Read CHAPTER XVIII - THE PLEBE CLASS CHOOSES ITS PRESIDENT of Dick Prescott First Year at West Point, free online book, by H. Irving Hancock, on ReadCentral.com.

Not a man save two on sick report at cadet hospital was absent when Cadet Hopper, acting as temporary chairman, the plebe class called to order.

“Gentlemen,” he announced, “you all know the principal reason for our being here.  We are, in especial, to elect a class president.  Therefore I will take time only to urge upon you the great importance of to-night’s planned action.

“The class president is to be, in a word, the class leader.  The president of this class is to stand before the entire cadet body, and before the authorities of the United States Military Academy, as the representative of this class.

“It goes without saying, I think, that our president should be, in every respect, the best possible representative of the class as a whole.  He should be as nearly as possible the ideal man of the class ­the man who stands for the best, the manliest and the most loyal thoughts and aspirations of this class.

“As brevity is always highly to be prized, I will say no more at this moment.  If any gentleman present desires to address the class, I will recognize him for that purpose.  If, after a pause, we ascertain that no member desires to make a general address, I will then rule that the election is next in order.”

“Mr. Chairman!”

“Mr. Lawrence.”

“I believe, Mr. Chairman,” cried Mr. Lawrence, “that I have never heard the objects or the duty of a meeting better expressed, or in fewer words.  I am certain that I voice the sense of this class meeting when I say that the thanks of the plebe class are due to the chairman.  I have only to add my own personal, urgent appeal that the man chosen for the greatest honor we can bestow be truly a man who represents the best that there is in this class.  And now, Mr. Chairman, I move that we proceed at once to nominations.”

“Nominations with speeches?” asked the chairman.

“Yes, Mr. Chairman.”

“I second the motion, as amended,” declared Cadet Thompson.

The motion was put and carried.

Cadets Hopper and Lawrence were both nominated, and the nominations seconded.

“Mr. Chairman!”

“Mr. Delavan.”

Cadet Delavan was upon his feet, the recognized and avowed arch-supporter of Mr. Dodge.  Delavan made an introductory appeal in which he brought forth and endorsed the remarks of the chair.  He then brought forth, as leading characteristics in a wise and capable class president a high sense of honor, wide judgment, intimacy with the world and its social usages, and unswerving loyalty to country, the Military Academy and the class.

“In these and in all other essential and even ideal respects, Mr. Chairman, we have everything that can be asked for in Mr. Dodge.  Mr. Chairman, I most earnestly and urgently place Mr. Dodge in nomination for the office of president of this class.”

Then Hadley was on his feet at once.  In a longer and more eloquent speech he seconded the nomination.  Hadley possessed the gift of eloquence.  As he proceeded in his remarks he convinced many, until now wavering, that Bert Dodge was the most available man for the great office.  When Hadley sat down it was the general opinion that Dodge was about as good as elected.

There was a long pause.  Then: 

“Mr. Chairman!”

“Mr. Anstey.”

The Virginian nodded to the chair, then looked slowly around at all the faces.  It was some moments ere his voice was again heard.  When he did speak it was in a low, clear voice that gradually increased in volume.

“Mr. Chairman, and fellow members of the fourth class,” Anstey continued in soft accents, “it may, at first thought, seem almost treacherous that I should favor any comrade over my own roommate.”

Bert Dodge flushed angrily, then paled.

“Believe me, sir and gentlemen, only a burning desire to see the best interests of the class served could nerve me to such a seeming lack of grace.”

In the intense stillness that followed the noise that Bert Dodge made in shifting his feet on the floor sounded loud, indeed.  Anstey was a trifle paler than usual, but he was working under an intense conviction, and the grit and dash of his Revolutionary forbears was quite sufficient to carry him on unswervingly to his goal of duty to the class.

“Against Mr. Dodge, sir and classmates, I have no word to offer.  I will admit that he would make a good president of the class.  In one study Mr. Dodge for a while stood so persistently among the goats as to hint at the possibility that he might not be with us long.”

Bert flushed angrily.

“But, most fortunately,” pursued Anstey, in the same soft, Southern voice, “Mr. Dodge has lately pulled himself up from among the goats, and is most likely to remain here at the Academy for the allotted period of four years.

“Yet, sir and classmates, the words of our temporary presiding officer have sunk deeply into my brain.  We must choose the man who is most truly representative of the whole spirit, purpose and daring of the class.  With all due and high respect, gentlemen, for my own roommate, I desire to bring forward for your consideration the one who, I feel certain, stands more closely than any of us to all the grand old traditions of intelligence, daring, loyalty, leadership, good fellowship and unfailing good judgment.  The man I would nominate, sir, will, to my mind, lead this class as no class has been led at the Military Academy within the last generation or two.”

Mr. Anstey paused, glancing at the faces in front.

“Name him!”

“Yes!  Name him!”

