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Title: The Dreadnought Boys Aboard a Destroyer
Author: Goldfrap, John Henry
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Dreadnought Boys Aboard a Destroyer" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

DESTROYER***


available by the Digital Library of the Falvey Memorial Library, Villanova
University (https://digital.library.villanova.edu)



      Images of the original pages are available through the
      Digital Library of the Falvey Memorial Library,
      Villanova University. See
      https://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:487932


Transcriber’s note:

      Text enclosed by underscores is in italics.

      An additional transcriber’s note is at the end of the book.



[Illustration: AS HERC SPOKE THE BRIGHT RAYS ENVELOPED THEM.
--Page 53.]


THE DREADNOUGHT BOYS ABOARD A DESTROYER

by

CAPTAIN WILBUR LAWTON

Author of “The Boy Aviators Series,” “The Dreadnought Boys on Battle
Practice,” etc. etc.



New York
Hurst & Company
Publishers

Copyright, 1911, by Hurst & Company



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                      PAGE

      I. THE FOREIGN AGENT                        5

     II. A WILLING TOOL                          20

    III. AT SEA ON A DESTROYER                   31

     IV. MAN OVERBOARD!                          44

      V. THE DREADNOUGHT BOYS’ FORTUNE           55

     VI. THE SECRET OF THE DERELICT              68

    VII. AN INSULT TO THE FLAG                   84

   VIII. THE BOYS MAKE AN INTERESTING DISCOVERY  98

     IX. ON SPECIAL DUTY                        110

      X. A BATTLE IN THE DARK                   121

     XI. ON SECRET SERVICE                      133

    XII. PLAYING WITH EDGED TOOLS               147

   XIII. PRISONERS OF WAR                       161

    XIV. A DRUM-HEAD COURT-MARTIAL              172

     XV. A SHELL FROM THE SEA                   182

    XVI. THE BOMBARDMENT                        195

   XVII. UNDER THE GOLD-STARRED FLAG            206

  XVIII. A BOARD OF STRATEGY                    220

    XIX. THE SEA FIGHT OFF SANTA ANNA           232

     XX. TORPEDOES                              245

    XXI. VICTOR AND VANQUISHED                  257

   XXII. AN ORDER TO HALT                       266

  XXIII. WITH THE COSTAVEZAN CAVALRY            276

   XXIV. NED’S HEROIC DEED                      288

    XXV. HOMEWARD BOUND--CONCLUSION             304

       *       *       *       *       *

The Dreadnought Boys Aboard a Destroyer



CHAPTER I. THE FOREIGN AGENT.


“Pardon me--but surely I am not mistaken,--you two young men are brave
sailors on board the _Beale_?”

“Hum; don’t know about the ‘brave sailor’ part of it,” smiled Ned
Strong pleasantly, as the dark-skinned speaker halted him and his
companion Herc Taylor in the shadow of the gray wall of the Brooklyn
Navy Yard. “We are on board the _Beale_, though, or will be shortly.”

The man who had addressed the two stalwart, sunburned young fellows
wearing the natty uniform of Uncle Sam’s sea-fighters flourished his
silver-headed cane as if in token of having attained an object.

“The _Beale_--the torpedo-boat destroyer?” he asked, as if he were
anxious to make quite sure of his ground.

“Yes, sir,” said Ned, briskly taking up his suit-case, as if about to
start off again. He had set down the piece of baggage when the stranger
first addressed them.

“One moment,” demanded the fashionably dressed first speaker, who spoke
with a trace of foreign accent, “since you are on board that craft, you
must come with me.”

Ned looked astonished at the other’s brusque manner of address. As for
Herc Taylor, the red-headed, his freckles shone pinkly under his tan.

“I guess you’re a foreigner, sir, aren’t you?” he asked gently.

“Why, yes, senor,” the other twisted his little waxed mustache
nervously, “but I----”

“I guessed it,” went on Herc serenely, “because in the United States we
have a foolish habit of saying ‘please’ if we wish anything done.”

“Well, ‘please,’ then, senor. Come, I wish to talk with you, please. I
know a place, not equal to the Hotel Espanola, perhaps, but where we
can get a good drink----”

“Count us out then,” snapped Ned sharply, “we don’t drink.”

The stranger placed his thumb and forefinger together, elevated them to
a level with his chin and, after gazing at them for a second, gave a
light:

“Pouf!”

“He’ll blow away if he does that again,” muttered Herc. But apparently
the man of the waxed mustache had been only taking this way of
dismissing any possible offense he might have caused. He bowed low.

“Ah, well, I have made a mistake, I see. Of course not. Zee brave
sailors of the Uncle Sam do not drink, nevaire. Perhaps, then, you will
do me the honor of accompanying me to that drug store at the corner. I
see they sell ice-cream sodas there. Will you try one of those?”

This was touching Herc Taylor in a weak spot. He gazed at his
companion inquiringly. But Ned Strong’s eyes were riveted on the small
wicket gate which opened in the long, gray-painted wall, a few feet
from where they were standing. The wall inclosed the humming hive of
activity known as the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Inside the gate stood a
marine, sharply scanning all arrivals. It was his duty to protect the
gateway to one of Uncle Sam’s ship hospitals, where everything from
a rib to a rivet can be adjusted or replaced, even on the largest
Dreadnoughts.

“We ought to report at ten-thirty. It’s ten now,” he said, gazing at a
handsome gold watch he had just drawn out of his breast pocket. Inside
the case it bore an inscription, “Presented to Ned Strong from Henry
Varian, in slight token of the inestimable services rendered by him at
Guantanamo, Cuba.”

Readers of the “Dreadnought Boys on Battle Practice” will recall the
occasion which Mr. Varian, the inventor of the powerful explosive
Chaosite, had thus chosen to commemorate. The watch had been presented
to Ned Strong, as an ordinary seaman on board the big Dreadnought
_Manhattan_. At the risk of his own life he had saved Mr. Varian from
some rascals who had abducted him, and under the threat of blowing him
up, had tried to compel the inventor to give up the formula of his
explosive and the blue prints of a patent gun-breech of his devising
for handling the stuff. It was Ned Strong’s ingenuity and pluck, it
will be recalled, which had resulted in the plans of these men being a
complete failure, and in their all being sentenced to long prison terms.

Closely following on this adventure, for which he received the
congratulations of his own commander and also of the rear-admiral
of the fleet, Ned Strong and Herc Taylor had behaved with singular
gallantry just after the eruption in the forward turret of a dreaded
“flareback.” At great risk they closed the safety doors, which had
jammed, and then carried several unconscious men, including Lieutenant
Timmons, the officer in charge, from the inferno of smoke and deadly
gas. For this, readers of that volume will recall, both had been
awarded medals of honor. Thus, in a few short months following their
enlistment from the remote New York State village of Lamb’s Corners,
both had become national heroes--that is, during the brief period of
public memory. Had the recollection of their gallant deed not died out
in the public mind, it is doubtful if the man who had accosted them
would have chosen just these two youths who had so fully deeded their
lives to their country and their flag.

“All right, we will go with you,” said Ned briskly, as if he had
suddenly come to some private conclusion.

“Ah, zat is good,” smiled the dark-skinned individual. “I am glad you
have come to zat determination.”

He started briskly off, headed for the drug store and followed by the
two young man-of-war’s men.

As the boys were a short distance behind him, they had an opportunity
to exchange a word or two as they went.

“Say, Ned,” began Herc, in a tone of remonstrance, “what’s the matter
with you?”

“You don’t like the looks of that fellow?”

“No more than I like the looks of a skunk with its tail swung toward
me.”

“Hush, he may hear you. I’ve got a good reason for going with him.”

“All right, then. What you say goes.”

This brief exchange of words brought them to the drug store, the
interior of which looked cool and inviting, in contrast with the
glaring sidewalk, for it was a hot day in early June.

Presently the trio were seated at a small table in the rear of the
store, which was empty for the moment of customers.

“Ah, that sounds good,” exclaimed Herc approvingly, as the long, cool
fizz-z-z-z of the fountain announced that their refreshments were being
drawn.

The stranger bent forward as the red-headed lad spoke, and in a
cautious voice said:

“But I have something to talk to you about which will sound bettaire.”

“So?” said Ned carelessly, as the soda glasses were placed in front of
them, and Herc at once buried his nose in pink, creamy foam, “What is
it?”

“Hush! Do not speak so loud. I don’t want it that any one should hear
us.”

“Oh, then, it’s sort of secret business?”

“Zat is eet. You are a young man of penetration.”

“You’d say so if you saw him wading into any one he doesn’t like,”
grinned Herc, setting down his empty glass and investigating its depths
with a spoon.

The clerk was instantly at his elbow. The stranger looked up angrily at
the store attendant.

“What are you doing listening here?” he demanded sharply.

“I wasn’t listening,” expostulated the aggrieved clerk, “I came to see
if this gentleman wanted any more.”

“Bring us all three some, and then keep away,” grunted the
black-mustached foreigner aggressively.

“Make mine vanilla this time,” ordered Herc.

“One nevaire knows who may be a spy,” explained the stranger, as the
clerk brought the new order, and then busied himself, out of earshot,
in the front of the store.

“Well, we’re not afraid of any spies,” returned Herc Taylor, giving the
stranger a searching look.

“Oh, no, of course not. Zee brave sailor of Uncle Sam----”

“Never mind that,” interrupted Ned, “you brought us here, you said, to
talk to us about something important--what?”

“You young men have heard of the Republic of Costaveza?”

“Of course, that tamale-eating South American merry-go-round,” blurted
out Herc, “that’s where the _Beale_ is bound for--so I heard,” he added
rather confusedly. He had caught Ned’s eye, and he thought it held a
reproof for his outspokenness.

“You are pairfectly right,” assented the other. “Now, there is an
opportunity to make what you call zee big money down there, for two
bright young men like you.”

“How?” inquired Ned bluntly.

This directness seemed to confuse somewhat the dark-skinned man, who,
like most of his race, which was Latin-American, preferred intrigues
and dark hints to coming straight to the point.

“Why,” he began, and then paused, as if searching for a word, “by--by
keeping zee eyes open.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Let me explain. The Republic of Costaveza is now in a state of
revolution.”

The boys nodded.

“The United States government is not friendly to the rebels, but dare
not show zat this ees the case. It would not be consistent with her
policies to interfere.”

“Well, what’s all this got to do with us?” asked Ned in the same direct
way. He was growing to like the mysterious manner of the stranger less
and less.

“Wait a moment, and you will see. In Costaveza there are, however, many
very important American interests--mining, lumber, asphalt and so on.
In the event of the rebels gaining power--which Heaven soon send--the
policy of the new government would be Costaveza for the Costavezans.
You follow me?”

“You mean that if the rebellion succeeds the property of the Americans,
which they have paid for and developed, will be confiscated. Is that
it?” questioned Ned.

“Exactly. Now, as I said, the United States dares not openly interfere.
Her treaties with other nations prevent that. But just the same, she
wishes to look after her citizens.”

“You bet she does,” put in Herc fervently.

“Now, the rebels are well armed. They have modern guns and equipment of
every kind. Where has this been coming from?”

“Search me,” blurted out Herc, on whose freckled countenance the
other’s dark eyes had fixed themselves.

“Hush, Herc!” reproved Ned. “Go on, sir.”

“It has come from the outside, from the good friends of the rebellion.
Now, the only way to prevent the rebels winning the day is to head off
their arms. Therefore, the American government sends a destroyer down
there to guard her interests--but secretly, mind you.”

“Why don’t they send the fleet down there and blow the rebels into the
sea?” asked Herc, who had not noted a fact which Ned’s keen observation
had instantly taken in, and that was that the dark-skinned man was
decidedly pro-rebel in his feelings. Carefully as he had tried to mask
it in his talk, this fact stuck out to Ned as plainly as the nose on
his face.

“That would not be diplomacy,” rejoined the stranger airily.

“No, but fine judgment,” added Herc sagely.

“Now, the point is this,” resumed the stranger, not noticing, or not
deigning to notice, Herc’s remark, “we want to know what is going on
on board the _Beale_ every moment that she lies off the coast of
Costaveza.”

“Oh, you do, do you?” thought Ned to himself. But aloud he said
innocently:

“Did you say we, sir?”

“Yes. Why should I disguise it?” said the stranger, his eyes lighting
up enthusiastically. “I am a patriot. The heart of Jules Charbonde
bleeds for his unhappy country, and so----”

“And so, being a patriot yourself,” snapped out Ned, with blazing eyes,
“you have come to ask us to betray our country.”

“Oh, no. Do not use so harsh a word, I beg of you. Not betray, but
report what she is doing.”

“That is a very fine distinction,” said Ned in musing tone. The other,
struck by his thoughtful tone and posture, too hastily assumed that his
errand was complete. He extended a roll of bills and shoved them across
the table, having first cautiously looked around him.

“You will make your reports when you arrive at Boca del Sierras, the
principal city of Costaveza,” he said, “when your shore boat docks, a
man will approach you and say, ‘A carriage, senors.’ You will go with
him, and he will bring you to a place outside the city. Then you can
make your reports, and----”

“Then we get more money?” inquired Ned in level tone, although danger
signals gleamed in his eyes.

“Why, yes. You see, your services will be very valuable. You can keep
us informed of every move of the _Beale_. But now place that money in
your pocket.”

“I don’t think so; I’ve another use for it,” said Ned quietly.

“Another use for it, senor, why----”

“This!” shot out the Dreadnought Boy, springing to his feet and
flinging the roll of bills at the South American agent. It hit the
dark-skinned fellow full in the face, and with such force was it hurled
that a dark patch burned out against his countenance where it had
struck. Jules Charbonde’s skin went a sickly yellow. His eyes glittered
as balefully as a serpent’s.

“So,” he snarled, “you insult a South American gentleman?”

“Gentleman!” scoffed Ned, “We’ve another name for fellows who practice
your sort of trade.”

The clerk, alarmed at the sound of loud voices, came hastening up.

“What’s the matter?” he demanded.

“How much is the bill?” asked Ned.

“Sixty cents. You had----”

“Here’s a dollar. Never mind the change. Come, Herc, let’s get out of
here, or I’ll feel tempted to give that fellow a lesson.”

Together the two Dreadnought Boys hastened from the drug store, but the
eyes of Jules Charbonde followed them with a menacing glint.

He raised his hand to his face, where the red spot still showed angrily.

“I’ll make you sorry for this,” he snarled, in his turn leaving the
shop.

Suddenly he wheeled sharply. A hand had been laid on his elbow.

“I’d like to speak to you a minute,” said a low voice almost in his
ear.



CHAPTER II. A WILLING TOOL.


Charbonde found himself facing a rather undersized youth of about
the age of the two who had just left him. The newcomer had furtive,
rat-like eyes, and a sharp face filled with a general expression of low
cunning.

“Who are you?” demanded Charbonde. “I don’t know you.”

“I know you don’t,” responded the other easily, “and yet, I may be able
to help you.”

“Bah!” began the foreign agent, trying to shake off the hand laid on
his arm.

“Wait till you hear what I have to say,” resumed the other eagerly. “I
hate those two blue-jackets who have just left you.”

A new light suddenly shone in Senor Charbonde’s eyes. He began to
regard the furtive-looking youth with more interest.

“Who are you?” he demanded cautiously.

“My name won’t mean much to you. It’s Harkins--Henry Harkins. I was
formerly in the navy, but I was dishonorably discharged, owing to those
two fellows. I hate them.”

The tone in which this communication was made left no doubt of the
speaker’s sincerity. His mean face grew positively wolfish as he
spoke. Not even in his days aboard the _Illinois_, when he had joined
Kennell, the ship’s bully of the _Manhattan_, and the other miscreants
in abducting Ned and Mr. Varian, had Hank Harkins ever looked more
despicable. For his part in the conspiracy, as our former readers know,
Harkins, who hailed from the same village as the Dreadnought Boys, had
been dishonorably discharged from the service. That the world had not
gone well with him since then was manifest. His clothes were old and
worn, and lines, which did not look well on a youthful countenance,
marked his features. As Charbonde gazed at the figure before him, a
sudden thought came to him. Here, ready-made to his hand, was a tool
that he might find useful.

“So you would like to have an opportunity to avenge yourself on those
two lads, is it not so?” he said slowly.

“I’d do almost anything to get even with them,” muttered Hank. “They
are the cause of all my misfortunes. I’ve been broke for weeks, and
have hardly known what it was to have a square meal.”

Hank did not think it necessary to add that his misfortunes, like
his dishonorable discharge, were all of his own making. His father,
sorely tried though he had been by the boy’s unsavory escapades, had
written him to come home to the farm, but this Hank had refused to do
permanently. Life in and about New York suited his vagabond disposition
too well for that.

“Ah, you need money,” exclaimed Senor Charbonde.

“Yes, yes,” ejaculated Hank in a voice that came dangerously near to
being a beggar’s whine. But if he thought Senor Charbonde was going
to be so prodigal with his funds as to hand him a crisp bill, he was
mistaken. Instead, the South American revolutionary agent tore a sheet
out of a notebook he fished from his pocket and handed it to Hank, who
gazed at it eagerly. It bore an address on West Fourteenth Street, New
York,--that of a hotel famous as a rendezvous for foreign secret agents.

“Be there at three o’clock this afternoon, and perhaps I can put you in
the way of making a little money.”

With these words Senor Charbonde swung on his carefully polished boot
heel, and, twirling his stick gayly, started at his best pace to leave
behind what was, to his fastidious taste, a very unsavory portion of
the town. Hank, however, after a moment’s interval, had appraised the
other’s prosperous appearance and pattered rapidly after him on his
thin-worn shoe soles.

“Suppose you give me a little in advance?” he asked impudently.

The South American hesitated.

“Ah, well, perhaps it will bind him more closely to me,” he thought
the next instant. Once more his jeweled hand dived into his pocket, and
this time it produced a roll of bills--the same which was responsible
for the pinkish mark on his yellow skin. Hank’s eyes glistened as they
fell upon the dimensions of the roll. Eagerly he watched the other peel
off a five-dollar bill.

“Thank you, thank you!” he exclaimed in a servile, fawning way, as
Charbonde handed it to him.

“There is a fellow who would do anything for money,” thought the South
American, as he resumed his way. “I have gained a valuable emissary.”

“That fellow’s a gold mine if he’s worked right. I’m in luck, and I’ll
have a chance to get even with those two pious, psalm-singing lunk
heads,” was Hank’s thought, as he shuffled off. An alliance had just
been formed which boded ill for the Dreadnought Boys.

Hank made his way down the street past the gray walls fencing off
the navy yard, and after walking two or three blocks turned into a
drinking resort frequented by sailors and dock denizens. Hank flung
down the bill he had just received in front of the proprietor.

“Take what I owe you out of that,” he said grandiloquently. The other
lifted his eyebrows in some surprise, and then, abstracting from it the
small amount for which he had allowed Hank to become indebted to him,
returned the change. As the money and bills were shoved across to Hank,
a heavy-set man, who had been seated at a table in one corner of the
place, arose and came over to him.

“Hello! messmate,” he exclaimed, “in luck, eh?”

“Why, hello, Jim Prentice!” exclaimed Hank, recognizing in the other a
former fireman of the _Illinois_, “how goes it?”

“Pretty well, shipmate, but low water here,” said the other, tapping
his pocket suggestively. “Can you loan a fellow a few dimes?”

“Loan!” exclaimed Hank, not best pleased at this encounter, “why, it
may be months before I see you again. You’re going to sea soon, aren’t
you?”

He glanced toward where the other had been sitting and noted a battered
telescope grip reposing beside his vacant chair.

“Yes, and a fine old tea-kettle of a stoke hole I’m assigned to. Aboard
the _Beale_, that destroyer, you know. To make matters worse, we’re for
South America, I hear. It’ll fairly roast a man to work under forced
draught in that climate.”

“The _Beale_, eh?” mused Hank. “That’s the craft those two fellows are
assigned to.”

He said this in a low voice, and it escaped the other’s hearing
altogether. Presently he added aloud:

“When do you sail?”

“Some time to-morrow. Why?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Just curious, that’s all. So you need money, Jim?”

“Need it!” burst out the other, “why, boy, if shoes were five cents a
pair, I couldn’t buy a heel. There’s my sister, too, Hank,” he went on
in a serious voice, “she’s sick, and the doc says that she’s got to get
away to the country or he won’t answer for her life. Oh, I’m up against
it, all right, I tell you.”

A dim plan had begun to form itself in Hank’s mind as the other spoke,
but as yet it had not assumed definite form. Instead, he remarked
lightly:

“Oh, I guess it’ll come out all right, Jim. Here, take this”--he handed
the other half a dollar--“and be here to-night at eight o’clock. I may
have something to talk over with you.”

“All right, Hank, I’ll be here, don’t you worry.”

“So long, then,” exclaimed the other. “I’m off.”

With more energy than he had displayed for some time past Hank shot
out of the door and off up the street. He spent his money to such good
advantage that at the end of an hour he emerged from his small room in
a rickety tenement,--which he preferred to an airy room and wholesome
work on the farm,--with a clean collar and neatly slicked-down hair.
His battered, broken boots, too, bore a glossy polish. But all Hank’s
efforts to improve his appearance could not erase from his face that
expression which instinctively made people loath and distrust him.

At the appointed time he was at the hotel mentioned by Senor Charbonde,
and was closeted in deep consultation with that astute gentleman for an
hour or more. When he came out his face bore a broad smile--or grin,
rather, the former word hardly applying to Hank’s peculiar expression
of satisfaction.

“So that’s the game, is it?” he muttered to himself, as he found his
way to the crowded street. “Well, I’ll get the man you want and right
on board the _Beale_, too, but you’ll have to pay for it, and pay
heavy. Too bad, though, that the dago had to go and tell those boys
about his plans. No use worrying about that, however. I guess I’m slick
enough to fix them, or else----”

A cross-town car going in his direction passed before Hank had time to
finish his train of thought. He swung himself on the back platform,
but had hardly done so before he almost fell off again.

Facing him were the two last persons in the world he wished to see just
then--Ned Strong and Herc Taylor. For their part, the Dreadnought Boys
were almost as much astonished, though, of course, their feelings had a
very different tinge.

The situation would have been embarrassing but for the fact that Hank,
without a sign of recognition, dived rapidly forward into the crowd and
soon was swallowed in a perfect sea of heads and shoulders.

“The last person I’d have thought of meeting,” gasped Ned.

“The last person I’d want to meet,” growled Herc, clutching an armful
of bundles he held as vindictively as if he had Hank in his grip.

The Dreadnought Boys had been spending their last day ashore in getting
a few necessities for the voyage.

“I noticed him in the crowd on the sidewalk before he boarded the car,
and was going to draw your attention to him,” said Herc, “but I thought
I must be mistaken.”

“What was he doing?”

“Why, he had just come down the steps of the Hotel Espanola.”

“The Hotel Espanola,” exclaimed Ned in an astonished voice. “Why,
that’s the hotel that Charbonde mentioned this morning.”

“That’s right. By grandpa’s prize shoat, you don’t think Hank can be
mixed up in that crooked South American thing?”

“I don’t know,” mused Ned slowly, as the car rattled along. “I’d be
half inclined to believe anything of a chap who’d been dishonorably
discharged from the United States navy.”



CHAPTER III. AT SEA ON A DESTROYER.


The _Beale_, like the other vessels of her class, of which the Navy
Department has built such numbers in recent years, was a long,
low, waspish-looking craft. She was painted dark “war color,” with
four squat funnels. On the foremost were three bands of yellow.
A superstructure raised itself forward. Aft and amidships were
business-like looking machine guns and torpedo-launching tubes.
Altogether she was as wicked a looking instrument of war as one could
imagine--well worthy of the sinister appellation--destroyer.

On the morning of the day on which she was to sail, Lieutenant Timmons,
former gunnery officer of the _Manhattan_, did not step on board his
speedy command till half an hour or so before sailing time. He found a
scene of intense bustle and activity awaiting him. Last stores were
being rushed on board, and the excitement that attends the last moments
before the casting off of any vessel, from a mud scow to a battleship,
was in the air.

From the _Beale’s_ four stacks columns of black smoke were pouring, and
white spurts of steam gushed from her escape pipes. She reminded one of
an impatient horse champing his bit,--the bit in this case being the
taut lines which held her to the navy yard wharf.

“Say, Herc, this is something like it,” observed Ned, as the two young
men stood on the forward deck and watched the eager preparations going
forward.

“Um, kind of like going to sea in a machine shop,” was Herc’s comment
as he gazed about him at the wilderness of steel and mechanical
contrivances. As Herc had said, the deck of a destroyer does not bear a
material difference from the metal wilderness of a machine shop.

“Wait till we get outside,” grinned Ned; “if there are any whitecaps
she’ll dance around like an empty bottle.”

“Woof!” grunted Herc, who still had a lively recollection of his first
day at sea on the _Manhattan_. If that mighty Dreadnought was tumbled
about like a plaything of the waves, what would happen to the little
_Beale_? Herc dared not think about it.

“Say,” observed Ned suddenly, “I wonder what that fellow wants?”

He indicated, as he spoke, a man who had just paced by them. He was a
stalwart figure, though rather thickset, and round his neck was a dirty
towel, proclaiming that he belonged in the fire-room regions.

“Oh, just some lubberly fireman. Why does he interest you particularly?”

“Why, he’s been past us two or three times since we’ve been standing
here, and each time he has given us the greatest sizing up. I thought
at first he might know us.”

At this moment the fireman turned, having reached the limit of the
superstructure, and came back toward them.

“Ever see him before?” asked Ned.

“Never,” rejoined Herc positively.

“Neither have I--of that I’m certain. I don’t like his looks much.”

“Well, thank goodness, we don’t come much in contact with that
collection of lubberly ash-hoisters to which he belongs,” grinned Herc.

As usual, the red-headed lad spoke rather louder than he had intended.
Just then a sudden lull came in the clatter and uproar of the last
moments, and Herc’s words were distinctly heard by the other. He
favored the two as he passed with a distinct scowl.

“There you go again, Herc,” reproved Ned. “That fellow heard what you
said.”

“Well, he _is_ one, isn’t he?” demanded the irrepressible youth. “An
ash-hoister, I mean.”

“That’s no reason to tell him so. Now you, for instance----”

A long blast from the _Beale’s_ siren interrupted him. Instantly
boatswain’s mates’ whistles shrilled about the steel decks, and men
scampered hither and thither, taking up their posts.

Ned and Herc hastened to theirs, while the orders to “Cast off” rang
out sharp and clear. Instantly, like big snakes, the hawsers squirmed
inboard, while steam winches rattled furiously. On the conning tower
stood the figure of Lieutenant Timmons, with Ensign Gerard, his second
in command, beside him.

“Ahead--slow!” he ordered.

A quartermaster shoved over the engine-room telegraph, and the steel
decks began to vibrate beneath the boys’ feet. A small navy tug had
hastily hitched on to the _Beale’s_ “whale-back” bow, and hauled it
round toward the river. Presently, however, this duty done, she, too,
cast off. Thus left to her own power, the low, black destroyer glided
out among the shipping on the East River, like a ferret slipping
through a rabbit warren.

“Hurray for going to sea on a sewing-machine!” grunted Herc
sardonically, as the business of casting off being over, the
Dreadnought Boys were free for a few minutes.

“Say, Ned,” he remarked suddenly, after an interval spent in watching
the busy shipping and the buildings along the shore, “I thought you
said this boat could beat anything of her class afloat?”

“So she can--twenty-nine knots,” rejoined Ned, briefly and
comprehensively.

“Hum! We’re crawling along like an old ferry boat.”

“Well,” laughed Ned, “it’s a good thing, too. If we made speed in this
crowded river, we might run into something.”

“And sink them?”

“No, hardly. Torpedo-boat destroyers aren’t built for that kind of
work. The skin of this craft isn’t much thicker than that of an orange.”

“Wow! Stop her!” exclaimed Herc.

“What’s the matter?”

“I’ve just remembered an important engagement ashore!”

“Too late now,” laughed Ned, as they steamed through Buttermilk Channel
and headed down the bay toward the Narrows. Brooklyn Bridge lay behind
them like a rainbow of steel.

“Say,” grunted Herc suddenly, as if the thought had just struck him,
“it wouldn’t do for us to hit anything, would it?”

“Well, I should say not,” laughed Ned. “It would be like an inflated
paper bag getting the impact of a good, healthy fist.

“Have you seen our quarters below?” inquired Ned, to change the subject.

“Have I? I should say so. Not much like the old _Manhattan’s_
forecastle. There isn’t room to swing a cat without scraping its
whiskers off.”

“No, in craft of this kind everything is sacrificed to engine space.
Speed is the thing.”

“Well, I guess you’ll soon see some. Wait till we get out of the
Ambrose Channel and turn our nose southward.”

“Can’t come too swift for me,” confidently asserted Herc.

The conversation of the two young men was interrupted at this moment
by a boatswain’s mate. He ordered them forward to attend to some
brasswork.

“Same old chores to be done even aboard a destroyer,” sighed Herc.

It may be said here that both Ned and Herc had practically received
their rating as boatswain’s mates, but, owing to red tape, they had
not received their appointments when the time came for sailing on the
_Beale_. The destroyer carried a picked crew for the special service
on which she was going, and Ned and Herc, to their huge delight, had
been recommended by Captain Dunham for duty. Their present commander,
Lieutenant Timmons, was the officer whom Ned had saved when the turret
on the _Manhattan_ was filled with the deadly gases and flames of the
flare-back.

“Never mind,” Ned comforted, as the two boys went forward to get their
rags and “brass dope,” “we’ll get our rating before this cruise is
over.”

“Hooray! Then we’ll be giving orders, not taking them. Won’t I give
some chaps I know a working-up,” grinned Herc.

“So far as obeying is concerned, the rear-admiral himself has to follow
orders,” reminded Ned.

“Yes, but not so pesky many as we have to now,” Herc retorted.

The destroyer was soon well out into the heavy Atlantic swell. Dimly
on the starboard hand could be seen the low-lying coast of New Jersey.
During the afternoon the wind freshened, and the sun sank in a heavy
bank of hard, greasy-looking clouds.

“Wind, sure as fate,” remarked a boatswain’s mate, as he gazed at them.

Before supper the men were given their watches, and other routine
duty assigned. It was the first time that either of the boys had
seen Lieutenant Timmons since Ned had so bravely rescued him. Naval
etiquette, however, forbade his giving either of the boys more than a
crisp nod and a short:

“Well, my lads,” as he made his first tour of inspection.

Ned and Herc were both on duty in the watch that came on after
midnight. They turned in, therefore, with several of their mates
shortly after the evening meal. Both slept soundly, being, by this
time, too accustomed to the noises of a laboring ship to pay any
attention to the uproar. They were awakened at eight bells, midnight,
however, by the shrill cries of:

“Turn out there, the starboard watch! Come on, tumble out there!”

