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Title: A United States Midshipman Afloat

Author: Yates Stirling

Illustrator: Ralph L. Boyer

Release date: January 22, 2022 [eBook #67215]

Language: English

Original publication: United States: Penn Publishing Company, 1908

Credits: D A Alexander, David E. Brown, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This file was produced from images generously made available by University of California libraries)




Lt. Com. Yates Stirling Jr. USN

Illustrated by Ralph L. Boyer


1908 BY



I Enemy or Friend 7
II Under Arrest 21
III The Track Meet 38
IV The Face in the Locket 56
V Hurried Orders 71
VI Secret Service 87
VII An Important Discovery 100
VIII Prisoners 118
IX A Terrible Predicament 141
X The Scene Changes 161
XI A Naval Engagement 185
XII Captain Garcia’s Strategy     204
XIII Lazar’s Cunning 224
XIV The House on La Mesa 243
XV The Defense 258
XVI The Assault 277
XVII The Accusation 295
XVIII An Important Witness 311
XIX The Court Martial 326
XX The Search 339
XXI Conclusion 364




The Boat Headed Up to the Buoy Frontispiece
“Well?” He Inquired, Coldly 76
He Found a Convenient Air Port 98
The Three Prisoners Rushed Through the Flames 163
You Seized Only a Cargo of Rocks 241
“Do You Refuse?” He Cried, Hoarsely 289
The Door of the Room Opened Suddenly 351



A United States
Midshipman Afloat


The Navy-Yard at Brooklyn buzzed with its daily turmoil of labor. It was a bright June morning, and the high chimneys of the numerous shops and foundries belched forth flame and smoke. Thousands of begrimed workmen toiled incessantly, hammering, bending and riveting masses of metal, fashioning them into shape to be carried by the steam cranes to be blended into the hulls of waiting battle-ships.

Through this scene of activity two boys walked briskly. Their clothing was new and in the latest style. It clung to their well set up figures, betraying the hand of the military tailor. Each carried a bright leather suitcase to the top of which a cased sword was strapped.

[8]Emerging from the tangle of buildings, the youths glanced about, and an exclamation of pleasure escaped them as a view of their nation’s sea power met their eyes: ten huge battle-ships resplendent in their glassy white and contrasting buff paint lay tied up, filling every foot of the dock frontage.

“Which is ours, Phil?” asked one of the youths, stopping and setting his case down with a sigh of relief.

Philip Perry, as he slowly shifted his bag to his other hand, glanced down the long line of stately defenders.

“There she is, Syd,” he finally replied, pointing his free hand in the direction of one moored at the foot of the street. “The one with three smoke-stacks and eight turrets. What a beauty she is!”

Philip Perry and Sydney Monroe were the names stenciled in bold type on the new traveling bags, and underneath the names in smaller capitals were the letters: U. S. N.

Any one familiar with the navy could have told by a glance that they were midshipmen, just graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis and in the distribution of their[9] class to the many ships of the navy, these two had received orders and were on their way to report for duty on board one of the powerful battle-ships lying directly before them.

The four years’ course of study at Annapolis had filled their minds with a store of wisdom, and the rigorous outdoor drills had given to their bodies suppleness and strength. They were a sample of the finished output of the Naval National Academy.

The picturesque life on the ocean would give them ample opportunity to benefit themselves and put to good use their stored-up knowledge. They were on the threshold of a new era, in which their character and professional worth would be valued by the success achieved.

As they walked in silence toward their future home, their minds dwelt on the vast intricacies of this creation of steel, but these thoughts were quickly forgotten as they stepped over the side of the U. S. S. “Connecticut” and reported their arrival to the officer of the deck.

They were wrapped in wonder at the work[10] of getting a battle-ship ready for sea. Ammunition and stores were being taken on board from huge cargo barges with lightning rapidity by hundreds of strong bronzed sailormen. All was activity. The dockyard had completed its work on the steel hull and all hands seemed eager to breathe once more the pure air of the sea.

Five minutes later they were grasping the welcoming hands of their future messmates—those midshipmen who had been graduated from Annapolis one short year ago, yet had mastered the mystery of many things which to the newcomers were as an unopened book.

“The captain will see you both as soon as you are ready, sir,” the marine orderly reported to Phil.

Donning their bright new uniforms, which had been the sole contents of their valises, and buckling on their swords, they were ushered into the captain’s spacious quarters.

They found him brusque and businesslike. A hand to each in turn, with a firm manly pressure:

“Glad to have you with us;” then to the attentive orderly:

[11]“Show these gentlemen to the executive officer,” and the ordeal was over.

Phil and Sydney had no time for conversation during the next twenty minutes, while they found themselves hurried through the rounds of official formality and then sent to their quarters to unpack and be ready for immediate duty.

“They gave me no choice of a roommate, did they, Syd?” said Phil, ten minutes later, as he dived into his trunk and commenced to toss his belongings on to his bunk to have them more handy to stow into the numerous small receptacles located about the narrow room which he and Sydney had been ordered to occupy.

“No, they didn’t,” answered Sydney, with a grin, “but we have stood each other for four years; I guess we can do it for two more.”

The last of their belongings was scarcely stowed when a servant announced that the midday meal was ready in the mess room.

They entered and were greeted by more of their former schoolmates. Phil found his seat next to Marshall, an old friend of Annapolis days, who was anxious to give him all the tips[12] possible on what he could expect in his daily life on a battle-ship. Phil listened intently while he breathlessly recited all the gems of wisdom that came into his head:

“You are in Lazar’s division. It’s a crackerjack, too; you’ve got your work cut out for you. He’s a hustler. He isn’t much liked by the middies because he ‘horses’ us so much, but the captain swears by him. Beaty—you remember old ‘Pike’?—he had your job, but I guess Lazar was too many for him. We sent him to the hospital with nerves a week ago. Some of the fellows saw him yesterday, doing the gentleman act there, looking as pink and fresh as a girl. Hope you will manage all right.”

Phil tried to look cheerful, but Marshall’s quick eye detected something wrong.

“Do you know Lazar? of course you were at the Academy with him, but——”

He stopped and glanced hurriedly into Phil’s face, then dropped his voice:

“Why, it was you that fought him. How unfortunate!” Then musingly, “He is not the man to forget.”

“I can’t believe that he would allow a boy’s[13] quarrel—remember, that was nearly four years ago—to influence his feelings for me now,” answered Phil, gaining but scant comfort from his own words.

He remembered how bitter Lazar had been in his relations to him the few months before the older man graduated and left him in peace. He was but a plebe then. Well, the future would tell.

As soon as the short meal was over Phil went to his room and changed his uniform, donning the oldest he owned, but the bright lace and lustrous braid was in great contrast to the uniforms of those officers and midshipmen who had received their baptism of salt spray, in the year at sea on board the battle-ship, cruising and drilling until their ship was considered to be in efficient condition to join the fleet and compete in all the drills and games that go to make up the very full itinerary of the sailor’s life afloat.

Sydney came in full of enthusiasm, having seen his divisional officer and obtained an idea of what he had to do.

“I have a fine job,” he cried, as he threw his coat on his bunk and started to get out his[14] older clothes. “Four seven-inch guns, all my own; Lieutenant Brand says if I don’t make all hits at target practice, he won’t give me a two-five——”

Then, stopping and catching sight of his chum’s face in the mirror back of the washstand:

“Whatever is wrong, Phil?” he exclaimed anxiously. “You look as glum as an oyster.”

Phil hesitated. Should he confide in his roommate of Annapolis days? Or should he fight it out alone? He felt it was a situation needing every ounce of his manhood and tact. What harm could be done by asking Syd’s friendly advice?

“I have great misgivings, Syd,” he commenced cautiously. “I was prepared for almost anything, but Lazar for my divisional officer had never occurred to me. Do you blame me for looking and feeling glum?”

Sydney’s joyous face became serious in an instant.

“That’s certainly hard luck. Why couldn’t I have been assigned to his division instead of you?” exclaimed he, generously. “I never liked him, but he doesn’t know me from an[15] old shoe, and he has a good reason to know you.” Then, reminiscently, “I can remember his face after your fight with him as plainly as if it were yesterday; the referee called it a draw, but every one knew that you had the better of the fight. He was in the hospital for a week until his face healed up, while you were in ranks at the next formation, with no more marks than I give myself daily shaving.”

“Do you believe he has forgotten, or at least forgiven?” asked Phil.

“You or I would have long ago,” replied Sydney thoughtfully, “but Lazar always seemed so vindictive to me; maybe his Latin blood makes him so. Jules Lazar is not an appropriate name for a forgiving nature; it sounds very belligerent to me.”

“You certainly are comforting,” smiled Phil, as he started to leave the room to report to his divisional officer and find out for himself what the outward signs of friendship or enmity might tell.

With many misgivings he went up the companion ladder leading to the quarter-deck. As his foot touched the clean white deck, he[16] raised his hand to his cap in salute to the flag.

Standing near the great twelve-inch turret, managing the labor of filling the spacious storerooms and magazines, was Lazar, the spy-glass in his gloved hand identifying him as the officer of the deck, in charge of the progress of work on the big fighter.

Phil stepped smartly up to him and saluted.

Lazar turned slowly toward him. His brow contracted imperceptibly as he returned the salute of the midshipman.

“Mr. Perry reports to you, sir, as junior officer of the fourth division,” Phil said in the official tone he had been taught to use at Annapolis. His eyes unwaveringly sought the restless energetic face of his divisional officer.

Would Lazar give him his hand? Phil was ready to believe that his boyish quarrel and fight were forgiven. He waited what seemed a long time while officer and midshipman each looked straight into the eyes of the other. Neither wavered, and each seemed to[17] wish to sweep aside the other’s mask and read the thoughts behind the cold impassive exterior.

“Aye, aye, Mr. Perry,” finally replied Lazar. “Get a correct list of the division, and a copy of our station bills. You will find them posted in the division bulletin-board.” Then glancing at the bright clean uniform of the youth before him, “You had better put on your oldest clothes, then come up here, and I shall give you something to occupy you. You stand watch with me, you know?”

Phil held his hand at his side ready to offer it at the first intimation that it would be accepted by the older man, but Lazar did not show by voice or sign that he wished for anything more than purely official relations with the midshipman.

“I am ready now for duty, sir,” answered Phil in a voice that, strive as he could to hide it, betrayed a tone of disappointment, tinged with indignation. Glancing down at his converted Annapolis uniform, “I have no older ones,” he confessed. “I might as well break this in, sir.”

[18]“Very good; you will take charge of the work on the forecastle.” Glancing about and motioning a smart-looking petty officer to advance, “O’Neil, here, is in our division.” Then addressing the attentive coxswain, “You are excused from other work and will lend Mr. Perry a hand. He is our new midshipman, and is about to direct the work on the forecastle.” Then again turning to Phil and dropping his voice: “That’s a splendid man, he knows the name of every man on board. You will find him a willing subordinate.”

Phil saluted stiffly in Annapolis fashion, while O’Neil jerked his hand toward his cap and in a businesslike voice announced his readiness by a hearty, “Aye, aye, sir.”

O’Neil led the way through the battery deck, the men engaged in work there standing aside in respectful attention to allow the new arrival to pass.

Phil’s mind wavered between the decision that Lazar would give him a fair showing, and the contrary one that he would make his life as unpleasant as possible; and from the accounts he had heard of Beaty, the midshipman in the hospital with “too much Lazar,”[19] as one of the midshipmen had diagnosed his complaint, he knew his new divisional officer, by voice and action, could make the life of one he disliked so unhappy that a cot in the hospital might be preferable.

He found his work on the forecastle just what he needed to keep his mind off his troubles, and in the language of O’Neil: “he made good,” as he encouraged, directed and helped the men handle the bulky packages.

“That’s a fine young gentleman,” O’Neil confided to a brother petty officer, as he watched Phil put his shoulder against a twelve-inch shell and guide it clear of an iron hatch top. “Do you see the way the boys are working? As if they were to get shore leave at the end of this job. It’s a pity to see him spoil them bright new clothes, but when I tried to help him he told me he wanted exercise.”

Phil had found his thoughts very unpleasant companions as he had watched the work progress, and now doing the manual labor of a leading man, he had forgotten, for the time at least, the sombre reflections that had, like spectres, come into his mind.

[20]Would this man attempt to ruin him? And could he do so if he so wished?

He considered going to the captain and asking to be assigned to another division, stating his reasons, but he saw immediately how childish it would seem to that busy officer. A boys’ quarrel, long ago forgotten, he would call it.

Phil wished it were so.



Phil awakened the next morning at an early hour. Hurriedly dressing, he went on deck.

His sleep had refreshed him and his mind was less ready to dwell on the dark side of his life on board ship. He believed when he and Lazar had become better acquainted the old grudge would be overshadowed in the intimacy of the life on the ocean.

With muster-roll and station bills neatly copied in his note-books, he was impatient for the bugle to sound the call to “quarters,” when he would meet his division for the first time.

He watched with interest the scene about him. Petty officers and men were busily engaged putting the finishing touches to the clean deck and bright brass work of the vessel. Others were using a clothes-brush carefully on their neatly fitting blue uniforms or[22] giving a parting rub to their broad shoes. The gunners’ mates guarded their huge guns jealously, occasionally rubbing an imaginary spot of rust or dirt.

While the bugle call was being sounded on each of the many decks, he was an interested spectator of the magic effect of the clear notes. Confusion seemed to melt away into the most perfect order as men took their places in ranks abreast the guns they served.

Lazar stood facing his division,—fifty well set up, youthful men. Back of him were the turret guns for which his division formed the crews. Across the deck the marine guard was paraded, the military bearing of the soldier-sailors contrasting with the easy pose of the picturesque sailormen about them.

The executive officer was at his station across the deck from Lazar.

Such is the formation for quarters on board a war-ship of the navy. Each divisional officer musters his men, inspecting carefully, in order that the standard of neatness may be maintained. He then reports the result to the executive officer, receives his orders for drill and returns to his station.

[23]Upon the completion of muster the captain will be informed of the number of absentees and then this report is signaled to the flag-ship.

Upon such a scene Phil gazed for the first time as an officer and thrilled to the impressive ceremony. He stood at “attention” on the right of the division.

Lazar, muster-book in hand, glanced along the double line of men until his eyes rested on his midshipman. The precision in the attitude of his junior caught his eye. His glance wavered and the slightest of sneers appeared on his face. For the fraction of a second he seemed to hesitate, then words that brought the blush of shame and anger to the face of the unsuspecting boy struck harshly upon his ears:

“Mr. Perry, I gave you the credit for knowing that at quarters all officers must wear sword and gloves. Go below, sir, and get yourself in proper uniform.”

Phil stood motionless. He was stunned for the moment, not so much by the words as by the scorn in his voice.

Almost overcome with confusion and embarrassment,[24] he turned away and hastily descended the ladder to the deck below.

Once more in his room he found his sword and gloves where he had placed them but ten minutes before the call to quarters. Then had come a call to the executive officer, and once on deck all save the scene about him was driven from his mind. His own thoughtlessness alone could be blamed, but the sneer in Lazar’s voice rankled.

When he again reached the deck, the men had broken ranks and the sharp pipe of the whistles of the boatswain and his mates filled the air, followed in sonorous tones and in perfect chorus:

“All hands unmoor ship.”

The stout hemp lines and chains securing the battle-ship to the dock were cast off, and like writhing serpents, hauled aboard by the lusty crew. The two great propellers churned the muddy water and the war-ship glided out into the crowded waters of the East River.

Two handy tugs attached themselves to this unwieldy mass of steel and slowly swung her armored bow toward the Brooklyn[25] Bridge, spanning the river like a huge rainbow of metal.

“Let go!” shouted the captain of the war-ship to his tiny helpmates; then to the attentive executive officer by his side—

“Slow speed ahead!”

Quietly, the powerful engines started in motion the sixteen thousand tons of fighting material.

“Half speed ahead,” ordered the captain.

The Brooklyn Bridge swept by overhead. The docks and shipping melted into a confusion of masts and smoke-stacks.

Through the harbor the battle-ship glided like a great giant, then turned and headed through the Narrows for the open sea.

The ship was soon well out on the Atlantic, the haze of the city melted astern. The low lying coast of Long Island was dimly in sight on the port hand.

The two friends spent the remainder of the day in getting their bearings in their new home, and when eight o’clock came were quite willing to seek their bunks.

It was midnight when Phil found himself[26] by Lazar’s side on the high bridge of the battle-ship, as junior officer of the watch.

The wind, which had been light at the start, had increased steadily in violence until now the vessel was plunging heavily into the teeth of a moderate gale. Her powerful engines crowded her steel shod prow with terrific force into the rising seas, flinging tons of spray on to her high forecastle.

Lazar stood with his face close to the canvass weather cloth, for the protection of those on the bridge against the force of the blast, and peered through the inky blackness.

The responsibility for the ship rested upon his shoulders for the next four hours.

Turning toward the younger man, he motioned him nearer.

“Mr. Perry, your duties are to muster the watch on deck,” he shouted in Phil’s ear, in order to be heard in the roar of the wind; “examine both life-boats; see that everything movable about decks is secure. We are going to have a bad night,” he added, glancing at the angry sea. “Your duty is to go in the life-boat if she is called away; but I shall not lower a boat to-night.”

[27]Phil glanced in amazement at the officer of the deck. He could but see the outline of his face in the gloom of his southwester.

“Did I understand you, sir, to say you would not lower a life-boat to-night?” he asked incredulously.

“Yes, sir, you did,” snapped Lazar, “in this sea to do so would mean sending seven men to death.”

Phil made his way aft, to where the watch had gathered to keep dry against the heavy seas of spray that periodically were flung over the deck.

O’Neil held the lantern while Phil called off the men’s names. Then he and O’Neil climbed out and examined the life-boats, one on each side, swung securely from their davits, overhanging the angry water. Then Phil went on the quarter-deck and questioned the marine sentry at the patent life-buoy. Every one seemed to be well instructed. All was secure.

“Keep your men from the side,” he cautioned the boatswain’s mate of the watch; “we don’t want any one overboard in a sea like this.”

[28]“Aye, aye, sir,” replied the sailor, “there ain’t any danger now; maybe when they hoists ashes some of them lubberly firemen may get too near the side. But I’ll warn ’um, sir.”

Returning to his station on the bridge, he sought the friendly shelter of the weather cloth against the increasing fierceness of the wind and stinging spray. The sound of flapping canvas and the sea breaking its fury on the steel bow were the only sounds above the roar of the wind.

Phil counted not the time. All was too new and absorbing. His thoughts had turned to many things when his breathing stopped and his heart sank as a terrifying cry from aft came faintly but clearly to his ears.

“Man overboard.”

He was rooted to the spot. In helpless consternation he looked to his officer for instructions. A human being was adrift in this angry sea, or maybe had been already killed by a swiftly moving propeller blade.

As in a dream he saw Lazar grasp the handles of the telegraphs to the engine room and signal “full speed astern.”

[29]There could be but one interpretation. Lazar would lower a life-boat after all.

Phil ran down the bridge ladder and swung himself nimbly out on the life-boat gallery.

There he found the lee life-boat ready for lowering; six sailors sat quietly at the thwarts, while those of the watch had led out the boat-falls. O’Neil, the coxswain, with his hand on the strong-back, stood ready to leap into the boat. That they were doing more than their duty did not occur to these stout American hearts. A fellow-being was in danger of drowning—that was enough reason for them.

“Shall I lower, sir?” the coxswain shouted to Phil as the latter swung himself over the rail of the superstructure and stood by his side; “he can’t live long in this sea.”

Phil surveyed hastily the strongly built boat, then his gaze traveled down to the angry sea beneath him.

The engines were backing. He saw the heavy surge of the sea astern as the propellers threw a powerful race current forward. Why did not the order come? After the ship had started astern the boat could not be lowered. Far away on the lee quarter the chemical[30] flame of the patent life-buoy showed a dim light against a background of troubled waters.

Under the spell of one of those impulses that seem to take possession so absolutely of the mind in times of emergency, Phil cried:

“Lower away,” and he and O’Neil swung themselves on board the life-boat as she dropped evenly and quickly toward the black sea beneath her.

Phil seized the handle of the steering oar in both hands, motioning O’Neil away. The boat shivered as she struck the lumpy sea.

“Sit here, O’Neil, and hang on to my legs,” shouted Phil at the top of his lungs, through the roaring of the gale, as the boat shot ahead on her life-line, while with the steering oar he swung her stern in toward the white wall of the battle-ship towering above them.

The life-line sheered the boat clear of the menacing ship.

“Let go,” shouted the youth.

“Give way! Bend to it, men,” he cautioned, turning the life-boat’s prow toward the flicker of light appearing periodically on the crest of a wave and quickly disappearing down into its deep trough.

[31]Straight-backed and supple the six oarsmen sent the long, narrow boat over the seas that seemed ready to engulf her.

“Never mind me,” shouted Phil to O’Neil, bracing his legs firmly against the stern boards. “Stand by forward there, we shall be at the life-buoy in a moment.”

O’Neil glanced with grave concern at the midshipman.

“Aye, aye, sir. Keep your weather eye open, sir,” he cautioned. “If you go overboard with them rubber boots on, you’ll go to the bottom like a shot.”

Protesting at the boy’s recklessness, he crawled forward and stood ready to grasp the man if he were clinging to the life-buoy or yet swimming on the surface of the angry water.

“Can you see the buoy, sir?” shouted O’Neil. “It’s broad off the starboard bow.”

“I see it,” shouted back Phil, as he threw the stern to port and bore down on the two flames still burning brightly amid the tempest.

“Stand by to ‘peak your oars.’ Peak!” he shouted to the crew as the boat with a rush[32] was brought around and headed up to the buoy.

“He’s there, boys,” cried O’Neil, joyously, as he leaned far out and grasped a limp, bedraggled figure clinging to the life-buoy. The men dropped the handles of their oars between their feet, raising the blades clear of the passing waves.

“In you come, my hearty,” cried the coxswain, as his arms encircled the half-drowned man, and he lifted him from the hungry sea to safety in the life-boat.

Searchlights were now playing from the battle-ship. One beam of light held steadily on the struggling boat, while the others swept fretfully about as if they sought to pierce the dark water.

As the midshipman struggled manfully at the steering oar, holding the bow of the boat up against the impact of the powerful seas, Lazar’s words seemed to ring in his ears like a knell.

Fear clutched at his heart that he might by his disobedience send these brave men to a watery grave.

As long as the oarsmen could give the boat[33] headway, he felt confident all would go well, but some of the men were exhausted, and the sea was ever increasing.

“Steady, men! Give way together. This is for your lives,” he shouted, as a white wall of water reared itself close aboard out of the blackness to windward.

The boat seemed to fairly crawl over the angry bosom of foam.

“Stand by to peak your oars,” he shouted hoarsely. “Peak!” as the monster wave curled over, ready to engulf them, and struck the bow of the life-boat. She shivered to her keel and half filled with water, then lay dead on the surface of the sea.

Wave after wave swept over the half-submerged boat, almost drowning the exhausted crew. Phil attempted frantically to head the boat up to the battering seas.

Casting a despairing look at his men, whose efforts were becoming ever weaker, he read on their faces a look of hope. Throwing a swift glance over his shoulder, he saw the misty form of the “Connecticut” loom up out of the darkness, scarce a boat’s length away. He heard the whir of her backing propellers;[34] the dull boom of the sea spending its fury against her sides; the rapidly given orders, and the scurry of shod feet on her decks.

A line whistled overhead and fell in the midst of the exhausted crew.

“Take a turn with that line,” Phil shouted.

O’Neil grasped the line and secured it to the bow-thwart of the boat.

Phil braced himself against the jar of the tautening line.

The boat rose and fell on the angry sea, in momentary danger of splitting herself asunder on the sides of the battle-ship. The waves, but half broken by the armored bow, swept over the struggling men.

He felt himself grasped and held strongly by hands from above, and then slowly hauled upward. He saw the whole boat lifted on a giant sea and then swept wildly against the ship’s steel side. A crash of splintered wood. Then all was darkness.

Phil opened his eyes in his own room, with Sydney and Marshall bending over him and a doctor binding up a cut over his temple. Two or three times he attempted to speak, to[35] find out the worst. He knew that the life of every man sacrificed was caused by his impulse. He had given the order to lower the boat directly contrary to the stated instructions of the officer of the deck.

He had not the courage to ask of the fate of his men. He had seen the boat go to pieces with his own eyes, surely some of the crew had been drowned.

He could not stand the suspense a moment longer. He must know all. It would be better than this uncertainty.

“Syd, tell me what happened?” he whispered hoarsely.

“All were saved,” Sydney answered. “We abandoned the boat, of course. You were struck by a splinter as you were being hauled on board. You are the biggest man on this ship to-night, Phil.”

The joyful news made the overwrought boy tremble. He turned his face away to hide his emotion.

Greatly strengthened by the happy tidings, he put on dry clothes and, despite Sydney’s offer to stand the remainder of his watch, made his way to the bridge to report his[36] return to Lazar. It seemed an age since he had responded to that terrifying cry, but the clock told him it had been but scarce a half hour ago.

What would Lazar say? Would not success wipe away the guilt of disobedience? What was the loss of a boat compared to the loss of a human life?

With a cheerful ring in his voice he reported his return to duty.

“I was struck by a piece of the boat, sir,” he offered in excuse for his tardiness. The ship had been on her course for nearly ten minutes.

Lazar turned on him fiercely. His even white teeth gleamed under his black moustache.

“You can thank Providence, Mr. Perry, that you are alive this moment.” His voice rose in anger. “A midshipman who cannot obey orders is a menace to the safety of those under him. That you were not all drowned was due to me, sir. I saved you by putting the ship between your boat and the seas, and hauling you aboard like so much cargo.” Then in a voice cold and passionless: “I have received[37] the captain’s authority, Mr. Perry, to place you under arrest for wilfully disobeying my order. You will go to your room, sir.”

Phil turned away without a word.



Brace up and don’t pull such a long face, Phil,” Sydney was saying in their room after breakfast the next morning.

“You are the boast of the ship, and the captain will not be severe with you. You disobeyed orders, of course, but so did Admiral Nelson at the battle of the Nile, and yet he was promoted for his action because he ‘made good’——”

“Yes, but I didn’t ‘make good.’ Lazar ‘made good’ for me and he took pains to tell me so last night. I would rather have drowned than listen to his scornful denunciation of my conduct,” answered Phil sadly.

“You are entirely too sensitive,” answered Sydney in a disgusted voice. “If I had been in your place last night I’d have been proud of myself, and Lazar’s scorn would be as water on a duck’s back. Every one is for you, even Mr. Penfield, the executive officer. I hear[39] he said at the wardroom mess-table that he was of the opinion that you should be publicly commended by the secretary of the navy.”

Phil blushed with pleasure at his friend’s impetuous words.

“Did he, though?” he said, brightly; then his face clouded as his eyes fell on his empty sword rack.

“The humiliation of the arrest is what hurts,” he added. “When the captain sent for my sword I felt like a veritable traitor.”

“There you are, sentiment again,” cried Sydney. “The sword is merely a matter of form. You will have it again in a jiffy. I’m coming back as soon as we anchor,” he added, buckling on his sword and hurriedly leaving the room as the bugle call sounded, and the boatswain’s mates’ hoarse voices were heard calling:

“Bring ship to an anchor!”

Throwing himself into his chair, Phil turned over in his mind the various incidents that had led to his arrest. How could he answer Lazar’s accusations? His only manly course was to acknowledge his guilt and hope for the[40] captain’s clemency. Down in his heart he knew he would do the same again. It was cruel to stand by and see a man perish without raising a hand. Yet Lazar’s judgment had been sound. For the benefit of many it were better to allow one to drown.

Alone in his room he followed the movements of the ship by the noises about him. As the vibrations of the propellers lessened, he knew that the vessel was near the anchored fleet and had slowed her engines. Shortly, he heard the rattle of chain as the anchor was dropped overboard.

“Sir, the captain wishes to see Mr. Perry in the cabin,” announced the orderly five minutes later.

Entering the cabin, Phil removed his cap and stood with military exactness before his commanding officer.

“Take a seat, Mr. Perry,” said the captain, not unkindly.

A few moments elapsed, then Lazar entered, and at a motion from the captain occupied a chair next to Phil.

Phil’s heart beat fast. The solemnity of the occasion awed him. His hopes were ready to[41] sink within him as he waited for the captain’s decision.

“Gentlemen,” the captain began, weighing his words, “Mr. Perry, in deliberately disobeying the order of his senior officer, helped to save an unfortunate man from certain death;” the captain hesitated and shifted his gaze to Lazar. “If it had not been for the masterful manner in which the officer of the deck, Mr. Lazar, handled the ship, placing her between the helpless boat and the force of the seas, eight more men would have been sacrificed.” Then turning to Phil and addressing him directly: “It was Mr. Lazar’s high sense of duty that compelled him to report your disobedience. What have you to say, sir?”

Phil was silent. The captain thrummed on the table, as if impatient for an answer. Lazar fidgeted uneasily in his chair, no doubt wondering what defense the boy would advance.

“I have nothing to say, sir,” began Phil in a low voice. “I committed a grave error, sir. I have steered life-boats before, but the sea was greater than I realized.” He stopped and[42] glanced up in embarrassment at the captain. “I am afraid, sir, I would do the same again, sir.”

“Well spoken, lad,” cried the captain delightedly. He had prepared himself for an excuse, so this straightforward acknowledgment was extremely gratifying to the blunt sailor.

“Bless you, boy, you gave me a few new white hairs as I watched your boat. I never thought to see any of that crew again, but all’s well that ends well, eh, Lazar?” he asked, turning suddenly on the ensign.

“I feel I have done my duty, sir; the verdict rests with you,” answered he, in a strained voice, in which Phil thought he read disappointment.

The captain became grave, apparently noting the attitude of the claimant. “That is all, Mr. Lazar,” he said in a changed voice. “You may withdraw.”

As the door closed on the ensign, the captain’s face again assumed a kindly expression.

“Mr. Perry, I cannot find heart to punish you for this,” he spoke earnestly. “You were too impulsive and it might have turned out[43] disastrously, nevertheless it became you well. You have shown that you are made of the right stuff; now let me see you fashion it into the officer that you are capable of becoming.” Reaching out his hand he took up Phil’s sword, and as he returned it to him, said:

“Remember, obedience is your first duty.”

“What did I tell you?” Sydney cried, shaking Phil’s hand a moment later, as he returned with his sword. Then in an anxious voice: “I don’t like Lazar’s attitude. He came out of the cabin a minute ago looking like a thunder-cloud. He apparently was not pleased at the captain’s decision.”

“He may dislike me,” Phil answered charitably, as they entered their own room, “but I believe so far he has treated me as he would have any of us midshipmen.”

The life-boat incident raised Phil to a high place in the opinions of most officers of the ship, and the men were all devoted to him. He was their favorite midshipman after that.

This was the first time the eight big battle-ships of the Atlantic fleet had been together since their winter rendezvous at Guantanamo, Cuba, and good-natured rivalry between the[44] ships in tests of strength and physical prowess of their crews ran high. The admiral of the fleet, a great believer in encouraging these pastimes, had given orders for a track meet to be held on shore, and all hands turned to organize their forces to win the pennant to be given to the ship that showed herself capable of producing the cleverest athletes.

“I have been pressed into service to get the entries from our ship for the meet,” Marshall announced at the mess-table that evening. “It is to take place next Saturday. We need all the good men we can get. We certainly have a prize in Lazar; he has entered for all the short runs up to the 440-yards. He held all the Annapolis records for them when he was there, and he keeps himself in fine condition.”

Phil had brightened up at the prospects for a day of field sports, and held his hand out gladly for the paper to put down his name, but when Lazar’s name passed Marshall’s lips, his face clouded and he withdrew his hand quickly.

“Syd, you should do something in the jumping line,” said Phil in a voice of feigned indifference.[45] “I shan’t enter; I’m not in form for running.”

“Are you crazy, man?” Sydney cried. Then turning to Marshall: “He made a clean sweep last year of the short runs at Annapolis, lowered one record and equaled the others. Don’t listen to him, he is only modest; put him down for all up to the 440.”

“No, no,” cried Phil earnestly. “I’m not going to enter, so that ends it.”

“If you have no more ship’s spirit than that, you can go hang,” replied Marshall, much nettled at Phil’s stubbornness.

Sydney allowed his name to be written on the entry sheet for several events, but the sheet went back to Lieutenant-Commander Penfield, the executive officer, without Phil’s name for a single event.

“What’s the matter with you, Phil?” demanded Sydney, in their room after dinner. “Why should you refuse when you know you are in excellent condition and could win the majority of your races? Is it because Lazar has entered?”

“Yes, if you must know,” he replied in a tone of finality. “I’d sooner stay away and[46] retain my peace of mind. Our relations are strained enough already. I have no wish to incur his further enmity. We would hotly contest each event, and if I won, his treatment of me would not be improved.”

Sydney’s further persuasions fell on barren soil. Phil held to his point and would not be moved.

Great preparations were being made for the coming struggle. Enthusiasm waxed high in the fleet, and all longed for the day to arrive when each could test his prowess.

The day of the meet finally came; the sun shone from a cloudless pure sky; the cool sea breeze swept over the athletic grounds, invigorating the hundreds of sailor athletes with its salty crispness. This was an event new in the annals of the navy, and had aroused intense interest, so when the lads arrived with their party of contestants from the “Connecticut,” they found an audience had collected from the surrounding country. The grand stands, erected by the carpenters of the ships of the fleet, were packed to overflowing, while the field, which had been turned into an arena for the many contests, was gay with the uniformed[47] sailormen who had come to cheer their champions.

On a bulletin-board at the entrance to the grounds the lists of those to compete in the several events was posted.

So much pressure had been brought to bear upon Phil that he had finally been prevailed upon to enter the short runs. The executive officer and even the captain had upbraided him so severely for what they thought was his lack of ship’s spirit, that he had, much against his inclinations, allowed his name to be put on the list before it was sent to the flag-ship.

Our two boys stopped to read the names of the competitors. Many of those entering were strangers, but an occasional name would evoke a remark of surprise or pleasure from one or the other of the readers.

Lazar’s name was in but one list, that for the 100-yard run, and Phil wondered whether the latter had withdrawn because he had entered. The next minute Marshall came rushing up to him.

“Lazar is running only in the 100-yard. I suppose you noticed his name is not in the[48] others. I have just seen him and he seems confident of being able to win the race. Now, if you can win the others and run second in this short dash, we shall win the pennant hands down.”

Phil immediately bristled.

“Did he say I might run second?” he asked quickly.

Marshall hesitated.

“You know what I mean, Perry,” he answered knowingly; “after your other races you can hardly expect to beat Lazar, but if you try for second, you can get it. Don’t you see?”

“Is that his suggestion?” Phil asked, his anger rising.

“To be frank with you, yes, it is,” confessed Marshall. “He found that the three races were being run too close together, so he scratched in the others and thinks he is sure for the shorter run. It’s all perfectly square.”

“H’m, maybe so,” Phil answered shortly, as he turned toward the dressing-tent to be ready for the first race in which he was entered.

“‘Second,’ eh?” he soliloquized. “I’ll give him the race of his life for first.”

[49]The races were run amid great enthusiasm as the sailors saw the possibility for the winner gradually narrow down until the coveted pennant lay between but two ships, the “Connecticut” and the “Minnesota.”

“You have just a half hour to rest up before the first heat of the big race,” said Sydney, as he and Phil walked toward the hospital tent after the 440-yard run.

Phil felt the strain of his two races. He had won the 220-yards by a narrow margin, but had been cleverly outstripped in the longer race by a sailorman from the “Minnesota.”

Sydney had acquitted himself with credit; he had taken second place in two of the jumping contests.

“You seem to be a hot favorite for the 100-yards, Mr. Perry,” said the doctor, with a smile of admiration at the well-knit figure before him, as he directed his nurses to rub the strained muscles to keep them in shape for the final contest. “I hear the pennant lies between your ship and the ‘Minnesota.’”

Marshall came into the tent, and unabashed at the rebuke administered by Phil earlier in the day, began his argument anew:

[50]“I know you don’t like Lazar any too well,” he said in an undertone, “and because he suggested this, you immediately became angry, but let me show you a perfectly fair way of doing it, without blocking anybody. Say Lazar can win, then leaving yourself out of the count, some one will run second. Now don’t try to catch Lazar, but keep ahead of the man who threatens him and takes second place. If you overexert yourself to pass Lazar you may give out and be beaten by two or three men. That is surely fair in a contest between ships.”

“But suppose I feel confident I can beat Lazar and win,” answered Phil dryly.

“That’s too much to expect, Perry,” said he earnestly. “After running as you have it’s only natural that you cannot be in as good condition as if you hadn’t run, and we must take both first and second place in this last race to be sure of beating the ‘Minnesota.’ She leads us now by nearly ten points. Can’t you do this for your ship?”

Phil was silent. He believed the proposition as far as Marshall was concerned was prompted solely by a desire to see his ship[51] win, but as coming from Lazar it was a slur on his manliness. The latter had hinted at blocking off the fast runners, pocketing them by keeping ahead and preventing their passing him, thus insuring a win for Lazar if he succeeded in getting off quickly, which was his greatest asset; he was the quickest starter Phil had ever seen. But even in the form outlined by Marshall, although it might not be considered unfair, yet it was unsportsmanlike and savored of jockeying.

“I am sorry I can’t see it your way, old man,” he answered finally in not an unkind voice; then the indignation he felt for Lazar blazed from his eyes.

“You may tell Mr. Lazar I shall run to win.”

“Bully for you, Phil,” cried Sydney delightedly. He had listened intently in silence, and was afraid he might be influenced by the plausible arguments of his tempter. “I’d be willing to have the ship lose to see you beat him.”

The preliminary heats were run amid great enthusiasm.

Lazar and Phil, with eight others, found[52] themselves at the starting line for the final test.

Phil, in spite of the tax on his strength in his hard fought races, never felt in better trim. The earlier races assured him that his muscles had not deteriorated. As he stood with his body thrown forward, hands on the ground in front of him, he vibrated like a highly tempered spring. Every muscle was held in the leash, ready to be loosed by his will at the discharge of the pistol. He wished that he might be transformed into a knight of older times, horsed and about to “enter the lists” with his antagonist. How he would delight to see Lazar’s pride unhorsed beneath his charger’s feet.

