After some moments of thought Captain Gales announced:
"Darrin, this thing is one of the most complex puzzles I have ever been called upon to solve. Your conduct and answers have been straightforward, and I am unable to believe that you had any hand in the stealing or handling of that accursed envelope."
"Thank you, sir!" Dave Darrin cried, in genuine gratitude.
"At dinner in the ward-room to-night I shall have Commander Bainbridge make announcement before all your brother officers of what I have just said," continued Captain Gales. "You may go now."
Yet, as he spoke, the captain rose and held out his hand. Dave grasped it, then saluted and turned away.
His bearing, as he went to Dalzell's quarters, was as proud as ever, though in his mind Dave Darrin knew well enough that he was still under a cloud of suspicion that would never be removed entirely from his good name unless the real culprit should be found and exposed.
"Moreover," Dave told himself, bitterly, "Cantor, if he is the one who has done this contemptible thing, may yet devise a way clever enough to convict me, or at least to condemn me in the service."
At dinner, before the first course was served, Commander Bainbridge ordered the ward-room doors closed after the attendants had passed outside. Then he stated that Captain Gales wished it understood that the finding of the telltale envelope under Ensign Darrin's mattress was the only circumstance against that officer, and that, in the captain's opinion, it was wholly likely that some one else had placed the envelope there with the intention of arousing suspicion against the officer named. It was further stated that, in time, Captain Gales hopes to reach all the facts in the mystery. The Captain wished it understood, stated the executive officer, that it would have been so stupid on Ensign Darrin's part to have hidden the envelope where it was found that there was no good reason for believing that Ensign Darrin was guilty of anything worse than having an enemy.
While this statement was being made Dave sat with his gaze riveted to the face of Lieutenant Cantor. The officer looked stolid, but his stolidity had the appearance of being assumed.
There was instant applause from some of the officers. This, being heard by sailors on duty outside, started the rumor that the officers had heard that an immediate landing was to be made in Vera Cruz or at Tampico. Thus, the jackies forward had an exciting evening talking the prospects over.
So Dave was not placed under charges, and the majority of his brother officers on the "Long Island" regarded the suspicion against him as being absurd. Yet Darrin knew that suspicion existed in some minds, and felt wretched in consequence.
Meantime, the news reached the fleet, as it reached newspaper readers at home, that General Huerta was becoming daily more stubborn. Then came the news that the Mexican dictator's refusal had been made final and emphatic.
"The house has passed a resolution justifying the President in employing the military and naval forces of the United States in whatever way he deems best in exacting satisfaction for the insult to the Flag at Tampico," spread through the ship on the evening of Monday, the 20th of April.
From then on no one in the American fleet doubted that war with Mexico was soon to begin. It was all right, the "Long Island's" officers declared, to talk about a mere peaceful landing, but no doubt existed that the landing of American sailors and marines would mean the firing of the first shots by resisting Mexicans which Would provoke war.
On the morning of the 21st of April the officers assembled in the ward-room as usual.
"Gentlemen," said Commander Bainbridge, calmly, in a moment when the Filipino mess servants were absent, "the present orders are that the American naval forces land and occupy Vera Cruz this forenoon. Orders for the details have been made and will be announced immediately after breakfast. That is all that I have to say at present."
That "all" was certainly enough. The blow for the honor of the Stars and Stripes was to be struck this forenoon. Instantly every face was aglow. Each hoped to be in the detail sent ashore. Then one young officer was heard to remark, in an undertone:
"I'll wager that all I get is a detail to commissary duty, making up the rations to be sent ashore."
Commander Bainbridge heard and smiled, but made no reply.
Soon after breakfast the work cut out for each officer was announced. Dave Darrin and Dan Dalzell were both gleeful when informed that they were to go ashore in the same detachment of blue-jackets. Lieutenant Trent was to command them.
"David, little giant," murmured Danny Grin, exultantly, "we appear to be under the right and left wings of that good men known as Fortune."
"I'm ready for duty wherever I'm put," Dave answered, seriously. "None the less, I'm delighted that I'm ordered ashore."
Lieutenant Cantor was greatly disappointed when he found that he was to remain aboard ship. Captain Gales had his own reasons for keeping that young officer away from shore.
Under cover on the "Long Island" all was bustle, yet without a trace of confusion. Officers and men had been so thoroughly trained in their duties that now they performed them with clock-like regularity.
It was a busy forenoon, yet no one observing the American fleet from the shore would have discovered any signs of unusual activity.
From the Mexican custom house, from the post-office, the cable station, and from the grim old prison-fortress, San Juan de Ulloa, the Mexican flag flew as usual.
In the streets of Vera Cruz natives and foreigners moved about as usual. Not even the Americans in Vera Cruz, except the consul, knew that this was the morning destined to become a famous date in American history.
At about eleven o'clock boats began to be launched alongside the American men-of-war. Men piled quickly over the sides. In number one launch Lieutenant Trent, Ensigns Darrin and Dalzell and forty seaman, with rifles and two machine guns, put away. Lieutenant-Commander Denton and Lieutenant Timson of the Marine Corps put off in launches numbers two and three with sixty marines and forty bluejackets. From the other warships detachments put off at the same time.
One cutter, occupied by fourteen marines, put off from one of the men-of-war and was rowed ashore at high speed. These men quickly landed at No.1 Dock.
"There they land—-they're unfurling the American Flag!" breathed Dave Darrin in his chum's ear.
Another cutter landed at another dock; then a launch rushed in alongside. It came the turn of the first launch from the "Long Island" to move in to berth at No.1 Dock, and Trent piled his party ashore, the launch immediately afterward being backed out and turned back to the "Long Island."
Within fifteen minutes a thousand marines and sailors had been landed.
"But where is the Mexican resistance?" murmured Danny Grin, impatiently. "Where is the excuse that was to be furnished us for fighting?"
That "excuse" was to come soon enough!
IN THE THICK OF THE SNIPING
Upon the landing of the first men, the Mexican custom house had been seized.
The seizure of the post-office and the cable station quickly followed.
Lieutenant Trent did not halt on the dock. Forming his men even while moving forward, Trent kept his command moving fast.
Dave was near the head of the little column, on the right flank. Dan was near the rear.
For some distance Trent marched his men, hundreds of curious Mexicans parting to make way for the advance of the little detachment.
Finally Trent halted his men not far from the gray walls of the Castle of San Juan de Ulloa.
"I wonder if our job is to take that fortress?" murmured Dalzell, dryly.
"If that's our job," smiled Darrin, "we'll have fighting enough to suit even your hot young blood. But I don't believe we're cut out to take the castle. Look at the transport 'Prairie.' Her guns are but five hundred yards away, and trained on the fort. If anyone in San Juan opens on us the 'Prairie' will be able to blow the old fort clean off the map."
"What can we be waiting for?" asked Dan, fidgeting.
"I've an idea that we shall find out soon enough," Dave replied.
Dalzell glanced appealingly at Lieutenant Trent, who stepped over to say:
"I see you both want to know what we're to do. My orders are only general, and rather vague. Our work won't be cut out for us until the Mexican garrison starts something."
"But will the Mexicans start anything?" Danny wanted to know. "So far they seem as patient as camels about fighting."
Another landing party, from the "Florida," moved up to position about a block away from Trent's small command.
"I don't mind fighting," sighed Dan, ten minutes later, "but waiting gets on my nerves."
All the time small detachments of sailors and marines were moving gradually through the lower part of Vera Cruz, moving from one point to another, and always the leading detachments went further from the water front.
At last Trent, receiving his signal from a distance, marched his men up the street, away from the fortress of San Juan de Ulloa.
Only a quarter of a mile did they march, then halted. Fully three hundred Mexicans followed them, and stood looking on curiously.
"I wonder if any one ashore knows the answer to the riddle of what we're doing," sighed Danny Grin.
"We're waiting orders, like real fighting men," Dave answered, with a smile.
"But there isn't going to be any fighting!"
"Where did you get that information?" Dave asked.
Noon came; no fighting had been started. By this time nearly every officer and man ashore believed that the Mexican general at Vera Cruz had decided not to offer resistance. If so, he had undoubtedly received his instructions from Mexico City.
More minutes dragged by. At about fifteen minutes past noon, shots rang out ahead.
"The engagement is starting," Dan exclaimed eagerly to his chum.
"The shots are so few in number, and come so irregularly, that probably only a few Mexican hotheads are shooting," Dave hinted, quietly. "Troops, going into action, don't fire in that fashion."
"I wonder of any of our men are firing back."
"All I know," smiled Darrin, "is that we are not doing any shooting."
Pss-seu! sang a stray bullet over their heads. Only that brief hiss as the deadly leaden messenger sang past.
Pss-chug! That bullet caught Dalzell's uniform cap, carrying it from his head to a distance some forty feet rearward.
"Whew! That gives some idea of the spitefulness of a bullet, doesn't it?" muttered Danny Grin, as a seaman ran for the ensign's cap and returned with it.
"It must be that I didn't get iron-rust enough on this white uniform," commented Dalzell, coolly, gazing down at the once white uniform that he had yellowed by a free application of iron rust. "My clothing must still be white enough to attract the attention of a sharpshooter so distant that I don't know where he is."
Still Trent held his command in waiting, for no orders had come to move it forward.
"The barracks are over there," said Dave, pointing. "So far as I have been able to judge, none of the bullets come from that direction."
Still the desultory firing continued. The occasional shots that rang out showed, however, that the Americans were not firing in force.
"There they go!" called Lieutenant Trent, drawing attention to the nearest barracks. From the parade ground in front, small detachments of Mexicans could be seen running toward different parts of the town.
"Are you going to fire on them?" asked Darrin.
"Not unless the Mexicans fire on us, or I receive orders to fire," the lieutenant answered. "I don't want to do anything to disarrange the admiral's plans for the day, and at present I know no more than you do of what is expected of us."
