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important-the effect of Faith's golden head against the gray-green rock-the exact moment they had discovered that they cared, young Hearne harked back to the gnawing tenor of his thoughts. "About those examinations, the Worm and I have worked out a system, and I 'm staking everything upon it-I 've wasted my time so I can't possibly get the principles of the stuff now-all I can do is to learn some stock problems and pray Heaven they'll ask me those. There's one about wasteweirs that Granny Ellery-I beg your pardon, dear, I forgot-is nutty about and always gives. I'm going to learn that backward and forward. Of course it would be just like the old gazoo," said Hearne with another uncousinly lapse, "to take a perverse streak and not give it this one year, but if he does, I'll surely 'make a cold max' on that problem, and that ought to count a lot.
"In a way it seems hardly fair"-he knit his boyish brows anxiously-"because I don't know enough to pass. But I figure it out it's a good deal like the O.D.'s keeping his eyes on the ground, and it's all right for me to take that forlorn hope. I'd make Uncle Sam a good officer if I don't know much engineering,-my father's son could n't help that," Hearne added proudly. "And the odds are all against me. Goodness knows!" He leaned his dark head against his clenched fists. "Good Lord, what a fool I 've been," he groaned.
Faith stretched out a small, comforting hand. "It can't make any difference to me, Gordon," she told him tenderly. "I'll love you just the same if you don't pass."
"But it will have to make all the difference in the world, dearest," answered the boy, despairingly. "Don't you see, if I can't graduate, I can't be an officer, and it 's me for baling boxes or sweeping an office in the cold world. Heaven knows I'd have nerve enough asking your father to let you marry a second lieutenant, but at least we could starve respectably on that pay, and the other way we 'd have to wait at least two or three years before I'd have anything."
army," Gordon went on, "and as poor as Job's turkey, of course. They could n't help me any. I would n't let them if they could after I 've failed them this way." He winced under some pursuing, torturing thought. "When I think of my father," began Gordon huskily and turned and stared for a moment up the sun-kissed river.
"If I 'd only known you a little sooner," he told Faith. "When I began to love you-just those few weeks ago-I seemed suddenly to wake up for the first time. I 've gone sliding through each year by the skin of my teeth here at the Pointgetting all the fun and doing as little work as I could. I was perfectly content being the goat of the class-I knew the fellows all liked me and that seemed to me the principal thing-and I never dreamed there was danger of my really getting dropped until they told me my passing would depend on these exams, and I began to realize what a mighty slim chance I stood of getting through them. I'm just beginning to see what a selfish beast I've been all along. Why, my army career means everything to my father! He's been looking forward all my life to the time when I'd be in his regiment. He and the mater have been saving up for three years now to come on to my graduation-and you don't know what it means to save anything on a captain's pay-and at the last minute they had to send the money to help a busted relative out West. It's a merciful thing they 're spared the shame of seeing me perhaps kicked out. And you, Faith," he turned to the girl remorsefully, "if I do pass, do you realize they 're the goat shoulder straps of the class I'll be laying at your feet, dear?"
"I don't care," cried the girl in a fervor of loyalty. She looked up into the handsome, troubled face above her with adoring eyes. "And you will pass, Gordon," she added with a solemn faith which transfigured her in her lover's eyes. "I know God will help you. I pray Him to every day."
Hearne kept these words of hers, and that last memory of her rapt young face, as a beacon light of inspiration in the two black days before the examination. He prayed himself, too, in the depths of his despair, with a helpless, half-shamed boy
They stared at each other mutely, both their young faces gone quite white at the mere thought of such a tragedy. "You know my people are all in the ish pleading to escape the fate his folly had
brought upon him. Every spare moment he tussled heroically with the few knotty problems on which he had determined to stake his all. The fighting blood of his soldier ancestry was stirred at last, and leaped gallantly to the call of a hopeless charge. He had worked hard the evening before the examination, to the cruel accompaniment of the far-away music of the hop room, and when "Army Blue" sounded the approach of "Taps," he closed victoriously the pages on waste-weirs, master at least of that darling of Granny Ellery's heart. When "Tubs" Richards after the dance looked in to deliver a note to him, Hearne had already blanketed his transom, placed his candle beneath the bed, and was lying flat under it himself, prepared for a final night's vigil with engineering. He crawled back to read his small missive whose dear familiar handwriting had already set his blood dancing. A moment later he emerged with a white, determined face and began to throw on his dress-jacket. The Worm gazed at him incredulously.
