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5 A Fight and a Stampede
Captain Jim made his way around the last of the tents that formed the A Company row and then paused. With a motion that combined speed with caution he stepped out of sight behind the slope of the tent, his eyes narrowed, senses alert.

He was on his way to the section of the camp allotted to the cavalry horses. It was midafternoon and active drill was over for the day. Most of the young soldiers were in swimming, a few played baseball out in the blazing sun, and a few with less energy lay in the shade. Jim had dismounted rather hurriedly to make a report and he was on his way to see that the cadet orderlies had properly taken care of his horse.

The horses were just before him at the present moment, a score or more of restless, high-strung mounts. No orderly or cavalryman was with them at the moment and no one save one cadet could be seen. This cadet was acting queerly, and Jim’s attention was the more quickly attracted when he saw that the lone cadet was Dick Rowen.

Rowen’s campaign hat was in his crooked arm and he was standing directly in front of Jim’s horse, Squall. From time to time Rowen looked furtively around the camp to see if anyone was observing him, but he failed to see the cavalry captain. The lone cadet dipped his hand into the hat and extended something to the horse. Squall appeared to reach out eagerly for whatever it was each time, but the neck of another horse obscured from Jim what it was that Rowen was feeding his horse.

“Now, what the dickens can that fellow be doing?” Jim puzzled. “He seems to be unusually kind to my horse, and it looks suspicious to me. Of course, it is possible that Rowen likes horses and is feeding them, but he knows that one is mine. Maybe he doesn’t carry his grudges as far as the animals!”

One of the objects that Rowen was feeding to the horse dropped to the ground, rolling a short distance. As soon as Jim recognized it he became indignant.

“A green apple! A lot he knows about horses! If he wants to be kind to them he should pick something else beside—”

He stopped short in his thought. Rowen looked right and left again and then moved off a few paces to the left, reaching down for a bucket of water. With this in his hand he walked back to the horse, raised it to his eager lips, and tilted the bucket.

Jim Mercer waited to see no more. The whole cowardly trick was plain to him now. Each cavalryman was required to keep his mount in perfect condition and no excuse would be accepted for failure to do so. He could picture Squall after his meal of green apples and his drink of cold water, rolling in agony for hours, and himself severely blamed for criminal neglect. The boy’s eyes blazed in fury as he hurled himself in Rowen’s direction.

He was on top of the boy before Rowen was aware of him. Rowen turned startled eyes in his direction, his face paling swiftly. The tongue of the horse had just touched the water’s surface when Jim landed his fist with all his force on the cheek of the cadet.

Rowen went down promptly, the bucket of water spilling all over his uniform. A dull red spot showed where Jim’s fist landed, and Rowen rolled over with a faint bleat. With bulging eyes he looked up to where Jim towered over him.

“Why, you contemptible, sneaking coward!” Jim, his voice trembling, exploded with emotion. “You intended to bloat my horse so that I would do ‘growl duty’ for neglect, did you? How about the hours of agony that the horse would suffer? Did you think of that? Get on your feet, because I’m going to thrash you until you won’t be able to walk for the rest of the summer!”

“If you lay your hands on me, Mercer, I’ll report you to the colonel,” cried Rowen, cowed at Jim’s attitude. The captain was ablaze with wrath.

“Tell the colonel all you want to, but I’m going to put you in the infirmary for a month,” promised Jim, reaching for the collar of the fallen cadet.

At that moment Terry, Jordan, Don and Vench came around the end of the tent row. They had been playing ball and were on their way to change clothes for a swim. They saw the two before them and hurried over.

“Look here, gentlemen,” commanded Jordan, briskly. “You can’t fight in camp. What’s the row, anyway?”

“Mercer knocked me down,” complained Rowen, while Don pulled Jim away. Don was surprised to feel how violently Jim was trembling.

“Why did you knock Rowen down, Mercer?” Jordan asked.

Jim did not in the least mind Jordan’s commanding tone. Although they were both captains of divisions, and Jim was therefore an equal as an officer, Jordan nevertheless claimed a slight privilege as the senior captain of the school. In the following year, their last one at Woodcrest, Jim would be senior captain of the cavalry, with the unusual record of having held that post for three years. His heroism at Hill 31, when he rescued Vench, had won him that rank. But in the final year Don would be promoted from the infantry lieutenant to Senior Cadet Captain of the Corps, thus ranking a step higher than Jim, for all the latter’s three years of captaincy in the cavalry.

Jim readily related the story of the short fight. He felt that the action was so cowardly and sneaking that Rowen did not deserve to have it hushed up. The faces of the cadets described their feelings as the story was told. Rowen turned white to red-faced as he saw the looks cast in his direction.

