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   Chapter 5 I RESPECTFULLY DECLINE TO ANSWER, SIR.

Dick Prescott's Second Year at West Point / Or, Finding the Glory of the Soldier's Life By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 10789

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"Mr. Prescott reports, sir."

"Mr. Holmes reports, sir."

Saluting, the two yearlings stepped into the tent of the O.C., then halted at attention.

Two officers returned their salutes. Captain Bates sat at his desk. Lieutenant Colonel Strong, commandant of cadets, sat back in lower chair at the right of Captain Bates's desk.

"Mr. Prescott," began Captain Bates, transfixing the yearling with his burning eyes, "you and Mr. Holmes were close to Battle Monument when the firecrackers were discharged there this evening.

"Yes, sir," Dick admitted.

"What do you know about the affair?"

"Only this, sir: That, after passing you, we walked along the same path until we turned in not far from the monument. We were walking toward it when we heard the discharges, and saw the flashes."

"Had you been nearer to the monument at any time through the evening,

Mr. Prescott?"

"No, sir."

Dick answered with great promptness.

"Mr. Prescott, have you sufficiently considered my question and your reply?"

"Yes, sir."

"I will put a question of another kind. Did you see, do you know, or have you any knowledge of any kind, of those who placed the firecrackers by the monument, or who set them off?"

"Absolutely no knowledge, sir, on any point you mention," Dick rejoined promptly.

"Did you have any knowledge that such a breach of discipline was being planned."

"I did not, sir."

"Mr. Prescott!"

It was Colonel Strong who spoke. Dick wheeled about, saluted, then stood at attention.

"A serious offence against military discipline has been committed at Battle Monument tonight. Have you any knowledge about the matter which, if in our possession, would aid in any way in clearing up the mystery surrounding this offence?

"I have absolutely no knowledge of any form, sir, except that, as I stated, while Mr. Holmes and I were walking toward the monument, we heard the reports and saw the flashes."

"You realize the full import of your statement, Mr. Prescott?" pressed the K.C.

"I do, sir."

"Then, on your honor as a cadet and a gentleman, you declare that your statement is true?"

"I do, sir," Cadet Prescott replied.

The pledge he had just given is the most solemn that is exacted of a United States military cadet. Usually, the cadet's plain word is accepted as ample, for the sense of faith and honor is paramount at West Point. A cadet detected in a lie would be forced out of the cadet corps by the ostracism of his own comrades.

"That is all, for the present, Mr. Prescott."

Dick respectfully saluted the K.C., then the O.C., next wheeled and marched out of the tent, going straight to his own tent. Prescott would gladly have remained, but he had been dismissed.

It was twenty minutes later when Greg crept back into the tent and began to undress.

"How about it?" whispered Prescott.

"I was asked more questions, but all of the same import," Holmes answered in a whisper.

"Did the O.C. make you tell on yourself, about being over by the reveille gun?"

"No; I thought some of his questions led that way, but my other answers stopped him in that line. As a last resort I would respectfully have declined to say anything to incriminate myself."

As was afterwards learned, Dick and Greg were the only witnesses examined that night. Captain Bates had followed the only trail at which he could guess, and had learned nothing.

* * * * * * * *

"Mr. Prescott and Mr. Holmes both have the usual excellent reputation of cadets for truthfulness, haven't they, Captain?" asked Colonel Strong.

"Yes, Colonel."

"Then I am afraid we shall get no further in this investigation."

"Unless, sir, my questions were so badly put as to give them a chance of shielding themselves without giving untruthful answers. I shall sleep on this matter tonight, Colonel. I don't want these young men to think they can put such an easy one right over my head."

"I wish you luck, Bates. But I'm afraid you've shot off your only round of ammunition, and have found it a blank charge. Good night."

"Good night, sir."

"Mr. Prescott was clever enough to prevent my pouncing on Mr. Holmes at the reveille gun tonight," mused the O.C. "I can hardly suspect Mr. Prescott of untruthfulness, but I wonder whether he has been clever enough to baffle me in this monument affair, without telling an absolute untruth?"

For nearly a half an hour the O.C. lay awake, reviewing the method he had followed in questioning Cadet Prescott.

In the morning, after breakfast, there were a few minutes of leisure in camp before the squads or platoons marched away for the first drills.

"You were on the grill, last night, old ramrod?" asked Furlong, in a chuckling whisper.

"Yes," Dick nodded.

"You couldn't tell anything?"

"I knew less than nothing to tell."

"You didn't see us, last night, as we slipped away from the monu---"

"Shut up, you sun-scorched idiot!" cried Prescott sharply, under his breath. "I don't want to know anything about it now."

"Oh, that's all right, I suppose," said Mr. Furlong, looking furtively towards Bert Dodge, who was standing some distance off.

