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   Chapter 23 IN THE THICK OF THE RIOT

Uncle Sam's Boys as Lieutenants; or, Serving Old Glory as Line Officers By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 9169

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


WHAT is it, sir? Troops ordered out?"

"Yes!" cried Captain Foster, joyously, after a brief glance at the yellow sheet he had drawn from the envelope. "Listen. This order is from Washington. The War Department, acting on a request from the governor of Texas, has sent me the order direct to send twenty men and one or more officers up the river on the swiftest boat at my disposal. Mr. Overton, you will command. The other young officers will go with you. You, Mr. Prescott, will take your own ten men from the Thirty-fourth, and you, Mr. Overton, will take Sergeant Raney and nine men from this regiment. All the men are here at this moment. Rush the orders!"

As soon as the two sergeants had been called and had received the orders, Captain Foster continued his instructions.

"Gentlemen, you will use the troops only to save life and restore order in Holmesville. At the earliest possible moment you will turn control over to the local police again. You may have to fire into rioting crowds, but be careful about shooting recklessly or needlessly into groups. Remember, too, that there will doubtless be many estimable Mexicans at Holmesville who will not be rioters nor in any way in sympathy with them. The rioters, you will find, will be of the worst and most lawless class of Mexicans; they will be largely composed of refugees from Mexican justice-the very riff-raff of the population."

At the conclusion of the instruction the young officers broke for the officers' tent to get their swords. As this night might see rousing hand-to-hand work with rioters the swords might have their place.

The two sergeants heading the squads were now rushing the drawing of rations and ammunition. In a very few minutes the squads had fallen in.

"Sergeant Raney," called Lieutenant Hal, "move your squad to the dock in double time."

Prescott followed this with similar orders to Sergeant Kelly.

The two captured craft and the "Restless" lay at the dock. As the troops, their officers in the lead, marched out on the pier Skipper Tom Halstead sang out:

"Stand by the engine, Joe!"

With that the young motor boat captain leaped to the dock and ran to the stern hawser, while Hank Butts stood by the bow-hawser.

"Squad halt! Break ranks! Get aboard lively," ordered Sergeant Raney. Nor did Kelly let his own squad lose any time. The young officers followed in the wake of their men.

"Want to cast off?" called Skipper Halstead pleasantly.

"Without loss of a second," replied Lieutenant Hal.

Without waiting for other orders Hank let go the bow-line and carried it aboard with him. Tom Halstead went up over the stern.

"Slow speed ahead, Joe," Hank called down as he rested one hand on the wheel. The "Restless" began to move from her pier.

"Up river, or down?" called Skipper Tom, coming forward.

"Up!" voiced Hal. "And at racing speed, too!"

"Dutchman's gait, Joe," Hank called down unconcernedly, as soon as the "Restless" had well cleared the dock, having swung the craft around, heading up the river at a speed increased to twelve miles.

"Can't you crowd a lot more speed on?" demanded Hal Overton.

"Dog chasing that Dutchman, Joe," Hank sang down, and the "Restless" was soon doing eighteen miles an hour.

"You told me your best speed was twenty-six to twenty-eight, didn't you?" asked Hal, wheeling around as Skipper Tom Halstead joined them.

"Yes, sir."

"Can you hit up that speed without endangering the engine?"

"Yes," replied Tom, "but we'll burn a lot of gasoline doing that."

"Gasoline?" uttered Prescott contemptuously.

"How many pailfuls will a thousand dollars buy?"

"Is it as bad as that?" asked Skipper Tom quickly.

"American women's lives are at stake up at Holmesville!" returned Overton. "Riot going on there-Mexicans against Americans."

Hank Butts didn't wait for orders.

"Joe," he yelled, bending over the engine-room doorway, "sheriff and a bill-collector after that Dutchman!"

Joe Dawson didn't wait to be told more. He threw open everything to the widest notch, then snatched up a bulky oil can with an unusually long spout, and stood feeding oil to the bearings.

"The sweethearts of Mr. Prescott and Mr. Darrin are in great danger at Holmesville," Lieutenant Hal murmured in Skipper Tom's ear.

"Jumping Jupiter!" gasped Halstead, and went down into the engine-room in two bounds for a word with Joe.

