"It would look like playing the baby act," Prescott had explained to his chum, and in this view Anstey agreed.
Mr. Haldane and Dick came to a speedy understanding. The fight was to take place the next morning, at the first peep of daylight.
Promptly, however, the affair became noised about through camp.
Butler was a considerably larger man than Greg, and looked in every way more powerful. Cadet Corporal Atwater, who was president of the yearling class, went to see Mr. Butler promptly.
"At least, Butler, if you insist that the fight must be fought, let the scrap committee choose one of our class who is down nearer to the plebe's size," urged Mr. Atwater.
"Under ordinary conditions, old fellow, I'd be tickled to do it," replied Mr. Butler. "But, in a trick of this kind, I couldn't get any satisfaction out of anyone else hammering the b.j. beast who put up such a tumble for me."
"I'm thinking the scrap committee may interfere with your plans," rejoined Atwater, shaking his head. "We don't want fighting to degenerate into the appearance of bullying oppression of beasts."
"I'll have to abide by the decision of the scrap committee, of course," admitted Butler. "But I hope the fellows won't interfere."
Cadet Corporal Atwater promptly called the scrap committee together. Many newspaper writers, through ignorance, have condemned the existence of a scrap committee at West Point, claiming that it foments fights. The truth is that the scrap committee is a court of honor, formed for adjusting nice questions, and for preventing unfair fighting.
Cadet Butler was summoned before the scrap committee, and stated his case. The decision of the scrap committee was that a fight would have to take place, but that Mr. Holmes was privileged to request the scrap committee to name a yearling who was Holmes's own size and weight, this substitute to fight in Mr. Butler's place at once.
Cadet Corporal Atwater thereupon promptly called at Greg's tent, and stated the decision to the three tentmates.
"Mr. Prescott will answer for me, sir," Greg replied respectfully.
"Sir," Dick answered, "we appreciate the decision of the scrap committee. We recognize that we are being used with the utmost fairness, and that all Mr. Holmes's rights are being safeguarded in the most honorable manner. Yet, sir, this fight has a peculiar basis. More so than with most fights, I believe, sir, this is a purely personal one. Mr. Holmes, therefore, is prepared, sir, to give personal satisfaction. While the odds are very distinctly against him, he wishes to show that he can take his trouncing like a cadet and a gentleman. So, sir, with renewed assurances of our thanks and appreciation, Mr. Holmes is ready to meet Mr. Butler at daylight."
"That is well spoken, sir," replied Mr. Atwater. "I appreciate the grit of Mr. Holmes's decision."
The president of the yearling class went back to acquaint Mr. Butler with the outcome.
Until close of taps Greg practiced various blows, feints and dodges in foot work.
"You can't win, Greg," advised Anstey. "Of course that's out of the question. But, before you have to lose the count you want to make sure of giving Mr. Butler enough facial decorations to keep him satisfied for some time to come."
At taps the three tentmates lay down on their mattresses, Dick with an alarm clock close to his hand.
Cadets Prescott and Anstey were soon sound asleep. Greg, however, lay awake for a long time, thinking—thinking.
"If I had some of Dick's lightning speed, and his capacity for sailing in like a cyclonic fury," thought Greg. "Whew, but I wish I had always given more attention to boxing than I have done. I will after this."
Finally, Greg dozed off. The next he knew was when a brief, metallic "br-r-r-r?" sounded in the tent. In another instant Dick had the clock and was smothering the noise. Greg Holmes leaped up. It was the morning of his fight!
GREG OVERHEARS A PRETTY GIRL'S TRIBUTE
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.
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, 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. [Transcriber's note: missing text?]
"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.
TAPS SOUNDS ON SUMMER
Cadet Dodge spent the last days of the encampment on sick report.
He got word that Mr. Poultney was one of the yearlings concerned in his discomfiture on post number three, and boldly confronted the yearling with the charge.
In the fight that followed Dodge received a fearful walloping from Mr. Poultney.
The laws of courtesy are enforced by these fights. A new man, entering the United States Military Academy, often has a most exaggerated idea of his own importance and merits. In some instances the new cadet is likely to disregard the rights of upper class men. A fight puts the offending plebe where he belongs. Further, the knowledge that he will have to fight for every serious infraction of the rules of courtesy results in quickly making a disciplined soldier and considerate gentleman out of the cadet who is inclined to be bumptious.
In the training of personal character it may readily be believed that the cadet's plebe year, with its "chalk-line" and repression, is worth all the rest of the time spent at West Point.
Milk-sops and peace-at-any-price advocates may as well turn their attention away from West Point. These ultra-peaceable ones, who long for the promotion of peace through the abolition of all armies, have at hand an experiment that can be carried out only on a smaller scale.
Let these peace-at-any-price agitators, in a given community, set about to stamp out crime by abolishing the police force! An army is merely a force of international policemen.
