Dick Hamilton's Fortune/14

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CHAPTER XIV


DICK GIVES A PARTY.


Lurching to one side, as the water rushed in through the ragged hole in the bottom, the boat, with Dick in it, began to lose headway. The water acted as a brake, and, so large was the opening the wrench had torn, that, in a few seconds, all danger was past of the burning boat colliding with other craft, the steersmen of which were too bewildered to get out of the course.

Foot by foot the scuttled boat sank. The water covered the engine now, but the motor still kept going, for enough gasolene remained in the pipe running from the exploded tank to keep it in motion. But the boat was merely floating along, all speed gone.

"Jump, Dick!" cried Bricktop, who, with the other boys, was swimming toward shore. "Jump!"

Dick stood up in the boat he had sacrificed to save the lives of others. The water was up to his knees, and, casting a look about him, he prepared to leap overboard. There was no further need of his remaining, as his brave deed had accomplished what he intended it should.

But now a new danger was presented. The blazing gasolene, forced from the bottom of the boat by the rising water that came through the jagged hole, was floating on the surface of the lake. All about the sinking craft was a pool of flame, ten feet in diameter.

A cry of horror arose from those in the surrounding boats that had quickly congregated near the scene. The gathering dusk was lighted up by the licking tongues of flame, which hissed hungrily, as though angry at being cheated of their prey.

"Wait!" called a man in a large motor boat. "I'll see if I can't get near enough to save you."

He started to steer his craft toward Dick, but the latter cried out:

"No! Keep away. The gasolene is spreading! I'll jump!"

He was standing on the gunwale of the boat now, that part alone being above water. The motor had stopped, and the boat was floating amid a small sea of flame. In just the little patch where Dick stood there was, for the present, at least, no fire.

Dick crouched for a spring. He saw a place where the surrounding ring of flame was the thinnest, and he aimed for that. He was going to try to jump across the belt of fire.

Suddenly he straightened up. Then, with a spring, which lost much of its power because of the uncertain footing the tilting gunwale gave him, he launched himself upward and outward.

Arching his hands over his head to cleave the water, and hoping in his heart that he would clear the ring of flames, Dick felt himself moving through the air. Then, with a sudden change in the little breeze that was blowing, the flames shifted so that they were wider in extent at the place for which he aimed. Those in the outer fringe of motor boats caught their breaths as they saw what had happened. Dick was headed for the center of a leaping mass of fire.

An instant later he had struck the water, covered with the blazing gasolene, and had disappeared beneath the surface.

"Now to save him, if we can!" cried Captain Bailey, of the large motor boat Cypress, as he urged his craft forward. Those in it, as they approached the outer ring of fire, looked at the luridly illuminated waters, anxious to catch the first glimpse of Dick. A dark body came to the surface. Two hands shot out, and Dick made an attempt to swim. But he ceased almost as soon as he made the first strokes, and sank back, his head going beneath the waves.

Then sounded a splash from the stern of the boat.

"What was that?" cried Captain Bailey.

"Chandler Norton leaped after him!" was the answer.

And it was Bricktop who, in swimming to shore, had been picked up by the Cypress, and who had leaped after Dick when he saw him sink back. Bricktop had removed most of his heavy clothing and shoes, and was more prepared than any of the others to attempt a rescue.

It seemed a very long time that both he and Dick were lost to view, but it was only a few seconds ere Bricktop arose to the surface, one arm about the unconscious form of the millionaire's son.

"Help me get him aboard!" Bricktop gasped. "I'm afraid something has happened to him!"

Willing hands were extended to raise the silent form. Then, when the brave rescuer had been pulled over the stern, all speed was made to shore, which the other two boys had reached some time since in boats that picked them up.

Fortunately there was, in the gathering of merrymakers, a physician, who at once hurried to Dick's side. He carefully examined the youth. "I'm afraid he inhaled some of the flames," he said, "or he may have struck his head on something when he went overboard. We must get him home, and into bed, as soon as possible."

There were several automobiles at the lake front, and in one of these Dick was taken to the Hamilton mansion at a speed which broke the law—but no one minded that.

Mr. Hamilton was much startled, but he calmly gave orders to have his son cared for. Another physician was summoned, and the two worked over the unconscious form together, while Mr. Hamilton, his face drawn and white, paced anxiously up and down in the hall outside the room.

Suddenly there sounded the patter of feet on the stairs, and, a moment later, something was muzzling Mr. Hamilton's legs, while a gentle whine begged his attention.

"What is it. Grit, old boy?" he asked, huskily, as he reached over and patted the big bulldog's head. "You know something's wrong, don't you? Well—maybe it—maybe it will be all right."

The dog whined and sniffed at the door of the room where the unconscious form of his master lay.

"No—no—not now, Grit, old boy," said Mr. Hamilton, softly, and Grit with a look as much as to say that he knew what was going on, stretched out—a grim guardian at the portal of the silent chamber.

