FRANK ON THE LOWER MISSISSIPPI.
CHAPTER I.—THE NEW PAYMASTER
CHAPTER II.—A NIGHT EXPEDITION
CHAPTER III.—ARCHIE IN A PREDICAMENT
CHAPTER IV.—A MARK FOR THE UNION
CHAPTER V.—A RUN FOR LIFE
CHAPTER VI.—FRANK TURNS DETECTIVE
CHAPTER VII.—FRANK'S FIRST COMMAND
CHAPTER VIII.—AN UNLUCKY FLIGHT
CHAPTER IX.—UP THE WASHITA
CHAPTER X.—THE PROMOTION
CHAPTER XI.—THE RIVAL SPIES
CHAPTER XII.—A SCOUTING PARTY
CHAPTER XIII.—TOM THE COXSWAIN
CHAPTER XIV.—A REBEL TRICK
CHAPTER XV.—HONORABLY DISCHARGED
FRANK ON THE LOWER MISSISSIPPI.
The New Paymaster.
Vicksburg had fallen, and the army had marched in and taken possession of the city. How Frank longed to accompany it, that he might see the inside of the rebel stronghold, which had so long withstood the advance of our fleet and army! He stood leaning against one of the monster guns, which, at his bidding, had spoken so often and so effectively in favor of the Union, and for two hours watched the long lines of war-worn soldiers as they moved into the works. At length a tremendous cheer arose from the city, and Frank discovered a party of soldiers on the cupola of the court-house, from which, a few moments afterward, floated the Stars and Stripes. Then came faintly to his ears the words of a familiar song, which were caught up by the soldiers in the city, then by those who were still marching in, and "We'll rally round the flag, boys," was sung by an immense choir. The rebels in the streets gazed wonderingly at the men on the spire, and listened to the song, and the triumphant shouts of the conquering army, which proclaimed the beginning of the downfall of their confederacy.
To Frank, it was one of the proudest moments of his life—a sight he would not have missed to be able to float at the mast-head of his vessel the broad pennant of the admiral. All he had endured was forgotten; and when the Old Flag was unfurled in the air which had but a short time before floated the "stars and bars," he pulled off his cap and shouted at the top of his lungs.
Having thus given vent to his feelings of exultation, in obedience to orders, he commenced the removal of his battery on board the Trenton. It was two days' work to accomplish this, but Frank, who was impatient to see the inside of the fortifications worked with a will, and finally the battery was mounted in its old position. On the following day, the Trenton moved down the river, and came to anchor in front of Vicksburg. Shore liberty was granted, and Frank, in company with several of his brother officers, strolled about the city. On every side the houses bore the marks of Union shot and shell, and the streets were blocked with fortifications, showing that had the city been taken by storm, it was the intention of the rebels to dispute every inch of the ground. Every thing bore evidence to the fact that the fight had been a most desperate one; that the rebels had surrendered only when they found that it was impossible to hold out longer.
In some places the streets ran through deep cuts in the bank, and in these banks were the famous "gopher holes." They were [ca]ves dug in the ground, into which a person, if he happened to hear a shell coming, might run for safety. Outside the city, the fortifications were most extensive; rifle-pits ran in every direction, flanked by strong forts, whose battered walls attested the fury of the iron hail that had been poured upon them. It was night before Frank was aware of it, so interested was he in every thing about him, and he returned on board his vessel, weary with his long walk, but amply repaid by seeing the inside of what its rebel occupants had called "the Gibraltar of America."
During the next two days, several vessels of the squadron passed the city, on their way to new fields of action further down the river. One of them—the Boxer, a tin-clad, mounting eight guns—had Frank on board. He had been detached from the Trenton, and ordered to join this vessel, which had been assigned a station a short distance below Grand Gulf. As usual, he had no difficulty in becoming acquainted with his new messmates, and he soon felt perfectly at home among them. He found, as he had done in every other mess of which he had been a member, that there was the usual amount of wrangling and disputing, and it amused him exceedingly. All the mess seemed to be indignant at the caterer, who did not appear to stand very high in their estimation. The latter, he learned, had just made an "assessment" upon the mess to the amount of ten dollars for each member; and as there was no paymaster on board, the officers had but very little ready money, and were anxious to know where all the funds paid into the treasury went to. He also found that the caterer's authority was not as much respected as he had a right to claim, for during the very first meal Frank ate in the mess, a dispute arose which threatened for a time to end in the whole matter being carried before the captain.
One of the members of the mess, who was temporarily attached to the vessel, was a pilot who had been pressed into the service. He was a genuine rebel, and frequently said that he was called a traitor because he was in favor of allowing the South to "peaceably withdraw from the Union." The doctor, a little, fat, jolly man, and a thorough Unionist, who believed in handling all rebels without gloves, took up the sword, and the debate that followed was long and stormy. The pilot, as it proved, hardly knew the reasons why the South had attempted to secede, and was constantly clinching his arguments by saying, "Men who know more, and who have done more fighting during this war than you, Doctor Brown, say that they have a right to do so." The debate waxed hotter and hotter, until some of the other members of the mess joined in with the doctor against the pilot, and the caterer, thinking that the noise the disputants made was unbecoming the members of a well-regulated mess, at length shouted:
"Silence! Gentlemen, hereafter talking politics in this wardroom is strictly prohibited."
"Eh?" ejaculated the doctor, who was thoroughly aroused, "Do you expect us to sit here and listen to a conscript running down the Government—a man who never would have entered the service if he had not been compelled to do so? No, sir! I wouldn't hold my tongue under such circumstances if all the six-foot-four caterers in the squadron should say so. You are not a little admiral, to come down here and hoist your broad pennant in this mess-room."
The caterer was astounded when he found his authority thus set at defiance, and without further parley he retired to his room; and in a few moments returned with the books, papers, and the small amount of money that belonged to the mess; laying them on the table, he said:
"Gentlemen, you will please elect another caterer."
The debate was instantly hushed, for not one member of the mess, besides the caterer just resigned, could have been hired to take the responsibility of managing affairs. When the officers had finished their dinner, they walked carelessly out on deck, as if the question of where the next meal was to come from did not trouble them in the least. Nothing was done toward an election; no one took charge of the books or papers, and when the table was cleared away they were thrown unceremoniously under the water-cooler. The money, however, was taken care of by the doctor. Dinner-time came, and when Frank, tired and hungry, was relieved from the deck, he inquired what was to be had to eat.
"There's nothing been done about it yet," answered the officer who relieved him. "The steward went to several of the members of the mess, and asked what they wished served up; but they told him that they had nothing to do with the caterer's business, and the consequence is, if you want any thing to eat, you will have to go into the pantry and help yourself."
Frank was a good deal amused at the obstinacy displayed by the different members of the mess, and wondered how the affair would end. The mess could not long exist without some one to take charge of it; but for himself he was not at all concerned. He had paid no initiation fee, because no one had asked him for it, and he knew that as long as there were provisions in the paymaster's store-rooms, there was no danger but that he would get plenty to eat. He found three or four officers in the pantry making their dinner on hard-tack, pickles, and raw bacon. They were all grumbling over the hard fare, but not one of them appeared willing to assume the office of caterer.
Things went on in this way for nearly a week, (during which time they had arrived at their station,) and the doctor, who was fond of good living, could stand it no longer. He went to the caterer who had resigned, and, after considerable urging, and a solemn promise that politics should not again be discussed in the mess, the latter was persuaded to resume the management of affairs. The change from hard crackers and pickles to nice warm meals was a most agreeable one, and the jolly doctor, according to promise, was very careful what questions were brought up before the mess for discussion.
By this time, as we have before remarked, the Boxer had arrived at her station. Her crew thought they were now about to lead a life of idleness and inactivity, for not a rebel had they seen since leaving Vicksburg. But one morning, while the men were engaged in washing off the forecastle, they were startled by a roar of musketry, and three of the sailors fell dead upon the deck.
The fight that followed continued for two hours, the rebels finally retiring, not because they had been worsted, but for the reason that they had grown weary of the engagement. This was the commencement of a series of attacks which proved to be the source of great annoyance to the crew of the Boxer. The guerrillas would appear when least expected, and the levee afforded them a secure hiding-place from which they could not be driven, either with big guns or small arms. They were fatal marksmen, too; and during the week following, the Boxer's crew lost ten men. One rebel in particular attracted their attention, and his reckless courage excited their admiration. He rode a large white horse, and although rendered a prominent mark for the rifles of the sailors, he always escaped unhurt. He would ride boldly out in full view of the vessel, patiently wait for someone to expose himself, when the sharp crack of his rifle would be followed by the report made to the captain, "A man shot, sir."
Frank had selected this man as a worthy foe-man; and every time he appeared the young officer was on the watch for him. He was very expert with the rifle, and after a few shots, he succeeded in convincing the rebel that the safest place for him was behind the levee. One morning the foe appeared in stronger force than usual, and conspicuous among them was the white horse and his daring rider. The fight that ensued had continued for perhaps half an hour, when the quartermaster reported the dispatch-boat approaching. As soon as she came within range, the guerrillas directed their fire against her, to which the latter replied briskly from two guns mounted on her forecastle. The leader of the rebels was constantly in view, cheering on his men, and discharging his rifle as fast as he could reload. Frank fired several shots at him, and finding that, as usual, they were without effect, he asked the captain's permission to try a howitzer on him, which was granted. He ran below, trained the gun to his satisfaction, and waited for an opportunity to fire, during which the dispatch-boat came alongside and commenced putting off a supply of stores.
