Dick Hamilton's Cadet Days/Chapter 31

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As Dick, followed by the major, rushed from the barracks to go to the fire, the housekeeper thrust an envelope into the young millionaire's hand.

"It is a telegram that just came for you," she explained.

Dick shoved it into his pocket without opening it. Then he joined the throng of excited and alarmed students that had gathered about the burning society headquarters.

A small fire department was maintained at the academy, but as the buildings of the school were all fireproof, the brigade was not a very large one, and was only equipped with chemical apparatus.

"We must telephone for the town fire department," cried Dutton.

"They won't get here in time to do much," said Major Webster. "Better save what you can inside, boys."

They saw that what he said was true. There was a stiff wind blowing, fanning the flames to furnace heat. The blaze had started on the upper floor, and had already eaten its way through the roof. No one knew what had caused the fire, as there was no one in the place when it started, and it had burned for some time before breaking out.

Fortunately, the structure was well away from any of the academy buildings, and there was little danger to them.

"Let's save what we can!" cried Dick, and the boys began running in, carrying out such of the trophies as they could find on the lower floor. But it soon became too hot for them, and Major Webster, fearing someone would get hurt, ordered the work of salvage to cease.

"Too bad!" observed Russell Glen, as he and others watched the handsome brick and stone building crumbling into ruins. "And we counted on having such sport there next term."

"Well, it's insured, isn't it?" asked Dick. "We can collect the money, and build a better one."

"Insured!" suddenly cried Dutton. "There, I meant to attend to that, but it slipped my mind!"

"What did?" asked Allen Rutledge.

"The insurance. It expired the day before yesterday."

"And do you mean to say you forgot to get it renewed?"

"I forgot all about it."

"And haven't we a cent of insurance on it?" asked Paul Drew.

"Not a penny. It's all my fault. I meant to get new policies, but I put it off and now——"

"Now it's too late," said Rutledge. "You're a fine treasurer, you are."

Amazement and chagrin made Dutton incapable of replying. The cadets looked on sorrowfully, as they saw their society house being destroyed, knowing that it would be no easy matter to get the money for a new one.

Suddenly there was an explosion from within, and a shower of stones from one of the walls flew into the air.

"Look out!" cried Dick.

He and the others leaped back in time, but Toots, who was in the front rank of spectators, having helped to carry out many valued relics, did not seem to hear. A moment later a fragment of stone struck him on the head, and he fell down.

"Toots is hurt!" cried Dick, running up to the odd janitor, whom all the cadets liked because of his pleasant ways.

"Carry him to the hospital, boys," said the major. "I'll have the surgeon attend to him. Maybe he isn't hurt much."

But from the blood on the head of poor Toots, it would seem that the wound was not a small one.

Sorrowfully Dick and his chums carried the unconscious man. There was little use remaining at the fire now, for it was almost out, having consumed everything save the walls.

"He isn't badly hurt," announced the surgeon cheerfully, when he had examined Toots. "Only a cut on the head. He'll be all right in a few days."

Suddenly the injured man, who had been placed on a couch in the hospital, sat up. He felt of the bandage on his head. Then he looked around wildly.

"Did we beat the red imps off?" he asked. "Why is it I don't hear the firing? Have they retreated? Am I badly hurt? Let me get at 'em again! I'm a good shot! I can pick 'em off!"

He started from his couch, but the suregon gently pressed him back.

"What's the matter, Toots?" he asked. "Where do you think you are?"

"Toots? Who's Toots? I'm Corporal Bill Handlee, and I must get back to my post. I'm a sharpshooter, and the Indians are attacking us."

The surgeon looked at the injured man in amazement. He thought Toots was delirious. But to Dick the thrilling words meant much. He pressed forward. In his hand he held the battered marksman's medal which Major Webster had returned to him.

"Is this yours, Corporal Handlee?" he asked.

"Yes; where did you get it?" asked Toots. "But why don't some of you speak? Have we beaten off the red imps?"

"Yes," said Dick gently, understanding the whole story now. "They were beaten back some years ago, Toots. Oh, I've found you at last! Won't your father be glad!"

"My father?" and Toots, or, as we must call him now, Corporal Handlee, looked dazed. "My father knows where I am."

"He doesn't, but he soon will," said Dick joyfully, and by degrees, he told the story of how he had agreed to help Captain Handlee locate his missing son, and how, by a strange trick of fate, he had been found.

And that Toots was this missing son there was no doubt. His memory, a blank for many years, because of a bullet wound on the head, received in a fight with the Indians out west, had been restored to him. The surgeon explained it by saying that the blow from the stone, which exploded from the heat, had undone the injury caused by the bullet, by relieving the pressure of a certain bone on the brain. Such cases are rare, but not altogether unknown, he added, and persons who had forgotten for many years who they were suddenly recalled the past.

Of course Toots, or, Corporal Handlee, as we must now call him, could not tell where he had been all the years that he was missing. The last he remembered was taking part in an Indian fight, and being wounded. When he recovered consciousness from the blow of the hot stone, he thought he was still at Fort Lamarie. He had forgotten all the intervening time, including several years spent at Kentfield.

It was surmised that he must have wandered away after the Indian fight, recovered, though with his memory gone, taken another name, and then drifted about, until he secured a place at the military academy. That, the officers recalled, was five years ago.

The corporal had not recognized his own photograph, though something in his hazy memory made him think he knew the man the picture represented. His own medal as a marksman he had supposed belong to another.

