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   Chapter 1 TWO TINY SPECKS OF NOTHING

Dick Prescott's First Year at West Point; Or, Two Chums in the Cadet Gray By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 23495

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"How do you feel, Dick! As spruce as you did an hour ago!"

Candidate Greg Holmes put the question with a half-nervous laugh. He spoke in a whisper, too, as if to keep his agitation from reaching the notice of any of the score or more of other young men in the room of Mr. Ward, the aged notary at West Point.

"I'll be glad when I see some daylight through the proceedings,"

Dick Prescott whispered in answer.

"I'm glad they allow us to talk here in undertones," pursued Greg.

"If we weren't allowed to do so, some of us would go suddenly crazy, utter a whoop and spring through one of the windows," grinned Dick.

For the tenth time he thrust his hands into his pockets-then as quickly drew them out again.

All of the young men now gathered in the room were candidates for cadetships at West Point; candidates who had been appointed by the Congressmen or Senators of their home districts or states, and who must now pass satisfactory physical and mental examinations, after which they would be enrolled as cadets in the United States Military Academy. Those of the cadets who thus passed the preliminary examinations, and who maintained good health and good standing in their classes during the following four years and three months would then be graduated from the Military Academy and forthwith be appointed second lieutenants in the Regular Army of the United States.

Hived in this room, awaiting their turn, a spirit of awe had gripped all these nervous young men.

Some of them dreaded a failure in the coming bodily tests before the keen-eyed, impartial surgeons of the United States Army.

Probably half of the boys in the room feared that they would fail in the academic examinations.

Boys? Some of the candidates didn't look the part. They had the physiques and general appearance, many of them, of men; for a candidate may be anywhere between the ages of seventeen and twenty-two years of age.

From all over the country they came. When the new, or plebe class should finally be assembled and put to work, that class would represent practically every state in the Union.

Readers of a former series of books, "THE HIGH SCHOOL BOYS SERIES," will not need to again be introduced to Dick Prescott and Greg Holmes. Such readers will well remember these two manly young Americans as members of that famous sextette, "Dick & Co.," famous in the annals of the good old Gridley High School.

Nor will such readers need to be told how Dick won, over the heads of forty competitors, the nomination of Congressman Spokes, the boy carrying all before him in a rigid competitive examination at the Gridley High School. The same readers will remember how Greg Holmes secured his own nomination from Senator Frayne. This was all related in the closing volume of the High School Series, "THE HIGH SCHOOL CAPTAIN OF THE TEAM."

Our former readers will also recall that Dave Darrin and Dan Daizell "ran away" with the nominations for cadetships at Annapolis, while Tom Reade and Harry Hazelton, the last of famous Dick & Co., went West seeking their careers as young engineers.

To be a cadet at West Point, and then to blossom out as an officer in the Regular Army-this had long been Dick's fondest hope. Greg, too, had caught the Army fever, and now suffered from it as severely as Dick Prescott himself.

And now, at what seemed like the critical moment, this tedious waiting was almost maddening.

Before Mr. Ward's desk stood a lonely looking young man, red faced and fidgeting as though he were going through a fearful ordeal.

"What on earth can they be doing to that fellow?" wondered Greg, in a barely audible undertone. "That fine-looking old gentleman can't be hazing a cadet?"

"No; but I wonder what the ordeal is," Dick whispered back. "I haven't seen a fellow look comfortable through it yet."

"Mr. Prescott!"

Dick started to his feet so suddenly that his right almost tripped over his left.

One of the other candidates near by tittered. That caused Dick's face to turn redder than ever.

Mr. Ward, however, looked up at the boy with a kindly smile.

"State your full name, Mr. Prescott."

Dick did so.

"When and where born? Give date and place."

By this time Dick was beginning to find his voice. The excess of color began to recede from his face. He had already, almost unconsciously, passed over the sealed envelope which he had received from the adjutant in a room on the same floor at headquarters.

Prescott was quickly breathing at his ease. He discovered that the entire ordeal consisted of giving his family history, with dates.