At length the rebel mounted the levee, and reigning in his horse, sat in his saddle gazing at the vessels, as if not at all concerned. He presented a fair mark, and Frank fired, but the shell went wild and burst in the woods, far beyond the rebel, who, however, beat a hasty retreat behind the levee.
"Oh, what a shot!" shouted a voice through the trumpet that led from the pilot-house to the main deck. "What a shot—altogether too much elevation."
"Who's that, I wonder?" soliloquized Frank. "It was a poor shot, but I'd like to see that fellow, whoever he is, do any better."
After giving orders to have the gun reloaded and secured, he ran into the wardroom to look after his mail, at the same time inquiring of every one he met, "Who was that making fun of my shooting?" But no one knew, nor cared to trouble himself about the matter, for the subject of conversation was, "We've got a new paymaster."
Frank was pleased to hear this, but was still determined to find the person who had laughed at his marksmanship, when he saw a pair of feet descending the ladder that led from the cabin to the pilot-house, and a moment afterward, a smart looking young officer, dressed in the uniform of a paymaster, stood in the wardroom, and upon discovering Frank, thrust out his hand and greeted him with—
"What a shot! Been in the service more than two years, and"—
"Why, Archie Winters, is this you?" exclaimed Frank, joyfully.
"Paymaster Winters, if you please" replied Archie, with mock dignity.
"How came you here? What are you doing? Got any money?" hurriedly inquired Frank.
"Got plenty of funds," replied his cousin. "But I say, Frank, how long has this fighting been going on?"
"Every day for the last week."
Archie shrugged his shoulders, and looked blank.
"I guess I had better go back to Cairo," said he; "these rebels, I hear, shoot very carelessly. Just before we came alongside here, I was standing on the deck of the dispatch-boat, and some fellow cracked away at me, sending the bullet altogether too close to my head for comfort."
"Oh, that's nothing, so long as he didn't hit you. You'll get used to that before you have been here a week. But, Archie, are you really ordered to this vessel?"
Archie at once produced his orders, and, sure enough, he was an acting assistant paymaster, and ordered to "report to the commanding officer of the U. S. S. Boxer for duty on board that vessel."
During the two years that Archie had been in the fleet-paymaster's office he had, by strict attention to his duties, worked his way up from "writer" to corresponding clerk. He had had ample opportunity to learn the duties of paymaster, and one day he suddenly took it into his head to make application for the position. He immediately wrote to his father, informing him of his intention, procured his letters of recommendation, and a month afterward received the appointment.
Hearing, through Frank, that the Boxer was without a paymaster, he succeeded in getting ordered to her, and, as he had not written to his cousin of his good fortune, the latter, as may be supposed, was taken completely by surprise.
Archie was speedily introduced to the officers of the vessel, who were pleased with his off-hand, easy manners, and delighted with the looks of a small safe which he had brought with him, for they knew, by the very particular orders he gave concerning it, that there was money in it.
At the end of an hour the rebels seemed to grow weary of the fight, for they drew off their forces; then, as soon as it was safe on deck, the cousins seated themselves on the guard, to "talk over old times." Frank gave descriptions of the fights in which he had engaged since they last met, and also related stories of mess-room life, with which Archie was entirely unacquainted; and to show him how things were conducted, told him of the jokes the officers frequently played upon each other.
"Speaking of jokes," said Archie, "reminds me of a little affair I had a hand in at Cairo.
"While the commandant of the station was absent on a leave, his place was supplied by a gentleman whom, for short, I will call Captain Smith. He was a regular officer, had grown gray in the service, and was one of the most eccentric men I ever saw. He was extremely nervous, too, and if a steamer happened to whistle while passing the wharf-boat, it would make him almost wild.
"One day, a man who lived off somewhere in the woods, came down to Cairo to get an appointment for his son as master's mate. Our office, you know, was just to the right of the door, and, if there was any thing that bothered me, it was for some body to stick his head over the railing when I was busy, and ask, 'Is the commandant of the station in?' There was an orderly on watch day and night, always ready to answer such questions, and besides, there was an abundance of notices on the walls pointing out the different offices; but in spite of this, every stranger that came in must stop and make inquiries of me.
"Well, this man came into the office, and as he had evidently never been there before, judging by the way he gaped at every thing, I told him that it was after office hours, and that he must call again the next morning about nine o'clock. He took a turn or two across the floor (by-the-way, he wore squeaking boots, that made a noise like a steam-whistle), and finally went out.
"The next evening, just as I was locking up my desk, he came in again, and I repeated what I had told him the night before, that he must come at nine o'clock in the morning—not at night—if he wished to see the captain, and he went out, after making noise enough with his squeaking boots to set a nervous man's teeth on edge. Now, would you believe it, that evening, after I had finished my work, and was starting out for supper, I saw this man coming up the stairs. He met me with the usual question, 'Is the captain in?' and I suddenly hit upon a plan to get rid of him, for I had made up my mind that the man didn't know what he was about; so I replied:
"'What do you want? Why don't you come here during our office hours, if you want to see me?'
"I spoke in a gruff voice, and I was so bundled up—for the night was very cold—that I knew he wouldn't recognize me.
"'I've been busy all day, cap'in,' said he; 'but the fact is'—
"I was afraid that I would be obliged to stand there in the cold and listen to a long, uninteresting yarn, so I interrupted him.
"'Speak quick, and don't keep me waiting.'
"'Wal, cap'in,' said he, 'I heerd you are in want of officers, an' I come to get a place for my son; I hear the wages are purty good.'
"'Yes,' I replied, 'we do want officers; but does your son know anything about a ship?'
"'Oh, yes? He's run the river as deck-hand for goin' nigh on to three year.'
"'Then he ought to know something, certainly. Come around tomorrow morning, at nine o'clock exactly, and I'll see what can be done for you. Now, mind, I say nine o'clock in the morning.'
"Well, the next morning, at the appointed time, to my utter astonishment, the man was on hand, and, as usual, commenced walking up and down the floor with his squeaking boots. The noise disturbed everyone within hearing, and presently the captain, who was in his office, and so busy that he hardly knew what he was about, spoke in a sharp tone:
"'Orderly, pull off those squeaking boots!'
"'It isn't me, sir.' said the orderly; 'it's a gentleman out here waiting to see you, sir.'
"'Then send him in—send him in at once, so that I can get rid of that noise.'
"The man was accordingly shown into the presence of the captain, while I listened with both ears to hear what was said.
"'Mornin', cap'in,' he began; 'I reckon I'm here on time.'
"'Time! what time? What do you want?' inquired the captain, who always spoke very fast, as though he were in a hurry to get through with what he had to say. 'What do you want, my good man. Be lively now.'
"'Why, cap'in, I come here to get that appointment for my son in this ere navy.'
"'Appointment! For your son!' repeated the captain. 'Who is he? I never heard of him.'
"'Wal, really now, cap'in, I'll be shot if you didn't tell me last night that you would make my son an officer. The wages are good, I hear, an' as I've a debt to pay off on the farm'—
"'Don't bother me!' interrupted the captain, beginning to get impatient.
"'But, cap'in,' urged the man, 'you can't bluff me off this 'ere way. You told me last night that you wanted officers; you know I met you on the stairs, and you promised, honor bright.'
"'Eh!' ejaculated the captain, in surprise,'my good man, allow me to know what I'm about, will you? Will you allow me to know myself? Orderly,' he continued, turning to that individual, who had stood by, convulsed with laughter, which he was vainly endeavoring to conceal, 'orderly, do you think this man is in his right mind?'
"The orderly said he didn't know; but, taking the man by the arm, showed him out of the office, telling him to come again, when the captain was not quite so busy.
"The conversation had been carried on in a loud tone, and all the occupants of the different offices had heard it, and were highly amused, for they knew that somebody had been playing a joke on the countryman; but it was a long time before I told anyone of the share I had had in the affair."
A Night Expedition.
"The captain wishes to see you, gentlemen!" said the orderly, stepping up and saluting.
The cousins repaired to the cabin, and after Archie had been introduced to the captain (for being utterly ignorant of the manner in which things were conducted on shipboard, he had not yet reported his arrival), his orders were indorsed, and the captain, turning to his desk, ran his eye hastily over an official document, and said:
"Mr. Nelson, I have received instructions from the admiral to make you the executive officer of this vessel. Mr. Kearney's resignation has been accepted, and you will take his place. I am certain, from what I know and have heard of your past history, that I shall have no cause to regret the change."
After a few moments' conversation with the captain upon unimportant matters, the cousins returned to the wardroom.
Frank's constant attention to his duties had again been rewarded, and he was now the second in authority on board the vessel. All orders from the captain must pass through him, and in the absence of that gentleman he became commander. To say that Frank was delighted would but feebly express his feelings; he was proud of the honor, and determined that he would prove himself worthy of it. In fact, he had now reached the height of his ambition, although he had little dreamed that it would come so soon. He asked nothing more. He had worked hard and faithfully ever since he had entered the service, but in receiving the appointment of executive officer he felt amply rewarded.
