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Dave Darrin at Vera Cruz
by H. Irving Hancock
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"Leave him there," Darrin directed in an undertone. "Coxswain, post eight men around the house, and take command of them. I will take the other four men with me."

Swiftly Darrin led his little squad around to the rear of the house, since the front was closed and dark.

A doorway stood open, showing a room lighted by two candles that stood on a table. Around the table were seven men, eating and drinking. Plainly they had not heard the brief scuffle at the front.

With a nod to his four men Darrin led the way inside. Instantly the seven men were on their feet, staring wildly at the intruders. One man started for a stack of rifles that stood in a corner, but Ensign Darrin hurled him back.

"Don't let any man reach for a gun, or draw any sort of weapon," Darrin ordered, quickly.

Then to the Mexicans, in Spanish, Dave shouted:

"Stand where you are, and no harm will be done to you. We have not come here to molest you, but you hold Americans prisoners here, and we mean to take them away with us."

"No, no," answered one of the Mexicans, smilingly, "you are mistaken. We have no prisoners here."

Dave's heart sank within him for one brief moment. Had he made a mistake in invading this house, only to find that his mission was to be fruitless?

Then he suspected Mexican treachery.

"Pardon me," he urged in Spanish, "if I satisfy myself that you are telling the truth. Stand where you are, all of you, and no harm shall come to you. But don't make the mistake of moving or of reaching for weapons."

Darrin strode swiftly past the group and stepped into a hallway, in which were stairs leading above.

"Are there any Americans here," he shouted, "who want help? If so, there are American sailors here ready to give aid."

From above there came a single exclamation of joy, followed by a scurrying of feet.

From above sounded a voice demanding in Spanish:

"Shall I let the prisoners go?"

"You will have to," answered the same voice that had answered Dave. "We are attacked by los marineros Americanos." (American sailors).

For the men in the other room now knew that there were more than these four seamen at hand. As soon as he heard voices inside Riley had cleverly caused his men to walk about the house with heavy tread, and the Mexicans believed themselves to be outnumbered.

"Is it true that there are American sailors below?" called a man's husky voice.

"A detachment from the United States Navy, sir," Dave replied, gleefully. "Are you Mr. Carmody?"

"Yes, yes!"

"Then bring down your party. We have force enough to resist any attempt to hold you, and if any harm is offered you, we shall avenge it. Shall I come upstairs for you, Mr. Carmody?"

"If you don't mind," answered the voice of the man above. "There are two guards up here who seem undecided whether to shoot us or to let us pass."

Instantly Ensign Darrin ran to the stairs, mounting them. Yet he was careful to take no chance of being surprised in the dark, for he well understood the treachery of the natives with whom he had to deal.

However, Darrin reached the landing unattacked. Down the hallway he saw an open door, through which a dim light shone. Before the door were two Mexicans, each armed with a rifle.

"You will permit the American party to pass," Dave commanded, bluntly, in the best Spanish that he had learned at Annapolis.

One of the sentries again called out loudly, demanding instructions from below.

"You will have to let the prisoners pass," came from downstairs.

At that both sentries moved away from the door.

"Will you be good enough to come out?" Darrin called, keeping his eye on the two guards, who stood glowering sullenly at him. He had not drawn his revolver, and did not wish to do so.

The door was cautiously opened and a man's head appeared. One look at Dave and the door was flung wide by a tall, serious-eyed man whose hair was gray at the temples.

"Come," he called to those behind him. "I see the uniform of our own Navy. I never paid much attention to it before, but at thus moment it's the most welcome sight in the world."

Head erect, shoulders thrown back, an expression of deep gratitude in his eyes, John Carmody stepped out into the hallway.

Behind him was a middle-aged woman, followed by two pretty girls. Then came another woman, younger than the first, who led two boys, one of four years, the other of six.

"I was sent here," Dave announced, cap in hand, "to find and rescue John Carmody, his wife and two sons, and a Mrs. Deeming and her two daughters."

"We are they," Mr. Carmody declared.

"Do you know of any other prisoners, Americans or otherwise, who are held here by the bandits, sir?" Ensign Darrin inquired.

"I do not know of any other captives here," replied Mr. Carmody, promptly. "In fact, I do not believe there are any others."

"Mr. Carmody, if you will lead your party down the stairs and through the hallway to the room at the end of the passage, I will bring up the rear of this little American procession."

Mr. Carmody obeyed without hesitation. One after another the trembling women followed, Mrs. Carmody leading her two young sons.

Out in the hallway Mr. Carmody caught sight of the sailors, who stood revealed in the light of the room, as with watchful eyes they held the seven Mexicans at bay.

"Mr. Carmody," called Dave, just before he entered that room, "I will ask you to lead your party out of doors. You will find other American sailors there, sir."

Entering the room, Dave stood, cap still in hand, until the last of the American women had passed into the open. Then, replacing his cap, the young naval officer turned to the Mexican who had spoken to the others and who now stood sullenly eyeing the sailors.

"I have carried out my orders," Dave declared, in Spanish. "I regret that I have no authority to punish you as you deserve. Instead, therefore, I will wish you good night."

Signing to his sailors to pass out before him, Dave was the last to leave the room. All four of the young sailors, however, stood just outside, where their rifles might sweep the room, at need, until their officer had passed out.

"Hicks," called Dave, to one of the party of sailors who had surrounded the house, "lead these people to the water. The rest of us will bring up the rear."

Seeing the women and children of his party under safe guidance, Mr. Carmody turned back to speak to their rescuer.

"Sir," asked the older man, "did you know that, on account of the failure to raise the ransom money, we were all, even the babies, to be put to death at sunrise?"

"Yes, sir," Dave nodded.

"Then perhaps you are able to understand the gratitude to which I shall endeavor to give some expression as soon as we are in a place of safety."

"It is not my wish to hear expressions of gratitude, Mr. Carmody," Dave Darrin answered. "As to safety, however, I fancy we are safe enough already."

Mr. Carmody shook his head energetically.

"We have twenty men to the nine we saw in that house," Dave smiled. "Surely they will not endeavor to attack us."

"Cosetta, the bandit, was he to whom you spoke in the house," replied John Carmody. "He has but a few men in the house, but there are twenty or thirty more sleeping in the stables behind the house. Altogether, unless he has sent some away, he must have more than sixty men hereabouts."

"Then we must go on the double quick to our boat," returned Darrin. "Hicks," he called down the straggling line, which was now just outside the grounds and headed toward the mill, "keep the whole party moving as rapidly as possible."

Yet Darrin was not afraid for himself, for he halted while the party hastened forward, scanning the darkness to his rear. Seeing the ensign standing there alone, Riley and half a dozen sailors came running back.

"I'm afraid you're headed the wrong way, Riley," smiled Dave. "I hear there is a large force behind us, and we must embark as rapidly as possible."

"It won't take us long to tumble into the launch, sir," the coxswain replied, doggedly, "but we won't leave our officer behind. We couldn't think of doing it."

"Not even under orders?" Darrin inquired.

"We'd hate to disobey orders, sir," Riley mumbled, looking rather abashed, "but——-"

"Hark!" called Dave, holding up a hand.

Back of the flowering hedge he heard the swift patter of bare feet.

Out of the darkness came a flash of a pistol shot. It was answered instantly by a ragged but crashing volley.

Long tongues of flame spat out into the night. The air was full of whistling bullets.

Pseu! pss-seu! pss-seu! Sang the steel-jacketed bullets about the ears of the Americans.

Then the sailor nearest Ensign Dave Darrin fell to the ground with a stifled gasp.



CHAPTER VIII

DISOBEDIENCE OF ORDERS

Outnumbered, the Americans did not falter.

Save for Hicks, the guide, and the wounded man, the sailors threw themselves automatically to one knee, bringing their rifles to "ready."

For a moment Ensign Darrin felt sick at heart. He was under orders not to fire, to employ no armed force in a way that might be construed as an act of war in the country of another nation.

Yet here were his men being fired upon, one already wounded, and American women and children in danger of losing their lives.

Perhaps it was against orders, as given, but the real military commander is sometimes justified in disregarding orders.

At the first sound of shots all of the sailors, except Hicks, came running back, crouching close to earth. As soon as they reached the thin little line the men knelt and waited breathlessly. Dave's resolution was instantly taken. Though he might hang for his disobedience of orders, he would not tamely submit to seeing his men shot down ruthlessly.

Still less would he permit American women and children to be endangered.

Orders, or no orders—-

"Ready, men!" he shouted, above the sharp reports of the Cosetta rifle fire. "Aim low at the hedge! Fire at will!"

Cr-r-r-rack! rang out the American Navy rifles.

Filled with the fighting enthusiasm of the moment, Darrin drew his automatic revolver, firing ten shots swiftly at different points along the hedge.

From behind that screen came cries of pain, for the Mexican is an excitable individual, who does not take his wounds with the calmness evinced by an American.

Another American sailor had dropped. John Carmody, who had remained with the defending party, snatched up one of the rifles. Standing, he rushed in a magazine full of bullets, then bent to help himself to more from the belt of the rifle's former carrier.

Fitting his revolver with a fresh load of cartridges, Dave held his fire for any emergency that might arise.

A marine dashed up, nearly out of breath.

"Sir," panted the marine, "Corporal Ross wants to know if you want to order the Colt gun and the marines up here."

"No," Dave decided instantly. "Help one of our wounded men back to the launch and tell Corporal Ross to remain where he is. Is the Colt loaded and ashore?"

"Yes, sir; ready for instant action."

"Did Hicks get the women and children to the launch?"

"No sir; he has hidden them behind the lower end of the sugar mill. The air is too full of bullets to expose the women to them."

