“That will be a good way, perhaps, to test out the note,” Prescott decided.
Though the two men appeared to be talking earnestly, only a mumble of voices reached Dick’s ears when the men were no more than thirty feet away. Then they stepped into the road, where they halted hardly more than a dozen feet away from the screened captain.
“It’s a pity you wouldn’t have your nerve,” said the stranger, to Mock. “You tell me you hate your captain.”
“Wouldn’t you, if he had treated you like he treated me?” demanded Mock heatedly.
“Surely I would,” agreed the stranger.
“And there’s Holmes’s friend, that fellow Prescott, who, he, you say, would spend all his time looking into anything that happened to Holmes. You could settle with them both, and then there’d be no one left to worry about.”
“Say, just what are you thinking of doing to ’em?” demanded Mock, in a tone of uneasy suspicion.
“There are two things that could be done to them,” continued the civilian. “One would be to put them out of the way altogether, and the other would be to bring disgrace upon them so that they’d be kicked out of the Army. That would break their hearts, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes,” muttered Mock, “but you’re talking dreams, neighbor. I’m no black-hander, to creep up behind them with a knife, or take a pot shot at them. I’m not quite that kind, neighbor, and it couldn’t be done, anyway.”
“You could put ’em out of the way, and no one would be the wiser,” hinted the stranger.
“I’ll show you, when I’m sure enough that you’re game,” declared the civilian. “I’d have to be sure you had the nerve.”
“I haven’t,” admitted Private Mock.
“Do you know, I began to think that before you admitted it?” sneered the other.
“Not the way you mean,” flared up the ex-sergeant. “I can be mean in order to get square with a mean officer. But I can get along without putting him under the sod. I’m a good hater, but my mother didn’t raise me to be a real crook.”
“You’re a quitter, I guess,” jeered the other. “Anyway, if you claim to be a man of sand you’ll have to show me.”
“And I guess it’s about time that you showed me something, too,” challenged Mock, looking furtively at the stoop-shouldered man.
“I’m ready enough to show you a whole lot of things, when I find out that you’re man enough to stand up for yourself and pay back those who treat you like dirt,” retorted the other.
“There’s one thing you can show me, first of all,” challenged Mock.
“Show me why you’re so anxious to have harm happen to Captain Holmes and Captain Prescott.”
“Because I like you; because I’m a friend of yours,” returned the stoop-shouldered one.
“You’re a pretty new friend,” Mock went on. “I never saw you until that day when the captain caught me shirking and told off two men to prod me back into camp.”