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8 Moving Flame
For a week or more there were no unusual events. Camping life went on calmly, the drill and fun occupying the days in regular succession. By this time all of the boys were enjoying themselves to the utmost. Muscles were limber and strong, bodies straight and vigorous, and the appetites outrageous.

“We certainly are keeping the cooks hustling,” Terry chuckled one day in the mess tent. “I’m going for another helping of beans.”

But when the genial redhead went to the kitchen tent he was firmly but politely refused “Nothing doing, Mr. Mackson,” said the mess sergeant, firmly. “You’ve already had three plates full and that is the allotment.”

“No more beans for a starving man?” Terry inquired, in dismay.

“No more for you anyway. I don’t know why you should be starving, I’m sure.”

“All right,” returned the red-headed one, calmly. “My mother will get even with you!”

“What do you mean, your mother will?” cried the cook, staring.

“When my body is shipped home, and she learns that her darling boy starved to death in the camp, she will spend the rest of her life calling down vengeance upon the head of the hard-headed and hard-hearted cook that turned him away with tears in his eyes!” was the answer. The mess tent shook with the laugh that went up. But the cook was prepared to answer him back.

“You’re right about the cook turning him away with tears in his eyes,” the cook said. “It brings tears to my eyes to see the hole in the bean pile when you get eating!”

Terry retired thoughtfully, paying no heed to the mocking gibes which greeted him on all sides. After a moment he looked at Vench, who was eating across the table from him. Vench had just pushed his plate to one side.

“How many plates of beans did you have, Raoul?” Terry whispered.

“Two was enough for me,” returned the little one.

“My son, heaven’s blessings upon you! Just take my plate and hit the trail for the cook!”

Mr. Vench took Terry’s plate and gravely approached the cook. But as soon as that worthy saw the particular dent in the tin plate he shook his head wisely.

“Nothing doing, Mr. Vench,” he said. “That is Mackson’s plate. You don’t work that game here!”

“Thank you, sir!” Vench murmured, while the cadets enjoyed the failure of the move to the utmost. With that Vench turned away. But at that moment the cook was called to the far end of the mess tent. With swiftness that was commendable Vench reached over the stove and heaped the plate. Then he sped back to the delighted Terry.

“Ram that in your musket and keep still!” he said, as he took his place.

Terry needed no second invitation. He dug into the pile of beans with alacrity. And in a moment the sharp voice of the cook reached him.

“Mr. Mackson, where did you get those beans?”

Terry looked blank. “I am not at all sure, sir,” he answered, politely. “I had just turned my back, and when I looked around there they were, right under my nose!”

“Did you come and take them while I was not looking?” cried the cook.

“Haven’t been out of my seat since you broke my heart with your refusal,” was the answer. “And you didn’t give any to Mr. Vench, so it is up to you to figure out how I got the beans!”

“Bring them here, Mr. Mackson!” ordered the mess sergeant.

Terry shoveled the last forkful into his mouth. “Beg pardon?” he asked blandly.

“I’ll put you on report!” growled the sergeant.

“My dear fellow, you can’t,” smiled Terry. “I didn’t take them myself and so you have no charge to prefer. And if you did I’d pound all the beans out of you once I got you away from the mess tent!”

“That amounts to threatening an officer while on duty, Mr. Mackson!” charged the sergeant.

“That’s not a threat, that’s a promise,” grinned the redhead. The sergeant muttered savagely but subsided.

“Much obliged,” Terry whispered to Vench. “Some day I’ll help you out.”

“But not in the matter of beans,” smiled Vench. “They just don’t happen to be my weakness!”

One of the steady visitors to the camp was the little Carson boy. He was the son of the farmer from whom the camp supplies were purchased, and the cadets had taken a great liking to him. He was a friendly, likable boy and obviously deeply interested in the activities of the young soldiers. He watched all of their maneuvers with fascinated interest and the cadets welcomed him in their tents.

“That youngster has the makings of a good cadet in him,” Don said. “Too bad he isn’t one of us. How would you like to be a cadet, Jimmie?”

The boy flushed with pleasure and looked around the tent. “I’d like it more than anything else in the world,” he told them. “I’ll tell you a secret. Want to hear it?”

“Well, if it isn’t too deep for us, we would,” Jim assured him.

“I’m saving my money to go to Woodcrest,” the little fellow confided. “Guess how much I have saved already?”

“I can’t imagine, but I hope it is a lot,” replied Don.

“It is!” was the eager retort. “I have a dollar and fifty-seven cents toward it!”

