When a foreign battleship enters a fortified port the visiting fleet, or rather, its flagship, fires a national salute of twenty-one guns. After a short interval following the discharge of the last gun, one of the forts on shore answers with twenty-one guns. This is one of the methods of observing the courtesies between nations by their respective fleets.
Ere all the guns had been fired from the flagship, the third classmen received the rising signal; the class marched out and was dismissed. Instantly a break was made for deck.
The midshipmen were in good time to see the smoke and hear the roar of guns from one of the forts on shore.
In the morning the commandant of cadets, as commanding officer of the squadron, would go ashore with his aide and pay a formal call to the senior military officer. Later in the day that English officer and one or two of his staff officers would return the call by coming out to the flagship. That accomplished, all the required courtesies would have been observed.
It was still broad daylight, for in summer the English twilight is a long one, and darkness does not settle down until late.
“Oh, if we were only going ashore to-night!” murmured Hallam. There were many others to echo the thought, but all knew that it could not be done.
“Couldn’t we find a trick for slipping ashore after lights out?” eagerly queried Dickey, who was not noted as a “greaser.”
“Could we?” quivered Hallam, who, with few demerits against him, felt inclined to take a chance.
But Pennington, to whom he appealed, shook his head.
“Too big a risk, Hally,” replied Pen. “And trebly dangerous, with that greaser, Darrin, in the class.”
“Oh, stow that,” growled Hallam. “Darrin is no greaser. You’ve got him on your black books–that’s all.”
“He is a greaser, I tell you,” cried Pennington fiercely.
There were a score of midshipmen in this group, and many of them nodded approvingly at Pennington’s statement. Though still a class leader, Dave had lost some of his popularity since his report to the police of Annapolis.
So the middies turned in, that night, with unsatisfied dreams of shore life in England.
Soon after breakfast the next morning, however, every midshipman had drawn his ten dollars, even to Pennington, who had no use for such a trifling amount.
As fast as possible the launches ranged alongside at the side gangway, taking off groups of midshipmen, everyone of whom had been cautioned to be at dock in time to board a launch in season for supper formation.
Pennington and his party were among the first to land. They hurried away.
It was on the second trip of one of the launches that Dave, Dan and Farley made their get away. These three chums had agreed to stick together during the day. They landed at the Great Western Docks, to find themselves surrounded by eager British cabbies.
“Are we going to take a cab and get more quickly and intelligently to the best part of the town to see?” asked Farley.
“I don’t vote for it,” replied Darrin. “We have only five dollars apiece for each of the two days we’re to be ashore. I move that we put in the forenoon, anyway, in prowling about the town for ourselves. We’ll learn more than we would by riding.”
“Come on, then,” approved Dan.
Plymouth is an old-fashioned English seaport that has been rather famous ever since the thirteenth century. Many parts of the town, including whole streets, look as though the houses had been built since that time. This is especially true of many of the streets near the water front.
For two hours the three middies roamed through the streets, often meeting fellow classmen. Wherever the young midshipmen went many of the English workmen and shopkeepers raised their hats in friendly salute of the American uniform.
“We don’t seem to run across Pen’s gang anywhere,” remarked Farley at last.
“Oh, no,” smiled Dave. “That’s a capitalistic crowd. They’ll hit only the high spots.”
Nevertheless, these three poor-in-purse midshipmen enjoyed themselves hugely in seeing the quaint old town. At noon they found a real old English chop house, where they enjoyed a famous meal.
“I wish we could slip some of these little mutton pies back with us!” sighed Dan wistfully.
In the afternoon the three chums saw the newer market place, where all three bought small souvenirs for their mothers at home. Darrin also secured a little remembrance present for his sweetheart, Belle Meade.
The guild hall and some of the other famous buildings were visited.
Later in the afternoon Dave began to inspect his watch every two or three minutes.
“No need for us to worry, with Dave’s eye glued to his watch,” laughed Dan.
“Come on, fellows,” summoned Darrin finally. “We haven’t more than time now to make the dock and get back to supper formation.”
“Take a cab?” asked Farley. “You know, we’ve found that they’re vastly cheaper than American cabs.”
“No-o-o, not for me,” decided Dave. “We’ll need the rest of our shore money to-morrow, and our legs are good and sturdy.”
Yet even careful Dave, as it turned out, had allowed no more than time. The chums reached the dock in time to see the launches half way between the fleet and shore. Some forty other midshipmen stood waiting on the dock.
Among these were Pennington and his party, all looking highly satisfied with their day’s sport, as indeed they were.
Pennington’s eyes gleamed when he caught sight of Darrin, Dalzell and Farley–for Pen had a scheme of his own in mind.
Not far from Pennington stood a little Englishman with keen eyes and a jovial face. Pen stepped over to him.
“There are the three midshipmen I was telling you about,” whispered Pennington, slipping a half sovereign into the Englishman’s hand. “You thoroughly understand your part in the joke, don’t you?”
“Don’t h’I, though–just, sir!” laughed the undersized Englishman, and strolled away.
Darrin and his friends were soon informed by classmates that the launches now making shore-ward were coming in on their last trip for midshipmen.
“Well, we’re here in plenty of time,” sighed Dave contentedly.
“Oh, I knew we’d be, with you holding the watch,” laughed Dan in his satisfied way.
As the three stood apart they were joined by the undersized Englishman, who touched his hat to them with a show of great respect.
“Young gentlemen,” he inquired, “h’I suppose, h’of course, you’ve ‘ad a look h’at the anchor h’of Sir Francis Drake’s flagship, the time ‘e went h’out h’and sank the great Spanish h’Armada?”
“Why, no, my friend,” replied Dave, looking at the man with interest. “Is that here at Plymouth?”
“H’assuredly, sir. H’and h’only a minute’s walk h’over to that shed yonder, sir. H’if you’ll come with me, young gentlemen, h’I’ll show h’it to you. H’it’s one of h’our biggest sights, h’and it’s in me own custody, at present. Come this way, young gentlemen.”
“That sounds like something worth seeing,” declared Dave to his comrades. “Come along. It’ll take the launches at least six minutes to get in, and then they’ll stay tied up here for another five minutes.”
With only a single backward glance at the young midshipmen, the undersized Englishman was already leading the way.
At quickened pace the young midshipmen reached the shed that had been indicated. Their guide had already drawn a key from a pocket, and had unsnapped the heavy padlock.
“Step right in, young gentlemen, h’and h’I’ll follow h’and show h’it to you.”
Unsuspecting, the three middies stepped inside the darkened shed. Suddenly the door banged, and a padlock clicked outside.
“Here, stop that, you rascally joker!” roared Dalzell, wheeling about. “What does this mean?”
“Big trouble!” spoke Dave Darrin seriously and with a face from which the color was fast receding.
PENNINGTON GETS HIS WISH
“The scoundrel!” gasped Farley, his face whiter than any of the others.
Dave was already at the door, trying to force it open. But he might almost as well have tried to lift one of the twelve-inch guns of the battleship “Massachusetts.”
“We’re locked in–that’s sure!” gasped Dalzell, almost dazed by the catastrophe.
“And what’s more, we won’t get out in a hurry, unless we can make some of our classmates hear,” declared Dave.
For the next half minute they yelled themselves nearly hoarse, but no response came.
“What could have been that little cockney’s purpose in playing this shabby trick on us?” demanded Farley.
“Perhaps the cockney thinks we’re admirals, with our pockets lined with gold. Perhaps he and some of his pals intend to rob us, later in the evening,” proposed Dan, with a ghastly grin.
“Any gang would find something of a fight on their hands, then,” muttered Dave Darrin grimly.
All three were equally at a loss to think of any explanation for such a “joke” as this. Equally improbable did it seem that any thugs of the town would expect to reap any harvest from robbing three midshipmen.
Desperately they turned to survey their surroundings. The shed was an old one, yet strongly built. There were no windows, no other door save that at which the three middies now stood baffled.
“Another good old yell,” proposed Darrin.
It was given with a lusty will, but proved as fruitless as the former one.
“We don’t take the last launch back to ship,” declared Farley, wild with rage.
“Which means a long string of demerits,” said Dan.
