THE WEST POINT RIVALS
OR Mark Mallory's Stratagem
ACCEPTING A CHALLENGE.
"Say, boys, listen to this!"
The speaker was a tall, gaunt cadet, dressed in the uniform of a West Point plebe. He was resting in a tent in summer encampment, and close at hand were two other plebes.
"What is it, Texas?" asked one of the other cadets.
"Coin' to be a circus down to Highland Falls."
"Well, what of it? We can't go," came from a cadet known as Parson Stanard, a tall, thin fellow hailing from Boston.
"Yes, but listen," went on the first speaker. "This 'ere bill says as how they got a Texas bronco that nobody kin ride. Now, I ain't a going to stand that, nohow. I'll ride the bronco or bust myself a-tryin'."
And Texas, otherwise known as Jeremiah Powers, from Hurricane County, Texas, leaped to his feet in his excitement.
"What are you going to do about it?"
"Do? I'm a-goin' to go down to town after dinner, and ride that bronco " or "
"But it's out of bounds, I tell you."
"I'll git a disguise, that's wot I'll do. I ain't a-goin' to spend a holiday afternoon sittin' roun' this camp while there's a circus goin' on. You fellers kin ef you want to.
I ain't seen a circus only once, an' that was the same day I went to church. I rode fifty-six miles 'cross country to take in the both of 'em."
After imparting that interesting bit of information, Texas seated himself on the platform of the tent once more and fell to reading assiduously the vivid programme of Smithers' Circus, with its menagerie, dime museum and theatre combined, to say nothing of Circassian ladies, tattooed South Sea Islanders, fat ladies and living skeletons. The whole thing impressed Texas mightily, and when he finished he turned to the other two in the tent.
"I'll bet you," he growled, "ef Mark Mallory war here he'd go with me. I dunno how I'd live in this hyar place ef Mark Mallory warn't in it. He's got more life than any dozen o' you fellers. The Banded Seven, that air society we plebes got up to stop the hazin', wouldn't ever do anything ef 'twarn't fo' him bein' leader."
"When will Mark be out of hospital?" inquired one of the others.
"I dunno," said Texas, "but I reckon it'll be pretty soon now. The burns air most all healed 'cept his hands, an' durnation, they won't keep him in fo' that."
"He always war lucky," Texas continued, after a moment's pause. "Jes' think! He won't have to do anything now but set roun' an' watch us plebes drill all day. An' see how he's fooled them ole cadets, too. He said he wouldn't let 'em haze him and he's licked every feller they sent to fight him. Then when they tried to make him fight Fischer, the one decent chap in the class an' Mark's friend, he said he wouldn't. An' after standin' all their abuse all day he pitched in an' rescued that girl from the fire when they warn't a man of 'em dared it. They had to 'pologize after that."
"He was quite a hero, wasn't he, Texas?"
It was Mark Mallory's voice!
Texas wheeled with an exclamation of delight, and the others rushed out of the tent and made a leap at the cadet who had thus laughingly spoken. He was a tall, handsome lad, with a frank, merry face. He had just entered camp and reached the tent as Texas concluded his discourse.
"Ef it ain't Mark Mallory!" roared the latter, dancing about him in an ecstasy of delight. "Whoop! Say, ole man, I'm durnation glad to see ye. Gee whiz !"
These excited exclamations had brought the rest of the "Banded Seven," Mark's secret society, out of their tents in a hurry. There were Parson Stanard, and Sleepy, "the farmer," and "B'gee" Dewey, the prize story teller, besides, Chauncey, "the dude," who thought it undignified to hurry, brought up the rear, with "Indian," the fat boy of Indianapolis. And the whole six got around Mark and fairly danced for joy at having their leader with them again.
"And, b'gee, he's all well, too," chuckled Dewey; "all but his hands."
The "hands" of which this was said were for all the world like boxer's gloves, they were so wrapped with bandages. That was the only thing that kept the six from having a fight to get hold of them and shake. It was fully ten minutes before they had managed to get enough of their congratulations expressed to satisfy themselves, and even then Mallory had to threaten to get mad if they didn't stop telling him what a hero he was.
"I'll run away to Texas," he vowed, laughing.
"Where there are broncos you can ride," put in Dewey, with a sly wink at the object of this allusion.
"Wow!" cried Texas. "That's so I mos' forgot 'bout that air bronco since Mark come. Whoop!"
"What bronco?" inquired Mark, curious to know what new excitement his wild friend had found.
Texas told him, and as a clincher held the paper up before his eyes.
"Thar 'tis," said he. "You kin read it an' see Smasher. I'll smash him, doggone his boots. "
"Do Texas horses wear boots?" inquired Dewey, anxiously. "B'gee, we never go better than plain shoes up our way."
"Look a-yere, Mark," demanded Texas, scorning to notice Dewey's interruption. "I was jes' a-sayin' ef you were hyer you'd go with me to that air circus an' bust up the old fake place. Naow will you?"
"Of course I will," responded Mark. "So will the rest, too, I guess. I've been penned up in that old hospital for an age, and I'm just dying for a lark."
"But where do we get disguises?" inquired the matter-of-fact Parson.
"I guess one of the drum orderlies can buy us some," laughed the other. "We ought to have some 'cits' clothing handy, anyway, so that we can be ready for some fun any time."
"And we can keep it in that cave we found!" chirruped Indian, happily. "Bless my soul, that'll be fine! I'll go! I think it'll be lots of fun to go to a circus in disguise."
"Circuses are deucedly vulgah affairs," commented the aristocratic Chauncey, with a sniff.
But even that young gentleman condescended to go when he found that all the rest were swept away by the prospect of seeing Texas ride "Smasher." And as for Texas, he doubled up his fists and gritted his teeth and vowed he was going "to smash that ole show or git smashed doin' it !" Texas was destined to have all the fun he wanted that afternoon.
THE CIRCUS AT HIGHLAND FALLS.
Drills were over for that day, and likewise dinner, and the corps had been dismissed, excepting members who had extra tours of guard duty to do by way of punishment. This included one of the Seven, the unfortunate granger from Kansas, "Sleepy," who had forgotten to invert his washbowl at the "A. M. inspection." Poor Sleepy was obliged to shoulder his musket with what grace he could and sadly watch his friends vanish in the woods.
The wicked drummer boy, who was getting rich nowadays by furnishing contraband disguises for the yet more wicked Banded Seven, had designated a place where he would hide the "duds," and for that place the six made with all possible speed. Some hour or so later there were three curious-looking couples strolling down the road to the Falls.
The drum orderly, with considerable appropriateness, had furnished a full dress evening suit for Chauncey. It being afternoon, Chauncey had indignantly refused to "dream" of wearing it, and so the meek Indian had had his fat limbs crowded into the costume. Texas had a flaming red sweater and huge farmer's trousers with one suspender. Mark had the tattered remains of a tennis blazer and checkerboard "pants." The Parson was muttering anathemas at the facetious lad who had gotten, from somewhere, a clerical costume with a rip up the back, and Dewey was handsome and resplendent in one of the drum orderly's own cast-off uniforms. Poor Chauncey having refused the swallow-tails, was doomed to be commonplace in a white flannel costume last worn by a coal heaver.
Do you wonder at the phrase "curious-looking couples" used above? It had been agreed that they would excite less suspicion two by two. All in a crowd they might be mistaken for the rear guard of the circus procession, which they could tell from the sound of the band had proceeded them down the main street of Highland Falls. The six set out swiftly in pursuit.
Texas was fairly boiling over with anxiety to catch a glimpse of Smasher. Texas had done nothing but talk about Smasher since he started.
If there had chanced to be any officers from the post down there they would probably have recognized their cadets, in spite of false mustaches and hair. For the plebes were so used to going behind a band by this time that the tune "The Girl I Left Behind Me" set them all to marching with West Point precision "left, left!" Eyes to the front, heads up, chest out, little fingers on the seams of the trousers; "left, left !"
Fortunately, however, nobody noticed their rather unusual style, and down at the far end of the long and narrow town they came upon the circus grounds. No small boy enjoying his holiday from school was gazing upon the scene with more interest than our plebes.
There were three big tents in a vacant lot. The band had gone inside by that time, and a string of people were following, buying their tickets of a black and long-haired "genuine Australian bushman'' who stood as a walking live hint to the wonders that were inside, and incidentally made change wrong and talked in Irish brogue to an invisible some one.
Also worthy of mention was "Tent No. 2." We shall see a good deal of the contents of Tent No. 2. Tent No. 2 was the dime museum tent, and varied and startling were its decorations. A two-headed boy grinned merrily at a painted hyena on one side. It was a laughing hyena, but the boy got the best of him because he had two heads to laugh with. A Norwegian giantess (colored) had the next side to herself, and so hat a sort of continued-in-our-next arrangement was made with the roof, where a careful artist had
painted half her head. There was a seal playing a banjo on the next panel, while a charmed boa constrictor listened. The boa constrictor's tail was traced to the other side of the tent, his body having extended all that way.
So he was a pretty big snake. Texas vowed he'd never seen a bigger one. And after that the six made a stampede for the main tent. They stopped just long enough for Chauncey, "the gent with the white clothes and black whiskers," to invest in He told the man to keep the change with a haughty air, and then bid his friends help themselves. They took so many there wasn't any change, at which the man growled. In spite of jokes and peanuts they finally got into the tent. They bought their tickets separately so that their seats might be separate, and they found to their horror that the Australian bushman had sold them six in a row, and that every one in the place was staring at their extraordinary costumes. This rather pleased them, but they tried to look as if they didn't care and stared around the tent.
After some munching of peanuts and stamping of feet (this latter chiefly by Texas, he of the carmine sweater and no coat, who was anxious to smash Smasher) a bell rang and the show had begun. A curtain opened at one side and in galloped a white horse and rider. Texas sprang up and started for the ring. Texas thought it was Smasher, and he grumbled some when he found it was only "Madam Nicolini, the daring equestrienne!" Texas admitted that her riding wasn't bad, but he vowed he'd make her turn pale with envy when he once set out on Smasher. Seeing that Madam Nicolini had a perpetual blush of red paint that beat her rival's sweater, Texas finally took back his rash threat and settled down to growl once more.
Mr. Jeremiah Powers had to curb his impatience. The programme wasn't going to be changed for him. There were "daring aerial flights" at which the old ladies gasped and the fair damsels shrieked. There were performing dogs at which every one observed, "How cute" a safe remark which the most critical could not dispute. There were the Alberti Brothers, who bowed whether you applauded or not, and the usual trick elephant who rang for his dinner when the clown told him not to, whereat the old gentlemen who had brought their little boys to enjoy the show laughed most uproariously and asked the doubtful little boys if it wasn't funny.
And then came Smasher! The curtain opened once more and the little bronco, meek and gentle, was led out. He was "nothin' much," so Texas said; "orter see my Tiger down home." Texas had been persuaded by Mark to wait and see what else would happen before he ventured down, and so Texas was silent though wriggling anxiously in his seat.
A "gent" in full dress, just like Indian, was leading Smasher by the bridle. Having reached the middle of the ring he released the horse, who hung his head and looked like a poor, sleepy, half-starved little pony that would run from a mouse. Then the gent, who was "Smithers" himself, began thus:
"Now, ladies and gentlemen! We are about to witness the most interesting event of the varied programme of this marvelous and startling show. Behold Smasher, the world-renowned bronco. Now there must be gents in the audience who can ride, gents with sporting blood in their veins, gents who are willing, even anxious to show their skill. Ladies and gentlemen. Smasher challenges the world! Behold him!"
This masterpiece having finished, Smithers folded his arms. Mark was sitting on Texas meanwhile. "Somebody'll try it, old man," Mark protested. "Just keep quiet. He's not going away yet. It'll be more fun after he's thrown somebody The last exclamation of relief came as some one did come forward to try. He was a country yokel in his best Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. Having brought his best girl to town, and being secure in his skill with his farm plugs, he strode forward timidly to make a name for himself in Highland Falls forever.
"Ah!" said Smithers, serenely. "One gent has nerve! I knew that America with her sons of freedom could produce one man bold enough to dare this feat."
The country youth hesitated a moment in front of his mount, while the crowd leaned forward in expectation. Having petted Smasher in a professional way and observed that the horse still hung its sleepy head, the rider summoned all his nerve and straddled the pony. The pony was so small and the man's legs so long that his toes still touched the sawdust.
Smasher never moved an inch; even his eyes never opened. The yokel took hold of the bridle, straightened himself up to a stiff and awkward position and gazed about him with an air of delicious triumph. The multitude began to cheer.
"That's fine," said Smithers, smiling blandly. "Really fine! Now make him go."
The hayseed laid hold of the bridle and gave it a jerk. "Git ap!" said he. And the bronco got. He only moved one-half of his body; his heels went up in one cataclysmic plunge, and the rider went through the air like a streak. He picked himself up with a good deal of sawdust in his mouth, wayover in the opposite corner. The crowd simply howled with laughter and Smithers beamed benignantly.
"The challenge still stands," said Smithers, laughing at the plight of the farmer, who limped to his feet with a look on his face that led the facetious cornetist in the band to play faintly : "I'll never go there any more," which made the crowd laugh all the louder.
"Next!" roared the proprietor. "Somebody else come try it now ! Next !"
At this stage of the game Mark unbottled Texas; and Texas arose slowly and made his way down to the ring. "I reckon I'll try that air critter," said he.
Smithers' smile was as expansive as his shirt front. Two such fellows as this were a rare treat; usually everyone was daunted by the first failure. This fellow was evidently a regular hayseed, too.
"Most charmed," said the proprietor. "Step right up, I pray you. Really, sir." There was something about his self-confident smile that "riled" our excitable Texan,
"Look a-yere I" he demanded, angrily, when he reached the ring. "You think I kain't ride this hyar critter, don't you? Hey?"
The whole crowd in that tent leaned forward excitedly; here was fun, a chance of a quarrel.
"Why, I'm sure I don't know," grinned the proprietor, suavely. "How should I know? Try it."
"You got any money ?" roared Texas.
"Why, yes. A little."
Mr. Powers jammed his hands into one pocket and yanked out some bills.
"Go you one hundred I ride him!" he shouted.
"Bully, b'gee!" cried a voice in the crowd, and the rest roared in concert.
Smithers looked embarrassed. "I" that is "I've hardly got so much." "I.... "
"Shame! Shame!" howled the delighted spectators.
"Whar's that air sporting blood ye were a-talkin' 'bout?" roared Texas. "Wow! I thought nobody'd ever ridden the critter, doggone his shoes. Thought ye were so sure? 'Fraid, hey? I knowed it."
The crowd howled still louder.
"Tell ye what I'll do," cried Texas, waving his bills excitedly. "I'll go you this yere hundred to twenty! How's that?"
"Who'll hold the stakes?" inquired the proprietor, weakly.
"Put 'em down thar in the ring," said Texas. "Let everybody see 'em."
Smithers left the tent hurriedly, while the crowd roared with impatience. He came back with the money, which Texas examined cautiously, and then dropped with his own on the sawdust. And then he turned toward the sleepy bronco. "I'm ready now," said he. "Bring the critter hyar."
NOT ON THE PROGRAMME.
You have perhaps read of Ben Hur and the famous chariot race, and remember how General Wallace describes the staring crowds about that amphitheatre. There was no one there a bit more thrilled and interested than the spectators of Smithers' World Renowned Circus at this supreme moment. They were leaning forward, some of them having even risen to their feet; they were staringwith open mouth, scarcely breathing.
The sympathies of every one were with that strange and outlandishly costumed stranger who seemed to have so much money and nerve.
Texas meanwhile was proceeding with a businesslike cautiousness. He examined the saddle girth and the stirrups and tightened both. Then after another survey he concluded that they didn't suit him, and flung them off altogether.
"He's going to ride bareback," gasped the crowd.
That was the stranger's purpose, evidently. He next examined the bridle, giving Smasher's head a vigorous shake incidentally and making that wicked animal open one eye in surprise. And after that Texas was ready.
He stood at the horse's head regarding him just one moment, and then seizing him by the mane, swung himself into the air and landed with a thud upon the pony's back. As usual, Smasher never moved. Texas did not wait for him to get ready to start, but dug his heels into his side with a crash that made the bronco leap two feet into the air, and gave a yank at the bit that made his head snap back. And then there was all the fun the most fastidious could want. The center of the ring was a perfect whirl of legs and bodies. The pony flung his hind feet into the air and then danced about on them; Texas simply dug his knees into his side and his heels into his ribs and sat up straight as an arrow, yelling in Texas dialect meanwhile.
Then Smasher reared himself upon his hind legs; he bit and plunged, and he kicked; he whirled around in a circle; he flung himself on the sawdust and rolled about the ring. At this last move Texas had slipped off quick as lightning and stood calmly by, still holding the reins and yelling at the pony. The pony struggled to his feet again; while he was still on his knees Texas had thrown himself on his back and was once more kicking and shouting: "Git up, thar, you vile critter, you! Git up, thar!" Smasher got, and he started around that ring at breakneck speed, tossing his head and plunging, his body leaning at an angle of thirty degrees and the sawdust flying in clouds. Around and around he went. Smithers was staring in horror, the crowd was roaring with delight, and as for Texas, he was waving his hat and shouting triumphantly.
"Get up, thar, you ole Smasher! I'll smash you! That the fastest you kin go? Whoop!"
Smasher tried a little faster yet, until the crowd got dizzy watching him. Then he tried one last resort more, stopped short as if he'd hit a stone wall. Texas simply clung and then gave him a whack that set him off for dear life again. Texas knew that he'd conquered then.
"Wow!" he roared. "Got any more ov 'em to break? Ain't had so much fun in a year! Whoop! You circus folks think you kin ride, don't you? I'll show ye something!"
Setting the action to the word, Texas, still lashing the horse to keep him going and still roaring to keep him straight, got upon his knees and then on his feet. Having stood on one leg for a couple of turns, he dropped the reins turned over and flung his heels into the air. After that he dropped his hat and swept it up on the next turn around. Then seizing hold of the horse's mane, he slid under his belly and a moment later appeared on the other side, and jerked himself up, Smasher meanwhile going at railroad speed. Nobody in the crowd saw how he did it, but they roared with delight all the same, and Smithers gritted his teeth with rage. But Texas was by no means through yet. All his cowboy ingenuity had gone into the task of thinking up a suitable punishment for "that fresh circus feller" who had ventured to insult the nationality of cowboys. And Texas was getting ready to put a scheme into practice, while he still thumped merrily on the ribs of the dizzy bronco. He was fumbling about the pockets of his voluminous trousers, and suddenly the crowd, divining his intentions, let out a roar of delight.
"He's got a lasso!"
Texas did have a lasso, a "rope," he would have called it; if there was anything on earth he prided himself on it was his skill at "throwin' a rope." He had an arm half a foot thick as a result, and had half murdered several venturesome yearlings with it, as our old readers know. Texas was going to show some of the dexterity of that arm right now.
Of course the crowd was simply wild with expectation and curiosity. Even Smithers, from his position in the center of the ring, forgot about his lost twenty, and began turning around and around to see what the rider was doing.
The rider was unwinding the lariat from his body. That did not take him very long, and then he flung it into the air and began to whirl it gracefully about his head.
"Whoop !" he roared, getting faster and faster, and driving Smasher at a perfect tear. "Whoop!"
"Hooray!" howled the crowd. "Hooray!"
And then suddenly, having gotten his distance and aim, Texas let drive that lasso. The result electrified and horrified every person in the place. For the noose sailed through the air, and before the amazed Smithers could even raise an arm it settled comfortably over his shoulders and the momentum of the pony jerked it tight as a vise.
The circus proprietor let out a yell that drowned even the roars of the Texan. He imagined himself hurled to the ground and dragged head first about the place. That was what the frightened crowd thought, too.
He had gauged the length of the lasso just so that the proprietor felt himself jerked forward and obliged to run to maintain his equilibrium. Onward rushed Smasher in a big circle, and onward also the reluctant, indignant, vociferously protesting Smithers in a little circle near the center of the ring. He could not stop; he could do nothing but run around and around with might and main, while the crowd fairly went into spasms of delight, and Texas roared whoops by the bucketful.
This delicious game continued until the proprietor stopped from sheer exhaustion. He stood still, panting, and before he could move again Texas had worked one more scheme. Around and around he swept in a fast narrowing circle of rope, while Smithers found, to his horror, that his arms were bound tight to his sides, he being swiftly reduced to the state of a mummy or an Indian totem pole. In vain he howled. Texas had the hilarious crowd with him, and he didn't care. He finished the job neatly and then brought Smasher to a halt, and, dismounting, bowed with mock ceremony to the imprisoned proprietor. Then he pocketed his money with a flourish and marched back to his seat, the cynosure of every eye in the place. The sputtering victim, he left to be unwound by one of the circus hands.
It was fully ten minutes before the show could go on.
Texas was obliged to get up and bow to an encore three times, while Smithers shook his fist in impotent rage.
Smasher was led off meekly. As to him, it may be said here that he never again went on the stage; the poor beast was sold to an itinerant peddler, for he was so docile that a child might ride him after that. But meanwhile, there was more excitement at the circus.
Texas having satiated the applauding multitude, turned to receive the congratulations of his delighted friends. To his surprise, he found that two of them, Mark and Dewey, were missing.
"Whar's Mark?" he cried, anxiously.
"Mark!" echoed the other four, in just as much surprise. They had not noticed that in the excitement Mark and his friend, the prize story-teller, had gotten up and slipped away. But gone they were, after some fun, so Texas surmised, and vowed it was mean in them to leave him. As if he hadn't had fun enough already!
We shall follow the mischief-makers, for they were destined to meet with some interesting adventures before they returned to their companions. Mark had a definite reason for stealing away thus unceremoniously. He had a scheme he meant to put into effect; but as it happened, all thought of it was driven from his mind by something he chanced to notice a few minutes later.
At the rear of the circus tent was Smithers' "Magnificent Menagerie." Persons who had tickets to the circus
were allowed to visit that menagerie and gaze upon its treasures. These included a single lean buffalo which was subsequently led out into the ring to perform; a single elephant which did likewise; the aforementioned laughing hyena, whose laugh had been somewhat embittered by bad treatment; and the world-famous "Smasher."
Toward this part of the show Mark and Dewey were leisurely strolling, chatting merrily as usual. And then suddenly from inside the tent the band struck up a tune. Now there was nothing startling about that. The band was accustomed to herald the entrance of each performer in that way. It was a very unmusical band; Dewey said it was cracked, "cracked into four pieces, b'gee!" he added. The band apparently knew only three or four tunes, one of them being "The Girl I Left Behind Me", the song of Custer's famous Seventh. That was where the excitement came in.
The West Point band had often played that tune andthe cadets were used to marching to it. Mark had noticed four young fellows strolling just ahead of him; at the very first notes of that tune the four straightened up as one man and stepped forward; left! left! A moment later they recollected where they were and resumed their former gait.
That little incident was not lost to Mark's sharp eyes, however. He turned and nudged Dewey on the arm.
"Did you see that, old man?" he cried.
"Yes, b'gee, I did," responded Dewey, "and I know what it means, too." The four were cadets! Our two friends fairly gasped with delight as they realized that. The strangers had disappeared in the tent by that time and quick as a wink Mark sprang forward.
"Let's see who they are," he cried.
The two hurried up to the tent door and peered cautiously around the edge of the canvas. They could plainly see the backs of the others as they strolled away. An instant later Mark started back with a cry of delight. One of the four had turned around and shown his face for one instant. It was Bull Harris! And the rest were his gang! Mark and Dewey stole away to a safe corner and sat down to consult. Of course there was but one thought in the minds of both of them. It was a chance for a joke, a superb one. Bull was in disguise, and would run for his life at the least suspicion of discovery. It was a golden opportunity, and such a one must not be allowed to pass, for anything in the world.
Our readers of course understand what were Mark Mallory's feelings toward Bull Harris, the yearling. Bull was Mark's deadliest enemy in West Point; Bull hated him with a concentrated hatred that had grown with each unsuccessful attempt to outwit Mark, to disgrace him, to get him expelled. As for Mark, he did not hate Bull, but he loved to worry that ill-natured and malignant youth with all kinds of clever schemes. That was the reason why, the very instant Mark recognized the yearling, the thought flashed over him "what a chance for some fun."
"We mustn't let him see us," Mark whispered to Dewey. "He'd recognize us in spite of our disguise. What shall we do?"
"Let's go in and follow them," chuckled Dewey. "See what they're doing, b'gee!"
This suggestion was acted upon instantly. The two conspirators got up and stole over to the tent door, slid in, and dodged behind one of the wagons.
It was a very small tent, and they could almost have touched their victims with an umbrella. Yet the victims had not the least suspicion of any danger.
"They are feeding the elephant,'' whispered Mark.
Bull and his three friends had their pockets stuffed with peanuts and were amusing themselves immensely. The single elephant was chained to the back of the tent; there was a small railing in front of him to keep people from going too near. That did not prevent them from throwing peanuts, however. It is a lot of fun to get a big elephant to raise his trunk in eager expectation and then to torment him by not giving him anything to eat. It is fun, at any rate, if you like to tease; Bull liked to, and the madder the elephant got, the better he liked it.
An elephant is a peculiarly intelligent-looking animal. He can indicate his feeling very well with those twinkling little eyes of his. And the two conspirators chuckled as they noticed the way the animal was regarding his four tormentors. And then suddenly Dewey, chancing to put one hand in his pocket, gave a gasp of delight.
"By jingo!" he cried. "I've got it!"
Mark stared at him in surprise as he drew forth from his pocket a small bottle of whitish substance.
"What is it?" he inquired, whispering low.
"Something I got for the Parson," chuckled Dewey. "It's caustic potash! Watch!" Dewey took the cork out of the innocent little bottle and sprang out from behind the wagon. It was all done so quickly that Mark scarcely had time to realize what was up.
There was no one else in the tent to see; the four were too intent upon their fun. Dewey crept up behind them, and with as much deftness as if he had been a pickpocket, dumped the contents of the bottle into Bull's "peanut" pocket.
A moment more and the excitement began. Bull did not notice the substance when he reached for another peanut. He took it out and deftly "chucked" it into the elephant's mouth. Concerning the action of caustic potash when moistened, there is no room to write a treatise here. If Parson Stanard had been there he would doubtless have explained how the latent heat of the substance is released by decomposition, etc., a process known as "slaking," and so on. Suffice it to say that it gets hot.
Bull noticed the elephant look funny, he didn't know why. There was a pail of water at the infuriated animal's side, and he thrust his trunk into it and drank a huge draught to relieve the pain. And then he raised his trunk, full of water as it was, and to Bull's horror and consternation, deliberately blew a heavy column of it straight into his tormentor's face!
BULL HARRIS BEATS A RETREAT.
The scene that resulted is left to the reader's imagination. Bull was simply drenched; he was sputtering and gasping with rage. As for the elephant, he set up a terrific trumpeting, which, together with the cries of the cadets, brought the circus attendants in on a run. (It is needless to say that Mark and Dewey had fled long ago, ready to burst with hilarity.)
The circus men had expected some danger from the cries they heard. When they discovered what was really the matter, they broke into roars of laughter—for they were only human. That made Bull all the madder.
"You shall pay for this!" he shouted, furiously. "Why don't you keep that beast where he can't hurt anything?"
"What made you tease him?" retorted one of the others, shrewdly suspecting that the meek old elephant's act was not uncaused.
"I wasn't teasing him!" roared Bull. "You lie if you say that."
Bull was red with rage, but he turned a little pale as one of the men sprang toward him. "Shut up!" said he, "or I'll dump you in the rest of that water and roll you in the mud besides."
It was at least half an hour before Mark and Dewey managed to recover. The whole affair was so utterly ludicrous! Such a tale it would make to tell the rest of the Seven!
"Gee whiz!" cried Mark, suddenly. "I forgot all about that. Let's hustle over and tell 'em now."
"B'gee, that's so," cried Dewey. "I never thought of it, either. Reminds me of a story I once heard, b'gee."
That was a very funny story; it was one of Dewey's very best, and I wish that I could repeat it. The only trouble was that it was never finished. For, standing where they were, near the menagerie tent again, they heard two voices in conversation. What they heard completely drove from Dewey's mind all thoughts of jokes and stories. It suggested a prospect of sport that knocked all previous adventures into the shade.
This was the conversation:"Mike drunk! For heaven's sakes, man, that's the second time this week. How on earth will we ever do without him?"
The voice was that of the proprietor, all his anger at his treatment by Texas having left him at what was evidently some bad news.
"We'll have to miss showing the dime museum tent again!" he groaned. "And it'll mean five dollars out of my pocket, after I've just lost a twenty, too! Confound it!"
"Can't you get somebody to take his place?" inquired another voice. "No! How can I? I couldn't do it myself, for I can't remember half the jokes and things Mike used to get off in his speech when he exhibited the freaks. He kept the people laughing and they never saw how rotten the confounded exhibition is. And now what on earth am I to do?"
This dialogue was not meant for Mark and Dewey, but they heard it in passing. Now they were out for fun, bold and daring, both of them. And to each at the same moment those words suggested a wildly delicious idea.
They turned and stared at each other with a look of inspiration on their faces; gave one gasp of delight; and then Dewey seized Mark by the shoulders.
"B'gee, old man," he cried, "I dare you!" An instant later Smithers felt a light tap upon the arm. He turned and confronted a tramp in a torn yellow and red tennis blazer, with hands bound up in rags.
"What do you want?"
"I was just going to say I'd exhibit your museum freaks for you. I and my friend there."
"You!" gasped the professor. "Who are you?"
"I'm a professional stump speaker," said the tramp, winking knowingly. "And my friend here's a professional joke writer. And if you'll just show us the freaks and give us a while to think up jokes, we'll make you famous."
"How much do you want?" inquired Smithers, suspiciously.
"Nothing. We'll do it for love, to get you out of a scrape."
The man gazed at them in doubt for a moment more, and then he turned upon his heel. "Come," he said, briefly, and led the way out to the gayly painted tent mentioned previously.
The four members of the Banded Seven who had stayed behind to see the rest of the show wandered out disconsolately after it was over. Mr. Smithers had previously announced from the ring that the marvelous museum was now on exhibition for the "purely nominal sum of ten cents," also that Professor Salvatori would be on hand to deliver one of his famous addresses, assisted by Mr. So-and-So. Finding that this bait had been taken by most of the crowd, and not knowing what else to do with themselves, since their leader had deserted them, the four strolled into the much painted tent.
They were but little prepared for the amazing sight which greeted them after a few minutes' wait. In the first place there were a number of glass cases with little platforms upon which the professor was to mount, and in the second there was a crowd of people wandering about staring curiously. Then suddenly the trumpet blew a blast, and with Mr. Smithers at their head, in strode—good heavens—Mark and Dewey!
The plebes could hardly believe their eyes; they stared and gasped, and then gasped and stared. They rubbed their eyes and pinched themselves. And meanwhile Professor Salvatori beamed down on them benignly as he stepped lightly up to the platform.
"Wow !" gasped Texas. "He's a-goin' to make a speech!"
"Bless my soul!" muttered Indian. "What an extraordinary proceeding!"
Meanwhile, Mr. Smithers had stepped out upon the platform with his best professional style. "Ladies and gentlemen, I assure you that it gives me he greatest of pleasure to present to you this afternoon my distinguished friends, Professor Salvatori, (a bow) and his able and witty assistant, (another). Ladies and gentlemen, Professor Salvatori is so well known to you all that I am sure it would be a presumption on my part to tell you of his history. The address which he delivered is royal highness, the Duke of Bavaria, was published in all the leading scientific reviews of the day, and I am sure was appreciated by you all. It was during his remarkable trip through the wilds of Central Africa that most of these extraordinary specimens were collected, notably that magnificent painting of a Polar bear devouring a walrus which you doubtless observed upon the outside of the tent. Ladies and gentlemen, I assure you, you have a treat in store. Listen, all of you. Professor Salvatori."
During this most original and startling introduction, Professor Salvatori had been bowing right and left, and the four had been staring their eyes out. In the midst of it, the fun-loving Texas seized the others and drew them to one side.
"Fellers," he whispered, "Mark's a-goin' to make a speech. He didn't tell us. Let's git square."
"Let's guy him!"
And in half a second more those four rascals had vowed to "bust up" that speech. Truly there was fun in store when once Professor Salvatori got started, and the conspirators fairly danced about with impatience.
Professor Salvatori, meanwhile, had not been hesitating, but with a jaunty stride had stepped to the fore. He wasn't the least bit embarrassed. Why should a man who had lectured before the Duke of Bavaria care for country bumpkins like these? He wiped his brow with a graceful flourish and cleared his throat pompously. "Ladies and gentlemen," said he. That was a fine starter and the professor gazed at the crowd as much to say "Could you have done any better?"
The four fellows chuckled.
"After the most embarrassing eulogy which my old friend, General Smithers, has given me, I am sure I need say nothing more about myself to you. It would be presumptuous and therefore—ahem!—I shall proceed immediately to the business in hand. Now then!"
This graceful introduction over the professor signaled his assistant in a superior way to lift the curtain of a glass case disclosing the "huge" boa constrictor some five feet long.
"In the words of the poem, ladies and gentlemen," said the professor:Oh here's your anaconda boa constrictor
Oft called anaconda for brevity.
He's noted the world throughout
For his age and great longevity.
He can eat himself, crawl through himself.
And come out of himself with agility;
He can tie himself in a double bowknot
And undo himself with the greatest facility.
This masterpiece could not prevent a groan of disgust from the crowd who were disappointed at the size. Texas saw a chance to begin right there. "'Tain't so big as the picture!" he roared, and the spectators murmured approvingly. They thought the bold fellow was out for more fun and they meant to back him up.
"That picture," returned Mark, smiling, "is the exact size the boa constrictor would have been if he hadn't died some fifty years ago, a misfortune for which I cannot be blamed. At present he is stuffed."
"The whole show's stuffed!"
It was the Parson who said that. Mark stared at the clerical and classical gentlemen until he saw that every one in the crowd was likewise taking in that lank, burly form. And then he remarked dryly: "You'd look a sight better if you were stuffed, too."
That brought down the house and Professor Salvatori knew that he had won the crowd over. He beamed upon his chagrined friends benevolently and went on. He narrated several marvelous tales of his adventures with large snakes in Africa, the province of Farina land. And then Dewey was promptly reminded of one of his yarns, b'gee!, which he told in his inimitable way and made everybody laugh.
Then they moved on to the Siamese twins. "He's dead, too," observed Mark. "He died in jail, poor fellow. He'd committed a crime one-half of him, and it was quite a problem how to keep in jail without keeping the other one in, too. He had committed a horrible crime."
"What was it?" cried Indian, innocently.
"Bigamy," said Mark, calmly. He'd been leading a double life."
By this time things were progressing with delightful smoothness. The crowd was in good humor, laughing at everything. When you once get people in a laughing mood they do that. Mr.—or as some would have it—General Smithers was beaming serenely, thinking of offering a permanent job to these two quick-witted unfortunates.
And in the meantime they were still talking. "And now we come to the India-rubber man," said Mark. "A little of this India-rubber man goes a very long way, and therefore I shall move on to this next curious and most interesting specimen, the man with the iron jaw. He is indeed worthy of notice."
Texas and his mischievous friends ventured yet one more effort then. "Where's the iron jaw?" they shouted, all in a breath.
"Where's the jaw!" echoed Mark, indignantly. "Why don't you use your eyes and see? It's lying right there in his lap for you to look at."
The crowd roared with delight at that; sure enough the man held up a bit of rusty iron in the shape of a human jaw. As for Texas he started back and stared about him in bewilderment.
And then suddenly came a most amazing development.
The spectators could put but one construction upon it; the savage Texas was enraged at having been laughed at. With a muttered exclamation he leaped forward, sprang at a bound to the platform, and rushing at Professor Salvatori dealt him a blow upon the face!
There was the wildest confusion in a moment. The crowd hissed and shouted indignantly. Smithers rushed forward. The rest of the Banded Seven gasped. As for Mark, he started back white as a sheet with anger. "Why Texas!" he cried in an amazed whisper.
"You chump!" muttered Texas under his breath. "Don't you understand? Flee for your life! Chase me!"
Mark gazed about him in bewilderment; an instant later he caught sight of something that told him all. Just entering the door of the tent, a lady leaning upon his arm, was a blue uniformed figure, a tactical officer, Lieutenant Allen! And quick as a flash Mark saw the ruse, and with a cry of mock rage made a savage leap at Texas. Texas sprang to the ground, Mark at his heels, and carefully looking away from the distant "tac." Texas plunged through the crowd, Mark following at full tilt and shouting for vengeance. Texas slid under the tent wall, Mark after him, and then Dewey and the other plebes in full hue and cry. A minute more and they were flying across lots to the shelter of the woods, General Smithers, all his patrons, and in fact all Highland Falls gazing at their flying figures in amazement. "A lunatic asylum broke loose," was the ultimate verdict.
The Banded Seven once in the woods and alone, seated themselves on the ground and stared at each other and roared with laughter for an hour. Then they slipped back to camp fully satisfied with the fun they had experienced that day.
ANOTHER ESCAPADE IS PLANNED.
Garrisons, New York, August 11th
Miss Fuller requests the pleasure of the Banded Seven's company at an informal party to be given any time they please tonight.
Such was the invitation, a rather curious and unconventional one. But that gave it no less interest in the eyes of the seven lads who were all gazing at it at once. The one who was reading the note was Mark Mallory. Next to him was Texas, and Texas was dancing about in excitement.
"Wow!" Texas roared. "Say, fellers, ain't that great? Think o' gittin' an invitation to a party, an' we only plebes. Whoop! An' won't we have fun, though!"
"Shall we go?" inquired someone.
"Go!" cried Texas. O' course we'll go!"
"But it's out of bounds," protested "Indian," the fat and timid Joseph Smith. "It's 'way across the river at Garrisons, and if we're found out, we'll be expelled. Bless my soul!"
"'Tain't the fust time we've been out o' bounds," observed Texas, grinning. "An' ef I thought 'twar the last, I don't think I'd stay in this hyar stupid old place."
"But we've no clothes to go in, bah Jove!" objected Master Chauncey Van Rensselaer Mount-Bonsall, of Fifth Avenue, New York. "We cawn't wear our uniforms, y' now, for some one would recognize the deuced things, bah Jove; and we have nothing else."
"Nothin' else!" exclaimed Texas. Ain't we got the ones we wore this hyar very Saturday afternoon when we ran off to see the circus down to Highlan' Falls? Kain't we wear them?"
"Wear them!" gasped Chauncey, the prim and particular "dude." "Bah Jove, I should like to see myself going to call on a girl, y' know, in the horrible rags we wore !"
"I guess we know Grace Fuller well enough to make allowances,'' put in Mark, laughing. "You know she told us she was going to ask us to steal over and pay her a visit some night. She said the cadets often do."
"But not in such costumes as we wore," protested Chauncey.
"I don't imagine they had much better," answered Mark. "They'd hardly wear their uniforms through Garrisons, and up the road we'd have to follow. And if they had cit's clothing smuggled in, I doubt if it was much of a fit. However, we've got till taps to talk it over."
Thus enjoined the Seven resolved themselves into a business meeting, to discuss the important question whether they should accept that invitation from Judge Fuller's daughter. It is not the purpose of this story to report the discussion, but simply to say that they decided emphatically in the afifirmative. They were going to that party.
Grace Fuller was a member of the Banded Seven, which under its full and complete title was known as "The Banded Seven and One Angel;" she was the angel. Mark Mallory had swam out and rescued her from a capsizing sailboat, and as a result of that the girl, though she was the belle of West Point, and considered the most beautiful girl about the post, had declared her sympathies with those desperate plebes, and vowed to aid them in the fight against hazing.
There was much talking necessary to settle the details of that most important excursion and, incidentally, quite some laughing over the adventure which had caused so much excitement that afternoon. The costumes and disguises they had worn were still lying in the woods where they had left them.
They were impatient plebes who went to bed that night, and blew out their light to wait. Four of them slept in an A Company tent, and the other three were in Company B, just across the way. When the watchful "tac" went the rounds with his lantern, they were all snoring diligently, but in their haste they barely gave him time to get back to his tent and extinguish the light, before they were up again and in their uniforms, and stealing out to the side of the camp.
They passed in safety one of the sentries, a plebe whom they had "fixed" beforehand, and then the whole seven set out on a run for the woods. It was then about half-past ten, which Chauncey, their authority upon etiquette, assured them was the correct time for a party to begin.
Just then they came upon the hiding place of the cit's clothing, which gave Chauncey something still more important to think about. Chauncey had been planning all the way how he was going to have that full dress suit and be the one aristocrat in the crowd; he knew it would never enter poor Indian's mind to object.
But when Chauncey tried it the rest merrily vowed that a man who disowned a suit in the afternoon had no right to wear it in the evening, and the result was that the grumbling plebe donned his graceful white flannels again and Indian's bulging figure was crammed into the evening suit. The black-robed Parson stood by in solemn state, meanwhile, and remarked occasionally that "as my friend Shakespeare observed, 'Consistency, thou art a jewel,' yea, by Zeus!" "Though," the Parson added, "I am by no means convinced that William Shakespeare was the author of the words. I find that...."The Parson found that he was talking to the woods by that time, for the rest of the crowd had fled in mock terror, setting out for the river and leaving the solemn lecturer to follow at his leisure. His gigantic strides soon brought him up with them again, however, and the address was continued until the party had reached the Hudson's shore.
Plebes were not supposed to hire boats, but they can very easily manage it if they have only the money. There was one lying in a designated and secluded nook for them, and a few minutes later the Seven were out in the middle of the river. The old tub was nearly underwater with the load, but there was no one willing to stay and wait for a second trip. That of course excludes the frightened Indian, who was clutching the gunwale and gazing at the gurgling black waters in mortal terror.
Poor Indian's peace of mind was not added to by the remarks he heard passed round. He was the heaviest in the crowd, and the cause of all the trouble. If the boat began to sink, over he'd have to be thrown! He was a regular Jonah anyhow.
Dewey wondered if there were any whales in the Hudson, b'gee. He heard a story, b'gee, etc. Indian wouldn't sink anyhow, for he was too fat; and therefore there wasn't the least bit of reason for his moaning in that way. That only brought the sharks around. This kept up all the way across. The boat grated on the beach just as Dewey was observing that Indian, in his full dress was such a heavy swell that it was a wonder he hadn't swamped them, and that the reason it was called full dress was because it was so full of Indian.
Then the crowd clambered out and made their way up to the road on which Grace Fuller's house was known to be. There were not many people about at that time of night, but the few there were stared in unconcealed amazement at that strangely accoutered group. That did not tend to make them feel any more at ease, for they were desirous of attracting as little attention as possible.
Mark soon discovered that they had made a blunder which was destined to cause them quite some inconvenience. In order to have as short a row as possible, they had headed straight across the river and landed north of Garrisons. Grace Fuller's home lay below the town. The result was that the seven masqueraders found themselves under the unpleasant necessity of passing completely through it in order to reach their destination. The class of persons who hang about the streets at eleven o'clock at night are not the very best. The plebes soon discovered that all the young hoodlums of the place were apparently abroad and waiting for a chance to annoy someone. It is needless to say that many comments, more or less witty, more or less loud and coarse, were passed upon our queerly dressed friends.
To Mark this was a cause of no little alarm. He wished himself anywhere on earth except upon those streets. For he knew the excitable temper with which his wild Texas friend was blessed, and he feared a volcanic eruption any moment. Mark could restrain Texas up to a certain point; beyond that point a regiment of soldiers could not stop him.
They were passing at one time a saloon toward the lower end of the town. It was the lower part in more senses than one, ill-smelling and generally unpleasant. In front of this saloon three or four young fellows were lounging. No sooner did they catch sight of the plebes than instantly there was a cry.
"Hey, fellers! Come out an' see de guys! Gee whiz, what togs!"
In response to this shout a rude crowd of nearly a dozen tumbled out of the door to stare, taking no pains to conceal their amusement at the extraordinary sight.
"Say! D'y' ever see the beat?" roared one.
"Go on, dem's mugs from de circus!" laughed a second.
"Hey, sonny, does yer mother know yer out?" cried another, at which old and senseless remark the crowd had a fit of laughter.
During this rather unpleasant chaffing the Seven had quietly crossed over to the other side of the street. For obvious reasons they were not seeking a quarrel, least of all would they have sought it here. This move was promptly noted by the gang. There is nothing a tough likes better than to see some sign of cowardice in an adversary, especially if he be a weak-looking adversary, a "sure thing." There was a howl from the crowd.
"Hooray! Look at 'em run!"
"What cher 'fraid of, kids? Nobody wants to hurt yer."
"Come over an' have a drink."
"Let's see yer run!"
To this the Seven answered not a word, but merely hurried on. Mark wished that both his hands had not been done up in bandages, however. It was not that he wanted to fight, but that he wanted to hold Texas. He was on one side of this excitable youth and Dewey had him by the arm on the other. The timid Indian, who would have gone around the world sooner than look at a fight, was behind, pushing Texas along as if he had been a baby carriage. In this peculiar fashion they were getting past admirably, though the Texan's fingers were twitching rather ominously, and his eyes were dancing with half-suppressed excitement.
The gang, however, had no idea of losing some promised sport in that way; the "guying" grew louder and more plentiful.
"Look at de babies run! Gee! dey're 'fraid to look at us!"
"Come on, boys, let's foller 'em. Let's see where dey're goin'."
"Look a-here, Mark," began Texas, at that point. "Look a-yere ! I ain't a-goin' to stan' this hyar."
"Go on," said Mark, sternly. "Hurry up, fellows."
"You'll have us all in jail, Texas! Not a word, I tell you. I...."
"Hey, dere, kids! Some o' you come back an' we'll learn you how to fight."
By this time the cadets were well started down the street. Beyond talk the crowd had done nothing, except to fire one pebble, which had hit Indian. Poor Indian hadn't made a sound; he was afraid of making Texas madder still. Indian regarded Texas about as one would a ton of dynamite. Mark had managed his friend so diplomatically, however, that he thought the danger was all over. It never once entered Mark's head that anybody else in the seven would lose his temper.
That proved to be the case, however. Chauncey, "the dude," and Parson Stanard, both of whom considered it undignified to hurry, were lagging somewhat in the rear.
The contrast of that white flannel and black broadcloth was too much for the hoodlums.
"Look at de blackbird!"
"'Ray for the preacher!"
"Bet he's from Boston. Hey, dere, beans, where's yer specs?"
Now it was right there that the trouble began. As we all know, Parson Stanard was from Boston. Moreover, as a true Bostonian he was proud of his native city, the center of American culture and refinement, cradle of liberty, etc., etc., etc.Parson Stanard was a very meek and scholarly gentleman. But there are some things that even a scholar will resent. The proverbial worm will turn, as any one who has ever baited a fish-hook can testify. As Webster has put it: "There is a limit to human endurance at which patience ceases to be a virtue." To that limit Parson Stanard had come. Willingly he would have let them poke fun at him. Perhaps even if they had seen fit to ridicule his wondrous Cyathophylloid coral he might have stood it in silence. They might have insulted the immortal Dana's geology unharmed. But Boston and Bostonians? Never! Quick as a flash the Parson had whirled about.
"By the gods!" he cried. "This is indeed intolerable, and by no means to be suffered unrebuked."
"'Ray! 'ray ! De preacher's a-goin' to make a speech!"
"Let her rip, Boston! Fire away. Beans!"
"Hit 'em again!"
That was as far as the Parson got. Mark had wheeled in alarm and dashed back to him.
"For heaven's sake, man!" he cried. "Stop! Can't you see?"
"I see," responded the Boston geologist, with dignity, "that these persons are altogether devoid of respect for—ahem—my native city, the home of freedom. And I mean right here and on this spot to administer to them a rebuke that will last them until their dying day. I mean to summon all the power of my ancestor's eloquence, all the weight of learning and logic I can command. I mean...."
"Whoop! Speech! 'Ray for Boston! Git away, there, an' let him go on!"
The Parson had turned to continue his remarks. Mallory was still trying to stop him, however, and the crowd didn't like that. Neither did the Parson.
"In the words of the immortal Hamlet," he cried, "I command you, 'Unhand me, gentlemen!' I will go on!"
When an orator, burning with the Promethean fire of inspiration, feels surging up within him immortal words that clamor for expression, when he feels wild passions thronging in his breast, passions that cry to be out and smiting the hordes of iniquity, then I say, in the words of the immortal Horace..."
Here the Parson raised his hands solemnly and put on his best Latin accent:
Non civium ardor prava jubentium,
Non omltics instantis tyrannis
Mente quatit solida....
The Parson got no farther than that, though if it had been necessary, he could have chanted the whole of the famous ode. Just then the affair came to a climax. The tough gang, of course, understood nothing of this classical oration, which ought to have moved their souls to tears. All they knew was that this crazy guy was making a speech and promising no end of fun. It would be great sport to have a scrap and "push his slats in" at the end of the proceedings. And accordingly they raised a shout of delight, interspersed with many encouraging comments, swearing with no mild profanity at the rest of the Seven, who were trying to stop the speech.
And then suddenly from the rear a decayed potato came flying and struck the learned Parson full in the mouth! Can you imagine a marble statue turning red with rage? That comes about as near as anything to describing what happened to the scholarly and solemn orator at that outrageous insult. A thousand things contributed to his anger. The pain, the disgrace, the rudeness in interrupting him in the midst of that wonderful poem! Truly it was enough to "make the very dogs of Rome rise up in rage and mutiny."
The Parson was not a dog, but he arose, and he arose with a vengeance. In fact, he seemed fairly to tower up before his startled enemies. He drew one deep breath, raised his hands to the stars (for even then the Parson could do nothing hastily) and invoked the aid of his nine Olympian Immortals; and then with a roar of fury shut his fists and plunged like an angry bull into the very midst of his astounded assailants.
Parson Stanard had had one fight before this, as history records it. A few cadets, no more respectful of his genius and learning than these young toughs, had tied him in a sack and dragged him about the Cavalry Plain. The Parson had gotten out of that sack and employed his geological "prehensile" muscles to just the same effect as he was employing them now. The result was a sight for the edification of those immortal gods of his. The Parson really could hit, and was well up in the theory and formulas of boxing as he was in everything else. And every time he smote his adversaries, whom he termed "Philistines," he called to witness some new deity of old; finally, having exhausted his available stock, he was forced to content himself with Hercules, Achilles, and the rest of the demigods and heroes. But he still whacked just as hard as ever.
Of course the rest of the plebes had not been slow to rush to his aid. Mark could do nothing, for his hands were hors du combat. But as for the rest of them, it would have been hard to find much better fighters in the academy.
Texas, of course, was a perfect giant. He plunged back and forth through that crowd, sweeping everything before him. Indian's method was exactly similar, except that the terrified lad shut his eyes and hit anything he met, from trees to posts. Chauncey adopted his usual tactics of leading half a dozen of the enemy to chase him, and then getting them all breathless from trying to follow his dodging figure. As for the rest of them—Sleepy backed himself against the wall (Sleepy seldom stood up without leaning against something) and thus kept his assailants at bay, and lastly, Dewey hovered around Mark to protect him from danger.
Mark was like a huge battleship without any powder. Sometimes we wish that history were different and that we could fix things as we like. It would have made excellent reading if the gallant Parson had been a second Samson among these new Philistines, and if the gallant plebes had put the rowdies to flight. But they didn't.
The first savage onslaught came very near doing this, but the crowd speedily rallied, and being of far superior numbers, soon turned the tide. Roughs are by no means inexperienced fighters, and moreover, they do not scorn the use of sticks and brickbats when obtainable. Things began to look very squally indeed for the cadets. The Parson was down and being sat on, walked on, and danced on. Indian had gotten off the track and was still blindly fighting the air half a block up the street. Chauncey was breathless, and Sleepy was tired. Moreover, one of the cowardly gang had discovered Mark's plight, and having subdued Dewey, was punching Mark at his leisure. Texas alone was unconquered. Texas hadn't had half enough fight to suit him, and was still merrily plunging about the scene and through the crowd, working those cowboy arms like windmills. But Texas, alas, wasn't able to hit every one at once, and so the plot continued to thicken.
An interruption, when it came a minute later, was very welcome indeed to the plebes. Somebody started a cry that brought confusion to the loafers. It was "Police! police!" The "scrap" terminated abruptly; the "scrappers" got up on their feet; and after that there was a wild scurrying in every direction.Three watchmen, attracted by the noise, had suddenly appeared upon the scene.
Now the Banded Seven were, for obvious reasons, as much afraid of cops as their opponents. Texas did everlastingly hate to stop right in the midst of the fun, but he was the only one that shared that feeling; the rest sighed with relief when they realized at last that they were far out of town and beyond danger.
Then they sat down by the side of a little stream and began to wash away the signs of their injuries, wondering what else would happen before long to render them still less fit to pay their visit. And that was the end of Parson Stanard's battle.
THE LONG DELAYED VISIT.
Oh, but Grace Fuller's was an imposing house, when finally the plebes managed to find it! It was big and brilliantly lighted, with high, old-fashioned porticoes. There were spacious grounds about it, too, and tall, menacing iron gates in front that made the dubious-looking plebes feel very dubious indeed. As for poor Chauncey, he was simply floored.
"I'll not go in," he vowed, indignantly. "Bah Jove, I look like a coal heaver. Suppose there should be a lot of people there, don't cher know?"
That suggestion was a new one for the rest, and it made them gasp. They hadn't counted on seeing any one but Grace, and the idea that she might have invited a lot of girls to entertain them was indeed startling, and they talked it over for at least ten minutes before they ventured another move. The final decision was that the fate of the nation should be left to Indian, the only respectable man in the crowd. Indian was to go, and if he found that any one else had been invited to that "party" he was to make a break for the door and flee. Otherwise, why then they might be induced to show themselves. Indian didn't like the idea a bit, but the rest threatened him with horrors unnameable until he consented. Then he crept up timidly and rang the bell while the others lay in the bushes and hid.
The sight of the man who came to the door reassured the trembling young hero somewhat, for it was George, the butler, who had once set off some cannon for the Banded Seven and turned West Point topsy-turvy. A moment later Grace Fuller herself appeared in the hallway, a vision of loveliness that made the rest wish they were Indian. The six heard her inquire anxiously for them; and then they heard Indian begin to stammer and stutter furiously putting in a "Bless my soul!" every few syllables and making the others grit their teeth with rage.
"Plague take him!" muttered Mark. "He'll give it all away."
He did that in a very short while, for a fact; he had not found out who was inside at all when suddenly Grace Fuller sprang out upon the piazza. "If you boys are out there," she called, "you might as well come in and make yourselves at home. Nobody cares how you're dressed." After that, of course, there was nothing for them to do but come, as gracefully as they could, which was very ungracefully indeed. They marched sheepishly up the path in single file, each trying to be last. How they ever got the courage to get into the door nobody knew, but they did somehow, making a group which almost caused the dignified butler to commit the heinous sin of smiling, and which made Grace Fuller fairly go into hysterics.
However, they were in, which was something. And that memorable "party" had begun. It wasn't much of a party, fortunately for the Banded Seven's peace of mind. As it turned out, Grace Fuller hadn't half expected them to come. She was afraid they wouldn't dare take the risk. Here Master Chauncey Van Rensselaer (hero of the smutty white flannel) got in a Chesterfieldian compliment, the drift of which is left to the reader's imagination. Then the girl went on to explain the dilemma she had been in, not knowing whether to prepare for them or not, which promptly "reminded" Dewey of a story.
"Story," said he, "about a tenderfoot who went hunting out West, b'gee, and he came across a beast that he thought was a deer, and then again he had half an idea it was a calf. So he looked at his gun and at the beast, and didn't know what to do. That was the dilemma, b'gee, and the way he got over it was a way you might have tried for the party. He shot to hit it if it was a deer, and miss it if it was a calf, b'gee."
Told in Master Dewey's interesting way, that broke the ice, and then everybody settled down to have a good time. Judge Fuller came downstairs a few minutes later and was introduced to the Seven, who had, so he surmised politely, expected a masquerade ball. That made them more at ease; they wondered why they hadn't thought of that excuse themselves, and Parson Stanard (gentleman in the clerical costume with a rip up the back) promptly corralled the judge up in one corner and started him on the subject of the Substance and Attributes of Spinoza, and the Transcendental Analytic of Kant.
Meanwhile Grace Fuller was entertaining the rest. As Dewey had predicted, she wanted to thank Mark, though she didn't fall on his neck. She must needs have the story of the gallant rescue told all over again by the rest of the Seven, a proceeding which so embarrassed Mark that he went over to learn about Spinoza and Kant. He would not return until Grace went to the piano to sing for them.
After that Texas hauled out a mouth organ, and gave a genuine cowboy jig which moved the Parson, at Judge Fuller's invitation, to render Professor So-and-So's latest theory as to the tune in the parabasis of a Greek comedy. That scared them all away from the piano, and Dewey told the story of the circus, which he did so vividly that Texas got excited and wanted to lasso something, even starting to undo the rope at his waist and show Grace how it was done. He was finally persuaded that there wasn't room in the parlor, and then to cool him off they went in and had some ice cream.
At last somebody discovered that it was late, and time for that curious visit to terminate. Perhaps it was Judge Fuller, who hadn't been able to escape from the tenacious Parson all evening. Anyway, they started on their return trip, which was destined to prove momentous, after a leave-taking which was affecting all around.
We shall not stop to follow them to the boat, but move on to another place where more lively things were happening, things that were going to cause the Banded Seven no end of excitement before they were through. For out in the middle of the Hudson in a leaky tub is by no means as safe a situation as in bed at Camp McPherson, as the plebes were soon to learn. They had their night's fun before them.
Smithers' World Renowned Circus( !) was the cause of all the trouble. Smithers, it seemed, was just then engaged in getting out of Highland Falls; it was rather late at night, in fact Sunday morning, but a circus is a thing that has to keep moving. It was scheduled for a place way up the State on Monday, and so every one was hard at work.
There was a long railroad train drawn up at the station a short way from the circus grounds. The big tents were all aboard and likewise the most of Mr. Smithers' World Renowned(!) performers; the "Magnificent Menagerie" was being moved when the trouble began.
The wonderful trick elephant was safely shut up in his corner of one car, and likewise Smasher, the fierce untamed bronco ridden by no man—except "Jeremiah Powers, son of the Honorable 'Scrap' Powers, o' Hurricane County, Texas." The single degenerate specimen of a laughing hyena, too hungry and disgruntled to laugh at anything, had also joined the family party. Last of all was the solitary and stray specimen of a buffalo, making up the quartette which composed that much-advertised menagerie.
One would not have thought that buffalo had in him the capacity for causing any trouble; he was a very lean old buffalo—in fact, everything about Smithers' circus was lean. Even the living skeleton used to complain of hunger. This buffalo bull was old and ragged, reminding one of a moth-eaten rug; and he had a very mild and subdued look about his eyes. Nobody thought him capable of a rebellious action, for he used to trot around the ring daily for the edification of the country people and occasionally he submitted to a yoke and helped the wild elephant get one of the circus wagons out of a muddy place in the road.
Animals are wily, however; perhaps this beast had just been acting to get a reputation for harmlessness, so that when he did come to rebel he might be sure of success. For to put the whole matter into a nutshell, that buffalo ran away that night.
He took matters into his own hands during the course of the move to the train. They wheeled his cage to the box car and put the door up close and then prodded him to make him move. He moved, but he did not go into the car; instead he poked his shoulders in between the car and the cage and pushed. Before the sleepy circus hands could realize what had happened, he was standing in the middle of the street, waving his tail with much friskiness and gusto.
Of course there was excitement. Smithers came up hot and panting, and after having first sworn at the beast, got an armful of hay and tried to steal a march on him. The beast waited just long enough to show his scorn for such artifices, and then, with a bellow of defiance, wheeled clumsily about and started on a trot up the track.
There was more excitement then. Of course Smithers had to shout and likewise the other circus men, and ditto the loungers in the neighborhood. That woke up the town; and when a country town wakes up at night there is no telling when the thing will stop. Some people solace themselves by shouting murder under such circumstances; others prefer fire; but however that may be, there are sure to be bells ringing, and everybody peering out of their windows to find out if by any chance they had been murdered without knowing it. Anyhow, that was the way it happened in Highland Falls.
Smithers leaped upon a horse and started to lead in the chase; it was a cloudy night, but the moon came out on occasions and just then Smithers could very plainly see the much-accused buffalo trotting serenely, head up, along the railroad track. Behind the proprietor were the rest of the circus performers, professors and madams, and likewise all the freaks except the fat lady. Behind them was a nondescript mass of townspeople, farmers and small boys, all out to see the fun and all shouting so as to assure themselves they were having it.
That was about as strange a procession of humanity as the West Shore road had ever seen; but the buffalo knew nothing about it. His mind was filled with the indescribable joy of freedom, a sensation which we Americans are supposed to have at all times. He was shaking his head and his tail defiantly, and also shaking a leg as he skurried on up the track. The proprietor never gained an inch, though he kept his horse going for dear life. It is less than a mile from Highland Falls to West Point; the buffalo put that distance between him in no time, but not long after that he struck a snag. The road enters a long, black tunnel at West Point. The bull didn't like the looks of the tunnel; neither did he like the looks of Smithers, who was sweeping up in the rear. To make matters worse, there came a roaring sound from the tunnel and a glare of light—the night express. That was too much; the bull plunged down the bank and into the river. A few minutes more and he was far out from shore and a mere black spot upon the water.
Having deserted our friends the Banded Seven, we thus find our way to them again. For the plebes, you remember, were pulling their heavy old tub across that river when we left them, and their course was such that it took them very near to that buffalo indeed.
And that was how the fun began.CHAPTER VII.
EXCITEMENT ON THE RIVER.
The Banded Seven were having a first-rate time just then. In the first place, they were returning in triumph from a daring venture, about which to tell the angry cadets next morning was a delight to look forward to. Then, besides, Master Dewey had hit upon a scheme for their edification. Indian, the fat boy, so Dewey vowed, was taking up more room and sinking the boat more than anybody else. It was only fair that Indian should be made to row. That terrible sentence was now being carried into effect, and poor Indian was in the last stages of perspiration and exhaustion, when the shores of the river echoed with the shouts of encouragement from the others. It was because they were making so much noise that they did not at first perceive the excitement that was taking place on shore. They heard the roar of the train as it came through the tunnel, and they watched it whirl from the station and around a bend in the river. But Smithers and his circus hands they did not observe for a long time after that. They were too busy exhorting poor Indian.
By the time that buffalo had been in the water some ten minutes, however, the crowd had increased in number to a mob, and then all the Banded Seven's hilarity could not drown their shouts. The rowing stopped abruptly, and the plebes turned in surprise and alarm to stare at the spectators who lined the shore, just barely visible in the half-hidden moonlight. And a moment later a loud snort and a splash was heard in the water very near them. Mr. Smithers' buffalo had not quite calculated on the size of that river, and he was beginning to get tired. He dared not go back to the shore, and so when he made out a black object in front he made for that in a hurry. The object was the Banded Seven's boat!
The state of mind of the latter may be imagined. They saw the crowd; and they heard them shouting warnings to "Look out!"
"It's something from the circus!" cried Mark. "Something's got away!"
"Row for your lives!" roared the people on the shore.
All possibility of that was gone, however, for the simple reason that the rower, the timid and terrified Indian, had dropped his oars into the water, leaped up from his seat and began to howl. The others, uncertain as to what the rapidly approaching animal could be, only added to the excitement. Texas at the first shout had hauled out a huge revolver and was standing in the bow with a desperately tragic air ready for anything in the whole realm of nature.
"Oo-oo!" howled Indian. "It's the elephant!"
That caused still more alarm, so that the heavily-weighted old boat began to ship water rapidly. But just then the suspense was ended by the moon's appearance from behind a cloud; that showed them the huge buffalo, a sight by no means comforting, even if it was better than an elephant run amuck.
The bull was a huge one even if he was thin; he swam with his head way out of the water, tossing his shaggy mane angrily. Having been hunted and shouted at for some time, the ugly beast was beginning to get mad now, and his little eyes were gleaming. When he saw the boat and its crowd, he turned and started away with all his might; for he saw in them only new enemies trying to capture him. At that the plebes sighed with relief, you may readily imagine. They were helpless prisoners on that boat, and if the bull had come for them they would have been in danger. The danger was past now.
There was one factor, however, that the Seven had not counted on. They forgot that they had a wild Texas cowboy on board, a cowboy with "sporting blood" and a tendency to hunt for excitement. Nobody had been watching Texas since that bull hove in sight. Nobody saw that he was dancing about, his fingers twitching and his eyes sparkling. Nobody had seen him thrust the revolver into his belt and begin fumbling about his waist. Nobody saw him fling his favorite "rope" to the breeze and begin to whirl it about his head. The first inkling they had of any danger was when to their indescribable horror they saw the noose sail through the air, hovering and twisting; saw it settle comfortably about the huge beast's neck; and saw the mighty Texan yank it tight with a whoop of triumph.
Things happened after that. Those on shore could not make out just what, though the moon was still bright, but they saw the occupants of the boat rush forward into the bow and a moment later saw the boat whirl around and set out down stream in pursuit of the buffalo, seemingly propelled by some magic hand.
It was exciting for the Banded Seven. The bull was wild with fury, and was plunging through the water at a great rate. Texas had wrapped the rope about the bow, and was playing his fish something after the fashion of the lineman in a whaleboat. As for the boat itself, it was mostly under water, splashing and plunging dangerously.
But Texas didn't care for that; he only yelled the louder and scared his prisoner into still greater exertions. The others who were not quite so much infected with the excitement, looked to see their heavily-laden boat founder any moment. Mark even went so far as to inquire who could swim, a question which set poor Indian (who couldn't) into howls; Indian was sure that his time had come; that the others (who could) would go off and leave him to perish beneath the gurgling black water. He took a preliminary hold on the Parson's coat tails to makesure that he was not deserted.
The interesting trip did not last very long, however, for the simple reason that the buffalo got tired. His speed relaxed, and finally he stopped entirely and turned around to glare at the boat and his captors who were in it.
Texas, without a word, removed the rope from where he had fastened it, and calmly proceeded to haul the animal in. He didn't pay a bit of attention to the remonstrances of the others, whose aim it was to keep the creature away; Texas was managing this, he told them, and he was going to finish that job if he had to drown the buffalo and them, too. Nearer and nearer came the savage beast, bellowing furiously, churning the water all about him, and shaking his head like an angry pickerel might do under similar circumstances. There was never a fisherman cooler than Texas, however, and there were few of them ever caught a stranger fish. Texas was handicapped, however, by the fact that, although he had plenty of strength to draw his prize to him, he had none to keep it away. And the whole business failed because of that. When the bull got within a few feet of the boat he lowered his head and made one more dash. This time he rushed toward the boat instead of away, and he met with more success.
The Seven scattered to the bow and stern when they saw their danger; an instant later one of the sharp horns of the enraged creature struck the side and crushed through the wood with a snap, keeling the boat over and sending its occupants flying through the air. And that was the last the shouting spectators on the shore could see, for the clouds swept over the moon again, and nothing was audible but the hoarse bellows of the buffalo and a few smothered cries from the water.CHAPTER VIII.
SEVEN LUNATICS AND A REPORTER.
There was not a boat to be seen anywhere, so the crowd was helpless and terrified. The only thing that prevented a serious accident was first, the fact that the boat was very near to the shore; and second, that the furious beast had gotten his horns well wedged into the wood so that he could not chase the plebes if he had wanted to.
Mark Mallory was a strong swimmer, as those who remember his rescue of Grace Fuller can testify; his handswere all bandaged up, which interfered with him considerably, but he had gotten off his coat in expectation of some such smash-up as this, and so he was able to take care of himself. The only person who needed help was Indian. As Dewey had said, Indian was too fat to sink; he fairly bounced about on the top of the water, something after the fashion of a bubble. He was scared, nonetheless, however, and his yells and gurgles made the horrified people on the shore imagine he was being gored to death.
Several of the plebes got him by the hair of his round little head and towed him in, where he was pulled ashore by someone. The others straggled in one by one, Mark and the dignified Chauncey, who considered it bad form to hurry, coming last. Once on land they stared at each other in disgust, while the crowd gathered about them to ask questions; and then suddenly Mark gave an exclamation of alarm. He noticed that one of the Seven was missing.
"Where's Texas?" he cried.
That was the first time any one had missed the gallant cowboy; for, sure enough, he was not there."That rope was tied about his waist," shouted Dewey. "He couldn't get away."
Dewey made a dash for the water, several of the others at his heels. But at that moment a voice was heard from the darkness that made them stop in surprise.
"You fellers needn't be a-comin' out hyar fo' me," said the voice. I'm a-gittin' in all right, only it's slow. Git up, thar, you ole coyote of a buffalo, you."
The sight which loomed up in the darkness a few minutes later was rather a startling one. There was the huge, shaggy buffalo, exhausted and subdued, but still swimming, and there was the hilarious Texas mounted on his back!
That insult and indignity had taken all the spirit out of the beast; he was allowing himself to be steered meekly by the horns, and when he scrambled up the bank he allowed Smithers' men to tie him up without a word of protest, the triumphant cowboy still keeping his seat. And that was the end of the excitement.
The amazement of Smithers, the proprietor of the circus, may be imagined. The last time he had seen Texas was while Mark Mallory (Professor Salvatori) had been making a speech to the crowd in the dime museum tent, when Texas had made an attack upon the professor and been chased out of the town. Here he was again, driving a buffalo in the Hudson. And there was Professor Salvatori, too, still in his old tennis blazer, talking to the cowboy without a trace of anger. Truly it was puzzling.
There were other people thought that, too, as the Seven outlandishly costumed creatures turned and started to hurry away. Nobody there had the least idea who they were; the idea of their being cadets had never occurred to a soul—that is, except one. It is our purpose to tell about him now.
He was a young man, spry and chipper. In one hand he held a rather portly notebook and in the other a fountain pen. He had been making all sorts of inquiries of Smithers and his men, assuming the killingly businesslike air always worn by young reporters, who think thereby to hide the fact that they are young. This young reporter thought he had right here the chance of his lifetime to make himself famous. He saw a chance for three columns on the first page about the things that had happened to Smithers' circus that day and he meant to work that chance for every word it was worth.
As we have said, a vague sort of an idea had flitted across his mind that they were cadets; if they were they would not want to tell; but also if they were it would mean a still bigger chance for him. And he registered a solemn vow that he was going to trace this mystery up if he died for it. So when he saw the Seven sneak away he followed and spoke to them, notebook in hand. "Gentlemen," he said, "I wish you would let me have your names and full particulars about this matter. I'm a reporter, from the New York Globe, and I must get the facts." The alarm which his announcement created served to increase his suspicions.
The Seven held a consultation, at the end of which one of them, evidently their leader, responded:"We can't give our names."
"Why not?" inquired the reporter.
"We don't want to."
"Well, I've got to get them, that's all."
"But you won't."
"Well, you watch me and see."
"Do you mean you're going to follow us?"
"That's exactly what I do."
"What! You little coyote, you, doggone your boots, I'll..."
"Shut up, Texas. Come here."
After that there was another consultation; it ended in a most surprising and, to the reporter, unexpected move. The Seven wheeled about and dashed away at top speed into the woods.
The reporter saw the ruse, and he chuckled merrily to himself; two can play at that game, he thought, and set out in pursuit.
We who know who the Seven were can readily understand that he had no trouble in keeping them in sight. Indian would have made a first-rate center rush on a football team, but as a long distance runner he was "no go." So the Seven gave up in disgust and despair, and let the reporter catch up to them again.
Texas' temper had been rising during this brief sprint, and when he stopped he reached for his wet revolver. "I'll stop him," he muttered. Hang him, I'll scare him till he's blue."
"It won't do any good," said Mark, holding his excitable friend back. "He's got an idea we are cadets, and he'll say so in the paper anyhow. Then there'll be an investigation, and out we go."
"Oo-oo!" wailed Indian, still gasping for breath. "I wish we hadn't come. Bless my soul!"
"What'll we do, then?" growled Texas, speaking to Mark, who still held him back.
"We've simply got to fool him," declared Mark. "We've got to make him think we're somebody else. It's going to be hard work, too."
The reporter had been watching them from the distance during this. He saw them talking together in consultation for some ten minutes more, and then one of their number, the one with the bandaged hands, stepped out and spoke to him. "I, suppose there's no use tryin
"Come up here and we'll tell you who we are. You may be able to help us, anyway."
Extract from the New York Globe, a special late edition on Sunday morning:
"Brutality in an Asylum!"
"Inmates Driven to Desperation by Outrages!"
"Special to the Globe."
"The Harrowing Tale of Seven Escaped Lunatics."
"Garrisons, N. Y., August 2nd. "The Globe is enabled to present to its readers to-day a tale of official cruelty such as has seldom been known in this State. This extraordinary series of incidents was discovered by the matchless enterprise and indomitable persistence of the Globe men and will be found in this paper exclusively. Read the Globe!"
This was in big type across the top of the first page; below it was a huge picture, labeled, "Faces of the Seven Lunatics. Sketched by a Globe Artist on the Spot."
After that were about half a dozen columns of the "news."
"The Adventures of the Seven!"
"Wild Doings of the Escaped Lunatics Which Led to Their Identification."
"A Raid Upon a Circus!"
"There was intense excitement in Highland Falls to-day. Driven to desperation by the excessive cruelties, all of which are described in another part of the paper in the very words of the unfortunate wretches, the latter forced their way from the asylum and took Highland Falls by storm. One of them, a lad from Texas, with a historythat is perfectly harrowing in its details (see seventh column) ran amuck and nearly killed the proprietor of the circus by lassoing him and dragging him around the ring (page two, third column). After that he released one of the buffaloes in the show and rode the animal out into the river.
"The seven have now disappeared into the woods. The mayor of Highland Falls is organizing a searching party to recapture them. The lunatics have vowed to die first; they consented to talk to the Globe reporter only because, knowing the great influence of the paper, they thought that the outrages might be suppressed.
"This will surely be done. The Globe is already drafting a bill for the new legislature, abolishing the frightful house of torture. It is the New York Home for the Insane, its precise location being as yet unascertained. The officials of the place have kept the escape of the prisoners a secret through fear of having their nefarious practices made public. But the enterprise of the Globe has thwarted them."
"The tale told by the wretched prisoners is almost beyond belief. They are dangerous, all of them, showing their delusions in every act, though constantly protesting that they are not mad. One of them wears a dilapidated clerical costume and preached a most extraordinary sermon while the others were telling their stories to the reporter. Another wears a bellboy's uniform, and persists in running an elevator at all times, though he is the son of a prominent Washington official.
"The man from Texas flourished a lasso and a revolver and seemed under the delusion that the Globe reporter's notebook was meant for target practice. An idea of the risks run by those who procured this extraordinary news may be gained when it is said that it was only by the utmost cunning that the reporter managed to prevent this wild creature from shooting him. The maniac danced about and shouted strange cowboy exclamations during the whole proceedings.
"Still another of the seven was a rather stout and seemingly harmless person who persisted in claiming that he was a head waiter. He wore a tattered dress suit and amused himself in collecting tips. The reporter could get no leisure to take notes except by feeing this extraordinary character continually.
"Number five was clad in a most remarkable outing suit and spoke with a decided London accent. Apparently his only idiosyncracy was the idea that he was a baronet. The rest informed the reporter that his father was a noted criminal and formerly a bootblack, but this was indignantly denied by the Englishman, who grew quite violent and vowed that he would not stand the insult."
"Another had perhaps the strangest delusion of all. He persisted in calling himself the "Sleeping Beauty," though no one less beautiful could possibly be imagined. He dozed incessantly during the interview, and his companions stated that he seldom did anything else while in the institution where they were imprisoned. The unfortunates spoke mournfully of the frightful amount of work they had been compelled to do there. They are evidently fearful of having to return, but this the Globe is determined to prevent."
"The most horrible specimen among the maniacs is mentioned last. He is a tall and exceedingly handsome young man, and to all appearances is perfectly sane. He stated that he had been incarcerated in that institution by a cruel uncle, who has thus defrauded him of his rights. This uncle he continually referred to as 'Uncle Sam.' This young man offered to show the reporter his back, which was bruised by blows inflicted upon him by cruel tormentors, his superiors who objected to some trifling acts of his. Also both his hands were completely bandaged; he had been tortured by fire. It makes one shudder to think that such things can be in this nineteenth century of ours."
"In concluding this introductory article, the Globe wishes to call the attention of its readers to its extraordinary enterprise in securing this absolutely first account. The paper's servants ran most terrible risks in venturing into the woods with these desperate maniacs. Yet such sacrifices the search for truth demands. The Globe intends to probe this matter to the very bottom. A special corps of detectives has been engaged, and our readers may rest assured that this first account will be supplemented by all possible details. Etc., etc., etc., etc."
Can you imagine how the Banded Seven howled when that paper arrived at West Point?
"The best joke yet, b'gee," said Dewey, and the rest agreed with him.
But the end was not yet.CHAPTER IX.
DISCOVERING A PLOT.
The cadets were building a pontoon bridge, the second one that summer. The cadets of the first class were the "engineering corps" and they were giving the orders; the plebes, quite naturally, were doing the work, carrying out the heavy logs and fastening them in place under the watchful eyes of their superiors. Cadets when they leave West Point after their four years of drill and study are supposed to be fully competent officers, ready to do their share of handling Uncle Sam's army. This, of course, includes the building of bridges upon which an army may cross a river or stream; it was that the corps was practicing that day.
Mark Mallory had been helping at that task all day, along with his chums and the other plebes. It was almost over now, and Mark was glad of it, for he was tired.
Bridge-building in army style may sound romantic, but it is no fun during August when the sun shines. There was only one redeeming circumstance to the whole thing that the plebes could see, and that was that on account of it they had been excused from no less than two inspections, two "policings" and two drills.
A little later Mark and his friends were lying on the grass in a shady nook up by Trophy Point. We must go up there and listen to what they are saying, in order to appreciate the adventures in the following pages. They were just then discussing with much interest the adventure with the reporter; they were all anxious to know what the cadets thought of it, and this was the first chance they had had to compare notes.
"Do you know," laughed Mark, "there's not a soul has the least idea it was we? Nobody seems to have thought for a moment that cadets were the cause of all the excitement. Just think of it! Lunatics!"
It was but little wonder that nobody connected the Banded Seven with that band of raving madmen, so called. West Point was fairly on tiptoe with excitement concerning the creatures, who were supposed to be still loose in the woods. Naturally the Seven were hilarious over the state of affairs. Their discussion of the question was stopped, however, by the arrival of one of their number upon the scene. It was Texas, who had been over to the camp for a brief while; from his manner it was evident that Texas had some news.
"Fellers," he cried, scarcely waiting till he was close to them before he began. "I've jes' heerd somebody talkin', an' I've discovered a plot!"
"A plot! Whose?"
There was no need of the six asking that so eagerly; one name rose up before all their minds. There was one yearling, and only one, who got up plots to discomfort them.
"It's Bull Harris," continued Texas, hurriedly. "An' he.... "
"He hasn't found out about last night?" cried Mark.
"No," said Texas," 'tain't that. He's a-goin' to take that air crowd o' his'n—Gus Murray, an' Merry Vance, an' Baby Edwards, an' them, up to our cave! An' I want to know ef we're a-goin' to stand that."
"I don't think we will," laughed Mark, promptly. "At least not if I have anything to say in the matter." "I've been expecting just this for some time," Mark continued, after a moment's pause. "You see, ever since we found that secret cavern in the rock, and had the bad luck to let Bull see us go there, I knew he'd be taking his friends up there to spoil our fun. He probably expects to smash everything to pieces."
"B'gee, I say we lick 'em for daring to think of it, b'gee!" cried Dewey. "That's what I say! Reminds me of a story I once heard, b'gee."
"I'll tell you what we'll do," said Mark, interrupting the unfortunate rencontre. "How does this suit you? Let's follow them tonight, let them get inside, and then take them prisoners."
Texas sprang up with a whoop of delight at that delicious programme. "Whoop!" he cried. "Secon' the motion! We'll hold 'em up, doggone their boots, an'... " Texas felt for his revolvers instinctively as he danced about and thought of this. He had no revolvers on him, however, owing to the fact that they would have been visible in his uniform. So Texas had to content himself with squeezing the hands of the others and vowing by all things a Texan holds dear that he'd capture those yearlings for them that night or die in the effort.
Now the plan for the circumvention of Bull Harris was all very well in its way. But there were certain all-important facts that those adventurous plebes forgot to take account of in their calculations. We must mention these at the start, in order that the situation may be appreciated.
According to the New York Globe, there were seven dangerous lunatics wandering about West Point. That fact every one knew. The sheriff of the county was there to investigate the matter, for it was clearly his duty to arrest the fugitives. Also there were the constables from Highland Falls, the reporters from the New York dailies, and numerous private individuals out to see the fun. They had hunted all day, finding no one but two unfortunate tramps; they meant to hunt likewise all night.
Now, as for the Banded Seven, their situation was just this: They were going out for a lark that night. They dared not wear their cadet uniforms, for fear of being seen by some sentry. The only clothes they owned besides these were the curious disguises already mentioned. Naturally, knowing nothing of the excitement they had created, they resolved to wear those. And that was the way the fun began.
It was about eleven o'clock that evening, as soon as the last inspection was over and the camp quiet, that four figures crept out of one of the tents, dashed past the intentionally oblivious sentry and hid themselves in the shadow of old Fort Clinton. Those who have read these stories would have been quick enough to recognize them—the unpleasant features of Bull Harris, and likewise the sallow Vance, the brutal Gus Murray, and the amiable Baby Edwards. Those four were bound for the Banded Seven's den, and, in vulgar parlance, "they weren't going to do a thing to it."
They left the fort and made for the woods, stealing along in the shadow of the buildings so as to be observed by no one. It was a difficult task because unfortunately there was a bright moon in the sky. That moon gave our friends no end of trouble when they set out to follow.
The Seven entered the fort just as the others left it. Like them they stowed away their uniforms, and put on the "cits" clothing.
As has been noted, it was no child's play, that task of following the four through the woods. Full-fledged Apaches would have found it hard, and, as you know, in our crowd, there was only one Indian, and that one as clumsy as a herd of elephants. The woods were bright; also there were dry leaves and sticks to be stepped on and slippery logs for Indian to fall off of. It was therefore to be expected that Bull would very soon discover he was being tracked, which was just exactly what happened.
Bull Harris was no fool; he had plenty of sense, and he used it, too. In fact, he completely outwitted the unsecting plebes. And this was how he did it:
Sundry curious sounds from the rear first attracted his attention. Bull suspected, of course, at the very start that it was Mark; he said that to Gus Murray, and also that he'd like to "smash that confounded plebe" for once and for all.
Just then they came to a steep incline, which hid them from their pursuers' view, and, quick as a flash, Bull dodged into the bushes and hid. He lay there with the others, silent as so many mice.
Pretty soon the plebes came along, creeping with stealthiness that was most laughable to the yearlings. You might hunt for ten years without finding a sight more ludicrous than Parson Stanard in a ragged, black clerical frock, lanky and solemn, stealing along on tiptoe and glancing about him with cunning and wariness such as the villain assumes in a deep black Bowery melodrama.
Indian's round body and saucer-like eyes, going through the same contortions, made a close second for humorous effect. If Bull hadn't hated the plebes too much he would have sneered at them as Vance was doing.
As to the costumes they wore, Bull stared at them for some time before he realized the true state of affairs. Bull noticed their clothes, and he had read the description in the paper. But it was at least a minute before he could bring himself to comprehend what the similarity of the two signified. When he did he seized Gus Murray by the arm in a grip that cut.
"Great heavens, man!" he gasped. "Don't you see? Don't you see? Those plebes are the seven lunatics!"
The Seven saw no reason for stopping because the yearlings were lost to view for a moment. They knew where the yearlings were going, and all they had to do was to go there, too. In a minute or two more they were out of sight in the darkness, and Bull and his gang were left alone once more.
Bull said not a word for some minutes. He was too busy thinking, trying to realize what that extraordinary revelation meant. So it was Mallory who had caused all this excitement! Mallory who had gotten up that gigantic hoax! Mallory whom the sheriff and everyone else were hunting for! Bull took in the situation in all its amazing details, and the more he thought of it the angrier he got.
But then suddenly Bull got an inspiration. He leaped to his feet, whacked his knee with his fist, and with a whoop of joy seized his companions and forced them hastily along. It was back toward West Point he started; the rest were naturally mystified at that.
"Where are you going?" demanded Vance.
"You wait and see," chuckled Bull. "Wait and see, if you haven't got sense enough to guess. By jingo, I've got him!"
"Got him! Who?"
"Mallory, you idiot!" roared the other. "Don't ask so many stupid questions; hurry up."
After that the party pressed on in silence. The three were too much puzzled to say anything more or to do anything but obey. Their curiosity was destined to be set at rest very soon, however. They had not walked a hundred yards before they caught sight of some dark figures walking about in the woods. There was a lantern, too, and then suddenly came a voice:
"Hello, there! Here's somebody! Who are you?"
The yearlings shrank back in alarm, that is, all of them except Bull. Bull pressed forward eagerly, and a moment later found himself surrounded by a group of men, armed with sticks and all sorts of weapons. One of them, a tall man with the lantern and a shotgun in his other hand, walked up to Bull and peered into his face.
"What are you doing... " he began, but Bull was in too much of a hurry to let him finish.
"You the sheriff?" he demanded.
"Yes, I am."
"Hunting for those lunatics, aren't you?"
"Well, come on, then, quick as you can, for I know where they are."
And then the yearlings realized what Bull Harris meant to do.
"How do you know?" demanded the officer.
"I saw them," declared Bull. "I was hunting for them, too. They were dressed just as the paper said. And you'd better hurry."
Without another word he turned and started ahead through the woods; the sheriff and his excited posse followed at his heels. They hurried along rapidly, making for the cave. They went on for a mile, nobody saying a word, all watching eagerly. The mile stretched out to nearly two miles, and the sheriff began to get impatient. He stared at Bull doubtfully, gripping his shotgun. And then suddenly in the path ahead a wall of rock loomed up, just visible in the faint light. It was in that rock that the cavern lay. And backed up against the wall, staring at the party in amazement and alarm were seven figures, the lunatics.
The sheriff swung his gun up to his shoulder.
"In the name of the law," he shouted, "I command you to surrender! Hold up your hands!"CHAPTER X.
THE JAIL AT HIGHLAND FALLS.
You may imagine the consternation of our friends, the plebes. The whole thing had come with such horrible suddenness that they were completely taken aback, and helpless. The sheriff's gun looked so huge and menacing that it took all their nerve. Even Texas, hero of a hundred fights, did not dare to move an arm. Experience had taught Texas that a hold up was a hold up, a thing that could no more be resisted than a sudden stroke of lightning. And therefore, though he had a huge revolver in each hip pocket, he merely flung up his hands and stared.
It was an awful situation. It took the unfortunate lads some time to realize it in its full horror. Here they were, cadets, wandering about during the forbidden hours of night. And here was a sheriff with all the power of the law at his back, arresting them as lunatics! He would take them to jail. Keep them there all night! And in the morning would come reveille, and then....
"Don't you fellows make a move there," commandedthe sheriff, sternly. "I won't take any nonsense. Get those handcuffs out."
The wretched plebes were too dumfounded to disobey the order. Indian had sunk down on the ground with a wail of agony, and the rest were in about as complete a state of collapse. As if the situation were not bad enough already, two men stepped forward to handcuff them, and the prisoners recognized the triumphantly grinning features of Bull Harris and Gus Murray.
That was too much of an insult; Mark Mallory started back, his face flashing. "Don't you come near me, you wretch!" he cried. I'll...."
The sheriff swung his gun around until the muzzle stared full in Mark's face.
"Steady!" said he. "Don't be a fool."
Mark saw that there was no use making trouble, and he bit his lip and was silent. He put out his hands meekly and let Bull snap the irons upon him. Bull hadn't had such a moment of joy as that in his whole lifetime before.
The rest of the Seven gave up then and let themselves be secured; only Texas ventured further protest. "Look a-yere, Mr. Sheriff," said he, "I ain't a lunatic. What's the use o' this hyar fool business? I'm a ca...." "Shut up!" It was Mark who said that, and he said it with such vehement emphasis that Texas closed his teeth together with the suddenness of a steel trap.
"You mayn't be lunatics," observed the sheriff, stepping forward to make sure that their hands were securely fastened. "But you certainly look a good deal like it. Say, Mr. Hamilton!"
The man who answered, the seven prisoners recognized instantly as the reporter they had fooled. Their hearts sank within them at that.
"Are these the fellows?" demanded the sheriff.
"They're the ones, all right," laughed the other.
"There's no mistaking such faces and clothes as those."
"That settles it," said the sheriff. "Forward, march!"
It was two or three miles from where they were to Highland Falls, their destination. Fortunately, they did not go through West Point, when the plebes were in dread of being recognized. The sheriff did not want to attract a crowd and so he kept in the woods, skirted the edge of the buildings and finally came out into the road below the post.
The unfortunate plebes were very near the end of their journey then. The silent party tramped on rapidly. The buildings of the little town began to loom up in front. There were few lights burning then, but some stray passer-by started a shout, "The lunatics!" and almost instantly windows began to go up and staring faces to appear in the openings. But just then they came to a low square building back from the main street, and the sheriff sprang forward, unlocked the door, and pushed the prisoners in before him. A moment later the heavy door clanged, and that was all.
The sheriff was considerate enough, now that he had them safe, to remove the painful handcuffs. This, however, he did not do until he had searched them carefully, removing the Texan's arsenal. After that he shoved them into the solitary cell in the jail, locked and barred the heavy door, and after warning them to keep quiet and behave themselves, went out and left them in silence and dismay.
About the same time the young reporter hurried down to the telegraph station to send in his report; and Bull and his three friends, having been thanked by the sheriff, set out in high spirits for their favorite drinking place, where they meant to celebrate their glorious triumph. As for the sheriff, he warned the jailer to keep the strictest guard, and then, with a sigh of relief and satisfaction, went home to bed.
As to the Seven it is still easier to say what they did. With one accord they sank down on the floor of the musty cell and stared at each other in complete and absolute consternation and disgust. Nobody said anything, because nobody knew of anything to say. They were simply knocked into a cocked hat, as the phrase has it; they were stumped, helpless and hopeless, and that was all there was to it. They sat that way for perhaps two solid hours. During that time Indian had gone to sleep, in which "the farmer" had set him a good example. The Parson had been heard to give vent to one "by Zeus," and Dewey a single disconsolate "b'gee," which did not even remind him of a story. And that is the complete inventory of what happened during the desolate period.
But such states of mind cannot last forever, especially in young persons. Mark made up his mind that at least it would be worth while to test the cell they were in, to make sure that the doors and windows were fast. This was a country jail; country jails are often cheaply built, and oftener still very old and unreliable.
Mark got up and fell to pacing back and forth. His example aroused the rest, and pretty soon the place resembled a menagerie cage, with half a dozen wild animals sniffing at the bars. They shook the door savagely; it had a solid "feel," and the only result of the, effort was to bring the cross and sleepy jailer to the cell.
"Keep quiet, there," he growled, "and go to sleep, will you!"
The prisoners relapsed into silence again, and the man went away, after which the examination went on. The floors and walls of the cell were of solid masonry, which was uncompromising. Mark had heard of prisoners who dug their way out with such objects as spoons. But theunfortunate plebes had not even a spoon, and besides, that operation was apt to take longer than the time between then and the morning gun. It was just two o'clock by Mark's watch. The only other place where there seemed the faintest possibility of hope was the window. That was large, and it allowed the moonlight to stray into the cell, which was as light as day. But also there were heavy iron bars, which resisted firmly the most powerful efforts of Mark's strength.
And so that hope, also, was futile. The Seven retired into a corner and discussed the situation in sad whispers. It was evident that they could not escape. It was equally evident that if they did not they would cease to be cadets on the morrow. Thus simply put the proposition was startlingly clear and horrible, Hope springs eternal in the human breast, they say. Scarcely had they settled the argument thus, before Texas sprang up with a sudden cry; an instant later he fell to work unwinding himself from the lasso that was still about his waist. The sheriff hadn't thought it necessary to remove that lasso; he hadn't the least idea what use a prisoner could make of it. For that matter, neither had Texas' companions, unless he meant to hang himself. But Texas knew a trick worth two of that; silently and rapidly he proceeded to uncoil it, and when he had done that, he doubled it once, twice, three times.
"What on earth are you going to do?" whispered Mark.
"Show you," chuckled Texas. "Look a-yere!" He sprang up to the window and slipped the rope about one of the bars. Then the others saw! One man couldn't pull out one of those iron strips; but the whole seven men together? Ah!
Quick as a flash they sprang forward to help him. Texas was very slow and methodical about it, exasperatingly so, for the jailer might peer in at any moment. Texas made the heavy rope fast; he tied knots in it for the plebes to take hold of, like a tug-of-war rope. Then he and Mark, as the strongest, braced their feet against the wall; the rest laid hold of the trailing end, and then—one, two, three—pull! Subsequently, there came a terrific strain that made the bars of the window creak. Four times they put all their strength into it. Then Texas, reaching up, whispered the joyful news that the iron was tearing loose from its fastenings in the stone.
Once more they laid hold of the rope, once more swung back with all their might—and then suddenly the bar gave way! It was as if a knife had cut the rope. The sudden release sent the unfortunate prisoners stumbling backward, tumbling with a crash into a heap in the corner.