* * * * * *
In the last days of August the furloughed new second class returned. The young men, after reporting at the adjutant's office at the required hour, formed and marched to camp, still in "cit." clothes.
First and third class men rushed out to receive and congratulate the returned travelers, while the plebes stood shyly by. Their welcome was not wanted. Then the second class men disappeared into their tents. They were out again, quickly enough, in white ducks and the cadet gray blouses. They had taken up the cadet life for two years more. In the afternoon these second class men swelled the ranks of the battalion and went through, with all the old-time fervor, the grand old ceremony of dress parade.
That night came the "Show." This annual show at the end of August may be either the Camp Illumination or the Color Line Entertainment. This year the class presidents had asked for the latter.
As soon as dark came on, the Color Line—the central line through cadet camp—blazed out with lights. Soon after the band began to play gayly. Hundreds of visitors, most of them women, and the majority quite young women, flocked to camp. Along the color line the guns of the battalion were stacked. Over the center of the line the colors of the country and the cadet colors were draped with beautiful effect. Cadets of the three upper classes escorted the visitors through. The plebes stood by their own tents, answering when spoken to, which was not often.
After the band had played several selections the musicians moved up before a hastily constructed stage. Plays or musical farces, written and acted by cadets, are often presented. In Dick's plebe summer, however, the choice had been for a minstrel show.
Half an hour before the opening of the performance thirty of the cadets vanished to a big dressing tent behind the stage.
Before the stage hundreds of seats had been arranged. Every cadet who escorted ladies was privileged to sit with them. Cadets who "stagged" it were expected to stand. All of the plebes were in this number.
Presently the cadets, their faces blacked, came out of the dressing tent, taking their places off the stage. A regulation first part was now provided, with the aid of the band playing as an orchestra. In style it was the minstrel first part with which we are all familiar. There was this difference: The jokes hit off exclusively local affairs and conditions. The officers who served as instructors at West Point did not by any means escape in the running fire of minstrelsy nonsense.
Then came forth a woeful figure, blackfaced and attired in a dilapidated uniform. As he turned sideways it was noted that this cadet, who was really a rollicking second class man, wore on his back a card labeled in large letters:
"Plebe. Please don't mistreat."
At first sight of the pitiable object a roar of laughter went up from the spectators. Nowhere was the laughter louder than in the ranks of the standing plebes themselves, at the rear of the audience. This woeful-looking performer, after the orchestra had played a few preliminary strains, launched into a parody of "Nobody Loves Me." The song was full of hits on the b.j. "beast." The real plebes [Transcriber's note: missing text] with keen enjoyment.
"Mr. Plescott!" called the interlocutor, after the song and two encore verses had been sung.
"Yes, sah," falteringly replied the minstrel plebe, turning awkwardly and saluting with the wrong hand.
Though the name called was "Plescott," half of the plebe class turned to grin at Cadet Richard Prescott.
Dick stood it well, waiting to see what the performer would next say.
"Mr. Plescott," continued the interlocutor, "I heard something said about you this morning that I didn't in the least like."
"Ye-e-es, sah?" inquired the minstrel plebe falteringly.
"I consider it, Mr. Plescott, a most insulting thing that I heard said about you."
"Ye-e-es, sah?" faltered the performer, his knees shaking and his eyes rolling in apprehension.
"Mr. Plescott, your defamer said you were not fit to eat with Hottentot savages! I had to call the fellow down severely. Think of it, Mr. Plescott—you not fit to eat with Hottentot savages."
"Dat was a mighty mean thing to say, sah. Mought ah ask what yo' said to de gemmun?"
"I told your defamer, Mr. Plescott, that he was entirely in error in asserting that you are not fit to eat with Hottentot savages. I assured him that you were!"
There was a wild whoop of glee from the spectators, especially from the other plebes, and Dick, though he laughed heartily, reddened when he found himself focused by so many scores of eyes.
Then the singer dropped off into another song, and the nonsense went on. After the first part came an olio in which were some fine singing, dancing, juggling and other work.
The performance came to an end in time for the cadets and their visitors to take another stroll through camp.
Bang! Bang! Bang! A glow and a burst of red fire! There was a bewildering maze of pyrotechnics. After five minutes of this the fireworks ceased, and, though the camp lights still burned the contrast seemed almost like darkness.
The members of the band rose. As the leader's baton fell the notes of "The Star Spangled Banner" rose triumphant on the night air. It was a glorious sight as a hundred Army officers and five hundred United States cadets clicked their heels, stood instantly at attention, uncovered their heads and stood with caps held over their hearts.
As the strains died out there was an impressive pause. Then, in lighter vein, the band rollicked out with the old, familiar, "Good Night Ladies," and, laughing merrily, the visitors departed, their cadet friends going with them only as far as camp limits.
Out on the plains beyond the visitors again halted for a brief instant.
In front of the guard tent a drummer sounded "taps"—three strokes on the drum. All but the authorized lights in guard tent and O.C.'s tent were extinguished.
