DICK PRESCOTT'S SECOND YEAR AT WEST POINT or Finding the Glory of the Soldier's Life
H. Irving Hancock
CHAPTERS I. The Class President Lectures on Hazing II. Plebe Briggs Learns a Few Things III. Greg Debates Between Girls and Mischief IV. The O.C. Wants to Know V. "I Respectfully Decline to Answer, Sir" VI. Greg Prepares for Flirtation Walk VII. The Folks from Home VIII. Cadet Dodge Hears Something IX. Spoony Femme—Flirtation Walk X. The Cure for Plebe Animal Spirits XI. Lieutenant Topham Feels Queer XII. Under a Fearful Charge XIII. In Close Arrest XIV. Friends Who Stand By XV. On Trial by Court-Martial XVI. A Verdict and a Hop XVII. "A Liar and a Coward" XVIII. The Fight in the Barracks XIX. Mr. Dennison's Turn is Served XX. A Discovery at the Riding Drill XXI. Pitching for the Army Nine XXII. Greg's Secret and Another's XXIII. The Committee on Class Honors XXIV. Conclusion
THE CLASS PRESIDENT LECTURES ON HAZING
Leaving the road that wound by the officers' quarters at the north end, turning on to the road that passed the hotel, a hot, somewhat tired and rather dusty column of cadets swung along towards their tents in the distance.
The column was under arms, as though the cadets had been engaged in target practice or out on a reconnaissance.
The young men wore russet shoes, gray trousers and leggings, gray flannel shirts and soft campaign hats.
Their appearance was not that of soldiers on parade, but of the grim toilers and fighters who serve in the field.
Their work that morning had, in fact, been strictly in line with labor, for the young men, under Captain McAneny, had been engaged in the study of field fortifications. To be more exact, the young men had been digging military trenches—-yes—-digging them, for at West Point hard labor is not beneath the cadet's dignity.
Just as they swung off the road past the officers' quarters the young men, marching in route step, fell quickly into step at the command of the cadet officer at the head of the line.
Now they marched along at no greater speed, but with better swing and rhythm. They were, in fact, perfect soldiers—-the best to be found on earth.
Past the hotel they moved, and out along the road that leads by the summer encampment. The brisk command of "halt" rang out. Immediately afterwards the command was dismissed. Carrying their rifles at ease, the young men stepped briskly through different company streets to their tents.
Three of these brought up together at one of the tents.
"Home, Sweet Home," hummed Greg Holmes, as he stepped into his tent.
"Thank goodness for the luxury of a little rest," muttered Dick Prescott.
"Rest?" repeated Tom Anstey, with a look of amazement. "What time have you, now, for a rest?"
"I can spare the time to stretch and yawn," laughed Dick. "If I am capable of swift work, after that, I may indulge in two yawns."
"Look out, or you'll get skinned for being late at dinner formation," warned Greg.
There was, in truth, no time for fooling. These cadets, and their comrades, had reached camp just on the dot of time. But now they had precious few minutes in which to cleanse themselves, brush their hair and get into white duck trousers and gray fatigue blouses. The call for dinner formation would sound at the appointed instant and they must be ready.
Sound it did, in short time, but it caught no one napping.
Nearly everyone of the young men in camp had just returned from a forenoon's work, and hot and dusty at that.
But now, as the call sounded, every member of three classes stepped from his tent looking as though he had just stepped from an hour spent in the hands of a valet.
Not one showed the least flaw in personal neatness. Moreover, the tents which these cadets had just quitted were in absolute order and wholly clean. At West Point no excuse whatever is accepted for untidiness of person or quarters.
With military snap and briskness the battalion was formed. Then at brisk command, the battalion turned to the left in column of fours, marching down the hot, sun-blazed road to cadet mess.
Despite the heat and the hard work of the forenoon—-these cadets had been up, as they we every day in summer, since five in the morning—-spirits ran high at the midday meal, and chaffing talk and laughter ran from table to table.
The meal over, the battalion marched back to camp. There were a few minutes yet before the afternoon drills. A few minutes of leisure? Yes, if such an easy act as dressing in uniform appropriate to the coming drill, may be termed leisure.
"Drills are going to be called off, I reckon," murmured Greg, poking his head outside the khaki colored tent after he had put himself in readiness.
"What's up?" demanded Anstey, lacing a legging.
"The sky is about the color of ink over old Crow's Nest," reported Greg.
Just then there came a vivid flash of lightning, followed, in a few seconds, by a deep, echoing roll of thunder. The summer storms along this part of the Hudson River sometimes come almost out of the clear sky.
"I'm always thankful for even the smallest favors," muttered Anstey, with a yawn.
"We'll have to make up this drill some other day, when it's hotter," Dick observed, but he nevertheless dropped on to a campstool with a grunt of relief.
Yes; each of these three cadets could now have a campstool of his own in quarters, for Prescott, Holmes and Anstey were all yearlings.
And a yearling is "some one" in the cadet corps. For the first few days after his release from the plebe class the yearling is quite likely to feel that he is nearly "the whole thing." By degrees, however, the yearling in summer encampment discovers that there is a first class of much older cadets above him.
There are no second classmen in summer encampment, until just before the time to break camp and return to barracks for the following academic year. Members of the new second class—-men who have successfully passed through the first two years of life at the United States Military Academy—-are allowed two months and a half of summer furlough, during which time they return to their homes.
Readers of the foregoing volume in this series, "Dick Prescott's First Year at West Point", are already familiar with the ordeals, the hard work, the sorrows and the few pleasures, indeed, of plebe life at West Point.
These readers of the former volume recall just how Dick and Greg reached West Point in March of the year before; how they passed their entrance examinations and settled down to fifteen months of plebedom. Such readers recall the fights in which the new men found themselves involved, the hazing, laughable and otherwise, will be recalled. Our former readers will recollect that about the only pleasure that Dick Prescott found in his plebedom lay in his election to the presidency of his class—-position that carries more responsibility than pleasure for the poor plebe leader of his class.
But now all was wholly and happily changed. Dick, Greg and Anstey were yearlings, entitled to real and friendly recognition from the upper classmen.
It is only seldom that yearlings are accused of b.j.-ety (freshness), for about all of that is taken out of the cadet during his plebedom.
But the greatest sign of all to the new yearling is that now, instead of finding himself liable to hazing at any time, he is now the one who administers the hazing.
It is rare that a first or second classman takes the trouble to haze a plebe. A first or second classman may notice that a plebe is a little too b.j. If so, the first or second classman usually drops a hint to a yearling, and the latter usually takes the plebe in hand.
So far, our young friends had been yearlings just three days. They had not, as yet, exercised their new function of hazing any plebes. The first three days in camp had been too full of new and hard duties to permit of their doing so.
As Greg looked out of the tent, the wind suddenly sprang up, driving a gust of big raindrops before it. In another moment there was a steady downpour. Cadet corporals in raincoats darted through the company streets, carrying the cheering word that drills were suspended until change of orders.
"I hope it rains all afternoon, then," gaped Anstey, behind his hand. "It's a rest for mine—-you bunkies (tentmates) permitting."
Anstey stretched himself on his bed and was soon sound asleep.
In summer encampment, taps sound at 10.30, and first call to reveille sounds at five in the morning. Six hours and a half of sleep are none too much for a young man engaged at hard drilling and other work. The cadet, when his duties, permit, may, however, snatch a few minutes of sleep at any time through the day. Cadets in camp quickly get the knack of making a few minutes count for a nap.
"It's going to be a good one," declared Greg, as the rain settled down into a monotonous drumming against the shelter flap over the tent.
"A long one, too," spoke Prescott hopefully. "Greg, I actually believe that the wind is growing cool."
"Don't speak about it," begged Greg. "I'm superstitious."
"Yes; if a rain comes up just after dress parade and guardmount, then it'll keep up the rest of the evening, when we might be enjoying ourselves after a strenuous day of work. But if you get to exulting over the rain that is to get us out of a drill or two, or bragging about a cool breeze getting lost around here in the daytime, then the raindrops cease at once, the wind dies down, and the sun comes out hotter than it has been before in a week!"
Dick took another look outside.
"Then I won't say that this rain is going to last all afternoon, but it is," Dick smiled.
"Now, you've spoiled it all!" cried Greg.
"Say, Holmesy, old spectre!" hailed a laughing voice across the street.
"Hullo!" Greg answered.
"Haven't a cold, have you?"
"Don't feel that you're marked for pneumonia?"
"What are you driving at Furlong?" Greg called back.
"Come along over, if you can brave the storm!" called yearling Furlong. "You and the rest."
"Shall we go over, Dick?" asked Greg, turning around.
"Yes; why not? If nothing else, we'll leave Anstey in peace for his big sleep. Duck out. I'll be on your heels."
The flap across the way was thrown open hospitably as Greg entered, followed by Cadet Prescott.
"Where's old Mason and Dixon?" demanded Furlong, alluding to the fact that Anstey was a Virginian.
"He has turned in for a big sleep," Greg informed their hosts.
"Great!" chuckled Furlong. "Let's peep in and throw a bucket of water over him. He'll wake up and think the tent is leaking."
"Don't you dare!" warned Dick, but he said it with a grin that robbed his rebuke of offence. "Old Mace (short for 'Mason and Dixon') has been tired out ever since being on guard the first night in camp. He actually needs the big sleep. I believe this rain is for his benefit."
"Say that again, and put it slowly," protested Furlong, looking bewildered.