Then he stepped back. Another name was called.

"Don't let that rattle you a bit, Greg," whispered Dick, when he had dropped back into his seat beside his chum. "Mr. Ward doesn't do anything but take your pedigree."

"Mr. Holmes!"

Greg got up with nearly all of his self-possession about him. He was just returning to sit by his chum when the nattiest, sprucest- looking soldier imaginable, wearing the olive-drab fatigue uniform of the Army and overcoat to match, stepped into the room.

"The surgeons have directed me to bring down all the candidates who are through here," the orderly announced. "Follow me to the sidewalk, where you will fall in loosely, by twos, and follow me to the cadet hospital."

Among those of the candidates who had finished giving their pedigrees there was a rush that would put a spectator in mind almost of a football scrimmage. It represented merely the feverish anxiety of these young men to get through with the next stage in their awe-filled day.

"There are some marching down with us who won't be marching with us to the next place, I am afraid," whispered Holmes.

"I imagine so," whispered Dick, with a nod.

"Say," murmured Greg, his cheek suddenly blanching, "just how much chest expansion do the surgeons demand in the case of a fellow standing five-seven in his stocking feet?"

There was a note almost of panic in Greg's voice.

"Cheer up, Greg!" urged Dick, whose own lace was again flushing. "You've got chest expansion enough for a heavy-weight prize fighter."

"You must have the same, then. Is that so?" demanded Holmes.

"What makes your face so red?"

"Just wondering," admitted Prescott, in a low voice, "whether I ever contracted any symptoms of football-player's heart."

"Bosh!" muttered Greg. "I never heard of any such disease."

"I never did either," Dick fidgeted. "But in the hour I've been at West Point I've concluded that people here know a heap of things that aren't even guessed at in the outside world."

"O-o-o-h! Say! Look!" murmured Greg in deep awe and admiring wonder. "They must be cadets!"

Eight young men in gray, marshaled by a section marcher, went swinging up the road with a marching rhythm so perfect that it was like music.

Each of these young men was clad in flawless gray, with black stripes and facings. Each young man wore his cadet fatigue cap at an exact angle. The long, caped gray overcoats looked as though they had been melted to the forms of their wearers.

No wonder Greg Holmes gave that involuntary gasp. He was having his first view of a small squad of real cadets.

Some of the candidates on the other sidewalk so far forgot themselves as to halt and all but stare at the natty young marching men opposite.

Then, all in an instant, the section marcher and his section had gone by.

"Don't anyone halt, please," cautioned the soldier orderly. "Keep your places in the line, young gentlemen, and keep moving right along."

So they reached the cadet hospital. The orderly marched them into a spacious, almost bare room on the ground floor and announced:

"I will report to the surgeon. Young gentlemen, wait until you are called."

"I wish I could carry myself and step the way that fellow does," whispered Dick, his admiring gaze following the retreating orderly.

"Well, that's what we've come here to learn," replied Greg. "That is, if we get by the doctors-and then the beastly academic grind."

Now, to keep his mind occupied, Dick Prescott fell to observing, covertly, the other candidates.

These were of all sorts and sizes. They represented all parts of the United States and every walk in social life. Out of the group were two or three who, judging by their clothing, might have been sons of washerwomen. There were other youngsters whose general appearance and bearing seemed to proclaim that they came from homes of wealth. But the majority of the young men appeared to have come from the same walk in life as did Dick and Greg.

Our two young friends were by no means the most smartly nor the most correctly attired young men there. On their way to New York Prescott and Holmes had discovered, by taking mental notes of the other male passengers on the train, that these two Gridley boys had missed something from the most correct styles then prevailing in the larger cities.

Dick and Greg were both solidly and substantially attired, yet there was an indefinable something about them which proclaimed them to be young men from one of the smaller cities of the United States.

"I can see those medical big-wigs pawing me over now," shivered

Greg. "I suppose, at a place as wonderful and as learned as West

Point, the doctors are all fussy old men, with their gold-rimmed

spectacles and shiny frock coats."

