WEST POINT, ITS GALMOUR AND ITS GRIND
WINNING THE APPOINTMENT
LIKE the average boy in a Western town, or anywhere else for
that matter, the words “
Perhaps one of the principal reasons for this fascination
was the alluring inaccuracy which pervaded all accounts of
These stories invariably told of the heroic cadet who went rowing with the charming girl and when the boat capsized, which it invariably did, he rescued her from a watery grave, and although his rival did his best to keep them apart and to cause trouble between them and always succeeded for a time, the outcome was necessarily a wedding in the pretty little cadet chapel on graduation day. If it was not a boat ride that led up to the culmination of the romance, it was a sprained ankle at Fort Putnam, causing the hero to get into a lot of trouble through being late getting back to camp on account of his limping companion.
It was through such agencies, aided by the alluring pictures
which always accompanied the misleading accounts of
I knew it to be the place where by some magic art, the ordinary everyday boy was transformed into an entirely separate and distinct sort of individual, known as a “cadet,” where he had nothing to do but wear rows and rows of brass buttons all the time and go walking and hold a parasol over a beautiful girl whenever he felt like it; where he could camp out all summer, carry a real gun and be a real sentry and call out in a loud voice “Halt! Who goes there?” whenever any one came near him, and to demand the mystic “countersign.” It was a place where he was accorded the privilege of drilling as much as he pleased every day and where horseback riding reached such a degree of recklessness that a circus rider or cowboy would actually shrivel up with envy at the wonderful feats which to cadets became mere child’s play.
These and a hundred other delights made
This is a stage of life through which a large percentage of Young America must pass before they are content to settle down to be doctors or lawyers or merchants. There is the boyish desire to become a soldier which must either be satisfied by becoming one or else must be outgrown before other ambitions permanently take root.
I had just passed my eighteenth birthday when one day, in
glancing over our weekly paper, my eye fell upon the announcement of a
competitive examination for the cadetship at
I made up my mind at once to try that examination. I had
nothing to lose and everything to gain. For two months I studied hard and
conscientiously, keeping my intention all to myself, for there were three or
four other boys in my town who, I feared, would decide to try also. As it was,
I seemed to have a clear field as far as
I doubt if there is anything in life which a boy goes into
with less knowledge of the thing he seeks than when he enters the lists for an
appointment to one of our National academies,
Such proved to be the case and a couple of weeks before the
day set for the examination I learned that at least two other competitors would
be there to represent Emporia on the appointed day. The examination was to take
One of the boys who announced his intention of taking the examination,
Ernest Swaine by name, was of slender build, rather undersized for his age and
far from being physically robust, a very close student and number one in his
class in the high school. The other, Cheater Leasure, could boast of a
constitution fully as vigorous and healthy as my own and he was a year older
than either Ernest or myself. He had just returned
home from an Eastern school, where he was preparing for college. He was home
presumably to spend his Easter vacation, but I felt that no doubt the coming
Inwardly I did not like him, though there as no outward sign of strained relations between us. This dislike was due, though I would not have admitted it at the time, to his having rather outshone me for favors in the eyes of our mutual boyhood ideal, Virginia Abbott. Before Chester’s departure, less than a year before, I had run him a fairly even race as Virginia’s suitor, and during his absence I had had things quite my own way, but on his return from school for vacation, his college ways, fashionably cut coats, trousers very full and turned up around the bottoms, his straight-brimmed derby hat and long hair were all too much for the impressionable Virginia and I no longer seemed a factor in her life, at least in the way I had been.
“I know several fellows from ‘The Point,’ ” said he, speaking with exasperating familiarity, “and they seem to be a rather decent sort as a rule. I hadn’t thought of it, but I don’t believe it would be such a bad idea to have a try at it. If I shouldn’t care to go in I wouldn’t have to.”
His announcement and apparent eonfidenee of winning, coupled
with my chagrin regarding
Finally the day arrived, a beautiful May morning, and l bade
my parents farewell with their best wishes for success
accompanying me. When I reached the station I found
“Hello, Kingsley,” exclaimed
“Going to try the
“I might just as well as not,” I replied; “it’s free.”
“Guess a fellow don’t stand much of a show there without something more than a high school education,” observed Chester, “though of coarse the ‘prelim’ ought to be easy.”
I did not pretend to see his reflection on my limit of local
schooling, but merely said that what I was interested in at present were the
subjects which could be learned in
Our trip to
Next morning we assembled, according to instructions, at the courthouse, where tables and chairs had been arranged for the examinations, which were to be written. The congressman himself was there and took personal charge of all arrangements. First of all came the physical examination, as severe a test as one could expect to encounter, and which I have always felt was unnecessarily so. The doctors had taken their instructions literally and put as through a course of thumpings, measurings, and searching for blemishes that would have done credit to veterinarians. Then we read cards at heroic distances, first with one eye and then with the other, repeated nonsensical sentences with one ear dosed, hopped the length of a long room on one foot and back on the other and then had our hearts examined with a cup-shaped piece of hard rubber at the end of which were long tubes which the doctor put in his ears. After this we were weighed, clothed in nature’s garb, and then measured for altitude.
All this proved too much for poor Ernest, and before he was half through with the ordeal he had disclosed some real or fancied weakness of the heart, as well as failing eyesight. His physical shortcomings eliminated a dangerous opponent for the rest of us, for he was not allowed to write the examinations with us. Three others from different parts of the district were also turned down by the doctors and allowed to go to their homes without further delay.
I felt a pang of compassion for Ernest as he packed his suit
case and departed at to catch
the train for home. He took his disappointment bravely, and I do not think he
need have regretted his failure for long, and I have long since ceased to pity
him. He is the senior member of a successful law firm in
To pass over two strenuous days briefly, I will only say that my mental state, and I presume that of many others, may be imagined when I confess that on the last afternoon in our history examination I gave it as my fixed opinion that Samuel J. Tilden was the vice-president who served out the unexpired portion of James A. Garfield’s term of office.
The realization of this horrible mistake dawned on me while
Inquiries of our friends on reaching home brought forth the
However, there must have been others as badly off as myself,
for on the fourth anxious day after my return home I received a congratulatory
letter from the congressman, notifying me that I had received the highest
average made on the examination and that he had sent my name on to the
Secretary of War as the appointee to West Point from the eleventh district. I
was further informed that I would be required to report at
Without exception, that was the happiest day of my life. Do you blame me that I have that letter, and even the envelope in which it came, framed as the monument which marked the turn in the road which led to unexpected places?
A boy from
In a short time I began to feel an unusual importance attach itself to me, especially when I received a long official envelope from the War Department containing a letter signed by the Secretary of War himself, notifying me officially of my appointment. I tried not to show my elation when my friends congratulated me on my success, but I made a poor mess of it, I fear. Aside from the great prospects which the future held out to me, there was in the immediate future that trip to West Point which I looked forward to as only a boy can who has never been more than a hundred miles from home in his life and which was to be mine anyway, now that I must go there to take my entrance examination.
The idea that it should fall to my lot to be
Another result of my success and perhaps, also, of
Instead of displaying indifference to her as I had pictured myself doing, if opportunity ever offered, I gladly promised to do as she requested and went further by promising to send her another picture of myself in uniform, in case I should pass the entrance examination.
To add to my glory, my home paper published a long and glowing prophecy of the brilliant future before me, and, in addition, gave several good reasons why their “townsman should write his name in letters of gold on the scroll of fame.” The article went further and proved, by tracing my lineage back four generations, in which they were aided by well-meaning parents, that I came of “real old fighting stock,” and was “one well worthy to perpetuate and bring to even greater heights of fame the illustrious name of his forefathers.” This effusion came to an end with the sentiment, printed in small capitals, “Good Luck to the Pride of Emporia – Gordon Kingsley.”
How sweet was fame! How I read and reread those lines and inwardly shuddered at the thought of what might have become of our country had I not been discovered! But it is well not to be able to see into the future, even the immediate future. Those empty phrases were well meant, of course, and fulfilled their temporary function of causing gratification, but I later learned that fame sometimes precedes one into undesirable places.
IN due time the day came for my departure, and as I strode proudly down to the station with my father, carrying my conspicuously new suit case, I felt that Emporia was about to lose one of the most important personages that had ever done her the honor to claim her as his birthplace.
I was now about to go forth and write the first few lines on the “scroll of fame” which the editor of the “Republican” had so happily mentioned. As the time had drawn near for leaving, my mother, realizing more than I, what a breaking of home ties my departure was causing, had enthused less and less over my good fortune, and when I left she chose to bid me God-speed within the privacy of our own home.
That trip to
Through my friend’s persuasion, I consented to continue my
trip on to
As the steamboat glided along the beautiful river we sat in
the bow and strained oar eyes for the first glimpse of
Never had I viewed such scenery, and the effect of the majestic, wooded heights, coupled with the historic interest which clang about them, was to inspire in me a feeling of awesome reverence which never departed during the long time I lived among them.
We could gain only a very vague idea of
We spent next day wandering about
We saw Broadway, that thoroughfare of which we had heard and, read so much, Wall Street and the statue of George Washington in front of the sub-treasury, went on board an ocean steamer, which had always been one of the ambitions of my life, and then we visited and climbed to the top of that colossal lantern, the Goddess of Liberty. All of these things which are so commonplace to many are ranked among the wonders of the world by the unsophisticated boy from the West.
It was not until late afternoon that we inquired our way to
That individual evidently sized us up at once as candidates, having seen hundreds of forlorn-looking boys such as we during his long term in that capacity. The lone cab driver, too, was equally knowing, for he did not even suggest that we ride. The candidate’s pocket is invariably too modest to afford such a luxury as a ride in his antiquated coach offered.
“Just keep on up the hill,” directed the agent, jerking his thumb in the direction of the winding road, “and when you get to the top, turn to your left and keep going until yon come to the hotel, just this side of a little bridge. You’ll find lots of others in your fix when you get there.”
“Seems to know what we’re here for,” observed
“I guess we won’t find anybody around here to receive us with open arms,” I replied, “and whether we get along or not from now on depends on us.”
From the time the forlorn candidate even approaches the
We toiled on in silence for several minutes. The road was steep and apparently endless. We already felt our enthusiasm oozing from as, and each was content to preserve a guarded silence. The novelty of the last few days was over and we were rapidly coming face to face with an experience that grew less and less attractive as we approached it. I think the station agent’s manner and his reference to others being in the same “fix” did more to chill our enthusiasm than the occurrence seems to warrant.
“Let’s rest,” said Barton, after awhile, “I’m about tuckered out.”
“I’m willing,” said I, dropping my suit case heavily to the ground; “wonder when we’ll get to ‘turn to the left’?”
“Couldn’t blame a fellow much if he was to turn all the way
round right now,” ventured
“When I turn somebody’s got to turn me,” I asserted, trying to appear cheerful as well as determined.
“Oh don’t fret about me,” replied my friend quickly. “I’m not quitting yet.” And never again daring our long acquaintance have I had occasion to doubt his tenacity to any purpose toward which he set his determination.
After a brief rest we started on again and soon a turn
brought us to the top of the incline and to the road leading parallel to the
Here again we were made to feel the unimportance of our position in the world, for even the corner loafer cast upon us pitying glances and inwardly congratulated himself that of all the things he might have been, he had never been a “candidate.”
We at last reached the hotel, looking rather seedy, no doubt, after our dusty ride on the train and the long trudge up the hill. At the hotel we found candidates from all parts of the country, some sitting on the veranda, discussing their chances of “getting in,” others on the inside, distributed around a table in the big, bare sitting-room, poring over their books. These latter had reached that stage of anxiety and uneasiness that their only peace of mind lay in constant study. To do aught else at this time seemed to them as rank sacrilege.
It was dark by the time
The talk was entirety of
During that conversation
This hazing seemed to he the one thing that held most terrors for everyone. Tales of the various methods of initiating the newcomers were many and varied, and 'most all exagerated, as I found out later .
“I understand they make the plebes black shoes for the upper classmen,” said one hot-headed Southerner, “and if I black anybody’s shoes besides my own, it will be after there have been some heads cracked. We don’t stand for such things down where I come from.”
His concern in this direction was unfounded, for that was an
extent toward which the unwritten law at
One of the occupants of the veranda was a fellow named
He was patronizing, self-satisfied and intolerant of anyone not conversant with the usages of city life. As to hazing, that was one thing to which he would not submit.
“I was hazed at
“Most likely your friends will look out for you and take care of you,” said a quiet fellow who up to this time had not spoken.
“Yes, I suppose so, but the rest of you fellows will have a pretty hard time, I expect. However, I’ll do what I can to get you off easy.”
This was certainly very kind of
NEXT morning Burton and I decided that, much as we needed to study, we must go up to West Point immediately and satisfy to some extent our burning curiosity to see the wonderful place at whose doors we were so soon to knock.
It was graduation day, and it seemed as though everybody in all the country around was going. As we walked along the ill-kept sidewalks carryalls of every description passed us, filled with their gayly dressed occupants, mostly of the feminine persuasion, all eager with excitement.
It was the outpouring of relatives and friends of cadets from the hotels and boarding houses of Highland Falls, where annually the patience and endurance of these helpless admirers of brass buttons are taxed to the extreme and the purse strings are stretched to their elastic limit or beyond to pay the bills.
A short walk brought us to the southern limits of the reservation, which marks the extent of village authority. We could easily tell when we stepped across the boundary by the beautifully kept, metaled road, which extends from there northward, and also by the two enormous cannon, half buried, muzzle down, which adorn each side of the road. Long since obsolete these once powerful engines of destruction were now mutely doing duty merely to mark the limit of military authority.
Further on we saw a soldier sentinel coming toward us. It was the first time either of us had ever seen a real, live soldier and we were both duly impressed. He was in full dress, as, I learned afterward, members of the guard always are during graduation week. He carried a rifle on his shoulder and in his belt were several shining cartridges.
Both of us unconsciously stepped off the walk as he neared us and deliberately stopped and watched him as he passed us without even so much as a glance in our direction. That this was rather inappropriate treatment from a mere private soldier toward future generals did not occur to us. Had he known who we were his attitude would have been still more haughty, for I soon learned that his kind, too, seemed to feel it their duty to remind us on all occasions that we did not stand high in the military scale. Though in time they might be under the command of the men they now looked down upon, that was too dim in the distance to affect the attitude of superiority it was now their privilege to assume.
Though we had already absorbed our share of the dread which
all candidates have for what is in store for them at
All this newness and strangeness and dignity of surroundings
impressed us properly, and we were even awed at the prospects which the future
held out to us. In spite of the station agent, the corner loafer and the hack
driver, the tales of hazing and the absence of friends, I do not believe we
would have traded places with any two boys in the
“Lots of people do live here,” I replied confidentially, “and I don’t see why we shouldn’t.”
So far we had seen no cadets, though we were keeping a sharp lookout for the sight of one. Presently a couple of animated ramrods swung around a corner and came straight toward as. Clad in gray coats, into which it seemed they had been poured, with three rows of blazing brass buttons down the front; stiffly starched white duck trousers which seemed not to bend at all in walking, and topped by the jauntiest of dark blue caps, set slightly askew, these two individuals came nearer being the acme of perfection than anything I had ever believed human beings capable of.
They scrutinized us closely as they approached, and as they
passed we heard one of them say in an undertone something about “candidates.”
As we proceeded toward the large buildings ahead we met several more cadets, all looking precisely alike to us, except as to size. Each seemed to be going on some definite errand and there was an air of assurance about them all that bespoke training.
Fearing recognition, we kept as far away as possible from all groups of cadets. We crossed the broad level grass plain and continued our way until we found ourselves at Trophy Point, though we did not at that time know the name of the spot. Here we were very mach alone and to our hearts’ content could glory in that beautiful “view up the river,” which beyond doubt surpasses any river scene in this or any other country.
It is said that there are three questions that a cadet asks
of every girl who comes to
Here also were relics of the Revolution in the shape of several links of the great chain which was stretched across the Hudson from West Point to Constitution Island during the Revolution, to prevent the passage of British war vessels up the river; trophies of the Mexican and Civil wars in the shape of rows and rows of captured bronze and iron cannon.
