Fighting in Cuban Waters/Chapter 6

CHAPTER VI


A GLIMPSE OF THE PRESIDENT


"You see it's this way," began Caleb Walton, after gazing for a moment at Walter. "Phil Newell is your friend, isn't he?"

"Yes, indeed!" responded the boy, warmly.

"Exactly—likewise he is my friend, too. We served together for years, and I sometimes looked up to Phil as a kind of elder brother. Well, after you left us at the navy-yard he and I had a long talk about you, and he made me promise to keep my eye on you—do you understand?"

"I think I do."

"Now, keeping an eye on you is out of the question unless you are placed where I can see you."

"But aren't we both to go aboard of the Brooklyn?" cried Walter.

"Yes, according to the course we're steering now. But both being on the Brooklyn doesn't cover the bill. I expect to be in charge of one of the guns—will be if Bill Darworthy is still in the hospital. Now if you enter as a mere boy, or even as a landsman, it may be that you'll never get around to where I am. You must remember that the Brooklyn is a big ship, and all the men on her are divided into classes,—officers, petty officers, seamen, gunners, marines, and so on,—and one class is pretty well separated from another."

"I presume that is so, but I never thought of it before."

"Even seamen are divided into seamen gunners, apprentices and the like, and if you went on as a mere boy you might not see me once a week, unless we happened to be off duty at the same time."

"I see what you are driving at, Mr. Walton; you—"

"Avast there, Walter, no mister for me, please. I'm plain Caleb Walton."

"Well then, Walton, you want to get me attached to that gun you hope to have placed in your charge?"

"Now you've struck the bull's-eye, lad. The thing of it is, can I manage it?"

"I'm sure you must know more about that than I do. I'll like it first-rate if you could, for I—well, to be plain, I like you."

Caleb Walton held out his horny hand. "The liking is mutual, Walter, and there's my fist on it. Now I have an idee." The old gunner took several puffs at his pipe. "I know Captain Cook of the Brooklyn tolerably well—served under him for a short spell, and once did a little private business for him. Now, Captain Cook won't do a thing as is out of his line of duty, but still—"

"He may aid you in having me assigned to the gun you expect to have charge of?" finished Walter.

"That's it. I think I can work the deal—almost sure of it,—but you must help me."

"What must I do?"

"Say nothing and leave it all to me, and if my plan goes through, don't tell any one that you were favored. If you do, you'll only make enemies."

"I'll remember that. But what of Haskett, Doring, and the others?"

"I'd like to have Doring in my gang—he's the right sort. I don't want that scowling Jim Haskett, not after what Doring has told me of him. But he's out of it, anyway, for he enlisted as a first-class seaman, at twenty-six dollars per month."

"I wish I knew a little more about a warship," said the youth, longingly. "The more I hear, the less I seem to know."

"It will all come to you in time, and when you are on board I'll show you all I can. It would do no good to talk about guns and the like until I can point out the different parts to you, for you wouldn't know a breech-block from a priming-wire until you laid eyes on it."

"But how is a ship commanded? Won't you tell me something about that?"

"Of course you mean a warship, not a merchant-man. Well, the highest officer is, of course, the captain, although the vessel may be the flagship of a commodore or an admiral."

"And what of a commodore and an admiral? You see I'm awfully green, when it comes down to the navy. My younger brother Larry is the real sailor in our family."

"You'll get there, lad; anybody will who is in for learning as you are. An admiral is the highest officer in any navy, and he commands everything that floats, from battleship to despatch tug. Next to him is the vice-admiral. In the United States navy these offices don't exist any more, having died out with the deaths of Admiral Porter and Vice-Admiral Rowan."

"But the newspapers speak of Admiral Sampson."

"He is acting rear-admiral, but holds only the office of commodore. He commands a fleet of warships, while a commodore commands only a squadron; that is, four or six, usually, although he may have more at times. His ships are generally divided into two divisions."

"I understand. Please go on."

