Under Dewey at Manila/Chapter 26

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Boom! bang! crack! boom! boom! boom!

Loud and clear came the reports over the waters of the inner bay, and over and around the American warships whistled and screamed a dozen balls and shells ere they plunged into the briny element. The shore battery near old Manila had "opened the ball," as Striker declared, and, though not a shot took effect, the firing thoroughly aroused Uncle Sam's jackies to the fact that "the real thing" was on them.

"Now, boys, roll up your sleeves and be prepared to pitch in!" exclaimed Barrow. "It's no loafing allowed for the next few hours, I'll warrant you! Larry, you must do the double-quick now if you never did it before."

"I'm more than willing to pitch in," answered the youth, with a nervous little laugh. "Anything is better than this waiting around."

"That's true," put in Striker. "I know I won't get my nerves settled until we're in the thick on it—kind o' like your second wind in a fist fight, you know."

The men were crowded together at the ports, watching eagerly whatever might be seen, which just then was not much, for they were getting away from the shore batteries, and the first of the battleships of the enemy was still some distance off. Barrow's reference to shirt sleeves was entirely superfluous, since the shirts worn were altogether of the short-sleeved variety, revealing full many a tough and brawny arm, ready to do battle as long as the breath of life remained in its owner's body.

"We're getting closer to 'em," said Striker, a few minutes later. "If only the commodore—"

The tall Yankee did not finish, but stared before him in open-mouthed amazement. About a thousand yards away the waters of the bay had suddenly gone up into a gigantic fountain. A rumble followed, felt quite distinctly by all on board.

"Gracious, what's that, an earthquake?" ejaculated Larry.

"Sort of one, lad," answered Barrow. "That was a connection mine going up. They've got 'em out here, it would seem, but they made a bad miss of it that trip—about half a mile, I calculate. It's lucky we weren't sailing closer in, eh?"

"I should say so." Larry drew a long breath. "I think I'd rather fight with the guns, any day."

"So would all of us, lad; but we have to take what comes, and so does the enemy. We've got a whole lot of warships against us, but the Olympia's all right, and so are. the others, and we'll knock the spots off those Spaniards. Hurrah for Uncle Sam and remember the Maine!" he added loudly.

"Remember the Maine!" came back from a hundred voices, in heavy unison. That was the battle-cry, uttered thousands of times during those trying hours, just as during the Mexican War the cry was, "Remember the Alamo!" and during the Revolutionary War, "Remember Concord and Lexington!" Soldiers and sailors must have some cry to stir up their blood, and what cry was better for that purpose than one calling upon them to remember the martyrdom of two hundred and fifty-three of their comrades in arms?

The signal was now displayed from the American flagship to close up and prepare for general action, and the vessels fell into a single column, four hundred yards apart, and went ahead at a speed of six knots an hour. The Olympia, as usual, led, and from each masthead and gaff floated Old Glory, whipping out a breezy defiance to the enemy as the line swept on.

Commodore Dewey's plan of battle was exceedingly simple. Unless something unusual occurred, the ships were to make a number of courses in front of the enemy's line, the vessels taking part to be the six cruisers and gunboats. The despatch boat and the boats with coal and stores were to lie just out of range of the Spanish guns. The first course was to be at forty-five hundred yards, and each circuit was to come in a little closer, the tide of battle permitting. It was Dewey's plan, just as it was Nelson's plan at the famous battle of Trafalgar, to give the enemy no rest, but to go at him with all vigor from the start.

The commodore was on the bridge of the Olympia with his powerful field-glasses in his hand. When about five thousand yards away from the Castilla, which was seen to be flying the Spanish admiral's pennant for the time being, he turned to Captain Gridley, who stood watching him eagerly.

"You can open up as soon as you please, Gridley," he said. "And give it to them good and strong."

"I'll train the forward turret gun myself," Captain Gridley is reported to have answered, as he made off, to later on command his ship from the conning tower.

"Ready there!" the cry running along the larboard guns made everybody jump. "Prepare to fire."

"Don't hold your ears shut!" screamed Striker at Larry. "They are better off open, and throw your arms out like this, and open your mouth," he went through the motions himself. "Now, then!"

Larry had scarcely time to follow directions than the final signal was given, and with what seemed little short of a thunderclap to the youth, the Olympia let drive with her four eight-inch turret guns. The aim was directed at the Castilla, and when the smoke cleared away the Spanish flagship was seen to be struck in one, if not two, places.

