DICK PRESCOTT'S FOURTH YEAR AT WEST POINT or Ready to Drop the Gray for Shoulder Straps
By H. Irving Hancock
CHAPTERS I. Dick Reports a Brother Cadet II. Jordan Reaches Out for Revenge III. Catching a Man for Breach of "Con." IV. The Class Committee Calls V. The Cadet "Silence" Falls VI. Trying to Explain to the Girls VII. Jordan Meets Disaster VIII. Fate Serves Dick Her Meanest Trick IX. The Class Takes Final Action X. Lieutenant Denton's Straight Talk XI. The News from Franklin Field XII. Ready to Break the Camel's Back XIII. The Figures in the Dark XIV. The Story Carried on the Wind XV. The Class Meeting "Sizzles" XVI. Finding the Baseball Gait XVII. Ready for the Army-Navy Game XVIII. Dan Dalzell's Crabtown Grin XIX. When the Army Fans Winced XX. The Vivid Finish of the Game XXI. A Cloud on Dick's Horizon XXII. Cadet Prescott Commands at Squadron Drill XXIII. A West Pointer's Love Affair XXIV. Conclusion
DICK REPORTS A BROTHER CADET
"Detachment halt!" commanded the engineer officer in charge.
Out on the North Dock at West Point the column of cadets had marched, and now, at the word, came to an abrupt stop.
This detachment, made up of members of the first and third classes in the United States Military Academy, was out on this August forenoon for instruction in actual military engineering.
The task, which must be accomplished in a scant two hours, was to lay a pontoon bridge across an indentation of the Hudson River, this indentation being a few hundred feet across, and representing, in theory, an unfordable river.
Cadet Richard Prescott, now a first classman, and captain of one of the six cadet companies, stepped forward, saluting.
"You will build the bridge today, Mr. Prescott, continued the instructor, Lieutenant Armstrong, Corps of Engineers, United States Army.
"Very good, sir," replied Dick.
With a second salute, which was returned, Prescott turned to divide his command rapidly into smaller detachments.
It was work over which not a moment of time could be lost. All must be done with the greatest possible despatch, and a real bridge was called for—-not a toy affair or a half-way experiment.
"Mr. Holmes," directed Prescott, "you will take charge of the boats. Mr. Jordan, take charge of the balk carriers!"
A balk is a heavy timber, used, in this case, in the construction of the pontoon.
Cadet Jordan, one of the biggest men, physically, in the first class, scowled as he received this order for what was especially arduous duty.
"That's mean of you, Prescott," glowered Jordan.
"If you have any complaints to make, sir, make them to the instructor," return Cadet Captain Prescott, after a swift, astonished look at his classmate.
"You know I can't do that," muttered Cadet Jordan. "But you——-"
"Silence, sir, and attend to your duty!"
Then, raising his voice to one of general command, Prescott called:
"Construct the bridge!"
Jordan fell back, with a surly face and a muttered imprecation, to take command of the squad of yearlings, or third classman who must serve in carrying the heavy balks.
In the meantime Dick's roommate, Greg Holmes, had hurried his squad away to the flat-bottomed, square-ended pontoon boats, placing his crews therein.
Almost instantly, it seemed, Greg had placed the first boat in position.
"Lay the balks!" ordered Dick Prescott.
Cadet Jordan moved forward with some of his yearlings, who carried the heavy balks, or flooring timbers, on their shoulders. It was hot, hard work—-"thankless," as the young men often termed it in private.
These balks were laid across the first pontoon.
As quickly as the balks had been laid the detachment of lashers were at work securing the balks in place.
The first was floated to the mooring stakes and a second boat was moved into position.
Another column of yearlings moved forward, each with a heavy plank on his shoulder. It was heavy, hot, hard and dirty work. Outsiders who imagine that the Military Academy is engaged in turning out "uniformed dudes" should see this work done by the cadets.
Almost with the speed of magic the planks were laid in an orderly manner forming a secure flooring over the balks.
The second boat was anchored, and then a third, a fourth. As the bridge grew Cadet Prescott walked out on the flooring that he might be at the best point for directing the efforts.
As the fifth boat reached its position, Dick turned to see that all was going well.
The yearlings, whose duty it was to carry the balks—-"balk-chasers," they were termed unofficially—-were standing idle, though alert. They could not move until Mr. Jordan, of the first class, gave the order.
And Jordan? With one hand hanging at his side, the other resting against the small of his back, he stood gazing absently out over the Hudson.
"Mr. Jordan!" called Dick, hastening back over the planking.
"Sir!" answered the surly cadet, facing him.
"Hurry up the balks, if you please, sir."
With a scowl, Jordan turned slowly toward the waiting yearlings.
"Lay hold!" commanded Jordan, and, though it was hard work, the yearlings responded willingly. This was what they were here for, and this hard work was all part of the training that was to fit them for command after they were graduated.
"All possible speed, Mr. Jordan!" admonished Prescott, with a tinge of impatience in his voice.
"Lay hold! Raise! Shoulder!" drawled Mr. Jordan, with tantalizing slowness.
The yearling squad, each man feeling the cut of the sharp corners of the heavy balk on his right shoulder, yet, bearing it patiently, awaited the next command.
"Mr. Jordan, this is not a loafing contest," admonished Prescott in a low voice.
"For—-ward!" ordered Jordan with provoking deliberation.
The yearlings under him, made of vastly better material, sprang forward with their balks, laying them in record time across the top of the next pontoon. The lashers then fell upon their work of securing the balks as though they loved labor.
"Chess!" called Dick, remaining on shore this time, and the yearlings with the planks hastened forward, each carrying a plank. Here and there, a lighter cadet staggered somewhat under the plank he was carrying, yet hastened forward to finish his duty of the moment with military speed.
Another pontoon was ready.
"Balks!" called Cadet Prescott. "Balks!"
Jordan got his squad started at last.
Dick glanced swiftly, but in wonder at Lieutenant Armstrong. That Army officer, however, seemed industriously thinking about something else.
"Jordan is truly taking charge of the balks!" muttered Prescott to himself. "He is going to balk me so that I can't get the bridge constructed before recall!"
"Running the balk chasers" is always unpopular work among the cadets. Properly done, this work calls for a great deal of alertness, speed and precision. It is work that takes every moment of the cadet's time and attention, and incessant running in the hot sun. Yet Prescott had, before this, chased the balk carriers, and had not objected. He had taken up that task as he did all others, as part of the day's work, something to be done speedily, well and uncomplainingly.
"What's the matter with you, Mr. Jordan?" asked Dick in an undertone. "Are you sick?"
"Sick of such emigrant's jobs as this!" growled Jordan. "What made you give me——-"
"I can't discuss that with you," replied Cadet Dick Prescott coldly. "I shall be compelled to make it an official matter, however, if you hinder me any more."
"Lay hold! Raise! Shoulder! Forward!" Jordan ran with the squad. "Halt! Lower!"
"I reckon Jordan means to keep really on the job now," murmured Prescott to himself, and returned to the advancing end of the pontoon as it crawled over the little arm of the Hudson.
Two more boats, however, and then Dick sprang sternly ashore.
"Mr. Anstey!" called Prescott, and Anstey, the sweet-tempered Virginian, one of Dick's staunchest friends in the corps of cadets, came quickly up, saluting.
"Mr. Anstey, you will chase the balk carriers," directed Dick. "Please try to make up the time that has been lost. Mr. Jordan, you are relieved from your duty, and will report yourself to the instructor for gross lack of promptness in executing orders!"
There could be no mistaking the quality of the justly aroused temper that lay behind Cadet Prescott's flashing blue eyes.
As for Cadet Jordan, that young man's face went instantly livid. He clenched his fists, while the blackness of a storm was on his features.
"Mr. Prescott," he demanded, "do you realize what you are saying—-what you are doing?"
"You are relieved. You will report yourself to the instructor, sir!" Dick cut in tersely.
Anstey was already chasing the yearling squad out with the balks, and the young men were moving fast.
As for Dick Prescott, he did not favor Mr. Jordan with a further glance or word, but walked with swift step back to the task of which he was in charge.
With face flushed, Mr. Jordan walked over to the instructor, reporting himself as directed.
"Dismissed from to-day's instruction," said the Army officer briefly. "Wait and return with the detachment, however."
So Cadet Jordan, first class, saluted, turned on his heel, sought the nearest shady spot and sat down to wait.
His body idle, the young man had plenty of time to think—-about Cadet Captain Dick Prescott.
"There's nothing to Prescott but swagger and cheap airs," decided Mr. Jordan, idly tossing pebbles. "It's a pity he can't be taken down a peg or two! And now I'm in for demerits before the academic year starts. Probably I shall have to walk punishment tours, too!"
Somehow, Jordan had come along through his more than three years in the corps without attracting much attention.
He had made no strong friends; even Jordan's roommate, Atterbury, felt that he knew the man but slightly.
True, Jordan had not so far been strongly suspected of being morose or surly; he had escaped being ostracized, but he certainly was not popular. If he had made no strong friendships, neither had he so deported himself as to win enmity or even dislike. He was regarded simply as a very taciturn fellow who desired to be let alone, and his apparent wish in this respect was gratified.
Dick Prescott was of an entirely different character. Open, sunny, frank, manly, he was a born leader among men, as he had always been among boys.
Dick was a stickler for duty. He was in training to become an officer of the Regular Army of the United States, and Prescott felt that no man could be a good soldier until the duty habit had become fixed. So, in his earlier years at West Point, Dick had sometimes been unpopular with certain elements among the cadets because he would not greatly depart from what he believed to be his duty as a cadet and a gentleman.
