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.
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.
"Now, it works out this way," continued the first classman, bending over the disk and drawing paper and pencil toward him. "In the first place."
Freeman seemed to these youngsters like a born demonstrator. Within five minutes he had made the "sticky fly paper" problem so plain to them all that they glanced from one to another in astonishment.
"Why, it does seem easy," confessed Farley.
"It sounds foolish, now," grinned Darrin. "I'm beginning to feel ashamed of myself."
"Mr. Freeman," protested Page, "you've saved us from suicide, or some other gruesome fate."
"Then I'll drop in once in a while again," promised the first classman.
"But that will take time from your own studies," remonstrated Darrin generously.
"Not in the least. I won't come around before release. By the time a fellow reaches the first class, if he's going to graduate anyway, he doesn't have to study as hard as a youngster does. The man who reaches the first class has had all the habits of true study ground into him."
Darrin, Dalzell, Farley and Page were all in different sections in mathematics. When they recited, next day, it so happened that each was the man to have the "sticky fly paper" problem assigned to him by the instructor. Each of the quartette received a full "4" for the day's marking.
"Did you have any assistance with this problem, Mr. Darrin?" asked Dave's instructor.
"Yes, sir; a member of the first class tried to make it plain to me last night."
"He appears to have succeeded," remarked the instructor dryly.
There was, however, no discredit attached to having received proper assistance before coming into section.
True to his promise Freeman dropped in every fourth or fifth evening, to see if he could be of any help to the four youngsters. Always he found that he could be.
Even when Thanksgiving came, Dave Darrin did not go to Philadelphia, but remained at the Academy, devoting his time to study.
Dan, in sheer desperation, took in the trip to Philadelphia. He hoped to meet Dick Prescott and Greg Holmes, but they did not come down from West Point.
On the first day of December, Dan Dalzell's name was formally reported by the Academic Board in a report to the superintendent which recommended that Midshipman Dalzell be dropped from the rolls for "inaptitude in his studies."
Poor Dan. It was a staggering blow. Yet it struck Dave Darrin just about as hard.
THE FIRST HOP WITH THE HOME GIRLS
That report was allowed to reach Dan's ears on a Friday.
On the evening of the day following there was to be a midshipman hop on the floor of the great gym.
Moreover, it was the very hop that Belle Meade and Laura Bentley had finally selected to attend. Mrs. Meade was coming with the girls as chaperon.
"Oh, but I shall feel fine and light hearted for going to the dance!" muttered Dan miserably. "Facing the kick-off from the Academy, and doing the light hearted and the fantastic toe with the girls."
"I shan't feel a whole lot more merry myself," sighed Dave, as he gazed affectionately, wistfully at his chum. "Danny, this has hit me about as hard as it has you. And it warns me, too, that my turn will probably come next. I don't stand an awful lot higher in my markings than you do."
"Doesn't it feel fine to be a bilger?" gulped Dalzell, staring at the floor.
A "bilger," as has been already explained, is a midshipman who has failed and has been dropped.
"Oh, but you're not a bilger, yet!" cried Darrin, leaping up and resting both hands on his chum's shoulder.
"What's the odds?" demanded Dan grimly. "I shall be, after I've been before the Board next Monday forenoon at ten o'clock."
"Nonsense! Not if you make a good fight!"
"Fight—nothing!" sighed Dan wearily. "In a fight there's some one else that you can hit back at. But I won't have a blessed soul to fight. I'm up against a gang who are all referees, and all down on me at the outset."
"Nonsense," combatted Dave. "You——"
"Oh, that's all right, David, little giant," returned Dalzell with an attempt at cheeriness. "You mean well, but a fellow isn't reported deficient unless he's so far behind that the Board has his case settled in advance. From all I can hear it isn't once in a camel's age that a fellow so reported, and ordered before the Board, gets off with anything less than a hard, wet bilge. What I'm thinking of now is, what am I going to pick up as a career when I go home from here as a failure."
If it hadn't been for the pride he felt in still having the uniform on, Dalzell might not have been able to check the tears that tried to flow.
"Come on," commanded Dave, leaping up, "we'll run up to the deck above, and see if we can't find Mr. Freeman in."
"What good will that do?" demanded Dan. "Freeman is a first classman, but he hasn't any particular drag with the Board."
"It won't do any harm, anyway, for us to have a talk with an older classman," argued Dave. "Button your blouse, straighten your hair and come along."
