Fighting in Cuban Waters/Chapter 13

CHAPTER XIII


IN WHICH THE GOLD PIECE COMES TO LIGHT


"Where now?" was the question which more than one man on board of the Brooklyn asked himself. But no answer was forthcoming. The commodore, captain, and commander knew, of course, but they kept the information to themselves. In war it is a rule not to let the enemy know what you are doing until you do it, and so a strict guard was kept, so that no information might leak out. Yet Spanish spies in Canada learned a good deal, and notified the home government as quickly as it could be done.

From Charleston the course was almost due south, and both Si and Caleb came to the conclusion that the flagship and her sister craft were bound for Cuban waters. "Perhaps we're going to join in the blockading of Havana," remarked the old gunner.

"Oh, I hope not," said Walter. "Riding in one spot day after day must be awfully tiresome. I'd like to hunt the Spaniards out and do them battle, as Dewey did. He didn't waste any time."

Dewey's name was to be heard constantly, for the jackies never got done talking about this first great victory of the war. Some of them had served on the Olympia, Boston, and other vessels of the Asiatic Squadron, and they described just how these boats were built, and what parts they must have taken in the contest.

"Don't grow impatient, Walter," said Caleb. "We'll run up against something soon—perhaps more than you care for. It's easy enough to think of sinking an enemy's ship. Supposing he puts a few thirteen-inch shells through your craft, and you begin to go down—what then?"

"I'll make the best of it," returned the boy, calmly. "I enlisted to fight for Uncle Sam, and I'm willing to take what comes."

Jim Haskett was passing when Walter made this remark, and his lip curled with a sneer. "That boy is too big for his boots," muttered the seaman. "I can't see what the other men find in him to like."

Jim Haskett was more sour than ever, for his disagreeable ways had lost to him the few friends he had picked up when first coming on board. The fact that Si and Walter were growing more popular every day caused him fairly to grate his teeth with rage.

"I'll fix him, see if I don't," he told himself that night. "They shan't tell everybody that I took that gold piece—when I didn't touch his bag."

Jim Haskett was one of those mean, unscrupulous men, who do a wrong and then try to argue themselves into thinking that it is all right. It was not true that he had taken the ten-dollar gold piece from Si's bag, but it was true that he had found the Yankee boy's satchel overturned and partly open, and had closed it up and locked it, and afterward found the money on the floor of the car within a few feet of where the bag had stood. Any fair-minded man would have told himself that the gold piece must be the one lost by Si; but Haskett was not fair-minded, and it was doubtful if the man could ever become so, any more than a dwarfed and crippled tree can be forced to be come straight and upright.

On Monday morning, the day after leaving Charleston Bar, Haskett heard Caleb tell Walter and Si that the gun must be cleaned and oiled. "We'll go over the piece from top to bottom to morrow," said the old gunner, "and if there is any thing more that you don't understand I'll explain it to you."

"This is my chance," said Haskett to himself, and lost no time in bringing forth the gold piece from the place where he had hidden it. Watching his opportunity, when Caleb, Si, and Walter were asleep that night, he secreted the piece in a corner of the track upon which the gun-base revolved.

Inside of half an hour after breakfast the next day, Walter, stripped to the waist, was working over the gun, in company with his friends and Steve Colton, the second gun-captain, and Carl Stuben, the hose-man. All were supplied with cotton waste, polishing-paste, and rags, and in a short while the bright portions of the gun shone like a mirror.

"There, I reckon that will suit the chief gunner," was Caleb's remark as he stood back to inspect the work. "No piece on the starboard side brighter than this, I'll wager my month s pay."

Si was bending down under the gun, swabbing up some oil which had run down from one of the working joints. Suddenly the Yankee youth threw down his swab and caught up something which shone in spite of the dirt upon it.

"My gold piece, as sure as you're born!" he ejaculated, after he had made an inspection at the porthole. "Now how in creation did that get there?"

He looked at Caleb, and half unconsciously both turned to Walter.

"What's that?" asked the youth.

"My gold piece—I found it hidden under the gun-track," answered Si.

Walter's face turned red, as he remembered what Jim Haskett had said concerning his talking in his sleep. "Why, Si—are—are you sure it is your piece?" he faltered.

