"But I'll wager he didn't blame us," retorted Prescott, his eyes twinkling.
"He said that, if it hadn't been for you and Greg, the Navy would have won the game," retorted Belle.
"I hope that's true," declared Dick boldly.
"Oh, you do, Mister Prescott? And why?" asked Belle.
"Because I belong to the Army, and I want always to see the Army win."
"If West Point defeats Annapolis next Thanksgiving, and if its because of you and Greg, then I'll never speak to either of you again," asserted Belle.
"Come along, Dick," laughed Laura. "Belle's positively dangerous when she talks about the Navy!"
"The Navy is the only real branch of the service," declared Belle, with a toss of her head. "Everybody says so. The Army is merely nothing—-positive zero!"
"Laughing good-humoredly, Greg piloted Belle up the long, winding walk that leads to the West Point plain. Dick and Laura soon fell in behind, at some distance, walking very slowly.
"Did you have a tiresome trip here?" inquired Dick.
"No; a very pleasant one," Laura replied.
"I should think a long journey would be tedious to women traveling without male escort," Dick went on.
"We had escort as far as New York," Laura replied promptly.
"Oh, you did?" inquired Prescott, feeling a swift sinking at heart.
"Yes; Mr. Cameron had to make a flying trip to New York. He had to come at about this time, so he put it off for three or four days in order to travel through with us. Wasn't that nice of him?"
"Extremely nice of him," admitted the cadet rather huskily. "I—-I suppose he will return with you from New York."
"We expect him to," Laura admitted. "But what a great game that must have been, Dick! How I wish Belle and I had gone over to Philadelphia to see it."
"It was an exciting game, and a hard-fought one."
Laura chatted on gayly, and at the same time displayed much enthusiasm over the life at West Point. Yet Dick, though he strove to conceal the fact, was low spirited over the attentions of Mr. Cameron.
The two cadets had permission to visit at the hotel, so went into the parlor until the girls joined them there. Later, as there was no snow on the ground, a stroll about the post was proposed and enjoyed.
Dick made out Laura's card for the dance that night, while Greg attended to Belle's. Many were the cadets who glared at Dick and Greg for not having inscribed their names on the dance cards of these two very "spoony femmes." (pretty girls.)
After one of her dances with Dick, Belle asked him to lead her out into the corridor, where the air was cooler.
"Shall I go after your wrap?" asked Dick solicitously.
"Goodness, no," replied Belle. "I'm not as sensitive as that."
Then, abruptly changing the subject, Miss Meade asked: "What do you think of Mr. Cameron?"
"I saw very little of him," Dick replied.
"But what do you think of him?" Belle insisted.
"I think that, if he is Laura's friend, he must be a fine fellow," Dick replied with enthusiasm.
A slight shudder of disappointment passed over Belle.
"Are you beginning to feel chilly, Belle?" asked Dick anxiously.
"If I am, its nervously, not because I am really cold," replied Miss Meade dryly.
"Why did you ask me what I think of Mr. Cameron?"
"Because I am interested in knowing," Belle answered. "Mr. Cameron is with Laura a great deal these times."
"Is he?" asked Dick, with another sinking at the heart.
"Oh, yes," Belle replied. "Some folks in Gridley are nodding their heads wisely, and pretending they can guess what is going to happen before long. But I'm very certain that there is nothing quite definite as yet. Indeed, I'm not quite sure that Laura really knows her own mind as yet."
Soon after that, Miss Meade requested to be conducted back into the ballroom, to find Greg, who was to be her next partner.
"Now, good gracious, I hope I've really given Cadet Slowpoke a broad enough hint," thought Belle. "If he doesn't go ahead and speak to Laura now, it'll be because he doesn't care. And Leonard Cameron isn't a bad fellow, even if he does prefer the yardstick to a sword!"
As for Dick, his evening was spoiled. His sense of honor prevented his "speaking" to Laura until he felt that his future in the Army was assured.
Yet spoiled as his evening was, Prescott did his best to make it a bright occasion for Laura Bentley.
The next morning, while the members of the cadet corps were grinding at recitations, or boning over study desks in barracks, Mrs. Bentley and the girls rode down the slope in the stage and boarded a train for New York.
Dick had not "spoken."
THE ENEMIES HAVE AN UNDERSTANDING
After that February hop, Cadet Prescott appeared to give himself over to one dominating ambition.
That ambition was to secure higher standing in his class.
He became a "bone," and tried so hard to delight his instructors that he was suspected of boning bootlick with the Academic Board.
For Prescott had dropped Laura out of his mind.
That is to say, he had tried to do it, and Prescott was a young man with a strong will.
Belle's words, instead of spurring him on to do something that his own peculiar sense of honor forbade, had killed his vague dream.
After all, Dick reasoned, it was Laura's own good and greatest happiness that must be considered.
Leonard Cameron, a rising and prosperous young merchant in Gridley, would doubtless be able to give Laura a much better place in the world.
In the matter of income, Cameron doubtless enjoyed three or four times as much as the annual pay of a second lieutenant ($1,700) amounts to. Besides, Cameron was not much in the way of risking his life, while an Army officer may be killed at any time, even in an ordinary riot. A lieutenants widow received only her pension of a comparatively few dollars a month.
"It would have been almost criminal for me to have thought of tying Laura's future up to mine," Dick told himself savagely, as he took a lonely stroll one March afternoon. "I'll have nothing but my pay, if I do graduate. A fellow like Cameron can allow his wife more for pin money than my whole years pay will come to. Really, I've no right to marry any but a rich girl, who has her own income. And, even if I fell in love with a rich girl, I wouldn't have the nerve to propose to her. I'd feel like a cheap fortune hunter."
Having made up his mind to put Laura Bentley out of his inner thoughts, Prescott did not write her as often as formerly.
He wrote often enough, and pleasantly enough to preserve the courtesies of life. Yet keen-witted Belle Meade was not long in discovering, from what Laura thought were chance remarks, that Dick was "dropping away" as a correspondent.
So, too, Laura's letters were fewer and briefer.
"Dick didn't really care for her, I guess," Belle decided, almost vengefully. "Then the bigger idiot he is, for there aren't many girls like Laura born in any one century! But Dick sees a good many girls at West Point, and perhaps he has grown indifferent to his old friends. There are a good many very 'swell' girls who visit West Point, too. Horrors! I wonder if Dick and Greg think that we are too countrified?"
After the first few weeks, with his resolute nature triumphing over anything that he set his mind to, Prescott found himself thinking less about Cameron. It was practically a settled matter, anyway, between Laura and Cameron, so Dick thought, and Cadet Prescott had his greatly improved standing in his class to console him for any losses in other directions. Yet Dick would not have dared to confess, even to himself, how little class standing did console him.
So hard had been study in the last few weeks that Prescott had all but forgotten the existence of turnback Haynes. They were not in the same section in any of the studies, nor did the two mingle at all in barracks life. Neither went to the hops now, either.
"Is Prescott afraid of me—-or what?" wondered Haynes. "Perhaps he hopes I have forgotten him, but I haven't. One thing is clear he doesn't intend to do anything about that train incident, or he'd have done it long ago. If he thinks I have forgotten my dislike of him, he may be glad enough to have it just that way. Bah, as if I could ever get over my dislike for a bootlick like Prescott! I'd like to get him out of the Army for good! I wonder if I can't, between now and June? I'd like my future in the Army a whole lot better with Prescott out of it."
So Haynes began taking to moody, lonely walks when he had any time for such outlet to his evil, feelings.
It is one of the strangest freaks of queer human nature that one who has once done another an injury ever after hates the injured one with an added intensity of hatred.
Turnback Haynes was quite able to convince himself that Dick Prescott, who avoided him, was really his worst enemy in the world.
So, one Saturday afternoon, in early April, it chanced that Dick and Cadet Haynes took to the same stretch of less-traveled road over beyond engineers' quarters.
