It was so in the cases of the five remaining midshipmen under charges, though still Mr. Clairy stuck to the correctness of the report.
Action in all of the eight cases was suspended by the commandant, who went post-haste to the superintendent. That latter official, experienced as he was in the ways of midshipmen, could offer no solution of the mystery.
“You see, my dear Graves,” explained the superintendent, “it is the rule of custom here, and a safe rule at that, to accept the word of a midshipman as being his best recollection or knowledge of the truth of any statement that he makes. In that case, we would seem to be bound to accept the statements of Mr. Clairy.”
On the other hand, we are faced with the fact that we must accept the statements made by Mr. Darrin, Mr. Page, Mr. Dalzell, Mr. Fenwick and others. We are on the horns of a dilemma, though I doubt not that we shall find a way out of it.”
“There appears, sir, to be only the statement of one midshipman against the word of eight midshipmen,” suggested the commandant.
“Not exactly that,” replied the superintendent. “The fact is that Mr. Clairy’s charges do not concern the eight midshipmen collectively, but individually. Had Mr. Clairy charged all eight of the midshipmen of an offense committed at the same time and together, and had the eight midshipmen all denied it, then we should be reluctantly compelled to admit the probability that Mr. Clairy had been lying. But his charges relate to eight different delinquencies, and not one of the eight accused midshipmen is in a position to act as witness for any of the other accused men.”
“Then what are we going to do, sir?”
“I will admit that I do not yet know,” replied the superintendent. “Some method of getting at the truth in the matter is likely to occur to us later on. In the meantime, Graves, you will not publish any punishments for the reported delinquencies.”
“Very good, sir,” nodded the commandant.
“Keep your wits at work for a solution of the mystery, Graves.”
“I will, sir.”
“And I will give the matter all the attention that I can,” was the superintendent’s last word.
If anger had been at the boiling point before, the situation was even worse now.
Page and Fenwick openly challenged Clairy to fight. He replied, in each case, with a cool, smiling refusal.
“We’ve got to hold that class meeting!” growled Farley.
“Why?” inquired Dave. “The class can’t do anything more to Clairy than has already been done. His refusals to fight will send him to Coventry as securely as could action by all four of the classes. No fellow here can refuse to fight, unless he couples with his refusal an offer to submit the case to his own class for action. No one, henceforth, will have a word to say to Clairy.”
“Perhaps not; but I still insist that the class meeting ought to be called.”