Read CHAPTER V - CANDIDATE DODGE IS CRITICAL of Dick Prescott First Year at West Point, free online book, by H. Irving Hancock, on ReadCentral.com.

Both cadets had studied for ten minutes perhaps, when a knock sounded at their door.

The very unusualness of this caused both youngsters to look around, then at each other.

Had it been any cadet officer making an inspection ­as was likely to happen at any minute of the waking day ­he would have come straight into the room.  And any other cadet, after knocking, would have followed this by opening the door and stepping inside.

Rap-rap! sounded again.

“Oh, come in,” called Dick.

The door opened.  Bert Dodge, dressed in the height of the prevailing fashion, looked inside.

“May I come in?” he called, in what was meant for a cordial, friend-from-home voice.

“Oh, yes, come in,” sighed Dick wearily.

“That’s not quite the welcome I might have expected from you two,” muttered Bert, as he opened the door and stepped into the room.  “Fellows, you’re at West Point now,” proceeded Bert Dodge pompously, “and this is a place where social points count tremendously, as I guess you’ve found out by this time.  Now, you two may be all right, and I guess you are,” admitted Bert condescendingly, “but you’re just the sons of commoners, while my father is a wealthy man, a banker and a leader in society.  So I guess you can quickly understand that I’m going to cut a good deal wider swath here than you two fellows put together.”

Greg Holmes, who had been following Dodge with a gradually widening grin of amazement, now burst into a hearty laugh.

“Well, what’s so awfully funny!” demanded Bert.

“You ­you ­social swell!” exploded Greg hilariously.  “Oh ­wow!”

“Oh, enjoy yourself in your own way,” retorted Bert in decided anger, “but you’ll soon find out.”

Then looking about the room, he remarked, going on a new tack: 

“I must say, you fellows are rather badly provided for showing the social courtesies here.  You haven’t even a chair for a guest.”

“Plebes are allowed only two chairs to a room,” remarked Dick, rising and pulling forward his own chair.  “Take mine.  I’ll sit on the corner of my table.”

“There’s just one chair in my room,” continued Bert, as he seated himself.  “That’s one reason I want to see the janitor, or steward, or whoever the fellow is.  I’m going to tell him to put in a decent allowance of chairs.”

Greg Holmes went off into another fit of laughter.

“Janitor?  Steward?” sputtered Holmes.  “Whew!  That’s great!”

“There are no such servants here, Dodge,” Dick explained.  “In fact, every cadet has to learn to wait on himself in nearly everything.  A plebe, too, has to learn to be content with whatever he has given him.  If he even makes any talk about it he is called b.j.  A cadet who is found guilty of b.j.-ety has to put in all his spare time learning to walk on one ear.”

“Do you mean to say you’ve been made to swallow stuff like that?” demanded Dodge, looking at Prescott in tall disdain.  “Oh, well, you may be inclined to submit to such treatment, but I know who I am, and I’m not going to stand for any nonsense here.  What’s the matter with you, Holmes?  Are you ill?”

For Greg’s face, in his efforts to stifle his mirth, had become violently purple.

“I don’t suppose you’ll take advice, Dodge,” continued Dick.  “If I thought you only could do it I’d advise you to walk mighty slowly here, keep your lips together and not say a word until you’ve learned a lot.”

Dick had risen and was standing, unconsciously, in an attitude that showed off, in his natty cadet uniform, all the strength and grace of his fine and now well set-up young figure.  But Bert, with a desire to put this other fellow “back where he belonged,” remarked casually: 

“Prescott, I don’t just like the fit of your coat.  Who’s your tailor?  I want to get a different one.  I’m going in for some of the swellest-fitting uniforms that any tailor around here can turn out.”

Greg, who had managed to breathe naturally for the last minute, now struggled with another of his purple-faced paroxysms.

“I didn’t think to ask who my tailor was,” Prescott replied quickly.  “In fact, I don’t think I would have been told if I had asked.  You see, every cadet here has to take just what clothes are issued to him at the cadet store.  That’s the rule for all cadets here.”

“Do you mean to tell me that I’ve got to wear ’hand-me-downs’?” demanded Bert Dodge angrily.  “Save that sort of stuff for fellows who’ll believe it.”

It was plain that, if Bert Dodge had dropped in with any intention of being neighborly and from-home, he had rapidly forgotten his plan.

Neither Dick nor Greg had any reason for being fond of the fellow, even if he had once been a schoolmate at Gridley High School.  Bert, son of Theodore Dodge, a Gridley banker, was an unpardonable snob.  Readers of the High School Boys Series will recall how Bert had been one of the leaders in the “sorehead” secession from the football ranks at Gridley High School.  That movement failing in its purpose, Bert had afterwards provoked Dick Prescott into striking him, and had then had Dick arrested for assault.  The suit had failed, and Bert was rebuked by the court.  Much more of the feud that young Dodge had attempted to wage upon Prescott and his High School chums was fully narrated in “The high school left end.”

It was nearly a year since Bert had seen either of these chums.  That he had entered their room in cadet barracks full of the purpose of impressing them with his new importance was at once plain.

Dick was just beginning to find the atmosphere oppressive when the door was pushed quickly open after the faintest suggestion of a knock.

The newcomers were Cadets Pratt and Judson of the yearling class, known already among the plebes as two of the worst hazers.

“Attention!” hissed Pratt, as he strode into the room.

Neither of the visitors being a cadet officer, Dick and Greg were not obliged to stand at attention.

