Each day one of these "tac.s" is in charge at the office of the commandant, which is in cadet headquarter's building, on the south side of the area of cadet barracks.
This officer, who is in charge for a full period of twenty-four hours, when his turn comes, is officially designated as the "officer in charge." Among the cadets he is privately referred to as the "O.C." In a similar way, in cadet parlance, the commandant himself is known as the "K.C."
Now, one of the numerous duties of the O.C., who is an Army officer and himself a graduate of West Point, is to make sudden, unexpected tours of inspection whenever the fancy—or the suspicion—seizes him.
Such an inspection need by no means extend through the whole of cadet barracks. It may, for that matter, be only to one subdivision, or even to a single floor or room of one subdivision. Yet record must be kept of such inspections, and of any offenses against discipline that may be discovered by such a flying visit.
A scrap of paper on the floor, a match end on a study table, any article of furniture or clothing out of its proper place, or any undress or untidiness on the part of a cadet, constitutes a breach of discipline, and must be reported and atoned for. Naturally, a case of hazing would be a most serious "delinquency," as breaches of discipline are termed.
Just what Captain Vesey, O.C., on this day, expected to discover through the present flying inspection will never be known. If he had tried Dick's door first. [Transcriber's note: missing text?]
But he didn't.
However, there was no chance whatever for Yearlings Pratt and Judson to retreat unseen. The door across the hall had been left open, and the tac. would be sure to detect their sudden departure.
Dick Prescott's first movement was to pounce upon his disordered bedding, swiftly folding over the mattress, and laying the bed clothing in the prescribed manner.
Then he tiptoed up to the dismayed Judson, whispering in that yearling's ear as he knowingly winked at Pratt:
"If I'm not too abominably b.j., sir, won't you please come to my table and help me bone math?"
It looked like a saving inspiration. As Dick slipped into his chair he signed to Bert Dodge to stand at one end of the table. Judson snatched up one of Dick's mathematical textbooks, opening to one of the first pages at random. Dick turned sideways in his chair, glancing up at the yearling with a rapt expression.
Yearling Pratt slipped into Greg's chair. Holmes and Anstey stood on either side of him. Pratt began rapidly to sketch out a problem that he chanced to remember from plebe year math.
Almost instantly the door swung open. Not one of the cadets happened to be looking in that direction. As Captain Vesey, the tac., white-gloved, stepped into the room he was just in time to hear Cadet Judson say:
"Perhaps if you were to work out a formula in algebra, mister, you would find the idea even more clear. But I think you understand it now."
"Yes, sir, thank you," replied Cadet Prescott.
"This is the way I would explain the problem," murmured Mr. Pratt, to Greg and Anstey. Just at that instant the yearling looked as though butter couldn't melt in his mouth.
Turning a bit, Pratt caught sight of the tac., who stood looking on as though transformed with wonder.
"Attention!" called Pratt at once.
All the others wheeled, Dick rising in order to do so. Six young men who looked intensely earnest over study, faced the O.C. respectfully.
Doubtless a bit taken back, certainly so if he had expected to find anything wrong, Captain Vesey took two steps into the room, glanced about him, then wheeled and walked out.
"I must be going now," uttered Yearling Judson a moment later. "Call on me again, once in a while, if you need any help in math."
"Thank you very much, sir," murmured Cadet Prescott respectfully.
"Coming along now, Pratt?" called Judson.
"Yes; I must be getting back to my own bone," replied Yearling Pratt.
It would have been out of the question for yearlings to thank plebes for a service such as had just been rendered. So the late hazers merely stepped from the room.
"Odd! Mighty queer!" muttered Captain Vesey to himself, as he unhooked his sword and stood it in a corner over in the O.C.'s office. "Mr. Judson and Mr. Pratt have a pretty bad reputation for hazing. And yet, when I come upon them, it is to find them helping the poor young greenhorns through the mazes of math. I wonder if that was a put-up job on me."
"Well you are a silly ninny, Prescott!" uttered Cadet Dodge disgustedly.
"Meaning—what?" asked Dick coolly.
"Those yearlings were just about caught redhanded."
"And you had to go to work and arrange amateur dramatics like a flash. So when the tac. pops in here, he finds those most estimable young ruffians conducting an innocent day school here!"
"Well?" demanded Prescott.
"Why didn't you leave it for that yearling couple to pull their own chestnuts out of the fire?"
"Because," replied Dick quietly, "I'm not going to be the means, if I can help it of having any man kicked out of this corps when he's as anxious to be a soldier as I am!"
"You're a ninny, just the same!" Bert decided.
"And you're a hopeless minority here, Dodge, so come along back to our room," broke in Anstey. "We've some boning of our own to do before the call sounds for supper formation."
Before the battalion of cadets marched to supper, through the heavy storm that night, the news of Dick Prescott's inspiration had traveled pretty firmly through the yearling class.
It is against all West Point traditions to make a hero of a plebe. Not a word of congratulation came to Cadet Prescott. It wouldn't even save the young man from being the victim of a lot of hazing pranks, for these inflictions were deemed necessary to the plebe's training. None the less, the incident, as it became known, caused the impression to spread that Cadet Prescott was a good fellow and that he was likely to prove a credit to the grand old United States Military Academy.
Hazing a thing of the past at West Point! The War Department and the authorities at the Military Academy have done all they could, and will continue to do all in their power to stamp out hazing.
Since the Congressional investigation in the early years of the present century, much has been done to cut down the rigor of hazing at West Point. General Mills stamped out much of it with iron vigor. Colonel Scott dealt many hard blows to the system. Other officers have bent their energies to the same problems. The way of the hazer is perilous nowadays. In a word, of late years hazing has been at a very low level at the United States Military Academy.
It is, however, a practical impossibility to stamp out hazing wholly in an institution where hazing has been one of the most cherished traditions through many generations of cadets.
The hazing of today is milder; there is less of it, and, with rare exceptions, it is less brutal. Yet hazing, in one form or another, will doubtless continue at West Point through the twentieth century as it did through the nineteenth.
The form of hazing has changed, if not the spirit. Sorely pressed by tac.s, and by other officers stationed at West Point, the yearlings, or second-year men, who do most of the hazing, have developed new forms of the ancient sport, and some of these forms may be carried on in actual sight of an Army officer without exciting his suspicions.
Where possible, some of the old-style forms of more innocent and purely mischievous hazing are retained. Where "necessary" new hazes are employed that are bound to tax the best efforts of disciplinary or other officers to detect.
Hazing is one of the diversions of men of mature age on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Even in the United States Senate there are recognized ways of hazing a new Senator who displays too little reverence for the traditions of that august body.
Then why hope to abolish hazing utterly at West Point?
DICK BONES TROUBLE
As May drew on towards June there was, among the yearlings, a noticeable falling off of interest in hazing. Every second-year man in the corps found himself much more interested in his standing in his studies than formerly.
Several of the yearlings had reason to feel acutely concerned over their standing in academic work. That some of them would be "found" and dropped from the corps on account of their deficiencies was almost a foregone conclusion.
So the warm nights of May found anxious young men in all the classes boning up to within a few minutes of the sound of taps.
Least anxious of all the cadets were the scores of new plebes. They had been required to report in March mainly that they might acquire the proper West Point habits of study and recitation before going into the summer encampment. Hence these new plebes were not to be treated very searchingly in the academic work.
One afternoon Greg, who had felt half ailing for twenty-four hours, went on sick report and walked to the hospital to consult the medical officer in charge.
Captain Goodwin looked Greg over and ordered him to remain at hospital that night for observation and treatment, declaring that the young plebe would doubtless be all right by morning.
Cadet Prescott was alone in their room, boning hard, at about nine that evening, when a member of the cadet guard informed him that he was wanted by the O.C. It was only to make an explanation of something trivial that had occurred that afternoon.
As Dick rose, placing his desk in order, he decided to turn off the gas during his absence. This he did, then left the room.
Crossing the area he climbed the stairs to the office of the O.C. Pausing at the threshold, he saluted, then was bidden to enter.
Dick's report was quickly made. He was then permitted to return to quarters.
As Cadet Prescott threw open his door the room was in darkness, hardly any light entering from the hallway.
As Dick stepped into the room he was startled to see a dimly defined figure bending over his cot.
In the poor light it seemed to Prescott that the intruder wore the attire of a "cit."
Now, no civilian had any right in the room, nor in cadet barracks, for that matter. Prescott's first swift conclusion was that some scoundrel was there for wholly improper purposes.
"You rascal, I've got you!" exclaimed the plebe, crossing the room almost in a single bound.
Swift as a flash Dick laid hands on the intruder, dragged him back from the cot, wheeled him around and let drive a blow from the shoulder that caught the prowler on the nose and sent him to the floor.
"Let up, you b.j. plebe!" came a roar of smothered rage.
The body had fallen nearer the door, where the light from outside was stronger.
Dick noted, with a thrill of dismay, that the other was attired not in "cit." dress, but in the cadet gray.
"Hold on a minute," begged Prescott.
Striking a match he turned on the gas. As the light flamed up Dick saw Cadet Corporal Spurlock standing before him, quivering with rage.