"Good Heavens, His'n, you can't mean you 're going to 'run it out'-three days before graduation and with your record! You'll be fired double quick if they 'hive' you."
His'n did not stop for answer. He was buckling his belt as he made for the door. The Worm caught him by the shoulder.
"His'n, listen to me I won't let you do so mad a thing. Throw away every chance of graduation for a girl!-shows what kind she is to ask such a thing when she knows what it may mean to you," bungled the poor Worm.
His'n wrenched himself loose. "You will please remember that you are speaking of the girl I'm to marry, Hastings," he said, dropping for the first time in their acquaintance the old affectionate, bantering nickname. "She is in trouble and needs me. I've got to go!"
A moment later he was outside in the darkness, his shoes in his hand, peering cautiously toward the broad shaft of moonlight staining the stairs. No spying tactical officer with his hated bull's-eye lantern seemed in sight, however, so he shot down them lightly, skirted the shadows of the hall below, and found himself out in the area with the sentry pacing measuredly across his exit. Clinging close to the en
compassing darkness of the wall, Hearne made his stealthy way to within a few yards of the unsuspecting private. At the first turn of his broad back the cadet, a swift streak of gray and white, sped through the forbidden gates and stood panting without, the first dangerous stage of his journey past.
In the hostile moonlight it was hard work making from one to another of the bulwarks of shadowed tree and hedge. Sometimes the fatal uniform of blue would flash into sight, and Hearne would crouch low, his heart pounding betrayal to his ears. All the time he was thinking of Faith "in trouble." Could she be ill? Every moment conjured distressing reasons for her urgent summons. Her cousin lived far up the road past Grant Hall, and when at length Hearne reached the house he was shaking with an exhaustion miles of swift running could not have caused.
At the sight of him the little figure in white upon the steps flew down to meet him, and Gordon caught her in his arms. in a passionate relief. Faith herself was clinging to him with a happy abandonment she had never shown before.
"You poor darling," she cried at the sight of his pale face. "Did you worry about me? I'm so sorry, but I could n't write you the truth, and I had to say that I was in trouble so you would be sure to come. It 's good news I have for you, dear-just look at this."
She thrust a roll of papers into his hand excitedly. Hearne stared down at them stupidly.
The moonlight had illumined the last page, and the question of the waste-weirs which lately had been his companion day and night, was clearly revealed. He wondered for a moment whether he was losing his reason and the thing had become an obsession to him. His dazed senses tried to grasp what Faith was saying.
"Did you ever know such luck?" she was asking triumphantly. "I was in Cousin Edward's study this afternoon when he was putting these papers away, and he said, 'Those questions decide the fate of more than one poor fellow in the graduating class.' And right away it flashed into my mind what I could do. I watched where he put the key to his desk, and then I rushed right home from the hop-they're at an officers' bridge party and won't be home
for an hour yet-and got them out for you. Here's a pencil and paper, so you can copy them."
She looked up at him happily, her face aglow with her triumph. Something in Hearne's eyes made her falter.
"My God, Faith," he said in a voice she had never heard before. "Do you mean to say you stole those papers?" In voluntarily he recoiled a step.
She cried out at that in a rush of indignation and wounded love. "How can you say such a thing? I took them for you, Gordon. There is n't anything I would n't do for you," she added piteously, and took a little trembling propitiatory step toward him.
But he made no move to meet her. He stood staring at her in a helpless horror against which she hid her eyes.
"You thought I would cheat to pass?" he demanded, still in a strained, unnatural voice, and then choking suddenly, he wheeled and went blindly down the road. It must have been a merciful Providence which directed his steps home, for he himself looked neither to the right nor to the left-indeed did not even remember having reached there. He only knew he spent an endless night looking into darkness, and rose to a dawn which found his world in ruins.
