Read CHAPTER VI - IN THE HANDS OF THE YEARLING HAZERS of Dick Prescott First Year at West Point, free online book, by H. Irving Hancock, on ReadCentral.com.

Under the hard grilling of cadet corporal Spurlock, Bert Dodge actually made a lot of progress within the next few days.

Dodge learned that, whenever addressing an officer, whether that officer were a cadet officer, or one of the Regular Army officers stationed at the Academy as instructors, he must add “sir” to every communication.  He also learned that he must not address any superior officer unless first addressed by him.

Bert also picked up rapidly the knowledge that he was no better than anyone else, and of not a thousandth part of the importance of any upper class man.

Much of this the young man picked up from his new roommate, Tom Anstey, a soft-eyed, soft-voiced, helpful and sunny young man from Virginia.  Anstey was one of the best-liked men in his class, but the new plebes at first held almost aloof from Dodge.

“Whatever you do,” urged Anstey, “don’t make the mistake of trying to cultivate the acquaintance of any of the upper class men.”

“I’ve encountered two already,” muttered Bert.

“Oh!” and Anstey smiled wonderingly.

“Pratt and Judson, of the yearlings,” Dodge continued, then related what had happened in the room of Cadets Prescott and Holmes.

“I guess you’re going to be in for it, presently, Dodge,” nodded Cadet Anstey.  “Mr. Pratt and Mr. Judson are known as two terrors.”

“They don’t want to try to pass any of their terror on to me,” growled Bert.

Whereupon Mr. Anstey took his roommate in hand, gently and genially, and tried to make that new cadet ­for Bert had passed his academic exams. without even a hint of trouble ­understand how worse than foolish it would be to attempt to antagonize the upper class men.

“You come from the same place that Prescott and Holmes do, don’t you?” asked Anstey, one afternoon, as the roommates rested from study.

“I’m glad to say I don’t,” replied Bert, almost brusquely.

“Oh!” nodded Anstey.

“I suppose we’ve got to be comrades, now, but I don’t like that pair an over-lot,” Bert explained.

“Odd!  Most of the new plebes like Prescott and Holmes all the way up, and then all the way down again,” murmured Anstey seriously.  “For myself, I don’t know any two fellows in the new lot that I like better.”

“Oh, I guess they’re all right in a good many ways,” admitted Bert slowly.  “Only we never managed to hitch ­that’s all.  You asked me if I came from the same place.  I used to live in Gridley, but I ­er ­well, I went away to Fordham to another school.  My father had a summer place in Fordham, and he took up his voting residence in Fordham, though spending a good part of his winters in Gridley.  That’s how I’m credited to Fordham, not Gridley.”

“Thank you for telling me,” nodded Anstey.  “I had just been wondering if it were not crowding things a bit to send three young men all from Gridley.”

“I’m not only not from Gridley, but I came in as an alternate, anyway.”

“How are you getting on with Corporal Spurlock?” asked Anstey.

“That fellow?  Oh, hang him!  Spurlock drives me wild.  I came within a hair’s breadth of applying to the commandant of cadets for a new instructor in drill.  Only you told me that no heed would be paid to such a request from a new plebe.”

“I should rather say not,” grinned Anstey.  “However, you’ll be through the prelim. grind soon, and then you’ll be admitted to a company in the battalion.”

“I’m fitted for it now,” growled Bert.

“You won’t get into a company, though, until Corporal Spurlock reports you as fitted.”

“That fellow is the most rascally tyrant I ever saw anywhere,” growled Bert, picking up a text-book on mathematics.

By this time the season of outdoor drills and daily dress parade had arrived.  This particular afternoon, however, in the latter part of March, a heavy, blinding snowstorm had come along.  Cadets were nearly all in barracks, therefore, and those who had the most need were studying hard.

“I’ve boned math., boned French, boned English,” muttered Anstey, at last.  “Now, I think I’ll go over and bone Prescott and Holmes.  Feel like going along with me!”

