“I!” exclaimed Bert, in great amazement. “You maybe sure that I have no intention of doing anything of the kind, and I hope you haven’t, either.”
“You need not waste any valuable time in worrying about me. I am able to look out for myself. But I’ll tell you what’s a fact, Bert: I don’t think as much of this military business as I did a few weeks ago. If I were only back home with my pony, dogs and guns, I tell you I would stay there. I feel more like going out in the woods and knocking over a wild turkey than I do like sitting here in this gloomy room preparing for to-morrow’s recitations.”
Don opened one of the books that lay upon the table, but the page on which he fastened his eyes might have been blank for all he saw there. His mind was not upon the work that demanded his attention. He was thinking over his recent interview with Fisher and Duncan.
“I wonder if they pass their evenings at Cony Ryan’s when they run the guards?” said Don to himself. “I wonder, too, if Cony’s hotel, or whatever he calls it, was in existence when my father attended this school, and if he went there to eat pancakes. If he did, I don’t see how he can find any fault with me if I go there. Tom and Clarence don’t seem to be such a bad lot, and it is nothing more than fair that I should meet their advances half way.”
When the hour for recreation came, Don did something he had never done before in his life. Watching his opportunity he slipped away from Bert and set out to hunt up Fisher and Duncan. He did not have much trouble in finding them, for they also were looking for him. After returning his salute they slipped their arms through his and led him toward the gymnasium.
“You are a stranger here,” said Clarence, “and as we know you must be lonely we will introduce you to the boys in our set, if you would like to know them.”
“You will find them all tip-top fellows,” added Tom. “You see, there is a little crowd of us who run together, and somehow we manage to have good times. There are some boys here, however, with whom we never have anything to do. We will point them out to you as fast as we can, so that you can steer clear of them.”
“They are high-toned lads,” said Clarence, “and won’t associate with any but the members of their own class. Some of them are preparing for West Point. They pride themselves on being soldiers all over; and if they can’t prove their soldierly qualities in any other way, they will report somebody.”
“Where’s your brother?” asked Tom, suddenly.
Don replied that he didn’t know where he was.
“I rather fancied that he didn’t exactly like what we said about running the guard a while ago,” continued Tom. “Did he?”
“No, he didn’t. He wouldn’t think of doing such a thing.”
“Well, then, he can make up his mind to be gated on an average of once a month as long as he stays here; for no matter how hard he tries, he can’t help breaking some of the rules. If he has a mind to submit to confinement – why, that’s his business and not mine.”
“I haven’t done it since I have been here,” said Fisher, emphatically; “and, what’s more, I won’t.”
“Where do you go when you run the guard?”
“Anywhere we please.
“I don’t, for the life of me, see how you can get out,” said Don. “There are sentries all around the grounds.”
“It does require some skill and cunning, that’s a fact, especially when fellows who don’t like you happen to be on duty. But if the members of your own set are on post, it is easy enough. All you have to do is to give them notice of your coming, and they will turn their backs until you can creep by them.”
“Go with us to-night, and we will show you how it is done,” said Fisher.
“That’s so!” exclaimed Clarence, as if the idea had just been suggested to him. “It will be a good time; another like it may not occur for a month. Will you do it, Gordon? I dare you.”
“It is a common saying in my country that a man who will take a dare will steal sheep,” said Don.
“Of course he will,” answered Clarence. “I knew we had not been mistaken in you.”
“We haven’t had any of Cony’s pies and pancakes this winter,” continued Tom, “and we are getting hungry for some. I have taken particular pains to find out who the sentries are, and I know that some of them are good men and true. There are some of our boys now. Come on, Gordon, and we will make you acquainted with them.”
They had by this time entered the gymnasium, – a large building which stood a little apart from the academy, and was fitted up with all the appliances that are supposed to be necessary or useful in such institutions. It was filled with students who were exercising their muscles in various ways, and among them Don recognized some of the boys who had composed the hazing party. Don was introduced to them one after another, and was welcomed by them in the most cordial manner. They spent a few minutes in talking and laughing over the incidents of the previous night; and then, at a sign from Fisher, they drew off on one side so that they could carry on their conversation without danger of being overheard by those who did not belong to their “set.”
“Fellows, Gordon is one of us; Duncan and I vouch for him; so you need not hesitate to speak freely in his presence,” said Tom, again taking up the subject that just then was nearest his heart. “Do we go to Cony Ryan’s to-night or not?”