All this was intensely interesting to us, who had never seen
anything of the kind, and it seemed to bring us to a more intimate conception
of certain phases of our national history than all our studying had done. Here
were the actual proofs of conflict, and all about, us
were the scenes of actual strife. Old
Below us toward the north lay the siege and mortar battery, which were now objects to incite in us a martial feeling, but which later came to be looked upon as agents of the most exquisite drudgery ever invented by the designer of plebe drills. And still further below, at thee river's edge was the sea-coast battery, obsolete muzzle-loading eight-inch cannon, but to us wonderful engines of destruction.
Beyond, across the river, under the towering Storm King,
Suddenly we were brought back to the realities of the present by the loud beating of a drum in front of the large, sombre-looking, four-story granite building, which we learned later was Cadet Barracks. From our distant point of view we saw, a few moments later, swarms of gray-coated cadets pouring from the doors, and even at that distance we could see that they were armed with rifles and wore white belts over their shoulders and around their waist.
While we watched, the drum beat again and the mass of' animation instantly took definite form in the shape of four rigid companies. Then the band struck up a tune, the battalion swung into column and marched away to the graduation exercises in front of the library.
This uneasiness finally overcame our desire to tarry just a little longer, and we started back to Highland Falls resolved that whatever hardships might be in store for us, we hoped that the next time we came we would come to stay.
following our visit to West Point
“Well,” he said, genially, “how soon may I look for you back?”
“Never, I hope,” I answered. I hope the double meaning of my answer penetrated his brain, but I doubt it. I believe he ran that hotel for profit.
THE GRIND BEGINS
MY letter of instructions from the adjuant of the academy, received before leaving home, directed me to “report in person to the superintendent before .” It did not say how long before, so we made an early start, being about the first to leave the hotel.
A soldier whom we met on the street directed us to the superintendent’s office, on the second floor of the headquarters building.
Leaving our suit cases downstairs, we proceeded upstairs, where we found half a dozen candidates already waiting at the door of the adjutant’s office, he being the officer to whom we really were to report. An orderly directed us to fall in at the end of the line. One by one those ahead of us went in and emerged a few minutes later by another door.
At last my turn came. I walked in briskly, but with my knees trembling and my heart beating audibly, and presented myself at the desk where sat a tall, severe-looking officer in uniform. I handed him my letter of appointment, which he glanced at hurriedly, and then, running his finger down the printed list in front of him, he checked me off with a blue pencil.
“That’s all,” he said, scrutinizing me closely for a second. “Go downstairs and wait until you get further instructions.”
Without a word on my part I turned and made my exit, glad that this was over. I went downstairs and out on a small porch, where were gathered those who had gone before me. All wore a more or less apprehensive look and none seemed inclined to hilarity.
Presently a natty-looking cadet, with a couple of V-shaped black stripes on his sleeves, appeared and proceeded at once to assert his authority.
“Turn out, you candidates!” he ordered in a tone which denoted that immediate obedience was expected.
Without hesitation we all proceeded to obey and meekly followed him out to the walk in front of the building.
“Fall in in column of twos!” commanded the corporal, for such he proved to be, though to us as well as to himself he seemed a most important personage.
“Column of twos” meant nothing to any of us and we showed it in a dozen different ways.
“Squad, halt!” shouted the corporal in high disgust, and again we were perplexed at the new and meaningless words.
“You two, stand here,” he said, indicating the two candidates nearest him, “and the rest of you fall in behind, and be quick about it.”
alacrity we obeyed. Such is authority. He was a mere boy, younger than many of
us, and one whom we had never seen before, and yet here we were jumping to do
his every bidding without question and with more promptness than we had ever
obeyed a word of command before in our lives. It is in us all, this respect for
authority – or is it fear to combat it? – and no matter how strenuously the
free American citizen asserts that he wouldn’t “be bossed around by somebody no
better” than he is, I have yet to see the newcomer at West Point who took that
view of the situation after he got there. And if it isn’t
“Forward, march!” came the sharp command of the corporal.
We started off raggedly, many of us stepping clumsily on the heels of the boys in front of us.
This we had learned meant to suspend all signs of animation instantly.
“Now, when I say ‘March!’ everybody step off with the left foot, understand?” Then, a moment later, “Forward, march!”
This time things
went better, and at last we were under way. Without doubt there is no more
hopeless, helpless-looking sight in the world than a drove – no other word
expresses it – of candidates in tow of a yearling corporal for the first time.
They are a misfit aggregation from every corner of the
We were having our first lesson in that school of quick results, the school where no bridge joins the status of instructor and that of pupil save that of official relations, and where the former is not dependent on the latter for a livelihood.
As we started across the wide paved road, the corporal strutting beside us, as only new authority can strut, we passed immediately in front of a carriage which had just drawn up in front of the building.
“Keep your heads and eyes to the front!” shouted the corporal to those of as who had dared to glance at the vehicle. “Come off that gazing about in ranks!”
Instantly every head and eye obeyed, but not in time to
prevent a sight of
To ascend the first rung of the ladder of military fame from
the step of a victoria is not calculated to create a very desirable impression,
and I saw at once that
During the next hour events happened rapidly. We were conducted to a room on the first floor of the eighth division of barracks which was used as an office by the cadet officers in charge of candidates. Here the corporal, with a very military salute, reported us to a very impressive cadet, older than himself, who wore his chevrons above the elbow, a cadet lieutenant, as we soon learned. He took no notice of us apparently, except to give us a sweeping glance with a pair of cold, passionless eyes.
Here our names were recorded and we were assigned to quarters, three of us to a room. These assignments were made by another corporal, very much like the one who had conducted us over to barracks.
The manner of reporting here to this office was somewhat different from what it had been in the adjutant’s office. After being arranged in single file, the boy in front standing directly in front of the table which did duty as a desk, something like the following conversation took place:
“What’s your name, Mister?” This from the corporal on duty at the “office.” The one who had brought us over had returned to headquarters for another lot of victims.
“Gentry. Paul Gentry,” replied the first boy in line.
“No, it isn’t,” declared his interrogator, emphatically; “your name is ‘Mr. Gentry, sir,’ and will be for just one year, if you stay here that long. Understand? Now, what’s your name?”
“]Mister Gentry, sir,” confessed the boy, meekly.
“That’s a little better. Now get your heels together, draw in your chin, straighten out your elbows, draw up your stomach, and say it again, and keep your eyes off me!”
The effort to comply with all these strange demands at once resulted in a ridiculous stiffening of arms and straining of the muscles in general. The result, however, was fairly satisfactory, and then the next question came:
“Where are you from?”
“Well, then, you’re from
“Now say it all over again, and keep your eyes off me!”
One of the greatest crimes a candidate or a plebe can commit is to permit his gaze to linger on an upper classman’s countenance, provided that individual becomes aware of the fact.
After “Mr. Gentry, sir,” had been allowed to pass on, we all, one by one, went through this ordeal of questioning, bracing and keeping our eyes straight to the front, divulging our names and the States from which we hailed. It was well for us that there were no fond friends to see our first lesson and that all who did see it were in the same boat and therefore took it seriously.
We faltered and forgot the necessary “Mister” and “sir” sometimes, and suffered uncomfortable delay in getting away as a result. These words are the most important words in a plebe’s vocabulary and were impressed upon us with an emphasis that was lasting.
Burton, “Mr. Gentry, sir,” and myself were assigned to a room together on the fourth floor of the adjoining division and as soon as the assignments were all made we were marched in a body to the Cadet Store, as the supply department of the academy is called, and there we were each issued a mattress, a pillow and other bedding, a chair, a broom, a galvanized iron pail, a dipper the bowl of which was made from a cocoanut shell, and a corrugated mirror.
These articles were issued to us to be used during the period of our candidacy; to be returned in case we failed on our examinations, and to be retained for our use in case we should pass. According to the requirements of regulations, each candidate must deposit one hundred dollars on reporting, this amount to be placed to his credit if he remained, and returned to him with the amount of his board while there deducted in case he failed to enter. This deposit, in my case as in many others, had been made directly from home, though several made the deposit in person on reporting for their equipment.
Since time immemorial, candidates have been called “beasts” and the time spent in barracks during examinations was known as the period of “beast barracks.” To me it seemed that this expression could only have been invented by some one who had been through it, for no one else would have thought of a name so appropriate. Candidates now are spared this trial almost entirely, for the examinations are now held at the principal army posts throughout the country, and “beast barracks” is no longer a crucial period of a cadet’s life.
A printed list of “calls” was given us, which we were to follow absolutely. Reveille would be at in the morning and breakfast half an hour later. Dinner would be at one and supper immediately after retreat parade, in which, needless to say, we took no part. There were no cadets in barracks, the two classes remaining after the graduating and furlough classes had departed had moved to camp the day after graduation. We were separated from them by several hundred yards of benevolent distance and by the strictest prohibition against their coming to barracks. Needless to say, we had no desire to go any nearer camp than necessary.
Although we were far from being cadets and many of us never would be, yet we were to be subjected to the strictest military discipline from the start. We would be allowed to leave our rooms only when necessary, and then we must report our departure and our return to the corporal on duty in the office below, and that was not a very delightful prospect, considering our first experience.
After “dragging” our bedding and other articles to our room, another corporal gave us a lesson in piling our bedding and preparing the few things we had for inspection. These inspections would be frequent and at no stated times. We would be required to leave our rooms in proper condition at all times. There was a prescribed place for everything, and everything must occupy its prescribed place. The official “Blue Book” was distributed, one to each room, to serve us a guide for arranging our rooms according to regulations.
The corporal taught us to stand “attention,” which position we were to assume and retain when any cadet officer or the tactical officer in charge of the instruction of new cadets should enter our rooms.
These tactical officers, or “tacs,” as they are known among the cadets, are army officers, graduates of the academy, who are detailed for four years to have charge of the military instruction of the cadets, and are the bêtes noires of cadet life. They seem to be sleepless, intuitive and soulless, ever present where they are least to be desired, and generally timing their inspections so that they occur at the most unwelcome hours.
Scarcely had we been left alone in our room when the second squad came struggling up the stairway with their paraphernalia from the cadet store. So overawed were we by the strangeness and strictness of everything about us that we had closed the door, oh, ever so gently, when the corporal departed, and feared even to look at the others.
“How do you like it so far?” queried
“I’m not ready to say just yet,” I replied guardedly. “It might be worse, though I don’t just exactly see how. I don’t think we’ll forget very soon the things we’ve learned already. By the way, how do you suppose all this’ll strike our friend Dawson?”
In a few minutes, while we were still discussing what was in
store for the arrogant son of the Commonwealth, we discovered in a very unexpected way that it had struck
A widow in the room across the hall was pulled down violently from the top, and immediately we heard in loud and voluminous tones the words: “Mr. Dawson, sir! Mr. Dawson, sir!! Mr. Dawson, sir!!!” being hurled forth against the forbidding granite walls of the gymnasium, toward which our windows faced.
We opened our door very slightly and tiptoed across the hall
to see if possible what this peculiar performance was all about. On entering
the other room, we saw the redoubtable
Presently we heard from the hall below: “That will do, Mr. Dawson. Come downstairs,” and we recognized the voice of the corporal whose business it was to record the names of the new arrivals and to teach us what our names really were and how to say them.
“What’s the matter,
“None of your business what’s the mater,” retorted Dawson, savagely, “but I’ll get even with some of these upstarts before I get through with this place, or I’ll know the reason why.”
“Haven’t been hazing you, have they?” persisted
“I said it was none of your business, didn’t I?” he shouted. “Now then, you fellows, tend to your business and I’ll tend to mine,” and with that he flung from the room and went downstairs.
Plainly he would not discuss the matter, and, besides, he did not have time, for he had been ordered to come “downstairs.” We found out later that Burton had hit the nail squarely on the head, for, when reporting, Dawson had tried to get familiar with the cadet officers, informing them that he had been through the whole thing elsewhere, and, also, that he was not supposed to put any “Mister” and “sir” on anything when speaking to them. By methods which were not made public, however, he had been induced to go to the top floor of the adjoining division and shout his name three times so loudly that it could be heard in the office below, and to shout it as he had been instructed to say it, and never again when asked what his name was for him to answer as he had on reporting: "Dawson, Amherst, ninety –” This he had done until the lieutenant sent word that his name, properly enunciated, had been heard.
the whole class having reported by this time, we were formed in line in the
area of barracks, which is the cinder-covered enclosure surrounded by barracks,
We entered last and were assigned seats at tables far enough removed from the “yearlings,” as cadets in their second year are unofficially termed, not to be molested.
We ate ravenously of the excellent dinner before us and had scarcely finished when the first captain gave the order for the battalion to “Rise!” after which we were again formed and marched back to barracks.
After reaching our room,
Suddenly a sharp knock on our door brought us up standing like an electric shock. Although oar bodies were at rigid “attention,” our eyes wandered toward the visitor, who was our friend of the morning, the corporal who had escorted us from headquarters.
“Take your eyes off me,” he snapped, looking at all of us at once, it seemed. “Don’t you know better than to be gazing about at inspection? Keep your eyes to the front.”
After a critical examination of everything in the room, and requiring us to repile our bedding and rearrange everything in the alcove and clothes-press over and over, he seemed to be more pleased than when he first came in.
“Rest!” he commanded, but none of us moved a muscle.
“Rest!” he repeated. “Come oft that bracing and get back to life!”
As we relaxed our set position and resumed an attitude of restrained naturalness.
“What are you boning there?” he inquired, pointing to the book lying open in front of me.
“Arithmetic, sir,” I replied, having by this time found out that “to bone” is theWest Point equivalent of the verb “to study."
“Having any trouble?” he inquired, his tone very much modified and approaching civility.
“Yes, sir,” I admitted, "a good deal, sir."
I had learned already the value of that word “sir,” and knew that to use it too frequently was impossible.
“Well, let’s see where the trouble is,” he suggested, in an encouraging tone, pulling off his white gloves and seating himself in my chair.
In a few minutes we timid boys had grown somewhat less ill at ease and had become the attentive pupils of our heretofore severe and haughty superior. Carefully and clearly he went over the knotty problems which had been perplexing us and had incidentally given us many useful hints as to what was required at the examination and how to make our solutions clear as well as brief, which meant a saving of time.
Surely this was a side of
“That fellow’s all right, I don’t care what anybody says,” declared Burton, when the sound of our visitor’s footsteps on the iron stairway told us he had passed beyond hearing, “and I expect in the long run these other things we are learning will be as valuable to us as the arithmetic lesson.”
“Yes,” I agreed, “but his way of teaching arithmetic seems to me a lot more civilized.”
We continued our studies unmolested until parade time, when we were assembled in the area, in military formation, the roll was called and we were subjected to a most rigid inspection of clothing, shoes and linen. We were required to wear our coats buttoned at all times. After the inspection we stood at “parade rest” until the retreat gun over in camp was fired, announcing that it was dismissal time. After a few minutes’ rest, we were marched to the mess hall again for supper.
Our evening was spent in study and at our rooms were again inspected, this time by the “tac” in charge of us, and after this inspection we were permitted to make down our beds. At “taps” was sounded, three taps on a drum, at which time we must have all lights out and be in bed for a dark-lantern inspection made by the cadet officers, and woe be to the candidate upon whom the shaft of light should strike and he be not in bed. After the strenuous day, however, I do not think anyone had any desire to remain up after the time came to go to bed.
Long before reveille next morning three wide-awake boys sat on the edges of their beds, fully dressed, waiting for time to “turn out.” With that ever-present fear of being late which is the horror of the candidate or new “plebe,” we had wakened half an hour before time, piled our bedding, swept the floor at least twice, dusted everything we could see and were now listening for the summons from below, “Candidates, turn out promptly!”
Presently the boom of the reveille gun over in camp was followed by the reverberating din of fife and drum in the hall below, which we had not expected. We rushed from the door and joined the swarm of candidates that came pouring from the three divisions in which all were living. How different was everything from any day we had before spent in all our lives. From rising in the morning to going to bed at night, there was nothing that we were now compelled to do that we had ever done before, yet we were rapidly adjusting ourselves to the new condition and requirements, and, strange to say, I believe we all liked it. It all had the fascination about it of being different, and there was the novelty about it all that appealed to our desire for new experiences.
SOON after breakfast we were marched in squads of ten to the cadet hospital, an imposing granite building, set well back from the road on a well-kept, sloping lawn, where we underwent a thorough and critical physical examination from head to feet, and including both. Three dignified and severe-looking army doctors conducted this examination, and, while they said little, they recorded much about us on blank forms and said nothing as to their findings. No doubt they had to make liberal allowance for rapid pulses, occasioned by the excitement incident to such a searching inspection.
