Dick Hamilton's Cadet Days/Chapter 27

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CHAPTER XXVII


DICK WINS THE CONTEST


Dutton was desperate when he saw the most efficient arm of his little force thus wiped out. He did not turn back to help the cadets in charge of the horses and guns, however, as he knew they could look after themselves.

And this they did, though they had to cut the traces to get the horses loose from the guns, and then haul the field pieces out by hand. This took some time, and when the cannon were safe on the other shore they could not be used because the harness was cut and the horses could not pull them. Besides the guns had turned over and the working parts were all wet.

But Major Dutton had not yet given up. He divided his cavalry and infantry into two divisions, giving Captain Beeby charge of one, and taking the other himself.

Dutton took advantage of a little hollow which, for a few moments hindered the advance of the defenders, to execute this move, and he hoped to be able to turn the flank of Hale.

"Make as wide a swing as you can," he advised Beeby, "and maybe you can get to him before we have to give up," for according to the rules of the sham battle about half of Dutton's force was now wiped out. It showed his spirit when he was unwilling to send for Dick's reinforcements, but he decided he would not owe victory to the lad he hated, if he could help it.

Beeby got well away with his cadets before Hale and his forces appeared around a little mound on the big hill. Then, though it was hard work to handle his artillery there, the major of the defenders made a stand and gave pitched battle to the contingent led by Dutton.

For a time the fight waged furiously, but it was unequal, as Dutton had no cannon with which to reply to the bombardment he was suffering. Nor could his cavalry advance to good advantage up the slope, while Hale's had no difficulty in coming down.

"Now, if Beeby would only get there," thought Dutton, "we might win yet!"

Alas for his hopes! Hale had suspected some such movement, and had held back a reserve force. Skirmishers saw Beeby advancing through the woods, and gave the alarm. Then Hale brought up a field piece he had not yet used, and opened fire on Beeby's contingent, which Dutton hoped would have saved him. There was no help for it. He was on the point of ordering a retreat, as the only way of saving a part of his force. Still he had a considerable number of cadets left, and they had plenty of ammunition.

Meanwhile Dick and his freshmen cadets had not been idle. Under his directions they unhitched the six horses from the cannon, and, by attaching ropes to the piece they pulled it across the stream on a raft they improvised from the boards used to construct the fake bridge. Thus the piece was saved from getting wet. The fake bridge builders, who had (theoretically) been killed, offered no objection. They could take no further part in the battle.

"Who are the best riders?" asked Dick, and several lads modestly offered themselves.

"You'll be the cavalry," said the young commander. "You are only six, but you'll do for what I want, which is mostly bluff."

He gave the artillery horses to six lads, and bade them ride across the stream, which they easily did.

"Wade and swim for the rest of us," said Dick grimly. "Hold your rifles above your heads, for, though the cartridges are water-proof, it doesn't do the mechanism of a gun any good to get it wet. Lively now. We'll be too late if we don't hurry. They're keeping up quite a heavy artillery fire."

The eager cadets needed no urging. They crossed the stream in good order, not being observed by either Dutton's force, or by the defenders of the hill. On the other side Dick looked for the easiest and best way of climbing the hill, and going to Dutton's aid.

He saw a sort of trail leading up, and, from the direction of the firing, he knew that he could, if undiscovered, take Hale on his left flank, Beeby having tried to turn the right unsuccessfully, though Dick did not know this then.

It was hard work urging the horses up the steep hill, and harder still for the cadets to drag up the field piece, and the limber filled with ammunition, little of which had been used. But they did it, and on they went.

Dick, coming out on a little projection, could see the battle in progress between Dutton and Hale. The latter had all but won, and the attackers were fast being driven back. They were a mere handful of cadets now, many having been "killed" by the merciless fire. Being "killed" in theory meant that a certain number had to drop out every minute, and could take no further part in the battle. Of course Hale had a number of soldiers "killed" also.

"Hurry!" cried Dick to his lads. "We're only just in time. A little farther and we'll plant the field piece and open fire. Then we'll charge down."

The lads dragged the cannon a few hundred feet farther up the hill. Then, screening it behind some bushes, Dick told off a number of cadets to work the gun, they having had previous practice.

"Ready!" he called, and to the surprise of Hale, no less than that of Dutton, the woods echoed to the report of artillery where none was supposed to be. A white puff of smoke on Hale's left flank told him that some movement was in progress over there. He was about to order one of his guns to reply to the unexpected bombardment, when there came a ringing shout from the same quarter, and, above the cheer, Dick Hamilton yelled:

"Charge!"

Down upon the all but victorious defenders of the hill rushed the little force of six cavalrymen.

Behind them, leading about thirty cadets, who were as fresh as daisies, came Dick.

"Charge! Charge!" he yelled, and then he ordered the lads to open fire.

They did it with a will, for they had not had a chance to use their guns yet, and they were wild to do so.

What a fire they poured into the ranks of the defenders. How the one lone field piece, well screened by bushes, sent shell after shell (theoretically) screaming into the midst of the enemy.

Hale was all but demoralized. He had seen victory just within his grasp, and now he was attacked by fresh reinforcements. Dutton had been too much for him, after all, he thought.

As for Dutton, he hardly knew what to make of it. He could not understand how Dick had been able to lead up his forces, to execute a successful flank movement, and, above all, to bring a field piece to bear.

Hale was now in desperate straits. Encouraged by seeing reinforcements Dutton's men turned with cries of gladness to renew the attack. Hale tried to reply to them, but his ammunition was getting low. Closer in came Dick and his lads, pressing on Hale's flank. On the other side Beeby, with the few cadets he had left, returned to the attack. In front Dutton and a handful of soldiers poured in a fire. But Dick's was the fiercest, aided as it was by the cannon.

There was nothing for Hale to do but to retreat, and he had his bugler sound this mournful call. Up the hill he and his men went—what was left of them—while after them rushed Dick, now leading the attack.

"Surrender! Surrender!" cried Dutton. "We've got you!"

"I guess you have," admitted Hale. "But if Hamilton hadn't come when he did there'd been a different story."

Dutton did not reply, nor did he glance at Dick, who, seeing that the battle was over, had ordered his command to cease firing. But, though Major Dutton did not acknowledge that Dick had saved the day, he knew it, and so did his men. Major Webster, however, did not withhold his praise.

"Hamilton, you did splendidly!" he cried enthusiastically. "That was a master stroke to ford the stream, take the gun over, and use the horses for cavalry. Major Dutton, thanks to Captain Hamilton, your forces have the honor of having won the sham battle. I congratulate you. I am proud of my cadets, even the losers."

"Three cheers for Major Hale!" called Dutton, who was politic, if a bully.

The camp rang with the shouts.

"Now three cheers for Major Dutton!" called Hale, and the huzzahs were louder than before, for Dutton had a magnetic attractiveness in spite of his mean ways with those whom he did not like.

"Three cheers for Captain Hamilton!" called Paul Drew, but, though Dick's freshmen nearly yelled the tops of their heads off, the cheer for our hero was noticeably weaker than either of the two preceding ones.

Dick smiled grimly, but he knew he had done good work that day.