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- The Boy Allies Under Two Flags - 20/39 -
Suddenly Captain Dreyfuss slapped his leg with his hand and got to his feet.
"It shall be done," he said; "and, I may say that I shall be glad of your company. I will have you shown your quarters. As it happens, I am short handed. I shall see that your crew is set ashore and given passage for London."
At his signal a young midshipman entered the cabin and came to attention.
"I place these young men in your charge," Captain Dreyfuss said to him. "You will show them quarters. From this time on they will be your shipmates."
The young Frenchman saluted, and the lads followed him from the commander's cabin.
He showed them to very neat quarters and said abruptly:
"You will bunk here."
He departed without another word. Frank and Jack stared after him in some surprise.
"Nice, pleasant companion he'll make," said Frank with fine sarcasm.
"I should say so," answered Jack. "From his actions you'd think we had done something to offend him."
"Oh, well," said Frank, "I guess we don't need to worry a whole lot about him."
"No," said Jack, "but just the same I would rather be on good terms with all on board."
The British sailors had now been gathered on deck and Frank and Jack went up to bid them goodbye. As they were rowed away in the direction of the little town the sailors stood up in the boats and gave three lusty cheers for both lads. The lads waved their hats at them.
"You'd think these English were somebody," came a voice from Frank's elbow, and turning the lad saw several French midshipmen standing nearby. "They leave us to do all the fighting," continued one, whom Frank now recognized as the one who had escorted them to their quarters. "If they fought as well as they talk, this war wouldn't last long."
Frank took a quick step toward the speaker, but Jack's hand fell on his arm and stayed him.
"Quiet," said Jack. "We don't want to have any trouble with them. Besides their words do not apply to you. You are American."
"You are right," said Frank, and turned away.
Suddenly Captain Dreyfuss' voice rang out on the bridge. Instantly all became bustle and confusion. The Marie Theresa was about to get under way. Not yet having been assigned to their duties, Jack and Frank stood a little to one side.
Slowly the big battle cruiser got under way. With her flag flying proudly, she turned her stern toward the shore and made for the open sea. Soon she was heading southward at full speed.
Now a second midshipman approached the lads.
"I am instructed to show you your duties," he said, without enthusiasm, and the boys could see that he was not well pleased with his task.
Frank stepped up to him and held out his hand. "See here," he said, "why can't we be friends?'
The Frenchman took the proffered hand and shook it half-heartedly. He glanced furtively about, evidently in fear that some of his comrades might see him in this compromising situation. Then, as rapidly as possible, he instructed the lads in their tasks.
"And now," he concluded, "dinner is ready. You will mess with the other midshipmen. Come, will show you the way."
Without a word the lads followed him. The long table was already filled. + But there were still some vacant seats. Frank and Jack dropped into these.
"Midshipman Templeton and Midshipman Chadwick," said their escort, introducing them to the rest, with a sweep of his arm.
Frank and Jack rose from their seats and bowed. The young Frenchmen barely acknowledged the introduction with nods of their heads.
Frank's face flushed, and he made as if to rise, but, again Jack stayed him, and they fell to eating in silence. Several times during the meal some Frenchman inadvertently made a remark derogatory to the fighting ability of the English.
Frank held his temper, though his face burned,'' and Jack was fearful that his friend would soon be mixed up in trouble again. However, the meal finally came to an end, and Jack and Frank arose with the others to leave the room.
To the deck below, where the midshipmen were wont to spend most of their leisure hours, the lads followed the Frenchmen. Here some drew cigarettes from their pockets, and, in spite of the regulations against this practice, proceeded to light up in most approved style.
Then they broke up into little knots, and Jack and Frank found themselves left to themselves.
"Come," said Jack at length, "we might as well go on deck."
He took Frank by the arm and started away. As they neared the door, a big, hulking Frenchman suddenly stretched forth a foot, and Frank, who had not noticed this obstruction, tripped and fell heavily to the deck.
He was up in a moment, his face a dull red. He turned on the now giggling midshipmen, angrily.
"Who did that?" he demanded, taking a step forward and doubling up his fists.
A laugh went round the room, but there was, no reply.
"Who did that?" demanded Frank again.
The big French middie who had tripped the lad stepped forward.
"I did it," he replied, thrusting out his face. "What of it?"
"Just this," replied Frank, and started forward. Jack stopped him.
"Here's where I get into this," he said quietly. "I tried to keep out, but it's no use. Stand aside, Frank, can't you see you are no match for him."
"Step aside nothing," said Frank, struggling, in Jack's grasp. "I never saw a Frenchman yet I couldn't lick."
"Well," said Jack calmly, "this is one you won't lick. I'm going to do it myself. It's my fight, anyway in vain did Frank struggle. He was like a child in his friend's strong hands.
The big Frenchman thrust his face forward again.
"So you are going to interfere, are you?" he said.
"Yes," said Jack pleasantly, "and you'll wish I hadn't."
"Then take that," cried the Frenchman, and struck out suddenly.
Jack leaped back quickly, but he was not swift enough to entirely avoid the blow. A tiny stream of blood trickled from his nose. Without a word he calmly drew a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped away the red drops. Then he stepped forward and spoke to all.
"Now," he said quietly, "this chap is going to pay for that. Are you gentlemen here? Will you see that this is conducted in a proper manner, or is it to be a rough-and-tumble?"
One of the French middies stepped forward suddenly. He offered Jack his hand.
"I'll see that it is conducted ship-shape," he said. "You impress me as a brave man, and I'll see that you get fair play."
"Thanks," said Jack laconically, accepting his hand.
"I might as well tell you, however," continued the Frenchman, "that you are up against more than your match. This man is one of the heavyweight aspirants for the championship of the French navy, and has several scalps to his credit."
"I guess he hasn't bumped up against an Englishman," was Jack's reply.
"What's it to be?" asked the Frenchman.
"Anything suits me," said Jack.
"To a finish," grumbled Jack's antagonist.
Quickly a square was marked off, and, enjoining the spectators to silence, the young Frenchman who appeared more friendly than the rest as self-appointed referee called time.
Jack and his opponent squared off.
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