Readers of the High School Boys' Series will recall that Prescott, in his home town of Gridley, had been the head of Dick & Co., a sextette of chums and High School athletes. It was in his High School days that young Prescott had developed the qualities of manliness which the Military Academy at West Point was now rounding off for him.
Readers of the preceding volumes in this series, Dick Prescott's First Year at West Point, Dick Prescott's Second Year at West Point and Dick Prescott's Third Year at West Point, are already familiar with the young man's career as a cadet at the United States Military Academy. Our readers know how hard the fight had been for Dick Prescott, who, in addition to his early struggles to keep his place in scholarship in the corps, had been submitted to the evil work of enemies in the corps. Some of these enemies had been exposed in the end, and forced to leave the Military Academy, but many had been the bitter hours that Prescott had spent under one cloud or another as the result of the wicked work of these enemies.
At last, however, Prescott and his roommate and chum, Greg Holmes, had reached the first class. They had now less than a year to go before they would be graduated and commissioned as officers in the Army.
On reaching first-class dignity, both Dick and Greg had been delighted over their appointment as cadet officers. Prescott was captain of A company and Greg Holmes first lieutenant of the same company.
With Anstey chasing the balk carriers, and all the other squads attending briskly to business, the pontoon was quickly built, so that a roadway extended from shore to shore.
Now came the supreme test as to whether Prescott had done his work well.
In the shade of the nearest trees a team of mules had dozed while the bridge construction was going on. Behind the mules was hitched a loaded wagon belonging to the Engineer Corps.
"Sir," reported Prescott, approaching Lieutenant Armstrong and saluting, "I have the honor to report that the bridge is constructed."
Lieutenant Armstrong returned the salute, next called to an engineer soldier.
"Sir," answered the engineer private, saluting.
"Drive your team over the bridge and back."
Mounting to the seat of his wagon, the soldier obeyed.
Dick Prescott and his mates did not watch this test closely. They were sure enough of the quality of the work that they had done.
Reaching land at the further side of the bridge, the engineer soldier turned his team in a half circle, once more drove upon the bridge and recrossed to the starting point.
"Very well done, Mr. Prescott," nodded the Engineer officer, with a satisfied smile.
"Take down the bridge," ordered Dick, after having saluted the Army instructor.
Working as hard as before, the young men of the third and first classes began to demolish the bridge that they had constructed.
When this had been done, and Dick had officially reported the fact, Lieutenant Armstrong replied:
"Mr. Prescott, you will form your detachment and march back to camp."
"Very good, sir."
Always that same salute with which a man in the Army receives an order.
Some thirty seconds later, the detachment was formed and Dick was marching it back up the inclined road on the way to the summer encampment. By that time, a sergeant and a squad of Engineer privates—-soldiers of the Regular Army—-were busy taking care of the pontoon boats and other bridge material.
Marching his men inside the encampment, Dick halted them.
"Detachment dismissed!" he called out.
There was a quick break for first and third class tents. These young men were in field uniforms—-sombreros, gray flannel shirts, flannel trousers and leggings. Most of them were dripping with perspiration under the hot August sun.
They were all hot and dusty, and their hands stained with tar. Within a very few minutes every man in the detachment must be washed irreproachably clean, without sign of perspiration. They must be in uniforms of immaculate white duck trousers and gray fatigue blouses, wearing cleanly polished shoes, and ready to march to dinner.
A great deal to be accomplished in a few minutes by the average American boy! Yet let one of these cadets be late at dinner formation, without an unquestionably good excuse, and he must pay the penalty in demerits. These demerits, according to their number, bring loss of prized privileges.
Cadet Jordan, having done little, was among the first to be clean and presentable. Immaculate, trim and trig he looked as he stepped from his tent, but on his face lay a scowl that boded ill for his appetite at the coming dinner.
Dick was a master of swift toilets. He was on the company street almost immediately after Jordan had stepped out under the shadow of a tree.
"Prescott," began Jordan stiffly, "I want a word or two with you."
"Yes?" asked Dick, looking keenly at his classmate. "Very good."
"Why did you report me this morning?"
"Because you performed the work in an indolent, laggard manner, even after I had cautioned you."
"Do you consider yourself called upon to be a judge of your classmates?"
"When I am detailed in command over them in any duty—-yes."
"Shall I tell you what I think of you for reporting me?"
"It would be in bad taste, at least," Dick answered. "It is against the regulations for a cadet to call another to account for reporting him officially."
"Oh, bother the regulations!"
"If that is actually your view," replied Dick, with a smile, "then I will leave you to the enjoyment of your discovery concerning the regulations."
"Prescott, you are a prig!" snapped Mr. Jordan.
"If it were necessary to determine that, as a matter of fact," answered Dick coolly, though he flushed somewhat, "I would rather leave it to a decision of the class."
"Oh, I know you have plenty of bootlicks," sneered Jordan. "I also know that you are class president. But that is no reason why you should act as though you thought yourself a bigger man than the President of the United States."
"Jordan, has the sun been affecting your head this forenoon?" demanded Dick, with another keen look at his classmate.
"Well, you do act as though you thought yourself bigger than the President," insisted Jordan sneeringly.
"I am a cadet, not yet capable of being a second lieutenant, in the Army," Dick replied, regaining his coolness. "The President is commander-in-chief of the combined Army and Navy."
"You are utterly puffed up with your own importance," cried Jordan hotly, though in a discreetly low voice. "Prescott, you are——-"
Something in Jordan's eyes warned Dick that a vile insult was coming in an instant.
"Stop!" commanded Prescott, shooting a look full of warning at his classmate. "Jordan, don't say anything that will compel me to knock you down in plain sight of the camp. It's years since such a thing as that has happened at West Point!"
"Oh, you lordly brute!" sneered Jordan, his face alternately white and aflame with unreasoning anger. "Prescott, you had it in for me. That was why you reported me this morning. That was why you put me in line for demerits and punishment tour walking. You are bound to use your little, petty authority to humble and humiliate me. I shall call you out for this!"
"If you do," shot back Dick, "I shall decline to fight you. It would be against regulations and against all the traditions of the corps for me to arbitrate, by a fight, the question of whether I did right to report you."
"You refuse a fight," warned Jordan, with a malicious grin, "and I'll denounce you all through the class!"
"Denounce me, then, if you wish," retorted Dick in cool contempt, "and you'll bring trouble down on your own head instead. No class requires, or permits, a member to fight in defence of his official conduct."
"Prescott is turning coward, then, is he?"
"You or any other man who presumes to say it knows well enough that he is thereby lying," came quickly from between Prescott's teeth.
"Why, hang you, you——-"
"You'd better hush for a moment," warned Prescott. "Here comes the corps adjutant, and I think he is looking for you."
"Yes! With a message of discipline from the O.C. just because I was reported by a toy martinet like you!" retorted Cadet Jordan.
Cadet Filson, corps adjutant, wearing his white gloves, red sash and sword, came up with brisk military stride. He halted before Jordan, while Prescott moved away.
"Mr. Jordan, by order of the commandant of cadets, you will confine yourself to the company street, leaving it only under proper orders. This, for being reported this morning during the tour of engineer instruction. Any further punishment that is to be meted out to you will be published in orders at dress parade this afternoon.
"Very good, sir," replied Cadet Jordan, choking with rage.
Wheeling about, Adjutant Filson strode away again.
The moment he was gone, Jordan, his brow black with fury, stepped over to Prescott.
"So!" he hissed. "The thunderbolt of punishment has fallen, Mr. Prescott. As for you——-"
"Mr. Jordan," broke in Dick coolly, "you are ordered to confine yourself to the company street. At this moment you are outside that limit. You will return immediately to the company street!"
Jordan glared, but he had discretion enough left to obey, for Prescott was speaking now as cadet commander of A company, to which company Mr. Jordan belonged.
"Oh, I'll pay you back for this!" raged the disciplined cadet, trembling as he stepped forward.
By this time, many other cadets were out in the company street. Soon after the loud, snappy tones of the bugle summoned the two battalions to dinner formation.
A little while before Cadet Adjutant Filson had approached Jordan, the commandant of cadets, sitting in his tent over by post number one, had sent for the Engineer instructor of the forenoon.
"Mr. Armstrong," asked the commandant, "how much is there in this report against Mr. Jordan this morning? Does Mr. Jordan deserve severe discipline?"
"In my opinion he does, sir," replied Lieutenant Armstrong. "I had the whole happening under observation, though I pretended not to see it."
"Why did you make such pretence, Mr. Armstrong?"
"Because I was watching to see how a man like Mr. Prescott would conduct himself when in command."
Lieutenant Armstrong then related all of the particulars that he had seen of Jordan's conduct.
"Then I am very glad that Mr. Prescott reported Mr. Jordan," replied the commandant of cadets. "Mr. Jordan is a first classman and should be above any such conduct. We will confine Mr. Jordan to his company street for one week; and on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons during the continuance of the encampment, he shall walk punishment tours."
Then the commandant of cadets had passed the word for Cadet Adjutant Filson, to whom he had entrusted the order that the reader has already seen delivered.
But Jordan, unable to realize that he had proved himself unfit as a soldier found his hatred of Dick Prescott growing with every step of the march that carried the cadet corps to dinner at the cadet mess hall.
"Prescott may feel mighty big and proud now!" growled the disgruntled one. "But will he—-when I get through with him?"
