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2. Life at Woodcrest
He had no further trouble finding Inslee Hall and once there room 17 was easy to find. Two newcomers were already there, young fellows by the name of Harlow and Murray, and Terry got acquainted with them before he left to go to Locke Hall. He stowed his belongings away and then went over to the main hall to look up his friends. He found them in room 21, a large pleasant room in the front of the main building. They were arranging things around the room when he entered and he sat on the extra bed and watched them.

“Just saw something awfully queer,” he informed them, when they had finished.

In answer to their inquiries he told them of his experience at Clanhammer Hall. Both of the boys were interested but treated the matter lightly.

“They must use the place for something special,” Don suggested.

“That’s all well and good, but that doesn’t explain why that old guy ducked into the doorway the way he did. No, I feel that there is something more in it than that. However, perhaps we had better keep it to ourselves, at least until we are a little better acquainted around here.”

The Mercer brothers agreed that this plan was best. Just at that moment a knock sounded on the door. Jim called, “Come in.”

The door opened to admit a fine-looking fellow in full uniform with stripes of a cadet captain. He had a nice smile and the newcomers felt a friendliness toward him at once.

“How do you do, boys?” greeted the cadet. “I am Captain Rhodes of the senior class, and I’ve come to look in on you. One of the traditions of the seniors here is to make fourth class men feel at home, and so I’ve come to introduce myself. I’m not intruding, I hope?”

“Not at all, Captain Rhodes,” replied Don. “Very glad to have you, and we appreciate your tradition. I am Don Mercer, and this is my brother Jim. This is Terry Mackson.”

“Glad to know you all,” nodded the captain, shaking hands with them. “Is this the fellow who pinned up Sommers’ trousers?”

“My fame has run before me!” murmured Terry, smiling.

“Yes, Terry’s the culprit,” laughed Don. “A bad boy all around, always into something, but he means well, Mr. Rhodes.”

“I don’t doubt it,” returned the cadet. “You may drop the mister, Mercer. Speaking of Terry’s well-meaning attempt on Mr. Sommers, I can safely say that no harm was done except a temporary bruising of the lieutenant’s feelings. He is our prize dignitary, but underneath a very nice fellow. Nothing mean about him, but simply filled with a spirit of military efficiency. Well, how do you think you are going to like Woodcrest?”

The boys assured him that they thought they would like it very much. Rhodes went on to tell them a few things about the school and to praise their colonel.

“Colonel Morrell is a fine man,” he said. “We all look up to our headmaster. He isn’t here yet, but will be in a day or so. At present we are in the charge of his assistant, Major Tireson. The colonel is a little short, fat fellow, full of good humor and every inch a man. Have you seen the grounds yet?”

“We’ve been busy unpacking,” replied Jim. “But Terry saw some of them. He’s rooming over at Inslee.”

“I didn’t see much,” put in Terry. “I did see that old dormitory in the back, Clanhammer Hall. Isn’t the place used any more?”

“No, and it hasn’t been for a number of years. It was the original hall of the school, in fact, the only building when the school was first started, but it was condemned some years ago as a fire trap and hasn’t been used since. Colonel Morrell is going to have it cleaned out this year and opened up as a sort of memorial of the original school. As far as I know no one has been in it for years.”

“No one in it now?” asked Terry, quickly.

“Oh, no. No one ever goes in it. I don’t know who has the key for it.” A bell sounded loudly in the hall and the senior got up. “That is warning bell for supper,” he explained. “You have ten minutes to wash and report at the dining hall, downstairs. I’ll see you after supper, perhaps.”

“You notice that Rhodes said no one had been in that hall for years,” reminded Terry a few minutes later, as they walked down the stairs.

“Yes,” said Don. “There seems to be some sort of a mystery there.”

The boys were assigned places at the table and enjoyed their first meal at the academy. After the meal the boys were free to roam, and they walked all over the place, visiting the gymnasium, the boathouse, and the other dormitories. They walked along the margin of the beautiful lake and on the way back they passed Clanhammer Hall, dimly seen in the dusk.

“It certainly looks deserted now,” commented Jim.

“Yes,” said Terry. “It did when I first saw it. Suppose we ought to look in the windows?”

“I wouldn’t,” declared Don. “We’re new here, and have no right to snoop. Perhaps we will later on.”

Before retiring they sat around their room and Rhodes paid them a brief visit, bringing with him two other senior class men, Merton and Chipps. Merton was a tall blond fellow; Chipps was small and energetic. They talked of sports and Rhodes asked them if they planned to come out for football.

“I hardy think so,” answered Don. “During this first year we want to pay particular attention to our studies, though we don’t expect to neglect athletics. But we have all been on track teams at home, and we expect to go out for that here.”

“That’s a good idea,” approved Chipps. “Most of our veterans of last year have returned this year and the best you fellows could probably do would be to get places on the scrub team. I think you’d do well to put in a year training on the track team or the crew, and take up football later on.”

