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1 Terry Comes to Grief
A number of young men in the gray uniforms which formed the ordinary dress of the cadets at Woodcrest Military Institute stood around the counter in the school supply room. It was early in July and the summer encampment was at hand. It was the custom at Woodcrest for the third and second classmen to go to summer camp, while the younger classmen and the seniors went home for their vacation. The score or more of young soldiers who were in the supply room this July afternoon were busy getting their camping uniforms.

During the school year the neat, distinguished gray uniforms were worn, but on the encampment the more serviceable campaign uniforms, patterned after those worn by the United States Army, were required.

A tall, red-headed cadet, with twinkling eyes and a humorous expression perpetually on his good-natured, freckled face, was at the moment the next one to be waited on. He gave the sizes of his garments and then grinned.

“If it is convenient, I’d like a uniform in a shade to match my hair!” he requested. This grin was answered by half a dozen others, for Terry Mackson was a great favorite with his classmates in the new second class, into which he and his pals, the Mercer boys, had just graduated.

“We have nothing as red as all that,” the cadet clerk grinned in return. “Would something in deep orange do?”

“Possibly it would, if you are careful to get something that won’t conflict with my beauty!” returned the cadet.

“We haven’t a thing in stock that would conflict with or detract from your beauty,” said the clerk, gravely. “These uniforms are ugly in the extreme, and I’m sure you won’t find them a drawback in the least, Mr. Mackson!”

“Well spoken, my lad!” approved Terry. “Let’s have the plainest uniform you have. Natural beauty ennobles whatever enshrines it, so bring out whatever you have!”

“Why bother with a uniform at all?” laughed the cadet clerk. “The colonel and the rest of us will be so busy admiring your looks that we won’t notice anything else!”

There was a general laugh at this, as Dick Rowen, the cadet in charge of the commissary department, stepped to the counter, a frown on his face.

Rowen was a handsome young man with glossy black hair. He had never been popular with the cadet body, however, for he continually reminded everyone of the wealth and prestige of his family. But he was a very capable cadet and was respected though not popular. He had been placed in charge of the commissary department much to his annoyance, for he considered it beneath him. Rowen was striving for an officer’s commission, and it did not please him to be “dud chucker,” as the cadets called the commissary clerks. All day the endless routine of passing out uniforms, blouses, hats and shoes had galled him, and at the present moment his temper was ragged.

“What is the trouble here?” Cadet Rowen demanded crisply.

The clerk who was waiting on Terry turned to stare at him. “There’s no trouble, Rowen,” he said.

Rowen looked across the counter at Terry. “Is there any trouble, Mr. Mackson?”

Terry shook his head gravely. “No, Mr. Rowen. I am simply trying to draw a uniform that will match my beauty, that’s all!”

Rowen frowned more deeply. “Have the goodness to understand, Mr. Mackson, that we are very busy here, and that such infant’s prattle merely wastes our time!”

“All right, Papa!” returned Terry sedately. The others snickered and Rowen grew angry.

“Please don’t be funny, Mackson! That comes natural to some people, and others work hard all their lives without ever managing to be really humorous!”

Terry turned to the others back of him. “Gentlemen,” he observed, “Mr. Rowen has turned philosopher! Some of you fellows are naturally funny, ask Mr. Rowen!”

A dull red flush mounted in the other’s cheeks. “How long are you going to waste our time?”

“Look here!” exclaimed the redhead. “If I’m not mistaken, you are wasting your own time! Here I am, waiting with the patience of an angel for my uniform, and are you getting it? No, twenty times no! Don’t you know that time wasted can never be recovered, Mr. Rowen?”

“I’ll tell you what I do know!” Rowen fairly hissed. “I know that you and those Mercer brothers are too confounded stuck on yourselves! You are the colonel’s own particular pets!”

“Well, well, the Mercer brothers get a tongue lashing, too!” commented a brown-haired, good-looking youth back of Terry. “Brother Don, weep on my shoulder!”