Then, from the room, came a voice, at the sound of which the dog gave a joyous bark, and then, as though conscious that he had done wrong, he changed it to a whine. Mr. Hamilton, with wildly beating heart, heard his son murmur:

"Oh, it's cold, so cold! Where am I? Is the fire out? Did I run down any boats?"

Then came the calm voices of the doctors, urging their patient to be quiet.

But this was more than Grit could do. His whining was like the cry of a child, and he scratched frantically at the door.

"That's Grit. Let him in," Dick said, in stronger tones, and Mr. Hamilton uttered a silent prayer of thanksgiving. The portal was swung and Grit bounded into the room, followed by the millionaire. One of Dick's hands hung over the side of the bed, and Grit began licking it frantically.

"Good—old Grit," murmured Dick, and Grit was content.

"How is he?" asked Mr. Hamilton, in a whisper.

"I'm all right, dad," answered Dick, unexpectedly.

"Not as bad as we feared," answered one of the physicians. "He has inhaled no flames, but he struck his head on something as he jumped. Probably on a bit of floating wreckage. He will be all right after a few days' rest. But he must be kept quiet. No excitement. I congratulate you on your brave son, Mr. Hamilton."

The millionaire silently wrung the hand the physician held out to him.

"It wasn't anything," murmured Dick, in sleepy tones. "I had to stop the boat, and the only way I saw was to put a hole in the bottom. Too bad; it was a fine boat."

"You can have another, if we can't raise her," interrupted Mr. Hamilton.

"Then I knew I'd have to swim under water to avoid the flames," went on Dick. "I held my breath as long as I could, and then I hit something. I can't remember any more."

He sank into a doze, with Grit still licking the drooping hand.

"I think he will sleep now," said the physician who had examined Dick at the lake. "We will go out, and the dog had better come, too."

"Come, Grit," called Mr. Hamilton, but Grit paid no attention.

"I'll bring him," said the physician, as he reached for the bulldog's collar. Grit growled menacingly.

"Better not," advised the millionaire. "No one but Dick can do anything with him."

So they had to leave Grit there, but he was not in the least in the way, being content to rest beneath the bed, though whenever anyone—nurse or doctor—approached, the dog was ever on the watch.

Dick had to stay in bed three days, and for three days more was a sort of semi-invalid in an easy-chair. Then, the physicians having pronounced all danger past, he was allowed to go out. In the meantime the motor boat was raised and taken away to be repaired.

"Say, I never knew what nice sunshine and fine air we had in this town," said the youth to his father, as he walked down the street with him. "It's worth while being under the weather a bit just to appreciate it when you get out."

"I never knew you had so many friends, Dick," answered his father.

"Friends? How?"

"Why, we had to keep one of the maids busy answering the bell while you were in bed. I guess every boy, and lots of the girls, in Hamilton Corners called to see how you were getting on."

"I'm glad they thought of me," replied the millionaire's son. "I wish I could show I appreciate it."

"Well, I think you can, Dick."

"How?"

"I was going to suggest that you hold a little reception—give a sort of party. That's what we called 'em when I was a boy."

"The very thing!" exclaimed Dick. "That will be sport. "But—where could I have it?"

"In the house, of course. Isn't it large enough?"

"That's just it. It's too big and fine. I'm afraid some of the boys wouldn't have a good time, for fear of dropping some cake or ice-cream on the carpets."

"Well, what would you suggest? You might give it in the barn."

"I was thinking of hiring a big tent and having a party out doors on the lawn. That would be unconventional and rather jolly, I think."

"Good idea," answered the millionaire. "I'll order a tent at once and see to the refreshments."

"Let me do that," begged Dick. "I know what boys and girls like to eat."

"Very well," assented his father, with a laugh. "You can do just as you please, and—er—send the bills to me."

"Not much!" exclaimed Dick, proudly. "I'm paying my own way now."

A week later a big white tent was erected on the spacious lawn at the Hamilton mansion. Dick had spent a busy seven days in making the arrangements, and every boy and girl in Hamilton Corners, whom Dick had the least acquaintance with, was invited.

Seldom had there been so much excitement in the town, not even when the circus came, for on this occasion the girls, at least, could "dress up," and we all know what that means to a girl. Nor were the boys behindhand in looking over their best suits and putting an extra shine on their shoes.

The big tent was gay with Chinese lanterns, and a corps of white-suited waiters were in attendance to dispense the good things when, as darkness began to gather, the young people of the town began to assemble at the party. They came from all directions, some of them awkward and shy, for it was their first big affair, while others were more self-possessed.

"Well, are you ready?" asked Simon Scardale, as he called at Guy Fletcher's house, for both had been invited to the gathering.

"Yes, but I don't care much about going. We'll have a slow time."

"Maybe we will, but I've got a little thing I want to plan out, and I can do it there, I think. The fact is, I need money badly, and I've got to get some."

"I hope you're not going to rob the house," remarked Guy, with a nervous laugh.

"Of course not, but I've got a scheme that may work. Come along."