"Well, as I said before, the captain really commands the ship. Next to him are the commander and the lieutenant-commander. The first of these takes orders from the captain and issues them to those under him. The lieutenant-commander is called the executive officer, and he's always put down as the hardest worked man on the ship. What he does would fill a book, and he rarely gets leave of absence, for nobody can spare him."

"But what does he do?"

"Well, in the first place he sees that the whole crew keeps straight, and he keeps a conduct book for reference. He hears all complaints and straightens out all difficulties. He sees to it that the ship is kept clean, and he has the say about arranging messes. He must also station the hands for the various fire, sail, and boat drills, the gun exercises, and the drills with small-arms and cutlasses. Then every night at eight o'clock he receives the reports of petty officers, to show that each department is O. K. up to that hour. And there is a lot more besides."

"Thanks, but I don't care to be an executive officer," smiled Walter. "But perhaps he gets well paid for it."

"He earns from twenty-eight hundred to three thousand dollars per year. The commander gets five hundred more than that. A commodore gets five thousand a year, and a rear-admiral six thousand, when at sea. When on shore all these figures are slightly reduced."

"Those are nice salaries."

"That is true. But don't forget that everybody on the ship in the shape of an officer must board himself. The crew does that too, but Uncle Sam makes them an allowance for that purpose."

"Don't the higher officers get anything?"

"They have a ration allowed them—that or thirty cents. Of course such a ration cuts no figure with a commander or a captain."

"I suppose that's so. But please go on. Who is next to the executive officer?"

"The junior lieutenant, and then come the ensigns and naval cadets; that is, those young fellows from Annapolis who are studying up to become higher officers."

"And after that what?"

"Then come the warrant officers, that is, those warranted by our President, and they include boatswain, gunner, carpenter, and sail-maker. And you mustn't forget the marines—the soldier-sailors."

"Gracious, what a lot! Any more?"

"We are not half through, lad, but the others will explain themselves by their titles, such as chief engineer, chief surgeon, paymaster, and chaplain. The chaplain holds the relative position to a captain or a commander, but his whole duty is to hold church and keep the men from going wrong, morally and spiritually. Besides these, we have boatswain's mate, gunner's mate, and the like. Then among the seamen the leading men are called captains; as, for instance, captain of the top, captain of the afterguard, and like that. You'll soon get to know them all, never fear."

"How will I know them—by their uniforms?"

"By their uniforms, and also by the stripes and devices they wear. Don t you see this flaming spherical shell of silver that I wear? That shows that I am a gunner and have seen over twenty years of service. If I was a gunner with less time to my credit, the shell would be of gold."

"And does everybody wear some device?"

"Everybody, from a rear-admiral with his two silver stars and anchor down to the apprentice who has his figure 8 knot. If I get to be a chief gunner, I'll wear two crossed cannons instead of this shell."

"And if you got to be a captain, what would you wear?"

"A silver spread eagle, with an anchor at each end, on my shoulders."

"That's another deal to learn. I should think a fellow would get mixed on all these stars, eagles, shells, cannons, and the rest."

"It takes time to learn, lad. Let me give you a bit of advice. If you meet another person on shipboard and you are in doubt about it, salute. You may be making a mistake, but it will be a mistake on the right side."

"I'll remember that. But I feel as if I had more than ever to learn. Can't I get some book and study it?"

"I've got such a work in my valise. I'll get it for you," concluded Caleb Walton, and he arose. "But remember about that other thing—mum is the word."

"I certainly shall remember," and Walter smiled. "I'm awfully glad I've found such a friend as you," and he squeezed the old gunner's hand.

They returned to the other car, and soon Walter was deeply interested in the volume which Caleb Walton loaned him. It was a technical work, issued by the authority of the Navy Department, and contained all that he desired to learn, and a deal besides.

"Going to learn your duty as soon as possible, eh?" observed Si Doring, as he looked over the boy's shoulder. "That's right. If you want to know anything about sails or knots, call on me."