He was young in years for so responsible a position, but he had no fears of his ability to perform all the duties required of him, for the routine of ship life had become as familiar to him as was the road from Lawrence to his quiet little home on the banks of Glen's Creek. But his promotion did not affect him as it does a great many who suddenly find themselves possessed of power. He did not "stand upon his rank," nor in his intercourse with his messmates endeavor to keep constantly before their minds the fact that he was the second in command. Those who have been in the service—especially in the navy—will recall to mind incidents of this character; but our hero never forgot the respect he owed to his superiors, and his conduct toward those under him was marked by the same kindness he had always shown them.
Frank knew that he had something of a task before him. Although he could now turn into his bunk at night without being called upon to stand his regular watch, he had more difficult duties to perform. He was responsible for the manner in which affairs were conducted about decks, for the neat appearance of the vessel and of the men; and as the former executive officer had been rather careless in this respect, Frank knew that his first move must be made in that direction.
For the next two days, as the rebels did not trouble them, Frank worked early and late, and the results of his labor were soon made apparent. Every one remarked the improved appearance of the men, who, at the Sunday morning muster, appeared on deck in spotless uniforms and well-blacked shoes. After the roll had been called, and the captain, in company with Frank, proceeded to inspect the vessel, the young officer knew that his improvements had been appreciated when the former, who was an old sailor, said, with a smile of satisfaction:
"Mr. Nelson, this begins to look something like a ship, sir. This really looks like business. The admiral may come here now and inspect the vessel as soon as he pleases."
The next morning, as Frank sat at the table in the wardroom, engaged in answering the letters he had received by the dispatch-boat, and Archie was in his office straightening out his books and papers, a bullet came suddenly crashing through the cabin—a signal that the rebels had again made their appearance. Frank, who had become accustomed to such interruptions, deliberately wiped his pen, corked his ink-stand, and was carefully putting away his letters, when there was a hurrying of feet in the office; the door flew open, and Archie, divested of his coat, bounded into the cabin, exclaiming:
"A fellow can't tell when he's safe in this country. I wish I was back in the fleet-paymaster's office. I wouldn't mind a good fair fight, but this thing of being shot at when you least expect it isn't pleasant."
As Archie spoke, he hurriedly seized a gun from the rack, which had been put up in the cabin in order to have weapons close at hand, and sprang up the ladder that led into the pilothouse. Frank, although he laughed heartily at his cousin's rapid movements, was a good deal surprised, for he had always believed him to be possessed of a good share of courage. It would, however, have tried stronger nerves than Archie's; but men who had become familiar with such scenes, who had learned to regard them merely as something disagreeable which could not be avoided, could not sympathize with one in his situation, and many a wink was exchanged, and many a laugh indulged in, at the expense of the "green paymaster."
When Frank had put away his writing materials, he ran below to see that the ports were all closed; after which he returned to the wardroom, and, securing a rifle, went into the pilot-house, where he found Archie engaged in reloading his gun, while the officers were complimenting him on a fine shot he had just made.
"Mr. Nelson," exclaimed the doctor, as Frank made his appearance, "I guess your white horseman is done for now. The paymaster lifted him out of his saddle as clean as a whistle."
Frank looked out at one of the ports, and, sure enough, there was the white horse running riderless about, and his wounded master was being carried behind the levee. The officers continued to fire as often as a rebel showed himself, but the latter seemed to have lost all desire for fighting, for they retreated to the plantation-house which stood back from the river, out of range of the rifles, where they gathered in a body as if in consultation, now and then setting up defiant yells, which came faintly to the ears of those in the pilot-house.
"They are saucy enough now that they are out of harm's way," said Archie, turning to his cousin. But the latter made no reply. He stood leaning on his rifle, gazing at the guerrillas, as if busily engaged with his own thoughts, and finally left the pilot-house and sought an interview with the captain.
"I have been thinking, sir," said he, as he entered the cabin and took the chair offered him, "that if that house out there had been burned long ago, we should not have had ten men killed by those guerrillas. They seem to use that building as their head-quarters, and if it could be destroyed they would cease to trouble us."
"That's my opinion," replied the captain. "But who is to undertake the job? Who's to go out there, in the face of three or four hundred rebels, and do it? I can't, with a crew of only fifty men."
"I didn't suppose it could be done openly, sir; but couldn't it be accomplished by stratagem in the night, for instance?"
The captain shook his head; but Frank, who was not yet discouraged, continued:
"I have not made this proposition, captain, without thinking it all over—without taking into consideration all the chances for and against it—and I still think it could be accomplished."
"Well, how would you go to work?" asked the captain, settling back in his chair with the air of a man who had made his decision, from which he was not to be turned.
Frank then proceeded to recount the plans he had laid for the accomplishment of his object, to which the captain listened attentively, and when Frank had ceased, he rose to his feet and paced the cabin. He knew that the young officer had before engaged in expeditions similar to the one he now proposed, when, in carrying out his designs, he had exhibited the skill and judgment of a veteran. In the present instance, his plans were so well laid, that there appeared to be but little chance for failure. After a few moments' consideration, the captain again seated himself, and said:
"Well, Mr. Nelson, it shall be as you propose. If you succeed, I am certain that this guerrilla station will be broken up; if you fail, it will only be what many a good officer has done before you."
"I assure you, sir, I shall leave no plan untried to insure my success," replied Frank, as he left the cabin.
"What's the matter now?" inquired Archie, as his cousin entered the wardroom. "Been getting a blowing up already?"
"Oh, no!" replied Frank. "Come in here, and I'll tell you all about it;" and he drew Archie into the office, where he proceeded to tell him all that had been determined upon. When he had finished, the latter exclaimed:
"I want to go with you. Will you take me?"
Frank thought of Archie's behavior but a few moments before, and wondered what use he could posssibly be in an expedition like the one proposed.
"If you do go," he answered, at length, "you'll be sorry for it. It requires those who are accustomed to such business; and you have never been in an action in your life. The undertaking is dangerous."
"I don't care if it is," answered Archie. "That's just the reason why I want to go—to be with you; and I warrant you I'll stick to you as long as any body."
"Besides," began Frank, "if any thing should happen to you"—
"I'm just as likely to get back as you are," replied Archie, excitedly, "and I want to go."
After considerable urging, Frank finally asked and obtained permission for Archie to accompany the expedition, at which the latter was overjoyed. He was very far from realizing the danger there was in the undertaking, and had as little idea of what would be required of him as he had of the moon.
The cousins passed the afternoon in the pilothouse, watching the movements of the guerrillas through spy-glasses, studying the "lay of the land," the directions in which the different roads ran—in short, nothing was omitted which they thought might be useful for them to know. Just before night a storm set in; the wind blew, and the rain fell in torrents; and, although Frank regarded it as something in their favor, under any other circumstances he would have preferred tumbling into bed to venturing out in it. The hammocks were not piped as usual, but all hands were to remain on deck during the night, to be ready to lend assistance in case it was required. At ten o'clock the cutter lay alongside the vessel, the crew were in their places, and Frank and his cousin, surrounded by the officers who had assembled to see them off, stood on the guards ready to start.
"Paymaster," said Frank, turning to his cousin, "hadn't you better remain on board?" (He addressed him as paymaster, for, of course, it would have been contrary to naval rules to call him by his given name in the presence of the captain.)
"No, sir," answered Archie, quickly buttoning up his pea-jacket with a resolute air. "Do you suppose I'm going to back out now? If you do, you are mistaken. I'm not afraid of a little rain."
Frank made no reply, but, after shaking hands with the captain and officers, followed his cousin into the cutter, which floated off into the darkness amid the whispered wishes for "good luck" from all the ship's company who had witnessed its departure. Frank took the helm, and turned the boat down the river. Not an oar was used, for the young officer did not know but the rebels had posted sentries along the bank, whom the least splashing in the water would alarm. Archie sat beside his cousin, with his collar pulled up over his ears, and his hands thrust into the pockets of his pea-jacket, heartily wishing that Frank had chosen a pleasanter night for their expedition. For half an hour they floated along with the current in silence, until Frank, satisfied that he had gone far enough down the river to get below the sentries, if any were posted on the bank, gave the order to use the oars, and turned the cutter's head toward the shore, which they reached in a few moments.
The crew quietly disembarked, and as the sailors gathered about him, Frank said,
"Now, men, I'm going to leave you here until the paymaster and myself can go up to the house, and accomplish what we have come for. Tom," he added, turning to the coxswain of the cutter, "you will have charge of the boat, and remember you are in no case to leave her. We may be discovered, and get into a fight. If we do, and are cut off from the river and unable to get back, I'll whistle, and you will at once answer me, so that I may know that you hear me, and pull off to the vessel. We'll take care of ourselves. Do you understand?"
The crew of the cutter were old sailors—men who had followed the sea through storm and sunshine all their lives. They had been in more than one action, too, during the rebellion, and had gladly volunteered for the expedition, supposing that they were to accompany Frank wherever he went. During the short time the latter had been on board the Boxer, they had become very much attached to him. Although he was a very strict officer, and always expected every man to do his duty promptly, he always treated them with the greatest kindness, and never spoke harshly to them. This was so different from the treatment they had usually received at the hands of their officers, that it won their hearts; and, although they admired his courage, they would have felt much better pleased had they received orders to accompany him.
