DICK PRESCOTT'S THIRD YEAR AT WEST POINT or Standing Firm for Flag and Honor
By H. Irving Hancock
CHAPTERS I. On Furlough in the Old Home Town II. Brass Meets Gold III. Dick & Co. Again IV. What About Mr. Cameron? V. Along a "Dangerous" Road VI. The Surprise the Lawyer Had in Store VII. Prescott Lays a Powder Trail VIII. A Father's Just Wrath Strikes IX. Back to the Good, Gray Life X. The Scheme of the Turnback XI. Brayton Makes a Big Appeal XII. In the Battle Against Lehigh XIII. When the Cheers Broke Loose XIV. For Auld Lang Syne XV. Heroes and a Sneak XVI. Roll-Call Gives the Alarm XVII. Mr. Cadet Slowpoke XVIII. The Enemies Have an Understanding XIX. The Traitor of the Riding Hall XX. In Cadet Hospital XXI. The Man Moving in a Dark Room XXII. The Row in the Riding Detachment XXIII. The Degree of "Coventry" XXIV. Conclusion
ON FURLOUGH IN THE OLD HOME TOWN
"My son, Richard. He is home on his furlough from the Military Academy at West Point."
Words would fail in describing motherly pride with which Mrs. Prescott introduced her son to Mrs. Davidson, wife of the new pastor.
"I am very glad to meet you, Mr. Prescott," said Mrs. Davidson, looking up, for up she had to glance in order to see the face of this tall, distinguished-looking cadet.
Dick Prescott's return bow was made with the utmost grace, yet without affectation. His natty straw hat he held in his right hand, close to his breast.
Mrs. Davidson was a sensible and motherly woman, who wished to give this young man the pleasantest greeting, but she was plainly at a loss to know what to say. Like many excellent and ordinarily well-informed American people, she had not the haziest notions of West Point.
"You are learning to be a soldier, of course?" she asked.
"Yes, Mrs. Davidson," replied Dick gravely. Neither in his face nor in his tone was there any hint of the weariness with which he had so often, of late, heard this aimless question repeated.
"And when you are through with your course there," pursued Mrs. Davidson, "do you enlist in the Army? Or may you, if you prefer, become a sailor in our—er—Navy?"
"Oh, I fear, Mrs. Davidson, that you don't understand," smiled Mrs. Prescott proudly. My son is now going through a very rigorous four years' course at the Military Academy. It is a course that is superior, in most respects to a college training, but that it is devoted to turning out commissioned officers for the Army. When Richard graduates, in two years more, he will be commissioned by the President as a second lieutenant in the Army."
"Oh, I understood you to say that you were training to become a soldier, Mr. Prescott," cried Mrs. Davidson in some confusion. "I did not understand that you would become an officer."
"An officer who is not also a good soldier is a most unfortunate and useless fellow under the colors," laughed Dick lightly.
"But it is so much more honorable to be an officer than to be a mere soldier!" cried the pastor's wife.
"We do not think so in the army, Mrs. Davidson," Dick answered more responsibility, to be sure, but we feel that the honor falls alike on men of all grades of position who are privileged to wear their country's uniform."
"But don't the officers look down on the common soldiers?" asked Mrs. Davidson curiously.
"If an officer does, then surely he has chosen the wrong career in life, madam," the cadet replied seriously. "We are not taught at West Point that an officer should 'look down' upon an enlisted man. There is a gulf of discipline, but none of manhood, between the enlisted man and his officer. And it frequently happens that the officer who is a graduate from West Point is called upon to welcome, as a brother officer, a man who has just been promoted from the ranks."
Mrs. Davidson looked puzzled, as, indeed, she was. But she suddenly remembered something that made her feel more at ease.
"Why, I saw an officer and some soldiers on a train, the other day," she cried. "The officer had at least eight or ten soldiers with him, under his command. I remember what a fine-looking young man he was. He had what looked like two V's on his sleeve, and I remember that they were yellow. What kind of an officer is the man who wears the two yellow V's?"
"A non-commissioned officer, Mrs. Davidson; a corporal of cavalry."
"Was he higher that you'll be when you graduate from West Point?"
"No; a corporal is an enlisted man, a step above the private soldier. The sergeant is also an enlisted man, and above the corporal. Above the sergeant comes the second lieutenant, who is the lowest-ranking commissioned officer."
"Oh, I am sure I never could understand it all," sighed Mrs. Davidson. "Why don't they have just plain soldiers and captains, and put the captains in a different color of uniform? Then ordinary people could comprehend something about the Army. But in describing that young soldier's uniform, I forgot something, Mr. Prescott. That young soldier, or officer, or whatever he was, beside the two yellow V's, had a white stripe near the hem of his cuff."
"Just one white stripe?" queried Dick.
"Just one, I am sure."
"Then that one white stripe would show that the corporal, before entering the cavalry, had served one complete enlistment in the infantry."
"Oh, this is simply incomprehensible!" cried the new pastor's wife in comical dismay. "I am certain that I could never learn to know all these things."
"It is a little confusing at first," smiled Dick's mother with another show of pride. "But I think I am beginning to understand quite a lot of it."
Mrs. Davidson went out of the bookstore conducted by Dick's parents in the little city of Gridley. Dick sighed a bit wearily.
"Why don't Americans take a little more pains to understand things American?" he asked his mother, with a comical smile. "People who would be ashamed not to know something about St. Peter's, at Rome, or the London Tower, are not quite sure what the purpose of the United States Military Academy is."
Yet, though some people annoyed him with their foolish questions, he was heartily glad to be back, for the summer, in the dear old home town. So was his chum, Greg Holmes, also a West Point cadet, and, like Prescott, a member of the new second class at the United States Military Academy. Both young men had now been in Gridley for forty-eight hours. They had met a host old-time friends, including nearly all of the High School students of former days.
Readers of "Dick Prescott's First Year at West Point" and of "Dick Prescott's Second Year at West Point," are familiar with the careers of the two chums, Prescott and Holmes, at the United States Military Academy. The same readers are also familiar with the life at West Point of Bert Dodge, a former Gridley boy, but who had been appointed a cadet from another part of the state. Our old readers are aware of the fact that Dodge had been forced out of the Military Academy for dishonorable conduct; that it was the cadets, not the authorities, who had compelled his departure, and that Dodge resigned and left before the close of his second year.
Readers of these volumes of the High School Boys' Series know all about Bert Dodge in the course of his career at Gridley High School. Dodge, back in the old days in Gridley, had been a persistent enemy of Dick & Co., as Prescott and his five chums had always been called in the High School. Of those five chums Greg, as is well known, was Dick's comrade at West Point. Dave Darrin and Dan Dalzell were now midshipmen at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. Their adventures while learning to be United States Navel officers, are fully set forth in The Annapolis Series. Tom Reade and Harry Hazelton had chosen to go West, where they became civil engineers engaged in railway construction through the wild parts of the country, as fully set forth in the Young Engineers' Series.
Just after Mrs. Davidson left the bookstore there were no customers left, so Dick had a few moments in which to chat with his mother.
"What has become of the fellow Dodge?" asked the young West Pointer.
"Oh, haven't I told you?" asked his mother. A shade of annoyance crossed her face, for she well knew that it was Dodge who, while at West Point, had nearly succeeded in having her son dismissed from the Service on a charge of which Dodge, not Dick, was guilty.
"No, mother; and I haven't thought to ask."
"Bert Dodge is here in Gridley at present. The Dodge family are occupying their old home here for a part of the summer."
"Do people here understand that Dodge had to resign from West Point in order to escape a court-martial that would have bounced him out of the Military Academy?" Dick inquired.
"No; very few know it. I have mentioned Dodge's disgrace to only one person beside your father."
"You told Laura Bentley?"
"Yes, Dick. She had a right to know. Laura has always been your loyal friend. When she reached West Point, last winter, expecting to go to a cadet hop with you, she remained at West Point until you had been tried by court-martial and acquitted on that unjust charge. Laura had a right to know the whole story."
"She surely had," nodded Dick.
"As to Gridley people in general," went on Mrs. Prescott, "I have not felt it necessary to say anything, and folks generally believe that Bert Dodge resigned from the corps of cadets simply because he did not find Army life to his liking."
"He wouldn't have found it to his liking had he chosen not to resign," smiled Prescott darkly.
"Are you going to say anything about Dodge while you are home?" inquired his mother, glancing up quickly.
"Not a word, if I can avoid it," replied Dick. "I hate tale-bearers."
At this moment the postman came in, blowing his whistle and rapidly sorting out a pile of letters, which he dropped on the counter.
"There are probably a lot here for me, mother," smiled Dick. "Shall I separate then from the business mail?"
"If you will, my boy."
Some dozen of the envelopes proved to be addressed to young Prescott. Of these two were letters frown West Point classmates. Three were from old friends in Gridley, sending him congratulations and expressing the hope of meeting him during his furlough. The remainder of the letters were mainly invitations of a social nature.
"Odd!" grinned the young soldier. When I was merely a High School boy I could go a whole month without receiving anything resembling a social invitation. Now I am receiving them at the rate of a score a day."
"Well, a West Point cadet is some one socially, is he not?" smiled Mrs. Prescott.
"I suppose so," nodded Dick. "The truth is, a cadet has so much social attention paid to him that it is a wonder more of the fellows are not spoiled."
"Are you going to accept any social invitations while you are home?" asked his mother.
"That depends," Dick answered. "If invitations come from people who were glad to see me when I was a High School boy here, then I shall try to accept. But I don't care much about meeting who didn't care about meeting me two years ago. Here is a note from Miss Clara Deane, mother. She trusts that Greg and I can make it convenient to call at her home next Saturday afternoon, and meet some of her friends. When I attended Gridley Miss Deane used to look down on me because I was a poor man's son. I believe her set referred to me as a 'mucker.' At least, the fellows of her set did. So I shall send Miss Deane a brief note of regret."
Dick continued to examine his mail while carrying on a running fire of talk with his proud and happy mother.
"Oh, here is a very nice note from Susie Sharp," he murmured, opening another epistle. "She is having quite a few friends at the house this afternoon, and she begs that Greg and I will be present. Miss Sharp was a very nice girl in the old days, although she and I never happened to be very particular friends. Now, I want to have all the time I can for my real friends of the old days."
"Miss Sharp would be very proud to entertain two men from West Point," suggested his mother.
"That's just the reason," Dick answered. "Miss Sharp invites us not because she was ever much a friend of ours, but simply because she is anxious to entertain two cadets. She probably reasons that it may give distinction to her afternoon tea, or whatever the affair is."
"Then you are not going?" asked Mrs. Prescott.
"I hardly think so. Not unless Greg wishes it."
