At the same moment shots rang out from the roof of the sugar mill.
“There we are!” Darrin exclaimed. “And men on a roof are the hardest to hit.”
In a jiffy a yell rose from the flankers, who now rose and came charging forward across some four hundred feet of intervening space.
“Give ’em the Colt, Corporal!” Ensign Darrin roared.
There was a yell of rage from the Mexicans as the machine gun barked forth. With the muzzle describing an arc of several degrees, many of the flankers were hit. The others threw themselves flat on the ground to escape its destructive fire.
From the mill another score of charging Mexicans had started, yelling in Spanish:
“Death to the Gringos.”
Leaping forward, Darrin felt a sudden sting of pain in his right foot. A bullet, sent in low, had ripped the sole of his shoe, inflicting a painful wound.
“Cease firing, Corporal!” Dave ordered, hobbling to the machine gun. “Swing her nose around. Now, give it to ’em.”
As the machine gun barked forth again the raiders from the mill found good excuse for halting. There are times when a machine gun is worth a battalion of infantry.
Yet one bullet is enough to kill a man. A marine fell at Dave’s feet. The young ensign bent over him; one look was enough to prove that this defender of his countrymen was dead.
As the fire from the machine gun ceased, a wild cheer rose on the air. Now, from four different points groups of Mexicans rose and charged, firing as they ran.
One desperate dash, and they would overwhelm the crippled little Navy party.
Defeat for Dave Darrin’s command meant the massacre of all the survivors of his rescue party, and of the American men and women in their care!
Ensign Dave Darrin realized this with a sickening heart.
CANTOR FINDS HIS CHANCE
Prompt action alone could save the women and children who lay cowering in the launch.
“Corporal, kneel with your men, and let them have it as fast as you can!” ordered Dave. “Riley, get your men into the boat, and take the Colt with you. Post it as fast as you can on the starboard quarter!”
Dave himself stood behind the kneeling marines, a fair target for every hostile bullet.
John Carmody, too, felt in honor bound to risk himself beside the young Navy ensign.
“All sea-going, sir!” called Coxswain Riley. “Schmidt, make ready to cast off,” sang back Darrin.
Now the different groups of Mexicans, who had been halted for a minute under the brisk fire, saw their prey slipping away from them.
With yells of fury, Cosetta’s men rose and attempted the final charge.
“Marines aboard!” yelled Darrin.
Almost in the same instant, loaded revolver in hand, Dave sprang to the gunwale and landed on the after deck.