"So it's as bad as that, is it!" asked Freeman sympathetically, after his cheery "come in" had admitted the unhappy youngsters.
"Yes," replied Dave incisively. "Now, the question is, what can be done about it?"
"I wish you had asked me an easier one," sighed the first classman. "You're mighty well liked, all through the Academy, Dalzell, and every one of us will hate to see you go."
"But what can be done to ward off that fate?" insisted Darrin as impatiently as a third classman might speak to a venerable first classman.
"Well, now, I want to think over that," confessed Freeman frankly. "Of course, Dalzell's record, this term, is in black and white, and can't be gainsaid. It's just possible our young friend can put up some line of talk that will extend his time here, and perhaps enable him to pull through. It's a mighty important question, so I'll tell you what we'll do. Of course, the hop comes on for to-morrow night. Let me have until Sunday evening. Meanwhile I'll talk with some of the other fellows of my class. You both come in here Sunday evening, and I'll have the answer for you—if there's any possible way of finding one."
With that the chums had to be content. Expressing their gratitude to this friendly first classman, they withdrew.
That Saturday forenoon Dan did considerably better with the two recitations that he had in hand.
"I got easier questions than usual, I guess," he said to Dave, with a mournful smile.
After Saturday dinner, Dave and Dan, having secured permission to visit in Annapolis, steered their course through the gate, straight up Maryland Avenue, through State Circle and around into Main Street, to the Maryland House.
At the desk they sent up their cards to Mrs. Meade, then stepped into the parlor.
Barely two minutes had passed when Belle and Laura flew downstairs.
"Mother says she'll be down as soon as she fancies you'll care about seeing her," laughed Belle.
"And how are you getting on in your classes?" asked Laura Bentley, glancing straight at unhappy Dan.
Both midshipmen had agreed not to mention a word of Dan's heartache to either of the girls.
Dan gulped hard, though he managed to conceal the fact.
Darrin, however, was ready with the answer:
"Oh, we're having pretty rough sailing, but we're both still in our class."
Which statement was wholly truthful.
"Up at West Point," Laura continued, "Dick told us that the first two years were the hardest for a man to keep his place. I fancy it's just about the same here, isn't it?"
"Just about," Dave nodded. "The first two years are hardest because it takes all that time for a fellow to get himself keyed up to the gait of study that is required in the government academies. But won't you let us talk about something that's really pleasant, girls?" Dave asked, with his charming smile. "Suppose we talk about yourselves. My, but you girls are good to look at!"
After that, the conversation was shifted to lighter subjects.
Even Dan, in the joy of meeting two girl friends from home, began to be less conscious of his load of misery.
Presently Mrs. Meade came down. She chatted with the two fine-looking young midshipmen for a few moments. Then Dave proposed:
"Wouldn't you like us to escort you through the Academy grounds, so that you can get a good idea of the place in daylight?"
"We've been waiting only for you to invite us," rejoined Belle.
For the next two hours the time was passed pleasantly.
But Belle, behind all her light chatter, was unusually keen and observing.
"Is anything wrong with either of you?" she asked Dave suddenly, when this pair were out of easy hearing of the others.
"Why do you ask that?" inquired Dave, looking at her in his direct fashion.
"Why, I may be unnecessarily sensitive, but I can't help feeling that some sort of disaster is hanging over either you or Dan."
"I hope not," replied Darrin evasively.
"Dave, that isn't a direct answer," warned Belle, raising her eyebrows. "Do you consider me entitled to one?"
"Yes. What's the question?"
"Are you in any trouble here?"
"No, I'm thankful to say."
"Then is Dan!"
"Belle, I'd rather not answer that."
"Well, because, if he is, I'd rather not discuss it."
"Has Dan been caught in any scrape?"
"No. His conduct record is fine."
"Then it must be failure in his studies."
Dave did not answer.
"Why don't you tell me?" insisted Belle.
"If anything were in the wind, Belle, we'd rather not tell you and spoil your visit. And don't ask Dan anything about it."
"I think I know enough," went on Belle thoughtfully and sympathetically. "Poor Dan! He's one of the finest of fellows."
"There are no better made," retorted Dave promptly.
"If anything happens to Dan here, dear, I know you will feel just as unhappy about it as if it happened to yourself."
"Mighty close to it," nodded Darrin. "But it would be a double heartbreak for me, if I had to leave."
"On account of the future I've planned for you, Belle."
