Fighting in Cuban Waters/Chapter 9

CHAPTER IX


COMMODORE WINFIELD SCOTT SCHLEY


In a couple of days Walter began to feel at home on the flagship, and he could no longer be termed a "greeny," strictly speaking, although there were still a great number of things for him to learn. He was much interested in the Brooklyn as a whole as well as in detail, and was proud to learn that this armored cruiser was the largest of the class in our navy, having a displacement of 9215 tons, as against her sister ship, the New York, which had a displacement of about a thousand tons less.

"This ship is just four hundred feet and six inches long," said Caleb. "She don't look so long as she rides the water, but as a city block is ordinarily two hundred feet deep, so to speak, she would cover two blocks of a side street, providing the street was sixty-five feet wide, for her to rest in. That's pretty big, eh?"

"And how much water does she draw, Walton?"

"Draws twenty-four feet, which is the height of an ordinary two-story house. Her three smoke stacks are about a hundred feet high each, and that gives her fires a first-class draught, sailing or standing still."

"I'm awfully glad I'm on her," smiled Walter. "Oh, I do hope we have a fight with the Dons. I want to see the big guns go off. I know the main battery, as you call it, has eight 8-inch guns. How many guns are there besides?"

"There are twelve 5-inch rapid-fire guns, twelve 6-pounders, four 1-pounders, four Colts, and two field guns. Besides, we carry four torpedo tubes."

"We're a regular floating arsenal!" exclaimed Walter. "It must make things shake when they all get to firing."

"You'll think you've struck the infernal regions, lad, if we ever do get them all a-going. Yes, the Brooklyn is nothing but a floating fort. She's an unusual type, because she has an extra high forecastle deck. Some folks don't think that makes her a beauty, but they must remember that warships aren't built altogether for looks, although to my mind she's as handsome as any of 'em. The high bow enables us to carry our forward guns eight feet higher than those on the New York, and it will come in mighty handy if we ever want to run full steam after an enemy in a heavy sea which would drown out a ship with a low freeboard."

"And why is she called an armored cruiser?"

"Because she is protected by steel plating three inches thick on her sides and on her deck, and under this is an additional protection of coal and of cocoa-fibre, for keeping out water. It would surprise you to see how the sides and deck, as well as the bottom, are built, were they taken apart for examination."

Discipline Walter found very strict, and once he had donned his uniform he was kept employed from sunrise to sunset, his duties being largely similar to those performed by his brother Larry on the Olympia. Early in the morning he was aroused by the blare of a bugle, or the roll of a drum, and given but a few minutes in which to dress and roll up his hammock and put it away. Then came the work of washing down the deck, followed by breakfast, and later all hands were called to quarters, to attend some drill, sometimes at the guns, sometimes at the hose pipes scattered about in case of fire, and occasionally with small-arms and with cutlasses. Each afternoon there was a "run around," lasting from ten minutes to half an hour. In this the men fell in singly or in pairs, and ran around and around the deck, at first slowly until "second wind" was gained, and then faster and faster. This is the one chance a jackie gets of stretching his legs while on board of his ship, and how he does enjoy it!

Taking them as a whole, Walter found the ship s company a jolly crowd, with but few men of the Jim Haskett stamp among them. The men connected with the guns were a particularly brotherly set, and the youth soon felt thoroughly at home among them. He was always willing to do any thing asked of him, and in return the best gunners on the vessel did not hesitate to give him "points" whenever he asked for them. One jocularly called him The Questioner, but Walter did not mind, and went on picking up all the information possible.

On his second morning on board Walter was talking to Si when a low roll of drums reached their ears. "Hark!" cried the Yankee boy. "Two ruffles. Do you know what that means? The commodore is either leaving or coming on board. They always give a high officer that salute, or a similar one."

"Let us see him if we can," exclaimed Walter, who had not yet caught sight of the commander of the squadron. They crowded to an open port and were just in time to see Commodore Schley descend by the swinging ladder to the gig. Soon the little craft shot out of sight through the fog, for the day was far from clear.

"He looks like a fighter," remarked Walter. "He has quite a record, hasn't he?"

"Yes, indeed, I was reading about him only last week. He was in the Civil War, operating along the Mississippi, and after that he saw a lot of fighting besides."

"I know all about our commodore," said a gunner standing near. "My father fought with him on the Mississippi, and also when Port Hudson, in Louisiana, was taken. He is named after General Winfield Scott, Winfield Scott Schley, for his father and the general were warm friends."

"It's a good name for a fighter; for certainly nobody fought better than did General Scott, through the war with Mexico," was Walter's comment.

"Schley entered the Naval Academy in 1856 and remained until 1861, when the war broke out," continued the gunner. "They say he graduated at the head of his class and was so well liked that he was given sea-duty on the frigate Potomac, and in 1862 he was made a master, and ordered on the Winona, of the Gulf Squadron.

"After the Civil War was over, he was sent to the Pacific, and there he aided in the suppression of an outbreak among the Chinese coolies in the Chin Chi Islands. The United States consulate at this place was in danger of being mobbed, but Schley took a hundred marines ashore, and knocked the whole uprising in the head in short order."

"No wonder he's a commodore," said Walter; and Si nodded approvingly.

"It wasn't long before the young officer was made a lieutenant-commander, and coming back from the Pacific, he was placed in charge of a department at the Naval Academy. He remained ashore for three years, then went to the coast of Africa, on the Benicia, where he took part in a number of contests, and helped clear the Congo River of pirates, and overthrew the forces defending the Salu River in Corea, another bit of work for which he was warmly praised."

"Oh, he's a corker," cried Si, enthusiastically.

