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Dibbs, R.N.
by [?]

“Now listen to me, Neddie Dibbs,” she said, as she bounced the ball lightly on her tennis-racket, “you are very precipitate. It’s only four weeks since you were court-martialed, and you escaped being reduced by the very closest shave; and yet you come and make love to me, and want me to marry you. You don’t lack confidence, certainly.”

Commander Dibbs, R.N. was hurt; but he did not become dramatic. He felt the point of his torpedo-cut beard, and smiled up pluckily at her–she was much taller than he.

“I know the thing went against me rather,” he said, “but it was all wrong, I assure you. It’s cheeky, of course, to come to you like this so soon after, but for two years I’ve been looking forward up there in the China Sea to meeting you again. You don’t know what a beast of a station it is–besides, I didn’t think you’d believe the charge.”

“The charge was that you had endangered the safety of one of her Majesty’s cruisers by trying to run through an unexplored opening in the Barrier Reef. Was that it?”

“That was it.”

“And you didn’t endanger her?”

“Yes, I did, but not wilfully, of course, nor yet stupidly.”

“I read the evidence, and, frankly, it looked like stupidity.”

“I haven’t been called stupid usually, have I?”

“No. I’ve heard you called many things, but never that.”

Every inch of his five-feet-five was pluck. He could take her shots broadside, and laugh while he winced. “You’ve heard me called a good many things not complimentary, I suppose, for I know I’m not much to look at, and I’ve an edge to my tongue sometimes. What is the worst thing you ever said of me?” he added a little bitterly.

“What I say to you now–though, by the way, I’ve never said it before–that your self-confidence is appalling. Don’t you know that I’m very popular, that they say I’m clever, and that I’m a tall, good-looking girl?”

She looked down at him, and said it with such a delightful naivete, through which a tone of raillery ran, that it did not sound as it may read. She knew her full value, but no one had ever accused her of vanity–she was simply the most charming, outspoken girl in the biggest city of Australia.

“Yes, I know all that,” he replied with an honest laugh. “When you were a little child,–according to your mother, and were told you were not good, you said: ‘No, I’m not good–I’m only beautiful.'”

Dibbs had a ready tongue, and nothing else he said at the moment could have had so good an effect. She laughed softly and merrily. “You have awkward little corners in your talk at times. I wonder they didn’t reduce you at the court-martial. You were rather keen with your words once or twice there.”

A faint flush ran over Dibbs’s face, but he smiled through it, and didn’t give away an inch of self-possession. “If the board had been women, I’d have been reduced right enough–women don’t go by evidence, but by their feelings; they don’t know what justice really is, though by nature they’ve some undisciplined generosity.”

“There again you are foolish. I’m a woman. Now why do you say such things to me, especially when–when you are aspiring! Properly, I ought to punish you. But why did you say those sharp things at your trial? They probably told against you.”

“I said them because I felt them, and I hate flummery and thick-headedness. I was as respectful as I could be; but there were things about the trial I didn’t like–irregular things, which the Admiral himself, who knows his business, set right.”

“I remember the Admiral said there were points about the case that he couldn’t quite understand, but that they could only go by such testimony as they had.”

“Exactly,” he said sententiously.

She wheeled softly on him, and looked him full in the eyes. “What other testimony was there to offer?”