"Oh, you silly boy, then!" Belle answered, smiling into his eyes. "I believe I have half committed myself to the idea of marrying you when you've made your place in life. But it was Dave Darrin to whom I gave that half promise—not a uniform of any sort. Dave, if anything ever happens that you have to quit here, don't imagine that it's going to make a particle of difference in our understanding."
"You're the real kind of sweetheart, Belle!" murmured Dave, gazing admiringly at her flushed face.
"Did you ever suspect that I wasn't?" asked Miss Meade demurely.
"Never!" declared Midshipman Darrin devoutly. "Nevertheless, it's fine to be reassured once in a while."
"What a great fellow Dan is!" exclaimed Belle a few minutes later. "See how gayly he is chatting with Laura. I don't believe Laura guesses for a moment that Dan Dalzell is just as game a fellow as the Spartan boy of olden times."
A DISAGREEABLE FIRST CLASSMAN
The hop that night was one of the happiest occasions Dave had ever known, yet it was destined to result in trouble for him.
Midshipman Treadwell, of the first class, caught sight of Belle as she entered the gym at Dave Darrin's side.
With Treadwell it happened to be one of those violent though unusually silly affairs known as "love at first sight."
As for Belle, she was not likely to have eyes for anyone in particular, save Dave.
Treadwell, who had come alone, and who was not to be overburdened with dances, went after Dave as soon as that youngster left Belle for the first time.
"Mighty sweet looking girl you have with you, Darry," observed the first classman, though he took pains not to betray too much enthusiasm.
"Right!" nodded Dave.
"You'll present me, won't you?"
"Assuredly, as soon as I come back. I have a little commission to attend to."
"And you might be extremely kind, Darry, and write me down for a couple of numbers on Miss——"
"Miss Meade is the young lady's name."
"Then delight me by writing down a couple of reservations for me on Miss Meade's card."
Darrin's face clouded slightly.
"I'd like to, Treadwell, but the card is pretty crowded, and some other fellows—"
"One dance, anyway, then."
"I will, then, if there's a space to be left, and if Miss Meade is agreeable," promised Dave, as he hurried away.
Two minutes later, when he returned, looking very handsome, indeed, in his short-waisted, gold-laced dress coat, Dave felt his arm touched.
"I'm waiting for you to keep your engagement with me," Midshipman Treadwell murmured.
"Come along; I shall be delighted to present you to Miss Meade."
Since every midshipman is granted to be a gentleman, midshipman etiquette does not require that the lady be consulted about the introduction.
"Miss Meade," began Dave, bowing before his sweetheart, "I wish to present Mr. Treadwell"
Belle's greeting was easy. Treadwell, gazing intensely into her eyes, exchanged a few commonplaces. Belle, entirely at her ease, did not appear to be affected by the battery of Mr. Treadwell's gaze. Then good breeding required that the first classman make another bow and stroll away.
As he left, Treadwell murmured in Dare's ear:
"Don't forget that dance, Darry! Two if there is any show."
Midshipman Darrin nodded slightly. As he turned to Belle, that young lady demanded lightly:
"Is that pirate one of your friends, Dave?"
"Not more so than any other comrades in the brigade," Darrin answered. "Why?"
"Nothing, only I saw you two speaking together a little while ago——"
"That was when he was asking me to present him."
"Then, after you left him," continued Belle, in a low voice, "Mr. Treadwell scowled after you as though he could have demolished you."
"Why, I've no doubt Mr. Treadwell is very jealous of me," laughed Damn happily. "Why shouldn't he be? By the way, will you let me see your dance card? Mr. Treadwell asked me to write his name down for one or two dances."
"Please don't," begged Belle suddenly, gripping her dance card tightly. "I hope you don't mind, Dave," she added in a whisper, "but I've taken just a shadow of a dislike to Mr. Treadwell, after the way that he scowled after you. I—I really don't want to dance with him."
Dave could only bow, which he did. Then other midshipmen were presented. Belle's card was quickly filled, without the appearance of Midshipman Treadwell's name on it.
The orchestra struck up. Dave danced the first two numbers with Belle, moving through a dream of happiness as he felt her waist against his arm, one of her hands resting on his shoulder.
The second dance was a repetition of Dave's pleasure. Then Dave and Dan exchanged partners for two more dances.
After their first dance, a waltz, Dave led Laura to a seat.
"Will you get me a glass of water, Dave?" Laura asked, fanning herself.
