Assumption of Authority
The last plaintive notes of “Taps” faded into the night. Phil stood up from his small, black wooden desk and stretched. I’ve really gotten to like that, he thought. After four years, I’m even sort of going to miss it. What a change from his freshman year when he’d arrived at Newberry mad, ignorant and scared. He remembered learning new words: porch instead of floor; square for the open area in the middle of the castle like barracks; ‘Port for the major entrance way; Parade for the macadam areas in the front and rear of the barracks; even his status as a Youngster. He’d learned so much; so had his girl, his El. Then he sat back down and resumed typing the letter to her, after glancing up at her Senior portrait behind the old beaten up portable.
Steve looked up from his desk. “Phil, do bed check for me, will you? I’m sure Old Yeller is gonna hit us with a government quiz tomorrow and I ain’t finished.” Phil looked Steve in the eye, only possible when Phil was standing and Steve was sitting and said, “I’m writing El. And the answer is ‘Legislative, Executive and Judicial’. Ask Denny.” But Phil saw Denny, drying off after a shower, shake his head.
“You sure? Please, Roomie?” Steve said, glancing at Phil.
“Of course not. You have Old Yeller before I do. Study, Steve. But, okay. I can always type in the dark.” Phil pulled a bathrobe over his gray uniform pants and t-shirt and left his room to climb the stairs down to First West, the freshman porch where he had started at Newberry, three years and seven months ago.
As he went first down, then up to First West, he angled close to the inside wall and rapped on the door at the top of the steps. “Right, Sir,” he heard and turned to go down First West.
The first two doors came back with “Right, sir.” Phil thought of graduation, of dancing again with El at the Graduation Dance. She’d seemed so proud of him in his mess jacket at her Prom, as though she’d finally accepted his decision to stay at Newberry and not transfer to a closer school after their parents allowed them see each other legally after a year and a half of enforced separation following their being caught in Phil’s bedroom.
Wrapped up in his anticipation, Phil knocked on the third door and didn’t even pause. Then his brain processed what his ears heard. “Wrong, Sir,” Freinstein’s voice broke into falsetto. Phil stopped, turned back, and opened the door to what had been his room when he was a freshman.
“What’s the matter?” he asked, glancing at the two boys lying in their bunks, each dark blanket pulled up to a chin.
“Somebody’s shooting at us,” Donahue said, and then added, “Mr. Boydon?”
“Yes,” Phil said.
“Sir.” Phil grinned; Donahue had had a hard time with “sir” the first few weeks. He walked into the room, staying close to Freinstein’s bed, the one on the right. Then he heard a low “thunk” in the direction of the window and sensed rather than saw a hole in the bottom center pane of the lower window.
“You’re right. You two just lie there. Must be Townies. I’ll take care of them.” Phil spun on his heels and closed the door behind him. Now to figure out how to make good on that promise.
He raced back to his room, threw open the door, pulled his sword from its sheaf and said, “There’re Townies shooting at First West. Get your weapons. Wait at the door to West Parade. Stay out of sight. I’ll be back with the guard.” Phil didn’t even wait to see what his room mates did. He didn’t have time, and he was sure both Steve and Denny would be at the correct door when he got there.
Phil dashed down Second South, turned the corner and headed for the bugler’s room, which, by tradition, was over the Commandant’s office. He threw open the door. “Dave. Get your bugle. We’re going to attack some Townies shooting out windows. And you’re going to blow ‘Charge’.
A body rose, pulling the tight blanket and sheet loose. “How about us? Need help?” Phil recognized Jim, who’d played football the two years he’d been at Newberry.
“You bet. Get your rifles. And bayonets.” Then he dashed back, down the steps and ran along First East to the Guard House on the left hand side of the ‘Port. He slowed up and entered the first door with as much dignity as he could. All of the guard except the Officer of the Day was there. “Where’s Cory? Uh, Mr. Hudson?” he asked, looking at the Sergeant of the Guard, the worst possible of all people, Billy Jones.
“He just left. Checking the infirmary. He’ll be back in about ten minutes, I guess.” Billy said.
“I don’t have time. Townies are shooting at First West. We need to chase them away. I’ll assume command, get your rifles and come with me,” Phil said, and turned to go.
“No. This is the guard. Only the OD can order that,” Billy said.
Phil turned back. Billy had been very stubborn last year when he and Phil were juniors, but Billy was a Youngster and Phil was his platoon sergeant, and Phil had ridden him hard until he began to shape up. Now was the payback, obviously. “Mr. Jones, somebody might get hurt. We have to stop them now. I’m giving you an order. Assemble your guard and come with me. You are to lead them under my command. Do you want that in writing?”
“Yes, sir, Mr. Boydon, sir. I most definitely do.” Billy drew himself up to attention, much better than he had the first four months he’d been at Newberry.
Phil grabbed a piece of paper off the counter separating him from the guard and quickly scrawled, I hereby assume command. Phillip M. Boydon, Cadet 1st Lt., NMS, and shoved it across the surface. “Now get the guard and come with me.”
Jones shrugged and said, “Get your weapons and follow me.” They left the guard house and crossed the open Square, the most direct route to the door to West Parade.