With these mad thoughts coursing through his brain he heard, as if from far away, the starter’s voice:

“Are you ready?”

“On your mark!”

Then a pause, followed by a loud report.

As if shot from a catapult, the lithe figures darted forward—breath held tightly, every face set with dogged determination.

Phil saw Lazar dart two yards ahead of[53] every competitor. It was an enormous handicap in his favor, for it precluded a chance of being pocketed either by accident or design.

Phil strained his muscles to their utmost in an endeavor to free himself from the mass of threatening, surging runners. If each ran inside his chalk line all would be well, but on the sandy soil marks were indistinct. He held his breath a prisoner. His old trainer at Annapolis had taught him the trick. “A full breath at ‘on your mark’ and another thirty yards from the finish. It’s all the air you need,” were the words repeating themselves in his mind. His exertions were crowned by finding himself within a yard of Lazar. The next danger thundered three yards behind him.

Swiftly they drew toward the finish.

Lazar, running in his chalked lane, edged over inch by inch until he was directly in Phil’s path. The man behind had now drawn up so close to Phil that he could feel his hot breath in his ear. He knew him for the little sailor who had beaten him in the 440-yard run. Phil was now running on[54] the left edge of the course. The runner behind him was in the line that had been Lazar’s. If Phil were not to be pocketed he must pass Lazar to his right and might thereby interfere with and perhaps foul the plucky little runner from the “Minnesota.” Phil knew that if the latter ran first or second the pennant would go to the sailor’s ship. In all its hideousness Lazar’s trick flashed before Phil’s eyes. Lazar would make him pocket the sailor or else be beaten by both men. With the eye of a runner he judged the time for his full breath and final spurt had come.

Slowly he drew up abreast of Lazar; the third man was close at his elbow. He put forth his full power. To himself his muscles felt chained. He seemed fairly to crawl toward the finish. But the spectators saw him draw surely up to Lazar—then forge ahead. Phil heard a pistol shot, and gave himself into the grasp of a group of sailormen. He knew none of them, but they all wore “Connecticut” on their caps, and their faces were alight with pride and satisfaction.

“Well done, Mr. Perry,” they shouted.

[55]He felt himself raised on a mountain of sturdy shoulders and heard the triumphant shouts of victory.

Then his eyes fell on the face of Lazar, likewise honored by his delighted men. Amid the happy faces below him that of the older officer showed only anger and bitter mortification.



Sports of whatever nature were now by the order of the admiral relegated to the past and all hands turned to for the coming target practice.

With the Atlantic fleet the days were now indeed full of hard, but useful work.

At eight o’clock in the morning the squadron would daily be under way. Drill after drill followed to perfect the officers in handling the unwieldy monsters, until even the ships seemed to have acquired an intelligence all their own.

Phil, standing his watch duty under Lazar, spent many instructive hours. To see the eight battle-ships steaming at twelve-knots speed, with a distance between the bow of one and the stern of the next of less than three ship lengths, was a sight calculated to inspire a feeling of wonder and admiration.

[57]One day on the bridge, while the squadron was engaged in maneuvers, the real danger of this apparently simple drill was forcibly demonstrated. Phil, telescope in hand, was reading the fluttering flags hoisted by the flag-ship, calling out the numbers to Lazar, who was solving their meaning in the signal book he held in his hand.

Suddenly the battle-ship directly ahead in the column swung herself across the path of their ship. Phil saw the “dispatch flag,” a signal of breakdown, flying at her main masthead. The danger of a collision appeared so suddenly that he was bound to the spot. He was new to such an emergency. Lazar’s eyes were upon the ship ahead. His attitude was alert, his face calm and his manner deliberate.

“Port, hard aport,” he ordered, in a natural voice.

The heavily-shod bow of their ship pointed fairly amidships of the ship now nearly broadside in their path.

Slowly, painfully the “Connecticut’s” bow, in answer to her helm, moved along the length of the exposed and all but helpless white hull ahead. The ships drew together[58] with such rapidity that it seemed to Phil a collision was inevitable.

Such were undoubtedly the thoughts on board the ship ahead. The shrill screech of her syren screamed across the water—a signal for all on board immediately to close every door and scuttle throughout the ship, so that in the event of a collision the water entering the wounded side would be prevented from spreading throughout the ship and endangering her buoyancy.

Lazar’s actions showed not a sign of indecision. He appeared as cool as if he were performing an ordinary maneuver of routine duty.

The “Connecticut” cleared her prostrated mate and swung by her swiftly—so close aboard that it seemed to Phil that they must have touched, then she followed in the wake of the other ships.

The boy was filled with admiration for the officer. He wondered if he would ever be able to use such remarkable judgment and remain as tranquil.

The more he saw of the older man the more he regretted their common enmity. As[59] an officer he could not but command his respect. He was capable and self-possessed under the most trying circumstances, and yet, in spite of this enviable talent, he lacked the power of endearing himself to those under him. There was hardly a sailor on the ship who liked him. As a rule he was silent, yet the man who displeased him awakened a tongue so bitter that its sting covered the unfortunate one with shame and confusion. Those of his own mess admired him for his seamanlike ability, but despised him for his cynical and abusive disposition. He confided in no one, was friendly with none.

With such a personality Phil found himself closely associated, both in his duty on deck and also in the turret, where hard work was their daily portion. Lazar was ambitious, and he spared neither his men nor himself in building up such efficiency that the turret he commanded could not be outstripped in its record by any other of its class.

Phil had no real grounds for complaint. Lazar’s biting cynicisms hurt his pride, but only spurred him on to further efforts to perfect himself in his duties.

[60]“Come out with us, Phil,” cried Sydney, the day before target practice, to his roommate, hard at work over some knotty problem. “You take things too seriously. Let it alone for awhile. We are going for a row in the dinghy, to the beach, and have a swim. Marshall, Morrison and Hill are going. You will just make a crew.”

Phil’s face brightened at the prospect, but remembering his work, he shook his head.

“No, I must work this out first. It’s very irritating. I know there must be a way, but I can’t see how to do it.”

“You are working entirely too hard,” replied Sydney, earnestly. “It isn’t worth it. What credit does Lazar give you? He never has a word to say unless it’s to correct a mistake in his sarcastic voice. It makes me angry to see you slave for him. Come out with us and harden up your muscles.”

But Phil could not be moved. His interest had been aroused in this work and he would master it before he gave in.

“After all,” he thought, when the pleasure seekers had gone, “what do I care for Lazar’s praise. He has taught me to curb my temper[61] and I have worked harder than I thought myself capable in order to be free from his faultfinding tongue.”

The problem was only one of many Phil had fought out alone, and he finally saw the solution. Putting his drawings aside, he went up into the turret to test his ideas practically.

“Boyd,” he shouted as he reached the gun platform.

“Here, sir,” answered a slim, active looking sailorman, the gunner’s mate of the turret, emerging from under the guns, a number of tools in his begrimed fingers.

“Get O’Neil and come down below in the handling room. I have a scheme I want to try.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” answered Boyd with alacrity, putting his wrenches in the tool-racks. “I’ll get him and join you in a second, sir.”

He disappeared through the smoke hatch to the top of the turret.

Phil glanced about him. The objects which to him three weeks ago seemed so confusing were now wonderfully simple: the guns in their massive steel carriages, the weighty cylinders with their internal pistons and[62] springs to check the force of the recoil when the guns are fired and send them back again to their normal position without undue jar to the structure of the ship. Here were the electric ammunition hoists, reeling a stout wire about a metal drum and this bringing up the heavy ammunition car with its burden of shell and powder from the handling room fifty feet below, and placing the charge directly in front of the open breech of the guns, to be driven home by the swiftly moving electric rammers. Phil saw below him the twin motors which turned the massive turret at the will of man. All these, to their minutest detail, were clear to him. Did other midshipmen master as much in so short a time? Was it not an advantage to serve under a man who could inspire such a desire to learn, even though the craving for knowledge was aroused by a determination to be free from his sarcastic taunts?

Standing thus deep in thought, the stillness in the turret was broken by a sound from below. It was faint but distinct. He listened with held breath. It seemed to be caused by a file against a metal surface. He could see[63] nothing. The heavy iron shutters, built to protect the crew of the handling room from accidents in the turret, were shut tightly.

The sound continued, seemingly becoming louder. Then it ceased and a metal object rattled on the deck below. It was so clear and distinct that he thought it must be caused by Boyd in the handling room. Doubtlessly he was already there awaiting him.

“Boyd,” he raised his voice in order to be heard beyond the shutters.

No answer.

He called again louder. The sound of footsteps came to his ears from the handling room. What could it mean? By Lazar’s orders no work was to be done in the turret or handling room by any one save Boyd, and he had just gone up the hatch, and if he were below he would have answered his call.

Phil swung himself down the ladder, through the scuttle in the turret platform, then down a second ladder, and found himself in darkness on the floor of the handling room.

All was silence.

Presently he heard his name called from above in the voice of Boyd. What could it[64] mean? Some one had been there but a second ago and what had he been doing?

“Turn the light on down here,” he called back. His heart beat wildly.

The electric lights flashed as the switch was turned from above.

The handling room was empty.

A glint from a small bright object caught his eye in the shadow of an ammunition car. He stooped down and picked up a gold locket. Could it be a clew to the mystery? The thing was harmless enough in itself.

O’Neil and Boyd quickly joined him.

“Have you been doing any repair work here?” he asked the gunner’s mate.

“No, sir, everything is right here, barring that shell car you were figuring on,” answered he promptly.

Phil held the locket in his open palm.

“Ask the men of the division if any of them lost a locket,” he spoke carelessly. “If one claims it send him to me,” he added, dropping the trinket in his pocket.

His experiments successfully over, he carefully surveyed the different familiar objects about him. All seemed normal.

[65]“The noises must have come from the shaft alleys or engine room,” he said softly to himself.

“Did you speak, sir?” inquired O’Neil, hearing his low voice.

Phil glanced up with the intention of confiding in his petty officer, then changed his mind.

“No, I was only thinking,” he replied.

Arriving in his room he tried to dismiss the incident from his mind. He still held the locket in his hand.

“One of the men dropped it during drill,” he assured himself. But instinctively his eyes traveled back to the locket as if it were a talisman. A feeling took possession of him that if he opened the locket the clew would be inside. But he controlled this feeling. It would not be honorable to open it.

He regretted that Lazar was away—on board the “Minnesota,” umpiring her target practice. If he were here he would tell him of his fears; then he could do as he thought best.

“I believe Syd is right,” he said half aloud; “this close application to work has gotten on my nerves. I take things too seriously. I[66] hear a noise in the turret, and the ship being a regular sounding-board, it may have come from anywhere. Then why should I take for granted it came from the handling room? And then I find a small gold locket which I at once take as a sure sign that I am right in my conjecture.” Then his thoughts became more serious. “But if it was in the handling room, it shows that some one was there who had no business there, because when I called he did not answer. Could any one wish to injure the turret gear? Had Lazar an enemy?”

For hours that night he lay awake revolving in his mind all the possible phases of the incident and at last dropped into a troubled sleep.

Awakening the next morning he was in a state of mental depression. An overpowering desire to open the locket came to him which he could not refuse. He took it out of his bureau drawer and forced the tiny thing open. A girl’s face looked out at him. He studied it carefully, then closed the locket and threw it back into the drawer with a gesture of disappointment.

[67]“I wonder what I expected to find there,” he said with a sarcastic smile. “My nerves are in about the same condition as those of a man before his first battle. I shall certainly be happy when it’s over.”

“Mr. Lazar is in the turret, sir,” announced O’Neil, putting his head in the midshipman’s mess room, while Phil was eating his breakfast, “and he’d like to see you.”

“We are to fire as soon as the umpires arrive, Mr. Perry,” Lazar informed him as the midshipman crawled down through the scuttle and stood by his side between the two big guns.

Phil wavered in his inclination to inform his division officer of the incident of the day before.

“The umpires are here, sir, and the captain says you will fire first. Let him know when you are ready to go on the range,” reported the orderly, from the turret top.

Phil found himself at his station in the handling room. The mystery was still a secret.

All thoughts of the affair were quickly forgotten. His mind was now on the work of[68] supplying ammunition from the magazines and shell rooms as fast as the two metal tubes above could hurl it at the target.

The shell rooms were opened and the big shells were brought out on the overhead tracks ready to be placed on the ammunition cars, then to be hoisted to the turret fifty feet above. The magazine doors were closed, but the hinged metal flaps were undogged and men stood ready to enter the powder magazines and pass the charges of powder through these fire-proof flaps to those in the handling room, then to be placed with the shell on the car.

Standing surrounded by his twenty-four men, Phil waited the order from Lazar to load the cars.

“Mr. Perry,” Lazar’s voice came down the flexible speaking-tube.

“Aye, aye, sir,” Phil answered back.

“Are you ready?”

“All ready, sir,” shouted Phil.


The cars were loaded and raised, and a second shell for each was brought out, ready to be put on the cars as soon as they came back.

“They are off,” Phil shouted excitedly, as[69] both cars were hoisted with terrific speed up the curved steel rails; the shutters between the turret and handling room opened obediently to allow the cars to pass; a glimpse of half-naked men above them came into view, then they fell shut with a bang, shutting out the scene.

A dull crash from above told those in the handling room that the first gun had been fired.

An empty ammunition car came down through the shutter, was quickly supplied with its shell and powder and again disappeared upward through the magic shutter.

The firing above was rapid. The empty cars appeared so frequently that the men below were hard pressed to prevent the crews above from waiting for their ammunition.

“That’s the fastest firing I have ever seen,” cried one of the men in admiration, as he hurled a fifty pound powder bag accurately on to its shelf in the car; “they ain’t nothing in the fleet can touch this.”

“Hold on there!”

Phil saw with consternation the car start up prematurely with but one bag of powder,[70] where four were necessary for a charge. It would have to go clear to the turret and then come down again for the other three bags, a loss of much precious time.

As if he thought he might call the impatient car back, he watched it gather speed to open the shutter. He saw it disappear and the shutter close behind it with a rasping noise. Then came a crash as of a heavy falling body, from above. The din of tearing metal filled his ears.

“Stand clear, men,” he had barely time to shout, when the loaded car, shutter and all, shot down into their midst, a hopeless mass of twisted metal.



The accident came so unexpectedly that it was some moments before Phil could find his voice. Then he realized there was nothing to be done. The damage was beyond his capacity to repair. The turret was useless for further service.

He glanced, apprehensively, upward through the jagged rent of the shutter and his eyes fell upon the angry, excited face of his divisional officer.

There was small reason to ask the trouble. The dangling end of the wire rope told the story only too plainly: the hoist rope had broken when the ammunition car was nearly at the breech of the gun, and it had then plunged downward, with its burden of nearly a ton of shell and powder, wrecking itself and the shutter.

A moment later Lazar was in the handling[72] room, viewing the effects of the unlucky accident.

Stooping down he raised the car end of the wire rope.

“Cut half through,” he cried in a voice full of passion, “and by a file or saw.” His disappointment was too keen to conceal.

“All my work for nothing. The umpires will decide the accident against me, and only half the firing over.”

Phil felt sorry for the older man. He would willingly take the blame on himself, if that could have helped matters.

These charitable thoughts were however quickly stifled by the humiliating words of his superior officer.

“This looks like your work,” he hissed in Phil’s ear. “I have no way to prove it, but it looks very black for you.”

“I, sir!” he gasped. Then the thought of the locket and his secret came to him. He stopped vexed and mortified.

It did look black, indeed.

Lazar gave him a swift glance of triumph as he turned away.

Phil directed the work of clearing away[73] the wreck and as soon as the ship’s machinists had commenced on the repairs, he hunted up his friend to make a clean breast to him of the secret which had grown in a night from a mole-hill to the size of a mountain.

He found Sydney in his room, washing the evidence of target practice from his face and hands.

“I made a fine score,” Sydney cried joyously, without looking up, as Phil entered their small stateroom. “What on earth happened? Your turret started out finely; every shot hit the target, then suddenly you stopped shooting.”

“Everything happened,” answered Phil, sadly. “The ammunition hoist broke and Lazar thinks it’s my work, and the only way I can clear myself is to get myself further implicated.”

“Well, that certainly is Irish,” laughed Sydney heartily; then a view of his friend’s face cut short his mirth, for he saw that it was serious.

“I beg your pardon, Phil,” he added soberly, “but your words were droll. Tell me about it?”

[74]Phil unburdened himself to his roommate; telling of the noise that he had heard in the handling room the day before; of his suspicions, and of the fatal mistake he had made in not confiding in Lazar before the firing commenced; then of the accident and Lazar’s accusations.

“But why should he accuse you?” Sydney asked aghast.

“I don’t know, but he has,” Phil answered, “and I was struck dumb. I can’t explain to him now. It would only make things worse.”

Sydney thought deeply.

“Phil, the idea is preposterous,” he said decidedly; “he certainly has better sense than to accuse you openly of this.”

“That’s the worst of it,” Phil answered sorrowfully; “all he need do is to cast a suspicion on me and then I must endeavor to clear myself of the suspicion, and I can’t. If I tell what I have told you, those who are ready to believe I am capable of doing such a cowardly act to spite Lazar, will see all the more proof that I am guilty.”

“It surely is complicated,” Sydney replied.

[75]Phil opened his desk drawer and picked up the locket, holding it out to Sydney.

“This is what I found in the handling room. There’s a girl’s picture inside. It doesn’t belong to any of the turret’s crew, at least none have claimed it.”

“This was dropped by the man who cut the wire,” Sydney mused aloud, “and this face may help us find him.”

“You are so mysterious, Syd,” cried Phil impatiently; “how can that girl’s face help us? There is probably no likeness between it and the culprit. It’s the face of his sweetheart, undoubtedly.”

“Yes, but the fact that her face is here will cause him to try to regain it,” Sydney answered assuredly.

“Do you believe that Lazar would recognize the face in the locket?” Phil questioned. “I might show it to him without telling him of the noise I heard before finding it.”

“That’s what I was about to suggest,” replied Sydney; “the man who did the act is an enemy of Lazar’s; he may recognize the girl.”

Phil immediately sought Lazar.

[76]“Come in.” Lazar’s voice answered the knock on his stateroom door.

“Oh, it’s you, is it?” he said discourteously, without rising. “Well, what do you want here?”

Phil was confounded.

“I have a locket here which I found in the handling room yesterday while I was working on the cars,” he began hesitatingly.

Lazar took the locket in his hand, then glanced up at the face of the speaker.

“Well?” he inquired coldly.

“There’s a face inside,” Phil stammered. “I thought you might know the owner in that way.”

Lazar opened the locket, and if Phil had not been so much occupied nursing his injured dignity, he might have seen a flash of recognition in Lazar’s face. However, when he looked up it had passed away and a look of boredom had taken its place.

“No, I don’t know her,” he answered shortly, handing Phil the locket. “Is that all?”

“That’s all, sir.”


[77]Phil withdrew in some confusion, anger and mortification struggling within him.

“I am a child in that man’s hands,” he cried, as he reëntered his own room. “Syd, he awakes in me all the instincts of a brute. I can hardly keep my hands off him.”

“Don’t let any one on board hear you express such sentiments,” Sydney continued gravely. “You must guard your tongue if you are to fight him successfully.”

At evening “quarters” Phil saw Lazar in conversation with Captain Taylor, on the quarter-deck.

As he passed them he overheard, from Lazar’s lips, words that made his face flush with anger.

“I feel I can never trust him again, sir; his work has been very unsatisfactory from the beginning. I desire to have him relieved.”

“So that is the reward for my hard work,” thought Phil, despairingly.

After quarters he hesitated whether to go and tell the captain all the circumstances and endeavor to save his good name, or let matters take their course. He felt that Lazar did[78] not believe that he was the cause of the damage, he only used it as a weapon against him. But how would the captain act? Would he demand an explanation?

These reflections were cut short by an orderly at his elbow.

“Mr. Penfield wishes to see you, sir,” announced he.

“Mr. Perry, the captain has directed your assignment in his office,” the executive officer explained, as Phil saluted him a moment later. “Your duty in the turret will be taken by Mr. Marshall.”

Phil saluted and turned away. What did it mean? The captain surely did not believe him guilty of the act he was accused of by Lazar, else he would not place him in such a responsible position. He felt he had been removed from the turret under a cloud, yet his promotion to the office as secretary and assistant to his commanding officer took out most of the sting.

“Phil, you can dismiss it from your mind,” Sydney told him after he had given him the good news. “Lazar has played his trump card, but he has not moved the captain. He[79] likes you, and of those we like it is hard to believe evil.”

Phil’s face beamed with pleasure.

“Syd, I count myself, indeed, fortunate to have two such friends, you and Captain Taylor,” he answered, lowering his voice to hide his feelings.

In two days more target practice was ended and the fleet once again anchored at its base under the protecting wing of Cape Cod.

Phil’s new duties kept his mind from brooding over his troubles with Lazar and opened up to him a new side of ship life.

All official papers now passed through his hands and the lad found himself in very intimate relations with his revered captain.

It seemed to him, sometimes, that there were some of his shipmates who were less friendly.

“It may be my imagination,” he thought. “I have not been entirely honest and my conscience feels guilty for concealing my secret.”

In the midst of these thoughts, the wireless operator brought him a message, just received from the flag-ship.

[80]He glanced casually at the bit of pink paper, then his eyes opened wide with excitement as he read the words of the message.

“Prepare your ship immediately for sea. Destination La Boca, Verazala, South America. Revolution in progress. Your confidential orders are being prepared and will be sent over directly.”

Hastily entering the cabin, he placed the message in his chief’s hand.

The captain read slowly, and then rang the bell for his orderly.

“Show this to Mr. Penfield,” he said quietly. “Tell him to make all arrangements. We shall sail inside of four hours.”

Phil marveled at the cool manner in which the captain had received these sudden orders.

After forty years’ service, he would understand that such orders as these were too frequent in the course of a navy man’s life to cause more than passing surprise. Captain Taylor had received orders as suddenly to go around the world. Why should he show surprise at a small matter of a couple of thousand miles.

Phil took an important part in the preparations[81] for carrying out these sudden orders. Inside the allotted time all was ready. The written orders and instructions were sealed in the captain’s desk, ready to be opened and studied at leisure on the way south.

While the “Connecticut” steamed past her seven mates, the marines and band were drawn up on each to salute her as she sailed by, officers and men waving good-byes to friends. Phil’s pulse beat faster.

“This is a great life, Syd,” he cried joyously to his companion standing by him on the quarter-deck. “Who of us thought ten hours ago that this evening would see us bound for South America.”

The next morning Captain Taylor and Mr. Penfield sat at the cabin table, reading and discussing the import of the lengthy written instructions from the Navy Department and admiral.

Phil stood by, pencil and paper in hand, ready to write down the plan these experienced officers were about to draw up.

Each of the high-ranking officers read the letters carefully, weighing every word. Then Mr. Penfield waited for his superior to speak.

[82]“This promises to be a very delicate business, Penfield,” the captain commenced. “The insurgents are said not to be very strong at present, but it seems they are receiving arms from the United States, which has greatly embarrassed our relations with the government of the republic. Official telegrams from the minister, our representative, report the insurgents a lawless band led by an outlaw called Ruiz. The minister fears if the city should be captured much valuable foreign and American property will be destroyed by the rebels, who cannot control their soldiers. This state of affairs may involve our country seriously. In upholding the Monroe Doctrine it will insist on a policy of non-interference by foreign governments, but where neutral property is destroyed, due to the weakness of the government of Verazala to control these internal disorders, restitution to the injured must be guaranteed by our government.”

“I can read in the tone of the letter,” said Mr. Penfield, speaking slowly and deliberately, “a purpose to uphold the government through this rebellion.”

“Yes,” answered Captain Taylor, “our policy[83] has always been, in dealing with these rebellions, to uphold the government. If the rebels win the upheaval is very disastrous to our moneyed interests and harmful to our friendly relations with the citizens of the republic. Our country believes, and justly, that it is a crime to change the government through bloodshed, and has ever counseled the honest use of the ballot-box to obtain the most popular candidate for president. But, as this system of suffrage does not appeal to the people here, who place the military before all else, it is our duty to do what is in our power to assure the defeat of this rascal Ruiz; but we must do it so cleverly that the insurgents will never know that our government was unfriendly to them.”

“Then what is your plan, sir?” asked Mr. Penfield, much mystified.

“Our government,” answered the captain, decidedly, “having taken the side of the present government of the republic, it is our purpose to see that the rebels receive no aid from the outside world.”

“You do not mean that we shall actually aid the government?” asked Mr. Penfield.[84] “Our letter there,” pointing to the mass of correspondence on the table, “enjoins the strictest neutrality.”

The captain laughed.

“No,” he answered, “not aid them openly, but shut our eye to what they do, and seek diligently for this leak by which the rebels are receiving arms from our country.”

“What is it, Mr. Perry?” the captain added, surprising a look on the lad’s face that told he had a question he would gladly ask.

“I’d like to volunteer to find out from where the arms come, sir,” he replied eagerly.

“That you will,” agreed the captain, smiling at the enthusiastic boy. “I shall depend upon you young men to ferret this out and stop up the hole through which this aid comes.”

Phil’s hand trembled with excitement as it took down the plan devised by the captain and his executive officer. It included a guard for the legations, the home of the minister, and all foreign property of value. Lazar, on account of his linguistic attainments, was to have charge, and Marshall and Morrison were to be his assistants. Phil was to have[85] the “Vidette,” a large sixty foot steamer, at his disposal, and Sydney was to accompany him.

Bristling with his important news, he found his roommate in their room, hard at work brushing up his Spanish.

“Good work, Syd,” Phil cried, glancing at the book in Sydney’s hand; “we are both going to have lots of practice with that tongue;” and then he recited to him the news.

Sydney was delighted and showed it by pounding his roommate over the back with his book; then he flung it on the bunk and opened a drawer, disclosing two handsomely mounted Colt revolvers.

“My graduation present from dad,” he replied to the questioning glance; “aren’t they beauties? I am going to give you one; they are so much handier than our large navy revolvers.”

“I couldn’t think of receiving one,” Phil replied gratefully. “I don’t believe we need to carry arms at all, and if we do, it would be wiser to carry them openly.”

“I shall insist, Phil,” urged Sydney. “Give it back when you have no further use for it.[86] But you must see there may be times, in secret work, where we might wish to be considered unarmed civilians, and in a country in the throes of revolution, it’s much safer to have one of these little persuaders handy.”



Three days of steady steaming brought the “Connecticut” within the tropics.

The sea was as peaceful as the waters of a lake and the sun overhead shone down with pitiless severity.

“All hands” were now dressed in white uniforms, which made them comfortable enough on deck under the cool shade of an awning, but below decks the heat from the engines and boilers was stifling.

The two friends spent most of their leisure hours in the open air and at night rolled themselves in their blankets on the clean white deck.

One evening they had made themselves comfortable for the night and were both speculating upon what was in store for them in the land of turmoil to which they were journeying.

[88]“Did you notice the sailorman,” asked Sydney, “who has been walking past here as if he were trying to find out who we are?”

“I didn’t notice,” replied Phil sleepily; “it’s probably one of the messengers searching for some officer who is avoiding the heat as we are doing by sleeping on deck.”

“Maybe so,” Sydney answered, “but it appeared to me he scrutinized us very closely, although he must have seen immediately who we were. That light behind us makes us plainly visible.”

“We are accustomed to the darkness,” answered Phil, with a yawn, “while he has probably just come out of the light.”

Sydney was not at all satisfied with the explanation and would have continued the argument, but Phil’s even breathing showed his companion was perfectly satisfied with the solution.

They had been asleep but a short time when one of the heavy tropical rain-storms, which seem to be ever present on the horizon in these waters, burst upon the ship, surprising the boys, who had not noticed the gathering clouds earlier in the night. They saw[89] with regret that they must seek other shelter or else sleep the remainder of the night below in their heated stateroom.

“I am going below, Syd. I am sleepy enough to sleep even in the heat,” said Phil, gathering his bedding and disappearing down the hatchway.

He groped his way across the dark passageway, sleepily feeling for the door of his stateroom.

Suddenly he collided heavily with a figure which sent him reeling across the deck. His hand struck the side of the bulkhead and he saved himself a fall.

In the dark he could just distinguish a white figure as it dashed through the door of the mess room and disappeared under the multitude of sleeping-hammocks on the berth deck.

What could it mean? What was this man doing in his room?

Sydney came in after Phil had turned on the light and was told of the experience.

“See if any of your valuables are missing?” he suggested. “Mine are here on the bureau all in plain sight.”

[90]Phil had been rummaging through his desk. He now turned a smiling face to Sydney.

“You were right, Syd,” he laughed, “the locket is gone. He did risk detection to gain possession of it. But it doesn’t matter, I can never forget the girl’s face. I have looked at it a hundred times in the last few days.”

“The man of the locket and the fellow who was watching us on deck are one and the same,” Sydney exclaimed, proud of his perception.

“Probably so,” answered Phil, “but that doesn’t help us; he was clever enough not to be recognized.”

The boys, in spite of the incident, soon fell asleep, and when they awakened the “Connecticut” had anchored inside the break-water at La Boca.

It was but a short time after sunrise when they stood together at the rail gazing intently on their surroundings.

“So this is South America,” said Sydney finally; “it looks just like any other country, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, but there is a difference,” answered Phil, meditatively; “for instance, see that[91] native boatman sculling along as if he had a week to reach his destination; then look over there at the coal pile on the mole. There are nearly enough men to actually eat the coal, yet they are not doing as much work as ten good Americans. We are in the land of ‘Mañana’ (to-morrow). No one wishes to work too hard to-day, for he wishes to save enough to do to-morrow.”

“We are not the first nation to send a war-ship here, I see,” said Captain Taylor, joining the boys in their study of the harbor. “There is a German cruiser over yonder and a Frenchman is anchored just astern of us, and our wireless operator has been in communication with a British ship for some hours. She is on her way from Barbadoes. It seems we are to have an interesting time.”

Phil was impatient to ask the captain when their work would commence, but he desisted. It were better the captain should broach the subject.

“I hope you lads have the ‘lingo’ at your tongue’s tip,” the captain remarked smilingly. “You won’t find much English spoken here, and a little Spanish is a necessity.”

[92]“Yes, sir,” they both agreed.

Phil could not contain himself longer.

“When can we start on our work, sir?” he asked.

“Such zeal I have never seen before,” answered the captain, a merry twinkle in his eyes. “Soon enough, lad,” he added gravely. “I hope nothing happens to you youngsters. I almost fear I am wrong in not sending older and maybe wiser heads to do this work.”

“Oh, no, sir,” Phil and Sydney cried together; then Phil added, “We are old enough, sir; we are nearly twenty.”

“Nearly twenty,” roared the skipper in merriment. “You are both mere infants in the wicked ways of these people here, but it will be an excellent lesson for you. When I was your age,” he added, “it was during the Civil War, many times I did work that in these days of peace never comes to men of your age.”

The captain left them to receive the foreign officers who were coming alongside to pay the customary visit of courtesy to a senior commanding officer.

[93]Some hours later Phil and Sydney received orders to prepare themselves to accompany Captain Taylor ashore to pay his respects to the United States Minister to Verazala.

As they left the ship in the speedy “Vidette,” our lads felt that a new and interesting life was opening before them. Were they not to have a hand in the affairs of their great nation?

They found the minister’s carriage awaiting them at the landing, and were driven rapidly amid staring crowds of natives through the narrow streets of the city.

The carriage drew up at a large house on a hill overlooking the harbor. The coat of arms, emblazoned on the door, was enough evidence that inside was the inviolable territory of the United States of America.

“Ah, captain,” cried the Honorable Robert Henderson, as he grasped the hands of the three officers in turn, “your fine ship carrying that grand old flag was a welcome sight when we awoke this morning. A great weight has been lifted from my mind.”

“We came down at full speed, sir,” replied Captain Taylor, courteously, “and now we are[94] at your service, every man of us. You have but to command me.”

The old diplomat swallowed a lump in his throat before replying.

“Captain Taylor, you cannot imagine the delight it gives us exiles to feel that we have so many brave American hearts so near at hand. I pray there will be no need to resort to force, but affairs appear to be more serious than I should wish. The rebel army is but a league from the city, and awaits an opportunity to attack. Their leader, General Ruiz, is a cutthroat and unfit for the high office of president of the republic. My most trustworthy informant tells me the rebels are losing strength daily and so I have informed the State Department, but affairs lately have led me to believe that their strength has been underestimated. I should greatly deplore the city being taken by these brigands, for I fear much valuable property will be destroyed by their undisciplined followers.”

“There seems nothing for us to do, save await developments?” asked the captain, having followed closely the minister’s explanation of the situation.

[95]“No, there is nothing,” he answered promptly. “I have a faithful vice-consul, who keeps me well informed of the movements on both sides. He is a naturalized American citizen. His name is Isidro Juarez. He has lived here many years and seems to have friends in both armies. I trust him implicitly. I shall keep you daily informed so that we may act promptly in an emergency.”

“Does the minister know that arms for the insurgents are coming from the United States?” asked Phil of the captain as they drove back to the boat landing.

“He made no mention of it,” he answered. “If his information is really trustworthy, he must know it.”

On arriving on board ship, Phil was called upon to make a boarding call to the American mail steamer, just arrived from New York.

Buckling on his sword, the badge of official duty, he descended the gangway. As he was about to step into the “Vidette” alongside, he glanced up and saw O’Neil was at the helm.

“Well,” he cried with pleasure, “so you have had a promotion too; I am mighty glad to see you in my boat. This is going to be[96] my boat while here,” he confided in a lower tone, “and I know of no one whom I would rather have than you, O’Neil.”

The coxswain beamed with pleasure.

“Thank you, Mr. Perry,” he answered abashed. “It’s a great honor you are paying me, sir.”

After getting alongside the anchored merchantman, Phil mounted the gangway ladder to the main deck.

There he was received cordially by her captain.

“Glad to be acquainted with you,” he said, shaking the lad’s hand. “It does me good to see our fine big ships in foreign ports. These dagos here are a hundred per cent. more civil already.”

He led the way to his cabin and gave Phil the information which the custom of the naval service requires be obtained upon visiting American merchantmen in foreign ports.

“No, you cannot be of any assistance to me,” answered the captain to Phil’s inquiry; “but it’s great to see her over there. Why, she could blow this whole town into pieces in a half hour, and she would, too, if it were[97] necessary, wouldn’t she?” the captain interrogated, warmed to his theme.

A uniformed official appeared at this moment to speak to him.

“Come in, Baldwin. This is a young officer from the battle-ship,” the captain announced; “Mr. Baldwin is our purser.”

“The legation steam launch is alongside for the minister’s freight,” the purser reported. “Mr. Juarez is in her to sign the receipts for the bills of lading. Shall I deliver it at once? There are about twenty heavy packages.”

“Very well, Baldwin, go right ahead,” replied the captain. Then turning to Phil, as the purser withdrew: “A diplomatic officer has a privilege which no one else has; his freight can be landed direct; everything else must go through the custom-house ashore and be inspected.”

The captain excused himself shortly but insisted that Phil should make himself at home.

“Take a look about the ship,” he said proudly; “she’s not as big as yours yonder, but she is a stanch one for this trade.”

Phil was glad to have an excuse to remain.[98] He had heard something to arouse his curiosity.

“I shall have a look at this Juarez and his boxes,” he mused as he followed the captain on deck.

Stepping to the high rail, he glanced down on a large launch, lying alongside the ship abreast her forward cargo hatch. Big boxes were being hoisted out of the hold by the ship’s derrick and landed on the smaller vessel’s deck. Phil saw a short heavily built man, dressed in white clothes, with a wide brimmed panama set over a massive head. He was superintending the landing of the boxes.

This man Phil knew must be Juarez, the minister’s confidential vice-consul.

Phil descended to the lower deck in order to be nearer the work of landing the cargo. He also wanted to have a better look at this man.

He found a convenient air port not ten feet from the launch, where he could see unobserved by those on board it.

There were a number of very heavy packages and the small natives on the deck of the launch strained and pulled to find deck space for them all.


[99]Phil saw a small native fishing-boat, her sail flapping idly in the gentle breeze, move slowly and with deliberation over the tranquil water, edging in toward the launch.

The vice-consul seemed not to observe it, but Phil saw the eagerness on the fisherman’s face. He watched the scene with rising pulse.

The boat drifted foot by foot to within ten feet of the launch.

Juarez busied himself at the strap of a large box in the stern of the launch nearest the fisherman.

Phil saw the fisherman make a swift move with his hand, and saw a white object fall on the launch’s deck at Juarez’s feet. Juarez lifted one foot carelessly and placed it fairly on the object.

The fisherman put his helm over and hauled taut his sheet. The sails quickly filled and the boat glided swiftly toward the harbor’s mouth.

Juarez stooped down and rising, thrust his hands in his pockets.

Phil felt every nerve thrill. His secret service had begun under a lucky star.



Returning to the “Connecticut,” Phil told his remarkable experiences to Sydney.

“Phil, I believe we have blundered upon the way in which these insurgents are receiving their arms,” he replied excitedly.

“I am sure of it,” answered Phil; “and to think that our good minister’s name is being used in such a way. We must intercept these boxes before they reach their destination.”

“One thing is certain,” Sydney insisted; “the minister’s name will be removed from the boxes before they are sent to the insurgents. Juarez is too clever to allow himself to be discovered in this risky undertaking.”

“You are right,” agreed Phil, “and that means Juarez will land the boxes on shore here and remove all marks of identification. Come, we must find where the minister’s launch will land and try to discover when[101] they will attempt to smuggle the arms to the insurgents. It will be by water, surely, for he wouldn’t dare attempt to pass through the lines of the loyal army with his bulky packages.”

Having received the required permission, the lads landed again on the great iron pier of La Boca.

They were both dressed in civilians’ clothes, but in this town of so few strangers, they were recognized immediately as coming from one of the men-of-war in port.

They walked up the water front, examining each wharf as they passed.

“There she is, Syd,” cried Phil, grasping his friend’s arm and pointing to a good-sized black launch tied up to a long dock running out into the bay.

“Careful,” Sydney cautioned; “don’t destroy our usefulness by being too much interested. There may be unfriendly eyes looking at us this very minute. Let’s stroll down and see what she is doing there.”

The boys sauntered down the wharf. They saw that the boxes had been removed from the launch.

[102]“Those boxes are inside that warehouse,” announced Sydney, indicating a door abreast the launch. The warehouse was a long one, built on the jutting dock.

