfer the line from one vessel to the other (it was accomplished by the aid of a small boat), and then another order came to the prize-master of the Sabine.
"Haul in your own hawser and make sail and follow us into port," were the instructions he received, and which he at once proceeded to act upon. He did not notice, however, that the first man to seize the hawser and lay out his strength upon it with a "Heave yo! All together now," was the surly second mate, who seemed to take the loss of his vessel so much to heart that he hadn't said a word to anybody since the prize crew was put aboard of her. But Jack Gray was there with an object. When the end of the hawser had been wound around the capstan, and the bars were shipped, he took pains to place himself next to a couple of Green Mountain boys, whose courage had been proved in more than one trying ordeal.
"Heave yo! 'Round she goes. Strike up a song, somebody," shouted Jack; and then he leaned over and spoke so that not only the two men who were heaving at the bar with him but also the three who were on the bar in front could hear every word he said. "Listen, boys," said he earnestly. "We're going to take the ship out of the hands of these pirates. Put a handspike or an axe where you can get your hands on it, and be ready to jump the instant the old man or I make a move."
Jack could say no more just then, for in his progress around the capstan he came opposite the place where the midshipman was standing. He breasted the bar manfully and joined in the song, looking as innocent as though he had never thought of knocking the midshipman overboard if the latter gave him even the shadow of a chance to do it.
"I knew well enough that you cabin fellows would never let these villains get away with the brig," said the man on his left, as soon as it was safe for him to speak. "Jump as soon as you get ready and we'll be there. What was it you read to us from that Mobile paper you brought aboard at Rio—that one Southern gentleman is as good as five Northern mudsills? We will give them a chance to prove it."
"Pass the word among the boys and tell them to stand by to bear a hand when the time comes," added the second mate. "But be sly about it, for we must not arouse the suspicions of these rebels. They are armed and we are not."
In due time the hawser was hauled aboard and stowed away, and then the midshipman prepared to make sail and follow the Sumter which was by this time so far off that her lights could not be seen. It took a good while to do this, and once, while working on the foreyard, Jack was delighted to find himself by his captain's side.
"I hope that rebel officer didn't see you come up," said Jack. "If he did he will be on his guard, and then good-by to all our chances of taking the ship."
"Do you take me for a dunce?" asked the captain, in reply. "I came up when he wasn't looking, because I wanted a chance to say a word to you."
"I know what you would say if you had time," was Jack's answer. "So do the men. They have all been posted, and are as eager to get the ship back as you can possibly be."
"Very good," said the captain, who was highly gratified. "Stand by the companion-ladder and watch all that goes on in the cabin."
Having seen the last sail sheeted home Jack obeyed the order to "lay down from aloft," and engaged the midshipman in conversation to give the captain a chance to gain the deck without being discovered. At the same time he noticed that the long wished for breeze was springing up, and that everything was beginning to draw beautifully. At this moment the steward came up from the cabin and approached the place where they were standing.
"You haven't had any supper, sir," said he, saluting the midshipman. "Won't you come down and drink a cup of coffee and eat an orange?"
Jack fairly trembled while he waited for the officer's reply. He was afraid he would decline the invitation—Jack knew he would have done so if he had been in the midshipman's place, and that nothing short of an overpowering force would have taken him from the deck so long as he was prize-master of the brig. But the young officer's fears had not only been lulled to sleep by the orderly conduct of the Sabine's crew, which led him to believe that they, like all the rest of their countrymen, were too cowardly to show fight under any circumstances, but he was tired and hungry, and he thought that a cup of coffee and something good to eat would take the place of the night's sleep which he knew he was going to lose. Accordingly he followed the steward toward the cabin, and then Jack told himself that something was about to happen—that this was a part of the captain's plan for seizing the vessel. Jack had been instructed to stand at the top of the companion-ladder and watch all that went on below, and in order that he might carry out those instructions without attracting the midshipman's attention, he quietly removed his shoes and stood in his stocking feet. As he was about to start for the post that had been assigned him, he saw an opportunity to aid the captain that was too good to be lost. Standing within less than ten feet of him was one of the Confederate sailors. He was leaning over the rail looking down into the water, evidently in a brown study. He held his musket clasped in his arms in a position something like "arms port," and Jack knew that he carried his revolver on the right side, that the butt was entirely out of the holster, and that there was no strap to hold the weapon in place. He had taken note of these facts when the prize-crew first came aboard.
Before attempting to carry out the desperate plan he had so suddenly conceived for securing this particular rebel, Jack swept a hasty glance over the deck to calculate his chances for success. They could not have been better. There was not another one of the prize-crew in sight; but just across from him, on the other side of the deck, stood Stebbins, one of the Green Mountain boys who had worked at the capstan with him. Other members of the crew were making a pretense of being busy at something in the waist, but they were one and all keeping a close watch on the second mate, and there were hand-spikes, axes, or belaying-pins within easy reach. Jack made a warning gesture to Stebbins, and the sailor at once reached for his capstan-bar. With two quick, noiseless steps Jack placed himself close behind the dreaming rebel, and thrusting his left arm over his shoulder seized his musket with a firm grasp, while at the same time, with his right hand, he deftly slipped the revolver from its holster.
"Not a word—not a whisper!" said Jack, placing the muzzle of the heavy Colt close to the rebel's head. "Let go that gun. Stebbins, take off his cutlass and buckle it around your own waist."
When the captive recovered himself sufficiently to look around, he was astonished to find that he was confronted by four of the brig's foremast hands, all of whom carried weapons of some sort, which they held threateningly over his head. There was no help for it, and he was prompt to obey both Jack's orders; that is to say, he gave up his gun and kept his lips closed.
"Lead him aft, Stebbins, and stand guard over him with your cutlass," commanded Jack. "If he tries to run or give warning to his companions, cut him down. Smith, take this musket and keep a sharp eye on me. The officer is in the cabin, and I don't think the old man means to let him come out very soon."
Stebbins moved off with his prisoner. Smith and the other two sailors stationed themselves where they could see everything the second mate did, and the latter advanced close to the companion-way so that he could look down and obtain a view of the interior of the cabin. At the very first glance he saw something to discourage him.
"The moment the old man told me to watch all that went on in the cabin, that moment I understood his plan," said Jack. "And when I afterward compared notes with him and the steward, I learned that I had made no mistake. The captain was not denied the privilege of going in and out of his cabin as often as he pleased, and that was one place where the midshipman, who was really a sharp officer, did wrong. Another wrong move he made was in scattering his men about the deck. If he had kept them close together, so that they could have helped one another, we never could have taken the brig."
It was during one of these visits to the cabin that the captain took his revolver from the place in which he had concealed it when he saw the prize-crew coming aboard, and put four pairs of hand-cuffs into his pockets; for when the rebel boarding officer hauled down his colors, he determined that at sunrise the next morning the Stars and Stripes should again float at his peak if he had to sacrifice half his crew to get them there. His next move was to order his steward to dish up supper, and when it was ready he sent word to the midshipman to come down and have a bite; but, although the brig was towing at the stern of the Sumter and there was not the smallest chance for her to escape, the officer would not trust himself within reach of the skipper and his mates. However, he was not afraid to go into the cabin alone, and when the steward asked him, in Jack's hearing, to come below and drink a cup of coffee and eat an orange, he accepted the invitation; but his actions indicated that he was very suspicious.
