Under Dewey at Manila/Chapter 8

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CHAPTER VIII


AN UNWELCOME SHIPMATE


"You!" gasped Larry. For the moment he could scarcely speak.

For reply Olan Oleson stared at him in what was meant to be total surprise. But the Norwegian had seen and recognized Larry before, and now he was merely acting a part previously determined upon.

"What are you doing here?" continued the youth, slamming the chest shut and shoving it out of sight.

"I am a sailor here," answered Oleson. "You sailor, too?" The last words with great innocence.

"You're a sailor here! Do you belong on the Columbia? I didn't see you here before."

"I just come before we sail. My name Olan Oleson. What your name?"

And the Norwegian held out his brown and dirty hand.

"Why, you—you rascal!" burst from Larry's lips. "You want me to shake hands? Don't you think I know you, even if you have cut off your beard? You're the man who robbed me. You think you got away from me mighty slick, the other night, don't you? Well, I guess we'll settle accounts now."

Olan Oleson drew a deep breath and stared hard at the boy. "What you talk about me robbin' you?" he said. "I know notank about you. You say I rob you, I knock you down!" and he doubled up his big fists.

His attitude was so fierce and menacing that he thought Larry would cower before him. But he was mistaken. The American lad was not thus easily daunted. Instead of taking a step backward, Larry took two forward.

"This buncombe won't work with me," he said as coolly as he could, although he was much excited. "You are the thief, and I intend to expose you and get my money back."

"I no thief—I honest man. You say me a thief, I—I throw you into the sea. Boy, you tak a care, you hear? tak a care!" and Oleson grabbed Larry by the shoulder.

At this juncture Luke Striker entered the forecastle, to stare in astonishment at the pair, for Oleson continued to hold Larry, while the latter sought to push his antagonist away.

"Hullo, what's the row?" queried Striker. "'Pears to me you two are gettin' at it early-like."

"This man is the thief who robbed me at the Travellers' Rest in Honolulu."

"The boy lie—I nefer see him before," came from the Norwegian, and now he hurled Larry from him. "You speak lie of me again, I show you what I do!" and again his clenched fist came up.

"He has shaved off his beard, but he is the man; I can swear to it. Striker. I wish I had seen him before we left Honolulu. I could bring witnesses and have him arrested."

"Wish you had seen him in Honolulu, if your story is true," returned the Yankee, who had taken to Larry and felt bound to side with him. "Captain Ponsberry won't want no thief aboard this craft, not by a jugful!"

"We go to de captain," growled Olan Oleson. "The boy mak a mistak. I am honest man—maybe he a thief," and he shook his head to emphasize his words.

By this time Hobson and several others had entered behind Luke Striker, and a hubbub arose, as one and another began to question first Larry and then the Norwegian. Most of the sailors had heard the tale of the missing money before, and as between Larry's open, honest face and Oleson's sullen, crafty visage, it was plain to see whom they were inclined to believe.

The discussion waxed so warm that Tom Grandon's attention was attracted. He listened to both sides patiently, then brought the matter to a close by demanding that Larry and Oleson follow him to the captain's cabin.

Captain Ponsberry was found in conversation with Rev. Martin Wells and his other passengers. He looked up in surprise at seeing his mate enter with two of the foremast hands.

"This is a serious matter," he said, after Grandon had explained the situation, while the missionary shook his head sorrowfully. "Russell, how do you know this is the man who robbed you?"

"I know him by his voice and by his looks. He has shaved off his beard, but that doesn't count with me."

"You saw him before you retired that night—I mean you talked to him?"

"Yes, sir; for ten or fifteen minutes. He asked me about the Rescue and Captain Morgan, and if I knew where he might get a chance to ship—and he asked me if I had got my pay, too."

"And he is the man that you met at the band concert in Honolulu?"

"Yes, sir, I am willing to take my affidavit on it."

"You had a quarrel there?"

"We did. He knocked me down and ran away."

Olan Oleson had listened patiently. Now he raised both hands in protestation. "The boy tell a lie. I no the man—I an honest man, captain." He touched his forelock. "If we no be on de ship, I knock him down for what he say. But I good sailor; I know sailor's place."

"Yes, I won't allow any fighting on board ship," responded Captain Ponsberry, firmly. Then he rubbed his chin in perplexity. "But I hardly know what to say to this. It's one man's word against another's, and there you are. Parson, what do you think in a case like this?"

"Let us pray there is some mistake," were the missionary's words, although he, too, was inclined to side with Larry. "You know," he added to the youth, "there are many cases on record of mistaken identity."

"How much he say he lose?" questioned Oleson.

"I lost six dollars and a few cents," returned Larry. The big Norwegian shrugged his shoulders. "I no be thief for seex dollars," he murmured. "If de boy want money so much, hp can have out of my wages when trip is done," and he put on a look of disdain.

"I only want my own," cried Larry, the hot blood rushing into his face. "I'd not touch a cent of your dirty cash, you—you—" he broke off as the Rev. Martin Wells caught him gently by the arm. "I don't care—he has no right to talk to me in that fashion," he finished, in a lower tone.

"The only thing to do is to let the matter drop right where it is," said Captain Ponsberry, and spoke so decidedly that all felt he was laying down the law. "I am sorry that you lost your money, Russell, but you can see yourself you have no clear case against Oleson. Now, I won't have any quarrelling on the Columbia, mind that, both of you. You can each think as you please, but don't go for to put it into words. And remember, too, I expect each of you to do his full duty—not one to hold back, expecting the other to do the work. I'm tremendously sorry that there is any ill-feeling on this craft, especially so early in a long voyage, but it can't be helped, and we'll have to make the best of it. Now forward, both of you, and hearken well to what I have told you. Tom, tell the other hands how matters stand, and warn 'em against siding one way or the other in this little unpleasantness."

And so Larry and Oleson were dismissed, while the mate went forward with them to do as the captain had ordered. What Grandon had to say was listened to silently and with great interest, for a sailor thinks theft one of the greatest crimes in the calendar, as it really is.

At first Larry was inclined to rebel at Captain Ponsberry's decision, especially as he had counted upon the captain's friendship. But when he cooled off and reviewed the situation carefully, he saw that the captain had done no more than what could be considered fair under the circumstances. "He is right; in the absence of other evidence, one man's word is as good as another's," thought the boy. "I may as well let the matter drop,—it was only six dollars, after all. But I shall keep my eyes open for Olan Oleson in the future!"

At first the others of the crew heeded Grandon's warning not to take sides in the matter, but this rule was broken that night by Luke Striker as he and Larry were turning in, having been on the same watch together.

"It ain't for me to say much, Larry," said the Yankee sailor. "But I like your way,—took to you when fust I clapped eyes on you,—and I'll back your word up against that furiner every clip. If he tries any underhanded game on you, jest don't hesitate to let Luke Striker know, and we'll send him on the rocks in a jiffy. Now, promise me, will you?"

And Larry promised with all his heart. He felt he had a true friend in the whole-souled Yankee sailor, but how much of a friend time was still to show.