Under Dewey at Manila/Chapter 4
LARRY RECEIVES TWO INTERESTING LETTERS
"Hurrah! Here's luck at last! Two letters, and from Ben and Walter, by the handwriting!"
Larry was standing in the handsome structure occupied by the Honolulu post-office department. He had just asked for letters, and the gentlemanly clerk had handed him two, each of goodly thickness, one marked New York and the other Boston. Both had come in on the mail steamer from San Francisco, which had arrived the evening previous.
Hurrying to a secluded corner of the building, he tore open the letter from his oldest brother Ben; for both Larry and Walter had looked up to Ben ever since they could remember. The letter ran as follows:—
"My dear brother Larry: After what seemed a long wait, I received your letter from San Francisco, telling how you had run away, and what trials and troubles you were having. I guess we are all having our hands full. I know I am.
"Getting to New York was no picnic. I tramped as far as Middletown, where I found work in an auction store, working four days and earning my fare to the metropolis and a dollar over. When I reached New York I tramped around for three days without so much as a smell of an opening. By that time I was out of money, and I can tell you I was pretty well discouraged, too, when who should I meet on Broadway but Mr. Snodgrass, the man who used to have the hardware store in Buffalo. He asked me what I was doing in New York, and I told him I had come to seek my luck, but didn't tell him how badly off I was. He told me he was in the wholesale hardware business, on Canal Street, and I could come and see him. I went, and am now working for him for six dollars per week, with some chance of a rise sooner or later. My boarding-house address is at the foot of this letter. The lady is very nice, and she cooks a good deal better than Mrs. Rafferty did.
"I haven't heard from Uncle Job since I left. and don't want to at present. But some day I'll go back and tell him what I think of him for treating us like so many dogs.
"I suppose this letter will find you in Honolulu, or some other out-of-the-way place. What possessed you to turn sailor? In a letter I received from Walter he seems to have pretty much the same fever.
"I see by the papers here that Hawaii may be annexed shortly to the United States, so if it is, you'll still be somewhere in the Union, won't you? The papers are also full of our trouble with Spain. Wouldn't it be queer if the two nations should go to war? If they did, I think I'd drop my job and turn soldier.
"I don't know when we three will ever get together again, but I trust it will not be long, and in the mean time I intend to write to you often, and I want you to write also, both to me and to Walter. Write again as soon as you get this.
Your loving brother Ben."
Larry drew a long sigh when he had finished the letter. It was written just as Ben usually talked, and in his mind's eye he could imagine his elder brother standing before him. So Ben was settled in the great metropolis, with no notion of a change, excepting he might be called upon to turn soldier. Well, there was small fear of there being any war with Spain, or any other country. So thought Larry, and his thoughts were not much different from those of many others until the thunderbolt broke.
The letter from Walter took longer to peruse, for Walter always had so much to say, and wrote such a twisted hand, and Larry was compelled to laugh outright ere he was done. Certainly Walter had had his full share of adventures.
"What in creation made you ship to Honolulu?" he wrote. "Why, it's almost half around the world, and you'll make me a beggar with buying such high-priced postage stamps when I'm writing to you. I shouldn't know where Honolulu was, only we're all reading so much about the Hawaiian Islands these days. Why didn't you ship to Alaska, or the North Pole, while you were at it? Better strike Peary for an opening on his next expedition to the land of ice.
"Perhaps I didn't have it as hard as you, or Ben? After I left Ben,—I got a ride on the train from Middletown to Albany,—I just struck the worst luck a boy could imagine. My hat was the first thing that went—the wind blew it from the train—and on the outskirts of Albany I encountered a bull-dog that tore my clothing nearly to bits. A tramp saved me from the bulldog, and I travelled with the tramp two days, when he obligingly walked off with my coat and all my money—forty-seven cents.
"How I got to Boston at last would fill a volume. I have been a farmhand, a glazier (put in two panes of glass for an old lady, who had the glass, but not the skill), a blacksmith (helped at a country smithy two days, when the regular helper came back), a florist (worked three days in a greenhouse, and got no pay, because I knocked a lot of pots down with a step-ladder), and a deckhand on a river steamboat. Now, at last, I am here in Boston, helping an old sailor, with one leg, that has a large news-stand (the sailor, not the leg). The sailor's name is Phil Newell, and he was all through the Civil War. You just ought to hear him tell about fighting and narrow escapes from the enemy! He knows all about the war between Spain and the Cuban insurgents, and he's certain the United States will get mixed up in the row sooner or later. If we do, he says I ought to go as a sailor on a man-o'-war, and I don't know but that I will; for, according to Newell, it's the most glorious life on the face of the earth. Who knows but that I might come out a captain or a commodore, eh?
