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   Chapter 16 REMEMBER THE FISH.

A Gunner Aboard the Yankee"" By Russell Doubleday Characters: 16820

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


The following morning, after "all hands," the "Yankee" started westward along the coast. Cienfuegos was passed, and presently the cruiser was taken nearer shore. The lookouts were told to keep watch for horsemen riding near the beach. This order aroused our flagging interest, and the majority of men on board maintained a careful scrutiny of the white strip of land just beyond the breakers.

It was not until noon, however, that our search was rewarded. It was just after passing a deep inlet that one of the lookouts espied a group of men gathered near the water's edge. There seemed to be a number of them, and not far away could be seen a blue and white flag flying from a small staff.

The engines were stopped, and a boat officered by Lieutenant Duncan, and carrying "Hay" as interpreter, went ashore. "Hay" had spent several years in the West Indies and was thoroughly familiar with the Spanish language. As he was unique in that respect on board the ship, he often did duty as interpreter.

The boat landed in a little cove. After parleying for a while, one of the landing party was seen to wigwag. A few moments later the boat returned, bringing three Cubans, one of whom was the Cuban governor of Matanzas. The others were a captain and commander respectively. "Hay" was immediately surrounded and asked to describe what he saw ashore.

"I have had the honor of photographing a detachment of the Cuban Army of Liberation," he replied, quizzically. "To tell the truth, it looked like a part of Coxey's army. There were about thirty of them, and the clothing of the whole outfit wouldn't supply a New England farmer with a season's scarecrow. They carried guns of all descriptions, some of them with the barrels sawed off short like cavalry carbines; and not one of the men looked as if he knew the meaning of a square meal."

"Like Washington's army at Valley Forge, eh?" observed LeValley, joining the group.

"Yes, and they are fighting for their liberty, too."

"How did they like being photographed?" asked Tommy.

"Tickled to death. When I asked them to line up they almost fell over each other. Next to eating, I think the poor devils love to have their pictures taken. They were just like children, and when I pressed the button they stood round waiting for the photograph to drop from the kodak."

"Reminds me of the Cubans of Puerto Principe when the railway was built to that place," put in "Zere," the chief quartermaster. "A temporary roundhouse had been constructed, and when the first locomotive reached the city and was placed in it to be cleaned, all the natives from miles around gathered there. They crowded the windows and doors and were evidently waiting for something. Finally the engineer asked one of them what he wanted to see. 'We watch for mule to come out,' was the startling reply."

"Mule?" echoed Flagg.

"Yes, that was the only motive power known to them," grinned "Zere." "They thought even a Yankee engine must have a mule somewhere inside."

"That's like the natives of Guatemala," spoke up "Hop," the messenger. "When the street cars were introduced it was the usual thing for a native wishing to ride, to mount the platform and knock politely on the door. Some one inside would rise and open it, and then the native would enter and shake hands all round."

"Fancy doing that on a Broadway cable car," laughed "Stump."

Our imagination was not strong enough for that.

The Cuban guests remained with us for several hours, then went ashore, together with a boat-load of provisions contributed by the ship.

The whaleboat returned to the ship when the watch on deck had just been piped to supper. The other watch, therefore, had the job of pulling her up. The steady tramp, tramp, began and the boat slowly rose up foot by foot, till it was level with the rail, then there was a sudden jar and a crash. In an instant six men of the crew were in the water, while the boat floated away by itself.

There was a rush of feet on deck, loud shouts and cries of "Throw them a rope," "Set adrift the life buoy," "Where's that life belt?" and the like.

The men at mess jumped up, overturning cups and plates and dishes of food. One forecastle man pulled off his jumper and dove in to help.

The sea ladder was put over the side and "Long Tommy" went down it, taking with him a piece of line; this he slipped under the arms of Rowland, the forecastle man, who had struck an oar on the way down, and was hurt. The man was soon hauled up on deck. The other four were also rescued. One went floating calmly off on the life buoy and was picked up by the gig, and the rest caught rope-ends and were safely hauled aboard, none the worse for their involuntary bath.

Lines were coiled down again, the sea ladder unshipped and put in its place, and soon all was quiet and shipshape again-but we discovered that two spit kits and a monkey-wrench had been thrown overboard to aid the sinking sailors.

"It's an ill wind that blows nobody good," quoted the "Kid," who happened to be sweeper that week. "I won't have to polish the brass on those kits again."

Shortly after the return of the last boat, smoke was sighted to seaward. The crew was called to general quarters without delay, and our ship steamed out to investigate. After a brief but exciting chase, we discovered that the supposed enemy was the auxiliary cruiser "Dixie," a sister ship of the "Yankee." She was manned by the Maryland Naval Reserves, and her armament was composed of six-inch breechloading rifles, not of the rapid-fire class.

