Rebel Treasure thirteenth post

ON THE USS CONSTITUTION – QUARTERDECK
LT. UPSHUR, a naval officer of 20 years, turns his eagle gaze from the work party to the approaching midshipman.

LON
(saluting)
Acting Midshipman Turner, reporting, sir.

LT UPSHUR
At ease, Mr. Turner. The Commandant has asked to see you.
(notices his sudden discomfort)
This is not about demerits.

An older naval officer, the COMMANDANT OF MIDSHIPMEN arrives on deck with ROMEO BROWN in tow, a handsome black man about Lon’s age, and CONGRESSMAN CLAY, a florid faced gentleman. A flicker of anticipation rises in Lon’s eyes.

COMMANDANT
(in answer to Lon’s salute)
Good afternoon, Mr. Turner. Getting right to the point you have a letter from home.

ROMEO
(with a grin, hands him the letter)
For you, Massa’ Lon.

Lon grins too and hurriedly breaks the seal and opens the letter. His grin fades and his face grows grimmer with each passing second.

COMMANDANT
I have a letter from your father also. He’s instructed me to receive your resignation, if you so desire.

LON
If you please, sir, would you accept my resignation?

COMMANDANT
(with a sigh)
Have it on my desk in the morning. Mr. Clay here, has requested the honor of asking you to dinner.
(hands him a pass)
So you are excused until the evening gun.

Mr. Clay steps forward and in a bit of a daze Lon shakes his hand. For his part, Mr. Clay pumps his quite approvingly.

ON THE USS CONSTITUTION – NEAR THE ENTRY PORT – LATER
The work crew of plebes struggles to bring up a howitzer barrel in their sling from the dock below. Lon and his new companions wait nearby for them to complete their task and for the way to clear.
Louis and Jimmy arrive to pepper Lon with questions.

JIMMY
So, what did he want?

LOUIS
(whispering)
Did he see us in the tops?

JIMMY
We’ve all got demerits, right?

LON
No. I got a letter from home.

LOUIS
You’re resigning, aren’t you?

LON
(nodding)
My father put it simple enough, “Resign or be disowned.”

Shouts of alarm erupt from the plebes behind them. Before Lon can look around, Louis rushes by and launches a flying tackle, sweeping two plebes from the path of the falling howitzer.
Romeo catches the tipping end and by raw strength arrests its fall. Lon recovers the loose end of the sling and slips it back in place. And Jimmy helps the plebes stabilize the spar, bringing the heavy iron cannon safely down to the deck.

LT UPSHUR
(coming up)
Well done, gentlemen, well done!

[next pt 14]

Rebel Treasure twelfth post

Rebel Treasure twelfth post

ON THE USS CONSTITUTION – THE MAIN TRUCK
Fifty feet up on the main mast, Lon drapes his chest over the furled mainsail while walking the footrope that sways beneath it. Beside him his fellow midshipman JIMMY TRUEBLOOD mirrors his movements. In contrast to Lon, Jimmy is fair-haired and a little on the skinny side.

JIMMY
So far, I haven’t seen anything that I haven’t seen before.

LON
Yeah, things are just bigger than we’re used to.
(becomes serious, lowering
his voice)
So, are you resigning?

JIMMY
No. No reason to. My state ain’t got no slaves.

LON
Yeah. I guess California will stay put. Sometimes I think the rest of the country has gone crazy though.

JIMMY
Mississippi has gone out, are you resigning?

LON
No. I don’t want to. I’ve got four years invested here. Way I figure it what else am I fit for?

Jimmy looks about, then edges closer with a conspiratorial air.

JIMMY
If I couldn’t be in the Navy, I think I’d be a pirate.

LON
A pirate! You’re crazy. What could you steal these days?

JIMMY
(with a wink)
Haven’t you heard of the California gold ship?

Lon looks up with interest.

JIMMY (CON’T)
Once a year the San Francisco mint fills up a ship with the fruits of the California goldfields for transport across Panama to New York.

LON
Some fruit!

Lon’s gaze drops to the busy deck below. Little knots of plebes are scattered about performing various duties.
Acting midshipman LOUIS TOUSSAINT, a stocky young Creole with a massive tangle of jet black curls stops below them, sketch book in hand.

LON (CONT’D)
Hey, there’s Louis.

Jimmy hunkers down, trying to lower his profile.
No good. Louis looks up and catches sight of him. He shakes his fist, tosses his sketch-book to the deck and bolts for the ratlines. Jimmy moves as quickly off the yard as they can, warily eying the approach of his nemesis, and Lon follows.
They reach the cross-trees just as Louis does. Being first off the yard, Jimmy grabs a back-stay, leaps off into space and zips down the line to the deck below.
Lon coolly stays where he is, while Louis screams after Jimmy.

LOUIS
I’ll get you!

LON
(bars the way with his arm)
You’re making a mistake.

LOUIS
No! He did! I’m calling him out.

LON
Just what did he do to you?

Louis turns his furious face to him, plucking his knife from the small of his back.

LOUIS
Out of my way, I’m getting even…

LON
And I’m calling it even.
(pointing to his jaw)
For this.

With a finger, Lon traces a scar along his jawline.

LOUIS
That was an accident.

LON
And I’ll remind you that you said you’d make it up to me.

A sly smile splits the Creole’s face. There is a HALE from the deck. Louis returns his knife to its sheath.

LOUIS
You’re a brave man, Lon.