Suddenly, going in opposite directions, they met face to face at a sharp bend in the road.
"Oh, you?" remarked Haynes, in a harsh, sneering voice.
Prescott barely nodded coldly, and would have passed on, but Haynes stepped fairly in his path.
"Prescott," cried the turnback, "I don't like you!"
"Then we are about even in our estimate of each other," responded Dick indifferently.
"Were you following me up, just now?"
"Why, as I have a memory, I might more properly suppose that you had been prowling on my trail," retorted Dick, eyeing his enemy sternly.
"Humph! What do you mean by that?" demanded Haynes bristling.
"Do you deny, Haynes, that on the night when we were returning from the Army-navy game you pushed me from the rear platform of the train?"
Cadet Prescott spoke without visible excitement, but gazed deeply into the shifty, angry eyes of the other.
Haynes swallowed hard. Then he replied gruffly:
"No; I don't deny it."
"Why did you do that, Haynes?"
"I haven't admitted that I did do it."
"You know that you did, though."
"Why did you do it?"
"I'll tell you, then," hissed the turnback. "It was because neither West Point nor the Army is going to be big enough for both of us!"
"When do you intend to resign?" demanded prescott coolly
"Re——-" gasped Haynes "Resign? I?"
Then you imagine that I am going to quit, or that you're going to force me to do so? retorted Prescott. "Haynes, even up to this hour I have hesitated to believe the half evidence of my own eyes. I have tried to convince myself that no man who wears the honored gray of West Point could do such a dastardly piece of work. And you have as good as admitted it to me."
"Well," sneered the turnback, what do you think you're going to do about it?"
"If I knew," glared Dick, "I wouldn't tell you until the time came."
"It will never come," laughed Haynes harshly. "That is, your time of triumph over me will never come. What else may happen it is yet a little too early to say."
Cadet Prescott felt all the cold rage that was possible to him surging up inside.
"Haynes," he went on, "it may seem odd of me to ask a favor from you."
"Very odd, indeed!" sneered the turnback.
"It is a very slight favor," continued Prescott, "and it is this: Don't at any time venture to address me, except upon official business."
With that Prescott stepped resolutely around the cadet in his path, and went forward at a stiff stride.
Haynes remained for some moments where he was, gazing after Dick with a curious, leering look.
"Prescott is a coward—-that's what he is!" muttered the turnback. "If he weren't, I said enough to him just now to cause him to leap at my throat. Humph! Anyone can beat a coward, and without credit. Prescott, your days at the Military Academy are numbered! You, an Army officer? Humph!"
Though it would be hard to understand why, Haynes felt much better after that brief interview. Perhaps it was because, all along, he had feared Cadet Prescott. Now the turnback no longer feared his enemy in the corps.
How would the feud end? How could it end?
THE TRAITOR OF THE RIDING HALL
If Dick gave no further outward attention to Haynes, he was nevertheless bothered about the fellow.
"Haynes isn't fit to go through and become an officer; to be set up over other men," Prescott told himself often.
This slighting opinion was not on account of the personal dislike that Prescott felt for the turnback. There were other cadets at West Point whom Dick did not exactly like, yet he respected the others, for they themselves respected the traditions of honor and justice that are a part of West Point.
With Haynes the trouble was that he was certain, sooner or later, to prove a discredit to the best traditions of the Army. Such a fellow was likely to prove a bully over enlisted men. Now, the enlisted men of the Regular Army do not resent having a strict officer set above them, but the officer must be a man whom they can respect. Such an officer, who commands the respect and admiration of the enlisted men under him, can lead them into the most dangerous places. They will follow as a matter of course; but an unworthy officer, one whom the enlisted men know to be unfit to command them, will demoralize a company, a troop, a battery or a regiment if he be given power enough.
Every cadet and every officer of the Army is concerned with the honor of that Army. If he knows that an unworthy man is obtaining command, it worries the cadet or officer of honor.
Had he been able to offer legal, convincing proof of Haynes's dastardly conduct in pushing him off the train on the return from the Army-Navy game, Prescott would have submitted that proof to the authorities, or else to the members of the second class in class meeting.
"But Haynes would only lie out of it, of course," Dick concluded. "As a cadet, his word would have to be accepted as being as good as mine. So nothing would come of the charges."
A class meeting, unlike a court-martial, might not stand out for legal evidence, if the moral presumption of guilt were strong enough; but Cadet Prescott would not dream of invoking class action unless he had the most convincing proof to offer.
Class action, when it is invoked at West Point, is often more effective than even the work of a court-martial. If the class calls upon a member to resign and return to civil life, he might as well do so without delay. If he does not, he will be "sent to Coventry" by every other cadet in the corps. If he has the nerve to disregard this and graduate, he will go forth into the Army only to meet a like fate at the hands of every officer in the service. He will always be "cut" as long as he attempts to wear the uniform.
"Its a shame to let this fellow Haynes stay in the service," Dick muttered. "And yet my hands are tied. With my lack of evidence I can't drag him before either a legal or an informal court. The only thing I can do is to let matters go on, trusting to the fact that, sooner or later, Haynes will overstep the bounds less cautiously, and that he'll find himself driven out of the uniform."
On going to his quarters for a study period one afternoon further along in April, Haynes found himself unable to concentrate his mind on the lesson before him. He was alone, his roommate being absent with a section at recitation.
As he sat thus idle at the study table, Haynes toyed with a little black pin. How the pin had come into his possession he did not even recall. It was a pin of ordinary size, one of the kind much used by milliners.
Having nothing else to do, Haynes idly thrust the head of the pin repeatedly in under the sole at the toe of his right boot. Somewhat to his surprise the head went well in, then stopped at last, fitting snugly and stiffly in place.
"If I had a fellow sitting in front of me, what a startling jab I could give him with the toe of my boot," grinned the turnback.
Then, suddenly, there came a very queer look into his face.
"Why, I reckon I could jab something else with a pin, beside the flesh of another cadet," he muttered.
Then, trembling slightly, the turnback bent down and carefully extracted the pin. His next act was to fasten it very securely on the inside of the front of his fatigue blouse, where the black uniform braid prevented its being seen.
Of late the second class cavalry drills had been in the open. That day, however, it was raining heavily, and the order had been passed for the squads to report at the riding hall.
Soon after Haynes's roommate had returned from recitation the signal sounded for the squad that was to report at the riding hall.
Haynes rose, drawing on his uniform raincoat.
"What's the matter with you, Haynesy?" inquired his roommate.
"Why do you ask, Pierson?"
"There was a very queer look on your face," replied Cadet Pierson. I couldn't tell whether it were a diabolical look or merely a sardonic grin."
"I was just thinking of a story I heard told years ago," lied Haynes glibly.
"I don't believe I'd care to hear that story, then," returned Pierson dryly.
"I'm not going to tell it to you. 'Bye, old man. I'm off for riding drill."
Dick and Greg were in the same squad. Those who were going for drill at this hour fell in at the command, of their squad marcher, and strode away to the riding hall.
Once inside, the cadets disposed of their uniform raincoats. The squad marcher reported to Captain Albutt, who was their instructor for the afternoon.
"To horse!" came the crisp order.
Each cadet stepped to his mount, untying the animal and standing by.
Haynes's heart gave a quick jump when he saw that to Dick's lot had fallen Satan, a fiery black, the worst tempered and most treacherous horse in the lot.
"My chance is coming sooner than I had thought for", quivered the turnback.
Dropping his handkerchief, Haynes bent over and quickly slipped the black pin in at the toe of his right boot.
"When we get into column of fours I have Prescott on my right, muttered the turnback. He had straightened up again, in almost no time, tucking the handkerchief again inside his blouse. His act had attracted no attention.
"Prepare to mount!" rang Captain Albutt's voice.
