E-text prepared by Jim Ludwig
DAVE DARRIN'S FOURTH YEAR AT ANNAPOLIS
Headed for Graduation and the Big Cruise
H. IRVING HANCOCK
CHAPTERS I. Wanted—-A Doughface! II. Some One Pushes the Tungsten III. Bad News from West Point IV. Dave's Work Goes Stale V. Dan Hands Himself Bad Money VI. The "Forgot" Path to Trouble VII. Dan's Eyes Jolt His Wits VIII. The Prize Trip on the "Dodger" IX. The Treachery of Morton X. "We Belong to the Navy, Too!" XI. A Quarter's Worth of Hope XII. Ready to Trim West Point XIII. When "Brace Up, Army!" was the Word XIV. The Navy Goat Grins XV. Dan Feels as "Sold" as He Looks XVI. The Day of Many Doubts XVII. Mr. Clairy Deals in Outrages XVIII. The Whole Class Takes a Hand XIX. Midshipman Darrin Has the Floor XX. Dan Steers on the Rocks Again XXI. In the Thick of Disaster XXII. The Search at the Bottom of the Bay XXIII. Graduation Day—-At Last XXIV. Conclusion
"Now, then, Danny boy, we——-"
First Classman Dave Darrin, midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, did not finish what he was about to say.
While speaking he had closed the door behind him and had stepped into the quarters occupied jointly by himself and by Midshipman Daniel Dalzell, also of the first or upper class.
"Danny boy isn't here. Visiting, probably," mused Dave Darrin, after having glanced into the alcove bedroom at his right hand.
It was a Saturday night, early in October. The new academic year at the Naval Academy was but a week old. There being no "hop" that night the members of the brigade had their time to spend as they pleased. Some of the young men would need the time sadly to put in at their new studies. Dave, fortunately, did not feel under any necessity to spend his leisure in grinding over text-books.
Dave glanced at his study desk, though he barely saw the pile of text-books neatly piled up there.
"No letters to write tonight," he thought "I was going to loan Danny boy one of my two new novels. No matter; if he'd rather visit let him do so."
In the short interval of recreation that had followed the evening meal Dave had missed his home chum and roommate, but had thought nothing of it. Nor was Dave now really disappointed over the present prospect of having an hour or two by himself. He went to a one-shelf book rack high overhead and pulled down one of his two recent novels.
"If I want Danny boy at any time I fancy I have only to step as far as Page's room," mused Dave, as he seated himself by his desk.
An hour slipped by without interruption. An occasional burst of laughter floated down the corridor. At some distance away, on the same deck of barracks in Bancroft Hall, a midshipman was industriously twanging away on a banjo. Darrin, however, absorbed in his novel, paid no heed to any of the signs of Saturday-night jollity. He was a third of the way through an exciting tale when there came a knock on the door—-a moment later a head was thrust in.
Midshipman Farley's head was thrust inside.
"All alone, Darry?" called Mr. Farley.
"Yes," Dave answered, laying his novel aside after having thrust an envelope between pages to hold the place. "Come in, Farl."
"Where's Dalzell?" inquired Farley, after having closed the door behind him.
"Until this moment I thought that he was in your room."
"I haven't seen him all evening," Farley responded. "Page and I have been yawning ourselves to death."
"Danny boy is visiting some other crowd, then," guessed Darrin. "He will probably be along soon. Did you want to see him about anything in particular?"
"Oh, no. I came here to escape being bored to death by Page, and poor old Pagey has just fled to Wilson's room to escape being bored by me. What are these Saturday evenings for, anyway, when there's no way of spending them agreeably?"
"For a good many of the men, who want to get through," smiled Dave, "Saturday evening is a heaven-sent chance to do a little more studying against a blue next week. As for Danny boy, I imagine he must have carried his grin up to Wilson's room. Or, maybe, to Jetson's. Danny has plenty of harbors where he's welcome to cast his anchor."
"May I sit down?" queried Mr. Farley.
"Surely, Furl, and with my heartiest apologies for having been too dull to push a chair toward you."
"I can easily help myself," laughed the other midshipman, "since there's only one other chair in the room."
"What have you and Page been talking about tonight?" asked Dave.
"Why do you want to know?"
"So that I won't run the risk of boring you by talking oh the same subject."
"Well," confessed Midshipman Farley, "we've been talking about this season's football."
"Oh, dear!" sighed Darrin. "That's the only topic really worth talking about."
"Speaking of football," resumed Farley, "don't you believe that we have a stronger eleven than we had last year!"
"If we haven't we ought to walk the plank," retorted Dave. "You remember how the Army walloped us last year?"
"That was because the Army team had Prescott and Holmes on it," rejoined Farley quickly.
"Well, they'll have 'em this year, too, won't they?
"So Prescott and Holmes are to be out for the Army this year!"
"I haven't heard anything definite on that head," Dave answered. "But I take it as a matter of course that Prescott and Holmes will play once more with the Army. They're West Point men, and they know their duty."
"What wonders that pair are!" murmured Farley with reluctant admiration for the star players of the United States Military Academy. "Yet, after all, Darry, I can't for the life of me see where Prescott and Holmes are in any way superior to yourself and Dan Dalzell."
"Except," smiled Dave, "that Prescott and Holmes, last year, got by us a good deal oftener than we got by them—-and so the Army lugged off the score from Franklin Field."
"But you won't let 'em do it this year, Darry!"
"Dan and I will do all we can to stop our oldtime chums, now of the Army," agreed Dave. "But they're a hard pair to beat. Any one who saw Prescott and Holmes play last year will agree that they're a hard pair of nuts for the Navy to crack."
"We've got to beat the Army this year," Farley protested plaintively.
"I certainly hope we shall do so."
"Darry, what is your candid opinion of Wolgast?"
"As a man?"
"You know better!"
"As a midshipman?"
"Darry, stop your nonsense! You know well enough that I'm asking your opinion of Wolgast as captain of the Navy eleven."
"He seems inclined to be fair and just to every member of the squad, so what more can you ask of him."
"But do you think he's any real good, Darry, as captain for the Navy?"
"We ought to have had you for captain of the team, Darry," insisted Farley.
"So two or three other fellows thought," admitted Dave. "But I refused to take that post, as you know, and I'm glad I did."
"Oh, come, now!
"Yes; I'm glad I refused. A captain should be in mid-field. Now, if Dalzell and I are any good at all on the gridiron——-"
"Oh, Mr. Modesty!"
"If we're of any use at all," pursued Darrin, "it's only on the flank. Now, where would the Navy be with a captain directing from the right or left flank."
"Darry, you funker, you could play center as well as Wolgast does."
"Farl, you're letting your prejudices spoil your eyesight."
"Oh, I've no prejudice at all against Wolgast," Farley hastened to rejoin. "Only I don't consider him our strongest man for captain. Now, Wolgast——-"
"Here!" called a laughing voice. The door had opened, after a knock that Darrin had not noticed.
"Talking about me?" inquired Midshipman Wolgast pleasantly, as he stopped in the middle of the room.
Midshipman Farley was nothing at all on the order of the backbiter. Service in the Brigade of Midshipmen for three years had taught him the virtue of direct truth.
"Yes, Wolly," admitted Farley without embarrassment. "I was criticizing your selection as captain of the eleven."
"Nothing worse than that?" laughed First Classman Wolgast.
"I was saying—-no offense, Wolly—-that I didn't consider you the right man to head the Navy eleven."
Midshipman Wolgast stepped over to Farley, holding out his right hand.
"Shake, Farl! I'm glad to find a man of brains on the eleven. I know well enough that I'm not the right captain. But we couldn't make Darry accept the post."
Midshipman Wolgast appeared anything but hurt by the direct candor with which he had been treated. He now threw one leg over the corner of the study table, though he inquired:
"Am I interrupting anything private?"
"Not in the least," Dave assured him.
"Am I intruding in any way?"
"Not a bit of it," Darrin answered heartily "We're glad to have you here with us."
"Surely," nodded Farley.
"Now, then, as to my well known unfitness to command the Navy football team," continued First Classman Wolgast, "do either of you see any faults in me that can be remedied?"
"I can't," Dave answered. "I believe, Wolly, that you can lead the team as well as any other man in the squad. On the whole, I believe you can lead a little better than any other man could do."
"No help from your quarter, then, Darry," sighed Midshipman Wolgast. "Farl, help me out. Tell me some way in which I can improve my fitness for the post of honor that has been thrust upon me. I assure you I didn't seek it."
"Wolgast, my objection to you has nothing personal in it," Farley went on. "With me it is a case simply of believing that Darry could lead us on the gridiron much better than you're likely to."
"That I know," retorted Wolgast, with emphasis. "But what on earth are we going to do with a fellow like Darrin? He simply won't allow himself to be made captain. I'd resign this minute, if we could have Darry for our captain."
"You're going to do all right, Wolgast. I know you are," Dave rejoined.
"Then what's the trouble? Why don't I suit all hands?" demanded the Navy's football captain.
Darrin was silent for a few moments. The midshipmen visitors waited patiently, knowing that, from this comrade, they could be sure of a wholly candid reply.
"Have you found the answer, Darry?" pressed Wolgast at last.
"Yes," said Dave slowly; "I think I have. The reason, as I see it, is that there are no decidedly star players on this year's probable eleven. The men are all pretty nearly equal, which doesn't give you a chance to tower head and shoulders above the other players. Usually, in the years that I know anything of, it has been the other way. There have been only two or three star players in the squad, and the captain was usually one of the very best. You're plenty good enough football man, Wolgast, but there are so many other pretty good ones that you don't outshine the others as much as captains of poorer teams have done in other years."
"By Jupiter! Darry has hit it!" cried Farley, leaping from his seat. "Wolly, you have the luck to command an eleven in which most of the men are nearly, if not quite, as good as the captain. You're not head and shoulders over the rest, and you don't tower—-that's all. Wolly, I apologize for my criticisms. Darry has shown me the truth."
"Then you look for a big slaughter list for us this year, Darry?" Wolgast asked.
"Yes; unless the other elevens that we're to play improve as much as the Navy is going to do."
At this moment Page and Jetson rapped and then entered. Ten minutes later there were fully twenty midshipmen in the room, all talking animatedly on the one subject at the United States Naval Academy in October—-football.
So the time sped. Dave lost his chance to read his novel, but he did not mind the loss. It was Jetson who, at last, discovered the time.
"Whew, fellows!" he muttered. "Only ten minutes to taps."
That sent most of the midshipmen scuttling away. Page and Farley, however, whose quarters were but a few doors away on the same deck, remained.
"Farl," murmured Darrin, "for the first time tonight I'm feeling a bit worried."
"What's up?" Page wanted to know.