The remainder of that day we passed uneventfully in study, preparing for the mental examinations which were to begin the next day. Our rooms were inspected twice, but we were not bothered as we had been the day before, being left to our studies practically without interruption.
Notwithstanding our long day we awoke the next morning as we had the day before, and our rooms were ready for inspection when we should have been sleeping. How different were those mornings from later days, when our senses became so finely adjusted that we could sleep through the shriek of fifes and the rattle of drums outside our doors and not be aroused until toward the final notes of reveille, when we would literally spring into our clothes on the run and dash into ranks simultaneously with the sounding of the final note!
Eight candidates were found to be physically disqualified by the surgeons and lost no time in getting away. I believe many of as more or less envied them, for the moment, their prospect of freedom which was soon to be theirs again.
Our mental examinations were written, the first being in
history. A sad, yet valuable, lesson was taught us that day which, I think, had
its everlasting effect on all of us. One boy, whom I remember seeing at
It meant much to this boy, who did not know how unsparingly
such things are looked on at
Day after day, with the exception of Sunday, when we were marched to chapel for an uncomfortable hour and a half, the examinations continued. Some were hard and none were what would be called easy, and it was a pleasant thought when they were at last over.
It is a wonder that anybody passed the reading examination. We were sent in squads of ten to the examination hall, where were assembled, in full military regalia, the academic board, mostly composed of gray-haired celebrities who had been pointed out to as by
the cadets over us and who always spoke of them with bated breath.
Before these august personages we must get up and read from a book or newspaper; a simple enough task ordinarily, but in this case one sufficiently terrifying to cause the quaking knees of the frightened candidate almost to double under him, and to cause the most simple words to stick in his parched throat and come forth finally in broken, hollow and unnatural sounds. One boy, I remember, was rejected on account of an “impediment in speech” which we all attributed to nothing more than temporary fright.
In spite of the orders prohibiting upper classmen from coming to barracks while we were there, they managed to evade this order very frequently, much to our regret. They watched for us in the bathrooms and gave us a taste of what was awaiting us when we came to camp.
We were required to tell stories, sing songs, and do the “slide for life,” as it was called. This consisted in sliding, in a sitting posture, across the wet tiled floor of the bathroom, evidently much to the delight of those who had so slidden the summer before.
“How far do you think you have got, Mister,” one of the yearlings would inquire.
“I think I’m about to
“Newburgh!” he would exclaim, “why, you haven’t passed Cold Springs yet. Keep it up.”
These and other ingenious devices kept us from feeling neglected and aroused in us the question as to whether we really wanted to go to camp or not, but the doubt never took definite form in my mind. I had come to stay, no matter what happened, and if others had stood it, I could.
Finally the day came when the results of the examination were to be announced. We were sitting uneasily in our rooms, as we had been for the two days since the exams were finished, when the electrifying order which always brought us up standing was heard in the hall below:
“Candidates, turn out promptly!”
We tumbled downstairs and were lined up in single rank in the area. In front of us stood the adjutant of the academy, the officer to whom we had reported that first day, with a paper in his hand.
“Those whose names are called,” he announced, “will step two paces to the front.”
Then he began calling names alphabetically, and slowly a new rank began to form in front of us. I had a long wait before he reached the “K’s.” My knees shook and trembled in spite of my efforts to keep them steady. With exquisite anxiety I heard the adjutant slowly approach my place on the list and then pass on to the ones below me without reading it.
A crushing weight seemed lifted from me and I felt like rushing from ranks in my exultation. I had passed, and was now sure of becoming a cadet.
Then it came over me with a chilly, sickening shudder that we had not been informed which rank was which. What if those whose names were called were the ones that had passed. My anxiety came back and I suffered anew at the possibility.
When the process of division was at last completed, the adjutant folded up his paper and pronounced sentence on the waiting groups.
“Those whose names I have read,” he said, “have been found deficient on their examinations, and as soon as they have turned in the articles that have been issued to them they will be permitted to return to their homes. Those whose names were not read will be admitted to the academy.”
That was all. No words of consolation for the unfortunate, no congratulations for those who were to remain. An entire absence of sentiment marked the whole proceeding, which meant so much to so many.
When we broke ranks all was confusion. The unsuccessful ones bore their disappointment with becoming fortitude and those elected to stay endeavored to hide any signs of gratification over their success. After hurriedly carrying their bedding and other equipment to the cadet store and receiving their deposit money, less a small charge for board, those who had been “found” packed their belongings, said a few good-by s, and departed with the utmost haste.
For those of us who remained, one hundred and five in all, events happened rapidly. Study and examinations were over and our military instruction was to begin without delay. First came the fitting to put us in cadet uniform, the thought of which was a delight to us. How we had grown to despise our tightly buttoned “cits,” as our civilian clothes were called, and how we longed to see them safely stowed away in the trunk room! Of coarse we had to take what was an approximate fit until uniforms could be made to our measure, but still, it was a uniform and the fit mattered not.
Two pairs of gray flannel trousers, a gray blouse, a cap and two pairs of uniform shoes were issued to each of us, and we were ordered to lay aside our “cits” at once. We were still far from an attractive aggregation, but still we were an improvement on the composite extraction from North, East, South and West that we had been, with our widely different styles of clothing.
Next day we were marched in a body to headquarters, where,
at the rate of twenty-five cents per head, we were required to raise our right
hands and enter into a binding contract with the
DELIGHTS OF DRILL
DRILLS began immediately, four hours daily being devoted to learning the rudiments of military education. Our drillmasters were cadets from the upper classes, to each of whom were assigned eight “new cadets,” as we were now to be known officially, though we were habitually to be known as “plebes” then and for the next year. It did not seem possible to us that these wonderfully wise individuals who directed our every step could possibly have been as “wooden” and “gross” one year ago as they declared we were today and that we could ever arrive at their stage of proficiency seemed absolutely incredible.
And we were wooden, too, woefully so. The impatience our drillmasters exhibited was pardonable, I have no doubt. Back and forth, round and round, we went, an awkward, perspiring lot, mercilessly criticized and relentlessly urged to “wake up,” objects of interest, amusement and compassion to the many visitors and excursionists who loitered in the shade of the trees to watch us, shade that would have been so grateful to us had we been allowed to enjoy it. I thanked my stars that no relative of mine was there to see me at that time, and sympathized with those whose fond parents had come on to see their sons launched on their military careers.
In about a week after I had written home of having passed
the final barrier which lay between me and the goal of my ambition, I received
a letter from Virginia, congratulating me on my success and saying how much she
would enjoy seeing me in my new uniform and having me show her some of the
attractive walks and shady nooks in which West Point abounded and of which we
had talked so often after I received my appointment. I smiled as I read her
letter. “Attractive walks, shady nooks indeed! Maybe there were such things,
but they were not for such as I. Bared of the novelty of romance,
Also I knew that I was anything but an attractive object in my mew uniform, and in many ways I lacked the confident assurance that a real ideal cadet should have. Whenever we went we must force our shoulders back farther than they had ever been before we must not swing our arms, an we must depress our toes in walking until they dug into the cinder covered area, and our chins must be drawn in and our stomachs drawn up, until it was a hardship to leave one’s shelter and go forth into the open.
I was thankful for the hundreds of miles that separated me from Virginia, and resolved that if I could help it she should not become aware of just how unimportant an individual I was in the world about me, and hoped she would continue to picture me the trim-figured, natty cadet of the story book, a pleasant delusion, but an exploded theory.
Some days after our instruction in drill began, we were divided into squads according to efficiency, and to the further advanced squads were issued rifles, with which we were given instruction in the manual of arms, and drill under arms. We had known that this separation was to come sooner or later, and it was the object of everyone to avoid the awkward squad, or “goats,” as the least proficient are called.
Barton and I escaped the “goats” by a good margin, but our friend Dawson, whose path had been anything but smooth since his arrival, was not so fortunate. The unpardonable offense which he had committed by arriving in a carriage on the day he reported was not to be forgotten, and he was daily reminded of it and promised a merry time when he got to camp. His attitude all along had been one of injured insolence, and now, to his chagrin, he was further insulted by being put in the last squad. Much as he hated this distinction there was no appeal from it until he worked himself up by his own efforts.
“I’ll get even with somebody for putting me in the goats,
all right,” threatened
“Who’ll you pick out as the object of your wrath?” inquired
“It’s that little upstart of a corporal, Leighton, who did
“Well, if he’s nobody,” said I, “Lord pity the rest of us.”
“I’ll fix him, just the same,” growled
As a matter of fact Leighton, he who had assisted us with
our arithmetic lesson, had had nothing to do with
Whether or not
When I reported my departure for a bath that afternoon,
When I returned half an hour later, Dawon was still standing
on his box, perspiring handsomely, while the corporal to whom I reported my
return was reclining comfortably in a chair, feet on the table, reading a
magazine. How much longer
THE FOLLY OF FAME
AFTER about two weeks of incessant drilling, with and without arms, learning the “setting up” exercises, marchings and manual of arms, we received four pairs of white duck trousers each, and next day the order was published for us to move to camp, where the first and third classes had been ever since graduation. The second class divas on furlough until August 28, enjoying the vacation which comes at the end of the second year’s course.
It is the policy at
Moving to camp was a great event. We were assigned by the order to companies, according to our height, the taller men going to companies A and B, the shorter to C and D, there being only four companies at that time. We had never been near the camp, alway s giving it a wide berth when enjoying out brief respites from duty in the way of walks about the post. Camp was the Holy of Holies which we dare not even approach until sent there to live. Set well over toward the river, partially shaded by large maple trees, the white tents gleaming in the sun, and the brisk, natty figures moving about, or sitting on the visitors’ seats, basking in the admiration of one or more feminine adherents, there had always been a glamour of enticing uncertainty as to what the inner life would be from a plebe’s standpoint.
We were desirous of the change, yet most apprehensive. The conspicuousness of our position galled us and we longed for the time when we would be absorbed in the white-trousered battalion, no matter what the price. We hated the living in separate quarters, eating at separate tables, and, above all, being marched to and from the mess hall, conspicuous as a separate organization.
We took with us to camp our personal belongings and bedding, with the exception of mattresses. Neither mattresses nor cots were allowed in camp at that time, though cadets are now furnished with folding cots. Our beds were the hard tent floors, padded only with the scant bedding with which a plebe is furnished.
It was not a haven of refuge into which we marched, as, armed with brooms, buckets and bedding, we toiled across the hot, gravel-covered cavalry plain, across post number one, and were lined up just outside the forest of white tents, laid out in eight parallel rows.
Immediately we were surrounded by an inquisitive horde of upper classmen, looking us over and indulging in the most personal remarks, which to them seemed mirthful, but to us were utterly devoid of humor; in short, they acted as if we were so much live stock herded together for their inspection and purchase. In this chaffing no words were addressed to us; we were merely the objects of comment, apparently devoid of personality.
I could scarcely suppress a smile as one inquisitive yearling shouted to one of the corporals over us:
“Did you bring Mr. Dawson over with you, or is he coming over in a carriage later, with the ‘Supe’ and the ‘Com’?”
The “Supe,” as the superintendent is known, is the commanding officer of the post and its most sacred personage. Second only to him, is the “Com” (commandant of cadets), who has direct control of affairs concerning the corps of cadets only.
Soon we were assigned to companies and to tents. Being
allowed to choose our tent mates, as far as practicable,
“You’re getting that all tangled up,” said a voice at my elbow, as I was trying to sling a “stretcher” from the ridge pole of the tent. “Let me show you how to do it.”
To my surprise, there stood an upper classman just outside our tent, one whom we had never seen before, offering his assistance. These stretchers are canvas-covered frames, hung by short ropes from the ridge pole of the tents, and on which are piled different articles of clothing. Everything not kept in the wooden floor lockers is kept there.
Entering our tent, with no further ceremony, the upper classman proceeded to direct and assist in the most efficient manner the setting of our tent to rights. Soon he was joined by another of his class, and together they soon had our tent ready for the most critical inspection, bedding piled in the corner and rifles and dress hats all in their proper places.
This familiarity warmed me with something akin to emotion
and only my memory of the arithmetic lesson deterred me from extending thanks
and introducing myself and Barton. It was just as well I did not. That custom
of helping plebes get settled was only the calm before the storm, and the
lesson we learned that day was used during the weary months that followed in
keeping in order the tents of the men who had been so kind to us. They chose
Much as may be said against this custom of the upper classmen using the plebes as special duty men, some of the most lasting friendships in the army today are those between men whose acquaintance began under these circumstances. An upper classman would never allow another to impose upon his special duty man, and his tent was always a haven of refuge from annoyance. To him he always bequeathed his white trousers and extra dress coat and other needful articles which a plebe can acquire in no other way. Sound advice and wise counsel were always gladly given, and a plebe always felt that there was one person to whom he might go for guidance and receive valuable assistance.
My front rank “file,” the man behind whom I stood in ranks, was a yearling named Savage, and well did the name suit him, as it seemed to me then. My pride at being at last in the battalion and permitted to march with the corps to dinner, wearing white trousers and looking as near like other cadets as a plebe can, was seriously damaged during our march to dinner that first day.
On the way to the mess hall I found myself continually stepping on Savage’s heels, each time drawing forth from him a threatening grumble, promising me all sorts of dire calamities if I did not “come off walking up his back.” I began to wish I had not been absorbed into the battalion, at least behind Savage. Of course, I dared not even glance down, for there were three vigilant corporals in the file close behind me, exerting much vocal effort in shouting to all of us plebes, individually and collectively, to get our shoulders back, “more yet,” to “drag in” our chins and to stop swinging our arms, to keep our “heads up” and eyes “straight to the front.” Unless you have perspired your way across a sizzling barren plain, bracing yourself almost to prostration, with three or four barking corporals hanging on like wolves behind you and shouting that oft-repeated, never-satiated “more yet,” you cannot appreciate what a long distance a half mile is.
On reaching the mess hall I began a stammering apology, but was interrupted with the assurance that I would “catch it” when we got back to camp, which assurance did not add to the pleasure of my dinner. I did not know that my apparent clumsiness was due to Savage crossing one foot over the other as he walked, for the sole purpose of annoying me.
When we returned to camp I had my first lesson in the sign language. A short, heavy-set yearling entered our tent, and as we stood at rigid attention, held his doubled-up fist close to my face, his thumb sticking straight up in the air.
“Well,” he said, after a moment’s silence, “sound off.”
“I don’t know what it means,” I ventured, meekly.
“Sir!” he prompted, sternly.
“Sir!” I repeated.
“That means ‘what’s your name?’ ” pushing his thumb a little closer.
I told him my name and he instantly twisted his fist ninety degrees to the right. This I learned was a mute inquiry as to the State from which I came.
Another turn of the thumb to the left signified a desire to know the name of my “pred” – i. e., the man who had last represented my congressional district at the academy. Next the inquisitive thumb was turned directly downward, which I learned was an inquiry concerning my “P. C. S.,” which, literally translated, meant my “previous condition of servitude,” or my occupation previous to entering the academy.
“Schoolgirl, eh?” sneered my inquisitor, when I informed him that my last occupation had been going to school.
“What have you got there?” inquired another cadet, coming up to our tent at that moment.
“This is Mister Kingsley,” answered our first visitor.
“Ah, ha!” cried the newcomer, with apparent delight. “Mister Gordon Kingsley, eh, from
My heart sank My notoriety had preceded me. Where once I had gloried and expanded in the limelight of eulogy and praise, I now shrank from the thought that I was in some way to reap the harvest of that ill-advised write-up in my home paper.
Billy appeared, and in his hand he bore a newspaper clipping. I gasped and tried to gulp down a rising lump in my throat as I recognized it to be a copy of that hateful eulogy in the Emporia Republican, all neatly pasted to a piece of cardboard. Imagine my depression when I was informed that I was to commit to memory this column and a half of journalistic flattery, which had been such a source of delight to me a short time before, and be prepared to recite it on request, with appropriate gestures.
How they obtained possession of a copy of the Emporia Republican was more than I could fathom, and something I dared not ask, but there it was and no mistake. I learned later that a brother of one of the cadets had seen the article and had sent it as a joke. If there was any joke about it, I failed to see it then.
During the next two months I believe I recited my praises, as set forth in that article, on an average of six times a day, accompanying my recital by sweeping gestures, until I made a resolve that my first official act, if I ever got home again, would be to hunt down and slay that reporter, if it took dynamite to carry out my purpose.