"You b.j. plebe!" snarled Mr. Spurlock. "I'll take this out of you!"
"Certainly," replied Dick promptly. "But, first of all, I want to assure you that I didn't see the uniform. I thought I had discovered a cit. in here, and I knew no cit. could be here on any honest business."
"Bosh!" growled Spurlock, who was holding a handkerchief to a nose that was bleeding freely.
Cadet Prescott drew himself up, his eyes flashing.
"Pardon me, sir," returned Dick. "But you know, as well as I, sir, that a lie is impossible to a cadet."
It was a hard report to get around that a cadet had told a lie. At times cadets have been known to lie, but invariably, after detection, they have been "cut" and forced out of the corps. So lying is a rare occurrence, indeed, among the cadets.
"I'll make you settle for this, anyway," sputtered Cadet Corporal Spurlock.
"Very good, sir," Dick answered resolutely.
"You'll settle at once, too, mister, or as soon as I've stopped this flow."
"Very good, sir," Dick answered again. "But if I'm not too b.j., sir, in talking at all, I'll call your attention to that clock. There is just time for you to reach your quarters before taps sound."
Spurlock glanced hastily at the clock.
"You're right, mister," he admitted. "Then you may wait until you hear from me, mister."
With that Spurlock walked quickly from the room.
Dick examined his cot and found that Spurlock had been engaged in the humorous trick of placing some two score exploded caps from target-rifle ammunition under his under sheet.
"He wanted me to jump into bed and go down plump on all those caps, and then squirm there until after taps inspection," grinned Prescott as he swiftly removed the stuff. "It would have been a tough one, too—but now I guess I have a tougher proposition on my hands."
Prescott sighed a trifle as he hastily undressed, placing his clothing according to the regulations on the subject.
Just as he had finished taps sounded on the drum outside. Dick turned off his gas, bounded into bed and lay there as the door opened and the bull's-eye lantern of the subdivision inspector flashed into the room.
"All right here, sir, or accounted for," Dick remarked to the inspector, who hastily closed the door and hurried along on his rounds.
True to the medical officer's promise Greg was discharged from hospital the following morning, and permitted to report back to full duty.
"What's this I hear, Dick, old ramrod?" Greg demanded as soon as the chums were back in quarters from breakfast. "The news is flying around fast that Mr. Spurlock is going to call you out."
"I expect that he is," Dick admitted ruefully, and then told his chum all the details of the occurrence of the night before.
"Why, that doesn't strike me as fair excuse for a fight," Greg muttered. "You explained and apologized."
"Mr. Spurlock wouldn't accept any apology."
"Just the same," argued Greg, "I don't believe you have to fight, in this case. You can refuse, anyway, until the matter has been examined into by the scrap committee of the yearling class. Now, in view of the fact that you offered explanation and apology, I don't believe that the yearling scrap committee can hold you to any meeting with Mr. Spurlock this time. Let me handle this affair for you, old ramrod."
"Greg," rejoined Dick, laying an affectionate hand on his roommate's shoulder, "as long as I'm a new plebe I don't intend to try to dig out of any fight that an upper class man demands from me. Perhaps I could get the scrap committee to turn down Mr. Spurlock's desire—but I don't mean to do anything of the sort. I did all that I felt I could do consistently to stop the fight. Now it has got to come off, or else it will be because Mr. Spurlock has become more reasonable."
"He'll eat you up, that big fellow," mused Greg bitterly. "Mr. Spurlock is at least fifteen pounds heavier than you. He has had a year more of West Point gym work than you've had and he has the reputation of being pretty nearly the yearling champion in the ring."
"Of course I shall be thrashed," admitted Dick doggedly. "However, that probably won't do me any permanent harm. Besides, Greg, it's certain that I'll have to fight some yearling sooner or later, so I may as well take the dose now. Every plebe, I reckon, has to have one fight, anyway, with a yearling. It's a part of the system here, from all I can hear."
Rap-tap sounded at the door.
"Come in," called Dick, but the door opened just as he was calling. Mr. Kramer, of the yearling class, stepped inside.
"Mr. Spurlock requests me to inform Mr. Prescott that he demands a fight, at as early a moment as possible."
"My compliments to Mr. Spurlock, and I will meet him—here in barracks, to-night, I hope. Mr. Holmes has consented to act as one of my seconds."
"Very good, sir," nodded Yearling Kramer stiffly. "Mr. Holmes, will you step out and discuss the matter with me now?"
"Yes, sir," responded Greg. He was gone ten minutes. When he returned Greg announced:
"There's an extra room on the top floor of the next subdivision. The fight will take place there at nine to-night. Mr. Anstey has agreed to help look after your interests."
"All right, and thank you, old fellow," nodded Dick, as he turned to pick up a book.
Greg gulped and quivered behind his chum's back.
"He doesn't seem excited, but I know that I am," muttered Cadet Holmes. "The dear old fellow won't lose anything through nervousness, anyway."
Dick went through his studies and recitations as usual that day. If the stiff ordeal of the coming night carried any twinges for him, it wasn't noticeable in his demeanor. Yet Dick knew that the news had gotten thoroughly about among the cadets. He saw many of the new plebes gazing at him wonderingly.
When they returned from supper that night and reached their room, Greg was manifestly nervous—nervous enough for the pair of them, in fact.
"Dick, do you—do you expect to win?" asked Greg at last.
"Against a man like Mr. Spurlock?" smiled Cadet Prescott, and turned back to his study.
At a little after half past eight Mr. Anstey knocked on the door and came in.
"How's your form, Prescott, old ramrod?" the Virginian demanded.
"Fine, I hope," replied Dick laconically.
Greg heaved an inward sigh.
"Poor old Dick," he told himself. "I hate to see him hammered black and blue in a bare-knuckles fight like this one!"
PLEBE PRESCOTT'S FIRST FIGHT
"We'd better get on hand early," advised Greg. "You want to take plenty of time about stripping for the fight. It would be throwing some of your chances away, Dick, for you to strip and prepare hurriedly, and step into the ring all flustered."
"You think I'm going to lose, don't you, Greg?" demanded Prescott grimly.
"Oh, I hope not," protested Cadet Holmes staunchly.
"But you think so, just the same," smiled Dick. "Now, Greg, do you remember the old Gridley High School spirit? Do you remember that our coaches told us to enter every battle on gridiron or diamond with the firm conviction that we couldn't be beaten? That's the old Grid. spirit that has been stealing over me the last few hours."
"It's a mighty good spirit to take into a fight," nodded Anstey.
Yet he, too, felt grave doubts that Prescott could come out of the approaching fight anything but a mass of pounded pulp. Mr. Spurlock was one of the highly accredited fighters of the yearling class.
"Well, we'd better be moving," nodded Greg. When they reached the unused room on the top floor of the next subdivision of plebes, they found Cadet Lieutenant Edwards and Mr. Jennison, both of the first class, already on hand. Mr. Devine, of the yearling class, who was to be one of Spurlock's seconds, was also in the room. There were two buckets of water, with sponges, and a supply of rough towels.
Almost immediately after Mr. Spurlock and Mr. Kramer came in.
Both of the principals now began to strip. Each had chosen the same fighting costume, consisting of old gray flannel trousers, belt, rubber soled shoes and sleeveless sweater.
As Spurlock stood forth, arrayed for the battle, it was seen that he was a man of magnificent build for one of his years. His chest expansion was splendid. Over his chest and between his shoulders formidable muscles stood well out. His arms were not fat, but rather bulky with muscles. He made one think of a blacksmith.
Dick Prescott, being much lighter, did not make such an imposing appearance. Yet he did not strip to look like a weakling. His chest was fine, the muscles between his shoulder blades stood up well, while his arms, far smaller than Spurlock's, displayed the long, well-knit muscles of the Indian.
Two first class men had volunteered to act as the officials of the fight, since, in a cadet fight, none of the officials can ever be of the class represented by either combatant.
"Are you ready, gentlemen?" inquired Mr. Edwards, while Mr. Jennison drew out a watch that had served at many a cadet fight.
"Ready, sir," replied Spurlock. "Ready, sir," added Prescott. "This fight," announced the referee, "is to be to a finish. The rounds will last two minutes each, with a minute's rest between. Queensbury rules will be followed as far as they can be made to apply. This being a bare-knuckle fight for a matter of principle, the combatants will not shake hands."
There was an impressive pause, the referee turning to look at each fighter in turn.
Spurlock stood at ease, his arms folded over his chest, a grin on his face.
Plebe Prescott looked less confident. He stood with his fists clenched at his sides.
"Time!" called Mr. Edwards.
Spurlock unfolded his arms, throwing them in an attitude of semi-defense, as he coolly looked his opponent over.
Dick Prescott, on the other hand, threw his left foot forward, planting it firmly though lightly. His left arm raked outward, while his right fist came to a guard over his heart region.
"I suppose I've got to start this, as well as end it," jeered Mr. Spurlock. He made a sudden leap forward, throwing his offense low. Dick's left shot out to counter. Then Spurlock drove in, but Prescott got away by nimble dodging. Each man had now turned; the seconds jumped nimbly around, the referee following, while Jennison, his gaze mostly on the watch, jumped nimbly into a corner that he judged would not be used by the fighters.