Both boys instantly perceived that they were, indeed, as Ned put it,
on board a craft “as lively as a floating bottle.” The steel floor,
shining dimly under the few incandescents burning in the forecastle,
seemed inclined at all sorts of angles at once.

“Say, this thing is a sea broncho!” complained Herc, trying in vain to
thrust a leg into his trousers. Every time he thought he had succeeded
a fresh lurch would send him flying across the floor. Ned got on a
little better, but both boys were black and blue in numerous places by
the time they caught on to the fact that their more seasoned shipmates
were bracing themselves against the upright metal posts from which the
hammocks were slung.

As they hastily dressed the boys could hear, every now and then, a
terrific crash like a heavy burst of thunder. It was the weight of
some big wave smashing against the whale-back bow. At such moments the
destroyer quivered from stem to stern like a nervous racehorse.

Emerging on deck the boys found that the motion had not belied the
wildness of the night. One of those summer gales that spring up along
the Atlantic coast was howling in all its fury. The seas were running
in black mountains. It seemed as if their great jaws must engulf the
slender, needle-like craft, which, instead of riding them, dived clean
through most of them. This was owing to her high speed, which, though
it had, of course, been moderated when the blow came on, was still very
fast.

Lieutenant Timmons’ orders were to get to his station as fast as
possible, and he was surely doing it.

“A good thing we’ve got on oilskins!” exclaimed Ned, clinging to the
rail as the destroyer bucked and plunged, and water slushed and swished
along her decks.

Soon after, the midshipman whose duty it was, came to where the watch
was crouching in the protection of the wing of the superstructure, and,
while a quartermaster held his lantern, read off the roll.

“Now, keep away from the rail, boys,” he warned, “it’s going to blow
harder yet, and we don’t want any one overboard.”

“Overboard,” commented Herc, as the young officer hurried back to the
small “bridge” on the conning tower and sought the shelter of a weather
cloth, “well, I should say not. It’s wet enough here.”

“Bad business, any one going overboard to-night,” put in the man in
charge of the watch, a weather-beaten boatswain’s mate named Stanley.
“That dinky boat would stand a good chance of being smashed like an
eggshell.”

“How about the illuminating buoy?” inquired Ned.

“Oh, that’s slung aft, with a hand watching it, of course. But even
that wouldn’t be much use on such a night.”

Chatting thus, the shivering, wet watch managed to pass the time. At
frequent intervals Ned peered into the inky blackness. Against the
pitchy background he could see ragged clouds of lighter shade being
ripped viciously past overhead by the gale.

“If this wind ever hit the farm, gran’pa wouldn’t have a roof over his
head in the morning,” shouted Herc in his comrade’s ear.

Ned was about to reply in a similar vein when a sudden cry rang above
the uproar of the laboring destroyer and the howling of the wind.

It was a shout that chilled the blood of every man in that group--the
most terrible cry that can be heard at sea on such a night.

“Man overboard!”



CHAPTER IV. MAN OVERBOARD!


“The life buoy!” came a sharp shout from the conning tower.

“Gone away, sir!” roared back the sailor whose duty it was to watch the
contrivance.

Already, such was the speed of the destroyer, the blue flame of the
chemical buoy showed some distance astern--now glimpsed on the top of a
wave, now vanishing altogether.

But even as Ned’s heart, which had stilled for an instant--or so
he imagined--at the shout of alarm, began to beat again, the speed
diminished. Waves began to hammer viciously at the slowing craft. The
midshipman on watch had set the telegraph to “full speed astern!”

The engine-room crew had instantly obeyed the order. Into the angry sea
the slender, vibrating craft began to back at the full power of her
propellers.

As she did so, the middy was already off the bridge and among the
watch. Lieutenant Timmons had also appeared, oilskins hastily thrown
over his pajamas. He had assumed command and was on the conning tower.

“Volunteers for the boat!” sang out the middy.

“How many, sir?” asked Stanley.

“Four. That’s enough. We don’t want to overcrowd her.”

“Then there’s four more here than you’ll want, sir,” rejoined Stanley,
as the entire watch stepped forward.

The middy chose Herc and Ned and Stanley, and a man named Beesley. All
were alert, strong and fearless, true types of Uncle Sam’s sailormen.
In the meantime the boat had been unlashed and made ready for slinging.
If it would have been dangerous to launch a boat on such a night from
a battleship, how infinitely more so was it from the bounding, swaying
deck of the destroyer! Never still for an instant, her military mast
was cutting big arcs back and forth against the ragged sky.

But not one of those men hesitated a wink of an eyelid. Into the boat
they piled, and the next instant the quadrant davits had dropped them
overside into the turmoil!

A sharp “click” told that the falls had been automatically loosened.

“Stand by!” shouted the middy, who stood in the stern with the steering
oar.

As he spoke, a mighty wave picked the boat up as if it had been a
walnut shell and swept it dizzily away from the side of the destroyer.
Off into the blackness it was carried before the oarsmen had time to
stay it. The sharp command rang out again:

“Give way!”

Those four strong-backed, supple oarsmen bent to their sweeps as if
they meant to split them. Far off, on their lee, they could see the
bluish flame of the chemical buoy, now rising into view on the crest
of a comber and now sinking out of sight in the dark trough of the
turbulent seas. It was impossible to tell if there were a man clinging
to it or not.

Bending forward, the middy scanned the wilderness of tumbling waters
eagerly, while the oarsmen steadily struggled against the big seas
down toward the lambent flame. Time and again it seemed as if one of
the immense waves must crash down into the boat and overwhelm her.
But the navy craft are built for just such work, and the boat kept
comparatively dry amid the tempest.

“Hooray, boys!” came a sudden shout from the middy in the stern, “I see
him!”

The temptation was strong upon the oarsmen to turn their heads and
look, but they knew that such an action might result in the swamping of
the boat, and kept steadily at their work.

All at once a blinding glare of light enveloped them, and then swept
on. It was the destroyer’s searchlight.

“Woof!” exclaimed Herc, “I never knew those seas were so big till that
light showed them up.”

Viewed in the bright electric bath of the searchlight, the waves
did, indeed, look formidable. Black and huge, they reared up on every
side of the tiny boat. Their tops were torn off by the furious wind
in sheets of ragged foam. The spume thus formed drenched the boat in
clouds.

Suddenly the middy at the stern oar swung the boat right around to port
and, hauling his oar inboard, rapidly crawled forward.

“I see him, boys,” he shouted, grasping a line and leaning far out over
the bow. “Stand by for orders.”

“Peak oars!”

Round came the boat’s head, the faces of its occupants now flooded with
light from the destroyer’s searchlight.

“All right, my man, I’ve got you!” exclaimed the young officer, as he
reached overboard for the patent buoy, to which hung a bedraggled,
almost exhausted figure.

But at the same instant he uttered a shout of alarm, and before the
horrified eyes of his startled crew he lost his balance and toppled
over the bow into the raging sea.

“He’ll sink like a shot in those rubber boots!” yelled Stanley.

“Thank goodness, he kicked ’em off before he went forward,” cried Ned,
who was at the stroke oar.

But even without the boots, the young officer was in dire peril. As
he was swept past the buoy he made a frantic grab for it, but his
fingers closed on the air. The contrivance, already burdened, was swept
from his reach. Ned never forgot that face as the middy was carried
by. In the glare of the searchlight every man in the boat could see
his distressed features as plainly as if he had been performing on a
lighted stage.

Suddenly Ned gave a shout. As a matter of fact, his outcry was
simultaneous with the sweeping past the boat of the struggling young
officer.

“You fellows keep her head to the seas!” he shouted above the voices of
the gale.

“What are you going to do?” demanded Herc, as Ned rapidly threw off
his oilskins and divested himself of his heavy boots. The young
man-of-war’s man stood poised in the stern for an instant of time,
and then, as a white face was borne by the boat once more, he plunged
overboard, his body cleaving the waves as neatly as a torpedo.

So quickly had it all happened that hardly a man in the boat but Herc
realized what the boy was going to do. Situated as they were, however,
there was no time to indulge in speculation. Handling the boat took
every ounce of energy and brain power they possessed. By a streak of
luck, however, the boat had, during all the excitement, been allowed to
drift to lee of the man clinging to the buoy. A wave literally smashed
him against the side of the boat, the buoy fortunately striking first
and taking off the force of the blow. In the flash of time accorded
him, the fellow took advantage of his opportunity and clutched the
gunwale. The next minute he was hauled aboard, dripping and almost
gone. A more grateful man could not have been found in the universe.

In the meantime, all sight of Ned and the middy had been lost. Not a
man aboard the boat had any idea of where to look for them in the wild
tumult about them. They might be struggling for their lives at almost
any point beyond the oarsmen’s ken.

The suspense was maddening to Herc. Strong swimmer as he knew Ned to
be, it was doubtful if, with the added burden of the middy, the boy
could battle for his life long.

Suddenly a cry came from Stanley, who was pulling the bow oar. The
wandering searchlight had, for an instant, shone upon two white faces
on the crest of a wave a short distance off. The man shouted his
information, and the boat was at once headed in that direction. All
this time water had been breaking into the little craft. There being
no time to bail, she was soon in a very loggy condition. As the three
oarsmen remaining in her strove, with every sinew in their bodies, to
urge her forward, she rode half lifelessly on the tumbling waters.

“There they are!” yelled Herc suddenly.

As he shouted a big wave bore down toward them, carrying with it two
figures. They were rushed by the boat in the dark swelter of waters.
Stanley leaned over, at imminent risk of the craft’s broaching to, and
seized one of them in a firm grasp. It was the limp, unconscious figure
of the midshipman, who had been torn from Ned’s rescuing arms.

Stanley’s fingers had hardly closed on the middy’s collar before Herc
reached over and grabbed his chum. He was just in time. Another instant
and Ned, whose strength was fast deserting him after his struggle to
rescue the middy, would have been borne far beyond hope of salvation.

But the simultaneous desertion of two oars, brief though it was, proved
disastrous to the boat. As a big gray-back swept down upon it, the
little craft broached to and filled with water to the gunwale.

“Overboard, everybody!” cried Stanley, setting the example and clinging
to the edge of the boat, his body being over the side. With one arm he
supported the rescued middy. The others followed his example. It was
cruel work for Ned, and he was glad to feel Herc’s strong arm at his
elbow as they clung to the helpless, water-logged boat.

“Say, looks like we’re goners!” exclaimed Herc, as he held tightly to
Ned.

“If the _Beale_ doesn’t hurry up, we are,” agreed Ned. “Wonder if
they’ve seen our plight?”

“Not yet, but here comes the searchlight.”

As Herc spoke the bright rays enveloped them. They fancied they could
hear a loud shout of consternation borne down on the wind toward them;
for by this time the destroyer was well up to the weatherward of the
half-sunk boat.

“Now, if they’ll only get us in their lee, they may get us out of this
yet,” exclaimed Ned.

“And that’s what they are going to do,” cried Herc jubilantly, as the
black form of the destroyer drew closer and closer. Her propellers were
backing her slowly. Her commanding officer was allowing the wind to
drift her down toward the submerged boat.

In this way it was hoped to form what sailors call a lee. That is, the
big form of the destroyer would be interposed between the wind and the
boat. In the comparative calm thus formed on her lee side, it was hoped
that it would prove feasible to get the castaways on board.

But those minutes of waiting were among the most trying any of them
had ever experienced. Time and again a monster wave would engulf the
half-sunk boat, submerging the clinging crew altogether.

At last, just as Ned’s strength seemed to be giving out, he saw above
him the black, glistening outline of the destroyer.

From somewhere far above him, as it seemed, a line came whistling
through the air. Exerting his remaining strength, he caught it and
made fast. He heard shouted commands above him and saw lights flitting
hither and thither.

All at once both boat and destroyer seemed to be picked up together
and hurled upward to the sky in a dizzy ascent. The next instant the
downward drop started. Ned felt his senses leaving him. In the midst
of a terrific crash, which he knew was the splintering of the helpless
boat against the _Beale’s_ steel sides, his senses went out.



CHAPTER V. THE DREADNOUGHT BOYS’ FORTUNE.


“You’re wanted aft.”

The word came to Ned the next day as he lay, feeling rather dizzy and
light-headed, in his hammock. There is no sick bay on a destroyer, and
so special leave had been granted him to have his hammock slung during
the daytime.

The Dreadnought Boy had been the only one of the boat’s crew injured in
the onslaught of the mighty wave. Strong arms had pulled the rest to
safety without injury. Ned, however, had been caught in the wreckage
and badly bruised. As the parting of a light line released him from the
tangle of the smashed boat, he had been flung head first against the
_Beale’s_ quarter.

“The commander added,--that is, if you feel well enough to come,”
amended the messenger.

“Ask his indulgence for a few minutes till I get my sea legs, will
you?” laughed Ned. “I feel mighty queer and shaky.”

At this moment Herc, who had been released from his duties on deck to
see how his chum was faring, came below. With the red-headed lad’s
assistance, Ned was soon ready for his visit aft. He found that the
salty blast of fresh air which struck him in the face as he emerged
from the crew’s quarters was as good as a tonic. The gale had blown
itself out. Overhead was stretched a clean-swept, blue sky, while about
them a bright sea, crested with sparkling whitecaps, raced along.
Through it the _Beale_ was plunging her way south at a good rate of
speed, the black smoke pouring from her funnels and encrusting her
after deck with a crunching carpet of cinders.

“Well, my lad, how are you feeling to-day?” asked Lieutenant Timmons,
as Ned entered the cabin, cap in hand, and, after saluting, stood
respectfully at attention.

Ned assured his superior that he was suffering no ill consequences.
Whereupon Lieutenant Timmons called forward a young officer, whom Ned
had not previously noticed.

“Here, Stark,” he said, “is the man you have to thank for your being
here to-day.”

“And I do most heartily!” exclaimed the middy, stepping forward with
outstretched hand. “I don’t know how to word it, Strong, but I hope you
know how I feel.”

Ned nodded, rather embarrassed.

“That’s all right, sir,” he said. The boy had supposed that this
concluded the interview, but in this he was mistaken. Fingering some
papers which lay on his desk Lieutenant Timmons went on.

“I am especially glad that your officer and you have this bond between
you, Strong, for this reason:--when we reach our destination,--which
you may, or may not know?----”

Ned nodded to show that he was aware of the objective point of the
voyage.

“When we reach Costaveza, I say, I have some special duty outlined,
which I have already explained to Mr. Stark. He will command such
men as he thinks he requires to assist him. I do not think, and he
shares my opinion, that he could make a better choice than you and your
companion, Hercules Taylor.”

“Of course, we’ll do our best, sir,” said Ned simply, though his heart
was beating high at the distinction which his commander was conferring
on the Dreadnought Boys.

“I know you will, Strong,” said his superior crisply, “and that is
why I selected you for the duty. There is no need to explain it in
its details, which will largely be governed by the conditions we may
find existing in the republic. Of course, from reading the papers, you
are familiar with the fact that there is a revolution there, which is
antagonistic in the extreme to American interests.”

“Yes, sir,” rejoined Ned, debating within himself whether he would tell
his commander about the dark-skinned man outside the navy yard. He
finally decided not to, deeming it the wisest course not to speak on
such an indefinite subject.

“Very well, Strong, you may go. You and Seaman Taylor will be notified
when you are wanted.”

Ned clicked his heels together, placed his hand to his bandaged head,
and left the cabin. As he walked forward the last vestige of his
dizziness was gone. He felt capable of tackling a whole ship’s company
single-handed. As soon as he found an opportunity he related what had
passed in the commander’s cabin to his chum. Herc was as overjoyed as
his companion at the opportunity that appeared to be held out to the
Dreadnought Boys for distinguishing themselves.

“At this rate, we’ll be admirals before long,” chortled Herc.

“You’ll have to get some of those freckles off your face first, then,
and----”

He broke off abruptly, as he suddenly became aware that their
conversation must have been audible to a man who was reposing in the
sun on the other side of the cowl ventilator, in the shelter of which
they had been talking. It was the smoke hour after dinner, and many men
were lolling about the decks, but neither of the boys had noticed this
particular fellow.

“What did you stop so suddenly for?” began Herc, with a blank look, but
Ned cut him short.

“Hush,” he whispered, “don’t say any more. After all, he may be asleep.”

“Well, what on earth----”

“Come on and take a turn, Herc.”

Ned forcibly raised his chum to his feet and walked forward with him.
Then they turned aft once more. They chose the other side of the
_Beale_, however, so as to get a good view of the figure that Ned had
spied on the other side of the ventilator. But in the brief interval
they had had their backs turned the man had gone.

“That confirms my suspicions,” said Ned.

“Suspicions of what?”

“That that fellow was there for no good purpose. He was crouching down
to hear what we had to say. He must have come up softly after we were
seated.”

“Well, he didn’t hear anything that was very important.”

“No,” admitted Ned, “unless----”

“Well, unless what? You’re the most suspicious chap I ever saw.”

“I was going to say that I am almost positive that that fellow was the
fireman we noticed eying us so curiously the day we left the yard.”

“Even so. Aren’t you making a mountain out of a mole hill, or a
battleship out of a dinghy?”

“I’m not so sure of that,” responded Ned slowly, and with an air of
thoughtfulness, “something about that chap roused my suspicions that he
was watching us for no good purpose.”

“Well, there wasn’t much nourishment in what we said, even if he is
what you suspect him to be.”

“Humph! he heard that we are to be Midshipman Stark’s assistants in
secret duty, didn’t he?”

“Well?”

“Well, it may be of the highest importance that no one should know that
but ourselves and our officers. I’d like to kick myself overboard for
not looking round before we started talking.”

At this moment Stanley, the man who had handled the bow oar in the
boat the night before, came up to them. With him were the other
volunteers of that heroic venture. In discussing the details of it and
“fighting the battle o’er again,” the Dreadnought Boys speedily forgot
the incident which had for an instant cast a cloud over Ned’s good
humor.

Three more days of steady steaming brought the _Beale_ within the
tropics. It was delightful to the boys to be once more in Caribbean
waters. The blue sea rippled by. Only a gentle swell made a pleasing
contrast after the terrific “tumblefication” the _Beale_ had been
through on her way down the coast.

Awnings now made their appearance, and meals could be eaten without,
as Herc expressed it, “hanging on with your toe nails.” White uniforms
were the order of the day, and very natty the jackies and officers
looked in their snowy regalia.

One morning, soon after they entered the “gulf-weed belt,” as
sailormen call it, the crew was busy at brass work and in patching up
the numerous small damages sustained by the destroyer in her rough
experience off the American coast. The scene of activity was abruptly
halted soon after five bells by a sudden cry of:

“Wreck ahead!”

The hail thrilled everybody. It meant a break in the monotony, and
possible adventure.

“Where away?” was the hail from the small bridge forward of the conning
tower, on which Ensign Conkling was on duty.

The next minute the officer’s glasses were eagerly scanning the
glistening sea in the direction in which the lookout had indicated the
wreck. A brief consultation followed. Ned, whose duty took him near the
conning tower, heard Lieutenant Timmons remark to Ensign Conkling:

“She’s a distinct menace to navigation, and would be much better out of
the way.”

“I agree with you, sir,” agreed the ensign. “Shall I change the course?”

“You had better do so, if you please. We are too far south for any of
the regular derelict destroyers to happen along, so it becomes our
duty to put her out of the way.”

The _Beale’s_ course was changed. She was headed up toward the
derelict, which speedily became visible to the naked eye as a low-lying
hulk, with the stumps of three masts sticking up from her clean-swept
decks. Few objects equal in melancholy suggestion a derelict met
with in mid-ocean. The sight of a craft which once gallantly bore
human beings, with their hopes and aspirations, now miserably tumbled
about by every passing breeze or wave, invariably affects a sailor
depressingly.

As the _Beale_ drew closer there was not much conversation among the
men. Such as there was, was carried on in low tones.

“She’ll have been a barque,” remarked Stanley, who was himself an old
blue-water man, and who stood alongside the boys. “See those three
stumps. An old-timer, too, judging by that deck house right aft of her
foremast.”

The derelict was, indeed, a battered relic of the seas. Green weeds
could be seen clinging thickly to her underhull as she dipped slowly
and lazily on the swell. Ragged, bleached ends of ropes hung over her
side like the rags on a beggar. It was evidently some time since she
had been abandoned. So far as her timbers went, however, she was, to
all seeming, still seaworthy, as her large amount of free-board showed.

“What are we going to do?” Herc asked curiously, as the _Beale_ ranged
up alongside at a distance of two hundred yards or so.

“I imagine that we are going to blow her up,” rejoined Ned.

“That’s it,” put in Stanley. “She’ll make a fine target, too.”

“As good a one as I did once,” grinned Herc, reminded of the occasion
on which he had almost served as a human mark at target practice. Both
boys laughed at the recollection.

“Come on, you Strong, and you Taylor and Stanley, I want you,” said a
petty officer, coming forward. “The ensign is going to be put aboard
that old craft to see if there’s anything on her of value before we
blow her to Davy Jones.”

This task just suited the boys. The derelict had already excited their
interest. To have a chance of setting foot on her was just what they
desired. The other men watched them with envy, as one of the remaining
boats carried by the _Beale_ was launched, and the ensign took his
place in the stern sheets.

As may be imagined, the oarsmen gave way with a will, and were soon at
the side of the abandoned craft. To board her, however, they had to row
round her stern, which was square and ugly, and bore on it in faded
white letters the name _Donna Mercedes_.

“A dago, eh?” commented Stanley, in low tone, for he did not wish
the officer to hear him talking, which would have been a breach of
discipline.

“Ease all!” shouted the ensign at the same instant. He had sighted a
place where the breaking away of the mast had smashed a bulwark, and at
which it would be an easy matter to board the derelict.

“You men may come aboard if you want to,” he said, as he sprang nimbly
upward on to the moldering deck. “Leave one of your number to guard the
boat, though.”

“You fellows go,” said Stanley. “I’d rather sit here in the shade and
have a smoke.”

Nothing loath, the Dreadnought Boys quickly followed the ensign, little
dreaming what consequences their visit was to have for them in the
immediate future.



CHAPTER VI. THE SECRET OF THE DERELICT.


The deck of the derelict presented as dismal a scene as had her hulk.
The seams gaped whitely, and the litter of broken spars and mildewed
canvas showed only too plainly through what an ordeal she had passed
before being abandoned. Ensign Conkling lost no time in making his way
down a companionway leading into what had been the captain’s quarters
astern.

The two Dreadnought Boys, thus left to themselves, walked forward
toward the deck-house. This erection, which had once been painted
white, had been almost torn from the deck by the fury of the storm
which had resulted in the casting away of the _Donna Mercedes_. Its
doorway hung by one hinge, flapping to and fro in melancholy rhythm as
the ship rolled to the swell.

“It’s a good while since any one made their way in here,” remarked
Ned, as he plunged through the portal into the dark interior of the
place.

The house had apparently been utilized as both a bunk house for the
inferior officers of the _Donna Mercedes_ and likewise as a kind of
galley. Cooking utensils lay higgledy-piggledy about the rusty stove,
and in the forepart of the deck-house were a few rude bunks. The
tumbled state of the bedclothes, still lying in these, showed that the
ship must have been abandoned in a hurry.

Suddenly something white stuffed into a crack near the ceiling of the
place caught Ned’s eye.

“Papers!” he exclaimed. “Let’s have a look at them, Herc.”

“All right,” agreed Herc, bending over Ned’s shoulder as, having pulled
the bundle from its place, the Dreadnought Boy moved toward the door
and the light.

The papers which Ned found proved to be a mass of water-soaked writing
in faded ink, consisting of two or three pages.

“Well, they are doubtless very interesting, but unfortunately for us
we can’t read them,” exclaimed Ned, in a tone of disappointment, as the
bright sunlight fell on the moldy writing.

“Why not?”

“Because it is written in Spanish. Hullo! here’s a signature. Well,
we can make that out, anyway. Let’s see, Maritano de Guzman. And look
here, Herc, here’s the remains of a seal.”

“Well, what are you going to do with them?” asked Herc curiously. To
him the bundle was simply so much old junk. Ned, however, had a dash
of the romantic mingled with his intensely practical qualities, and he
thrust the papers into his blouse.

“I’ll give them to Lieutenant Timmons, I guess,” he said; “he may be
able to understand what all the writing is about. I can’t, and am not
going to try to.”

“Who do you suppose Maritano what-you-may-call-um was?” asked Herc.

“Haven’t the faintest idea,” laughed Ned lightly. “Some sea cook, I
imagine, for he seemed to have his quarters in the galley.

“Well, come on; we’d better hurry aft. The ensign may want us,”
reminded Ned, and hastily the two boys made their way sternward along
the bleached decks. It was well they had hastened, for just as they
reached the break in the deck marking the rise of the old-fashioned
stern-cabin, they heard a voice hailing them. The tones floated up from
below, through the broken glass panel of the cabin skylight.

“Herc, Strong and Taylor, come below here.”

“Ay, ay, sir,” cried Ned with alacrity. Followed by Herc, he bounded up
the few steps to the raised deck above the cabin, and dived down the
companionway.

They found the officer standing at the cabin table, which a shaft of
sunlight, falling through the broken skylight, illuminated brightly. He
was examining the contents of a stout wooden box, brass bound and about
a foot square, which had evidently once contained the ship’s papers.
The documents lay littered about the table, opened, as the officer had
been examining them.

The boys waited for Ensign Conkling to speak.

“You had better put those papers back in the box, and I’ll take it
aboard with me,” he said.

“Yes, sir----,” began Ned. He was just about to hand over the papers
he found in the forward deck-house when there came a sudden sharp hail
from outside.

“Aboard the _Donna Mercedes_!”

“Ay, ay!” shouted the ensign, who had recognized Stanley’s voice, “what
is it?”

“A squall coming up from the southeast, sir!” came the reply.

“Come on, there, look lively, boys,” ordered the officer, and in the
hurry of packing the documents back in the square box Ned, for the
moment, quite forgot all about what he deemed were the unimportant
papers in his blouse.

The light that had flooded the cabin table was suddenly blotted out
before they finished. The officer, having rummaged the cabin thoroughly
without finding anything more of interest, ordered a quick return to
the boat. They gained it just as the tropical squall swept down on them.

“Shove off, quick!” came the command, as a rolling wall of white water
rushed toward them.

Just in time the brown arms shoved off the ship’s boat. The next
instant she was half buried in a flying smother of white spray, as the
squall, in all its fury, struck them.

“Toot! toot! toot!”

It was the siren of the _Beale_ blowing a recall.

“About time,” muttered Ensign Conkling grimly, as the men rowed with
all their might to keep from being dashed against the hulk. “If we’d
been a few minutes later we’d have lost the boat.”

The wind fairly screamed about the boat, and the rain beat with furious
force in their faces, as they pulled through the squall for the distant
hull of the destroyer. Before they were half way there, however, the
sun was brightly shining again, making their soaked garments steam
as they labored. With such fury and suddenness do tropic squalls
descend and vanish. But as the men raised their eyes and looked at
the sparkling sea, darkened to the northwest, where the just departed
squall was hastening onward, an exclamation of surprise burst from the
lips of every occupant of the boat.

Not a trace of the derelict was to be seen! She had vanished as utterly
as a figure on a slate obliterated by the passing of a wet sponge. The
squall had wiped out the _Donna Mercedes_ and sent the poor battered
wanderer to the bottom of the sea.

Of course, an officer being on board the boat, the men made no comment
at the time, but many were the speculations indulged in during the
noon smoke hour concerning the old derelict. The old sailors on board
were inclined to think that, weakened as she was by long drifting, her
half-opened seams had admitted a great flood of water when the squall
struck, causing her instantly to founder.

Although not officially transmitted, the “wireless telegraphy” which
begins at the commander’s orderly and ends in the forecastle of all
naval ships soon transmitted details of what Ensign Conkling had
discovered on board the _Donna Mercedes_. She had been a chartered
vessel, owned by a merchant of Costaveza, the very place for which
they were bound. Laden with dye woods and hides, she had set out
for a northern port some months before. A hasty note scribbled on
the captain’s papers, in his own hand apparently, stated that after
battling with a gale for three days the _Donna Mercedes_ had begun to
sink, and had been abandoned in a hurry. The name of Senor de Guzman
appeared as a passenger.

“They must have quit her in a hurry if the captain left his papers,”
was Stanley’s comment. “A skipper would almost rather leave his head
than leave those behind.”

“I wonder what became of those on board her,” said Ned musingly, his
mind busy with thoughts of the fate of that unhappy ship’s company.

“That’s a question,” rejoined Stanley, expelling a great cloud of blue
smoke. “They may have been picked up, and again they may not.”

“And if not?”

“Well, in that case it ain’t hard to guess that they drifted around
till they died. That’s all that castaways in the tropics can do,”
grunted Stanley.

“Unless they made land,” supplemented Ned.

“As I understand it, the captain wrote down his latitude and longitude
as near as he could figure it out when they abandoned ship,” said
Stanley. “The figures show him to have been blown most 1,000 miles off
his course.”

“But how did the ship get back near to the coast again?” inquired Herc.

“The set of the Gulf Stream, I reckon, or maybe some of those
mysterious currents that nobody knows much about. Derelicts have a
queer habit of bobbing up where no one expects them.”

The morning after this conversation the _Beale_ steamed slowly between
two high headlands of rock, clothed with palms and other tropical
growth, and after proceeding some distance into the basin formed by
the two “horns” of the harbor came to an anchorage. Immediately the
Stars and Stripes went up at her blunt stern, and men were set to work
rigging the starboard gangway.

“Doesn’t look much as if there was a revolution going on ashore there,
does it?” asked Stanley, who had joined the boys as they stood leaning
over the starboard rail forward, gazing at the scene that unfolded
itself before them. It was a gorgeous panorama of color and light.

In the foreground was the harbor, almost landlocked at its entrance by
two projections of rocky cliff. Across the glassy water, dotted with
small native craft, with here and there a coasting steamer lying at
anchor, was the town--a mere huddle of red roofs and white walls, as
seen from the _Beale’s_ decks. Behind the town came a belt of vivid
greenery, and beyond that shot up like a huge rampart a wall of blue
mountains, with sharply serrated skyline and densely wooded sides,
covered, seemingly, to their summits.

“It’s like a scene in a theater,” said Herc admiringly. And so it was.

Lieutenant Timmons, with sword and cocked hat, and accompanied by his
officers, all in full dress uniforms, shortly emerged from his cabin.
His boat, of which Herc and Ned formed part of the crew, was called
away at once.

“You’ll have a good chance for a run ashore,” whispered Stanley, as
they briskly came alongside the starboard gangway and the officers
stepped on board. Ned and Herc already knew that the Lieutenant’s
destination was the American consulate.

The row ashore occupied but a brief space of time. The eight men
composing the crew had never rowed with greater vigor. Somehow the
sight of land close at hand seems to endow Jack with wonderful muscles
and energy. Soon they were at a landing, on which several inquisitive
townsfolk and barefooted loungers, with yellow cigarettes between their
fingers, were assembled.