“No shore leave to-morrow, either,” groaned Darrin. “Fellows, this mishap will affect our shore leave throughout all the cruise.”
“We can explain it,” suggested Farley with a hopefulness that he did not feel at all.
“Of course we can,” jeered Dave Darrin. “But what officer is fool enough to believe such a cock-and-bull story as this one will seem? At the very least, the commandant would believe that we had been playing some pretty stiff prank ourselves, in order to get treated in this fashion. No, no, fellows! We may just as well undeceive ourselves, and prepare to take the full soaking of discipline that we’re bound to get. If we attempted this sort of explanation, we’d be lucky indeed to get through the affair without being tried by general court-martial for lying.”
“Drake’s anchor, indeed!” exclaimed Dan in deep self disgust.
“We ought to have known better,” grunted Farley, equally enraged with himself. “What on earth made us so absent-minded as to believe that a priceless relic would be kept in an old shed like this?”
“We’re sure enough idiots!” groaned Dan.
“Hold on there, fellows,” interrupted Dave Darrin. “Vent all your anger right on me. I’m the great and only cause of this misfortune. It was I who proposed that we take up that cockney’s invitation. I’m the real and only offender against decent good sense, and yet you both have to suffer with me.”
“Let’s give another yell, bigger than before,” suggested Dan weakly.
They did, but with no better result than before.
“The launches are away now, anyway, I guess,” groaned Farley, after consulting his watch.
“Yes, and we’re up the tree with the commandant,” grunted Dalzell bitterly.
“Yell again?” asked Farley.
“No,” retorted Dave, shaking his head. “We’ve seen the uselessness of asking help from outside. Let’s supply our own help. Now, then–altogether! Shoulder the door!”
A savage assault they hurled upon the door. But they merely caused it to vibrate.
“We can’t do it,” gasped Dan, after the third trial.
Considerable daylight filtered in through the cracks at top, bottom and one side of the door. Further back in the shed there was less light.
“Let’s explore this old place in search of hope,” begged Dave.
Together they started back, looking about keenly in what appeared to be an empty room.
“Say! Look at that!” cried Dave suddenly.
He pointed to a solid looking, not very heavy ship’s spar.
“What good will that thing do us?” asked Farley rather dubiously.
“Let’s see if we can raise it to our shoulders,” proposed Dave Darrin radiantly. “Then well find out!”
“Hurrah!” quivered Dan Dalzell, bending over the spar at the middle.
“Up with it!” commanded Darrin, placing himself at the head of the spar. Farley took hold at the further end.
“Up with it!” heaved Midshipman Darrin.
Right up the spar went. It would have been a heavy job for three young men of their size in civil life, but midshipmen are constantly undergoing the best sort of physical training.
“Now, then–a fast run and a hard bump!” called Darrin.
At the door they rushed, bearing the spar as a battering ram.
Bump! The door shook and shivered.
“Once more may do it!” cheered Darrin. “Back.”
Again they dashed the head of their battering ram against the door. It gave way, and, climbing through, they raced back to the pier.
But Dan, who had secured the lead, stopped with a groan, pointing out over the water.
“Not a bit of good, fellows! There go the launches, and we’re the only fellows left! It’s all up with our summer’s fun!”
“Is it, though?” shouted Dave, spurting ahead. “Come on and find out!”
As they reached the front of the piers, down at the edge of a landing stage they espied a little steam tender.
“That boat has to take us out to the ‘Massachusetts’!” cried Darrin desperately, as he plunged down the steps to the landing stage, followed by his two chums.
[Illustration: The Three Midshipmen Raced Toward the Pier.]
“Who’s the captain here?” called Dave, racing across the landing stage to the tender’s gangplank.
“I am, sir,” replied a portly, red-faced Englishman, leaning out of the wheel-house window.
“What’ll you charge to land us in haste aboard the American battleship ‘Massachusetts’?” asked Darrin eagerly.
“Half a sov. will be about right, sir,” replied the tender’s skipper, touching his cap at sight of the American Naval uniform.
“Good enough,” glowed Dave, leaping aboard. “Cast off as quickly as you can, captain, or we’ll be in a heap of trouble with our discipline officers.”
The English skipper was quick to act. He routed out two deckhands, who quickly cast off. Almost while the deckhands were doing this the skipper rang the engineer’s bell.
“Come into the wheel-‘ouse with me,” invited the skipper pleasantly, which invitation the three middies accepted. “Now, then, young gentlemen, ‘ow did it ‘appen that you missed your own launches.”
“It was a mean trick–a scoundrelly one!” cried Darrin resentfully. Then he described just what had happened.
The skipper’s own bronzed cheeks burned to a deeper color.
“I can ‘ardly believe that an Englishman would play such a trick on young h’officers of a friendly power,” he declared. “But I told you, sir, the fare out to your ship would be half a sov. I lied. If a nasty little cockney played such a trick on you, it’s my place, as a decent Englishman, to take you out for nothing–and that’s the fare.”
“Oh, we’ll gladly pay the half sov.” protested Darrin.
“Not on this craft you can’t, sir,” replied the skipper firmly.
Looking eagerly ahead, the three middies saw two of the launches go along side of the “Massachusetts” and discharge passengers. As the second left the side gangway the Briton, who had been crowding on steam well, ranged in along side.
“What craft is that, and what do you want?” hailed the officer of the deck, from above.
“The tender ‘Lurline,’ sir, with three of your gentlemen to put h’aboard of you, sir,” the Briton bellowed through a window of the wheel-house.
“Very good, then. Come alongside,” directed the officer of the deck.
In his most seamanlike style the Briton ranged alongside. Dave tried to press the fare upon the skipper, but he would have none of that. So the three shook hands swiftly but heartily with him, then sprang across to the side gangway, where they paused long enough to lift their caps to this stranger and friend. The Briton lifted his own cap, waving it heartily, ere he fell off and turned about.
“You didn’t get aboard any too soon, gentlemen,” remarked the officer of the deck, eyeing the three middies keenly as they came up over the side, doffing their uniform caps to the colors. “Hustle for the formation.”
Midshipman Pennington was chuckling deeply over the supposed fact that he had at last succeeded in bringing Darrin in for as many demerits as Darrin had helped heap upon him.
“That’ll break his heart as an avowed greaser,” Pen told himself. “With all the demerits Darrin will get, he’ll have no heart for greasing the rest of this year. It’s rough on Farley, but I’m not quite as sorry for Dalzell, who, in his way, is almost as bad as Darrin. He’s Darrin’s cuckoo and shadow, anyway. Oh, I wish I could see Darrin’s face now!”
This last was uttered just as Midshipman Pennington stepped into line at the supper formation.
“I wish I could see Darrin’s face now!” Pen repeated to himself.
Seldom has a wish been more quickly gratified. For, just in the nick of time to avoid being reported, Midshipmen Darrin, Dalzell and Farley came into sight, falling into their respective places.
At that instant it was Midshipman Pennington’s face, not Dave Darrin’s, that was really worth studying.
“Now how did the shameless greaser work this!” Pennington pondered uneasily.
But, of course, he couldn’t ask. He could only hope that, presently, he would hear the whole story from some other man in the class.
THE TRAGEDY OF THE GALE
There is altogether too much to the summer practice cruise for it to be related in detail.
Nor would the telling of it prove interesting to the reader. When at sea, save on Sundays, the midshipman’s day is one of hard toil.
It is no life for the indolent young man. He is routed out early in the morning and put at hard work.
On a midshipman’s first summer cruise what he learns is largely the work that is done by the seamen, stokers, water tenders, electricians, the signal men and others.
Yet he must learn every phase of all this work thoroughly, for some day, before he becomes an officer, he must be examined as to his knowledge of all this great mass of detail.
It is only when in port that some relaxation comes into the midshipman’s life. He has shore leave, and a large measure of liberty. Yet he must, at all times, show all possible respect for the uniform that he wears and the great nation that he represents. If a midshipman permits himself to be led into scrapes that many college boys regard as merely “larks,” he is considered a disgrace to the Naval service.
Always, at home and abroad, the “middy” must maintain his own dignity and that of his country and service. Should he fail seriously, he is regarded by his superiors and by the Navy Department as being unfit to defend the honor of his flag.
