Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past. — George Orwell

Midshipman Farragut - James Barnes




The Arrival of the Enemy

By signs David succeeded in making the black-bearded man understand that he was lost and that he wished to return to Senor del Serrano's hacienda. It was evident that the owner of the hut had acquaintance with the horse, for while he was paying attention to David's gesticulations he was patting the beast caressingly on the neck and shoulder.

David was becoming exasperated at the apparent stupidity of the fellow, when he heard a shout down the ravine, and he saw approaching Senor del Serrano and the midshipmen. The senor was profuse in his apologies and apparently was much relieved to see his young guest safe and sound. It appeared that the horse had once belonged to the man who lived in the little hut, and that on another occasion previous to this he had brought him rather an unwilling visitor.

The party headed about, and in an hour or so were once more in the courtyard of the villa. At dinner the midshipmen were presented to the senor's two sisters, black-eyed, black-haired young women, whose age it was hard to guess, for they might have been any where between eighteen and thirty. They were gracious and gentle-mannered, and soon the lads were at their ease.

Del Montigo proved to be an Englishman whose real name was Montague. He tried to be very agreeable, and asked any number of questions in regard to the Essex's cruise. The confusion of the boys was great when he declared with a rather sarcastic smile that he now understood the reason of not hearing from one or two of the prizes which the Essex had taken, and the midshipmen found out to their surprise that he was a part owner of the two captured vessels.

From what he said they gathered that those holding the English interests were soon expecting the arrival of some British warships at the station, but as this had been the first news that had greeted Captain Porter upon his arrival at Valparaiso, they were not surprised.

Later in the evening guitars were brought out, and the midshipmen enjoyed watching one of the native dances; early the next morning they left for town. Before ten o'clock they were once more on shipboard.

They found that the same stories of the hospitality of the Chilians were being recounted from cabin to forecastle, and that the officers were talking about giving an entertainment on board the flagship in the course of the next few days.

The time passed very quickly. Senor del Serrano paid a visit to the ship, and Mr. "Del Montigo "also. The midshipmen noticed that the latter paid particular attention to the armament and to the number of guns of the vessel, and asked innumerable questions, but, as there was no reason for secrecy, these were replied to in as frank a manner as they were ventured.

On the evening of the 7th everything was in readiness for the ball. The spar deck was cleared, the awning spread, and the ship was decorated with bunting and colored streamers. Lanterns wrapped in colored paper and cloth were strung along the sides, and from the shore the Essex looked more like a huge pleasure yacht than a man-of-war.

The Essex, Jr., had been warped close to the side of her larger consort, and until long past midnight the strains of the guitars and the orchestra from shore swept out across the bay. Innumerable small boats surrounded the two vessels, and members of all the prominent families, including the midshipmen's kind host and his sisters, were present at the dance.

As soon as the last boat load of merry makers had left for the shore, Captain Porter hailed the Essex, Jr., and ordered her to get under way and make for the mouth of the harbor, where Downes was to resume the position of sentry and report the appearance of any suspicious sail.

At early dawn the Essex, Jr., was seen flying a signal telling the news that two vessels were in sight. Instantly the word flashed through the flagship. Half of the crew had been given shore leave and the rest were employed in clearing up the litter and remains of last night's revelry.

There was a slight breeze blowing, and above the point of land to the westward the topsails of two vessels could be made out very plainly; the strangers were beating slowly toward the mouth of the harbor.

David, who was gathering up a line of gay streamers and bunting, was ordered to the color halyards.

"Signal Mr. Downes to return, sir," was the order.

But, as if in anticipation, the Essex, Jr., was already making back into the harbor. Captain Porter ordered a gun to be fired as a signal to the Essex's crew on shore to repair to their vessel.

Evidently from the heights behind the town the two mysterious sails had been sighted, and the signal gun had called hundreds of the inhabitants to the water-front. Lining the wharves, the sailors of the Essex could be seen waiting impatiently for the boats to take them off. At last, as if they could stand it no longer, the men jumped into some of the small craft and paddled with anything they could reach back to the ship. Three Jack-tars, who were quite a distance up the shore and had evidently been back into the country, did not wait for boats at all, but, throwing off their shoes, sprang into the bay and struck out boldly for their vessel.

In the meantime Porter had called away his gig, and David had been ordered to accompany him on board the Essex, Jr. As soon as, they shoved off, the men laid back to their work and the boat lifted at every stroke. Lieutenant Downes hove-to to wait their coming.

It was very evident, as Captain Porter and David scrambled up the ship's side, that the Essex, Jr.'s crew were under great excitement. They were talking together earnestly in low voices. After a minutes conversation the captain, wishing to make a personal reconnoitre of the approaching vessels, ordered Lieutenant Downes to put to sea again.

David wandered forward, and to his delight found old Kingsbury, now a boatswain, making two strides of it between the carronades on the forecastle.

"Oh, Mr. Farragut," he said, "it's a different kind of dancing and to other music we will be stepping, to my mind, before long, sir. Those are the vessels that King George has been at pains to send out for us, I take it, and look a' here, sir; I have seen sailormen and been one all my life, but I never seed a crew so full of fight as ours. They're itchin' to be at it, sir."

He stopped for a moment and looked at the flagship. She was now almost surrounded by small boats that had put off from shore. The men were scrambling in at the ports in fact anywhere, to get on board; the lines of streamers had disappeared. They could see the ports drop and the guns run in for sponging and loading.

"That's the best crew, sir, that ever stepped a deck," Kingsbury concluded.

A thrill of pride ran through David's veins. "And the best officers, too, Kingsbury," he remarked.