“The men can take a run ashore for two hours, Stanley,” said Lieutenant
Timmons, as he left the boat and, followed by his little escort, made
his way up a narrow, dark street. In front of one balconied building on
this thoroughfare the American flag was floating, denoting that there
was the American consulate.

As may be imagined, the jackies lost no time in mooring the boat. Lots
were then quickly drawn to see who should remain on watch in it. The
lot fell to a young sailor named Diamond. With eager looks about them
the others quickly made off, leaving Ned, Herc and Stanley standing
alone. The loungers swarmed about them. Some were begging, others had
small articles of native manufacture to sell. It took some minutes to
shake them off, and then the three sailormen headed up a tree-bordered
street which seemed to lead toward the outskirts of the town.

Some moments of brisk uphill walking brought them to a pretty red-tiled
house, in front of which, under spreading tropical vegetation, several
small vine-covered booths were scattered about. A sign in front
proclaimed that American soda was for sale there.

“Say, I’m as thirsty as a limekiln!” exclaimed Herc, as his eyes fell
on the sign. “What do you fellows say to sampling some of that?”

He pointed to the sign.

All agreed it would be a good idea, and soon they were seated in a
small booth awaiting the arrival of a waiter.

“Queer they should have soda down here,” commented Herc, gazing
approvingly about at the snug nest of greenery, through which a
pleasant breeze from the blue bay beneath swept refreshingly.

“Oh, I don’t know,” rejoined Stanley, “these dagoes have taken to soda
amazingly since they first tasted it on American steamers. Besides, you
know, the mail boats bring tourists down here in the winter.”

At this point the conversation of the trio was interrupted by the
arrival of a stout, black-mustached man in a white duck suit, wearing a
big panama hat and carrying a palm-leaf fan.

“How do you do?” he exclaimed in excellent English, though he was
palpably a native.

The boys responded in kind, and then, to their amazement, the
aristocratic newcomer inquired what it would be their pleasure to
drink.

Their astonishment must have reflected itself on their faces, for,
with a light laugh, the white-ducked individual burst forth with
explanations. On account of the revolution his waiters had all
left--been impressed into the army, he explained, so he had to do
the waiting himself. Anyhow, it was the off season, so he did not so
much mind. Where were the revolutionists? Oh, quien sabe? Over in the
mountains somewhere. The mountains acted as a natural barrier to Boca
del Sierras, he was happy to say, and so long as the brave government
troops could keep the insurgents on the other side of the range all
would be well.

Having taken the orders, he hurried away. While he was gone the boys’
talk reverted to various topics, when suddenly Herc, who had been
gazing at the harbor below them, exclaimed:

“Why, this is the place the _Donna Mercedes_ sailed from.”

“So it is,” responded Ned, “and, by the way, that reminds me, Stanley,
that I promised to show you those papers before I handed them over to
Lieutenant Timmons.”

“Good gracious! haven’t you done that yet?” demanded Herc.

“Haven’t had an opportunity to,” rejoined Ned. “Unfortunately, in the
service you can’t walk up to an officer and say, ‘I’d like a word with
you.’”

“Like our friend in Brooklyn,” grinned Herc, recalling the dark-skinned
man, Senor Charbonde.

“Exactly,” laughed Ned. The lad dived into his blouse for the papers
from the _Donna Mercedes_. Since that night in the boat, when for a
time it seemed that they were all doomed, the boys had struck up a
great friendship with Stanley, who was an older man than either of
them, and had seen many years of service in the navy. Like many another
man of superior intelligence and character, he had had no opportunity
to rise, either through lack of interest or ill luck, and was still a
boatswain’s mate. Of his former life the boys knew little. But with the
readiness of youth to form warm friendships, they had struck up one
with this man and had already told him of their discovery on board the
_Donna Mercedes_. Not till that moment, however, had an opportunity
presented itself to consult him about the papers. As Stanley knew
Spanish pretty fluently both boys felt that he would be an invaluable
aid in revealing to them what secret--if any--the papers held.

Just as Stanley laid his big, brown paw on the bundle of faded
documents the polite waiter pro tem. of the Villa Espenza appeared,
carrying the soda on a silver tray. He set it down with a bow and
flourish, and accepted payment with an indifferent air. His sharp, dark
eyes, however, in the roaming glance they had taken over the table, had
noted the papers which Stanley had just appropriated. An expression of
deep interest, which, however, he succeeded in masking from the boys,
came into his face as he did so. Clearly the unctuous proprietor of the
Villa Espenza was in deep thought as, with another bow and flourish, he
moved away.



CHAPTER VII. AN INSULT TO THE FLAG.


But of their host’s interest in the papers the little group had no
inkling. They contentedly sipped their sodas--which, to tell the truth,
despite their provider’s recommendation, were rather warm--and watched
Stanley furrowing his weather-beaten brow over the documents.

“Well,” said Ned at last, “what do you make of them?”

“Hold on a minute,” cried Stanley excitedly. Evidently he had stumbled
across something that made the papers of strange interest to him.

“Why,” he shouted with a slap of his knees the next minute, “it looks
like we’ve stumbled on somebody’s treasure trove.”

“What?”

“That’s what I said. This paper here, so far as I can make out, is the
last will and testament of this old chap, de Guzman, who signs it. It
wills all his fortune, real and personal, and that seems to be pretty
big, to a Senorita Isabelle de Guzman.”

“Guzman!” exclaimed Ned, “seems to me I’ve heard that name a lot
lately.”

“Why, yes,” put in Herc, “it’s the name of the leader of the
revolutionists. They say he’s the worst enemy Americans down here have.”

“Hum,” pondered Ned, “maybe this girl is some relation.”

“Maybe; there’s a good catch for you, Ned,” laughed Stanley, “for this
will disposes of an estate worth almost a million, and that’s a lot of
money down here.”

“Or any other place,” grinned Herc, clinking what remained of his last
month’s pay.

“Well, what are we going to do about it?” inquired Ned.

“Just hang on to it for a while,” counseled Stanley, handing back
the paper. “I’d advise you to consult with Lieutenant Timmons or the
American consul, and then we can learn better what to do about it.
After all, the Guzman named here may be down in the Argentine for all
we know. It’s a common enough name in South America.”

“That’s so,” agreed Ned, “but the ship hailed from this port, or so her
papers said.”

“That’s right,” agreed Stanley, “but what was old de Guzman, supposing
he is, or was, worth a million, doing in her galley?”

“That’s a poser,” cried Herc.

“It’s like a scattered Chinese puzzle,” muttered Ned. “I wonder if we
shall ever be able to put it together. Hello!”

He started to his feet suddenly and ran rapidly round the table to the
other side of the arbor.

“What are you doing--chasing yourself round the block for exercise?”
demanded the astonished Herc.

“No, but I’m almost certain that I saw some one dodge behind those
palms yonder as I jumped up. Just before that I heard a rustling in the
creepers behind you.”

“Somebody rubbering?”

“That’s what it looked like. I don’t know what to make of it.”

“I do,” put in Stanley, rubbing his grizzled chin.

“What, then?”

“That was a mighty interesting conversation we were just having.”

“To whom but ourselves?”

“To any one named Guzman, or kin to the Guzmans,” pronounced Stanley
gravely.

“By hookey, you’re right! Who do you think it could have been?”

“I haven’t got any idea. Maybe our friend, the handsome waiter,”
suggested Herc.

“I wonder,” mused Ned, but at that instant, as if to contradict his
thoughts, the proprietor of the Villa Espenza appeared from quite
another direction, balancing his tray gracefully and humming a song.

“Is there any one but ourselves here to-day?” inquired Ned, as he came
up.

“Alas! no,” was the reply, “business is very bad. You are the
only customers we have had for some days. The revolution has put
business--what you Americans call ‘to the bad.’”

After ordering and drinking more sodas the boys and their older
companion rose and, bidding farewell to the bowing proprietor and
promising to call again, started for the ship.

“Say, that fellow reminds me of somebody, and I can’t think who,” said
Ned, as they set off down the hillside.

“Same here,” murmured Herc. “I have it!” he exclaimed suddenly, “that
chap in Brooklyn--the fellow who wanted to know what was going on on
board the _Beale_.”

“Oh, that dago,” grunted Stanley, who was acquainted with the incident,
which the boys had related to him. “Somehow I’ve got an idea you’ll
hear more of that chap.”

“I hope not,” responded Ned. “I wouldn’t pick him out for a constant
companion.”

On their way through the water-front portion of the town the three
passed a small shop in which post-cards were displayed for sale.

“Let’s go in and get some,” suggested Ned.

“All right,” laughed Herc, “I see your money’s burning a hole in your
pocket.”

“Well, it’s only the interest on what we’ve got in the navy bank at
four per cent.,” Ned reminded him.

They all bought several post-cards, and were leaving the store when
Herc’s eye was attracted by something. It was a picture post-card,
adorned by a colored view of the Villa Espenza, the place they had just
left.

“Might as well take that, too,” said Herc, taking it from the rack.
“Zan-go!” he cried suddenly, “look here--no, here down in this
corner--what does that printing say?”

“‘The Villa Espenza, Bernardo Guzman, Proprietor,’” read Ned. “Wow!”

“And he overheard that whole talk of ours, I’ll bet a lemon!” cried
Herc.

“Right you are,” responded Stanley gloomily. “And his name’s Guzman--no
wonder he was interested.”

To avoid attracting attention from the owner of the store, who was
gazing curiously at them, the boys bought the post-card and left the
place.

“See the way that fellow in there was glaring at us?” grinned Herc.
“They sure do love Americans down here--not!”

“That’s a good way to tell a revolutionary sympathizer,” said
Stanley. “The government party are all friendly to Americans. They
realize the good they have done the country and the capital they have
brought into it. The revolutionists, on the other hand, all want to
see all foreigners out of here, and be able to run the place for
themselves--and their pockets.”

“I don’t see why our government should interfere,” said Herc, as they
made their way down the street, pursued sometimes by approving and
sometimes by unfriendly glances.

“She’s not interfering,” rejoined Stanley; “that’s just it. If she
could she’d mighty soon show these revolutionists where they stand. Not
that the United States doesn’t believe in every one having a square
deal, mind you, but at Washington they think these things should be
decided by the ballot box, and not by fighting and squabbling.”

By this time they had drawn near the wharf, had turned and were headed
for it, when a sudden chorus of shouts and yells rapidly drawing nearer
attracted their attention. At the same instant round the corner of one
of the dark, narrow streets leading to the water front burst a strange
group--or rather, from their exciting actions and cries, mob would be a
better term.

“Hullo!” shouted Ned suddenly, “there’s some of our fellows among them.”

“By the great turret gun, so there are!” echoed Stanley, starting
forward.

In the midst of a howling, yelling crowd of townsmen there had suddenly
flashed into view for an instant the white uniform of a man-of-war’s
man. Evidently he was having a desperate fight against heavy odds. As
the Dreadnought Boys and Stanley rushed toward the scene of action,
they could see stones and filth, both of which were plentiful in the
streets, flying from all directions at the Yankee sailor.

“It’s Gifford!” shouted Herc, recognizing the centre of the group, who,
though putting up a plucky fight, was overwhelmingly outnumbered.

“Hey! Gifford, stick it out. _Beales_ to the rescue!” yelled Ned,
carried away by indignation and forgetting that it would have been
better judgment to try diplomatic methods first.

Echoing the cry, his two companions followed him in a furious dash into
the crowd. Before the jackies’ sturdy arms the South Americans fell
right and left like ninepins; but they, taken by surprise though they
were, soon recovered their wits, and a hail of stones poured in on the
boys and Gifford, to whose side they had fought their way.

“Quick, Gifford, get your back against the wall. We don’t want them
attacking us from behind!” exclaimed Ned.

As the four sailors braced their backs against the corner building
and stood, with flashing eyes, waiting the fresh onslaught of the
Costavezans, a stone whizzed through the air.

Crack!

Before Ned had time to dodge it, the missile grazed his cheek. It
fortunately only bruised the skin, but it set the blood to flowing. In
a second, as if it had been a signal to the mob, the air became full of
rocks. The Americans had to hold their arms over their heads to prevent
being seriously injured.

“Come on!” exclaimed Ned, as the mob paused for a second for fresh
ammunition, “a charge is the only thing for it.”

“When I say,--go,” seconded Stanley.

Suddenly, just as a squat little Costavezan, with a gayly colored
serape wrapped round his dirty white clothes, raised an arm to hurl
another stone, the word came.

“Charge!”

If an earthquake had suddenly struck that crowd, they could not have
scattered more precipitately. Before the onrush of the Americans they
parted like a flock of sheep when an angry collie runs through them.
With shrieks and yells and imprecations, they fled right and left,
many of them bearing what would later become very promising black eyes.

[Illustration: “Charge!” Before the onrush of the Americans they parted
like a flock of sheep.]

All at once, just in front of Ned, there came a flash. He realized
instantly what it was--a knife! With a rapid up-sweep of his elbow,
more instinctive than anything else, he met the descending arm of the
man who wielded it.

As the two arms clashed together the knife went flying out of its
owner’s hand and fell with a steely ring at the other side of the
street. As it did so the Dreadnought Boy’s fist shot out and collided
with the Costavezan’s face with a “squdgy” sound. The fellow was lifted
clean off his feet by the blow, and came down to the ground after
twirling once round completely. As he fell he collapsed in a senseless
heap.

“A sleep punch!” shouted Gifford, whose face was cut in a dozen places.

What the mob in its fury might next have attempted will never be known,
for at that moment Gifford’s friends, who had become separated from him
before the row started, hove in sight. With a shout they charged, as
had the boys just before, at the sight of the white uniforms in the
midst of a hostile crowd. It was the end. With shouts of hate and fury,
but prudently taking to their heels nevertheless, the mob scattered.

“How did it all happen?” asked Ned, as Gifford began mopping his face.
Of the mob only a few curious small boys remained.

“Why, I saw a fellow pulling down an American flag from a small photo
gallery up the street,” said Gifford, “and I just naturally waded in.”

“And----” said Ned, a smile hovering about his lips.

“Told him not to.”

“What happened then?”

“Why, then the nasty dago spat at me. I punched him, and before I knew
it the whole mob was around me. I didn’t mind the stones so much, but,
oh! those rotten bananas and those ancient eggs--phew!”

“Well, it’s a good thing no bones are broken,” said Ned. “Come on,
let’s get down to the boat before those fellows gather again. You want
to get cleaned up.”

“You haven’t much on you,” grinned Gifford, looking at Ned’s face,
blood-stained, where the stone had struck him.

Ned burst into a laugh.

“I guess not. Say, fellows, we’d better not say anything to the
lieutenant about this. He might think we’d been rioting or something.”

“I guess you’re right,” agreed Stanley, “but in that case we want to
look all right when he shows up.”

With his handkerchief dipped in sea-water Ned soon removed the dirt and
grime from his face, as did the others. When the lieutenant, therefore,
came down to the boat, he found a demure-looking crew seated, ready to
put the oars over at the word of command. Perhaps he may have noticed
one or two angry-looking bruises on the men’s faces, but naval officers
learn not to see a great deal--sometimes.

“The feeling in the town is distinctly anti-American, the consul tells
me,” Ned, who pulled stroke, heard Lieutenant Timmons remark to Ensign
Conkling, as they gave way.

“But about the revolutionists’ arms, sir?”

“That’s the mystery. They are getting them somehow, and plenty of them.
I wish we could solve it.”

“So do I,” thought Ned to himself, as he bent to his oar. He resolved
as he tugged away that if he got the chance, the delivery of the
munitions of war to the enemies of his country would cease abruptly.



CHAPTER VIII. THE BOYS MAKE AN INTERESTING DISCOVERY.


However, to the disappointment of both Dreadnought Boys, the _Beale_
weighed anchor that evening and stood off down the coast to another
port--Hermillo. There were several American mining interests in
this neighborhood, but, so far they had not been jeopardized by the
revolutionists, who were busy to the northward, concentrating that
branch of their army for an attack on Boca del Sierras itself. If
they could gain this important base, they would have control of the
principal seaport of Costaveza, and be in a position to dictate terms.
However, from the information he had gained from the consul, Lieutenant
Timmons had decided that there was no immediate danger of an attack on
the city. So, in pursuance with his orders, he decided to steam down
the coast and ascertain the condition of affairs farther south.

For three or four days the destroyer dawdled about in the port of
Hermillo, the lieutenant being in constant communication by wire
with Boca del Sierras. He and his officers were constantly ashore,
and the boys, who were eager for the promised action, which they
felt sure would come when they were detailed to shore duty, almost
wore themselves out with impatience. At last, however, one bright
evening the command to weigh anchor came, and the _Beale_ once more
moved northward. As she left Hermillo a low vessel of war, not unlike
herself, came steaming in just as the _Beale_ drew out of the roadstead.

“Hello, another destroyer!” exclaimed Ned, as his eyes fell on the
newcomer.

“Yes, I guess it’s the _General Barrill_,” said Stanley, who, as usual,
was beside the boys. “She’s a destroyer the Costavezan government
bought from the Argentine just before the revolution broke out.”

“If she had four stacks instead of three, she could easily be mistaken
for us!” exclaimed Ned.

“That’s a fact,” agreed Stanley. “She’s exactly the same type.”

“What’s that flag she’s flying?” asked Ned, as the vessel’s ensign
dipped in response to the _Beale’s_ courtesy.

“Red, white and blue, with a gold star in the middle. That’s the flag
of the Costavezan republic,” remarked Stanley, gazing at the destroyer
as she came to an anchorage.

“She ought to be capable of putting the rebels out of business,”
observed Herc.

“Don’t be so sure of that,” put in a sailor who had joined the group.
“The revolutionists have got a few boats of their own. When I was
ashore I heard that the northern section of their forces had seized the
rest of the government’s navy, and that they had ’em waiting some place
up the coast ready for action.”

“Wonder what the _General Barrill_ is doing in here?” inquired Ned.

“Put in to coal, most likely. They’ll need her up north if those
revolutionists attack Boca del Sierras. A few shells from those guns
of hers would do a lot of damage.”

“But how about the revolutionists’ fleet?”

“Mostly old tubs, converted yachts and the like, with rapid-fire guns
and maybe a few six-inchers mounted on ’em,” said the sailor, who
had sauntered up. “A modern destroyer like the _Barrill_, if she was
handled properly, could do a lot of damage to ’em--send ’em to the junk
pile, in fact.”

The next morning the _Beale_ steamed up to her old anchorage in the
harbor of Boca del Sierras. But, while they had been gone, another
occupant had been added to the shipping of the harbor--the American
mail steamer. How good it looked to see Old Glory flying bravely at her
stern. But they were not to have the company of the mail steamer for
long.

About an hour after they anchored, she blew a long blast of her whistle
and, dipping her flag in sea courtesy to the hornet-like destroyer,
she steamed majestically out between the two capes on her way south.
Shortly afterward the lieutenant’s boat was called away, and he
was rowed ashore to communicate with the consul and also receive
dispatches, which he expected would have been forwarded by the mail
boat, which left New York one day later than the _Beale_. As before,
the men were informed that they could stretch their legs ashore while
waiting the return of their officers, and Ned and Herc were once more
among the lucky ones.

As the officers’ visit was likely to be but a short one, however,
there was no opportunity this time for a run into the country,
so, accompanied by Stanley, they strolled about the docks. On one
wharf there was a scene of great activity going forward. From the
mail steamer there had been landed a number of boxes, on which were
stenciled in big letters, “Agricultural Machinery.” That they were of
great weight was evidenced by the fact that the men who were working to
get them into a small launch by means of an old hand crane seemed to
find the task about equal to their strength.

“That rope’s going to part before long,” grunted Stanley, gazing at
the aged cable of the hand crane, which was raveled and did not look
capable of handling weights of the ponderous character of the boxes.

A box was poised in mid-air ready for swinging over above the launch as
he spoke.

Suddenly there was a sharp crack and a cry of alarm from the workmen.

“Ah, ah! I thought so!” exclaimed Stanley. “There she goes!”

The accident he had anticipated had occurred. The rope had snapped
under the strain, and the box which was being hoisted had crashed down
on the stringpiece of the dock. For an instant it balanced as if it
meant to topple over into the launch below, but finally it settled back
and fell with a heavy thud on the floor of the wharf.

As it did so one of the end boards flew off under the strain, and the
receptacle gaped open.

By this time the group from the _Beale_ were quite close by, and Ned’s
sharp eyes fell on some shiny metal apparatus inside the case. Stanley
saw it at the same instant, and so did Herc.

“Those fellows will be giving their agricultural machinery to the
mermaids to cultivate seaweed with the first thing they know,” grinned
Herc.

“Agricultural machinery nothing!” snapped Stanley sharply. “Do you know
what’s in that box, boys?”

“What it says, I suppose,” rejoined Ned.

“Not much. That box there and those others as well, I’ll bet, are full
of machine guns!” was the startling reply.

“How do you know?”

“I’ve seen too many for my eyesight to fool me. I’d know any part of
one a mile off, even if I only spied it through a busted box.”

As the boys’ elder spoke, a man who had been down in the launch
superintending the stowage of the boxes, clambered up over the
stringpiece. Angry words were on his lips, but as his eyes fell on the
boys they quickly died away, and, without uttering a sound, he sank
back again.

Had the boys, in their interested scrutiny of the boxes, been able to
spare a moment to observe the man who had, in such jack-in-the-box
fashion appeared and disappeared, they would have been strongly
interested, for the fellow was Jules Charbonde, late of New York,
but who had arrived that morning on the mail boat together with the
“agricultural machinery for his rancho in the hills.”

“Lie low!” he exclaimed to a companion who shared the close quarters of
the launch with him, “they’re up there.”

“They--who?” inquired a harsh voice, whose owner was about to raise
himself up and peer over the edge of the wharf, when he was violently
pulled back by Charbonde.

“You idiot!” exclaimed the South American, “now that everything is
settled, the custom-house inspectors bribed, and the stevedores muzzled
by gold, would you go and spoil it all?”

“No harm in taking a peek is there?” growled Hank Harkins, for he was
Charbonde’s companion. He had traveled down as the other’s valet, a
role which he by no means liked filling, but the pay Charbonde gave
appealed to him, and, of course, so far as actual valet work was
concerned, Hank was only required to assume the role without the
duties. Charbonde’s acute mind had realized that having a former
American sailor in his pay might come in handy. Senor Charbonde was not
a man to overlook any detail, and he had, therefore, retained Hank.

“Yes, there is every harm in taking a peek, as you call it,” raged
Charbonde. “It might spoil everything if they were to see you.”

Hank grumbled, but said nothing. Presently Charbonde addressed him once
more while the stevedores above got ready a new rope.

“You have arranged everything for communication with the _Beale_?”

“Yes, a fishing boat will put off this evening, and the man who sails
her will bring back a note.”

“Good! You did not waste your time in Brooklyn.”

“I should say not! I’ve got a first-class man for us, too. He’ll stick
at nothing to get money. You see, he needs it badly.”

“Better and better,” said Charbonde, rubbing his hands. “I see you have
ability.”

“You bet I have,” rejoined Hank modestly. “All I need is a chance to
bring it out.”

“Well, that you shall soon have, depend upon it. When we are in power
in Costaveza and my cousin, Truxillo de Guzman is dictator, we shall
receive our reward.”

While this interesting conversation had been going forward in the
launch--the talkers taking good care to keep themselves out of
sight under the small roof at the stern of the craft--the boys and
Stanley, greatly excited at their discovery, had returned to the boat,
impatiently to await the return of Lieutenant Timmons. It had been
agreed that it was high time to acquaint him with what they had found
out.

There was not a question in their minds but that the arms were intended
for the revolutionists, and that some dishonest custom-house official
had been bribed to let them into the country.

The officers returned before long, and Ned noticed that Lieutenant
Timmons’ brow was clouded, and he looked troubled. He had good reason
to. The consul had informed him that the revolutionists had attacked
and burned property in the hills back of the town, and in an engagement
to the north had routed the government troops. Their next move, he was
sure, would be to concentrate and march on the city itself. Already
their advance guard was in the hills, only repelled from making an
immediate attack by the present strength of the government troops
quartered in the city and its environs.

The news from the north had, for the time being, been kept a secret for
fear of its moral effect on the citizens and the so far loyal army. It
had had a distinctly disheartening effect on the government and on the
American interests, however. Lieutenant Timmons had been ordered by the
department in Washington to use “extreme discretion.”

“Hum, discretion! I’d like to use a few six-inch shells,” thought the
young officer.

As the side of the _Beale_ was reached, and the officers disembarked,
Ned touched Lieutenant Timmons’ elbow.

“I beg your pardon, sir,” he said, in a low voice, “but could you send
for me in a short time?”

“Why, certainly, Strong,” said the lieutenant, looking astonished at
this extraordinary request, “but----”

“I think I can tell you where the rebels are getting their arms, sir,”
remarked Ned quietly, touching his cap and sinking back to his oars.

Lieutenant Timmons was, like all navy men, trained to repress all show
of emotion under any circumstance. Now, however, his eyebrows raised
involuntarily, and he gave a surprised whistle. Aloud he said, in a
dry, ordinary tone:

“Very well, Strong, I will have it attended to.”



CHAPTER IX. ON SPECIAL DUTY.


“You are sure of this, then?”

The voice of Lieutenant Timmons held a tone of deep interest as he
gazed at the three blue-jackets standing bareheaded before him in his
cabin. At Ned’s request Stanley and Herc Taylor had been included in
the summons aft.

“Absolutely, sir,” came Stanley’s deep voice. “I’d know the butt of a
Crag-Allen machine gun a block away, sir, and then the weight of those
cases----”

“I think there is little doubt that you have stumbled upon the
solution of the problem. The thing is to head them off. Have you any
suggestions, Mr. Stark?”

The officer turned to the young midshipman, the same whom Ned had saved
on the night the man was washed overboard.

“Why, sir, Stanley and his shipmates have acted so cleverly in this
that it might be well to hear if they have anything to say,” he
rejoined.

“Begging your pardon, sir,” said Stanley, thus encouraged, “but I think
that it’s evident they mean to wait till dark and then take the guns
down the coast somewhere.”

“By George! I believe you are right,” burst out Lieutenant Timmons.
“Most probably they are destined for the northern army of the
revolutionists, which, I hear, is marching down the coast to join the
main column. They gave the government troops an almighty licking, I
understand, and it is doubtful if the latter can rally in time to join
with the defending forces at Boca del Sierras.”

“But if they can, sir?” inquired the midshipman.

“In that case the government troops might be strong enough to defend
the place. Otherwise, that is, if a junction between the two bodies
cannot be effected, the revolutionists bid fair to sweep all before
them. But go on, Stanley. What were you about to suggest?”

“I thought, sir, if we could take the gas launch and make after them
quiet like, we might find out where the arms were landed, or at least
head ’em off.”

“A good plan, my man, but suppose they have several armed men on board?
You know, in the delicate situation the United States occupies in this
matter, we cannot afford to risk a fight.”

“No, sir,” broke in Ned, “but supposing we borrowed the consul’s
launch. That wouldn’t be identified with the _Beale_, and we could head
them off, perhaps, without any one being the wiser as to who it was.”

“The very thing,” heartily agreed Lieutenant Timmons, “only mind you,
no adventures like those you had in Cuba.”

“Oh, no, sir,” laughed Ned, flushing up.

“Very well, then, that will do. You may go forward, and be subject to
call. I will see to it that the launch is here--at about dusk, eh,
Stark?”

“Yes, sir, I think that would be the best time,” rejoined the middy.

“Well, you are to be in command of the expedition----”

“Oh, sir!” exclaimed Mr. Stark, blushing under the honor. “Thank you,
sir,” he broke out.

“Don’t thank me, Stark. After all, it’s more hard work than honor, for
it cannot be mentioned in the dispatches. I shall rely on you, however,
to bring back the information we require as to the destination of the
arms, and if you can do it without detection the arms themselves. Will
you require any more men than Strong, Taylor and Stanley?”

“No, sir, the fewer the better, but we ought to have some one to handle
the engine.”

“That’s right. I will get the engineer to detail a man to look after
that.”

How that afternoon passed the boys could never tell. If ever hours were
leaden-footed, those were. The consul’s launch came off during the
afternoon, but immediately returned. During the time the diplomat had
been on board, however, the plan had been explained to him, and he
had enthusiastically placed his craft at the disposal of the _Beale’s_
commander.

It grew toward dusk at last, however, and the boys ceased their
impatient pacing of their cramped quarters. As for Stanley, he was
as cool as the proverbial cucumber. Like several of the other men,
he had borrowed a fish-line and was bobbing for red snappers most of
the afternoon. Quite a number of lines were cast overboard from the
_Beale_, and, though it cannot be said that much fish was caught, a
wonderful amount of patience was displayed, so a good end was served
after all.

The sun was disappearing behind the high mountains, beyond which a part
of the insurgent forces were supposedly encamped, when Ned, who was
standing forward gazing at the sunset, gave an exclamation.

“There’s a picture!” he said.

Tacking rapidly toward them across the glowing water was a small
fishing craft. She moved swiftly as the evening breeze filled her
single leg-o’-mutton sail.

“She’s coming out to us,” cried Herc suddenly.

Indeed, it looked like it, and presently it was seen that Herc was
right. The little craft drew almost alongside the grim-looking
destroyer before the figure at her helm hauled his sheet and put her
about. As she shot away on the other tack there was a sudden splash
from the _Beale’s_ side, and a man went floundering into the water.

“Man overboard!” went up a cry, but it was instantly stilled, as it was
seen that whoever it was in the water he was in no need of assistance.
He could swim like a fish. A few strokes brought him once more to
the side of the _Beale_, and he was helped up. He stood laughing and
shaking himself on the deck a minute later, and the boys, who were in
the crowd that gathered about him, heard the word passed among the crew.

“It’s Jim Prentice, one of the engineer’s bunch.”

“How’d it happen, Jim?” asked somebody.

“Dunno. I was fishing and watching that little boat when all of a
sudden I slipped,” said the man readily.

“Recognize that chap?” asked Ned in a whisper, of Herc.

“Yes, it’s the fellow that gave us such a sizing up the other day.”

“That’s it. Take a little stroll this way, I’ve something to tell you.”

Ned seized the mystified Herc’s arm and led him away from the group
clustered about Prentice, laughing and condoling with him.

“What do you suppose that fellow went overboard for?” asked Ned
mysteriously, as soon as they were out of earshot of the men.

“That’s a bright question,--because he couldn’t help it, I suppose.”

“Not he. He went over for a purpose.”

“For a purpose?” echoed Herc, looking sharply at Ned.

“That’s what I said.”

“Oh, for a swim, I suppose you mean--an unofficial swim.”

“No, something quite different from that.” Ned sunk his voice. “He
went overboard to pick up a bit of paper that fellow in the boat threw
out.”

Had a bombshell exploded at Herc’s feet, he could not have looked more
astonished.