The wildest group from the summer practice fleet was that made up of Pennington and his friends. Pen received more money in France from his fond but foolish father. Wherever Pennington’s group went, they cut a wide swath of “sport,” though they did nothing actually dishonorable. Yet they were guilty of many pranks which, had the midshipmen been caught, would have resulted in demerits.
Ports in France, Spain, Portugal and Italy were touched briefly. At some of these ports the midshipmen received much attention.
But at last the fleet turned back past Gibraltar, and stood on for the Azores, the last landing point before reaching home.
When two nights out from Gibraltar a sharp summer gale overtook the fleet. Even the huge battleships labored heavily in the seas, the “Massachusetts” bringing up the rear.
She was in the same position when the morning broke. The midshipmen, after breakfast, enjoyed a few minutes on the deck before going below for duty in the engine rooms, the dynamo room, the “stoke hole” and other stations.
Suddenly, from the stern rail, there went up the startled cry:
In an instant the marine sentry had tumbled two life-preservers over into the water.
With almost the swiftness of telegraphy the cry had reached the bridge. Without stopping to back the engine the big battleship’s helm was thrown hard over, and the great steel fighting craft endeavored to find her own wake in the angry waters with a view to going back over it.
Signal men broke out the news to the flagship. The other two great battleships turned and headed back in the interests of humanity.
It seemed almost as though the entire fleet had been swung out of its course by pressure on an electric button.
Officers who were not on duty poured out. The captain was the first to reach the quarter-deck. He strode into the midst of a group of stricken-looking midshipmen.
“Who’s overboard!” demanded the commanding officer.
“And Darrin, sir—-“
“And Dalzell, sir—-“
“How many?” demanded the captain sharply.
“How did so many fall overboard?”
“Mr. Hallam was frolicking, sir,” reported Midshipman Farley, “and lost his footing.”
“But Mr. Darrin and Mr. Dalzell?” inquired the captain sharply.
“As soon as they realized it, sir, Darrin and Dalzell leaped overboard to go to Hallam’s rescue, sir.”
“It’s a wonder,” muttered the captain, glancing shrewdly at the bronzed, fine young fellows around him, “that not more of you went overboard as well.”
“Many of them would, sir,” replied Farley, “but an officer forward shouted: ‘No more midshipmen go overboard,’ So we stopped, sir.”
Modest Mr. Farley did not mention the fact that he was running toward the stern, intent on following his chums into the rough sea at the very instant when the order reached him.
The captain, however, paused for no more information. He was now running forward to take the bridge beside the watch officer.
The midshipmen, too, hurried forward, mingling with the crew, as the big battleship swung around and tried to find her wake.
The flagship had crowded on extra steam, and was fast coming over the seas.
With such a sea running, it was well nigh impossible to make out so small a thing as a head or a life-preserver, unless it could be observed at the instant when it crested a wave.
Marine glasses were in use by every officer who had brought his pair to the deck. Others rushed back to their cabins to get them.
A lieutenant of the marine corps stood forward, close to a big group of sorrowing midshipmen.
“There are certain to be three vacancies in the Naval Academy,” remarked the lieutenant.
“Don’t say that, sir,” begged Farley, in a choking voice. “The three overboard are among the finest fellows in the brigade!”
“I don’t want to discourage any of you young gentlemen,” continued the marine corps lieutenant. “But there’s just about one chance in a thousand that we shall be able to sight and pick up any one of the unlucky three. In the first place, it would take a wonderful swimmer to live long in such a furious sea. In the second place, if all three are still swimming, it will be almost out of the question to make out their heads among the huge waves. You’ve none of you seen a man overboard before in a big sea?”
Several of the mute, anxious midshipmen shook their heads.
“You’ll realize the difficulties of the situation within the next few minutes,” remarked the lieutenant. “I am sorry to crush your hopes for your classmates, but this is all a part of the day’s work in the Navy.”
The largest steam launches from all three of the battleships were being swiftly lowered. Officers and men were lowered with the launches. As the launch shoved off from each battleship tremendous cheers followed them.
“Stop all unnecessary noise!” bellowed the watch officer from the bridge of the “Massachusetts.” “You may drown out calls for help with your racket.”
While the three battleships went back over their courses in more stately fashion, the launches darted here and there, until it seemed as though they must cover every foot within a square mile.
“I don’t see how they can help finding the three,” Farley declared hopefully.
“That is,” put in another third classman, “if any of the three are still afloat.”
“Stow all talk of that sort,” ordered Farley angrily.
Other midshipmen joined in with their protests. When a man is overboard in an angry sea all hands left behind try to be optimists.
When fifteen minutes had been spent in the search the onlooking but helpless middies began to look worried.
At the end of half an hour some of them looked haggard. Farley’s face was pitiable to see.
At the end of an hour of constant but fruitless searching hardly any one felt any hope of a rescue now.
All three midshipmen, the “man overboard” and his two willing, would-be rescuers, were silently conceded to be drowned.
Yet the hardest blow of all came when, at the end of an hour and a quarter, the flagship signaled the recall of the small boats.
Then, indeed, all hope was given up. In an utter human silence, save for the husky voicing of the necessary orders, the launches were hoisted on board. Then the flagship flew the signal for resuming the voyage.
There were few dry eyes among the third class midshipmen when the battleships fell in formation again and proceeded on their way.
As a result of more signals flown from the flagship, all unnecessary duties of midshipmen for the day were ordered suspended.
In the afternoon the chaplain on each battleship held funeral services over the three lost midshipmen. Officers, middies and crew attended on board each vessel.
THE DESPAIR OF THE “RECALL”
Dave Darrin stood within ten feet of Hallam when that latter midshipman had lost his balance and fallen into the boiling sea.
Dave’s spring to the stern rail was all but instantaneous. He was overboard, after his classmate, ere the marine had had time to leap to the life buoys.
Out of the corner of one eye Dan Dalzell saw the marine start on the jump, but Dan was overboard, also, too soon to see exactly what the marine sentry was doing.
Both daring midshipmen sank beneath the surface as they struck.
As Dan came up, however, his hand struck something solid and he clutched at it. It was one of the life buoys.
As he grasped it, and drew his head up a trifle, Dan saw another floating within thirty feet of him. Swimming hard, and pushing, Dan succeeded in reaching the other buoy. He now rested, holding on to both buoys.
“Now, where’s David, that little giant?” muttered Dalzell, striving hard to see through the seething waters and over the tops of foam-crested waves.
After a few minutes Dan began to feel decidedly nervous.
“Yet Dave can’t have gone down, for he’s a better swimmer than I am,” was Dan’s consoling thought.
At last Dalzell caught sight of another head. He could have cheered, but he expended his breath on something more sensible.
“Dave!” he shouted. “Old Darry! This way! I have the life buoys.”
At the same time, holding to both of them, but kicking frantically with his feet, Dalzell managed slowly to push the buoys toward Dave.
Soon after he had started, Dan did utter a cheer, even though it was checked by an inrush of salt water that nearly strangled him.
He saw two heads. Dave Darrin was coming toward him, helping Hallam.
The wind carried the cheer faintly to Dave. He raised his head a little in the water, and caught sight of Dan and the buoys.
Some three minutes it took the two chums to meet. Dave Darrin was all but exhausted, for Hallam was now unconscious.
As Darrin clutched at the buoy he tried to shout, though the voice came weakly:
“Catch hold of Hallam. I’m down and—-“
But Dan understood, even before he heard. While Dave clutched at one of the life buoys Dalzell shot out an arm, dragging Hallam in to safety.
Now, it was Darrin who, with both arms, contrived to link the buoys together.
At last the youngsters had a chance to observe the fact that the battleships had put about and were coming back.
“We’ll soon be all right,” sighed Dave contentedly, as soon as he could speak. “There are thirty-five hundred officers, middies and sailors of the American Navy to look after our safety.”
From where they lay as they hung to the buoys the chums could even see the launches lowered.
Dan, with some of the emergency lashing about the buoy, succeeded, after a good deal of effort, and with some aid from Dave, in passing a cord about Hallam and under the latter’s armpits that secured that midshipman to one of the buoys. The next move of the chums was to lash the buoys together.
