“You will pass inside, sir, at once,” directed the marine orderly, as the young officer halted near the door.
Acknowledging the marine’s salute, Dave Darrin passed him and entered the office.
Lieutenant Cantor, erect and stern, faced Captain Gales, who looked the sterner of the two.
“Ensign Darrin,” began the battleship’s commanding officer, rising, “most serious charges have been preferred against you, sir!”
DAVE IS STUNG TO THE QUICK
Ensign Darrin bowed, then awaited further communication from his commanding officer.
“It was particularly set forth in the orders,” resumed Captain Gales, “that any form of conflict was to be avoided by the expedition of which you commanded a part, was it not?”
“It was, sir,” Darrin admitted.
“And yet, by the report which Lieutenant Cantor has turned in, you opened fire on Cosetta and his band and have returned to ship with two men killed and four men wounded. Is that report correct?”
“It is, sir,” admitted the young ensign, “with one exception.”
“State the exception, Ensign Darrin,” ordered the captain, coldly.
“The exception, sir, is that Cosetta’s fellows opened fire on us first.”
Dave Darrin stood looking straight into Captain Gales’s eyes.
“Ensign Darrin, did you do anything to provoke that fire?” asked the commanding officer.
“Yes, sir,” Dave admitted.
“Ah!” breathed Captain Gales, while Cantor gave an almost inaudible ejaculation of triumph.
“What was it, sir, that you did to provoke Cosetta into ordering his fellows to fire?” questioned Captain Gales.
“Why, sir, I found and rescued the Americans after whom you sent me,” Dave explained. “They were Cosetta’s prisoners. There was not a shot fired on either side until after I had placed the released prisoners under the protection of my own men, and had started away with them. Then the Mexican bandits opened fire on us.”
“Couldn’t you have escaped without returning the fire?”
“We might have been able to do so, sir.”
“Then why didn’t you?” pressed the captain.
“Because, sir, I felt sure that we would lose most of our men if we tamely submitted, and ran, pursued by superior numbers, to our launch. Moreover, I was much afraid that some of the Americans we were trying to rescue would be hit.”
“In your judgment, Ensign Darrin, there was no other course open save to return the fire?”
“That was my exact judgment of the situation, sir,” replied the young ensign earnestly.
“And still is your best judgment?”
“Hm!” commented Captain Gales. “And yet you have returned to ship with your casualties amounting to thirty per cent of your command, and one-third of your casualties are fatalities.”