Under Dewey at Manila/Chapter 10

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CHAPTER X


ATTACKED IN A STORM


"Come, boys, tumble up lively now, unless you want to spend the next week in sail-sewing!" cried Cal Vincent, the boatswain of the Columbia. "There's a storm a-brewing, and the old man reckons as how it will be best to take in a little sail to onct!"

While listening to the interesting talk of the missionary, Larry had noticed the sky growing darker, and he leaped up with alacrity, for he remembered that it was the neglect to shorten sail in time on board of the Rescue which had caused the bark to strain and open some of her seams. Besides, if there was one thing he detested on shipboard, it was to sit down with a heavy sailor's needle and assist at sail-mending.

"I don't reckon it's going to be much, but still one can't allers tell," remarked Luke Striker, as he came tumbling out of his berth, where he had been dozing upon that hot afternoon and dreaming of his far-away down-east home. He had spent many years on the ocean, yet that spot of his boyhood was as dear to him as ever.

Captain Ponsberry himself was on deck, giving orders at the top of his voice, and everybody was scurrying here and there, for orders to shorten sail are always obeyed quicker than any others on shipboard, the reason for which is obvious.

"Lay aloft there now, men, and don't stop to think about it," cried the captain. "Come now, Hobson, show your heels up those ratlines, and, Oleson, don't move as though you had chunks of lead in your boots. See, Russell is ahead of all of you, and he's but a boy. Now then, all ready?"

"All ready, sir," came from various quarters.

And then came a rapid succession of orders, each followed by a creaking of halyard blocks, as the topsails came down, followed by the jib and flying-jib. The fore-course, main-course, and mizzen-course were left standing, but the men were kept on deck, to reef or take in entirely, should it become necessary to do so.

Oleson had followed Larry up to the foretop, with an extra sour look upon his swarthy face, for he did not like the remark the captain had cast at him, nor the compliment paid to the boy. "Get ofer dare!" he growled, pushing up against Larry. "You want all de room to yourself. How I tak in sail if you under my feet?"

"You've got as much room as I have," answered Larry, firmly. "Keep your distance," he added, as Oleson continued to crowd him. "Mind now what I say!"

To this the Norwegian made, some uncomplimentary answer, which was, however, swallowed up in the noise of the flapping sail as it came down on the run.

The Columbia was rolling and pitching upon the heavy swells under her, and Larry found it no easy task to keep his balance as he helped furl and fasten. It was blowing lively, too, and the wind whistled almost a gale into his ears.

Again Olan Oleson crowded him, until there was but little left to stand upon. The boy shouted another warning, but the Norwegian paid no attention.

Suddenly a fearful dread took possession of the lad. Olan Oleson meant to shove him over into the sea.

Under Dewey at Manila p117.jpg

Don't! gasped the Boy. Oh, you Villain! Don't! Page 95

"Keep your distance!" he cried, at the top of his lungs. "Keep your distance. Below there! help!"

"You be still!" growled the Norwegian. "I no hurt you. You go—"

A gust of wind swallowed up the words which followed. Again the Columbia went over, caught short in the swell under her. The topmast dipped thirty feet or more to leeward, and Larry made a tight clutch on the cross-tree, only to find himself shoved rudely off.

His right hand held the gasket he had been tying up, and that was all. Over rolled the ship again, and now his body swung clear into the air, supported only by that slender, plaited rope, which was old and not above snapping without warning. Beneath him was the churning sea, above him the slender topmast and the dark and angry sky. He shuddered and was tempted to close his eyes, but could not.

"You let go!" came from Olan Oleson, and he caught hold of the gasket as if to shake Larry from it.

"Don't!" gasped the boy. "Oh, you villain! don't!"

He continued to cling fast despite the fact that Olan Oleson's hand was over his own, pressing the knuckles to make the fingers relax and slip. But now the Columbia swung over to the other side, and he felt his feet touch the rigging below. The gasket slipped; but legs and arms were on the alert, and in a second more he found himself safe, on a level with Olan Oleson's feet. Fearing a kick, he lost no time in descending still further, until, finding himself at Luke Striker's side, he deemed himself comparatively safe.

The storm had evidently reached its height, and as the Columbia carried her lower sails well, there was nothing for the sailors to do but to stand around and wait until the wind should either increase or decrease. The spray was flying everywhere, and Larry followed Striker into the forecastle for his oilskin coat.

