“I am sure I don’t know what it was that made the Professor take a liking to me,” said Sam in conclusion, “but it was something; and when he asked me if I wouldn’t like to quit that miserable business and go to school and learn to be a civil or a mining engineer, I tell you it almost took my breath away. I jumped at the chance. I gave my kit to a boy who was too poor to buy one, and came out here; and I am very sorry for it. The fellows don’t want me here, and they didn’t want me in New York, either. I hope I shall some day find a place where I shall not be in everybody’s way.”
“Don’t get down-hearted,” said Don, taking one of his hands out of his pocket long enough to give Sam an encouraging slap on the back. “Of course your tuition is free?”
“Yes, everything is furnished me. If it wasn’t I couldn’t stay here, for I have no money to speak of. The boys in New York badgered me so, and ran such heavy opposition to me that I couldn’t earn enough to buy a warm suit of clothes.”
“You will have an abundance of them in a day or two,” said Don, “for our uniforms will be along by that time. You couldn’t get an education on better terms than the Professor offers it to you, could you? And so long as he is willing that you should stay here, you can well afford to let the fellows grumble to their hearts’ content. Show the Professor that you appreciate his kindness by doing your duty like a man, and look to me for help whenever you get into trouble. Now the next thing is something else,” added Don, as he and his companions came to a halt in front of the high picket-fence which inclosed the academy grounds. “Where’s your room, Sam?”
“I haven’t any yet. I sleep in the attic. The rooms on the floor occupied by our class are all taken except one. That has been used as a store-room, and as soon as it is cleared out I am to have it for my own.”
“Well, do you want the teachers to know anything about this night’s work?”
“Of course not,” returned Sam, who had all a decent boy’s horror of tale-bearing.
“Because, if you do,” continued Don, “you can walk up to one of the guards, let him report you for being outside the grounds without a pass, and when you are hauled over the coals for it, you can say that you were taken out against your will.”
“But I don’t want to say that,” answered Sam, quickly. “It would bring Tom and the rest into trouble. I have nothing against them, and I should be glad to be friends with them if they would only let me.”
“You’ll do to tie to,” said Don, approvingly. “Bert and I have a pass that will see us through all right; but what are you going to do? Do you think you can make your way to the attic without being seen by any of the sentries or floor guards?”
“Tom and his crowd brought me out without attracting the attention of any of them, and I don’t see why I can’t get back without being caught. At any rate I shall try my best. Good-night. I hope that neither of you will ever stand in need of such aid as you have rendered me to-night; but if you do, you may count on me every time.”
So saying Sam moved away in one direction, closely examining all the pickets on the fence as he went, and Don and Bert walked off in the other.
“We belong to this academy,” replied Don, “and have a pass from the superintendent.”
“Corporal of the guard No. 4,” yelled the sentry; and the call was caught up and repeated by another sentinel who stood at the farther end of the academy, and finally reached the ears of the corporal, who was toasting his shins in front of a warm fire in the guard-room.
“What do you want the corporal for? Here’s our pass,” said Don; and taking the paper in question from his pocket he thrust it between the bars of the gate.
Still the sentry made no reply, nor did he seem to know that Don had spoken to him. He brought his musket to a “support,” and paced back and forth on the other side of the gate with slow and dignified steps. Don muttered something under his breath, and Bert believing that he was grumbling at the sentry for being so uncivil, laid his hand on his brother’s arm and said, in a low tone —
“Don’t be angry with him. Perhaps he is not allowed to talk while he is on duty.”
Don said nothing. He began to believe that he and Bert had unwittingly got themselves into trouble again, and when the corporal came up, he found that he had not been mistaken.
“What’s the matter here?” demanded the officer.
“There are a couple of plebes out there who want to come in,” was the sentry’s reply.
“Who are you?” said the corporal, peering through the pickets at the two brothers.
Don gave him their names; whereupon the corporal took a key down from a nail in the sentry’s box, and after unlocking the gate told the boys to come in. They obeyed, and the officer having returned the key to its place drew a note-book from his pocket and wrote something in it. “That’s all right,” said he, as he closed the book and put it back in his pocket.
“Have we done anything wrong?” inquired Bert, in anxious tones.
“You will find that out to-morrow,” was the corporal’s very unsatisfactory answer.
“Why can’t you give a civil reply to a civil question?” demanded Don, impatiently. “We had liberty to go outside the grounds for the evening, and here’s the pass that says so.”
