Fighting in Cuban Waters/Chapter 14

CHAPTER XIV


KEY WEST, AND THE LAST OF JIM HASKETT


George Ellis was known to be an upright honest man, and one whose word was worth taking upon every occasion. He had an education above that of the ordinary man in the navy, and was anxious to make something of himself while in the service of his country, never dreaming, alas! that his life was so soon to be taken from him during our struggle in the cause of humanity and Cuban freedom.

"And what did you see?" questioned Caleb, as all eyes were turned upon Ellis, inquiringly.

"It was last night," answered the Range Finder, for such was the man s popular title, given him because he was so good at determining distances. "I was rather feverish and couldn't sleep. I walked the berth deck for a while and then went up to Walton's gun and stood leaning out of the porthole, gazing at the water.

"Presently I heard a slight noise behind me, and turning around I saw in a dim way the figure of a man behind me. He was bending down under the gun, as if he was hunting for something. I was just on the point of speaking to him when he straightened up and slunk away as silently as a ghost. I watched him, and when he got under the rays of the electric light I got a good look at his face."

"And was it this man?" cried Si, pointing to Jim Haskett.

"It was."

With a cry of anger Si leaped upon Haskett and bore him to the deck. "You good-for-nothin' rascal!" he panted. "Will try to shove off your dirty tricks on Walter, eh? So you stole my money and then got afraid to use it? Take that, and that, and that!"

Each that was a blow in the face, one on the cheek, another on the nose, and a third directly in Haskett's left eye. They were heavy, and Haskett roared with pain.

"Let up!" he sputtered. "Let go of me,"—the latter to Caleb, who still held him. "Oh, my eye! Is this fair fighting, two to one?"

"It is as fair as you treated Walter," answered Caleb. "Give him another, Si; he deserves it." And Si followed directions by planting a blow on Haskett s neck, something which spun the former mate of the Sunflower around like a top. At last Haskett broke loose and backed away.

"I'll get square on all of you!" he foamed, shaking his fist first at Caleb and then at the others. "I'm not done yet."

"I've a good mind to report you," put in Walter. "I reckon you'd be good for a month in irons, on bread and water."

At this Haskett grew pale. "The officers won't believe your story. Ellis, and the rest of you haven t any witnesses," he replied, but his voice shook. "Just wait; my day will come some time." And then, as Si started to advance again, he beat a hasty retreat.

"That settles that mystery," remarked Caleb, when the excitement was over. "I calculate, Walter, that you are not sorry the way matters came out."

"No, indeed." Walter turned to George Ellis. "I owe you one for your kindness. I'll not forget it."

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"I'll Get Square On All of You!"

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"That's all right—I only did what any fair-minded fellow would do," answered the chief yeoman, and strolled away.

It was time for dinner, and Walter hurried off arm in arm with Si, who was still somewhat worked up over what had happened. "Walter, don't you go for to imagine I thought you guilty," said the Yankee boy. "I know you are honest to the core."

"Even if I do talk in my sleep," said Walter, from whose heart a great load had been lifted.

Once more the course of the Flying Squadron had been changed and now they were making straight for the coast of Florida. Tuesday passed quietly, although the same vigilance prevailed as before. It was evident, come what might, Commodore Schley did not mean to allow the enemy to catch him napping.

They had passed through the Straits of Florida, and now they turned to the westward, past a number of the Florida Reefs. Far across the ocean could be seen the low-lying shore, backed up by stately palms and other trees. The weather was now much warmer.

"You see, we are drawing closer to the equator," remarked Caleb. "I reckon we are bound for Key West." And his surmise proved correct, for they dropped anchors in Key West Harbor early on the morning following.

"What a lot of warships around here," cried Walter, as he came on deck. "What is that big fellow over yonder?"

"That is the Iowa," answered the old gunner. "You can well say big fellow, for the Iowa is the largest seagoing battleship we possess. She has a displacement of over eleven thousand tons and can speed in any sea at over seventeen knots. She carries four 12-inch guns and a whole host of others. Her armor belt is solid steel, fourteen inches thick."

"She's a beauty. I wonder if she will go out with us?"