On the morning of the Fourth of July we awoke to the strains
of patriotic airs, played by the
ON GUARD – CAMP LIFE
A DAY or two after the Fourth we were “marched on guard” for our first tour. How we did “spoon up” for that event. The upper classmen helped us too, for there was a certain rivalry as to which company should turn out the best appearing plebes at guard mounting. We, who had been chosen from our companies, were delighted that we had advanced far enough to go on guard.
The cadet adjutant, who officiates at guard mounting, exerted all his efforts to find something we had overlooked, and he succeeded admirably. He found dust on our rifles where there could not possibly have been any; he found a belt too long here, a spot on a cartridge box there and shoes not properly shined all the way down the line. To the yearlings who were in the guard detail he paid but little attention.
At last it was over. The old guard had presented arms to us as we marched past them to the guard tent, the sentinels had been relieved and we went to camp to carry our bedding to the guard tent, where we were to be on duty for the next twenty-four hours. Two hours out of every six were to be spent on post, of which at that time there were six. We had studied our orders for days before, yet we spent a large part of our time during the day “boning guard manual” and our special orders.
All went well until night. My third tour on post was from until two in the morning. I felt a weight of responsibility as the countersign was turned over to me and the corporal gave the word “No. 5 Post,” and the relief with measured tread marched off in the darkness toward the guard tent, leaving me alone in my glory on No. 5.
As I paced back and forth in the fading moonlight, everything about me shrouded in solemn stillness, I felt very much a soldier. I thrilled at the responsibility that was mine. How a sentinel could ever sleep on post was beyond my comprehension. I was on the alert for the half-hourly call of “All’s well,” which sounded so like the war times I had read about.
After a while I heard it, clear and distinct: “No. 1, half-past .” This was repeated by Nos. 2, 3, and 4, each adding the words “And all’s well.” In my loudest and bravest tones I repeated their call, loud enough to be heard by No. 6, whose form I could see dimly under the gaslight at the other end of his post. No sooner had the words left my lips than suddenly and without warning half a dozen ghostlike figures rushed toward me from the nearby line of tents and surrounded me, cavorting gayly, but uttering no sounds. I was dazed and frightened out of my wits. My orders fled from my mind like shadows, and I stood helpless, speechless.
All at once I felt a rope about my waist, and before I could attempt to release myself I was drawn to a nearby tree and wrapped round and round, hand and foot, until I was as securely bound as was ever a victim to the stake.
I was then relieved of my rifle, without resistance, I admit, and as suddenly as they had come my assailants departed, leaving me alone and powerless. I was ashamed to call for help, also I dreaded the consequences, and tried every effort to extricate myself, but without success. The corporal of the guard, who I have always suspected was not far off when I was tied up, appeared a few moments later and gave me a round “cussing out” and assured me that the lightest punishment I could hope for would be summary dismissal when the proof of my negligence had been brought to the notice of the “Com.” “Sleeping on post” and thereby losing my rifle was not an offense to be treated lightly. No assurance of mine would convince him that I had never been wider awake in my life.
After releasing me he told me where I would probably find my rifle, and after warning me against any further neglect of duty; he went his way. I found my rifle where he had suggested, and in fear and trembling paced my lonely beat until , when I was relieved. The monotony was relieved by a visit from the officer of the day, the officer of the guard and the sergeant of the guard, all of whom had heard of my misfortune and who agreed with the corporal that my case was a serious one.
Nothing came of the occurrence, of course; in fact, if it had ever come to the attention of the “Corn” I would have been much less liable to punishment than any one else. Frequently that summer we were molested in the stillness of the night, but never did I take my troubles as seriously as I did that first night when I found myself, an armed exponent of military vigilance, hopelessly and. helplessly tied to a tree.
The mornings in camp were taken up with drills of various kinds, company drill, battalion drill, mortar battery drill, and drill with the field guns without horses, known as standing gun drill. The upper classes went down by the sea-coast battery, and built pontoon bridges. Due to the fact that they wore their oldest clothes to this, they called it “pants” drill; at least, that was said to be the reason. We who had to haul the heavy field pieces back and forth and “right” and “left,” longed for the time when we might have something easier or more interesting to do.
Mechanical maneuvers and P. M. E. (practical military engineering) looked attractive, to us too, for in the former was taught the art of mounting guns temporarily, the advantageous way to use block and tackle and other mechanical devices for military purposes. In P. M. E. the art of making hasty entrenchments, gun pits, temporary fortifications and obstacles such as wire entanglements and abbatis, revetments and palisades, was taught, and in all this we could see something worth learning. In fact, anything seemed preferable to the daily drudgery which our drill schedule prescribed for us.
One hour a day was devoted to either swimming or dancing lessons, these two exercises falling on alternate days. In the former we were instructed by the athletic director of the academy and were required to qualify by swimming a prescribed distance in a prescribed position. We enjoyed the sport, and went swimming voluntarily whenever opportunity offered.
In dancing we were under the tutelage of an antiquated
German dancing master from
“Von, two, t’ree, von, two, t’ree. Oh! stop, stop! Dat will nefer do. Now vatch me!” and he would glide noiselessly through the waltz steps with a grace remarkable for one of his age. Then back again he would send the awkward beginner to follow round and round the white-lined diagram until dancing likewise became a drudgery.
There was no set standard to be attained in dancing and no danger of being found deficient, but to this day I can see that diagram on the bare floor of the large examination room where we danced and hear that German voice say in hopeless despair:
“You are a goot man, but you cannot dance. Rudolph, poot hem on de square.”
The music was furnished, as I remember, by a clarionet, a cornet, a violin and a ’cello, three-fourths of which were generally in action at a time, while the fourth player was enjoying a good sound nap.
In later years we all became more or less proficient through voluntary practice in the art at which as plebes we were failures, but there is a different incentive when one has a charming partner than when the girl’s part is danced by another plebe with a white hand-kerchief on his arm.
TO me, one of the most interesting places about
Here we frequently went when enjoying our S. A. P., as “Saturday afternoon privileges” are known in cadet language, this being the only four hours of the week when a plebe has freedom which he may enjoy as his own. Unmolested we could explore the ruins and casemates of the old fort and the woods all about, or sit and watch the softly-gliding boats on the river and the swiftly-moving, though to us noiseless, trains on the shore beyond, and for me it was ever an inspiring panorama to watch. Sometimes we would fall asleep and enjoy a well-earned respite from the strenuous life of the camp so far below.
Thus it was that we came to look with dread and misgiving on anything that might work to deprive us of our S. A. P. The “skin list,” posted each afternoon on the bulletin board and later read at retreat parade by the adjutant, often spelled our doom for the coming Saturday afternoon. Eagerly each day did we scan this “skin list” to see if our names were recorded there and if the report was such as would deprive us of oar half-holiday. All the delinquencies were reported there that had been sent in by cadet officers and “tacs” during the preceding twenty-four hours. Each report meant demerits and many of them “cons,” that is, a certain number of hours’ confinement to camp on Saturday afternoon, which latter came hard on us especially. The demerits did not count so much, for the authorities are rather lenient an plebes in this respect, and it was then the rule that when we went to barracks after camp that all plebes should have their demerits remitted.
Among his classmates,
One day, when Dawson had not been out of camp for two Saturdays past and was in a fair way to get his holiday, the skin list for the day bore the following entry: “Dawson: Smoking in tent about four-thirty p. m.”
Such a skin was not at all unusual, and I thought nothing of
it until after supper, when
When a plebe ventured into a company street other than his own he was commanded from all sides to “get ’em back,” “finn out,” and to “drag in” his chin more than when in his own street, which, needless to say, was sufficient.
On reaching my tent,
“Kingsley,” said he, going at once to the subject which was weighing on his mind, “I’m going to call out that man Leighton, and I want you for my second.”
“Why, what’s up?” I inquired, not remembering for the moment the matter of the smoking skin.
“He’s been skinning me regardless here lately, and now he’s got me in ‘con’ for the next week for smoking. I’m tired of the whole business, and I’m going to fight him.”
“If that’s the way you feel about it, that’s the best thing to do, I guess,” said I. This was the customary way to settle grievances at that time, and if he felt his self-respect demanded it, there was nothing else for it.
Real or fancied wrongs were settled on the field of honor by a regularly-arranged and scientifically-conducted bare fist fight by rounds. Duly accredited seconds generally arranged the details. In case the disagreement merged from a personal matter to a class matter, then the presidents of the classes arranged matters and selected their representatives, who very often were men who had had no part in the quarrel whatever. The only requirement was that the two principals must be within ten pounds of the same weight.
I could not but experience a feeling of admiration for
“Are you certain he skinned you?” I inquired.
“I feel pretty sure he did, but whether he did or not, he has skinned me so much that he has caused others to be on the lookout. It’s got to come sooner or later, and I’ve decided that now’s the time.”
I could see that the ignominy of his first days in beast barracks was preying on his mind, and I realized that he would feel better and also would have a better standing with the upper classes should he show that he was man enough to support his convictions. The smoking skin really had but little part in the matter. It was a case of defending his self-respect.
“What do you weigh?” I inquired, this information being necessary to see whether he and Leighton were eligible under the code to fight each other, or whether Leighton’s class must select someone to fight for him.
“One hundred and forty-two, stripped,” said
“All right,” I said finally, “I’ll see Leighton right away and see what he says.”
I braced my way to Leighton’s tent and knocked on the tent pole. He was reclining on a pile of bedding, smoking.
“Come in,” he said, in answer to my knock.
I stepped in, still bracing, and kept my eyes straight to the front. After gazing at me a minute, he said:
“Well, sound off, Mister.”
“I’ve come to see you on a matter between Mr. Dawson, of my class, and yourself, sir,” I replied, hesitatingly, scarcely knowing how to broach the subject.
“Sit down,” he said at once, at the same time offering me a cigarette. “I’ll send for Mr. Baird and you can make any arrangements with him.” He needed no further explanation of my errand than I had given him. His manner toward me had become one of business, and he dropped the usual arms’ length attitude of upper classman toward plebe.
“Mr. Olden,” he called to a plebe in the tent across the company street, “give my compliments to Mr. Baird, and ask him if he will come down here a few minutes, and while you’re gone suppose you drag me a can of ice water, and step out about it.”
Olden was a very close friend of mine, but on the present occasion no word or sign of recognition passed between us. It was all in the unwritten book of cadet etiquette which governed every move and every occasion. Olden merely said, “Yes, sir,” and, picking up an empty can that had once held sweet crackers, he was gone.
When Mr. Baird came he looked surprised to see me seated in Mr. Leighton’s tent, but he did not address me.
“Mr. Dawson has called me out, Baird,” he said, rising. “Mr. Kingsley has come to arrange the scrap. I weigh one hundred and thirty-five pounds, and am ready any time.” There was no emotion or feeling in his voice as he said this, and after slipping on his blouse and throwing his half-smoked cigarette into the drawer of his locker where it would not betray him, he went out.
Our arrangements were soon made. No substitutes were
necessary, and there was no choice of weapons.
The fact that a fight was to take place, as well as the time and place of the encounter, was kept very quiet, as it was not well to have such things generally known. There was then, as there always has been, a type of cadet known as the “post spoonoid,” through some of whom such things often reached ears for which they were never intended. The “spoonoids” would tell the girls and the girls would tell the officers, and many an escapade has been nipped in the bud, or at a worse time, due to information spread by this method.
There were six of us in all who, singly and in pairs,
slipped quietly across the post of sentinel number three when he was not
looking, in the early dawn of that July morning, and disappeared behind the
sodded parapets of
No time was lost in preliminaries. Leighton and Dawson stripped to their waists, and, clad only in gymnasium trousers and tennis shoes, stepped quickly into the ring, a square marked on the ground with a sharp stick hasty hand shake and the fight was on.
For a time,
The second and third rounds were much the same, though a
trickle of blood from
When time was called at the beginning of the fourth round,
By the middle of the sixth round
“All over. Leighton wins,”
announced the referee, and we picked
As soon as
“I’ve been a fool, I suppose,” said he, “but I’m satisfied now. I’m whipped, but the thing is settled. I did what I thought I ought and did it as well as I knew how. I’m glad we had the fight and I’m glad it’s over.”
“You had the backbone to stand up and fight when you felt you had not had a square deal,” continued Leighton, “and that’s better than going around with a grievance. You’ve lost nothing by it, and you’ve shown us that you’re the kind of a fellow we admire here.”
In these few words he summed up the reason why such affairs were countenanced for so many years. The custom was, in a measure, winked at, because it was the one manly avenue whereby a cadet could obtain redress for wrongs, real or imaginary, and not go to the authorities with his personal grievance. He was able to defend his self-respect by his own means.Dawson was a sorry sight as we helped him “run it” back into camp and to his tent, while aside from a couple of skinned knuckles and some bruises on the body, Leighton did not look like he had been in a fight.
Owing to his unpresentable condition, I braved the
Officer-in-Charge, the tac on duty for that day, as
soon as reveille was over, and asked permission for
“Why doesn’t Mr. Dawson come himself and ask permission?” inquired the Officer-in-Charge. “Isn’t he able?”
“Yes, sir, I suppose he is able,” I replied, uneasily; “but we thought it would be better for me to come in his place.” I feared he might press me farther, but he carefully refrained from placing me in a position where I might have to tell more than I cared to. He knew all he wished to know without being inquisitive.
“Very well, he may go,” said he, and after I had saluted and started away, he called after me and added: “And you may go with him, Mr. Kingsley, if he desires you to.”
“Very well, sir,” I replied, and continued on my way to
An amusing side of the affair, as well as an example of the
general attitude at that time toward such occurrences, is shown by the way the
“What’s the matter, Mr. Dawson?” inquired the surgeon, smiling over his glasses at the pitiable-looking object before him. “Did you run into a post?”
“Yes, sir,” answered the pummeled
“Very well. Steward,” said the surgeon, “take him into the hospital, and mark him on the book, ‘contusions.’”
When he reached the bed where
“Oh, by the way, Mr. Dawson, your post is downstairs.”
It is plain to be seen that this once prevalent custom of settling differences was not seriously frowned upon by the authorities, but prearranged fights are now very serious offenses and have been for several years. At present, when a cadet feels that he has been provoked to the fighting point he must fight at once and have it over with. This has done much to promote a better feeling among the classes, and has almost banished personal encounters from the institution.
IN BARRACKS AT LAST
SLOWLY but steadily the days slipped by until the end of
camp was in sight. How eagerly we looked forward to that time! True, we would
take up studies which would be new and difficult for most of us, but we felt
that anything would be preferable to the life we were leading. Hazing, we knew,
would not stop until we broke camp, and, although it
had not then reached the excesses that characterized it in later years, we had
learned the lesson it was intended to teach, and whatever benefits were to be
derived from it we had received. It had helped many a humored son of wealth to understand that at
The hazing we received was, for many of us, beneficial when not carried too far. In the last few years the practice has been stamped out, and time will tell just what advantage has been derived from its being abolished. It was dangerous in that it could not be recognized, and, therefore, not regulated.
We plebes, however, could see nothing but misery in it all, and anxiously awaited the day when it should all be over. Personally, I longed for the day when I should say for the last time that hateful eulogy of myself, taken from the Emporia Republican, when I should “drag” my last bucket of water for Savage, and make his bed, sweep his tent floor, and change the linen in his dress coat, and polish his rifle no more.
These and a hundred other duties had been mine during the long summer, and every other plebe had done the same. We had all been at the beck and call of upper clansmen in general, and our own taskmasters in particular. If we left a match in the company street after policing, not one, but four plebes would be turned out to “drag this log of wood” away. Those who were fortunate enough to possess musical talent were spared much of the labor meted out to the rest of us.
On the other hand, the upper classmen defended their special duty men against imposition by others. They always allowed as to include ourselves in making lemonade for them, and loaned us their best white trousers when we went on guard, and would often assign us nominal tasks whereby we could sit in their tents and “deadbeat a soirée,” as the gatherings of plebes for the amusement of the upper classmen were called.
Often we grew homesick and longed for the sight of some face we had known before we came to the institution. At such times, letters from home cheered, and, at the same time, depressed us, breathing encouragement to us and confidence in us to succeed in our new work, and at the same time telling of persons and places familiar and dear to us at home.