"Sit down here, sir," said the steward, drawing back the chair he had placed for him.
"Well, hardly," replied the officer, glancing at the door behind him, which, by the way, opened into the captain's state-room. "Move that chair and plate to the other side of the table."
"Certainly, sir," said the steward, in his politest tones; and the command was promptly obeyed.
The first thing the midshipman did after he had taken his seat, was to draw his revolver from its holster and show it to the steward; and then he placed it on the chair under his left leg.
"You will observe that I don't put it on the table and give you a chance to snatch it while I am in the act of drinking my coffee," said he blandly.
"Certainly, sir," said the steward again.
"You Yankees have the reputation of being pretty sharp people," continued the officer, "and I believe you are somewhat famous for the tricks you play upon unsuspecting strangers; but you will find that there are smarter men south of Mason and Dixon's line than there are north of it. Now, if we understand each other, trot out your grub."
The steward ran up the ladder, at the top of which he found the second mate, standing back out of the light so that the midshipman could not see him if he chanced to look toward the deck.
"Did you notice that he would not sit where I wanted him to?" whispered the steward. "The old man is in his state-room, waiting for a chance to rush out and grab him, but I am afraid that move on the Confederate's part will knock the whole thing in the head."
"Not by a long shot," replied Jack. "We've got firearms of our own now, and if the worst is forced upon us, we'll engage them in a regular battle. But we don't want to shoot if we can help it, for that might bring the Sumter upon us."
The steward vanished in the galley, and while he was gone Jack thought seriously of giving him the revolver he had taken from the captured rebel, and telling him to watch his chance to put it to the head of the midshipman while he was eating his supper, and demand his surrender on pain of death. That would have been just the thing to do. Jack thought, if he were only sure that the steward's courage would not fail him when the critical moment came; but unfortunately he was not quite positive on that point. He had never had an opportunity to see how the steward would act in an emergency, and after a little reflection he concluded that he had better keep the weapon in his own possession.
In a few minutes the steward came out of the galley, carrying a tray upon which he had placed a tempting supper, and Jack saw him descend into the cabin and put it on the table.
"Here, you fellow, that won't do," he heard the midshipman exclaim. "Don't take quite so much pains to get behind me, if you please. Stand around on the other side of the table, so that I can see everything you do."
"Certainly, sir," answered the steward, as he hastened to take the position pointed out to him.
If Jack Gray had been in the cabin at that moment he would have seen that he did a wise thing when he decided to hold fast to his revolver instead of handing it over to the steward and depending upon him to capture the midshipman, for when the latter emphasized his commands by pulling his six-shooter from under his leg and raising and lowering the hammer with one hand, keeping the muzzle pointed toward the steward's head all the while, the latter grew as white as a sheet and trembled in every limb. After he thought he had inflicted sufficient torture upon the timid fellow, the Confederate put up his weapon and demanded:
"What State are you from?"
"Are all Massachusetts men as great cowards as you are?"
"Certainly, sir," answered the steward, who was afraid to say anything else.
"Then we're going to have a walk-over, sure enough," said the rebel. "You Yankees are afraid to fight."
Every word of this conversation was overheard by a man who, but for a most unfortunate interruption, would have forced the Confederate officer to swallow his words almost as soon as they had left his lips. It was the skipper. He had come down from aloft and reached his cabin without being seen, and it was in obedience to his instructions that the prize-master had been asked below to get some supper. His plan was to have the steward seat the officer with his back to a certain state-room, so that he could be seized from behind and choked into submission before he knew that there was a third party in the cabin; but that could not be done now. The rebel's suspicions led him to change to the other side of the table, and he now sat facing the state-room door, on whose farther side stood the merchant captain with rage in his heart and a cocked revolver in his hand. The captain knew that he was going to put himself in danger when he attempted to make a prisoner of the midshipman, but that did not deter him. When he heard that sweeping charge of cowardice made against the men of his native State he could stand it no longer, but jerked open the door and sprang into the cabin.
Now came that unexpected interruption to the skipper's plan of which we have spoken. The steward heard the door of the state room creak softly behind him, and, knowing what was coming, he made a quick jump to one side to get out of the skipper's way and leave him a clear field for his operations; but he was so badly frightened that he hardly knew what he was about, and consequently he did the very thing he tried to avoid. He sprang directly in front of his commander, and the two came together with such force that they measured their length on the cabin floor, the captain and his revolver being underneath. For one single instant the prize-master sat as motionless in his chair as if he had been turned into a block of wood; but it was for one instant only. He was quick to comprehend the situation, and equally quick to act. He sprang to his feet, and before either of the prostrate men could make a move he ran around the end of the table and covered them with his revolver.
"If you stir or utter a word I will shoot you as quickly as I would shoot a couple of dogs which disputed my right to use the highway," said he, in tones that could not have been steadier if he had been ordering the boatswain's mate of the Sumter to pipe sweepers. "Captain, drop that revolver on the floor without moving your hand a hair's-breadth."
"Let go your own revolver," said a voice in his ear: and to his infinite amazement the Confederate suddenly found himself in a grasp so strong that it not only rendered him incapable of action, but brought him to his knees in a second. One vise-like hand was fastened upon the back of his neck and the other upon his wrist, turning the muzzle of the revolver upward, so that it pointed toward the roof of the cabin.
This is what we referred to when we stated that if it had not been for Jack Gray's courage and prompt action, it is probable that the brig would never have been recaptured. When the midshipman jumped from his chair and ran around the table, he turned his back toward the companion-way; and the moment he did so, Jack Gray, who saw that the critical time had come and that the next few seconds would decide who were to be masters of the brig, made a spring for the ladder. As he was in his stocking feet his movements were noiseless, and so rapid, too, that he had the Confederate prize-master in his grasp before the latter was fairly done speaking. Then he was powerless, for the second mate had a grip that few who knew him cared to contend against.
"Didn't you have the revolver you took from the captured sailor in your pocket?" inquired Marcy, when Jack reached this point in his story.
"I did, but I didn't think it best to depend upon it, for this reason: Although the midshipman wasn't much to look at, he had showed himself to be possessed of any amount of pluck, and I was afraid that even if I succeeded in getting the drop on him he might shoot any way, for the double purpose of disabling me and calling his men to his assistance. So I made all haste to get a hold on him."
"Now that I think of it," continued Marcy, who was deeply interested in the narrative, "why did Captain Semmes keep the Herndon in tow when he cast off the Sabine? Why didn't he let both vessels go?"
"I have never been able to account for that except upon the supposition that he had more confidence in our prize-master than he had in the one he put aboard the Herndon," replied sailor Jack. "The Herndon was a heavy vessel, and had a much larger crew than we had; and perhaps that had something to do with it. I think we taught Semmes a lesson he will remember. I don't believe he will ever again trust a Yankee prize and a Yankee crew out of reach of his big guns."
The master of the brig and his frightened steward got upon their feet as soon as they could, and found that the Confederate officer had been secured beyond all possibility of escape. The second mate had twisted his revolver from his grasp; Smith, the man to whom Jack had given the captured musket, was holding a bayonet close to his nose, and another sailor was threatening him with a handspike.
