Read CHAPTER XIX - Hope Deferred of A Gunner Aboard the "Yankee", free online book, by Russell Doubleday, on

For a few days there was little to do beyond the never-ending routine work: scrubbing decks, cleaning paint, and polishing bright work on guns and equipments.

We were beginning to wonder if we were to lie at anchor indefinitely, and if our last chance of seeing any active service had gone by.

On the morning of Monday, August 1st, we had orders to get under way and go to sea. Tongues began to wag at once, and before we had fairly cleared the harbor a dozen different destinations had been picked out.

It would seem as if there could be no great danger in letting the men have some knowledge of where they are bound when fairly at sea, with no beings to whom the secret might be told, save sharks and dolphins, but

“Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why.”

The navy has little use for Jacky’s brains; only his trained muscles and sinews. There is no life that can be depended upon to take the pride of intellect out of a man like that of a sailor, as Rudyard Kipling has shown in the case of Harvey Cheyne. We of the crew could think of many a cad on whom we would like to try the discipline.

The most popular rumor ran to this effect: we are bound for Porto Rico to take part with the “Massachusetts,” “New Orleans,” “Dixie,” and other ships of the fleet in a bombardment of San Juan.

By the time land had faded from view, we knew that we really were bound for Porto Rico, but for what purpose we knew not. The rumor was correct in part, at least.

We were glad to get to sea again. There is an undefinable feeling of relief, almost of joy, when the regular throbbing of the engines begins and the ship rolls and heaves to the swell.

The spirits of the men rise; smiles lighten up their faces, and snatches of song can be heard as they work coiling down lines, lashing movables, and preparing the vessel for the rough-and-tumble conflict with the sea.

As the sun sank, the waves rose. By the time the first night watch went on duty, the old steamer was tossing like a chip.

The guns’ crews of the watch on deck were ordered to sleep by their posts, and all was in readiness for instant action.

At eleven o’clock we were roused by the call for “general quarters,” and in a minute, all hands were in their places. We looked vainly, at first, for the cause of this commotion, but finally made out off our port bow the dim outlines of a steamer.

It was only when our ship was on the top of the roll that we could make out our chase at all nothing but a wall of water could be seen when we lay in the trough.

“That boat is certainly doing her best to get away,” said “Bill.” “And, holy smoke! see how she rolls.”

“She can’t trot in our heat,” said “Dye.” “We’re gaining on her every minute.”

“She’s not a warship,” said “Long Tommy,” who was lucky enough to possess a pair of glasses. “I wonder if we’re going to get a prize at last?”

“You forget the fishing sloops. ‘Remember the fish,’” laughed “Hay.”

The two vessels came nearer and nearer, till finally they were within hailing distance.

“What ship is that?” called out Captain Brownson, through the megaphone. “And where are you bound?”

The answer came faintly over the tossing waves: “The ‘Burton,’ with coal for Santiago from Guadeloupe.”

“Ah, ha!” said Tommy, “we get a prize at last.”

“Wait a minute,” said “Stump,” “he is saying something else.”

A gust of wind came at that moment and carried most of the sound away, but we gathered that our hoped-for prize had papers from our consul allowing her free passage.

There was a universal groan of disappointment, and when the order was given to “secure,” the hose was pulled up with unnecessary violence, hatches were lowered, and gun closets closed with no gentle hands. Such keen disappointment must somehow find a vent.

There was great excitement the following afternoon when the word was passed for all hands to get out their leggings and to wear shoes to midday quarters. And when we were arranged into companies, and had haversacks, canteens, and knapsacks doled out to us, we concluded that a landing party would be made up for Porto Rico.

“The ‘old man’ is going to show the ‘Spinache’ that the ‘Yankee’ boys can fight on land as well as on sea,” said Tommy, as he yanked at an obstinate haversack strap.

We marched round and round the spar deck to the music of bugle and drum till we got well into the swing of it, and felt very martial and formidable indeed.

The “Dixie” hove in sight at this juncture, and after a long megaphone conversation, we learned that the “Massachusetts,” for which we had some ammunition, was on her way to Guantanamo, so we reluctantly turned around and retraced our way, the “Dixie” leading. Porto Rico was not for us. Alas!

We felt like

“The King of France and his hundred thousand men
Drew their swords and put them up again.”

The next morning we hove-to a Norwegian steamer, the “Marie,” and before we realized what was being done, we found that we had a prize at last. A snug little steamer she was, well loaded down with coal for Cervera’s fleet.

“Cutlets” went over in a whaleboat, with a prize crew of six men.