The next envelope that Dick picked up was addressed in Laura Bentley's handwriting. Dick read for a moment, then announced:
"I have changed my mind. I shall go to call on Miss Sharp. Laura urges me to, saying that Miss Sharp has been very kind to her in the last year. If Laura wishes it, I'll go to call on any one."
At this moment Greg Holmes, tall, muscular, erect and looking as though he had just come from the tailor's iron, stepped cheerily into the store.
"Morning, old ramrod," hailed the other cadet. "I know you don't mind that kind of talk, Mrs. Prescott. It's our term of affection for Dick at West Point. Going through your invitations, are you? Aren't they the bore, though. Especially as we had very few invitations when we were High School boys in this same old town."
"You received one from Susie: Sharp, of course?"
"Yes," Greg assented. "And I'm going—-not!"
"You are going—-yes!" Dick retorted.
"Oh!" nodded Greg. "Am I entitled to any explanation?"
"Laura wishes it."
"That's a whole platoon of reasons boiled down into one file-closer," grinned Greg. "Yes; I am going to visit Miss Sharp this afternoon."
"Have you heard that Bert Dodge is in town at present?"
"No!" muttered Greg. Then added tersely: "The b.j.(fresh) rascal! I wonder what folks here think of a sneak who was forced to resign by a cadet committee on honor?"
"Folks here don't know that Dodge was forced out of the Academy."
"Thank you for telling me," nodded Greg. "Then I shall know how to keep my mouth shut. Laura will be a Miss Sharp's this afternoon, of course?"
"Naturally. And Belle Meade, also."
"Then," proposed Greg, "suppose we 'phone the girls and ask if we may call this afternoon and escort them to Miss Sharp's. We must do something to show that we appreciate their loyalty in remaining at West Point last winter until your name was cleared of disgrace."
"Yes; we'll 'phone them," nodded Dick.
On both days, so far, that he had been home, Dick had called at Dr. Bentley's to see Laura. In fact, that was the only calling he had done, though he had met scores of friends on the street.
Both young ladies were pleased to accept the proffered escort.
"By the way," proposed Greg, "what are you going to do this morning?"
"Going out for a walk, for one thing," replied Dick. "I've talked to mother until she must have ear-ache on both sides, and feel tired of having me home."
"What do you saw if we trot around and extract handshakes from some of the follows we used to pack schoolbooks with?" hinted Holmes. "For instance, Ennerton is down at the bank, in a new job. Foss is advertising manager in Curlham & Peck's department store. I know he'll be glad to see us if we don't take up too much of his employer's time. Then Ted Sanders——-"
And so Greg continued to enumerate a lot of the old Gridley High School boys of whose present doings he had gotten track. Dick and Greg left the bookstore and started on the rounds to hunt up the best remembered of their old schoolmates.
And a pleasant morning they had of it. Thought the sun poured down its heat over the little city, these two cadets, who had drilled for two summers on the blistering plain and the dusty roads at West Point, did not notice the warmth of the day.
In the afternoon, in good season, Dick called for Laura, waiting there until Belle Meade arrived under the escort of Greg.
"These West Pointers make the most correct and attentive escorts imaginable," laughed Belle. "But there's just one disadvantage connected with them."
"I hadn't noticed it," smiled Laura.
"Why, when Greg walks beside me, and holds my parasol, I feel as though I were in the street with my parasol tied to the Methodist steeple. Where's your rice powder, Laura? I'm sure the sun has made a sight of my nose and neck."
Laughing merrily, the young people set off for Miss Sharp's. The home was a comfortable one, with attractive grounds, for the elder Sharp was a well-to-do merchant. Some three score of young people were present, and of these nearly two thirds had belonged to the High School student body in the old High School days of Dick and Greg. Naturally, the young ladies outnumbered the young men by more than four to one.
"Oh, I am delighted that you two have come," cried Susie, moving forward to greet her cadet visitors. This was wholly true, for Miss Sharp had planned the affair solely in order to have the distinction of entertaining the young West Pointers. Had Dick and Greg remained away, Susie, without doubt, would have been both disappointed and humiliated.
Through the connecting drawing rooms Dick and Greg moved with a grace and lack of consciousness greatly in contrast with their semi-awkwardness in their earlier High School days. Many pleasant acquaintances were renewed here.
Suddenly, Susie, catching a glimpse of the front walk, hastened out into the hallway. Then she came in, smiling eagerly, a well-dressed, pompous-looking young man at her side.
"Mr. Prescott! Mr. Holmes!" called Susie. "Here is an old comrade whom you both may be surprised to meet!"
Dick and Greg turned, and indeed, they were astonished. For the latest arrival was Bert Dodge!
"Howdy, fellows!" called Dodge carelessly, though inwardly he was quaking with alarm. How would these two decent cadets treat the fellow who had been kicked out of West Point for dishonorable acts?
Prescott bowed, but did not speak. Greg's line of conduct was identical with his chum's.
Bert turned white, at first, with mortification. Then a red flush set in at his neck, extending to his face and temples. But Dodge possessed "brass," if not honor, so he decided to face it out.
Turning to a young woman standing nearby, Bert spoke to her, and they laughed and chatted. From her, Bert passed through the room nodding here, chatting there.
Dick and Greg, after the first look of amazement, followed by their cold bows, had turned to the old friends with whom they had been chatting.
In the course of a few minutes Bert Dodge had got along close to the two cadets.
"How are you, Prescott?" called Bert. "How is good old West Point? And you, Holmes—-how are you?"
Dodge held out his hand with all the effrontery of which he was capable.
Turning, Dick gave the sneak only a cold, steady look.
BRASS MEETS GOLD
Neither Dick nor Greg took the trouble to answer the greeting. Dodge's outstretched hand both cadets affected not to see.
As it happened, few of the others present noted this brief little scene.
A natural break in the crowd left Dick alone for the moment, with Holmes standing not far away and looking coldly in the direction of the ex-cadet, yet not appearing to see him at all.
"Well, what's the matter?" hissed Dodge in an undertone that the other guests did not hear. "Are you going to make a fool of yourself, Prescott?"
"You'd better execute a right-about face and make double-time away from here," replied Dick in a freezing undertone. "Otherwise I don't believe the guests will fail to observe how West Pointers regard a convicted sneak."
"Are you going to open your mouth and do a lot of talking?" whispered Dodge menacingly. "Or are you going to keep your tongue behind your teeth?"
"I can't undertake to lower myself by making any promises to a sneak," retorted Dick, still in an undertone. "But I warn you that any further conversation I have with you will be carried on in ordinary conversational tones. And if you undertake to remain, we shall be obliged to inform our hostess that we regret our inability to stay any longer."
Conscious that others were probably looking their way, Bert Dodge tried to make his face as expressionless as possible.
"See here, Prescott——-" the fellow began coaxingly.
But Dick turned and walked away. Greg, very stiff and straight, moved at his friend's side.
Afraid of what others might notice, Dodge passed on. He presently reached a door leading into the hallway. Here he remained briefly. Then, when he believed himself to be unobserved, he slipped out, took his hat and got away.
A few minutes later, as Dick and Greg passed the door of a little reception room, Susie Sharp called them in quietly. They found her there alone.
"Oh, Mr. Prescott! Mr. Holmes! Have I made any mistake, I thought it would be a pleasant surprise to you both if I had Mr. Dodge here to meet you, as you all three were classmates at West Point. But I should have remembered that in the old High School days you two and Mr. Dodge were not the best of friends."
There was an agitated catch in Susie's voice. Their young hostess was worried by the thought that she had invited jarring elements to meet.
"Why, to be candid, I don't believe Dodge ever admired either Greg or myself very much, replied Cadet Prescott evenly.
"But did I make a fearful mistake?" pleaded Susie.
"One cannot make a mistake who aims at the pleasure of others," Dick answered smilingly.
Somewhat reassured, Susie asked her cadet guests to return with her to the drawing rooms. There they joined a little group, and were chatting when a girl's voice reached them from a few feet away. The girl who was speaking did not realize that her tones carried as far as the ears of Dick and Greg as she explained to two other young women:
"Mr. Dodge said he resigned from the Military Academy because he could not stand the crowd there."
"I guess that's true," muttered Dick inwardly. "The crowd couldn't stand Dodge, either."
But Sam Foss made the conversation general by calling:
"How about that, Dick! I always thought West Point was a very select place. Bessie Frost says Dodge left West Point because he thought the fellows there rather below his grade socially."
"Perhaps they are," nodded Dick gravely, but in even tones. "I have heard it stated that about sixty per cent. of the cadets are the sons of wage-earners. Indeed, one of the cadets whom I most respect has not attempted to conceal the fact that, until he graduates and begins to draw officer's pay, his mother will have to continue to support herself at the washtub. That young man is now in the first class, and I can tell you that we are all mighty anxious to see that man graduate and find himself where he can look after a noble mother who has the misfortune to be unusually poor in purse."
"Then as an American, I'm proud of West Point, if it has fellows with no more false shame than that," cried Foss heartily.
"Why, I always thought West Point a very swell place, extremely so," murmured Bessie Frost. "In fact—pardon me, won't you—-I have always heard that the young men at West Point are very much puffed up and very exclusive."
Dick laughed good-humoredly.
"Of course, Miss Frost, the cadet is expected to learn how to become a gentleman as well as an officer. Yet why should any of us feel unduly conceited? We are privileged to secure one of the best educations to be obtained in the world, but we obtain it at public expense. Not only our education, but all our living expenses are paid for out of the nation's treasury, and that money is contributed by all tax-payers alike. If we of the cadet corps should get any notion that we belong to a superior race of beings, to whom would we owe it all? Are the cadets not indebted for their opportunities to all the citizens of the United States?"
"Did Bert Dodge have any especial trouble at West Point?" asked another girl.
"Mr. Dodge did not make us his confidants," evaded Dick coolly.
"What do you say, Mr. Holmes?" persisted the same girl.
"About the same that Dick does," replied Greg. "You see, there are several hundred cadets at West Point, and Dick and I were not in the same section with Dodge."
"Was he one of the capable students there?"
"Why, he was in a much higher section than either Dick or myself," admitted Greg truthfully; but he did not think it necessary to explain the trickery and cribbing by which Dodge had secured the appearance of higher scholarship.
At this point the tact and good sense of Miss Susie Sharp caused her to use her opportunities as hostess to break up the group and to start some new lines of conversation.
But Susie was uneasy, and presently she found a chance to whisper to Laura Bentley:
"Tell me, dear—-what lies back of the fact that Mr. Dodge does not seem to be on good terms with Mr. Prescott and Mr. Holmes?"
"Did Bert Dodge know that Dick and Greg were to be here!" asked Miss Bentley.