“I don’t want to see it,” said the corporal, as he buttoned his overcoat and drew the cape over his head. “I know just how it reads. Come on.”
“Where are you going to take us?” asked Bert, while visions of the gloomy guard-house danced before his eyes.
“To the officer of the day, of course.”
“And what will he do with us?”
“That’s for him to tell. Come on. It’s too cold to stand here any longer.”
Don and Bert fell in behind the corporal, who led the way to the guard-room, and ushered them into a little office where the officer of the day – a stern old Prussian soldier who wore a medal he had won by his gallantry on the field of battle while serving under Prince Frederick Charles – sat reading a newspaper. When the non-commissioned officer entered with his prisoners he laid the paper down and took off his spectacles.
“Vel, gorporal,” said he, in a pompous tone, “vat ish the drouble mit dem gadets?”
“They have overstayed their time, sir,” said the corporal.
“Vot for you do dot?” demanded the officer of the day, turning fiercely upon the culprits. “Vot for you not come in, ha?”
“We were not aware that we had overstayed our time, sir,” answered Don. “If we had known that we were expected to return at a certain hour, we should have been here. We had a pass for the evening, and there it is.”
“Dot’s no good after daps,” said the officer of the day, turning away his head and waving his hand in the air to indicate that he did not care to look at the paper which Don presented for his inspection.
“I assure you, sir, that it was a mistake on our part,” said Bert.
But the officer of the day declared, in his broken English and with many gesticulations, that such things as mistakes were not recognized in that academy – that Don and his brother had violated the regulations and might make up their minds to be punished accordingly. Then he ordered them to their quarters, while the corporal went back to his seat by the stove.
“He didn’t say that we were in arrest, did he?” said Don, as he and Bert ascended the stairs, at the top of which they met the sentry who had charge of that floor, standing with his note-book in his hand.
“Your names, please,” said he, pleasantly.
“The corporal of the guard has them, and so has the officer of the day,” answered Don.
“And I must have them, too,” returned the sentry, holding his pencil poised, in the air.
Don gave the required information in rather a sullen tone, and closed the door of his dormitory behind him with no gentle hand. As soon as Bert had struck a light he drew the pass from his pocket and read as follows:
“Guards and patrols will pass privates Donald and Hubert Gordon until half-past nine o’clock this evening.”
Then he looked at his watch and saw that it lacked only a quarter of eleven. Allowing fifteen minutes for their interviews with the corporal and the officer of the day, they had overstayed their time just an hour. Bert was very penitent, but Don was inclined to be rebellious.
“I wonder if a fellow can make a move in any direction without breaking some of the numerous rules of this school and being reported for it,” said Don, throwing his overcoat and cap spitefully down upon the bed. “I declare, Bert – ”
Just then the door opened and the sentry thrust his head into the room. “Put out that light, Plebe,” said he. “Two reports in one night make a tolerably bad showing, the first thing you know.”
“Catch hold of that gas-fixture and jerk it out of the wall,” exclaimed Don, as Bert hastened to obey the sentry’s order. “That makes twice it has got us into trouble.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t do that,” said the sentry, with a laugh. “You had better read the rules and regulations until you have them firmly fixed in your mind, and then, if you see fit to obey them to the very letter, you will have plain sailing.”
Don undressed in the dark and tumbled into bed, telling himself the while that he didn’t care a snap of his finger for the rules and regulations. He had not purposely violated any of them, and yet he had been severely reprimanded, and was yet to be punished as though he had been willfully disobedient.
“When the leopard can change his spots and the Ethiopian his skin, I shall believe that there is some hope for me,” said Don to himself, as he arranged his pillow and prepared to go to sleep. “But there doesn’t seem to be much now, for the harder I try to be good the more rows I get into. I would give something to know how Tom Fisher and his crowd came out, and whether or not Sam succeeded in getting back to his attic without being seen by the guards.”
Bert arose the next morning, after an almost sleepless night, full of apprehension and trembling for fear of the punishment that was to be visited upon him, while Don’s face wore a defiant expression. He had slept the sleep of the healthy, and awoke refreshed and fully prepared to meet anything that might be in store for him. Greatly to his surprise and Bert’s, nothing was said to them regarding what had taken place the night before. They found opportunity to exchange a few words with Sam Arkwright, who gleefully informed them that everything was all right, and that no one was the wiser for the assault that had been made upon him by the third-class boys, and caught a momentary glimpse of Fisher and Duncan, both of whom smiled and saluted in the most courteous manner. Don did not know what this meant, but it was not long before he found out.