The summer encampment was over.
"Oh, dear!" sighed many a fair visitor as she returned to a sheltering roof. "The summer's fun is over. To-morrow these splendid young men will be back in barracks, grilling and boning for their very lives!"
MR. DODGE GOES CANVASSING
Yes, the good old summer time was over. Bending over study tables in cadet barracks the young men pored over books and papers of their own making.
The first few days seemed fearfully hard. To the young men who had been for weeks away from their books it seemed for a while all but impossible to pick up the threads of study in a way that would anything like satisfy the Army officers who acted as their relentless instructors.
"Relentless?" To the average boy in grammar or high school it does not seem like a hardship to be required to make a percentage of at least sixty-six and two-thirds per cent. in all studies. In the public schools it seems rather easy to reach that kind of an average.
At West Point the markings are on a scale of three, with decimal shadings. A man who secures in any study a marking of two is deemed proficient. If his average marking in a term is 2.6, he is rather highly proficient in that study. A marking of two on a scale of three is equivalent to sixty-six and two-thirds per cent., and this does not seem, to the outsider, a difficult attainment. But the West Point speed of study! In a high school the young man is given the whole of the first year in which to qualify in simple algebra; in the second year he takes up plane geometry; in the third he comes upon solid geometry; in the fourth year of high school work the young man masters plane trigonometry and solves allied problems.
At West Point, in the plebe year, the young man, in the first half of the year, goes through simple algebra and plane and solid geometry. In the second half of the year he must force his way understandingly through advanced algebra and plane and spherical trigonometry! This is his mathematics work merely for the first year, yet it is more and more thoroughly covered than the high school boy's entire course.
During their first three months of plebedom, and with their course behind them in the really fine high school at Gridley, Dick and Greg had not found their math. much of a torment. But now, after coming back from encampment, these young men began to wake up to the fact that West Point mathematics is a giant contrasted with the pigmy of public school mathematics. The two chums began to put in every minute they could spare over the long, bewildering array of problems assigned for each recitation.
"What a curious delusion we had, back at Gridley!" laughed Greg, in their room, one night.
"Which particular delusion was that!" Dick demanded, without looking up from his geometry.
"Why, we thought our easy old Gridley work in math. was going to fit us to race easily through the first two years here!"
"That isn't the only pipe that has burned out in our pockets since we became plebes!" grunted Dick.
"Are you going to max it (get a high marking) in math., to-morrow, old fellow?"
"I'm going to 'fess out (fail) more likely," sighed Dick. "How are you coming on, general?"
"I'd give a good deal to be able to ask a first class man how to solve the fourth problem on to-morrow's list," groaned Greg.
"I'd show you," sighed Dick, "only I'm afraid I might lead you into an ambush where you'd get scalped by the instructor."
In each class, and in every subject of study, the young men are divided, for recitation purposes, into sections of eight or ten men. In each study the section to which the young man belongs is determined by his relative standing in that study. The "banner" section is made up of the cadets who stand highest in the class in that particular study. At the end of every week the markings of each cadet in every one of his studies is posted, and the sections are rearranged, if need be. The men in the lowest section of all in a given study are styled the "goats." The members of the "goat" section, in math. for instance, are men who feel rather certain that they will presently be "found" and dropped from the cadet corps. However, at the beginning of a year a man may fall into the "goats," and then later, may pull up so that he reaches a higher section and goes on with better standing. But in general the "goats" are looked upon as men who are going to be dropped, and this usually applies, also, to a majority of the men in the two or three sections just above the "goats."
About forty per cent. of the young men who enter West Point as cadets are dropped before their course is over. Most of these losses occur in the plebe and yearling classes. When a man has completed two years at West Point he has a very good chance to get through and win his commission as an officer in the Army.
In geometry Greg was in the third section above the "goats," Dick in the sixth.
"I wish I had your head, old ramrod!" groaned Greg, half an hour later.
"If I should lose even a hair's weight from my head I'd be in the 'goats' next week," replied Prescott grimly. "If I ever get to be an officer in the Army, I wonder what earthly good all these math. headaches will do me in handling a bunch of raw rookies?"
"If we have to go back to Gridley, 'skinned,'" grimaced Greg, "we'll at least have company. Dodge is only a tenth above 'goat' grade in geom., and next week will probably see him there."
"And he was considered a good student in Gridley!" quoth Dick sadly.
That Dodge, however, still had hopes of being able to hold on was proved by the fact that he was now conducting a vigorous campaign for election to the class presidency.
"I think I am as good as elected class president," he wrote home to the elder Dodge. And, the next time Theodore Dodge went over to his bank in Gridley, Theodore Dodge circulated the news among his intimates. The evening "Mail," in Gridley, came out with the statement that Dodge was sure to become class president.
"And thus Gridley will have cause to feel that it occupies no small place of honor, after all, in national affairs," penned the editor of the "Mail."
