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   Chapter 6 TRYING TO EXPLAIN TO THE GIRLS

Dick Prescotts's Fourth Year at West Point / Or, Ready to Drop the Gray for Shoulder Straps By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 11084

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Breakfast, the next morning, was a repetition of what had happened the night before.

At Dick's table the silence was absolute.

Even Captain Reid, cadet commissary, noticed it and understood, in his trip of inspection through mess hall.

The thing that Reid, who was an Army officer, did not know was--who was the victim? He never guessed Prescott, who was class president, and believed to be one of the tallest of the class idols.

It speaks volumes for the intended justice of the cadets when they will, in time of fancied need, destroy even their idols.

Thus it went on for some days.

Dick performed all of his duties as usual, and as well as usual. Nothing in his demeanor showed how keenly he felt the humiliation that had been put upon him. Only in his failure to attempt any social address of a classmate did he betray his recognition of the silence.

Greg did his best to cheer up his chum. Anstey expressed greatest sorrow and sympathy for his friend Prescott. Holmes promptly reported this conversation to Dick. Other good friends expressed their sorrow to Holmes. In every case he bore the name and the implied message hastily to the young cadet captain.

A few whom Dick had considered his good friends did not thus put themselves on record. Dick thereupon understood that they had acted upon their best information and convictions, and he honored them for being able to put friendship aside in the interests of tradition and corps honor.

The silence had lasted five days when, one evening, a class meeting was called. Though Cadet Prescott was class president, he did not attend, for he knew very well that he was not wanted.

Greg's sense of delicacy told the latter that it was not for him to attend the meeting, either.

The vice president of the class was called to the chair. Then Durville and others made heated addresses in which they declared that Prescott could no longer consistently retain the class presidency.

A motion was made that Prescott be called upon to resign. It was seconded by several first classmen.

Then Anstey, the Virginian, claimed the floor in behalf of the humiliated class president. The blood of Virginian orators flowed in Anstey's veins, nor did he discredit his ancestry.

In an impassioned yet deliberate and logical speech Anstey declared that great injustice had been done Cadet Richard Prescott, and by the members of his own class.

"Every man within reach of my voice knows Mr. Prescott's record," declared the Virginian warmly. "When we were plebes, who stood up most staunchly as our class champion? Why, suh, why did we choose Mr. Prescott as our class president? Was it not because we believed, with all our hearts, that in Richard Prescott lay all the best elements of noble, upright and manly cadethood? Do you remember, suh, and fellow classmen, the wild enthusiasm that prevailed when we, by our suffrages, had declared Mr. Prescott to be our ideal of the man to lead the class in all the paths of honor?"

Anstey paused for an instant. Then, lowering his voice somewhat, he continued, with scathing irony:

"And now you give this best man of our class the silence, and seek to remove him from the presidency of the class!"

"It's a shame!" roared another cadet.

There were cheers.

"It is a shame," cried Anstey in a ringing voice. "And now you seek to deepen the shame by further degrading Prescott, who has always been the champion of our class. Mr. President, I move that we lay the motion on the table indefinitely. As soon as that has been done I shall make another motion, that we remove the silence from the grand, good fellow who has had it put upon him."

There were others, however, with nearly Anstey's gift for oratory. One of them now took the floor, pointing out that the class would not have rebuked Prescott for having reported Jordan in the tour of pontoon bridge construction.

"That may have been justified," continued the speaker. "But, afterwards, Mr. Jordan and Mr. Prescott had words. There must have been some bitterness in that. That same night Mr. Jordan was caught and reported by Mr. Prescott, who was not cadet officer of the day, and who therefore must have deliberately shadowed Mr. Jordan in order to catch him."

"Prescott did not shadow Mr. Jordan, or do anything of a sneaky nature," shouted Anstey.

"He refused to explain to our class committee how he happened to be on band at just the time to catch Jordan," shouted Durville.

"Then be assured he had a good military, a good soldierly, a good manly reason for his silence," clamored Anstey.

The meeting was an excited one from all points of view. In the end the best that the staunch friends of Dick could secure was that action on the resignation of the class presidency be deferred until a cooler hour, but that the silence be continued for the present.

And so the meeting broke up. Jordan had been dismayed, fearing that Anstey's impassioned speech might result in putting his enemy back into greater popularity than ever.

But now Jordan was reassured. He was satisfied that things were still moving in his direction, and that Prescott's proud spirit would soon lead him into some action that must make the breach with the class wider than ever.

At noon the next day Prescott returned from the second drill of the forenoon. In his absence a mail orderly had been around. An envelope lay on the table addressed to Dick.

"From Laura," he exclaimed in delight.

"That'll cheer you some," smiled Greg.

"Why it's po

stmarked from New York," continued Dick swiftly.

"Whew! She must be headed this way!"

Hurriedly Prescott tore the envelope open.