LON
Well, if you think so, I want another favor.

LOUIS
What’s that?

LON
Come join us, we’ll work together.

Louis bows his assent.
Lon returns the bow, then follows Jimmy’s route and zips down to the deck. Louis steps to where he had been and looks after him. He hesitates a minute, then returns via the ratlines.

ON THE USS CONSTITUTION – FORWARD DECK – LATER
The trio of Lon, Louis and Jimmy are mounted on the bulwark, sketching the arrangement of the chains. Just down from them a crew of plebes work the sling on the makeshift crane, bringing kegs of gunpowder on board.

JIMMY
(pointing to the kegs)
What do you suppose is the meaning of that?

LON
I heard it was just for practice.

LOUIS
Humpf! I think they mean to arm the ship and us.

JIMMY
(laughing)
You mean “Repel boarders” and “pass the ammunition?”

LOUIS
Go ahead and laugh. I hear two of  the forts down in my state were seized.

LON
That’s just a rumor.

LOUIS
If not now, for sure later. Maybe even here.

JIMMY
Are you going to resign?

LOUIS
Not yet. But as soon as my state goes…

JONAH, a burly petty officer steps up to Lon and puts his
knuckle to his forehead.

JONAH
By your leave, sir. The Lieutenant wishes to see you on the quarterdeck.

[next pt 13]

Grasshopper Assaults Builder of Constitution news@11

I Build the Constitution

In Brockton, we lived in a second floor apartment on Spring Street. Its entrance was via a stairway at the back whose last flight came up between the bathroom on one side and the kitchen on the other. It was a kind of shotgun affair – as in, if you fired a shotgun from the back door there was nothing to stop it all the way to the front door (which itself opened onto the front balcony porch). So it was all one big room from front to back, except for the bedrooms which were all on one side in line with one another, with their doors opening onto that area.

It was a real living room, for there the family lived life together, watched TV, ate meals and carried on the other chores and pleasures of life. And though the blur of everyday living condemns the history of that time to oblivion, one happening in particular stands out. It was a lunch.  Mom had fixed us all sandwiches, the main ingredient of which was lettuce. There was probably mayonaise and possibly some form of luncheon meat. I only remember the two eyes staring back at me from between the lettuce leaves after my first bite. The head of the grasshopper peeped out from the apex of the U created by my teeth. It was as green as the lettuce, and no doubt why my mom missed him when preparing the sandwich. And I only saw him because he moved (thankfully it wasn’t half a grasshopper). I turned green myself and put the sandwich aside, calling my Mom’s attention to the critter. I was distrustful of lettuce for a long time afterward.

It was also the site of my ship building. I had built a couple of ship models in Salem, little affairs that you could hold in one hand. As I mentioned in a past post, one was the US frigate Constitution. Now I had a brand new version of the same vessel, this time about three feet long, including the bowsprit; and over two feet high. It was fun and a challenge to build, what with the decks, masts and the intricacies of the rigging to put in place.

And it was a treat when our folks took us into Charlestown to see the ship herself. I remember the towering masts, the heavy timbers of the hull swathed in layers of paint, and an overwelming sense of history that upon those white decks, the story of our young navy was acted out. Little did I know then that one of my ancestors had trod the same decks, not as a sailor, but as a Massachusetts Militia volunteer, placed aboard with his unit to see the ship safely to New York City from Annapolis in 1861 (the subject of my ET series).

 

ET and Old Ironsides

image_2

When E T and the other soldiers awoke in the morning, most were unaware of what had transpired in the wee hours.  General Butler and his officers had been on the alert the whole time.  They had walked a tight rope. They didn’t know what to expect from the authorities ashore, both at the Naval Academy, nor of the civilian ones in Annapolis itself. It was a slave state after all, and hence held strong political and emotional ties to the seceded states.  And as the state’s major city Baltimore, had proved willing to resist the decisions of the Federal government, they were not sure which way this cat was going to jump.

On the other side of the coin, Captain George S. Blake, the Superintendent of the Naval Academy was himself convinced that the vessel off his station, having been observed descending from the direction of Baltimore, was filled with hostile elements bent on seizing the installation, its stores and weapons. Also at risk was the United States Frigate Constitution, posted here since September of the preceding year as a school-ship. Blake had orders from the Secretary of the Navy to defend her, or failing that, destroy her. To that end a sailor was kept in the hold of Old Ironsides, prepared to set a match to the 60,000 pounds of gunpowder stowed below.

In truth, both were men on the same side, yet neither knew. Both sides sent out feelers, that passed each other in the murk, and more misunderstandings ensued. By the first light of day, the two parties finally cleared things up. Both sides were going to get what they wanted. General Butler had a place to land his troops, the necessary next step on his march to Washington, and Captain Blake would get men to help defend the grounds, and most important of all, personnel to help man the Constitution.

Most of the Marines assigned to the Academy had been ordered to other stations prior to this.  Blake asked Butler if he could assign some men as a marine guard for the Constitution. Butler chose the Salem Zouaves and ordered them to transfer to the ship. He also put a call out for men who knew their way around a sailing vessel, a request easily fielded by companies recruited from the seacoast of Massachusetts.

So the soldiers made their preparations and breakfasted on whatever rations were left. And the Maryland came alongside the man of war.  And so E T stepped from one deck to another and became a marine for a time, serving on the historic and oldest vessel in the US Navy.