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Title: When the squadron dropped anchor
Author: Evans, Frank E.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "When the squadron dropped anchor" ***
                               ANCHOR ***


                  When the Squadron Dropped Anchor

                         By Thomson Burtis
    Author of “The White Slacker,” “The Green Serpent God,” Etc.

    Accused of the most dishonorable conduct, cast off from
    the navy and the life he loved, Graydon still found
    opportunity to serve his country and erase the stain on
    his honor.

The echoes of the ship’s bugle, calling away the second whaleboat,
died softly in the still harbor of San Juan de Gracias. The boat
crew ran out on the boom, down its swinging rope ladder to the
thwarts beneath, and pulled out to the gangway. At the head of the
gangway stood a man in blue civilian serge and wide-brimmed panama
hat. The brim half hid the eyes that were held to the seam of the
cruiser’s deck. His shoulders sagged like those of a fighter waiting
the knock-out blow.

The curt announcement of the ensign on watch, “Your boat is
alongside,” brought the man’s head up with a jerk. His shoulders
braced and his heels met. Mechanically his hand went in salute to
the brim of the panama. In the old formula of the quarter-deck he
answered: “I have your permission to leave the ship, sir?”

There was no answer. For a moment he faced aft to where the colors
rippled over the taffrail. Then, with head down, shoulders drooping,
he turned and ran down the ladder to the waiting whaleboat. The
ensign stepped to the rail.

“In the whaleboat there. Land Mr. Graydon on the beach and return to
the ship!”

“Aye, aye, sir! Shove off for’ard! Out oars! Way together!”

Swirls of phosphorescence leaped away from the driving ash blades,
to trail like ropes of pearl in the wake. On the low-lying beach to
which they raced, slender palm trees, silver lances in the blazing
sun, stabbed upward through the heat mirage that ran like white
fire. The thatched roofs of the native village sprawled in untidy
array before the blurred eyes of the man in blue serge.

The next stage by which Stanley Graydon, ex-captain of marines,
severed his ties with the service was a schooner that warped
alongside a wharf at Santander, capital of the Republic of
Santander, three days later. To the beauty of those sea leagues and
to the bizarre life on the schooner he was blind. His thoughts were

One picture, that of the unforgettable night in the wardroom of the
U. S. S. _Franklin_, flagship of the Special Service Squadron,
haunted him like a nightmare. There was Dixon, squadron intelligence
officer, face white as the cloth on the poker table, voice shaking
with cold passion, denouncing him as a card sharp. He had dashed the
undealt pack full into Dixon’s face. Only the restraining arms of
his shipmates had kept him from driving his fist full into that
sneering countenance. Then, like the ever-changing picture on a
screen, Dixon coolly searched through the scattered cards until he
had separated an even dozen.

Held against the light, while their breathless shipmates crowded
closer, Dixon pointed out the tiny pin-prick points in their upper
corner. A swift manipulation. Five of the marked cards lay face up
on the table. The ace-high full on which Graydon had won the last
pot. A sharp, curt order by Dixon. The surgeon returning from his
cabin with a pack of cards--a pack that was an exact duplicate in
pattern and color to the marked pack. The deft fingers of Dixon
weaving through them, now and then holding one to the light. In the
corner the tiny telltale points.

That same night--the vision followed swiftly--a corporal of marines,
one of his own crack detachment, pacing slowly before the closed
door of his cabin. The morning, with the admiral’s orderly, one of
that gallant platoon he had led into the Bois de Belleau, at his

“The admiral’s compliments, sir, and he would like to see the
captain in his cabin.”

The picture came clear. Kelly’s gloved hand falling away smartly
from the visor of his cap. The strained face relaxed, and the
haunted look in Stanley Graydon’s face softened. He would never
forget Kelly, blessed old leatherneck, with his hand outstretched,
and his husky voice.

“It’s a damn, dirty shame, captain. We’re with you, every marine in
the outfit. You’ll come clean out of this barrage.”

The measured toll of the schooner’s bell sounded midnight. Stanley
Graydon, leaning over the rail, hands gripping the shrouds, went on
with the reconstruction of his hell.

                 *       *       *       *       *

For a full hour they had talked it over, and every word of the
white-haired admiral had burned into his memory. His ten years of
clean service. His brilliant record overseas. His taut performance
of duty in the squadron. His heavy poker losses for two straight
months, and then his phenomenal change of luck. At its end, the
admiral had delivered his edict.

