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   Chapter 1 No.1

Yule Logs By Various Characters: 10969

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04

It was a grand success. Every one said so; and moreover, every one who witnessed the experiment predicted that the Mermaid would revolutionize naval warfare as completely as did the world-famous Monitor. Professor Rivers, who had devoted the best years of his life to perfecting his wonderful invention, struggling bravely on through innumerable disappointments and failures, undaunted by the sneers of those who scoffed, or the significant pity of his friends, was so overcome by his signal triumph that he fled from the congratulations of those who sought to do him honour, leaving to his young assistants the responsibility of restoring the marvellous craft to her berth in the great ship-house that had witnessed her construction.

These assistants were two lads, eighteen and nineteen years of age, who were not only the Professor's most promising pupils, but his firm friends and ardent admirers. The younger, Carlos West Moranza, was the only son of a Cuban sugar-planter, and an American mother who had died while he was still too young to remember her. From earliest childhood he had exhibited so great a taste for machinery that, when he was sixteen, his father had sent him to the United States to be educated as a mechanical engineer in one of the best technical schools of that country.

There his dearest chum was his class-mate, Carl Baldwin, son of the famous American shipbuilder, John Baldwin, and heir to the latter's vast fortune. The elder Baldwin had founded the school in which his own son was now being educated, and placed at its head his life-long friend, Professor Alpheus Rivers, who, upon his patron's death, had also become Carl's sole guardian.

In appearance and disposition young Baldwin was the exact opposite of Carlos Moranza, and it was this as well as the similarity of their names that had first attracted the lads to each other. While the young Cuban was a handsome fellow, slight of figure, with a clear olive complexion, impulsive and rash almost to recklessness, the other was a typical Anglo-Saxon American, big, fair, and blue-eyed, rugged in feature, and slow to act, but clinging with bulldog tenacity to any idea or plan that met with his favour. He invariably addressed his chum as "West," while the latter generally called him "Carol."

The Rivers submarine boat, finally christened Mermaid, had been evolved during long years in the great Baldwin shipyard located on the Delaware, less than a mile distant from the Baldwin technical school, and during his lifetime John Baldwin had taken a deep interest in its construction. Thus Carl had been familiar with its every detail from the time that he could remember anything, and had grown up with an abiding faith in its possibilities. That his chum was also enthusiastic concerning it constituted one of the strongest bonds of sympathy between them. Now that its complete success had been demonstrated by four hours of trial, during most of which time it had been man?uvred under water with a party of six distinguished engineers on board, Carl's elation was only little less than that of the inventor, whose very life was bound up in it. Like him, however, the lad was slow to express his deepest feelings; but the enthusiasm of the day found ample vent through the young Cuban, who had been permitted to share in the glorious result, and who poured forth his exultation in a torrent of words as the two lads left the shipyard and wended their way homeward.

"It is the crowning triumph of the century, my Carol, and will make immortal the name of our honoured instructor. To have lived until this day and to be allowed a share in such glory is a vast privilege. Of war, what a revolution will be made! Oh, if my poor country possessed but one of these marvels, how quickly would she be free! To destroy the ships of Spain and open to the world every Cuban port! What an achievement! what honour! Carol, why may it not be done? Why may we not take this Mermaid, and with her liberate Cuba from her centuries of slavery?"

"Because," answered Carl Baldwin slowly, "she is not ours to take, and even if she were, we would not be allowed to use her in any such fashion. The Government would not permit us."

"But if she were ours. If the Professor would consent to allow us to attempt the experiment. If we could escape the vigilance of the American cruisers, and manage to convey our marvel of marvels to the scene of action, would you not join in the enterprise, my Carol? Would you not aid in striking the blow for freedom?"

"It would certainly be most interesting to test the little craft in actual service," replied the young American cautiously.

"Interesting, say you? It is of vital importance. What she has done is nothing. Who knows what she may accomplish? When will there come another such chance for trying her in warfare? Where in the world is there a prize to be gained equal in value to that of a free Cuba? That my father has sacrificed all but life itself for her is my proudest boast; that I may soon fight by his side, my fondest hope. Oh, if you cold-blooded Americans could but witness the cruelty, the oppression, the despair, the horror of it all. But, if I cannot win over my dearest friend among them, how may I hope to persuade others? Ah, Dios! it is hard, it is bitter, it is pitiful, that but for want of a single helping hand all should be lost."

