Shackles had come down from the bridge of the Adolphus and flung this
command at three fellow-correspondents, who,
in the galley, were busy with pencils trying to write something
exciting and interesting from four days' quiet cruising. They
looked up casually. "What for?" They did not intend
toarouse for nothing. Ever since Shackles had heard the men of
the navy directing each other to stand by for this thing and that
thing, he had used the two words as his pet phrase and was continually
telling his friends to stand by. Sometimes its portentous and
emphatic reiteration became highly exasperating, and men were
apt to retort sharply. "Well, I am standing by, ain't I?"
On this occasion they detected that he was serious. "Well,
what for?" they repeated. In his answer Shackles was reproachful
as well as impressive. "Stand by? Stand by for a Spanish
gunboat! -- a Spanish gunboat in chase! Stand by for two Spanish
gunboats -- both of them in chase!"
The others looked at him for a brief space, and were almost certain that
they saw truth written upon his countenance.
Whereupon they tumbled out of the galley and galloped up to the
bridge. The cook, with a mere inkling of tragedy, was now out
on the lower deck bawling, "What's the matter? What's the
matter? What's the matter?" Aft, the grimy head of a stoker
was thrust suddenly up through the deck, so to speak. The eyes
flashed in a quick look astern, and then the head vanished. The
correspondents were scrambling on the bridge. "Where's my
opry glasses? Here -- let me take a look. Are they Spaniards,
Captain? Are you sure?"
The skipper of the Adolphus was at the wheel. The pilot-house was so
arranged that he could not see astern without hanging forth from one of the side windows, but apparently he had made early investigation. He did not reply at once. At sea he never replied at once to questions. At the very
first Shackles had discovered the merits of this deliberate manner, and had taken delight in it. He invariably detailed his talk with the captain to the other correspondents. "Look here. I've just been to see the skipper. I said, 'I would like to put into Cape Haytien.' Then he took a little think.
Finally he said, 'All right.' Then I said, 'I suppose we'll need to take on
more coal there?' He took another little think. Finally he said, 'Yes.' I
said, 'Ever ran into that port before?' He took another little think.
Finally he said, 'Yes.' I said, 'Have a cigar?' He took another little
think. See? There's where I fooled 'im."
While the correspondents spun the hurried questions at him, the captain
of the Adolphus stood with his brown hands
on the wheel and his cold glance aligned straight over the bow
of his ship.
"Are they Spanish
gunboats, Captain? Are they, Captain?"
After a profound pause, he said: "Yes." The four correspondents hastily
and in perfect time presented their backs to him and fastened their gaze on
the pursuing foe. They saw a dull, gray curve of sea going to the feet of
the high green and blue coast-line of northeastern Cuba, and on this sea
were two miniature ships, with clouds of iron-colored smoke pouring from
One of the correspondents strode elaborately to the pilot-house. "Aw --
Captain," he drawled, "do you think
they can catch us?"
The captain's glance was still aligned over the bow of his ship.
Ultimately he answered, "I don't know."
From the top of the little Adolphus's stack thick, dark smoke swept level
for a few yards, and then went rolling to leeward in great, hot, obscuring
clouds. From time to time the grimy head was thrust through the lower deck, the eyes took the quick look astern, and then the head vanished. The cook was trying to get somebody to listen to him. "Well, you know, my sons, it won't be no fun to be ketched by them Spaniards. By George, it won't. Look here, what do you think they'll do to us, hey? Say, I don't like this, you
know. I'm jiggered if I do." The sea, cut by the hurried bow of the
Adolphus, flung its waters astern in the formation of a wide angle, and the
lines of the angle ruffled and hissed as they fled, while the thumping screw
tormented the water at the stern. The frame
of the steamer underwent regular convulsions as in the strenuous
sobbing of a child.
The mate was standing near the pilot-house. Without looking at him, the
captain spoke his name: "Ed!"
"Yes, sir," cried
the mate with alacrity.
