Two sailboats were now engaged in the work of rescue, and a third was heading for Mr. Salisbury and his engineer.
In almost no time, it seemed, Dave and Page, and their supporters, were hauled into one of the boats.
“Give Mr. Page first aid for the injured–quick!” urged Dave, almost in a whisper. “He has gone close to being drowned.”
Hardly had he spoken the words when Darrin’s own eyes closed. The strain had been too much for him.
When the steam launches came up, Dave and Page, as well as the other drenched fourth class men, were transferred, and fast time was made back to the dock.
Mr. Salisbury and his engineer were also taken back by steam power. The owner of the launch had a most satisfactory explanation to offer.
He and his engineer had both believed that they had abundant room in which to clear the sailboat. When, at last, they had tried their helm, it was found that the steering gear had broken. There was no way in which to change the course of the motor boat in time. The reversing gear was promptly used, but it was impossible to stop headway and dart back before the collision came.
It was accident, and that was all there was to it. Yet, had it not been for Darrin’s prompt judgment, and the cool conduct of some of the members of his crew, there might easily have been some fatalities to report among the midshipmen.
As it was, nothing but Darrin’s splendid conduct had saved Midshipman Page from speedy death by drowning.
Dave opened his eyes on his way back to Annapolis. Page, however though he was “pumped dry” of the water that he had involuntarily swallowed, remained in a stupefied condition all the way back.
An ambulance had been signaled for, and was waiting at the dock.
“I don’t want to go to hospital, sir,” Dave objected weakly.
“You’ll come with me, Mr. Darrin,” responded the Naval surgeon, without argument. “Of course we can discharge you at any time we find you strong enough for duty.”
So Dave was taken to hospital, stripped, rubbed down, put to bed and dosed with hot drinks.
Midshipman Page was put on the cot next to Dave’s. Now the surgeons discovered the injury that had been done Page’s head by the falling gaff.
Some four hours later Commander Jephson, commandant of midshipmen, came through the hospital, accompanied by Lieutenant Edgecombe, who had been the sailing instructor of the afternoon.
“Good evening, Mr. Darrin,” was the commandant’s very cordial greeting.
“Good evening, sir.”
“Good evening, Mr. Darrin,” came from Lieutenant Edgecombe, which greeting Dave also acknowledged.
“The surgeon says, Mr. Darrin, that you a fit to do some talking,” continued the commandant.
“I am certain of that, sir,” smiled Darrin. “In fact, my only trouble is that the surgeon insists on my staying here tonight.”
“Then it is an official order, and can’t be dodged,” laughed the commandant pleasantly. “But, Mr. Darrin, you were crew captain this afternoon. Lieutenant Edgecombe wishes to secure your official report of the accident. He will reduce it to writing, read it over to you, a then you will sign it.”
“Very good, sir,” responded Dave briefly.
The Navy lieutenant’s questions drew out only the simplest account of the affair. Of all the heavy, swift work he had done for the safety of his crew after the foundering Dave gave only the barest sketch. Lieutenant Edgecombe then wrote down a brief, dry recital of fact, read it over, and Darrin signed it.
During this time the commandant of midshipmen had sat by, a quiet listener.
“Mr. Darrin,” said Commander Jephson, at last, “I am obliged to say that, in some respects, your report does not agree with that of members of your crew.”
“I have made a truthful statement, sir, just as I recall the incidents of the affair,” replied Dave, flushing to the temples.
“Don’t jump too speedily at false conclusions, Mr. Darrin,” cautioned the commandant. “My remark is founded on the statement, made by other midshipmen of your crew, that you displayed the utmost judgment and coolness, with great bravery added. That you clung to Mr. Page to the last, and even went below with him at the almost certain risk of being drowned yourself.”
“You didn’t expect me, sir, to include any praise of myself, in my official report?” questioned Darrin.
“You have me there, Mr. Darrin,” laughed the commandant, while the lieutenant turned to hide a smile. “I am quite satisfied with your official report, but I wish to ask you some questions, on my own account, about your own experience in rescuing Mr. Page.”