Each cadet took hold of mane, bridle and saddle in the way prescribed and stood with left foot in stirrup.
Jauntily each man swung up, passing his right leg over his mounts back, then settling easily into saddle.
For the first few minutes the squad walked, trotted, cantered and galloped around the tanbark in single file. Then their instructor, riding always near the center of the floor, threw them into platoon front at the west end of the hall. Now he gave them some general instruction as to the nature of the evolutions they were to perform. The next command came by bugle, and the platoon broke into column of fours, moving forward at the trot, Captain Albutt riding at the left flank near the head of the column.
As the horses fell into column of fours Haynes saw his chance. Nearly always, in this formation, some of the horses bump their neighbors. Haynes, by a slight twist of the bridle, threw horse over against Prescott's. The thing was so natural as to attract no notice.
Just as the horses touched flanks, however, Haynes, with his right foot swiftly withdrawn from its stirrup-box, gave Satan a vicious jab with the pin-point protruding from the toe of his boot.
There was a wild snort. Satan seemed instantly bent on proving the appropriateness of his name.
Lowering his head, Satan kicked out viciously with his hind feet, throwing the horses just behind into confusion.
Almost in the same instant Satan bit the rump of a horse in front of him.
Then up reared Prescotts mount.
Dick was a good horseman, but this move had caught him unawares. A horse at a trot is not usually hard to manage, and Prescott had not been on his guard against any such trick.
By the time that Satan came down from his plunge Dick had a firm seat and a strong hand on the bridle. But Satan was a tough-mouthed animal. His unlooked-for antics had caused the horses just ahead to swerve.
Through the scattering four in front plunged Satan, fire in his eyes, his nostrils quivering.
Captain Albutt took the situation in at once.
"Squad halt!" he roared. Be cool, Mr. Prescott! Bring your mount down with tact, not brute force.
Satan, having taken the bit between his teeth, went tearing around the tan-bark, not in the least minding the tight hold that his rider had on the bridle, or the way that the bit cut into his mouth. Satan blamed his own rider for that sharp, stinging jab, and he meant to unseat that rider.
Dick kept perfectly cool, though he realized much of his own great peril with this infuriated beast.
Captain Albutt, watching closely, became anxious when he saw that the cadet was failing in bringing down the temper of the infuriated beast.
Satan was more than furious; he was crafty. Master of many tricks, and with a record for injuring many a rider in the past, the animal dashed about the tan-bark, seeking some way of throwing his rider.
His uneasiness increasing, Captain Albutt put spurs to his own mount and went after Satan.
"Steady, Mr. Prescott," admonished the cavalry officer, riding close. I'll soon have a hand on your bridle, too.
Yet every time that Captain Albutt rode close, Satan waited until just the right instant, then swerved violently, snatching his head away from the risk of capture.
So villainous were these swerves that Dick had several narrow escapes from being unhorsed. A man of less skill would have been. At first the other members of the squad looked on only with amused interest. When, however, they caught the grave look on the captain's face, they began to comprehend how serious the situation was.
Satan, finding other devices for throwing his rider to be useless, soon resorted to the most wicked trick known to the equine mind. He reared, intent on throwing himself over backward, crushing his rider beneath him.
Captain Albutt reached the spot at a gallop, just in the nick of time. Standing in his stirrups, he caught one side of the bridle just in time to pull the horse's head down.
But, foiled in this attempt, Satan allowed his front feet to come down. Close to the ground the brute lowered its head, kicking up high with his hind heels. This, accompanied by a "worming" motion, sent Prescott flying from his saddle.
He made an unavoidable plunge over the animal's head.
"Let go your bridle!" roared Captain Albutt.
In the same instant the cavalry officer leaped from his own saddle.
Over came Cadet Prescott, turning a somersault in the air.
Albutt had jumped in order to catch the cadet. It all happened so quickly, however, that the cavalry officer had chance only to catch the cadets shoulders. Had it not been for that, Prescott would have struck fully on his back.
Having thrown its rider, Satan cantered off to the far end of the riding hall, where he stood, snorting defiance.
Captain Albutt allowed Prescott's head and shoulders to sink easily to the tan-bark.
"Are you badly hurt, Mr. Prescott?" inquired the officer.
"The small of my back is paining me just a little sir, from the wrench," replied Prescott coolly. "If it hadn't been for you, sir, my neck would have been broken."
"I think it would," replied the cavalry officer, smiling. "But this is one of the things I am here for. Do you feel as if you could rise, Mr. Prescott, with my help?"
"I'd like to try, sir."
Dick did try, but watchful Captain Albutt soon let him down again.
"You may not be much hurt, Mr. Prescott, but I want one of the medical officers to take the responsibility for saying so. Just lie where you are until we get a medical officer here. Mr. Haynes, pass your lines to the man at your left and run to the telephone. Ask for a medical officer and two hospital corps men with a stretcher."
The turnback leaped quickly to obey. This gave him the coveted chance to get away by himself, where he could secretly remove from his boot the little black pin that had been responsible for this excitement.
Surgeon and hospital men came on the run. The surgeon declined to make an examination there, but directed his men to lift the injured cadet to the stretcher and take him to the hospital.
In the meantime some enlisted men had caught and quieted Satan, leading him from the tanbark.
"That brute never will be used again, if I have my way," muttered Captain Albutt, loudly enough to be heard by most of the cadets of the squad.
Then the drill proceeded as though nothing had happened.
"I fixed my man that time, and easily enough," growled Haynes to himself. "He's out of the service, from now on. He can nurse a weak back the rest of his days."
When the drill was dismissed a party of three ladies, who had seen the whole scene from one of the iron balconies, came down to meet the cavalry officer.
"Your conduct was just splendid, captain, cried one of the women, her face glowing. But I feared you would be killed, or at least badly hurt, when you put yourself in the way of that somersaulting cadet. Why did you take such chances?"
"In the first place," replied the cavalry officer quietly, "because it was simple duty. There was another reason. If I am hurt, in the line of duty, I have my retired pay, as an officer, to live on. But a cadet who is hurt so badly that he cannot remain in the service has to go home, perhaps hopelessly crippled for life—-and a cadet injured in the line of duty has no retired pay."
"Why is that?" asked another of the ladies.
"I do not know, replied Captain Albutt simply, unless it is because Congress has always been too busy to think of the simple act of justice of providing proper retired pay for a cadet who is injured for life."
"Has Mr. Prescott been injured so that he'll have to leave the Army?"
"I don't know. But, if you'll excuse me, ladies, I am going over to the hospital now and find out."
THE CADET HOSPITAL
Cadet Prescott lay on one of the operating tables at cadet hospital.
Without a murmur he submitted to the examination. At times the work of the medical officer's hurt a good deal, but this was evidenced only by a firmer pressing together of the young soldiers lips.
At last they paused.
"Are you through, gentlemen?" Dick asked, looking steadily at the two medical officers.
"Yes," answered Captain Goodwin, the senior surgeon.
"May I properly ask what you find?"
"We are not yet quite sure," replied the senior surgeon. "None of the bones of the spine are broken. There has, of course, been a severe wrenching there. Whether your injury is going to continue into a serious or permanent injury we cannot yet say. A good deal will depend upon the grit with which you face things."
"I am a soldier," replied Dick doggedly. "Even if I am not much longer to be one."
"We will now have you removed to your cot. We are not going to place you in a cast as yet, anyway. It is possible that, after a few days, you may be able to walk fairly well."
"In that case, captain, is it then likely that I shall be able to return to duty?"
"Yes; the quicker things mend, and the sooner you are able to walk without help, the greater will be your chance of pulling through this injury and remaining in the service."
"Then I'd like to try walking back to barracks right now," smiled Cadet Prescott, wistfully.
"You are not to think of it, Mr. Prescott! You must not even attempt to put a foot out of bed until we give you permission. If you take the slightest risk of further injury to your back you are likely to settle your case for good and all, so far as the Army is concerned."