The captain reflected for a moment. Then he said, "Are they gainin' on
The mate took another anxious survey of the race. "No -- o -- yes, I
think they are -- a little."
After a pause the captain
said: "Tell the chief to hook her up more."
The mate, glad of an occupation in these tense minutes, flew down to the
engine-room door. "Skipper says hook
'er up more!" he bawled.
The head of the chief engineer appeared -- a grizzly head, now wet with
oil and sweat. "What?" he shouted angrily. It was as if he had been
propelling the ship with his own arms. Now
he was told that his best was not good enough. "What? Hook
'er up more? Why, she can't carry another pound, I tell you! Not
another ounce! We -- " Suddenly he ran forward and climbed
to the bridge. "Captain," he cried in the loud, harsh
voice of one who lived usually amid the thunder of machinery,
"she can't do it, sir! By Gawd, she can't! She's turning
over now faster than she ever did in her life, and we'll all blow
to hell -- "
The low-toned, impassive voice of the captain suddenly checked the
chief's clamor. "I'll blow her up," he said, "but I won't get ketched if I
can help it." Even then the listening correspondents found a second in which to marvel that the captain had actually explained his point of view to
another human being.
The engineer stood blank. Then suddenly he cried, "All right, sir!" He
threw a hurried look of despair at the correspondents, the deck of the
Adolphus, the pursuing enemy, Cuba, to the
sky, and the sea; he vanished in the direction of his post.
A correspondent was suddenly regifted with the power of prolonged speech. "Well, you see, the game is up, tight. See! We can't get out of it. The
skipper will blow up the whole bunch before he'll let his ship be taken, and
the Spaniards are gaining. Well, that's what comes from going to war in an
eight-knot tub." He bitterly accused himself, the others, and the dark,
sightless, indifferent world.
This certainty of coming evil affected each one differently. One was made
garrulous; one kept absent-mindedly snapping his fingers and gazing at the sea; another stepped nervously to and fro, looking everywhere as if for
employment for his mind. As for Shackles, he was silent and smiling; but it
was a new smile that caused the lines about
his mouth to
betray quivering weakness. And each man looked at the others to discover
their degree of fear, and did his best to conceal his own, holding his
crackling nerves with all his strength.
As the Adolphus rushed on, the sun suddenly emerged from behind gray
clouds, and its rays dealt Titanic blows, so that in a few minutes the sea
was a glowing blue plain, with the golden shine dancing at the tips of the
waves. The coast of Cuba glowed with light. The pursuers displayed detail
after detail in the new atmosphere. The voice of the cook was heard in high
vexation. "Am I to git dinner as usual?
How do I know? Nobody tells me what to do! Am I to git dinner
The mate answered ferociously: "Of course you are! What do you s'pose?
Ain't you the cook, you condemned ijit?"
The cook retorted in a mutinous scream: "Well, how would I know? If this
ship is goin' to blow up -- "
The captain called from the pilot-house: "Mr. Shackles! Oh, Mr.
The correspondent moved
hastily to a window.
"What is it, captain?"
The skipper of the Adolphus raised a battered finger and pointed over the
bows. "See 'er?" he asked, laconic
but quietly jubilant. Another steamer was smoking at full speed
over the sunlit seas. A great billow of pure white was on her
cried Shackles: "another Spaniard?"
"No," said the
captain; "that there is a United States cruiser."
"What?" Shackles was dumbfounded into muscular paralysis. "No! Are you
The captain nodded. "Sure. Take the glass. See her ensign? Two funnels;
two masts with fighting tops. She ought to
be the Chancellorville."
Shackles choked. "Well,
"Ed!" said the
"Tell the chief there
is no hurry."
Shackles suddenly bethought
him of his companions. He dashed to them and was full of quick
scorn of their gloomy faces. "Hi, brace up there! Are you
blind? Can't you see her?"
"Why, the Chancellorville, you blind mice!" roared Shackles. "See 'er?