Dodge had a rather fair following of friends in the class, since he had become modest enough to drop his pretensions to caste and extra social position and they were working hard for him.
That young man came early to Dick and Greg, asking them to work for him.
"I don't quite care to pledge myself," Dick replied kindly. "When the class meeting is called I'd rather go in with a free mind on the subject. Then, Dodge, if I consider you the best man put in nomination, I'll vote for you."
Though this was not a positive assurance Dodge and his campaign managers made use of it to put Dick's name in the list of supporters.
One evening, at dress parade, when the cadet adjutant read the day's orders, he came to this announcement:
"Members of the fourth class are requested to meet, under permission of the Superintendent, at the Y.M.C.A. at eight o'clock to-night, for the election of a class president, and for transaction of such other business as may properly come before the meeting. Members of the upper classes will accordingly remain away from the Y.M.C.A. to-night."
"Remember, you fellows," called Bert Dodge, thrusting his head into Dick and Greg's room after return to barracks, "I count upon your strong support to-night."
THE PLEBE CLASS CHOOSES ITS PRESIDENT
Not a man save two on sick report at cadet hospital was absent when Cadet Hopper, acting as temporary chairman, the plebe class called to order.
"Gentlemen," he announced, "you all know the principal reason for our being here. We are, in especial, to elect a class president. Therefore I will take time only to urge upon you the great importance of to-night's planned action.
"The class president is to be, in a word, the class leader. The president of this class is to stand before the entire cadet body, and before the authorities of the United States Military Academy, as the representative of this class.
"It goes without saying, I think, that our president should be, in every respect, the best possible representative of the class as a whole. He should be as nearly as possible the ideal man of the class—the man who stands for the best, the manliest and the most loyal thoughts and aspirations of this class.
"As brevity is always highly to be prized, I will say no more at this moment. If any gentleman present desires to address the class, I will recognize him for that purpose. If, after a pause, we ascertain that no member desires to make a general address, I will then rule that the election is next in order."
"I believe, Mr. Chairman," cried Mr. Lawrence, "that I have never heard the objects or the duty of a meeting better expressed, or in fewer words. I am certain that I voice the sense of this class meeting when I say that the thanks of the plebe class are due to the chairman. I have only to add my own personal, urgent appeal that the man chosen for the greatest honor we can bestow be truly a man who represents the best that there is in this class. And now, Mr. Chairman, I move that we proceed at once to nominations."
"Nominations with speeches?" asked the chairman.
"Yes, Mr. Chairman."
"I second the motion, as amended," declared Cadet Thompson.
The motion was put and carried.
Cadets Hopper and Lawrence were both nominated, and the nominations seconded.
Cadet Delavan was upon his feet, the recognized and avowed arch-supporter of Mr. Dodge. Delavan made an introductory appeal in which he brought forth and endorsed the remarks of the chair. He then brought forth, as leading characteristics in a wise and capable class president a high sense of honor, wide judgment, intimacy with the world and its social usages, and unswerving loyalty to country, the Military Academy and the class.
"In these and in all other essential and even ideal respects, Mr. Chairman, we have everything that can be asked for in Mr. Dodge. Mr. Chairman, I most earnestly and urgently place Mr. Dodge in nomination for the office of president of this class."
Then Hadley was on his feet at once. In a longer and more eloquent speech he seconded the nomination. Hadley possessed the gift of eloquence. As he proceeded in his remarks he convinced many, until now wavering, that Bert Dodge was the most available man for the great office. When Hadley sat down it was the general opinion that Dodge was about as good as elected.
There was a long pause. Then:
The Virginian nodded to the chair, then looked slowly around at all the faces. It was some moments ere his voice was again heard. When he did speak it was in a low, clear voice that gradually increased in volume.
"Mr. Chairman, and fellow members of the fourth class," Anstey continued in soft accents, "it may, at first thought, seem almost treacherous that I should favor any comrade over my own roommate."
Bert Dodge flushed angrily, then paled.
"Believe me, sir and gentlemen, only a burning desire to see the best interests of the class served could nerve me to such a seeming lack of grace."
In the intense stillness that followed the noise that Bert Dodge made in shifting his feet on the floor sounded loud, indeed. Anstey was a trifle paler than usual, but he was working under an intense conviction, and the grit and dash of his Revolutionary forbears was quite sufficient to carry him on unswervingly to his goal of duty to the class.
"Against Mr. Dodge, sir and classmates, I have no word to offer. I will admit that he would make a good president of the class. In one study Mr. Dodge for a while stood so persistently among the goats as to hint at the possibility that he might not be with us long."
Bert flushed angrily.
"But, most fortunately," pursued Anstey, in the same soft, Southern voice, "Mr. Dodge has lately pulled himself up from among the goats, and is most likely to remain here at the Academy for the allotted period of four years.
