“Welcome home again, Mr. MacMasters!” was the greeting of the officer of the watch as the ensign led his party up the ladder.
“And mighty glad we are to get here,” declared Ensign MacMasters.
The boys and men scrambled aboard and bade good-bye cheerfully though gratefully to the cutter’s crew. The latter craft turned on her heel and shot away toward the distant coast.
Already the huge battleship was under way again. She was running with few lights. And where she was running was a question that even the members of the crew the boys put the question to could not answer.
It was generally known that Captain Trevor had received orders by wireless that had changed the plan of the cruise entirely. Instead of running back up the Atlantic coast, they had put to sea.
It was the next day before the Kennebunk’s company in general knew that she was bound first for the Azores. That meant a European cruise, without a doubt. All the “old timers” were agreed upon that.
It was finally rumored about the ship that the report of the Kennebunk’s cruise to the southward, and the score of her gun crews at target practice, together with her good luck in sinking a German submarine with the first shot ever fired from her guns, had so impressed the Department that she was to join the European squadron under Admiral Sims at once.
“There’s a chance for you boys to see some real action,” declared one of the masters-at-arms. “If the Hun comes out of Kiel, we’ll be there to say ‘How-do!’ to him.”
The boys who had been absent from the battleship for so long found, however, that the spiritual atmosphere of the crew was not much changed. There were still a lot of “croakers” as Torry called them.
“They are ghost-ridden, as sure as you’re born, Whistler,” Torry declared. “Somebody has heard that clock ticking again. It doesn’t seem to be at work all the time. Just now and then. ‘The death watch’ they call it.”
“Stop it!” ordered Whistler. “The less said the soonest mended about such things aboard ship. We boys don’t believe such foolishness, do we?”
“How about the old witch’s prophecy?” asked Torry wickedly. “Suppose we should tell these garbies about them?”
“Don’t you dare!” cried Whistler.
That very morning, after sick call, he was ordered to appear before Captain Trevor in the commander’s office, and there found assembled Ensign MacMasters and several of the other officers of the ship with the commander.
“Morgan,” said Captain Trevor, “let me hear about your finding of this paper Mr. MacMasters has brought to our attention. There seems to be something of moment in it in reference to the Kennebunk.”
Ensign MacMasters put a translation of the torn letter into the young fellow’s hand. The letter had been so mutilated that it was impossible; to make any exact translation of it. But here were extracts that stood out plainly: