“Gordon, you see around you a lot of fellows who never have and never will back down from any reasonable undertaking,” said Tom Fisher. “But the idea of stealing a cow, taking her into the grounds and hoisting her up to the top of the belfry, overpowering and binding every sentry who stands in our way – Great C?sar’s ghost! Gordon, you must be taking leave of your senses.”
“And as for taking the butcher’s big bull-dog up to the top story of the building, tying a tin can to his tail, and starting him on a run down four pairs of stairs and through the halls – that’s another thing I don’t approve of,” said Duncan.
“I guess not,” said another of the fellows. “I wouldn’t touch that dog for a million dollars. We are in for anything new that promises to be either interesting or exciting, but, as Tom says, it must be something reasonable. Think up some other plans.”
The boys had by this time reached Cony Ryan’s house. Led by Tom Fisher they mounted the steps, and passing through a narrow hall entered a neatly furnished little parlor whose walls, could they have found tongues, would have told some strange and amusing stories of the scenes that had been enacted there. It was brilliantly lighted, and a cheerful fire burned in the grate.
“This looks as though Cony was expecting us, doesn’t it?” said Tom, gazing about the room with a smile of satisfaction. “Take off your overcoat, Gordon, and sit down. Make yourself at home.”
“Do you know,” added Duncan, “that this house was built and furnished with the money that the academy boys have put into Cony’s pocket? Years ago, when he was nothing but a poor fisherman and lived down there on the bank of the river in a little shanty about half the size of this room, it occurred to him that he might turn an honest penny by supplying the students with milk and pies. He drove a thriving trade until some of the teachers began to suspect that he was putting something stronger than water in his milk, and then they shut down on him and he was forbidden to enter the grounds. But that didn’t trouble him any. The boys had got in the habit of spending their extra dimes with him, and since he couldn’t come to them any more, they fell into the way of going to him. Why, Gordon, if you could look over some of his old registers, you would find in them the names of men who are known all over the land.”
Just then a side door opened, admitting a portly, white-bearded old fellow, dressed in a modest suit of black, who was greeted by the students in the most uproarious manner. They crowded around him, all trying to shake his hands at the same time, while Cony, for it was he, beamed benevolently upon them over his spectacles. This was the first time he had seen any of them since the close of the last school term.
“You see we are all on hand again, Cony,” said Duncan, when the greetings were over. “And if you will trot out a few plates of your pancakes, you will find that we are as hungry as ever.
“Gordon of Mississippi?” exclaimed Cony, who, having a retentive memory, never forgot the names of any of his patrons. “I should say so. He has spent many a pleasant evening in this room.”
“Well, here is one of his boys,” continued Duncan. “Mr. Ryan, Mr. Donald Gordon.”
The old fellow was very much surprised.
“It doesn’t seem possible,” said he, as he shook Don’s hand and gave him a good looking over. “He is the very image of his father, who was one of the finest-looking young soldiers I ever put my eyes on. Mercy on us, how time does fly!”
“Say, Cony,” said Tom Fisher, coaxingly, “can’t we have just one game of ‘sell out,’ to-night?”
“No, sir,” was the emphatic reply. “You can have all the pancakes you want, and as much sweet milk or buttermilk as you can hold, but you don’t turn a card in this house. It is bad enough for you to run the guard, and if I did my duty, I should report the last one of you in the morning.”
“Suppose you trot out the pancakes and milk, and let somebody else report us,” suggested Don.
“Yes; that’s the idea,” cried the others, with one voice.
Don thought he enjoyed himself that night, and his companions thought so, too, for he sang as many songs, told as many stories, and laughed as heartily as any of them. He listened with much interest while Cony told of the exploits of the students he had known in the years gone by, and who had since made themselves famous as lawyers, legislators and soldiers, and was greatly astonished when Tom Fisher jumped to his feet with his watch in his hand and a look of alarm on his face.
“Fellows,” said he, “where has the night gone? It is half-past three, and we have just half an hour in which to crawl by Dick Henderson’s post and get into bed. If we are two minutes behind time we are a gone community.”
This startling announcement broke up the party at once. The boys made a simultaneous rush for their overcoats and caps, and after Don had settled their bill – a proceeding on his part that raised him to a high place in the estimation of some of the students whose parents did not think it best to give them a very liberal allowance of spending money – they dashed out of the house and started for the academy on a dead run, Duncan and Don Gordon bringing up the rear. If the latter had known what the boy who kept so close to his elbow was thinking about, he would have thrown him headlong into the nearest snow-drift.