“Well, well! this is almost too good to be true,” said an after guard. “This is great luck. We capture a prize and get rid of ‘Cutlets’ at the same time.”

To which we all said, Amen.

We separated from the “Marie,” and, as the “Yankee” was much the faster, she was soon lost to sight.

The anchor had no sooner been dropped in Guantanamo Bay than our captain went over to the “New York,” and then signals began to be displayed, and soon after all hands were hauling on the “cat falls.”

The skipper returned; the gig was pulled up to its place, and very soon we were ploughing the water in the open. As we went out, our prize came in.

It seems the encounter with the “Burton” was told to the admiral, and he at once ordered us to go out and get her.

We headed straight out. The black smoke poured out of the funnels; the ship shook with the pounding of the strained engines. The land faded from view.

About two o’clock we sighted the object of our chase, and it only required a blank shot from the forward six-pounder to bring her to.

The prize crew, consisting of six seamen, some firemen and engineers, and officered by Lieutenant Duncan, went over and took possession of our second prize in one day.

Captor and captive then turned and headed for Guantanamo.

The men were in high spirits. Speculation was rife as to the amount of prize money each would secure, and some even went so far as to plan the spending of it.

Every one felt very gay, and as if something should be done to celebrate our good fortune. We would have liked to spend some money for an entertainment, but that was impossible.

“Dick,” however, was impressed into service to furnish some amusement. “Dick,” a forecastle man, is a born story-teller, and we knew if we could get him started, some fun would be assured.

After some pressure he acquiesced, and began the following yarn:

“One day a certain Irishman, Mike Dooley by name, departed this life. He was much respected, and his death caused no little sorrow to his friends and neighbors. His wife and children were simply inconsolable. The widow wished to have a handsome funeral in his honor and spent her savings in furtherance of that plan. She had enough money for everything, except the silver inscription plate. But that difficulty was easily overcome, for ’What’s the matter wid Pat Molloy painting it nately in white paint?’ she said.

“Pat, being approached on the subject, expressed his entire willingness, and soon after called for the casket and took it away. He was told to letter the following, in neat, white letters: ’Michael Dooley departed this life in his prime, at the age of twenty-eight.’

“Pat was a bricklayer by trade, and painting was only a ‘side line’ with him.

“He started to put the inscription on the casket, and got along bravely till he came to ‘age of twenty-eight.’ Then he realized that he could not make the figures. He puzzled over it a long while, for he did not like to ask and thus show up his ignorance.

“Finally a bright idea struck him. Four sevens make twenty-eight why not put down four sevens that was easy!

“The job was finished just in time.

“The relatives and friends were gathered round to pay their last respects. One friend was asked to get up and make a few remarks. He did so and began as follows:

“’I am glad to be able to say a few words on this sad occasion, a few words of praise for our beloved friend; for other words than praise could not be said of him. I am proud to have known him and to have been numbered among his friends. His virtues need hardly be repeated. You knew him well. His generosity, his friendliness, and all the rest he possessed. I knew him from his youth up, and I am well aware of his goodness, as are you. He was a good husband, a good father, and a good friend. It is hard to give him up, but it must be. He died at the age of ’

“Here the speaker glanced at the casket beside which he stood, and read the following:



“‘Yis, my bereaved friends,’ he continued, ’he was a good father, husband, and friend, and none knows that better than I. He was cut off in the pride of manhood, you might say in his prime, at the age of ’

“He glanced at the inscription again, then, after a painful pause, blurted forth: ‘Well, how the divil did he escape the flood?’”

The sound of “tattoo” interrupted our laughter at this point, and all Hands tumbled below.

The following day we got rid of the last of the ammunition to the “Massachusetts.” A sigh of relief and thankfulness went up as the last charge of powder was taken over the side.

The same day we saw some of our prize money vanish into thin air. The “Burton” was released, and steamed out of the harbor.

It was about this time that a well-authenticated rumor went the rounds to the effect that we were to go with a formidable fleet to Spain, harass her coasts, and do up Camara’s fleet. This rumor was so well founded that many of us believed it, and, consequently, much time was spent in writing farewell letters.

The prospect of soon seeing the “land of the free and the home of the brave” was not very bright. The consensus of opinion at this time was that we would see our year out in Uncle Sam’s service.

There was considerable gloom. The start once made and the “Yankee” actually on her way to the land of the Dons, all would be well and all hands would be cheerful; but the contemplation of the long trip in the wrong direction was a very different matter.

The air was full of rumors. All was uncertain. We continued to write farewell letters, while the invading fleet still lay quietly at anchor, but ready to sail to the ends of the earth at a few hours’ notice.

