Swallow & L’Horrible

Swallow & L’Horrible

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Excerpt from: Captured at Sea

Peter Polter tells the patrons at Ma Joy’s guesthouse about his latest adventure:

“Where is Swallow now?”

“She’s cruising off-shore because of unfavourable winds; Forster has the helm. In the meantime, the captain came ashore with a steamer, to make his reports, while I will wait for him here.”

“You are waiting for him? Here in my establishment? Then he’ll come here?”

“Of course! A decent seaman first visits Ma Joy when he’s dropped anchor in New York. And Swallow should be making her way into the harbour during the next half an hour, which means others will come here, too, like Pitt Holbers…”

“Pitt Holb…”

“Dick Hammerdull.”

“Dick Hammerd…”

“The colonel, Sam Firegun.”

“Colonel…Firegun…”

“Wallerstein, Treskow, short Bill Potter, Winnetou the Apache chief, and…”

“Winnetou the Apa…”
In her state of surprise, Ma Joy was unable to complete the names; they belonged to the men of an entire company, all of whom were closely connected to the fate of her erstwhile charge, and they would visit her guesthouse. But fortunately, she suddenly remembered her duties as the hostess.

“Apache chief,” she finished her last sentence. “But I’m idly standing around here, and in an hour I’ll have to serve the gentlemen! I must rush away, I’ll make haste, I’ll go and prepare for them, Peter. In the meantime, tell these good people here how you sent the Florida to the bottom!”

“Indeed, I will, but make sure that my jug is always full, because even the tale of a sea battle must be kept moist!”

“Don’t worry, helmsman, we’ll help you with that,” the others reassured him.

“Alright! Then listen, you men, to what happened to Florida: We had left the equator and afterwards the Antilles far behind us, were close to doubling the finger of Florida, and were approaching Charleston. Of course, we kept as far out to sea as possible, because Charleston belongs to the southern states, who send out their buccaneers and cruisers a long distance off-shore, in order to catch any Northerners.”

“Was L’Horrible with you, too?”

“Of course. She followed our wake right from the start, that’s why we could only ever run with half the sails, because we travel faster. And so we safely and unseen brought Charleston behind us, which is why we went closer to the shore.”

“And that’s when you encountered Florida?”

“Wait and see, greenhorn! There I am at the helm one morning—you must know that the captain made me honorary helmsman, as I said before— and am thinking about Ma Joy, and the pleasure she’d derive when I would visit her establishment again. We’re sailing a little ahead of L’Horrible while she is following us with full canvas. Then the man on the top calls out:

‘Smoke east north-east!’ You can imagine that all men were on deck immediately, because a steamer who wears the enemy flag is no joking matter. When the lookout calls down the warning, the captain immediately climbs up to the masthead as well and looks through the telescope. Then he shakes his head and comes back down, and gives orders to reef the sails, so that L’Horrible can come within earshot. When she catches up with us, he calls across: ‘Did you see the steamer, lieutenant?’

‘Aye, sir!’ Jenner replied.

‘What kind do you think it is?’

‘Don’t know. The vessel has neither mast nor hull; it sits very deep in the water, sir.’

‘It’s probably a ram ship of the southern states. Do you wish to get out of her way?’ Parker asks Jenner, and the latter replies:

‘I’ll do what you decide.’

‘Good; let’s have a look at the ship!’

‘Alright, sir; but we’re ten times too weak.’

‘Weaker, but faster. Who’s in command?’

‘You are.’

‘Thank you! Let’s allow her to draw close; if she hoists the enemy flag, then you’ll flee leeward; I’ll make sure that she’ll head for me, and then lead her onto the sand. When that’s done, you’ll come back and let her taste your cannonballs!’

‘Well, well! Is there anything else?’

‘No!’ says our captain and L’Horrible retreats,” the helmsman takes a swig from his jug.

“So, here we are, taking down the small rigging including yards and spars, and hoisting the large sails, so that it looks as though we had sustained damage in a storm, and were unable to move from the spot. Captain Parker allows the ship to get within range, and then gives the signal to raise the flag; we pull up the stars and stripes, and the other shows the southern rag. She was the new ram ship Florida, with double iron-clad hull and a ram horn with which she could run the best frigate into the ground.”

“And you dared to tackle her?”

“Pah, I am Peter Polter from Langendorf and have done battle with Ogallala scoundrels. Why should I be afraid of a tin can? A good wooden ship is better than a steel box that won’t allow a sailor to even carve a slither for a toothpick. Our Admiral Farragut also says so. When the Florida demands that we surrender we laugh and dash away under her cannonballs. She turns to follow us, and to ram her spur into our timber; I throw the rudder around and keep evading her; she keeps turning; I dodge her; and so we keep going with turning and evading until the captain of the Florida gets too heated and forgets his common sense. Their cannonballs couldn’t hurt us; they flew over Swallow; Florida, on the other hand, follows us right up close to the shore and runs onto a sandbank, which we slip by because we’re not as deep in the water as she is.”

“Bravo, bravo, long live Swallow!”

“Indeed, long shall she live; drink boys!”
After he had taken an immense gulp from his jug, which revealed the bottom of it, he continued his story:

“At that point we’re going for her stern, and while her crew are in the room below the water level, we shoot her rudder away, so that she is completely lost. L’Horrible comes along, too; Florida cannot defend herself; she scrapes herself sore on the sand; water enters; we help it along—then, she strikes her flag. The crew must surrender, and we take the men on board. As soon as that’s happened, Florida lays on her side; the waves eat her.”

“Holla! That’s how it ought to be. Three cheers for Swallow!”

“Thank you, boys, but don’t forget L’Horrible; she did her bit.”

“Splendid. A cheerio to L’Horrible. Hooray to her!”

More: Capturedat Sea

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