JORDAN REACHES OUT FOR REVENGE
"Hello, there, Stubbs!" called Jordan from the doorway of his tent.
"Oh, that you, Jordan?" called Stubbs.
"Yes; come in, won't you?"
Cadet Stubbs, of the first class, looked slightly surprised, for he had never been an intimate of this particular cadet.
"What's the matter?" asked Stubbs, pushing aside the tent flap and stepping into the tent.
Then, remembering something he had heard, Stubbs continued quickly:
"You're in a little trouble of some kind, aren't you, old man?"
"Oh, I'm in con." growled Mr. Jordan.
"Con." is the brief designation for "confinement."
"Some report this morning, eh?"
"Yes; that dog Prescott sprung a roorback on me. Sit down, won't you?"
"No, thank you," replied Cadet Stubbs more coolly. "Jordan, 'dog' is a pretty extreme word to apply to a brother cadet."
"Oh, are you one of that fellow's admirers?" demanded the man in con.
"I've always been an admirer of manliness," replied Stubbs boldly.
"Then how can you stand for a bootlick?" shot out Jordan angrily.
"I don't stand for a bootlick," replied Cadet Stubbs. "I never did."
"Now, I don't want to play baby," went on Jordan half eagerly. "I'm not resenting, on my own account, what happened to-day. But it was an outrage on general principles, for the affair made a fool of me before a lot of new yearlings. Stubbs, we're first classmen, and we shouldn't be humiliated before yearlings in this manner."
"I wasn't there," replied Stubbs. "I was over at the rifle range, you know."
"Then I'll tell you what happened."
Cadet Jordan began a narration of the scene that had ended in his being relieved from engineering instruction that forenoon. Jordan didn't exactly lie, which is always a dangerous thing for a West Point cadet to do, but he colored his narrative so cleverly as to make it rather plain that Cadet Prescott had acted beyond his real authority.
"Still," argued Stubbs doubtfully, "there must have been some reason. I've known Prescott ever since he entered the Academy, and I never saw anything underhanded in him."
"I wouldn't call it underhanded, either," explained Jordan. "Prescott's manner with me might much better be described as overbearing."
"It would have been underhanded, had he reported you when you were really doing nothing unmilitary or improper," interposed Stubbs quickly.
"Are you trying to defend the fellow?" demanded Jordan swiftly.
"No; Prescott, I think, is always quite ready to attend to his own defence. But I'm astonished, Jordan, at the charge you make against him, and I'm trying to understand it."
"What I object to, more than anything else," insisted Jordan, "was his making a fool of me before new yearlings. That is where I think the greatest grievance lies. First classmen are men of some dignity. We are not to be treated like plebes, especially by any members of our own class who may be dressed in a little brief authority. Sit down, won't you, Stubbs?"
"No, thank you, Jordan. I must be on my way soon."
"But I want to get you and a half a dozen other representative first classmen together," wheedled Jordan. "I think we should all talk this over as a strictly class matter. Then, if I'm convinced that I'm in the wrong, I'm going to stop talking."
Crafty Jordan didn't mean exactly what he said.
He would stop talking, if convinced, but he didn't intend to be convinced. He was after Dick Prescott's scalp. Jordan well knew that, at West Point (and at Annapolis, too, for that matter) class action against a man is severer and more irrevocable than even any action that the authorities of the Military Academy itself can take. He wanted to put Prescott wholly in the wrong in the matter. Class action could, at need, drive Prescott out of the corps and end his connection with the Army. For, if a man be condemned by his class at West Point, the feud is carried over into the Army as long as the offender against class ethics dares try to remain in the service.
At the least, Jordan hoped to stir up class feeling to such an extent that, if Prescott were not actually "cut" by class action, at least his popularity would be greatly dimmed.
"So won't you take part in the meeting?" coaxed Jordan, as Cadet Stubbs moved toward the door.
"I don't believe I will," replied Mr. Stubbs. "I'd feel out of place in such a crowd, for I've always considered myself Prescott's friend."
"Do you place your friendship for Prescott above the dignity and honor of the class?" demanded Jordan.
"I don't believe I'll stay, Jordan, thank you. But I can offer you some advice, if you feel in need of any."
"Yes? Commence firing!"
"Go slow in your grudge against Prescott. Personally, I don't want to see either of you hurt."
"Oh, Prescott won't really be hurt," sneered Jordan. "He told me flatly that he'd decline any calling out that I might attempt."
"You—-you didn't try to call him out, did you?"
"I hinted that I might do so."
"Call him out for reporting you?"
"Oh, I didn't specify what the cause of the challenge would be," returned Jordan airily and with a knowing wink.
"Jordan, old fellow, you don't mean that you'd call a cadet out for reporting you officially? Why, that's against every tenet we have. And if such a challenge came to the ears of the superintendent, or of the commandant of cadets, you'd be fired out of the corps before you'd have time to turn around twice."
"Who'd carry the tale that I did call Prescott out?" retorted Cadet Jordan, with a knowing leer.
"Prescott would, if he were a tenth part of the bootlick that you represent him to be," replied Stubbs.
"Better stay, old man; and I'll call in a few others."
"No, sir," returned Cadet Stubbs, with a shake of his head. "The further I go into this matter the less I like it. I'm on my way, Jordan."
Within half an hour, however, Cadet Jordan had found three members of the first class who were willing to listen to him. The matter was threshed out very fully. Jordan, to his listeners, pooh poohed at the idea that he was "sore" on his own account. He posed, and rather well, as the champion of first-class dignity.
"I think you're on the right track, Jordan," assented Durville rather heartily. Durville was one of the few who had never liked Dick well. Durville had always been one of the "wild" ones, and Prescott's ideas of soldierly duty had grated a good deal on Durville's own beliefs.
"The class won't take severe action, anyway," hinted Tupper. "We might vote to give Prescott a week's 'silence,' but any permanent 'cut' would be out of the question. The man has done too many things to make himself popular."
"Besides," chimed in Brown, "look at the place Prescott holds on the Army football eleven. Why he—-and Holmes, too, of course—-were the pair who saved us from the Navy last November. And we rely upon that pair to a tremendous extent for the successes we expect this coming fall."
Jordan's jaw dropped. In the heat of his anger he had lost sight of the football situation. Prescott and Holmes certainly were the prize players of the Army eleven.
"Well, it might do if the class decided on the 'silence' for Prescott for a week," assented Jordan dubiously.
Then, all of a sudden, he brightened as the thought flashed through his mind:
"If Prescott gets the 'silence,' even for a day, he'll be so furious that he'll do half a dozen fool things that I can provoke him into. Then he'll go so far, in his wrath, that the class will cut him for good and all, and he'll buy his ticket home!"
The more Jordan thought this over, while he pretended to be listening to what his classmates were saying, the surer the cadet plotter felt that he could work his enemy out of the corps within the next week or so.
"Well, I dare say that you fellows are right in advising milder measures," admitted Jordan at last. "Of course, though I try not to let my personal feelings enter into this at all, yet I suppose I can't keep my sense of outraged class dignity wholly untainted by my personal feelings. Besides, the 'silence' for a week will doubtless cover all the needs of the case, and I don't bear the fellow any personal grudge, or I try not to."
"That's a sensible, manly view, Jordan," chimed in Brown, "and it does you credit as a gentleman and a man of honor. Now, you know, it's a fearful thing for a man who has reached the first class to have to drop his Army career at the last moment. So we'll try to bring the majority of the class around to the idea of the week's 'silence.'"
"Now, lest it appear as though I were actuated by personal motives," continued Jordan, "I'll have to stand back and let you fellows do the talking with the other men of the class."
"That's all right," nodded Durville. "We wholly understand the delicacy of your position, and we can attend to it all right. Besides, all we have to do, anyway, is to ascertain how the class feels on the matter."
"Don't let it be lost sight of, though," begged Jordan, almost betraying his over anxiety, "that it is a serious matter of class dignity and honor."
"We won't, old man," promised Durville, as the visitors rose.
As soon as he was alone—-for his tentmate was away on a cavalry drill, Jordan rose, his eyes flashing with triumph.
"Dick Prescott, I believe I have you where I want you! What a rage you'll be in, if you get the 'silence'! 'Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad,'" Jordan went on, under his breath, wholly unaware that he had parodied the meaning of that famous quotation. "You'll rage with anger, Prescott. You'll do the very things that will warrant the class in giving you the long 'cut.'"
The "silence" is a form of rebuke that the cadet corps, once in many years, administers to one of the many Army officers who are stationed over them. When the cadet corps decides to give an officer the "silence," the proceeding is a unique one.
Whenever an officer under this ban approaches a group of cadets they cease talking, and remain silent as long as he is near them. They salute the officer; they make any official communications that may be required, and do so in a faultlessly respectful manner; they answer any questions addressed to them by the officer under ban. But they will not talk, while he is within hearing, on anything except matters of duty.
An officer under the ban of the "silence" may approach a gathering of a hundred or more cadets, all talking animatedly until they perceive his approach. Then, all in an instant, they become mute. The officer may remain in their neighborhood for an hour, yet, save upon an official matter, no cadet will speak until the officer has moved on.
This "silence" may be given an officer for a stated number of days, or it may be made permanent. It has sometimes happened that an officer has been forced to ask a transfer from West Point to some other Army station, simply because he could not endure the "silence."
Very rarely, indeed, the silence is given to a cadet; it is more especially applicable if he be a cadet officer who is in the habit of reporting his fellow classmen for what they may consider insufficient breaches of discipline.