"Wait and see," advised Dick, trying to get a grip on himself to control his nervousness.

Another door opened, to admit a dandified and very smart-looking young officer, apparently about twenty-five years of age.

"You're all ready, young gentlemen?" he asked smilingly.

"We're waiting for the doctor," replied Greg, who was close to the door by which the officer had entered.

"I am one of the surgeons," replied the young officer pleasantly.

"Gee whiz!" remarked one raw-boned youth, in what was meant to be a confidential whisper, but which rose to a pitch that carried it around the room. "Say, he doesn't look much like our old saw-bones doc down home way!"

The surgeon was followed by a smart-looking soldier of the hospital corps, who started to close the shades of the room.

"You have all been to the treasurer's office and deposited your funds?" asked the young surgeon, turning again. This time his question appeared to be addressed to Dick more particularly than to anyone else.

"Why, no, sir," Prescott replied. "I have all my money in my pocket yet."

"Orderly!" spoke the surgeon to his own man of the hospital corps, who wheeled, brought his heels together and stood at attention. "Bring in that orderly who conducted the young gentlemen here."

"Yes, sir," replied the hospital orderly, wheeling about and vanishing from the room. He was back again in a moment with the soldier who had brought in this batch of candidates without interviewing the treasurer.

"Orderly," spoke the surgeon, "you have overlooked one part of your instructions. You did not take these candidates to the treasurer's office."

"No, sir."

"Do so now. Then conduct the candidates back here."

"Very good, sir."

Signing to the candidates to rise and follow him outside, the orderly himself led the way.

"Say, that was neatly done. No calling the man down; no bluster," whispered Greg as the candidates again walked along the sidewalk.

"It's the Army way, I take it," murmured Dick.

This time the orderly marched his awkward squad straight to the cadet store and into the treasurer's office.

"O-o-o-h!" groaned Greg in an undertone.

"What's the matter?" demanded Dick in a cautious whisper.

"This delay and killing suspense before we get before the doctors. I'll bet my fever has gone up abo

ve one hundred and three degrees!"

"Form in line, and each one of you turn in all his money," directed the treasurer crisply.

Each candidate was required to deposit with the treasurer the sum of one hundred dollars. In the event that the candidate "passed" successfully to enrollment in the cadet corps, then this money was to be applied to the purchase of things necessary for the new cadet to have. In case the candidate did not pass he would receive his hundred dollars back again-enough, in almost any case, to take the young man safely back to his home.

The first three men to step before the treasurer each turned in a few dollars in excess of the hundred.

Each was handed the treasurer's receipt for the exact amount that he deposited.

Then came a rather dazzlingly attired young man of at least twenty-one. He had watched the others and now, with an air of some importance, drew out a roll of considerable size. He detached two fifty-dollar bills and handed them to the treasurer, with the query:

"A century covers the deposit, doesn't it?"

Though the treasurer frowned slightly at the slang use of "century," he replied briskly:

"You must deposit all the money you have, Mr. Geroldstone."

"But that doesn't seem like a square deal," protested young Geroldstone. "I'll need some money for personal expenses, some for little dinners, something to spend on the young [Transcriber's note: word missing]"

"You'll need no money here, Mr. Geroldstone. Cadets are allowed no spending money outside of the so-called confectionery allowance, and that is charged to you from your pay."

"But I'm a big candy eater," urged Geroldstone, with a grin.

"No argument, if you please, sir!" rapped the treasurer rather sharply. "Turn over all your money and remember that you are on honor in the matter."

Mr. Geroldstone received a receipt for nine hundred and sixty-two dollars, plus a few small coins. As he turned away he muttered to one of his predecessors:

"Say, ain't that a good deal like a hold up?"

"Remember, young gentlemen, all the money you have," admonished the treasurer, as the line started to move again.

Thus commanded, the candidates went through all their pockets while standing awaiting their own turns.

Dick and Greg had so well calculated their traveling expenses that each turned in about twenty dollars above the required one hundred dollars.

