A GUNNER ABOARD THE "YANKEE"
From the Diary of Number Five of the After Port Gun (Russell Doubleday)
The Yarn of the Cruise and Fights of the Naval Reserves in the Spanish-American War
Edited by H. H. LEWIS, Late a S.N.
With Introduction by W. T. SAMPSON, Rear Admiral U.S.
BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA
Honorary President, THE HON. WOODROW WILSON Honorary Vice-President, HON. WILLIAM H. TAFT Honorary Vice-President, COLONEL THEODORE ROOSEVELT President, COLIN B. LIVINGSTONE, Washington, D.C. Vice-President, B.L. DULANEY, Bristol, Tenn. Vice-President, MILTON A. McRAE, Detroit, Mich. Vice-President, DAVID STARR JORDAN, Stanford University, Cal. Vice-President, F.L. SEELY, Asheville, N.C. Vice-President, A. STAMFORD WHITE, Chicago, Ill. Chief Scout, ERNEST THOMPSON SETON, Greenwich, Connecticut National Scout Commissioner, DANIEL CARTER BEARD, Fishing, N.Y.
NATIONAL HEADQUARTERS THE FIFTH AVENUE BUILDING, 200 FIFTH AVENUE TELEPHONE GRAMERCY 540 NEW YORK CITY
FINANCE COMMITTEE John Sherman Hoyt, Chairman George D. Pratt Mortimer L. Schiff H. Rogers Winthrop
GEORGE D. PRATT Treasurer JAMES E. WEST Chief Scout Executive
ADDITIONAL MEMBERS OF THE EXECUTIVE BOARD Ernest P. Bicknell Robert Garrett Lee F. Hanmer Jobe Sherman Hoyt Charles C. Jackson Prof. Jeremiah W. Jeeks William D. Murray Dr. Charles P. Nell Frank Presbrey Edgar M. Robinson Mortimer L. Schiff Lorillard Spencer Seth Spreguy Terry
July 31st, 1913.
TO THE PUBLIC:—
In the execution of its purpose to give educational value and moral worth to the recreational activities of the boyhood of America, the leaders of the Boy Scout Movement quickly learned that to effectively carry out its program, the boy must be influenced not only in his out-of-door life but also in the diversions of his other leisure moments. It is at such times that the boy is captured by the tales of daring enterprises and adventurous good times. What now is needful is not that his taste should be thwarted but trained. There should constantly be presented to him the books the boy likes best, yet always the books that will be best for the boy. As a natter of fact, however, the boy's taste is being constantly vitiated and exploited by the great mass of cheap juvenile literature.
To help anxiously concerned parents and educators to meet this grave peril, the Library Commission of the Boy Scouts of America has been organized. EVERY BOY'S LIBRARY is the result of their labors. All the books chosen have been approved by them. The Commission is composed of the following members: George F. Bowerman, Librarian, Public Library of the District of Columbia, Washington, D.C.; Harrison W. Graver, Librarian, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Pa.; Claude G. Leland, Superintendent, Bureau of Libraries, Board of Education, New York City; Edward F. Stevens, Librarian, Pratt Institute Free Library, Brooklyn, New York; together with the Editorial Board of our Movement, William D. Murray, George D. Pratt and Frank Presbrey, with Franklin K. Mathiews. Chief Scout Librarian, as Secretary.
In selecting the books, the Commission has chosen only such as are of interest to boys, the first twenty-five being either works of fiction or stirring stories of adventurous experiences. In later lists, books of a more serious sort will be included. It is hoped that as many as twenty-five may be added to the Library each year.
Thanks are due the several publishers who have helped to inaugurate this new department of our work. Without their co-operation in making available for popular priced editions some of the best books ever published for boys, the promotion of EVERY BOY'S LIBRARY would have been impossible.
We wish, too, to express our heartiest gratitude to the Library Commission, who, without compensation, have placed their vast experience and immense resources at the service of our Movement.
The Commission invites suggestions as to future books to be included in the Library. Librarians, teachers, parents, and all others interested in welfare work for boys, can render a unique service by forwarding to National Headquarters lists of such books as in their judgment would be suitable for EVERY BOY'S LIBRARY.
Chief Scout Executive.
Acknowledgements are due to J. Harper Skillen, Stewart Flagg, George Yardley, W.G. Wood, and E. Howe Stockwell for the use of photographs; and to C.B. Hayward and Allan H. Seaman for the use of notes and diaries.
THIS BOOK IS RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED BY
NUMBER FIVE OF THE AFTER PORT GUN OF THE YANKEE
TO THE NAVAL RESERVE ORGANIZATIONS
THROUGHOUT THE UNITED STATES, WHO HAVE MADE SUCH
AN ENVIABLE RECORD DURING THE SPANISH-AMERICAN
WAR AND BEFORE WHOM SUCH A
OPENS AUTHOR'S FOREWORD
1898 April 1917
The successors of the crew of the "Yankee" are now "somewhere in the service." The boys of the First Battalion New York Naval Militia were just as eager to get to sea in the service of Uncle Sam to do their part for the great cause, as we were in the Spring of '98.
The old frigate "Granite State" (formerly the New Hampshire), living through three wars, has resounded to the tramp of hundreds of tars in the making. She is the school ship, the home ship of the First Battalion. Down her gangways went most of the "Yankee's" crew and between her massive decks they returned after their job was done.
As I write it seems as if I can hear the shrill whistle of the bo'sn's pipe sounding in all parts of the old wooden ship, then the long drawn call "all hands on deck." The men come tumbling up from below, touching their caps in salute as their heads rise above the hatch coaming. Men standing in battalion formation, by divisions, at attention, each man answers "here" as his name is called. Some of the voices are a little husky as the speaker realizes that war is on and he is about to be called for real service.
And so they are mustered in. The state's sailors become Uncle Sam's man-o'-war's-men. The old "Granite State" is once more emptied of its crew. The decks are silent and the long, low gangways beneath the ancient deck beams are checked with squares of undisturbed yellow-light, as the sun streams through the square gun ports.
The readers of this book can imagine the men on our great gray ships of war going through much the same routine followed by the "Yankee's" crew, for there has been but little change in the work and play of the man-o'-war's-men.
So let us take off our caps and give the men of 1917 three cheers and a tiger. May they shoot straight, and keep fit.
April, 1917 Nineteen years ago this month the "Yankee's" crew went to sea.
As the Commander-in-Chief of the American Naval Squadron blockading Santiago and the Cuban coast, the auxiliary cruiser "Yankee," manned by the New York Naval Reserves, came immediately under my observation, and it is a pleasure for me to speak of the spirit and efficiency shown by the officers and crew during their stay under my command.
The young men forming the ship's company of the "Yankee" were called into service several weeks prior to any other Naval Reserve battalion; they came from all walks of civil life, and their minds, devoted to peaceful pursuits, were suddenly diverted to the needs and requirements and the usages of naval routine. Notwithstanding this radical change, they have made the name of their ship a household word throughout the country, and have proved that the average American, whether he be clerk or physician, broker, lawyer, or merchant, can, on the spur of the moment, prove a capable fighter for his country even amid such strange and novel surroundings as obtain in the naval service. These young men have especially upheld the American supremacy in the art of gunnery, and have, on all occasions, proved brave and efficient.
The conclusion of the Spanish-American War released them from their voluntarily assumed positions in the regular navy, but when they returned to civil life they carried with them the consciousness of duty well done at Santiago and Cienfuegos and whenever their guns were used in hostile action. In a word, the Naval Reserves manning the "Yankee," in common with those on board other vessels in the service, have proved their aptitude for sea duty, and made apparent the wisdom of the Government in calling them into active service.
W.T. SAMPSON, Rear-Admiral, U.S.N.
U.S. FLAGSHIP "NEW YORK," September 3, 1898.
CHAPTER AUTHOR'S FOREWORD INTRODUCTION PREFACE I. IN WHICH THE "YANKEE" GOES INTO COMMISSION II. IN WHICH WE GET UNDER WAY AT LAST III. IN WHICH THE "YANKEE" CRUISES FOR PRIZES IV. WE GET ORDERS TO GO SOUTH V. A WILD GOOSE CHASE VI. WE BECOME COAL HEATERS VII. WE ENTER THE "THEATRE OF WAR" VIII. WE JOIN SAMPSON'S FLEET IX. CLEAR SHIP FOR ACTION X. WE BOMBARD SANTIAGO DE CUBA XI. A PERILOUS MOMENT XII. IN SEARCH OF ADVENTURE XIII. A NARROW ESCAPE XIV. WE ENGAGE IN A SEA FIGHT XV. COALING IN THE TROPICS XVI. "REMEMBER THE FISH" XVII. IN GOD'S COUNTRY XVIII. THE "YANKEE" ARRIVES OFF SANTIAGO XIX. HOPE DEFERRED XX. TAPS APPENDIX
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
THE NAVAL RESERVES LEAVING NEW YORK—GOING OFF IN THE TUGBOAT TO MAN THE "YANKEE" Frontispiece
"THAT FAT MAN IN THE CELLAR WANTS ME TO SLEEP IN A BAG—"
"THE GIG WAS LOWERED"
"THE MEN ON THE STAGES"
"STAND BY, MEN. BE READY FOB INSTANT ACTION"
"THE 'YANKEE' DROPPED HER ANCHOR OFF TOMPKINSVILLE"
"WITH A FRIGHTFUL ROAR THE DEFECTIVE CARTRIDGE EXPLODED"
"THE SIX-POUNDERS ON THE 'YANKEE'S' FORECASTLE JOINED IN THE CHORUS"
"CLEAR SHIP FOR ACTION!"