“Your mind works quicker than mine, I guess, Ned,” he said, “just as
your eyesight is quicker. I didn’t see any bit of paper, but supposing
there was?”

“Well, it may mean nothing. The fellow may have a sweetheart ashore who
chooses this means of sending him a message, and then again----”

“It might all have been an accident.”

“We may have a traitor on board,” resumed Ned, not paying any attention
to the interruption.

But whatever Ned’s suspicions were, the call to supper prevented
further voicing of them. In the midst of the noise and laughter and
bandying of jokes that goes on about the jackies’ table, it was, of
course, impossible to exchange any more conversation on the subject
on their minds. Soon after the meal, when darkness had fallen, a
messenger from the commander of the _Beale_ slipped unobtrusively up to
Ned.

“Wanted aft, Strong,” he said, with a significant look.

Ned readily comprehended. The consulate launch must have come off
while they were at supper. Hastily he summoned his friends. Without
attracting any attention from the chatting, laughing tars, the trio
slipped past the funnels and the conning tower, till they stood at the
edge of the quarterdeck awning. Here they stopped respectfully. Naval
etiquette did not allow them farther unless by command or permission.
Ned, however, with a sidewise glance, had noted that the dark outline
of the consulate launch, a craft about thirty feet long, lay at the
starboard gangway. The consul himself, a tall, dignified-looking man,
with gray hair and goatee, sat in an easy chair talking to Lieutenant
Timmons and his officers. The incandescents, which had been rigged
under the awning, threw a sharp light on his features.

“Ready, sir!” said Ned, saluting, as did the others.

“All right, Strong,” rejoined the commander of the _Beale_. “Your men
are here, Stark,” he said, as the middy came forward.

“You men will need arms,” said Stark. Diving below, he presently came
up with three heavy caliber, service revolvers. He gave one to each of
his followers.

A few minutes later they were in the launch and ready to start. It had
been decided at the last moment that, instead of putting off directly
from the _Beale_ when the gun-running launch hove in sight, it would be
better to lie off one of the points at the entrance of the harbor, and
then follow her up at a discreet distance. The boys were in ignorance
of this, of course, but the man who crouched over the motor-boat’s
engines evidently had his orders.

The midshipman, who sat up forward at the wheel, gave the bell handle
two sharp jerks--the sign to get under way.

Chug-chug!

The motor instantly took up its tune, and, with the muffler almost
silencing the noises of the motor’s explosions, they glided into the
velvety darkness illumined only by the bright tropical stars. The
headland, in the shadow of which they were to wait, was soon reached,
and then followed a long period of silence and watching.

At last, however, out of the blackness lying harborward, came a
motor-boat’s sharp cough. It grew rapidly nearer and louder.

“Here they come!” breathed Stark, in a low, tense voice.



CHAPTER X. A BATTLE IN THE DARK.


Closer and closer came the sharp, insistent bark of the gasoline motor.
Presently a dark shadow glided by at about six boat-lengths from the
consul’s launch, lying crouched, as it were, in the shadow of the
promontory.

“They’re evidently not afraid of being followed,” whispered Ned, as
they waited the midshipman’s word to start up their craft.

At last the command came. The young officer had hesitated to give
it sooner, as he wanted to make sure of being out of earshot of the
leading motor-boat before he started. Loaded down as she was, the
revolutionaries’ craft was making but slow time. It was evident,
though, from the rapid beat of her exhaust that her engine was being
pressed to the uttermost.

“All right, go ahead!”

Like a ferret in pursuit of its prey, the naval party’s launch glided
out of its obscurity and set off on what was to prove an eventful chase.

“They’re heading north, sir,” whispered Ned.

“Just as I thought,” came Midshipman Stark’s voice in the darkness.

Luckily the wind was out of that quarter, and while the sound of the
other craft’s exhaust was clearly borne back to them, of their own
progress it would have been manifestly impossible to hear a sound on
the leading launch.

“Speed her up a bit,” ordered the middy. “We don’t want them cutting in
shore on us before we’ve a chance to intercept them.”

The launch leaped forward in obedience to his command. She was making
a good ten knots now, while her adversary could not at the highest
estimate have achieved more than seven. The hearts of all on board beat
exultingly. Gradually they could make out a phosphorescent gleam on
the water ahead and catch the fleeting glimpse of a dim lantern, which
marked the whereabouts of the quarry.

“Good, we’ll be up with her in half an hour now,” muttered Stanley, his
eyes burning in his head as he riveted them greedily on the chase. The
man-of-war’s man was on the work he loved best. The hot blood raced
through his veins in the excitement of the chase, as was the case, in
fact, with all the party, with one exception. Who that was we shall
presently see.

For an hour the steady pursuit was kept up, the naval party keeping as
close as they dared to the stern of the other craft. Evidently their
plan was working to perfection. It was clear that those on the leading
boat had no idea that they were being pursued. Once or twice a snatch
of song floated back to those behind her.

“Sing away while you’ve got the chance,” muttered Stanley grimly.
“You’ll sing a different tune before long.”

Suddenly out of the blackness ahead something flashed from a low point
of land.

“A red light!” exclaimed Ned.

“Red light ahead, sir!” warned Stanley hoarsely.

“Ay, ay, I see it,” breathed the middy. “We’re on the old fox’s hole
now.”

All at once the speed of the launch, which had been as steady as an
automobile, suddenly checked. She began to drop behind.

“Consarn it! what’s the trouble now?” growled Stanley, while the middy
skipped aft.

“What’s the matter, my man?” he asked of the solitary figure bending
over the engine.

“Don’t know, sir. The motor’s slowing down.”

“Well, fix her, and fix her quick. We can’t afford to lose time now.”

“Sorry, sir,” muttered the engineer, “but it may take some time to
locate the trouble.”

He bent over the engine and appeared to be deep in efforts to adjust
it. But Ned’s quick ear had caught a sound which sent him leaping back
along the length of the launch’s cockpit. Hastily he bent over the
engine and felt a bearing. It was hot to the touch, and he withdrew
his hand sharply, but some substance clung to it. In the light of the
single lamp illumining the motor he extended his palm for the officer’s
inspection.

“Sand, sir!”

“You scoundrel, were you trying to cripple the motor?” shot out the
middy, his eyes flashing.

The engineer turned up a white, scared face. As the light of the
lantern illumined it Ned could not suppress a cry of surprise and
recognition. The man was the same who had dived overboard for the
letter from the fishing boat, and who had aroused the boy’s suspicion
on other occasions.

“Why, no, sir!” exclaimed the man in an injured tone. “You see, we keep
sand to extinguish a fire in case one starts from the gasoline. I guess
some of it got sprinkled on the bearing.”

“And I think you’re lying,” muttered Ned, as he rapidly cleansed the
bearing and the launch once more shot ahead.

Now the red light was swinging to and fro on the point as if it were a
signal.

“I guess the revolutionists are camped there as thick as flies round
molasses,” hazarded Stanley. “What are we to do, sir--keep on?”

“Yes, keep on!” ordered the middy in a tense voice. Though he strove to
keep them calm, his accents were vibrant with suppressed excitement.

“Cut in there, Stanley, cut in!” he exclaimed suddenly, as the launch
in the lead began to turn her nose toward the shore. By this time the
naval launch had forged up into an inside position, and lay between the
revolutionaries’ craft and the point. If there was shoal water there
should be no difficulty in cutting the gun-runner off.

“Full speed ahead, and no monkeying with those engines,” grated out the
middy, with so fierce a look that the engineer instantly obeyed.

Up and up they crept, without apparently being perceived, till they
were within a boat’s length. Then a man was seen to leap upward on the
stern of the other launch and gaze back. He gave a shout of surprise as
he saw the other boat creeping up to intercept them. Already the naval
launch had cut the revolutionary agents off from their expected landing
place.

“Pray Heaven we don’t hit a rock, and we’ve got them,” breathed Stanley.

Bang!

There was a flash of fire from the leading launch, and a bullet
whistled past the heads of the pursuers.

“Now, then, wade in!” cried the midshipman excitedly.

Hardly five feet separated the launches now and the gap was rapidly
closing. There was a grating sound, as the consul’s launch ran
alongside the other. Before any one could stop him Stanley, with a
wrench in his hand, jumped on board the gun-runner.

Crash!

He brought the wrench down with all his force on the spark plug of the
other boat’s motor. With a groan and a sputter, she lay helpless as the
explosions of her motor ceased.

“By Jove, we’re in for it now!” he heard Midshipman Stark exclaim, as
two more bullets ploughed under the awning of their craft.

But totally taken by surprise, the figure which had fired the first
shot from the leading launch took to the water with a splash. A second
later another disturbance of the water announced that his companion
had followed his example. This left only three frightened natives on
board, who began crying out at the top of their voices for mercy.

“Shut up, or we’ll blow your heads off,” roared Stark, in a fierce
voice, and, although they did not understand a word he said, the nature
of his tones was quite sufficient to warn the peons that silence would
be golden. They therefore subsided in the stern of the boat.

Stanley came leaping back on board the naval launch.

“We’ll have to tow her, sir,” he announced.

“And quickly, too,” rejoined the other in a low voice. “Those fellows
ashore will wake up to what’s happened in a moment.”

“Thank goodness all those boxes are on board,” grinned Stanley, as he
resumed the wheel and the launch, with her cumbersome tow alongside,
started up.

“I guess that’s spiked the revolutionaries’ guns for a while!”
exultingly exclaimed Stark. “Those guns would be worth a few hundred
rifles to them if they had them.”

There had been no time to rig a hawser, and the disabled launch floated
alongside the consul’s craft by a hastily fastened line, made fast
about her forward samson-post.

“Come on, Stanley, head around!” exclaimed the middy. “We don’t want to
be recognized in this thing.”

But Stanley at the wheel turned a white face toward his officer.

“This tide’s pulling us right down on the point, sir.”

“Great Scott! and it’s alive with troops, too, I’ll bet the admiral’s
Sunday hat. Do your best, man.”

Stanley gritted his teeth and set the wheel hard over, but the launch
still drifted.

“Look here, sir!” exclaimed Ned suddenly, “the tiller line’s broken!”

He held up a broken end of line.

“More treachery, or looks that way. Fix it up quick, Strong.”

Suddenly the dark trees along the shore burst into crackling flame. A
deadly rifle fire poured from them. There was no doubt now as to the
revolutionaries’ whereabouts.

“They’ve waked up at last!” exclaimed Ned, as having adjusted the
broken line he leaped lightly forward once more.

At the same instant Stanley gave a slight groan, and jerked his hand
from the wheel as if it had been red hot.

“Winged!” he exclaimed briefly, holding up a limp wrist.

Ned shoved him aside and seized the spokes. Already the wheel had
dropped over, allowing the launch to drift nearer to the deadly point.
Bullets fell about them like rain now. The air was full of their
screaming sounds. They could hear the patter-patter as the leaden hail
ricochetted over the water. The launch was struck in half a dozen
places, but luckily not below the water line.

“Can you make it, Strong?”

It was Stark’s voice, as he leaned over the boy.

“I think so, sir. You’d better lie down. It’s getting pretty hot here.”

As he spoke a bullet whistled so close to Ned’s ear that he ducked.

“Hooray! a miss is as good as a mile,” yelled the boy, the excitement
of battle coming over him. All his life Ned had dreamed and hoped of
being in one of the naval engagements he had read about, and now,
without the slightest warning, here he was in the thick of it. He would
have given his chance of promotion almost to have been able to seize up
his revolver and fire back at the revolutionists.

“There must be a hundred of them in there,” grunted Stanley, tearing
off his shirt and allowing Herc to bind up his wrist.

“All of that,” rejoined Herc. “Wow, I hear the bees hum!”

The red-headed youth clapped his hand to his amber thatch as if to
check the bullet that had just whistled past him. Ned, his heart
beating tumultuously, stuck to his post. In another moment they would
be past the promontory and out of danger.

Suddenly the engineer rose from beside his engines and climbed out on
the little stern deck. He raised his hands above his head as if to dive
and swim ashore.

“He’s gone mad from fright!” shouted Stanley.

“Look out for sharks!” warned Stark. “The water’s alive with them.”

But without heeding the warning cries, the panic-stricken wretch
prepared to make a wild leap. There was a fresh volley from the point
and a rattle of sharp reports. The engineer threw his hands above his
head and collapsed in a moaning heap.

“A hit!” exclaimed Stanley grimly.



CHAPTER XI. ON SECRET SERVICE.


Ned stuck grittily to his post, although at any moment one of the
bullets from the firing party ashore might have terminated his career.
But presently, to his delight, the fire began to slacken and grow
scattering.

“Guess they’re tired of wasting lead on the night,” grinned Ned, as,
having rounded the promontory, he headed the two launches out to sea a
way before turning to make back toward Boca del Sierras.

In the meantime Stanley and Herc had been bending over the wounded man.
His eyes were closed and his face deadly pale. Herc for an instant
feared, with an unpleasant thrill, that he was in the presence of
death. No such timidity, however, assailed Stanley. With a quick move
he ripped off the man’s shirt, which was ominously crimsoned.

“The lantern, please, sir,” he said.

Stark handed him the lamp, which had been placed in the bottom of the
launch. Stanley held it above the man’s shoulder for an instant. It
revealed a wound which was bleeding freely and looked ugly. But Stanley
made light of it.

“Only a flesh wound,” he pronounced, “and if what I guess is right it’s
no more than the rascal deserved.”

He ripped up the shirt into shreds, and began binding the wound.

While Stanley was engaged in this office for the man whom he believed,
as did the two boys, to be a traitor of the blackest sort, Ned handed
the wheel to Herc, and with Midshipman Stark boarded the prize. The
first prize he had ever assisted in capturing! How proudly the boy’s
heart beat as he thought of his part in the achievements of the night!
Of the trouble into which their rash acts might plunge their government
none of them thought just at that moment.

The frightened natives lay in the stern of the launch, where they had
thrown themselves, groveling, when the firing commenced. It did not
need a menacing flourish of Stark’s revolver to convince them that
their best course was to be perfectly docile. They were that already. A
more frightened set of individuals it would have been difficult to find.

“Here, you, who speaks English?” began Stark.

“I do, senor,” piped up a voice.

“Well, what have you got in those boxes?”

“Machinery, sir--ploughs and the like for Senor Charbonde’s plantation.”

“Charbonde!” exclaimed Ned, forgetful in his astonishment that he was
committing a breach of discipline by speaking in the presence of an
officer without leave.

“I--I beg your pardon, sir,” he began.

“That’s all right, Strong,” assented the midshipman hastily, “if you
know anything about this business, go ahead. If we’ve got the wrong
launch, we’ll be in a nice mess. It may, as he says, belong to this
Senor Charbonde.”

“Who protects his plantation with riflemen, sir?” asked Ned quietly.

“By Jove! that didn’t occur to me. But go on--question this fellow.”

“Was Senor Charbonde on board to-night?”

“Yes, sir, he arrived to-day on the mail steamer with another senor--an
American.”

“An American engaged in this dastardly business!” exclaimed the
midshipman.

“Yes, sir. Senor Hark--I forget the name.”

“Not Harkins?” fairly shouted Ned.

“That’s the name, senor. He swam ashore with the other senor when we
saw your launch coming. As for us, we could not swim, so we waited the
fate the saints held in store for us.”

“You know this Charbonde, Strong?” asked the midshipman in astonishment.

“Yes, sir, and a greater blackguard never drew breath. But I’ll tell
you all about him and his companion Harkins at some other time. There
is something in this I don’t understand, sir.”

“Well, the first step in the way of an understanding will be to get
these boxes open!” exclaimed the midshipman.

“Hey, hombre!” he went on, “have you got a hatchet there?”

“Si, senor.”

“Hand it over then, quick--ah, that’s it! Now we shan’t be long.”

With a quick stroke the middy ripped the covering boards off one of the
cases and pulled out a handful of excelsior, and tore off some sacking.
Snugly packed within were the parts of numerous rapid-fire guns.

“Hooray! we were right after all!” he exclaimed. “This is a find, and
no mistake. Why, these guns would be almost worth their weight in gold
to those fellows in their attack on Boca del Sierras.”

Suddenly out of the darkness came a sharp hail.

“Boat ahoy!”

“Ay, ay, sir!” hailed the midshipman. “It’s Lieutenant Timmons’ voice!”
he exclaimed, in an undertone.

“Lay to there, Stanley.”

The man-of-war’s man obeyed. He had by this time finished patching up
the man we know as Prentice, who had regained consciousness. Motionless
the two boats lay on the water while the other approached. It was soon
seen to be the _Beale’s_ gasoline launch.

“What’s been happening, Stark?” demanded Lieutenant Timmons, as his
craft ranged alongside. “What was all that firing?”

“Why, sir, we ran into a hotbed of revolutionists.”

“What, and they fired at you?”

“A little, sir,” came with grim humor from the middy.

“Good gracious! it sounded like a brisk engagement. Any one hurt?”

“Stanley has a slight wound on his wrist, sir. The engine-room man is
also wounded--a flesh cut on his shoulder.”

“Thank Heaven it was nothing more serious! I did not know what to think
when I heard the firing.”

“But what is that launch they have there, sir?” prompted Ensign
Conkling, who had accompanied his superior officer.

“Exactly. Ahoy there, Stark, what’s that launch you have alongside?”

“That’s our prize, sir.”

“Your prize?”

“Yes, sir. She’s loaded with machine guns of the latest type. I rather
think, sir, we’ve put a crimp in the revolutionists’ plans.”

Lieutenant Timmons burst into a laugh.

“I should rather think so!” he exclaimed, “but, you young rascal, are
you aware that serious complications may follow this action?”

“Why, sir, I----” began Stark, all his conceit gone, and a rather
embarrassed feeling coming in its stead. “I, sir, that is----”

“Oh, well, never mind explanations now. You have done splendidly, and
upheld the best traditions of the navy. I wish we could all have a
chance at those chaps. But the thing to decide now is what to do with
those captured guns.”

“If you will not think it presumptuous, sir, I have a suggestion,”
volunteered Stark.

“And that is?”

“That we turn the guns over to those who need them most, like they do
presentation bouquets to a hospital.”

“Your analogy is very apt, Stark. Who would you suggest making the
recipients of these ‘flowers.’”

“Why, sir, the men who can use them to the best advantage--our friends,
the Costavezan government troops.”

“An excellent idea, my boy, except for one thing--United States naval
officers cannot figure as combatants in this affair, and I’m afraid
that if to-night’s adventures are ever traced to their source that
would be the inference that would be drawn.”

“Why not turn them over to the consul, sir?” suggested the ensign,
“perhaps he could devise a way of their reaching a desirable
destination without Mr. Stark and the men figuring in the thing.”

“That’s the best plan yet, Conkling. We’ll do it!” exclaimed Lieutenant
Timmons. “Colonel Thompson is still on board. I’ll consult with him on
my return.”

“And these fellows, sir?” asked Stark, indicating the crouching natives.

“I expect the best thing to do with them will be to place them in the
hands of the government till this affair is straightened out one way or
another. If we turn them loose they might do too much talking.”

And so it was arranged.

Shortly afterward the three launches arrived alongside the _Beale_ and
a surgeon was summoned to attend to Prentice’s wound. It was an ugly
enough one to keep him in his hammock for some days. The consul readily
undertook to see that the arms, recaptured so happily, reached the
place where they would do the most good. Midshipman Stark came in for
hearty congratulations, and Strong, Taylor and Stanley were not omitted
in the praise showered by those who heard of the adventure.

“Those three fellows are as fine specimens of American sailors as
I have encountered in many a year in the service,” said Lieutenant
Timmons, as the trio went forward blushing with pleasure. “Some day it
wouldn’t surprise me to see Strong and Taylor with commissions.”

“You amaze me!” exclaimed the consul. “They must be very remarkable
youths.”

“They are, colonel. Did I ever tell you how they saved me and several
others from a terrible death when we had that flare-back on the
_Manhattan_? No? Well, here goes.”

Lighting a fresh cigar Lieutenant Timmons plunged into the story he
never tired of telling, and with which readers of the “Dreadnought Boys
on Battle Practice” are familiar.

The next morning what Herc still called the “chores” were hardly
completed, and the men who smoked had scarcely ignited an
after-breakfast pipe, before a summons came forward for Ned and Herc.
Responding, they found Lieutenant Timmons on the quarterdeck holding
a pink slip of paper in his hand. By his side stood Midshipman Stark
looking very important and pleased.

“Ah, Strong and Taylor!” exclaimed the lieutenant as they appeared,
“I have some more special duty to assign you to. I want to inform you
beforehand, though, that it is of such a perilous character that if----”

He stopped with a smile. The expression that had come over both boys’
faces as they guessed that he was going to inform them that they might
refuse if they wanted to had checked him.

“Well,” he broke off amusedly, “I see it is useless to attempt to warn
you. I merely felt it my duty to say so. I don’t mind telling you,
moreover, that I should have felt disappointed if you had refused,
although I should not have blamed you. You will go ashore shortly with
Mr. Stark. Further instructions you will receive from him. I may inform
you, however--but mind, this must not be repeated--that I have received
a cipher message this morning. The government is intensely interested
in developments. Washington must be informed as soon as possible of
the exact strength of the insurgents. It will be your duty, under Mr.
Stark’s orders, of course, to find out. That is all.”

“One moment, sir,” broke in the midshipman, “the man Stanley--he would
be a valuable aid, sir.”

“Very well, Stark, choose whom you wish--only bring this matter to a
successful conclusion.”

The boys’ faces shone. The only drop of bitterness in the pleasure that
was theirs in the thought of their important assignment, was removed
now that Stanley was to be one of the party. They hastened to give him
the information, which he received with a grim delight, and as much
emotion as he ever allowed himself.

“Good thing that bullet didn’t put my flipper out of commission then,”
he grinned, as he patted his wound of the night before, which luckily
had proved to be a mere scratch, but painful at the time.

As our readers may have imagined, it was not part of Mr. Stark’s plan
to go boldly marching into the insurgent main camp; nor was it his
idea to perform scout duty, which might have taken a long time, and
after all not have produced results. Lieutenant Timmons’ dispatch
called for immediate action. At a consultation of the officers a plan,
as ingenious as it was bold, had been hatched. What this was we shall
shortly see.

It was not long before noon that a launch from the _Beale_ put ashore
a group of four plainly dressed young men, with nothing about them to
distinguish them from the ordinary tourist type. Indeed, to heighten
the illusion Midshipman Stark carried a red-bound guidebook, and a
long puggaree gracefully floated from his sun helmet. In some naval
theatricals some time before he had made a great hit as an Englishman.
His mimicry and costume (the same he now wore) were declared perfect.

Ned, Herc and Stanley also wore tourist garb, and the quartette would
have passed anywhere as a group of sightseers. Perhaps they were rather
more robust, clear-eyed and bronzed than the ordinary run of such folk.
It might have been noticed, too, that a handclasp of unusual warmth
was exchanged between Lieutenant Timmons and his midshipman as the
latter strode off with his companions.

“Good-by and good luck,” he breathed.

“And an answer for the government,” murmured Stark, as they strode off
up the dusty street.



CHAPTER XII. PLAYING WITH EDGED TOOLS.


In their tourist costumes the four “scouts,” for such they now were,
walked rapidly through the town, attracting no more attention than that
bestowed on them by hordes of beggars and insistent vendors of various
worthless native articles. But instead of annoying them, these rather
dubious intentions delighted our party, as it was a good earnest of the
effectiveness of their disguises.

After half an hour or so of walking under a broiling sun, the party
began to traverse the outskirts of the city, where pigs roamed at large
and naked children rolled delightedly in the gutters. Nobody made the
slightest effort to molest them, and presently they reached the rear
lines of the government troops entrenched about the city.

The soldiers seemed a happy-go-lucky lot. Some of them were smoking
yellow paper cigarettes. Here was a group throwing dice on a drum head.
There was an eager, interested circle about a cock fight. In one or two
places sat a forlorn figure strumming some love song on a guitar. Their
tents were ragged and patched, and their arms of the kind bought at
government condemnation sales.

“But they can fight like wildcats,” Stanley assured his companions.

Their road led northward from the city below, along the edge of a steep
cliff covered to its summit with tropical growth of vivid, staring
green. Here and there little villas set back like colored jewels in
a green setting. Below, a turquoise sea dashed itself against the
rocks. It was a scene that at any other time would have delighted the
Dreadnought Boys, but just then their thoughts were set on other things
than scenery. About two miles out they passed through the last outpost
of the Costavezan troops, and presently were traversing ground which
lay between the lines of the opposing forces. It was blisteringly hot.
None of the party noticed this, however, so intently were their minds
occupied.

The main army of the insurgents lay, as they knew, across the range to
the southwest of the town. The forces they were now headed for formed
the victorious army of the north. It was by effecting a junction of
these two forces at the very walls, so to speak, of Boca del Sierras
that General de Guzman hoped to effect the capitulation of that city.
What had become of the government forces, which the army before them
had scattered, no one knew. It was supposed, however, that their
officers were trying to reassemble their demoralized troops somewhere
back in the jungles to the north.

“It wouldn’t take a large force to defend this road against an army,”
observed Ned, as they pursued their way along the thoroughfare, which
was in places literally hewn out of the cliff face.

“No,” agreed the midshipman, “but as I understand it the government
fears that the insurgents’ navy--or rather the ships they captured from
the government--may bombard the city from seaward at the same time the
land forces make their attack. This would inevitably accomplish its
downfall.”

“Not much doubt of that,” agreed Stanley. “If only the government had
some boats, they could bottle up the insurgent fleet somewhere, and
then go ahead and drive out the troops all around.”

“That’s it,” assented Stark, “but at present the government doesn’t
know, and can’t find out, where the dickens the insurgents have hidden
their fleet. They’d give a whole lot to know, I guess.”

“I reckon so, sir,” agreed Stanley, with a short laugh.

For some ten minutes more they walked on in silence. Then suddenly
around a sharp curve in the road a black object came into view.

“A gun!” exclaimed Herc.

“Guns,” corrected Ned, as his eyes fell on several more of the field
pieces commanding the road from points of vantage dug out high upon the
cliff side.

“No danger of the government making a sortie up this road,” remarked
the midshipman. “With all that artillery those fellows could hold
anything.”

As they neared the first gun a young officer stepped forward briskly.
Already concealed sentries had given warning of their approach.

“What do the senors wish?” he inquired politely enough, raising his
hand to the peak of his red-embroidered cap.

It was evident that he took them for harmless, foolish tourists. The
young officer hastened to assume the part he had decided to play. Ned
could hardly suppress a grin as he listened to Midshipman Stark’s
imitation of a British accent in reply.

“Just strolling around, old chap, you know,” he assured the young
insurgent officer. “No harm--eh, what?”

“I suppose you know that you are within the lines of General de
Guzman?” came the polite inquiry in rather astonished tones.

“No, really? By Jove, here’s luck. Always wanted to see an insurgent
camp, you know--eh, Archie?”

Here Stark turned to Ned, who, taken by surprise, turned red and
blurted out:

“Yes, by Jove,” in accents which no self-respecting Britisher would
have owned to.

“I hardly know what to do,” said the young officer hesitating. “If you
gentlemen will give me your word of honor that you are non-combatants?”

“We can,” rejoined Stark, without an instant’s hesitation. He was glad
that he could make the assertion without the slightest warping of the
truth.

“Very well, then. If you will follow me I will conduct you to General
de Guzman.”

The four Americans exchanged glances of real dismay. They had figured
on the general of the insurgents being miles away with the other army.
As they learned afterward, however, their bad luck had brought him to
the army of the north that very morning to tender his congratulations
for its brilliant victory of the day before.

Undesirous as they were of meeting General de Guzman, who might prove
to be more astute than the young officer, there was no help for
it. They were fairly in for it. With somewhat downcast faces they
followed their guide past the formidable rows of artillery and within
the insurgent lines. So far as they could judge it was quite as well
organized and better supplied with arms than that of the government.
The men, cheered by their victories, appeared, too, to be in better
mood than the Costavezans. Laughter was everywhere, and a degree of
order and cleanliness not often found in South American insurgent
forces.

“Evidently General de Guzman is a good commander,” thought Ned.

From time to time as they passed among the troops the young officer
pointed out things of interest. If he had not already been so anxious
over the result of their interview with the general, Midshipman Stark’s
heart would have smote him for the deception he was practicing on this
kind-hearted young host.

“You have seen service elsewhere?” he asked, as they walked along.

“Oh, yes, senor. I was with the Spanish troops in Morocco. We had what
the Yankees call a ‘hot time’ there.”

“You do not like Yankees, as you call them.”

“No, I do not.” The young officer’s brow grew dark. “They are arrogant
and overbearing. They interfere too much. They are opposed to this
revolution, as they call it--perhaps you know?”

He turned an inquiring glance on Stark.

“Not the first thing about it, my dear fellow,” the masquerading middy
hastened to assure him, with his accent laid on thicker than ever.

“They even have sent a small vessel of war--a destroyer, they call
her--to harass us. The pigs! I would like to line them all up against a
wall and shoot them down--one by one.”

“Well, this is a nice, friendly bunch we’ve run into,” whispered Herc,
as he heard these words. “It’s enough to scare the British accent out
of a fellow to hear that chap talk.”

“Hush!” warned Stanley, “he might hear you, and we’ve poked our noses
into a bad enough hornets’ nest as it is, I’m thinking.”

So thought the others, too. Stark’s part was particularly hard to play,
as upon him fell the burden of keeping up the conversation with the
young officer.

Before long they came in sight of a pretty villa, with broad verandas
well sheltered by various shade trees. Before it were tethered several
saddle horses. One or two of them looked as if they had been ridden
hard.

“The general’s present headquarters,” said the young officer,
indicating the villa with a sweep of his hand. “Before, it was occupied
by our leader, Colonel Vegas. Since the arrival of the general this
morning, however, he has given it up to his superior.”

“Surely that is a side saddle I see on that horse yonder, old chap,”
said Stark suddenly. “Are there ladies in your army?”

The young officer laughed heartily.

“You have curious ideas of our troops, sir. No, indeed, that horse
belongs to the general’s niece.”

“Is that so?” inquired Stark, simulating an interest he was far from
feeling.

“Yes, Senorita Isabelle de Guzman and----”

He stopped short as a sharp exclamation burst from Ned’s lips. It was
entirely involuntary, but our readers will understand his astonishment
at the name of Senorita Isabelle de Guzman when they recall that she
was the young woman named in the will found on board the derelict.

“My companion suffers from a cold,” said Stark, with a sharp look at
Ned, who, taking the hint, began to cough violently. He was glad of
this excuse to cover his embarrassment, but his paroxysms did not
prevent his keeping his ears open for the officer’s next words.

“She is one of the most beautiful young women in this part of South
America,” he went on.

“Indeed,” commented Stark, “a prize for one of the general’s brave
officers, perhaps?”

“Oh, no,” rejoined the Spanish-American, as if shocked at the bare
idea. “She has no property. There would be no estate, no marriage
portion with her hand.”

