“Did they do that,” urged the last speaker, “when they sailed into us as they did?”
“Why did your friends go to the assistance of Mr. Crane?” asked the superintendent.
“Be—because,” stammered the spokesman, “your midshipman had knocked Crane down and was misusing him.”
“Did you, the friends of Mr. Crane, consider it the act of gentlemen for several to rush in and attack one man?”
That left the callers rather breathless.
“Now, as to our other three midshipmen,” pursued the superintendent, “at most they only rushed in to see fair play. They did not make a hostile move until they saw a whole crowd of you attacking one midshipman. Gentlemen, I am quite ready to leave it to a jury of any intelligent citizens as to whether the offending midshipmen or yourselves displayed the more gallantry and honor. For you have all admitted doing something that is not consistent with the highest standards of a gentleman, while our accused midshipmen have no such reproach against them.”
“Then your midshipmen are to get off, and to be encouraged to repeat such conduct?” demanded the spokesman of the Crane party.
“No. On the contrary, they will be punished for whatever breaches of Naval discipline they have committed. Considering what you gentlemen have admitted, however, I do not believe you would have any standing as witnesses before a court-martial. I therefore advise you all to drop your complaint. Yet if you insist on a complaint, then I will see to it that Midshipman Totten is brought to trial.”
Crane and his associates felt, very quickly and keenly, that they would cut but sorry figures in such a trial. They therefore begged to withdraw their former complaint. When they had departed the superintendent smiled at his reflection in the glass opposite.
Before supper all of the midshipmen involved knew their fate. They were restored to full liberty. Darrin, Dalzell and Joyce were again rebuked for having taken such elaborate pains to escape recognizing Totten at the time of the encounter. Beyond the lecture by the commandant of midshipmen, each of the trio was further punished by the imposition of ten demerits.
In Frenching and in taking justice into his own hands Midshipman Totten was held to have erred. However, the nature of his grievance and the fact that he was only a new fourth classman were taken into consideration. For Frenching he was punished with twenty-five demerits; for the assault on a civilian, considering all the circumstances, he was let off with ten additional demerits.
Yet, somehow, all of the midshipmen involved felt their punishment very lightly. They could not escape the conviction that the Naval Academy authorities did not regard them as especially guilty offenders.
“We’ve got you back on the gridiron, at any rate,” exclaimed Hepson exultantly. “We of the football squad wish that we might be permitted to divide your demerits up among ourselves.”