"Don't you understand, Tom?" again asked Frank, seeing that the coxswain hesitated.
"Oh, yes, sir," replied the sailor, touching his hat; "I understand, sir. But, Mr. Nelson, may I be so bold as to ask one question—one favor, I may say?"
"Certainly; speak it out," answered Frank, who little imagined what thoughts were passing through the minds of his men. "What is it? Do you wish to go back to the ship, and leave us here alone?"
"No, sir," answered all the men in a breath.
"Mr. Nelson," said the coxswain, "I never yet refused duty because there was danger in it, and I'm too old a man to begin now. You have here, sir, twelve as good men as ever trod a ship's deck, and you know, sir, that when you passed the word for volunteers for this expedition, you didn't have to call twice. But we all thought that we should go with you to the end; and, to tell the truth, sir, we don't like the idea of you and the paymaster going off alone among them rebels. You are sure to get into trouble, and we want to go with you."
On more than one occasion had Frank been made aware of the affection his men cherished for him, and he felt as proud of it as he did of the uniform he wore; but he had never been more affected than he was on the present occasion.
"Men," he answered, in a voice that was none of the steadiest, "I assure you I appreciate the interest you take in my welfare, and were I going to fight, I should certainly take you with me; but sometimes two can accomplish more than a dozen. Besides, I promised the captain that I would leave you here, and I must do so. Now, remember and pull off to the vessel if you hear me whistle."
"Yes, sir," replied the coxswain; "but it'll be the first time I ever deserted an officer in trouble."
The sailors were evidently far from being pleased with this arrangement, but they were allowed no opportunity to oppose it, even had they felt inclined to do so, for Frank and his cousin speedily disappeared in the darkness.
Archie in a Predicament.
As soon as the young officers had reached the top of the bank, they paused to take their bearings, and to select some landmark that would enable them to easily find the boat again. Away off in the darkness they saw the twinkling of a light, which they knew was in the house which the guerrillas were using as their head-quarters.
"Now, Archie," said Frank, "take a good look at this big tree here" (pointing to the object in question) "so that you will know it again. The boat lies in the river exactly in a line with that tree. Now, if you should be separated from me and discovered, make straight for the cutter. But if you are cut off from it, run up the river until you get a little above where the vessel lies, and then jump in and swim out to her. Do you understand?"
"Yes," replied Archie.
"Be careful of your weapons," continued his cousin, "and keep them dry and ready for instant use. Don't be captured—whatever you do, don't be captured!"
"I'll look out for that," answered Archie "But, Frank," he continued, "why did you tell the men to pull back to the vessel if we should be cut off from the river? I should think that would be just the time you would want them to remain."
"Why," replied Frank, "the very first thing the rebels would think of, if we were discovered, would be to capture our boat, and while part of them were after us, the others would run to the river and gobble up boat, crew, and all. Then they would know that we were still on shore, and would scour the country to find us. But if the boat goes off to the vessel, the rebels will be more than half inclined to believe that we have gone off too, and, consequently, will not take the pains to hunt us which they would do if they knew we were still on shore. But let us be moving; we've no time to waste."
Frank started toward the house, carefully picking his way over the wet, slippery ground, now and then pausing to listen, and to reconnoiter as well as the darkness would permit, and finally stopped scarcely a stone's throw from the building. Not a guerrilla had they seen. Not dreaming that the "yankee gun-boatmen" would have the audacity to attack them when they knew the rebels were so far superior in numbers, the latter had neglected to post sentries, and Frank was satisfied that their approach had not been discovered.
"Now, Archie," said he, as they drew up behind a tree for concealment, "you stay here, and I'll see if I can set fire to that house."
"There are people in it," said his cousin; "I just saw a man pass by that window where the light is."
"Then they must look out for themselves," answered Frank. "That's what we have to do when they shoot into our cabin. Now, you stay here, and if you hear any shooting, run for the boat."
"What will you do?" asked Archie.
"Oh, I'll take care of myself. Good-bye."
As Frank spoke he moved silently toward the house, and was soon out of sight.
"Now," soliloquized Archie, "I am to stay here, am I? That's what I was ordered to do, but I don't know whether I'll obey or not. It is evident Frank left me here to keep me out of harm's way. Perhaps he thinks that because I have never smelt powder, I am a coward; but I'll show him that I am not."
So saying, Archie stepped out from behind his tree, and walked slowly toward the house. When he arrived opposite the window from which the light shone, he stopped and looked in. He did not, however, go up close to the window, or he certainly would have been seen; but he remained standing at a respectful distance, so that he would have some chance for escape, in case he should be discovered.
The sight that met his gaze would have been sufficient to deter most men from attempting to burn the house. The room was filled with men, some of whom were lying on the floor on their blankets, others sitting around the table, and one or two were walking about the apartment. In the corner stood their arms, ready to be seized at a moment's warning. And this was but one of the rooms; perhaps the whole house was filled with guerrillas.
"My eye!" said Archie to himself, "what a hornet's nest would be raised about our ears, if we should be discovered."
His heart beat faster than usual, as he moved back from the window, and walked silently around to the other side of the house. Here also was a window, from which a light shone, and as, like the other, it was destitute of a curtain, every thing that went on within could be plainly seen by Archie, who took his station behind some bushes that stood at a little distance from the house. The room had three occupants, whom Archie at once set down as officers. One of them carried his arm in a sling. He was a tall, powerful-looking man, and Archie recognized in him the daring rider of the white horse—the chief of the guerrillas.
"I wonder what the old chap would say if he knew I was about," thought Archie—"I, who gave him that wound. I'd be booked for Shreveport, certain."
He was interrupted in his meditations by the movements of the officers, who arose and approached the door, bringing their chairs with them. The storm had ceased, and as there was no longer any necessity of remaining in the house, the rebels were, no doubt, moving to cooler quarters. Archie at once thought of retreating; but the thought had scarcely passed through his mind, when the door opened, the rebels walked out on the portico, and seating themselves in their chairs, deposited their feet on the railing; while the young officer stretched himself out behind the bush, heartily wishing that he could sink into the ground out of sight.
"A very warm evening, colonel," said one of the rebels, fanning himself with his hat.
"Very," answered the guerrilla chief, gently moving his wounded arm, little dreaming that the one who gave him that wound was at that very moment lying behind the bushes into which he had just thrown the stump of his cigar. "It's very warm. I wish I had that rascally Yank that shot me," he added, "this wound is very painful."
Archie upon hearing this was almost afraid that the beating of his heart, which thumped against his ribs with a noise that frightened him, would certainly reveal to the rebels the fact that the "rascally Yank" was then in their immediate vicinity.
"But, if our plans work," continued the colonel, "in less than a week from this time they will all be on the way to Shreveport."
"May I ask, colonel," said the one who had not yet spoken, "how soon those boats will be ready?"
"Major Jackson reports that they will be finished by to-morrow night, and it will take all of one day to run them down the creek to the river."
"Then by Thursday evening," said the one who had first spoken, "we may be ready to make the attempt."
"Yes, if the night is favorable."
"But, colonel, all these gun-boats are supplied with hot water, and that, you know, is the worst kind of an enemy to fight. Men will run from that who wouldn't flinch before cold steel."
"Oh, we must take the Yanks by surprise, of course. The boats will hold fifty men each, and we must drop down the river so that we will land one on each side of the vessel. If the night is dark—and we shall not make the attempt unless it is—we can get within pistol-shot of her before we are discovered, and by the time their men get fairly out of bed she's ours. Hark! what noise was that?"
The rebels listened for a moment, and one of them replied:
"I didn't hear any thing."
"Well, I did," returned the colonel, "and it sounded very much like some one shouting for help. I'm certain I heard it."
Archie, who lay in his concealment, trembling like a leaf, was also confident that he had heard something that sounded like a call for assistance. What if it was Frank in danger, and shouting to the cutter's crew for help? The thought to Archie was a terrible one, and he forgot the dangers of his own situation, and thought only of his cousin. But if Frank was in trouble, why did he not give the signal to the cutter's crew? Archie waited and listened for it, but did not hear it given.
While these thoughts were passing through his mind, the rebels sat on the portico listening, and at length the colonel said:
"I know I hear something now, but it is the tramping of a horse. I suppose it is Tibbs, coming with the mail."
The colonel's surmise proved to be correct, for in a few moments a man rode up, and dismounting so close to Archie that the latter could have touched him, tied his horse to the very bush which formed his concealment; then, throwing a pair of well-filled saddle-bags across his shoulder, he ran up the steps, saying:
"Good evening, gentlemen. What! colonel, are you wounded?" he added, on seeing the rebel's bandaged arm.
"Yes; this makes four times I have been shot while in the service. But how is the mail?"
"Rather heavy," answered the man. "If you have any letters to go, you will have to furnish another bag—these are full."
"All right," said the colonel; then raising his voice, he called out, "Bob! Bob! Where is that black rascal?"
"Heyar, sar," answered a voice, and presently a negro came around the corner of the house, and removing his tattered hat, stood waiting for orders.
"Bob," said the colonel, "tell Stiles that the mail is all ready to go across the river."