"Good for Hicks! Tell him I said so. He is to remain where he is until either the Mexicans' fire ceases or he receives different orders from me."

"Very good, sir."

Stooping, the marine picked up the worse injured of the two wounded sailors and swiftly bore him away in his arms.

"Cease firing!" shouted Darrin, running along his valiant little line of sailors. "Load your magazines and let the rifles cool until the Mexicans start up again."

For, with the exception of a shot here and there from behind the hedge, the destructive fire had ceased.

"We must have hit a few of them," chuckled Darrin to John Carmody, who stood beside him.

"I hope you killed them all," replied the planter. "They're brutes, when they have their own way."

"Riley!"

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Pass the word to the men and we'll slip back. I don't like the silence behind the hedge. I suspect that the men have been withdrawn and that we are to be flanked below the sugar mill. Tell the men to fall back by rushes, not returning any fire unless ordered."

"Aye, aye, sir."

A moment later ten jackies were retreating. They gained the sugar mill, and passed it.

"Hicks," called Ensign Darrin, "get your party aboard. Run for it!"

"Aye, aye, sir."

"And help this wounded man back to the launch."

The sailor, who had been carrying the second wounded man, turned him over to Hicks, who carried his burden manfully.

Dave continued to retreat more slowly with his fighting force, taking frequent observations rearward. From the hedge a few, sniping shots came now and then, but, as no one was hit, Darrin did not allow the fire to be returned.

Suddenly, three hundred yards away, a volley crashed out on the right.

"Flanked!" muttered Darrin, grimly, as Riley threw his men into line to meet the new attack. "I expected it. Aim two feet above the ground, men, and fire at will until you have emptied your magazines twice."

Down by the launch, and not thirty feet from the wharf, stood Corporal Ross with his marines and the Colt machine gun. The marines were wild to join in the firing, but would not do so until ordered. Darrin was loath to let them draw the enemy's fire until the women had been made as safe as possible on the launch.

As the American firing ceased, Dave called the order:

"Load magazines, but reserve fire. Rush three hundred feet closer to the wharf and then halt and form again."

This move was carried out, but a third sailor dropped wounded.

As a lull came in the firing, Ensign Darrin blew a signal on his whistle. In response, two marines came sprinting to the spot.

"Take this wounded man to the launch," Darrin ordered.

"Corporal Ross hopes, sir, you'll soon give him leave to turn the machine gun loose," one of the marines suggested respectfully.

"I'll give the order as soon as the time comes," Darrin promised. "Tell Corporal Ross that one flash from my pocket lamp will mean 'open fire,' and that two flashes will mean 'cease firing.'

"Very good, sir."

The wounded man was borne away. Again Dave attempted a rush, then reformed his men, this time not more than two hundred and fifty feet from the stern of the launch.

"Riley!"

"Aye, aye, sir!"

"You will take command here. I must see to the safety of our passengers."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Fire when you think best, but do not let the men waste ammunition. We have but a hundred rounds apiece."

"I know it, sir."

Then Dave dashed down to the wharf, just before which stood Corporal Ross looking the picture of disappointment. He had hoped for permission to open fire.

Ensign Darrin and John Carmody ran to the launch together. Aided by Coxswain Schmidt, Hicks had done his work well, placing the women and children flat along the bottom of the craft, where they were little likely to be found by flying bullets.

Again the fire had slackened. Dave stood with the marines, peering into the blackness beyond.

"Can't you call in your party and make a quick dash down the lagoon?" inquired John Carmody, approaching, a rifle still gripped by one hand and a cartridge-belt thrown over one shoulder.

"We can't travel fast in the lagoon, sir," Dave answered, "and Cosetta's men can run as fast along the shore, keeping up a fire that would be more deadly when we're crowded together aboard the launch. I want to silence the scoundrel's fire, if possible, before we try the dash out into the Gulf."

"You appear to have discouraged the men who flanked you," said Mr. Carmody, looking towards the shore.

"Yes, sir; but, judging by the rifle flashes there were not more than twenty men in that flanking party. We still have to hear from another body, and I believe they are hiding in the mill, ready to snipe us from there. Besides, probably a smaller party has been sent from the flankers to lie in wait and get us as we go through the lagoon. It's a bad trap, Mr. Carmody, and we must move slowly, if we wish to get away with our lives."

While they stood watching, Riley's handful of men came running to the spot.

At the same moment shots rang out from the roof of the sugar mill.

"There we are!" Darrin exclaimed. "And men on a roof are the hardest to hit."

In a jiffy a yell rose from the flankers, who now rose and came charging forward across some four hundred feet of intervening space.

"Give 'em the Colt, Corporal!" Ensign Darrin roared.

There was a yell of rage from the Mexicans as the machine gun barked forth. With the muzzle describing an arc of several degrees, many of the flankers were hit. The others threw themselves flat on the ground to escape its destructive fire.

From the mill another score of charging Mexicans had started, yelling in Spanish:

"Death to the Gringos."

Leaping forward, Darrin felt a sudden sting of pain in his right foot. A bullet, sent in low, had ripped the sole of his shoe, inflicting a painful wound.

"Cease firing, Corporal!" Dave ordered, hobbling to the machine gun. "Swing her nose around. Now, give it to 'em."

As the machine gun barked forth again the raiders from the mill found good excuse for halting. There are times when a machine gun is worth a battalion of infantry.

Yet one bullet is enough to kill a man. A marine fell at Dave's feet. The young ensign bent over him; one look was enough to prove that this defender of his countrymen was dead.

As the fire from the machine gun ceased, a wild cheer rose on the air. Now, from four different points groups of Mexicans rose and charged, firing as they ran.

One desperate dash, and they would overwhelm the crippled little Navy party.

Defeat for Dave Darrin's command meant the massacre of all the survivors of his rescue party, and of the American men and women in their care!

Ensign Dave Darrin realized this with a sickening heart.



CHAPTER IX

CANTOR FINDS HIS CHANCE

Prompt action alone could save the women and children who lay cowering in the launch.

"Corporal, kneel with your men, and let them have it as fast as you can!" ordered Dave. "Riley, get your men into the boat, and take the Colt with you. Post it as fast as you can on the starboard quarter!"

Dave himself stood behind the kneeling marines, a fair target for every hostile bullet.

John Carmody, too, felt in honor bound to risk himself beside the young Navy ensign.

"All sea-going, sir!" called Coxswain Riley. "Schmidt, make ready to cast off," sang back Darrin.

Now the different groups of Mexicans, who had been halted for a minute under the brisk fire, saw their prey slipping away from them.

With yells of fury, Cosetta's men rose and attempted the final charge.

"Marines aboard!" yelled Darrin.

Almost in the same instant, loaded revolver in hand, Dave sprang to the gunwale and landed on the after deck.

Without waiting for the order from his chief, Schmidt cast off, with the aid of the single sailor under his own command. The engineer went ahead at slow speed for a few seconds while Riley steered the launch clear of the wharf and headed for deeper, safer water.

"Half speed ahead!" shouted Darrin, as Schmidt sprang to the wheel, while Riley, snatching up his rifle, joined the fighting men. Uttering howls of rage as they saw their prey escaping them, the Mexicans rushed out onto the wharf in a mad attempt to board before it was too late.

Three men would have succeeded in boarding the launch, had they not been shot down as they leaped for the after deck.

"Give it to them with the Colt, Corporal!" Dave called. "Every other man fire with his rifle!"

Before he had finished speaking, the reloaded Colt belched forth its rain of death. It was the machine gun, with its muzzle swiftly turning in an arc of a circle that did the most execution among the outlaws, but the riflemen did their share.

Until his rifle barrel was too hot to hold in his hands, John Carmody shot rapidly, yet coolly putting into his work all the pent-up indignation that he had felt for days against Cosetta and his men.

"Stop the gun!" ordered Dave Darrin, resting a hand on the shoulder of the marine corporal. "Don't waste its fire."

The launch was now free of the shore, and moving down the lagoon at half speed. On the wharf fully a score of Mexicans either lay dead or dying.

Dave's spoken order to the engineer caused the launch to increase its speed.

"Line up at the starboard rail," Dave called to the men grouped about him. "We're going to catch it from the shore."

The launch was a few hundred yards down the lagoon when Darrin, alertly watching, made out several figures on the eastern shore.

Patiently he waited until the first flash from a rifle was seen, which was followed instantly by the report and the "pss-seu!" of a bullet.

"Let 'em have the rest of what's in the Colt," the young ensign directed, calmly. "Men, don't fire too rapidly, but keep up your work. We want to be remembered by Cosetta, if he has the good luck to be still alive."

It was neither a heavy nor an accurate fire that came now from the enraged Mexicans. Helped out by the Colt, the fire from the moving craft was sharp enough to discourage the rapidly diminishing ardor of the miscreants on shore.

Just as the launch rounded the point of land at the mouth of the lagoon, and stood out into open water at full speed, a stray bullet killed Seaman Hicks.

"Yes, sir, he's dead, poor fellow!" exclaimed Riley, looking up as Ensign Dave stepped hastily forward for a look at his man. "Hicks was a fine sailor too."

"For a party that wasn't expected to fight," returned Darrin wearily, "we've had a pretty big casualty list—-two killed, and three wounded."

"You're wounded yourself, sir," exclaimed Riley.

"Oh, my boot was cut," Darrin assented, indifferently.

"Look at your wrist, sir," urged the young Coxswain.

Dave glanced down at his left wrist, to find it covered with blood.

"It must look worse than it is," Darrin commented, listlessly. "I didn't even feel it."

"It will need attention, sir, just the same," Riley urged. "Let me fix it up, sir, with a first aid bandage."