“Of course,” replied all the boys, in chorus.
“Then that much is settled. I know who the guards are,” he added, turning to Don, “and I will see you safely out and back. As soon as we are out of the building – ”
“But how am I going to get out?” interrupted Don. “You forget the sentry who has charge of our floor.”
“No, I don’t. Here he is,” said Tom, taking by the arm a boy who had been introduced as Charley Porter. “You won’t stop him, will you, Charley?”
“I shall not know when he goes out,” was the ready answer. “I can be both blind and deaf when circumstances require that I should be so.”
“You see what kind of fellows we are,” said Tom. “You will never be reported for having a light after taps, or for any other offence, by one of us.”
Tom then went on to tell Don just what he must do in order to make his undertaking successful, and, aided by his friends, who put in a word now and then, succeeded in making him believe that Cony Ryan’s was but little short of a paradise, and that he (Tom) and his “set” had done him a great favor in bringing the house and its proprietor to his notice. He promised to be on hand at the hour appointed, and then he and Tom went into the dressing-room to put on their gymnastic suits, while Duncan hurried away to carry out an idea of his own that had suddenly suggested itself to him.
“He did bite, didn’t he?” said Duncan to himself, as he hurried about the grounds and through the academy building looking everywhere for Dick Henderson. “He jumped at the bait quicker than I thought he would; but he never would have done it if he had not got himself into trouble last night. That made him mad, and now he don’t much care what he does. We’ll fix him. A court-martial and extra lessons and guard duty and drills for a whole month will so disgust him with this school that he will clear out, and we shall be well rid of him.”
Duncan soon found the boy of whom he was in search, and the following is a part of the conversation that took place between them:
“You are on post No. 5, down there at the north side of the grounds to-night, are you not?” said Duncan.
Dick replied that he was, that he went on at midnight.
“Well, you know that the boys are going down to Cony Ryan’s to-night, don’t you?” continued Clarence.
Yes, Dick knew all about it, and stood ready to help them in every way he could, without getting himself into trouble.
“Well,” said Duncan, again, “Don Gordon is going with us.”
Dick seemed delighted to hear it.
“We roped him in just as easy as falling off a log,” Clarence went on. “He has been introduced to some of the fellows, and Fisher and I have worked things so nicely that he doesn’t suspect anything. Now you must be on the alert to catch him when we come back, which will be some time between one and four o’clock.”
“How shall I know him from the rest of you?”
“By the signal, of course. Have you forgotten that?” Here Duncan coughed slightly, and in a peculiar manner.
“No, I haven’t forgotten it. I only want to know just how things are going to be managed, so that I shall not make any mistakes. It would be awkward, you know, if I should call the corporal of the guard to arrest the wrong fellow.”
“You musn’t do that,” said Duncan, quickly. “It would be much better to let Gordon pass unchallenged with the rest of us. You know we boys got ourselves into lots of trouble last term, and if we don’t keep our names off the black-list from this time on, we stand a good chance of being sent down.”
(By being “sent down” Duncan meant “expelled.”)
“All right,” said Dick. “I know just what you want of me. Do everything just as it was done last term, and I will see that our boys get safely through, and that Don Gordon comes in for a court-martial.”
When the hour for dress-parade arrived the classes were marched to the drill-room by their respective captains, three of them being drawn up in line, while the Plebes were stationed at one end of the room so that they could watch the movements of their comrades, and learn something of the duties that would be required of them when they were well enough drilled in the manual of arms and school of the company to go on parade themselves. There were two of them who did not pay much attention to the proceedings, although they appeared to watch them closely, and they were Don and Bert Gordon. They noticed that the adjutant carried some papers in his belt, and they knew instinctively that one of them contained something that would prove to be of interest to them.
In obedience to the adjutant’s order, the captains brought their companies to “parade rest,” the band “sounded off,” a few exercises in the manual of arms were gone through with, and then came the command: “Attention to orders.” Don listened, and heard his name and Bert’s read off in connection with those of three or four other culprits, who were ordered to be punished according to their deserts. It was ordered that privates Donald and Hubert Gordon, for overstaying their time, and having a light burning in their quarters after taps (this being their second offence), be deprived of liberty for thirty days, and required to stand guard for four hours on the ensuing Saturday afternoon with packed knapsacks. Then the parade was dismissed, the band struck up a lively tune, the officers advanced to salute the commander of the battalion, and the first sergeants marched their companies to the armory, where ranks were broken.