“Now, boys,” said Tom Fisher, “one at a time, but remember lively is the word. Gordon, you had better stay back and watch the rest of us, and then you will know how to proceed when your turn comes. We are not afraid of Henderson, but still we don’t want to show ourselves to him too plainly, for fear that the corporal of the guard or the officer of the day may be loafing around somewhere within sight of his post.”
They had now reached the academy grounds, and half the time at their disposal had already been consumed. They had barely fifteen minutes left, and haste was necessary. As matters stood, all the floors and one of the outside beats were in charge of boys who had been duly posted, and would permit them to pass unchallenged; but these accommodating guards would very soon be relieved, and their places taken by those who would report them the first thing in the morning.
As Fisher spoke he pushed aside the loosened fence-pickets, squeezed himself through the opening, and, with his body half bent, made his way toward Dick Henderson’s post. Presently he threw himself upon his hands and knees, and in a few seconds more was out of sight. Another and another followed him, and finally Duncan took his turn, and Don was left alone.
“Don’t be in too great a hurry,” were the latter’s parting words. “Let me get out of your sight before you start.”
During the last hour and a half Dick Henderson had been walking his beat in no very pleasant frame of mind. Tom had told him that he and his friends would return some time between the hours of two and four; but at three o’clock Dick had seen no signs of them.
“I wonder if they went in at some other part of the grounds,” Dick often said to himself. “I can’t believe they did, for I think I am the only fellow in our crowd who holds an outside post to-night. Besides, Duncan said they would come in here, so that I could halt Don Gordon. They’ll have to hurry up if they want me to do anything for them.”
As the minutes wore away Dick’s anxiety increased, and finally he became really alarmed. The bell had struck three long ago, and Dick was beginning to look for his relief, when, to his great joy, he saw somebody creeping toward him through the deep snow. As soon as he caught sight of him he moved back to his box and stood behind it, leaning on his musket. The boy, Tom Fisher, crossed Dick’s beat in plain view of him, uttering a peculiar cough as he passed, and disappeared behind the high piles of snow that had been thrown out of the path leading to the academy.
“That’s one,” thought Dick, “and Duncan said there were to be nine in the party. I am to allow eight of them to go in peace, and the ninth man, who will be Don Gordon, is to be halted and turned over to the tender mercies of the officer of the day. That is two,” he added, as another boy crept by, giving the “signal” as he went.
When the eighth man was safely out of sight Dick shouldered his musket and stepping out from behind his box, prepared for action. As he came into view, a boy who was moving rapidly toward him, in a crouching attitude, suddenly stopped, and then as suddenly plunged into the nearest snowdrift, burying himself in it head and ears.
“That fellow is like an ostrich,” soliloquized Dick, as he walked quickly along his beat. “He thinks that because his head is out of sight, his whole body is concealed.”
Having taken up a position between the recumbent figure and the path that led from his beat to the academy, Dick brought his musket to “arms port” and sung out, in his loudest tones: “Who comes there?” immediately following up his challenge with lusty calls for the corporal of the guard No. 5. The last words had hardly left his lips when the prostrate boy sprang to his feet, and coughing up the snow which had filled his mouth and got into his throat when he made his sudden plunge into the drift, ran toward the academy with surprising swiftness. Dick heard that cough, and it affected him very strangely. He stood with open mouth and eyes, gazing in the direction in which the boy had disappeared, while his musket trembled in his grasp, and his face grew almost as white as the snow around him.
“Now I’ve done it,” he said to himself, with no little alarm. “I’ve gone and called the corporal for one of our own boys. What in the world shall I do? Tom and Clarence will read me out of their good books, and I shall have no one to be friends with, for those high-toned lads in the upper classes won’t look at me. Well, if trouble comes of it, they can just blame Duncan. He told me to stop the ninth boy, and I know I didn’t make any mistake in counting them. But what shall I say to the corporal? That’s what bothers me.”
Dick was obliged to come to a decision on this point very speedily, for just then the door of the guard-room was thrown open, and the corporal came out and hurried toward him.
“What’s the matter, sentry?” he asked, as soon as he had approached within speaking distance.
“Some fellow has just run by me,” was Dick’s reply.
“Whew!” whistled the corporal. “Running the guard has begun rather early in the term, hasn’t it? Who was he?”
“I don’t know,” answered Dick, and he told the truth.
“Whom did he look like?”
“I don’t know that, either. You can’t tell one student from another in the dark, when they are all dressed alike.”
“Then why didn’t you catch him and find out who he was?”
“Catch him!” repeated Dick. “Cony Ryan’s grayhound couldn’t have caught him. He ran like a deer.”
“Well, he’ll be stopped when he tries to get into his dormitory,” said the corporal, indifferently. “I’ll go and see what the officer of the day thinks about it. You’re sure this fellow, whoever he was, didn’t go out since you have been on post?”
“Of course he didn’t,” said Dick, indignantly.
“Then Patchen” (that was the name of the sentry who held post No. 5 when Fisher and his companions left the grounds), “will have to answer to the superintendent for neglect of duty,” said the corporal, as he turned on his heel and walked back toward the guard-room.
“And just as likely as not he will punch my head for getting him into trouble,” thought Dick, trembling again. “But I didn’t mean to do it. It’s all that Clarence Duncan’s fault, for he ought to have told me that he was going to add more boys to his party. Don Gordon must be outside the grounds yet, and perhaps some of our boys are with him.”
Meanwhile Tom Fisher, having gained the academy building in safety, opened the back door, climbed two pairs of stairs, and felt his way along the hall to the door that gave entrance to the floor on which Don Gordon’s dormitory was situated. This door he unlocked and opened, and stepping into the next hall saw the sentry who had relieved Charley Porter at midnight sitting under the light reading a book.
“Ahem!” said Tom; whereupon the sentry laid down his book and walked toward him.
“Well, you fellows have made a night of it, haven’t you?” said he, in a cautious whisper.
“I should think so,” answered Tom. “Had a splendid time, too. The pancakes were just as good as they used to be, and Gordon settled the bill like a prince.”
“You had better go to bed, and be in a hurry about it, too,” said the sentry. “It is almost time for me to be relieved.”
“I know it; but I promised to wait at this door and let Gordon in. He has no key of his own.”
“If he doesn’t come along pretty soon he’ll not get in this morning without being reported, for Gulick comes after me.”
“Is that so? Then he’d better hurry, that’s a fact. I can’t wait much longer for him without bringing myself into trouble.”
The sentry, who did not dare remain longer in conversation with Tom for fear that the officer of the day or the corporal of the guard might come quietly up the stairs and catch him at it, walked away toward the other end of the hall, while Tom closed the door and stood there in the dark, impatiently awaiting the arrival of Don Gordon. He heard his friends as they crossed the landing one after another, and went on up to their dormitories, but the boy he wanted to see did not make his appearance. Presently some one jerked open the back door, slammed it behind him, and came up the stairs in great haste.
“Who is that idiot, I wonder? He makes noise enough to arouse the whole school. B-l-e-r-s,” whispered Tom, as the boy sprang upon the landing.
“R-a-m,” came the prompt response.
“Who is it?” continued Tom.
“Well you are making a fearful racket, the first thing you know,” said Tom, angrily.
“I am in a hurry,” panted the boy. “Here’s the very mischief to pay. That fool Henderson has gone and challenged one of our fellows.”
“No,” gasped Tom, who was greatly alarmed.
“But I say he has, for I heard him. Come on. We musn’t stay here another moment.”
“But I promised to let Gordon in,” said Tom.
“What do you care for Gordon? Let him go and take care of yourself. That’s what I am going to do.”
So saying the boy went on up the stairs, leaving Tom to himself. The latter could not make up his mind what to do. He knew that he was in danger, but still he did not like to desert Don in his extremity. Don, speaking in school-boy parlance, had shown himself to be a thoroughbred. He could sing a good song, tell an interesting story, and, better than all, he was provided with a liberal supply of pocket-money, which he spent with a lavish hand. This was enough to raise him to a high place in the estimation of Tom Fisher, whose own supply of dimes was limited.
“I have it?” soliloquized Tom, at length, “I’ll leave the key in the lock, and if he succeeds in getting by the guard he can let himself in. Of course he will have sense enough to fasten the door after him, and put the key in his pocket. Henderson will have to explain his conduct in the morning. He had no business to halt any of our fellows unless he did it to protect himself.”
Tom hurriedly ascended the next flight of stairs, but scarcely had he reached the top when the back door was thrown open again and another boy came bounding up the steps. It was Clarence Duncan, who was congratulating himself on the complete success of his plans. He lingered a moment or two in the hall where Fisher had stood waiting for Don Gordon, and then went on to his own dormitory. The floor-guard was so very deeply interested in a dime novel that he did not appear to see or hear him as he passed, and in a few seconds more Clarence was safe in bed. He was just in time. He had not been between the sheets two minutes before he heard the gruff tones of the officer of the day, who was questioning the floor-guard. Clarence could not hear what they said, but he knew what they were talking about. Presently he heard doors softly opened and closed. The sounds came nearer, and at last the door of his own room was opened, and the officer of the day, attended by the corporal of the guard, who carried a lantern in his hand, stepped across the threshold. The officer saw Duncan and Fisher lying with their faces to the wall, apparently fast asleep, took note of the fact that their clothes were deposited in orderly array upon the chairs at the side of their beds, and departed satisfied with his investigations. In a few minutes the relief came up, and Clarence began to breathe easier.
