Read CHAPTER XII - PRESCOTT GETS NUMBER THREE of Dick Prescott First Year at West Point, free online book, by H. Irving Hancock, on ReadCentral.com.

When the cadet battalion marched off to mess the following morning the mystery of Cadet Dodge’s whereabouts was as big a mystery as ever.

At the tent of the O.C., however, things were seething.  As soon as the battalion returned to camp cadets were sent for in rapid succession.

However, the trail remained as blind as ever.  The various detachments were ordered out for drill or practical instruction.

Our three young cadets were marched nearly two miles for instruction in target practice.  At the outset this work was with the gallery rifle at short ranges.

At the close of practice the squad was marched back over the dusty roads.

“Dodge has been found,” was the smiling word passed around as this detachment of plebes was dismissed inside camp limits.

“Where?  How?  When?”

The amazing story was told with a good deal of quiet laughter.

At about half past eight this morning one of the workmen employed in a lumber yard at Garrison, across the river, walking in behind a pile of lumber close to the river, was amazed to find a pillow slip lying on the ground.  What was much more astonishing was the fact that a waist and a pair of legs protruded from the pillowcase, and the feet were bound.

The workman, a dull-witted fellow, thought he had stumbled upon a case of murder, and rushed back to the office.  The manager thereupon hurried to the spot and the mystery was quickly solved.

The pillowcase being removed, they saw Mr. Dodge, bound and gagged.

He was promptly set free and questioned.  But he refused any information to the manager of the lumber yard, beyond stating that he had been the victim of an outrage.

On the next trip of the ferry across the river Mr. Dodge returned, the lumber yard manager accompanying him.  Mr. Dodge had reported, with a very crestfallen air, at the guard tent, and from there had been hurried on to Captain Vesey’s tent.  Now the story came out.

Mr. Dodge had just given the eleven o’clock hail, the night before, when he was suddenly seized from behind and thrown flat.  A pillowcase was slipped over his head while he was held by so many that struggling was out of the question.  By the time the pillowcase had been pulled down over his head Mr. Dodge also discovered that he had been swiftly but most effectively bound.

For the rest he knew only that he had been carried down the slope, unable to give any alarm, and that he had been lifted into a boat, taken over the river and dumped in the lumber yard.  Here he had spent the rest of the night and the early morning until found.  He had tried, repeatedly, to free himself, but had failed.

This was all the material on which Captain Vesey, and his superior, Lieutenant-Colonel Strong, had upon which to work, save for Dodge’s admission that he had been warned, the day before, by Cadets Prescott, Holmes and Anstey.  These three were accordingly summoned to the O.C.’s tent and asked to explain.

“Mr. Prescott,” asked Captain Vesey, “why did you warn Mr. Dodge?  What information had you that such an outrage on a sentry was being planned?”

“I knew only what Mr. Anstey had told me, sir,” replied Dick at once.

“Mr. Anstey,” demanded Captain Vesey, turning to the Virginian, “what information did you have, and how did you obtain it?”

Back of the O.C. sat the K.C. (commandant of cadets), his dark eyes fixed upon the witnesses.

“All the information I had, sir, was what a young cit. with whom I talked yesterday morning told me about pranks that had been played in past years upon plebes who had the late tour of post number three.”

“Your statement is that you had a conversation with a citizen, and that he told you of pranks that had been played in former years?”

“Yes, sir; that was the intent of my statement.”

“The citizen with whom you talked did not give you any hint that a trick might be played last night?”

“No, sir; only in the general way that the citizen’s stories made me half suspect that something might be tried last night.”

“Because Mr. Dodge was a plebe?”

“Yes, sir.

“And also because the plebe was Mr. Dodge?” Anstey hesitated an instant, then shot out promptly.

“Yes, sir.”

“Why did you think that Mr. Dodge was extremely likely to be singled out?”

Cadet Anstey flushed and again hesitated.

“You are not required to say anything distinctly to the discredit or disadvantage of Mr. Dodge, but you are required, Mr. Anstey, to give any information that will aid the authorities in running down this outrage and its perpetrators.  Again, sir, why did you imagine that Mr. Dodge would be singled out?”

“I knew, sir, that a good many upper class men regarded Mr. Dodge as being decidedly b.j.,” the Virginian admitted reluctantly.

