Under Dewey at Manila/Chapter 6

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Larry went back to his work with his head filled, with what he had heard. The news was truly terrible. To think of those poor jackies who had been summoned before their Maker without an instant's warning made him shudder, and half unconsciously he breathed a prayer that such a fate might never overtake himself.

"None of the navy for me," remarked Hobson, as he, too, resumed his labor. "I've sailed upon merchantmen going on twenty-six years, and they are good enough for me."

"I can't say as much," put in Luke Striker, who, as Larry soon discovered, was a typical Yankee, hailing from Bangor, Maine. "O' course the rules are strict, and you have to pay strict attention to all commands; but the jackies are a jolly crowd with it all, and then, if war comes, think of all the glory to be won!"

"If a shell or a shot don't finish you," interrupted Hobson. "No," he added, as Striker muttered something about being afraid, "I'm as brave, I think, as most men, but I'm peaceably inclined, and I say, let them as makes the quarrel go and fight it out."

"But the poor lads at the bottom of Havana harbor can't fight any more, matey," said Striker.

"No, they can't, an' more the pity. But then they didn't make the fight at the start. It's those in high authority do that." And Hobson turned to shore with a case of goods he was trucking; and the discussion, for the time being, came to an end.

Although it was still early in the year, it was hot in these latitudes, and when the noonday whistles blew, Larry was glad enough to knock off for his dinner and a rest. He was about to go ashore when Grandon hailed him.

"Have you paid for your dinner in advance?" he asked.

"Why, what do you mean? " returned Larry, somewhat mystified.

"I mean have you a regular boarding-place to go to for dinner? If not, you can have your dinner with the crew, and welcome."

"Thank you; that will just suit me, sir."

"You seem to be a good lad, and I like to see such get along. We had one young fellow on our last trip, but he wasn't worth his salt. Tell Jeff I said you could mess with the rest."

Larry soon learned that Jeff was the ship's cook,—a tall, fat mulatto, much given to singing and dancing whenever the occasion allowed. Jeff smiled broadly when the boy told him what Grandon had said.

"All right, sah, jess git Hobson or one ob de rest to make room fo' yo', an' yo' kin hab' all yo' wants, includin' plum duff an' a slice o' mutton. We is livin' high in dis port."

"Mutton and plum duff will just strike me right," smiled Larry. "When I was on the bark Rescue, it was salt horse almost every day."

"Well, I ain't sayin' wot de boys gits on a long trip," answered the cook. "We runs putty close to de wind sometimes."

"Avast there, Jeff!" cried Luke Striker. "Don't give the captain a black eye when he don't deserve it. The eatin' on board of the Columbia is all it should be, an' more, without thanking the cook, either. Ain't that so, Hobson?"

"You've spoken the truth, Striker," rejoined the Englishman. "A man as would go thin on such grub has no right to live. If you want to ship, lad, just you strike Captain Nat Ponsberry for a berth, and you'll be safe."

"Do you think he would take me?" questioned Larry, not stopping to think twice.

"Hullo, do you want to go to Hong Kong?" put in Luke Striker. "I thought you said something this forenoon about getting back to the States."

"I do think of going back, but I might take this trip first. I haven't seen much of the vessel, but what I have seen has pleased me, and I took to Captain Ponsberry and Mr. Grandon the very hour I became acquainted with them."

"Which was nateral lad, quite nateral," said Striker. "I did the same—and I've never regretted it. But about taking you—that's another question. Do you know the ropes?"

"I think I do."

"How about doing your duty aloft when there's a storm on and the ship is pitching an' creakin' an' groanin' like she was going to Davy Jones' locker? Would you pull in and clew up for all you was worth then?"

"I'd try to do my duty."

"Douse my toplights if I don't think you would; eh, Hobson?"

"I should hope so. But there's no telling what's in man or boy until he's put to the test. However, if the lad thinks to ship on the Columbia, it would do no harm to broach the subject to the captain," concluded the English sailor.

Once having spoken of the matter on his mind, Larry was now quite anxious to speak to the master of the Columbia concerning the trip. But during the afternoon neither Captain Ponsberry nor the mate showed themselves, having gone up to the Custom House to see about clearance papers.

"He can use one more hand," said Hobson. "But I heard Grandon speak of a German who wanted to go, a fellow who used to be a sailor but is now working on one of, the Oahu sugar plantations. If he's shipped him, I don't see how they will be room for another."

At this Larry's hopes fell somewhat, but they rose again when Luke Striker said he would speak to the captain as soon as he came back. With this he had to be content, and at the end of the day's work he bade the others good-night, picked up his coat, and left the vessel.

