Under Dewey at Manila/Chapter 5

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CHAPTER V


SOMETHING ABOUT THE DESTRUCTION OF THE "MAINE"


About an hour had been passed by Larry in steady work, when, on looking towards the companionway of the Columbia, he saw Captain Ponsberry rush up, newspaper in hand, and so excited that he could scarcely speak.

"Tom Grandon, look here!" he cried. "Consarn the Spaniards, anyhow! Here's news for all to listen to, and news that ought to set the whole United States on fire with indignation. We ought to drown every mother's son of 'em at the bottom of the sea."

"What is it, Nat?" returned Grandon, rushing forward, while Larry and the others paused in their work. "What have the Spaniards been doing to the poor Cubans now?"

"Cubans!" fairly roared the master of the Columbia. "It ain't the Cubans I'm talking
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It ain't the Cubans I'm talking about now Page 44

about now. It's the teetotal busting up of the battleship Maine and the killing of I don't know how many of our gallant jack-tars! See here, the newspaper from San Francisco is full of it, with type six inches long!"

And Captain Ponsberry held up the sheet in question, so that not only Grandon but all the others might see the flaring head-lines.


THE MAINE BLOWN UP!

Total Destruction of Our Battleship in the
Harbor of Havana!

OVER TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY OFFICERS
AND SAILORS KILLED!

The Shock Comes at Night, and Without Warning. Captain
Sigsbee Safe, but Several Officers Known to be Lost.
A Partial List of the Saved Ones—How the
News Was Received at Washington.

THOUGHT TO BE THE WORK OF SPANISH
AGENTS.

Captain Sigsbee Telegraphs to Withhold Judgment—He Says,
"It is best not to think, it is best to know."


A whole page of reading followed, in smaller type, which Larry could not catch. The youth stared at the head-lines, with mouth agape, and instantly he thought of Ben and Walter, and what they had said about going to war. If this awful news was true, and the Spaniards were guilty, would war follow?

There was a second of silence, as the sailors read the lines, a silence broken by Tom Grandon. "Tell you what, this is awful, simply awful, Nat! And they say the Spaniards did it? If that's so, there will be war in a jiffy, and don't you forget it—and Cuba will be free."

"Yes, Cuba will be free, and Spain will get knocked into six million pieces," blazed away Captain Ponsberry, who was wont to talk very extravagantly when warmed up. "The cowards! to blow 'em up when they were sleeping."

"Does it say that?" questioned Hobson. "No fair-minded nation would do such a dastardly bit o' work, cap'n."

"I don't say the nation did it,—as a nation,—but their officers did it, and that's the same thing—the sneaks! I see some think it was an explosion from the inside, but I know that couldn't happen in our navy; the rules aboard a warship are too strict."

"That's right," piped up a thin, nasal voice,—that belonged to Luke Striker, a sailor who had been working beside Larry. "Didn't I put in five years aboard a warship, cruising the Atlantic? There couldn't be no explosion from inside, not with the daily inspections of the magazines, and the wetting of the guncotton, and the keys and electrical connections in the captain's cabin; no, sir. That explosion came from the outside, and—and—but, captain, won't you read the full account?"

"Yes, Nat, read it out; all of the boys will want to hear it, especially those who claim the stars and stripes as their flag," added Tom Grandon.

And so the captain of the Columbia read the account which, stripped of its newspaper sensationalism, was as follows; the special report being dated at Havana, Cuba, Feb. 16, 1898.

"At quarter to ten o'clock last evening a terrible explosion occurred on board or under the United States battleship Maine, lying in the harbor of Havana. The battleship has been completely destroyed, and over two hundred and fifty sailors and two officers have lost their lives.

"The explosion was so heavy that many of the houses in Havana were shaken, and people ran outside, thinking it was an earthquake shock. It was soon learned that the great battleship had gone up, and the docks were lined with people, while rescue boats put out from all directions.

"The shock came without an instant's warning. Captain Sigsbee was seated in his cabin, writing a letter to his wife, while many of the officers and sailors had retired for the night, when there came a deafening report, followed by thick volumes of smoke and a shower of iron piping and splinters, and then the vessel began to sink, her heavy structure and armor plate twisted, bent, and broken like a battered wash-boiler.

"The officers who were below, and who had escaped serious injury, rushed or rather swam on deck, only to find themselves in a mass of wreckage from which it was almost impossible to extricate themselves. The explosion occurred close to the men's quarters, and but few of the gallant jackies got out alive. One ladder leading from the rear torpedo compartment was literally jammed with men struggling for life.

"Fortunately the Alfonso XII. was lying close by, and a powerful searchlight was speedily turned upon the scene. The steamer City of Washington, also close at hand, sent out all her boats and brought in a great number of those swimming about, many of whom were wounded and on the point of drowning.

"So far but few of the dead bodies have been recovered, everybody being on the lookout for the injured. Many have been taken to the hospitals in Havana, while some are lying at death's door on the steamships which were in the vicinity of the explosion.

"A dozen theories have started up as to the cause of the explosion. One is that the guncotton on board went off by spontaneous combustion; another is that the plating between the engine rooms and one of the magazines became too hot and ignited the powder; and still another that the electric lighting system is responsible. The general opinion among those on board, however, is that the Maine was blown up from the outside, either by a torpedo or by a sunken mine, most likely the latter.

"There is fearful though suppressed excitement in Havana, and the Americans here look blackly at the Spanish soldiers as they move from place to place. Spanish officers declare the explosion must have come from the interior of the ship, and profess to be deeply concerned over the disaster. Certainly a majority of them are sincere in their condolence. But in the back quarters of the town the Spanish sympathizers do not hesitate to declare that it serves the Yankees right, that they had no right to send a big warship here at this time, and that they hope every warship that may come from the United States will be served the same way."

"Is that all?" queried the mate of the Columbia, as Captain Ponsberry paused in his reading of the newspaper account.

"That's all the news there is of the explosion. I reckon everything was upset, and they couldn't get details," answered the captain.

"The Maine must have been a big boat," said Hobson.

"She was a big boat," answered Luke Striker. "I know something about her. She was what they call a battleship of the second class—although I allow as how she was fust class all over. She came out of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and she was over three hundred feet long, nearly sixty feet broad and drew about twenty-seven feet of water. Her hull was of steel, and she was put down as about sixty-seven hundred tons' displacement."

"Who is this Captain Sigsbee?" asked Larry.

"I don't know much about him, exceptin' that he came from the Naval Academy, and he used to be in charge of the Hydrographic Office, and I've heard he made a big thing of that."

"I see in another part of this paper that there were three hundred and fifty men on the pay-roll," said Captain Ponsberry. "If that's so, then only about a hundred of 'em escaped. It's the wust accident I've heard of since the sinking of that British warship the Victoria, which went down by being struck by one of her own fleet while off the coast of Tripoli. She carried about four hundred poor sailors down with her, and Vice-Admiral Tryon in the bargain."

A lively discussion lasting several minutes followed. The news was such that it would furnish talk, especially for sailors, for a long time to come.

But the work aboard the Columbia was not to be forgotten, and soon Larry was back at his post, trying to make up for lost time.