“Indeed! That is a requisite here, then?”

“Unquestionably, senor. You see, Donna Isabelle’s father, Senor de
Guzman, was formerly a prisoner of the government, but he fled on a
ship, which was never heard of again. It is whispered that he had
expressed a wish to his brother, the general, that the estate might
pass into the hands of his daughter. But, however that was, the
general, as the next of kin, now enjoys it.”

“If only I had that will here,” thought Ned, and then the next instant
reconsidered the matter. With things going the way they were, the
document was unquestionably better off where it was.

The sound of loud voices came to them as they neared the villa, and
through the open windows the boys could see bright uniforms grouped
about a table, which was littered with maps and plans.

“Ah, the general is busy, and I dare not disturb him now,” said the
young officer, as they entered the villa and emerged into a courtyard,
the “patio” common to all Spanish-American houses. It was delightfully
cool there after the hot, dusty glare of the camp.

“Well, we will stroll outside a bit and come back later on, old chap,”
suggested Stark, glad to see a loophole of escape from the lion’s den
into which he was beginning to imagine they had thrust themselves.

“Oh, no, senor,” said the young officer in quite a horrified tone.
“The general would wish to see you. He may besides, perhaps, wish to
question you concerning affairs in the town and relating to the small
American vessel of war.”

“The deuce he will,” thought Stark. “Confounded little in the way of
information he’ll get.”

Aloud he said:

“We shall be delighted, old fellow. Anything at all, you know.
Delighted, I’m sure.”

“Phew!” whistled Ned in a low tone, “we’ve walked into a mouse-trap
with a vengeance, and,” he added to himself as a heavy tread sounded,
mingled with the jingling of a sword, “here comes the cat.”

The steps drew nearer, and the next minute from behind a group of
magnificent fan palms appeared a squat, stout figure in a crimson
uniform. From the precise military salute and respectful bearing of the
lieutenant there was no question in the minds of the adventurers that
they stood in the presence of the renowned General de Guzman. He was
hailed in many quarters as the next dictator of Costaveza and the most
inveterate enemy of Americans south of the Caribbean.

Ned regarded him curiously, while the young officer, stepping up, drew
the general aside and began whispering to him. General de Guzman at
that time was a man of about fifty, with a florid complexion, thick
neck and heavy, black mustache. His inky hair waved crisply about
his rotund face, which, as has been said, was florid--noticeably so.
Evidently the general was a good liver. His short, stubby legs were
incased in dusty riding boots, on which jingled a pair of immense
spurs with blunt rowels. A sword with a jeweled hilt was at his hip.
A holster, with a businesslike-looking Colt reposing in it, also hung
there. For headgear the renowned revolutionary wore a Panama hat, with
a broad, red band encircling it. Between his lips was a huge cigar as
black almost as his hair and mustache. He chewed it nervously while
he listened to the young officer’s explanations, which Ned realized
related to themselves. He watched the pair anxiously, for on the events
of the next few minutes depended their success and possibly their
lives. Not a whit less were his comrades absorbed in regarding what
might prove a momentous interview.

At last the general turned from the young officer and spoke. His
voice was harsh and grating, and his words, for he used English, not
calculated to relieve their apprehensions.

“Englishmen, eh?” he rasped out, gazing at them with a suspicious
stare. “They look to me more like four cursed, inquisitive Yankees.”



CHAPTER XIII. PRISONERS OF WAR.


If it had depended on Ned to speak at that instant the fate of the
party would have been sealed then and there. His tongue seemed to stick
to the roof of his mouth. He regarded the ruddy-faced insurgent leader
with a look of downright dismay. Fortunately, however, Midshipman
Stark’s presence of mind did not desert him.

“Oh, I say, general, come!” he burst out, with a ghastly attempt at a
laugh, “that’s a bit rough, eh?”

“Hum, you sound like an Englishman,” was the general’s comment. “I beg
your pardon, senor, for mistaking you for a Yankee.”

The detestation with which he uttered the words convinced Ned--if he
had, indeed, needed any convincing, that they were in as dangerous a
position as could be imagined. One slip and they might find themselves
with their backs against a wall, facing a row of insurgent rifles.

“If he ever speaks to me, it’s all off,” thought Ned, with a groan.

But luckily the general confined his conversation to Stark, who, as he
went on, grew more confident.

“What seems to be the spirit of the city?” asked the general, after
some questions regarding the number of ships in the harbor and so forth.

“Oh, favorable, general, favorable,” responded Stark confidently,
feeling secure in his non-committal answer.

“You have been there long?”

“We arrived on the mail steamer yesterday, sir.”

“Indeed! then you were fellow passengers with one of my most faithful
followers, Senor Charbonde?”

“Senor, I beg your pardon, I didn’t quite catch the name.”

“Senor Charbonde. You met him, did you not?”

“Oh, yes, yes. Charming chap, very. Delighted to make his acquaintance,
upon my honor.”

“I am glad you like him, senor, for he is here now, and you will be
able to renew your acquaintance.”

Had somebody stepped into the courtyard and offered him a commission
as admiral of the Atlantic squadron, Ned could not have felt more
dumfounded. Of course, from what they had learned from the peons on the
captured launch the night before, they knew that Charbonde was in the
country, but that he was so near at hand was a positive bombshell.

The blankest of blank looks passed between the Dreadnought Boys and
Stanley.

“Stand by for trouble now,” whispered Stanley to Ned.

“The jig is up,” was Herc’s contribution.

Ned, true to his promise, had placed the midshipman in possession of
the facts connected with their knowledge of the insurgent agent,
so that the general’s words were fully as disquieting to him as to
the others. Although there was no possibility of General de Guzman’s
knowing the cause of their evident perturbation, he evidently noted
it, for a malicious smile curled his lips. He suddenly turned, as some
footsteps sounded behind him, and a tall figure, escorting a young
woman in a riding habit, appeared.

“Ah, Senor Charbonde,” greeted the general, “some friends of yours are
here.”

“Friends of mine, sir?” exclaimed Charbonde in an astonished tone. He
dropped the young woman’s arm and came forward.

“Yes. The delightful English gentlemen you met on the mail steamer.”

“I--I beg your pardon, general, I----”

“There they are, sir--there!” exclaimed the general, motioning
impatiently toward the party from the _Beale_.

“Why, sir, those are not Englishmen. At least, two of them are not.
Those two fellows there are sailors off the _Beale_--the American
destroyer.”

The blow had fallen. Now that it had come Ned felt himself surprised at
his calmness. That all was over now he felt little doubt.

“Well, shooting’s a quick death,” he thought.

Suddenly the voice of the general broke the tense silence.

“Is this true?”

“There is no doubt of it, sir!” exclaimed Charbonde, “and moreover I
verily believe that Providence has delivered into our hands the very
men who made off with our guns last night. See!” he exclaimed, pointing
at Stanley’s bound wrist, which the sailor attempted to cover up too
late, “that man is wounded.”

All this time the midshipman had stood motionless. Not a word had
passed his lips. Now General de Guzman turned to him with a savage look.

“What have you to say to this, Mr. Englishman?”

“That I am sorry I tried to take you in,” shot out Stark crisply. “I
am an American officer, and proud of my commission.”

“So, since when has it been the duty of American officers to come
skulkingly disguised within the lines of neutral forces?”

“Our errand here was one of curiosity only and purely of a
non-combative nature,” protested Stark.

“Bah! sir. Bah!” exclaimed the general angrily, impatiently, “do not
bandy words with me.”

He drew a whistle from his belt and blew it. Instantly a score of
soldiers entered the courtyard. Their bayonets were fixed and their
expressions fierce.

“Make those men prisoners,” ordered the general in Spanish.

“Surely you do not intend to make captive four American citizens?”
asked Stark.

“I do, sir, and shall likewise call a summary court-martial to decide
upon your fate.”

Even the courageous Stanley’s lips went white at this. A court-martial
meant only one thing--a mockery of trial, and then--a file of
insurgents and a hasty grave.

“In that case, general,” pleaded the middy, “let these men go. I am
an officer, and came here on my own responsibility. They were merely
obeying orders. You cannot hold them responsible.”

“You are all equally guilty in my eyes,” was the short reply.

“But,” broke out Stark desperately, “you don’t understand. You can’t.
This mission of ours here has nothing to do with our government. It’s
just a lark--a stupid one, I admit, but a joke nevertheless.”

“I beg to differ with you, sir. American officers are not in the habit
of playing such ‘jokes,’ as you call them. You are spies, sir!”

“It’s all over,” groaned Stanley. “Shiver my timbers, Mr. Stark,”
tapping his revolver, “but I’ve six bullets in here that are just
itching to find their way into a South American carcass.”

“For Heaven’s sake, Stanley, take your hand off your revolver. You may
cost us all our lives.”

“I’m afraid they’re as good as gone already, sir,” muttered the
man-of-war’s man gloomily.

General de Guzman seemed disinclined to continue the interview.

“Take them away,” he ordered brusquely, turning away, while his spurs
rang sharply on the tiled floor of the court.

Ned felt desperate. Had it not been for his officer’s positive order
he would have suggested fighting their way out desperately. It is true
they could not have gone more than a few feet before they would have
been pierced with insurgent bullets, but at least they would have had
the satisfaction of dying in action. Suddenly the girl, a tall, slender
young woman, with great masses of black hair coiled about a shapely
head and large, luminous eyes, emerged from behind the palm, where she
had been a silent witness of the scene. The sight of her recalled the
will to Ned’s mind, and gave him a sudden desperate inspiration.

In an access of bravado he hurled some sharp speech at the general.

“We know the secret of Don Maritano’s will!”

If Ned had expected to produce a sensation he was gratified. The
general wheeled with an oath, his hand on his sword hilt. For a second
Ned saw that it was in his mind to draw it and run the bold American
through. The girl, with her lips parted and with burning eyes, gave a
scream.

“The will of my father!”

“Hush!” exclaimed the general. “Leave us at once.”

He came threateningly toward Ned. The girl retreated a few steps, but
made no further effort to obey her uncle’s command.

“You insolent Americano!” he exclaimed, “What did you mean by those
words?”

“What I said,” shot out Ned, enjoying the other’s angry perplexity and
manifest uneasiness, “we know of the will.”

“Good heavens, Strong, what have you done?” whispered the midshipman.
“What is this will?”

“It is in the possession of Lieutenant Timmons, sir,” retorted Ned,
“and may become a powerful instrument in our hands.”

“I hope so, I am sure,” breathed Stark, “but just at present it looks
as if it was an instrument to get us into more trouble.”

For an instant General de Guzman seemed puzzled how to act. He toyed
with the tassels on the hilt of his sword. A perplexed, worried look
played over his features. “Evidently,” thought Ned, “there’s some
mystery connected with the will, and in some wonderful way I’ve hit him
in a tender spot.”

Suddenly the general spoke. He addressed Charbonde.

“Take these men under a strong escort to Miraflores prison,” he
commanded. “I will decide on their fate later.”

Surrounded as they were, there was not the slightest use in making any
resistance. Even a show of it might have resulted fatally. Our heroes
therefore submitted with the best grace they could to being marched
like convicted felons from the headquarters of the insurgent leader.

As they left the place and emerged into the blinding sunlight, which
lay scorchingly on the camp, a figure stepped up to them. With a flash
of amazement Ned recognized Hank Harkins. The renegade American youth’s
face was illumined by a malicious grin as he saw their plight.

“Hullo, there!” he snarled, coming right up close to Ned, “getting a
taste of the handcuffs, eh? They’ll shoot you sure as time, and I’ll be
there to see.”

Biff!

Ned’s hot temper had suffered a sudden boiling over. It was a relief to
find an outlet for it. As his fist collided with Hank Harkins’ grin,
wiping it instantaneously into nothingness, the youth stumbled backward
and fell in a heap on the ground.

“Hit him another for me,” grunted Stanley, as he gazed with intense
satisfaction on the recumbent form.



CHAPTER XIV. A DRUM-HEAD COURT-MARTIAL.


Through the jeering camp the American prisoners were marched. They
had, of course, been searched and their revolvers confiscated. How
fortunate, Ned thought it then, that he had left the will in safe
hands before they started on their perilous errand. From the general’s
manner, he had seen that it was of even more importance than he had
deemed it.

“I wonder if he is not withholding his niece’s inheritance from her,”
he thought.

But there was little opportunity for reflection as they were hurried
along the white coast road toward Miraflores. All the way they were
greeted with jeers and execrations.

“Yankee pigs” was the mildest of the epithets hurled at them with true
South American vehemence.

Behind the file of soldiers which formed their escort came Charbonde
and Hank, both mounted on wiry little native horses. The latter held
a handkerchief to his face, on which a large, dark bruise was rapidly
forming. At that moment Hank would have ridden a much greater distance
than the few miles to Miraflores to witness Ned’s execution.

At last they entered the town--a fair-sized place under a sloping bank
of greenery. In front stretched the sea. In a vain hope of rescue from
thence the sailors looked ocean-ward, but the expanse was empty of
life. Not a sail or a funnel marred its glistening surface.

Through the town, while women joined the ranks of their tormentors, the
dusty, worried Americans were marched straight up to a small building
with barred windows.

“The prison!” flashed across Ned’s mind.

But he soon found that the place was a courtroom--dark, cool and dusty.
At the head of a long table standing on trestles, which occupied the
center of the chamber, Charbonde took his seat. There were some papers
there and ink and pens. He wrote rapidly for several minutes, while the
prisoners stood dejectedly amidst their guards at the other end of the
table. Hank stood by the South American, leaning over and occasionally
offering advice, or so it seemed.

At last Charbonde looked up. As he did so a thrill of horror passed
through the boys. They realized at last that this room was the
courtroom in which they were to undergo the mockery of a trial for
their lives. As they waited several other officers sauntered in as if
to a show. One of them addressed Charbonde as colonel. This explained
at once his precedence at the so-called court-martial.

Standing up, Charbonde read rapidly in a sing-song voice from the
indictment he had just drawn up. As it was in Spanish the Dreadnought
Boys did not understand a word of it. So rapidly did the colonel--as
we must now call him--read, in fact, that even Midshipman Stark and
Stanley, both of whom understood the language, had but a vague idea of
the charges.

“Well, gentlemen, what have you to say?” inquired Charbonde, as he
finished reading from the document.

“Do I understand that you have charged us with conducting a naval
expedition into your lines for the purposes of ascertaining your forces
and position?” asked the middy in a firm voice.

“You do, sir,” rejoined Charbonde, sitting back and nibbling his pen
point in a judicial manner. It was evident that he was enjoying the
situation thoroughly.

“But--but I protest,” burst out the young officer, “the navy has
nothing whatever to do with this thing. It is purely a private
enterprise--if you want to call it that. Don’t you understand?”

“I must confess I do not. There now remains but one thing to do.
Gentlemen, you have heard the evidence and the defense, what is your
verdict?”

He turned to the lounging officers.

“This is an outrage!” shouted the midshipman. “I demand to be heard.
I----”

A touch on his arm quieted him. It was Stanley.

“Keep cool, sir,” he advised, “it ain’t no use appealing to reason when
you find yourself in a den of tigers.”

After a few moments of whispering among themselves, Charbonde stepped
forward from the group of officers. All looked curiously at the boys.

“The court finds you guilty as charged,” he said in a crisp, curt
voice. “It is now my duty to impose sentence.”

Utter silence fell in the gloomy room. Outside could be heard the
rattle of a sentry’s rifle as he changed arms. The hammer of a horse’s
hoofs across a distant bridge was painfully distinct.

“I sentence you to be shot to-morrow at sunrise!”

“Great heavens! you can’t mean this. We----”

“Now, then, sir, steady on,” warned Stanley once more, as the middy was
beginning a fresh plea. “It won’t do any good, sir.”

“Remove the prisoners and see that they are guarded closely,” came the
next command from Charbonde.

“Keep a stiff upper lip, Herc,” whispered Ned, as they were marched
from the room where this parody of a trial had taken place.

“All right, Ned,” answered the red-headed Dreadnought Boy grittily
enough, “but it’s tough, isn’t it?”

Under his freckles and tan the lad was ashy white. Ned himself,
pluckily as he tried to bear it, was not far from breaking down at that
moment. Fortunately, however, for their self-respect--for they would
rather have cut off their right hands than have shown any weakness
before the South Americans--the very suddenness with which their doom
had been pronounced had partially stunned them. Stanley shuffled
forward down the dusty street as if in a daze. Midshipman Stark was in
the same condition. Once when he got near to Ned he said in low voice:

“I hope you’ll forgive me, Strong. I got you into this mess.”

“Cheer up, sir,” comforted Ned, “we’re not dead yet.”

“True for you,” burst out Stanley, “and though this is a tight place we
may wriggle out of it yet.”

It wasn’t much, but somehow to the condemned Americans even this scrap
of cheerful conversation, forced from despairing hearts, was something.
They stepped forward with a new confidence and faced the gibes and
missiles of the street crowds with stiff upper lips. It was not long
before their guard turned into a filthy alleyway. Marching a short
distance up this narrow thoroughfare, the sergeant halted his file of
men before a big oak door, studded with huge nails. He opened it, and a
rush of fetid air poured out from the dark interior on which the portal
opened. It was the Dreadnought Boys’ first taste of the breath of a
South American prison.

The guard motioned for them to enter. They did so, stumbling half
blindly into the odoriferous, gloomy place. The next instant the door
clanged to, and they heard a metallic jangling, as the fastenings were
secured on the outside. The middy, the full sense of their predicament
breaking upon him at last, threw himself on a narrow bench at one side
of the chamber. A ray of sun falling through a narrow, barred window
high up illumined his shoulders. They were heaving.

“Here, come over this way,” muttered Stanley. “It isn’t good to see an
officer that way.”

“Do you think they mean to shoot us?” asked Herc in a shaky voice.

“No, sonny, I don’t. These dagoes are great on bluffs. I guess they
just want to throw a scare into us. They wouldn’t dare to shoot four
Americans at the word of a rat like that Chawedbone.”

Although Stanley assumed a light and indifferent tone in the hope of
cheering up his comrades, his feelings were anything but confident.
Ned also, although he said nothing, could not help recalling outrages
he had read of in the newspapers in which Americans had been executed
by South American troops, without a chance to defend themselves. But
Stanley’s confidence had its effect on Herc and Midshipman Stark. Soon
they fell to discussing their situation earnestly. Stanley’s first move
was to “get his bearings,” as he called it.

With the aid of Ned’s shoulders he clambered up to the window and hung
on by the bars.

“I can see the sea, anyway,” he called down.

“Is there any sign of the _Beale_?” asked the midshipman, with a wild
hope for an instant that some chance might have brought her there.

The boatswain’s mate shook his head soberly as he alighted once more on
the cell floor.

“No, sir, there ain’t,” he said, “and even if there were it wouldn’t do
us any good.”

“Isn’t there a chance of getting out?”

Stanley hit the walls with his mighty fist.

“Hear that?” he asked; “solid as Gibraltar, as the advertisements say.
And to make sure we don’t gouge our way out they’ve got three of those
tin soldiers marching up and down in front.”

This was the death blow to their last lingering hope of escape. For
a time they sat in silence, with bowed heads. Suddenly Stanley
straightened up from the bench on which he had been sitting.

“Hark!” he exclaimed.

The sound of a horse galloping furiously was borne to their ears. It
came nearer and nearer, and finally, to the prisoners’ astonishment,
the steed was reined in in front of their place of confinement.

“What’s up now?” exclaimed Stanley wonderingly.

“Maybe a pardon or something,” suggested Herc.

But Stanley shook his head as the sound of excited voices outside
filtered through into the cell.

“It’s a woman!” he gasped.



CHAPTER XV. A SHELL FROM THE SEA.


The voices outside rose high. Apparently the woman, who had, so they
supposed, ridden up on the galloping horse, was having an argument with
the guards.

“She is asking to see us!” exclaimed Stanley, in tones of amazement,
after listening closely to the voices outside for a few minutes.

“And they are going to let her in!” he added the next instant.

Hardly had he spoken before the door of their dungeon was thrown open,
and a shaft of blinding sunlight streamed in. The prisoners all rose
to their feet as there entered the squalid cell a young woman in a
riding habit. The four prisoners instantly recognized her as General de
Guzman’s niece.

“Oh, the poor Americans!” she exclaimed, with a little shudder, as she
gathered her riding skirt about her. The boys noted that it was dusty,
and, taken in conjunction with the rapid pace of her horse, meant that
she had ridden fast to what was to prove a momentous interview.

“To what are we indebted for this visit, senorita?” began Midshipman
Stark.

He spoke in Spanish, but the girl checked him with a finger to her lips.

“Speak in English,” she said, “otherwise they will listen, and if they
should report this to my uncle it might go hard with you.”

“It couldn’t go much worse,” muttered Stanley in a grim aside.

“Where is the one that spoke of my father,” went on the girl, tears
brimming into her large eyes. “Ah! there he is. Tell me, sir, you have
news of him?”

Ned came forward somewhat unwillingly as she spoke. It was going to
be a hard task to tell this woman about the derelict and the almost
certain proof it offered of her father’s death. Perhaps she read his
thoughts, for as he hesitated she exclaimed:

“Do not seek to spare my feelings by not speaking plainly. I must tell
you that since he fled the country on that sailing ship he has been
mourned as dead by those who loved him. We have heard nothing of the
ship for months. She never reached her destination, and there is little
doubt that she was lost at sea.”

As mercifully as he could Ned told her of the encounter with the
derelict and what had been found on board it. As the others watched her
they conceived an intense admiration for this young South American. She
heard Ned out bravely, though her lip quivered at this confirmation of
her worst fears.

“Alas, for my poor mother!” she exclaimed, as Ned finished, “this will
be terrible intelligence for her. She has hoped against hope, even
though my uncle told her that it was certain we should never see my
father again.”

“You live near here?” inquired the midshipman.

“Yes--that is, our plantation is four or five miles away. I rode
straight from there after I had left the villa. But why do I say ‘our’
plantation when it is, in fact, my uncle’s?”

“But it belonged to your father?” asked Ned.

“That is true. But your confirmation of his death will strengthen
the claim of General de Guzman upon it. You see, under our law, the
property goes to him.”

“But not if there is a will expressly deeding it elsewhere?”

“Ah, no, senor, but there is not one. My poor father fled from the
country disguised as a common sailor before he had even time to make
provision for us. There is a suspicion that my uncle betrayed him.”

“I think you are mistaken,” said Ned gently. “There _is_ a will, and I
know its whereabouts. The document is now in possession of Lieutenant
Timmons, of the United States torpedo-boat destroyer _Beale_. But
he will surrender the document to your mother or yourself upon your
application.”

“But why not upon yours, senor? Cannot you obtain it from him?”

Ned looked embarrassed.

“Um, well, you see----” he began.

“We are likely to be here for a few days. We are being detained for
some time by your uncle,” put in the midshipman, coming to the rescue.

“But when you are free again? It is only a misunderstanding, I am sure.”

“When we are free again, senorita, we shall be delighted to do anything
in our power to aid you,” went on Midshipman Stark, “but in the
meantime it would be better for you to communicate with Mr. Timmons
yourself if it becomes possible.”

“Thank you, gentlemen!” exclaimed the Spanish-American girl, with a
grateful glance. “Be assured that my father’s will would be little to
us were it not that my uncle threatens to banish both my mother and
myself from our home unless----”

She paused, and was apparently overcome with confusion. Recovering
herself, she went on proudly:

“But, after all--after all you have told me, you have a right to know.
He is determined that I shall marry the man you saw me with to-day.”

“Chawed bone!” burst out Stanley, in a forecastle roar of indignation.

“Yes, senor, you are right,” said the young woman. “That is something
like the name of the man.”

“But you don’t like him?” demanded the old sailor excitedly.

The young woman gazed at him in surprise, while Midshipman Stark shot a
disapproving glance at the boatswain’s mate.

“No, I do not!” she declared, with a little stamp of her foot. At that
moment the sergeant in charge of the sentries came in and uttered a few
excited words.

“He says that he has received word that my uncle is on his way here,
senors. Perhaps he is coming to release you. I hope so. But it will not
do for him to find me here. Adios!”

In a flash she was gone, and the cell-room door clanged once more.
Presently the rattle of her horse’s hoofs sounded, rapidly dying away
in the distance.

“Well!” exclaimed the midshipman, drawing a long breath, “matters are
getting complicated.”

“If she ever marries that Chawedbones----!” roared Stanley, shaking his
fist.

But hardly had the sound of the departing senorita’s horse died away
before a fresh clatter of hoofs, coming from the opposite direction,
sounded.

“Here comes the general,” guessed Stanley. “Now stand by for squalls.”

His guess was right. The horses of the new arrivals were checked in
front of the prison door, and after much clanking of the bolts General
de Guzman himself stalked in, followed by Colonel Charbonde. In the
background hovered Hank Harkins, but he did not enter the dungeon. The
memory of Ned’s blow was too recent for that.

“Prisoners, I have come to make a proposal to you,” began the general,
without any preliminaries.

The prisoners nodded. All but Ned wondered what was coming next. The
Dreadnought Boy had already formed an idea. That he was correct in his
surmise as to the cause of the general’s visit the next words of that
officer proved.

“One of your number spoke of a will,” went on the insurgent leader.
“For reasons of my own I wish it. I have come to offer you your lives
in exchange for the document.”

“What do you want with it?” asked Ned.

“That does not concern you. It is sufficient that I wish it,” shot out
the dictator. “Are you willing to give it to me?”

Ned’s eyes fell on Charbonde’s face at that moment. His repulsive
countenance was fairly ablaze with eagerness.

“I’ll give him a shock,” thought Ned maliciously.

“In order that you may dictate terms to Senorita de Guzman and her
mother, I suppose?” he inquired amiably.

The general’s face grew livid. Even through the gloom of the cell they
could see his color change to an angry white.

“What do you know of this?” he thundered.

“Enough to send you to jail if you were in the United States,” retorted
Ned coolly. “So you offer us our liberty for that document?”

“I do. But you had better hasten to accept. I may change my mind.”

“Oh, no, you won’t--not while you can assume authority over an
unfortunate widow and her daughter. You want my answer to your
proposition?”

“I do--yes. That is what I came for.”

“Then, so far as I am concerned, it is--no!”

“Same here,” put in the midshipman.

Herc echoed his words.

“Better make it unanimous,” grunted Stanley.

“I will have you searched!” shouted the general, “and then have you
shot afterward.”

“Search away. Your soldiers will get some exercise, and that is all.”

The general stepped to the door and beckoned. A man stepped up to
him--some one who had evidently been awaiting some such signal. With a
start of astonishment the boys recognized the proprietor of the Villa
Esperenza.

“Now, my good cousin,” said the general, addressing him, “did you not
overhear these men consulting about this will?”

“Indeed, I did. It was in one of my soda summer houses. I heard every
word.”

“You did, did you, you sea-swab?” bellowed Stanley. “I wish I’d got my
fists on you then. There’d have been one less in the soda business.”

“And what became of the document?”

“That man there”--the man pointed out Ned--“thrust it into his sailor
upper garment.”

Once more the general stepped to the door.

“Search these men,” he ordered, summoning in the squad of insurgent
cavalry outside. Restraining a strong inclination to knock their
searchers “galley west,” as Stanley put it, the Americans submitted to
the ordeal. Of course, nothing was found of the will.

“Will you tell me where the document is?” demanded the general. “It is
your last chance.”

“Oh, go away and don’t bother us,” said Stanley. “We want to sleep.”

“I am not addressing you, sir,” said the general, with almost a
pleading note in his voice. “Remember, you are young, and life is
sweet,” he added, turning to Ned; “one word and you are free.”

“All of us?”

“Yes, all of you. I will trust to your honor to deliver the document to
me if you promise to do so.”

In that moment Ned was tried as men have seldom been tested. As the
cunning general had pointed out, life was very sweet to him--so sweet
that he had not dared to think of the last grim scene which would be
enacted the next morning. But in his decision he held all their fates.
By saying one word he could procure their liberation. But to do so he
would have to sacrifice a girl’s happiness and rob a woman of estates
that belonged to her by right. While he hesitated the same thoughts
had been running through the minds of his comrades. Ned, gazing at
them, saw that they were all of the same mind.

“Come!” It was the general’s voice. He was encouraged by the
Dreadnought Boy’s hesitation, and put it down to a tacit acceptance of
his base proposal.

“Come, you will say yes?”

“Not if it was the last day I had to live!” shot out Ned, and
then halted, with a gasp of dismay, as he realized that, in all
probability--short of a miracle happening--it was his last day to live.

“Unanimous again!” proclaimed Stanley, as the general turned
inquiringly to him.

“Fools! You have signed your own death warrants,” snarled the insurgent
leader, as he turned impatiently and, followed by his companions, left
the cell.

As he did so a dull, booming sound came from seaward, followed by a
loud, screeching rush overhead.

“What on earth is that?” gasped Ned. As he spoke, a terrific explosion
sounded without, and the air became filled with sharp commands,
outcries and groans.

“Sounds like a six-inch shell!” exclaimed Stanley.



CHAPTER XVI. THE BOMBARDMENT.


“A shell!” echoed Ned.

As he spoke there came another screaming rush, and this time it was
followed by a reverberating crash. The earth shook. The projectile had
burst near at hand.

“Thought I hadn’t forgotten the tune,” muttered Stanley.

“There must be a ship to seaward pumping metal into this wasp nest!”
exclaimed Midshipman Stark, his face burning with excitement.

“That’s it, sir, I think. Here, Strong, give me a leg up--so.”

Once more Stanley peered through the window, supporting himself as
before.

“There’s some sort of craft out yonder,” he announced, fairly
sputtering out his words in his excitement. “She’s firing so fast I
can’t see her for smoke.”

Explosion followed explosion now. Bugle calls resounded amid the noise
of falling buildings. The inmates of the prison could hear the clash of
accouterments as troops raced by. Hoarse commands sounded near and far.

“There’s a fine picnic now, I’m thinking,” grinned Stanley, “and--Great
Scott!”

An explosion louder than any of the preceding ones sounded. A choking
dust filled the air. It drifted in through the window.

“Great Dewey! they’re shelling this building!” yelled Midshipman Stark.

Cr-as-h!

The place shook as if an earthquake had passed beneath it. Mingling
with the roar of the exploding shell and the scream of the projectiles
that were now pumping into the city came a sound of splintering and
smashing.

“Those fellows have the range,” shouted Ned above the uproar.

“Yes, and if we don’t get out of here quick we’ll find a grave in the
ruins,” roared the midshipman.

As he spoke the building shook to its foundations once more, and a
heavy explosion rent the air.

“Too close for comfort,” decided Stanley. “Come on, we’ll try the door.”

Together the Americans rushed the portal. The strong oak withstood
their united assault without a tremor, however.

“We’ll be killed like rats if we don’t escape!” exclaimed Herc
despairingly.

