A Sailor Boy with Dewey/Chapter 18

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CHAPTER XVIII.


THE FIGHTING ENGINEER.


That night I slept but little. Strange as it may seem, I could not get Commodore Dewey's face out of my mind. I thought of him continually, with his trim naval uniform and well-polished sword and scabbard. He was certainly a splendid specimen of an American naval gentleman.

"Why don't you go to sleep," asked Dan, who roomed with me at his home. "You've been tumbling and tossing for a couple of hours. Was that encounter with the Chinamen too much for you."

"No, I was thinking of Commodore Dewey, Dan."

"What! Why, I was thinking of him myself. Say, do you know, Oliver, that his flagship, the Olympia, is one of the finest cruisers in our navy?"

"I have never seen her."

"I saw her once, a few months ago. She is immense; and so are the other ships under his command, especially the Boston."

"That's only an aggravation—if a fellow can't board her."

"Do you really and truly want to enlist?"

"If we are going to have war I would like to see some of it. My grandfather fought in the Mexican War and my uncle was killed at Lookout Mountain, in our Civil War. So, you see, I've got fighting blood in me. Besides, if Commodore Dewey goes to the Philippines——"

"We may get a chance to retrieve our fallen fortunes?"

"Exactly, Dan. I wouldn't like any better fun than to give those Manila Spaniards what they deserve for placing us under arrest."

"I am with you there, Oliver. But"—Dan gave a deep yawn—"let's go to sleep now," and in a minute more he was in the land of dreams, while I was dreaming in another way, of a proud-looking warship, with myself behind a long gun, in a cloud of smoke, fighting as I had never fought before, for the honor of the glorious Stars and Stripes.

The next day was a busy one for Dan and an idle one for myself. In the afternoon I met several American sailors from the Boston, another of Commodore Dewey's squadron, and being in a talkative mood they filled me up with tales of gallantry on shipboard, and sent me back to Mr. Holbrook's place more determined than ever to enlist on the Olympia or the Boston.

That evening Mr. Holbrook, Dan, and I held a long talk, lasting until midnight. It was on the subject of our being able to join those on board of the American squadron, provided that squadron sailed for the Philippines. Mr. Holbrook did not care greatly to let us go, but thought that perhaps it would do no harm to let each get a taste of life in the navy.

"I will take you out to the squadron myself and see if I can gain a personal interview with either the commodore or the captain," he said, and so it was decided.

My heart bounded wildly over the prospect. Somehow I felt it "in my bones" that I would join the navy, and so it turned out, to cut a long story short. We went over in a small boat which Mr. Holbrook hired, and were accorded a long interview by both the commodore and the kind-hearted Captain Wildes of the Boston.

As Lieutenant Todd had said, the Asiatic Squadron had orders to leave Hong Kong, and was bound for Mirs Bay; so, if we were to go along, no time was to be lost in preparing for our departure. We accordingly hurried back to Dan^s house with all speed, packed our valises, and came back by nightfall.

I had been on a warship before, but the Boston, on which we were placed, with her steel decks, heavy military masts, and long guns interested me greatly. We soon made ourselves at home, and before we left Mirs Bay, on that never-to-be-forgotten trip to Manila Bay, both of us knew the craft from stem to stern.

We found the crew truly American—"to the backbone"—as Dan expressed it. One old gunner, named Roundstock, took a great interest in us, and told us a great deal about the squadron.

"We've got four cruisers and three gunboats," he said. "They are as fine as you'll find 'em anywhere, although, to be sure, we are turning out ships better and better every day. If we meet those Spaniards we'll give 'em a tough tussle, and don't you forget it!" And he shook his head to show that he meant what he said.

As we were not exactly enlisted for the cruise, we had not to attend the numerous drills on board, although we trained at the guns and with small-arms, and I took many a trip below to the engine rooms. In the engine rooms I met Bill Graves again, he having been transferred from the flagship. He scowled at me silently, and when I attempted to talk to him, turned his back and walked away.

"That fellow has no use for you," observed Dan, when I told him about Graves.

"I believe you there. But it is silly for him to get mad simply because I showed him how to fix up the launch engine."

"He is jealous of you, especially as Commodore Dewey complimented you on your work, Oliver."

The second night on board of the man-o'-war proved a nasty one, and it looked as if we would have to pull up anchors and move out of the bay, for fear of having a sudden wind send us ashore. Yet Commodore Dewey hated to get too far from shore, for he was awaiting final orders before sailing in quest of the Spanish fleet.

"This is enough to make one sick," I observed to Dan. "I would rather sleep on shore to-night."

Bill Graves was passing us at the time, and a sneer showed itself on his lip.

"You're a fine landlubber to be on one of Uncle Sam's men-o'-war," he sniffed.

The remark nettled me, and I swung around quickly and caught him by the shoulder.

"See here, Graves," I said. "I have no quarrel with you, but if you want to act nasty let me tell you that you had better take care."

"Humph! Do you think I am afraid of you?" he blustered.

"I'll let you know that you can't bully me, that's all. I want you to keep your remarks to yourself."

"I'll say what I please."

"Not about me."

"Won't I? Who will stop me?"

"I will."

"Go and blab, I suppose?"

"No; I'm not of the blabbing kind."

"Do you mean to say you'll fight?"

"Perhaps I will."

"You whipper-snapper!" he cried in a rage. "Take that for a lesson!"

He struck out heavily, and had I not been on the alert I would have caught his fist on my nose and gone down. But I leaped to one side and his hand merely grazed my shoulder.

By this time my blood was up, and, leaping in, I landed one blow on his chest and another on his mouth, which latter drew blood and loosened two of his teeth. I had taken several lessons in the art of self-defense and these now stood me in good stead. My blows sent him staggering up against a gun, where he stood gazing at me in bewildered astonishment.

"Wha—what did you do that for?" he spluttered, spitting out some blood.

"I warned you to take care," I answered coolly.

"A mill! A mill!" cried half a dozen jack tars standing by, while Dan came running up to learn what the row was about.

"Don't fight, Oliver," said my chum, in a low voice. "They'll lock you up in the brig, if you do."

"He began it, Dan. I only defended myself. If he—"

I had no time to say more, for, watching his chance. Bill Graves leaped in again, this time hitting me on the cheek, a blow that almost floored me.

"Take that!" he hissed. "I'll teach you!"

"A man against a boy! That aint fair!" was the cry from several sailors and gunners. "Let up. Graves."

"I won't let up. He's too fresh, and I'm going to teach him his place."

By this time I had recovered and was standing my ground once more. Again the engineer came on, but as he struck out I parried the blow and let drive first with my right fist and then my left. Both blows landed on his chin, and over he went like a ten-pin struck down on an alley.

"Graves is down!"

"Those were two neat blows, eh?"

"That boy knows how to take care of himself, I take it."

Such were some of the remarks which passed around. Half stunned, Bill Graves arose slowly to his feet and looked around sheepishly. Without giving him time to get his second wind I confronted him.

"Have you had enough, or do you want more?" I demanded.

"I—I—don't you hit me again," he stammered.

"Have you had enough?"

"I don't want to fight—it's against the rules of the ship."

"Then what did you want to start it for?"

"I didn't start it; you started it yourself," he muttered, and before I could say more hurried away and out of sight in the direction of the engine rooms.