See 'er? See 'er?"
The others sprang up, saw, and collapsed. Shackles was a madman for the
purpose of distributing the news. "Cook!" he shrieked; "don't you see 'er,
cook? Great Scott, man, don't you see 'er?" He ran to the lower deck and
howled his information everywhere. Suddenly, the whole ship smiled. Men
clapped each other on the shoulder and joyously
shouted. The captain thrust his head from the pilot-house to look
back at the Spanish ships. Then he looked at the American cruiser.
"Now, we'll see," he said, grimly and vindictively to
the mate. "Guess somebody else will do some runnin'."
The mate chuckled.
The two gunboats were still headed hard for the Adolphus, and she kept on her way. The American cruiser was coming swiftly. "It's the
Chancellorville!" cried Shackles. "I know her. We'll see a fight at sea, my
boys! A fight at sea!" The enthusiastic correspondents pranced in Indian
The Chancellorville -- 2000 tons, 18.6 knots, ten 5-inch guns -- came on
tempestuously, sheering the water high with
her sharp bow. From her funnels the smoke raced away in driven
sheets. She loomed with extraordinary rapidity, like a ship bulging
and growing out of the sea. She swept by the Adolphus so close
that one could have thrown a walnut on board. She was a glistening
grey apparition, with a blood-red water-line, with brown gun-muzzles
and white-clothed motionless Jack-tars; and in her rush she was
silent, deadly silent. Probably there entered the mind of every
man on board of the Adolphus a feeling of almost idolatry for
this living thing, stern, but, to their thought, incomparably
beautiful. They would have cheered but that each man seemed to
feel that a cheer would be too puny a tribute.
It was at first as if she did not see the Adolphus. She was going to pass
without heeding this little vagabond of the high seas. But suddenly a
megaphone gaped over the rail of her bridge, and a voice was heard
measuredly, calmly intoning: "Halloa -- there! Keep -- well -- to -- the --
north'ard -- and -- out of my -- way -- and I'll -- go -- in -- and -- see
-- what -- those -- people -- want." Then nothing was heard but the swirl of
water. In a moment the Adolphus was looking at a high gray stern. On the
quarter-deck sailors were poised about the
breech of the after-pivot gun.
The correspondents were revelling. "Captain," yelled Shackles, "we can't
miss this! We must see it!"
But the skipper had already flung over the wheel. "Sure," he answered,
almost at once, "we can't miss it."
The cook was arrogantly, grossly triumphant. His voice rang on the lower
deck. "There, now! How will the Spinachers like that? Now, it's our turn!
We've been doin' the runnin' away, but now
we'll do the chasin'!" Apparently feeling some twinge of
nerves from the former strain, he suddenly demanded: "Say,
who's got any whiskey? I'm near dead for a drink."
When the Adolphus came about, she laid her course for a position to the
northward of a coming battle, but the situation
suddenly became complicated. When the Spanish ships discovered
the identity of the ship that was steaming toward them they did
not hesitate over their plan of action. With one accord they turned
and ran for port. Laughter arose from the Adolphus. The captain
broke his orders, and instead of keeping to the northward, he
headed in the wake of the impetuous Chancellorville. The correspondents
crowded on the bow.
The Spaniards, when their broadsides became visible, were seen to be
ships of no importance -- mere little gun-boats for work in the shallows at
the back of the reefs; and it was certainly discreet to refuse encounter
with the 5-inch guns of the Chancellorville. But the joyful Adolphus took no
account of this discretion. The pursuit of the Spaniards had been so
ferocious that the quick change to heels-over-head flight filled that corner
of the mind which is devoted to the spirit of revenge. It was this that
moved Shackles to yell taunts futilely at the faraway ships. "Well, how do
you like it, eh? How do you like it?"
The Adolphus was drinking compensation for her previous agony.
