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   Chapter 12 No.12

The High School Captain of the Team; or, Dick & Co. Leading the Athletic Vanguard By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 13900

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The Nerve of the Soldier

Again Mrs. Macey sought to interpose. Her husband, too, was at first against it.

But, now that the die was fairly cast, Herr Schimmelpodt firmly championed the boys.

"Eider von of dem gan do it--easy!" declared the big German. "You don't know dem boys--vot? Ach, I do. Dey got der brain, der nerves und der muscle."

"It's a crime to let such youths attempt the thing," shivered an anaemic-looking man in the crowd. "Whichever one goes up that flagstaff will come down again faster. He'll be killed!"

"Cheer up some more," advised Herr Schimmelpodt stolidly. "It don't gost you nottings, anyway. If Dick Bresgott preak his neck soon, I gif him der bulliest funeral dot any boy in Gridley efer hat."

"But what good---" began the nervous man tremulously.

"Talk ist cheap," retorted Herr Schimmelpodt, with a wink, "mid dot's all I haf to bay for dot funeral. Dick Bresgott ain't fool enough yet to preak der only neck he has."

At this a jolly laugh went around, relieving the tension a bit, for there were many in the crowd who had begun to feel mighty serious as soon as they realized that Dick was in earnest.

Some one brought the janitor of the church. A hardware dealer near by came along with two coils of rope, which he thought might be handy.

Mr. Macey went inside with the janitor and the two chums. A score or two more would have followed, but the janitor called to Herr Schimmelpodt to bar the way, which the big German readily did.

Then the four inside began to climb the winding staircase to the bell loft.

"Go slowly, Dick; loaf," counseled Dave. "Don't waste a bit of your wind foolishly."

At the bell loft all four paused to look down at the crowd.

Now up a series of ladders the four were obliged to climb, inside the spire top. This spire top was thirty-six feet above the floor of the bell loft; but eight feet from the top of the spire a window let out upon a narrow iron gallery that ran around the spire.

"I--I don't believe I'll step out there," faltered Mr. Macey, who was stout and apoplectic-looking.

"I don't blame ye any," agreed the janitor. "It ain't just the place, out there, for a man o' your weight and years."

"Don't look down at the street, Dick," begged Dave.

"Why not?" asked Prescott, deliberately disobeying. "If I couldn't do that without getting dizzy, it would be foolish to climb the pole."

"Prescott, you'd better not try it," protested Mr. Macey. "Just listen to how strong the wind is at this height. I'm afraid you'll be dashed down to the ground. Gracious! Hear the flagstaff rattle."

"I expected it," replied Dick, sitting down, inside the spire top.

"What are you doing?" demanded the real estate man.

"Taking off my shoes," Dick replied coolly.

"Do you really mean to make the attempt?"

"You don't think a Gridley boy would back out at this late moment?" queried Dick, in surprise.

"Ye couldn't stop these younkers, now, by force," chuckled the janitor.

"I certainly wouldn't care to try force," remarked Mr. Macey dryly.

"These young men are too well developed."

Dave was now on the floor, getting off his shoes.

"What are you going to do, old fellow?" asked Prescott.

"Going to follow you as far as the top of the spire," replied

Darrin quietly. "Who knows but I may be able to be of some use?"

Dave stepped out first on the little iron balcony. The crowd below saw him, but at the distance could not make out clearly which boy it was. Then Prescott followed.

"Give me one foot," called Dave, kneeling and making a cup of his hands.

Dick placed his foot, then started to climb the sloping surface of slate, Darrin aiding.

As Dave straightened to a standing position Dick reached up, getting hold of the base of the flagstaff.

"Hold on there, a minute," advised Dave, as his chum stood on the little ledge at the top of the spire. "And don't be foolish enough to look down into the street."

Dave darted inside, picking up the lighter of the ropes. Going out on the balcony again Darrin tossed one end of the rope to Dick, who made it fast around the flagpole.

Using the rope, Dave went easily up and stood beside Prescott.

"There is a fearful wind here," muttered Dick, as both swayed while holding to the stout, vibrating mast. "But you can make it, old fellow."

