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   Chapter 4 THE O.C. WANTS TO KNOW

Dick Prescott's Second Year at West Point / Or, Finding the Glory of the Soldier's Life By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 10766

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


As has been said, Cadet Prescott felt as though his heart had stopped beating.

In another instant mischievous Cadet Holmes would actually be slipping a shell into the reveille gun, if it were not already loaded, and then attaching a cord, to lay a trap for some other unsuspicious cadet.

Captain Bates, who was quietly looking on, would have Mr. Holmes red handed.

Charges would be preferred. Undoubtedly Greg would soon be journeying homeward, his dream of the Army over.

Dick could not call out and warn Greg.

That would be a breach of discipline that would recoil surely upon Mr. Prescott's head, making him equally guilty with his chum.

Yet, to see Greg walk unsuspectingly into the "tac.'s" hands in this fashion! It was not to be thought of.

For two or three seconds all manner thoughts played through Dick's mind.

But, no matter what happened to him, loyalty would not allow him to stand by a mere mute spectator of Greg's downfall.

Prescott felt sure that he himself had not yet been seen by the

Army officer.

Slipping out from behind the bush, Cadet Prescott stepped briskly along the path, bringing one hand sharply to his cap in salute.

"Captain Bates, have I your permission to speak, sir?"

Dick Prescott's voice, though not unduly loud, carried like a pistol shot to Greg's alert ears.

Young Mr. Holmes did not immediately change his course, start or do anything else that would betray alarm. Yet, ere Captain Bates's voice could be heard in reply, Greg had swung slowly around, and he came toward the path.

"Permission is granted, Mr. Prescott," replied Captain Bates--but, oh, how coldly he spoke.

The Army officer seemed trying to look Mr. Prescott through and through, for Bates thoroughly suspected Dick of a bold stroke to save his friend from watchful tac. eyes.

"There was a question that came up among some of the yearlings in camp today, sir," Dick went on, very respectfully. "I found myself ignorant, as were some of the others, as to the correct answer to the question. As you are the officer in charge of the encampment, I have made bold, sir, to ask you the answer."

"Is it a matter relating directly to military tactics or discipline,

Mr. Prescott?" asked Captain Bates, speaking as coldly as before.

"Indirectly, sir, I think."

"Then state the question, Mr. Prescott."

Greg, having reached the path, halted at attention several yards away from his bunkie.

"The question that came up, sir," continued Dick, and he was speaking the truth, for the question had been discussed, "is whether there is any regulation, or any tacit rule that requires a cadet of the upper classes to attend any stated number of hops in the season, or during the year?

"No cadet, Mr. Prescott, is required to attend any hop unless he so elects. The single exception would be that any cadet, having once made an engagement to attend a hop, would be bound by his word to attend, unless he had received proper release from that engagement. Such release, in nearly all instances, would come from the young woman whom the cadet had invited to attend a hop with him."

"Thank you, sir." Again Dick saluted very respectfully.

"Any other questions, Mr. Prescott?"

"No, sir."

Dick saluted carefully. Captain Bates returned the salute, and turned to go.

Cadet Holmes, waiting until he found himself once more in range of the tactical officer's vision, raised his hand to his cap in very correct salute. This salute, also, Captain Bates returned, and then strode on toward camp.

"You came near missing me, Holmesy," Dick remarked carelessly and in a low voice, though he felt very certain that his tone overtook the departing tac.

In silence, at first, Greg and Dick turned and walked in the opposite direction together.

"Going to load the signal gun, eh, Greg!" chaffed Prescott.

"Yes," confessed white-faced Holmes, a quiver in his voice.

"It's a childish sport, and a dangerous one. Better leave it to the fellows who are tired of being at West Point," advised Dick quietly.

"Oh, what a debt I owe you, old ramrod!" cried Greg fervently.

"Not a shadow of a debt, Greg. You'd have done just the same thing for me."

"Yes, if I could have been quick enough to think of it. But I probably wouldn't have figured it out as swiftly as you did."

"Yes, you would," Dick retorted grimly, "for it was the only way.

What's that bulging out the front of your coat, Greg?"

"The cord," Greg confessed, with a sheepish grin.

"Better get rid of it right where you are. Even a fishline is rope enough to hang a cadet when he gets into trouble too close to the reveille gun."

Greg had barely tossed away the coil of cord when---

Bang! bang! bang!

Bang! bang! BANG!

The fusillade ripped out within a hundred yards of where they now stood.

Dick and Greg halted in amazement. They did not start, or jump, for the soldier habit was too firmly fixed with them. But they were astounded.

As they stood there, staring, more explosions ripped out on the night air, over by Battle Monument.

Cadets Prescott and Holmes could see the flashes, also, close down near the ground, as though an infantry firing squad were lying prostrate and firing at will.