“Here is my verdict, Graydon: Trial by general court-martial, or
your resignation for the good of the service. I may have no right to
offer you that alternative, but your record merits it. With all my
heart I wish that you may be able to disprove these damnable
charges. I will give you a fortnight and the assistance of any
officer you may name.”

His fine old face was twitching, and his voice a bit shaky.

The fortnight had expired, a space of veritable exile. At its end
the net of circumstantial evidence had tightened slowly and
inexorably. He had dully accepted the alternative of resignation,
for he had to find sanctuary for a while, some place where he would
have time to think more clearly. But the thought rankled in his mind
that his choice would be construed as a tacit admission of his

It was the admiral himself who had suggested Santander as a
temporary anchorage in which he might have time to plan his course.
Santander was in the vicinity, and its rich coffee and sugar
plantations and its forests of hardwoods might lead to some business
opening, while he fought for vindication.

The schooner tied up alongside the wharf at Santander, with
disorderly tumult. Its very antithesis of the orderly man-of-war
discipline that was steeped in his blood brought a wry smile to his
lips. He made his way to the Hotel Grande Centrale, a rambling white
hostelry facing the Plaza Concepcion.

The inevitable statue of a general, with cocked hat and brandished
sword, astride of a fiery rocking-horse, dominated the sleepy plaza.
At its sight Stanley Graydon’s native optimism was beating back to
full tide. He raised his hat in mock salute.

“Greetings, old-timer!” he said softly. “I knew you when you were
masquerading as Dessalines, in the Champ de Mars, at Port-au-Prince.
I ran across your bows in Caracas, as Simon Bolivar. The day we hit
the beach in Guatemala last March, you were holding the spotlight of
a dusty old square as Carrera. Some day I’ll set up a little banana
republic of my own. Then I’ll write out a treasury warrant for the
price of ‘One (1) statue, imitation bronze. Model AA, Series 2408,’
and the big mail-order house in Chicago will ship me your twin
brother. Wait until I get into the café, my dear general, and I’ll
drink your health.”

A barefooted waiter placed a green “swizzle” on his marble-topped
table. As he raised it to his lips, he was aware that a group of
officers at a near-by table was watching him with undisguised
interest. One was a swaggering, swarthy giant of a man, with a
sweeping black mustache and the rank devices of a colonel on his
shoulders and cuffs. The others were, with one exception,
conventional tyes of Central American soldiery. The exception was a
youngster, barely out of his teens, but with a captain’s devices on
the freshly starched khaki, with its red piping. His face was oval,
and his features were clearly cut. Stanley Graydon appraised him as
far superior in birth and breeding to his mates.

The swarthy colonel returned his casual glance with an ill-favored
scowl. He turned to the others, and a ripple of laughter swept over
them at his remark. It was clear to Stanley Graydon that they were
in the mood for sport with a gringo. He paid his score, and, as he
passed their table, a roar of derisive, raucous laughter followed.

“Damned ‘spigs!’” he muttered contemptuously. “Probably had as much
as two drinks, and feeling them.”

Out he went, blissfully unconscious that his straight, flat back,
trim shoulders, and precise stride marked him indelibly in a caste
strikingly at variance with the business men, generous of girth,
careless of bearing, who ventured into Santander.

                 *       *       *       *       *

Early the next morning he started for a ride into the savannas. His
mount was a spirited stallion, and his spirits rose, as he cleared
the cobbled streets and cantered briskly on. Ahead lay the panorama
of the rolling savannas. For miles the lush acres, pale green with
sugar cane, rippled like an inland sea. Here and there showed
irregular patches of varied crops. The red roofs of haciendas loomed
above their blotched huddles of outbuildings. Above them tossed the
silhouetted feathers of giant palms against the pale blue of the
tropical sky.

To the south the sun danced on a broad expanse of water, where a
great bay, with a bottle-neck entrance between bold headlands, lay
like a silver mirror in the frame of dark-green shores.

“Ramona Bay! Lord, what a picture!”

His mind raced back to the charts and maps over which he and Dixon
had worked out maneuver problems for the admiral. With his
background of overseas service, he had been detailed as Dixon’s
assistant. All the plans of naval action on the West coast had
stressed the overwhelming importance of a base on Ramona Bay. Its
seizure by a hostile force would have exposed the fleet’s line of
communications to a deadly menace; the home coast to dangerous
raids; the diversion of naval units that would be vitally needed in
the main theater of operations.

