“Now, it works out this way,” continued the first classman, bending over the disk and drawing paper and pencil toward him. “In the first place.”
Freeman seemed to these youngsters like a born demonstrator. Within five minutes he had made the “sticky fly paper” problem so plain to them all that they glanced from one to another in astonishment.
“Why, it does seem easy,” confessed Farley.
“It sounds foolish, now,” grinned Darrin. “I’m beginning to feel ashamed of myself.”
“Mr. Freeman,” protested Page, “you’ve saved us from suicide, or some other gruesome fate.”
“Then I’ll drop in once in a while again,” promised the first classman.
“But that will take time from your own studies,” remonstrated Darrin generously.
“Not in the least. I won’t come around before release. By the time a fellow reaches the first class, if he’s going to graduate anyway, he doesn’t have to study as hard as a youngster does. The man who reaches the first class has had all the habits of true study ground into him.”
Darrin, Dalzell, Farley and Page were all in different sections in mathematics. When they recited, next day, it so happened that each was the man to have the “sticky fly paper” problem assigned to him by the instructor. Each of the quartette received a full “4” for the day’s marking.
“Did you have any assistance with this problem, Mr. Darrin?” asked Dave’s instructor.
“Yes, sir; a member of the first class tried to make it plain to me last night.”
“He appears to have succeeded,” remarked the instructor dryly.
There was, however, no discredit attached to having received proper assistance before coming into section.
True to his promise Freeman dropped in every fourth or fifth evening, to see if he could be of any help to the four youngsters. Always he found that he could be.
Even when Thanksgiving came, Dave Darrin did not go to Philadelphia, but remained at the Academy, devoting his time to study.
Dan, in sheer desperation, took in the trip to Philadelphia. He hoped to meet Dick Prescott and Greg Holmes, but they did not come down from West Point.
On the first day of December, Dan Dalzell’s name was formally reported by the Academic Board in a report to the superintendent which recommended that Midshipman Dalzell be dropped from the rolls for “inaptitude in his studies.”
Poor Dan. It was a staggering blow. Yet it struck Dave Darrin just about as hard.
THE FIRST HOP WITH THE HOME GIRLS
That report was allowed to reach Dan’s ears on a Friday.
On the evening of the day following there was to be a midshipman hop on the floor of the great gym.
Moreover, it was the very hop that Belle Meade and Laura Bentley had finally selected to attend. Mrs. Meade was coming with the girls as chaperon.
“Oh, but I shall feel fine and light hearted for going to the dance!” muttered Dan miserably. “Facing the kick-off from the Academy, and doing the light hearted and the fantastic toe with the girls.”
“I shan’t feel a whole lot more merry myself,” sighed Dave, as he gazed affectionately, wistfully at his chum. “Danny, this has hit me about as hard as it has you. And it warns me, too, that my turn will probably come next. I don’t stand an awful lot higher in my markings than you do.”
“Doesn’t it feel fine to be a bilger?” gulped Dalzell, staring at the floor.
A “bilger,” as has been already explained, is a midshipman who has failed and has been dropped.
“Oh, but you’re not a bilger, yet!” cried Darrin, leaping up and resting both hands on his chum’s shoulder.
“What’s the odds?” demanded Dan grimly. “I shall be, after I’ve been before the Board next Monday forenoon at ten o’clock.”
“Nonsense! Not if you make a good fight!”
“Fight–nothing!” sighed Dan wearily. “In a fight there’s some one else that you can hit back at. But I won’t have a blessed soul to fight. I’m up against a gang who are all referees, and all down on me at the outset.”
“Nonsense,” combatted Dave. “You—-“
“Oh, that’s all right, David, little giant,” returned Dalzell with an attempt at cheeriness. “You mean well, but a fellow isn’t reported deficient unless he’s so far behind that the Board has his case settled in advance. From all I can hear it isn’t once in a camel’s age that a fellow so reported, and ordered before the Board, gets off with anything less than a hard, wet bilge. What I’m thinking of now is, what am I going to pick up as a career when I go home from here as a failure.”
If it hadn’t been for the pride he felt in still having the uniform on, Dalzell might not have been able to check the tears that tried to flow.
“Come on,” commanded Dave, leaping up, “we’ll run up to the deck above, and see if we can’t find Mr. Freeman in.”
“What good will that do?” demanded Dan. “Freeman is a first classman, but he hasn’t any particular drag with the Board.”
“It won’t do any harm, anyway, for us to have a talk with an older classman,” argued Dave. “Button your blouse, straighten your hair and come along.”
“So it’s as bad as that, is it!” asked Freeman sympathetically, after his cheery “come in” had admitted the unhappy youngsters.
“Yes,” replied Dave incisively. “Now, the question is, what can be done about it?”
“I wish you had asked me an easier one,” sighed the first classman. “You’re mighty well liked, all through the Academy, Dalzell, and every one of us will hate to see you go.”
“But what can be done to ward off that fate?” insisted Darrin as impatiently as a third classman might speak to a venerable first classman.
“Well, now, I want to think over that,” confessed Freeman frankly. “Of course, Dalzell’s record, this term, is in black and white, and can’t be gainsaid. It’s just possible our young friend can put up some line of talk that will extend his time here, and perhaps enable him to pull through. It’s a mighty important question, so I’ll tell you what we’ll do. Of course, the hop comes on for to-morrow night. Let me have until Sunday evening. Meanwhile I’ll talk with some of the other fellows of my class. You both come in here Sunday evening, and I’ll have the answer for you–if there’s any possible way of finding one.”
With that the chums had to be content. Expressing their gratitude to this friendly first classman, they withdrew.
That Saturday forenoon Dan did considerably better with the two recitations that he had in hand.
“I got easier questions than usual, I guess,” he said to Dave, with a mournful smile.
After Saturday dinner, Dave and Dan, having secured permission to visit in Annapolis, steered their course through the gate, straight up Maryland Avenue, through State Circle and around into Main Street, to the Maryland House.
At the desk they sent up their cards to Mrs. Meade, then stepped into the parlor.
Barely two minutes had passed when Belle and Laura flew downstairs.
“Mother says she’ll be down as soon as she fancies you’ll care about seeing her,” laughed Belle.
“And how are you getting on in your classes?” asked Laura Bentley, glancing straight at unhappy Dan.
Both midshipmen had agreed not to mention a word of Dan’s heartache to either of the girls.
Dan gulped hard, though he managed to conceal the fact.
Darrin, however, was ready with the answer:
“Oh, we’re having pretty rough sailing, but we’re both still in our class.”
Which statement was wholly truthful.
“Up at West Point,” Laura continued, “Dick told us that the first two years were the hardest for a man to keep his place. I fancy it’s just about the same here, isn’t it?”
“Just about,” Dave nodded. “The first two years are hardest because it takes all that time for a fellow to get himself keyed up to the gait of study that is required in the government academies. But won’t you let us talk about something that’s really pleasant, girls?” Dave asked, with his charming smile. “Suppose we talk about yourselves. My, but you girls are good to look at!”
After that, the conversation was shifted to lighter subjects.
Even Dan, in the joy of meeting two girl friends from home, began to be less conscious of his load of misery.
Presently Mrs. Meade came down. She chatted with the two fine-looking young midshipmen for a few moments. Then Dave proposed:
“Wouldn’t you like us to escort you through the Academy grounds, so that you can get a good idea of the place in daylight?”
“We’ve been waiting only for you to invite us,” rejoined Belle.
For the next two hours the time was passed pleasantly.
But Belle, behind all her light chatter, was unusually keen and observing.
“Is anything wrong with either of you?” she asked Dave suddenly, when this pair were out of easy hearing of the others.