Stiles! How Frank would have started could he have heard that name! He would have known then, had he not before been aware of the fact, that he was again among Colonel Harrison's Louisiana Wild-cats.
The negro, in obedience to his orders, disappeared, but soon returned, with the intelligence that Stiles was not to be found.
"Not to be found," echoed the colonel; "that's twice he has failed me. But this mail must not be delayed. Tell Damon I want to see him."
The negro again disappeared, and in a few moments came back with a soldier, to whom the colonel said:
"Damon, here's a mail that must go across the river to-night. Can you pull an oar?"
"Yas," replied the man.
"Then get some one to go with you, and start at once. The skiff, you know, is in the creek, just above where that Yankee gun-boat lies."
"Yas," answered the man again, as he took the mail-bags which the colonel handed him.
"This one," continued the rebel, pointing to a small canvas bag which one of his officers had just brought out of the house—"this one contains my mail—all official documents, to go to Richmond. Be careful of it. Don't let the Yankees get hold of you."
"No," replied the soldier, as he shouldered the mail and disappeared.
The conversation that followed, of which Archie heard every word, served to convince him that, although the rebels kept up a bold front, and appeared sanguine of success in their attempts to destroy the Government, yet among themselves they acknowledged their cause to be utterly hopeless unless some bold stroke could be made to "dishearten the Yankees."
In spite of Archie's dangerous situation, which had tried his nerves severely, he listened to every word that was uttered, and even became interested in what the rebels were saying. Now and then he was called to a sense of his situation by the movements of the horse, which, being restive, came very near stepping on him as he pranced about.
Damon had been gone about half an hour, and the colonel had just commenced explaining to the man who had brought the mail the manner in which the capture of the Boxer was to be effected, when suddenly the report of a pistol startled every one on the portico. A moment afterward came another, which was followed by a yell of agony.
"What's that?" exclaimed the colonel, springing from his chair in alarm. "Are we attacked? Get out there, every mother's son of you!" he continued, as the men, having been aroused by the noise, came pouring out of the rooms in which they were quartered. "Every man able to draw a saber get out there! Run for the river! That's where the reports sounded, and if there are any boats there capture them. That will keep the Yankees on shore, and we can hunt them up at our leisure!"
The men ran out of the house and started for the river at the top of their speed, at the same time yelling with all the strength of their lungs, while the colonel and his officers ran into their room, and hastily seizing such weapons as came first to their hands, followed after. To describe Archie's feelings, as he lay there behind that bush and listened to the sounds of pursuit, were impossible. The noise the rebels made seemed to bewilder him completely, for he lay on the ground several moments, it seemed to him, without the power to move hand or foot.
Suddenly the thought struck him that now was the time to accomplish the object of the expedition. The house was deserted, and the yells, which grew fainter and fainter, told him that the rebels were getting further away. Yes, it was now or never. In an instant, Archie's courage and power of action returned. Springing to his feet, he ran to the end of the portico, on which were piled several bales of hay and bundles of fodder, which the rebels no doubt intended for their horses. But Archie determined that they should be put to a different use, for he quickly drew from his pocket two large bottles filled with coal oil, which he threw over the hay. He then applied a match, and in an instant it was in a blaze. He waited a moment to see it fairly started, and then sprang off the portico. As he passed the door, he heard an ejaculation of surprise, followed by the report of a pistol, and the noise of a bullet as it whizzed past his head. It frightened him, and at the same time acted upon him as the crack of a whip does upon a spirited horse; for when the rebel who fired the shot had reached the portico, Archie had disappeared in the darkness.
A Mark for the Union.
Let us now return to Frank, whom we left setting out for the house, after having given Archie emphatic instructions to remain behind the tree until his return. He did not feel at all at his ease after he had left his cousin, for he might have stationed him in the most dangerous place that could have been found; and what if Archie should be discovered and captured? He was well enough acquainted with his cousin's disposition to know that he would not surrender without a fight; but what could he do when opposed by a regiment of veteran rebels? Frank thought not of his own peril, for that was something he had fully expected to encounter before he started. This was not the first time he had voluntarily placed himself in danger; but with Archie the case was different; and Frank was several times on the point of returning to his cousin and making use of his authority, as commander of the expedition, to send him back to the boat. By the time these thoughts had passed through his mind, he had reached a log-cabin which stood at a little distance from the house; and as he halted behind it, to shelter himself from the storm, still debating upon the course he ought to pursue in regard to Archie, some one inside the cabin commenced singing—
"I'll lay ten dollars down And chuck 'em up one by one!"
If there was any more of the song, the rebel evidently did not know it, for he kept singing these two lines over and over, now and then varying the monotony of the performance by whistling. Frank stood for some moments listening to him, and finally began moving cautiously around the cabin, to find some opening through which he could look and see what was going on inside. He presently discovered a hole between the logs, and, upon looking in, saw a man seated on the floor before a fire-place, in which burned some pine knots, engaged in whittling out an oar with his bowie-knife. On the floor near him lay one evidently just finished. At the opposite side of the room stood a bag, from the mouth of which peeped several letters.
A thought struck Frank—which would be of the most benefit, to burn the house or to capture the mail, which might contain information of the greatest importance? Undoubtedly the latter would be of the most consequence. Then he debated long and earnestly upon the chances of escaping with the mail, should he attempt its capture. The man who had charge of it was a most powerful-looking fellow, who knowing the importance of his trust, and the certainty of receiving prompt and effective assistance from his comrades, would, no doubt, fight most desperately, unless he could be taken at disadvantage and secured before he had time to think of resistance. Besides, the cabin was scarcely fifty feet distant from the house, which Frank knew was filled with men, for he could hear them walking about the rooms and talking to each other. The least unusual noise would certainly alarm them, in which case escape would be entirely out of the question Frank, we say, thought over all these things, and finally coming to the conclusion that it would be worse than useless to attempt the capture of the mail, turned his attention to the house. How was he to set fire to it?
Frank, we know, was not wanting in courage, but he had learned, by experience, that there are times when "discretion is the better part of valor." When he proposed the expedition, he had not expected to find the entire regiment quartered in the house. He had supposed that the men would find sleeping-rooms in the negro quarters, which were nearly a half mile back, while the house would be reserved for the officers. But the rebels surely would not remain up all night, and when they had all gone to bed would be the time to execute his purpose. He would not abandon his project until he had given it a trial, or fully satisfied himself that the undertaking was utterly impracticable. For the present, he would remain where he was; something might "turn up" which would be to his advantage.
At this moment a man entered the cabin, the door of which stood open, and inquired:
"Going over to-night, Stiles?"
Frank was thunderstruck, and he now saw the necessity of attempting nothing unless it promised complete success. As the reader has already learned, he was among his old enemies, the Wildcats. Upon making this discovery he was both astonished and alarmed—astonished, for it seemed to him that he could scarcely make a move in any direction without being confronted by the redoubtable Wild-cats. This was the second time he had found himself among them before he was aware of it. He was alarmed, because he knew, by experience, the treatment he would receive if he should fall into their hands without the prospect of an immediate exchange.
But his attention was again drawn to the men in the cabin.
"Yes," replied Stiles, in answer to his companion's question, "I'm going over to-night—allers makin' due 'lowance for bein' ketched by the Yanks."
"Here's some mail, then," continued the man, thrusting several letters into the bag. "How soon do you start?"
"Jest as soon as Tibbs comes with the up-country mail, an' I get the kernel's letters. Was you takin' a chaw of tobaker, Bob?"
"No, I wasn't," replied the other, quickly thrusting his hand into his pocket, as if to protect the precious article. "Tobacco is scarce."
"Now, Bob," said Stiles, "I know you've got some. Me an' you's allers been good friends."
The rebel could not withstand this appeal, although he produced his "plug" very reluctantly, and as he handed it to his companion, said:
"Stiles, you're a dead beat. Go easy on that, now, if you please, because it's all there is in the regiment."
The rebel cut off a huge piece of the weed, and, thrusting it into his cheek, went on with his work, while Bob returned to his quarters. He had scarcely quitted the cabin before Frank had all his plans laid. He would go back after Archie, and together they would lie in wait on the bank of the river, and, if possible, capture that mail. With this determination, he was moving slowly away from the cabin, when a door, which he had not before noticed, suddenly opened, and Stiles came out, and turning the corner, stood face to face with Frank, and scarcely an arm's length from him. With the latter, retreat without discovery was, of course, impossible. There was but one course he could pursue, and that presented but a small chance for success. He was, however, allowed no time for deliberation, for the rebel, quickly recovering from his surprise, turned to run; but with one bound Frank overtook him, and throwing him to the ground, caught him by the throat, stifling a cry for help that arose to his lips. This it was that had alarmed the colonel and Archie; and had the former investigated the matter, Frank would again have been a prisoner in the hands of the Wild-cats.
Stiles struggled desperately to free himself from the strong grasp that held him, until Frank pulled one of his revolvers from the pocket of his pea-jacket and presented it at his head.
"Do you surrender?" he asked, releasing his hold of the rebel's throat.
"Yes," replied Stiles, faintly. "Don't shoot, Yank!"
"You shall not be harmed if you behave yourself. Have you any weapons?"
"No! They are all in the shanty!"