“La Fitte and Company,” murmured Phil, reading the name in large gilt letters over the door of the warehouse. “Where have I heard of that firm?”

“Why, that’s the firm,” cried Sydney, surprisedly, “that has been trying to get the concession of the Pitch Lakes away from the American Syndicate. I begin to see a reason for Juarez’s intrigue.”

“I don’t understand,” returned Phil, who had not followed Sydney’s thoughts.

“It’s perfectly clear,” said Sydney, convincedly. “La Fitte and Company are composed of foreigners, mostly Frenchmen; they have engaged Juarez to do the work of prejudicing the insurgents against Americans. If this rascal succeeds and the insurgents gain the reins of government, the concession will be taken from the American Syndicate and given to La Fitte and Company. This concession right is a very valuable one, worth many millions of dollars a year to[103] those who are lucky enough to obtain it.”

“Syd, you are a wonder,” cried Phil, admiringly. “Come, we have no more business here.”

They turned about and walked past the unloaded launch.

The vice-consul, who had been inside the warehouse, came to the door as our lads passed.

He glanced at them, a startled look on his face, then he smilingly raised his hat.

“Good-morning,” he greeted in English, with a marked foreign accent. “You are off the ‘Connecticut,’ no? We are delighted to see our flag on such a fine large ship. If I can be of the slightest service I shall be highly honored,” he added in the suave tones of a Spanish grandee.

Our boys stopped and returned his greeting, thanking him for his considerate offer. Then they continued their walk.

Phil looked over his shoulder and surprised a sinister expression on Juarez’s face, before he could hide it in a smile of parting.

“I am sorry that fellow saw us; he may suspect that we know something of his secret,”[104] confided Phil, as he and Sydney regained the street of the water front.

They had been on board their ship but a short while when the minister’s launch, with his flag flying in the bow, was reported heading for the “Connecticut.”

The marine guard and the band were quickly paraded on the quarter-deck and the officers, headed by Captain Taylor, all in full uniform, were at the gangway to do honor to the high American official.

The vice-consul accompanied the minister, and as he followed his chief through the formality of hand-shaking, Phil saw him grasp Lazar’s hand cordially and tell him in Spanish how glad he was to see him again.

Lazar smiled in his cold way, but Phil thought the ensign did not seem overjoyed to renew the acquaintance.

“So Lazar has known this scoundrel before,” thought Phil. “I wonder how much he knows of him.”

The thought was answered soon enough, and in a way that showed Lazar in his true character.

Phil had gone below to his room and was[105] writing his weekly letter home, which of late his new and eventful life had caused him to neglect.

He was seated at his desk under the ventilator shaft, which brought fresh air from above. It opened into one of the numerous ventilator-cowls on the quarter-deck.

He could hear indistinctly above him the voices of two men, pacing the quarter-deck, but they did not disturb him until they stopped directly over his ventilator shaft, and he recognized at once the voices of Lazar and the vice-consul.

“So your precious conscience hurts you, does it?” the vice-consul was saying.

“It’s not a question of that,” Lazar’s voice answered, “and you know it, Juarez. But smuggling is too risky. I had a narrow escape from detection in New York a year ago, getting your goods ashore, and I don’t wish to go through that worry again.”

“You made a handsome sum out of it, didn’t you?” Juarez’s voice questioned.

“Not so loud,” Lazar cautioned, “it’s too dangerous; if this were known, I’d lose my commission.”

[106]“You are losing your nerve, Lazar,” the vice-consul’s voice sneered; “there is no one about.”

“You can’t tell, and anyway, this is not the place to discuss such matters,” Lazar said decidedly.

“As you please, but, by the way, I might as well tell you; I know you dare not betray me,” the vice-consul’s voice said menacingly, “and I need your help.”

The speakers changed their positions slightly and their voices failed to carry distinctly to the eager eavesdropper.

Phil trembled with expectancy at the startling intelligence he had received.

So Lazar had been tempted to do something for which his commission would be forfeited if found out. What a terrible weapon to hold over his enemy if he continued his persecution. What was the secret Juarez had confided to Lazar? The arms surely.

The voices had now died out entirely, and a shuffling of feet on deck told Phil that the minister was ready to leave the ship.

He told Sydney all he had heard as soon as they had returned to their room after the departure of the American minister.

[107]“I am not surprised,” exclaimed Sydney, when Phil had finished his story. “Lazar is capable of anything evil. We have another person to reckon with, however, in this arms smuggling. If he suspects we are attempting to intercept them, Lazar will, in hatred of you, try to defeat your plan.”

“Hadn’t we better confide in Captain Taylor?” questioned Phil. “We can thus cut Lazar’s claws.”

“We should not do that until we can prove our story fully,” answered Sydney. “The captain might believe our accusations were true, but he could hardly act officially upon them.”

“It seems hard that such a scoundrel should wear an officer’s uniform,” protested the lad, “but I dare say you are right, Syd. We must seek for more convincing evidence.”

“What is your plan for to-night?” asked Sydney, as he took his revolvers out of their case and examined them critically.

“I have decided to keep a watch during the day, and if no vessel large enough to carry the boxes leaves port before dark, then to lie in wait in the ‘Vidette’ at the entrance[108] of the harbor, and overhaul any suspicious craft that comes out of port.”

“Excellent,” agreed Sydney. “I am quite confident that Juarez will use a steamer; the breeze is too light, and as he must go nearly twenty miles by water to reach the insurgent lines, a sailing vessel would be out of the question. The note you saw thrown by the native boatman undoubtedly set a rendezvous for this evening. They will want to get the arms to the insurgents as soon as possible.”

Phil and Sydney made their preparations quietly. O’Neil was called and told something of what was going forward and ordered to keep his launch, the “Vidette,” in readiness.

All afternoon the lads spent on deck, casting anxious glances toward the dock where the minister’s launch was tied. There were a number of other launches moving about the harbor, but there was only one other large enough to carry the boxes.

About 7 P. M., the sun having set a half hour before, it was dark enough to start, and they appeared on deck.

“We have the captain’s permission to use[109] the ‘Vidette,’” Phil reported to the officer of the deck. “I have reported to Mr. Penfield. Will you have her called away, sir?”

Then Phil peered through the darkness, the deck lights not being lighted as yet, and saw Lazar was the officer of the deck.

“What could he do to prevent our going?” thought Phil nervously. “Nothing, he would not dare.”

“Very well, sir,” Lazar answered carelessly, and then he ordered the bugler to “call the ‘Vidette’ away.”

Ten minutes dragged by, and still the “Vidette” hung at the lower boom, motionless in the water.

A launch steamed by the battle-ship at fair speed, standing out of the harbor. Phil and Sydney strained their eyes in an endeavor to discover its identity, but the night was too dark and it was soon lost sight of in the distance.

Phil felt sure it was the cargo of arms. He could suppress his impatience no longer.

“Mr. Lazar,” he spoke abruptly, “may I go and find out what is holding the ‘Vidette’?”

[110]“No, sir, I shall find out in plenty of time,” he sneered. “You young gentlemen seem to be in great haste.”

Finally he hailed the “Vidette” and inquired what was the trouble.

An answer came back in O’Neil’s voice.

“We can’t get any water in the boiler; the feed pump is jammed, sir,” he cried, in exasperation.

Phil’s heart sank. There was the prize slipping away before their very eyes. He knew that this must be Lazar’s work.

Turning quickly he rushed to the cabin and unannounced burst in upon the commanding officer.

“Some one has deliberately disabled the ‘Vidette,’” he cried excitedly. “I can’t tell you why now, but believe me, sir, it is very important for us to get away at once. I asked the officer of the deck, Mr. Lazar, for permission to go down into the boat, but he refuses.”

The captain glanced up startled, a look of annoyance on his face. Then he realized that the lad was in deadly earnest.

Picking up his cap he led the way on deck.

[111]“Mr. Lazar,” he ordered sternly, “allow these two young gentlemen to go down into the ‘Vidette’ immediately.”

Lazar hesitated but an instant.

“Certainly, sir. If you say so,” he answered with a wave of the hand to the waiting lads.

The two boys scrambled hastily down the Jacob’s ladder from the lower boom on to the deck of the “Vidette.” Phil made his way to the machinery space.

The engineer and fireman were bending over the little feed pump, which supplied the boiler with water.

Phil glanced at the gauge glass; there was no water showing. He tried the test-cocks, then looked quickly at the steam gauge.

“The boiler is half full of water, but there is only fifty pounds pressure, and the fires are hauled,” he cried angrily.

“Put back your fire,” he shouted to the fireman, pushing him fiercely toward the furnace, then he started in himself to get the feed pump running.

O’Neil stood by petrified with astonishment[112] at the way he pitched into the intricacies of the machinery.

“The engineer’s a new one, sir,” he whispered to Phil. “I don’t believe he knows much about this kind of engine. The officer of the deck took our regular engineer out and put this man in about an hour ago.”

Phil had been too much occupied trying to find the trouble to grasp the meaning of the coxswain’s words.

He followed up each pipe and made every test he had been taught at Annapolis to use in finding the trouble with these machines.

“We are beaten,” he cried despondently to Sydney, at his wit’s end.

The minutes flew by.

Then he gave a shout of joy, as he saw a tiny steel wedge jammed in between the moving parts of the pump.

A tap with a hammer and the pump started up, pumping precious water into the boiler.

In but a few minutes more the “Vidette” had cast off her line and was steaming with ever increasing speed toward the entrance to the harbor.

[113]Both lads scanned the horizon to seaward. There was nothing in sight.

“It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack,” Phil exclaimed dejectedly. “We don’t even know which way they turned when they reached the entrance.”

“Begging your pardon, sir,” O’Neil interrupted earnestly, “there ain’t but one place for her to go, and that is to Mariel. I ran on a line of coasting steamers once and I know somewhat of the water about here. There ain’t no place to land the other way for fifty miles.”

“O’Neil, you are a trump,” cried Phil, much relieved. “We may catch her yet; she has over a half hour’s start, but we have four knots better speed.”

Reaching the harbor mouth, O’Neil put his helm hard astarboard and headed the “Vidette” to the westward along the coast line.

“How close to shore can we run?” asked Sydney, addressing the coxswain.

“After we round the next point of land, sir, as close as you please,” he answered.

The minutes dragged heavily along. The point was reached and rounded, then the[114] “Vidette” was headed to close with the shore line.

“What is that on the bow there?” Phil asked anxiously, pointing to a dark shadow on the dimly lighted water.

There was not a doubt but that it was the prize scudding along. Great volumes of smoke poured from her stack. The smoke had betrayed her presence. She was too distant for her hull to be visible.

“Hold your course,” cried Phil joyously. “We can head her off on this line.”

Sydney took from his pockets his Colt revolvers and laid them beside the big navy Colts.

“Have you the rifles, O’Neil?” he asked.

“That I have, sir, and a hundred rounds of ammunition for each one,” replied the faithful man; “and me and Johnson there know how to use them.”

“Well, I trust it won’t be necessary,” said Phil immensely pleased, “but it’s better to be sure than sorry.”

The “Vidette” drew up slowly on the fleeing launch.

“They are surely making for Mariel,”[115] O’Neil announced, “and we can catch them before they reach there.”

Of a sudden the engines, which had been running perfectly, suddenly seemed to slow.

Phil was on his feet in an instant.

“What is it?” he asked anxiously.

The engineer looked up, showing a white, scared face in the dim light of the solitary lantern.

“Running a little hot, sir,” he replied haltingly.

Phil felt the moving parts. They were cool. He looked up in surprise at the engineer and saw him put his hand quickly in his shirt.

Impulsively he grabbed the man by the wrist and held his hand to the light.

“Sand!” he cried in anger.

“Get this man out of here, O’Neil,” he suddenly ordered, forcibly pushing him from the engines and taking the man’s place at the throttle.

“None of your monkeying now,” O’Neil assured the engineer. “You’ve given enough trouble already.”

[116]The engine bearings were thoroughly oiled and the throttle opened wide. Fortunately, Phil had detected the man in time, for if he had succeeded in getting the smallest quantity of sand in the bearings, the engines must have stopped.

The fleeing launch was now in plain sight, but the landing at Mariel was but a half mile away. He did not dare open fire on her. Would he dare attempt to cut her out under the eyes of the insurgents waiting their expected guns?

“Launch ahoy!” Phil hailed in Spanish.


He hailed again and added: “I want to speak to you!”

From outward appearances, there was no one on the launch, but black smoke poured from her funnel and her white wake showed she was making a final spurt.

The bow of the “Vidette” was now inside and abreast of the launch’s quarter. It slowly moved forward. There was scarce ten feet of open water between the two boats.

With weapons in hand Phil and his men waited.

[117]“Put her alongside,” Phil ordered, striving to control the nervousness in his voice.

The two launches came together, with scarcely a jar, and steamed along as one boat.

No one moved on the prize.

O’Neil instinctively had swung his bow around and headed the boats out from the land now only a few hundred yards distant.

Phil saw there were four men on the boat, but his eyes fell with pleasure on the boxes.

“Do you surrender?” Phil shouted fiercely to the man at the wheel, only five feet away from him.

The man glanced in terror at the pistol pointing at his head, in the hands of a gringo, one of those whom he had been told could hit a peso at a distance of a hundred metres.

“Si, señor,” he answered tremblingly.

As the two boats headed away, the whole shore line near them burst into flame, and the hiss of countless bullets sang warningly about them. Suddenly the suspected engineer threw up his hands and dropped to the deck.



O’Neil stuck manfully at his post, the bullets showering around him as he stood exposed at the tiller.

Phil breathed more easily as the two launches, now secured together, put sufficient distance between them and the unfriendly shore.

The coxswain’s voice, raised anxiously, caused our lad fresh alarm.

“I fear he’s hit badly, sir,” he deplored, as he raised a limp figure from the bottom of the launch.

Both boys were beside the wounded man in an instant and quickly stripped him of his blood-soaked clothing. In the light of a bull’s-eye lantern, Phil examined the hole made by an insurgent bullet.

“Only a flesh wound,” he breathed, immensely relieved; “the bullet went through the fleshy part of the breast. He is stunned, the blow was so near his heart.”

[119]“Some water, quick,” ordered Sydney, while Phil bandaged the wounded man with strips of his own shirt.

Water thrown on his face brought the man back to consciousness.

Phil left Sydney to make the wounded sailor comfortable, and followed by O’Neil, boarded the prize.

“This is not the minister’s boat; this one has a deck house, while his boat is flush decked,” he gasped in the greatest alarm. “What have we done?” Then he flashed his light over the cargo. “The boxes are the same, I can swear to that, and, as I supposed, all marks have been removed. These are unaddressed.”

The frightened crew, imagining, no doubt, they were in the hands of pirates, were speechless from terror. Juarez was not on board.

“What launch is this?” demanded Phil, in Spanish.

“La Fitte and Company’s, señor,” replied, cringingly, the native padron.

“What have you here?” Phil asked flourishing his revolver menacingly, “and where were you taking them?”

[120]“They contain machinery, señor, for Señor La Fitte’s plantation at Mariel,” replied the native coxswain, gaining confidence, seeing his life was not in such imminent danger.

Had they made a terrible mistake? Did these boxes contain machinery only and no arms? But why should they be sent addressed to the United States Minister? Then the remembrance of the hot fire, through which they had just passed, dissipated all doubt. They were surely contraband arms, but being on board a launch which sailed under the flag of the republic, the two lads were openly aiding the government of the republic.

“What shall I do?” Phil asked himself. “I wish Captain Taylor were here; this situation is too deep for me to solve.”

Then he thought with anxiety of the wounded man, an evidence of their expedition which could not be concealed.

He was glad when Sydney, who had been attending the sailor, stood beside him on the captured launch. He tersely explained to him his discovery.

“We must not set them free,” Sydney exclaimed immediately. “We have gone too far[121] for that. You are confident that these same boxes ten hours ago were marked for our minister, and when we captured them they were nearly in the hands of the insurgents. There isn’t a doubt but that the boxes contain arms.”

Picking up a hatchet lying on the deck of the launch, Phil with a few swift strokes bared the contents of the nearest box.

Both lads peered in anxiously.

“Colt automatic guns,” cried Phil, triumphantly. “Why, this shipment is worth more to the insurgents than ten thousand rifles. The side which has these guns will win the fight. There must be several batteries of them packed in these cases.”

No longer in doubt, Phil ordered O’Neil to tow the launch back to the harbor of La Boca.

They had been on the return but a short time, when O’Neil’s voice disturbed the lads deep in their own thoughts.

“There is a launch heading this way, sir,” he reported; “it looks like one of our steamers.”

Phil was on his feet instantly peering through the darkness ahead.

“Ahoy, there,” from the approaching launch; “what launch is that?”

[122]“The ‘Vidette,’ sir,” Phil answered, greatly relieved. He recognized Captain Taylor’s voice and ordered O’Neil to stop and “lay to.”

“Are you all right?” the captain hailed anxiously.

Phil hesitated an instant, then he thought explanations could be made when he came on board.

“Yes, sir,” he answered.

The steamer sheered up alongside the “Vidette” and the captain stepped on board.

“What have you done?” he inquired in alarm as he saw for the first time the launch in tow. “I felt uneasy after you had gone and followed you in one of the ship’s steamers. I heard the firing a few minutes ago and then sighted you coming back. What does it mean?” He stopped breathlessly in amazement.

Phil was the first to speak. He quietly and laconically outlined the incident from the beginning, leaving out all that in any way concerned Lazar.

“And now, sir,” he said in conclusion, “I am no longer in command. I am ready to receive your orders, sir.”

[123]Both lads saluted, and O’Neil seeing that something was going forward raised his hand also to his cap.

“Bless me!” cried the captain, glancing at his piratical crew in the glimmer of the swinging lantern. They did look desperate; each of the three was plentifully sprinkled with the blood of the wounded man and Phil was bared to the waist, his shirt having gone to make a first-aid bandage.

“What puzzled us,” began Phil, “is how we are going to dispose of these arms. Of course, we must set the launch free to-night.”

“Exactly so,” exclaimed the captain; “that is the question—what to do with the arms.”

“Wouldn’t on board the ship be the safest place?” questioned Sydney.

“Undoubtedly,” returned the captain, “but it wouldn’t do. I have it,” turning to Phil; “you say you are positive these boxes came on the steamer this morning addressed to our minister; then we shall deliver them to him at the legation.”

“That is our best course, surely,” Phil agreed. “But might not the minister refuse to receive them, fearing that they might be[124] coveted by both sides, and thus precipitate an attack on the legation?”

“There would be no danger of that happening,” answered the captain, “for I shall send a guard ashore with the boxes, to remain at the legation. I had intended waiting until affairs became more serious, but the contents of these boxes furnishes me with sufficient reason to act at once.”

O’Neil rang up full speed and the “Vidette,” with her prize in tow, was again steaming for the entrance to the harbor.

Phil told the captain about the wounded man, but refrained from mentioning his conduct during the chase, and that kindly officer insisted on speaking to the disabled sailor.

“What is your name, my man?” he questioned sympathetically.

The engineer glanced up, showing a worried face in the light of the oil lantern.

“Joseph Craig, sir,” he answered.

The excitement of the recent incident had passed away and Phil’s thoughts now dwelt on the curious action of the engineer. Why had he tried to detain the “Vidette”? What interest could he have in the captured arms?[125] He could arrive at but one conclusion: Joseph Craig was a tool in the hands of Lazar.

The “Vidette” and her prize were soon alongside the battle-ship, and the captain stepped on board, followed by the two boys.

Lazar’s disappointed face gave them a taste of real enjoyment, but the captain’s words quickly turned the tables.

“Send word to Mr. Penfield,” he ordered, addressing Lazar, “that I desire to send the guard for the legation ashore immediately. You will go in charge, with Midshipmen Marshall and Morrison as your assistants. The guard will consist of fifty men. They must take tenting and rations. The boxes in that black launch contain machine guns and were destined for the insurgent army; these are to be taken to the legation and your sole duty is to guard them safely.”

Phil had half started to speak as he saw Lazar’s face light up with triumph.

“After all,” he thought, “he dare not deliver up the guns. It would be worth his commission at the very least. They are surely safe in his hands.”

“Now, Mr. Perry,” said the captain in[126] kindly tones, turning from the officer of the deck to the waiting midshipmen, “you and Mr. Monroe go below and turn in. You have worked hard enough for one day. Mr. Lazar can attend to everything. Your service, gentlemen, has been highly gratifying and a credit to the best traditions of American midshipmen.”

The lads went reluctantly below to their room, much chagrined at the course affairs had taken. Their enemy and a paid emissary of the vice-consul in charge of the arms they had worked so hard to capture. It was deeply disappointing, but they felt powerless.

“I couldn’t have interfered,” Phil argued to himself as he lay in his bunk, “unless I told the captain all, and what proof could I have brought? Both Lazar and the vice-consul would deny it.”

Despite their excited experiences, our boys were soon wrapt in profound slumber.

They were awake early the next morning and went about their routine duties on board ship as if nothing had happened.

The wounded engineer was placed in the[127] sick bay and the doctors announced he would be ready for duty in a few days.

A rumor that something extraordinary had happened passed about the ship, but the captain cautioned the strictest secrecy, and gave out that he had landed the guard to be ready in case the expected assault on the city should prove successful.

Phil, as he stood on the quarter-deck after breakfast, could see the dozen or more khaki-colored tents on Legation Hill, where Lazar’s men were encamped.

“Marshall and Morrison are there, I am thankful to say,” he murmured. “Lazar will have to reckon with two wide-awake men.”

“Mr. Perry,” Captain Taylor said a few moments later in his cabin, where Phil had gone in answer to his summons, “I have just received a message in cipher from the Navy Department. It is of grave importance. One which so closely concerns our government that we must needs spare no effort to ascertain the truth. The State Department have reason to believe that affairs here are not as represented by official despatches from the minister. You have already unmasked one[128] villain, and undoubtedly it was he who has misled the minister in his estimates of the strength of the insurgents. I do not think it advisable at this time to report to Washington the perfidy of Juarez. Our minister believes, as I do, that as we have the arms it is better to say nothing at present. Juarez of course has deserted and may be in the insurgent camp. Or, still more likely, he sailed in the American steamer this morning for Panama. We must have, as soon as possible, reliable information as to the strength of the rebellion. It is this intelligence that I wish you to get from the insurgent camp.”

Phil listened attentively to the captain’s lengthy explanation and instructions. His pulse beat fast. Here was an opportunity he had longed for, dreamed of. It was now really true. He was going to the camp of an army. He would see war.

“The details I shall leave to you,” the captain continued, smiling at the distinct delight in the lad’s face. “Do not be too impetuous. Remember it is hazardous work, and of such a peculiar character that you may be deprived of your right as a neutral. Mr. Monroe,[129] I am sure, will wish to go with you, and I think you should have one other.”

“May O’Neil go along, sir?” asked Phil, attempting to conceal from the quiet captain his boyish excitement.

“Yes, certainly,” assented the captain amusedly. “You seem to like O’Neil.”

“Like him, sir,” cried he, in admiration, “why he is the finest type of American sailorman I have ever met.”

“I am glad you have so much discernment,” the captain said smilingly; “it is rare at your age. That is also my opinion of him.” He reached down, and from his desk, took up a sheet of oiled paper, with an engraving at the top and the seal of the United States across its face.

“I believe,” he said generously, “that he would rather have this at your hands than mine. Give this to boatswain’s mate O’Neil.”

Phil ran from the cabin in joyful haste, after thanking the captain as if he himself had received the promotion.

He found O’Neil in his quarters and pressed the paper upon him.

The new boatswain’s mate’s eyes opened wide[130] with surprise, and his face was flushed with delight.

“I congratulate you, O’Neil,” Phil cried. “You deserve it, and more too.”

O’Neil’s voice was husky with manly emotion, as he thanked the young officer.

“I shan’t forget your kindness,” he said gratefully.

A few hours later three travelers passed along the narrow streets of La Boca in the direction of the suburbs. Each carried a small bundle in one hand and a climbing stick in the other. Their clothes were old and worn as if their owners were accustomed to much tramping over a rough country. They passed without hindrance through the successive lines of defense of the loyal army. Walking Englishmen were frequent and their costumes bore out the part.

Leaving the city behind them, they traveled along the military road, running parallel to the sea. Its sides were lined with high tropical vegetation, with here and there a hut nestling in a clearing, but all were deserted. They were between the lines of the two armies.

[131]A quarter of a mile down the road a dark object came into view, standing like an abandoned wagon in the middle of the sun-baked road-bed.

“Artillery,” Phil cried; “now look out for a challenge.”

“I hope they don’t shoot first and challenge afterward, like Cuban guerrillas,” said O’Neil calmly.

As the three came nearer the solitary cannon, pointing its frowning muzzle menacingly toward them, several figures suddenly appeared from the shade of a hut by the roadside, and peered at the approaching Americans. One then left the group and advanced slowly toward them.

The travelers saw by his uniform that he was an officer.

“Good-afternoon,” Phil called politely in Spanish, taking off his hat.

The officer saluted and gazed questioningly at the three men.

“What is your business here?” he inquired brusquely in his native tongue.

“Oh, we are just out for a tramp,” Phil replied lightly. “You fellows are so persistent[132] in your siege, that our legs were beginning to get soft in the city, so we thought we’d come out and stretch them.”

The officer smiled, pleased at the compliment to the army in which he was an officer.

“English?” he asked, relenting.

“Yes, travelers,” Phil replied suavely; “we are getting news for European papers.” This, Phil thought, was rather clever and not untrue, either, for what they found out would in time find its way to European newspapers.

“Ah!” exclaimed the officer delightedly, who like all his race saw no good in fighting unless his valor would be heralded to the world, “you are just in time to see a grand battle. We are waiting now the order to attack. General Ruiz expects a number of machine guns; when they arrive we shall enter the city in triumph;” his voice rose with excitement. “You will see the greatest battle of the century; there will be many killed: you are lucky to be with us.”

Phil expressed his delight as best he could, but the officer’s words had given him a distinct[133] shock. It would go hard with them if Ruiz found out they had captured the arms he was awaiting.

“But he must know they were captured,” Phil thought suddenly. He glanced out toward the sea. “Why, it was here that we were fired upon.” Then he said aloud:

“Is this Mariel?”

“Yes,” replied the officer, “Mariel is over there. Our general’s headquarters are just behind the town. It is but a half hour’s walk from here. I shall do myself the honor of accompanying you.”

Phil protested that they could go on alone, but the officer politely insisted.

He gave some hurried orders to a ragged sergeant, then led the way past the gun and up the road.

Phil glanced with interest at the field piece. It was an American made gun and looked brand new.

“Some more of Juarez’s rascality,” he thought.

“My name is Pedro Valdez, Lieutenant of Artillery,” the officer announced, extending his hand and bowing politely.

[134]Phil took it and stammered out the names that came first in his mind:

“Mr. Sydney, Mr. John; and my name is Phillips,” he answered, including his companions and himself with a comprehensive wave of the hand.

“Do your comrades speak Spanish?” the officer asked.

“No,” Phil replied, decidedly in haste, fearing Sydney might answer in the affirmative. He felt it best that there should be but one mouthpiece.

After ten minutes of brisk walking, they arrived at a pretty country villa. It was surrounded by trees of all descriptions and throughout the garden flowers of many colors were growing in great profusion, filling the balmy air with delicious perfume. The house itself was built of the adobe so common in Spanish speaking countries; one storied with a central court in which more plants and flowers gave their fragrance.

Another officer met them at the door and escorted them to the courtyard, where a number of tables were laid for a meal. The odor of savory cooking made our friends remember[135] that their last meal had been breakfast.

After a few moments’ wait, an older officer appeared; he was dressed simply in fatigue uniform, but wore a large gold star over his left breast. He shook hands cordially with the visitors.

There had been no introduction, but Phil knew at a glance that this short, thin, wizened Spaniard, was the great General Ruiz, probably the next dictator of Verazala.

“Sit down, gentlemen,” he said in his native language. “We are very fond of the English; they are always welcome, but your brothers, the Americans, are different. They do not like me, so I do not like them.” As he spoke his face showed the vindictiveness of his race.

Phil felt he ought to say something, but it was hard to collect his thoughts. The rôle of impostor was a new one.

“I thank you for myself and friends,” he managed finally to say. “We desire a pass through your lines. We are writers, and wish to send home an account of your coming battle.”

[136]“Can I be sure you will not give your information to our enemy?” the general answered in a hard voice. “A spy is a danger we must always look for in war. We shoot them like that;” he snapped his fingers and showed his even white teeth in a cruel smile.

Phil did not dare look at his two friends, reduced to enforced silence.

The disguised American officers were bountifully supplied with food and pressed to stay over night under the general’s roof, but Phil felt it safer to be away from under the piercing black eye of this fiery little Spaniard.

“How did you feel, O’Neil, when the general spoke about spies?” asked Phil soberly, after they had left the house behind and were on the road again.

“I felt as if I were standing with my back against a wall, with a file of them dago soldiers shooting at me, sir,” answered the boatswain’s mate with a grin.

“I didn’t feel any too happy, either,” acknowledged Phil, “but I hope we can soon find out what we need to know and get back to the city before they suspect our mission.”

That night they slept in a little pueblo inside[137] the insurgent lines and were on the road early the next morning.

During the forenoon they passed regiment after regiment of ragged soldiers. The lads inspected them carefully; their rifles were new and of a late pattern, and they seemed plentifully supplied with ammunition.

“I have counted no less than twenty pieces of artillery,” Sydney cried; and then pointing to a grove of cocoanut trees ahead of them, “and there is a whole battery of some kind of ordnance.”

“Syd,” Phil answered, “I believe we have seen enough already, though we can’t have seen the beginning, to report to our captain that this revolution is of a serious character and is probably going to win.”

“I feel sorry for the minister,” Sydney said gravely; “he seemed such a kind old gentleman; but I suppose he shouldn’t have been so credulous.”

“I feel very sorry for him, too,” answered Phil, “and I hope we can straighten this out and save him from the disgrace of being relieved of his office. He was new here and speaks no Spanish at all. It was natural he[138] should fall into the snare set for him by that scheming rascal Juarez.”

Studying carefully everything they observed, the three Americans moved slowly along the road, on the borders of which the army of General Ruiz was encamped, ready for the expected word to assault the city.

An officer stepped from the grove of trees in front and came boldly toward them.

Our boys regarded him indifferently until he approached to within a few yards of them, then their hearts sank as they recognized the triumphant face of the American vice-consul.

He raised his uniform cap in mock civility.

“Three English newspaper reporters,” he sneered. “I have received instructions from General Ruiz to show you every courtesy.”

The lads were dumbfounded. The game was up. A vision of a dark prison flashed before them.

Phil was the first to recover himself.

“We meet you in a new rôle also,” he replied in English, in a voice he tried hard to control.

“I have no further use for my other rôle,[139] since your meddling of yesterday,” Juarez replied savagely.

“And I suppose,” answered Phil in as cheerful a voice as he could muster, “we must be hereafter three American naval men.”

“That shall not save you,” the vice-consul growled. “General Ruiz will be delighted to meet the men who have cheated him out of his machine guns. With those guns he could take the city this minute.”

“We have done what any honorable men would do,” Phil began hotly, but Juarez turned his back with an expressive shrug of his heavy shoulders.

“Here, sergeant,” he called, “arrest these spies.”

The worst had happened. They had met the one man Phil had hoped he could avoid. Their reason for being there Juarez of course surmised, and he could defeat them by having them locked up in an insurgent dungeon until the city had fallen.

Five or six soldiers came menacingly toward them, bayonets fixed. Phil saw the futility of resistance. He made the sign of surrender, but the soldier nearest O’Neil was[140] a little overzealous in the use of his bayonet. The sailor’s Irish blood was aroused; with a swing of his powerful fist he sent the man reeling backward, stretching his full length on the white road.



The rash act of the sailor placed the lives of the three men in jeopardy. The soldiers snatched up their rifles and closed in menacingly.

At this moment, however, a cavalcade appeared suddenly, and the cry of “Viva General Ruiz,” filled the air. The soldiers near the Americans fell back sullenly, leaving their captives alone in the middle of the road.

“What does this mean?” cried an officer, spurring ahead and drawing in his spirited animal between the Americans and the natives. “I gave these Englishmen safe conduct. Who dares disobey my orders?”

Juarez had cautiously stepped aside at the approach of the horseman; he now advanced boldly, wearing the air of one who has news of the utmost importance to divulge.

“Your Excellency,” for the officer was[142] none other than General Ruiz himself, “these men are Americans and spies. I am lucky to have recognized them before they were able to reënter the city and report our strength to the enemy.”

The general looked incredulous. He was about to speak, when Juarez dropped a veritable bombshell at his feet by hastily adding:

“These two young men are the American midshipmen who captured your machine guns at Mariel, so you see I have reason to know them.”

The general turned fiercely on the bewildered Americans, a dark scowl on his sallow face.

“So these are the men who captured my guns under my very eyes,” he cried in rage.

His face was livid with passion. His hand sought his saber as if he would cut them down on the spot.

“Arrest them immediately,” he ordered in a choking voice; “I shall make an example of these meddling Americans. Colonel Juarez, I appoint you their jailer. I know it is unnecessary to caution you to guard them well.”

[143]“Will they shoot us, sir?” whispered O’Neil anxiously to Phil, his hand resting grimly on his revolver handle, “for if they will, I have six bullets here I’d like to get rid of first.”

The boatswain’s mate was so much in earnest that in spite of the gravity of the situation, Phil could not repress a smile. He suddenly paled, as the thought came to him of what the effects of O’Neil’s rough and ready diplomacy might be. He knew him for an unerring shot, and the leader of the insurrection would be the first to fall. Then their chance for life would indeed vanish.

He grasped the sailor’s hand and breathed:

“For your life take your hand from your revolver. They would shoot us down like dogs if we should give them half a chance.”

Securely bound the three captives were led back the way they had come, through inquisitive crowds of jeering soldiers. The news of the capture and the reasons for it spread rapidly before them. The guards commanded by the vice-consul had great difficulty in bringing them alive to their prison in Mariel. The infuriated soldiers would have torn them limb from limb.

[144]The squalid prison was a relief after this nerve-racking ordeal. The guards, although saving them from fatal bodily injury, could not shield them from the vicious blows, taunts and insults showered on them from all sides. If it had not been for the fear Juarez had for General Ruiz, he would gladly have given them up to these wild beasts.

They were indeed in a sorry plight as they were roughly pushed into a cell of the prison and the heavy oaken door closed loudly behind them.

The lads were stunned. But a half hour ago, they were free men, enjoying their precious liberty in the bright world outside; full of boyish enthusiasm for their discoveries. Now they were held captive by a cruel tyrant who hated their race and to whom they had given good cause. He might, without a qualm of feeling, have them shot as spies. Their country was powerless to help them. In undertaking this duty they had relinquished their claim upon the protection of the United States.

O’Neil was the first to recover from these despondent thoughts. He glanced about their[145] narrow prison, but his gaze failed to discover aught encouraging, so it returned and rested compassionately on the two lads.

They had thrown themselves full length on the rude benches that lined the walls of their cell and had given themselves up to melancholy reflections.

“It won’t do, sir,” O’Neil said, appealingly, to Phil, as the young man looked up with an expression of utter dejection; “you mustn’t give in, Mr. Perry; we ain’t dead yet, and what’s more, sir, we ain’t a going to be, either. Mrs. O’Neil’s son John has been in as tight places before and has come out with a whole hide—— Which is more than he is going to do this time,” he added with a grin, showing a deep cut in his thigh. “That little dago that I knocked down poked his bayonet in there.”

In a moment the boys were all interest, forgetting their own troubles in their anxiety for their wounded companion.

Phil pulled a first-aid bandage from his pocket and held it up in triumph.

“They took everything else from me,” he exclaimed; “your new revolver, too, Syd.”

[146]“Yes, and the first time we carried them,” Sydney answered ruefully, as they made the boatswain’s mate bare his wound, which they washed and dressed carefully.

They had hardly finished their solicitous attentions when the door of the cell was unlocked and flung open: Colonel Juarez appeared.

He stood in the doorway, his arms folded, a cruel smile curling his weak mouth.

“You defeated me once,” he jeered, “but I shall see that you will never get a chance again.”

The crestfallen lads only stared. They could find no voice to answer. The hatred in his eyes appalled them.

“No doubt you believed yourselves very clever,” he continued, irritated at the silence of his hearers, “but if it will make you feel any better, I can tell you that your brilliant work has but delayed us. We shall possess the arms soon enough.”

Both lads were startled at this intelligence. Could it be true? Phil could not conceive how Lazar would have the audacity to deliberately allow the arms to be taken. Where[147] were Marshall and Morrison? Then he realized that they were in ignorance of the true character of their superior officer. They would suspect nothing. Why had he not put them on their guard?

“I tell you this,” Juarez added, after a pause to permit them to grasp the full meaning of his words, and to gloat over the lad’s discomfiture, “because dead men tell no tales. To-morrow you will be tried by drum-head court martial,” and shrugging his shoulders, “I am the president of the court.”

Phil was about to reply when he saw how futile speech would be. The man had come to taunt them. Silence was their best course.

Seeing that his victims could not be moved, he turned and left them.

They heard his voice in the hallway loudly instructing the guards:

“If the Americans attempt to escape, shoot to kill.”

“Do you believe Lazar has given up the guns?” Sydney questioned as Juarez’s steps died away, forgetting the dire threat in his anxiety for their cause.

“I fear Juarez speaks the truth,” Phil answered[148] dejectedly; “I blame myself for not having cautioned Marshall.”

“No, you shouldn’t do that,” said Sydney; “as things have turned out, it would have been wiser. But how were you to know? It seems incredible that a naval officer, even if he is a scoundrel, would take such a risk.”

“A man of Lazar’s character will stoop to any depths for money,” exclaimed Phil, “and you can be sure that the sum promised him by Juarez is large.”

“But his commission in the navy,” Sydney persisted, unconvinced. “If this crime is discovered he will at least be dismissed the service.”

“A man of his unnatural talents and intriguing nature soon finds but little scope for himself in the service, where all are poor but honorable,” he answered. “No doubt he has contemplated leaving the service and the fear of detection, therefore, has no influence with him. As for dismissal, that would be out of the question; the crime of which we know he is guilty would be nearly impossible to prove before a naval court martial. Our evidence is only hearsay, and might not convict him.”