“Why do you ask that?” inquired Dave, looking at her in his direct fashion.
“Why, I may be unnecessarily sensitive, but I can’t help feeling that some sort of disaster is hanging over either you or Dan.”
“I hope not,” replied Darrin evasively.
“Dave, that isn’t a direct answer,” warned Belle, raising her eyebrows. “Do you consider me entitled to one?”
“Yes. What’s the question?”
“Are you in any trouble here?”
“No, I’m thankful to say.”
“Then is Dan!”
“Belle, I’d rather not answer that.”
“Well, because, if he is, I’d rather not discuss it.”
“Has Dan been caught in any scrape?”
“No. His conduct record is fine.”
“Then it must be failure in his studies.”
Dave did not answer.
“Why don’t you tell me?” insisted Belle.
“If anything were in the wind, Belle, we’d rather not tell you and spoil your visit. And don’t ask Dan anything about it.”
“I think I know enough,” went on Belle thoughtfully and sympathetically. “Poor Dan! He’s one of the finest of fellows.”
“There are no better made,” retorted Dave promptly.
“If anything happens to Dan here, dear, I know you will feel just as unhappy about it as if it happened to yourself.”
“Mighty close to it,” nodded Darrin. “But it would be a double heartbreak for me, if I had to leave.”
“On account of the future I’ve planned for you, Belle.”
“Oh, you silly boy, then!” Belle answered, smiling into his eyes. “I believe I have half committed myself to the idea of marrying you when you’ve made your place in life. But it was Dave Darrin to whom I gave that half promise–not a uniform of any sort. Dave, if anything ever happens that you have to quit here, don’t imagine that it’s going to make a particle of difference in our understanding.”
“You’re the real kind of sweetheart, Belle!” murmured Dave, gazing admiringly at her flushed face.
“Did you ever suspect that I wasn’t?” asked Miss Meade demurely.
“Never!” declared Midshipman Darrin devoutly. “Nevertheless, it’s fine to be reassured once in a while.”
“What a great fellow Dan is!” exclaimed Belle a few minutes later. “See how gayly he is chatting with Laura. I don’t believe Laura guesses for a moment that Dan Dalzell is just as game a fellow as the Spartan boy of olden times.”
A DISAGREEABLE FIRST CLASSMAN
The hop that night was one of the happiest occasions Dave had ever known, yet it was destined to result in trouble for him.
Midshipman Treadwell, of the first class, caught sight of Belle as she entered the gym at Dave Darrin’s side.
With Treadwell it happened to be one of those violent though unusually silly affairs known as “love at first sight.”
As for Belle, she was not likely to have eyes for anyone in particular, save Dave.
Treadwell, who had come alone, and who was not to be overburdened with dances, went after Dave as soon as that youngster left Belle for the first time.
“Mighty sweet looking girl you have with you, Darry,” observed the first classman, though he took pains not to betray too much enthusiasm.
“Right!” nodded Dave.
“You’ll present me, won’t you?”
“Assuredly, as soon as I come back. I have a little commission to attend to.”
“And you might be extremely kind, Darry, and write me down for a couple of numbers on Miss—-“
“Miss Meade is the young lady’s name.”
“Then delight me by writing down a couple of reservations for me on Miss Meade’s card.”
Darrin’s face clouded slightly.
“I’d like to, Treadwell, but the card is pretty crowded, and some other fellows–“
“One dance, anyway, then.”
“I will, then, if there’s a space to be left, and if Miss Meade is agreeable,” promised Dave, as he hurried away.
Two minutes later, when he returned, looking very handsome, indeed, in his short-waisted, gold-laced dress coat, Dave felt his arm touched.
“I’m waiting for you to keep your engagement with me,” Midshipman Treadwell murmured.
“Come along; I shall be delighted to present you to Miss Meade.”
Since every midshipman is granted to be a gentleman, midshipman etiquette does not require that the lady be consulted about the introduction.
“Miss Meade,” began Dave, bowing before his sweetheart, “I wish to present Mr. Treadwell”
Belle’s greeting was easy. Treadwell, gazing intensely into her eyes, exchanged a few commonplaces. Belle, entirely at her ease, did not appear to be affected by the battery of Mr. Treadwell’s gaze. Then good breeding required that the first classman make another bow and stroll away.
As he left, Treadwell murmured in Dare’s ear:
“Don’t forget that dance, Darry! Two if there is any show.”
Midshipman Darrin nodded slightly. As he turned to Belle, that young lady demanded lightly:
“Is that pirate one of your friends, Dave?”
“Not more so than any other comrades in the brigade,” Darrin answered. “Why?”
“Nothing, only I saw you two speaking together a little while ago—-“
“That was when he was asking me to present him.”
“Then, after you left him,” continued Belle, in a low voice, “Mr. Treadwell scowled after you as though he could have demolished you.”
“Why, I’ve no doubt Mr. Treadwell is very jealous of me,” laughed Damn happily. “Why shouldn’t he be? By the way, will you let me see your dance card? Mr. Treadwell asked me to write his name down for one or two dances.”
“Please don’t,” begged Belle suddenly, gripping her dance card tightly. “I hope you don’t mind, Dave,” she added in a whisper, “but I’ve taken just a shadow of a dislike to Mr. Treadwell, after the way that he scowled after you. I–I really don’t want to dance with him.”
Dave could only bow, which he did. Then other midshipmen were presented. Belle’s card was quickly filled, without the appearance of Midshipman Treadwell’s name on it.
The orchestra struck up. Dave danced the first two numbers with Belle, moving through a dream of happiness as he felt her waist against his arm, one of her hands resting on his shoulder.
The second dance was a repetition of Dave’s pleasure. Then Dave and Dan exchanged partners for two more dances.
After their first dance, a waltz, Dave led Laura to a seat.
“Will you get me a glass of water, Dave?” Laura asked, fanning herself.
As Dave hastened away he felt, once more, a light, detaining touch.
“Darry, did you save those two dances for me with Miss Meade?” asked Treadwell.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Dave replied. “But there had been many other applicants. By the time that Miss Meade’s card was filled there were many disappointed ones.”
“And I’m one of them?” demanded Mr. Treadwell.
“Very sorry,” replied Darrin regretfully, “but you were one of the left-over ones.”
“Very good, sir,” replied Treadwell coldly, and moved away.
“Now, I’ll wager anything that Treadwell is sore with me,” murmured Dave to himself. “However, Belle is the one to be pleased.”
It was a particularly gay and pleasant hop. When it was over Dave and Dan escorted the girls and Mrs. Meade back to the hotel. The little room in Bancroft Hall seemed especially small and dingy to the returning midshipmen.
Especially was Dan Dalzell in the blues. Though he had been outwardly gay with the girls, he now suffered a re-action. Dave, too, shivered for his friend.
Mrs. Meade and the girls returned by an early morning train, so the two chums did not see the girls again during that visit.
On Sunday, Dave went at his books with a dogged air, after morning chapel and dinner.
“I suppose this is the last day of study for me here,” grimaced Dan, “so I mean to make the most of the pleasure.”
“Nonsense,” retorted Darrin heartily; “you’ll finish out this year, and then have two more solid years of study here ahead of you.”
“Cut it!” begged Dan dolefully. “Don’t try to jolly me along like that.”
“You’re down in the dumps, just now, Danny boy,” smiled Darrin wistfully. “Just bombard the Board with rapid-fire talk to-morrow, and you’ll pull through all right.”
Dan sighed, then went on with his half-hearted study.
Later in the afternoon Dave, feeling the need of fresh air, closed his books.
“Come for a walk, Danny boy?”
“Don’t dare to,” replied Dalzell morosely.
So, though Darrin went out, he resolved not to remain long away from his moody chum.
