“It won’t take us long to tumble into the launch, sir,” the coxswain replied, doggedly, “but we won’t leave our officer behind. We couldn’t think of doing it.”
“Not even under orders?” Darrin inquired.
“We’d hate to disobey orders, sir,” Riley mumbled, looking rather abashed, “but-----”
“Hark!” called Dave, holding up a hand.
Back of the flowering hedge he heard the swift patter of bare feet.
Out of the darkness came a flash of a pistol shot. It was answered instantly by a ragged but crashing volley.
Long tongues of flame spat out into the night. The air was full of whistling bullets.
Pseu! pss-seu! pss-seu! Sang the steel-jacketed bullets about the ears of the Americans.
Then the sailor nearest Ensign Dave Darrin fell to the ground with a stifled gasp.
DISOBEDIENCE OF ORDERS
Outnumbered, the Americans did not falter.
Save for Hicks, the guide, and the wounded man, the sailors threw themselves automatically to one knee, bringing their rifles to “ready.”
For a moment Ensign Darrin felt sick at heart. He was under orders not to fire, to employ no armed force in a way that might be construed as an act of war in the country of another nation.
Yet here were his men being fired upon, one already wounded, and American women and children in danger of losing their lives.
Perhaps it was against orders, as given, but the real military commander is sometimes justified in disregarding orders.
At the first sound of shots all of the sailors, except Hicks, came running back, crouching close to earth. As soon as they reached the thin little line the men knelt and waited breathlessly. Dave’s resolution was instantly taken. Though he might hang for his disobedience of orders, he would not tamely submit to seeing his men shot down ruthlessly.
Still less would he permit American women and children to be endangered.
Orders, or no orders—–
“Ready, men!” he shouted, above the sharp reports of the Cosetta rifle fire. “Aim low at the hedge! Fire at will!”
Cr-r-r-rack! rang out the American Navy rifles.
Filled with the fighting enthusiasm of the moment, Darrin drew his automatic revolver, firing ten shots swiftly at different points along the hedge.
From behind that screen came cries of pain, for the Mexican is an excitable individual, who does not take his wounds with the calmness evinced by an American.
Another American sailor had dropped. John Carmody, who had remained with the defending party, snatched up one of the rifles. Standing, he rushed in a magazine full of bullets, then bent to help himself to more from the belt of the rifle’s former carrier.
Fitting his revolver with a fresh load of cartridges, Dave held his fire for any emergency that might arise.