THE BOMBARDMENT OF MORRO CASTLE, SANTIAGO
ON THE GUN DECK DURING THE BOMBARDMENT
THE SEARCHLIGHT "SWEEPING BACK AND FORTH ACROSS THE BLACK OF THE HORIZON"
"THERE WAS TEMPORARY CONFUSION"
"THE FUSILLADE WAS LIVELY"
"THE SPAR DECK WAS COVERED WITH RED SHELLAC"
"THE MARINES AIRED THEIR HAMMOCKS ON THE FORECASTLE DECK"
"HE GOT HIS ORDERS FROM THE BRIDGE"
"ALL YOU MEN WHO WANT TO GO IN SWIMMING MAY DO SO"
MARCHING THROUGH CITY HALL PARK, NEW YORK CITY
When the important events of the first part of April, 1898, were shaping themselves toward an inevitable conflict between Spain and the United States of America, the authorities at Washington began to perfect their plans for an immediate increase of the navy. The Naval Militia of the country, of whom Assistant Secretary Theodore Roosevelt had a very high opinion, came in for early attention, and word was sent to the different States to prepare for service. Several days previous to the actual outbreak of war, messages were forwarded from the Naval Reserve receiving ship "New Hampshire," lying at a dock in the East River, to a number of young men, members of the Naval Militia, residing in New York City. These summons contained simply a request to report at once on board the ship, but they resulted in a most curious and interesting transformation—in fact, they formed the foundation of a chain of events which was destined to amalgamate into a common grade—that of a naval bluejacket—several hundred young Americans, who, in their natural characters, were sons of rich men and of men of moderate means, of doctors and lawyers and brokers and clerks and bookkeepers, and of all sorts and conditions of respectable citizens. Patriotism was the incentive which called these youths of various stations together, and sheer love of country and the courage to fight her battles formed the cement which bound them cheerfully to their duty. To fight for pay and as a profession is one thing; to offer your freedom and your life, to endure discomforts and actual hardships, to risk health in a fever-stricken foreign country, and to sacrifice settled ambition for mere patriotism, is another. It is the latter which the Volunteer Naval Reserve of the United States has done, and every American citizen with a drop of honest blood in his veins will surely give the organization the praise it so richly deserves.
On the third of May, while Cervera's whereabouts was still an absorbing mystery, the "Yankee" (an auxiliary cruiser, converted from the steamship "El Nort") went into commission at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. She was manned entirely, save for the captain, executive officer, navigator, paymaster, and the marine guard, by members of the New York State Naval Militia. For four months she remained in commission, weaving the threads of a glorious record which will ever redound to the credit and honor of the Volunteer Naval Reserve. Truth is ever stranger than fiction, and the simple story of the boys of the gallant "Yankee," as set forth in the diary of Number Five of the After Port Gun, should appeal to the heart of every reader in this great country of ours—a country made grander and better and more potent in the world's history by the achievements of such brave lads as those who formed the crew of the "Yankee." Number Five's diary was written simply for his family, but the fame gained by the "Yankee" leads the publishers to believe that it will prove interesting to Americans far and wide. It is set forth in narrative form, but the incidents and the straightforward, simple, and sailor-like words are those of the actual participant. This is his story.
IN WHICH THE "YANKEE" GOES INTO COMMISSION.
U.S.S. "NEW HAMPSHIRE," April 26, 1898. Report at "New Hampshire" immediately, ready to go on board auxiliary cruiser "Yankee."
(Signed) JOHN H. BARNARD, Lieut, commanding 3d Division, N.Y. State Naval Militia.
It was this telegram, brief but extremely comprehensive, received early on the morning of the twenty-sixth of April, which sent me post-haste to the old receiving-ship "New Hampshire," moored at the end of an East River dock. The telegram had been anxiously expected for several days by the members of the First Battalion, and when I reached the ship I found the decks thronged with excited groups.
"War was a certainty, and the very air was filled with rumors. The prevailing topic was discussed from every point of view, and within sixty seconds as many destinations had been picked out for the 'Yankee.' It was variously reported that she was to go to Havana, to Manila, to Porto Rico, and even to Spain. This last rumor brought shouts of laughter, and 'Stump,' as we termed him, a well-known young insurance broker of New York, remarked, in his characteristic way:
"It probably won't be this particular 'Yankee,' boys, that will go there, but there'll be others."
There was much cleaning of kits and furbishing of cutlasses. We knew that we would not take the latter with us, but then it was practice, and we felt anxious to do something martial as a relief to our excitement. There was a diversion shortly before noon, when the "old man" (the captain) appeared with a number of official-looking papers in his hands.
"He's got the orders," whispered little Potter, our latest recruit. "Whoop! we'll get away this morning, sure."
The whistle of the bosun's mate on watch echoed shrilly about the decks a few moments later.
"Now, d'ye hear there," he shouted, hoarsely, "you will break out mess gear and get yourselves ready for messing aboard ship."
That did not sound as if we were destined to see our new vessel put into commission very soon, and there was some grumbling, but the boys fell to work with good grace, and we were soon preparing for our stay aboard the old frigate. The officer of the deck was lenient, however, and the majority of the crew secured permission to sleep at home that night.
The following Monday, on reporting on board the "New Hampshire," we learned that the entire detail selected to man the "Yankee" would proceed to that ship shortly after eight bells. Word was passed that our enlistment papers—for we were to regularly enter Uncle Sam's naval service—would be made out, and that our freedom and liberty, as some of the boys put it, would cease from that hour. The latter statement made little impression. We had entered the Naval Reserves for business, if business was required, and we expected hardships as well as fun.
A navy-yard tug, sent by the Commandant, steamed alongside at two o'clock, and the company was marched on board without delay. The boys were eager to enter on this, their first real detail, and, in the rush to gain the deck of the tug, young Potter slipped from the rail and fell with a mighty splash into the water. "Man overboard!" bawled his nearest mate, and "Man overboard!" echoed one hundred and fifty voices. There was a scramble for the side, and the tug's deck hand, assisted by several of our fellows, fished Potter from the river with a boat hook.
"Hereafter, please ask permission before you leave the ship," facetiously remarked the officer in charge.
"Humph! as if I meant to do it," grunted Potter, wringing the East River from his duck shirt.
We caught our first view of the "Yankee" as we steamed past the cob dock at the yard. We were favorably impressed at once. She is a fine-looking ship, large, roomy, and comfortable, with lines which show that she is built for speed. As her record is twenty knots an hour, the latter promise is carried out. The "Yankee" was formerly the "El Norte," one of the Morgan Line's crack ships, and, when it was found necessary to increase the navy, she was purchased, together with other vessels of the same company, and ordered converted into an auxiliary cruiser. Gun mounts were placed in the cargo ports, beams strengthened, magazines inserted, and interior arrangements made to accommodate a large crew. The "Yankee's" tonnage is 4,695 tons; length, 408 feet; beam, 48 feet. The battery carried consists of ten five-inch quick-firing breechloaders, six six-pounders, and two Colt automatic guns. After events proved conclusively the efficiency of the "Yankee's" armament.
The detail was taken alongside the "Yankee" by the tug. We had our first meeting with our new captain, Commander W.H. Brownson, of the regular navy. His appearance and his kindly greeting bore out the reputation he holds in the service as a gentleman and a capable officer. It is well to say right here that Commander Brownson, although a strict disciplinarian, was ever fair and just in his treatment of the crew. Our pedigrees were taken for the enlistment papers, and the questions asked us in regard to our ages, occupations, etc., proved that the Government requires the family history of its fighters. The following day each man was subjected to a rigid physical examination. The latter ceremony is so thorough that a man needs to be perfect to have the honor of wearing the blue shirt. Personally, when I finally emerged from the examining room, I felt that my teeth were all wrong, my eyes crossed, my heart a wreck, and that I was not only a physical ruin, but a gibbering idiot as well. That I really passed the examination successfully was no fault of the naval surgeon and his assistants.
After the medical department had finished with us, the enlistment papers were completed, and we became full-fledged "Jackies," as "Stump" termed it. The members of the battalion were rated as landsmen, ordinary seamen, and able-bodied seamen, according to their skill, and a number of men, hastily enlisted for the purpose, were made machinists, firemen, coal-passers, painters, and carpenters. Some of these had seen service in the regular navy, and they were visibly horny-handed sons of toil. One Irishman, whose brogue was painful, looked with something very like contempt on the Naval Reserve sailors.
"Uncle Sam is a queer bird," several of us overheard him remark to a mate. "He do be making a picnic av this war wid his pleasure boats an' his crew av pretty b'yes. If we iver tackle the Spaniards, there'll be many a mama's baby on board this hooker cryin' for home, swate home."
"Hod," a six-footer, who played quarter-back on a famous team not long ago, took out his notebook and made an entry.
"I'll spot that fellow and make him eat his words before we get into deep water," he said, quietly. He was not the only one to make that vow, and it was plain that Burke, the Irishman, had trouble in store for him.
On our return to the "New Hampshire," the battalion was placed under the regular ship's routine. All the men were divided into two watches, starboard and port. The port watch, for instance, goes on duty at eight bells in the morning, stands four hours, and is then relieved by the starboard watch; this routine continues day and night, except from four until eight in the afternoon, when occur the dog watches, two of them, two hours long each, stood by the port and starboard men respectively. The dog watches are necessary to secure a change in the hours of duty for each watch.
From now on we were given a taste of the actual work of the service. Details were made up each morning and sent to the "Yankee" to assist in getting her in readiness for service. One of the first duties was to carry on board and stow away in the hold one hundred kegs of mess pork. As each keg contained one hundred pounds, the task was not easy for men unaccustomed to manual labor. Still there was no complaint. In fact, the only growling heard so far had come from some of the men who had seen service in the regular navy. Burke, the fireman, declaimed loudly against the "shoe leather an' de terrer-cotter hard-tack which they do be tryin' to feed to honest workers. As for the slops they call coffee, Oi wouldn't give it to an Orangeman's pig!"
The food served out on board the "New Hampshire"—being the usual Government ration of salt-horse, coffee, and hard-tack—was vastly different from that to which the majority of the boys were accustomed, but it was accepted with the good grace displayed by the members of the Reserve on every occasion. All these little discomforts are, as the Navigator (a commissioned officer of the regular navy) remarked, "merely incidental to the service."
