Fighting in Cuban Waters/Chapter 7
A TALK ABOUT SPANISH SAILORS
"The train is gone!"
It was Walter who gasped out the words, as he and his companion rushed upon the depot platform. In the distance they could see the end of the rear car just vanishing from view in a cloud of dust.
"Thet's so!" groaned Si, panting for breath, for they had done their best to reach the depot in time. "What's to be the next move?" And he looked anxiously at his companion.
"I'm sure I don't know," was Walter's slow answer. "I—I almost wish I hadn't seen the President—now."
"Can't we take a later train?"
"I don't know if the tickets will be good. Certainly we'll have no sleeping accommodations for to-night.
"Who cares for that, so long as we get to Fortress Monroe? Come on, let us see what can be done." And Si led the way to the ticket office.
The ticket-seller was busy, and it was several minutes before they could get to him. "Yes, there will be another train in an hour and a quarter," he said. "About your tickets, did you have stop-over privileges?"
"We did not—we didn't intend to stop over," answered Walter.
"Then I don't believe the conductor will accept them."
"Gee shoo!" groaned Si, dismally. "Do you mean to say we've got to pay the fare from here to our destination? Why, it will take all I've got with me, and maybe more."
"There ought to be some way of having our tickets fixed up," said Walter. "Can't we go to the main office and see about them?"
"Certainly, if you desire," rejoined the ticket seller, and turned to a number of others who were waiting impatiently to be served.
The main offices of the railroad company were not far distant, and hither they made their way. Inside, a young clerk learned what they wanted, and then took them to an inner apartment.
"Government fares, eh?" questioned the elderly gentleman to whom they had been conducted. "What was the reason you didn't catch your train?"
"We lingered to see President McKinley, who was out in his carriage," said Walter. "We got so interested we forgot the time until we were just about a minute late."
"Well, I can't blame you much for wanting to see the man you are Fighting under," said the railroad official. "Let me see your tickets." And, taking them, he wrote upon the back of each in blue pencil. "There you are, but you'll have to ride in an ordinary coach."
"We don't care if it is a freight," put in Si, earnestly. "We want to get there." And, after both had thanked the official for his kindness, they withdrew.
"We're all right so far," observed Walter, as "to kill time," they walked slowly down one of the broad avenues for which our Capitol city is famous. "The question is, what will Caleb Walton think of us when he finds us missing?
"I hope he doesn't think we are trying to desert!" cried Walter, to whom this idea had not before occurred.
"Some fellows wouldn't be any too good to desert, Walter. Only last week a lot of fellows deserted on their way from one of the western states. They got to Chicago, where they wanted to go, and that was the last seen of them. They were like tramps—willing to do anything for a free ride on the cars. But they ran the risk of being court-martialled for it."
"I think the fact that we had our tickets fixed up will go to show what our intentions were, Si. However, we have put our feet into it, and must take what comes."
After a walk of half an hour, both felt hungry and entered a modest-looking restaurant on a side street. They had just ordered a cheap meal each, when a newsboy entered with a bundle of afternoon newspapers.
"Have a paper, sir? Extra, sir; all about the Flying Squadron going to sail. Only one cent, sir."
"What's that?" questioned Walter. "Here, give me a paper." And he grasped the sheet eagerly, while Si also purchased one of another sort. Soon both were devouring the "scare-heads" showing upon each.
THE FLYING SQUADROX READY TO SAIL!
Schley and His Warships May Leave Hampton Roads To-night!
The Spanish Fleet Said To Be On Its Way Westward!
Has It Sailed for Cuba or Will It Bombard Some City on Our Coast?
The Authorities Very Reticent, but a Strict Watch
To Be Kept from Maine to Florida for the Appearance of the Enemy!
"By ginger, they're a-comin over here, sure pop!" burst from the Yankee youth's lips. "Supposing they bombard New York? Why, I heard tell that they could lay out in the harbor and plant a shell right on the top of Trinity Church, or come up to Boston Harbor and knock the top off of the Bunker Hill monument!"
"Our ships and forts won't give them the chance to come so close, Si. But what I'm thinking of is, supposing the warships sail before we can get on board?"
"Thet's so!" Si Doring heaved a long sigh. "Why didn't we wait some other time for to see the President? If we miss the ships, I don't know what we'll do. We'll be stranded."
"Oh, I presume, they'll put us on some other vessel. But my heart was set on getting aboard the Brooklyn." And Walter sighed, too.
Both had lost interest in eating, and swallowed the food mechanically. Then, without waiting, they hurried back to the depot, bound that the next train should not slip by.
The route to Fortress Monroe was by way of Fredericksburg, Richmond, and Newport News. Soon the train came along and they got aboard. The cars were comfortable, but not nearly so elegant as the one previously occupied.
"It is odd to me to see separate cars for negroes and whites," observed Walter, after the journey had begun. "We don't have any such thing up North."
"They will be done away with in time, I guess," answered Si. "By the way, I see in this newspaper that among the first troops to be sent to Cuba will be two regiments of negroes. Hurrah for those boys, say I."
It was growing dark, and soon the car lamps were lighted. The boys read their newspapers through from end to end, and Walter learned that the volunteer regiments were everywhere being sworn into the United States service as rapidly as possible.
"I wonder who will get to the front first?" he mused. "It would be odd if they should send Ben to the Philippines instead of Cuba. If only Larry was with me to go into the navy. I am sure he would enjoy this sort of service." And thus musing, he dropped asleep, never dreaming of the part his younger brother had taken in the contest of Manila Bay.
