Willis Boyd Allen
As in the preparation of Navy Blue and Cleared for Action, the author has taken great pains to verify the main facts of the present story, so far as they are concerned with the incidents of the great struggle still in progress between the empires of the East and the West. He acknowledges most gratefully the assistance received from the office of the Secretary of the Navy, from ex-Secretary John D. Long, and from Commander W. H. H. Southerland, now commanding the U. S. Cruiser Cleveland, Commander Austin M. Knight, President of the Board on Naval Ordnance, and Chief Engineer Edward Farmer, retired.
W. B. A.
Boston, June, 1905.
It was a clear, cool afternoon in early September, 1901. In the country the tawny hillsides were warmed to gold by the glow of the autumn sun, while here and there a maple lifted its crimson torch as if the forest were kindling where the rays were the hottest. Brown, golden, and scarlet leaves floated slowly downward to the ground; flocks of dark-winged birds drifted across the sky or flitted silently through the shadows of the deep wood; the call of the harvester to his straining team sounded across the fields for a moment—then all was still again. But for the creak of a waggon, the distant bark of a dog, the fitful whisper and rustle of the wind in the boughs overhead, the whirring chatter of a squirrel, the world seemed lost in a day-dream of peace.
Only a few miles away the air was rent by a clamour of discordant sound. Ponderous hammers beat upon plates of iron and brass; machinery rumbled and shrieked and hissed at its work; a thousand men, labouring as if for their lives, pulled, pushed, lifted, pounded, shouted orders, warnings, replies above the din that beat upon the ear like a blacksmith's blows upon an anvil. From the tall chimneys poured endless volumes of black smoke that were reflected in the blue waters of the river and mimicked by innumerable puffs of steam. The place was like a volcano in the first stages of eruption. A vast upheaval seemed imminent. Yet the countless toilers worked securely and swiftly, fashioning that dread floating citadel of modern warfare, the Battleship.
On this same afternoon, at the outer gate of the Cramp Shipbuilding Works, two strangers applied for admission, presenting to the watchman a properly accredited pass. They were young men, under the average stature, dark-skinned, and almost notably quiet in appearance and manner. Although their dress was that of the American gentleman, a very slight accent in their speech, their jet-black hair, and a trifling obliquity in their eyes, would have at once betrayed their nationality to a careful observer. He would have known that they were of a people famous for their shrewdness, their gentle manners, their bravery, their quick perceptions, and their profound patience and tireless resolution in accomplishing their ends—the "Yankees of the Orient"—the Japanese.
The watchman glanced at them carelessly, rather impressed by the visitors' immaculate attire—both wore silk hats and black coats of correct Broadway cut—and asked if they wanted an attendant to show them about the works. They said, "No, thank you. We shall remain but short time. We can find our ways"; and, bowing, passed into the yard.
Their curiosity seemed very slight, as to the buildings and machinery. With light, quick steps they passed through one or two of the most important shops, then turned to the river-side, and halted beside the huge ship that was on the stocks, almost ready for launching. Here for the first time their whole expression became alert, their eyes keen and flashing. Nobody paid much attention to them as they passed along the walk, scrutinising, it would seem, every individual bolt and plate.
"A couple o' Dagos!" remarked one workman to another, nodding over his shoulder as he carried his end of a heavy steel bar.
At the gangway the visitors met their first obstacle. A man in undress uniform, with a full beard and stern countenance, waved them back. "No admittance to the deck," he said briefly.
The two Japanese bowed blandly, and spoke a few words together in soft undertones and gutterals, as incomprehensible to a Western ear as the language of the Ojibways. Then they bowed again, smiled and said "Thank you, sir," and moved away. The Russian officer watched them sharply until they disappeared around the bows of the vessel, muttering to himself under his bushy moustache.
Once out of sight the languor and mild indifference of the strangers vanished. They spoke swiftly, with excited, but graceful gestures. Then one of them pointed to the snowy curve of the battleship's prow, above their heads. There, gleaming in the sunset light, shone the word, in gold letters,
"Retvizan," murmured the other; "Retvizan." Adding in his own language, "She will have her trial trip late in October, sailing from Boston. Then—we shall see!"
"We shall see."