Frank, after searching the rebel's pockets and satisfying himself of the truth of this statement, continued:
"Get up! Now, I know you have friends all around you, but if you have the least desire to live, you'll not make any noise; although you may alarm the camp, it will not save you. Do you understand?"
"Have I got a pair of ears?" asked the rebel.
"Well, if you have, you hear what I say," returned Frank. "Now go this way," he added, pointing toward the river.
The rebel, who had a wholesome fear of the revolver which Frank held in his hand, ready cocked, obeyed, without the slightest hesitation, and they reached the bank of the river, where the cutter lay, without being discovered.
"Now," said Frank, "I want to ask you a few questions. Where do you keep the boat in which you were going to carry that mail?"
"In the creek, jest above where that ar' gunboat lies, replied Stiles."
"How many of you were to go?"
"Two—me an' another feller."
"Well, now, the colonel won't find you when he wants you. What will he do?"
"Oh, he'll send some body else. The mail must go, an' it makes no odds who takes it, so long as he don't get ketched."
"That's all I want to know," said Frank. Then, going to the top of the bank, he called out:
"Tom, come up here!"
The coxswain soon made his appearance, and Frank said:
"Now, Stiles, you're a prisoner."
"Dog gone ef I keer," he replied, "so long as I get plenty of grub an' tobaker."
The rebel was marched down the bank, and Frank again bent his steps toward the house, intending to find his cousin, and, with his assistance, to capture the mail. When he arrived at the tree where he had left Archie, the latter was not to be seen. This, however, did not give him any uneasiness, for Archie, he thought, had doubtless gone back to the cutter. Frank had already made up his mind to go back after him, when he saw a man walk up to the cabin in which he had first discovered the man who was now his prisoner, and heard him call out:
"Massa Stiles! de mail all ready, sar!"
Receiving no answer, the negro walked into the cabin, but finding it vacant, went out to make the report to the colonel that Stiles was not to be found. From this Frank knew that he had no time to lose. Stiles had told him that some one else would be sent with the mail, and as it was all ready, a man would soon be found to take his place. If he went back after Archie, he might be too late. He must attempt it alone, and unaided. Walking out from behind the tree, he started toward the creek, where lay the boat in which the mail was to be carried.
The creek he found without difficulty; but the boat was evidently hidden away, for he searched up and down the bank for it without success. If he found it, it was his intention to cut it loose, and allow it to drift out into the river, thus depriving the rebels of the means of carrying their mail. But failing in this, he ran up the bank, and awaited the coming of the rebels. It was a hazardous undertaking to attempt the capture of two men, both of whom were, no doubt, well armed; but Frank had great confidence in the looks of his revolvers, and hoped to accomplish his object without alarming the rebels in the house.
He had waited perhaps a quarter of an hour, when he heard footsteps approaching, and presently he discovered the two men for whom he had been watching. One carried the mail-bags, and the other a pair of oars, the same, no doubt, which Stiles had but a short time before completed. Frank waited until they were almost upon him, and then sprang up with a revolver in each hand, which he pointed straight at the heads of the men, exclaiming:
"You're my prisoners. Don't make any resistance."
The rebels were astonished, and the man who carried the mail-bags threw them down and held his arms above his head, in token of surrender. But the other, after regarding the officer for a moment, as if to make sure that it was a human being with whom he had to deal, dropped his oars, and before his captor was aware of his intention, drew a pistol and fired. Frank felt a sharp pain in his left shoulder, and the revolver which he held in that hand fell from his grasp. He had received his first wound, but although thoroughly frightened, he did not lose his presence of mind. If he had, he would soon have been recalled to a sense of his dangerous situation, for the rebel again cocked his revolver; but this time Frank fired first, and the rebel sank to the ground with a loud yell. In an instant Frank turned upon the other; but he appeared to be too much under the influence of fear to lend his comrade any assistance.
All thought of concealment was now out of the question. The rebels in the house had, of course, been alarmed, and Frank's only chance for escape with his prisoner and the mail was to reach the cutter as soon as possible, and pull off to the vessel. Hastily relieving the prisoner of his weapons, he directed him to pick up the mail and follow the course he pointed out.
The prisoner did as he was ordered; but they had not gone far when a loud yelling announced that the rebels in the house had been alarmed, and were in pursuit. Frank kept close behind his prisoner, who, through fear of the revolver, ran at a rapid rate, but they had further to run to reach the cutter than the guerrillas, and the latter gained rapidly. The prisoner, who was not long in discovering this, slackened his pace considerably, although he appeared to be doing his utmost. Frank, however, was not deceived. Thrusting his revolver into his pocket, he seized the rebel by the nape of the neck, and helped him over the ground in a manner more rapid than agreeable. Had the man been aware of the fact that his captor had but one arm that he could use, he might not have submitted so quietly as he did. Frank, whose whole mind was wrapped up in the idea of saving his prisoner and the mail, did not stop to think of this, but pushed his man ahead to such good advantage that they succeeded in reaching the cutter before their pursuers. He marched the rebel down the bank in the most lively manner, and tumbled him into the boat, where he was instantly seized and secured.
The sailors, who had heard the noise of the pursuit, and waited impatiently for the appearance of their officer, were all in their places, and as Frank sprang in, he shouted:
"Shove off—lively now, lads!"
The cutter was speedily pushed from the shore, and the oars got out and handled by twelve strong fellows, all good oarsmen.
"Let fall—give away together," again commanded Frank, who, in spite of the pain of his wound, began to chuckle over his good luck in securing the mail. "The rebs will give us a volley," he continued, "unless we get out of sight in the darkness before they reach the bank. So, pick her up, lads, and walk right away with her."
The sailors, understanding the order, and rejoicing in the escape of their young officer, whose safety and well-being they regarded as infinitely of more importance than their own, gave way manfully on the muffled oars, which made no sound as they bent beneath the sturdy strokes, and the cutter flew noiselessly through the water, The rebels reached the bank but a few moments after the cutter had left, but neither seeing nor hearing any thing of her, they contented themselves with uttering their yells, and firing a volley into the darkness in the direction they supposed the boat had gone.
But their attention was soon called to another quarter, for a bright flame shot up from the house. The boat's crew saw it, and could scarcely refrain hurrahing; but knowing that they were not yet out of range of the guerrillas' rifles, they gave vent to their jubilant feelings by redoubling their efforts at the oars.
"Mr. Nelson," whispered the coxswain, "may I be allowed to say that was well done, sir!"
"I didn't do that, Tom," answered Frank, in a faint voice, as he gazed in surprise at the burning house, and thought of his cousin. "Is Paymaster Winters in the cutter?"
Frank hardly dared to ask the question, for if his cousin had been in the boat he would have known it before that time.
"The paymaster!" repeated the coxswain; "no, sir. He went away with you, sir, and I haven't seen him since. He's missing, that's a fact."
Frank felt ready to faint on hearing this, and very bitterly did he censure himself for allowing his cousin to accompany him! But regrets were useless; the mischief had been done, and could not be undone. He had one hope, however, to which he still clung—that Archie might be on board the vessel. Perhaps, not daring to attempt to find his way back to the cutter, through fear of capture, he had swam on board and was now safe. He would soon know.
In a few moments they had reached the Boxer, and as the cutter came along side, Frank seized the mail-bags and sprang out. After giving the officer of the deck, who met him at the gangway, instructions in regard to the prisoners, he ran up the stairs that led to the wardroom. Here he met the captain, who, taking him familiarly by the arm, led him into the cabin, exclaiming:
"Mr. Nelson, I congratulate you, sir; it was well done, sir! The house is all in a blaze."
"Captain," said Frank, "I didn't do that, sir. Is the paymaster on board?
"Why, no, sir; not unless he came with you."
"I haven't seen him, captain, since I left him within a short distance of that house. If he is not on board, sir, he's out there yet, and he has fired the building."
"Why, Mr. Nelson," exclaimed the captain, for the first time noticing Frank's pale face and useless hand, from which the blood was dripping, "you are wounded, sir. Orderly, orderly, send the doctor here at once."
A Run for Life.
Archie was as light of foot as an antelope, and fear lent him wings. In obedience to his cousin's instructions, he ran up the river, directing his course through a thick woods, jumping over logs and making his way through the bushes with a rapidity that surprised himself. The rebel who had discovered him followed for a short distance, but finding that he was losing ground, he stopped and fired his revolver in the direction he supposed Archie had gone; but the bullets went wide of the mark, and the latter, who now regarded his escape as a thing beyond a doubt, laughed when he thought how cleverly he had accomplished the object of the expedition.
Having reached a safe distance from the house, he stopped and listened. He distinctly heard the crackling of flames, and presently a bright light shone over the trees. The building was fairly in a blaze. He was, however, allowed scarcely a moment to congratulate himself, for the yells of the guerrillas plainly told him that they had discovered the fire, and were commencing pursuit. Archie again set out, intent on reaching clear ground as soon as possible, for he knew that no plan would be left untried to capture him. His situation was still any thing but a pleasant one, but he was sanguine of reaching the vessel in safety, until a long-drawn-out bay came echoing through the woods, and drove the blood back upon his heart. The rebels were following him with a blood-hound!