"I know there is no use in speaking of Uncle Job, for Ben will write about that, and I can't think of the mean old fellow without getting mad clear to my finger-tips. Perhaps that isn't just Christian-like; but really, isn't he the worst that ever was? And to think he was going to have you arrested! He ought to be arrested himself—for breaking up our home, putting all the money in the bank, and making us live as though we were next door to beggars. But never mind; a day of reckoning will come.
"But I must close up now,—the stand, I mean,—and I'll close up the letter, too. Good-by, and take care of yourself, and write often, above all things, for it's mighty lonely being by one's self, isn't it?"
"Dear old Walter, that sounds like him," murmured Larry, as he stuck the epistle back into its envelope. There was something very much like a tear in his brown eyes. "It would be awfully nice if we were together again, and mother was alive!"
Larry had stopped at the post-office as soon as it was open in the morning, just as he had stopped every morning since he had been in Honolulu. Now, putting his letters away, he hurried on, bound for the dock at which the Columbia lay.
"Well, I see you're on hand," was Tom Grandon's greeting when he appeared. "You can get right to work, if you will. I've sent that good-for-nothing Kanaka about his business."
"Me take Kuola's place," said a thick voice at Grandon's elbow, and both Larry and the mate of the Columbia turned, to find a dusky, fat, and ill-smelling native standing before them.
"What's that, man?"
"You send Kuola away—me take his place."
"I don't want you. I've hired this lad to fill Kuola's place."
"He no strong as Wakari—Wakari werry strong. You try um."
"I told you I didn't want you," answered Tom Grandon, half angrily, for the foul-smelling native had come up closer, and caught him by the shoulder. "You go and look for work elsewhere."
The face of the native fell, and he muttered something under his breath in his own language. He still wanted to argue; but Grandon threw his hand off and turned him around, and then he glided away, noiselessly, like some beast of the forest.
"You'll get into trouble with those boys, Tom," laughed Captain Ponsberry, who stood near. "Consarn 'em! Give me a white man for stevedore work, every time. The wust of 'em are wuth three niggers! How are you to-day?" the last to Larry.
"Very well, sir, and ready to pitch in," was the answer. "I should have been here earlier, only I received two letters,—one from each of my brothers,—and I couldn't help stopping to read them."
"Don't blame you for that, for letters are scarce when you get away as far as this. I was looking for letters and papers myself; but Jack Dodger, who went after 'em, ain't back yet."
The captain turned to another part of the dock, and Larry followed Tom Grandon on board of the Columbia. Although he had been a sailor but a short time, the youth knew how to take in many of the good points of a vessel, and his quick eye told him that the Columbia was in every respect an A 1 schooner, to use the Lloyds' method of classification, and that all on board was in perfect order and as clean as a boatswain's whistle.
"She's a good one," he observed, as he saw Tom Grandon look at him questioningly.
"None better, lad," responded the mate, "and I expected you to say it. Now come up to the forward hatch. Do you think you could manage yonder block and fall without getting a finger taken off or dropping a valuable case of goods?"
"I think I can. I did just such work on the Rescue about a month ago."
"Then pitch in, and if you do a man's work it's a man's wages that will be coming to you when the job's at an end. Come, Hobson, Striker, bend to it now and no fooling, or the Columbia will never be unloaded, to say nothing of getting our Hong Kong cargo aboard. Where is Oleson, that new fellow that shipped day before yesterday?"
"He hasn't shown up this morning, sir," answered the man addressed as Hobson, a ruddy faced Englishman. "Was he to work with us?"
"We didn't hire him for it, but still he might take a hand—the sooner we're unloaded and loaded again, the better. There you are, boy, steady now and let her go! Up, up! a leetle more! That will do. It's all right—couldn't have done it better myself. Hobson, this is Larry Russell, the brave lad that stopped the team yesterday. He'll help here as long as there is anything to do," and with a cheerful wave of his hand Tom Grandon moved to another part of the schooner, leaving Larry to continue the task which had been assigned to him.
It is needless to say that the youth went to work with a will, not only because that was his usual way of doing things, but because he wanted to show Captain Ponsberry and the mate that he was capable of taking a man's place, should it come to a question of shipping for the cruise to Hong Kong—something that was more in his mind than ever before, now that he had seen what a good craft the Columbia was.
As Larry worked, the eyes of two natives secreted behind a high pile of lumber on the dock beyond were riveted upon him. One of the natives was Kuola, the fellow who had been discharged, the other was Wakari, the foul-smelling chap who had come to take his place. Both were dissolute, only working in order to obtain a little cash with which to buy liquor. They watched Larry for a long time, then both shook their clenched fists at the boy and sneaked off.