"Sayonara, Retvizan!" said the first speaker with just a trace of mockery in his tone, as the two turned toward the gate. As they passed through, on their way out, they bowed and smiled to the gate-keeper. Once more they were suave, languid little gentlemen of fashion, travelling for pleasure.
It was eight o'clock on the morning of October 21st when the last tug-load of "distinguished visitors" scrambled up the steep ladder to the deck of the Retvizan, which had lain all night in President's Roads, Boston Harbour, waiting for her trial trip. In five minutes more the battleship was under way, the smoke rolling from her three huge funnels as she forged ahead slowly, on her way to the open sea.
It was an oddly composed crowd that gathered forward of the great turret from which projected two twelve-inch guns. The crew consisted of Russian "Jackies," in man-of-war rig; but the spectators were the invited guests of the builders from whose control the ship had not yet passed. There were lawyers, naval officers, engineers, and politicians, with one or two officials of the city and State government—all bound to have a good time, whether the Retvizan should prove slow or fast. They buttoned their overcoats up around their throats—for the day was chilly, and the draught made by the vessel as she gathered speed was sharp—and in little knots, here and there, joked, laughed, and sang like boys on a lark.
One young man was constantly moving about, alert and active, interested apparently in everything and everybody on board. Most of the Boston men seemed to know him, and exchanged jokes with him as he passed.
"Hullo, Larkin, you here?" called out one. "Better go ashore while there's time—you'll be sea-sick when we get outside!"
"I never yet was sick of seeing!" retorted the young man. "The Bulletin must have a good story on to-day's trip."
"Why didn't they send a reporter that knew his business?" jested another.
"Don't you say anything, Alderman, or I'll fix up an account of you that will make you turn pale when you read it to-morrow morning," said the jolly reporter; and off he went, followed by a chorus of laughter.
Fred Larkin was one of the most valued reporters on the Boston Daily Bulletin. He had risen to his present position, from that of mere space writer, by sheer determination, pluck, and hard work, which characteristics, backed by fine character and a sunny good-humour, made him a favourite with both his superiors and his comrades on the staff. Three years before this sea-trip Fred had been sent to Cuba as war correspondent for the Bulletin, had performed one or two remarkable feats in journalism, had been captured by the Spaniards, and on the very day when he expected to be executed in Santiago as a spy had been exchanged and set free.
Meanwhile on this same perilous journey inland, he had met a young Spanish girl named Isabella Cueva, who subsequently appealed to him for protection, and whom, a few months later, he married. They now had one bright little dark-haired boy, a year old, named Pedro.
"He's a wonderful child," Larkin would assert. "Talks Spanish like a native, and cries in English!"
Besides the company of invited guests on the Retvizan, the officers of the ship-building company, and the Russian crew, there were a number of supernumeraries—butlers, cooks, and stewards, of various nationalities.
About a week before the ship was to sail from Philadelphia, two Japanese boys applied for a position on board as stewards. They were dressed neatly, after the custom of their race, but their spotless clothes were threadbare, and as they seemed needy and brought the best of references from Washington families, they were hired at once. It was true that they seemed unable to speak or to understand more than a few words of English, but their slight knowledge of the language appeared to be sufficient for their duties, and the Japanese are known to be the neatest, quickest, most efficient little waiters that can be procured. Many of them, as their employers knew, were engaged in this humble service on United States war-ships, where they gave complete satisfaction.
As the great vessel swung out upon her course, the two boyish Japs appeared. They had come on board in Philadelphia, and were soon equipped for their work, with white aprons and dark suits. Having with some difficulty made the head steward understand when and for what they had been engaged, they had entered at once upon their duties.
Nobody took much notice of the little fellows, as they glided silently to and fro, giving deft touches to the lunch table, or assisting a stout alderman to don his overcoat. Only once did they seem disconcerted. That was when a Russian under-officer, with bushy beard and moustache, put his head inside the cabin-door. One of the Japanese started so nervously that he nearly upset a water-carafe on the table. As he adjusted it, he spoke a few words in a low tone to his companion, and both remained with their backs to the door, although the Russian summoned them roughly.
"Why didn't you go when he called?" demanded the head steward crossly, a minute later, when he had himself given the officer the glass of water he wanted.
"No speak Russian. No un'erstan'," said the little Jap with a meek gesture.