“Didn’t I tell you just how it would be?” whispered Fisher, who happened to overtake Don while the latter was on his way to his room. “It’s no trouble at all to stand an extra, for it is over with in four hours; and as for depriving you of your liberty – that’s all in my one eye. You can see much more fun without a pass than you can with one, for you are not obliged to return at any specified time.”
“I don’t mind the punishment as much as I do the disgrace,” said Don.
“Disgrace!” echoed Fisher. “Nonsense. This has been a military school for half a century or more, and of the thousands of students who have been graduated here, there are not a hundred who did not, at some time or another, break some rule, and get punished for it. Why, my own father used to run the guard.”
“So did mine,” said Don.
“Your father!” exclaimed Tom, in great surprise. “Did he ever attend this school?”
“Yes; he received a military education and prepared for college here.”
“I am surprised to hear it. Well, he didn’t get through the whole course without being hauled up occasionally, did he? I just know he didn’t, if he was a boy who had any spirit in him. Now, as I may not see you again until the time for action arrives, I want to know if you understand just what you have to do.”
Don answered that he was sure he did, and then went on to repeat the instructions he had received in the gymnasium. When he had finished, Fisher gave him an approving wink and nod, and left him.
During the evening Don and Bert did very little studying. The latter took his punishment very much to heart; and asked himself over and over what his mother would think when she heard of it; while Don was so busy thinking of the festivities that were to come off at Cony Ryan’s, that he could not have concentrated his mind on his books if he had tried. When taps were sounded the light went out instanter.
“I shall never get into trouble for that again,” said Don, as he tumbled into bed, after bidding his brother good-night. “The next time I am reported, it will be for something that is worth reporting.”
Don began to be excited now. He had been instructed to wait twenty minutes, as near as he could guess at it, in order to give the officer of the day time to make his rounds, which he did as often as the huge bell in the cupola tolled the hours. He knew when the officer ascended the stairs, heard him talking with the sentry who had charge of that floor, and breathed easier when he went down again – but only for a moment, for now something that appeared to be an insurmountable obstacle arose before him all on a sudden. The sensitive Bert was sadly troubled, and when he got that way, it was almost impossible for him to go to sleep. In case he remained awake until the expiration of the twenty minutes, what could Don do?
“I never thought of that,” soliloquized the latter, his ears telling him the while that Bert was tossing restlessly about on his bed. “It would be simply impossible for me to get up and dress and slip out of the room without his knowledge. Of course I might go out openly and above board, for I know that he would never blow on me; but if I do that, he will improve every opportunity to lecture me, and I would rather spend every Saturday afternoon in walking extras than listen to him. I ought to have told the fellows to allow me at least an hour.”
While Don was busy with such reflections as these, and trying in vain to conjure up some plan for leaving the room without attracting his brother’s attention, he was electrified by a gentle snore which came from the direction of Bert’s bed. Don thought it was a pleasant sound to hear just then, for it told him that the way was clear. In an instant he was out on the floor, and in five minutes more he was dressed. After wrapping one of his pillows up in the quilts and arranging them as well as he could in the dark, so that they would bear some resemblance to a human figure, he walked across the room with noiseless steps and cautiously opened the door. The hall was lighted up by a single gas-burner, under which the sentry, Charley Porter, sat reading a book. He looked up when he heard Don’s door grating on its hinges; but he did not look Don’s way. He turned his eyes in the other direction. Then he laid down his book, got upon his feet, and walking leisurely along the hall with his hands behind his back, took his stand in front of a window, and looked out into the darkness. His back was turned toward Don, who closed the door of his room behind him, moved along the hall on tip-toe, and dodging around an angle in the wall, was quickly out of sight. A few hurried steps brought him to another door, which yielded to his touch, and then Don found himself in utter darkness.
