Under Dewey at Manila/Chapter 23

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CHAPTER XXIII


GUN DRILLS AND LIFE ON A MAN-O'-WAR


Toot, toot! Toot, toot! Toot, toot-a-root toot!

It was the loud blare of a bugle which aroused Larry at exactly five o'clock on the following morning. For the moment on awakening he opened his eyes and stared around him. Where was he? Surely not on the deserted island, nor even in the dingy forecastle of the Columbia.

"Lively, lad!" shouted Striker, leaping from his hammock. "Lively, I say, or you'll hear from the master-at-arms! You've got jest six minutes in which to dress yourself, roll up your hammock, and stow it away in the netting."

"All right, Luke, I'm with you!" answered the youth, now wide awake. With a turn he was out on the floor. "Dressing won't take me long, with nothing but a shirt and a pair of trousers to take care of. My, but I feel quite like myself again, don't you?"

"Aye, aye, Larry; the sleep did us both a power of good, I guess. Watch me put my hammock up, and you'll have the trick in a jiffy. Now, then, there you are. Now roll up your trousers, for washing down decks on a man-o'-war is no play-work."

The officer of the deck was on hand, himself in bare feet like the men, and now the word was passed to the boatswain's mate that all was ready. The word travelled to the engineer below, and presently the pumps began to work, sending heavy streams of sea-water through the various stretches of hose lying about, and then commenced the daily task of washing down.

Had it not been for Striker, Larry would have been bewildered, but the tall Yankee knew exactly where to take hold, and made Larry go with him. "Everything is divided up," said Striker. "We'll have to attend to our corner of the ship and nothing else. It's jest like you had an apartment in one of them big flat houses ashore. Don't bother your neighbor, an' don't let him bother you, and you'll get along fust-rate."

The washing-down process lasted an hour, and by that time the Olympia was as clean as a whistle from stem to stern. After this, half an hour was allowed in which to prepare for breakfast.

"You can spruce up now, or after you have had your grub," said Striker. "I'd rather spruce up afterwards, for you might have an accident at the table if the Olympia should happen to give an extra heavy roll, and you want to keep that new suit mighty clean, or the division officer will be after you, especially on a ship that is carryin' Commodore Dewey. You can go it a bit slack on some other craft, but it won't do on a flagship—which is the model for all."

It was nearly nine o'clock when quarters sounded throughout the big ship. Again Larry looked at Striker inquiringly.

"Roll call, my lad—what I told you to spruce up for. Come ahead," and with this reply Striker led the way to the main deck, where sailors, gunners, marines, and others were arranging themselves in long lines, to answer to their names, and to pass inspection by their captain, while Commodore Dewey stood on the bridge above, looking on.

After quarters had reached an end, and while Larry was wondering what would come next, it was announced that a gun drill would be had, and for nearly two hours they were kept at it below decks, working the monster to which they had been attached, going through the motions of loading, sighting, and firing. Larry went through all these movements with the rest; for although it was not likely that he would be called on to sight the piece, a delicate operation, or to fire it, yet it was deemed necessary that he should know something of how these things were done, in case those on the gun who were his superiors should be killed or disabled.

"Gracious, but it's hot work!" exclaimed Larry, when the arduous drill had come to an end. "It seems to me the gunners get the worst of it."

"We don't get any more of a dose than do the other men, lad," returned Striker. "Away down under us, where it's hotter twice over nor here, the engineers are a-workin' over their boilers to keep up steam, and the firemen and coal-heavers are workin' harder than ever you dreamed on, shovellin' coal and rakin' down the fires, and if you'll take a peep on deck you'll find the marines hard at it, with their monkey drill, or sword exercise, or something like that. It's one of the rules aboard a warship to keep Jack a-going, and the rule gets broken precious seldom."

"But how can they keep us going all the time, if there is no fight on?" persisted Larry.

"You're green, lad, even if ye have sailed in a merchantman and know all the ropes from the foreroyal-stay to the topping-lift," answered the downeast sailor, with a good-natured laugh, for with the deck of a warship once more beneath him he was in his element. "There are drills enough alone to keep a man hustling from sunrise to sunset, as you'll find out if you remain on the Olympia long enough. Fust comes the drills on the guns, big and little—one of which we have just had. Then comes the sinking ship drill, with closing up the water-tight compartments, and afterwards provisioning the small boats and leaving the ship in a big haste but in perfect order. Another drill is the fire drill, with the hose and the hooked poles and sech; and another the 'repel boarders,' though they don't have boarders to repel like they use to; and another is the target practice with pistols and rifles; and then there is hospital work, and learning how to tie knots as they are tied in the navy, and a lot more which I can't remember jest now, but which will drift along some day or another when you least expect it."