As the time approached when we were to board the "Yankee" for good, the ordinary watches were abandoned, and only anchor watches kept. An anchor watch is a detail of five or six men, selected from the different parts of the ship, who do duty, really, as watchmen, during the night. Two days before the order arrived to leave the "New Hampshire," it was found necessary to station several men, armed with guns and fixed bayonets, on the dock near the ship, to stop men from taking the "hawser route" ashore. The firemen and coal-passers had been refused shore leave, or liberty, as it is called, because of their habit of getting intoxicated, pawning their uniforms, and loitering ashore. Truth to tell, the guns and bayonets had little effect, as the offenders were old in the business.
The second night after the order was put in force it happened that "Hod," who was rated as an able seaman, was on duty with gun and bayonet on that end of the dock opposite the forecastle. He had just relieved the man whose watch ended at midnight, and he stood thoughtfully watching the twinkling lights on the opposite side of the mighty East River. There was so much to occupy his mind in a situation which was both charming and fascinating that he remained motionless for several minutes. Presently there came a slight, scraping sound, and the end of a rope struck the dock almost at his feet.
Glancing up, "Hod" saw a man's figure, dimly outlined in the gloom, slip from the topgallant forecastle and quickly descend the rope. It was evidently one of the men taking "French" leave, and it was the sentry's duty to give the alarm at once. But "Hod" had other views in this particular case. Hastily stepping back into the shadows, he laid his gun upon the floor of the dock, and rolled up his sleeves with an air that meant business. The next moment the absconder dropped from the rope.
As he prepared to slip past the ship a sinewy hand was placed upon his shoulder, and another equally sinewy caught him by the collar.
"Burke, suppose you return aboard ship," said "Hod," quietly. "You are not going to hit the Bowery this time."
The Irish fireman attempted to wrench himself free, then he struck out at "Hod" with all the force of his right arm. The quarter-back's practice on the field came into play, and the college graduate tackled his opponent in the latest approved style. The struggle was short and decisive, and it resulted in Burke declaring his willingness to return to the ship.
"The next time you try to size up a new shipmate be sure you are on to his curves," remarked "Hod," as he escorted his prisoner over the gangway. "You will find some of 'mama's pretty boys' rather tough nuts to crack."
The day following this little episode found the members of the State Naval Militia detailed to form the crew of the "Yankee" in full possession of the cruiser which they were to sail to glory or defeat in defense of their country. The ship's company, two hundred and twenty-five in all, boarded the auxiliary warship without ceremony, and were speedily set to work hoisting in provisions, removing to the yard all unnecessary stuff with which the ship was littered, and getting her generally in condition for sailing. The work was extremely hard, but it was done without demur.
A naval officer attached to the yard stood near me at one time during the afternoon, and I heard him remark to a visitor who had accompanied him on board: "You will find an object lesson in this scene. These young men working here at the hardest kind of manual labor, buckling down cheerfully to dirty jobs, were, a few days ago, living in luxury in the best homes in New York City. The older men were clerks, or lawyers, or physicians, and not one of them had ever stained his hands with toil. Look at them now."
Unconsciously I glanced across the deck to where three men were hauling upon a whip, or block-and-tackle, which was being used to hoist huge boxes and casks of provisions on board. The three men were working sturdily, and it would have been difficult to recognize in them, with their grimy faces and soiled duck uniforms, a doctor, a bank cashier, and a man-about-town well known in New York City. Near the forward hatch, industriously swabbing the deck, was a black-haired youth whose father helps to control some of the largest moves on 'Change. Scattered about the gangway were others, some painting, some rolling barrels, and a number engaged in whipping in heavy boxes of ammunition. They were all cheerful, and the decks resounded with merry chatter and whistling and song.
I turned to myself. My hands were brown and smeared and bruised. My uniform, once white, was streaked and stained with tar. I wore shoes innocent of blacking and made after a pattern much admired among navvies. I had an individual ache in every bone of my body, and I was hungry and was compelled to look forward to a dinner of odorous salt-horse, hard bread, and "ennuied" coffee, but I was happy—I had to admit that. Perhaps it was the novelty of the situation, perhaps it was something else, but the fact remained that I would not have left the ship or given up the idea of going on the cruise for a good deal.
We worked hard all day, and, when mess gear was piped for supper, we could hardly repress a sigh of heartfelt relief. The food, bad as it was, was welcome, and when I reluctantly swung away from the mess table I felt much better. At six bells, shortly before hammocks were piped down, the "striker," or helper, for our mess cook, said mysteriously:
"Don't turn in early, Russ, there's going to be a little fun. 'Bill' and 'Stump' have young Potter on a string. It will be great."
IN WHICH WE GET UNDER WAY AT LAST.
The hint of possible fun that night was sufficient to keep me alert. "All work and no play, etc.," was part of our code aboard the "Yankee," and goodness knows we had worked hard enough getting the ship ready for sailing to be permitted a little sport. Then, again, any badgering of young Potter would be innocent amusement, so I laid by and waited, keeping my eye on "Bill."
"Bill," by the way, was the captain of our mess, a jolly good fellow, popular, and always in evidence when there was any skylarking on foot.
Hammocks were piped down at seven bells (7:30 p.m.), and, as it was our first experience on board the "Yankee," there was some confusion. A number of new recruits had joined that afternoon, and their efforts to master the mysteries of the sailor's sleeping outfit were amusing. A naval hammock differs largely from those used ashore. A hammock aboard ship is of canvas, seven feet long, with holes a few inches apart at each end, through which are reeved pieces of strong cord. The latter are called clews, and they meet at an iron ring, which is attached to the hooks in the carline beams when the hammock is in position for use. When a hammock is properly slung it hangs almost straight, with very little sagging. To get in properly, one grasps two hoops near the head, and, with an agile spring, throws body and feet into the canvas bed. This requires a knack, and is learned only after a more or less painful experience. A three-inch mattress and two blankets go with each outfit. For sheets a bag-like mattress cover is used, and, in lieu of the downy pillows of home, the sailor must be content with his shoes rolled up inside his trousers or flannel shirt. With it all, however, the naval hammock is very comfortable. There is the advantage of being able to not only wash your blankets and sheets, but your bed as well. Once each month clean hammocks are issued and the old ones scrubbed.
While I was below, rigging up my clews, I saw a commotion on the other side of the deck. The master-at-arms was expostulating with one of the new recruits who had reported that afternoon. Suddenly the latter called out, angrily, "I'll see if I have to, durn you!" and bolted for the upper deck. The master-at-arms followed him at once, and several of us followed the master-at-arms to see the excitement. We reached the quarter-deck just as the recruit came to a stop in front of the officer on watch.
"What's the matter with you?" demanded the latter, curtly. "What's up?"
"Th-th-that m-m-man down in the—the cellar wants me to sleep in a bag, durn him," gasped the recruit, waving his lanky arms, "and I won't do it for him or no one else."
"Cellar?" Then the officer shouted with laughter.
The recruit was sent back to the "New Hampshire" next day, but it was long before the master-at-arms was known by any other name or title than "the man in the cellar."
A few minutes before tattoo, "Bill" and "Stump" came up and intimated by signs that I was to accompany them to the forward part of the berth deck. On reaching the extreme end, which was occupied by an immense hawser reel, "Bill" indicated a hammock which was swinging with the forward clews directly above the great spool, or reel.
"If young Potter doesn't think this old hooker is haunted I'll never play another joke," he chuckled. "Get in and show him, 'Stump.'"
The latter grasped two hooks, gave himself a swing, landed in the hammock, and in an instant struck the deck with a thump, the hammock under him. As he rolled out I rubbed my eyes. The hammock had swiftly returned to its former position!
"It isn't hoodooed," grinned "Bill." "Just look here."
He hauled up on the head clews and presently a five-inch shell appeared above the top of the reel. The shell was fastened to the end of the hammock lashing, at the other end of which was attached the ring. The lashing led over the hook, and the weight of the shell was just sufficient to keep the hammock in its place. As I finished inspecting the clever contrivance, the boatswain's mate piped tattoo.
We hurried away to watch from a distance. Laughing and singing, the fellows trooped down to prepare for turning in; the hard labor of the day had not dampened their spirits. The deck soon presented an animated scene. A number of us had slept long enough on board the "New Hampshire" to become accustomed to man-o'-war style, but the new recruits were like so many cats in a strange garret. They stood about, glancing doubtfully at their hammocks and then at their clothes. They did not know just what to do with either.
"How do you get into the thing, I wonder?" asked the fellow from Harlem, eyeing his suspended bed.
"Borrow the navigator's step-ladder," suggested the coxs'n of the gig. "He keeps it in the chart room."
The greatest difficulty was the disposal of our clothes. There were no wardrobes nor closets nor convenient hooks, and it was strictly against the rule to leave anything lying around decks. The question was solved presently by an old naval sailor, who calmly made a neat roll of his duck jumper and trousers and another of his shoes and shirt. The latter he tucked into his clews at the foot, and the other he used as a pillow. We thanked our lucky stars we did not have creased trousers, smooth coats, vests, white shirts, collars, and neckties to dispose of.
In due time young Potter, who had stayed on deck viewing the scenery until chased by the corporal of the guard, came down and made for his hammock. Four dozen pairs of eyes watched him with delightful anticipation. Unconscious of the attention he was attracting, he doffed his clothes and brought out something from his black bag which proved to be a night-shirt! If there was any compunction in regard to the trick intended for him, it instantly vanished. A sailor with a night-shirt was legitimate prey.
Whistling softly, the victim prepared himself for the swing, grasped the hooks, and then, with good momentum, landed in the hammock. There was a swish, a distinct thud, and young Potter rolled out upon the deck with a gasp of amazement. Turning as quickly as he could, he looked up and saw the hammock swinging in its proper place. It was physical labor for us to keep from howling with glee at the expression on his face. He glanced sheepishly about to see if his catastrophe had been observed; then he made another attempt. This time a heave of the ship sent him even more quickly to the deck, and he landed with a bump that could have been heard in the cabin. He was fighting mad when he again scrambled to his feet.
"I can lick the lubber who threw me out," he shouted.
"Stop that talking," came from the master-at-arms' corner. "Turn in and keep quiet about the decks."
Potter grumbled something under his breath, then he made a careful search in the vicinity of his hammock. It was worth a dollar admission to see him poke about with, the end of a broom. He found nothing suspicious, and proceeded to try again. Very gingerly he grasped the hooks, and he experimented with one foot before trusting his whole weight to the hammock. The second he released his hold of the hooks he fell, and the fall was even greater than before.