Griffin and Dobbs, the other two yearlings who tented with him, laughed in amusement.
"Now, that we've lured the class president in here," continued Cadet Furlong, "we'll call this a class meeting. A quorum isn't necessary. You've got my campstool, Mr. President, so we'll consider you in the chair. May I state the business before the meeting?"
"Proceed, Mr. Furlong," requested Prescott gravely.
"Then, sir, and gentlemen——-" began Furlong.
"The chair calls you to order!" interrupted Dick sternly.
"Will the chair kindly explain the point of order?"
"It is out of order to make any distinction between the chair and 'gentlemen.'"
"I yield to the—-the pride of the chair," agreed Furlong, with a comical bow. "Mr. Chairman and other gentlemen, the question that I wish to put is——-"
Cadet Furlong now paused, glancing solemnly about him before he continued:
"What are we going to do with the plebes?"
Dick dropped his tone of presiding officer as he answered:
"I take it, Miles—-pardon me, Furlong, that your question really means, what are we going to do to the plebes?"
"Same thing," contended the other yearling.
"Why should we do anything to them?" asked Dick gravely.
"Why should we—-say, did you hear the man?" appealed Furlong, looking around him despairingly at the other yearlings. "Why should we do anything to the plebes? And yet, in a trusting moment, we elected old ramrod to be president of the class! Why should we—-o-o-o-o-h!"
Cadet Furlong made a gurgling sound in his throat, as though he were perishing for lack of air.
"Prescott isn't serious," hinted Griffin.
"Yes, I am," contended Dick, half stubbornly. "Griffin, what did you think of yearlings—-last year?"
"What I thought, last year," retorted Cadet Griffin, "doesn't much matter now. Then I was an ignorant, stupid, unregenerate, unsophisticated, useless, worthless and objectionable member of the community. I hadn't advanced far enough to appreciate the very exalted position that a yearling holds by right."
"We now know, quite well," broke in Dobbs, "that it is a yearling's sacred and bounden duty to lick a plebe into shape in the shortest possible order. Though it never has been done, and never can be done inside of a year," he finished with a sigh.
"Do you seek words of wisdom from your class president?" Cadet Prescott inquired.
"Oh, yes, wise and worthy sir!" begged Furlong.
"Then this is almost the best that I can think of," Dick went on. It will never be possible to stamp out wholly the hazing of plebes at West Point. But we fellows can make a new record, if we will, by frowning on all severe and needless forms of hazing. I had the reputation of getting a lot of hazing last year, didn't I?"
"You surely did, old ramrod," murmured Furlong sympathetically. "At times, then, my heart ached for you, but now, with my increased intelligence, I perceive how much good it all did you."
"I took my hazing pretty well, didn't I?" insisted Dick.
"All that came your way you took like a gentleman," agreed Dobbs.
"At that time," went on Prescott, "I made up my mind that I'd submit, during my plebedom. But I also made up my mind—-and it still my mind—-that I'd go very slow, indeed, in passing the torment on to the plebes who followed me."
Dick spoke so seriously that there was an awkward pause.
"I don't want you to think that I'm going to set up as a yearling saint," Dick added. "I don't mean to say that I may not put a single plebe through any kind of pace. What I do mean is that I shall go very slowly indeed in annoying any plebe. I shan't do it, probably, unless I note a case of such utter b.j.-ety that I feel bound to bring the plebe quickly to his senses."
"You cast a gloom over us," muttered Furlong. "So far we haven't done any hazing. We were thinking of ordering a plebe in here, and starting in on him, so as to get our hands in. We need practice in the fine art."
"Don't let me interfere with your pursuit of happiness," begged Dick, with mock politeness.
"But, seriously, old ramrod, are you as strong for the plebe as we have just been led to believe? Are you prepared to take the plebe to our heart and comfort him—-instead of training him?"
"Do you believe we ought to take the plebe right into our midst, and condole with him until we get him over his homesickness? Do you feel that we should overlook all the traditional b.j.ety of the plebe, and admit him to full fellowship without any probation or instruction?"
"No," spoke Dick promptly. "I don't believe in patting the plebe on the shoulder and increasing his conceit. When a candidate first comes to West Point, and is admitted as a cadet, he is one of the most conceited simpletons on earth. He has to have that all taken out of him, I admit. He must be taught to respect and defer to upper classmen, just as he will have to do with his superior officers after he goes from here out into the service. The plebe must be kept in his place. I don't believe in making him feel that he's a pet. I do believe in frowning down all b.j.-ety. I don't believe in recognizing a plebe, except officially. But I don't believe in subjecting any really good fellow to a lot of senseless and half cruel hazing that has no purpose except the amusement of the yearlings. Now, I think I've made myself clear. At least, I've said all that I have to say on the subject. For the rest, I'll listen to the ideas of the rest of you."
There was silence, broken at last by Greg, who said:
"I think I agree, in the main, with Prescott."
"Oh, of course," grunted Dobbs, in a tone which might mean that Greg Holmes was but the "shadow" of Dick Prescott.
Greg looked quickly at Dobbs, but saw nothing in the other's face that justified him in taking open offence.
Somehow, though none of the others said anything to that effect, Cadet Prescott began to feel that he was a bit in the way at a conference of this sort. He didn't rise to leave at once, but he swung around on his campstool near the door.
Without throwing the flap open, Prescott peeped through a slit-like opening. As he did so he saw something that made his eyes flash.
The rain was pouring a little less heavily now. Down the company street came a cadet with a pail of water.
It was Mr. Briggs, a round faced, laughter loving, somewhat roly poly lad of the plebe class.
Just as Mr. Briggs was passing the tent in which Anstey lay making up some needed sleep, a snore came out.
Briggs halted, glancing swiftly up and down the company street.
No upper classman being in sight, Mr. Briggs peeped into the tent. He saw Anstey, asleep and alone.
Instantly raising the flap just enough, Mr. Briggs took careful aim, then shot half the contents of the pail of water over the chest and face of Yearling Anstey.
Dick Prescott watched unseen by the b.j. plebe. Mr. Briggs fled lightly, but swiftly four tents down the line and disappeared into his own quarters.
From across the way, came a roar of wrath.
Anstey was up, bellowing like a bull. Yet, roused so ruthlessly from a sound sleep, it took him a few seconds to realize that his wetting must be due to human agency.
Then Anstey flew to the tent door, looking out, but the chuckling plebe was already in his own tent, out of sight.
"After what I've just said," announced Dick grimly, "I think I know of a plebe who requires some correction."
"Listen to our preacher!" jeered Furlong.
PLEBE BRIGGS LEARNS A FEW THINGS
"Anstey!" called Prescott softly across the company street.
"Oh, was it you idiots?" demanded the Virginian, showing his wrathful looking face.
"No," replied Dick. "Come over as quickly as you can."
It took Anstey a few minutes to dry himself, and to rearray himself, for the Virginian's sense of dignity would not permit him to go visiting in the drenched garments in which he had awakened.
"Which one of you was it?" demanded Anstey, as he finally entered the tent of Furlong and his bunkies.
"No one here," Dick replied. "The other gentlemen don't even know what happened, for I haven't told them."
So Anstey withdrew his look of suspicion from the five cadets. No cadet may ever lie; not even to a comrade in the corps. Any cadet who utters a lie, and is detected in it, is ostracized as being unfit for the company of gentlemen. So, when Dick's prompt denial came, Anstey believed, as he was obliged to do.
"It was a plebe, Mace," continued Dick.
"I'll have all but his life, then!" cried the southerner fiercely.
"I wouldn't even think of it. The offender is only a cub," urged Dick. "If you accept my advice, Mace, you won't even call the poor blubber out. We'll just summon him here, and make the little imp so ashamed of himself that the lesson ought to last him through the rest of his plebedom. I'm cooler than you are at this moment, Mace, but none the less disgusted. Will you let me handle this affair?"
"Yes," agreed Anstey quickly.
As for Furlong, Griffin and Dobbs, it was "just nuts" for them to see their class president, lately so stately on the subject of hazing, now actually proposing to take a plebe sternly in hand. The three bunkies exchanged grins.
"Tell us, Mace," continued Dick, "have you had any occasion to take Mr. Briggs in hand at any time?
"So it was Mr. Briggs?" demanded Anstey angrily, turning toward the door.
"Wait! Have you taken Mr. Briggs in hand at any time?"
"Yes," admitted Anstey. "When you and Holmesy were out, last evening, I had Mr. Briggs in our tent for grinning at me and failing to say 'sir' when he addressed me."
"You put him through some performances?"
"Nothing so very tiresome," replied Anstey. "I made him brace for five minutes, and then go through the silent manual of arms for five more."
"Humph! That wasn't much!" grunted Furlong.
"I guess that was why Mr. Briggs felt that he had to get square," mused Dick aloud. "But a plebe is not allowed to get square by doing anything b.j."
Again Anstey turned as if to go out, but Dick broke in:
"Don't do it, Mace. Try, for the next half hour, to keep as cool as an iceberg. Trust the treatment of the impish plebe to us. Greg, old fellow, will you be the one to go down and tell Mr. Briggs that his presence in this tent is desired immediately?"
Plebe Briggs was alone in his tent, his bunkies being absent on a visit in another tent. Mr. Briggs was still grinning broadly as he remembered the roar with which Anstey had acknowledged the big splash.
But of a sudden Mr. Briggs's grin faded like the mist, for Greg was at the doorway.
