Dick Hamilton's Cadet Days/Chapter 13
A NARROW ESCAPE
"Hold on!" cried Dutton, springing to his feet. "Wait a minute, Mr.—er—Mr.—"
"No, you can't come any game like that over me!" cried the angry farmer. "You stole my corn, and trampled a lot of it down. That's agin orders, an' I know it. I'll report to your superior officers, and we'll see how you'll like it."
"But—er—but I say—" stammered Button, wishing he could do something to placate the man, for he knew that all the blame would fall on him, and that he would be severely dealt with; perhaps reduced to the ranks.
"No. I'll not listen to you," replied the farmer. "I'm going to report to Colonel Masterly."
"Now look at the mess you've got us into, Dutton," said Stiver. "Why couldn't you let the corn alone."
"Shut up!" retorted the cadet captain. "I say, Mr.—Mr. Farmer," he called after the man.
"My name's not Farmer, but I know what yours will be; it'll be Mud, soon. I'll teach you tin soldiers to spoil my corn."
There were murmurs among the cadets. They feared lest the whole company might be punished. But a scheme had come into Dick Hamilton's mind. Without asking permission from Dutton he hurried after the farmer.
"How much will pay for the damage to your corn, and what the boys took," he asked quietly, holding out a roll of bills, for Dick never was without a substantial sum.
"Now you're talking, sonny," said the farmer, a different look coming into his face. "Why didn't that captain of yours say so at first?"
"What's the damage?" asked Dick. From experience he had learned that cash will make up for almost any kind of a hurt.
"Wa'al, seein' as that was particularly fine corn, I'll have to charge you ten dollars for what ye took, and what damage ye done."
"Ten dollars! That's too much!" cried Paul Drew. "Don't pay it, Dick."
"Wa'al, then I'll see the colonel. I guess he'll pay that, rather than have his school sued," said the angry man.
"Here are ten dollars," said Dick quietly, handing over a bill. "I guess the boys found the corn worth it," he added with a smile.
"That's all right," said the farmer, as he pocketed the money. "I wouldn't 'a made a fuss if I'd a knowed you was goin' to pay for it. I'm reasonable, I am."
"Not at selling corn," murmured Paul, as the man went back into his field.
"Hurrah for Hamilton!" cried several cadets, who realized what Dick's action meant for them. "He's all right."
"He got us out of bad scrape," observed Lieutenant Stiver. "My record won't stand many more demerits."
But instead of thanking Dick, Dutton turned aside. He acted as if he disliked to be under any obligations to the cadet who he so unreasonably hated.
"Hamilton wanted to show off, and let us see that he had money," said the captain, contemptuously. "I suppose we ought to vote him a medal—a gold one, studded with diamonds, seeing that he's a millionaire."
"That's not right, Ray," murmured Stiver in a low tone. "He's got us out of a hole."
"I don't care! I wish he'd take himself out of this academy. We don't want millionaires here."
Probably most of Dutton's feeling toward Dick, was due to jealousy, for Ray's father, though wealthy, was far from being as rich as Mr. Hamilton.
Dick bit his lip, to keep back a sharp reply at the unjust construction put upon his act.
"I shouldn't do anything for him again," whispered Paul.
"Well, I did it for the whole company, as much as for him," replied the young millionaire. "In another minute Colonel Masterly would have heard the row, and there'd been the mischief to pay."
The march was resumed after dinner and academy was reached in time for supper. The cadets were much pleased with their practice "hike," while the officers were complimented on the order they had maintained.
"I guess the colonel would preach a different sort of a sermon if he knew about the corn," remarked Paul, as he and Dick started for their quarters.
"Well, as long as he doesn't know, there's no harm done."
"My, but I'm tired," announced Paul, as he undressed. "I'm glad we don't have any lessons to-morrow."
"What do we have?"
"Artillery drill. Have you forgotten?"
"That's so. I had. I've got to ride one of the leading horses too. Guess there'll be plenty of excitement."
"Shouldn't wonder. I'm on the gun-carriage, where I reckon I'll be shaken so my liver pin will fall out."
"I'll try not to let it. There go taps. Douse the glim."
The two cadets crawled into bed and were soon asleep.
Artillery drill at the Kentfield academy was as near like the real article as possible. The guns were four-inch field pieces, each drawn by six horses, the two leaders being ridden by cadets, while seven men were on the gun itself, an arrangement somewhat different from that in the regular army. Real ammunition was used in practice, the pieces being directed at target placed against a hill of soft dirt, in which the balls buried themselves.
The artillery practice began soon after morning inspection. The cadets had all been instructed in how to load, aim and fire the field pieces, and had also had practice in driving the artillery into place. For the first time, however, they were now to indulge in this under the critical eye of an officer from the regular army, who was visiting the academy.
