MoboReader> Literature > Dick Prescotts's Fourth Year at West Point / Or, Ready to Drop the Gray for Shoulder Straps


Dick Prescotts's Fourth Year at West Point / Or, Ready to Drop the Gray for Shoulder Straps By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 21358

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

"Detachment halt!" commanded the engineer officer in charge.

Out on the North Dock at West Point the column of cadets had marched, and now, at the word, came to an abrupt stop.

This detachment, made up of members of the first and third classes in the United States Military Academy, was out on this August forenoon for instruction in actual military engineering.

The task, which must be accomplished in a scant two hours, was to lay a pontoon bridge across an indentation of the Hudson River, this indentation being a few hundred feet across, and representing, in theory, an unfordable river.

"Mr. Prescott!"

Cadet Richard Prescott, now a first classman, and captain of one of the six cadet companies, stepped forward, saluting.

"You will build the bridge today, Mr. Prescott, continued the instructor, Lieutenant Armstrong, Corps of Engineers, United States Army.

"Very good, sir," replied Dick.

With a second salute, which was returned, Prescott turned to divide his command rapidly into smaller detachments.

It was work over which not a moment of time could be lost. All must be done with the greatest possible despatch, and a real bridge was called for--not a toy affair or a half-way experiment.

"Mr. Holmes," directed Prescott, "you will take charge of the boats. Mr. Jordan, take charge of the balk carriers!"

A balk is a heavy timber, used, in this case, in the construction of the pontoon.

Cadet Jordan, one of the biggest men, physically, in the first class, scowled as he received this order for what was especially arduous duty.

"That's mean of you, Prescott," glowered Jordan.

"If you have any complaints to make, sir, make them to the instructor," return Cadet Captain Prescott, after a swift, astonished look at his classmate.

"You know I can't do that," muttered Cadet Jordan. "But you---"

"Silence, sir, and attend to your duty!"

Then, raising his voice to one of general command, Prescott called:

"Construct the bridge!"

Jordan fell back, with a surly face and a muttered imprecation, to take command of the squad of yearlings, or third classman who must serve in carrying the heavy balks.

In the meantime Dick's roommate, Greg Holmes, had hurried his squad away to the flat-bottomed, square-ended pontoon boats, placing his crews therein.

Almost instantly, it seemed, Greg had placed the first boat in position.

"Lay the balks!" ordered Dick Prescott.

Cadet Jordan moved forward with some of his yearlings, who carried the heavy balks, or flooring timbers, on their shoulders. It was hot, hard work--"thankless," as the young men often termed it in private.

These balks were laid across the first pontoon.

As quickly as the balks had been laid the detachment of lashers were at work securing the balks in place.

"Shove off!"

The first was floated to the mooring stakes and a second boat was moved into position.


Another column of yearlings moved forward, each with a heavy plank on his shoulder. It was heavy, hot, hard and dirty work. Outsiders who imagine that the Military Academy is engaged in turning out "uniformed dudes" should see this work done by the cadets.

Almost with the speed of magic the planks were laid in an orderly manner forming a secure flooring over the balks.

The second boat was anchored, and then a third, a fourth. As the bridge grew Cadet Prescott walked out on the flooring that he might be at the best point for directing the efforts.

As the fifth boat reached its position, Dick turned to see that all was going well.

The yearlings, whose duty it was to carry the balks--"balk-chasers," they were termed unofficially--were standing idle, though alert. They could not move until Mr. Jordan, of the first class, gave the order.

And Jordan? With one hand hanging at his side, the other resting against the small of his back, he stood gazing absently out over the Hudson.

"Mr. Jordan!" called Dick, hastening back over the planking.

"Sir!" answered the surly cadet, facing him.

"Hurry up the balks, if you please, sir."

With a scowl, Jordan turned slowly toward the waiting yearlings.

"Lay hold!" commanded Jordan, and, though it was hard work, the yearlings responded willingly. This was what they were here for, and this hard work was all part of the training that was to fit them for command after they were graduated.

"All possible speed, Mr. Jordan!" admonished Prescott, with a tinge of impatience in his voice.

"Lay hold! Raise! Shoulder!" drawled Mr. Jordan, with tantalizing slowness.

The yearling squad, each man feeling the cut of the sharp corners of the heavy balk on his right shoulder, yet, bearing it patiently, awaited the next command.

"Mr. Jordan, this is not a loafing contest," admonished Prescott in a low voice.

"For--ward!" ordered Jordan with provoking deliberation.

The yearlings under him, made of vastly better material, sprang forward with their balks, laying them in record time across the top of the next pontoon. The lashers then fell upon their work of securing the balks as though they loved labor.