"Mr. Briggs, your presence is desired at once at Mr. Furlong's tent."
"Yes, sir," replied the plebe meekly. He got up with an alacrity that he did not feel, but which was the result of the new soldierly habit. Mr. Briggs threw on his campaign hat and a raincoat, but, by the time he was outside of the tent, Holmes was just disappearing under canvas up the company street.
"I guess I'm in for it," muttered the plebe sheepishly, as he strode up the street. "Confound it, can a yearling see just as well when he's asleep as when he's awake?"
He halted before Furlong's tent, rapping on the pole.
"Mr. Briggs, sir."
"Come in, Mr. Briggs."
The plebe stepped into the tent, drawing himself up and standing at attention.
For some seconds none of the yearlings spoke. In fact, only Dick looked at the fourth classman.
"Mr. Briggs," demanded Prescott at last, "where is your bucket?"
"In my tent, sir."
"You will fill it, and report back here with it at once."
"Very good, sir."
"Now, what on earth is coming?" quaked the plebe, as he possessed himself of his bucket and started for the nearest tap.
In the shortest time possible the young man reported hack at the tent, his bucket as full of water as it would safely carry.
"Set the bucket down, Mr. Briggs, at the rear of the tent."
The plebe obeyed, then stood once more at attention.
"Mr. Briggs," continued the president of the yearling class, "it was you who threw water over Mr. Anstey?"
"I am not obliged to answer that, sir," replied the plebe.
"You're quite within your rights there, mister," Dick admitted. "But I looked out of this tent just in time to see you do it. Have you any wish to deny it now?"
"Mister, you have given us the impression that you are altogether to b.j.-ish to amount to anything in the cadet corps. Your sense of humor is bubbling over, but your judgment is so small that it would roll around inside the eye of a needle. This is a serious condition, and we judge that your health will be sadly affected if the condition is not promptly cured. One the first symptoms to be subdued is that of a swollen head. The head needs reducing in size. Take off your hat, and kneel in front of the bucket."
This Mr. Briggs did, meekly enough, now. There is never any sense in a mere plebe refusing to follow the commands of a yearling. "You will remain in that kneeling posture, mister, unless you are released from it. Now, thrust your head down into the water, as far as you can without interfering with your breathing. Remain in that position. Take your hands off the floor, sir, and do not rest them on the floor again. Continue with your head in soak until you are directed to do otherwise."
Even Anstey had to look grimly satisfied with this punishment. The unhappy plebe certainly did present a most laughable yet woeful appearance. It seemed impossible to keep this position, without occasional steadying by the hands, but it had to be done. If the reader does not consider it a hard feat to kneel thus, with one's head immersed in the water, the reader can easily satisfy his curiosity on the point.
Having thus put the plebe in soak, the yearlings all turned away from him, conversing among themselves on one subject and another.
Yet, had the plebe ventured to raise his head somewhat out of the water, or to seek support from his hands, he would quickly have discovered that he was being effectively if covertly watched.
Minute after minute the plebe remained "in soak." To him it seemed, of course, like hours.
At last, when human endurance of the Briggs brand could last no longer, the plebe gave an expected lurch sideways, falling flat, upsetting the bucket and causing much of the water flow along his own neck and beneath his underclothing.
"Mister, you are not on your knees, as directed," exclaimed Cadet Prescott.
"I—-I am sorry, sir, but I couldn't help falling over," replied crestfallen Mr. Briggs, standing at attention beside his overturned bucket.
He wriggled slightly, in a way eloquently suggestive of the water that was trickling over his skin under his clothing.
"Did you get wet, mister?" asked Dick.
"Now, that is really too bad, mister," continued Prescott in a tone that hinted at a great deal of sympathy. "You mustn't be permitted to get chilled. Exercise is what you need."
"Poor, young Mr. Briggs stood mute, blinking back.
"Milesy, may Mr. Briggs have the use of your piece for a few minutes?"
"Why, surely," declared Cadet Furlong in a tone of great cordiality.
"Mr. Briggs, take Mr. Furlong's piece, and go through the silent manual of arms," ordered the president of the yearling class.
Mr. Briggs picked up the rifle that Furlong pointed out to him. Then, trying to look very grave in order to hide the extreme sheepishness that he really felt, Mr. Briggs brought the rifle up to port arms.
"Proceed through the manual, mister," Dick counseled. "And keep going until we decide that you have done it long enough to put you past the danger of pneumonia."
Standing stiffly, the plebe started through the manual of arms. As soon as he had gone once through, with West Point precision in every movement, the plebe started in all over again.
"Now, do this to the stationary marching, mister," added Dick gravely, as though prescribing something for the very immediate benefit of the luckless fourth classman.
With that, Mr. Briggs began to "march," though not stirring from the spot on which he was stationed. Left, right! left, right! left, right! his feet moved, in the cadence of marching. At the same time the victim was obliged to raise his feet.
"Bring the feet up higher and more smartly, mister," directed Dick.
Passing the rifle through every movement of the manual of arms, lifting his feet as high as he could, and yet obliged to bring them down noiselessly to the floor, Plebe Briggs quickly began to drip with perspiration.
Yet his inquisitors sat by with the judicial gravity of drill sergeants. For ten minutes Mr. Briggs continued this grotesque work. He knew better than to stop; it would not be wise, even, to send any appealing glances at his inquisitors.
"Halt!" called Prescott softly, at last.
Briggs stopped, holding himself at attention after he had allowed the butt of the rifle to touch the floor noiselessly.
"Mister, return Mr. Furlong's piece."
The plebe obeyed, wondering what next was in store for him. Prescott noted that Mr. Briggs's legs were trembling under him.
"That is all, for the present, mister," announced the class sergeant. "But you will hold yourself in readiness, in case we call you out for a soiree this evening."
"Yes, sir," assented the plebe.
"You may go."
Mr. Briggs judged that he had better salute the yearling class president very carefully as he passed out with his bucket. This he did, then hastened down the company street.
This time, when he had vanished behind his own tent flap, Mr. Briggs didn't indulge in any grimaces or chuckles. Instead, he made haste to get off his dripping garments and to get out others, after he had enjoyed a rub down.
"Serves me right!" muttered the plebe. "I had been getting along first rate, with nobody bothering me. Then I had to get that b.j. streak on this afternoon. Now, I suppose I'm a marked plebe!"
GREG DEBATES BETWEEN GIRLS AND MISCHIEF
"Considering that you are the noble class president, who had just made us feel so ashamed over our thoughts of hazing," muttered Mr. Furlong, "I must say, Prescott, that I don't look upon you as any tyro at hazing."
"This case was very different," Dick answered quietly. "This plebe, Briggs, was caught in a very rank piece of b.j.-ety. We couldn't let his offence go by. We hazed him for a straight cause, not merely for being a plebe. What I object to is annoying plebes simply because they are green men."
"But what about that soiree you mentioned to the plebe?" demanded Griffin eagerly.
"I told him only to be ready if called," Prescott made reply. "I had no intention of bringing him over for a soiree this evening, unless the plebe does something else raw in the meantime."
A "soiree" is an institution of the summer encampment. The plebe who is in for a soiree may be either a man who has committed some direct offence against the upper classmen, or a plebe who has been observed to be simply too b.j. in general. Mr. Plebe is directed to present himself at the tent of some upper classman. Several yearlings are here gathered to receive him. He is taken in hand in no gentle way. He is rebuked, scored "roasted." He is made to feel that he is a disgrace to the United States Military Academy, and that he never will be a particle of value in the Service. Mr. Plebe is hauled over the coals in a fashion that few civilians could invent or carry out. Very likely, on top of all the lecturing, the man will be severely hazed. He is also quite likely, especially if he show impatience, to be called out for a fight.
The b.j.-est plebe, after a soiree by capable yearlings, is always afterwards observed to be a very meek plebe.
The rain continued so long that not only were afternoon drills escaped, but dress parade as well. It was not, in fact, much before supper time that the rain stopped and the sun came out briefly. But the brief period of relaxation had been appreciated hugely throughout camp. Three quarters of the cadets under canvas had found time for at least a two hours' sleep.
When the battalion marched back from supper, and was dismissed, the young men turned to for their evening of leisure and pleasure.
Over at Cullum Hall there was to be a hop for the evening.
Not all cadets, however, attend hops at any time.
Not long after supper many of the cadets began to dress carefully.
"Going to the hop, old ramrod?" inquired Mr. Furlong, standing just outside his tent while he fitted a pair of white gloves over his hands.
"Not to-night," returned Dick indifferently.
"Why, do you know, you haven't shown your face at hop yet?" Furlong demanded. "Yet when we were under instruction in the plebe class, you turned out to be one of our best dancers."
"Oh, I'll be in at one of the hops, later on in the summer," responded Prescott.
"One?" gasped Furlong. "Oh, you wild, giddy thing! You're going to do better, aren't you, Holmesy?" continued Furlong, as Dick's old chum came out, fitting on a pair of white gloves.
"I'm going over and put my head in danger of being punched, I suppose," grinned Greg. "I'm going to have the nerve to 'stag it' tonight."
The man who "stags it"—-that is, does not escort any young woman friend to the hop, must needs dance, if at all, with the girl some other cadet has "dragged." This sometimes causes bad feeling.
"I'm going to drag a 'spoony femme' tonight," declared Furlong, contentedly. "She's no 'L.P.,' at that."
