Under Dewey at Manila/Chapter 20

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CHAPTER XX


ON BOARD THE FLAGSHIP "OLYMPIA"


It was not long before the great engines of the Olympia came to a stop, the flagship slowed up, and from the starboard side a small boat was lowered, manned by a petty officer and a dozen bronzed jackies, as man-o'-war men are familiarly termed. The oars were straight up in the air, but at the word of command they fell into the ocean's brine, and the boat set off for the unfortunates.

"Boat ahoy!" shouted Striker, feebly, for previous cries had exhausted his wind. "You jest about come in the nick o' time. We was thinkin' very seriously o' engagin' rooms in Davy Jones' locker afore ye hove in sight."

A smile went the rounds of the sailors, but not a word was said, as it would have been against the rule. "Steady, men! a stroke more," commanded the petty officer, and the small boat slowed up and sheered alongside of the upturned Treasure, "Are you two able to climb in?" he went on.

"I reckon I am," answered the Yankee sailor. "Larry, how is it?"

For answer the youth slid from the keel of the Treasure, and grasped the gunwale of the Olympia's small boat. Willing hands helped him on board, and Striker followed.

"You have done us a great service," murmured Larry. "I was afraid we were gone."

"You look played out," smiled the officer detailed to bring the pair in. "How did you chance to be wrecked?"

"It's a long story, sir. We were on board of the Columbia, a three-master bound from Honolulu to Hong Kong, and went overboard during a storm. We struck an island first and found that boat, and then set out to make Luzon—"

"And the plagued craft went to pieces on us," finished up Striker. "Am I right? is that the Asiatic Squadron under Commodore Dewey?"

"It is."

"Then I reckon as two Americans, born and bred, we've fallen into jest about the right hands. It was a welcome sight to see the glorious stars and stripes, I can tell you that, sir. When I made you out to be warships, I was afraid we had run next to a lot of Chinese or Japanese craft. I ain't got no use for thet sort o' critter, sir."

"You might have done worse, man, than to fall in with the Chinese or Japanese," laughed the petty officer, after he had given the necessary orders to take the small boat back to the warship. Supposing you had fallen in with Admiral Montojo's fleet?"

"Montojo? Who is he?"

"The Spanish admiral, in command of their men-o'-war in these waters."

Both Striker and Larry looked puzzled for a moment, then a quick flash lit up the boy's dark eyes.

"Has war been declared between the United States and Spain, sir?" he ejaculated.

"It has."

"By the jumpin' Christopher, ye don't tell me!" roared Striker, his mouth open in amazement. "Real, genuine, live war?"

"Well, we calculate to make it real, genuine, live war, if we can find Montojo's fleet," laughed the officer, much amused by the tall Yankee's manner.

"And are ye on his trail?"

"I presume that is what you would call it, my man. And I don't know but that you'll have to go with us, under the circumstances," went on the officer.

There was no time to say more, for the small boat was now once more beside the flagship. The craft was attached to the davit-ropes and swung up and in, and a moment later Larry and Striker stood upon the main deck, confronted by Commodore Dewey and Captain Gridley. Finding themselves in the presence of the two commanders, Striker immediately saluted in true naval style, and Larry followed suit, not a little awed by finding himself confronted by so much marine pomp, for the commodore believed in thoroughness in naval appearance as well as in efficacy. On looking at the Yankee, the commodore's face showed a slight trace of surprise.

"Hullo, my man! I think I've seen you before," he said.

"That you have, commodore," replied the Yankee tar, much pleased at even a partial recognition. "I was sayin' to myself, in coming over in the gig, that if this was Commodore Dewey's squadron, an' the commodore himself was with the fleet, he wouldn't forget Luke Striker, as served under him on board of the Pensacola, in European waters, about twelve years ago. I was gunner's mate at that time, and when coal bunker No. 3 took fire—" Striker paused.

"Yes, yes, I remember you now, Striker. You took the place of the hoseman who was off duty, and crawled into the bunker at the risk of your life. I haven't forgotten that brave deed, and I'm glad, at this late day, to do you a service," and the commodore took the tar's hand and shook it heartily. "So you've been wrecked, and this lad with you? You both look worn, and those wet clothes are not as comfortable as dry ones will be." The commodore turned to Captain Gridley: "Captain, will you have them taken care of? and then I'll talk to them in my cabin. We will resume our course," and the commodore turned away.

