Read CHAPTER III - THE “LUCKY” ONES TAKE UP THE NEW LIFE of Dick Prescott First Year at West Point, free online book, by H. Irving Hancock, on ReadCentral.com.

Candidate Prescott did not take the best examination by any means, but he got through without discredit in any branch.

A number of these candidates had spent the last year or so at some “prep.” school that made a specialty of preparing young men for West Point and Annapolis.

Greg did fairly in English, quite well in history, geography and arithmetic; in algebra, through sheer nervousness, young Holmes barely escaped going short.

Nearly twoscore of the candidates failed utterly.  These went sorrowing home, giving their alternates a chance to enter the corps in their places.

Soon after the results had been declared, the young men who had passed went over to headquarters.  There they signed a statement to the effect that they entered the Military Academy with the consent of their parents or guardians, and bound themselves to serve in the Army at least eight years, unless sooner discharged.  These new young men were then formally and impressively sworn into the service of their country.  They were now cadets, even if only new plebes.

Why “new” plebes!  Because, under the new system, with candidates admitted in March, there is still a “plebe” class above them who remain plebes until commencement in June.  Hence the distinction between old and new “plebes.”

In the presence of all plebes the yearlings and other upper class men keep themselves loftily apart, except when compelled to drill the plebes or perform other military or other official duties with plebes.

The plebe, old or new, is still but a “beast” ­a being unfitted for intimate contact with upper class men.  The plebe is not an outcast.  He is merely fifteen months on probation with his upper class comrades.  Unhappy as the lot of the freshman is at some of our colleges, the plebe at West Point is of far less importance in the eyes of the upper classes.

Early every morning cadet corporals marched squads of new plebes out into the open and put them through the mysteries of the Army “setting-up” drills.  These drills are effective in giving the new man, in an almost marvelously short time, the correct military carriage and physical deportment.  Between these and the squad, platoon and company drills, it is truly wonderful how rapidly the new cadet begins to drop his former awkwardness.

The new plebes had now drawn their uniforms and rapidly learned the care of these parts of the soldier’s wardrobe.  They were also taught the proper occasions for wearing each article of uniform.

Academic studies had now begun in earnest too.  The idea in requiring cadets to begin in March instead of in June, as formerly, is that they may have three months in which to become accustomed to the fearfully exacting requirements of study and recitation in force at West Point.

It was a proud day for all these new plebes when they “drew” their rifles and bayonets and began the laborious study of the manual of arms.

One after another, as fast as they were sufficiently proficient, the new plebes were sent into one of the companies into which the Corps of Cadets is divided.

Cadet Prescott entered D Company four days before Greg Holmes was assigned to the same company.  Dick’s success indeed spurred Greg on to new efforts, although poor young Holmes had felt that he was working as hard already as human flesh could endure.

Early in April nearly all of the new plebes had joined their companies.  It was a wholly new, revolutionized life.

Many of the new plebes had come from homes of luxury, where servants had abounded.

But here at West Point former social lines had no significance, unless it was to invite trouble down upon the head of any new cadet who felt inclined to be priggish.

No cadet had a servant, nor could he engage anyone to perform any of his own duties for him.

Each cadet in the entire corps rose at the tap of a drum ­“reveille” ­at 5.45 A.M.

At the first sound of reveille every young man sprang from his bed.  Then followed hasty but orderly dressing and the making of the toilet.  The cadet must be spick and span.

Incidentally, but promptly, he fell to policing.  The room must be in order, and the bed made up exactly in accordance with the regulations on the subject.  All clothing must be hung as prescribed in the regulations.  A match end or a scrap of paper on the floor brought reprimand and demerits.

“Policing” is the orderly care of quarters.  At 6.20 police call sounded on the drum outside in the area.  Then came a swift but all-seeing inspection of every occupied room in barracks.

Swiftly, indeed, was this done, for at 6.30 the tap of the drum sounded mess call for breakfast.  The cadet corps formed outside the north sally port and marched to breakfast.

About seven o’clock breakfast ended.  The corps marched back to barracks and was dismissed.

By 7.15 every young man was hard at work, “boning” hard over the studies in which he must recite during the forenoon.  He “boned” until 7.55.  Then, in his own appropriate section, he marched off to the Academic Building, remaining in the section room, under the instruction or quizzing of some officer of the Army until 9.20.

Now the new plebe, like the cadets of all classes, marched back to his room.  At his desk he studied until summoned at 10.55 for the second recitation of the day, in some other subject.

At 12.10 he was dismissed from this second period of recitation, but 12.20 found the young man in dinner formation.  From this mid-day meal the cadet reached barracks at 1.10.  Now he had some time with which to do as he pleased; to be exact, he had fifteen minutes.  At 1.25 the freshman marched off to recitation in English, history or French.  At 2.30 the cadet found himself back in his room, forced to study, as few young men ever study in civil life, until 3.30.

From 3.30 to 6.25 P.M. the plebe was allowed to do as he pleased with his time, provided that in so doing he broke none of the regulations.  He might amuse himself in various ways.  He was at liberty to go over to the library, to read, for instance; he might call at officers’ houses on the post on Saturday or Sunday afternoon if invited; he was at liberty to take a walk ­within cadet limits.  Or, if he felt the need of something really “wild” in the way of diversion, the lucky plebe was permitted to go over to the Academic Building and examine the mineralogical or geological collection!

