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The Marines Have Landed, Page 2

L. T. Meade



  "Dick Comstock, you've been fighting! What will Mother and Father saywhen they see your black eye?" and Ursula Comstock looked with mingledpity and consternation at her brother, who, at the moment, cautiouslyentered the cheery living-room.

  "And to-day of all days in the year to have such a thing happen," shecontinued. "Everyone in town will see it to-night when you deliver youroration. I do think, Dick, if you had to fight, you might have waiteduntil to-morrow, at least."

  "It couldn't be helped, Sister, so stop scolding, and get me a raw steakor something to put on my eye," answered her brother, ruefully. "I knowit's going to mortify Mother fearfully that her 'handsome son' is sobadly banged up, but necessity knows no law, in war anyway. Now be agood sister and help me. Maybe by to-night it won't look so bad, and ifyou are as clever painting my face as you are your canvases it may noteven be noticed."

  "How did it happen?" inquired Ursula a little later, after first aid hadbeen applied to the injured eye.

  "Oh! It wasn't anything really of any account. I had to teach 'Reddy'Doyle a lesson he has been needing for a long time, that's all,"answered Dick, bending over a basin of hot water while the tall, lithegirl, one year his junior, handed him steaming hot compresses.

  "Tell me about it," demanded the girl, for between Richard and herselfthere were few secrets, and a more devoted brother and sister would behard to find in all New England.

  "Well, you see, Doyle and I never have been good friends in all theyears we've been classmates at school. He goes with a gang I nevercared for and he has always been inclined to bully. We've often hadlittle tussles, but nothing that amounted to a great deal. You knowhe's a dandy athlete and I couldn't afford, half of the time, to havetrouble with him. He is just cranky enough to have resigned from theschool teams, and he's really too valuable a fellow to lose,consequently I've so often swallowed my pride in order to humor him thathe began to believe I was afraid of him, I guess.

  "But he has one mean trait I simply can't endure, and that is thetorturing of dumb animals. I often heard from the other fellows of histricks in that line. To-day I witnessed one, and--well--I've a blackeye to pay for my meddling."

  "That is not all the story, and you know it, Dick, so you may as welltell me now, for I shall get it sooner or later. What did he do thatcaused you to take such chances on this day of all days?"

  "I didn't happen to think much about the day," grinned Dick, "but I doguess I'm a sight. Dad won't care; yet, as I said, I do feel sorry onMother's account."

  "Richard Comstock, if you do not stop this evasion and tell me at oncewhat occurred, fully and finally, I'll refuse to help you another singlebit. Now talk."

  While Ursula was speaking she unconsciously shook a piece of very raw,red beef at her brother in such an energetic manner that he feared itmight land in any but the place for which it was intended unless heobeyed without further delay.

  A final rehearsal for the high school graduating exercises which wasscheduled to take place in the evening had been held in the theatre, andafter dismissal, as a number of the boys were going along Broad Street,a poor, emaciated cat ran frantically across the road towards them andclimbed a small tree just in time to escape the lathering jaws of aclosely pursuing bulldog. Percy Doyle, the red-haired owner of the dog,not satisfied with witnessing the poor feline barely escape his pet, ranquickly to the tree, grasped the cat by the neck and threw it to theeager brute. Almost instantly the powerful animal had shaken the cat todeath.

  This cold-blooded act was more than the good-natured Dick could standand with a warning cry of anger and indignation he called upon Doyle todefend himself. Then there followed a royal combat, for these two ladswere strong for their age and their years of activity in all kinds ofsports had made them no mean antagonists.

  In the end Doyle was beaten, but the victor had by no means escapedunscathed.

  By the time Dick finished his recital the raw beef was properly boundover his eye and the grime of battle washed from his face by his gentlenurse, who completed her task by kissing him as she exclaimed withenthusiasm:

  "Good for you, Dick, I hope you thrashed him well while you were aboutit, for he certainly deserved a beating. Now run along and get a bathand clean up properly before Mother comes home. She has gone to thestation to meet Father. You have no time to spare; the New York expressis about due," and with the words she shoved him towards the doorwayleading to the hall.

  "Call me when you are ready, and I'll come and paint you up like anIndian," she added as he disappeared up the stairs.

  A half hour later when Dick appeared in the living-room and greeted hisparents, Ursula's efforts at facial decoration proved so successful thatno one other than his fond and adoring mother discovered the deception.Her searching eye was not to be deceived, however, and once again Dickwas obliged to recount the details of his afternoon's experience.

  "No one will notice my black eye, Mother, and if so half of the audiencewill have heard how I got it, so you need not worry."

  Dick's father said nothing, but the look of pride and approbation in hiseyes was enough to quiet any qualms as to his father's attitude.

  John Comstock, having laid aside the evening paper he was reading whenhis son entered, now began searching through its pages, speaking as hedid so:

  "Have you seen to-night's paper, Dick?"

  "No, Dad. Why, is there anything of particular interest in it--that isaside from the announcements of the big event being staged at thetheatre?" inquired Dick.

  "Unfortunately, yes," replied his father. "When I left home last week Itold you I would see Senator Kenyon while in Washington and try to gethim to give you that appointment to the Naval Academy we all have beenhoping for and which we believed as good as settled in your favor untila few weeks ago."

  "Did you see him? What did he say?" asked Dick in one breath, his facelighting up with excitement.

  "Yes, I saw him, but my visit was fruitless. He politely but firmlytold me he could not give it to you; and he would not tell me at thetime who was to be the lucky boy. In to-night's paper I have just readthat the selection has been made."

