Dick Hamilton's Cadet Days/Chapter 24

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Through the blinding snow the two cadets tried to peer, in order to see which way they should take to get back to the academy. Neither of them was very familiar with the country, though they had been over part of it in drills and practice marches in the fall. But things wore a different aspect now.

"Which way had we better go?" asked Paul, after a pause. He had to shout to be heard above the noise of the gale.

"I guess the best plan is to keep down the mountain," replied Dick. "We'll strike a road sooner or later leading to Kentfield."

The horses did not like to face the blast, but the young cadets forced them about, and the unwilling steeds started down the slope.

Protected though they were by their heavy winter clothing and overcoats, the two lads felt the cold bitterly. But they were too plucky to give up. The horses could not be urged to more than a walk, and, indeed, faster pace was not safe, as they did not know what the snow might conceal.

As they went down the mountain side they kept a watch for the sight of any objects that would indicate a road, or tell them their whereabouts. But all they could see was an expanse of snow, a whirling, white cloud of flakes, with here and there the black trunks of trees standing up like grim sentinels.

"We might as well be a thousand miles from nowhere," called Dick.

"That's right," answered his companion. "I wonder if we're going straight?"

"Isn't much choice. We'll be on level ground in a little while, anyhow. Then the going will be better."

They emerged from the thickly wooded side of the big hill, and came upon a plain, which did not look familiar. It was open country, however, and this was better than being in the woods, though the cold wind had more of a sweep over it.

"Now, which way?" asked Paul. "I've lost all sense of direction."

"And I'm not much better. Suppose we let the horses go as they please? Maybe they'll have sense enough to head toward their stables."

"Good idea, we'll do it."

They let the reins hang loose on the necks of the animals. The steeds hesitated for a moment, sniffed the air, and then started off to the left.

"I hope that's right, but it doesn't seem so," said Dick ruefully. "However, anything's better than standing still in this storm."

There was no let-up to the blizzard, which fairly enveloped the lads in its icy grasp.

They had traveled for perhaps a mile when Dick, who was a little in the lead, suddenly cried out:

"Hi, Paul! Here's a house, anyhow!"

"A house?"

"Yes. Straight ahead."

Paul looked through the whirling clouds of snow, and saw something dark looming up about thirty yards away.

"Maybe it's a barn," he said.

"Even that's all right; but where there's a barn there's most likely to be a house. I guess we're all right now."

Their horses stumbled on, over the uneven ground, and soon another big object loomed up through the snow.

"There's the house!" cried Dick. "Come on."

They managed to urge their horses to a trot, and, a few moments later, were knocking at the door of a large, white farmhouse. A pretty girl who opened it exclaimed:

"Come right in. I expect you're most frozen, aren't you?"

"Pretty nearly," replied Dick, as he entered with Paul.

They were soon near a warm fire, partaking of hot tea, though they declined the offer of some hard cider, an invitation slyly given by the farmer, who introduced himself as Enos Weatherby. His place was about eight miles from Kentfield, and, in the course of his talk, Dick and Paul learned that Captain Dutton and Lieutenant Stiver had been at the house a little while before, and had not refused the cider.

This was news to Dick, but he at once saw how matters stood. Dutton and his companion, he learned, knew the two daughters of the farmer, and had called on them during the practice march. It was on this account that they had not reported at the checking point. Probably they thought they could make a circuit, visit their friends, and join their squad in time to report at the academy, trusting to luck to explain their temporary absence.

They had been gone about an hour, Mr. Weatherby said, and he showed Dick and Paul the road they had taken, a short cut to the school.

"Ride down this road," explained the farmer, "cut across my big meadow, and you will come to the main highway. Keep along that until you come to the first cross road, turn to the left and you'll get to the road that leads around the lake. Then it's only a mile to the school. But you're welcome to stay all night. The storm is getting worse."

"Thank you, very much," replied Dick, "but we couldn't stay. Colonel Masterly would be worried about us. We'll take the short cut home, I guess they'll call the march a dead heat as far as picking a winner is concerned."

The girls added their entreaties to those of their father and Mrs. Weatherby, who had been busy at household duties, entered the dining room, to urge the cadets to remain, as she had plenty of room. But Dick and Paul would not.

There was obvious disappointment in the good-byes of the two girls, but Dick and Paul cared little for that, though the two Miss Weatherbys were rather pretty, even if they were a bit silly.

The two wayfarers thanked their hosts, and, feeling much refreshed and warmed, while the horses, too, had improved by the halt, they set off again.

The snow was not coming down so fast, but it was much colder, and they hastened on, anxious to get to the academy.

"Queer about Dutton, wasn't it?" asked Dick.

