In this second book of the six book Blue and the Gray Series the Civil War is well underway and Christy is busy preparing his father's steam-yacht, Bellevite, for service in the Union navy.
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CHAPTER X A Shot from the Long Gun
Christy Passford, as soon as he found that all the other preparations for the decisive event had been made, turned his attention to the aiming of the long gun. He had practiced with it somewhat before, and in the ambitious spirit of a boy, he had often amused himself by sighting over the top of the piece.
There was no sort of duty on board of a vessel, even a war steamer, in which he had not done his best to make himself a proficient. He had done duty as an engineer and even as a fireman. He had taken his trick at the wheel as a quartermaster, and there was nothing he had not done, unless it was to command a vessel, and he had done that on a small scale. Doubtless he had no inconsiderable portion of a boy's vanity, and he believed that he could do anything that anybody else could do, or if he was satisfied that he could not, he studied and practiced till he did believe it.
Be it vanity or pride, Christy certainly believed in himself to a very liberal extent, though his character was fortunately leavened with a large lump of modesty. What he believed, he believed for himself, and acted upon it for himself, so that he was not inclined to boast of his accomplishments, and permitted others to find out what he was rather than make it known in words himself. But his father had found it necessary to restrain him to some extent, and he had not pushed him forward as rapidly as he might have done till the dread notes of war were heard on the land and the sea, and then he thought it would be wrong to hold him back.
When Christy sighted along the great gun, he believed he could hit the Vampire almost to a certainty, but he was not self-sufficient and did not often believe that he knew a thing better than any other person, and he was not above taking the advice and instruction of others. It was dark, but Christy had fixed upon an object at the bend below, of which he intended to make use in firing the gun. It was a tree which painted its outline on the horizon, and the decisive moment was to come when the Vampire was in range with this tree. He adjusted the gun just as he wanted it, and he was satisfied it would do just what he required of it.
He was not inclined to act on his own judgment and skill alone, and he called Boxie, the old sheet anchorman, who had been the captain of a gun years before the midshipman was born, and pointed out the tree to him, asking him to sight along the gun. He explained his plan to the old salt and then asked his opinion.
"You have aimed it too high, Mr. Passford," said the veteran after he had squinted a long time along the piece.
"How is it otherwise?" asked Christy.
"It is all right, sir, but the shot will pass over the steamer. Drop the muzzle a trifle, and the shot will hull her, if you pull the lockstring at the right time."
"I shall see that the string is pulled at the right time; thank you, Boxie," added Christy without depressing the gun as the old man suggested, for he had a theory of his own which he intended to carry out.
"But the ship may change her position a trifle," added Boxie.
"Of course, I mean to sight the gun again at the very moment we fire," replied Christy, looking at his watch, though he was obliged to go into the engine room to see what time it was.
It was after two, and the Vampire had had time enough to make the bend. Christy wondered if Captain Carboneer was not looking for the four men he had promised to put on board of the old steamer, but some promises are better broken than kept, and the midshipman thought this was one of them, though he did not consider the present occasion as any excuse for lies or the failure to keep his word in the indefinite future.
The acting commander of the Bellevite-for such the middy was, and no one disputed his authority-began to be very nervous at the nonappearance of the enemy. He was afraid that some mishap had befallen the Vampire; either that she had gone to the bottom or got aground, though he had heard Captain Carboneer say that he was a pilot for this part of the river.
Christy had mounted the gun carriage ready to take his final aim, and he had been there at least half an hour. He was watching the point where the Roman candles had been planted, and he had perfect confidence in the judgment and fidelity of Mr. Watts. Boxie was stationed at the lockstring and held it in his hand, ready to speed the great shot on its errand of destruction, but he hoped the midshipman would depress the muzzle of the gun before he was called upon to pull the string. The other sailors who had served on board of the Bellevite, and had been drilled in handling the guns, were all in their stations, ready to load the piece again as quickly as possible after it had been discharged.
The silence had become intense and painful to all, for apart from the messenger of death and devastation which was about to be hurled at the Vampire, the Bellevite was in danger of being captured, and had a resolute enemy in front of her. The safety of the pet steamer depended upon the skill and judgment of a mere boy, though everybody on board had entire confidence in him. But the supreme moment came soon enough.
A hardly perceptible light at the point he was so closely watching first attracted the attention of Christy-perhaps the lighting of the steward's match. An instant later, the fireworks blazed up and lighted up the smooth surface of the sleeping river. No doubt the conspirators, who had chosen darkness because their deeds were evil, were astounded to see so much light suddenly thrown upon their enterprise.
Christy sprang to the gun, took a hasty sight, which satisfied him that the position of the gun had not changed a particle. As the dark outline of the Vampire passed in range of the selected tree, the midshipman sprang down from the gun carriage.
"Fire!" shouted he in a determined though not very loud tone.
It was a tremendous explosion, and the echoes rolled out from the hills as though they were armed with heavy guns, and were taking part in the conflict. Probably the rattling windows and the shaking frames of the houses roused all the sleepers within a mile of the ship.