This little transaction completed, the orderly turned and marched them back at once to the hospital.

By this time some of the candidates had sufficiently overcome their nervousness to realize how raw and chilly this first day of March was. All of the candidates wore overcoats, though the outer garments worn by some of the young men, especially those who had journeyed hither from Southern States, were not of a weight to meet the March demands at hilly West Point, which lies exposed to the icy northern blasts down the Hudson River.

It looked as though it might snow at any moment. There was "ice in the air," as Greg Holmes expressed it.

So it was a welcome relief to all of the young candidates to find themselves once more inside the hospital building.

They were taken into the same room. During their absence the hospital corps orderly had distributed blankets, one on each chair.

"Each of you will please strip now," announced the same young medical officer, coming briskly into the room. "Strip as quickly as you can. Each man take a blanket and wrap it around himself while waiting."

Some of the young men looked startled, but all obeyed. In this stripping, and in the varied degrees of orderliness with which the different stacks of discarded clothing were piled it was rather easy to pick out the young men who had previously undressed in the dressing quarters of schools or colleges where athletics are a big feature.

"If we had a few tom-tom players we'd be ready with a fine imitation of an Indian war dance," muttered one of the candidates, gazing about him at his blanketed companions. There was a laugh, of course. These highly nervous youngsters were ready to laugh at anything just now.

"Is Mr. Geroldstone ready?" asked the hospital orderly, marching into the room.

"I will be, in five minutes or so," replied Geroldstone, slowly pulling his shirt off over his head.

"Mr. Danvers, then," called the orderly, consulting a slip of paper in his right hand.

Candidate Frank Danvers, a good-looking young man, self-contained, slight of build, not very tall, but very black as to hair, stepped forward.

"In here, sir," requested the hospital orderly, holding open the door. After Danvers had gone the other young men held their breath for a few moments-all except Geroldstone, who was still leisurely disrobing.

Back came Danvers after a few moments. Every candidate in the room looked at him inquiringly.

"Yes, gentlemen; I'm very happy to say that I passed," nodded Danvers, as he sprang across the room and began to don his clothes once more.

"Mr. Geroldstone!" called the orderly, and the big candidate went in.

An anxious twenty minutes passed-anxious alike for Geroldstone and for those who still dangled on tenterhooks in the outer room.

At last the candidate under fire came out, a sickly grin on his face.

Though the others looked at him curiously, not a word did

Geroldstone offer.

"The big fellow has failed; I'll bet," muttered Greg Holmes. "I'm sorry for him, poor fellow."

Still another candidate was now undergoing the ordeal inside.

When he came out, nodding contentedly, the summons sounded:

"Mr. Prescott!"

"Brace up, Dick! You're all right," whispered Greg, with an affectionate pat on the shoulder as young Prescott rose, and, wrapping the blanket nervously around him, went through the doorway.

The same young medical officer, Lieutenant Herman, was in the other room. With him was an older medical officer, Captain Goodwin.

"Drop your blanket on that chair," nodded Lieutenant Herman.

"Now, step over to the scales."

Dick's weight, stripped, was taken, as well as his height. These points Lieutenant Herman jotted down as Captain Goodwin called them off.

"Now, let me listen to your heart," directed the senior medical officer, picking up a stethoscope from his desk. The heart beat and sounds were examined from several points.

"Come here, Mr. Prescott," directed Captain Goodwin, opening another door and revealing a flight of stairs. "Run up these stairs and back, as fast as you can."

As Dick halted, after that feat, his heart action was again examined, this time by both surgeons. After that his lungs were examined. Then he was directed to lie on a table, while the areas over his other organs were thumped and listened to. Then the candidate was examined for deformities. He was ordered to march around the room, to run, to jump over a low stool, and perform other antics.

Then the two surgeons conferred briefly at the desk.

"You'll do, Mr. Prescott," announced Captain Goodwin.

"Thank you, sir," stammered Dick, the flush of happiness coming to his cheeks.

