Without waiting for the order from his chief, Schmidt cast off, with the aid of the single sailor under his own command. The engineer went ahead at slow speed for a few seconds while Riley steered the launch clear of the wharf and headed for deeper, safer water.
“Half speed ahead!” shouted Darrin, as Schmidt sprang to the wheel, while Riley, snatching up his rifle, joined the fighting men. Uttering howls of rage as they saw their prey escaping them, the Mexicans rushed out onto the wharf in a mad attempt to board before it was too late.
Three men would have succeeded in boarding the launch, had they not been shot down as they leaped for the after deck.
“Give it to them with the Colt, Corporal!” Dave called. “Every other man fire with his rifle!”
Before he had finished speaking, the reloaded Colt belched forth its rain of death. It was the machine gun, with its muzzle swiftly turning in an arc of a circle that did the most execution among the outlaws, but the riflemen did their share.
Until his rifle barrel was too hot to hold in his hands, John Carmody shot rapidly, yet coolly putting into his work all the pent-up indignation that he had felt for days against Cosetta and his men.
“Stop the gun!” ordered Dave Darrin, resting a hand on the shoulder of the marine corporal. “Don’t waste its fire.”
The launch was now free of the shore, and moving down the lagoon at half speed. On the wharf fully a score of Mexicans either lay dead or dying.
Dave’s spoken order to the engineer caused the launch to increase its speed.
“Line up at the starboard rail,” Dave called to the men grouped about him. “We’re going to catch it from the shore.”
The launch was a few hundred yards down the lagoon when Darrin, alertly watching, made out several figures on the eastern shore.
Patiently he waited until the first flash from a rifle was seen, which was followed instantly by the report and the “pss-seu!” of a bullet.
“Let ’em have the rest of what’s in the Colt,” the young ensign directed, calmly. “Men, don’t fire too rapidly, but keep up your work. We want to be remembered by Cosetta, if he has the good luck to be still alive.”
It was neither a heavy nor an accurate fire that came now from the enraged Mexicans. Helped out by the Colt, the fire from the moving craft was sharp enough to discourage the rapidly diminishing ardor of the miscreants on shore.
Just as the launch rounded the point of land at the mouth of the lagoon, and stood out into open water at full speed, a stray bullet killed Seaman Hicks.
“Yes, sir, he’s dead, poor fellow!” exclaimed Riley, looking up as Ensign Dave stepped hastily forward for a look at his man. “Hicks was a fine sailor too.”
“For a party that wasn’t expected to fight,” returned Darrin wearily, “we’ve had a pretty big casualty list—–two killed, and three wounded.”