Midshipman Farragut - James Barnes

In the Pacific

After leaving the harbor of Valparaiso the Essex sailed up the Chilian coast. It had happened that the commander of a. Chilian coast-guard vessel had taken it into his hands to interfere with American commerce and had captured two or three American whalers.

This news was given to Captain Porter by a vessel that he met shortly after he left his last harbor, and it was the good fortune of the Essex to run across this corsair and to punish the commander in a way which taught him a lesson.

The Nereyda was a fifteen-gun sloop of war. She at first took the Essex for a merchantman, and, discovering her mistake too late, started to get away. The Yankee frigate quickly overhauled her and, without firing a gun, took possession. Throwing overboard all of her guns and ammunition, and leaving the captain only his lower masts to regain the port with, Captain Porter turned him loose.

On board the Nereyda were found the crews of two or three of the vessels she had captured. Learning that the last prize taken had only shortly before started to the southward, the Essex set sail and over-hauled a large whaling ship, the Alexander Barclay, and recaptured her, as she was under a prize crew.

Inside of three or four weeks the Essex was accompanied by a small fleet of prizes, made up of the whaler before mentioned and three large British ships the Georgiana, the Montezuma, and the Policy, which were captured by a boat expedition during a calm.

The Georgiana was equipped as a cruiser and Lieutenant Downes was placed in command. He set out to the westward alone. The little squadron then made their way to Charles Island, one of the Galapagos group, to examine the whalers' post office," a letter box nailed to a tree, in which visiting vessels left news of their whereabouts.

Here followed a month that for a long time David Farragut and all the midshipmen reckoned the happiest of their lives. They fished and caught seals and tortoises and grew fat and hearty. The crew were in fine condition, and the weather everything that could be wished for.

But at last, having filled up with wood and water and fresh provisions, the squadron set sail, the Essex capturing a large vessel named the Atlantic when only a few days out.

They had been anchored but a short time in the bay of Guayaquil when the Georgiana returned from her cruise. She brought three more prizes with her—the Rose, the Catherine, and the Hector. The Atlantic being the finest one of the captured vessels, the Georgiana's armament was shifted to her and she was rechristened the Essex, Jr.

There were now nine vessels in the squadron. Officers to command the prizes being scarce, the midshipmen were called upon, and, to his intense surprise, David Farragut had been sent for to go to Captain Porter's cabin. When he had left a few minutes later he could hardly believe that the orders he had heard were true. At the age of twelve years he had been appointed prize master of the Barclay, the vessel that had been recaptured from the Spanish "guarda costa." And now followed an interesting chapter in the midshipman's life.

David had transferred his little sea chest to the Barclay. He occupied one half the cabin, while the former captain of the vessel, who still was kept on board, took up the other.

It was very fortunate for the boy commander that the majority of the prize crew was composed of stanch seamen who had sailed with him the previous year; otherwise most disagreeable consequences might have followed.

Joseph Hawley, the messmate of old William Kingsbury, had been sent on board as acting quartermaster. When the signal to set sail had been shown from the Essex, David was asleep down in the cabin. The ex-captain of the Barclay, a cross old curmudgeon, refused to notice the midshipman's presence, and had sat up almost all the night smoking and grumbling on the quarter-deck.

David was awakened by feeling some one touch him lightly on the shoulder. Looking up, he saw that it was Hawley.

"Mr. Farragut, they're flying a signal to get under way, sir, but I fear there will be some trouble. Hadn't you better come on deck, sir?"

David jumped into his clothes. As he ran up the companion ladder he saw the old captain standing at the top with his arms folded. He wished him a cheery good morning, and hastened to the rail. He was so short that he had to step up on a gun carriage to look over it.

There were all the vessels, some under way and the others with their anchors up and down, and their sails shaking out from the yards. The Barclay was lying almost a mile farther inshore than were the rest. There had evidently been no attempt to get up her anchor, and the men were standing talking in groups and casting furtive glances at the quarter-deck. What did it mean?

The midshipman had received his orders the day before, and knew that at the signal to sail he was to clear away in the wake of the Essex for the harbor of Valparaiso. He turned to the older man, who was a giant, standing almost six feet four inches, with tremendous shoulders and a shock of wiry gray hair. He looked down at the little midshipman approaching him.

"Captain Randall," said David, trying to control his voice (although, to tell the truth, a great fear welled into his heart), order all sail to be made and follow those vessels to the westward."

The captain thrust his hands into his pockets. He gave a whistle and then an ugly, sneering laugh.

"Listen to the little monkey," he said, "that presumes to give me orders!"