As Dave hastened away he felt, once more, a light, detaining touch.
"Darry, did you save those two dances for me with Miss Meade?" asked Treadwell.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Dave replied. "But there had been many other applicants. By the time that Miss Meade's card was filled there were many disappointed ones."
"And I'm one of them?" demanded Mr. Treadwell.
"Very sorry," replied Darrin regretfully, "but you were one of the left-over ones."
"Very good, sir," replied Treadwell coldly, and moved away.
"Now, I'll wager anything that Treadwell is sore with me," murmured Dave to himself. "However, Belle is the one to be pleased."
It was a particularly gay and pleasant hop. When it was over Dave and Dan escorted the girls and Mrs. Meade back to the hotel. The little room in Bancroft Hall seemed especially small and dingy to the returning midshipmen.
Especially was Dan Dalzell in the blues. Though he had been outwardly gay with the girls, he now suffered a re-action. Dave, too, shivered for his friend.
Mrs. Meade and the girls returned by an early morning train, so the two chums did not see the girls again during that visit.
On Sunday, Dave went at his books with a dogged air, after morning chapel and dinner.
"I suppose this is the last day of study for me here," grimaced Dan, "so I mean to make the most of the pleasure."
"Nonsense," retorted Darrin heartily; "you'll finish out this year, and then have two more solid years of study here ahead of you."
"Cut it!" begged Dan dolefully. "Don't try to jolly me along like that."
"You're down in the dumps, just now, Danny boy," smiled Darrin wistfully. "Just bombard the Board with rapid-fire talk to-morrow, and you'll pull through all right."
Dan sighed, then went on with his half-hearted study.
Later in the afternoon Dave, feeling the need of fresh air, closed his books.
"Come for a walk, Danny boy?"
"Don't dare to," replied Dalzell morosely.
So, though Darrin went out, he resolved not to remain long away from his moody chum.
Outside, on one of the cement walks, Dave turned toward Flirtation Walk. It seemed the best surrounding in which to think of Belle.
"Mr. Darrin!" called a voice.
Dave turned, to behold Mr. Treadwell coming at a fast stride with a scowl on his face.
"That was a dirty trick you played me last night, Mr. Darrin!" cried the first classman angrily.
"What?" gasped Dave, astonished, for this was not in line with the usual conversation of midshipmen.
"You know well enough what I mean," cried Treadwell angrily. "You spiked my only chance to dance with Miss Meade."
"You're wrong there," retorted Dave coldly and truthfully "I didn't."
"Then how did it happen?"
"I can't discuss that with you," Darrin rejoined. "I didn't make any effort, though, to spoil your chance of a dance with the young lady."
"Mr. Darrin, I don't choose to believe you, sir!"
Dave's face went crimson, then pale.
"Do you realize what you're saying, Mr. Treadwell?"
"Are you trying to pick trouble with me!" demanded Dave, his eyes flashing with spirit.
"I repeat that I don't choose to believe your explanation, sir."
"Then you pass me the lie?"
"As you prefer to consider it," jeered the first classman.
"Oh, very good, then, Mr. Treadwell," retorted Dave, eyeing the first classman and sizing him up.
Treadwell was one of the biggest men, physically, in the brigade. He was also one of the noted fighters of his class. Beside Treadwell, Midshipman Darrin did not size up at all advantageously.
"If you do not retract what you just said," pursued Dave Darrin, growing cooler now that he realized the deliberate nature of the affront that had been put upon him, "I shall have no choice but to send my friends to you."
"Delighted to see them, at any time," replied the first classman, turning disdainfully upon his heel and strolling away.
"Now, why on earth does that fellow deliberately pick a fight with me?" wondered Darrin, as he strolled along by himself. "Treadwell can thump me. He can knock me clean down the Bay and into the Atlantic Ocean, but what credit is there in it for a first classman to thrash a youngster?"
It was too big a puzzle. After thinking it over for some time Dave turned and strolled back to Bancroft Hall.
"You didn't stay out long!" remarked Dan, looking up with a weary smile as his chum re-entered their room.
"No," admitted Dave. "There wasn't much fun in being out alone."
With a sigh, Dan turned back to his book, while Dave seated himself at his own study table, in a brown daze.
Things were happening fast—Dan's impending "bilge" from the Naval Academy, and his own coming fight with the first classman who would be sure to make it a "blood fight"!