Outside, on one of the cement walks, Dave turned toward Flirtation Walk. It seemed the best surrounding in which to think of Belle.
“Mr. Darrin!” called a voice.
Dave turned, to behold Mr. Treadwell coming at a fast stride with a scowl on his face.
“That was a dirty trick you played me last night, Mr. Darrin!” cried the first classman angrily.
“What?” gasped Dave, astonished, for this was not in line with the usual conversation of midshipmen.
“You know well enough what I mean,” cried Treadwell angrily. “You spiked my only chance to dance with Miss Meade.”
“You’re wrong there,” retorted Dave coldly and truthfully “I didn’t.”
“Then how did it happen?”
“I can’t discuss that with you,” Darrin rejoined. “I didn’t make any effort, though, to spoil your chance of a dance with the young lady.”
“Mr. Darrin, I don’t choose to believe you, sir!”
Dave’s face went crimson, then pale.
“Do you realize what you’re saying, Mr. Treadwell?”
“Are you trying to pick trouble with me!” demanded Dave, his eyes flashing with spirit.
“I repeat that I don’t choose to believe your explanation, sir.”
“Then you pass me the lie?”
“As you prefer to consider it,” jeered the first classman.
“Oh, very good, then, Mr. Treadwell,” retorted Dave, eyeing the first classman and sizing him up.
Treadwell was one of the biggest men, physically, in the brigade. He was also one of the noted fighters of his class. Beside Treadwell, Midshipman Darrin did not size up at all advantageously.
“If you do not retract what you just said,” pursued Dave Darrin, growing cooler now that he realized the deliberate nature of the affront that had been put upon him, “I shall have no choice but to send my friends to you.”
“Delighted to see them, at any time,” replied the first classman, turning disdainfully upon his heel and strolling away.
“Now, why on earth does that fellow deliberately pick a fight with me?” wondered Darrin, as he strolled along by himself. “Treadwell can thump me. He can knock me clean down the Bay and into the Atlantic Ocean, but what credit is there in it for a first classman to thrash a youngster?”
It was too big a puzzle. After thinking it over for some time Dave turned and strolled back to Bancroft Hall.
“You didn’t stay out long!” remarked Dan, looking up with a weary smile as his chum re-entered their room.
“No,” admitted Dave. “There wasn’t much fun in being out alone.”
With a sigh, Dan turned back to his book, while Dave seated himself at his own study table, in a brown daze.
Things were happening fast–Dan’s impending “bilge” from the Naval Academy, and his own coming fight with the first classman who would be sure to make it a “blood fight”!
HOW DAN FACED THE BOARD
“We trust, Mr. Dalzell, that you can make some statement or explanation that will show that we shall be justified in retaining you as a midshipman in the Naval Academy.”
It was the superintendent of the United States Naval Academy who was speaking.
Dan’s hour of great ordeal had come upon him. That young midshipman found himself in the Board Room, facing the entire Academic Board, trying to remember what Freeman had told him the night before.
The time was 10.30 a.m. on that fateful Monday.
Midshipman Dalzell appeared to be collected, but he was also very certainly white-faced.
Many a young man, doomed to be sent forth from a Naval career, back into the busy, unheeding world, had faced this Board in times past. So it was hardly to be expected that Dan would inspire any unusual interest in the members of the Board.
Dan swallowed at something hard in his throat, then opened his lips to speak.
“I am aware, sir, and gentlemen, that I am at present sufficiently deficient in my studies to warrant my being dropped,” Dan began rather slowly. “Yet I would call attention to the fact that I was nearly as badly off, in the matter of markings, at this time last year. It is also a matter of record that I pulled myself together, later on, and contrived to get through the first year with a considerable margin of credits to spare. If I am permitted to finish the present term here I believe I can almost positively promise that I will round out this year with as good a showing as I did last year.”
“You have thought the matter carefully out in making this statement, have you, Mr. Dalzell?” asked the superintendent.
“I have, sir.”
“Have you any explanation to offer for falling below the standards so far this year, Mr. Dalzell?”
“I believe, sir, that I make a much slower start, with new studies, than most of my classmates,” Dan continued, speaking more rapidly now, but in a most respectful manner. “Once I begin to catch the full drift of new studies I believe that I will overtake some of my classmates who showed a keener comprehension at the first. I think, sir, and gentlemen, that my record, as contrasted with the records of some of my classmates who achieved about the same standing I did for last year will bear my statement out.”
[Illustration: “Have You Any Explanation to Offer, Mr. Dalzell?”]
The superintendent turned to a printed pamphlet in which were set forth the records of the midshipmen for the year before.
“Mr. Dalzell,” asked another member of the Board, “do you feel that you are really suited for the life of the Navy? Is it your highest ambition to become an officer of the Navy?”
“It’s my only ambition, sir, in the way of a career,” Dan answered solemnly. “As to my being suited for the Navy, sir, I can’t make a good answer to that. But I most earnestly hope that I shall have an opportunity, for the present, to try to keep myself in the service.”
“And you feel convinced that you need only to be carried for the balance of the term to enable you to make good, and to justify any action that we may take looking to that end?” asked another member of the Board.
“That is my firm conviction, sir.”
The superintendent, who had been silently examining and marking some statements in the pamphlet, now passed it to the nearest member of the Board, who, after a glance or two, passed the pamphlet on to another member.
Silence fell upon the room while Dan’s printed record was being read.
“Have you anything else that you wish to say, Mr. Dalzell?” asked the superintendent at last.
“Only this, sir and gentlemen,” replied Dan promptly. “If I am permitted to go on with the brigade, I promise, as far as any human being may promise, that I will not only be found to have passed at the end of this term, but that I will also have a higher marking after the annual examinations than after the semi-annuals.”
These last few words Dan spoke with his whole soul thrown into the words. How he longed to remain in the Navy, now that he stood at the threshold of the life, uncertain whether he was about to be kicked across it into the outer world!
After glancing around the table, the superintendent turned once more to the young man.
“That will be all, at present, Mr. Dalzell.”
Saluting briskly, crisply, Dan wheeled about, marching from the room.
He was in time to make a section recitation before dinner.
“How did you come out, Danny boy?” anxiously inquired Dave Darrin as the two, in their room, hastily prepared to answer the coming call for dinner formation.
“I wish I knew,” replied Dalzell wistfully. “I said all that I could say without being everlastingly fresh.”
After the brigade had been formed for dinner, and the brigade adjutant had reported the fact, the command was given:
“Publish the orders!”
This the brigade adjutant did rapidly, and in perfunctory tones.
Dalzell jumped, however, when he heard his own name pronounced. He strained his ears as the brigade adjutant read:
“In the matter of Daniel Dalzell, summoned before the Academic Board to determine his fitness and aptitude for continuing in the brigade, the Board has granted Midshipman Dalzell’s urgent request that he be continued as a midshipman for the present.”
There was a great lump, instantly, in Dan’s throat. It was a reprieve, a chance for official life–but that was all.
“I’ll make good–I’ll make good!” he told himself, with a violent gulp.
The orders were ringing out sharply now. The midshipmen were being marched in to dinner.
Hardly a word did Dalzell speak as he ate. As for Dave Darrin, he was too happy over his chum’s respite to want to talk.
Yet, when they strolled together in the open air during the brief recreation period following the meal, Dalzell suddenly asked:
“Dave when do you fight with Treadwell?”
“To-night, I hope,” replied Darrin.
“Oh, then I must get busy!”
“Why, I’m to represent you, Darry. Who are Treadwell’s–“
“Danny boy, don’t make a fuss about it,” replied Dave quietly, “but just for this once you are not to be my second.”