"Come, lad, pick yourself up and hustle!" cried Barrow, for Larry had gone down with the unusual roll caused by the discharge. "Lively now, for there's no time to waste before the next shot."

The man at the breech, a good-natured chap named Castleton, was already opening the gun. As the breech fell back a cloud of smoke and soot entered the gun-room, nearly choking Larry. When the boy had cleared his eyes and throat he saw to his astonishment that all the highly polished brasswork on the cannon had turned a sickly green.

The soot cleared away, Striker began to swab out the gun, which contained a quantity of matter looking like red chalk. This was what was left of the burnt powder. Barrow felt of the piece, to find it cool enough to do without a washing with cold water, and then the process of reloading began.

During this time the other ships in the line began to fire at the enemy, and now the Spanish warships fired in return. The noise was something fearful, and in a short while every ship in the harbor was enveloped in a dense cloud of smoke.

As was natural, the opening fire on the American side was directed principally to the ship flying the Spanish admiral's colors, and by the time one course had been taken down the line, and the Olympia was sweeping closer to try it again, the Castilla, as well as the Reina Cristina, was seen to be struck in a dozen places, and on fire.

"It's first blood for us!" yelled Striker, enthusiastically. "I don't believe we've been struck once."

He had hardly spoken when the whining shriek of a hundred and fifty pound shell was heard, coming straight at the Olympia. "We're struck now!" cried Barrow, when, as shells sometimes do, the unwelcome missile took a turn in the air and went sailing through the flagship's upper works, doing damage that was but trifling.

In less than half an hour Larry felt at home at his work. He now knew what real fighting meant, and was getting used to the noise and smoke. Strange to say, he did not feel in the least alarmed. Perhaps this was because some awful shot had not yet brought home to him the true horrors of the dreadful combat. He was working like a Trojan, with the perspiration pouring from his whole body, and the smoke and soot had made him the color of a true African.

The Olympia's gunners had now obtained the correct range of the Spanish ships, and in addition to the smaller shots were pouring in a number of two hundred and fifty pound shells. As the flagship came down the second course, these shells struck fairly and squarely upon the deck of the Castilla, doing fearful damage.

"She'll be out of it in a few minutes more!" cried Striker. "See, she is burning in two places. Her crew had better leave before the magazines blow up, if they want to save their lives."

"Their other ships are catching it, too," said Barrow, as a sudden breeze sent the smoke flying. "I wonder how the rest of our squadron are making it?"

That was a question which could not be answered just then, but, later on, word drifted into the gunroom that the Baltimore had been hit rather heavily and some of the men injured. The Raleigh had had her largest whaleboat smashed, and the splinters had caught some of the men on deck, but the injuries were trifling.

As the smoke went up, the Castilla was seen to be turning, as if to retire to a small inlet partly behind Fort Cavite. She was now in flames in every part. Quick orders were given, and just as the Spanish flagship showed her stern fully, a big shot from the Olympia went crashing straight through her. It is said this shot killed over fifty of her crew, and exploded one of her boilers. However that was, it is a fact that she sank immediately afterwards, the majority of her crew going with her.

"The game is up with 'em!" cried Striker. "I reckon the Dons will give it up now!"

But the tall Yankee was mistaken, not knowing the stern fighting qualities of Admiral Montojo. Scarcely had the Castilla gone down when the admiral's flag was hoisted on the Reina Cristina, and the fire on board of that boat was put out.

"Their flag is up again!" said Barrow. "Now to give the new flagship the same dose that we gave the other! Come, Castleton, clean out the gun good."

Castleton, very much exhausted, staggered forward and did as bidden. The terrible heat was beginning to tell upon all sides. Larry brought some powder, and then turned to get a drink from the hose pipe, his mouth feeling as though it was filled with cotton. Striker had obtained permission to take a peep on deck, and the other men were working along as well as the smoke and exhaustion would permit.

How it all happened it was impossible, afterward, for Larry to tell. He had obtained all the powder necessary and was getting his drink as before mentioned. A fall beside him made him turn, and through the smoke he saw Castleton lying beside him. The gunner's mate had been overcome by the heat.

"Poor chap!" thought the boy, and turned the hose upon the prostrate man's head, as the best available means of restoring him to consciousness.

Then, while still working over Castleton, Larry happened to glance towards the gun, which Barrow was on the point of firing. A sight met his gaze which nearly paralyzed him. The gun breech was closed but still unlocked! Should Barrow discharge the gun while in that condition, every one of them would be blown to atoms!