This it took some minutes to draw out. Darrin did not balk, nor try to conceal anything, but he had a natural aversion to singing his own praises, and answered questions only sparingly at first. Yet, at last, the commandant succeeded in drawing out a story, bit by bit, that made the old seadog’s eyes glisten with pride.
“Mr. Darrin,” announced the commandant, “from experience and observation, through a rather long life in the Navy, I am able to state that the kind of courage which enables a man go down in drowning with a comrade, sooner than leave the comrade to his fate, is the highest type of courage known among brave men!”
“You must have been aware, Mr. Darrin,” added Lieutenant Edgecombe, “that you were taking at least ninety-nine chances in a hundred of offering up your life.”
“Gentlemen,” replied Dave, rather restless under so much praise, “I have signed under the Flag, to give my life up for it at any time in the line of duty. Does it make very much difference in which year I turn that life over to the Flag?”
“Edgecombe,” said the commandant, rather huskily, as the two officers left the hospital, “I am glad–mighty glad–that we didn’t lose Darrin today. We are going to need him in the Navy of tomorrow!”
THE “BAZOO” MAKES TROUBLE
“Sir, the brigade is formed,” reported the brigade adjutant, the next day, as the midshipmen stood in ranks, ready to march into the mess hall.
“Publish the orders,” directed the cadet commander.
Then the brigade adjutant rattled off the orders, reading them in a quick monotonous voice.
“For coolness, judgment and remarkable bravery displayed in an accident encounter in the sinking and foundering of a sailboat under his command, which accident was not any way due to his own negligence or incapacity–“
Dave started, then crimsoned, as the brigade adjutant continued reading:
“Midshipman David Darrin, fourth class, is hereby specially commended, and his conduct is offered as an example to all his comrades in the brigade of midshipmen.”
A moment later the crisp marching orders rang out, and the brigade was marching in by classes.
Dave’s face was still flushed, his blood tingling somewhat. It was pleasing, doubtless, to be thus reviewed in orders, but Dave was not unduly elated.
In the Navy, though courage may sometimes be mentioned in orders, not much fuss is made over it. All officers and men in the Navy are expected to be brave, as a matter of course and of training.
Dan, in fact, was more pleased over that one paragraph in orders than was his chum.
“Of course everyone in the Navy must brave,” thought Dalzell, to himself. “But old Dave will always be one of the leaders in that line.”
In accordance with custom a copy of the order giving Darrin special commendation was mailed to his father, as one who had a right to know and to be proud of his son’s record at the Naval Academy.
Not a doubt was there that the senior Darrin was proud! So many of the elder Darrin’s friends were favored with a glimpse of the official communication received from Annapolis that the editor of the Gridley “Blade,” heard of it. Mr. Pollock asked the privilege of making a copy of the official communication, which contained a copy of the paragraph in orders.
Mr. Pollock, however, was not contented with publishing merely a copy of the official communication from the Naval Academy authorities. The editor printed a column and a half, in all reminding his readers that Midshipman Darrin was one of a recently famous sextette of Gridley High School athletes who had been famous as Dick & Co. Not only did Dave receive a flattering amount of praise in print. Dan came in for a lot of pleasant notice also.
Dave received a marked copy of that issue of the “Blade.” He fairly shivered as he read through that column and a half.
“Danny boy,” shuddered Darrin, passing the “Blade” over to his roommate, “read this awful stuff. Then help me to destroy this paper!”
Dan Dalzell read the column and a half, and reddened, grinning in a sickly sort of way.
“Just awful, isn’t it?” demanded Midshipman Dalzell.
“Awful?” muttered Darrin uneasily. “Why that doesn’t begin to describe it. If any upper class man should see that paper–“
“He won’t see this copy,” proclaimed Dan, beginning to tear the offending issue of the “Blade” into small bits.
In the parlance of Annapolis the newspaper from a midshipman’s home town is known as the “Bazoo.” Now, the “Bazoo” has an average inclination to print very flattering remarks about the local representative at Annapolis. While the home editor always means this as pleasant service, the detection of flattering articles by any upper class man at Annapolis always means unpleasant times for the poor plebe who has been thus honored in the columns of the “Bazoo.”