Bert frowned somewhat.  He didn’t care to “approve” of the two Gridley boys too much.  But it was so deadly dull in this room that Dodge didn’t care to be left alone, either.

“Oh, I’ll go,” nodded Dodge, closing a book with a snap and rising.  “But I’d like it even better if you had some one else in mind to visit.”

“You see,” almost apologized Anstey, “I want to see Prescott and Holmes particularly because I’ve been talking over football with them, and they’ve been telling me a lot about their high school eleven that was right smart and interesting.”

Bert said no more.  If his ancient foes were going to tell Anstey about the old football days back in Gridley, then Bert feared they might be tempted to tell a lot that would bring up his unpopular share in those spirited old days.

“But Prescott and his shadow won’t dare to say anything against me if I’m sitting right there in the room,” muttered Bert to himself.

So he and Anstey presented themselves at Dick and Greg’s door.  Bert was almost amazed to find himself pleasantly greeted, but Dick and Greg were true to their decision to bury the hatchet of the past if possible.

It was nearly time to light the gas.  In the fading light Anstey walked over to a window, watching the snow swirl down into the area outside.  At West Point the snowstorms are famous for their severity.

“Hang it!” growled Anstey.  “I don’t suppose you can ever make a Virginian like myself grow to like this beastly winter weather.  And I miss the drills and dress parade.  Don’t you?”

“Yes,” nodded Dick.  “I miss everything of an outdoor nature, when it is withheld from me.”

“Oh, if you’re missing outdoors just now, you might go out and keep on, within cadet limits, until you’ve tramped five miles,” grinned the cadet from Virginia.

“If some of the upper class men found that we liked to be out in a snowstorm, I’m afraid they’d make us stand on our heads in a drift,” laughed Cadet Holmes.

“Speaking of that,” continued Anstey, wheeling about, “have any of you fellows run into real hazing as yet?”

“Not I,” replied Prescott, with a shake of his head.

“Nor I,” added Greg.

“It’s a shame that we should be expected to put up with any such nonsense,” growled Cadet Dodge belligerently.  “Who are the yearlings that they should feel at liberty to rub our noses in the mud!  We plebes ought to combine to put a stop to this outrage.  Now, I’d like to see any smart year ­”

“Eh!” called a voice, cheerily, as the door was thrust open.  Yearling cadets Pratt and Judson stepped into the room.

Instantly three of the plebes present rose and stood at attention.  Bert Dodge didn’t.

“What has got into your sense of military manners, mister!” demanded Cadet Pratt, transfixing Bert with a haughty stare.

“What’s wrong with my manners!” demanded Cadet Dodge.

“What’s that!” cried Pratt.

“What’s wrong with my manners!” repeated Dodge, though a bit more tractably.

“What?”

“What is wrong with my manners, sir!” Bert amended.

“That’s just a shade better, mister,” admitted Yearling Pratt.  “But you are too sparing of your ‘sirs,’ mister.  Now, answer me again, and use ‘sir’ after each word.”

Plebe Dodge gulped hard, but Pratt and Judson were glaring at him.  So he began: 

“What, sir, is, sir, wrong, sir, with, sir, my, sir, manners, sir!”

“Mister, why didn’t you stand at attention when we entered the room!”

“Because you’re not ­”

“What!” exploded Yearling Judson.

“Because, sir, you’re, sir, not, sir, my, sir, superior, sir, officers, sir.”

“Are we yearlings!”

“Yes, sir.”

“And what are you!” demanded Cadet Judson, with infinite contempt.

“Only, sir, a, sir, plebe, sir.”

“Mangy, unkempt, uncouth and offensive, are you not!”

Bert flared and swallowed hard, but he responded, very meekly: 

“Yes, Sir.”

“You’re ­what?”

“A, sir, mangy, sir, unkempt, sir, uncouth, sir, and, sir, offensive, sir, plebe, sir.”

“Very true,” nodded Mr. Pratt.  “But, at least, mister, you have learned how to answer a yearling or any other superior, haven’t you!”