"Well, you might have known what he asked for," retorted his superior. "Look sharp now, and attend to your business. You ain't here for fun, you!"
The steward addressed shot a quick glance at the other, but neither said a word, as they resumed their tasks.
The Retvizan moved proudly northward, throwing out a great wave on each side of her white prow and leaving a wake of tossing foam stretching far astern. The harbour islands were now dim in the distance and the shore of the mainland might have been that of Patagonia, for all the sign of human life it showed. Now, indeed, the vessel drew in, or, rather, the coastline veered eastward as if to intercept her in her swift course. The Magnolia shore came in sight, with its toy cottages and hotels, as deserted as autumn birds'-nests. Norman's Woe was left behind, backed by dark pine forests, and Gloucester, nestling in its snug harbour, peered out at the passing monster. Almost directly in front the lights of Thatcher's Island reared themselves, two priestly fingers raised in blessing over the toilers of the sea.
Now the battleship began to quiver, as the increased throbbing of her engines, the monstrous fore-waves, and the volumes of black smoke rushing from her stacks told the excited passengers that she was settling down to her best pace for the crucial test of speed. A government tug was passed, and for ten miles the Retvizan ploughed her way fiercely northward, never deviating a foot to right or left, crushing the waves into a boiling cauldron of seething foam, dashing the spray high into the sunshine, until the second stake-boat, off Cape Porpoise, was passed, and with a long sweep outward she turned, to retrace the ten-mile course more swiftly than ever.
Fred Larkin pervaded, so to speak, the ship. Note-book in hand, he interviewed the officers, chaffed the Russian Jackies, darted in and out of the cabins, and ranged boldly through the hidden passages below. In process of time he reached the engine-room, smearing himself with oil on the way, from every steel rod he touched.
No sooner had he entered the room than he was pounced upon by one of the three or four engineers, naval and civil, who were busily watching the work of the great, pulsing heart of the vessel.
"Larkin! How are you, old fellow?" And his hands were grasped and wrung, over and over, regardless of oil.
"Holmes! Well, I didn't guess you were here! Shake again!"
It was Lieutenant-Commander Holmes, Assistant Engineer, who, with several subordinate officers, two of them from the Academy, had been detached by the Navy Department to watch the trip of the Retvizan and report upon it. They mingled freely with the Russian engineers, and compared notes with them as the trial progressed.
Norman Holmes explained this to the young reporter, who was an old and tried friend.
"Where is Rexdale stationed?"
"He's doing shore duty in Washington just now. Between you and me, Fred, I think he'll be a lieutenant-commander before long, and may command one of the smaller vessels on this station—a despatch-boat or something of the kind. I only wish I could be assigned to the same ship! You know Dave and I were chums in the Academy."
"I know. And the trifling circumstance of each marrying the other's sister hasn't tended to produce a coldness, I suppose! But isn't that an awfully quick promotion for Rexdale? The last I heard of him he was only a lieutenant."
"Well, we've built so many new ships lately," said Holmes, with his eye on the steam gauge, "that it has been hard work to man them. Two or three classes have been graduated at the Academy two years ahead of time, and promotions have been rapid all along the line. The man that commanded the gunboat Osprey, for instance, is now on an armoured cruiser, taking the place of an officer who has been moved up to the battleship Arizona, and so on. Why, in the course of ten years or more I may be a commander—who knows?" he added, with a laugh.
"I suppose you hear from 'Sandy' and—what did you fellows call Tickerson?"
"'Girlie'? Oh, yes, I hear from them. Both are in the East somewhere. Sandy's last letter was from Guam. He's a lieutenant now, and so is Tickerson."
"Well, I mustn't stay here, bothering you. There's a queer crowd on board—a mixed lot. Seen those little Japs?"
"No. What are they here for?"
"Oh, just waiters. But it's odd to see Japanese on a Russian man-of-war, considering that—hullo, here's one of them, now!"
Sure enough, a small, white-aproned figure came daintily picking his way down into the jarring, clanging, oily engine-room. He seemed a bit troubled to find two of its occupants regarding him intently, as he stepped upon the iron floor.
"Mist' Johnson no here?" he asked innocently, gazing around him.
"Johnson? No, not that I know of," replied Holmes. "What's his position."
"He—he from Boston," said the Jap, after a slight hesitation.
