Don Gordon's Shooting-Box
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The night of the 15th of January found Don and Bert installed in their room in the academy. It was large enough to accommodate two single beds, a steam-heater, a washstand, a table, and two chairs. At the foot of each bed was a small cupboard, in which they were to keep their uniforms, after they got them, and also their officers’ swords, if they were fortunate enough to win them at the next examination. Bert was poring over his French lesson, while Don, who was more than a year ahead of his class in all his studies, was reading the “Rules and Regulations” that hung upon the wall. There were fifty rooms on that floor, all occupied by boys who were supposed to be studying their lessons for the morrow. The only sound that broke the stillness was a steady tramping in the hall.
“I wish that fellow, whoever he is, would go into his room and keep still,” said Bert, after he had waited a long time for the tramping to cease.
“He’ll not go away until he is relieved,” replied Don. “He is a sentry. I have just been reading about him. He has charge of all the rooms on this floor, and it is his duty to suppress all loud talking or laughing, and to inspect the rooms occasionally to see that the occupants have not slipped out.”
“Where would they go if they did slip out?” asked Bert.
“I am sure I don’t know,” replied Don, as he walked up to the heater and held his hands over it. “Neither do I see why one should want to leave a comfortable room like this to parade around in the deep snow, even if there were a place to go to pass the evening. It’s fearful cold up here in this country, isn’t it?”
When Don and Bert left their Southern home the air was balmy, the birds were singing, a few early flowers were beginning to bud under the genial influence of the sun, and they earned their overcoats done up in shawl-straps; but long before they reached their journey’s end they had put on all their heaviest clothing, and when the train brought them into Bridgeport they found the streets blocked with snow, and the river covered with a sheet of ice that was fourteen inches in thickness. The dreary winter scene that met their gaze every time they looked out of the academy windows made them shiver involuntarily, and it was no wonder that they wanted to hug the fire.
“Suppose that sentry should find a room empty when he looked into it?” said Bert, without replying to his brother’s question. “What then?”
“It would be his duty to report the owners,” said Don.
“That looks almost too much like tale-bearing,” answered Bert. “I don’t like the idea; do you?”
“No, I don’t; but what is a fellow to do about it? If it ever comes our turn to stand sentry during study hours, we can take our choice between doing our full duty, without fear or favor, and being reported and punished ourselves for negligence. I know what my choice will be. If the boys don’t want me to report them, they must live up to the regulations.”
When Don said this he meant every word of it; but after he had been at the academy a few weeks, Bert noticed that he never gave expression to such ideas as these.He learned how to keep his back turned toward a room when he had reason to believe that the owners desired to “take French” for the evening; and when he was certain that they were out of harm’s way, he could open the door of that very room, and without much stretching of his imagination convert the “dummies” that occupied the beds into living, breathing students. It soon became known to a certain class of boys that the Planter was a “brick,” who would rather get into trouble himself than report any of his schoolmates; and they were not slow to take advantage of his good-nature. That was the term the students applied to his neglect of duty; but the superintendent called it disobedience of orders, and Don was punished accordingly.
“What was that noise?” exclaimed Bert, suddenly.
“It sounded like a drum,” answered Don.
And that was just what it was. A couple of drummers were walking around the building, every now and then giving their instruments a single tap.
“It certainly means something,” said Bert, with no little anxiety in his tone; “but I am all in the dark.”
So was Don. He was about to propose that they should step out into the hall and ask the sentry to enlighten them, when the door suddenly opened and that dreaded functionary thrust his head into the room.
“I say, Plebe,” he exclaimed, nodding to Don, “give us your name, will you?”
Don wonderingly complied, and the sentry drew a note-book from his pocket and wrote something in it.
“Very unpleasant piece of business,” said he, “but it can’t be helped. Orders are orders, as you will find before you have been here a great while. Next time keep your ears open.”
“Why, what’s the matter?” inquired Don. “Have we done anything wrong?”
“I should say so. Why didn’t you douse your glim? Did you not hear the signal?”
“We heard a drum, if that’s what you mean,” said Bert.
“That was ‘taps,’ and it meant ‘lights out.’ Put that lamp out at once.”
“We’ll do it just as soon as we get ready for bed,” replied Bert, jumping up and pulling off his coat.
“Put it out, I tell you,” exclaimed the sentry. “Put it out now, and undress in the dark, as the rest of the fellows do. You had better take my advice and slumber lightly, for after the morning gun is fired you will have just six minutes in which to get into your clothes and fall in for roll-call. Pleasant dreams.”
“Humph!” said Bert, as the sentry closed the door and went out into the hall to inspect the other rooms. “How can a fellow’s dreams be pleasant when he knows that he is going to be reported in the morning? This is a bad beginning, Don. Although we have not been here twenty-four hours, we have got ourselves into trouble already.”
