Read CHAPTER XIII - THE SENTRY MAKES A CAPTURE of Dick Prescott First Year at West Point, free online book, by H. Irving Hancock, on ReadCentral.com.

“Post number one!  Eleven o’clock, and all’s well.”

“Post number two!  Eleven o’clock, and all’s well!”

Cadet Prescott, midway on his post, came to a halt, bringing his rifle to port arms.

“Post number three!  Eleven o’clock, and all’s well.”

Nor did the plebe return his rifle to his shoulder and resume pacing until he heard the hail taken up and repeated by the man on number four.  Thus the call traveled the rounds, back to number one, and died out.

Just an instant later Plebe Prescott became suspicious that something was wrong in his immediate vicinity.

Rain was threatening, and the sultry night was so dark that, on this shaded post, the young sentry could see barely a few yards away from him.

Yet Dick was certain he saw something flash darkly by, not far away.  It could hardly have been a shadow.  Whatever it was, a clump of bushes now concealed the moving something.

“Halt!  Who’s there?” hailed Cadet Prescott.  He stopped to listen, bringing his rifle once more down to port arms.

There was no response.

Certain, however, that his senses had not been deluded, the young sentry stepped quickly toward the clump of bushes.

From the other side of the bushes came a sudden sound of scrambling.

“Halt!  Who’s there?” demanded Prescott again.

Whoever it was, and plainly there was more than one man there, the prowlers had no mind to be held up by the sentry or the guard.

“Halt, or I’ll run a bayonet into you!” shouted Prescott resolutely.  “Corporal of the guard, post number three!” he bellowed aloud.

At the same time he was darting after the fugitives, whom it was too dark to distinguish.  From the very little that his eyes could make out, however, it was his belief that the running men were cadets.

Then one must have stumbled and fallen, for a figure lay between two bushes as Prescott dashed up.

“Don’t you attempt to rise until you get the word, or you’ll feel the jab of my bayonet,” warned Dick.

He couldn’t follow the others much further, anyway, as he had no authority to leave his post.  The man on number four must have heard, and would be alert.

“Where are you, number three sentry!” came Cadet Corporal Brodie’s hail.

“Here, sir!” Dick answered.  He still stood watching the figure that lay in the shadow of the bushes.  The fallen one had not attempted to move.  Dick Prescott was close enough to make a thrust with his bayonet-tipped rifle if the fallen one made any effort to leap up.

That was as close as Dick intended to get until help was at hand, for an old trick with cadets running the guard on a dark night on this lonely stretch was to wait until the sentry got close enough, then to reach out and grab him by the ankles, throwing him.

Always, when such a trick was played successfully, the offender would be up, off and safe by the time the thrown sentry was on his own feet again.

So Prescott, without in the least intending to let his prisoner get away, did not venture close enough to risk being pitched over on his back himself.

“Poor old skylarker, too!  I’m sorry for him,” muttered Dick, under his breath.  “I’m afraid this spells trouble for some yearling.”

“What can I do, though?  I show my own unfitness if I let anyone run the guard past me.”

“Call again, sentry on three!” directed the voice of Corporal Brodie.

“Here, sir,” Dick answered.

Then to the spot ran the corporal, followed by two men of the guard.

“Two or more men attempted to cross this post, sir,” Dick reported.  “One tripped, and I’m holding him.”

“Head him off, if he attempts to run ahead,” directed Mr. Brodie, nodding to one of his men of the guard.  “Now, then, get up, and let us see whether you’re a cadet, or only a banker’s son.”

But the figure did not rise.

“Get up, sir, I tell you,” ordered Corporal Brodie, slowly stepping past Prescott.

But the figure did not stir.

“Perhaps the man fell and stunned himself,” muttered Brodie.  Passing his rifle to his left hand the corporal parted the bushes, then bent over the prostrate one.

“Oh, hang you!” growled the cadet corporal.  He seized the figure with his right hand, yanked it upward, then hurled it out, letting it fall again across the post.

“Is that the man you stopped, Mr. Prescott?” demanded Corporal Brodie in disgust.

But instead of answering, at that moment, Dick straightened up, brought his rifle to port, and hailed: 

“Halt!  Who’s there?”

“The officer of the day,” came out of the blackness.

“Advance, officer of the day, to be recognized,” Dick replied.

Forward out of the deep shadow came Cadet Captain Reynolds.

“What’s the trouble, Corporal?” inquired the latest arrival.

“Mr. Prescott reports that two or more persons attempted to run across his post, sir.  He overtook one, who stumbled.  Mr. Prescott was guarding his prisoner as I arrived, sir, and that was the prisoner!”

Corporal Hasbrouck pointed in disdain at the stuffed figure that he had hauled out from under the bushes and Dick’s bayonet.

“A stuffed figure, in gray trousers and shirt, eh?” questioned Captain Reynolds.  “Sentry, were the two or three men who got away from you of the same composition?”

“I don’t know, sir,” Dick answered, with mortification.  “All I know, sir, is that those who got away ran pretty fast, and made so little noise that they doubtless wore rubber-soled shoes.”

“You’ve been hoaxed, sentry,” commented the officer of the day dryly.  “Corporal, have your men of the guard bring the prisoner up to the guard tent.  Sentry, if any more straw men attempt to cross your post, bring them down as well as you did this one.  The straw men who got away from you made their way into camp, didn’t they?”

“Whoever escaped, sir, got into camp all right.”