"No; I wanted it to be a surprise on both sides."
"It must have been, my dear," smiled Laura "The fact is that Dick and Greg are not on friendly terms with Mr. Dodge."
"Oh!" murmured Susie, moving away. "I am glad that it was no worse."
A large tent had been erected on one of the lawns. To this tent, later in the afternoon, Miss Sharp invited her guests. Here a collation had been served, with pretty accessories, by a caterer, and several waiters stood about to serve.
When the guests returned to the house they discovered that the rugs had been removed, and that an orchestra was now at hand to furnish music for dancing. Given music and a smooth floor, young people do not mind exertion on a hot June afternoon. Dancing was at once in full swing. Nor did the young people leave until after six o'clock.
Greg escorted Belle Meade home, Dick walking with Laura. The two cadet chums met on Main Street a little later. They stood near a corner, chatting, when Bert Dodge came unexpectedly around the corner.
He saw the two cadets, changed color, then halted.
Neither Dick nor Greg checked their conversation, nor let it be known that they were aware of the ex-cadet's presence.
But Dodge, after looking at the chums sourly for a moment, stepped squarely in front of them.
"See here, you fellows——-" he began, his voice sounding thickly.
"Have you the impudence to address us," asked Prescott coolly.
"Don't talk to me about impudence!" snarled Dodge. "What did you two say about me, after I left this afternoon?"
"Oh, I assure you we didn't discuss you any more than was necessary," replied Dick frigidly.
"What did you say?" insisted Dodge.
"We couldn't say much about you," Greg broke in icily. "You know, you're hardly a fit subject for conversation."
"See here, you two fellows," warned Bert angrily, "you want to be mighty careful what you say about me! Do you understand? A single unfriendly word, that does any injury to my reputation, and I'll take it out of you."
Prescott would not go to the length of sneering. He allowed an amused twinkle to show in his eyes.
"On your way, Dodge that's the best course for you," advised Greg coldly. "We're not interested in your threats of fight, and you ought to know better, too, after some of the thumpings you've had."
"Fight?" jeered Dodge harshly. "You fellows seem to think you're still in cadet barracks, and that all you have to do is to call me out, and that my only recourse is to put up an argument before a class scrap committee. But you fellows aren't at West Point just now, and cadet committees don't run things here. You're back in civilization, where we have laws and regular courts. Now, if I find that you fellows are saying a single word against me I'll have you both arrested for criminal libel. I'll have you put through the courts, too, and sent to jail. Then, when you get out of jail, you can find out what your high and mighty West Point friends think of that!"
Dodge finished with a harsh, sneering laugh, then turned on his heel.
"The cheap skate!" muttered Greg, looking after the retreating fellow. "Humph! I'd like to see him make any trouble for us!"
"He may try it," muttered Prescott, gazing thoughtfully after their ancient enemy.
"How?" demanded Greg. "We don't think him worth talking about among decent people, so we'll give him not the slightest chance to make any trouble."
"We won't give Dodge any real cause, of course," nodded Dick gravely. "But a scoundrel like Dodge doesn't need real cause. That young man has altogether more spending money than is good for his morals. Why, with his money, Greg, Dodge would know how to find people, apparently respectable, who would be willing to accept a price for perjuring themselves."
"Humph!" uttered Greg.
"If Dodge could get such testimony, and his perjurers would stick to their yarns," continued Dick, "then the young scoundrel might be actually able to carry out his threats."
"He wouldn't dare!"
"If it were anything high-minded and dangerous, Dodge wouldn't dare," admitted Dick. "But minds like his will dare a good deal to put through anything scoundrelly against people who try to be decent."
DICK & CO. AGAIN
"Hey, there, you galoot! You thin, long-drawn-out seven feet of tin soldier!"
After having been home a week, Dick Prescott flushed as he wheeled about to meet this jeering greeting.
In another instant every trace of his wrath had vanished.
"Tom Reade!" hailed Dick in great delight, turning and rushing at his old High School chum. "And good little Harry Hazelton!"
It was, indeed, the young engineer pair, Reade and Hazelton, old-time members of Dick & Co., the great High School crowd of Gridley. Reade and Hazelton, after finishing at the High School, had gone out to Colorado to serve under the engineer in charge of a great piece of railway construction work. The adventures of Tom and Harry, in the wild spots of the West, are fully set forth in the volumes of the Young Engineers Series.
"The last fellow I expected to meet in Gridley!" cried Dick, overflowing with delight as he stuck out both hands at once and grasped theirs.
"Well, we are, aren't we?" demanded Reade.
"The last fellows you've met in Gridley. But where's Greg?"
"If he's out of bed," grinned Prescott, "he's in cit. clothes."
"Carrying a rifle and marching the lock-step—-the route-step, I mean—-has dulled your brain," growled Tom Reade. "Is Greg in Gridley?"
"What scoundrel is taking my name in vein?" demanded Holmes, coming upon the trio.
Then there were hearty greetings, all over again. But in the end Reade looked Greg over from head to foot.
"Do they make you sleep on a stretcher at West Point?" Tom wanted to know. "Or what do they do, to pull a pair of galoots out to the length that you two have attained."
"It's the physical training and the military drills," explained Prescott, laughing. "But my! You fellows look like the Indian's head on a copper cent!"
Tom and Harry were, indeed, highly bronzed by the hot southwestern sun. Harry, in fact, was well on the way to being black, so burned had he become by his last few months of work.
"I hope, if you fellows are ever allowed to go forth into the Army, you'll get your first station down in Arizona," teased Tom.
"I don't," retorted Greg, "if it will make us look like you two."
"Oh, it won't," broke in Harry mockingly. "You see, we have to work down in Arizona. But you fellows wouldn't. We've seen some thing of the soldiery down in that part of the world, and they're the laziest crowd you ever saw. Why, the Army officers in Arizona sleep all day and grumble about the heat all night. They have tame Apaches to do their work for them. Oh, no, you wouldn't suffer down in Arizona!"
"But how do you fellows come to be home at this time?" asked Dick.
"Homesick!" sighed Tom. "The fellows in our engineer corps are entitled to some leave. So Harry and I waited until we had enough leave piled up, and then we started back for Gridley."
"Well, it's hot on this corner," muttered Greg, "and there's an ice cream place down the block, where the electric fans are going. Let's make a raid on the place. Do you fellows remember when we were happy if we could buy a ten-cent plate and then get by ourselves with six spoons to dip into the ice cream? Come on! Let's get good and square for those days."
"Yes; it is hot here on this corner," assented Dick.
"Hot?" demanded Reade impatiently.
"Humph! Harry and I were just regretting that we hadn't worn our top coats today. We came to Gridley to cool off, and this old town seems like a heaven of coolness after the baked-brown alkali deserts of Arizona."
"Double orders for each one of us," explained Harry, after the quartette of one time High School chums had seated themselves under a buzzing fan.
Now, the chums of old days had time to look each other over more closely.
Tom and Harry were taller than in the old High School days, but they had not quite reached the height of Dick and Greg. Both of the young civil engineers, besides being heavily bronzed, were thin and sinewy looking. Thin as they were, both looked the pictures of health. Though Tom and Harry did not "advertise" their tailors as well as did the two West Point cadets, nevertheless the pair of young civil engineers looked prosperous. They had the general air of being the kind of young men who are destined to succeed splendidly in life.
Before the ice cream—-the first double order, that is—-reached the table, all of the young men were plunged into stories of their adventures during the last two years. Readers of these two series are familiar with the adventures that the young men discussed.
"You've been getting a heap more excitement out of life, you two," Prescott admitted frankly. "Still, from my point of view, I wouldn't swap with you."
"Just as bughouse on West Point and the Army as ever, are you?" quizzed Hazelton.
"Just as much, and always will be," Dick nodded, beaming.
"I can't share your enthusiasm," laughed Hazelton. "We've seen the Army in the West, and they're a lazy, little-account lot."
Instead of getting angry, however, Dick and Greg laughed outright.
"I wish we had you at West Point for forty-eight hours, right in barracks and Academic Building," declared Greg, his eyes dancing. "Whew! But you'd be able to view real world from a new angle!"
"Oh, maybe at West Point," nodded Hazelton teasingly. "But afterwards, in the Army, it's just one dream of indolence."
"Well, what do the Army officers actually do, out your ways" challenged Greg.
"Why, they—-well, they——-"
"You don't know a blessed thing about it, do you?" dared Greg. "I thought not. You see, we do know something about what Army officers do with their time. That's what we're learning at West Point."
"Don't let's fight," pleaded Tom pathetically. "Fellows, we may never meet again. Before another year rolls around Hazelton and I may have been scalped and burned by the Apaches, and you fellows may have died at West Point, from nervous prostration brought on by overeating and lack of exercise. So let's be good friends during the little time that we may have together."
"When you get time," put in Dick dryly, "you might as well tell us when you reached Gridley."
"After ten o'clock last night," supplied Harry. "Of course, we had to go home first. But this morning we set out to find you. We knew, of course, that any place would be likelier than your homes, so we tried Main Street first."
"Many folks were glad to see you?" asked Tom.
"Too many," sighed Dick. "That remark doesn't apply to any old friends, but there are a good many who always turned up their noses at us in the old days. Now, just because we're cadets, and because half-baked Army officers are supposed to be somebody in the social world, Greg and I are getting so much social mail that we fear we shall have to hire a secretary for the summer."
"Nobody will bother us, I guess," grimaced Tom. "Most people here probably think that, because we're engineers, we run locomotives. That's what the word 'engineer' suggests to ignoramuses. Now, the man who runs a locomotive should properly be called an engine-tender, or engineman, while it's the fellow who surveys and bosses the building of a railroad that is the engineer. You get a smattering of engineering work at West Point, don't you?"
"We've been at math. and drawing, so far," Dick explained. "That all leads up to the engineering instruction that we shall have to take up in September."
"Oh, I dare say you'll get a very fair smattering of engineering," assented Tom. "It's nothing like the real practice that we get, though, out in the field with the survey and construction parties. I guess you fellows, after your grind in the High School, found West Point math. pretty easy, didn't you?"
Dick laughed merrily before he answered.
"Tom, the math. that a fellow gets in High School would take up about three months at West Point. How are you on math., now?"
"Oh, not so fearfully rotten," replied Reade complacently. "Harry and I have had to dig up a lot of new math. since we've taken on with an engineering corps in the field. Harry, trot up some of the kind of mathematics that we have to use."
"Wait a moment," put in Dick. "Greg, sketch out an easy one from the math. problems we have to dig into at West Point. Give 'em something light from conic sections first."
Cadet Holmes sketched out, on the back of an envelope, the demonstration of a short problem.
