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

   Chapter 3 CATCHING A MAN FOR BREACH OF CON.

Dick Prescotts's Fourth Year at West Point / Or, Ready to Drop the Gray for Shoulder Straps By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 18735

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Lieutenant Denton was the tac. who served as O.C. during this tour of twenty-four hours.

A "tac.," as has been explained in earlier volumes, is a Regular Army officer who is on duty in the department of tactics. All of the tacs. are subordinates of the commandant of cadets, the latter officer being in charge of the discipline and tactical training of cadets. Each tac. is, in turn, for a period of twenty-four hours, officer in charge, or "O.C."

During the summer encampment of the cadets, the O.C. occupies a tent at headquarters, and is in command, under the commandant, of the camp.

It was in the evening, immediately after the return of the corps from supper, when Lieutenant Denton had sent for Cadet Captain Prescott.

"Mr. Prescott," began the O.C., "there has been some trouble, lately, as you undoubtedly know, with plebes running the guard after taps. Now, our plebes are men very new to the West Point discipline, and they do not appreciate the seriousness of their conduct. Until the young men have had a little more training, we wish, if possible, to save them from the consequences of their lighter misdeeds. Of course, if a cadet, plebe or otherwise, is actually found outside the guard line after taps, then we cannot excuse his conduct. This is where the ounce of prevention comes in. Mr. Prescott, I wish you would be up and around the camp between taps and midnight to-night. Keep yourself in the background a bit, and see if you can stop any plebes who may be prowling before they have had a chance to get outside the guard lines. If you intercept any plebes while they are still within camp limits, demand of them their reasons for being out of their tents. If the reasons are not entirely satisfactory, turn them over to the cadet officer of the day. Any plebe so stopped and turned over to the cadet officer of the day will be disciplined, of course, but his punishment will be much lighter than if he were actually caught outside the guard lines. You understand your instructions, Mr. Prescott?"

"Perfectly, sir."

"That is all, Mr. Prescott."

Saluting, Dick turned and left the tent.

"That's just like Lieutenant Denton," thought Dick, as he marched away to his own company street. "Some of the tacs. would just as soon see the plebe caught cold, poor little beast. But Lieutenant Denton can remember the time when he was a cadet here himself, and he wants to see the plebe have as much of the beginner's chance as can be given."

As Dick pushed aside the flap and entered his tent, he beheld his chum and roommate, Greg Holmes, now a cadet lieutenant, carefully transferring himself to his spoony dress uniform.

"Going to the hop to-night, old ramrod?" asked Greg carelessly, though affectionately.

"Not in my line of hike," yawned Prescott. "You know I'm no hopoid."

"Oh, loyal swain!" laughed Greg in mock admiration. "You hop but little oftener than once a year, when Laura comes on from the home town! You throw away nearly all of the pleasures of the waxed floor."

"Even though but once a year, I go as often as I want," Dick answered, with a pleasant smile.

"But see here, ramrod, an officer is expected to be a gentleman, and a fellow can't be an all-around gentleman unless he is at ease with the ladies. What sort of practice do you give yourself?"

"You're dragging a femme to the hop tonight?" queried Dick.

"Yes, sir," admitted Greg promptly.

"Then you're--pardon me--you're engaged to the young lady, of course?"

"Engaged to take her to the hop, of course," parried Holmes.

"And engaged to be married to her, as well," insisted Dick.

"Ye-es," admitted Cadet Holmes reluctantly. "Let me see; this is the fourteenth girl you've been engaged to marry, isn't it?"

"No, sir," blurted Greg indignantly. "Miss--I mean my present betrothed, is only the eighth who has done me the honor."

"Even eight fiancees is going it pretty swiftly for a cadet not yet through West Point," chuckled Dick.

"Well, confound it, it isn't my fault, is it?" grumbled Greg. "I didn't break any of the engagements. The other seven girls broke off with me. On the whole, though, I'm rather obliged to the seven for handing me the mitten, for I'm satisfied that Miss--I mean, the present young lady--is the one who is really fitted to make me happy for life."