"Look here," broke in Larkin, in his offhand way, "what's your name, young fellow?"
The steward looked into the reporter's frank, kindly face, then answered, "Oto."
"Oto," repeated Fred. "That's a nice easy name to pronounce, if it is Japanese. Well, Oto, how about your chum—what's his name?"
"Oshima. We from Japan."
"So I suspected," laughed Fred. "Been over long?"
The boy looked puzzled.
"When did you leave home?"
Oto shook his head. "Un'erstan' ver' leetle English," he said.
"Well, run along and find Mr. Johnson, of Boston. Norman, good-bye. I'll look in on you again before the end of the trip. Where did Oto go?"
The little Jap had melted away—whether upward or downward, no one could say, he had vanished so quickly.
Larkin shook his head and made a few cabalistic curves and dots in his note-book, then reascended the stairs to the upper deck. Through a winding staircase in a hollow mast he made his way to one of the fighting-tops. Singularly enough the other Japanese waiter, Oshima, was there before him. As Fred emerged on the circular platform, the boy thrust a scrap of paper under the folds of his jacket and hurried down toward the deck. Again the reporter made a note in his book, and then gave a few moments to the magnificent view of the ship and the open sea through which it was cleaving its way.
Directly before and below him lay the forward deck of the Retvizan, cleared almost as completely as if for action. Most of the visitors had withdrawn from the keen wind to the shelter of the cabin, where, doubtless, the question of luncheon was already exciting interest. Beneath the fighting-top was the bridge, where the highest officials on the ship were watching her progress. Just beyond was the forward turret, with its projecting guns, their muzzles peacefully closed.
The vessel now reached the first stake-boat once more, and turning, again started over the course at half-speed, for the tedious process of standardising the screw; that is, determining how many revolutions went to a given rate of speed. The engineers were busy with their calculations. Larkin joined the hungry crowd in the cabin, giving a last look at the blue sea, the misty shore line, and the dim bulk of Agamenticus reared against the western sky.
When the Retvizan passed Cape Ann, on her homeward trip, the great lamps on Thatcher's Island were alight, and the waves sparkled in the glow. It was nearly nine o'clock that evening when the chains rattled through the hawse-holes, in the lower harbour, as the battleship came to anchor. Many had been the guesses as to her speed. Had she come up to her builders' expectations? Had she passed the test successfully? These were the questions that flew to and fro among the passengers, crowding about the gangway beneath which the tug was soon rising and falling. At the last moment the approximate result of the engineers' calculations was given out. The ship had responded nobly to the demand upon her mighty machinery. Splendidly built throughout, perfectly equipped for manslaughter and for the protection of her crew, obedient to the lightest touch of the master-hand that should guide her over the seas in warfare or in peace, the Retvizan had shown herself to be one of the swiftest and most powerful war-ships in the world. For twenty miles, in the open ocean, she had easily made a little over eighteen knots an hour.
In the confusion of going on board the tug and disembarking in the darkness, no one observed the two Japanese waiters, who must have forgotten even to ask for their wages. Certain it is that Oto and Oshima were among the very first to land on the Boston wharf, and to disappear in one of the gloomy cross-streets that branch off from Atlantic Avenue.
"Well, we're out of the harbour safely, Captain," said Executive Officer Staples with a sigh of relief, as he spread out the chart of the Massachusetts coast and glanced at the "tell-tale" compass. "No more trouble till we get down by the Pollock Rip Shoals."
"Anybody would think you had been taking a battleship out from under the enemy's guns," laughed Lieutenant-Commander David Rexdale. "Don't talk about 'trouble,' Tel., while it's daylight, off a home port, in good weather!"
The two were standing in the chart-room, just behind the bridge of the U. S. gunboat Osprey, as the vessel, leaving Boston Outer Light behind, headed slightly to the south of east. Rexdale, as his old chum Holmes had predicted, was now in command of the Osprey, and was taking her to Washington for a practice trip, on which the crew would be drilled in various manœuvres, including target-practice. Lieutenant Richard Staples, his executive, had been the captain's classmate at Annapolis. He was lanky and tall, and at the Academy had soon gained the sobriquet of "Telegraph Pole," or "Tel.," for short; a name that had stuck to him thus far in his naval career. He was a Californian, and, while very quiet in his manner, was a dangerous man when aroused—as the upper-class cadets had discovered when they undertook to "run" him. Rexdale was from the rural districts of New Hampshire, and was known to his classmates as "Farmer," a term which was now seldom applied to the dignified lieutenant-commander.
