Under Dewey at Manila/Chapter 22

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"Now tell me your tale, but you must be brief," said the commodore, after surveying the pair critically, to see if his order to fit them out properly had been obeyed.

The cabin table before him was piled high with charts, over which he and the other officers that had just left had been poring, and as Larry and Striker told their story, Commodore Dewey continued to examine the big sheets and make notes on a pad at hand. It was one of the Yankee "knacks" of the commander to be able to do Several things at the same time. Larry was at first afraid that he was not listening, but he soon found out his mistake, as the officer asked him several questions bearing on points he had omitted or not made sufficiently plain.

"You have both had a hard time of it, no doubt," said Commodore Dewey, when the recital was brought to a close. "I should like to aid you in
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Commodore, it's jest come into my Mind to ask ye a Favor Page 215

getting back to your ship if she has managed to reach Hong Kong, which seems doubtful, but I don't see what I can do unless we speak some vessel bound for that port. Do you know our mission in these waters?"

"Yes, commodore, we jest larned it," answered Striker, with a knowing nod of his lean head. "And, commodore, it's jest come into my mind to ask ye a favor," he went on, earnestly.


"Ye know how I stood in the rank o' gunners—leas'wise ye can soon find out by the record. Let me stay aboard this ship with ye an' help wipe them Spanish garlic-eaters off the face of the earth! Maybe ye ain't got no opening aboard now, but I reckon there will be openings enough after the fightin' begins."

At this earnest and original speech the commodore smiled. "You can stay if you wish, Striker, and I was going to offer you the chance, seeing that we are short a few men. I remember you were among the gunners, and it is such a position you shall fill, if you can arrange it with Captain Gridley. But what of you, my lad?" and the commander of the squadron turned to Larry.

For the past half hour the boy's thoughts had been similar to those of his down-east friend. Everything about the warship pleased him, and to behold the glorious stars and stripes floating over such a well-trained body of American tars filled his heart with patriotism. Then, too, he remembered what his brothers had written, that if war came, one intended to enter the navy and the other the army. Here was his chance to jump into active duty for his beloved country. Should he let such a chance slip by?

"I, too, will remain on board, if you will have me," he said, his clear eyes gazing fully into those which were turned upon him as if to read his very thoughts. " I have two brothers in the States who said they would go into service if there was a call to arms. I have never been on a man-o'-war before, but I am willing to learn my duty, and I'll fight for all I am worth, if I'm called on to do it."

"Good! That's the kind of talk I like to hear, Russell. The man who is willing to do his whole duty—to do exactly as he is told to do—is the man we are after. To be sure, you are rather young for regular service, but, considering the manner in which you came on board, we'll not let that count against you. I suppose you would like to remain with Striker."

"Yes, sir—everybody else on board being a stranger."

"We'll try to fix it up. And that being settled, we'll not be on the lookout for any ship to take you to Hong Kong for the present." The commodore raised his voice and called the guard at the companionway "Ask Captain Gridley to step in," he continued.

The word was passed, and soon the captain of the Olympia appeared, and the situation was explained to him. Being short of a few men, as Commodore Dewey had said, he gladly accepted Larry and Striker, and added their names to the muster-roll, to serve until discharged or until the end of the trip. This finished, the pair were turned over to the officer of the deck, who in his turn passed them to the chief of the gunners.

"Well, you're a full-fledged son o' Uncle Sam now, Larry," remarked Striker, after the pair had been assigned to their positions at one of the side guns, and been put through a strict drill lasting over an hour. "How do you feel?"

"I feel a good deal like the cat that strayed in a strange garret," laughed the boy, just a bit nervously, for the sight of such big guns, and so much powder and shell awed him. "Not much woodwork around here."

"Woodwork wouldn't do, if it came to a real battle," answered the Yankee, "for a good shot would fill every man around with splinters. When we clear the ship for action, you'll see 'most everything that's made of wood and movable heaved overboard. Even the men's ditty boxes will have to go, and then they'll be no richer than we are," he added; the ditty boxes being, let me add, the chests in which the tars keep their odds-and-ends of belongings.