It soon became evident that her commanding officer, Commander Davis, was superior in rank to Commander Brownson, and he took charge of affairs at once. Captain Brownson was rowed over to the "Dixie" to pay his respects, and on his return a rumor that we were to be relieved of coast patrol duty by the "Dixie" and to proceed to Key West, went through the ship like wildfire.

Tom LeValley brought the news to a group of us gathered on the after gun deck. We were just discussing the peculiar, and apparently ridiculous, degrees of etiquette found among naval officers in general, as exemplified by the ranking of Commander Davis over Commander Brownson.

"They are both commanders," Tommy was explaining, "but Commander Davis happens to rank Commander Brownson by sixteen numbers in the official list. Both entered the service November 29, 1861, and-"

"Whoop!"

Down the ladder charged LeValley, wildly flourishing his cap. He stopped in front of us and gasped: "Hurrah! we're going-going to the United States, fellows."

"What's up?" demanded "Stump."

"The 'Dixie'-"

"Yes?"

"She's to relieve us, and we are ordered to Key West and then to New York. We're going-"

"Rats!" broke in "Hay," in disgust. "You can't give us any game like that. It's a rumor, my boy. We're never going home. The 'Yankee' is the modern 'Flying Dutchman,' and-"

At that moment the "Kid" appeared in sight, and his beaming face convinced us. It was glorious news, but not one of us felt like cheering. Our emotions were too deep for that. The mere prospect of seeing home again was enough pleasure for the moment, and we were content to talk quietly over the welcome possibility of soon meeting relatives and friends.

The "Yankee" was destined, however, to experience a little more service before dropping anchor in home waters.

For several days we cruised along the coast between Casilda and Cienfuegos. We came to know it very well; every ravine in the mountains was familiar, every inlet in the coral-bound shore known to us. It began to grow monotonous.

Time lay rather heavy on our hands, but not too heavy, for we were put to work, two guns' crews at a time, coaling in a new and torrid fashion: the coal in the after hold had not all been taken out during the northern cruise, so it was decided to pack it in bags, two hundred pounds to a bag, carry it forward and stack it in an unused ballast tank.

Number Six and Number Eight guns' crews were among the first to engage in this pleasant occupation.

We found heat enough below to supply a good-sized house all winter, so clothing seemed unnecessary. We stripped to the waist, "Cumming," a member of Number Six gun's crew, remarking that he thought a cool glance and a frozen smile would be sufficient in such a warm climate.

The work was hard and dirty and t

he heat terrific. We saw no necessity for the transfer. Jack never can see the need of work unless it happens that some other crew is doing it.

We cheered ourselves, however, by singing "There's a hot time in the old ship to-day."

While we lay close inshore, the "Dixie" cruised outside, and toward evening the two vessels met, and together we went to Casilda, a port near Trinidad. We stood by while the "Dixie" threw a few shells into the fort. Two days later the "Yankee" parted from her consort and proceeded to the Isle of Pines.

It was here one of the most laughable incidents of the cruise occurred. While steaming past one of the outlying islands, a small fleet of fishing sloops was discovered at anchor inshore. Under ordinary circumstances such unimportant craft would not have been molested, but in the present case it was suspected that they formed part of the fleet supplying fish to the Havana market. To destroy them was our bounden duty.

"Man the starboard fo'c'sle six-pounder and fire a shell in their direction," ordered the captain from the bridge.

The gun was loaded in short order, and presently a projectile went screeching across the water, dropping with a splash near the largest sloop. Several small rowboats were seen to pull away from the smacks, and it was evident the crews had fled in terror. Directly after dinner, the "Yankee's" first cutter and the second whaleboat were ordered away, manned and armed. A Colt machine gun was placed in the bow of the former, and each carried an extra squad of armed marines.

When the expedition returned it had in tow five decked sloops, one of which contained a quantity of fresh fish. Orders were given to attach the latter to our stern, and to fire the others and set them adrift. Before this was done, however, enough fish to supply the wardroom and cabin messes were taken out.

"The crew can have its share to-morrow," quoth the captain.

The "crew" waited impatiently, but when the morrow came it was found that, through some one's blunder, the sloop containing the fish had been burned, and an empty one towed to sea with us. The joke, if it might be so termed, was on the crew.

The watchword heretofore on the "Yankee," as on every one of Uncle Sam's ships, had been "Remember the Maine." Hereafter it was "Remember the fish." This was done so persistently that the officer who was responsible for the blunder was dubbed "Fish," and whenever he went near any member of the crew he was likely to hear, in a low tone, "Remember the fish."