“Now,” declared Dave, “we can’t lose. We can hang on and be safe here for hours, if need be.”
“But what a thundering long time it takes them to bring the battleships around to get to us!” murmured Midshipman Dalzell in wonder.
“Be sure not an unnecessary second has been lost,” rejoined Dave. “We’re learning something practical now about the handling of big craft.”
“I wonder if Hally’s a goner?” murmured Dan in an awe-struck voice.
“I don’t believe it,” Dave answered promptly. “Once we get him back aboard ship the medicos will do a little work over him and he’ll sit up and want to know if dinner’s ready.”
Then they fell silent, for, with the roar of wind and waters, it was necessary for them to shout when they talked.
As the minutes went by slowly, the two conscious midshipmen found themselves filled with amazement.
A dozen times the launches darted by, not far away. It seemed impossible that the keen, restless eyes of the seekers should not discover the imperiled ones.
At such times Dave and Dan shouted with all the power of their lusty young lungs.
Alternately Dan and Dave tried the effect of rising as far as they could and frantically waving an arm. There was not a cap to wave among the three of them.
“I’m beginning to feel discouraged,” grunted Dave in disgust at last. “They must have spent a full half day already looking for us.”
“Merciful powers!” gasped Dan at last, as they rode half way up the slope of a big wave. “I just caught sight of the ‘recall of boats’ flying from the flagship!”
“No!” gasped Dave incredulously.
“Yes, I did!”
“They’ve failed and have given up the search,” spoke Dan rather despairingly.
“We may as well face it,” muttered Dan brokenly. “They don’t believe that any of us has survived, and we’ve been abandoned.”
“Then,” spoke Dave Darrin very coolly, “there’s nothing left for us but to die like men of the American Navy.”
“It seems heartless, needless,” protested Dan.
“No,” broke in Darrin. “They’ve done their best. They’re convinced that we’re lost. And I should think they would be, after all the time they’ve searched for us–half a day, at least.”
Dan said nothing, but tugged until he succeeded in bringing his watch up to the light.
“The blamed thing is water-logged,” he uttered disgustedly.
“The hands point to less than half past nine!”
Darrin managed to get at his own watch.
“My timepiece doesn’t call for half past nine, either,” he announced.
“Can it be possible–“
“Yes; the time has only seemed longer, I reckon,” observed Dalzell.
“Well, we’ll face it like men,” proposed Dave.
“Of course,” nodded Dan. “At least, we’re going down in the ocean, and we wear the American Naval uniform. If there’s any choice in deaths, I guess that’s as good and manly a one as we could choose.”
“Poor old Hally won’t know much about it, anyway, I guess,” remarked Darrin, who seemed unnaturally cool. Possibly he was a bit dazed by the stunning nature of the fate that seemed about to overtake them.
“Maybe the ships will go by us in their final get-away,” proposed Dan Dalzell very soberly.
“Not if I’m seaman enough to read the compass by what’s visible of the sun,” returned Midshipman Darrin.
“Then there’s no help for it,” answered Dan, choking slightly. “I wonder if we could do anything for Hallam?”
“We won’t do anything to bring him to, anyway,” muttered Darrin. “Under these circumstances I wouldn’t do anything as mean as that to a dog!”
“Maybe he’s dead already, anyway,” proposed Dan, now hopefully.
“I hope so,” came from Darrin.
Now they saw the not very distant battleships alter their courses and steam slowly away.
All was now desolation over the angry sea, as the battleships gradually vanished. The two conscious midshipmen were now resolved to face the end bravely. That was all they could do for themselves and their flag.
THE GRIM WATCH FROM THE WAVES
By the time that little more than the mastheads of the departing battleships were visible, Hallam opened his eyes.
It would have seemed a vastly kinder fate had he been allowed to remain unconscious to the last.
Hallam had not been strangled by the inrush of water. In going overboard, this midshipman had struck the water with the back of his head and had been stunned. In the absence of attention he had remained a long time unconscious.
Even now the hapless midshipman whose frollicking had been the cause of the disaster, did not immediately regain his full senses.
“Why, we’re all in the water,” he remarked after a while.
“Yes,” assented Darrin, trying to speak cheerfully.
Midshipman Hallam remained silent for some moments before he next asked:
“How did it happen?”
“Fell overboard,” replied Dan laconically, failing to mention who it was who had fallen over the stern.
Again a rather long silence on Hallam’s part. Then, at last, he observed:
“Funny how we all fell over at the same time.”
To this neither of his classmates made any rejoinder.
“See here,” shouted Hallam, after a considerable period of silent wondering, “I remember it all now. I was fooling at the stern rail and I toppled overboard.”
Dan nodded without words.
“And you fellows jumped in after me,” roared Hallam, both his mental and bodily powers now beginning to return. “Didn’t you?”
“Of course,” assented Darrin rather reluctantly.
“And what became of the fleet!”
Dave and Dan looked at each other before the former replied:
“Oh, well, Hally, brace up! The ships searched for us a long time, and some launches were put out after us. But they couldn’t see our little heads above the big waves, and so—-“
“They’ve gone away and left us?” queried Hallam, guessing at once. “Now, fellows, I don’t mind so much for myself, but it’s fearful to think that I’ve dragged you into the same fate. It’s awful! Why couldn’t you have left me to my fate?”
“Would you have done a thing like that?” demanded Dave dryly.
“Oh, well, I suppose not, but–but–well, I wish I had been left to pay the price of my tomfoolery all alone. It would have served me right. But to drag you two into it–“
Hallam could go no further. He was choking up with honest emotion.
“Don’t bother about it, Hally,” urged Dave. “It’s all in the day’s work for a sailor. We’ll just take it as it comes, old fellow.”
To not one of the trio did it occur to let go of the life buoys and sink as a means of ending misery. In the first place, human instinct holds to hope. In the second place, suicide is the resort of cowards.
“None of you happened to hide any food in his pockets at breakfast, I take it?” asked Dan grimly, at last.
Of course they hadn’t.
“Too bad,” sighed Dan. “I’m growing terribly hungry.”
“Catch a fish,” smiled back Darrin.
“And eat it raw?” gasped Dalzell. “Darry, you know my tastes better than that.”
“Then wait a few hours longer,” proposed Dave, “until even raw fish will be a delicacy.”
Hallam took no part in the chaffing. He was miserably conscious, all the while, that his own folly had been solely responsible for the present plight of these noble messmates.
Thus the time passed on. None kept any track of it; they realized only that it was still daylight.
Then suddenly Dave gave a gasp and raised one hand to point.
His two classmates turned and were able to make out the mastheads of a craft in the distance.
How they strained their eyes! All three stared and stared, until they felt tolerably certain that the craft was headed their way.
“They may see us!” cried Hallam eagerly.
“Three battleships and as many launches failed to find us,” retorted Dan. “And they were looking for us, too.”
As the vessel came nearer and the hull became visible, it took on the appearance of a liner.
“Why, it looks as though she’d run right over us when she gets nearer,” cried Dave, his eyes kindling with hope.
“Don’t get too excited over it,” urged Dan. “For my part, I’m growing almost accustomed to disappointments.”
As the minutes passed and the liner came on and on, it looked still more as though she would run down the three middies.
[Illustration: “Look! They See Us!”]
At last, however, the craft was passing, showing her port side, not very far distant, to be sure.
Uniting their voices, the three midshipmen yelled with all their power, even though they knew that their desperate call for help could not carry the distance over the subsiding gale.
Boom! That shot came from the liner, and now her port rail was black with people.
“They see us!” cried Hallam joyously. “Look! That craft is slowing up!”
Once more came the cheers of encouragement, as the liner, now some distance ahead, put off a heavy launch. A masthead lookout, who had first seen the midshipmen, was now signaling the way to the officer in command of the launch.
Unable to see for himself, the officer in the launch depended wholly on those masthead signals. So the launch steamed a somewhat zig-zag course over the waves. Yet, at last, it bore down straight upon the midshipmen.
Darrin, Dalzell and Hallam now came very near to closing their eyes, to lessen the suspense.
A short time more and all three were dragged in over the sides of the launch.