The first part of the drill consisted in firing at targets, before horses were hitched to the guns. The cadets did well at this, the different squads making good scores. Dick, who was detailed at the breech, had a chance to aim. He thought he sighted perfectly, but when it was fired the ball did not hit the target cleanly. It was the last shot in that particular part of the tactics, and it left Dick's squad with the lowest record.
"That's all your fault, Hamilton!" cried Captain Dutton angrily. "Why didn't you aim that right? Then we'd have had a chance to make a good score."
"I did aim it right, but the gun must have shifted. Maybe one of the wheels was on a small stone."
"Nonsense. It's your stupidity. You've lost us a good mark."
Dutton angrily slammed the breech-block shut. Dick gave a start, but stiffled the cry of pain that he was ready to give utterance to, for one of his fingers was caught in the breech, and the blood spurted from it, as the angry captain closed the gun.
"Open the breech! Quick!" cried Paul, who had seen what had happened.
"What's that?" asked Dutton, who had turned aside.
Dick's roommate did not answer. Instead he took hold of the block with both hands, and wrenched it open, releasing our hero, whose white face showed the pain he suffered.
"Sorry I hurt you," said Dutton, calmly. "You shouldn't have had your finger there. I suppose you can't drive now, in the next test."
"I'll drive," said Dick, grimly, as he bound his handkerchief tightly around his finger, to stop the bleeding. The nail was smashed, and it was very painful.
"Then hurry up, and get the horses. They're ready to begin."
This test was a difficult one. In turn the different gun squads were to approach a certain spot on the gallop. They were to go through a narrow passage, indicated by stakes stuck into the ground, and, at the end were to suddenly wheel the giui, fire three shots, and continue on at a gallop to the end of the course. If any of the stakes were touched it counted against the squad, and other points were won or lost by the speed and accuracy of firing.
In spite of his pain Dick mounted his horse, and was soon ready, with 'Gene Graham, who was to ride the other steed, to start off with the field piece.
A squad from Company B went first. They cleared the stakes nicely, and did good work in wheeling and firing.
"I hope we beat them," murmured Captain Dutton, who was on the gun carriage.
Dick grimly resolved that if he had anything to do with it they would.
Company C's team came next, and did well, but the off horse struck a stake.
"Don't let that happen, Hamilton," cautioned Captain Dutton, as it came their turn.
Dick and Graham urged their animals to a gallop, and with a deep rumble the gun followed after them. On and on they went, toward the narrow lane formed by the upright stakes. Dick's heart was beating hard as he neared them. Would he clear them?
With unerring eye the young millionaire guided his animal, and so did Graham. With folded arms, and almost as stiff as ramrods, the cadets sat on the gun carriage. The leading horses were at the first stakes now, but the real test would come when the wide gun carriage reached them.
"Go on!" yelled Dick to his horse, a swift pace being most essential in order to keep on a straight course.
Dick gave a glance back. One wheel seemed about to hit a stake, but he quickly swerved his horse and the danger was averted. They got through without touching, and at a swifter pace than had any of their competitors. A burst of cheers from the watching cadets, and some visitors, rewarded them.
"Careful now!" cautioned Captain Dutton, as Dick wheeled his horse about.
Whether the animal was frightened at the cheering, or whether Dick, because of his injured finger, did not have a proper hold of the reins, was never know, but, at that instant, the horse suddenly swerved, turning almost at right angles, and pulling off the course. So quickly was it done that it seemed as if the gun and carriage would upset, injuring several of the lads.
But Dick was equal to the occasion. Though the strain, which he had to put on the reins hurt his wounded hand very much, he never flinched. With a steady pull, and a sharp word of command, he swung his horse's head around, and just in time to avoid sending the gun over sideways.
Then, with a smart blow of his hand on the animal's flank Dick set him to a sharp gallop. Graham's steed, which had been pulled from his stride, regained it, and the horses behind, straightening out of the confusion into which they had been thrown, leaped forward, pulling the rumbling gun after them. Through it all, and in spite of their narrow escape, the cadets on the carriage had not so much as unfolded their arms.
On toward the place where they were to fire Dick and Graham rushed their horses. A moment later they wheeled them, the cadets leaped down, the gun was unlimbered, a shot rammed home, and the men stood at attention.
"Fire!" cried Captain Dutton.
A puff of white smoke, a sliver of flame and then a deep boom, while a black ball was hurled toward the distant target.
Twice more this was repeated, and then the gun was limbered, or attached to the limber, the forward part of the carriage, and the horses galloped off with it. Dick's squad had made a perfect score, in spite of the actions of his horse, and the cadets that came after them failed, so Captain Dutton's men won in the test.
But Dick felt sick and faint from the pain in his finger which had started to bleeding again, because of the strain caused by the reins.