"The blamed thing is spooky!" he howled, as he gathered himself together. He made a quick run for the ladder leading on deck, but was stopped by the master-at-arms, who demanded an explanation. While they were arguing, "Bill" and I quickly fixed the hammock, casting off the shell and concealing it behind a black bag. We had barely finished when the chief petty officer came up and examined the clews. He tested them by applying his own weight, then gave the crestfallen and astounded Potter a few terse words of advice about eating too much supper. Five minutes later the deck was quiet.
The hard labor of the previous day—such labor as hauling and pulling, handling heavy boxes and casks, and bales and barrels of provisions and ammunition—had made me dead tired, and I slept like a log until reveille. This unpleasant function occurred at three bells (half-past five o'clock), and it consisted of an infernal hubbub of drums and bugles and boatswains' pipes, loud and discordant enough to awaken the seven sleepers. We roused in a hurry, and, with eyes scarcely open, began to lash up our hammocks.
"Seven turns, no more, no less," bawled the master-at-arms. "Get just seven turns of the lashing around your hammocks, and get 'em quick. If you can't pass your hammock through a foot ring, you'll go on the report. Shake a leg there!"
The rumor had gone about that it was the custom to "swat" the last man with a club, and there was a great scramble. We found the hammock stowers in the nettings, which were large boxes on the gun deck, and our queer canvas beds were soon stowed away for the day. As the reveille hour is too early for breakfast, coffee and hard-tack is served out by each mess cook. The coffee is minus milk, but it is hot and palatable, and really acts as a tonic.
The first order of the day is to scrub down decks and clean ship generally, but, as the "Yankee" was still in the throes of preparation, we were spared that disagreeable work and permitted to arrange our belongings for the long voyage before us. In the service each man is allowed a black bag about three feet six inches high, and twelve inches in diameter, and a small wooden box, eighteen inches square, known as a "ditty box," to keep his wardrobe in. All clothing is rolled, and careful sailors generally wrap each garment in a piece of muslin before consigning it to the black bag. In the ditty box are kept such articles as toothbrush, brush and comb, small hand glass, writing material, and odds and ends. Each bag and box is numbered, and must be kept in a certain place. At first we thought it wouldn't be possible to keep our clothing in such a small space, but experience taught us that we would have ample room.
The following days until the eighth of May were days of manual labor, which hardened our muscles and placed a fine edge on our appetites. To see the men who had been accustomed to a life of luxury toiling away with rope and scrubbing brush and paint pot, working like day laborers, and happy at that, was really a remarkable spectacle. For my part, I noticed with surprise that scratched and bruised hands—scratched so that the salt water caused positive pain—did not appeal to me. I tore off a corner of my right thumb trying to squeeze a large box through the forward hatch, and the only treatment I gave it was a fragment of rather soiled rag and a little vaseline borrowed from a mate. To quit work and apply for the first aid to injured never struck me. Ashore I would probably have called a doctor.
The day before we left the yard one of my mates sprained his back lifting a box of canned meat. In civil life he had been a lawyer with a promising practice, his office being with one of the best known men of the bar. He gave it up and joined the Naval Reserves because, as he expressed it, "To fight for one's country is a patriot's first duty." When the accident happened, he refused to go below to the sick bay until the doctor stated that rest for a few days at least was absolutely necessary.
"It isn't that I mind the hurt, boys," he said, with a smile, as he was assisted to the hatch, "but I hate to be knocked out in my first engagement, and that with a box of canned corned beef."
The monotony of work was broken on the ninth of May, when preparations were made to leave the yard. The destination was only Tompkinsville, but there was not a man on board but felt that, as the last hawser was cast off, we were fairly started on our cruise in search of action. As the "Yankee" was assisted away from the wharf by a Government tug, a number of friends gathered ashore cheered lustily and waved their hats and handkerchiefs. The scene had been repeated time without end, no doubt, but it went to our hearts all the same, and there was many a husky note in the cheers we gave in return.
There was also encouragement in the whistles we received as we dropped down the East River, and we felt as if our small share in the war would be appreciated by those compelled to stay at home. We steamed directly to the vicinity of Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island, anchored off Tompkinsville, and then picked up a berth there for the night. Half way down the bay we met a tug carrying a committee from the "Sons of the Revolution" of New York State. The committee had been selected by the society to present us with a set of colors. The tug accompanied us to our anchorage, then the committee came on board. The ceremony of presentation was rather picturesque.
The visitors gathered on the bridge, the ship's bugler sounded the assembly, and in obedience to the call we lined up on the forward deck. We wore the white duck service uniform, including trousers, jumper, and cap. Some of the uniforms had suffered in contact with pitch, but the general effect was good. When everything was in readiness, the chairman of the committee presented the set of colors and said:
"Captain Brownson, officers and men of the 'Yankee,' I have the honor, on behalf of the Society of the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York, to present these colors to the members of the Naval Reserve of the State of New York, who have enlisted for service under your command."
He continued by hoping that the colors would ever float victorious, and said that he did not doubt it, and then our skipper made a little speech in reply. The affair wound up with a round of cheers and general congratulations. The flags were handsome, and, as it came to pass, they flaunted amid battle smoke before many weeks.
Our stay off Tompkinsville was to be short, but we had time to become acquainted with a characteristic naval oddity known as the bumboat. Diligent inquiries among the old sailors on board the "Yankee" failed to enlighten me as to the derivation of the name, but the consensus of opinion was that these floating peddlers sold articles which, to use a slang phrase, were pretty "bum." Experience has given the opinion some color of truth. Our bumboat boarded us early and stayed with us until the corporal of the guard called "time."
She came laden with pies and doughnuts, pins and needles, tape and buttons and whisk brooms and shoe blacking, handkerchiefs, ties, scissors, soap, writing paper, envelopes, ink, pens, cakes, bread, jelly, pocket knives, and a schedule of prices that would have brought a blush of envy to the face of a Swiss inn-keeper. As the boys had not yet grown entirely accustomed to what is called "Government straight," i.e., salt meat and hard-tack, the bumboat did a thriving business. Young Potter's bill was tremendous, and Mrs. Bumboat bade him a regretful farewell when she visited us for the last time.
At three in the afternoon of the tenth we hoisted anchor on our way to sea. Our good friends had not deserted us, and a number of them, aboard several tugs, accompanied us as far as the Narrows. The "God-speed" given us as we steamed away would have been a fine object lesson to our future antagonists.
Up to the present we had been concerned simply with the preparations for war, but it was destined that before another twenty-four hours had passed we would have a taste of the actual realities.
The "Yankee" was to see service.
IN WHICH THE "YANKEE" CRUISES FOR PRIZES.
It was evening, the evening of the day on which the "Yankee" sailed from Tompkinsville bound out on her maiden cruise as an auxiliary ship of war. The afternoon had passed without event, save that which attacks the amateur sailor when he first feels the heaving swell of old ocean. The crew had shaken into its place, and the men of the watch on deck were commencing to appreciate their responsibilities.
The ship was quiet, save for the faint chug-chug of the propeller under the stern and the occasional clang of a shovel in the fire room deep down in the innermost reaches of the ship. The sun had vanished in a hazy cloud which portended a stiff breeze, but the wind was still gentle, and, as it swept across the decks from off the port quarter, it seemed grateful indeed to those who came from below for a breath of air.
Orders had been issued to darken the decks. The running lights of red and green were still in the lamp room, and, except for a soft, rosy glow from the binnacle-bowl, there was a blackness of night throughout the upper part of the ship. Cigars and pipes and cigarettes had been tabooed, and doors were opened in the deck houses only after the inside lights had been lowered to a flickering pin point.
Up on the forward bridge Captain Brownson stood talking in a low voice to the executive officer, Lieutenant Hubbard. The lurching swing of the ship caused them to sway back and forth against the rail and a metallic sound came from a sword scabbard suspended from the captain's belt. The presence of this sword, betrayed by the clatter it made, told a secret to several sailors gathered under the lee of the pilot house, and one said, in an excited whisper:
"There's something up, Chips. The old man is fixed for trouble. I'm going aft and stand by."
The speaker started off, but before he had taken ten steps the shrill blast of a bugle suddenly broke the stillness of the night. The discordant notes rang and echoed through the ship, and, while the sound was still trembling in the air, two score of shadowy figures sprang up from different parts of the deck and scurried toward the ladders leading below.
The transformation was instant and complete.
From a ship stealthily pursuing its way through the darkness—a part of the mist—the "Yankee" became the theatre of a scene of the most intense activity.
There was no shouting, no great clamor of sound; nothing but the peculiar shuffling of shoes against iron, the hard panting of hurrying men, the grating of breech-blocks, low muttered orders from officer to man, and a multitude of minor noises that seemed strange and weird and uncanny in this blackness.
A belated wardroom boy, still carrying a towel across his arm, slips from the cabin and hastens forward to his station in the powder division. The navigator, an officer of the regular navy, whose ideas of discipline are based on cast iron rules, espies the laggard and administers a sharp rebuke. A squad of marines dash from the "barracks" below and line up at the secondary battery guns on the forecastle. Some of the marines are hatless and coatless, and one wiry little private shambles along on one foot. He stumbles against a hatch-coaming and kicks his shoe across the deck.
Suddenly an order comes out of the gloom near the main hatch and is carried from gun to gun.
"Cast loose and provide!"
The hitherto motionless figures waiting at the battery spring into activity. Hands move nimbly at the training and elevating gear. Breech-blocks are thrown open, sights adjusted, the first and second captains take their places, the former with the firing lanyard in readiness for use at his gun; then there is silence again as the officer in charge of the division holds up one hand as a signal that all is prepared. Then comes the word to load.
In a twinkling the ammunition hoists are creaking with their burdens and boxes of shell appear on deck. These are quickly lifted to the guns and taken in hand by the loaders. The latter do their part of the general work thoroughly and with despatch, and presently the breech-blocks are swung to and the battery is ready for action.