"Why, he hasn't been around all evening. Surely Dalzell would be coming back by this time, unless——-"
"Didn't he have leave to visit town?" demanded Midshipman Page.
"Not that I've heard of," Dave Darrin answered quickly. "Nor do I see how he could have done so. You see, Wednesday he received some demerits, and with them went the loss of privileges for October."
"Whew!" whistled Page.
"What?" demanded Dave, his alarm increasing.
"Why, not long after supper I saw Danny heading toward the wall on the town side."
"I have been afraid of that for the last two or three minutes," exclaimed Dave Darrin, his uneasiness now showing very plainly. "Dan didn't say a word to me about going anywhere, but——-"
"You think, leave being impossible, Danny has Frenched it over the wall?" demanded Farley.
"That's just what I'm afraid of," returned Dave.
"I don't know any reason."
"Farl", broke in Dave hurriedly, almost fiercely, "has anyone a doughface?"
"Who has it?"
"I don't know."
"Find it—-on the jump!"
"There's no time for 'buts,'" retorted Darrin, pushing Farley toward the door. "Find it!"
"And I——-" added Page, springing toward the door.
"You'll stay here," ordered Dave.
Darrin was already headed toward his friend's alcove, where Dalzell's cot lay. Page followed.
"The dummy," explained Darrin briefly.
Every midshipman at Annapolis, doubtless, is familiar with the dummy. Not so many, probably, are familiar with the doughface, which, at the time this is written, was a new importation.
Swiftly Dave and Page worked. First they turned down the clothing, after having hurriedly made up the cot. Now, from among the garments hanging on the wall nearby the two midshipmen took down the garments that normally lay under others. With these they rigged up a figure not unlike that of a human being. At least, it looked so after the bed clothes had been drawn up in place.
Then, glancing at the time, Dave Darrin waited—-breathless.
Farley hastened into the room without losing time by knocking. Under one arm he bore, half hidden, some roundish object, wrapped in a towel.
Without a word, but with a heart full of gratitude, Dave Darrin snatched out from its wrapping the effigy of a male human head. It was done in wax, with human hair on the head.
Dave Darrin neatly fitted this at the top of the outlines of a figure under the bed clothing.
Under the full light the doughface looked ghostly. In a dimmer light it would do very well.
"Thank you a thousand times, fellows," trembled Dave Darrin. "Now hustle to your own quarters before the first stroke of taps sounds."
The two useful visitors were gone like a flash. Ere they had quite closed the door, Dave Darrin was removing his own uniform and hanging up trousers and blouse. Next off came the underclothing and on went pajamas.
Just then taps sounded. Out went the electric light, turned off at the master switch.
Dave Darrin dived under the bed clothes on his own cot and tried to still the beating of his own heart.
Two minutes later a brisk step sounded on the corridor of the "deck."
Door after door was opened and closed. Then the door to Dave's room swung open, and a discipline officer and a midshipman looked into the room.
"All in?" the midshipman called.
A light snore from Dave Darrin's throat answered. In his left hand the discipline officer carried an electric pocket light. A pressure of a button would supply a beam of electric light that would explore the bed of either midshipman supposed to be in this room.
But the officer saw Midshipman Darrin plainly enough, thanks to beams of light from the corridor. Over in the opposite alcove the discipline officer made out, more vaguely, the lay figure and the doughface intended to represent Midshipman Dan Dalzell.
"Both in. Darrin and Dalzell never give us any trouble, at any rate," thought the discipline officer to himself, then closed the door, and his footsteps sounded further down the corridor.
"Oh, Danny boy, I wish I had you here right at this minute!" muttered Dave Darrin vengefully. "Maybe I wouldn't whang your head off for the fright that you've given me! I'll wager half of my hairs have turned gray in the last minute!"
However, Midshipman Dan Dalzell was not there, as Darrin knew to his own consternation. Dave did not go to sleep. Well enough he knew that he was on duty indefinitely through the hours until Dan should return. If Midshipman Darrin fell into a doze this night he would be as bad as any sentry falling asleep on any other post.
So Darrin lay there and fidgeted. Twenty times he tried to solve, in his own mind, the riddle of why Dalzell should be away, and where he was. But it was a hopeless puzzle.
"Of course, Danny didn't hint that he was going to French it tonight," thought Dave bitterly. "Good reason why, too! He knew that, if I got wind of his intention, I'd thrash him sooner than let him take such a chance. Oh, Dan! Dan, you idiot! To take such a fool chance in your last year here, when detection probably means your being dropped from brigade, and your career ended!"
For Dave Darrin knew the way of discipline officers too well to imagine that that one brief inspection of the room was positively all the look-in that would be offered that night. Some discipline officers have a way of looking in often during the night. Being themselves graduates of the Naval Academy, officers are sure to know that the inspection immediately after taps does not always suffice. Midshipmen have been known to be in bed at taps, and visiting in quarters of other midshipmen ten minutes later. True, the electric light in rooms is turned off at taps—-but midshipmen have been known to keep candles hidden, and to be experts in clouding doors and windows so that no ray of light gets through into a corridor after taps.
Just how often discipline officers were accustomed to look in through the night, Dave Darrin did not know from his own knowledge. Usually, at the times of such extra visits, Darrin was too blissfully asleep.
Tonight, however, despite the darkness of the room at present, Dave lay wide awake. No sleep for him before daylight—-perhaps not then—-unless Dan turned up in the meantime.
After an interval that seemed several nights long, the dull old bell of the clock over on academic Hall began tolling. Dave listened and counted. He gave an almost incredulous snort when the total stopped at eleven.
Then another long period of waiting. Darrin did not grow drowsy. On the contrary, he became more wide awake. In fact, he began to imagine that he was becoming possessed of the vision of the cat. Dark as it was in the room, Dave began to feel certain that he could distinguish plainly the ghostly figure of the saving doughface in the alcove opposite.
Twelve o'clock struck. Then more waiting. It was not so very long, this time, however, before there came a faint tapping at the window.
Dave Darrin was out of bed as though he had been shot out. Like a flash he was at the window, peering out. Where, after all, was the cat's vision of which he had thought himself possessed? Some one was outside the window. Dave thought he recognized the Naval uniform, but he could not see a line of the face.
Tap-tap-tap! sounded softly. Dave threw the window up stealthily.
"You, Dan?" he whispered.
"Of course," came the soft answer. "Stand aside. Let me in—-on the double-quick!"
Dave pushed the window up the balance of the way, then stepped aside. Dan Dalzell landed on his feet in the room, cat-like, from the terrace without. Then Dave, without loss of an instant, closed the window and wheeled about in the darkness.
"Hustle!" commanded Dave.
"Get off your uniform! Get into pajamas. Then I'll——-"
Dave's jaws snapped together resolutely. He did not finish, just then, for he knew that Midshipman Dalzell could be very stubborn at times.
"I'll have a light in a jiffy," whispered Dan "I brought back a candle with me."
"You won't use it—-not in here," retorted Dave. "The dark is light enough for you. Hustle into your pajamas."
Perhaps Midshipman Dalzell did not make all the speed that his roommate desired, but at last Dan was safely rid of his uniform, underclothing and shoes, and stood arrayed in pajamas.
"Now, I'll hide this doughface over night," whispered Darrin, going toward Dalzell's bed. "At the same time you get the articles of your equipment out from under your bed clothes and hang them up where they belong."
"I'll have to light the candle for that," muttered Dan.
"If you do, I'll blow it out. There's a regulation against running lights in the rooms after taps."
"Do you worship the little blue-covered volume of regulations, Dave?" Dan demanded with a laugh.
"No; but I don't propose to take any chances in my last year here. I don't intend to lose my commission in the Navy just because I can't control myself."
Dan sniffed, but he silently got his parts of uniform out from between the sheets and hung up the articles where they belonged, in this going by the sense of feeling.
Then, all in the dark as they were, Midshipman Dave Darrin seized his chum and roommate by the shoulders.
"Danny boy," he commanded firmly, "come over with an account of yourself! Why this mad prank tonight—-and what was it?"
SOME ONE PUSHES THE TUNGSTEN
You don't have to know every blessed thing that I do, do you?" demanded Dan Dalzell, in an almost offended tone.
"No; and I have no right to know anything that you don't tell me willingly. Are you ready to give me any explanation of tonight's foolishness?
"Seeing that you kept awake for me, and were on hand to let me in, I suppose I'll have to," grumbled Dan.
"Dave, for the first time tonight, I struck my flag."
"Struck to whom?"
"Oh—-a girl, of course," grunted Dan.
"You? A girl?" repeated Dave in amazement.
"Yes; is it any crime for me to get acquainted with a girl, and to call on her at her home?"
"Certainly not. But, Dan, I didn't believe that you ever felt a single flutter of the pulse when girls were around. I thought you were going to grow up into a cheerful, happy old bachelor."
"So did I," sighed Dan.
"And now you've gone and met your fate?"
"I'm not so sure about that," Dalzell retorted moodily.
"Do you mean that you don't stand any real show in front of the pair of bright eyes that have made you strike your colors?"
"I'm afraid I don't."
"Dan, is the game worth the candle," argued Darrin.
"You're mightily interested in Belle Meade, aren't you?"
"Yes; but that's different, Danny boy."
"How is it different, I'd like to know?"
"Well, in the first place, there's no guesswork in my case. Belle and I are engaged, and we feel perfectly sure each of the other. I'm so sure of Belle that I dream about her only in my leisure moments. I don't ever let her face come between myself and the pages of a textbook. I am here at the Naval Academy working for a future that Belle is to share with me when the time comes, and so, in justice to her, I don't let the thought of her get between myself and the duties that will lead to the career she is to share with me."
"Humph!" commented Midshipman Dalzell.
"Above all, Dan, I've never Frenched it over the wall. I don't take any disciplinary chances that can possibly shut me off from the career that Belle and I have planned. Belle Meade, Danny boy, would be the first to scold me if she knew that I had Frenched it over the wall in order to meet her."
"Well, Miss Preston doesn't know but what I had regular leave tonight," Danny replied.
"Miss Preston?" repeated Dave his interest taking a new tack. "I don't believe I know her."
"I guess you don't," Dan replied. "She's new in Annapolis. Visiting her uncle and aunt, you know. And her mother's with her."
"Are your intentions serious in this, Danny?" Darrin went on.
"Blessed if I know," Dalzell answered candidly. "She's a mighty fine girl, is May Preston. I don't suppose I'll ever be lucky enough to win the regard of such a really fine girl."
"Then you aren't engaged?"
"Hang it, man! This evening is only the second time that I've met Miss Preston."
"And you've risked your commission to meet a girl for the second time?" Dave demanded almost unbelievingly.
"I haven't risked it much," Dan answered. "I'm in safe, now, and ready to face any discipline officer."