As the guard-house party returned, Dick resumed the pacing of number three.  He felt his face still blazing, from the quiet ridicule of the officer of the day.

“I’ll catch it to-morrow from everyone who thinks me worth noticing,” growled the plebe to himself.  “However, though I tried to do my full duty, I’m glad that was what I caught.  I wouldn’t care to march a comrade in, a prisoner.”

When the midnight relief came around, and Prescott’s relief was posted in his place, the young plebe knew the ordeal ahead of him.

As soon as the relieved squad was halted at the guard tent, and Dick entered to get himself a cup of coffee and a sandwich or two, his glance fell upon the stuffed figure, which reposed on the floor at the back of the tent as though it had been a veritable prisoner.

“Did you shoot it, Prescott?” asked Derwent, the man who had just been relieved on number four.

“No; he lassoed it with his neck-tie,” jeered another man of the guard.

“Wonder if the prisoner is hungry!” pursued Derwent.  “Prescott, the prisoner is yours.  Attend to his feeding.  And the poor fellow should have some proper bedding, too, a chilly night like this.”

“A merciful soldier wouldn’t eat until he had seen his prisoner fed,” tantalized another.

Dick had his cup of coffee at his mouth.

“Prescott, old man,” commented fat Smith, “you’ll be commended in general orders for distinguished bravery.”

That was enough, in itself, to make Dick choke, but Smith emphasized his remark by slapping Dick on the back.  An ounce of hot coffee, at least, “went down the wrong way.”  Choking and gasping for breath, trying to expel the coffee from his windpipe, and all the while obliged to lean well forward so as not to expel any of the coffee over the front of his blouse, Dick thought he never would get his breath again.

“Instead of feeding his prisoner, I believe Mr. Prescott has been eating some of his prisoner,” observed Corporal Hasbrouck dryly.  “Mr. Prescott, himself, appears to be full of straw at present.”

The general laugh that followed didn’t make it any easier for the victim of all this nonsense.  In laughing again Dick choked so that he began to turn slightly black.

“Dry up, you hyenas!” ordered Cadet Captain Reynolds, as he rushed to Prescott’s relief.  In a few moments the late sentry on number three was breathing easily again.  He threw himself down on a mattress, and was soon asleep.

But in the morning he had to go through the ordeal ten-fold.  As Dick went to his tent to change some articles of clothing Bert Dodge appeared in the company street.

“Hey, mister,” called yearling Davis, after Bert, “I hear good news.  Last night the guard caught the chap who shanghaied you.”

Even Greg and Anstey were prepared to quiz the “hero” of the comic episode of the night before.

“That was a fine comic opera performance, old chap,” grinned Anstey.

“The next time you arrest a lay figure,” suggested Greg, “at least be good enough to capture one that’s stuffed with lemons.”

“Oh, the straw figure was a lemon, of a kind,” laughed the Virginian.

“Did the prisoner yell when you pricked point of your bayonet in its flesh of husks?” Greg wanted to know.

“Do you expect the K.C. to mention you in orders for distinguished gallantry?” demanded Anstey.

“Or to skin you on a suspicion of stealing straw from the artillery stables?” snickered Greg.

“I know one funny thing about straw, anyway,” declared Anstey, turning around to Holmes.

“What?” asked Greg.

“It’s bound to tickle you,” declared the Virginian gravely.

Even at breakfast, in the cadet mess, Dick failed to get away from his tormentors.  One of the yearlings, seated at a table not far from the one at which Prescott sat, called out to a classmate: 

“Queer thing about that prisoner bagged on number three last night.  Did you hear who the prisoner turned out to be?”

“No-o-o,” drawled the other yearling, while a hundred pairs of eyes were turned on flame-faced Prescott.

“It was the class president of the beasts” (plebes).

“Kind of tough fate for the prisoner, though,” railed another.

“What’s that?”

“He’s been sentenced to death.  He is to be used as a target for the plebe squads in target practice.”

“That isn’t a sentence of death; it’s a guarantee of safety.”

This last sally turned the laugh on the entire plebe class.  Dick flushed worse than ever when he saw many of his classmates begin to squirm.

“They might, at least, take it all out on me, and leave the class alone,” muttered Dick to himself.

“Where are you going so fast, mister?” hailed a yearling, after the return to camp, as he beheld a plebe hurrying down a company street.

“I’m summoned as a witness before the general court-martial,” called back Mr. Plebe, over his shoulder.

“Court-martial?  I hadn’t heard there was to be one.”

“Yes, sir; they’re going to try the prisoner caught on number three, sir.”

The yearling turned away grinning, for once not deeming it necessary to rebuke a “beast” for attempting to make a smart answer.

Out on the range, at target practice, two mornings later, Dick did some especially bad shooting.

“Don’t be afraid of hitting the target, Mr. Prescott,” advised Lieutenant Gerould dryly.  “It’s made of something more substantial than straw.”

A gleeful roar went up from some of the other “beasts.”  Lieutenant Gerould eyed them in surprise, for this Army officer was one of the few at West Point who had not already heard of number three sentry’s capture.

It was a fortnight ere Cadet Prescott could feel really secure against more “joshing” over the incident.

“I’m better satisfied than if we had done what we set out to do to that plebe,” remarked Yearling Davis to his tentmates.

“Mr. Prescott is a rather decent sort ­for a mere plebe,” replied Poultney.  “Do you know, I think he’s almost glad that he caught the dummy we rigged for him.  I believe the little beast would have hated to catch a uniform stuffed with human flesh.”