Suddenly the air became alive with the hiss of bullets.
"I see the rascals," cried Dave pointing upward. "They're on the top of that building ahead."
Trent saw the sharpshooters, too. Perhaps twenty Mexican infantrymen occupied the roof of a building a few hundred yards ahead. Some were lying flat, showing only their heads at the edge of the roof. Others were kneeling, but all were firing industriously.
"Forward, a few steps at a time," ordered the lieutenant. "Don't waste any shots, men, but pot any sharpshooter you can get on that roof, or any men who show themselves on other roofs as we advance."
"This work is a lot better than getting into boats and trying to take Castle San Juan," muttered Dalzell, as he drew his sword. All three of the officers now had their blades in their hands, for the swords would be useful if they were obliged to fight at close quarters.
Crack! crack! crack! rang out the rifles of Trent's detachment. But every shot told. Whenever any one of the three officers saw a man firing too rapidly that seaman was cautioned against wasting cartridges.
One of Trent's men was already wounded in the left hand, though he still persisted in firing.
At the first street crossing Trent shouted:
"Half of you men go down the street on that side, the rest of you over here. Ensign Dalzell, take command over there. Ensign Darrin, you will command here."
The street was swiftly emptied of blue-jackets. Hidden from the fire of the sharpshooters ahead, the sailors were out of immediate danger. But both Dan and Dave stationed a couple of good shots at either corner, in the shelter of the buildings and took pot shots at the snipers ahead.
"Darrin, pick out two of your best men, and send them to lie down in the middle of the street, facing that roof-top," Trent ordered, then shouted the order across the open street to Dalzell.
Thus, with four jackies lying flat in the middle of the street, and offering no very good targets to the roof snipers, and with two men behind each protecting corner, the Mexicans on the roof were subjected to the sharpshooting fire of the eight best shots in Trent's command.
"Darley, you stand here on the sidewalk, and watch the roof-top across the street," Dave ordered. "Hemingway, you get over on the other side and keep your eyes on the roof on this side of the street. If you see any one on a rooftop, let him have it as fast as you can fire."
Dan Dalzell, seeing that manoeuvre from across the street, stationed two roof-watchers similarly on his side.
"We'll stick to this sharpshooting stunt," Lieutenant Trent called in Darrin's ear, over the crackling of the rifles, "until we get a few of the Mexicans ahead. Then we'll rush their position and try to drive them from it. The only way——-"
That was as far as Lieutenant Trent got, for Dave, making a sudden leap at his superior, seized him by the collar, jerking him backward a few feet and landing him on his back.
"What the——-" sputtered Lieutenant Trent. That was as far as he got, for there was a crash, the sidewalk shook, and then Darrin quickly pulled his superior to his feet.
The report of Hemingway's rifle was not heard, but a tiny cloud of thin vapor curled from the muzzle of his uplifted weapon.
"I think I got one of the pair, sir!" called the sailor, gleefully. "He threw up his hands and pitched backward out of sight."
Lieutenant Trent looked at the sidewalk astounded, for, where he had stood hay the broken pieces of a cookstove that had been hurled from the roof two stories above.
"That mass of iron fell right where I was standing," muttered Trent. "Darrin, I wondered why on earth you should jerk me back and lay me out in that unceremonious fashion. If you hadn't done it the cookstove would have crushed my bones to powder."
"It shows the temper of the kind of people we're fighting," muttered Darrin, compressing his lips tightly. "We'll soon have the whole city full trying to wipe us out!"
"We may as well rush that building ahead," muttered the lieutenant. "I'd rather have my men killed in open fighting than demolished by all the heavy hardware on these two blocks."
Raising his voice, Trent ordered:
"Cease firing! Load magazines and hold your fire. We're going to charge!"
From the sailormen a half-suppressed cheer arose. Hand-to-hand fighting was much more to their liking than tedious sharpshooting.
"Keep close to the building on either side of the street!" Lieutenant Trent ordered. "No man is to run in the middle of the road and make an unnecessary target of himself. Ensigns Darrin and Dalzell will run behind their men, to see that no man exposes himself uselessly."
"Fall in! Ready to charge. In single file—-charge!"
Heading the line on Darrin's side of the street, Trent dashed around the corner, leading his sailormen at a run.
Dalzell's men rushed into the fray at the same moment, Dave amid Dan, as ordered, bringing up the rear of the two files.
On the instant that the two lines of charging, cheering sailormen came into sight, the Mexicans on the roof-top redoubled their fire. It is difficult, however, to fire with accuracy at men who are running close to the buildings. Either the bullet falls short, or else goes wide of its mark and hits a wall behind the line. So Lieutenant Trent's men dashed down the street for a short distance, and pausing in the shelter of a building cheered jubilantly.
Now the Mexican soldiers above no longer had the advantage. Whenever one of their number showed his head over the edge of the roof he became a handy target for the jackies below.
Heavy shutters covered the windows on the ground floor of the building. The heavy wooden door was tightly locked.
"Ensign Darrin," sounded Trent's voice, "take enough men and batter that door down."
It took a combined rush to effect that. Several times Dave led his seamen against that barrier. Under repeated assaults it gave way.
"Through the house and to the roof!" shouted Trent. "We'll wind up the snipers!"
What a yell went up from two score of throats as the sailormen piled after their officers and thronged the stairs!
It was a free-for-all race to the top of the second flight of stairs. Over the skylight opening lay a wooden covering tightly secured in place.
"Come on, my hearties! Smash it!" yelled Trent, heaving his own broad shoulders against the obstruction.
After the skylight cover was smashed the Mexican soldiers would once more have the advantage. Only a man at a time could reach the roof. It ought not to be difficult for the defenders to pick off a Navy man at a time as the Americans sprang up.
At last the covering gave way.
"Pile up, all hands, as rapidly as you can come!" yelled Lieutenant Trent. "Officers first!"
"Officers first!" echoed Dave and Dan in a breath, all the military longing in their hearts leaping to the surface.
Then up they went, into the jaws of massacre!
MEXICANS BECOME SUDDENLY MEEK
Trent leaped to the roof. With his left arm he warded off a blow aimed at his head with the butt of a rifle.
Then his sword flashed, its point going clean through the body of the Mexican soldier who barred his way.
"Death to the Gringos! Death to the Gringos!" yelled the Mexicans.
But Trent drove back two men with his flashing sword. After him Dave heaped to the roof, his revolver barking fast and true.
Danny Grin followed, and he darted around to the other side of the skylight, turning loose his revolver.
The fire was returned briskly by the enemy, all of whom wore the uniform of the Mexican regular infantry.
In the footsteps of the officers came, swiftly, four stalwart young sailormen, and now the American force had a footing on the roof.
At first none of the Mexicans thought of asking for quarter. One of the infantrymen, retreating before Dalzell's deftly handled sword, and fighting back with his rifle butt, retreated so close to the edge of the roof that, in another instant, he had fallen to the street below, breaking his neck.
Ere the last dozen Americans had succeeded in reaching the roof the fight was over, for the few Mexicans still able to fight suddenly threw down their rifles, shouting pleadingly:
"Piedad! piedad!" (pity).
"Accept all surrenders!" shouted Lieutenant Trent at the top of his voice.
Four quivering, frightened Mexicans accepted this mercy, standing huddled together, their eyes eloquent with fear.
The fight had been a short, but savage one. A glance at the roof's late defenders showed, including the man lying in the street below, eight dead Mexicans, one of whom was the boyish lieutenant of infantry who had commanded this detachment. Nine more were badly wounded. The four prisoners were the only able-bodied Mexicans left on the roof.
"Pardon, but shall we have time for our prayers?" asked one of the surrendered Mexicans, approaching Lieutenant Trent.
"Time for your prayers?" Trout repeated. "Take all the time you want."
"But when do you shoot us?" persisted the fellow, humbly.
"Shoot you?" repeated Trent, in amazement, speaking rapidly in the Spanish he had acquired at Annapolis and practiced in many a South American port. Then it dawned upon this American officer that, in the fighting between Mexican regulars and rebels it had been always the custom of the victors to execute the survivors of the vanquished foe.
"My poor fellow," ejaculated Trent, "we Americans always pride ourselves on our civilization. We don't shoot prisoners of war. You will be treated humanely, and we shall exchange you with your government."
"What did that chap say?" Dalzell demanded, in an undertone, as Darrin laughed.
"The Mexican said," Dave explained, "that he hoped he wouldn't be exchanged until the war is over."
"There is a hospital detachment signaling from down the street, sir," reported a seaman from the edge of the roof.
Trent stepped quickly over to where he could get a view of the hospital party. Then he signaled to the hospital men, four in number, carrying stretchers, and commanded by a petty officer, that they were to advance.
"Any of our men need attention, sir?" asked the petty officer, as he reached the roof.
"Two of our men," Trent replied. "And nine Mexicans."
When it came their turn to have their wounds washed and bandaged with sterilized coverings, the Mexicans looked bewildered. Such treatment at the hands of an enemy was beyond their comprehension.
A room below was turned over for hospital use, and there the wounded of both sides were treated.
Still the firing continued heavily throughout the city. Trent, with his field glass constantly to his eyes, picked out the nearest roof-tops from which the Mexicans were firing. Then he assigned sharpshooters to take care of the enemy on these roofs.
"We can do some excellent work from this position," the lieutenant remarked to his two younger officers.
It was peculiar of this fight that no regular volleys of shots were exchanged. The Mexicans, from roof-tops, from windows and other places of hiding, fired at an American uniform wherever they could see it.
The very style of combat adopted by the enemy made it necessary for the Americans, avoiding needless losses, to fight back in the same sniping way. Slowly, indeed, were these numerous detachments of Mexicans, numbering some eight hundred men in all, driven back.