"What's the matter with calling on me?" put in the voice of Jim Haskett, as he slid into the seat behind them, and leaned over. "I reckon I know as much as Doring about a ship, and maybe a leetle more."

At this Si Doring fired up on the instant. "See here, Haskett, I ain't under ye no longer, remember that!" he cried. "I don't want you to talk to me, or about me. I owe you one, and more, and I ain't forgetting it—remember that!"

"Oh, don t get on a high horse," growled the former mate of the Sunflower. "I won't talk to you if you don't want me to."

"And ye needn't talk about me, either. Think ye know a leetle more about a ship than I do, eh? Well, maybe Captain Pepperill didn t think so, when you let the Sunflower split her foremast in that blow off—"

"I wasn't responsible for that!" interrupted Jim Haskett, his surly face growing red. "You let the past drop, and I'll let it drop." He glared savagely at Si, then turned to Walter. "Do you want some p'ints explained, Russell?"

"Thank you, but I would just as lief study this book for the present," answered Walter, coldly, and somewhat astonished to learn that Haskett knew his name.

"Maybe I can make some p'ints clearer. I'm an old sea-dog, you know."

"I think Doring can explain all I wish to know," continued the boy, feeling he ought to stick up for the Yankee who had made himself so agreeable since leaving Boston.

"Don't want my advice, then?"

"I think not."

"All right, then, suit yourself. If you want to cotton to such a fellow as Doring, you can do so, but"—he lowered his voice—"I reckon you are making a mistake." And then, before either Walter or Si could answer, he bounced up, and strode down the aisle and into the smoker.

The train was approaching Washington, and shortly after this conversation it rolled into the depot at the Capitol city, and came to a standstill.

"We stop here for fifteen minutes," said the porter to Walter, when questioned on the point. "Give you sailor-boys time to stretch your shoah legs." And he grinned, having been on a warship himself once, serving as a "striker,"—one who waits on the mess tables.

"Let us take a few minutes walk; I am all cramped up," said Walter to his Yankee friend; and Si readily agreed. Caleb Walton was willing they should go, but warned them not to stay too long.

"Fifteen minutes don't mean sixteen; remember that," he called after them.

"I should like to spend a few days here," observed Walter, as he and his companion hurried on. "The Capitol, patent offices, and other buildings must be very interesting."

"I'd rather see President McKinley," returned the Yankee. "My, but he must have his hands full these days!"

"Do you want to see the President?" questioned a man who was just passing them. "If you do, he's in his carriage three blocks below here. There s a cave-in of a sewer, and his carriage just stopped."

"Then here's our chance, Si!" cried Walter, eagerly. "Come on; we can make it if we run. I wouldn't miss seeing the President for a good deal!"

"Thet's me!" burst out the Yankee. "Off we go!" And he started to run, his long legs giving Walter all he could do to keep up with him. The three blocks were covered, and they came to where the cave-in was located, but only some very ordinary vehicles were in sight.

"We're too late!" grumbled Si, crestfallen. "Come on back."

"Too late for phwat?" asked an Irishman standing near the sewer.

"We wanted to see the President."

"Sure an' there goes his carriage down beyant." And the Irishman pointed to a side street.

It was still less than a block away, and without stopping to think twice they made after it, and came up just as it was turning a corner. A very trim driver sat on the box of the turn-out, and on the rear seat, the sole occupant of the carriage, sat our country s chief executive.

"Hurrah!" shouted Walter, impulsively, and waved his cap, and Si did the same. Several others bowed and tipped their hats, and the President bowed and tipped his silk hat in return. Then the carriage rolled swiftly away.

"It was him all right enough," exclaimed Si, enthusiastically, and with a total disregard for grammar. "He looks jest like his pictures, only a little more care-worn. I suppose he loses lots o' sleep these nights."

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The President Bowed in Return.

Page 80

"Yes, indeed. Being the President isn't the easiest berth in the world. If I—" Walter broke off short. "Our train—I'll wager a dollar we'll miss it!"

"Creation! don't say that!" gasped Si; and then both took to their heels as if running the race of their lives.