Larry was tired, but scarcely hungry again when the call sounded for supper. Yet he and Striker joined the gunners' mess, to which they received a warm welcome, for Uncle Sam's Jack Tars are at all times a "hail-and-well-met" sort of men.

Even "mess gear," as it is termed, was a good deal of a revelation to Larry, so different was it from the eating hour on a merchantman. He learned that all the meals from that of the commodore down were cooked in the one big galley, presided over by a dozen or more cooks, but that separate messes were numerous, the commodore and the captain being entitled by rule to dine alone, and the senior and junior officers also dining separately, in the ward-room. Of the others on the warship, the boatswain, gunners, carpenters, and sail-makers had an apartment to themselves, and so had the marines and the firemen and engineers.

The queerest part of the proceedings, to the boy, was the fact that the jackies furnished most of their own eatables and chose their own cook, sometimes one of their own number. Uncle Sam allowed them the sum of thirty cents per day for food, and this amount had been put to the best possible use through money advanced before leaving port. In the American navy even an admiral pays for his own meals, although, to be sure, his salary is such that he can well afford to do so.

Larry found his mess-room on the Olympia a long, narrow place, ventilated as freely as the construction of the warship allowed. The table had been swung to the ceiling, but was now let down, and a "striker," that is, a cook's helper, attached the benches. The boy was furnished with a porcelain plate and cup, and an iron fork, knife, and spoon. For supper that evening the bill of fare was coffee, bread and butter, stewed fruit, and a bit of fresh meat.

"It's a mistake to think the jackies don't live well," observed Striker, when they were finishing up and some of the men had already drawn their pipes, for the hour after the last meal of the day was "smoking lamp" time. "The lads know how to make their allowance go as far as anybody, and they make the cooks do the best possible with all victuals as comes aboard. To be sure, on a long trip we'll git salt hoss and pilot crackers putty often, but that can't be helped on any ship, as ye know."

The "smoking lamp" just mentioned is a peculiarity of the navy. On account of the explosives aboard it is strictly prohibited to carry matches. So to light their pipes during the time they are allowed to smoke the men have a covered lamp lit for them, the cover having a small hole in it through which pipes can be lit.

Usually, the time after supper belongs to the men, to do with as they please. Some read, if they are fortunate enough to have any literature with them, others play banjos and accordions, some dance jigs, and not a few gather in groups to talk and spin yarns. At half-past seven "hammocks" is sounded, and then the men can retire if they desire. If they wish to remain up, they can do so for two hours longer, when "pipe down" echoes through the warship, all the lights excepting those which must be kept lit are turned off, and the official day comes to an end.

But this night was Thursday, and the Olympia was the flagship of the fleet, carrying the marine band of about twenty pieces. Thursday had always been concert night, and now, to put his men in good spirits. Commodore Dewey ordered the bandmaster to give them nothing but patriotic airs, and this Bandmaster Valifuoco did, starting with those songs which were particularly popular during the Civil War, and ending up with Yankee Doodle and the Star-Spangled Banner. As the latter song rolled out upon the balmy evening air, the men could not resist the temptation to join in with their lusty and deep voices, and the sound wafted across the sea to the other ships, until the sailors everywhere were singing as never before.

"That's the song of all songs," cried Larry, when it was all over. "I never heard anything so grand before. Why, that ought to make a brave man of the worst coward on board! Hurrah for Old Glory!"

Utterly worn out with all that had occurred, Larry and Striker sought the hammocks assigned to them immediately after the concert was over and slept "like logs," to use the lad's way of expressing it. So tired was the boy that he did not even dream, nor hear the many noises around him, such as the pounding of the water against the warship's prow as she kept steadily on her course, or the rattle of the heavy chains as the Olympia rose and fell on the long swells.

On deck there was a busy time among the petty officers, for a signal-light and a search-light drill were in progress. The great search-light flashed hither and thither over the dark green waters and over the other ships of the squadron. A sharp lookout was kept for the possible appearance of the enemy, the men in the tops having their night glasses continually in use. But the Spanish fleet did not show itself, and for the time being all went well.