The Osprey—to complete our introductions—was a lively little member of Uncle Sam's navy, mounting several six-pounders and a four-inch rifled gun, besides smaller pieces for close quarters. She had taken part in the blockade of Santiago, and while not as modern in her appointments as some of her bigger and younger sister-ships, had given a good account of herself in the stirring days when Cervera's fleet was cooped up behind the Cuban hills, and made their final hopeless dash for freedom. Rexdale was in love with his little vessel, and knew every spar, gun, plate, and bolt as if he had assisted in her building.
On the way down the harbour, they had passed the Essex and Lancaster, saluting each with a bugle-call. Besides the two officers mentioned, it should be added that there were on board Ensigns Dobson and Liddon, the former a good-natured little fellow, barely tall enough to meet naval requirement as to height; the other a finely educated and elegant young gentleman who had attended a medical college before enlisting, and whose fund of scientific and historical knowledge was supposed to be inexhaustible. He wore glasses, and had at once been dubbed "Doctor," on entering the Naval Academy. These, with Paymaster Ross, Assistant Surgeon Cutler, and Engineer Claflin, made up the officers' mess of the Osprey.
It was a fair day in June, 1903. The sunlight sparkled on the summer sea. Officers and men were in the best of spirits as the gunboat, her red, white, and blue "commission pennant" streaming from her masthead, sped southward past the long, ragged "toe" of the Massachusetts boot.
At noon Rexdale dined in solemn and solitary state in his after cabin. The rest of the officers messed together in the ward-room, below decks, and doubtless Dave would have been glad to join them; but discipline required that the commanding officer, however familiarly he might address an old acquaintance in private, should hold aloof at mealtimes. He was waited upon by two small Japanese men, or boys, who had easily obtained the situation when the vessel went into commission at the Charlestown Navy Yard, where she had remained for some months, docked for overhauling and thorough repairs. The two cabin stewards were gentle and pleasant in their manners, conversant with all their duties, and spoke English fluently. Their names were on the ship's papers as Oto and Oshima.
"Oto," said Rexdale, when the dinner was finished, "call the orderly."
The marine was pacing the deck outside the cabin-door. On receiving the summons he entered and saluted stiffly.
"Orderly, ask Mr. Staples to step this way, if he has finished his dinner."
Another salute, and the man turned on his heels and marched out.
"Mr. Staples," said the commander, as the former came in, "at four bells we will have 'man overboard' drill. We shall anchor to-night about ten miles off Nantucket. I shall come on the bridge and con the ship myself when we sight the Shovelful Lightship, and I shall be glad to have you with me, passing the Shoal. The next time we go over this course I shall let you take the ship through the passage yourself."
"Very well, sir." And the executive, being in sight of the waiters and the orderly, as well as the surgeon, who just then passed through the cabin, saluted formally and retired.
On deck, forward and in the waist of the ship, the men were busy at various tasks, burnishing brass-work, making fast the lashings of the guns, overhauling rigging and such naval apparatus as the warrant officers knew would be needed on this short cruise. But few of the crew—over a hundred in all—were below, although only the watch were actually on duty.
In passing one of the seamen, who was polishing the rail, Oshima, on his way to the galley, accidentally hit the man with his elbow.
"Clear out, will you?" said the seaman with an oath. At the same time he gave the little Jap a shove that sent him reeling.
"Oh, take a fellow of your size, Sam!" cried one of the watch standing near.
"He ran into me! I'll take him and you, too, if you say much," retorted the first speaker morosely.
Two or three of the men paused on hearing the angry words. The little stewards were favourites on board, although the enlisted men looked down on their calling.
Oshima's dark eyes had flashed at the rough push and the sneering reply of the sailor. He brushed his neat jacket where the former's hand had touched it. Then he said quietly, "You can strike, Sam Bolles, as an ass can kick. But you could not throw me to the deck."
"Couldn't I?" snarled Sam, dropping his handful of oily waste and springing to his feet. "We'll see about that, you ——!" and he called him an ugly name.