At this point the young Cuban's feelings so overpowered him that words failed to expres

s them, and as Carl Baldwin's policy was to remain silent during these outbursts, the lads reached the school building in which they lodged without further conversation.

Since Carlos Moranza had left home, the affairs of his native land had come to a sorry pass. The struggle for freedom had begun. Spanish armies devastated the fair island, killing its inhabitants, laying waste their fields, and destroying their homes, while Spanish war-ships patrolled its coasts to cut off all outside aid from the insurgents.

The latter, devoid of nearly everything necessary for carrying on a war, save a desperate determination to resist to the death, occupied the interior of the island, where they found impregnable strongholds amid its rugged mountains and dense forests. The sympathies of the American people were with them, and expeditions for their relief were constantly fitting out in the southern ports of the United States. Many of these failed to reach their destination, since international law compelled the Government to prevent them from sailing, if possible. Thus, in addition to the Spanish fleet patrolling the Cuban coasts, the southern waters of the United States were guarded by an equally numerous fleet of American men-of-war and vessels of its revenue marine.

From the very outset of the war Don C?sar Moranza, after placing his only daughter, Catina, who was two years younger than Carlos, in what he conceived to be a safe retreat, had linked his fortunes with those who fought for liberty. He had quickly risen to the command of a Cuban army, and, as General Moranza, the dashing cavalry leader, proved such a terror to the Spaniards, that to capture him became an important object of their campaigns.

With all the impetuosity of his nature Carlos longed to take part in the glorious struggle, and, in every letter that he found means of transmitting to his father, pleaded to be allowed to join him. Thus far his petitions had been denied on the ground that he would still have ample opportunity for fighting after he had become a skilled engineer. In the meantime he could do much for the cause where he was, and must remember that to perfect himself in his chosen profession would be of greater value to Cuba than the winning of a battle. This stimulant was what made young Moranza one of the most brilliant scholars in the Baldwin Polytechnic; for he felt that every problem solved was a blow struck for his country. At the time of the Mermaid's successful trial trip, in which the young Cuban had been allowed to participate as a distinguished reward of merit, he had received no word from his father or sister for many weeks, and so was filled with anxiety concerning them.

As the lads reached the school they separated, Carlos proceeding directly to his room, and the other going in search of Professor Rivers to report the safe housing of the Mermaid. The Professor was so buried in thought that for a few moments he apparently took no notice of Carl's entrance. Suddenly, lifting his head and looking squarely at the lad, he exclaimed-

"Yes, yes, my boy, all is well so far as we have gone, but what will she do in actual service? How will she behave in face of an enemy? Is she capable of single-handed and successful attack against a fleet? Until these questions are answered how may I know whether my lifework is a success or a failure? To solve them I would willingly engage a navy in single combat; but where may I find one willing to accept my challenge?"

"Why not in Cuba, sir?" suggested Carl with a sudden inspiration.

"Cuba! Cuba!" repeated the Professor slowly, as though bewildered by the idea thus presented, and then he plunged once more into abstracted thought.

After waiting a few moments longer, and seeing that his guardian was disinclined for further conversation just then, Carl Baldwin departed to tell his friend of the seed he had planted. To his dismay he found Carlos standing as though petrified, and staring with bloodshot eyes at a telegram evidently just received.

"What is it, West? What has happened?" inquired young Baldwin anxiously.

"Read that," replied the other huskily.

With this he extended the message, which was signed by the president of the Cuban Junta or War Committee, whose headquarters were in New York City.

"General Moranza captured by treachery and shot by order of Weyler. His daughter seized, imprisoned, and held for transportation to a penal colony. May God help you in this hour of your affliction!"

"For my father's death I grieve not," cried the young Cuban. "He died for the cause he loved, and may be avenged. But for my sister, my own little Catina, in prison, at the mercy of those brutes, and consigned to the living death of a convict! How may I bear it? What can I do? Tell me, my friend, for I am going mad."

"No," cried Carl Baldwin, "you shall not go mad, nor even yield to despair, for we will yet save her. The Professor shall go with us, and we will take the Mermaid. Even now he is inclined to consider some such undertaking. And when he reads this message he will be as ready to set forth as you or I. Oh yes, my dear fellow, we can rescue her and we will. Instead of going to a penal colony, she shall come to this country, and be as free as you are at this moment."

As he spoke the young American seized his friend's hand, and the latter looking into the brave blue eyes, now blazing with excitement, believed that Catina would be saved.

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