All this talk about optimism and pessimism is itself a dismal fall from the old talk about right and wrong. Our fathers said that a nation had sinned and suffered like a man. We say it has decayed, like a cheese. — G. K. Chesterton

Midshipman Farragut - James Barnes




Farewell to Nukahiva

There was very little chance for a lad to have his head turned or to become conceited in the service in those days. If he did what was at all remarkable, he received a few words of commendation; if he did only his duty, no thanks came to him; but if he shirked, or failed, there was no pity for him.

So although this was David's second command since he had reported on board the flagship, he received with a sense of pleasure Captain Porter's terse "You've done well, Mr. Farragut," when he became again a midshipman.

The war which had been going on in the interior of the island, and in which Captain Porter had assisted, mainly in the position of a peacemaker, was ended. The tribes had been brought into friendly relations toward one another, and all hands were now preparing to break anchorage and start upon another cruise.

During the absence of the Essex, Jr., on her chase of the Albatross (which latter vessel, of course, went on her way) the mutinous prisoners had been placed on board the ships and the ringleaders put in irons.

In describing this event Middy Odenheimer laughed.

"It was a sad joke to them the prisoners, I mean," he said; but even some of them were forced to smile. "You should have seen old Logan. He called them all on deck, and how polite he was! He thanked them for all they had done and for all their good intentions, and begged their pardon for not appreciating it more. He said that owing to its being manifest that they were not pleased at being left alone, they should become his guests, and he promptly ordered them below in the hold. I didn't know there were so many."

"He will make a cartel of one of the ships and send them to England, I suppose," put in Tittermary who was lolling back in his hammock, swinging himself to and fro with one hand on the deck beam.

"Well, he had better not give them any powder and shot; they'll turn pirates sure enough," answered Clark, "I wouldn't trust them, hull down."

The master at arms poked his head into the steerage.

"Lights out, gentlemen!" he said.

The lantern was extinguished, but the boys whispered on for some time in their hammocks, until the measured breathing of Odenheimer showed that he had fallen fast asleep.

"What in the world was that?" said David suddenly, starting up.

A grating noise came from the starboard side of the steerage near the midshipman's chests; then a sound as if some one had dropped a coat or cap on the deck.

"Hush!" said Midshipman Ogden; "that's the old king rat. He's as big as a woodchuck. Something will have to be done, sure enough, to get rid of the beasts. Did you hang up your boots?"

"No," said David, slipping out of the hammock, "I forgot to."

Such a pest had the rodents become on board the Essex, Jr., and, in fact, on board of several of the other vessels, that it had reached a serious condition of affairs. They had eaten through several of the water casks, and, as was discovered upon investigation, had even gone deeply into the skin of the vessels themselves; and woe betide the pair of boots that was left where their sharp teeth could get at them.

"I heard one of the quartermasters say," said Odenheimer, "that we are going to smoke them out to-morrow. Mean work smoking out rats!"

The next morning preparations were made for getting rid of the vermin. All hands were called on deck. Stores that might spoil were moved up to the air. Smudges of sulphur and tar were laid in different parts of the ship in basins, ready to be set on fire. Those in the hold were lighted first, and the heavy, sickening fumes rolled up the hatchway. A seaman with a burning match came coughing up the ladder.

David was on the berth deck superintending the disposition of the smudges, and had just seen the last one lighted and was about to make a run for the hatch, when there arose a most peculiar shriek. Something dashed by him, striking against his legs and almost throwing him off his balance. Clark, who was half-way up to the spar deck, shouted out:

"David, David, it's Murphy! Didn't you hear him?"

Now, Murphy was the ship's pig, and he was a pig of no mean order. So thoroughly had he worked his way into the affections of the crew that, although pork was not tabooed as a staple of diet, and many other pigs were in close confinement, to have eaten Murphy would have been considered an act of rank cannibalism, and nothing less. He was not a pig with a pedigree, but certainly he had known a strange existence, and was the one surviving member of a litter that had been born on shipboard. On Sunday parade Murphy took his station with the rest of the crew, and he did this in such a matter-of-fact way that the men had ceased laughing at him. A number in a mess had been given him, and he had a little suit of sailors' clothes, even to the cap, made for him by the ship's tailor.