Those standing on the deck could fairly feel the quiver with which the "Restless" leaped forward at her best speed.

"It's like riding on an express train!" glowed L

ieutenant Greg Holmes.

"No express train was ever made that's fast enough for me to-night," muttered Lieutenant Dick Prescott between set teeth.

The running lights were out, for it was nearly dark when the "Restless" had left Agua Dulce. Only the movement of a switch was needed to turn them on.

"Ever been to Holmesville?" demanded Dave Darrin, turning almost fiercely on Tom Halstead when he showed his head on deck.

"No, sir."

"Wouldn't know the place by sight?"

"No, sir."

"Nor I, either-from the water front," groaned Darrin. "But surely you have some chart of the river?"

Tom Halstead was already out of sight again. When he came on deck he remarked:

"I've been looking at the chart. Now, I'll know Holmesville to a dot when we sight the place."

"Nice sort of a town some one took the trouble to name after me, isn't it?" grunted Lieutenant Holmes.

"Say! Look there!" gasped Lieutenant Noll, pointing ahead just as the craft rounded a bend of the river, and something was visible that the trees had shut out before.

A thrill of dismay went through all. Ahead the sky was angrily red at one point.

"The miscreants have fired the town!" roared Dick Prescott, in anguish. "Captain Halstead, is there no more speed to be wrung out of this boat?"

"We're going like the wind, now, Mr. Prescott," Halstead answered. "To try for any more speed would be to endanger either the engine or the propeller."

"Let this young skipper alone, Dick," whispered Holmes soothingly, in his chum's ear. "He knows his business, if ever a man did!"

As more miles were covered the red blur against the dark sky became larger and brighter. Prescott and Darrin watched it as though dazed. Once in a while their hands wandered to their weapons.

"We'll be there in ten minutes more," announced Halstead finally, after a glance at his watch.

"Thank Heaven!" devoutly muttered two young officers.

"Oh, I hope we're in time!" groaned Lieutenant Hal, turning to Noll Terry.

Three or four enlisted men were on deck. The others, after the cool indifference of their kind until the moment of action comes, were below in the cabin. But every soldier started to his feet as Raney's voice rang out:

"Ready, men, for a quick landing!"

"You'll go back out into the stream, won't you, Halstead?" Lieutenant Overton asked, as Hank directed the "Restless" in toward a dock.

"Joe Dawson will," answered Skipper Tom. "He and I have already drawn lots to see which one of us would stay on the boat."

"You're not going ashore into this hades of riot and arson, are you?"

"Where American women are in danger?" retorted Skipper Tom. "Nothing less than a file of soldiers could keep me back!"

A dozen irregular shots rang out just as Halstead and Hank leaped ashore to hold the lines.

"Tumble off there, men. Don't wait for any gang-plank!" roared Lieutenant Prescott.

Tom Halstead and Hank Butts did not attempt to throw the hawsers over posts, but tossed their lines back to the deck as soon as the last soldier was ashore. Joe Dawson, taking his place at the wheel, and with one foot against the deck control of the engine, bawled out:

"Good luck to every one of you!"

Hal Overton had swiftly formed his squad in a single rank, ordering the soldiers to fix bayonets. Prescott formed his own squad as a second platoon. As Tom Halstead hastened up he carried a stout cudgel, while Hank Butts carried the hitching weight that had made him famous.

As the little relief column moved off the dock and in at the foot of the principal street of Holmesville, the light of burning buildings showed them a highway on which hundreds of maddened human brutes were moving.

Occasionally, from one of the houses still left untouched by flames, a shot was fired. So enraged and occupied were the rioters that they did not perceive the approach of uniformed men.

"Forward, on the double quick!" ordered Lieutenant Hal, snatching his sword from the scabbard. Just ahead the rioters had turned to pour a fusillade of fifty shots into a house from which a revolver shot had been fired.

There was no sense in halting and calling on these maddened rioters to disperse. Hal saw that quickly. Some in the mob saw the soldiers in time to raise a shout, but few of the other rioters heard it.

"Ready to charge! Charge!" shouted Lieutenant Hal Overton.

The front rank of soldiers hit the edge of the mob with cold steel. That rush and impact seemed to serve only to madden the rioters, and in an instant there was wild hand-to-hand combat.

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