A moment later they heard a loud shout outside, heard the door creak on its hinges, as it was flung open. It was the jailer, dashing into the room, revolver in hand. "What does this mean!" he shouted. "Hold up your hands!"CHAPTER XI.It was a desperate moment. Things happened with such incredible swiftness that those who saw them could scarcely tell what came first.
BULL HARRIS GETS INTO TROUBLE.
Texas had fallen just behind the door which the man had opened. Texas leaped up, his eyes blazing with fury. No risk was too great a risk to take now, for his cadetship was the stake. He was behind the jailer's back as he rose up, and with the swiftness and force of a panther he flung himself upon the man's back. There was a moment of struggle. Texas devoted every effort to but one thing, holding that revolver. ''A bullet, even if it hit no one, would give the alarm, preventing escape. He had seized the man's hand in both of his, and he clung to that hand with all the strength that was in him.
The others sprang to his aid an instant later. Before the jailer could cry out Mark gripped him by the throat, and a moment later down he went to the ground, with the whole seven upon him.
The contest was brief after that. They got the revolver away, which was the chief point. The jailer was speedily choked into submission, bound and gagged. The seven prisoners rose up triumphant and gazed about them in eager haste.
But they were not safe yet by any means. They imagined that no alarm had been given; they had not calculated the effect of the first startled yell of the jailer, which rang and echoed down the silent village street. The plebes realized what was happening a moment later, as they paused and listened. There were sounds of hurrying feet, of men shouting to each other. The town was awake.
The prisoners gazed about them anxiously, feverishly. They had yet a chance, a hope. But it would take them so long to unfasten that rope, tie it to another bar, and tear it out in the same way. The sheriff with his dreaded gun would surely be there before that. And they could
not get through the window as it was. What then? The door! Mark thought of it an instant later. The jailer had left it open!
A moment more and the plebes were in the hall of the jail; Texas had stopped just long enough to snatch up the jailer's revolver, and then rejoined them. There was still the front door, whether locked or not none of them knew. Mark tried it feverishly, shook it. It was locked. And as he tried it again, he heard a shout outside, felt some one on the other side trying it, too. A crowd was gathering! And what were they to do? The solution of the question flashed over Mark first. The key! The jailer! He sprang back into the room, rushed to where the man lay bound, and fell to rummaging in his pockets and about his waist. The others stood in the hall waiting anxiously, tremblingly. Would he find it?
The noise outside swelled. There came blows upon the door, shouts to open. And then suddenly Mark reappeared, his face gleaming with excitement and joy as he ran, holding in one hand the heavy key. To thrust that key into the lock, turn it, and open the door was the work of but an instant. And then, in response to the quick command of their leader, the Seven formed a wedge, Texas with the revolver in front. Mark flung back the heavy door and the Seven made a savage dash through the opening.
There were at least a dozen men gathered in front of the building. They recoiled before the unexpected apparition that met their gaze. The fiercely shouting "lunatics" with the wild-eyed cowboy and his gleaming weapon at their head. An instant more and the party had dashed through the crowd and went speeding up the street.
Texas was last, glancing behind him and aiming his revolver menacingly to prevent pursuit.
"Stop thief! Stop thief!" swelled the cry through all the village; but to the wildly-delighted, hilarious Seven, it was a cry that fast receded and died out in the distance. For no one dared to follow, and the "lunatics" escaped once more, were keeping up a pace that it would have been hard to equal. They counted themselves safe a very few moments later, when they were hidden from view in the woods up toward West Point. And then, breath- less and exhausted, they seated, or rather flung, themselves
on the ground to rest.
Prudence did not long permit of their staying where they were, however. "The escaped criminal knows no resting place." Already they were beginning to fancy that they heard shouts in the woods and sounds of tramping footsteps; poor Indian would pop up his gasping head every once in a while and look to see if the sheriff wasn't aiming that gun at him. It was a terrible labor for Indian to look anywhere from his present position, because, as Dewey explained, he had to see over his stomach. All were ready to move in a short while. Indian alone had not recovered his breath, but he had fear to lend wings to his heels, so to speak. And thus pretty soon the party was fast making tracks for camp.
They were very silent. The plebes were all thinking of one subject, and that subject made them grave and quiet.
Mark touched upon this point when he spoke at last; he seemed to divine what was in their minds, that nobody could think of any word or combination of words quite adequate to express the fullness of his thought.
"Do you know," Mark continued, after a few minutes' silence, "do you know Bull actually surprised me?"
Texas had something to say to that. "Nothin' that air ole coyote ever did would surprise me," said Texas.
"Bull has tried many contemptible tricks," observed Mark, thoughtfully, as if speaking to himself. "He has tried some things that would make the Old Nick himself blush for shame, I think. He has lied about me to the cadets and to the officers. He has enticed me into the woods to beat me; he has played upon my kindness to have me expelled. But he never yet has done anything to equal this."
The silence of the Seven as they tramped on expressed to Mark a great deal more assent than any words could have done.
"It was so utterly uncalled for," Mark went on. "It was so utterly contemptible. And the brazen effrontery of it was the most amazing thing of all. One would have thought when he put the sheriff upon our track he wouldhave kept his own identity secret. But to come right out before our faces and betray us—his fellow cadets! I de- clare I don't know what to do about it."
Texas doubled up his fists suggestively. He knew what to do.
"No," said Mark, noticing the unspoken suggestion. "I do not think it would do much good to whip him. Bull would not face me in a fair fight, and somehow I can't make up my mind to tackle him otherwise, even if he does deserve it. It don't do any good to frighten him, either, or to treat him decently. Every effort seems to deepen his vindictiveness. I don't see, fellows, how we are ever to have any peace while Bull is in West Point."
That just about expressed the situation, as it appeared
to the Seven. No peace with Bull Harris in West Point!"
"B'gee!" exclaimed Dewey, suddenly. "I don't see any reason why he has to stay."
"How do you mean?" asked Mark, slowly. He knew what Dewey meant, and so did all the others, but none of them liked to say it.
"Simply," said Dewey—"as the Parson always remarks when he starts one of his long chemical formulas—" simply, b'gee, that Bull has tried to get us dismissed from West Point a few dozen times. I don't know how often it's been, but I know it's been at least seventy times seven we've forgiven him. And now, b'gee, I say we get square, just for once."
"I see what you mean," responded Mark, shaking his head. "It might be fair for me to get Bull expelled in some way, but I don't like that."
"Pshaw!" growled Texas, angrily. "I'd like to know why not. Ef we don't, Bull Harris will get us fired dead sho', doggone his boots!"
"And self-preservation is the first law of nature," chimed in Dewey, "as the undertaker remarked when heswallowed his embalming fluid, b'gee."
Mark laughed, but he still shook his head; the solemn Parson cleared his throat.
"Ahem," said he, "by Zeus! Gentlemen, this is no time for a scientific dissertation, or exemplification, so to speak.
I was remarking, ahem—that no one would be less in-clined to burden you with a lengthy discourse at this most inopportune moment. I shall, accordingly, confine myself strictly to a lucid exposition of the concatenation of complex circumstances involved, avoiding all technicalities."
Dewey fainted here and had to be revived by an imaginary bottle of smelling-salts. He refused emphatically to come to, but vowed he wanted to stay unconscious till "it was over." All of which byplay was lost upon the grave scholar.
What the Parson meant to say was finally ascertained by the rest, who were now nearly restored to their usual gayety, forgetful of all such details as sheriffs and shotguns. It appeared that the Parson was quoting the law of self-defense, that a man whose life is threatened may kill the man who menaces him. The Parson cited many authorities, legal, philosophical and theological, to prove the validity of that assumption. Then he proposed the question whether this case might not be an "analogue," as he called it, whether or not Bull Harris, who was threatening to have Mark dismissed, did not make himself liable to the same treatment. It was a nice point in casuistry, and the Parson vowed that in all his investigation of theoretical ethical complications he had never met, etc., etc.
The rest listened to all this with much solemnity. The Parson was in one of his most scholarly moods that night, and it was a whole farce comedy to hear him. But, unfortunately, his discourse put a stop to the serious discussion concerning Bull Harris; that problem was to arise again very soon.
During all this, of course, the party had been hurrying up toward the post, with as much rapidity as they possibly could. They knew that if once they could manage to reach Fort Clinton and get into their uniforms, they would be entirely safe. No one, not even a sheriff, would ever
dream that those much-hunted and dreaded lunatics were Uncle Sam's pupils.
Still laughing and joking with the classic Bostonian, they had almost reached the southern buildings of the post, before anything else happened. For it is necessary to say right here that those plebes were not destined to reach camp that night, or rather morning, without further adventure.
It was after one of the longest pauses in the Parson's discussions of that "casuistical complication." The rest were waiting for him to begin again, when suddenly from the woods to one side a sound of footsteps was distinctly heard.
The plebes stopped short, as if they had been turned to stone. They were almost turned with alarm. They heard the step again; it was several people advancing; and as one man the Seven crouched suddenly to conceal themselves in the shadow of the bushes—the folly of their recklessness flashed across them with horrible clearness at that moment. They had escaped from their danger, almost as if by a miracle. And then, instead of running with the wind, they dallied. There is no such man on earth as a determined sheriff.
The noise of the advancing men grew louder every moment. It was evident that they were to pass almost over the plebes. There were several of them, tramping heavily, crashing the brush beneath their feet with a sound that to the trembling listeners seemed the advance of a herd of elephants.
Then there came a voice. "Ho, ho! You bet we've fixed him!"
"Hooray! I just guess ! Say, but I bet those plebes are sick just now."
"I never saw a sicker looking plebe than that confounded Mallory in my life. By Heaven, he deserves it all, though. I could kill him." The last speaker was Bull Harris.
They had gotten very near, almost on top of the crouching listeners. Mark clutched his companions and whispered to them: "Not a sound!"
"I can hardly wait for morning to come, to see what happens when that blamed cad isn't there at reveille. Say, isn't it great? Just think of their being shut up in jail all night, without a chance of getting out. And they'll be fired sure as Good Lord!..."
This last exclamation was a perfect scream of terror from Bull. He had started back as if he had seen a ghost; his jaw had dropped, his eyes protruding. The rest were no less pictures of consternation.
With folded arms and a smile upon his lips, standing in their path as real as life, though shadowy in the faint moonlight, was the plebe they had left in the jail down at Highland Falls!CHAPTER XII.
"revenge is sweet."
The amount of alarm which that apparition caused to the yearlings it would be difficult to imagine. The idea of their hated rival escaping had never once flashed over them, and when they saw him it seemed like a visit from another world. It was so sudden that they had no time to think whether that were possible or not.
Except for Bull's one frightened gasp the four made not one sound. They stood staring, ready to drop from sheer terror. And as for Mallory, he, too, was silent and motionless; he felt that a word would have broken the spell.
There was perhaps half a minute's wait, and then came another move. There was a waving in the grass behind Mark, and another shadowy form arose silently into view. It was the Parson's solemn features, and the Parson, too, folded his arms and stared.
After that the rest appeared one by one, and at each Bull Harris gasped and trembled more. They seemed to him like the ghosts of men he had murdered. There was Dewey, not smiling for once. There was Indian, not scared for once. There was Sleepy, wide awake for once. There was Chauncey, dignified forever. And then last of all was Texas; Texas broke the spell. It was not the latter's features, though, as Dewey facetiously informed him, he had a face that would break anything from a spell to a broncho. But it was what Texas held in his hand. It was his usual style—forty-four caliber—and Texas was aiming it right at Bull's head.
"Move one whisker, an' I'll fire, you ole coyote."
That, quite naturally, proved that the plebes were of ordinary flesh and blood. There was nothing shadowy about the gleam of that revolver, and Bull started back in still greater alarm.
It was the Banded Seven's turn, after that. Mark always declared that it was perfectly safe to let Texas hold-up Bull and his gang whenever it was necessary to capture them, for Bull and his gang never had the courage to blink one eye when Texas was waving his weapons. There are some advantages in being known as a "bad man." It was so in this case; the Seven sprang forward and flung themselves upon their tormentors and speedily had them flat on the ground, tied up with the remnants of the cowboy's most serviceable lasso.
The question was then what shall we do with them? The plebes retired to a distance to talk that over. They had a little more than two hours left, by the watch. During that time they were to devise and execute some act of retaliation.
The council proceeded to discuss ways and means. Not to delay with details, suffice it to say that they talked for some ten minutes—and that then suddenly Mark sprang up and slapped his knee with excitement. "By jingo!" he cried. "I've got it!"
After that there was excitement. Mark hastily outlined his scheme, the others chuckling and dancing about in the meantime with sheer delight. Evidently this was an idea. Bull heard the merry laughter in the distance, and he realized that it boded ill for him. Bull bit his lip with vexation and struggled with his bonds. His peace of mind was not increased in the least by the realization of the fact that everything that happened to him was richly deserved.
He heard the hasty steps of the plebes as they approached him again. The plebes set about putting their plans into effect with all possible celerity, and it was just a very short while before he comprehended the horrible deed they were going to do. Bull kicked and fought till he was blue in the face, but it did him not a bit of good, and it seemed to amuse his captors. They untied him almost entirely. But he could not run because he was surrounded, and he dared not fight because Texas kept his revolver leveled. They removed Bull's coat and trousers, and in their place put on the outlandish rig that Mark had worn. Then they tied him up again and turned their attention to the others.
Indian managed to pull himself out of the almost bursting dress suit he wore; the suit was put on Baby Edwards, and, so Dewey informed him, it fit him "like der paper on der vail." Chauncey, to his infinite relief, shed his smutty white outing costume at last. And Dewey came out of drum orderly uniform to furnish the fourth garment. After which the plebes put on the clothing they had taken from their prisoners, and everything was well.
Having once realized the design of their enemies and likewise their own helplessness, the yearlings were completely subdued, even terrified. It was all very well to send some hated plebes to jail as lunatics, but to go themselves was horrible. They saw that was the ultimate purose of the Banded Seven.
After a brief consultation, the latter picked up their helpless captors and set out in haste for the road, which lay about one hundred yards to the left. They reached that, and after glancing about cautiously, hurried out and tied the yearlings tightly to conspicuous trees along the road. After that they had another whispered discussion, then turned and vanished in the woods.
As to the rest of the Banded Seven's actions, suffice it to say that they hurried up to camp, which they reached in safety. They hid their clothing, the source of so much trouble, and then stole past the sentry and entered their tents. They were soon sound asleep and utterly oblivious to the troubles of their unfortunate rivals.
"If they can have the same luck as we," said Mark, briefly, "they may get away, and welcome. If they can't, they must bear what would have been our fate. That is about as near to justice as I can come." Which summary contained the whole situation.
Meanwhile exciting adventures were happening to Bull. It is presumed that the reader is interested, though so far as Mark and his friends are concerned, this story is already finished. The plebes had certainly not been gone ten minutes before the excitement began. The horrified and hopeless yearlings got their first warning when they heard sounds of approaching footsteps and excitedly discussing voices. "They came up this way, I tell you. We ought to go up and hunt above the Point, for the sheriff—you 'tend to this part."
"Are you sure that gun's loaded, Jack? This is no child's play, for one of those fellows is armed."
There were a few more remarks of this kind and then the party came into view, almost in front of the prisoners. The latter were silent and motionless, for they hoped vaguely that somehow they might not be noticed. But, alas! The white flannel was like a torch in moonlight. The searchers stopped short and stared in amazement.
"Good heavens!" exclaimed one, apparently the leader. "Here they are now!"
The surprise that the apparition caused can well be imagined. They counted one, two, three, four—of the very men they were pursuing, tied hand and foot to trees along the roadside. Here was a mystery indeed! This was a strange thing for even lunatics to do, and the crowd of men handled their weapons nervously as they stared.
"I have it!" cried one of them, suddenly. "I know!"
"What is it?" demanded the others.
"The sheriff's caught and tied 'em here for us."
That was a likely conjecture, and it took with the puzzled crowd, who were glad for any theory. In vain Bull and his crowd protested, in the words of Poe's poem, "I am not mad!" That was a likely story, coming from lunatics. And where did they get those clothes? None of the sheriflf's posse chanced to be there; so there was no one to recognize Bull as the original giver of the information. And as for his own protests and cries, they were of course insane ravings, to be listened to with gaping mouths and some pity.
There was nothing for the captors to do but march the yearlings down to jail. This they did with no little caution, and considerable display of firearms. There was not a man of them who did not feel relieved when the gates clanged once more upon those desperate creatures.
There is no need of describing the sensations which that same clang produced upon the creatures. It has all been described in the case of the Banded Seven; it was just the same here, only aggravated by a feeling of baffled rage.
It was Bull Harris' death knell, the clang of that gate. They were put in the same cell, but they were tied securely, and so there was no danger of their escaping "again." Having seen to this, the party went out, paying not the least heed to Bull's frenzied entreaties to send for the sheriff. It was natural that a captured lunatic should rave and foam at the mouth a little.
Darkness and silence having fallen upon the jail the situation became clear at last to the wretched captives. They were tied hand and foot behind prison bars, it lacking then perhaps an hour and a half of reveille—and dismissal. They had no watch to let them see the time, which made the situation all the more agonizing. If the sheriff came in time—though there was not the least reason for supposing he would—they might get out. If he didn't—Bull ground his teeth with rage when he thought of it.
It was perfectly clear to the yearlings how the former of the cell had gotten out; the broken bar told the story. But the prisoners scarcely noticed that, so wild were they with excitement and suspense and dread. The time sped on. Nobody knew how much of it, and the four kept their brains busy disputing with each other, some vowing that it was an hour, some a half. It seemed as if Father Time were taking an interest in punishing these villains, for he went with agonizing slowness.
Sometimes a minute may seem an age. After all, time is only relative; every man has his own time, depending upon the swiftness with which ideas are passing through his mind. It was thus a very long period, that hour and a half. The four knew not, as the end came near, whether it were one hour that had passed or six. And they had almost given up hope and become resigned, when suddenly there came a step that made their hearts leap up and begin to pound.
The outer door opened; then the door to their cell. A figure strode in. It was the sheriff! A perfect pandemonium resulted. It took the official but a moment to recognize that these were not the lunatics. From their excited and frenzied pleadings he managed to make out the story of their misfortune, their capture by the real lunatics. Also he made out that they were in a simply agonizing hurry to get out, to go somewhere.
He knew that he had no right to hold them. He stepped forward and cut them loose, and showed them to the door. An instant later four figures were dashing up the street toward West Point at a speed that would have done credit to an antelope. This was a go-as-you-please race, each man for himself.
They sped on, past the boundary of cadet limits, the officers' houses, the mess hall. They were careless of consequences, making no effort to hide from any one. Time was too precious. A single glance at the parade ground ahead showed them that the gun had not yet sounded, that still there was hope. Their pace grew faster still at that. The academy building and the chapel they left behind them, and bounded up the road toward the camp. They saw—oh, horrors!—the corporal and his single private standing in front of the morning gun, about to fire! And a moment later the four, one after another, dashed wildly around the camp, past the astonished officer of the day, and plunged over the embankment of Fort Qinton, where their uniforms lay hid.
Just then—bang! went the gun. And two minutes later, red and breathless, but still in uniform and safe, the four signaled the sentry, rushed into camp, and fell in for roll call with their classmates on the company street. The escape was narrow; but the miss was as good as a mile.CHAPTER XIII.
A VISIT TO THE CAVE.
"I don't think I'll ever rest quite easy again until I get these clothes hidden from sight."
The speaker was Mark. There were quite a number of other plebes with him, seven of them altogether. They were hurrying through the woods north of the post; and a stranger passing by would have been very much surprised indeed to notice that each one of them carried upon his arm a bundle of fantastically-colored clothing.
The seven plebes would have been just as much alarmed, however, as the stranger. They were making desperate eflforts to keep their curious burdens hid.
"I'm afraid every moment that somebody'll step out and surprise us again," Mark said. "I know I shall die if they do."
The reason for this desperate secrecy is not far to seek. They wanted to get rid of the telltale disguises.
"If we get it safely put away in our cave," chuckled Mark as he hurried on, "we may be pretty sure that all danger will be over."
"I thought I'd die," remarked one of the others, "when I found that Bull had left it lying in Fort Qinton where anybody might find it. You know when we fellows put the clothes on him so's to get him arrested for a joke, he must have gotten back to camp pretty late and just had time to peel before reveille in the morning. Bull Harris ought to have been more careful than to leave it there."
"Doggone his boots!" growled Texas. "Them ole yearlin's never did have any sense!"
The "den," toward which the Seven were hurrying, lay about two miles away in the woods. A small hole in the side of a cliff was its only known entrance, discovered by the parson while "geologizin'." That den was a dark and mysterious place, the source of no end of strange adventures.
As old readers know, it had originally belonged to a gang of counterfeiters some fifty years ago. They had been entrapped in a secret corner of it and accidentally suffocated. Their skeletons had remained there to horrify the plebes, when first they had the temerity to enter the place. A few days later a treasure had been found there. It proved to be counterfeit in the end, but not until it had given rise to considerable excitement. Altogether, that den was a delicious place in which to spend a holiday afternoon. You never could tell what might happen.
"We haven't been near it for a week or two," observed Mark. "I've had so much to do I haven't even had time to think of it. I wonder if anything has happened in the interim." "Perhaps the skeletons have come to life," hinted Dewey, whereat poor Indian shivered and cried "Oo!"
By this time they had reached their destination. It does not need much describing. There was a tall surface of rock facing the river, which was only a short distance away. The entrance to the cave was completely hidden with a growth of bushes and there was nothing but a few faint footprints to indicate that anybody ever came near the place.
Such was the "den" from the outside. The Seven were climbing up and crawling in head first, so we shall follow them and take a look inside. By the light of the candles they had brought with them the Seven gazed around. The place looked just the same as usual. There was a long dark vista stretching away in the distance, and gradually receding into darkness. And there were walls sculptured with deep indentations and long passages that crept away from the light. Altogether it was a very weird and awe-inspiring place, and as a general thing one did not feel like making much noise in it, especially since there were so many echoes to disturb."Everything seems to be just where we left it since the night we hazed Bull Harris here," laughed Mark. "Poor Bull was about scared blue that day."
"An' thar's the shovel the Parson dug his treasure with," chuckled Texas. "What air we agoin' to do now?"
"Bury these clothes for the first thing," was the answer. "Then I can breathe freely again."
This task was soon accomplished, and then Mark sat down in one of the chairs with which the counterfeiters had furnished their cave.
"I'm thinking," observed Mark, meditatively, "that we might have a good deal of fun exploring all the passages and dark places in this cave. Who knows what we might find?"
"Whoop!" cried Texas, springing up in excitement. "Sho' enough! We might find a new entrance!"
"Yes, and we might find some deuced pitfalls, ye know, bah Jove!" observed Chauncey.
"Or bears, b'gee!" chuckled Dewey.
"Oo! oo!" gasped poor Indian. "Don't talk that way, please. Bless my soul, I know I shall drop dead with fright."
At that same instant something happened so unexpected and so horrible that it struck them motionless and chill. A deep low groan, as if of agony, echoed through the lonely cave!
For a moment the Seven glanced at each other in consternation and dread. They were almost paralyzed by the sound, which had evidently come from one of the innerrecesses of the cavern. Poor Indian had sunk down on the ground in a heap.
"What's that?" they cried, and then listened. But the groan was not repeated. They waited in fear and trembling, but the rocks gave not another sound, and suddenly Mark sprang to his feet.
"Fellows," he cried, "there's somebody in here! Who'll follow me?"
The faithful Texas sprang to his side, and the rest followed, though trembling and quaking in every joint.
Mark was as much terrified as any of them, but he shook it off with a powerful effort and gazed resolutely about him. "There's no use having any nonsense about this!" he exclaimed. "None of us believes in ghosts, so what's the use of being scared. There's only one thing possible, there's somebody in here."
"Who's afraid?" cried Texas.
"Yes," echoed Dewey, boldly. "Who's afraid? I'm not."
"Who-who-who's af-f-f-fraid-d?" chattered Indian.
To tell the truth, they were all very much afraid and were not at all successful in hiding it. The sound had been so weird and horrible. In such surroundings, it was small wonder that they stood in the center of the floor and trembled.
Mark racked his brain to think what the strange development could mean. He hit on a solution at last which or a moment he thought to be correct. "By George!" he cried. "Fellows, I believe it was Bull
The effect of that remark was instantaneous. All the plebes' fear went out of them at the sound, and anger came in. Yes, yes, it must be Bull! The hated yearling knew of the cave, he and his three cronies alone. They had dared to come up here to fool them! Quick as a wink Texas clinched his fists and leaped forward. "Come on," he cried. "Wow! ef I git a holt o' that feller, I'll make him wish I hadn't."
The rest had been no less prompt to follow Texas' lead. They could hardly wait to bring the candle before they plunged into the dark passageway from out of which the sound had seemed to come. The Seven were just as mad as hops. The very idea of Bull's daring to enter their cave, and trying to scare them out of it!
The arm of the cave into which they had gone took them completely out of sight from the main room. The flickering rays of the candle were speedily lost to view and the place grew black as night. And at the same instant, treading lightly across the carpet, stealing along with the silence and swiftness of an Indian, a crouching figure swept across the room and vanished in the recesses at the other side. The plebes would have been frightened indeed had they been there to see it. For the figure was not that of Bull Harris. It was an old, old man, with bent and stooping figure and a long white, flowing beard. There was a gleam of fury in his eyes, and in his hand he clutched a long, keen knife.
Of him the plebes saw nothing, for they were busily making their way through the passage. They were finding much in that to interest them. Their journey was made with all slowness and caution, and with no little trembling, too. What might be in the black and secret recesses of this mysterious cave no one dared to guess. Pitfalls must be watched for at their feet, and wild animals—or yearlings—ahead.
The tunnel narrowed rapidly after a short distance, until the plebes could hardly walk erect. Peering in still further they could see that it got smaller and smaller still, so that hands and knees would soon be the order of the day. The lads hesitated; but a moment later, Mark, peering ahead, caught sight of something in the dim candlelight that made him spring quickly forward.
"By jingo!" he cried. "Fellows, they've had something to eat in here." The Seven stared in amazement—and some little indignation. The impudence of Bull! Yes, it certainly was true, for there was a still smoking fire, and scraps of food scattered about.
"Come ahead!" exclaimed Mark, quickly. "I believe we've got 'em trapped in here." Mark stooped and hurried away through the narrow passage.
"Say!" growled Texas, "if we do ketch 'em!" And with that dire threat he followed.
The journey came to a sudden end, however, a moment later. The tunnel broadened again into a sort of hollow dome, a little room. And in front was a wall of rock.
Mark gazed about him. There was nothing in the place apparently except a pile of rags in one corner. It was simply a bare cell of rock with nothing whatever beyond it. The plebes were "stumped," as the phrase has it, for they had imagined they had their victims penned up.
"They've dodged us somehow," said Mark. "Let's go back and hunt again."
Just then, however, another discovery was made, this time by the classic Parson. The Parson had the true scientific spirit of research, you must know; or what is known in newspaper circles as a "nose for news." To put Parson Stanard where there was any possibility of acquiring new data on the subjects of geological formations and "stratiological eccentricities" was like putting a bloodhound on a fresh trail. During the plebes' whispered debate, the lanky and solemn scholar had been wandering around like a lion in a cage, peering at everything, punching and testing the rocks, even smelling them occasionally. And suddenly he gave vent to a cry of joy. "Yea, by Zeus!" he muttered. "By the seven gates of Thebes and the seven hills of Rome! I knew it!"
"What's the matter?" cried the others.
"By Zeus!" he cried. "Fellow citizens of Athens, I have discovered another entrance to the cave!"
The others stared at him in incredulity and amazement. "Another entrance!" they echoed. "Where?"
By way of answer the learned Parson seized Mark by the shoulder and forced him over toward what seemed to be the blank wall of rock in front of them. Stanard pointed and Mark followed the direction of his finger and understood. A faint chink in the rock where the bright light of day strayed in told the story with all possible plainness.
"It leads out into the open," Mark admitted, after a moment's thought. "Any one can see that. But how do you know it is an entrance?"
"It is evident to the most superficial observation," replied the Parson, "that the walls of the cave are of a different sort from the rock we have before us. The former is a species of sandstone of quaternary origin, while the latter is a kind of granite technically known..."
"What has that got to do with it?" growled Texas.
"Yes, yes!" roared the rest. "Go on!"
"I am going," said Stanard. "Ahem! By Zeus! As I was about to remark, this boulder, for such it is, is evidently of glacial origin and therefore... "
"For heaven's sake!" cried Mark, laughing in spite of himself. "Do you mean to say that it's a loose rock?"
"Precisely," said the geologist. "That is to say..."
Then the matter came to an abrupt end. Texas, who had been dancing about with impatience, caught the meaning of the word "loose," and with a bound flung himself against the boulder.
To his amazement it rolled easily away, leaving just room for a man to crawl out. Beyond lay the woods and the sky and the river! It was indeed another entrance to the cave!CHAPTER XIV.
SOME FUN WITH THE YEARLINGS.
The reader of course knows that no cadets had been near the cave. But that the Seven did not know; they thought that "the enemy" had left by that entrance.
Texas clutched his fists suggestively. Texas had been looking forward to a fight and some fun, and he was considerably aggravated at having been thus cheated of his prey. However, there was nothing to do now but draw in the stone and make the best of their way back to the main cavern again.
Mark suggested that they go outside and let the learned Parson display his skill by finding that boulder again.
Then, too, they might fix it up so that no trespassers could enter in the future.
They hurried back through the narrow passageway and were soon on the very spot where that mysterious groan had scared them so. As to that groan they never gave another thought, for they imagined that its originators had fled. They would have been very much altered in their opinion, however, if they had only once looked behind them. Scarcely had they left the passageway before the same wild-eyed, crouching figure stole across in the shadow and disappeared. It was that mysterious old man returning to his lonely cell.
With that stranger our story has at present nothing more to do. It is necessary now that we follow the Banded Seven. For some two or three minutes later the Seven were destined to find themselves involved in a most delightful adventure indeed. It was a very curious coincidence the plebes, as we know, were just then on the warpath for some yearlings, fully persuaded that some yearlings had had the temerity to enter their private cave and actually try to scare its owners away. Well, the coincidence was that at that very moment a party of yearlings was taking a walk through those woods. That was where the fun came in.
Our friend Texas had gotten a chair and climbed up preparatory to squirming his way through the hole. He peered out just once and then popped back, fairly gasping with excitement. "Wow!" he whispered. "They're there!"
"They!" echoed the rest in amazement. "Who?"
Texas answered, and then turned to stare again. It is needless to say that the rest wanted to see as well as he, and that chairs and tables were hastily dragged up. A minute later seven eager heads were peering out through the bushes at the forest beyond. Sure enough, there were some yearlings, and over a dozen of them at that.
Now our plebe friends were no fools. If they had been, they would never have had the fun they did. As we know, those yearlings knew nothing whatever about the existence of the cave. The plebes thought otherwise, but they speedily discovered their mistake.
In the first place Bull and his gang were the only ones who knew of the cave, and they were not in the crowd. These yearlings were none of them friendly to the Seven—all yearlings hated "Mallory's gang." But theirs was not the malignant anger that Bull had chosen. In the second place they were walking along, laughing and talking, as if nothing were farther from their minds than the
thought that the high cliff which towered above them contained a dark and mysterious cave.