"But wouldn't this matter wait until November, when you're pretty sure to have the privilege of town leave again?" pressed Midshipman Darrin.
"By November a girl like Miss Preston might be married to some one else," retorted Dan Dalzell.
"It was a fool risk to take, Dan!"
"If you look at it that way."
"Will you promise me not to take the risk again, Danny boy?"
"It's a serious affair, then, so far as you are concerned," grinned Dave, though in the dark Dan could not see his face. "For your sake, Danny, I hope Miss Preston is as much interested in you as you certainly are in her."
"Are you going to lecture me?"
"Not tonight, Dan."
"Then I'm going to get in between sheets. It's chilly here in the room."
"Duck!" whispered Dave with sudden energy.
Footsteps could be heard coming down the corridor. It was a noise like a discipline officer.
Three doors above that of the room occupied by our midshipman friends were opened, one after the other. Then a hand rested on the knob of the door to Dave and Dan's room. The door was opened, and the rays of a pocket electric light flashed into the room.
Dan lay on one side, an arm thrown out of bed, his breathing regular but a trifle loud. Dave Darrin had again found recourse to a snore.
In an instant the door closed. Any discipline officer ought to be satisfied with what this one had seen.
"Safe!" chuckled Dalzell.
"An awfully close squeak," whispered Dave across the intervening room.
"What if he had started his rounds ten minutes earlier?"
"He didn't, though," replied Dan contentedly.
Now another set of footsteps passed hurriedly along the "deck" outside.
"What's that?" questioned a voice sharply. "You say that you saw some one entering a room from the upper end of the terrace?"
"Oh, by George," groaned Dan Dalzell, now beginning to shiver in earnest. "Some meddling marine sentry has gone and whispered tales."
"Keep a stiff upper lip," Dave whispered hoarsely, encouragingly. "If the officer returns don't give yourself away by your shaking."
"But if he asks me?"
"If you're asked a direct question," sighed Dave mournfully, "you'll have to give a truthful answer."
"And take my medicine!"
That annoying discipline officer was now on his way back, opening doors once more. Moreover, the two very wide-awake midshipmen could hear him asking questions in the rooms further along the "deck."
"He's questioning each man," whispered Dave.
"Of course," nodded Dan gloomily.
"It'll be our turn soon."
"I—-I'm feeling ill—-or I'm going to."
"Don't have cold feet, old fellow. Take your dose like a man—-if you have to."
"D-Dave, I wonder if I couldn't have a real sickness? Couldn't it be something so you'll have to jump up and help me to hospital? Couldn't I have—-a—-a fit?"
"A midshipman subject to fits would be ordered before a medical board, and then dropped from the brigade," Dave replied thoughtfully. "No; that wouldn't do."
That meddling discipline officer was getting closer and closer. Dave and Dan could hear him asking questions in each room that he visited. And there are no "white lies" possible to a midshipman. When questioned he must answer truthfully. If the officers over him catch him in a lie they will bring him up before a court-martial, and his dismissal from the service will follow. If the officers don't catch him in a lie, but his brother midshipmen do, they won't report him, but they'll ostracize him and force him to resign. A youngster with the untruthful habit can find no happiness at the Naval Academy.
"He—-he's in the next room now," whispered Dan across the few feet of space.
"Yes," returned Dave Darrin despairingly, "and I can't think of a single, blessed way of getting you out of the scrape."
"Woof!" sputtered Midshipman Dan Dalzell, which was a brief way of saying, "Here he comes, now, for our door."
Then a hand rested on the knob and the door swung open. Lieutenant Adams, U.S.N., entered the room.
"Mr. Darrin, are you awake?" boomed the discipline officer.
Dave stirred in bed, rolled over so that he could see the lieutenant, and then replied:
"Rise, Mr. Darrin, and come to attention."
Dave got out of bed, but purposely stumbled in doing so. This might give the impression that he had been actually awakened.
"Mr. Darrin," demanded Lieutenant Adams, "have you been absent from this room tonight?"
"After taps was sounded?"
"You are fully aware of what you have answered?"
That was all. A midshipman's word must be taken, for he is a gentleman—-that is to say, a man of honor.
Poor Dan stirred uneasily.
"Mr. Dalzell!" This time the Naval officer's voice was sharper.
Dan acted as though he were waking with difficulty. He had no intention, in the face of a direct question, of denying that he had been absent without leave. But he moved thus slowly, hoping desperately that the few seconds of time thus rained would be sufficient to bring to him some inspiration that might save him.
"Mr Dalzell, come to attention!"
Dan stood up, the personification of drowsiness, saluted, then let his right hand fall at his side and stood blinking, bracing for them correct military attitude.
"It's too bad to disturb the boy!" thought Lieutenant Adams. "Surely, this young man hasn't been anywhere but in bed since taps."
None the less the Naval officer, as a part of his duty, put the question:
"Mr. Dalzell, have you, since taps, been out of this room? Did you return, let us say, by the route of the open window from the terrace?"
Midshipman Dalzell stiffened. He didn't intend to betray his own honor by denying, yet he hated to let out the admission that would damage him so much.
Bang! It was an explosion like a crashing pistol shot, and it sounded from the corridor outside.
There could be no such thing as an assault at arms in guarded Bancroft Hall. The first thought that flashed, excitedly, through Lieutenant Adams's mind was that perhaps the real delinquent guilty of the night's escapade had just shot himself. It was a wild guess, but a pistol shot sometimes starts a wilder guess.
Out into the corridor darted Lieutenant Adams. He did not immediately return to the room, so Dave Darrin, with rare and desperate presence of mind, closed the door.
"Get back into the meadow grass, Danny boy," Darrin whispered, giving his friend's arm a hard grip. "If the 'loot'nant' comes back, get up fearfully drowsy when he orders you. Gape and look too stupid to apologize!"
Lieutenant Adams, however, had other matters to occupy his attention. There was a genuine puzzle for him in the corridor. Just out, side the door of Midshipmen Farley and Page there lay on the floor tiny glass fragments of what had been an efficient sixty-candle-power tungsten electric bulb. It was one of the lights that illuminated the corridor.
Now one of these tungsten bulbs, when struck smartly, explodes with a report like that of a pistol.
At this hour of the night, however, there were none passing save Naval officers on duty. None other than the lieutenant himself had lately passed in the corridor. How, then, had this electric light bulb been shattered and made to give forth the sound of the explosion?
"It wouldn't go up with a noise like that," murmured the lieutenant to himself. "These tungsten lights don't explode like that, except when rapped in some way. They don't blow up, when left alone. At least, that is what I have always understood."
So the puzzle waxed and grew, and Lieutenant Adams found it too big to solve alone.
"At any rate, I've questioned all the young gentlemen about the window episode, and they all deny knowledge of it," Lieutenant Adams told himself. "So I'll just report that fact to the O.C., and at the same time I'll tell him of the blowing up of this tungsten light."
Two minutes later Lieutenant Adams stood in the presence of Lieutenant-Commander Henderson, the officer in charge.
"So you questioned all of the midshipmen who might, by any chance, have entered by a window?" asked the O.C.
"And they all denied it?"
"Did you see signs of any sort to lead you to believe that any of the midshipmen might have answered in other than the strict truth?" continued the O.C.
"No, sir," replied Lieutenant Adams, and flushed slightly, as he went on: "Of course, sir, I believe it quite impossible for a midshipman to tell an untruth."
"The sentiment does you credit, Lieutenant," smiled the O.C. Then he fell to questioning the younger discipline officer as to the names of the midshipmen whom he had questioned. Finally the O.C. came to the two names in which the reader is most interested.
"Darrin denied having been out after taps?" questioned Lieutenant-Commander Henderson.
"He did, sir."
"Did Mr. Dalzell also deny having been out of quarters after taps?"
"He did, sir."
Lieutenant Adams answered unhesitatingly and unblushingly. In fact, Lieutenant Adams would have bitten off the tip of his tongue sooner than have lied intentionally. So firmly convinced had Adams been that Dan was about to make a denial that now, with the incident broken in two by the report of the tungsten bulb, Lieutenant Adams really believed that had so denied. But Dan had not, and had Dave Darrin been called as a witness he would been compelled to testify that Dan did not deny being out.
The explosion of the tungsten bulb was too great a puzzle for either officer to solve. A man was sent with a new bulb, and so that part of the affair became almost at once forgotten.
Dan finally fell into a genuine sleep, and so did Dave Darrin. In the morning Dave sought out Midshipman Farley to inquire to whom the doughface should be returned.
"Give it over to me and I'll take care of it," Farley replied. "Say, did you hear a tungsten bulb blow up in the night!"
"Did It" echoed Darrin devoutly. Then a sudden suspicion crossed his mind.
"Say, how did that happen, Farl?" demanded Dave.
"If anyone should ask you——-" began the other midshipman.
"Yes——-?" pressed Darrin.
"Tell 'em—-that you don't know," finished Farley tantalizingly, and vanished.
It was not until long after that Darrin found out the explanation of the accident to the tungsten bulb. Farley, during Dan's absence, had been almost as much disturbed as had Dave. So Mr. Farley was wide awake. When he heard Lieutenant Adams receive the message in the corridor Farley began to wonder what he could do. Presently he was made to rise, with Page, stand at attention, and answer the questions of the discipline officer.
Soon after Dave and Dan were called up, Farley, listening with his door ajar half an inch, slipped out and hit the tungsten burner a smart rap just in the nick of time to save Dan Dalzell's Navy uniform to that young man.
BAD NEWS FROM WEST POINT
Bump! The ball, hit squarely by the toe of Wolgast's football shoe, soared upward from the twenty-five-yard line. It described an arc, flying neatly over and between the goal-posts at one end of the athletic field.
"That's the third one for you, Wolly," murmured Jetson. "You're going to be a star kicker!"
"Shall I try out the rest of the squad, sir?" asked Wolgast, turning to Lieutenant-Commander Parker, this year's new coach.
"Try out a dozen or so of the men," nodded coach, which meant, in effect: "Try out men who are most likely to remain on the Navy team."
"Jetson!" called Wolgast.
Jet tried, but it took his third effort to make a successful kick.
"You see, Wolly, who is not to be trusted to make the kick in a game," remarked Jetson with a rueful smile.
"It shows me who may need practice more than some of the others—-that's all," answered Wolgast kindly.
With that the ball went to Dave. The first kick he missed.
"I can do better than that, if you'll give me the chance," observed Darrin quietly.
At a nod from Coach Parker, Dave was allowed five more trials, in each one of which he made a fair kick.
"Mr. Darrin is all right. He won't need to practice that very often, Mr. Wolgast," called coach.
Then Dan had his try. He made one out of three.