"'Pears to me I heard somebody cry for help when I was aloft," remarked the Yankee sailor. "Must have been the wind, but it did sound very much like a human voice."

"It was a human voice," answered Larry. "I yelled just as loud as I could."

"And what for? Were you afraid of falling?"

"I was afraid of being pushed off."

"Gee shoo!" Striker stared at the lad a second. "Say, that furiner was up there with ye? Did he try—"

"Yes, he did. If I hadn't clung fast for all I was worth, and dropped to the lower cross-tree when I got the chance, I would at this minute be out on the ocean a mile astern," and Larry shuddered.

"The Norwegian ought to be put into irons! Why don't you go to the old man and report?"

"What good would it do? It would only be another case of my word against Oleson's, for of course the fellow would deny everything."

"Yes, but have you got to stand this a-havin' a chap around as is achin' to do sech a dirty trick as that? I don't think you have, not by a jugful!"

"I certainly wish Oleson hadn't shipped on the Columbia. If it wasn't for him, this trip would just suit me, for every one of the others is a good messmate," responded Larry.

He had procured his oilskin and was putting it on, when there was a heavy tramping near the doorway, and Olan Oleson came in. He was about to withdraw upon seeing the boy and his companion, but with a quick leap, Luke Striker caught him by the arm and pulled him inside.

"You good-fer-nuthin' rascal!" he cried, catching the Norwegian by the collar and running him up against a back berth. "What right have you to attack this boy up in the top, eh? You jess let that lad alone or I'll—I'll wipe up the deck with ye, by the jumpin' Christopher I will!"

And he shook the burly sailor until the man's teeth fairly rattled. Striker was not as tall as Oleson by several inches, and his weight was considerably less, but his muscles were tough and his bravery unequalled, and there was nothing he would not tackle when aroused. In vain the Norwegian struggled; that grip could not be broken.

"You let go me!" spluttered the swarthy fellow. "You let go! I no mak quarrel with you. Let go, or I tell captain."

"Tell the captain, and that's all the good it will do you. He won't allow sech a rascal as you aboard one minit longer nor he can help, and I know it. Tell him, and take that! and that! and that!"

Each "that" was followed by a bump of Oleson's head upon the edge of the berth, blows hard enough to crack an ordinary man's skull. After the last bump Striker threw the man to one side, motioned to Larry, and both walked outside.

"Maybe that will teach him a lesson," muttered the Yankee sailor. "Hang those furiners, anyhow!"

"You have made an enemy of him for life, Luke," returned the boy. "Hereafter he'll try to do as bad by you as he has tried to do by me."

"Let him; we'll both be on our guard. But don't you go aloft with him again."

"I won't."

"And on second thought I don't know but what it will be jest as well not to speak to Captain Ponsberry about it. Let Oleson see that we can take care of ourselves, and he'll have more respect for us."

They were now called upon to shorten sail still more, and consequently the conversation had to come to an end. While taking in the fore-course and the mizzen-course Oleson came out to assist, but did not look at either of them.

Although it blew strongly all night, the storm was but an ordinary one, and by sunrise the next day the wind had fallen sufficiently to allow the Columbia to proceed upon her way again under full sail. Olan Oleson kept his distance, nor did he even look at Larry or Striker. "He's learned his lesson," said the Yankee tar, but how grievously he was mistaken the chapters which follow will show.

They were now reaching the vicinity of Wake Island, and a constant lookout was kept, that they might not pass the spot, which is low-lying, rather, barren, and of small territory. Larry was up in the cross-trees one afternoon, when he saw the island far to the north of the Columbia.

"Land O!" he sang out, and the cry soon rang through the ship, speedily bringing the captain, Mr. Wells, and everybody else on deck.

"Where away?"

"On our starboard quarter, captain. I can just see a bit of rocks and trees."

A marine glass was brought into use, and after a brief survey Captain Ponsberry decided that it was Wake Island. The course of the Columbia was immediately changed, and an hour later they were moving slowly into a small but safe harbor, surrounded by coral reefs upon which the sea pounded incessantly.

Larry had expected Wake Island to be a spot where a fine run ashore might be indulged in, and was somewhat surprised and disappointed to find the place so barren. However, there was a good spring close at hand, and as they wanted fresh water more than anything else there was little over which to grumble. A whole day was spent in filling the Columbia's water-casks, and then off they sailed again, bound as before, due west.