The idea of leaving poor Murphy down there in that smothering, choking place to die a frightful death never crossed David's mind. He turned and followed the squealing pig forward, and at last, choking and spluttering, cornered him at the bitts; but when he arose from his knees he was so dizzy and sick from the fumes that were thickening about him that he could not make out the direction of the hatchway. All at once a voice roared down from above.

"Mr. Farragut, come out of that!"

There was an accent of fear in the tone, yet David's half-failing senses recognized old Kingsbury.

"All right!" David tried to answer, and stumbled.

A great figure, snorting and swearing volubly, tripped over him, and Kingsbury gathered him up in his arms and carried him, and Murphy also, up the ladder into the air and sunlight. Here all three lay upon the deck, gasping and choking for breath.

Of course all this goes to prove that David was, after all, nothing but a boy; but the risking of his life to save a pig did not detract from his popularity among the crew. However, for his pains he received a rating from, Lieutenant McKnight, and for some hours he feared that his lungs would never cease paining him. But the rats were got rid of, and the traces and effects of their ravages were repaired.

As has been said before, the midshipmen had been allowed very little liberty on shore, but yet they had made the acquaintance of a few of the natives who visited the ships, and one in particular had become attached to the rescuer of Murphy. It was a young Hippah lad whose name was Tamaha. As was the custom among these kindly people, if they wished to show a mark of affection or respect, they requested permission to exchange names, and Tamaha had exchanged with David Farragut. Often had the boys paddled together along the shallows and swam races during the bathing hours about the ships.

The young Hippah was tall and slender, with smooth, supple limbs and muscles that worked beneath his velvet skin like those of a panther. But he was kindly and affectionate, and, as was subsequently proved, his heart had gone out to the powerful white strangers who had visited his shores. He had picked up a few words of English and was a favorite with every one.

Early in December the water casks had been replenished. The crews had recommenced exercising at the guns, the Essex and the Essex, Jr., were rigged all ataunto, and the rumors of sailing had become a certainty; but there was to be one little exciting scene before they spread their canvas.

On Sunday, the 9th of December, as was the custom, the men exchanged visits. The forecastle is the pulse of the ship, and, from the mutterings and conversation, it was perceived that the crews of both vessels were in a feverish condition, for the life at Nukahiva had been a round of delight for the Jack-tars. They hated to give up the pleasures of the beautiful island, with its shady palm groves, fresh fruits, music and singing; and it was known that it was a final farewell they were to bid to Fiddler's Green."

Exaggerated reports of this dissatisfaction reached the officers, and the question was discussed in Captain Porter's cabin.

On Monday David had transferred his chest and small belongings to the Essex. He came on board in the morning watch. All the brass work shone in the early morning light. There was an air of expectancy, and yet suspense, throughout the vessel. The men talked in half whispers.

Before breakfast the drum beat and all hands were assembled on the spar deck. Captain Porter, accompanied by his officers, came out of the cabin. In his hand he carried a heavy brass-hilted cutlass. Glancing at his face, David saw that he was controlling himself with difficulty. His voice shook with anger as he gave orders for the crew to muster on the larboard side. Then he advanced to the capstan and placed the heavy cutlass upon it. For an instant he stood there with folded arms, gazing up and down the lines of, faces. Some of the men shifted uneasily, but not a lip moved. There was not a man dared to attract attention to himself. One of the officers coughed nervously. At last the captain was speaking:

"All of you who are in favor of weighing anchor when I give the order, pass over to the starboard side. You who are of a different determination, stay on the larboard."

An instant of hesitation, and the whole crew to a man crossed the deck.

Captain Porter's voice rose.

"How is this?" he said. "Robert White, step forward!"

A pale-faced man, with a line of jet-black whiskers framing his heavy jaw, stood out from the crew.

"Did you not tell them on board the Essex, Jr., that the crew of this vessel would refuse to weigh anchor when I gave the order?" he questioned.

"No, sir," faltered the poor wretch, his hands clasping and unclasping nervously.

"You lie, you scoundrel!"

Porter turned to one of the officers. "Read the list of men who visited the Essex, Jr., yesterday, Mr. Wilmer."

The officer did so, and as each man's name was called out he stepped forward. White was an Englishman who had joined the crew of the Essex from one of the prizes and had taken the oath.