"No matter, Danny Grin," cried Page solacingly, "we love you for other things that you can do better on the field."
Farley made two out of three. Page, though a rattling good man over on the right flank, missed all three kicks.
"I'm a dub at kicking," he growled, retiring in much disgust with himself.
Other midshipmen had their try, with varying results.
"Rustlers, forward!" shouted Lieutenant-Commander Parker.
Eleven young fellows who had been waiting with more or less patience now threw aside their blankets or robes and came running across the field, their eyes dancing with keen delight.
"Mr. Wolgast, let the Rustlers start the ball—-and take it away from 'em in snappy fashion!" admonished coach.
The game started. In the second team at Annapolis there were some unusually good players—-half a dozen, at least, who were destined to win a good deal of praise as subs. that year.
Tr-r-r-r-ill! sounded the whistle, and the ball was in motion.
Yet, try as he did, the captain of the Rustlers made a side kick, driving the ball not far out of Dave Darrin's way. It was coming, now, in Dan's path, but Dalzell muttered in a barely audible undertone:
So Darrin, playing left end on the Navy team, darted in and caught the ball. He did not even glance sideways to learn where Dan was. He knew that Dalzell would be either at his back or right elbow as occasion demanded.
"Take it away from Darry!" called Pierson, captain of the Rustlers. "Block him!"
The scores of spectators lining the sides of the field were watching with keenest interest.
It was rumored that Dave and Dan had some new trick play hidden up their sleeves.
Yet, with two men squarely in the path of Darrin it seemed incredible that he could get by, for the Rustlers had bunched their interference skillfully at this point.
"Darry will have to stop!" yelled a score of voices at once, as Dave bounded at his waiting opponents.
"Yah, yah, yah!"
The spectators had been treated to a sight that they never forgot.
Just as Dave reached those who blocked him he seemed to falter. It was Dan Dalzell who bumped in and received the opposition alone. Dan went down under it, all glory to him!
But Dave, in drawing back as he had done, had stepped aside like lightning, and now he had gone so far that he had no opposing end to dodge.
Instead, he darted straight ahead, leaving all of the forward line of the Rustlers behind.
But there was the back field to meet!
As Dave shot forward, Jetson, too, smashed over the line, blocking the halfback who got in his way.
Straight over the line charged Dave Darrin, and laid the ball down.
Now the athletic field resounded with excited yells. Annapolis had seen "a new one," and it caught the popular fancy like lightning.
Back the pigskin was carried, and placed for the kick.
"You take it, Darry," called Wolgast. "You've earned it!"
"Take it yourself, Wolly," replied Dave Darrin. "This is your strong point."
So Wolgast kicked and scored. The Rustlers at first looked dismayed over it all, but in another instant a cheer had broken loose from them.
It was the business of the Rustlers to harry the Navy team all they could—-to beat the Navy, if possible, for the Rustlers received their name from the fact that they were expected to make the team members rustle to keep their places.
Just the same the Rustlers were delighted to find themselves beaten by a trick so simple and splendid that it fairly took their breath away. For it was the Navy team, not the Rustlers, who met the enemy from the colleges and from West Point. Rustlers and team men alike prayed for the triumph of the Navy in every game that was fought out.
"You never told me that you had that trick, Darry," muttered Wolgast, in the rest that followed this swift, brilliant play.
"I wanted to show it to you before telling you about it" laughed Dave.
"Because I didn't know whether it were any good."
"Any good? Why, Darry, if you can get up one or two more like that you'll be the greatest gridiron tactician that the Navy has ever had!"
"I didn't get up that one," Dave confessed modestly.
"You didn't, Mr. Darrin?" interposed Coach Parker. "Who did?"
"Mr. Jetson, sir."
"I helped a bit," admitted Jetson, turning red as he found himself the center of admiring gazes. "Dalzell and Darrin helped work it out, too."
"Have you any more like that one, Mr. Darrin?" questioned Coach Parker.
"I think we have a few, sir," Dave smiled steadily.
"Are you ready to exhibit them, Mr. Darrin?"
"We'll show 'em all, if you order it, sir," Darrin answered respectfully. "But we'll undoubtedly spring two or three of 'em, anyway, in this afternoon's practice."
"I'll be patient, then," nodded coach. "But I want a brief talk with you after practice, Mr. Darrin."
"Very good, sir."
"I just want you to sketch out the new plays to me in private, that I may consider them," explained the lieutenant-commander.
"Yes, sir. But I am not really the originator of any of the new plays. Mr. Dalzell and Mr. Jetson have had as much to do with all of the new ones as I have, sir."
"And this is Darrin's last year! The Navy will never have his like again," groaned one fourth classman to another.
"Ready to resume play!" called coach. "Navy to start the ball."
The play was on again, in earnest, but this time it fell to the right flank of, the Navy team to stop the onward rush of the Rustlers as they charged down with the ball after the Navy's kick-off.
In fact, not during the team practice did Dave or Dan get a chance to show another of their new tricks.
"Just our luck!" grunted many of the spectators.
Meanwhile Dave, Dan and Jet got out of their togs, and through with their shower baths as quickly as they could, for Lieutenant-Commander Parker was on hand, awaiting them impatiently.
Until close to supper call did the coach hold converse with these three men of the Navy's left flank. Then the lieutenant-commander went to Midshipman Wolgast, who was waiting.
"Mr. Wolgast, I see the Army's banner trailed low in the dust this year," laughed coach. "These young gentlemen have been explaining to me some new plays that will cause wailing and gnashing of teeth at West Point."
"I'm afraid, sir, that you forget one thing," smiled Darrin.
"What is that, sir?" demanded coach.
"Why, sir, the Army has Prescott and Holmes, beyond a doubt, for they played last year."
"I saw Prescott and Holmes last year," nodded Mr. Parker. "But they didn't have a thing to compare with what you've just been explaining to me."
"May I remark, sir, that that was last year?" suggested Dave.
"Then you think that Prescott and Holmes may have developed some new plays."
"I'd be amazed, sir, if they hadn't done so. And I've tried to have the Navy always bear in mind, sir, that Dalzell and myself learned everything we know of football under Dick Prescott, who, for his weight, I believe to be the best football player in the United States!"
"You're not going to get cold feet, are you, Mr. Darrin?" laughed Lieutenant-Commander Parker.
"No, sir; but, on the other hand, I don't want to underestimate the enemy."
"You don't seem likely to commit that fault, Mr. Darrin. For my part," went on coach, "I'm going to feel rather satisfied that Prescott and Holmes, of the Army, won't be able to get up anything that will equal or block the new plays you've been describing to me."
Dave and Dan were more than usually excited as they lingered in their room, awaiting the call to supper formation. Farley and Page, all ready to respond to the call, were also in the room.
"I hope old Dick and Greg haven't got anything new that will stop us!" glowed Dan Dalzell.
"It's just barely possible, of course," assented Darrin, "that they haven't."
"If they haven't," chuckled Farley gleefully, "then we scuttle the Army this year."
"Wouldn't it be truly great," laughed Page, "to see the great Prescott go down in the dust of defeat. Ha, ha! I can picture, right now, the look of amazement on his Army face!"
"We mustn't laugh too soon," Dave warned his hearers.
"Don't you want to see the redoubtable Prescott shoved into the middle of next year?" challenged Midshipman Page.
"Oh, yes; of course. Yet that's not because he's Prescott, for good old Dick is one of the most precious friends I have in the world," Dave answered earnestly. "I want to see Prescott beaten this year, and I want to have a hand in doing it—-simply for the greater glory of the Navy!"
"Well," grunted Page, "that's good enough for me."
"We'll trail Soldier Prescott in the dust!" was a gleeful boast that circulated much through the Naval Academy during the few succeeding days.
Even Dave became infected with it, for he was a loyal Navy man to the very core. He began to think much of every trick of play that could possibly help to retire Dick Prescott to the background—-all for the fame of the Navy and not for the hurt of his friend.
Dave even dreamed of it at night.
As for Dalzell, he caught the infection, proclaiming:
"We're out, this year, just to beat old Prescott and Holmes!"
Yet readers of the High School Boys' Series, who know the deep friendship that had existed, and always would, between Prescott and Holmes on the one side, and Darrin and Dalzell, on the other, do not need to be told that this frenzied feeling had in it nothing personal.
"If you two go on," laughed Midshipman Farley, one evening after release, "you'll both end up with hating your old-time chums."
"Don't you believe it!" retorted Dave Darrin almost sharply. "This is just a matter between the two service academies. What we want is to show the country that the Navy can put up an eleven that can walk all around the Army on Franklin Field."
"A lot the country cares about what we do!" laughed Page.
"True," admitted Dare. "A good many people do seem to forget that there are any such American institutions as the Military and the Naval Academies. Yet there are thousands of Americans who are patriotic enough to be keenly interested in all that we do."
"This is going to be a bad year for Army friends," chuckled Farley.
"And for the feelings of Cadets Prescott and Holmes," added Page with a grimace.
As the practice went on the spirits of the Navy folks went up to fever heat. It was plain that, this year, the Navy eleven was to make history in the world of sports.
"Poor old Dick!" sighed Darrin one day, as the members of the squad were togging to go on to the field.
"Why?" Dan demanded.
"Because, in spite of myself, I find that I am making a personal matter of the whole business. Dan, I'm obliged to be candid with myself. It has come to the point that it is Prescott and Holmes that I want to beat!"
"Same case here," Dan admitted readily. "They gave us a trouncing last year, and we're bound to pass it back to 'em."
"I believe I'd really lose all interest in the game, if Dick and Greg didn't play on the Army this year."
"I think I'd feel the same way about it," agreed Dan. "But never fear—-they will play."
Two days later Dan finished his bath and dressing, after football practice, to find that Dave had already left ahead of him. Dan followed to their quarters in Bancroft Hall, to find Dave pacing the floor, the picture of despair.
"Dan!" cried Darrin sharply. "This letter is from Dick. He doesn't play this year!"
"Don't tell me anything funny, like that, when I've got a cracked lip," remonstrated Midshipman Dalzell.
"Dick doesn't play, I tell you—-which means that Greg won't, either. A lot of boobs at the Military Academy have sent Dick to Coventry for something that he didn't do. Dan, I don't care a hang about playing this year—-we can't beat Prescott and Holmes, for they won't be there!"
DAVE'S WORK GOES STALE
"Aye, you're not—-not joking?" demanded Dan Dalzell half piteously.
"Do you see any signs of mirth in my face?" demanded Dave Darrin indignantly.
Rap-tap! Right after the summons Midshipman Farley and Page entered the room.
"Say, who's dead?" blurted out Farley, struck by the looks of consternation on the faces of their hosts.
"Tell him, Dave," urged Dan.