The sudden thunder of hoofs and boisterous laughter broke into his
reflective mood. Out from the cover of a patch of woods came the
riders. The distance narrowed, and he saw the red piping on khaki
uniforms and recognized the riders as the group in the café. There
was studied insolence in their faces, and Stanley Graydon reined to
one side to give them a wide berth.

The horseman on the near flank, the swarthy colonel, deliberately
moved toward him at a lively canter. His own mount, crowded
uncomfortably close to the cactus hedge, wheeled and lashed out with
his heels. The unshod hoofs drummed viciously into the flank of the
colonel’s mount. A riding crop slashed across the rump of Stanley
Graydon’s stallion, and a burst of derisive glee greeted the
animal’s frenzied leap.

His crop lashed back with retaliatory slash across the colonel’s
hands. His stallion, now panicky, bolted. A pistol shot whistled
overhead. Furious at his apparent flight, he was unable to check his
racing animal until he had covered a full half mile beyond the
wooded stretch.

The rest of the day passed without incident, while he gathered
information about Santander’s commercial life from the loquacious
manager of the hotel. By deft questioning he also learned that the
bellicose colonel was Henriquez, commandant of the Palace Guard. The
youngster was Captain Juan Navarro, whose father, Don Rafael, was a
wealthy landowner on the shores of Ramona Bay, and highly esteemed
throughout Santander.

All this, however, held no clew to the patent hostility of the
Henriquez faction. At all events, he was determined not to let it
disturb his plans for a second ride into the interior, the following

Noon had passed before he wheeled his stallion homeward. He was
trotting regretfully out of the cover of woods into the heat of the
savanna lands. The drum of fast-flying hoofs and an exultant cry
warned him that treachery was afoot. He had purposely gone unarmed,
but now how he longed to close his fingers over the butt of a
service pistol. Out from their ambush rushed a squad of horsemen,
Henriquez at their head. With horses rearing and kicking, pistols
barking, the unequal fight was on. The butt of a pistol fell with
solid thud on the back of his head, as they milled about him.

When Stanley Graydon recovered his senses he was trussed in his
saddle like a pack of coffee. Ahead of him he saw Captain Navarro,
limp in his saddle, supported by one of the party. A crimson splotch
was staining the youngster’s side. Beyond loomed the gates of a
hacienda. Through a grove of mango trees water gleamed. At the end
of a row of flame trees, scarlet with blossom, the troop halted.

The gates swung open, and they moved at a walk to the steps of a
wide veranda. The agitated cries of a woman, the stern bass of a
man’s excited queries, were enough to tell him that it was the
hacienda of Don Rafael Navarro, on the shores of Ramona Bay.

The coolness of the interior into which he was hurried was grateful
after that trussed-up ride in the blazing sun. His wrists and ankles
were swollen from their bonds. His head ached frightfully from the
pistol-butt’s blow. It left him lethargic to the hostile looks of
the group that faced him. He listened with a mocking smile, while
Henriquez told his fantastic tale of a fight in which Graydon was
made the aggressor. There was no flinching from the steel-blue eyes
of Don Rafael.

He was tempted to protest that he had been unarmed; that the wound
of young Captain Navarro could only have been inflicted by a wild
pistol shot from one of his own friends, but at his first words Don
Rafael silenced him.

“Enough! It shall be as you advise, Colonel Henriquez. He will
remain a prisoner here. On the outcome of my son’s wound shall await
the final decision. If the good God wills that my son shall die----”
He halted. The silence was significant.


A forbidding _mozo_, barefooted and clad in blue denim, stepped
forward. The orders were too swift for Stanley Graydon to follow,
but they awoke an evil grin on José’s face.

“Your hands and feet will no longer be bound, señor,” Don Rafael
addressed him. “If you attempt to escape, however, José’s machete
has a sharp edge, and my hounds are quick on the trail.”

A snowy-haired woman, evidently his wife, drew herself sharply
against the wall, as he and José passed. Her sensitive mouth was
twisted in aversion.

Outside the grilled door of his room, José squatted on his heels,
smoking innumerable cigarettes from the blue packet that is a hall
mark of the tropics. His naked machete hung in a rope sling at his
side. In the morning José gave surly answers, Captain Navarro had
been delirious--weak with fever. José ended this disquieting
intelligence by drawing his blunt thumb across his wrinkled neck.
Still there was no word from Don Rafael. It seemed there would be
none until the fate of his son had been determined beyond doubt.
Oddly enough, it was José who forced the hand of his master.