This reflection worried Bert, who always tried hard to obey the rules of the school he attended, and considered himself disgraced if he were taken to task for violating any of them; but it had no more effect upon Don than water has on a duck’s back. He tumbled into bed and slept soundly, while Bert, who was very much afraid that he might not hear the morning gun, lay awake during the greater part of the night. Toward morning he sank into a troubled slumber, from which the solemn booming of the field-piece aroused him.
He and Don were out on the floor and putting on their clothes before the deep-toned reverberations that came from the hills on the other side of the river had fairly died away. There was no time lost in stretching and yawning – not a second wasted in waking up. The drums were beating in the drill-room, and the fifes were shrilly piping forth the first strains of the three tunes that constituted the morning call. Before the second tune was finished, Don and Bert, following the lead of the crowd of students they found in the hall, ran into the drill-room and took their places in line.
There were four companies in all, each one numbering, when the school was full, seventy-five members. They were all officered by boys, the highest in rank being the lieutenant-colonel, while the superintendent of the academy, or one of the instructors, acted as commandant of the battalion. The companies were drawn up on the four sides of the spacious drill-room, in which all the battalion and company exercises and ceremonies were held during bad weather, the members standing at “parade rest.” In front of each company stood the upright, soldierly figure of the first sergeant, note-book in hand. Behind him stood his boy captain, while the officer of the day, his arms folded across his breast, critically surveyed the scene from his post near the door. The instant the last notes of the reveille died away business commenced.
“Attention, company!” shouted all the first sergeants in a breath; whereupon the students brought their heels in line, dropped their hands by their side, turned their eyes to the front, and assumed the position of a soldier.
The roll was called in less than two minutes, and after the first sergeants had reported to their captains, and the captains had reported to the adjutant, and the adjutant had reported to the officer of the day, whose duty it was to report the absentees to the superintendent, the guards for the day were detailed, the ranks were broken, and the students hurried away to wash their hands and faces, comb their hair, and put their rooms in order for morning inspection. After that came two hours of hard study. Then the sick-call was sounded, followed shortly afterward by the enlivening strains of “Peas upon the Trencher,” which was the summons to breakfast. The different companies were marched to and from the dining-hall by their quartermaster-sergeants, and when the ranks were broken the students were allowed an hour to “brush up” on their lessons for the day, or to stroll about the grounds and watch guard-mount. At nine o’clock the bugle called them to their respective recitation-rooms, and from that time until one they were kept at work at their books. After dinner an hour was allowed for rest and recreation. From two until half-past three there were more recitations, followed by a long and fatiguing drill, and then liberty until sunset. Then came the dress-parade of the battalion; and when that was ended the day’s work was over with everybody except the guards and those who were behind with their lessons for the next day. After supper and another hour of recreation, the bugle called “to quarters,” and that was a sound that nobody liked to hear. It meant that all the fun was over for that day, that every boy must go to his room at once and keep quiet after he got there, under penalty of being reported by the sentry who had charge of that floor.
After this description of the routine of study and drill that was pursued at the academy, the reader will understand how Don Gordon passed the most of his school-days during the next four years. How he passed his vacations it is the purpose of this series of books to relate. It will be seen also that he was allowed very little time in which to study up plans for mischief. In fact he did not think of such a thing yet, for he had come there firmly resolved to do his best, and to win a record for himself that his father should be proud of; but still he did feel very revengeful while he and his brother were standing in front of the superintendent’s desk, listening to the sharp reprimand that was administered to them for neglecting to extinguish their light at taps. This was the same “good-natured gentleman” who had greeted them and their father so cordially when they visited his camp during the previous summer, but he did not talk as he did then. He used cutting words, and laid down the law in tones that had made more than one culprit tremble. Don did not mind it in the least, for he was used to being scolded by his teachers; but when he saw how Bert took it to heart, he became so angry that he could hardly hold his peace.
“That’s just the kind of a man that I like to get the advantage of,” said he to himself; “and if I had a few good fellows to help me, I would set him and his rules at defiance. I just know I could slip out of my room and get off the grounds at night; and if I had any place to go to spend the evening, I would try it and see what he would do about it.”
Don made this up all out of his own head. He had never heard of such a thing as running the guard, and he thought of it now simply as a daring exploit, and one that he would undertake without a moment’s hesitation if there were anything to be gained by it. He was in just the right humor to be manipulated by such fellows as Fisher and Duncan; and into their hands he fell before he had worn the academy uniform forty-eight hours. They took him up because they hated him and wanted to get him into trouble, and it was only by an unexpected stroke of good fortune that he escaped from their clutches. What he did to arouse their animosity shall be told further on.