"Prescott and Holmes won't play on this year's Army team," stated Darrin.
"Whoop!" yelled Farley gleefully. "And that was what you're looking so mighty solemn about? Cheer up, boy! It's good news."
"Great!" seconded Midshipman Page with enthusiasm.
"I tell you, fellows," spoke Dave solemnly, "it takes all the joy out of the Army-Navy game."
"Since when did winning kill joy?" demanded Farley aghast. "Why, with Prescott and Holmes out of it the Navy will get a fit of crowing that will last until after Christmas!"
"It makes the victory too cheap," contended Darrin.
"A victory is a victory," quoth Midshipman Page, "and the only fellow who can feel cheap about it is the fellow who doesn't win. Cheer up, Davy. It's all well enough to wallop a stray college, here and there, but the one victory that sinks in deep and does our hearts good is the one we carry away from the Army. Whoop! I could cry for joy."
"But why won't Prescott and Holmes play this year?" asked Farley, his face radiant with the satisfaction that the news had given him.
"Because the corps has sent Prescott to Coventry for something that I'm certain the dear old fellow never did," Darrin replied.
"Lucky accident!" muttered Farley.
"But the corps will repent, when they find their football hope gone," predicted Page, his face losing much of its hitherto joyous expression.
"No! No such luck," rejoined Midshipman Darrin. "If the brigade, here, sent a fellow to Coventry for what they considered cause, do you mean to tell me that they'd take the fellow out of Coventry just to get a good player on the eleven?"
"No, of course, not," Page admitted.
"Then do you imagine that the West Point men are any more lax in their views of corps honor?" pressed Dave.
"To be sure they are not—-they can't be."
"Then there's only a chance in a thousand that Dick Prescott will, by any lucky accident, be restored to favor in the corps—-at least, in time to play on this year's eleven. If he doesn't play, Holmes simply won't play. So that takes all the interest out of this year's Army-navy game."
"Not if the Navy wins," contended Midshipman Page.
"Bosh, there's neither profit nor honor in the Navy winning, unless it's against the best men that the Army can put forth," retorted Dave Darrin stubbornly. "By the great Dewey, I'm afraid nine tenths of my enthusiasm for the game this year has been killed by the miserable news that has come in."
Within less than five minutes after the midshipmen had seated themselves around the scores of tables in the mess hall, the news had flown around that Prescott and Holmes were to be counted as out of the Army eleven for this year.
Here and there suppressed cheers greeted the announcement The bulk of the midshipmen, however, were much of Dave Darrin's opinion that there was little glory in beating less than the best team that the Army could really put forth.
"Darry looks as though he had just got back from a funeral," remarked one member of the third class to another youngster.
"I don't blame him," replied the one so addressed.
"But he's all the more sure of winning over the Army this year."
"I don't believe either of you youngsters know Darrin as well as I do," broke in a second classman. "What I'm afraid of is, if Prescott and Holmes don't play with the soldiers, then Darry will lose interest in the game to such a degree that even Army dubs will be able to take his shoestrings away from him. Danny doesn't enjoy fighting fourth-raters. It's the big game that he enjoys going after. Why, I'm told that he had simply set his heart on pushing Prescott and Holmes all the way across Franklin Field this year."
Readers who are anxious to know why Dick Prescott, one of the finest of American youths, had been sent to Coventry by his comrades at the United States Military Academy, will find it all set forth in the concluding volume of the West Point Series, entitled "Dick Prescott's Fourth Year At West Point."
Strangely enough, the first effect of this news from West Point was to send the Navy eleven somewhat "to the bad." That is to say, Dave Darrin, despite his best endeavors, seemed to go stale from the first hour when he knew that he was not to meet Dick Prescott on the gridiron.
"Mr. Darrin, what ails you?" demanded coach kindly, at the end of the second practice game after that.
"I don't know, sir."
"You must brace up."
"You seem to have lost all ambition. No; I won't just say that. But you appear, Mr. Darrin, either to have lost some of your snap or ambition, or else you have gone unaccountably stale."
"I realize my defects, sir, and I am trying very, very hard to overcome them."
"Are you ill at ease over any of your studies?" persisted coach.
"No, sir; it seems to me that the fourth year studies are the easiest in the whole course."
"They are not, Mr. Darrin. But you have had the advantage of three hard years spent in learning how to study, and so your present course appears rather easy to you. Are you sleeping well?"
"Splendid appetite, sir."
"Hm! I shall soon have a chance to satisfy myself on that point, Mr. Darrin. The day after to-morrow the team goes to training table. Have you any idea, Mr. Darrin, what is causing you to make a poorer showing?"
"I have had one very great disappointment, sir. But I'd hate to think that a thing like that could send me stale."
"Oh, a disappointment?"
"Yes, sir," Dave went on frankly. "You see, sir, I have been looking forward, most eagerly, to meeting Prescott and downing him with the tricks that Jetson, Dalzell and I have been getting up."
"Oh! Prescott of the Army team?"
"I think I heard something about his having been sent to Coventry at the Military Academy."
"But, Mr. Darrin, you are not going to fail us just because the Army loses a worthy player or two?" exclaimed Lieutenant-Commander Parker in astonishment.
"Probably that isn't what ails me, sir," Dave answered flushing. "After all, sir, probably I'm just beginning to go stale. If I can't shake it off no doubt I had better be retired from the Navy eleven."
"Don't you believe it!" almost shouted coach. "Mr. Darrin, you will simply have to brace! Give us all the best that's in you, and don't for one instant allow any personal disappointments to unfit you. You'll do that, won't you?"
Darrin certainly tried hard enough. Yet just as certainly the Navy's boosters shook their heads when they watched Darrin's work on the field.
"He has gone stale," they said. "The very worst thing that could happen to the Navy this year!"
Then came the first game of the season—-with Lehigh. Darrin roused himself all he could, and his playing was very nearly up to what might have been expected of him—-though not quite.
The visitors got away with a score of eight to five against the Navy.
Next week the Lehighs went to West Point and suffered defeat at the hands of the Army.
The news sent gloom broadcast through the Naval Academy.
"We get beaten by one of the smaller colleges, that West Point can trim," was the mournful comment.
It did, indeed, look bad for the Navy!
DAN HANDS HIMSELF BAD MONEY
As the season went on it was evident that Dave Darrin was slowly getting back to form.
Yet coach was not wholly satisfied, nor was anyone else who had the triumph of the Navy eleven at heart.
Three more games had been played, and two of them were won by the Navy. Next would come Stanford College, a hard lot to beat. The Navy tried to bolster up its own hopes; a loss to Stanford would mean the majority of games lost out of the first five.
True, the news from West Point was not wholly disconcerting to the Navy. The Army that year had some strong players, it was true; still, the loss of Prescott and Holmes was sorely felt. Word came, too, in indirect ways, that there was no likelihood whatever that the Coventry against Cadet Dick Prescott would be lifted. It was the evident purpose of the Corps of Cadets, for fancied wrongs, to ostracize Dick Prescott until he found himself forced to resign from the United States Military Academy.
November came in. Stanford came. Coach talked to Dave Darrin steadily for ten minutes before the Navy eleven trotted out on to the field. Stanford left Annapolis with small end of the score, in a six-to-two game, and the Navy was jubilant.
"Darrin has come back pretty close to his right form," was the general comment.
For that Saturday evening Dan Dalzell, being now "on privilege" again, asked and received leave to visit in town—-this the more readily because his work on the team had prevented his going out of the Yard that afternoon.
Dave, too, requested and secured leave to go into town, though he stated frankly that he had no visit to make, and wanted only a stroll away from the Academy grounds.
Darrin went most of the way to the Prestons.
"Come right along through, and meet Miss Preston," urged Dan.
"If you ask it as a favor I will, old chap," Dave replied.
"No; I thought the favor would be to you."
"So it would, ordinarily," Darrin replied gallantly. "But to-night I just want to stroll by myself."
"Ta-ta, then." The grin on Dan Dalzell's face as he turned away from his chum was broader than usual. Dan was thinking that, this time, though his call must be a short one, he would be in no danger on his return. He could report unconcernedly just before taps.
"No doughface need apply to-night," chuckled Dan. "But Davy was surely one awfully good fellow to get me through that other scrape as he did."
All thought of football fled from Dan Dalzell's brain as he pulled the bellknob at the Preston house.
After all this was to be but the third meeting. Dan fancied, however, that absence had made his heart fonder. Since the night when he had Frenched it over the wall Dan had received two notes from Miss Preston, in answer to his own letters, but the last note was now ten days' old.
"May I see Mrs. Preston?" asked Dan, as a colored servant opened the door and admitted him.
This was Dan's correct idea of the way to call on a young woman to whom he was not engaged, but half hoped to be, some day.
The colored maid soon came back.
"Mrs. Preston is so very busy, sah, that she asks to be excused, sah," reported the servant, coming into the parlor where Dan sat on the edge of a chair. "But Mistah Preston will be down right away, sah."
A moment later a heavier step was heard on the stairway. Then May Preston's uncle came into the parlor.
"You will pardon Mrs. Preston not coming down stairs to-night, I know, Mr. Dalzell," said the man of the house, as he and the midshipman shook hands. "The truth is, we are very much occupied to-night."
"I had not dreamed of it, or I would not have called," murmured Dan reddening. "I trust you will pardon me."
"There is no need of pardon, for you have not offended," smiled Mr. Preston. "I shall be very glad to spare you half an hour, if I can interest, you."
"You are very kind, sir," murmured Dan. "And Miss Preston——"
"It is mainly on my niece's account that we are so busy to-night," smiled the host.
"She is not ill, sir?" asked Dan in alarm.
"Ill! Oh, dear me, no!"
Mr. Preston laughed most heartily.
"No; she is not in the least ill, Mr. Dalzell, though, on Monday, she may feel a bit nervous toward noon,"
"Nervous—-on Monday?" asked Dan vaguely. It seemed rank nonsense that her uncle should be able to predict her condition so definitely on another day.
"Why, yes; Monday is to be the great day, of course."
"Great day, sir? And why 'of course'?" inquired Dan, now as much interested as he was mystified.
"Why, my niece is to be married Monday at high noon."
"Married?" gasped Midshipman Dalzell, utterly astounded and discomfited by such unlooked-for news.
"Yes; didn't you know Miss Preston was engaged to be married?"
"I—-I certainly did not," Dan stammered.
"Why, she spoke to you much of 'Oscar'——-"
"No; the man who will be her husband on Monday," went on Mr. Preston blandly. Being quite near-sighted the elder man had not discovered Dan's sudden emotion. "That is what occupies us to-night. We leave on the first car for Baltimore in the morning. Mrs. Preston is now engaged over our trunks."
