Fighting in Cuban Waters/Chapter 2

CHAPTER II


A VISIT TO THE NAVY-YARD


There was a rush of business at the news-stand between twelve and one o'clock, but shortly after one this died away, and inside of half an hour Phil Newell told Walter that they might be on their way—"If you are bound to enlist in Uncle Sam's service," he added.

Walter made sure that the paper containing Job Dowling's permission for him to enter the navy was safe in his coat pocket, and then announced his readiness to depart. The owner of the stand called up Dan Brown and gave him a few directions, and in another minute Newell and Walter had boarded a Charlestown car and were off.

"I haven't been over to the navy-yard for several years," remarked Phil Newell, as they rode along. "I used to know several of the boys that were there, but they've grown too old for the service. I reckon the yard is a busy place these days."

And a busy place it proved to be as they turned into Chelsea Street, and moved along the solid granite wall which separates the yard from the public thoroughfare. From beyond came the creaking of hoists, and the ringing of countless hammers and anvils, for the government employees were hard at work, fitting out a warship or two and converting several private vessels into naval craft.

"I don't know if I'm just right about this," went on Phil Newell, as they headed for one of the numerous buildings near the wall, after being passed by a guard. "It may be that they want to keep strangers out, now the war is on, and you'll have to go elsewhere to sign articles. But I know old Caleb Walton is here, and he'll tell me all he can, and set us straight."

Walter's heart beat violently, for he began to realize that the step he was about to take was a serious one. Who knew but that, after getting into the navy, he might be sent to the Philippines or to the coast of Spain? Already there was some talk of carrying the war into the enemy's home waters.

"But I don't care," he said to himself. "If Larry can ship for Hong Kong, I guess I'm safe in shipping to anywhere. But I do hope I can get on the Brooklyn, or on some other ship of the Flying Squadron."

"Hi, there, Phil Newell! What brought you here, you old landlubber?" came a cry from their left, and Phil Newell turned as swiftly as his wooden leg permitted, to find himself confronted by the very individual he had started out to find.

"Caleb Walton!" he ejaculated joyfully, and held out his bronzed hand. "I just came in to see you. Here is a young friend of mine who wants to sign articles under Uncle Sam. Do you think you can take him in?"

"Take him in?" Caleb Walton held out his hand, brown and as tough as a piece of leather. "Sure we can take him in, if he's sound,—and glad to get him." He gave Walter's hand a grip that made every bone crack. "So you want to enlist, eh? Go right over to yonder office, and they'll soon put you through a course of sprouts," and he laughed good-naturedly.

"But, hold on, Caleb," interposed Newell, as the seaman was about to show Walter the way. "He don't want to sign articles and go just anywhere. He would like to get aboard the Brooklyn."

"That is what half of all who come here want," answered Caleb Walton. "I reckon they think Commodore Schley s Flying Squadron is going to settle the whole war by going after that Spanish fleet said to be at Cadiz, or thereabouts. Well, the lad better come with me. I belong to the Brooklyn now."

"You!" came from both Phil Newell and Walter simultaneously.

"I thought you were stationed here?" continued the wooden-legged man.

"I was, but I've just received orders to join the Brooklyn and bring at least fifteen men with me. It seems they are short-handed and can't get the men at Norfolk. If this lad wants to go with me, now is his chance. What's his handle?"

"My name is Walter Russell, sir. But—but are you going to join the Brooklyn at once?" stammered Walter, never having dreamed that he would be taken away on the spot.

"Uncle Sam doesn't wait long when he picks his man," replied the old gunner, for such Caleb Walton was. "Orders were to leave Boston to-night, but I fancy we'll be kept until to-morrow night, for we are shy three men, not counting you. Come on." And he led the way to the building he had previously pointed out.

"He's all right, and you're in luck," whispered Phil Newell, when he got the chance. "Cotton to Caleb Walton, and you'll have a friend worth the making." How true were Newell's words the chapters to follow will prove.