Glancing about to see that no officer was watching, Oshima crouched low, and awaited the burly seaman's onset. Sam rushed at him with outstretched hands and tried to seize him around the waist, to dash his slight antagonist to the deck. Had he succeeded, Oshima's usefulness to the United States Navy would have ended then and there. A dozen men gathered about the pair, and more than one uttered a warning cry to the Japanese. They need not have been alarmed, however, for the safety of their small comrade.
Just as Sam's burly paws closed on his shoulders, Oshima's dark, thin little hands shot out. He caught the seaman's right arm, gave a lightning-like twist, and with a cry of pain and rage the big fellow went down in a heap on the deck. As the men applauded wildly and swung their caps, the Jap looked a moment at his fallen foe with a smile of contempt, then turned away, for the master-at-arms, hearing the noise of the scuffle, was approaching. Sam, however, was wild with rage. Scrambling to his feet, he darted upon his late antagonist, caught up the small figure in his powerful arms, and before anybody could interfere, tossed him over the rail into the sea.
Lieut. Commander Rexdale, pacing the quarter-deck and congratulating himself on the fine run the Osprey was making, was suddenly aroused from his professional meditations by the sound of cries from the forward part of the ship. Annoyed by this breach of discipline, he called sharply to one of the ensigns, who was standing near, watching a distant steamer through his glass, "Mr. Dobson, step forward, please, and find out what that disturbance is among the men——"
But before Dobson could reach the head of the ladder another confusion of shouts arose, followed immediately by a rush of footsteps. At the same time the commander felt the tremor of the screw's motion die away, under his feet.
"Man overboard?" exclaimed Rexdale, with a vexed frown. "I gave orders for the drill at four bells, and three bells were struck only a few minutes ago. Where is Mr. Staples?"
The executive officer was at that moment seen hurrying aft, but the Jackies were before him. They tumbled up the steps like mad, and flung themselves into the starboard quarter-boat, which had been left swinging outside from the davits for the purposes of drill. Already the man on watch at the taffrail had cut away the lashings of a patent life-preserver and sent it into the sea, where it floated with signals erect, far astern. The propeller was lashing the water into foam with its reversed motion. The Osprey shook as she tried to overcome her momentum; then, as the screw was stopped, forged slowly ahead.
"Lively, now, men! Let go! Fend off!" shouted Dobson, whose station was in that boat at the "man overboard" signal. "Oars! Let fall! Give way!" And off went the boat, plunging and foaming over the waves in the direction of the life-preserver, which was now a quarter of a mile astern.
"Very well done, Mr. Staples," said Rexdale approvingly. "But why," he added in a lower tone, "did you have the drill at this hour, instead of at four bells, as I ordered?"
"Drill? This is no drill, sir!"
"There is a man overboard, sir. One of the Japanese waiters fell over the rail somehow. I gave no orders for the drill, but that bugler is a quick fellow and knows his business. The men like the little Jap, and it put a heart into their work."
When Oshima struck the water his early training (which will be referred to before long) stood him in good stead. He rose to the surface and gave a few quick strokes to ensure safety from the propeller; then he turned on his back and tried to float. There was too much ripple on the water for this, and he was obliged to turn back upon his chest and maintain his position with as little exertion as possible, not struggling to reach the ship, which was drawing rapidly away. He had seen the "man overboard" drill many times, and was on the lookout for the life-preserver, which was thrown just as he turned for the second time. His clothes dragged downward heavily, but in three minutes he reached the buoy and clung to it, knowing that by this time the men were in the boat and casting off.
It was perhaps ten minutes from the moment of his falling into the sea when the white boat drew up alongside and pulled both him and the life-preserver out of the water. Five minutes later—the ship having reversed her screw again, and backed toward the boat—he was scrambling over on to the deck and making for the little cabin he shared with Oto.
On the ship's log it was simply recorded that the boy had "fallen overboard." Oshima was sharply questioned by the officers, but he could not be induced to tell how the accident happened. Sam knew there were no talebearers among his mates and felt safe. He made a surly apology to the little chap, saying he was mad at having been thrown, and that he had not meant to drown him. Oshima thereupon bowed in a dignified way and went about his work, serving the commander in his cabin that night as usual.