"Did you really think that nine Yankee sailors would permit five traitors to work their sweet will on them?" demanded the skipper, as he let down the hammer of the officer's revolver and dropped the weapon into his own pocket. "I think you will learn to your cost that you have been very much mistaken in the opinions you have formed of Northern people. I shall have to ask you to go into my state-room and remain there, leaving the door open. Smith, stay here and watch him, while the rest of us go on deck, and attend to the other four."
"There are but three left, Captain," observed Jack. "One is already a prisoner, and Stebbins is keeping guard over him."
At that moment a body of men marched aft from the forecastle, came to a halt at the top of the ladder, and a hoarse voice hailed the cabin. It was the voice of the first mate.
"Tumble up, Cap'n," said the officer. "We've got the rest of 'em hard and fast. Tumble up and take command of your ship. She's your'n once more."
That was the most gratifying piece of news Jack Gray had ever heard.
A COOL PROPOSITION.
Although the captain and Jack had not spoken to the first mate since the brig was captured, except it was in the presence of some member of the prize-crew, they had scowled and winked at him as often as the opportunity was presented, and the mate knew well enough what they meant by it and what they intended to do. He determined to do his part. He managed to exchange a few words with some of the brig's crew, whom he instructed to stand by him and be ready to lend a hand when the time came. He saw Jack make the first capture, with Smith's aid and Stebbins's, and by adroitly engaging the other three members of the prize-crew in conversation, it is probable that he kept them from taking note of what was going on in the waist. When he saw Jack make a rush for the companion-ladder, he seized the nearest Confederate, his men quickly overpowered the other two, and then he marched aft to tell his captain the good news. It was all done in less than two minutes, and Captain Semmes was none the wiser for it. The surprise was complete. There was not a shot fired, and the movements of the Yankee sailors were so rapid that resistance was useless.
"You've got the brig all to yourself again, Cap'n," said the mate. "What shall I do with these varmints?"
"Send them down here," was the reply. "And tell Stebbins to send his man down also."
As the four prisoners filed into the cabin, Jack was rather surprised to see that they did not appear to be at all cast down by the sudden and unexpected turn affairs had taken. Indeed, one of them, who spoke with a rich Irish brogue, boldly declared:
"Sure it's not mesilf that cares at all, at all. I've had enough of the bloody hooker."
"Have a care," whispered Jack, nudging him in the ribs with his elbow. "Your commanding officer is in that state-room. He can hear every word you say."
"Sorry a wan of me cares whether he can or not," replied the sailor. "We were promised big wages and prize-money by the bushel if we would help capture the Yankee ships on the high seas. We've took two prizes besides this wan, and the Herndon but we put the torch to thim, and niver a cint of prize-money is there forninst the name of Paddy Scanlan on the books."
"Well, Paddy," said the captain, with a laugh, "you may abuse the rebels all you please, and no one aboard my vessel will say a thing to you. Now, will you give your word of honor that you will behave yourselves as long as you stay aboard of me?"
"Sure I will," replied the sailor earnestly.
"I mean all of you rebels," said the captain. "You treated us very civilly while we were your prisoners, and I want to treat you in the same way if you will let me. Let's have your promise."
It was given without a moment's hesitation, and was to the effect that as long as they remained on the Sabine they would make no disturbance, but would in all respects conduct themselves with as much propriety as though they had been regularly shipped as members of her crew.
"As long as you stand to that agreement I will allow you the liberty of the deck, beginning to-morrow morning," said the captain. "But I tell you plainly that if you go back from your word, I will have you in irons before you know what is the matter with you. Smith, stand at the foot of the ladder until you are relieved. On deck the rest of us!"
Never had the Sabine's crew worked harder than they did on this particular night to bring their vessel about and get her on her course again; but this time the skipper did not intend to make for the port to which his cargo was consigned. He told his mates that as soon as the brig rounded the western end of the island of Cuba, he would fill away for Key West, which was the nearest Federal naval station.
"I won't trust myself and my ship in these waters an hour longer than I am obliged to," he declared. "How do I know but that there may be a dozen or more vessels like the Sumter cruising about here, watching their chance to make bonfires of the defenseless merchant vessels? Now let this be a standing order: While we are under way we'll not speak a single ship, no matter what flag she floats. If you see a sail, run away from it."
"And strict obedience to that order saved our bacon," said Jack, in conclusion. "We got up to Key West without any mishap, turned our prisoners over to the commandant of the station, and then filled away for Boston, taking with us a cargo that ought to have gone another way. We were warned to look out for little privateers—sailing vessels with one or two guns aboard—and the navy fellows told us that the coasts of North and South Carolina were particularly dangerous; but our brig was a grayhound, the captain had the fullest confidence in her, and so he held his course. But we kept a bright lookout night and day, and were almost worn out with watching by the time we reached our home port."
"You didn't see anything of those privateers, did you?" said Mrs. Gray.
"Yes; we sighted one somewhere in the latitude of Sandy Point," answered Jack. "She fired a couple of shells at us, and tried to lay herself across our course; but she couldn't make it. We ran away from her as if she had been anchored."
"What sort of a looking craft was she?" exclaimed Marcy, starting up in his chair.
"Well, she was a fore-and-after and had figures painted on her sails to make us believe that she was a pilot boat," answered Jack, somewhat surprised at his brother's earnestness. "But she was about four times too big for a pilot boat. She hoisted Union colors, and when she found that she could not decoy us within range that way, she ran up the secession rag and cut loose with her bow-chaser; but she might as well have saved her ammunition, for she didn't come anywhere near us."
"And neither did the rifle-shots that you fired in return come anywhere near us," added Marcy.
"Anywhere near you?" exclaimed Jack, starting up in his turn. "What do you mean? What do you know about it?"
"I know all about it, for I was there," replied Marcy. "It was I who ran up those flags, and although I didn't dream that you were on the brig, you can't imagine how delighted I was when I saw that she was bound to give us the slip. That privateer was Captain Beardsley's schooner, and I was aboard of her in the capacity of pilot."
Sailor Jack settled back in his chair as if to say that that was the most astounding thing he had ever heard in his life.
"Pilot!" he exclaimed, at length. "Lon Beardsley doesn't need a pilot on this coast. He has smuggled more than one cargo of cigars through these inlets."
"I know that. But you are aware that Beardsley has been our enemy for years. He couldn't find any way to take revenge until this war broke out, and then he began troubling us. He knew, and he knows to-day, that I am Union all over, and down on secession and all who favor it, and when he offered me the pilot's berth and promised to do the fair thing by me, he was in hopes that mother would refuse to let me go; then, don't you see, he would have had an excuse to set our rebel neighbors against us on the ground that we were traitors to our State."
"I always knew that Lon Beardsley was beneath contempt, but this rather gets ahead of me," said Jack hotly.
"But it so happened that we saw through his little game. Mother never said a word, and I shipped as pilot aboard the privateer Osprey" continued Marcy. "And, Jack (here he got up, moved his chair close to the sofa on which his brother was sitting and lowered his voice to a whisper), I was on her when she made her first and only capture, and upstairs in my valise I have seventeen hundred dollars in gold, my share of the money the Mary Hollins brought when she was condemned and sold in the port of Newbern."