"This isn't a sprint," sneered Spurlock, as he followed nimble Plebe Prescott around, Dick doing some saving dodging, ducking and sidestepping.
Nearly a dozen of Spurlock's blows Prescott succeeded in escaping, though the plebe was kept so busily on the defensive that he could not get back with anything to count.
"Stand up, you jumping-jack!" hissed Spurlock.
He did get in a short-arm jab on Dick's right lower ribs that made the plebe gasp audibly.
Spurlock now started in to take advantage of this by getting the plebe going. Dick, however, dodged less and countered better. He took two nasty blows, then Mr. Jennison called.
"You're standing him off a heap better than I thought you could," whispered Anstey, as he and Greg sponged the plebe fighter off quickly and then began to knead his muscles. While this was still going on the referee again summoned the fighters forward.
The second round started. As before, Prescott kept mainly on the defensive, though always watching his chance to come back at his more powerful opponent. Spurlock began to press his man hard, when, of a sudden, Prescott got in low under the other's guard, came up and landed a blow on the Spurlock nose that brought the first blood of the fight.
With an angry growl Spurlock leaped in now, to chase and wind up his younger opponent.
But Dick did some nimble dodging, devoting his attention largely to defending his eyes from assault.
Then, in turning, suddenly, Dick let one leg drag an instant behind him. Spurlock, following like lightning, aimed a blow, but it fell short, for he tripped over Dick's leg and fell sprawling.
Referee, time-keeper and plebe principals laughed. Spurlock's seconds scowled.
But Dick generously drew back five or six feet, standing on the defensive until Mr. Spurlock leaped to his feet, ready to renew the combat.
Spurlock, however, had hurt one of his knees, in going down, just enough to interfere with his nimbleness of pursuit during the rest of the round. Time-keep Jennison soon ended that round.
"Mister," growled Yearling Kramer, turning around while Dick sat between his seconds being sponged and kneaded, "don't be so much of a coward! Don't run away and delay the finish. Stand up as if you had some manhood!"
"Thank you, sir," replied Dick coldly. "I'm managing my end of this fight."
"You b.j. little poltroon," snarled Kramer. "I'll call you out myself if you have the nerve to talk back!" hissed Kramer.
"Is licking cowards your specialty?" demanded Prescott coolly.
But that settled it, making a coming fight with Kramer an absolute necessity, now.
"Mr. Kramer," interrupted Mr. Edwards sternly, "this has gone far enough. You must stop hectoring that plebe, sir. He has all he can attend to as it is."
Kramer stopped, with a snap of the jaws. He didn't want to. But a hint, on a matter of etiquette, or the code, from the first class man, was as valid as a command. And Mr. Edwards had spoken in a tone that was authoritative enough.
"You run all you want," whispered Greg indignantly. "You have a right to. This room is smaller than a Queensbury ring."
"I shan't stop my footwork unless the referee orders it," replied Prescott, in an under-tone.
"You're doing just right," nodded Anstey. "If you weren't Mr. Edwards would stop it. He's running this fight on the fair-and-square. If I have a fight I hope it will be my luck to have Mr. Edwards running the job."
"How do you feel?" asked Anstey, in an undertone.
"All right," returned Dick. "But I had to trust to footwork to save myself. Mr. Spurlock got nearly all my wind in that other round."
"Is your wind in again?" asked Greg anxiously.
"Yes; I think I feel as fine as my man does," replied Dick, stepping up from the care of his handlers to await the command.
"Isn't Mr. Kramer the brute?" whispered Anstey indignantly.
"I'm not going to think of him, now," answered Plebe Prescott over his shoulder. "I have all I can attend to at present."
"I'll get him now, Kramer," muttered Spurlock, as he rose. "Watch me reduce that b.j. plebe to powder! I hope they have a spare cot for him over at hospital."
Again the referee set them at it.
Mr. Spurlock encountered a mild surprise, for now Dick seemed less inclined to trust to his nimble feet. He put up a stand-up front, though several of Spurlock's sledge-hammer blows passed over Dick's falling head.
Then the yearling began to fight lower.
The plebe put up a good series of counters, though he took another bit of punishment in the short ribs, and began to back away.
Across the room, Mr. Spurlock began driving his victim, slowly but systematically.
Dick retreated, putting up the best guard he could, dodging when he had to.
But the yearling, full of the grim spirit of the thing, pursued without undue haste, driving the plebe, a foot at a time, clean across the room toward the opposite wall.
At last Spurlock had his victim all but leaning against the wall, sorely pressed. Then, with a sudden tensing of his muscles, the yearling let his left drive to "paste" the plebe's head against the hard wall.
THE "BEAST" WHO SCORED
But the plebe wasn't there. Dick Prescott had counted on this, and had wriggled out by a duck and a plunge forward that carried him beyond momentary risk of Mr. Spurlock's following right.
The yearling's left fist landed with such force as to cause a half square yard of plaster to fall with a thud.
With a yell of disgust Spurlock wheeled about, but the plebe was waiting for him.
At just the right instant, Dick let fly with all his might with his own left.
It caught the yearling over the right eye, closing it.
Just three or four feet back danced Prescott, then came forward again. A blow set the yearling's nose to bleeding afresh.
Then bang! went the other eye closed. The upper class men gasped with astonishment, for Spurlock was now getting into bad shape.
He was all but dazed, in fact; and had twenty-five seconds yet to go in the round.
Then, as much in mercy as for anything else, Dick Prescott dropped his left against the yearling's jawbone.
There was a crash as the dazed man went to the floor.
Instantly Mr. Jennison's voice rose, counting:
"One, two, three, four—"
"Take the full count, Spurdy," advised Kramer, bending forward over his principal.
"—eight, nine, ten!" gasped out the timekeeper.
Mr. Spurlock had shown no sign of rising. In fact, he was still unconscious.
"I award the fight to Mr. Prescott," called the cool, exact tones of Mr. Edward.
Greg could have let out a whoop and danced a war-dance, but in the presence of upper class men this plebe had to restrain himself. Anstey's eyes flashed, but otherwise the Virginian bore himself modestly.
"Carry Mr. Spurlock down to the door. Then summon stretcher-bearers from the hospital," directed Mr. Edwards.
It was Yearling Devine who sprang to obey this direction.
Now Dick spoke, ever so quietly.
"Mr. Kramer, I understood that you did me the honor to call me out."
"Eh?" muttered that other yearling. "Oh, yes; so I did. Whenever you're ready, mister!"
"If Mr. Edwards and Mr. Jennison are willing," returned the plebe coolly, "I'm ready as soon as Mr. Spurlock has been carried away."
"Oho, mister! B.j. to the end, are you?"
"No, sir; only anxious to atone for my b.j.-ety," replied Cadet Prescott, with a little flash of his eyes.
Anstey had gone below with Devine, to render any help that could be given.
"This is rather unusual, mister," suggested Mr. Edwards, glancing at his watch. "However, if you really feel fit, and if it suits Mr. Kramer—"
"Oh, anything will suit me," returned the yearling. Truth to tell, Kramer wasn't by any means sure that he could whip this crafty plebe. But the issue had been thrown fairly in his teeth. Moreover, the honor of the yearling class was now at stake, and Kramer wasn't the man to go back on his class.
"Listen, gentlemen," broke in Mr. Edwards. "This affair started a little ahead of the time set. It is now nine-fifteen. In ten minutes or less, we can have Mr. Spurlock on his way to cadet hospital. Then, if you two mix it up spicily, we can have the affair over by nine-forty. In any case I shall have to call the fight by that time, and decide it a draw, if necessary. What say you?"
"Quite satisfactory, sir," nodded Kramer.
"Satisfactory, sir," added Prescott, waiting, as a plebe should, until the yearling had spoken.
Devine was back almost at once. The seconds carried the still unconscious Mr. Spurlock below to the waiting stretcher. Immediately after Kramer dropped in on a classmate, who gladly came upstairs to aid Mr. Devine in seconding Mr. Kramer.
Not an unnecessary moment did Mr. Kramer lose with his stripping. He was ready in almost record time, presenting, bared, a man of about Mr. Spurlock's proportions, weight and general muscular fitness.
Mr. Edwards quickly recited the conditions, then called for the start of the affair.
Figuring that Prescott must now be a good deal sore and at least a bit winded, Mr. Kramer started in at a lively gait, trying to bear the plebe down with swift, overpowering rushes and showers of blows.
Some of these landed on the plebe's sturdy body, the whacks resounding. But the blows merely stirred Prescott's fighting blood within him. Standing up fairly, with little footwork, but displaying much more speed, Dick Prescott drove in blow after blow in such bewildering succession as to all but daze the yearling.
Bang! Kramer's right eye was half closed just as Cadet Jennison called the end of the first round.
"Great Scott, but that little fellow is a canned hurricane!" muttered Devine, as he wrung out cloths in cold water and applied then to Kramer's swelling eye. "Old man, you want to swing one blow down on the top of his head, and crush him, if you want to save your personal appearance."
"Won't I?" grunted Kramer. "Just watch me. I won't murder the plebe, but I've stood all the fooling I'm going to."