“Get those life buoys in, if you can,” begged Dave, as he sank in the bottom of the launch. “They are United States property entrusted to our care.”
From officer and seamen alike a laugh went up at this request, but the life buoys were caught with a boathook and drawn aboard.
What rousing cheers greeted the returning launch, from the decks of the liner, “Princess Irene”! When the three midshipmen reached deck and it was learned that they were midshipmen of the United States Navy, the cheering and interest were redoubled.
But the captain and the ship’s doctor cut short any attempt at lionizing by rushing the midshipmen to a stateroom containing three berths. Here, under the doctor’s orders, the trio were stripped and rubbed down. Then they were rolled into blankets, and hot coffee brought to them in their berths, while their wet clothing was sent below to one of the furnace rooms for hurried drying.
As soon as the medical man had examined them, the steamship’s captain began to question them.
“Headed for the Azores, eh?” demanded the ship’s master. “We ought to be able to sight your squadron before long.”
He hastened out, to give orders to the deck officer.
By the time that the young midshipmen had been satisfactorily warmed, and their clothing had been dried, the ship’s surgeon consented to their dressing. After this they were led to a private cabin where a satisfying meal was served them.
“Oh, I don’t know,” murmured Dan, leaning back, with a contented sigh, after the meal was over; “there are worse things than what happened to us to-day!”
The greater speed of the liner enabled her to sight the battleship squadron something more than two hours afterward. Then the nearest vessel of the fleet was steered for directly.
The deck officers of the liner sent their heavy overcoats for the use of the midshipmen, who, enveloped in these roomy garments, went out on deck to watch the pursuit of their own comrades.
Within another hour it was possible to signal, and from the “Princess Irene’s” masthead the signal flags were broken out.
“Now, watch for excitement on board your own craft,” smiled the liner’s commander, an Englishman.
As soon as the liner’s signal had been read by the vessels of the squadron a wild display of signal bunting swiftly broke out.
“Heaven be thanked!” read one set of signal flags.
“We have officially buried the young men, but ask them to go on living,” read another.
While the most practical signal of all was:
“The ‘Massachusetts’ will fall astern of the squadron. Kindly stand by to receive her launch.”
In a few minutes more the two vessels were close enough. Both stopped headway. One of the big battleship’s launches put off and steamed over, rolling and pitching on the waves.
Most carefully indeed the three midshipmen climbed down a rope ladder and were received by an ensign from the “Massachusetts,” who next gave the American Navy’s profound thanks to the rescuers of the middies.
“Kindly lower that United States property that was in our care, sir!” Dave Darrin called up.
There was good-humored laughter above, and a look of amazement on Ensign White’s face until the two buoys, attached to lines, were thrown down over the side.
“When your time comes you will make a very capable officer, I believe, Mr. Darrin, judging by your care of government property,” remarked Ensign White, working hard to keep down the laughter.
“I hope to do so, sir,” Dave replied, saluting.
Then away to the “Massachusetts” the launch bore, while the whole battleship squadron cheered itself hoarse over the happy outcome of the day.
Dave, Dan and Hallam all had to do a tremendous amount of handshaking among their classmates when they had reached deck. Pennington was the only one who did not come forward to hold his hand out to Darrin–a fact that was noted at the time by many of the youngsters.
To the captain the trio recounted what had befallen them, as matter for official record.
“Mr. Darrin and Mr. Dalzell,” announced the battleship’s captain, “I must commend you both for wholly heroic conduct in going to the aid of your classmate. And, Mr. Darrin, I am particularly interested in your incidental determination to preserve government property–the life buoys that you brought back with you.”
“It’s possible I may need them again, sir,” returned Dave, with a smile, though he had no notion of prophetic utterance.
MIDSHIPMAN PENNINGTON’S ACCIDENT
The stop at the Azores was uneventful. It remained in the minds of the midshipmen only as a pleasant recollection of a quaint and pretty place.
Once more the squadron set sail, and now the homeward-bound pennant was flying. The course lay straight across the Atlantic to the entrance of Chesapeake Bay.
On the second night out the wind was blowing a little less than half a gale.
Darkness had fallen when Dave, Dan, Farley and several other midshipmen gathered to talk in low tones at the stern rail.
Presently all of them wandered away but Dave. He stood close to the rail, enjoying the bumping motion every time the descending stern hit one of the rolling waves.
Presently, thinking he saw a light astern, he raised himself, peering astern.
Another group of restless middies had sauntered up. Pennington, after a swift look at the pacing officer in charge here, and discovering that the officer’s back was turned, executed a series of swift cartwheels.
“Look out, Pen!” called Midshipman Dwight, in a low, though sharp voice.
Just too late the warning came.
As Pen leaped to his feet after the last turn, one of his hands struck Darrin forcefully.
Dave swayed, tried to clutch at something, then–
“O-o-o-oh!” rang the first startled chorus.
Then, instantly, on top of it, came the rousing hail:
Farley and Hallam were the first to reach the rail. But Lieutenant Burton was there almost as quickly.
“Haul back!” commanded the lieutenant sternly. “No one go overboard!”
That held the middies in check, for in no place, more than in the Navy, are orders orders.
Clack! was the sound that followed the first cry. Like a flash the marine sentry had thrown his rifle to the deck. A single bound carried him to one of the night life buoys. This he released, and hurled far astern.
As the night buoy struck the water a long-burning red light was fused by contact. The glow shone out over the waters.
In the meantime, the “Massachusetts’s” speed was being slowed rapidly, and a boat’s crew stood at quarters.
The boat put off quickly, guided by the glow of the red signal light on the buoy. Ere the boat reached the buoy the coxswain made out the head and shoulders of a young man above the rim of the floating buoy.
Soon after the boat lay alongside. Dave, with the coxswain’s aid, pulled himself into the small craft.
Recovering the buoy, the coxswain flashed the red light three times. From the deck of the battleship came a cheering yell sent up from hundreds of throats.
In the meantime, however, while the boat was on its way to the buoy, a pulsing scene had been enacted on board.
Farley went straight up to Midshipman Pennington.
“Sir,” demanded Farley hotly, “why did you push Mr. Darrin over the rail.”
Pennington looked at his questioner as one stunned.
“I–I did push Darrin over,” admitted Pennington, “but it was an accident.”
“An easily contrived one, wasn’t it?” demanded Midshipman Farley, rather cynically.
“It was pure accident,” contended Pennington, paling. “Until it happened I hadn’t the least idea in the world that I was going to send Mr. Darrin or anyone else overboard.”
“Huh!” returned Farley dubiously.
“Huh!” quoth Hallam.
Dan Dalzell uttered not a word, but the gaze of his eyes was fixed angrily on Pennington.
That latter midshipman turned as white as a sheet. His hands worked as though he were attempting to clutch at something to hold himself up.
“Surely, you fellows don’t believe, do you–” he stammered weakly, then paused.
“One thing we did notice, the other day,” continued Farley briskly, “was that, when Darrin was rescued from the sea and returned to us, you were about the only member of the class who didn’t go up to him and congratulate him on his marvelous escape.”
“Mr. Pennington, I haven’t the patience to talk with you now,” rejoined Farley, turning on his heel.
At that moment the yell started among the midshipmen nearer the rail. Farley, Dan, Hallam and others joined in the yell and rushed to better points of vantage.
Pennington tried to join in the cheer, but his tongue seemed fixed to the roof of his mouth. He stood clenching and unclenching his hands, his face an ashen gray in his deep humiliation.
“I don’t care what one or two fellows may say,” groaned Pennington. “But I don’t want the class to think such things of me.”
He was the most miserable man on board as the small boat came alongside. The boat, occupants and all, was hoisted up to the davits and swung in-board. To the officer of the deck, who stood near-by, Dave turned, with a brisk salute.
“I beg to report that I’ve come aboard, sir,” Darrin uttered.
“And very glad we are of it, Mr. Darrin,” replied the officer. “You will go to your locker, change your clothing and then report to the captain, sir.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
With another salute, Dave hastened below, followed by Dan Dalzell, who was intent on attending him.
Ten minutes later Dave appeared at the door of the captain’s cabin. Just a few minutes after that he came out on deck.