“José!” called Stanley Graydon the next morning. “José! Where is my

The figure curled up on the matting outside did not answer. Stirred
by an uneasy premonition, Graydon stepped to the locked grill door
and stooped to look at José’s face. It was bluish and livid. The
lips were pressed tightly against the yellow teeth. There were great
dark circles about the eyes. He stooped lower. The body was taut as
a bowstring. The eyes stared at him in the fixity of death. The legs
were drawn sharply up against the stomach, where the last agonizing
cramp had shot them.

“Cholera!” he muttered. “Poor devil!”

                 *       *       *       *       *

Graydon’s calls for Don Rafael rang insistently. The maid who
finally came gave one affrighted look and bolted, shrieking her
terror. Then came the old don, who listened, with troubled eyes, to
his prisoner’s startling proposal.

“Put me in charge of your men, Don Rafael. I know how to handle men,
white or brown. I know how to fight cholera. Learned those tricks in
the Philippines, and I’ve never forgot them. Escape?” He laughed
tolerantly. “I wouldn’t leave you and your wife to fight this
scourge if you threatened to whip me off the place.”

Don Rafael bent his head in grave thought. There was a tribute in
the steel-blue eyes when he lifted them.

“I thank you, señor. I need you.”

Day and night, Stanley Graydon carried on his grim fight. Under his
unsparing leadership, his peon laborers learned to police their
grounds and huts as though the god of kitchen police was their
patron saint. They fought the mosquitoes in their breeding spots, as
though they were chastising the devil in person. They fought with
oil and lime and shovels to drive the plague from their borders.
They held to his laws without a murmur.

For a week the hacienda stood isolated from a world that knew
nothing of its plight. Then Colonel Henriquez rode debonairly up the
scarlet-flanked avenue. He was scornful of the agitated peon at the
gates; blind to the sinister yellow flag that hung above the
hacienda’s veranda. It was Don Rafael who broke the news to him.
Henriquez wheeled his horse, drove his spurs into its flanks, and
rode away as though the devil of the old patrician followed his
incontinent flight. That night Don Rafael unbosomed himself to his

“You came to us the potential murderer of our first-born, Señor
Graydon. In my heart your sentence to death had been passed. Colonel
Henriquez, the black-hearted craven, has wiped that out. He had been
my honored guest for years. We differed in politics, but I thought
him a brave and honest man. When I told Juan of his cowardly
desertion, I learned the truth of the fight in which he was

“And that, señor?”

“Henriquez thought you a spy from the United States. There was
something on foot, and they determined to kidnap you so that you
could not thwart their plans. Ah, señor, something evil is marching
on, but Juan has not yet the courage to tell me all. When he was
delirious he babbled of secret plans, of strange foreign agents, of
Ramona Bay. They have given me troubled nights. Perhaps, when Juan
is himself again, he will tell me all.”

“Ramona Bay!” exclaimed Stanley Graydon.

“Whatever concerns Ramona Bay, señor, is of vital import to your
country as well as mine,” and the old don’s voice was grave. “We
will be allies, you and I, as we have been since the day you cast
your fate with an old man and his wife.”

He caught up a decanter, filled two glasses with golden wine, and
they drank to their compact, standing.

Ramona Bay! If there was hidden intrigue on foot in Santander, it
could mean but one thing. If he and Don Rafael could unmask it, he
would be striding far in his hope for rehabilitation.

At noon the following day Don Rafael, visibly perturbed, sought him
out. His first words came with a rush of Spanish that Stanley
Graydon found difficult to follow. Juan, now clearly on the road to
recovery, roused by bitter contempt for Henriquez, had made a clean
breast of it. Through mock marriages of native women to foreign
agents, the groundwork for titles to land bordering on Ramona Bay
had already been accomplished by the Henriquez faction. A
revolution, headed by Henriquez, was scheduled to break out in the
capital on the first of the month.

                 *       *       *       *       *

Ten days was the slender interval--days that would see gun running at
its peak; the corruption of troops by gold, and lavish promises of
increased pay. The old patrician’s face was haggard.

“These foreign agents, Don Rafael--how have they worked under cover
and betrayed your government?”

