“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.