Dick Hamilton's Cadet Days/Chapter 1

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"Hi boys! Here goes for a double summersault!"

"Bet you don't do it, Frank."

"You watch."

"Every time you try it you come down on your back," added another lad of the group of those who were watching one of their companions poised on the end of a spring-board.

"Well, this time I'm going to do it just like that circus chap did," and Frank Bender, who had an ambition to become an acrobat, raised his hands above his head and crouched for a spring.

"If you do it I'll follow," said another boy, clad in a bright red bathing suit.

"Good for you, Dick!" exclaimed Walter Mead. "Don't let Frank stump you."

"Here I go!" cried Frank, and, a moment later, he sprang from the spring-board, leaped high into the air, and, turning over twice, came down in true diver style, his hands cleaving the water beneath which he disappeared.

"Good!" cried the boys on the shore.

"I didn't think he'd do it," remarked "Bricktop" Norton, so called from his shock of red hair.

"Me either," added Fred Murdock. "Now it's up to you, Dick."

"That's right."

Dick Hamilton rose from a log on which he was sitting. He was a tall, clean-cut chap, straight as an arrow, with an easy grace about him, and it needed but a glance to show that he was of athletic build. His red bathing suit, from which protruded bronzed arms and legs, was particularly becoming to him.

"There—let's—see—you—do—that!" spluttered Frank, as he came up, some distance from where he had gone down. He shook his head to rid his eyes and ears of water, and struck out for shore.

"Stay there!" called Dick. "I'll swim out farther than you did."

"Dick's cutting out some work for himself," remarked Bricktop, in a low tone to Bill Johnson. "Frank's a dandy swimmer."

"Yes, but Dick Hamilton usually does what he sets out to do," replied Bill. "There he goes."

Dick walked to the end of the spring-board. He teetered up and down on it two or three times, testing the balance of the long plank. Then he took a few steps backward, poised for an instant, and ran forward.

"There he goes!" called Walter.

Like a rubber ball Dick Hamilton arose in the air. He curled himself up into a lump as he leaped, and then, to the surprise of his companions, he turned over not twice, but three times ere he struck the water, which closed up over his feet as they disappeared.

"Well—wouldn't that sizzle your side combs!" cried Bricktop. "Three times!"

"A triple!" added Walter Mead. "Whoever would think Dick could do it!"

"Aw, he's been practicing," called Frank, as he circled about in the water, watching for Dick to come up. "He's been doing it on the sly, and he's kept quiet about it."

"Just like Dick," added Bill. "He isn't satisfied to do ordinary stunts."

"Well, he's done a good one this time," said Fred Murdock. "Say, isn't he staying under a long time?"

There was no sight of the millionaire youth.

"Maybe he hit his head on a rock," suggested Bricktop, in some alarm.

"That's so," went on Fred. "This place isn't any too deep, and he came down hard."

"Maybe we'd better go in after him," remarked Walter.

"Dive down!" called Bill to Frank.

The boys were becoming frightened. Not a ripple, save the little waves made by Frank, as he stood upright, treading water, disturbed the expanse of the swimming hole. There was no sign of Dick Hamilton. Frank prepared for a dive, when, suddenly, at some distance from shore something shot up through the water. It was the hand and arm of a boy. An instant later his head and shoulders popped into view.

"There he is!" cried Walter.

"It's about time he came up," said Bill, somewhat sharply, for Dick's long under-water swim had frightened the boys.

"How's that, fellows?" asked Dick, as he shook the water from his face, and struck out for shore.

"You win!" cried Frank, "but please don't give us heart disease again."

"Why; what's the matter?"

"We'd thought you'd struck on a stone and weren't going to come up again."

"No danger of that," answered Dick, with a laugh. "I'm having too much fun at camp here, to stay down there. Did I make a good dive?"

"Did you? Say, you've got us all beat to a pig's whisper on Fourth of July," admitted Bricktop. "How'd you do it?"

"Yes, I wish you'd show me," added Frank. "You must have been practicing it."

"I have," admitted Dick. "It's easy when you know how. After you do a double summersault, all you have to do—is to make another one, making three in all, and you can see that I had nothing concealed up my sleeve, and——"

"And you did it without the aid of a net," added Fred, after the fashion of the ringmaster in a circus announcing some marvelous feat.

"I'm going to try it," said Frank, as he clambered out on the bank.

"No, I think we've been in the water long enough this morning," said Dick. "Besides it's most grub time. I don't know how you feel about it, but I think I could nibble at a bit of roast chicken, which I happen to know that our esteemed cook, Hannibal Cæsar Erastus Jones, has in the oven."

"Ah! Um!" murmured Bill Johnson.