For a moment Archie staggered as though he had been struck a severe blow by some unseen hand, but quickly realizing the fact that his safety depended upon his own exertions and the use he made of the next few moments, he speedily recovered his presence of mind, and hastily securing his revolvers, which, up to this time, he had carried in the pockets of his pea-jacket, he pulled off that garment, and throwing it on the ground, started off at the top of his speed.
Being thus relieved of a great incumbrance, he made headway rapidly, but, fast as he ran, he heard that dreadful sound coming nearer, mingled with loud yells of triumph from the pursuing rebels He had, with surprise and indignation, listened to Frank's description of his run from Shreveport, when he and his companions had been pursued with blood-hounds, little imagining that he would ever be placed in a similar situation.
And how did it happen that he had not aroused the hound while he was about the house? Had he moved so silently that the animal had not heard him, or had he been in the building with the men? This question Archie could not answer. But one thing was certain, and that was that the hound was, at that very moment, on his trail, and unless he soon reached the river his capture was beyond a doubt. He, however, had no fears of being overpowered by the hound. He fully realized the fact that he would soon be overtaken, and had resolved to shoot the animal the moment he made his appearance.
The yells of the rebels grew fainter, and Archie knew he was gaining on them. This gave him encouragement. In fact, since the hound had opened on his trail, after the first momentary feeling of terror had vanished, he had retained his coolness in a remarkable degree, and had counted over his chances for capture and escape with surprising deliberation for one who had never before been placed in so exciting and dangerous a situation. We have seen that he felt fear. Had it been otherwise he must have possessed nerves of steel, or have been utterly destitute of the power of reasoning; but that fear did not so completely overpower him as it had but a short time before, when he lay behind the bush, and listened to the guerrilla's plan for the capture of the Boxer and her crew. On the contrary, it nerved him to make the greatest exertions to effect his escape.
In a few moments, to his great joy, he emerged from the woods and entered an open field, across which he ran with redoubled speed. Directly in front of him was another belt of timber, and beyond that lay the river, which, if he could reach, he would be safe. The baying of the hound had continued to grow louder and louder, and, when Archie had accomplished perhaps half the distance across the field, a crashing in the bushes and an impatient bark announced, in language too plain to be misunderstood, that the hound had discovered him.
In an instant he stopped, faced about, and drew one of his revolvers. Stooping down close to the ground, he finally discovered the hound, which approached with loud yelps, that were answered by triumphant cheers from the pursuing rebels. Waiting until the animal was so close to him that he presented a fair mark, Archie raised his revolver and fired. The hound bounded into the air, and, after a few struggles, lay motionless on the ground. Scarcely waiting to witness the effect of the shot, the young officer sprang to his feet, and again started for the river. The yells of the rebels—who had heard the shot, and knew, from the silence that followed, that the hound was dead—again arose fierce and loud; but Archie, knowing that his pursuers had now lost the power of following him with certainty, considered the worst part of the danger as past.
But he had to deal with those who could not be easily deceived. Colonel Harrison, knowing that the only chance for escape was by the river, had lined the banks with men, and, as Archie neared the woods, a voice directly in front of him called out:
"It's all up now, Yank! Drop that shootin'-iron, or you're a gone sucker!"
Archie's heart fairly came up into his mouth. He had little expected to find an enemy in that quarter, but, without waiting an instant, he turned and ran up the river again, hoping that he might soon be able to get above the sentinels. The rebel, hearing the sound of his footsteps, and knowing that he was retreating, shouted:
"Halt, Yank! halt! or I'll shoot—blamed if I don't!"
And he did shoot, and Archie heard the bullet as it sung through the air behind him.
The rebel, without stopping to load his gun, started in pursuit; but Archie, who was running for his life, soon left him behind. As the latter ran he heard shots fired on all sides of him, showing that he was completely surrounded.
Escape seemed utterly impossible; and fearing that he might run into the very midst of the guerrillas when he least expected it, he threw himself behind a log in the edge of the woods, and awaited the issue of events with feelings that can not be described. He now had little hope of being able to elude his pursuers, who, he was certain, would keep the river closely guarded until daylight, when they would soon discover his hiding-place. He could not go on without fear of running against some of his enemies, in the dark, and to remain where he was, appeared equally dangerous. But of one thing he was certain—and as the thought passed through his mind, he clutched his revolvers desperately—and that was, if he was captured, it would require more than one man to do it.
Presently he heard footsteps approaching, and two rebels came up. One of them he knew, by his voice, was the very man who had just fired at him.
"I know he went this yere way," said he.
"Wal, hold on a minit," said the other, panting loudly; "let's rest a leetle—I'm nigh gin out;" and he seated himself so close to Archie that, had it been daylight, he would certainly have been discovered.
"I'll be dog-gone," said the one who had first spoken, "ef this 'ere night's work don't beat all natur'. Them ar Yanks ain't no fools, dog ef they ar!"
"Who'd a thought it?" returned his companion. "Them ar two fellers come out here an' burn a house with more'n three hundred men in it? Dog-gone! But how did that other feller get away?"
"Oh, he had a boat," answered the other, "an he got thar afore we could ketch him. He's on board his gun-boat afore this time. I jest ketched a glimpse of him as he was goin' down the bank. He had Damon by the neck, an' he was makin' him walk turkey, now I tell yer."
"Damon ketched!" ejaculated his companion. "An' what's come on the kernel's mail?"
"Gone up—the hul on it! Damon's got the bracelets on by this time. But come, let's go on."
All this while the rebels had been coming up, and Archie could hear them in the woods, on all sides of him, yelling and swearing, like demons. He had one source of consolation, however—his cousin was safe; and, judging by the rebels' conversation, he had not gone back to the vessel empty-handed.
Archie lay for some time listening to the movements of the rebels, almost afraid to breathe lest it should be overheard, when he was suddenly startled by a stunning report, which was followed by a hissing and shrieking in the air; a bright light shone in his eyes for an instant, and the next, the woods echoed with the bursting of a shell. The guerrillas had scarcely time to recover from their astonishment when there came another, and another, each one followed by groans and cries of anguish that made the young officer shudder.
Frank Nelson had gained the Boxer in safety, and although surprised and alarmed at the absence of Archie—who, he thought, would make the best of his way back to the vessel when left to himself—he knew by the yelling of the rebels, and the pistol-shots that were occasionally heard, that they had not yet captured him. The noise of the chase plainly told the Boxer's crew that the fugitive was making the best of his way up the river, and Frank had opened fire on the rebels to create, if possible, a diversion in his cousin's favor. His shells were thrown with fatal accuracy, and the guerrillas, taken completely by surprise, and having no levee to protect them, beat a hasty retreat.
Although threatened by a new danger, Archie was so overjoyed that he could scarcely refrain from shouting, and as soon as he was satisfied that his pursuers were out of hearing, he crawled from his concealment and ran toward the river. The shells still kept dropping into the woods at regular intervals, making music most pleasant to Archie's ears, for he knew that as long as the fire was continued, his chances for escape were increased. But in his eagerness he never thought of the men who had been posted on the bank, and as he dashed through the woods, several shots were fired at him by the rebels concealed in the bushes. But he reached the water in safety, and struck out for the vessel. A few random shots were fired at him, which Archie heard as they whistled past him; but his good fortune had not deserted him, and he again escaped unhurt. The reports of the guns on board the Boxer pointed out the direction in which he was to go, and in a quarter of an hour he was within hailing-distance of the vessel. The splashing he made in the water soon attracted the attention of the sentry on the forecastle, who, having been instructed by Frank, had kept a good look-out. A rope was thrown to Archie, who was pulled on board the vessel in a state of complete exhaustion.
Frank was soon informed of the safe return of his cousin, and Archie, almost too weak to speak plainly, was carried to his room, where, after being divested of his wet clothes, he was put to bed, and left in a sound sleep. The next morning, however, he appeared in the mess-room, as lively as ever, and none the worse for his long run; while Frank, who began to suffer from his wound, was confined to his bed.
The latter listened to his cousin's narration of the part he had borne in the expedition, and in admiration of Archie's bravery, forgot the lecture he had intended to administer. The officers, who had not expected such an exhibition of courage in one whose cheek had blanched at the whistle of a rebel bullet, were astonished, and it is needless to say that no more jokes were indulged in at the expense of the "green paymaster."
For two months Frank held his position as executive officer of the Boxer, during which time the vessel was twice inspected by the admiral. He now had little to do beyond the regular routine of ship duties, for the guerrilla-station had been broken up by the burning of the plantation-house, and vessels were seldom fired into on the Boxer's beat. But this was not to continue long, for, one day, the dispatch-boat brought orders for him to report on board the Michigan—which lay at the mouth of Red River—as executive officer of that vessel.
This was still another advancement, for the Michigan was an iron-clad, mounted fourteen guns, and had a crew of one hundred and seventy men. But Frank would have preferred to remain in his present position. After considerable hard work, he had brought the Boxer's crew into an admirable state of discipline; every thing about decks went off as smoothly as could be desired, and besides, Archie was on board, and he did not wish to leave him. But he never hesitated to obey his orders, and as soon as he had packed his trunk, and taken leave of his messmates, he went on board the dispatch-boat, and in a few days arrived at his new vessel.