Tom and Harry looked on laughingly, at first. Then their eyes began to open.
"Do you really have to dig up that sort of stuff at West Point," demanded Reade.
"Yes," nodded Dick. "And now I'll show you another easy one, belonging to descriptive geometry."
The two young engineers looked on and listened for a few moments.
"Stop!" commanded Hazelton, at last. "My head is beginning to buzz!"
"If that's the sort of gibberish you have to learn, I'm more than ever glad that I didn't go to West Point," proclaimed Reade.
The old-time chums had eaten their fill of ice cream some time before, but they still sat about the table, chatting gayly.
"There's one thing you never really told us about in your letters," muttered Tom. "You wrote us that Bert Dodge had resigned from the Military Academy, but you didn't tell us why. Now, that fellow, Dodge, never gave up anything good that he didn't have to give up. Was he kicked out of the Academy?"
"That story isn't known in Gridley," replied Prescott, lowering his voice. "Dodge tells people that he left because he didn't like the crowd or the life there. We haven't changed the story any since our return. We'll tell you fellows, for we never used to have any secrets from you in the old days. But you mustn't pass the yarn around."
"No," grimaced Greg. "You mustn't tell the story around. Dodge has threatened to have us imprisoned for life, for criminal libel, if we allow his secret to reach profane ears."
"Just why did Dodge leave West Point?" asked Reade.
"He was invited to," replied Prescott, "by a class committee on honor."
"I thought it was something like that," grunted Reade.
Then, in low tones that could not be overheard by other patrons of the ice cream place, Dick Prescott told the story of Dodge's cribbing at West Point, and of the way that Bert nearly succeeded in palming his guilt off on to Prescott.
"I'd believe every word of that yarn, even if a plumb stranger told it to me," declared Hazelton. "It has all the earmarks of truth. It's a complete story of just what Bert Dodge would do in one form or another, in any walk of life."
"But you fellows won't repeat insisted Dick.
"And thereby have us consigned to prison cells for the balance of our unworthy lives?" mocked Greg.
"You know us better than to think that we'd blab," retorted Tom half indignantly.
"You had a right to know, though," Prescott went on.
"Dick & Co. always were a close corporation," laughed Hazelton. "And I hope the time will never come when we can't tell our secrets to each other."
"I am sorry you fellows have so short a leave," murmured Dick.
"Why, What would you want us to do!" queried Tom.
"Greg and I would be tickled to death if you were going to be here all summer," Dick answered. "In the first place, just for the sake of having your company. In the next place, we'd think it great if you could go back to West Point with us when our furlough is over. If you could be there, over a Saturday and a Sunday, we'd have time to show you a lot about the life there. You'd feel acquainted from the start, for lots of the fellows of our class have heard about you. You'd get a great reception."
"Gridley must seem dull, after your life in the West," mused Cadet Holmes.
"Oh, I don't believe there's any place where you get excitement all the time," declared Tom. "And there's no place so dull that it doesn't have a little excitement once in a while."
Bang! bang! bang! sounded several sharp explosions of firearms out in the street.
"There's some, right now!" muttered Greg, jumping up. "Come along!"
Bang! bang! bang!
As they ran forward toward the door of the ice cream place the young men saw people fleeing in frantic haste along Main Street.
Five or six of these fugitives darted into the ice cream place. As they did so, Chief of Police Simmons backed into the same doorway. He had his revolver in his right hand, while he called back over his shoulder to the owner of the store:
"Granby, telephone the station for my reserves. The Indians and cowboys of the Wild West Show are on a rampage, and shooting up Gridley. Tell Sergeant Cluny, from me, to bring the reserves on the run!"
Bang! bang! bang!
Up the street came a picturesque, dangerous looking group. Three men in cowboy hats, flannel shirts and "chaps," with revolver holsters dangling from their belts, and each with a pair of automatic revolvers in his hands, came along. Just behind this trio were two indians, painted and wearing gaudy blankets. The Indian were armed like the cowboys. It was evident that all the members of the wild band were partially intoxicated.
Bang! bang! bang!
"Get back into the store, you young men!" ordered Chief Simmons crisply. "These heathen are pie-eyed and they'll shoot you up quicker than a flash!"
"Who, That lot of freaks?" demanded Tom contemptuously. "Dick! Greg! Indians are the specialty of the Army. You go after the redskins, while Harry and I tame these bad men!"
Like a flash, ere Chief Simmons could interfere, the four young men were off. Straight up to the "raiders" dashed the former High School boys.
One of the Indians wheeled, firing a fusillade just over Prescott's head.
"Oh, stop that noise!" ordered Dick dryly.
Before the Indian could guess it, Prescott had leaped in, had grabbed the redskin by a famous old Gridley football tackle and had sent the rampaging Indian to the ground Greg, equally reckless, floored the other Indian and sat on his chest.
Tom Reade made a bolt for the fiercest-looking cowboy.
"Stop spoiling the pure air on a hot day, and give me those guns!" commanded Reade, going straight at the fellow.
The big cowboy wheeled, aiming both weapons at Reade.
"Get back!" ordered the shooter. "If ye don't I'll pump ye full of hole-makers! I'm bad! I'm a wolf, and this is my day to howl. I'm a wolf—-d'ye catch that, partners?"
"Then back to the menagerie for yours!" muttered Reade dryly. "And first of all fork those guns over. You're making the air smell of sulphur."
"Get back! I'm bad, I tell ye!"
"You, bad; you cheap Piute from Rhode Island!" sniffed Tom contemptuously.
Reaching forward, quick as a flash, Reade twisted a revolver from the fellow's left hand.
"Now, pass me the other," continued Tom. "If you don't I'll wring that wooden head of yours from your neck! I'm coming, now!"
Having tossed the captured revolver in the street behind him, Reade made a sudden leap at the "bad wolf."
"Hold on!" cried the fellow sheepishly. "Don't get excited. Here it is; take it!"
Seeing how readily their companion had surrendered, the other two headed Hazelton's demand for their weapons.
From the doorway Chief Simmons had looked on at this brief, bloodless battle like one dazed.
From up and down Main street at respectful distances, crowds of Gridleyites gazed in stupefied wonder.
"Come on out, Chief, and talk to these naughty boys!" called Tom good-humoredly. "They didn't mean to be troublesome, but Fourth of July had got into their blood."
The police reserves came running up now. First of all, the revolvers of the five wild ones were gathered up. Then the officers turned to the prisoners that had been captured by the West Point cadets and the Young Engineers.
"These fellows are only medicine-show cowboys," Tom explained, with a grin, to the chief of police. "I know the real kind—-and these sorry specimens are not it. Probably these fellows have never been west of Ohio."
"You're an Indian, I'm pretty sure," said Cadet Prescott to the painted redskin whom he now held by one arm. "But you're a tame Indian. What part of Maine do you come from?"
"Yes, I'm an Indian," grinned Dick's captive "I own a farm on the east end of Long Island."
"Humph! You've been through the pubic schools, too?" demanded Dick.
Greg's Indian was quite as docile. The police now had the weapons of all the party, except one automatic weapon that Greg was examining. "Yah!" grinned Holmes. "This gun is loaded with blank cartridges. I guess all the others were, too."
The guess was a wholly correct one.
By this time the Main Street crowd, wholly over its fright, was crowding about the police and their captives.
"Say, this seems like old times!" called Sam Foss, laughingly. "Dick & Co. right in the thick the excitement."
"There hasn't been any," grinned Prescott.
At this instant a new actor arrived on the scene. Wild Charlie, the Indian medicine "doctor," immaculate in black frock suit and patent leather shoes, with a handsome sombrero spread over the glistening black hair that hung down over his shoulders, rushed up.
"Let these people go, Chief," begged the picturesque quack doctor. "I'll pay for any damage they've done."
Chief Simmons looked the long-haired "doctor" over with a broad grin.
"You're Wild Charlie, are you?" demanded the chief.
"What part of Vermont do you come from! Or is Germany your hailing place, Wild Charlie?"
"Don't josh me too hard, Chief," pleaded the medicine fakir "Will you let my people go, if I settle?"
"These terrors," retorted Chief Simmons, "are about due for thirty days for disturbing the peace."
"But that would bust my summer season, Chief," pleaded "Wild Charlie."
"Oh, don't run these innocents in, Chief," urged Tom Reade. "They aren't really bad, and they admitted it as soon as we told 'em so. These people are not dangerous—-only a bit nervous."
"See here, Wild Charlie," grinned the chief of police, "I don't want to do anything to make you wilder. I'll let these human picture books go on condition that you take your show at once and clear on out of town."
"I may just as well go," sighed the long-haired one. "This job has ruined my business here. And say, Chief, won't you break the guns and knock the cartridges out, and then let me have the guns, too? They cost a lot of money!"
But on this point Chief Simmons was firm.
"No, sirree! You can take your infant terrors and load them on the first train away from here. But the revolvers are confiscated, Wild Charlie, and they'll stay here. You can try to recover the revolvers by a civil suit, if you want to risk it in court. Otherwise, make your get-away as fast as you can. I'll admit that your outfit had the josh on me, and had me tickling the wire for the reserves. But just now the town holds two West Point cadets, and two young engineers from the real West, which makes Gridley no place to turn a vaudeville powder-play loose in."
"Wild Charlie" and his band fled as fast as they could, for the crowd was jeering loudly and talking of taking all six to the nearest horse-trough for a ducking.
"Is that the best the old town can do for excitement in these days?" laughed Reade, as soon as our young friends had separated themselves from the laughing crowd and had started on a stroll.
"Why, that little episode was doing well enough for any town," smiled Dick. "A laugh is better than a fight, any day."
"Queer text for a soldier to preach from," grinned Hazelton.
"Not a bit," Dick retorted. "The soldier, above all men, hates a fight, for the soldier knows he's the only one that's likely to get hurt."
"Yes; and moreover," broke in Greg, "armies aren't organized, in the first place, for fighting, but for preserving peace."
"Just as railroads are built to keep people from traveling," jeered Reade.
"If we don't look out the greatest excitement that we'll find today will be starting a fight among ourselves," warned Harry dryly.
"Rot!" scoffed Tom. "The old chums of Dick & Co. couldn't fight each other, any more that they can avoid joshing each other."
Though none of the chums guessed it, excitement enough for two of them, possible, was brewing in another part of Gridley at that moment.
Bert Dodge was talking almost in whispers with a young fellow named Fessenden, who had discharged from the bank in which Bert's father was vice president.
"You do my trick—-put it through for me, Fessenden—-and I'll do my best with my father to get you back in the bank," Bert promised.
"Even if I fail in that, I'll pay you well, in addition to the money I've just given you."