Boom! boom! boom! The Mexican artillery now started into life, driving its shells toward the invaders.
"The real fight is going to begin now," uttered Dave, peering eagerly for a first glimpse of the artillery smoke.
"I hope the ships tumble down whole squares of houses!" was Danny Grin's fervent wish.
"If they start that, we're in a hot place," smiled Trent, coolly.
From the harbor came the sound of firing.
"Why, there's only one of our ships firing!" exclaimed Darrin. "The 'Prairie' is using some of our guns!"
Presently the heavier detonations died out. So splendidly had the "Prairie's" gunners served their pieces that the Mexican artillerymen had been driven from their positions.
"These Mexicans will have to wait until they get out of range of the Navy's guns before they can hope to do much with their artillery," laughed Lieutenant Trent, then turned again to see what his sailormen were doing in the way of "getting" Mexican snipers from other roofs.
Every minute a few bullets, at least, hissed over the roof on which the detachment was posted.
Trent, believing that he was exposing more men than were needed, ordered twenty seamen to the floor below.
By one o'clock the firing died slowly away. Though the Mexicans had made a brave resistance, and had done some damage, they had been so utterly outclassed by better fighting men that they wearied of the unequal struggle.
"But when the enemy get heavy reinforcements from the rear," Trent predicted, as he stood looking over the city, "they'll put up a fight here in Vera Cruz that will be worth seeing!"
"I can't help wondering," mused Dave Darrin aloud, "what the rest of the day will bring forth."
"It will be the night that may bring us our real ordeal," hinted Lieutenant Trent.
IN THE HOUSE OF SURPRISES
"Dalzell, I wish you would take four men and find the commanding officer ashore," requested Lieutenant Trent.
"Report to him our present position, as well as what we have done, and get his instructions."
Saluting, Dan signed to four sailormen to accompany him. Within an hour he had returned.
"We are going to hold what we have taken of the city, and probably shall push our lines further into the town. It is believed that after dark we shall have trouble with Mexican snipers."
"We have had some already," said the lieutenant grimly.
"We believe, sir," Dan reported, "that, after dark, there will be even more vicious sniping. The Mexicans are in an ugly mood, and will spare no effort to make us miserable for our audacity in landing armed men on their soil."
"And our orders?"
"You are directed, Lieutenant, to hold this roof until you have silenced all sniping within easy range, and then you are to fall back to the Post-office and report to the senior officer there. In the meantime you will send in a petty officer and sufficient force to accompany any of your wounded men who are badly enough hurt to require a surgeon's attention."
The squad that had accompanied Ensign Dalzell was immediately ordered to return with the wounded, after which Trent and his officers gave their whole attention to locating every Mexican sniper on every roof-top within six hundred yards of their position. So well was this done that at least a dozen Mexican sharpshooters were killed within the next hour.
For half an hour after that Trent surveyed every roof-top with his field glass. As no more shots crossed the roof on which the detachment was posted, Lieutenant Trent then concluded that his commission had been executed, and gave the order to return.
The Mexican dead and wounded were left in the building, a notice being posted on the door in order that the sanitary corps men might know where to find them. The four uninjured prisoners were now placed in the center of the detachment, and Trent marched his command back to the post-office. There the prisoners were turned over to the custody of the provost officer.
"Step inside, men, and you'll find something to eat," was the welcome news Trent gave his detachment of men.
Darrin and Dalzell were sent to a restaurant near by, where the officers were eating a welcome meal.
"Hadn't you better go first, sir?" Darrin asked.
"Simply because I am the ranking officer with this detachment?" smiled the lieutenant. "You two are younger, and therefore are probably hungrier than I am."
Dave was the first to finish his meal in the restaurant, and hurried to relieve Lieutenant Trent of the command of the detachment. Altogether there were now some two hundred men at the post-office station; these were being held in readiness to reinforce the American fighters in any part of the city where they might be needed.
Until after dark the "Long Island's" detachment remained there, enviously watching other detachments that marched briskly away.
As soon as dark had come down, the popping of rifles was almost continuous.
"I wish we had orders to clear the whole town of snipers," muttered Danny Grin impatiently.
"Undoubtedly that would take more men than we have ashore," Trent replied. "There would be no sense in occupying the whole city until we have driven out every hostile Mexican ahead of us. We might drive the Mexican soldiers much further, but the trouble is that hundreds of them have joined in the sport of sniping at the hated Americanos. If we pushed our way through the town, at once we would then have Mexican firing ahead of us and also at the rear. No fighting men behave well under such circumstances."
An hour later it became plain that Trent's detachment had some new work cut out for it, for a commissary officer now directed that the men be marched down the street to receive rations.
"We're going to have night work all right, then, and perhaps plenty of it," Darrin declared to his chum. "If we were going to remain here rations wouldn't be furnished us."
Trent was inside, personally seeing to matters, when a sentry halted a man in civilian clothes.
"A friend," replied the man in answer to the challenge.
"Advance and give your name," persisted the sentry.
"Lieutenant Cantor of the 'Long Island.'"
At hearing that name, from one in civilian dress, Dave stepped forward.
"You've been halted by a man from your own ship, sir," nodded Darrin, on getting close enough to see that the man really was Cantor.
"Hullo," was Trent's greeting, as he stepped outside. "On duty, Cantor?"
"Not official duty," replied the other lieutenant.
"You are authorized to be ashore, of course?" continued Trent, surveying his brother officer, keenly, for, at such a time, it was strange to see a naval officer ashore in anything but uniform. "I have proper authority for being ashore," Cantor nodded.
"That is all, then," said Lieutenant Trent. "You may proceed, of course, but you are going to be halted and held up by every sentry who sees you. You would get through the town much more easily in uniform."
"I suppose so," nodded Cantor, and passed on.
Close at hand two revolver shots rang out.
"Ensign Darrin," Trent ordered, "take a man with you and investigate that firing. Locate it, if possible, and if any Mexican attempts to fire again, try to bring him in——-dead!"
"You will come with me," ordered Dave, turning to Coxswain Riley. That petty officer hastily filling his magazine, followed Darrin, who drew his own revolver.
Hardly had officer and man turned the corner when a pistol flesh came from the top of a house nearly at the next corner.
The bullet did not pass near enough for them to hear it. Plainly the shot had been fired at some one else.
"Keep close to the buildings," ordered Dave, leading the way toward the sniper. "I don't want that fellow to see us until we're right under him and ready to get him."
Noiselessly they went up the street. It would be impossible for the sniper to see them unless he bent out over the edge of the roof from which he was firing.
While they were advancing another shot was fired from the same roof. Watching the direction of the flash, Darrin was able to guess the direction of the man or men at whom the Mexican was firing.
"Some of our sharpshooters must still be posted on roofs," Dave whispered over his shoulder to Riley.
"I know one man who won't be doing much more on a roof, if I can get a sight of him for three seconds," gruffly answered Riley.
Then they stopped in front of the house in question.
"You slip across to the doorway opposite, and watch for your man," whispered Darrin. "I'll remain here and get any one who may attempt to run out of the house after you open fire."
Slipping across the street, Riley waited.
Scanning the house, from the roof of which the firing had proceeded, his drawn revolver in his hand, Dave made a quick discovery.
"Why, this is the very door from which I saw Cosetta peering out yesterday!" thought the young ensign. "I wonder if this is his home in Vera Cruz. I'll make a point of reporting this to Trent as soon as we return."
And then Dave heard a voice just inside the door say, in Spanish:
"You ought to stop that sniper on the roof. He took two shots at me as I came up the street."
"What infernal work is going on here?" Ensign Dave Darrin asked himself, hoarsely. "I how that voice. I'd know it anywhere. That's Cantor speaking, and he's in the house of the enemy!"
A TRAITOR IN THE SERVICE
Crack! spoke a rifle across the street.
"I got him, sir!" cried the exultant voice of Riley. "But I'll make sure of him, sir!"
Crack! The Navy rifle spoke once more.
Noiselessly Darrin darted across the street.
On the roof of the house in which Dave had seen the bandit, Cosetta, the previous day, lay a man, his head and shoulders hanging over the edge.
"Speak softly," cautioned Darrin. "I don't want those men inside the house to hear you."
"He fell just like that when I fired the first shot, sir," Riley whispered. "I sent him the second bullet to make sure that he wasn't playing 'possum."
"And now," Dave ordered, "run down the street as noiselessly as you can go, and tell Lieutenant Trent that I wish he would come here in person, if possible, with a few men. Ask him, with my compliments to approach as noiselessly as possible, for I expect to make a surprise 'bag' here."
Riley glanced at his officer in swift astonishment, but he saw that Darrin was speaking seriously, so he saluted and departed at a run.
Shortly Riley was back.
"Lieutenant Trent is coming, sir," whispered the coxswain. "There he is, turning the corner now."
"Stand before this door, and if you hear anything inside, so much the better," Darrin murmured, then hastily moved down the street, saluting his superior officer as he met him.
"Riley told you, perhaps, he got the sniper, sir," Dave began, "but I have something even more astounding to report. I have every reason to believe that Lieutenant Cantor is in that house."
"A prisoner?" cried Trent, in an undertone.
"I have reason to believe that he isn't a prisoner," Dave went on. "The house is the same from which I saw Cosetta peer yesterday, and I have reason to think that Lieutenant Cantor and the bandit are on fairly good terms."
"Be careful what you say, Darrin," cautioned Lieutenant Trent. "In effect, you are accusing an officer of the United States Navy of treason!"
"That is the very crime of which I suspect him, sir," Dave answered, bluntly.
"Are you sure that your personal animosity has no part in that suspicion?"
"No dislike for a brother officer could induce me to charge him falsely," Dave answered simply.
"I beg your pardon, Darrin!" exclaimed Trent in sincere regret. "I shouldn't have asked you that."