Passing the Handkerchief Lightship, the Osprey dropped anchor with the lights of Nantucket twinkling far on her beam to the south and west. The next morning preparations were made for target-practice.
The target, towed out and anchored by a whaleboat, consisted of a triangular raft of boards supported at each corner by an empty barrel. On this was stepped a mast twelve feet high, with a small red flag at the top. Three leg-of-mutton sails, or "wings," gave the craft the appearance, at a distance, of a small catboat under sail. The Osprey now took her position—the distance and course being plotted by officers in two boats—and steamed at half-speed past the target at a distance of about sixteen hundred yards.
The gun-crews were summoned to quarters, and the firing begun with a six-pounder on the forecastle, followed by two three-pounders on the same deck.
The big four-inch gun was then loaded, the officers putting cotton in their ears to avoid injury. The first shot, weighing between thirty and forty pounds, was dropped a little to the right of the target; the second fell just beyond it and to the left.
"Fire on the top of the roll," cautioned the captain of the gun-crew, which comprised four of the best gunners on the ship.
The third shot fell short, and was duly so recorded, in a memorandum to be included in a report to the Department.
As the disappointed gunner stepped back he saw Oto, who, being a sort of privileged character, was lingering close by, shake his head slightly.
"Perhaps you think you could do better, Jap!" said the man sharply.
Oto nodded, but remained modestly silent.
"What, did you ever fire a heavy piece of ordnance?" asked Liddon, standing near to watch the practice.
Oto nodded again. "I could hit that target," he added simply, touching his cap and turning away.
"Stop," said the officer. He stepped toward the bridge, and, saluting, said: "The Japanese yonder says he is used to firing and could hit the target, sir. Shall I let him try?"
Rexdale, who was closely noting the practice, hesitated, it being the strict rule that no one outside the gun-crew should fire. He spoke in a low tone to Staples, who laughed and said: "All right, sir. It's only one shot wasted, in any case."
"Let the boy sight the piece, and fire," ordered the commander.
Oto touched his cap and adjusted the sighting apparatus to his shoulder. His small hands fluttered a moment around the delicate machinery; then he swung the great muzzle slightly upward and to the right. The ship rose on a long swell, and just as it hung on the crest came the roar of the great gun.
An instant's pause was followed by a cheer from the men; for as the smoke drifted away, behold, there was no target to be seen!
"He must have struck the base of the mast, true as a hair!" exclaimed Rexdale, scanning the wreck of the target through his glass. "Well done, Oto!"
The men crowded around the little fellow, clapping him on the back.
"Just his luck!" growled Sam, who was one of the gun-crew.
"Oh, let up, Sam! The boy has made a first-class shot," said a grizzled old gunner. "Wait till you have such luck yourself!"
"You will send a boat out to pick up what is left of the target," ordered Rexdale, returning his glasses to their case. "We've no more time for practice to-day. Get all your boats in and proceed, if you please, Mr. Staples."
That night he sent for the executive and had a long talk with him. There was something queer about those two Japanese boys, Rexdale said. Did Staples or any of the officers know anything about them? Inquiries were made, and the waiters themselves were closely questioned, but no information of importance could be gained. It was learned, indeed, that one of the ordinary seamen, Dick Scupp by name, was more "chummy" with Oto and Oshima than any one else on board. He was a simple, long-legged, awkward young fellow from northern Maine, who had enlisted at the outbreak of the Spanish War, and had served before Santiago, in the blockading squadron. He had taken a fancy to Oshima, particularly, and it was he who had rebuked Sam's rough treatment of his Japanese friend, just before the wrestling-match. He knew nothing, however, of the previous lives of the two little foreigners.
Rexdale would hardly have been surprised at Oto's skill in gunnery had he known that this meek and gentle Japanese lad had passed through the whole course at the Naval Academy at Annapolis, graduating—under his full name, Makoto Owari—in the first third of his class, just seven years before Dave received his own commission!
