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HOME > Classical Novels > Boys of the Central > CHAPTER VIII. THE COMPETITIVE DRILL.
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 Henderson had tendered his resignation as captain of Company C the day after he was suspended. He was surprised that he had received no notice of the acceptance of the resignation, and had more than once questioned the officers of his company since his return to school, but none of them knew anything about the matter; so he was feeling very uncomfortable about it, when, one morning, he received a summons to Professor Keene’s office. He answered the summons promptly. Ten minutes later, he left the office with his face brighter than it had been for many days.  
“I say,” he said, as he joined Crawford, who was waiting for him, “would you believe it, Crawford, Keene won’t accept my resignation?”
“And you’re to remain captain?” said Crawford.
“Yes, and if Company C doesn’t win the prizes this time, I’ll know the reason why. There’s Griffin ahead. Come on, I want to speak to him.”
Griffin was first lieutenant of Company C, and was quite as anxious for that company to win as[91] was Henderson himself, and so he entered heartily into the latter’s plans for long and frequent drills during the next four weeks.
Eager as the boys themselves were to win the prizes, some of them were inclined to grumble before the month was over. They didn’t think quite so much practice was necessary; but though they complained, they had to submit to the captain’s orders.
It must be confessed that, as the important day approached, the recitations did not improve, but the teachers were lenient, and made all possible allowances.
This annual drill was always an affair of great interest to all the pupils of the two high-schools. Even the boys not in the battalion, and the girls, were quite as much interested as the cadets themselves, and this year the interest was increased by the offer of a costly and very beautiful gold medal in addition to the prize banner. The banner had been held for the last two years by Company B of the Eastern school, and of course that company and that school were as determined to retain it, as the companies of the Central were determined to win it.
There was no finer company in the battalion than Company D, of which Gordon was captain and Hamlin lieutenant. The boys of this company had a hearty respect and affection for their officers, both[92] personally and officially. It was Gordon’s way to do his best whatever the work in hand might be, and through all the past year he had carried out that principle in regard to his military duties as well as in his work in the class-room; and because he was always fair and just as well as friendly with them, whether in the drill, on the playground, or wherever they were together, the boys of his company were always ready to carry out his wishes. This year, they were one and all determined that their captain should wear the gold medal, and they themselves the red ribbons of the prize company. Gordon himself wanted it too—of course he did—but he would have scorned to win by any but fair means, while Henderson was determined that by fair means or foul, Company C should stand first.
The drill was to take place on the baseball grounds. There were in the two schools seven companies, and each was to drill for thirty or forty minutes, four companies drilling the first afternoon, and the remaining three, the second.
Company C was second on the list of the first day, and Company D was the last on the next day.
Henderson kept his company drilling from eight till ten o’clock on the last night before the drill, and neither he nor any of his men were in their seats in the school-room, the next morning. In fact, very[93] few of the cadets in either school put in an appearance that morning, and no very great interest was manifested in the lessons by any of the pupils, and the classes were dismissed an hour earlier than usual.
The weather was all that could be desired, being clear and cool for a summer day. The gates were not to be opened till four o’clock, but long before that time a great crowd had assembled, and horns, bells and bugles kept up an unceasing din, while gay silk banners bearing the letters of the different companies, and canes and batons wound with ribbons were waving everywhere.
Every high school pupil who could be there was there, and all wore ribbons. The boys wore small strips on which were printed the company letters, but the girls fairly rioted in ribbons. Some wore them as hat-bands, some as shoulder-knots with long streamers. Many had batons wound with two or three colors, with bows and streamers at the end, while yet others, and these usually very bright or pretty girls, wore the colors of two or three, or even more companies, in one big cluster.
As soon as the gates were opened the seats were rapidly filled, and long before the drill began every one of the six thousand places was occupied.
Crawford had hired one of the boxes, and Freeman sat there with him. Edith was there, too, but[94] she sat with some of her friends on the other side. Edith was a very pretty girl, and Crawford would gladly have given her a seat in his box. Indeed, when he saw her, he sent Freeman to ask her to join them, but she returned them a polite refusal, and remained where she was, to Crawford’s secret vexation; nor was this feeling lessened, when, a little later, he saw the cordial welcome she gave to Clark, and the readiness with which she made room for him at her side.
The judges were three army officers, and promptly at the appointed hour they appeared on the field, and a moment later, Company A marched in on the opposite side, welcomed by ringing cheers and shouts from their friends, and ear-splitting horn salutes from their foes—that is, those whose sympathies were with other companies.