The night of August 10th was moonless and dark. There had been no music from the “Oregon’s” band, and none of our men felt inclined to sing.

The uncertainty had begun to tell, and all were a little depressed.

I was “it” for anchor watch, and, as is often the case, the anchor watch manned the running small boat.

We visited several vessels of the fleet, the crew staying in the boat while the officers went aboard. When we finally started to return to our own ship, we carried two of our officers, Mr. Duncan, Mr. Barnard, and an officer from the “Indiana.” As we cleared the wall-like sides of the “St. Paul,” we noted that the general signal call (four red lights) was up on the “New York.” Then, as we watched, the red and white bulbs began to spell out a message that made us all thrill with joy. The interest of the moment broke down all barriers of rank, and officers and men spelled out the exciting words aloud.

H-A-S B-E-E-N A-G-R-E-E-D U-P-O-N.

We Jackies would have liked to yell, but our lessons had been too well learned, and we restrained ourselves. We put the officer from the “Indiana” aboard his own ship and then returned to the “Yankee.”

As soon as the boat was secured for the night, I went around waking some of my particular friends to tell them the great news, forgetting that they could see it quite as well as I. All were too good-natured, however, to object; on the contrary, they seemed glad to talk about it. There was some dispute as to the meaning of the word “protocol”; but all agreed that, whatever its meaning, it must be good, coupled as it was with “peace.”

As we talked quietly, we heard faintly, softly, a verse of “Morse’s” song:

“Our fighting 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.”

In spite of the peace news we got orders to go out with the “Dixie” and blockade the Crooked Island Passage. So about four o’clock we hauled up the anchor and went to sea. All were gay, and many shook their hands in farewell to Guantanamo Bay.

We were instructed to keep a sharp lookout for the steamer “Monserrat,” which had gained fame as a blockade runner. It was rumored that she carried Captain-General Blanco; that she was well armed, and had a captain noted for his unscrupulousness and for his fighting qualities.

“I’d like to meet that ship,” said “Hay,” “have a good ‘scrap’ with her, get a couple of shot holes in our upper works and battle flags, and then bring her triumphantly into Key West or, better still, New York.”

“Want to go out in a blaze of glory, do you?” said Tommy, the long.

“Sure. I’d like to burn some of that powder we took such trouble to load.”

This expressed the sentiments of the whole ship’s company.

To have one more good fight in which we were to come out victorious, of course get a few souvenir shot holes where no harm would be done, and then go home. This would just about have suited us.

We floated around lazily all day Friday and Saturday with a chip on our shoulder, as it were, but no “Monserrat” came to knock it off.

The lookouts at the masthead strained their eyes, and half the men not actually at work did likewise. All in vain; not an enemy did we see. A number of transports homeward bound, bearing worn but happy soldiers, were passed, and some came near enough to exchange cheers and good wishes.

The screw revolved but slowly, and the ship moved just enough to give steerage way. Every passing wave did as it wished with the great hulk, and she rolled like a log in the long swell.

Sunday night a change came over the almost quiet ship. The propeller turned with some energy; the steering engine whirred, and the “Yankee” changed her course. This time she headed straight for Guantanamo, and before many minutes we knew that we were returning to our old anchorage. The orders were to blockade the passage and keep a bright lookout for the “Monserrat”; if by Sunday at six o’clock she had not appeared, we were to return to the fleet.

The men who were so sure that we should never see Guantanamo again wore a sheepish air, and those who were not so sure lorded over them and remarked cheerfully, “I told you so.”

Those of us who were sleeping at midnight were wakened and told to come to the port and look. Sleepily we obeyed, but the moment we reached the opening we were wide awake. There, not three miles off, rolling in the ground swell, lay a great fleet, the searchlights sweeping the heavens and sea; the signal lanterns twinkling.

As we looked, we saw at the masthead of the foremost vessel the signal lights spell out A followed by D, the “Yankee’s” private night signal. Then, and our eyes almost started from our heads as we gazed, the lights continued to spell:

“Blockade raised; hostilities ceased.”

“Hurrah!” shouted some one behind me.

“Wait a minute,” said “Hay,” “that’s not all.”

The lights went on spelling: “We are on our way to New York. You are to proceed to Guantanamo.”

The hurrah, as we spelled out the first sentences, was followed by a groan, as we read the last. We were glad, indeed, to know that peace had come, but it was hard to see that great fleet homeward bound, and know that we must go back to our old post, to stay indefinitely.

“Hope deferred maketh the heart sick.”