As the combatants rushed at each other again Kramer struck out two or three times; then clinched to save himself.
"Break away, there!" admonished Edwards sternly. "Get off!"
Again in that round Kramer clinched, despite the referee's sternest orders.
"That's no way to meet a plebe, Mr. Kramer," cried Edwards disgustedly.
After the second get-away Dick fairly danced around his man. A blow on the nose brought Kramer's blood. Then his left eye went all but shut. At that the yearling spun dizzily. Dick drove a light blow in behind his man's ear. Down went Spurlock's "avenger" sprawling on the floor.
Mr. Jennison began to count while Kramer lay on the floor, stirring uneasily, yet not seeming to comprehend his seconds' warnings.
"—eight, nine, ten!" finished Mr. Jennison, then put the watch in his pocket.
"The fight is awarded to Mr. Prescott, and it isn't nine thirty yet," announced Mr. Edwards.
Dick's jubilant seconds sponged him, rubbed him down, kneaded his muscles and joyously assisted him in dressing.
Kramer, coming to presently, but with a face that Anstey said "made him think of the Dismal Swamp," was assisted downstairs by his seconds, and taken to the cadet hospital.
With the exception of the two yearlings whom Cadet Prescott had thrashed to a finish, all who had taken any part in the fights were in their beds, and lights out, when the subdivision inspectors flashed their bull's-eye lanterns into the room a moment after taps had sounded.
For the honor of the class another yearling, Garston, forced a dispute within a few days, and Prescott had his third fight on his hands. He won it, though, about as easily as he had the other two.
Three such victories left this plebe free from further fight annoyance. Also, according to a tacitly understood rule, none of these three yearlings could engage in hazing Mr. Prescott after that.
HOW CADET DODGE HELD POST NUMBER THREE
In the early days of the month of June, came all the glories of Commencement.
The first class graduated, and went forth to receive their commissions in the Regular Army.
The second class became the new first class, and head and arbiters of all personal affairs in the battalion of cadets.
The yearlings now became second class men, and departed on their summer furlough, to last until the latter part of August.
The old plebes moved up a peg, also, and became the new yearlings, vested with all the power of hazing and otherwise oppressing and training the plebes.
But for the new plebes—what? They were plebes just as much as ever, and would be until the following June.
The day after the graduating class had departed, and the late yearlings had followed in their trail, as the furloughed new second class, what was left of the battalion marched forth out of barracks into camp.
Here under the khaki-colored tents what was left of the battalion settled down to the life of the soldier in the field.
An untrained eye might not have noticed much in the arrangement of the camp. However, the tents of the main camp were arranged along six company streets. There was also the larger tent of the tactical officer in charge, the guard-tent, and some other tents used in the administration of camp-life.
Now, every text-book was laid aside for the summer. Instruction during camp period was to be in the practical duties that belong to the soldier's life.
The new first class mourned the loss of a few members who had been "found"—that is, who had failed in their studies just before Commencement. More than a score had been dropped from the new yearling class. Only two of the new plebes had been dropped, they having been found wholly and absolutely unfit to keep the brain-fagging pace of academic work at West Point.
"I never minded study back home," muttered Greg, as he and Dick toiled setting their few belongings to rights under canvas. "But, the way the study-gait is kept up here at West Point, I certainly say 'hurrah' with all my heart at the thought that books are closed for all summer."
"We'll be back at the grind in September again," laughed Dick. "And I'm assured that we haven't struck the real study-gait yet; that these new three months from March on are only to break us in a bit, so that we won't mind the real thing so much when we meet it in September."
"Then you give me cause for gloomy thought," shuddered Greg.
"Make way for a future general," grinned Anstey, as, with both arms full of belongings he forced his way into the tent. The cadets were housed three to a tent, and Anstey, to the great delight of Dick and Greg, had been assigned to bunk with them. Anstey, too, was delighted, for the young Virginian was a gentleman of the actual type, who had been growing steadily more weary of the sham "gentleman" that Bert Dodge had so far illustrated.
"I'm tent orderly this week," announced Dick, with a grin. "I received that very important news five minutes ago. I'm responsible for the order and condition of the tent for this week, so you fellows will have to step around to keep the tent in style to suit me."
"Oh, if you're tent orderly," laughed Anstey, "then we don't have to take the word from you."
"You don't?" demanded Prescott.
"No, indeed. If you're the orderly, then you're merely a striker."
A "striker," in the Army, is an enlisted man who is paid by an officer for doing servant's work in spare time. Hence, a striker is, in general, anyone engaged in menial service.
"Come on, Holmesy," urged Anstey, rising. "We'll go out for a stroll. Striker, see to it that you have a flawless tent interior when we return."
In his glee Anstey seized Greg by one arm and started to rush him out of the tent.
"Oh, all right; go along," gibed Dick. "See who'll get the lash though, when I turn in my report."
"Would you skin us?" demanded Anstey, halting in the doorway of the tent and gazing back with a look of mock horror.
To "skin" a brother cadet is to report him for some dereliction in duty, thereby bringing down discipline upon the offender.
"Skin you?" repeated Dick. "Yes, sir! If you leave me to bring order out of all this military chaos I'll hand you in to the O.C. in a way that will take every square inch of cuticle from your body." "Traitor!" hissed Anstey tragically.
"Mister, it's a whole year yet before plebes can sing, laugh, or be happy," came the muttered warning, as one of the newly-made yearlings passed by the tent.
Anstey became silent at once. He had been at West Point long enough to know his place as a plebe.
"Say," whispered Anstey presently, his eyes brimming over with glee, "have you seen poor old Dodge to-day?"
"Not particularly," responded Prescott.
"Well, he's the maddest rookie (recruit) you ever saw! Having been old Dodge's roommate up to reveille this morning, I am in a position to state that he took advantage of the general laxity last night, and slipped out of barracks after taps last night. He and some other embryo cadets got a rowboat, through connivance with a soldier in the engineer's detachment. They rowed across the river, to Garrison, and had some kind of high old racket. It must have been high," added Anstey pensively, "for I happened to turn over in bed this morning, and I saw old Dodge slipping back into the room about an hour before reveille."
"Well, what's he mad about, now?" demanded Dick.
"Why, he has been drawn for the new guard! He's on guard for to-day and to-night!" chuckled Anstey gleefully. "Already dead for sleep, his official duties will keep him without much more sleep for twenty-four hours, or until the new guard goes on to-morrow. Even then he'll have some other things to take up some of his time."
By-and-by the tent was so much and well to rights that, when Cadet Corporal Brodie, of the new yearling class, looked in, he could find no fault with its appearance.
Dick sat down on his box. Greg did the same. Plebes are not allowed campstools in the summer encampment—probably on the theory that so much luxury would be certain to demoralize them.
"I'm going out for a wee bit stroll," drawled Anstey, after taking a look in the tiny soldier's mirror to see that his appearance was in apple-pie order.
"Don't make the mistake of forgetting, and calling on one of the new yearlings," cautioned Dick dryly.
"There's no trace of insanity in our family history," responded Anstey gravely, as he stepped outside.
Dick and Greg found they had much to talk about in comparing notes of what each had learned about the nature of duties in the summer camp. They were still thus engaged when Anstey bounded back into the tent. The young Virginian looked as though he were having a tremendously hard time to keep himself from exploding.
"Oh, this is rich!" he chuckled.
"What is?" inquired Dick, looking up in some mystification.
"What do you suppose Dodge has gone and done, now?"
"Said a kind word about me?" smiled Prescott.
"I didn't say anything about miracles," drawled the Virginian. "No; poor old Dodge has drawn number three post for guard duty on the late tour to-night!"
"Well, isn't three a good enough number?" asked Greg innocently.
"A good post, you meandering old puddin'-head!" retorted Anstey. "Good? The post that goes by old Fort Clinton?"
"Well, it is a bit lonely, off there in the woods," admitted Cadet Prescott.
"Lonely?" bubbled over Anstey. "And you've seen the ditch that runs along by that post?"
"Naturally," nodded Dick. "You will probably remember that I got past the eye-sight tests of the rainmakers" (doctors).
"Now, I've just been talking with a young cit. fellow, who's visiting one of the officers on post," continued Anstey. "He tells me that, every year, some of the yearlings slyly waylay a plebe whenever they can catch him pacing on number three post late at night."
"What do they do to him?" questioned Prescott.
"Oh, they don't do a thing to him, I reckon," drawled the Virginian. "At least, nothing that a jovial fellow can object to. They may roll him down in the ditch, take his gun away from him, and hide it, or some little thing like that."
"Then, see here," proposed Dick solemnly, "Dodge may not be the most popular fellow in the corps, but he's one of us, anyway. He belongs to our class. Anything that is done against him is, in a measure, done to the whole class. Anstey, we ought to get Dodge aside and warn him."
"Warn him?" repeated Anstey aghast. "Warn him—and spoil all the fun!"
"I know I'd want to be warned, if it were likely to happen to me to-night," insisted Dick soberly.
"Oh—well, I don't know but that you're right," assented Anstey slowly. "Yes; I'm certain you are."
"Hullo, you raw-looking rookies," hailed Dodge, halting and looking in through the doorway.