"Aye, aye, sir, you speak God's truth," the old man answered. "Look at old Logan beg pardon, sir—I mean the captain. What is it they say in the good book about the ' war horse scenting battle from afar '?—That's what he is, Mr. Farragut—he's a war horse, sir, and no mistake!"

The Essex, Jr., had gathered a good headway by this time and was close to the mouth of the harbor. The wind was against the two vessels in the offing, and it would be some hours before they gained the inner waters. But there was no mistaking what they were. The square cut of the sails, the long, distinct line of ports, and the steady lift and gleam of the black muzzles of the guns, showed that here at last King George's hounds had found their quarry.

"Both frigates, sir, I think," called Lieutenant Downes from the futtock shrouds, as he lowered his glass.

"Johnny Bulls, too," murmured Kingsbury beneath his breath.

Orders were given to bring the ship about, and soon before the wind she was making back to the anchorage. It had only been an hour and a few minutes over, since Porter had gone on board the smaller vessel. David followed him into the gig and they returned to the Essex. A transformation scene had been enacted. There were no traces of the confusion that only a short time before had held full sway. The guns were loaded and run out. The cutlasses had been distributed. The men were waiting at their stations; even the deck had been sanded, and the doctors had stretched the tables below in the cockpit.

Lieutenant McKnight stepped forward.

"Have the men all reported?" Porter asked. "Yes, sir, every one."

"Clean and sober?" the captain asked again.

"Not a drunken head among them," returned McKnight. "There's one lad who may have struck a rather lively gait, but, as he swam offshore, I made no notice of it. Perhaps he had been drinking."

The men were evidently looking for some word from Captain Porter, and at last it came, short and to the point.

"Seamen of the Essex," he said, "this is a neutral port, and it shall not be said in after-years that an American disgraced his country by not respecting the rights of another. We shall not fire first, but if they do, they will get what I believe we can give them—honorable treatment and an honorable thrashing."

A wild cheer that started a commotion on shore was the answer.

The Essex, Jr., had dropped anchor within half pistol shot.

"What under the sun are they trying to do?" said Ogden to David as the two English vessels (for they had now displayed the cross of St. George) came sweeping up the harbor. But before they had come within the distance of two miles a small boat had put off from shore and been taken up by the larger Englishman. David would have been surprised if he had seen that the man who was assisted up the enemy's side was no other than his acquaintance, Mr. Del Montigo."

On came the English vessels. Porter had given orders to prepare for boarding and had rigged grapnels at the yardarms, ready to drop them on the enemy's decks should he approach close enough to warrant it; and now it looked like fight.

By a little after eight o'clock, the leading vessel, a frigate, had approached so close that the faces of the men peering through the portholes could be distinguished. The second vessel had proved to be a sloop of war, and was close in the wake of the first.

The frigate swung close alongside and ranged up between the Essex and the Essex, Jr. All hands were at quarters, and on board the English vessel it was seen that the matches were lighted also, for the thin smoke eddied through the ports. Not a whisper was heard.

David had gone down to the gun deck in obedience to a request from Lieutenant McKnight to follow him. A red-faced youth was bending forward close to one of the midship guns, a lighted match in his hand. He was blowing it fiercely and fairly trembling with anger or excitement. Suddenly his feelings appeared to get the better of him, for he jumped to his feet and sprang to the breech of the gun.

"I'll stop your making faces, my fine fellow!" he cried with a curse.

Just in time Lieutenant McKnight saw the movement and, drawing back his fist, sprawled the fellow on the deck. The master at arms took him by the collar and gave him a push down the hatchway. It is well believed that had this lad (who was the one that had been drinking) fired the gun, the Phoebe (her name was now well known) would have beep a hulk in short order. She was so close and in such a fair position for raking that the double-shotted broadsides of the Essex would have ripped her from stem to stern.

Lieutenant McKnight and David hastened up to the spar deck. There was dead silence here the same ominous quiet as there was below. Captain Porter had 'mounted a gun carriage, and looking through the companion way, David saw that a tall man in a pea-jacket was also standing breast-high above the bulwarks on the quarter-deck of the enemy. With a show of ceremony the Englishman lifted his hat. He did not have to raise his voice for every word to be heard plainly and distinctly.

"Captain Hillyar's compliments to Captain Porter, and hopes he is well," were the words he spoke.

Porter was swinging his trumpet by the cord on his forefinger. He replied quietly in a firm, determined voice.

Cruise of the Essex
DIAGRAM SHOWING THE CRUISE OF THE ESSEX.


"Very well, I thank you, but I hope you are not coming nearer, for fear some accident might take place which would be disagreeable to you."

He waved his trumpet, and, with the clicking of the blocks, the kedge anchors swung out from the deck and went up to the yardarms. Instantly the Phoebe braced back her yards hurriedly and Captain Hillyar in a careless and indifferent manner said:

"Oh, sir, I have no intention of going on board of you!"

"Well," cried Porter; in answer, "you have no business where you are. If you touch a rope yarn of this ship I shall board you instantly!"

Then he raised his trumpet and called across the other's deck to the little namesake vessel, the Essex, Jr.

"Mr. Downes," he shouted, "be prepared to repel boarders and aim your guns!"

The headway of the Phoebe had slowly ceased. She backed down, the tips of her yards passed over those of the Essex without touching a rope, and she swung astern. It was seen then that the Essex was much smaller; but, nevertheless, had not Porter respected the neutrality of the Chilian harbor, the Phoebe would have been at his mercy.

The chance had gone. There was a sense of relief and yet of disappointment in which all hands shared. A sound like a huge sigh went through the ship when the strain was passed. The men stepped on their matches to put them out, and the officers grouped together on the forecastle, talking in low tones.

The English sloop of war also came about and anchored within hailing distance close to the other frigates.