“I cry better outdoors,” grinned Don Mercer, behind his brother Jim. “Gee, how distressing this conversation is getting!”

“You are making us feel dreadful, really, Mr. Rowen!” Terry told the clerk mournfully. At the laugh that went up Rowen lost his temper.

“I’ll make you feel dreadful, all right,” snapped the disagreeable cadet, and before anyone could guess as to his purpose he hit Terry on the point of the jaw, knocking him to the floor.

There was a moment of hushed expectancy while Terry stared up at the supply clerk in surprise. Most of the good-natured grin had faded from his face, and a slight redness had suffused his cheeks. He jumped to his feet. But at that moment Colonel Morrell walked into the office.

Colonel Morrell was a little fat man with gray hair, laughing gray eyes and the air of a real man’s man about him. By the cadet corps he was beloved greatly, and to a man they respected him thoroughly. His keen eye swept over the cadets and he noted that something unusual was in the wind, but with characteristic rare judgment he made no comment on it.

“Is everything going smoothly?” he asked the nearest clerk.

“Yes, sir,” answered the cadet, saluting. The colonel returned the salute, turned on his heel and left the room. They heard his footsteps echo down the hall.

“Now, Mr. Rowen,” murmured Terry. “This is what you need most of all!”

With that he seized the unprepared cadet by the collar, hauling him bodily over the counter. Rowen was unprepared for the act and flopped across the boards, his head hanging over the side. Although he struggled furiously Terry managed to hold him down while he administered a sound spanking to the surly one. Then he pushed him backward. The assembled cadets had enjoyed every moment of it.

“That’s for you,” said Terry, unheeding the sputtering of the other. “If you act like a baby someone will have to play papa and spank you! I happened to be the nearest one. Next time be careful who you punch on the jaw. It might be somebody who’ll lose his temper and muss you up!”

“You—you red-headed calf!” cried the enraged Rowen. “I’ve—I’ve half a mind to thrash you!”

“Well, if you have half a mind, that means that your whole mind is busy on the one subject, because sometimes I think you have only half a mind. Now, you’re wasting my time! One uniform, if you please!”

With very bad grace the uniform was handed to him and the line moved on. As Terry stepped away Rowen spoke to him between half-shut teeth.

“I’ll fix you for this yet, Mackson!”

Jim Mercer halted at the counter. “Was there some complaint about the Mercer brothers, Rowen?” he asked quietly.

“I just said that you two were the colonel’s pets,” replied the clerk. “Just because you two once helped the colonel out of a mess he bows down before you.”

“With all due respect to the colonel,” drawled Don Mercer, “he is a little too fat to bow down! Calm down, Dick.”

“Aw, you guys give me a pain!” roared the clerk.

Terry impishly picked up the telephone, carefully holding down the hook. “Hello, is this the nurse?” he spoke into the transmitter. “If you have time I wish you’d stop in at the commissary department. Mr. Rowen has a very bad pain. I beg your pardon? Oh, it seems to be a Mackson-Mercer pain, if you know what that is! It seems to be——”

Laughing, Jim Mercer caught him by the arm. “Come on, get out of here, you!” he admonished his friend. “Come on up to the room.”

The three boys were devoted pals, having been friends from childhood. They had been in many scrapes and adventures together, sharing their fun and dangers on land and sea. In the first volume of this series, The Mercer Boys’ Cruise in the Lassie, they had gone on a long cruise, and from there they had come to Woodcrest, their fun and adventure at that time being related in The Mercer Boys at Woodcrest. On their following summer vacation they had encountered some strange events in The Mercer Boys on a Treasure Hunt and later on had worked together on a school mystery, details of which will be found in The Mercer Boys’ Mystery Case. Early in the spring of that same year the boys had faced a man’s task on the Massachusetts coast, all of which will be found in the fifth volume, The Mercer Boys with the Coast Guard. Now, after a few months of uneventful school life, they were preparing for their first encampment.