"I—-I am very certain, then, that I have come at an unseasonable time," Dan answered hastily. "I did not know—-which fact, I trust, will constitute my best apology for having intruded at such a busy season, Mr. Preston."
"There has been no intrusion, and therefore no apology is needed, sir," replied Mr. Preston courteously.
Dan got out, somehow, without staggering, or without having his voice quiver.
Once in the street he started along blindly, his fists clenched.
"So that's the way she uses me, is it?" he demanded of himself savagely. "Plays with me, while all the time the day for her wedding draws near. She must be laughing heartily over—-my greenness! Oh, confound all girls, anyway!"
It was seldom that Midshipman Dalzell allowed himself to get in a temper. He had been through many a midshipman fight without having had his ugliness aroused. But just now Dan felt humiliated, sore in spirit and angry all over—-especially with all members of the gentler sex.
He even fancied that Mr. Preston was at that moment engaged in laughing over the verdant midshipman. As a matter of fact, Mr. Preston was doing nothing of the sort. Mr. Preston had not supposed that Dan's former call had been intended as anything more than a pleasant social diversion. The Prestons supposed that every one knew that their niece was betrothed to an excellent young fellow. So, at this particular moment, Mr. Preston was engaged in sitting on a trunk, while his wife tried to turn the key in the lock. Neither of them was favoring Midshipman Dalzell with as much as a thought.
"Why on earth is it that all girls are so tricky?" Dan asked himself savagely, taking it for granted that all girls are "tricky" where admirers are concerned.
"Oh, my, what a laugh Davy will have over me, when he hears!" was Dan's next bitter thought, as he strode along.
Having just wronged all girls in his own estimation of them, Dan was now proceeding to do his own closest chum an injustice. For Dave Darrin was too thorough a gentleman to laugh over any unfortunate's discomfiture.
"What a lucky escape I had from getting better acquainted with that girl!" was Dalzell's next thought. "Why, with one as wholly deceitful as she is there can be no telling where it would all have ended. She might have drawn me into troubles that would have resulted in my having to leave the service!"
Dan had not the least desire to do any one an injustice, but just now he was so astounded and indignant that his mind worked violently rather than keenly.
"Serves me right!" sputtered Dalzell, at last. "A man in the Navy has no business to think about the other sex. He should give his whole time and thought to his profession and his country. That's what I'll surely do after this."
Having reached this conclusion, the midshipman should have been more at peace with himself, but he wasn't. He had been sorely, even if foolishly wounded in his own self esteem, and it was bound to hurt until the sensation wore off.
"You'll know more, one of these days, Danny boy," was his next conclusion. "And what you know will do you a lot more good, too, if it doesn't include any knowledge whatever of girls—-except the disposition and the ability to keep away from 'em! I suppose there are a few who wouldn't fool a fellow in this shameless way but it will be a heap safer not to try to find any of the few!"
Dan's head was still down, and he was walking as blindly as ever, when he turned a corner and ran squarely into some one.
"Why don't you look out where you're going?" demanded that some one.
"Why don't you look out yourself?" snapped Midshipman Dalzell, and the next instant a heavy hand was laid upon him.
THE "FORGOT" PATH TO TROUBLE
"Here, confound you! I'll teach you to——-"
"Teach me how to walk the way you were going when I stopped you?" demanded the same voice, and a harder grip was taken on Dalzell's shoulder.
In his misery Dan was not at all averse to fighting, if a good excuse were offered. So his first move was not to look up, but to wrest him self out of that grip, haul away and put up his guard.
"Dave Darrin!" gasped Midshipman Dan, using his eyes at last.
Dave was laughing quietly.
"Danny boy, you shouldn't cruise without lights and a bow watch!" admonished Dave. "What sent your wits wool gathering? You look terribly upset over something."
"Do I?" asked Dan, looking guilty.
"You certainly do. And see here, is this the way to the Preston house?"
"No; it's the way away from it."
"But you had permission to visit at the Prestons."
"That isn't any news to me," grunted Dalzell.
"Then—-pardon me—-but why aren't you there?"
"Are you the officer of the day?" demanded Dan moodily.
"No; merely your best friend."
"I beg your pardon, Dave. I am a grouch tonight."
"Wasn't Miss Preston at home."
"I—-I don't know."
"Don't know? Haven't you been there?"
"Yes; but I didn't ask——-"
As Dan hesitated Dave rested both hands on his chum's shoulders, looking sharply into that young man's eyes.
"Danny, you act as though you were loco. (crazy). What on earth is up? You went to call on Miss Preston. You reached the house, and evidently you left there again. But you don't know whether Miss Preston was in; you forgot to ask. Let me look in at the answer to the riddle."
"Dave—-Miss Preston is going to be married!"
"Most girls are going to be," Darrin replied quietly. "Do you mean that Miss Preston is going to marry some one else than yourself?"
Dave Darrin whistled.
"So this is the meaning of your desperation? Danny boy, if you're stung, I'm sincerely sorry for you."
"I don't quite know whether I want any sympathy," Dan replied, though he spoke rather gloomily. "Perhaps I'm to be congratulated."
He laughed mirthlessly, then continued:
"When a girl will treat a fellow like that, isn't it just as well to find out her disposition early?"
"Perhaps," nodded Darrin. "But Danny, do you mean to say that you attempted to pay your call without an appointment?"
"What was the need of an appointment?" demanded Dan. "Miss Preston invited me to call at any time—-just drop in. Now, she must know that Saturday evening is a midshipman's only chance at this time of the year."
"Nevertheless, you were wrong at that point, in the game," Dave went on gravely. "Unless you're on the best of terms with a young lady, don't attempt to call on her without having learned that your purpose will be agreeable to her. And so Miss Preston, while receiving your calls, has been engaged to some one else?"
Dan nodded, adding, "She might have given me some hint, I should think."
"I don't know about that," Darrin answered thoughtfully. "Another good view of it would be that a young lady's private affairs are her own property. Didn't she ever mention the lucky fellow to you?"
"It seems that she did," Dalzell assented. "But I thought, all the time, that she was talking about her brother."
"Why should you especially think it was her brother whom she was mentioning?"
"Because she seemed so mighty fond of the fellow," Dan grunted.
Dave choked a strong impulse to laugh.
"Danny boy," he remarked, "girls, very often, are mighty fond, also, of the fellow to whom they're engaged."
"Why did she let me call?" demanded Dan gloomily.
"How often have you called?" inquired Midshipman Darrin.
"Once, before to-night."
"Only once? Then, see here, Danny! Don't be a chump. When you call on a girl once, and ask if you may call some other time, how on earth is she to guess that you're an intended rival of the man she has promised to marry?"
"But——-" That was as far as Midshipman Dalzell got. He halted, wondering what he really could say next.
"Dan, I'm afraid you've got an awful lot to learn about girls, and also about the social proprieties to be observed in calling on them. As to Miss Preston receiving a call from you, and permitting you to call again, that was something that any engaged girl might do properly enough. Miss Preston came to Annapolis, possibly to learn something about midshipman life. She met you and allowed you to call. Very likely she permitted others to call. From what you've told me I can't see that she treated you unfairly in any way; I don't believe Miss Preston ever guessed that you had any other than the merest social reasons for calling."
"And I'm not sure that I did have," grunted Dalzell.
Dave shot another swift look into his chum's face before he said:
"Danny boy, your case is a light one. You'll recover speedily. Your vanity has been somewhat stung, but your heart won't have a scar in three days from now."
"What makes you think you know so much about that?" insisted Dan, drawing himself up with a dignified air.
"It isn't hard to judge, when it's another fellow's case," smiled Darrin. "I believe that, at this minute, I understand your feelings better than you do yourself."
"I don't know about my feelings," proclaimed Dan gloomily still, "but I do know something about my experience and conclusions. No more girls for me!"
"Good idea, Danny boy," cried Darrin, slapping his friend on the back. "That's the best plan for you, too."
"Because you haven't head enough to understand girls and their ways."
"I don't want to."
"Good! I hope you will keep in that frame of mind. And now, let's talk of something serious."
"Of what, then?" inquired Dalzell, as the two started to walk along together.
"Is that more serious than girls?" demanded Dan Dalzell, suspicious that his friend was making fun of him.
"It's safer, at any rate, for you. Why, if a girl happens to say, 'Delighted to meet you, Mr. Dalzell,' you expect her to give up all other thoughts but you, and to be at home every Saturday evening. No, no, Danny. The company of the fair is not for you. Keep to things you understand better—-such as football."
Dan Dalzell's eyes shot fire. He was certain, now, that his chum was poking fun at him, and this, in his present temper, Dan could not quite endure.
"So, since we've dropped the subject of girls," Dave continued placidly, "what do you think are our real chances for the balance of this season?"
"They'd be a lot improved," grunted Dan, "if you'd get the grip on yourself that you had at the beginning of the season."
"I know I'm not playing in as good form as I had hoped to," Dave nodded. "The worst of it is, I can't find out the reason."
"A lot of the fellows think you've lost interest since you found that you won't have the great Prescott to play against in the Army-Navy game," Dan hinted.
"Yes; I know. I've heard that suspicion hinted at."
"Isn't it true?" challenged Dalzell.
"To the best of my knowledge and belief, it isn't. Why, Danny, it would be absurd to think that I couldn't play right now, just because Dick isn't to be against us on Franklin Field."
"I know it would sound absurd," Dan replied. "But let us put it another way, Dave. All along you've been working yourself up into better form, because you knew that, otherwise, it was very doubtful whether the Navy could beat the Army on the gridiron. So you had worked yourself up to where you played a better game than ever Dick Prescott thought of doing. Then you hear that poor Dick is in Coventry, and therefore not on the team. You haven't got the great Army man to beat, and, just for that reason, you slack up on your efforts."
"I am not slacking up," retorted Dave with some spirit. "I am doing the best that is in me, though I admit I appear to have gone stale."
"And so something will happen," predicted Dan.
"What will that be?"
"Between now and the game with the Army, Prescott's comrades will find what boobs they've been, and they'll lift the Coventry. Prescott and Holmes will get into the Army team at the last moment, and the fellows from West Point will ride rough-shod over the Navy, just as they did last year."
"Do you really think that will happen?" demanded Darrin eagerly. "Do you really believe that dear old Dick will get out of that Coventry and back on the Army eleven?"
"Well," returned Midshipman Dalzell soberly, "I'll venture a prediction. If you don't get a brace on your playing soon, then it'll be regular Navy luck for Prescott to come to Philadelphia and put on his togs. Then the soldiers will drag us down the field to the tune of 46 to 2."
"I'd sooner he killed on the field than see that happen!" cried Midshipman Dave, his eyes flashing.