"Yet, sir and classmates, the words of our temporary presiding officer have sunk deeply into my brain. We must choose the man who is most truly representative of the whole spirit, purpose and daring of the class. With all due and high respect, gentlemen, for my own roommate, I desire to bring forward for your consideration the one who, I feel certain, stands more closely than any of us to all the grand old traditions of intelligence, daring, loyalty, leadership, good fellowship and unfailing good judgment. The man I would nominate, sir, will, to my mind, lead this class as no class has been led at the Military Academy within the last generation or two."
Mr. Anstey paused, glancing at the faces in front.
"Yes! Name him!"
"Mr. Chairman, and classmates," continued the Virginian, "I have the honor—and I assure you I feel it an honor to have made the discovery—I have the honor to place in nomination for the class presidency the name of that splendid fellow and soldier-at-heart—Mr. Prescott!"
Greg it was gave a whoop that started the cheering.
"You sneak!" muttered Dodge under his breath, trying to hide the fire that burned in his eyes as he looked again at Cadet Anstey. But five men caught the low-uttered word and it cost Dodge five votes.
"Further nominations are in order," suggested Chairman Hopper.
There was a long pause, after which it was moved, seconded and carried that the nominations be closed.
"The chair then directs," continued Mr. Hooper, "that Messrs. Gentry, Hawkes, Fletcher and Simmons serve as tellers. Voting will be by written ballot, on slips that will be supplied by the tellers."
Soon the tellers circulated again through the meeting, receiving the written ballots in their caps. These were brought forward to the table behind the platform desk and counted. Then, after securing the floor, teller Hawkes announced the result as follows:
"Whole number of votes cast, 122; necessary to choice, 61. Of these Mr. Dodge has received 48; Mr. Prescott, 39; Mr. Hopper, 19, and Mr. Lawrence, 16."
"No choice having been made by the majority voting," decided the chair, "the tellers will again distribute blank slips and another ballot will be cast."
The second balloting resulted in this layout:
Dodge, 52; Prescott, 40; Hopper, 16; Lawrence, 14.
"No choice having yet been made, a third balloting will be necessary," ruled the chair.
"Mr. Chairman—one moment, please!"
"Mr. Chairman and classmates," went on Lawrence hastily, "I regret that I have not the silver tongue possessed by some who have spoken to-night. Did I possess such a precious thing I would know how to thank appropriately, perhaps, those who have favored me enough to vote for me. I do thank these friends, though not as I would wish I might. But I now respectfully ask all of my friends who have voted for me to vote with me, and cast their votes for Mr. Prescott."
"The chair wishes to withdraw its name from this contest, with a similar tribute of thanks," declared Mr. Hopper. "Yet, perhaps as temporary presiding officer, it will not be wholly proper for me to declare in favor of either of the remaining candidates."
Then the tellers distributed ballots again. There was a great deal of excitement in the air. Bert Dodge and Dick Prescott were the observed of many eyes. Again the ballots were taken up and counted.
"Gentlemen," announced Chairman Hopper, as one of the tellers handed him a slip, "Mr. Dodge has fifty votes and Mr. Prescott has seventy-two. Mr. Prescott is, therefore, elected president of this class."
"Mr. Chairman," cried Greg, leaping to his feet, "I move to make the election unanimous."
"Second the motion!" called half a dozen at once.
It was put to an aye-and-no vote and carried rousingly.
"The chair gladly relinquishes its temporary post to the one elected to fill it," announced Mr. Hopper.
Anstey, Greg and a dozen others gleefully escorted the class president to the platform.
Dick addressed the meeting in a quiet, low voice, but he heartily thanked the class for the honor it had accorded him.
"I'm not going to make a speech, gentlemen," he continued. "Perhaps a speech from me will be worth more when I am through with the office. But I have listened attentively to what has been outlined to-night by other speakers as constituting a worthy president, and I can only add that I shall do all that may possibly be in my power to live up to such ideals. The chair now stands ready to be advised of any further business that may properly come before the meeting."
There being no "business," the time was taken up with speeches from several plebes who wanted to be heard. The subject of their treatment by the yearlings came in for much attention. Many of the speakers expressed burning indignation at the "small show" accorded to the plebe class.
"Hasn't our president something to say on this subject?" called some one.
"I shall be glad to speak on this very matter," smiled Cadet Prescott, rising. "Gentlemen of the class, I know that we are traveling over a road that, even under the most genial conditions, would be a rough one. Many of us feel that the yearling class is devoting all its energies to making that road a still rougher one."
"Hear! Hear!" cried a dozen at once.
"But, gentlemen," continued the new class president, "next June we shall be yearlings. There will be a new lot of plebes here, and I feel rather certain that we shall treat them just about as we are now being treated."
There were murmurs of dissent at this.
"For generations," continued Cadet Prescott, "the plebe at West Point has had to rough it. You are all familiar with the truism that a soldier must learn to obey before he is fit for command. In much the same way, I fancy, the plebe must travel a rough road before he is thoroughly broken in and fitted to enjoy the delights of full equality and recognition with upper class men.