“What are we to do?” gasped Ned, as they stood in the center of the
prison, with the sweat streaming from them. Outside the bombardment
grew heavier. It seemed incessant now. Suddenly Stanley gave an
exclamation. His companions, gazing at him, saw that his cheeks were
white.

“Do you smell something?” he choked out.

A pungent odor had filled the air of the prison within the last few
minutes.

“Yes, smells like burning,” assented the middy.

“It is burning. The place is on fire.”

“On fire!”

“And burning like a dry haystack. If we’re not out of here in a few
minutes we’re goners.”

Even while he spoke the sinister odor grew stronger. Now their
horrified ears caught the crackle of the flames as they ate their way
toward them. Sparks drifted in through the window and lay glowing on
the floor of the place.

“The door! Try it once more. It’s our last chance!”

It was Stanley who spoke. His words came chokingly in the reek of the
burning building. But as once more their shoulders crashed against the
heavy portal they fell back with a groan of despair. They had made no
more impression on it than if it had been made of boiler plate.

Suddenly an explosion, sharper and more ear-splitting than its
predecessors, detonated--in their very faces, as it seemed. They were
flung reeling in every direction, while suffocating fumes and dust
filled the air.

Ned felt a sharp pain in his leg and put down his hand. It came away
red and sticky. A flying splinter had struck him. Anxiously he gazed
about him. His companions lay as they had been flung. But an instant
later they began scrambling to their feet.

“W-what happened?” gasped Ned.

“A shell burst in our faces almost--and look!”

Stanley’s voice broke off in a joyous yell.

The oaken door, riven and splintered by the projectile, hung saggingly
on one hinge. A child could have pushed it open.

“I’d give six months’ pay to the fellow who aimed that gun!” cried
Stanley, as the Americans charged in a body on the tottering portal.
It was swept aside with a crash, and out they poured into the street.
Their guards had long since fled. The only visible inhabitants about
were the pigs. Here and there these horrible creatures were nosing
huddled forms, which the boys realized with a chill were those of
victims of the bombardment. It was the first glimpse of war at close
quarters for Ned and Herc. They felt rather sickened.

But it was no time for indulging in such thoughts. All about them
shells were bursting. More screamed past overhead. The air was filled
with choking dust and acrid powder fumes.

Suddenly a sullen sound of firing sounded off to the right and below
them. It was quite near at hand.

“The shore batteries!” cried Stanley. “Come on, we’ve got no time to
lose.”

“Where can we go?” exclaimed Midshipman Stark. “If we go toward Boca
del Sierras we’ll run right into the arms of the insurgents.”

“We’ll head for the shore!” exclaimed Stanley. “Come on.”

Suiting the action to the word, he started off, followed by the others.
What a sight they presented! How different from the trim man-of-war’s
men of every-day life! With faces grimed where dirt had rubbed into
sweat, their clothes half in ribbons, cut and bleeding from scratches
received when the providential shell burst, they looked more like
savage combatants in a desperate fight for life than American sailors.

As they ran the disastrous effects of the bombardment were everywhere
apparent. Houses which a short time before had been occupied,--gaped
like open dolls’ houses, exposing to view the contents of every floor.
Natives, some of them wounded and bleeding, staggered about under loads
of cherished household goods. Once they passed a man half frenzied from
fright, dashing aimlessly about with a parrot in a cage. More pathetic
were the groups of women and children deserted by their cowardly men
folk. These cowered in the shadow of the shell-riven buildings, in
imminent danger of having the tottering structures collapse on them.

More than one of these latter groups the Americans found time to warn
of their danger. But it was a hurried dash, with little time for acts
of mercy or kindness. Curiously enough, above all other sounds, the
squealing of the town pigs predominated. The creatures, frenzied by
the confusion and noise, dashed about open-mouthed. They looked as
dangerous as wild boars.

On dashed the Americans, and now a wandering breeze swept aside for a
moment the clouds of heavy smoke enveloping the attacking ship, and
they recognized her with a cry of surprise as the destroyer _General
Barrill_, which they had last seen at Hermillo. Her decks flashed
incessantly as her guns were worked. Stanley looked on approvingly.

“They’ll make a mess of this place.”

“I don’t know,” cried the middy suddenly, as a shell shrieked toward
the courageous little craft. “The land batteries have opened fire.”

“And, by Christopher Columbus, they’ve got the range, too!” exclaimed
Stanley, as a shell struck the water near the adventurous little
destroyer.

“If only we were aboard her we would be safe for a while,” breathed
Ned, as they perceived the red, white and blue, with the gold star, of
the Costavezan republic floating at the bombarding vessel’s stern.

“It was my idea to make for her,” rejoined Stanley. “Come on, let’s
get down on that little wharf there and wave to her. If we can attract
their attention they’ll take us on board.”

“If the fire from the fort doesn’t get too hot, and they have to
skedaddle first,” observed the middy.

There was good reason for his fear. Shells were now breaking all about
the destroyer. So far, however, she seemed uninjured.

They gained the wharf that Stanley had indicated in a few minutes. As
they stood breathless on the slender timbers Stanley gave a shout.

“A boat!” he exclaimed, pointing to a small dinghy moored below.

“Come on, we’ll row out!” cried the middy. “Get aboard there, men.
Slippy now!”

In another moment they had put several boats’ lengths between
themselves and the wharf.

“Hooray!” Ned could not help shouting, as the boat moved rapidly over
the water. His enthusiasm received an abrupt check. Not a hundred yards
from them a shell from the fort struck the water.

“They’ve seen us!” cried the middy.

“That may have been a chance shot, sir,” observed Stanley. “If they
fire any more we’ll know then what their target is.”

Even as he spoke another shell whizzed toward them. It exploded in a
“raying” smother of brown smoke.

“Wow! that was close,” exclaimed the boatswain’s mate, as the spray
showered them.

“Another one like that----”

Boom!

The explosion cut short Ned’s words.

“They’re getting the range. That one wasn’t a hundred feet away,”
grunted Stanley. “Give way now, boys.”

He suited the action to the word. His great muscles strained till
the oar bent under his pull, but fast as the boat leaped through the
water there was still a lamentably large space separating her from the
torpedo-boat destroyer.

The _General Barrill_ all this time had been firing away unceasingly at
the shore, but without apparently succeeding in silencing one of the
guns.

“I hope that our old general is up in that battery,” observed the
middy, as a shell from the destroyer burst in clouds of dust right
inside the fortifications, as it seemed.

“If he is, he swallowed some dust that time,” laughed Stanley. He
glanced over his shoulder.

The _General Barrill_ was not far now. They could see figures on her
decks waving them encouragingly on.

“Come on, boys,” shouted Stanley, “a little more steam. That’s it. Now,
we won’t be----”

A blinding flash filled the air about them. Involuntarily Ned and Herc
threw their hands in front of their eyes. It was well they did so,
for the quick movement threw Ned out of the path of a jagged piece of
metal. It whisked past his ear viciously. A shell had exploded almost
alongside them.

Before they could uncover their eyes the resulting swell swept down on
the boat. Overloaded as she was, the water poured in over her gunwales
in a torrent. It was useless to attempt to bail.

The detonation of the shell had hardly ceased ringing in their ears
before the Americans were struggling in the water, with shells
screaming and exploding all about them.

[Illustration: The Americans were struggling in the water, with shells
screaming and exploding all about them.]



CHAPTER XVII. UNDER THE GOLD-STARRED FLAG.


As the boat sank under them, Ned struck out for the _General Barrill_.
He was a strong, swift swimmer, and almost as much at home in the water
as on land or the deck of a battleship. To his intense relief, as he
gazed about him, he saw the heads of his three companions bobbing up on
the water near at hand. All were safe then.

“Swim on your backs,” Ned cried.

It was well they heeded his warning, for at that instant there came a
shout from Stanley.

“Duck!”

That was all, but they instinctively obeyed. Even under the water
they could feel the jar of the exploding shell which the sharp-eyed
man-of-war’s man had spied coming toward them from the fort.

“I’ll bet General de Guzman and Charbonde are praying for our deaths
harder than they ever did for anything in their lives before,” thought
Ned, as he came to the surface.

The Americans swam on. Only a few feet now. Already hands were held out
to them from the decks of the Costavezan destroyer.

“Swim, for Heaven’s sake, swim!”

The sudden cry came from the midshipman.

In their anxiety to gain the destroyer and avoid the shells from the
land batteries, they had entirely forgotten another danger--sharks!

As the middy’s cry of warning sounded, a sharp, triangular fin, showing
blackly above the blue, came rushing investigatingly toward them. It
was followed by another and another. Truly there was desperate need of
every ounce of energy that remained in their tired bodies.

How they did it Ned never knew. Subsequent comparison of notes revealed
the fact that the others were quite as ignorant as he, but somehow they
struggled on, till their outstretched fingers touched the sides of the
_General Barrill_. Willing hands were extended from her decks, and they
were drawn on board. None too soon, however, for as Ned’s toes left
the water a greenish body gleamed near the surface and made a dart,
like the spring of a tiger, for the rescued boy. Ned could not repress
a shudder as he realized how very narrow his escape had been.

Had they not had the word “American” plainly inscribed in their
faces, voices and actions, it is doubtful what would have been their
reception on board the Costavezan sea-scout. As matters were, however,
in spite of their positively tramp-like appearance, they were speedily
recognized, before they even spoke, as belonging to the powerful nation
which had befriended the South American power.

The decks of the _General Barrill_ presented a vastly different
appearance to the trim aspect of the _Beale_. They were littered
with debris of the bombardment, and here and there Ned noted, with a
shudder, some crimson splashes. Evidently the destroyer had not come
off scot free in her daring attack. Even while he was subconsciously
noting all this, a shell burst so close to the craft that a smother of
spray showered her.

A young officer, wearing the somewhat gaudy naval uniform of Costaveza,
and bedizened with a pair of huge gold epaulets, approached them.

“He looks like a bandmaster,” whispered Herc, in spite of Ned’s warning
to keep quiet.

The officer bowed civilly and asked in that tongue if any of them
spoke Spanish. Receiving an affirmative reply from Midshipman Stark,
their new-found friend requested them to step aft. He led them to the
small bridge on the conning tower, on which stood a tall, thin South
American, with a pair of field glasses in his hand. His bronzed face
was thrown into vivid relief by a pair of bristling white moustachios.
In his faded uniform, very different from the brilliant trappings of
his young officers, Captain Gomez looked every inch the sea fighter as
he stood on his little bridge. He seemed as calm and self-possessed as
if he were gazing at the affair as a safely situated spectator. By his
side stood an officer peering into the range-finder and handling the
gun controls.

Captain Gomez turned to a sailor, who stood at his elbow, as he
noticed the Americans being piloted aft, and gave an order. The man’s
hand shoved over the lever of the engine-room telegraph to “speed
ahead.” At once the _General Barrill_ began to forge through the water,
pointing her nose to the north.

The fort fired viciously after her, but the range was lost, and their
shells simply blew holes in the water.

The commander, his work for the moment over, greeted the newcomers
cordially.

“We were on our way up the coast,” he explained after he had heard
their story, “and, seeing signs of an insurgent battery ashore there,
we decided to give the crew a little gun practice.”

“Of which they don’t seem to stand much in need,” smiled the midshipman.

The captain looked grave, but said nothing more for the moment. He
ushered the castaways into his cabin and ordered refreshments for
them. In the meantime he had flung open a cabin door and indicated a
bathroom and some spare uniforms, which looked very inviting to the
adventurers. When they emerged in their regalia, a decided improvement
had taken place for the better in their appearance, though, to tell the
truth, not all of the uniforms were a very correct fit.

A white-coated man, evidently a surgeon, entered the main cabin as
they emerged from the bathroom. He spoke a few words to the captain,
who crossed himself and muttered some words. His face had grown grave.
Evidently what he had just heard was of a disquieting nature. He looked
up as his guests filed in.

“Ah, gentlemen,” he said, “you must excuse me if I seem to be somewhat
preoccupied. I have just heard that Lieutenant Santos, my gunnery
officer, is dead. He was wounded in the engagement, but we all thought,
till a few moments ago, that he would rally. I am seriously hampered
now in handling my ship.”

“Were your losses great?” inquired the midshipman.

“No. With the exception of the officer, of whose death I have just
learned, we escaped with two wounded and one killed. But Lieutenant
Santos was a power among the men.”

The captain’s Latin blood seemed aroused. He smote the table with his
lean fist. Suddenly he spoke.

“You gentlemen are naval men. You will understand my predicament. My
crew is, at best, what you Americans call a ‘scratch one.’ You see,
when the insurgents seemed likely to prove successful, the crews of the
other government vessels, and, I am ashamed to say, the officers, too,
deserted to the revolutionists’ cause. I had to take my crew as I could
get them. Some are off merchant vessels. Others are landsmen. There
are not more than a dozen trained men among them. Lieutenant Santos,
however, was a man of marked ability. He was whipping them into shape
splendidly.”

“I should think so if he handled the guns to-day,” interposed
Midshipman Stark.

“I agree with you,” went on the captain. “Now, gentlemen, I was
educated in your country, and I can see the faults of my countrymen.
They are brave in success, but they lose heart when engaged for a lost
cause. That is the case with the rest of my officers. Already they are
wavering. I can see signs of it. It would take little to precipitate a
mutiny.”

“A mutiny!” exclaimed Midshipman Stark, horrified.

“Yes,” calmly went on the old sea fighter, “in which case I would
probably be shot or imprisoned on board my own craft.”

The Americans gazed at him in astonishment. Apparently the commander
of the _General Barrill_ occupied much the same position as a man
in a powder magazine with a pipe in his mouth. By his account they
understood that the one efficient officer on board, the only man on
whom he could rely, had just passed away. “But, after all,” thought the
middy, “our concern now is to get back to the _Beale_ with our report.
I’m afraid it won’t be an encouraging one.” Aloud, however, he said:

“You are going to put about for Boca del Sierras, sir?”

“No, we are bound north,” rejoined the captain. “We must be at Santa
Anna to-night. In that harbor are the three vessels which went over to
the insurgent side. It is my duty to prevent them leaving there and
forming a blockade at Boca del Sierras.”

Ned saw at once the object of this. It was evident that the government
authorities expected that an attack by the united insurgent armies
was imminent. Against the armies alone the government forces stood a
chance. In order to make matters certain, however, it would appear that
the insurgent navy was to conduct a bombardment from the sea. If the
ships were allowed to leave Santa Anna, the fall of Boca del Sierras
seemed certain. The Dreadnought Boy felt a thrill of admiration go
through him for the brave old sailor, who, with a mutinous, incompetent
crew, and disaffected, inefficient officers, was going to what seemed
certain death.

The captain was called forward at this point. Certain matters relating
to the disposal of the possessions of the dead officer had come up.
With a word of apology, he hastened from the cabin. Ned glanced from
the port. The _General Barrill_ was steaming close inshore along the
palm-fringed coast. The sea was calm and blue and sparkling. The land
breeze brought a balmy odor floating through the open port. It seemed
hard to believe that in the midst of these placid surroundings they
were on such intimate terms with semi-mutiny and the shadow of death.

They were all silent for a space. Perhaps the same thoughts occupied
the minds of all. It was Midshipman Stark who broke the silence.

“It may be a long time before we see the _Beale_ again,” he said.

“Looks so, sir,” agreed Stanley, “and if what that dago skipper says is
right we stand a good chance of going to Davy Jones with the rest of
his mucker crew.”

“I’m not so sure of that!” exclaimed the middy, his eyes sparkling.
“You, Stanley, are a good gunner. There are no better hands at the guns
in the navy than Strong and Taylor. Why can’t we take these fellows in
hand and fight their ship for them?”

The sheer audacity of the idea took the others’ breath away.

“Well, sir,” broke out Stanley finally, “so far as we’re concerned----”

“You see,” went on the middy, interrupting, “we’ve got to stick aboard
here till this captain gets ready to put about for Boca del Sierras.
He’s obstinate, and a fighter from ’way back--you can see that in his
eye. Now, here’s the proposition. If we get licked at Santa Anna we’ll
all go to the bottom together. That chap would sink his ship before
he’d be captured. On the other hand, if we win out we’ll help to smash
the insurgents, do our country a good turn, and, at the same time,
insure our getting back to the ship.”

Looked at in this light, the thing which they all secretly wished to
do became of necessity the logical, right thing to go forward with.
So they all agreed, after some more discussion. It now only remained
for the captain to give his consent to having his gunners drilled and
officered by the Americans. The task of asking him this was taken out
of their hands. On his return from forward, the tall, Quixotic-looking
officer, after some humming and hawing, turned to the middy.

“I have a great favor to ask of you, sir,” he began. “My men--that
is----”

“You want us to show them how to handle the guns!” burst out Midshipman
Stark.

“Yes. But how did you guess it? I----”

“That is all right, sir, we’ll begin at once.”

“What, at once! Ah! I forgot you are American, and do not wait for
to-morrow. Well, gentlemen, I thank you from the bottom of my heart,
and I----”

“Oh, never mind that, sir. If we don’t teach your men how to stick by
the guns, we’ll never see the United States again, anyhow. Now, then,
Stanley, I’ll appoint you in command of the gun deck, with full charge.
Strong and Taylor, you are on an equal footing with Stanley, but obey
his orders.”

The Dreadnought Boys grinned at this equivocal sort of a commission.

“I suppose we can have anything we want, sir. We’ve got to have carte
blanche, you know,” spoke up the middy.

“Yes, anything, gentlemen, anything!” exclaimed the captain gratefully.

“All right, sir. Stanley, anything you want for your work?”

The boatswain’s mate had been gazing attentively at a group of the
dusky-skinned crew. Without attempting to set the guns in shape or
clean them after the brisk engagement off Miraflores, they were sitting
about talking.

“Yes, sir,” rejoined the boatswain’s mate, turning from his disgusted
scrutiny, “a service revolver and ammunition to match, please, sir.”

Some time after this the captain, seated in his cabin with Stark, who
was listening with deep attention to the elder man while he outlined
his plans, started up at a sudden noise borne in from the deck. It was
an agonized wail of protest from one of the crew. Both occupants of
the cabin sprang up, and, rushing up the companionway, gazed forward.
They saw Stanley with raised gun prodding a reluctant gun-swabber to
his work. All about was a scene of activity. Ned and Herc were already
drilling a crew in the task of loading in American fashion, which was
just five times as fast as the native way. A scene of activity of the
most feverish character had succeeded to the leisurely appearance of
things when the Americans came on board. The native officers stood
about gazing on, astonished at the rapid change which was coming over
their slovenly ship.

“Ah, you Americans! You’ll turn the world upside down some day!”
breathed the captain admiringly.



CHAPTER XVIII. A BOARD OF STRATEGY.


The chart showed Santa Anna to be a harbor not unlike in formation that
of Boca del Sierras. Instead of the town lying on a flat, however, it
actually climbed up the sides of the steep range which sloped down
to the water’s edge. Geographers have termed Costaveza a country set
on edge. On no part of it was this characteristic more marked than
at Santa Anna. But this feature interested the two persons in the
captain’s cabin of the _General Barrill_ less than certain red-inked
portions of the coast line, marked “Forts.” These forts, the captain
informed Midshipman Stark, were built in the rock above Santa Anna, and
rendered the place practically impregnable from the sea.

“Then how are we to get in after the insurgent ships?” asked Stark,
who had been informed that the captured vessels were lying inside the
landlocked harbor, under the very guns of the forts, awaiting word to
set out for Boca del Sierras. This, of course, would not be till the
two armies had effected a juncture.

As the young officer asked the question, the captain smiled somewhat
grimly.

“They will come out to us,” was his reply.

“Come out to us!” The boy’s voice held a note of astonishment, as well
it might.

“I beg your pardon, sir,” he went on, “but did I understand you
correctly?”

“Perfectly, my boy. The _General Barrill_ is capable of twenty-five
knots. The fastest of the vessels lying in that harbor is the _Manueal
Calvo_. She can make, under forced draught, about eighteen knots. The
_Bolivar_ and the _Migueal de Barros_ are rebuilt steam yachts, and can
almost come up to this pace, but I don’t imagine that they’ll want to
burn coal at that rate unless they have to.”

The midshipman looked puzzled.

“I see that you have some plan, sir, but for the life of me I cannot
comprehend it.”

“Well,” smiled the South American seaman, “you have seen in your
country a retriever follow and make desperate efforts to capture a lame
duck?”

“Why, yes, but I don’t see----”

“The _General Barrill_ will be a lame duck,” said the veteran, with one
of his grim smiles. “It is the only way we can draw the vessels lying
in that harbor from under the protection of those guns of the forts.”

“I see, sir,” cried the midshipman, in a burst of comprehension. “You
mean to play ’possum and drag them out to sea, and then pick their
bones at your leisure.”

“Well, I don’t know about the latter part of it. But I am pretty
certain we can lure them out. But recollect, young man, that it will
be no child’s play. The _Manueal Calvo_, the flagship, mounts three
six-inch guns and a secondary battery of rapid fires. The other two
carry bow-chasers and stern guns of the same caliber, besides a battery
of small rapid-fire rifles.”

“Phew!” whistled the middy. “Your country had money to spend on
armament, sir.”

“I was minister of the marine for a time,” rejoined the other, with a
mild sort of pride beaming on his weather-beaten countenance. “I saw
to it that we were as well equipped as possible. Little did I dream,
however, that one day my own guns would be turned against me.”

He sank his grizzled head in his hands, his impressible Latin
temperament overcome for a moment at the bitterness of his thoughts. To
create a diversion the middy struck in with another question.

“Have they torpedoes, sir?”

“Only the _Bolivar_. She is, in fact, a semi-torpedo boat. The others
were being equipped with tubes when the revolution broke out, and the
crews mutinied.”

“The _Bolivar_, then, is the only one that can plump a Whitehead at us?”

“That’s it, but she carries a good supply.”

“And so do we, don’t we?”

“I am sorry to say not. The last shipment of Whiteheads from your
country was delayed. We have on board now not more than four.”

“Hum, that’s bad,” mused the middy. “However, captain, we have a
first-rate armament, and I guess we’ll be able to give a good account
of ourselves.”

“I sincerely hope so,” rejoined the other, with a dubious intonation
that, in spite of his courage, made cold chills run down the middy’s
spine, “but it is three against one----”

“Lame duck!” laughed Stark, throwing off his nervousness with an
effort. “Do you intend to put your strategy into effect at once?”

“No, I think the best plan would be to cruise off here for a time.
There is always a chance that they may send out one of the vessels
alone to reconnoiter. In that case we could cut her off and have her at
our mercy.”

“That is right,” agreed Stark, “but there is one serious objection.”

“And that is?”

“They are likely to see us from the shore and report our presence along
the coast. That might precipitate a night attack or some sort of
sortie that might put us in an awkward hole.”

“By the great bells of Sevilla, you are right. What do you suggest? You
see, already I am beginning to lean on you Americans.”

The brave old captain smiled wanly as he spoke.

“Why, sir, I have a plan in my mind. It came to me while we were
talking. The _Barrill_ is exactly like the _Beale_, is she not?”

“They were built at the same yards. The _Beale_ is slightly longer, and
more modern, and heavily engined. But why?”

“Well, you have an American flag on board?”

“Yes,” rejoined the captain, still puzzled, “of course we carry
saluting flags of every nation.”

“Then why can’t we masquerade as the _Beale_?”

“But how? The deception would soon be discovered.”

“Not at all. How?”

“Why, to begin with, the _Beale_ has four funnels and we have but
three.”

“That difficulty is easily surmounted.” The middy was beginning to warm
to his subject now. “You have on board canvas, some spare lumber, and
‘war color’ paint?”

“Of course.”

“Then we’ll soon have a fourth funnel rigged, and then, with the Stars
and Stripes flying, we’ll cruise up and down as we please, without
exciting any attention.”

“But, senor, we cannot use the American flag in an action with the
insurgents.”

“Good heavens, no. As it is, I must swear you to secrecy over our part
in the whole affair. No, I only suggested the flag as an additional
means of throwing them off the trail. If we go into action, of course,
we’ll have to come out in our true colors.”

“By the saints, sir, you have indeed been sent by Heaven in the hour
of my need!” cried the captain, springing up impulsively and, much to
the lad’s embarrassment, flinging his arms about the middy. “I feel
new fire in my veins, new hope, new ambitions. Give us good luck, and
we’ll beat them yet.”

“But there’s a lot to be done,” admonished the practical middy. “And
now, if you don’t mind, I would like to call into council my men,
Strong and Taylor and the invaluable Stanley.”

So it came about that for two days following a four-funneled
torpedo-boat destroyer, flying the American colors, was observed by
the outposts at Santa Anna, leisurely cruising up and down the coast.
The presence of the _Beale_, and her description was, however, known
to them, and so they took it for granted--as who would not--that the
four-funneled destroyer was the Yankee. Her presence gave them no
uneasiness, as the American government, it was known, had only sent
the vessel down into tropic waters to safeguard the interests of
her citizens. Had the wires to Boca del Sierras not been cut in the
engagement to the south of Santa Anna, the insurgents in the latter
place might have put themselves in possession of some information which
would have been valuable to them. To wit, that while the supposed
_Beale_ was cruising about seaward the real _Beale_ lay snugly at Boca
del Sierras. But this, of course, owing to the broken communication,
they had no means of knowing.

During this interval, life on board the masquerading destroyer was
one long round of practice drills in the American loading and firing
methods. Ned and Herc, too, alternated in making test readings with the
range-finder, till they became almost as expert as any gunnery officer
in reading off the exact range. In the meantime Stanley, stripped to
a singlet and trousers, toiled and sweated with his yellow pupils,
who grew to like this rough-and-ready Americano very much. With their
liking grew up a feeling of confidence. The bracing effect of the
presence of the clean-cut Americans, who always went at a thing as
if they meant it, had a great effect on the vacillating, hesitating
Latins, both officers and men.

During this period, too, the Dreadnought Boys and their companions came
to have a sincere respect and regard for Captain Gomez. Not one word
of complaint or timidity had they heard him utter since they had been
on board. They came to regard him as a man in a thousand. Courageous,
yet gentle and courteous, he was a fine specimen of sea fighter. In
this respect, it may be said in parenthesis, he differed widely from
most of his race. Possibly his American education had something to do
with it.

But whether it was her remarkable pertinacity in sticking to that one
portion of the coast, or the fact that from her forward funnel no
smoke was ever seen to issue, the commandant of the fortress of Santa
Anna became suspicious on the morning of the third day and ordered
the _Manueal Calvo_ to stick her nose outside the harbor and look the
supposed American over. Of course, her commander was ordered to make
absolutely no move that could be construed into a hostile intention.
His instructions, however, were to make a complete investigation of the
mysterious craft.

And so it came about that when Stark emerged from his cabin before
breakfast that day he found considerable excitement to greet him.
The lookout had just sighted a moving column of black smoke above the
promontory to the south of the town of Santa Anna.

Taking his place with the others on the bridge, the middy eagerly
watched the dark pillar moving seaward, till presently the sharp,
black nose of a yachtlike-looking vessel emerged from behind the green
barrier.

“The _Manueal Calvo_!” exclaimed Captain Gomez, as his eyes fell on her.

At any other time the boys would have admired the picture she made.
The water was spumed into a creamy bow wave by her sharp forefoot. Her
yellow funnels poured clouds of black smoke against the blue heavens as
she came on. Every line and stay showed sharp, as if etched, and the
rising sun occasionally glinted on a bright gun or bit of brasswork.
But just now the approach of the _Calvo_ meant a lot more to them than
a pretty picture. Their whole fate, their lives, in fact, might hang
upon the events of the next few minutes.

Suddenly a string of bright flags broke out on the _Calvo’s_ signal
halliards between the fore and main masts.

At the same instant a bright flash showed at her quarter, followed by a
sharp explosion. Captain Gomez, in his faded old uniform, trembled with
excitement as he raised his glasses to his eyes and scanned the signal.

“They want us to heave to,” he announced.



CHAPTER XIX. THE SEA FIGHT OFF SANTA ANNA.


“Shall we obey the signal?”

It was Ned who asked the question, his hand on the engine-room
telegraph; for at the minute the _Calvo_ had issued her request--or
rather order, backed up as it was by the report of the gun--the
Dreadnought Boy had been standing at the instrument.

“Yes,” ordered the captain; then, in reply to a questioning look from
the others, he added:

“They will send a boat, and then we can put into execution a little
plan which has just occurred to me.”

The necessary replying flags were run up on the _General Barrill’s_
stumpy signal mast. In reply the _Calvo_ steamed closer, and then
lowered a boat.

As the two vessels lay bobbing on the swell, at a distance of a
thousand yards or so from each other, the small craft struck the water,
and the next instant was gliding swiftly over it toward the _Barrill_.
The early sun glinted brightly on the gold lace of the personages
seated in her stern as she approached.

“Officers!” exclaimed Stark.

“Of course,” rejoined the captain. “They are of the impression that
they are on their way to pay a visit to an American vessel.”

“Well, if they actually were, they’d get a warm reception,” rejoined
the middy. “Firing that gun was the nerviest thing I ever heard of.”

“You must recollect, senor,” put in the captain gently, “that the
insurgent navy is not versed in naval etiquette.”

“It’s time they got a sharp lesson,” sniffed the middy.

There was little time for more conversation of any sort. The boat from
the _Calvo_, a double-ended whale craft, ranged alongside, and the
officers on board her stepped nimbly to the _Barrill’s_ low decks,
being aided on board by several sailors. Drawn up in hospitable array
to receive them were Midshipman Stark and his companions. None of these
could repress slight smiles as they noted the glances of astonishment
the visitors bestowed on the dark-visaged crew. Evidently they were
puzzling their minds over what such palpable South Americans were doing
on board an American ship. The new arrivals, however, bowed politely,
although they evidently had a dozen questions quivering on the tips of
their tongues.

Without giving them time to speak, however, the Americans ushered them
aft and below into the leather-upholstered cabin. Up to this time not a
sign of Captain Gomez had been seen. Shortly, however, he was to make a
dramatic entrance.

“You gentlemen will pardon my saying so,” began the officer, who
evidently outranked the rest of the visitors, “but I could almost have
sworn that this craft was the _General Barrill_ of our--or rather
formerly--of our navy.”

“Of our former navy, would have been a better way to put it,” thought
Ned, carefully flicking an imaginary spot off his uniform to hide a
smile. The reader has, of course, not forgotten that the Americans,
when they made their dramatic entry on board the destroyer, were
equipped with the uniforms of the officers of the craft, which they
still wore. The golden stars--the number of which denoted rank--had,
however, been ripped off. In all essentials the garments bore a close
resemblance to our own naval uniform.

But it was easy to see, despite the fact that Midshipman Stark and the
rest were palpably Americans, that the visitors were suspicious and
uneasy.

“I say, gentlemen,” went on the other, “that the resemblance is
extraordinary. Of course, your boat has four funnels, while ours had
but three.”

“Good thing he didn’t take a notion to poke a finger into that fourth
funnel,” thought Ned. “The paint is still wet, and that canvas is not
really stretched tight enough.”