"Then don't let it happen! You're the only star on our team, Dave, that isn't up to the mark. If we lose to the Army, this year, Prescott or no Prescott, it will be your fault, Dave Darrin. You're not one of our weak spots, really but you're not as strong as you ought to be and can be if you'll only brace."
"Brace!" quivered Dave. "Won't I, though?"
"Good! Just stick to that."
"Dan!" Darrin halted his chum before a store where dry goods and notions were sold. "Let's go in here——-"
"What, for?" Midshipman Dalzell asked in astonishment.
"I want to make a purchase," replied Dave soberly. "Danny boy, I'm going to buy you a hat pin—-one at least ten inches long. You're to slip it in, somewhere in your togs. When you catch me lagging—-practice or game—-just jab that hat pin into me as far as you can send it."
"Bosh!" retorted Dan impatiently. "Come along."
Dave submitted, in patient silence, to being led away from the store. For some moments the chums strolled along together in silence.
"Now, speaking of Miss Preston," began Dan, breaking the silence at last, "she——-"
"Drop that! Get back to football, Danny—-it's safer," warned Dave Darrin.
"Hold on, I tell you! You had almost recovered, Danny, in the short space of five minutes. Now, don't bring on a relapse by opening up the old sore. I shall soon begin to believe it was your heart that was involved, instead of your vanity."
"Oh, hang girls, then!" exploded Dan.
"Couldn't think of it," urged Dave gently. "That wouldn't be chivalrous, and even a midshipman is required to be a gentleman at all times. So——-"
"Good evening, gentlemen," spoke a pleasant voice. The midshipmen glanced up, then promptly brought up their hands in salute to an officer whom they would otherwise have passed without seeing.
That officer was Lieutenant Adams, discipline officer.
"Are you enjoying your stroll, Mr. Darrin?" asked Mr. Adams.
"Very much, sir; thank you."
"And you, Mr. Dalzell. But let me see—-wasn't your liberty for the purpose of paying a visit?"
"Yes, sir," Dan answered, coloring.
"And you are strolling, instead?"
"Yes, sir; the person on whom I went to call was not there."
"Then, Mr. Darrin, you should have returned to Bancroft Hall, and reported your return."
"Yes, sir; I should have done that," Dan confessed in confusion. "The truth is, sir, it hadn't occurred to me."
"Return at once, Mr. Dalzell, and place yourself on report for strolling without permission."
Both midshipmen saluted, then turned for the shortest cut to Maryland Avenue, and thence to the gate at the end of that thoroughfare.
"Ragged!" muttered Dan. "And without the slightest intention of doing anything improper."
"It was improper, though," Dave replied quickly, "and both you and I should have thought of it in time."
"I really forgot."
"Forgot to think, you mean, Dan, and that's no good excuse in bodies of men where discipline rules. Really, I should have gone on report, too."
"But you had liberty to stroll in town."
"Yes; but I'm guilty in not remembering to remind you of your plain duty."
Lieutenant Adams had not in the least enjoyed ordering Dan to place himself on report. The officer had simply done his duty. To the average civilian it may seem that Dan Dalzell had done nothing very wrong in taking a walk when he found the purpose of his call frustrated; but discipline, when it imposes certain restrictions on a man, cannot allow the man himself to be the judge of whether he may break the restrictions. If the man himself is to be the judge then discipline ceases to exist.
"So I've got to stick myself on pap, and accept a liberal handful of demerits, all on account of a girl?" grumbled Dan, as the chums turned into the road leading to Bancroft Hall."
"That is largely because you couldn't get the girl out of your head," Dave rejoined. "Didn't I tell you, Danny, that you hadn't head enough to give any of your attention to the other sex?"
"It's tough to get those demerits, though," contended Dan. "I imagine there'll be a large allowance of them, and in his fourth year a fellow can't receive many demerits without having to get out of the Academy. One or two more such scrapes, and I'll soon be a civilian, instead of an officer in the Navy!"
"See here, Dan; I'll offer an explanation that you can make truthfully. Just state, when you're called up, that you and I were absorbed talking football, and that you really forgot to turn in the right direction while your mind was so full of Navy football. That may help some."
"Yes; it will—-not!"
Dan Dalzell passed into the outer room of the officer in charge, picked up a blank and filled it out with the report against himself.
Dave was waiting outside as Dan came out from the disagreeable duty of reporting himself.
"Hang the girls!" Dalzell muttered again disgustedly.
DAN'S EYES JOLT HIS WITS
Dan Dalzell, on the point of stepping out of Bancroft Hall, wheeled like a flash, and bounded back against Farley, Jetson and Page.
"Don't look!" whispered Dan hoarsely. "Duck!"
"What on earth is the matter?" demanded Midshipman Darrin, eyeing his chum sharply.
"I—-I don't know what it is," muttered Dan, after he had backed his friends some feet from the entrance.
"What does it look like?" asked Farley.
"Something like a messenger boy," returned Dan.
"Surely, you're not afraid of a messenger boy with a telegram," laughed Darrin. "Little chance that the message is for you, at any rate."
"But—-it's got a Naval uniform on, I tell you," warned Dan.
"No; you hadn't told us. What is it—-another midshipman?"
"Not by a jugful!" Dan sputtered. "It's wearing an officer's uniform."
"Then undoubtedly you chanced to glance at an officer of the Navy," Darrin replied, sarcastically soothing. "Brace up, Dan."
"But he's only a kid!" remonstrated Dan. "And he wear a lieutenant's insignia!"
"Bosh! Some officers are quite boyish-looking," remarked Farley. "Come on out, fellows; I haven't forgotten how to salute an officer when I see one."
The others, except Dan, started briskly for the entrance. As for Dalzell, he brought up the rear, grumbling:
"All right; you fellows go on out and see whether you see him. If you don't, then I'm going to report myself at hospital without delay. Really, I can't swear that I saw—-it."
But at that moment the object of Dan's alarm reached one of the doors of the entrance of Bancroft Hall and stepped briskly inside.
This new-comer's glance fell upon the knot of midshipmen, and he glanced at them inquiringly, as though to see whether these young men intended to salute him.
Surely enough, the newcomer was decidedly boyish-looking, yet he wore the fatigue uniform and insignia of a lieutenant of the United States Navy. If he were masquerading, here was a dangerous place into which to carry his antics.
The five midshipmen brought their right hands hesitatingly to the visors of their uniform caps. The very youthful lieutenant smartly returned their salutes, half smiled, then turned, in search of the officer in charge.
"Scoot! Skip! Let's escape!" whispered Dan hoarsely, and all five midshipmen were speedily out in the open.
"Now, did you fellows really see—-it—-or did I have a delusion that I saw you all salute when I did?"
"I saw it," rejoined Farley, "and I claim it, if no one else wants it."
"The service is going to the dogs," growled Page, "when they give away a lieutenant's uniform with a pound of tea!"
"What ails you fellows?" rebuked Dave Darrin. "The man who passed us was a sure-enough lieutenant in the Navy."
"Him?" demanded Midshipman Dalzell, startled out of his grip on English grammar. "A lieutenant? That—-that—-kid?"
"He's a lieutenant of the Navy, all right," Dave insisted.
"You're wrong," challenged Page. "Don't you know, Dave, that a man must be at least twenty-one years old in order to hold an officer's commission in the Navy?"
"That man who received our salutes is a Naval, officer," Dave retorted. "I don't know anything about his age."
"Why, that little boy can't be a day over seventeen," gasped Dan Dalzell. "Anyway, fellows, I'm overjoyed that you all saw him! That takes a load off my mind as to my mental condition."
"Whoever he is, he's a Navy officer, and he has trod the bridge in many a gale," contended Dave. "Small and young as he looks, that man had otherwise every bit of the proper appearance of a Navy officer."
"What a joke it will be on you," grinned Page, "when you find the watchman dragging the little fellow away to turn over to the doctors from the asylum!"
The midshipmen were on their way to report for afternoon football work. As they had started a few minutes early, and had time to spare, they had now halted on the way, and were standing on the sidewalk in front of the big and handsome barracks building.
"Can you fellows still use your eyes?" Dave wanted to know. "If you can, look toward the steps of Bancroft."
The officer in charge was coming out. At his side was the very youthful looking one in the lieutenant's uniform.
"The O.C. is decoying the stranger away to turn him over to the watchmen without violence," guessed Midshipman Farley.
Three officers were approaching. These the five midshipmen turned and saluted. In another moment all of the five save Dave Darrin received a sharp jolt. For the O.C. had halted and was introducing the three Navy officers to the youthful one.
"This is Lieutenant Benson, the submarine expert of whom you have heard so much," said the O.C., loudly enough for the amazed middies to hear.
"Sub—-sub——say, did you fellows hear that?" begged Dan hoarsely.
"Yes," assented Dave calmly. "And say, you fellows are a fine lot to be serving here. You all remember Mr. Benson. He was here last year—-he and his two submarine friends. We didn't see them, because our class didn't go out on the Pollard submarine boat that was here last year. But you remember them, just the same. You remember, too, that Mr. Benson and his friends were hazed by some of the men in last year's youngster class. You heard about that? A lot of the fellows came near getting ragged, but Benson didn't take offense, and his quick wit pulled that lot of last year's youngsters out of a bad fix."
"Then Benson and his mates are real people?" demanded Dan, still doubtful, if his voice were an indication.
"Yes; and Benson is a real submarine expert, too, even if he is a boy," Dave went on.
"Then he is only a boy?"
"He's seventeen or eighteen."
"Then how can he be a lieutenant?" demanded Dalzell, looking more bewildered.
"He isn't," Dave answered simply.
"But the O.C. introduced him that way."
"And quite properly," answered Darrin, whereat his companions stared at him harder than ever.
"Let's walk along," proposed Dave, "and I'll tell you the little that I know, or think I know, about the matter. Of course, you fellows all know about the Pollard submarine boats? The government owns a few of them now, and is going to buy a lot more of the Pollard craft."
"But that kid officer?" insisted Dan.
"If you'll wait I'll come to that. Benson, his name is; Jack Benson he's commonly called. He and two boy friends got in on the ground floor at the Farnum shipyard. They were boys of considerable mechanical skill, and they found their forte in the handling of submarine boats. They've done some clever, really wonderful feats with submarines. Farnum, the owner of the yard, trusted these boys, after a while, to show off the fine points of the craft to our Navy officers and others."
"But what has that to do with giving Benson a commission in the Navy?" demanded Farley.
"I'm coming to that," Dave replied. "As I've heard the yarn, Benson and his two boy friends attracted attention even from the European governments. The Germans and some other powers even made them good offers to desert this country and go abroad as submarine experts. Our Navy folks thought enough of Benson and his chums to want to save them for this country. So the Secretary of the Navy offered all three the rank and command of officers without the actual commissions. As soon as these young men, the Submarine Boys as they are called, are twenty-one, the Navy Department will bestir itself to give them actual commissions and make them real staff or line officers."