"We are no more put upon than was every present upper class man during his first year here. When we reach the sublime heights on which the yearlings dwell I believe that we shall look back and appreciate the fact that we truly needed some round thrashing into shape. We shall feel grateful to our present enemies, the yearlings—and we will turn around and help the new lot of plebes through the same kind of first-year life. In the meantime, classmates, I earnestly advise that we establish at least one record here. Let us, from now on, prove ourselves to be the gamest of plebes who have suffered here in many a year. The more patiently we bear it now, in all patience, the better yearlings, the better second class men and first class men we shall be when our time comes. The motto of a famous sovereign is, 'I serve.' Let our plebe class motto be, 'I grin and bear.'"
This wasn't exactly what the plebes had been expecting from their new leader. For a few moments after Dick sat down there was silence. Then a half dozen began to applaud. The noise grew, until half the plebes were cheering.
"Thank you, gentlemen," smiled the class president. "I think we are now well started on the way to becoming useful members of the Army."
"What do you think of our new leader?" one of Bert Dodge's late supporters asked that young man after the meeting had broken up.
"We're going to have a boot-lick president," growled Bert.
"Then there's a strong boot-lick sentiment in the class," returned the other cadet. "But I think Mr. Prescott is going to head a manlier lot than we were yesterday."
When Anstey entered their room at barracks Dodge refused to notice him, or to answer a pleasant greeting.
"I have been trying to forgive Dick Prescott for all of the past," Cadet Dodge told himself darkly. "I wanted to start a new life, for both of us, here at West Point. But the fellow won't let me. He is always getting in my way. Oh, what a laugh there'll be in Gridley, among the mucker part of the population, when they find that I'm not class president, but that Dick Prescott is!"
Even after he lay in bed, following taps, Bert Dodge could not sleep. He lay tossing restlessly, dark thoughts surging through his mind.
"No place on earth seems large enough for Dick Prescott and me together!" muttered Dodge in the dark. "Dick Prescott, if I haven't lost my cunning you shan't be here much longer."
But the forcing of Dick Prescott out of the West Point cadet corps was not easy to accomplish nor were ways of doing it to be come upon quickly.
First, Mr. Dodge realized that he was falling behind in mathematics, and for weeks he had to give all his energy to keeping a place in the class.
Finally January came and with it examinations. The plebe escapes written examinations if he has shown proficiency in the general review of the first half of the academic year. Dick and Greg got through without these "writs." Bert Dodge was compelled to face the written test in mathematics, but he made the grade and stayed on. He was gratified, for thirty-one of the plebes were dropped after this examination.
"I've got to stay on," Bert Dodge had ground out between his teeth. "If I'm to be dropped from West Point, it must be after I've found a way to send Dick Prescott back to Gridley ahead of me!"
Spring came, and still Bert's opportunity was lacking. He and Anstey greeted each other, but that was about all the communication the two held. Yet, one night, having noted the fact that for some time Dodge had seemed depressed, the Virginian asked:
"What's wrong, Mr. Dodge? Anything in which another fellow can lend a hand?"
"Nothing's wrong," replied Dodge shortly, and turned at once to his books. Still his gloom continued, and one evening not long after Anstey said to Dick and Greg:
"That townsman of yours is so deep in gloom that it's like living in an unlighted cave to be in the same room with him. What's wrong, do you suppose?"
"No telling," replied Dick. "Just disposition, I presume. He's no longer a townsman of ours, by the way."
"Do you note really savage looks on his face?" put in Cadet Holmes.
"Don't I, though!"
"Then Bert Dodge has a mean streak on and is plotting mischief to some one!"
"Is he underhanded and treacherous?" demanded Anstey quickly.
Prescott hesitated a moment, then said:
"Perhaps you'd better keep your eyes open. You're pretty close to him, and you don't want him to do anything to bring your record in question. Still, so far as any of us knows, he's been honorable and square here; so let's give the fellow his chance and say nothing to prejudice any one else."
"You're right, Dick. Still, I wish something would pull the fellow out of his gloom. It spreads thick through the whole room."
The truth was that because he could think of no feasible plan to drive Prescott from the Military Academy, Bert Dodge had become morose and irritable. But at last he thought he saw his chance.
It was May when Greg Holmes received a telegram that an aunt of his of whom he had always been fond had died. Another telegram from Greg's father to Superintendent Martin asked that the boy be allowed to go home for the funeral. After an inquiry as to Greg's standing in class, Colonel Martin granted the permission, handing Holmes the money his father had telegraphed for the purpose. When Bert Dodge saw Greg leave the Academy his eyes lighted up.
"Prescott will be alone in his room," he muttered in evil glee. "There'll be times when he'll be out; but I'll have to work quickly!" Then a gleam came into his eyes. "Prescott will be in Lieutenant Pierson's quarters talking over football plans to-morrow night. That's my chance!"