A crowd gathered about him, expressing their congratulations.
“Thank you all,” laughed Dave, “but don’t make so much over a middy getting a bath outside of the schedule.”
To the rear hung Pennington, waiting his chance. At last, as the crowd thinned, Pennington made his way up to Dave.
“Mr. Darrin, I have to apologize for my nonsense, which was the means of pushing you overboard. It was purely accidental, on my honor. I did not even know it was you at the stern, nor did I realize that my antics would result in pushing any one overboard. I trust you will do me the honor of believing my statement.”
“Of course I believe it, Mr. Pennington,” answered Darrin, opening his eyes.
“There are some,” continued Pennington, “who have intimated to me their belief that I did it on purpose. There may be others who half believe or suspect that I might, or would, do such a thing.”
“Nonsense!” retorted Dave promptly. “There may be differences, sometimes, between classmates, but there isn’t a midshipman in the Navy who would deliberately try to drown a comrade. It’s a preposterous insult against midshipman honor. If I hear any one make a charge like that, I’ll call him out promptly.”
“Some of your friends–I won’t name them–insisted, or at least let me feel the force of their suspicions.”
“If any of my friends hinted at such a thing, it was done in the heat of the moment,” replied Dave heartily. “Why, Mr. Pennington, such an act of dishonor is impossible to a man bred at Annapolis.”
Darrin fully believed what he said. On the spur of the moment he held out his hand to his enemy.
Pennington flushed deeply, for a moment, then put out his own hand, giving Dave’s a hearty, straightforward grasp.
“I was the first to imply the charge,” broke in Farley quickly. “I withdraw it, and apologize to both of you.”
There was more handshaking.
During the next few days, while Darry and Pen did not become by any means intimate, they no longer made any effort to avoid each other, but spoke frankly when they met.
The remaining days of the voyage passed uneventfully enough, except for a great amount of hard work that the middies performed as usual.
On the twenty-second of August they entered Chesapeake Bay. Once well inside, they came to anchor. There was considerable practice with the sub-caliber and other smaller guns. On the twenty-ninth of August the battleship fleet returned to the familiar waters around Annapolis. The day after that the young men disembarked.
Then came a hurried skeltering, for the first, second and third classmen were entitled to leave during the month of September.
BACK IN THE HOME TOWN
Back in the old, well-known streets of their home town, Gridley!
Dave and Dan, enjoying every minute of their month’s leave, had already greeted their parents, and had told them much of their life as midshipmen.
What hurt was the fact that the skipper of the “Princess Irene” had already told the marine reporters in New York the thrilling story of how Dave and Dan had nearly come to their own deaths rescuing Midshipman Hallam.
Everyone in Gridley, it seemed, had read that newspaper story. Darrin and Dalzell, before they had been home twelve hours, were weary of hearing their praises sung.
“There go two of the smartest, finest boys that old Gridley ever turned out,” citizens would say, pointing after Dave and Dan. “They’re midshipmen at Annapolis; going to be officers of the Navy one of these days.”
“But what’s the matter with Dick Prescott and Greg Holmes? They’re at West Point.”
“Oh, they’re all right, too, of course. But Darrin and Dalzell—-“
It was the old circumstance of being “the lions of the minute” and of being on the spot.
On the first morning of his arrival home Dave Darrin went frankly and openly to call on his old schoolgirl sweetheart, Belle Meade.
Dan, having no particular associations with the gentler sex, took a stroll around town to meet any old friends who might care to see him again.
Dave was shown into the parlor at the Meade home. Soon after Belle came swiftly in, her face beaming with delight.
“Oh, but you’re not in uniform!” was her first disappointed comment.
“No,” smiled Dave. “I’m allowed every possible chance, for one month, to forget every detail of the big grind which for a short time I’ve left behind.”
“But you’re the same old Dave,” cried Belle, “only bigger and manlier. And that magnificent work you and Dan did in jumping over-bo—-“
“Stop!” begged Dave. “You’re a friend of mine, aren’t you! Then don’t add to the pain that has been already inflicted on me. If I had had the newspapers in mind I wouldn’t have the nerve to—-But please let’s not talk about it anymore.”
Then the two young people seated themselves and spent a delightful hour in talking over all that had befallen them both since they had last met.
Belle, too, through Laura Bentley, had some much later news of the old chums, Dick and Greg, now cadets at West Point.
This news, however, will be found in full in “DICK PRESCOTT’S SECOND YEAR AT WEST POINT.”
“What are your plans for this afternoon?” Belle asked at last.
“That’s what I want your help in making,” Dave answered.
“Can you get hold of Dan?”
“No trouble about that. But keeping hold of him may be more difficult,” laughed Dave.
“I was going to propose that you get Dan, call here and then we’ll all go over to Laura Bentley’s. I know she’ll be anxious to see us.”
“Nothing could be better in the way of a plan,” assented Dave. “I’ll pin Danny boy down to that. It would really seem like a slight on good old Dick if we didn’t make Laura an early call.”
“I’ll go to the telephone, now, and tell her that we’re coming,” cried Belle, rising quickly.
“Laura is delighted,” she reported, on her return to the room. “But Dave, didn’t you at least bring along a uniform, so that we could see what it looks like?”
“I didn’t,” replied Dave, soberly, then added, quizzically:
“You’ve seen the district messenger boys on the street, haven’t you?”
“Yes, of course; but what–“
“Our uniforms look very much like theirs,” declared Dave.
“I’m afraid I can’t undertake to believe you,” Belle pouted.
“Well, anyway, you girls will soon have a chance to see our uniforms. Just as soon as our hops start, this fall, you and Laura will come down and gladden our hearts by letting us drag you, won’t you!”
“Drag us?” repeated Belle, much mystified.
“Oh, that’s middies’ slang for escorting a pretty girl to a midshipman hop.”
“You have a lot of slang, then, I suppose.”
“Considerable,” admitted Dave readily.
“What, then, is your slang for a pretty girl?”
“Oh, we call her a queen.”
“And a girl who is–who isn’t–pretty!”
“A gold brick,” answered Dave unblushingly.
“A gold brick?” gasped Belle. “Dear me! ‘Dragging a gold brick’ to a hop doesn’t sound romantic, does it?”
“It isn’t,” Darrin admitted.
“Yet you have invited me–“
“Our class hasn’t started in with its course of social compliments yet,” laughed Dave. “Please go look in the glass. Or, if you won’t believe the glass, then just wait and see how proud Dan and I are if we can lead you and Laura out on the dancing floor.”
“But what horrid slang!” protested Belle. “The idea of calling a homely girl a gold brick! And I thought you young men received more or less training in being gracious to the weaker sex.”
“We do,” Dave answered, “as soon as we can find any use for the accomplishment. Fourth classmen, you know, are considered too young to associate with girls. It’s only now, when we’ve made a start in the third class, that we’re to be allowed to attend the hops at all.”
“But why must you have to have such horrid names for girls who have not been greatly favored in the way of looks? It doesn’t sound exactly gallant.”
“Oh, well, you know,” laughed Dave, “we poor, despised, no-account middies must have some sort of sincere language to talk after we get our masks off for the day. I suppose we like the privilege, for a few minutes in each day, of being fresh, like other young folks.”
“What is your name for ‘fresh’ down at Annapolis!” Belle wanted to know.
“And for being a bit worse than touge?”
“Which did they call you?” demanded Belle.
Dave started, then sat up straight, staring at Miss Meade.
“I see that your tongue hasn’t lost its old incisiveness,” he laughed.
“Not among my friends,” Belle replied lightly. “But I can’t get my mind off that uniform of yours that you didn’t bring home. What would have happened to you if you had been bold enough to do it?”
“I guess I’d have ‘frapped the pap,'” hazarded Dave.
“And what on earth is ‘frapping the pap’?” gasped Belle.
“Oh, that’s a brief way of telling about it when a midshipman gets stuck on the conduct report.”
“I’m going to buy a notebook,” asserted Belle, “and write down and classify some of this jargon. I’d hate to visit a strange country, like Annapolis, and find I didn’t know the language. And, Dave, what sort of place is Annapolis, anyway?”
“Oh, it’s a suburb of the Naval Academy,” Dave answered.