His boarding-house was quite a distance from the shipping, and Larry had not covered many squares before he noticed that he was being followed. The persons after him were the two natives who had watched him, and each was armed with a stout club.

"It's queer that they should follow me," thought Larry. "What can they be up to?"

The youth was not kept long in doubt. Having passed from the main street into one of less pretensions, he was on the point of entering the shady grounds surrounding the new boarding-house he had selected, when both natives ran up, each catching him by an arm.

"Want to speak to American boy," said the one named Wakari.

"Well, what do you want?" demanded Larry, at the same time trying in vain to pull himself free.

"American boy take work away from Kuola," answered the second native. "Must pay for doing dat."

"Took work away from you? What do you mean?"

"Kuola work down at dock, on boat Columbia. American boy get captain to send Kuola off, and American boy take Kuola's place."

"I didn't get them to send you off," returned Larry, a light dawning upon him. "He sent you off because you drink." He mentioned the last fact for Kuola's breath smelt strongly of rum, as did also the breath of Wakari.

Both of the natives scowled until their faces assumed a most ferocious appearance.

"American boy pay Kuola for loss of work—must pay," insisted the discharged one.

"What do you want?" asked Larry, not that he intended to pay anything, but in order to gain time to think over what was best to be done. The boarding-house stood fifty feet back among the trees; it was dark at the entrance to the grounds, and the road was practically deserted.

"Pay Kuola and Wakari each two dollars," came the quick reply.

"And will you let me go unharmed if I do that?"

"Yes," and the natives' eyes gleamed, for they felt certain by the worried look upon Larry's face that their demand would be satisfied.

"Let me see what money I have in my pockets," went on the youth, and shook Kuola off, at the same time putting one hand down into his trousers pocket.

Satisfied that all was going well for them, Wakari also released his hold. Hardly had he done so than Larry snatched the club from his hand and sprang into the gateway.

"Now clear out, both of you!" he cried sternly. "If you don't, one or the other will get a cracked head. You can't play any such game as this on an American boy!"

The natives were dumfounded at the sudden turn of affairs. Unarmed, Wakari lost no time in retreating, for he had no taste for a blow from the weapon he had carried, while Kuola stood still, not knowing what to do.

"Skip!" went on Larry, advancing upon Kuola. "Help, somebody! Thieves!"

"Be still!" fairly hissed the native, and now his club was raised. He aimed a savage crack at Larry's head, but the boy was alert, and quick at dodging, and the weapon merely struck resoundingly upon the gate-post.

Footsteps were now heard approaching, and once again Larry raised his cry for help, at the same time making a pass at Kuola, striking him a glancing blow upon the bare shoulder. Then Wakari gave a cry of warning. "Somebody comes; we must run," he said, in his native tongue.

"What is the matter here?" came in a voice which sounded familiar to Larry, and in a second more the Rev. Martin Wells appeared from out of the darkness.

"Help! they want to rob me!" answered the boy. "Oh, Mr. Wells, is that you?"

"Lawrence Russell!" came from the missionary. He turned to the natives. "So you would rob this lad? Are you not ashamed of yourselves? Begone!"

But his words were not heard; for seeing the newcomer was a man, and one carrying a heavy cane, the pair of rascals turned, uttered a few words under their breath, and sped away in the darkness. At first Larry was for following them, but he quickly gave up the thought.

"I'm glad you came," he said, as soon as the excitement was over. "I don't know what would have happened if you hadn't chanced along."

"'One good turn deserves another,' Lawrence," quoted Mr. Wells. "You saved me from one peril, and now I've saved you from another, so we are quits—not but that I shall remember your brave deed," he added hastily. "But it is odd they singled you out for an attack."

In a few words the state of the situation was explained, the missionary listening with much interest. "The savage blood is in them," he said, with a grave shake of his head. "There is still much church work to do here. I would remain in this field of labor were it not that I have explicit orders from our home board to go to Hong Kong."

"I understand that you are to be a passenger on the Columbia," said Larry, hastily, struck with a sudden idea.

"Yes, my lad, I have picked out that vessel, for it seems to be a good one, and Captain Ponsberry is very much to my liking, too."

"Then perhaps you wouldn't mind putting in a good word for me, sir. I want to ship in her for the Hong Kong trip."

"I'll willingly speak to the captain about it, if you desire it," returned the missionary.

A few words more followed, Larry explaining the situation, and the Rev. Mr. Wells promising to do all he could towards securing the boy the desired berth; and then the two parted, the best of friends.