The "cut" or "Coventry" is reserved for the cadet whom it is intended to drive from the Army altogether. If a man at West Point is "sent to Coventry" by the whole corps, or as a result of class action, he will never be able to form friendships in the Army again, no matter how long he remains in the Army, or how hard he tries to fight the sentence down.
Cadet Jordan, as will have been noted, professed to be satisfied if the class voted a week's "silence" to Dick Prescott, for Jordan believed that by this time the tantalized young cadet captain could be provoked into actions that would bring the imposition of the "long silence" of permanent Coventry.
At the end of the busy cadet day, when the two cadet battalions stood in formal array at dress parade, Cadet Adjutant Filson published the day's orders.
One of these orders mentioned Jordan's confinement to the company street, and added the further infliction of "punishment tours" to be walked every Wednesday and Saturday afternoons.
"Oh, well," thought the culprit, savagely, "as I walk I can plan newer and newer things. I'll go into the Army, and you, Prescott, may become a freight clerk on a jerk-water railroad."
Unknown to either Jordan or Prescott at that moment, other storm-clouds were gathering swiftly over the head of the popular young cadet captain.
CATCHING A MAN FOR BREACH OF "CON."
Lieutenant Denton was the tac. who served as O.C. during this tour of twenty-four hours.
A "tac.," as has been explained in earlier volumes, is a Regular Army officer who is on duty in the department of tactics. All of the tacs. are subordinates of the commandant of cadets, the latter officer being in charge of the discipline and tactical training of cadets. Each tac. is, in turn, for a period of twenty-four hours, officer in charge, or "O.C."
During the summer encampment of the cadets, the O.C. occupies a tent at headquarters, and is in command, under the commandant, of the camp.
It was in the evening, immediately after the return of the corps from supper, when Lieutenant Denton had sent for Cadet Captain Prescott.
"Mr. Prescott," began the O.C., "there has been some trouble, lately, as you undoubtedly know, with plebes running the guard after taps. Now, our plebes are men very new to the West Point discipline, and they do not appreciate the seriousness of their conduct. Until the young men have had a little more training, we wish, if possible, to save them from the consequences of their lighter misdeeds. Of course, if a cadet, plebe or otherwise, is actually found outside the guard line after taps, then we cannot excuse his conduct. This is where the ounce of prevention comes in. Mr. Prescott, I wish you would be up and around the camp between taps and midnight to-night. Keep yourself in the background a bit, and see if you can stop any plebes who may be prowling before they have had a chance to get outside the guard lines. If you intercept any plebes while they are still within camp limits, demand of them their reasons for being out of their tents. If the reasons are not entirely satisfactory, turn them over to the cadet officer of the day. Any plebe so stopped and turned over to the cadet officer of the day will be disciplined, of course, but his punishment will be much lighter than if he were actually caught outside the guard lines. You understand your instructions, Mr. Prescott?"
"That is all, Mr. Prescott."
Saluting, Dick turned and left the tent.
"That's just like Lieutenant Denton," thought Dick, as he marched away to his own company street. "Some of the tacs. would just as soon see the plebe caught cold, poor little beast. But Lieutenant Denton can remember the time when he was a cadet here himself, and he wants to see the plebe have as much of the beginner's chance as can be given."
As Dick pushed aside the flap and entered his tent, he beheld his chum and roommate, Greg Holmes, now a cadet lieutenant, carefully transferring himself to his spoony dress uniform.
"Going to the hop to-night, old ramrod?" asked Greg carelessly, though affectionately.
"Not in my line of hike," yawned Prescott. "You know I'm no hopoid."
"Oh, loyal swain!" laughed Greg in mock admiration. "You hop but little oftener than once a year, when Laura comes on from the home town! You throw away nearly all of the pleasures of the waxed floor."
"Even though but once a year, I go as often as I want," Dick answered, with a pleasant smile.
"But see here, ramrod, an officer is expected to be a gentleman, and a fellow can't be an all-around gentleman unless he is at ease with the ladies. What sort of practice do you give yourself?"
"You're dragging a femme to the hop tonight?" queried Dick.
"Yes, sir," admitted Greg promptly.
"Then you're—-pardon me—-you're engaged to the young lady, of course?"
"Engaged to take her to the hop, of course," parried Holmes.
"And engaged to be married to her, as well," insisted Dick.
"Ye-es," admitted Cadet Holmes reluctantly. "Let me see; this is the fourteenth girl you've been engaged to marry, isn't it?"
"No, sir," blurted Greg indignantly. "Miss—-I mean my present betrothed, is only the eighth who has done me the honor."
"Even eight fiancees is going it pretty swiftly for a cadet not yet through West Point," chuckled Dick.
"Well, confound it, it isn't my fault, is it?" grumbled Greg. "I didn't break any of the engagements. The other seven girls broke off with me. On the whole, though, I'm rather obliged to the seven for handing me the mitten, for I'm satisfied that Miss—-I mean, the present young lady—-is the one who is really fitted to make me happy for life."
"I'm almost sorry I'm not going to-night," mused Prescott aloud. "Then I'd see the fortunate young lady."
"Oh, there are no secrets from you, old ramrod," protested Greg good-humoredly. "You know her, anyway, I think—-Miss Steele."
"Captain Steele's daughter?"
"Precisely," nodded Greg.
"Daughter of one of the instructors in drawing?"
"Greg, you're at least practical this time," laughed Dick. "That is, you will be if Miss Steele doesn't follow the example of her predecessors, and break the engagement too soon."
"Practical?" repeated Cadet Holmes. "What are you talking about, old ramrod? Has the heat been too much for you to-day? Practical! Now, what on earth is there that's practical about a love affair?"
"Why, if this engagement lasts long enough, Greg, old fellow, Captain Steele and his wife will simply have to send you an invitation to a Saturday evening dinner at their quarters. And then, in ordinary good nature, they'll have to invite me, also, as your roommate. Greg, do you stop to realize that we've never yet been invited to an officer's house to dinner?"
"And we never would be, if we depended on you," grumbled Greg. "Women are the foundation rock of society, yet you never look at anyone in a petticoat except Laura Bentley, who comes here only once a year, and who may be so tired of coming here that she'll never appear again."
A brief cloud flitted across Dick's face. Seeing it, repentant Greg rattled on:
"Of course you know me well enough, old ramrod, to know that I'm not really reproaching you for being so loyal to Laura, good, sweet girl that she is. But you've miffed a lot, of the girls on the post by your constancy. Why, you could have the younger daughters of a dozen officers' following you, if you'd only look at them."
"The younger daughters of the officers are all in the care of nurse-maids, Greg," Prescott retorted with pretended dignity. "Relieving nurse-maids of their responsibilities is no part of a cadet's training or duty."
"Well, 'be good and you'll be happy'—-but you won't have a good time," laughed Greg, who, having finished his inspection of himself in the tiny glass, was now ready to depart.
"On your way, Holmesy," nodded Dick, glancing at the time. "It's a long walk, even for a cadet, to Captain Steele's quarters."
Greg went away, humming under his breath.
"There's a chap whom care rarely hits," mused Dick, looking half enviously after his chum. "I wonder really if he ever will marry?"
Presently Dick picked up his camp chair and placed it just outside at the door of his tent. It was pleasant to sit there in the semi-gloom.
But presently he began to wonder, a little, that none of the fellows dropped around for a chat, for he was aware that a number of the first classmen were not booked for the hop that night.
From time to time Dick saw a first classman enter or leave the tent of Cadet Jordan.
"He seems unusually popular to-night," thought Prescott, with a smile. "Well, better late than never. Poor Jordan has never been much of a favorite before. I wonder if my reporting him to-day has made the fellows take more notice of him? It is a rare thing, these days, for a first classman to be confined to his company street."
For Prescott the evening became, in fact, so lonely that presently he rose, left the encampment and strolled along the road leading to the West Point Hotel. On other than hop nights, this road was likely to be crowded with couples. That night, however, nearly all of the young ladies at West Point had been favored with invitations to Cullum Hall.
Tattoo was sounding just as Prescott crossed the line at post number one on reentering camp. In half an hour more, it would be taps. At taps, all lights in tents were expected to be out, and the cadets, save those actually on duty, to be in their beds. An exception was made in favor of cadets who had received permission to escort young ladies to the hop. Each cadet who had to return to the hotel, or to officers' quarters with a young lady had received the needed permission, and the time it would take him to go to the young lady's destination and return to camp was listed at the guard tent. Any cadet who took more than the permitted time to escort his partner of the hop to her abiding place would be subject for report.
However, the special duty imposed upon Cadet Prescott for this night related to plebes, and plebes do not go to the hops.
Bringing out his camp chair, Dick sat once more before his tent. Down at Jordan's tent he could still hear the low hum of cadet voices.
"Something is certainly going on there," mused Prescott.
For a moment or two he felt highly curious; then he repressed that feeling.
"Good evening, Prescott."
"Oh, good evening, Stubbs."
Cadet Stubbs came to a brief halt before the cadet captain's tent.
"I have been noticing that Jordan has a good many visitors this evening," Dick remarked.
"All from our class, too, aren't they?" questioned Stubbs.
"Yes. If we were yearlings I should feel sure that they had a plebe or two in there. But first classmen don't haze plebes."
"No; we don't haze plebes," replied Cadet Stubbs with a half sigh, for Prescott was the only first classman at present in camp who did not fully know just what was in progress at Jordan's tent.
