Read CHAPTER VII - A SUDDEN GRIND AT MATH of Dick Prescott First Year at West Point, free online book, by H. Irving Hancock, on ReadCentral.com.

Had Dick’s been the first door opened six cadets would have been instantly in serious trouble.

Fortunately the door across the corridor was the first to be opened, and the six on this side of the hallway heard another cadet’s voice call quietly: 

“Attention!”

It was, therefore, a tactical officer making an inspection.

At the United States Military Academy the superintendent, who has the local rank of colonel, is at the head of this government institution in all its departments.

Discipline, however, and training in tactics, comes within the especial province of another officer, known as the commandant of cadets, who ranks locally as a lieutenant-colonel, and who gets in closer touch with the cadet corps.

Under the commandant of cadets are several other Army officers, captains and lieutenants, who take upon themselves the numerous duties of which the commandant has oversight.  These subordinate officers in the tactical department are known as tactical officers.  The cadets call them “tac.s.”

Each day one of these “tac.s” is in charge at the office of the commandant, which is in cadet headquarter’s building, on the south side of the area of cadet barracks.

This officer, who is in charge for a full period of twenty-four hours, when his turn comes, is officially designated as the “officer in charge.”  Among the cadets he is privately referred to as the “O.C.”  In a similar way, in cadet parlance, the commandant himself is known as the “K.C.”

Now, one of the numerous duties of the O.C., who is an Army officer and himself a graduate of West Point, is to make sudden, unexpected tours of inspection whenever the fancy ­or the suspicion ­seizes him.

Such an inspection need by no means extend through the whole of cadet barracks.  It may, for that matter, be only to one subdivision, or even to a single floor or room of one subdivision.  Yet record must be kept of such inspections, and of any offenses against discipline that may be discovered by such a flying visit.

A scrap of paper on the floor, a match end on a study table, any article of furniture or clothing out of its proper place, or any undress or untidiness on the part of a cadet, constitutes a breach of discipline, and must be reported and atoned for.  Naturally, a case of hazing would be a most serious “delinquency,” as breaches of discipline are termed.

Just what Captain Vesey, O.C., on this day, expected to discover through the present flying inspection will never be known.  If he had tried Dick’s door first.

But he didn’t.

However, there was no chance whatever for Yearlings Pratt and Judson to retreat unseen.  The door across the hall had been left open, and the tac. would be sure to detect their sudden departure.

Dick Prescott’s first movement was to pounce upon his disordered bedding, swiftly folding over the mattress, and laying the bed clothing in the prescribed manner.

Then he tiptoed up to the dismayed Judson, whispering in that yearling’s ear as he knowingly winked at Pratt: 

“If I’m not too abominably b.j., sir, won’t you please come to my table and help me bone math?”

It looked like a saving inspiration.  As Dick slipped into his chair he signed to Bert Dodge to stand at one end of the table.  Judson snatched up one of Dick’s mathematical textbooks, opening to one of the first pages at random.  Dick turned sideways in his chair, glancing up at the yearling with a rapt expression.

Yearling Pratt slipped into Greg’s chair.  Holmes and Anstey stood on either side of him.  Pratt began rapidly to sketch out a problem that he chanced to remember from plebe year math.

Almost instantly the door swung open.  Not one of the cadets happened to be looking in that direction.  As Captain Vesey, the tac., white-gloved, stepped into the room he was just in time to hear Cadet Judson say: 

“Perhaps if you were to work out a formula in algebra, mister, you would find the idea even more clear.  But I think you understand it now.”

“Yes, sir, thank you,” replied Cadet Prescott.

“This is the way I would explain the problem,” murmured Mr. Pratt, to Greg and Anstey.  Just at that instant the yearling looked as though butter couldn’t melt in his mouth.

Turning a bit, Pratt caught sight of the tac., who stood looking on as though transformed with wonder.

“Attention!” called Pratt at once.