"Dragging a femme" is to escort a young woman to the hop. If she be "spoony," that means that she is pretty. But an "L.P." is a poor dancer.
"Hotel?" inquired Greg.
"Yes," nodded Mr. Furlong, turning to leave. "Miss Wilton. I don't believe you've met her. Unless she dislikes your looks I may present you to her."
"Do," begged Greg. "I'd enjoy going through a few dreamy numbers."
Mr. Furlong, having permission to go to the hotel for Miss Wilton, started off, moving at his best soldier's step. After registering at the hotel office, in the book kept for that purpose, as every cadet is required to do, Mr. Furlong hoped for several minutes of talk with his pretty partner, either in a corner of the parlor, or on the veranda. Only the parlor and the veranda are open to cadets having permission to call at the hotel.
Greg, having no companion to go after, brought out his stool and seated himself beside Dick in front of the tent.
"Why don't you go over to the hop tonight, Dick?" Greg asked.
"Mainly because I don't wish to," replied Prescott, with a smile.
"Granted. But I am rather wondering why you don't wish to."
"I think you can keep a secret, Greg," replied his old Gridley chum, looking quizzically at Holmes. "Greg, I'm too awfully lonesome to trust myself at the hop tonight.
"Eh? Why, old ramrod, the hop ought to be the very place to lose that lonesome feeling."
"Just what I'm afraid of," responded Prescott.
"You—-eh—-huh! You're talking riddles now.
"Greg, a cadet can't marry. Or, if he does, his marriage acts as an automatic resignation, and he's dropped from the cadet corps."
"I know all that," Holmes assented.
"Now, here at West Point, with this nearly male-convent life, a fellow often gets so blamed lonesome that almost any girl looks fine to him, Greg. First thing he knows, a cadet, being a natural gallant, anyway, goes so far in being spoons with some girl that he has to act like a gentleman, then, and declare intentions. A fellow can't show a nice girl a whole lot of spoony attentions, and then back off, letting the girl discover that he has been only fooling all summer. You've heard, Greg, of plenty of cadets who have engaged themselves while here at the Academy."
"Yes," nodded Greg. "There's no regulation against a cadet becoming engaged to a girl. The regulation only forbids him to marry while he's a cadet."
"Now, a fellow like one of us either goes so far, in his lonesomeness, that he's grateful to a bright girl for cheering him and imagines he's in love with her; or else he finds that the girl thought he was in love with her, and she expects him to propose. Greg, I don't want to make any mistakes that way. It's easy for a cadet to capture the average girl's heart; it's his uniform, I suppose, for women always have been weak when uniforms enveloped fellows who otherwise wouldn't attract their notice. Greg, I wonder how many cadets have been lonesome enough to propose to some girl, and afterwards find out it was all a mistake? And how many girls fall in love with the uniform, thinking all the while that it's the fellow in the uniform? How many cadets and girls recover from the delusion only in after years when it's too late. I tell you, Greg, when a fellow gets into this cadet life, I think the practice of going too often to a hop may be dangerous for cadets and girls alike!
"I'll get cold feet if I listen to you long," laughed yearling Holmes grimly. "I wonder if I'd better pull these gloves off and stay where I am?"
"I didn't have any idea of seeking to persuade you," Dick replied. "If you feel proof against the danger, run right over to Cullum and enjoy yourself."
"I was just thinking," mused Greg, "of a promise you and Dave Darrin made some girls back in Gridley."
"I remember that promise," nodded Dick.
"You and Darrin promised Laura Bentley and Belle Meade that you'd each invite them to hops, you to West Point and Dave to Annapolis, just as soon as either one of you had a right to attend hops."
"I know," nodded Prescott.
Greg was silent. After a few moments Dick ventured:
"Greg, I kept that promise the day we moved into encampment—-the first day that I was a yearling."
"Oh! Are Laura and Belle coming on West Point soon?" Holmes asked eagerly.
"I don't know. I'll be mighty glad when I do know. But undoubtedly Darrin has invited them to Annapolis, too. Now, it may be that, even if the girls can get away to travel a bit, they can't go to West Point and to Annapolis in the same season. So the girls may be trying to make up their minds—-which."
"I hope they come here," murmured Holmes fervently.
"So do I," Prescott replied promptly.
"Dick—-do you—-mind if I ask a question," demanded Greg slowly.
"No," smiled Dick, "for I think I know what it is."
"Are you—-is Laura—-I mean——-"
"You wonder whether Laura and I had any understanding before I left Gridley? That's what you want to know?"
"That is what I was wondering."
"There is no understanding between us—not the least," Prescott replied. "I don't know whether Laura would consent to one, now or later. I don't know myself yet, either, Greg. I want to wait until I have grown some in mind. Laura Bentley is such a magnificent girl that it would be a crime to make any mistake either as to her feelings or mine."
"Do you think good old Dave and Belle Meade had any understanding before Dave left Gridley?"
"Dave went away after we did," Prescott answered. "So I can't be sure. But I don't believe Dave and Belle are pledged in any way."
"Funny game, the whole thing!" sighed Greg, rising. He had drawn off one of his white lisle-thread gloves, but now he was engaged in putting it on again.
"Confidence deserves to be paid in the same coin, Greg," warned his chum. "Did you leave any girl—-back in Gridley—-or elsewhere."
"Dick, old ramrod," replied Cadet Holmes, frankly, as he finished drawing on his glove, "I'm unpledged, and, to the best of my belief, I'm wholly heart free."
"Look out that you keep so for two or three years more, then," laughed Dick, and Holmes, nodding lightly, strode away.
Despite the hop, there were some visitors in camp that evening. Dick was presently invited over to join a group that was entertaining three college boys who had dropped off at West Point for two or three days.
Greg spent an hour or so at the hop. He was introduced to Miss Wilton, a pretty, black-eyed little girl, and danced one number with her. He presently secured another partner. But too many of the cadets were "stagging it" that night. There were not feminine partners enough to go around.
"My cue is to cut out, I guess," mused Greg, finding himself near the entrance to the ballroom.
Once outside, Greg drew off his gloves, thrusting them in under the breast of his gray uniform coat. He wasn't quite decided whether to go back to Cullum later. But at present he wanted to stroll in the dark and to think.
"I reckon I'll take Dick's line of philosophy, and cut girls a good deal," decided Greg. "Yet, at West Point in the summer, it's either girls or mischief. Mischief, if carried too far, gets a fellow bounced out of the Academy, while girls—-I wonder which is safer?"
Still guessing, Cadet Holmes wandered a good way from Cullum Hall, and was not again seen that night on the polished dancing floor.
* * * * * * * *
Anstey had gone visiting some other yearlings. Dick, after leaving the college boys and their hosts, felt that a slow stroll outside of camp would be one of the pleasantest ways of passing the time until taps at 10.30. Even after the rain, the night was close and sultry.
"Don't you sing, Prescott?" called a first classman as Dick passed near the head of the color line. "Some of our glee-club fellows are getting together to try some old home songs."
But Dick shook his head. Though he possessed a fair voice, the singing of sentimental or mournful ditties was not in his line that night. He heard the strumming of guitars and mandolins as he left camp behind.
Dick did not hurry, even to get away from the music. He kept on up the road, and by the hotel, but was careful not to enter the grounds, though three or four yearlings called gayly to him from the hotel veranda. He had no permission for tonight to visit the hotel.
"I'm not going to get into a row with the K.C. for a stupid little violation like that," he muttered.
Presently Dick's stroll took him over in the neighborhood of "Execution Hollow," the depression in the ground below where the reveille gun is stationed.
Suddenly Dick halted, an amused look creeping into his face.
"Now, who'd suspect good old Greg of getting into sheer mischief, all by himself?" the class president asked himself.
For Holmes was bending a bit low, a hundred yards or so away, and stealing toward the fieldpiece that does duty as reveille gun.
"It would be a shame to bet on what Greg's up to—-it would be too easy!" muttered Prescott, standing behind a flowering bush at the road's edge. "Greg is going to load the reveille gun, attach a long line to the firing cord, and rig it across the path here, so that some 'dragger,' coming back from seeing his 'femme' home, will trip over the cord and fire the gun. The dragger can't be blamed for what he didn't do on purpose, and cute little Greg will be safe in his tent. But if Greg should happen to be caught it might mean the bounce from the Academy! And, oh, wow!"
Cadet Prescott's heart seemed to stop beating. Glancing down the road he saw a man standing, there, in the olive drab uniform of the Army officer. Captain Bates, of the tactical department, was quietly watching unsuspecting Cadet Holmes.
THE O.C. WANTS TO KNOW
As has been said, Cadet Prescott felt as though his heart had stopped beating.
In another instant mischievous Cadet Holmes would actually be slipping a shell into the reveille gun, if it were not already loaded, and then attaching a cord, to lay a trap for some other unsuspicious cadet.
Captain Bates, who was quietly looking on, would have Mr. Holmes red handed.
Charges would be preferred. Undoubtedly Greg would soon be journeying homeward, his dream of the Army over.
Dick could not call out and warn Greg.
That would be a breach of discipline that would recoil surely upon Mr. Prescott's head, making him equally guilty with his chum.
Yet, to see Greg walk unsuspectingly into the "tac.'s" hands in this fashion! It was not to be thought of.
For two or three seconds all manner thoughts played through Dick's mind.
But, no matter what happened to him, loyalty would not allow him to stand by a mere mute spectator of Greg's downfall.