"You've taken part in school athletics, haven't you?" asked

Lieutenant Herman.

"Yes, sir; captain of our football team last fall."

"You look it," nodded Lieutenant Herman pleasantly. "Take your blanket, Mr. Prescott. Orderly, call the next man."

As Dick strode back where he had left the others he heard the orderly call:

"Mr. Holmes."

"Go to it, old man. There's nothing to be afraid of," whispered

Dick Prescott.

"They got through with you in mighty quick time," smiled one of the other candidates.

"Did they?" laughed Prescott. "It seemed to me as though the surgeons started yesterday and finished to-morrow."

Mr. Geroldstone had finished dressing and sat by, a sulky look on his face. He wanted to go back to cadet store, get his money and leave West Point instantly. But the orderly had told him he would have to wait until a report had been made out to the adjutant.

To Dick the minutes dragged until Greg Holmes appeared again. Truth to tell, Greg was much afraid that he had a slight trouble with his heart, and that this difficulty would hinder his passing. Dick, who was aware of his chum's dread, was anxious for Holmes. As soon as he had finished dressing he found himself pacing the floor.

It was quite a while ere Greg came out, but his quiet, happy smile told the story.

"Did they ask you questions about your heart?" asked Prescott in an undertone.

"Yes," admitted Greg, while he dropped his blanket and began hastily pulling on his clothes.

"You told the truth, didn't you?"

"Of course, I did," flushed Greg. "If I hadn't told the truth I wouldn't be fit to be an Army officer. But Captain Goodwin laughed at me."

"Then he didn't find anything much wrong with your heart!"

"He said he guessed I had had some discomfort at times, but that, if I would eat more slowly, and chew my food better, my stomach would get a rest and stop shoving my heart."

"Oh! Is that all that has been ailing you?" smiled Dick.

"According to Captain Goodwin it's enough. He says my trouble started only recently, and that I can be over the last sign of it in three days if I'll take up with decent eating habits. But he has known boys he has had to reject because they had been at bad eating tricks for a longer time. You can bet I'm going to follow the surgeon's advice after this."

Four out of this squad of candidates were rejected by the examining surgeons. Geroldstone remained sulky, with an air of bravado; the other three young men were so downcast that all their companions were heartily sorry for them. The hospital orderly marched back to the adjutant's office those who had been rejected, while another orderly appeared and led those who had passed the surgeons to the cadet barracks.

"This begins to look like the real thing," murmured Dick as they neared the barracks.

Now this group were taken to the room of the cadet officer of the day, Lieutenant Edwards. Beside the cadet lieutenant's desk stood Cadet Corporal Brayton.

To the cadet officer of the day each of the candidates gave his name and home address, which were entered in a book.

"Brayton, take Prescott and Holmes to room number -, will you?" asked Mr. Edwards without looking up.

Dick and Greg followed their conductor outside and into another subdivision of barracks. Mr. Brayton kept on until he had reached the top flight, where he threw open a door.

"Step in here, Mr. Prescott and Mr. Holmes," ordered the cadet corporal stiffly. To the two new arrivals the corporal spoke as though he had conceived an intense dislike for these two boys. Later, Dick and Greg discovered that it was merely the way in which all candidates were treated by the cadet officers.

"You'll draw your bedding and other things presently," said Brayton coldly. "In the meantime you will remain here until you are ordered out. When you hear the order for candidates to turn out, obey without an instant's delay."

With that the corporal was gone, leaving the chums to gaze wonderingly about their new quarters.

Luxury? Not a bit of it. The room was severely plain. At one end was a double alcove, separated by a wall. In each alcove stood a bare-looking iron bedstead. There were two washbowls, two chairs and two desks that looked as though they had served the needs of generations of cadets. There was a window that looked out on the quadrangular area of barracks.

"Well, we're actually here, anyway," breathed Dick, his eyes sparkling. "We're living in cadet barracks, and we're halfway through the ordeal of becoming new cadets at the wonderful old United States Military Academy!"

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