There was a water cask aboard. As the launch was now out of close range, and the Mexicans had apparently given up firing, Riley brought a cup of water, poured it over the wrist, and wiped away the blood.

"A scratch, as I thought," smiled Dave. "Not even enough to get excused from watch duty."

"You'll have it dressed, sir, won't you, as soon as you get aboard the 'Long Island' again?" urged Riley, applying the sterilized bandage with swift skill. "If the scoundrels used any of the brass-jacketed bullets of which they're so fond, a scratch like that might lead to blood poisoning, sir."

In a few minutes more the launch was out of rifle range. Dave ordered the course changed to east by north-east, in order to reach the rendezvous of the three launches.

"Steamer ahead, sir!" sang out the bow lookout, a few minutes later.

"Whereaway?" called Darrin, moving forward.

"Three points off starboard bow, sir," replied the sailorman. "It looks like our own launch, sir."

By this time Darrin was well forward. He peered closely at the approaching craft, for she might be a Mexican Federal gunboat that had fallen into the hands of rebels or outlaws.

"It's our own launch," pronounced Darrin, a minute later. He reached for the whistle pull and blew three blasts of welcome, which were promptly answered.

The two craft now neared each other. "Launch ahoy, there!" called a voice from the bow of the other craft.

"Aye, aye, sir!" Darrin answered.

"Is that you, Ensign Darrin?"

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Lay to. I am coming alongside."

As the launch under Dave's command lost headway, then lay idly on the light ground swell, the other launch circled about her, then came up under the port quarter.

"Did you find the American party, Ensign Darrin?" demanded Lieutenant Cantor.

"Yes, sir; I have the entire party aboard and uninjured."

"Was there any trouble?" asked Cantor.

"Yes, sir. We were fired upon, and forced to defend ourselves."

"You fired upon the natives?" exclaimed Lieutenant Cantor, in an astonished tone.

"I had to, sir."

"In the face of orders not to fight?" pressed Dave's enemy.

"Sir, if I had not fought, I would have lost my entire command," Darrin answered, with an indignation that he could not completely veil.

"Ensign Darrin," came the sharp rebuke,

"You have disobeyed the orders of Captain Gales, which were repeated by me just before we parted company. Did your fire hit any of the Mexicans?"

"I think we must have done so, sir," Dave returned dryly. "Several of them lay down, at all events."

"Any losses in your own command?" pressed Cantor.

"Two men killed and four wounded."

"The consequences of disobedience of orders, sir!" cried Lieutenant Cantor, angrily. "Ensign Darrin, I am certain that you should not have been entrusted with the command of a launch."

"That sounds like a reflection on the Captain's judgment, sir!" Dave rejoined, rather warmly.

"No unnecessary remarks," thundered Cantor. "I shall not place you in arrest, but on our return to the ship I shall report at once your flagrant disobedience of orders."

Darrin did not answer, but the hot blood now surged to his head, suffusing his cheeks. He was deeply humiliated.

"Young man, if you call that good sense," rumbled the deep voice of John Carmody, "then I don't agree with you. You condemn Darrin——-"

"Who is speaking?" roared Lieutenant Cantor.

"My name is John Carmody," returned the planter, coolly.

"Then be good enough to remain silent," commanded Cantor.

"Since I'm on a government boat," retorted the planter, "I suppose I may as well do as I'm ordered. But at some other time I shall air my opinion of you, young man, as freely as I please."

Lieutenant Cantor bit his lips, then gave the order to proceed to the appointed rendezvous.

As Cantor's launch neared Dalzell's steamer, the lieutenant ordered a rocket sent up. From away over on the horizon an answering rocket was seen.

Forty minutes later the "Long Island" lay to close by. Cantor's launch was the first to go in alongside.

"Were you successful?" hailed the voice of the executive officer from the bridge.

"Ensign Darrin was, sir," Cantor replied, through the megaphone.

"Are all the missing Americans safe?"

"Yes, sir," Cantor continued.

"And all our own men?"

"Two killed, sir, and four wounded, through what I believe to be disobedience of orders."

Instructions came for Lieutenant Cantor's launch to lay alongside. Soon after the men were on deck and the launch hoisted into place. Then, under orders, Darrin ran alongside. First of all his wounded men were passed on hoard, being there received by hospital stewards from the sick bay. Then, amid impressive silence, the two dead men were taken on board.

"Ensign Darrin," directed the officer of the deck, from the bridge, "you are directed to report to Captain Gales, at once."

Saluting, and holding himself very erect, Dave Darrin stepped proudly aboard. His face was white and angry as he neared the captain's quarters, but the young ensign strove to command himself, and tried to keep his sorely tried temper within bounds.

"You will pass inside, sir, at once," directed the marine orderly, as the young officer halted near the door.

Acknowledging the marine's salute, Dave Darrin passed him and entered the office.

Lieutenant Cantor, erect and stern, faced Captain Gales, who looked the sterner of the two.

"Ensign Darrin," began the battleship's commanding officer, rising, "most serious charges have been preferred against you, sir!"



CHAPTER X

DAVE IS STUNG TO THE QUICK

Ensign Darrin bowed, then awaited further communication from his commanding officer.

"It was particularly set forth in the orders," resumed Captain Gales, "that any form of conflict was to be avoided by the expedition of which you commanded a part, was it not?"

"It was, sir," Darrin admitted.

"And yet, by the report which Lieutenant Cantor has turned in, you opened fire on Cosetta and his band and have returned to ship with two men killed and four men wounded. Is that report correct?"

"It is, sir," admitted the young ensign, "with one exception."

"State the exception, Ensign Darrin," ordered the captain, coldly.

"The exception, sir, is that Cosetta's fellows opened fire on us first."

Dave Darrin stood looking straight into Captain Gales's eyes.

"Ensign Darrin, did you do anything to provoke that fire?" asked the commanding officer.

"Yes, sir," Dave admitted.

"Ah!" breathed Captain Gales, while Cantor gave an almost inaudible ejaculation of triumph.

"What was it, sir, that you did to provoke Cosetta into ordering his fellows to fire?" questioned Captain Gales.

"Why, sir, I found and rescued the Americans after whom you sent me," Dave explained. "They were Cosetta's prisoners. There was not a shot fired on either side until after I had placed the released prisoners under the protection of my own men, and had started away with them. Then the Mexican bandits opened fire on us."

"Couldn't you have escaped without returning the fire?"

"We might have been able to do so, sir."

"Then why didn't you?" pressed the captain.

"Because, sir, I felt sure that we would lose most of our men if we tamely submitted, and ran, pursued by superior numbers, to our launch. Moreover, I was much afraid that some of the Americans we were trying to rescue would be hit."

"In your judgment, Ensign Darrin, there was no other course open save to return the fire?"

"That was my exact judgment of the situation, sir," replied the young ensign earnestly.

"And still is your best judgment?"

"Yes, Captain."

"Hm!" commented Captain Gales. "And yet you have returned to ship with your casualties amounting to thirty per cent of your command, and one-third of your casualties are fatalities."

"Those are the facts, sir," interposed Lieutenant Cantor. "Therefore, in the face of fighting against orders, and sustaining such losses to his own immediate command, I felt it my duty, sir, to prefer charges against Ensign Darrin."

"This is a most unfortunate affair, sir," commented Captain Gales.

Dave Darrin felt the hot blood mounting to his face. He tried to control his wrath, but could not refrain from asking a question. "Sir, do you wish me to hand my sword to you?" he said gravely, with a quick movement of his right hand toward his sword hilt.

"Not yet, at any rate," answered Captain Gales, calmly. "I wish to hear your story."

"Very good, sir," Dave returned, then plunged at once into a narrative that was stripped to the bare facts. He told everything from the landing of his men to the final escape from the lagoon under Mexican fire.

"Of course, sir, Coxswain Riley and Corporal Ross will be able to bear me out as to the facts of which they have knowledge. And I would suggest, sir," Darrin added, "that Mr. Carmody, who knows more of Cosetta than any of us, will be able to give you an excellent opinion of whether I was obliged to throw my command into the fight."

"How much of your ammunition did you bring back?" asked Captain Gales, his face betraying nothing of his inward opinion.

"All the Colt ammunition was used, sir."

"And the rifle ammunition?"

"I do not believe, sir, that any man brought back more than three or four of his cartridges. Some of the men, undoubtedly, have no ammunition left."

"It is evident, sir," hinted Lieutenant Cantor, "that Ensign Darrin did his best to bring on an engagement. And his thirty per cent casualty list——-"

"Thank you, Lieutenant," broke in Captain Gales. "The number of casualties, while unfortunate, is to be justified only by a decision as to whether it was expedient and right to engage the brigand, Cosetta."

Lieutenant Cantor's only comment was an eloquent shrug of his shoulders.

"Ensign Darrin," continued Captain Gales, "if your story is true in every detail, then it would appear to me that your action, while I regret the necessity for it, could hardly be avoided. In that case, your conduct does not appear to render you liable to censure. Until further notice you will continue in your duties. Lieutenant Cantor will, as early as possible, turn in a written report of the work of the expedition, and you, Ensign Darrin, will make a written report on your own part in the affair. You will make your report through Lieutenant Cantor, who will hand it to me with his own report. Lieutenant Cantor, in his report, will make such comment on Ensign Darrin's statements as he sees fit. You may go to your quarters, Darrin, and begin your report."

"Very good, sir," Darrin returned. Saluting, he left the office.

Out in the passage-way Dave encountered Dan, who had been waiting for him.

"What's in the wind?" asked Danny Grin, eyeing Dave anxiously.

"Cantor," Dave returned, grimly.

"Is he trying to make trouble for you because you behaved like a brave man?" Dan asked, angrily.

"That is his plan."