"Here is the door, sir," Dave reported, in a whisper, halting and pointing.
"I heard some one talking in there in low tones," reported Riley. "I couldn't make it out, for he was talking in Spanish."
"I suspect that the voices were those of Lieutenant Cantor and Cosetta," Dave whispered.
"If they don't get away, we'll soon know," Trent whispered. "Stone and Root, I want you two to head the party that rushes the door. As soon as you get inside don't stop for anything else, but rush to the rear windows and shoot any one who attempts to escape by the rear fence. Now, men, rush that door!"
So hard and sudden was the assault that the door gave way at the first rush.
Revolver in hand, Dave Darrin was directly behind the two seamen who had been ordered to rush to the rear windows.
Just as the door yielded to the assault an excited voice in Spanish exclaimed:
The two sailors, who had been ordered to do nothing else except guard the rear windows, saw a figure vanish through the cellar doorway. Leaving that individual to others, Stone and Boot dashed into a rear room, throwing up the window.
In the darkness a second man also rushed for the cellar doorway. But Dave Darrin's extended right hand closed on that party's collar.
"You're my prisoner," Dave hissed, throwing his man backward to the floor.
As several men rushed past them one sailor halted, throwing on the rays of a pocket electric light.
"You, Cantor, and here?" exclaimed Lieutenant Trent, aghast, as he recognized the features of his brother officer. "In mercy's name——-"
"Let me up," broke in Cantor, angrily, and Dave released him. "Ensign Darrin, I order you in arrest for attacking your superior officer."
"You won't observe that arrest, Darrin," spoke Trent, coldly. "I'll be responsible for my order to that effect. Now, then, Cantor, what explanation have you to offer for being in the house of Cosetta, the bandit?"
"I'll give no explanation here," blazed Cantor, angrily, as now on his feet, he glared at Trent and Darrin—-Dalzell was not there, for just at this instant the bolted cellar door, under his orders, was battered down, and Dan, with several sailormen at his back, darted down the stairs, by the light of a pocket lamp.
The cellar was deserted. There was no sign of the means by which the fugitive had escaped.
"Trent," said Cantor, with an effort at sternness, "you will not question me, here or now."
"I'll question you as much as I see fit, sir," Lieutenant Trent retorted, crisply. "Lieutenant Cantor, you are caught here under strange circumstances. You will explain, and satisfactorily, or——-"
"Lieutenant Trent," retorted the other, savagely, "while you and I are officers of the same rating, my commission is older than yours, and I am ranking officer here. I direct you to withdraw your men and to leave this house."
"And I tell you," retorted Lieutenant Trent, "that I am on duty here. You have not said that you are here on duty. Therefore I shall not recognize your authority."
"Trent," broke in the other savagely, "if you——-"
"I do," Lieutenant Trent retorted, stiffly. "Just that, in fact. In other words, sir, I place you in arrest! Coxswain Riley, I shall hold you responsible for this prisoner. Take two other men, if you wish, to help you guard him. If Lieutenant Cantor escapes, or attempts to escape, then you have my order to shoot him, if necessary."
"Darrin," snarled Cantor, "this is all your doing!"
"Some of it, sir," Dave admitted, cheerfully. "I heard you and another man talking in here, and I sent for Lieutenant Trent. As it happens, I know this to be the home, or the hanging-out place of Cosetta, and as I heard you talking just inside the door, I reported that fact to Lieutenant Trent."
"You will find nothing in this house, and I have not been, intentionally, in the house of a bandit, or in the house of any other questionable character," snarled Cantor, turning his back on Darrin. "And you are making a serious mistake in placing me in arrest."
"If your companion had been a proper one he would not have run away when American forces burst in here," Lieutenant Trent returned. "Both on Ensign Darrin's report, and on my own observation and suspicion, I will take the responsibility of placing you in arrest. I shall report your arrest to the commanding officer on shore, and will be guided by his instructions. You will have opportunity to state your case to him."
"And he will order my instant release as soon as he hears why I am on shore. Trent, you have made a serious mistake, and you are continuing to make it by keeping me in arrest."
"Sorry, Cantor; sorry, indeed, if I am doing you an injustice," Lieutenant Trent answered, with more feeling. "Yet under the circumstances, I cannot read my duty in any other way."
"You'll be sorry," cried Cantor, angrily.
"I don't know what to make of this, sir," Danny Grin reported, a much puzzled look showing on his face. "That cellar door was shut and bolted in our faces. We smashed the door instantly, and rushed down the stairs. When we reached the cellar we found it empty; whoever the man was he escaped in some way that is a mystery to me."
"Have you thought of the probability of a secret passage from the cellar?" inquired Trent.
"Yes, sir, and we've sounded the walls, but without any result."
"I'll go below with you," offered Trent. "Ensign Darrin, bear in mind that we are in danger of being surprised here, and would then find ourselves in something of a trap. Take ten men and go into the street, keeping close watch."
Twenty minutes later Trent came out, followed by his command, with whom marched the fuming Cantor, a prisoner.
"Darrin, there must be a secret passage from the cellar," Trent told his subordinate, "but we have been unable to find it. We are bringing with us the body of the sniper that Riley shot on the roof."
Line was formed and the detachment started back, Danny Grin and two sailormen acting as a rear guard against possible attack.
Arrived at the post-office Trent, accompanied by Cantor and the latter's guards, hurried off in search of the commanding officer of the shore force.
Fifteen minutes later Lieutenant Trent returned.
"I was sustained," he informed Dave and Dan. "It was tough, but the commanding officer directed me to send Cantor under escort back to the 'Long Island,' with a brief report stating why that officer was placed in arrest."
There followed more waiting, during which the sound of individual firing over the city became more frequent. Cantor's guard returned from the "Long Island," with word that Captain Gales had ordered that officer in arrest in his own quarters.
At last orders for Trent's detachment arrived.
"We are to push on into the city," Trent informed his ensigns. "Twenty more 'Long Island' men will reach us within three minutes. We are to silence snipers, and kill them if we catch them red-handed in firing on our forces. Above all, we are directed to be on the alert for any Americans or other foreigners who may be in need of help. We are likely to have a busy night."
Then, turning to his men, he added:
"Fall in by twos! Forward, march!"
THE SKIRMISH AT THE DILIGENCIA
Trent saw his reinforcements approaching, and advanced to pick them up and add them to his command.
The column, now a strong one for patrol purposes, turned at right angles at the first corner, and marched on into the city, from the further side of which came the sound of firing.
Every man with the column carried a hundred and fifty rounds of ammunition. A machine gun was trailed along at the rear, in the event that it might be wanted.
Less than half a mile from the start, Lieutenant Trent's command sighted the American advance line ahead. Some of the seamen and marines in this advanced line occupied rooftops and kept up a variable, crackling fire.
As Trent approached the line, a lieutenant-commander approached him.
"Do you come to reinforce us, Lieutenant?" he inquired.
"No, sir," Trent answered. "We are to patrol, and to took out for Americans and other foreigners who may be in danger."
"Then I would caution you, Lieutenant, that this is the outer line. If you get ahead of us, take extreme care that you do nothing to lead us to mistake you for Mexicans."
"I shall be extremely cautious, sir," Trent replied, saluting, then marched his command through the line and on up the street.
"Good luck to you," called several of the sailors in the line. "Bring us back a few Mexicans!"
"We'd like to, all right," replied Riley, in an undertone.
"Ensign Darrin, take a petty officer and four men and lead a point," Lieutenant Trent ordered. "I don't want the 'glory' of running a command into an ambush."
Calling to Riley and four sailormen, Dave led them down the street at the double-quick until he was two hundred yards in advance Then he led his men on at marching speed.
The work at the "point" is always the post of greatest danger with a marching command. This point is small in numbers, and moves well in advance. If the enemy has posted an ambuscade on the line of march it is the point that runs into this danger.
As they marched Dave did not preserve any formation of his men. His detachment strode forward, alert and watchful, their rifles ready for instant use.
Three blocks away a horse stood tethered before a door. Hearing the sound of approaching feet a man looked hurriedly out of the doorway. Then he rushed to the horse and untied it.
"Halt!" Shouted Ensign Darrin, as he saw the man dart from the doorway. "Halt!" he ordered, a second time, as the man seized the horses's bridle ready to mount.
Quick as a flash the stranger drew a revolver, firing two shots down the street.
"Fire! Get him!" shouted Darrin.
Five rifles spoke, instantly. Just in the act of reaching the saddle the stranger plunged sideways, fell to the roadway, the startled horse galloping off without its rider.
"Don't run to him," commanded Dave Darrin. "We'll reach him soon enough."
Close at hand it was seen that the man was in the uniform of a Mexican officer. His insignia proved him to be a major.
"Dead," said Riley. "Two pills reached him, and either would have killed."
Dave nodded his head in assent, adding:
"Leave him. Our work is to keep the point moving."
When they had gone a quarter of a mile further, a sound of firing attracted the attention of the American detachment.
"Lieutenant Trent's compliments, sir," panted a breathless messenger, saluting, "and you will turn down the next corner, Ensign, and march toward the firing."
After a few minutes Dave sighted a large building ahead. He did not know the building, then, but learned afterwards that it was the Hotel Diligencia.
Almost as soon as Darrin perceived the building, snipers on its roof espied the Navy men.
Cr-r-rack! The brisk fire that rang out from the roof of the hotel was almost as regular as a volley of shots would have been.
Darrin ordered his men to keep close to the buildings on either side of the street, and to return the fire as rapidly as good shooting permitted.
"Drive 'em from that roof," was Darrin's order.
Lieutenant Trent arrived on the double-quick with the rest of the detachment.
"Give it to 'em, hot and heavy!" ordered Trent, and instantly sixty rifles were in action.