“Danny boy, you have just gotten by the Board by a hair’s breadth. What kind of an act of gratitude would it be for you to make your first act a breach of discipline? For a fight, though often necessary here, is in defiance of the regulations.”
“But Dave, I’ve never been out of your fights!”
“You will be this time, Danny. Don’t worry about it, either. Farley and Page are going to stand by me. In fact, I think that even now they are talking with Treadwell’s friends.”
“You’re wrong,” murmured Dalzell, looking very solemn. “Here come Farley and Page right now.”
In another moment the seconds had reached Darrin and his chum.
“To-night?” asked Dave Quietly.
“Yes,” nodded Page.
“Just after recall.”
“Good,” murmured Darrin. “You two come for me, and I’ll be ready. And I thank both of you fellows for taking up the matter for me.”
“We’ll be mighty glad to be there, Darry,” grinned Farley, “for we look to see you finish off that first classman.”
“Maybe,” smiled Dave quietly. “I’ll do all I can, anyway.”
“And to think,” almost moaned Dan Dalzell, “that you’re to be in a scrap, David, little giant, and I’m not to be there to see!”
“There’ll be other fights, I’m afraid,” sighed Darry. “I seem destined to displease quite a few of the fellows here at Annapolis.”
Dan tried to study, that night, after Darrin had left the room in the company of his seconds. Certainly Dan, in the light of his promise made to the Board that morning, had need to study. Yet he found it woefully hard to settle his mind on mathematics while Dave was fighting the fight of his Naval Academy career.
“Oh, well,” muttered Dan, picking up a pencil for the third time, “Dave and I each have our own styles of fights, just now. Here goes for a knockout blow at math!”
LOSING THE TIME-KEEPER’S COUNT
Conners and Brayton were Treadwell’s seconds.
Since it is not considered fair to have the referee or time-keeper from either class represented in a fight, Edgerton and Wheeler, of the second class, were referee and time-keeper respectively.
All of the young men were early at the usual fighting ground. The fall air was cool and crisp, but it was not yet considered cold enough to justify the extra risk of holding a fight in-doors.
Dave was quickly stripped and made ready by his seconds. His well-developed chest bespoke fine powers in the way of “wind” and endurance. His smooth, hard, trim muscles stood out distinctly.
Treadwell took more time in getting himself ready for the ring. When at last, however, the first classman stood bared to the waist, he looked like a giant beside Dave Darrin.
“It looks like a shame to take the money, Tread,” murmured referee Edgerton.
“I don’t want to pound the youngster hard,” explained Midshipman Treadwell, in an undertone. “Yet I’ve got to teach him both to respect my class and myself.”
On this point, as an official of the fight, Referee Edgerton did not feel called upon to express an opinion.
Farley, at his first glimpse of the waiting first classman, felt a chill of coming disaster.
“Page,” he growled, “that huge top-classman makes our Darry look like a creeping infant.”
“Darry will take care of himself,” retorted Midshipman Page in an undertone.
“Do you believe it?”
“I surely do.”
“But Treadwell looks a whole lot more vast now that he’s stripped.”
“Darry is much smaller, I know; But Darrin is one of those rare fellows who don’t know what it means to be whipped. He can’t be put out of business by anything smaller than a twelve-inch gun!”
“I hope you’re right,” sighed Farley.
Dave, in the meantime, to keep himself from being chilled by the frosty air, was running lightly about, swinging his arms.
“Are you both ready, gentlemen?” inquired Midshipman Edgerton, while Time-keeper Wheeler drew out his stop watch.
Both stepped to toe the scratch.
“Yes.” nodded Dave.
“Ready!” rumbled Treadwell.
The referee briefly made the usual announcement about it being a fight to the finish, with two-minute rounds and two minutes between rounds.
As Treadwell leaped forward, both fists in battery, Dave took a swift, nimble sidestep. He felt that he had to study this big fellow carefully before doing more than keep on the defensive.
Now footwork was one of the fighting tricks for which Darry was famous. Yet he had too much courage to rely wholly upon it.
Five times Treadwell swung at his smaller opponent, but each time Dave was somewhere else.
Despite his greater size, Treadwell was himself nimble and an adept at footwork.
Finding it hard, however, to get about as quickly as his smaller opponent, the first classman soon went in for close, in-body fighting, following Dave, half-cornering him, and forcing him to stand and take it.
Two or three body blows Dave succeeded in parrying so that they glanced, doing him little harm.
Then there came an almost crunching sound. Treadwell’s right fist had landed, almost dazing the youngster with its weight against his nose.
There was a swift, free rush of the red. Darrin had yielded up “first blood” in the fight.
“I’ve got to dodge more, and not let myself be cornered,” Darrin told himself, keeping his fists busy in warding off blows.
Then, of a sudden, Dave turned on the aggressive. He struck fast and furiously, but Treadwell, with a grin, beat down his attack, then soon landed a swinging hook on Dave’s neck that sent him spinning briefly.
“He expects to finish this fight for his own amusement,” flashed angrily through Darrin’s mind. “I’ll get in something that hurts before I toss the sponge.”
Two minutes were up. To Dave it seemed more like half an hour.
“Steady, now!” murmured Page, in his principal’s ear, as the two seconds leaped at the task of rubbing down their men. “Unless you let yourself get rattled, Darry, that big fellow isn’t going to get you. Whenever you’re on the defensive, and being crowded hard, change like lightning and drive in for the top classer’s solar plexus.”
“I tried that three times in this last round,” murmured Dave. “But the fellow is too big and powerful for me. He simply pounds me down when I go for him.”
“Work for more strategy,” whispered Page, as he held a sponge to Dave’s battered nose, while Farley rubbed the muscles of his right arm.
“I haven’t given up the fight,” muttered Dave, “But, of course, I’ve known from the start that Treadwell is a pretty big fighter for one of my weight.”
“Oh, you’ll get him yet,” spoke Page confidently.
The fighters were being called for the second round.
In this Dave received considerable punishment, though he landed three or four times on Treadwell’s body.
Then twice in succession the champion of the third class was knocked down.
Neither, however, was a knockout blow.
Dave took plenty of time, within his rights, about leaping to his feet, and in each instance got away from Treadwell’s leaping assault.
Just after the second knock-down, time was called for the end of the round.
“You’ll get him yet, Darry,” was Page’s prediction, but he did not speak as hopefully as before.
Farley, too, was full of loyalty for his friend and fellow-classman, but he did not allow this to blind his judgment. Farley’s opinion was that Dave was done for, unless he could land some lucky fluke in a knockout blow.
“Go right in and land that youngster,” Treadwell’s own seconds were advising him. “Don’t let him have the satisfaction of standing up to you for three whole rounds or more.”
“Do you think that little teaser is as easy as he looks?” growled Treadwell.
“Oh, Darrin is all right at his own weight,” admitted Midshipman Conners. “But he has no business with you, Tread. You’re quick enough, too, when you exert yourself. So jump right in and finish it before this round is over.”
“I’ll try it, then,” nodded Treadwell.
Though he had not the slightest notion that he was to be defeated, this big top classman was learning a new respect for Darrin’s prowess. He could thrash Dave, of course, but Treadwell did not expect to do it easily.
For the first twenty seconds of the third round the two men sparred cautiously. Dave had no relish for standing the full force of those sledge-hammer blows, while Treadwell knew that he must look out for the unexpected from his still nimble opponent.
“Lie down when you’ve had enough,” jeered Treadwell, as he landed a jolt on one of the youngster’s shoulders and sent him reeling slightly.
Dave, however, used his feet well enough to get away from the follow-up.
“Are you getting tired?” Darrin shot back at his opponent.
“Silence, both of you,” commanded Referee Edgerton. “Do all your talking with your fists!”