In the meantime there has been systematic preparation in other parts of the auxiliary cruiser. Down in the sick bay aft, the surgeon and his assistants have made ready for their grewsome task. Cases of glittering instruments have been opened, lint and bandages and splints are in their proper places, and the apothecary and bayman are getting the cots in trim for instant use.
In the fire room the firemen and coal-passers are heaping up the furnaces, a couple of men hurry away to attend to the fire mains, and, standing by in readiness for duty, are the engineers and crew of the off watch. The carpenters are ready below with shot-hole plugs, and everywhere throughout the ship can be found officers and sailors and marines and men of the "black gang," each at his proper station in readiness for the word to begin action.
But that word does not come. Instead a stentorian command is heard from the bridge:
Laughing and joking, the crew of the "Yankee" hasten to restore the ship to its former state. All this has been a drill, the drill known as general quarters. It is the first time it has been held under service conditions, and when the captain steps down from the bridge and says in his brisk, authoritative way, "Very well done, very well done indeed," the boys of the cruiser are satisfied and happy.
Twice during the night the drill is repeated. There is no grumbling because of disturbed sleep, for a rumor has gone about the ship that Spanish vessels have been seen off the coast, and even the cranks on board admit that drills and exercises are necessary.
Sea watches have been set, and the rules followed when under way are now operative. A brief explanation of the routine attending the first hours of a naval day may help to make succeeding descriptions more plain. The ship's daily life commences with the calling of the ship's cook at 3:30 a.m. The ordinary mess cooks are awakened at four o'clock, so that coffee can be prepared for the watch. Coffee is always served with hard-tack to the watch coming on deck at four. It is all the men get until breakfast at 7:30, and a great deal of work must be accomplished before that time.
After the hard-tack and coffee had been consumed—and it went to that spot always reserved for good things—the lookouts of the other watch on the port and starboard bridge and the patent life buoys port and starboard quarter were relieved. As soon as the first streaks of dawn Were to be seen a long-drawn boatswain's pipe, like the wail of a lost soul, came from forward, and the order "scrub and wash clothes" given.
A day or two before the "Yankee" left the navy yard, one of the pretty girls who had come over to visit her asked: "Where do you have your washing done? It must require a great many washerwomen to keep the clothes of this dirty [glancing rather disdainfully at her somewhat grimy friend] crew clean." Though we knew that the luxury of a laundry would not fall to our lot, we were at a loss as to the method pursued to clean clothes.
We soon learned.
We who had been anticipating an order of this sort came running forward with bundles of clothes that would discourage a steam laundry. This was the first opportunity we had had to clean up. The forecastlemen led out the hose, which was connected to the ship's pump, and, after wetting down the forecastle deck (where all clothes must be scrubbed), we were told we might turn to.
The "Kid," who was the youngest member of the crew aboard, very popular with officers and men, and who afterward became the ship's mascot, said, "How do you work this, anyway?" I confessed that I was in the dark myself, but proposed that we watch "Patt," the gunner's mate, who had served in the navy before. Presently we saw him lay his jumper flat on the deck, wet it thoroughly with water from the hose, then rub it with salt-water soap. Then he fished out a stiff scrubbing brush and began to scrub the jumper as if it was a floor. We then understood the significance of the order scrub and wash clothes. In salt water the clothes have not only to be washed, but scrubbed as well.
The "Kid" remarked, "Well, I'll be switched," and forthwith fell on his knees and proceeded to follow "Patt's" example.
Though we scrubbed manfully, "putting our backs into it" and "using plenty of elbow grease," as instructed, still the result was hardly up to our expectations. The navigator remarked, as we were "stopping" the clothes on the line, "You heroes might scrub those clothes a little bit; it does not take a college education to learn how to wash clothes."
I agreed with the "Kid" that, though cleanliness was next to Godliness, cleanliness, like Godliness, was often a difficult virtue to acquire. We found it almost impossible to be cleanly without the aid of fresh water, so the schemes devised to avoid the executive's order and get it were many and ingenious.
One man would go to the ship's galley, where the fresh water hand-pump was, and, without further ado, begin to fill his bucket, remarking, if the cook attempted to interfere, that he had to scrub paint work or he had orders from the doctor to bathe in fresh water. These excuses would be successful till too many men came in with buckets and plausible excuses, when the cook would shut down on the scheme for the time. The man with fresh water was the envy of his fellows, and must needs be vigilant, or bucket and water would disappear mysteriously.
The "Kid" happened to be next me when "stopping" his clothes on the line, and remarked, as he tied the last knot on his last jumper, "I like to be clean as the next chap, but this scrubbing clothes on your knees is no snap."
He stopped to feel them.
"Why, I can feel the corns growing on them already. How often do we have to do this scrubbing job, anyhow?" he asked.
"You can do it every morning, if you really feel inclined," I replied, smiling at his rueful countenance; "clothes can only be washed during the morning watch (four to eight), I understand, and, as the starboard men are on duty one day during that time and the port watch the next, each is supposed to 'scrub and wash clothes' in his own watch. See?"
The "Kid" looked up at the dripping line of rather dingy clothes, then down at his red and soapy knees, and said, as he turned to go aft, "Well, when we get back to New York, I am going to have a suit of whites made of celluloid that can be washed with a sponge."
At 6:30 the order "knock off scrubbing clothes" was given, and then all hands of the watch "turned to" and scrubbed decks, scoured the gratings and companion-way ladders with sand and canvas, brass work was polished, paint work wiped down, and everything on board made as spick and span as a new dollar.
A vast quantity of water is brought from over the side through the ship's pump, and the men work in their bare feet. In fact, the usual costume during this period of the day consists of a pair of duck trousers and a thin shirt. On special occasions even the shirt is dispensed with. During warm weather it is delightful to splash around a water-soaked deck, but there are mornings when a biting wind comes from the north, and the keenness of winter is in the air, and then Jackie, compelled to labor up to his knees in water, casts longing glances toward the glow of the galley fire, and makes his semi-yearly vow that he will leave the "blooming" service for good and go on a farm.
This scrubbing of decks and scouring of ladders put an extra edge on our appetites, so we agreed with "Stump" when he said, "I feel as if I could put a whole bumboat load of stuff out of commission all by my lonely." "Stump's" appetite was out of proportion to his size.
When the boatswain's mate gave his peculiar long, quavering pipe and the order "spread mess gear for the watch below," at 7:20, we of the watch on deck realized that there was still forty minutes to wait. Every man's hunger seemed to increase tenfold, so that even the odor of boiling "salt-horse" from the galley did not trouble us.
Finally the order came, "on deck all the starboard watch"; followed by the boatswain's mess call for the watch on deck. The scramble to get below and to work with knife, fork, and spoon resembled a fire panic at a theatre. It is first come first served aboard ship, and the man who lingers often gets left.
The gun deck of the "Yankee," like the gun deck of most war vessels, is Jack's living room. Here he sleeps, in what he facetiously calls his folding-bed, which is swung from the deck beams above; here he enjoys the various amusements that an ordinary citizen would call work; here he goes through his drills; here he fights, not his shipmates, but his country's enemies, and here he eats.
The remark, "he spread his legs luxuriously under the mahogany," would hardly apply to Jack's mode of dining. His table is a swinging affair that is hung on the hammock hooks—a mere board a couple of feet wide and twelve or fourteen feet long, having a ridge around the edge to keep the plates from sliding off in a seaway. Jack's dining chairs are called "mess benches," and consist of a long folding bench that with the table can be stowed away in racks overhead when not in use. A mess chest for each mess, an enamelled iron plate and cup, and a knife, fork, and spoon for each man complete the "mess gear" outfit.
The ship's company is divided into messes, each man being assigned to a certain mess at the same time his billet number or ship's number is given to him. There are from fifteen to thirty men in a mess. Each has its own "berth-deck cook," who prepares the food for the galley; each, too, has a mess caterer, or striker, whose business it is to help the mess cook and see that all goes well. The caterer is a volunteer from the mess, and generally serves for a week, when another volunteer takes his place. If the quantity or quality of the food is not up to expectations, it would be better for the caterer that he be put down in the "brig" out of harm's way, for Jack is apt to speak his mind in vigorous English, and his mind and stomach have generally formed a close alliance.
The twenty minutes allowed for meals are well spent, and the clatter of knives and forks attests the zest with which Uncle Sam's man-o'-war's-man tackles his not always too nice or delicate fare. The nine dollars a month allowed by the navy for rations is expended by the paymaster of the vessel, not by the men, so, if the paymaster concludes that the men shall have "salt-horse," rice, and hard-tack, Jack gets "salt-horse," rice, and hard-tack, and that is all he does get unless his mess cook and caterer are unusually prudent and save something from the previous day's rations, or the mess has put up some extra money and has "private stores."
As the man with the biggest appetite or the fellow who eats slowly are putting away the last morsel of cracker hash or the last swallow of coffee, "Jimmy Legs" (the master-at-arms) comes around, shouting as he goes, "Shake a leg there, we want to get this deck cleared for quarters." He is often followed by the boatswain's mate of the watch, who echoes his call, and between them they clear the deck. Then begins the real work of the day.
WE GET ORDERS TO GO SOUTH.
Shortly after breakfast the "Yankee" came to anchor outside of Provincetown, Mass. An hour later a large man-of-war was discovered steaming toward us. Rumors were rife at once, and the excitement increased when the vessel, which proved to be the gallant cruiser "Columbia," passed close alongside, and the captain was observed to lean over the bridge railing with a megaphone in his hands.
"'Yankee' ahoy!" came across the water.
"Hello, 'Columbia!'" replied Captain Brownson.
"I have orders for you."
"Whoop! we are going to Cuba," cried young Potter. "It's dead sure this time. They can't do without us down—"
"Silence!" called out the executive officer, sternly. "Corporal of the guard, see to that man."
Poor Potter is sent below in disgrace amid the chuckles and jeers of his unsympathetic shipmates. The little episode nearly earned him many hours of extra duty.
In the meantime the "Columbia's" captain had communicated the welcome intelligence that we were to cruise to the southward at once to look for several suspicious vessels that had been sighted in the vicinity of Barnegat. This promised action so strongly that a cheer went up from the crew. This time even the officers joined in.
