“If the outlook is as black as it appears, gentlemen,” spoke Jack Benson from behind their backs, “I’m extremely sorry that such a disaster should have happened when we had six such promising young Naval officers aboard.”
“Oh, hang us and our loss!” exploded Dave Darrin forgetting that he was addressing an officer. “I guess the country won’t miss us so very much. But it surely will be a blow to the United States if the Navy’s three best submarine experts have to be lost to the country to satisfy a discharged enlisted man’s spite.”
Eph Somers had come down from the tower. He, too, looked extremely grave, though he showed no demoralizing signs of fear.
As for the six midshipmen, they were brave. Not a doubt but that every one of them showed all necessary grit in the face of this fearful disaster. Yet they could not conceal the pallor in their faces, nor could they hide the fact that their voices shook a little when they spoke.
“Make a thorough search, Mr. Hastings,” directed Lieutenant Jack Benson, in a tone as even as though he were discussing the weather. “It’s barely possible that the duplicate plates have been only mislaid—–that they’re in another drawer.”
Hal Hastings turned with one of his quiet smiles. He knew that the system in his beloved engine room was so exact that nothing there was ever misplaced.
“I’m looking, sir,” Hastings answered, as he opened other drawers in turn, and explored them. “But I’m not at all hopeful of finding the duplicate plates. This damaged one had been filed thinner, which shows that it was done by design. The man who would do that trick purposely wouldn’t leave any duplicate plates behind.”
The four enlisted men and the cook had gathered behind their officers.
“Morton—–the hound! This is his trick!” growled Seaman Kellogg hoarsely. “Many a time I’ve heard him brag that he’d get even for the punishments that were put upon him. And now he has gone and done it—–the worse than cur!”
“No; there are no duplicate parts here,” announced Ensign Hastings at last.
“See if you can’t fit on the old, worn one,” proposed Lieutenant Jack.
“No such luck!” murmured Hal Hastings. “Morton was too good a mechanic not to know bow to do his trick! He hasn’t left us a single chance for our lives!”
None the less Hal patiently tried to fit the plate back and make the motor work, Lieutenant Jack, in the meantime, standing by the board with the wrench in hand. In the next ten minutes several efforts were made to start the motor, but all of them failed.
“And all for want of a bit of copper of a certain size, shape and thickness,” sighed Midshipman Dan Dalzell.
“It does seem silly, doesn’t it,” replied Lieutenant Jack with a wan smile.
“At least,” murmured Midshipman Wolgast, “we shall have a chance to show that we know how to die like men of the Navy.”