Prescott felt sure that he himself had not yet been seen by the Army officer.
Slipping out from behind the bush, Cadet Prescott stepped briskly along the path, bringing one hand sharply to his cap in salute.
"Captain Bates, have I your permission to speak, sir?"
Dick Prescott's voice, though not unduly loud, carried like a pistol shot to Greg's alert ears.
Young Mr. Holmes did not immediately change his course, start or do anything else that would betray alarm. Yet, ere Captain Bates's voice could be heard in reply, Greg had swung slowly around, and he came toward the path.
"Permission is granted, Mr. Prescott," replied Captain Bates—-but, oh, how coldly he spoke.
The Army officer seemed trying to look Mr. Prescott through and through, for Bates thoroughly suspected Dick of a bold stroke to save his friend from watchful tac. eyes.
"There was a question that came up among some of the yearlings in camp today, sir," Dick went on, very respectfully. "I found myself ignorant, as were some of the others, as to the correct answer to the question. As you are the officer in charge of the encampment, I have made bold, sir, to ask you the answer."
"Is it a matter relating directly to military tactics or discipline, Mr. Prescott?" asked Captain Bates, speaking as coldly as before.
"Indirectly, sir, I think."
"Then state the question, Mr. Prescott."
Greg, having reached the path, halted at attention several yards away from his bunkie.
"The question that came up, sir," continued Dick, and he was speaking the truth, for the question had been discussed, "is whether there is any regulation, or any tacit rule that requires a cadet of the upper classes to attend any stated number of hops in the season, or during the year?
"No cadet, Mr. Prescott, is required to attend any hop unless he so elects. The single exception would be that any cadet, having once made an engagement to attend a hop, would be bound by his word to attend, unless he had received proper release from that engagement. Such release, in nearly all instances, would come from the young woman whom the cadet had invited to attend a hop with him."
"Thank you, sir." Again Dick saluted very respectfully.
"Any other questions, Mr. Prescott?"
Dick saluted carefully. Captain Bates returned the salute, and turned to go.
Cadet Holmes, waiting until he found himself once more in range of the tactical officer's vision, raised his hand to his cap in very correct salute. This salute, also, Captain Bates returned, and then strode on toward camp.
"You came near missing me, Holmesy," Dick remarked carelessly and in a low voice, though he felt very certain that his tone overtook the departing tac.
In silence, at first, Greg and Dick turned and walked in the opposite direction together.
"Going to load the signal gun, eh, Greg!" chaffed Prescott.
"Yes," confessed white-faced Holmes, a quiver in his voice.
"It's a childish sport, and a dangerous one. Better leave it to the fellows who are tired of being at West Point," advised Dick quietly.
"Oh, what a debt I owe you, old ramrod!" cried Greg fervently.
"Not a shadow of a debt, Greg. You'd have done just the same thing for me."
"Yes, if I could have been quick enough to think of it. But I probably wouldn't have figured it out as swiftly as you did."
"Yes, you would," Dick retorted grimly, "for it was the only way. What's that bulging out the front of your coat, Greg?"
"The cord," Greg confessed, with a sheepish grin.
"Better get rid of it right where you are. Even a fishline is rope enough to hang a cadet when he gets into trouble too close to the reveille gun."
Greg had barely tossed away the coil of cord when——-
Bang! bang! bang!
Bang! bang! BANG!
The fusillade ripped out within a hundred yards of where they now stood.
Dick and Greg halted in amazement. They did not start, or jump, for the soldier habit was too firmly fixed with them. But they were astounded.
As they stood there, staring, more explosions ripped out on the night air, over by Battle Monument.
Cadets Prescott and Holmes could see the flashes, also, close down near the ground, as though an infantry firing squad were lying prostrate and firing at will.
Bang! bang! bang! The fusillade continued.
Behind the two cadets sounded running footsteps.
"Hadn't we better duck?" demanded Greg.
"No; it would look bad. We had no hand in this, and we can stick to our word."
Over at camp, orders were ringing out. Though the two cadets near Battle Monument heard indistinctly, they knew it was the call for the cadet guard.
Now the nearest runner passed them. It was Captain Bates, on a dead run, and, as Bates was not much past thirty, and an athlete, he was getting over the ground fast.
As he passed, Bates, without slackening speed, took Dick and Greg in with one swift glance.
Back in Gridley Dick and Greg certainly would have dashed onward to the scene of the excitement. As young soldiers, they knew better. Their presence over by Battle Monument had not been officially requested. Yet, as it was not time for taps, the cadets could and did stand where they were.
Two different armed forces were now moving swiftly forward to reinforce the O.C., as the officer in charge is termed.
Two policemen of the quartermaster's department—-enlisted men of the Army, armed on with revolvers in holsters—-ran over from the neighborhood of the nearest officers' quarters.
Cadet Corporal Haynes and the relief of the guard, moving at double quick, passed Dick and Greg on the path.
"Some fellows touched off firecrackers," whispered Greg to his chum.
"Number one cannon crackers," guessed Prescott.
They could see Captain Bates take a dark lantern from one of the quartermaster's police detail, and scan the ground closely all around where the cannon crackers had been discharged.
"Nothing more doing," muttered yearling Prescott. "We may as well be going back to camp, Greg. But we'll lose a heap of that six hours and a half of sleep tonight."
"Think so?" demanded Holmes moodily.
"Know it. The tac. saw us twice on this path, and he has us marked. The O.C. and the K.C. (commandant of cadets) will hold their own kind of court of inquiry tonight, and you and I are going to be grilled brown."
"We didn't set the cannon crackers off; we didn't see anyone around the monument, and we don't know anything about it."
"All true," nodded Dick. "But we'll have to say it in all the different styles of good English that we can think of."
Dick and Greg reached the encampment, and passed inside the limits, just before they heard the guard marching back.
Then all was ominously quiet over at the tent of the O.C., Captain Bates.
Tattoo had gone some time ago. Now the alarm clock told the bunkies that they had just three minutes in which to get undressed and be in bed before taps sounded on the drum.
"It's a shame, too," muttered Dick in an undertone. "We won't be any more than on the blanket before the summons from the O.C. will arrive."
"Here it comes, now," whispered Greg, nudging his bunkie.
But it was Anstey, their tentmate, hastening to be undressed in time against taps.
"What was the row?" asked the Virginian.
"Cannon crackers over at Battle Monument," replied Dick. "We were over there at the time."
"You were?" asked Anstey quietly, but shooting at them a look of amused suspicion.
So many cadets were now seeking their tents that our three bunkies did not notice that one footstep ceased before their door, for a moment, then passed on.
The man outside was Bert Dodge, also of the Dodge was a former Gridley High School boy and a bitter enemy of Dick's. The origin of that enmity was thoroughly told in the High School Boys Series.
During the plebe year Dodge, who was a fellow of little honor or principle had done his best to involve Prescott in serious trouble with the Military Academy authorities, but had failed. Dodge, however, had succeeded in escaping detection, and had succeeded in passing on from the plebe to the yearling class.
Anstey, however, who had been Dodge's roommate in the plebe year, was firmly resolved that he would not be roommate to Dodge when they returned to cadet barracks the next year.
Dodge hated all three of the bunkies in this tent, but Dick Prescott he hated more than the other two combined.
"Yes; we were near the spot," Dick said, answering Anstey's question. "But we didn't set off the crackers, or have anything to do with the matter. We don't even know, or have a guess, as to who the offenders were."
Though Dodge knew, in his soul, that he could believe Prescott, it was with an evil smile that Bert now hastened on, gaining his own tent.
Taps sounded, and fifteen minutes more went by. It began to look as though the Battle Monument affair would be allowed to go by until morning. Greg was asleep, and Dick was just dozing off, when there came a sharp step in the company street. The step had an official sound to it. That step halted, suddenly, before the door of the tent of our three bunkies.
"By order of the commandant of cadets," sounded the voice of Cadet Corporal Haynes. "Mr. Prescott and Mr. Holmes will turn out with all due speed, and report at the office of the officer in charge."
"Yes, sir," acknowledged Prescott, and nudged drowsy, half-awake Greg.
"Yes, sir," replied Holmes.
Dick leaped up, lighting the candle. Then he gave a slight kick that was enough to bring Holmes apart from his blanket.
Hastily, though with soldierly neatness, the two yearlings dressed themselves, then stepped out into the night, prepared to face the rapid-fire gun of official curiosity.
"I RESPECTFULLY DECLINE TO ANSWER, SIR."
"Mr. Prescott reports, sir."
"Mr. Holmes reports, sir."
Saluting, the two yearlings stepped into the tent of the O.C., then halted at attention.
Two officers returned their salutes. Captain Bates sat at his desk. Lieutenant Colonel Strong, commandant of cadets, sat back in lower chair at the right of Captain Bates's desk.
"Mr. Prescott," began Captain Bates, transfixing the yearling with his burning eyes, "you and Mr. Holmes were close to Battle Monument when the firecrackers were discharged there this evening.
"Yes, sir," Dick admitted.
"What do you know about the affair?"
"Only this, sir: That, after passing you, we walked along the same path until we turned in not far from the monument. We were walking toward it when we heard the discharges, and saw the flashes."
"Had you been nearer to the monument at any time through the evening, Mr. Prescott?"
Dick answered with great promptness.
"Mr. Prescott, have you sufficiently considered my question and your reply?"
