Read CHAPTER XIV - POOR GREG CAN’T EXPLAIN of Dick Prescott First Year at West Point, free online book, by H. Irving Hancock, on ReadCentral.com.

The weeks slipped by, though not without the friction of sincerely hard work.

Dick, Greg and many of their classmates, toiling, marching, drilling under the hot sun that shone on the West Point plain and drill areas, acquired deep coats of manly tan on faces, necks and hands.

In many a story of West Point life the summer encampment is made to appear “the good old summer time” of an Army career.  The West Point cadet knows better.  It is a season of the hardest work.

At an hour when most city-dwelling boys are turning over in bed for another long and luxurious “snooze” the West Point cadet is up and doing in earnest.

There is much instruction that the young man has to absorb.  Merely to take part is not enough.  The young man must make himself proficient in such branches of the soldier’s art as cavalry tactics, drill, horsemanship, scouting, artillery tactics and drill, with drill at the guns of different calibers, and target practice with field, siege, mountain, mortar, howitzer and seacoast guns, with a lot of work in the service of mines.

Infantry tactics, with unceasing drill and a lot of target practice, provide a great amount of work.

Then there is a wide range of work to be mastered in practical military engineering, with the building of field fortifications, obstacles, spar and trestle bridges, pontoon bridges, military reconnoissance and sketching, map-making, surveying, military signaling and telegraphy, wireless and telephone service, the making of war material, the managing and handling of pack trains, field manoeuvres, and ­well, it’s not a season of ideal play!

It was toward the end of this busy season of outdoor life that Greg got into his most serious trouble up to that time, with an upper class man.

The day had been unusually hot, even for West Point.  Those of the upper class men who felt the call to the evening’s hop had dressed with utmost care and departed for the ballroom and the glances of soft eyes.

An unusually large number, however, were in camp this evening.

Tattoo sounds at 9.30.  Men who wish are privileged to make up their beds and turn in at this hour.  Greg was among the large number who went to sleep soon after tattoo this sultry night.  For that matter, young Holmes was lonely, both Dick and Anstey having been drawn for guard duty.

Five minutes after tattoo Yearlings Davis and Poultney sauntered down the company street.

“Suzz-zz! suzz-zz!  Horwack!” came sonorously from the tent solely occupied by Plebe Holmes.

“Great Washington!” muttered Poultney.  “Who smuggled a sawmill into camp?”

“The disturbance of the peace comes from this abode of beasts,” declared Mr. Davis, halting and thrusting his head into the tent.

Greg did not awaken, but snored on with crescendo effects.

“We ought to teach a beast like that a lesson,” whispered Poultney, as he, also, stared in at the unconscious but offending Greg.

“How?”

A hurried, whispered conference followed.  Right after that Mr. Davis tied a stout cord to the tent-pole of the khaki house across the company street.  Four feet of this cord were supported, in the crotches of two imbedded twigs, so that the cord lay about an inch and a half above the ground for a space of four feet close to the opposite tent.  Then the balance of the cord was allowed to lie harmless across the company street.  The end of the cord these two resourceful yearlings tied to a noose.  Tiptoeing into Greg’s tent they slipped the noose over one of Greg’s forefingers.

If, within the next few minutes, any passersby used that company street, they plainly must have passed on Greg’s side of the thoroughfare, and thus have avoided fouling with the cord.

Cadets who “drag femmes” to hop, and who have to escort their fair partners to hotel, or to some officer’s house on the post, must go from Cullum Hall with their fair charges, leave them at the destined gate, and then return to camp, all within a stated, scheduled time.

The time it properly takes to walk from Cullum Hall to the hotel grounds, or to any officer’s house, is all scheduled and kept track of at the guard tent.  The young man thus returning to camp after taps reports to what building he escorted his “femme,” and the time of his return is noted on the guard report.  If the cadet has overstayed his time he is called to account for it the next day.

Yearling Butler had “dragged” this evening.  He made guard tent on time, after a quick walk back to camp.  Reporting, Mr. Butler saw the time noted by the amanuensis of the guard.

