A Sailor Boy with Dewey/Chapter 20

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"What is it, Roundstock?"

"What is it?" repeated the old gunner. "We've sighted a Spanish man-o'-war, that's what it is!"

"A man-o'-war!" cried Dan. "Where is she?"

"Dead ahead, and running away as fast as her steam can carry her."

"Can we catch her?"

"Can't say as to that, lad. We hope to do it."

Dan and I waited to hear no more, but, rushing to the stairs, made our way to the spar deck.

It was a cloudy moonlight night and just now too dark to see anything with the naked eye.

But presently the moon came out brightly, and then, far ahead, we made out a dim form, moving along over the ocean like a phantom.

"Is that the Spanish ship?" I asked of a sailor standing near.

"So the officers think, lad."

"Why don't they give her a shot to make her heave to?" asked Dan.

He had scarcely spoken when one of the guns from the Olympia boomed threateningly, sending a shot to the starboard of the flying craft.

All expected to see her heave to, but she kept on, and now a dense mass of clouds covered the moon and all became dark once more.

The clouds were as long as they were heavy, and it took them all of twenty minutes to drift over the face of the moon and let that orb shine out again. How impatiently officers and men waited, my readers can well imagine.

"She's gone!" Such was the cry which rang from a hundred throats, and it was true. The strange vessel had disappeared from view.

In a few minutes more the moon was again hidden, and further pursuit of the flying one was out of the question.

Everybody was disappointed, and none more so than Bob Roundstock.

"I'm just achin' to get a shot at 'em," he observed. "Oh, if only that ship had turned to engage us!"

"I reckon those on board saw we were six to one and didn't dare to risk it," said Dan. "Now if we had been one to one——"

"Those Dons would have run anyway!" finished Roundstock. He was a thorough Yankee tar and felt certain that nothing could stand up against our ships and guns. And he was more than half right, as later events proved. The following day brought us in sight of Subig Bay, and, while we lay at a distance, several of the smaller war vessels went inside to survey the situation.

"I wish we were going in," observed Dan. "There must be lots of Spanish vessels there."

"We are not making war on the merchantmen, Dan," I answered. "We are after warships."

"That's true, but we ought to take some prizes, just for the prize money."

"I only want what is coming to me,—my money and those documents left on board of the Dart,—and I want to bring Captain Kenny to justice."

"And give a helping hand to Tom Dawson and the others, if we can," he finished, and I nodded.

Soon the small ships which had been sent into the harbor returned, and then some of the captains went over to the Olympia to confer with the commodore.

"Something is up now, you can bet on that," said Dan, as the squadron set sail once more.

"We are bound southward," I replied. "That means Manila Bay, I presume."

Orders came around to "clear ship for action," and a busy half hour followed.

"Commodore Dewey knows we are getting close to the enemy," said Roundstock. "Orders are to keep at the guns."

"There isn't a sail in sight."

"No; but how long would it take a heavy steam vessel, under a full head of steam, to come out from one of yonder headlands and open fire, lad? Not more than ten or fifteen minutes, if as long."

"How far will our heavy guns carry?"

"Six to eight miles—and more, on a pinch."

"A good deal further than a fellow can see, even with an ordinary glass," put in Dan.

"Our telescopes are the finest in the world."

The loss of sleep the night before had tired me out, and I soon retired, and Dan followed.

But I was not to sleep long, as I soon discovered.

As I had supposed, the squadron was running for Manila Bay. Commodore Dewey wanted to get past Corregidor Island unnoticed, if such a thing was possible.

But it was not to be, and presently we received half a dozen heavy shots from the land batteries, one or two of which struck the ships behind the Olympia and Boston.

Then rockets flared up in the air, and a small-sized engagement was on.

"This is war and no mistake!" I cried to Roundstock, but he merely tossed his head.

"Only children's play, lad," he replied. "See, we are already safely past."

The engagement lasted ten minutes, and then the batteries were passed and we hauled out into Manila Bay proper.

It was almost full moon, but the clouds made it dark. Far away could be seen the twinkling lights of Manila city and other places.

A strange silence prevailed throughout the ships. It was the calm before the storm.

The night seemed long, but for all on board sleep was out of the question.

The men lay at their guns or on the deck, while the officers paced about or held long whispering conversations.

"I'll wager we have a fight to-morrow," I said to Dan. "Even if the Spanish ships are not here I think Commodore Dewey will capture the city, so as to have a new base of supplies."

"If he does that a good deal of our troubles will be over, Oliver."

"He won't touch anything until he has ferreted out old Monto-what's-his-name," broke in Roundstock.

"Montojo," corrected Dan. "Well, well have to take what comes, that's all."

"Correct, lad."

At early dawn our squadron crept closer to Manila city. We could now see the numerous ships in front of the river mouth, but no warships were among them.

Below Manila is situated a long peninsula, upon which was located Fort Cavité, the principal Spanish arsenal along the bay.

Back of the arsenal was a town of some four thousand inhabitants, and to one side of the fort was a long, low-lying land battery.

As the sun came up six warships, flying the Spanish flag, were discovered lying between Manila and Cavité. Several other warships were to the rear, half hidden by the arsenal just mentioned.

"There they are!" was the cry which swept from ship to ship. "Now for a fight to the death!"

The words had scarcely been uttered when the flagship opened fire. A second later the Boston belched forth with her forward guns.

The shock nearly threw me off my feet, and the noise fairly deafened me.

"My gracious, Dan, what a racket!"

"This is war, Oliver!"

"It sounds more like a hundred thunderstorms rolled into one."

All of the warships had now trained their guns on the enemy, and round after round of gigantic steel projectiles was hurled forth, to deal death and destruction.

Soon both sides were enveloped in smoke and but little could be seen, excepting at close range.

The Boston was hit several times, but the shots merely passed through our upper works, doing but little damage.

For half an hour the battle kept on, and during that time both Dan and myself helped where we could, resolved to do our duty as Americans even though we were not duly enlisted.

"She's on fire!" came presently. The cry referred to one of the leading Spanish ships, and proved correct. One of our shells had burst into a magazine, and a dull explosion was followed by a wild scattering of burning embers. Soon the ship began to sink, and there followed a frantic struggle on the part of the Spanish sailors to save their lives.

"Poor wretches!" I said. "I can't help but pity them."

"War is war, lad," said Roundstock, who was working like a beaver over his gun, which was red-hot. "If we didn't sink them they would sink us; and since one of us must go down, I'd rather it would be the other fellow."

And I could not help but agree with him.