"I'm almost sorry I'm not going to-night," mused Prescott aloud.

"Then I'd see the fortunate young lady."

"Oh, there are no secrets from you, old ramrod," protested Greg good-humoredly. "You know her, anyway, I think--Miss Steele."

"Captain Steele's daughter?"

"Precisely," nodded Greg.

"Daughter of one of the instructors in drawing?"

"Yes."

"Greg, you're at least practical this time," laughed Dick. "That is, you will be if Miss Steele doesn't follow the example of her predecessors, and break the engagement too soon."

"Practical?" repeated Cadet Holmes. "What are you talking about, old ramrod? Has the heat been too much for you to-day? Practical! Now, what on earth is there that's practical about a love affair?"

"Why, if this engagement lasts long enough, Greg, old fellow, Captain Steele and his wife will simply have to send you an invitation to a Saturday evening dinner at their quarters. And then, in ordinary good nature, they'll have to invite me, also, as your roommate. Greg, do you stop to realize that we've never yet been invited to an officer's house to dinner?"

"And we never would be, if we depended on you," grumbled Greg. "Women are the foundation rock of society, yet you never look at anyone in a petticoat except Laura Bentley, who comes here only once a year, and who may be so tired of coming here that she'll never appear again."

A brief cloud flitted across Dick's face. Seeing it, repentant

Greg rattled on:

"Of course you know me well enough, old ramrod, to know that I'm not really reproaching you for being so loyal to Laura, good, sweet girl that she is. But you've miffed a lot, of the girls on the post by your constancy. Why, you could have the younger daughters of a dozen officers' following you, if you'd only look at them."

"The younger daughters of the officers are all in the care of nurse-maids, Greg," Prescott retorted with pretended dignity. "Relieving nurse-maids of their responsibilities is no part of a cadet's training or duty."

"Well, 'be good and you'll be happy'--but you won't have a good time," laughed Greg, who, having finished his inspection of himself in the tiny glass, was now ready to depart.

"On your way, Holmesy," nodded Dick, glancing at the time. "It's a long walk, even for a cadet, to Captain Steele's quarters."

Greg went away, humming under his breath.

"There's a chap whom care rarely hits," mused Dick, looking half enviously after his chum. "I wonder really if he ever will marry?"

Presently Dick picked up his camp chair and placed it just outside at the door of his tent. It was pleasant to sit there in the semi-gloom.

But presently he began to wonder, a little, that none of the fellows dropped around for a chat, for he was aware that a number of the first classmen were not booked for the hop that night.

From time to time Dick saw a first classman enter or leave the tent of Cadet Jordan.

"He seems unusually popular to-night," thought Prescott, with a smile. "Well, better late than never. Poor Jordan has never been much of a favorite before. I wonder if my reporting him to-day has made the fellows take more notice of him? It is a rare thing, these days, for a first classman to be confined to his company street."

For Prescott the evening became, in fact, so lonely that presently he rose, left the encampment and strolled along the road leading to the West Point Hotel. On other than hop nights, this road was likely to be crowded with couples. That night, however, nearly all of the young ladies at West Point had been favored with invitations to Cullum Hall.

Tattoo was sounding just as Prescott crossed the line at post number one on reentering camp. In half an hour more, it would be taps. At taps, all lights in tents were expected to be out, and the cadets, save those actually on duty, to be in their beds. An exception was made in favor of cadets who had received permission to escort young ladies to the hop. Each cadet who had to return to the hotel, or to officers' quarters with a young lady had received the needed permission, and the time it would take him to go to the young lady's destination and return to camp was listed at the guard tent. Any cadet who took more than the permitted time to escort his partner of the hop to her abiding place would be subject for report.

However, the special duty imposed upon Cadet Prescott for this night related to plebes, and plebes do not go to the hops.

Bringing out his camp chair, Dick sat once more before his tent. Down at Jordan's tent he could still hear the low hum of cadet voices.

"Something is certainly going on there," mused Prescott.

For a moment or two he felt highly curious; then he repressed that feeling.

"Good evening, Prescott."

"Oh, good evening, Stubbs."