"I'm not done yet," went on the gunner, who loved to talk about the exploits of his old commander. "Of course you have heard how the Greely Expedition to the North Pole got lost and couldn't get back home. Well, it was Schley who went after them, and found Greely and six of his companions at Cape Sabine and brought them safely back. For this Congress voted him a medal, and President Arthur raised him to the full rank of captain and made him Chief of the Bureau of Equipment, a very important office in the Naval Department. But Schley couldn't stand it on land, he must have the rolling ocean under him, and so he gave up his berth ashore and took command of the Baltimore"

"I remember about that," put in Walter. "I was reading about John Ericsson, the inventor of the monitor. When Ericsson died, the body was sent to Sweden, his fatherland, on the Baltimore under Schley."

"Exactly, and the King of Sweden gave Schley a medal to commemorate the event, at a grand gathering at Stockholm. From Sweden Schley took the Baltimore to Southern waters, and while off the coast of Chili he smoothed out what threatened to become a serious difficulty between that country and ours on account of some of Uncle Sam's jackies being stoned on the streets of Valparaiso. For this the Navy Department was extremely grateful, and he went up several points on the register, so that it didn't take him long to become a commodore."

"He's certainly a man worth sailing under," said Walter, "I suppose he is married?"

"Yes, and has several children—but that don't interest me," concluded the gunner, who was an old bachelor, with a peculiar dislike for the gentler sex.

Since the time that Si had spoken to Haskett about the missing money, the seaman had steered clear of both the Yankee lad and Walter. Perhaps he was afraid that Si would accuse him openly of the theft of the gold piece, or perhaps he was afraid of Caleb Walton, who was continually around and ready to champion his "boys," as he had dubbed both. But there was one boy who could not get away from him, and that was Paul Harbig.

"You're just the right sort to take to," said Haskett, as he caught Paul by the arm one morning, while both were coming from mess. "You're too much of a real little man to have anything to do with that Russell boy or Si Doring."

"Oh, I like them both very much!" answered Paul, and attempted to pass on. With a frown Haskett caught him by the arm and swung him back.

"See here, I want to talk to you," he cried uglily. "Has Si Doring been telling you any yarns about me?"

"You let go of me," was Paul s only answer. "I don't want anything to do with you."

"Answer my question."

"I haven t got to." And now Paul did his best to get away. He had just twisted himself loose when Jim Haskett struck him a cruel blow on the head.

"You—you brute!" gasped the boy, as the tears came. He was about to try retreating again, when Haskett caught him once more.

"Now answer me, or I'll thrash the life out of you," he hissed into Paul's ear. "And mind you tell the truth."

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"See Here, I Want to Talk to You."

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"He said that he had a—a—" the boy broke off short. "I won't tell you, there! Now let go!" And he began to squirm.

"I know what he said," blustered Haskett. "Said he had had a ten-dollar gold piece in his valise, didn't he?"

"Ye-es."

"And he accused me of taking it, eh?"

"He didn't say so outright. He said you had been where you could get at the bag."

"It amounts to the same thing. As a matter of fact I couldn't get at the bag any more than could you, or Russell, or Walton, or any of the others."

"I suppose that is so. Now let me go."

"I will in a minute, but I want to tell you something, for it's not nice to have folks taking you to be a thief," went on Haskett, tactfully.

"I haven't said anything about the affair."

"Perhaps not, Paul, but Doring talks, and I reckon so do Russell and Walton. During the past couple of days I've found more than one fellow aboard the Brooklyn looking at me queer-like, and I can put two and two together as quick as the next man. If I allow this to go on, there won't be a soul speak to me after a while."

"I shan't say a word—I'll promise you."

"It's Russell who will talk the most, I reckon," went on Haskett, with apparent bitterness. "Russell, the very fellow who ought not to say a word."

"I'll caution him, if you want me to," went on Paul, who was tender-hearted and very willing to help anybody out of trouble.

"Caution Russell! Not for the world. See here, I'll tell you something, and you can tell Doring or not, just as you please. To the best of my knowledge Russell is the thief."

"Walter!" ejaculated Paul. "Oh, no, you must be mistaken. Why, why—how could he get at the satchel? He was with Doring."

"I don't know about that. But I'm almost positive Russell is guilty."

"Have you any proof? You shouldn't say such a thing unless you have," retorted Paul, anxious to stick up for Walter, who had served him several good turns since they had become acquainted.

"I've got more proof against Russell than Doring has against me," answered Jim Haskett, boldly. "And what is more, I can prove what I've got to say."

"But what have you to say?" came in a cold, heavy voice behind Haskett, and turning swiftly the former mate of the Sunflower found himself confronted by Caleb Walton. The old gunner's face looked stern and angry.

"Why—er—where did you come from?" stammered the seaman.

"I asked you what you have to say against Walter Russell," demanded Caleb. "Come, out with it, or by the jumping beeswax, I'll wipe up this deck with you!" And he doubled up his fists.

"I'm not afraid, if you want to fight, Walton," replied Haskett, recovering somewhat from his fright, "What I said about Russell, I'll stick to."

"But what have you got to say? out with it," was the old gunner's demand.

"I've got this much to say. I think Russell took Doring's gold piece, and I am not the only one that does either. If you think I'm wrong, ask Cal Blinker, the shellman. He heard almost as much as I did."

"Heard what?"

"Heard Russell talk in his sleep. It was last night. I got up to get a drink of water and slipped and roused up Blinker. Then, when I went to the water tub, I passed Russell's hammock. He was dreaming and talking about the gold piece and saying that Doring would never learn that he had it, and a lot more about hiding it under the gun. He went on about the money and about hiding it for fully ten minutes. If you don't believe me, go to Blinker about it."