That afternoon all the members of the fourth class were ordered to the drill-room, where they found a quartermaster-sergeant, the captain of their company, and one of the teachers, who served out to them their new uniforms, which they were told to put on at once. When ranks were broken, Don and Bert hastened to their dormitory, and had just completed the work of exchanging their citizen’s clothes for their natty suits of cadet gray, when there came a knock at the door. Bert’s heart seemed to stop beating.
“That must be the orderly,” said he, in an excited whisper.“ If it is, we shall soon know what is going to become of us.”
“Well, we might as well know one time as another,” said Don, doggedly. “I hope it is the orderly, for I have been kept in suspense long enough.”
Bert opened the door, when who should appear on the threshold but Tom Fisher and Clarence Duncan. The former extended his hand to Bert, who took it after a little hesitation, while Clarence entered the room and greeted Don in the same friendly way.
“Gordon,” said Clarence, as Don’s sinewy fingers closed about his own, “you’re a brick. We came here to tell you and your brother that we and the rest of the fellows are sorry for what happened last night, and that we want to be friends with you.”
“Nothing would suit me better,” answered Don.
“We have had time to consider the matter,” said Fisher, seating himself on Bert’s bed and depositing his cap on the table, “and we are all very glad that you didn’t let us duck that Plebe. It would have been a mean piece of business to haze him in that way, seeing that he didn’t have a suit of dry clothes to put on.”
“Or a fire to warm himself by,” chimed in Bert, with some indignation in his tones. “Why, I never heard of such a thing. It would have been the death of him.”
“It was cold, wasn’t it?” said Clarence. “Well, we didn’t haze him, and, as Tom says, we are all glad of it. But, I say, you make nobby-looking soldiers, you two. Did you get in last night all right?”
“We got in twice,” answered Don, ruefully. “We got inside the grounds, and we got into trouble.”
“How was that? Didn’t you have a pass?”
“Yes; but it was only good until half-past nine, and we stayed out until half-past ten.”
“Oh! ah. Well, that’s nothing when you get used to it, is it, Fisher?” said Clarence.
“Nothing at all,” replied Tom. “It has been a very common thing with me, and now I never think of asking for a pass. I go when I please and come back when I feel like it.”
“What do you suppose they will do with us?” asked Bert, who was anxious to have that point settled as soon as possible.
“Let me see,” said Clarence, thoughtfully. “Who was officer of the day yesterday?”
“I don’t know his name,” answered Don, “but he was the same one who instructs our class in mathematics, an old gentleman with gold spectacles, and a medal of some kind on his breast.”
“Oh, that was Dutchy,” said Fisher, in a tone of contempt. “He’s our fencing-master also. Well, he will make the case against you as black as he can, and if he were the one to say how you should be punished, I tell you you would have a lively time of it, for he is a regular martinet. The President is a very strict disciplinarian, but he hasn’t yet forgotten that he was once a boy himself, and he will probably be easy with you.”
“But what will he do?” insisted Bert. “That’s what Don and I want to know. And if he is going to punish us at all, why doesn’t he say so?”
“Because the proper time has not yet arrived. Wait until dress-parade comes off to-night, and then you will find out all about it, for it will be published in general orders.”
“Before the whole school?” cried Bert.
“Of course,” answered Clarence.
Bert grew very red in the face, and looked at Don, who, in turn, stared hard at Bert.
“It is nothing to worry over,” said Fisher. “Some of the best fellows in school have been gated and made to walk extras on Saturday afternoons with packed knapsacks, and that is all the punishment you will receive.”
“What do you mean by ‘gated’?” asked Don.
“What is a ‘packed knapsack?” inquired Bert.
“Why, when a fellow is gated he is confined inside the grounds, and not allowed to go out under any circumstances,” replied Clarence.
“But he can go out all the same if he feels like it,” said Fisher, with a laugh. “I never knew a fellow to stay inside the grounds simply because he was gated, unless he was one of those milk and water boys who hadn’t spirit enough to say that his soul was his own.”
“How can he get out?” asked Don.
“He can run the guards. Clarence and I have done it many a time.”
“Were you never caught at it?” inquired Bert.
“Once or twice, but that was owing to our own carelessness. It is an easy thing to do when the right kind of fellows are on duty, and really exciting when the posts are held by such boys as Blake and Walker, and others of that sort. They’re a mean set. They are always on the watch for a chance to report somebody, because they believe that that is the way to gain the good-will of the teachers.”
