A Sailor Boy with Dewey/Chapter 16
THE OPENING OF THE WAR.
"Here we are at last, Oliver! I declare the place looks like home to me, after being away so long!"
It was Dan who spoke, as the Cardigan steamed up to her wharf at the Chinese-English port for which she had been bound. The voyage had proved without incident, and we stepped from the ship feeling in the best of health, despite the many adventures through which we had passed.
"It certainly looks more friendly than Manila did," I returned, as I gazed at the long line of shipping. "I wonder what your folks will say when they hear our story."
"Perhaps Harry Longley has succeeded in getting a cablegram through," was the answer. "The Spaniards are cute, but, you know, we have a secret code."
Leaving the Cardigan, we walked up the broad wharf and on the street. Not far away was a booth at which foreign periodicals were sold. Around this booth a number of men were congregated, talking excitedly.
"War has been declared between the United States and Spain!" were the first words which reached my ears.
"Can that be true?" I burst out.
Dan did not answer, but pushed his way to the stand, and bought a copy of the latest paper to be had.
"Yes, the war is practically on," he said, scanning the sheet. "Here is a dispatch from Washington. Havana, Cuba, is about to be blockaded."
"And the army is to be called out," I said, looking over his shoulder. "Oh, Dan, what about Manila now,—and our business?"
"Let us hurry to my father's office," answered my chum, and thrusting the paper in his pocket he stalked down the street and I after him.
The office of Raymond, Holbrook & Smith was a pretentious one of stone, located on a main corner of Hong Kong. Entering, we found Mr. Holbrook deep in some accounts.
"Dan!" he cried, and caught his son by both hands. "I was afraid you were dead,—that you had gone down with the Dart."
"Then you have heard of the foundering, father?"
"Yes, a cablegram came in a few days ago. And you, Oliver, too! I am thankful to Heaven that you both are safe!" and he shook hands.
"We had a good many adventures," said the son, as we seated ourselves.
"No doubt. Tell me your story."
What we had to say occupied the best part of an hour, and then it was lunch time and the three of us went to eat. Mr. Holbrook was very much perplexed.
"This war will upset everything," he said. "We are already cut off from Manila."
"By cablegram?" I queried.
"Yes, and by mail, too. A message I offered yesterday was refused, and I was given to understand that no letter to an American firm would be delivered."
"Is the war to be carried on away out here?" I cried, struck with a sudden idea.
"It will be carried on wherever the armies and navies of Spain and America may meet," was the serious reply. "This war is to be no child's play."
"Well, we can't do much out here," said Dan. "We have no soldiers closer than those at San Francisco."
"We have a number of warships in these waters, my son—I looked into that matter last night."
"American men-o'-war?" I put in, with interest.
"Yes, five or six of them, commanded by Commodore Dewey."
"Where are the ships?"
"Here at Hong Kong, presumably awaiting orders from Washington."
"And have the Spaniards any war vessels about the Philippines?" asked Dan.
"Yes, they have a fleet under the command of a certain Admiral Montojo."
"And what if these two fleets meet?"
"There will be a big fight, my boy, and who will come off victorious there is no telling."
"We'll win!" I cried. "I don't believe those Spaniards can whip us."
"We mustn't be over-confident, Oliver, even if we hope for the best. But this war is a bad thing for our house, and the loss of those documents you were carrying makes matters still worse." Mr. Holbrook scratched his head in perplexity. "I am afraid our Manila connection will become a total loss to us."
"Have we much money invested there?"
"Something like forty or forty-five thousand dollars. The Spanish sugar planters who have bought machinery of us won't pay a dollar now."
"Unless we come out ahead in this war—and we will come out ahead," put in Dan. "Hang it all, but I feel like fighting myself!"
"So do I!" I cried. "I wish we had some soldiers out here, I would join them, and sail for Manila and demand our rights."
At this outburst Mr. Holbrook smiled. "You are very enthusiastic. Soldiering is not such a holiday-making as you may imagine."
"We couldn't have any worse experience than we have had among those dirty Tagals," I answered. "I want to get back there, and get square with those Spaniards, and with that villainous Captain Kenny."
The conversation continued for the best part of the afternoon, but without definite results. As it drew toward evening, Dan and I accompanied Mr. Holbrook to the latter's home, where we were warmly received by Mrs. Holbrook and the other members of the family.
Mr. Holbrook had expected to go out in the evening, on a matter of business, but was not feeling well, and presently asked Dan if he would like to carry a note to a friend's house for him.
"Why, certainly I'll go," answered the son, and I said I would accompany him.
The letter was soon written and handed over, and we started out, down the broad street and then through half a dozen narrow and crooked thoroughfares belonging to the ancient portion of Hong Kong. The friend lived the best part of a mile away, and we did not reach his residence until after nine o'clock.
The message delivered, we started on our return. It had been dark and threatening a storm, but instead of rain a heavy mist crept up from the China Sea, through which the scattered street lights shone like tiny yellow candles.
"It's beastly," remarked Dan, as he buttoned up his coat around his neck. "I shall be glad when we are safe home and in bed. My, how good it will feel to get back into my own bed again!"
"It will beat sleeping in a dirty Tagal hut, won't it?" I laughed.
"Indeed it will, Oliver. That experience was—" Dan broke off short. "What's that?"
A loud cry came from behind, a man's voice.
"Help, help! Murder! help!"
"Somebody is in trouble!" I ejaculated.
"What had we best do?"
The question remained unanswered in words, but both of us broke into a run, heading as closely as we could for the spot from whence the cry came.
The mist confused us not a little, and as the cries ceased we paused in perplexity.
"Where are you?" I yelled.
"What's up?" added Dan.
"This way! Help!" came more feebly. "The heathens are trying to murder me!"
The words came from the entrance to a narrow alleyway, along which were situated several Chinese gambling houses. As we sped along, I caught up a stone that lay handy, and Dan pulled out a pistol he had procured before starting out, for in Hong Kong it is a common thing to go armed.
We were but a few feet from the scene of the encounter when a Chinaman plumped into me, sending me headlong. But as I went down I caught the Celestial by the foot, and he fell.
The shock dazed me for an instant, and before I could recover the Chinaman had me by the throat.
"Let—let up!" I gasped, and as he did not I grabbed him by the ear, at which he let out a scream of pain. Then, in a twinkling, a dagger was flashed before my eyes, and I felt as if my last moment on earth had come.