"My orders are from Captain Porter," responded David. "We must set sail for Valparaiso."

"More likely to New Zealand!" responded Captain Randall. "This is my vessel, and I take her where I please."

David wished that he were a man, but he knew that the moment had come when he should show the crew that he was an officer, no matter if he was but twelve years old.

"I order you, sir," he said, his voice trembling, "to make sail on this vessel."

Four or five of the men had stepped aft. They were within earshot; among them David noticed Hawley. He knew he could depend upon him. The captain had laughed again, and had said something in which David caught the words "long clothes." His anger had now overcome his fear entirely. Turning his back upon the captain, he looked at the group of seamen.

"Get up the anchor and be lively!" he shouted; and he gave the rest of the orders for preparing to make sail.

"Aye, aye, sir!" said Hawley, touching his cap. "You command this vessel, Mr. Farragut."

There was a moment of hesitation, but three or four of the crew jumped at once to the capstan. Captain Randall did not issue any orders to the contrary, but he turned furiously and made for the head of the companion way.

"I'll shoot the first man who dares to touch a rope," he muttered. "I'll get my pistols, you little monkey. We'll see who commands this vessel!" He hurried down below.

David called to the quartermaster. He knew there were four or five men that he could absolutely rely upon, and he knew that to keep his authority he must be firm.

Hawley and another seaman came running. The capstan was clicking merrily by this time and the Barclay was walking up to her anchor.

"Mr. Hawley," said David, giving the quarter-master a handle to his name, "if that man comes up from below, I order you to heave him overboard."

The transom to the cabin was open and David shouted down to Captain Randall.

"You're under arrest, sir!" he cried, "and ordered to keep your cabin. If you come on deck you do so at your peril."

The crew had heard this speech. The admiration for the boy who had so suddenly become a man seemed to overcome all tendencies toward mutinous conduct. They scampered up the shrouds and took his piping orders and answered them as willingly as if they had been roared in old Kingsbury's lion voice.

In half an hour the Barclay had laid her course in pursuit of the division of the fleet led by Lieutenant Downes in the Essex, Jr.

Captain Randall did not reappear that day or the next. On the third the Barclay had crept up with the fleet and had got within hailing distance of the Essex, Jr. David spoke her at once and requested that he might be allowed to send a boat on board. It had fallen quite calm and the little fleet was drifting about hither and thither when David lowered away his gig.

He and the captain had not met at mess since the affair of a few days previous, but now the latter came up on deck and requested somewhat sarcastically that he be allowed to be taken on board the flagship to speak to Lieutenant Downes.

David allowed him to step into the gig, and the captain, who for some reason was affecting great amusement, took his seat in the stern sheets beside him.

As soon as they had boarded the Essex, Jr., David made his report. Captain Randall stood by, apparently much amused.

"Why, Lieutenant Downes," he put in at last, "I was only trying to frighten the youngster; I meant nothing serious."

"You might tell Lieutenant Downes how well you succeeded, sir," spoke up David.

"Hear him! I like his spunk," answered Randall, who appeared to be a little nervous notwithstanding.

"Come, we might as well be friends. You will need my help. Let's return. It was all a joke. You'll need me to help you handle the old hooker. I know her tricks and manners."

David ignored this latter speech and turned to Lieutenant Downes.

"Am I prize master of the Barclay?" he asked. "You are, sir," was the laconic response, and as such you have command."

"Very good, sir," answered David. "Captain Randall, you may return with me, or not, as you see fit." The older man was flustered.

"I think I had better go with you, Mr. Farragut," he answered.

And the case being settled to David's satisfaction, the boat was called away and they returned to the Barclay.

Strange to relate, Captain Randall, if he had at first intended the whole affair as a joke, kept it up most successfully, for he and the young commander dined together that night in the cabin, and David sat at the head of the table. Until the Barclay arrived at Valparaiso, Randall took orders from his superior with as much gravity as if David, instead of standing four feet eight inches, was seven feet tall and broad in proportion.

As for the crew, they had nicknamed him "The Little Commodore," and were as eager to please him as though he held in his power the gift of high promotion.

Refitting at Valparaiso, they sailed again and joined the Essex at the island of Albemarle.

Porter had taken three more prizes—the ships New Zealand, Seringapatam, and the Sir Andrew Hammond.

The "Little Commodore" removed his chest from the Barclay and once again became the humble midshipman who played blind-man's buff in the steerage. Odenheimer, Isaacs, Ogden, and Tittermary welcomed him back, and the first night of his return the boys whispered long in their hammocks. There was sad news: poor Cowan was ill in the sick bay.