[149]“Our evidence,” Sydney commenced; then the life died out of his voice as he added, “we may never be able to give it.”

The failing light of day, entering the solitary window above their heads, soon left the prisoners in darkness. The lamp used by their guards outside their cell door shed a faint glimmer through the cracks of the stout oaken panel.

The terrible mental strain which the Americans were enduring gave them scant desire to sleep, and as they tossed restlessly on the damp floor of their cell their predicament gradually dawned upon them with startling force.

O’Neil alone was cheerful; his indomitable spirit saved the lads from sinking too deep in the slough of despond.

Phil lay awake long after his companions had forgotten their troubles in sleep. The bitter thought of failure was even keener to him than the dread of death. The watch-word of his profession was “death with honor.” Why should he fear to die in his country’s service? It was the end that all true naval men sought. Yet, it was hard to die so young[150] and when there was so much to live for. Then the thought of his two companions filled his cup of sorrow brimful. He cried out against a fate so cruel. If they all could but die fighting, but to be shot down by these miserable half-civilized soldiers, as they might shoot so many dogs, was more than his youthful spirit could bear. He dropped off finally into a profound sleep, and when he awakened the next morning, he found the door of their cell open and the guards ready to take them before the military tribunal.

Hands bound behind their backs, they were marched through the streets of the town. The natives taunted them with vile epithets, but kept themselves at a distance, for which favor the captives were grateful.

After a short march they were led into a courtroom. Here they were unbound and told roughly to sit down.

A few moments elapsed, then three officers, led by Colonel Juarez, appeared and took seats at a table in front of the Americans.

The room was empty save for the court, the guard and the prisoners.

Colonel Juarez arose and read in a monotonous[151] voice from a paper in his hand. Phil understood it to be the order of General Ruiz, convening the court for their trial as spies. Juarez sat down in silence.

“What have you to say in your behalf before we pass sentence?” he asked coldly, turning to Phil as spokesman.

Phil’s throat was dry. He tried to speak but could not find voice.

Juarez turned hastily to his companions. Each nodded his head in assent; the trial was finished and the accused men found guilty.

Hot blood rushed to Phil’s face as he comprehended the awful import of this hasty verdict.

“You dare not carry out this sentence,” he cried wildly, jumping to his feet. “It will be murder. We are not spies. Our country is not at war with yours. True, we are here to find out the strength of your forces, but it is not to take this information to your enemy. If you do this monstrous deed you will place yourself beyond the pale of civilization”—his indignation choked him. “I claim my right of appeal to General Ruiz,” he demanded fiercely.

[152]The court sat unmoved. On Juarez’s features was a grim expression of enjoyment.

“Take them away,” he ordered, rising to dismiss the court.

As the guards advanced upon the prisoners, a voice from the door stilled the room. The officers of the court clicked their heels together at “attention,” and the guards brought their rifles quickly to the “present.” Turning, Phil’s gaze encountered the steely eyes of General Ruiz.

The insurgent commander walked calmly forward, motioning the guards away.

“Your verdict, Colonel Juarez?” he demanded.

“Guilty. To be shot to-morrow at sunrise,” the colonel replied grimly.

Then turning toward the Americans, he surveyed them critically, a cunning gleam in his sharp black eyes.

“You may speak,” he said condescendingly, dismissing the court with an eloquent gesture, and waving back peremptorily the awaiting guards.

Phil endeavored to collect his scattered[153] wits. He knew that his appeal would be their last chance for life.

“Well,” the general demanded impatiently, “be quick, I have but little time.”

Phil felt his body break into a cold perspiration. His heart sank within him. He saw his words must fall on barren soil. The whole attitude of this powerful, cruel leader was unfriendly.

“General Ruiz,” he commenced, intense earnestness in his young face, “you must not do this terrible deed. We have not intentionally done you harm. Our mission in your camp is not one of war, but only diplomatic in character. I cannot tell you its nature. Believe me when I say we are innocent of crime against the laws of war. We are not your enemies.”

“You are not my enemies!” exclaimed the leader savagely, his voice rising in anger. “Then why did you capture my machine guns? Explain that, if you can?”

Phil was silent. He could not tell this man the reason; to do so would betray his country’s policy.

“Ah, you see your arguments are not convincing,”[154] he cried triumphantly. “Must I allow those who are not my enemies to capture my property, then spy on my military movements? Shall I be powerless to lay by the heels such fellows, and shoot them as they richly deserve?”

Then a thought seemed to strike him; he led Phil away out of ear-shot of his companions.

“I shall grant a reprieve under one condition.”

“And that is?” exclaimed the boy, his hopes rising.

“That you cause my guns to be delivered inside my lines,” he answered.

The lad’s hopes vanished. That he could not do. He had rather die first. He shook his head determinedly.

“I can’t do that,” he replied, “even if I would.”

The general, misinterpreting the meaning implied in the boy’s words, hastily explained:

“The arms are this minute in La Boca, but the government and your ship are so vigilant that I dare not risk attempting to bring them here by water, and by land is quite out of the[155] question. If I release you, you could find a safe way to evade detection under the protection of your flag.”

The price was tempting to the despairing American youth: three lives for a cargo of arms, but the vileness of the act which he must commit to obtain this reward was repulsively horrible. Phil tried hard to control his indignation. He felt that to show this man how much he despised him and his clemency would only hasten their end.

Ruiz believed the lad was wavering.

“If I release you now, by to-night you will be on board the ‘Connecticut’ and by to-morrow I shall receive the guns and enter the city at the head of my victorious army.”

Phil thought quickly. Here might be an opportunity to gain for America the gratitude of this insurgent leader. If Ruiz was to win the city and set himself up as dictator, this act could be used with great force to defeat the intrigues of Juarez and La Fitte and Company. But could he depend upon earning this man’s gratitude? Would he not forget and vent his venom on the Americans notwithstanding? The more he thought the[156] more complex the situation appeared. What did he know of the strength of Ruiz’s enemies? Phil had heard rumors that they were negotiating for war vessels; with these against them, the insurgents could only hope to win by gaining the crews of the ships to their side by golden bribes; if they remained loyal to the government, Ruiz would not dare enter the city. The war-ships could train their guns on his army and force him to evacuate.

“I shall give you until sunrise to-morrow,” the general added sternly, “then if you agree, I shall have you set free, but shall retain your companions as hostages for your good faith until the arms are in my hands. If not”—a sinister smile and an expressive shrug of his thin shoulders completed his meaning.

The Americans were led back to their cell and as the door closed upon them again, Sydney turned anxiously to Phil.

“What did he say?” he questioned.

Phil told his eager companions the one chance of escape from the fate awaiting them.

“We can’t accept it,” Phil concluded. “It will look as if we were afraid to die, and to do this we shall become Lazar’s accomplices, for[157] I feel assured he has allowed the arms to be stolen from the legation.”

“Mr. Perry,” O’Neil interrupted, “I know these dagos, having shipped with them both afloat and ashore. They ain’t going to shoot us. It’s a bluff—stage acting. You stand pat to-morrow morning. They may line us up against a wall and point their guns at us, but they ain’t a going to shoot. They know if they did the United States government would blow the whole blamed country out of existence.”

The ring of truth in the sailor’s words forcibly impressed the two lads. Could this be true? Had they been tortured to make them betray themselves? But the cruel look in the face of Ruiz when he turned and left them only a short time before, surely did not bear out this interpretation of their position.

“I hope you are right, O’Neil,” Phil said, looking gratefully at the cheerful sailorman, “but I fear these men are capable of carrying out their threat.”

Escape was impossible—they were as secure in this prison as if they were in the old Bastile. The footfall of their guards told of[158] their vigilance. The heavy oaken door was doubly barred and locked on the outside.

Their midday meal lay upon the floor untasted by the two lads. Food would have choked them; but O’Neil ate as calmly as if he were aboard ship.

The sounds of life outside came faintly to their ears. They heard the laughter of children playing in the streets, and the rattle of military accoutrements, as soldiers marched along. The heat of their dungeon was almost unbearable and they suffered from lack of water to wash their bruised bodies.

Suddenly they heard the sounds of alarmed humanity; startled cries, a hurrying of many feet, and the clang of iron shod hoofs upon the hard earth.

O’Neil listened intently. Then he sprang to the window near the ceiling of their cell, catching the sill with his fingers and drawing himself up until he could peer through the iron bars.

“What is it?” cried both lads in alarm.

“There’s something going on to seaward,” he answered; “the people are running about like chickens without heads, and the soldiers[159] are moving inland. I wish we could get a sight——”

His next word was lost in a heavy crash and sharp explosion that seemed to shake the building to its foundation.

“Is it an earthquake?” cried Phil, excitedly.

“It sounded to me like a six-inch shell,” exclaimed O’Neil. “I ain’t heard one so close since Santiago, but I recognize the tune.”

Explosion after explosion followed in rapid succession.

“The streets are deserted,” shouted O’Neil above the roar of crashing buildings and exploding shells. “It’s a bombardment. There’s a ship or two pumping shell into the town from the sea.”

The sailor slid down from his position of vantage and pointed to the door.

“Our guards have run for it. We must break down that door.”

The three Americans, simultaneously, flung themselves against the stout oak, but it held firmly despite their united efforts. They stood in the middle of their cell, the perspiration pouring from their exhausted bodies.

[160]A crash louder and sharper rang in their ears. Then an explosion that threw them violently to the floor. The suffocating fumes of the exploded shell filled their nostrils.

But yet another and more sinister smell reached them, which froze the hot blood in their veins; it was the smoke of a burning building.

Their prison was afire. If the door held they would all be burned alive.



Their terrible plight spurred them on to renewed efforts to break down the heavy door. The iron bolts were bent under their frenzied onslaughts, and the stifling smoke became thicker.

The ominous sounds of bursting shell grew louder and more frequent.

“They are shelling this very building,” exclaimed O’Neil, as he gathered himself for a spring at the resisting oak.

The two lads were almost in a panic. The situation seemed indeed hopeless. The crackling of the approaching fire was very near; so close that the air of the cell was becoming too hot to breathe.

Then an explosion, that seemed to the anxious prisoners as if the building itself had been destroyed, sent them reeling to the farthest limits of their narrow prison. They clutched the hot wall for support. The mingled smoke[162] of powder and burning wood was so thick that they could see but a few feet. Phil felt a sharp pain and glanced down with horror to see blood flowing down his leg. He knew he had been wounded; he did not know how seriously.

He peered through the thick smoke for his companions. Sydney was near him, his clothes torn, showing the effects of the explosion. O’Neil was not visible. Phil groped through the suffocating smoke toward the door. He heard a crash of splintered wood accompanied by a glad cry from the sailor, and then the cell was lit up by a red glow of fire through the hole made by the boatswain’s mate in the oaken door. O’Neil stood, peering through the breach; the explosion of the shell had started, and he had, with his powerful hands, enlarged it. His glance was calm, but the sight, to Phil, was calculated to unnerve the stoutest heart. The hall outside was a veritable furnace, and it was their only road to safety. They were surely lost. How could they pass through this scorching heat alive?

“Come, it’s our only chance,” cried O’Neil.[163] “It’s sure death here. The building may fall at any minute.”


Singly the Americans crawled from the comparative cool of their cell to the hall, through the breach in the door. The door of the building had been left open by the retreating guards, and showed white through the red glare of the flames.

Hand in hand the three prisoners rushed through the scorching flames. The red tongues reached out on all sides toward their retreating forms.

A second afterward they were all buried in sand up to their necks in order to quench the smouldering fire in their clothes.

“I thought our numbers were made[1] that time,” exclaimed O’Neil when they had succeeded in extinguishing the flames. “It was that shell what done the business. I’d like to see the man who fired it. I’d give him my month’s pay. The shell exploded just on the outside of the door and splintered it so[164] that I could get my hands on the pieces. But come, this is none too safe, we must get to the seashore.”

With shells exploding over their heads they ran pell-mell through the deserted town to the beach.

As a view of the sea flashed before the lads, they cried out in excitement.

The dark hull of a war vessel steamed a quarter of a mile off shore. They saw the bright flashes from her gun ports followed by a harsh screech of shell and then a crash and explosion which seemed to be at their very feet.

O’Neil looked about him.

“We must get to that fish trap,” he cried, pointing to a cluster of bamboo piles driven under the water, their ends appearing above the surface. “We’ll be safe there until we can signal the dago war-ship; do you see the flag of the republic flying from her trucks?”

Wading and swimming the Americans made their way to the fish trap. It was just at the end of the coral reef, and when the vessel had finished the bombardment they would surely be seen and rescued.

[165]From the hills back of the town came a report of cannon and a shell struck the water near the cruiser.

“Our friend the artillery lieutenant,” exclaimed Phil, as the brown vapor from the exploded shrapnel appeared again in the air above the cruiser. “He knows her range too. She is turning. I wonder if they have seen us.”

“They’ll see us in a minute,” answered O’Neil grimly, as he stripped himself of his white undershirt and drew from the sand a long bamboo pole. “But our artillery friends ashore may see us also.”

“If they do, we must swim for it,” said O’Neil calmly, tying his shirt on to the pole and raising the conspicuous flag above his head.

“They see us; I mean the cruiser,” cried Sydney joyfully; “she is heading toward us.”

The cruiser had turned in shore; her battery was now silent, but the spiteful piece of artillery ashore sent its bursting shrapnel ever nearer the approaching vessel.

“Get under the water, quick,” cried O’Neil,[166] grasping the lads and drawing them down with him.

Through the water the noise of an explosion above them came muffled to their ears. When they rose to the surface, the agitated water about them told the story only too plainly. O’Neil’s fears had been realized. The enemy had also seen them.

It was fortunate for our friends that they were all good swimmers. They must leave the protection of their bamboo piling and swim toward the approaching man-of-war. With but their heads above water they would afford but a small target for their friend the lieutenant of artillery, but if he was fortunate with his aim once it would be all over with the Americans.

Leaving their insecure resting place they swam slowly out toward the cruiser, which had now stopped and seemed to be awaiting them.

The cool freshness of the water put new strength into the swimmers. O’Neil swam on his back, his eyes turned toward the shore. As soon as the red flash appeared he commanded his companions to duck, and thus[167] escaping the shower of bursting shrapnel, they reached the side of the cruiser in safety.

Willing hands helped them aboard and up the gangway of the war-ship, which now steamed away, hurling a parting broadside into the deserted and burning town.

The Americans indeed presented a sorry spectacle; with clothes torn nearly off their bodies, smoke-begrimed, and burned painfully in many places; but their new found friends on board received them with great courtesy and cheerfully supplied all their needs.

In but a short time their wounds and burns, which were found to be only slight, were carefully attended to by the ship’s surgeon, and they appeared on deck with the only clothes available, those of the government officers.

Captain Garcia, the commanding officer of the cruiser, insisted that the lads should live with him in his cabin, and O’Neil was to be given a place among the officers themselves.

After the experiences of the last few hours all three were exhausted, and the captain, with tactful generosity, refrained from asking their[168] story until the rescued men could be refreshed with a bath, clean clothes and a bountiful dinner.

Phil and Sydney lay back in the commodious cabin of the war-ship and, in spite of their eagerness to hear the latest news from La Boca, fell into a profound sleep.

It was not until late in the afternoon that the lads were awakened by Captain Garcia.

“I hope you are feeling refreshed,” he inquired kindly. “I am delighted to have you with us for a few days until I can take you back to your own ship.”

“For a few days,” Phil exclaimed in astonishment; “aren’t you going back now to La Boca?”

“I am sorry if I seem to carry you away against your wishes,” he replied courteously, “but I am sailing under very imperative orders from my president to seek the rebel cruisers at Rio Grande. It was but by accident that I went into Mariel. I saw a great many soldiers of the enemy drawn up there and took the opportunity to worry them, and at the same time give my gunners an opportunity to test our new guns.” He stopped and[169] inquired, “But tell me how you and your two companions came to be there; was I the means of liberating you? I have not heard as yet your experiences.”

Phil had forgotten that the captain had received but little information as to the reasons why they were at the fish trap, from which they had swum to safety. He at once told their story: of their capture, the trial and the verdict, and then of the escape.

“We owe our lives to you, Captain Garcia,” he added gratefully. “If your shell had not exploded in front of the door of our prison, we should have been burned alive, and if you had not stopped to bombard Mariel we would still be there looking forward to being shot to-morrow morning.”

“I am indeed thankful that I have been able to serve those who prevented the cargo of machine guns from falling into the hands of our enemy,” the captain answered smilingly.

“How do you know we did that?” cried Phil in surprise.

“The story has reached our president,” Captain Garcia responded, “and he is very grateful to the Americans. Now,” he added,[170] “our launches are watching every exit by water, so General Ruiz finds himself effectively cut off from his base of supplies.”

Phil remembered the machine guns were not in the legation and quickly his thoughts turned to his uncompleted mission. The pulsations of the engines showed the vessel was steaming away rapidly from those who should have his report at the earliest moment.

“Could you not take us back to La Boca?” he asked anxiously. “I have secret information which must be received immediately by my captain on board the ‘Connecticut.’”

“That is impossible,” replied Captain Garcia; “we are over a hundred miles from La Boca, but if you will trust the message to me I can send it safely by wireless telegraph.”

Phil’s face lit up with pleasure.

“I shall get the message ready at once,” he answered much relieved. “You will pardon me if I send it in cipher?” he asked; “I should not like to divulge its import to even our rescuer.”

Phil and Sydney put the message, that the[171] former framed, in the cipher code of the United States. Our lads fortunately had been given the key word by Captain Taylor before they started on their perilous mission. Without this secret word the message could not be read by outsiders, so although the boys knew that all the foreign ships in port would read this message to the “Connecticut,” none but Captain Taylor could find it intelligible; to the others it would be a meaningless confusion of unpronounceable words. The message told the captain of the battle-ship that the machine guns were no longer in the legation but concealed in the city of La Boca, and that the insurgent army were strong and well equipped with modern rifles and artillery; that they alone lacked machine guns, of which their race stood in great dread; that the cruiser “Aquadores” was on its way to Rio Grande to fight the enemy’s men-of-war, and that they were on board and well.

“I think that will be sufficient, don’t you?” Phil asked Sydney, after they had laboriously put the long message in the cipher code.

“Yes,” Sydney replied, “unless you wish[172] to put the captain on his guard against a traitor in the legation.”

“The time is not ripe for that yet,” Phil answered promptly; “we must wait until the evidence against him is overwhelming. Remember Captain Taylor has a high opinion of Lazar and if we attempted to poison his ear against him, he might, even though he likes us, believe that we had formed a combination against the ensign.”

“Have your own way,” responded Sydney, impatiently, “but I fear by the time we return to the ‘Connecticut’ all the damage that he is capable of doing will be done.”

“What can he do more, Syd?” Phil exclaimed. “If he has given up the guns he must stop there, for there is nothing more that he can do that will injure the United States.”

The message completed they took it to Captain Garcia.

“Come to the wireless room with me,” requested the captain, “and we shall see it started on its long journey.”

Phil was delighted at the opportunity. He had always been interested in this wonderful[173] method of telegraphy, but had not been able to make as complete a study of it as he would have desired, owing to his time being too thoroughly occupied since his reporting for duty in the Atlantic fleet.

Sydney also was included in the invitation, and the two lads followed Captain Garcia to the little compartment in which the delicate instruments were installed.

The operator, a bright-faced foreigner, stood up civilly as the three entered, and took the message held out to him by Captain Garcia.

“Send this to the American battle-ship,” he ordered. “We shall remain here to see you manipulate your instruments.”

The wireless man smiled proudly as he put his hand carelessly on his sending key.

“What is her call letter?” he asked politely, turning to Phil.

“A-D,” the lad replied promptly.

The switch was closed and the whirring of the mercurial motor showed the expert that all was ready to commence.

The man closed his key and on releasing it a bright spark jumped across the spark gap, charging the storage jars with electrical fluid[174] of a high tension. The lads understood that this had electrified the aerial wire leading to the main truck of the cruiser and a wave of electricity had been started on its journey through space. Again and again in long and short makes and breaks the key was pressed down upon its platinum contact. A-D in dots and dashes was sent up to the long wire. After a minute the key was held at rest and another switch was thrown in, connecting this same wire to the receiving instruments. All held their breath in expectancy while the operator placed his telephone receiver to his ear. Phil watched the man’s face anxiously. He saw on it a look of satisfaction. Then he saw him again close his key, press it down twice in acknowledgment, then glance at the paper before him.

A hundred miles away the aerial wire of the “Connecticut” was set in electrical vibration. The American operator below the armored deck heard an even but indistinct buzz in his telephone receiver. He listened intently. It was surely his own call. Who could be signaling him. He must be sure, for he did not wish to interfere with the messages[175] among the foreign war-ships. No, it was distinct enough. A-D, A-D, unceasingly. He waited until the noise ceased, then quickly he sent out his acknowledgment, turning the rheostat handle for high tension, for he knew the sender of this mysterious call was at a long distance.

“I have her, señor captain,” the operator of the “Aquadores” reported in a businesslike voice as he proceeded to send the cipher message before him.

Phil breathed easier after the last acknowledgment had been received from the “Connecticut.” The captain in but a few minutes would know the situation as well as if they themselves had told him in person.

“Now that this is off our minds,” exclaimed Phil, as he and Sydney walked up and down outside the captain’s cabin, “I believe it our duty to discover how strong this ship is for fighting two of her enemy’s vessels. I am delighted to be here, but at the same time I don’t care about getting killed, or what might be worse, captured. If our friend Ruiz gets us in his power again, it will be all up with us.”

[176]“What do you propose to do?” asked Sydney excitedly. “I wish we could fight her for them.”

“No, that we couldn’t do; but we are surely justified in instructing them before the battle, and during the battle too, for we can satisfy our conscience by the plea of self-defense,” answered Phil, regarding closely a six-inch gun near him. “Look at their guns; they are the very latest pattern and have two telescope sights each. These men in but a short time could be trained to use those guns in a way that will insure a victory.”

“In training these men to fight a successful battle,” Sydney returned, thoroughly interested, “we shall also help the government to keep in control of the country. Do you know for what reason we were sent to the insurgent camp?”

“To find out their strength, of course,” answered Phil promptly.

“Yes, but why did our government wish this information? The reason has just occurred to me. Some of the foreign governments wish to give the insurgents the power of belligerents. This the United States does[177] not desire, for it will give them an opportunity to blockade La Boca with their navy and thus ruin our shipping with that port. Our merchant vessels, and also those of foreigners, may be seized at the will of these outlaws, and this situation would be disastrous. La Fitte and Company have a powerful backing in two countries of Europe.”

“Syd, I believe you have hit the nail on the head. Why couldn’t I have thought of that?” exclaimed the lad, proud of his companion’s sagacity.

“Then, there’s all the more reason,” Phil added, “why we should do our utmost to see that these insurgent war vessels never have an opportunity to blockade La Boca.”

“That’s exactly it,” answered Sydney promptly, “and as we are due in Rio Grande in two days more we should start right in now.”

O’Neil was sent for and told of our lads’ plans. The boatswain’s mate was greatly delighted.

“Give me two days, sir,” he cried excitedly, “and they’ll make a hundred per cent. of hits on the insurgent hulks.”

[178]The three Americans walked down to the battery deck. The crew were at quarters. Each division was going through the drill at their guns in a perfunctory manner.

“Look at ’em,” scoffed O’Neil, “like a gang of Italian roustabouts on a New York dock.”

“After this drill is over, O’Neil,” Phil confided, “you get a group around you and try to interest them; then get them at the gun and explain how it should be done. You must poke fun at them in order to catch their interest. Then we shall see that Captain Garcia sees you. That ought to open his eyes and make him want to see more. Do you see?”

“That I do,” exclaimed the sailor, “and you have hit the character of these dagos as if you’d always lived among ’em.”

Phil and Sydney strolled quietly up the ladder and entered the captain’s cabin.

Captain Garcia was quite willing to be drawn into conversation, and our lads diplomatically led the topic up to the possibilities in the coming engagement.

“As you have been so frank with me,” answered the captain, in reply to an inquiry from[179] Phil, “I shall tell you what is my greatest anxiety.” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “The navy to a man were in sympathy with the rebels, and as soon as General Ruiz began to collect his army and threaten the capital, our two war vessels, the ‘Soledad’ and ‘Barcelo,’ with a torpedo-boat, sailed from La Boca for Rio Grande, where they won the sympathy of the citizens and set up the capital of the rebellion. My men are wavering in their allegiance to our cause, and if they should mutiny and take the ship, turning it over to the rebels, our cause would be lost.” He stopped speaking and glanced seriously at his eager listeners. “My life would of course be sacrificed. I should either be shot by the mutineers or else executed by our enemy.”

This was indeed a startling announcement for our lads. A mutiny on board the “Aquadores” might be as serious to them as it would be for her captain.

“The ‘Aquadores,’” the captain continued in the same low tone, “is a powerful ship. She was built in your country for our government, and when this war broke out, a power held her at the dockyard, although I had my crew[180] on board and was ready to sail; it was the government of the United States. I could not set sail until your country was satisfied of my honest intentions. She is more than a match for the ships of our enemy, but our men are poorly trained, our officers are half-hearted and incompetent, mere adventurers. They would willingly fight against their country if they believed it would be to their personal advantage.”

The two boys felt a deep sympathy for Captain Garcia. They saw in him a man of a thousand, differing materially from the majority of his race. Honorable, brave and loyal, he was ready to die for his cause. Believing he was sailing toward his death, they had known him for over twenty-four hours and had not, until this minute, heard one word of complaint.

The sound of many people talking loudly, with excited cries and exclamations, struck upon their ears.

The captain’s grave face turned a shade paler.

“What is that?” he cried.

Phil knew immediately that O’Neil’s strategy was bearing fruit.

[181]“Let’s see,” he proposed, advancing to the hatchway.

They descended the ladder and stood in astonishment at the sight presented.

O’Neil had indeed succeeded. He had placed a crew at one of the six-inch guns and was making the men go through the drill in American style. The native sailors were laughing with excitement. They were as happy as if they were playing at some athletic game.

Phil glanced anxiously at Captain Garcia. The latter’s face had dropped its careworn expression. His eyes brightened.

“Ah, if I had a crew like that man,” he sighed.

Phil was silent. The time had not arrived to offer the aid of himself and his two friends. He knew the pride of the race to which the captain belonged. He knew by his face that he was a pure-blooded Castilian.

Some hours later in the cabin the expected question that Phil had waited for was asked.

“Mr. Perry, will you and your friends teach my men to use our guns?”

Phil readily agreed.

[182]“That removes a great burden from my mind,” exclaimed Captain Garcia gratefully. “When will you begin?”

“Now, at once,” answered Phil promptly. “I must be given authority to order the men about, and to do this I desire to be given the temporary rank and wear the uniform of your first lieutenant. My friend, Mr. Monroe, must have the rank of lieutenant, and O’Neil an ensign. In this way only can we control our pupils.”

The captain was in high glee. He fell in immediately with the spirit of the undertaking.

Donning the uniforms, which fortunately were in store on board, the Americans set to work to carry out the scheme outlined by Phil.

The battery was divided into two divisions, one of which was to be commanded by each of his companions with the native officer as assistant. Phil himself was to be near the captain and was also to control the fire of the broadsides.

The next night our friends had reason to congratulate themselves upon their wonderful progress. The crew were imbued with a[183] lively interest and fell to with a will to perfect themselves.

“My country can never repay its debt to you, señors,” the captain exclaimed to the lads after they had returned from their last drill. The enemy would be encountered the next morning, if their commanding officers had the courage to fight. “I do not now fear the outcome. My greatest fear has been swept away; it was that if the shells of our enemy were to hit us too frequently our men might become demoralized and in spite of me haul down our flag. There can be no danger of that now.”

The next morning all hands were called before dawn and preparations were made for the coming battle. The lads were consumed with excitement as they moved among the willing sailors. The rapid shooting with which Phil hoped to overwhelm their two antagonists was provided for by placing at the guns a quantity of reserve ammunition. O’Neil went among the men joking with them and telling them what was expected of them. Their Latin blood was aroused to the highest pitch of excitement.

“Do you see these guns?” he cried, changing[184] his voice to a harsh tone, pointing to two revolvers in his belt. “I have twelve dead men here. The first dozen men who show cowardice are as good as dead right now.”

By sunrise the low land of the Bay of Rio Grande was in sight. The red-roofed town, nestling against the side of the dark green of the forest, reflected the slanting rays of light.

The “Aquadores” steamed boldly toward the forts at the entrance.

Phil felt confident that Sydney and O’Neil would give a good account of themselves in the battle, the outcome of which meant so much to the Americans.

As he took his station on the high bridge near the captain, the fire control instruments in his hands, his pulses throbbed with an excitement, the height of which he had never known before. Was this the feeling men had on the eve of their first battle?

The cruiser drew nearer to the defending forts. The range finder showed five thousand yards was their distance from the cruiser.

Suddenly a brown puff of smoke belched from one of the forts, and the screech of a huge shell sounded ominously.



The shell from the fort struck the water some hundred yards ahead of the “Aquadores,” and showed Captain Garcia that unless he stopped his ship, he would draw the fire of the forts. This would place him at a decided disadvantage. His best course was to entice the ships of the enemy away from the protection of the fortifications. That the captain understood his proper tactics was soon evident.

“Hard astarboard,” he ordered, and the cruiser, obedient to her helm, quickly swung her bow around and headed directly away from the harbor’s mouth.

Phil thrilled with the excitement of the moment; he glanced at the captain’s face; it showed plainly the tremendous strain that he was undergoing, although he seemed outwardly calm and deliberate. The gravity of their position came home to the lad; they[186] were on the eve of a battle between modern ships with modern guns and its outcome meant either life or death.

“There’s the ‘Barcelo,’ heading out,” cried Captain Garcia. “I believe she will give us battle; her mate must be behind the fort and we shall soon see what their intentions are. If they refuse to fight in the open, out from the protection of the fort guns, I shall be forced to enter the harbor regardless of the mines and heavy guns ashore.”

Phil paled at the thought of entering the enemy’s fortified harbor, strongly protected by mines. He knew that the “Aquadores” could have but little chance in such an undertaking. A single mine exploded within a few feet of her bottom would send her skyward. But a look at Captain Garcia’s face showed his intense earnestness; he would risk all in his endeavor to destroy the rebellious navy of his country.

The enemy’s vessels had now left the harbor. They were in plain sight, their battle flags waving from their trucks. They presented a noble appearance, cleared for action, the naked muzzles of their long high-powered[187] guns pointing toward the apparently fleeing cruiser.

“What a beautiful sight!” Phil exclaimed.

“Yes, but deadly,” Captain Garcia replied, casting an apprehensive glance at the oncoming ships. “They are both nearly new and formidable. They doubtless hope for an easy victory, as they know of the half-heartedness of my men. But we are going to surprise them,” he added, his face brightening; “I believe they will catch a tartar.”

“We are surely going to win,” cried Phil. “Your men can shoot each of their guns eight times in a minute; we shall overwhelm them with that fire. Your crew loads in the American method; our enemy know nothing of its advantages. We can depend upon my companions to keep their gun’s crews at work.”

“What is the range?” inquired the captain in a tense voice.

“Four thousand yards,” Phil answered, measuring deliberately with his instrument, “and gaining rapidly. Your stern guns can open fire now.”

The captain shook his head.

“I know my countrymen better than you[188] do, lad,” he said lowering his voice, so as not to be heard by the officers and men near him. “If we should open fire now they would come no further, but remain under the protecting wing of the fort guns.”

“I see,” cried Phil delightedly; “you are making them believe you are afraid of them and are running away.”

“Quite right,” replied the captain proudly, pleased at the compliment to his ability. “We shall draw them far out to sea and then turn on them and force a fight. I know their speed; it is but seventeen knots; while with the ‘Aquadores,’ I am sure of twenty-one at any time. So you see they cannot then escape me.”

“Thirty-eight hundred yards,” Phil reported, taking his eyes from the instrument and looking at his watch. “What speed are you making, captain?”

“Fifteen knots,” was the prompt answer.

“Then they are going almost seventeen knots now,” Phil vouched, as he put his watch away; “they have gained two hundred yards in three minutes.”

“If that is so, I must go faster,” cried Captain[189] Garcia, signaling to the engine room to increase the speed. “I wish them to gain slowly in order that we may be well out from the harbor when they reach an effective range with their guns.”

“Do you see that sun?” cried Phil, pointing toward the red disk but an hour high. “That’s a bad thing to have in your gun sights. Get between your enemy and the sun and you have the advantage at the start.”

“Excellent,” cried Captain Garcia. “It will spoil the enemy’s aim, and it places me in an advantageous position to head them off if they attempt to escape me.”

Phil’s nerves had become quieter, although the long strain of the stern chase had been heavy. He glanced below him on the gun deck to observe the behavior of the crew. Silence was ponderous over the ship. The men at first had talked in low excited tones to each other, but as they saw the enemy draw nearer, they stood quietly, dreading the first screech of their enemy’s shell. Sydney and O’Neil seemed cool and collected as they stood with their officer assistants. Sydney glanced anxiously through the gun-port, frequently[190] judging the distance of the enemy, but O’Neil appeared to give the enemy but scant thought. He seemed to be as calm as if he were at target practice. To him the excitement of battle was not new; he had served in Admiral Sampson’s fleet during the Cuban campaign, and the sound of shells screeching about him gave him no fears.

“There she goes,” Phil exclaimed loudly in excitement, as a flash of fire sprang from the leading ship.

A tremor ran through the crew. Their evident nervousness showed on their faces and in the muscular twitching of their hands.

The first shell struck short, but from the bow guns of the two chasers flash after flash appeared. The screech and hiss of steel missiles filled the air.

Phil looked at the captain anxiously. The latter stood surveying the scene, nervously, with his hand on the wheel rim.

The menace of the enemy’s fire was becoming more intense. The geyser-like splashes threw water on to the decks of the fleeing cruiser. Then a crash below him on the battery deck sent the hot blood pulsating[191] through the lad’s veins. He looked, a terrible fear in his eyes. He saw fresh blood on the clean white decks amid the suffocating smell of an explosion. The swarthy faces below him had paled with an unknown, unreasonable terror—men scrambled over the mutilated bodies of their stricken comrades, then stopped, wild-eyed and frenzied, for they saw no escape. He glanced appealingly at Captain Garcia; the latter’s face had blanched but his voice rang out true:

“Hard astarboard! Full speed!” Then he turned to Phil:

“We are ready to open fire.”

The lad, with hands trembling with agitation, read the range and transmitted it by his electrical instrument to the guns. The notes of the bugle rang out clear on the battery deck: “Commence firing.”

Sydney and O’Neil drove the men to their guns at the point of the revolver.

“If any of you fellows shoot when you ain’t pointing at that leading ship,” O’Neil sang out in Spanish, in a voice that could be heard above the crash of exploding shell and the frightened prayers of the sailors, “I am[192] going to pitch you to the sharks with my own hands,” and he looked as if he meant every word. No doubt the little brown sailormen thought he would carry out his dire threat, for they moved slowly back to their stations.

The next moment the situation was relieved. The “Aquadores” swung her port broadside to the enemy and the sharp detonating discharge of her guns made her crew forget their fear of the enemy’s shells.

Phil with glasses to his eyes watched their shells wing their way toward the enemy. The roar of discharges now grew incessant. The leading cruiser was fairly blotted out by the splashing of steel all about her.

The “Aquadores” was not escaping unscathed; the dead and dying littered the decks, but the crew, with desperation born of their dread for their officers’ revolvers, worked like madmen.

Phil saw a heavy pall of smoke rising from the leading cruiser, now heading about in an endeavor to seek the shelter of their fort’s guns. It was the “Barcelo.” The “Soledad” was yet unharmed and stood boldly on,[193] using her guns with terrific effect. He rushed down to the battery deck. He found his companions drawing their men back to reload the guns.

“One enemy is disabled,” he cried desperately. “Back to your guns. If you desert now it means death. Shoot at the other ship!”

The men went once more to their guns, a sullen scowl on their terrified faces.

“For our lives, keep them at it,” he shouted to O’Neil as he swung himself up the ladder to the bridge.

The “Soledad” was heading directly for the “Aquadores.” The white foam under the bow of the former showed she was making a rush to close with her enemy.

Captain Garcia was undecided. He stood with his hand ready to clutch the wheel to retreat. The “Soledad,” a blaze of destruction, came on with a speed that seemed well-nigh incredible. At the shorter range her shots were falling thickly about their decks, and the cries of the wounded were heartrending.

Phil saw with consternation that she was approaching on a converging course, and if the “Aquadores” stood on the two vessels[194] must meet in but a few minutes. What would Captain Garcia do? Sydney and O’Neil were nowhere in sight. The battery fire had been reduced alarmingly; but four guns were now firing against ten of their enemy. What could have happened to his companions? Then a sudden wave of joy filled his heart. O’Neil and Sydney were both shooting guns themselves and the officer assistants had taken two others. The excited sailors were working as hard as their limited strength allowed them, and from the guns of the Americans, Phil saw with delight, the one hundred pound shells in a perfect stream were hurled, true to their aim against the side of the advancing ship.

Phil read his range finder.

“Two thousand yards,” he cried, then he froze with sudden fear. “Have they torpedoes?” he questioned anxiously.

There was no time for an answer. A puff of white smoke, low down on the “Soledad’s” leaden side; a flash of bright metal in the sunlight, and a silent splash in the water, told our lad only too plainly that five hundred pounds of high explosive had been launched on its deadly errand against their ship.

[195]Phil’s voice refused obedience. The “Aquadores” stood on at full speed, while he saw a white wake of air bubbles in a straight line, ever extending, marking the path of the Whitehead torpedo.

Captain Garcia hesitated but a moment; then he grasped the spokes of the wheel and spun it around, swinging the bow of the cruiser toward the approaching destroyer.

The men below, intuitively, knew that some new danger threatened. An ominous murmur arose from the guns. The dread of an unknown danger had put the fear of death into their simple minds.

The “Aquadores” turned swiftly, yet it seemed to the anxious watchers that she must place herself directly in the path of the torpedo. Our lad knew that the captain had now made the only correct maneuver; by presenting his bow to the torpedo, it would give less surface to the steely fish, and a glancing blow on the curved under-water side of the cruiser might not explode its death-dealing head.

Through his glass Phil watched the fast approaching tube of steel. It was running but[196] a few feet under the clear blue water, leaving behind it a trail of bubbles from the air exhausted through its tiny engines.