"I told you I was a soldier, sir," Dick replied promptly. "For that reason I shall obey orders."
"Good! That's the way to talk, Mr. Prescott," replied the senior medical officer heartily. "The better soldier you are, the better your chances are of remaining in the Army."
"There won't be any need, will there, captain, to send word to my father and mother of this accident until it is better known how serious it is?" coaxed Dick.
"If you wish the news withheld for the present, I will direct the adjutant to respect your wishes."
"If you will be so good, sir," begged the hapless cadet.
Hospital men were summoned and Dick was skillfully, tenderly transferred to a cot in another room. The steward stood by and took his orders silently from Captain Goodwin.
Hardly had this much been accomplished when a hospital service man entered, passing a card to Captain Goodwin.
"Admit him," nodded the surgeon.
In another minute Captain Albutt stepped into the room, going over to the cot and resting one of his hands over the cadet's right hand.
"How are you feeling?" asked Captain Albutt.
"Fine, sir, thank you," replied Dick cheerily.
"I'm glad your pluck is up. And I hear that you have a good chance."
"I hope so, sir, with all my heart. The Army means everything in life to me, sir. And Captain Albutt, I want to thank you for your splendid conduct in risking your own life to save me."
"Surely, Prescott," replied the captain quietly, "you know the spirit of the service better than to thank a soldier for doing his duty."
Captain Albutt had called him simply "Prescott," dropping the "mister," which officers are usually so careful to prefix to a cadet's name when addressing him. This little circumstance, slight as it was, cheered the cadet's heart. It was a tactful way of dropping all difference in rank, and of admitting Prescott to full-fledged fraternity in the Army.
"I shall inquire after you every day, Prescott, and be delighted when you can be admitted to the riding work again;" said the captain in leaving. "And I think you need have no fear of seeing Satan on the tan-bark again. If I have any influence, that beast will never be assigned to a cadet's use after this."
When Captain Albutt had gone Greg came in, on tiptoe.
"Out the soft pedal, old chap," smiled Dick cheerily, as their hands met. "I'm not a badly hurt man. The worst of this is that it keeps me from recitations for a few days. If it weren't for that, I'd enjoy lying here at my ease, with no need to bother about reveille or taps."
Greg's manner was light-hearted and easy. He had come to cheer up his chum, but found there was no need for it.
Then the superintendent's adjutant dropped in on his way home from the day in the office at headquarters. Having talked with Captain Goodwin, the adjutant agreed that there was no need, for a few days, to notify Prescott's parents and cause them uneasiness.
"We'll hope, Mr. Prescott," smiled the adjutant, "that you'll be well able to sit up and send them the first word of the affair in your own hand, coupled with the information that you're out of all danger."
Had it not been for his natural courage, Cadet Prescott would have been a very restless and "blue" young man. He knew, as well as did anyone else, that the chances of his complete recovery to sound enough condition for future Army service were wholly in the balance. But Captain Goodwin had impressed upon him that good spirits would have a lot to do with his chances. So strong was his will that Prescott was actually almost light-hearted when it came around time to eat his evening meal of "thin slops."
Over in cadet barracks interest ran at full height. Greg had to receive scores of cadets who dropped in to inquire for the best word.
One of the last of these to come was Cadet Haynes.
Greg received him rather frigidly, though with no open breach of courtesy.
"It's too bad," began Haynes.
"Of course it is," nodded Holmes.
"Prescott has very little chance of remaining in the corps, I suppose?"
"The surgeons don't quite say that," rejoined Greg.
"Oh, the rainmakers (doctors) are always cagey about giving real information until a man's dead," declared the turnback sagely.
"They seem to believe that Prescott has an excellent chance," insisted Greg.
"No bones broken?"
"Not a one."
"What is the trouble, then?"
"The rainmakers can't say exactly. They're waiting and watching."
"Humph! That sounds pretty bad for their patient."
"They say that if Prescott is able to walk soon, then his return to duty ought to be rather speedy."
"I'd like to believe the rainmakers," grunted Haynes.
"Would you?" inquired Greg very coolly.
"What is your particular interest in my roommate?" demanded Cadet Holmes.
He looked straight into the other's eyes. "Why, Prescott is one of the best and most popular fellows in the class. I've always liked him immensely, and——-"
"Humph!" broke in Cadet Holmes, using the turnback's own favorite word.
To just what this scene might have led it is impossible to say, but just at that instant Anstey and two other second classmen came into the room, and the turnback seized the opportunity to get away.
Though Cadet Prescott was so cheerful over his injury he was in a good deal of pain as the evening wore on.
Every hour or so Goodwin or the other surgeon came in to see him.
Though Prescott could hardly be expected to understand it, the surgeons were pleased, on the whole, with the pain. Had there been numbness, instead, the surgeons would have looked for paralysis.
Later in the night Dick asked Captain Goodwin if he could not administer some light opiate.
"You are willing to be a soldier, I know, Mr. Prescott," replied the surgeon.
"Be sure of that, sir," replied the young man, Wincing.
"Then try to bear the pain. It is the best indication with which we have to deal. It is one of the most hopeful symptoms for which we could look. Besides, your descriptions of the pain, and of its locality, if you are accurate, will give us our best indication of what to do for you."
"Then I don't want any opiate, sir," replied Dick bluntly. "I don't care whether I'm kept here a day or a year, or what I have to suffer, only as long as I don't have to lose an active career in the service!"
"Good for you, my young soldier," beamed the surgeon, patting the cadet's hand. "The superintendent telephoned over, a little while ago, to ask how you were. I told him that your grit was the best we had seen here in a long time."
"Thank you, sir."
"And the superintendent replied, dryly enough, that he expected that from your general record. The superintendent sent you his personal regards."
"Thank you, sir, and the superintendent, too."
"Oh, and a lot of others have been inquiring about you, too—-the K.C. and all of the professors and most of the instructors. And at least a small regiment of cadets have tramped down as far as the office door also. I've been saving the names of inquirers, and will tell you the names in the morning. All except the names of the cadets, that is. There was too big a mob of cadets for us to attempt to keep the names."
It was a painful, restless, feverish night for Prescott. He slept a part of the time, though when he did his sleep was filled with nightmares.
The surgeons won his gratitude by their devotion to his interests. The first half of the night Captain Goodwin was in at least every hour. The latter half of the night it was Lieutenant Sadtler who made the round.
By permission Cadet Holmes came to the hospital office just after breakfast.
It was a gloomy face that poor Greg wore back to barracks with him.
The surgeons had spoken hopefully, but—-
"Brains always work better than brute force," Haynes told himself, struggling hard to preserve his self-esteem.
THE MAN MOVING IN A DARK ROOM
May came, and, with the gorgeous blossoms of that month, Dick Prescott left the hospital.
He was able to walk fairly well, and was returned to study and recitations, though excused from all drills or any form of military duty.
Not quite all the old erectness of carriage was there, though Dick hoped and prayed daily that it would return.
He had been cautioned to take the best of care of himself. He had been warned that he was still on probation, so far as his physical condition was concerned.
"A sudden bad wrench, and you might undo all that has been done for you so far," was the surgeons' hint.
So Prescott, though permitted to march with his sections to recitations, and to fall in at the meal formations, was far from feeling reassured as to his ability to remain in the service.
He was to have a physical examination after the academic year was finished, and other examinations, if needed, during the summer encampment.
And well enough the young man knew this meant that, if he was found to be permanently disqualified in body, he would be dropped from the cadet corps as soon as the decision was reached.
"Do you know," muttered Greg vengefully, "Haynes had the cheek to come here and ask after you?"
"Did he?" inquired Dick.
"Yes; he pretended to be sorry about your accident."
"Perhaps he really was," returned Prescott.
"What? After his trick in pushing you from the train?"
"I hope he has lived to regret that," said Dick quietly.