The very thought that he was now practically certain, morally, at least, who one of the perpetrators of the monument affair was, made Dick uneasy. He knew there was still a danger that he and Greg might be summoned again to the ten

t of the O.C.

Bert Dodge saw, from a distance, the whispered talk between Dick and Mr. Furlong; he also saw the latter's quick, stealthy glance.

Now, Dodge, from having tried to visit Furlong the night before, knew that the young man had returned from the hop, for he had seen Furlong go into his tent shortly after ten. Dodge also knew that Furlong had been absent from camp at the time of the monument discharges.

"Furlong is one of the offenders," thought Bert, "and Prescott is roasting him about it. I suppose our highly conceited class president thinks it his place to lecture all the jokers in the class. But how would it be possible, without getting myself into trouble, to pass on the hint that Prescott knows more than he is telling?"

It didn't take a fellow with all of Cadet Dodge's natural meanness very long to invent a plan that looked feasible.

Sauntering along near the guard tent, Dodge encountered a classmate with whom he was on fairly good terms, Mr. Harper, who was waiting to fall in when the next relief of the guard was called.

"Prescott was on the grill last night, I hear," began Bert.

"So I hear," nodded Harper.

"I guess he dodged the O.C. cold," chuckled Dodge.

"He denied any knowledge of the monument business, I've heard," replied Harper.

Bert chuckled.

"That sounds like old Prescott," laughed Bert. "And I'll bet he managed it without telling any lies. I know Prescott of old. Our family once lived in the same town with him, you know. Prescott was one of the biggest jokers in our High School. And he never got caught in those days. Prescott was always the artful dodger."

"What do you mean by that!" asked Harper. "You don't mean that

Prescott is untruthful."

"Oh, no, not at all," laughed Bert. "But, if I could put him on the rack, and get the whole thing, unreservedly, out of Richard Prescott, I'd be willing to bet, in advance, that he knows just who set off the cannon crackers last night."

Dodge was careful not to speak so that he could be overheard by Prescott or Furlong, yet he was certain that, on the still morning air around the guard tent, his voice was carrying sufficiently to penetrate to the other side of the khaki walls of the O.C.'s tent.

"Prescott is the clever one, and the loyal one to all but tacs.," laughed Bert to Harper, as he strolled away. Dodge hoped that the O.C. was in his tent.

It is true--Captain Bates was there. Having drawn the flap, and being in the act of enjoying his morning newspaper, the O.C. heard.

"Hang it, I felt last night that, while answering me truthfully,

Mr. Prescott was proving the possession of sufficient cleverness

to keep me off the monument trail, just as he foiled my catching

Mr. Holmes," mused the O.C. "And I said as much last night to

Colonel Strong."

At that moment the flap of the tent was lifted and the K.C. returned the salute of his subordinate, who had promptly leaped to his feet.

In a few swift, low words, Captain Bates repeated the conversation he had just overheard.

"That bears out what you thought last night, Bates," rejoined the K.C. "I think there is nothing for it but to have Mr. Prescott in here and put him on the wheel again. Rack him, Bates!"

"I've just time, Colonel to catch Mr. Prescott before the drill squads go out. Corporal of the guard!" hailed the O.C., looking out from his tent.

In another moment a very erect young member of the guard was striding around the head of the encampment, and then down one of the company streets. Dick, in front of his tent, in field uniform, received the summons and responded at once.

"Caught him!" quivered Bert Dodge. "No if that infernal humbug will get hot-headed and answer the O.C. rashly, there may be something good coming in the punishment line! It would be a source of wild joy if I could get Dick Prescott on the wrong flank with the tacs.!"

The instant that Dick reported, and found himself in the presence of his two inquisitors of the night before, he knew that some hint of his new knowledge must have reached the tactical department.

"Mr. Prescott, last night," began Captain Bates, "you denied absolutely having any knowledge as to the persons who set off firecrackers near Battle Monument."

"Yes, sir."

"I have since gained good reason to think," went on the O.C., "that you know who at least one of the perpetrators was."

Mr. Prescott remained silent.

"Why do you not reply, Mr. Prescott?"

"I didn't understand, sir, that you had asked me a question."

Captain Bates flushed. He hadn't asked a question, in question form, and he saw how neatly this cadet had "caught" him. But that only served to increase the suspicion of both officers present that Mr. Prescott was a very clever witness who was successfully contriving to keep something back.

"Mr. Prescott, do you now know who was responsible for the monument affair of last night?" insisted the O.C.

"I don't know sir," replied Dick, putting all proper emphasis on the word.

"Yet you suspect?"

"I suspect one man, sir," Dick responded without attempt at concealment.

"Is the one you suspect a cadet?"

"Yes, sir."

"His name?" broke in Lieutenant Colonel Strong.

Dick Prescott whitened a bit. He knew the chances he was taking now, but he replied, in a clear, steady voice:

"I very respectfully decline to answer, sir!"

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