"I must send Captain Handlee a telegram at once," said Dick, when the excitement had calmed down. "It will be great news for him."

Leaving Corporal Handlee in charge of the surgeon, the old soldier being quite weak, and hardly able to understand all that had happened, Dick started for the telegraph office, which was not far from the school. He sent the message to the old captain, and, in getting out his money to pay for it, he put his hand in the pocket into which he had thrust the telegram the housekeeper had given him.

"Guess I'd better read it," he murmured. "The fire and finding Corporal Handlee made me forget all about it."

It was from his father, and was very short, but the news it contained made Dick throw his cap up into the air, and yell out in pure delight.

"Wow!" he cried. "Wow! Wow! Wow!"

The operator came running from his little office.

"Got bad news?" he asked.

"Bad?" repeated Dick. "No, it's the best in the world! My dad's coming home!"

"Seems to me you're making quite a fuss about it."

"So would you if you knew what else he said," spoke Dick, as he rushed from the building.

He found most of his chums grouped around the ruins of the society house. They were talking about the fire.

"It's all my fault," Dutton was saying. "I guess I'll resign as treasurer."

"I guess we won't have any society, if we can't have a meeting place," observed Hale, sorrowfully.

"Say, Dutton, have you a fountain pen?" asked Dick, as he came up beside his former enemy.

"I guess so. What do you want it for?"

"I'll show you."

Dick sat down on a pile of debris. From his pocket he took a thin, red book, and commenced writing in it by the light of the embers of the ruined society house. Presently he tore out a slip of paper and handed it to Dutton.

"What—what's this?" stammered the treasurer of the Sacred Pig. "Why—why—Hamitlon!"

"What is it?" demanded a score of voices, as the cadets crowded up.

"It's a check—a check," stammered Dutton, as he saw the figures which Dick had written in, and noted that they occupied four places. "It's a check!"

"To rebuild the society house of the Sacred Pig," said our hero simply.

"But I—I thought you lost all your money, Hamilton," said Dutton.

"I thought so, too," replied Dick. "So did Uncle Ezra, but I cabled to dad, and it's all a mistake. He took all our funds from the bank that failed before he went abroad. We didn't lose a cent."

"Then you're a millionaire yet, aren't you?" asked Dutton.

"I'm—I'm afraid so," answered Dick.

There was silence for a moment, and then the cadets seemed to understand what Dick had done. They looked at the piece of paper fluttering in Dutton's hand. It meant that they could have a new and better headquarters for their society.

"Three cheers for Dick Hamilton!" called several, and Dick's ears rang to the sweetest music he had ever heard.

They all wanted to shake hands with him at once, and they made so much noise that Colonel Masterly sent one of the teachers out to see if the fire had started afresh.

"It's only the cadets cheering Mr. Hamilton, sir," replied the instructor, when he returned.

"Hum! He's getting to be quite popular," said the colonel, with a smile, for he understood about Dick's handicap.

And there was abundant evidence of his popularity a little later on, for they insisted on carrying Dick on their shoulders to the saluting cannon, where all important events were celebrated, and there they did a sort of war dance about him. Dick would have been glad to escape, but they would not let him.

"We don't want your money, honey, we want you!" they sang. And Dick knew that they spoke the truth. He had fulfilled another condition of his mother's will, and become popular in spite of his wealth, though for a time he feared this would never happen. He had thought of a plan to pretend that he had suddenly grown poor, but Uncle Ezra's mistake made this unnecessary.

"I don't know whether it's more fun to be rich or poor," thought Dick, as he went to bed that night. But he had other adventures, in which his great wealth played a part, and those of you who care to follow Dick Hamilton's fortunes further may read of them in the next volume of this series, to be called: "Dick Hamilton's Steam Yacht; or, A Young Millionaire and the Kidnappers."

"Well, how are you feeling this morning, Toots—I mean Corporal?" asked Dick, about a week later, when the janitor was able to leave the hospital.

"Fine. I'd never know I'd been sick. That was a lucky thing to get hit with a stone, so I could know who I really was. But I'm anxious to get home and see my father, since you say he's not well."

"Oh, he's not seriously ill," said Dick. "I had a letter from Henry Darby about him. He's so pleased that you have been located, that a sight of you is about all the medicine he needs."

"I can go home to him in a few days, Colonel Masterly says."

"You want to give us an exhibition of shooting before you go," suggested Dick.

"I'm afraid I'm all out of practice," objected the former corporal.

But he was not, as he very quickly proved, when he and some chums of Dick went to the rifle range. There the soldier made bullseye after bullseye with an ease that made the cadets fairly gasp, and he did all sorts of fancy shooting, including driving a tack in a board from even a greater distance than even Captain Handlee had boasted that his son could do it.

"I guess it must have been that my eyes were affected by that Indian bullet," said the corporal. "They got all right again when the stone from the fire hit me."

Later, the surgeon admitted that this was probably true.

A short time after this Corporal Bill Handlee joined his aged father in Hamilton Corners, and the two enjoyed many happy years together, thanks to Mr. Hamilton's generosity, and what Dick had done to solve the mystery.

"Well, Grit, old boy," said our hero one day near the close of the term, as he was strolling over the campus, followed by his ugly pet, and with Paul Drew, William the Silent and some other cadets at his side, "well, Grit, I think you and I will go home soon. Dad will be home next week, and say, maybe we won't have some good times; eh, Grit?"

The bulldog nearly turned a summersault to show how glad he was. A few days later Dick and his dog were at Hamilton Corners, ready for the summer vacation.