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   Chapter 2 THE TYRANNY OF THE CADET CORPORAL

Dick Prescott's First Year at West Point; Or, Two Chums in the Cadet Gray By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 14035

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Dick hung up his coat and hat, and Greg did the same, for the heat was turned on and the room wholly comfortable as to temperature.

"I've heard," murmured Greg, "that fellows usually get most woefully homesick at West Point."

"Then they've no business to come here," retorted Prescott, with spirit. "Such tender ones won't make soldiers anyway."

"I suppose we shall be awfully looked down on at first," mused

Greg aloud.

"Well, we can stand it," laughed Dick. "If we can't, we can't endure lots more of things that are ahead of us."

"Just now I could endure a good, filling meal," sighed Holmes comically.

"Yes?" laughed Prescott. "Then just press the button and the waiter will bring us the bill of fare. I understand that candidates are allowed to have their meals served in rooms. Although I believe it's forbidden for any candidate, or cadet, either, to eat his breakfast in bed."

"Quit your 'kidding,'" begged Greg.

"I don't know that the authorities will bother to feed us, anyway, until we've passed and it's known that we are going to stay and be cadets," laughed young Prescott, feeling around his belt-line, for he, too, was hungry.

"Candidates turn out promptly!" rang, from below, a voice full of military command.

Greg was in the middle of a comforting yawn and stretch. He dallied to finish it, but Dick, snatching down his overcoat and hat, was already out on the landing and racing below, while behind him floated the advice:

"Come on, Greg! Get a boost on!"

"Get along there, beasts," commanded a cadet corporal in the lower hallway sternly. "This is no sleeping match!"

Out in the yard several candidates had already run. Some of these young men at home, had been accustomed to being waited on by mothers and sisters. Yet here, in the seemingly freezing and hostile air of the Military Academy, these same young men were fast learning that everything has to be done by one's self, and at steam-engine speed.

"Mr. Danvers, come with me, and I'll place you as right guide," called Cadet Brayton with the air and tone of a budding military martinet.

Candidate Danvers followed meekly. Brayton looked at the lad's stooping shoulders with frigid, utter disapproval.

"Mr. Danvers, take your hands out of your pockets, sir."

"All right," laughed Mr. Danvers, obeying, and trying to laugh nonchalantly. "Anything to please."

"Don't address a superior officer, sir, unless he addresses you in a way to make a reply necessary. And when you do address a Superior officer, or any other cadet or candidate on official business always add 'sir.'"

Danvers nodded, but the nod Cadet Corporal Brayton ignored by turning on his heel and stepping, with a magnificently military air and carriage, over to another luckless candidate.

When ordered, the candidate fell in next to Mr. Danvers. Then the other anxious youngsters fell into line.

"Candidates turn out promptly!" sounded snappily in another part of barracks.

Another lot of newcomers began to tumble downstairs and out of doors with feverish haste, to be confronted by another cadet corporal who awaited them.

"Never mind that other squad!" admonished Cadet Corporal Brayton sharply. "Favor me with your whole attention. Now, then, listen, and do each thing as I tell you. Button your jackets and overcoats all the way down! Stand erect, with your heels together, and your toes pointing out at an angle of sixty degrees. Stand erect. Throw your shoulders back, your chests out and hold your heads up. This is called 'the position of the soldier.' Stand as I do."

Corporal Brayton favored his awkward squad with a profile view of himself, as he took the exact position of a soldier. How the anxious candidates wished they really could stand as this handsome young son of Mars did! To them it seemed impossible ever to acquire such truly military carriage. They did not realize that, between drills, gymnasium work and the setting-up drills, they would, in a few weeks, be hard to distinguish in elegance and perfection from their present instructor.

"Not quite so much like an ostrich, Mr. Prescott!" rasped out

Corporal Brayton severely.

Dick flushed painfully, all the more so because he heard one of the other candidates snicker.

"Stop that laughing, Mr. Danvers!" commanded Corporal Brayton.

Greg, in trying to get the right position, had so exaggerated it that now he found himself trembling from the strain of trying to maintain that position.

"What ails you, Mr. Holmes!" demanded Brayton, with withering scorn.

