“Oh, that was just a chance,” was the reply.
“Hump!” said Whistler with disgust. “I have an idea the old Kennebunk is going to be blessed with similar chances.”
There followed, however, a really serious accident. A pipe in the boiler room burst, and several men were scalded, one so badly that the ship’s surgeons declared he must be transported to a shore hospital as soon as possible.
The operation of skin grafting could not be performed successfully on shipboard, and nothing else would save the unfortunate victim of the accident from having a terribly disfigured face.
Many of the man’s shipmates would gladly have aided by giving patches of healthy skin for the benefit of the patient; but the operation was too delicate to be undertaken on the battleship, and the healing of the unfortunate man would be too tedious.
After communicating with the Navy Department by wireless, Captain Trevor decided to send the steam runner into Hampton Roads with the injured man, while the battleship continued her southerly course in compliance with her orders.
The steam-screw tender of the Kennebunk was a good sized craft and perfectly seaworthy. They were too far from shore to trust a motor boat; and to use one of the big whaleboats under sail would take too long.
The derrick swung the big boat overside, and she was lowered into the sea as lightly as though she were a featherweight. Meanwhile Ensign MacMasters was assigned to her command and he had the privilege of picking his crew to suit himself.
The steamer mounted a gun forward and one aft. To the delight of Phil and Al, the ensign chose them as members of the gun crews.
Immediately Frenchy and Ikey clamored to be taken, too. Ensign MacMasters without doubt displayed favoritism at this time. He acquiesced in the desires of the two younger boys from Seacove.
“I suppose you would pine away and refuse your chow if you were separated from Morgan and Torrance,” the ensign said laughingly. “Get your hammock-rolls and go aboard. I’ll fix it with the executive officer.”
So, when the steamer started from the towering side of the battleship, the four Navy boys were members of her crew, and likely to experience a variety of adventures.
The change from the huge Kennebunk to the comparatively tiny steamer was great indeed; and for the first few hours of the run shoreward the boys were afraid they would be ill. There was a heavy swell on, and the tender rode up the hill of each roller, and slid down the other side, dizzily.
They were two hundred miles off shore and three hundred from Hampton Roads. The time occupied in the journey could not be much less than three days and two nights. She was much slower than the motor boats; but she sailed much more safely, and the injured man could be made more comfortable on deck under the awning.