While Darrin watched Farley and three others clambering aboard the rescuing boat, the young crew captain trod water, supporting Page at the same time.
Then Page opened his eyes, as though returning from a faint, rather than reviving from a partial drowning.
“Hold me tight!” gasped Page, almost in a whisper. “I’m a fearfully poor swimmer.”
“I know,” nodded Dave, “but I’ve got you, and I never let go of a good thing.”
Darrin’s heart throbbed gratefully. All of the boat crew were accounted for; not a man of his command lost.
Further off he could see Mr. Salisbury and the engineer of the foundered power boat, each held up by a life-preserve.
But, though all of the wrecked middies were afloat, they were as yet by no means safe. Some were so helpless that every man who could keep himself afloat and help another was thus engaged.
Dave, after his strong exertions, found himself rapidly “playing out.” If help did not soon reach him he felt that he would be exhausted.
“Can’t you help yourself a little more, Mr. Page?” he asked.
Unnoticed by Darrin, Midshipman Page had been slowly relapsing into unconsciousness. In the collision Page had been hit glancingly on the head by the gaff of the falling mainsail.
Page heard Dave’s query with a muddled mind. All he grasped was that Darrin was doubtful of his ability to keep them both up.
In an agony of unreasoning, stupefied dread, Midshipman Page swiftly wound both arms around Dave Darrin.
“Here!” commanded the young captain the crew. “Don’t do that!”
But Page either did not hear or did not heed. His arms clung more desperately around Dave, binding one of the latter’s arms to his body.
“He’ll drown both of us!” was the thought that flashed instantly through Midshipman Darrin’s mind.
There was no time to think of more. Before he realized that the thing was happening Darrin felt the waters close over his head.
Both midshipmen were going down. While Darrin’s mind was fully alive to the situation Page, a gallant fellow at heart, and thoroughly brave, was now unwittingly carrying his comrade down with him to death.
Nor, in the first moments, did any of the other midshipmen note the tragic happening.
It was not long, however, before Dan Dalzell’s agonized query shot over the waters:
“Where’s grand old Darrin?”
Dan groaned with his helplessness. For Dan was, at that instant, holding up one of the poor swimmers, to leave whom would be to abandon him to death.
OFFICIAL AND OTHER REPORT
When under the water, and in imminent danger of drowning, seconds count as hours.
If they perished, now, Page would be spared the deep horror of it all, for his mind was already clouded again through his recent injuries.