"You're not quite a lunatic, old ramrod, are you?" asked Greg wonderingly.
"Oh, I've heard of fellows being bad, and then afterward repenting," murmured Dick. "Perhaps this has been the case with Haynes. You see, Greg, lying there in hospital, day after day, I had time to do a lot of thinking. Perhaps I learned to be just a trifle less severe in judging other fellows."
Anstey visited as often as he could. He and Greg did all they could to coach Prescott over the hard work that he had missed.
"There isn't going to be anything in the academic work to bother you," promised Anstey. "You'll have lots of chance to pull through in the general review."
"It's only the physical side of the case that gives me any uneasiness," replied Dick. "And I'm not worrying about that, either."
"I should say not, suh!" replied the Virginian with emphasis. "I had a chance to talk with Captain Goodwin, one day, without being too fresh, and he told me, old ramrod, that your work in athletics did a lot to save your back from faring worse. He said you were built with unusual strength in the back, and that many a hard tug in the football scrimmages had made you strong where you most need to be strong now."
"Now let's get back to work with our old ramrod, Anstey," cautioned Greg.
"Surely, suh, with all my heart," nodded Anstey. "But by day after to-morrow he'll have caught up with us, and be coaching us along for the general review."
The hard work that Dick had done through March and in early April now stood him in excellent stead. He had, really, only to make sure of the work that he had missed while at hospital. As to reviewing the earlier work of the second term, there was not the slightest need.
By the time that the general review was half through it was plain enough that Dick Prescott's class standing was going to be better than it had ever been before. In fact, he was slated to make the middle of this class.
"I'll be above the middle of the class next year, if the fates allow me to remain on with the corps," Dick promised himself and his friends.
"Oh, you'll be in the Army, suh, until you're retired for age, suh," predicted Anstey with great gravity.
The latter part of May passed swiftly for the busy cadets. The first class men were dreaming of their commissions in the more real Army beyond West Point; the present third classmen were looking forward with intense longing to the furlough that would begin as soon as they had stepped over the line into the second class. The new plebes were looking forward to summer encampment with a mixture of longing and dread—-the latter emotion on account of the hazing that might come to them in the life under the khaki-colored canvas.
As the days slipped by, Prescott began to have more and more of his old, firm step. He began to feel sure, too, that the surgeons would have no more fault to find with his condition.
"Why, I could ride a horse in fine shape to-day," declared Prescott, on one of the last days in May.
"Could you?" demanded Cadet Holmes quizzically.
"Perhaps I had better amend that bit of brag," laughed Dick. "What I meant was that I could ride as well, to-day, as I ever did."
"Don't be in a hurry to try it, old ramrod," advised Greg with a frown. "Be satisfied that you're doing well enough as it is. Don't be in a hurry to joggle up a spine that has had about as much as it could stand."
"I'll bet you I ride in the exhibition riding before the Board of Visitors," proposed Prescott earnestly.
"I shall be mightily disappointed in your judgment if you attempt it without first having received a positive order," retorted Greg. "Don't be a chump, old ramrod."
The exhibition before the Board of Visitors to which Dick had referred is one of the annual features of West Point life. The Board is appointed by the President of the United States. The Board goes to West Point a few days before graduation and thoroughly "inspects" the Academy and all its workings. The Board of Visitors impressively attends graduation exercises. Afterwards the Board writes its report on the Military Academy, and suggests anything that occurs to the members as being an improvement on the way things are being already conducted by Army officers who know their business.
One man in the second class was going badly to pieces in these closing days of the academic year. That man was turnback Haynes. His trouble was that he had allowed a private and senseless grudge to get uppermost in his mind. He lived more for the gratification of that grudge than he did for the realization of his own ambitions.
"This confounded Prescott has escaped me, so far, though his last experience was a narrow squeak. I've had two tries—-and, by the great blazes! the third time is said never to fail. He's in such bad shape now that it won't take much of a push to put him over the edge of physical condition. But how can I do it?"
So much thought did the turnback give to this problem that he fell further and further behind in general review. He was moving rapidly toward the bottom of the class.
Worse, he began to dream of his grudge by night. In his dreams Haynes always reviewed his hopes of successful villainy, or else found himself trying to put through some new bit of profound rascality. Always the turnback awoke from such dreams to find himself in a cold sweat.
"I'll hit the right scheme—-the real chance—-yet!" the plotter told himself, as he tossed restlessly at night, while his roommate, Cadet Pierson, slept soundly the sleep of the just and decent.
"Haynesy, what's the matter with you?" demanded Pierson one morning, as he watched his roommate going toward the washstand.
"What do you mean?" demanded Haynes, with the pallor of guilt on his face for a moment.
"Why, you always look so confoundedly ragged when you get up mornings. You used to wake up looking fresh and rosy. Now, you look like the ghost of an evil deed."
"Huh!" growled Haynes, plunging his hands into the water. "I'm all right."
"I wish I could believe you!" muttered the puzzled Pierson under his breath.
"It's near time to get Prescott, if I'm going to," Haynes told himself a dozen times a day.
In fact, the matter preyed so constantly on his mind that the turnback walked through each day in a perpetual though subdued state of nervous fever.
The next night Pierson awoke with a start. At first the cadet couldn't understand why he should feel so creepy. He was a good sleeper, and there had been no noise.
Hadn't there, though? It came again. And now Cadet Pierson rubbed his eyes and half rose on his cot, leaning his head on one hand.
Now, with intense interest, he watched the proceedings of his roommate, turnback Haynes, who was up and moving stealthily about the room, every action being clearly revealed in the bright moonlight that was streaming through the windows.
THE ROW IN THE RIDING DETACHMENT
"Wow, what on earth is the fellow doing?" muttered the puzzled Pierson.
Haynes had gone over to his fatigue blouse, the left front of which he was examining very closely.
Then the turnback began to mutter indistinctly.
"Why, Haynesy is walking and talking in his sleep!" decided Pierson. "Queer! I never knew him to do anything like that before. He must have something on his mind."
Pierson had read, somewhere, that it is never wise to disturb a sleepwalker, there being a risk that the sleepwalker, if aroused too suddenly, may suffer collapse from fright.
"I wonder what on earth old Haynesy can have on his mind?" pondered Pierson. "Oh, well, whatever it is, it is no business of mine."
With that Pierson let his head return to his pillow.
"That did the trick for Prescott—-ha! ha!" muttered the turnback.
"What on earth did the trick, and what trick was it?" muttered watching Pierson, curious despite the admitted fact that it was all none of his business.
After a few moments more Haynes went back to his cot, pulled the sheet and a single blanket up over him, and became quiet.
"It wouldn't do any good to ask Haynesy anything about this," decided Pierson. "He won't remember anything about it in the morning."
So Pierson went to sleep again. When he awoke in the morning he was more than half inclined to believe that he had dreamed it all.
The general reviews were drawing toward their close. In two studies Haynes was making a poor showing, though he believed that he would pass.
Riding drills were being held daily now. Preparations were being made for the stirring exhibition of cavalry work that was to be shown before the Board of Visitors.
On the afternoon of the day before the visitors were due, Greg started up at the call for cavalry drill.
So did Dick.
"Where are you going?" challenged Cadet Holmes.
"To cavalry drill," responded Cadet Prescott.
"Who said you could?"
"The K.C. for one; Captain Albutt for another."
Greg looked, as he felt, aghast at the idea, but he managed to blurt out:
"What about the rainmakers?"
"Captain Goodwin has examined me again."
"Surely, he doesn't approve of your riding yet, Dick?"
"He didn't say whether he did or not."
"But he certified that I was fit to ride."
"Dick, you didn't have to do this——-"
"No; but I want to be restored to full duty. Captain Albutt has informed me that the horse assigned to me will be a dependable, tractable animal, and I shall be on my guard and use my head."