The captain of the Michigan had written to the admiral, requesting that a "first-class, experienced officer" might be sent him for an executive, but when Frank presented himself and produced his orders, that gentleman was astonished. After regarding the young officer sharply for a moment, he said:
"The admiral, no doubt, knows his own business, but let me tell you, young man, that you have no easy task before you."
He no doubt thought that a person of Frank's years was utterly incapable of filling so responsible a position. The latter, with his usual modesty, replied that he would endeavor to do his duty, and after he had seen his baggage taken care of, he went into the wardroom, where he found a young officer seated at the table reading. He arose as Frank entered, and thrusting out his hand, greeted him with—
"I'm glad to meet you again, Mr. Nelson, and among friends, too."
It was George Le Dell, the escaped prisoner, whom he had met during his memorable flight from Shreveport. Frank had not seen him, nor even heard of him, since he had left him on board the Ticonderoga; but here he was, "among the defenders of the Old Flag" again, in fulfillment of the promise he had made his rebel father, in the letter which Frank had read to his fellow fugitives in the woods, where they had halted for the day. He was not changed—his face still wore that sorrowful expression—and Frank found that he rarely took part in the conversation around the mess-table. He was an excellent officer, the especial favorite of the captain, and beloved by all his messmates, who, very far from suspecting the cause of his quiet demeanor, called him "Silence."
Frank heartily returned his cordial greeting, and the two friends talked for a long time of scenes through which they had passed together—subjects still fresh in their memories—until the entrance of an officer put a stop to the conversation. Frank understood, by this, that he was the only one of the ship's company who knew any thing of George's past history.
The change from the cool, comfortable quarters of the Boxer to the hot wardroom of the ironclad was not an agreeable one; but Frank was not the one to complain, and he entered upon his duties with his accustomed cheerfulness and alacrity. He was allowed very little rest. The captain of the Michigan—which was the flag-ship of the third division of the squadron—was a regular officer, who believed in always keeping the men busy at something, and Frank was obliged to be on his feet from morning until night. The decks were scrubbed every day, the bright work about the guns and engines cleaned, the small boats washed out, and then came quarters, and drilling with muskets or broad-swords. After this, if there was nothing else to be done, the outside of the vessel was scrubbed, or the chimneys repainted. In short, the Michigan was the pattern of neatness, and her crew, being constantly drilled, knew exactly what was required of them, and were ready for any emergency.
For several months little occurred to relieve the monotony of ship-life beyond making regular trips from one end of their beat to the other; but when spring opened, gun-boats and transports, loaded with soldiers, began to assemble, and preparations were made for the Red River expedition. At length every thing was ready, and one pleasant morning the gun-boats weighed their anchors and led the way up the river.
Frank stood on deck as the vessels steamed along, and could not help drawing a contrast between his present position and the one in which he was placed when he first saw Red River. Then, he and his companions were fugitives from a rebel prison; they had been tracked by bloodhounds, and followed by men at whose hands, if retaken, they could expect nothing but death. He remembered how his heart bounded with joy on the morning when he and his associates, in their leaky dug-out, had arrived in sight of the Mississippi. Then, he was ragged, hatless, and almost shoeless, weary with watching, and living in constant fear of recapture. Now, he was among friends, the Old Flag waved above him, and he was the second in command of one of the finest vessels in the squadron.
The passage up the river was without incident worthy of note, and in a short time they arrived at the obstructions which the rebels had placed in the river nine miles below Fort De Russy. A vast amount of time and labor had been expended upon these obstructions, but they were speedily cleared away, and the fleet passed on. They had expected a stubborn resistance at the fort, but it had been captured by the army after a short engagement, and the gun-boats kept on to Alexandria.
Frank turns Detective.
A day or two after the arrival of the fleet at Alexandria, it became known that several persons belonging to the rebel secret service were hovering about in the vicinity of the village, with the intention of destroying some of the vessels by torpedoes—contrivances made to resemble pieces of coal—which were to be placed in those barges out of which the boats were supplied with fuel. By some means the names of these persons became known to the admiral, who issued a general order, calling on all the officers of the squadron to kill or capture them wherever found.
The same day the order was issued Frank obtained shore liberty, and while roaming about the town, espied a name on a sign that immediately attracted his attention. It was one of the names borne in the general order.
"There's one of the rascals, now," soliloquized Frank, "or, rather, where he has been. I wonder where he is. I'll see if I can't find out something about him. If he could be caught, he would be put in a place where he wouldn't lay any more plans to blow up Union gun-boats."
The sign which had attracted his attention bore the name and occupation of the individual in question—"S. W. ABBOTT, Chemist."
The store had been closed on the approach of the Union forces, and was now in the possession of several army surgeons and their assistants, who were overhauling its contents, and appropriating whatever they thought might be of service to them. A negro was leaning against the counter, and of him Frank inquired—
"Boy, do you belong here?"
"No, sar," he answered, indignantly; "I 'longs nowhar. I'se a free man, I is. I'se a soger."
"Never been in this town before?"
Frank left the store, and walked slowly up the street toward the hotel, wondering where he could go to make inquiries concerning the man whom he wished to find. It was evident that this was the hardest task he had yet undertaken. He knew the rebel's name, and that was all. He had no idea how he looked, and, although the admiral's order stated that he was loitering about the village, he might, at that moment, be fifty miles away, or Frank might have already passed him on the street.
There were several men dressed in butternut clothes hanging about the hotel, and Frank determined to enter into conversation with one of them, and, if possible, learn something about Abbott. An opportunity was soon offered, for one of the butternuts approached him, and inquired—
"Got any Northern money—greenbacks?"
"Some," replied Frank.
"Wal," continued the man, "I'll give you five dollars in Confederate money fur one dollar in greenbacks. Is it a bargain?"
"Confederate money!" repeated Frank. "Of what use would it be to me? And I am greatly mistaken if it will be of use to you much longer."
"Wal, I want your money fur a keepsake," replied the man. I know you-uns don't like our money, but we-uns hev got to use it or go without any,"
"Well, I'll trade," said Frank. "Your paper will no doubt be a curiosity to the folks at home." As he spoke, he produced the dollar, and the butternut drew out of his capacious pocket a huge roll of bills—tens, twenties, and fifties, enough to have made him independent if it had been good money—and selecting a five-dollar bill, handed it to Frank, who thrust it carelessly into his pocket.
"I'll allow that you-uns don't seem to be a bad lot of fellers," said the butternut; "but I don't see what you-uns want to come down hyar to fight we-uns for. We-uns never done nothing to you-uns."
"Every rebel I meet says the same thing," said Frank. "But who were the richest men in this place before the war broke out?"
The man mentioned several names, among which was that of Abbott, the chemist.
"Abbott, Abbott," repeated Frank, as if trying to recall the man to mind; "I've heard that name before. Is he a Northern man?"
"No; he's allers lived at the South. His house is right back of the hotel, third door from the corner, on the right-hand side as you go up the street."
Frank had learned something, but he did not think it safe to question the man further, for fear of exciting his suspicions; so, after a few unimportant remarks, he turned on his heel and walked into the hotel, which was used as the army head-quarters. Here he remained for nearly half an hour, to give the man of whom he had received his information time to leave the place, and then directed his steps toward Mr. Abbott's dwelling. He had no difficulty in finding it, for he followed the butternut's directions, and the rebel's name was borne on the door-plate. The house, however, was deserted; the blinds were closed, as were those of all the neighboring houses. Mr. Abbott, with his family, if he had any, had doubtless removed out of reach of the Union forces. Did he ever visit his home when in town? or did he make his head-quarters somewhere else? were questions that suggested themselves to Frank, but which, of course, he could not answer; neither did he dare to question any of the citizens, for they might be Mr. Abbott's friends, who would not fail to inform him that particular inquiries were being made, which would lead him to act more cautiously. Frank did not know what plan to adopt, but walked listlessly about the streets until he heard the Michigan's bell strike half-past three o'clock. He must be on board by four, as the admiral was to be there to inspect the vessel. He was reluctant to leave without having accomplished any thing more than the discovery of the rebel's dwelling; but there was no help for it, and he walked slowly toward the landing, where he found a boat waiting for him.
That night, although he retired early, he slept but little, but tossed restlessly about in his bunk, endeavoring to conjure up some plan by which he might capture the rebel; and when he fell asleep, he dreamed about the subject uppermost in his mind. He thought that, after several days' patient watching, he finally discovered his man; but all attempts to capture him were unavailing. When he pursued, the rebel would disappear in a magical way, that was perfectly bewildering. Finally, he dreamed that the rebel assumed the offensive, and one day he met him in the street, carrying in his hand something that looked like a lump of coal, which he threw at Frank. It proved, however, to be a torpedo, for it exploded with a loud report, and as Frank sprang over a fence that ran close by the sidewalk, to escape, he came violently in contact with the walls of a house. At this stage of his dream he was suddenly awakened. To his no small amazement, he found himself stretched on the floor of his room, his head jammed against the door, through which one of the wardroom boys, a very small specimen of a contraband, was endeavoring to escape, while the look of terror depicted on his face, and the energy with which he strove to open the door, showed that he had sustained something of a fright. On the opposite side of the room stood the doctor, who gazed at Frank for a moment with open mouth and eyes, and then threw himself on the bed, convulsed with laughter.