The torn bits of the Gridley “Blade” were carefully disposed of, but Dave still shivered. Through a clipping agency, or in some other mysterious way, upper class men frequently get hold of the “Bazoo.”
Four days passed, and nothing happened out of the usual.
On the evening of the fifth day, just after the release bell had rung, there was a brief knock at the door. Then that barrier flew open.
Midshipmen Jones, Hulburt and Heath of the second class filed gravely into the room, followed by Midshipmen Healy, Brooks, Denton, Trotter and Paulson of the third class.
Dave and Dan quickly rose to their feet, standing at attention facing their visitors.
With a tragic air, as if he were an executioner present in his official capacity, Youngster Paulson held out a folded newspaper.
“Mister,” he ordered Darrin, “receive this foul sheet. Unfold it, mister. Now, mister, what depraved sheet do you hold in your hands?”
“The Gridley ‘Blade’, sir,” replied Darrin, his face crimsoning.
“Pardon me, sir–the Gridley ‘Bazoo.'”
“Have you seen another copy of the ‘Bazoo’ lately, mister?”
“Yes, sir,” admitted Dave, his face growing still redder.
“Ah! He saw it–and still he did not die of shame!” murmured Second Class Man Jones.
“Shocking depravity!” groaned Midshipman Hurlburt.
“Since you have already scanned the ‘Bazoo,'” resumed Midshipman Paulson, “you will have no difficulty in finding the page, mister, on which the editor of the ‘Bazoo’ sings his silly praise of you. Turn to that page, mister.”
Dave further unfolded the paper, coming to the page on which the fearful article was printed. As he glanced at it Dave saw that the article had been marked in blue pencil, and many of the paragraphs numbered.
“Since you admit having read the ‘Bazoo’s’ infamous article, mister,” continued Midshipman Paulson, “tell us whether any of the scurrilous charges therein are true?”
“The quotation from the official report, sir, being correct as a copy, is bound to be true–“
“Official reports at the Naval Academy are always true,” retorted Paulson severely. “Proceed, sir, to the comments which the ink-slinger of the ‘Bazoo’ has made concerning you. Mister, read the paragraph numbered ‘one.'”
In a voice that shook a trifle Dave read:
_”Dave Darrin is, beyond any question or cavil, one of the brightest, smartest, bravest and most popular boys who ever went forth into the world as a true son of old Gridley.”_
“Mister,” declared Paulson, “you may gloss over some of the slander in those words by singing them to the tune of ‘Yankee Doodle.'”
Dave flushed. There was a momentary flash in his eyes. Dan, watching his chum covertly, was briefly certain that Darrin was going to balk. Perhaps he would even fight.
True hazing, however, does not aim at cruelty, but at teaching a new man to obey, no matter how absurd the order.
In another moment the grim lines around the corners of Dave’s mouth softened to a grin.
“Wipe off that ha-ha look, mister!” warned Youngster Paulson.
“I’ll sing, gentlemen, if you think you can stand it,” Dave promised.
“You’ll sing, mister, because you’ve been ordered to do so,” reported Paulson as master of ceremonies. “Now, then, let us have that paragraph to the air of ‘Yankee Doodle.'”
Dave obeyed. To do him justice, he sang the best that he knew how, but that wasn’t saying much for quality. Dave had a good voice for a leader of men, but a poor one for a singer.
Somehow, he got through the ordeal.
“Now, cast your eye on the paragraph marked as number two,” directed Mr. Paulson. “Mister, the ‘Bazoo’ in your left hand. Thrust your right hand in under the front of your blouse and strike the attitude popularly ascribed to Daniel Webster. No comedy, either, mister; give us a serious impersonation, sir!”
This was surely rubbing it in, but Dave gave his best in attitude and pose.
“Effective!” murmured Midshipman Jones. “Very!
“Superb!” voiced Mr. Hurlburt.
“Now, for the declamation, mister, of paragraph number two,” commanded Youngster Paulson.
