Read CHAPTER XVI - TAPS SOUNDS ON SUMMER of Dick Prescott First Year at West Point, free online book, by H. Irving Hancock, on ReadCentral.com.

Cadet Dodge spent the last days of the encampment on sick report.

He got word that Mr. Poultney was one of the yearlings concerned in his discomfiture on post number three, and boldly confronted the yearling with the charge.

In the fight that followed Dodge received a fearful walloping from Mr. Poultney.

The laws of courtesy are enforced by these fights.  A new man, entering the United States Military Academy, often has a most exaggerated idea of his own importance and merits.  In some instances the new cadet is likely to disregard the rights of upper class men.  A fight puts the offending plebe where he belongs.  Further, the knowledge that he will have to fight for every serious infraction of the rules of courtesy results in quickly making a disciplined soldier and considerate gentleman out of the cadet who is inclined to be bumptious.

In the training of personal character it may readily be believed that the cadet’s plebe year, with its “chalk-line” and repression, is worth all the rest of the time spent at West Point.

Milk-sops and peace-at-any-price advocates may as well turn their attention away from West Point.  These ultra-peaceable ones, who long for the promotion of peace through the abolition of all armies, have at hand an experiment that can be carried out only on a smaller scale.

Let these peace-at-any-price agitators, in a given community, set about to stamp out crime by abolishing the police force!  An army is merely a force of international policemen.

In the last days of August the furloughed new second class returned.  The young men, after reporting at the adjutant’s office at the required hour, formed and marched to camp, still in “cit.” clothes.

First and third class men rushed out to receive and congratulate the returned travelers, while the plebes stood shyly by.  Their welcome was not wanted.  Then the second class men disappeared into their tents.  They were out again, quickly enough, in white ducks and the cadet gray blouses.  They had taken up the cadet life for two years more.  In the afternoon these second class men swelled the ranks of the battalion and went through, with all the old-time fervor, the grand old ceremony of dress parade.

That night came the “Show.”  This annual show at the end of August may be either the Camp Illumination or the Color Line Entertainment.  This year the class presidents had asked for the latter.

As soon as dark came on, the Color Line ­the central line through cadet camp ­blazed out with lights.  Soon after the band began to play gayly.  Hundreds of visitors, most of them women, and the majority quite young women, flocked to camp.  Along the color line the guns of the battalion were stacked.  Over the center of the line the colors of the country and the cadet colors were draped with beautiful effect.  Cadets of the three upper classes escorted the visitors through.  The plebes stood by their own tents, answering when spoken to, which was not often.

After the band had played several selections the musicians moved up before a hastily constructed stage.  Plays or musical farces, written and acted by cadets, are often presented.  In Dick’s plebe summer, however, the choice had been for a minstrel show.

Half an hour before the opening of the performance thirty of the cadets vanished to a big dressing tent behind the stage.

Before the stage hundreds of seats had been arranged.  Every cadet who escorted ladies was privileged to sit with them.  Cadets who “stagged” it were expected to stand.  All of the plebes were in this number.

Presently the cadets, their faces blacked, came out of the dressing tent, taking their places off the stage.  A regulation first part was now provided, with the aid of the band playing as an orchestra.  In style it was the minstrel first part with which we are all familiar.  There was this difference:  The jokes hit off exclusively local affairs and conditions.  The officers who served as instructors at West Point did not by any means escape in the running fire of minstrelsy nonsense.

Then came forth a woeful figure, blackfaced and attired in a dilapidated uniform.  As he turned sideways it was noted that this cadet, who was really a rollicking second class man, wore on his back a card labeled in large letters: 

“Plebe.  Please don’t mistreat.”

At first sight of the pitiable object a roar of laughter went up from the spectators.  Nowhere was the laughter louder than in the ranks of the standing plebes themselves, at the rear of the audience.  This woeful-looking performer, after the orchestra had played a few preliminary strains, launched into a parody of “Nobody Loves Me.”  The song was full of hits on the b.j. “beast.”  The real plebes with keen enjoyment.

“Mr. Plescott!” called the interlocutor, after the song and two encore verses had been sung.

“Yes, sah,” falteringly replied the minstrel plebe, turning awkwardly and saluting with the wrong hand.

Though the name called was “Plescott,” half of the plebe class turned to grin at Cadet Richard Prescott.

Dick stood it well, waiting to see what the performer would next say.

“Mr. Plescott,” continued the interlocutor, “I heard something said about you this morning that I didn’t in the least like.”

“Ye-e-es, sah?” inquired the minstrel plebe falteringly.

“I consider it, Mr. Plescott, a most insulting thing that I heard said about you.”

“Ye-e-es, sah?” faltered the performer, his knees shaking and his eyes rolling in apprehension.

“Mr. Plescott, your defamer said you were not fit to eat with Hottentot savages!  I had to call the fellow down severely.  Think of it, Mr. Plescott ­you not fit to eat with Hottentot savages.”

“Dat was a mighty mean thing to say, sah.  Mought ah ask what yo’ said to de gemmun?”

“I told your defamer, Mr. Plescott, that he was entirely in error in asserting that you are not fit to eat with Hottentot savages.  I assured him that you were!”

There was a wild whoop of glee from the spectators, especially from the other plebes, and Dick, though he laughed heartily, reddened when he found himself focused by so many scores of eyes.

Then the singer dropped off into another song, and the nonsense went on.  After the first part came an olio in which were some fine singing, dancing, juggling and other work.

The performance came to an end in time for the cadets and their visitors to take another stroll through camp.

Bang!  Bang!  Bang!  A glow and a burst of red fire!  There was a bewildering maze of pyrotechnics.  After five minutes of this the fireworks ceased, and, though the camp lights still burned the contrast seemed almost like darkness.

The members of the band rose.  As the leader’s baton fell the notes of “The Star Spangled Banner” rose triumphant on the night air.  It was a glorious sight as a hundred Army officers and five hundred United States cadets clicked their heels, stood instantly at attention, uncovered their heads and stood with caps held over their hearts.

As the strains died out there was an impressive pause.  Then, in lighter vein, the band rollicked out with the old, familiar, “Good Night Ladies,” and, laughing merrily, the visitors departed, their cadet friends going with them only as far as camp limits.

Out on the plains beyond the visitors again halted for a brief instant.

In front of the guard tent a drummer sounded “taps” ­three strokes on the drum.  All but the authorized lights in guard tent and O.C.’s tent were extinguished.

The summer encampment was over.

“Oh, dear!” sighed many a fair visitor as she returned to a sheltering roof.  “The summer’s fun is over.  To-morrow these splendid young men will be back in barracks, grilling and boning for their very lives!”