"Come in here a minute, Dodge," urged Anstey.
For an instant Dodge looked suspicious. Then he muttered:
"As you're not yearlings, I accept the invitation."
Very spick and span Dodge looked as he entered the tent. As a member of the guard he wore a pair of immaculate white duck trousers, which held the "spooniest" crease imaginable. His gray coat and white gloves made him look more the dandy than usual.
"We've something to tell you, Dodge," Anstey continued almost in a whisper, as the four plebes stood in a close bunch. "At least, old ramrod says we ought to tell you."
Then, lowering his voice still more, Anstey gave an outline of what the new yearlings were supposed to try to do to the lonely plebe on post number three at the hour when ghosts walk.
"Humph!" rejoined Dodge quickly. "Let the yearlings try that sort of trick, if they dare. Have those fellows no idea of the sacred position of trust held by a United States sentinel? For I, on sentry duty, represent the sovereignty of the United States just as much as does any soldier patrolling a lonely post in the face of the enemy in war time!"
"All very well," grinned Dick "But how are you going to prove it, if the yearlings catch you napping tonight?"
"They won't," retorted Dodge pompously. "They shan't. And if any fellow, I don't care who he is, tries to rush my post to-night he'll feel the steel of one of Uncle Sam's bayonets prodding him in the tenderest part of his worthless carcass!"
"Look out, Dodge!" cautioned Greg softly. "Don't let any of the yearlings hear you canning a brag like that, or they'll get you if they have to turn out the whole class after taps to do the job."
"Let 'em try it!" insisted Dodge. "And you fellows are at liberty to tell anyone that I said it."
With that the speaker turned and strolled out of the tent, looking rather miffed.
"The pompous old idiot!" muttered Anstey, in a tone of pained disgust. "Oh, why did ever fond parents let a mentally irresponsible chap like that come to a place like West Point for anyway?"
"Our skirts are clear, anyway," remarked Dick Prescott consolingly. "We told him all we knew. If he doesn't act upon it, it's his rifle, not ours, that gets fouled."
Dodge not only believed the hoax to be impossible, with him on number three, but he was incautious enough to talk about it freely among the plebes during the day.
As was almost certain to happen, one of the yearlings heard Dodge sounding his trumpet of brag. That yearling, on the other side of a tent wall, grinned, and presently took counsel with other yearlings.
It was almost at the stroke of taps that night when Bert Dodge marched from guard tent with the relief under Cadet Corporal Hasbrouck.
As the other sentry on number three fell in, and Dodge stepped out to take up his vigil, Corporal Hasbrouck gave added instructions to the new and untried sentry.
"Sometimes, Mr. Dodge, this post has been known to be about as dangerous as one in war time."
"Yes, sir, answered Dodge respectfully, as he was bound to. Then as the cadet corporal marched on with the relief, Dodge glanced after the vanishing squad to mutter to himself:
"What a lot of nonsense. I'd like to see anyone rush me!"
"I wonder what Dodge will do on number three to-night," yawned Anstey, just before the three tentmates fell asleep.
"Oh, I wonder what it will be," grinned Greg.
Then the three went sound asleep.
Dick turned later and awoke just in time to hear the voice of a sentry calling:
"Half past eleven! Post number one, and all's we-ell!"
Then, a little further away, another voice took up the refrain:
"Post num-ber two, and all's we-ell!"
"Jupiter!" gasped sleepy Prescott, becoming instantly wide awake. "Post number three doesn't answer. They've gone and got old Dodge."
There was a rapid sound of feet in the company street as Corporal Hasbrouck and the guard rushed along at double quick.
"Hey, you—wake up!" commanded Dick, vigorously prodding the plebe sleepers on either side of him.
"All present, sir!" sleepily mumbled Anstey.
"What's up?" demanded Greg, sitting up.
"The very deuce!" retorted Dick. "There! Listen to that!"
"Bang!" sounded a rifle report. Then Corporal Hasbrouck's bellowing voice could be heard:
"Officer of the day, post number three!" Some one could be heard running down the street. A few moments passed, during which Dick, Greg and Anstey sat up on their mattresses listening eagerly.
Then came the officer of the day running back.
There was another brief pause, or just long enough for the officer of the day to make a report to the O.C. and to receive orders.
Tr-r-rat-tat-tat-tat! The drummers at guard tent were running out the crisp summons of assembly.
"Get up! Tumble out lively for general roll call!" muttered Dick, springing to his feet.
"What in the mischief can they have done to old Dodge?" wondered Greg as he hurriedly pulled on his shoes.
"You men will turn out instantly," ordered a cadet corporal, thrusting his head in at the tent doorway. "Elaborate dressing isn't necessary."
Dick bolted out, followed by Anstey, Greg bringing up the rear.
Cadets by scores and hundreds were falling in by companies, while the company commanders stood by watchful and alert.
Only the members of the guard were excused from this assembly.
Almost instantly orders rang out crisply, and the ranks closed. Then the cadet adjutant, the roll in his hands, began to call the names by companies, holding a pencil in readiness to check down any cadet found absent.
Back of the adjutant stood the cadet officer of the day and Captain Vesey, of the Army, who was the tac. doing duty as O.C.
The calling of the roll, while the cadets stood in ranks, wondering, brought a surprise to Captain Vesey. Every cadet supposed to be in camp was present or satisfactorily accounted for.
"When dismissed," rang the cadet adjutant's voice, "men not on duty will return to their tents and finish the night's rest. Dismiss by companies."
As the drowsy cadets turned back to their company streets there was a buzz of eager, under-toned conversation. Some of the men of the guard threw in enough information so that the main part of the story became known and flew like fire through the camp.
When post number three failed to answer at half past eleven Corporal Hasbrouck and a squad of the guard went to that post in double-quick time.
Dodge was found to be absent from his post, but his rifle, with bayonet fixed, was securely tied to a near-by bush in the position of "port arms."
Dodge simply was not to be found. At one point signs of a scuffle had been found, but the trail, after starting down the slope, soon disappeared.
Cadet Dodge could not be found. No one, unless some unidentified hazers, knew where that young sentry was.
Assembly had been sounded and all cadets called out for roll call in order that it might be learned what cadets, if any, were absent from camp without authority. But roll each had failed to show any absentees.
Captain Vesey was furious. So was Lieutenant-Colonel Strong, the commandant of cadets, who had just been summoned, and who was now at the tac. tent questioning Hasbrouck and others.
Through the night no trace was found of Mr. Dodge.
PRESCOTT GETS NUMBER THREE
When the cadet battalion marched off to mess the following morning the mystery of Cadet Dodge's whereabouts was as big a mystery as ever.
At the tent of the O.C., however, things were seething. As soon as the battalion returned to camp cadets were sent for in rapid succession.
However, the trail remained as blind as ever. The various detachments were ordered out for drill or practical instruction.
Our three young cadets were marched nearly two miles for instruction in target practice. At the outset this work was with the gallery rifle at short ranges.
At the close of practice the squad was marched back over the dusty roads.
"Dodge has been found," was the smiling word passed around as this detachment of plebes was dismissed inside camp limits.
"Where? How? When?"
The amazing story was told with a good deal of quiet laughter.
At about half past eight this morning one of the workmen employed in a lumber yard at Garrison, across the river, walking in behind a pile of lumber close to the river, was amazed to find a pillow slip lying on the ground. What was much more astonishing was the fact that a waist and a pair of legs protruded from the pillowcase, and the feet were bound.
The workman, a dull-witted fellow, thought he had stumbled upon a case of murder, and rushed back to the office. The manager thereupon hurried to the spot and the mystery was quickly solved.
The pillowcase being removed, they saw Mr. Dodge, bound and gagged.
He was promptly set free and questioned. But he refused any information to the manager of the lumber yard, beyond stating that he had been the victim of an outrage.
On the next trip of the ferry across the river Mr. Dodge returned, the lumber yard manager accompanying him. Mr. Dodge had reported, with a very crestfallen air, at the guard tent, and from there had been hurried on to Captain Vesey's tent. Now the story came out.
Mr. Dodge had just given the eleven o'clock hail, the night before, when he was suddenly seized from behind and thrown flat. A pillowcase was slipped over his head while he was held by so many that struggling was out of the question. By the time the pillowcase had been pulled down over his head Mr. Dodge also discovered that he had been swiftly but most effectively bound.
For the rest he knew only that he had been carried down the slope, unable to give any alarm, and that he had been lifted into a boat, taken over the river and dumped in the lumber yard. Here he had spent the rest of the night and the early morning until found. He had tried, repeatedly, to free himself, but had failed.
This was all the material on which Captain Vesey, and his superior, Lieutenant-Colonel Strong, had upon which to work, save for Dodge's admission that he had been warned, the day before, by Cadets Prescott, Holmes and Anstey. These three were accordingly summoned to the O.C.'s tent and asked to explain.
"Mr. Prescott," asked Captain Vesey, "why did you warn Mr. Dodge? What information had you that such an outrage on a sentry was being planned?"
"I knew only what Mr. Anstey had told me, sir," replied Dick at once.
"Mr. Anstey," demanded Captain Vesey, turning to the Virginian, "what information did you have, and how did you obtain it?"