"That is according to what Rear Admiral Sampson has to say about it, lad. You see, this campaign in Atlantic waters is largely in his hands."

The Iowa lay quite close, and during the day several messages were transmitted from one warship to the other by means of the wig-wag system. Walter had now mastered the mysteries of wig-wagging and amused himself by spelling out the messages as they passed to and fro.

A salute had been fired when the commodore entered the harbor, eleven rounds being shot off. "If he was a rear-admiral, he'd get thirteen guns," explained Caleb. "You see the salute varies from the President down. McKinley gets twenty-one guns, the Vice-President or Secretary of the Navy nineteen guns, a foreign minister fifteen guns, a consul seven guns, and so on. By counting the guns every man on the ships can tell what sort of a dignitary has arrived."

It was a cloudy day, and the air was so close that Walter was glad enough to take it easy. Presently he saw a boat leave the side, containing several petty officers and George Ellis and Jim Haskett.

"I wonder where they are going," said Walter to Si.

"Some special business for Captain Cook," answered Paul, who stood near. "Oh, but Haskett is in an ugly mood to-day. It will be a big wonder if he and Ellis don't get into a fight before they come back."

"Ellis is too much of a gentleman to fight with any one," returned Walter. "By the way, what is his real position on board?"

"He is chief yeoman," replied Si. "He is going ashore to look after some ship's stores, so I heard him tell one of the paymasters."

The small boat was soon out of sight, and Walter turned away to seek the shade, for it was growing hotter and hotter. "If this is a sample of weather in the torrid zone, what shall we do when we get into Cuban waters?" he observed.

"We are not very far from Cuban waters now," said the Yankee youth. "We could make Havana in six or seven hours if it was necessary."

"I wonder how the people of that city feel, Si, all cooped up as they have been for so long."

"I reckon they wish they had some fighting ships to come out after us, Walter. I've heard it said that General Blanco hardly knows how to turn himself, food is so scarce and so many idlers are about. It wouldn't surprise me if they had a riot there, if they haven't had one already. Even soldiers won't keep quiet when the grub fails."

But little could be seen of Key West outside of the numerous shipping. Presently a couple of petty officers came along with marine glasses and one pointed out to his companion several Spanish prizes in the port. "They'll be worth a good bit of money to the sailors on the blockade," he added. "I wish we were in for a share of the spoils."

"There are several transports," said Caleb, on joining his friends. "They are fitting out to go to Tampa. It won't be long before an army of invasion starts for Cuba."

"I wonder if my brother Ben will go along," mused Walter, but just then to get word from his older brother was impossible.

Inside of two hours the small craft came back. Somewhat to his surprise Walter saw that Jim Haskett was missing. He would not have thought much of this had it not been that the Brooklyn was already preparing to continue on her trip.

"Haskett did not come back," he announced to Si. "I'll wager something is wrong."

"Oh, I guess not," said the Yankee youth; nevertheless, he, too, began to watch for the former mate of the Sunflower.

Several hours later Walter passed George Ellis on the upper deck and saluted. The chief yeoman hesitated and then called Walter to him.

"I suppose you and your friend will be interested to know that James Haskett has been left behind at Key West under military arrest," he began.

"Indeed! And what for, if I may ask?"

"For getting into a rough-and-tumble fight with a soldier named Grumbell. It seems Grumbell once owned a fishing-smack down East, and Haskett failed to settle up on a cargo of fish he sold for Grumbell three years ago. They had a quarrel of words and then got to blows, and Haskett hit a captain of the regulars who tried to separate them. Both he and the soldier are now in prison, and I rather imagine it will go pretty hard with the seaman, for striking a captain is no light offence." And after a few words more, George Ellis passed on.

Of course Walter lost no time in carrying the news to his friends. All listened with interest, and Si said he was glad Haskett was gone. "And I hope he doesn't ever come back," he added.

And Jim Haskett never did come back, nor did Walter ever set eyes on the man again. For quarrelling with the soldier and striking the captain of the regulars, Jim Haskett was dishonorably discharged from the navy, and sentenced to a year's imprisonment at hard labor. Thus, in a roundabout way, was the rascal made to suffer the punishment he so richly deserved.