THE PROWLER IN QUARTERS
At eleven o'clock the next morning Bert Dodge stepped up to another cadet known as the "sick-marcher." Together they went to the hospital where Dodge reported to the medical officer in charge.
"What's the trouble, Mr. Dodge?" asked the surgeon, reaching for the plebe's pulse.
"Chills, sir, mumbled the cadet.
"Chills? Your pulse is a bit rapid, but not suspiciously so. Let me place this thermometer in your mouth."
After two minutes Captain Goodwin removed the thermometer and held it up.
"Normal," he observed, a bit puzzled. "Dead-beating," as it is called, or trying to get into the hospital when there is no need, is not unknown to the surgeons at the Military Academy. But when done, it is usually tried before a boy has been there a year. "How long have you felt this way?"
"For about twenty-four hours, sir."
"Perhaps I'd better mark you 'quarters' for twenty-four hours to come," said the surgeon, eyeing Dodge closely.
Dodge squirmed. This was what he did not want. Being ordered to quarters would keep him in his room.
"I've been fighting this off in my room, sir," replied Dodge haltingly. "I don't feel well, and I thought that a day or two here, resting in bed under a doctor's eye, might set me up."
"Very well, Mr. Dodge. I don't think anything serious has assailed you, but we'll keep you under observation for a day or two."
Captain Goodwin completed the record of the case, then pressed a button. A sergeant of the hospital corps entered.
"Steward, Mr. Dodge is to be put to bed. Full hospital diet and rest. Further instructions will be given to you later."
"Very good, sir."
Dodge followed the sergeant to a bathroom, there to undress and bathe. When he had finished he was handed some pajamas.
"Where is my regular clothing?" asked Dodge of the private who gave him the pajamas.
"Sergeant Eberlee locked them up in a locker, sir, until you're discharged."
Bert Dodge, in a furious temper, followed the private to the bed assigned to him. His clothing locked up! That clothing had figured largely in his plan in coming to the hospital.
"Now I have played the fool!" thought the cadet. "I'd planned to get out on the sly tonight, while in here officially. Now I can't get out except in pajamas in which I'd be spotted before I'd gone ten feet! Hang the fool regulations of this hospital!"
All day Dodge lay fuming. Lieutenant Doctor Herman visited him twice, still unwilling to say nothing was wrong. For one thing, Bert was so angry that he could not eat, and that in itself is unusual in a healthy cadet who lives a very strenuous life. Anger also gave him a flushed face and an exceptional look about the eyes. Yet, there was nothing apparent to make a physician believe there was anything serious the matter.
Bert had the ward to himself, being the only patient in the building. It was eight o'clock when a man in the uniform of the hospital corps came in to turn the lights low.
"Benton!" exclaimed Dodge. "What brings you here?"
"Is that you, Mr. Dodge?" asked Private Benton, approaching Bert's bed. "I'm sorry to see you sick, sir."
"I'm not sick, Benton. But, again, what are you doing here?" Benton was an enlisted man who, for pay, had been accustomed to serving Dodge more or less surreptitiously.
"My enlistment ran out last week, sir. So I quit the cavalry to try a three-year term in the hospital corps."
Here was Cadet Dodge's opportunity! He bribed Benton to bring him his clothes and to promise silence.
"It would be time in a military prison for me if I told, sir; so you can be sure I'll keep still," was Benton's remark as he let the cadet out of a back door.
As he went softly in through the east sally port, Dodge noted with joy that almost nobody was around.
"I can get by without detection," he chuckled. He did get just inside the doorway of the subdivision in which Cadets Prescott and Holmes dwelt before he attracted attention. There he passed two yearlings.
"Is that you, Mr. Dodge?" rather sharply demanded one of these yearlings.
"No, sir," Dodge replied in a strained voice and sped on upstairs.
"Queer," muttered one of the yearlings. "I was almost positive that was Mr. Dodge."
Dodge was by this time in Dick Prescott's darkened room. He stole over to the fireplace where he worked quickly.
"I've fixed your career here, Dick Prescott!" gloated the treacherous youth.
Dick Prescott and a dozen other plebes who had football hopes had a spent a delightful evening in Lieutenant Pierson's quarters. They left rather early, nevertheless.
"Come to my room and talk things over, Anstey," urged Dick. "We've time before taps."
Dick ran ahead to turn on the light while Anstey mounted the stairs slowly. As he entered the room, Prescott could see from the light that entered from the corridor some one crouched over by the fireplace.
"Have I a visitor?" said Dick pleasantly. "Wait till I get a look at you."
To have run from the room would have been a confession of guilt. Moreover, Dodge heard the mounting steps of Anstey outside. So he stayed while Dick turned on the light.
"It's Dodge!" exclaimed Dick. "At last accounts you were in hospital. I'm glad you're better," the cadet went on coldly.