"I don't like this," muttered Greg, as he fastened on his leggings.
"I didn't suppose you would, so I didn't tell you anything about it."
By the time that the second call sounded both young men were prepared, and joined the stream of cadets pouring out of barracks.
Other cadets than Greg expressed their astonishment when they saw Prescott in the detachment.
"Is this wise, old ramrod?" asked Anstey anxiously.
"A soldier shouldn't play baby forever," returned Dick. "And I have permission, or I wouldn't be here."
"I don't like it," muttered Anstey.
Furlong, Griffin and Dobbs all had something to say.
Haynes didn't let a word escape him, but his eyes lighted with evil joy.
"Now, I can finish the job, I guess," throbbed the evil one.
The detachment to which Prescott and some of his friends belonged was formed and marched through one of the sally-ports. Just beyond, a corporal and a squad of men from the Regular Army cavalry sat in saddle. Each enlisted man held the bridle of another horse than the one he rode. As the corporal dismounted his men, the cadets, at the word from their marcher, moved forward and took their mounts. At the command, the detachment rode forward, by twos, at a walk, down the road that led to the cavalry drill ground below the old South Gate.
It was Greg who rode beside his chum. In the drill, later, when in platoon front or column of fours, it would be Haynes who would ride on Dick's left.
The turnback had already made sure that his useful black pin was securely fastened inside his fatigue blouse.
Arrived at the drill ground, the cadets dismounted, standing by their horses in a little group until Captain Albutt should ride out of one of the cavalry stables and take command.
Haynes, with a rapid throbbing of his pulses, bent forward and down, pretending to examine his horse's nigh forefoot.
As he did so, with an expertness gained of practice, Haynes slipped the head of the black pin in under the front of the sole of his right boot. Then he straightened up again, chatting with Pierson.
"I say, Haynes," drawled Anstey, a few moments later, glancing at the turnback's right foot, "that's a dangerous-looking thing you have in your boot."
"What's that?" demanded Haynes, losing color somewhat, yet pretending to be surprised.
"That long pin, sticking out of the front of your right boot," continued Anstey, pointing.
Haynes glanced down, saw the thing, and pretended to be greatly astonished.
"How did I get that thing in my shoe?" he cried.
Then, with an appearance of indolent indifference that was rather overdone, the turnback stooped low enough to extract the pin. But his fingers trembled in the act, and half a dozen cadets noted the fact.
"That's a reckless bit of business, Haynes," continued Anstey in a voice that did not appear to be accusing.
"Reckless?" gasped Greg Holmes. "It's criminal!"
"What do you mean?" demanded Haynes, straightening himself and glaring coldly into Holmes's eyes.
But Greg was one of the last fellows in the world to permit himself to be "frozen."
"I mean what I say, Haynes," he retorted plumply. "With that thing in the toe of your boot something would be likely to happen when some other horse's flank bumped you on the right. And, by George, it's Prescott who rides at your right in platoon or column of fours!"
Greg shot a look full of keen suspicion at the turnback.
"And it was Prescott who rode on your right the day he was thrown from Satan!" flashed Greg, his face going white from the depth of his sudden feeling. "Haynes, did you have that pin in the toe of your boot the day that Prescott was thrown in the riding hall?"
"You——-" Haynes began, at white heat, clenching his free fist.
"Answer me!" broke in Greg insistently.
"I did not!"
"I don't believe you!" shot back Cadet Holmes
"Confound you, sir, do you mean to call me a liar?" hissed the turnback.
"Yes!" replied Greg promptly.
Haynes dropped his bridle, stepping toward Greg Holmes, who, however, neither flinched nor looked worried.
"Hold my lines, Dobbs," urged Pierson, passing his bridle over to a fellow classman.
Then Pierson sprang in front of Greg, facing his roommate.
"Softly, Haynes!" cried Pierson warningly.
"What is this to you?" demanded the turnback hotly.
"I am under the impression," replied Pierson, "that this is not a personal matter so much as it is a class affair."
But Haynes, feeling that he was almost cornered, became reckless and desperate.
"This is a personal matter, Pierson. Stand aside until I knock that cur down."
"From any other man in the detachment," spoke Greg bitterly, "I would regard the use of that word an insult. Haynes, if you hit me, I shall knock you clean into the Hudson River. But I will not accept any challenge to fight until the class has passed on this matter."
"The class has nothing to do with it," insisted Haynes.
"I think the class has," broke in Pierson. "When the time comes I shall have considerable to say."
"Then say it now!" commanded Haynes, glaring at his roommate.
"I will," nodded Pierson. "The other night, Haynes, I was awakened to find you walking about the room in your sleep. You also talked in your sleep. At the time I could make nothing of it all. Now, I think I understand."
Then Cadet Pierson swiftly recounted what he had seen and what he had heard that night in the room.
"You were fingering something on the left front of your blouse, and while doing so, you made the distinct remark that this was what had done the trick for Prescott," charged Pierson. "I did not see what it was that you were fingering, but the next day, the first chance I got, I, too, examined the left front of your blouse. I found a small, black pin fastened there. It has been fastened there every time since when I have had a chance to look at your fatigue blouse hanging on the wall."
"I am not responsible for what I say when I'm sleepwalking," cried Haynes in a rage. "And, besides, Pierson, you're lying."
"I'll wager that not a man here believes I'm lying," retorted Pierson coolly.
"No, no! You're no liar, Pierson!" cried a dozen men at once.
"Is there a black pin inside your blouse at this moment?" challenged Greg.
"None of your business," cried the turnback hoarsely.
"I demand that you show up, or stand accused," insisted Cadet Holmes.
"I'll show up nothing, or take any orders from anyone who tries to lie my good name away," retorted Haynes. "But at least two of you will have to fight me mighty soon."
"I won't fight you," retorted Greg bluntly, "until the class declares you to be a man fit to fight with."
"Nor I, either," rejoined Pierson decisively. "Stand aside, you hound, and let me get at that cur behind you!" cried Haynes hoarsely.
"Attention!" called the detachment marcher formally. "The instructor for the day!"
Captain Albutt rode out of the nearest cavalry stable, mounted on his own pure white horse.
At the order of the marcher each cadet fell back to the lines of his own mount.
When Captain Albutt reached the detachment he saw nothing to indicate the disturbance that had just occurred.
THE DECREE OF "COVENTRY"
"Prepare to mount! Mount!"
Some preliminary commands of drill were executed. Then the serious work of the hour began.
Never had Captain Albutt commanded at a better bit of cavalry work than was done this afternoon by members of the first and second classes.
The wheelings, the facings and all the manoeuvres at the different gaits were executed with precision and dash. All the movements in troop and squadron were carried out to perfection.
To the instructor, it was plain that the most perfect esprit de corps existed. The cadets were acting with a singleness and devotedness of purpose which showed plainly that the perfect trooper was the sole subject of thought in their minds. At least, so the instructor thought, from the results obtained.
Even Haynes's face was inexpressive as he rode.
Greg was as jaunty as though he had not an unkind thought toward anyone in the world.
Cadet Prescott did not betray a sign of any thought save to do his duty perfectly.
Yet, every time that his horse was brought close to Haynes's, Prescott had his eyes open for any foul play that might be attempted by the turnback.
"If the young men do as splendidly to-morrow before the Board of Visitors," thought Captain Albutt, "I shall feel that my year of work here has been a grand success. Jove, what a born trooper everyone of these young fellows seems to be!"
At last the drill was finished. In detachments, the young cadet troopers returned to the road between the administration building and the academic building.
Here each detachment dismounted, surrendered its horses to a waiting detail of enlisted cavalrymen, and then marched in to barracks.
As soon as the young men had removed their riding leggings, and the dust from their uniforms, most of them descended into the quadrangle.
Haynes reached his room just an instant behind Pierson.
"See here, Pierson, you cad, what did you——-"
"Oh, shut up!" replied Pierson, with a weary sigh.