The mountains of the shore
now shadowed high into the sky, and the square white houses of
a town could be seen near a vague cleft which seemed to mark the
entrance to a port. The gunboats were now near to it.
Suddenly white smoke streamed from the bow of the Chancellorville and
developed swiftly into a great bulb which drifted in fragments down the
wind. Presently the deep-throated boom of
the gun came to the ears on board the Adolphus. The shot kicked
up a high jet of water into the air astern of the last gunboat.
The black smoke from the funnels of the cruiser made her look
like a collier on fire, and in her desperation she tried many
more long shots, but presently the Adolphus, murmuring disappointment,
saw the Chancellorville sheer from the chase.
In time they came up with her, and she was an indignant ship. Gloom and wrath was on the forecastle, and wrath and gloom was on the quarter-deck. A sad voice from the bridge said, "Just missed 'em." Shackles gained
permission to board the cruiser, and in the cabin he talked to
Lieutenant-Commander Surrey, tall, bald-headed
"Shoals," said the captain of the Chancellorville, "I can't go any
nearer, and those gunboats could steam along
a stone sidewalk if only it was wet." Then his bright eyes
became brighter. "I tell you what! The Chicken, the Holy
Moses, and the Mongolian are on station off Nuevitas. If you will
do me a favor -- why, to-morrow I will give those people a game!"
The Chancellorville lay all night watching off the port of the two
gunboats, and soon after daylight, the lookout descried three smokes to the
westward, and they were later made out to be the Chicken, the Holy Moses,
and the Adolphus, the latter tagging hurriedly after the United States
The Chicken had been a
harbor tug, but she was now the U.S.S. Chicken, by your leave.
She carried a 6-pounder forward and a 6-pounder aft, and her main
point was her conspicuous vulnerability. The Holy Moses had been
the private yacht of a Philadelphia millionnaire. She carried
six 6-pounders, and her main point was the chaste beauty of the
On the bridge of the Chancellorville, Lieutenant-Commander Surrey
surveyed his squadron with considerable satisfaction.
Presently he signalled to the lieutenant who commanded the Holy
Moses and to the boatswain who commanded the Chicken to come aboard
the flagship. This was all very well for the captain of the yacht,
but it was not so easy for the captain of the tugboat, who had
two heavy lifeboats swung fifteen feet above the water. He had
been accustomed to talking with senior officers from his own pilot-house
through the intercession of the blessed megaphone. However, he
got a lifeboat over-side and was pulled to the Chancellorville
by three men -- which cut his crew almost into halves.
In the cabin of the Chancellorville, Surrey disclosed to his two captains
his desires concerning the Spanish gunboats, and they were glad of being
ordered down from the Nuevitas station, where life was very dull. He also
announced that there was a shore battery, containing, he believed, four
field-guns -- three-decimal-twos. His draught -- he spoke of it as his
draught -- would enable him to go in close enough to engage the battery at
moderate range, but he pointed out that the main parts of the attempt to
destroy the Spanish gun-boats must be left to the Holy Moses and the
Chicken. His business, he thought, could only be to keep the air so singing
about the ears of the battery that the men at the guns would be unable to
take an interest in the dash of the smaller
American craft into the bay.
The officers spoke in their
turns. The commander of the Chicken announced that he saw no difficulties.
The squadron would follow the flagship in line, ahead the flagship
would engage the batteries as soon as possible, she would turn
to starboard when the depth of water forced her to do so, and
the Holy Moses and the Chicken would run past her into the bay
and fight the Spanish ships wherever they were to be found. The
commander of the Holy Moses, after some moments of dignified thought,
said that he had no suggestions to make that would better this
Surrey pressed an electric bell; a marine orderly appeared; he was sent
with a message. The message brought the navigating officer of the
Chancellorville to the cabin, and the four
men nosed over a chart.