"Chess!" called Dick, remaining on shore this time, and the yearlings with the planks hastened forward, each carrying a plank. Here and there, a lighter cadet staggered somewhat under the plank he was carrying, yet hastened forward to finish his duty of the moment with military speed.

Another pontoon was ready.

"Balks!" called Cadet Prescott. "Balks!"

Jordan got his squad started at last.

Dick glanced swiftly, but in wonder at Lieutenant Armstrong. That Army officer, however, seemed industriously thinking about something else.

"Jordan is truly taking charge of the balks!" muttered Prescott to himself. "He is going to balk me so that I can't get the bridge constructed before recall!"

"Running the balk chasers" is always unpopular work among the cadets. Properly done, this work calls for a great deal of alertness, speed and precision. It is work that takes every moment of the cadet's time and attention, and incessant running in the hot sun. Yet Prescott had, before this, chased the balk carriers, and had not objected. He had taken up that task as he did all others, as part of the day's work, something to be done speedily, well and uncomplainingly.

"What's the matter with you, Mr. Jordan?" asked Dick in an undertone.

"Are you sick?"

"Sick of such emigrant's jobs as this!" growled Jordan. "What made you give me---"

"I can't discuss that with you," replied Cadet Dick Prescott coldly. "I shall be compelled to make it an official matter, however, if you hinder me any more."

"Lay hold! Raise! Shoulder! Forward!" Jordan ran with the squad.

"Halt! Lower!"

"I reckon Jordan means to keep really on the job now," murmured Prescott to himself, and returned to the advancing end of the pontoon as it crawled over the little arm of the Hudson.

Two more boats, however, and then Dick sprang sternly ashore.

"Mr. Anstey!" called Prescott, and Anstey, the sweet-tempered Virginian, one of Dick's staunchest friends in the corps of cadets, came quickly up, saluting.

"Mr. Anstey, you will chase the balk carriers," directed Dick. "Please try to make up the time that has been lost. Mr. Jordan, you are relieved from your duty, and will report yourself to the instructor for gross lack of promptness in executing orders!"

There could be no mistaking the quality of the justly aroused temper that lay behind Cadet Prescott's flashing blue eyes.

As for Cadet Jordan, that young man's face went instantly livid. He clenched his fists, while the blackness of a storm was on his features.

"Mr. Prescott," he demanded, "do you realize what you are saying--what you are doing?"

"You are relieved. You will report yourself to the instructor, sir!" Dick cut in tersely.

Anstey was already chasing the yearling squad out with the balks, and the young men were moving fast.

As for Dick Prescott, he did not favor Mr. Jordan with a further glance or word, but walked with swift step back to the task of which he was in charge.

With face flushed, Mr. Jordan walked over to the instructor, reporting himself as directed.

"Dismissed from to-day's instruction," said the Army officer briefly.

"Wait and return with the detachment, however."

So Cadet Jordan, first class, saluted, turned on his heel, sought the nearest shady spot and sat down to wait.

His body idle, the young man had plenty of time to think--about

Cadet Captain Dick Prescott.

"There's nothing to Prescott but swagger and cheap airs," decided Mr. Jordan, idly tossing pebbles. "It's a pity he can't be taken down a peg or two! And now I'm in for demerits before the academic year starts. Probably I shall have to walk punishment tours, too!"

Somehow, Jordan had come along through his more than three years in the corps without attracting much attention.

He had made no strong friends; even Jordan's roommate, Atterbury, felt that he knew the man but slightly.

True, Jordan had not so far been strongly suspected of being morose or surly; he had escaped being ostracized, but he certainly was not popular. If he had made no strong friendships, neither had he so deported himself as to win enmity or even dislike. He was regarded simply as a very taciturn fellow who desired to be let alone, and his apparent wish in this respect was gratified.

Dick Prescott was of an entirely different character. Open, sunny, frank, manly, he was a born leader among men, as he had always been among boys.

Dick was a stickler for duty. He was in training to become an officer of the Regular Army of the United States, and Prescott felt that no man could be a good soldier until the duty habit had become fixed. So, in his earlier years at West Point, Dick had sometimes been unpopular with certain elements among the cadets because he would not greatly depart from what he believed to be his duty as a cadet and a gentleman.

Readers of the High School Boys' Series will recall that Prescott, in his home town of Gridley, had been the head of Dick & Co., a sextette of chums and High School athletes. It was in his High School days that young Prescott had developed the qualities of manliness which the Military Academy at West Point was now rounding off for him.

