Every degree of wretchedness and raggedness was represented by these sufferers of indescribable wrongs.
Men, and women too, showed the marks of rough handling by brutal prison guards. There were many disfigured faces. One man carried in a crude sling, an arm broken by a savage Mexican captor.
Such spectacles were of daily occurrence in Vera Cruz! These wretched men, women and children had been on the way on foot since the middle of the night, having painfully trudged in over the twenty-five-mile gap in which the tracks had been torn up.
Ordering his men to fall in, Lieutenant Trent escorted the patient, footsore procession in to the advanced line. The sailormen adjusted their own steps to those of the sufferers. As they moved along Coxswain Riley vented his feelings in an undertone:
“We need only a band and a dead march to make a funeral of this! And—–yet—–no war!”
From the slow-moving ranks came only a deep, surly growl. Lieutenant Trent turned around, then faced front once more; he had no heart to utter a rebuke.
Mingled cheers and growls greeted the arrival of the pitiful fugitives at the advanced lines. The cheers were for the fact that the refugees had at least escaped with their lives. The growls were for the Mexicans responsible for this spectacle.
“We must secure conveyances of some kind to take these poor people into the city,” declared Commander Dillingham. “I will send a messenger to ask for the best sort of carriages that can be found in a place like Vera Cruz. Lieutenant, as the second airship is returning yonder, your duty outside the lines is over. You may march your men to the camp yonder and let them rest until they are needed.”
“I wish a word with you, sir, when possible,” Trent urged.
“At once,” replied Commander Dillingham. Darrin was with Lieutenant Trent when he reported the discovery of the whereabouts of Cantor and Cosetta.
“It wouldn’t do any good to go out in the daytime,” the commander decided. “The fellows would see you coming, and take to their heels toward the interior before you came within rifle range. You will have to go after dark, Lieutenant, and better still, towards midnight. In the early evening they might be watching for an American advance, but late at night they would decide that their hiding place is not suspected. You will plan, Lieutenant, to leave here at a little before eleven o’clock to-night, which will bring you to the adobe house about midnight. I will communicate my information to the commander of the forces ashore, and, if not reversed by him, my present instructions will hold.”
The orders were not reversed. At 10.45 that night Trent marched his detachment beyond the advanced line. Every man moved as softly as he could, and there was no jingling of military accoutrements.
Finally the adobe house stood out dimly against the night sky at a distance of less than half a mile.