Then, feeling really sleepy, the yearling continued at a rather brisk walk to the head of his company street, and turned down.

Just as luck would have it Mr. Butler did not pass on Greg’s side of the street, but passed rather close to the tent opposite.

Certainly the yearling’s eyes were not on the ground.  He saw not the cord on this side of the street.

There was a catch, a trip, and Mr. Butler went to the ground, mussing the knees of his spooniest pair of white ducks.  Moreover, he cut the palm of his right hand, slightly, on a sharp pebble.

The pulling on the cord gave Greg’s right hand a sharp yank, awakening the innocent plebe.

But Mr. Butler, having swiftly discovered the cord, and having ascertained in what direction it ran, made a dive into the tent just in time to see Greg sitting up on his mattress, holding the cord.

“So, mister,” gruffed the yearling, “is this the way you amuse yourself late at night?”

“Why ­what ­” stammered Cadet Holmes.

“Now, don’t try any of that on me,” urged Mr. Butler angrily.  “Mister, you’re caught with the freight in your possession.  What are you holding that cord for, sir?”

“I ­I don’t know, sir,” quavered Greg, who was just beginning to feel awake after his rudely disturbed slumber.

“You ­don’t ­know!” retorted Mr. Butler, in high dudgeon.

“What ­what has happened, sir?” inquired Greg.

To Mr. Butler this seemed very much like adding insult to injury.

“You thought it was funny, did you, mister, to rig a cord across the company street?” raged the yearling, though he kept his voice down to a gentlemanly pitch.  “You play tricks like that on upper class men.  Of all the b.j. imps that ever put on gray!  Mister, all I’m sorry for is that the officer of the day, or the O.C. didn’t trip over your cord!  Or the K.C. himself!”

“Now, I want to understand this, sir,” contended Cadet Holmes, rising from his mattress and stepping forward.  “I’ve just been aroused out of a sound sleep, and I find myself with a cord tied to one of my fingers.”

“Oh, you do, mister?” jeered Mr. Butler harshly.

“And you, sir, come into this tent and accuse me of something.  What I am anxious to know, sir, is what it is that I am accused of.”

“See here, mister, I’ve no more time to waste on a b.j. beast.  You’ve spoiled my best white ducks, and, incidentally, my temper.  You compound this by adding more b.j.-ety.  If you don’t know what I’m going to do about it, wait until you hear from me, mister!”

Turning, very erect and stiff, in his outraged dignity, Mr. Butler left the tent.

“Now, what on earth have I done, anyway?” wondered Greg.

In his perplexity he stepped to the doorway of his tent.  He saw the business-like arrangement of the cord, and all was clear to him, now.

“Some hazer has rigged that cord and tied one end to my finger,” gasped Plebe Holmes.

Then a grin overspread his face.

“Well, it was mighty clever, anyway.”

An instant more, and the grin gave place to a serious look.

“Clever or not, it certainly spells trouble for me.”

When the cadets returned from breakfast in the morning, and while Greg was finishing the donning of field uniform for a forenoon of drill, a shadow fell across the doorway of the tent.

Prescott and Anstey were still members of the guard, and therefore absent.

“Mr. Holmes, I wish to speak with you,” announced Mr. Haldane, of the yearling class.

“Will you come in, sir?”

Haldane stepped just inside the tent, standing severely erect and gazing coldly at the plebe.

“Mr. Butler demands a fight with you, mister, and as early as possible.”

There was no mention of possible apology.  Evidently Mr. Butler considered the affair one that could be remedied only by blows.

“Mr. Haldane, I don’t wish to ask much delay.  But the two friends whom I shall want to represent me are on guard duty at present.  May I ask that you see Mr. Prescott?”

“Very good,” acknowledged Mr. Haldane, and left the tent.

“Now, I’m in for it,” muttered Greg ruefully.  “And the queer part of it is that I have to fight for a thing that I never did.  But I’m not going to make any denials now, unless Dick advises it.”