Mark turned suddenly and stared at his companions. "Fellows," he said, "do you know, I don't believe those chaps know anything about this place."
"All the more reason for keeping it secret," responded Texas; "that is, 'less you want to go out an' lick 'em."
"Oo-oo!" gasped Indian. "I don't want to fight."
This scheme did not "take," and so Texas subsided.
"I wish we could play some trick on 'em, b'gee!" chuckled Dewey.
Just at that moment one of the cadets chanced to shout out a word or two to his companions. The next instant he turned and pointed straight at the plebes.
The latter dodged down in trepidation, for they imagined they had been seen. Their alarm was unfounded, however, as the bushes in front made a perfect screen.
The cause of the yearlings' surprise was something entirely different. "Oh, say, did you hear that echo?" the seven listeners heard him call. Our friends' hearts began to beat once more at that, and they resumed their watch. An echo was what the yearlings were noticing. It was but natural, so the Parson whispered, that the cliff should return an echo at certain distances. Evidently this one was a very strong echo, for it was delighting the yearlings considerably. Everybody knows how people amuse themselves with an echo. The cadets were bawling all sorts of nonsense at the top of their lungs.
Mark listened to the shouts and joining in the merriment of his friends. But suddenly he started back with a perfect gasp of delight.
"What's the matter?" cried the others.
By way of answer Mark turned and whispered: "Not a sound now!" he cried. "Do you hear me? Gee whiz, what a joke!" He raised himself upon his elbows and drew a long,deep breath; then he waited.
One of the yearlings, a big, burly fellow named Rogers, was just at that moment doing likewise, drawing his breath for a shout. He had come a little closer to test the effect.
"Hello!" he roared, at the top of his lungs.
And a moment later Mark answered him: "Hello-o-o!"
Rogers started back and gazed at his companions in amazement. "Good heavens!" he cried. "Fellows, did you hear that?" The other had heard it, of course. How could they help hearing it? And they were simply dumfounded.
"Why, it's a double echo!" cried one.
"And it sounded even louder than your voice!" added another. "What on earth do you suppose it can be?"
Rogers didn't know, but he hazarded a guess. "It must have been where I was standing," he said. "This is the place. I'll try it again." Then he took another deep breath, while the rest waited anxiously. "Hello!" he roared.
There was not a sound. Mark kept as still as a mouse, though he and his friends were ready to burst with laughter.
The yearlings gazed at each other in amazement. "Jove, I missed it that time!" exclaimed Rogers. "I wonder what's the matter?"
"Perhaps you aren't in just the same place," suggested one sage logician.
"That's so," admitted he. "I think I've stepped forward some."
"No, I think you jumped back," objected a third.
There was much learned discussion of this point. Finally they tried both. There wasn't a sound.
Of course they were puzzled. Who wouldn't have been? They wandered all about the clearing, roaring at the top of their lungs: "Hello! hello! hello! hello!" But Mark only kept still and chuckled, until he saw that they were about to give it up.
"Why don't you answer?" shouted one.
"You answer!" replied Mark, in just as loud a voice.
The yearlings sprang as one man to the spot where this lucky individual had been. "We've got it!" they cried, and a moment later a perfect chorus of "Helloes!" and "How do ye does?" and "Whoops!" and so on, came to Mark Mallory's ears. There were so many of them that Mark couldn't attend to them all at once, and had to call in the rest of the Seven to his aid. You may readily believe that the yearlings were paid back with interest. Texas even tacked on a few whoops for good measure.
The reader may imagine the hilarity of the mischievous plebes during this. The upturned, open-mouthed faces of the unfortunate and astonished victims were enough to make a sphinx laugh for a century. At least, that was what the Parson said. The Seven were dancing about and chuckling with glee. Mark had the greatest difficulty in keeping them from breaking out into a chorus.
That seemed to be the next joke on tap. Mark whispered his instructions, nudged the others in the ribs, and waited. "Hello up there! Hello!" roared Rogers. At the next instant came a sound louder than a trumpet blast and so startling that it nearly knocked the big yearling over backwards.
"Hello up there! Hello-o-o!"
It was a confused medley of shouts and yells in one promiscuous chorus. Assuredly no such echo has ever been heard in the history of mankind. Irish hills and Swiss mountains would have given up in despair before such a many-throated arrangement as that.
The yearlings gazed at each other in still greater consternation. They did not know what to think at that stage of the game.
"Hello!" cried Rogers, boldly trying it once more. And to his amazement there was not a sound. "This is the most uncanny thing I ever heard of in my life," he whispered to his companions, "It almost makes me think of spirits. Hello up there!"
This last was yet one more attempt. Its result was, if possible, still more unexpected. The echo actually stuttered :
"Hello, up th-th-th-there!"
"Good Lord, what next ?" gasped one of the yearlings.
"G-g-good Lord, wh-what n-n-next-t!" muttered the cliff.
But that time the matter had gone just a little too far. Human credulity has its limits; you cannot fool all the people all the time has crystallized into a proverb. And so just about then some of the shrewder of the crowd began to get a little bit suspicious and to look around, either for a hiding place for that mischievous echo-maker or for a ventriloquist among their own party.
This Mark did not fail to observe. He turned to his companions. "See here," he whispered. "Fellows, they'll soon be on to this.""Do you know," he continued, "there's no use in our trying to keep this cave a secret, anyhow. Bull knows of it and he'll be sure to tell 'em in the end. I say we have some more fun now."
"Yes!" cried Texas. "I say so, too, whoop! Doggone their boots! Let's climb out an' go for 'em. I'm jest itching for a rousin' ole scrap!"
Mark smiled at his wild chum's excitement. "Let's keep on with this echo for a while," said he, "until we work that out. Then perhaps we'll show ourselves."
"Or send them out our cards, b'gee," chuckled Dewey.
During this the yearlings had been holding a consultation. They were gathered together in a group, whispering about the mystery, and occasionally staring at the trees around them and at the top of the cliff far above. It is needless to say that they saw nothing suspicious. Finally they turned to test the echo some more.
"Hello!" cried Rogers.
"Hello" (a whisper).
"Say, you fellows, whoever you are, I wish you'd come out and quit your fooling!"
That was from Rogers. And right then came the climax. The echo started to repeat that sentence. "Say, you fellows, whoever you are. . ." And there it stoppedmdash;stuck! It had forgotten the rest of what it was to say. The yearlings stared at each other, and finally began to laugh. An echo that forgot was indeed a strange variety.
Suddenly it spoke again. "Hello, there! Will you kindly repeat that last remark of yours. I couldn't keep it all in my mind."
And this was followed by a perfect roar of laughter from somewhere; it seemed fairly to shake the hillside.
The yearlings realized how they had been duped, and you can just guess that they were mad!CHAPTER XV.
A BATTLE WITH THE ENEMY.
Now, the first thing for the crowd to do was to locate that "echo." If they found it, they were mad enough to make trouble for its originators. The originators did not seem to be the least bit afraid of that, however, for they kept up a merry chaffing from their hiding place.
"Hello, down there! You needn't be looking for us in the trees, because we aren't crows. We nest in the rocks.
What are you going over that way for, stupid? Can't you hear my voice? Ah, now you're warm! Keep on hunting. An echo is an awfully hard thing to find.
You're looking a little too high up now. Go home and get a ladder. Go home and get a cannon and lay siege to us!"
During all this, which was in a disguised voice, the exasperated cadets had been staring helplessly about them.
They heard the voice, but, to save their lives, they couldn't tell where it came from. In fact, they were on the point of giving up in despair when something else happened. There was a plainly visible movement in one of thebushes that grew on the side of the rock. A moment later a bit of white cardboard sailed down. Rogers made a leap for it and picked it up. His companions rushed to his side.
"What is it?" they demanded, eagerly.
By way of answer the cadet held it out to them to read, his face a picture of disgust as he did so. For this was what the card said: "Mr. Chauncey Van Rensselaer Mount-Bonsall—Fifth Avenue."
"By Heaven!" shouted Rogers, "it's that Mallory and his gang again."
"Right you are!"
"Betcher life, b'gee."
"Yea, by Zeus!"
There was no misunderstanding these voices. It was Mallory's gang for a fact, hidden in that hole in the rock and making fools of their "superior officers." The effect of that discovery upon the angry cadets may be imagined. It was as a match to a powder magazine. The yearlings simply went wild.
"Storm the place!" yelled one.
"Drag 'em out!" shouted another.
"Wipe the spots off of 'em!" cried a third.
And then as one man they made a leap for the entrance. There was no end of fun after that. The attack had, of course, not been unexpected by the plebes. Mark had prepared for it carefully and the cadets were destined to get a very warm welcome indeed. It was a welcome of a most unexpected variety, too, for during the interim Texas had rushed back into the cave and come back with an armful of curious white weapons. The reader may guess what they were.
Billy Rogers had been the first man to reach the foot of the cliff. The hole from which the card had come was about ten feet from the ground, but a ledge made it an easy climb. The yearling leaped up and without a moment's hesitation flung himself in at the entrance. His head and shoulders were lost to view for just about one second. Then they reappeared, as the owner gave a cry of horror and started back. He tumbled backward to the ground and would have been badly hurt if his companions had not caught him. His face was as white as a sheet.
"What's the matter?" they cried.
"Good heavens!" gasped the terrified Rogers. "It's a skull!"
"Yes! I saw it staring at me, all white in the darkness! Ugh!"
Just at this moment there was a movement in the bushes. The yearlings glanced up, just as a face protruded. It was Parson Stanard, peering down. The Parson's cadaverous, bony features shone out pale and white, and but one idea flashed over the badly-scared Rogers. "There it is again!" he yelled. "The skull!"
The roar of laughter that followed defies description. Even the yearlings joined in. They imagined that their classmate had originally seen the Parson's head and taken it for the "skull."
Of this idea, however, they were speedily disabused. For the Parson stretched out his long, bony arms, and the next instant the yearlings found themselves half buried beneath a shower of clattering white objects—the skeletons of the counterfeiters! When the yearlings looked up again Parson Stanard was gone.
The cadets were too much amazed and horrified to say anything. They could only stare—and listen. They heard a loud voice inside, and this was what the voice said:"By the bones of my ancestors, was there ever such an outrage? Yea, by Zeus! By Apollo and the Heliconian Muses! Unhand me, gentlemen, I say! I will not stand it! I will out and at them! I will scatter them to the six winds! The very idea! My head a skull! What is there to warrant so outrageous an insinuation? Why, it is enough to make the ashes of my noble grandfather burst forth into flame. And am I to stand it? No, by Hercules! I feel the might of a Centaur rising within me. Like Hector of old, will I sally forth from my citadel and smite the insulters of my race. Just think of it! My head a skull!"
There was a brief silence after that, succeeded by the sounds of a struggle.
"Steady, Parson!" said a voice. "You don't want to go out there. Take it easy now."
"Let me go, I say! let me go! I demand the right of every gentleman to defend his honor with his life. I do not propose to submit to this outrage. I swear it by the terrible Styx! This is enough to enrage a subcarboniferous Plesiosaurus! It is enough to make an ornithorhynchus rise in wrath! And I have the blood of Boston inmy veins. My ancestors were among the warriors of Bunker Hill and Lexington. My ancestors smote the tyrant and fought ior the right and liberties of man. Yea, by Zeus! And shall I, with such examples as that before me, allow my head to be mistaken for a skull? By Melpomene, my very capillary ducts cry out for vengeance!"
This last bit of information was succeeded by another movement in the bushes. The Parson's head and shoulders appeared again. The Parson was a red skull now. His cheeks were blazing with wrath and his long hair bristling. He sought to fling himself upon "the enemy." This, however, he was unable to do, for the reason that some one had hold of him by the feet and wouldn't let go. In the entrance accordingly he stuck fast, and from that strange position, "poured out his impetuous wrath in burning words." As his friend Homer somewhere describes it:
"Ye scoundrels," he began, shaking his fists in impotent wrath. "Scoundrels, I say; for what better term can I use than the one so often employed by the wise and respected Dr. Johnson, a man before whose classical attainments my own meager latinity shrinks—but, by Zeus! I am wandering from my theme! Scoundrels, I say! I would call you Philistines, but the Philistines would rise up in wrath. I would call you vulgus—but you wouldn't have sense enough to know what it meant! And so I say, scoundrels! By the 'far-darting Apollo,' I demand satisfaction. Do you hear me? Do you understand me? I will not 'mutely and ingloriously' swallow your outrageous insinuations. My blood boils with wrath. I am not a skull ! I do not look like a skull! And, by Hermes! I challenge any one of you to come forward and prove that I do. By the heroes of the Trojan cycle, I defy you! I demand. . ."
During the first part of this truly extraordinary outburst the yearlings had been staring in open-mouthed amazement. As it continued, however, the absurdity of the situation overcame them and they fell to howling with laughter. The abrupt pause on the Parson's part was caused by a new development. Rogers saw an opportunity for vengeance; he stooped, picked up one of the skulls and let it drive at the orator's head. The two objects met with a hollow crack and Parson Stanard set up a howl. The rest of the cadets, laughing uproariously, seized whatever came to their hands. From the shower that resulted our friend, the Parson, was glad to be dragged ignominiously in by the feet. And thus ended his famous Oration.CHAPTER XVI.
ABANDONING THE FORT.
Having rescued their gallant Patrick Henry, the Seven defenders of the cave held a council of war.
"It's plain as day," Mark laughed, "that they can never get in here at us. There's room for only one man at a time through that opening, and it's only another case of Horatius at the bridge."
"Hang it!" growled Texas. "Ain't we goin' to have any fun, then? Doggone their boots, I say we go out an' wallop 'em."
"Yea, by Zeus!" echoed the Parson, who was striding furiously up and down the cave, thirsting for gore and incidentally rubbing his sore head. "Yea, by Zeus! For I feel that I could go forth against the Philistines like Samson of yore, and slay thirty thousand of them."
"With the jawbone of a counterfeiter," chuckled Dewey, "b'gee!"
"It is sad to think," Mark went on, after the laugh was over, "that those yearlings will get in here finally."
"How's that?" roared Texas.
"We can't be here to guard it all day and all night," answered Mark. "They are bound to get in some day."
He was silent for a moment, lost in thought.
And then suddenly he gave an exclamation of delight. "By jingo!" he cried, "I have it!"
"We'll let 'em in now."
"Wow! yes!" roared Texas. "An' lick 'em when they git in. Whoop!"
"No," laughed Mark, "that's not what I mean. Let us go out by the other entrance."
"And don't let 'em get out again."
It was truly a fine idea. The more the delighted plebes thought of it, the better they liked it. It would be far more exciting to trap the enemy than simply to keep them off. Even Parson Stanard was dancing about with delight. A few moments later the crowd was hurrying at full speed up the narrow tunnel toward "the back door."
Whatever mystery that tunnel may have contained the plebes got no inkling of it. They did not stop to strike a light, but simply dashed wildly ahead in the darkness.
Mark thought once that he felt a figure brush past him, but he scarcely gave it a thought. The party reached the rock at the end of the passage, pushed it hastily away, and after glancing about them, stole out and vanished in the woods.
As we know, the Seven had never used that entrance before, and, at first, they did not know just where they were. They ascertained, however, that the spot was on the hillside around to the south of the cliff. They were completely out of the view of the cadets, but the voices of the yearlings could be plainly heard.
"We've got quite a task," Mark whispered to his companions. "We've got to manage to creep around where we can watch them and there hide."
Finally, however, they found a place where they could peer through the bushes and watch the foe in safety, and there they huddled down and waited impatiently.
It was quite funny to watch the yearlings. The latter, of course, did not know that the fort had been deserted. They imagined that its defenders were silently awaiting another attack. The yearlings were determined to capture it and were holding a consultation.
The first scheme that they hit on was this: Everybody gathered some stones in his hand and at a given signal let them drive through the entrance. The missiles were expected to create havoc among the watching plebes, a sort of artillery bombardment previous to an infantry attack.
You may imagine how the watching lads laughed at that trick. Naturally the shower of stones produced no result, and so there was another consultation. At the end of it Rogers, somewhat bolder than the rest, volunteered to risk the climb once more. It was a very heroic resolve, and it took the hero no little time to get up the nerve. Finally, however, he stepped forward and sprang up the ascent.
Our friends, the Seven, almost burst with laughter to see him duck and dodge, as if expecting another shower of bones every moment. When he reached the entrance his behavior was more ludicrous still. Can you imagine a soldier peering over the top of a breastwork when he knows that sharpshooters are near? That was Rogers. He would raise up his head and then duck down again. Next time he would raise it a little more, and then duck down further still. At last he managed to get his eyes up to the level of the entrance and peered in. He saw nothing suspicious, and so finally he took to exploring with one hand. This he did in exactly the same way. He would thrust his arm into the dark hole and then jerk it out again as if it had been bitten by a snake. Then after a while he would put it in again. Meeting with no resistance only made him the more cautious, for it convinced him that the plebes were working a plot of some kind. They were doing that for a fact, but not in the way Rogers suspected.
He soon got tired of that kind of attack. Reflecting that in all probability the plebes wouldn't hurt him much if they did capture him, he suddenly sprang up and plunged head and shoulders through the hole. A moment later his feet shot in, too, and he landed with a crash upon the floor.
The anxiety with which those outside waited and listened may be imagined. What would happen next they had no idea. Their comrade might have been seized and gagged in an instant; he might have tumbled into a barrel of water, or even paint; he might have broken his neck.
"Hello!" shouted the yearlings outside, "who's in there?"
The answer came a moment later.
"Confound it, not a soul!"
"What's it like?"
"Black as pitch. I can't see a thing. Come in here, some of you fellows, and bring a light."
Encouraged by their leader's boldness and the fact that he had not yet been attacked, several of the yearlings sprang up the cliff. One of them slid in and a moment later the listening plebes heard an exclamation of surprise.
"Have you got a light?" they cried.
"What's it like?"
"It's a great big cave. Good Heaven! and it's all furnished up like a house!"
"Where are the plebes?"
"Don't see them anywhere. Come on in, and we'll hunt for 'em."
The yearlings couldn't tumble in fast enough. And pretty soon the majority of them were inside the cave, and running around with shouts and exclamations of amazement.
"We've got 'em!" cried Mark. "Forward!"
You may imagine how hilarious they were. It was a case, if ever there was such a case in the world, of "We have met the enemy and they are ours."
Inside the victims never once suspected the plight they were in. They were roaming about the cave, exploring everything and becoming more and more enraptured. It made Texas mad that they should dare thus to take liberties with his cave, and he seized a thigh bone of a counterfeiter in his hand and vowed tragically that he'd smash the head of the first villain who dared to appear.
This fate the "villain" was apparently by no means anxious to hurry toward, for the yearlings made no effort to leave the cave. They would probably have stayed
inside for the rest of the afternoon had it not been for a sudden and truly startling development. Texas had mounted to do guard duty. That is to say, he had seized his white club and posted himself at the entrance, ready to whack at the first sign of a yearling, when all of a sudden he and his friends were horrified to hear a wild shriek from inside.
It was Rogers' voice and a perfect babel of yells and cries succeeded it.
"Look out! He's hidden in there!"
"Fly, fly for your lives!"
"He's got a knife. Help!"
"Hold him there. Grab that arm. Look out! He's loose again!"
A moment later a scared white face appeared in the opening. It was one of the yearlings and he glanced about him in alarm. A moment later he swung himself out, dropped to the ground, and fled wildly into the woods.
He had scarcely emerged before another followed, equally as scared. The cries and shouts ceased as abruptly as they began and the astounded plebes stood by and watched one by one the almost hysterical cadets leap out of the black cavern. Without a single exception they stopped to speak to no one, to look at no one, but dashed away into the woods as if they had but one thought on earth—to get away from the spot. Their terror was so great that nobody stopped to help anybody else; as for the plebes standing nearby, nobody seemed even to see them.
It was all over in a very few seconds. Mark tried to stop one of them, but the frightened cadet wrenched free and dashed on. They were battered and cut, their uniforms in tatters. Rogers was bleeding from a wound in the arm and almost blind with fright as he darted away.
After he was gone the place grew as silent as a grave. The amazed plebes huddled together and stared at the hole, racking their brains to think of what that most extraordinary occurrence could mean. They half expected something to emerge, a wild animal, perhaps; but nothing of the kind took place; the cave was black and still as ever. The woods grew silent, too, as soon as the frightened yearlings had disappeared. Nothing more occurred to explain the uncanny adventure.
Mark had been staring at his companions with a puzzled look upon his face. They might have sat thus and stared at each other for an hour, such was their consternation, had it not been for the fact that it was then late in the afternoon and very near the time for dress parade. Accordingly, they had to set out for camp, which ended the matter for that day.
"But I'll tell you this much," was Mark's verdict, "there's a good deal more mystery about that cave than you and I have the least idea of." And there was, as it came to pass before many days. The mystery of the cave was destined to form one of the most important incidents of Mark's stay at West Point.CHAPTER XVII.
MORTAR PRACTICE AT WEST POINT.
"A very good shot, Mr. Bryce. A trifle high, though. Correct your elevation for the next shot."
"Number two—ready! Fire!"
The scene was West Point, and the place was the target practice ground. Over on the opposite side of the West Point inlet, stood a post with a barrel upon it. That was the target; the fondest hope of every cadet heart was that "some day" he might hit that barrel. With a mortar that is no easy task, but it has been done in West Point's history.
The cadets were grouped about the guns, under the command of one of the tactical officers. In response to his order to fire, a cadet pulled the lanyard and with a flash and a roar the second of the heavy cannon was discharged. A white cloud of smoke ascended, half hiding the battery. There was an anxious wait, and then a splash far out on the water. It was followed by a murmured cheer from the spectators for the aim was so close that the barrel was half hidden from sight by the spray.
"A little to the right, Mr. Thompson," said the imperturbable tac. "Number three—ready!"
Such is "mortar drill" at West Point. It gets to be very exciting at times, for there is no end of rivalry among the young gunners, and there are fair partisans to look on—sisters, and some who are not sisters. Cadets always look forward with pleasure to the hours for mortar drill. It is a pleasure vouchsafed to first classmen alone.
Gazing wistfully at the scene during half an hour of liberty that morning were certain members of the plebe class with whom we are acquainted. "Plebes" or new cadets, are far, far away from such a delightful function as mortar drill. It takes the three years to get to that honor, three years of work. The road that leads to it is blocked with much debris; there are fallen logs, and manybad places, ruts, and mud holes; there are drills and examinations by the dozens, and the wayside is strewn with the corpses of unfortunate plebes and yearlings who get "left" during the journey.
Some such train of thought was wandering through the minds of the aforementioned interested plebes. Three years does seem a dreadfully long time, with such chances of failure. "It is a case of 'Many are called,' " began one of the plebes. ''And the arithmetical ratio," put in another, "of those who successfully achieve the ultimate object of their concentrated endeavors, and of those who are compelled to relinquish their efforts owing to unprognosticated circumstantialities, is so excessively diminutive that . . . "
Another gun went off there and put a period to the discourse. It is quite needless to say that the person last quoted was our genial friend, Parson Stanard. There dwelt no other human being in all West Point who could have delivered such an address as that. There were probably no others who would have taken it more as a matter of course than did the six who were with him then. They were used to the Parson.
The party strolled back toward camp, after drill was over, internal conditions reminding them that they might soon expect to hear the drum that summoned them to dinner.
As the plebes entered the camp the members of the guard were being "turned out" for inspection. Mark recognized one of them and he turned to his companions. "There's our old friend, 'Echo' Rogers," said he. The rest were tickled by that nickname, for they broke into laughter, in which even Dewey joined. The cadet himself, a tall, heavily built yearling, was standing at attention—"eyes to the front—"chest out— " and so on. But he heard the remark and an angry flush swept over his face.
"Echo doesn't like his name," observed Mark, as the party went on down the company street. "You could tell that, anyhow, from the fact that he and his crowd haven't told a soul about their adventures."
"I wish I knew about that mystery," put in Dewey. "B'gee, there's something the matter up at that cave. The yearlings have kept pretty mum."
"We'll find out to-night," muttered Texas. "That is, if you fellers don't get scared afore that an' go back on our bargain. Haven't forgotten, have you?"
"I haven't," laughed Mark, an assurance which the others were just as prompt to give. "An' you ain't afraid, be you?" Texas added.
"N-n-no!" answered Indian, dubiously. "I—I . . . I'mnot."
What had caused the flight from the cave the plebes had not the slightest idea. They had walked home somewhat frightened and subdued, and sought out the yearlings, who had fled so wildly back to camp. The latter had, strangely enough, refused to answer any questions.
They had turned angrily away upon the slightest mention of the matter, and what was still more strange, they had even gone to the length of refusing to explain to the authorities how their clothing had been torn or how Rogers had gotten the severe cut which he bore on his shoulder.
Naturally, this behavior had puzzled the plebes. It puzzled them still, and made them think that there was some terrible mystery back of the matter, some mystery connected with that dark and uncanny cavern. It was "their" cavern, too, and they didn't relish the idea of having any secret danger to make them afraid to go near it. The upshot of the whole matter, to put it briefly, had been just this: The wild and woolly Texan had vowed that morning, after having been tormented by the mystery for two whole days, that down where he came from men weren't afraid of anything—man, beast or devil; and that he was going to go up and find out about "that air bizness," if it was the last thing he ever did in his life.
The audacity of the proposal had rather taken the Banded Seven aback. The idea of daring to enter that cave, after the horrible danger into which the yearlings had gotten, had never quite occurred to them. But Texas vowed he was going to do it alone, if he couldn't get anybody else; that he would be ashamed to call himself a son of his father, "the Honorable Scrap Powers, o' Hurricane County, Texas," if he didn't. And so that settled the matter. "When are you going?" Mark asked him. And Texas answered promptly:"Tonight." The result of which startling announcement had been that the Seven, as appeared from the conversation previously mentioned, stood pledged by a solemn promise to probe that mystery to the bottom that very evening.
"The thing that puzzles me so much about this matter," Mark observed to his friends as they strolled down the street, "is the fact that Rogers and his crowd are unwilling or afraid to tell anybody about the cave and what happened. I can't to save my life conceive why they should be so quiet." That was a strange state of affairs for a fact; the plebes talked it over nearly all day, without coming to a conclusion. The cave was within bounds, and the yearlings had a perfect right to go there that Saturday afternoon. So they need not have feared to tell the authorities for that reason. Questioned they certainly must have been; their wounds and torn uniforms must certainly have made the superintendent inquisitive. But they had stuck tight to their secret and apparently told not a soul. The matter would have been the talk of the post if they had.
"It may be they're ashamed of how we fooled 'em," was Dewey's suggestion.That did not seem at all probable, but it was the best the Seven came to, and finally they were compelled to adopt it. "Perhaps we'll know to-night," they said.
The reader must not suppose that the plebes were going to set out upon this expedition haphazard or recklessly. That was hardly like a man who had learned his lessons in Texas. Cadet Powers, as we know, had had, when he came to West Point, no less than seventeen revolvers stowed away in his trunk. These he had hidden safely,and though they had been somewhat reduced in number by excessive use he still had enough to go around. There was one for each, except Indian, who vowed that he'd die before he'd touch one. Thus armed the plebes fancied they'd be able to receive warmly anything the cave might hold. And yet even armed as they were, it was a mighty "scary" business. They found that when they came to start that night. Wandering through a forest about mid- night is a very dubious sort of an occupation, anyway. And when you have continually before your mind the image of a deep black hole in the mountains with all sorts of possible and impossible horrors lurking about inside—dragons and demons and bears and snakes, to say nothing of a few stray ghosts and rattling skeletons—it was no wonder Indian's knees gave way occasionally.
At West Point the drum sounds tattoo at nine-thirty in the evening.
That means that the battalion lines up for roll call and then breaks ranks for bed. "Taps" sounds half an hour later, and means "lights out, all quiet." After that every one is supposed to be asleep in his tent, and there is a watchful "tac" who goes around with a lantern to make sure. The tac himself goes to bed, however, by eleven at the latest. Then, the cat being away, the mice sometimes come out for a little fun.
Stealing out of camp was what our plebe friends were doing. They dressed softly and silently, and then after signaling the sentry, a member of their own class, swept across his post and vanished in old Fort Clinton.
Something like half a minute later a very startling incident happened in camp. At least it would have startledthe plebes if they had seen it. A figure, all dressed, crept swiftly out of one of the tents and across the street. He stole into another tent and awakened its inmates.
"Fellows," he whispered, "they've gone."
"Up there, do you mean?"
"Yes, I think so. Come on, hurry up."
The cadets leaped up as one man and hastily slipped into their uniforms. A few minutes later they, too, stole out of camp. But it was in the opposite direction—they were going to Highland Falls.
It is needless to say that the cadets were Rogers and his crowd; it is likewise needless to say that their action meant trouble of some kind for our friends, the plebes.
The latter, of course, were altogether unaware of that. Having safely reached Fort Clinton, they stole across the enclosure and made their way swiftly around past Trophy Point and the old graveyard, and so out into the woods beyond. Once there they stopped just long enough to light two or three lanterns they had and then hurried on their journey. It was quite a silent party. The plebes felt rather solemn on the whole, for there was no one of them who failed to realize that a very serious adventure might result from their trip. How many of them wished they hadn't come may not be said, but it is certain that Indian whispered "Bless my soul!" at least "a thirty-four to the minute stroke," as Dewey phrased it; also that Dewey himself got off no more than two jokes all the way. In fact, the only person who seemed at all inclined to talk was our old friend, the Parson. The Parson was a man who felt with real earnestness that he had a serious duty to perform during "this life temporal," that duty was the dissemination of knowledge, and the Parson never lost a chance to work in a few instructive remarks—philosophical, moral or scientific— upon every possible occasion. So when other people were quiet the Parson saw a chance that he never failed to utilize.
The subjects for that night's discourse chanced to be geological. The Parson talked on the question of alluvial deposits, the forces of denudation and sedimentation, etc. He gave very accurately the various authoritative hypotheses as to the thickness of strata in the Hudson River Valley. In fact, there is no telling what knowledge he would not have imparted by the end of the trip if it had not been for an unforeseen occurrence which deprived the Seven of the Parson's company for the rest of that night.
It appeared that when they had come to about halfway to their destination the Parson, who could not lose his habits of observation even in the night time (like the wise old owl he was), suddenly stopped and with a startled exclamation pointed to the ground at one side. The rest looked, but at first they could distinguish nothing. The Parson approached the spot and then they saw a most interesting sight. An unfortunate bullfrog, hopping about country during the night had gotten into trouble. A garter snake had him by the leg and was slowly swallowing him. (The Parson referred to it as "the process of deglutition.") It was rather an interesting sight, and ordinarily the plebes would have been glad to watch it; but now they were in a hurry.
"I wish we had time to stop," said Mark. "Come on."
And Stanard turned and gazed at him in consternation.
"Come on!" he echoed. "Come on! Do you actually mean to say that the scientific spirit has burned so low in your breast that you will not stop to witness a process of such extraordinary interest as this? Why, sir, a man might not see it once in a lifetime! I would stop an ex
"I'm sorry," laughed Mark, "but we're in more of a hurry than an express. Come on."
"By Zeus!" gasped the Parson. "I will not go for one."
"You may stay if you want to," said Mark, goodnaturedly. "But I'm going." He started away, the rest following.
"Do you mean," roared the Parson, gazing at them indignantly, "that there is no one who cares to stay after allI-I think I'll stay," stammered Indian, who was really scared to death at the mere thought of the cave.