Very shortly after came the order "All hands on the cat falls," at which every man Jack came running forward. The blue-clothed figures poured up the companion-ways like rats out of a sinking ship, for "all hands on the cat falls" means up anchor, and up anchor meant new experiences, perhaps a brush with a Spanish man-of-war or the capture of a Spanish prize. The anchor was yanked up and guided into place on its chocks in a hurry, and soon the "Yankee" was under way and headed southward. As we passed the "Columbia," the men of both ships stood at attention, feet together, hands at the side, heads up, silent. So a ship is saluted in the United States Navy, a ceremony dignified and impressive, though not as soul-stirring as the American cheer.
The "Scuttle Butt Navigators," or, as the "Yankee" boys called them, the Rumor Committee, were very busy that bright day in May. According to them we were to sail seaward and discover Cervera's fleet, the whereabouts of which was then unknown. We were to sail south and bombard Havana. The older, wiser heads laughed at such rumors, and said it was foolishness, but all were ready and anxious to listen to the wildest tales.
All the time the ship was getting under way the routine work was going on. The sweepers had obeyed the order given by the boatswain's mate, accompanied by the pipe peculiar to that order, "Gun-deck sweepers, clean sweep fore and aft; sweepers, clean your spit kits."
At twenty minutes past nine the bugle sounded the first or officers' call to quarters, a call that sounded like "Get your sword on, get your sword on, get your sword on, get your sword on, get your sword on right away!" Ten minutes later came "assembly," and the men rushed to their places at the guns and their stations in the powder divisions.
After our division had been mustered, "Long Tommy," the boatswain's mate and captain of our gun, said to "Hay," "I think we'll have some shooting to-day. I saw the gunners' mates rigging a target."
"Good!" said "Hay," "what does it look like?"
"Why," explained Tommy, "it's a triangular sail, having a black spot painted in the middle, supported by a raft, also triangular, which is floated by three barrels, one at each corner."
"Can't be very big," said "Stump."
"About ten feet at the base, tapering to a point. The red flag that flies from the top is perhaps fourteen feet from the water, I should say."
"And they expect us to hit that?" broke in "Lucky bag Kennedy."
"Of course," said Tommy the confident, "and we shall."
As soon as the officers of the different divisions had returned from the bridge, where they had been to report, the quick, sharp bugle call which summons the crew to general quarters was sounded.
As the first notes were heard, the men scattered as if a bomb with a visible burning fuse had fallen in their midst. Some hurried to lead out the hose, some to get the gun sights and firing lanyards, some to get belts and revolvers for the guns' crews, some down into the hot, dark magazines, and some to open up the magazine hoists. All was apparent confusion, but was in reality perfect discipline. Soon boxes of shell were ready by the guns, but the order "load" had not yet been given.
The triangular target was then lowered over the side and cast loose. In a few minutes the six-pounders on the spar deck began to bark. "Getting the range, I guess," said "Hod," who had sneaked over from the powder division to get a look at the target.
"Pretty near it," replied "Stump," as a shot splashed close to the triangular piece of canvas.
"Here comes Scully," some one whispered; "now we'll have a chance."
"The captain says fire when ready, at 1,500 yards," said Scully, saluting Mr. Greene, the officer of the division. "Captain says, sir, instruct your men to shoot at the top of the roll, and a little over, rather than under the target," continued he, saluting again.
"Port battery take stations for exercise, load, set your sights at 1,500 yards, and when ready, fire." Mr. Greene's orders came sharp and clear; there was never any misunderstanding of them.
Most of us of Number Eight's gun crew had never stood near a big gun when it spoke, and most of us dreaded it and felt inclined to run away out of ear-shot. It was our business to stand by, however, so we stood by while Tommy, firing lanyard in hand, sighted the machine.
"Right!" he sung out to "Stump" and "Flagg," who were at the training wheels. "Right handsomely," added Tommy, working the elevating gear, as the gun moved slowly round. The gun roared and jumped back on its mount six or eight inches, but promptly slid back again—forced back by powerful springs. The shell sped on its way, humming as it went, and struck a little short of the target, sending up a great fountain as it was exploded by the impact with the water.
"Hay" pulled the breech lever and the breech plug came out, allowing "Stump," who wore heavy gloves for the purpose, to extract the empty shell. This he dropped in the concrete waterway, then ran to his place at the training wheel; a fresh shell had been put in the gun, meanwhile, and it was ready for business again. A number of good shots were made by different gunners. Enough to show that, amateur tars that we were, there was the making of good gunners in us. As the "Kid," in his overweening confidence, said, "Ain't we peaches? When we get down south we will have a little target practise, and the 'dagos' will be so scared that they will haul down their colors tight away."
During the day we steamed slowly along, a bright lookout being kept by the men at the foremast-head for suspicious steamers. After dinner at eight bells (12 o'clock), the smoking lamp, which hangs near the scuttle butt aft, was kept lighted about fifteen minutes. Smoking is allowed aboard only when the smoking lamp is lighted, and as "Hay" was wont to say, it was lighted "when you did not want to smoke." At ten minutes past one "turn to" was piped by the boatswain's mates, followed by the call for sweepers. Then came the order, "Stand by your scrub and wash clothes." So the "Kid" and I hastened forward, both anxious to see if our initial clothes-washing venture was a success. We had depended on the sun to bleach our much be-scrubbed clothes, but—well—I would have left them where they were if I could. As for the "Kid's"—after holding them off at arm's length for a while, he remarked, "Why, I would not use such rags to clean my bicycle at home," and threw them overboard. He was always a reckless chap.
The infantry drill we had at afternoon quarters at 1:30, served to keep us busy. The same thing had been gone through on the "New Hampshire" many a time and oft. We found it rather difficult to march straight and keep a good line on a swaying deck. So we were kept at it until we had got the hang of it. We were still parading to and fro on the spar deck, when some one sighted land off the starboard bow. The dismissal call was given none too soon, for the curiosity as to what we were heading for made discipline lax and attention far from close.
We soon learned that this was Block Island.
The gig was lowered, and the captain and mail orderly went ashore.
"Now we'll get our real orders," said Potter. "Ho! for the Spanish main," he shouted, forgetting his narrow escape of the day before.
"It will be Ho! for the ship's brig, and Ho! for five days on bread and water, if you don't look out," said "Stump," dryly.
About dark, the gig came back again, bringing the captain in it and the mail orderly—but no mail, and how we did long for a word from home. A scrap of newspaper, even, would be a blessing.
We had just sat down to evening mess when the order, "All hands on the gig falls!" was given, and the master-at-arms chased us off the gun deck. Soon the measured tread of many feet could be heard, and then the order was given by the officer of the deck to the coxswain of the gig, "Secure your boat for sea."
So we were to go off again. Where?
Within a short time we were under way again. The usual watches were set, but very few of the boys went below. The mere rumor that the enemy was prowling along the coast was enough to prevent sleep. My watch went on duty at four o'clock. We were not called in the usual way, by the boatswain's whistle, but each man was roused separately. This in itself was sufficient to lend an air of intense interest to the scene.
On reaching the deck I found that the night had grown stormy. A chill wind was blowing off the coast, rendering pea coats and watch caps extremely comfortable. A fine rain began to fall shortly after four, and by the time I had taken my post forward as a lookout it had increased to a regular squall.
The "Yankee" was a splendid sea boat, but in the course of an hour the choppy waves kicked up by the storm set her to bobbing about like the proverbial cork. The gloom of the night had changed to a blackness that made it impossible to see an arm's length away. Standing on the starboard bridge, I could scarcely distinguish the faint white foam gathered under the forefoot. Aft there was nothing visible save a length of stay which seemingly began at nothing and ended in darkness.
The howling of the wind through the taut cordage of the foremast, the sullen plunging of the ship's hull in the trough of the sea, the rise to a wave crest and the poising there before falling once more, the smell of the dank salt air, and the occasional spurt of spray over the leaning bow, all made a scene so novel to me that I forgot Spanish ships and my duty and stood almost entranced.
It was a dereliction for which I was to suffer. In the midst of my reverie a hand was suddenly placed upon my shoulder and I heard a familial voice exclaim sternly:
"Lookout, what do you mean by sleeping on post? Why did you not report that light?"
It was Captain Brownson!
Asleep on post! The accusation was grave enough to startle me, and I lost no time in stammering a denial. Luckily, the discovery of the strange light, which was just faintly visible dead ahead, occupied the commander's attention for the moment and I escaped further rebuke.
Captain Brownson hurried to the bridge and presently word was passed to go to quarters at once. The ports were opened, ammunition made ready for both the main and secondary batteries, and the crew stood at their guns in readiness for action. It was a very impressive sight, the grim weapons just showing in the dim lantern light, the great cartridges standing close to the breeches, the men quiet and steady, their faces showing anxiety but perfect self-control.
I was proud to belong to such a crew, for the majority thought that an action was imminent, and perhaps a superior foe to be fought, yet there was no sign of that fear which is supposed to attack the novice in battle. It was a convincing proof of American bravery and self-reliance.
In the meantime the engines had been called on for full speed, and the ship throbbed and swayed with the increased power. Extra men were presently sent below to the fire room, and it soon became evident that we were in actual chase of the suspicious vessel. From my station at the after port gun I was enabled to catch an occasional glimpse of the sea through the open port.
The squall had passed in part and the night was growing lighter. The rain still fell, though fitfully, and at times a dash of water entered the port, besprinkling gun and crew and fighting tackle, leaving great drops that glistened like dew in the waning light of the lanterns. Alongside, white-capped waves raced with the ship.
As the gloom lightened, the horizon spread, and presently, away in the distance, a dark spot, like a smudge upon a gray background, became visible. "Long Tommy," attached to my gun, leaned far out of the port with an exclamation of excitement.
"By George! it's another ship," he added.
"We are in a nest of the Dagoes," cried young Potter, rather wildly. "We have run into an ambuscade."
"You've got a great chance to become a dead hero," remarked the first gun captain dryly.
