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Starlight Ranch

From The Plains To The Point

From The Point To The Plains

The Worst Man In The Troop

Van



From The Point To The Plains








From: Starlight Ranch

CHAPTER I.

A CADET'S SISTER.


She was standing at the very end of the forward deck, and, with flushing
cheeks and sparkling eyes, gazing eagerly upon the scene before her.
Swiftly, smoothly rounding the rugged promontory on the right, the
steamer was just turning into the highland "reach" at Fort Montgomery
and heading straight away for the landings on the sunset shore. It was
only mid-May, but the winter had been mild, the spring early, and now
the heights on either side were clothed in raiment of the freshest,
coolest green; the vines were climbing in luxuriant leaf all over the
face of the rocky scarp that hemmed the swirling tide of the Hudson; the
radiance of the evening sunshine bathed all the eastern shores in mellow
light and left the dark slopes and deep gorges of the opposite range all
the deeper and darker by contrast. A lively breeze had driven most of
the passengers within doors as they sped through the broad waters of the
Tappan Zee, but, once within the sheltering traverses of Dunderberg and
the heights beyond, many of their number reappeared upon the promenade
deck, and first among them was the bonnie little maid now clinging to
the guard-rail at the very prow, and, heedless of fluttering skirt or
fly-away curl, watching with all her soul in her bright blue eyes for
the first glimpse of the haven where she would be. No eyes on earth look
so eagerly for the grim, gray facade of the riding-hall or the domes
and turrets of the library building as those of a girl who has spent the
previous summer at West Point.

Utterly absorbed in her watch, she gave no heed to other passengers who
presently took their station close at hand. One was a tall, dark-eyed,
dark-haired young lady in simple and substantial travelling-dress. With
her were two men in tweeds and Derby hats, and to these companions she
constantly turned with questions as to prominent objects in the rich and
varied landscape. It was evident that she was seeing for the first time
sights that had been described to her time and again, for she was
familiar with every name. One of the party was a man of over fifty
years,--bronzed of face and gray of hair, but with erect carriage and
piercing black eyes that spoke of vigor, energy, and probably of a life
in the open air. It needed not the tri-colored button of the Loyal
Legion in the lapel of his coat to tell that he was a soldier. Any one
who chose to look--and there were not a few--could speedily have seen,
too, that these were father and daughter.

The other man was still taller than the dark, wiry, slim-built soldier,
but in years he was not more than twenty-eight or nine. His eyes, brows,
hair, and the heavy moustache that drooped over his mouth were all of a
dark, soft brown. His complexion was clear and ruddy; his frame powerful
and athletic. Most of the time he stood a silent but attentive listener
to the eager talk between the young lady and her father, but his kindly
eyes rarely left her face; he was ready to respond when she turned to
question him, and when he spoke it was with the unmistakable intonation
of the South.

The deep, mellow tones of the bell were booming out their landing signal
as the steamer shot into the shadow of a high, rocky cliff. Far aloft on
the overhanging piazzas of a big hotel, fluttering handkerchiefs greeted
the passengers on the decks below. Many eyes were turned thither in
recognition of the salute, but not those of the young girl at the bow.
One might, indeed, have declared her resentful of this intermediate
stop. The instant the gray walls of the riding-school had come into view
she had signalled, eagerly, with a wave of her hand, to a gentleman and
lady seated in quiet conversation under the shelter of the deck.
Presently the former, a burly, broad-shouldered man of forty or
thereabouts, came sauntering forward and stood close behind her.

"Well, Nan! Most there, I see. Think you can hold on five minutes
longer, or shall I toss you over and let you swim for it?"

For answer Miss Nan clasps a wooden pillar in her gray-gloved hands, and
tilts excitedly on the toes of her tiny boots, never once relaxing her
gaze on the dock a mile or more away up-stream.

"Just think of being so near Willy--and all of them--and not seeing one
to speak to until after parade," she finally says.

"Simply inhuman!" answers her companion with commendable gravity, but
with humorous twinkle about his eyes. "Is it worth all the long
journey, and all the excitement in which your mother tells me you've
been plunged for the past month?"

"Worth it, Uncle Jack?" and the blue eyes flash upon him indignantly.
"Worth it? You wouldn't ask if you knew it all, as I do."