HOW DAN FACED THE BOARD
"We trust, Mr. Dalzell, that you can make some statement or explanation that will show that we shall be justified in retaining you as a midshipman in the Naval Academy."
It was the superintendent of the United States Naval Academy who was speaking.
Dan's hour of great ordeal had come upon him. That young midshipman found himself in the Board Room, facing the entire Academic Board, trying to remember what Freeman had told him the night before.
The time was 10.30 a.m. on that fateful Monday.
Midshipman Dalzell appeared to be collected, but he was also very certainly white-faced.
Many a young man, doomed to be sent forth from a Naval career, back into the busy, unheeding world, had faced this Board in times past. So it was hardly to be expected that Dan would inspire any unusual interest in the members of the Board.
Dan swallowed at something hard in his throat, then opened his lips to speak.
"I am aware, sir, and gentlemen, that I am at present sufficiently deficient in my studies to warrant my being dropped," Dan began rather slowly. "Yet I would call attention to the fact that I was nearly as badly off, in the matter of markings, at this time last year. It is also a matter of record that I pulled myself together, later on, and contrived to get through the first year with a considerable margin of credits to spare. If I am permitted to finish the present term here I believe I can almost positively promise that I will round out this year with as good a showing as I did last year."
"You have thought the matter carefully out in making this statement, have you, Mr. Dalzell?" asked the superintendent.
"I have, sir."
"Have you any explanation to offer for falling below the standards so far this year, Mr. Dalzell?"
"I believe, sir, that I make a much slower start, with new studies, than most of my classmates," Dan continued, speaking more rapidly now, but in a most respectful manner. "Once I begin to catch the full drift of new studies I believe that I will overtake some of my classmates who showed a keener comprehension at the first. I think, sir, and gentlemen, that my record, as contrasted with the records of some of my classmates who achieved about the same standing I did for last year will bear my statement out."
The superintendent turned to a printed pamphlet in which were set forth the records of the midshipmen for the year before.
"Mr. Dalzell," asked another member of the Board, "do you feel that you are really suited for the life of the Navy? Is it your highest ambition to become an officer of the Navy?"
"It's my only ambition, sir, in the way of a career," Dan answered solemnly. "As to my being suited for the Navy, sir, I can't make a good answer to that. But I most earnestly hope that I shall have an opportunity, for the present, to try to keep myself in the service."
"And you feel convinced that you need only to be carried for the balance of the term to enable you to make good, and to justify any action that we may take looking to that end?" asked another member of the Board.
"That is my firm conviction, sir."
The superintendent, who had been silently examining and marking some statements in the pamphlet, now passed it to the nearest member of the Board, who, after a glance or two, passed the pamphlet on to another member.
Silence fell upon the room while Dan's printed record was being read.
"Have you anything else that you wish to say, Mr. Dalzell?" asked the superintendent at last.
"Only this, sir and gentlemen," replied Dan promptly. "If I am permitted to go on with the brigade, I promise, as far as any human being may promise, that I will not only be found to have passed at the end of this term, but that I will also have a higher marking after the annual examinations than after the semi-annuals."
These last few words Dan spoke with his whole soul thrown into the words. How he longed to remain in the Navy, now that he stood at the threshold of the life, uncertain whether he was about to be kicked across it into the outer world!
After glancing around the table, the superintendent turned once more to the young man.
"That will be all, at present, Mr. Dalzell."
Saluting briskly, crisply, Dan wheeled about, marching from the room.
He was in time to make a section recitation before dinner.
"How did you come out, Danny boy?" anxiously inquired Dave Darrin as the two, in their room, hastily prepared to answer the coming call for dinner formation.
"I wish I knew," replied Dalzell wistfully. "I said all that I could say without being everlastingly fresh."
After the brigade had been formed for dinner, and the brigade adjutant had reported the fact, the command was given:
"Publish the orders!"
This the brigade adjutant did rapidly, and in perfunctory tones.
Dalzell jumped, however, when he heard his own name pronounced. He strained his ears as the brigade adjutant read:
"In the matter of Daniel Dalzell, summoned before the Academic Board to determine his fitness and aptitude for continuing in the brigade, the Board has granted Midshipman Dalzell's urgent request that he be continued as a midshipman for the present."
There was a great lump, instantly, in Dan's throat. It was a reprieve, a chance for official life—but that was all.
"I'll make good—I'll make good!" he told himself, with a violent gulp.
The orders were ringing out sharply now. The midshipmen were being marched in to dinner.