It seemed to the lad that the torpedo could not miss. He grasped the hand-rail near him to brace himself against the terrific impact of the explosion he knew would come with the speed of light when the deadly point of the tube plowed into the “Aquadores’” steel plates. He could not withdraw his fascinated gaze from the approaching menace; yet he heard ominous sounds on the deck below him that showed him the awful plight of the cruiser.

The torpedo was now very near, pointing directly for the bow of the “Aquadores,” ever swinging toward its small enemy.

A flash of steel across the cruiser’s bow; a whir of tiny propellers; a white streak of foam, and the danger had passed. Death had brushed close by and gone beyond on a futile errand.

“Back to your guns,” Captain Garcia cried, steering his vessel toward the now retreating enemy.

“If you don’t put them out of business[197] now,” Phil heard O’Neil shout to the uncertain men, “they’ll let loose another one of them torpedoes, and they’ll hit us sure next time.”

As the gunners returned to the battery, the roar of discharges brought confidence to the panic-stricken crew.

It was soon the “Aquadores’” turn to be joyful. The demoralized enemy were running for cover. Their fire had almost ceased, but the deck of the cruiser, strewn with dead and dying, told of the havoc while it had lasted.

Those on the bridge had, by a miracle, escaped unharmed. Phil had felt many a shell pass him, scorching him with its hot blast.

“Concentrate on the nearest vessel,” Phil shouted to his companions below him. The range was but scant two thousand yards. The “Aquadores’” shell went true to their aim. The smoke of explosions on the deck of the nearer vessel rose in clouds, almost concealing her from view. She had fired a few shots with a stern gun as she turned to follow her fleeing mate; this now ceased. She[198] was bending all efforts to escape. Once under the cover of their shore batteries they could refit the ships and again be ready for battle.

Captain Garcia’s face wore a look of determination as he took in his hand the flexible speaking-tube to the engine room.

“Make all speed possible,” he ordered.

“Cripple her,” he cried to his gunners below. “Let neither escape us.”

The intense excitement was fairly stifling. Both vessels of the enemy were making more speed than Captain Garcia had given them credit for being able to do. The distance was not increasing but they were persistently holding their own, and the “Aquadores’” shooting had not, despite the volume of fire, succeeded in reducing their speed by even the fraction of a knot.

“Aim at her water line,” Phil shouted to his companions, pointing at the “Soledad.”

The next few shots from the “Aquadores” were fired singly by O’Neil. Phil sent him the exact range from his range finder, while Sydney saw the sight bar was accurately set.

The first shell struck only a few yards short, in her white wake. The next shot[199] struck under her counter and exploded with an echoing report.

“You jammed her rudder,” Phil shouted jubilantly, as he saw the “Soledad” sheer widely to starboard and expose half of her broadside to the bow fire of the chaser. O’Neil saw his opportunity to plant a number of shells against her water line. Putting the cross wire of his telescope sight fairly and steadily on her water line amidships, he fired. The watchers on the bridge anxiously followed with their eyes the shell speeding toward the “Soledad.” Then the sound of a mighty explosion filled the air and the hindmost enemy was blotted out in a cloud of white, vapor-like smoke.

“Her boilers have exploded!” cried Phil, grasping Captain Garcia’s arm in his excitement.

The “Barcelo,” as if fearing the terrible punishment of her mate would be visited upon her, had stopped dead on the water.

Captain Garcia steamed his vessel cautiously up to the vanquished enemy.

The “Soledad” was a pitiful sight as she rolled a shattered hulk on the ocean swell;[200] smoke-stacks gone; her decks blackened with the fire of explosions, and torn and rent by the terrific violence of the blown up boilers.

“She’s sinking,” cried Phil in horror, turning anxiously to Captain Garcia.

The captain nodded his head in the affirmative.

“I fear many of her crew have perished. We must save every life we can.”

The “Aquadores” was stopped near the sinking ship and boats were lowered promptly. But as Captain Garcia had feared, there were but a handful of survivors left on the surface after the “Soledad,” her colors still flying, sank beneath the surface of the sea.

In a half hour more a prize crew from the “Aquadores” had been sent on board the captured “Barcelo” and the two vessels, now no longer enemies, lay quietly awaiting the darkness to finish the work of destruction of the insurgent navy; a torpedo-boat must yet be accounted for before Captain Garcia could sail back to La Boca and report to his president that his work had been successfully accomplished.

“The ‘Barcelo’ is quite serviceable,” Captain[201] Garcia informed the American lads, after his return on board the “Aquadores” from his visit to the captured vessel. “She suffered badly from our shells and has lost many men; fortunately her surgeons are uninjured, and are now attending to her wounded. Our losses have been heavy; I weep for my poor countrymen, fighting against their own flesh and blood.”

Captain Garcia burst into tears. The sight quite unmanned the youths. It was a new sight for them—a man, who had borne himself with so much bravery through the terrible trials of the last few hours, breaking down and crying like a child.

The lads tried to console the sorely tried man, but he was inconsolable. The reaction on his Latin nature was more than his nerve could stand.

“You have placed me under a heavy debt,” the captain said, his voice breaking with emotion. “I believe in my heart that without your superb assistance, my ship would now be beneath the waves instead of the ‘Soledad,’ or, which is far worse for an honorable man, lying there vanquished, my flag trailing in the dirt.”[202] He pointed through the gun-port at the battle-scarred “Barcelo,” her lowered flag still trailing from her mast in sign of surrender.

“Don’t think of it in that way,” Phil hastily assured him. “We have served our own ends as well as yours.”

“But you have risked your lives many times for our sacred cause,” cried Captain Garcia. He took each by the hand, while tears of gratitude streamed down his face. “I take your hands as brothers; and that superb sailorman! if he would join our navy our president would make him a captain.”

Both lads were pleased and proud that their work had been appreciated so highly by their friend. Their short acquaintance with his noble character tended to change the opinion they had formed of the men of his race. This man was surely one of nature’s noblemen.

The boys thanked him warmly for his words.

“We have risked our lives, Captain Garcia, in your cause,” Phil replied earnestly, “because your cause happens to be our cause.”

Captain Garcia looked puzzled.

“However you put it,” he declared, “I[203] shall always consider that you three Americans have given us this victory. We could never have won without your aid, and our president shall richly reward you.”

“That will be impossible, sir,” Phil explained quickly. “Do not believe us unappreciative, but you must not tell any one of the part we have played in this battle. I pray you will counsel secrecy to your officers and men. It will do us much harm if the truth were known.”

Captain Garcia was more perplexed than ever. He shrugged his shoulders as much as to say:

“Young man, your American ways are entirely too complicated for me to understand.”



Captain Garcia’s face showed the midshipmen his keen disappointment.

“You are denying my men and myself a rightful pleasure,” he answered after an appreciable silence. “They are acclaiming you their deliverers and I fear they will not observe my orders when I counsel secrecy. Señor O’Neil is already their idol; to a man they are wildly enthusiastic over his rough and ready ways, and unless I am much mistaken the praises for the three Americans will be sung in every house in La Boca a short time after we have returned.”

“But, Captain Garcia,” Phil replied hastily, a sudden fear in his voice, “you must tell the men that by speaking of our work on board the ‘Aquadores’ they will injure those to whom they wish well. Our future careers in the navy may be jeopardized.”

“Never fear them,” exclaimed the captain[205] earnestly, seeing the alarm on the lad’s face. “My men know that they owe you their lives. They shall be silent. I can vouch for that.”

Captain Garcia soon departed to lay his plans for the coming night, leaving the boys in the cabin. It was the first time they had been alone since the battle.

“Syd, you were a wonder during the fight,” Phil began enthusiastically; “you appeared to be as cool as if you were only drilling.”

“I wasn’t cool,” Sydney confessed; “I was all-powerfully scared, I can tell you. As the men deserted the guns, when the ‘Soledad’ fired her torpedo and the shells were exploding, it seemed all about me, I felt as near like making a mile run as I ever did in my life.”

“That’s only modesty,” Phil declared in admiration. “You acted like a veteran under fire.”

“I am glad I didn’t show my true feelings,” he replied much pleased, “but to me the greatest marvel was O’Neil; he doesn’t know what fear is. I saw him, on two occasions, catch in his arms a man who had been killed at his side by an exploding shell, lay[206] him gently out of the way of the guns, and go back to his work with jaws set like iron and his eyes flashing with the joy of fighting. A crew of such men could do miracles.”

“Syd, during the fight, when I saw O’Neil, I forgot the sense of fear myself,” he cried gladly. “He was superb.”

“Did you really mean what you told the captain here,” questioned Sydney anxiously; “that our careers might be endangered if the part we took in the battle were known?”

“I fear I did,” he returned. “Our enemies could use it against us and do us a great deal of harm. My conscience is clear, however; our lives were in mortal danger and our actions were prompted by the natural law of self-defense.”

“Will you tell Captain Taylor what we have done?” Sydney asked.

“Yes, I shall have to make a clean breast of it to him,” Phil declared. “He may condemn our actions and even send us home in disgrace; but we must take that risk. He should know all. From now on we must return to our rôle as neutrals. I do not know what Captain Garcia’s plans may be, but I feel[207] sure he will not be satisfied until the torpedo-boat is disposed of. She will remain a menace to the ‘Aquadores’ as long as she floats and flies the flag of the rebellion.”

“Then we shall take no further part in the fighting,” exclaimed Sydney ruefully.

“No, not unless we can do so justly,” his companion answered. “It will have to be in self-defense. We dare not take the initiative in a hostile act—— Hallo! We are moving rapidly,” he added glancing through the gun-port, “and we seem to be heading toward La Boca. We surely cannot be going to abandon the torpedo-boat.”

It took the midshipmen but a few moments to appear on deck. There they saw that the “Aquadores” was steaming swiftly to the northward, followed by the “Barcelo.” The harbor of Rio Grande was gradually fading astern.

“What does it mean?” exclaimed Sydney. “If I were Captain Garcia I’d make short work of the torpedo-boat before I left this port. One of these dark nights she may steal into La Boca harbor and torpedo the ‘Aquadores.’”

[208]“I am not so sure that he is abandoning the idea of destroying her,” replied Phil thoughtfully. “I have come to consider him a clever naval officer. There is some good reason for his action. Let’s go to the bridge—I am sure he will enlighten us.”

The lads found Captain Garcia in the wheel house carefully studying the chart of Rio Grande.

Phil shot a swift glance at Sydney as he divined the captain’s intentions. “There’s more work ahead,” he whispered.

The captain raised his head finally and greeted the midshipmen.

“The more I look into this matter the more hazardous it appears,” he confided, a worried look on his face. “I may undo the effect of our victory by losing both ships. Yet I cannot return to La Boca and report one vessel still at large and a menace to our cause.”

The captain paused and seemed in deep thought. The boys regarded him intently in silence.

“I am resorting to strategy,” he finally explained, pointing ahead in the direction of[209] La Boca. “It is now three o’clock; there are three more hours of daylight and by dark we shall be fifty miles from Rio Grande. Our enemy will watch us pass below the horizon and I hope will believe that we have continued our way northward. As soon as it is dark I shall turn about and steam back for the harbor at full speed.”

The boys were consumed with delight at the plan.

“And then?” asked Phil.

“I have reasoned thus,” continued Captain Garcia smiling in spite of himself at the lads’ eager faces: “the torpedo-boat, believing we have gone, may leave the harbor and go outside to reconnoitre. She will go out to the locality where the ‘Soledad’ sank; there is a great deal of wreckage there which has undoubtedly been seen from ashore. I am depending upon the curiosity of my countrymen to see the ill-fated spot. If she should leave the harbor now she would be back inside before I could turn and head her off, but if she delays until sunset she will find me waiting here at the harbor’s mouth on her return. When we reach the entrance the[210] ‘Barcelo’ will leave us and search to seaward.”

“And if she is still inside?” questioned Phil.

“Then I shall sacrifice the ‘Barcelo,’” the captain answered quickly, “in an attempt to run the mine fields to engage the enemy inside. The night will be moonless and the advantage will be with the attacking force.”

The boys could not hide their admiration of the captain’s strategy.

“How could you ever have thought of it?” cried Phil delightedly. “I believe that is exactly what she will do.” Then a thought came to him. “But if she is outside will she not discover you before you see her? You dare not use your search-lights, for she can then easily avoid you and escape into shallow water, where you could not follow her.”

“That is the risk of war,” Captain Garcia answered grandiloquently. “If she torpedoes us we must sink her even if we ourselves are sunk. My government can buy another ‘Aquadores.’”

The two vessels steamed swiftly away from their enemy. The sun sank slowly toward[211] the horizon to the westward. The midshipmen watched the molten ball dip into the fiery sea. Darkness came quickly, for in these latitudes there is no twilight.

Inside of ten minutes night had settled down over the sea and the war-ships had turned about and were steaming at full speed toward the enemy’s harbor.

The hours passed with leaden feet. Cloud banks which had been visible on the horizon before sunset slowly spread a filmy mantle over the sky, blotting out the brilliant tropical stars. The night became darker. With all lights screened, the gray hulls moved noiselessly through the calm sea.

“If she is outside the night is in her favor,” Captain Garcia said, peering through the inky blackness. “We couldn’t see her five hundred yards away, while from her low deck she could see our hull at nearly twice that distance.”

“Maybe our better chance is to enter the harbor after all,” exclaimed Phil, losing heart.

“But think of the mines and the guns of the forts,” replied the captain; “for me, I’d rather find her outside. She can hardly be[212] lucky enough to sink both ships, and I have confidence that we shall sink her if we see her.”

He turned to Phil questioningly.

“May I count upon my American friends for aid?” he added.

Phil hesitated. If the torpedo-boat attacked them it would be surely self-defense for them to help defend the cruiser.

“We are entirely at your service, sir,” he declared, “if the boat is outside. I am sorry, but our aid cannot be given otherwise.”

Captain Garcia seemed perplexed.

“I find I become ever more heavily your debtor. Are all American naval men like you and your companions?” Then he added sincerely, “I pray that some day I shall be given an opportunity to show my gratitude.”

The boys took his proffered hand and wrung it warmly.

O’Neil stepped hesitatingly on the bridge. The lads seized upon the sailor and brought him up beside them.

“What is it now?” he inquired, peering into the darkness ahead.

[213]The situation was quickly explained.

The boatswain’s mate’s face lit up with pleasure for a moment, then he turned to Phil, a troubled note in his voice.

“Them dagos can’t hit even the water at night,” he whispered; “some of them have been begging me to come and find out what’s going to happen.”

“But the enemy’s sailors are just as much afraid of the dark,” Phil declared in a low tone.

“These men ain’t sailors,” he answered disgustedly, “they are soldiers, landlubbers. All the sailormen of the country are with the rebels.”

A sudden idea struck the lad. He turned from O’Neil toward Captain Garcia, wrapped in his own thoughts.

“Captain Garcia, O’Neil says all your men are soldiers,” he cried anxiously.

The captain nodded.

“I had to take them,” he returned; “the sailors were disloyal to a man. I was naval attaché at the outbreak of the war in Washington and was forced to be satisfied with the men my government sent to me to man my ship.”

[214]“How many prisoners have you?” Phil questioned hurriedly.

Captain Garcia’s face brightened.

“I see your drift,” he cried. “I believe I can depend upon them. We have over a hundred.”

“Put them at the guns, sir, and have your soldiers stand over them. I’ll make them shoot straight when I tell them it’s ‘Davy Jones’ locker’ if they don’t,” O’Neil urged.

In a short time the hundred rebel sailors were liberated from the lower hold and put at the guns. The old crew, rifles in hand, were placed as sentries about the ship.

“Me for the rigging if those chaps mutiny,” laughed O’Neil, pointing to the scores of riflemen, carelessly handling their pieces, guarding the captured sailors at the big guns. The loom of the land near Rio Grande was now dimly discernible on the starboard bow.

The two cruisers slowly closed in toward the shore. The vibrations of the engines lessened. The war-ships were soon motionless in the water. The harbor entrance had been reached.

Phil glanced apprehensively through the[215] darkness. He could see dimly the smudges of forts, but he knew from them the “Aquadores” and her mate, although but a scant half mile distant, were quite invisible; their steel gray sides blended in with the dark sea and sky, showing an unbroken line.

His companions were at their stations at the guns. Every gun was loaded and ready to be fired instantly.

Phil from his station at the range finder above the battery deck peered down on the scene below him. He could make out the shadowy figures of the men at the guns; he saw the men at the sight telescopes and the anxious loaders behind the breech of each gun, with the shell and powder ready. O’Neil stood almost directly under him; he seemed to be the unconscious man-of-war’s man surrounded by perils.

“Put down those firing keys,” he cautioned. His voice was low, but it sounded distinct and commanding over the silent deck. “You’ll be getting nervous and shooting off before we clap eyes on her.”

The “Barcelo” steamed by; she had received her orders from Captain Garcia to[216] search the neighborhood of the wreck for the enemy.

They watched her slowly dissolve in the night.

Phil’s pulses beat fast. The moment was fraught with grave perils. The unseen torpedo-boat might be even then aiming a deadly blow at the motionless cruiser.

The crew were all watching intently; keyed to the highest pitch of nervous excitement; their eyes set fixedly, staring into the total gloom about them; alert for the first sound of the approaching enemy.

The attitude of the prisoners was reassuring; they could not load as rapidly as O’Neil had made the soldiers do; but they were used to naval warfare, they were on their own element, the night and the unseen danger held for them many terrors, but they were not so terrified as their soldier comrades; also they had been told that they would all be drowned if the “Aquadores” was torpedoed and that if they refused to fire they would suffer death from the soldiers’ rifles. Phil felt confident the sailors could be depended upon. He glanced aloft at the search-light[217] platforms, high above the bridge deck; the operators stood ready, like shrouded statues, silhouetted against the starless sky.

Captain Garcia was the man of action, one hand on the telegraph to the engine room and his other on the switch for the search-lights, his eyes peering into the night.

Phil read his intention at a glance: on the discovery of the enemy to start ahead at full speed and flash both search-lights on her simultaneously.

“The ‘Barcelo’ should be there by now,” the captain said in a tense voice to the lad beside him. “Will my strategy fail? Have I made an error in my judgment of my countrymen?”

Phil was silent. His nerves were at too high tension to speak.

“The ‘Barcelo’s’ orders were if she discovered the torpedo-boat,” Captain Garcia continued in a nervous whisper, “to turn her search-light upon the enemy and steam at full speed toward us. We shall remain dark. My dread is that our enemy may be now returning to the harbor and will suddenly find me in her path.”

[218]“But even if that happens will she be able to fire a torpedo immediately?” questioned Phil in a voice he tried hard to control.

“Her torpedoes will be in the tubes,” he answered, “and probably primed ready to be fired, but she must first aim her tube at us and not suspecting that we are near, there should be a sufficient interval for us to sink her.”

Captain Garcia had been so fully occupied gazing to seaward that he had failed to notice that the tide entering the harbor was slowly setting the “Aquadores” in toward the forts. An exclamation from the lad at his side made him throw an apprehensive glance over his shoulder at the near-by shore. It seemed very close. He seized the engine room telegraph and signaled for full speed ahead. But a flash from the batteries and a sullen roar showed him their thoughtlessness had discovered them to the watchful enemy. The shells screeched over their heads and struck the water with a spiteful hiss.

“We have lost,” Captain Garcia exclaimed in bitter anguish; “if the torpedo-boat is out she can easily avoid us, knowing we are near.[219] From her deck she can see us long before we can sight her. My hope was that they would not be watchful; now they have been warned and will run cautiously.”

The “Aquadores” slowly gathered speed and, turning, steamed out to sea in the direction taken by her consort.

Shell after shell followed her, but in the darkness the fort’s aim was bad; the gunners ashore could not know the range.

Suddenly Phil saw a flash far out on the ocean.

“See, a shot,” he cried breathlessly, grasping the captain’s arm in his excitement. A distant boom came to their ears.

Flash followed flash in rapid succession, as if a firefly were flying low above the horizon. Then a white shaft of light cut the blackness, swung undecidedly to and fro, and then held steadily on the water.

Phil’s glasses trembled as he gazed at the end of the light shaft.

Captain Garcia’s voice rang out joyfully when his keen eyes saw the small white object under the search-light’s ray, far out on the ocean.

[220]“Be ready, men, she’s coming this way. Either they will sink, or we shall. You must choose—I promise full pardon to all—if we sink her.”

A low murmur ran along the decks. In it were betrayed both joy and fear:—joy for the promised reprieve, fear at the sudden unknown danger of the approaching torpedo-boat.

O’Neil’s clear voice was raised in cautioning.

“Steady, men. Don’t fire; she’s too far away. Wait till I give you the word. Then fire for your lives.”

The “Aquadores” turned swiftly toward the object illuminated by the search-light of the “Barcelo.” The former ship was in complete darkness.

“Can you read the range?” questioned the captain’s eager voice.

Phil put his eyes to the range finder and moved a switch which made the torpedo-boat’s bright hull appear as a line of light. He moved his wheel and brought the direct and reflected rays together.

“Five thousand yards,” he announced.

[221]“Let me know when she is twenty-five hundred yards away,” said Captain Garcia.

The “Aquadores” was steaming at full speed toward the rapidly moving torpedo-boat. They were approaching each other at terrific speed, yet to the overwrought midshipman it seemed an age when his range pointer reached the distance given him by the captain.

“Twenty-five hundred yards,” he cried, his voice rising with an excitement he was powerless to control.

A second afterward the blinding flashes from the “Aquadores’” guns, accompanied by ear splitting discharges, made the scene on the cruiser one of terrible splendor.

The “Barcelo’s” search-light still illumined the enemy, but she had by her superior speed drawn out of range of the former’s guns.

Phil’s fascinated gaze held to the torpedo-boat with grim tenacity.

“She’s lost her,” he cried, as the end of the “Barcelo’s” search-light swept uncertainly over the water. The boat had vanished into the night.

“Cease firing,” cried O’Neil’s stentorian[222] voice, as he saw the torpedo-boat had slipped away from the discovering light.

The “Aquadores’” lights were flashed and groped about in despair for the lost vessel. The sailors stood terrified at their guns. O’Neil walked coolly along the deck, shaking men roughly to wake them out of their stupor of fear—some had fallen to praying on their knees.

“When we pick her up you’ll need all your prayers,” he cried, “if you don’t shoot.”

Phil felt he was nearer a panic than he had ever been; he walked up and down, his eyes following one struggling beam and then the other; he almost resolved to go up to a search-light himself. Captain Garcia during the moments of uncertainty had turned his vessel toward the harbor’s entrance. He would brave the fire of the forts if that could prevent his prize from escaping. He was ready to sacrifice his ship in this last attempt.

Suddenly through the black night Phil saw a darker shade on the surface of the water. It seemed but a stone’s throw away. His voice was paralyzed. He tried to speak but it was impossible. His lips gave out unintelligible[223] sounds. Grasping Captain Garcia’s arm, he pointed a trembling finger at the dread object.

“Port quarter, quick, your search-lights,” shouted the captain.

The lights, before uncertain, now swung obediently to the assigned direction, and in the bright glare, the torpedo-boat flashed in sight heading bows on to the luckless cruiser.

“Don’t look. Shoot,” cried O’Neil to the gunners fascinated, terrified; while he and Sydney stormed among them.

It seemed ages before the tension was relieved by the discharges of their own guns.

The torpedo-boat was so close that the range finder could not get her distance. She could not be over five hundred yards away and coming on with terrific speed. Even now a Whitehead torpedo might be speeding below the inky water on its mission of destruction.



The next few moments were ones long to be remembered. The daring torpedo-boat was making a desperate attempt to sink the “Aquadores,” which stood between herself and safety. Her small dark hull stood out as bright as day under the search-light beams. Hundred pound missiles from her huge enemy were churning the water to foam about her; one lucky hit and she would be no more.

With heart beating tumultuously and breath abated, Phil saw a group of sailors at her forward torpedo-tube. Spellbound, fascinated as one who gazes into the green spark-like eyes of the cobra, he could not take his eyes from the ominous sight. The tube moved slowly around; those moving it were apparently careless of the thunderbolts striking so near them. Two of the men stepped back quickly, one remained at the tube. The[225] torpedo-boat was within short torpedo range of her enemy.

A flash of fire from her miniature bow; then a great geyser of water shot high in the air from under her forefoot. At last a shell had reached her. Her bow sank as she drove forward, until she was half submerged. Then, all in a moment it seemed, her stern lifted in the air, and the last of the rebel navy took a graceful dive to the bottom of the ocean.

The incident came so suddenly that but few on board the “Aquadores” could grasp the meaning of what had happened. The search-lights showed a seething sea where the enemy had but a second before been visible. The gunners of the “Aquadores” could see nothing through the sights; the discharges ceased suddenly. The crew gazed about them in fear that some new and more dangerous peril was at hand.

“It was her torpedo,” Phil cried in joyful relief. “She fired it, and as it struck the water a six-inch shell must have hit the high explosive head. It’s all over.”

“Cease firing,” cried O’Neil as he saw some of the gunners were about to reopen[226] fire. Phil’s words had been in English and had conveyed no intelligence to the anxious sailors. “She’s gone to the bottom, now.”

Captain Garcia stood overcome with conflicting emotions. After his first wild joy had died away his thoughts dwelt upon the fate of the brave men who had a moment before with splendid courage aimed a deadly blow at his vessel.

The “Aquadores” was brought to rest amid the whirling eddies, the aftermath of the explosion of hundreds of pounds of gun-cotton; but there was not a living shape on the surface of the sea: all had perished gallantly and their torpedo-boat had furnished their bodies a fitting sepulchre.

Four days brought the cruiser in sight of La Boca. To the three Americans on her bridge, straining to catch the first glimpse of their ship, it seemed an age since the day on which they had set out so cheerfully to seek information within the rebel lines. The experiences of the past ten days were like a bad dream from which they were fast awakening.

Rounding the headland the harbor burst[227] into view with its fleet of vessels anchored therein.

“The whole battle-ship squadron is there,” exclaimed Phil in amazement. “What does it mean?”

There was no reply. Captain Garcia’s face showed that he too was surprised.

“There can be but one explanation,” he answered; “your government fears the intervention of some foreign power. That array of fighters would deter any open act.”

The “Aquadores” and the captured “Barcelo” steamed in between the sentinel forts at the entrance and then between the lines of the American war vessels.

Cheer after cheer arose from the mighty ships as the battle-scarred veterans steamed swiftly past.

The lads’ nerves tingled and Captain Garcia’s eyes filled with tears. He was touched beyond words at this enthusiastic greeting.

As soon as the “Aquadores” was anchored the Americans were ready to leave the ship on board which they had been through so many thrilling scenes.

[228]“I am sorry to part,” Captain Garcia declared with genuine grief. “You have all endeared yourselves to me in many ways.”

They expressed their thanks to the gallant captain and as they passed through the motley crew the men broke out in excited cheers for “los Americanos.” O’Neil was surrounded by an admiring crowd, all shouting enthusiastically; they hugged him and cried over him and would have forcibly detained him on board. O’Neil stood it like a stoic.

“Them dagos are like a lot of women at a wedding,” the boatswain’s mate declared disgustedly, when they had left the ship and were being rowed across the water to the “Connecticut.” “You’d thought I was the bride, the way they embraced me.”

“I am glad we can talk our own tongue once more,” remarked Phil. “It seems so long since I used it that I’ll be talking Spanish to everybody I meet; I have the habit.”

A steam launch flying the American flag passed close by the Americans in their boat flying the Verazala flag at the stern. An officer wearing the uniform of an ensign saluted promptly.

[229]“That’s the last salute we’ll get from an ensign for some years,” chuckled Sydney as they returned the salute. “Wouldn’t that fellow feel cheap if he knew we were only midshipmen.”

“I had quite forgotten how we are dressed,” Phil laughed, “but it was these or nothing.”

A few moments afterward, they climbed the high gangway ladder and passed through two lines of saluting sailors. The officer of the deck of the “Connecticut,” a lieutenant, stood civilly by to receive the foreign officers.

“Why, it’s Mr. Perry,” he gasped, wringing the lad’s hand gladly. “Whatever are you doing in those togs? We had given all three of you up for dead,” he added. “The admiral and Captain Taylor will be mighty glad to see you. We are flag-ship now.”

The lads descended to their room, while O’Neil was escorted forward by a worshiping crowd of shipmates.

The boys discarded their foreign uniforms and donning their simple midshipman’s clothes were ready to report their return to their commanding officer.

[230]In a few minutes they entered the cabin. Captain Taylor’s face was smiling with joy as he, almost embracing the midshipmen, introduced them to the commander-in-chief, Admiral Spotts. The boys were abashed in the presence of such an important personage.

“Gentlemen, this is indeed a happy moment,” Captain Taylor exclaimed. “Before the cruisers were sighted entering the harbor we were about to cable to the Navy Department the news of your deaths.”

“Our deaths, sir!” cried both lads aghast.

“Yes,” Captain Taylor explained. “We heard four days ago that the ‘Aquadores’ had been sunk with all on board. The leader of the rebellion, General Ruiz, gave out the news as received by cable from Rio Grande. We have tried to catch you by wireless but not receiving any answer to our call, we feared the news was authentic. He also issued an ultimatum that La Boca would be blockaded—Admiral Spotts with his squadron was ordered here from the West Indies and arrived but an hour ago.”

“‘Aquadores’ sunk!” exclaimed Phil. “Why should he give such information?”

[231]“What did happen? Tell us,” questioned the admiral eagerly.

“The ‘Aquadores’ sunk the ‘Soledad’ and torpedo-boat and captured the ‘Barcelo,’” Phil replied proudly, then he described all that had happened since they had left the “Connecticut.”

The two officers listened in silence at the lad’s story, told simply and modestly. He bestowed unstinted praise on his two companions, barely mentioning the important part that he himself had played, which brought from Sydney an unselfish protest.

“Mr. Perry, sir, was everything to us,” Sydney interrupted, his face flushed with joy at his companion’s praises for him.

When Phil had told of the part they had taken in the sea fights, the admiral could contain himself no longer; he felt his boyhood blood once more flowing through his veins; he had in his youth taken part in many a fight during the long Civil War.

“Our only excuse,” Phil ended contritely, “is that we acted in self-defense.”

The admiral chuckled gleefully.

“Self-defense,” he laughed. “You young[232] rascals, you did it for the love of fighting. Now own up to it! If you had done otherwise I’d have had you all court-martialed.” He lowered his voice. “You have done a great service to your country; when the news of the sinking of the ‘Aquadores’ reached Europe, three countries there acknowledged the rebels as belligerents, which gave General Ruiz the temerity to declare the blockade. If this is established our country’s commercial interests will suffer to the extent of many millions of dollars a day. My orders are if the rebel war-ships attempt to stop our merchantmen from entering or leaving this port to put an end to the blockade by force, and you see I have the force,” he added smiling. “But why did you not send us a wireless instead of keeping us in this suspense?”

“We couldn’t, sir,” Phil explained; “our wireless was totally wrecked in the first engagement.”

The lads were indeed happy. Instead of being punished for their acts, the admiral was praising them. They dared not look at each other; they feared they would shout out with excess of joy.

[233]“For the present of course everything must be kept secret,” the admiral cautioned, rising to depart, “but bear in mind, I shall not forget your valuable services.”

He nodded to the captain and smiled at the joyous lads; then passed into his own cabin, leaving the midshipmen alone with Captain Taylor.

Phil asked the question which had been trembling on his lips during all the time the admiral was talking:

“Where are the arms, sir?”

“They are safe in the legation,” the captain replied gladly; “you were grossly misinformed by that scoundrel Juarez. As soon as your cipher message was translated, I took Mr. Penfield with me and we went ashore to the legation. We saw Mr. Lazar and showed him your message. He took us immediately to the cellar of the minister’s residence and pointed out the boxes, all intact; he opened for us the box which you had half opened on the launch the night of the capture; the arms were in plain view. It was but a plot of the rebels to make you betray the arms to them.”

[234]“Where are the rebel lines?” Phil asked, unconvinced; “have they approached nearer to the city?”

“Yes,” Captain Taylor answered, “the two armies are now intrenched with but a scant one thousand yards between them. General Ruiz threatens to assault the city momentarily. We believed he was awaiting his war-ships to shell the government forces from inside the harbor; but your story disproves that conjecture unless he himself has been misled.”

The lads soon left the cabin and went into their own mess room. Their return was hailed with enthusiasm, but neither had ears for praise; there was still work in hand.

“What do you think, Syd,” asked Phil, on reaching the quiet of their room, “are the arms in the legation?”

“The captain says he saw them,” replied Sydney thoughtfully. “How could he be mistaken?”

“It surely seems very strange,” declared the other, “why both Juarez and General Ruiz should tell us they were not in the legation but safe in the city ready to be brought into the rebel lines. Ruiz thought[235] himself safe in telling us this for he had no idea we could escape. It was purely providential that the ‘Aquadores’ came along. Even if he hadn’t shot us, he surely would have kept us close prisoners. We knew too much to be set free.”

The next morning the lads went to see Captain Taylor. They had thought the matter over during the evening and had lain awake thinking about it a good part of the night; they were no nearer a solution of the vexing problem.

Captain Taylor received them with his usual kindness.

“Captain,” Phil commenced as spokesman, “please do not believe us incredulous always, but the idea that the guns are elsewhere than in the legation has taken such a hold on us that we have come to ask you to take us to the legation with you this morning.”

Captain Taylor looked puzzled. He realized the lads were in deadly earnest.

“Bless me!” he exclaimed. “If it will ease your minds, of course I shall take you.”

He ordered his boat and the boys found themselves shortly climbing Legation Hill on[236] the way to the residence of the American minister.

“I feel sure,” spoke Captain Taylor while they climbed the steep streets, “that your doubts will soon be set at rest. Mr. Lazar is a careful officer; he has shown me how he has placed his guards and it seems impossible that the arms could be taken without detection. The guns, I explained before, are in the cellar. There is but one exit, a stairway leading up to the ground floor. At the top of the stairs is a door and there two sentinels are posted night and day. Machinist’s Mate Craig, the man who was wounded in your expedition, sleeps on a cot in the cellar within reach of the boxes. So you see how well they have been guarded? The full force of the guard are encamped on the grounds of the legation and are ready for instant call.”

Phil and Sydney exchanged knowing glances. Craig—Lazar’s tool! The arms were surely not in the legation!

Lazar met them at the gate and saluted the captain. He bowed to the lads in mock courtesy.

[237]“I am delighted,” he said, “to see you are safe.” He did not offer his hand. He doubtless knew it would be ignored by the midshipmen.

“Mr. Lazar,” Captain Taylor began merrily, “Mr. Perry and Mr. Monroe wish to be convinced that we still hold the guns securely, so I have brought them to feast their eyes on their captured arms.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” replied Lazar smartly, leading the way into the legation.

The boys were welcomed by both Marshall and Morrison, who would have plied them with many anxious questions, but the lads were too impatient to see the boxes in the cellar of the legation.

The minister received the captain cordially. The latter explained his mission.

“When you have had a look below there,” the minister said, “I would like to see you in the office. I have news that may interest you.”

Reaching the cellar the lads saw Craig, looking pale and haggard, standing beside the boxes. He gave them a quick glance in which Phil thought he read terror. He had[238] seen that same look on many human faces in the last few weeks.

Lazar picked up a hatchet and bared the contents of a box.

The lads peered in. There were the Colt guns: two barrels, two tripods and the accessory boxes.

Phil glanced up and caught Lazar’s eye. The latter smiled confidently.

“Are you satisfied?” he asked, a sneer in his voice.

Phil reached for the hatchet, but Lazar ignored the motion and stepping away stood beside Captain Taylor.

“That man of yours, Lazar,” said the latter in a low voice, “should not be made to sleep in this damp hole any longer. He seems to show the effects greatly. I believe I shall order him back to the ship. You can pick out another reliable man to take his place and change them often.”

“I shall relieve him immediately, sir, but, with your permission, I would like to retain him with me. He is a valuable man to me.”

“Have it your own way,” the captain[239] agreed, “but don’t let him sleep there any longer; he appears a sick man.”

Phil watched Captain Taylor and Lazar move slowly up the steps. The former threw an inquiring glance over his shoulder at the lads standing determinedly in the cellar. The officers disappeared and the midshipmen heard their footsteps enter the minister’s office above.

Phil turned a glance full of pity on Craig. The sailorman shook as if with ague.

“Are you ill?” asked Phil in sympathy.

“Yes, sir. I don’t want to stay here any longer,” the miserable man pleaded. “Can’t you, sir, get me back on board ship?”

Phil noticed the unhealthy pallor on the man’s cheeks.

“Have you a cough?” he asked.

“Only lately, sir, but it seems to get worse,” he answered.

Sydney had been rummaging about in the cellar; he now appeared with a piece of bar steel pointed on the end.

“Let’s open another box, Phil,” he suggested.

After a few minutes the cover of a box was[240] pried open. The lads gave a gasp of surprise. It contained only rocks. Another and another lid was forced, until the last box was opened to the light. Not one contained arms but were piled to the top with rocks; only the one examined by Lazar held arms.

Craig was stupefied with terror.

“If you wish to save yourself,” Phil whispered, turning upon the frightened sailor, “tell us where the guns have been taken. We know you have been forced to do this work.”

The man’s knees shook and his voice failed him.

“He’ll kill me if I tell,” he whined pitifully.

“No, he won’t,” Phil hastily assured him. “We shall tell him nothing. We promise.”

“They were taken through this underground passageway to the next house,” Craig replied in a terrified whisper, showing the cleverly concealed opening to a secret tunnel underneath the cellar floor; “they are now in Mr. Juarez’s house at La Mesa. I overheard the order given to hide them there.”

The lads had discovered quite enough.[241] They ascended the steps and walked excitedly to the minister’s office.


Captain Taylor at once noticed the agitation on their faces.

“What’s the matter?” he inquired in alarm.

“Please come with us, sir,” Phil begged in as calm a voice as he could muster.

The captain and Lazar followed the midshipmen back to the cellar.

A cry of surprise escaped from Captain Taylor when he saw the contents of the remaining boxes.

Lazar’s face was a study. A cynical smile curled his mouth. His manner was calm. He held himself perfectly under control.

“I fear the rebels were too cunning for you, Mr. Perry,” he said casting a look, full of hatred, at the midshipman. “You thought you had arms, but you seized only a cargo of rocks.”