It was evening, after the cadets had returned from supper, when Mr. Haldane appeared and asked for Prescott.  The two stepped outside together, walking a little distance away to make the necessary arrangements.

Dick was already in possession of the few facts that Greg had to tell him.  Dick had advised against denying the prank, for the present, anyway.

“It would look like playing the baby act,” Prescott had explained to his chum, and in this view Anstey agreed.

Mr. Haldane and Dick came to a speedy understanding.  The fight was to take place the next morning, at the first peep of daylight.

Promptly, however, the affair became noised about through camp.

Butler was a considerably larger man than Greg, and looked in every way more powerful.  Cadet Corporal Atwater, who was president of the yearling class, went to see Mr. Butler promptly.

“At least, Butler, if you insist that the fight must be fought, let the scrap committee choose one of our class who is down nearer to the plebe’s size,” urged Mr. Atwater.

“Under ordinary conditions, old fellow, I’d be tickled to do it,” replied Mr. Butler.  “But, in a trick of this kind, I couldn’t get any satisfaction out of anyone else hammering the b.j. beast who put up such a tumble for me.”

“I’m thinking the scrap committee may interfere with your plans,” rejoined Atwater, shaking his head.  “We don’t want fighting to degenerate into the appearance of bullying oppression of beasts.”

“I’ll have to abide by the decision of the scrap committee, of course,” admitted Butler.  “But I hope the fellows won’t interfere.”

Cadet Corporal Atwater promptly called the scrap committee together.  Many newspaper writers, through ignorance, have condemned the existence of a scrap committee at West Point, claiming that it foments fights.  The truth is that the scrap committee is a court of honor, formed for adjusting nice questions, and for preventing unfair fighting.

Cadet Butler was summoned before the scrap committee, and stated his case.  The decision of the scrap committee was that a fight would have to take place, but that Mr. Holmes was privileged to request the scrap committee to name a yearling who was Holmes’s own size and weight, this substitute to fight in Mr. Butler’s place at once.

Cadet Corporal Atwater thereupon promptly called at Greg’s tent, and stated the decision to the three tentmates.

“Mr. Prescott will answer for me, sir,” Greg replied respectfully.

“Sir,” Dick answered, “we appreciate the decision of the scrap committee.  We recognize that we are being used with the utmost fairness, and that all Mr. Holmes’s rights are being safeguarded in the most honorable manner.  Yet, sir, this fight has a peculiar basis.  More so than with most fights, I believe, sir, this is a purely personal one.  Mr. Holmes, therefore, is prepared, sir, to give personal satisfaction.  While the odds are very distinctly against him, he wishes to show that he can take his trouncing like a cadet and a gentleman.  So, sir, with renewed assurances of our thanks and appreciation, Mr. Holmes is ready to meet Mr. Butler at daylight.”

“That is well spoken, sir,” replied Mr. Atwater.  “I appreciate the grit of Mr. Holmes’s decision.”

The president of the yearling class went back to acquaint Mr. Butler with the outcome.

Until close of taps Greg practiced various blows, feints and dodges in foot work.

“You can’t win, Greg,” advised Anstey.  “Of course that’s out of the question.  But, before you have to lose the count you want to make sure of giving Mr. Butler enough facial decorations to keep him satisfied for some time to come.”

At taps the three tentmates lay down on their mattresses, Dick with an alarm clock close to his hand.

Cadets Prescott and Anstey were soon sound asleep.  Greg, however, lay awake for a long time, thinking ­thinking.

“If I had some of Dick’s lightning speed, and his capacity for sailing in like a cyclonic fury,” thought Greg.  “Whew, but I wish I had always given more attention to boxing than I have done.  I will after this.”

Finally, Greg dozed off.  The next he knew was when a brief, metallic “br-r-r-r?” sounded in the tent.  In another instant Dick had the clock and was smothering the noise.  Greg Holmes leaped up.  It was the morning of his fight!