Considerable excitement was caused by the sudden and unexpected boarding of the ship by the two young officers, and great curiosity was expressed as to how they had got into such a position. As Hawtry said, however, that they had been twenty-four hours without food, they were at once taken to the saloon, where breakfast was on the point of being served. No questions were put to them until they had satisfied their hunger; then they told the story of their adventures, which caused quite an excitement among the officers.
The “Ripon” had sailed from Southampton docks on the 23d of February, in company with the “Manilla” and “Orinoco.”
The next four days passed pleasantly, the boys being made a good deal of by the officers of the Coldstream Guards, but they were not sorry when, on Saturday evening, the lights of Malta were seen, and soon after midnight they dropped anchor in Valetta Harbor. The next morning they were delighted at seeing the “Falcon” lying a few cables’ length distant, and, bidding good-bye to their new friends, they hailed a shore boat, and were soon alongside the “Falcon.” The first lieutenant was on deck.
“Young gentlemen,” he said sternly, “you have committed a very serious offence, and are liable to be tried by court-martial for having deserted your ship. I expected better things of you both. Go below immediately, and consider yourselves under arrest. I shall report your coming on board to the captain.”
The boys saluted without a word, and went below to the midshipmen’s berth where the tale of their adventures was soon related to their comrades, who were at first inclined to believe that the whole story was an invention got up to screen themselves for breaking leave. However, they soon saw that the boys were in earnest, and the truth of the story as to their being picked up at sea by the “Ripon” could, of course, at once be tested.
Presently they were summoned to the captain’s cabin, and there Hawtry again recited the story.
The captain told them that they had erred greatly in going away in such a reckless manner, without taking proper precautions to secure their return before gun-fire. But he said they had already been punished so severely for their thoughtlessness that he should overlook the offence, and that he complimented them on the courage and coolness they had displayed in extricating themselves from the dangerous position into which they had fallen.
He then invited them to breakfast, at which meal the first lieutenant was also present, and here they gave much fuller details of their escape than Hawtry had done in his first narration of it.
At ten o’clock, when the boys were below, they heard a loud cheering, and found that the “Orinoco,” with the Grenadiers, had just come into harbor, and were being cheered by their comrades on board the “Ripon” and by the blue jackets of the men-of-war.
All through the day the harbor was alive with boats. Before nightfall the Coldstreams were all ashore, and by Monday evening the last of the Grenadiers had also disembarked.