“Ah, señor, there have been more of those far-off nationals in
Santander in the last six months than usually venture here in as
many years. They have come in the guise of scientists, interested in
the phenomena of subterranean rivers that abound in the valleys to
the west of here; as business men, and as tourists. We have been
blind dolts. There has not been a revolution here in fourteen
years,” and the old man’s eyes shone with pride. “That has been due
in the main to the laws that forbid aliens to acquire land. It has
barred out the great concessions. You see how it is being
circumvented. Tell me, señor, what must we do?”

“The first thing is to warn some powerful and loyal man in the
government,” came the quick answer. “He must move with caution, or
he will bungle it. As for the rest, I have thought of a plan; but
first you must take this step.”

As they strode back to the hacienda, framing the dispatch that must
be sent to the capital, Stanley Graydon saw a rider dismounting
there. There was something disquietingly familiar about the man’s
carriage. As recognition flashed over him, he was torn by
conflicting emotions. Dixon! The man who had driven him from the
service by lying charges. Dixon! The one man in a thousand who could
set in motion the nebulous plan he had framed for the salvation of
Ramona Bay.

Dixon greeted him with the old inscrutable smile. There was nothing
in his manner or speech, as he explained the reason for his
unexpected visit, to suggest that they had ever been shipmates.

“Just ran down, after a conference with the admiral, for a
‘look-see’ at Ramona Bay and the general conditions down here,” he
said coolly. “Yes, I called at the legation, but I rarely bother
with those diplomat chaps. They told me everything was peaceful.
Also, that Señor Navarro,” and he bowed politely, “was the chief
landowner out here and friendly toward us. So I took the liberty of
riding out.”

With a quick smile, Don Rafael insisted that he spend the night, and
then checked himself.

“Thanks, señor,” replied Dixon, as Don Rafael outlined the
situation. “I shan’t let thoughts of cholera disturb my sleep. I’ve
been shipmates with it at Rio and on the Isthmus, when they were
pest holes. Quarantined in half a dozen fever ports.”

Through Don Rafael’s story, however, he had turned his battery of
cold, gray eyes on Stanley Graydon. He fancied once that he had
caught in them a glimmer of admiration, for the old don had been
eloquent in his praise.

With scarcely a pause, Don Rafael plunged into the revelations made
by Juan. His long fingers forked through his white beard. His eyes
were afire with the startling import of them. Dixon listened,
imperturbable, emotionless.

“Your story is very interesting, señor,” he commented. His voice,
stripped of feeling, was in sharp contrast to the appeal for help.

“Fortunately,” he went on, “in my capacity as the squadron
intelligence officer, I have come here well informed of the general
situation. Neither Washington nor the legation has even hinted at
what you tell me. I am afraid your son has been imposed upon, or
that his mind is not yet clear. You must also remember that Colonel
Henriquez’s conduct would contribute to your son’s sensational

“Then you would not consent to send a radio through to the admiral,
outlining these reports?” Stanley Graydon broke in impulsively. “It
would be of untold value if the squadron should cruise down this way
and be on hand for any developments.”

“I would hardly care to endanger my reputation in the service by any
such ill-timed action,” came the curt reply. “A man’s reputation in
the service means a great deal more to him, Mr. Graydon, than a
civilian could possibly comprehend.”

There was unmistakable menace in that blunt ultimatum. It would have
been a lethal blow to Stanley Graydon’s pride should Dixon choose to
denounce him to the old don who had learned to lean so heavily upon
him. His eyes flashed, but he took the rebuke standing up.

Through the dinner Dixon carried the difficult situation with an
aplomb that wrested grudging admiration from him. Dixon had always
been an enigma to him. Gifted far beyond the average, reticent and
cold-blooded to a degree, he had held aloof from the heated
discussions of the wardroom. This evening, despite the rebuff he had
administered, he chose to talk of out-of-the-way ports, of
international affairs, of his destroyer duty in the North Sea, and
he held them under his charm.

Behind it all, however, the brusque rejection of their impassioned
pleas rankled deeply. It seemed beyond belief that he could dismiss
so lightly the menace to Ramona Bay.

                 *       *       *       *       *

In the morning Dixon joined him on his daily inspection. His
questions were to the point, his approval free and ungrudging, as
Stanley Graydon showed him the precautions that had been carried out
with an iron hand. Through it all he held a fatalistic scorn for the
menace of cholera, so far as he was concerned. For the first time he
referred to their service on the flagship.