"I-I'm v-very m-m-much interested."
But the dodge didn't "go." Poor Indian was dragged off, protesting at the outrage, and the solemn Parson was
left alone with his lantern and his snake.
"I'll join you later," he called, and then settled himself into a meditative pose, d la Hamlet. His friends' footsteps died away in the distance and he was left in silence to observe and study that "process of deglutition."
We must follow the plebes, in the meanwhile. A few
minutes later they reached the cave, where momentous things were destined to occur.CHAPTER XVIII.
A MOMENT OF DEADLY PERIL.
You can have no idea what a forbidding task it was—entering that cavern. The plebes only began to realize it when they got to the place. Why the very sight of that yawning, black hole made them shiver! Indian was so overcome that he had to sit down and fan himself; at the same time he raised his "stroke" to forty-two.
The six gazed up at the entrance, which it will be remembered was an opening some three feet square up in the side of the cliff.
A picture rose up before them the picture of the horrified and terror-stricken yearlings tumbling out through that hole. At the same time the yells and cries for help seemed to echo yet. The plebes trembled.
Fortunately the bold Texan was along, which precluded all possibility of hesitation. It was all very well for tenderfeet to be frightened! (Texas didn't know whether that word should be tenderfoots or tenderfeet; at any rate, it immediately reminded Dewey of the story of the English footman who introduced into a London drawing-
room, "b'gee, Sir Thomas Foote, and the Misses Feet.")
That story being over, Texas went on to say that it was expected of tenderfeet to be afraid, but of a wild cowboy—never! He had come up there to go into that cave and he was going! He would have gone if he had seen the devil's own two horns sticking out at him. Accordingly, he felt his two revolvers to make sure that they were in position to slide out easily, and then seizing a lantern sprang swiftly up the ledge to the entrance. It was not like Texas to hesitate. He plunged in head and shoulders at once. There he stopped and held out the light to gaze about him. Then he slid in all the way and the anxious plebes heard him drop lightly to the ground.
A moment later his cheery voice was heard. "Come on, you fellows!" he called. "There ain't nothin' in hyar."
Mark had already climbed up to the hole and was crawling in. He dropped to the ground inside and the others followed rapidly. Poor Indian was last of all, for Indian put off the agony as long as possible. Strange to say, Indian's share of that night's peril was destined to be greatest of all; the lion's share, so to speak, went to the lamb.
The plebes, having entered, stood huddled together at the end of the cave, staring about them and at Texas. Texas was a truly startling sight; he had set the lantern down on the ground and drawn his huge, glistening revolvers. He had them ready for instant use. He was peering about him with the stealth and quickness of a mountain panther. Truly anything short of a ghost that attacked Texas in this uncanny cavern might have cause to look out for trouble.
The six gazed about them at their den. They saw much to alarm them, much to remind them of what had occurred. Chairs were overturned, and scattered about the place. Curtains were torn from the walls. In fact, there was every sign of a deadly struggle. Mark pointed in silence to a stain of blood, a deep, red splotch on the carpet. That was Rogers' blood, thought the frightened lads. Also, upon one of the broken chairs was a mark of blood that seemed to indicate that the chair had been used as a weapon. Altogether the place had about as uncanny a look as one could imagine.
Texas broke the silence at last; his voice startled everyone. "Well," said he, "what next?" And he gripped his revolvers with a determined air.
"We might just as well set out to hunt this cave right through from beginning to end," Mark answered, speaking firmly. "That's what we came up for, and now let's doit. Are you ready?"
Mark's voice was clear and unfaltering, it put some life into his trembling companions. They answered that they were, and Mark stepped promptly forward.
"We'll start here, on the right," said he, "and we'll hunt every single passage to its end. Bring the lanterns there!"
The command was obeyed, and the party hurried down through the cave, Texas examining the wall as they went. About twenty feet ahead was the first branching tunnel. Without a word the six turned and entered; the ex-cowboy with his guns in the lead. They left the cave in darkness and silence behind them. The moment they had gone, the moment the light of the lamp was lost to view, a strange and terrible thing happened. A silent figure swept across the room!
The figure was one that would have paralyzed even the bold Texan if he had seen it. A more horrible figure human imagination could not picture; certainly this pen is not adequate to describe it. It was a man, and an old man. That much was clear, even in the shadowy darkness of the cave. He was nearly naked; a rag about his waist was all he wore. A long, white beard half hid his face and his matted hair nearly covered the rest. The hair was bloody, and the face was cut and bruised as well. There was an expression of savage ferocity upon his face as he stole across the floor. His eyes were gleaming with fury, and the gleam shone on the blade of a long knife which the creature grasped in one hand.
Such was the figure. It glided out into the center of the cavern; it raised its weapon on high with a menacing gesture in the direction of the unsuspecting lads; and then swiftly and silently crept back and hid in the deep, dark shadows.
A moment later the nervous explorers came into view; they were soon in the center of the room again, and the fiery eyes were glaring out at them.
"Nothing in that place," said Mark's voice, cheerily. "Let us try for the next. Forward!"
And then once more the main part of the cavern was deserted; but the horrible old man did not reappear. He still lurked in the shadows and watched and waited for a chance to wield his bloody knife.
The unsuspecting lads grew more and more reassured as they searched and found nothing. Texas, with his two revolvers, in front, was a bulwark to give courage even to Indian. They came out of the second short hollow and hurried on down the room.
There were only two passages of any size branching off from that side. The rest were simply irregularities in the walls—cracks and niches. The plebes explored every one of them with the lantern's light, however. Finally, they found themselves at the far end of the "den."
Here there was a secret room, which requires to be described in detail to those who have not read the other stories in this series. That secret room had proven the death of its builders, the counterfeiters. There was a heavy wall of masonry, and a heavy iron door with a
spring lock that could be opened from the outside only. The counterfeiters had evidently gone in there for some purpose and failed to make fast the door. It had swung to and locked. The skeletons of the victims had lain in that vault for fifty years before the plebes found them.
The place was felt to be dangerous by the Seven. In fact, they had made it a sworn rule that never were they all to enter that room at once. Some one must always stay outside for safety. And they did not break their rule in this case. Indian remained to guard the door.
The party had felt that it was necessary to search that fatal trap most carefully. They thought that it would be a hiding place for any one who inhabited the cave. Accordingly, after some little hesitation outside, the bold Texas leaped in, lantern and revolver in hand; the rest followed, and the trembling Joseph stood and held the heavy door.
The moment of peril had come! Scarcely had the figures disappeared before a lurking shadow crept stealthily down the cave. The mysterious old man was crouching low, moving with the swiftness and silence of a tiger upon his prey. His eyes gleamed; his white teeth shone, and the flashing knife was still clutched in his hand. He crept in the shadow of the wall, and there was not a sound to warn his victims. Poor Indian did not see him, for his back was turned. Indian was staring, watching his friends and trembling as he did so. If Indian had only cast one of his frightened glances over his shoulder he would have seen something to scare him, indeed. For the wild and savage figure was creeping on. Nearer and nearer the old man came. Swifter and swifter grew his pace, for he saw that no one suspected his approach. He reached the end of the cave and crouched for one moment. He heard a voice : "Hang it! There ain't a thing in hyar!" The old man straightened himself up. He raised his knife on high and extended it. Stretching out his long, hairy arm, he could almost touch the back of his victim. One spring would do it all.
One spring! The old man nerved himself, gathered his muscles for the leap. His eager hand was trembling. His breath, so hot and fast, stopped for one moment. His knife flashed in the lamplight.
And at that instant poor Indian turned and saw his deadly peril. His eyes seemed to glaze with horror. He sprang back from the door with one shrill scream of fright. And the maniac leaped forward with the swiftness of a panther.
It was not at Indian he leaped. It was at the door! He flung all his weight against it. The next instant the heavy barrier swung to and shut with an iron clang that echoed down the silent cave. Trapped!CHAPTER XIX.
Indian's fight for LIfe.
The feeling of horror which overwhelmed the helpless prisoners at that awful moment exceeds the possibility of description. They heard their comrade's scream, and that told them that no accident had caused the shutting of the door. An enemy had done it! They were lost!
But terrible though their agony was, it was nothing to that of the unfortunate Indian. For Indian was alone in the cave with the frenzied maniac! The timid lad had shrunk back in alarm before the hideous apparition with the upraised knife. Then he stood staring helplessly, trembling like a leaf. He was unarmed; flight was impossible. What should he do?
The old man flung his weight against the door to make sure that it was really shut. And then he whirled furiously about and faced his one remaining victim. Revenge and fury gleamed in his eyes as he stared. And the knotted muscles stood out on his clinched and eager hands. There was to be a desperate battle in that dark and silent chamber.
Perhaps if the creature had made even one sound to show that he was human the lad might have suffered less concentrated terror. But the man was as silent as the tomb he dwelt in. No cat could have crept more stealthily than he did when he began to advance.
He was in no hurry to do that, no hurry to relieve the frightful strain upon his trembling victim's mind. He crouched low and glared furiously, as if meanwhile calculating his next move. Then silently he put out one foot and stole forward. Indian's eyes were fixed upon him, as if held by some uncanny spell. As the man advanced Indian shrank back instinctively, his movement almost keeping time with the maniac, though his knees trembled so that he nearly fell to the floor. The man crept forward again, one step; and again one step Indian shrank back. He was so stupefied with terror, poor lad, that he could not even think that such a method could not save him. The wall of the cave was behind him! One step must soon prove his last.
They say that when a man is drowning he lives his life in the seconds in which he dies. The whole past rushes up before him as if the Book of Life was held before him. Nothing like that happened in Indian's case. He seemed to have but one thought; his fascinated gaze was fixed upon his steadily-advancing foe.
The old man was a terrible sight to look at. His fierce, exultant look of triumph made him doubly hideous, if such a thing could be. His bright eyes flashed and his teeth gleamed, as a savage tiger's might. Set in the mass of clotted and tangled bloody hair it made a face that might well cause the bravest to tremble. And certainly our timid and helpless Joseph Smith shook with terror. Indian had another thought to overcome him at that time of terror. Not only his own safety, but his friends'! All rested with him ! He alone could help them. Loud sounds rang deafeningly in his ears from behind that iron door. Cries of terror, voices pleading for help, all, all of them shouting his name. And in front of him, between him and the door, was the advancing maniac and his ever-gleaming knife.
A wild and desperate thought flashed over the agonized lad. One dash for the door! He might succeed in turning the fatal knob before the knife struck. But as Indian looked the fierce old man seemed to comprehend his purpose. His knotted muscles settled into a firmer and more tense position, as if he were nerving himself to be ready to spring at the move. At the same time he crept on still faster, and poor Indian shrank back in dread. Indian gazed about the cavern helplessly; his glance roamed over the floor and the walls, as if searching for something to aid him. But what could he hope to find? And then, suddenly, as his glance returned to the maniac, the lad sprang back with a shriek of terror.
The man had leaped forward! Indian turned wildly as if to flee; he struck against a chair that lay in his path and then half instinctively he seized it, and as he felt his foe's hot breath behind him, faced above it and raised the slight weapon on high. The old man made a savage spring and closed with his victim. The plebe brought the chair down with a desperate effort, all the strength that was in his body. A moment later he uttered a gasp of joy.
He had struck the descending knife. The shattered blade was falling to the ground! But Indian's triumph was for but a moment. With a hiss of rage, the savage creature leaped forward again. Indian turned once more and fled at the top of his speed. An instant later he caught sight of a black tunnel looming up before him—the passageway that led out—to safety! to friends! With redoubled speed, the lad plunged in; he ran as never had he run before in his life. For behind him he heard the quick, pattering footsteps of his pursuer, and the panting breath.
It was a race for life, and it was short. Indian reached the end, flung himself against the rock that barred the entrance. And the next instant he felt a heavy body leap upon his back; felt two griping, clawlike fingers close upon his gasping throat. And then down he went, kicking, struggling, gasping, suffocating, then all grew dark before him.
A minute or two later the maniac crept softly out from the entrance of that black tunnel. There was yet a fiercer gleam of triumph in his eyes and he raised his clinched hands above him as if in frenzied joy. Then he turned and shook them menacingly at the dungeon where the rest of his prey were lying.
What of them, meanwhile? Nothing much, except that they were suffering agony that cannot be described—agony of dread, suspense, uncertainty. Everything was hidden from them. Who had shut them up? And what of Indian? His silence surely boded no good. And would they suffocate? Or starve? Or what on earth would happen next?
They stood and stared at one another in helpless dread; even the bold Texan was unnerved by his awful situation. They remembered that the Parson had said a man would suffocate in that vault in half an hour. Was that to be their fate, then? They waited, counting the seconds in dread.
But the fates had not, it seemed, meant them for so kindly a death as that. The air in the room did not grow close, though they waited and waited, wondering why it was. They realized at last. They had once dug several small holes in the top wall of masonry to further a practical joke of theirs. There was also a crack between the iron door and the bottom of the cave. The combination was all that saved the five captives from asphyxiation.
And yet that might have been better than what stared them in the face. They had no implement to pierce the wall. The floor of the cave was rock. The fiend who had shut them in would surely never let them out! And what then? Starvation!
Thinking over that horrible prospect a sudden idea flashed over Mark. It made his heart bound with sudden hope. The Parson!
"He may come in!" gasped Mark. "Heaven help us,
we may be saved yet!"
If Mark had only been able to see the savage figure that was dancing like a caged hyena swiftly and silently up and down the shadowy cave he might have doubted his last living hope. At any rate, the crisis was soon to come. The prisoners were lying on the ground, with staring eyes and ears intent, listening for the faintest sound. The dreadful pattering steps they heard plainly and wondered what they meant. A moment later came another sound.
"Hello! By Zeus, where are you and what are you doing?"
The footsteps ceased abruptly. It was the Parson at the entrance of the cave!
The shouts and yells that followed his voice must have scared the learned scholar out of his boots.
"Go back! Help! Help! Run and get somebody! Look out! Fly for your life! There's somebody in the cave! Help!"
These and a thousand other warnings the agonized plebes were shrieking at the top of their lungs. Oh, so much depended on the Parson! If he, too, were overpowered! If he, too . . .
"Hurry back to camp!" roared Mark, at the top of his lungs. "Don't lose a moment! Fly!"
"By Zeus!" gasped the astonished Parson. "By the nine immortals, the inhabitants of 'the many-peaked Olympus!' By Apollo and Hercules and the followers of Neptune!"
"Run! Run! Run for your life! Don't you hear me?"
"But wherefore should I run? By Zeus, this is altogether the most extraordinary condition of affairs that has ever come under my cognizance!"
By this time the prisoners were nearly hysterical. "Run! Run!" they kept shrieking. "Don't come in- side!"
"But, by Zeus!" gasped the Parson, who it must be said was leaning halfway through the hole in the rock and peering into the darkness, listening to the medley of muffled voices in consternation. "But, by Zeus! why should I run? In the name of Pallas and her distaff, I demand. . . "
"There's somebody in the cave! They've shut us in here! We'll die! Oh, oh! And you'll be killed!"
"Run! Run! Get help! Don't come in! Do you hear?"
By this time the puzzled scholar began to comprehend. His friends, and he, too, perhaps, were in peril. If he could have seen the horrible figure that had been stealing upon him with the stealth and swiftness of a panther he would have realized his danger, indeed.
"By Zeus!" he called. "I begin to perceive. Forsooth, I will immediately hie myself Good heavens!"
The maniac had made the fatal leap!CHAPTER XX.
THE PARSON'S BATTLE.
The prisoners heard the Parson's startled cry, and they staggered back overwhelmed. They were lost!
As for Stanard, he was having a yet more terrible experience. His exclamation had been caused as he felt two clawlike hands seize him and fasten to him with the grip of a vise. An instant later he felt himself jerked into the cave as if he had been a child and flung violently to the ground.
Now, the Parson had considerable muscle, geologically developed. Also, as we know, he was capable of getting mad in genuine Boston tea-party style. He was mad then, and he made a fight with every bit of strength that was in him. He fought all the harder for realizing that the lives of his friends were the prize of the battle.
Writhing and twisting, he managed to struggle to his feet; with one desperate effort he flung off his assailant; and then, realizing that every second was precious, he turned and bounded away down the cave.
The place was as black as midnight, and the cadet had not the slightest idea what sort of a man his foe might be, or what sort of weapons he might have. But he heard the bounding steps behind him as he rushed toward the door, and fear lent wings to his pace.
The Parson's mightiest efforts, however, were in vain compared with the speed of the savage wild man. The Parson felt a hand clutching at him, catching under his coat, dragging him back, back, and reaching for his throat. He whirled about and struck out with all his power. A moment later there was another hand-to-hand struggle.
Powerful though Stanard was, and strain though he did in desperation, the horrible fact was speedily forced upon him that his sinewy foe was too much for him. The terrible battle was so quickly over, and its result so overwhelming, that the cadet nearly swooned as he fell. Two crushing arms had seized him about the body in a grip that never weakened, and half a minute later he was flat on his back with two gripping hands fixed on his throat.
Was it all up with the plebes then? They thought so, for they knew that the deathlike silence boded no good for them. They knew from the sounds they had heard that their friend had been attacked, and they lay and waited in agonized dread to learn what had been the issue. They heard not a sound to tell them, though at least a minute passed.
And then suddenly Great heavens! What was that?
"Hold up your hands!"
The voice was a perfect roar that filled the ghostly cavern with echoing noises. The prisoners sprang up and stared at each other in amazement, in delirious joy. It was a rescue! But where? And how? Who could it be?
The voice was not the Parson's; it was not Indian's!
Outside of the vault there was a dramatic scene at that critical moment. The actors in it were all of them no less amazed than the plebes inside.
The maniac had been completing his ghastly work. His knee was on his victim's chest, and the victim, blue in the face and gasping, was growing weaker every instant.
And suddenly, just in the nick of time, the cavern had seemed fairly to blaze with light.
The old man sprang up and gazed about him wildly; his victim staggered blindly to his feet, clutching helplessly at the air. And then loud and clear had rung the order: "Hold up your hands!"
It came from the entrance to the cave, the hole in the side of the rock. A figure was leaning in! In one hand he clutched a blazing torch and in the other a revolver that was pointing straight at the maniac. It was the sheriff from Highland Falls!
The maniac's answer was swift to come. With one wild, despairing cry—the first sound he had made that night—he whirled about and made a dash for the shadows. Quick as a wink the sheriff pulled the trigger of his weapon; there was a deafening report that seemed to shake the rocks. But it was a moment too late, for the old man had vanished in the passage.
With a cry of rage the sheriff leaped into the cave.
At the same moment the Parson, who had been gazing about him in consternation, gasping and striving to recover his wits, sprang forward in pursuit.
"He'll get out!" he shouted. "There's an entrance out there!"
The sheriff was at his heels as they bounded through the narrow tunnel. On, on they dashed! Rapid footsteps ahead urged them forward. The sheriff in his haste leaped past the half-blinded cadet and plunged on ahead to the end of the passage. There he stopped in dismay. The entrance was in front of him. The cool breeze from the mountain was blowing upon him. But the game had escaped, without sound or trail to follow!
All thought of pursuit was driven from his head an instant later. For from a dark corner in the passage came a low groan. The sheriff thought it was his prisoner, wounded;he made a dash for the spot. Then he started back with a cry of amazement.
Meanwhile the Parson, filled with a vague dread, had dashed down the tunnel and picked up the torch the sheriff had dropped. He rushed back and gazed about him. His worst fears were confirmed. It was Indian.
Stanard sprang toward him with a cry of alarm. But already the sheriff was on his knees beside the unfortunate lad. Indian was a sight to behold.
Evidently the maniac had taken the first thing that came to hand to make his captive safe. This was a pile of rags that had lain in the corner. Indian was wrapped and tied in them almost from his head to his feet. They were stuffed into his mouth, too, and he was bound so tight that he could not move a muscle.
The sheriff cut him loose—and the dazed lad staggered to his feet. He remained thus barely long enough to see where he was. Then a sudden idea flashed over him and he turned and dashed away toward the main room of the cave. The sheriff and the Parson followed at his heels.
A sight met the eyes of the two when they reached the scene which nearly knocked them over. Their comrades were staring in consternation at a group of half a dozen lads who were facing them. They were cadets! Yearlings! Rogers and his crowd!
"By the nine immortals!" gasped the astounded Parson.
"By the hundred hands of Gyas and the hundred gates of
Thebes ! How on earth did you come here ?"
The yearlings, on their part, were likewise amazed, too much amazed to answer; it was the sheriff who spoke. "We came up here to arrest you," he said.
"Arrest us!" gasped the Parson.
"Arrest us!" echoed the others.
"Thank Heaven that you did!" Mark added. "For you saved our lives."
"Yea, by Zeus!" added the Parson, feeling his throat.
"Bless my soul! yes!" chimed in Indian, spitting a few more rags out of his mouth.
"Look here!" demanded the sheriff, "who was that crazy man, anyhow?"
"How should we know?" cried the plebes.
"Do you mean," put in Rogers, in amazement, "that you didn't set him on us?"
That cleared up the mystery; Mark saw it all in the twinkling of an eye." "I understand now," he said, turning to his friends.
"When this crazy man attacked them the other day they thought we told him to."
"Of course !" cried Rogers. "Weren't you in the cave?"
"I understand," laughed Mark, not stopping to answer the question. "And you were so mad that you didn't tell a soul but watched and brought the sheriff up here to catch us with him. You never did us a better service in your life. That wild man would have murdered every one of us!"
"And my (Esophageal and laryngeal apparatus feels as if it had been through a clothespress," observed the Parson. "By Zeus, let us go back to camp; I'm in no mood for hunting lunatics."
And they started for camp before anybody could stop them. All had had enough of the wild man and were content to let the sheriff do the rest of the searching alone.CHAPTER XXI.
A CAMP IN THE WOODS.
It was the sound of a drum, echoing through Camp McPherson and proceeding from a small-sized drum orderly at the head of the company street; a stern and handsome lieutenant was standing nearby, and the cadets were pouring out of their tents and forming outside.
It was the forenoon of a bright August day and the white tents were shining in the sunlight, except for where they were darkened by the shadows of the waving trees.
The sound of the drum ceased abruptly; a moment later the officer strode down the line and faced it. Then came the order: "Attention, company!"
A silent, motionless line of statues the cadets became on the instant. And then, in obedience to further orders, they wheeled and marched by fours down the company street.
Those who are familiar with the appearance of the battalion under ordinary circumstances would have gazed in some perplexity at the lines that morning. They were very differently arrayed, for some reason.
In the first place as to the camp they left. Usually when the corps marched out to the parade ground they left their tents in spic-and-span order, nothing short of perfection itself. Now the tents were empty; there was nothing but the bare "wall tent" standing, and not a thing of any sort whatever inside of it. In fact, the camp was a "deserted village."
More strikingly true was this of the "guard tent." The guard tent had never before been left alone all summer. No matter where the battalion marched or what they did,
the members of the guard always had stayed by that tent, and those who were on duty, the sentries, never ceased to pace their beats. But now the sentries had joined the rest of the guard and fallen in behind the cadets, marching swiftly out of camp.
That was a very unusual procedure; the appearance of the cadets was very unusual, too. Their handsome dress uniforms were nowhere to be seen. They wore their fatigue dress, even the officers ; the plebes, or fourth classmen, had their close-fitting shell jackets and gray trousers. Each cadet, be he plebe or otherwise, had a heavy knapsack strapped to his shoulder, and also his share of a "shelter tent." Thus equipped and with glistening rifles in hand, they were turning their backs upon the silent camp.It seemed as if all the visitors on the post had turned out to see them march. They crossed Trophy Point and started up the road to the north, between two lines of cheering spectators, waving handkerchiefs and calling, "Good-by!" A few minutes later the last line had swung
around the turn and the post was silent and deserted.
Where were they going, you ask?
There is no very great mystery about it; the corps was on its way to Camp Lookout, in the mountains. That move is one of the events of the summer season to the cadets, for then they play "real soldier." They go into "rough camp," or bivouac, and altogether have quite an exciting time indeed.
That morning they had visited the trunk room and stowed away all their belongings—dress coats and hats, white trousers and so on. And now they were marching with nothing but knapsack and tent into the woods. The band was in front, and behind a big mule wagon with camp utensils. Getting through the mountain forest in that order was quite an interesting task indeed. One may readily imagine that the novices who had never taken part in such an adventure as this before were head over heels with excitement, figuratively speaking. One might look forward to any amount of fun during the ten days that were to follow. Our friends, "the Banded Seven," were fairly ready to dance for joy. When the battalion once got fairly into the woods it was found that a regular order could not be maintained. The band gave up playing then and a loose order of marching was adopted. That enabled the Seven to get together in the rear, where they fell to discussing the prospect.
"There's one good thing," Mark said, after they had been wondering if there was any prospect of meeting bears or wildcats by way of excitement, "we'll have a great deal more liberty. There won't be any delinquency book."
"Good!" growled Texas. "Who told you so ?"
"Everybody," responded Mark. "We're going to live in army style, and they don't have anything like that in the army."
Texas chuckled gleefully at the information.
"Make believe I ain't glad!" said he. "We won't have that air ole yearlin' corporal a-comin' in to boss us an' raise a rumpus 'cause there's dust on a feller's lookin'-glass and freckles on his nose. Doggone them yearlin's' boots!"
"And, b'gee," put in Dewey, the reconteur of the party. "B'gee, we'll have army rations —" hard-tack and water for ten days."
"Bless my soul!" gasped the fat and rosy Indian. No more terrible news on earth could have been given to Indian than that. "Bless my soul!" he repeated. "What on earth shall I do? Hard-tack and water!"
"It is terrible," observed Dewey, solemnly. "Why, they gave me better than that when I was in prison last time."
Indian gazed at his friend in alarm. The others spoiled the joke, however, by laughing.
"You're only fooling," the fat boy observed, wisely. "I think that's mean. Anyhow, I'm sure I shall starve."
"It won't be quite as bad as it's painted," Mark laughed, by way of consolation. "They'll probably give us something better than tack."
"And if they don't, b'gee," put in Dewey, "we can bite our finger nails."
The plebes had plenty of time to do their joking that morning, for there was a long, dreary walk ahead of them. In fact, they marched steadily for between three and four hours, with but few halts for rest. One may readily believe that the cadets were glad when it was over. The young soldiers got so tired that toward the end they relapsed into silence of their own accord. Nobody said anything more, except the learned Parson and the lively Dewey, both of whom saw an excellent opportunity to talk all they wanted to without interruption. When Dewey once got started at his jokes a whole express train full of air brakes couldn't have stopped him. He explained the matter to his meek and long-suffering companions by singing the verse from Alice in Wonderland:"'In my youth,' said his father, 'I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife.
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw.
Has lasted the rest of my life.'"
In Dewey's case, at any rate, it lasted until the welcome order was gIven: "Company, halt!" Which meant that the battalion was at last upon the scene of their home for the next ten days, "Camp Lookout," twelve miles back in the mountains from West Point.
Poor Indian, who was exhausted and breathless by this time, expected that he would get a chance to sit down and rest. But Indian was destined to learn that that is not the army way of doing business; he was obliged to content himself with a few longing glances at the inviting scene about him. Then he got to work.
The first order was to stack arms; the second to unsling knapsacks and deposit them near the guns. After that the corps pitched in to unload the mule wagon.
Under the direction of the officers, the plebes set to work to lay out the camp site. The small shelter tents were then pitched. They are known as "A tents," from their shape. A person who is curious for a more exact description of them may care to peruse that of the solemn Parson, who assured his friends that each was "a regular prism or parallelopipedon reclining upon one of its rectilinear facets and having for its base an equilateral triangle, whose vertical angle subtends an arc of forty-five degrees."
While the Parson was saying this most of the tents had been spread. The next duty was to dig a trench around each one and then to cut boughs upon which to sleep. By dinner time most of the work was done. The cadets were then on the verge of starvation.
The army "rations" which were issued proved to contain more than hard-tack, after all, much to the joy of our friend Indian's soul. There was a generous allowance of fresh meat, and three or four camp-fires already blazing by which to cook it. Everybody pitched in with avidity, and soon there was a lively scene indeed.
As usual, the Parson, who had, as we know, "taken all knowledge to be his province," was right on deck with information upon the art and science of culinary practice. The Parson gave the history of cookery from the time Abel roasted his sheep to the twentieth century. Very soon he wished he had kept quiet, for several mischievous yearlings promptly suggested that since he knew so much about it would he "be so kind" as to do their cooking for them? And so the unfortunate Parson was soon standing with a frying pan in each hand (neither containing his own dinner) and with a facetious youngster urging him to hold a third one in his teeth.
Such is a picture of perhaps the most enjoyable day in all the season of summer camp—the beginning of the bivouac in the mountains. Whether the practice is maintained at West Point to the present day the writer is not certain; but in Mark's day (and his own) it was a regular and much enjoyed custom.
The site of the camp is between two small lakes, Long Pond and Round Pond. Drinking water is obtained from one; the other the cadets use to bathe in. During the ten days of the stay they live in army style and when not on duty have the freedom of the woods. They learn guard duty, cook their own rations, and sleep on the ground.
Incidentally it may be mentioned that the plebes who during the whole summer long had been compelled to march with hands at their sides and palms to the front whenever they appeared in public were now for the first time allowed to walk as ordinary mortals and "slap at the mosquitoes that bite them." One may imagine that this is a privilege that is profoundly appreciated.
While we have been talking about them the cadets had gotten to work at their midday meal. Indian had started long ago, for he was so hungry that he had scarcely waited for the meat to cook. It was "rarer than a missionary," as Dewey observed, a remark so disgusting that the fat boy vowed he wouldn't eat another mouthful, a resolution to which he bravely stuck—having licked the platter clean before he made it.
Dinner was eaten and everything cleaned up. Then the guard detail for the day was assigned to duty, and after that the cadets scattered to amuse themselves as they pleased. Our friends, the Seven, went off straightway to find the swimming place.
For some reason not essential to the story, "B'gee" Dewey lingered behind at the camp. Some half an hour later he rejoined the party and they noticed to their surprise that he was out of breath and excited. His eyes were dancing merrily. Dewey was the delighted bearer of the information concerning the "banquet."
"B'gee !" he gasped. "Fellows—the greatest—b'gee!—the greatest—news of the century! Hooray!"
His friends gazed at him in surprise and curiosity."What's the matter?" demanded Mark.
"Yes, what's up?" chimed in Texas, his fingers beginning to twitch at the prospects of "fun." "Anybody to lick? Any fights? Any . . . "
"It's Bull Harris!" panted Dewey. "B'gee!—it's the chance of a lifetime!"
"Whoop!" roared Texas. "Out with it. Doggone his boots, I'm jes' a layin' fo' another whack at that air ole yearlin'. Whoop!"
If it had been Parson Stanard who had gotten hold of that news which Dewey was breathlessly trying to tell, hewould have kept the crowd upon the tenderhooks of expectation while he led up to the subject with sequipedalian perorations and scholarly circumlocutions. But the true story-teller's instinct was not in Dewey; he was anxious to be "out with it." The secret was too good a one to keep and the only reason he delayed for even a moment was that he was trying to regain his vocal powers, a process which was very much impeded by the number of "b'gees!" he felt duty bound to work in during the time.
"B'gee!" he gasped, "it's the greatest thing out. Bull's
going to give a party."