After leaving the Isle of Pines the eastern shore of Cuba was rounded and a straight run made for Key West. At noon on the 27th of June, just twenty-nine days after the "Yankee" sailed from New York, we again entered a home port. The time was brief as time goes, but our varied experiences in foreign waters made the sight of the stars and stripes flaunting over American soil particularly pleasing.

As we neared our anchorage the most entrancing rumors were rife. We were to get shore liberty without doubt, and the ship was to be coaled by outside labor. We took no stock in the latter rumor till an officer voiced it-then we believed. Our clean blues were furbished up, lanyards scrubbed, and money counted. We understood that there was little to see at Key West; that it was a dull and uninteresting place. Still it was land, and we had not set foot ashore for almost three months.

If we had not been so anxious to get ashore we might have been able to appreciate the marine picture.

The harbor, if it could be called a harbor, was full of war vessels, prizes, and colliers. Three grim monitors tugged at their anchor chains, apparently impatient at the restraint, while a few graceful, clean-cut, converted yachts swung with the tide.

The gunboat "Wilmington," and the cruisers "Newark" and "Montgomery," floated with a bored air. In ship's language they said, Why are we loafing here? Why not be up and doing?

The "Lancaster," a fine old frigate, the flagship of the commodore, had a fatherly air and seemed to say: "Be good and you will all have a chance."

Once more we got our shore-going clothes ready, only to be disappointed, and again the promises made to us proved elusive. The day following our arrival, we were told that no shore liberty would be given at Key West, and while the reasons were all sufficient, a man who has set his mind on an outing ashore after a hundred days at sea, finds it somewhat hard to reconcile himself to the inevitable.

One of the hardest, if not the hardest, thing we had to bear was the lack of letters and news from home. When one has been deprived of all tidings from his own people for so long the longing for word of them becomes almost unbearable.

In the midst of our toughest work we felt that a letter from home would act like a strong tonic and brace us for the effort, and it would have done so. But no such balm came, though we eagerly scanned every incoming vessel for the signal "We have mail for you." Now at last, though there might be tons on tons of coal to be put in at Key West, though the ship might have to be scrubbed and painted from truck to water line, we felt certain we would get letters from home. Letters that we ached for. And so when we sighted the fleet and old fort, and realized that we had reached Key West and mail at last, our joy was too great for utterance.

The whaleboat went ashore and brought back two bags of precious missives, with the sad news that eight bags had been sent on a despatch boat to the "Yankee" at Santiago.

We were glad enough to get two bags, yet we almost gnashed our teeth when we thought of the eight fat pouches that were chasing us around the island of Cuba.

The mail was brought to the wardroom and dumped out on the table for the commissioned officers to sort and pick out their own letters. A news-hungry group stood the while at the doors, watching and mentally grumbling that such an awfully long time was being taken to accomplish so simple a thing.

Finally the master-at-arms was sent for and the worth-its-weight-in-gold mail turned over to him to distribute. To the gun deck poured the eager throng. The master-at-arms backed up against the scuttle-butt for protection, then shouted out: "Let one man from each mess get the mail; the rest of you stand off, or you won't get any till to-morrow." The rest of us stood to one side then, realizing that time would be thus saved.

"Jimmy Legs" called out the names, and the representatives of the different messes took them. We heard Kennedy's name called, and a murmur of sympathy spread around. "Poor chap," said one, "he would give the use of his wounded arm for that letter."

"Yes," said another; "he has to suffer homesickness as well as pain, and a letter from home would brace him up as nothing else could."

Every man took his treasures to a quiet place, a place apart, if such could be found, to enjoy them alone. The few who got none-well! may I never see such disappointed, sorrowful faces again.

The letters read and pondered over awhile, tongues began to be loosened, and soon all over the ship was heard the buzz of conversation. Chums told each other the little items of news that to them seemed the most important things in the world. And after all had been told and retold, the men gathered in groups and discussed their past months' experiences.

"Do you know," said Craven (a descendant of that famous line of naval heroes, a seaman and member of Number Thirteen six-pounder gun's crew), "I think we are wonderfully fortunate to come through this experience as well as we have. Just think! We have been under fire five times, and only one man has been injured. Why," he continued, and his hearers nodded assent, "I used to have the most awful visions-thought I saw the men lying round our gun in heaps, while fresh ones jumped to take the places of the fallen."

"And they would," said messenger "Hop," who happened to be passing on his way aft to deliver an order.

The "Yankee" had seen some spirited fighting, though most of her crew had anticipated nothing more exciting than patrol duty.

Moreover, it was almost certain that we had not seen the end of active service. At present, however, the crew settled down once more to the monotony of ship life in port-which is about equivalent to garrison duty for a soldier.

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