Hardly a word did Dalzell speak as he ate. As for Dave Darrin, he was too happy over his chum's respite to want to talk.
Yet, when they strolled together in the open air during the brief recreation period following the meal, Dalzell suddenly asked:
"Dave when do you fight with Treadwell?"
"To-night, I hope," replied Darrin.
"Oh, then I must get busy!"
"Why, I'm to represent you, Darry. Who are Treadwell's—"
"Danny boy, don't make a fuss about it," replied Dave quietly, "but just for this once you are not to be my second."
"Danny boy, you have just gotten by the Board by a hair's breadth. What kind of an act of gratitude would it be for you to make your first act a breach of discipline? For a fight, though often necessary here, is in defiance of the regulations."
"But Dave, I've never been out of your fights!"
"You will be this time, Danny. Don't worry about it, either. Farley and Page are going to stand by me. In fact, I think that even now they are talking with Treadwell's friends."
"You're wrong," murmured Dalzell, looking very solemn. "Here come Farley and Page right now."
In another moment the seconds had reached Darrin and his chum.
"To-night?" asked Dave Quietly.
"Yes," nodded Page.
"Just after recall."
"Good," murmured Darrin. "You two come for me, and I'll be ready. And I thank both of you fellows for taking up the matter for me."
"We'll be mighty glad to be there, Darry," grinned Farley, "for we look to see you finish off that first classman."
"Maybe," smiled Dave quietly. "I'll do all I can, anyway."
"And to think," almost moaned Dan Dalzell, "that you're to be in a scrap, David, little giant, and I'm not to be there to see!"
"There'll be other fights, I'm afraid," sighed Darry. "I seem destined to displease quite a few of the fellows here at Annapolis."
Dan tried to study, that night, after Darrin had left the room in the company of his seconds. Certainly Dan, in the light of his promise made to the Board that morning, had need to study. Yet he found it woefully hard to settle his mind on mathematics while Dave was fighting the fight of his Naval Academy career.
"Oh, well," muttered Dan, picking up a pencil for the third time, "Dave and I each have our own styles of fights, just now. Here goes for a knockout blow at math!"
LOSING THE TIME-KEEPER'S COUNT
Conners and Brayton were Treadwell's seconds.
Since it is not considered fair to have the referee or time-keeper from either class represented in a fight, Edgerton and Wheeler, of the second class, were referee and time-keeper respectively.
All of the young men were early at the usual fighting ground. The fall air was cool and crisp, but it was not yet considered cold enough to justify the extra risk of holding a fight in-doors.
Dave was quickly stripped and made ready by his seconds. His well-developed chest bespoke fine powers in the way of "wind" and endurance. His smooth, hard, trim muscles stood out distinctly.
Treadwell took more time in getting himself ready for the ring. When at last, however, the first classman stood bared to the waist, he looked like a giant beside Dave Darrin.
"It looks like a shame to take the money, Tread," murmured referee Edgerton.
"I don't want to pound the youngster hard," explained Midshipman Treadwell, in an undertone. "Yet I've got to teach him both to respect my class and myself."
On this point, as an official of the fight, Referee Edgerton did not feel called upon to express an opinion.
Farley, at his first glimpse of the waiting first classman, felt a chill of coming disaster.
"Page," he growled, "that huge top-classman makes our Darry look like a creeping infant."
"Darry will take care of himself," retorted Midshipman Page in an undertone.
"Do you believe it?"
"I surely do."
"But Treadwell looks a whole lot more vast now that he's stripped."
"Darry is much smaller, I know; But Darrin is one of those rare fellows who don't know what it means to be whipped. He can't be put out of business by anything smaller than a twelve-inch gun!"
"I hope you're right," sighed Farley.
Dave, in the meantime, to keep himself from being chilled by the frosty air, was running lightly about, swinging his arms.
"Are you both ready, gentlemen?" inquired Midshipman Edgerton, while Time-keeper Wheeler drew out his stop watch.
Both stepped to toe the scratch.
"Yes." nodded Dave.
"Ready!" rumbled Treadwell.
The referee briefly made the usual announcement about it being a fight to the finish, with two-minute rounds and two minutes between rounds.
As Treadwell leaped forward, both fists in battery, Dave took a swift, nimble sidestep. He felt that he had to study this big fellow carefully before doing more than keep on the defensive.
Now footwork was one of the fighting tricks for which Darry was famous. Yet he had too much courage to rely wholly upon it.