"I will put a question of another kind. Did you see, do you know, or have you any knowledge of any kind, of those who placed the firecrackers by the monument, or who set them off?"
"Absolutely no knowledge, sir, on any point you mention," Dick rejoined promptly.
"Did you have any knowledge that such a breach of discipline was being planned."
"I did not, sir."
It was Colonel Strong who spoke. Dick wheeled about, saluted, then stood at attention.
"A serious offence against military discipline has been committed at Battle Monument tonight. Have you any knowledge about the matter which, if in our possession, would aid in any way in clearing up the mystery surrounding this offence?
"I have absolutely no knowledge of any form, sir, except that, as I stated, while Mr. Holmes and I were walking toward the monument, we heard the reports and saw the flashes."
"You realize the full import of your statement, Mr. Prescott?" pressed the K.C.
"I do, sir."
"Then, on your honor as a cadet and a gentleman, you declare that your statement is true?"
"I do, sir," Cadet Prescott replied.
The pledge he had just given is the most solemn that is exacted of a United States military cadet. Usually, the cadet's plain word is accepted as ample, for the sense of faith and honor is paramount at West Point. A cadet detected in a lie would be forced out of the cadet corps by the ostracism of his own comrades.
"That is all, for the present, Mr. Prescott."
Dick respectfully saluted the K.C., then the O.C., next wheeled and marched out of the tent, going straight to his own tent. Prescott would gladly have remained, but he had been dismissed.
It was twenty minutes later when Greg crept back into the tent and began to undress.
"How about it?" whispered Prescott.
"I was asked more questions, but all of the same import," Holmes answered in a whisper.
"Did the O.C. make you tell on yourself, about being over by the reveille gun?"
"No; I thought some of his questions led that way, but my other answers stopped him in that line. As a last resort I would respectfully have declined to say anything to incriminate myself."
As was afterwards learned, Dick and Greg were the only witnesses examined that night. Captain Bates had followed the only trail at which he could guess, and had learned nothing.
* * * * * * * *
"Mr. Prescott and Mr. Holmes both have the usual excellent reputation of cadets for truthfulness, haven't they, Captain?" asked Colonel Strong.
"Then I am afraid we shall get no further in this investigation."
"Unless, sir, my questions were so badly put as to give them a chance of shielding themselves without giving untruthful answers. I shall sleep on this matter tonight, Colonel. I don't want these young men to think they can put such an easy one right over my head."
"I wish you luck, Bates. But I'm afraid you've shot off your only round of ammunition, and have found it a blank charge. Good night."
"Good night, sir."
"Mr. Prescott was clever enough to prevent my pouncing on Mr. Holmes at the reveille gun tonight," mused the O.C. "I can hardly suspect Mr. Prescott of untruthfulness, but I wonder whether he has been clever enough to baffle me in this monument affair, without telling an absolute untruth?"
For nearly a half an hour the O.C. lay awake, reviewing the method he had followed in questioning Cadet Prescott.
In the morning, after breakfast, there were a few minutes of leisure in camp before the squads or platoons marched away for the first drills.
"You were on the grill, last night, old ramrod?" asked Furlong, in a chuckling whisper.
"Yes," Dick nodded.
"You couldn't tell anything?"
"I knew less than nothing to tell."
"You didn't see us, last night, as we slipped away from the monu——-"
"Shut up, you sun-scorched idiot!" cried Prescott sharply, under his breath. "I don't want to know anything about it now."
"Oh, that's all right, I suppose," said Mr. Furlong, looking furtively towards Bert Dodge, who was standing some distance off.
The very thought that he was now practically certain, morally, at least, who one of the perpetrators of the monument affair was, made Dick uneasy. He knew there was still a danger that he and Greg might be summoned again to the tent of the O.C.
Bert Dodge saw, from a distance, the whispered talk between Dick and Mr. Furlong; he also saw the latter's quick, stealthy glance.
Now, Dodge, from having tried to visit Furlong the night before, knew that the young man had returned from the hop, for he had seen Furlong go into his tent shortly after ten. Dodge also knew that Furlong had been absent from camp at the time of the monument discharges.
"Furlong is one of the offenders," thought Bert, "and Prescott is roasting him about it. I suppose our highly conceited class president thinks it his place to lecture all the jokers in the class. But how would it be possible, without getting myself into trouble, to pass on the hint that Prescott knows more than he is telling?"
It didn't take a fellow with all of Cadet Dodge's natural meanness very long to invent a plan that looked feasible.
Sauntering along near the guard tent, Dodge encountered a classmate with whom he was on fairly good terms, Mr. Harper, who was waiting to fall in when the next relief of the guard was called.
"Prescott was on the grill last night, I hear," began Bert.
"So I hear," nodded Harper.
"I guess he dodged the O.C. cold," chuckled Dodge.
"He denied any knowledge of the monument business, I've heard," replied Harper.
"That sounds like old Prescott," laughed Bert. "And I'll bet he managed it without telling any lies. I know Prescott of old. Our family once lived in the same town with him, you know. Prescott was one of the biggest jokers in our High School. And he never got caught in those days. Prescott was always the artful dodger."
"What do you mean by that!" asked Harper. "You don't mean that Prescott is untruthful."
"Oh, no, not at all," laughed Bert. "But, if I could put him on the rack, and get the whole thing, unreservedly, out of Richard Prescott, I'd be willing to bet, in advance, that he knows just who set off the cannon crackers last night."
Dodge was careful not to speak so that he could be overheard by Prescott or Furlong, yet he was certain that, on the still morning air around the guard tent, his voice was carrying sufficiently to penetrate to the other side of the khaki walls of the O.C.'s tent.
"Prescott is the clever one, and the loyal one to all but tacs.," laughed Bert to Harper, as he strolled away. Dodge hoped that the O.C. was in his tent.
It is true—-Captain Bates was there. Having drawn the flap, and being in the act of enjoying his morning newspaper, the O.C. heard.
"Hang it, I felt last night that, while answering me truthfully, Mr. Prescott was proving the possession of sufficient cleverness to keep me off the monument trail, just as he foiled my catching Mr. Holmes," mused the O.C. "And I said as much last night to Colonel Strong."
At that moment the flap of the tent was lifted and the K.C. returned the salute of his subordinate, who had promptly leaped to his feet.
In a few swift, low words, Captain Bates repeated the conversation he had just overheard.
"That bears out what you thought last night, Bates," rejoined the K.C. "I think there is nothing for it but to have Mr. Prescott in here and put him on the wheel again. Rack him, Bates!"
"I've just time, Colonel to catch Mr. Prescott before the drill squads go out. Corporal of the guard!" hailed the O.C., looking out from his tent.
In another moment a very erect young member of the guard was striding around the head of the encampment, and then down one of the company streets. Dick, in front of his tent, in field uniform, received the summons and responded at once.
"Caught him!" quivered Bert Dodge. "No if that infernal humbug will get hot-headed and answer the O.C. rashly, there may be something good coming in the punishment line! It would be a source of wild joy if I could get Dick Prescott on the wrong flank with the tacs.!"
The instant that Dick reported, and found himself in the presence of his two inquisitors of the night before, he knew that some hint of his new knowledge must have reached the tactical department.
"Mr. Prescott, last night," began Captain Bates, "you denied absolutely having any knowledge as to the persons who set off firecrackers near Battle Monument."
"I have since gained good reason to think," went on the O.C., "that you know who at least one of the perpetrators was."
Mr. Prescott remained silent.
"Why do you not reply, Mr. Prescott?"
"I didn't understand, sir, that you had asked me a question."
Captain Bates flushed. He hadn't asked a question, in question form, and he saw how neatly this cadet had "caught" him. But that only served to increase the suspicion of both officers present that Mr. Prescott was a very clever witness who was successfully contriving to keep something back.
"Mr. Prescott, do you now know who was responsible for the monument affair of last night?" insisted the O.C.
"I don't know sir," replied Dick, putting all proper emphasis on the word.
"Yet you suspect?"
"I suspect one man, sir," Dick responded without attempt at concealment.
"Is the one you suspect a cadet?"
"His name?" broke in Lieutenant Colonel Strong.
Dick Prescott whitened a bit. He knew the chances he was taking now, but he replied, in a clear, steady voice:
"I very respectfully decline to answer, sir!"
GREG PREPARES FOR FLIRTATION WALK
"For what reason, sir?" demanded the K.C. sharply.
Prescott opened his mouth, closed it again, without speaking, then at last asked slowly:
"Sir, may I state my reasons in my own way?"
"Proceed, Mr. Prescott."
"My suspicion concerning a certain man, sir, does not cover a really direct suspicion that he had a hand in the affair. His remark led me only to infer that the man was present."
"That does not tell me, Mr. Prescott, why you have refused to answer the question that I put to you," insisted Colonel Strong.
"My reason, sir, for respectfully declining to answer is twofold: First, I do not know whether I am legally required to state a suspicion only. My second reason, sir, is that to state the name of the man I suspect would make me, in my own eyes, and in the eyes of my comrades, a tale-bearer."
Since the K.C. had started this line of questioning, Captain Bates remained silent. So, too, did the K.C. for some moments after Dick had finished.
It was the first problem that faced the tactical officers—-much harder one than it would considered in civilian life.
In the first place, it is one of the highest West Point ideals never to treat a cadet with even a trace of injustice. The young man who is being trained to be an officer, and who will, in time, be placed over other men, above all must be just. In no other way can the cadet learn as much about justice as by being treated with it.