But West Point men pride themselves on bearing no tales, so Stubbs repressed the longing to explain to Dick what Jordan was seeking to bring about.
As a matter of fact, though some of the members of the first class were hot-headed enough to accept Jordan's view of the report against him, the class sentiment was considerably against the motion to give Cadet Captain Richard Prescott the silence, even for a week.
However, none came near Prescott to talk it over. That again would be tale-bearing. Dick was not likely to hear of the move unless summoned to present his own defense in the face of class charges.
Nor would Greg be approached on the subject. The accused man's roommate or tentmate is always left out of the discussion.
Taps sounded; almost immediately the lights in the tents went out. Stillness settled over the encampment.
The fact that a single candle remained lighted in Prescott's tent showed that he had permission to run a light. The assumption would be that he was engaged on some official duty, though the fact of running a light did not in any way betray the nature of that duty.
Dick sat inside at first. Then, one by one, the cadets returning from the hop stepped through the company streets. At last Greg Holmes came in.
"Still engaged, Holmesy?" asked Dick, looking up with a quizzical smile.
"Surest thing on the post!" returned Greg, with a radiant smile. He had the look of being a young man very much in love and utterly happy over his good fortune.
"Going to run a light?" asked Holmes, gaping, as he swiftly disrobed.
"Yes; but I'll throw the tin can around so that the blaze won't be in your eyes."
"It won't anyway," retorted Greg, turning down the cover of his bed. "I'll turn my back on the glim."
The "tin can" is a device time-honored among cadets in the summer encampment. It is merely a reflector, made of an old tin can, that increases and concentrates the brilliancy of the candle light. The "tin can" may also be used in such a way as to throw a large part of a tent in semi-darkness.
Two minutes later, Greg's breathing proclaimed the fact that this cadet was sound asleep.
Dick, stifling a yawn—-for it had been a long, hard and busy day—-threw a look of envy toward his chum. Then, in uniform, Prescott stepped out into the company street.
It was a dark, starless night; an ideal night to a plebe who wanted to run the guard and put in some time outside of the camp limits.
Keeping as much in the shadow as he could, Prescott stepped along until he came near one of the sentry lines.
For some time he stood thus, eyes and ears alert, though he lounged in the shadow where he was not likely to be seen.
"It's an off night for plebe mischief, I reckon," he murmured at last. "All the plebes are good little boys to-night, and safely tucked in their cribs."
At last, when it was near midnight, Prescott came out from his place of semi-concealment and stepped over near the guard line.
It was not long ere a yearling sentry, with bayonet fixed and gun resting over his right shoulder, came pacing toward the first classman.
Recognizing a cadet officer, the yearling sentry halted, holding his piece at "present arms."
"Walk your post," Dick directed, after having returned the salute.
Had Prescott been a cadet private the sentry would have questioned him as to his reasons for being out after taps. But with a cadet captain it was different. Though Prescott was not cadet officer of the day, he was privileged to have official reasons for being out without making an accounting to the sentry.
Slowly the yearling sentry paced down to the further end of his post. Then he came back again. Having saluted Prescott recently, he did not pause now, but kept on past the cadet officer standing there in the shadow.
As the sentry's footsteps again sounded softer in the distance, Prescott suddenly became aware of something not far away from him.
It was a little glow of fire, at an elevation of something less than six feet from the ground, over beside a bush.
This glow of fire looked exactly as though it came from a lighted cigar.
If the cigar were held by a civilian, it was a matter that needed looking into.
Cadets, if they wish, may smoke at certain times and within certain limits. But nothing in the regulations permits a cadet to go outside the guard lines after taps to smoke.
Dick Prescott drew further back into the shadow, noiselessly, and kept his eye on the distant glow until he heard the yearling returning.
"Sentry!" called Prescott sharply. The yearling, his piece at port arms, came on the run.
"Investigate that glow yonder," ordered Prescott.
"Very good, sir!"
Prescott and the sentry started together. For an instant the glow wavered, as though the man that was behind the glow meditated taking to his heels.
"Halt!" called the sentry. "Who's there?"
Now the glow disappeared, but cadet captain and sentry were close enough to see the outlines of a figure in cadet uniform.
The figure still moved uncertainly, as though bent on flight. But the sight of two pursuers seemed to change the unknown's mind.
"A cadet," he called, in answer to the sentry's challenge.
The sentry halted.
"Advance, cadet, to be recognized," he commanded.
Prescott came to a halt not far from the sentry.
Slowly, with evident reluctance, the figure moved forward.
"Mr. Jordan!" called Prescott, in considerable amazement.
"Yes, sir," admitted Jordan huskily.
Now, Dick had every reason in the world for not wanting to report this cadet again, but duty is and must be duty, in the Army.
"Mr. Jordan, you are under orders of confinement to the company street," cried Dick sternly.
"And yet you are found outside of camp limits? Have you any explanation to offer, sir?"
"I was nervous, sir," replied Jordan, "and couldn't sleep. So I slipped out past the guard line to enjoy a quieting smoke."
"Smoking causes vastly more nervousness than it ever remedies, Mr. Jordan," replied the young cadet captain. "Have you any additional explanation or excuse for being outside the company street?"
"Then return to your tent, sir."
"I—-I suppose you are going to report this, Mr. Prescott?" asked the other first classman.
"I have no alternative," Dick answered. "You are under confinement to the company street; you have made a breach of confinement, and I am your company commander."
"Very good, sir."
Jordan stiffened up, saluted, then passed on across the guard line, making for the street of A company.
Dick turned back, more slowly, a thoughtful frown gathering on his fine face, while the yearling sentry was muttering to himself:
"Great Caesar, but Prescott surely has put both feet in it. He reports a fellow classman for a little thing like a late smoke, and the man reported will be doomed to go into close arrest! Glad I'm not Prescott!"
It would be untruthful to deny that Dick Prescott was worried; nevertheless, he made his way briskly to the tent of the O.C.
"Jove, what luck!" chuckled Jordan tremulously, as he hastened along the street of A company to his tent. "Of course I'll be in for all sorts of penalties, and I'll have to be mighty good, after this, to keep within safe limits on demerits. But I have Prescott just where I want the insolent puppy! The class, this evening, was much in doubt about giving him the silence. But flow! When he has gone out of his way to catch me in such an innocent little breach of con.! Whew! But my lucky star is surely at the top of the sky to-night."
Cadet Jordan was soon tucked in under his bed cover. He had not fallen asleep, however, when he heard a step coming down the street.
Dick had chanced to find the O.C. still up. In a few words Prescott made his report.
"This is a very serious report against a first classman, Mr. Prescott," said kind-hearted Lieutenant Denton gravely. "It is most unfortunate for Mr. Jordan that he has not a better excuse. You will go to Mr. Jordan's tent, Mr. Prescott, and direct him to remain in his tent, in close arrest, until he hears as to the further disposition of his case by the commandant of cadets."
"Very good, sir," Prescott answered, saluting.
"And then you may go to your own tent and retire, Mr. Prescott. I fancy the plebes have been good to-night."
"Thank you, sir."
With a rather heavy heart, though outwardly betraying no sign, Prescott walked along until he reached Jordan's tent, where he delivered the order from the O.C.
"Did you hear that, old man?" growled Jordan to his tentmate, after the cadet captain had gone.
"Pretty rough!" returned the tentmate sleepily.
Rough? The first class was seething when it received the word next morning, for it was the common belief that Prescott must have shadowed and followed his classmate in order to entrap him.
"It's surely time for class action now," Durville told several of his classmates.
THE CLASS COMMITTEE CALLS
Outwardly A company and the entire corps of cadets was as placid and unruffled as ever when the two battalions marched to breakfast that morning.
One conversant with military procedure, however, would have noted that Jordan, being a prisoner, marched in the line of the file closers.
And Mr. Jordan's face was wholly sulky, strive as he would to banish the look and appear indifferent.
Even to a fellow naturally as unsocial as the cadet now in arrest, it was no joke to be confined to his tent even for the space of a week, except when engaged in official duties; and to be obliged, two afternoons in a week, to march in full equipment and carry his piece, for three hours in the barracks quadrangle under the watchful eyes of a cadet corporal.
This penalty would last during the remaining weeks of the encampment and would be pronounced upon Jordan as soon as the commandant of cadets perfunctorily confirmed the temporary order of Lieutenant Denton.
Dick, at the head of A company, looked as impassive as ever, though he felt far from comfortable.
Through the ranks, wherever first classmen walked, excitement was seething.
When Prescott was seated at table in the cadet mess hall, Greg, who sat next his chum, turned and raised his eyebrows briefly, as though to say:
"There's something warm in the air."
Dick's momentary glance in return as much as said:
"I know it."
None of the other cadets at the same table turned to address Prescott directly, with the single exception of Greg Holmes. True, when Dick had occasion, twice or thrice, to address other men at his table, they answered him, though briefly.
Whatever was in the air it had not broken yet. That was as much as Prescott could guess.
The instant that they had returned to camp, and the two chums were in their tent, Greg whispered fiercely:
"That sulker, Jordan, is putting up trouble for you, as sure as you're alive."
"Then I've given him a bully handle to his weapon," admitted Dick Prescott dryly.
They were hustling into khaki field uniform now, and there was little time for comment; none for Greg to go outside and find out what was really in the air. Battery drill was right ahead of them. Barely were the chums changed to khaki field uniform before the call sounded on the bugle.
On the recall from battery drill, the chums had but a few moments before they were called out for a drill in security and information.