Just then Treadwell saw an opening, and followed the referee’s advice by aiming a blow at Dave’s left jaw. It landed just back of the ear, instead, yet with such force that Dave sank dizzily to the ground, while Treadwell drew back from the intended follow-up.
Farley and Page looked on anxiously from their corner. Midshipman Wheeler, scanning his watch, was counting off the seconds.
“–five, six, seven, eight, nine–ten!”
At the sound of eight Dave Darrin had made a strenuous effort to rise.
Yet he had swayed, fallen back slightly, then forced himself with a rush to his feet.
But Midshipman Treadwell drew back, both fists hanging at his sides, for the “ten” had been spoken, and Dave Darrin had lost the count.
While Dave stood there, looking half-dizzily at his opponent, Referee Edgerton’s voice broke in crisply:
“Mr. Darrin required more than the full count to come back. The fight is therefore awarded to Mr. Treadwell.”
FIGHTING THE FAMOUS DOUBLE BATTLE
“It wasn’t fair,” hissed Midshipman Page hotly.
“It was by a mighty small margin, anyway,” quivered Farley.
“I don’t feel whipped yet,” remarked Dave quietly.
“Oh, well, Darry,” urged Farley, “don’t feel humiliated over being thrashed by such a human mountain of a top classer.”
Dave, whose chest had been heaving, and whose lungs had been taking in great gulps of air, suddenly pushed his second gently away.
“Mr. Treadwell, sir, will you come over here a moment?” he called. “And also the officials of the fight?”
Treadwell, with a self-satisfied leer on his face, stepped away from his seconds coming jauntily over.
Midshipman Edgerton and Wheeler followed in some wonder.
“Mr. Treadwell,” began Dave, looking full into the eyes of his late antagonist, “I have no fault, sir, to find with your style of fighting. You behaved fairly at every point.”
“Thank you, sir,” interjected the big midshipman grimly.
“The verdict was also fair enough,” Dave continued, “for I am aware that I took a hair’s-breadth more than the count. Still, I do not feel, Mr. Treadwell, that the result was decisive. Therefore I have to ask of you the favor of another early meeting, for a more definite try-out.”
Treadwell gasped. So did his recent seconds and the late officials of the fight. Even Farley’s jaw dropped just a trifle, but Page’s face flushed with new-found pleasure.
“Another fight, sir?” demanded Midshipman Treadwell.
“Yes, sir,” replied Darrin quietly.
“Oh, very well,” agreed Treadwell, nonchalantly. “At any time that you wish, Mr. Darrin–any time.”
“How would fifteen minutes from now do?” demanded Dave, smiling coolly.
Treadwell fairly gasped, though only from sheer astonishment.
“Why, if your seconds and the officials think that fair to you, Mr. Darrin,” replied Treadwell in another moment, “I am sure that I have no objection to remaining around here a little longer.”
“Do you insist on calling for the second fight within fifteen minutes, Mr. Darrin?” asked Second Classman Edgerton.
“For my own part, I do,” replied Dave quietly; “I leave the decision to Mr. Treadwell’s courtesy.”
“Well, of all the freaks!” muttered Mr. Wheeler, as the two fight officials walked aside to discuss the matter.
“Darry,” demanded the agitated Farley, “are you plumb, clean crazy?”
“Do you know what we’re fighting about, Farley, old man?” asked Dave very quietly.
“No; of course not.”
“It’s a personal matter.”
“It’s a matter in which I can’t accept an imitation whipping.”
“But surely you don’t expect to whip Treadwell in your present condition?”
“I very likely shall get a thorough trouncing,” smiled Darrin.
“It’s madness,” broke in Page worriedly.
“I told you it was a personal matter,” laughed Dave softly. “I shan’t mind getting whacked if it is done up in good shape. It’s only this near-whipping to which I object.”
“Well–great Scott!” gasped Page.
“Hush!” warned Farley. “Here comes Edgerton.”
Midshipman Edgerton, looking very much puzzled, stepped over to Dave Darrin’s corner.
“Darrin,” began the referee in a friendly tone, “Tread doesn’t like the idea of fighting you again to-night.”
“Didn’t he say he would?” demanded Darrin.
“Yes; but of course, but–“
“I hold him to his word, Mr. Edgerton.”
“But of all the crazy–“
“I have my own reasons, sir,” Darrin interposed quietly. “I think it very likely, too, that Mr. Treadwell will comprehend my reasons.”
“But he doesn’t like the idea of fighting an already half-whipped man.”
“Will it get on his nerves and unsteady him?” asked Dave ironically.
“Are you bound to fight to-night, Mr. Darrin?”
“I am, sir.”
“Then I suppose it goes–it has to,” assented Midshipman Edgerton moodily. “But of all the irrational–“
“Just what I said, sir,” nodded Page.
“I shall be ready, sir, when the fifteen minutes are up,” continued Dave. “But I am certain that I shall need all the time until then for getting myself into first-class condition.”
“Darry is a fool–and a wonder!” ejaculated Edgerton under his breath, as he walked away.
“I’m sorry, Darry,” murmured Farley mournfully, “but–well, beat your way to it!”
“I intend to,” retorted Dave doggedly.
Rubbed down by his seconds, Dave drew on his blouse, without a shirt.
Quitting the others, Dave walked briskly back and forth. At last he broke into a jog-trot.
At last he halted, inflating and emptying his lungs with vigorous breathing.
“I feel just about as good as ever,” he declared, nodding cheerily to his seconds.
“Get off that blouse, then,” ordered Midshipman Farley, after a glance at his watch. “We’ve two minutes left out of the fifteen.”
“I’ll go forward at the scratch, then,” nodded Dave.
Treadwell, in the meantime, had pulled on his outer clothing and had stood moodily by, watching Dave’s more workmanlike preparations with a disdainful smile.
“I’ll get the fellow going quickly this time,” Mr. Treadwell told Conners. “As soon as I get him going I’ll dive in with a punch that will wind up the matter in short order. I’ve planned to do considerable reviewing of navigation to-night.”
“I hope you have your wish,” murmured Conners.
“What do you mean?”
“Just what I said.”
“Do you think I’m going to have any trouble whatever about finishing up that touge youngster!” demanded Tread well sarcastically.
“No; I don’t imagine you will. But at the same time, Tread, I tell you I don’t care about having enemies among fellows who come back as swiftly, strongly and as much like a bulldog as Darry does.”
Seeing Dave pull off his blouse, Treadwell slowly removed his own clothing above the waist.
“Rub me down along the arms a bit,” said Midshipman Treadwell, after he had exercised his arms a moment.
“I reckon we’d better,” nodded Conners. “You must have got stiff from standing still after the late mix-up.”
“No kinks but what will iron out at once,” chuckled Treadwell. “I’ll show you as soon as I get in action.”
His two seconds rubbed him down loyally.
“Are you ready, gentlemen?” called Midshipman Edgerton.
Both men stepped quickly forward, but all of the onlookers thought they saw rather more spring in Dave Darrin than in his more bulky opponent.
The preliminaries were announced in a few words.
Of course, there was no handshaking.
“Time!” sounded the call.
Dave Darrin quickly proved to be so full of vigor that Treadwell lay back on the defensive after the first two or three passes. Dave followed him right up with vim.
Yet, for the first forty seconds of the round no real damage was done on either side. Then:
That cry came simultaneously from Treadwell and from all the spectators.
Dave’s right fist had landed crushingly on the top classman’s left eye, almost instantly closing that organ.
Darrin leaped nimbly back, both from a chivalrous impulse to give Treadwell a chance to recover his steadiness and to save himself from any sudden rush and clinch by his big opponent.
But Treadwell, standing with his guard up, showed no inclination to follow the one who had just given him such punishment.