"So that those kids will rank us in the service?" grumbled Dan.
"Well, up to date," replied Dave quietly, "the Submarine Boys have done more for their country than we have. Of course, in the end, we may be admirals in the Navy, even before they're captains. Who can tell?"
"I wonder what Benson is doing here?" murmured Farley.
"Lieutenant Benson," Dave corrected him, "is probably here on official business. If you want exact details, suppose we stop at the superintendent's house and ask him."
"Quit your kidding," grinned Farley.
"So I've got to say 'sir,' if that boy speaks to me?" asked Dan.
"I think it would be better," smiled Darrin, "if you're anxious to escape another handful of demerits."
By the time that the football squad began to assemble on the football field, Dan and his friends found that some of the midshipmen were full of information about the famous Submarine Boys. Readers who may not be familiar with the careers of Lieutenant Jack Benson, Ensign Hal Hastings, and Ensign Eph Somers are referred to the volumes of the Submarine Boys' Series. In "The Submarine Boys and the Middies" will be found the account of the hazing that Jack, Hal and Eph had received at the hands of midshipmen.
Benson and his two friends, with a crew of four men, were now at the Naval Academy, having arrived at two o'clock that afternoon, for the purpose of giving the first classmen instruction aboard the latest Pollard submarine, the "Dodger."
But play was called, and that stopped, for the time being, all talk about the Submarine Boys.
THE PRIZE TRIP ON THE "DODGER"
The following afternoon, at the hour for instruction in the machine shops, the entire first class was marched down to the basin, where the "Dodger" lay. Squad by squad the midshipmen were taken on board the odd-looking little craft that was more at home beneath the waves than on them.
While the exact place and scale of importance of submarine war craft has not been determined as yet, boats of the Pollard type are certainly destined to play a tremendously important part in the Naval wars of the future. Hence all of the midshipmen were deeply interested in what they saw and were told.
Some of these first classmen were twenty-four years of age, others from twenty to twenty-two. Hence, with many of them, there was some slight undercurrent of feeling over the necessity for taking instruction from such very youthful instructors as Jack Benson, Hal Hastings and Eph Somers.
Had any of this latter trio been inclined to put on airs there might have been some disagreeable feeling engendered in the breasts of some of the middies. But Jack and his associates were wholly modest, pleasant and helpful.
Beginning on the following day, it was announced, the "Dodger" would take a squad of six midshipmen down Chesapeake Bay for practical instruction in submarine work, both above and below the surface of the water. This instruction would continue daily, with squads of six midshipmen on board, until all members of the first class had received thorough drilling.
"That's going to be a mighty pleasant change from the usual routine here," whispered Farley in Dave's ear.
"It surely will," Darrin nodded. "It will be even better fun than football."
"With no chance for the Army to beat us out on this game," Farley replied slyly.
At last it came the turn of Dave, Dan, Farley, Page, Jetson and Wolgast to go aboard the "Dodger."
"Gentlemen," announced Lieutenant Jack Benson, "Ensign Somers will show you all that is possible about the deck handling and the steering below the surface, and then Ensign Hastings will explain the mechanical points of this craft. When both are through, if you have any questions. I will endeavor to answer them."
In a few minutes the "showing" had been accomplished.
"Any questions, gentlemen?" inquired Lieutenant Benson.
Dave was ready with three; Farley had four and Jetson two. Lieutenant Benson looked particularly pleased as he answered. Then, at last, he inquired:
"What's your name?"
"Darrin, sir," Dave replied.
The other midshipmen present were asked their names, and gave them.
"Gentlemen," continued youthful Lieutenant Benson, "this present squad impresses me as being more eager and interested in submarines than any of the squads that have come aboard."
"Thank you, sir," Dave replied for himself and the others.
"Are you really exceptionally interested?" inquired Benson.
"I think we are, sir," Dave responded.
"On Saturday of each week, as long as the 'Dodger' is at Annapolis," went on Benson, "we intend to take out one of the best squads. We shall drop down the Bay, not returning, probably before Sunday noon. Would you gentlemen like to be the first squad to go on the longer cruise—-next Saturday?"
The faces of all six midshipmen shone with delight for an instant, until Dave Darrin answered mournfully:
"It would give us great delight, sir, but for one thing. We play Creighton University next Saturday, and we are all members of the Navy team."
"None of you look forward to having to go to hospital during the progress of the game, do you?" inquired Lieutenant Benson with a slight smile.
"Then the 'Dodger' can sail an hour after the finish of the game, and perhaps stay out a little later on Sunday. Will that solve the problem?"
"Then I will use such persuasion as I can with the superintendent to have you six men detailed for the Saturday-Sunday detail this week," promised Lieutenant Benson. "And now I will write your names down, in order that there may be no mistake about the squad that reports to me late next Saturday afternoon. Dismissed!"
As Dave and his friends stepped ashore even Dan Dalzell had a more gracious estimate of "that kid, Benson."
That night, and for several nights afterwards, the "Dodger" and her officers furnished a fruitful theme for discussion among the midshipmen. As the "Dodger" was believed to be the very finest submarine craft anywhere among the navies of the world, the interest grew rather than waned.
Dave and Dan, as well as their four friends, began to look forward with interest to the coming cruise down the bay.
"Fellows," warned Wolgast, "you'll have to look out not to get your heads so full of submarines that you lose to Creighton on Saturday."
"On the contrary," retorted Dave, "you can look for us to push Creighton all over the field. We'll do it just as a sheer vent to our new animal spirits."
That was a decidedly boastful speech for Dave Darrin, yet on Saturday he made good, or helped tremendously, for Creighton retired from the field with the small end of an eight-to-two score.
"Now, hustle on the dressing," roared Wolgast, as they started to un-tog and get under the showers, after the football victory.
"What's the need of rush?" demanded Peckham one of the subs.
"It doesn't apply to you," Wolgast shot back over his shoulder, as he started on a run to the nearest shower. "I'm talking only to to-night's submarine squad."
The six midshipmen found many an envious look shot in their direction.
"Those extremely youthful officers seem to have a bad case of spoons on you six," remarked Peckham almost sourly.
"Show some nearly human intelligence, and maybe you'll get a chance at one of the Saturday cruises, Peckham," called back Farley, as he began to towel down vigorously.
Dave and his friends were the first men of the team to be dressed and ready to leave.
"Give our best regards to Davy Jones!" shouted one of the football men.
"If you go down to the bottom of Chesapeake Bay, and can't get up again, don't do anything to spoil the fishing," called another middy.
By this time Dave Darrin and his mates were outside and on their way to the basin.
Lieutenant Jack Benson was the only one of the "Dodger's" officers on view when the midshipmen arrived alongside. They passed aboard, saluting Benson, who returned their salutes without affectation.
"All here?" said Benson. "Mr. Somers, tumble the crew on deck!"
"Shall we go below, sir?" inquired Dave, again saluting.
"Not until so directed," Benson replied. "I wish you to see every detail of the boat handling."
At Lieutenant Jack's command the crew threw the hawsers aboard and soon had them out of the way.
Benson gave the starting signal to Eph Somers.
No sooner had the "Dodger's" hawsers been cast aboard than the submarine torpedo boat headed out. It was a get-away swift enough—-almost to take the breath of the midshipmen.
"You see, gentlemen," Lieutenant Benson explained quietly, "we act on the theory that in submarine work every second has its value when in action. So we have paid a good deal of attention to the speedy start. Another thing that you will note is that, aboard so small a craft, it is important that, as far as is possible, the crew act without orders for each move. What do you note of the crew just now?"
"That they performed their work with lightning speed, sir, and that they have already gone below, without waiting for orders to that effect."
"Right," nodded Jack Benson. "Had the crew been needed on deck I would have ordered them to remain. As I did not so order they have gone below, where they are out of the way until wanted. A craft that fights always on the surface of the water should have some men of the crew always on deck. But here on a submarine the men would be in the way, and we want a clear range of view all over the deck, and seaward, in order that we may see everything that it is possible to see. Mr. Darrin, Mr. Dalzell and Mr. Farley will remain on deck with me. The other young gentlemen will go below to study the workings of the engines under Ensign Hastings."
Though it was a true pleasure trip for all six of the midshipmen, it was one of hard, brisk instruction all the time.
"Here, you see," explained Lieutenant Jack, leading his trio just forward of the conning tower, "we have a deck wheel for use when needed. Mr. Somers, give up the wheel."
"Aye, aye, sir," and Ensign Eph, who had been sitting at the tower wheel since the start, moved away and came on deck.
"Mr. Darrin, take the wheel," directed Benson. "Are you familiar with the Bay?"
"Not sufficiently, sir, to be a pilot."
"Then I will give you your directions from time to time. How does this craft mind her wheel?"
"With the lightest touch, sir, that I ever saw in a wheel."
"The builders of the 'Dodger' have been working to make the action of the steering wheel progressively lighter with each boat that they have built. Men on a submarine craft must have the steadiest nerves at all times, and steady nerves do not go hand in hand with muscle fatigue."
Lieutenant Jack walked to the entrance to the conning tower. "Mallock!" he called down to one of the crew.
"Aye, aye, sir."
"My compliments to Mr. Hastings, and ask him to crowd the speed of the boat gradually."
"Aye, aye, sir."
The "Dodger" had been moving down the bay at a ten-knot pace. Suddenly she gave a jump that caused Midshipman Dave Darrin to wonder. Then the submarine settled down to a rushing sixteen-knot gait."
"I didn't know, sir," ventured Farley, "that submarines could go quite so fast."
"The old types didn't," Lieutenant Jack answered. "However, on the surface a capable submarine must be able to show a good deal of speed."
"For getting away, sir?"
"Oh, no. Naturally, when a submarine is pursued she can drop under the surface and leave no trail. But suppose a single submarine to be guarding a harbor, unaided by other fighting craft. A twenty-or twenty-two knot battleship is discovered, trying to make the harbor. Even if the battleship steams away the submarine should be capable of following. The engines of the 'Dodger,' in favorable weather, can drive her at twenty-six knots on the surface."
"She's as fast as a torpedo-boat destroyer, then, sir," hazarded Dan.
"Yes; and the submarine needs to be as fast. With the improvement of submarine boats the old style of torpedo boat will pass out altogether. Then, if the destroyer is retained the submarine must be capable of attacking the destroyer on equal terms. Undoubtedly, after a few years more the river gunboat and the submarine torpedo boat will be the only small fighting craft left in the navies of the leading powers of the world."
Even while this brief conversation was going on the speed of the "Dodger" had begun to increase again. Ensign Hasting's head showed through the opening in the conning tower.