The Worm, cursing silently and deeply the ways of women in general, watched him miserably as he sat during the morning in a stupor of suffering. As the fatal hour drew near, it was the Worm again who got him into his dress uniform; he himself would not have even made a move to go. He did not rouse from his lethargy until his room-mate pulled him back at the last moment.
"His'n, I know something has hit you pretty hard," he said, sympathetically. "But you can't give up the fight this way, old fellow. There's your father, you know— and me. Graduation can't mean anything to me without you-you know that."
The words started Hearne into sudden alertness; nothing could matter any more to him: his life was over and done with: but a man could n't think of just himself. And he put before him the lined, careworn face of his father and the Worm's dear ugliness as he waited for the examination. He felt no trace of nervousness, no faintest qualm of either hope or dread. When
at length he stood in the section-room before the formidable tribunal, the instructor impressive in full-dress uniform and sword, the distinguished Board of Visitors on the platform, and the curious faces of friends and strangers looking down from the gallery above, he still felt nothing but a quiet determination to do his best. Even a glint of golden hair beneath a pinktrimmed leghorn in the corner failed to move him from his curious passivity.
The first question came within the range of his limited accomplishment. Of the second he had only a hazy idea, but he found himself to his own amazement with a preternatural mental keenness working it to a triumphant finish. The third and fourth he could not answer, but the fifth the Worm had gone over with him only the day before. His fate hung trembling on the outcome of the sixth.
With the first words of Captain Ellery, his mind, trained to that attack, marshaled in perfect array its disciplined facts on the waste-weirs. He began with a quiet assurance, "I am required to discuss" — and then stopped short.
A sudden hush of anxiety fell over the section-room. The visitors leaned over the railing in silent encouragement, and even the Members of the Board cast human glances toward the gallant young figure whose shoulder-straps were hanging in the balance.
"Yes, Mr. Hearne,"-the instructor prompted helpfully.
But Hearne did not hear him. He was standing in a moon-lit garden with the girl he loved in his arms, and between them flamed the fateful question whose answer trembled on his lips. He had not realized before what that meant. He had known the answer already, to be sure; he had not looked since within his book. But there had been treachery and fraud; even if innocently he had looked upon that paper; and by the stern ethics of the corps it was for him to pay the price of that dishonor.
He drew a long breath and laid his pointer down. "I can't answer that question, sir," he said clearly, and the examination was over.
He had gotten through at last the final good-bys of the men with whom he had marched and studied and played for four years, and had borne up steadfastly under
their clumsy sympathy and real regret. That torpor which had enchained him for the last twenty hours had mercilessly left him, and each insignificant little act possessed an undreamed-of power to stab his heart. It hurt with an almost physical suffering as he looked his last upon the wide grassy plain, sentineled by the white and gray of its splendid buildings, and its faithful outer guard of emerald hills and stately river. He had hated it fiercely enough in his plebe year; he had thought he felt merely a tolerance in the three which followed; now it seemed wrenching his very heartstrings as he swung sharply away from it down the hill.
The Worm went with him to the edge of cadet limits. Their parting was unemotional and offhand in the extreme.
"Try not to spend all your time with the 'fems,'" His'n had urged quite jauntily, looking fixedly at a clump of wild flowers in the road. "Don't trifle with all their young affections."
"I'll do my best not to," the Worm had answered gaily, with a lump in his throat. "Good-by, old chap, and take care of yourself."
Then somehow Hearne had found himself alone upon the ferry, and the Hudson creeping between himself and his Alma Mater. A note from Faith and the class
He knew instinctively that he could kiss away her anger and hurt pride, but while all his heart was crying out for her loveliness, he knew too that she had killed something she could never make live again. He leaned over and dropped the ring into the river.
With that manhood which had sprung to life in a night he strove to face resolutely his bitter thoughts-the sweetheart he had lost and the father he had yet to face, the past he had ruined and the future. not yet born. But when the sunset gun thundered among the hills, his brave composure broke. He straightened unconsciously and gave the old familiar salute to the flag-the flag he had proved unworthy to serve. There was no one to see him as he put his head down upon his arms on the side of the boat.
He did not know that he had passed with flying colors his real examination in the honor of the corps.