If it were not for the anticipation of the future,
And Flirtation Walk! That was the place we had all read
about and had pictured ourselves strolling down the shady narrow paths which
How different was everything from the pictures we had conjured up in oar minds from reading stories of West Point, and how much more practical was our knowledge now of the affairs pertaining to cadet life than were those who had written the misleading stories for such as us to read.
“All these things we used to read about cadets in the
And he was not far from right.
A week before the end of camp we had the annual “camp illumination” in honor of the coming event. Tents were decorated, festoons of cedar swung from tent to tent and hundreds of Chinese lanterns gave a touch of festivity to the scene that was entirely out of keeping with the usual appearance of camp.
Temporary fountains played in the company streets and in bunting draped booths musically inclined cadets furnished music on mandolin and guitar. Every assistance was given by the officials in the way of furnishing transportation for the evergreens and other decorations.
The camp was thrown open to the friends and relatives of the cadets and the families and visitors of the officers on the post. In addition to the cadet musical talent the academy orchestra played throughout the evening on a platform located between the two center companies.
It was a gala affair and one enjoyed by every one, even the plebes. Next morning all hands went to work restoring camp to its wonted military preciseness, and by all traces of the previous night’s celebration had disappeared.
On August 28 members of the furlough class returned, making their entrance to the post a noisy one indeed. According to custom they marched up the hill from the station in a body, shouting their class yell incessantly. They were met at the top of the hill by the first classmen and yearlings, who proceeded to make their arrival the occasion of a general attack on straw hats, neckties, and civilian attire in general. After the victims had been made as disreputable looking as the greetings of their friends could accomplish, they assembled on the chapel steps to have their pictures taken by the ever-present “Barney,” who has officiated thus on this occasion during all the many years he has been taking photographs at West Point.
From there they went directly to the barracks, donned cadet uniforms once more, reported their return to the adjutant and were back in harness again for their anal two years’ grind.
On the 29th we broke camp. Early in the morning, wagons were in the company street to receive our belongings and to transport them to barracks. Precisely at , the “general” was sounded, the signal to prepare to “strike tents.” Guy ropes were loosened, except at the corners, loops were detached from the tent pegs and two cadets stood at each tent, steadying it at the uprights.
Five minutes later, a single tap on a drum gave the cue to let go the corners, a second tap gave warning to get everything clear to let go, and at the third all tents in camp came down simultaneously, falling in the same direction.
It was an impressive ceremony, in a way, for it meant an end
As soon as tents were struck we swarmed over them like bees, folding them into neat piles for storage, the occupants of each tent trying to be the first through their task.
At half-past ten the battalion was formed, and, headed by
the band, we marched to barracks, where we went at once to the rooms which had
already been assigned to us. We procured our bedding rolls at once and set
about getting our rooms in order.
The change from the hard tent floor to the responsive springs and mattress of an iron bed was most grateful. Our room was furnished strictly according to regulations, from the “small, inexpensive clock on the mantelpiece,” which we, of course, had purchased, to the hard-bottomed, but comfortable chairs of antiquated pattern.
We were required to have everything in the place assigned to it in the Blue Book, a copy of which must be kept on the mantelpiece. Strict simplicity is the iron-bound rule which is adhered to in barrack furnishing. Carpet-less, rugless, pictureless, rocking-chairless and sofa pillowless, they form a strong contrast to the ordinary room of the college student.
Each cadet has his alcove, in which, in specified order, hangs his uniform. His bedding is piled each morning, blankets, sheets and pillows being arranged neatly on top of the folded mattress. The occupants alternate weekly in caring for the room, sweeping and dusting and carrying water, and are responsible that everything is in order at inspections, of which there are two daily, morning and evening.
At the week-day inspections, the occupants of the rooms may be absent at recitation or any other duty which requires their presence. If they are present they may be dressed in fatigue uniform, or if the inspection is made after in the morning dressing gowns may be worn.
On Sunday, however, it is not so. At this inspection cadets must be present and must wear their best dress coat, immaculate white gloves, and the room must be in condition to receive the most critical inspection. The “tac” slights nothing at Sunday morning inspection and rarely does any defect, however small, escape his practiced eye.
On this occasion, he is accompanied by the cadet captain of the company, who keeps a record of all skins and submits them to the “tac” for change or augmentation the next morning. Seldom, if ever, does a skin escape the retentive memory of the cadet captain, though he carries no memorandum pad. It is his business to remember and he does it, and should he forget to enter a akin, no doubt the tac would remember that identical one and skin the captain for forgetting.
There is a story of an incident which happened to a first classman when I was a plebe which shows how impossible it is generally, to fool a tac. It is their business not to be fooled, and cadets forget sometimes that all tacs have themselves been cadets at one time or another and are not forgetful of the cadets’ tricks.
At evening inspection, when cadets are allowed to wear dressing gowns instead of their blouses, the tac failed to notice any trousers showing beneath the bottom of the dressing gown which one particular cadet was wearing, and rightfully deduced that he was not wearing any.
Accordingly, next evening the skin list bore the report: “Smith, L. K.: No trousers on beneath dressing gown at evening inspection of quarters.”
Smith, that night, thinking to “break it off” on the tac, put on his trousers and turned them well up, also raising his dressing gown well off the floor, so there could be no mistake about the impression he intended to convey.
As he stood innocently at inspection a while later, the tac’s gaze was at once directed toward the nether extremities of Cadet Smith, who inwardly beamed at his crafty idea.
Without inquiry of any kind, the tae after calmly surveying the situation for a brief interval, said in the most matter-of-fact tone: “Mr. Smith, stoop down and turn down your trousers,” and he calmly stood there while the chagrined Smith complied with the order and resumed the position of attention. He did not report the cadet, however, for his attempt to give a false impression, for it was not serious to that extent.
Recitations began on September 1. Reveille was changed from to , breakfast was at , guard mounting at , call to quarters at and at recitations began, and these lasted until , this time being divided into four recitation periods. Our class was divided alphabetically into sections of about ten cadets each, half of this number being at recitation and the other half at study in quarters. We attended mathematics and gymnasium in the morning and English or French in the afternoon.
There was no requirement in regard to study. We could do as we pleased in this respect – devote all or none of our time to it, just as we chose. If we did not study, and thereby fell below the standard, no one but ourselves would be the losers. The Government was giving us an education and paying us to get it besides, and there the obligation ended. If we chose to neglect our part of the bargain, well and good. Somebody would fill our place in short order.
Oar instructors were all graduates of
We had to shave ourselves and cleanly, too, for among the many things a cadet is forbidden to possess is a mustache, the others being, according to the regulations, a dog, a valet and a wife.
From ten minutes after to twenty minutes after five we had drill, and after this dress parade, being marched to supper immediately after we had divested ourselves of our parade uniform. There was precious little time we could call our own. After supper we had thirty minutes “release from quarters,” followed by an evening of study. Sentinels were posted in the lower halls of barracks and no one was permitted to leave or enter the division without reporting “all right” to the sentinel, an official statement that his visit was a necessary one. Our rooms were inspected by each of the three sentinels when they came on post, about an hour being the length of a tour.
As in camp, if a cadet desired to ran it out he would take any risk to avoid being seen by a sentinel, when all that would be required, if he wished to be dishonest, would be to report “all right,” and then go where he pleased. But the code of honor which ruled and still rules would not tolerate a lie, while a mere breach of regulations was not frowned upon by the cadets themselves.
At a quarter to ten in the evening the sentinels were relieved, and fifteen minutes later all lights were extinguished and our rooms inspected by cadet officers, armed with dark lanterns, to see that we were “all in.” Only these inspectors and officers of the guard could burn a light until half-past .
From this schedule it may readily be seen 'that from reveille until taps the time which we could call our own was a negligible quantity.
The attitude of the upper classmen toward the plebes had changed materially since we came to barracks. While there was no familiarity between them, and the indispensable “Mister” and “sir” were just as much in evidence as ever, we were allowed to pursue our narrow way unmolested. We were free to ask assistance on any knotty problems in our lessons, and such assistance was always cheerfully given. In fact, I have often known a yearling to devote time which he actually needed for his own lesson to helping a plebe over some obscure point, yet such relations did not for an instant bridge the gulf that separated them.
Days followed each other rapidly, and
An unusually difficult algebra lesson was more than we could master in the time allotted, so we decided to blanket our window and study after taps. The blanket prevented any light from showing and we felt secure on that point, but in order to hear the approach of the “tac,” in case he should inspect, we left the door very slightly ajar.
This open door proved to be our undoing. The “tac,” passing along the walk in front of barracks, noticed this strip of light and also evidently noticed that the window was dark. At his inspection a few minutes later, occasioned no doubt by what he had seen, the blanket had been hastily removed and the light extinguished, while Burton and I, feigning peaceful slumber, watched through our half-closed eyes to see what he would do. Aiming a beam of his dark lantern under my bed, he discovered that all the shoes were neatly arranged along the foot of the bed; hence he deduced that there must be another pair somewhere about.
“Get up, Mr. Kingsley,” he ordered, “and go to bed properly.”
I did not move. At this he turned the lantern full on my face and held it there. I stood it for half a minute probably, then I could feel a sheepish, dry grin over-spreading my countenance. I was caught, and very cleverly, too.
Slowly I rose up and sat on the edge of my bed, fully dressed except for my blouse.
He said no more to me, turning his attention to
As a punishment for this infraction of the regulations we were given “two tours of extra duty” for having our window blanketed, three tours for being in bed with our clothes on and one tour for “light burning after taps.”
These six “tours of extra duty” meant walking the area for six hours on Saturday afternoon, equipped as a sentinel. We generally walked two hours each Saturday, beginning after inspection. It is a thing calculated to bring a smile to the face of the visitor at West Point, as he stands in the area any Saturday afternoon and watches the cadets on punishment tours walking briskly up and down their beats, keeping to the requisite three and one-half miles an hour gait, but it is no laughing matter to those who are thus forced to spend their only half-holiday during the week shut up within that cheerless enclosure, while, perhaps, a football game is in progress on the plain just outside.
EXAMS AND HOLIDAYS
LITTLE happens to vary the life of a plebe in barracks. He goes his little narrow way, mingling only with members of his own class. He speaks to upper classmen only when spoken to, and were he to meet one or two of them while out walking no sign of recognition would pass between them, and should he be alone and overtake an upper classman, likewise alone, it would never occur to either to become company for one another. Like going to the hops, that is something that never has been done, and nobody can imagine what would happen in case it should.
Often the lonesomeness of being a plebe was softened by a
little blue envelope lying on the hall floor when I came back from gymnasium.
They always contained the latest news from home and
The picture I had promised had been duly taken and sent, and it was the typical plebe picture, stiff and uncomfortable in a tight dress coat which had grown tighter since it was made. Plebes generally expand under the healthy diet and regular habits, and their dress coats seem to shrink accordingly.
Cadets are not allowed to have money in their possession, it being considered that they are sufficiently supplied with this world’s goods by the powers that be. Against their salary are charged all necessities that may be allowed them on their regular monthlyrequisitions, and by submitting a permit credit to a specified amount may be contracted with the photographer and the confectioner, and it was by this method that I procured the permission to have my photographs taken.
But there never has been, and I trust there never will be, any way of preventing fond parents from enclosing a couple of small bills in an occasional letter with which to vary the monotonous existence with a few contraband delicacies, known in cadet parlance as “boodle.”
One of the things which goes hard with the new cadet is being his own barber, as far as shaving is concerned. It is a new experience to many, and the result is oftentimes disastrous, but all must learn, and the habit once formed there is very apt to last through life.
Once a cadet, who was left-handed, was vaccinated on his left arm, which soon rendered his arm unserviceable for shaving. He submitted a permit to be shaved by the barber. The permit was referred to the commandant, thence to the superintendent, thence to the surgeon, back to the commandant, and, I believe, to the barber, and finally when it reached the cadet “approved” his arm had gotten well and he had shaved himself. That is as near as I ever knew a cadet to come to being shaved by anyone other than himself.
In the mess hall, three and sometimes four plebes were assigned to each table, each table seating ten cadets in all. One plebe was the “gunner,” and sat at the end of the table, opposite the upper classman known as the “commandant” of that table. The other plebes sat on either side of the gunner, and were known as the “water corporal” and “milk corporal” respectively.
The duty of the gunner was to serve the soup and to see that the waiter, one of whom served two tables, kept the table well supplied with bread, butter, and vegetables. The others served the water, milk, cocoa and coffee.
It is also the duty of one of the plebes to “sound off” the number of days until June each morning and sometimes at each meal, June being the time looked forward to most impatiently by all. To the first classman it means graduation, to the second classman it means going into his last camp, where he will have things as nearly his own way as he ever will. To the yearling June means furlough, of which he only has one during the four years’ course, and to the plebe it means emancipation from the grind of the long year of obscurity and the crossing of the threshold into the realms where he will amount to something and have a standing in the world.
The duty of making this announcement fell to me at our table, along with the responsibility of being gunner.
One evening at supper I was ordered to “sound off.” It was unusual for me to make the announcement more than once a day, and I was taken somewhat by surprise.
“Table, attention!” I commanded. “One hundred and sixty-seven days until June, sir. Rest!”
The word “Rest” had scarcely left my lips before two yearlings fairly shouted: “What’s that, Mister?”
“One hundred and sixty-seven days till –”
“No, sir!” broke in one of them before I had finished. “You’ve tied that up pretty frigid. It’s only a hundred and sixty-six. D’you s’pose I want to be kept here one more day than I have to? No, sir!”
“Let’s have Mr. Kingsley qualify on prunes, and maybe he won’t ‘ball up his speck’ again for a while,” suggested a second class-man, which suggestion was at once agreed upon as a just one.
Accordingly, the prone dish was ordered replenished, and I set to work on the contents. By actual count I consumed one hundred and ten prunes that night, and from that day until the 1st of June the exact number of days was on the tip of my tongue on all occasions. I need not emphasize the fact that from that day to this, prunes have not been to me the most acceptable article of diet which may be offered me.
As time wore on, new terrors rose before us. We were rapidly approaching the January examinations, the time of the greatest weeding out of plebes. Several of our class had seen the futility of trying longer to keep their heads above water and had resigned to avoid being “found.”
“Failing eyesight” is generally the cause given at home for
severing connection with the military academy. Such may sometimes be the cause,
but I do not recall any case just now. I once heard a woman lamenting how
harshly her nephew had been treated at
“Just because he couldn’t learn to swim in a certain way,” she declared, “they sent him home.”
I looked up hie case a. couple of years later and the academic records assign a different cause for his departure.
Recitations ceased several days before Christmas and examinations began at once. The lowest sections were called up first, except to the written examinations, and then the whole class attended in a body.
An atmosphere of unrest seemed to envelop the whole corps. Even those high in their class wore a concerned look, and those who
were on the “ragged edge,” so to speak, seemed to lose interest in everything – we even lost our appetites.
At the time of which I write everybody stood examinations, while now only those who have failed to make a certain per cent on
daily recitations must submit to the ordeal.
l remember the nervous shock I experienced when the officer of the day came into our division and announced in ringing tones, “The seventh section, fourth class mathematics, will be formed at half-past eleven.”
I glanced at the “small, inexpensive clock.” Ten minutes,
and there were a thousand subjects, it seemed, that I would give anything just
to glance at again. I squeezed into my tight dress coat, drew on a pair of new
In a few minutes the word was given to form the section, and after our section marcher had made his report to the “O. D.,” as the officer of the day is habitually called, we stepped off at his command and were on our way to our first examination as cadets.
Entering the large examination room, we were in the awesome presence of that all-powerful, unrelenting, yet ever just, personage, the professor of mathematics. His face was always kindly, in a sense, but from it beamed a coldness that sent shivers down the back of every plebe whenever he came into the section room. On this occasion other members of the Academic Board were grouped about him in the form of a semi-circle and at smaller desks were the instructors of his department. He, however, combined all the terrors at that time, and it was he only whom we feared.
Four or five cadets of the previous section were still at the blackboards, nibbling crayon and racking their brains in abortive attempts to solve the problems before them. As, one by one, they finished, an attendant cleaned the boards with a large wet sponge, and we were called to the desk to draw our subject from among the many slips of paper lying face down in front of our instructor.
When my turn came I marched up as confidently as I knew how and drew my subject. Fearing to look at it, I walked hastily to the board assigned me. Carefully removing my gloves and laying them in the tray, I wrote my name in the upper right hand corner of the board, as required, and then slowly turned the paper over to see what I had drawn.