"It couldn't have happened at a worse time," he muttered, turning white.

"What?"

"Laura, Mrs. Bentley and Belle Meade are in New York, and will reach here this afternoon. Laura says they have learned that there is a hop on to-night, and they are bringing their prettiest frocks."

"Whew! That is a facer!" breathed Greg in perplexity.

"Of course I can't take Laura to the hop."

"You can, if you have the nerve," insisted Greg.

"And I have the nerve!" retorted Dick defiantly. "But how about Laura? She would discover, within a few minutes, that I am on strained terms with the other fellows. That would do worse than spoil her evening."

"Well," demanded Greg thoughtfully, "why do you need to take her to the hop?"

"Because she says that's what the girls have come for."

"Bother! Do you suppose it's you, or the hop, that Laura comes for?"

But Dick, instead of being cheered by this view, turned very white.

"I've got to tell her," he muttered hoarsely, "that I'm in eclipse. That the fellows have voted that I am not a fit associate for gentlemen."

"And I'll tell her a heap more," retorted Cadet Holmes. "Dick, do you think either of the girls would go back on you, just because a lot of raw, half-baked cadets have got you sized up wrong? Is that all the faith you have in your friends? And, especially, such a friend as Laura Bentley? Was that the way she acted when you were under charges of cribbing? You were in disgrace, then, weren't you? Did Laura look at you with anything but sympathy in her eyes?"

"No; heaven bless her!"

"Now, see here, Dick. If the girls are up here this evening, we won't take 'em to the hop. Instead, we'll sit out on the north porch at the hotel, with Mrs. Bentley near by. We'll have such a good old talk with the girls as we never could have at a hop."

"Everything in life would be easy, Greg, if you could explain it away," laughed Dick Prescott, but his tone was bitter.

"Well, as you can't take the girls to the hop, with any regard for their comfort, my plan is best of all, isn't it?"

"I--I suppose so."

"So make the best of it, old ramrod. There's nothing so bad that it couldn't be a lot worse."

There was a long tour of work with the field battery guns that afternoon. For once Prescott found his mind entirely off his work. Nor could he rally his senses to his work. He got a low marking, indeed, in the instructor's record for that afternoon's work.

Then, hot, dusty and tired, this detachment of cadets came in from work.

In the visitors' seats, near headquarters, Dick and Greg espied

Mrs. Bentley and the girls. How lovely the two latter looked!

The instant that ranks were broken Laura. and Belle were on their feet, glancing eagerly in the direction of their cadets. Dick and Greg had to go over, doff their campaign hats and shake hands with Mrs. Bentley and the girls.

"We've given you a surprise, this time," laughed Laura. "I hope you're pleased."

"Can you doubt it?" asked Dick so absently, so reluctantly, that Laura Bentley shot a swift, uneasy look at the handsome young cadet captain.

"You don't seem over delighted," broke in Belle Meade. "Gracious!

I hope we haven't been indiscreet in coming almost unannounced?

See here, you haven't invited any other girls to to-night's hop,

have you?"

Both girls, flushed and rather uneasy looking, were now eyeing the two ill-at-ease young first classmen.

"No; we haven't invited anyone else. But there's something to be explained," replied Dick lamely. "Greg, you explain, won't you? And you'll all excuse me, won't you, while I hurry away to tog for dress parade?"

Laura's face was almost as white as Dick's had been at noon, as she gazed after the receding Prescott.

Then Greg, in his bluntest way, tried to put it all straight, and quickly, at that.

"Oh, is that all?" asked Belle with a sniff of contempt. "Why couldn't Dick remain and tell us himself? You cadets are certainly cowards in some things--sometimes!"

But the tears were struggling for a front place in Laura's fine eyes.

"Is this 'silence' going to affect Dick very much in his career in the Army?" she asked with emotion.

"Not if his staunchest friends can prevent it," replied Greg almost fiercely. "And old ramrod has a host of friends in his class, at that."

"It's too bad they're not in the majority, then," murmured Miss

Meade.

"They will be, in the end," asserted Greg. "We're working things around to that point. You should have heard the fierce row we put up at the class meeting last night."

When it was too late Greg could have bitten his tongue.

"Class meeting?" asked Laura. "Then has there been further action taken?"

Greg nodded, biting his lips.

"What was last night's meeting held for?" persisted Laura.

"To try to oust Dick from the class presidency," confessed Cadet

Holmes.

"Did they do it?" quivered Laura Bentley.

"No!"

"Ah! Then the attempt was defeated. Dick is to retain the presidency of his class?"

"Action was deferred," replied Greg in a low voice.

He wished with all his heart he could get away, for he saw that, no matter how he tried to hedge the facts about, these keen-witted girls realized that Dick Prescott's plight was about as black as it could be for a young man who wanted, with all his soul, to remain in the military service of his country.

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