Under Dewey at Manila/Chapter 14

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"Well, there are only two ways of getting back," remarked the mate of the Columbia, after a long pause. "One is to climb the hill, and the other is to skirt either the east or the west shore. It's a close mile across, and I reckon it's three miles around, one way or the other."

"Yes, I reckon it is three miles by way of the shore," answered Hobson. "But there is a beach most of the way, if not all of the way, and it will be easier walking on that than it will be a-climbing the rocks."

"I say let us try the shore," put in Vincent, who was as scared as any one. "We won't be worried about snakes, and we'll see more than if we went back by the way we came. The question is, which shore, east or west?"

The question was debated for a few minutes, and it was decided that, according to the view from the top of the hill, the eastern shore route must be the shorter, and would, consequently, be the best to take, for all felt that they must now be getting back to the ship. Both the rifle and shotgun were loaded, and off they started, the two armed men in advance, on the alert to fire at the first enemy which might appear.

For the first mile nothing came to view but the ocean upon one side, and a stretch of beach and brush upon the other, backed up by the forests previously mentioned. In the brush and trees could be heard great numbers of birds, and both Grandon and Vincent would have gone in for game had it not been that the remembrance of the snake held them back. Yet they managed, by keeping wide awake, to bring down several cockatoos and a species of wild turkey, and of these they were very proud.

After the turkey was killed and slung over the mate's shoulder, another mile was covered, and then they came to a small bay, or inlet, on the other side of which was a hump of rocks, hiding the south shore, where they knew the Columbia must be at anchor. Striker was now again in advance, with Larry beside him.

"Avast!" cried the Yankee sailor, suddenly plucking the boy by the sleeve. "Get back there, out of sight, all of you, and I'll capture a prize wuth havin'!"

He motioned to the others, who came to an immediate halt. Looking ahead, they saw at the back of the sunny inlet several large turtles basking on the beach, their necks and legs stretched out to the fullest extent.

"Can you do the trick?" whispered Hobson. "I've heard tell it's got to be managed cleverly or the turtle will get away."

"Trust me—I've done it before—when I was ashore on Luzon!" answered the Yankee sailor. "Watch me, Larry; it's a trick worth knowing—in case ye are cast ashore some day with no food and no gun to bring it down with."

While the rest of the party retreated to the shelter of some nearby bushes, having by this time gotten over the greater part of the fright occasioned by the snake, Luke Striker crawled stealthily along the beach and entered the shallow waters of the inlet, pursuing a course which presently brought him up directly in front of the turtles, who still lay unconscious of their danger. In a few minutes Striker had gained the edge of the beach, and here he paused, to decide the question of which turtle to attack first. There were three in a bunch, two nearly side by side and the third a few yards to the rear, while a fourth turtle lay still further back, but somewhat to the left of its mates.

Having fixed his plan of attack, the Yankee rushed forward as nimbly as his long legs would carry him, and, catching the nearest turtle by the side edge of the shell gave it a scoop which immediately placed it upon its back, with its legs squirming harmlessly in the air.

Instantly there was a commotion, and with a great flapping the remaining turtles started up, and, seeing their enemy, made a rush towards the nearest water, that beside the one turned over uttering a savage hiss at Striker as it darted by, just escaping his reach.

With the next nearest turtle gone, the Yankee leaped for the one behind the pair, which started for the water, then on seeing the sailor directly in the way, turned to move to one side. Another dexterous scoop, and this one was also helpless, and away went Striker for the fourth, now ten yards off and making for the water at the height of its clumsy speed. It was a nip-and-tuck race, in more ways than one; for as the sailor reached the turtle, it suddenly turned, gave him a vicious nip in the leg, and before Striker could recover tumbled into the water and was gone.

"Wuow!" came from the Yankee, and for the time being his captures were forgotten, as he danced around in pain. Soon the wound was uncovered, and was found to be not unlike what an angry cat might have made. Striker lost no time in bathing it with salt water, and then with some brandy Grandon carried in a flask, doing this to avoid the possibility of blood poisoning.

The two turtles lying upon their backs were each over a foot and a half in diameter, with shells of unusual beauty, as Larry could see at a glance. They were soon put to death, and turned over, and the boy examined them with interest.

"They are hawk's-bill turtles," said Vincent. "A good catch. Do you know what this shell is used for?" he went on, to Larry.

"It looks a little like tortoise-shell."

"It is tortoise-shell, although it will need a deal of polishing before it will show up as beautiful as it does in combs and ladies' pocket-knives, and the like. The natives take the shell off by turning the poor creatures over and making a fire under 'em while they are still alive; but that is the wust kind of cruelty."

No time was lost, after Striker's wound had been dressed, in fastening several bits of cord to the two turtles, and while Larry and the Yankee carried one between them, the others of the party took care of the second. Crossing the hump of rocks, they came in sight of the Columbia as anticipated, and soon after entered the yawl and rowed out to the schooner.

"I was calculating you had got lost," cried Captain Ponsberry, when they appeared. "Humph! A couple o' good hawk's-bills, but not much to eat."

"Aren't the turtles good eating?" asked Larry.

"About as good as that sawfish, lad. Green turtles are the thing; these are poor stuff, although we might try one, just for a change."