On that paper I felt largely depended my future career. If I failed, a second and a harder subject would be given me, and then, failing in that, a “writ” would be in order, which, according to tradition, about one plebe in twenty-five passes.
Fearfully I scanned the neatly-written slip. My heart jumped with joy; I had drawn two problems, both of which I had solved correctly less than a week before. With frantic haste I covered the board with my figures, fearful that I should forget the solutions before I could set them down. Then, after verifying my work, with what calmness I could muster, I drew on my gloves, picked up a pointer, and stood attention, facing the professor.
“You may proceed, Mr. Kingsley,” he said, seeing that I was ready.
I walked to his desk, handed him the slip I had drawn and returned to read my results and to explain my method of solution. At each result my instructor announced “Correct,” and after a couple of unimportant questions by the professor I was allowed to depart.
I fairly rushed from the room, so great was my delight at
the outcome, and it scarcely seemed that in such a short time my fears of
failure had been set aside by practical assurance that
Not that the other examinations were not hard, but I stood well up in my class in both English and French, and besides, but a small percentage of plebes were found, as a rule, in anything but mathematics.
Examinations over, we were granted release from quarters for a large part of each day. This time we spent either in skating, in the gymnasium, or in the library. The upper classmen went coasting, but there were not enough bobsleds for the plebes to enjoy the sport. We skated on the reservoir, the large artificial pond above the post, and occasionally on the river.
The upper classmen were permitted to ride on the road, and thus enjoy a brief respite from the atmosphere which seemed to stifle us with its monotony and grind of discipline.
By a prearranged plan with my parents and with the
“policeman,” Jansen, he who scrubbed our floors, washed our windows and swept
the halls of our division, a Christmas box was to be sent me in his care at
On the second day before Christmas, just after we returned to our room after reveille roll-call, under a beautiful starlit sky, the heavy-footed Jansen came plodding wearily up the steps, and on reaching our room, he drew from one of the large waste water cans suspended from the yoke over his shoulders, the long-anticipated box.
“You’ve maxed it cold,” I said to Jansen, enthusiastically, slipping a one dollar bill into his outstretched protesting palm. “I guess we’ve ran this bunch of boodle past ‘Old Gum Shoes’ all right without being hived.” “Gum Shoes” was our tac, and filled his position right satisfactorily, as far as he was concerned. At the very moment that Jansen had carried his precious burden into the division, Gam Shoes was standing on the elevated stoop in front of his office in the guard house, watching reveille formation.
“When’ll you open it?” inquired Barton, eagerly.
“Better have it to-morrow night,” I re-plied, “for we’ll have a big dinner in the mess hall Christmas and won’t be very hungry that night, I guess.”
“Where’ll we keep it?” queried Barton, anxiously. The matter of secreting a box of this size in a room devoid of closets or other darkened places was not a small one.
“What’s the matter with the chimney?” I suggested, after a moment’s consideration.
“Just the place,” agreed
On the following morning during inspection of quarters, our
room bore no suggestion of the unauthorized festivities which were to take
place that night. The room was in perfect condition for inspection, and when
the tac entered our room, two more unoffending plebes
Imagine our discomfiture and chagrin, if you can, when Gum Shoes, after a cursory glance about the room, slowly walked over to the mantelpiece, picked up our corrugated mirror and held it face up, beneath the opening of the fireplace, far enough in to reflect the hidden box reposing quietly in the chimney.
“Take that box down, Mr. Kingsley,” he said, glancing at the orderly board to see who was responsible for the condition of the room.
Nonplussed for the moment, I hesitated and then meekly complied.
“Does it contain contraband articles?” he inquired, looking it over. Luckily for Jansen, I had removed the tag bearing his name.
“I haven’t opened it yet, sir,” I replied, guardedly.
“Have you a permit to receive it?”
“Take it to my office and remain there until I come,” he ordered, and left the room.
That was as near as we came to having our Christmas feast. The box was confiscated and what became of it I was never informed. Suffice to say, I walked six tours of extra duty and received six demerits for “having contraband articles concealed in chimney at morning inspection of quarters.”
I did partake of the contents of another box, however, which
had been sent to a classmate of ours.
Of all bleak, cheerless places in the world,
And to a plebe, barred from the Dialectic Hall, where the upper classmen congregate after supper and during release from quarters to read and smoke and build air castles, the season is almost unbearable. On the outside the biting winds and heavy snows make winter sports unenjoyable, and the only recreation offered to us was the gymnasium, the library, and an occasional band concert. To have a holiday season under these conditions was worse than having none at all, and we were all ready for recitations to begin again before they did.
Christmas leaves of from one to three days were allowed to those upper classmen whose discipline records warranted it, but this privilege, like all others, was not for the unrecognized plebe. He had no rights and was supposed to consider himself lucky to be allowed to live.
A day or two before New Year’s the list of “finds” was read in the mess hall at dinner. Twenty of our class had fallen by the academic wayside, and in company with eight or ten from the upper classes, left the post that same afternoon. They had all expected to be “found,” and I may say that some who were not, had not been resting very easily. Some were despondent, some were defiant and resented the stigma, as they felt it to be, and others seemed glad to get away. Their going was both a spur and a warning to us who had “pulled through.”
That winter we attended our first military funeral. The day was, happily, rather warm, but a heavy snow made walking on the roads difficult. It being the first experience made it a very impressive ceremony to us plebes.
A retired general of renown had died somewhere in the West
and his body had been shipped back to
The coffin, enshrouded in the American flag, was borne from the little chapel to the caisson, while we stood facing that edifice at present arms, and the band played a dirge. The caisson was a springless, heavy wheeled wagon, with no covering above the platform to which the casket was strapped. On top of the coffin were the chapeau, full dress belt, epaulettes and sword of the general. Close behind the caisson was a sombre-looking black horse, saddled and bridled, and led by an orderly. Thrown across the saddle was a pair of riding boots with the toes in the stirrups, pointing to the rear.
We formed column, and the procession moved with slow and measured tread toward the cemetery, the band playing the funeral march. The way was long and a sharp north wind blew in our faces, but that mattered not. At the cemetery, after brief services conducted by the chaplain, the body was lowered and we fired three volleys with blank cartridges, after which a trumpeter stepped to the head of the grave and blew “taps.”
Immediately this was over we formed column again, the band struck up “King Cotton,” a Sousa march very popular at the time, and to the stirring strains of this lively tune we swung at a rapid pace back to barracks.
It seemed heartless and brutal thus to have all the solemnity of the ceremony thrust aside in an instant, but in the end I suppose it is the best. At any rate, it was according to prescribed regulations for such occasions. The necessary respect for the dead had been shown and now it was “on with the dance” for the rest of us.
All cadets must attend divine services once each week, on
Sunday. With the exception of the Catholic Church squad and a few who pinned
their faith to some other special denomination and who attended churches in
A few members of the first class, were fortunate enough to be assigned the coveted seats in the choir loft, which, on account of lack of seating capacity, were utilized by several not members of the choir. Here could be had, with but little danger of discovery, some much desired rest and an occasional nap. They were mach envied by those below, who, in stiff collars and tight dress coats, fought the fight against sleepiness, which seemed to pervade the whole atmosphere.
To me the interior of the chapel was ever interesting and impressive, and I never tired of reading the names that adorned the marble tablets which almost cover the walls, and in afterward reading in the library of their valorous deeds. These tablets bear the names of our more illustrious soldiers from the Revolution down to our more recent wars.
There also, in glass-fronted niches in the walls, are the only British flags in our possession to-day, as well as several small brass howitzers, which are likewise British trophies. Repeated efforts have failed to recover these mementos of the loss of the colonies, for they constitute probably the most priceless treasures of capture in this country.
The tablet erected to keep green the memory of
It is somewhat amusing to see people point to this tablet
and say that after his treason
GRADUATION – BACK IN CAMP
THE last six months of a plebe’s existence is uneventful; at least it leaves but little impression on one. Winter merged into spring, the plain grew green, the trees budded out, and almost before we knew it we were on the homeward stretch to June. We plebes began now to take ourselves seriously. We would be yearlings soon. Like all the rest, I found myself throwing my shoulders back excessively when crossing the area in the hope that a discerning “tac” might see in me desirable timber for a corporal. These efforts to attract attention are known as “boning corp,” and I have yet to see the cadet who can conscientiously plead “not guilty.”
Socially the plebes make their début at the graduation hop, the night before graduation. I shall never forget the feeling of elation and consequence I experienced when Lindon Laird, a lieutenant in our company and known as a great “spoonoid” (i. e., ladies’ man), called me to him one evening when we broke ranks and asked:
“How would you like to drag a spoony femme to the graduation hop, Mr. Kingsley?”
“Very much indeed, sir,” I replied, flattered to have one of his social standing, and a first classman at that, ask such a favor of me.
Besides, I had given up my dream of having
“Her name is Miss Huston, L.,” continued Mr. Laird, “and I’ll give you the names of the men who are to have dances on her card.”
With that he walked away. Apparently neither Miss Huston, L., nor I were to have any say as to who had dances on her card, but what did I care? I was going to the graduation hop and I was going to “drag a femme”; that was enough for any plebe.
June came at last and with it the Board of Visitors. These men, selected from different walks of life, took themselves seriously, too, and used to come and hear us recite at examinations, gravely scanning with spectacled eyes the pages that were so much Greek to them. But they must have material for their report and must appear interested.
We paraded, drilled and were reviewed daily. The first class rode as a troop on the plain, and as troopers in the hall, per-forming their daredevil feats for the edification of their feminine admirers in the gallery. We had the inevitable “sham battle,” as it is popularly known, in which much powder was burned, and every principle of warfare was violated to make a show and a noise.
Nothing in my four years at
That night we who had been social outcasts became butterflies. We danced and we sat out dances in secluded corners; we made engagements for walks and hops weeks ahead; in short, we fell into the situation as naturally and bore ourselves with as much assurance as though we had not just completed a year’s exile from such frivolities. Already we were beginning to forget.
I met Miss Huston at the “ ’bus”
when it arrived from
Next day, beneath the spreading elms in front of the library the lieutenant-general of the army delivered himself of a very inspiring talk to the graduating class in particular, and to all aspirants to military honors in general, after which he presented the diplomas.
Although we had braced and “dragged in” our chins “with life” while marching to the exercises, we marched back to barracks with free and easy steps and arms swinging without restraint. We were yearlings at last.
Before we broke ranks the list of “makes” was read out – i. e., those who had been chosen as officers for the coming year. How I listened when it came to the corporals, and my delight when I heard my name read can be appreciated only by those who have gone into this formation a plebe and broken ranks a corporal. After I heard my name I heard no more until the end. When we were dismissed Savage whirled around and, grasping my hand in a hearty shake, said:
“Well, Kingsley, old man, I congratulate you. I’m almost as glad as you are. Anybody who has walked behind me for a year deserves to be ‘made.’ ”
Instantly we who had been “made” were grabbed by our classmates and hurried irresistibly to the swimming tank, in the gymnasium, and ingloriously soused, just as we were, uniforms and all, this being the method of extending congratulations. We hurried to our rooms, changed our clothes, borrowed some chevrons from those who had been corporals, pinned them on and came downstairs, radiantly happy, but trying not to show it. In the area was all confusion. New graduates and furlough men rushing about in their new, “cits,” each trying to be the first to get away and yet not miss saying “good-by” to any; friends, of whom there were hundreds standing about the area watching the animated scene. All had hasty words of greetings for us, whom they had ignored for a year. All “Misters” and “sirs” were forgotten and all past animosity melted away before the warmth of good-fellowship that abounded everywhere.
Yearling Camp, that long-anticipated joy, became a fact the
next day, and we appreciated our position to the full. No promotion in after
life can compare with the transition from plebe to yearling. Immediately we
began to anticipate the coming of the plebe class and what we would do to them.
We longed to “get even” with some one for our experience of the year before. It
is ever thus at
I wore my chevrons somewhat heavily, I fear. I remember our first picture, taken a couple of days after we came to camp. I made it a point to sit awkwardly sideways, so that there would be no question of the marks of rank on my sleeve showing plainly and fully. As we new corporals stilted our way across the plain that first drill day, endeavoring not to break the razor-like creases in our white trousers, we felt deeply our responsibility. At our sides, slipped through our bayonetless scabbards, we carried ramrods, in lieu of the swords they were intended to simulate. As for myself, I drilled my squad continuously and conscientiously for an hour, for they certainly needed it. Never, it seemed to me, had I seen such “woodenness” displayed anywhere. It did not seem possible that I had ever been so gross as those novices over whom I had control. I tried to appear as the yearling corporals had appeared to me the year previous. I fairly radiated importance and military knowledge.
But my tenure of the elevated office I held was doomed to be
short-lived. In my squad was a boy from
risks for their sakes, we boastfully “ran it out” of camp and to the hotel quite frequently, the hotel and hotel grounds being “off limits,” without a permit.
I did not allow my infatuation for the sister, however, to temper my severity toward the brother. In fact, it may have increased the rigidity of my attitude toward him, just to prevent any charge of partiality or effort to gain favor by being lenient toward him.
One night, as we four, the two sisters,
With a hasty “good-night,” we cleared the rail just as our
unwelcome friends rounded the corner of the building. As we reached the rickety
stairs which led part way down the steep incline we heard voices laughing on
the porch above us. We felt safe, however, for in the darkness we assumed that
our escape had been accomplished without recognition. For my part, I was not
sorry to make my escape, and the method of my going added a touch of romance to
the adventure which might serve to restore a wonted cordiality which had been
plainly lacking during the conversation on the piazza. As for
When we reached camp and had successfully “run it” across
number three, we congratulated ourselves that we were fortunate not to have had
a more serious experience. Imagine my surprise, then, when at parade next
evening, an order was published reducing me to the grade of private and
awarding me a month’s confinement to the limits of camp for being “off limits
on the hotel piazza about half-past eight p. m..” and
for “leaving camp without authority about the same time.” But this was not all,
nor the worst.
My admiration for the
The summer slipped along rapidly, with the exception of the month I spent in camp as a result of my experience at the hotel. The hops, of which there were three a week, claimed many of my evenings. There were numberless fair visitors, constantly changing, among whom I found healing influences to hide the wound my pride and temporary affections had suffered, and which, in the absence of Virginia, made the time pass pleasantly, though in none of them did I find any one that seemed anywhere near her equal.
“Flirtation Walk,” with its hundred ramifications, absorbed daily its quota of more or less violent love affairs. It is said that Flirtation Walk is like a sponge in that you can pour cadets and girls into it all day and none will come out, and if you go to look for any of them, they are nowhere to be seen.
Battery Knox, with its obsolete but attractive easements, traverses, parapets and smooth-bore cannon, and Gee’s Point, on the river’s edge, whence we could watch the steamboats and the long lines of canal boats lazily drifting up or down the river in tow of a snorting tug, and whence the rapidly-moving trains across the river reminded us of a phaze of civilization we had almost forgotten, were favorite spots for the more sentimental ones.
The nights on guard were impressive. Late in the evening we could hear the night boat go churning her way northward, an inquisitive searchlight poking itself here and there, lighting up the foliage, monuments and buildings with its shifting brilliance, while in the early hours of the morning the darkened hulk of a freight boat would go slipping by noiselessly, in vivid contrast to the trains which came shrieking from the tunnel which burrows under the plain and sped northward into the darkness. One evening an enormous turtle appeared in camp. On his back were carved various dates, running back to 1878, showing that this was not his first visit to camp. We tied him up until , and then with three tall candles burning brightly on his horny back, we started him down a plebe’s post. The plebe’s lusty shouts for the corporal of the guard brought also the O. D., and while they held the center of the stage, with the plebe doing a thinking part, the turtle calmly walked across the road, fell heavily over the embankment, and disappeared, never to return, to my knowledge.
The latter part of August I spent in the hospital, that haven of refuge for those who can convince the surgeon that they are in need of a rest from the strenuous schedule of drills and parades. In my case, however, a painful bruise caused by a classmate dropping a heavy timber on my foot at pontoon bridge drill was the misfortune which brought me there. But the compensation was equal to the hurt. The joy of hearing reveille gun go off and then going back to sleep was worth much, as was the privilege of going to meals without that long march across the cavalry plain. Then the idle days when I could hobble to the library and read to my heart’s content were delightful indeed.