Back of the O.C. sat the K.C. (commandant of cadets), his dark eyes fixed upon the witnesses.
"All the information I had, sir, was what a young cit. with whom I talked yesterday morning told me about pranks that had been played in past years upon plebes who had the late tour of post number three."
"Your statement is that you had a conversation with a citizen, and that he told you of pranks that had been played in former years?"
"Yes, sir; that was the intent of my statement."
"The citizen with whom you talked did not give you any hint that a trick might be played last night?"
"No, sir; only in the general way that the citizen's stories made me half suspect that something might be tried last night."
"Because Mr. Dodge was a plebe?"
"And also because the plebe was Mr. Dodge?" Anstey hesitated an instant, then shot out promptly.
"Why did you think that Mr. Dodge was extremely likely to be singled out?"
Cadet Anstey flushed and again hesitated.
"You are not required to say anything distinctly to the discredit or disadvantage of Mr. Dodge, but you are required, Mr. Anstey, to give any information that will aid the authorities in running down this outrage and its perpetrators. Again, sir, why did you imagine that Mr. Dodge would be singled out?"
"I knew, sir, that a good many upper class men regarded Mr. Dodge as being decidedly b.j.," the Virginian admitted reluctantly.
"Then you attribute this affair to Mr. Dodge's unpopularity with some of the upper class men?"
"I wouldn't say, sir, that Mr. Dodge is unpopular, but I think, sir, that some of the upper class men feel that Mr. Dodge needs taking in hand."
"For—er—well, sir—for general training."
"That is hazing—nothing more nor less," broke in the K.C. coldly. "And we shall leave no stone unturned to stop this hazing and to punish all perpetrators of hazing."
"Did Mr. Dodge accept your warning?" continued Captain Vesey.
"He did not, sir."
"Mr. Anstey, on your word as a cadet and a gentleman, you have told me all you know of the affair?"
"Mr. Prescott, on your word as a cadet and a gentleman, have you told me all you know?"
"Yes, sir," Dick replied. "That is, sir, all except what is common knowledge to all, yourself included, sir."
"Mr. Holmes, have you any knowledge bearing on this subject, in addition to what has been stated by these other cadets?"
"That is all for the present," nodded Captain Vesey. "You may go."
As soon as the cadets were out of hearing the "tac." turned to the K.C.
"The motive back of this outrage on a sentry is all quite clear to me, Colonel," spoke the subordinate officer. "Dodge is an unpopular and b.j.-ish fellow. He has undoubtedly been making his brags that he'd bag any yearlings who tried to interfere with him on post. Some of the yearlings must have taken up the challenge."
"Yet at roll call last night, which was held at once, every cadet responded or was properly accounted for," broke in the K.C. savagely.
"Yes, Colonel; but the young men had nearly half an hour in which to work."
"They couldn't have rowed both ways across the Hudson and have gotten back into camp in time for that swift roll call," retorted Colonel Strong.
"Even that part of the affair doesn't seem very puzzling to me, sir," replied Captain Vesey. "Assuming that yearlings bagged Mr. Dodge, as I think they did, they may have had citizen friends at hand to carry out the rest of the affair with a boat. They may even have arranged with soldiers belonging to one of the Army detachments here."
"The only matter of importance now, Captain Vesey, is to find out just which cadets, if cadets were engaged in the outrage, seized Mr. Dodge on his post."
"In ferreting them out, Colonel, I will follow to the last extremity any instructions you may give me, sir," promised Captain Vesey.
The K.C. tugged hard at his moustache, then scowled harder than before.
"What do you think the chances are, Vesey, of our finding the perpetrators?"
"Frankly, Colonel, I don't think we have a chance in a million, unless some yearling concerned in the matter voluntarily confesses."
"A yearling voluntarily confess!" snorted the K.C. rising. "Bah!"
Captain Vesey smiled after his superior officer had stalked out of the tent. It is just barely possible that the younger officer, remembering some prank of his own yearling days, wasn't extraordinarily anxious to detect yearlings in an offense that would result in depriving the Army of the further services of some very bright and resourceful young men.
Hot, dusty, perspiring, first class men, yearlings and plebes came back to camp in detachments from various tours of drum and instruction. The only cadets who looked at all fresh were the members of the guard, who were excused from the day's drills. Yet for these returning ones, late in the afternoon of a hot day, there was no immediate rest. Some of the cadets came back in service clothes, others in khaki, still others in field costume of campaign hat, flannel shirt, gray trousers and leggins. Immediately the young men in all these varieties of uniform disappeared within their tents. There was a subdued sound of great bustle. Then, almost in the same instant, it seemed, cadets stepped from the various tents into the open. Each was immaculate, very nearly glorious in spotless, faultlessly pressed white duck trousers, topped by the gray full-dress coat and hat. Each cadet carried his rifle now, except for the cadet officers, who wore their swords.
With almost dizzying speed, after the return and the dressing, the assembly was sounded. The company to which Dick and his mates belonged was then, at the command, formed and inspected, marched across the plain, over to the parade ground, where hundreds of girls, in bright-hued dresses, and other visitors to West Point awaited their coming.
With the cadet adjutant and cadet sergeant-major in place as guides, the company came to its place in battalion formation. Other companies marched in, and parade rest was ordered. Now, at the command, a few movements in the manual of arms were executed, the battalion presenting a beautiful line of gray, white and flashing steel. Next the band, playing gayly, marched from left of line, before the battalion, halting in place beyond the right of line. Fifes and drums sounded the retreat. The sunset gun boomed over the hollow beyond; down came the Stars and Stripes on one more day of national life, while the band played "The Star Spangled Banner" and all the men and boys among the spectators, including several on-looking Army officers, uncovered their heads, standing rigidly at attention. It was an awe-inspiring moment to one who could feel the thrill of patriotism. This whole ceremony of dress parade had about it the impressive solemnity of religious worship.
There were yet some more formalities. Then the young men were marched back. A few minutes after the sunset gun the men were once more in their own company streets, and, for all cadets except those of the guard, the work day was over. In the evening there was to be a cadet hop at Cullom Hall, at which many of the bright-faced girls who had watched dress parade would be present. The evening after there would be a band concert in camp. So the nights of the cadet summer were passed.
But the hops were not for the plebes. They could dance only in the day time, under the watchful eyes of the dancing instructor, for every plebe must take dancing lessons in summer until he has been pronounced qualified. To a cadet hop, though there is no official rule against it, no plebe ever presumes to go. Nor may he, for that matter, mingle in the social life with the young lady visitors at the post. He may try it, of course, but no well-informed girl will allow a plebe to take the chances. If a plebe is caught actually paying attention to any young woman the upper class men take care of him in their own effective way. A plebe, like any other cadet, must show courtesy to any woman who addresses him; beyond that the young man must not go during his plebedom. "Flirtation Week" is close by, but no plebe ever dares to stroll there.
This being the night of the hop, the upper class men were busy with their toilets as soon as they returned from supper; or as many of them were as had arranged to "drag a femme" to the hop. This is cadet parlance for escorting a young lady to the dance. However, some upper class men notoriously avoid attending hops.
"It's a fine thing, isn't it," growled Greg that evening, "to take a lot of dancing lessons every week, and then, when the night comes around, to stroll through the company streets and listen to the orchestra in the distance."
"I'm not complaining," Dick replied.
"Yet you used to be fond of dancing."
"I am now."
"Then why don't you yearn to go to a hop?"
"I do. But see here, Greg. The fellow makes the best soldier, in the end, I'll wager, who learns to keep his greatest desires in check. All the restrictions thrown around the plebe by custom are intended to make him the better man, soldier and officer by teaching him to wait until his time comes."
"I congratulate you, mister," spoke a low but hearty voice from the doorway of a tent the two plebes were passing. "You're coming on, mister. Grin and bear it. You'll be happy one of these days!"
Dick and Greg glanced backward over their shoulders to see that the speaker was Mr. Reynolds, member of the new first class and a cadet captain. Reynolds usually attended the hops. But for to-night he had only a telegram in the breast of his coat in the place of the cherished "femme" whom he had hoped to "drag." As he stood in his doorway, looking up at the inscrutable stars, Cadet Captain Reynolds was taking his own lesson in patient waiting.
"Thank you, sir," Dick replied in a low tone, then faced front again.
That night another plebe was on post number three during the tour ending at midnight. He was not molested, however, which was most fortunate for mischief-loving yearlings, for the K.C. had stationed two tacs. in hiding close by, to be promptly on hand in case of any attempted trouble.
A few nights later it came Dick Prescott's turn to take the late tour on post number three. He was both apprehensive and watchful, but when the relief picked him up at midnight he had no report of any kind to make.
It was well enough known throughout cadet camp that the superintendent and all his subordinates were bent sternly on stopping or severely punishing any attempts to interfere with sentries.
As the weeks of hard work passed, and no more mysteries fell over post number three it began to be felt that plebes might thereafter walk there on the darkest night without worry.
One day in July Dick found himself again on guard, with post number three for the "ghosts promenade"—that is, the tour ending at midnight.