"The contemptible hound!" ejaculated Dan Dalzell. "Do you think he is going to succeed in putting it over on you?"

"That's more than I can predict," Darrin answered his chum. "Cantor is a bright man, and in rascality I believe him to be especially efficient."

"I'd like to call the fellow out!" muttered Dan.

"Don't think of it," Dave Darrin urged, hastily, for he knew only too well the quality of Danny Grin's temper when it was fully aroused. "A challenge would suit Cantor to the skies, for it would enable him to have my best friend kicked out of the Navy."

"I won't think of it, then," promised Ensign Dalzell, "unless that fellow tries my temper to the breaking point."

Dave went hastily to his own quarters, where he laid aside his sword and revolver, bathed and dressed himself. Then he sent a messenger in search of a typewriting machine. When that came Darrin seated himself before it. Rapidly, he put down all the essential circumstances of the night's work.

Scanning the sheets closely, Dave made two or three minor changes in his report, then signed it.

Through a messenger, Darrin inquired if Lieutenant Cantor could receive him. A reply came back that Dave might report to him at once.

"This is my report, sir," Dave announced,

Dave was about to turn on his heel and leave the room, when Lieutenant Cantor stopped him with:

"Wait a few moments, if you please, Darrin. I wish to run hastily through your report."

Declining the offer of a chair, Darrin remained standing stiffly.

As he went through the report, Cantor frowned several times. At last he laid the signed sheets down on his desk.

"Darrin," asked the division commander, "do you realize that you are out of place in the Navy?"

"I do not, sir," Dave answered, coldly.

"Well, you are," pursued Lieutenant Cantor. "With your talents you should engage in writing the most improbable kinds of romances."

"That report is true in every respect, sir," Dave frowned.

"It appears to me to be a most improbable report—-as highly improbable as any official report that I have ever seen."

"The report is true in every detail," repeated Dave, his face flushing.

Lieutenant Cantor rose from his desk, facing his angry subordinate.

"You lie!" he declared, coldly.

"You cur!" Dave Darrin hissed back, his wrath now at white heat.

Instantly he launched a blow full at Cantor's face. The lieutenant warded it off.

Within three or four seconds several blows were aimed on both sides, without landing, for both were excellent boxers.

Then Dave drove in under Cantor's guard with his left hand, while with his right fist he struck the lieutenant a blow full on the face that sent him reeling backward.

Clutching wildly, Cantor seized a chair, carrying it over with himself as he landed on the floor.

In an instant Lieutenant Cantor was on his feet, brandishing the chair aloft.

"Ensign Darrin," he cried, "you have made the error of striking a superior officer when on duty!"



CHAPTER XI

A BROTHER OFFICER'S WHISPER

"I know it," Dave returned, huskily.

"You have committed a serious breach of discipline," blazed the lieutenant.

"I have struck down a fellow who demeaned himself by insulting his subordinate," Darrin returned, his voice now clear and steady. "Lieutenant Cantor, do you consider yourself fit to command others?"

"Never mind what I think about myself," sneered the lieutenant. "Go to your quarters!"

"In arrest?" demanded Dave Darrin, mockingly.

"No; but go to your quarters and remain there for the present. You are likely to be summoned very soon."

Saluting, Ensign Dave turned ironically on his heel, going back to his quarters.

In an instant Danny Grin came bounding in.

"There's something up, isn't there?" Ensign Dalzell asked, anxiously.

"A moment ago there was something down," retorted Dave, grimly. "It was Cantor, if any one asks you about it."

"You knocked him down?" asked Dan, eagerly.

"I did."

"Then you must have had an excellent reason."

"I did have a very fair reason," Darrin went on, "the fellow passed the lie."

"Called you a liar?"

"That was the purport of his insult," Dave nodded.

"I'm glad you knocked him down," Dalzell went on, fervently. "Yet I see danger ahead."

"What danger?" Dave asked, dryly.

"Cantor will report your knock-down feat to Captain Gales."

"Let him. When he hears of the provocation Captain Gales will exonerate me. Cantor will have to admit that he deliberately insulted me."

"If Cantor does admit it," muttered Danny Grin, doubtfully. "I haven't any faith in Cantor's honor."

"Why, he'll have to do it," Dave contended, proudly. "Cantor is an officer in the United States Navy. Can you picture an officer as telling a deliberate falsehood?"

"It wouldn't be extremely difficult to picture Cantor as doing anything unmanly," Dan replied, slowly.

"Oh, but he couldn't tell a falsehood," Darrin protested. "That would be impossible—-against all the traditions of the service."

"My infant," Dan retorted, "I am afraid that, some day, you will have a rude awakening."

While these events were happening Captain Gales was closely questioning John Carmody. Coxswain Riley and Corporal Ross of the marines had already been before him.

As Darrin left his division officer's quarters Cantor turned to wipe his stinging cheek, which he next examined closely in a glass. Then he turned back to his desk, smiling darkly.

Rapidly he wrote his comment on Darrin's report, signed his own report, and then leaned back, thinking hard.

"I'll do it!" he muttered, the sinister smile appearing again.

Picking up his pen, He began to write a separate report, charging Ensign David Darrin with viciously knocking him down while on duty.

This report Cantor folded carefully, tucking it away in an inner pocket of his undress blouse. Then, gathering up the other reports in one hand, he pushed aside the curtain and stepped outside.

"Hullo, Trent," he offered, in greeting, as that officer suddenly appeared.

"Cantor, I want to talk with you for a moment," urged Lieutenant Trent.

"Just now, I am on my way to the commanding officer with official reports," Cantor objected.

"But what I have to say is urgent," Trent insisted. "Can't you spare me just a moment?"

"If you'll be extremely brief," Cantor agreed, reluctantly.

"You may think I am interfering," Trent went on, "but I wish to say that I heard that fracas in your quarters, between yourself and Darrin. I happened to be passing at the moment."

Cantor gave an uneasy start. He felt a moment's fright, but hastily recovered, for he was a quick thinker.

"It was outrageous, wasn't it, Trent?" he demanded.

"I should say that it was," replied his brother officer, though he spoke mildly.

"I don't know what to make of young Darrin," Cantor continued. "First he insulted me, and then struck me."

"Knocked you down, didn't he?" asked Trent.

"Yes," nodded Cantor.

"What are you trying to do to that youngster?" asked Trent, coolly.

"What am I trying to do to him?" Cantor repeated, in seeming astonishment. "Nothing, of course, unless I'm driven to it. But Darrin insulted me, and then followed it up with a blow."

Trent fixed his brother officer with a rather contemptuous glance as he answered, stiffly.

"Cantor, there are two marines aft. Go and tell your version to the marines."

"Are you going to call me a liar, too?" demanded Cantor, his eyes blazing, as he turned a threatening face to Trent.

"Keep cool," urged Lieutenant Trent, "and you'll get out of this affair more easily than you would otherwise."

"But you spoke," argued Cantor, "as though you doubted my word. If you were outside my door at the time, then you know that I asked Darrin, 'Am I a liar?' Then he struck me at once."

"Are you going to prefer charges against Darrin for knocking you down?" demanded Lieutenant Treat.

"I am most certainly," nodded Cantor, taping his breast pocket wherein hay the report.

"Then I am obliged to tell you, Cantor," Lieutenant Trent went on, "that at the courtmartial I shall be obliged to appear as one of Darrin's witnesses. Further, I shall be obliged to testify that you said to him, 'you lie.' Then Darrin knocked you down, as any other self-respecting man must have done."

"But I didn't tell him he lied," protested Cantor, with much seeming warmth. "On the contrary, I asked him if he meant to imply that I lied."

"That may be your version, Cantor," Lieutenant Trent rejoined, "but I have just told you what my testimony will have to be."

"What's your interest in this Darrin fellow?" Cantor demanded, half-sneeringly.

"Why, in the first place," Trent answered, calmly, "I like Darrin. And I regard him as an excellent, earnest, faithful, competent young officer."

"But why should you try to shield him, and throw me down, if this matter comes before a court-martial?"

"Because I am an officer," replied Trent, stiffly, drawing himself up, "and also, I trust, a gentleman. It is both my sworn duty and my inclination to see truth prevail at all times in the service."

"But think it over, Trent," urged Lieutenant Cantor. "Now, aren't you ready to admit that you heard me ask, 'Am I a liar'?"

"I can admit nothing of the sort," Trent returned. Then, laying a hand on the arm of the other lieutenant, Trent continued:

"Cantor, all the signs point to the belief that we shall be at war with Mexico at any time now. We can't afford to have the ward-room mess torn by any court-martial charges against any officer, unless he richly deserves the prosecution. Darrin doesn't; that I know. I have no right to balk any officer who demands a courtmartial of any one on board, but it is right and proper that I should he prepared to take oath as to what I know of the merits of the matter. I must assume, and I hope rightly, that you really have an erroneous recollection of what passed before the blow was struck. Cantor, you have the reputation of being a hard master with young officers, but I know nothing affecting your good repute as an officer and a gentleman. I am ready to believe that you, yourself, have a wrong recollection of what you said, but I am very certain as to the exact form of the words that I heard passed. Good night!"

Barely returning the salutation, Cantor passed on to Captain Gales's office, to which he was promptly admitted.

The hour was late, but the commander of the "Long Island" was anxious to get at the whole truth of the evening's affair ashore, and so was still at his desk.

"Oh, I am glad to see you, Lieutenant Cantor," was the captain's greeting, as that officer appeared, after having sent in his compliments. "You have both reports?"

"Here they are, sir," replied the younger officer, laying them on the desk.

"Be seated, Lieutenant. I will go through these papers at once."

For some minutes there was silence in the room, save for the rustling of paper as Captain Gales turned a page.

