Read CHAPTER XV - GREG OVERHEARS A PRETTY GIRL’S TRIBUTE of Dick Prescott First Year at West Point, free online book, by H. Irving Hancock, on ReadCentral.com.

In the tent it was still dark.  It was at the fag-end of the night; the time which, as military commanders know, most tries men’s bravery.

The latter part of the night had been cool.  Now, in the brief space before dawn the air was positively chilly.

Greg shivered.

Perhaps it was the chill of the air.  It is also extremely likely that Greg Holmes dreaded the conflict that was about to come off with big Butler.

Be that as it may, Cadet Holmes went on briskly with his dressing.  The bravest man is he who, though afraid, goes straight ahead to the goal of battle despite his fears.

Greg was more sensitive about blows than was his chum.  Until he got into the heat of action Cadet Holmes dreaded the very idea of giving or taking a blow.  There are many soldiers like this; but when they get into action they are the bravest of the brave.

Dick and Anstey were also getting themselves swiftly in readiness.  To Dick, veteran of three West Point fights, the greatest cause for regret seemed to lie in being robbed of some of their much-needed sleep.

In almost no time, so it seemed, three cadets fully attired in uniform, stole cautiously from the tent, slipping down the company street.

Dick carried Greg’s fighting clothes.  Cadet Anstey carried a bucket in which lay a sponge.

Whether cadet sentries on guard deliberately aid in letting fight parties slip across a post it would be impossible to say.  Certain it is that Mr. Prescott, in the lead, reconnoitred carefully, then crossed the post at the point furthest from the sentry’s half-audible footsteps.  His two friends slipped over with him.

The faint gray of earliest dawn was just showing through the trees when the plebe trio came in sight of the famous hollow below old Fort Clinton.

Here already paced Mr. Plympton and Mr. Connors of the first class.  They were to take charge of the affair.

“Good morning, mister,” nodded Mr. Plympton to Dick, as Prescott came in sight at the head of his party.  Greg and Anstey came in for no particular notice from the first class men.

“Hullo, But!”

“Hullo, old Conjunction!”

These were the greetings that Butler received when he appeared, followed by Haldane and Post.  These young men, being yearlings, were actually human beings.  At least, that was the way the plebes felt.

Now the stripping began rapidly.  Each principal drew on a sleeveless jersey and gymnasium trousers, the latter secured by a belt.  On the feet were rubber-soled shoes, as giving the best chance for foothold on the damp ground.

The seconds began kneading the muscles of their principals, and otherwise putting them in shape.

Mr. Butler yawned two or three times, appearing slightly bored.  Greg did not glance in the direction of his coming antagonist, but Holmes’s face was impassive, inscrutable.  He did not appear nervous.  The moment had come, and Greg faced the situation dumbly but absolutely without fear.

Then the principals were placed in their corners.  Referee Plympton stated the terms under which the meeting was to be held.  Then at the call, the two cadets leaped forward.

“Remember the moves we planned last night,” had been Dick’s last whispered words.

On Butler’s face rested a broad grin.  He pranced about lightly, swinging his hardmuscled arms.  He intended to start with a bit of easy nonsense, putting Holmes off his guard.  Then the yearling’s plan was to make the affair a lesson in scientific mauling.

While Butler was dancing about, grinning, Greg, vastly more watchful than he appeared to be, suddenly let his right out in a feint, then followed with a left drive.

Butler all but struck this blow up, yet, as he darted back from the parry, the yearling tasted blood from his own lower lip.  That taught him that even a despised little plebe like Mr. Holmes might have his points of danger.

“Now, stand up and let us see how good your quick counter is,” laughed the yearling, dancing about.

Butler’s footwork was fine and fast, but Greg, watching him, only pivoted about, putting up his hands with great speed.  Thus Greg blocked all but three or four lighter blows up to the time when the time-keeper’s interruption came.

“You won’t need to do much in the rubbing line,” whispered Greg, as his seconds started in on him in his “corner.”  “My man, as yet, hasn’t any more than warmed me up.”

“Look out for a smash on the nose, old fellow,” warned Dick.  “You got first blood in a half-sort of way, by that cut on the other man’s lip.  In this next round Mr. Butler will try to get the real first blood.”

“I hope so,” muttered Greg dreamily.  “For that one I believe I have one of the best counters known.”

Surely enough, in the beginning of the second round, Butler feinted, then led off for a hard one on the plebe’s nose.  But the delivery was the very one that Cadet Holmes wanted.  He ducked, feinted, and slammed in just above Mr. Butler’s belt with such force that the big yearling staggered.  Yet Butler was a wary fighter; he blocked Greg’s follow-up scheme, then fought for time.  Towards the end of the round, however, Butler again tried for the plebe’s nose.  This time he failed again, but Greg’s counter-blow landed on the point of a shoulder.  Butler would have been away in another instant, but Greg’s right came out of a hook and tapped the yearling emphatically on the end of his nose.  As the yearling fought back furiously the blood spurted from his nose.