“Mix it up, gentlemen–mix it!” called Midshipman Edgerton impatiently.
At that command from the referee Dave Darrin sprang forward.
Treadwell seemed wholly on the defensive now, though he struck as heavily as ever. Toward the end of the round Treadwell, having gotten over the worst of the stinging from his eye, once more tried to rush matters.
Whenever the big fellow’s undamaged eye caught sight of the cool, hostile smile on Darrin’s face, Treadwell muttered savage words.
Some hard body blows were parried and others exchanged.
Both men were panting somewhat when the call of time closed the first round.
“Darry, you nervy little rascal, waltz in and put that other eye up in black clothes!” begged Page ecstatically, as he and Farley worked over their principal.
Dave was ready quite twenty seconds before the call of time for the second round.
Treadwell, however, took his full time in responding. At the last moment he took another dab with the wet sponge against his swollen left eye.
With a suppressed yell Treadwell rushed at his opponent. Dave had to sidestep to his own right, out of range of Treadwell, to save himself.
Then at it they went, all around the ring. Darrin had determined to keep himself out of the way of those sledge-hammer fists until he saw his own clear opening.
Four or five times Treadwell landed heavily on Darrin’s ribs. The younger, smaller midshipman was getting seriously winded, but all the time he fought to save himself and to get that one opening.
Darrin’s hard-clenched left fist dropped in on Treadwell’s right eye.
This time there was no exclamation from the bruised one.
Alert Dave was careful to give him no chance. Within a second after that eye-closer landed Darrin struck with his right, landing on the jaw bone under Treadwell’s ear.
Down in a heap sank the top classman. He was unconscious before his body struck the ground.
Wheeler counted off the seconds.
Still Mr. Treadwell lay motionless.
“Do your best for him, gentlemen,” begged Referee Edgerton, turning to the first classman’s seconds. “Mr. Darrin wins the second fight.”
Dave, a satisfied look on his face, stepped back to his seconds.
This time he did not require as much attention. Within five minutes he was dressed.
By this time Mr. Treadwell, under the ministrations of his seconds and of the late officials, was just coming back to consciousness.
“Something happened, eh?” asked the top classman drowsily.
“Rather!” murmured Mr. Edgerton dryly.
“Did I–did I–lose the fight?”
“You did,” Edgerton assented. “But don’t let that disturb you. You went down before the best man in the Naval Academy.”
Treadwell sighed gloomily. It was a hard blow to his pride–much harder than any that Dave had landed on his head.
“Mr. Treadwell,” inquired Dave, stepping over, “we are comrades, even if we had a slight disagreement. Do you care to shake hands?”
“Help me to my feet,” urged the first classman, who was sitting up.
His seconds complied. Then Midshipman Treadwell held out his hand.
“Here’s my hand,” he said rather thickly. “And I apologize, too, Mr. Darrin.”
“Then say no more about it, please,” begged Dave, as their hands met in a strong clasp.
None of the others present had the least idea of the provocation of this strange, spirited double fight. All, however, were glad to see the difficulty mended.
Then Dave and his seconds, leaving the field first, made their way back to Bancroft Hall. Farley and Page went straight to their own room.
“How did it come out?” demanded Dan Dalzell eagerly, as soon as his chum entered their quarters.
Dropping into a chair, Dave told the story of the double fight briefly. He told it modestly, too, but Dan could imagine what his chum omitted.
“David, little giant,” exclaimed Dalzell, leaping about him, “that fight will become historic here! Oh, how I regret having missed it. Don’t you ever dare to leave me out again!”
“It wasn’t such a much,” smiled Dave rather wearily, as he went over to his study desk.
“Perhaps it’s indiscreet, even of a chum,” rambled on Dalzell, “but what–“
“What was the fight all about?” laughed Dave softly. “Yes; I suppose you have a right to know that, Danny boy. But you must never repeat it to any one. Treadwell wanted to dance with Belle at the hop, but she had already noticed him, and declared she didn’t want to dance with him. Of course that settled it. But Treadwell accused me of not having asked Belle.”
“The nerve !” ejaculated Dan in disgust.
“And then he accused me of lying when I declared I had done my best for him,” continued Dave.
“I feel that I’d like to fight the fellow myself!” declared Dan Dalzell hotly.
“Oh, no, you don’t; for Treadwell apologized to-night, and we have shaken hands. We’re all comrades, you know, Danny boy.”
* * * * *
Unknown to any of the parties to the fight, there had been spectators of the spirited double battle.
Two men, a sailor and a marine, noting groups of midshipmen going toward the historic battle ground of midshipmen, had hidden themselves near-by in order “to see the fun.”
These two enlisted men of the Navy had been spectators and auditors of all that had taken place.
Not until the last midshipman had left the ground did the sailor and marine emerge from their hiding place.
“Well, of all the game fights!” muttered the marine.
“Me? I’m hoping that some day I fight under that gallant middy,” cried the sailor.
“Who is this Mr. Darrin?” asked the marine, as the pair strolled away.
“He’s a youngster–third classman. But he’s one of the chaps who, on the cruise, last summer, went over into a gale after another middy–Darrin and his chum did it.”
“There must be fine stuff in Mr. Darrin,” murmured the marine.
“Couldn’t you see that much just now?” demanded the sailor, who took the remark as almost a personal affront, “My hat’s off to Mr. Darrin. He’s one of our future admirals. If I round out my days in the service it will be the height of my ambition to have him for my admiral. And a mighty sea-going officer he’ll be, at that!”
In their enthusiasm over the spectacle they had seen, the sailor and the marine talked rather too much.
They were still talking over the battle as they strolled slowly past one of the great, darkened buildings.
In the shadow of this building, not far away, stood an officer whom neither of the enlisted men of the Navy saw; else they would have saluted him.
That officer, Lieutenant Willow, U.S. Navy, listened with a good deal of interest.
Mr. Willow was one of those officers who are known as duty-mad. He gathered that there had been a fight, so he deemed it his duty to report the fact at once to the discipline officer in charge over at Bancroft Hall.
Regretting the necessity, yet full of the idea of doing his duty, Lieutenant Willow wended his way promptly towards the office of the officer in charge.
THE OFFICER IN CHARGE IS SHOCKED
Through the main entrance of Bancroft Hall, into the stately corridor, Lieutenant Willow picked his way.
He looked solemn–unusually so, even for Lieutenant Willow, U.S.N. He had the air of a man who hates to do his duty, but who is convinced that the heavens would fall if he didn’t.
To his left he turned, acknowledging smartly the crisp salute given him by the midshipman assistant officer of the day.
Into the outer office of the officer in charge stepped Mr. Willow, and thence on into the smaller room where Lieutenant-Commander Stearns sat reading.
“Oh, good evening, Willow,” hailed Lieut. Stearns heartily.
“Good evening, Stearns,” was the almost moody reply.
“Sit down and let’s have a chat I’m glad to see you,” urged Lieutenant-Commander Stearns.
Mr. Stearns, he of the round, jovial face, gazed at his junior with twinkling eyes.
“Willow,” he muttered, “I’m half inclined to believe that you’ve come to me to make an official report.”
“I guess I have,” nodded Lieutenant Willow.
“And against some unfortunate midshipman, at that!”
“Against two, at least,” sighed Mr. Willow, “and there were others involved in the affair.”
“It must be something fearful,” said Mr. Stearns, who knew the junior officer’s inclination to be duty-mad. “But, see here, if you make an official report you’ll force me to take action, even though it’s something that I’d secretly slap a midshipman on the shoulder for doing. No–don’t begin to talk yet, Willow. Try a cigar and then tell me, personally, what’s worrying you. Then perhaps it won’t be altogether needful to make an official report.”