In a deep voice, and with a ring that was meant to be convincing, Dave read the paragraph:
_”Since a school consists of pupils as well as of instructors, the brightest student minds may be said to make the life and history of a famous school. It has been so with our justly famous Gridley High School. Mr. Darrin, in the past, has aided in establishing many of the traditions of the famous school that claims him as her own son. The young man’s heroism at Annapolis, under the most exacting conditions, will surprise no one who knows either Mr. Darrin or the splendid traditions that he helped establish among the youth of his home town. In the years to come we may look confidently forward to hearing the name of Darrin as one of the most famous among the newer generation of the United States Navy. David Darrin will always be a hero–because he cannot help it.”_
As Dave, his face flushing more hotly than ever, read through these lines he was conscious of the jeering gaze of the upper class men. He was interrupted, at times, by cries of fervid but mock admiration.
“I feel,” announced Mr. Hurlburt, wiping his eyes with his handkerchief, “that I am indeed honored in being one of the humbler students at this great school on which our beloved comrade has shed the luster of his presence.”
“It seems almost profane to look at such a young man, except through smoked glasses,” protested Midshipman Heath.
“What’s your name, mister?” demanded Midshipman Brooks.
“Darrin, sir,” Dave answered, with the becoming meekness of a fourth class man.
“Any relative of the Darrin mentioned in the elegy you have just been reading?”
“I hope not, sir,” replied Dave, fighting to stifle a grin, though it was a sheepish one.
“Mister,” stormed Midshipman Denton, “you are attempting to deceive us!”
Dave gazed meekly but inquiringly at the last speaker.
“You are trying to evade the fact that you are the real Darrin, the identical hero whom the ‘Bazoo’ so lovingly, so reverently describes. Deceit fills your system, mister! You will stand on your head long enough to let it run out of you.”
Midshipman Paulson, though an inveterate “runner” of fourth class men, had some regard for the dangers of overstaying the visit, and kept his left eye on the time.
Darrin, standing on his head, became redder of face than ever, for all the blood in his body seemed to be running downward. At last he became so unsteady that twice his feet slipped along the wall, and he had to return to his attitude of standing on his head.
“Better let up on the beast, Paulson,” murmured Midshipman Brooks.
“Yes,” agreed Paulson. “The warning bell will go in a minute more. Mister, on your feet!”
Dave promptly returned to normal attitude, standing respectfully at attention.
“Mister,” continued Paulson, “you will be allowed to retain this marked copy of the ‘Bazoo.’ You are warned to keep it out of sight, ordinarily, that none of the discipline officers may find it. But you will continue to refer to it several times daily, until you are sure that you have committed all of the marked paragraphs to heart, so that you can reel them off in song or in declamation. And you will be prepared, at all times, to favor any of the upper class men with these selections, whenever called for. Good night, mister!
“Good night, sir.”
Dave returned the salutations of each of the departing visitors. Just as Brooks, the last of the lot, was passing through the doorway, the warning bell before taps sounded.
For a moment Dave Darrin, his face still red, stood behind the closed door, shaking his fist after the departing visitors.
“Why didn’t you shake your fist while they were in the room?” asked Dalzell bluntly.
“That would have started a fight, as the least consequence,” replied Dave, more soberly.
“A fight, eh?” chuckled Dan. “Dave, I don’t know what has come over you lately. There was a time when you didn’t mind fights.”
“I have fought three times since coming here,” Darrin replied soberly.
“And I have fought seven times,” retorted Dan.
“Puzzle: Guess which one of us was found the fresher,” laughed Darrin.
“I never thought you’d stand anything such as you’ve endured at Annapolis, without pounding your way through thick ranks of fighters,” mused Dalzell aloud. “Dave, I can’t fathom your meekness.”
“Perhaps it isn’t meekness,” returned Darrin, wheeling and looking at his chum.
“If it isn’t meekness, then what is it? And, Dave, you used to be the hothead, the living firebrand of Dick & Co.!”
“Danny boy, if hazing has lived nearly seventy years at Annapolis, then it’s because hazing is a good thing for the seedling Naval officer. I believe in hazing. I believe in being forced to respect and obey my elders. I believe in a fellow having every grain of conceit driven out of him by heroic measures. And that’s hazing–long may the practice live and flourish!”
“Why, what good is hazing doing you?” insisted Dalzell.