Suddenly a window, a some distance down the street from the Americans opened, and a man thrust a rifle out, taking aim. That rifle never barked, for Dave, with a single shot from his revolver, sent the would-be marksman reeling back.
"Watch that window, Riley, and fire if a head appears there," Dave directed. "There may be others in that room."
Cat-like in his watchfulness, Riley kept the muzzle of his weapon trained on that window.
"Look out overhead!" called Danny Grin, suddenly.
From the roofs of three houses overlooking the naval detachment fire opened instantly after the warning. Two of the "Long Island's" men dropped, one of them badly wounded.
Then the sailormen returned the fire. Two Mexicans dropped to the street, one shot through the head; the other wounded in the chest. Other Mexicans had been seen to stagger, and were probably hit. Thereafter a dozen seamen constantly watched the roofs close at hand, occasionally "getting" a Mexican.
"I know what I would do, if I had authority," Darrin muttered to his superior. "I'd send back for dynamite, and, whenever we were fired on from a house I'd bring it down in ruins."
It was a terrible suggestion, but being fired upon from overhead in a city makes fighting men savage.
Evidently the Mexicans on the hotel roof had been reinforced, for now the fire in that direction broke out heavier than ever.
"Shall I have the machine gun brought up, sir?" Dave hinted.
"Yes," approved Trent, crisply. "We'll see what a machine gun can do when brought to bear on a roof."
So Ensign Darrin ran back to give the order. The gun was brought up instantly, loaded, aimed and fired.
R-r-r-r-rip! Its volleys rang out. A rain of bullets struck at the edge of the hotel roof, driving back the snipers amid yells of pain.
Yet the instant the machine gun ceased its leaden cyclone the snipers were back at work, firing in a way that showed their rage.
"We can keep 'em down with the machine gun," declared Trent, "But it might take all the ammunition of the fleet to keep it running long enough unless we can make more hits."
In their recklessness the Mexicans exposed themselves so that four more of them fell before the seamen's rifles.
"Probably the Mexicans can get reinforcements," Dalzell muttered. "Though we may hit a few in an hour's firing, they can replace every man we hit."
"At least we can give those fellows something to think about between now and daylight," Dave returned, compressing his lips grimly.
"Grenfel is wounded, sir, and Penniman has just been killed," reported a petty officer, saluting.
Lieutenant Trent hastened back to confirm the death of Penniman, and also to see if anything could be done for the comfort of the wounded man. He decided to send Grenfel back, two sailormen being detailed for that purpose.
"Look out for snipers," the officer warned the bearers of the wounded man. "Carry your rifles slung and be ready for instant work. If we hear you firing behind us I'll send men to help you through."
Along the street, ahead of the detachment, a man came crawling from the direction of the hotel.
In an instant a dozen sailormen leveled their weapons.
"Hold up there, men!" Darrin called, sharply.
"Don't shoot at him."
An instant later snipers on the hotel roof discovered the crawling man, opening fire on him so briskly that the endangered one rose to his feet and came sprinting toward the sailors with both hands uplifted.
"Lower your hands!" shouted Darrin. "They make targets. We won't fire on you!"
That the man understood English was plain from his instant obedience. With Mexican bullets raining about him, the fugitive came on at headlong speed.
"Here! Stop!" Ensign Darrin ordered, catching the man and swinging him into a doorway. "Keep in there, and you're safe from the enemy's fire."
Swiftly Lieutenant Trent crossed the street to hear the escaped one, whom Darrin was already questioning.
"You're an American?" asked Dave.
"Yes!" came the answer.
"How did you come to be here?"
"Escaped from the basement of the hotel. I knew it was up to me to get through to you if I could live through the storm of bullets that I knew would be sent after me. My news is of the utmost importance!"
Then, to the astounded American Navy officers the stranger made this blood-stirring announcement:
"In the Hotel Diligencia are at least twenty American women!"
A RESCUE AND A "FACER"
"You're sure of that?" breathed Trent, tensely.
I ought to be, uttered the man, hoarsely. "One of the women is my wife, and another is my daughter! I haven't seen any of the women in five hours."
"How so?" asked Trent, sharply.
"The soldiers thrust me into the basement. Ever since I found myself alone I've been working with a penknife to dig out the mortar of the bricks in which the window bars were imbedded."
"The instant I had jerked enough bars loose I crawled through the opening and started for you."
Giving swift instructions to keep the machine gun going continuously, and to keep the fire trained on the edge of the hotel roof, Trent detailed four riflemen to remain with the machine gun man, then led the rest swiftly under the hail of bullets that raged over their heads.
In this mode of attack the sailormen gained the sidewalk under the hotel without a shot having been fired from the roof.
"Ensign Darrin, lead as many men as you can against the doors!" ordered the lieutenant. "Get them down as fast as you can!"
Their first assaults against the massive doors failing, four sailors were sent on a run for some form of battering ram. They returned with half of a telegraph pole that had been cut in two by shell fire in the afternoon.
Borne by a dozen stout jackies, the pole was dashed against the door. At the second assault the lock was broken. Dave dashed into the hotel at the head of his squad.
"Straight to the roof, Ensign Darrin!" shouted Lieutenant Trent. "Ensign Dalzell, you will take ten men and endeavor to find the American women."
Then Trent, with the remainder of the command, rushed on after the advance guard. Up the stairs dashed Dave in the lead. The skylight proved not to be fastened.
Only a minute before had the machine gun stopped its murderous hail. Now some thirty Mexican soldiers crept to the edge of the roof to try their luck again with the sailormen up the street.
"There is only a handful of them," shouted one Mexican. "The gringos must be under the hotel, or in it!"
At that announcement there was a swift rush toward the skylight. Just before they reached it Darrin sprang into sight, followed by his men. Short, sharp conflict followed. Twelve Mexicans, three of them killed, went down, and two American sailormen had been wounded when the enemy sent up their appeal for "piedad," or quarter.
Saluting, a sailorman reported to Lieutenant Trent that Ensign Dalzell had found the American women in the annex of the hotel. None had been injured, but all were much frightened.
Leaving a petty officer in charge on the roof, Trent turned to Dave to say:
"Come along, Darrin. We'll see what can be done for our countrywomen."
Hastily descending, and following the messenger, the two officers were met at the door of a spacious room by Ensign Dalzell.
"Ladies," said Dan, turning, "here are Lieutenant Trent and Ensign Darrin. The former commands this detachment."
On the floor lay more than a dozen wounded Mexicans.
Two of the American women, having had nursing experience, had taken good care of the injured.
"Ladies," asked Lieutenant Trent, "have you been roughly treated by the Mexicans?"
"Far from it," said one of the women. "The Mexican officer in command treated us with great consideration. We were in the main part of the hotel, the wooden building. The Mexican officer told us that his men were going to occupy the roof as a military necessity, and that there would be fighting. He assured us that we would be safer in the annex, and escorted us here."
"Where is that officer now?" asked Trent, promptly. "I would like to shake hands with him."
"I am afraid you would have to travel inside the Mexican lines," said another woman. "A little while ago a party of horsemen rode up to the rear of the hotel, and one officer, a lieutenant-colonel, came up into the hotel and sought the officer in command here, ordering him to withdraw with his men, leaving only a few behind to keep up a show of resistance."
"I will see that you are taken at once inside the American lines," declared Trout. "There you will be safe."
Preparations were quickly made. The Mexican prisoners who were able to walk were formed under guard. The American women walked on ahead of the prisoners. Ensign Darrin, with half of the command, took charge of the rescued women and prisoners, and went to the lower part of the town, to turn over the refugees and prisoners.
Trent posted a squad of his men, under Boatswain's Mate Pearson, on the roof. The rest of the seamen were stationed in the street, and Dave was placed in immediate command, with instructions to keep a sharp lookout on all sides. The boatswain's mate was to report to him anything observed from the roof.
In half an hour Danny Grin's detachment returned, coming almost on the double-quick. Dalzell, wide-eyed with news, drew his brother officers aside.
"Cantor has escaped!" Dan murmured, excitedly. "It was not widely known on the 'Long Island' that he was in arrest. So it seems that he went down over the side, stepped into a gig, and ordered the coxswain to take him ashore. As he was in civilian dress he was not likely to be closely observed by sentries on shore, and so far no trace of him has been discovered."
"I believe he has left the Navy," Dave nodded. "Further, as he appeared to have strange interests ashore, I believe that he has deserted to the enemy."
"Don't say that," begged Trent earnestly. "Bad as he may have been, Cantor was trained in all the traditions of the Navy. I can believe him wild, or even bad, but I can't believe him big enough scoundrel to desert to the enemy."
"It's a fearful thing to believe," Darrin admitted, "but what are we to believe? We found him in the house of that notorious bandit, Cosetta. Do you feel any doubt, sir, that Cosetta has proposed, or will propose to the Huerta government that he bring his men in under the Mexican flag in return for a pardon? There is another side to it, sir. The landing plans were stolen from Captain Gales's desk. Doesn't it now seem likely that Cantor stole the plans, and turned them over to Cosetta, who would be delighted at the chance of being able to turn them over to the commander of the Mexican forces around Vera Cruz?"
"The suspicion seems plausible enough," Trent admitted, sadly, "yet it is a terrible thing to believe."
"What's that?" cried Dan, jumping suddenly as shots rang out in another street close at hand.
First had come three or four shots, almost immediately a crashing fire had followed.
"Ensign Darrin," ordered Trent, promptly, "take thirty men and locate that firing. If you run into anything that you cannot handle, rush word back to me."
Like a shot, Dave Darrin was off, running at the head of thirty sailormen. Around two corners they dashed, then came in sight of a scene that made their blood boil.
Some forty men stood in the street, firing at a house from whose windows flashes of pistol shots came. Plainly the defenders were pitifully weak. Up to this moment the men in the street had not observed Ensign Dave's party.