Word was passed from above to break out more shell, and presently the navigator slipped down the ladder and made a close inspection of the different five-inch guns. As he went from crew to crew he gave whispered instructions to the officers in charge.
"The old man expects trouble this trip," whispered Tommy. He coolly stripped off his shirt and stood, half-naked, the muscles of his athletic chest and arms gleaming like white marble in the uncertain light. Most of us followed his example, and the spectacle of the swaying groups of men, bared for action, added a dramatic tinge to the scene.
Below, the powerful engines throbbed with a pulsation that set every bolt and joint creaking, the strident echoes of the firemen's shovels could he heard scraping against the iron floor, and little whistlings of steam came like higher notes in the general tune. Even the noises of the ship were strange and weird and impressive.
The crews had been standing in readiness at their stations for almost an hour when it suddenly became noticeable that the darkness of night was giving way before a gradual dawn. The glimmering flame in the lanterns faded and waned, objects buried in gloom began to assume shape, and the edges of the open ports grew sharp and more defined. Constant waiting brought a relaxation of discipline, and the members of the different crews grouped about the ports and eagerly searched for the chase.
The smudge on the horizon had long since disappeared, but directly ahead could be seen the faint outlines of a steamer. A dense cloud of smoke was pouring from her funnel, and it was plainly apparent that she was making every effort to escape. This in itself was enough to stamp her identity, and we shook our clenched fists exultantly after her.
The night broke rapidly. In the east a rosy tinge proclaimed the coming sun. Just as the first glitter of the fiery rim appeared above the horizon, a gray, damp mist swept across the water, coming like an impenetrable wall between the "Yankee" and the chase.
A WILD GOOSE CHASE.
A howl of disappointment went up from the crew.
"Oh, if she was only within range," cried "Hay," smiting the breech of the five-inch rifle with his hand. "Just one shot, just one shot."
"Guns' crews will remain at stations," ordered the first lieutenant from near the ladder. "Stand by, men. Be ready for instant action."
"Hurray! the old man won't give it up," cheered "Stump," under his voice. "That's the stuff. Now, if only that measly fog lifts and we get a trifle nearer, we'll do something for the old flag."
The minutes passed slowly. It was heartbreaking work, this waiting and watching, and there was not one of the "Yankee's" crew but would have given a year's pay to have seen the mist lift long enough to bring us within range.
Suddenly, just as the fervent wish was trembling on our lips, "Hod Marsh," who was near the port, cried out joyfully:
"She's fading, fellows, she's fading!"
Like a theatre curtain being slowly raised, the mist lifted from the surface of the water. Little by little the expanse of ocean became visible, and at last we, who were watching eagerly, saw the hull of a steamer appear, followed by masts and stack and upper rigging. An exclamation of bitter disappointment came from Tommy. "Durned if it ain't an old tramp!" he groaned. "Fellows, we are sold."
And so it proved.
The fog lifted completely in the course of an hour and we secured a good view of our "will o' the wisp" of the night's chase. It was a great lumbering tramp, as high out of the water as a barn, and as weather-stained as a homeward-bound whaler. She slouched along like a crab, each roll of the hull showing streaks of marine grass and barnacles. There was little of man-o'-war "smartness" in her make-up, of a verity.
For several days the "Yankee" cruised up and down the coast between Delaware Breakwater and Block Island. Many vessels were sighted, and on two occasions it was considered expedient to sound "general quarters," but nothing came of it. We finally concluded that the enemy were fighting shy of the vicinity of New York, and all began to long for orders to the southward.
Drill followed drill during these waiting days. Target practice was held whenever practicable, and the different guns' crews began to feel familiar with the rapid-fire rifles.
The men, accustomed to a life of ease and plenty, found this first month's work an experience of unparalleled hardship.
Their hands, better fitted for the grasp of pen and pencil, were made sore and stiff by the handling of hawsers, chains, and heavy cases. Bandages on hands, feet, and, in some cases, heads, were the popular form of adornment, and the man who did not have some part of his anatomy decorated in this way was looked upon as a "sloper," or one who ran away from work. For how could any one do his share without getting a finger jammed or a toe crushed?
The work that was done, too, during this month of cruising along the coasts of Long Island and New Jersey was hard and incessant. Drills of all kinds were frequent, and sleep at a premium.
The "Yankee" at this time was attached to the Northern Patrol Fleet, of which Commodore Howell was the commander. It was her business to cruise along the coast from Block Island south to Delaware Breakwater, and watch for suspicious vessels. This duty made constant movement necessary, and unwearying vigilance on the part of the lookouts imperative.
Rainy, foggy weather was the rule, and "oilers" and rubber boots the prevailing fashion in overclothing. Sea watches were kept night and day; half of the crew being on duty all the time, and one watch relieving the other every four hours.
The watch "on deck" or on duty on a stormy night found it very tedious waiting for the "watch below" to come and relieve them. The man who could tell a story or sing a song was in great demand, and the man who could get up a "Yankee" song was a popular hero. The night after our wild goose chase, described in the last chapter, the port watch had the "long watch"; that is, the watch from 8 p.m. to midnight, and from four to eight the next morning—which allowed but four hour's sleep.
It was raining and the decks were wet and slippery. The water dripped off the rims of our sou'westers in dismal fashion, and the fog hung like a blanket around the ship, while the sea lapped her sides unseen. Our fog-horn tooted at intervals, and everything was as damp, dark, and forlorn as could be.
A knot of men were gathered under the lee of the after deckhouse, huddled together for warmth and companionship. There was "Stump," "Bill," Potter, and a number of others.
"Say! can't any one sing, or tell a yarn, or whistle a tune, or dance a jig?" said "Bill" in a muffled tone. "If some one does not start some kind of excitement I will go to sleep in my tracks, and Doctor 'Gangway' says I mustn't sleep out of doors." His speech ended in a fit of coughing and a succession of sneezes.
"Here, 'Morse,' give us that new song of yours," said "Steve," as another oilskinned figure joined the group. "Morse" and "Steve" were our chief song writers. Each sat on a quarter six-pounder, one on the starboard, the other on the port. "I will, if you chaps will join in the chorus," answered "Morse." "No, thank you," he added, as some one handed him an imaginary glass. "Nature has wet my whistle pretty thoroughly to-night." "Stump," in his most impressive manner, stepped forward, and in true master-of-ceremonies style introduced our entertainer. He was enlarging on the undoubted merits of the composer and singer, and had waxed really eloquent, when a strong gust of wind blew the water that lodged in the awning squarely down his neck. This dampened his ardor but not our spirits.
"Morse," like the good fellow he was, got up and sang this song to the tune of "Billy Magee Magaw":
When the "Yankee" goes sailing home again, Hurrah! Hurrah! We'll forget that we're "Heroes" and just be men, Hurrah! Hurrah! The girls will giggle, the boys will shout, We'll all get a bath and be washed out, And we'll all feel gay when The "Yankee" goes sailing home.
The city bells will peal for joy, Hurrah! Hurrah! To welcome home each wandering boy, Hurrah! Hurrah! And all our sisters and cousins and girls Will say "Ain't they darlings?" and "See the pearls!" So we'll all feel gay when The "Yankee" goes sailing home.
Our patrolling cruise will soon be o'er, Hurrah! Hurrah! We'll be happy the moment our feet touch shore, Hurrah! Hurrah! And "Cutlets" and "Hubbub" and all the rest May stick to the calling they're fitted for best, But we'll all feel gay when The "Yankee" goes sailing home.
Even "Bill" was able to find voice enough to shout "Good!" and give "Morse" a resounding slap on his wet oilskinned shoulder. The song voiced our sentiments exactly, and cheered us a lot. None of us believed that "Our patrolling cruise would soon be o'er," however, and hardly a man would have taken his discharge had it been offered to him that moment. We had put our names to the enlistment papers and had promised to serve Uncle Sam on his ship the "Yankee" faithfully. We had gone into this thing together, and we would see it through together. Still we would "All feel gay when the 'Yankee' goes sailing home."
"That reminds me of a story," began Potter, when "Long Tommy," the boatswain's mate of the watch, interrupted with, "Potter, take the starboard bridge. I will send a man to relieve you at the end of an hour." So Potter went forward to relieve his mate, who had stood an hour of lookout duty on the starboard end of the bridge.
He went forward, swaying with the motion of the ship, his oilskin trousers making a queer, grating noise as one leg rubbed against the other, and "Stump" said, "I'll bet he won't stay with us long; he talks too much." A prophetic remark, as future events proved.
The group broke up after this. Some who were not actually on lookout duty went into the hot fire room, and after taking off their outer clothing, tried to snatch a few winks of sleep. The "watch on deck" was not allowed to go below at night, so the only shelter allowed us was the fire room and the main companion-way. The latter could hold but a few men, and the only alternative was the fire or "drum" room, into which the heat and gas from the furnaces ascended from the bowels of the ship, making it impossible for a man to breathe the atmosphere there for more than half an hour at a time. The after wheel-house was sometimes taken advantage of by the more venturesome of the boys, but the risk was great, for "Cutlets" was continually prowling around, and the man found taking shelter there would receive tongue lashings hard to bear, with abuse entirely out of proportion to the offence.
A little before twelve o'clock we heard the boatswain's pipe, and the long drawn shout, "On deck all the starboard watch," and "All the starboard watch to muster." So we knew that we would soon be relieved, and would be able to take the much-needed four hours' sleep in our "sleeping bags," as "Hay" called them. The starboard men came slowly up, rubbing their eyes, buttoning their oilskins, and tying their sou'westers on by a string under their chins as they walked.
"Hurry up there, will you?" calls out a port watch man, as the men of the other watch sleepily climb the ladder. "Get a move on and give us a chance to get out of this beastly wet." A sharp retort is given, and the men move on in the same leisurely way. The men of both watches are hardly in the best of humors. It is not pleasant to be waked up at midnight to stand a four hours' watch in the rain and fog, nor is it the most enjoyable thing in life to be delayed, after standing a four hours' watch in the rain, realizing all the time that each minute of waiting takes that precious time from the scant four hours' sleep.
