Fighting in Cuban Waters/Chapter 1

FIGHTING IN CUBAN WATERS



CHAPTER I


WALTER DETERMINES TO ENTER THE NAVY


"Well, Walter, I suppose the newspapers are going like hot cakes this morning."

"They are, Mr. Newell. Everybody wants the news. I ran out of 'Globes' and 'Heralds' before seven o clock, and sent Dan down for fifty more of each."

"That was right. It's a windfall for us news dealers, as well as a glorious victory to match. It makes me think of my old war days, when I was aboard of the Carondelet under Captain Walke. We didn't sink so many ships as Dewey has at Manila, but we sank some, and smashed many a shore battery in the bargain, along the banks of the Mississippi. What does that extra have to say?" and Phil Newell, the one-legged civil-war naval veteran, who was also proprietor of the news-stand, took the sheet which Walter Russell, his clerk, handed out.

"There is not much additional news as yet," answered Walter. "One of the sensational papers has it that Dewey is now bombarding Manila, but the news is not confirmed. But it is true that our squadron sunk every one of the Spanish war-ships, and that, I reckon, is enough for one victory."

"True, my lad, true; but there is nothing like keeping at 'em, when you have 'em on the run. That is the way we did down South. Perhaps Dewey is waiting for additional instructions from Washington. I hope he didn't suffer much of a loss. Some papers say he came off scot free, but that seems too good to be true."

"The news makes me feel more than ever like enlisting," continued the boy, after a pause, during which he served out half a dozen newspapers to as many customers. "What a glorious thing it must be to fight like that and come out on top!"

"Glorious doesn't express it, Walter. Why, if it wasn't for this game leg of mine, and my age being against me, I'd go over to the navy-yard to-day and reënlist, keelhaul me if I wouldn't!"

"But what of the stand?"

"The stand could take care of itself—until the Dons were given the thrashing they deserve for making the Cubans suffer beyond all reason." Phil Newell threw back his head and gave a laugh. "That puts me in mind of something that happened when the Civil War started. A young lawyer in New York locked up his office and pasted a notice on his door: 'Gone to the front. Will be back when the war is over.' I'd have to put up something similar, wouldn't I?"

"I wish you and I could go together, Mr. Newell."

"So do I, Walter, but I'm over sixty now, and they want young blood. By the way, what of that brother of yours down in New York?"

"Ben has joined the militia of that State, and is now at Camp Black waiting to be sworn into the United States service. I wish he had come on to Boston."

"Well, Uncle Sam wants soldiers as well as sailors, or he wouldn't call for a hundred and twenty-five thousand volunteers. But give me the deck or gun-room of a warship every time. Nothing finer in the world. I served for nearly ten years, and I know."

Walter smiled, and then waited on several additional customers. "My youngest brother, Larry, takes to the ocean," he answered. "He is out on the Pacific now, somewhere between the Hawaiian Islands and Hong Kong. He was always crazy for a boat when we were at home in Buffalo together, and spent all his spare time on Lake Erie."

"Going to Hong Kong, eh? That's not so far from the Philippines. It is a pity he is not with Commodore Dewey. It would be a feather in his cap when he got home."

A steady stream of customers for five minutes broke off the conversation at this point, and throwing down his newspaper, Phil Newell—he never wanted to be called Philip—entered the stand to help his young assistant. The stand was situated in the heart of Boston, just outside of one of the leading hotels, and trade at this hour in the morning, eight o clock, was always brisk.

When there came a lull later on, Walter turned again to his employer. "Mr. Newell, what if I do enlist? Can you spare me?" he questioned.

"What! do you really mean it, Walter?"

"I do, sir. As you know, I've been thinking the matter over ever since this war with Spain started."

"But you've got to have your guardian's consent, or they won't take you."

"I've got it in my pocket now. I wrote to him last week, and he answered that, as Ben had already joined the soldiers, I could do as I pleased, but I mustn't blame him if I was killed."

"Which you wouldn't be likely to do, if you were killed dead, so to speak," laughed Phil Newell. Then he slapped Walter on the back, for twenty odd years on land had not taken his "sea-dog" manners from him. "Enlist, my lad, enlist by all means, if you feel it your duty. Of course I don't like to lose such a handy clerk, but Uncle Sam can have you and welcome."

"Didn't you say there was a young man named Gimpwell looking for this position?"

"Yes, and he wants it badly, for he has a sick sister to support."

"Has he any experience?"

"Oh, yes; he tended a railroad stand for several years."

"Then, perhaps you could break him in without much trouble—if I went away."

"Do you want to go at once?"

"If I am to enlist, then it seems to me the quicker the better. I see by the papers that some of our warships are still at Hampton Roads and Key West, but there is no telling when they will start for Cuban waters. Besides, I've been thinking that if I could manage it, I should like to get aboard of the Brooklyn, the flagship of Commodore Schley's Flying Squadron, which is now at Hampton Roads awaiting orders."

"It's not so easy to pick your ship, my lad. However, if you wish, you can go over to the navy-yard this afternoon and see what you can do, and I'll go along and leave Dan in charge here," concluded Phil Newell.

Walter Russell was one of three brothers, of whom Ben was the eldest and Larry the youngest. Their home had been in Buffalo, where at the death of their mother, a widow, they had been turned over to the care of their step-uncle, Mr. Job Dowling, an eccentric old bachelor, whose prime object in life was to hoard up money.