The attack went smoothly. A quick glance saw four Townies still shooting at windows. Phil sent half his force under Denny along the street to circle around the mess hall and attack from the rear, telling them they had two minutes to be ready. Then the bugler blew charge and, sword in hand, Phil led the other half in a frontal attack as his flankers ran screaming to meet them.
With the first notes of the bugle and the screams from two sides, the four boys behind the hedges jumped up and began to run. When they did, Phil yelled, “Don’t chase them,” and grabbed the guy running next to him, and his group stopped. Phil saw the same with Denny’s, with one exception. It had to be Jones, as Phil saw the sword held high. Alone, Jones caught up with two of the fleeing snipers, and Phil could see there was a scuffle.
“Go help him,” Phil said, and they began to run again. Before they got to Jones the two strangers had fled. When they got to him, Jones was lying on the road, a piece of cloth in his hand and what seemed to be two rifles close by. Phil could see no sword.
Phil and his force returned to an awakened barracks with two pellet rifles, a torn red flannel shirt, and a swordless Mr. Jones.
The Commandant, in his robe and slippers, and an obviously bewildered Cory Hudson met them as they climbed the steps to the first porch. “What’s going on?” the retired general said, shifting his stare from one to the other.
“Mr. Boydon assumed authority. I have his written order. Because of him, I’ve had the sword I borrowed stolen and we’ve all been put in danger. He made us attack pellet rifles and disturbed the barracks.”
The commandant looked at Phil. “Well, Mr. Boydon?”
“Yes, sir. True. But they were shooting out First West. My guys needed help. And Mr. Jones would have been okay if he’d stayed with everybody. As soon as the Townies ran, I called a halt, but he kept going. Then we had to go rescue him. He consented to obey me up to then, so I think he’s insubordinate.”
“But sir. He had the bugler come and blow ‘Charge’. And he wouldn’t wait.”
“I heard the bugle. Mr. Hudson, take charge of your guard mount. Everybody else except Mr. Boydon get back to your quarters. Mr. Boydon, remain here.”
“Thanks for your help, guys. Sorry, Cory,” Phil said. His voice was level, but inside he felt terror replace fear. He knew he was in serious trouble.
The commandant looked at him for several moments. “Mr. Boydon, we will conclude this tomorrow. Report to my office ahead of those answering delinquencies.” The commandant turned and left.
Phil went back to finish bed check, knowing that it wasn’t over.
The next day was a blur until he got his blouse ready at the beginning of recreation period and went down to the Commandant’s Office. There were already two Youngsters standing at parade rest by the door but he went up and looked in. He saw the back of a cadet’s head through the window. The youngster in line came to attention. “Sir. I’m next.” There was no rank answering delinquencies, and Phil knew that as well as anybody.
“You are. But the commandant sent for me. I won’t be long.” The door opened and Phil went in, almost pushing the exiting Youngster off the steps.
As he drew himself to attention and saluted, Phil thought of the seventeen demerits he’d racked up during the year, ten at one time and the others one at a time. If he could have kept it below twenty-five, he’d have finally gotten a Good Conduct Medal. But this might be a lot more. A whole lot more. He knew that expulsion was a possibility. What would his parents think? What would El think of sitting next to him in Senior English at Mount Vernon High? Or government? Would she really enjoy it, knowing how he’d shamed himself? She was taking Pre-calculus, so they couldn’t be together in Solid Geometry. In any event, he was going to be marching on East Parade for quite some time, he was sure.
“Mr. Boydon. That was quite a show last night. Why didn’t you get a faculty officer?”
“Sir, I thought it was a Corps problem. Handled by the Corps.” He didn’t want to add, and I didn’t think about it.
“Why couldn’t you wait?”
“Sir. You may have noticed. Some guys mature faster than others.” Phil could see a faint smile on the commandant’s lips as he nodded Phil to continue. “Well, Freinstein and Donahue are both good kids. They’ll do okay as Oldsters. But they’re sort of immature and they were scared, sir. I had to drive those guys away quick.”
“I understand. Mr. Boydon, I have no delinquency reports for you, just Mr. Jones’ statements of last night and today. They are quite serious, beginning with assumption of authority and ending with conduct unbecoming.”
Phil went into a brace. Take it like a man. Even if they do kick me out. He hoped they wouldn’t. Once he’d never believed he could have wished that. Maybe they’d just bust him back to private. “Yes, sir. I accept full responsibility.” At least the freshmen had not been hurt - scared, but not hurt.
“Spoken like a leader. Mr. Boydon, I will add to your record eight demerits.”
Phil began to bring his hands up in his old wrestling victory gesture, but stopped at waist level. “That will take away my
Good Conduct and I’ll do a march,” he whispered. Twenty five was the least he was expecting.
The commandant smiled. “I believe you’re correct, Mr. Boydon. Do you deserve a Good Conduct?” He remembered why he was sent to Newberry to begin with, his disobedience to his parents to see his girl, and the times they had almost broken their vow. It was obvious he didn’t.
“No, Sir. I really don’t.” He started to salute and stopped. “But why eight, sir?”
“If I’d been in your shoes, Mr. Boydon, I might have done the same thing. If you are ever in mine, I hope you’ll do as I have done.” The commandant smiled briefly. “I’ve a lot more stories to hear, Mr. Boydon.”
Phil saluted. “Yes, sir.” Phil kept his composure all the way to his room.
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