As a matter of fact, the plebe who in most instances was doing badly with the great amount of study and recitation required of him, was likely to spend most of his afternoon leisure in “boning” the studies in which he was deficient or which he found difficult to master.

At 6.25 came the call for supper formation.  That meal was through at about seven in the evening.  Then came study time, lasting until 9.30 in the evening.  At 9.30 the plebe was at liberty to turn down his mattress and go to bed, if he felt tired enough; if not, he was at liberty to study a little longer.

At 10.30, however, taps sounded on a drum just inside the north sally port.  Now Mr. Plebe was obliged to turn out his light, instanter, and be in bed against the visit of the subdivision inspector, an upper class cadet, immediately afterward.  If Mr. Plebe failed to be in bed he was reported ­“skinned” ­and punished accordingly.

In between there were always the drills, the gymnasium work, inspections, guard mount for each plebe about once a week after he had been admitted to the ranks of the battalion.

To the boy fresh from home it is a fearfully hard lot at first.  That it can be lived through and endured, however, is proved by the fact that about six out of ten of the cadets who enter at West Point manage to graduate, and go forth into the Army, splendid specimens of physical and mental manhood.  Very few of the cadets who fail at West Point and are dropped go away from the Military Academy without a mist before their eyes.

The plebes at West Point are not ostracized by the upper class men.  These new men are merely “kept in their places” with great severity, and without any encouragement whatever.  If the plebe can’t stand it, then he is plainly not of the stuff to make a soldier.  If he does stand it, he goes on into the upper classes, one after another, graduates and is commissioned by the President as a second lieutenant in the United States Army.

It is a hard ordeal, that fellowship of “nothingness” during the first portion of the West Point course.

Homesickness is the worst ailment of the new cadet.  Day by day he grows more homesick until it seems to him that he simply cannot endure the Military Academy for another twenty-four hours.

One afternoon, while taking a walk as a relief from too hard application to his mathematics, Cadet Dick Prescott stumbled upon some news that made him open his eyes very wide.

“Well, of all things!” he growled to himself.

Then he walked faster.

“Greg must hear of this,” muttered the new plebe.

Going down the street at military stride, Cadet Prescott turned in at the north sally port, stepped briskly along one of the walks, bounded up the steps and in at the outer door of the subdivision in which he dwelt.

Up the stairs with considerable speed went Cadet Prescott, still revolving in his mind the news upon which he had stumbled.

“What on earth will Greg think?” throbbed the new plebe.

In a very short time Prescott’s hurrying feet carried him to the door of his room on the top floor.  The door yielded as Dick put his hand to the knob.

“Greg, what do you think?” whispered Dick breathlessly, as he went quickly into the room and toward his roommate, who sat bent over his study table.

The very attitude was unmilitary ­a fact that struck Prescott suddenly.

Then Greg, hearing his roommate’s voice, raised his head somewhat and wheeled about in his chair.

What a woebegone face Cadet Gregory Holmes presented!

“Greg, what on earth is the matter?” demanded Dick, halting short and staring hard.

“I can’t help it,” replied Greg miserably, shaking his head.

“Can’t help what?” demanded Dick thunder-struck.

“I can’t help what I’ve gone and done.  I had to do it!” cried Greg, with sudden fierceness in his tone.

“What you’ve done?” echoed Dick.  “Well, what have you gone and done, anyway, old fellow?  Does it stop anywhere short of murder ­or lying?”

For in the West Point code of honor lying ranks very nearly as bad as murder.

“I guess perhaps it isn’t quite as bad as either,” smiled Greg wanly.  “However, I couldn’t help doing it.”

He rose to his feet, a bit unsteadily, leaning one hand on his study desk.

Greg’s hair was a bit awry, as though he had run his hands many times through it in some mood of desperation.  This, in itself, was in defiance of West Point traditions for the personal neatness of the cadet.

“You still have me altogether in the dark, Greg,” murmured Dick wonderingly.

“You’ll lose all respect for me, Dick,” went on Greg miserably.

“Then it must be something awfully bad that you’ve done,” retorted Dick, opening his eyes wider than ever.

Without another word Greg reached to his desk, picked up a sheet of paper and in silence passed it over to his comrade.

Dick read with a gathering of his eyebrows.  Then gradually a look of anger shot into his clear eyes.

“Greg Holmes,” uttered the other cadet indignantly, “you’re a disgrace to your native town of Gridley!”

“Well, what are you going to do about it!” demanded Greg almost defiantly.

“Do?” retorted Cadet Prescott.  “I believe I’ll thrash you ­just for being a disgrace to our native place!”

Not intending anything of the sort, but merely as a dramatic expression of his rage, Dick doubled one fist, advancing upon Holmes.

At that instant the door was flung open.  Cadet Lieutenant Edwards, of the first class, strode into the room.

Instantly both cadets straightened, where they were, standing at “attention,” as required to do when a superior officer entered their quarters.

“What is this?” demanded Cadet Lieutenant Edwards, though betraying no more than official curiosity in his tone.  “Have I entered just in time to prevent a fight!”

“No, sir,” replied Cadet Prescott.

“Then what!”

“Sir,” responded Cadet Prescott, “I wish to report my roommate, Mr. Holmes, for writing this letter!”

Dick held out the sheet of paper, which the cadet lieutenant scanned earnestly.