“I don’t care so much about the punishment I would have received,” Jim said in conclusion, “but how any guy in the world with a grain of common decency in him would stoop to give a horse hours of agony is more than I can see. You fellows can see the evidences of his guilt on the ground, the pail and the apple. When you came along I was about to give him the biggest licking he ever got in his life!”

“Get up, Rowen!” commanded the senior captain, sternly. “We are not on duty, or I’d put up with this trick just long enough to order you under arrest! I don’t mind telling you frankly that you won’t last long enough in the corps to ever graduate if this story gets out!”

“I don’t care a hang about the corps!” snapped Rowen. “How about Mercer here? Don’t forget that he struck me.”

“I won’t forget him for doing it, instead I will remember him gratefully for doing it. Perhaps it was too bad that we arrived just as we did.”

Rowen looked up at Jordan shamefaced yet still belligerent. “I’ll get even with you boys! Just wait and see. And you can’t prove I harmed your old horse, either, Mercer.” With these remarks, Rowen turned on his heel and strode away, his chin high in the air.

“Gee! How do you like that?” Terry exclaimed. “He sure has some nerve carrying a grudge after what’s happened just now!”

“I thought I had met up with a lot of the mean, tricky people!” exclaimed Jordan. “But that beats me!”

“What about the horse, Jim?” Don asked.

“I’ll have to duck over to the canteen and get out some of the horse medicine and then run him around until he gets over the effects of the green apples,” replied the cavalry captain. “No water for you, Squall old boy, until you have lost the effects of your unexpected meal.”

While Jim was looking after the horse the others walked over to the tents, talking the matter over. All of them were deeply upset by the total unjustness of it all.

“Just because Jim slipped on the springboard and made a dive like Rowen’s!” said Vench. “I can’t understand some fellows.”

“Well, I’ll tell you,” replied Don, slowly. “For a long time Rowen has had a grouch against all of us; for no particular reason at all. He’s the kind of boy who just seems to have trouble wherever he goes.”

It was not until they were preparing for bed that evening that the three boys had an opportunity to further discuss the afternoon’s incident.

“Is your horse OK?” Terry asked, kicking off his shoes.

“Yes,” Jim answered. “As long as he didn’t get a big drink of water he—Oh, golly!”

“What’s the matter?” the other two asked, aroused at the dismay in Jim’s tone.

“I’ve lost my belt,” Jim returned. “I had it on when I went to the corral, and I guess I must have dropped it there. I’ll have to go back and find it.”

“You’ve got to have it for inspection tomorrow,” said Don. “Wait a shake, and I’ll go back with you.”

“No, you won’t,” vetoed Jim. “I can sneak out myself and make the trip in record time. No use in running the risk of having you reported with me. Douglas is patrolling post Number Five and I can slip through him.”

“Yes, but the guard will have been changed by the time you get back,” Terry reminded him. “Then what are you going to do?”

“I’ll just have to take my chances and slip through while he is at the far end of the patrol,” replied Jim, putting his shirt on again. “I should have seen to it that I didn’t drop my belt, that’s all. You fellows go to sleep, and I’ll soon be back.”

“OK,” agreed Don. “Good luck, kid!”

“Thanks,” murmured Jim, looking carefully from the flap of the tent. “See you later.”

With that he was gone, slipping back of the tents and keeping well in the shadows. At the edge of the camp he waited until he saw Douglas standing with his back toward him. Then Jim slipped by him and plunged into the woods.

It didn’t take him long to reach the spot where the horses were corralled and after a little hunting he found his belt. It had dropped close to the foot of a clump of bushes and was out of the direct rays of the moon. Buckling it around his waist Jim began his return journey to the camp.

But now, as he approached the place, he became very cautious. He must trust to luck to slip past the man at the post and it would be no easy task.

He decided that perhaps by flitting along past the animals he could more easily gain the corner of the nearest company street and by lying on his stomach in the shadow of a tent he could escape the eyes of the cadet until it was safe to move on. With this thought in mind Jim moved to the horses and then paused.

There was a tall white shape close to the animals, and they had sensed the presence of the thing. It looked to be a very tall man shrouded in white, and he was at the moment near the foremost horses. Forgetting his unusual position Jim rushed forward to see what was going on.

The shape before him heard his quick step, turned toward him, and then moved with an agility that astonished the cadet captain. Slapping the flanks of the horses right and left the man in white started them moving. Jim jumped forward.

“Hey, you!” he cried. “What are you doing to those horses?”

The figure in white took to the trees swiftly and Jim was unable to stop him. For the horses, frightened by something, perhaps the white shape itself, moved with increasing speed out of the corral. Before Jim could call to them it had developed into a wild stampede, and the horses were headed like a cyclone for the nearest tents.


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