"Oh, it won't be a hard job to put through," nodded young Fessenden, understandingly. "I can find two fellows who have nerve enough, and who will go into court and swear to anything I want them to."
"That's the talk!" glowed young Dodge. "You will testify that Dick Prescott was talking with you, and that he told innumerable lies to blacken my name that he libeled me!"
WHAT ABOUT MR. CAMERON?
One place that Dick Prescott made it a point to visit early in his furlough was the office of the morning "Blade," for which paper, in his old High School days, the cadet had worked as a local reporter "on space."
A "space writer" is one who is paid so much per column for all matter of his that is published in the paper.
Had it not been for the "Blade" Dick Prescott would not have been as well supplied with pocket money as he had been during his High School days.
Everyone about the "Blade" office, in the old days, had expected that Prescott, at the end of his High School course, would join the "Blade" staff as a "regular." But Dick had had his own plans about West Point, although he had kept his intentions a secret from nearly every one but his chums.
Early one bright June afternoon Dick strolled into the "Blade" office.
"Why, hullo, my boy!" cried Editor Pollock, jumping up out of his chair and coming forward, hand outstretched. Bradley, the news editor, and Len Spencer, the "star" reporter, now growing comically fat, rushed forward to meet the cadet.
"Sit down, Dick, and let's hear all about West Point," urged Mr. Pollock, placing a chair beside his own, while the other members of the staff crowded about. "What sort of a place is West Point, and how do you like it there?"
Dick smilingly gave them a lively account of life at the United States Military Academy.
"I hope you're keeping track of all this, Len," nodded the editor to Reporter Spencer. "Tell us plenty more, too Dick. We want to give you and Holmes at least a bully two-column write-up."
Dick's cheery look suddenly changed to one of mild alarm.
"Do you want to do me a big favor, Mr. Pollock?"
"Anything up to a page, my boy, and you know it," replied the editor heartily. "We still regard you as one of the 'Blade' family."
"The favor I'm going to ask, Mr. Pollock, is that you don't give Greg and myself a write-up."
The editor looked so hurt that Prescott made haste to add, earnestly:
"Please don't misunderstand me, Mr. Pollock. But you simply cannot imagine the trouble that a fine write-up in a home paper may make for a cadet. If I were a plebe, now, the upper classman would get hold of the write-up, somehow, and they'd make me read it aloud, at least a hundred times, while upper classmen stood about and congratulated me on being such a fine fellow as the paper described. As Greg and I are now second classman, we couldn't be hazed in quite that way. But the other fellows would find some other way of using that home-paper write-up as a club for pounding us every now and then. Mr. Pollock, believe me, cadet is mighty lucky whose home paper doesn't say anything about him."
"What is the matter?" asked the editor gravely. "Are the other cadets jealous?"
"No; it isn't that," Prescott answered. "That sort of thing is done, at West Point, to keep from getting the 'big head.' Probably your memory goes back easily to the Spanish War days. You will remember that Mr. Hobson, of the Navy, sank the Merrimac in the harbor at Santiago, so that the Spanish ships, when they got out, had to come out in single file. Mr. Hobson has a younger brother then at the Military Academy. Well, the story still runs at West Point that Military Cadet Hobson was forced to read aloud all the best things about his brother in the Navy that the other cadets could find in the newspapers. Besides that, Cadet Hobson, so we are told today, had to 'sail' chips on a tub of water, at the same time bombarding the chips with pebbles and cheering for his brother. At West Point it doesn't pay a cadet to be famous, even in the light of reflected glory. Now, that is why I beg you, not to give Greg and myself the write-up that you propose."
"All right, then," sighed the editor.
"On the other hand, Mr. Pollock, I'll tell you all manner of lively and printable facts about West Point, if you won't mention Greg or myself or even mention the fact that Gridley has any cadets at the Military Academy."
"That will have to answer," nodded Mr. Pollock. "But we wanted to do something big for you, Dick."
"And you'll be doing something very big for us, if you don't mention us at all," smiled Prescott.
So the "Blade" had a good deal of interesting reading about West Point the next morning. Many Gridleyites were not satisfied because neither Prescott nor Holmes was mentioned in connection with the Military Academy.
The second time that Mr. Pollock met his former reporter was on the street.
"I've been kicking myself, Dick, because I forgot something the other day," declared the editor. "I have one of the nicest, gentlest little trotting mares in this part of the state, and a very comfortable light buggy with top and side curtains. I hardly ever use the rig in hot weather. Now, won't you often have use for a horse and buggy while you're at home? If so, just ring up Getchel's Livery at any time, day or night, and tell 'em to hitch up against your coming. Will you?"
Dick tried hard to find words in which to thank Mr. Pollock for the generous offer.
First of all, Prescott took Holmes out driving, one forenoon, to "try out" the mare. The little animal proved speedy but tractable—-a wholly safe driving horse.
"I'm not a betting man," quoth Greg, "but I'll lay a wager that I can guess who gets the next drive behind this horse.
"Post your wager," laughed Dick gayly.
"Wrong! My mother gets the next drive."
And so she did, that same afternoon. But the following afternoon Prescott, after a good deal of attention to his personal appearance, walked to Getchel's and drove away from there behind the mare. The next stop was at the house of Dr. Bentley.
Yet, when Cadet Prescott caught his first glimpse of the broad, cool veranda of the doctor's house, the young man felt a sudden throb of the heart.
Another young man—-he looked to be somewhat under thirty—-was seated in a big rocker, close to Laura. Both young people were laughing gayly before Miss Bentley caught sight of Dick.
"You're occupied, I see," called Prescott lightly, though the tone cost him an effort.
"Come right up, Dick," called Laura, so the cadet leaped from the buggy, hitching the horse. The he turned into the broad walk and gained the veranda, where he was presented to Mr. Cameron.
Mr. Cameron greeted the cadet pleasantly, yet didn't seem overjoyed at his presence. Nor did Mr. Cameron seem in the least inclined to take himself away.
Usually most self-possessed, Dick Prescott fidgeted a trifle, and felt uncomfortable now. He wondered if good taste did not call for him to take himself away after a brief conversation. It was Laura who finally came to the rescue.
"Dick," she laughed, "there's something on your mind. I'm afraid I shall have to help you out. Did you come to ask me to go driving?"
"Yes," Dick nodded. "But of course I realize that some other time will be better."
"Oh, don't let me spoil fun," begged Mr. Cameron, half rising, as though hoping to be asked to seat himself again.
"Mr. Cameron," Miss Bentley replied sweetly, rising also as her caller completed the act of getting upon his feet, "I know you will excuse me now, rude as it seems in me to ask it. But Mr. Prescott's time in Gridley is very limited, and we are all anxious to see as much of him as possible."
"Say no more, Miss Bentley," begged Mr. Cameron, forcing a genial smile. "Mr. Prescott, I congratulate you on having such a good champion. Good afternoon, Laura. Good afternoon, Mr. Prescott; I am very glad indeed to have had the pleasure of meeting you."
"I am most happy to have met you, sir; if it were not for my own great good fortune, and my natural selfishness, I would feel most regretful over being the means of distracting Miss Bentley's attention."
Laura, as soon as she had extended her hand to Mr. Cameron, had run inside to get her hat. By the time that Mr. Cameron had reached the front gate Laura came out again, adjusting a wonderfully becoming bit of headgear.
"I am almost ashamed of myself for having spoiled another's call," Prescott told her.
"Oh, don't mind about Mr. Cameron," laughed Laura lightly. "He has plenty opportunity, if he enjoys it, to call at other seasons of the year."
"Oh! Does he?" muttered Dick. He began to feel a most unwarrantable dislike for Mr. Cameron.
ALONG A "DANGEROUS" ROAD
"Oh, yes," smiled Laura. "Mr. Cameron is a frequent visitor."
This information had the effect of making Prescott almost feel that he would enjoy kicking that other young man.
"You are old friends, then?" he asked lightly, as he tucked the thin carriage robe about Laura, then picked up the lines.
"No; quite recent acquaintances. We met about four months ago, I think it was."
Though she spoke with apparent indifference, Prescott covertly caught sight of a slight flush rising to the girl's face.
"After all," muttered Dick inwardly, "why not? Laura isn't a schoolgirl any longer, and it certainly most be difficult for any young man who has the chance to call to keep away from her!"
So Cadet Prescott tried to persuade himself that it was all very natural for Mr. Cameron to call and for Laura to be glad to see Mr. Cameron. Dick even tried to feel glad that Laura was receiving attentions—-but the effort ended in secret failure.
Then Dick, as he drove along, tried to tell himself that he didn't care, and that he hadn't any right to care—-but in this also he fell short of success with himself.
So he fell silent, without intending to. Laura, on her part, tried to make up for his silence by chatting pleasantly, but after a while she, too, found herself out of words.
Then, for a mile, they drove along almost in complete silence. Yet Cadet Prescott found plenty of chance to eye her covertly. What he saw was a beautiful girl, so sweet and wholesome looking that he had hard work, indeed, to keep ardent words from rushing to his lips.
"She grows sweeter and finer all the time," he muttered to himself. "Why shouldn't men be eager to call, often and long?"
At last the mare stumbled slightly, and Prescott jerked the animal so quickly and almost savagely on the lines that Miss Bentley looked at him with something of a start.
"Dick," spoke Laura at last, turning and looking him frankly, sweetly in the eyes, "have I done anything to offend you?"
"I wondered," she continued. "You have been so very silent."
"I am afraid I was thinking," muttered Dick. "And that's a very rude thing to do when it makes one seem to ignore the lady who is with him," he added, forcing a smile. "I beg your pardon, Laura, ten times over."
"Oh, I don't mind your being abstracted," she answered simply, "so long as I am not the cause of it."
Dick checked himself quickly.
He had been right on the point of admitting that she had been the cause of his abstraction, and such a statement as that would have called for an abundance of further explanation.
So he forced himself into a peal of laughter that sounded nearly natural.
"If I were to tell you what a ridiculous thing I was thinking about, Laura!" he chuckled.
Then his West Point training against all forms of deceit led him to wondering, at once, whether Mr. Cameron could truthfully be defined as "a ridiculous thing."
"Tell me," smiled the girl patiently.
"Not I," defied Prescott gayly. "Then you would find me more ridiculous than the thing about which I was thinking."
"Oh!" she replied, and the cadet fancied that his companion spoke in a tone of more or less hurt.
But, at least, Dick could look straight into her face now, as they talked, and every instant he realized more and more keenly how lovely Miss Bentley was growing to be.
They were driving down sweet-scented country lanes now. The whole scene fitted romance. The cadet remembered Flirtation Walk, at West Point, and it struck him that there was danger, at the present moment, of Flirtation Drive.