“I never was able to take you–er–somewhat jovial views of an officer’s duty, Stearns,” sighed Lieutenant Willow.
Nevertheless, he selected a cigar, bit off the end, lighted it and took a few whiffs, Lieutenant-Commander Stearns all the while regarding his comrade in arms with twinkling eyes.
“Now, fire ahead, Willow,” urged the officer in charge, “but please don’t make your communication an official one–not at first. Fire ahead, now, Willow.”
“Well–er–just between ourselves,” continued Lieutenant Willow slowly, “there has been a fight to-night between two midshipmen.”
Lieutenant-Commander Stearns struck his fist rather heavily against the desk.
“A fight–a real fight–with fists?” continued the officer in charge, in a tone of mock incredulity. “No, no, no, Willow, you don’t mean it–you can’t mean it!”
“Yes, I do,” rejoined the junior officer rather stiffly.
“Oh, dear, what is the service coming to?” gasped Stearns ironically. “Why, Willow, we never heard of such things when we were midshipmen here. Now, did we?”
“I’m afraid we did–sometimes,” admitted the junior officer. “But duty is duty, you know, my dear Stearns. And this was an unusual fight, too. The man who was whipped insisted on another fight right then and there, and–he won the second fight.”
“Bully!” chuckled the officer in charge. “Whew, but I wish I had been there!”
“Stearns, you surely don’t mean that?” gasped duty-mad Mr. Willow.
“You’re quite right, Willow. No; I certainly don’t want to be a spoilsport, and I’m glad I wasn’t there–in my official capacity. But I’d like to have been divested of my rank for just an hour so that I could have taken in such a scene as that.”
“I’m–I’m just a bit astonished at your saying it, Stearns,” rejoined Lieutenant Willow. “But then, you’re always joking.”
“Perhaps I am joking,” assented the officer in charge dryly, “but I never lose sight of the fact that our Navy has been built up, at huge expense, as a great fighting machine. Now, Willow, it takes fighting men to run a fighting machine. Of course, I’m terribly shocked to know that two midshipmen really had the grit to fight–but who were they! Mind you, I’m not asking you in an official way. This question is purely personal–just between ourselves. Who were the men? And, especially, who was the fellow who lost the decision, and then had the utter effrontery to demand a second chance at once, only to win the second fight?”
“Darrin was the man who lost the first fight and won the second,” replied Lieutenant Willow.
“Mr. Darrin? One of our youngsters! Yes; I think I know him. And what man of his class did he whip, the second time he tried!”
“It wasn’t a man of his own class. It was Mr. Treadwell, of the first class,” rejoined Lieutenant Willow.
“What?” almost exploded the officer in charge. “Did you say that Mr. Darrin fought with Mr. Treadwell, that husky top classman, and, losing the decision on the count, insisted on fighting again the same evening? Oh, say, what a fellow misses by being cooped up in an office like this!”
“But–but the breach of regulations!” stammered the duty-mad lieutenant.
“My dear fellow, neither you nor I know anything about this fight–officially. The Navy, after all, is a fighting machine. Do you feel that the Navy can afford to lose a fighting man like that youngster?”
So Lieutenant Willow left Lieutenant-Commander Stearns’ presence, not quite convinced he was performing his whole duty, but glad to bow to the decision of a ranking officer.
Two days later Dave and Dan were surprised at being halted by Lieutenant-Commander Stearns.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Darrin,” came the pleasant greeting. “Good afternoon, Mr. Dalzell. Mrs. Stearns and I would be greatly pleased if you could take dinner with us. Couldn’t you come next Sunday?”
The two midshipmen were astonished and delighted at this invitation. While it was not uncommon for officers to invite midshipmen to their homes, where there were so many midshipmen, it was as a rule only the young men who made themselves prominent socially who captured these coveted invitations. Darrin and Dalzell concealed their surprise, but expressed their pleasure in accepting the gracious invitation.
On entering Mrs. Stearns’ drawing room the next Sunday Mr. Darrin and Mr. Dalzell were introduced to two pretty girls. Miss Flora Gentle was a cousin of their hostess. She had visited Annapolis before, and, being pretty and vivacious, at the same time kind and considerate, she had many friends among the midshipmen. Marian Stevens, who had accompanied her on this visit, was a direct contrast. Flora was blonde. Marian was the dark, flashing type. She was spoiled and imperious, yet she had a dashing, open way about her that made her a favorite among young people.
The two girls had heard of the double fight. Marian, therefore, was pleased when she found that Dave was to be her dinner partner.
“He’s handsome,” thought the girl, “and he’s brave and dashing. He’ll make his mark in the Navy. He doesn’t know it yet, but he’ll become mine, and mine alone.”
Miss Stevens was a calculating young person, and had already decided that Navy life was the life for her and that she would marry into it. At seventeen, she looked upon the officers as old men, even the youngest of them, so was giving her time and her smiles to the midshipmen. That the Navy pay is small did not trouble Maid Marian, as she liked to be called, as on her twenty-first birthday she would come into a considerable fortune of her own.
She exerted herself all through the Stearns’ dinner to captivate Dave Darrin. He, without diminution of love and loyalty to Belle Mead, was glad to be on friendly terms with this dashing and sprightly girl.
Coffee was served in the drawing room. Several officers dropped in. Marian, who wished no one to come between her and Dave for a while, turned to her host.
“Mr. Stearns, do the regulations make it improper for Flora and me to ask Mr. Darrin and Mr. Dalzell to take us for a stroll about the yard?” she asked with a pretty air of deference. The “yard” includes all the grounds belonging to the Naval Academy.
“They do not, Miss Marian,” was the smiling response.
“With our hostess’s approval we shall be charmed to grant any request the young ladies make,” ventured Dave, as Marian smiled into his eyes.
But Marian, the wily and experienced, found herself baffled during this walk. Using all her cajoleries, she could bring him to a certain point beyond which he would not go. As a matter of fact, Dave Darrin, secure in his loyalty to Belle, did not perceive what Maid Marian was striving to lead up to, but saw in her only a lively and interesting girl.
“I’ll get you yet, Midshipman Darrin,” she vowed to herself after they had parted.
The gossip of a sweetheart in his home town which in time reached her ears only made the girl more determined to get her way. Looking in the mirror with satisfaction, she murmured:
“There’ll be the added zest of making Midshipman Darrin forget the distant face of that home girl.”
Not on that visit did Maid Marian succeed in leading Dave beyond the point of simple but sincere friendship. However, Miss Stevens could be charming to whomsoever she wished, and before she left Annapolis she had secured invitations to visit the wife of more than one of the officers.
Christmas came and went, and soon after this the semi-annual examinations were on in earnest. Some of the midshipmen failed and sadly turned their faces homeward to make a place for themselves in some other lane of life. Dan Dalzell, however, made good his promise, and by a better margin than he had dared hope. Dave came through the examination somewhat better than his chum. Both felt assured now that they would round out the year with fair credit to themselves.
Marian Stevens came to Annapolis several times during the latter half of the year, and as it is expected that the future officer shall have social as well as Naval training, Dave Darrin met her often.
Exasperation that she could draw the young midshipman on only so far soon changed in Miss Stevens to anger and chagrin. Still Dave, giving prolonged thought to no girl except Belle Meade, saw in her only a lively companion. Sometimes he was her dinner partner. Always at a dance he danced with her more than once.
It was at one such dance that she looked up as they circled the room to say:
“I wonder if you know, Mr. Darrin, how much I enjoy dancing with you.”
“Not as much as I enjoy dancing with you,” he replied smilingly. Just then the music stopped suddenly and an officer called in a voice that carried over the great floor of the gymnasium and over all the chatter:
“Ladies and gentlemen, one moment’s attention, please!”