Once in their own room the three boys hung up the new uniforms that they would wear the next day. There were no lessons and they had nothing to do except wait until morning, when they would set off for camp. All of the boys looked forward eagerly to it.

“I hear that we are going to a new camping ground this year,” Jim said, as he sat on the edge of his bed. “Rustling Ridge, they call it.”

“Yes,” nodded Don. “Other years they have held the encampment at Perryville, but the colonel hunted up new grounds this time. I heard that there had been quite a bit of building going on near the old camp and the colonel wants to get as far away from civilization as he can.”

“Rustling Ridge is none too far, at that,” observed Terry.

“No, it isn’t,” agreed Jim. “But it is far enough away for camping purposes. Even the colonel doesn’t know much about this new location.”

“About thirty miles from here, isn’t it?” Don asked.

“I heard that it was,” returned Terry. “Well, the whole outlook suits me perfectly. I wouldn’t have known what to do with myself this vacation, anyway.”

“We might have made a cruise,” Don suggested. “We haven’t been sailing on the good old Lassie for so long that I’m afraid I’ve forgotten how to manage it!”

“Camping might bring us some good adventures,” Jim put in. Don shrugged his shoulders.

“I rather doubt that. What adventures can we run across on a camping trip? We’ll have a lot of fun, I grant you that, but I don’t look for anything out of the way. We’ll be very busy drilling and practicing all sorts of tactics.”

“We might have some excitement with Mr. Rowen!” Terry grinned.

“Rowen is a natural sorehead,” said Don briefly. “The best thing we can do is to let him alone. That kind isn’t made any better by stirring up, and he isn’t worth getting into trouble over. We can just be decent to him and let it go at that.”

“I guess you’re right,” nodded Terry.

Supper that night was a slightly unruly affair, tempered only by the presence of the colonel and the other officers. The young soldiers themselves were in high spirits.

Rowen, after the meal, went into conference with his two roommates, young men who had borrowed from the unpopular cadet and, therefore, felt obligated to him. What went on in that conference was not designed for Terry Mackson’s peace.

When the orders of the day were read that evening all cadets were commanded to be in place at bugle call in the morning, with full equipment and ready to march. It was announced that no excuses would be accepted for failure to report on time.

When the bugle sounded the next morning the cadets sprang from bed, dressed and ate a hearty breakfast. There was still half an hour before assembly and the cadets were at leisure. Just as Terry was turning away from the table a member of the kitchen force approached him. In his hand he had a note.

“This is for you, Mr. Mackson,” he said.

“Thanks, Pete,” said Terry, accepting the note. “Who gave it to you?”

“Jack Olson,” replied the cook. “He said Captain Rush gave it to him, but he didn’t have time to give it to you himself.”

Terry nodded and read the note. Captain Rush was the leader of the artillery division to which Terry belonged. The note was brief and to the point.

    Mr. Mackson:

    Go to the storage room in the barn and get out the extra harness that you will find there.

    Rush, Captain.


“Funny he didn’t tell me, instead of sending me a note,” reflected Terry. “Well, orders are orders, and I’m ready as it is. I’ll go out there now.”

He made his way to the barn, finding it quite empty. He knew that there was a small storage room at one side and he made his way to it, opening the door and peering in. There was a pile of harness on the floor and he went toward it.

At that moment the door back of him closed with a bang. A bolt on the outside was shot at the same moment. Terry rushed to the door, pushing against it.

“Hey!” he shouted. “Open this door, whoever you are!”

His only answer was the sound of retreating footsteps and the point of it all came to him in a rush. He kicked against the door, finding it solid and then looked around the cell. But there was no window and no opening of any kind.

“Tumbled right into the trap!” he groaned, grinding his teeth. “If I don’t get out of here before assembly it will be too bad for me!”


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