“Is it dreadfully hard to keep one’s place in his class there?” asked Belle.
“Well, the average fellow is satisfied if he doesn’t ‘bust cold,'” Dave informed her.
“Gracious! What sort of explosion is ‘busting cold’?”
“Why, that means getting down pretty close to absolute zero in all studies. When a fellow has the hard luck to bust cold the superintendent allows him all his time, thereafter, to go home and look up a more suitable job than one in the Navy. And when a fellow bilges—-“
“Stop!” begged Belle. “Wait!”
She fled from the room, to return presently bearing the prettiest hat that Dave ever remembered having seen on her shapely young head. In one hand she carried a dainty parasol that she turned over to him.
“What’s the cruise?” asked Darrin, rising.
“I’m going out to get that notebook, now. Please don’t talk any more ‘midshipman’ to me until I get a chance to set the jargon down.”
As she stood there, such a pretty and wholesome picture, David Darrin thought he never before had seen such a pretty girl, nor one dressed in such exquisite taste. Being a boy, it did not occur to him that Belle Meade had been engaged for weeks in designing this gown and others that she meant to wear during his brief stay at home.
“What are you thinking of?” asked Belle.
“What a pity it is that I am doomed to a short life,” sighed Darrin.
“A short life? What do you mean?” Belle asked.
“Why, I’m going to be assassinated, the first hop that you attend at the Naval Academy.”
“So I’m a gold brick, am I?” frowned Belle.
“You–a–gold brick?” stammered Dave. “Why, you–oh, go look in the glass!”
“Who will assassinate you?”
“A committee made up from among the fellows whose names I don’t write down on your dance card. And there are hundreds of them at Annapolis. You can’t dance with them all.”
“I don’t intend to,” replied Belle, with a toss of her head. “I’ll accept, as partners, only those who appear to me the handsomest and most distinguished looking of the midshipmen. No one else can write his name on my card.”
“Dear girl, I’m afraid you don’t understand our way of making up dance cards at Crabtown.”
“Crabtown. That’s our local name for Annapolis.”
“Gracious! Let me get out quickly and get that notebook!”
“At midshipmen’s hops the fellow who drags the—-“
“Gold brick,” supplied Belle, resignedly.
“No–not for worlds! You’re no gold brick, Belle, and you know it, even though you do refuse to go to the mirror. But the fellow who drags any femme–“
“‘Femme’ stands for girl. The fellow who drags any femme makes up her dance card for her.”
“And she hasn’t a word to say about it?”
“Not as a rule.”
“Oh!” cried Belle, dramatically.
She moved toward the door. Dave, who could not take his eyes from her pretty face, managed, somehow, to delay her.
“Belle, there’s something–” he began.
“Good gracious! Where? What?” she cried, looking about her keenly.
“It’s something I want to say–must say,” Dave went on with more of an effort than anyone but himself could guess.
“Tell me, as we’re going down the street,” invited Belle.
“_Wha-a-at?_” choked Dave. “Well, I guess not!”
He faced her, resting both hands lightly on her shoulders.
“Belle, we were pretty near sweethearts in the High School, I think,” he went on, huskily, but looking her straight in the eyes. “At least, that was my hope, and I hope, most earnestly, that it’s going to continue. Belle, I am a long way from my real career, yet. It will be five years, yet, before I have any right to marry. But I want to look forward, all the time, to the sweet belief that my schoolgirl sweetheart is going to become my wife one of these days. I want that as a goal to work for, along with my commission in the Navy. But to this much I agree: if you say ‘yes’ now, and find later that you have made a mistake, you will tell me so frankly.”
“Poor boy!” murmured Belle, looking at him fully. “You’ve been a plebe until lately, and you haven’t been allowed to see any girls. I’m not going to take advantage of you as heartlessly as that.”
Yet something in her eyes gave the midshipman hope.
“Belle,” he continued eagerly, “don’t trifle with me. Tell me–will you marry me some day?”
Then there was a little more talk and–well, it’s no one’s business.
“But we’re not so formally engaged,” Belle warned him, “that you can’t write me and draw out of the snare if you wish when you’re older. And I’m not going to wear any ring until you’ve graduated from the Naval Academy. Do you understand that, Mr. David Darrin?”
“It shall be as you say, either way,” Dave replied happily.
“And now, let us get started, or we shan’t get out on the street to-day,” urged Belle.
Then they passed out on the street, and no ordinarily observant person would have suspected them of being anything more than school friends.
Being very matter-of-fact in some respects, Belle’s first move was to go to a stationer’s, where she bought a little notebook bound in red leather.
Dave tried to pay for that purchase, but Belle forestalled him.
“Why didn’t you allow me to make you that little gift?” he asked in a low tone, when they had reached the street.
“Wait,” replied Belle archly. “Some day you may find your hands full in that line.”
“One of my instructors at Annapolis complimented me on having very capable hands,” Dave told her dryly.
“The instructor in boxing?” asked Belle.
It was a wonderfully delightful stroll that the middy and his sweetheart enjoyed that September forenoon.
Once Dave sighed, so pronouncedly that Belle shot a quick look of questioning at him.
“Tired of our understanding already?” she demanded.
“No; I was thinking how sorry I am for Danny boy! He doesn’t know the happiness of having a real sweetheart.”
“How do you know he doesn’t?” asked Belle quickly. “Does he tell you everything?”
“No; but I know Danny’s sea-going lines pretty well. I’d suspect, at least, if he had a sweetheart.”
“Are you sure that you would?”
“Oh, yes! By gracious! There’s Danny going around the corner above at this very moment.”
Belle had looked in the same instant.
“Yes; and a skirt swished around the corner with him,” declared Belle impressively. “It would be funny, wouldn’t it, if you didn’t happen to know all about Dan Dalzell?”
In the early afternoon, however, the mystery was cleared up.
On the street Dalzell had encountered Laura Bentley. Both were full of talk and questions concerning Dick Prescott and Greg Holmes, at West Point, for which reason Dan had strolled home with Miss Bentley without any other thought, on the midshipman’s part, than playing substitute gallant for his chum, Cadet Richard Prescott, U.S. Military Academy.
A most delightful afternoon the four young people spent together at the Bentley home.
These were the forerunners of other afternoons.
Belle and Laura, however, were not able to keep their midshipmen to themselves.
Other girls, former students at the High School, arranged a series of affairs to which the four young people were invited.
Dave’s happiest moments were when he had Belle to himself, for a stroll or chat.
Dan’s happiest moments, on the other hand, were when he was engaged in hunting the old High School fellows, or such of them as were now at home. For many of them had entered colleges or technical schools. Tom Reade and Harry Hazelton, of the famous old Dick & Co., of High School days, were now in the far southwest, under circumstances fully narrated in “THE YOUNG ENGINEERS IN ARIZONA,” the second volume of “THE YOUNG ENGINEERS’ SERIES.'”
Day by day Belle jotted down in her notebook more specimens of midshipman slang.
“I shall soon feel that I can reel off the language like a native of Crabtown,” she confided laughingly to Dare.
“It won’t be very long before you have an opportunity to try,” Dave declared, “if you and Laura embrace your first opportunity to come to a middy hop.”
Dan had a happy enough time of it, even though Dave’s suspicion was true in that Dan had no sweetheart. That, however, was Dan’s fault entirely, as several of the former High School girls would have been willing to assure him.
Since even the happiest times must all end so the latter part of September drew near.
Then came the day when Dave and Dan met at the railway station. A host of others were there to see them off, for the midshipmen still had crowds of friends in the good old home town.
A ringing of bells, signaling brakesmen, a rolling of steel wheels and the two young midshipmen swung aboard the train, to wave their hats from the platform.
Gridley was gone–lost to sight for another year. Dan was exuberant during the first hour of the journey, Dave unusually silent.
“You need a vast amount of cheering up, David, little giant!” exclaimed Dalzell.
“Oh, I guess not,” smiled Dave Darrin quietly, adding to himself, under his breath:
“I carry my own good cheer with me, now.”
Lightly his hand touched a breast pocket that carried the latest, sweetest likeness of Miss Belle Meade.
One journey by rail is much like another to the traveler who pays little heed to the scenery.