A warning bell sent the seniors back to their rooms and Terry departed for Inslee. At ten o’clock the lights went out and the boys were in bed.

“Well, Don,” commented Jim, as he lay in bed. “Tomorrow we’ll get into harness.”

“Yes,” his brother returned. “I guess we’d better get in a good night’s sleep. Bet you a dollar that we’ll be ready for bed by this time tomorrow night.”

“I won’t take you up,” Jim retorted. “I have a sneaking idea you’ll win. ’Night.”

At seven o’clock in the morning a bugle pealed out and the Mercer brothers woke to find the sunlight streaming in their windows. They jumped out of bed, washed quickly and then went to chapel, meeting Terry in the hall. When all of the cadets had been seated a thin man in the uniform of a major came out on the platform and opened the session with a prayer. After it was over he addressed them briefly, in a rather sharp, precise voice.

“The second, senior and third classes will resume work as usual,” he announced. “The new members, those of the fourth class, will report for lesson instructions, medical examination, uniform measurements, and drill after dinner. Fourth class lessons will begin officially tomorrow morning at eight-fifteen. I may say briefly that Colonel Morrell will arrive either tomorrow or the day following, and until he does, you will refer all questions to me, Major Tireson. That will be all for this morning, boys. Report to the dining hall for breakfast.”

After the morning meal the new boys found plenty to keep them busy. They reported at five different classes and obtained books, went under a rigid medical examination, and were then measured for their uniforms. Before dinnertime the three friends walked out on the lawn, resplendent in neat gray uniforms and black hats.

“By thunder mighty, as old Captain Blow used to say,” commented Terry, looking proudly at his sleeves. “I feel like the last word in dressed-upness. Can’t one of you guys get a full length mirror and hold it up for me to see myself?”

“You saw yourself in the glass inside,” laughed Jim.

“That wasn’t enough,” said Terry. “I want to look at me forever!”

After the noon meal they assembled on the parade ground and were lined up in squads of eight. Under first, second and third class lieutenants they were drilled.

“Oh, boy, look who we got!” whispered Terry, who was flanked on either side by his two friends.

Lieutenant Sommers was their drill instructor and he was a thorough one. But when they were finished Terry could not find any fault with the man. He was not a bully nor even revengeful; he recognized Terry at once, but he did not press him any more than the others. He was every inch a young soldier and did his work with snap and precision, leaving completely personal feeling out of it. Terry agreed with Rhodes’ statement that Sommers was a good fellow beneath his dignity.

After drill the boys were at liberty to do whatever they chose until five-thirty and, with others whose acquaintance they had made by now, they elected to go swimming in Lake Blair while it was yet warm enough to do so. Terry went off to see about changing his dormitory.

“See if you can’t get somewhere in Locke,” Jim said, just before he left. “We have an extra bed in our room, but I think someone is coming to claim it in a day or so.”

Terry came back and joined them in the boathouse, where the boys changed into their trunks. Don and Jim, dripping wet, came out of the water as he was changing into his trunks.

“What luck?” yelled Don.

“I got a place in Locke,” said Terry, carelessly, pulling on his trunks.

“Whereabouts?” asked Jim.

“Room 21,” answered Terry, innocently.

“Why, that’s our room!” exclaimed Don.

“Sure it is! I found out that the boy who was to room with you isn’t going to turn up, so I got it. I’ll bring my stuff over later on.”

The boys were overjoyed at the prospect of being together and after an invigorating swim in Lake Blair they helped Terry fix up his corner of the dormitory room. After supper they had an hour to themselves and then they began to study. Just before warning and taps they were visited by a few friends.

“Well Jim, how do you feel about what I said last night?” asked Don, as he got into bed.

Jim yawned with enthusiasm. “Just as I told you, you win, hands down. I feel like a good sleep. That business of holding your little finger against the seam of your trouser and making your back as straight as a board is somewhat strenuous. But it certainly will straighten us up some, though I never could lay any claim to being the least bit round-shouldered. But I like the life here first rate. Let me have your pillow.”

Before Don could reply Jim took his pillow and hurled it at Terry who, clad in a pair of blue pajamas, was staring out into the blackness of the night. The red-headed boy turned and looked grimly at Jim. Then he stooped down and scooped up the pillow.

“Cut it out, you two,” ordered Don. “I hear that an Officer of the Day looks in on us every night at this time to see if everything is okay before the lights go out. I don’t want to get called down because I haven’t a pillow on my bed. Let’s have it, Terry.”

The pillow was delivered through the air, with considerable force. Jim grumbled.

“I just threw it at him to wake him up. What were you dreaming about then?”

“I was just wondering about that old hall, and what is going on in there,” Terry replied, getting into bed.

“Oh, to heck with that old hall!” snorted Jim. “Forget it!”

A third classman, Officer of the Day, looked in the door and around the room. “Okay, gentlemen,” he said quietly and withdrew. The lights went out suddenly. For a minute all was silent. Then, from Terry’s bed:

“Forget nothing! There is something wrong there, and I’d like to find out what it is!”

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