"That would be a nice little sum of money if it had been earned in an honorable way," observed Jack.
"But it wasn't," said Marcy, "and consequently I don't intend to keep it. I'm going to give it back to the one to whom it belongs. Oh, you needn't laugh. I mean it!"
"I know you do, and I hope that you will some day find the man; but I am afraid you won't. Where is Beardsley now?"
"I left him at Newbern. The presence of the cruisers on the coast frightened him so that he gave up privateering—he didn't want to run the risk of being captured with guns aboard of him for fear that he might be treated as a pirate—and took to running the blockade. We made one successful trip, taking out cotton and bringing back an assorted cargo worth somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred thousand dollars, and it was while we were trying to make Crooked Inlet on our way home that we came the nearest to being captured. We ran foul of a howitzer launch, which turned loose on us with shrapnel and canister, and gave me this broken arm and Beardsley a black and blue shoulder."
"I wish from the bottom of my heart that she had given him a broken head," said Jack. "Were you much hurt?"
"I don't mind it in the least," answered Marcy. "It has given me a chance to visit with mother and you. But I don't quite understand why you came home as you did. What made you so sly about it? Go more into particulars, but don't talk too loud."
"Is it a fact that you are afraid to converse in ordinary tones in your own house?" said Jack, looking inquiringly at his mother.
"Marcy and I have been very cautious, for we don't know whom to trust," answered Mrs. Gray. "One of our principal sources of anxiety is the money we have hidden in the cellar wall."
"Thirty thousand dollars!" whispered Marcy in his brother's ear. "Mother brought it home herself and spent three nights in fixing a place for it."
"Holy Moses!" said Jack under his breath. "Do the neighbors know it?"
"They suspect it, and that is what troubles us."
"I don't wonder at it. Why, mother, there are plenty of white trash about here who would rob you in a minute if they thought they could do it without bringing harm to themselves. I declare, I am almost afraid to leave home again."
"Oh, Jack!" said his mother, the tears starting to her eyes; "you surely will not leave me again."
"Not if you bid me stay, but I didn't think you would do it, knowing, as I did, that you are strong for the Union. That was the reason I came home in the night and threw stones at Marcy's window. I intended, after a short visit, to show my love for the old flag by making my way out to the blockading fleet, and shipping with the first commander who would take me. Consequently, I did not want to let any of the neighbors know that I came home at all. I was sure that there must be some Union people here, but of course I don't know who they are any more than I know who the rebels are; so I thought it best to keep my movements a secret. However, I might as well have saved myself the trouble," added Jack, while an expression of anxiety settled upon his bronzed features; "of course I can't keep out of sight of the servants, and if there are any treacherous ones among them, as you seem to think, they will blab on me to the first rebel they can find."
"They will tell the overseer of it," said Marcy. "He's a sneak and a spy as well as a rebel."
"Why do you keep him, then?" demanded Jack. "Why didn't you kick him off the place as soon as you found out that he could not be trusted?"
"I hired him for a year," answered Mrs. Gray. "And if I should discharge him on account of his political opinions, can you not see that I would give the rebels in the settlement the very opportunity that I believe they are waiting for—the opportunity to persecute me?"
"Perhaps there is something in that," said Jack thoughtfully. "I must say that this is a nice way to live. But the Confederates can't say a word against you now, because Marcy sails under their flag."
"If anybody tells you that story don't you believe a word of it," said Marcy. "They know why I went aboard that privateer as well as if I had told them all about it. But, Jack, what did you mean when you told me that you were a homeless, friendless smuggler?"
"I am not exactly homeless and friendless," replied the sailor, with a hearty laugh, "but it is a fact that I am a smuggler in a small way. When I found myself safe in Boston, the first thing I thought of was getting home. I first decided I would go to Washington and try to get a pass through the Union lines; but I soon found that that wouldn't do, for I saw by the papers that the Federals were straining every nerve to close the Potomac against smugglers and mail-carriers, and that satisfied me that no passes were granted. My only hope then was to get here by water. I met my captain every day or two, and he helped me out by securing me a berth on the schooner, West Wind. He never said a word to me about the character of the vessel, although he must have known all about it and given me a good recommend besides, for the day after I went aboard. Captain Frazier called me into his cabin, and took me into his confidence.
"I thought the master of the Sabine was a strong Union man," said Marcy. "But this looks as though he was giving aid and comfort to the rebels."
"Well, no; he didn't mean it that way. He was giving aid and comfort to me, don't you see? He wanted to help me get home, and I assure you I was glad of the chance he gave me. Captain Frazier was an old friend of his. He happened to find out that Frazier was about to turn an honest penny by selling the Confederates medicine and other little things of which they stood in need, and instead of betraying him, he recommended me as a suitable man for second mate, for I was a tolerable sailor, and well acquainted with the coasts of the Carolinas. I accepted the position when it was offered me, and brought the West Wind through Oregon Inlet as slick as you please, although the channel doesn't run within a hundred yards of where it did the last time I went through there."
"Did you take out a venture?"
"Of course. I risked about two-thirds of my hard-earned wages."
"What did you buy?"
"Quinine, calomel, and about half a dozen different kinds of quack medicines in the shape of pills and tonics. But there was where I made a mistake. I ought to have put all the money in quinine. If I had, I would have made two or three hundred dollars more than I did. As it was I cleared about twelve hundred. And that reminds me that I left my grip-sack on the gallery."
He and Marcy went out to bring it in, and when they returned, Jack was slapping the side of the valise to make the gold pieces jingle.
"My son, I am very sorry you did it," said Mrs. Gray reproachfully. "Very sorry indeed."
"Why, mother, just listen to this," replied Jack, hitting the valise another sounding whack.
"I hear it," said his mother. "But when you brought those things down here and piloted that vessel through the blockade, didn't you violate the laws of your country? Did you not render yourself liable to arrest and imprisonment?"
"Well, to be honest, I did; but you see I was looking into the future. When I reached Newbern I wasn't home by a long shot. There's a right smart stretch of country between that place and this. I walked nearly every step of the way from Boydtown, and every man I met was the hottest kind of a rebel, or professed to be. When questioned, as I often was, I could tell a truthful story about being second mate of a schooner that had slipped into Newbern with a lot of goods for the Confederacy, and furthermore, I had the documents to prove it," said Jack, drawing an official envelope from an inside pocket. "This is a strong letter from the captain of the West Wind, recommending me to any blockade-running shipmaster who may be in need of a coast pilot and second mate; but I never expect to use it. Here are some documents of an entirely different character," and as he said this, the sailor thrust his hand into the leg of his boot and pulled forth another large envelope. "This contains two letters, one from the master of the Sabine, and the other from her owners; and they give a flattering history of the part I took in recapturing the brig. These letters may be of use to me when the time comes for me to ship on a blockader."
"I don't see how you got out of Boston with your contraband cargo," said Marcy. "How did you clear at the custom house?"
"Why, bless you, our cargo was all right," replied Jack, "and so were our papers. The cargo was brought aboard in broad daylight, and consigned to a well-known American firm in Havana; but the little articles that were brought aboard after dark and scattered around among the barrels and boxes in the hold, would have sent the last one of us to jail if they had been discovered."