At last he glanced up from the reading.

"I note, Lieutenant Cantor, that you are still of the opinion that the fight could have been avoided."

"That is my unalterable opinion, sir," replied the lieutenant.

"You are aware, of course, Mr. Cantor, that your report will form a part of the record that will go to the Navy Department, through the usual official channels?"

"I am well aware of that, sir."

"Have you any other papers to submit in connection with Ensign Darrin?"

For the barest instant Lieutenant Cantor hesitated.

Then he rose, as he replied:

"No other papers, sir."

"That is all, Lieutenant," nodded the captain, and returned his subordinate officer's salute.



CHAPTER XII

THE MAN OF THE EVIL EYE

"The captain's compliments, sir, and will Ensign Darrin report to him immediately?"

Darrin had dressed for breakfast the morning after, but there were yet some minutes to spare before the call would come to the ward-room mess.

"My compliments to the captain, and I will report immediately," Ensign Dave replied.

Turning, he put on his sword and drew on his white gloves. Then, with a glance over himself, he left his quarters, walking briskly toward the commanding officer's quarters.

Captain Gales, at his desk, received the young ensign's salute. On the desk lay the papers in the matter of the night before.

"Ensign, I have gone over the papers in last night's affair," began the "Old Man," as a naval vessel's commander is called, when not present.

"Yes, sir?"

The captain's face was inexpressive; it was impossible to tell what was going on in his mind.

"I have given careful attention to your report, and also to that of Lieutenant Cantor. I have talked with Mr. Carmody, and have asked Coxswain Riley and Corporal Ross some questions. And so I have come to the decision——-"

Here the captain paused for an instant.

How Dave Darrin's heart thumped under his ribs. The next few words would convey either censure, criticism or exoneration!

"——-that Lieutenant Cantor's charges are not well sustained," continued, Captain Gales.

Dave Darrin could not repress the gleam of joy that flashed into his eyes. The memory of the men killed under his command and the present sufferings of the wounded had preyed upon him through a long, wakeful night.

But here was a veteran in the service, prepared, after hearing all possible testimony, to declare that he, Darrin, was not blamable!

"I had hoped," resumed Captain Gales, "that the affair on shore could he conducted without firing a single shot, However, Ensign Darrin, the fact has been established to my satisfaction that you did your work well; that you did not allow your men to fire a shot until you had been attacked in force. Nor did you fire upon Mexican troups or reputable natives, but upon a body of bandits—-outlaws—-who are enemies of all mankind. Not to have returned the fire, under such circumstances, would have been censurable conduct. That several times through the night you held your party's fire, and at no time fired oftener than appeared to be absolutely necessary, is established by the eye-witnesses with whom I have talked. Nor were the losses to your command higher than might have been looked for in a fight against superior numbers, such as you encountered. I have endorsed these views of mine upon Lieutenant Cantor's report and also upon your own. I can find no fault with your course of action."

"I cannot tell you, sir, how highly I appreciate your decision."

"Of course you do, Darrin!" cried Captain Gales, holding out his hand. "No young officer in the service enjoys being censured when he has used the very best judgment with which Heaven has endowed him. No man of earnest effort, likes to have his motives questioned. And I am happy to say, Ensign Darrin, that I regard you as the same faithful, hardworking officer that I considered you when you had not been more than three days aboard the 'Long Island.' I congratulate you, Ensign, upon your skilful handling of a bad situation last night. Now, I am not going to keep you here longer, for mess call is due in two minutes, and you will want your breakfast."

With a heart full of joy and gratitude Dave hastened back to his quarters, where he laid aside his sword and gloves.

Just outside the ward-room door he encountered John Carmody, who appeared to have been waiting there purposely.

"Now, Mr. Darrin," cried the planter, holding out his hand, "I want to try to give you some idea of my gratitude for the magnificent work you did last night for my dear ones and our friends. I don't know how to begin, but——-"

"Please don't try to begin," laughed Dave. "An officer of the American Navy should never be thanked for the performance of his duty. I can't tell you how delighted I am that my efforts were successful, and that the scoundrels, who had tried to violate Mexico's sacred duty of hospitality, were roundly punished. Tell me, sir, how are the ladies this morning?"

"All of them are in excellent spirits, Mr. Darrin. I suppose you have not seen them yet. They are in full possession of the captain's quarters, and are at breakfast now."

The breakfast call sounded, and in twos and threes the officers of the "Long Island," passed into the ward-room.

John Carmody was provided with a seat beside the chaplain.

"Darrin, you lucky dog!" called Lieutenant-Commander Denton, as soon as the officers were seated.

"Am I really fortunate?" Dave smiled back.

"Yes; for you were privileged to order the firing of the first shots in the Mexican war that is now close at hand. You are, or will be, historical, Darrin!"

Dave's face clouded as he replied, gravely:

"And I am also aware, sir, that I had the misfortune to lose the first men killed."

"That was regrettable," replied another officer, "but we of the Navy expect to go down some day. The two men who were killed died for the honor and credit of the service, and of the Flag, which we serve. It is the lot of all of us, Darrin. If war comes many a soldier and sailor will find an honored grave, and perhaps not a few here will lose their mess numbers. It's just the way of the service, Darrin!"

"Cantor, you were out of luck last night," observed Lieutenant Holton, who sat next to him.

"In what way?" asked Cantor, but he flushed deeply.

"You had only a boat ride, and missed the fight," replied Holton.

"Oh!" replied Cantor, and felt relieved, for he had thought that Holton referred to something else.

"Where are we heading now?" asked Dave.

"Didn't you notice the course?" inquired Dalzell.

"About westerly, isn't it?"

"Yes; we are bound for Vera Cruz," Danny Grin answered. "We shall be there in two hours. Mr. Carmody and his party have no notion of going back to their plantation at present. Instead, they'll take a steamer to New York."

Breakfast was nearly over when an orderly appeared, bringing an envelope, which he handed to Commander Bainbridge.

"Pardon me," said the executive officer to the officers on either side of him. Then he examined the paper contained in the envelope.

"Gentlemen," called Commander Bainbridge, "I have some information that I will announce to you, briefly, as soon as the meal is over."

Every eye was turned on the executive officer. After a few moments he continued:

"Yesterday, at Tampico, an officer and boatcrew of men went ashore in a launch from the 'dolplin.' The boat flew the United States Flag, and the officer and men landed to attend to the purchase of supplies. An officer of General Huerta's Federal Army arrested our officer and his men. They were released a little later, but Admiral Mayo demanded a formal apology and a salute of twenty-one guns to our insulted Flag. Some sort of apology has been made to Admiral Mayo, but it was not satisfactory, and the gun salute was refused. Admiral Mayo has sent the Mexican Federal commander at Tampico something very much like an ultimatum. Unless a satisfactory apology is made, and the gun salute is fired, the Washington government threatens to break off all diplomatic relations with Mexico and to make reprisals. That is the full extent of the news, so far as it has reached us by wireless."

"War!" exploded Lieutenant-Commander Eaton.

"We mustn't jump too rapidly at conclusions," Commander Bainbridge warned his hearers.

"But it does mean war, doesn't it?" asked Lieutenant Holton. "That chap, Huerta, will be stiff-necked about yielding a gun salute after it has been refused, and Mexican pride will back him up in it. The Mexicans hate us as only jealous people can hate. The Mexicans won't give in. On the other hand, our country has always been very stiff over any insult to the Flag. So what hope is there that war can be averted? Reprisals between nations are always taken by the employment of force, and surely any force that we employ against Mexico can end in nothing less than war."

As the officers left the table nothing was talked of among them except the news from Tampico.

The rumor spread rapidly forward. Cheering was heard from the forecastle.

"The jackies have the word," chuckled Dan Dalzell. "They're sure to be delighted over any prospect of a fight."

"If we have a real fight," sighed Darrin, his mind on the night before, "a lot of our happy jackies will be sent home in boxes to their friends."

"A small lot the jackies care about that," retorted Danny Grin. "Show me, if you can, anywhere in the world, a body of men who care less about facing death than the enlisted men in the United States Navy!"

"Of course we should have interfered in Mexico long ago," Dave went on. "Serious as the Flag incident is, there have been outrages ten-fold worse than that. I shall never be able to down the feeling that we have been, as a people, careless of our honor in not long ago stepping in to put a stop to the outrages against Americans that have been of almost daily occurrence in Mexico."

"If fighting does begin," asked Dalzell, suddenly, "where do we of the Navy come in? Shelling a few forts, possibly, and serving in the humdrum life of blockade duty."

"If we land in Mexico," Dave retorted, "there will be one stern duty that will fall to the lot of the Navy. The Army won't be ready in time for the first landing on Mexican soil. That will be the duty of the Navy. If we send a force of men ashore at Tampico, or possibly Vera Cruz, it will have to be a force of thousands of our men, for the Mexicans will resist stubbornly, and there'll be a lot of hard fighting for the Navy before Washington has the Army in shape to land. Never fear, Danny boy! We are likely to see enough active service!"

Dave soon went to the bridge to stand a trick of watch duty with Lieutenant Cantor.

For an hour no word was exchanged between the two officers. Cantor curtly transmitted orders through petty officers on the deck below. Dave kept to his own, the starboard side of the bridge, his alert eyes on his duty. There was no chance to exchange even a word on the all-absorbing topic of the incident at Tampico.

Vera Cruz, lying on a sandy stretch of land that was surrounded by marshes, was soon sighted, and the "Long Island" stood in toward the harbor in which the Stars and Stripes fluttered from several other American warships lying at anchor.

A messenger from the executive officer appeared on the bridge with the information that, after the ship came to anchor, Ensign Dalzell would be sent in one of the launches to convey the Carmody party ashore.