In the end Surrey declared
that he had made up his mind, and the juniors remained in expectant
silence for three minutes while he stared at the bulkhead. Then
he said that the plan of the Chicken's commander seemed to him
correct in the main. He would make one change. It was that he
shouldfirst steam in and engage the battery, and the other vessels
should remain in their present positions until he signalled them
to run into the bay. If the squadron steamed ahead in line, the
battery could, if it chose, divide its fire between the flagship
and the vessels constituting the more important attack. He had
no doubt, he said, that he could soon silence the battery by tumbling
the earthworks on to the guns and driving away the men, even if
he did not succeed in hitting the pieces. Of course, he had no
doubt of being able to silence the battery in twenty minutes.
Then he would signal for the Holy Moses and the Chicken to make
their rush, and of course he would support them with his fire
as much as conditions enabled him. He arose then, indicating that
the conference was at an end. In the few moments more that all
four men remained in the cabin, the talk changed its character
completely. It was now unofficial, and the sharp badinage concealed
furtive affections, academy friendships, the feelings of old-time
ship-mates, hiding everything under a veil of jokes. "Well,
good luck to you, old boy! Don't get that valuable packet of yours
sunk under you. Think how it would weaken the navy. Would you
mind buying me three pairs of pajamas in the town yonder? If your
engines get disabled, tote her under your arm. You can do it.
Good-by, old man; don't forget to come out all right."
When the commanders of
the Holy Moses and the Chicken emerged from the cabin they strode
the deck with a new step. They were proud men. The marine on duty
above their boats looked at them curiously and with awe. He detected
something which meant action, conflict. The boats' crews saw it
also. As they pulled their steady stroke they studied fleetingly
the face of the officer in the stern-sheets. In both cases they
perceived a glad man, and yet a man filled with a profound consideration
of the future.
A bird-like whistle stirred the decks of the Chancellorville. It was
followed by the hoarse bellowings of the boatswain's mate. As the cruiser
turned her bow toward the shore, she happened
to steam near the Adolphus. The usual calm voice hailed the despatch-boat.
"Keep -- that -- gauze undershirt of yours -- well -- out
of the -- line of fire."
"Ay, ay, sir!"
The cruiser then moved slowly toward the shore, watched by every eye in
the smaller American vessels. She was deliberate and steady, and this was
reasonable, even to the impatience of the other craft, because the wooded
shore was likely to suddenly develop new factors. Slowly she swung to
starboard, smoke belched over her, and the roar of a gun came along the
The battery was indicated by a long, thin streak of yellow earth. The
first shot went high, ploughing the chaparral on the hillside. The
Chancellorville wore an air for a moment of being deep in meditation. She
flung another shell, which landed squarely
on the earth-work, making a great dun cloud. Before the smoke
had settled, there was a crimson flash from the battery. To the
watchers at sea, it was smaller than a needle. The shot made a
geyser of crystal water, four hundred yards from the Chancellorville.
The cruiser, having made
up her mind, suddenly went at the battery hammer and tongs. She
moved to and fro casually, but the thunder of her guns was gruff
and angry. Sometimes she was quite hidden in her own smoke, but
with exceeding regularity the earth of the battery spurted into
the air. The Spanish shells for the most part went high and wide
of the cruiser, jetting the water far away.
Once a Spanish gunner took a festive side-show chance at the waiting
group of the three ships. It went like a flash over the Adolphus, singing a
wistful, metallic note. Whereupon the Adolphus broke hurriedly for the open sea, and men on the Holy Moses and the Chicken laughed hoarsely and cruelly. The correspondents had been standing excitedly on top of the pilot-house, but at the passing of the shell they promptly eliminated themselves by dropping with a thud to the deck below. The cook again was giving tongue. "Oh, say, this won't do! Oh, this ain't no good! We ain't no armored cruiser, you know. If one of them shells hits us -- well, we finish right there. 'Tain't like as if it was our business, foolin' round within the
range of them guns. There's no sense in it. Them other fellows don't seem to mind it, but it's their business. If it's your business, you go ahead and do
it; but if it ain't, you -- look at that,
The Chancellorville had set up a spread of flags, and the Holy Moses and
the Chicken were steaming in.