To each of the assembled group Porter put the question:

"Did you not hear of this thing on board the Essex, Jr.?"

And each man replied, with a lift of his fingers to his cap: "Yes, sir, I did."

White had wavered to and fro. It appeared for an instant as if he were going to faint. When the last man had answered the question, Porter reached for the heavy cutlass on the capstan.

"Run, you scoundrel, run for your life!" he cried.

The culprit needed no more to urge him. He sprang for the companion way. As he went through, the toe of old Kingsbury's boot assisted him materially. There was a plash alongside, and he was seen striking out for the shore, when a canoe picked him up.

Porter smiled and placed the cutlass in a rack. A weight seemed to be lifted from his mind and he spoke to the men with the old hearty ring in his voice that always held them.

"Lads," he said, "you will stay by me. I can not thank you for doing your duty, but I shall say that I am proud of you."

Then he turned. His tone was almost gay now.

"Here, Johnny Bow," he cried, "up with you!"

A little sailor with a fiddle tucked under his chin mounted the capstan. The men with half a cheer set the bars into place, and Johnny Bow, with one foot stamping but the time, struck up "The girl I left behind me," and the lively rattle of capstan joined in an accompaniment.

From the quarter-deck the officers were bawling orders. The Essex walked up to her anchor and it rose out of the water steadily to the catheads; then the wind caught her head sails and she swung slowly about, her bow pointing seaward.

The Essex, Jr., followed suit. A cheer from the vessels left behind, and from the little fort that had been built on shore, was followed by a rousing one from the sailors of the Essex, who had caught the spirit of their commander.

It was a grand day. The sky was dotted with little fleecy patches of white clouds. Never was a crew in such health and spirits. In the sick bay not a single man was present, nor had one reported at the doctor's call.

The Essex, Jr., and the frigate forged ahead to the westward and southward. Farewell to Nukahiva, farewell to "Fiddler's Green!"

David, who was stowing his chest, suddenly heard his name called, and, looking up, he saw that Clark was standing close to him.

"Who do you suppose is on board this ship?" he asked quite eagerly.

"That is a strange way to put a question," replied David. "Give it up."

"Your namesake, David Farragut Tamaha!"

"No!" exclaimed David in surprise.

"I saw him in the forecastle not a moment since," put in Middy Isaacs. "He looks a trifle frightened. Perhaps he is searching for his brother."

David smiled. "I'll run up and see him," he said.

As he came up on deck he noticed that the wind had changed, and that the two vessels had gone about on the starboard tack. Off to the westward, its blue peaks rising against the clear sky, lay the beautiful island. Nearer was another and smaller one of the group, and farther away a third. So clear was the air that it seemed almost possible for a pistol shot to have reached them. Many of the men were sadly gazing back, and many were probably wishing themselves there once more.

A slim, half-naked figure was crouching by the foremast. It was poor Tamaha. As soon as he saw David he arose and came nearer. His dark eyes had a frightened look and he was trembling from head to foot. David took the outstretched hand.

"Good!" he said. "You come with us."

"I go with you," Tamaha answered in his native tongue.

"We'll make a sailor of him, youngster," said one of the officers who was going by. "I'll see he draws some clothes from the slop chest."

It had fallen calm again and continued so until late in the evening. Early in the first night watch David came on deck. He was searching for Tamaha. A slight breeze had sprung up and the frigate had gathered headway. The men were hauling in the jib sheets when there came a sound of a few angry words and a scuffle from the forecastle. Ten minutes afterward a man came running aft. Hurriedly he saluted the officer of the watch.

"The native, sir—he's gone overboard; I judge some time ago!"

The helmsman threw the great ship up into the wind and all ran to the rail.

"Shall we lower a boat, sir?" asked a quarter-master.

"How far do you make it to the shore?"

"It's above twelve miles," was the reply.

"He'll make that all right. Let him go."

The helmsman turned the spokes of the wheel and the Essex paid off.

David dreamed that night that he had looked over the rail and that he could see the lift of the strong naked arms furiously striking out in the wilderness of water with that swift motion that makes the Pacific Islander the greatest swimmer in the world.

"Come back, Tamaha!" he had shouted.

The only answer in his dream had been a wave of the hand.

Strange to say, long afterward it was learned, that Tamaha did reach home again after having swam some fifteen miles.