Midshipman Farragut - James Barnes

A Sailor on Horseback

New Year's day of the year 1814 was passed on shipboard. The men of the Essex had again commenced the ceaseless drilling.

It was remarked in after years by many officers when they saw a seaman who was especially proficient with the cutlass, "that that man must have been on the Essex." Every detail of the drill was carefully attended to, and the stay on shore, the exercise and healthy food all had placed the crew, as we have remarked before, in a fine state of health. The way they handled the great guns and scrambled aloft, and the cheerful answers to orders, all meant much should the frigate ever meet an enemy worthy to exchange broadsides with her.

Looking in at Concepcion, the Essex proceeded down the Chilian coast and came to anchor in the harbor of Valparaiso. Here she found a number of English merchantmen and one or two Americans at anchor.

As soon as Porter had found a good berth for his vessel and another for the Essex, Jr., the men applied for liberty.

Odenheimer, Clark, Tittermary, and Farragut asked for shore leave on the second day. It was granted, and in a crowded boat they were rowed to land. The liberty men were dressed in their best white suits, and a brave array of brown, hearty fellows they made as they clambered up at the stone landing place and separated into the narrow streets in groups of five and six.

The costumes of the inhabitants, the broad hats with bright colors, the serapes and the ponchos, held a great fascination for the boys. Gazing about them, they followed a passageway between the low white buildings until they came to a public square.

Across the plaza a church rose above the palms of a little garden. The deep-toned bell struck the hour, and a procession of priests came from one of the neighboring buildings and entered the doorway of the church.

From the windows of the houses occasionally might be seen dark-eyed women fanning themselves leisurely beneath the shade of the brilliant awnings. At the street corners indolent clusters of men and boys stood smoking.

"Can you imagine these people getting excited?" said Clark, stopping for an instant and looking around at the peaceful scene.

Capturing the Alert.


"It looks like Spain," said Odenheimer, who had been abroad and constantly referred to it. "You can hardly imagine you are in South America."

"Where shall we go now?" put in David.

An idea was suggested to all the boys at the same moment by seeing a handsome caballero ride down the street on a spirited, wiry little horse, the silver ornaments on his saddle and bridle glistening and jingling merrily as he pranced from side to side, light-footed as an antelope.

The midshipmen watched him in admiration, and it was evident that the rider had caught their glance, for he touched his horse on the flank with the spur, and the beast stood straight up on his hind legs, coming down as lightly as a feather. At the same time the Chilian lifted his hat.

"Buenos dias, caballeros," he said, smiling and showing his fine white teeth.

"Buenos dias, caballero," returned Odenheimer, in good Spanish. Then he went on: "We were admiring your fine horse, senor."

"Oh, he is a beauty!" said the man. "He is very proud of himself. You're Americans from the warship in the harbor, are you not?" he went on. "What is her name?" he asked.

"The Essex," returned Odenheimer.

"Oh!" exclaimed the man in astonishment. "You have made the English tremble here."

He approached the boys and spoke a word to the horse, which stood as still as a statue while the rider threw one foot from the stirrup and jumped quickly to the ground.

"Could you tell us," asked Odenheimer, "where we could get horses to ride?"

The Chilian looked pleased.

"Bien!" he said, "you have come to the right person. My horses are at your disposal, gentlemen. But stay; can't you come to my hacienda and spend the night? I should be most honored."

"We have leave until to-morrow morning," said Clark in a whisper.

Odenheimer accepted for the party.

"I will send one of my men out into the country and bring the horses in for you," said the other. "My name is Jose del Serrano, and all I have is yours." Odenheimer introduced the three others by name. Midshipman Tittermary hardly recognized his name as the stranger pronounced it after him.

They made their way down to where one of the little cafes stood at a corner, and Don Jose, calling a loitering peon, addressed him by name, and the fellow soon rode off.

The little horse had followed down the roadway; suddenly he pricked his ears. Up the hill that led from the water front came a strange cavalcade.

"Here are some of our men," cried David, jumping up.

"Sailors on horseback!" laughed Tittermary. "Did you ever see such a sight in your life!"

Up the street they came, a score of the Essex's blue jackets astride, in various fashions, of some sorry-looking beasts they had hired in the lower town.

Stirrups were flying and men were swaying in their saddles and holding on by mane and tail. They swept past with a shout. Don Jose threw back his head and laughed.

"They are not born to the saddle," he said. "You gentlemen all ride?"

David confessed through Odenheimer that he had never been on horseback in his life.

"We will teach you, then," was the response.

It was not long before the peon returned leading four saddle horses whose trappings were scarcely less gay than those of Senor Serrano's little black. The senor superintended the adjustment of the stirrups, and soon all were mounted.

Clark and David had fallen a little to the rear of the others, who had galloped on ahead.

"What do you think of our new friend, David?" Jack asked.