The rest of the cruise of the Osprey was without special incident. Various drills were performed until every movement was executed to the officers' satisfaction. One of the most interesting was the "fire drill." A succession of loud, hurried strokes on the ship's bell brought the men hurrying up from below. Some ran to the hose, uncoiled it and coupled it to the pipes, others closed ports and ventilators, boat crews repaired to their stations, and in an almost incredibly short time water was gushing from the nozzle of the hose into the sea. Then there was "Boats and away!" the life-raft drill, signalling, and other manœuvres. Attention was paid to the slightest details, which were executed with the wonderful precision that characterises every naval movement. If the emergency should really arise, in the midst of a storm or under the enemy's fire, every man would know his station and the exact duties he was to perform. "Collision drill" and "setting up" finished the work in that line for the day.
During the afternoon land was near on both sides of the vessel, as she pursued her course to the north-west between Martha's Vineyard and the mainland. Nobska Head and, three hours later, Gay Head, were sighted and passed. Then the Osprey stood directly for Cape Charles. Just at sunset a heavy fog shut down.
"Three-quarters speed!" ordered Ensign Liddon, who was on the bridge.
"Three-quarters speed, sir," responded the quartermaster, throwing the indicators, which connected with the engine-room, around to that point. At about twelve knots an hour, or fifty-five revolutions of the screw to a minute, the ship crept steadily southward, with her whistle going twice a minute. At ten o'clock full speed was resumed, for the stars were out again.
The next day was fair, and the sun shone brightly on the broad ocean, on the white ship, and on the great steel gun which bore the inscription "Bethlehem"—the place where it was cast. "After all, it's a good peacemaker," said Lieutenant Staples, as he made his inspection tour, accompanied by Dr. Cutler. "There's thirty-six hundred pounds of peace," he added, patting the breech of the gun. On the deck, near by, a kitten was tumbling about in the sunshine. The men were engaged in mending, writing letters, and smoking idly.
At about noon the lightship off Cape May was left behind, and the Osprey started up Chesapeake Bay. When she had proceeded to a point sixteen miles below the mouth of the Potomac, she brought up for the night, a light fog rendering navigation difficult in those crowded waters. Early the next morning the gunboat weighed anchor and got under way. Just as she was turning into the Potomac she sighted the battleship Indiana outward bound with midshipmen on board in large numbers.
Staples immediately gave an order, and a string of gay flags fluttered at the yard-arm above the Osprey's decks. The signal was answered by the battleship, and the executive reported to Rexdale, "Permission to proceed, sir." When two ships of the navy meet, this permission must always be obtained from the one commanding officer who ranks the other.
Up the broad, placid river the Osprey moved, seeming to gain in size as the stream diminished; past wooded banks where cabins nestled in the greenery, or statelier homes lifted their white pillars; past the little cove where Booth, the assassin of President Lincoln, landed after crossing the Potomac in his mad flight; on toward Washington. At the Proving Ground a boat was sent ashore with a telephone message to Alexandria, ordering a tug-boat to meet the war-ship for two or three miles' tow to her dock.
When the Osprey was opposite Mount Vernon, a mournful strain from the bugle floated over the water from the ship's forward deck. The ensign was half-masted, every man on board faced the shore and stood at salute, while the bell tolled slowly until the sacred spot, the home of the great American, was passed.
Not long afterward the tug appeared, made fast to the gunboat, and towed her to the navy-yard wharf, where she was to await orders for further movements.
During the week that followed, two events took place which were destined to exert an important influence upon the subsequent history of the Osprey.
The first was the appearance of a new member of the mess, Midshipman Robert Starr. He was a cheery, good-natured young fellow, finishing his Academy course; full of fun, and a great joker. While the original ward-room mess were at first disposed to regret, if not to resent, this addition to their family, they soon liked him thoroughly, and, indeed, he became popular from one end of the ship to the other.
The other event of importance was a dinner given by Lieut. Commander Rexdale on board his ship. Among those who received invitations were the Commandant of the Yard, with his wife and daughter; one or two officers from a torpedo-destroyer then docked and out of commission; Fred Larkin, who happened to be in Washington; and two young girls, nieces of a Government official of high standing, Ethelwyn and Edith Black, aged respectively sixteen and nineteen. These fair young Anglo-Saxons were the guests of the commandant, and on finding that they were included in the invitation expressed their delight by seizing upon his daughter Mary and executing a sort of triple waltz around the room for fully five minutes.
"You see, dear," panted the younger Miss Black, adjusting an amber pin which had
Verlag: BookRix GmbH & Co. KG
Tag der Veröffentlichung: 17.04.2014
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