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7. Jim Makes an Enemy
“The thing to do,” said Rhodes, “is to make Vench talk.”

It was a few days later, and the cadets were talking things over back of the boathouse. Rhodes, Jim, Terry and Don were sitting on an overturned boat discussing the thing in detail. Don had told them of the events which he had seen, and they were all agreed that Vench had seen something of importance in Clanhammer Hall.

But Vench would not talk. He blustered and he sneered, but he would not open his mouth. He began by saying that he had seen nothing, and ended by saying that he would not tell what he had seen. With that they had to be content, but they were far from being satisfied.

The period of preliminary training was now over and the boys in the fourth class were definitely assigned to divisions. Jim was the luckiest of all, for he was made lieutenant of the cavalry. Don remained in the infantry and Terry went with the artillery unit. Jim was elated with his good fortune and declared that he was going to work hard for a captaincy.

To Jim first fell the office of Officer of the Day. At some time in the year each cadet served in that capacity. His duties were not complicated but consisted of the job of making the rounds of the dormitories just before the lights were put out to see if everything was in order. Immediately after they were out he had to walk down all halls and see to it that no cadet was still up. Then he was to turn in his report and return to his own room.

It was at a quarter after nine when Jim reported to Major Tireson in the office and received his instructions and his report book. He found that he had been assigned to Clinton Hall and after receiving his instructions he went there. It was the practice at the school to put the Officer of the Day in another hall, so that no excuse would be made for personal friends if any infraction of the rules occurred. At the same time that Jim was inspecting Clinton Hall another cadet was inspecting Locke and another Inslee, in each case the Officer of the Day being from another hall.

Jim began his duties at once. Coming to the first room in Clinton Hall he raised his hand and rapped smartly. There was a “Come in” from the other side of the door and Jim entered. As soon as the cadets in the room saw that it was the Officer of the Day they put down their books and rose, saluting as they did so. Jim returned the salute and then looked keenly around the room, noting the condition of the bed, the closet, the place of the cadets’ hats and the general look of the room. Everything was in place and Jim placed an OK beside the number of the room. His duty was to inspect the room and report any irregularities on the part of the cadets themselves, but unless these irregularities were very flagrant the cadet officers never did report them.

“Very well, gentlemen,” nodded Jim, and left the room. The two cadets resumed their studying and Jim went to the next room. In each dormitory room he followed the same procedure. The first floor having been attended to he went to the second and repeated the process.

He had now come to the last room and he knocked. There was no immediate answer and he pushed his way in. To his surprise he found that Cadet Vench was in the room, sitting at the window on the sill, looking out at the ivy-covered wall of an addition which loomed up close to his window. It was then that Jim remembered that Vench, who had formerly roomed in Locke Hall, had been transferred, at his own request, to Clinton. Asked as to why he had obtained a transfer Vench had replied that the bunch in Locke made him sick and he wanted to be nearer friends. It was the boastful little cadet whom Jim was now facing.

Vench turned quickly at his step and his right hand went behind his back. But he was not quick enough to hide what he was holding. Jim saluted him and the cadet returned it. Before speaking Jim inspected the room and then turned once more to Vench.

“Your room is all right, Mr. Vench,” reported the Officer of the Day. “But you yourself must be reported for smoking a cigarette.”

“You’re not going to report that, Mercer,” replied Vench, easily.

“No, I’m not,” agreed Jim. “I am going to allow you to report it yourself, Mr. Vench. In that way you will save yourself a few ‘groan marks.’”

“Groan marks” were demerits, and if enough of them were gathered by a cadet he was expelled. If a cadet accumulated a few of them he lost valuable privileges. But Cadet Vench smiled and shook his head.

“I guess we’ll just forget all about it, eh, Mercer?” he suggested.

But Jim shook his head calmly. “No we won’t, Mr. Vench. Smoking is absolutely against the rules of the institution. You may enjoy it, and perhaps some of the other fellows do too, but they don’t do it, and if you see fit to, you’ll have to stand what comes to you.”

“Don’t preach to me, Mercer!” snapped the little cadet.

“I’m not preaching. If you don’t go and report, I shall be compelled to do it for you. So make up your mind at once, please.”

Vench’s face flushed. “All full of soldier-boy dignity and importance, aren’t you, Mercer? No sense of fair play or honor about you.”

“Why, yes, I think that there is,” retorted Jim, coolly. “I’m giving you a chance to report yourself and lighten your punishment. Seems to me that I couldn’t be any fairer than that.”

“You could forget it altogether,” cried Vench heatedly. “Look here, Mercer, I’ll make it worth your while!”

“In what way?” asked Jim, his eyes narrowing.

“Well, I have a little money that the officers don’t know anything about——”

“That will do!” snapped Jim. “A moment ago you were talking about honor! How much honor do you think is in a proposition like that?”

Vench took a step forward, his face flaming. “Look here you—you cad! Do you mean to say that I’m not honorable? I’ll have you understand that some of the noblest blood in old France runs in my veins!”