“Mr. Chairman, and classmates,” continued the Virginian, “I have the honor ­and I assure you I feel it an honor to have made the discovery ­I have the honor to place in nomination for the class presidency the name of that splendid fellow and soldier-at-heart ­Mr. Prescott!”

Greg it was gave a whoop that started the cheering.

“You sneak!” muttered Dodge under his breath, trying to hide the fire that burned in his eyes as he looked again at Cadet Anstey.  But five men caught the low-uttered word and it cost Dodge five votes.

“Further nominations are in order,” suggested Chairman Hopper.

There was a long pause, after which it was moved, seconded and carried that the nominations be closed.

“The chair then directs,” continued Mr. Hooper, “that Messrs. Gentry, Hawkes, Fletcher and Simmons serve as tellers.  Voting will be by written ballot, on slips that will be supplied by the tellers.”

Soon the tellers circulated again through the meeting, receiving the written ballots in their caps.  These were brought forward to the table behind the platform desk and counted.  Then, after securing the floor, teller Hawkes announced the result as follows: 

“Whole number of votes cast, 122; necessary to choice, 61.  Of these Mr. Dodge has received 48; Mr. Prescott, 39; Mr. Hopper, 19, and Mr. Lawrence, 16.”

“No choice having been made by the majority voting,” decided the chair, “the tellers will again distribute blank slips and another ballot will be cast.”

The second balloting resulted in this layout: 

Dodge, 52; Prescott, 40; Hopper, 16; Lawrence, 14.

“No choice having yet been made, a third balloting will be necessary,” ruled the chair.

“Mr. Chairman ­one moment, please!”

“Mr. Lawrence.”

“Mr. Chairman and classmates,” went on Lawrence hastily, “I regret that I have not the silver tongue possessed by some who have spoken to-night.  Did I possess such a precious thing I would know how to thank appropriately, perhaps, those who have favored me enough to vote for me.  I do thank these friends, though not as I would wish I might.  But I now respectfully ask all of my friends who have voted for me to vote with me, and cast their votes for Mr. Prescott.”

“The chair wishes to withdraw its name from this contest, with a similar tribute of thanks,” declared Mr. Hopper.  “Yet, perhaps as temporary presiding officer, it will not be wholly proper for me to declare in favor of either of the remaining candidates.”

Then the tellers distributed ballots again.  There was a great deal of excitement in the air.  Bert Dodge and Dick Prescott were the observed of many eyes.  Again the ballots were taken up and counted.

“Gentlemen,” announced Chairman Hopper, as one of the tellers handed him a slip, “Mr. Dodge has fifty votes and Mr. Prescott has seventy-two.  Mr. Prescott is, therefore, elected president of this class.”

“Mr. Chairman,” cried Greg, leaping to his feet, “I move to make the election unanimous.”

“Second the motion!” called half a dozen at once.

It was put to an aye-and-no vote and carried rousingly.

“The chair gladly relinquishes its temporary post to the one elected to fill it,” announced Mr. Hopper.

Anstey, Greg and a dozen others gleefully escorted the class president to the platform.

Dick addressed the meeting in a quiet, low voice, but he heartily thanked the class for the honor it had accorded him.

“I’m not going to make a speech, gentlemen,” he continued.  “Perhaps a speech from me will be worth more when I am through with the office.  But I have listened attentively to what has been outlined to-night by other speakers as constituting a worthy president, and I can only add that I shall do all that may possibly be in my power to live up to such ideals.  The chair now stands ready to be advised of any further business that may properly come before the meeting.”

There being no “business,” the time was taken up with speeches from several plebes who wanted to be heard.  The subject of their treatment by the yearlings came in for much attention.  Many of the speakers expressed burning indignation at the “small show” accorded to the plebe class.

“Hasn’t our president something to say on this subject?” called some one.

“I shall be glad to speak on this very matter,” smiled Cadet Prescott, rising.  “Gentlemen of the class, I know that we are traveling over a road that, even under the most genial conditions, would be a rough one.  Many of us feel that the yearling class is devoting all its energies to making that road a still rougher one.”

“Hear!  Hear!” cried a dozen at once.

“But, gentlemen,” continued the new class president, “next June we shall be yearlings.  There will be a new lot of plebes here, and I feel rather certain that we shall treat them just about as we are now being treated.”

There were murmurs of dissent at this.

“For generations,” continued Cadet Prescott, “the plebe at West Point has had to rough it.  You are all familiar with the truism that a soldier must learn to obey before he is fit for command.  In much the same way, I fancy, the plebe must travel a rough road before he is thoroughly broken in and fitted to enjoy the delights of full equality and recognition with upper class men.