All the others wheeled, Dick rising in order to do so.  Six young men who looked intensely earnest over study, faced the O.C. respectfully.

Doubtless a bit taken back, certainly so if he had expected to find anything wrong, Captain Vesey took two steps into the room, glanced about him, then wheeled and walked out.

“I must be going now,” uttered Yearling Judson a moment later.  “Call on me again, once in a while, if you need any help in math.”

“Thank you very much, sir,” murmured Cadet Prescott respectfully.

“Coming along now, Pratt?” called Judson.

“Yes; I must be getting back to my own bone,” replied Yearling Pratt.

It would have been out of the question for yearlings to thank plebes for a service such as had just been rendered.  So the late hazers merely stepped from the room.

“Odd!  Mighty queer!” muttered Captain Vesey to himself, as he unhooked his sword and stood it in a corner over in the O.C.’s office.  “Mr. Judson and Mr. Pratt have a pretty bad reputation for hazing.  And yet, when I come upon them, it is to find them helping the poor young greenhorns through the mazes of math.  I wonder if that was a put-up job on me.”

“Well you are a silly ninny, Prescott!” uttered Cadet Dodge disgustedly.

“Meaning ­what?” asked Dick coolly.

“Those yearlings were just about caught redhanded.”

“Yes.”

“And you had to go to work and arrange amateur dramatics like a flash.  So when the tac. pops in here, he finds those most estimable young ruffians conducting an innocent day school here!”

“Well?” demanded Prescott.

“Why didn’t you leave it for that yearling couple to pull their own chestnuts out of the fire?”

“Because,” replied Dick quietly, “I’m not going to be the means, if I can help it of having any man kicked out of this corps when he’s as anxious to be a soldier as I am!”

“You’re a ninny, just the same!” Bert decided.

“And you’re a hopeless minority here, Dodge, so come along back to our room,” broke in Anstey.  “We’ve some boning of our own to do before the call sounds for supper formation.”

Before the battalion of cadets marched to supper, through the heavy storm that night, the news of Dick Prescott’s inspiration had traveled pretty firmly through the yearling class.

It is against all West Point traditions to make a hero of a plebe.  Not a word of congratulation came to Cadet Prescott.  It wouldn’t even save the young man from being the victim of a lot of hazing pranks, for these inflictions were deemed necessary to the plebe’s training.  None the less, the incident, as it became known, caused the impression to spread that Cadet Prescott was a good fellow and that he was likely to prove a credit to the grand old United States Military Academy.

Hazing a thing of the past at West Point!  The War Department and the authorities at the Military Academy have done all they could, and will continue to do all in their power to stamp out hazing.

Since the Congressional investigation in the early years of the present century, much has been done to cut down the rigor of hazing at West Point.  General Mills stamped out much of it with iron vigor.  Colonel Scott dealt many hard blows to the system.  Other officers have bent their energies to the same problems.  The way of the hazer is perilous nowadays.  In a word, of late years hazing has been at a very low level at the United States Military Academy.

It is, however, a practical impossibility to stamp out hazing wholly in an institution where hazing has been one of the most cherished traditions through many generations of cadets.

The hazing of today is milder; there is less of it, and, with rare exceptions, it is less brutal.  Yet hazing, in one form or another, will doubtless continue at West Point through the twentieth century as it did through the nineteenth.

The form of hazing has changed, if not the spirit.  Sorely pressed by tac.s, and by other officers stationed at West Point, the yearlings, or second-year men, who do most of the hazing, have developed new forms of the ancient sport, and some of these forms may be carried on in actual sight of an Army officer without exciting his suspicions.

Where possible, some of the old-style forms of more innocent and purely mischievous hazing are retained.  Where “necessary” new hazes are employed that are bound to tax the best efforts of disciplinary or other officers to detect.

Hazing is one of the diversions of men of mature age on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.  Even in the United States Senate there are recognized ways of hazing a new Senator who displays too little reverence for the traditions of that august body.

Then why hope to abolish hazing utterly at West Point?