One Saturday afternoon, near the end of camp, as I was seated near one of the deep windows of the library, reading, I heard voices in the large room adjoining. I jumped to my feet in an instant, forgetting, I fear, the fact that I was still lame, and leaving my cane leaning gainst the back of my chair, hurried to the door through which the sounds came.
Yes, it was she. Virginia and her mother were there in the large room of the library.
“Hello,” I said. “Are you looking for somebody?” Rather a foolish remark, but I had to say something.
They turned and saw who it was and both advanced to meet me.
“Come and sit down,” I said, when the first greetings were over and I had been turned first this way and then that, in order that they might inspect me thoroughly.
“What’s he doing here?” I managed to inquire of
“He’s on his way back to school and came on East with us,”
“I am still on sick report,” I explained, “and am supposed to be lame.” I was mentally crippled for the moment, though, and I fear my depression of spirits took form in my exaggerated limp.
They were all glad to see me, apparently, and I enjoyed hearing all the news from home. While we were talking, the first drum for dinner sounded, and I explained that I must go back to the hospital, though they insisted that I should dine with them at the hotel.
Regulations forbade such a treat, however, and after watching the corps march by from camp to mess hall, I bade them good-by, and promised to meet them in front of the chapel after dinner. On the way to the hospital I sent word to Burton by one of the drummers of the drum corps that some friends from home had arrived unexpectedly; and that I wanted him to come to the chapel after dinner and also have Mr. Churchill to come out on S. A. P. Mr. Churchill had the honor of being my special duty man.
Soon after dinner we were all assembled at the appointed
place, and by a little maneuvering I managed to turn Mrs. Abbott over to
On Virginia I accordingly bestowed myself, and we all set out in diferent directions, Burton to show Mrs. Abbott the beauties of the view up the river and the relies on Trophy Point, Chester and Mr. Churchill to such points as plebes were permitted to wander, while Virginia and I strolled toward Flirtation, the shady, secluded walk which she had so often expressed a desire to see, and which I was so delighted to show her.
The afternoon passed most pleasantly for me, and I may say
profitably, for there was much to be said that could not be written.
When we met again,
“Oh, I say, Virginia,” said Chester, as we all strolled toward the riding hall, where we must bid them good-by, “Mr. Churchill has asked me to come up next June to the graduation exercises, and I think it would be real jolly if we should come up to the graduation hop together. It is quite well worth going to, so he says.”
“Yes, I think so too,” replied
“Special duty men are good for something besides making
lemons and cleaning rifles, aren’t they'” said
“Yes,” I said; “and a good friend comes in mighty handy sometimes, too.”
FVRLOUGH AND SECOND CLASS YEAR
I DID not return to duty until after the corps was back in barracks, but I attended recitations from the hospital during
the first week of the fall term. Analytical geometry and French claimed our morning hours, while the afternoon was devoted to drawing. Our days were full. In fact, I believe that the first two months of the yearlingyear were the busiest of the whole course.
ln November we began riding, our
attendance alternating with drawing. Those of us who had ridden before enjoyed
the instruction immensely when we became hardened to it, but I used to pity the
poor fellows from the cities, many of whom had never been astride a horse, as
they trotted around the cheerless riding hall on a stiff-legged, bareback
horse, holding on with their heels and grasping their mount’s mane with their
free hand, the pained expression on their faces bearing eloquent testimony to
the torture they were undergoing both in body and in mind. Many
a time I have known a half-exhausted rider to slip gently to the tanbark
covered floor and get reprimanded for falling off, just to gain a few minutes’
respite from his rough-gaited mount. Even before Christmas we began
making our plans for furlough, still more than six months away. We dreamed our
dreams and pictured ourselves at home again, enjoying a summer of rest and
pleasure among those who longed for our coming. To me it seemed that I had
always been at
Winter came and went without anything to relieve the monotony of the steady grind, except the January examinations. I had been fortunate enough during my second year to gain perceptibly in class standing, and the examinations had not held for me the terrors they had the year before. In April we ordered our class rings and anticipated impatiently the time when we should be entitled to wear this insignia of our status. About this time an incident occurred that typifies the spirit of honor which prevails in the corps that I feel is worthy of record. First, it must be understood there are two things which a cadet will not tolerate or do himself – lie or steal – in fact, indulge in or countenance anything that savors of dishonesty. He will break regulations galore, but will not take undue advantage of a permit. The former is something the authorities are supposed to thwart, but the latter is frowned upon, because a cadet’s word is never questioned by those in authority.
In the case of which I speak a plebe had missed his best blouse on his return from a few days’ stay in the hospital. He obtained permission for the sentinels to look for it when they inspected barracks in the evening, but without result. He suspected a classmate very strongly, and finally went to the president of his class and stated his loss and suspicions. The plebe class president reported the matter to the presidents of the three upper classes, and together the four went to the suspected plebe and asked to see the blouse he had on.
The name, which is printed on the tag sewn in the back of the blouse, was obliterated with ink, but close inspection proved beyond question that it was the missing blouse. After consultation, the four cadets who were authorized to act for their classes in such matters gave the guilty cadet just twenty-four hours to submit his resignation to the superintendent or else have the matter reported to the same authority. He gladly accepted the terms laid down and promptly resigned. I do not know what reason he gave for resigning, but whatever it was, there was no delay in its being accepted. So sure and swift had been his punishment that it was not until after he left that the real cause of his departure became known. I have never known another case of theft at the academy, though there are no locks on any doors and cadets have free entrée to each other’s rooms at all times.
As furlough drew near, we who were looking forward to it, grew more and more impatient. We rehearsed the songs for
our class dinner, which was to take place at the Murray Hill Hotel in
June came at last, bright glorious Jane. The world took on a new aspect, and the glamour that had faded so quickly on our arrival nearly two years before now came back with added significance, for we could now appreciate it. We were now a most important part of the world which we had then gazed upon from the outside, and we could not keep down a pang of sympathy for the candidates whom we could not fail to recognize as they lurked on the outskirts of the crowds that came up for graduation week, fearful, just as we had been, lest they be recognized and made to pay for their temerity later on.
Examinations over, we roamed at will about the reservation when we were not drilling for the Board of Visitors. Everything was just the same as all other graduation weeks had been and always will be, but to us there was something about it which made it seem that there had never been another just like this one.
A few days before graduation, Mrs. Abbott and Virginia came,
and the world took on a still rosier hue, from my point of view.
Never did any girl fall more under the spell of West Point
and its brass buttons than did Virginia, and I gloried in her enthusiasm, for
through it all I fancied that I could see that none shone brighter in her eyes
than those which adorned my swelling chest. From an awkward boy, whose horizon
seemed bounded by the city limits of
Proudly I wore the new class ring which we received from
Tiffany just a week before furlough, and prouder still was I when Virginia
expressed a desire to be allowed to wear it as a mark of allegiance to “our
class,” as she expressed it. As I looked about me and saw the change for the
better in every member of my class, I hoped that others could see in me that
corresponding change from the hopeless-looking individual I had been when I
made my first timid knock at the portals of
The graduation exercises were the same, and the confusion
accompanying our departure was just as sweat as that of which I had been a mere
spectator the year before. I donned civilian clothes for the first time in two
years, newly made, of coarse, by tailors who had been
permitted by the superintendent to come to
We drew our money from the treasurer, the savings of the
past two years, together with three months’ pay in advance, and were a joyous,
jolly crowd as we all boarded the Mary Powell and sailed away to
Our class dinner was succeeded by attending the theater in a
body, full dress uniform having been donned again for that occasion, after
which we returned to the hotel, resumed oar “cits” again, and went our devious
ways for two months and a half. I had bidden Virginia and her mother good-by at
That summer was a joy such as I had not pictured in my
fondest imaginations – a summer filled with all the delights that fond parents
and kind friends could crowd into ten short weeks.
I did not endeavor to change our status of good friendship
for one of a more serious nature, being content to hope that if the time ever
should come when I might broach the subject, I would at least be given a fair
hearing. I still had two years more of the
Almost before I could realize that the summer had passed l
was turning my steps reluctantly toward
Our return from furlough was not greeted in the boisterous manner which had been the custom in previous years. To prevent our being met and torn to pieces, so to speak, the entire first and third classes were kept down over the hill by the north dock building, the tiresome pontoon bridge which led nowhere, until after the time of our return. When they were finally dismissed we had wrecked our own hats, collars, and ties sufficiently to make a disheveled showing in our pictures, had changed to cadet uniform once more, and were in camp to greet them as they trudged wearily up the hill.
Life settled back into the old rut once more and furlough seemed but a delightful dream, all the more so now that we had awakened again. As second classmen our liberties were somewhat extended, chief among them being the privilege of riding on the road on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. On these excursions we were forbidden to dismount unless it should become necessary, and were required to keep to the main roads. Of course, there was no one to know if we observed these regulations or not, but we were required to register our departure and return in a book kept in the guardhouse for that purpose, and our signatures on this book were taken as certificates that we had played fair.
When New Year’s came we decided that we would celebrate; that is, some of us did. To this end we decided that we would put the reveille gun on the tower of the academic building and fire it off at . We took it apart after taps on that cold New Year’s eve and dragged it piecemeal across the snow-covered plain to the edge of the area. To get it to the roof of the building we must depend on the freight elevator, and to reach it we must get into the building by a steam pipe tunnel leading from the power house.
The night was dark, except for the snow on the ground, and
we were working by the light of a dark lantern belonging to
Our only safety lay in flight of the most immediate description. The officer approaching was the officer in charge returning rather late from the officers’ club to his office in the guardhouse. When he reached the spot where the dismantled gun lay and saw the evidence of the prank he had interrupted he undoubtedly felt pleased at his happen-so shrewd-ness.
On reaching our room,
“By Jimminy, I ran away and forgot my dark lantern.”
This was serious, for an inspection was most certain to be made at once. Without divulging my intention I left the room hastily, and when I came back a few minutes later I had a dark lantern, which I set in the fireplace, where the Blue Book says they must be kept.
“Now, don’t you ask any questions,” I said, in reply to
Scarcely were we in bed before a stealthy step in the hall was followed by the entrance of the tac. We lived in the first division and our room was one of the first inspected. His first act was to train the beam of his lantern on the fireplace, after which, with a satisfied grunt, he swept it across both our beds and departed, softly as he had come. Luckily he did not inspect shoes this time, for mine were soaking wet.
The lantern I had borrowed belonged to one of the cadet captains, who was home on three days’ good conduct leave and hence could not be accused of complicity in the scrape. Next day Burton bribed our policeman (the workman who had charge of policing our division) to buy him a second-hand lantern in Highland Falls, and he luckily found one of the exact pattern necessary, whereupon I at once returned the borrowed one to its absent owner.
That fiasco cost us heavily, though, for it was the cause of an all-night guard being instituted to walk in the halls of barracks from five in the evening until reveille next morning, and it fell on guilty and innocent alike. Those of us who were concerned were few in number, and were desirous of confessing and taking our medicine to prevent the general punishment, but the corps voted against it to a man. In fact, when an official communication was read at parade offering amnesty to all except the guilty, in case the latter would confess to their action, a unanimous vote against accepting the proposition was the result. The corps did not know who were responsible for the prank, but were glad to show their approval, and all regretted that it had failed. The all-night guard was discontinued after a couple of weeks, and the matter ended there.
During call-to-quarters there was no way of cadets passing from one division to another without going outside and thus running the risk of being “hived” by the cadet officer of the day or by the officer in charge. There were no connecting doors between divisions.
One day, Burton conceived the idea of digging a hole in the wall between our division and the next, removing the bricks from the fireplace chimney, just above the level of the brow of the opening, so that it could not be seen unless one stooped down and looked up the chimney, or used a mirror, as the tac had done the Christmas we were plebes.
To me this seemed a particularly clever stroke of genius, and we selected a room on the fourth floor, occupied by some plebes, as the most likely place to dig our tunnel. The following Sunday afternoon, we set to work at the scheme, utilizing the plebes to do the digging, and we soon had sufficient bricks removed to make a hole through which one’s body could pass comfortably.
In this opening we fastened a couple of boards, to which we tacked an old comforter and, presto! we could go to the next division with as much ease as we could go across the hall. After a little practice we soon became expert at making the passage, and all afternoon there were interested cadets passing to and fro just to see how it seemed.
After supper we sent several plebes to the room, and with the bricks carefully concealed beneath their blouses, they disappeared in the tall grass behind the cadet store and there deposited their cargoes in safety.
So simple and effective was the scheme, and. so unlikely of detection, that other tunnels were soon opened up, and it was then possible to go from the first to the fourth division without danger of being “hived.” True, we must slide through on our stomachs and come down on the fireplace bed in the next zoom on our hands and knees, but what cared we as long as it was quick, easy and safe?
By means of these tunnels we were able to while away many an afternoon, or part of one, enjoying the forbidden visits to our friends, who would otherwise have been out of reach. Those who attended recitations from two to three could have a quiet game of cards from three to four, and enjoy it all the more from the fact that not alone were cards forbidden, but also the fact of our being there.
This line of tunnels was of unexpected service to
In the spring we had practical work in astronomy, going to the observatory at night and taking observations, recording data determined by the instruments there, and working out our deductions in our room next day. Chemistry, natural and experimental philosophy, electricity and geology, in all of which we had mach practical work and many lectures, combined with drawing on alternate days, made our second class year the easiest and, at the same time, the most interesting of the whole course so far.
Dawson, who had long since ceased to believe that he had
come to West Point under more auspicious circumstances than the rest of us, had
grown from an egotist of the worst type into a very creditable representative
of the institution. He and Leighton had grown to be fast friends, and
When graduation came and we prepared to move into camp for
the last time, that long-looked-for first class camp,
THE LAST YEAR
FIRST class camp, no doubt, holds more real pleasure to the square inch than any other period of a cadet’s life. In fact, there is no greater drop than that, when, after a cadet has passed through his last camp and had all the freedom and prestige of a first classman, he graduates and becomes merely a second lieutenant in the army. It is a good deal like becoming a plebe again.
There is about a first classman something that makes a plebe hold him in awe, and his word on any subject is, to a plebe, final. He can leave camp on F. C. P. (first class privileges) when he likes when off duty, and takes precedence over all classes when it comes to a matter of choice of rooms, tents or horses.
He superintends the drills of the other classes to a large extent, and now there is a clubroom fitted up for the use of the first class where they may enjoy their hours of recreation in much the same atmosphere that they will be familiar with after graduation.
Likewise, it is an accepted fact that the feminine contingent whose especial friends are among the first class feel a certain distinction of caste between themselves and those whose admirers are, for the most part, yearlings.
First class privates do not have to walk guard, as do those of the other classes, their guard duty consisting of an occasional detail as officer of the guard. The first class officers, of which I was proud to be one, went on only as officers of the day, and also we could burn a light until ten-thirty, half an hour later than other cadets, because we were in charge of a sub-division, that is, either the two upper or two lower floors of a division.
The tall black plumes and red sashes, the bright sword
instead of the rifle we had carried so long, made our equipment distinctive
from those who remained privates, and naturally, one of our first duties was to
have a picture taken by the ever-present Barney to send to our friends.
Needless to say, the first one I addressed went to Virginia, who was then in
As has always been the case, and always will be, feminine
visitors came in numbers and spent a large part of the summer, either at the
West Point Hotel or at the various hostelries at
For men without money, we contracted a surprising lot of
bills for boodle with firms in
As first classmen we could obtain permission to row on the river, and often we went at night. We would row up stream and drift down or often we would drift down stream with the hope of meeting one of the numerous tows, composed of ten or twelve barges towed by powerful tugboats. In case we were so fortunate the captain of one of these barges would throw us a line, and thus slowly; but surely and without effort, we would be brought back to our starting point.
It was pleasant on the beautiful moonlight nights of the summer to have these brief respites from the steady grind which grew so irksome at times and to be allowed to enjoy some of the glamour with which West Point had been so enveloped before we had come to the institution, and of which we had seen so little except at such times as these.
Aside from an occasional spiking of the reveille gun with a round file and our Fourth of July celebration, our summer was not one of any special excitement. The latter celebration is worthy of mention, however.
We had procured from
Just as the clock in the tower of the academic building began striking the hour, pandemonium broke loose. Buckets were cast to the ground, locker lids came down with three hundred bangs, firecrackers sputtered and popped in every company street, and far out on the parade ground the air was filled with the colored pellets of fire from roman candles and here and there the swish of sky rockets told us that those in charge of that part of the entertainment had done their work well.