Quiet fell upon the throng of spectators as the drill began, and all eyes watched the boys in blue, some in breathless anxiety lest there be some slip or blunder—some in equally great anxiety lest there should not be.
The company did itself credit, and as all went smoothly, its eager well-wishers began to believe that this time A would surely stand first, when, almost at the last moment, the captain dropped his sword. Poor fellow—he felt badly enough about it without the groan that he could not help hearing,[95] from the grand stand, and though not another slip occurred, and he marched his men off the field in fine style, he and they knew well that their chance was gone.
As they passed off, Company C marched on. Henderson’s dark face was full of grim determination, yet there was a shadow of anxiety in his glance as it rested for a second on the last man in the rear rank. That was Baum. If any one blundered, it was safe to be Baum; but Baum had done finely for the past month, surely he would do his best to-day. So ran Henderson’s thoughts, as he led his men forward. No danger of Henderson making a blunder. He meant to go to West Point yet, for all his tastes were for a military life, and he had the manual at his tongue’s end. No danger of his getting rattled. He was sure of himself and sure of his men—all but Baum.
And Company C did well. As Henderson’s strong voice rang out, his orders were obeyed with the promptness and exactness of clockwork. The judges nodded approval, and made memoranda on their programs, as order after order was given and obeyed. Henderson’s eyes shone, and his heart beat high with proud satisfaction, and then—then, at last that wretched Baum blundered. When the company was ordered to load and fire, lying down, his discharge was so far behind the others that a[96] shout of derision broke from some of the rougher boys among the spectators, and Henderson felt an insane longing to seize Baum’s gun and whack him over the head with it.
And Baum, knowing well what was in his captain’s heart, felt his heart sink into his boots as he wondered if he could possibly fire at all the second time. How he did it he never knew, but the second discharge was fine, and the poor fellow drew a breath of relief as he braced himself to meet the storm that he knew would burst upon his head the moment the drill was over. And it did. Henderson hardly waited to get off the field, before he burst into a torrent of angry abuse and vituperation, so bitter and so profane that it shocked the others into silence, and no other boy said anything to Baum about what had happened; and he, dropping into the most unnoticeable place he could find, pulled his cap over his eyes and brooded over his “hard luck.”
Henderson, his face still dark with anger, joined Crawford and Freeman, and sat there glowering at Company E. This being notoriously the worst drilled of the seven companies, he had no fear of its gaining the prize, and he gave but little heed to what passed till Company B came on. Then he roused himself, and hastily scrawling a line on a slip of paper, told Freeman to “Give it to that cub over yonder,” the cub referred to being Baum.
Baum read the message, and his gloomy face lightened a little, as he nodded to Henderson, and then proceeded to tear the note into tiny bits, and presently he slipped away.
Shouts and cheers greeted the appearance of Company B, and banners bearing that letter were raised and waved from every quarter. Pink was the company color, and a large and very beautiful banner of pink silk with B embroidered in the center, was set up in the front row of the bleachers as the company marched forward.
Henderson scowled, and whispered something to a little fellow just then passing his seat with a basket of candies and chewing gum for sale. A silver dollar slipped into the basket, and a few minutes later the candy boy delivered a second message to Baum, who had returned to his seat.
Now all eyes were watching Company B, which seemed in a fair way to win fresh laurels, as one manœuvre after another was swiftly and dexterously executed. There was no blundering Baum to spoil the shooting, and the captain of Company B, easy and self-possessed, was in no danger of dropping his sword or committing any other blunder.
Henderson’s watchful face darkened yet more as the minutes passed, and he cast uneasy glances toward the quarter where Baum now sat among a noisy group.
In one of the manœuvers the company approached quite close to the place where this group was sitting, and suddenly a score of voices shouted an order, quite drowning the voice of the captain as he gave an entirely different one. Only the men nearest to the captain understood his order. The others, confused by the unexpected call from the seats, hesitated, wavered, and obeyed the wrong order, and Company B’s chance for the prize was gone.
“Good, good!” hissed Henderson in Crawford’s ear. “Baum managed that beautifully. I can almost forgive him for his blunder now.”
“Did you tell him to do it?” asked Crawford.
“’Course I did. Didn’t I tell you I’m bound to have that banner by fair means or foul?” replied Henderson. “We’re ahead now, spite of Baum’s blunder,” he added, with his low, cruel laugh.
“Oh, look, look! Somebody’s pulled down their banner,” cried Freeman.
Sure enough............
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