“We are no more put upon than was every present upper class man during his first year here.  When we reach the sublime heights on which the yearlings dwell I believe that we shall look back and appreciate the fact that we truly needed some round thrashing into shape.  We shall feel grateful to our present enemies, the yearlings ­and we will turn around and help the new lot of plebes through the same kind of first-year life.  In the meantime, classmates, I earnestly advise that we establish at least one record here.  Let us, from now on, prove ourselves to be the gamest of plebes who have suffered here in many a year.  The more patiently we bear it now, in all patience, the better yearlings, the better second class men and first class men we shall be when our time comes.  The motto of a famous sovereign is, ‘I serve.’  Let our plebe class motto be, ‘I grin and bear.’”

This wasn’t exactly what the plebes had been expecting from their new leader.  For a few moments after Dick sat down there was silence.  Then a half dozen began to applaud.  The noise grew, until half the plebes were cheering.

“Thank you, gentlemen,” smiled the class president.  “I think we are now well started on the way to becoming useful members of the Army.”

“What do you think of our new leader?” one of Bert Dodge’s late supporters asked that young man after the meeting had broken up.

“We’re going to have a boot-lick president,” growled Bert.

“Then there’s a strong boot-lick sentiment in the class,” returned the other cadet.  “But I think Mr. Prescott is going to head a manlier lot than we were yesterday.”

When Anstey entered their room at barracks Dodge refused to notice him, or to answer a pleasant greeting.

“I have been trying to forgive Dick Prescott for all of the past,” Cadet Dodge told himself darkly.  “I wanted to start a new life, for both of us, here at West Point.  But the fellow won’t let me.  He is always getting in my way.  Oh, what a laugh there’ll be in Gridley, among the mucker part of the population, when they find that I’m not class president, but that Dick Prescott is!”

Even after he lay in bed, following taps, Bert Dodge could not sleep.  He lay tossing restlessly, dark thoughts surging through his mind.

“No place on earth seems large enough for Dick Prescott and me together!” muttered Dodge in the dark.  “Dick Prescott, if I haven’t lost my cunning you shan’t be here much longer.”

But the forcing of Dick Prescott out of the West Point cadet corps was not easy to accomplish nor were ways of doing it to be come upon quickly.

First, Mr. Dodge realized that he was falling behind in mathematics, and for weeks he had to give all his energy to keeping a place in the class.

Finally January came and with it examinations.  The plebe escapes written examinations if he has shown proficiency in the general review of the first half of the academic year.  Dick and Greg got through without these “writs.”  Bert Dodge was compelled to face the written test in mathematics, but he made the grade and stayed on.  He was gratified, for thirty-one of the plebes were dropped after this examination.

“I’ve got to stay on,” Bert Dodge had ground out between his teeth.  “If I’m to be dropped from West Point, it must be after I’ve found a way to send Dick Prescott back to Gridley ahead of me!”

Spring came, and still Bert’s opportunity was lacking.  He and Anstey greeted each other, but that was about all the communication the two held.  Yet, one night, having noted the fact that for some time Dodge had seemed depressed, the Virginian asked: 

“What’s wrong, Mr. Dodge?  Anything in which another fellow can lend a hand?”

“Nothing’s wrong,” replied Dodge shortly, and turned at once to his books.  Still his gloom continued, and one evening not long after Anstey said to Dick and Greg: 

“That townsman of yours is so deep in gloom that it’s like living in an unlighted cave to be in the same room with him.  What’s wrong, do you suppose?”

“No telling,” replied Dick.  “Just disposition, I presume.  He’s no longer a townsman of ours, by the way.”

“Do you note really savage looks on his face?” put in Cadet Holmes.

“Don’t I, though!”

“Then Bert Dodge has a mean streak on and is plotting mischief to some one!”

“Is he underhanded and treacherous?” demanded Anstey quickly.

Prescott hesitated a moment, then said: 

“Perhaps you’d better keep your eyes open.  You’re pretty close to him, and you don’t want him to do anything to bring your record in question.  Still, so far as any of us knows, he’s been honorable and square here; so let’s give the fellow his chance and say nothing to prejudice any one else.”

“You’re right, Dick.  Still, I wish something would pull the fellow out of his gloom.  It spreads thick through the whole room.”

The truth was that because he could think of no feasible plan to drive Prescott from the Military Academy, Bert Dodge had become morose and irritable.  But at last he thought he saw his chance.

It was May when Greg Holmes received a telegram that an aunt of his of whom he had always been fond had died.  Another telegram from Greg’s father to Superintendent Martin asked that the boy be allowed to go home for the funeral.  After an inquiry as to Greg’s standing in class, Colonel Martin granted the permission, handing Holmes the money his father had telegraphed for the purpose.  When Bert Dodge saw Greg leave the Academy his eyes lighted up.

“Prescott will be alone in his room,” he muttered in evil glee.  “There’ll be times when he’ll be out; but I’ll have to work quickly!” Then a gleam came into his eyes.  “Prescott will be in Lieutenant Pierson’s quarters talking over football plans to-morrow night.  That’s my chance!”