“It’s teaching me how to submit and to obey, and how to forget my own vanity, before I am put in command of other men later on. Danny boy, do you suppose it has cost me no effort to keep my hands at my trousers-seams when I wanted to throw my fists out in front of me? Do you imagine I have just tamely submitted to a lot of abuse because my spirit was broken? Danny, I’m trying to train my spirit, instead of letting it boss me! Many and many a time, when the youngsters have started to guy me unmercifully I’ve fairly ached to jump in and thrash ’em all. But, instead, I’ve tried to conquer myself!”
“I reckon you’re the same old Dave–improved,” murmured Midshipman Dalzell, holding out his hand.
THE SPECTRE AT THE FIGHT PARTY
“On your head, mister. Now, let us have paragraph number four, with tragic, blank-verse effect.”
That was Jennison’s command
Brooks manifested a fondness for paragraph number one, to the air of “Yankee Doodle.”
Others dropped in on Dave, after release at 9.30, evenings, and called for other paragraph rendered in various ways. He was also overhauled, out of doors, in the brief recreation period after dinner, and made to do various stunts with the unfortunate paragraphs from the “Bazoo.”
By the time the first week of this was over Dave Darrin wished most heartily that Mr. Pollock had never founded the Gridley “Blade.”
It is rare that second class men take any part in hazing; it is almost unheard of for a first class man to take any really active part in running a plebe.
Midshipman Henley, first class, proved an exception to this rule. Regularly, once a day, he met Darrin and ordered him to sing paragraph number one to the tune of “Yankee Doodle.”
If Dave resented any part of the torment, he was especially annoyed by Henley’s unusual conduct.
Naval needs brought a strange revenge.
Reports had reached the Navy Department from commanders of warships in commission that many of the graduates of the Naval Academy serving with the fleets did not possess sufficient knowledge of the command of boat crews.
In the past first class men had not been bothered with rowing drills, which they were supposed to have thoroughly mastered earlier in their course.
Acting on word from the Navy Department the superintendent of the Naval Academy had the first class men ordered out for rowing drills. All who showed sufficient skill were released from such drills. The others were sent to drill with the fourth class men.
Four of Dave’s boat crew of fourth class men were transferred to another crew, their places being taken by four first class men who had been found sadly deficient in rowing drill.
“Will one of the first class men serve as crew captain, sir?” asked Darrin.
“Certainly not,” replied Lieutenant Edgecombe. “You will still keep command of your crew, Mr. Darrin. And you will be expected to see that these first class men are most thoroughly grounded in the boat drill. Do no spare any of them in the least because they are upper class men.”
“Very good, sir,” Darrin answered, saluting.
Midshipman Henley was one of the four assigned to Dave’s crew.
There was a deep scowl on Henley’s face when he reported for the first boat drill under a plebe crew captain.
As the boat was pushed off, after the crew had embarked, Darrin was alert only to his duty as the man in charge of the boat.
Before the boat had gone a hundred yard Dave called crisply:
“Number four, handle your oar with more energy and precision!
“Don’t get too stiff, mister,” growled Midshipman Henley.
Darrin returned the black look coolly.
“Number four, when addressing the crew captain, you will employ the word, ‘sir.’ And you will pay strict attention to criticisms of your work.”
“Beats all how these plebes think they’re men!” growled Mr. Henley disgustedly, without looking at Dave.
“No talking in the crew,” called Dave
Henley subsided, for he had been trained to habits of obedience. Had the man in command been a member of his own class there would have been no trouble whatever, but Henley resented being at the orders of a fourth class man.
“Number four, you are lounging,” rebuked Darrin quietly, but firmly. “Correct your deportment, sir.”
Dave gazed so steadily at Midshipman Henley that the latter, though he colored, took a more seamanlike attitude for a while. Bitter thoughts, however, were seething in the mind of this first class man. After a few minutes Henley again struck his improper attitude.
“Mr. Henley, upon your return put yourself on the report for taking an unseamanlike attitude after having been once corrected,” directed Dave, in a businesslike tone.
The hot blood leaped to Henley’s face and temples. He opened his mouth, intent upon making a stinging retort.