The building to which Caleb Walton led them was one in which were situated the main business offices of the yard. This was now a busy place, and they had to fairly push their way through the crowd of seamen, officers, and workmen, who kept coming and going, on one errand or another. Several telephones were ringing, and from a corner came the steady click-click of a telegraph sounder.

"Uncle Sam has his shirt sleeves rolled up and is pitching in," whispered Caleb Walton. "Here we are. Captain Line, here is another man for my party."

"He's rather a boy," rejoined Captain Line, as he gave Walter a searching glance. "Is your father with you?"

"My father is dead," answered Walter, softly. "Here is my guardian's consent." And he handed over the sheet.

"That seems to be correct. Walton, take him over to the examination room. And hurry up, for I must catch the four-fifty train for New York."

The "course of sprouts" had begun, and almost before he knew it, Walter had been passed upon as able-bodied. Time was pressing, and in a quarter of an hour the youth received a slip of paper signed and sealed by Captain Line.

"That is good for your passage to Fortress Monroe," he said. "You will make the journey in company with Walton and a number of others. When you get there you will report to Lieutenant Lee, who will have you transferred to the Brooklyn,—unless the flagship has already sailed, in which case you will be assigned to some other ship."

"And when do I start, sir?"

"Walton will have the orders inside of the next hour. Go with him, and he will tell you what to do." Then came a bang of the curtain to a roller-top desk, a shoving back of a revolving chair, and in a twinkle Captain Line had appeared from view. Truly, Uncle Sam and all under him were rushing things.

Walter wished very much to visit the dry dock and the great west basin, filled as both were with vessels in various stages of construction, alteration, or repair, but he felt if he was to leave that night he must be getting back to Boston and to his boarding-house, to pack his "ditty box," as Phil Newell had dubbed his valise, for all such receptacles are called ditty boxes in the navy.

"All right, Walter, you go ahead," said Newell. I'll stay with Caleb and let you know just when you are to leave, so you won't be left behind." And in a moment more the youth had run out of the navy-yard and was on board of another car. He made one transfer, and in less than half an hour entered Mrs. Brown's home.

"Why, Mr. Russell, what brings you?" queried Dan s mother, surprised at his appearance, for he rarely showed himself during the day excepting at the dinner and the supper hours.

"I've enlisted, Mrs. Brown, and I'm to get off to-night or to-morrow," he answered. "You can let Mr. Keefe have my room now. I'm glad that it won t be left empty on your hands."

"So am I, Mr. Russell, for a poor widow can't afford to have a room vacant long," replied Mrs. Brown, with a faint smile. "So you have really entered the navy? Well, I wish you all the luck in the world, and I hope you will come out of the war a—a—commodore, or something like that." And she wrung his hand.

Walter's belongings were few, and soon packed away in his valise. Then he ran downstairs again and bid Mrs. Brown good-by and settled up with her. "I'll write to you and Dan some time," he said, on parting.

"Well, did you make it?" was Dan's question, when Walter appeared at the news-stand.

"I did, Dan." And the protégé of Uncle Sam told his youthful friend the particulars.

"I'm glad you got on the Brooklyn" said Dan, with a shake of his curly head. "She's going to lick the Spaniards out of their boots, see if she ain't!" And his earnestness made Walter laugh. Dan was but eleven, yet he read the newspapers as closely as do many grown folks.

The afternoon papers were now coming in and trade picked up, so that Walter had to help behind the counter. While he was at work a tall, thin boy sauntered up and gazed at him doubtfully.

"That s George Gimpwell," whispered Dan. "Didn't the boss say something about hiring him?"

"He did, Dan. Call him over."

The errand boy did so. "Russell wants to see you," he explained.

"I believe you were speaking to Mr. Newell about this situation," began Walter.

"Well—er—I asked him if he had any opening. I want work the worst way," sighed George Gimpwell. "Of course, I don't want to do you out of your job."

"That's all right; I've just enlisted in the navy," replied Walter, and he could not help but feel proud over the words. "So if you want this situation, you had best remain around here until Mr. Newell gets back."

