Read CHAPTER XVII - MR. DODGE GOES CANVASSING of Dick Prescott First Year at West Point, free online book, by H. Irving Hancock, on

Yes, the good old summer time was over.  Bending over study tables in cadet barracks the young men pored over books and papers of their own making.

The first few days seemed fearfully hard.  To the young men who had been for weeks away from their books it seemed for a while all but impossible to pick up the threads of study in a way that would anything like satisfy the Army officers who acted as their relentless instructors.

“Relentless?” To the average boy in grammar or high school it does not seem like a hardship to be required to make a percentage of at least sixty-six and two-thirds per cent. in all studies.  In the public schools it seems rather easy to reach that kind of an average.

At West Point the markings are on a scale of three, with decimal shadings.  A man who secures in any study a marking of two is deemed proficient.  If his average marking in a term is 2.6, he is rather highly proficient in that study.  A marking of two on a scale of three is equivalent to sixty-six and two-thirds per cent., and this does not seem, to the outsider, a difficult attainment.  But the West Point speed of study!  In a high school the young man is given the whole of the first year in which to qualify in simple algebra; in the second year he takes up plane geometry; in the third he comes upon solid geometry; in the fourth year of high school work the young man masters plane trigonometry and solves allied problems.

At West Point, in the plebe year, the young man, in the first half of the year, goes through simple algebra and plane and solid geometry.  In the second half of the year he must force his way understandingly through advanced algebra and plane and spherical trigonometry!  This is his mathematics work merely for the first year, yet it is more and more thoroughly covered than the high school boy’s entire course.

During their first three months of plebedom, and with their course behind them in the really fine high school at Gridley, Dick and Greg had not found their math. much of a torment.  But now, after coming back from encampment, these young men began to wake up to the fact that West Point mathematics is a giant contrasted with the pigmy of public school mathematics.  The two chums began to put in every minute they could spare over the long, bewildering array of problems assigned for each recitation.

“What a curious delusion we had, back at Gridley!” laughed Greg, in their room, one night.

“Which particular delusion was that!” Dick demanded, without looking up from his geometry.

“Why, we thought our easy old Gridley work in math. was going to fit us to race easily through the first two years here!”

“That isn’t the only pipe that has burned out in our pockets since we became plebes!” grunted Dick.

“Are you going to max it (get a high marking) in math., to-morrow, old fellow?”

“I’m going to ’fess out (fail) more likely,” sighed Dick.  “How are you coming on, general?”

“I’d give a good deal to be able to ask a first class man how to solve the fourth problem on to-morrow’s list,” groaned Greg.

“I’d show you,” sighed Dick, “only I’m afraid I might lead you into an ambush where you’d get scalped by the instructor.”

In each class, and in every subject of study, the young men are divided, for recitation purposes, into sections of eight or ten men.  In each study the section to which the young man belongs is determined by his relative standing in that study.  The “banner” section is made up of the cadets who stand highest in the class in that particular study.  At the end of every week the markings of each cadet in every one of his studies is posted, and the sections are rearranged, if need be.  The men in the lowest section of all in a given study are styled the “goats.”  The members of the “goat” section, in math. for instance, are men who feel rather certain that they will presently be “found” and dropped from the cadet corps.  However, at the beginning of a year a man may fall into the “goats,” and then later, may pull up so that he reaches a higher section and goes on with better standing.  But in general the “goats” are looked upon as men who are going to be dropped, and this usually applies, also, to a majority of the men in the two or three sections just above the “goats.”

About forty per cent. of the young men who enter West Point as cadets are dropped before their course is over.  Most of these losses occur in the plebe and yearling classes.  When a man has completed two years at West Point he has a very good chance to get through and win his commission as an officer in the Army.

In geometry Greg was in the third section above the “goats,” Dick in the sixth.

“I wish I had your head, old ramrod!” groaned Greg, half an hour later.

“If I should lose even a hair’s weight from my head I’d be in the ‘goats’ next week,” replied Prescott grimly.  “If I ever get to be an officer in the Army, I wonder what earthly good all these math. headaches will do me in handling a bunch of raw rookies?”

“If we have to go back to Gridley, ‘skinned,’” grimaced Greg, “we’ll at least have company.  Dodge is only a tenth above ‘goat’ grade in geom., and next week will probably see him there.”

“And he was considered a good student in Gridley!” quoth Dick sadly.

That Dodge, however, still had hopes of being able to hold on was proved by the fact that he was now conducting a vigorous campaign for election to the class presidency.

“I think I am as good as elected class president,” he wrote home to the elder Dodge.  And, the next time Theodore Dodge went over to his bank in Gridley, Theodore Dodge circulated the news among his intimates.  The evening “Mail,” in Gridley, came out with the statement that Dodge was sure to become class president.

“And thus Gridley will have cause to feel that it occupies no small place of honor, after all, in national affairs,” penned the editor of the “Mail.”

Dodge had a rather fair following of friends in the class, since he had become modest enough to drop his pretensions to caste and extra social position and they were working hard for him.

That young man came early to Dick and Greg, asking them to work for him.

“I don’t quite care to pledge myself,” Dick replied kindly.  “When the class meeting is called I’d rather go in with a free mind on the subject.  Then, Dodge, if I consider you the best man put in nomination, I’ll vote for you.”

Though this was not a positive assurance Dodge and his campaign managers made use of it to put Dick’s name in the list of supporters.

One evening, at dress parade, when the cadet adjutant read the day’s orders, he came to this announcement: 

“Members of the fourth class are requested to meet, under permission of the Superintendent, at the Y.M.C.A. at eight o’clock to-night, for the election of a class president, and for transaction of such other business as may properly come before the meeting.  Members of the upper classes will accordingly remain away from the Y.M.C.A. to-night.”

“Remember, you fellows,” called Bert Dodge, thrusting his head into Dick and Greg’s room after return to barracks, “I count upon your strong support to-night.”