“Say, Fisher,” he whispered, “are you asleep?”
“No,” was the reply. “And what’s more, I don’t want to go to sleep. If I do, I am afraid I shall miss roll-call, and then the superintendent would know where to look to find at least one fellow who ran the guards.”
“I think myself that it would be a good plan for us to keep awake. Say, Fisher,” whispered Clarence, again, “Gordon’s goose is cooked.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I mean just what I say. I shall be amply revenged on him for the insults he has heaped upon us. When we came through the fence I managed to keep him until the last, and Henderson halted him. I didn’t know but he might succeed in getting by in spite of Dick’s efforts to stop him, so, in order to make assurance doubly sure, I took the pains to examine the door in the second hall, and in it I found a key that some kind friend had left there for his benefit. But I just took the key out of that lock, and put it into my pocket. Don can’t possibly get in without being reported by the floor-guard, and he can take his choice between freezing outside and giving himself up to the corporal.”
“Did you tell Henderson to halt him?” demanded Fisher, who had listened with the greatest amazement to this astounding revelation.
“Yes, sir, I did,” chuckled Duncan, who seemed to be highly elated. “I posted Dick yesterday afternoon, and he carried out my idea to a dot. I didn’t expect to get even with Gordon so soon, did you?”
“Well, of all the blunder-heads I ever saw you are the greatest,” said Tom, in deep disgust.
“Why, what’s the matter?” demanded Duncan, who was now surprised in his turn. “What are you going to do?” he added, as Tom got out of his bed and moved toward the door.
“I am going to see if there is any chance for me to undo your miserable work,” replied Tom, who was so enraged that he could scarcely speak. “You have made a nice mess by your meddling. Why didn’t you ask the advice of the rest of us before issuing any orders on your own responsibility? You’re just a trifle too smart to be of any use to me hereafter.”
Opening the door Tom looked out into the hall, and saw at a glance that he could do nothing to help the unlucky Don. He had intended, if it were possible, to go down to the lower floor and put the key back in the lock so that Don could use it in case he succeeded by any chance in getting past the sentry; but he could not carry this plan into execution now, because the floor-guard who had permitted himself and Duncan and all the other boys who belonged on that floor to pass unnoticed, had been relieved, and his chair was occupied by a boy who could not be fooled with.
“Anything wanting, Fisher?” asked the sentry, looking up from his book.
“I thought somebody came into my room a few minutes ago,” said Tom, in reply.
“So there did. It was the officer of the day.”
“What did he want?”
“Not much of anything, only to make sure that you were in bed where you belong.”
“Somebody has been running the guard; that’s all.”
“Did they catch him?”
“No; and neither did Henderson recognize him. There’s something mysterious about it. As far as I can learn there is no one missing, and the floor-guards are all willing to swear that nobody has passed in or out of the academy since taps. Good-morning.”
As this was a hint that the sentry did not want to talk any longer, Tom drew in his head and closed the door.
“Now I am beat,” said he, aloud; and so was Duncan who had sat up in bed and heard every word that passed between his room-mate and the sentry. “Gordon was stopped by Dick Henderson, locked out in the cold through your lack of sense, and yet the officer of the day finds him in his room! How does that come? I can’t understand it.”
“Neither can I,” said Duncan. “But, Tom, what made you get so angry at me?”
“I had two reasons for it. In the first place you had no right to tell Henderson to stop Don until you found out what the rest of us thought about it. You took altogether too much upon yourself when you presumed to act for a dozen or more fellows in the way you did.”
“Have you forgotten that Gordon has repeatedly neglected to salute us, and that he threatened to make spread-eagles of the pair of us?” demanded Clarence. “I wanted to get even with him for that.”
“That’s no excuse. I want to get even with him too, and, what is more, I intend to do it; but I never would have given my consent to your idea, as you call it. While we were coming from Cony’s I made up my mind that I would propose to the boys to take Gordon into full fellowship with us and stand by him through thick and thin until near the close of the term; and when we had enjoyed all the treats we could squeeze out of him, then we’d go for him. He’s got a lot of money, and, what’s more to the point, he is perfectly willing to spend it.”