“But the one box,” exclaimed Captain Taylor.

“Only a clever ruse, I presume,” Lazar explained promptly; “that one was placed on the launch in just such a manner as a card[242] trickster forces on you a card from his pack. It was the logical one to open. The remaining arms are probably by now in the hands of the insurgents.”

Both lads gasped at the scoundrel’s deceit, and hot words came in their thoughts, but their promise to Craig held them unspoken.



Captain Taylor was quite satisfied upon hearing Lazar’s ready explanation. The thought that the latter was aught but the honorable, efficient officer that he appeared never entered his generous mind. He gazed at the lads with compassion on his kindly face.

“It must be a great disappointment,” he said to the silent, stunned lads. “You have worked so hard and then to be hoodwinked by the villainous cunning of the vice-consul must indeed be hard. But never mind, his just retribution will overtake him if the government is successful.”

In silence they ascended the stairs and entered the minister’s office. That official had just received news that seemed to put him in an excited state of mind.

“Captain, I was just about to tell you when you so hastily left me a moment ago,” he began[244] rapidly, “that I have received reliable information that General Ruiz at last is going to make a determined assault on the city. My informant says the force of the attacking army will be concentrated on Tortuga Hill; it is a high, round-top hill to the right of the city. This appears to be the key to the situation and is now well fortified. I want your advice as to whether I shall give the information to the president in order that his general may be prepared to defend that position.”

“Most certainly,” Captain Taylor replied at once, showing in his calm face a spark of excitement. “The admiral’s orders are, you know, to uphold the government; we have thrown our fortune into the scale against the rebels. When will the assault take place?”

“That my informant does not know,” answered the minister, “but he believes it will be very soon, perhaps to-day or to-morrow.”

“From whom does this information come, sir?” hazarded Phil, bluntly. His interest was so intense that he quite forgot his teaching that midshipmen should stay in the background of their seniors’ affairs.

The minister looked surprisedly at him;[245] then his face beamed with pleasure as he recognized the lad.

“Mr. Perry, your work and that of your companions has awakened our admiration,” he exclaimed, shaking the boy’s hand. “I trust you will not again prove that my information is wrong;” he smiled ruefully; “the man who brings me this is a member of a rich and powerful business firm. He has too much at stake to afford to see the city given over to the lawless army of General Ruiz and yet he dares not take his information to the government for fear of the rebel sympathizers within the city; so he has brought it to me and begged me to see that it was received at once at the president’s palace.”

The explanation sounded plausible; yet there was a flaw. Could this man be a member of the firm of La Fitte and Company? Did the minister suspect that Juarez had been hand and glove with this firm? Phil thought he saw the trick; if the arms were on La Mesa then there would be the assault. General Ruiz, or more likely Juarez, had sent this information in order that the greater part[246] of the government force would be removed to Tortuga Hill and away from the real objective.

“Then I shall send the despatch immediately,” the minister added, addressing Captain Taylor. “Will you notify Admiral Spotts as to what I have done?”

Phil was strongly tempted to stop the despatch by telling of the arms, when he remembered he could not do this without bringing to a crisis his enmity with Lazar; but of the latter’s evil deeds he had no proofs.

Shortly the captain, Sydney and Phil left the legation and walked toward the landing-pier to take their boat back to the ship.

After their arrival on board, the boys got the chart of La Boca from the navigator and studied the surroundings.

“Here is La Mesa,” Phil exclaimed, pointing with his finger, “and here is Tortuga Hill. Nowhere near each other. Do you see the ruse, Syd? La Mesa will be the main point of attack, for if they can take that hill they will have the machine guns. Then with these guns mounted they can command the city from behind and where the cruiser’s[247] guns can do but little damage; while Tortuga Hill is near enough to the sea for the ‘Aquadores’ to shell the rebels out if they were fortunate enough to capture it.”

“What can we do?” pondered Sydney, agreeing with his chum on every point.

“It’s surely puzzling,” rejoined he; “we might have stopped the message, but we should have found ourselves very much involved by so doing and I fear if we made our charges against Lazar without being able to furnish sufficient evidence, we would be in a difficult position with both admiral and captain, and besides would break our promise to Craig.”

A few hours later they and their faithful boatswain’s mate, having received the necessary permission, were once more ashore. This time they were in uniform, with heavy Colt revolvers in their holsters. They trudged up the hill back of the town, known to the natives as La Mesa.

O’Neil had been informed about the stolen arms, and his keen judgment had suggested an immediate and personal investigation of the locality.

[248]The hill was steep but not high and but sparsely inhabited. At the top they knew was the residence of Juarez.

On reaching the summit they gazed about them. Further inland away from the city was a second hill higher than La Mesa; in fact La Mesa was not a hill but a flat spur of the hill in front. On top of the latter they could see a battery of loyal artillery. To their right and left the lines of the defenders were in sight, each prominent point well supplied with men and guns. Far away to their left rose Tortuga Hill, and trailing up its steep slope were visible small objects which the lads knew were reënforcements.

“The reserves,” Phil exclaimed pointing to the turtle shaped hill; “the minister’s message has arrived and is being acted upon.”

O’Neil had left the lads deep in the study of the strategic positions of the defense and was bent on investigating the houses on the table-like hill. He entered the garden of a prosperous looking building and strolled slowly toward the house; knocking loudly on the door, he waited, listening for footsteps within. He heard a sound of some one moving[249] about and then a hurried whispering. A few moments and the door was opened slowly; a man’s face peered through the narrow slit.

“What do you want?” the man asked gruffly in Spanish.

“Does Señor Juarez live here?” O’Neil asked in the same tongue.

The man’s face blanched and he would have closed the door, but the sailor’s heavily booted shoe had wedged it open.

“Not so fast,” he added sternly; “answer my question.”

The man stared, an angry scowl on his face.

“He is not here,” he snarled.

“I asked you if he lived here,” O’Neil corrected, wedging the door further open with the powerful force of his body, “not if he was here.”

The sound of whispering from behind the door caused his hand to go quickly to his revolver holster. The door suddenly swung open and the sailor found himself inside in inky darkness. The door had closed with a snap behind him.

He held his revolver in his hand, his finger on the trigger, his ears straining to locate an enemy.

[250]He heard a noise behind him and swinging around fired directly toward the sound. The flash of his pistol lit up the dark hall for the fraction of a second, but before he could seek a protecting wall he was struck heavily from behind and his senses left him.

“A shot, did you hear it?” cried Sydney swinging about in the direction of the cluster of buildings. “Why, where’s O’Neil?” he added in alarm, noting that the sailor was nowhere in sight.

With an apprehension of coming evil they walked hastily toward the building from which they had heard the report of fire-arms.

Phil uttered a cry of dismay and ran up the steps of the large house.

“O’Neil’s hat,” he cried, a terrible dread in his voice. “There’s been foul play here.”

“Juarez’s house,” said Sydney aghast, “and O’Neil is inside alone.”

They looked about for assistance. There was none nearer than the foot of the hill, where a company of infantry were encamped.

“What shall we do?” questioned Sydney in despair. “They may murder him; and if[251] we attempt to force an entrance they could dispatch us without fear of detection and we would do O’Neil no good.”

“Come,” cried Phil clutching his companion’s arm and dragging him away. “You go down to that camp and ask for aid. I shall stay here and keep guard. They undoubtedly thought he was alone, and if they haven’t already seen us we may surprise them.”

Sydney found the soldiers only too willing to aid them and he soon returned with a lieutenant and thirty men.

Phil quickly explained the situation. The lieutenant stationed his men about the house, surrounding it on all sides.

Phil and Sydney knocked heavily on the door; there was no answer. They tried to force it, but it was of stout material and doubly barred on the inside.

“A battering ram,” Sydney cried. The willing soldiers soon brought a huge log of wood and after a few minutes’ pounding the door flew inward in pieces.

With drawn revolvers and followed by a file of soldiers they entered the gloom of the house.

[252]The lads cast bewildered looks about them.

“Blood,” cried Phil aghast, pointing a trembling finger at a dark stain on the polished floor.

He raised his hand for silence; but there was no sound audible save the beating of their own hearts and the heavy breathing of the soldiers.

Each floor of the house was searched diligently, but no trace could be found of the missing sailor; the house was empty of human beings.

The boys were quite overwhelmed at the suddenness of the blow; O’Neil was perhaps done to death almost within sound of their voices.

“The men who have done this deed must yet be in the house,” Sydney exclaimed; “they could not have escaped without detection; there must be a secret chamber. We must hunt for it; we cannot give up.”

Despairingly the searchers moved about from room to room, tapping the wall and floor in a vain effort to discover the door they felt sure must be there concealed; their exertions were for naught.

[253]The lads finally came back to the telltale signs on the floor.

“Look there,” cried Phil excitedly, putting his finger on a large hole in the plastered wall. “We heard the shot; it was from O’Neil’s revolver, and there’s where it struck. If he fired at a man then that’s his blood there on the floor, not O’Neil’s; he never misses his aim; that bullet must have gone through a man’s chest; it’s just the right height.”

“Then we’ll catch them,” Sydney cried, a ring of hope in his voice, “for they can’t go far with a wounded man.”

Phil had dropped to his knees on the floor and examined the blood tracks carefully.

“Do you see?” he said to Sydney, close beside him, his voice low but excited, “the blood stops here. The wounded man stood here for a number of seconds, you can see that by the quantity of blood.”

He pounded the board with his bare fist; but it gave back a solid sound.

“Hit that board again,” cried Sydney, his eyes intent on the edge next the wall near him.

Phil struck the board a resounding blow.

[254]Its edge moved ever so slightly. Sydney grasped a bayonet from a soldier and entered its sharp point between the edge of the board and the wall.

In but a moment the board had been removed and the lads peered down into a black pit from which the damp smell of earth came up to their nostrils.

The silence was breathless. The first to enter might be killed instantly by the enemy cornered like rats in the dark hole.

“Light, quick,” whispered Phil to a wide-eyed soldier.

One was soon brought and lowered into the yawning chamber.

“It’s a cellar,” exclaimed Phil from his knees, his head peering beneath the level of the floor; “we must go down.”

Some of the soldiers brought a rope and knotted it; the dangling end led down to the earth floor of the cellar.

The boys with revolvers tightly grasped descended quickly, their hearts beating wildly, until their feet struck the earth twenty feet below them.

The light from above threw a glimmer[255] about the mouldy cavern. There was no one there.

“The guns,” Sydney whispered suddenly, clutching Phil’s arm and pointing to a corner of the cellar. There was a large pile of some objects covered carefully with canvas. A closer observation showed Sydney was right. The machine guns and many boxes of ammunition were stored under that large expanse of canvas.

The lieutenant and five of his men slid down on the rope, their rifles rattling menacingly; the other men remained at the top of the hole ready to haul the men up from below when necessary.

“The blood leads down that tunnel,” Phil cried in alarm. “Two men could stand off two dozen in that place—but we must attempt it. Come on, Syd.”

Carrying the light they cautiously advanced, the soldiers slowly bringing up the rear.

“A door,” Sydney whispered as the dim light of the lantern showed the tunnel ending in a heavy partition of wood.

Calling the soldiers forward, the party[256] flung themselves against the door, but it had doubtless been built for just such a purpose and withstood each successive attempt.

Some of the men went back for the battering ram while the lads examined the door closely.

“There is blood on the door,” Phil cried, showing the fresh red stains on his hand from contact with the door. “But where does it lead?”

“I believe it goes into the next house,” cried Sydney, “and they’ll get away from us. Tell the lieutenant to order his men to surround both houses on each side.”

The lieutenant, evidently not relishing this uncertain way of attack in a dark cellar with but a poor and inefficient lamp, agreed readily to go back himself to see that both houses were covered by his men.

It seemed an age to the anxious lads until the soldiers returned with the heavy log.

“All hands now,” cried Phil, he and Sydney laying willing hands on the ram. “Together; there she goes.”

The door shivered but stood firm. Again and again the log was launched against the heavy door.

[257]With sweat pouring from their bodies, their lungs choked with dust, they put forth their entire strength.

“It’s giving,” cried Phil, as the ram struck the door a powerful blow, and it gave way suddenly, throwing them face downward on the earth.

A flash of a pistol almost in their faces; a sharp report echoing deafeningly in the tunnel, and all was darkness.

The lads on their hands and knees crawled noiselessly to the side of the tunnel. The lamp had been upset and had plunged the tunnel into night. The soldiers’ stumbling footsteps as they retreated in a panic toward the exit came to their ears. They strained their eyes in the direction of the fallen door but could see nothing. They knew their enemies were near; the pistol flashed so close above their heads that their nostrils were stung with the pungent fumes of burnt powder.



The lads dared not move. Even their breathing might attract the attention of their enemies, ready to open fire at the first sound; their number they could but conjecture; O’Neil had not been overpowered by only one man, they felt sure.

Down on their hands and knees in darkness so intense that they could not see an inch before their eyes they waited, with bated breath, for they knew not what.

Suddenly a noise in front of them awakened their failing hopes. A faint glimmer of light, only enough to penetrate the inky veil of night, came through an opening beyond the fallen door. An excited whisper in Spanish caught their ears.

“The houses are surrounded by those miserable soldiers; they haven’t the courage to attack us themselves, but these meddling Americans fear nothing.”

[259]“They seem to fear something, judging by their hasty retreat just now in face of my revolver,” another voice replied in a louder tone. “We have cut the claws of one of them at least and if the Americans return down the tunnel they’ll find us prepared to give them a hot reception.”

Phil’s heart leaped to his throat; it was the voice of Colonel Juarez. How badly had O’Neil been injured? This man was quite capable of making away with him entirely if it would serve his ends.

“You must not stay here,” the first speaker declared; “you should go at once to General Ruiz’s lines and tell him how I am situated. He must attack immediately; if he delays the arms may fall into our enemy’s hands through the aid of these Americans.”

“How can I escape capture?” Juarez asked; “even if I could avoid the soldiers, I could not pass through the government lines without challenge; if it were night it might be possible, but by sunset the attack will have begun.”

“It is now but two o’clock,” urged the other, “and if I am captured here I shall be[260] killed. The president would have me shot immediately as a traitor.”

“You could readily explain your mission here,” replied Juarez’s voice, “you, who have been so loyal to the government cause.”

“It would be impossible,” said the first speaker, anxiously; “if the arms are found here and afterward the plan of battle shows that Ruiz massed his attacking column on this hill when I have informed the American minister that Tortuga Hill was the real objective, you see how black a case they would have against me. One small seed of suspicion sown at this time and I am lost.”

“But the president doesn’t know that you gave this information to the minister,” retorted Juarez.

“But,” said the other voice promptly, “the minister would be quick to clear himself by informing on me. The arms must not be taken. You must go at once.”

“So I must risk my life to save yours; is that it?” questioned Juarez bitterly.

“You are in my pay; why shouldn’t you take this risk? If I lose, the money for your work can never be paid.”

[261]There was silence for some minutes. Phil had almost made up his mind to crawl back down the tunnel, but he realized instantly that the noise they could not avoid making would draw their enemies’ fire and defeat his design of getting the soldiers to again enter the tunnel and charge room beyond.

His better course was to remain where he was. If they attacked they might injure their companion who was there with these two scheming villains.

The first speaker’s voice sounded again after the pause.

“I came here in my automobile. Can you run it?”

“Yes,” answered Juarez promptly.

“My chauffeur is awaiting me at the foot of La Mesa near Sanchez’s Villa,” continued the other. “If you could reach the car you could run the guards on the El Poso road. Just before you get to the outpost slow the machine as if you were stopping; then throw in the high gear and advance the spark to the limit. The soldiers will be too astonished to hit you even if they fire, and you will be in safety before they can fire more than one shot each.”

[262]“Where is Pedro?” asked Juarez. “You and he must remain here and guard the arms. As long as you fire down the tunnel the soldiers will be afraid to enter the cellar. The American midshipmen will urge them to return, but your shots will prevent their courage from returning into their yellow hearts. I am sick of these natives; they must be driven like sheep. The more I see of their valor the more I am convinced that the city is ours if we can gain and mount these machine guns.”

“Pedro and I shall remain here,” the other answered; “he is not badly wounded; it is but a flesh wound on the arm. He is now above in the other house watching the soldiers from one of the windows.”

“Help me with this American pig,” Juarez’s voice said cruelly. “I’ll put on his uniform, and if I am fortunate enough not to meet one of the Americans I can deceive the soldiers; they do not know me.”

The lads heard O’Neil’s unresisting body dragged about and knew that Juarez was divesting the sailor of his uniform.

“I’d like to finish him,” said Juarez savagely, but the other objected.

[263]“No, don’t waste your time on him, every second is precious; they may return any moment. He’s thoroughly stunned, and I can take care of him if he comes to.”

As the speaker’s voice was stilled, the lads heard footsteps. The faint light died into blackness. They were glad to know that O’Neil was not seriously hurt, but the thought that Juarez might escape and hasten the attack before the machine guns could be rescued stirred them to the highest pitch of anxiety. They listened intently, but could hear nothing save the beating of their own hearts. Undoubtedly Juarez had gone, but the other man was surely there on guard, and soon the man called Pedro would join him.

Phil dared not speak; he felt immediate action was needed. Suddenly an inspiration came to him. He slowly and cautiously moved his hand toward where he knew his companion must be, until it rested over Sydney’s fingers. Then pressing firmly as if his friend’s hand were a telegraph key, he signaled the one word in the naval code:


His companion understood and answered[264] by a steady pressure of the hand, then followed Phil slowly and painfully over the fallen door. They dared not breathe; they must now be within arm’s length of their enemy. Sydney’s hand touched Phil. The shock of his cold touch made the overwrought lad spring to his feet, pointing his revolver menacingly. A second and the situation was grasped. They were alone in the tunnel.

“We must get O’Neil and hurry. The men may return any moment and we must avoid a fight,” whispered Phil.

By the sound of the sailor’s breathing they located his prostrate body. They lifted him carefully and picked their way back over the fallen door. They reached the opening in the cellar, thankful at saving their shipmate from the hands of these men, who would have killed him without pity if it served their ends.

“Go up first, Syd,” commanded Phil. Sydney hesitated, casting an apprehensive glance down the dark tunnel. If the men came back they could see Phil by the light from the opening above.

[265]“Stand back,” Sydney urged, “until I am ready to help you up.”

Sydney ascended quickly. Phil made the rope fast around the body of the unconscious man, and Sydney slowly hauled O’Neil to safety.

Phil was alone in the blackness of the cellar. He strove against the fear of an unknown danger. It seemed an age before the rope was free and came swiftly back to him.

In but a moment they emerged from the house with their burden into the warm sunshine.

“Where are the soldiers?” questioned Sydney anxiously. They placed the unconscious sailor on the soft earth and looked quickly about them. There was not a soldier in sight.

“Some of Juarez’s work, you can be sure of that,” replied Phil uneasily. “He took a desperate risk impersonating O’Neil, and probably told the soldiers they were no longer needed, and the lieutenant was glad enough to get back to the security of his camp.”

“I wish we had a half a dozen of our own men,” Sydney declared; “we’d have those guns safely out of that cellar in a jiffy.”

[266]Phil dropped down on his knees beside the prostrate sailor.

“See,” he cried pointing to an ugly lump on his head, “they stunned him by a blow on the head. If we could get a doctor we’d soon have him back to his senses.”

Sydney had walked over to the brow of the hill and peered below at the soldiers’ camp. He rushed back and caught Phil’s arm.

“See, Phil, there he goes toward that group of trees. He will reach the automobile and once in it he can run the government lines. Ruiz will attack immediately and the guns will fall into his hands without a struggle. How can we stop him?”

Phil had been too engrossed with the injuries to O’Neil to think about the consequences of Juarez’s escape. The ominous meaning in his companion’s words brought him back with a start to their dangerous position.

Casting an anxious glance at the unfortunate sailor he started down the hill, then compassion for O’Neil made him return quickly to his side.

“We must not abandon him here,” he[267] cried. “Go, Syd, quick. You must get down there and prevent Juarez’s escape.”

Sydney needed no further urging and Phil saw him dart down the hill, but he also saw the white figure of Juarez hastening toward the waiting automobile.

Phil raised the stalwart form of O’Neil to his shoulder and carried him slowly down the hill. His burden was great, but he bore it easily; thanks to his athletic training. Sydney was now almost among the soldiers; he saw them turn toward the approaching midshipman, then go scurrying away after the figure in O’Neil’s uniform.

Phil put forth his young strength and redoubled his speed; a cry of despair escaped him. A dark shape darted out of the grove of trees and sped away along the road, leaving a thick cloud of dust behind it.

“The automobile. Shoot!” he yelled at the top of his lungs. Yet he knew his voice could not be heard by the pursuing soldiers. He fairly ran down the hill with the sailor’s body securely on his shoulders. The sharp crack of rifle shots came up to him from below. The firing spread along the lines of the[268] defending army, but the lad saw with bitterness that Juarez would not be stopped; the machine was running at top speed down the military road straight for the outpost at El Poso.

Reaching the camp Phil laid his burden on the soft grass. He was breathless with his great exertions of the last few minutes. His lungs seemed unable to get enough air.

The soldiers were returning from their futile chase after Juarez.

“Quick, a doctor,” Phil ordered, his voice betraying his great anxiety. La Mesa and the arms now would surely be captured, and Ruiz would take the city.

“A medico, señor?” questioned an officer, eying the prostrate figure on the grass. Phil caught him roughly by the arm.

“Are you a doctor?” he cried excitedly. “This man has been stunned by a blow in the head. Can you bring him to?”

“I have no time to attend to the wounded of the enemy,” the doctor replied, shaking him off.

“He is not an enemy,” Phil cried, tearing off the insurgent coat of Juarez from the[269] scantily clad sailor; “he is an American, one of my companions. We need his services badly,” the lad begged, throwing a glance up toward La Mesa.

“An American,” the doctor exclaimed in genuine surprise, bending at once over the senseless body. He then stood up and called for his assistants and together they carried him inside the hospital tent near by.

Phil, relieved of his charge, looked anxiously about for the lieutenant. He saw him returning with Sydney from their race after the automobile.

“Come quick, Syd, we want all these soldiers,” he shouted, turning back up the hill. The lieutenant waved his hand and gave rapid orders to his men.

Side by side the midshipmen raced back up the steep slope of La Mesa. Once at the top they stopped and waited impatiently for the soldiers.

“Have you told him of the machine guns?” Phil questioned his companion breathlessly.

Sydney nodded his head in the affirmative.

“Yes, he has orders to go immediately to[270] Tortuga Hill with his company, but he wished to see the arms first.”

They were soon in the house peering down into the dark cellar. The lads knew that at least two of their enemy were guarding the tunnel and would open fire at the first man who descended the rope.

Sydney would have pushed his companion aside but Phil anticipated him and grasping the rope firmly he slid down until his feet struck the earth floor.

A fusillade of shots came from the guarding enemy; he felt the rush of air from a bullet that grazed his cheek. He jumped backward hastily against the wall and glanced anxiously up at his companions. Sydney was descending rapidly and was soon by his side. Another volley came from down the tunnel.

“Come down,” Phil urged the hesitating soldiers; “don’t desert us, the arms are here, see!” He grasped a gun from under the canvas cover and dragged it out until the light from above disclosed its character to the wavering men above.

The enemy in the tunnel opened a rapid[271] fire; the soldiers ready to descend drew back in fear. In desperation Phil drew his revolver and faced squarely down the dark tunnel; six shots from his Colt rang out.

“We are coming, señor,” the lieutenant cried, forcing some of his men before him down the rope and following them quickly, while the lads silenced the fire of the enemy with their revolvers.

The soldiers once in the cellar opened fire with their rifles down the tunnel.

“The guns, now,” cried Phil; “two soldiers must keep up the fire,” he directed turning to the lieutenant.

The canvas cover was removed and a great store of ordnance material was revealed to the astonished eyes of the lieutenant and his men.

They needed no further urging, but with willing hands carried the machine guns from the end of the cellar to the hole in the floor above; the lads quickly knotted the rope about their steel barrels and thirty guns were soon safely landed on the floor of the hallway of the house. Then the ammunition, box after box, each containing six hundred[272] rounds, was brought out by the men and passed up to their companions above.

This task completed, the lads, ordering the soldiers up the rope, fired a few parting shots down the tunnel.

“We must watch for the other man,” Phil said, turning to Sydney as they emerged from the house. “We know now that he is the member of the firm of La Fitte and Company who has been financiering this revolution; and that it was he who confided the supposed plan of attack to our minister; if we can lay hands on him the end of the rebellion will be in sight.”

The astonishment on the soldiers’ faces upon seeing the machine guns which their ten companions had passed out to them from the house was almost ludicrous, but our lads could give no thought now to the drollness of the situation. Juarez had undoubtedly reached the rebel lines in safety; by now orders were being sent from Ruiz’s headquarters to attack immediately instead of waiting for sunset. The government, acting upon the information from the minister, given in good faith, had strengthened Tortuga[273] Hill to the disadvantage of all other points of the defense. La Mesa was almost deserted. Before the lads’ bewildered eyes a mounted aide rode at full gallop up to the battery on the hill above them, shouting hurried orders. They saw the battery limber up and charge down the slope, disappearing along the military road below them.

“Syd, you must intercept that horseman,” Phil cried pointing to the solitary figure but a scant five hundred yards from them. “He has ordered that battery away; he must be told the seriousness of abandoning this hill.”

Sydney bounded away in pursuit. The aide walked his horse down the slope, away from La Mesa, surveying the scene about him. He stopped and cast an enquiring glance at those on the hill. Catching sight of the approaching midshipman he wheeled about to meet him. A moment later he had dismounted at Phil’s side and with eyes full of astonishment saw the machine guns and the great store of ammunition.

Phil explained in a breath. The aide’s swarthy face betrayed his fear for the results of the expected assault.

[274]“You say the rebels will attack at once,” he cried after the lad had finished his story; “then this hill is lost. It will take an hour to get sufficient force here to hold it.”

“We can hold it ourselves, if these men will remain,” Phil declared stoutly. “But the lieutenant has orders to leave us.”

“I don’t understand,” exclaimed the aide incredulously; “how can you expect to hold this hill with but a company of soldiers? You have just said that General Ruiz will concentrate his entire force here to obtain these guns. We must retreat carrying these guns with us.”

He opened his mouth to give the order, but Phil raised his hand desperately to be heard.

“That would be unwise,” he cried earnestly. “My companion and I can mount these guns. We have ammunition here in abundance. These thirty guns can hold La Mesa against the rebel army.”

The aide’s face was a study. He knew nothing about machine guns; and like all ignorant men he believed the Americans were deceiving him.

Phil thought quickly. If they retreated[275] carrying the guns with them, the government forces would be reënforced by their addition but the rebel army was a match for them even with this powerful acquisition. If they could mount the guns and allow the rebel army to assault La Mesa in ignorance of what was awaiting them on the top, the rebel forces would receive a check which would be a terrible blow to their cause; the murderous stream of lead would strike terror to the simple unsuspecting hearts of their soldiers. If he could but show the aide how important it was to his cause to retain these men and hold the hill!

Motioning Sydney, Phil bent over a gun, raising it quickly to its tripod; adjusted the firing mechanism deftly and wiped off the heavy coating of preservative grease from its intricate working parts. Sydney was busy at a second gun. Phil stripped the cover from a box of ammunition. His heart beat joyfully. It was already loaded in the belts ready to be run through the automatic mechanism of the Colt gun’s breech. He held up a long string of cartridges closely laid within the “feed-tape.” He took the end[276] and with skilful fingers fed the first cartridge to the steel maw of the gun; a string of others trailed away along the tape to the box beneath the breech of the gun.

“This gun is ready for action,” he cried, turning anxiously to the surprised and delighted aide. “This is worth a whole company of soldiers and there are thirty more waiting to be made ready.”

“Stay with these guns,” the aide ordered as he precipitously dashed away. “I shall send reënforcements.”

The lads worked with trembling fingers. Their anxiety nearly stifled them. The attack might begin at any moment. They knew that their soldier allies could not be depended upon if the attack began before the guns were ready.

They had just raised the last gun to its tripod when the silence was disturbed by a sullen boom of warning from Tortuga Hill: the rebels were advancing.



Battery after battery within the government lines opened fire. The Americans could trace the points of defense by the red tongues of flame and the smoke from the heavy guns. The rattle of musketry spread along the line like a prairie fire, but its volume was greatest at Tortuga Hill. In a fever of excitement they saw the rebel columns advance from their protecting trenches; their heavy guns now took part in the battle and sent their shells over the heads of the advancing men against the waiting government soldiers.

“Divide your men,” Phil ordered the lieutenant; “four for each gun.”

They saw the machine guns placed in positions of vantage covering all directions from which the attack must come.

“Keep your fingers pressed on the triggers and the guns pointed at the enemy,” Phil instructed the anxious soldiers; “play the[278] stream of bullets as if it were a hose, but for your lives don’t shoot until I give the order.”

The soldiers gazed in enchanted wonder at the guns. They had never seen their like before. They imagined they were something almost supernatural. Had not the Americans said one gun was equal to a company of soldiers?

“Look, Syd,” cried Phil in admiration, pointing toward Tortuga Hill; the entire hillside seemed alive with flashes of fire from countless guns, but Phil’s finger pointed at a horseman riding full gallop up the slope, shells bursting all about his mount. “There is the aide, but before reënforcements can reach us the fight will be over. If the guns don’t jam we can hold the hill.”

“My fear is that our men will not stand the preliminary shelling,” returned Sydney; “all their guns are directed at Tortuga Hill now, but when they have made their feint, look out up here. We’ll have every gun against us.”

“Our intrenchments are safe enough if the men keep down in them,” Phil encouraged, as they finished mounting the last gun and[279] instructed its squad how to manipulate it, “but if a panic takes them, they will not listen to us. I wish we had O’Neil; his influence with these natives is next to marvelous.”

Everything was now ready; the soldiers had all been instructed how to fire and reload a second tape of six hundred fresh cartridges. All would go well if the soldiers’ courage could be depended upon to withstand the searching fire of artillery which the lads knew must soon commence.

The midshipmen viewed the appalling spectacle with nervous eyes. Regiment after regiment advanced from the cover of the trenches in extended order and pressed forward silently, the artillery behind them and on their flanks sending its heavily charged shells screeching over their heads to fall within the government lines.

“They are surely concentrating on Tortuga Hill,” Sydney exclaimed, hardly able to believe his eyes, as he saw masses of khaki clad men emerge from the dense foliage of the level country and sweep upward toward that almost impregnable position.

“They surely do not intend to assault that[280] hill,” Phil exclaimed; “their loss would be tremendous.” Then he rubbed his eyes, believing that he must have been dreaming. The first line of assault had vanished into the earth. “Why, where did the first line go?” he shouted excitedly, peering down at the remaining columns as they swept silently forward. In but a minute the last enemy had disappeared from sight on the level plain. It seemed like magic. The soldiers whispered nervously to each other.

“What can it mean?” Sydney gasped as they gazed in wonder at this remarkable illusion. “Look out,” he cried, as a shrapnel shell exploded over their heads, sending showers of bullets all about them.

The artillery fire of the enemy redoubled, and now every gun in the rebel army was concentrating on La Mesa; bursting shell and shrapnel were falling on every hand, and the few defenders of the hill were in momentary danger from their well aimed shooting.

“Keep down in the trenches,” the lads warned the excited soldiers. A number had already ventured out to satisfy their curiosity and were stretched in their death agony behind[281] the trench. The midshipmen paced up and down between their guns, apparently unconscious of the death-dealing missiles about them. Their one fear was that the men would break and run before this terrible bombardment was over.

Phil braved the storm of iron above his head and took a comprehensive look at the panorama before him. Something unusual was happening on Tortuga Hill; its fire lessened, and down the slope away from the enemy men streamed in countless numbers. Officers could be seen brandishing their swords and gesticulating wildly. Was it a retreat? Phil’s heart rose in his throat. A battery of field guns galloped wildly away down the hill; it reached the level country; the enemy saw its intention and opened upon it a scathing fire. Yet on it came heading directly for La Mesa.

The midshipmen cried out for joy and pointed out the nearing aid to their terrorized men.

“Steady your men,” Phil urged the lieutenant; “reënforcements are coming.”

A cry from Sydney at his side made his hopes sink.

[282]“There they come,” he gasped. “We can never stop them.”

As Phil took in the situation his blood seemed to freeze in his veins. From the woods in front of La Mesa a swarm of men broke cover and pressed forward on a run. While as if from the ground, midway between them and La Mesa, a seething fire of musketry swept over the handful of defenders.

“We have the whole rebel army against us now,” he whispered to Sydney, fearing his men might hear this terrifying intelligence. “It was a trench. They moved in it by the flank and are now in front of us. They must have known this on Tortuga Hill when we saw them hurry our reënforcements to us. If we can hold our men fifteen minutes longer we’ll win.”

The lad was right. The insurgents had, unobserved by the defending army, dug a deep trench during the night, half-way between the two lines. The greater part of the assaulting army had advanced on Tortuga Hill until they had reached the shelter of this ditch, and then had, protected from their enemy’s fire, moved by the flank until they were directly in front[283] of and but five hundred yards from the top of La Mesa. A withering fire came from the concealed men; bullets like hail sang about the Americans and their well-nigh demoralized men. The government batteries were directing a hot fire on the approaching masses; yet on they came determinedly. Phil knew that when the second column reached the trench thousands of soldiers would storm up the few hundred yards between them and their coveted prize, La Mesa. Would the machine guns have power to stem this irresistible host?

“How near will you let them come?” questioned Sydney eagerly.

Phil estimated the distance.

“If we fire as they leave the trench, they might return to it and continue their artillery to shell us out,” he answered quickly. “It would be wiser to let them gain half the distance before we let them know they have the guns against them. They must see the reënforcements coming to us from Tortuga Hill, but they now believe the hill will be theirs without a struggle before they can get here.”

The two midshipmen were at the highest[284] pitch of excitement. They realized that the fortunes of the government of Verazala depended upon this assault. The insurgents’ brilliant strategy won their admiration. With these Colt guns in their hands the city would be theirs inside of twenty-four hours. They knew that in these countries a victory often means a complete rout for the vanquished. Whole regiments have been known to turn about, if the battle is seen to be going against their side, and fight with the enemy against their former comrades.

The batteries within range of the assaulting columns opened a furious cannonade as they saw the great surge of humanity leave the newly made trench and charge boldly up the slopes of La Mesa. Tortuga Hill batteries opened a rapid fire, but the distance was too great, their shells were opening deep holes in the earth, but many yards short of the attacking enemy.

The lads saw with anxiety that their men were fighting desperately against the terror which told them to flee; the awful, terrifying horde of armed enemy were rushing[285] upon them with unnerving speed; they knew the custom of their countrymen: they gave “no quarter”; death approached them on three sides.

The midshipmen pleaded with the men to be calm; they even threatened them; but their courage was fast slipping away. The terrible sight of the thousands of their yelling merciless enemies was too much for their shaken nerves.

Then another sight brought a new fear to the hearts of the despairing boys; the men on the hill above them had abandoned their guns and were retreating. Down the spur of the hill they came. Their path led over part of the trench in which the midshipmen stood. The lads knew that this flood of fear would sweep their own men along with it as so much flotsam.

The time had arrived. Once the sound of the magic guns had been heard the engulfing tide might be turned.

“Open fire,” Phil shouted, his voice hoarse with emotion.

The furious barking of the guns, sending their leaden streams into the advancing[286] ranks brought back the waning courage of the defending company.

The assaulting columns hesitated in their mad rush for the hill. They saw their comrades mowed down by the score. Where was the easy victory their officers had told them would be theirs? A horrible fear of treachery came into their simple minds; they stopped. No power could urge them a step further; in another second they had broken and fled in an ungovernable panic back to their trenches for safety.

The men on La Mesa were wild with delight. The lust of blood had entered their souls. They became foolishly brave and leaped upon the top of their protecting trench, screaming malediction and defiance at their routed enemy.

“Get down,” the lads cried, grasping those near them and dragging them forcibly to shelter; but some had already paid the penalty of their childlike, reckless bravado. The enemy, once again secure in its trenches, had opened a heavy fire on La Mesa.

Phil knew that the insurgents would attack again. Ruiz would not be satisfied, even if[287] he sacrificed every man, until the hill was taken.

“Keep cool,” the lads urged the excited soldiers, moving among them and seeing that the guns were reloaded with a full supply of ammunition. “If you can hold them once more our reënforcements will be here.”

The rebels knew their time was short if they would take the hill; they saw the government reserves rapidly approaching to succor their comrades on La Mesa.

Phil felt a touch on his shoulder, and turning hastily, he looked into the revengeful face of Lazar.

“What do you mean by fighting here, wearing the uniform of the United States navy?” Lazar began peremptorily. “Come with me to the legation immediately, I command you!

“Do you hear?” he continued in a voice choking with wrath, as the lad showed no signs of obedience. “I order you to leave here and follow me. Both of you,” he added, pointing toward the oblivious Sydney, who was out of ear-shot at the far corner of the[288] intrenchment, gazing in awe at the battlefield in front of them.

Phil sought the reason why Lazar was there. It came to him suddenly; he saw it all; it was not an accidental meeting; his stained uniform showed he had ridden hard to reach La Mesa. Juarez must have sent the chauffeur to the legation with the news that he and Sydney were on La Mesa, and Lazar had arrived in the nick of time. If he obeyed Lazar’s order and deserted the soldiers while the enemy were about to make a desperate assault, he knew that they would break before the rebels got half-way to the top, and the Colt guns would be lost. They would see a new and terrible peril in being deserted by the Americans. He could not explain to them why he must leave them. He saw in their eyes already an awakening dread. The next assault would be desperate. It had been the surprise at the defense of La Mesa that had sent the enemy back to their trenches in a panic. Now they knew with what they had to deal, and the knowledge that but a handful of men held the hill would spur them on to redoubled energy.



“Mr. Perry, do you realize that you are deliberately disobeying my orders?” cried Lazar in exasperation. “I am your superior officer, in command of our forces on shore, and I again order you both to come with me.”

“Mr. Lazar, can’t you see the consequences of deserting these men?” Phil questioned, struggling to keep calm.

“I have no concern for them,” answered Lazar hotly. “You are wearing the United States uniform and you are acting unadvisedly. I order you to leave this hill at once!” He was white with anger as he read in Phil’s face determination to disobey.

