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.”