So the time passed until dinner. Again Jordan marched in the line of the file closers, and now this first classman had received his official sentence from the commandant of cadets.
So far as the demeanor of the class toward Prescott was concerned, dinner was an exact repetition of breakfast.
On the return of the corps to camp, a few minutes followed that were officially assigned to recreation.
Dick stood just inside the door of his tent when he heard the tread of several men approaching.
Looking out, he saw seven men of his own class coming up. Durville was at their head.
"Good afternoon, Prescott," began Durville.
"Good afternoon, gentlemen," nodded Dick.
"We represent the class in a little matter," continued Durville, "and I have been asked to be the spokesman. Can you spare us a little time?"
"All the time that I have before the call sounds for my next drill," replied Prescott.
"Mr. Prescott, you reported a member of our class last night," began Durville.
"I did so officially," Dick answered.
"Of course, Mr. Prescott, we understand that. The offender was a member of A company, and you are the cadet captain of that company. But this affair happened at the guard line, and you were not cadet officer of the day. Mr. Jordan feels that you exerted yourself to catch him in his delinquency."
"I did not," replied Prescott promptly. "At the time when I called upon the cadet sentry to apprehend Mr. Jordan, I had not the remotest idea that it was Mr. Jordan."
"Then," asked Durville bluntly, "how did you, who were not the cadet officer of the day, happen to be where you could catch Mr. Jordan so neatly?"
"In that matter I have no explanation to offer," Prescott replied.
One less a stickler for duty than Prescott might have replied that he had been on the spot the night before in obedience to a special order from the officer in charge.
Dick Prescott, however, felt that to make such a statement would be a breach of military faith. The order that he had received from Lieutenant Denton he looked upon as a confidential military order that could not be discussed, except on permission or order from competent military sources.
"Now, Prescott," continued Cadet Durville almost coaxingly, "we don't want to be hard on you, and we don't want to do anything under a misapprehension. Can't you be more explicit?"
"I have already regretted my inability to go further into the matter with you," Dick replied, pleasantly though firmly.
"And you can give us no explanation whatever of how you came to report Jordan for being beyond the camp limits?"
"All I am able to tell you is that my reporting of Mr. Jordan was a regrettable but military necessity."
"Is that all we wish to ask, gentlemen?" inquired Durville, turning to his six companions.
"It ought to be," retorted Brown dryly.
The seven nodded very coldly. Durville turned on his heel, leading the others away.
"Unless I'm a poor kitchen judge, old ramrod, your goose is cooked," muttered Greg Holmes mournfully.
"Then it will have to be," spoke Dick resolutely.
"But you haven't told even me how you came to be, last night, just where you could fall afoul of Jordan so nicely."
"Old chum," cried Dick, turning and resting a hand on Greg's right arm, "I can discuss that matter no further with you than I did with the class committee."
"You're a queer old extremist, anyway, with all your notions of duty and other bugaboos. This affair has given me the shivers."
"Then cheer up, Holmesy!" laughed Cadet Captain Prescott.
"Oh, it's you I'm shivering for," muttered Greg.
THE CADET "SILENCE" FALLS
Six companies of sun-browned, muscular young men marched away to cadet mess hall that evening.
If any of these cadets were more than properly fatigued, none of them betrayed the fact. Their carriage was erect, their step springy and martial. In ranks their faces were impassive, but when they filed into the mess hall, seated themselves at table and glanced about, an orderly Babel broke loose.
At all, that is to say, save one table. That was the table at which Cadet Captain Richard Prescott sat.
Greg was the first to make the discovery. He turned to Brown with a remark. Brown glanced at Holmes, nodding slightly. All the other cadets at that board were eating, their eyes on their plates.
"What's the matter?" quizzed Holmes. "You're ideas moving slowly?"
Again Brown glanced up at his questioner, but that was all.
"How's the cold lamb, Durville?" questioned Dick.
Durville passed the meat without speaking, nor did he look directly at Prescott.
Dick and Greg exchanged swift glances. They understood. The blow had fallen.
The Silence had been given!
Dick felt a hot flush mounting to his temples. The blood there seemed to sting him. Then, as suddenly, he went white, clammy perspiration beading his forehead and temples.
This was the verdict of the class—-of the corps? He had offended the strict traditions and inner regulations of the cadet corps, and was pronounced unfit for association!
That explained the constrained atmosphere at this one table, the one spot in all the big room where silence replaced the merry chatter of mealtime.
"The fellows are mighty unjust!" thought Dick bitterly, as he went on eating mechanically. He no longer knew, really, whether he were eating meat, bread or potato.
That was the first thought of Prescott. But swiftly his view changed. He realized about him, were hundreds of the flower of the young manhood of the United States. These young men were being trained in the ways of justice and honor, and were trying to live up to their ideals.
If such an exceptional, picked body of young men had condemned him—-had sentenced him to bitter retribution—-was it not wholly likely that there was much justice on their side?
"The verdict of so many good and true men must contain much justice," Prescott thought, as he munched mechanically, trying proudly to bide his dismay from watchful eyes. "Then I have offended against manhood, in some way. Yet how? I have obeyed orders and have performed my duties like a soldier. How, then, have I done wrong?"
Once more it seemed indisputable to Prescott that his comrades had wronged him. But once more his own sense of justice triumphed.
"I am not really at fault," he told himself, "nor is the class. The class has acted on the best view of appearances that it could obtain. I was wholly right in obeying the orders that I received from Lieutenant Denton, and equally right in not communicating those orders to a class committee. Nor could I refrain from reporting Mr. Jordan for breach of con. That was my plain duty, more especially as Mr. Jordan is a member of the company that I command. But the appearances have been all against me, and I have refused to explain. The class is hardly to be blamed for condemning me, and I imagine that Mr. Jordan, in accusing me, has not been at all reticent. Probably, too, he has taken no extreme pains to adhere to the exact truth. I do not see how I can get out of the scrape in which I find myself. I wonder if the silence is to be continued until I am forced to resign and give up a career in the Army?"
With such thoughts as these it was hard, indeed, to look and act as though nothing had happened.
But Cadet Jordan, taking eager, covert looks at his enemy from another table, got little satisfaction from anything that he detected in Prescott's face.
"Why, that b.j.(fresh) puppy is quite equal to cheeking his way on through the last year and into the Army!" thought Jordan maliciously. "However, he's done for! No matter if he sticks, he'll never get any joy out of his shoulder straps."
Little could Jordan imagine that Prescott's proud nature would long resist the silence. If this rebuke were to become permanent, then Prescott was not in the least likely to attempt to enter upon his studies at the beginning of they Academic year in September.
And Greg! He didn't waste any time in trying to be just to any one. All his hot blood rose and fomented within him at the bare thought of this terrible indignity put upon that prince of good fellows, Dick Prescott. Holmes felt, in truth, as though he would be glad to fight, in turn, every member of the first class who had voted for the silence.
That practically all the fellows of the first class had voted for the silence, Greg did not for an instant believe. He was well aware that Dick had many staunch friends in the class who would stand out for him in the face of any appearances. But a vote of the majority in favor of the silence would be enough; the rest of the class would be bound by the action of the majority. And all the lower classes would observe and respect any decision of the first class concerning one of its own members.
Not a word did Greg say to Dick. Yet, under the table, Holmes employed one of his knees to give Dick's knee a long, firm pressure that conveyed the hidden message of unfaltering friendship and loyalty.
For the other cadets at the table the silence imposed more or less hardship, since they could utter only the most necessary words. They however, were not objects against whom the silence was directed, and they could endure the absence of conversation with far more indifference than was possible for Prescott.
It was a relief to all at the table, none the less, when the rising order was given. When the corps had marched back to camp, and had been dismissed, Dick Prescott, head erect, and betraying no sign of annoyance, walked naturally into A company's Street, drew out his camp chair and seated himself on it in the open.
Barely had he done so, when Greg arrived. Cadet Holmes, however, did not stop or speak, but hurried on.
"Greg has his hands full," thought Dick. "He's going to investigate. And I'm afraid his hot head will get him into some sort of trouble, too."
The imposition of the silence did not affect Greg in his relations with his tentmate. When a cadet is sent to Coventry, or has the silence "put" on him, his tentmate or roommate may still talk unreservedly with him without fear of incurring class disfavor. To impose the rule of silence on the tentmate or roommate of the rebuked one would be to punish an innocent man along with the guilty one.
Rarely, after all, does the corps err in its judgment when Coventry or the silence is meted out. None the less, in Dick's case a grave mistake had been made.
Time slipped by, and darkness came on, but Greg had not returned.
There was band concert in camp that night. Many cadets of the first and third classes had already gone to meet girls whom they would escort in strolling near the bandstand. Plebes are not expected to escort young ladies to these concerts. The members of the second class were away on the summer furlough, as Dick and Greg had been the summer before.
As the musicians began to tune up at the bandstand, most of the remaining cadets sauntered through the company streets on their way to get close to the music.
All cadets who passed through A company's street became suddenly silent when within ten paces of Dick's tent, and remained silent until ten paces beyond.
Dick's tent being at the head of the street, he was quite near enough to the music. But he was not long in noting that both cadet escorts and cadets without young ladies took pains not to approach too close to where he sat. It was enough to fill him with savage bitterness, though he still strove to be just to his classmates who had been blinded by Cadet Jordan's villainous scheme.
Of a sudden the band struck up its lively opening march. Just at that moment Prescott became aware of the fact that Greg Holmes was lifting out a campstool and was placing it beside him.