It was soon over. Such pyrotechnics cannot endure for long
We stood in ranks for two hours while the investigation proceeded, after which two sentinels from the first class were stationed in each company street, in addition to the regular guard, and we were permitted to return to much delayed but satisfied slumbers.
Our camp celebration was much the same as when we were plebes, and very well attended. This marked the ending of camp and a few days later the furlough class returned, we broke camp and returned to barracks for the last time.
We were now on the homestretch to graduation. Engineering, both military and civil, ordnance and gunnery, law and history, were our academic subjects, in addition to which we continued our exercises in riding.
January examinations came and were left behind without our ranks being depleted, though the plebes and yearlings suffered their usual losses.
There is no part of my first class course that I look back upon with more pleasure than the cavalry and light artillery drills. In fact, they are the only drills that a cadet ever enjoys, I believe, unless, perhaps, he is a cadet officer.
As yearlings we had ridden in the hall and as second classmen we had occasionally been taken for a “ride on the road,” going as a troop of cavalry.
The exhilaration of sweeping over the even gravel plain at a fast gallop amid the clank of sabres was something worth while. And then the charge! We would form a line at the hotel hedge and after gradually increasing the gait to a run “Captain Jim,” our cavalry instructor, would give the signal for the charge. The bugle’s clear note ringing above the din was the signal to raise our sabres above our heads, point to the front and with a lusty yell from sixty throats the irresistible line would sweep down the plain toward the chapel.
One Saturday morning, when the whole class was riding at once and I was acting as chief of platoon, I came near meeting a serious accident, due to a loose saddle girth. I was in command of the first platoon, and we were going at a fast gallop down the plain, the other three platoons close behind. Suddenly the bugle sounded “Left turn.” I turned in my saddle to repeat the command, and as I did so the extra weight on one stirrup caused my saddle to turn and I fell to the ground in front of the oncoming platoons.
Instinctively, it seemed, I remembered “Captain Jim’sa” assertion that a horse will never step on a man intentionally, so despite my inclination to get up and ran for it, I lay perfectly still, hiding my face with my arm, while my own platoon and those behind thundered over me.
I got up unhurt, recovered my horse from a soldier who had caught him, and continued my ride, none the worse for my experience.
Light artillery drill too is very inspiring, both to the spectator and the participant. As yearlings and second classmen we had sat on the limber chests and caissons and had the teeth fairly jolted out of our heads, holding on with all our might as the heavy carriages skidded around the sharp turns or reeled their way down the plain at full speed. As first classmen, however, we commanded sections or platoons and could better appreciate the attractive features of the drill from our positions in the saddle.
The spectator is likely to be thrilled with all the rumble
and clatter and dash of these drills, but to go away and ask himself what it is
all for. The onlookers admire the precision with which the movements are
executed and the uniformity of the firing of the pieces, singly and by platoon
and by battery, at an imaginary enemy, but hesitate to believe that this is the
way it is really done. I have seen them going into action against a real enemy
and with real ammunition, but the precision and accuracy which mark the drill
on the peaceful gravel plain at
That is what drills are for, and that is one reason why a soldier cannot be made in a day.
There are many who believe that to have an army, all that is necessary is to send forth the call and an army will spring to their guns. It is true men will come, but not soldiers. We can no more take a man from the plow or from behind the counter and make him a soldier by putting him in a uniform than we can give him a pair of overalls and say that he is a machinist and capable of handling the delicate lathes and tools of that trade.
To be a soldier, a man must be taught discipline and obedience unquestionably to competent orders. He must know how to shoot effectively, else he is a needless expense, a helpless target for the enemy and an expensive article to maintain in the field. He has not been taught how to keep well under the strain and discomfort of camp life, and of such as he are the hospitals soon filled, not from wounds but from preventable sickness. Our losses in war are double what they should be, due to the lack of sufficient trained soldiers in times of peace.
On the twentieth of February, the gunner at my table, the same table at which I had acted as gunner three long years before, sounded off the announcement, “One hundred days till June!” and as we filed out of the mess hall the sun peeped over the hills across the Hudson and smiled upon us. This is the day on which he first appears after breakfast, and his coming is always hailed with delight. Up to this time, breakfast is over before the sun shows himself above the sky line. The senior captain generally anticipates his command to “Rise” or withholds it if necessary, to assist Old Sol in making his appearance on schedule time.
On the Saturday night following, we had our Hundredth Night Entertainment, that time-honored celebration of the Dialectic Society, in consequence of it being one hundred days until June. On this occasion a play of cadet authorship and presentation is enacted to the great entertainment of cadets and their friends from everywhere.
On this occasion jokes are permitted, wherein the peculiarities of this or that officer are shown up, songs are sung and impersonations are permitted that at any other time in the year would be looked upon as treason, almost.
Officers loan to the cadets such uniforms as they desire, and the post ladies gladly adorn those taking feminine parts in their own finery, and teach them laboriously how this or that intricate piece of adornment should be worn most effectively, and manipulated most alluringly. Though there are none but cadets in the cast, an inspection of a photograph of some of the charmers would make this fact scarcely seem possible.
Our entertainment was, of course, a screamer, really well written and well acted, a light opera of the lightest sort, as I think of it now. But the jokes were much appreciated, and the freedom we felt in applauding them made us enjoy it all the more.
The theme was sarcastic and largely served to emphasize the popular opinion of “coms” and “supes” and “tacs,” and mess hall fare, and cadet store supplies in general, but it was all meant in a spirit of wholesome fun, and accepted as such. The entire play, songs and all, had been carefully censored by the superintendent prior to beginning of rehearsals, and there were no extemporary specialties introduced at the last moment.
With the coming of spring the tailors and outfitters, both military and civilian, appeared and we embarked on that perilous yet pleasurable duty of purchasing our military equipment and civilian clothing.
We tried on uniforms, belts, caps, sabres and helmets, and admired ourselves before the long mirrors which the tradesmen had learned by experience were a help to them in their business. We were measured for everything from leggins to dress caps, and by the time the afternoon was over, we had hypothecated a half of our first year’s salary in the purchase of our outfits.
But we were happy. Money cuts no figure when graduation is in sight. The best is none too good and plenty is scarcely enough.
The following week the civilian tailors and outfitters came up and we again impoverished ourselves with a complete trousseau for our graduation leave.
As time wore on we grew impatient and most of us became somewhat lax in our attention to studies. Those who were contesting for high class standings kept it up until the last, but the remainder of us, satisfied that we were now safe from being “found,” and having no hopes of honors, were content to drift with the tide of fancy toward the gates which we could see slowly opening before us.
We could feel a relaxation in the grip of discipline which had been so unrelenting for the last four years. We were allowed more latitude in the section rooms, and there was an increasing familiarity toward us on the part of our instructors. They, more than we, realized the change soon to take place in our relations with them, and should we be thrown together in time to come they desired to leave us now with the impression that they were not as bad as we had painted them in our fancies. Officers we had heartily and unanimously voted to be beyond the pale of recognition began to appear to us in a new light, and seemed to be not such bad fellows after all.
I remember one tactical officer whom we all hated cordially and consistently. On one occasion he had actually inspected Dialectic Hall, the reading and recreation room of the upper classes, and had, of course, caught a dozen or more of us smoking. He had also, at one time or another, taken the audacious liberty of looking up our fireplace chimneys and discovering many clothes-bags full of contraband articles, which all cadets were in the habit of storing there. These acts we considered wholely contrary to tactical ethics, although they were certainly within tactical authority.
Many of as had our minds irrevocably made up as to the reception that particular “tac” would receive from us in case our paths ever crossed his.
My parents came on for my graduation, arriving about the
first of June, and
Although the West Point Hotel would have been much more convenient, Highland Falls seemed a more satisfactory place to stay since all the desirable rooms at the old and insufficient West Point hostelry had been engaged long in advance for the Board of Visitors and the “Splinters,” as the feminine contingent which always accompanies the board are called by the cadets.
Graduation week was the same as it had always been: drills, parades and reviews by day, and hops, concerts and calling by night. In the riding hall at our last ride, we tried to outdo ourselves in our individual feats of horsemanship. We rode bareback and with “Cossack stirrups,” rode two horses standing, and took the hurdles thus. We vaulted bareback horses and mounted again at a full gallop as they took the high hurdles. We cut at the leather-covered heads set on posts for supports, dug pegs from the tanbark with the points of our sabres at full speed, and rode at the elevated rings suspended from a hook above our heads.
It has always been a noticeable fact that one or two attractive girls in the gallery at the riding hall can get more genuine effort out of a class at riding than can a half-dozen instructors, and when this incentive is multiplied by the numbers which crowd the galleries at the graduation ride, the zeal to “bone gallery” surpasses all former ambitions.
To all formations at which I was not required to be present,
I accompanied my father and mother and Virginia, but even at that, it seemed
that many evenings were lost by their being in
During all my four years at
Accordingly, one evening immediately after we had made our inspection after taps, we donned “cits” clothes, not our newest ones, ’but the ones we had worn on furlough, and at a moment which seemed propitious dropped from the window of a first floor room facing the parade ground, into the area-way outside, whence we emerged to the level, in the shadow of the academic building.
Feeling confident of safety now, we boldly took our way
Virginia and her friend had worked themselves up into such a state of uneasiness over our foolhardy escapade that they had done little but worry about it since we had told them that afternoon to be on the lookout for as. We had warned them, of course, to say nothing to our parents of what we were going to do, and this impressed them more than ever with the danger of it. And it was a foolhardy thing to do, as we looked at it afterward. We were risking our whole career in this venture, for had we been “hived” we would have been summarily dismissed, or, at least, required to remain in camp the entire summer, as had been done in similar eases, and not receive our diplomas until September. But we were foolish, and did not realize what we were risking.
So great was the concern of the girls that they did not
appear to enjoy our visit in the least, and their welcome, while cordial, had a
sort of wish-you-hadn’t-come air about it that was not indicative of much
pleasure at our coming.
“What do you want me to do?” he inquired, somewhat nettled. “Go to barracks and change and come back?”
“No,” she replied, frankly; “but I’m not so sure you should have come at all.”
We, too, soon caught the spirit of unrest that seemed to depress the girls, and we soon took our departure, deciding that as a feat of chivalry, our running it out had not proved an unqualified success.
On our way back we became more fearful of our safety, and we
kept to the darker, less frequented side of the road, and breathed a sigh of
relief when we were at last on cadet limits again. If we could reach our room
safely, we both resolved not to run such risks again for such unsatisfactory
reward. Reaching the southern limit of the reservation, which on the road is
known as the “
All went well and we saw no one, except the mounted sentinel, from whom we hid until he had passed. Reaching the reservoir, we followed the road around the west bank and started down the hill toward barracks. We felt quite secure now. Our rooms had rarely, been inspected after taps recently, so we felt that if we could reach there without being seen we were safe and our absence would never be known.
Suddenly around a sharp turn in the road, at the point where the observatory road forks from the reservoir road we came almost face to face with an officer, whom we recognized as the instructor in practical astronomy, and who had his quarters at the observatory.
He returned our salute, by instinct too, probably, but the next instant, before he could utter a sound, two meeting figures were bolting down the stony road, running for dear life toward barracks.
“Halt!” and again “Halt!” came the words from behind us, indistinctly, but we only ran the faster.
“He didn’t recognize us,” panted
"We’re all right, I guess,” I replied; “slack up a little.”
We stopped to listen. We heard no sounds, so we knew we were
not being pursued. After a minute or so,
“Gee whiz! I’ll bet he’s telephoning the O. C. right now.”
This possibility put wings to our feet, and we fairly flew down the road. Once I fell and tore a large hole in the knee of my trousers, receiving scratches and bruises on my leg which would have under ordinary circumstances been good for a week in the hospital.
“Keep straight on to the first div.,” I said to
“Halt!” shouted the tac, again and again, but the lure of the line of tunnels and forty feet start seemed to have us more under their spell than the inclination to obey orders from Shady Sam.
Up the steps of the first division we dashed, into the hall and up the steps to the second floor. As we reached the top, our pursuer entered the division. We rushed the length of the hall to the foot of the second flight and three steps at a time we mounted to the third floor. Back to the landing of the third flight and up to the fourth floor was but the work of a moment and every inch meant worlds to us. Never would I have thought Shady Sam so fleet of foot, but I will say that his abilities as a foot racer were on that occasion fully demonstrated. He was getting third money still but running strong, and, with his handicap, doing very well.
Reaching the next room in safety, I paused an instant to listen and could hear the tac’s footsteps on the iron stairway leading to the fourth floor. He had not lost much ground in the short chase and was certainly close enough to know into which room we had gone.
By the time he had reached the door of the plebes’ room, I was across the hall, and my footsteps were out of hearing. When he did enter the room, he found only two peacefully sleeping plebes, properly undressed, who were at a loss to fathom the meaning of so much breathless questioning and accusation.
They reported next day that Shady Sam had searched their room and all the occupants of the other rooms on that floor were likewise wakened and questioned, but they were unable to give him any information, and their evident innocence was plain from their all being in bed and asleep within a few moments of our disappearance. A discreet silence about the existence of the tunnels kept the mystery unsolved.
The magical disappearance of two cadets in cits’ clothes out of the very grasp of the dean of tactical sleuths was not solved until that summer while the cadets were in camp, when a general repairing of barracks disclosed the existence of the three tunnels, which discovery cost the eluded Sam many rounds of refreshments, so it is said. As to the identity of the eluders, that was not known until I met Shady Sam on a very friendly basis a year later and confessed to him the particulars of the affair.
The remainder of our perilous escape was made at a less strenuous pace than the first part had been, but we did not delay unnecessarily. Hurriedly undressing in the dark, we replaced our clothes in our trunks, which we were at that time allowed to have in our rooms, and at a dark-lantern inspection of barracks soon after, Burton and I were as serenely slumbering, apparently, as the innocent occupants of any room in barracks, and our room bore no signs of having been vacated after taps.
After our first and last experience at running it out,
As we drifted, we dreamed. Occasionally the announcement of
the approaching marriage of this or that classmate brought us to the
realization that we were soon to reach that station in life where we were to
take up men’s work and men’s responsibilities.
Some of the announcements were surprises, telling the story of four
years of fidelity to vows made before coming to
When our final examinations were over, there was almost a
week when we had our evenings free and could visit in barracks or visit our
friends at the hotel. During this week our families and friends came up in such
conveyances as the enterprise of
At our last parade, when the band struck up “The Dashing White Sergeant” and we started off there was a pang of regret which tempered my enthusiasm that the end was so near. “The Girl I Left Behind Me” and “Auld Lang Syne” and “Home, Sweet Home” again played on my emotions, but not in the same way nor to the same extent that they had at my first graduation parade. This time they were expected, but then they had come as a surprise.
When parade was over, the whole class marched to the front and received with bared heads a few pearly words of wisdom and advice from the commandant, who always reviews graduation parade. Then we stood behind him and reviewed the battalion as it marched past us.
That was all. The long gray and white column was swallowed up by the north sallyport of barracks and disappeared in the area, while we straggled slowly over toward it. I confess to a feeling of lonesomeness and out-in-the-coldness at the thought of never again being allowed to share the trials and joys, the fortunes, good and bad, of that matchless corps of which for four years I had had the honor of being a part.
Our graduation hop was, of course, the most brilliant of any
during our career; the girls were lovelier; the moon was brighter, and the
music most entrancing. But, much as it meant to me then, I remembered that
night three years before, and to the plebes just entering the portals of
Next morning, for the fourth time in my life as a cadet, we
marched to the shady plot in front of the library to participate in the
graduating exercises, this time our own. There under the trees the same old
marquee was pitched, and as I saw it the memory came back to me vividly of the
Under the spreading canvas, on the tenporary platform, Sat the glittering Academic Board, no longer a terror to us, flanking the Secretary of War, who had done us the honor to be present and place in our hands the diplomas for which we had worked so hard and waited so long.
The band played, the chaplain prayed for our future success, the band played again, and then the secretary spoke to us of our future duties, our debt to our country, and told what was expected of us.
These preliminaries over, we were summoned, one by one, according to anal standing, to the platform, and there, amid the lusty cheers of our fellows and the soft-gloved plaudits of our fairer but no more loyal friends, we received our “sheepskins” from the hand of the army’s chief, who, with a hearty grasp, welcomed us at last into the commissioned ranks of the United States Army.