They on the Chancellorville sometimes could see into the bay, and they
perceived the enemy's gunboats moving out as if to give battle. Surrey
feared that this impulse would not endure,
or that it was some mere pretence for the edification of the townspeople
and the garrison, so he hastily directed that signals be made
ordering in the Holy Moses and the Chicken. Thankful for small
favors, they came on like charging horsemen. The battery had ceased
firing. As the two auxiliaries passed under the stern of the cruiser,
the megaphone hailed them: "You -- will -- see -- the --
en -- e --my -- soon -- as -- you -- round -- the -- point. A
-- fine -- chance. Good--luck."
As a matter of fact, the Spanish gunboats had not been informed of the
presence of the Holy Moses and the Chicken off the bar, and they were just
blustering down the bay over the protective shoals to make it appear that
they scorned the Chancellorville. But suddenly from around the point there
burst into view a steam yacht, closely followed by a harbor tug. The
gunboats took one swift look at this horrible
sight, and fled screaming.
Lieutenant Reigate, commanding
the Holy Moses, had under his feet a craft that was capable of
some speed, although before a solemn tribunal one would have to
admit that she conscientiously belied almost everything that the
contractors had said of her originally. Boatswain Pent, commanding
the Chicken, was in possession of an utterly different kind. The
Holy Moses was an antelope; the Chicken was a man who could carry
a piano on his back. In this race Pent had the mortification of
seeing his vessel outstripped badly.
The entrance of the two American craft had a curious effect upon the
shores of the bay. Apparently every one had slept in the assurance that the
Chancellorville could not cross the bar, and that the Chancellorville was
the only hostile ship. Consequently the appearance
of the Holy Moses and the Chicken created a curious and complete
emotion. Reigate on the bridge of the Holy Moses laughed when
he heard the bugles shrilling, and saw through his glasses the
wee figures of men running hither and thither on the shore. It
was the panic of the china when the bull entered the shop. The
whole bay was bright with sun. Every detail of the shore was plain.
From a brown hut abeam of the Holy Moses some little men ran out
waving their arms and turning their tiny faces to look at the
enemy. Directly ahead, some four miles, appeared the scattered
white houses of a town, with a wharf and some schooners in front
of it. The gunboats were making for the town. There was a stone
fort on the hill overshadowing, but Reigate conjectured that there
was no artillery in it.
There was a sense of something
intimate and impudent in the minds of the Americans. It was like
climbing over a wall and fighting a man in his own garden. It
was not that they could be in any wise shaken in their resolve;
it was simply that the overwhelmingly Spanish aspect of things
made them feel like gruff intruders. Like many of the emotions
of war-time, this emotion had nothing at all to do with war.
Reigate's only commissioned
subordinate called up from the bow gun, "May I open fire,
sir? I think I can fetch that last one."
Immediately the 6-pounder crashed, and in the air was the spinning wire
noise of the flying shot. It struck so close to the last gun-boat that it
appeared that the spray went aboard. The
swift-handed men at the gun spoke of it: "Gave 'em a bath
that time anyhow. First one they've ever had. Dry 'em off this
The young ensign said: "Steady." And so the Holy Moses raced in, firing,
until the whole town, water-front and shipping was as plain as if it had
been done on paper by a mechanical draughts-man.
The gunboats were trying to hide in the bosom of the town. One
was frantically tying up to the wharf, and the other was anchoring
within a hundred yards of the shore. The Spanish infantry, of
course, had dug trenches along the beach, and suddenly the air
over the Holy Moses sang with bullets. The shore-line thrummed
with musketry; also some antique shells screamed.