"Don't feel too secure, will you, old man?" begged Anstey. "Watch out, just the same, won't you?"
"I always take that post as though it were one of especial danger," Dick answered seriously.
Which was well indeed, for Yearlings Davis, Graham and Poultney were even then plotting behind the walls of their tent.
THE SENTRY MAKES A CAPTURE
"Post number one! Eleven o'clock, and all's well."
"Post number two! Eleven o'clock, and all's well!"
Cadet Prescott, midway on his post, came to a halt, bringing his rifle to port arms.
"Post number three! Eleven o'clock, and all's well."
Nor did the plebe return his rifle to his shoulder and resume pacing until he heard the hail taken up and repeated by the man on number four. Thus the call traveled the rounds, back to number one, and died out.
Just an instant later Plebe Prescott became suspicious that something was wrong in his immediate vicinity.
Rain was threatening, and the sultry night was so dark that, on this shaded post, the young sentry could see barely a few yards away from him.
Yet Dick was certain he saw something flash darkly by, not far away. It could hardly have been a shadow. Whatever it was, a clump of bushes now concealed the moving something.
"Halt! Who's there?" hailed Cadet Prescott. He stopped to listen, bringing his rifle once more down to port arms.
There was no response.
Certain, however, that his senses had not been deluded, the young sentry stepped quickly toward the clump of bushes.
From the other side of the bushes came a sudden sound of scrambling.
"Halt! Who's there?" demanded Prescott again.
Whoever it was, and plainly there was more than one man there, the prowlers had no mind to be held up by the sentry or the guard.
"Halt, or I'll run a bayonet into you!" shouted Prescott resolutely. "Corporal of the guard, post number three!" he bellowed aloud.
At the same time he was darting after the fugitives, whom it was too dark to distinguish. From the very little that his eyes could make out, however, it was his belief that the running men were cadets.
Then one must have stumbled and fallen, for a figure lay between two bushes as Prescott dashed up.
"Don't you attempt to rise until you get the word, or you'll feel the jab of my bayonet," warned Dick.
He couldn't follow the others much further, anyway, as he had no authority to leave his post. The man on number four must have heard, and would be alert.
"Where are you, number three sentry!" came Cadet Corporal Brodie's hail.
"Here, sir!" Dick answered. He still stood watching the figure that lay in the shadow of the bushes. The fallen one had not attempted to move. Dick Prescott was close enough to make a thrust with his bayonet-tipped rifle if the fallen one made any effort to leap up.
That was as close as Dick intended to get until help was at hand, for an old trick with cadets running the guard on a dark night on this lonely stretch was to wait until the sentry got close enough, then to reach out and grab him by the ankles, throwing him.
Always, when such a trick was played successfully, the offender would be up, off and safe by the time the thrown sentry was on his own feet again.
So Prescott, without in the least intending to let his prisoner get away, did not venture close enough to risk being pitched over on his back himself.
"Poor old skylarker, too! I'm sorry for him," muttered Dick, under his breath. "I'm afraid this spells trouble for some yearling."
"What can I do, though? I show my own unfitness if I let anyone run the guard past me."
"Call again, sentry on three!" directed the voice of Corporal Brodie.
"Here, sir," Dick answered.
Then to the spot ran the corporal, followed by two men of the guard.
"Two or more men attempted to cross this post, sir," Dick reported. "One tripped, and I'm holding him."
"Head him off, if he attempts to run ahead," directed Mr. Brodie, nodding to one of his men of the guard. "Now, then, get up, and let us see whether you're a cadet, or only a banker's son."
But the figure did not rise.
"Get up, sir, I tell you," ordered Corporal Brodie, slowly stepping past Prescott.
But the figure did not stir.
"Perhaps the man fell and stunned himself," muttered Brodie. Passing his rifle to his left hand the corporal parted the bushes, then bent over the prostrate one.
"Oh, hang you!" growled the cadet corporal. He seized the figure with his right hand, yanked it upward, then hurled it out, letting it fall again across the post.
"Is that the man you stopped, Mr. Prescott?" demanded Corporal Brodie in disgust.
But instead of answering, at that moment, Dick straightened up, brought his rifle to port, and hailed:
"Halt! Who's there?"
"The officer of the day," came out of the blackness.
"Advance, officer of the day, to be recognized," Dick replied.
Forward out of the deep shadow came Cadet Captain Reynolds.
"What's the trouble, Corporal?" inquired the latest arrival.
"Mr. Prescott reports that two or more persons attempted to run across his post, sir. He overtook one, who stumbled. Mr. Prescott was guarding his prisoner as I arrived, sir, and that was the prisoner!"
Corporal Hasbrouck pointed in disdain at the stuffed figure that he had hauled out from under the bushes and Dick's bayonet.
"A stuffed figure, in gray trousers and shirt, eh?" questioned Captain Reynolds. "Sentry, were the two or three men who got away from you of the same composition?"
"I don't know, sir," Dick answered, with mortification. "All I know, sir, is that those who got away ran pretty fast, and made so little noise that they doubtless wore rubber-soled shoes."
"You've been hoaxed, sentry," commented the officer of the day dryly. "Corporal, have your men of the guard bring the prisoner up to the guard tent. Sentry, if any more straw men attempt to cross your post, bring them down as well as you did this one. The straw men who got away from you made their way into camp, didn't they?"
"Whoever escaped, sir, got into camp all right."
As the guard-house party returned, Dick resumed the pacing of number three. He felt his face still blazing, from the quiet ridicule of the officer of the day.
"I'll catch it to-morrow from everyone who thinks me worth noticing," growled the plebe to himself. "However, though I tried to do my full duty, I'm glad that was what I caught. I wouldn't care to march a comrade in, a prisoner."
When the midnight relief came around, and Prescott's relief was posted in his place, the young plebe knew the ordeal ahead of him.
As soon as the relieved squad was halted at the guard tent, and Dick entered to get himself a cup of coffee and a sandwich or two, his glance fell upon the stuffed figure, which reposed on the floor at the back of the tent as though it had been a veritable prisoner.
"Did you shoot it, Prescott?" asked Derwent, the man who had just been relieved on number four.
"No; he lassoed it with his neck-tie," jeered another man of the guard.
"Wonder if the prisoner is hungry!" pursued Derwent. "Prescott, the prisoner is yours. Attend to his feeding. And the poor fellow should have some proper bedding, too, a chilly night like this."
"A merciful soldier wouldn't eat until he had seen his prisoner fed," tantalized another.
Dick had his cup of coffee at his mouth.
"Prescott, old man," commented fat Smith, "you'll be commended in general orders for distinguished bravery."
That was enough, in itself, to make Dick choke, but Smith emphasized his remark by slapping Dick on the back. An ounce of hot coffee, at least, "went down the wrong way." Choking and gasping for breath, trying to expel the coffee from his windpipe, and all the while obliged to lean well forward so as not to expel any of the coffee over the front of his blouse, Dick thought he never would get his breath again.
"Instead of feeding his prisoner, I believe Mr. Prescott has been eating some of his prisoner," observed Corporal Hasbrouck dryly. "Mr. Prescott, himself, appears to be full of straw at present."
The general laugh that followed didn't make it any easier for the victim of all this nonsense. In laughing again Dick choked so that he began to turn slightly black.
"Dry up, you hyenas!" ordered Cadet Captain Reynolds, as he rushed to Prescott's relief. In a few moments the late sentry on number three was breathing easily again. He threw himself down on a mattress, and was soon asleep.
But in the morning he had to go through the ordeal ten-fold. As Dick went to his tent to change some articles of clothing Bert Dodge appeared in the company street.
"Hey, mister," called yearling Davis, after Bert, "I hear good news. Last night the guard caught the chap who shanghaied you."
Even Greg and Anstey were prepared to quiz the "hero" of the comic episode of the night before.
"That was a fine comic opera performance, old chap," grinned Anstey.
"The next time you arrest a lay figure," suggested Greg, "at least be good enough to capture one that's stuffed with lemons."
"Oh, the straw figure was a lemon, of a kind," laughed the Virginian.
"Did the prisoner yell when you pricked point of your bayonet in its flesh of husks?" Greg wanted to know.
"Do you expect the K.C. to mention you in orders for distinguished gallantry?" demanded Anstey.
"Or to skin you on a suspicion of stealing straw from the artillery stables?" snickered Greg.
"I know one funny thing about straw, anyway," declared Anstey, turning around to Holmes.
"What?" asked Greg.
"It's bound to tickle you," declared the Virginian gravely.
Even at breakfast, in the cadet mess, Dick failed to get away from his tormentors. One of the yearlings, seated at a table not far from the one at which Prescott sat, called out to a classmate:
"Queer thing about that prisoner bagged on number three last night. Did you hear who the prisoner turned out to be?"
"No-o-o," drawled the other yearling, while a hundred pairs of eyes were turned on flame-faced Prescott.
"It was the class president of the beasts" (plebes).
"Kind of tough fate for the prisoner, though," railed another.
"He's been sentenced to death. He is to be used as a target for the plebe squads in target practice."
"That isn't a sentence of death; it's a guarantee of safety."
This last sally turned the laugh on the entire plebe class. Dick flushed worse than ever when he saw many of his classmates begin to squirm.