“Do you refuse?” he cried hoarsely, his hand moving almost unconsciously to his revolver holster.

Excited cries from the soldiers made Phil turn an anxious glance toward the enemy. They were sweeping out of their trenches and charging again up the hill. To leave now could mean but failure to the government arms.

“I am sorry, sir, I must disobey your order,” he said determinedly.

[290]Lazar’s revolver was now out of its holster. His eyes blazed with anger and mortification.

“You defy me,” he roared, advancing menacingly, holding his revolver in his clenched hand.

Phil was so amazed that he could not find voice to answer. Then his indignation at the threatening attitude of his senior swept caution aside.

“I refuse to obey you,” he cried angrily. “I shall not leave until the rebels are repulsed.”

His body trembling with passion, Phil turned from the ensign toward the soldiers standing uncertainly watching the enemy’s approach.

“Hold on, sir, begging your pardon, sir, but that won’t do,” a familiar voice cried out behind him. Phil glanced about quickly. There was O’Neil, big and strong; he had seized Lazar’s arm as he spoke and was forcing his revolver back into its holster.

Lazar’s face was deadly white; he controlled himself with difficulty. The soldiers regarded the Americans anxiously, doubtlessly realizing that their own safety depended[291] upon the outcome of this clash of authority.

Lazar gave Phil a look full of hatred, then turned away and disappeared by the way he had come.

The lieutenant had heard enough to fear that the Americans might leave them. He turned to Phil and begged him to remain. The lad assured him that they would stand by the guns.

The soldiers were experiencing the same sensations that they had felt when their enemy had commenced the first attack. Soldiers of this stamp never become veterans.

O’Neil steadied them in his cheery voice.

“What are you scared about?” he cried loudly. “All you got to do is to put your black fingers on the triggers; the guns will do the rest. If you fire when you get the order the rebels will not stop running until they strike the next republic.”

“Commence firing,” Phil ordered. The Colt guns spit flame, sending countless messengers of death into the rebel ranks.

On came the rebel hosts. Their ranks broke sorely, but with determination born of[292] despair they closed in the gaps and charged onward.

The enemy’s artillery fire opened with redoubled energy. Shell and shrapnel burst with telling effect about the handful of men. The trenches could not protect them. One after another, the gun’s crews were depleted by bursting shrapnel. Yet the little guns spitefully ground out bullets from their heated muzzles into the unprotected mass of humanity now but a short distance from their goal.

The ominous sounds of jammed and overheated guns sent a thrill of dread through the hearts of the Americans. What they feared would happen was now taking place: the guns were thickly coated with a grease to preserve them in transit; there had been time to remove but a small part of it before the guns were fired; now this grease had become mixed with the residue of burnt powder and had formed a thick paste which clung to the delicately fitting parts of the mechanism, thus causing the guns to jam. Absolutely powerless to remedy this fatal defect, the lads stood, fear clutching at their hearts, hearing one gun[293] after another cease its fire. But a handful of guns remained in action. The horrified soldiers were deserting, running away from the avalanche sweeping upon them.

A few of the guns were still pumping a leaden stream into the ranks of the rebels, now but a hundred feet away, firing their rifles as they came to keep up their fleeting courage.

The Colt guns were stilled, the last soldier had deserted; the Americans were alone in the trench except for the dead and those too badly wounded to escape from the terrifying sound of the advancing army.

The silence of their enemy behind the intrenchments on La Mesa sent a thrill of terror through the advancing hundreds. Their dead and dying behind them told them only too plainly the power of these concealed guns. They imagined the silence was but a trick to draw them nearer, then hurl on them a stream of bullets that would mow them down like chaff before the reaper. Fifty yards from the top of the hill they stood still, their contorted faces white with a terrible fear. Phil saw Juarez rush ahead of his demoralized[294] men, urging them to advance. The glad rattle of a Colt gun rang in the lad’s ears. He saw O’Neil beside it; he had wiped out the hard obstructing substance. The gun again played its death-dealing stream on the doubting enemy. The rebels, impelled from behind, advanced slowly. Phil saw Juarez sink to the ground; the tide of soldiers streamed over his lifeless body; again they wavered, then came on more determinedly than ever. O’Neil’s gun jammed again with an ominous click. The enemy were now only a stone’s throw away from the trench; a few seconds more and they would be pouring over its top and butchering those who dared remain. Phil grasped his revolver, and leaned against the wall of earth behind him.



Down for your lives,” cried O’Neil, grasping the benumbed lads, and dragging them to the bottom of the trench.

A heavy fusillade of musketry from behind them, a stamping of many feet in their rear, then a swarm of humanity had pressed in close to the almost empty trench and were emptying the contents of their rifles at the surprised enemy but a rod away.

The lads were filled with joy; the reserves had arrived. Phil peered out between the loyal rifles around him at the startled, disappointed enemy; they had been sure of victory until this second and now, their ranks depleted by hundreds left on the naked field behind them, they had still opposed to them a formidable force of loyal soldiers, whose number they did not know. Their confidence had flown; this terrible hill had been a death trap, while[296] they had been assured of an easy and bloodless victory. For an instant they hesitated; then they turned and retreated, a scathing fire from the coveted trenches impelling them onward in their flight for safety.

The excitement among the government troops was intense. The three Americans were cheered to the echo by the wildly joyful soldiers.

A group of horsemen galloped up the hill; they approached the trenches amid welcoming cries from the men.

“Come, Syd, we can do no more here,” Phil cried breathlessly. “Let’s get away quickly.”

With O’Neil, they pressed their way through the jubilant natives, but had gone but a short distance when they were stopped by a horseman; he reined in his foaming steed, swung himself from his saddle and placed himself smilingly before them.

“Our president desires to meet our American allies,” he cried proudly.

Phil’s countenance fell. He had been hoping to avoid this meeting, yet he could not refuse; to do so would have the appearance of a slight to the chief magistrate of the country.

[297]He acknowledged the honor paid them with appropriate words, and then they followed the officer back toward the group of horsemen now halted in the rear of the trenches which the boys had just left.

“My good friends,” a familiar voice hailed in Spanish, and the next minute the lads were embraced by their warm friend, Captain Garcia.

“General Barras,” the latter cried, dragging the bashful Americans forward, “to these three American officers we owe our success at Rio Grande.”

The general’s face was wreathed in smiles. He was joyful at snatching victory from what had seemed to him but a few minutes before utter defeat. He grasped the hands of both lads and in his native tongue expressed his heartfelt obligations.

“Señors,” he said, “you have accomplished that which I was powerless to do. These machine guns I knew were leaving your country for my enemy, but I was powerless to find out the means by which they were to be landed; your marvelous work here to-day has saved my government from being overthrown and the lawless rebels raised to power. Your[298] defense of this hill with but a company of raw soldiers has won our highest praise.”

Captain Garcia’s face wore a puzzled look. He knew nothing of the defense of La Mesa.

“General Barras,” he exclaimed, “these gentlemen have shown themselves our staunch friends; they have risked their lives many times for our cause. I have told you but an unimportant part of their work for me on board the ‘Aquadores,’ and now they have saved the day for us here. Cannot we suitably reward them for their heroic services?”

“General Barras,” Phil finally managed to explain to the president of the republic, who had been directing the defense in person, “for my companions and myself, I thank you for the high compliments you and Captain Garcia are paying us, but we dare not allow the knowledge of our work to become common property. I crave your pardon if we appear ungrateful, but we ask that our services here and at Rio Grande be kept as secret as is possible.” He stopped, seeing the disappointment and surprise on the president’s face; then he continued hurriedly: “These machine guns arrived in La Boca in such a manner that we[299] felt ourselves in honor bound to see that they did no harm to your government; the small service we have been able to do for you has been made possible through our determination to prevent the guns from falling into the hands of your enemy. We have acted upon the dictates of our consciences, but we are in the naval service of the United States and our motives, if the circumstances were known, might be easily misconstrued to our ruin.”

The president, though disappointed at not being allowed to show his official appreciation for their invaluable services, readily promised secrecy, and after bidding them farewell they were allowed to continue on their way.

“Those are the two finest dagos I have ever seen,” exclaimed O’Neil, after they had gotten out of ear-shot.

The excitement of the last half hour had been so intense that the lads had quite forgotten to ask of O’Neil his experiences in the house of Juarez.

“How did you get into the house?” Phil questioned the sailor, while they walked rapidly toward the city.

[300]The boatswain’s mate told his experiences, quite ashamed of his conduct.

“I certainly acted like a landlubber,” he complained mournfully. “I walked right into the spider’s web with both eyes wide open, but seeing nothing. Think of my deserting you and letting you do all this work alone.”

Then it was O’Neil’s turn to ask questions, and the lads told him of their nerve-racking ordeal in the tunnel and of their difficulty in getting the soldiers to help them.

“I was on the right track then, after all,” cried O’Neil. “It was Juarez’s house, and he was at home. It wasn’t a very hospitable reception he gave me,” he added, putting his hand to his swollen head. “I fired at one of them in the darkness and that’s the last I remember until the little dago doctor tried to make me swallow some ill-tasting medicine. Then I broke away from him and ran up the hill just in time to see Mr. Lazar point his gun at you; his face was not encouraging, so I thought the gun was safer in its holster.”

“He wouldn’t have dared shoot you, Phil,” Sydney exclaimed, “would he?”

“He might have,” answered the lad thoughtfully;[301] “he saw that we must defeat his plans if we remained, and in the excitement after the assault had commenced, it could not have been laid at his door.”

The Americans were now in the city. They walked rapidly through the crowded streets; excited groups of natives had gathered and were discussing in loud tones the battle which they had just witnessed from afar. They had seen the assault and had expected to see their homes given over to pillage.

“Where are we going?” asked Sydney, as they pressed their way through the joyful natives.

“To the legation,” Phil explained. “I am going to put the minister on his guard against the villain who gave him the information which nearly lost the day for the government. Once the president of the republic, General Barras, hears of his treachery, his firm will cease to do business in La Boca.”

“The firm can be no other than La Fitte and Company,” declared Sydney, “the one that is striving to get the concessions away from the American syndicate; but this man surely cannot hope to succeed now; the rebels[302] have lost. With the Colt guns, properly handled, in addition to artillery and infantry, the city will now be impregnable.”

“Quite true,” agreed Phil, “but it is better to render this man harmless; he doubtless stands high in the confidence of General Barras. You heard the minister say that he did not wish his name connected with the information; that was of course an act of caution in case the rebels failed; but now I feel sure the minister will divulge his name.”

Reaching the legation they met Marshall, in charge in Lazar’s absence; his men ready under arms in case of need.

He greeted them in astonishment. The midshipmen for the first time appreciated what a sorry sight they presented; their white uniforms stained with mud and sprinkled with blood; while O’Neil’s burly figure was incased in a suit of khaki many sizes too small.

“Who won?” Marshall questioned anxiously. “We have been hearing the firing for the last two hours. The bullets have been whistling over us by the hundreds.”

“It’s all over,” Phil answered. “General[303] Ruiz was repulsed and General Barras holds his lines strongly.”

Marshall and his men were not at all pleased to hear the news. They had anticipated interesting work if the city were taken by the rebels and their longing for adventure had received a keen disappointment.

“All this work for nothing,” Marshal cried dejectedly. “We have been kept here ready for over two weeks, expecting any moment to have exciting times, and now there isn’t going to be anything.”

“Where’s the minister?” questioned Phil intent on his mission.

“Inside, in his office,” answered Marshall, leading the way into the legation.

The diplomat received them immediately, his manner anxious and excited.

“We can see nothing from this house,” he exclaimed, as the midshipmen entered the office, “and I have as yet heard no news of the battle. Mr. Lazar went out to the lines to observe, but as yet has not returned, and the firing has been stopped now for over a half hour.” Then his restless eyes were attracted[304] to the disheveled uniform of the lads before him. “You have been in the battle?” he questioned eagerly. “Tell me quickly, must I send to the admiral to land his men? Are the rebels advancing into the city?”

“We witnessed the fight,” Phil answered promptly; “your fears are groundless, sir. General Barras has repulsed the enemy at every point;” he stopped and looked at the minister, a mischievous smile on his face; “the main attack was on La Mesa.”

The minister gasped.

“And on Tortuga Hill, what of that?” he exclaimed in alarm.

“The attack there was a well devised feint that came near defeating the government,” Phil explained, and then he tersely described the battle, but said nothing of the part they had taken.

“Then I might have brought defeat on the government arms in giving the information I had received from Señor Mareno,” he cried aghast. “What does it mean?”

“It means,” returned Phil dramatically, “that Mr. Mareno is in league with the rebels.”

[305]“Impossible,” exclaimed the minister quickly. “His firm has too much at stake to cast their fortunes with such scoundrels.”

Phil was surprised that the minister could not see the villainy of Mareno; it was plain enough to him. Then he realized the minister did not possess the mass of incriminating evidence that they held against him. How could he show the true character of this man without betraying himself and his companions?

“What about the valuable concessions held by the American syndicate?” he asked, seeing a way to enlighten the minister. “Who has the power to give and take away this concession right?”

“The president of Verazala only,” replied he perplexedly.

“Very well, sir,” continued Phil; “if Ruiz was president to whom would he give the concession?”

“To those who offer him the largest price,” the minister answered readily, “and that has always been this American syndicate.”

“Yes, but suppose he should be heavily in debt financially to the firm of Señor Mareno,[306] besides being bound down by promises before he became president. What then?” questioned Phil.

“I remember now that La Fitte and Company have bid for the concession,” said the minister thoughtfully, “but their price was too small. It’s but a matter of money, you see.”

“Is Mr. Mareno of that firm?” asked Phil, though he knew he must be.

“Yes,” replied the minister, “he is the head and the largest stockholder.”

“Then that proves my case,” cried the lad. “La Fitte and Company desire the Pitch-Lake concession and also the new concession which American capital is endeavoring to obtain, to open up the rich mining country in the interior of the republic, which will include the right to build a railroad over the mountains and thereby open to the sea the large rubber, coffee and sugar industries now shut in by this impassable mountain range.”

“Remarkable,” exclaimed the minister, intensely excited. “Why should I not have thought of that? I believed it was but a meaningless revolution to change the party[307] in power. I had no thought that such black intrigue might be bound up in it. What villains these men are to sacrifice hundreds of lives for the sake of their own pockets.”

“It was by the merest accident that we unearthed the plot,” said Phil delighted at the success of his argument. “There are many of Ruiz’s sympathizers within the city who would have welcomed him with delight if he had been even partially successful to-day. Many of General Barras’ regiments were ready with but slight encouragement to join the rebels; all of this was done with Señor Mareno’s gold.”

“What treachery!” the minister cried angrily. “I shall write immediately to the president and give him the name of my informant.” Then he looked with admiration at the midshipmen. “You boys are a marvel to me; how did you ever find this out?”

Well pleased with the impression their disclosure had made on the minister, they withdrew from his presence without telling him further. They were glad he hadn’t required proofs; to have given them would have greatly embarrassed the lads, for they could[308] not tell the minister of the part they had taken in recapturing the arms; he might not agree to secrecy and this knowledge in the hands of the State Department in Washington might cause serious consequences.

O’Neil joined them at the door of the legation; he was now in a sailor uniform, borrowed from one of the men of the guard.

“Mr. Lazar is here,” he whispered, “with a Spaniard; they just came through the gate. There they are,” he added as the two men approached the house by the gravel walk and mounted the steps of the legation.

As Lazar passed them the lads saluted stiffly. He turned a glance full of hatred on them.

“Mr. Perry, wait here; I wish to see you,” he ordered sharply, then he and the visitor entered the minister’s office.

Phil stepped inside the house noiselessly and stopped breathlessly to listen. A sound of voices raised excitedly came from within the room. Phil quickly rejoined his companions.

“That was Mareno,” he exclaimed, “the owner of the automobile. I can never forget[309] his voice in the tunnel. He will try to undo our work with the minister.”

Inside of a minute Señor Mareno appeared; his swarthy face was pale, showing the mental strain he was enduring.

“You see, I too was deceived,” he was urging the minister, standing on the threshold of his office.

The latter’s answer was diplomatic:

“You can readily explain that to General Barras,” he answered. “My letter will show him that I did not misinform him intentionally.”

Señor Mareno thought deeply and was about to speak, but as he glanced up at the office door the minister had gone within. Then he turned and regarded the midshipmen blankly; a spark of recognition turned his face unconsciously a shade paler, then he strode away down the steps without a word.

A moment afterward Lazar confronted them.

“Mr. Perry,” he said coldly, “you have put your authority above mine. I order you and your companions to return to the ship[310] immediately. Your mutinous conduct on La Mesa shall not pass unnoticed.”

Phil’s blood boiled with anger. His hands twitched and he controlled himself with difficulty. He glanced at his companions, who regarded him inquiringly; he saw he must obey.

As they left the legation, they pondered deeply over their predicament. Lazar would report the occurrence on La Mesa. The admiral and Captain Taylor might in their hearts be glad the lads had acted as they had, but their high positions in the navy forbade their official countenance.

Lazar might not see fit to report aught but Phil’s disobedience; in time of urgent danger on foreign soil, he, as their senior officer ashore, had ordered them to leave La Mesa and Phil had deliberately refused for himself and companions.

The penalty in the “articles of war” under which naval courts adjudged their punishments was dismissal from the service.



How has he the face to report you for disobeying his order when he must realize that we have evidence enough against him to dismiss him from the service?” exclaimed Sydney as they were on their return.

“That’s what puzzles me, too,” declared Phil. “What can he gain by having me court-martialed? He can hardly expect me not to use all the weapons I have to fight him; though when you sum it up our proofs are not very strong: Juarez is dead, and Mareno, even if he knows the part Lazar played in the arms case, would not testify before a naval court.”

“But Craig’s evidence,” Sydney interrupted earnestly, “will prove that he deliberately betrayed his trust and gave up the arms. If this evidence can be placed before the court, Lazar’s reasons for ordering us from La Mesa will be clearly shown.”

[312]“Lazar can’t know that Craig has confessed to us,” Phil replied happily, “and he believes he’ll have everything his own way. If he knew that Craig had confided to us his secret of the stolen arms, he would not have reported me for the incident on La Mesa.”

“What hold has he over this man Craig?” Sydney questioned thoughtfully. “Would this influence be sufficient to seal his lips? Suppose he should deny telling us that the arms were stolen from the cellar of the legation?”

“Even if he should,” Phil answered decidedly, “your testimony that you heard him give the information would be taken by the court. He must tell the truth in the witness box; if not it will not be difficult to impugn his statements. However, you must see him as soon as possible and tell him if he will speak the truth we shall see that no harm comes to him. He fears Lazar, but if you can show him that we are powerful enough to protect him, unless I am much mistaken in the man, he will be glad to tell the truth.”

“I believe,” cried Sydney joyfully, “that Lazar has caught a tartar this time. What fun it will be to see his face when he hears[313] that Craig has told of his dishonest dealings with Juarez.”

Reaching the landing they took the first boat back to the “Connecticut” and reported their return to the officer of the deck.

“The captain wishes to see you at once,” that officer said, addressing Phil.

Phil went immediately down the cabin ladder and was ushered by the orderly into the presence of Captain Taylor.

A glance at his chief’s face told the anxious lad that Lazar had already made his report.

Mr. Penfield, who had been in conversation with the captain as the boy entered the cabin, excused himself quickly and left, casting a glance of sympathy at Phil as he passed him.

It seemed to the waiting youth that he must have been standing there a long time before Captain Taylor’s voice relieved the oppressive silence; its tone was not unkind, but it was strictly official.

“I have but this minute received Mr. Lazar’s report of the battle,” he spoke slowly, punctuating his words; “he tells of the rout of the rebels, which is good news indeed, but[314] he makes a serious charge against you, Mr. Perry.” Here the captain took in his hand a paper which he had doubtless been reading to the executive officer before Phil had appeared. “This is Mr. Lazar’s report; I shall read it to you: ‘It is my painful duty to report to you the following incidents which happened about 4 P. M. this afternoon,’” the captain read from the paper in his hand.

“‘By order of the minister I left the legation at 3:30 P. M. and rode out to the lines to view the battle which I believed was about to commence. Upon my arrival at the outskirts of the city the first assault was made, which I was too far away to witness distinctly, but I saw that the rebels were repulsed. From my position I sighted two figures in white on the top of the hill, La Mesa; these aroused my suspicions, believing they were foreigners helping the government arms. Upon closer investigation I was astounded to recognize in these figures Midshipmen Perry and Monroe, apparently in command of a detachment of Verazala infantry.

“‘Believing that they were committing an unwise act, I approached Mr. Perry and[315] ordered him to leave the hill at once and return with me to the legation.

“‘He refused to obey and defied my authority, turning his back upon me.

“‘By your order I was in supreme command over our men ashore and feel that I was within my authority in giving this order to Midshipman Perry.

“‘Such a serious breach of military discipline should not go unpunished, and for the good of the service I have to request that Midshipman Philip Perry be brought to trial by general court martial on charges growing out of this incident.’”

The captain ceased reading and laid the paper on the table.

Phil was alarmed at the serious sound of the charge against him; he felt he was hopelessly involved. Even if he could prove Lazar a traitor would not his own guilt be proven? According to military law an order must be obeyed without question. He tried to speak, but his throat was dry. Captain Taylor waited, his face full of compassion for the stunned boy.

“I shall not ask a statement from you now,[316] Mr. Perry,” the captain said finally. “I fear the charge is of such a serious character that the admiral will order a court at once.”

Phil left the cabin and with a heart full of bitterness sought his own room. Sydney read in his chum’s face the bad news.

“So he has already done his work,” he exclaimed, as Phil entered looking tired and worried; “but cheer up; you are in the right, and when the court has the true story, Lazar will find himself in a position that with all his cleverness he will have difficulty to explain.”

Phil smiled gratefully at his companion’s cheerful attempt to console him.

“Syd, you must defend me,” he said, throwing himself in his chair dejectedly. “It’s a very serious charge,” and then Phil quoted the letter of Lazar’s, almost word for word, so deeply had it made its impression on his mind.

Sydney agreed readily to act as Phil’s counsel.

“Our case,” he declared, “must be based on Lazar’s motives for ordering us from the hill. This we can prove through Craig. Never fear, Phil, you will be cleared.”

[317]“My last hope is in Craig,” answered Phil; “if he goes back on us, we are powerless. We can do nothing.”

“It’s a shame that such a scoundrel as Lazar can pose as such a paragon of virtue,” cried Sydney hotly, “while we know what a double dyed villain he is and have no means of proving it. As you say, we are alone dependent upon breaking down the testimony of his accomplice. If Lazar doesn’t know of Craig’s confession this may be easy, but if he does he will take great pains to teach Craig how to answer our questions.”

Phil’s already dejected expression turned to one of deeper disappointment as he pondered on the last words of his companion.

“What innocents we are!” he cried suddenly. “Lazar surely must know that we have discovered his intrigue, else how could we have found the hiding-place of the arms? If, as I suspect, Juarez sent him word we were in the house on La Mesa, then Lazar would reason that he had been found out and would know that our information must have come from Craig. And yet, knowing this, he reports me,” he added thoughtfully.

[318]“Syd,” he continued after a pause, “this man is no common villain. We have to deal with a very clever rogue. There is something more that we don’t know about; he is not going into this court martial blindly. If he can have me found guilty then he will be safe, because our testimony against him will be declared prejudiced and would not be admitted before a court.”

The two midshipmen were in a state of great excitement over their perplexing position, but their labors on this eventful day had so wearied them, that it was but a short time after they had “turned in” before they fell into a sound and peaceful sleep.

They awoke the following morning feeling greatly refreshed and better able to grapple with the problem.

All danger that the rebels would force an entrance into the city being over, the admiral ordered the legation guard back to the “Connecticut.”

Phil and Sydney were on deck when Lazar and his men returned.

“He isn’t there!” Phil gasped as he saw the last man come up the gangway ladder[319] and “fall in” in ranks on the quarter-deck. “I watched every man and Craig isn’t among them.”

“Perhaps there are others ashore, yet to come,” vouchsafed Sydney hopefully.

Lazar had reported to the officer of the deck and had then gone down the companionway to announce his return to the captain.

Marshall and Morrison remained on deck with the men awaiting Lazar’s return, before being dismissed to go to their quarters.

Phil and Sydney examined closely every one of the hundred bronzed faces of the legation guard. Craig was missing.

In a few minutes Lazar returned, and gave orders to “break ranks” and go forward; then he turned to his two assistants, and raising his voice for the benefit of Phil and Sydney, he said:

“Craig is a good riddance. I believed he was a trustworthy man, but I find he has betrayed my confidence. I have recommended to the captain that no effort be made to apprehend him.”

Lazar cast a glance of mingled triumph[320] and scorn at the discomfited midshipmen as he passed down the hatch to the deck below.

The boys were stupefied. This contingency had never occurred to them. So Craig had deserted!

“We can catch him, Phil,” Sydney cried, when the terrible significance of Lazar’s words forced themselves upon him; “steamers are infrequent, and if he remains in the country he can be apprehended by the government.”

“Lazar has doubtless arranged for that,” Phil answered brokenly; “he is too clever for us, Syd. We are children in his hands.”

“But we must capture him,” Sydney exclaimed, thoroughly aroused; “he is our only witness.”

O’Neil, showing no ill effects from his rough handling of the day before, was back at his ship’s work. He saw the boys standing disconsolately on the quarter-deck and crossed over to them.

“How are you, O’Neil?” Phil inquired solicitously as the sailor saluted them.

“Never better, sir,” he answered, “but you, sir, I’m sorry to hear of the trouble you are in; and that fellow Craig, that you were[321] counting so much on, has deserted. The men say he is too sick to go far and had been acting queer like all last evening. When the guard fell in to be marched on board this morning he was missing.”

“Too sick to go far?” questioned Phil eagerly.

“Yes, sir,” the sailor answered, “the men of the guard say he coughed all the time; they all believe he can’t live long.”

Phil turned to Sydney.

“Syd, Lazar will try to send him off by steamer. If he hasn’t gone already we may be able to catch him,” he cried hopefully. “Lazar has furnished him money and has recommended to the captain that no search be made for him.”

“There ain’t been no steamer sailing since last night,” declared O’Neil; “that steamer with the blue smoke-stack is the next one to leave; she’s flying the sailing flag now. Craig must be still in La Boca.”

“Syd,” Phil cried hurriedly, “I may be put under arrest now at any moment, but you and O’Neil will be free. It may be possible that we can outwit Lazar yet. You[322] must go ashore and find Craig. Promise him anything if he will return and speak the truth.”

“If he is in La Boca, trust O’Neil to find him,” declared the sailor stoutly.

Phil saw the captain’s orderly approaching. His heart felt like lead: here was his summons, he felt sure.

“Captain Taylor would like to see Mr. Perry,” the orderly announced as he reached Phil’s side.

The lad descended to the cabin with sinking hopes. He found the captain awaiting him, nervously pacing up and down his narrow cabin.

“Mr. Perry,” he said as he caught sight of the attentive midshipman, “I have a very painful duty to perform;” he held a paper in his outstretched hand; Phil took it in silence. “Those are the charges against you,” he continued slowly; “the admiral orders that you be tried by court martial.”

The lad’s eyes were full of tears of anger and mortification. He dared not speak. He feared he might say too much and prejudice himself with his captain.

[323]“You will send me your sword and consider yourself in close arrest.” The captain added, “The trial is set for to-morrow morning at eight o’clock.”

Then the captain dropped from his voice its official coldness and put his hand affectionately on the humiliated lad’s shoulder.

“Mr. Perry, you have been a great disappointment to me,” he said sadly. “Your work here has been all the more admirable because it can never receive official sanction. It must always be kept a secret from our government in Washington. Even our admiral, as powerful as he is, could not save you if your part in this war came to the official ears of the Navy Department. ‘The end justifies the means’ does not fit such a case. By your loyal and plucky work, you and your companions have saved our government from very complicating and perhaps dangerous diplomatic conflicts with foreign powers. You have also saved American merchants from great financial losses. But nevertheless,” he added after a short pause, “Mr. Lazar was well within his authority when he ordered you away from La Mesa;[324] and from my knowledge of that officer I believe he was acting according to his best judgment and for your own good. You should not have taken part in this fight at all, but it was far worse as you did it, openly, wearing the uniform of the United States.”

“Believe me, Captain Taylor,” cried Phil earnestly, “we were not on La Mesa for pure love of fighting; there was a good reason and I hope to be able to show soon that my act of disobedience was not as black as it looks.”

“I sincerely hope, Mr. Perry,” Captain Taylor replied kindly, “that you can explain this seemingly deliberate act of insubordination.”

Phil left the cabin in a happier frame of mind than he had entered. He was assured of Captain Taylor’s sympathy and his and his companion’s work had been appreciated. He saw how these high officers must regard their work on La Mesa, knowing nothing of the story of the Colt guns and Lazar’s part in their betrayal. If Craig could be found now all would be plain sailing. The court on hearing his testimony against Lazar would[325] surely acquit Phil of criminality in his disobedience.

He entered his room glad in the thought that with two such friends as Sydney and O’Neil, Craig would soon be found and brought aboard to give his evidence before the court.

But Sydney’s greeting sent the happiness out of his heart and put there a feeling of hopelessness beyond power of expression.

“Phil, that scoundrel has laid his wires cleverly,” he cried angrily. “O’Neil and I are, by the admiral’s order, restricted to the ship until the ‘Connecticut’ sails. Lazar is bound that Craig shall not be found.”



Phil felt his last hope had gone. Craig, their only witness, would make good his escape. There was nothing left for him but to face the court martial and be found guilty of one of the most serious offenses against military discipline.

“It’s perfectly hopeless, Syd,” he exclaimed dejectedly; “we can make no defense without this man.”

“Cannot Marshall be induced to hunt for him ashore?” questioned Sydney thoughtfully; “he is your friend and hasn’t any love for Lazar.”

“We might do that,” answered Phil readily. Then he shook his head on second thoughts; “it won’t help us. Lazar will find it out and see a means of keeping him aboardship too. He is a master schemer.”

A soft tap on their door sounded startlingly to the unstrung lads. They exchanged[327] glances, despair written on their faces. They had spoken in low tones, but they knew the ship was a sounding-board. Had they said anything that might be advantageous to their enemy?

Phil stepped to the curtain and drew it cautiously aside, half expecting to see the cynical face of Lazar.

“Why, O’Neil!” he cried gladly, “you gave us a scare. Come in.”

“What is it?” Phil added, seeing the look of determination in the sailor’s face.

“I’ve heard that ‘all hands’ are to be kept on board ship,” the sailor answered. “I heard Mr. Penfield talking to Mr. Lazar on the quarter-deck a minute ago. The admiral has given the order. Mr. Lazar has gone to the admiral himself to get permission to go ashore.”

“That’s his doing,” cried Sydney hotly. “But he’ll get the permission,” he added dejectedly.

“What I was going to say, sir,” O’Neil continued, “is, I have made my mind up to catch this fellow Craig, and I’ve come for that uniform I wore on the dago war-ship.”

[328]“I knew you couldn’t be downed, O’Neil,” Sydney exclaimed delightedly. “I have the three suits here. I was keeping them for souvenirs.”

Phil’s face during the time his companions were talking wore a look of quiet dignity. He now put his hand affectionately on the sailor’s shoulder.

“I can’t allow you to take this risk,” he said gently. “It’s my misfortune and I shall stand it.”

O’Neil interrupted him hurriedly.

“Mr. Perry, John O’Neil is always ready to obey you, but in this, sir, I know what is best. I want the clothes. I am too old a hand, sir, to get caught. You can trust me for that.”

Phil would have broken in, but O’Neil would be heard.

“I knew how you’d act about it, sir, but I need the uniform.”

Sydney dragged the uniform out from a locker and gave it to the sailor.

“Here you are,” he cried, “don’t listen to Mr. Perry. He seems to want to be convicted. I’ll go with you if you need me.”

[329]“No, sir,” O’Neil replied decidedly. “You are better here cheering up Mr. Perry, but before that court meets you’ll see me bringing Craig back, ready to give his evidence.”

“What’s your plan?” Sydney asked, following the sailor from the room.

“It’s this, sir,” he answered. “I am going to watch every vessel that leaves port, and if I find Craig, I’ll get him to come back with me, whether he wants to or not. Trust me, sir, if I clap eyes on him back he’ll come.”

“That’s a good idea,” Sydney agreed; “our last hope is in you, O’Neil,” he added, as he returned to join Phil.

“O’Neil seems confident that he can locate him, Phil,” Sydney said in a cheering voice as he reëntered their stateroom. “He only told me half of his plan,” he said to himself. “I believe he knows what he is doing.”

Phil was reading over the fatal paper given him by the captain. The wording of the charges against him seemed written in fire on his brain.

A moment later the captain’s orderly came for the midshipman’s sword. Phil gave it to him with a heart full of anguish.

[330]“Lieutenant Barnes is on deck, sir, and would like to see Mr. Perry,” the orderly said, a look of sympathy in his face. “I hope you ain’t guilty, sir,” he added hastily.

Phil almost smiled at the earnestness of the kind-hearted marine.

“Thank you, orderly,” he answered gratefully.

Lieutenant Barnes entered the boys’ stateroom shortly afterward. The lads stood quickly to attention.

“Mr. Perry, I am the judge advocate of your court,” the officer announced in official tones, holding himself very straight and regarding Phil coldly. “I see you have received a copy of the charges against you,” noticing the paper Phil held in his nervous hand. “Do you desire any one to act as your counsel?”

Phil’s throat was parched; he swallowed several times before he could find voice to speak.

“Midshipman Monroe, sir, has offered,” he replied.

“Very good,” the officer consented; “you will be ready at 8 A. M. to-morrow. Your[331] counsel will inform me at that time the witnesses you wish to call in your defense.” He bowed ceremoniously and withdrew.

“There’s not much kindness in him, is there, Syd?” Phil observed sadly. “He believes I am guilty, by the way he looked at me.”

“What are we to do?” Sydney exclaimed. “If O’Neil fails you must take the stand and tell all.”

“No, I shan’t do that,” Phil declared; “the court would not believe our estimate of Lazar. It would be easy for him to convince the court that he had acted honestly and that our charges were malicious. If Craig is not found I must take my punishment in silence.”

“But if O’Neil and I both testify to the truth of your story, Phil,” Sydney urged.

“Even then,” he replied. “Lazar could not be accused. The fact that Craig deserted would point to the latter’s guilt in allowing the guns to be taken from the legation and would prove Lazar’s innocence. Sydney, if Craig is not found I stand convicted.”

[332]The weary, anxious day dragged slowly by. The fateful morning dawned.

At the hour set, Phil and Sydney were ready to appear before the court.

Phil dreaded the ordeal. Far rather would he have faced a battery of Colt guns than go before those seven commissioned officers, accused as he was of a military crime.

With heart beating fast, and with pale, set face he took the chair next the judge advocate; Sydney sat beside him, a determined look in his eyes.

Phil raised his head and braved the eyes of the court.

The picture now before his eyes would never be forgotten. The officers were all strangers to him, selected from other ships than his own. At the head of the long table sat the president, a captain in the navy, commanding a battle-ship in the fleet; the other six officers were all above the rank of ensign.

Phil saw his sword brought in by the captain’s orderly and placed on the court table, its sheathed point directed at himself, the accused. He knew that this sword would be the silent tale bearer of the court’s[333] verdict. If after the trial was over the sword remained with its point toward him he had been adjudged guilty, but if upon entering to receive the judgment, the sword had been swung with its hilt toward him, then the court had found him not guilty.

The judge advocate arose, and in a clear voice read the admiral’s order assembling the court for the trial of Midshipman Perry.

The formalities of organization were soon over and the court was ready to try the accused on the charges.

As one in a dream Phil heard the detailed charges read. He knew them by heart, but now in the cold hard tones of Lieutenant Barnes they rang ominously.

“He, the said Midshipman Philip Perry, did maliciously and wilfully disobey the order of his superior officer Ensign Jules Lazar, who was then and there in the execution of his lawful duty, and further did treat his superior officer, the said Ensign Jules Lazar, with contempt, and was insubordinate to him by words and gestures; this to the prejudice of good order and military discipline.”

[334]The awful sound took his breath away. A voice was saying to him in his inner consciousness, “You are guilty, you are guilty.”

Yes, every word was only too true; he could deny nothing, but he must plead “not guilty,” in hopes that Craig would arrive in time to give his testimony.

There was a pause; the judge advocate cleared his throat. The court shifted their positions expectantly. Phil’s heart seemed almost ready to stop beating while the prosecutor’s voice sounded through the quiet room:

“You, Philip Perry, have heard the charges preferred against you. What say you: Guilty or not guilty?”

Phil mustered all his strength and in a clear voice answered:

“Not guilty.”

In a few moments Lazar entered the courtroom. He was calm and self-possessed. He walked up to the president promptly and took the oath; then he sat down carelessly in the witness chair, and turned upon Phil a cold scrutinizing gaze.

Lazar told his story to the hushed court.[335] Phil knew it was the truth, but not the whole truth which Lazar had sworn to tell.

The witness had finished; the judge advocate turned to Phil, questioningly.

“Do you wish to interrogate the witness?” he asked.

Phil shook his head and Lazar withdrew from the room, casting an incredulous look at the accused midshipman.

The judge advocate ceased his writing and looked up at the president of the court.

“Mr. President,” he announced slowly, “there is no other witness for the prosecution. Ensign Lazar’s testimony is not disputed; it proves every word of the charges against the accused.” He sat down in silence, then he glanced quickly at Sydney, sitting stunned by Phil’s side.

“The defense begins,” he added.

The two lads exchanged glances. O’Neil had not returned.

“Who is your first witness?” asked the judge advocate impatiently.

Sydney was about to speak; he would ask to be put in the witness chair; he could tell the true story to the court; surely they would[336] see it was the truth, but Phil’s quiet resigned voice cut short his intentions.

“I have no witnesses to call,” he said in a low voice.

The court was astounded; its members looked surprisedly at one another. The president arose to his feet.

“Mr. Perry,” he began, “do you understand the gravity of these charges? Can you make no defense? Can you give no reason, no excuse for your extraordinary conduct? Will you not make a statement to the court? Your record at the Naval Academy and here on the ‘Connecticut’ is too good to be so stained without some reason.”

The court showed their accord by nods of assent.

Phil turned to Sydney, a look of pain in his eyes.