As is the case with an accused man in the civil courts, no cadet may be forced to testify in way that would incriminate himself. When it comes to testifying against another the question has two aspects.
The tale-bearer, the informer, is not appreciated in the military world. He is loathed there, as in civil life. Yet the refusal of one cadet to testify against another might be carried, insolently, to the point of insubordination. So, when a cadet, under questioning, refuses to give evidence incriminating another cadet, his reason may be accepted; or, if it appear best to the military authorities, he may be warned that his reason is not sufficient, and then, if he still refuses to answer, he may be proceeded against as for disobedience of orders.
It is a fine point. The K.C. found it so at this moment. Dick Prescott stood rigidly at attention, a fine, soldierly looking young fellow. His face, his eyes, had all the stamp of truth and manliness. Yet the suspicion had arisen with these two tacs. that Mr. Prescott was a young man who was extremely clever in giving truthful answers that shielded offending cadets.
"You have stated your position unreservedly and exactly, Mr. Prescott?" inquired Colonel Strong at last.
"You are certain that you have not more than the merest suspicion of the cadet off whom you have been speaking?
"I am absolutely certain, sir."
"How does it happen, Mr. Prescott, that you have this suspicion, and absolutely nothing more?"
A cadet is not permitted to hesitate. He must answer not only truthfully, but instantly. So Dick looked the K.C. full in the eyes as answered:
"A cadet, sir, started to say something, and I shut him up."
"Because you did not wish to know more?"
"Yes, sir," Prescott admitted honestly.
Captain Bates fidgeted almost imperceptibly; in other words, as much as a military man may. There were a few questions that he wanted to ask this cadet. But it was Bates's superior officer who was now doing the questioning.
The K.C. remained silent for perhaps half a minute. Then he said:
"That is all, at present, Mr. Prescott."
Saluting the K.C., Dick next made a slight turn which brought him facing Captain Bates, whom he also saluted. Both officers returned his salute. Dick wheeled and marched from the tent.
As he passed through the camp the cadet face had in it a soldierly inexpressiveness. Even Bert Dodge, who covertly scanned Prescott from a distance, could not guess the outcome of the "grilling."
"May I ask, Colonel, weather you agree with my opinion of Mr. Prescott?" inquired Captain Bates.
"Your idea that he is an artful dodger?"
"If he is," replied Lieutenant Colonel Strong, "then the young man is so very straightforwardly artful that he is likely to give us a mountain of mischief to handle before he is brought to book."
"If I can catch him at anything by fair means," ventured Captain Bates, "then I am going to do it."
"You are suspicious of Mr. Prescott?"
"Why, I like the young man thoroughly, sir; but I believe that, if we do not find a means of curbing him, this summer's encampment will be a season of unusual mischief and sly insubordination."
Perhaps there was something of a twinkle in Colonel Strong's eye as he rose to leave the tent.
"If you do catch Mr. Prescott, Bates, I shall be interested in knowing the particulars promptly."
Dick returned to his tent to find his bunkies gone to drills. The summons before the O.C. had relieved Prescott from the first period of drill.
On Dick's wardrobe box lay two letters that the mail orderly had left for him.
Both bore the Gridley postmark. The home-hungry cadet pounced upon both of them, seating himself and examining the handwriting of the addresses.
One letter was from his mother. Cadet Prescott opened that first. It was a lengthy letter. The young man ran through the pages hurriedly, to make sure that all was well with his parents.
Now Dick held up the other letter. This also was addressed in a feminine hand—-as most of a cadet's mail is. It was a small, square envelope, without crest or monogram, but the paper and cut were scrupulously good and fine. It was the kind of stationery that would be used by girl brought up in a home of refined surroundings.
Dick broke the seal with a consciousness of a little thrill that he had not felt in opening his mother's letter. Dick did not have to look for the signature; he knew the penmanship.
"My Dear Mr. Prescott," began the letter. ("Hm!" muttered the reader. "It used to be 'Dick'")
"Your note came as a delightfully pleasant surprise," Dick read on ("Now, I wonder why it should have been a surprise? Great Scott! Now, I come to think of it, I hadn't written her before since last February!")
"Of course we are going to drop all other plans for a flying visit to West Point," the letter ran on. "Belle is simply delighted with the idea. She has heard from Mr. Darrin, but he suggests September as the best time for us to visit Annapolis. So mother will bring Belle and myself to West Point. We can spend two or three days there. We shall arrive late on the afternoon on——-"
As Dick read the date, he gave a start.
"Why, they'll be here tomorrow afternoon," throbbed Prescott.
Then and there Prescott stood up in the low-ceilinged tent and tossed his campaign hat up to the ridgepole. That piece of headgear didn't have far to travel, but Dick accompanied it with an "hurrah!" uttered almost under his breath.
"Won't Greg be the tickled boy!" murmured Prescott; joyously. "Some one from home—-and folks that we both like!"
Presently some of the drill squads returned to camp. Greg and Anstey came in, warm and curious.
"Did you get into any trouble with the O.C., old ramrod?" questioned Anstey in his soft voice.
"I don't believe I did," Dick answered.
Anstey nodded his congratulations.
"Greg, old fellow, guess what's going to happen soon?" demanded Prescott.
"I'd rather you'd tell me."
"Folks from home! Mrs. Bentley, Laura and Belle Meade will be here late tomorrow afternoon!
"Great!" admitted Cadet Holmes, but to Dick's ear his chum's enthusiasm seemed perfunctory.
"We'll drag femmes to the hop tomorrow night, eh, Greg?"
"Anything on earth that you say, old ramrod," agreed Holmes placidly, then stepped out of his tent to visit across the way.
"Spoony femmes?" inquired Anstey.
"Spooniest ever!" Dick declared.
"Not on your coming shoulder-straps!" retorted Prescott, an eager look in his eyes. "And say, Anstey, you're going to the hop tomorrow night, aren't you?
"Hadn't thought so," replied the other quietly.
"Anything else on?"
"Then be at the hop, Anstey, old bunkie—do! I want you to meet both the young ladies, and dance at least a couple of numbers with each."
"I reckon I'd go through fire or water for you, or Holmesy," murmured the Virginian quietly.
"Oh, it isn't going to be anything like such an ordeal as that," laughed Dick happily. "Just wait until you've seen the young ladies. That's all!"
"As they——-" Anstey paused. Then he went on, after considering: "As they come from home, old ramrod, I should think you and Holmesy would want them all to yourselves."
"But don't you understand, you uncivilized being," demanded Dick, chuckling, "that we can't dance all the numbers with the girls? It would be a slight on the girls if only two men wanted to dance with them. Besides, we want to show them all that's best about West Point. We want them to meet as many as possible the very best fellows that are here."
"My deepest thanks, suh, for the compliment," replied Anstey, with a deep bow.
"Well, that describes you, doesn't it?" demanded Dick. "We want these girls to carry away with them the finest impression possible of good old West Point!"
When evening came, and Prescott and Holmes strolled through camp, listening to the band concert, Dick wanted to talk all the time about the coming visit of the girls. Greg answered, though it struck his chum that Holmes was merely politely enthusiastic.
"Say, Dick," whispered Greg presently, with far greater enthusiasm than he had been displaying, "look at that black-eyed, perfectly tinted little doll that is walking with Griffin!
"Stroll around and meet them face to face presently, then," grinned Dick. "Griff won't mind."
"The deuce he won't" growled Greg. "I'd have a scrap on my hands, besides being voted a butter-in."
"Try it," advised Prescott, giving his chum a little shove. "I tell you, Griff won't mind. Her name is Griffin, too. She's his sister."
A moment later Prescott turned and tried to gulp down a great chuckle. For Greg, without another word, had left him, and now was strolling along with an air of slight absorption, yet his course was so managed as to bring Mr. Holmes face to face with Griffin. At least a dozen other gray and white-clad young men were also to be observed manoeuvring so as to meet Griffin casually. Thus it happened that Greg was but one of a group. Observing this, Holmes increased his stride.
"Hullo, Holmesy!" cried Griffin, with great cordiality. "Glad to encounter you. I've just been telling my sister about some of the best fellows. Della, I present Mr. Holmes. Mr. Holmes, my sister!"
Greg lifted his cap in the most polished manner that he had been able to acquire at West Point, while a dozen other men scowled at Griffin, who appeared not to see them.
Miss Adele Griffin was presently chatting most animatedly about her new impressions of West Point and the United States Military Academy.
"Holmesy, you know so much more about things than I do," pleaded Griffin sweetly, "just be good to Dell for an hour, won't you? You're one of the best-informed men here. Now, mind you, Dell! No fun at Mr. Holmes's expense. Look out for her, Holmesy!"
With that Griffin "slid away" as gracefully and neatly as though he hadn't been planning to do it all along.
"Your brother has always been mighty pleasant to me, but he never was as downright good before," murmured Greg, looking down into the big black eyes that glanced laughingly up into is face.
"Oh, if you are ordinarily observant," laughed Miss Griffin, "just keep your eyes on a level, and you'll be able, in five minutes, to understand why he is so good to you in the present instance."
Nevertheless, it was fully ten minutes before they met Griff again. That young man was talking, with all animation, to a tall, rather stately blonde young lady.
"My brother," remarked Miss Griffin, "is good boy, but he is calculating, even in his goodness.
"I don't like to hear a word said against Griff," protested Greg, "for I feel that I'm under the greatest obligation of my life to him."