Cadet Stubbs came to a brief halt before the cadet captain's tent.

"I have been noticing that Jordan has a good many visitors this evening," Dick remarked.

"All from our class, too, aren't they?" question

ed Stubbs.

"Yes. If we were yearlings I should feel sure that they had a plebe or two in there. But first classmen don't haze plebes."

"No; we don't haze plebes," replied Cadet Stubbs with a half sigh, for Prescott was the only first classman at present in camp who did not fully know just what was in progress at Jordan's tent.

But West Point men pride themselves on bearing no tales, so Stubbs repressed the longing to explain to Dick what Jordan was seeking to bring about.

As a matter of fact, though some of the members of the first class were hot-headed enough to accept Jordan's view of the report against him, the class sentiment was considerably against the motion to give Cadet Captain Richard Prescott the silence, even for a week.

However, none came near Prescott to talk it over. That again would be tale-bearing. Dick was not likely to hear of the move unless summoned to present his own defense in the face of class charges.

Nor would Greg be approached on the subject. The accused man's roommate or tentmate is always left out of the discussion.

Taps sounded; almost immediately the lights in the tents went out. Stillness settled over the encampment.

The fact that a single candle remained lighted in Prescott's tent showed that he had permission to run a light. The assumption would be that he was engaged on some official duty, though the fact of running a light did not in any way betray the nature of that duty.

Dick sat inside at first. Then, one by one, the cadets returning from the hop stepped through the company streets. At last Greg Holmes came in.

"Still engaged, Holmesy?" asked Dick, looking up with a quizzical smile.

"Surest thing on the post!" returned Greg, with a radiant smile. He had the look of being a young man very much in love and utterly happy over his good fortune.

"Going to run a light?" asked Holmes, gaping, as he swiftly disrobed.

"Yes; but I'll throw the tin can around so that the blaze won't be in your eyes."

"It won't anyway," retorted Greg, turning down the cover of his bed. "I'll turn my back on the glim."

The "tin can" is a device time-honored among cadets in the summer encampment. It is merely a reflector, made of an old tin can, that increases and concentrates the brilliancy of the candle light. The "tin can" may also be used in such a way as to throw a large part of a tent in semi-darkness.

Two minutes later, Greg's breathing proclaimed the fact that this cadet was sound asleep.

Dick, stifling a yawn--for it had been a long, hard and busy day--threw a look of envy toward his chum. Then, in uniform, Prescott stepped out into the company street.

It was a dark, starless night; an ideal night to a plebe who wanted to run the guard and put in some time outside of the camp limits.

Keeping as much in the shadow as he could, Prescott stepped along until he came near one of the sentry lines.

For some time he stood thus, eyes and ears alert, though he lounged in the shadow where he was not likely to be seen.

"It's an off night for plebe mischief, I reckon," he murmured at last. "All the plebes are good little boys to-night, and safely tucked in their cribs."

At last, when it was near midnight, Prescott came out from his place of semi-concealment and stepped over near the guard line.

It was not long ere a yearling sentry, with bayonet fixed and gun resting over his right shoulder, came pacing toward the first classman.

Recognizing a cadet officer, the yearling sentry halted, holding his piece at "present arms."

"Walk your post," Dick directed, after having returned the salute.

Had Prescott been a cadet private the sentry would have questioned him as to his reasons for being out after taps. But with a cadet captain it was different. Though Prescott was not cadet officer of the day, he was privileged to have official reasons for being out without making an accounting to the sentry.

Slowly the yearling sentry paced down to the further end of his post. Then he came back again. Having saluted Prescott recently, he did not pause now, but kept on past the cadet officer standing there in the shadow.

As the sentry's footsteps again sounded softer in the distance,

Prescott suddenly became aware of something not far away from him.

It was a little glow of fire, at an elevation of something less than six feet from the ground, over beside a bush.

This glow of fire looked exactly as though it came from a lighted cigar.

If the cigar were held by a civilian, it was a matter that needed looking into.

Cadets, if they wish, may smoke at certain times and within certain limits. But nothing in the regulations permits a cadet to go outside the guard lines after taps to smoke.