“Then you attribute this affair to Mr. Dodge’s unpopularity with some of the upper class men?”

“I wouldn’t say, sir, that Mr. Dodge is unpopular, but I think, sir, that some of the upper class men feel that Mr. Dodge needs taking in hand.”

“For hazing?”

“For ­er ­well, sir ­for general training.”

“That is hazing ­nothing more nor less,” broke in the K.C. coldly.  “And we shall leave no stone unturned to stop this hazing and to punish all perpetrators of hazing.”

“Did Mr. Dodge accept your warning?” continued Captain Vesey.

“He did not, sir.”

“Mr. Anstey, on your word as a cadet and a gentleman, you have told me all you know of the affair?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Mr. Prescott, on your word as a cadet and a gentleman, have you told me all you know?”

“Yes, sir,” Dick replied.  “That is, sir, all except what is common knowledge to all, yourself included, sir.”

“Mr. Holmes, have you any knowledge bearing on this subject, in addition to what has been stated by these other cadets?”

“None, sir.”

“That is all for the present,” nodded Captain Vesey.  “You may go.”

As soon as the cadets were out of hearing the “tac.” turned to the K.C.

“The motive back of this outrage on a sentry is all quite clear to me, Colonel,” spoke the subordinate officer.  “Dodge is an unpopular and b.j.-ish fellow.  He has undoubtedly been making his brags that he’d bag any yearlings who tried to interfere with him on post.  Some of the yearlings must have taken up the challenge.”

“Yet at roll call last night, which was held at once, every cadet responded or was properly accounted for,” broke in the K.C. savagely.

“Yes, Colonel; but the young men had nearly half an hour in which to work.”

“They couldn’t have rowed both ways across the Hudson and have gotten back into camp in time for that swift roll call,” retorted Colonel Strong.

“Even that part of the affair doesn’t seem very puzzling to me, sir,” replied Captain Vesey.  “Assuming that yearlings bagged Mr. Dodge, as I think they did, they may have had citizen friends at hand to carry out the rest of the affair with a boat.  They may even have arranged with soldiers belonging to one of the Army detachments here.”

“The only matter of importance now, Captain Vesey, is to find out just which cadets, if cadets were engaged in the outrage, seized Mr. Dodge on his post.”

“In ferreting them out, Colonel, I will follow to the last extremity any instructions you may give me, sir,” promised Captain Vesey.

The K.C. tugged hard at his moustache, then scowled harder than before.

“What do you think the chances are, Vesey, of our finding the perpetrators?”

“Frankly, Colonel, I don’t think we have a chance in a million, unless some yearling concerned in the matter voluntarily confesses.”

“A yearling voluntarily confess!” snorted the K.C. rising.  “Bah!”

Captain Vesey smiled after his superior officer had stalked out of the tent.  It is just barely possible that the younger officer, remembering some prank of his own yearling days, wasn’t extraordinarily anxious to detect yearlings in an offense that would result in depriving the Army of the further services of some very bright and resourceful young men.

Hot, dusty, perspiring, first class men, yearlings and plebes came back to camp in detachments from various tours of drum and instruction.  The only cadets who looked at all fresh were the members of the guard, who were excused from the day’s drills.  Yet for these returning ones, late in the afternoon of a hot day, there was no immediate rest.  Some of the cadets came back in service clothes, others in khaki, still others in field costume of campaign hat, flannel shirt, gray trousers and leggins.  Immediately the young men in all these varieties of uniform disappeared within their tents.  There was a subdued sound of great bustle.  Then, almost in the same instant, it seemed, cadets stepped from the various tents into the open.  Each was immaculate, very nearly glorious in spotless, faultlessly pressed white duck trousers, topped by the gray full-dress coat and hat.  Each cadet carried his rifle now, except for the cadet officers, who wore their swords.

With almost dizzying speed, after the return and the dressing, the assembly was sounded.  The company to which Dick and his mates belonged was then, at the command, formed and inspected, marched across the plain, over to the parade ground, where hundreds of girls, in bright-hued dresses, and other visitors to West Point awaited their coming.