"Yes, b'gee! It seems somebody's sent him a box of eatables from home. He got it on the sly and none of the authorities know anything about it. Reminds me of a story I once heard, about . . . "
"Go on! Go on!"
"Oh, yes, I forgot. Well, it seems he's invited half a dozen of the yearlings—his gang, you know—to help him eat 'em, b'gee."
Indian smacked his lips and looked hungry.
"Whereabouts?" inquired Mark. "And when?"
"They're going to steal out into the woods tonight," continued Dewey. "One of the drum orderlies is going to have the box there for them."
"How did you learn all this?"
"I heard 'em talking about it. And, b'gee, they're exb'gee, are we going to allow it. I . . ."
"Wow, no!" roared Texas, indignantly. "The idea of their daring it. I say, we must bust up the hull bizness!"
"Yea, by Zeus!" echoed the Parson.
Mark cleared his throat at this stage of the proceedings and began solemnly:
"Fellow citizens," he said, "this matter has gone too far."
"The presumption of these yearlings! Such a thing has never been known in the history of West Point before.
I move, gentlemen, that we do not tolerate it for a moment. The very idea! Has it not been our special and exclusive privilege, disputed by no one, to leave camp at night whenever we want to? And are we to surrender our immortal rights as plebes to a handful of impudentbe objecting to our hazing them! Think of their daring to talk of leaving camp! And without our permission at that. And of their daring to get up a feast without offer ing us any! Why, such outrages are enough, as my friend, the Parson, here has so often said, to make the very dogs of Rome cry out in rage and mutiny."
"Yea, by Zeus!" said the Parson.
"Bless my soul!" gasped Indian, who didn't exactly perceive the humor of the matter.
Indian couldn't see but that the yearlings, from time immemorial the hazers of the plebe, had a perfect right to hold a feast if they wanted to.
However, he appeared to be the only dissenting member of the party; the rest were hilarious over Mark's speech, and the minority report "cut no ice."
"Gentlemen," said Mark, still laughing; and then in imitation of the Parson, he added: "Fellow citizens of Athens, I move that we swear a solemn oath upon this. . ."
"Went in swimming," suggested Dewey.
"—""yes," said Mark, "that'll do, won't it. Parson?
A solemn oath, I say, that, in Texas' vulgar parlance, we
bust up that banquet to-night. What do you say ? All in
"Amendment, b'gee!" chuckled Dewey. "I move, Mr. Chairman, that we say eat it instead."
"Bless my soul!" chimed in Indian, suddenly taking an interest in the proceedings. "Bless my soul, yes! That's what I say, too. Let's eat it!"
"Amendment accepted," laughed Mark. "All in favor,please say ay!"
And the roar that resulted shook the woods. It boded ill for Bull Harris and his yearling crowd.CHAPTER XXII.
A DESPERATE CONSPIRACY.
As Dewey said, this was a rare chance. Bull Harris was going to act as host and commissary at one of those surreptitious feasts so common among the cadets. Now for plebes to do such a thing had always been against "the law," consequently the yearlings had no right to do it in this case. You may not see the argument very clearly, but it was plain as day to the Seven. You see, they had conquered the yearlings and put the yearlings just where the plebes had always been. Ergo—that feast must be stopped.
The party forgot all about swimming and speedily dissolved itself into a committee of ways and means to consider the problem. The suggestions were various and interesting, as usual. First on deck was the worthy cowboy. Any one could have guessed in a moment what his advice would be. He wanted to sail right in "an' wallop 'em." "Look a yere, fellows," he said, "I ain't had a first- class rousin' ole scrap fo' weeks. Now, you know I kain't stand a thing like that very long. I'm agoin' to have to lick somebody or bust. I say we jes' sail right in an' drive 'em off."
"Betcher life, b'gee!" observed Dewey.
"Objection, Mr. Chairman," said the Parson, gravely.
"There'll be a good many of them, and " "The mo' the merrier!" cried Texas. "I want to fight."
"Bless my soul!" gasped Indian's little voice. "I don't say to. We'll spoil all the goodies. I say let's scare 'em off and eat the supper."
That was the first time the timid fat boy had ever been known to offer a suggestion in council. But this was a very grave matter for Indian; the picture of so many "goodies" being trampled upon by the ruthless combatants was indeed a terrible one. And so Indian ventured a word for peace, even in opposition to that dreadful Texan.
It happened curiously enough, however, that Indian's suggestion was the one adopted, after all. A little sober discussion soon brought out the fact that Dewey hadn't the least idea how many yearlings Bull meant to have, and while on paper several plebes might very easily drive off a dozen or two yearlings, it was quite another matter when one came to the actual combat. Therefore, in spite of all the Texan's indignant protestations, it was agreed that strategy alone was to win this battle. Or, in other words "We've got to scare 'em off, b'gee!"
But that, too, had its difficulties when you came to carry it out. The first suggestion was that somebody dress up as a ghost and scare the yearlings away. It seemed as if Providence had lent its sanction to this idea, for the Parson was truly "just built" to play the ghost. In fact, so Dewey said, he was such a fine specimen that it was a miracle that Beelzebub hadn't appeared and carried him off to Hades before this; the only possible supposition was that he was waiting for the Parson to train down a little for the journey.
All this was irrelevant, and irreverent besides. The ghost idea was squelched by Mark's observation that the yearlings would probably get on to the scheme and go for the ghost; the Parson therefore declined to serve.
Dewey suggested that a few horrible groans from the dark woods might do the work. It was argued, however, that they'd hardly run away for that; Indian vowed that it would take more than a groan to scare him away from a supper, and the Seven could not but admit that what wouldn't scare Indian would surely not do for the yearlings.
Quite a long time was spent in fruitless discussion. It is not necessary to repeat it all here. Suffice it to say that nobody thought of anything that seemed just quite right to do for so important an occasion, and that the unhappy plebes were still discussing the matter when they strolled back toward camp that afternoon. It lacked then still half an hour before the drum sounded the call to quarters, and so there was no use entering the enclosure. The party sat down on a fallen log nearby, and lazily watched the doings of the plebes who were on guard and the corporal who was "testing" them. Meanwhile they still discussed the all-important problem. It did seem then as if they'd have to fall back on the original Texas proposition—a desperate charge, a hand-to-hand conflict, and "to the victor belong the spoils."
"But it'll be all spoiled!"–wailed Indian.
Yet, what else was there? The Parson had left all his chemicals behind, and so he could not devise any "pyrotechnic effects" to frighten them. As to bribing the drum orderly, that was impossible, because the yearlings would "make it hot for him," if he turned traitor. And that was about all that had so far been suggested.
While they were discussing it one of the tactical officers came out of his tent and strode past the sentry. He came toward the plebes, and they stopped talking, arose and saluted him as he passed. A moment or two later he had gone into the woods and they sat down again.
That may seem to be a very trivial incident; the reader is probably wondering why on earth it is mentioned here at all. Great happenings, however, depend very often on the most trivial circumstances.
It was Erasmus who observed that if Cleopatra's nose had been just a little shorter the whole history of the globe would have been changed. You may dispute that if you choose, but at any rate, it is most certain that a very desperate and daring scheme was destined to grow out of this incident—the passing of the blue-uniformed lieutenant.
The Seven were silent for a few moments after having resumed their comfortable attitudes. Then Texas spoke.
"Do you know, Mark," said he, "somehow or other when I look at that 'tac' I always think of you."
"Why's that?" laughed Mark.
"You look so much like him," was the answer.
"I shall be glad," Mark responded, "if I can always make as soldierly an appearance as Lieutenant Allen does."
"Well, you look just like him," said Texas. "Your figures are alike and your faces, too, a little."
After that there was another silence. But it was the silence before the storm; such a silence as you might suppose would occur when a man was about to drop a match in a keg of powder. And then suddenly Mark leaped up with a cry of surprise, of delight, of—what shall I say to describe it?
"By jingo!" he cried, "I've got it!"
The rest—stupid idiots!—stared at him in amazement.
"Got it!" echoed Texas. "Got what?"
Mark was too busy dancing about with delight to answer. But suddenly he stopped and stared at his friends. "Do you mean," he demanded. "Do you fellows mean that you actually haven't guessed it? What!"
The crowd only stared at him in all the more perplexity then.
"I haven't, for one," said Texas.
Mark gazed at him quizzically. "I must say you're very dull," he said. "I expected better things from my old chum. See here, I'll explain it for you." Mark sat down again, after executing another delighted fandango. Then he sat and eyed his companions. "I'll help you to guess what I mean," said he, smiling. 'Listen, my children, and you shall hear.' Pay attention, and no peeking on your neighbor's slates."
"Go on!" growled Texas, who was somewhat piqued at not having seen the mysterious joke. "Go on an' quit yo' foolin'."
"All right," laughed Mark, "You said I looked like
Allen, didn't you?"
"Yes; what about it?"
"I'd look a good deal more like him if I had his uniform on, wouldn't I?"
"Yes; but . . . "
"And more yet if it was at night?"
"Of course. But what "
"Oh, pshaw!" cried Mark. "How much longer must I wait ? Do you want me to tell you the whole thing? Look here! Suppose you were off in the woods, eating a supper, beyond limits at night, and should meet with a blue-uniformed officer who looked like the dreaded Lieutenant Allen—would you run?"
The six "idiots" saw it then!
With one whoop of joy that fairly shook the camp they had leaped to their feet and made a spring for Mark; after that you would have called them idiots no longer, but ordinary maniacs. For they were dancing about, laughing, hurrahing, slapping each other on the back, rolling on the ground for joy. They had the plot at last! They were going to masquerade as officers and fool those yearlings!
There never were seven such hysterical plebes since the founding of Rome, when "plebes" first began to exist. They were incoherent and breathless for at least ten minutes after Mark's revelation. At last, however, Texas managed to gasp:
"Where are you going to get a blue uniform—like Allen's?"
And Mark, equally out of breath, managed to answer: "I'll take his!"
"His! For Heaven's sake, how?"
"Run off with it! He never uses it at night!"
And then there were more hysterics.CHAPTER XXIII.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT's FEAST.
"Eleven o'clock and all's we-ell!"
It was the call of the sentry ringing through the silent woods and still more silent camp.
The sentries that night were marching under very different circumstances from the usual ones. No broad paths and moonlit, tree-shaded avenues; no gas lamps and spacious tents; but, instead of these, a small clearing, with the smallest of small shelter tents lit only by smoldering camp-fires, and beyond these a dark wood with sentry beats that ran uphill and down, over fallen logs and brush. Guard duty in the woods was a far less pleasant business than at Camp McPherson.
It was easier, too, for a person to pass one of the sentries here, for the latter could not see from one end of his beat to the other, small though it was; "the orders of the night" had accordingly called for extra watchfulness.
However, as we know, cadets have ways of getting the better of official orders. A certain merry crowd of yearlings who were just then stealing silently about the grounds were not the least alarmed for fear the sentry might challenge them; they had it all arranged before-hand and they vanished silently into the woods without their comrade on duty even "seeing" them. The reader scarcely needs to be told that it was Bull and his friends.
There were fully a dozen in that party. A very few moments later another party, seven in number, were creeping about the camp just as the yearlings had. They did one thing, however, which the yearlings did not do. That one thing we must notice before we follow them into the woods. Two of them crept down the main "street" of the camp to one tent, a rather large tent at its head. The two were trembling quite a little as they went. Why shouldn't they tremble?
"I guess this is the most daring thing we ever did," one of them whispered. "If we should be found out there'd be a war for fair. 'Sh! I wonder if he's asleep."
It seemed that he was—for as the two paused and listened at the door of the tent they could distinctly hear a loud breathing. Considering the rank of the personage it would scarcely seem right to call it a "snore."
However that may be, let us go on with the story. It is not the writer's intention to have anybody shivering in suspense at this critical moment, dreading lest the hero's wild prank should arouse the sleeping ogre.
Suffice it to say that after a brief space of time devoted to whispering and hesitating, one of the two figures knelt down and gently, very gently, slid one arm in under the canvas. Then gently, still more gently, he drew it out again. No disciple of the genuine Fagin himself could have done the act more silently, or gotten up and stolen way more swiftly than did those conspirators two. Half a minute later the Seven were flying past the sentry beat and into the woods beyond. The sentry did not "see" this party either; he'd have jumped with surprise if he had. For awhile six of the party wore the regular plebe gray; one of them was clad in a uniform that was blue!
We must leave them now to the guidance of the merry "B'gee!" and hasten on ahead to the scene of that long-delayed "Bull Harris' banquet." The conversation of the plebes would not interest us anyway, for all they did was to chuckle in wild delight over the "success" of their plot; if those lads could only have foreseen the result of their foolhardy act it is safe to say that they would have been considerably less hilarious and considerably more alarmed.
The yearlings were no less merry. By this time they had reached their destination, which was only a very short ways off from the camp—just far enough for safety. Here they found the drum orderly awaiting them.
That youngster was seated on a box, mounting guard; the contents of the box we are sure the reader will agree were enough to justify the cadets in all their happiness. The first thing to do was to light a camp-fire; everybody pitched in to help gather wood under the direction of the officious Bull, who, as host, naturally felt duty bound to boss everything. Pretty soon there was a merry blaze that lit up the little open space in the woods and the jolly party of lads who were gathered within it. The latter had by this time seated themselves about on the ground, chatting and joking, while they watched the all-important operation of opening that box.
In order to appreciate what follows it may be well for us to take a glance at the faces of that crowd and see how many we can recognize. It is safe to hazard a guess in the first place that a crowd whom Bull selected to aid him in his festivities would not include very many of the better element of the class. Bull was not very popular among such, as anybody might guess by a glance at his decidedly coarse features; his particular cronies, who had aided him in all his efforts to torment Mark, were a very unpleasant crowd of persons indeed.
They were all there tonight. There was the brutal Gus Murray, the sallow and sarcastic Vance, the amiable Baby Edwards, and Rogers, the big chap whom Mark had made a fool of a few days previously. In fact, there was scarcely one member of that crowd of twelve who had not some grudge against our plebe friends. And so it is not to be wondered that the conversation turned upon them before very long.
By this time the cover had been pried off of that box, and Bull proceeded to spread out its contents, amid general interest and excitement. The crowd moved up closer instinctively and conversation was unanimously suspended.
Bull's parents, or whoever had arranged the contents of that highly interesting package, had evidently "known their business." They had wasted no room on ham sandwiches and such nuisances, which nobody wanted, but had filled the case to the brim with every kind of pie and cake that a hungry cadet could wish for. The piece de re-
sistance, a huge fruit cake, which came out last, would most certainly have called for three cheers if it had not been for the proximity of the camp. As it was, there was a murmur of pleasure; and then Bull gave the signal.
"Pitch in," said he, "and help yourselves." Nobody waited to be asked twice. Every one in the crowd soon had a handful of something, and the conversation, which had been hushed in mock suspense, broke forth merrily again. The momentous banquet had started at last; people who have been to picnics and similar affairs may imagine how the cadets were enjoying it. "Where ignorance is bliss 'tis folly to be wise." It was perhaps just as well that the cadets were ignorant in this—ignorant of certain malignant villains who were wandering about the vicinity, bent, like Sir Hudibras, on interrupting all the fun they saw.
For the seven wicked plebes were flitting about in the woods by this time, only waiting for a favorable opportunity to spring their coup d'etat.
They didn't mean to wait very long. Any one could see that after the yearlings were once let loose at the provisions it was the matter of only five or ten minutes before there would be nothing at all in sight. But something happened just then which made Mark very loath to interrupt the proceedings.
That something has already been hinted at before; it was simply that the conversation had turned upon Mark
and his friends. And it did seem to be too good a chance to waste, to hide in the woods and listen to a dozen of your enemies discuss you.
The subject was brought up by way of our old acquaintance, Rogers. Rogers had had a dispute with Mallory a day or two ago which he had never yet told his classmates about; they urged him to, then, but he only shook his head. That, however, turned the talk to the Banded Seven. Parson Stanard had the pleasure of hearing himself referred to as a crane, a goggle-eyed pile of bones, etc. Baby Edwards cheerfully remarked that he thought Texas was a bluff from start to finish, and that he—Baby—could lick him in a minute. It took all six of the plebes to choke Texas and prevent his giving a yell of indignation at that insult.
Cheerful though these remarks were, nobody was touched up in quite such style as Mark, the chief offender.
The whole twelve vied with each other in thinking up epithets to apply to him; in this Bull Harris, the host, set the lead. "I'll tell you what, fellows," he said, after Gus Murray, amid great applause, had announced his intention of thrashing Mark in a few days. "I tell you, we've got to subdue that fellow some way. He's succeeded in spoiling our fun all this summer. He's ruined every bit of hazing! And if we don't get rid of him somehow he'll keep up his tricks through the winter. There's nothing we attempt that he don't spoil. It's a wonder that he hasn't found out about this affair tonight and tried to drive us off."
"I wish he would!" put in Merry Vance. "By Heaven! He'd regret it!"
"You bet he would!" roared the crowd. "There are enough of us here to handle him," Bull went on. "That's the reason he don't dare try it, for he's nothing but a blamed coward. He wouldn't dare show his face."
It was just here that Bull Harris stopped. Do you ask why?
Perhaps you remember the story of Belshazzar's feast and the proverbial handwriting on the wall. There is a very famous painting of that scene, which it will do no harm to describe. It represents the banquet hall of the king; there is a magnificent room and a table loaded with every conceivable delicacy. A rollicking, feasting crowd is grouped about it, with the king in state at the head.
And on the wall behind them is the dreadful hand and its warning of destruction.
The king is like a man who has seen a ghost. His trembling finger is pointing, and his eyes are glazed with terror. And that is the best description that can be said of the boastful yearling, Bull Harris, at that moment.
The laughter had ceased in one instant, as if every man in the crowd had been struck dead. They were all of them staring, panting with horror no less than Bull's.
Standing in the shadow of the trees was a figure that seemed fairly to have paralyzed them. In the darkness they could not see his face, but his uniform and figure they knew. It was Lieutenant Allen! And in his hand he held a notebook, upon which he was calmly jotting down the names of the cadets he saw!
It was all over a moment or two later. The horrified lads realized their ruin, and one idea flashed over every one of them. Perhaps he hasn't recognized me yet! And then as one man they leaped to their feet and made a dash for the darkness of the trees. Their feast they left half
finished behind them.
And a minute later six chuckling plebes came forth and joined "Allen" in capturing the spoils.CHAPTER XXIV.
A TERRIBLE REVENGE.
You could not imagine seven more altogetlier delighted lads if you tried for a month. Once they had made sure that the enemy was gone for certain they swiftly went wild. Their plot had worked so perfectly! And so suddenly and completely! They danced about and hugged each other and yelled for joy —all of them but the frugal Indian, who was busily stowing away his double share of the provisions.
"We're perfectly safe," laughed Mark. "For the yearlings won't dare return."
That proved to be a correct guess. Bull and his crowd were so horror-struck and subdued by that terrible ending of their fun that they stole back to camp like so many whipped curs.
And meanwhile just make believe those wicked plebes didn't go for the victuals. There was enough left for twice as many, even if they had all been Uke Indian. Even the Parson, who usually didn't believe in "irrational gourmandizing," forgot his dignity so far as to take a pumpkin pie in one hand and a piece of fruit cake in the other and try to eat them both at once, which he found almost as difficult as the impossible feat of drinking two glasses of water together.
For the next five minutes everybody devoted himself strictly to the duty of eating, excepting when some one of them would find it necessary to sink back on the ground and explode in laughter. In that condition we must leave them and return to camp, where interesting things were happening, things which were destined to reproduce on that ill-fated picnic ground another exact reproduction of "Belshazzar's Feast."
Bull Harris and his companions stole into camp about as disgusted and frightened a lot of yearlings as ever were anywhere. They hurried past the sentry without even stopping to signal him. For what did they care now? They were expelled, all of them! They stood by the
camp-fire for a few moments disconsolately, whispering together. And then they scattered to their tents and proceeded to pass the long, weary night as best they could.
Each of the tents in "Camp Lookout" held two occupants. Bull and Gus Murray tented together, and they went in, sat down and then stared at each other lugubriously. Neither of them said anything for some time, for neither had anything to say.
"How do you suppose Allen found it out?" whispered Bull, at last.
"I don't know," growled the other. "He saw us go out, I guess. Or, perhaps somebody told him; Mallory for instance."
"It would be just like him," returned Bull, though he knew that Murray didn't mean that remark seriously. "Confound it, Gus, do you know what makes me dread to get fired for this is that idea of having that confounded plebe gloat over it! Plague take the luck! I could. . . "
Bull stopped just then; there was a startling interruption. Merry Vance's sallow face peered into the tent, and Merry was panting with excitement.
"What's the matter?" cried Bull.
"What about him?"
"He's in his tent!"
"Yes! I heard him. I went and looked in! He was asleep! It wasn't Allen that we saw!"
"For Heaven's sake!" gasped Bull. "What do you mean?"
"I tell you that it wasn't Allen! What are you gaping at me that way for? Allen hasn't been out of his tent. The sentry told me so!"
Bull and Gus Murray were thunderstruck. If the world had been coming to an end just then they couldn't have been more confounded.
"Not out of his tent!" they gasped. "Then, in Heaven's name! Who did we see?"
"I don't know; but it wasn't Allen."
"But he had his uniform, man! And none of the other tacs have come up from the Point yet! He's the only one here; It must have been Allen!"
Vance was just as much puzzled as his friends. But suddenly a ray of light struck him. He leaped up with a furious imprecation.
"What is it?" cried Bull.
But Vance was gone. He had dashed away in the darkness, through the camp. A second later he bounded up back, and wild with rage.
"It's Mallory!" he exclaimed.
"Yes. He's not in his tent! He's stolen Allen's clothes and fooled us!"
And as Bull leaped to his feet, his face was livid with passion. He shook his fist at the sky. "By Heaven!" he cried, "he'll pay for this if I have to kill him. Call the fellows! Quick! Quick!"
We must go back to the scene of the feast. The incidents narrated above had taken but a very few minutes indeed, and the feast was still under way. In fact, the Parson had scarcely finished his pumpkin pie and Indian had eaten but three of them. So you may guess that the banquet had barely gotten started.
Mark got up to propose a toast. They had no wine, but fruit cake was just as good for toast, so Dewey said. Mark was as unsteady on his legs as if he had been drinking; it was all from too much laughing, however.
"Fellow citizens!" he began. "Fellow citizens of Athens, we have assembled upon this most auspicious occa sion to consummate one of the most glorious deeds ever signed by a notary public. Fellow citizens. . ."
"Hooray!" roared Texas.
"Not so loud," laughed Mark, "or you'll have the camp awake. And if that should happen while I've got Allen's uniform, there'd be a terrible. . ." And then Mark stopped just as Bull Harris had done! He started back in just as much horror, too. His companions leaped to their feet in consternation. It was the second handwriting on the wall!
The cause of the alarm came in the form of a noise.
And a moment later a perfect roar that shook the woods, seeming to come from a hundred throats, broke on the ears of the horrified Seven.
It was the yearlings' revenge!
Mark sprang forward with a cry. "They've alarmed the camp!" he shouted. "The camp! We'll be discovered! We're lost! Good Heaven!"
It was a terrible moment. The lads gazed at each other in dismay. They were paralyzed. There would be an inspection in camp! And they would be missed! And Allen's uniform!
A second later Mark whirled about and dashed into the woods.
"Come on!" he cried. "Come on! We may not be too late!"
It was a faint hope, but they tried it. Over the ground they flew like mad, stumbling, plunging. Shouts and yells still came from the camp to urge them to yet greater haste.
And then suddenly they burst out of the woods and Camp Lookout lay before them.
There was visible then a scene so utterly extraordinary and incomprehensible that it taxes the pen to describe
it. Surely never at a military encampment had such a sight been beheld before. Terrified though those seven plebes were they could scarcely keep from roaring as they saw it.
The yells— which, of course, had come from Bull and his crowd—had created the wildest imaginable confusion.
Cadets had leaped up and rushed out of their tents. And Lieutenant Allen had sprung to his feet and began groping about in the darkness for his clothing. Naturally he had not found it, and hence the extraordinary scene.
His cries of rage—for when he realized that some one had had the audacity to steal his clothing and then awaken the camp, you may guess how he raved—had brought cadets and officers to his tent a-flying, in their underclothes. And there they stood huddled together in amazement, while the furious officer, torn between a desire to rush out and murder some one and a sense of dignity which forbade him to appear before his cadets as he was, raged in his tent like the wrathful Achilles and howled for vengeance.
Meanwhile what were the plebes doing? Can you guess? The sentries had all deserted their posts and rushed to see what was the matter with the "tac." Those seven mischievous plebes dashed into camp with the speed of a whirlwind, plunged into their tents and flung off their clothes.
And now there remained only the telltale uniform, the uniform which had caused delay and saved them so far.
Mark's tent lay right behind the officers, and suddenly
when no one was looking a gun was poked out. On the end of the gun a bayonet! On the end of the bayonet a uniform! And it was quietly tossed over against the back of the tent.
A moment later some one saw it.
"It's poking under the canvas of your tent!" was the cry.
And Allen, red with rage and chagrin, yanked up the cloth and pulled in his mislaid clothing.
A minute later the long roll sounded. The cadet adjutant called off the names and faced and saluted as the unfortunate tac appeared.
"All present, sir," said he.
The Banded Seven were safe once more, but it had been a close shave.CHAPTER XXV.
IN CAMP LOOKOUT.
"By jingo ! it certainly was the closest shave that I ever had! I hope I'll never get another such scare."
The speaker was Mark. It was early in the morning, and the plebes were gathered about Mark's tent, awaiting the signal for inspection.
There were the members of the famous Banded Seven. That crowd, so it appeared, was not the only crowd that was gathered in the streets of Camp Lookout that morning, for the purpose of discussing things. In fact, a stranger passing through the place might have thought it a sewing school, a town pump or an afternoon tea.
These places are quoted as the ones where gossiping is most likely to occur. It seemed as if every cadet in the camp knew no better occupation in life than talking —evidently something had happened to create excitement among the lads.
"We ought to thank our stars we got out of the scrapeas we did," one of them added. "Do you suppose any of the cadets have an idea that we had anything to do with the affair?"
"I don't," said Mark. "That is, of course, excepting Bull Harris, and his friends among the third classmen.
I overheard one of the first class talking of it a while ago.
"What did he say?" asked one, eagerly.
"He said," answered Mark, "that he didn't know what to make of the matter. All he knew was that a frightful lot of yelling had awakened the camp during the night, and that when Lieutenant Allen, the tactical officer in command, jumped up to find out what was wrong he discovered that some one had stolen his uniform. Of course he couldn't come out without it, and he raged and stormed about for nearly five minutes inside. Then he discovered his clothes lying outside of his tent. When he came out and ordered a roll call he found everybody in and nothing wrong." "And what does he suppose was the cause of his unform being mislaid?"
"He doesn't know what to think. He doesn't know whether it was a prank of some kind or carelessness on his part. Isn't that a rich joke?"
"Betcher life, b'gee!"
The reader does not need to be told that that observation came from Dewey. "I wonder what Allen would say," chuckled thatyoungster, "if he only had any idea of the real way the accident happened. If he knew that a certain plebe by the name of Mallory had swiped his uniform, b'gee!"
"S'h! not so loud!"
"Sure enough," remarked Dewey. "I forgot that. Reminds me of a story I once heard, b'gee—told me by my great uncle on my father's starboard side. What's that? You don't want to hear it? Well, who was going to tell it? I never said I was, did I? I was just going to say when you interrupted me last that I wonder what Allen would think if he knew that Mallory had borrowed his uniform and had gone off in the woods to play lieutenant and scare Bull Harris and a party of yearlings away from a feast they were eating. Hey?"
"He would in all probability be aggravated to a considerable degree," observed Parson Stanard. "He would doubtless be in the condition of mind which was so accurately, scientifically, and at the same time poetically, described by the immortal Homer in the four hundred and sixty-third line of the eleventh book of the imperishable Iliad, beginning. . . "
"And ending." observed Dewey, whereat the indignant Parson stopped his discourse and went back into his shell like a sulky oyster.
"Allen would be mad fo' a fact," remarked Texas. But, hang it ! I don't think he'd be half as mad at that as ef he knowed how that air noise came to be made; ef he learned that there were some yearlin's in his company so mean as to raise a rumpus when they knew we were out o' camp an' would be missed an' expelled. I reckon that air's 'bout as ornery a trick as I ever heerd 'bout. Hey?"
"It's hardly as bad as that, Texas," laughed Mark, generously. "You see, Bull and the crowd were pretty mad that we plebes had dared to fool them and spoil their feast. And Bull always has hated me, you know."
"I guess I do know it!" growled Texas, angrily. "I'm a goin' to punch his ole head fo' him pretty soon ef he don't stop them coyote tricks o' his. We'd a' been fired sho' last night ef you hadn't had Allen's clothes so's he couldn't leave his tent to inspect. Bull Harris'll try that air thick once too often, doggone his boots!"
Mark laughed gently, and then sat down in front of the tent.
"Fellows," he said, after a moment's thought, "I've got something to say to you. Texas' last remark made me think of it. This is a matter of business for the Banded Seven to decide on."
The Seven looked important at that. Indian opened the round little saucers which did him for a frightened pair of eyes and leaned forward to listen. Master Chauncey Van Rensselaer Mount-Bonsall bowed with dignity; and Methusalem Zebediah Chilvers, farmer and populist from Kansas, who had been lounging as usual at the back of the tent, opened one eye and waited.
Having thus obtained attention, Mark began: "Texas observed," he said, "that Bull would try that trick of raising a row while we were out of camp at night once too often. Now that's a fact; he may. And you know as well as I do that to be caught outside of the sentry lines at night would mean court-martial and dismissal for every one of us. I'm beginning to think that it's hardly worth the risk. You know how Bull hates us; our cutting up as we did last night is lots of fun, but it only gives him a weapon to hurt us with. It. . ."
"Say, look a yere," cried Texas at this stage of the game. "Do you mean to say that you're drivin' at advisin' us to stay in camp every night?"
"Yes," said Mark, "I am."
"Well, I jes' tell you I ain't," growled Texas. "No, sah, I ain't! Why, what fun would there be? Life wouldn't be worth livin'! I won't do it !"
"You might lick Bull Harris instead," laughed Mark.
"That would be exciting."
Texas admitted that that was a mitigating circumstance.
"You see," Mark continued, "we're safe if we stop now. Allen hasn't the least idea that we've been cutting up, and none of Bull's gang dare tell him, because, you see, they were out of camp, too. And I think we've gone far enough for a while. I don't want any more such scares as I had last night."
"Me neither," wailed Indian. "Bless my soul!"
And the Parson added:
"Yea, by Zeus!"
It is now necessary for the sake of the story that the Banded Seven be left where they were, discussing that problem. The reader must be introduced to another personage. Lieutenant Allen, tactical officer in command of Company A in the West Point Battalion, was just then standing in his tent, buckling on his sword preparatory to the morning inspection. Lieutenant Allen was very thoughtful that morning; he had been very thoughtful during the night also. But he had recovered his dignity and equanimity since the adventure, outwardly at any rate. The lieutenant had gone to the back of his tent for a moment; then he stepped to the entrance—and suddenly stopped. An envelope was lying at his feet.He gazed at it in surprise and then stooped and picked it up. There was an address upon it which he read: "Lieutenant Allen."That was a strange way to get mail.