There was no chance for the rescued ones to come forward to say good-bye to Darrin on the bridge, for they went over the port side into the waiting launch.

Dalzell, however, manoeuvred the launch so that she passed along the ship's side.

A call, and exclamations in feminine voices attracted Dave's notice.

"Mr. Darrin, Mr. Darrin!" called four women at once, as they waved their handkerchiefs to him. Dave, cap in hand, returned their salute.

"Thank you again, Mr. Darrin."

"We won't say good-bye," called Mrs. Carmody, "for we shall hope to meet you and your splendid boat-crew again."

At that the jackies on the forecastle set up a tremendous cheering.

Not until Dave had gone off duty did another launch put out from the "Long Island." That craft bore to one of the docks two metal caskets. Brief services had been held over the remains of the sailor and the marine killed the night before, and now the bodies were to be sent home to the relatives.

After luncheon a messenger summoned Ensign Darrin to Commander Bainbridge's office.

"Ensign Darrin," said the executive officer, "here are some communications to be taken ashore to the office of the American consul. You will use number three launch, and take a seaman orderly with you."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Darrin went over the side, followed by Seaman Rogers, who had been in the landing party the night before, Both were soon ashore. Rogers, who knew where the consul's office was, acted as guide.

Crowds on the street eyed the American sailors with no very pleasant looks.

"Those Greasers are sullen, sir," said Seaman Rogers.

"I expected to find them so," Ensign Darrin answered.

They had not gone far when a man astride a winded, foam-flocked horse rode up the street.

"Do you know that man, sir?" asked Seaman Rogers, in an excited whisper.

"The bandit, Cosetta!" Dave muttered.

"The same, sir."

But Darrin turned and walked on again, for he saw that the recognition had been mutual.

Espying the young ensign, Cosetta reined in sharply before a group of Mexicans, whose glances he directed at Dave Darrin.

"There he goes, the turkey-cock, strutting young officer," cried Cosetta harshly in his own tongue. "Eye the young Gringo upstart well. You must know him again, for he is to be a marked man in the streets of Vera Cruz!"

It was a prediction full of ghastly possibilities for Ensign Dave Darrin!



CHAPTER XIII

"AFTER THE RASCAL!"

Seaman Rogers led the way briskly to the American consulate.

"The consul is engaged, sir, with the Jefe Politico," explained a clerk at a desk in an outer office. "Will you wait, or have you papers that can be left with me?"

"Thank you; I shall he obliged to wait," Dave decided, "since I was instructed to hand the papers to the consul himself."

He took a chair at a vacant desk, picking up a late issue of a New Orleans daily paper and scanning the front page.

Seaman Rogers strolled to the entrance, watching the passing crowds of Mexicans.

"Is there any very late news from Tampico?" Darrin inquired, presently.

"Nothing later than the news received this morning," the clerk replied.

"The bare details of the dispute there over the insult to the Flag?" Darrin inquired.

"That is all, sir," the clerk replied.

So Dave turned again to the newspaper. Several things were happening in the home country that interested him.

"It was half an hour before the Jefe Politico, a Mexican official, corresponding somewhat to a mayor in an American city, passed through on his way out.

"You will be able to see the consul, now," suggested the clerk, so Dave rose at once, passing into the inner office, where he was pleasantly greeted.

Dave laid a sealed packet of papers on the desk before the consul.

"If you have time to wait, pardon me while I glance at the enclosures," said the consul.

Ensign Darrin took a seat near a window, while the official went rapidly through the papers submitted to him.

Some were merely communications to go forward to the United States in the consular mailbag.

Still other papers required careful consideration.

"If you will excuse me," said the consul, rising, "I will go into another room to dictate a letter that I wish to send to your captain."

Dave passed through another half hour of waiting.

"It will be some time before the papers are ready," reported the consul, on his return. "In the meantime, Mr. Darrin, I am quite at your service."

"I wonder if you have received any further news about the Tampico incident," Dave smiled, questioningly.

"Nothing further, I fancy, than was sent by wireless to all the American warships in these waters."

"Is that incident going to lead to war?" Darrin asked.

"It is hard to say," replied the consul, musingly. "But the people at home are very much worked up over it."

"They are?" asked Dave, eagerly.

"Indeed, yes! In general, the American press predicts that now nothing is so likely as United States intervention in this distracted country. Some of our American editors even declare boldly that the time has come to bring about the permanent occupation and annexation of Mexico."

"I hope our country won't go that far," Dave exclaimed, with a gesture of disgust. "I should hate to think of having to welcome the Mexicans as fellow citizens of the great republic."

"I don't believe that we need worry about it," smiled the consul. "It is only the jingo papers that are talking in that vein."

"How does Congress feel about the situation?" Dave asked.

"Why, I am glad to say that Congress appears to be in line for as strong action as the government may wish to take."

"It really looks like war, then."

"It looks as though our troops might land on the Mexican coast by way of reprisal," replied the consul. "That would bring stubborn resistance from the Mexicans, and then, as a result, intervention would surely follow. There may be men with minds bright enough to see the difference between armed intervention and war."

"I'm stupid then," Ensign Dave smiled. "I can't see any difference in the actual results. So you believe, sir, that the people of the United States are practically a unit for taking a strong hand in Mexican affairs?"

"The people of the United States have wanted just that action for at least two years," the consul answered.

"That was the way it looked to me," Dave nodded. "By the way, sir, did you hear anything about an armed encounter between a naval party and Cosetta's bandits last night?"

"Why, yes," cried the consul, "and now I remember that the landing party was sent from your ship. What can you tell me about that?"

Dave Darrin gave a brief account of the doings of the night before, though he did not mention the fact that he, himself, was in command of the landing party of rescuers.

"It was a plucky bit of work," commented the consul.

"Will that fight with Cosetta inflame the Mexican mind?" Dave asked.

"It is likely to have something of that effect upon the Mexicans," the consul replied, "though Mexico can hardly make any legal objection to the affair, for Cosetta is a notorious bandit, and bandits have no rights. The Mexican government appears to have been unable to rescue the prisoners, so the United States forces had an undoubted right to do so. Do you know anything about this fellow, Cosetta, Mr. Darrin?"

"I never heard of him before yesterday," Dave confessed.

"He is a troublesome fellow, and rather dangerous. More than once he has extorted large sums of ransom money for prisoners. He has a large following, even here in Vera Cruz, where he maintains his little force of spies and assassins. Whenever a wealthy Mexican hereabouts has had an enemy that he wanted 'removed,' he has always been able to accomplish his wish with the aid of this same fellow, Cosetta."

"Cosetta is in town to-day," Dave remarked.

"Are you sure of that?"

"I saw him here," Darrin replied, quietly.

"Then you must have been the officer in command of last night's landing party."

"I was." replied Dave Darrin, shortly.

"Then, Mr. Darrin," said the Consul, earnestly, "I am going to give you a bit of advice that I hope you won't disregard. Cosetta may feel deep resentment against you, for you thwarted his plans. Probably, too, you were the cause of laying several of his men low last night. Cosetta won't forget or forgive you. Whenever you are in time streets of Vera Cruz I would advise you to keep your eyes wide open. Cosetta might detail a couple of his worthless desperadoes to bury their knives in your back. This bandit has done such things before, nor is it at all easy to punish him, for the scoundrel has many surprisingly loyal friends in Vera Cruz. In a more strictly-governed country he would be arrested in the city streets as soon as pointed out, but in Mexico the bandit is likely to be a popular hero, and certainly Cosetta is that in Vera Cruz. If he were wanted here for a crime, there are hundreds of citizens who would gladly hide him in their homes. On any day in the week Cosetta could easily recruit a hundred men for his band. Perhaps he is now in town on that errand."

"I have an idea that the fellow is dangerous," Darrin nodded. "Still, here in Vera Cruz, with scores of American sailors usually in sight on the streets, it seems to me hardly likely that Cosetta would instruct his men to attack me. The sailors would interfere. Certainly they would lay hold of the assassin."

"Ah, but the sailors do not come ashore armed," the consul warned his visitor. "On the other hand, most of the Mexicans go about to-day with arms concealed about them. A fight between a sailor and a Mexican might, just now, be enough to start a riot."

Dave listened attentively. He was not in the least alarmed by the possibility of an attack being made upon his person, but he had the natural distaste of a naval officer for being the innocent cause of strained relations between his country and another nation.

When the stenographer brought in the papers that had been dictated to him, the consul looked them through, then signed them.

"Here is a packet of communications for your captain," said the consul, handing a bulky envelope to Darrin. "One of the communications enclosed, Mr. Darrin, is of so important a nature that you will have an added reason for keeping your weather eye open against any form of trouble that Senor Cosetta might start for you in the streets."

"At any time and in any place," Dave smiled, earnestly, "I would take the best possible care of official papers entrusted to me."

"I am aware of that, Mr. Darrin," replied the consul smiling. "But the paper in question is one that it would greatly embarrass the United States to have fall into improper hands. That is my only excuse for having cautioned you so particularly."

Seaman Rogers was waiting at the door. He saluted when Ensign Darrin appeared, then fell in a few paces behind his officer.

A short distance away a carriage stood before the door of a private banker. A woman of perhaps thirty came out through the doorway, carrying a small handbag.

Seeming almost to rise from the ground, so suddenly did he appear, a ragged Mexican bumped violently against the woman.

There was a scream, and in a twinkling the ragged Mexican was in full flight, carrying the handbag as he ran.

"After that rascal, Rogers!" cried Dave Darrin, aghast at the boldness of this daylight robbery.

"Aye, aye, sir, and with a hearty good will!" called back Rogers, as both sailors started in full chase.