"I-I was trying to get the right position, sir," stammered Greg, reddening.

"That isn't the position of even a respectable dromedary, Mr.

Holmes," rejoined the cadet corporal crisply.

Then he poured a storm of refined abuse upon Greg. It wasn't intended entirely for Greg, but for the benefit of all the awkwardly standing green candidates. Not a word in Brayton's remarks went beyond the limits of strict military propriety, yet every word cut.

"My, but I'd like to fall out and give this fellow a licking!" muttered Greg to himself.

"Mr. Holmes," observed Cadet Corporal Brayton dryly, "clenched fists do not go with the position of the soldier. Let your hands fall naturally at your sides, each little finger resting against the seam of the trousers, or where you judge the seam to be."

Again the blood shot up to the roots of Greg's hair, suffusing his face. But Mr. Brayton had already turned to another candidate whom he found in a ludicrously bad position. After some minutes of this attempt to instruct the candidates in the seemingly simple matter of standing correctly, Brayton gave the welcome order to rest.

By this time four other awkward squads were at the same work.

"I wish we had our uniforms," whispered Greg. "I'd feel better."

"I am glad I haven't a uniform yet," returned Dick in an equally low voice. "I realize how like a fool I'd look in it when I don't even know how to stand, let alone attempting to walk in a uniform. Just look at the magnificent carriage of the man that's drilling us!"

"I'd like to hammer him until he needed a carriage to get anywhere in," muttered Greg vengefully. "That corporal is a brute, without a vestige of good breeding."

"Then, for a fellow without breeding, he certainly carries himself like a king," retorted Dick. "At least, I don't believe any European prince has half as fine a carriage as Mr. Brayton."

"I wonder if they're all as bad as this corporal," demanded Greg.

"Brayton is a tyrant in gray."

"Greg! Greg! Get a brace on yourself, old fellow," whispered Dick warningly. "This is only the morning of the first day, and we have before us months-years-of taking our medicine. Don't lose the gait even before you've got it. We came here to take our medicine and learn to be soldiers, didn't we?"

"Squad, attention!" rasped out Corporal Brayton, wheeling and once more favoring his own green lot with his whole regard.

Repeatedly he sh

owed these new men how to stand, how to hold themselves and how to do it without appearing ridiculous. So crisp, so rapping and even decorously abusive was Mr. Brayton that the boys under his command at this moment would have gasped had they been told that Brayton was considered one of the easiest and best-natured of the cadet corporals. Brayton had his work to do-that was all. It was part of his own training to learn how to whip an awkward squad into time in the shortest possible order.

By-and-by all these anxious, even trembling, candidates were instructed in the mystery of marching a few steps at command, how to keep their alignment on the right guide, how to halt, the facings and all that.

"Now, we'll pass on to learning to count fours, and how to march off in column of fours," announced Brayton. "Squad halt!" he commanded hoarsely, in disgust, ere the young men had taken four steps. "Listen to me more attentively, and try more closely to follow orders!" glared the young corporal.

After that it seemed as though Cadet Corporal Brayton could have no other aim in life than to drive his squad of candidates away from West Point. At almost every move through the drill he berated them caustically, though in such faultless military language of reproof as to keep him from censure.

"Dismissed," glared Brayton at last. "The candidates will go to their rooms until summoned again."

Dick and Greg both felt stiff in the legs. Their backs ached from the long-continued drilling in what was yet, to them, the rigor of near-military carriage. Both chums toiled up the stairs to their bare room.

"Oh, you brute!" muttered Greg, standing in the middle of the room and shaking his fist in the direction of the area.

"Meaning-whom?" queried Prescott, with a wan smile.

"Whom could I mean but Brayton?" almost hissed young Holmes.

"Why does that fellow hate us all so?"

"I'll tell you a secret, if you want to hear it," proposed Dick mysteriously.

"Please!" begged Candidate Holmes.

"Then I don't believe he does hate us."

"What?" gasped Greg incredulously.

"I don't believe he'd remember half our faces if he passed the members of his squad in the area right now," declared Dick.