THE Chicken was doing her best. Pent's posture at the wheel seemed to
indicate that her best was about thirty-four knots. In his eagerness he was
braced as if he alone was taking in a 10,000-ton battleship through
But the Chicken was not too far in the rear, and Pent could see clearly
that he was to have no minor part to play. Some of the antique shells had
struck the Holy Moses, and he could see the
escaped steam shooting up from her. She lay close inshore, and
was lashing out with four 6-pounders as if this was the last opportunity
she would have to fire them. She had made the Spanish gunboats
very sick. A solitary gun on the one moored to the wharf was from
time to time firing wildly, otherwise the gunboats were silent.
But the beach in front of the town was a line of fire. The Chicken
headed for the Holy Moses, and, as soon as possible, the 6-pounder
in her bow began to crack at the gunboat moored to the wharf.
In the meantime the Chancellorville prowled off the bar, listening to the
firing, anxious, acutely anxious, and feeling her impotency in every inch of
her smart, steel frame. And in the meantime the Adolphus squatted on the
waves and brazenly waited for news. One could thoughtfully count the
seconds, and reckon that in this second and
that second a man had died -- if one chose. But no one did it.
Undoubtedly the spirit was that the flag should come away with honor,
honor complete, perfect leaving no loose unfinished end over which the
Spaniards could erect a monument of satisfaction, glorification. The distant
guns boomed to the ears of the silent blue-jackets at their stations on the
The Chicken steamed up to the Holy Moses and took into her nostrils the
odor of steam, gunpowder and burned things. Rifle-bullets simply streamed
over them both. In the merest flash of time, Pent took into his remembrance
the body of a dead quartermaster on the bridge of his consort. The two
megaphones lifted together, but Pent's eager voice cried out first: "Are you
"No, not completely. My engines can get me out after -- after we have
sunk those gunboats." The voice had been utterly conventional, but it
changed to sharpness: "Go in and sink
that gunboat at anchor."
As the Chicken rounded
the Holy Moses and started inshore, a man called to him from the
depths of finished disgust: "They're takin' to their boats,
sir." Pent looked and saw the men of the anchored gunboat
lower their boats and pull like mad for shore.
The Chicken, assisted by the Holy Moses, began a methodical killing of
the anchored gunboat. The Spanish infantry
on shore fired frenziedly at the Chicken. Pent, giving the wheel
to a waiting sailor, stepped out to a point where he could see
the men at the guns. One bullet spanged past him and into the
pilot-house. He ducked his head into the window. "That hit
you, Murry?" he inquired with interest.
"No, sir," cheerfully
responded the man at the wheel.
Pent became very busy superintending the fire of his absurd battery. The
anchored gun-boat simply would not sink. It evinced that unnatural
stubbornness which is sometimes displayed
by inanimate objects. The gunboat at the wharf had sunk as if
she had been scuttled, but this riddled thing at anchor would
not even take fire. Pent began to grow flurried -- privately.
He could not stay there forever. Why didn't the pig-headed gunboat
admit its destruction? Why --
He was at the forward gun when one of his engineers came to him, and
after saluting, said serenely: "The
men at the after-gun are all down, sir."
It was one of those curious lifts which an enlisted man, without in any
way knowing it, can give his officer. The impudent tranquillity of the man
at once set Pent to rights, and the engineer departed admiring the
extraordinary coolness of his captain.
The next few moments contained little but heat, an odor, applied
mechanics, and an expectation of death. Pent
developed a fervid and amazed appreciation of the men, his men:
men he knew very well, but strange men. What explained them? He
was doing his best because he was captain of the Chicken, and
he lived or died by the Chicken. But what could move these men
to watch his eye in bright anticipation of his orders, and then
obey them with enthusiastic rapidity? What caused them to speak
of the action as some kind of joke -- particularly when they knew
he could overhear them? What manner of men? And he anointed them
secretly with his fullest affection.
Perhaps Pent did not think all this during the battle. Perhaps he thought
it so soon after the battle that his full mind became confused as to the
time. At any rate, it stands as an expression
of his feeling.