"I wonder what the dear girl is thinking about at this present moment?" pondered Dick.
"I wonder what it was that made him so abstracted, and then so suddenly merry?" was the thought in Miss Bentley's mind.
"That was a very pretty road we came through before we turned into this one," commented Dick at a hazard.
"I didn't notice it," replied Laura. "Where are we now? Oh, yes! I know the locality now."
"You have driven out here before—-with Mr. Cameron?"
The words were out ere Cadet Prescott could recall them. He felt indescribably angry with himself. In the first place, the question he had asked was really none of his business. In the second place, his inquiry, under the circumstances, was a rude one.
"Mr. Cameron was in the party," Laura replied readily. "There was quite a number of us; it was a 'bus ride one May afternoon. We came out to gather wild flowers."
"If I had the right," flamed up within the cadet, "I'd soon make Mr. Cameron my business, or else I'd be some of his. But it wouldn't be fair. I'm not through West Point yet, and I may never be. Until my future is fairly assured I'm not going to ask the sweetest girl on earth to commit her future to my hands. Even if I felt that I could, a cadet is forbidden to marry and a two years' engagement is a fearfully long one to ask of a girl. And a girl like Laura has a chance to meet hundreds of more satisfactory fellows than I in two years."
It required all the young soldier's will power to keep silent on the one subject uppermost in his mind. And even Dick realized that some very trivial circumstance was likely to unseat his firm resolve.
What he was trying to act up to was his sense of fairness. Hard as it was under the circumstances, he was more anxious to be fair to this girl than to any other living being.
"I mustn't spoil her afternoon, just because my own mind is so dizzy!" he thought reproachfully.
So, a moment later, he became merrier than ever—-on the surface.
It was Laura's turn to take a covert look at his face. She wondered, for she felt that Prescott's assumed gayety had an almost feverish note.
"How much further are you going to drive?" she asked presently.
"The only pleasure I recognize in the matter, Laura, is yours. So I am wholly at your command."
He tried to answer lightly and gallantly, yet felt, an instant later, that his words had had a strained sound.
The same thought had struck the girl.
Yet, instead of asking him to turn the horse's head about, Laura ventured:
"Gridley must be pleasant, as your home town, yet I fancy you are already looking forward to getting back to your ideals at West Point?"
"Is she tired of having me around?" wondered Cadet Prescott, wincing within, as though he had been stabbed.
"I'm keener for West Point, every day, Laura," he answered quietly. "Yet, even in the case of such a grand old place as the Military Academy, it is worth while to get away once in a while. If it were not for this long furlough, midway in the four years' course, many of us might go mad with the incessant grind."
"Oh, you poor Dick!" cried Laura Bentley, in quick, genuine sympathy. "Yes; I think I can quite understand what you say."
And then a new light came into her eyes, as she added, very softly:
"We in Gridley, who hope for you with your own intensity of longings, must take every pains to make this furlough of yours restful enough and full enough of happiness to send you back to West Point with redoubled strength for the grind."
"The same Laura as of yesterday!" cried Dick with sincere enthusiasm. "Always wondering how to make life a little sweeter for others!"
"Thank you," she half bowed quietly. "Yes; I want to see your strength proven among strong men."
Again she looked frankly into Prescott's eyes, and he, at the same moment, into hers. His pulses were bounding. What was to become, now, of his resolution to hold back the surging words for at least two more years?
Yet resolutely he stifled the feelings that surged within him. He was a boy, though the training at West Point was swiftly making him over into a man.
"I may lose her," groaned Cadet Prescott. "I may have lost her already—-if I ever had any chance. But a soldier has at least his honor to think of, and no honorable man can ask a woman to give herself to him, and to wait for years, when he isn't reasonably certain he is going to be able to meet the responsibility that he seeks."
Never had Prescott been more earnest, more serious, nor more attentive than during the remainder of that drive. Yet he studiously refrained from giving the girl any hint of the thoughts that were surging within him.
Was he foolish?
Dick felt, anyway, that he was not, for he was waging a mighty fight to stand by his best sense of honor.
THE SURPRISE THE LAWYER HAD IN STORE
The days went by swiftly, merrily.
Dick continued to see all that was possible of Laura Bentley, without seeming to try to monopolize her time.
As for careless, good-humored, nearly heart-free Greg, that young man divided his time almost impartially among several very pretty girls. Cadet Holmes had no thought of arousing baseless hopes in any young woman's mind. He simply had not yet reached the age when he was likely to be tied closely by any girl's bright-hued ribbons.
Tom Reade and Harry Hazelton were much with the young West Pointers. Had Dave Darrin and Dan Dalzell been able to be home from Annapolis at this time, the cup of joy would have been full for all the old chums of Dick & Co. But that was not to be.
Even Reade and Hazelton were home only on limited leave, for they were still very young engineers, who could not sacrifice much time away from their work lest they lose the ground already gained.
So just after the Fourth of July, Tom and Harry left, on a morning train, the two young West Pointers going to the station to see them off with many a handshake, many a yearning wish for the two dear old chums of former days.
"The blamed old town will seem a bit empty, won't it?" demanded Greg, as the cadet pair strolled back from the railway station.
"What'll it be in after years," sighed Dick, "with you up at some fort on the Great Lakes, say, with me in Boston, Tom and Harry somewhere out West, with Dave on the European station and Dan, perhaps, on the China station? Oh, well, chums who want to stick together through life should go in for jobs in the same factory!"
"I suppose we'll get more used to being apart, as the years roll on," muttered Greg. "But I know it would be mighty jolly, this summer, if all the fellows of Dick & Co. could be here in Gridley."
"There's Bert Dodge," whispered Prescott.
"It was hardly worth the trouble to tell me anything about him," retorted Holmes, not taking the trouble to look at their ancient enemy.
"But what a scowl the fellow is wearing," smiled Dick, half in amusement.
"Scowling is his highest pleasure in life," returned Greg.
"He looked at me," continued Dick, as though he had discovered some new reason for hating me."
"If he knew how little thought you gave to him he wouldn't really take the trouble to hate you. Dodge has far more reason to dislike himself. Where are you heading now?"
"Home and to the store," replied Dick. "I just saw the postman leaving. Come along."
As Dick and his chum entered, both his father and mother were behind the counter.
"Dr. Davidson and his wife are in the back room," announced Mrs. Prescott. "They would like to see you, Dick."
"Oh, your new pastor and his wife? Will you excuse me, and wait for me a few minutes, Greg?" asked Dick.
Holmes, nodding, picked up a magazine and seated himself. It was twenty minutes ere Dick came out from that back room. Then the chums started out for another stroll.
"Where are you going now?" asked Greg, suddenly, realizing that his chum was walking at an almost spurting gait.
"In looking over my mail," replied Dick grimly, "I found a letter from Lawyer Griffin."
"What does he want, You don't owe any money, here or anywhere else."
"Griffin wrote me that he wanted to see me about a case that has been placed in his hands," replied Prescott quietly.
Greg started, then changed color.
"Dick," he demanded, "do you know what the lawyer's business is about?"
"The lawyer's letter doesn't state any more than I have told you."
"Dick, that hound Dodge must be up to some trick!"
"I imagine that's the answer," replied Cadet Prescott quietly.
"And you're going to see the lawyer?"
"Humph!" muttered Greg. "I know what I'd do. I'd make the lawyer come to see me."
"But I prefer going to his office."
"As soon as I can get there."
"And you want me with you?"
"Most decidedly, Greg. I don't care to go into the lawyer's office without a competent witness."
"Then I'm yours, old fellow."
"I know that, Greg."
Despite himself Holmes began to feel decidedly uneasy.
"What on earth can Dodge be up to?" muttered Greg. "He threatened a libel prosecution one day last month. Can it be that he has found people who can be bribed to perjure themselves, and that he is going to make his hint good?"
"It half looks that way," assented Dick.
"Then may a plague seize the cur!" cried Greg, vehemently. "Why, if the fellow can buy other people into making out a case of libel against you——-"
"I might be convicted, and that conviction would cut short my Army career," replied Prescott as quietly as ever.
Greg stopped short in his walk, staring aghast at his chum.
"Why, can Dodge be scoundrel enough for that?" he gasped.
"The best way to judge a man, like a horse, is by the record of his past performances," responded Prescott as quietly as ever.
"So that unutterable cur, since he couldn't remain in the Army, is determined that you shan't, either! Dick, old ramrod, I'm shaking all over with indignation and contempt, and you're as cool as an old colonel going under fire again for the thousandth time!"
"If there's any real danger I guess I'd better remain cool," spoke Prescott slowly, though there was a flash of fire in his eyes.
"There's Bert Dodge again!" quivered Holmes, glancing along the street. "Hurry up! Let's meet him. Just on general principles one of us ought to thrash him, and I most joyously volunteer."
"Don't you do anything of the sort," begged Dick quickly. "We don't want to make any matter worse. Here's the building where Griffin has his offices. Come; we'll go up and see him."
The two West Pointers were soon in the lawyer's office. Mr. Griffin was disengaged, and saw the young men at once. This attorney was rather a new-comer in Gridley. Dick and Greg met him for the first time. Prescott rather liked the man's appearance.
"Do you want the whole affair discussed before your friend, Mr. Prescott?" demanded Griffin.
"By all means, sir," Dick responded.
"Very good, then," replied the lawyer, who was still engaged in studying the faces of both cadets.
Then, while the two West Pointers sat before him, their faces impassive, Mr. Griffin continued.
"When I was retained on this case I was asked to put the whole matter before the Grand Jury at its next sitting. It is so very unusual, however, to have criminal cases against West Point men that I insisted with my clients that I would not take a decisive step, Mr. Prescott, until I had first seen you."
"Thank you, sir," nodded Cadet Prescott.
"In brief then," went on the lawyer, "Mr. Dodge and his son Bert have placed a good deal of sworn evidence in my hands, and they have instructed me, Prescott, to procure your indictment on a charge of uttering criminally libelous statements against Bert Dodge!"
PRESCOTT LAYS A POWDER TRAIL
Greg Holmes turned very white for an instant.
Then a flush rose to his face. He leaped to his feet, his hands clenched.
"This is an infamous, outrageous, lying——-"
"Thank you, Greg," Prescott broke in coolly. "But will you let me question Mr. Griffin?"
"Yes," subsided Greg, sinking back into his chair. "I don't know that I could say any more. It would be merely a change in the words."
Cadet Prescott turned back to the lawyer.
"Mr. Griffin, will you tell me why you sent for me?"