“Yes, sir,” Bert meekly assented.

“But there’s one thing the poor beast doesn’t know how to do yet,” observed Mr. Judson, turning to his classmate.  “He doesn’t understand how to stand at attention when he is honored by a yearling’s visit.”

“Teach him ­if you find that he’s intelligent enough,” advised Yearling Pratt.

“Turn down that mattress, mister,” commanded Mr. Judson, pointing to Dick Prescott’s iron cot.

Bert made the mistake of looking first at Cadet Prescott for permission.

“Now, mister, what makes you hesitate!” fumed Mr. Judson.

“It isn’t my cot, sir,” replied Dodge.

“What?”

“It, sir, is, sir, not, sir, my, sir, cot, sir.”

“That has nothing to do with your orders.  Turn down that mattress!”

Bert obeyed with great alacrity.

“Now, then, mister,” ordered Yearling Judson, “get up on that mattress, and stand at attention upside down!”

It took Bert Dodge a few precious seconds to understand the full nature of the ignominious thing he had to do.

This was neither more nor less than to stand on his head on the mattress.  He could rest his hands beside his head, at the outset, bracing his feet against the wall.  So far it was not difficult.  But ­

“Don’t you know the position of attention, mister!” demanded Cadet Pratt, with feigned anger.  “Your hands should hang naturally at your sides, the little finger touching the seam of the trousers.”

Now, in this inverted position the hands “hung” anything but “naturally” at the sides.  In fact, Bert had to hold his hands up in the air in order to have the little fingers touch the seams of the trousers.

Standing on his head, in this fashion, without support, was something that taxed all of Mr. Dodge’s athletic powers.  He had to try over again, more than a half a dozen times, ere he achieved a decent performance of this gymnastic feat.

“Now, let us see how good a soldier you are, mister,” commanded Yearling Pratt, turning around upon Plebe Anstey.

Anstey’s cheeks were just a bit pale, from suppressed anger, but he speedily mastered this novel way of standing at attention, and did it to the satisfaction of the hazers.

Then Dick and Greg did it, and rather better than either of their predecessors.  The old gym. and field work of training for the Gridley High School teams had hardened their muscles in a way that stood them in good stead now.

“Brace, mister!” commanded Yearling Judson, focusing his gaze on smarting Bert Dodge.

Bert knew what that meant, from hearsay, and didn’t pretend that he didn’t.  This time he took the position of attention on his feet, and then exaggerated the position by throwing his head and shoulders as far back as he could, standing rigidly in this latter position.

It isn’t much of a thing to do, as far as taking the attitude goes.  It is the length of time a plebe is kept at a “brace” that makes it count as an effective form of hazing.  “Bracing” is generations old at West Point.  The theory of upper class men has always been that bracing, long continued, fastens the principles of erect carriage upon a plebe, and teaches him, more quickly than anything else could, how to hold himself and to walk.

Dick, Greg and Anstey were likewise soon straining themselves in the “brace” attitude.  And mighty funny these four hapless plebes looked as they stood thus, wondering when the hazers would let up on them.  But Yearlings Pratt and Judson looked on grimly, warning any plebe as often as the offender showed a disposition to lessen the severity of his “brace.”

How everyone of the four ached can be determined by the reader if he will take the full position of the brace, and hold it steadily for ten or fifteen minutes by a friend’s watch.

Dodge began to wobble at last.  Anstey was sticking it out pluckily, but knew his endurance must soon give out.  Dick and Greg felt their back muscles and nerves throbbing.  Yet neither Judson nor Pratt showed any intention of giving the command to stop.

Suddenly a quick step was heard in the hallway outside.

Anyone who has been at the Military Academy as long as had Pratt and Judson knew the meaning of that particular, swift step.

One of the “tacs.,” as the tactical officers are called, was making an unscheduled tour of inspection.  For an upper class man to be caught hazing, or for a plebe to be caught submitting, was equally dangerous to either yearling or plebe!  It might mean dismissal.