When four bells struck, the professors went down to their evening meal, as usual, and the boatswain piped the port watch to supper, the starboard watch having taken theirs at three bells, or half past five. Wilton gave a low whistle, when Shuffles, officer of the deck, was abaft the mizzenmast, with his back to the runaways who had gathered in the waist, and were waiting for the signal.
“Be lively, fellows,” said the leader of the enterprise, as he sprang over the rail, and ran out on the boom, followed by Monroe.
The others, in the order in which they had been instructed, did the same. About half of them were on the boom, when the movement was reported to the officer of the deck by the midshipman on duty in the waist. Shuffles rushed forward, now understanding, for the first time, the intentions of Wilton; and true to the inspiration of fidelity, he set about defeating the object of “our fellows.”
The studding-sail boom, to which the boats were fastened, was supported by a topping-lift from above, and kept in position, at right angles with the side of the ship, by guys extending forward and aft.
“Stand by that fore guy!” shouted Shuffles, as he sprang upon the rail. “Cast off!”
“Lively, fellows!” said Wilton, when he saw that the third lieutenant intended to swing in the boom to the ship’s side.
“Stand by the after guy of the studding-sail boom!” continued Shuffles, with becoming energy.
Both his orders were promptly obeyed; but seeing that his movement would be too late, he rushed to the topping-lift, and cast it off, causing the swinging boom to drop into the water, just as the last boy was about to slide down into the professors’ boat. Of course the luckless fellow went into the water; but he was promptly picked up by his companions in mischief.
“If I’m caught, Bob Shuffles, you look out for breakers!” cried Wilton, as the third lieutenant appeared at the gangway again.
The tide was coming in, and the boats swung so far abaft the boom that it had fallen clear of them when it dropped into the water. Wilton and Monroe were prompt to avail themselves of their present success, and the boys sat in the boats, with their oars up, ready to pull as soon as the order was given.
“Let fall!” said Wilton; and the eight oars of the professors’ barge dropped into the water, and the rowers placed them in readiness for the first stroke.
Monroe, in the third cutter, followed the example of his principal, and was hardly a second behind him.
“Give way!” added Wilton.
“Give way!” repeated Monroe; and the two boats gathered way and darted off towards the nearest point of the shore.
Thus far the enterprise of “our fellows” was entirely successful, and Shuffles stood on the gangway, chagrined at the defeat which had attended his efforts to prevent the escape of the runaways.
“Stand by to clear away the first cutter!” shouted he, suddenly and with energy, as he made his way to the davits, where the boat indicated was suspended.