"Because," replied the man of law, "I have some knowledge of the average West Point material. Frankly, I couldn't wholly credit this charge against you. I wanted to see you and have a talk with you, and I so informed the elder Dodge. Unless you can satisfy me that this is a ridiculous case, or a wholly malicious prosecution, then I shall feel obliged, as a lawyer, to take up the charges with the district attorney, after which we shall proceed in the usual way. But, first of all, I want to have a talk with you."
"That is very fair, sir," replied Dick.
"And I want to be fair," replied the lawyer with emphasis. "I want to make sure that I am not taking part in a case needlessly malicious, and one which, pushed to a needless conclusion, might rob the Army of a valuable future officer."
"I appreciate your courtesy and fairness, and I, thank you, sir," Dick acknowledged.
"Now, Mr. Prescott, do you mind telling me, in a general way, at least, just what you have said to others about young Dodge since you have been home on your furlough?"
"I would rather, sir, tell you something else instead," replied Cadet Prescott, with the ghost of a smile. "You have some affidavits, Mr. Griffin—-or, at least, you have some witnesses, and they have very likely furnished you with affidavits. The names of your witnesses, or of your most important witnesses, are Fessenden, Bettrick and Deevers. Fessenden was a bank clerk, discharged from the bank by the elder Dodge. Bettrick is a truck-driver, and Deevers is—-well, I understand he has no more important occupation than lounging about drinking places."
"I am sorry that you know the names of my witnesses," replied Lawyer Griffin gravely. "I am beginning to be impressed with the idea that you know their names so readily because you recall having said something in their presence or hearing against young Dodge."
"That is hardly likely," replied Dick, smiling coolly, "because I do not believe that I know either of the three young men by sight."
"Then why," demanded the attorney, eyeing the young West Pointer keenly, "do you know so much about their occupations or lack of occupation? And why do you know that they are all young men?"
"I will tell you," replied Dick. "In the first place, you know Dr. Carter, do you not?"
"He is a reputable physician, isn't he?"
"I believe Dr. Carter to be a very honorable man."
"Do you know Dr. Davidson?"
"I understand that he is one of the new pastors in town," admitted the lawyer.
"You imagine he would make a creditable witness, don't you?"
"Jurors generally accept the testimony of a clergyman at its face value," replied Attorney Griffin.
"Down in one of the tenements of Gridley," pursued Prescott, rising and leaning one elbow upon the corner of the top of the lawyer's roll-top desk, "is a young man named Peters. He is a mill hand who has been away from his work for weeks on account of illness. Dr. Carter has been attending him, probably without charging much if any fee. Last night Peters had a small boy rush out and telephone in haste for Dr. Carter. As it happened, the physician was at his office, and answered quickly. After Dr. Carter had been in Peters's room, perhaps a minute, the physician hurried out into the street, stopping the first man whom he met. That man happened to be Dr. Davidson. The two men returned to Peters's room. Now, all three of them listened."
Lawyer Griffin was eyeing Prescott curiously.
"Yesterday afternoon," continued Dick, changing the subject with seeming abruptness, "Fessenden, Bettrick and Deevers were all here, and signed affidavits before a clerk of yours, who is a notary public."
"Proceed," requested Mr. Griffin, without either denying or admitting the truth of Dick's statement.
"Since he lost his bank position," Dick went on, "Fessenden has been compelled to live in a wretched room next to that occupied by the sick man Peters. Two nights ago, as you will remember, there was a heavy rain. Now, the roof leaked at that tenement house, and the dripping water washed away some of the plaster covering the none-too-thick partition between the room of Fessenden and the room of Peters. So our sick man heard much of the conversation between Fessenden and the fellow's confederates. Now Peters, the physician and the clergyman are all willing to swear to the statement that Bert Dodge hired Fessenden, Bettrick and Deevers to testify against me. Young Dodge, according to the overheard conversation, met and drilled all three in their parts. That was before the three came here yesterday afternoon, with the Dodges, and supplied you with the affidavits that you now hold. For this service, Dodge is believed to have paid each young loafer the sum of twenty dollars, with a promise of eighty more apiece after they had told their tales in court. That, Mr. Griffin, is the other side of the story. Bert Dodge has deliberately hired three men to swear falsely against me."
As he finished Dick dropped carelessly back into the chair. He appeared wholly cool. Not so Greg Holmes, whose face, during this recital, had been a study. Now Greg was upon his feet in a flash.
"How long have you known this, old ramrod?" he demanded.
"Dr. Davidson told me this, in the back room at the store, just before we came here," Prescott replied.
"And you never told me—-didn't even give me a hint?" cried Holmes reproachfully.
"Why, I thought I'd tell Mr. Griffin first," answered Dick.
"I have seldom heard anything that interested me more," admitted the lawyer. "Yet, why didn't you bring Dr. Davidson and Dr. Carter here with you?"
"One good reason," replied Dick bluntly, "was that I didn't know anything about you, Mr. Griffin. I am glad to say that I have found you most fair minded. But, not knowing you, I wanted to see you and judge for myself whether there was any chance that you were in league with my enemies. Had I made up my mind that you were anywhere nearly as bad as young Dodge, I would have let this matter get as far as the courts, when I would have overwhelmed you all with charges of perjury, and would have proved my charges at least against Bert Dodge and his three tools."
"Mr. Prescott, of course I don't mean to throw any doubt over the truth of what you have just told me. At the same time, as counsel for the Dodges, I shall have to satisfy myself on these particulars.
"Do you know Dr. Carter's voice well?" asked Prescott.
"Then kindly allow me to use your telephone."
Pulling the desk instrument toward him, and hailing central, Dick called for "33 Main."
"Hello, is Dr. Carter in," called Dick after a moment. "This is Prescott. Do you recognize my voice? Very good, sir; will you now talk with Lawyer Griffin, who is beside me, and tell him what you heard last night in the room of one Peters? Here is Dr. Cater waiting for you Mr. Griffin."
Lawyer and physician talked together for some minutes, the attorney's excitement increasing. Greg, in the meantime, was executing a silent jig over near the door of the room.
"Now, you can call up Dr. Davidson," suggested Cadet Prescott.
"I don't need to," replied the lawyer. "Dr. Carter has substantiated all that you told me, and has informed me that Dr. Davidson is ready to be called upon for the same information. Instead, I shall call upon some one else."
An instant later the attorney called up another number.
"Hello," he said presently. "Connect me with Mr. Dodge. Hello, is that you, Mr. Dodge? Can you reach your son readily? Oh, he is there at the bank with you, is he? This is Mr. Griffin. I shall expect you both at my office within five minutes. Yes; about the Prescott matter. No; I can't tell you over the 'phone. Both of you come here. Goodbye!"
As though to wind up the conversation abruptly, Lawyer Griffin rang off and hung the receiver on its hook.
"Now, we'll wait and here the other side," remarked the lawyer grimly.
"If the other side dares make its voice heard!" laughed Cadet Dick Prescott.
There being now no need of silence, Greg Holmes relieved himself of some noisy enthusiasm.
A FATHER'S JUST WRATH STRIKES
A very few minutes later a knock sounded at the door.
Then Bert Dodge entered very abruptly, his tongue starting with the turning off the knob.
"Well, have you seen the mucker Prescott?" called Bert airily. "Was he scared to——-"
Here Bert caught sight of the two West Pointers and stopped short, while his father entered behind him.
"No," broke in Holmes, dryly, "Prescott wasn't even scared silly."
"Oh, you shut up, you two!" growled Bert. "Mr. Griffin, what are these pieces of airy nothing doing here?"
"That advice about preserving silence will very well apply to you, also, Mr. Bert Dodge," rejoined the lawyer. "Take a seat in the background, please. I want to talk with your father."
"What's the matters" demanded Bert, not taking a seat, but advancing and leaning against the top of the lawyer's desk. "Has this fellow won you over with a lot of his smooth talk?"
"Mr. Griffin I warned you that Prescott is a most accomplished liar."
Instead of flaring up at this insult, Dick merely turned to exchange amused smiles with Holmes.
At this moment the attorney was paying no heed to Bert, but was placing a chair courteously for the elder Dodge.
"Now, Mr. Dodge," began the lawyer, speaking rapidly and paying heed only to the father, "I am very glad that I insisted on seeing Mr. Prescott before going further in the case that you placed with me. I expected only a denial. I have, instead, been astounded. Now, listen, sir, while I tell you the all but incredible story."
Thereupon Lawyer Griffin launched into a swift narration of the story told by Dick Prescott and Dr. Carter.
As soon as Bert Dodge began to get wind of what it was all about, his face became ghastly.
"Stop right here, Griffin!" commanded Bert. "This is all a tissue of lies that have been sprung upon you."
"Silence, young man!" commanded the lawyer sternly. "This talk is between your father and myself. As for you, young man, remember to what you have sworn, and bear in mind that the upshot of it all for you may yet be a term of years in the penitentiary."
As the lawyer went on talking there could not be a moment's suspicion that the elder Dodge had been concerned in the plot of perjury. Mr. Dodge had been guilty only of believing his son and of sharing the latter's feigned indignation.
"Now, Dr. Carter has confirmed all of this over the 'phone, and he assured me that Dr. Davidson stood ready to add his testimony," wound up Lawyer Griffin. "Mr. Dodge, what is to be done?"
"Why," stammered Bert's father, "we—-we shall have to drop the whole case."
"What?" raged Bert, his face going purple with anger. "Drop the case on any such stacked-up mess of lies? Father, are you losing all the nerve you ever had?"
"Young man," broke in Lawyer Griffin severely, "you do not appear to have the slightest idea of values. I do not for a moment imagine that your father will go any further in this matter. If he does, it will be necessary for him to get another attorney."
"Why!" challenged Bert, glaring at the lawyer.
"Because the outcome of this case, if it reached court, would be your indictment for conspiracy and the subornation of perjury. The latter is one of the most heinous crimes known to the law."
"But I tell you this is all a tissue of lies trumped up against me!" stormed young Dodge.
While this conversation was going on Dick and Greg remained silent in their seats. They had no need to talk. They were enjoying it all too much just as it was going.
"Do you expect, Dodge, that a court and a jury would take your unsupported word against the testimony of two such men as Dr. Carter and the Rev. Mr. Davidson? Do you imagine, for a moment, that Fessenden and your other tools wouldn't become utterly frightened and confess to everything against you? Do you imagine that anything you could do or say would save you, Dodge, from going to the penitentiary for ten or fifteen years?"
The attorney's cool, incisive manner brought Bert Dodge to his senses.
A deathly fear assailed him. His knees began to shake.
"The case is too well fixed against me," he replied hoarsely. "Ye—-es, I guess you had better drop it all."
The elder Dodge now sprang to his feet.
"Drop it, you young scoundrel?" he yelled at his son. "Why did you ever drag me into any such infamous piece of business? I went into this believing that you told me the truth."