"Well, it's certainly a wonderful life,—a good deal different from what I expected, Luke. The Olympia doesn't seem like a ship to me; she is more of a floating fort."

"And that is what all naval vessels are now, lad—floating forts, or fighting machines, as some call 'em. They don't float because they have the wood to keep 'em up, but because their metal sides keep out jest so much water. Make a good hole in a warship's side, and she'll drop to Davy Jones' locker as quick as a lump o' lead—that is, unless some of the water-tight compartments that are closed keep her afloat."

Striker was right; there was plenty to do, even with no enemy in sight, and as the fleet swept on straight for the island of Luzon, Larry found the time passing swiftly. He was one, as we know, to make friends quickly, and soon he was on the best of terms with half a dozen members of the gun crews.

"You'll get into it, my boy, and make a good one," said Barrow, the head gunner of the piece to which he and Striker had been assigned. "I can see it by the cut of your jib. You're no land-lubber, even if you are a bit green around here." And he willingly gave both Striker and Larry "points" about the gun, which was as new to the down-east tar as it was to the boy, for guns are being improved constantly, and the present piece was of a different pattern from that which Striker had helped to manage on the Pensacola.

By the talk of several petty officers Larry learned that it was expected they would sight the western coast of Luzon inside of the next twenty-four hours, and one of the officers added, that, if the Spanish fleet was where it was supposed to be, there would be hot fighting before the week was out.

"I imagine it will be rather hot fighting," said the boy to Striker. "Phew! the thermometer must be over a hundred in the shade, already!"

"We've struck a calm, and that is what makes it so uncomfortable," answered the down-easter. "We're sure to have smooth weather after sech a lot o' hurricanes as we had afore we were picked up.

It was indeed hot, and during the middle of the day the men were permitted to take it rather more easily than usual. After the drill at the guns Larry took the chance to bathe and felt much better for it.

The remainder of the day passed without special incident, although it was easy to observe as the warship drew closer to the land under the flag of the enemy that the officers and some of the men were under a strong mental tension. Heretofore the vessels had been sailing somewhat far apart, but as night came on they bunched up, and a closer watch than ever was kept.

"You see," explained Striker, when he and Larry were discussing the closing up of the squadron, "we haven't but one small boat—the Petrel—to do the scouting for us, and it may be the Spaniards are on the watch for us, and if they catch sight of us, they may send out a torpedo boat after dark to blow one of our vessels sky-high. A torpedo boat is a pesky little thing that is hard to spot in the dark and still harder to get out of the way of. The only thing to do is to spot it in time and give it a few good, heavy shots."

It was on Saturday morning that land was sighted dead ahead—a long, low coast line, backed up by an indefinite series of hills. At once the fleet was signalled to halt, and each vessel began the preparations for that battle which every man felt was bound to come sooner or later. To a landsman the preparations would have looked very much like the frantic efforts of a lot of crazy men. Everything in the way of a possible detriment during a battle was pitched overboard. The articles thus disposed of consisted of mess tables and benches, wooden partitions and rails, heavy chests and ditty boxes, and a hundred and one other things of value—all went sailing upon the rolling waters of the China Sea.

"It's like cleaning out a house on fire," remarked Larry. "By the time the sailors get done throwing their things away I reckon we'll be as rich as any of them and no mistake."

"Well, they can't be too careful," answered Striker. "Splinters are awful things. I've heard tell that during the times they used to fight in nothing but wooden ships the men were worse wounded by flying bits of woodwork than they were by the shots themselves. If this stuff floats ashore, what a harvest them natives will reap!"

The woodwork disposed of, strong nettings of rope were stretched under the small boats on deck, also to keep possible splinters off, and then the deck was cleared of everything movable. The heavy chain cables were likewise coiled around the ammunition hoists, to give them additional protection, for a coiled chain cable will ward off a shot or shell just as well as will a moderately thick sheet of armor plate.