At the journey’s end two well-rested midshipmen joined the throng of others at Crabtown.
DAN RECEIVES A FEARFUL FACER
“Oh, you heap!” sighed Dan Dalzell dismally.
He sat in his chair, in their new quarters in Bancroft Hall, United States Naval Academy, gazing in mock despair at the pile of new books that he had just drawn.
These text-books contained the subjects in which a midshipman is required to qualify in his second academic year.
“Been through the books for a first look?” called Dave from behind his own study table.
“Some of ’em,” admitted Dalzell. “I’m afraid to glance into the others.”
“I’ve looked in all of my books,” continued Darrin, “and I’ve just come to a startling conclusion.”
“I’m inclined to believe that I have received a complete set of text-books for the first and second classes.”
“No such luck!” grunted Dan, getting up and going over to his chum. “Let me see if you got all the books I did.”
Before Dave could prevent it, Dan started a determined over-tossing of the book pile. As he did so, Dan suddenly uncovered a photograph from which a fair, sweet, laughing face gazed up at him.
“Oh, I beg a million pardons, Dave, old boy!” cried Dalzell.
“You needn’t,” came Dave’s frank answer. “I’m proud of that treasure and of all it means to me.”
“And I’m glad for you, David, little giant.”
Their hands met in hearty clasp, and that was all that was said on that subject at the time.
“But, seriously,” Dan grumbled on, after a while, “I’m aghast at what an exacting government expects and demands that we shall know. Just look over the list–mechanical drawing and mechanical processes, analytical geometry, calculus, physics, chemistry, English literature, French and Spanish, integral calculus, spherical trigonometry, stereographic projection and United States Naval history! David, my boy, by the end of this year we’ll know more than college professors do.”
“Aren’t you getting a big head, Danny?” queried Darrin, looking up with a smile.
“I am,” assented Dalzell, “and I admit it. Why, man alive, one has to have a big head here. No small head would contain all that the Academic Board insists on crowding into it.”
By the time that the chums had attended the first section recitations on the following day, their despair was increased.
“Davy, I don’t see how we are ever going to make it, this year,” Dalzell gasped, while they were making ready for supper formation. “We’ll bilge this year without a doubt.”
“There’s only one reason I see for hoping that we can get through the year with fair credit,” murmured Darrin.
“And what’s that?”
“Others have done it, before us, and many more are going to do it this year,” replied Dave slowly, as he laid comb and brush away and drew on his uniform blouse.
“I know men have gotten through the Naval Academy in years gone by,” Dalzell agreed. “But, the first chance that I have, I’m going to look the matter up and see whether the middies of old had any such fearful grind as we have our noses held to.”
“Oh, we’ll do it,” declared Darrin confidently. “I shall, anyway–for I’ve got to!”
As he spoke he was thinking of Belle Meade, and of her prospects in life as well as his own.
As the days went by, however, Dave and Dan became more and more dull of spirits. The grind was a fearful one. A few very bright youngsters went along all right, but to most of the third classmen graduation began to look a thousand years away.
The football squad was out now and training in deadly earnest. There were many big games to be played, but most of all the middies longed to tow West Point’s Army eleven into the port of defeat.
In their first year Dave and Dan had looked forward longingly to joining the gridiron squad. They had even practised somewhat. But now they realized that playing football in the second year at Annapolis must be, for them, merely a foolish dream.
“I’m thankful enough if I can study day and night and keep myself up to 2.5,” confessed Darrin, as he and Dan chatted over their gridiron longings.
Two-and-five tenths is the lowest marking, on a scale of four, that will suffice to keep a midshipman in the Naval Academy.
“I’m not going to reach 2.5 in some studies this month,” groaned Dan. “I know that much by way of advance information. The fates be thanked that we’re allowed until the semi-ans to pick up. But the question is, are we ever going to pick up? As I look through my books it seems to me that every succeeding lesson is twice as hard as the one before it.”
“Other men have gone through, every year.”
“And still other men have been dropped every year,” Dalzell dolefully reminded him.
“We’re among those who are going to stay,” Dave contended stubbornly.
“Then I’m afraid we’ll be among those who are dropped after Christmas and come back, next year, as bilgers,” Dalzell groaned.
“Now, drop that!” commanded Darrin, almost roughly. “Remember one thing, Daniel little lion slayer! My congressman and your senator won’t appoint us again, if we fail now. No talk of that kind, remember. We’ve got to make our standing secure within the next few weeks.”
Before the month was over the football games began in earnest on the athletic field. Darrin and Dalzell, however, missed every game. They were too busy poring over their text-books. Fortunately for them their drills, parades and gym. work furnished them enough exercise.
The end of October found Darrin at or above 2.5 in only three studies. Dan was above 2.5 in two studies–below that mark in all others.
“It’s a pity my father never taught me to swear,” grumbled Dalzell, in the privacy of their room.
“Stow that talk,” ordered Darrin, “and shove off into the deeper waters of greater effort.”
“Greater effort?” demanded Dan, in a rage. “Why I study, now, every possible moment of the time allowed for such foolishness. And we can’t run a light. Right after taps the electric light is turned off at the master switch.”
“We’re wasting ninety seconds of precious time, now, in grumbling,” uttered Dave, seating himself doggedly at his study table.
“Got any money, Darry?” asked Dalzell suddenly.
“Yes; are you broke?”
“I am, and the next time I go into Annapolis I mean to buy some candles.”
“Don’t try that, Danny. Running a light is dangerous, and doubly so with candles. The grease is bound to drip, and to be found in some little corner by one of the discipline officers. It would be no use to study if you are going to get frapped on the pap continuously.”
Immediately after supper both midshipmen forfeited their few minutes of recreation, going at once back to their study tables. There they remained, boning hard until the brief release sounded before taps was due.
Almost at the sound of the release there came a knock at the door. Farley and his roommate, Page, came bounding in.
“I’ve got to say something, or I’ll go daffy,” cried Farley, rubbing his eyes. “Fellows, did you ever hear of such downright abuse as the second year course of studies means?”
“It is tough,” agreed Dave. “But what can we do about it, except fight it out?”
“Can you make head or tail out of calculus?” demanded Farley.
“No,” admitted Darrin, “but I hope to, one of these days.”
Just then Freeman, of the first class, poked his head in, after a soft knock.
“What is this–a despair meeting?” he called cheerily.
“Yes,” groaned Page. “We’re in a blue funk over the way recitations are going.”
“Oh, buck up, kiddies!” called Freeman cheerily, as he crossed the floor. “Youngsters always get in the doldrums at the beginning of the year.”
“You’re a first classman. When you were in the third class did you have all the studies that we have now?”
“Every one of them, sir,” affirmed Midshipman Freeman gravely, though there was a twinkle in his eyes.
“And did you come through the course easily?” asked Page.
“Not easily,” admitted the first classman. “There isn’t anything at Annapolis that is easy, except the dancing. In fact, during the first two months very few of our class came along like anything at all. After that, we began to do better. By the time that semi-ans came around nearly all of us managed to pull through. But what seems to be the worst grind of all–the real blue paint?”
“Calculus!” cried the four youngsters in unison.
“Why, once you begin to see daylight in calculus it’s just as easy as taking a nap,” declared the first classman.
“At present it seems more like suffering from delirium,” sighed Dave.
“What’s the hard one for to-morrow?” asked Freeman.
“Here it is, right here,” continued Dave, opening his text-book. “Here’s the very proposition.”
The others crowded about, nodding.
“I remember that one,” laughed Freeman lightly. “Our class named it ‘sticky fly paper.'”
“It was rightly named,” grumbled Farley.
“None of you four youngsters see through it?” demanded Midshipman Freeman.
“Do you mean to claim, sir, that you ever did?” insisted Dan Dalzell.
“Not only once, but now,” grinned Mr. Freeman. “You haven’t been looking at this torturing proposition from the right angle–that’s all. Now, listen, while I read it.”
“Oh, we all know how it runs, Mr. Freeman,” protested Page.
“Nevertheless, listen, while I read it.”
As the first classman read through the proposition that was torturing them he threw an emphasis upon certain words that opened their eyes better as to the meaning.