The Bellevite was enveloped in the smoke from the discharge, and though Christy mounted the carriage again to obtain a better view, he could see nothing, for there was not wind enough to sweep it away at once. But the young commander watched, with almost as much interest and anxiety as before, the signal station he had established. But there was no occasion for desperate haste, for the gun was ready for use a second time if the first shot had failed to do its work. On the other hand, if the Vampire was disabled, she would stay where she was or drift down the river with the turn of the tide, and it was just about "full sea" at this time.
The smoke was very aggravating to the midshipman, but he could not help himself. The light air swept it away in time, and, with his strained eyes, Christy discovered that two Roman candles were burning at the signal station.
"Did you hit her, Christy?" asked Paul Vapoor, leaping on the gun carriage.
"I did," replied the midshipman, trying to control a certain feeling of exultation that took possession of his mind, for he did not consider that some of the party below might have been killed by the shot.
"I suppose you don't know anything about the effect of the shot yet?" added Paul.
"I only know that the Vampire is disabled."
"How do you know that, for I can't see anything?"
"Do you see those two blue lights burning at the side of the river?" asked Christy, as he pointed to the place.
"I see them, and they light up the river like a flash of lightning."
"They mean that the steamer is disabled, and for that reason she can't come any nearer than she is now."
"But those villains will make their way to the shore, and there are boats enough about here to enable them to get alongside and lay us aboard. This is not the end of the affair," said the engineer very seriously.
"Decidedly not, but I hope to have further information in the course of a few minutes," replied Christy.
"Bellevite, ahoy!" shouted someone on shore.
"That is Mr. Watts; send Sampson on shore after him, and we shall soon know the condition of affairs on board of the Vampire," added the midshipman. "I told the steward to ride up as fast as he could after he had satisfied himself that the steamer was disabled."
Sampson was gone but a few minutes, during which time Christy and Paul consulted in regard to the next step to be taken, and the question was promptly decided. The boat in which Sampson had gone to the shore returned not only with the steward, but also with Mrs. Passford and Miss Florry.
"What does this mean, Mother?" asked Christy, astonished to see his mother and sister come on board.
"It means that we were alarmed and could not stay in the house any longer," said Florry, taking it upon herself to answer.
"Your father has not come home yet, Christy, and I don't think he will come tonight, for he said he might not be able to return in the last train," added Mrs. Passford. "We came down to the shore with two of the men, and saw Mr. Watts when he arrived on the horse."
"And I shall take the responsibility of having advised the ladies to go on board of the Bellevite," interposed the steward.
"But you have not reported upon the condition of the enemy after the shot hit the Vampire, Mr. Watts," said Christy impatiently.
"The shot struck her walking beam, smashed it all to pieces, and cleaned it off completely. Of course, that disabled her. Very likely some of the party on board of the Vampire are hurt, for the pieces did not all drop into the water."
"Now, in regard to the ladies?" suggested the midshipman.
"It is for you to decide, Mr. Passford, whether or not the enemy are likely to renew the attempt to capture the steamer. But it seemed to me, whether they do anything more or not, it is not quite safe for the ladies to be alone in the house with the servants, for these fellows will be prowling about here in either case."
"I would not stay in the house for all the world!" protested Miss Florry, and probably she thought that one of the prowlers would be Major Pierson.
"You are quite right, Mr. Watts; I was not as thoughtful as you were," replied Christy, who took in the situation with this suggestion. "What were they doing on board of the Vampire, Mr. Watts?"
"I did not wait to observe their movements, but the boat began to drift down the river."
"Beg pardon, Mr. Passford, but the ship is swinging around, and you will not be able to use that gun as it points now," said Boxie, touching his hat to the young commander.
"Stand by your engine, Paul; we will get under way at once. Boxie, cast off the cable and let it run out. You buoyed it, did you not?" said Christy with a sudden renewal of energy, as he hastened to the pilothouse where Beeks and Thayer had been sent before.
"I buoyed the cable, sir," replied the sheet anchorman.
"Then cast it off. Sampson, open the cabin for the ladies," added Christy, as he disappeared in the pilothouse.
But the ladies preferred to go into the engine room.
Table of Contents1 An Unexpected Visitor
2 A Difference of Opinion
3 The Dignified Naval Officer
4 Corny Passford Plays Another Part
5 Captain Carboneer and His Party
6 The Cabin of the Florence
7 Midshipman Christy Passford
8 Arranging the Signals
9 The Approach of the Vampire
10 A Shot from the Long Gun
11 The Battle alongside the Bellevite
12 The Prisoner of War
13 After the Battle
14 The Beginning of a Chase
15 A Chase off of the Bermudas
16 The Confederate Steamer Yazoo
17 A Satisfactory Order
18 Lieutenant Passford in Command
19 Some Trouble on Board the Teaser
20 Coming to the Point
21 On a Dark and Foggy Night
22 A Variety of Night Signals
23 Another Night Expedition
24 Lieutenant Passford on a Mission
25 Christy Becomes a Victim
26 The Action on the Deck of the Teaser
27 A Visit from Colonel Homer Passford
28 An Enterprise for a Dark Night
29 The New Mate of the Cotton Schooner
30 The Prize-Master of the Judith
Map of Pensacola Bay
Map of Mobile Bay