Miss Griffin laughed easily, but she glanced up challengingly into the eyes of her tall escort. Miss Griffin had heard of the gallantries of West Point's men, and didn't propose to be caught.
"You must find the cadets a good deal below your expectations?" remarked Mr. Holmes inquiringly.
"No; they're a wholly charming lot," replied the girl. "Oh, that word 'lot' simply escaped me. Yet it does seem rather apt. Don't you think, Mr. Holmes, that the wearing of identical uniforms gives the young men rather the look of a 'lot'?"
Greg felt just a bit crestfallen, but he wasn't going to show it.
"Why, I don't know," he replied slowly. "Some of the young ladies who come here seem able to distinguish units in the lot."
"Differences in height, and variations in the color of hair and eyes? Is that it?" asked Miss Griffin, with an air of mild curiosity.
"Why, perhaps we're like Chinamen?" laughed Greg good-naturedly. "Pig-tailed and blue-bloused Chinese all look alike at first glance. Gradually, however, one is able to note individual peculiarities of appearance."
"Yes, I guess that's it, Mr. Holmes," replied the girl musingly.
"Now, I won't ask you to tax yourself unpleasantly in distinguishing one cadet from another," Greg went on bravely. "But I am hoping, with all my heart, that you'll know me the next time you meet me."
"I can tell you how to make certain," responded Miss Griffin demurely.
"Then I shall be your debtor for life!"
"Wear a red carnation in your blouse, and carry a white handkerchief in your left hand."
"You're cruel," sighed Greg.
"Why?" demanded Miss Griffin.
"Both tests that you suggest are against cadet regulations. Let me suggest a better test?"
"If you can?" challenged Miss Griffin.
The band, at this moment, was playing a Strauss waltz. The young people had strolled just a bit beyond the encampment, and now Greg compelled a halt under the added shadow of a big tree.
"The test I long to suggest," replied Greg, "is so exacting that I hesitate to ask it."
"My curiosity is aroused," complained Miss Griffin.
"I had it in mind to ask you to look up into my face until you are certain that you will recognize it again."
"Mercy!" gasped the black-eyed beauty.
"I knew I was presumptuous and inconsiderate," admitted Greg meekly.
None the less, Miss Griffin laughed and stood looking coyly up into Mr. Holmes's face. But at last, feeling absurd, Miss Griffin shifted her glance.
"I knew I was asking too much," remarked Greg in a tone of resignation. "You couldn't stand it, could you?"
Laughing merrily, Miss Griffin turned her look upward again, meeting Greg Holmes's gray eyes.
Then, after a few moments, she remarked thoughtfully:
"My brother was over-solicitous in fearing that I would embarrass you in the least."
"Are you going to be at the hop tomorrow night?" Greg asked.
"I—-would like to."
"Can it be possible," queried Mr. Holmes, "that I am so fortunate as to be discreet in asking whether I may escort you there?"
"If you care to be so charitable, Mr. Holmes."
Greg had a moment's uneasy impulse to seize her hand by way of answer. Fortunately, he restrained himself.
"If I call for you at the hotel tomorrow evening, Miss Griffin, may I hope that you will recognize me?" he challenged.
"I will take another look and make sure," she laughed softly, glancing up archly into Greg's face.
As the concert drew to a close Greg had to make a decent show of trying to find Griffin, and he succeeded. Griffin was still with the tall blonde. Griffin had permission to go to the hotel, and Greg didn't. So Greg strolled with Miss Griffin until near the hotel grounds. Then he bade her a cordial good night, and Griff escorted both "femmes" to the hotel.
"What do you think of Holmesy?" asked Griffin of his sister.
"He's quite agreeable," replied Adele Griffin. "Very soldierly, if I am any judge. I wonder how he will look in a second lieutenant's uniform?"
As our three bunkies prepared for bed that night Prescott remarked:
"Tomorrow, Greg, we'll see the folks from home! I hope you'll do nothing, though, to make Dave Darrin dislike you."
"I won't," promised Greg solemnly. Then: "Oh, great—-Jove! I've——-"
"Well?" demanded Dick. "What have you done?
"I've asked another femme to accept my drag to-morrow night!
"Anstey," continued Dick, turning quickly to hide a frown, "I shall have to draft you!"
"I was bo'n and reared a gentleman, suh!" replied the Virginian, with cordial gravity.
THE FOLKS FROM HOME
Two tall, superbly erect young men, showing the soldier in every line of bearing, stepped jauntily along the road leading to the hotel just before five o'clock.
Each wore the fatigue cap of the cadet, the trim gray, black-trimmed blouse of the cadet uniform. Their white duck trousers were the spooniest as to spotlessness and crease.
Dick and Greg went straight to the hotel office.
"The register, please," asked Prescott, for the clerk's back was turned over some work that he was doing.
This was not a request for the hotel register but for the cadet register. Understanding, the clerk turned and passed a small book known as the cadet register. He opened it to the page for the day, while Prescott was reaching for a pen.
In this register both young men inscribed their names. Each had secured permission from the O.C. to visit the hotel. At the close of every day, a transcript of the day's signatures by cadets is taken, and this transcript goes to the O.C. The clerk will send no cards for cadets who have not first registered. The transcript of registry, which goes to the O.C., enables the latter to make sure that no cadets have visited the hotel without permission.
Prescott laid down his visiting card. Holmes laid another beside it.
"Are Mrs. Bentley, Miss Bentley and Miss Meade here?" queried Dick.
After consulting the hotel register the clerk nodded.
"Our cards to Mrs. Bentley, please."
"Front! Fifty-seven!" called the clerk to a bellboy.
"Thank you," acknowledged Prescott.
"Wheeling, the young men turned from the office, striding down the hotel veranda side by side. They turned in at the ladies' entrance, then, caps in hand, stood waiting in the corridor. It is a rule that a cadet must enter no part of the hotel except the parlor. He must see his friends either there, or on the veranda. There is a story told that a general officer's wife visited West Point, for the first time, to see her son, a new cadet at West Point. The plebe son called—-with permission—-sent up his card, and was summoned to his mother's room. He went. A few minutes later there was a knock at the door. The clerk stood there, apologetic but firm.
"I am very sorry, madam, but the regulations provide that your son can visit you only in the parlor."
"But I am the wife of Major General Blank!" exclaimed the surprised lady.
"But, Mrs. Blank, your son is a cadet, and subject to the regulations on the subject. He must either go to the parlor at once, or leave the hotel instantly. If he refuses to do either I am forced to telephone to the tactical officer in charge."
The general's wife was therefore obliged to descend to the parlor with her plebe son.
No other room but the parlor! This prohibition extends even to the dining room. The cadet may not, under any circumstances, accept an invitation from a friend or relative to take a sociable meal with either.
"Tyrannous" and "needlessly oppressive," are terms frequently applied by outsiders to the rules that hedge in cadets, but there is a good reason behind every regulation.
Two or three minutes later a middle-aged woman came slowly down the staircase, gazing about her. At last her glance settled, with some bewilderment on Dick and Greg, who were the only two cadets in the corridor.
"Why, I believe you must be Mr. Prescott and Mr. Holmes!" exclaimed Mrs. Bentley, moving forward and holding out both hands. "Yes; I am certain of it," she added, as Dick and Greg, bowing gracefully from the waistline, smiled goodhumoredly. "Mercy! But how you boys have grown! I am not sure that it is even proper to call you boys any longer."
"If we were boys any longer, Mrs. Bentley, I am sure you would be in doubt," laughed Dick easily. "Yes; you see, cadets, under their training here, usually do shoot up in the air. We have some short, runty cadets, however."
Just then there was a flutter and a swish on the stairs. Laura Bentley and Belle Meade came gliding forward, their eyes shining.
"Yes; I know you both and could tell you apart," cried Laura, laughing, as she held out her hand. "But what a tremendous change!"
"Do you think it is a change for the better?" asked Dick, smiling.
"Oh, I am sure that it is. Isn't it, Belle? A how wonderfully glad I am to see you both again."
Dick gazed at Laura with pride. He had no right to feel proud, except that she was from Gridley, and that she had come all the way to West Point to see him in his new life.
Laura Bentley, too, had changed somewhat, though not so much as had her cadet friends. She was but a shade taller, somewhat rounder, and much more womanly in an undefinable way. She was sweeter looking in all ways—-Dick recognized that much at a glance. Her eyes rested upon him, and then more briefly upon Greg, in utter friendliness free from coquetry.
"Can't you get excused and take us over to dress parade?" asked Belle.
Dick turned to look more closely at Miss Meade. Yes; she, too, was changed, and wholly for the better as far as charm of appearance and manner went. Both girls had lost the schoolgirl look. They were, indeed, women, even if very young ones.
"We can hardly get excused from any duty," Dick smiled. "But to-day—-a most unusual thing—-there is no dress parade."
"No parade?" exclaimed Mrs. Bentley in a tone of disappointment.
"No; the officers are entertaining some distinguished outside visitors at Cullum Hall this afternoon, and the band is over at Cullum," Greg explained.
"I am so sorry," murmured Mrs. Bentley.
"But you will be here until the close of tomorrow afternoon?" asked Dick eagerly.
"We had planned to go away about eleven in the forenoon," replied Mrs. Bentley.
"Then you girls would miss a stroll along Flirtation Walk," suggested Cadet Prescott. "It is a very strange thing for a young lady to go away from West Point and confess that she has not had cadet escort along Flirtation Walk."