Suddenly one of the young officers from the _Calvo_, who had been
looking about him, gave a sharp exclamation.

“Why, here is a cushion embroidered with the name of the _General
Barrill_!” he cried in a puzzled voice, “and----”

The sharp voice of his superior cut in.

“There is some trick here. I call upon you to explain it at once,
or----”

He halted in amazement. Four revolvers were covering himself and his
officers, and from a door opening into a side stateroom suddenly
stepped Captain Gomez himself. There was a look of mild triumph on his
features as he emerged from the place of concealment, in which he had
been posted to watch the progress of events.

“Captain Gomez!” gasped out the commander of the _Calvo_, for such was
the rank of the other. “What does this mean, sir?”

“Are you a prisoner of these Americans?” gasped out another officer.

“No, gentlemen, but you are my prisoners,” replied the Costavezan
captain calmly. “I advise you to submit to the fortunes of war with a
good grace.”

“Trapped!” burst out the other officer. He gazed in front of him
despairingly.

He was a brave man in his way. So were his officers. But the bravest
men are not the most reckless, and he saw, by the grim look in his
captor’s eyes, that a dash for the stairway between themselves and the
deck would have been, under the circumstances, suicidal.

Suddenly a loud cheer disturbed the tense silence. It came from above.

“Hurray!”

“What was that?” gasped the insurgent captain.

“I rather think it was your boat going to the bottom. We thought it
best to scuttle her,” rejoined Captain Gomez, with the same deadly
calm. “You gentlemen will, therefore, have to be our guests for a time.
I trust you will make yourselves at home. One thing, before we leave
you to your own devices, however, I must request your weapons.”

There was no help for it, and with a very bad grace the captives
unbuckled their swords and gave up their service revolvers.

“Chess, gentlemen, is an excellent game. It teaches the resources and
stratagems of warfare. You will find the men and a board in a locker
on the port side there. I should advise you to employ your leisure in
studying the various methods of checkmating your opponent.”

As he spoke the captain gave a low bow and, followed by his
officers--for such the Americans now were--made for the deck. The
cabin door, which, of course, was of steel, with hermetically closing
devices, was shut. Below were several impotently raging captives, who,
as a matter of fact, had only their own gullibility to blame for the
predicament.

“Now for the next move!” exclaimed Captain Gomez, as they once more
gained the bridge. “We must get out of the range of the forts as soon
as possible. We are not out of danger here.”

Way was put on the _Barrill_, and she was headed southward. The
_Calvo_, deprived of her chief officers, lay motionless as she had hove
to. No doubt, those on board were wondering what was the meaning of
this new move.

“She will follow in a few minutes,” said the captain. “That will be
time enough to fire on her.”

“Why not hurry her up a bit, sir?” inquired Ned.

“How, my lad?”

“By hoisting a signal to proceed after us.”

“Capital!” exclaimed Stark. “Stanley, will you set the signal?”

“Ay, ay, sir, and then I’m thinking I’d better be circulating among my
gun crews. They look to be getting nervous.”

He spoke no more than the truth. Gazing down from the stumpy bridge,
it was easy to see that the men of the _Barrill’s_ crew were ill at
ease. Their native officers, one of whom had drilled a hole through the
bottom of the _Calvo’s_ whale boat, were doing their best to keep them
quiet, but the nearness of a naval engagement was evidently worrying
them.

A few moments after Stanley reached the deck, however, a wonderful
difference set in. The men dispersed to their posts, chatting and
laughing as if they were about to take part in some pleasurable
athletic contest.

By this time the signal to follow had been seen and lowered, and the
_Calvo_ obediently began to follow the _Barrill_ seaward.

“Hooray. We’ll get her without firing a shot!” exclaimed Ned exultingly.

Indeed, it appeared as if such might be the case. The other ship was
practically without officers, and, no doubt, those on board could be
easily demoralized. Thus the two vessels proceeded for some miles. The
_Barrill_ had, in the meantime, taken in her deceptive ensign, and was
now proceeding without colors. Possibly it was this fact that aroused
the suspicions of the _Calvo_. Perhaps they noted the vanishment of the
whale boat. At any rate, they set a fresh signal.

“Show your colors!”

“All right, we’ll do that,” snapped the middy. “I would advise, sir,
that we set the flag of the republic.”

“Just what I was about to order, my boy. We’ll fight under our own
colors or not at all.”

In a few seconds the Costavezan standard was floating astern of the
destroyer. The wind whipped out its bright folds and displayed it
plainly for all to see.

“I’d give a month’s pay to be on board the _Calvo_ now and see what
they are doing!” thought Ned.

Below Stanley was looking up expectantly.

“All ready when you are, sir,” he said, surveying his well-drilled gun
crews, all at their posts.

“What’s the range?” inquired the captain, turning to Ned.

The boy bent over the instrument.

“Four thousand yards,” he announced.

“Let them close up a bit. We want to make this short and effective.”

The captain rang for reduced speed. The _Calvo_, on the contrary,
came rushing on. It was a bad blunder on her part. As the range-finder
showed her within 1,000 yards Ned glanced expectantly at the captain.

“Open fire with the bow-chasers!” came the order.

The next instant, from the bow of the _Barrill_, came two bright
flashes. They were followed by two sharp reports. At the same instant,
from the _Calvo’s_ side, came similar spurts of bright flame. A
mountain of spray arose close aboard the destroyer as the shells
struck, but no damage was done. Through his glasses Ned could see that
their first shots had also been ineffective. Both had fallen short of
the insurgent vessel.

“Did we get ’em?” yelled up Herc from the lower deck, where, with
Stanley, he was circulating everywhere among the nervous, high-strung
crew.

Ned shook his head.

Suddenly a puff of brown smoke came from the side of the _Calvo_, and a
sharp screech followed. The next instant Ned felt the _Barrill_ quiver
in every fiber. She had been struck. A strange feeling came into the
boy’s mind. It was not nervousness, but a sort of dread for those under
him. As the smoke and dust cleared away, he gazed back below him and
saw fresh blood on the decks. Part of the rail lay shattered and riven,
and one of the rapid-fire guns appeared to be damaged.

The touch of the captain’s hand on his shoulder steadied him. The
absolute calm of the man was a tonic in itself.

“What is the range now?” he inquired in a cool, steady voice.

“Two thousand. We’ve been drawing away from them, sir,” rejoined Ned,
studying his instrument. He turned to the middy, who had gone almost as
pale as he had. This was no battle practice, but real war, with modern
ships and modern guns. Would they come out of it alive?

As these thoughts coursed through his mind, Ned gazed about him, and
the next moment gave a shout and pointed to call the attention of his
officers to what he had observed.

Out of the north was approaching, at tremendous speed apparently,
another vessel. It was one of the insurgent ships. The question
was--which one? If it were the torpedo-equipped craft, the _Bolivar_,
things could not be much worse.



CHAPTER XX. TORPEDOES.


The crew, appalled by the steel hail which now began to pour from the
sides of the _Calvo_, became so demoralized at the crisis that heroic
measures were necessary. Stanley and Herc drew their revolvers and
forced the deserters back to their guns.

“I’ll throw the first man who leaves his post to the sharks!” yelled
Herc, and, although they couldn’t understand what he said, the crew
appeared to comprehend the import of his words. At any rate, they
rallied, and began serving the guns once more.

Suddenly a loud cheer went up from the bridge of the _Barrill_. A
black, gaping hole appeared in the foreworks of the _Calvo_, and two of
her guns were silenced. This cheered them hugely. It meant that their
fire was taking effect at last.

“Close in!” shouted Captain Gomez to the men at the wheel in the
conning tower below.

The space between the two vessels began to close. Ned at once
understood the meaning of these tactics. They were to demolish the
_Calvo_ before the other vessel, which was hastening to the rescue,
arrived. Thus they would have only one foe to tackle at a time.
For a space the two vessels jockeyed, but, deprived of officers as
she was, the _Calvo_ was no match for the tricky destroyer at this
game. As he found his broadside fairly raking the other’s quarter,
the Spanish-American captain gave the word. The range was about two
thousand yards, and that tornado of steel was in position to do the
most deadly work of which it was capable.

Before the few officers remaining on the _Calvo_ could swing her bow
on to avoid the full effect of the _Barrill’s_ fire, Stanley and Herc
received the signal from the bridge. As the tempest of shell took
effect, the _Calvo_ careened, till her underbody showed, and then
staggered drunkenly back on an even keel. But she seemed water-logged,
and began drifting down on the destroyer.

“Hooray! we’ve smashed her steam steering gear!” yelled Ned, half crazy
with excitement.

But, crippled as she was, the _Calvo_ could still fight. Suddenly two
bright flashes showed at her midship section, and a couple of six-inch
projectiles shrieked toward the _Barrill_. The bridge was carried half
away before they could stir. Ned caught Midshipman Stark as the young
officer was hurled back against him. Captain Gomez stood grimly at the
engine-room telegraph, which, luckily, had not been carried away. Nor,
by good fortune, had the range-finder and fire-control instruments.

At the same instant as the _Calvo’s_ shell shrieked its way through one
end of the destroyer’s little bridge the other missile from the same
vessel carried away the canvas forward funnel. The little destroyer
stood revealed in her true colors.

An instant’s glance served to show that the midshipman was not
seriously wounded. A deep cut on his head from a steel splinter was
his only injury. But it had temporarily disabled him, and two sailors
carried him to the small cabin, in which the surgeon had established
himself.

Ned now stood alone on the bridge by Captain Gomez. A thrill ran
through the boy as he realized this. They were in a real battle, and he
was actually second in command!

“Shall we let them have it again, sir?” he asked, as the shouts and
cries of the terrified crew died out under Stanley’s persuasion and
Herc’s reckless flourishing of his weapon.

“Yes, my boy. This time we’ll sink them, if possible. It will be in
revenge for the terrible fright they gave me when I saw our brave young
friend wounded.”

As the signal was transmitted, Stanley’s battery mingled its fire with
Herc’s. This time the _Calvo_ did not answer. Instead they could see
that the greatest confusion prevailed on her decks.

“Give her some more!” shouted the captain.

But even as he spoke there resounded from the crippled ship a terrific
explosion. She seemed to lift for half of her length upward out of the
water, and then, in a shroud of dense, white vapor, she settled back.

“Her boilers have exploded!” shouted Ned, as he gazed with
horror-stricken eyes on the tragedy.

“Lower the boats; we must save all we can!” exclaimed Captain Gomez.
“Alas! my poor countrymen!”

The _Calvo_ wavered only for an instant after the explosion, and then,
with a dreadful roar and a furious hissing, she vanished amid clouds
of white steam. As the vapor cleared away, all that remained on the
surface to show her end were a few ash-streaked pools of grease, amid
which human heads showed like black dots.

The _Barrill_ steamed among the debris, and many a man owed his life to
her heroic efforts. But hardly had the work of rescue terminated before
the destroyer was called upon to face a fresh emergency. The other
vessel was within four thousand yards, steaming furiously toward them.

“It is the _Bolivar_!” exclaimed Captain Gomez, as he gazed through his
glasses.

For a flash hope almost died in Ned’s heart. The newcomer was the
torpedo-equipped craft. As we know, of this class of weapon the
_Barrill_ had but four on board. What chance would she stand, crippled
as she was, against this new enemy? Hastily Stanley and Herc were
called to the bridge and the situation explained to them. It was
decided to get the _Barrill’s_ torpedo apparatus in order, and at least
discharge all the Whiteheads she carried at the _Bolivar_--provided,
that is, that the other vessel gave them a chance. On came the
_Bolivar_, her officers apparently not the least dismayed by the fate
that had overtaken the _Calvo_. The _Barrill’s_ batteries opened fire
on her at three thousand five hundred yards. The accuracy of Stanley
and Herc’s fire halted her for a moment in the same manner as a
ferocious bulldog pursuing a cat will halt, in a puzzled way, as her
claws encounter his nose.

The hesitation was only for an instant, however, and then the craft
began to swing.

“They are going to try a broadside!” exclaimed Captain Gomez,
signaling “astern,” and swinging his vessel till her bow pointed at
the other’s beam. It was an effective position, and gave the destroyer
the advantage for the moment. Stanley, with his bow guns, took full
advantage of it. He opened fire with his two rapid-fire weapons forward
and succeeded in opening up several holes in the _Bolivar’s_ bow.

But the insurgent vessel retaliated fearfully. Her steel projectiles
ripped and tore the forward structure of the little _Barrill_, putting
Stanley’s two bow-chasers out of commission, killing two of his
men and, of course, driving them all from that part of the vessel.
Fortunately, however, not one of all the rapidly fired missiles struck
the _Barrill_ below the water line, or in any vital spot.

The screech and hiss of projectiles were now incessant on both sides.
About the _Barrill_ the water shot upward in a hundred geysers as the
steel rain roared about her. As fast as their gunners were killed
or wounded, Herc and Stanley replaced them by men rescued from the
sunken _Calvo_. The revolvers both Americans carried proved wonderful
persuaders in driving them to the guns.

“Where are their torpedoes?” asked Ned anxiously, as, after ten minutes
of this hot work, no sign of one of those deadly messengers of death
had appeared.

There was no time for the silent, anxious figure beside him to reply.

A sudden puff of white smoke showed low down on the _Bolivar’s_ bow.
The sunlight glinted for a breath on white metal, and then came a
splash. Ned grew pale and clutched the rail desperately as he realized
that five hundred pounds of high explosive had been launched at the
destroyer.

He wanted to shout out, but his lips refused obedience. All he could do
was to keep his wide-opened, staring eyes fixed on the line of white
air bubbles which marked the path of the approaching torpedo. But while
Ned stood paralyzed, the _Barrill’s_ commander had acted. He did the
only thing possible to do. Skillfully he manœuvered his vessel till her
sharp bow pointed toward the oncoming torpedo.

But even as she swung, it seemed to the watchers of the approaching
steel tube that the _Barrill_ must swing herself directly in the path
of the messenger of death. By some subtle wireless telegraphy the news
of the peril had already traversed the decks. White under their yellow
skins, the frightened crew showed twitching faces and nervous, shaky
hands. Even the revolvers of Stanley and Herc seemed powerless now to
drive them to duty. In their fatalistic way they argued that death was
upon them, and that it was no worse to be shot by a revolver than to be
blown to atoms by a striking torpedo.

Ned, ashen to his lips, leaned forward above the shattered rail and
watched through his glasses the approach of the Whitehead. It was
running but a short distance under the surface, and once or twice he
thought he could detect a shimmering flash as it shot through a wave.
The bursting bubbles marking its way were clearly apparent. It could
only be a few minutes now.

Fascinated, like one in a trance, the boy kept his eyes glued on it.
Below him, on the decks, he could hear the shouts and screams and
prayers as the thoroughly demoralized crew rushed about, leaping over
the dead and the wounded, and then stopping short, baffled at the
impossibility of escape.

The torpedo was now so close that a few seconds would decide all.
Without realizing it, Ned gripped the rail and braced himself with
his feet. Silently he waited for the terrific impact of the explosion
he knew must come when the deadly point of the gun-cotton “war-head”
plowed into the steel plates of the _Barrill_.

But death was not destined for them at that moment. With a flash of
bright steel, a whirr of her tiny propellers and a white streak of
foam, the awful menace swept by, missing her prey by a hand’s breadth.
Ned felt sick and weak as he realized that the Whitehead had dashed
close by and gone onward. Its mission of death had proved futile.

“Back to your posts, every one of you!”

Captain Gomez’s sharp voice cut the tense silence on the decks.

“You put them out of business this time!” yelled Stanley, “or they’ll
let loose another of those, and blow us all to a dago heaven.”

“Can’t two play at that game, captain?” asked Ned, as the fire broke
out afresh. “Why can’t we try a torpedo at them?”

“A good idea, my boy! Give the orders.”

Ned hailed Stanley in an interval of the fire and gave the necessary
command. The torpedo was rigged in a stern tube, and the _Barrill_
swung to deliver it. It was dangerous work. At any moment one of the
enemy’s shots might have struck the “war-head” of the implement and
blown them all to eternity. But by the same good fortune that had so
far protected those on the bridge, Stanley and Herc managed to get the
torpedo in the tube and the compressed-air connections made.

Ned snatched up a megaphone as the _Barrill’s_ blunt counter swung till
it was aimed at the leaden side of the converted yacht.

“Now, then, boys!” he cried at length.

Stanley took careful aim and released the catch.

There was a sharp hiss, as of outrushing steam, a splash, accompanied
by a bright flash of whirring metal. The Whitehead was speeding on her
errand of annihilation.



CHAPTER XXI. VICTOR AND VANQUISHED.


“Bo-o-om!”

As if some subtle dissolvent chemical had been suddenly applied to
them, the stern works of the _Bolivar_ appeared to melt away as the
torpedo struck her. For an instant she floated on the surface--half a
ship--steam and smoke pouring from her as the water rushed into her
engine rooms. Then, with a wallowing motion, like a stricken bull
sinking to its knees, she staggered and heeled partially over, exposing
her keel.

Then, with the utmost deliberation--as if she were making up her mind
to it, in fact--the _Bolivar_ righted herself and began to crawl, like
a stricken animal, toward the shore.

“They’ve closed her watertight bulkhead, sir!” called up the
smoke-begrimed, half-naked Stanley. “They’re making for the shore to
beach her. Shall I fire and finish her, sir?”

The captain’s eyes were filled with tears. Now that the strain of the
fight against such odds was over, his emotional nature asserted itself.
Ned saw that it was with great difficulty that he framed his words when
he finally spoke.

“No, let them go,” he said, in a voice he strove in vain to render
steady. “My unfortunate countrymen! how many of you have gone to your
last accounting to-day?”

Ned could not help but respect Captain Gomez’s grief. It was the
sorrowing of a brave man over a fallen enemy. He was glad that no
order to complete the annihilation of the _Bolivar_ had come. If the
insurgents could beach her, they--those who were left alive--would have
a chance to gain the shore. Ned felt sure that the ends of the republic
had been met when they inflicted such a crushing blow on the mutinous
vessels.

The first thing the Americans hastened to do, after cheering their
victory in ringing tones, was to hasten below and see how the injured
were faring. They found that Midshipman Stark, with a bandage about
his head, was practically as well as ever, and bitterly disappointed
over missing the “cream of the shindy,” as he expressed it. The other
wounded were all doing well. Their dead numbered twenty--not a heavy
loss, considering the sharp work they had been engaged in. But the poor
_Barrill_ was a melancholy sight. Her jury funnel was, of course, gone,
and lay, a shapeless mass, on the decks. Her other stacks were riddled
through and through with shells till they almost wobbled. Her conning
tower was sadly battered and punctured, and her superstructure forward
showed a great, gaping wound, received when Stanley’s two bow-chasers
had fired their last shot.

While her officers stood amidships, soberly regarding the havoc, the
chief engineer emerged from below, hastened up to the captain and drew
him aside. In a low voice he imparted what was evidently grave news.
What this information was the Dreadnought Boys soon learned. One of his
aides had that moment reported to him that the condenser of the vessel
had been so badly damaged by a shell that it was doubtful if she could
proceed much farther. He could tinker it up for a few hours, he thought.

“Do so,” ordered the captain, a troubled look coming over his face. “In
the meantime, my comrades--for such I must call you--let us have some
luncheon, and discuss our next steps.”

“We do not wish to interfere with your plans, sir,” spoke up Midshipman
Stark, who had been conferring with his men, “but if it is all the same
to you, we should like to be put ashore as soon as possible.”

The captain looked disappointed.

“I was hoping to have you with me longer,” he said, “but I would not
for the world thwart your inclinations.”

“It is not our inclination, sir, but our duty,” rejoined the middy.
“We left our ship on an errand of confidence. We have so far been
unavoidably detained, but now we wish to get back with all the speed
possible.”

“I have it!” exclaimed the captain suddenly, “I will put you ashore at
Los Olivos. It is not far from here. I do not know if the rebels have
infested it, but even if they have I have powerful friends there who
will provide you with horses and a means of getting safely into Boca
del Sierras.”

This was good news for the young man-of-war’s men, who felt it
incumbent on them to rejoin their ship as soon as possible. Even as
things were, it was likely that news of their continued absence had
been cabled home.

Luncheon was a peculiar meal. It was served from the scant stores of
the _Barrill_, and the already depleted menu was not improved by the
addition of the insurgent officers. They bore the news of their defeat
with long countenances, but bravely enough put the best face possible
on matters, and did not let their gloom interfere with the merriment of
the others.

“I am going to propose the health of you four brave Americans,”
whispered the captain, as the meal drew to a close.

“For Heaven’s sake, sir, do nothing of the sort, I beg,” whispered the
middy, who sat next to him, and who, fortunately, had been the only
one to catch his remark. “It might mean the loss of my commission and
the ruin of the others.”

“What!” exclaimed the captain in amazement, but in a low voice, “you
are never going to acknowledge the magnificent part you played to-day?”

“No, sir. We had much rather it would never be mentioned. These
insurgent officers do not know who we are. The matter need never go
further.”

“By the saints, you Americans are beyond me!” exclaimed the captain,
“but, my dear young friend, of course the wishes of yourself or of your
friends are sacred to me, and shall be obeyed.”

“Thank you,” said the middy simply.

The damaged condenser was repaired by the engine-room force
sufficiently to allow the American party to be landed at Los Olivos
that night. They were rowed ashore in plain clothes, borrowed from
the friendly officers of the destroyer. Under the captain’s guidance
they soon reached the home of his friends, a villa set back in
magnificent grounds, on the outskirts of the little town. The officer’s
acquaintances willingly agreed to aid the Americans.

A native guide was provided, and as soon as courtesy would permit,
the Americans, who could ill conceal their impatience, started on
their perilous journey. Owing to the wires being cut, no news of
developments near to Boca del Sierras had filtered into the northern
country. For all Midshipman Stark and his companions knew, they might
find the insurgents in possession of the place. In that case they faced
possibilities it was not pleasant to consider.

At last they were mounted, and, with their horses impatiently pawing
the ground, as if as anxious to go forward as they were, they bade
farewell to their emotional Latin friend, who almost broke down as the
hour for parting came. He controlled himself bravely, however, although
the squeeze of his hand he bestowed on each of the Americans bespoke
his high regard for them.

“Good-by, sir, and good luck!” called back all of them, as they
cantered out into darkness with their guide.

“Don’t forget to smash the _De Barros_ if she pokes her nose out!”
called Ned.

The _De Barros_, it will be recollected, was the only remaining vessel
at Santa Anna, a small converted yacht. It was not likely that she
would venture to try conclusions with the destroyer, which had proved
herself such a terrible opponent, but if she did Captain Gomez meant to
be ready for her.

On and on into the darkness cantered the Americans and their silent
guide. About midnight the moon arose and showed them that they were
traversing a rough, hilly country near the seacoast.

“We are not far from Miraflores,” said their guide, as he turned in his
saddle.

Miraflores!

What memories the name recalled! How much had happened to each of them
in the brief interval since their escape from the prison there! How
much older each of them felt!

Villas began to appear now at long intervals, dotted back in the
dense greenery clothing the hillsides. Coffee and banana plantations
surrounded many of them, with the great, flat “barbecues” showing white
in the moonlight.

Suddenly, as they rode along, Ned halted abruptly. The others drew rein
as they noticed this.

“What’s the trouble?” asked the middy, “horse gone lame?”

“No, sir, but I thought I heard something.”

“An owl, most likely. Come on, we must be pressing forward.”

“No, sir, this wasn’t an owl. Hark! there it is again!”

From a villa some distance back from the road was the apparent source
of the cries.

“It’s a call for help, sir!” exclaimed Stanley.

“A woman’s voice!” added Ned.

“Come on, boys,” shouted Stark, wheeling from the roadway, “we must see
what is going forward up there.”



CHAPTER XXII. AN ORDER TO HALT.


A dense belt of dark-leaved bananas separated the villa from the
highway, along which they had been riding. Without bothering to find a
pathway, the Americans swung their horses into the plantation and rode
forward at a rattling gait among the bananas.

Owing probably to the softness of the ground, the sound of their
approach was not audible within, and the cries increased as they drew
nearer. Flinging their reins to the guide, whom nothing would have
induced to join them, the Americans swung off their horses within a few
yards of a lighted window, and ran forward.

The sight which met their eyes within the casement was one which did
not make Ned’s amazed exclamation seem out of place.

“It’s Senorita Isabelle!” exclaimed Herc, as his eyes encountered the
shrinking figure of a young woman in one corner of the lighted room.
In front of her, with a drawn sword, was General de Guzman himself,
his face convulsed with fury. In another corner of the place stood
Charbonde and Hank Harkins holding back a venerable old lady, who
appeared to have been on the point of precipitating herself upon the
general.

“For the last time, girl, will you tell me where that will is?”
demanded the infuriated general in Spanish.

“Never,” the girl bravely replied, “even though no one has heard my
cries for help. I defy you to make me speak. The secret was imparted
to me in confidence, and why should I tell you the whereabouts of the
document? You only desire to possess yourself of it so that you may
profit by wrongfully withholding our property.”

“Then I shall make you a prisoner. My troops are now at the gates of
Boca del Sierras. To-morrow they will enter it in triumph. I shall make
it my first business to recapture those Americans, and shoot them in
front of your eyes.”

“Help! Help!” screamed the young woman, as the man advanced upon her.

“Scream all you wish to, my dear niece. There is nobody to hear you!”
exclaimed de Guzman, with an evil leer.

The moment for revealing themselves had arrived. With a yell the
Americans leaped the low sill of the open window and dashed into
the room. A blow of Ned’s fist sent the general sprawling in a most
undignified position into a corner of the room. Herc disposed of their
old friend, Hank Harkins, while the impact of Stanley’s mighty fist
sounded on the jaw of Chawedbones, as the sailor insisted on calling
him. As for the girl, she seemed about to faint, but somehow Midshipman
Stark’s arms happened to be convenient as she staggered back.

[Illustration: With a yell the Americans leaped the low sill of the
open window and dashed into the room.]

The naval men’s borrowed revolvers came in handy at that moment, for
all the tormentors of the two women were armed. Under the menacing
muzzles of the Americans’ pistols, however, they were speedily
disarmed. In fact, their amazement at the sudden appearance of the
quartette in that place, and in such an hour, had almost bereft
the others of their senses. By de Guzman and by the others, who had
witnessed the sinking of the boat in which the Americans were escaping,
it had been confidently assumed that they were all dead. Of the part
they had played against the insurgents in the last few hours de Guzman
was, of course, unaware.

As for Senorita Isabelle and her mother, they were as dumfounded as
the general and his worthy accomplices. After the first few minutes of
silence, they began to stammer their thanks, but the midshipman and his
companions hastily, yet politely, waved them aside.

“We are only too happy to have been in time,” said the middy, with a
gallant bow, “but how did you happen to be placed in such a position?”

The girl looked embarrassed. The Americans understood that, brute as he
was, de Guzman was still her relative, and she wished to say nothing
against him. Her mother, however, broke into a storm of Spanish,
aimed at her brother-in-law. She explained that, while they had been
seated alone in the house that evening, their tormentors had made
their appearance through the window. General de Guzman had heard from
the soldiers who had guarded the prison at Miraflores of his niece’s
visit to the dungeon. One of them who understood English had played
eavesdropper, and, as soon as he had an opportunity, he had informed
the general of what he had heard. He was unable to tell him of the
location of the will, however, and for this the revolutionary leader
had visited the hacienda, with a stern determination to find out its
whereabouts. His threat to imprison the girl and her mother had been
the climax to a stormy interview.

“And now, sir,” spoke up the general sullenly, “perhaps you will detain
us no longer. This is a family affair, and----”

“You have been beaten at your own game,” put in Midshipman Stark.

The general glowered, but said nothing. Senorita Isabelle turned to the
Americans.

“You will not keep him longer? I am certain that he will do us no more
harm to-night.”

“Nor in the future,” spoke up Ned recklessly. “I’ll get the will for
you to-morrow.”

A smile flitted across the general’s face.

“To-morrow things will have changed in Boca del Sierras,” he exclaimed.
“I shall be in possession there.”

The Americans looked their astonishment, but thought it best to say
nothing to betray their ignorance. The next moment the general renewed
his request to be allowed to depart.

“What shall we do?” asked Stark, gazing at the others.

“Well, sir, as we are not combatants, I don’t see how we are to make
him a prisoner of war,” said Ned.

“Neither do I. We shall have to let him go, I suppose.”

“And his pair of friends, too, sir?” asked Stanley, shaking his mighty
fist at the cowering Hank Harkins.

“Yes, let them go, too. You have horses, general?”

“Yes,” rejoined the other sullenly.

“Good thing,” whispered Herc. “That means ours are safe.”

“You mean they would steal them?” asked Ned.

“In a minute. Those fellows would take pennies from a blind man.”

“I half believe even that about them, too,” laughed Ned, as the
general, followed by the others, slunk out of the room. They had not
received their weapons back, and none of the Americans had made it
possible for them to ask for them. Presently the clatter of hoofs
outside announced their departure.

The two women then began to question the Americans eagerly about their
plans. They were dumfounded when told that the four meant to push on
and join their ship.

“But, senors, that will be impossible,” declared the elder lady. “The
insurgent forces are now surrounding the city. You cannot get through
the lines.”

“The two armies have then united?” gasped the middy in consternation.

“Not yet, but they are expecting the vessels from Santa Anna to
arrive to-morrow, and when the bombardment from the sea is begun the
insurgents will seize that opportunity to unite their forces and sweep
down upon the city from the hills.”

The recent officers of the _General Barrill_ exchanged glances. They
knew there would be no naval attack. If General de Guzman was depending
on his blue-water allies his cause was tottering.

“Ah, I see you know something about that navy!” exclaimed the younger
woman, who had recovered her usual vivacity. “Do tell us.”

“We are not at liberty to, senorita,” rejoined the middy. “All we can
tell you is that a naval attack on the city will never take place.”

Seeing that there was some mystery in all this, the women refrained
from further questions. A short time afterward, a noise outside
announced that the loitering house servants had returned, and, much
against their wills, the Americans were detained for refreshments. It
was just before dawn when they set out once more, riding fast. They had
a lot of ground to cover if they hoped to make the city of Boca del
Sierras before the insurgents’ attack commenced.

They were all silent and preoccupied as they pressed forward. Ned
and Herc thought over what might ensue if they were captured by
the insurgent troops. Stanley was wishing for a pipe of tobacco, a
luxury which he had not been able to indulge in for several days.
The cigarettes of the _Barrill_ he had refused with scorn. As for
Midshipman Stark, his thoughts were mainly occupied by the slender
figure of Senorita Isabelle. As they rode along, her face seemed always
dancing just in front of him. Middies are among the most impressionable
of mankind, and Mr. Stark was no exception to his class.