But Dave was glancing at him so coolly, compellingly, that the older midshipman now realized that he had gone as far as was safe.
During the rest of the drill Mr. Henley performed his work well enough to escape further rebuke.
When the crew was dismissed, however, Henley wore a blacker look than ever as he stalked along to the office of the officer in charge.
Here Henley picked up one of the report blanks, filled it out as briefly as possible, an signed his name, next turning in the report.
Immediately after supper that night, and before the signal sent the midshipmen to their studies, Henley stepped up to Dave.
“Mister, I want a word in private with you.”
“Certainly, sir,” replied Dave. He was no longer crew captain on duty, but a fourth class man answering a first class man.
Henley conducted Dave out of earshot of any one else before he turned to say, hissingly:
“Mister, you used an upstart’s privilege of abusing your authority this afternoon.”
“I think not, sir,” replied Dave quietly.
“You put me on report for no other reason than that I had made you sing extracts from the ‘Bazoo,'” charged the first class man.
“That reason or thought never entered my head, sir.”
“I say it did!”
“Then I am very sorry to have to reply that you are entirely in error.”
“You tell me that I am making a false statement?” demanded Midshipman Henley, more angrily.
“If you choose to consider it in that light, sir.”
“Mister, you are touge, ratey, impudent and worthless!” declared Henley hotly.
“Then I infer, sir, that you do not wish to waste any more time upon me?”
“Oh, you will not get off as easily as that,” sneered Midshipman Henley. “You are a good-sized fellow, and you have some fourth class reputation as a fighter. We shall not be so badly or unevenly matched, mister, I shall send a friend to inform you that I have called you out.”
“Then, sir, your friend will save time by seeking Mr. Dalzell, of the fourth class, who will be informed that he is to represent me.”
“Very good, mister.”
“That is all you wish to say to me, sir?”
“You may go, mister.”
Dave Darrin walked away, his mind full of mighty serious thoughts.
In the first place, for a midshipman to call out another, for reporting him for breach of discipline, is about as serious an offense as a midshipman can ordinarily commit. It insures, if detected, the instant dismissal of the challenger. And the challenged midshipman, if he accepts, held to be equally guilty. So are the seconds.
In accepting this challenge, which he had done instantly, Dave Darrin well knew that he placed his chances of remaining at the Naval Academy in great peril. He was also aware that he ran Dan’s head into equal danger.
Yet tradition and custom would not allow Darrin to dodge the fight thus thrust upon him. It was equally true, that, if he failed to ask Dan to act as his second, he would put a serious slight on his chum.
Dave hurried to Dalzell, who listened with more glee than might have been expected.
“Good enough, David, little giant!” approved Dalzell. “When you meet Henley on the field just close in and pound off the whole of his superstructure!
“Dan, I’m afraid I’m letting you in for a tough risk.”
“You wouldn’t be my friend if you kept me out of it,” retorted Dalzell significantly.
Rollins proved only too glad to have the privilege of being the other second. He, too, ran a risk of being dismissed, if caught at this fight; but in adventurous youth the love of risk is strong.
The time was set for Saturday evening at 8.30; the place as usual.
Darrin, as usual, was the first principal to show up. He always liked to have plenty of time for stripping, and he also found it to his advantage to look the ground over.
Mr. Bailey, of the second class, was to serve as referee, and Mr. Clafflin, of the second class as time-keeper. It was against custom to have any of the officials from the first class since member of that class was to be one of the principals.
“I wonder what sort of fellow Henley is with his fists,” mused Rollins, after they had reached the ground.
“Darrin will find out for you,” replied Dan.
“I’m not as afraid of seeing my principal thrashed as I might have been earlier in the year,” went on Rollins.
“Hm! Any fellow that thrashes Dave is almost certain to carry away a few mementos himself!”
As soon as Henley and his seconds were seen to be approaching, Dave slipped off his blouse.
Within five minutes after that both men were ready and faced each other. The word was given.
“Now, Mr. Touge,” warned Henley, “guard that striking face of yours!”
“Oh, I don’t do any striking with my face,” retorted Dave dryly. “I do all my killing with my hands.”
