Under cover on the “Long Island” all was bustle, yet without a trace of confusion. Officers and men had been so thoroughly trained in their duties that now they performed them with clock-like regularity.
It was a busy forenoon, yet no one observing the American fleet from the shore would have discovered any signs of unusual activity.
From the Mexican custom house, from the post-office, the cable station, and from the grim old prison-fortress, San Juan de Ulloa, the Mexican flag flew as usual.
In the streets of Vera Cruz natives and foreigners moved about as usual. Not even the Americans in Vera Cruz, except the consul, knew that this was the morning destined to become a famous date in American history.
At about eleven o’clock boats began to be launched alongside the American men-of-war. Men piled quickly over the sides. In number one launch Lieutenant Trent, Ensigns Darrin and Dalzell and forty seaman, with rifles and two machine guns, put away. Lieutenant-Commander Denton and Lieutenant Timson of the Marine Corps put off in launches numbers two and three with sixty marines and forty bluejackets. From the other warships detachments put off at the same time.
One cutter, occupied by fourteen marines, put off from one of the men-of-war and was rowed ashore at high speed. These men quickly landed at No.1 Dock.
“There they land—–they’re unfurling the American Flag!” breathed Dave Darrin in his chum’s ear.
Another cutter landed at another dock; then a launch rushed in alongside. It came the turn of the first launch from the “Long Island” to move in to berth at No.1 Dock, and Trent piled his party ashore, the launch immediately afterward being backed out and turned back to the “Long Island.”
Within fifteen minutes a thousand marines and sailors had been landed.
“But where is the Mexican resistance?” murmured Danny Grin, impatiently. “Where is the excuse that was to be furnished us for fighting?”
That “excuse” was to come soon enough!
IN THE THICK OF THE SNIPING
Upon the landing of the first men, the Mexican custom house had been seized.
The seizure of the post-office and the cable station quickly followed.
Lieutenant Trent did not halt on the dock. Forming his men even while moving forward, Trent kept his command moving fast.
Dave was near the head of the little column, on the right flank. Dan was near the rear.
For some distance Trent marched his men, hundreds of curious Mexicans parting to make way for the advance of the little detachment.
Finally Trent halted his men not far from the gray walls of the Castle of San Juan de Ulloa.
“I wonder if our job is to take that fortress?” murmured Dalzell, dryly.
“If that’s our job,” smiled Darrin, “we’ll have fighting enough to suit even your hot young blood. But I don’t believe we’re cut out to take the castle. Look at the transport ‘Prairie.’ Her guns are but five hundred yards away, and trained on the fort. If anyone in San Juan opens on us the ‘Prairie’ will be able to blow the old fort clean off the map.”