"Richmond! Change cars for James City, Williamsburg, and Newport News!" Such was the cry which awoke him. He arose sleepily, to find Si snoring heavily.
"Si, wake up!" he cried, and shook his companion. "We have to change here."
"Change—for what?" questioned the Yankee, as he blinked his eyes in the glare of an electric light. "How far have we got?"
"Richmond. Come—the other train leaves in a few minutes."
It was early morning, and the depot platform was deserted excepting for the passengers that left the train. Soon the second train rolled in, and they found a double seat, and proceeded to make themselves comfortable.
"By ginger! I never thought of em before," remarked Si, suddenly.
"Our satchels, that we left in that first train."
"I had mine checked through."
"I didn't, because I wanted to look over some things of mine on the way down." Si shook his head in dejection. "Say, but ain't I running up against the worst luck ever was! I'll bet a new pocket-knife the satchel is gone when I get to the end of this trip."
"Oh, I hope not, Si. Did it contain much of value?"
"It had my clothing in, a Bible that my mother gave me, and a ten-dollar gold piece that I've been carrying around for twelve years for luck, because it was given to me by a South American rain-maker, a kind of water-witch I met in San Luiz, Brazil. And that ain't the worst on it, either. The grip wasn't locked."
"It's too bad. But let us hope it's all right, Si. Anyway, I wouldn't worry until you know the truth," said Walter, trying to put a bright face on the matter, and then he dropped asleep again, and the Yankee youth presently followed his example.
Luckily the train ran right through from Newport News to Hampton, which is within two miles and a half of Old Point Comfort and Fortress Munroe. The ride proved uneventful, and when they reached Hampton they fell directly into the arms of Caleb Walton.
"What does this mean?" demanded the old gunner, as he caught each by the arm. "Missed the train, eh? I told you to be careful."
"We'll know better next time," answered Walter. "But what of the Flying Squadron? Has it sailed?"
"Not yet, but the ships may leave Hampton Roads at any hour. I made up my mind to wait for this train and then go on. I sent the others ahead."
"What of my satchel?" put in Si.
"It's in the baggage room. But hurry up; every hour counts just about now." And he led the way to where the bag had been left.
"Here is a big wagon bound for the fort," said Walton, as they left the station. "We'll ride down on that, for the soldiers in charge gave me permission, should you show up."
The wagon was loaded with blankets, and the pile made a soft seat. Soon there came a crack of a whip, and they were off, down a sandy high way leading directly to the sea. Soon the salt air filled their nostrils.
"Oh, we're in good shape to give the Dons a hot reception, if they show themselves around here," said one of the soldiers, in reply to a question from Walter. "We've got some of the finest guns in the country at the fort, and can reach a ship ten or twelve miles out in the harbor."
"I should like very much to inspect a real fort," answered the youth. "The guns must be even more complicated than on board a warship."
"The disappearing guns are very fine. But I doubt if you could get permission to go through now—at least, not until you were duly enlisted into the navy and had your uniform on. You know we have strict orders to keep all outsiders at a distance. We don't want any Spanish spies to get plans of our hidden batteries and the fort itself."
"Would they dare to try to get them?" asked Si. "'Pears to me that would be a mighty risky piece of business."
"Certainly they would try. You mustn't think that all Spaniards are cowards—even if the authorities are responsible for blowing up the Maine. They'll give us a good shake up, if they get the chance."
"I don't think so," said Caleb Walton. "They are not as up-to-date as we are. I know we can beat 'em at gun practice every round."
"Don't brag. Wait till the war is over."
"I'm not bragging—only talking facts, sergeant. I have a friend at the Brooklyn Navy-Yard, and he wrote to me about the gunners on the Vizcaya, when that Spanish warship was lying off Staten Island this spring. He said they were—well tired, I reckon we'd call it,—and didn't have any drills worth mentioning all the while the ship was there Now you know that won't do."
"Oh, yes, I know a man must keep at his drills if he doesn't want to grow rusty."
"Besides that, you must remember that four-fifths of their sailors don't enlist for themselves. They are shanghied out of the seaport towns, made drunk, and taken on the ships like so many cattle, and they are lucky if they get away inside of ten or fifteen years. And in addition the cat-o'-nine tails is always dangling afore their eyes. Now a man treated like that can't make a good sailor, for the simple reason that he knows he has been treated unjustly, and he can't take an interest in his duties."
"Gracious, don't you think you are stretching it a bit?" put in Walter. "What of their officers?"
"Nearly every one of them comes from the ranks of the nobility, and that takes a good deal of ambition from the men, too, knowing it will be next to impossible for them to rise, even to a petty office. Now in our navy it s totally different. A man enlists of his own free will, he is treated fairly even though subject to rigorous discipline, and if it's in him he can rise to quite a respectable office and earn a good salary—and he's certain to get his money, while the Spanish sailors and soldiers go without a cent for months and months."
"I know what you say about wages is true," said the sergeant in command of the army wagon. "I have it from a friend who left Havana when Lee, our consul, came away, that the majority of the Spanish troops stationed about the city hadn't seen a pay-day for nearly a year."
"And then there is another thing," continued Caleb Walton. "The Spaniards have little mechanical ability, and before this war broke out they had a great number of engineers and the like who were foreign born—Englishmen, Frenchmen, and Germans principally Now those men won't stay on Spain's warships during this little muss,—at least the Englishmen and Germans won't,—and a green hand at a marine engine can do more damage in ten minutes than a ship-yard can repair in a month. Take it, all in all, therefore, I think we have the best of it," concluded the old gunner.