It had been the original intention in building the church to use this mast as a flag pole. Then some doubt had arisen among the members of the parish. A weather vane had been put at the top of the pole, and the question of connecting flag tackle had been left to be decided at a later date.

Had the flag tackle been there now Dick could have made an easier problem of the ascent; yet, even with the rope, it would have been an undertaking from which most men would have shrunk.

"I'm going to start now," said Dick very quietly.

"Good luck, Dick, old fellow!" called Dave cheerily. "You'll get through."

Darrin still remained standing on top of the spire after Dick had started to climb.

The only way that Prescott could move upward was to wrap arms and legs around the pole.

How the wind swayed, jarred and vibrated it! Once, when ten feet of the ascent had been accomplished, Dick felt his heart fail him.

A momentary impulse, almost of cowardice, swept over him.

Then he steeled himself, and went on and up.

That staff must be more than a mile high, it now seemed to the boy, hanging there in momentary danger of his life.

Dave, standing below, looking up, knew far more torment.

Watching Dick, Darrin began to feel wholly responsible for the whole awful predicament of his chum.

"I urged him on to it," thought Dave, with a rush of horror that his own peril could not have brought to him. "Oh, I hope the splendid old fellow does make this stunt safely!"

It seemed as though thousands were packed in the street below, every face upturned. The breath of the multitude came short and sharp. Two women and a girl fainted from the strain.

In a window in the building across the street a photographer poised his camera. Behind the shutter was a long-angled lens, fitted for taking pictures at a distance.

Just as Dick Prescott's arms were within two feet of the weather vane the photographer exposed his plate.

Dick, in the meantime, was moving in a sort of dumb way now. The keenness of his senses had left him. He moved mechanically; he knew what he was after, and he kept on. Yet he seemed largely to have lost the power to realize the danger of his position.

A-a-ah! He was up there now, holding to the weathervane! His legs curled doggedly around the flagstaff. He had need now to use all the strength in his legs, for he must use one hand to disentangle the black scarf, which lay twisted about the vane just over his head. But it was the right scarf. The glint and dazzle of the diamonds was in his eyes.

How the extreme end of that

flag pole quivered. It seemed to the boy as though the pole must bend and snap, what with the pressure of the heavy wind and the weight of his body!

Slowly, laboriously, mechanically, like one in a trance, Dick employed his left hand in patiently disentangling the black web from the trap in which it had been caught.

At last the scarf was free. Most cautiously Dick lowered his left hand, tucking the jeweled fabric carefully into the inner pocket of his coat.

"I--I--guess--it safe--in there," he muttered, hardly realizing that he was saying any thing.

Dave, from below, had looked on, fascinated. Now that he saw the major part of the daring feat accomplished, Darrin did not make the mistake of shouting any advice to his comrade. He knew that any sudden shout might attract Prescott's attention in a way to cause him to lose his head.

Slowly--oh, so slowly! Dick came down. It seemed as though, at last, he understood his danger to the full and was afraid. The truth was, Prescott realized that, with all the vibrating of the staff in the wind, his muscular power was being sapped out of him.

Dave Darrin was down again, crouching on top of the spire, when

Dick reached him.

"Just touch your feet, Dick!" Darrin called coolly. "Then stand holding to the pole until I get down into the balcony."

Dick obeyed as one who could no longer think for himself.

This done, Dave slipped down the spire's slope, by the aid of the rope, until his feet touched the balcony's floor. Now he stood with upturned face and arms uplifted.

"Use the rope and come down, Dick," hailed. Darrin softly. "I'm here to catch you, if you need it."

Down came Prescott, holding to the rope, but helped more by Dave's loyal arms.

"Help Prescott inside, you two," Dave ordered sharply. Then, after the men inside the spire top had obeyed, Dave swung himself in. He left the rope fastened above, for whoever cared to go and get it.

Mr. Macey, ashen faced and shaking, stared at Dick in a sort of fascination.

"I--I got it," said Dick, when he could control his voice. "Here it is, safe in my pocket."

"I forgot to ask," rejoined Mr. Macey tremulously. "I'm sick of that bauble. Ever since you started aloft, Prescott, I've been calling myself all sorts of names for being a party to this thing."

