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- Frank on the Lower Mississippi - 3/23 -
"'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:
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