CHAPTER XIV

A "FIND" OF A BAD KIND

In the nature of timings it could not be a long chase, for Ensign Dave Darrin was a swift runner, of many years' training.

Rogers, slim and lithe, was also an excellent runner.

Less than a block's distance, and Darrin had gripped the fleeing Mexican by the collar.

His left hand reached for the bag, and in a moment Dave had it in his custody. Not a man of the Vera Cruz police force was in sight, to whom to turn the wretch over, so Darrin flung the fellow from him.

That the handbag had not been opened Darrin was sure, for he had kept his eye upon it through the chase.

Going to the ground in a heap, the Mexican thief was upon his feet instantly. A knife glittered in his right hand as he rushed at the young ensign.

But Seaman Rogers was too quick for the fellow. One of his feet shot up, the kick landing on the Mexican's wrist. That kick broke the fellow's wrist and sent the knife spinning through the air.

"We must go back to the woman from whom this was taken," Dave declared, and he and Rogers faced about, walking briskly back to the carriage.

The woman was completely unnerved, and trembling with fright. Her coachman stood beside her, and already a crowd of a dozen curious natives had gathered.

"Is this your property, madam?" Dave Darrin inquired, holding up the bag.

"Yes, it is!" she cried, in excellent English. "Oh, thank you! Thank you!"

Hastily she opened the bag, disclosing a thick roll of bills.

"It is all I have in the world," she murmured, her eyes now filling with tears.

"It looks to me like a whole lot and then plenty more," uttered Seaman Rogers under his breath. "Whee! There must be a fortune there."

"I am afraid you will not be safe in the streets of Vera Cruz with so much money in your possession," Dave assured her gravely.

"I am going only as far as the docks," the woman answered. "If I may have escort that far——-"

"You shall," Dave offered.

Another score of natives had hastened to the spot, and were looking on curiously with sullen, lowering faces. Darrin began to fear that the plot to rob this woman of her money was a well planned one, with many thieves interested in it.

Through the crack of a slightly opened doorway the face of Cosetta, the bandit, appeared, his evil eyes glittering strangely.

Dave looked up swiftly, his eyes turned straight on those of the bandit.

"It's a plot, sure enough!" gasped the young ensign to himself. "We shall be attacked, and the crowd is too big for us to handle"

He was not afraid for himself, and he knew well that Seaman Rogers was "aching" for a chance to turn his hard fists loose on this rascally lot of Mexicans. But a rush would probably secure the bag of money for the bandits, and the woman herself might be roughly handled, It was a ticklish situation.

"You are from an American warship, are you not?" inquired the woman.

"From the Long Island, madam," the young officer informed her.

"I am an American citizen, too," she claimed.

"No matter to what nationality you belonged, we would protect you to the best of our ability," Darrin added, raising his cap.

Whump! whump! whump! whump! It was the sound of steadily marching feet. Then around the corner came a boatswain's mate and eight keep even a crowd of rascals in order men from one of the American warships. It was a shore duty party returning to a ship!

"Boatswain's mate!" Dave shouted. "Here!"

"Aye, aye, sir!"

On the double quick came the shore duty party. Dave Darrin found himself surrounded by blue jackets.

"This lady is very nervous, and with good reason," Dave explained to the boatswain's mate. "She just had a handbag of money snatched from her by a thief. The bag has been returned, and now she wishes our escort to the dock, that she may not be attacked again. She is on her way to board a ship that will take her back to the United States. Boatswain's mate, I wish you would ride in the carriage at her side, while the rest of us walk on the sidewalk close to the carriage."

"Aye, aye, sir!" responded the mate, saluting, then turning and lifting his cap gracefully to the woman. He helped her into the carriage, then took his seat beside her.

Dave and the nine seamen remained on the sidewalk, but kept close to the carriage as the horses moved along at a walk. Darrin had no further fear that another attempt would be made to seize the money by force. Eleven men from the American Navy are guard enough to keep even a crowd of rascals in order.

"Since Cosetta was looking on from the doorway, that must have been one of his jobs, engineered by him, and carried out by his own men," Dave told himself, swiftly. "Most of the men in the crowd must have been his own men, too, posted to take the money again, under pretense that a fight with sailors had started. So I've been the means of blocking another profitable enterprise for that fellow, Cosetta. By and by the scoundrel will feel a deep liking for me!"

The first thief, he whose wrist Seaman Rogers had broken, had promptly vanished. Unmolested, the blue-jackets escorted the carriage out on to a dock next to the one at which the launch from the "Long Island" lay.

Dave himself assisted the woman to alight from her carriage on the dock, at the end of which lay an American steamship.

After she had thanked the young officer earnestly, Darrin, cap in hand, remarked:

"I am afraid I shall have to trouble you, madam, for your name. I shall have to turn in a report on this occurrence on my return to my ship."

"I am Mrs. Alice Black," replied the woman. "My home is in Elberon, Ohio, and I shall probably go there soon after I reach New York. This steamship does not sail immediately, but my money will be safe on board with the purser."

Darrin gave his own name.

"You have done me the greatest service possible, Mr. Darrin, for you have saved me from utter poverty."

"Then I am very glad indeed," Dave assured her, and promptly took his leave.

Before going off the dock Darrin secured the name of the boatswain's mate, also, for inclusion in his report.

Then, with Rogers, he returned to the launch and was speedily back on his own ship.

The packet of papers entrusted to him by the consul were at once handed over to Captain Gales.

The launch was left fast to a swinging boom, and soon after was employed to take ashore Lieutenant Cantor, who had received shore leave for a few hours.

For the first time in several days, Dave and Dan had time to chat together that afternoon. That was after Darrin had turned in a brief report on the assistance rendered an American woman ashore.

"Cantor seems to have let up on you, apart from being as grouchy as he knows how to be," Danny Grin observed.

"That is because there is nothing he can really do to me," Dave answered, with a smile.

"Just the same," urged Dan, "I would advise you at all times to keep your weather eye turned toward that chap."

"He really isn't worth the trouble," Dave yawned, behind his hand. "And, fortunately, I shall not always be compelled to serve under him. Officers are frequently transferred, you know."

"If Cantor found the chance, you might last only long enough to be transferred back to civil life," Dan warned him. "Dave, I wish you would really be more on your guard against the only enemy, so far as I know, that you have."

"I'm not interested in Cantor," retorted Dave. "It would do me a heap more good to know what reply General Huerta will finally make to the American demand for satisfaction over the Tampico incident."

"Huerta won't give in," Dan predicted. "If he did, he would he killed by his own Mexican rabble."

"If Huerta resists, then he'll have to fight," Dave exclaimed, warmly.

"And if he fights most of the Mexicans will probably stand by him," Dalzell contended. His only hope of saving his own skin lies in provoking Uncle Sam into sending a spanking expedition. At the worst, Huerta, if badly beaten by our troops, can surrender to our commander, and then he'll have a chance to get out of Mexico alive. If Huerta gave in to us, he would have all the Mexican people against him, and he'd only fall into the hands of the rebels, who would take huge delight in killing him offhand. It's a queer condition, isn't it, when Huerta's only hope of coming out alive hangs on his making war against a power like the United States."

"Open for callers?" inquired Lieutenant Trent's voice, outside Dan's door.

"Come in, by all means," called Ensign Dalzell.

Lieutenant Trent entered, looking as though he were well satisfied with himself on this warm April day in the tropics.

"You look unusually jovial," Dan remarked.

"And why shouldn't I?" Trent asked. "For years the Navy has been working out every imaginable problem of attack and defense. Now, we shall have a chance to apply some of our knowledge."

"In fighting the Mexican Navy?" laughed Dave.

"Hardly that," grinned the older officer. "But at least we shall have landing-party practice, and in the face of real bullets."

"If Huerta doesn't back down," Dave suggested.

"He won't," Danny Grin insisted. "He can't—-doesn't dare."

"Do you realize what two of our greatest problems are to-day?" asked Lieutenant Trent.

"Attack on battleships by submarines and airships?" Dave inquired, quietly.

"Yes," Trent nodded.

"Huerta hasn't any submarines," Dan offered.

"We haven't heard of any," Trent replied, "Yet how can we be sure that he hasn't any submarine craft?"

"He has an airship or two, though, I believe," Dave went on.

"He is believed to have two in the hands of the Mexican Federal Army," Lieutenant Trent continued. "I have just heard that, if we send a landing party ashore on a hostile errand, on each warship an officer and a squad of men will be stationed by a searchlight all through the dark hours. That searchlight will keep the skies lighted in the effort to discover an airship."

"And we ought to be able to bring it down with a six-pounder shell," Danny Grin declared, promptly.

"There is a limit to the range of a six-pounder, or any other gun, especially when firing at high elevation," Trent retorted. "An airship can reach a height above the range of any gun that can be trained on the sky. For instance, we can't fire a shell that will go three miles up into the air, yet that is a very ordinary height at which to run a biplane. Have you heard that, a year or more ago, an English aviator flew over warships at a height greater than the gunners below could possibly have reached? And did you know that the aviator succeeded in dropping oranges down the funnels of English warships? Suppose those oranges had been bombs?"

"The warship would have been sunk," Darrin answered.

"Huerta's bird men might be able to give us a surprise like that," Trent suggested. "That may prove to be one of the new problems that we shall have to work out."

"Oh, I've worked that out already," yawned Danny Grin. "All we have to do is to equip our funnels with heavy iron caps that will not interfere with the draft of the furnaces, but will keep any oranges—-bombs, I mean—-from dropping down the funnels."

"All right then," added Lieutenant Trent. "We will consider Dalzell has solved the problem of keeping bombs out of our funnels. What is Dalzell going to do about contact bombs that might be dropped on deck or superstructure of a battleship?"