Then, just before time was called, Greg got his left eye too much in line with the yearling’s right fist.

Dazed, Cadet Holmes was saved only by the word from the time-keeper.  Had the round lasted fifteen seconds more Mr. Butler would have had the plebe out.

Erect, and as jauntily went back to his corner.

“I reckon you’ve got as a bad looking window here,” murmured Anstey sympathetically, as he swabbed at the damaged surface around the eye.  “Make it short, Holmesy, or you’re going to meet with more damage, I reckon.”

“This is the last serious smash that Greg is going to take,” put in Dick coolly.  “In the third he’s going to remember the old Gridley fighting principle:  Greg, you simply can’t be whipped.  Now, wade in and seize hold of Mr. Butler’s scalp-lock.”

Soon the fighters were at it again.  Two or three body blows Greg took, and they stung, coming from such steam-driven fists as the yearling’s.  But Mr. Holmes’s damaged left eye was closing rapidly.  He was forced to squint through that eye, getting most of his sight through the right.  Of course, the yearling, who now realized he had something more than a dummy to fight, manoeuvred at Greg’s left side after that.

The third round was drawing to a close.  Butler landed one on the side of young Holmes’s head that sent the plebe spinning.  Yet, as he swung, Greg dropped a hard blow on Mr. Butler’s already damaged nose.  There was a gasp of pain from the yearling.

“Time!” called Mr. Connors.

Greg went back to his seconds, a good deal jarred, his wind troubled, and his left eye rapidly assuming a most ugly look.  One more really good one from the larger fighter would put the plebe out of the affair.

“Be cool, now, old chap,” admonished Dick in an undertone, as he and Anstey worked over their comrade.  “The next round probably decides it.”

“Cool!” grimaced Cadet Holmes.  “Why, I guess I am everywhere except in my punished eye.  That feels like a red-hot furnace!”

As the men faced each other for the fourth round Greg, through his right eye, saw a look of intent in Butler’s eye that meant business.  The yearling was now going in, in earnest, to wind up this affair.

“I’m going to get something out of this!” grumbled Cadet Holmes inwardly.

As Butler came at him, swift and terrible, Cadet Holmes formed the purpose of playing off a block to be followed by a direct and sure assault on one of his man’s eyes.  And presently the chance came.  Greg bounced in so resolutely over Butler’s right eye that the yearling staggered back, fighting for sight and wind.  But Greg, who knew it was thrash-or-be-thrashed, was merciless.  He leaped about, harassing his opponent, then sent in a well-calculated blow that closed the yearling’s other eye.

Butler reeled.  It looked as though he must go down.  Greg, unwilling to take any unfair advantage, paused a second.  Then, realizing that Mr. Butler was keeping his feet, Cadet Holmes leaped in, feinting blow after blow with such speed that the yearling was dazed.  Suddenly, with a new feint for the yearling’s solar plexus, Holmes suddenly raised, driving in hard on the left side of Mr. Butler’s jaw.  That sent the dazed man down.  He went in a heap, then unfolded and lay limp.

Time-keeper Connors began to count, though perfunctorily.  There was no reason to believe that Mr. Butler could wake up in time, and he didn’t.  Mr. Plympton, in a cold tone, awarded the fight to the plebe.  Butler’s seconds went to work over him, but it was some minutes before they brought him back to consciousness.  By this time Greg was dressed.

“Mr. Butler,” murmured Greg, bending over his at last conscious opponent, “I would like to say a word ­now.  That business with the cord was a trick put up on me, not on you.  You were only the incidental victim.  I had no willing or knowing part in your discomfiture.  I tell you this now, sir, after having proved that I wasn’t afraid merely of being called out.  I am tremendously sorry that this fight had to be.”

“You held up your end all right, mister,” was the yearling’s concise tribute.

Then, after sending Anstey back to camp with the officials, Dick accompanied Greg to cadet hospital, where the latter’s eye was dressed and “painted out” as much as could be.

Both of Mr. Butler’s seconds were required to help him to hospital.  Nor did the yearling get out very soon.  His jaw had not been fractured, but for some days the medical officers feared “green-stick” fracture, with a consequent danger of suppuration.  It was not until after the end of the encampment that the yearling was discharged from hospital.

“Where’s Mr. Butler to-night?” inquired a very pretty girl, as she strolled through camp in the evening, between two attentive yearlings.  She was the same whom Butler had last accompanied to a hop.

“Mr. Butler is in hospital,” replied Mr. McGraw.

“Yes, and pounded to such a pulp that his mother wouldn’t know him,” laughed a young “cit.,” the girl’s cousin.  “Over there is Holmes, the plebe who did it.”

“What a disgusting brute Mr. Holmes must be!” muttered the girl indignantly, and Greg, hearing her, colored violently, but could not reply.  Plebes are not allowed the acquaintance of the young ladies.