“That’s great!” said Terry promptly. “You’ll need a little more than that, but it is a good beginning, anyway. Just you keep on going.”

“I’ll surely be glad when I get a uniform like you have,” the boy went on, wistfully. “I think they’re swell.”

There were other boys who drifted to the camp but they did not attract the attention of the cadets as much as the Carson boy did. They came to look around and fool a bit and in time most of them were chased away. But Jimmie Carson was never in the way and so he was allowed to come often to camp.

One afternoon a group of cadets went for another hike over the Ridge and on the way back they passed the Carson farm. Jimmie called to them to come in and they did so. To their delight Mrs. Carson, a plain, kindly woman of middle age, insisted that they try a huge apple pie that she had made.

“Don’t give any to Terry, Mrs. Carson,” begged Jim, as they sat on the back porch. Don, Jim, Terry, Douglas and Vench were there at the time.

“Why is that? Doesn’t he feel well?” the farmer’s wife inquired, anxiously.

“He has had stomach trouble for a long time,” returned Jim, gravely. “The doctor said that of all things in the world, he mustn’t eat apple pie!”

“I’ll tell you what it is, Mrs. Carson,” spoke up the persecuted one, before anything else could be said. “I have a falling stomach and I can’t seem to locate the bottom at any time. But I’m sure that if I can only have a slice of that apple pie I’ll surely plug up the floor of my stomach and have no more trouble!”

“Of all the left-handed compliments in the world!” gasped Douglas. “He must think your pie is some kind of cement with which to secure his stomach. Tell a lady that her pie will plug him up!”

Mrs. Carson laughed heartily. “I guess there is nothing the matter with any of you boys,” she said. “Try my pie and see if it is like cement!”

“I could die of embarrassment!” murmured Terry, as he bit into his piece of pie. “But this pie will surely revive me.”

The farmer himself came up and talked to the boys for a time. The unexpected arrival of the soldiers on the Ridge and the subsequent contract to supply them with fresh food had done wonders for the poor farmer and his family. A good many dollars were coming his way from the camp down the slope.

“Here is the baby of the family,” smiled Mrs. Carson, appearing a little later with a pretty little girl of six. The cadets promptly forgot all else in their efforts to amuse and entertain Dorothy Carson. It was late before they headed back to camp, after thanking the farmer’s wife for the good time they had had.

“I’ve had pie before,” murmured Terry. “But never such pie as that!”

“Is that so?” inquired Jim. “Well, it is a cinch that Don and I can’t believe anything you say hereafter!”

“Why not?”

“Because one time at our house you said the same thing about my mother’s pie,” said Jim.

“But don’t forget, this pie helped his stomach!” said Vench, slyly. “Probably your mother’s pie didn’t plug up the bottom of his stomach!”

“If I ever speak again, it will be to myself, and in a dark room,” sighed Terry.

They had not been back in the tent long before the Officer of the Guard appeared at the tent with a list in his hand. “Lieutenant Mercer, you will report for guard duty at Post Number Three at twelve o’clock,” he informed Don.

“Very good, sir,” Don saluted.

At midnight Lieutenant Don reported to the sentry at the far end of the camp, at a point near the farm belonging to the Hyde family. After an exchange of instructions he took the post, waiting for the call. It came soon after.

“Sentry, Post Two,” someone said near to him. Don faced toward the sentry who was next to him. “Sentry, Post Three,” he called. Number Four passed the report call on until eight sentries had reported. Then they began their pacing up and down on their patrols.

Don’s stretch was a long one, extending from the edge of the camp at the company street to a point back of the horse corral. At no time did he meet the sentry who patrolled Post Four. Just at the time Don reached the place where Post Four joined his post the other sentry was at the far end of his stretch, and when Don had returned to the company street Number Four was at the beginning of his post patrol. In this way there was no likelihood of sentries stopping to chat and no huge gaps left in the line of patrol duty.

The moon was a mere slice but the stars were bright pinheads in the sky. The air was warm and heavy with the smell of the woods. Don enjoyed his patrol thoroughly. At twelve-thirty he looked up the Ridge casually. Toward the top he saw a tiny jet of flame, right above the Hyde place.

“Looks like somebody striking a match,” he reflected, pacing slowly.

Then he stopped quickly. The jet of flame sprang up rapidly. Something was burning, flaring up into a huge ball of roaring fire. And as Don looked, completely at a loss, this mass of flame moved with ever increasing speed down the hill toward the Hyde house!


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