Dick Prescott drew further back into the shadow, noiselessly, and kept his eye on the distant glow until he heard the yearling returning.

"Sentry!" called Prescott sharply. The yearling, his piece at port arms, came on the run.

"Investigate that glow yonder," ordered Prescott.

"Very good, sir!"

Prescott and the sentry started together. For an instant the glow wavered, as though the man that was behind the glow meditated taking to his heels.

"Halt!" called the sentry. "Who's there?"

Now the glow disappeared, but cadet captain and sentry were close enough to see the outlines of a figure in cadet uniform.

The figure still moved uncertainly, as though bent on flight.

But the sight of two pursuers seemed to change the unknown's mind.

"A cadet," he called, in answer to the sentry's challenge.

The sentry halted.

"Advance, cadet, to be recognized," he commanded.

Prescott came to a halt not far from the sentry.

Slowly, with evident reluctance, the figure moved forward.

"Mr. Jordan!" called Prescott, in considerable amazement.

"Yes, sir," admitted Jordan huskily.

Now, Dick had every reason in the world for not wanting to report this cadet again, but duty is and must be duty, in the Army.

"Mr. Jordan, you are under orders of confinement to the company street," cried Dick sternly.

"Yes, sir."

"And yet you are found outside of camp limits? Have you any explanation to offer, sir?"

"I was nervous, sir," replied Jordan, "and couldn't sleep. So

I slipped out past the guard line to enjoy a quieting smoke."

"Smoking causes vastly more nervousness than it ever remedies, Mr. Jordan," replied the young cadet captain. "Have you any additional explanation or excuse for being outside the company street?"

"No, sir."

"Then return to your tent, sir."

"I--I suppose you are going to report this, Mr. Prescott?" asked the other first classman.

"I have no alternative," Dick answered. "You are under confinement to the company street; you have made a breach of confinement, and I am your company commander."

"Very good, sir."

Jordan stiffened up, saluted, then passed on across the guard line, making for the street of A company.

Dick turned back, more slowly, a thoughtful frown gathering on his fine face, while the yearling sentry was muttering to himself:

"Great Caesar, but Prescott surely has put both feet in it. He reports a fellow classman for a little thing like a late smoke, and the man reported will be doomed to go into close arrest! Glad I'm not Prescott!"

It would be untruthful to deny that Dick Prescott was worried; nevertheless, he made his way briskly to the tent of the O.C.

"Jove, what luck!" chuckled Jordan tremulously, as he hastened along the street of A company to his tent. "Of course I'll be in for all sorts of penalties, and I'll have to be mighty good, after this, to keep within safe limits on demerits. But I have Prescott just where I want the insolent puppy! The class, this evening, was much in doubt about giving him the silence. But flow! When he has gone out of his way to catch me in such an innocent little breach of con.! Whew! But my lucky star is surely at the top of the sky to-night."

Cadet Jordan was soon tucked in under his bed cover. He had not fallen asleep, however, when he heard a step coming down the street.

Dick had chanced to find the O.C. still up. In a few words Prescott made his report.

"This is a very serious report against a first classman, Mr. Prescott," said kind-hearted Lieutenant Denton gravely. "It is most unfortunate for Mr. Jordan that he has not a better excuse. You will go to Mr. Jordan's tent, Mr. Prescott, and direct him to remain in his tent, in close arrest, until he hears as to the further disposition of his case by the commandant of cadets."

"Very good, sir," Prescott answered, saluting.

"And then you may go to your own tent and retire, Mr. Prescott.

I fancy the plebes have been good to-night."

"Thank you, sir."

With a rather heavy heart, though outwardly betraying no sign, Prescott walked along until he reached Jordan's tent, where he delivered the order from the O.C.

"Did you hear that, old man?" growled Jordan to his tentmate, after the cadet captain had gone.

"Pretty rough!" returned the tentmate sleepily.

Rough? The first class was seething when it received the word next morning, for it was the common belief that Prescott must have shadowed and followed his classmate in order to entrap him.

"It's surely time for class action now," Durville told several of his classmates.

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