"I will." George Gimpwell s face brightened. "So you've enlisted? I wanted to do that, but I was too tall for my weight, so they told me."

"So you've enlisted?" broke in a gentleman standing by. "Glad to hear it, young man; it does you credit." And buying a magazine, he caught Walter by the hand and wished him well. Soon it became noised around on the block that Newell's clerk was going to join the Brooklyn, and half a dozen, including the clerk of the hotel, came out to see him about it. In those days, anybody connected with our army or navy was quite a hero, and somebody to be looked up to, people unconsciously told themselves.

It was after seven o clock, and Walter was wondering if anything unusual had delayed his employer, when Phil Newell hove into appearance. "It's all right, my lad, don't worry," he said at once. "You don't leave until to-morrow noon. You are to meet Caleb Walton at the New York and New England railroad depot at exactly eleven o'clock, and all of the others of the crowd are to be there too. The government wants to get you down to Norfolk as soon as it can, and will, consequently, send you by rail instead of by water."

"Hurrah! that will make a jolly trip," cried Walter. "If only I could stop off at New York, take a run out to Camp Black, and see Ben."

"I doubt if you'll be given time to stop anywhere, time seems to be so precious. Caleb Walton thinks the Flying Squadron will up anchors before another week is out."

"Well, I don t care how quickly they leave—after I am on board," laughed the youth, much relieved that nothing had occurred whereby he had been left behind.

George Gimpwell now came up again, and soon he was engaged to take Walter's place. Phil Newell promised him five dollars weekly, and as Walter had gotten six, the good-hearted news dealer put the extra dollar on Dan's salary, much to that lad s delight.

Eight o'clock found Walter at the stand alone, and it was then that he penned the letter mailed to Ben, as mentioned in a previous volume, stating he had enlisted and was making a strong "pull" to get on the Brooklyn. "I won't say I am on her until it s a fact," he thought, as he sealed up the communication, stamped it, and placed it in the corner letter-box.

The stand was located in a niche of the hotel, and was open only in the front, above the counter. At night this space was closed by letting down two large shutters attached to several hinges and ropes.

"I reckon this is the last time I'll put these shutters down," thought Walter, as he brought one down on the run. He was about to drop the second, when a burly man, rather shabbily dressed, sauntered up, and asked for one of the weekly sporting papers.

"I'm thinking of going to the theatre," he said, somewhat unsteadily, and now Walter learned by a whiff of his breath that he had been drinking. "What's the best variety show in town?"

"I'll give it up," said the youth, laughingly. "I haven't been to a show since I came to Boston, and that's a number of weeks ago."

"Humph! What do you do with yourself nights?"

"I'm here up to eight or half past, and after that I either go home or to one of the public reading rooms, or to the Young Men's Christian Association Hall."

"Humph! that must be dead slow." The man lurched heavily against the counter. "What time is it now?"

"About half past eight. I haven't any watch, so I can't tell you exactly."

"I've got a watch right here," mumbled the newcomer, still leaning heavily on the counter. "Here it is. But your light is so low I can't see the hands. Turn it up."

Walter obligingly complied, and the fellow tried again to see the time, but failed. "Strike a match," he went on; "I ain't going to no theatre if it's as late as you say it is."

Walter did not like the man s manner, but not caring to enter into any dispute, he lit a match as requested, and held it down close to the time piece, which lay in the man's open palm.

"Only eight-twenty," grumbled the fellow, slowly. "I knew you was off. You don't—What's up?" And suddenly he straightened himself and stared at Walter.

"I want to know where you got that watch," demanded the youth, excitedly.

"That watch?" The man fell back a pace. "What do you—ahem—why do you ask that question, boy?"

"Because I know that watch," was Walter s ready reply. "It was stolen from my uncle in New York only a few weeks ago!"

"Was it?" The man's face changed color. "You—you're mistaken, boy," he faltered, and fell back still further, and then, as Walter leaped over the counter, he took to his heels and started down the half-deserted street at the best speed at his command.