The enemy had gotten a field-gun down to the shore, and with it, they
began to throw 3-inch shells at the Chicken. In this war it was usual that
the down-trodden Spaniards, in their ignorance,
should use smokeless powder, while the Americans, by the power
of the consistent, everlasting, three-ply, wire-woven, double-back-action
imbecility of a hayseed government, used powder which on sea and
on land cried their position to heaven; and accordingly, good
men got killed without reason. At first, Pent could not locate
the field-gun at all; but as soon as he found it, he ran aft with
one man and brought the after 6-pounder again into action. He
paid little heed to the old gun-crew. One was lying on his face
apparently dead; another was prone, with a wound in the chest;
while the third sat with his back to the deck-house holding a
smitten arm. This last one called out huskily, "Give 'em
The minutes of the battle were either days, years, or they were flashes
of a second. Once Pent, looking up, was astonished to see three shell holes
in the Chicken's funnel -- made surreptitiously, so to speak. "If we don't
silence that field-gun she'll sink us, boys." The eyes of the man sitting
with his back against the deck-house were
looking from out his ghastly face at the new gun-crew. He spoke
with the supreme laziness of a wounded man: "Give 'em hell."
Pent felt a sudden twist of his shoulder. He was wounded-- slightly.
The anchored gunboat was in flames.
Pent took his little bloodstained towboat out to the Holy Moses. The
yacht was already under way for the bay entrance. As they
were passing out of range, the Spaniards heroically redoubled their fire --
which is their custom. Pent, moving busily about the decks, stopped suddenly at the door of the engine-room. His face was set and his eyes were steely. He spoke to one of the engineers. "During the action I saw you firing at the enemy with a rifle. I told you once to stop, and then I saw you at it again. Pegging away with a rifle is no part of your business. I want you to
understand that you are in trouble." The humbled man did not raise his eyes from the deck. Presently the Holy Moses displayed an anxiety for the
"One killed and four
"Have you enough men
left to work your ship?"
After deliberation Pent
answered, "No, sir."
"Shall I send you
"No, sir. I can get
to sea all right."
As they neared the point they were edified by the sudden appearance of a
serio-comic ally. The Chancellorville at last had been unable to stand the
strain, and sent in her launch with an ensign, five seamen, and a number of
marksmen marines. She swept hotfoot around the point, bent on terrible
slaughter; the 1-pounder of her bow presented
a formidable appearance. The Holy Moses and the Chicken laughed
until they brought indignation to the brow of the young ensign.
But he forgot it when with some of his men he boarded the Chicken
to do what was possible for the wounded. The nearest surgeon was
aboard the Chancellorville. There was absolute silence on board
the cruiser as the Holy Moses steamed up to report. The blue-jackets
listened with all their ears. The commander of the yacht spoke
slowly into his megaphone: "We have -- destroyed -- the two
-- gunboats -- sir."
There was a burst of confused cheering on the forecastle of the
Chancellorville, but an officer's cry quelled
"Very -- good. Will
-- you -- come aboard?"
Correspondents were already on the deck of the cruiser, and although for
a time they learned only that the navy can preserve a classic silence, they
in the end received the story which is here told. Before the last of the
wounded were hoisted aboard the cruiser the
Adolphus was on her way to Key West. When she arrived at that
port of desolation, Shackles fled to file the telegrams and the
other correspondents fled to the hotel for clothes, good clothes,
clean clothes; and food, good food, much food; and drink, much
drink, any kind of drink.
Days afterward, when the officers of the noble squadron received the
newspapers containing an account of their performance they looked at each other somewhat dejectedly: "Heroic assault -- grand daring of Boatswain Pent -- superb accuracy of the Holy Moses' fire -- gallant tars of the Chicken --
their names should be remembered as long as America stands -- terrible
losses of the enemy -- "
When the Secretary of the Navy ultimately read the report of
Lieutenant-Commander Surrey he had to prick himself with a dagger in order to remember that anything at all out of the ordinary had occurred.