"The "tac" went to the tent door and glanced about him. But he saw no one and so he went back into his tent and tore open the letter. He read it. And as he read it his face seemed fairly to turn blue, whether with anger or amazement, or excitement, no one can say. He dropped his hands and gazed about him as if to make sure where he was. Then he raised the letter and stared at it again."To Lieutenant Allen: The lieutenant may be interested in knowing who it was that stole his uniform last night. It was Cadet Mallory! And if the lieutenant doubts this he has only to watch and he will see Cadet Mallory go out of camp tonight also. A word to the wise is sufficient!"
And as Allen finished the reading of that note he crushed it in his hand.
"By Jove!" he muttered. "It was a dirty brute who wrote that. I'll catch him as well as Mallory." And then he strode out of his tent to begin the morning inspection.CHAPTER XXVI.
A TRAP FOR MALLORY.
"It's settled now, is it?" The speaker was Mark again. He was standing in just the same position as when we left him for the brief glance at Lieutenant Allen. And he was addressing the same six plebes as previously, their weighty discussion being now about over. "We've agreed," he said, "as I understand it, to stop cutting up monkey shines for a while. We're going to stay in camp and devote our nights to sleeping."
"Except," put in Texas, by way of reminder.
"Of course," assented Mark. "Except, as we said, something extraordinary should happen. There's no use making any resolves that we won't keep. If we should find, for instance, that Bull and his crowd were giving another party. . . "
"Wow!" cried Texas, excited at the very mention of such a possibility.
"Why, of course, we should have to stop it," laughed Mark. "But that is something not liable to happen. I don't see any reason why we shouldn't stay in camp and amuse ourselves in legitimate ways for a while."
"Such as walloping Bull," suggested Dewey, whereat the ex-cowboy smacked his lips.
"Bull is a goin' to git walloped pretty soon," observed the latter, "ef he don't stop his tomfoolery."
"Bull has no idea of doing that," said Mark. "His enmity is of too long standing for that. And there goes the drum, by the way."
Bull Harris had tried one trick more, a trick the most contemptible of them all. The reader has of course been discerning enough to guess the authorship of that anonymous note. If he has not he has only to read a short way further and see the new method by which Bull proposed to achieve his villainous desire.
About the same hour that the plebes were discussing their new resolution certain other cadets, four in number, were also holding a council. They were yearlings, all of them well known to us. They were very much excited over something just then.
"Did he get it ?" Vance was eagerly inquiring.
"He did," said Bull. "And he read it, too".
"Did you see him?"
"Yes. I watched him from the tent across the way."
"And was he mad at all?""Mad! I guess. By George! he was red as a lobster!"
"Do you suppose he'll do anything about it now?"
Bull sneered as he responded. "Do you suppose I was such a fool as to fix it that way? Not much! He's going to wait to get his proof tonight, that is, if he's got any sense at all."
"What kind of proof will he get?"
"You're worse than a catechism, Vance," chuckled Bull.
"He, he!" chimed in Baby. "A catechism! Pretty good! See that. Merry? A catechism asks questions, you know. "
"Oh, shut up!'" snapped Vance. "You ought to be minding your own business! See here, Bull, I want to know how you're going to manage this. What's the use of being so secret about it? How's Allen going to catch Mallory tonight?"
"He's going to find him out of camp," answered Bull.
"But how do you know Mallory'll go?"
"I'll fix that!" laughed Bull. "I'll tell you about it. But here comes Allen now. Wait till after inspection."
The four precious scamps scattered to their respective tents at that and there was a brief cessation of the plotting while every one attended to business. Pretty soon, however, the wheels began to turn again and the little drama to hurry on.
It was after the ceremony of guard mounting and inspection had both gone by. The plebes who were so unfortunate as to be assigned to the duty of policing lined up for work. The rest of the corps was at liberty to roam the woods as they pleased after that until dinner time.
And then it was that things began to happen again.
Our friends, as it chanced, were curious and eager to see what happened to the remainder of the feast left behind them so hurriedly last night. It had occurred to them that it might not be a bad idea to clear away the debris, in case Allen should chance to stroll over that way.
Accordingly they set out through the woods, all of them together. They did not reach their destination, however.They heard a voice behind them calling: "Mr. Mallory! Oh, Mr. Mallory!"
To their amazement, when they faced about they found none other than our worthy friend Vance following them.
It must be something unusual to make their deadly enemy call after them in that way, and so they waited in puzzled surprise.
Evidently Vance had not come to propose a treaty of peace, for there was the usual sneer upon his curling lip, and his sallow face was as ugly as usual in consequence.
He strode up with a kind of careless insolence and without saying another word placed himself squarely in front of Mark and stared in his face.
"What is it?" inquired the latter quietly. Vance answered nothing just long enough to make a rude silence; then he was satisfied to begin.
"Mr. Mallory," said he, "I've something to say to you. I want to get it done in a hurry, too, because my reputation would be injured if I were seen talking to plebes."
Vance was finely sarcastic as he said that.
Mark responded nothing, but some one behind him ventured a retort.
"Betcher life, b'gee!" observed that young person."Some one might think you were learning a little decency."
Vance started to answer to that, but Mark checked him. "If you've got anything to say," he commanded, sternly, "say it!"
And for some reason Merry thought it best to obey. "I've come from Mr. Harris," he began. "Mr. Harris wishes me to say that he is sick and tired of your nonsense "
"I don't doubt it," smiled Mark, and Dewey came in with a "Bully, b'gee!"
"Mr. Harris says," continued Vance, angrily, "that he proposes to put a stop to your insolence at once. Do you understand that? He has asked me to be his second, and he intends to give you the worst thrashing you ever got in your life "
"Bless my soul!"
The exclamations which resulted from Vance's unexpected announcement fairly shook the woods. In an instant the yearling found himself surrounded by an eager, delighted crowd of lads, rubbing their hands gleefully and all talking at once with excitement. Truly this was a delicious turn of affairs! Bull driven to fight! And coward though he was! Gee whiz!
"Won't I do instead o' Mark?" cried Texas, who was already dancing about and twitching his fingers furiously.
"When is Bull anxious to have this fight take place?" Mark inquired as soon as he was able to get the rest quiet enough for Vance to hear him.
"Tonight," answered Vance.
"But why put it off till tonight?"
"Mr. Harris has his own reasons," was the yearling's stately reply.
"I reckon he has!" growled Texas. "He wants to git us out o' camp so's he can raise another yell an' git us caught. Do you think I'm such an idiot as that, you white-faced ole coyote you?"
"Take it easy, Texas," laughed Mark. "This is my quarrel. But how about that objection, Mr. Vance? I don't want to walk into any trap, you know, and I know that Bull Harris is afraid of me."
"If you are coward enough to refuse his challenge," snarled Vance, "say so and don't try to make up excuses! Mr. Harris is not afraid of you, and if he cannot give you the thrashing you deserve for your contemptible tricks, by jingo! I don't mind saying that I will. Do you understand that, confound you? And not only you, Mallory, but that crazy idiot of a Texan, too."
"Wow! Whoop! You. . . "
Five members of the Banded Seven sat on Texas just then. And Vance went on with his address to Mark.
The reader will, of course, perceive that the yearling was playing a part—and playing it well. The angrier he got Mark the more apt his plot would be to succeed. He knew that Mark was too honorable to strike him now, whatever his insults.
"That bluff about suspecting us is pretty hollow," he continued. "You don't need to go away from the camp. If you weren't too much of blamed coward and stuff you'd not offer the excuse. You can meet us just beyond the sentry line and go with us. And if there's any yelling done we'll be caught as well as you. Do you see? If you're afraid of a crowd's pitching in let that fool of a Texas bring his guns. You bring some, too. We aren't afraid of the whole seven of you!"
"Very bold indeed," laughed Mark, for once. "What time shall we meet?"
"And where shall we go?" "Anywhere you say. Make it the scene of our banquet."
"Our banquet, you mean," observed Mark, slyly. "We ate it. However. . . "
"Will you come? Or are you going to play the coward as usual?"
"I'll come," said Mark, simply. "And meanwhile you go on about your business."
This last sharp command rather took Vance by surprise; it was so in contrast with Mark's previous calm and cool manner. It showed him that he was really mad, after all. And Vance, as he turned and strode away, was all aglow with triumph.
"We've got him!" he chuckled. "It's all over now."CHAPTER XXVII.
A STRANGE DISCOVERY.
The Banded Seven walked on through the woods in silence after their disagreeable enemy had left. They were all of them thinking over the strange turn of affairs.
It was Mark who broke the silence at last. "I wonder what can have happened," he said, "to cause Bull to turn about so suddenly?"
"I don't think he has!" growled Texas.
"But he seems to have gotten up courage all of a sudden. I never thought he'd dare fight us."
"I don't believe he is," was the ex-cowboy's answer. Texas was less disposed than Mark to take a charitable view of his enemy. "I jes' tell you it's nothin' but a bluff; an' there's mystery behind it, too. That air ole coward ain't a goin' to take a lickin' from you."
"I don't see how he can do otherwise," mused Mark, slowly. "He can't get us caught if we keep in sight of camp. And he can't trap us where you've got your guns, can he?"
"Wow!" gasped Texas, in horror. "Bet you' boots he kain't!"
"Well, then, what can he do?" demanded the other.
"I dunno," was the answer, very dubiously. "But I'll bet it's somethin', an' somethin' mean, too! Anyhow, I want to suggest somethin'. Let's us fellers swear—the seven of us right hyar—that no matter what he does do an' no matter what he does try—he gits that air lickin' an' gits it in a hurry. Hey?"
"Betcher life, b'gee!" cried Dewey."An' ef Mark gets hurt one o' the rest of us gives it," added Texas, excitedly.
Which sentiment the Parson echoed with his usual solemn "Yea, by Zeus!" That idea just caught the seven plebes in the right spot.
They shook hands on it then and there, and swore asolemn compact. The form of it was this:"Resolved, That if he don't fight Mark tonight—which he won't—we give him a licking tomorrow. And that incidentally—b'gee—we also wallop Merry Vance and the other two!"
That interesting resolution having been unanimously adopted by a majority of fourteen—for everybody was eager to vote twice—the Seven agreed to drop the unpleasant topic from their minds and proceed to the business for which they had come up, the clearing away of the remnants of their "banquet." Accordingly they hurried on through the woods.
Even if they had not dropped the subject voluntarily they must speedily have forgotten it. For something very exciting was destined to occur in a few minutes. It requires a brief digression from our story to mention.
The scene of last night's feast was only about two hundred yards from the camp, and so the lads had not very far to go. Reaching it, they pushed the bushes aside and hurried out into the clearing. A moment later, with one accord, they halted and gave vent to a cry of surprise.
The reason was very evident. When they had left that spot in their terrible haste the night before they had left the ground plentifully bestrewn with victuals. And now there was not a trace of anything to be seen, not even so much as a crumb of pie crust!
The Seven were so taken aback that for a moment they could not even guess at any explanation.
"Can some one from camp have been up here?" inquired Mark at last, "and eaten everything up?"
"But they wouldn't have eaten everything!" objected Texas. "There were all sorts of scraps and crumbs and. . ."
"Bless my soul! yes," interrupted Indian. "Because I had almost finished a pumpkin pie when I had to drop it and run. It was awfully good pie, too."
"Perhaps it was some kind of animal," observed Mark, smiling at Indian's melancholy observation. "Perhaps it was squirrels and birds and so on."
"Or perhaps a mountain panther," suggested Texas.
Indian turned pale at that horrible idea and muttered: "Bless my soul! Are there any panthers around here?" he added.
"Lots of 'em," answered Texas, with a wink. Then he turned to Stanard : "How 'bout that, Parson?" he inquired.
The Parson cleared his throat with a grave and thought-
ful "Ahem!" "I must confess," he said, "that my information as to the zoological distribution in this particular locality is considerably limited. The habitat of the animal, however, includes many regions of similar latitude and physical characteristics. But the felis pardus. . ."
"I mean the panther," stammered the lecturer. "Ahem ! Er—what was I saying? Oh, yes! The felis pardus is a digitigrade mammal and also carnivorous.
Consequently I should hardly support the hypothesis that he would disturb the various vegetable products which we left behind us."
"Do you mean," queried Dewey, solemnly, "that panthers don't eat pumpkin pie?"
"Exactly," said the Parson. "That was just what I was trying to say."
"B'gee!" chuckled Dewey, "no one would ever have guessed it. But as you say, panthers eat meat. If one had been wandering about last night, therefore, it is probable that he'd have taken Indian instead of his pie."
"Bless my soul!" gasped Indian. "Please don't talk like that."
"As to the further characteristics of the quadruped," said the Parson, continuing his lecture, "I may say by way of an introduction to the subject that scientific research has disclosed. . ."
There is no telling when the Parson would have stoppedtalking if it had not been for that sudden exclamation, which made the six jump in surprise. It is needless to say that it came from Texas; during the conversation Texas had started on a private investigation, rambling around the clearing, like a bloodhound on a trail. The result had been his cry.
His companions, even the Parson, made a dash for the spot, demanding eagerly to know what was the matter. By way of answer Powers pointed to the ground. It was
small wonder that he had exclaimed aloud; in the soft earth there was a deep footprint. It was of a human foot, and it was bare!
Robinson Crusoe was not one whit more amazed at hisdiscovery than were the seven cadets over this exactly similar one. They stood and gazed at it in silent astonishment; and then suddenly the meaning of it flashed over
them all and they glanced about them in terror.
"By George!" cried Mark, "it's that wild man!"
"He must have been starving," said Mark, lowering his voice instinctively. "By George! This isn't a very pleasant state of affairs!"
"Oo-oo ! Let's run !" gasped Indian. "Bless my soul!"
None of them ran, but it would be only fair to say that all of them wanted to. And it was noticeable that nobody offered any objection to returning home very soon. After all, why should they stay? All traces of their feast were gone.
"I'll feel a little more comfortable in camp," observed Mark, "where my musket and bayonet aren't so far away. Come on."
"I reckon," chuckled Texas, triumphantly, "you won't be so 'fraid o' letting me carry my guns after this. Hey?"
"I shan't mind tonight, anyway," was the answer. "We'll probably have more than one enemy to watch out for. But we'll fool 'em all, I hope. How about it, Texas?"
The question Texas answered by offering to bet his boots on it. "Jes' you wait till night gits hyar," he said, "then we'll see." Which they did, for a fact.CHAPTER XXVIII.
CAUGHT IN THE TRAP.
" 'Sh !"
"Are you sure the guns are loaded?"
"Yes ! Don't you know me better'n that? Stick that one under your jacket and keep it ready, too."
The two speakers were crouching in the moonlight behind one of the tents of Camp Lookout. The reader scarcely needs to be told that they were Mark and Texas on hand, true to their promise.
The place was as silent as a graveyard. There was nothing moving but the flickering camp-fire which cast weird shadows on the tents. The two plebes were motionless, listening.
"Eleven o'clock and all's we-ell!"
It was the sentry's call.
"We're on time," whispered Mark. "Do you see any signs of Bull?"
"I ain't seen anything movin' yet," was the Texan's answer. "I ain't expectin' to see much, either."
"Perhaps he's waiting for us out in the woods," suggested Mark.
"Likely, I must say!" growled the other.
"What'll we do now?"
"Let's cross the sentry line and wait at the edge of the woods," said Mark. "If there's any noise we can skip in from there."
"Come ahead," answered Texas.
The two stole silently down the company street to the
end, and there halted. They waited until the sentry was at the other end of his beat.
"He can't see us now," whispered Mark. "There are too many trees. Quick!"
The two sprang forward, and silently dashed across the line and vanished in the woods. There they stopped and crouched to wait.
"We're here, anyhow," said Mark. "And now we'll see what happens."
"An' keep yo' eyes open, too," muttered the other.
The bushes concealed the two, but they could see the camp plainly. Every move of the enemy would be open to them, except, of course, in case the latter were already in the woods, which didn't seem likely.
The plebes waited anxiously; they saw nothing. The camp was motionless and silent, while fully ten minutes sped away.
"Tole you 'twas only a bluff!" growled the Texan. "Anyhow, the delay makes it less likely they'll try the trick of yelling to arouse the camp," observed Mark, thoughtfully. "They'd have tried it long ago, if they meant to. This delay'U makes me suspicious." "It does that with me!" chuckled the other. "Doggone that air Bull Harris!"
"Perhaps they're up there by the place where the feast was," said Mark. "But I'll admit that doesn't seem likely. I guess it was a bluff, after all, though still I can't see what Bull hoped to make by it."
"'Sh! What's that?"
The startled exclamation came from Texas; Mark bent forward eagerly, half rising to peer ahead.
"It's one of them!" he gasped.
The tents hid the person from their eyes, and they could not make out who it was. But it was somebody!
The figure of a man stealing silently down the company street!
Mark began to tremble with eagerness. He clinched his fists; so he was to have a chance at Bull, after all!
That person could be no one but Bull.
The two got no nearer view of him, as it happened. For he was bound in the opposite direction; he approached the sentry line far over by the other side of the camp, and a moment later stole across and vanished in the woods.
Mark and Texas turned and stared at each other; both of them were agape with astonishment.
"Whoop!" gasped the latter. "He did come, after all! Whoop!"
"Yes," said Mark. "It must be he. It's more than I expected. Let's wait here for him."
They crouched down in the bushes once more. Bull would probably come around the camp to hunt for them, for he must have seen them go out.
They waited, but they waited in vain; Bull did not put
in an appearance.
"Perhaps he's gone up there to the place to wait," suggested Mark. "Perhaps he thinks we're up there."
There was another lengthy pause then. It was not very much longer before Texas, the hot-blooded, hot-headed Texan, began to get impatient.
"Plague take it !" he growled. " 'Praps he is up there. I say, let's go and see!"
Texas' recklessness soon prevailed over Mark's caution. He vowed he'd go alone if Mark wouldn't go. A brief consultation was held then, and the two decided that that was the best plan, anyway. One ought to stay there and wait, to watch the camp; and so Texas, revolver in hand, would go up to the scene of the feast and see what was "up." That just suited the ex-cowboy. He was off like a shot.
Mark smiled to himself, and then settled down again, his heart still beating with excitement. There was something so mysterious about all this that he still half suspected foul play.
It is necessary for us to follow Texas; Texas was having a high old time back in that mountain forest.
A few years' training on the plains had made quite an Indian of Texas; he knew pretty well how to take care of himself, especially since he had his two favorite shooting-irons in his hands. And he was not the least bit afraid as he stole along in the darkness.
Two contingencies presented themselves to his mind, two dangers to guard against. There might be a surprise from the yearlings or one from the "maniac." He didn't mean to be caught by either of them, and he was a pictureof vigilance as he went peering behind and before, and creeping with all possible stealthiness. But Texas reached his destination without the slightest interruption. He pushed his way through the bushes and stepped out into the little clearing, gazing swiftly about him. He saw not a soul.
The place was silent and deserted. The moon strayed down through the trees and shone on the Texan's silent figure, but it shone on no other living thing.
"They ain't hyar!" muttered Texas. "That air's sho! An' yet where are they? This business is gittin' mysterious like."
It was for a fact. The more Texas thought over it the more he became filled with a vague sort of alarm, which he didn't like. Those yearlings had put up this plot for some purpose. That no one could doubt. Perhaps they were carrying it out now, and with Mark all alone among them.
"That fellow Mallory ain't used to guns," mused Powers. "He needs me to take care of him. I reckon I'll go back!"
A very sensible resolution that, Texas! By all means, hurry up! About to carry it into effect, he wheeled and started to leave the clearing. A second later he staggered back with an inarticulate gasp of horror.
The Texan's face was a study at that particular moment. His hair seemed fairly to rise beneath his cap. His jaw dropped, and his knees began to fail him. Surely, never had an ex-cowboy been more unnerved before.
Those of us who know Texas know that he was no coward. One might say with certainty that neither madman nor yearling—no, nor even ghost—could have produced such an effect upon him. And that indeed was the fact; this apparition was one against which a thousand revolvers could do nothing. And Texas was ruined!
Stern and solemn, his digpnified figure towering in the moonlight, there had marched out of the woods no less a person than Lieutenant Allen, the "tac" of Company A!
A feather might have bowled over our gallant plebe; a regiment of tin soldiers put him to flight. He was simply paralyzed. And he stood and stared at the officer in openmouthed consternation.
Lieutenant Allen was mad all the way through; any one could have seen that. He was glaring at his helpless prisoner. "Mr. Powers!" he thundered, "what does this mean?"
Poor Texas didn't know; and so he didn't try to say. He merely gasped.
"This is a nice state of affairs, indeed, sir!" the officer continued. "Beyond cadet limits, sir! Roaming the woods at night! And with revolvers in your hand, too.
What are you doing with those weapons, sir?"
Texas was still silent in consternation.
"Put them on the ground this instant!" commanded Allen.
"Now, then, sir," the angry officer went on, "I suppose you understand that you have rendered yourself liable to court-martial? And Mr. Mallory, also!"
The plebe winced at that last; poor fellow, he had been consoling himself with the hope that Mark, at least, was safe.
"I know it, sir!" he moaned.
"I thought you had more sense, both of you. I have learned that it is your practice to behave this way continually, and I propose to see that you are punished. Your cadet days are numbered from this moment, Mr. Powers."
Big tears gathered in the Texan's eyes, but he choked back the rising sob and stared all the harder at his superior. Just then he remembered that he had forgotten to salute, and so he saluted, being too dazed to think of anything else to do. He was gone! And Mark, too! Their offense had only one penalty, a swift one—dismissal.
"Mr. Powers," said the lieutenant, sternly, "you will march back to camp and return to your tent, Mr. Mallory with you—at once! Do you hear?"
And Texas saluted once more, faced about and strode off into the deep, black woods feeling as if his heart would break.
As for Allen, once alone, he turned and fell to pacing back and forth in the little clearing, musing to himself. Angry though that worthy officer had been at first, he could not hide the fact from himself that he hated to ruin Mallory."He should have known better sense!" he muttered. "And such a fine lad! Plague take it!—but I've got my duty to do, and the commandant must attend to the rest. Discipline would be ruined if I let a thing like this pass." With this thought in his mind the tactical officer faced about and started toward camp. He took but two steps, however. Then he stopped! It was not because he wanted to, either. It was because somebody stopped him, and that somebody nearly stopped his heart from beating, as well. The officer felt two sinewy arms flung about his body, pinioning them as if in a vise. In all his life Allen had never felt such a paralyzing clutch as that.
But one idea flashed over him. Texas had attacked him! Enraged at having been detected, the wild cowboy had been driven to desperation—perhaps even to murder!
Allen struggled with all his might. He did not wish to cry out, to alarm the camp. He wished to bring that wild lad to his senses, to subdue his ferocious temper. The officer felt his hot breath beating on his neck, and heard him pant as he hugged him in his clutch of iron.
With one mighty effort, an effort that took every bit of strength that was in him, the officer managed to writhe his body about so as to face his assailant. As he did so he gave vent to a hoarse cry of horror. It was not Texas!
And the next instant Allen felt the arms about him relax, felt a clawlike hand clutch him by the throat and drive his head back, fling him to the ground and grasp his windpipe with a force that made him gasp, made him writhe, made him turn blue in the face. Then everything grew dark before him.CHAPTER XXIX.
THE END OF IT ALL.
Mark Mallory lay hiding in the bushes at the edge of the camp. There was little for Mark to do except to wait, to wait with all possible patience. It did not seem likely that anything would happen until Texas returned.
The camp was perfectly silent and motionless; that figure which left it was the last to appear. The moonlight shone on the white tents with a ghostly pallor, which the dancing camp-fires served to increase. But there was no sign of Bull or his friends—either behind or before.
Mark kept watch in both directions. He waited perhaps five minutes thus. Then he began to think that it was time for Texas to return. He allowed him opportunity to reach the clearing and hurry back; there was no reason for his delaying. And consequently when he did not come it was a very short while indeed before his friend became suspicious. Something must have kept Powers; and if something were keeping him who could it be but Bull ?
A good deal hinged upon Mark's next action, as it happened. But he had not the least idea of that—of the danger he was to run into. The problem as it presented itself to him was that Texas didn't return promptly, as he had said he would; and for that there must be some reason. That reason Mark must find.
"It won't do any harm to take a run back there and see," he mused. "Bull and that gang may have overpowered Texas in spite of his guns."
There was no sign of trouble in camp. With this idea in his mind, the plebe arose hastily and without a moment's hesitation, started back into the woods. He, too, was becoming suspicious and he clutched his revolver tightly.
If the reader has ever found himself in a forest at midnight he knows that it is no fun. And it makes no difference how courageous one may be, either. Mark was no coward, but he was human, and he felt quite creepy as he pushed his way ahead through the black forest shadows. He pictured to himself all sorts of unpleasant possibilities, the least of which was a conflict with those yearlings. There was but little time, however, for such unpleasant anticipations, for the distance to the clearing was short. Mark reached the edge of it without interruption of any kind and promptly pushed his way through the surrounding thicket. A moment later he was standing upon the spot he sought. He saw no one; the place was as deserted and silent as it had been when Texas was there. But for the shadows of the trees that waved to and fro on the ground, and for the gentle night breeze that rustled through the branches, the place was as silent as death. Mark stood motionless where he was; he held his weapon in his hand ready for the slightest danger, but as he gazed about him and saw no sign of any foe, his vigilance relaxed and he bowed his head in thought.
"Where on earth can Texas have gone?" he muttered, half aloud. "This is the strangest. . ." He never finished the sentence. A sound had interrupted him, a sound which made his flesh creep. It was a low groan. Mark started back in consternation. It had come from the edge of the clearing, that voice! And whose could it be but the Texan's? Texas had been captured by the yearlings!
Mark never hesitated an instant. He made a leap for the spot, cocking his revolver as he did so. He bent down to push his way through the bushes, to rescue his gallant comrade.
The next instant, with a thud that shook the woods and almost tumbled the plebe upon his face, a heavy body landed upon his back and flung its arms about him.
But one idea occurred to Mark at that moment. It was Bull or one of the yearlings! His first impulse was to point his pistol over his shoulder and fire. He checked it as he recovered his self-possession; he did not want to shoot anybody, and he did not want to alarm the camp. He would fight this hand-to-hand battle, even though he was at a disadvantage.
Mark's assailant evidently knew that he was armed, for the plebe felt a hand reaching out toward the weapon. With a violent effort he managed to turn to get a view of his assailant. When he succeeded he gave a gasp of horror, just as the unfortunate lieutenant had done. For he found out then who his assailant was.
Quick as a flash Mark aimed his revolver straight in the
other's face. He pulled the trigger, but he was too late.
His assailant's finger had been slipped in between the
trigger and the guard, and the weapon was useless! The next instant the man gave a violent wrench that nearly broke Mark's wrist and that sent his revolver flying through the air.
Then came the battle. Mark Mallory found himself face to face with a horrible creature; he was struggling in the deadly grip of "thr maniac of the den!"
It was a fight to the death. The creature had the
strength of a tiger; Mark could see his muscles bulging beneath his naked skin, and he felt a grip of steel tightening about him. He saw, too, a ferocious face glaring into his, warning him to expect no mercy. The man's hot and eager breath beat against the lad's brow, and his eyes fairly flashed with fury.
He was an old man, with a great, long beard and hideous, matted hair. He was almost naked and apparently he was dumb. The silence with which he made his grim struggle was the most appalling part of it all.
The two swayed back and forth in the clearing, straining every ounce of muscle that was in them. The maniac was strong, but he had a foeman worthy of him. The grip in which he had the lad served to bind his hands to his side, but when the other came to bear him to the ground it was quite another matter. That meant a wrestling match, and a long and weary one, too.
It seemed an age to Mark in his terrible plight. He could not free himself, writhe and twist as he would; and he knew not what trick his savage opponent might try next. And so, back and forth he staggered, bending and swaying.
The climax came with the swiftness of a lightning flash. The maniac, furious at the delay, tried the same trick he
had tried upon Allen. He released his grip, sprang like a wildcat upon his victim, fastened his grasping, clawlike fingers in his throat, and shut them together like a steel trap.
But there was something that the fiendish creature had not calculated on, if indeed he had calculated at all. That thing was the quickness that months of West Point discipline had given to Mark, to say nothing of numberless battles with the yearlings. The lad realized his deadly peril.
He clinched his fist and swung his mighty arm with a blow like a sledge-hammer stroke.
He caught his assailant full upon the chin, and the latter's head shot back with a snap. He recovered himself a moment later and sprang in again. But he had lost his chance.
Mark was ready for him then, nor did he mean to be caught in a trap again. He was as quick to leap away as his assailant to leap at him. After that it was a boxing match, at which none was more skillful than Mark. Bounding, dodging here and there, his foe never once succeeded in fastening upon him, while Mark landed blow after blow with all his might.
The plebe was watching warily for a chance to end the battle. He knew that he had it all his way then. The maniac halted, breathless; the other took his cue. Amoment later the savage creature was lying prone upon the ground, writhing helplessly from the effects of the crushing swing that had landed full upon his forehead. Mark would have stopped to bind him safely in some
way, but at that instant he heard the groan repeated. Texas! And instantly Mark dashed toward the spot again, wild with dread for his friend. The figure was lying upon the ground in the bushes. The plebe snatched him up, bore him out into the moonlight. The next moment he staggered back almost blinded with horror at what he saw. It was Allen!
The lieutenant was gasping feebly; he fixed his bloodshot eyes upon Mark. Then sat up convulsively and gazed about him in terror.
"The man!" he gasped. "The man!"
Mark was too dumfounded to answer in words, but he pointed across the clearing at the figure.
"Catch him!" panted the officer. "Don't let him get away!"
At this moment they saw the maniac raise himself upon his elbow. Quick as a wink Mark sprang up and made a dive for his revolver. He found it lying on the ground, and whirled about. But he was too late. The man was gone.
"Anyhow, he won't come back," was the plebe's reflection. "And I don't care if he does. Great heavens! I'm gone—Allen's seen me."
Mark's first impulse was to turn and make a dash for camp, in hope that the dazed lieutenant had not recognized him. But he felt that the officer needed help; so he turned and marched resolutely toward him.
"He—he nearly had me killed," the latter gasped, as Mark helped him to a sitting posture. "Who is he?"
"I don't know," was the other's truthful answer.
"You have saved my life," the officer whispered, hoarsely. "It was a terrible experience. I saw you fighting."
There was a silence after that.
"Help me back to camp," said Allen, at last. "And take this for a warning. Don't leave it at night again."
"I'll not have another chance," groaned Mark. "This'll mean court-martial for me."
A moment later he almost tumbled backward with
amazement and delight.
"Nonsense," said Allen. "I do not mean to report you. I couldn't."
When Mark got back to his tent he found Texas almost in tears.
"It's all up with me," said the tall plebe. "I'll pack up tomorrow."
"Don't be so sure of it," said Mark. Then he told his own tale. "I'll see Allen in the morning." And he did.
To cut a long story short, Texas escaped court-martial and dismissal—through Mark's efforts. But the escape was so narrow that the tall youth was mighty sober for a long while after.
"We must square up with Bull, b'gee!" said Dewey.
"Yea, by Zeus!" came from the Parson.
"Of course, bah Jove!" lisped Chauncey. And Sleepy nodded affirmatively.
And now let us sound taps and say, as do the guards: "All's well!"