“O’Neil has failed,” Sydney whispered; “he would come direct to the court if he were on board.”

Phil arose to his feet, his face pale and anxious. The court was silent, in breathless expectancy.

“I can offer no excuse, sir,” he said in a[337] voice suppressed with emotion. “I can only say that I acted according to my belief in what was my duty.” His face became suffused with embarrassment as he realized how odd his words must sound to these officers who knew nothing of the real circumstances; but he must gain time; perhaps even now O’Neil was returning with the missing witness. Once the trial was finished he would stand convicted and even Craig’s testimony could not change the decision of the court.

“My first duty was to remain where I was, and to do this it was necessary that I should disobey Mr. Lazar’s direct order. I can say no more,” he said finally, covered with confusion.

As Phil stopped and sat down, a hum of astonishment passed over the court. What did he mean? Had the strain unbalanced his mind? were the questions asked in glances of the eye by his judges sitting solemnly before him.

The judge advocate arose to his feet to make his closing address to the court.

“Gentlemen,” he commenced, “the accused by the evidence is proved guilty. It is my duty as prosecutor for the United States Navy[338] to point out that the offense of which he is charged is one of the most serious against military and naval discipline, and is punishable under the ‘articles of war’ by dismissal from the navy of the United States. The excuse offered by the accused is unintelligible and worthless.”

He sat down, his eyes riveted on the president of the court. The latter raised his hand; Phil knew that when it fell to the table the trial would be over and no more witnesses could be summoned. It was a dreadful moment for the accused midshipman. He knew he sat before his judges adjudged guilty of the military crime of which he was accused.

The president, with his hand still raised, hesitated; he seemed unwilling to make the trial a closed book. As he paused thus, there came a knock on the door of the cabin.



O’Neil after leaving the midshipman went to his room under the forecastle and hid away the bundle of clothes until nightfall, when he intended to leave the ship under the cover of darkness.

As soon as he was sure his movements could not be observed, he let himself over the bow of the battle-ship and silently dropped into the water; his foreign uniform he carried in a flat roll on his head. He was a strong swimmer, and in but a few minutes he was standing safely on the dock. The friendly darkness permitted him unobserved to discard his sailor clothes, and he soon stood completely disguised in the garb of a Verazala naval officer.

He started out briskly for the public landing, hired a shore boat and was soon alongside the “Aquadores.”

[340]The officer on duty greeted him as an old friend, and the boatswain’s mate was shortly in Captain Garcia’s presence.

O’Neil told his errand as soon as Captain Garcia would allow him time to speak; the Spaniard was enthusiastic in his reception of the American sailor.

“And, sir, I knew you would help me catch this man,” he added; “our young friend is to be tried by court martial, and if found guilty will be dismissed from the service.”

Captain Garcia showed the anxiety he felt for Phil’s predicament.

“I am always at the service of my American friends,” he declared immediately; “but how may I help you find this man?”

“He will go by steamer,” replied O’Neil, “and we must find out the one and drag him off before she sails. If I go alone I can’t do it, but you are known and they won’t dare stop us, if you are with me.”

“But may he not have sailed already?” questioned Captain Garcia anxiously.

“I have thought of that,” O’Neil answered decidedly; “he was at the legation late last[341] night, and there has been no steamer sailing since. I’ll stake anything that he is still in La Boca.”

Inside of two hours every vessel in the harbor had been visited by the two men, but they were doomed to disappointment. Craig was not on board any of them.

Bitterly disappointed they walked disconsolately through the brilliantly lighted streets of the town; the city was in gala dress, celebrating the victory won by the government arms. They passed many soldiers of both armies, arm in arm; their differences were forgotten already and they fraternized as if they had always been the best of friends.

O’Neil felt his mission had failed. To-morrow morning at eight o’clock the court would try the midshipman, and the missing witness was as far out of his grasp as ever. Where in this great city could he turn to search for him? Then his thoughts turned to Ensign Lazar; he had gone to the admiral to obtain permission to go ashore when he went to the midshipmen’s room. Where would he be in this thickly populated city?[342] O’Neil felt confident that if he could find him Craig would not be far away.

The two friends were passing a palatial residence on the Plaza. An automobile standing at the curb caught O’Neil’s eye, the chauffeur sitting erect and expectant in the front seat.

“Whose house is that?” he asked, suddenly turning to Captain Garcia.

“The house of one of our most loyal citizens, Señor Mareno,” he answered; “he is rich and powerful and stands high in the favor of General Barras. That is his automobile; he rides in it all the time; it has just been returned to him; it was stolen on the day of the assault by the rebels from one of his country villas.”

O’Neil stopped suddenly and gazed at the house. Mareno must be there; the automobile was awaiting him; its gasoline engine was puffing and ready to propel the heavy car over the streets of the city at a speed far greater than they could possibly follow.

Captain Garcia’s voice interrupted O’Neil’s cheerless thoughts.

“Our president,” he was saying, “for the[343] loyal work of Señor Mareno’s firm, La Fitte and Company, during the war, has promised to give the vast mining concession to it. In these times of rebellion loyalty is a rare jewel.”

“What did Mareno do?” asked O’Neil in genuine surprise.

“It was he that loaned the government the money to buy the ‘Aquadores,’” Captain Garcia answered proudly. “Our government had no credit and the company who built the cruiser would not allow her to leave their shipyard until every dollar of the money had been paid. The victory of the ‘Aquadores’ at Rio Grande made the rebel cause a failure, for if they had won and then had blockaded La Boca, the government must have fallen.”

O’Neil was puzzled; there was more intrigue that his friends the midshipmen had failed to discover. So Mareno had made himself secure with both sides.

“If it had not been for you and your companions,” continued Captain Garcia after a pause, “we could not have won. My crew, as you know, were green men and were almost mutinous. My officers were half-hearted[344] and my executive officer I feel sure was in the pay of the enemy. He resisted my authority from the day we left the United States and when we sailed from La Boca for Rio Grande, I found a means of leaving him behind.”

While Captain Garcia was speaking two men came hurriedly out of the house and got into the waiting machine.

“That’s Señor Mareno now,” exclaimed Captain Garcia. “I know him well. He owns most of the steamship lines, and can help us by ordering his agents to watch for this man when he buys his ticket. I shall speak to him at once,” and he drew away from O’Neil and stepped quickly to the side of the machine.

“Good-evening, Señor Mareno,” he said saluting him in military fashion. “May I detain you but a moment?”

Mareno turned a startled face toward the naval officer.

“What do you want?” he questioned impatiently.

O’Neil saw at a glance that the meeting was inopportune for the merchant. The[345] sailor edged nearer, his curiosity aroused. An electric street lamp above them threw their faces in shadow; but there was something familiar in the figure sitting beside Mareno in the automobile.

“Mr. Lazar,” he gasped beneath his breath; he reached out and took Captain Garcia by the arm, almost roughly, and wheeled him about. The next second the automobile had gone.

Captain Garcia turned on O’Neil, a world of surprise in his face.

“Why did you do that?” he exclaimed. “He surely could have helped us.”

The sailor looked about him hurriedly. So Lazar and Mareno were hiding Craig. If they would find him they must follow the automobile; but how?

“The man with him was Ensign Lazar,” O’Neil explained to the amazed captain. “If he recognizes me the game is up. How can we follow them?”

Captain Garcia was still more amazed at hearing this startling news. Why was Señor Mareno with Mr. Lazar? What part had Señor Mareno in the plot to convict his[346] young friend, Midshipman Perry? And was he a friend of the man who had sold the machine guns back to the rebels?

“Come,” he cried much aroused, “there’s an automobile standing on the next corner, but I fear we can’t catch them; Señor Mareno’s machine is the fastest in the city.”

As luck would have it they found a waiting machine, and jumping in Captain Garcia hurriedly gave the order.

“Mariel road, quick,” he cried to the chauffeur.

In a minute they were speeding through the streets and out on the lonely road to Mariel.

The quarry was not in sight; had they turned off on one of the many cross streets? This was surely the direction they had taken.

They sped along, O’Neil pressing money into the hands of the chauffeur to open wider his throttle.

“There they are,” O’Neil whispered triumphantly as a dark object came in sight ahead. The pursuers were gaining slowly.

The machine ahead was slowing, and O’Neil whispered to their chauffeur to go on by.[347] They passed Mareno and Lazar as they were alighting from the automobile and entering a large house by the roadside.

“Mareno’s country home,” whispered Captain Garcia as their machine whizzed past.

“Then here we’ll find Craig,” replied O’Neil confidently, as he directed the chauffeur to stop their machine.

Out of sight of the overtaken men they left their machine and went back on foot. Reaching the house they saw Mareno’s automobile had drawn up inside the yard and the chauffeur had already made himself comfortable for a nap.

“They are inside,” O’Neil whispered, “and will be there some time, from the looks of that man yonder,” pointing to the reclining figure. “We’ve got to get inside.”

Captain Garcia hesitated.

“This man Mareno is powerful,” he objected. “I dare not force an entrance into his house.”

They had approached the house from the rear. O’Neil pushed a door gently; it yielded and the next moment they found themselves in a small room.

[348]The room was unlighted, but the fire on the hearth illuminated obscurely their surroundings.

A native jumped up from a couch, rubbing his eyes; seeing the officers he doffed his hat respectfully.

“Whom do you wish to see, señors?” he asked.

“We are friends of Señor Mareno, who is up-stairs, is he not? We shall go up,” O’Neil answered quickly in a low voice.

The man seemed to hold no suspicions; he was glad to get back to his interrupted nap.

“Very well, señors,” he answered.

The two men cautiously walked up the narrow stairs. Reaching the next floor, they stopped, breathless, to listen.

A sound of voices came from a room in the front of the house.

Captain Garcia was worried. He did not relish his mission; there was too much at stake for him if Mareno discovered that they had forced an entrance into his house. In these countries it is but a step to a prison cell and another to the execution wall where many men are put to death daily during these[349] revolutions. He was anxious to retrace his steps, but O’Neil held him firmly by the arm.

The voices of Mareno and Lazar sounded distinctly; they were talking in loud natural tones, so sure were they that they were alone in this lonely house.

“I have changed the letter, Señor Mareno,” Lazar was saying; “here it is: as it reads now your name does not appear and Midshipman Perry’s name has been substituted. But you must make sure that the minister and the president never meet, for they might discover the change in the letter.”

“I have arranged that,” answered Mareno. “As soon as the fleet leaves, which will be to-morrow, the president will telegraph to Washington for the minister’s recall, giving the reason that he is unsatisfactory to the government.”

“Good,” Lazar’s voice replied; “then you have nothing to fear, unless General Ruiz might tell of your share in the rebellion.”

“Ah,” Mareno’s voice had a glad ring, “he knows nothing. Juarez alone knew of my support, and he is dead; he was the agent in all my transactions.”

[350]“Very well; I shall deliver this letter in person at the palace this evening,” Lazar said, “and then we must put this man on board the steamer. I don’t believe he will live to reach Mexico.”

Captain Garcia knew nothing of the letter, but from the trend of the conversation between the two conspirators he saw that the much trusted Mareno had done something which Lazar was endeavoring to cover up for him. He dared not ask O’Neil; even a whisper might be heard.

“What is the name of the steamer?” Lazar added. “It is now after midnight. At what time will she sail?”

“It is the ‘Mercedes’; one of our own ships,” Mareno answered; “she is scheduled to sail at daylight and her first port will be Vera Cruz, Mexico; her captain need know nothing except that the sick man is to be landed there.”

“Can’t she sail as soon as we get this man on board?” Lazar asked eagerly. “I shall[351] breathe freer when he is on the high seas. My enemies have resources and the sooner we get this man away the less danger there is for me. The court meets at eight o’clock, and without this witness my friend Midshipman Perry must be convicted.”


“That can be easily arranged,” Mareno agreed at once. “She has already cleared the custom-house and can sail whenever I give the word.”

O’Neil glanced at Captain Garcia’s face. The light through the transom of the room in which the conspirators were shone dimly on his strong face. O’Neil was fairly startled at its expression. He feared that upon hearing the course which his enemy would pursue, Garcia might act precipitately, and spoil the plan.

“Come,” the sailor whispered, grasping the captain’s arm, “we must go.”

But the naval officer could not be moved. He reached in his pocket and drew out a silver-mounted revolver, and took a step forward toward the door of the room.

“You’ll spoil everything,” O’Neil whispered hoarsely.

The door of the room opened suddenly and a flood of light shone out in the hallway. Lazar stood on the threshold, his face turned[352] backward over his shoulder; he was talking to Mareno behind him.

“Craig is up-stairs, is he not? I shall get him and join you immediately,” he said.

O’Neil was terribly anxious. If their presence were discovered, the conspirators would change their plans. The light seemed to fall directly upon himself and Captain Garcia. How could Lazar fail to see them?

Lazar passed the eavesdroppers so close that it seemed to O’Neil detection was a certainty. What should he do? He dared not lift his hand against his superior officer. His long training in the navy had taught him what terrible consequences would be the result of such a rash act. He held his breath tightly and drew Captain Garcia closer against the wall. The door swung shut and the hall was again in partial gloom. Lazar’s footfalls could be heard ascending the stairs.

“We’ve got to get out,” he breathed in relief as he half dragged his companion down the steps.

They left the house by the way they had entered; this time they were not observed, for the caretaker of the house was fast asleep.

[353]Reaching their automobile they got in and waited for their enemies to leave the house.

“What does it mean?” Captain Garcia asked excitedly. “What is this letter?”

O’Neil explained how Mareno had informed the minister that Ruiz’s attack would be on Tortuga Hill. How the midshipmen had discovered him in the house of Juarez where the stolen arms were stored, and how the minister had written a letter to General Barras telling from whom the information came.

“A clever plot indeed,” cried Captain Garcia. “Mr. Lazar has changed this letter clearing Señor Mareno and putting the guilt on Midshipman Perry’s shoulders, and Señor Mareno has induced the president meanwhile, before the arrival of the letter, to ask the Washington government to recall the minister. My inclinations were as an officer of our government to arrest Señor Mareno for treason.”

“That would have defeated us,” answered O’Neil. “They wouldn’t have submitted without a fight and I couldn’t have raised my hand against Ensign Lazar.”

[354]“I can hardly believe that Señor Mareno is a rebel,” declared Captain Garcia excitedly; “if so, why did he buy the ‘Aquadores’ for General Barras’ government?”

“That’s easy to see now,” answered O’Neil with a superior smile; “didn’t you say your executive officer was mutinous and your crew were all green men?”

The naked truth dawned on the unsuspecting naval officer.

“You mean that Mareno believed that on our arrival in La Boca the ‘Aquadores’ would fly the rebel flag,” cried the naval officer, aghast at the depth of the treason of which Mareno was the instigator.

“Certainly,” O’Neil replied; “he thought it was as good as buying her for the rebels and a better and easier way. Even when you went after the rebel ships at Rio Grande, he was sure you’d be licked, and before he could get news of the fight he spread the report that she’d been sunk.”

Captain Garcia was stunned at the extent of the conspiracy.

“Then I owe you and your companions much more than I dreamed,” he cried putting[355] his arm affectionately on O’Neil’s shoulder. “That explains why their two vessels seemed so eager to give us battle. They thought we would prove an easy victim.”

O’Neil nodded.

“But now, Captain Garcia,” he exclaimed earnestly, “you’ve got your chance to repay us.”

“Myself and everything I can command are at your service,” the Spaniard gratefully replied.

“Then here’s my plan,” O’Neil explained hurriedly: “they’ll put Craig in that machine and take him to La Boca; then on board the ‘Mercedes,’ and we can’t stop them. She’ll get away and then we’ll follow her in the ‘Aquadores’ and bring Craig back. Isn’t that easy? Will you do it?”

“Willingly,” the captain exclaimed delightedly. “You are a clever man to have thought of this. Fortunately I have steam up in my vessel and as soon as we get on board we can be under way.”

It seemed hours to the anxious men before Mareno’s machine moved slowly up to the door; its headlight cutting through the darkness[356] illuminating brightly the courtyard in front of the house.

“They are going at last,” whispered O’Neil. “What time is it?”

Captain Garcia took out his watch and glanced at its face.

“It’s after two,” he answered; “they have been in there two hours.”

The automobile in front of the house moved swiftly toward them. As it reached the machine in which our friends were awaiting it speeded up and tore past them. O’Neil looked closely; the curtains were drawn, and he could see nothing within.

“What does that mean?” questioned Captain Garcia in amazement. “They are going to Mariel.”

“It means my plan is no good,” cried O’Neil despairingly. “Mareno has had the ‘Mercedes’ sent to Mariel and they’ll put him on board her there.”

“Quick, man,” cried Captain Garcia as he watched Señor Mareno’s machine fade in the distance. “What shall we do?”

O’Neil was in deep thought. Did he dare attack these men and take Craig forcibly[357] away from them? It would mean a prison for him.

“Follow them,” he ordered sharply, “for all you’re worth. I’ll give you ten pesos if you catch her before we get to Mariel,” he cried to the chauffeur.

Their automobile bounded ahead and rushed along the dark road. Mile after mile was eaten up by the steel monster. The anxious men peered ahead hoping to see the dark form of Mareno’s machine, but the suburbs of Mariel were reached and their enemies were still invisible.

“If we catch ’em,” rasped O’Neil, “we must seize Craig by force; it’s our last chance.”

Captain Garcia was delighted. That had been his plan from the first.

“I’ll swing for it if Mr. Lazar recognizes me,” O’Neil muttered, “but the fun’ll be worth it.”

The black smudge in the road ahead of them slowly took shape out of the darkness. The anxious seekers breathed easier, as they looked to their weapons.

“Bring her alongside,” O’Neil ordered the amazed chauffeur.

[358]The man did not relish this hazardous undertaking on a rough and narrow road, but the sight of the sailor’s revolver gave him the courage to steer his machine abreast of the fleeing automobile ahead of them.

“Hold there!” Captain Garcia shouted firing his revolver to emphasize his order; “we want to speak to you.”

The other machine immediately slowed and the two cars were soon motionless side by side on the road.

It was but the work of a second for our two friends to leap out of their car and throw back the curtains of the other car. O’Neil, with his automobile goggles concealing the upper part of his face, advanced, his revolver in front of him covering the occupants inside. Captain Garcia covered with his revolver the trembling chauffeur.

“They are not here,” O’Neil gasped; “they have tricked us again.”

O’Neil was in despair. Captain Garcia’s watch showed it was nearly three o’clock. Their enemies had surely gone to La Boca hours ago and had used this automobile to delay them until they could get Craig[359] safely on board the ship and away from the harbor.

“They knew we had followed ’em,” O’Neil exclaimed. “That native wasn’t as sleepy as we thought.”

In a second they were inside their machine and were speeding back along the road.

Reaching the villa of Mareno, they alighted by mutual consent and boldly entered the house by the rear door.

The native was dragged from his bed and under the terrifying influence of a loaded revolver at his head confessed that Señor Mareno and two companions had gone on foot nearly three hours ago, and that they had been told of the presence in the house of the two naval officers.

“We can catch her yet,” Captain Garcia declared stoutly as they sped back to La Boca.

In the course of what seemed ages to O’Neil, but was in reality but a half hour, they were on board the “Aquadores.”

As the cruiser steamed out of the harbor, O’Neil heard with a sinking heart the bells strike on the men-of-war at anchor. It was four o’clock and the escaping vessel had over[360] three hours start. He had lost. The court would meet in four short hours and Midshipman Perry would be adjudged guilty.

Swiftly the “Aquadores” steamed to the westward. Captain Garcia and O’Neil on the forward bridge watched with failing hopes the gray of dawn spread on the eastern horizon behind them. The sea in front was unbroken. Their prize was not in sight.

Swiftly the cruiser plowed her way through the tranquil sea, but swifter yet the hands of the clock moved around its fatal dial. The sun appeared on the horizon out of a molten sea.

As the gloom slowly melted, the eager sailor, straining his eyes to discover the vessel he hoped the increasing light would soon reveal, sighted the black hull of a steamer but a few miles ahead.

“We’ve got her!” he cried joyously, then he turned with apprehension and saw the hands of the clock stood at six. “Stop her with a shot!” he pleaded. “We need every minute.”

Captain Garcia gave a hurried order and a six-inch shell soared in the air, raising a column of water close to the merchantman.

[361]“That did the business,” O’Neil exclaimed as the merchantman stopped and ran up Verazalan colors at her gaff.

In a few minutes the “Aquadores” was hove to near the “Mercedes” and Captain Garcia and O’Neil were quickly rowed to the intercepted vessel.

They climbed to the top of the sea ladder, where the merchant captain met them.

“You have a sick man on board,” Captain Garcia began in a tone of authority; “we want to take him back with us immediately. Do you understand?”

The sailing master gave the naval men a look of inquiry and amazement.

“We have a man who is very ill; he was brought on board by Señor Mareno just before we sailed,” he answered. “This is irregular,” he added, more boldly.

“You are on the high seas,” Captain Garcia retorted savagely. “I alone am responsible for my actions. Take me to this man.”

The merchantman was not in his employer’s secret, but he readily saw that these officers were defeating his intentions. Fear[362] of Mareno made him hesitate. But he knew he was at their mercy; a glance at the formidable cruiser close by assured him of that.

“Come with me,” he said gruffly, leading them to a stateroom on the lower deck.

There O’Neil saw a sight that wrung his heart. Craig’s emaciated form lay on the bed; his feverish eyes wide with a terrible fear as he recognized the boatswain’s mate, in spite of his foreign uniform.

The petty officer walked over to his bedside and looked down at him compassionately. He put his hand almost affectionately on his hot brow.

“You must come back with us, Craig,” he said determinedly; “you’ll not be harmed. Don’t kick; we’ve just time to get back to clear Mr. Perry.”

The sick man cringed and turned white with terror. A fearful shaking took hold of his thin form.

“I dare not,” he pleaded in a terrified whisper. “They’ll send me to a penitentiary for my crimes.”

“Don’t take on so,” exclaimed O’Neil in exasperation, as he saw the precious minutes[363] slipping away. “A hospital is where they’ll send you.”

He beckoned to Captain Garcia and together they lifted the almost exhausted man from his bed; he struggled feebly, but soon realized he was only wasting his strength.

They carried him down into the boat and aboard the “Aquadores,” which was soon heading at top speed back for La Boca.

O’Neil did his utmost to cheer the dejected machinist, who lay tossing miserably, brooding over his imaginary troubles.

“You just tell the truth, Craig,” O’Neil counseled, “and you’ll not be harmed. Mr. Lazar will not be in it if you tell your tale to the court.”

O’Neil saw with sinking hopes that it was eight o’clock; the court had met and the “Aquadores” was nearly half an hour away. If she were too late in bringing this important witness, none but the President of the United States could grant a reprieve to the condemned midshipman.

“But do your best, Captain Garcia,” he urged. “If luck is with us we may save him yet.”



The loud knock on the door resounded through the tense stillness of the courtroom. The door was thrown open violently and the stalwart figure of O’Neil, with Craig trembling beside him, stood on the threshold.

Sydney sprang to his feet and placed himself beside the boatswain’s mate.

“What is the meaning of this unwarranted intrusion?” cried the president of the court, turning fiercely on O’Neil.

“This man is a witness for the defense,” cried Sydney, joyously pointing at Craig.

The court turned in amazement to gaze at the would-be deserter.

“I object to further testimony,” announced the judge advocate earnestly; “the case is now in the hands of the court.”

Phil’s heart beat wildly. Would the president sustain this objection?

[365]The president rose to his feet; the court room became so still that the heavy breathing of O’Neil and his prisoner, from their recent exertions to arrive in time, was plainly audible above all other sounds.

“The case is still in the hands of the defense,” the president announced. “I shall administer the oath to the witness.”

O’Neil withdrew quietly, leaving Craig within the courtroom.

“Were you on a hill called La Mesa near the city of La Boca on the day of the assault by the insurgents?” the judge advocate asked the witness after he had been directed to take the stand by the president.

Craig looked at Sydney nervously then he answered in a trembling voice:

“No, sir.”

The judge advocate jumped to his feet.

“I object to this witness,” he cried loudly; “he can know nothing of the charges.”

The president glanced at the faces of his colleagues. They nodded their approval.

“The objection is sustained,” he was on the point of saying when he caught sight of Sydney’s anxious face. The latter had sprung[366] from his chair and was endeavoring to catch the president’s eye before the fatal words were uttered.

“Well, what have you to say?” the officer asked impatiently.

Sydney thought rapidly; as Phil’s counsel he could plead and say things he knew his chum would be too modest to tell.

“I ask the court’s indulgence,” Sydney commenced, seeking for appropriate words to convey clearly all that was in his mind to the members of the court. “The accused has been charged with disobeying the orders of his superior officer on La Mesa the day of the assault. We have two witnesses who will testify that in a house belonging to the ex-vice-consul, Mr. Juarez, thirty Colt automatic guns with ammunition were found; that these guns were mounted by the accused and his companions and manned by a company of government soldiers. The attack was on La Mesa, although the minister representing the United States had informed General Barras that a reliable informant had told him the attack would be upon Tortuga Hill. We can show that the presence of the accused and his companions[367] was indispensable on La Mesa at the time of Mr. Lazar’s arrival. If the order had been obeyed the Colt guns would have fallen into the hands of the insurgents, which would have discredited the minister and the United States in the eyes of the existing government. Our witness Craig will tell the part Mr. Lazar has taken in connection with these arms and will show why the accused deliberately disobeyed a positive order.”

Sydney sat down, his eyes flashing, his face pale and anxious.

The court was silent for a fraction of a second and then a hum of surprised interrogation spread among its members. All knew of the captured arms and how the rock-filled boxes were found at the legation.

“The witness will be allowed to testify,” the president spoke decidedly.

“I have no further question to ask,” snapped the judge advocate, betraying in his voice the disappointment at losing his point.

The court looked to Sydney; he whispered reassuringly to the unnerved Craig.

The terrified sailor’s voice was so low pitched that the seven judges strained their[368] hearing to listen. The silence was profound.

“At New York, while we were there for repairs,” he commenced feebly, “I received a telegram that my sister was dying. I went to Mr. Lazar as the senior officer on board at the time and asked for leave to go to her bedside. He refused me permission. I showed him the telegram and her picture in a locket I always carried with me; she was my only living relative and we were everything to each other. I implored with tears in my eyes. He refused again and accused me of deceiving him to get ashore when I was not entitled to liberty.

“The next day I received word she had died. The executive officer was on board and allowed me to go to bury her body.

“I hated this officer, Ensign Lazar, for his cruelty to me and when I saw an opportunity to injure him I was happy. I filed half-way through the hoist wire in his turret. The accident happened, as I knew it must; but unfortunately for me while I was filing the wire rope Mr. Perry came into the turret; he heard me at work and called. In my haste to leave before he could detect me, I turned[369] in the darkness to escape. The locket was in the pocket of my blouse which I had laid on the turret floor. I heard it fall on the metal deck as I grasped my clothes, but there was no time to regain it. Afterward I risked detection in getting it from Mr. Perry’s room, but I soon found that Ensign Lazar had already seen it and recognized the locket I had shown him, and knew at once that I had been guilty of injuring the turret. He told me if I didn’t want to go to jail for a long term of years I must do as he told me. I feared him. He first made me try to injure the ‘Vidette’s’ machinery on the night those arms were captured. Then I was wounded and before I had recovered entirely I was taken ashore with him and forced to sleep in the cellar of the legation. He told me that on a certain night I was to open the boxes, all but one, and that men would come through a tunnel below the cellar and carry the Colt guns away, giving me rocks to put in their places.

“I heard one of the natives who received the arms tell another where they were to be taken, and when Mr. Perry discovered that the boxes were full of rocks and that the[370] arms were gone, I told him what I had done and where they had been taken.

“I didn’t want to desert, but Mr. Lazar told me I had betrayed him and that if I didn’t he would find a way to dispose of me. He made all the arrangements and hid me in the house of a friend of his; then last night they took me on board a steamer, where O’Neil found me.”

The judge advocate was on his feet before the witness’s voice had died into nothingness.

“I object to this testimony,” he cried impetuously, making a last attempt to reinstate himself and prove his case against the accused. “By his own evidence, this man is a criminal; his testimony is malicious and should not be received in evidence. He stands a would-be deserter from the navy.”

The president of the court hesitated. The truth in the judge advocate’s words was impressive.

“Recall Mr. Lazar,” he ordered, after a moment’s thought. “He should be here to hear this evidence and clear up this imputation against his good name in the navy.”

[371]The court orderly was sent to summon Lazar again before the court.

The two midshipmen sat anxiously watching the door for the appearance of their enemy. They knew him to be a clever rogue. This situation had never occurred to them. Would Lazar deny Craig’s testimony and assert that this sick cringing sailor was alone guilty of the crime? Craig’s testimony came as a surprise to the lads; they had not suspected that he was the owner of the locket.

The time dragged heavily. The president became impatient. He glanced at the clock; its hands showed it was now twenty minutes since the orderly had gone to notify the ensign to appear. What had detained him? He must be on board ship. Permission to leave the ship would not be granted him while the court was in session.

The orderly opened the door quietly and saluted the president.

“Ensign Lazar can’t be found, sir,” he reported, “but the captain is outside, sir, and wants to appear before the court.”

Captain Taylor, a sheet of paper in his hand, strode into the courtroom.

[372]“Mr. President,” he exclaimed excitedly, “Mr. Lazar has left the ship without obtaining permission. This is the communication that he has sent me. I shall read it to the court.”


“I hereby tender my resignation as an ensign in the United States Navy.

“Very respectfully,
Jules Lazar,
Ensign, U. S. Navy.”

The midshipmen were joyous. Lazar’s courage had failed him. If he had braved it out and thrown discredit on Craig’s evidence, Phil might have after all stood convicted, for on this testimony their case was constructed. But Lazar dared not commit perjury before his brother officers.

“I am at a loss to explain its meaning,” Captain Taylor added, folding the paper.

The court understood, but by law they could not enlighten the mystified captain, who withdrew.

“Is there any further evidence?” inquired the president after the court had recovered a[373] little from its surprise. Sydney and the judge advocate said they had nothing more to offer.

“Then the trial is finished,” the president announced.

The judge advocate, and the accused and his counsel arose to leave the courtroom, but the president waved them back to their seats, glancing inquiringly at his colleagues. Each member nodded his head in the affirmative, without hesitation. The president took up Phil’s sword lying on the court table with its point toward the accused, and swung its hilt within reach of the lad’s hand.

This mute confession that he was held guiltless filled the midshipman’s heart with joy. He looked with gratitude on the president, who had relieved his mind of its heavy burden. This acknowledgment of their verdict was irregular and for that reason Phil felt all the more grateful. The official news might be days in reaching him and relieving his mind. The proceedings must first be written smoothly, signed by all the members and reviewed by the admiral before he would hear officially that he had been cleared of the terrible charges.

[374]With hearts overflowing with gladness the two midshipmen helped the almost prostrated witness to his feet and supported him from the court room.

“You have nothing to fear,” Phil whispered to him encouragingly as the doctor’s attendants bore him away to the sick bay.

At the door of their room they found O’Neil awaiting them, a broad smile on his face.

“I knew it was going to be all right,” he exclaimed as they greeted him enthusiastically, “when I saw Mr. Lazar steal away in a shore boat from the port gangway. He slipped off when the officer of the deck wasn’t looking and left a paper with the corporal of the guard.”

“That was his resignation,” Sydney explained. “After he knew Craig was before the court his courage deserted him; but however did you find the witness?”

O’Neil led them into the room, drawing the curtain, then detailed his experiences of the night before.

“Captain Garcia is the one who got him,” he ended unselfishly. “If it had not been[375] for him and the ‘Aquadores,’ Craig would have gotten away sure.”

“Captain Garcia has put me as much in his debt as he claimed he was in ours,” exclaimed Phil gladly. “Where is he? I hope we’ll have a chance to thank him before we sail.”

“That you will, sir,” O’Neil returned. “He said he’d go direct to General Barras, so that Mareno could be nabbed, and then he’d come aboard here to say good-bye; he knows we sail at noon.”

Sydney and O’Neil went about their routine work on shipboard, but Phil remained in his room. His empty sword rack, however, gave him no twinges of regret. For the first time in two days he felt at peace with the world. The illness of Craig, the man whose testimony had stood between him and dismissal, concerned him. He resolved to stand by him and see that he received the best of care.

Phil had been alone with his thoughts for nearly an hour when he heard a bugle call ring out sharply on the deck above him, followed by hoarse commands.

Putting his head out of his air port, he[376] saw the sailors on the battle-ships manning the rail, their guards and bands falling in on their quarter-decks. He knew the import of this formation at once: the president of Verazala was on his way to visit the admiral.

Sydney came rushing in for his sword, giving the news which Phil had already surmised.

“If Captain Garcia comes with him,” Phil pleaded, “don’t let him go without seeing me. Tell him I am still a prisoner.”

Sydney declared he would see to that as he buckled on his sword and made for his station.

The roaring of many guns in salute from the men-of-war, told the imprisoned midshipman that General Barras was on board the “Connecticut.”

Five minutes later Phil received a summons from the admiral, which he obeyed with alacrity. On entering the cabin the astonished boy found himself in the presence of General Barras and Admiral Spotts. The midshipman drew himself up stiffly to “attention,” not daring to glance at these important men; his heart beat wildly.

The admiral held Phil’s sword in his hand.

[377]“I take great pleasure in restoring you to duty,” he said handing the confused lad the badge of honor. The admiral turned toward General Barras, inclining his head in Phil’s direction.

“This is Mr. Perry,” he added.

The president acknowledged the introduction with a cordial hand shake.

“I have already had the honor of meeting Midshipman Perry,” he exclaimed, “but I could not then thank him appropriately, for I knew only a part of his splendid service to us.” Then turning an admiring glance at the embarrassed boy:

“Señor Perry,” he continued, “your gallant deeds will ever be remembered by true patriots of Verazala. Please convey my personal thanks to your two companions.”

Phil found voice to stammer his gratitude for this unheard of honor; then he withdrew from the cabin.

As he closed the door behind him, the knob was wrenched from his hand and he found himself in Captain Garcia’s strong embrace; that officer had been an unobserved witness to the lad’s happy discomfiture.

[378]While the two friends walked arm in arm to Phil’s room, where Sydney was awaiting them, the boy poured out his heartfelt thanks to the naval man for his zealous work in his behalf.

“I am further in your debt than I can ever repay,” exclaimed Captain Garcia, refusing to listen to the earnest words of his young friend. “What I did last night was nothing; and moreover, it has led to the unmasking of a traitor to my country.”

“O’Neil has told us,” replied Phil. “Did you capture him?” he asked eagerly.

“Señor Mareno has escaped,” the naval officer told the lads; “he is now on board a foreign war-ship and as he is a political refugee, we cannot demand him. General Barras knows all, and will give the concessions to the American syndicate. The minister of course knows nothing of how close he was to being summarily ordered home. General Barras was in such a rage when he learned of the perfidy of Mareno, his trusted friend, that I believe if he had been arrested, the president would have ordered his execution.”

[379]“Have you heard that Ensign Lazar has resigned?” questioned Sydney in his turn.

Captain Garcia was soon told the story of the court martial and of Lazar’s desertion.

“We shall see that he doesn’t prosper here,” replied the Spaniard determinedly; then with genuine regrets he bid them farewell and joined the president, who was about to leave the ship.

After Captain Garcia had gone our two lads lapsed into silence. Their thoughts dwelt upon the stirring events of the last few weeks. What a relief and happiness it was to feel that their energy and foresight had been repaid and a result pleasing to their countrymen had been achieved.

“The captain desires to see Midshipmen Perry and Monroe,” the captain’s orderly announced, his face beaming as he spoke to Phil. “I knowed you were not guilty, sir; every mother’s son of us forward were hoping you’d not be punished.”

Phil thanked the marine, tears of gratitude springing to his eyes, while the two midshipmen arose to obey their captain’s summons.

Captain Taylor awaited them in his cabin.

[380]“I have just finished reading the proceedings of Mr. Perry’s court martial,” he began, shaking both boys by the hand, “and I could but marvel at the wickedness of Ensign Lazar: I had believed he was an example of honor and efficiency. The actions of both of you have been worthy of the best traditions of American naval officers. You, Mr. Perry, were willing to stand convicted of this military crime rather than make charges against an officer which were conclusive in your own mind but which might have been considered recriminating in the mind of the court.”

“There was nothing else to do, sir,” Phil replied, his face flushed with pride. “I did disobey the order and my one defense was that I did it to save the good name of our minister.”

“Sir, the officer of the deck reports the signal to get under way is about to be hoisted by the admiral,” the orderly informed the captain.

“Very good, orderly,” Captain Taylor answered, and then turning again toward the midshipmen, who had moved toward the door to go to their station: “Gentlemen, you may[381] ever consider me ready to help you in your ambitions in the service. If there is aught I can do for you, let me know; your services here can only be rewarded in such ways: official recognition is denied you.”

“Well! What is it?” the captain exclaimed, reading the look in Phil’s face.

“We would like to go to the Orient, sir,” Phil answered bashfully; “we want to see the world.”

“Is that all you wish?” returned the captain surprised at the modesty of the lads. “I shall see that your wish is gratified. I have received an intimation that I shall go to that station when I have received my promotion to rear-admiral, which will be in a few months now, and I shall be happy to have such officers under my command. I am sorry the naval regulation does not allow me to nominate midshipmen on my personal staff.”

The boys thanked him enthusiastically. Phil stood irresolutely regarding the captain: there was one more request he wished to make.

“Go on, out with it,” Captain Taylor exclaimed kindly.

[382]“Boatswain’s Mate O’Neil, sir, may he go too?” Phil asked hesitatingly.

“Well! Well!” laughed the captain; “yes, I shall see that your good man Friday goes too.”

Within an hour the squadron was under way, and the boys took their last view of La Boca, not without regrets, for the leaf just turned in their life histories had been an interesting one. As they scanned the scenes of the recent adventures they could hardly be expected to realize that the stirring deeds of the past few weeks formed but a milestone in the career of one who served his country on the seas.


[1] “I thought our numbers were made.” Each officer and man in the navy is denoted by a number, and when one is called by a higher authority his number is called or “made” by signal flags. O’Neil’s meaning is that a Higher Authority had “made” their numbers.


Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

Inconsistencies in hyphenation have been standardized.

Archaic or alternate spelling has been retained from the original.