  The look of disappointment which came over Dick's countenance wasreflected in the faces of both his mother and sister. He gulped once ortwice before he finally mustered up courage to reach out his hand forthe paper, and the tears blinded his eyes while he read the briefarticle which so certainly delayed if it did not entirely destroy hisboyhood's dream.

  For a few moments silence reigned in the little group, and Ursula,rising quietly, walked to her brother and placed an affectionate,consoling arm over his dejectedly drooping shoulders.

  "Never mind, Dick, the appointee may not pass the exams, and thenpossibly you will get your chance after all," she said consolingly.

  "There's no hope he won't pass," answered Dick dolefully, and then morebravely, "neither would you nor I wish him such bad luck."

  "Is it anyone we know?" now inquired Mrs. Comstock.

  "I should say we do. It's one of my best friends;--it's Gordon Graham,our class valedictorian."

  "Gordon Graham!" exclaimed Ursula, a slight flush tinging the peachycontour of her cheek, "Gordon Graham! Why, I never knew he even wantedto go to Annapolis!"

  "He doesn't," answered Dick ruefully, "but his father does want him togo, and now Gordon has no choice."

  "Mr. Graham is a rich man, and a politician. I suppose he wields suchan influence in this district that Senator Kenyon could not afford to goagainst his wishes in the matter," said Dick's father, "andunfortunately I am not wealthy, and have always kept out of politics.Consequently, my boy, you may blame your father for this miscarriage ofour plans. With the election so near, a senator has to look to hisfences," he added as they arose to answer the summons to the eveningrepast.

  "Our Policy in the West Indies and the Caribbean," was the subject ofRichard'
s salutatory address in the crowded theatre that evening at thegraduation exercises of the Bankley High School. To his friends itseemed something more than the average boyish ebullition. At any rate,Dick was a thoughtful lad and had expended his best efforts in thepreparation of his oration. During its composition he had even lookedinto the future and in the measures he advanced as necessary for themilitary, naval and commercial integrity of the nation, he had alwaysliked to think of himself as a possible factor.

  To-night he experienced his first bitter disappointment, and instead of"Admiral Richard Comstock" being an actor in the stirring events thatsome day indubitably would occur, he saw his more fortunate chum, GordonGraham, writing history on the pages of his country's record.

  After the exercises he met Gordon, and the two boys walked home togetheralong the lofty, elm-arched streets.

  "Naturally I'm fearfully disappointed," said Dick, having firstcongratulated Gordon on his good fortune, "but I'm not churlish aboutthe matter, and I guess the chief reason is because you got it. I'mmighty glad for you, Gordon."

  "It is too bad, old man," Gordon replied feelingly, "because I know howyou have looked forward to being appointed, and you know, Dick, I neverwas anxious for it. If it was not for frustrating my father's wishes, Ishould almost be inclined to flunk the examinations. In fact I may beunable to get by anyway, for they are very difficult."

  "You'd never do that, Gordon! You couldn't afford to do such athing--humble your pride in that manner. That wouldn't be helping meand you'd only injure yourself and hurt your father beyond measure,"said Dick bravely.

  "Oh, I suppose I shall have to go, and I will do my best, Dick; only Ido wish we both were going. It is beastly to think of separating afterall these years we have been together."

  "We have a few days left yet before you leave, so cheer up," answeredDick, "and suppose we make the best of them. What do you say to a swimand row to Black Ledge to-morrow morning?"

  "Good! I will meet you at eight o'clock. Bring along your tackle, forwe may get some bass or black-fish, and we will make a day of it,"responded Gordon enthusiastically, as they parted at the corner.

  On entering the house Dick immediately sought his father.

  "Father," he said, "what do you propose for me now that the Annapolisappointment is closed?"

  "I have been thinking over the question for weeks," answered Mr.Comstock, leaning back wearily in his chair. "I counted on the NavalAcademy more than you did, I might say; for, Dick, things have not beengoing well in the business, and the family exchequer is at a very lowpoint, so low in fact I hardly know just how things will end."

  Dick, immersed in his own selfish thoughts, for the first time realizedhow worried and care-worn his father appeared.

  "What is the trouble, Dad?" he asked with a world of solicitude andtenderness in his voice.

  "To tell you the truth, Dick, I cannot afford to send you to college. Iam afraid that unless I can recoup my recent losses I shall be unableeven to allow your sister to finish her art studies after her graduationnext year, as we had planned. My boy, I have very little left."

  He stopped for a moment and his hand visibly shook as he passed it overhis troubled brow.

  "I broke the news to your mother some time ago, and my visit toWashington was in the hope of recovering something from the wreck, butit looks dark. Also while there, beside seeing Senator Kenyon, I triedmy best to get you into West Point. But that, too, was a failure."

  "Dad, don't worry about me," said the boy, rising and going to stand byhis father's side; "I'll get along all right, and between us we willfasten on something I can turn my hand to. I have had a mighty easytime of it for seventeen years, nearly, and I'm only too glad to pitchin and help out."

  "The situation is not so bad as all that, Richard," answered Mr.Comstock, gazing at his manly boy with a proud look. "You do not haveto strike out for yourself for a good while yet. I even thought anotheryear at Bankley, taking the post-graduate course, would be the best planfor the present. In the meantime you have a whole summer's vacationahead of you, which your good work at school richly deserves."

  "No, I've finished with Bankley," said Dick with finality in his tone.

  "Well! Well! We must talk about the matter some other time, my son,and if you intend to go to Black Ledge to-morrow morning with Gordon,you had best be getting under the covers."

  Whereupon Dick said "Good-night" and slowly climbed the stairs to hisbedroom.

  Before Dick succeeded in getting to sleep he firmly resolved to relievehis father's shoulders of some of the burden by shifting for himself,but just how he proposed to go about it was even to his own active mindan enigma.