“Stop that one,” urged Henley, feinting cleverly with his left, then following it up with a right hand crusher.
Dave stopped both blows neatly enough, then sidestepped and passed over a fist that grazed Mr. Henley’s face.
“I just wanted to find out where your face is,” mocked Darrin.
“Talk less and fight more, Mr. Touge!” warned the referee.
“Very good, sir,” Dave retorted. “But it’s going to be hard on Mr. Henley.”
“Bah!” sneered Henley. “Woof!”
The latter exclamation followed when Dave’s fist cut Henley’s lip a bit. But that indignity stirred the first class man to swifter, keener efforts. He failed to score heavily on the fourth class man, however; but, just before the call time for the first round Henley’s nose stopped a blow from Darrin’s fist, and first class blood began to flow.
“Mr. Touge is a hard fighter,” muttered the time-keeper to the referee, while the seconds attended their men.
“We’ve plenty of fellows at Annapolis who can punish Darrin,” replied Midshipman Bailey.
Time was called for the start-off of the second round. The two principals were intent on their footwork around each other, when there came hail that froze their blood.
“Halt! Remain as you are for inspection!”
It was the voice of Lieutenant Hall, one of the discipline officers, and the fighters and their friends had been caught!
Blank dismay fell over the whole of the fight party.
Three first class men, two second class men and three members of the fourth class stood on the brink of almost instant dismissal.
It was bitter for all of them, but it seemed especially hard to the first class men, who had survived the four years of hard grilling and were on the eve of graduation.
However, there was no thought of running. Though it was too dark for the discipline officer to have recognized any of them at the distance from which he had hailed them, yet, in a flight, it would be easy enough for Lieutenant Hall, who was an athlete, to catch one or two of them and then the names of all present could be obtained.
It was an instant of utter terror.
Then another voice broke in on the stillness.
“All hands to the fire apparatus! Fire in Bancroft Hall!”
The fight party felt another thrill. If the big Academy building was in danger they must rush to do their share.
The officer’s running footsteps were already heard. He had turned and was speeding away.
“Get on your clothes, quickly, you two fellows!” ordered Midshipman Bailey crisply “We’ve got to turn in with the rest for fast work!”
Just then another figure darted up to them. It turned out to be Midshipman Farley.
“Yes; get on your clothes with some classy speed,” chuckled Farley. “Lieutenant Hall will be back here with a bunch of watchmen, the marine guard, or any other old crowd, when he finds that he has been lured on the reefs by false signals!
“Mister, did you give that call of fire?” demanded Midshipman Bailey sternly.
“And there’s no fire?”
“None that I know of, sir.”
“Mister, what’s your name?”
“Then, Farley, sir, come and get hugged.”
In truth a lot of fuss was made over that young midshipman within a few seconds.
“It can’t do much harm to use you something like a human being and a comrade, anyway,” declared Time-keeper Clafflin, as he wrung both of Farley’s hands. “Within a few days you’ll be a youngster now.”
Farley explained that an itching interest in the fight had tempted him to be close at hand, and this had given him his chance to save the fight party.
Darrin and Henley were dressing like lightning, and the others would not flee until the principals were ready to take part in the flight.
“Henley,” broke in Midshipman Bailey decisively, “you can’t risk your graduation again by resuming this fight at some other time. As far as the mill had gone Mr. Darrin had the best of it. I award the fight to him.”
“I’m glad you do, Bailey,” replied Henley heartily. “And, as soon as I’m dressed, and my cap is set on square, I’m going to apologize and ask Mr. Darrin to shake hands with me.”
“Will you do me a favor, sir?” inquired Dave.
“A dozen,” agreed Henley instantly.
“Then, sir, cut the apology and confine it to the hand-shake.”
In another moment they were ready for hasty departure. But Dave had to wait for a quick, hearty handclasp from each of the upper class men. Then all divided into three groups, by classes, and thirty seconds later found these midshipmen too far from the scene to be identified with any fight party.
“It was a remarkably good and cheeky piece of work, sir,” Lieutenant Hall reported, twenty minutes later, to Commander Jephson, commandant of midshipmen. “I had a fight party right under my hands when that call of fire sounded. It was so natural that I bolted away and lost my party before I discovered that it was a hoax.”