“That won’t help you now,” returned Jim. “As far as that goes, I guess my own blood is pretty good, although I’m not aware that any of it came from noblemen, unless they happened to be the only kind of noblemen that count, honest people.”

“See here, you!” hissed the enraged cadet. “You only talk like this because you are the Officer of the Day. I’d be quick to call you out if you weren’t.”

“I won’t be Officer of the Day tomorrow,” said Jim coldly. “If you want to, you may call me out then, though I doubt if you will do anything as rash as that. Come, Mr. Vench, make up your mind what to do.”

“I’ll turn myself in,” fairly shouted the little cadet. “And then I’ll seek satisfaction from you, you high and mighty soldier boy!”

“Anything you please,” shrugged Jim. “Do not forget to report yourself, Mr. Vench, for I am going to make a notation of the circumstance, and if you fail to do it, it will be tough for you.”

With that Jim turned on his heel and walked out of the room. He was angrier than he had allowed Vench to see, for he hated the suggestion of a bribe and the manner of the cadet had been irritating. Just as he got out into the hall the lights were snapped out and he had one more duty to perform. He walked down the halls and saw to it that all doors were closed and all was quiet and then went back to Locke Hall, where he related his experience to Terry and Don.

“You did perfectly right,” agreed Don.

“I doubt if he’ll fight,” said Terry. “He likes to make a big noise, but I don’t think he will say another word about it.”

But Terry was wrong. Cadet Vench reported his break in the rules and received fifty demerits. Two hundred demerits was sufficient to keep a cadet out of all activities and two hundred and fifty was the limit. Vench lost a few privileges and he was boiling with rage. That afternoon Cadet Willis, a roommate of Vench’s, came into the room where Don and Jim were preparing to go out for track.

“May I speak to you a moment, Mr. Mercer?” he asked Don.

“Certainly, Mr. Willis,” nodded Don, and followed him out into the hall. Terry looked at Jim and whistled.

“Ah, ha!” said the red-headed boy. “War is declared!”

When Don came back he grinned at Jim. “Well, you’re in for it, kid,” he said. “Cadet Willis brought to me, your second, a formal declaration of war. If you aren’t scared to death you will kindly meet Mr. Vench in physical combat back of the gym at eight o’clock this evening!”

“Well,” grinned Jim. “I’m scared to death, all right, but I’ll meet him just the same. I’ll be so nervous I won’t be able to run or study all afternoon!”

The news of Vench’s challenge spread like wildfire, and just before eight o’clock a group of the cadets, constantly increasing in number, assembled back of the gym. The spot selected was well fitted for the fight, as it was just back of a large window from which a stream of light came, and well out of sight of the main school building. Jim and his friends reached the place at eight and Jim immediately peeled off his shirt and moved his arms about to limber them up. Vench had not as yet appeared, and when five minutes passed by with no sign of him the cadets began to murmur things decidedly not complimentary to the absent one.

“Here comes Willis,” spoke up a cadet, at last. “But he is alone.”

Willis, with a worried look on his face, approached the group, and ignoring the questions put to him, spoke to Don.

“May I have a word with you, Mercer?” he asked.

He took Don aside and they talked in low tones for a moment, after which Willis hurried off and Don walked slowly back to the group. There was a faint smile on his face, and he handed Jim his shirt.

“Put your shirt on, Jim,” he said. Turning to the cadets he said, “Boys, there has been a mistake made. When Mr. Vench asked Mr. Willis to be his second Mr. Willis presumed it was to be a fist fight. It was not until a few minutes ago that Mr. Willis, to his vast astonishment, found out that Mr. Vench is very blood-thirsty. Mr. Vench claims that my brother insulted his honor and that nothing less than blood would satisfy him. He was coming out here with two dueling swords, obtained from the museum upstairs, and it took Mr. Willis and some friends several minutes to disarm him and take the weapons away. Under the circumstances, there will be no fight, I guess!”

There was a moment of amazed silence and then the cadets broke loose in excited talk. Mr. Vench was treated to a verbal overhauling that left nothing to be desired, and many a scornful laugh was uttered as the cadets went back to their rooms. A dozen plans to annoy and remind the hot-headed cadet were immediately made up.

“Nothing but blood would satisfy him, eh?” laughed Terry when they were back in their rooms. “Well, if he had run up against Jim’s fist he would have been satisfied, all right.”

Jim dismissed the whole thing and thought no more of the little cadet. But from that time on the noisy newcomer was in misery. Everywhere he went he saw some evidence of his rashness and foolishness. Paper swords were hung on his door, gentlemen in grotesque positions were sketched on the blackboards, engaged in dueling, and whenever he was around some pair of cadets were sure to fence with rulers or whatever they had handiest. He was angry and unhappy, but knowing as he did that he had made a sorry spectacle out of himself he kept quiet except when he was alone. He had lost the friendship of even his roommate, who felt his own position ridiculous, and the loud cadet was silenced for the time being.

“It’s all the doings of that Mercer bunch,” he told a friend savagely. “But I’m just waiting for my chance. Wait until it comes, and I’ll make Jim Mercer and his gang suffer for this. Just wait until it comes, that’s all!”

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