"Oh, Jack!" exclaimed Mrs. Gray, "how could you do it? I can't see how you could bring yourself to take so much risk."
"I did it to keep up appearances; and hasn't Marcy done the same thing and with your consent? Didn't he join that privateer and run the risk of being captured or killed by the Yankees because you and he thought it policy for him to do so? I am not a policy man, but in times like these one can't always do as he wants to."
There were so many things to talk about, and such a multitude of questions to be asked and answered on both sides, that the little clock on the mantel struck four different hours before any one thought of going to bed; and then Jack did not go to his own room, but passed the rest of the night with Marcy, for the latter hinted very strongly that he had some things to say to him that he did not care to mention in his mother's presence.
"She has enough to bother her already," said he, as he closed and locked the door of his room; "and although I have no secrets from her, I don't like to speak to her on disagreeable subjects. I wish she could forget that money in the cellar wall and the hints Wat Gifford gave her about 'longshoremen coming up here from Plymouth some dark night to steal it."
Sailor Jack, who was standing in front of the bureau putting away his letters of recommendation and the canvas bag that contained his money, turned quickly about and looked at his brother without speaking.
"Of course I don't know that such a thing will ever happen," continued Marcy, "but I do know for a fact that Beardsley and a few others are very anxious to find out whether or not there are any funds in the house. Beardsley tried his level best to pump me, and Colonel Shelby sent that trifling Kelsey up here for the same purpose. Now what difference does it make to them whether mother has money or not, unless they mean to try to take it from her?"
"Marcy," said Jack, who had backed into the nearest chair, "I wish that money was a thousand miles from here. You haven't anything to fear from those wharf-rats at Plymouth; but if the Confederate authorities find out about it, and can scrape together evidence enough to satisfy them that mother is Union, they'll come down on this house like a nighthawk on a June bug. And, worse than that, Beardsley may contrive to have mother put under arrest."
"No!" gasped Marcy. "What for?"
"Don't you know that the Richmond Government has instructed its loyal subjects to repudiate the debts they owe to Northern men and to turn the amount of those debts into the Confederate treasury?"
"Well, what of it? We don't owe anybody a red cent."
"No odds. If Beardsley wants evidence to prove that we do owe some Northern house for the supplies we have been receiving, and that we are holding back the money instead of giving it to the Confederacy—if Beardsley needs evidence to prove all that he can easily find it."
"Why, the—the villain!" exclaimed Marcy, who had never been more astounded.
"He's worse than that, and he'll do worse than that if he sees half a chance," said Jack, with a sigh. "I wish the Yankees might get hold of him, and that some one would tell them who and what he is, for I judge from what you have told me that he is at the bottom of all mother's troubles. Now, let me tell you: you must stay at home and take care of mother, and I will ship on a war vessel and do my share toward putting down this rebellion."
"But how can I stay at home?" interrupted Marcy. "My leave is for only ninety days, and Beardsley looks for me to join the schooner as soon as my arm gets well."
"All right. No doubt you will have to do it; but you'll not make many more trips on that blockade-runner. It'll not be long before all our ports will be sealed up tight as a brick by swift steamers, and sailing vessels will stand no show of getting out or in. I know Lon Beardsley, and he will quit blockade running when he thinks it's time, the same as he quit privateering. Why, Marcy, you can't imagine what an uproar there is all over the North. They're getting ready to give the South particular fits."
"Then the result of the fight at Bull Run didn't frighten or discourage them?"
"Man alive, if you had had as much to do with Northern people as I have, you would know that they don't understand the words. They've got their blood up at last, and now they mean business. Recruits are coming in faster than they can equip and send them off. And I can't stay behind. Mother must let me go."
"Do you think of enlisting on one of the blockading fleet?"
"But how are you going to get to it? It's off Hatteras."
"So I supposed. Where's the Fairy Belle?"
"Great Scott!" ejaculated Marcy "Do you expect me to take you out on her?"
"Well, yes; I had rather calculated on it." Marcy was profoundly astonished. He threw himself upon the bed, propped his head up with his uninjured hand, and looked at his brother without saying a word.
THE BANNER ON THE WALL.
"You seem to be very much surprised at a very simple proposition," said Jack, at length.
"And you seem to have a deal more cheek than you did the first time I made your acquaintance," replied Marcy.
Jack laughed heartily.
"Why, what is there to hinder you from taking me down to the fleet?" he demanded. "Haven't I often heard you boast of the Fairy Belle's sea-going qualities? If she can cross the Atlantic, as you have more than once declared, she can surely ride out any blow we are likely to meet off the Cape."
"Oh, she can get there easy enough," answered Marcy. "I was not thinking about that. But suppose I take you down to the fleet and the Yankees won't let me come back? Then what?"
"Nonsense!" exclaimed Jack. "They'll let you come back. They are not obliged to force men into the service against their will. They've got more than they want."
"But there's another thing," continued Marcy. "There are two forts at the Inlet; and suppose some of the rebels in those forts should see a little schooner communicating with one of the blockading fleet. Wouldn't they take pains to find out where the schooner belonged, and who her owner was? And then what would they do to me?"
"They would put you in jail, of course," replied Jack, with refreshing candor. "But I take it for granted that you are sharp enough to go and come without being seen by anybody. If you magnify the dangers of the undertaking by holding back or raising objections to the programme I have laid out, I am afraid you will frighten mother into saying that I can't go."
"I'll neither hold back nor object," said Marcy resolutely. "When you are ready to go say the word, and I will do the best I can for you."
"I knew you would. Now let's lie down for a while. I have tramped it all the way from Boydtown since daylight, and am pretty well tuckered out."
"If you had telegraphed to Nashville, I would have met you with a carriage," said Marcy.
"Of course. But I thought I would rather have a talk with you and mother before I let any one know I was in the country. And now that I have got here and had the talk—what would you do if you were in my place? Keep out of sight?"
"No, I wouldn't. What good would it do as long as the servants know you are here? Make it a point to say 'hallo' to all the neighbors, talk politics with them, and tell them how you ran that schooner into Newbern through Oregon Inlet. By the way, what was done with the cargo that was intended for that house in Havana?"
"It wasn't intended for Havana. It was sold in Newbern, as the owners meant it should be, and when I left, the West Wind was loading up with cotton for Nassau. Well, suppose I play that I am as good a Confederate as any of the people hereabouts; what then? When I leave for the blockading fleet they will want to know where I have gone, won't they? And what will you say to them? We must think about that and cook up some sort of a story on purpose for them."
The boys tumbled into bed while they were talking, but it was a long time before Marcy could go to sleep. He shuddered every time he thought of what the consequences would be if by any misfortune it became known in the settlement, that Jack Gray, whom everybody took to be a good Confederate, and who had been permitted, while at home, to go and come as he pleased, had seized the first opportunity to go down to Hatteras and ship on board a Union gunboat.
"This house would be in ashes in less than twenty-four hours after the news got noised about in the neighborhood," said Marcy, to himself, wishing that the sound sleep that so promptly came to his weary brother might come to him, also! "Then I should learn by experience how it seems to live in a negro cabin. But there's one consolation. They couldn't burn the cellar walls, so mother's money would be safe."