This door gave access to the back stairs, which ran from the ground floor to the upper story of the building, and were intended to be used only as a fire-escape. The doors that opened into it – there was one on each floor – were kept locked, and all the keys that rightfully belonged to them were hung up on a nail in the superintendent’s room, where they could be readily found by the teachers in case circumstances required that they should be brought into use. The superintendent was happy in the belief that by placing a sentry in charge of the dormitories on each floor, and keeping the keys of these doors under his eye all the time, he had put it out of the power of any student to leave the building during the night; but he had not taken into consideration the fact that sentries may sometimes prove false to their duty, and that an old rusty key, picked up in the yard, can, by the aid of a file and a little ingenuity, be made to fit almost any lock. Tom Fisher and his friends all had keys that would open these doors, and Don had resolved that he would have one too.
“B-l-e-r-s,” whispered Don, as he stepped out into the fire-escape.
“R-a-m,” came the response, in the same low whisper.
The pass-word of the band of worthies to which Don now belonged was “Ramblers.” Of course it was used only in the dark, or when the members could not see each other. If a boy desired to know whether or not a student whom he suddenly encountered in some out-of-the-way place was a friend, all he had to do was to spell the last syllable of the pass-word, as Don had done; and if he received the same answer that Don did, he knew at once that he had found some one who could be depended on. At least that was what Fisher and Duncan told Don; but the reader already knows that they did not tell him the truth.
“Who is it?” whispered Don.
“Fisher,” replied the owner of that name; and as he spoke he stepped forward to lock the door.
“Hadn’t you better leave it unfastened?” asked Don.
“Not by a great sight,” answered Fisher, quickly. “The officer of the day and the corporal on duty try all these doors every time they make their rounds, and if they should happen to find one of them unlocked, good-by to all our hopes of eating pies and pancakes at Cony Ryan’s again this winter.”
“Then how can I get back to my room?”
“Why, I shall be here to open the door for you.”
“But we might get separated, you know.”
“Oh, no we won’t,” answered Tom, confidently. “Don’t you be at all uneasy on that score. Duncan and I will stand by you. Come on, now; the boys are all ready and waiting.”
“How fearful dark it is,” said Don. “I can’t see my hand before me.”
“Neither can I; but I have been through here so often that I know every step of the way. Give me your hand.”
Fisher took Don in tow and succeeded in conducting him safely down two flights of stairs – it afterward proved to be a fortunate thing for Don that he remembered that – and out into the yard where Duncan and the rest were waiting for them. After greeting Don in the most cordial manner they moved off in a body toward the north corner of the grounds – all except Tom Fisher, who went on ahead to notify the sentry of their approach. This he did in some mysterious way, and without alarming any of the guards on the neighboring posts; and the boy, who ought to have called the corporal of the guard at once, went into his box and stayed there until Tom and his companions had crossed his beat and were out of sight. They easily found the place where two of the tall fence pickets had been loosened at the bottom, and pushing these aside they crept through the opening into the road.
“Well, Gordon, that wasn’t such a very hard thing to do, was it?” said Duncan, as he took off his overcoat and shook the snow out of it.
“No,” answered Don, “and I don’t see much fun in it, either. It is not a very smart thing to crawl by a sentry who is accommodating enough to keep out of sight until you have had time to get out of harm’s way. There’s no excitement in it – anybody could do it. If that guard had been faithful to his trust, I should think we had done something worth bragging about.”
“O, you want excitement, do you?” exclaimed Duncan. “You want a chance to run by some spooney who would be only too glad to report you and get you into a row, don’t you? All right. We’ll see that you get the chance, and very shortly, too; won’t we, boys?”
“Yes,” replied all the boys, in concert.
“And, unless I am very badly mistaken, you will see quite as much excitement as you want to-night,” added Duncan, to himself. “If Dick Henderson does his duty, you will be under arrest and a candidate for a court-martial before you see the inside of your dormitory again.”
During the walk to the big pond, near which Cony Ryan’s house stood, Don’s new friends entertained him with many thrilling stories of the deeds of daring that had been performed by themselves and former students, such as running the guard when all the posts were occupied by those who were not friendly to them; stealing the bell-rope when the cupola was guarded by some of the best soldiers in the academy; turning the bell upside down on a cold night, filling it with water and allowing it to freeze solid; and spiking the gun whose unwelcome booming aroused them at so early an hour every morning. As Don listened he began to grow excited; and when there was a little lull in the conversation, he proposed one or two daring schemes of his own that had suddenly occurred to him, and which were so far ahead of any his auditors had ever engaged in, that they could hardly believe he was in earnest.