Readers of the preceding volumes in this series, Dick Prescott's First Year at West Point, Dick Prescott's Second Year at West Point and Dick Prescott's Third Year at West Point, are already familiar with the young man's career as a cadet at the United States Military Academy. Our readers know how hard the fight had been for Dick Prescot

t, who, in addition to his early struggles to keep his place in scholarship in the corps, had been submitted to the evil work of enemies in the corps. Some of these enemies had been exposed in the end, and forced to leave the Military Academy, but many had been the bitter hours that Prescott had spent under one cloud or another as the result of the wicked work of these enemies.

At last, however, Prescott and his roommate and chum, Greg Holmes, had reached the first class. They had now less than a year to go before they would be graduated and commissioned as officers in the Army.

On reaching first-class dignity, both Dick and Greg had been delighted over their appointment as cadet officers. Prescott was captain of A company and Greg Holmes first lieutenant of the same company.

With Anstey chasing the balk carriers, and all the other squads attending briskly to business, the pontoon was quickly built, so that a roadway extended from shore to shore.

Now came the supreme test as to whether Prescott had done his work well.

In the shade of the nearest trees a team of mules had dozed while the bridge construction was going on. Behind the mules was hitched a loaded wagon belonging to the Engineer Corps.

"Sir," reported Prescott, approaching Lieutenant Armstrong and saluting, "I have the honor to report that the bridge is constructed."

Lieutenant Armstrong returned the salute, next called to an engineer soldier.


"Sir," answered the engineer private, saluting.

"Drive your team over the bridge and back."

Mounting to the seat of his wagon, the soldier obeyed.

Dick Prescott and his mates did not watch this test closely. They were sure enough of the quality of the work that they had done.

Reaching land at the further side of the bridge, the engineer soldier turned his team in a half circle, once more drove upon the bridge and recrossed to the starting point.

"Very well done, Mr. Prescott," nodded the Engineer officer, with a satisfied smile.

"Take down the bridge," ordered Dick, after having saluted the

Army instructor.

Working as hard as before, the young men of the third and first classes began to demolish the bridge that they had constructed.

When this had been done, and Dick had officially reported the fact, Lieutenant Armstrong replied:

"Mr. Prescott, you will form your detachment and march back to camp."

"Very good, sir."

Always that same salute with which a man in the Army receives an order.

Some thirty seconds later, the detachment was formed and Dick was marching it back up the inclined road on the way to the summer encampment. By that time, a sergeant and a squad of Engineer privates--soldiers of the Regular Army--were busy taking care of the pontoon boats and other bridge material.

Marching his men inside the encampment, Dick halted them.

"Detachment dismissed!" he called out.

There was a quick break for first and third class tents. These young men were in field uniforms--sombreros, gray flannel shirts, flannel trousers and leggings. Most of them were dripping with perspiration under the hot August sun.

They were all hot and dusty, and their hands stained with tar. Within a very few minutes every man in the detachment must be washed irreproachably clean, without sign of perspiration. They must be in uniforms of immaculate white duck trousers and gray fatigue blouses, wearing cleanly polished shoes, and ready to march to dinner.

A great deal to be accomplished in a few minutes by the average American boy! Yet let one of these cadets be late at dinner formation, without an unquestionably good excuse, and he must pay the penalty in demerits. These demerits, according to their number, bring loss of prized privileges.

Cadet Jordan, having done little, was among the first to be clean and presentable. Immaculate, trim and trig he looked as he stepped from his tent, but on his face lay a scowl that boded ill for his appetite at the coming dinner.

Dick was a master of swift toilets. He was on the company street almost immediately after Jordan had stepped out under the shadow of a tree.

"Prescott," began Jordan stiffly, "I want a word or two with you."

"Yes?" asked Dick, looking keenly at his classmate. "Very good."

"Why did you report me this morning?"

"Because you performed the work in an indolent, laggard manner, even after I had cautioned you."

"Do you consider yourself called upon to be a judge of your classmates?"

"When I am detailed in command over them in any duty--yes."

"Shall I tell you what I think of you for reporting me?"

"It would be in bad taste, at least," Dick answered. "It is against the regulations for a cadet to call another to account for reporting him officially."

"Oh, bother the regulations!"

"If that is actually your view," replied Dick, with a smile, "then I will leave you to the enjoyment of your discovery concerning the regulations."

"Prescott, you are a prig!" snapped Mr. Jordan.

"If it were necessary to determine that, as a matter of fact," answered Dick coolly, though he flushed somewhat, "I would rather leave it to a decision of the class."

"Oh, I know you have plenty of bootlicks," sneered Jordan. "I also know that you are class president. But that is no reason why you should act as though you thought yourself a bigger man than the President of the United States."