The clock struck nine before the boys got up that morning, but there was a hot breakfast waiting for them. A family council was held while they were seated at the table, during which it was decided that the only course for Jack to pursue while at home was to do as he always had done—go about the settlement as though he had a perfect right to be there (as indeed he had), and act and talk as though such a thing as war had never been heard of. If political questions were forced upon him, he could tell of his voyage on the West Wind, and show Captain Frazier's letter; but he must be careful not to say anything about his short captivity in the hands of the Sumter's men. Accordingly, when Marcy's filly was brought to the door after breakfast, there was another horse brought with her for Jack's use. The coachman, who had been so soundly rated the day before, came also, for the two-fold purpose of making his peace with Marcy and welcoming the returned sailor.
"Sarvent, Marse Marcy. Sarvent, Marse Jack," said he, dropping his hat upon the ground and extending a hand to each of the boys. "So glad to have you back, Marse Jack, and so proud to know that you wasn't took prisoner by that pirate Semmes. We saw by the papers that he run out on the high seas las' month, and I was mighty jubus that you might run onto him. Glad to see you among us again, safe and sound, sar."
"And Morris, I am very glad to see myself here," replied Jack, giving the black man's hand a hearty shake. "So you take the papers, do you?"
"Well, no sar; I don't take 'em, but the Missus does, and she tells me what's into 'em, sar."
"I don't know that it makes any difference how you get the news so long as you get it. But I am rather surprised to see you on the plantation. I thought that of course you had run away and joined the Yankees before this time. You had better dig out, for you are an Abolitionist, and they hang Abolitionists in this country."
"Now, Marse Jack, I don't like for to have you talk to me that a way" said the coachman in a tone of reproach. "All the other niggers may go if they want to, but Morris stays right here on the place. He does for a fac'. Who going to drive the carriage if Morris runs away."
"Well, that's so," replied Jack, gathering up the reins and placing his foot in the stirrup. "I didn't think of that. Help Marcy into his saddle and then tell me what I shall bring you when I come from town—a plug of store tobacco for yourself, and a big red handkerchief for Aunt Mandy?"
"Thank you kindly, Marse Jack," said the coachman, with a pleased laugh. "You always thinking of we black ones."
"Yes; I have thought of them a good many times during the two years and better that I have been knocking around the world," said Jack, as he and his brother rode out of the yard. "Especially did I think of home when the brig was dismasted by a tornado in the South Atlantic. We came as near going to the bottom that time as we could without going, and I promised myself that if I ever again got a foothold on solid ground, I would keep it; but here I am thinking of going to sea once more, as soon as I have had a visit with you and mother."
"I can't bear to think of it," said Marcy.
"I'd like to stay at home, but these fanatics who are trying to break up the government won't let me," answered the sailor. "Now that you have had a chance to sleep on it, what do you think of the proposition I made you last night?"
"About taking you down to the blockading fleet at the Cape?" inquired Marcy. "Well, if you are bound to go, I don't see that there is anything else you can do. Of course I shall do all I can to help you, and if there was some trustworthy person to look out for mother, I would go too; but I should go into the army."
"Of course. Your training at Barrington has fitted you for that, and you would be out of place on board ship. What color is the hull of the Fairy Belle?"
"It's black," replied Marcy, catching at the idea. "But it wouldn't take you and me long to make it some other color. That is what Beardsley did when he turned his privateer into a blockade-runner."
"And that is what we will do with your little schooner—we will disguise her," said Jack, "and by the time we get through with her, her best friends won't recognize her. More than that, if we have to run within spyglass reach of the forts at the Inlet, we'll hoist the rebel flag with the Stars and Stripes above it, to make the Confederates think that she has been captured by the Yankees."
"But we haven't any rebel flag," said Marcy.
"What's the reason we haven't? When the Sumter's boarding officer told our captain that we were a prize to the Confederate steamer, he hauled our colors down, and ran his own up in their place; and they were there when we took the vessel out of the hands of the prize-crew. I jerked it down myself, said nothing to nobody, and brought it home as a trophy. It's in my valise now. When we return from town I intend to stick it up in the sitting-room where every one can see it."
"You do?" exclaimed Marcy. "Mother won't let you."
"Oh, I think she will," said Jack, with a laugh. "She will know why it is put on the wall, and so will you. Every time you two look at it, you will think of the part I played in turning the tables on Semmes and his prize-crew; but the visitors who come to the house on purpose to wheedle mother into saying something for the Union and against the Confederacy, will think they are barking up the wrong tree, and that the Gray family are secesh sure enough."
"I hope they will, but I don't believe it," answered Marcy. "When you join the blockading fleet and the neighbors ask me where you are, what shall I tell them?"
"That's a question I will answer after I have been here long enough to get my bearings," said Jack. "Did you remark that you would have to stop at Beardsley's? Well, here we are."
The rapidity with which news of all sorts traveled from one plantation to another, before and during the war, was surprising. Among the letters that Marcy Gray had been commissioned to deliver was one addressed to Captain Beardsley's grown-up daughter, and the girl was waiting for them when they rode into the yard and drew rein at the foot of the steps.
"Morning, gentlemen," was the way in which she greeted the two boys. "I was dreadful frightened when I heard that the Yankees had run onto you, and that you had got your arm broke, Mister Marcy. But it seems paw was into the same boat. Was he much hurted? Hope your venture in quinine paid you well, Mister Jack. You done yourself proud by running that schooner into Newbern with all them supplies aboard, but you oughter stayed with her and helped her through the blockade."
"Oh, the skipper will find plenty of pilots in Newbern," replied Jack, who was not a little astonished to learn that the news of his return had already got abroad in the settlement. "If I can't ship on something better than a blockade-runner, I will stay ashore."
"But they do say there's a power of money in it," said the girl. "Is that a fact, Marcy? Paw must have got safe out and back from Nassau, or else you wouldn't be here now. Did he make much, do you reckon?"
"I believe he calculated on clearing about twenty-five thousand dollars," answered Marcy, who was looking over the package of letters he had taken from his pocket.
"I say!" exclaimed the girl, fairly dancing with delight. "If paw made that much he must get me the new dress I want, and that's a word with a bark onto it. That letter for me? Sarvent, sar. Good-bye."
"I don't see why Beardsley went to the trouble of writing to her," said Jack, as the two turned about and rode away. "She can't read a word of it."
"And I am very glad she can't," answered Marcy. "She will take it to old Mrs. Brown, most likely, and if she does, she might as well stick it up in the post-office. Mrs. Brown is a regular built gossip, and if there is anything in the letter about me, as I think there is, I shall be sure to hear of it. But don't it beat you how things get around? Just see how much that girl knows; and I haven't been out of the house since I came home yesterday afternoon. I tell you there are spies all about us. Don't trust any one you may meet in town. Tell just the story you want published, and nothing else. And don't forget that before you sleep to-night I want you to bury seventeen hundred dollars for me. You've got two good hands."
"Marcy, I am almost afraid to do it," replied Jack. "Suppose some one should watch us and dig it up as soon as we went away?"