"Sprint down close enough, Riley," Dave directed, "to see whether the men in the street are Mexicans or our own men. I suspect they're Mexicans."
"They're Mexicans, sir!" panted Riley, returning at a sprint.
"Ready! Aim! Fire!" shouted Darrin. "Charge. Fire as you need."
As the volley rang out several Mexicans dropped. Dave dashed down the street at the head of his men.
A feeble return of the fire came from the Mexicans, who then broke and fled to the next corner.
"Are there Americans inside the house?" called Dave, halting before the open but darkened windows.
"Indeed there are!" came a jubilant voice. "Are you Americans?"
"From the 'Long Island,'" Dave answered. "Come out and join us, and we'll take you to safety."
"Now, heaven be praised for this!" answered the same man's voice, devoutly. "Come, my dear ones. We are under the protection of our own Navy men."
Out into the street came a man and woman past middle age. Behind them followed a man of perhaps twenty-five, and a woman who was still younger.
"I am Ensign Darrin, at your service," Darrin announced, raising his cap.
"We were never so glad before to see a naval officer, Mr. Darrin," responded the older man, heartily. "Tom and I had only our revolvers with which to defend ourselves. Permit me. I am Jason Denman. This is my wife, this our daughter, and this our son."
Dave stepped closer to acknowledge the introduction. When, in the darkness, his gaze rested on the young woman, Ensign Darrin gave a gasp of surprise.
"You are wondering if we have met before," smiled the young woman, sadly. "Yes, Mr. Darrin, we have. You thrashed that bully, Mr. Cantor, one night in New York."
"I did not know, then, that he was a brother officer," murmured Dave, "but I would have struck him even if I had known."
"He was here to-night, with the Mexicans whom you drove away," continued the young woman.
"With Mexican soldiers?" gasped Darrin.
"There were but a few soldiers," Miss Denman continued. "The rest were Mexican civilians, brigands, I believe."
"Before I can discuss matters," Darrin replied quickly, "I must get you to a place of safety. You will please march in the middle of this small command. Fall in, men, by fours."
As quickly as possible the line was in motion. Dave marched back to the Hotel Diligencia, where he made instant report to his superior.
"This is the worst news possible!" gasped Lieutenant Trent. "I must send word to the commanding officer downtown, and will do so by Dalzell, who will take thirty men and escort the Denmans to safety."
"As to Lieutenant Cantor, sir," Dave asked his commander. "He is to be arrested wherever found, I suppose?"
"He is to be arrested," replied Trent, between closed teeth. "If be resists arrest, or if he fires upon our party, he is to be shot at once."
"Shot?" gasped Dave Darrin.
"You have your orders, Darrin, and they are proper, legal orders."
"And I shall obey the order, if need arise."
From across the street, as Darrin finished speaking, a window was raised and several rifles were aimed directly at him. Then shots rang out.
PLAYING BIRDMAN IN WAR
Unconsciously Ensign Dave Darrin swayed slightly, so close did the shower of bullets pass him.
Then the reports of more than a score of American rifles rang out just as Danny Grin reached his chum's side.
"Hurt, David, little giant?" asked Dan.
"Not even touched, so far as I know," smiled Darrin.
"Boatswain's mate, take a dozen men and leap into that house through the open window!" Lieutenant Trent called, sternly.
Then the senior officer hurried over to the subordinate.
"Did the rascals get you, Darrin?" demanded the lieutenant, anxiously.
"I don't think so, sir," was the reply. "I don't believe I've a scratch."
"It's a marvel," gasped Trent, after having taken a pocket electric light and by its rays examined the young ensign. "I believe every one of those Mexicans aimed at you."
"It seemed so, sir," Dave laughed.
Danny Grin had already gone, and without orders. The instant he was satisfied that his chum was uninjured Dalzell had leaped away in the wake of the party led by the boatswain's mate. Now Dan was climbing in through the window, helped by two seamen who had been left on guard outside.
But the search of the house revealed only one dead Mexican, not in uniform, who had been killed by the sailormen's fire, and a trail of blood that must have been shed by the wounded enemy as they were carried away.
"Bandits—-Cosetta's men—-not soldiers, this time," was Dan's instant guess.
The miscreants and their wounded, as the blood trail showed, had escaped by way of the rear of the house. None were in sight by the time the Americans reached the back yard.
"Shall we pursue, sir?" asked the boatswain's mate, saluting.
"In what direction?" asked Dalzell, scanning the ground. "The rascals can run faster than we can follow a trail of blood. But you may go back to Lieutenant Trent, report just what we have found, and bring me his orders."
"Lieutenant Trent believes that you are not likely to catch up with the fugitives, and there would be danger of running a handful of men into a cunning Mexican ambush," the petty officer reported, two minutes later.
After that the night dragged slowly. Trent allowed some of his men to sleep in doorways an hour or so at a time, but there were enough sailormen awake to handle any sudden surprise or attack.
At four in the morning Trent's command was relieved by a company of marines with two machine guns.
Lieutenant Trent, under orders, marched his command back to a park in which tents had been pitched. Here, under blankets on the ground, the tired sailormen and their three officers were allowed to sleep until noon.
By daylight of that day, Wednesday, the first detachment ashore had been strongly reinforced.
There was still much sniping in the city, though now the firing came mostly from the rear of the town. Slowly, patiently, the Navy detachments pushed their way forward, attending to snipers and also searching houses for concealed arms and ammunition.
In the course of this search hundreds of Mexicans were arrested. Even some very small boys were found with knives.
On the third day the residents of the city were warned that all who possessed arms must take their weapons to the provost officer's headquarters. About nineteen hundred men, women and boys turned in their weapons, running all the way from the latest models of rifles down to century-old muskets.
Soon after orders were issued that all natives found armed were to be executed on the spot. To the average American this might have seemed like a cruel order, but now the list of dead sailormen and marines had reached twenty-five, and there were scores of wounded American fighting men. Stern steps were necessary to stop the deadly sniping.
Another day passed, and Vera Cruz, now completely occupied by the Americans, had ceased to be a battle ground. Now and then a solitary shot was heard, but in every instance the sniper was tracked down, and his fate provided another tenant for the Vera Cruz burying ground.
Detachments were now posted even to the suburbs of the city.
On the morning of the fifth day, just after Trent's detachment had been roused from a night's sleep in a park in the heart of Vera Cruz, orders came to the lieutenant that seemed to please him.
"We are to march as soon as we have had breakfast," Trent told his two junior officers. "We are to take position a mile and a half south-west of the advanced line, and there wait to protect, if necessary, the Navy aviators, who are going out soon on a scouting flight. At the same time, we are to keep a lookout for the appearance of one of the airships that the Huerta forces are supposed to possess. If we see one, we are to try to get it with the machine guns or rifles. And here is a piece of news that may interest you youngsters. If requested by either of the Navy aviators, I am to allow one of my junior officers to go up in the airship to help with the preparation of field notes to be used in making a military map. If such a demand be made upon me, which of you young men shall be the one to go?"
Ensigns Dave and Dan had turned glowing faces to Trent. Then they glanced at each other. A scouting trip in one of the Navy aircraft would be an unqualified delight to either.
"Let Darrin go," urged Danny Grin.
"I withdraw, in favor of Dalzell," spoke Dave, with equal quickness.
"Which shall it be, then?" Trent demanded quizzically.
"Dalzell," said Dave.
"Darrin," decreed Danny Grin.
"How am I to decide?" asked the lieutenant, smiling at the two eager faces. Then, suddenly he added: "I have it! Which excelled the other in map work at Annapolis?"
"Darrin had the higher marks! I defy you to dispute that, David, little giant."
As Danny Grin's statement was true, Dave could not dispute it, so be contented himself by saying:
"Dalzell's map-work at Annapolis was good enough to suit any need around here, and I shall be glad to see Dalzell get the chance."
"On that showing," returned Trent, "Darrin shall have the chance if it comes this way."
After a quick meal the detachment was under way. In about an hour the position ordered had been taken.
"Here comes the first Navy birdman!" cried Dan suddenly, pointing townward.
Just appearing over the housetops, and soaring to an elevation of a thousand feet, came one of the huge hydro-aeroplanes in which Navy aviators had long been practicing for just such work as this. Capable of coming down and resting on the water, or of rising from the same, these aircraft were ideally suited to the work. Swiftly over Vera Cruz came the airship, then straight out over the advanced line, and next on toward the detachment beyond.
"He isn't coming down," cried Danny Grin in a tone of genuine disappointment. "No chance for you on that one, Davy! Too bad!"
Yet suddenly the rattling noise nearly overhead almost ceased as the engine was shut off. Then gracefully the craft voloplaned and touched the ground, just inside the detachment's line.
"Great work, Bowers!" cried Trent, recognizing in the Navy birdman a former classmate at Annapolis.
"Thank you, Trent. You have an officer, haven't you, to help me with field notes on this survey?"
"I have two," smiled Trent, "but I am afraid I can spare only one. Lieutenant Bowers, Ensign Darrin. Hop aboard, Darrin!"
In a twinkling Ensign Dave had shaken hands with the birdman, adding:
"At your orders, sir!"
Then Dave stepped nimbly up to the platform. "Take a seat beside me, with your field-glasses ready. Here's your field note-book."
At a sign from Lieutenant Bowers, the eager sailormen parted in front of the airship, which, after a brief run, soared gracefully once more.
Behind Lieutenant Bowers stood a sailor with a signal flag.
"Step to the rear," Bowers directed, over his shoulder, "and wigwag back: 'O.K. Stopped only for assistant.' Sign, 'Bowers.'
"Aye, aye, sir," answered the signalman. "Lieutenant Sherman's airship is rising from the harbor, sir," reported the signalman.
