Chapter VI. The Strange Figure in the Hallway
 

At the fearful outcome of the joke Tom had been perpetrating the boys concealed in the bushes were almost struck dumb, and for several seconds nobody could speak or move.

"Oh, Heavens, Tom is killed!" burst out Dick, who was the first to find his voice. He ran forth as speedily as possible, and one after another the other cadets followed.

Tom lay as quiet as death, with his eyes closed and the blood trickling over his temple and left cheek. Quickly Dick knelt by his side and felt of his heart.

"Tom, Tom, speak to me! Tell me you are not seriously hurt!" he faltered.

But no answer came back, and Sam raced off to get some water, which he brought in a tin can he had discovered lying handy. The water was dashed over Toni's face, and presently he gave a little gasp.

"Oh my! what struck me?" he murmured, and then tried to sit up, but for the minute the effort was a failure.

"The pistol exploded," said Frank. "A piece must have hit you on the head," and he pointed at a nasty scalp wound from which the flow of blood emanated.

As well as it could be done, Frank and Dick bound up Tom's head with a handkerchief, and presently the fun-loving lad declared himself about as well as ever, "Only a bit light-headed," as he added.

In the meantime the others had given their attention to Hans, who had been struck both in the scalp and in the shoulder. It was a good quarter of an hour before the German youth came around, and then he felt so weak that the boys had to assist him back to the academy.

"Honestly, I thought the pistol was empty," said Tom, on the return to the Hall. "Why, I think I've pulled that trigger a dozen times."

"Don't mention it," said Frank with a shiver. "Why, only last week I pointed the thing at Peleg Snuggers and played at firing it. Supposing it had gone off and killed somebody?"

And he shivered again.

"Dot vos almost as pad as von Indian's schalping," put in Hans faintly. "I dink, Tom, you vos play no more such dricks, hey?"

"No, I've had enough," replied Tom very soberly. "If you had been killed or seriously hurt I would never have forgiven myself." And it may be added here that for some time after this event fun-making and Tom were strangers to each other.

At the proper time the feast which had been planned came off, and proved to be an event not readily forgotten. It was no easy matter to obtain the good things required, and the boys ran the risk of being discovered by George Strong and punished; but by midnight everything was ready, and soon eating was "in full blast," to use Sam's way of expressing it.

A few of the boys from the other dormitories had been invited, and the boys took turns in standing out in the hall on guard.

"You see," explained Tom, "Mr. Strong may come in, and I won't be able to play nightmare again, as I did last year."

"Say, but that was a prime joke," laughed Frank.

"And Mumps!" cried Larry. "I'll never forget the orange flavored with kerosene," and a general laugh followed.

Somebody had spoken of inviting Jim Caven to the feast, but no one cared particularly for the fellow, and he had been left out.

"Perhaps he'll tell on us," suggested Larry, but Frank shook his head.

"He hasn't got backbone enough to do it. He's a worse coward than Mumps was."

Soon it came time for Sam to do his turn at guarding, and stuffing a big bit of candy in his mouth, the youngest Rover stepped out into the dimly lit hallway and sat down on a low stool which one of the guards had placed there.

For ten or fifteen minutes nothing occurred to disturb Sam, and he was just beginning to think that watching was all nonsense when he saw a dark figure creeping along the wall at the extreme lower end of the hallway, where it made a turn toward the back stairs.

"Hullo, who's that?" he muttered. "It doesn't look much like Mr. Strong."

He continued to watch the figure, and now saw that it was dressed in a black suit and had what looked like a shawl over its head.

"That's queer," went on the boy. "What can that man or boy be up to?"

Presently the figure turned and entered one of the lower dormitories, closing the door gently behind it. Then it came out again and made swiftly for the rear of the upper hallway. By this time Sam was more curious than ever, and as the figure disappeared around the bend by the back stairs he followed on tiptoes.

But as what light there was came from the front, the rear was very dark, and the youth could see little or nothing. He heard a door close and the lock click, but whether or not it was upstairs or down he could not tell.

For several minutes he remained in the rear hallway, and then he went back to his post. Soon Tom came out to relieve him, and Sam re-entered the dormitory and told his story to the others.

"That's certainly odd," was Dick's comment

"Was it a man or a boy, Sam?"

"I can't say exactly. If it wasn't a man it was a pretty big boy."

"Perhaps we ought to report the matter to Captain Putnam," suggested Frank. "That person may have been around the hallways for no good purpose."

"Oh, pshaw! perhaps it was somebody who was trying to spy on us," put in Fred. "If we tell the captain we will only be exposing ourselves, and I guess you all know what that means."

"It means half-holidays cut off for a month," said Dick.

"Besser you vait und see vot comes of dis," said Hans, and after a little more talk this idea prevailed, and then the boys went in to clear up what was left of the feast. Everything was gone but a little ice-cream, and it did not take long to dispose of this.

Sam was bound to have some fun, and instead of eating his last mouthful of cream he awaited a favorable opportunity and dropped it down inside of Fred's collar.

"Great Scott!" roared Fred Garrison. "Whow!" And he began to dance around. "Oh, my backbone! That's worse than a chunk of ice! Oh, but I'll be frozen stiff!"

"Go down and sit on the kitchen stove," suggested Dick.

"Sit on the stove? I'll sit on Sam's head if I get the chance!" roared Fred, and made a rush for Sam. A scuffle ensued, which came to a sudden end as both sent a washstand over with a loud crash.

"Wow you've done it!" cried Frank. "That's noise enough to wake the dead."

"Great Caesar, stop that row!" burst out Torn, opening the door. "Do you want to bring the captain down on us at the last minute?"

"Clear up that muss, both of you," said Dick to Sam and Fred. But the latter demurred. It was Sam's fault -- he started the racket.

"I won't touch it." And Fred proceeded to go to bed.

"I reckon we had best dust," said one of the boys from another dormitory.

"So you had!" burst out Tom. "I hear somebody coming already," and in a twinkle the outsiders ran for their various quarters, leaving the occupants of Dormitory No. 6 to fix up matters as best they could.

It was no easy job to straighten out the washstand, clear up the general muss, and disrobe. But the boys were on their mettle, and in less than two minutes the light was out and all were under the covers, although, to be sure, Sam had his shoes still on and Tom was entirely clothed.

"Boys, what is the row up here?" The call came from Captain Putnam himself. He was ascending the front stairs, lamp in hand, and attired in a long dressing gown.

As no one answered, he paused in the upper hallway and asked the question again. Then he looked into one dormitory after another.

"All asleep, eh? Well, see that you don't wake up again as soon as my back is turned," he went on, and soon after walked below again, a faint smile on his features. He knew that boys were bound to be more or less mischievous, no matter how strict his regulations.

"I'll tell you what, the captain's a brick!" whispered Tom, as he began to disrobe noiselessly.

"So he is," answered Frank. "You wouldn't catch old Crabtree acting that way. He'd have bad every cadet out of bed and sent half a dozen of us down to the guard-room."

"I guess the captain remembers when he was a cadet himself," remarked Dick. "I've heard that they cut up some high pranks at West Point."

"George Strong would be just as kind," came from Tom. "But say, I am growing awfully tired."

"So am I," came from several others,

Then the good-night word was passed, and soon all of the cadets were sound asleep, never dreaming of the surprise which awaited them in the morning.