"Don't you speak to me like that, sir!" cried Haynes warningly, as he stepped over to where his roommate was busy with a clothes brush.
"I don't want to talk with you at all," retorted Pierson.
"You'll talk to me a lot, or you'll answer with your fists!"
"Fight with you? Bah!" growled the other man in disgust.
"You cad, you deliberately li——-"
But Pierson, having put his brush away, turned on his heel and left the room.
Haynes paused for an instant, his face white with a new dread.
A cadet stands low, indeed, when another cadet will not resent being called a liar by him.
"This has kicked up an awful row against me, I guess," muttered the turnback, as he hastily cleaned himself. "I must get down into the quadrangle, mix with the fellows and set myself straight."
Full of this purpose, for he was not lacking in a certain quality of nerve and courage, Haynes went down to the quadrangle.
"I am afraid a good deal of feeling was aroused this afternoon, Furlong," began the turnback.
Then he gulped, clenched his fists and lost color, for Cadet Furlong, without a word, had turned on his heel and walked away.
"Griffin, what does Fur——-"
Cadet Griffin, too, turned on his heel, passing on.
It was Dobbs's turn to show his back and stroll away.
"What the deuce has got into them all?" wondered Haynes, though his heart sank, for, much as he wanted to ignore the meaning, it was becoming plain to him.
Another cadet was passing along the walk. To him Haynes turned with an appealing face.
"Lewis," began the turnback, "I am afraid I shall have to ask you——-"
Whatever it was, Lewis did not wait to hear. He looked at Haynes as though he saw nothing there, and joined a little group of cadets beyond.
"Confound these puppies!" growled Haynes to himself. "They're all fellows that I hazed when they were plebes, and they haven't forgiven me. I see clearly enough that, if I am to have an explanation, or get a chance to make one, I must do it through the members of my old class."
Some distance down the quadrangle stood Brayton and Spurlock, first classmen and captains in the cadet battalion.
"They're high-minded, decent fellows," said Haynes to himself. "I will go to them and get this nasty business set straight."
Past several groups of cadets stalked Haynes, affecting not to see any of the fellows. But these cadets appeared equally indifferent to being recognized.
Brayton and Spurlock were talking in low tones when the turnback approached them.
"Brayton," began Haynes, "I want to ask you to do me a bit of a favor."
Brayton did not stop his conversation with Spurlock, nor did he show any other sign of having heard the turnback.
"Brayton! I beg your pardon!"
But the first classman did not turn.
"Spurlock," asked Haynes, in a thick voice, "are you in this tommy-rot business, too?"
Spurlock, however, seemed equally deaf.
"Then see here, both of you——-" insisted Haynes, choking with anger.
The two first classmen turned their backs, walking slowly off.
There was no chance to doubt the fate that had overtaken him. Haynes had been "sent to Coventry." Henceforth, as long as he remained in the corps of cadets, he was to be "cut." No other cadet could or would speak to him, under the same penalty of also being sent to Coventry.
Henceforth the only speech that any cadet would have with him would be a necessary communication on official business. Socially there was no longer any Cadet Haynes at West Point.
Once, two years before, Haynes had helped to put this punishment on a plebe, who had soon after quitted the Academy.
Then Haynes had thought that sending another to Coventry was, under some circumstances, a fine proceeding. But now the like fate had befallen him!
"The fellows don't really mean it. They're excited now, but to-morrow they'll be sorry and call the whole foolishness off," thought the "cut" man, trying hard to swallow the obstinate lump that rose in his throat.
In the quadrangle, mostly in groups, were fully two hundred cadets. But not one of these young men would address a word to the exposed turnback.
"There's one satisfaction, anyway," thought Haynes savagely, as he walked blindly back toward the door of his own subdivision in barracks, "I can take it all out on the plebes!"
Just as he was going up the steps Haynes encountered a plebe coming out.
"Here, mister!" growled Haynes. "Swing around with you! At attention, sir! What's your name, mister?"
But the plebe did not even pause. He did not avert his head, but he took no pains to look at Haynes, merely passing the turnback and gaining the quadrangle below.
Now the utter despair of his position came over Haynes. How suddenly it had come! And even Haynes, with his four years at West Point, could hardly realize how the Coventry had been pronounced and carried out in so very few minutes after release from cavalry drill.
Tears of rage and humiliation in his eyes, Haynes stumbled to his room. Once inside he shunned the window, but stumbled to his chair at the study table, and sank down, his face buried in his arms.
"Oh, I'll make somebody suffer for this!" he growled.
Out in the quadrangle, now that the turnback was gone, the main theme of conversation was the discovery and exposure of the afternoon.
Pierson was requested to repeat his statement to a large group of first and second classmen.
"I don't believe a man could get a pin stuck into the toe of his boot accidentally, in the way that Haynes had his pin arranged," declared Brayton. "Has one of you fellows a pin to lend me?"
A pin being passed, Brayton sat down on a convenient step and tried to adjust the pin between the sole and the upper of the toe of his boot.
"I can force it in a little way," admitted Brayton, "but see how the pin wobbles. It would fall out if I moved my foot hard. Some of the rest of you try it."
Other cadets repeated the experiment.
"I'll tell you, fellows," said Spurlock at last; "a fellow couldn't accidentally get a pin in that position, and hold it firm there. But I know that, after repeated trying, and working to fit the pin, I could finally get matters so that I could quickly fit a pin that would hold in place and be effective."
"Of course," nodded Lewis. "It can be done, but only by design."
"And that was the very way that Prescott's horse was enraged, so that old ramrod got his awful tumble!" exclaimed Greg bitterly.
"You believe, now, that the whole thing was a dirty, deliberate trick, don't you?" asked Spurlock of Prescott.
"I am pretty sure it must have been," nodded Dick.
"Then," declared Brayton, "the whole thing is something for you second classmen to settle among yourselves. In the first place, it is your own class affair. In the next place, we men of the first class are practically out of the Military Academy already. It will do the first class no good to take any action, because we shall not be here to carry out any decree."
"You can advise us, though," suggested Holmes.
"And we'll do so gladly," nodded Brayton. "Then do we need to hold a class meeting, and vote to make the Coventry permanent?"
"Hardly, I should say," replied Brayton. "You've already started the cut, and it can be continued without any regular action—-unless Haynes should have the cheek to try to brazen it out. If he does insist on staying here at the Military Academy, you can easily take up the matter during the summer encampment."
"It would seem rather strange for me to call a class meeting, when the whole affair concerns me," suggested Dick.
"Oh, you don't need to call the meeting, old ramrod," advised Spurlock. "A self-appointed committee of the class can call the meeting. You can open the meeting, of course, Prescott, and then you can call any other member of the class to take the chair."
"I wonder if it will be necessary to drum the fellow out of the class formally?" asked Anstey.
"Only time can show you that," replied Brayton. "Better just wait and see what action the fellow Haynes will take for himself. He may have the sense to resign."
Resign? That word was not in Haynes's own dictionary of conduct. After his first few moments of despair, on gaining his room, the turnback had risen from his chair, his face showing a courage and resolution worthy of a better cause.
"Those idiots may think they have 'got' me," he muttered, shaking his fist toward the quadrangle. "One of these days they'll know me better! I'll make life miserable for some of those pups yet!"
Just before it was time for the call to dress parade Pierson came hurrying into the room to hasten into his full-dress uniform.
Haynes, already dressed with scrupulous care, looked curiously at his roommate. But Pierson did not appear to see him.
Haynes stepped over to the window, drumming listlessly on the sill. At length he turned around.
"Pierson," he asked, "have the fellows sent me to Coventry?"
"You don't need to ask that," replied the other coldly.
"Is it because of Prescott?"
"Yes. And now, will you stop bothering me with the sound of your voice?"