But finally "all the watch" is piped, and we go below and flop into our hammocks, to sleep as soundly and dreamlessly as babies. A sailor will sleep like a dead man through all kinds of noises and calls, but the minute his own watch is called he is wide awake in an instant, from sheer force of habit.
So when the boatswain's mate went around with his pipe, singing out as he dodged in and out among the swinging hammocks, "On deck all the port watch," each of us jumped out of his swaying bed and began to climb into his damp clothes and stiff "oilers." We then made our way through the darkness, often bumping our heads on the bottom of hammocks, and earning sleepy but strongly worded rebukes from the occupants; colliding with stanchions, and stubbing our toes on ring bolts and hatch covers. All arrived at length, formed an unsteady line on the forecastle deck, and answered to our names as they were called by the boatswain's mate. So began another day's work on one of Uncle Sam's ships.
It was Sunday, and after a while the fog lifted and the sun came out strong and clear. All the men who were off duty came on deck to bask in the sun, and to get dried and thawed out.
"Steve" poked his uncombed, sleepy head through the "booby" hatch cover. "Well, this is something like! If the 'old man' will let us take it easy after inspection, I won't think life in the navy is so bad after all."
"Well, inspection and general muster and the reading of the ship's bible will take up most of the morning," said gunner's mate "Patt," as he emerged from the hatch after "Steve," wiping his grimy hands on a wad of waste, for he had been giving the guns a rub. "And if we don't have to go chasing an imaginary Spaniard or lug coal from the after hold forward, we'll be in luck," he continued.
"What about the 'ship's bible'? What is 'general muster'?" queried half a dozen of us.
"Why," said "Patt," "the ship's bible is the book of rules and regulations of the United States Navy. It is read once a month to the officers and crew of every ship in the navy. The officers and crew will be mustered aft—you'll see—the deck force and engineer force on the port side, the petty officers on the starboard side forward, the commissioned officers on the starboard side aft, and the marines athwartships aft. This forms three sides to a square. See?"
"I don't see the use of all this," broke in the irreverent "Kid." "Do we have to stand there and have war articles fired at us?"
"That's what, 'Kid,'" replied "Patt," good-naturedly.
"After all hands have taken their places," continued our informant, "the 'old man' will walk down the galley ladder in that dignified way of his, followed by the executive officer. 'Mother Hubbub' will then open the blue-covered book that he carries, and read you things that will make your hair stand on end and cause you to consider the best wording for your last will and testament." "Patt" was very impressive, and we stood with open mouths and staring eyes.
"When old 'Hubbub' opens the book, all hands, even the captain, will take off their hats and stand at attention. Then the war articles will be read to you. You will learn that there are twenty-seven or more offences for which you are liable to be shot—such as sleeping on post, desertion, disobedience, wilful waste of Government property, and so forth; you will be told that divine service is recommended whenever possible—in short, you are told that you must be good, and that if you are not there will be the deuce to pay. Then the captain will turn to 'Scully' and say, 'Pipe down,' whereupon 'Scully' and the other bosun's mates will blow a trill on their pipes, and all hands will go about their business."
So concluded our oracle.
"Gee whiz!" said the "Kid." "I nearly got into trouble the other night, for I almost dozed when I was on the buoy. I'm not used to getting along on eleven hours' sleep in forty-eight yet," he added, apologetically.
We all looked forward to "general muster" with a good deal of interest, and when it occurred, and the captain had inspected our persons, clothes, the ship, and mess gear, we decided that "Patt's" description fitted exactly, and were duly impressed with its solemnity.
We found to our sorrow that we of Number Eight's crew were not to enjoy sunshine undisturbed, but were soon put to work carrying coal in baskets from the after hold forward, and dumping it in the bunker chutes.
This work had been going on almost every day, and all day, since we left Tompkinsville. The coal was in the after hold and was needed in the bunkers forward, so every piece had to be shovelled into bushel baskets, hoisted to the gun deck, and carried by hand to the chute leading to the port and starboard bunkers. A dirty job it was, that not only blackened the men, but covered the deck, the mess gear, the paint work, and even the food, with coal dust.
Number Eight's crew had been at this pleasant occupation for about an hour, with the cheerful prospect of another hour of the same diversion. "Hay" was running the steam winch, "Stump" was pulling the baskets over the hatch coaming as they were hauled up by the winch, and the other five were carrying.
"Say, this is deadly slow, tiresome work," said "Flagg," who was carrying with me. "I'd give almost anything for a little excitement."
The last word had scarcely been uttered when there came the sounds of 'commotion on deck. A voice cried out in sharp command, the rudder chains creaked loudly, the ship heeled over to starboard, and then we who were at the open port saw a long, snaky object shoot out from the edge of the haze and bear down upon us.
"My heaven!" shouted "Stump," "it's a torpedo boat!"
The commotion on deck had given us some warning, but the sudden dash of the long, snaky torpedo boat from out the haze came as a decided shock. For one brief moment we of the after port stood as if turned to stone, then every man ran to his quarters and stood ready to do his duty. With a cry, our second captain sprang to the firing lanyard. Before he could grasp it, however, the officer of the division was at his side.
"Stop!" he exclaimed authoritatively.
The interruption was fortunate, for, just then, a swerve of the oncoming torpedo boat revealed a small flag flying from the taffrail staff. It was the American ensign.
The reaction was great. Forgetting discipline, we crowded about the port and laughed and cheered like a lot of schoolboys. Potter, in his joy and evident relief, sent his canvas cap sailing through the air. A rebuke, not very stern, however, came from the lieutenant in charge of the division, and we shuffled back to our stations.
"Cricky! what a sell," exclaimed the second rifleman, grinning. "I was sure we had a big job on our hands this time. I'm rather glad it is one of our fellows after all."
"I'm not," spoke up young Potter, blusteringly. "What did we come out here for, hey? I say it's a confounded shame. We might have had a chance to send one of the Spaniards to the bottom."
"It may be a Dago after all," suggested "Bill," glancing from the port. "The flag doesn't mean anything. They might be flying Old Glory as a ruse de guerre. By George! That craft looks just like the 'Pluton.'"
We, who were watching, saw Potter's face lengthen. He peered nervously at the rapidly approaching torpedo boat, and then tried to laugh unconcernedly.
"You can't 'string' me," he retorted. "That's one of your Uncle Samuel's boats all right. See! they are going to hail us."
A bell clanged in the engine room, then the throbbing of the machinery slackened to a slow pulsation. The rudder chains rattled in their fair-leaders, and presently we were steaming along, with the torpedo craft a score of yards off our midships.
On the forward deck of the latter stood two officers clad in the uniform of the commissioned service. One placed a speaking trumpet to his lips and called out:
"Cruiser ahoy! Is that the 'Yankee'?"
"You have made a good guess," shouted Captain Brownson. "What boat is that?"
"'Talbot' from Newport. Any news? Sighted you and thought we would speak you."
Our commander assured them that we were in search of news ourselves. The "Talbot's" officers saluted and then waved a farewell.
The narrow, low-lying craft spun about in almost her own length, a series of quick puffs of dense black smoke came from the funnels, and then the haze swallowed up the whole fabric.
We were left to take our discomfiture with what philosophy we could muster. When "secure" was sounded we left our guns with a sense of great danger averted and a feeling of relief.
WE BECOME COAL HEAVERS.
The little strip of North American coast between Delaware Breakwater and Block Island is very interesting, and, in places, beautiful. The long beaches and bare sand dunes have a solemn beauty all their own.
Though the boys on the "Yankee" took in and appreciated the loveliness of this bit of coast, they were getting rather familiar with it and somewhat bored. They longed for "pastures new."
Summer had almost begun, but still the fog and rain held sway. The ship crept through the night like a big gray ghost—dark, swift, and, except in the densest fogs, silent. Pea-coats were an absolute necessity, and woolen gloves would have been a great comfort. All this in the blooming, beautiful month of May!
One bleak morning the starboard watch was on duty. We of the port watch had turned in at four (or, according to ship's time, eight bells). We were glad to be between decks, and got under way for the land of Nod without delay. It seemed as if we had been asleep but a few minutes, when "Scully," chief boatswain's mate, came down the gun deck gangway, shouting loud enough to be heard a mile away: "All hands, up all hammocks;" then, as the disposition to get up was not very evident, "Show a leg there; ham and eggs for breakfast." This last was a little pleasantry that never materialized into the much-coveted and long abstained from delicacy.
The hammocks were lashed up and stowed away in the "nettings," as the lattice-like receptacles are called, leaving the deck clear for the work of the day.
Mess gear for the "watch below" had just been piped, and we were glad; even the thought of burnt oatmeal and coffee without milk was pleasant to us.
The ports were closed and the gun deck was dark and dismal. The fog oozed in through every crack and cranny, and all was very unpleasant.
Of a sudden there was a sharp reverberation that sounded so much like the report of a big gun that all hands jumped.
The course of the ship was changed, and the jingle bell sounded. The "Yankee" forged on at full speed in the direction from which the sound had come.
We all stood in expectant attitudes, listening for another report. We had about made up our minds that our ears had deceived us, when another explosion, louder and nearer than the first, reached us.
On we rushed—toward what we knew not—through a fog so thick that the water could be seen but dimly from the spar deck.
The suspense was hard to bear, and the desire to do something almost irresistible. The men unconsciously took their regular stations for action, the guns' crews gathered round their guns, the powder divisions in the neighborhood of the ammunition hoists.
"I wish Potter was here," said "Stump." "I rather think he would be white around the gills. This sort of business would give him a bad case of 'cold feet.'"
"Oh, he had 'cold feet' a few days after we left New York, and wrote to his friends to get his discharge," said "Bill." "Got it and quit two weeks after we left New York, the duffer," added "Hay."
The "Yankee" still steamed on into the bank of fog.
"Cupid," the ship's bugler, began to play the call for general quarters, but was stopped by a sharp command from the bridge.
What was it all about? Was it to be tragedy or farce?
Then Scully came down the starboard gangway, a broad smile on his ruddy face.
A clamoring group gathered round him instantly. "What is it?" "Is the 'old man' playing a joke on us?" "Do you suppose Cervera has got over to this side?" "Scully," overwhelmed with questions, put up his hands protestingly.