In a minute more Larry and Striker had been turned over to a sergeant of marines, who took them below to the clothing lockers, and managed to fit them out in the uniforms of ordinary seamen. While this was going on, word was passed to the big galley, and by the time the pair were ready for it a steaming dinner awaited them in the mess-room. It is doubtless unnecessary to say that to the repast thus afforded, the boy and his down-east friend did ample justice. Indeed, Striker declared that never had victuals tasted better, and ate so much of the rice pudding and drank such a quantity of the black coffee that he found it necessary to let out one catch in the belt about his waist.

The officer of marines detailed to look after them was a whole-souled fellow, and as they ate, he readily gave them all the information at his command respecting the cruiser and her destination. Both Larry and Striker listened with keen interest.

"You see," went on the sergeant, in the course of his talk, "we are really going to do more than smash the Spanish fleet, or take a try at it. Spain owns the Philippines, and as she has chosen to go to war, why, it's no more than right that we should endeavor to capture the islands."

"But will that be fair?" questioned Larry. "I thought the trouble was all on account of Cuba."

"So it is; but in war one side lays hands on everything it can find belonging to the other," laughed the sergeant, who rejoiced in the peculiar name of Joe Joster. "If we can do the trick, we'll bottle up that Spanish fleet first, then capture the Philippines, and then go for the Caroline Islands."

"Bottling up that fleet may not be sech an easy task," observed Striker, helping himself to another bowl of coffee, the fourth. "How many ships do ye calculate this here Admiral What's-his-name has?"

"Montojo has not less than eight or ten."

"And we have how many?"

"Seven, all told."

Striker shook his head. "That don't figure right—exceptin' our ships outclass 'em. Everything else being ekel, it stands to reason the side with the most ships has got the best show. Ain't that accordin' to 'rithmetic, Larry?"

"I suppose it is, Luke; but then our brave American tars—"

"Will do the trick," finished Sergeant Joster. "That is what we are playing on. Roughly estimated, I think the two fleets carry about the same number of guns and the same number of men, although some think the Dons have more men than we have. But if we Americans keep up our reputation, we have nothing to fear, though, of course, the scrag won't be exactly a picnic."

"That officer in the small boat said we might have to remain on board of the Olympia," said Larry. "If that is so, we are bound to take part in whatever occurs, whether we want to or not."

"I should think any American lad would be glad to take part," rejoined the sergeant, quickly. "If we defeat that fleet, it will be a great glory to us, and if we don't—well, a man can die but once, you know."

"I am willing enough to stay," answered the boy. "But I should like to know what has become of the Columbia," he added soberly, as he thought of the sturdy schooner staggering under the hurricane and struck by lightning, with Captain Ponsberry, Grandon, Mr. Wells, and his other friends aboard.

"Yes, lad, I'd like to know that myself," put in Striker. "And I should like to meet that furiner again. It's a pity he ain't a Spaniard, and on board one of them ships we're after."

Sergeant Joster was curious to hear their story, and as they had been treated so well by the marine, they did not hesitate to tell him.

"You are lucky dogs to escape being drowned," he said, when they had concluded. "Ninety-nine men out of a hundred would have gone down. That Olan Oleson ought to be strung up on a yard-arm, and he would be on most vessels. In the navy a man would be shot for a good deal less than he's done."

"The Columbia is going to remain in Hong Kong for several weeks—that is, if she got there at all," said Larry. "Perhaps the fleet will go back before that time."

"There is no telling where we are to go to, lad. The Spaniards may lead us a long chase, and the commodore is not one to give up until he has accomplished his mission."

"You are right there," said Striker, nodding vigorously, as he swallowed his last mouthful of pudding. "I knowed him as a captain before he came out here, and he is just the commander for the work they cut out for him in these parts." He turned to Larry. "How is it—full?"

"Yes, and waiting for you."

"Then we won't keep the commodore waitin'—'tain't manners nohow. Jest show the way, sergeant, and we'll be on your heels."

In a few minutes more they were at the after-cabin of the Olympia. Here they had to wait a quarter of an hour, for Commodore Dewey was in consultation with several other officers. At length the officers took their departure, and they were told to go in.