"We'll take Bose with us for a sentry, and slip out of the house after everybody else has gone to bed. We'll take all the precautions we can think of and trust to luck. There's Nashville; now be as big a rebel as you please. I know they'll not believe a word of it, but that won't be your fault."
As Marcy expected, the first one to rush out of the post-office and greet them, as they were hitching their horses, was young Allison. He gave the sailor's hand a hearty shake, and then he turned to Marcy.
"Really, I am surprised to see you here, and in citizen's clothes, too," said the latter. "I should have thought that your zeal for the Confederacy would have taken you into the army long ago. Man alive, you're missing heaps of fun. Look at my arm. I've suffered for the cause and you haven't." ["And what's more to the point, you don't mean to, added Marcy to himself.]
"It's fun to have a broken arm, is it?" exclaimed Allison. "I can't see it in that light. The reason I haven't enlisted is because I thought that perhaps you would bring me a favorable word from Captain Beardsley. Did you speak to him about taking me as one of his crew?"
"I did, before I had been aboard the schooner half an hour."
"And what did he say?"
"His reply was that he couldn't accept you. The crew is full; you know nothing about a vessel; he wants nothing but sailor-men aboard of him, and if you want to do something for the South, the best thing you can do is to go into the army."
"Well, I'd thank him to hold fast to his advice until he is asked to give it," said Allison spitefully. "I'll not carry a musket; I can tell him that much. I have seen some fellows who were in the fight at Bull Run, and they say that the privates in our army are treated worse than dogs. If I could get a commission the case would be different."
"That's the idea," said Jack. "Why don't you pitch in and get one? Begin at the top of the ladder and not at the foot. Crawl in at the cabin windows and don't bother about the hawsehole. I mean—you see," added the sailor, seeing by the blank look on his face that Allison did not understand his nautical language, "aboard ship we take rank in this way: First the captain, then the mates, then the captain's dog, and lastly the foremast-hands. And I suppose it must be the same in the army."
"You don't mean it!" exclaimed Allison, opening his eyes.
"I do mean every word of it. Ask any seafaring man and he will tell you the same. Whatever you do, don't go before the mast—I mean don't go into the ranks. Get a commission and be a man among men." ["You'd look pretty with straps on your shoulders, you would," said Jack mentally. "I'd like to gaze upon the man who would be foolish enough to put himself under your orders."]
"Don't go into the office yet," said Allison, when the boys turned about as if to move away. "There's a crowd in there, and I want you to stay and talk to me. Tell me how you got wounded, Marcy."
"Let Jack tell you how he piloted that Yankee schooner into the port of Newbern with a cargo of supplies for the Confederacy," replied Marcy. He said this with an object in view; and that object was to find out how much Allison knew about Jack's movements and his own. Consequently, after his interview with Captain Beardsley's daughter, he was not greatly surprised to hear Allison say:
"Jack hasn't much to tell, has he? As I heard the story he had no trouble at all in bringing the schooner through—he didn't even see the smoke of a blockader. But there's one thing about it," he added, in a lower tone, "you boys have shut up the mouths of some talkative people around here who have been trying hard to injure you, especially Marcy."
"Why should anybody want to injure me?" exclaimed Marcy, looking astonished. "I don't remember that I ever misused any one in the settlement."
"I never heard of it," continued Allison. "But they say that you are for the Union, and that the only reason you shipped on Beardsley's schooner was because you had to."
"Some people around here say that I am for the Union?" repeated Marcy, as though he had never heard of such a thing before. "And that I shipped because I had to?"
"That's what they say, sure's you're born; but your broken arm gives the lie to all such tales as that. And as for Jack—did he know that the West Wind was a smuggler when he joined her in Boston?"
"Of course he knew it," answered Marcy. "He brought out a venture and cleared twelve hundred dollars by it."
"Whew!" whistled Allison. "I wish I could make as much money as that; but somehow such chances never come my way. But what is a venture, anyway?"
"It is a speculation that sailors sometimes go into on their own hook," replied Marcy. "For example. Captain Beardsley wanted me to invest my wages and prize-money in cotton, sell it in Nassau for more than double what I gave for it, put the proceeds into medicine and gun-caps, and so double my money again when we returned to Newbern. If I had taken his advice, I might have been four or five thousand dollars ahead of the hounds at this minute."
"You don't mean to say that you didn't act upon his advice?" exclaimed Allison.
"Yes; that's just what I mean to say. You see, we stood a fine chance of being captured by the Yankees, and Beardsley was so very much afraid of it that he wouldn't load his vessel himself, but took out a cargo he obtained through a commission merchant.—I see Jack is going into the post-office, and we might as well go, too. If you hear anybody saying things behind my back that they don't want to say to my face, tell them to ride up to our house and look at the Confederate flag in our sitting-room, and then go somewhere and get shot before they take it upon themselves to talk about one who has risked his life while they were stopping safe at home."
"I'll do it," said Allison, and Marcy was almost ready to believe that he meant what he said. "But are you really flying the Confederate colors? Every one says that your mother——"
"Yes, I know they do," said Marcy, when Allison paused and looked frightened. "They think she is for the Union, and have set some mean sneaks at work to get evidence against her; but you ride out to-morrow or the next day and take a look at that flag. How do you do?" he added, turning about to shake hands with Colonel Shelby and Mr. Dillon, who came up at that moment and greeted him with the greatest cordiality.
"We were very sorry to hear of your misfortune," said the latter, "but you have the satisfaction of knowing that you have suffered in a righteous cause. Did Captain Beardsley send any word to either of us?"
"No, sir; but he sent a letter to each of you," answered the boy, thrusting his hand into his pocket. "And there they are. This other one is for the postmaster, and perhaps I had better go in and give it to him."
The Colonel and his friend were so very anxious to learn what Captain Beardsley had to say to them that they did not ask the wounded blockade-runner any questions, but drew off on one side to read their letters; and this action on their part went far toward confirming Marcy's suspicions that these two men were the ones Beardsley had left ashore "to do his dirty work" while he was at sea. He was as certain as he could be, without positive proof, that those letters told of the unsuccessful attempts the captain had made at different times to find out whether or not there was any money hidden in Mrs. Gray's house. That money had been a constant source of trouble to the boy, but now he felt like yelling every time he thought of it. If their "secret enemies" took the course that sailor Jack was afraid they might take—if they told the Confederate authorities that Mrs. Gray, after repudiating her debts to Northern merchants (debts that she never owed), had concealed the money instead of turning it into the Confederate treasury as the law provided, then there would be trouble indeed.
When Marcy and Allison went into the post-office they found Jack surrounded by an interested group of old-time friends, to whom he was giving a humorous account of Captain Beardsley's unsuccessful effort to capture the vessel to which he belonged.
"It happened right here on our own coast," said Jack. "She first tried to fool us by showing the figures that were painted on her sails; but that wouldn't go down with our old man. Then she hoisted the English colors, but that made us sheer still farther away from her; for what would a pilot-boat be doing in these waters with a foreign flag at her peak? Than she cut loose on us with her bow gun, and we yelled and shot back with sporting rifles. What do you think of a fellow who will try his best to bring trouble to his only brother by showing a friendly flag, and then shoot cannons at him when he finds he can't do it? That's the way Marcy served me and more than that, he had the face to tell me of it when I came home last night."