"Well," announced Greg, "I've found out all there is behind the silence."
"I took it for granted that was your purpose," Dick responded.
"Aren't you anxious to hear the news, old ramrod?"
"I'm hanged if you look anxious!" muttered Greg, studying his chum's face keenly.
"I fancy I've got to display a good deal of skill in masking my feelings," smiled Dick wearily.
"Oh, I don't know," returned Cadet Holmes hopefully. "It may not turn out to be so bad."
"Then a permanent silence hasn't been imposed?"
"Not yet," replied Greg.
"By which, I suppose, you mean that the length of the silence has not yet been decided upon."
"It hasn't," Greg declared. "It was only after the biggest, swiftest and hardest kind of campaign, in fact, that the class was swung around to the silence. Only a bare majority were wheedled into voting for it. Nearly half of the class stood out for you stubbornly, pointing to your record here as a sufficient answer. And that nearly half are still your warm adherents."
"Yet, of course, they are bound by the majority action?"
"Of course," sighed Greg. "That's the old rule here, isn't it? Well, to sum it up quickly, old ramrod, the silence has been put on you, and that's as far as the decision runs up to date. The class is yet to decide on whether the silence is to be for a week or a month. Of course, a certain element will do all in its power to make the silence a permanent thing. Even if it is made permanent, Dick, you'll stick, won't you?"
"I shall not even try to stick against any permanent silence," replied Prescott slowly.
"I thought you had more fight in you than that," muttered Greg in a tone of astonishment.
"I think I have enough fight," Dick replied with some warmth. "And I honestly believe I have enough in me to make at least a moderately capable officer of the Army. But, Greg, I'm not going to make a stubborn, senseless effort, all through life, to stay among comrades who don't want me, and who will make it plain enough that they do not consider me fit to be of their number. Greg, in such an atmosphere I couldn't bring out the best that is in me. I couldn't make the most of my own life, or do the best by those who are dear to me."
There was an almost imperceptible catch in Dick Prescott's voice. He was thinking of Laura Bentley as the one for whom he had hoped to do all his best things in life.
"I don't know but you're right, old fellow. But it's fearfully hard to decide such a matter off-hand," returned Greg. His own voice broke. For some moments Holmes sat in moody silence.
At last he reached out a hand, resting it on Dick's arm.
"If you get out, old ramrod, it's the outs for me on the same day."
"Oh, that's all right," retorted Cadet Holmes, trying to force a cheery ring into his voice. "If you can't get through and live under the colors, Dick, I don't want to!"
"But Greg, old fellow, you mustn't look at it that way. You have had three years of training here at the nation's expense. It will soon be four. You owe your country some return for this magnificent training."
"How about you, then?" asked Holmes, regarding his friend quizzically.
"Me? I'd stay under the colors, and give up my life for the country and the Army, if my comrades would have it. But if they won't, then it's for the best interests of the service that I get out, Greg."
"Well, talk yourself blind, if it will give you any relief. But post this information up on your inside bulletin board: When you quit the service, old ramrod, it will be 'good-bye' for little Holmesy!"
TRYING TO EXPLAIN TO THE GIRLS
Breakfast, the next morning, was a repetition of what had happened the night before.
At Dick's table the silence was absolute.
Even Captain Reid, cadet commissary, noticed it and understood, in his trip of inspection through mess hall.
The thing that Reid, who was an Army officer, did not know was—-who was the victim? He never guessed Prescott, who was class president, and believed to be one of the tallest of the class idols.
It speaks volumes for the intended justice of the cadets when they will, in time of fancied need, destroy even their idols.
Thus it went on for some days.
Dick performed all of his duties as usual, and as well as usual. Nothing in his demeanor showed how keenly he felt the humiliation that had been put upon him. Only in his failure to attempt any social address of a classmate did he betray his recognition of the silence.
Greg did his best to cheer up his chum. Anstey expressed greatest sorrow and sympathy for his friend Prescott. Holmes promptly reported this conversation to Dick. Other good friends expressed their sorrow to Holmes. In every case he bore the name and the implied message hastily to the young cadet captain.
A few whom Dick had considered his good friends did not thus put themselves on record. Dick thereupon understood that they had acted upon their best information and convictions, and he honored them for being able to put friendship aside in the interests of tradition and corps honor.
The silence had lasted five days when, one evening, a class meeting was called. Though Cadet Prescott was class president, he did not attend, for he knew very well that he was not wanted.
Greg's sense of delicacy told the latter that it was not for him to attend the meeting, either.
The vice president of the class was called to the chair. Then Durville and others made heated addresses in which they declared that Prescott could no longer consistently retain the class presidency.
A motion was made that Prescott be called upon to resign. It was seconded by several first classmen.
Then Anstey, the Virginian, claimed the floor in behalf of the humiliated class president. The blood of Virginian orators flowed in Anstey's veins, nor did he discredit his ancestry.
In an impassioned yet deliberate and logical speech Anstey declared that great injustice had been done Cadet Richard Prescott, and by the members of his own class.
"Every man within reach of my voice knows Mr. Prescott's record," declared the Virginian warmly. "When we were plebes, who stood up most staunchly as our class champion? Why, suh, why did we choose Mr. Prescott as our class president? Was it not because we believed, with all our hearts, that in Richard Prescott lay all the best elements of noble, upright and manly cadethood? Do you remember, suh, and fellow classmen, the wild enthusiasm that prevailed when we, by our suffrages, had declared Mr. Prescott to be our ideal of the man to lead the class in all the paths of honor?"
Anstey paused for an instant. Then, lowering his voice somewhat, he continued, with scathing irony:
"And now you give this best man of our class the silence, and seek to remove him from the presidency of the class!"
"It's a shame!" roared another cadet.
There were cheers.
"It is a shame," cried Anstey in a ringing voice. "And now you seek to deepen the shame by further degrading Prescott, who has always been the champion of our class. Mr. President, I move that we lay the motion on the table indefinitely. As soon as that has been done I shall make another motion, that we remove the silence from the grand, good fellow who has had it put upon him."
There were others, however, with nearly Anstey's gift for oratory. One of them now took the floor, pointing out that the class would not have rebuked Prescott for having reported Jordan in the tour of pontoon bridge construction.
"That may have been justified," continued the speaker. "But, afterwards, Mr. Jordan and Mr. Prescott had words. There must have been some bitterness in that. That same night Mr. Jordan was caught and reported by Mr. Prescott, who was not cadet officer of the day, and who therefore must have deliberately shadowed Mr. Jordan in order to catch him."
"Prescott did not shadow Mr. Jordan, or do anything of a sneaky nature," shouted Anstey.
"He refused to explain to our class committee how he happened to be on band at just the time to catch Jordan," shouted Durville.
"Then be assured he had a good military, a good soldierly, a good manly reason for his silence," clamored Anstey.
The meeting was an excited one from all points of view. In the end the best that the staunch friends of Dick could secure was that action on the resignation of the class presidency be deferred until a cooler hour, but that the silence be continued for the present.
And so the meeting broke up. Jordan had been dismayed, fearing that Anstey's impassioned speech might result in putting his enemy back into greater popularity than ever.
But now Jordan was reassured. He was satisfied that things were still moving in his direction, and that Prescott's proud spirit would soon lead him into some action that must make the breach with the class wider than ever.
At noon the next day Prescott returned from the second drill of the forenoon. In his absence a mail orderly had been around. An envelope lay on the table addressed to Dick.
"From Laura," he exclaimed in delight.
"That'll cheer you some," smiled Greg.
"Why it's postmarked from New York," continued Dick swiftly. "Whew! She must be headed this way!"
Hurriedly Prescott tore the envelope open.
"It couldn't have happened at a worse time," he muttered, turning white.
"Laura, Mrs. Bentley and Belle Meade are in New York, and will reach here this afternoon. Laura says they have learned that there is a hop on to-night, and they are bringing their prettiest frocks."
"Whew! That is a facer!" breathed Greg in perplexity.
"Of course I can't take Laura to the hop."
"You can, if you have the nerve," insisted Greg.
"And I have the nerve!" retorted Dick defiantly. "But how about Laura? She would discover, within a few minutes, that I am on strained terms with the other fellows. That would do worse than spoil her evening."
"Well," demanded Greg thoughtfully, "why do you need to take her to the hop?"
"Because she says that's what the girls have come for."
"Bother! Do you suppose it's you, or the hop, that Laura comes for?"
But Dick, instead of being cheered by this view, turned very white.
"I've got to tell her," he muttered hoarsely, "that I'm in eclipse. That the fellows have voted that I am not a fit associate for gentlemen."
"And I'll tell her a heap more," retorted Cadet Holmes. "Dick, do you think either of the girls would go back on you, just because a lot of raw, half-baked cadets have got you sized up wrong? Is that all the faith you have in your friends? And, especially, such a friend as Laura Bentley? Was that the way she acted when you were under charges of cribbing? You were in disgrace, then, weren't you? Did Laura look at you with anything but sympathy in her eyes?"
"No; heaven bless her!"
"Now, see here, Dick. If the girls are up here this evening, we won't take 'em to the hop. Instead, we'll sit out on the north porch at the hotel, with Mrs. Bentley near by. We'll have such a good old talk with the girls as we never could have at a hop."
"Everything in life would be easy, Greg, if you could explain it away," laughed Dick Prescott, but his tone was bitter.
"Well, as you can't take the girls to the hop, with any regard for their comfort, my plan is best of all, isn't it?"
"I—-I suppose so."