"Jordan, has the sun been affecting your head this forenoon?" demanded Dick, with another keen look at his classmate.

"Well, you do act as though you thought yourself bigger than the

President," insisted Jordan sneeringly.

"I am a cadet, not yet capable of being a second lieutenant, in the Army," Dick replied, regaining his coolness. "The President is commander-in-chief of the combined Army and Navy."

"You are utterly puffed up with your own importance," cried Jordan hotly, though in a discreetly low voice. "Prescott, you are---"

Something in Jordan's eyes warned Dick that a vile insult was coming in an instant.

"Stop!" commanded Prescott, shooting a look full of warning at his classmate. "Jordan, don't say anything that will compel me to knock you down in plain sight of the camp. It's years since such a thing as that has happened at West Point!"

"Oh, you lordly brute!" sneered Jordan, his face alternately white and aflame with unreasoning anger. "Prescott, you had it in for me. That was why you reported me this morning. That was why you put me in line for demerits and punishment tour walking. You are bound to use your little, petty authority to humble and humiliate me. I shall call you out for this!"

"If you do," shot back Dick, "I shall decline to fight you. It would be against regulations and against all the traditions of the corps for me to arbitrate, by a fight, the question of whether I did right to report you."

"You refuse a fight," warned Jordan, with a malicious grin, "and

I'll denounce you all through the class!"

"Denounce me, then, if you wish," retorted Dick in cool contempt, "and you'll bring trouble down on your own head instead. No class requires, or permits, a member to fight in defence of his official conduct."

"Prescott is turning coward, then, is he?"

"You or any other man who presumes to say it knows well enough that he is thereby lying," came quickly from between Prescott's teeth.

"Why, hang you, you---"

"You'd better hush for a moment," warned Prescott. "Here comes the corps adjutant, and I think he is looking for you."

"Yes! With a message of discipline from the O.C. just because

I was reported by a toy martinet like you!" retorted Cadet Jordan.

Cadet Filson, corps adjutant, wearing his white gloves, red sash and sword, came up with brisk military stride. He halted before Jordan, while Prescott moved away.

"Mr. Jordan, by order of the commandant of cadets, you will confine yourself to the company street, leaving it only under proper orders. This, for being reported this morning during the tour of engineer instruction. Any further punishment that is to be meted out to you will be published in orders at dress parade this afternoon.

"Very good, sir," replied Cadet Jordan, choking with rage.

Wheeling about, Adjutant Filson strode away again.

The moment he was gone, Jordan, his brow black with fury, stepped over to Prescott.

"So!" he hissed. "The thunderbolt of punishment has fallen, Mr.

Prescott. As for you---"

"Mr. Jordan," broke in Dick coolly, "you are ordered to confine yourself to the company street. At this moment you are outside that limit. You will return immediately to the company street!"

Jordan glared, but he had discretion enough left to obey, for Prescott was speaking now as cadet commander of A company, to which company Mr. Jordan belonged.

"Oh, I'll pay you back for this!" raged the disciplined cadet, trembling as he stepped forward.

By this time, many other cadets were out in the company street. Soon after the loud, snappy tones of the bugle summoned the two battalions to dinner formation.

A little while before Cadet Adjutant Filson had approached Jordan, the commandant of cadets, sitting in his tent over by post number one, had sent for the Engineer instructor of the forenoon.

"Mr. Armstrong," asked the commandant, "how much is there in this report against Mr. Jordan this morning? Does Mr. Jordan deserve severe discipline?"

"In my opinion he does, sir," replied Lieutenant Armstrong. "I had the whole happening under observation, though I pretended not to see it."

"Why did you make such pretence, Mr. Armstrong?"

"Because I was watching to see how a man like Mr. Prescott would conduct himself when in command."

Lieutenant Armstrong then related all of the particulars that he had seen of Jordan's conduct.

"Then I am very glad that Mr. Prescott reported Mr. Jordan," replied the commandant of cadets. "Mr. Jordan is a first classman and should be above any such conduct. We will confine Mr. Jordan to his company street for one week; and on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons during the continuance of the encampment, he shall walk punishment tours."

Then the commandant of cadets had passed the word for Cadet Adjutant Filson, to whom he had entrusted the order that the reader has already seen delivered.

But Jordan, unable to realize that he had proved himself unfit as a soldier found his hatred of Dick Prescott growing with every step of the march that carried the cadet corps to dinner at the cadet mess hall.

"Prescott may feel mighty big and proud now!" growled the disgruntled one. "But will he--when I get through with him?"

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