"Certainly. There is the date, 1876—centennial year, and here is a scratch I once made with my jack-knife. It's the very one that was taken from my bag, beyond any doubt."

Si continued to look at Walter, while Caleb suddenly turned and gazed out of the porthole, while Stuben, the hose-man, whistled softly to himself.

"Why, Si, have you got your money back?" cried Paul, who had just chanced up.

"Yes."

"And where did you find it?"

"Under the gun, by the track." And Si pointed out the place with his forefinger.

"Under the gun! Why, that is where Haskett said Walter hid it!" was Paul's comment, before he stopped to think twice. "I mean—that is, Haskett said something about it," he stammered.

"I know he did," answered the Yankee youth, coldly.

Walter's face was burning hotly now, and he could scarcely trust himself to speak. "Si, do you think I put that money there?" he asked in a strained voice.

"I'm sure I don't know what to think," was the dogged answer, and now Si turned his gaze away. "Haskett said—well, you know what,—and Cal Blinker backed him up in it," he went on, hesitatingly.

"Yes, I know what Haskett and Blinker said," answered Walter. "But—but—do you think I stole your money?" The words would scarcely come, but he forced them out.

"I don't say that, Walter; but the whole thing looks mighty queer."

"I have it!" burst out Caleb. "Perhaps Walter put the money there when he was asleep. Folks often do queer things when they have the nightmare."

"Yes, but if he put it there while he was asleep, how did he come by it in the first place?" questioned Si, bluntly.

"Perhaps he took it out of the bag while he was asleep on the train," suggested Caleb. "You had the bag with you all the way from Boston, didn't you?"

"Yes."

"And Walter bunked with you, too?"

"He did."

"Then it's as plain as day," went on the old gunner. "Walter took the money while you were asleep on the train and hid it away in his clothing, or somewhere. When he got on board he took to sleep-walking and put the piece under the gun. Of course he doesn't know anything about the transaction."

Again all eyes were turned upon Walter, whose face was as red as ever. "Perhaps that's true—but it's mighty queer," murmured Colton, the second gun-captain.

"I don't believe I did anything of the sort!" cried the youth, at last. "I can give you my word on it that I never saw Si's money until just now. To my mind, this whole matter is a job put up by Jim Haskett. He took the money, and then when Si raised such an ado about it he was afraid to get it changed or to spend it, and he watched his chance to get rid of it. He's down on me, and when he heard me mutter in my sleep he formed his plan to get me into trouble. I'm going to find Haskett on the spot." And off he rushed before anybody could detain him.

Haskett was discovered mending his jacket, which had become torn the evening before. "What do you want?" he asked, as Walter ran up and caught him fiercely by the arm.

"I want you to own up to your dirty trick on me," answered the boy. "You thought you had me, but your little plot won't work."

"What do you mean?" blustered Haskett, although he knew well enough what was coming.

By this time the crowd had followed Walter, and they gathered round the pair. Soon Haskett had heard all there was to say.

"Don't lay it off on me," he cried. "I knew Russell was guilty from the start. Si Doring can think as he pleases. As for me, I'm glad that I'm not training with a night-walker—or a thief."

Walter leaped forward with blazing eyes. But before he could strike out, Caleb caught him, while another man held Haskett. Then, before anything more could be done or said, Si stepped to the front.

"Haskett, I lost the money, and I think I ought to have the biggest say in this matter. If you played a trick on Walter, you are the meanest man that ever trod the deck of a ship. If you didn't, let me say that I don't think Walter stole the gold piece, although he may have taken it while he was asleep and not responsible for his doings."

"Thank you for saying that, Si," came from Walter. "But I don't think I took it even when asleep. To my mind Haskett is guilty, and nobody else."

"If I wasn't held—" began Haskett, when a young seaman named George Ellis, chief yeoman of the Brooklyn, stepped forward and asked to know what the trouble was about.

"I think I can tell something about this," said George Ellis, after the matter had been explained. "You just hold your jaw!" stormed Haskett. "You don't know anything."

"I know what I see," answered the chief yeoman, pointedly; and something in his manner attracted such attention that all in the crowd gathered around to learn what he might have to say.