In an instant all was still.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” continued the officer, “official permission has been granted for taking a flashlight photograph of the scene to-night. Will everybody please remain where he is until after the exposure has been made?”
Dave and Marian had paused directly in front of the lens of the camera. Maid Marian looked up and made a light, jesting remark, gazing straight into the midshipman’s eyes. Dave, smiling, bent forward to hear what she said.
Just then came the flash, and the photographer, his work finished for the time, gathered his paraphernalia together and left. The music recommenced and the dancing proceeded.
Three weeks later that photograph was reproduced as a double-page illustration in one of the prominent pictorial weeklies.
The day the magazine was on the newsstands Dan Dalzell bought a copy. Entering their quarters with it in his hand he opened it at the illustration and handed it to Dave.
“You and Miss Stevens show up better than any one else, Dave,” remarked Dan.
“The photograph is a good piece of work,” was Dave’s only comment. He did not wish to express the annoyance he felt when he noted the appearance of intimacy between him and Marian, whose beauty showed, even in this reproduction. “I’d a bit rather Belle shouldn’t see this paper,” he admitted to himself.
“David, old boy, this picture would make a good exhibit in a breach-of-promise suit.”
“That’s an unkind remark to make about a fine girl like Miss Stevens,” said Dave coldly.
Dan stared, then went off, pondering.
Belle Meade, in her Gridley home, received one day a large, square, thin package. She saw the mark of the Annapolis express office, and hastily snatched up scissors to cut the string. Out came a huge photograph.
“A picture of an Annapolis dance! How thoughtful of Dave to send it to me!” Then her eyes fell on two figures around which a ring had been drawn in ink. They were Dave Darrin and a pretty girl. On the margin of the card had been scrawled in bold letters:
“Your affair of the heart will bear close watching if you still cherish!”
This was signed, contemptibly and untruthfully, “A Friend.”
“Uh!” murmured Belle in hurt pride and loyalty. Then she said resolutely to herself: “I will pay no attention to this. An anonymous communication is always meant to hurt and to give a false impression.”
But there was the picture before her eyes of Dave and the pretty girl in seemingly great intimacy. So though she continued to write to the midshipman and tried hard to make her letters sound as usual, in spite of herself a coldness crept into them that Dave felt.
“She must have seen that pictorial weekly,” thought the boy miserably. But as Belle said nothing of this, he could not write of it.
The season was well along. Dave and Dan sent Belle Meade and Laura Bentley invitations to one of the later spring dances.
“I wonder if she’ll come or if she’s tiring of me,” thought Dave Darrin bitterly.
But Belle answered, accepting the invitation for Laura and herself.
When Saturday afternoon came both midshipmen hurried to the hotel in the town and sent up their cards. Mrs. Meade soon appeared, saying the girls would be down shortly.
“Are they both well?” asked Dave. His tone was as one giving a meaningless greeting, but in his heart he waited anxiously to hear what her mother should say of Belle.
“Well, yes. But Belle has been moping around the house a great deal, Dave, rather unlike her usual self,” replied Mrs. Meade slowly.
If Mrs. Meade deplored this, Dave Darrin did not. It showed him at least that the girl’s apparent coldness was not caused by her interest in some other young man.
But when the girls came in and Belle greeted him cordially, to be sure, but with something of restraint, his heart sank again.
“What’s the matter, Belle? Has something gone wrong?” asked Dave when Dan was engaging the attention of Mrs. Meade and Laura.
“Nothing. Is all right with you?”
“Dave, when we’re alone I have something to show you. I fear you have an enemy here.”
“An enemy! Oh, no. But I shall be glad to see what you have to show me.”
It was not long before, at a word from Dave, Dan took Mrs. Meade and Laura out for a walk. It was then that Belle got the large photograph with the two figures ringed in ink and showed it to Dave.
“Why, what does this mean? Some one must have taken a good deal of trouble to secure this photograph. The picture was taken for a pictorial weekly. One can get a photograph from which the cut is made, but it is troublesome and possibly expensive!”
“You have an enemy, then; some one bent on hurting you?”
“I don’t know who it could be. My, how angry Miss Stevens would be if she knew of this!”
“Miss Stevens? Is that the girl?”
“Yes. She’s visited here often this year. She knows a number of the officers’ wives. She’s vivacious and always has a good time, but she’s nothing to me, Belle. You know that, don’t you?”
“I have never doubted you, Dave. Let us tear this up. I thought at first I’d not show it to you; then decided it was best not to begin concealing things from you. But let us not think of the thing again.”
“Belle, you’re a thoroughbred!” and here the matter dropped as far as it was between Dave Darrin and Belle Meade.
Miss Stevens was at the dance that evening. Though she tried hard to make that impossible, Dave did not dance with her, nor did he introduce her to Belle, though there again Marian tried to force this.
It would have been well for Marian if Dan Dalzell had been equally circumspect.
This time it was Belle who contrived and got the introduction to the other girl, but Marian was by no means reluctant, so it was that they managed to get a few moments alone together when they had sent their dance partners to get something for them.
“You are a friend of Dave’s, aren’t you?” asked Marian.
“Of Mr. Darrin’s? Oh, yes, we’ve always known each other.”
“Then you’ve been here to many of these dances?”
“Too bad you could not have been here oftener. This has been an unusually brilliant season. Really, many of the young people have lost their heads–or their hearts. I often wonder if these midshipmen have sweethearts at home.” This daring–and impertinent–remark was made musingly but smilingly.
“These Annapolis affairs are never very serious, I imagine,” Belle observed calmly.
“On the contrary, most of the Navy marriages date back to an Annapolis first meeting.”
“Then you think it well to come often?”
“Unless one has other ways of keeping in touch,” was the brazen reply.
“I have,” said Belle sweetly. “I receive a good many souvenirs in the course of a year. One last winter was a photograph.” With the words Belle gazed intently into Miss Stevens’ eyes. Then she went on: “There was an anonymous message written on it. It was a lying message, of course, as anonymous messages always are, written in a coarse hand. Did you ever study handwriting, Miss Stevens?”
Marian gasped, realizing she was out-maneuvered.
“This writing had all the characteristics of a woman whose instincts are coarse, that of a treacherous though not dangerous person–“
“Here’s Mr. Sanderson back. Will you excuse me, Miss Meade?” and Marian fairly fled.
Belle told Dave she had found out who had sent the photograph, but added:
“I wish you wouldn’t ask me who it was, Dave. I can assure you that the person who did it will never trouble us again,” and as Dave did not like to think evil of any one, he consented, and continued to think of Marian Stevens, when he thought of her at all, as a jolly girl.
The annual examinations were approaching. Dan Dalzell was buried deep in gloom. Dave Darrin kept cheerful outwardly, but doubts crept into his heart.
The examinations over, Dave felt reasonably safe. But Dan’s gloom deepened, for he was sure he had failed in “skinny,” as the boys termed chemistry and physics. So it was that when the grades were posted Dave scanned the D’s in the list of third classmen who had passed. Dan, on the other hand, turned instantly to what he termed the “bust list.”
“Why, why, I’m not there!” he muttered.
“Look at the passing list, Danny,” laughed Dave.
Unbelieving, Dan turned his eyes on the list and to his utter astonishment found his name posted. True, in “skinny” he had a bare passing mark. But in other subjects he was somewhat above the minimum.
“So you see, old man, we’ll both be here next year as second classmen,” said Dave jubilantly.
This was as Dave Darrin said, and what happened during this time may be learned in a volume entitled, “DAVE DARRIN’S THIRD YEAR AT ANNAPOLIS; or, Leaders of the Second Class Midshipmen.”