“Sorry, Graydon, about that row we had aboard ship. Personally I am
no purist, but I am a fatalist. Seen many a fine chap make a
damaging slip in his career. That was due to something beyond his
control. I’ve got over the angry resentment that swept over me that
night. I should perhaps have let it go. Talked it over frankly,
brutally, with you afterward.”

“So you still think I cheated at cards!”

“I may have treated you unjustly, Graydon. Still, the admiral gave
you every chance to clear yourself. Let’s try another tack. I always
admired your professional ability. I admire the way you’re handling
this tough job down here, and the way you hold your head up. I am
willing to admit that, in spite of the most damning evidence, you
may be innocent. Here’s hoping you can prove it.”

Stanley Graydon’s impulse to blurt out in savage, unsparing
retaliation was checked by but one factor. That was his earnest
desire to convince Dixon of the seriousness of Juan’s revelations.
In the face of these revelations, he had no wish to incur further

On their way back to the hacienda, Dixon summed up his observations.

“You’re dead right, Graydon, in laying down the law for those
ignorant peons.” He smiled tolerantly as he went on. “I’m destined
to die at sea, just as I was destined to follow the sea. So don’t
mind if I allow myself a little latitude on your rules.”

True to his tenets, Dixon steered his fatalistic course, eating
mangoes with relish, drinking unboiled spring water. He was missing
at breakfast the third day. Stanley Graydon, a prey to misgivings,
found him in bed with the unmistakable marks of cholera on him. They
were there in the faint livid tinge of his face; in the spasms of
pain that raced through his body.

With the discovery, the last trace of bitter resentment on Graydon’s
part fled. The iron will of the man, his serene fatalism, his
stubborn fight for life, where a peon would have succumbed without a
struggle, enlisted Graydon’s admiration.

Don Rafael heard the news with an air of deep abstraction. It was
apparent that something of greater import had him in its grasp.

“Ah, if only Señor Dixon had acted as we begged him to! Now, if he
recovers and relents, it may be too late.” His face was drawn.

The bitterness of it brought inspiration to Stanley Graydon.

“That radio is going, Don Rafael!” he cried. “I’ll write the
message, sign Dixon’s name to it, and the legation will have it
coded and on the air before night falls!”

Don Rafael’s voice boomed out exultantly for a mounted messenger.

“We’ll have the squadron at anchor in Ramona Bay two days before
Henriquez is ready to spring his coup. We’ll have a division of
destroyers searching for those gun-running expeditions. And when
it’s all over, Don Rafael, I’ll tell why I came to Santander. If
you’ll give me your hand at the end of that story, it will be all
the reward I shall ask.”

“God bless you, señor!” Don Rafael’s voice was husky.

From Dixon’s bag Stanley Graydon brought a sheaf of official message
blanks. He framed his dispatch in convincing naval terms, explicit
and shipshape, and signed Dixon’s name to it. Behind him Don
Rafael’s lined face was creased with a smile of beatific joy.

Stubbornly Dixon held to the faith that death could come to him only
at sea, but he was weakening fast. Another day passed before the
message seemed to have penetrated to his indomitable soul that he
might not outlive the day. His mind was clear as the tone of a
ship’s bell. His voice, despite its weakness, held the cold quality
that was the index to the man.

“Graydon,” he gasped, “they’ll be piping me over the side soon.
Listen to me for a moment, old man. When I’ve finished, bring Don
Rafael here. You’ll need a witness to the last part of my yarn.” He
choked for a moment and then went grimly on:

“I’ve always been crooked, Graydon. I ‘gouged’ my way through
Annapolis on the one subject I was weak in. Steered a lone course.
Never a messmate, I wouldn’t have sacrificed my lone hand if it
meant a step toward flag command.”

A flicker of pain played over the masklike face.

“Needed money to make my ambitions come true. Played the stock
market from the day I drew my first pay check. Bottom fell out of
the market last fall. Wiped me out. Needed money desperately.” The
thin lips pressed tightly against his bared teeth. “Sold the only
thing that would get the price I needed--copy of the secret plans for
the defense of Panama Canal. Final payment the day I delivered

                 *       *       *       *       *

The cold gray eyes bored straight at Stanley Graydon and read in his
eyes incredulous disbelief.