"So make the best of it, old ramrod. There's nothing so bad that it couldn't be a lot worse."
There was a long tour of work with the field battery guns that afternoon. For once Prescott found his mind entirely off his work. Nor could he rally his senses to his work. He got a low marking, indeed, in the instructor's record for that afternoon's work.
Then, hot, dusty and tired, this detachment of cadets came in from work.
In the visitors' seats, near headquarters, Dick and Greg espied Mrs. Bentley and the girls. How lovely the two latter looked!
The instant that ranks were broken Laura. and Belle were on their feet, glancing eagerly in the direction of their cadets. Dick and Greg had to go over, doff their campaign hats and shake hands with Mrs. Bentley and the girls.
"We've given you a surprise, this time," laughed Laura. "I hope you're pleased."
"Can you doubt it?" asked Dick so absently, so reluctantly, that Laura Bentley shot a swift, uneasy look at the handsome young cadet captain.
"You don't seem over delighted," broke in Belle Meade. "Gracious! I hope we haven't been indiscreet in coming almost unannounced? See here, you haven't invited any other girls to to-night's hop, have you?"
Both girls, flushed and rather uneasy looking, were now eyeing the two ill-at-ease young first classmen.
"No; we haven't invited anyone else. But there's something to be explained," replied Dick lamely. "Greg, you explain, won't you? And you'll all excuse me, won't you, while I hurry away to tog for dress parade?"
Laura's face was almost as white as Dick's had been at noon, as she gazed after the receding Prescott.
Then Greg, in his bluntest way, tried to put it all straight, and quickly, at that.
"Oh, is that all?" asked Belle with a sniff of contempt. "Why couldn't Dick remain and tell us himself? You cadets are certainly cowards in some things—-sometimes!"
But the tears were struggling for a front place in Laura's fine eyes.
"Is this 'silence' going to affect Dick very much in his career in the Army?" she asked with emotion.
"Not if his staunchest friends can prevent it," replied Greg almost fiercely. "And old ramrod has a host of friends in his class, at that."
"It's too bad they're not in the majority, then," murmured Miss Meade.
"They will be, in the end," asserted Greg. "We're working things around to that point. You should have heard the fierce row we put up at the class meeting last night."
When it was too late Greg could have bitten his tongue.
"Class meeting?" asked Laura. "Then has there been further action taken?"
Greg nodded, biting his lips.
"What was last night's meeting held for?" persisted Laura.
"To try to oust Dick from the class presidency," confessed Cadet Holmes.
"Did they do it?" quivered Laura Bentley.
"Ah! Then the attempt was defeated. Dick is to retain the presidency of his class?"
"Action was deferred," replied Greg in a low voice.
He wished with all his heart he could get away, for he saw that, no matter how he tried to hedge the facts about, these keen-witted girls realized that Dick Prescott's plight was about as black as it could be for a young man who wanted, with all his soul, to remain in the military service of his country.
JORDAN MEETS DISASTER
Belle, with her combination of impulsive temperament, good judgment and bluntness, came to the temporary rescue.
"Greg is trying to conceal the fact that he'll have a desperate rush to get into his dress uniform in time for parade," Miss Meade interposed. "Anyway, there's far more about this matter than we can understand in a moment. Greg, you and Dick can call on us at the hotel this evening, can't you?"
"We most surely can."
"Then come, as early as you can. We'll eat the earliest dinner we can get there, and be prepared for a long evening. Now, hurry to your tent, for I don't want to see you reported for being late at formation."
Between her visits to West Point, and her trips to Annapolis to see Dave Darrin, as related in the Annapolis Series, Belle had by this time a very considerable knowledge of formations, and of other incidents in the lives of Army and Navy cadets.
"This evening, then," replied Greg, shifting his campaign hat to the other hand and feeling like a man who has secured a reprieve.
"And give my love to Dick," Belle went on hastily, "and tell him that the President of the United States couldn't, if he wanted to, change our opinion of dear old Dick in the least."
"Thank you," bowed Greg, gratitude welling up in his heart.
"And you send him your love, don't you, Laura?" insisted Belle swiftly.
Laura recoiled quickly, flushing violently.
It was all right for Belle Meade to send her "love" to Prescott, for they were old friends, and Belle was known to be Dave Darrin's loyal sweetheart.
With Laura the situation was painfully different. She and Dick had been schoolboy and schoolgirl sweethearts, after a fashion, but Dick had never openly declared his love for her.
Would he misunderstand, and think her unwomanly?
She trembled with the sudden doubt at the thought.
Besides, another, a prosperous young merchant back in Gridley, had been ardent in his attentions to Miss Bentley.
"Of course Laura sends her love," broke in Greg promptly. "Who wouldn't, when the dear old fellow is in such a scrape? And I'll deliver the message of love from you both—-and from Mrs. Bentley, too?"
Greg looked inquiringly, but expectantly at Laura's mother, who nodded and smiled in ready sympathy.
Then Greg made his best soldier's bow and hastened off to his chum, whose heart he succeeded in gladdening somewhat while the two made all haste to get ready for parade call.
When the corps marched on to the field that afternoon, Mrs. Bentley and the girls were there among the eager spectators. Dick saw them almost instantly, and his heart bounded within him. It was Laura's mute message of sympathy and hope to him! He held up his head higher, if that were possible, and went through every movement with even more than his usual precision.
As the corps was marching off the field again, however, Dick's heart sank rapidly within him.
"If I have to leave the Army, I can never ask Laura for her love," he groaned wretchedly. "If I go from West Point as anything but a graduate and an officer, I shall have to start life all over again. It will take me years to find my place and get solidly on my feet I could never ask a girl to wait as long as that!"
In the early evening Laura, Belle and Mrs. Bentley were on the veranda near the hotel entrance. Cadets Jordan and Douglass made their appearance. Jordan had obtained official permission to present Douglass to his sister, who was to go to the hop that evening.
"By Jove, there's a spoony femme (pretty girl) over there," breathed Jordan in Douglass' ear. "You don't happen to know her, do you?"
"Why, yes, that's Miss Bentley, and the other is Miss Meade. The chaperon is Miss Bentley's mother," replied Cadet Douglass.
"You know them?" throbbed Jordan, his eyes resting eagerly on Laura's face. "What luck! Present me, old chap!"
So Douglass, who, in some respects, had a bad memory, piloted his classmate over to the ladies and halted.
"Good evening, ladies," greeted Douglass, raising his uniform cap in his most polished manner. "Mrs. Bentley, Miss Bentley, Miss Meade, will you permit me to present my friend and classmate Mr. Jordan?"
Belle, who was nearest, bowed and held out her hand.
But Laura drew herself up haughtily. "Mr. Douglass," she answered coldly, "my apologies to you, but I don't wish to know—-Mr. Jordan!"
Belle caught the name again, and remembered.
"Oh!" she cried, snatching her hand away ere Jordan could touch it.
"I'm sorry, ladies," stammered Douglass. But they found themselves confronted by rear views of two shapely pairs of young shoulders, while Mrs. Bentley had the air of looking through the young men without being able to see either.
Two very much disconcerted cadets, and very red in the face, stiffly resumed their caps and marched away.
"Great Scott, what did that mean?" gasped Jordan, struck all in a heap by his strange reception.
Cadet Douglass gasped.
"Jordan," he exclaimed contritely, "I'm the greatest ass in the corps!"
"You must be!" exploded Dick's enemy. "But what was the cause of it all?"
"Why, Jordan, you—-you see——-"
"Who is Miss Bentley?"
"Jordan, she's Prescott's girl!"
"What?" gasped the other cadet, staring at his classmate.
"Jove, a puppy like Prescott has no business with a superb girl like that."
"All the same, Jordan, the fact will prevent you from knowing her."
"Now, I'm not so sure of that!" cried Jordan suddenly, with strange fire in his eyes.
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, nothing," mumbled Jordan, suddenly recovering himself.
Then, under his breath, he chuckled gleefully:
"Miss Bentley is just struck on the uniform, of course. A girl like that couldn't care for a misfit like Prescott. Well, he won't be in the uniform much longer. I won't lose sight of Miss Bentley. I'll find her again when Prescott is out of the uniform for good!"
Now, aloud, he asked:
"Doug, do you happen to remember Miss Bentley's first name?"
"Larry," answered Cadet Douglass absently.
"Stop that!" cried Jordan almost fiercely.
"Oh, a thousand pardons, Jordan. I'm so rattled I don't know what I'm doing or saying. The girl's first name is Laura. Peach, isn't she?"
"Laura! That's a sweet name," murmured Jordan to himself. His mind was now running riot, not only with plans to drive Dick Prescott out of the Army, but also to win the heart of Laura Bentley.
"Hold on, Jord," begged Douglass, halting and leaning against a post in the veranda structure. "Don't take me to your sister just yet. Let me get my breath, my nerves, my wits back again."
"Take an hour," advised Jordan laconically. "You need it. Didn't you know Miss Bentley was Prescott's girl?"
"Yes; but it had slipped my memory. It's mighty hard, when you come to think of it, to remember the girls of so many hundreds of fellows," explained Cadet Douglass plaintively.
Ten minutes later Dick and Greg appeared, greeting the ladies. Mrs. Bentley assented to their going around to the north side of the porch, whence they could look up the river to the lights of Newburgh.
"We very nearly had an adventure, Dick," laughed Belle.
"We very nearly shook hands with Mr. Jordan. It was Laura's quick cry that saved me, just in the nick of time, from touching hands with the fellow."