"That's it! Make a noise like a lunch-grabber!" objected Fred. "I should think you'd be ashamed of yourself."

"Oh, listen to the professor at the breakfast table!" cried Bill with a laugh. "I don't s'pose you're going to nibble at any; art thou, Reginald?"

"Well, you just watch him," advised Fred. "He's got me beat, all right."

"Come on!" cried Dick suddenly. "First fellow at the dining tent gets most of the white meat!"

He started off at a fast clip, the others sprinting after him, and he would have won, but that he stubbed his bare toe on a stone, and had to finish the rest of the distance on one leg, holding the injured member in his hands, making, the while, wry faces at the pain. Bill Johnson won the impromptu race.

"Hurt much?" asked Walter, as Dick limped up.

"Like sin. Say, Hannibal Cæsar Erastus Jones, will you do me a favor?" he asked, as the colored cook, who did the camp cooking, came from his tent.

"Ob co'se, Massa Dick. What am it?"

"Just go back there in the woods and bring me the pieces of that stone I broke with my toe. I want 'em for souveniers."

"Ha! Ha! Ho! Ho! Massa Dick, doan yo' go to playin' no tricks on me! Noc jest at de present auspicious moment," and the colored man grinned broadly, showing a big expanse of white teeth, in an area of blackness.

"Why not, Rastus?"

"'Case as how de chicken am all done, an' if it ain't partook of immejeet——"

"Never mind those souveniers," said Dick. "We'll be with you in the twinkling of a flea's left hand eyelash," and he hopped into his tent, and began to dress, an example followed by the other boys.

"Humph!" murmured Hannibal Cæsar Erastus Jones, as he stood in the midst of the camp, rapidly blinking his eyes. "Fust I eber knowed a flea had a eyelash. But Massa Dick, he must know, 'case he's po'ful smart. But I 'spects I'd better git ready to serb up de grub, as dey calls it' 'case dey's allers pow'ful hungry when dey's been in swimmin'. Come t' t'ink ob it, dough, dey's most allers ready t' eat." And, chuckling to himself, Hannibal started toward the cook tent.

It did not take the boys long to dress, and as they emerged from the tents, their faces glowing with health, and bronzed from their life in the open, they were as fine a group of lads as you would meet in a day's travel, or, maybe a day and a half. They were all guests of Dick Hamilton, who, as had been his custom for several years past, had taken a crowd of his chums off to camp on the shores of Lake Dunkirk, a large body of water near Hamilton Corners, where Dick lived.

"Ah! Um! Smell that chicken!" murmured Bill Johnson, as he lifted his nose high in the air.

"There you go again! Displaying your lack of manners!" objected Fred. "Why don't you wait in patience and dignity, as I do."

"Well, wouldn't that melt your collar button!" remarked Bricktop. "Where's the glass case they took you out of, Fred?"

"Manners?" asked Dick, as he approached Fred from the side. "Excuse me, but there's something sticking out there."

As he spoke he slyly extended his foot, and, a moment later Fred measured his length on the carpet of soft, pine needles of the woods.

"Goodness me! Did you fall?" asked Dick, as he looked down, in apparent surprise at his chum. "How careless of you."

"Ha! Ha! Ha!" laughed Bill. "Come here, Fred, and I'll pick you up."

Fred arose, smiling rather sheepishly, but not at all angry. He brushed off his clothes, and joined in the laugh that followed.

"It's your turn next," observed the young millionaire. "I'll have to keep my weather eye open, Fred."

"All right," said the lad who had been tripped.

"Well, Hannibal—Alphabet—Jones; art ready for the gathering of the clans who hunger after the flesh-pots of Egypt?" asked Dick.

"All ready, Massa Dick," replied the colored cook. "Come on."

"First down! One wish-bone to gain!" called Walter Mead, as he took his place at the table set under the tent fly.

For the next five minutes the boys were so busy eating the roast chicken, corn bread and other good things that Hannibal-and-the-rest-of-it-Jones, with his knowledge of Southern cookery had provided, that they said not a word. Then, with a long-drawn sigh of satisfaction, Bill observed:

"There certainly is nothing like a good meal."

"Unless it's two," added Bricktop. "I didn't much fancy Dick's plan of taking a professional cook along when we came to camp this year, because it used to be fun to do it ourselves, but our cooking was never like this."

"Never, never, never!" exclaimed Fred. "I'll have a little more chicken, if you don't mind, Dick."

"Certainly not. There's plenty."

"Yes, this is better than having to do it ourselves," said Frank Bender, as he finished polishing off a juicy leg. "No dishes to wash, nothing to bother with after you're through, only have a good time. Dick, you're a brick!"

"As long as I'm not a gold one, it's all right," said the millionaire's son. "But I thought you'd agree with me that it was best to take a cook along."