However, neither new plebe was foolish enough to argue the matter.  Dick and Greg took the pose ordered and at once.

“Mister,” demanded Pratt, turning upon Dick, “what is this cit. (citizen) doing in barracks?”

“Mr. Dodge is a candidate, sir, quartered in this building, and he took it into his head to visit us.”

“What are you doing on that chair, Candy?” demanded Judson, flashing an angry look at Bert.

“None of your business!” retorted Dodge.

“You’ll stand at attention!” retorted Cadet Judson, gripping Bert by the collar and pulling him to his feet.

“That’ll be about enough, Jud,” warned Cadet Pratt in a low voice.  “Remember, the fellow is nothing but a candidate.”

“You fellows seem to think you’re mighty important,” sputtered Bert.  “I’m not in the habit of associating with hoodlums!”

“Now, if that isn’t the b.j.-est sunflower that ever grew in a farmyard,” remarked Cadet Pratt, with a wink at Cadet Judson.

“If you’re referring to me be a bit more careful in your witticisms,” warned Dodge stiffly, “or I shall demand satisfaction.”

“Oh, you’re rather certain to get all the sat. you want, I imagine when you’re a cadet,” retorted Cadet Pratt dryly.  “But, Jud, our time is fairly running away from us, and we have yet other social calls to make.  Our respectful farewells, misters.”

Turning, straight and stiff as ramrods, Cadets Pratt and Judson marched from the room.

When their step was heard on the stairway Greg stepped over and closed the door.

“Well, you fellows are the meekest green apples that I ever saw,” laughed Dodge scornfully.  “You simply lay down and allowed those two military bullies to walk over you just as they chose.  Do you expect to get through West Point like men, if you have no more self-pride than that?”

“I’m heartily glad you’ve joined us here, Dodge,” murmured Greg artlessly.  “You’ll show us, by your own example, just how to stand up for our rights.”

“Humph!  I hope you’ll be able to learn,” grunted Bert, rising as he glanced at his watch.

Then he went on, a trace more amiably: 

“I find I’ve got to go back to my room and prepare for supper.  Now, fellows, we haven’t always gotten along in the best shape at home.  But here at West Point I suppose we all start life on somewhat of a new footing.  I’m willing to let by-gones be by-gones if you don’t presume altogether too much on coming from the same home town.  Keep your places with me, and we’ll try to go along on a somewhat pleasanter basis than in the past.  Let us try to forget the past.  Ta-ta, fellows.  See you at the supper table.”

Bert stalked out loftily, with a considerable appreciation of his condescension toward two fellows whom he had been wont, in past years, to call muckers.

“Hold me!” begged Greg hoarsely.  “I’m going to have a fit.  Oh, wow!  Dick, just think of that poor b.j. lamb falling into the hands of the yearlings!  What’ll they ever do with him?”

“Greg, it has been hard enough on us to get used to the new ways at West Point.  But we’ll never mind anything during the rest of our plebedom.  No matter what happens to us we’ll just remember how much more is bound to happen to pompous old Dodge.”

Dick returned to his table, picking up his text-book on French.  Greg honestly tried to study, but every other minute he simply had to stop to laugh at the thought of Bert and his pompous ways.

Finally, when he could restrain himself no longer, Greg broke forth: 

“Dick, old ramrod, no matter what happens to me, now I can stand it by thinking of Bert Dodge being here!”

“I hope he doesn’t start his old tactics of making trouble,” muttered Cadet Prescott.

“If he does, he’ll have most of the trouble in his own possession,” grinned Greg.  “West Point is a place where manliness has the only real show.”

“Yes, but a sneak can make an awful lot of trouble,” sighed Dick.  “Not that I mean to call Dodge a sneak, though.  I am in hopes that he’ll prove anything but that.  From the minute that a fellow enters the Military Academy he starts in life all over again.  So, remember, Greg, we won’t be prepared to hate or distrust Dodge, and we’ll lose a hand before we’ll utter a word against him, based on anything that happened in the past.”

“That’s the square deal, and the West Point ideal,” nodded Greg, who was rapidly forgetting the letter, the fragments of which were now in his waste basket.  “Who knows but that, in this new atmosphere, Bert Dodge may turn out to be a man?  West Point will do that very thing for him, if any new surroundings can.”

As the battalion marched to supper that night Bert Dodge felt in his heart that hazing must already have started for him; for, being the only candidate left at West Point, and having no uniform as yet, Dodge was compelled to march, in his rather gay “cit.” attire, at the extreme end of the battalion line.

Bert did not march quite alone, however.

Just behind him, majestic, unbending, lynx-eyed and exacting, marched Cadet Corporal Spurlock, who was known as the “worst” (strictest) of the Yearling cadet officers.

“Chest out, Mr. Dodge!  Don’t wobble so at the knees, sir!  Can’t you carry yourself straight?  Take your chin away from your chest, Mr. Dodge.  Try to keep step, sir.  Follow my count ­hep! hep! hep! hep!  Mr. Dodge, you’re out of step!  When I call ‘hep’ put your left foot down, sir!  But don’t keep it down, sir!” added the exasperated cadet corporal in a furious undertone, as Bert came to a dead halt.  “Mr. Dodge, try to exhibit something close to intelligence.  Now, again, sir!  Hep! hep! hep! hep!”

An Army officer stationed at the post drove by on a springboard.  Three young women were with him.  They saw and partly understood.  The peal of laughter that floated back from them brought a flush to the face of the green, pestered candidate.