A YANKEE RUSE.
On Monday, August 8th, 1838, the large bark Ocean Ranger, of which I was second mate, was in latitude 38° 40' N., and longitude 11° W. The hour was four o'clock in the afternoon. I had come on deck to relieve the chief officer, who had had charge of the ship since twelve. It was a very heavy day—a sullen sky of gray vapor seeming to overhang our mastheads within pistol-shot of the trucks. From time to time there had stolen from the far reaches of the ocean a note as of the groaning of a tempest, but there had been no lightning; the wind hung a steady breeze out of the east, and the ship, with slanting masts and rounded breasts of canvas, showing with a glare of snow against the dark ground of the sky, pushed quietly through the water that floated in a light swell to the yellow line of her sheathing.
Some time before I arrived on deck a vessel had been descried on the port bow, and now at this hour of four she had risen to the tacks of her courses, and her sails shone so radiantly in the dusky distance that at the first glance I knew her to be an American. The captain of my ship, a man named Hoste, was pacing the deck near the wheel; I trudged the planks a little way forward of him, stepping athwart-ships, or from side to side. The men, who were getting their supper, passed in and out of the galley, carrying hook-pots of steaming tea. It was an hour of liberty with them, the first of what is called the "dog watches." The gloom of the sky seemed to heighten the quietude that was upon the ship. The sailors talked low, and their laughter was sudden and short. All was silent aloft, the sails stirless to the gushing of the long salt breath of the east wind into the wide spaces of cloths, and nothing sounded over the side save the dim crackling and soft seething noises of waters broken under the bow, and sobbing and simmering past, with now and again a glad note like the fall of a fountain.
The captain picked up a telescope that lay upon the skylight, and crossing the deck took a view of the approaching ship; then approached me.
"She is an American," he said.
"How do you know she is an American?"
"By the light of the cotton in her canvas."
"Ay, and there are more signs than that. She has put her helm over as though she would speak us."
By five o'clock she was about a mile to a mile and a quarter distant on our weather bow, at which hour she had backed her maintop-sail and lay stationary upon the sea, rolling lightly and very stately on the swell, the beautiful flag of her nation—the stars and stripes—floating inverted from her peak as a signal of distress. Both Captain Hoste and I had searched her with a telescope, but we could see no other signs of life aboard her than three figures—one of which stood at the wheel—on her short length of poop, and a single head as of a sailor viewing us over the bulwark-rail forward.
We shortened sail as we slowly drew down, and when within speaking distance Captain Hoste hailed her.
The answer was—"For God's sake send a boat!" Yet she had good boats of her own, and it puzzled me, then, that she should request us to send, seeing that there must be hands enough to enable her to back the yards on the main.
Captain Hoste cried out, "But what is wrong with you?"
One of the figures on the poop or raised deck tossed his hands in a gesture of agitation and distress, and in piteous, nasal Yankee accents repeated, "For God's sake send a boat!"
To be continue in this ebook...