"It sure was," agreed Paul. "He'll get into trouble if he doesn't look out.'

"Somehow he always seems to escape, but I s'pose he'll do it once too often. This must be where we turn."

"I guess so. Go ahead."

They turned into the big meadow, crossed it, and came out into a road that showed some signs of travel. It was deserted now, however, as the winter night was settling down.

"A few more miles, and then for a good, hot supper," commented Dick.

"Don't talk about it," said Paul. "It makes me hungry."

Suddenly his horse shied, and the cadet, looking to see what caused it, beheld a dark object, half buried in the snow, at the side of the road.

"What's that?" called Dick, who had dropped a little to the rear.

"I don't know. Better take a look."

Dick forced his rather unwilling steed up to the object. The next moment he uttered a cry.

"It's a man!" he exclaimed.

He leaped off his horse, and bent closely to the black, huddled mass. Then he reached over and took hold of it.

"Here, Paul!" cried Dick. "Help me!"

"What is it?"

"It's Dutton, and he's unconscious and half frozen. Must have fallen from his horse and struck on his head! We must get him to shelter in a hurry."

Paul was quickly at his companion's side. He helped Dick lift the unconscious youth from the pile of snow. Dutton seemed to be trying to say something, but though his lips moved no sound came from them.

"What's the matter? Are you hurt?" asked Dick. "How did it happen?"

Dutton murmured something, but the words "horse" and "Stiver" were all they could distinguish.

Dick Hamilton Cadet Days P221.jpg

He helped Dick lift the unconcious youth from the pile of snow.—Page 204.

Dick Hamilton's Cadet Days.

"Maybe he's only fainted," suggested Paul. "Rub some snow on his face."

Dick tried this, but it was evident that Dutton was semi-conscious from the effects of some injury.

"What shall we do?" asked Paul, who was not used to acting in emergencies.

"We've got to get him to the academy as soon as possible."

"Maybe we had better take him back to the Weatherbys. That's nearer."

"Yes, but they wouldn't know how to take care of him. He needs a doctor. No, what we've got to is to get him on my horse. He's stronger than yours, and can carry double. Then you ride on ahead and tell them to send a carriage."

Paul realized that this was the best thing to do, and the two, after some difficulty, hoisted Dutton to the back of Dick's steed. Then Dick mounted behind him, and, supporting in his arms the unconscious cadet, he set off through the snow. Paul galloped on ahead, urging his horse to a sharp gait, and made good time in reaching the academy.

There he found considerable confusion, and no little alarm, not only over the absence of Dutton, but over that of Dick and himself.

Paul quickly explained how he and his chum had become lost, and told how they had found Dutton. A carriage was at once sent out, and soon the injured lad was in the hospital, where an examination showed that he was not badly hurt, having merely received a severe blow on the head.

"We feared something had happened when Dutton's horse came in without him," said Colonel Masterly. "Lieutenant Stiver said that he and Dutton became separated, after losing their way, and that he could not find him. So he came here to get help, and arrived just as Dutton's horse galloped in."

Dick told the colonel how he had found the young captain, but did not think it necessary to mention about the farmhouse and the two girls.

"I should have stopped the march when I saw that the weather was likely to be bad," the colonel said. "However, I am glad it is no worse."

Because of the incidents of the march it was called off, as far as a contest was concerned, and so no inquiry was made as to why Dutton and Stiver had failed to report at the checking point.

"I tell you what I think happened," said Paul, when he and Dick were discussing it in their room that night.

"Well, what?"

"I think Dutton and Stiver had more hard cider than was good for them. They must have quarreled, and Stiver left Dutton, who later fell from his horse. There was no excuse for them losing each other after they left Weatherby's house, and Dutton is too good a horseman to fall off, unless he couldn't take care of himself."

"Maybe you're right. I'm glad we found him, though."

"So am I, though I don't believe he'll treat you any better for saving his life."

"Oh, I don't know as I did that. Some one would have found him before he froze to death," said Dick.

Paul's idea of what had taken place between Dutton and Stiver seemed borne out by the coldness that sprang up between the two former cronies, as soon as Dutton could leave the hospital. He hardly spoke to the lieutenant of his company.

Nor was he specially cordial to our hero. In a stiff sort of fashion he thanked him for what he had done, but there was no semblance of real friendship, and Dutton's crowd did not take up with Dick, as they might, reasonably, have been expected to.

With the approach of spring the baseball fever began to stir in the veins of the cadets, and several nines were formed. Dick managed to get on a freshman team, much to his delight, for he was an excellent pitcher. Nor did the members of the nine regret their choice, for Dick pulled them out of several close games by his excellent twirling, which offset the errors made by his companions.