"I don't know exactly. I wish I spoke Spanish," David replied. "You see I can not tell what he is talking about."

"It is my opinion," Clark said, that he understands what we are talking about. "That man speaks English, mark my words!"

"What makes you think so?"

"His expression when we were talking together. You notice it next time."

They rode on through stretches of rolling country interspersed with white-walled, low-roofed buildings. But at last they came to a level plain dotted with cultivated fields and groups of trees, behind which, against the eastern sky, towered a great range of sharp-toothed mountain peaks. Turning from the hot white road up a lane, they came to a low-walled building and entered a courtyard through a gate, the handsome iron doors of which were swung open as they approached. A low veranda, from the posts of which hung gayly colored hammocks, surrounded one angle of the court.

A man dressed in the Spanish costume stepped to the doorway. It was evident at a glance that he was either an American or an Englishman. His light-blue eyes, his ruddy complexion and curling hair, betrayed him in an instant. However, he spoke in Spanish, and was introduced to the boys as Senor del Montigo.

Two or three servants had taken care of the horses, and the party entered the cool shade of the building. Here a long conversation was held between Odenheimer and the host. In the mean time Senor del Montigo stood to one side looking curiously at the midshipmen.

After some light refreshments another ride was proposed for the afternoon, and, nothing loath, the boys found themselves again in the saddle. A little practice had made them feel more secure, and they enjoyed the swift galloping and the exciting races they ran across the plains. The horse that David was riding had a gait as easy as a cradle. When they had ridden perhaps three miles he and Tittermary indulged in a little run away from the main party, who had entered the shadow of a small grove of palms.

David was exulting in the sense of freedom, and the stretching away of the lithe form, and the soft rebound of the hoofs beneath him, sent the blood double-pace through his veins. "Isn't it fine?" he shouted back to Tittermary, who was some yards behind him.

The latter's horse was not so good and was evidently straining to keep up.

"Hold on, David!" the elder midshipman shouted. "We are getting a little too far off, I think. Hold him in!"

David gave a pull upon the reins, but the only response was a stretching out of the supple neck, and the leather went through his fingers as if he had hold of a topsail sheet in a gale. Again he tried to stop the horse, but the speed seemed only to increase.

"He's running away," he shouted back, for an instant a sense of fear coming into his heart.

Tittermary was now lashing his steed with his cap. But David's horse, turning abruptly to the left, almost unseated his rider and plunged down a steep bank into a long arroyo, a dried water course that led into the hillside.

David, who had now regained his courage, wondered how the beast kept his feet.

He could hear Tittermary's shouts growing fainter and fainter behind him.

Again the animal swerved to the right and followed a narrow rocky path; another turn to the left, and then a slow incline, up which the beast pushed as if he knew no such thing as fatigue.

When on the level once more, David looked about him. He could see nothing but a wide space filled with stunted bushes, and the sloping foothills that led up to the mountains. Turning around, he saw that the hill hid the town and the houses from his sight.

Now he tried to guide the horse about, but he might as well have tried to stop a ship with a boat hook.

On they ran. Two or three times it crossed the midshipman's mind that he might throw himself from the saddle and land safely on the ground; but one look at the stone-covered surface made him give up this idea.

A sense of the strangeness of the adventure came over him. Where was he going and when would the horse stop running?

Now they crossed a path and entered a deep ravine toward the not distant mountains. The horse was panting, and it was evident that he could not hold the pace much longer; but he kept at it for some few minutes until he stopped abruptly. David almost flew over his head. The horse stood stock still, his sides working like a bellows. To his surprise, David found that he was very tired also, and that there had been some exercise in keeping his seat, despite the wondrously smooth gait.

"Where am I?" he wondered, looking about him. "If I could ride to the top of the hill there I could get the direction."

He chirped to his steed, but the latter did not move. Again he tried his voice, and at last in desperation dug his heels into the beast's ribs. How Midshipman Farragut managed to hold on during what followed for the next few minutes was more than he could remember. It seemed that he was most of the time in the air with his arms clasped about the animal's neck, and that the latter was trying to fly and intended to leave the earth for good and all. Apparently, however, he changed his mind, for he surrendered at last, and David guided him to the top of the hill.

He expected that here he could get a glimpse to the westward of the sea; but, once on top, nothing but a succession of barren hills spread out on either side. Then he noticed that at the end of the ravine up which he had been riding a thin column of smoke was rising leisurely. He turned the horse's head in that direction, and the latter with a snort broke out into a run.

Inside of three minutes he halted before a little hut built of stone. From the chimney the smoke was pouring. A man with a great black beard came to the door. What he said, David, of course, could not understand, but he only remembered the name of the gentleman who had given him the mount on his strangely acting animal.

"Senor del Serrano," he said.

The man bowed low and came to David's stirrup. The latter was glad enough to reach the ground again.