"I slipped out of hospital," whispered Dodge. "Don't give me away, Prescott. I'd like to get back without being seen by any one else."
"Don't keep me," said Bert nervously.
"What were you doing in this room?" asked Dick, becoming suspicious.
"I forgot that Holmes was away and came to see him."
"When you found the room dark did you still think Greg was here?"
"Don't keep me now. You don't want to see me skinned, do you?"
"What were you doing by the fireplace?"
"Were you aware that in days past plebes who occupied this room had pried up two of the bricks from the base of the fireplace and had a hiding cubby there?"
"Of course not! What do you take me for?" Anstey had come to the doorway, but stayed there, blocking the passage. Prescott stepped to the fireplace and stooped as though to look under the loose bricks. Dodge, in a panic, got there before him and pulled out some papers.
"I was trying to play a prank on you and Holmes. As you've forestalled it, I don't think I'll let you know what it was," and Dodge struck a match and set the papers on fire, throwing them into the fireplace.
"Perhaps you don't mind letting me enjoy your int'resting joke with you, Mr. Dodge," drawled Anstey, coming into the room.
"It wouldn't interest you, Mr. Anstey. Its foundation lies in by-gone days back in Gridley," floundered Dodge.
"At any rate, your fire has destroyed the—ah—joke. Will you assure me, Mr. Dodge, that the joke was only a good-natured one?" asked Dick Prescott, eyeing Dodge sternly.
"I assure you of that on my honor as a cadet and a gentleman," said Dodge stiffly.
"Very well then. And now good-night." The plebe who had just perjured himself turned from Prescott toward Anstey. He saw that the Virginian did not believe him.
"Just a word, Mr. Dodge," put in Anstey. "As we are near the end of the barracks year I will not ask for a new roommate. But when we come back from the summer encampment I will see to it that my roommate is some one else."
Bert Dodge paled, then flushed crimson. "Am I entitled to a reason for that, Anstey?"
"Mister Anstey, if you please, now and always hereafter."
"Certainly, Mr. Anstey. May I ask your reason for desiring a new roommate?"
"I think I need not give my reason, Mr. Dodge," and Anstey turned his back.
Bert Dodge got out of the room somehow and made his way back to the hospital ward through the back door. Dick Prescott never learned what the "joke" was. But Dodge, back in the hospital bed, muttered:
"An anonymous letter to the superintendent of the K.C. would have fixed things and the papers would have been found! Queer that Dick Prescott always comes out on top."
It occasionally happens that an unworthy cadet leaves West Point without charges against him having been heard and passed on by the authorities. Each class in the United States Military Academy is censor of the honor of its own members. Let a cadet be found out in a lie or other dishonorable act; and he is so avoided by his comrades that he is glad to leave the Academy. It was this power of his fellow cadets that made Dodge shiver as he lay sleepless in the hospital ward.
Cadet Holmes returned to duty and was greeted hilariously by his many friends. He was even envied, in disregard of the sad event that had given him his leave.
"You fellows make me tired," grumbled Greg. "My trip has convinced me that I'd sooner tote the water bucket at West Point than own a steam yacht and an automobile anywhere else."
Greg's fellow plebes gave a yell of approval, and even some of the upper class men nodded approvingly, if somewhat haughtily.
Hard work went on; for these were anxious days for the plebes. Would some of them be dropped at the end of this first year? No one felt certain of his merits, and all worked and studied to the exclusion of most other thoughts. But at last came the general review, then the information for which all waited was posted.
"I'm satisfied," sighed Dick, after reading the lists.
Greg's work, too, had been satisfactory, as had that of Anstey. Bert Dodge, also, had got creditably past the examiners. But eighteen of the plebes were dropped.
All the first-class men passed. So now came joyous days for all the cadets except the lowly plebes, whose only participation in the gay times that take place at this season is to stand on one side and watch.
But the night of the graduation hop came and went. The day following this was the graduation of the first class.
On the evening of this day Anstey dropped in to see Dick and Greg in their room.
"Hullo, old ramrod, and you, Holmesy! Are you pondering on the fact that you'll be an exalted yearling to-morrow?"
"I don't believe the yearling himself feels exalted—it's only the plebe that puts him on a high seat. The yearling probably looks with longing to the next and the next and the next," laughed Greg.
"Oh, I don't know. Not longing," put in Dick. "I should not want to stay here always, of course. One looks forward to shouldering real responsibilities. But I'm going to enjoy every year as I go along and not wish for the next and the next."
"Just the same, the 'next' comes," replied Anstey as he said good-night and left the room.
A little later a drum sounded at the inner entrance of the north sally port. The subdivision inspector was coming—had gone.
"Greg," whispered Cadet Prescott.
"Yes, old ramrod?"
"To-morrow will be yearling camp for us!"
What happened there and during the following year will be told in the next volume, entitled "DICK PRESCOTT'S SECOND YEAR AT WEST POINT, or, Finding the Glory of the Soldier's Life."