"Why, it's all right," laughed Dick, only a bit brokenly. "It was easy enough--with a fellow like Dave to help."

"Did he go up the flagstaff, too?" demanded Mr. Macey, opening his eyes wider.

"No," declared Darrin promptly. "Prescott did it."

"But good old Dave was right at hand to help," Dick contended staunchly.

"Get yourselves together, boys. Then we'll get down out of here," urged Mr. Macey. "I haven't done anything, but I feel as though I'd be the one to reel and faint."

"Take this scarf, now, please," begged Dick, holding open his coat.

The real estate man looked over the bauble that had placed two manly lives in such desperate jeopardy. The fabric was much torn, but all the precious stones still appeared to be there.

Mr. Macey folded the scarf and placed it in one of his own inner pockets.

"Now, let us get down out of here," begged the real estate man.

"This place is giving me the horrors."

"You can start ahead, sir," laughed Dave. "But we want time to put our shoes on."

Two or three minutes later the four started below, going slowly over the ladder part of the route. When they struck the winding staircase they went a bit more rapidly.

Down in the street it seemed to the watchers as though ages had passed since the two boys had been seen going inside from the iron balcony.

But now, at last, Herr Schimmelpodt heard steps inside, so he threw open the heavy door at once.

As Dick and Dave came out again into the sunlight what a mighty roar of applause and cheering went up.

Then Herr Schimmelpodt, advancing to the edge of the steps, and laying one hand over his heart, bowed profoundly and repeatedly.

That turned the cheering to laughter. The big German held up his right hand for silence.

"Ladies und chentlemen," shouted Herr Schimmelpodt, as soon as he could make him self heard, "I don't vant to bose as a hero!"

"That's all right," came with a burst of goodhumored laughter.

"You're not!"

"It vos really nottings vot I did," continued the German, with another bow.

"True for you."

"Maybe," continued Herr Schimmelpodt, "you think I vos afraid when I climb dot pole. But I wos not--I pledch you mein vord. It is nottings for me to climb flagpoles. Ven I vos ein poy in Germany I did it efery day. But I will not dake up your time mit idle remarks. I repeat dot I am not ein hero."

The wily old German had played out his purpose. He had turned the wild cheering, which he knew would have embarrassed Prescott, into a good-natured laugh. He had diverted the first big burst of attention away from the boys, much to the relief of the latter.

But now the crowd bethought itself of the heroes that a crowd always loves. Hundreds pressed about to shake the bands of Prescott and Darrin.

"Get into my car! Stand up in front of Mrs. Macey and myself until we can get out of this crowd," urged Mr. Macey, bustling the boys toward the runabout.

Mrs. Macey, whitefaced, was crying softly and could not speak. But her husband, with the two boys standing up before him, honked his horn and turned on the power, starting the car slowly. A path was thus made for their escape through the crowd, though the cheering began again.

"Now, you can put us down, if you will, sir,", suggested Dick, when they had reached the outer edge of the crowd.

"Not yet," retorted Mr. Macey.

"Why not, sir?"

"You've a little trip to make with me yet."

"Trip?"

"Wait a moment, and you'll see."

Less than two minutes later Mr. Macey drove his car up in front of one of the banks and jumped out.

"Come on, boys," he cried. "I want to get that reward off my mind."

"You run in, Dick," proposed Dave, on the sidewalk. "I'll wait for you."

"You'll go with me," Prescott retorted, "or I won't stir inside."

So Darrin followed them into the bank.

"I'm so thankful to see you boys safely out of the scrape," declared Mr. Macey, inside, "that I'm going to pay the full reward to each of you."

"No you won't," retorted Dick very promptly. "You'll pay no more than you offered. Dave and I'll divide that between us."

"Not a cent for me!" propounded Darrin, with emphasis.

"If you don't share the reward evenly, I won't touch a cent of it either, Dave Darrin," rejoined Dick heatedly.

Dave tried to have his way, but his chum won. Mr. Macey made another effort to double the reward, but was overruled.

So young Prescott received the two hundred and fifty dollars in crisp, new bills, and as promptly turned half of the sum over to his chum.

Now that it was safely over with, it had not been a bad morning's work!

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