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.