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- Frank on the Lower Mississippi - 2/23 -


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.'


Frank on the Lower Mississippi - 2/23

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