"They might, at least, take it all out on me, and leave the class alone," muttered Dick to himself.
"Where are you going so fast, mister?" hailed a yearling, after the return to camp, as he beheld a plebe hurrying down a company street.
"I'm summoned as a witness before the general court-martial," called back Mr. Plebe, over his shoulder.
"Court-martial? I hadn't heard there was to be one."
"Yes, sir; they're going to try the prisoner caught on number three, sir."
The yearling turned away grinning, for once not deeming it necessary to rebuke a "beast" for attempting to make a smart answer.
Out on the range, at target practice, two mornings later, Dick did some especially bad shooting.
"Don't be afraid of hitting the target, Mr. Prescott," advised Lieutenant Gerould dryly. "It's made of something more substantial than straw."
A gleeful roar went up from some of the other "beasts." Lieutenant Gerould eyed them in surprise, for this Army officer was one of the few at West Point who had not already heard of number three sentry's capture.
It was a fortnight ere Cadet Prescott could feel really secure against more "joshing" over the incident.
"I'm better satisfied than if we had done what we set out to do to that plebe," remarked Yearling Davis to his tentmates.
"Mr. Prescott is a rather decent sort—for a mere plebe," replied Poultney. "Do you know, I think he's almost glad that he caught the dummy we rigged for him. I believe the little beast would have hated to catch a uniform stuffed with human flesh."
POOR GREG CAN'T EXPLAIN
The weeks slipped by, though not without the friction of sincerely hard work.
Dick, Greg and many of their classmates, toiling, marching, drilling under the hot sun that shone on the West Point plain and drill areas, acquired deep coats of manly tan on faces, necks and hands.
In many a story of West Point life the summer encampment is made to appear "the good old summer time" of an Army career. The West Point cadet knows better. It is a season of the hardest work.
At an hour when most city-dwelling boys are turning over in bed for another long and luxurious "snooze" the West Point cadet is up and doing in earnest.
There is much instruction that the young man has to absorb. Merely to take part is not enough. The young man must make himself proficient in such branches of the soldier's art as cavalry tactics, drill, horsemanship, scouting, artillery tactics and drill, with drill at the guns of different calibers, and target practice with field, siege, mountain, mortar, howitzer and seacoast guns, with a lot of work in the service of mines.
Infantry tactics, with unceasing drill and a lot of target practice, provide a great amount of work.
Then there is a wide range of work to be mastered in practical military engineering, with the building of field fortifications, obstacles, spar and trestle bridges, pontoon bridges, military reconnoissance and sketching, map-making, surveying, military signaling and telegraphy, wireless and telephone service, the making of war material, the managing and handling of pack trains, field manoeuvres, and—well, it's not a season of ideal play!
It was toward the end of this busy season of outdoor life that Greg got into his most serious trouble up to that time, with an upper class man.
The day had been unusually hot, even for West Point. Those of the upper class men who felt the call to the evening's hop had dressed with utmost care and departed for the ballroom and the glances of soft eyes.
An unusually large number, however, were in camp this evening.
Tattoo sounds at 9.30. Men who wish are privileged to make up their beds and turn in at this hour. Greg was among the large number who went to sleep soon after tattoo this sultry night. For that matter, young Holmes was lonely, both Dick and Anstey having been drawn for guard duty.
Five minutes after tattoo Yearlings Davis and Poultney sauntered down the company street.
"Suzz-zz! suzz-zz! Horwack!" came sonorously from the tent solely occupied by Plebe Holmes.
"Great Washington!" muttered Poultney. "Who smuggled a sawmill into camp?"
"The disturbance of the peace comes from this abode of beasts," declared Mr. Davis, halting and thrusting his head into the tent.
Greg did not awaken, but snored on with crescendo effects.
"We ought to teach a beast like that a lesson," whispered Poultney, as he, also, stared in at the unconscious but offending Greg.
A hurried, whispered conference followed. Right after that Mr. Davis tied a stout cord to the tent-pole of the khaki house across the company street. Four feet of this cord were supported, in the crotches of two imbedded twigs, so that the cord lay about an inch and a half above the ground for a space of four feet close to the opposite tent. Then the balance of the cord was allowed to lie harmless across the company street. The end of the cord these two resourceful yearlings tied to a noose. Tiptoeing into Greg's tent they slipped the noose over one of Greg's forefingers.
If, within the next few minutes, any passersby used that company street, they plainly must have passed on Greg's side of the thoroughfare, and thus have avoided fouling with the cord.
Cadets who "drag femmes" to hop, and who have to escort their fair partners to hotel, or to some officer's house on the post, must go from Cullum Hall with their fair charges, leave them at the destined gate, and then return to camp, all within a stated, scheduled time.
The time it properly takes to walk from Cullum Hall to the hotel grounds, or to any officer's house, is all scheduled and kept track of at the guard tent. The young man thus returning to camp after taps reports to what building he escorted his "femme," and the time of his return is noted on the guard report. If the cadet has overstayed his time he is called to account for it the next day.
Yearling Butler had "dragged" this evening. He made guard tent on time, after a quick walk back to camp. Reporting, Mr. Butler saw the time noted by the amanuensis of the guard.
Then, feeling really sleepy, the yearling continued at a rather brisk walk to the head of his company street, and turned down.
Just as luck would have it Mr. Butler did not pass on Greg's side of the street, but passed rather close to the tent opposite.
Certainly the yearling's eyes were not on the ground. He saw not the cord on this side of the street.
There was a catch, a trip, and Mr. Butler went to the ground, mussing the knees of his spooniest pair of white ducks. Moreover, he cut the palm of his right hand, slightly, on a sharp pebble.
The pulling on the cord gave Greg's right hand a sharp yank, awakening the innocent plebe.
But Mr. Butler, having swiftly discovered the cord, and having ascertained in what direction it ran, made a dive into the tent just in time to see Greg sitting up on his mattress, holding the cord.
"So, mister," gruffed the yearling, "is this the way you amuse yourself late at night?"
"Why—what—" stammered Cadet Holmes.
"Now, don't try any of that on me," urged Mr. Butler angrily. "Mister, you're caught with the freight in your possession. What are you holding that cord for, sir?"
"I—I don't know, sir," quavered Greg, who was just beginning to feel awake after his rudely disturbed slumber.
"You—don't—know!" retorted Mr. Butler, in high dudgeon.
"What—what has happened, sir?" inquired Greg.
To Mr. Butler this seemed very much like adding insult to injury.
"You thought it was funny, did you, mister, to rig a cord across the company street?" raged the yearling, though he kept his voice down to a gentlemanly pitch. "You play tricks like that on upper class men. Of all the b.j. imps that ever put on gray! Mister, all I'm sorry for is that the officer of the day, or the O.C. didn't trip over your cord! Or the K.C. himself!"
"Now, I want to understand this, sir," contended Cadet Holmes, rising from his mattress and stepping forward. "I've just been aroused out of a sound sleep, and I find myself with a cord tied to one of my fingers."
"Oh, you do, mister?" jeered Mr. Butler harshly.
"And you, sir, come into this tent and accuse me of something. What I am anxious to know, sir, is what it is that I am accused of."
"See here, mister, I've no more time to waste on a b.j. beast. You've spoiled my best white ducks, and, incidentally, my temper. You compound this by adding more b.j.-ety. If you don't know what I'm going to do about it, wait until you hear from me, mister!"
Turning, very erect and stiff, in his outraged dignity, Mr. Butler left the tent.
"Now, what on earth have I done, anyway?" wondered Greg.
In his perplexity he stepped to the doorway of his tent. He saw the business-like arrangement of the cord, and all was clear to him, now.
"Some hazer has rigged that cord and tied one end to my finger," gasped Plebe Holmes.
Then a grin overspread his face.
"Well, it was mighty clever, anyway."
An instant more, and the grin gave place to a serious look.
"Clever or not, it certainly spells trouble for me."
When the cadets returned from breakfast in the morning, and while Greg was finishing the donning of field uniform for a forenoon of drill, a shadow fell across the doorway of the tent.
Prescott and Anstey were still members of the guard, and therefore absent.
"Mr. Holmes, I wish to speak with you," announced Mr. Haldane, of the yearling class.
"Will you come in, sir?"
Haldane stepped just inside the tent, standing severely erect and gazing coldly at the plebe.
"Mr. Butler demands a fight with you, mister, and as early as possible."
There was no mention of possible apology. Evidently Mr. Butler considered the affair one that could be remedied only by blows.
"Mr. Haldane, I don't wish to ask much delay. But the two friends whom I shall want to represent me are on guard duty at present. May I ask that you see Mr. Prescott?"
"Very good," acknowledged Mr. Haldane, and left the tent.
"Now, I'm in for it," muttered Greg ruefully. "And the queer part of it is that I have to fight for a thing that I never did. But I'm not going to make any denials now, unless Dick advises it."
It was evening, after the cadets had returned from supper, when Mr. Haldane appeared and asked for Prescott. The two stepped outside together, walking a little distance away to make the necessary arrangements.
Dick was already in possession of the few facts that Greg had to tell him. Dick had advised against denying the prank, for the present, anyway.