“And a packed knapsack,” continued Clarence, “is one with something heavy in it, such as bricks or paving-stones. When you are called upon to walk an extra, you have to pace up and down your beat for four hours with that knapsack on your back and a musket on your shoulder.”
“That can’t be very pleasant,” observed Don.
“Well, I am free to confess that it isn’t,” returned Clarence, “and it is all owing to the way the thing is managed. If they would let us perform the extra duty while the rest of the boys were drilling, or while the class in geometry was reciting, I should not mind it in the least. But you see they won’t do that. We have to work hard all the week, and walk our extras on Saturday afternoons during the hours that are given to the good little boys for cricket, ball-playing, fishing, target-shooting and recreations of that sort.”
“But overstaying our time was not the only offence of which we were guilty last night,” said Don, after a moment’s pause. “When we reached our room we struck a light, and I suppose we shall be reported for that.”
“Of course you will,” said Fisher. “You had no business to have a light in your room after taps.”
“But we didn’t think,” said Bert. “And, besides, we wanted to read our pass, so that we might know just what we had done that was wrong.”
“No odds,” exclaimed Clarence. “No excuse will be accepted. You will probably be gated for a month.”
“But you need not submit to the restriction of your liberty unless you feel like it,” chimed in Fisher. “Do as all the best fellows in school do – run the guard, and have a good time in spite of the teachers.”
“Oh, we’ll never do that,” said Bert, quickly. “Will we, Don? That would only make a bad matter worse.”
Don looked down at the floor, but said nothing. He always grew restive under restraint, and having been allowed when at home to go and come as he pleased, he could not bear the thought of being confined within bounds. If Fisher and Duncan had known what he was thinking about just then, they would have said that the success of the plans they had formed the night before was a foregone conclusion.
“Well, Gordon,” said Tom, at length, “everything is all square between us, I hope.”
“Certainly it is, so far as I am concerned,” answered Don. “And I know that Arkwright does not bear you any ill-will, for he said so. You fellows ought to make matters straight with him, for he is true blue. He took a good deal of pains to work his way back to the attic without being seen, for he didn’t want the teachers to know what you had done.”
“We’ll see him and have a talk with him,” said Tom, as he arose from the bed and picked up his cap. “Perhaps we had better go, Clarence. You know what will happen to us if we fail in our logic to-morrow. What do you think of the prospect?” he added, as soon as he and his crony had reached their own dormitory and closed the door behind them. “Will he bite?”
“I am sure of it,” was Duncan’s confident reply. “He is a fellow who doesn’t like to be held with too tight a rein – I can see that plainly enough; but Bert is a different sort of boy.”
“What do we care for Bert?” exclaimed Tom. “Don is the one we are after.”
“I know that, and I know, too, that we could get him very easily if his brother were out of the way. These little spooneys sometimes exert a good deal of influence over their big brothers, and if he sets his face against us and our plans, our cake will be turned into dough in short order.”
“We must see to it that Don doesn’t listen to him,” said Tom. “We have done all we can do to-day. We have given him an idea, and now we will let him chew on it for a while. We mustn’t appear to be too eager, you know, for if we give him the least reason to suspect that we are putting up a job on him, it is my opinion that he will prove an unpleasant fellow to have around.”
As Fisher said this he picked up his logic, in which both he and Duncan had failed miserably that day, and read in a listless, indifferent tone —
“What is true with limitations is frequently assumed to be true absolutely. Thus – ‘Deleterious drugs are always to be rejected; opium is a deleterious drug; therefore opium is always to be rejected.’ What’s wrong with that reasoning, Clarence?”
“I don’t know and I don’t care,” answered the latter, snatching the book from his friend’s hand and slamming it down upon the table. “Let it go until this evening, and then we will study it together. Let’s have a game of checkers now, and see if you can beat me as badly as you did the last time we played.”
“I don’t much like those fellows, Don,” said Bert, when Fisher and Duncan had taken their leave.
“I can’t see what there is wrong about them,” replied Don, who knew in a moment what his brother meant. “I am sure they acted very honorably in coming here to make things right with us.”
“I have nothing to say against that,” Bert hastened to answer. “But I don’t like to hear them talk so glibly about disobeying the rules.”
“I don’t know that that is any business of yours or mine either,” said Don, rather impatiently. “If they are willing to take the risk, and abide the consequences if they are detected, that is their own affair. You needn’t do it.”