"Very good," nodded Lieutenant Bowers, and kept his eyes on his course. "Darrin, are you taking all the observations necessary and entering them?"
"Aye, aye, sir."
"There's the railroad bridge about which the admiral was so anxious," said Bowers, presently. "You will note that the bridge stands, but the railroad tracks have been torn up."
"Aye, aye, sir," Dave reported, after using his field glass.
"That's one of the things we wanted to know," Bowers continued. "And keep an especially sharp lookout, Ensign, for any signs of Mexican forces, hidden or in the open."
But, though Dare looked constantly, he saw no indications of the Mexican column with which General Maas had retreated.
"Too bad about Cantor of your ship," murmured Lieutenant Bowers, a little later. "Though the forces have been searching for him for three or four days he can't be found anywhere. It must be fearful to be tried for treason to one's flag. I am hoping that Cantor will be brought in dead. Under such charges as he faces, there's more dignity in being dead."
"Much more," Dave assented, in a low voice.
On and on they flew. Once, when Dave sighted moving persons in the distance, Bowers drove the craft up to three thousand feet above the earth. But soon, under the glass, these suspects turned out to be a party of wretched refugees, hurrying, ragged, barefooted, starving, gaunt and cactus-torn, to safety within the American lines at Vera Cruz.
For many miles Bowers's craft flew inland, and much valuable information was picked up, besides the data from which any naval draughtsman could construct a very good map of that part of the country.
At last Lieutenant Bowers turned back.
Suddenly Dave exclaimed, "Hullo! There are two men coming out of the adobe house ahead."
The house in question was out about four miles beyond Trent's station.
Dave kept his glass turned on the two men on the ground, at the same the trying to conceal the glass from their view.
"They haven't rifles," he told Lieutenant Bowers. Then, as the aircraft passed and left the adobe house to the rear, Darrin bent over and whispered something in Bowers's ear that the signalman behind them could not hear.
THE DASH FOR THE TRAITOR
A Little later the hydro-aeroplane returned to Lieutenant Trent's position.
Dave placed in the hands of the lieutenant the field note-book, which had been so carefully kept that any officer could draw a map from it at need.
Lightly the big airship touched the earth just inside Trent's line. Dave, shaking hands with his temporary commanding officer, added:
"Thank you for something I've always wanted—-a flight over a real enemy's country."
"I've greatly enjoyed having you with me," Lieutenant Bowers responded. "Trent, you've obliged me hugely by giving me so good an assistant. Good-bye, fellows."
The birdman was again several hundred feet up in the air.
"What kind of a trip was it?" asked Dalzell.
"It was wonderful," Dave breathed. "And I've brought back news of great importance!"
"Did you get it from Mexico City or Washington?" Trent broke in.
"Of course not," Dave said, wonderingly.
"Then you've no such news as we can tell you," Danny went on, quickly, sadly. "Can you guess what it is?"
"Our government isn't going to surrender us to the Huerta forces, is it?"
"Not quite so bad as that," Dan admitted. "But listen! The governments of Brazil, Argentine and Chili have offered their services in arranging mediation between Washington and Mexico City. And Washington has accepted!"
"No war?" gasped Dave Darrin, thunderstruck. "No war against a country that has treated our citizens so outrageously? Has Huerta accepted, too?"
"We haven't heard, as yet," Trent took up the thread of information, "but there is a rumor that Huerta will be only too glad to accept, even if only as a bluff. If, by any kind of a scheme, he can hold us off for a few weeks, he will then have his army consolidated, will have the railroad and bridges destroyed, and the mountain roads to Mexico City all planted with mines, and then be able, most likely, to make the advance of our Army to Mexico City cost us hundreds of good Yankee lives per mile!"
"And Funston's brigade of regulars is on the way, too!" Danny Grin added, sorrowfully. "Won't there be some mad soldier-boys?"
Ensign Dave Darrin stood with bowed head for a few moments. To him it seemed hard indeed, if the Mexicans, after almost countless outrages against American citizens, even to the extent of assassination—-and worse—-were to escape their richly deserved punishment through a few tricks of diplomacy.
Then the spirit of the service, so strong in him, came to the surface. To others belonged the right of command, his only the privilege to obey.
He raised his head, smiling. Then his own matter of report leaped back into his mind. Bringing his heels together, straightening up, he saluted:
"Sir, I have the honor to report that, while on the air flight, I noted the location of a solitary adobe house about four miles out. From that house came two men whom I distinctly recognized through my field glass to be Lieutenant Cantor and the bandit, Cosetta. Lieutenant Cantor, after one or two upward looks, bowed his head and kept his eyes to the ground, but I am positive, sir, of my identification of both men."
"And Cosetta's bandits?" inquired Trent. "Did you see any signs of them?"
"No, sir, but the adobe house is large enough to hide them all."
"Any trenches near the house?"
"I am afraid it would do little good to approach the house in broad daylight," Lieutenant Trent reflected, excitedly, "but it should make an excellent enterprise late in the night. I will report this matter to Commander Dillingham, in command of the advanced line. With his permission, we'll try to-night for the capture of that much needed pair of rascals."
"Our signalman is being called from the advanced line, sir," reported a saluting sailorman.
Wheeling, Trent ordered his own signalman to wig-wag, "Go ahead." Then the lieutenant stood reading the message.
"You will fall back upon the advanced line," the signal read.
"Send 'O.K.,'" called the lieutenant.
"Sir," cried a sentry, "There's a party coming in. You can just make 'em out, sir."
Stepping forward, Trent brought up his fieldglasses, while Dave informed him:
"That was the second matter upon which I intended to report to you, sir. I observed those people from the airship. I believe them to be refugees."
Immediately Lieutenant Trent signaled the advanced line, reporting the party seen out on the plain.
"Then wait and escort them in," came Commander Dillingham's order.
"O.K., sir," the detachment's signalman wigwagged back.
In three-quarters of an hour more the painfully moving party reached the detachment. They were truly refugees, released from Mexico City and nearby points.
The sight of these suffering people, some hundred and twenty in number, and mainly Americans, was enough to cause many of the sailormen to shed unaccustomed tears, and not to be ashamed of them, either!
Every degree of wretchedness and raggedness was represented by these sufferers of indescribable wrongs.
Men, and women too, showed the marks of rough handling by brutal prison guards. There were many disfigured faces. One man carried in a crude sling, an arm broken by a savage Mexican captor.
Such spectacles were of daily occurrence in Vera Cruz! These wretched men, women and children had been on the way on foot since the middle of the night, having painfully trudged in over the twenty-five-mile gap in which the tracks had been torn up.
Ordering his men to fall in, Lieutenant Trent escorted the patient, footsore procession in to the advanced line. The sailormen adjusted their own steps to those of the sufferers. As they moved along Coxswain Riley vented his feelings in an undertone:
"We need only a band and a dead march to make a funeral of this! And—-yet—-no war!"
From the slow-moving ranks came only a deep, surly growl. Lieutenant Trent turned around, then faced front once more; he had no heart to utter a rebuke.
Mingled cheers and growls greeted the arrival of the pitiful fugitives at the advanced lines. The cheers were for the fact that the refugees had at least escaped with their lives. The growls were for the Mexicans responsible for this spectacle.
"We must secure conveyances of some kind to take these poor people into the city," declared Commander Dillingham. "I will send a messenger to ask for the best sort of carriages that can be found in a place like Vera Cruz. Lieutenant, as the second airship is returning yonder, your duty outside the lines is over. You may march your men to the camp yonder and let them rest until they are needed."
"I wish a word with you, sir, when possible," Trent urged.
"At once," replied Commander Dillingham. Darrin was with Lieutenant Trent when he reported the discovery of the whereabouts of Cantor and Cosetta.
"It wouldn't do any good to go out in the daytime," the commander decided. "The fellows would see you coming, and take to their heels toward the interior before you came within rifle range. You will have to go after dark, Lieutenant, and better still, towards midnight. In the early evening they might be watching for an American advance, but late at night they would decide that their hiding place is not suspected. You will plan, Lieutenant, to leave here at a little before eleven o'clock to-night, which will bring you to the adobe house about midnight. I will communicate my information to the commander of the forces ashore, and, if not reversed by him, my present instructions will hold."
The orders were not reversed. At 10.45 that night Trent marched his detachment beyond the advanced line. Every man moved as softly as he could, and there was no jingling of military accoutrements.
Finally the adobe house stood out dimly against the night sky at a distance of less than half a mile.
"If Cosetta has his men with him, they are doubtless sleeping outside, on their arms, tonight," Lieutenant Trent explained, after a softly ordered halt. "When we attack, Cantor and perhaps Cosetta, will try to escape from the rear of the house, making a quick dash for the interior, while Cosetta's men try to hold us in check. Therefore, Darrin, I am going to let you have fifteen men. You will make a wide detour of the house, and try to work to a position in the immediate rear. You will have your men lie flat on the ground, and I will take every precaution that my men do not fire upon you. If you see Cosetta or Cantor, you will know what to do."
"Aye, aye, sir," responded Ensign Darrin.
With the stealth of a cat Dave advanced, revolver in hand. He was behind the house, and within forty feet of the back door, when a crashing fire ripped out in front.
Cosetta's men, lying on the ground, had failed to note Darrin's flanking movement, but had discovered Trent's advance.
Suddenly the rear door flew open, and two men dashed out.
"Halt!" shouted Dave, dashing forward.
Cosetta reached for a revolver. Before he could produce it Darrin's bullet laid him low.
But Cantor sprang at the young ensign with such force as to bear him to earth.
One of Cantor's hands gripped at Dave's throat. In the traitor's other hand flashed a narrow-bladed Mexican knife.
"The score is settled at last!" hissed Cantor, as he drove the weapon down.
It's the thought that can take shape in the hundredth part of a second that saves human life at such a crisis.