Bang! bang! bang! The fusillade continued.

Behind the two cadets sounded running footsteps.

"Hadn't we better duc

k?" demanded Greg.

"No; it would look bad. We had no hand in this, and we can stick to our word."

Over at camp, orders were ringing out. Though the two cadets near Battle Monument heard indistinctly, they knew it was the call for the cadet guard.

Now the nearest runner passed them. It was Captain Bates, on a dead run, and, as Bates was not much past thirty, and an athlete, he was getting over the ground fast.

As he passed, Bates, without slackening speed, took Dick and Greg in with one swift glance.

Back in Gridley Dick and Greg certainly would have dashed onward to the scene of the excitement. As young soldiers, they knew better. Their presence over by Battle Monument had not been officially requested. Yet, as it was not time for taps, the cadets could and did stand where they were.

Two different armed forces were now moving swiftly forward to reinforce the O.C., as the officer in charge is termed.

Two policemen of the quartermaster's department--enlisted men of the Army, armed on with revolvers in holsters--ran over from the neighborhood of the nearest officers' quarters.

Cadet Corporal Haynes and the relief of the guard, moving at double quick, passed Dick and Greg on the path.

"Some fellows touched off firecrackers," whispered Greg to his chum.

"Number one cannon crackers," guessed Prescott.

They could see Captain Bates take a dark lantern from one of the quartermaster's police detail, and scan the ground closely all around where the cannon crackers had been discharged.

"Nothing more doing," muttered yearling Prescott. "We may as well be going back to camp, Greg. But we'll lose a heap of that six hours and a half of sleep tonight."

"Think so?" demanded Holmes moodily.

"Know it. The tac. saw us twice on this path, and he has us marked. The O.C. and the K.C. (commandant of cadets) will hold their own kind of court of inquiry tonight, and you and I are going to be grilled brown."

"We didn't set the cannon crackers off; we didn't see anyone around the monument, and we don't know anything about it."

"All true," nodded Dick. "But we'll have to say it in all the different styles of good English that we can think of."

Dick and Greg reached the encampment, and passed inside the limits, just before they heard the guard marching back.

Then all was ominously quiet over at the tent of the O.C., Captain

Bates.

Tattoo had gone some time ago. Now the alarm clock told the bunkies that they had just three minutes in which to get undressed and be in bed before taps sounded on the drum.

"It's a shame, too," muttered Dick in an undertone. "We won't be any more than on the blanket before the summons from the O.C. will arrive."

"Here it comes, now," whispered Greg, nudging his bunkie.

But it was Anstey, their tentmate, hastening to be undressed in time against taps.

"What was the row?" asked the Virginian.

"Cannon crackers over at Battle Monument," replied Dick. "We were over there at the time."

"You were?" asked Anstey quietly, but shooting at them a look of amused suspicion.

So many cadets were now seeking their tents that our three bunkies did not notice that one footstep ceased before their door, for a moment, then passed on.

The man outside was Bert Dodge, also of the Dodge was a former Gridley High School boy and a bitter enemy of Dick's. The origin of that enmity was thoroughly told in the High School Boys Series.

During the plebe year Dodge, who was a fellow of little honor or principle had done his best to involve Prescott in serious trouble with the Military Academy authorities, but had failed. Dodge, however, had succeeded in escaping detection, and had succeeded in passing on from the plebe to the yearling class.

Anstey, however, who had been Dodge's roommate in the plebe year, was firmly resolved that he would not be roommate to Dodge when they returned to cadet barracks the next year.

Dodge hated all three of the bunkies in this tent, but Dick Prescott he hated more than the other two combined.

"Yes; we were near the spot," Dick said, answering Anstey's question. "But we didn't set off the crackers, or have anything to do with the matter. We don't even know, or have a guess, as to who the offenders were."

Though Dodge knew, in his soul, that he could believe Prescott, it was with an evil smile that Bert now hastened on, gaining his own tent.

Taps sounded, and fifteen minutes more went by. It began to look as though the Battle Monument affair would be allowed to go by until morning. Greg was asleep, and Dick was just dozing off, when there came a sharp step in the company street. The step had an official sound to it. That step halted, suddenly, before the door of the tent of our three bunkies.

"By order of the commandant of cadets," sounded the voice of Cadet Corporal Haynes. "Mr. Prescott and Mr. Holmes will turn out with all due speed, and report at the office of the officer in charge."

"Yes, sir," acknowledged Prescott, and nudged drowsy, half-awake

Greg.

"Yes, sir," replied Holmes.

Dick leaped up, lighting the candle. Then he gave a slight kick that was enough to bring Holmes apart from his blanket.

Hastily, though with soldierly neatness, the two yearlings dressed themselves, then stepped out into the night, prepared to face the rapid-fire gun of official curiosity.

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