One by one the other diplomas were given out, each accompanied by some kindly message from the Secretary of the Navy, which, if remembered and observed, would be of great value to the graduate at some time in the future.
The graduating exercises did not last long. To devote too much time to them would be to increase the tension.
Later in the day the graduated midshipmen again appeared. They were wearing their new coats now, several inches longer in the tail, and denoting them as real officers in the Navy. A non-graduate midshipman must salute one of these graduates whenever they meet.
In their room, to be occupied but one night more, Dave and Dan finished dressing in their new uniforms at the same moment.
“Shake, Danny boy!” cried Dave Darrin, holding out his hand. “How does it seem, at last, to know that you’re really an officer in the Navy?”
“Great!” gulped Dalzell. “And I don’t mind admitting that, during the last four years, I’ve had my doubts many a time that this great day would ever come for we. But get your cap’s and let’s hustle outside.”
“Why this unseemly rush, Danny?”
“I want to round up a lot of under classmen and make them tire their arms out saluting me.”
“Your own arm will ache, too, then, Danny. You are obliged, as of course you know, to return every salute.”
“Hang it, yes! There’s a pebble in every pickle dish, isn’t there?”
“You’re going to the graduation ball tonight, of course?”
“Oh, surely,” nodded Dalzell. “After working as I’ve worked for four years for the privilege, I’d be a fool to miss it. But I’ll sneak away early, after I’ve done a friend’s duty by you and Belle. No girls for me until I’m a captain in the Navy!”
The ball room was a scene of glory that night. Bright eyes shone unwontedly, and many a heart fluttered. For Belle Meade was not the only girl there who was betrothed to a midshipman. Any graduate who chose might marry as soon as he pleased, but nearly all the men of the class preferred to wait until they had put in their two years at sea and had won their commissions as ensigns.
“This must be a night of unalloyed pleasure to you,” murmured Belle, as she and her young officer sweetheart sat out one dance. “You can look back over a grand four years of life here.”
“I don’t know that I’d have the nerve to go through it all again,” Darrin answered her honestly.
“You don’t have to,” Belle laughed happily. “You put in your later boyhood here, and now your whole life of manhood is open before you.”
“I’ll make the best use of that manhood that is possible for me,” Dave replied solemnly.
“You must have formed some wonderful friendships here.”
“And, I suppose,” hesitated Belle, “a few unavoidable enmities.”
“I don’t know about that,” Dave replied promptly and with energy. “I can’t think of a fellow here that I wouldn’t be ready and glad to shake hands with. I hope—–I trust—–that all of the fellows in the brigade feel the same way about me.”