"Pierson, you know, when a fellow is cut by the corps, his roommate is not required to avoid conversation with the unlucky one."
"I know that," replied Pierson coldly. "But I've had all I want of you and from you. Except when it is absolutely necessary I shall not answer or address you hereafter."
"How long am I to stay in Coventry?"
Pierson acted as though he did not bear.
"Has formal action been taken, or is this just a flash of prejudice, Pierson?"
The call to form and march on to the parade ground was sounding. Snatching up his rifle, Haynes stepped out and joined the others.
Haynes did not receive even as much as a cold glance.
"I'm less than a bit of mud to them!" thought the turnback bitterly. "These fellows would step around a patch of mud, just to avoid dirtying their shoes."
It was a relief to hear the command to fall in. Haynes felt still better when the battalion stepped away at its rhythmic step. He did not have to look at any of his contemptuous comrades now, nor did he need a word from them.
Somehow, though in a daze, the turnback got through dress parade without reproof from any of the watchful cadet officers. Then, almost immediately after dress parade, came the hardest ordeal of all.
Once more, this time in fatigue uniform, the turnback had to fall in at supper formation. With the rest he marched away to cadet mess ball, found his place at table and occupied it.
During the meal merry conversation ran riot around the tables. Haynes was the only man among the gray-clad cadets who was left absolutely alone.
After supper, while Pierson lounged outside, Haynes went back to his room.
Pacing the floor in his deep misery and agitation, he took this vow to himself:
"I won't let myself be driven from the Military Academy! No matter what these idiots try to do to me—-no matter what indignities they may heap upon me, I'll keep silent and fight my way through the Military Academy! I will receive my commission, and go into the Army. But that fellow Prescott shall never become an officer in the Army, no matter what I have to risk to stop him!"
For most of the young men at West Point the academic year now came swiftly and joyously to an end.
True, some score and a half of plebes were found deficient, and sent back to their homes.
The same thing happened to a few of the third classmen.
All of the members of the first class succeeded in passing and in graduating into the Army.
The poor plebes who had failed had been mournfully departing, one at a time.
These unhappy, doleful young men felt strangely uncouth in the citizens' clothes that they had regained from the cadet stores.
Yet everyone of these plebes received many a handshake from the upper classmen and a hearty good wish for success in life.
More doleful still felt the dropped third classmen, who had been at the Military Academy for two years, and who had thoroughly expected to "get through" into the Army somehow.
It was now a little before the time when cadets must hasten to quarters to attire themselves for dress parade.
Several score of cadets still lingered in the quadrangle when Greg Holmes and Pierson suddenly appeared, heading straight for one of the largest groups, in which Dick Prescott stood.
"Heard any news lately?" asked Greg, a pleased twinkle in his eyes.
"Nothing startling. We've been supplying new, dry handkerchiefs to the poor, late plebes," answered Brayton.
"Haven't heard about that fellow Haynes?" asked Greg.
"Nothing," admitted Brayton.
"Well, you see," exclaimed Pierson, "Haynes made up his mind to disregard the grand cut. He determined to stick it out, anyway, even for a whole year."
"He'll have a sweet time of it, then," put in Spurlock dryly. "I never heard of a fellow who got the general cut lasting a whole year here before."
"That was Haynes's decision, anyway," went on Pierson. "This is no guess work. The fellow told me so himself."
"I reckon, suh, maybe we'll be able to change his mind," drawled Anstey.
"No you won't," broke in Greg decisively. "Haynes got in bad on the last two days of general review. Chemistry and Spanish verbs threw him. So he was ordered up for a writ (written examination) in both subjects. He fessed frozen on both of them. He applied for a new examination in a fortnight, but the fact that Haynes was already a turnback went against him."
"He's 'found,' eh?" questioned Brayton, smiling gleefully.
"Dropped," nodded Pierson.
"Fired!" added Greg, with a look of satisfaction. "There's no getting around the truth of the old superstition, fellows!"
The "old superstition" to which Holmes referred is one intensely believed in the cadet corps. While there is nothing whatever to prevent a sneak from being admitted to the United States Military Academy, the cadets believe firmly that a dishonorable fellow is bound to be caught, before he graduates, and that he will be kicked promptly out of the service by one means or another.
"Has the fellow gone yet?" inquired Spurlock.
"He'll slip away while the rest of us are away at dress parade, I guess," responded Pierson. "Haynes is in cit. clothes already, and is just fussing around a bit."
"He must feel fine!" muttered Brayton musingly. "I could almost say 'poor fellow.'"
"So could I," agreed Prescott, with a good deal of feeling. "It would break my heart to be compelled to leave the corps, except at graduation, so I can imagine how any other fellow must feel."
"Oh, well, he'd never be happy in the Army, anyway," replied Spurlock. "Out in the Army the other officers can take care of a dishonorable comrade even more effectively than we do."
"What made Haynes fess out, I wonder?" pondered Brayton aloud.
"Being sent to Coventry got on his nerves so that he couldn't pull up enough at review and the writs," replied Pierson. "He wasn't one of the bright men, anyway, in the section rooms."
"By Jove, suh! There's the fellow now!" muttered Anstey.
The others turned slightly to see Haynes, out of the gray uniform that he had disgraced, wearing old cit. clothes and carrying a suit case, step out and cross the quadrangle to the office of the K.C.
A few minutes later, Haynes came out of the cadet guard house. Knowing that he would never have the ordeal to face again, Haynes summoned all his "brass" to the surface and stepped down the length of the quadrangle. He passed many groups of curious cadets, none of whom, however, sent a look or a word to him.
Then on out through the east sally-port strode Haynes. On the sidewalk beyond, he passed Captain Albutt. Haynes did not salute the officer; he didn't have to. Even had Haynes saluted, Captain Albutt could not have returned this military courtesy, for Haynes was no longer a member of the American Military establishment.
* * * * * * *
On the afternoon of the day following the graduating exercises came to a brilliant finish at Cullum Hall. Brayton, Spurlock and their classmates were honorably through with West Point, their new careers about to open before them.
Cadet Dick Prescott came forth from the exercises, a look of radiant happiness on his face.
He had been ordered before a board of surgeons that morning. Just as a formality he was to go before a medical board again in August.
"But that's only a piece of red tape," Captain Goodwin had explained to him. "By wonderful good luck, or rather, no doubt, thanks to Captain Albutt's gallantry, your spine is now as sound as ever. Come before us in August, but I can tell you now that the August verdict will be O.K."
"My, but you look like the favorite uncle of the candy kid!" muttered Greg, as the two chums in gray strode along together.
"Why shouldn't I?" retorted Dick. "My spine is all right, and I'm to stay in the service. Then besides, Greg, old fellow, think what we are now."
"Well, what are we?" asked Greg.
"First classmen! Only a year more, Greg, to the glorious old Army! Think of it, boy! In blue, in a year, and wearing shoulder-straps!"
"I wish we had just graduated, like Brayton, Spurlock and the rest," muttered Greg.
"You want to rush things, don't you, lad?"
"But Dick, you see," murmured Holmes, "a cadet can't marry."
"Oh, still harping on Miss Number Three?" laughed his chum.
"Number—-thr——-" stammered Greg.
"You don't mean to say that it is all off with Miss Number Three?"
"Oh, yes; months ago."
"She broke the engagement?"
"Yes," admitted Holmes. "But I don't care."
"What's the present girl's number?" teased Dick.
"Five," confessed Greg with desperate candor. "But this girl, Dick, is worth all the others. And she'll stick. After all, it's only a year, now, that she'll have to wait."
At this point, however, we find Dick and Greg to be first classmen. So their further adventures are necessarily reserved for the next and concluding volume in this series, which will be published under the title, "Dick Prescott's Fourth Year At West Point; Or, Ready to Drop the Gray for Shoulder Straps." All we need to tell the reader is that this coming volume will contain the most rousing story of all in the West Point Series.