"Then why does he persecute us so?" demanded Greg indignantly.

"I don't believe it is persecution," Dick continued.

"Then why, in the name of all that's kindly, does that fellow put us under the heel of hateful usage? Why must we submit to the tyranny of that cadet corporal?"

"It's the West Point way-that's all, I guess."

"Do you propose to submit to it?" challenged Greg.

"Yes," retorted Dick soberly. "I don't want to have to leave the

Academy and go home stamped a failure."

"Neither do I," admitted Candidate Holmes in a more moderate tone. "But I wonder whether we have to stand so much nonsense from a petty young official like a mere corporal?"

"I'm afraid we do," nodded Dick. "Now, see here, Greg, can't you make a good guess as to why we're put through such a grilling?"

"I'll confess I can't see any human reason in it," declared Candidate

Holmes.

"Why, what did we come here to learn to be?"

"Soldiers."

"Are we soldiers yet!"

"Of course not," Greg admitted.

"Do you think these people at West Point have time to coax and pamper us along!"

"Probably not. But can't they-or can't that fellow Brayton-be decent with us?"

"Now, look right here," counseled Candidate Prescott wisely. "We want to be soldiers, but as yet we're only ignorant, unregenerate, untaught young cubs. To the older cadets we must seem like pitiful beasts."

"No, we don't,"' sneered Candidate Holmes. "We don't seem anything at all. No cadet here, unless he's obliged to notice us, even looks at us. We're less than nothing."

"That's true," nodded Dick thoughtfully. "And I'll wager it will be pretty nearly as bad all the time we're plebes. Now brace up, Greg. Remember what a small fraction of nothing you are, and be thankful for the severe handling by Brayton, which may eventually transform us into at least pretty fair imitations of soldiers."

Outside a drum was sounding. It was mess call, but neither candidate knew it. Almost immediately, however, Brayton's rousing voice rang up through the subdivision:

"Candidates turn out promptly!"

"There's our slave-driver once more," frowned Candidate Holmes.

Dick, as he raced down the stairs, remembered to button his coat down its entire length. Greg forgot. As he darted through the doorway to the porch overlooking the area he found Corporal Brayton's gaze fastened upon him in severe displeasure.

"Mr. Holmes, button your coat, sir!"

Reddening and frowning, too, it must be admitted, Greg obeyed.

"All candidates will pass quickly through the north sally port and make formation," continued the cadet corporal.

Here the entire uniformed cadet corps was forming, facing the plain. At the extreme left of the line a cadet lieutenant, two sergeants and four cadet corporals busied themselves with forming the candidates and alternates in line. When the word was given the cadet corps wheeled to the right and marched off in column of fours, quite a splendid model of military precision.

Somehow the un-uniformed greenhorns managed to turn into column of fours, though some of the bewildered boys forgot to which four they belonged and there was some confusion.

Behind the superb cadet corps, toiled along these all but hopeless candidates and alternates, scores and scores of them-every fellow of them feeling more awkward than his nearest neighbors in the line. Badly out of step was this green material. Some of the boys slouched as they walked along; others shuffled. Their appearance was enough to dishearten a trained soldier.

But at last all these green ones were marshaled to seats in the great dining hall at cadet mess. There, in a fine dinner, they forgot, momentarily, many of the discouragements of the forenoon.

In the afternoon came a lot more of drilling of awkward squads by other cadet corporals. Greg soon found, under the tender mercies of another corporal, why Brayton was considered "easy."

These cadet corporals are all members of the yearling class, the class directly above the plebes. As corporals these members of the yearling class get their first direct experience in military command.

Later in the afternoon all candidates were notified that academic examinations would begin at eight o'clock the next morning in the Academic Building.

And now the candidates began to shiver! "Bad" as the start had been, they hoped, to a man, that they would pass these academic examinations. To fail meant to return home, the dream of being a cadet shattered!

"Ugh!" muttered Greg, rubbing his hands in quarters. "Br-r-r! Dick,

I'm afraid I'm scared cold!"

Prescott smiled, but he, too, was worried over the coming mysteries of the academic examinations, which he had heard were uncommonly [Transcriber's note: word missing].

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