"All I can see for that," grinned Dan, "is to call loudly for the police."

"One biplane might succeed in sinking all the warships gathered at Vera Cruz," Trent continued.

"Was that the thought that made you look so happy when you came in here?" Dan asked, reproachfully. "The thought that you could scare two poor little ensigns so badly that they wouldn't be able to sleep to-night?"

"That was far from my plan," laughed Trent. "What I am really happy about is that, the way affairs are shaping, we shall soon be studying real war problems instead of theoretical ones."

"The question of uniform is bothering me more," Dave responded. "Do you realize, Trent, that we have only blue uniforms and white ones on board? If we land, to capture Vera Cruz, are our men to be tortured in heavy, hot, blue uniforms here in the tropics? Or are we to wear these white clothes and make ourselves the most perfect marks for the enemy's sharpshooters?"

"You should have more confidence in the men forward," half jeered the lieutenant. "Our jackies are taking care of that problem already. They are soaking nails and scrap iron in water, and dyeing their white uniforms yellow with iron rust."

"Say, that is an idea!" exclaimed Dan, sitting bolt upright. "I'm going to do that very thing to-night. I have one white uniform that isn't in very good shape."

"I suppose you fellows have heard the word?" inquired Lieutenant Holton, looking in.

"Not war?" asked Trent.

"No," uttered Holton, disgustedly. "Worse than that. Shore leave has been stopped for officers and men alike. And I was counting on a pleasant evening ashore to-night!"

"It won't bother me any," Dave announced. "I'd rather stay on board and sleep against the stirring times, when we won't be able to get sleep enough."

"What's the idea, anyway, in stopping shore leave?" asked Trent. "Is the admiral afraid that we'll start a row on shore?"

"I don't know," sighed Lieutenant Holton. "I only wish that I had got ashore before the order was handed out."

At that very moment Lieutenant Cantor, who had returned to ship, and had just heard the order, was standing before Captain Gales in the latter's office.

"But, sir," stammered the young officer, "It is absolutely necessary that I go ashore again to-morrow. It is vital to me, sir."

"I am sorry, Cantor," said Captain Gales, "but the admiral's orders leave me no discretion in the matter."

Captain Gales, as he spoke, turned his back in order to reach for a report book behind hum.

Ten minutes later Commander Bainbridge was summoned in hot haste to the Captain's office.

"Bainbridge," announced Captain Gales, his face stern and set, "at three o'clock a bulky envelope lay on my desk. That envelope contained the full plan of the Navy landing in Vera Cruz, in case such landing becomes necessary. All that we are to accomplish, and even the duties of the different officers and detachments from this fleet were stated in that letter. Not later than within the last half-hour that envelope has disappeared!"

Instantly Commander Bainbridge's face became grave indeed.

"Have you been out of the room, sir?" asked Bainbridge.

"Only once, and then, so the marine orderly at the door informs me, no one entered here."

"This is serious!" cried the executive officer."

"Serious?" repeated Captain Gales in a harsh tone. "I should say it was."

"Let us search the room thoroughly, sir," begged the executive officer.

Though no search could have been more thorough, the missing envelope was not found.

"Summon the officers—-all of them—-to meet me in the ward-room in five minutes!" rasped Captain Gales.

And there every officer of the "Long Island" reported immediately. After the doors had been closed Captain Gales announced the loss. Blank faces confronted him on all sides.

"Has any officer any information to offer that can throw the least light on thus matter?" demanded the Old Man, in a husky voice.

There was silence, broken at last by Lieutenant Cantor asking:

"May I make a suggestion, sir?"

"Certainly."

"How many officers, sir, visited your office after the time you are certain of having seen the missing envelope on your desk?"

"Five," replied Captain Gales. "Lieutenant-Commander Denton, Lieutenant-Commander Hansen, Lieutenant Holton, Lieutenant Trent and yourself."

"Were there any enlisted men in your office, sir?"

"None since before the letter came aboard," replied Captain Gales.

"Then I would beg to suggest, sir," Lieutenant Cantor continued, "that each of the five officers you have named, myself included, request that their quarters be thoroughly searched. If the missing envelope is not found in their quarters, then I would suggest that the quarters of every other officer on board be searched."

To this there was a low murmur of approval. The executive officer was instructed to take the chaplain, the surgeon and two other officers beside himself, these five to form the searching committee. In the meantime, the officers were to remain in the ward-room or on the quarterdeck.

Dave, Dan and Trent seated themselves at the mess table. Time dragged by. At last the searching committee, looking grave indeed, returned.

"Is this the envelope, sir?" asked Commander Bainbridge, holding it out.

"It is," replied Captain Gales, scanning it. "But the envelope has now no contents."

"We found only the envelope, sir," replied Commander Bainbridge, while his four helpers looked uncomfortable. "We found the envelope tucked in a berth, under the mattress, in the quarters of an officer of this ship."

"And who was the officer in whose quarters you found it?" demanded Captain Gales.

"Ensign Darrin, sir!" replied the executive officer.



CHAPTER XV

READY FOR VERA CRUZ

"Ensign Darrin"—-and the Old Man's voice was more impressive than any officer present remembered ever to have heard it before—-"what do you know of this matter?"

Though the shock had struck him like an actual blow, Dave Darrin steadied both himself and his voice as he replied:

"I know nothing whatever about it, sir, that is not common knowledge to everyone in this room."

"Then you did not take this envelope from my room?" demanded Captain Gales.

"I did not, sir."

"And you did not receive it from any one else?"

"I did not, sir."

"You have no knowledge of how this envelope came to be in your quarters?"

"I have not the least knowledge in the world, sir."

Captain Gales debated the matter in his own distressed mind. Dave Darrin stood there, white faced and dignified, his bearing perfect.

He looked, every inch a true-hearted young American naval officer. Yet he was resting under a terrible suspicion.

"You may go, gentlemen," announced the captain. "I ask you to see to it that no word of this matter leaks out among the men forward. Ensign Darrin, you will report to me at my office just as soon as you think I have had time to reach there before you."

Several of the officers walked hastily away. Others hung aloof, shaking their heads. Lieutenant Trent led about a dozen men who pressed around Dave Darrin, offering him their hands.

"It would take the strongest kind of proof to make me believe anything wrong in you, Darrin," declared Trent.

Others in the little group offered similar words of faith and cheer. But Dave broke away from them after expressing his gratitude. His head very erect and his shoulders squared, the young ensign walked to the captain's office.

"Darrin," began the Old Man, "if you are as innocent as I want to believe you to be in this matter, then do all in your power to help me clear your name."

"Very good, sir," Dave responded. "In the first place, sir, the important letter was in its envelope when I turned over to you the package entrusted to me by the consul."

"It was," nodded Captain Gales.

"And I have not since been in your office, sir. You know that of your own knowledge, and from what the marine orderly has been able to inform you, sir?"

"I am satisfied that you were not in thus office after you delivered the packet," replied the Old Man.

"Then I could not have taken it from your desk, sir."

"I am well satisfied of that," assented Captain Gales. "The only untoward circumstance is that the envelope was found in your quarters."

"Then, sir," Dave argued, "it is established that I could not have been the principal in the theft that was committed in your office this afternoon. That being so, the only suspicion possibly remaining against me is that I may have been an accomplice."

"No lawyer could have put that more clearly," replied Captain Gales.

"Now, sir," Dave continued, bravely, "if the important letter of instructions, or even if only the envelope had been handed me, is it likely, sir, that I would have hidden it under my mattress, when I might as readily have burned it or dropped it overboard?"

"Any clear-headed man, I admit," said the Captain, "would have destroyed the useless envelope sooner than have it found in his possession."

"The only possible use to which the otherwise useless envelope could have been put, sir, was to incriminate me. Would I have saved the envelope and by so doing taken a chance that could only ruin me? Of what service could the letter be to me, sir? I could not take it ashore, sir, for instance, to dispose of it to the Mexican officials, who probably would pay handsomely to get hold of the American naval plans. I have not asked for shore leave, sir. May I ask, sir, how many officers received shore leave, and used it, after I returned to the ship?"

"Only one, Darrin; that was Lieutenant Cantor."

Dave bit his lips; he had not intended to try to direct suspicion from himself to any other officer.

"So it might seem possible," mused Captain Gales, aloud, "that Lieutenant Cantor might have obtained the letter and turned over the envelope to you to destroy, Darrin. I am stating, mind you, only a possibility in the way of suspicion."

"Lieutenant Cantor and I are not on friendly terms," Dave answered, quickly. Then once more he bit his lip.

But the Old Man regarded him keenly, asking: "What is wrong between Cantor and yourself?"

"I spoke too quickly, sir," Dave confessed, reddening slightly. "I have no complaint to make against Lieutenant Cantor. The one statement I feel at liberty to make is that an antipathy exists between Lieutenant Cantor and I. I would suggest, further, that Lieutenant Cantor, even had he stolen the letter, could have taken it only after his return on board. So that he had no opportunity to carry it ashore, had he been scoundrel enough to wish to do so."

Captain Gales leaned back, blankly studying the bulk-head before him. Disturbing thoughts were now running in the Old Man's mind.

"Cantor was in this room," mused Captain Gales, "and it was some time afterwards that I missed the envelope. Then, too, Cantor fairly begged for more shore leave, and told me that it was vital to him to be allowed further shore leave. Still, again, in the ward-room it was Cantor who suggested that the officers' quarters be searched. Can it be that Cantor is the scoundrel? I hate to believe it. But then I hate equally to believe that Darrin could have done such a treasonable thing as to steal a copy of our landing instructions, prepared by the admiral and sent aboard through the consular office, so that the Mexicans ashore would not observe a great deal of communication between our ships."

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