Five times Treadwell swung at his smaller opponent, but each time Dave was somewhere else.
Despite his greater size, Treadwell was himself nimble and an adept at footwork.
Finding it hard, however, to get about as quickly as his smaller opponent, the first classman soon went in for close, in-body fighting, following Dave, half-cornering him, and forcing him to stand and take it.
Two or three body blows Dave succeeded in parrying so that they glanced, doing him little harm.
Then there came an almost crunching sound. Treadwell's right fist had landed, almost dazing the youngster with its weight against his nose.
There was a swift, free rush of the red. Darrin had yielded up "first blood" in the fight.
"I've got to dodge more, and not let myself be cornered," Darrin told himself, keeping his fists busy in warding off blows.
Then, of a sudden, Dave turned on the aggressive. He struck fast and furiously, but Treadwell, with a grin, beat down his attack, then soon landed a swinging hook on Dave's neck that sent him spinning briefly.
"He expects to finish this fight for his own amusement," flashed angrily through Darrin's mind. "I'll get in something that hurts before I toss the sponge."
Two minutes were up. To Dave it seemed more like half an hour.
"Steady, now!" murmured Page, in his principal's ear, as the two seconds leaped at the task of rubbing down their men. "Unless you let yourself get rattled, Darry, that big fellow isn't going to get you. Whenever you're on the defensive, and being crowded hard, change like lightning and drive in for the top classer's solar plexus."
"I tried that three times in this last round," murmured Dave. "But the fellow is too big and powerful for me. He simply pounds me down when I go for him."
"Work for more strategy," whispered Page, as he held a sponge to Dave's battered nose, while Farley rubbed the muscles of his right arm.
"I haven't given up the fight," muttered Dave, "But, of course, I've known from the start that Treadwell is a pretty big fighter for one of my weight."
"Oh, you'll get him yet," spoke Page confidently.
The fighters were being called for the second round.
In this Dave received considerable punishment, though he landed three or four times on Treadwell's body.
Then twice in succession the champion of the third class was knocked down.
Neither, however, was a knockout blow.
Dave took plenty of time, within his rights, about leaping to his feet, and in each instance got away from Treadwell's leaping assault.
Just after the second knock-down, time was called for the end of the round.
"You'll get him yet, Darry," was Page's prediction, but he did not speak as hopefully as before.
Farley, too, was full of loyalty for his friend and fellow-classman, but he did not allow this to blind his judgment. Farley's opinion was that Dave was done for, unless he could land some lucky fluke in a knockout blow.
"Go right in and land that youngster," Treadwell's own seconds were advising him. "Don't let him have the satisfaction of standing up to you for three whole rounds or more."
"Do you think that little teaser is as easy as he looks?" growled Treadwell.
"Oh, Darrin is all right at his own weight," admitted Midshipman Conners. "But he has no business with you, Tread. You're quick enough, too, when you exert yourself. So jump right in and finish it before this round is over."
"I'll try it, then," nodded Treadwell.
Though he had not the slightest notion that he was to be defeated, this big top classman was learning a new respect for Darrin's prowess. He could thrash Dave, of course, but Treadwell did not expect to do it easily.
For the first twenty seconds of the third round the two men sparred cautiously. Dave had no relish for standing the full force of those sledge-hammer blows, while Treadwell knew that he must look out for the unexpected from his still nimble opponent.
"Lie down when you've had enough," jeered Treadwell, as he landed a jolt on one of the youngster's shoulders and sent him reeling slightly.
Dave, however, used his feet well enough to get away from the follow-up.
"Are you getting tired?" Darrin shot back at his opponent.
"Silence, both of you," commanded Referee Edgerton. "Do all your talking with your fists!"
Just then Treadwell saw an opening, and followed the referee's advice by aiming a blow at Dave's left jaw. It landed just back of the ear, instead, yet with such force that Dave sank dizzily to the ground, while Treadwell drew back from the intended follow-up.
Farley and Page looked on anxiously from their corner. Midshipman Wheeler, scanning his watch, was counting off the seconds.
"—five, six, seven, eight, nine—ten!"
At the sound of eight Dave Darrin had made a strenuous effort to rise.
Yet he had swayed, fallen back slightly, then forced himself with a rush to his feet.
But Midshipman Treadwell drew back, both fists hanging at his sides, for the "ten" had been spoken, and Dave Darrin had lost the count.