With the cadet adjutant and cadet sergeant-major in place as guides, the company came to its place in battalion formation.  Other companies marched in, and parade rest was ordered.  Now, at the command, a few movements in the manual of arms were executed, the battalion presenting a beautiful line of gray, white and flashing steel.  Next the band, playing gayly, marched from left of line, before the battalion, halting in place beyond the right of line.  Fifes and drums sounded the retreat.  The sunset gun boomed over the hollow beyond; down came the Stars and Stripes on one more day of national life, while the band played “The Star Spangled Banner” and all the men and boys among the spectators, including several on-looking Army officers, uncovered their heads, standing rigidly at attention.  It was an awe-inspiring moment to one who could feel the thrill of patriotism.  This whole ceremony of dress parade had about it the impressive solemnity of religious worship.

There were yet some more formalities.  Then the young men were marched back.  A few minutes after the sunset gun the men were once more in their own company streets, and, for all cadets except those of the guard, the work day was over.  In the evening there was to be a cadet hop at Cullom Hall, at which many of the bright-faced girls who had watched dress parade would be present.  The evening after there would be a band concert in camp.  So the nights of the cadet summer were passed.

But the hops were not for the plebes.  They could dance only in the day time, under the watchful eyes of the dancing instructor, for every plebe must take dancing lessons in summer until he has been pronounced qualified.  To a cadet hop, though there is no official rule against it, no plebe ever presumes to go.  Nor may he, for that matter, mingle in the social life with the young lady visitors at the post.  He may try it, of course, but no well-informed girl will allow a plebe to take the chances.  If a plebe is caught actually paying attention to any young woman the upper class men take care of him in their own effective way.  A plebe, like any other cadet, must show courtesy to any woman who addresses him; beyond that the young man must not go during his plebedom.  “Flirtation Week” is close by, but no plebe ever dares to stroll there.

This being the night of the hop, the upper class men were busy with their toilets as soon as they returned from supper; or as many of them were as had arranged to “drag a femme” to the hop.  This is cadet parlance for escorting a young lady to the dance.  However, some upper class men notoriously avoid attending hops.

“It’s a fine thing, isn’t it,” growled Greg that evening, “to take a lot of dancing lessons every week, and then, when the night comes around, to stroll through the company streets and listen to the orchestra in the distance.”

“I’m not complaining,” Dick replied.

“Yet you used to be fond of dancing.”

“I am now.”

“Then why don’t you yearn to go to a hop?”

“I do.  But see here, Greg.  The fellow makes the best soldier, in the end, I’ll wager, who learns to keep his greatest desires in check.  All the restrictions thrown around the plebe by custom are intended to make him the better man, soldier and officer by teaching him to wait until his time comes.”

“I congratulate you, mister,” spoke a low but hearty voice from the doorway of a tent the two plebes were passing.  “You’re coming on, mister.  Grin and bear it.  You’ll be happy one of these days!”

Dick and Greg glanced backward over their shoulders to see that the speaker was Mr. Reynolds, member of the new first class and a cadet captain.  Reynolds usually attended the hops.  But for to-night he had only a telegram in the breast of his coat in the place of the cherished “femme” whom he had hoped to “drag.”  As he stood in his doorway, looking up at the inscrutable stars, Cadet Captain Reynolds was taking his own lesson in patient waiting.

“Thank you, sir,” Dick replied in a low tone, then faced front again.

That night another plebe was on post number three during the tour ending at midnight.  He was not molested, however, which was most fortunate for mischief-loving yearlings, for the K.C. had stationed two tacs. in hiding close by, to be promptly on hand in case of any attempted trouble.

A few nights later it came Dick Prescott’s turn to take the late tour on post number three.  He was both apprehensive and watchful, but when the relief picked him up at midnight he had no report of any kind to make.

It was well enough known throughout cadet camp that the superintendent and all his subordinates were bent sternly on stopping or severely punishing any attempts to interfere with sentries.

As the weeks of hard work passed, and no more mysteries fell over post number three it began to be felt that plebes might thereafter walk there on the darkest night without worry.

One day in July Dick found himself again on guard, with post number three for the “ghosts promenade” ­that is, the tour ending at midnight.

“Don’t feel too secure, will you, old man?” begged Anstey.  “Watch out, just the same, won’t you?”

“I always take that post as though it were one of especial danger,” Dick answered seriously.

Which was well indeed, for Yearlings Davis, Graham and Poultney were even then plotting behind the walls of their tent.