The story they had to tell about the snake was listened to with much interest. "I do not blame you for trying to keep out of the reach of those reptiles," said Mr. Wells. "If one of them caught any of the party, the unfortunate would be crushed to a jelly and then slowly devoured. Perhaps that is what happened to the former inhabitant of the solitary hut you visited."

In coming over the hump of rocks near Turtle Cove, as Larry named the spot, they had located another spring, less than a hundred yards from shore. Upon learning of this, the schooner was towed around to the inlet, and the task of filling the water-casks began that afternoon and was completed the next day. Then up went the anchor once more, every sail was set, and the trip to Hong Kong was resumed.

Again the days lengthened into weeks, and as nothing occurred in the way of storms the voyage became as monotonous as before. The only break was on Sunday, when the Rev. Martin Wells held a regular church service, morning and evening, which all were glad to attend, some, among whom was Larry, because they thought it the proper thing to do, and the others because the missionary was a good speaker and it helped to pass the time. Even Olan Oleson attended, but it is doubtful if the sermons and prayers affected the wicked-minded Norwegian, who was plotting continually to revenge himself upon Larry and Striker.

Mr. Wells was much pleased to see what an interest Larry took in his work, and how ready the lad was to lead in the singing of the hymns, and the two became better friends than ever. The missionary had long since heard the story of the boy's trouble at home, and while he did not exactly approve of what had been done, yet he felt it a hard task to offer any censure, considering how Larry and his brothers must have suffered through the loss of their mother and the breaking up of the home. He advised Larry to write a plain straightforward letter to Job Dowling from Hong Kong, telling of what he had done, and then to hope for the best.

"You'll feel better for having written, mark my words," he concluded. "And your uncle ought to know where you are, in case anything happens to you." And Larry promised that the letter should be written.

As the time sped by, the vast Pacific Ocean was left behind, and they began to crawl slowly but surely into the South China Sea, at a point directly below the most southerly extremity of the island of Formosa.

"It won't be many days now before our trip comes to an end," remarked the missionary to Larry, one hot, starlit evening, as the two lounged along the starboard rail, wondering when the coast of Formosa would be sighted. "The distance from South Point on Formosa to Hong Kong is not much over four hundred miles."

"This is the island from which the famous Formosa teas come, I suppose?" said Larry.

"Yes, the island is famous for its teas, and tea-growing is its main industry, although, I believe, rice is also raised to some extent."

"Striker was telling me that the Philippines are directly south of us," went on the boy. "He has visited Luzon, which he says is the largest of the group.!"

"Yes, Luzon is the largest island, and upon that is situated Manila, the principal city. There are a great number of islands, some navigators placing the figure at thirteen hundred, but many of these are mere bits of coral formation and uninhabited. The islands of any consequence, and which are peopled, number in the neighborhood of four hundred."

"Four hundred! Well, that is enough, I'm sure."

The missionary smiled. "Yes, that is enough, yet you must remember that the Philippines are only one group of islands out of many in Oceanica. How many islands there really are will, perhaps, never be known; for many of them are of volcanic origin, and rise and sink as volcanoes burst forth or earthquakes occur."

"That wouldn't be very nice, if a fellow should happen to be around at the time."

"Thousands of the natives have lost their lives through the actions of the volcanoes and the earthquakes, as well as by the tidal waves which very often accompany such phenomena. But there are millions more to take the places of the lost ones, and so, poor creatures, they are never missed. I presume the Philippines will be of unusual interest to the Americans in case the blowing up of the Maine should lead to a war with Spain."

"Why should they be?"

"Outside of Cuba and Porto Rico, the Philippines are Spain's only colonial possessions of value, and I have heard it stated that the Philippines are among the richest islands in the world, being, on account of their volcanic origin, full of precious minerals. Besides this, large quantities of hemp are grown here, out of which manila rope and manila paper are made."

"And does Spain rule the natives here as badly as she rules the Cubans?"

"Yes, every bit, if not worse. Uprisings are frequent, and Spain has a regular standing army quartered in and around Manila, Bulacano, and other cities. Even now the natives are in a state of revolt, under the leadership of a General Aguinaldo. The natives have put up with the iron hand of tyranny for years, and should they ever win what they are fighting for, it is likely every Spaniard on the islands will be butchered."

Larry shuddered. "Coming from the States, one would scarcely dream of such horrors, Mr. Wells."

"That is true, Lawrence; but, as I told you in a previous talk, Spain has only herself to blame for all this. She has misused these people for centuries, and now must take the consequence. I can scarcely believe it, yet only a short while ago I received several letters from Manila and Hong Kong giving the details of a fearful slaughter of rebels whom the Spanish troops in Luzon had captured. There were over a hundred of them, and the poor fellows were taken to the Lunetta, a favorite concourse outside of Manila, where in the presence of thousands of people, including women,—I cannot call such immodest creatures ladies,—the victims were bound, drawn up in a long line with the Spanish details behind them, and, at a given signal, were shot down like so many dogs. Our missionary at Manila mentioned one of the number in particular, a young fellow not over eighteen years of age, in whom he had become greatly interested. The poor boy was drawn up in line with the rest, but was not killed at the first volley, nor at the second, and at last a Spanish surgeon who was on duty there ordered one of the soldiers to come up close with his gun and finish the poor lad, and this was done in a manner I would not care to put into words. When such things occur, is it any wonder that those who are oppressed rise up determined to either throw off the yoke of tyranny or give up their lives in the effort?"