"I—-I did, sir," stammered Bert.
"Bah, you are a perjurer, you young villain!" raged his father. "Griffin, this matter cannot go a step further. You will destroy those miserable affidavits before my eyes!"
"I am sorry, Mr. Dodge," replied the lawyer, "but I am not at liberty to do that."
"You can't destroy the affidavits?" howled Bert, his voice breaking. "Why not! Aren't you our lawyer?"
"I am even more an officer of the court than I am anyone's attorney," replied Mr. Griffin gravely. "A lawyer has no right to conceal a crime when he knows one has been committed not even to save his own clients."
"Wh—-what do you propose to do, Griffins?" demanded the elder Dodge, shaking.
"Why, I hope to save your worthless son from prosecution, Mr. Dodge," returned the lawyer. "But a crime has been committed, in that your son procured others to swear to false affidavits True, the affidavits have not yet been presented in court, and on that I base my hope that the matter will not have to go further. But I feel in honor bound to submit the facts to the district attorney, and to be governed by his instructions."
"You are going to try to send me to jail?" gasped Dodge, clutching at the ledge of a bookcase to save himself from falling.
"I am going to try to persuade the district attorney to let the matter drop," replied Griffin. "It will be the district attorney's decision that will govern the matter."
"Then what are you doing fooling around here, governor?" screamed Bert hoarsely. "Don't you see that it's your job to hurry to the district attorney as fast as you can go? Use your money, your political influence—-"
In his extreme terror young Dodge seemed to forget that he was providing amusement for his enemies.
But Mr. Dodge cut in quickly. Advancing a step or two, he brought his uplifted stick down sharply, once, across his son's shoulders.
With a snarl Bert wheeled, crouching as though to spring upon his father.
Prescott and Holmes jumped up, prepared to step in. But the banker was not cowed by the evil look in his son's face.
"Begone, you young villain!" quivered the old man. "Get out of my sight. Never let me see you again. Don't dare to go to what was once your home, or I'll have you thrown out. I disown you! You are no blood of mine!"
"I guess you forget," sneered Bert cunningly that you are responsible for me, and that you will have to pay my bills."
"Not a penny of them," retorted the banker sternly. "It is you who forget that you reached the age of twenty-one just three days ago. You are your own master, sir—-and your own provider! Now, go—-and never again let any of your family hear from the scoundrel who has disgraced us all."
Vainly Bert opened his mouth, trying to speak. The words would not come. His father again advancing threateningly, Bert edged towards the door.
"This looks like your fun, as it is your work, Dick Prescott!" snarled the wretch. "Wait! If it takes me ten years I'll make you suffer for this!"
Crash! Mr. Dodge had again raised his cane to strike the young man. But Bert had pulled open the door, closing it after him as he fled, and only the plate-glass panel stopped the fall of the cane.
"I'll pay for the damage done to your door Griffin," promised the banker.
"Don't worry about that, sir," nodded the attorney.
"I feel that we've been here long enough, gentlemen," broke in Cadet Prescott, as he and Greg rose. "Mr. Dodge, I can't begin to tell you how sorry I am that this scene was necessary."
"I feel sure of your sympathy. Prescott, and of yours, too, Holmes. Thank you both," replied the banker. "You are both fine, manly young fellows. I wish I had been favored with a son like either of you. Now, I have no son!"
Dick and Greg got away as unobtrusively as they could.
Bert Dodge did try to go home to see his Mother, but, by his father's orders, he was put out of the house by two men servants.
Immediately after that Bert vanished from Gridley. At first he tried the effect of writing whining, penitent, begging letters home. Receiving no replies, Bert finally drifted off into the space of the wide world.
Later on in the course of these chronicles he may reappear.
Lawyer Griffin consulted with the district attorney, and it was decided not to make perjury cases out of the affair. Fessenden, Bettrick and Deevers, however, were all three warned and the district attorney filed away the lying affidavits, in case a use for them should ever come up.
By degrees the story of Bert Dodge's latest infamy leaked out. The news, however, did not come through any word spread by either of our young West Pointers.
BACK TO THE GOOD, GRAY LIFE
A Glorious summer it was for the two second classman on furlough!
Yet, like all other things, good and otherwise, it had to come to an end.
One morning near the end of August, Dick and Greg, attended by a numerous concourse of friends, went to the railway station.
The proud parents were there, of course, and so were the parents of Dave Darrin and Dan Dalzell, the latter happy in the knowledge that their boys would soon be home for the brief September leave from the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis.
"Why, you haven't seen Dave since you youngsters all left home, have you, Dick?" asked Mr. Darrin.
"No, sir. Greg and I hoped to, this last summer, when the Army baseball nine went down to Annapolis and defeated the Navy nine," Dick replied. "But both Greg and I found ourselves so hard pressed in our academic work that we didn't dare go, but remained behind and boned hard at our studies."
"You don't forget the fact that the Army nine did defeat the Navy nine, do you?" laughed Dan's father.
"No, sir; of course not," smiled Dick. "The Army and Navy teams exist mainly for the purpose of beating each other. I am glad to say that the Army manages to win more than its share of games."
"That's because the West Point boys average a little older than the Annapolis boys," broke in Mrs. Dalzell pleasantly, though warmly. Even she, as the mother of a midshipman, felt her share in the rivalry between the nation's two great service schools.
"You will bring Laura and Belle up to some of the hops this winter, I hope, Mrs. Bentley," Dick begged.
"Oh, she's pledged to take us to West Point, and to Annapolis," broke in Belle Meade, smiling. "You don't think we are going to lose the hops at either Academy while we have friends there, do you?"
"I should hope not," Dick replied earnestly. Five minutes before train time Leonard Cameron appeared. He greeted the two cadets with great cordiality.
"I couldn't help coming to see you off, Prescott," Cameron found chance to say in an undertone. "Laura is so deeply interested in your success that I, too, am longing to hear every possible good word as to your future career. Laura couldn't be more interested in you if she were truly your sister."
That was the sting that made Dick's going away bitter. Cameron's manner was so easy and assured that Dick saw the crumbling of one of his more than half built castles in Spain.
The train carried the two cadets away. The parents of both young men had seen to it that the cadets went away in a parlor car. Dick and Greg, after leaving Gridley behind, swung their chairs around so that, while they looked out of the window, their heads were close together.
"Cameron had a nerve to show up, didn't hey" demanded Greg indignantly.
"I don't know," Dick replied very quietly. "He tried to be very kind and cordial."
"Shucks!" uttered Greg, disgustedly. "Doesn't he know that Laura Bentley is your girl, and that he's only a b.j. hanger-on there?"
"I'm afraid Laura herself doesn't know that she's my girl," sighed Dick.
Cadet Holmes swung about so that he could gaze straight into his comrade's face.
"Dick, didn't you tell her?" demanded Greg aghast.
"You have to do something more than tell a girl," smiled Prescott patiently, though wearily. "You have to ask her."
"Well, thunder and bomb-shells, didn't you?"
"I didn't, Greg."
"Oh, pardon me, old ramrod. I don't mean to pry into your affairs——-"
"I know you don't."
"——-but I thought you were deeply interested in Laura Bentley."
"I think I am, Greg. In fact, I'm sure I am."
"Greg, I'm not yet sure of my place in life. I'm not going to ask any girl to tie her future up in my plans until I feel that I have a fair start in life."
"Army officer's pay is enough for any sensible girl."
"I'm not an Army officer yet."
"Oh, rot! You're going to be! You're half way through West Point now. You're past the harder half, and you stand well enough in your class. You're sure to graduate and get into the Army."
"Greg, within ten days of getting back to West Point I may be injured in some cavalry, or other drill, and become useless for life. A cadet hurt even in the line of duty gets no pension, no retired pay. If he is a wreck, he is merely shipped home for his folks to take care of him. When I graduate, and get my commission in the Army, it will be different. Then I'll have a salary guaranteed me for life; if I am injured, and become useless in the Army, I still have retired pay enough to take care of a family. If I am killed my wife could draw nearly pension enough to support her. All these things belong to the Army officer and his wife. But the cadet has nothing coming to him if he fails, for any reason, to get through."
"Well, cadets don't marry," observed Greg. "They're forbidden to. But a cadet can have things understood with his girl. Then, if he fails to make the Army, or to get something else suitable in life, he can release the girl if she wants to be released."
"But if a girl considers herself as good as engaged to a cadet she lets other good chances go by, and the cadet may never be able to make good," objected Dick.
"It's good of you to be so thoughtful for that fellow Cameron," jibed Greg.
"I'm not thoughtful for him, but for Laura," retorted Prescott staunchly.
"Confound it," growled Greg to himself, "Dick is such a stickler for the girl's rights that he is likely to break her heart. Hanged if I don't try to set Laura straight myself, when I see her! No; I won't either, though. Dick would never forgive me if I butted into his own dearest affairs."
"I know, Greg," Prescott pursued presently, "that some of the fellows do become engaged to, girls while still at the Military Academy. But becoming engaged to marry a girl is a mighty serious thing."
"Then I'm in for it," muttered Holmes soberly. "I'm engaged to the third girl."
"What?" gasped his chum incredulously. "You engaged to three girls?"
"Oh, only one at a time," Greg assured his comrade. "The first two girls, each in turn, asked to be released, after we'd been engaged for a while. So, now, I'm engaged to my third girl."
Holmes spoke seriously, and with evident truth. Dick leaned back, staring curiously at his chum, though he did not ask the latest girl's name.
"At least, I was engaged, at latest accounts," Greg went on, after a few moments. "By the time I reach West Point, just as likely as not, I'll get a letter asking me to consider the matter as past history only."
"Greg, Greg!" muttered Prescott, shaking his head gravely. "I'm afraid you're not very constant.
"I?" retorted Cadet Holmes indignantly. "Dick, you're harboring the wrong idea. It's the girls who are not constant. Though they were all nice little bits of femininity," Greg added reminiscently in a tone of regret.
Late in the afternoon the chums arrived in New York. After putting up at a hotel they had time for dinner and a stroll.
"Somehow, I don't feel very sporty tonight," sighed Cadet Holmes, as they waited, at table, for the evening meal to be served. "Yet, in a week, I suppose I'll be kicking myself. For tomorrow we're due to get back into our gray habits and re-enter the military convent life up the river."
After a late supper and a short night's rest, the two young men found themselves, the morning following, on a steamboat bound up the Hudson River.
"After all these weeks of good times," muttered Greg, "it doesn't seem quite real."
"It will, in a couple of hours," predicted Prescott, smiling. "And, now that home is so far behind, I'm really delighted to think that I'll soon be back in gray old barracks, donning the same old gray uniform."