“Two weeks from to-day, Graydon,” the dogged whisper went on. “the
_Franklin_ will be off Balboa. Draft from Mare Island to replace the
sick and short-time men. Mess attendants in draft. Filipino boys--all
but one. He looks like a Filipino. Officer of general staff in his
own navy.”

“And the copy of the secret plans?” Stanley Graydon asked

“Secret drawer, at bottom of my clothes locker. He’ll slip into my
cabin first day aboard. Get papers.”

Weakened by the compelling strain, the cold, measured whispers died
away. Stanley Graydon’s tense face was twisted in mingled aversion
and sympathy.

“Here, old man,” he snapped, “you’ve got to get this story off your
chest. I’m going to give you a shot of strychnine. You’ve got to go

He bent over with the hypodermic, and Dixon grinned sardonically.

“Be damned to the cholera!” he muttered. “Hasn’t downed me yet.
Graydon, you’ve got to get back to the old ship. I don’t want those
devils to get the plans at any price. To hell with their dirty
money. I’m not going out with the guilt of a traitor on my soul.”

“They’d never let me over the gangway,” Stanley Graydon protested.

“Send for Don Rafael!”

From his closed teeth a groan escaped, but he had regained the
mastery of himself when Don Rafael tiptoed into the room. Dixon’s
eyes were dull, but the old authority of the quarter-deck was in his
faint voice.

“My anchor chain is running out, Graydon. You, Don Rafael, swear me
to the truth by the most sacred oath you know. Graydon, take down
every word. I’ll sign it if it takes my last breath of strength.”

With uplifted hand, Don Rafael gave the oath. In Dixon’s dim eyes
there still flickered the iron will of the man who had always gone
crooked. Slowly, with infinite effort, came the confession:

“I, James Harkness Dixon, commander, United States navy, being in
full possession of my faculties, do hereby solemnly swear that
Stanley Graydon, captain, United States marine corps, is guiltless
of cheating at cards on the U. S. S. _Franklin_, on the night of
Friday, January 3rd.”

His emotionless voice trailed away. Only the racing of Stanley
Graydon’s pen across the paper broke the acute silence of the room.

“I, James Harkness Dixon, did falsely and maliciously,” the weak
voice persisted, “bring that charge to cover my own guilt. I do
further swear that I brought this accusation to throw suspicion
later on Captain Graydon for reasons that he has sworn not to

He turned his head with an effort. There was a trace of the old
peremptoriness in his whispered order:

“Now, Graydon, as soon as Don Rafael has witnessed it, I want to
talk to you alone.”

                 *       *       *       *       *

The old don left them, and Dixon began. He was speaking quickly, as
though the wings of death were beating over him.

“I marked the cards. Planted duplicate deck in your room. Dealt you
that ace-high full off the bottom. If the sale of those plans ever
got out, you’d have been the culprit. My assistant. Combination to
the safe.”

Stanley Graydon leaned forward. The knuckles of his hands showed
white under their tan. Full comprehension of it all was in his
steady eyes.

“Same crowd at bottom--Ramona Bay. Knew you and Don Rafael were
right. You’re too fine a lad to sacrifice.” He tried to raise
himself on one elbow, but Stanley Graydon caught him tenderly.
“Steady, old man, steady!” he said softly. “They had you in a
devilish fix. I understand. Steady!”

There was a world of gratitude in Dixon’s staring eyes. A faint
smile played over the pain-worn face.

“You’ve got to make knots to get back. Graydon. Get that copy.
Destroy it.”

“I’ll tear it to bits within a few hours, Dixon. Sent a radio to the
admiral through the legation. Signed your name,” he hastened to
reassure him.

Approval, sheer and complete, shone through the dulled eyes of the
dying man.

“Good lad!” he whispered. His hand sought Stanley Graydon’s.

He fell into a heavy stupor. At his side Stanley Graydon waited. The
weak fingers relaxed. The sun was low over Ramona Bay. The thunder
of guns came into the still room.

Stanley Graydon stepped lightly to the open windows. There, in the
sunlit distance, the gray ships of the squadron were at anchor. The
note of a bugle came faintly on the wind. He stepped back to the
bed. If only Dixon could have lived long enough to grasp the
significance of the flagship’s measured salute! Dixon’s eyes were
fixed in the glaze of death. His tortured soul had found its

[Transcriber’s Note: This story appeared in the July 7, 1927 issue
of The Popular Magazine.]

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "When the squadron dropped anchor" ***

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