The instant he felt the hand at his throat there flashed into Dave's mind a sailor's trick that had come to him, indirectly, from Japan.
Clasping both of his own hands inside of Cantor's arm, and holding both arms rigidly, Darrin rolled himself over sideways with such force as to send the traitor sprawling.
Dave got to his feet with the speed of desperation that rules when one is in danger.
Yet the traitor was hardly a whit behind him in rising.
Crouching low, with the knife in his hand, Cantor watched his chance to spring.
Ensign Dave's revolver lay on the ground. To take the second needed to recover the weapon would cost him his life at the point of the knife.
Cosetta, lying desperately wounded, tried to crawl over the ground a few feet in order to reach his own pistol.
"Take it!" hissed Cantor, leaping forward, panther-like, and making a sudden lunge.
Throwing up his left arm to ward off the weapon, Dave felt the sharp sting of steel in his forearm.
Heedless of his wound, Dave, with his right hand, gripped the wrist of the traitor.
It was a struggle, now, of trained athletes. Each used his left hand in struggling for the advantage, watching, warily, also, for a chance to use his feet or knees.
On the other side of the house the firing still continued.
Neither Dave nor his antagonist spoke. Silently they battled, until both went to the ground.
Though Dave might have won with his fists, Cantor's superior weight and muscle counted in this deadly clinch. And now Darrin found himself lying with both shoulders touching, while Cantor, kneeling over him, fought to free his knife hand for the final thrust.
On the ground beyond, through the hail of fire from their own comrades, wriggled Riley and two sailormen. The instant they neared the corner of the house all three leaped to their feet, dashing to the aid of their young officer.
"Don't shoot, Riley!" panted Ensign Dave Darrin. "Stun him!"
In a twinkling Riley reversed his clutch on his aimed rifle, bringing down the butt across the traitor's head. Cantor rolled over.
"Shall I wind up this Greaser, sir?" asked one of the sailormen, thrusting the muzzle of his rifle against Cosetta's breast.
"No!" Dave commanded, sharply. "We don't kill when we can take prisoners."
So the seaman contented himself with standing guard over the wounded brigand.
Suddenly the machine gun began to rip into the ranks of the bandits in front of the house. An instant later a dozen sailors whom Riley had left behind reached the flanking position for which they had rushed, and began pouring in a raking fire on the bandits. Assailed from two sides Cosetta's now leaderless band broke in wild confusion, and fled, leaving behind many dead and wounded.
Quickly Trent surrounded the house, but there was no one inside. And then Trout came upon his subordinate.
"Why, Darrin, you're hurt!" he cried, pointing to Dave's left arm.
As the firing died out Dave glanced down at his sleeve.
"Off with your blouse!" spoke the lieutenant, in a tone of command.
Riley helped to remove the blouse, meanwhile explaining:
"We didn't crawl all the way to you, sir. We ran until we got into a hail of bullets from our own messmates. Then, sir, that we might reach you, we threw ourselves down and crawled a few yards."
"Riley," declared Dave, heartily, "you're as good a man as there is in the United States Navy!"
Whereat the petty officer fairly blushed with pride.
"All our men are so good," added Trent, genially, "that it's a difficult task to pick the best."
The surviving bandits had fled. Trent's orders forbade pursuing beyond the house. So, while Riley and Dave were examining the deep wound in the latter's forearm, Trent gave orders to bury the dead in shallow graves and to pick up the wounded for removal to Vera Cruz.
Immediately upon returning to the advanced line Dave was ordered back to the "Long Island" for prompt surgical treatment. Though his wound was not dangerous, in itself, the climate of Vera Cruz is one in which there is the gravest danger of blood-poisoning setting in in any wound.
The day after that, duty on shore being lighter, and officers being needed aboard, Danny Grin was ordered back to ship duty, while Lieutenant Trent remained ashore with his detachment.
Having broken arrest, Cantor, on being returned to ship, was placed behind the steel bars of the ship's brig. There was no further escape for him. But his brother officers sighed their relief when a board of surgeons declared Lieutenant Cantor to be hopelessly insane, and expressed their opinion that he had been in that unfortunate mental condition for at least some weeks. That removed the taint of treason from the "Long Island's" ward-room, as an insane man is never held responsible for his wrong acts.
It was gambling to excess, and the fear of being dropped from the Navy Register, that had caused the wreck of Cantor's mind. He is now properly confined in an asylum.
Mrs. Black had not left Vera Cruz, but still lingered on one of the refugee ships in the harbor, where the Denmans found her. Mrs. Black was a widow who devoted her time and her wealth to missionary work in Mexico. Dave learned to his surprise that she was the daughter of Jason Denman, and a sister of the girl whom Dave had served so signally in New York.
Mr. Denman, who was a wealthy resident of an Ohio town, had extensive mining interests in Mexico, and had gone there to look after them, leaving Miss Denman and her mother in New York. Cantor, who had first met the Denmans in Ohio, when on recruiting duty in that state, had planned to make Miss Denman his wife for purely mercenary reasons. He had struggled to overcome his gaming mania, and had planned that once Miss Denman became his wife her money should be used to pay his gaming debts and free him from the claims of the vice.
But Mr. Denman, with the insight of a wise man, had discouraged the suit.
In New York, before the "Long Island" had sailed, Cantor had met young Tom Denman in a gambling resort. Plying the young man with liquor, Cantor had persuaded the young man, when unconscious of what he was doing, to forge a banker's name to two checks, which Cantor had persuaded an acquaintance of his to cash. Of course the checks had been refused payment at the bank, but the man who had cashed them had disappeared.
Cantor had offered to save young Tom Denman. Without involving himself Cantor could have testified that the young man was all but unconscious, and without knowledge of his act, when he "forged" the cheeks.
The bank that had been deceived into cashing the checks before they were forwarded to the bank upon which they were drawn, had located Tom Denman easily enough. Tom would have been arrested, but Mrs. Denman promptly applied to a great detective agency, which quickly established the young man's mental condition at the of "forging" the checks. Moreover, Mrs. Denman, after cabling her husband for authority to use his funds, had made good the loss to the bank. Then mother, daughter and son had journeyed hastily to Vera Cruz, that the boy might be under his father's eye.
That one lesson was enough for Tom Denman. He has never strayed since.
As to the theft of his landing plan, Captain Gales afterward explained to several of his officers that no such theft had ever taken place. "You recall, gentlemen," the captain explained, "that I referred to the envelope which had contained the plans. And I then stated that the envelope which had contained the plans had disappeared. You will also remember, perhaps that I didn't state that the plans themselves were gone, for they rested in my safe, and are there at this moment. Acting that afternoon on an impulse that I did not very well understand, I took the landing plans from their envelope and filled the envelope with blank paper after having put the plans in the safe.
"Cantor had knowledge of the envelope, and supposed, as any one would have done, that the plans were inside. When my back was turned for an instant Cantor took the envelope, which I did not immediately miss, as I had no idea that any of my officers was untrustworthy. Cantor hurried to his own quarters, and there discovered the blank paper substitution. Furious, yet hating Darrin for reasons which you now understand, Cantor hastened to Darrin's room and slipped the envelope in under Darrin's mattress. Cantor has admitted it to me—-whatever the word of an adjudged lunatic may be worth poor fellow!
"Now, as to Cantor's need of money, he was overwhelmed with gambling debts in New York. Some wild fancy told him that he could win money enough in Vera Cruz to pay his debts at home. He secured leave and went ashore. In a gaming house there he lost all his money, but still fought on against the game when he found that his signature would be accepted. He plunged heavily, soon rising from the table owing thirty thousand dollars to the house. Then Cosetta, who was a silent partner of the house, noting the lieutenant's despair, led him aside and cunningly informed him that he could have all his notes back if he could only secure the authoritative plans of the American landing. Cosetta, who had been a bandit for many years, and who feared the time would come when his appearance in Vera Cruz would be followed by arrest and execution, wanted to turn the landing plans over to General Maas, the Mexican commander here. Imagine the temptation to Cantor when he thought he had the plans in his own hands!
"Cantor afterwards secured my permission to go ashore in civilian garb, on the plea that he had urgent private business. As the landing had been made, I permitted him to go. I have since discovered that Cantor had word of the Denmans being in Vera Cruz. Cosetta found the family for him, and Cantor made one last, desperate plea for Miss Denman's hand. He was obliged to urge his suit through the open window of the house. Then, when Mr. Denman sternly refused to listen to him, Cosetta tried to kill Mr. Denman and his son, intending to abduct Miss Denman and to force her to marry Cantor.
"Cosetta died this morning. He had hoped to become at least a colonel in Huerta's army. Cantor did not know Cosetta until that chance meeting took place in the gambling house."
A week later, Dave Darrin, his wound now almost healed, stood on the bridge of the "Long Island," Danny Grin at his side.
They had just watched the landing of the last boatloads of General Funston's regulars.
"I believe that winds up the Navy's chapter at Vera Cruz, Danny," said Ensign Darrin. "The rest of it, if there is going to be any 'rest,' will belong to the Army."
"We had an interesting time while it lasted," declared Dalzell, with a broad grin.
"There is a world full of interesting times ahead of us. We'll find time in every quarter of the globe. Isn't that so, Gunner's Mate Riley?" he demanded of the former coxswain, who, promoted that day, now stepped upon the bridge saluting, to show proudly on his sleeve the badge of his new rating.
Whether Darrin's prediction was realized will be discovered in the pages of the next volume of this series, which will be published shortly under the title, "Dave Darrin on Mediterranean Service; Or, With Dan Dalzell on European Duty."
In this forthcoming volume we shall encounter an amazing tale of an American naval officer's life and duties abroad, and we are likely, too, to hear from Lieutenant Trent and other good fellows from the ward-rooms and from the forecastles of our splendid Navy.