But the ruminations of all four were rudely shattered after they had
ridden a short distance. They were now traversing a narrow plateau at
the foot of some rugged mountains. It was from these hills that the new
peril had manifested itself. As he gazed upward, their guide wheeled
his horse and rode off for his life in the direction whence they had
come.

A troop of horsemen was riding down the hillside rapidly toward them.
There were evidently two hundred or more in the body. Suddenly their
leader gave a shout. It was easily interpreted by the travelers as a
signal to halt.

With very apprehensive feelings regarding what was to come, the
Americans reined in. In the hands of the insurgents they knew their
lives would not be worth a moment’s purchase.



CHAPTER XXIII. WITH THE COSTAVEZAN CAVALRY.


But their apprehension was speedily relieved. Ned it was who first
sighted, carried far back in the ranks of the approaching horsemen, the
red, white and blue flag of the republic, with its golden star blazing
on the central white band. Never had a flag seemed more welcome to them
than this gaudy banner of a South American republic.

The leader of the troop, a young man whom they learned later was
Colonel Julio Lazard, galloped up to them with a flourish. The
Americans all saluted as he pulled up his horse, a fine, black steed,
furnished with a high-peaked, chased-leather saddle and bridle, silver
ornamented.

“Americans!” he exclaimed in fair English. “Gentlemen, this is a happy
encounter.”

“It is for us!” exclaimed Herc, in a loud aside to Ned.

“We mistook you for a scouting party of the enemy, and were about to
fire on you,” continued Colonel Lazard cheerfully.

“Phew! this impulsive Latin temperament again,” grinned Stanley, behind
his hand, to the two boys.

In the meantime Midshipman Stark had been responding to the other’s
salutations. These formalities concluded, Colonel Lazard informed them
that he was at the head of the troops which had been repulsed some days
previously by the insurgents. He and his staff officers had succeeded
in rallying their men after a precipitate flight into the mountains,
and were now advancing to take part in a daring dash to the relief of
Boca del Sierras.

“The infantry and artillery have gone on ahead,” explained the colonel,
“and my cavalry are bringing up the rear in order to guard against any
flank attack by the enemy.”

“You think there is danger of Boca del Sierras falling?” inquired
Midshipman Stark, after Colonel Lazard had explained this much to the
adventurers.

“I fear that such a catastrophe is in grave danger of occurring,”
was the rejoinder. “But with my brave troops----,” he continued
grandiloquently.

“Just as if they hadn’t all taken to the tall timbers the last time
they smelled powder,” whispered the incorrigible Herc.

“But with my brave troops,” went on the officer, who, of course, had
not heard the remark, “we will save them if it is humanly possible to
do so.”

“You do not think, then, that the insurgent army of the north has
united with the other body of troops?” questioned Mr. Stark.

“No,” responded the officer, “and it will be our duty to see that they
do not do so. Our scouts inform us, however, that the advance on the
city is to be made before noon to-day, so that we have no time to lose.
I must marshal my forces at the Hill of the Ten Saints.”

The Dreadnought Boys recalled, as he mentioned the name, the location
he referred to. It was a small hill outside the city to the north, the
value of which, as a strategic position, was at once apparent. Nestling
close in under the mighty ramparts of the Sierras themselves, it
commanded the northern approach to the city perfectly.

“The battle, if there is one, will resolve itself into a struggle for
the possession of that hill,” explained the colonel. “The troops that
arrive there first will win the day”--and his brow clouded--“unless the
insurgent navy arrives and bombards the city from the sea.”

“Do not worry about that, sir,” Stark assured him. “The navy will not
be there.”

“Indeed, you are in possession----”

“Of positive information.”

“Its source, senor?”

“That I cannot divulge. But I can assure you that the navy will not be
there.”

The colonel looked at him curiously.

“You will pardon my seeming curiosity, sir, but who or what are you
and your companions?”

It will be recollected that the Americans were in plain clothes.
Dust-covered and travel-stained as they were, they might have indeed
excited curiosity in anybody who had espied them traveling among the
war-ridden hills.

For a second the midshipman hesitated, and then compromised by saying:

“You will not misunderstand our motives, sir, when I assure you that
it is from no evil intent that I cannot tell you everything about us.
Suffice it to say that we are Americans traveling in the country on
business--I think I may add, important business. It is essential that
we should be in Boca del Sierras to-day, and for that reason we are
traversing this road.”

“I appreciate what you say, senor,” rejoined the colonel. “I respect
and admire all Americans. They are the government’s friends. If you
wish you may travel with us. We are on the eve of a great battle. By
accepting our escort you will have a chance to see what the troops of
the republic can accomplish.”

The offer was naturally accepted with thanks by the midshipman on
behalf of the party, and a few minutes later the cavalcade moved
forward. They shortly diverged from the main road and struck off upon a
narrow trail. So narrow was it that the troopers were compelled to ride
in single file in some parts of it. A thick growth of brush screened it
perfectly from the view of any one below them--between the mountains
and the sea, that is--so that, strategically considered, the colonel
had chosen a splendid route for moving his troops.

It was shortly before noon, and the sun blazed hotly down, when they
reached a spot where the trail converged into the main road. A few rods
beyond the ground sloped upward toward the summit of the Hill of the
Ten Saints.

“Forward!” shouted the colonel, as he saw that the coveted elevation
was untenanted. “We are the first to arrive.”

But even as he spoke the bushes surrounding the junction of the road
and the trail became alive with men, and a raking fire was poured into
the cavalry. The insurgents had prepared an ambush, into which Colonel
Lazard’s cavalry had walked like so many flies into the spider’s web.

For an instant all was confusion. Near to Ned a horse fell to the
ground, kicking and struggling in its death agony. Bullets whistled
by him, and all about arose the clashing and cries of conflict. The
troopers wavered and seemed to be about to seek safety in flight.

“Your carbines!” shrieked the cavalry officers.

They spurred their horses hither and thither, in the crush of
panic-stricken horses and men, striking their followers with the flats
of their swords and fairly driving them into the conflict. After a
few moments of this frenzied work, the horsemen rallied a little and
poured back an answering fire from their carbines. Their cordite-driven
bullets did sharp execution in the insurgent ranks, and the ambuscade,
having done its work, began to give way, falling back on the main lines
of the insurgent troops.

Then came a breathing spell, but the Americans knew as well as the
government officers that it was the lull before the storm. General de
Guzman was far too tricky a campaigner to have massed all his strength
on that one blow.

“Where are your infantry and artillery?” asked the middy, who, with the
others, had remained at the colonel’s side in the skirmish.

“I do not know,” began the colonel, distractedly looking about him. “If
they do not arrive soon, we are lost. We dare not move forward without
their fire to cover our advance.”

As he spoke there came from below a bugle call, which the Americans
recognized as the “advance.” In many South American armies the bugle
calls are the same as ours, and the Republic of Costaveza was no
exception.

“They have disobeyed my orders!” exclaimed Colonel Lazard furiously.
“They have taken the lower road.”

To understand what is to follow, it is necessary to comprehend that,
at this stage of the engagement, the government cavalry were massed at
the junction of the mountain trail and the main road. To the north, on
the main road, were the insurgents, with their machine guns. On a lower
road still was the government infantry and artillery. It afterward
transpired that they had been compelled to take that route to avoid
falling into the rear guard of the insurgents. Straight ahead on the
main road lay the Hill of the Ten Saints, but it was commanded from the
main road by the guns of the insurgents.

Situated as were Colonel Lazard’s infantry and artillery,--without
which latter he could not hope to hold the hill, even if he gained
it,--they could not be communicated with in regard to the situation. It
became necessary, then, to send a scout across to them to inform them
of conditions, so that a concentrated advance might be begun.

The colonel issued a call for volunteers, but of all that body of men
not one would risk crossing the main road. Commanded as it was by the
insurgent artillery, it did, indeed, seem to be a fatal mission. The
Americans began to chafe and fidget. If Colonel Lazard did not soon
make a decisive move, the insurgents would begin the advance, in which
case the key to the situation would be theirs. With the rebels in
control of the city and the approaches, every one of the party from the
_Beale_ realized that their chance of rejoining their ship would be
remote in the extreme. A drum-head court-martial would be the best they
could expect, if their part in the sinking of the _Bolivar_ and the
_Manueal Calvo_ were ever known.

A short distance beyond their present situation Ned’s sharp eyes had
already noted a dip in the road. It was but a slight depression, to be
sure, but into the boy’s mind had suddenly come the idea that it could
be utilized. Brush grew close up to it on both sides, so that it would
be possible to approach it without being observed from the north. The
dip, or so Ned believed, was deep enough to hide the form of any one
crawling across. Riding to the side of the midshipman, he confided his
bold plan to him. It was nothing more nor less than to dismount and
attempt to cross the gun-commanded road by the dip. At first Stark
shook his head.

“I cannot permit it, Strong. It is far too risky. I am your officer,
and would be responsible for you if anything happened.”

“But I don’t believe anything will happen, sir,” exclaimed Ned. “If I
did I would not risk it.”

“Hum,” pondered the middy, “it’s certain that something has to be done.
None of these cowards here will make a move, and if the artillery isn’t
on that hill within the next few moments it’s ‘good-by,’ republic.”

“Then I can try it, sir?” asked Ned joyously.

“It is against my judgment, but--well, yes, but for Heaven’s sake be
careful.”

“You can depend upon that, sir,” rejoined Ned.

He slipped from his horse and crept off into the undergrowth before
any of Lazard’s cowardly command realized what he was about. Throwing
himself flat on his stomach, the boy wormed his way forward through
the brush till he reached a point which, he concluded, must be about
opposite the dip in the road.

Cautiously he raised his head and saw, to his joy, that only a few
yards now separated him from his coveted depression. His heart began to
beat thick and fast. Ned knew well that the road which he must cross
was commanded from above by the insurgent guns. If the dip were not as
deep as he calculated--if it would not keep him hidden--he would be
shot down like a dog.

“Now for it,” he whispered to himself, lying flat once more and
wriggling forward, as before.

Suddenly he stopped dead and listened intently. He had heard a sound in
the brush behind him.

As he listened the sound came again, sharp and crackling. Somebody was
evidently approaching him and using the utmost caution in doing so.
After the first sharp crackling of the broken stems, he heard no more.

Ned reached back and drew his revolver. Then, crouching on his knees
behind a close-growing bush, he waited the coming of his trailer.



CHAPTER XXIV. NED’S HEROIC DEED.


Hardly daring to draw a breath, and with his heart pounding against his
ribs as if it would break them, Ned waited. It was overpoweringly hot
in the brush. The sweat dribbled from his forehead and rolled down his
nose, itching it in maddening fashion, but he did not dare to move a
hand to mop his brow. A moment of inattention, he felt, might cost him
his life.

Suddenly the crackling was repeated, this time close at hand. Ned could
not repress a start, and as his frame twitched nervously the brush
directly in front of him parted. To his astonishment, something red
was thrust through. In the sudden relief to his feelings, Ned almost
burst into a roar of laughter, for the rubicund object quickly revealed
itself as Herc’s scarlet thatch. The former farm boy raised a red,
dripping face, and gazed inquiringly about him, his countenance framed
oddly in the dusty brush.

“I’ll swear I heard something,” he muttered.

“And you did, too,” whispered Ned, in a cautious tone, but one which
carried.

“Ned----” almost shouted Herc.

“Hush, you red-headed Indian! do you want to bring the insurgent army
down on us?

“What on earth are you doing here?” demanded Ned, as Herc drew closer.

“Why, I saw you slip from your horse, and I guessed you were going to
do something risky. I couldn’t help it, Ned, I had to be with you.”

“But, Herc, this is a dangerous errand. It may mean death.”

“I know that,” rejoined Herc simply. “That’s the reason I came--so that
I could be with you in case of trouble.”

“Herc, you are a brick!” exclaimed Ned, his voice shaken with real
feeling. He reached out and clasped the Dreadnought Boy’s hand.

“We’re in this thing together now,” he went on.

“And we’ll see it through together.”

“You bet. Now, come on.”

Forward crept the two boys. In a few minutes they gained the edge
of the declivity, through which they hoped to crawl, unseen by the
insurgent gunners. Without a word, for it was not a situation which
any words would fit, they emerged from the friendly cover of the
brush, and began crawling along the bottom of the dusty dip. It seemed
terribly shallow, now that they were in it, and, flat as they stretched
themselves, Ned felt that they must look as big as elephants.

“Reminds me of the time I played in a show at the village hall,”
whispered Herc, as they crawled through the dust. “I felt like I was
the only thing on the stage.”

In times of great physical risk the mind sometimes remains almost
dormant during the most dangerous part of the performance. So it was
that, almost without knowing it, the Dreadnought Boys crossed the dip
in the road and emerged unscratched in the government lines.

They were rudely recalled to themselves, however, by a sharp voice
almost in their ears. Looking up, they saw a dark-skinned soldier, in a
shabby uniform standing over them. His bayonet was fixed, and he looked
formidable.

“What did he say?” whispered Herc.

“Something like ‘Speak, or I’ll shoot,’” rejoined Ned, holding up one
hand in token that it was empty.

“Americanos,” he said.

The soldier seemed to comprehend, and nodded. Beckoning, he led the
Dreadnought Boys through a thick grove to where a group of officers
stood chatting.

“You’d think they were going to play tennis to look at them!” exclaimed
Herc.

“Yes, if Colonel Lazard is worrying, they are not,” agreed Ned.

Fortunately the leader of the halted government infantry and artillery
spoke English, so that Ned was able to explain to him his errand. Many
and loud were the congratulations the Americans received on their
bravery in daring to cross the road. Such a deed was, in fact, beyond
the comprehension of the Costavezans, brave enough though some of them
were.

Ned noted with satisfaction that fully twenty machine guns and a
good-sized body of infantry were scattered about under the trees. Their
commanding officer explained coolly enough that he had ordered a halt
till he heard from Colonel Lazard.

“But suppose he could not have communicated with you?” asked Ned.

“Then,” said the officer, with a shrug, “we should have had to remain
here.”

“Nice sort of soldiers,” thought Ned.

But now that they had definite orders to advance on the hill, the
troops became animated enough. In five minutes the guns were ready
to be rushed into position, and the infantry was so arranged as to
surround the precious implements of warfare and protect them.

Ned’s blood thrilled as the advance was sounded. That what was to come
would be real warfare he had no doubt.

As the government troops advanced up the road, the expected happened.
From the insurgent guns to the north a raking fire opened. The infantry
surrounding the guns replied, but their fire was half-hearted. In fact,
there was no object in wasting time and ammunition in retaliating. To
gain the hill in the speediest possible time was the object of the dash.

“This is warm work, Herc!” exclaimed Ned, as they stumbled forward
with the troops. Beside the Dreadnought Boy one of the infantrymen had
just fallen, badly wounded. Ned picked him up and placed him on a gun
carriage.

General de Guzman had been completely taken by surprise by the sudden
move of the government troops. He had been depending on his guns to
prevent communication between the two bodies, and thus hamper them till
the expected ships arrived in the harbor below. The booming of their
guns he intended to make the signal for his advance. Suddenly, from the
harbor, there sounded a loud report.

Boom!

Its echoes clashed back against the hills. Ned and Herc looked seaward
surprised. They were still more surprised when they saw, making for the
harbor entrance, two vessels. One of them they recognized even at that
distance as the _Barrill_. The other they guessed to be the _De Barros_.

“Hooray! Captain Gomez made good!” exclaimed Ned. “I’ll bet he’s got a
prize crew on the _De Barros_ now.”

And so it afterward proved. The plucky captain had made a night sortie
on Santa Anna, lured the _De Barros_ seaward, and, after a brief
engagement, forced her surrender. Then, placing a prize crew on board,
he started for Boca del Sierras. The gun they had heard was his salute
of triumph. But de Guzman mistook the report for the approach of the
insurgent navy, and at once gave orders to advance. His position was
screened from a sight of the sea, so that his eyes had not fallen on
the same spectacle as had the boys. Otherwise the command might never
have been given.

Under a raking fire from the advancing insurgents, the hill was gained
at last. The guns were soon rushed to the summit. As they gained it,
to the westward of the town firing began. Another small hill in that
direction burst into smoke and flame. The heavy booming of the guns was
distinctly borne to their ears.

The other section of the insurgent army was taking up the attack at
that point. A short distance from the hill, de Guzman, seeing that it
was impossible for him to cut off the government artillery, halted his
troops. As a means of harassing the enemy by every means possible, he
ordered a raking fire on the gunners, as they began to operate the
machine guns. Man after man was mowed down as he worked at the guns. It
began to look as if, after all, the Hill of the Ten Saints might become
the scene of a disastrous rout. The native troopers, easily influenced
by a turn of luck one way or the other, began to waver. Ned could see
that it only needed a little more to throw them into a complete panic.
Revolver in hand, he rushed up to the gunners, urging them to their
work. From the boxes he seized, with his own hands, the long bands of
ammunition--six hundred shots to a band--and fed them into the breeches
of the guns.

“Now, pull the triggers,” he shouted.

From one or two of the guns a raking fire opened, but even as it
started it was stopped by de Guzman’s sharpshooters.

“We’ve got to dislodge those fellows from that position!” exclaimed Ned
to the native commander. The other nodded.

“But our guns, senor. We must protect them. If the insurgents seize
them, we should be powerless.”

“You leave me the artillery to look after,” exclaimed the boy
excitedly, “and take your infantry round on de Guzman’s flank. That
will give me a chance to get this battery in shape.”

The officer nodded. He saw and understood Ned’s strategy. It was, in
fact, the one chance they had of holding the position.

“They’re throwing up trenches!” exclaimed Herc suddenly, pointing down
the road.

Ned followed the direction Herc indicated, and saw that de Guzman’s men
were, indeed, busy in erecting earthworks.

“If they get them up they’ll dislodge us from here in half an hour!”
shouted the boy.

All the time their “sappers” were at work on their trenches, the
insurgents kept up a steady fire on the hill. The infantry had
departed, on their mission to divert this steady hail, some minutes
before. Would they attack the insurgent flank before it was too late
and the trenches completed?

Herc and Ned worked like demons, driving the men to the guns. But
the natives’ courage, never of the strongest quality, was waning
fast. Moreover, the Dreadnought Boys knew that occasionally in those
countries whole regiments had been known to give up and go over to the
enemy if the day was going against them.

Suddenly, however, below them a sharp barking of rifles broke out to
the left, or to seaward.

“Hooray! It’s the infantry!” shouted Ned.

Immediately the fire on the guns slackened, while the insurgents
turned to face this new attack.

The moment had arrived.

“Tell them to get to those guns,” he shouted to a native officer.

With shouts, threats and execrations the men were finally driven to
the machine weapons. The rapid fire that resulted as they manipulated
the firing levers seemed to give them new heart. They broke into wild
cheers as the concentrated fire of the battery poured into the half
completed trenches of the insurgents.

“Hooray! Let ’em have it!” yelled Herc, as he saw the insurgents begin
to waver.

Filled now with foolhardy bravery, the government troops began to leap
into the line of the insurgent fire, capering and shouting exultingly.
Several lost their lives in this way before the boy could check them.

Suddenly there came the sound of hoofs behind them. The boys turned, to
face a young officer.

“Who is in command of this battery?” he demanded.

As nobody answered, Ned assumed the responsibility.

“What is it?” he asked.

“I have ridden over from the other hill to find out,” explained the
officer. “We are driving back the insurgents there, and were threatened
with them on this flank when your magnificent fire turned them. Your
name, senor?”

Luckily a desperate charge by the insurgents obviated the necessity
of Ned’s replying at that instant. Led by de Guzman himself, the
insurrectos swept forward in a desperate effort to capture the hill by
main force. But the guns were too much for them. Half way to the foot
of the hill their ranks wavered and broke. The advance turned suddenly
into a wild, demoralized rush for safety. But nowhere could they find
it. Attacked on the left flank by the infantry, and on the rear by
Colonel Lazard’s cavalry, the insurgents were driven back toward the
mountains, dozens being killed in the rout.

The victory for the government troops was complete and final. Yet, had
it not been for the Americans, there might have been another tale to
tell.

“Let’s get out of this!” exclaimed Ned to Herc, as the ranks of the
insurgents broke and fled. “There’s no more work for us here.”

“And that dago is eying us as if he’d like to take us prisoners,”
remarked Herc, gazing sidewise at the young horseman who had demanded
their names.

In the confusion they slipped off unobserved, making their way toward
the city. On every hand they passed excited people. The news of the
complete rout of the insurgents had spread broadcast. The insurrectos
had been beaten back on the west, as well as at the Hill of the Ten
Saints. The day was saved for the Costavezan government and for the
Americans holding concessions under it.

“What about the midshipman and Stanley?” asked Herc, as they hurried
along toward the town and entered its scattering suburbs.

“Mr. Stark said that if we were separated we were to meet at the office
of the American consul,” said Ned. “We’ll head for there.”

Rapidly the two Dreadnought Boys made their way along through the
excited crowds, not one of whom dreamed of the part the two lads had
played in what was actually the decisive engagement of the day. For,
had de Guzman’s troops gained the hill and captured the guns, they must
have swept the city.

At last they entered the narrow street on which the consulate stood,
and Ned burst into a joyous cry.

“Look at that, Herc!” he cried, pointing.

“That” was the American flag floating above the door of the consulate.
Both Dreadnought Boys came to “attention,” clicked their heels together
and saluted. Then they hastened forward. But as they were entering the
portal, they received a sudden check.

Lieutenant Timmons was just hurrying out. The Dreadnought Boys almost
collided with him.

The officer started as if he had seen a couple of ghosts. In truth,
the boys’ appearance was startling. Half ragged, powder-stained and
bleeding from some minor cuts, they looked as if they had been in a
desperate engagement, as, indeed, we know they had.

“Great heavens! where did you come from?” exclaimed the officer, as the
Dreadnought Boys drew themselves up and saluted.

“From the Hill of the Ten Saints, sir!” exclaimed Ned, with a twinkle
in his eye.

“What, where that brave stand against the enemy was made? Are you the
two Americans whom every one is talking about? Great Heavens! come
inside at once----”

From the officer’s tone there was evidently something more than praise
coming to them. Nobody realized better than Ned that their rash acts
on the hill might result seriously. Of one thing he was glad. They had
not worn the United States uniform when they played their part in the
government army.

As, with these mingled emotions, they turned to follow their officer,
a sudden clatter resounded up the street, and two horsemen appeared.
They were Midshipman Stark and Stanley.

Lieutenant Timmons gave a half-humorous groan as he saw them.

“Thank Heaven, you are alive!” he exclaimed, “but how on earth am I
going to explain all this?”



CHAPTER XXV. HOMEWARD BOUND--CONCLUSION.


For an hour or more the consul and the naval officer sat spellbound as
the four--for they each had a part to tell--related their adventures
since they left the destroyer.

“We gave you up for dead!” exclaimed the lieutenant, as they concluded.
“In fact, to-day I was about to send cables home concerning you.”

“But you didn’t, sir?” asked Midshipman Stark anxiously.

“No, I did not, you young scamp. I don’t know, though, but that you
deserve it.”

But Colonel Thompson, the consul, was delighted.

“Great Scott! Mr. Timmons!” he exclaimed, “it’s capital, sir, capital.
These boys are of the real American stuff. They should be promoted,
sir, every one of them.”

“Unfortunately,” said the officer, “their services have been such as
cannot be mentioned in the dispatches. At Washington they would not
understand. But, at any rate, I have a pleasant surprise for those two
boys.”

He indicated Ned and Herc. Our boys colored with pleasure and
anticipation at his tone. Eagerly they watched him as he drew from his
uniform pocket two folded papers, one of which he handed to each.

They were the long-awaited official confirmations of their promotions.
No wonder the boys’ eyes shone as they regarded their superior officer.
Their hearts were too full for words, but they looked their thanks. It
was Ned who found his voice first.

“Thank--you, sir,” he stammered, “I--we----”

“There, don’t try to make speeches, Strong. You are too good a fighter
for that,” laughed the officer. “I expect to see both of you rise far
higher than this in the service.”

“If it depends on us, sir, we will,” Ned assured him.

“By the way,” broke in the consul, “about that document in which this
young man is interested?”

“Oh, yes, that will. Well, Strong, as I gather from your story, you
have found the young woman to whom it belongs. I had better turn it
over to you.”

It was finally decided, however, to leave the document with the consul
till the legal formalities, insuring Senorita de Guzman and her mother
their rights, could be completed.

It may be of interest to our readers to know that the next day it was
Midshipman Stark who obtained leave and volunteered to ride to the
hacienda with the good news.

Suddenly, while they still sat talking, the door was thrown open and
a wild figure burst in. With a cry of surprise, the Dreadnought Boys
recognized Hank Harkins.

“I claim the protection of the American consul! I am an American,” he
began crying and groveling on the floor. Hardly had the words left his
lips before some government soldiers entered. Addressing the consul,
their leader explained that Hank had been detected fleeing from the
insurgent ranks before the Hill of the Ten Saints, and was wanted as a
prisoner.

“They’ll shoot me!” screamed Hank miserably. “Save me! Save me!”

Suddenly he noticed the Dreadnought Boys, and appealed frenziedly to
them.

“Don’t let them take me,” he cried.

Ned briefly explained to the consul who the groveling wretch was,
and then Colonel Thompson, who had some influence with the president
of Costaveza, agreed to take charge of Hank. With this assurance the
soldiers left the room. But Hank still sobbed convulsively. He had
spent the hours of the battle crouched behind a tree, but the savage
fighting had terrified him. When it was all over, he tried to sneak
into the town unseen, but already the government troops had been told
to watch for him, as well as for Charbonde.

“Where is Charbonde?” asked Ned sternly of the cringing creature.

“Dead,” wailed Hank. “He fell, shot in the back, as he was running
toward me.”

“A fitting death,” remarked Lieutenant Timmons. “Do you know anything
of de Guzman’s whereabouts?”

“No,” Hank declared. He added that he had seen the general in retreat
with some of his officers, but had lost sight of him.

It was afterward learned that de Guzman, after seeking shelter with a
relative on the other side of the island for a time, finally escaped
to Paris, where he now lives--an outcast and almost a beggar. As for
Hank, he was ultimately given up to justice, but, on the pleas of the
consul, escaped being shot. He was deported from the country, and was
speedily lost sight of. And Jim Prentice? He was found missing one day,
and doubtless deserted the service he disgraced.

Little more remains to be told. The next day the boys were astonished
by the arrival of several big battleships in the harbor, the squadron
being in command of their old commander, Captain Dunham. It appeared
that the squadron had been cruising in West Indian waters, but had
been ordered by cable to proceed to Costaveza, when the government
became convinced of the seriousness of the situation. In some
mysterious way Captain Dunham soon learned the eventful history of the
boys in Costaveza, and they were sent for by him to relate the whole
story. Their former commander roared with laughter and astonishment
by turns as they related their experiences, but finally his face grew
grave.

“You boys acted for the best,” he said, “and I admire you for what you
did. But the pity of it is your pluck and bravery can never become
known. However, if you care to be appointed by me to some special work,
I think I have some ahead for you in the near future.”

With kindling eyes the boys thanked him.

The next day they had leave ashore, and spent it in walking about the
city, recalling the eventful things that had happened to them in its
vicinity. Suddenly Ned was almost suffocated by an arm being thrown
about his neck, and a bristly face being pressed to his.

“Ah, my brave, I salute you!” exclaimed a voice in his ear.

It was little Captain Gomez. Drawing the boys into a sheltered
eating-place, he ordered cooling refreshments, and then related to
them all over again how they had captured the insurgent navy, ending
with the information that he was to be made Minister of Marine for his
services in the revolution.

“But I owe it all to you!” he exclaimed warmly. “To you and your brave
comrades.”

“But don’t ever tell any one so,” laughed Ned.

The fleet remained in the harbor for three days more, during which time
Midshipman Stark’s leave was much occupied with visits to the hacienda
of Senorita de Guzman and her mother. On one occasion the boys and
their faithful comrade, Stanley, accompanied him, and received--much to
their embarrassment--the warm thanks and embraces of the two women for
their part in the rehabilitation of their fortunes.

One bright morning an orderly stepped up to Lieutenant Timmons and
reported that the expected signal for getting under way was about to
be set on the vessel of the commanding officer of the division.

An hour later the American squadron steamed slowly seaward, out of the
landlocked harbor of the turbulent republic. Seaward with them for many
miles came the _General Barrill_, firing furious salutes at every knot.
Captain Gomez was saying farewell.

“Well, there is good-by to a stirring chapter in our lives, Herc,”
said Ned, as the hazy outline of the Costavezan coast grew dimmer, and
finally dissolved into the sky line.

Herc nodded. For once the red-headed youth was devoid of words.

For some time the boys stood silent, gazing westward, where lay the
vanished shore. Then Stanley came up behind them, and together the
three began to talk over once more the subject of which they never
tired--their adventures ashore and on board a destroyer.

But, although none of the three realized it, more stirring experiences
than any they had yet known lay ahead of them. In the future both Ned
and Herc and their rugged companion were to be participants in many
thrilling scenes and perilous adventures. What these were must be kept
for the telling in another volume of this series: THE DREADNOUGHT BOYS
ON A SUBMARINE.

THE END.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Reasons why you should obtain a Catalogue of our Publications_

_A postal to us will place it in your hands_

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warrant us in making a reduction.

HURST & CO., _Publishers_, 395, 397, 399 Broadway, New York.

       *       *       *       *       *

DREADNOUGHT BOYS SERIES

By Capt. WILBUR LAWTON

Modern Stories of the New Navy

Cloth Bound  Price, 50¢ per volume.

THE DREADNOUGHT BOYS ABOARD A DESTROYER.

The adventures of two young men of wars--men on board one of the
wickedest types of sea-fighters,--the speedy, deadly, torpedo-boat
destroyer. On board one of these sea-tigers the Dreadnought Boys voyage
to a turbulent South American republic, in the internal troubles of
which our country has, on account of her citizens’ interests, a duty of
protection and supervision to perform.

The part the boys played in the revolution which threatened to bankrupt
several American interests, and how they saved the day for the
government by clever means and clear grit, is well told. At one stage
of their adventures, the boys handle a South American destroyer with
such cleverness and seamanship that they avert disastrous consequences
to our flag and interests. Like its predecessor this book possesses
the tang of the sea. Its action also takes place against the shifting,
kaleidoscopic background of the revolution.

The excitement of warfare on sea and land, the thrill of sustained
interest in the lads’ scrapes and difficulties is on every page.
Best of all, the volume shows the part that our navy takes shaping
world politics; how it does big things without fuss or fireworks.
Emphatically a book for every lad who has felt the call of the sea or
the thrill of good fighting and adventure in tropic climes.

SOLD BY BOOKSELLERS EVERYWHERE

HURST & CO. Publishers New York



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber’s note:

Illustrations have been moved to paragraph breaks near where they are
mentioned.

Punctuation has been made consistent.

Variations in spelling and hyphenation were retained as they appear in
the original publication, except that obvious typographical errors have
been corrected.





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