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.