Of course this raised a laugh at Marcy's expense, but he didn't seem to mind it. He gave the postmaster Captain Beardsley's letter and asked for the mail in his mother's box.
"And of course when the brig escaped you yelled as loudly as any Yankee in the crew," observed one of his auditors. "I suppose you had to in order to keep out of trouble."
"But I don't reckon he'll do it again in a hurry," said another. "When he brought that Yankee schooner into Newbern he proved to my satisfaction that he is as good a Confederate as any man in the State. Why didn't you stay with her. Jack, and make yourself rich by running the blockade?"
"I had two reasons," answered the sailor. "In the first place I wanted to come home for awhile; and in the next, there is too much danger these times in cruising about on an unarmed vessel. The next time I ship it will be aboard of something that can fight."
"Did you hear any talk of an ironclad that is being built in the river a few miles above Newbern?" asked a third.
Jack winked first one eye and then the other, looked sharply into the face of each member of the group around him, and then turned about and softly rapped the counter with his riding-whip.
"You needn't be afraid to speak freely," said the postmaster, who knew what the sailor meant by this pantomime. "There isn't a traitor within the hearing of your voice. We are all true blue."
"One can't be too careful in times like these," replied Jack, turning around again and facing the crowd. "After I have been among you awhile, I shall know who my friends are. I did hear some talk of a heavy vessel that is to be added to the defensive force of the city, and which might some time go outside and scatter the blockading fleet, but I didn't go up to take a look at her. I couldn't spare the time. She'll need a crew when she is completed, and if I leave the settlement between two days—if I am here to-night and gone to-morrow morning—my friends needn't worry over me."
"We understand. You'll be on board an armed vessel fighting for your principles."
"You're right I will. Now, George," he added, turning to the clerk and slamming his saddle-bags upon the counter, "I want one of those pockets filled with plug tobacco, and the other stuffed with the gaudiest bandanas you've got in the store."
The clerk took the saddle-bags, and when they were passed back to their owner a few minutes later, they were so full that it was a matter of some difficulty to buckle the flaps. Then the boys said good-bye and left the store. They started off in a lope, but when they were a mile or so from the town and alone on the road, they drew their horses down to a walk, and Jack said:
"Do they take me for one of them or not?"
"They pretend to, but everybody is so sly and treacherous that you can't place reliance upon anything," answered his brother. "What you said about leaving home between two days was good. It will help me, for I can refer to it when you are gone. Now, Jack, you must put up that rebel flag the minute you get home. I told Allison about it, and if he should ride out some day and find the flag wasn't there, he would suspect that we are not just the sort of folks he has been led to believe."
"All right! And our next hard work must be to hide your money and paint that schooner of yours. We'll go about it openly and above board. We'll say she is scaling,—if she isn't she ought to be, for it is a long time since she saw a brush,—and that she needs another coat of paint to protect her from the weather."
This programme was duly carried out. Of course Mrs. Gray protested, mildly, when Jack brought down his rebel flag, and, after spreading it upon the floor so that his mother could have a good view of it, proceeded to hang it upon the sitting-room wall; but when the boys told her why they thought it best to place it there, she became silent and permitted them to do as they pleased. While they were putting the trophy in position, Jack found opportunity to whisper to his brother:
"Now, if any of our officious neighbors give the Confederate officers a hint that mother is keeping back money that she ought to turn into the treasury, and they come here to search the house, they'll take a look at this flag and go away without touching a thing. Mark what I tell you."
"But suppose the Yankees come here and take a look at it; then what?" whispered Marcy, in reply.
"Well, that will be a black horse of another color," said Jack. "They'll come here—don't you lose any sleep worrying about that; but when they come, you must see to it that this flag is out of sight. I'll say one thing for the rebels," he said aloud, turning his head on one side and gazing critically at his prize, "they've got good taste. I've seen the colors of all civilized nations, and that flag right there on the wall is the handsomest in the world, save one."
"But think of the principles it represents," exclaimed Mrs. Gray. "Disunion and slavery."
"Of course," replied Jack. "But when these fanatics have been soundly thrashed, there will be no such things as disunion and slavery. They will be buried out of sight. I was speaking of the rebel flag, which, next to our own, is the prettiest I ever saw. Their naval uniforms are handsome, too."
Of course it soon became known among the servants that there was a Confederate banner displayed upon the walls of the "great house," and those who came into the room turned the whites of their eyes at it and then looked at Marcy and Jack in utter astonishment. But the boys did not appear to notice them nor did they volunteer any explanation—not even when old Morris came in to satisfy himself that the astounding news he had heard was really true. The sight of the emblem, which he knew was upheld by men who were fighting for the sole purpose of keeping him and his race in bondage, struck him dumb, and he left the room as silently as he had entered it. In less than half an hour the news reached Hanson's ears, and that worthy, astonished and perplexed, waited impatiently for night to come so that he could ride into town and tell Colonel Shelby about it.
During the next three weeks Marcy Gray would have lived in a fever of suspense had it not been for the presence of courageous, happy-go-lucky sailor Jack. He could not for a moment forget the letters which, at Captain Beardsley's request, he had delivered to Colonel Shelby and the rest. Did they convey to those who received them the information that Beardsley no longer believed that there was money concealed in Mrs. Gray's house, or did they contain instructions concerning a new plot that was to be worked up against Marcy and his mother? The boys did not know, and never found out for certain what it was that the captain wrote in those letters. That night, after placing the captured Confederate flag upon the wall of the sitting-room, Jack turned the proceeds of the sale of his "venture" over to his mother, buried Marcy's prize money in one of the flower beds, and bright and early the next morning went to work to disguise the Fairy Belle so that "her own brother wouldn't know her." If the neighboring planters who visited them, and whom they visited in return, had any suspicion that the captured flag in the sitting-room did not express the political sentiments of the family, they said nothing to indicate it. Their life apparently was as quiet and peaceful as though such a thing as a slaveholders' rebellion had never been heard of; but one day it was broken up most unexpectedly, and young Allison was the first to tell them of it.
"Glorious victory of the Confederate arms," he shouted, jumping off the steps of the store in which the post-office was located, and running full tilt toward the place where Jack and Marcy were hitching their horses. "Didn't we always say the Northern people had no business alongside of us? The crowd in the post-office have cheered themselves hoarse, and you fellows ought to have been here to join in."
"Has there been another fight?" asked Jack. "Where did it take place and how much of a fight was it?"
"Well, you see," said Allison, "there hasn't exactly been any fight yet, but there's going to be if the cowardly Yankees will only give us a chance to get at them."
"Oh," said Jack, while an expression of disgust settled on his face. "Where is it going to come off and how do you happen to know so much about it?"
"Why, the authorities know all about it, and I suppose the papers got the information from them," replied Allison. "At any rate, there's a strong land and naval expedition being fitted out at Fortress Monroe, and it is coming down here to destroy forts Hatteras and Clark and block up Hatteras Inlet."
"And that expedition hasn't got here yet?"
"No. It's going to sail on Monday. We know all about it in spite of the efforts the Yankees have made to keep it secret."
"If the ships haven't even sailed yet, why do you raise such a row over a Confederate victory that is not won?" asked Jack.