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.