“Did you recognize any of the fight party, Mr. Hall?
“No, sir; I was not close enough, and the night is dark.”
“Did you recognize the voice of the man who gave the fire-call?”
“No, sir; at any rate, I believe that the voice was disguised.”
“The young men have discovered a new one, and have tried it on you, Mr. Hall.”
“I realize that, sir,” replied the lieutenant, in a voice of chagrin.
It was now the time of annual examinations, of daily dress parade and the incoming of the first of the hosts of visitors who would be on hand during graduation week.
Of the annual examinations the poor fourth class men thought they had more than their share. Of the dress parades they had their full share. In the graduating exercises they took no part; they were not even present.
“What does a mere fourth class man know about the Navy, anyway?” was the way Midshipman Trotter asked the question.
Twenty-two of the fourth class men stumbled in their annual examinations. These went home promptly. They would not return again, unless their Congressmen reappointed them for another try. In case that happened to any of the young men they would return to take up life with the new fourth class, and would henceforth be known as “bilgers.”
A man who has been dropped is a “bilger,” whether he comes back or not. A “bilger” is further described as “one who used to be in the game, and is now only on the outside looking in.”
Dave Darrin’s standing for the year was two-eighty-seven. Dan’s was two-eighty-two. Farley and Page came close to that figure.
None of these young men were in the “savvy” section, but all had passed with sufficient credit for the first year.
While the graduating exercises were going on the fourth class men were divided between drills on land and on water.
Dave and Dan were in a squad that marched up from the steam building just in time to catch a distant glimpse of the crowds surging out from the graduating exercises.
Both young men, and probably a lot of others in the same squad throbbed with a swift flash of thought.
As soon as the ranks were broken Dalzell seized his chum’s hand, and began wringing it strenuously.
“David, little giant,” murmured Dan ecstatically, “we are no longer fourth class men. From the instant that the tail-ender of the old first class received his diploma we became transformed into third class men.”
“Yes,” smiled Dave. “We’re youngsters. That’s going some.”
“Poor fourth class men!” sighed Dan. “I’m alluding to those who will have to look up to and reverence me as a youngster!”
As soon as the chums had made a shift from their working clothes to the uniform of the day, and had stepped outside, they saw Mr. Henley coming their way, looking wholly proud and happy.
Then, of a sudden, Mr. Henley bent a keen look upon the new youngsters.
Just in the nick of time Dave Darrin recalled one of the regulations to which he had hitherto paid little heed for lack of use.
Graduate midshipmen are entitled to be saluted by mere midshipmen as though they were already officer.
Swiftly Darrin brought his heels together with a click, bringing his hand smartly up to the visor of his uniform cap.
Henley gravely returned the salute with a new sense of existence.
Dan Dalzell caught the drift of the thing just in time, and saluted also.
“May we congratulate you, Mr. Henley?” asked Dave.
“I was hoping that you both would,” replied the graduate. “And, one of these days, I may have the pleasure of congratulating you, as an officer, when you first come up over the side to start in with your real sea life.”
“I’m thinking, now, of our first taste of sea life,” murmured Darrin, a dreamy light coming into his eyes.
“Yes; just as soon as we graduates are gotten out of the way you new youngsters will join the two upper classes on the big battleships and start on your first summer practice cruise.”
“I feel as if I couldn’t wait,” muttered Dan, as Henley moved away.
“You’ll have to, however,” laughed Dave. “Don’t be impatient. Think what a very small insect on shipboard a youngster midshipman is!”
The chums were through with their first year at Annapolis. But, all in a moment, they had entered the next year. Many things befell them on that summer practice cruise, and many more things in the new academic year that followed. But these will be appropriately reserved for the next volume, which will be entitled: “_Dave Darrin’s Second Year at Annapolis; Or, Two Midshipmen as Naval Academy ‘Youngsters.’_”
Having left the fourth class behind Dave and Dan at last entered fully into the life of the midshipmen. They “counted” now; they were “somebodies,” and a host of new and exciting experiences were ahead of them.