In the two volumes previous to this, entitled respectively, "Under Dewey at Manila," and "A Young Volunteer in Cuba," I related how the boys found it impossible to remain under Job Dowling's roof, and how they ran away, each to seek fortune as he might find it. Larry drifted first to San Francisco and then to Honolulu, the principal city of the Hawaiian Islands, where he shipped on a vessel bound for Hong Kong. From this ship he was cast overboard with a Yankee friend named Luke Striker, and both were picked up by the flagship Olympia of the Asiatic Squadron and taken to Manila Bay, there to serve most gallantly under the naval commander whose name has since be come a household word everywhere. As Walter had intimated, Larry was a sailor by nature, and it was likely that he would follow the sea as long as he lived.

Ben and Walter had gone eastward, but at Middletown, in New York State, they had separated, Walter to drift to Boston, and Ben to make his way to New York. At the latter city the eldest of the Russell brothers had secured employment in a hardware establishment, but this place was burned out, and then Ben enlisted in the 71st Regiment of New York, while his intimate friend, Gilbert Pennington, joined Roosevelt's Rough Riders, and both went to Cuba, there to fight valorously in that campaign which led to the surrender of Santiago and caused Spain to sue for peace.

As Walter had written to Larry, the recital of the former's adventures in getting from Middletown to Boston would fill a volume. He had stolen a ride on the cars from Middletown to Albany, and during this wild trip his hat blew off and was not recovered. He was put off the train just outside of the capital city; and, stopping at a farmhouse to inquire the way, had his clothing torn by a bull-dog that was more than anxious to get at what was beneath the garments. Walter hardly knew what to do, when a tramp put in an appearance, and sent a well-directed stone at the dog s head, causing the beast to slink away. The tramp introduced himself as Raymond Cass, a bricklayer, out of luck, and bound for Boston on foot. He proposed that they journey together, and Walter rather hesitatingly consented. They moved eastward in company for two days, when, on awakening one morning, Walter found Raymond Cass missing. The boy s coat was also gone, and with it his entire capital,—forty-seven cents.

The pair had made their bed in the haymow of a large barn, and while Walter was searching for the tramp, the owner of the place came up and demanded to know what the youth was doing on his premises. Walter's tale was soon told, and Farmer Hardell agreed to give him a week's work in his dairy, one of the dairymen being sick. For this Walter received four dollars, and an old hat and a coat in addition.

Leaving Cornberry, the name of the hamlet, Walter had struck out once more for Boston, but this time steering clear of all tramps, of the Raymond Cass type or otherwise. He was sparing of his money, and the first day out earned his dinner and a packed-up lunch for supper, by putting in two panes of glass for an old lady who had waited for a week for a travelling glazier to come around and do the job. In addition to this, the lad worked for two days at a village blacksmith's establishment during the absence of the regular helper who had gone to his aunt's funeral in another place, and also found a regular position with a florist, who had a number of large greenhouses up the Charles River. Walter was not used to working where there was so much glass, and on the third day he allowed a step-ladder he was using to slip. The ladder crashed through several hot-bed frames, and poor Walter was discharged on the spot, without a cent of pay.

The boy's next move had been to the river, where he had obtained a position on a freight steamboat. His duty was to truck freight on and off, and the work blistered his hands and gave him many a backache. But he stuck to it for two weeks, thereby earning fourteen dollars, and with this capital entered Boston.

Walter had not expected an easy time finding a situation in the Hub, but neither had he anticipated the repeated failures that one after another stared him in the face. For over a week he tramped up and down, without so much as a "smell of an opening," as he afterwards wrote to his brothers. In the meanwhile his money diminished rapidly, until more than two-thirds of it was gone.

A deed of kindness had obtained for him the position with Phil Newell. Chancing to walk along School Street one afternoon, he had seen two boys beating a small boy unmercifully. The small boy had turned into Province Street, and the big boys had followed, and here they had thrown the little fellow down, and were on the point of kicking him, when Walter rushed up and flung both back. "You brutes, to attack such a small boy!" he had cried. "Clear out, or I'll call a policeman, and have you both locked up."

"We told him to keep back at de newspaper office," growled one of the big fellows. "Do it again, Dan Brown, and we'll give it to you worse," and then as Walter advanced once more, both took to their heels and disappeared.

Dan Brown had been very grateful, and questionings had elicited the information that the lad worked for Phil Newell, as a paper carrier and to do errands. "His regular clerk, Dick Borden, left yesterday," Dan had continued; "perhaps you can get the job." And Walter had lost no time in following the small youth to Newell's place of business. Here Dan's story was told, and the lad put in a good word for Walter, with the result that the youth was taken for a week on trial. How well Walter pleased the old naval veteran we have already seen. He had now occupied the place as head clerk for nearly two months, and his salary had been increased from four dollars a week to six. He boarded with Dan's mother, in a little suite of rooms on a modest side street, not a great distance from the Common.

It must not be supposed that Job Dowling, who held a good deal of money in trust for the boys, had allowed them to run off without making an effort to bring them back. Larry was out of his reach, but Ben and Walter were not, and the miserly man had descended upon Ben in New York and tried his best to "make things warm," as Ben had mentioned in a letter to Larry. But Job Dowling had overreached himself by attempting to sell a watch and some jewelry which had belonged originally to Mr. and Mrs. Russell, heirlooms which were not to be disposed of under any circumstances. On his trip to New York after Ben, the articles had been stolen from him at the Post-office—something that had so frightened Job Dowling that he had consented to Ben's enlisting in the army with scarcely a murmur, fearful the youth might otherwise have him brought to book for what had happened. A vigorous search had been made for the thief, but he was not found. Later on, when Ben was in the army, Job Dowling received information that caused him to reach the conclusion that the thief had gone to Boston. The miserly guardian of the boys returned to his home in Buffalo and, as much worried as ever, wrote to Walter to keep an eye open for the missing property. Walter did as requested, but in such a large place as the Hub the youth had little hope of ever seeing the precious heirlooms again.