"It sure is all to the pancake batter," observed Bricktop. "Well, I don't mind if I do have a little more of the white meat, if you insist," he added, though no one had asked him to pass his plate.

Dick laughed as he helped his chum to some choice bits. Matters were moving more slowly, now that the first edge of hunger was dulled, and the boys were taking occasional stops to make remarks.

"What's the program for this afternoon?" asked Walter, as he drained his coffee cup. "Are we going fishing?"

"Whatever you say," replied Dick, who, like a true host, always consulted the wishes of his guests. "We can fish, take a walk, or go out in the motor boat."

"The motor boat for mine," said Bill. "I want to get on a pile of cushions and take a snooze."

"Well, wouldn't that give you the nightmare!" came from Bricktop. "You're getting lazier every day, Bill."

"Help yourself," spoke the sleepy youth, as he slumped from the table and stretched out under a tree.

"I guess a trip in the motor boat would suit us all best," observed Dick. "Hannibal 'Rastus, just fill up the gasolene tank, will you?"

"Oh, why wasn't I born rich instead of handsome," murmured Bricktop, who never would have taken a prize in a beauty show. "But my fatal gift of——"

"Cut it out!" cried Walter, throwing a pine cone with such good aim, that it went right into Bricktop's open mouth.

"Oh! Ah! Ug! Blug! Chug! Hum!" spluttered the discomfitted one. "Who threw that?" he demanded, when he could speak.

Nobody answered, and, feeling in no mood to get up and chastise Walter, whose sly grin proclaimed him the culprit, Bricktop stretched out again.

"Hark! That sounds like a wagon coming," observed Fred, as he sat up, after a few minutes of silence.

"Guess it's the ice man," said Dick, for he had arranged to have a supply left at the camp. He believed in having all the comforts possible when he went into the woods.

"Doesn't rumble like an ice wagon," commented Bill.

"Sounds more like a load of steel girders," added Walter.

At this, Dick arose. He peered through the trees toward a seldom-used wagon road, which ran near the camp. He caught sight of something moving.

"It's a wagon, all right," he said, "but it isn't the ice man."

A few moments later a remarkable rig hove into sight. It consisted of a rattle-trap of a wagon, loaded with all sorts of scrap iron, and drawn by a horse that looked as if it had escaped from the bone yard. It just crawled alone. On the seat was a bright-faced youth, who was doing his best to excite the animal into a speed a little better than that of a snail. He jerked on the reins, called at the horse, and cracked his whip, but all to no purpose.

"It's no use!" he exclaimed, as he looked through the trees and caught sight of Dick and his chums. "He's got the pip, or something like that."

"Why, hello, Henry," called Dick. "What brings you away off here? There's no scrap around here."

"I thought maybe you boys might have had one or two that you'd sell cheap," said the young dealer in old iron, and there was a twinkle in his eyes.

"They're all too lazy to fight, except me," observed Bricktop, "and I'm too good."

"Stow that!" commanded Fred, making a pass at his chum, who jumped back out of reach.

"Aren't you quite a way from home?" asked Dick, as he went up and shook hands with Henry Darby.

"Yes, I am. But you see I'm driving around the country, collecting old iron. This is my dull season, and I took my oldest rig, and started off day before yesterday. I'm taking it easy—have to you know, on account of my horse's health. His delicate constitution makes it necessary. There doesn't seem to be much old iron about, and I've got this far, without picking up a full load."

"Why don't you give some to your horse. Iron is good for the constitution," said Dick.

"I thought of it, but you see all the iron I have is in long pieces and sticks out all sorts of ways. If my horse swallowed any of it he'd have more fine points than he's got now. So I guess I'll keep him on grain."

"But you haven't told me why you're away off here in the woods," went on Dick. "Is there any iron about here?"

"No, not that I know of. I came to find you."

"To find me?"

"Yes. I have a telegram for you. I happened to stop in the village back there, and while I was making some inquiries in the post-office, which is also the telegraph station, a message came for you. The operator had no one he could send with it, and, as I happened to know where you were camping, I said I'd take it. He gave me a quarter for bringing it out, and so I've made some profit to-day."

"A telegram!" cried Dick. "Why didn't you say so at first? Give it here," and he held out his hand.

"I didn't want to scare you," said Henry. "I was breaking the news gently."

He handed over the yellow envelope. Dick tore it open, and, as he read the short message, he gave a start.

"No bad news I hope," remarked Walter.

"No, I guess not," replied Dick slowly. But I've got to leave for home at once."

"Leave for home!" cried his chums.

"Yes. This is from dad. It says: 'Dear Dick. Come home as soon as you get this. Important.'"