"Possibly not," says Uncle Jack, whimsically. "I haven't the advantage
of being a girl with a brother and a baker's dozen of beaux in bell
buttons and gray. I'm only an old fossil of a 'cit,' with a scamp of a
nephew and that limited conception of the delights of West Point which
one can derive from running up there every time that versatile youngster
gets into a new scrape. You'll admit my opportunities have been
frequent."

"It isn't Willy's fault, and you know it, Uncle Jack, though we all know
how good you've been; but he's had more bad luck and--and--injustice
than any cadet in the corps. Lots of his classmates told me so."

"Yes," says Uncle Jack, musingly. "That is what your blessed mother,
yonder, wrote me when I went up last winter, the time Billy submitted
that explanation to the commandant with its pleasing reference to the
fox that had lost its tail--you doubtless recall the incident--and came
within an ace of dismissal in consequence."

"I don't care!" interrupts Miss Nan, with flashing eyes. "Will had
provocation enough to say much worse things; Jimmy Frazer wrote me so,
and said the whole class was sticking up for him."

"I do not remember having had the honor of meeting Jimmy Frazer,"
remarks Uncle Jack, with an aggravating drawl that is peculiar to him.
"Possibly he was one of the young gentlemen who didn't call, owing to
some temporary impediment in the way of light prison----"

"Yes; and all because he took Will's part, as I believe," is the
impetuous reply. "Oh! I'll be so thankful when they're out of it all."

"So will they, no doubt. 'Sticking up'--wasn't that Mr. Frazer's
expression?--for Bill seems to have been an expensive luxury all round.
Wonder if sticking up is something they continue when they get to their
regiments? Billy has two or three weeks yet in which to ruin his chances
of ever reaching one, and he has exhibited astonishing aptitude for
tripping himself up thus far."

"Uncle Jack! How can you speak so of Willy, when he is so devoted to
you? When he gets to his regiment there won't be any Lieutenant Lee to
nag and worry him night and day. He's the cause of all the trouble."

"That so?" drawls Uncle Jack. "I didn't happen to meet Mr. Lee,
either,--he was away on leave; but as Bill and your mother had some such
views, I looked into things a bit. It appears to be a matter of record
that my enterprising nephew had more demerit before the advent of Mr.
Lee than since. As for 'extras' and confinements, his stock was always
big enough to bear the market down to bottom prices."

The boat is once more under way, and a lull in the chat close at hand
induces Uncle Jack to look about him. The younger of the two men lately
standing with the dark-eyed girl has quietly withdrawn, and is now
shouldering his way to a point out of ear-shot. There he calmly turns
and waits; his glance again resting upon her whose side he has so
suddenly quitted. She has followed him with her eyes until he stops;
then with heightened color resumes a low-toned chat with her father.
Uncle Jack is a keen observer, and his next words are inaudible except
to his niece.

"Nan, my child, I apprehend that remarks upon the characteristics of the
officers at the Point had best be confined to the bosom of the family.
We may be in their very midst."

She turns, flushing, and for the first time her blue eyes meet the dark
ones of the older girl. Her cheeks redden still more, and she whirls
about again.

"I can't help it, Uncle Jack," she murmurs. "I'd just like to tell them
all what I think of Will's troubles."

"Oh! Candor is to be admired of all things," says Uncle Jack, airily.
"Still it is just as well to observe the old adage, 'Be sure you're
right,' etc. Now I own to being rather fond of Bill, despite all the
worry he has given your mother, and all the bother he has been to
me----"

"All the worry that others have given him, you ought to say, Uncle
Jack."

"W-e-ll, har-d-ly. It didn't seem to me that the corps, as a rule,
thought Billy the victim of persecution."

"They all tell me so, at least," is the indignant outburst.

"Do they, Nan? Well, of course, that settles it. Still, there were a few
who reluctantly admitted having other views when I pressed them
closely."

"Then they were no friends of Willy's, or mine either!"

"Now, do you know, I thought just the other way? I thought one of them,
especially, a very stanch friend of Billy's and yours, too, Nan, but
Billy seems to consider advisers in the light of adversaries."

A moment's pause. Then, with cheeks still red, and plucking at the rope
netting with nervous fingers, Miss Nan essays a tentative. Her eyes are
downcast as she asks,--

"I suppose you mean Mr. Stanley?"

"The very man, Nanette; very much of a man to my thinking