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This stroke was the coup de grâce without the grace. A youngster of thirty-nine was to replace an elder of seventy‑one. A youth of a soldier, returning from the slogging and shooting of a miry war, without any experience in the pedagogical field, was to displace a scholar and textbook writer of thirty‑one years' duty as a full professor and two years as Superintendent.
His advent might not have been such a withering shock in the old days, when the Supe paced to his office in stately unconcern, signed routine papers, made prodigious decisions such as changing the Guard at the South Gate, chatted with some visitors and returned to a card game with some old colonels. Far from that now. The Academy had been torn apart. It would take an experienced man, a genius, to put it together again, if possible at all. The Department had sent an untutored boy.
Comments spilled over at the Officers' Club, on the sidewalks and at dinner tables:
"The appointment is fantastic. Looks like another effort to wreck the Academy. Who in hell has it in for the place?"
"What possible qualifications can he have?"
"A lot he'll know about bringing back the old curriculum. The Academic Board will make a monkey out of him."
"Maybe he'll just sit back and let them run the show. Maybe after his hard war service they sent him up here to recuperate in this gilt-edged rest home."
"To be sure, he came out number one in his class. A lot of others before him came out high, and they were fine major generals in the war with great war records. Why jump over all of them and reach down in the bottom of the barrel?"
"Why put this whole mess in the hands of a stripling?"
"Seems only yesterday he was reciting to me. I can hardly p22 believe it. He's by far the youngest Superintendent in almost half a century."
"He was always spooned up like a clothing-store dummy with his red sash just so and his trousers creased to a knife-edge. I'll bet we're in for a lot of spit and polish."
"I remember him as a cadet," said one of the older women. "He might have looked and acted all right. But appearances are deceiving. He was anything but a good cadet behind the Tac's back. His classmates knew he had a poker game going in his room. And he'd take a drink on the sly. He was just too smart to be caught. And he wouldn't always carry out orders until he'd argued with the Tacs!"
"It's such a pity he's a bachelor. We need a wife and family in the Supe's quarters." (Which, being translated, meant Mrs. Smith, by hanging around Mrs. Supe, couldn't wangle special favors from on high.)
The only ones on the Post whose faces weren't puckered were the young, unmarried women.
The diverse estimates and forebodings I heard were confused with my memory of the man. It had been sixteen years since I had seen him from my plebe's restricted eyes, which stole abbreviated squints mostly from afar. The scattered glimpses put together a tall, slender, handsome cadet, glitteringly immaculate with maroon silk sash, plumed dress hat, glinting sword and four gold stripes of chevrons. His movements were almost dashing as he inspected the Mess Hall after we had finished eating, and his commands were sharp and ringing as he "drove the Corps" to barracks.
At other times he displayed an odd quickness of gesture, buoyancy of gait and cheerfulness of expression. Added to my own view were the overheard discussions of upper classmen. There was a general feeling that he was everything from exceptional to unbelievable. Certainly no one before had ever been first in studies, ranking officer of the Corps and at the top in popularity. The three achievements ran counter to each other. Even Lee had been number two in his class. But MacArthur, with mediocre preparation, had outdistanced classmates p23 with college background. Although I had had no close contact with him before his graduation, his whole personality flashed back to me as a thing of frightening perfection.
If the Post was agog over his arrival, I was stewing. I would be right under the guns when he came, and at least have to try to orient this impeccable Mars, who doubtless would be demanding and impatient of my slower wheels.
My spirits were at a superlative low. Not only was the prospect black but the present was blue. I was doing my best to help General Tillman move from the reservation into full retirement. He had selected me, had been a charming personality to serve, and I was more than dismal over his going.
Between sadness and fear, I was sure that serving anyone else was unthinkable. I'd be unable to switch my affectionate loyalty to another, above all to an exacting, domineering character only one year my senior. Since it was customary and only fair to any new incumbent to leave him free to select his own staff, I would resign as soon as he arrived. I would go back to the English Department, where I'd have no more worry than trying to interest the plebe in the dangling principle. Nothing could induce me to stay on. How absurd! He'd probably be glad to get rid of me.
Surprisingly, he and his mother slipped into the historic mansion of brick and iron grill noiselessly. There was no fanfare. He was settled with the help of the Quartermaster as if he had lived there always.
The first morning of his duty, I waited tensely to get the embarrassing moment over with. I had written out my resignation and laid it on his desk. An hour, and he didn't come. I was bothered whether to proceed on the old policies or wait for the new. I did nothing but bite my nails and pace around the reception room between the Supe's office and mine.
It seemed a day before quick steps clicked on the terra-cotta tiled floor of the cryptic hallway, and the General, followed by his Aide, swung into my office. The sweep of his inrush was in high contrast to the measured step of his predecessor. He ignored p24 my salute, continued toward me, took my hand in one of his and placed the other on my elbow, scanning me with a bright look.
"Ganoe, Ganoe," he repeated as he gazed at the name plate on my desk as if to reassure himself. "Yes, now it comes back. A girl in bustle and corset singing a love song." He gave a suppressed chuckle. "Long time ago."
The remembrance knocked me speechless. It was unbelievable he could recall a thing like that of such relative insignificance. The song I had sung, and the scene I had been in, were outstanding only in their amateur tawdriness in that 1903 Hundredth Night. It had been such a minor part, I was almost in the wings.
We went into the reception room, where his restless eyes roved over the stone-mullioned windows of leaded glass, the beamed ceiling and deep-napped, expensive rug. "Quite a castle," he said, more to himself than to me. "Slightly different from the little building with its church steeple of old."
The tones were the same as his commands as a cadet, except there was less brrr. His preoccupation with his surroundings gave me a chance to take in his appearance and bearing. He wasn't as robust as when he had been a cadet. He had been slender then, but now his muscles seemed to have shrunk into sinew. There were beginnings of crow's feet at his eyes, and his cheeks just escaped being hollow. His forehead was serene, pale and unwrinkled.
Surprisingly, he wore no impressive uniform appropriate to the office of Superintendent and in character with the gleaming chevrons and polished sword of cadet days. Although his clothing was neat and well pressed, it wasn't well tailored. Instead of smart, glossed boots, there were well-worn infantry puttees bound with straps curled with age. They were clean and soaped, but not highly polished. Even his cap and crop showed signs of age. He was just neat enough to pass inspection. But for the stars on his shoulders, he might have been taken for any passing officer off duty. And to top all, he wore no decorations. p25 I knew he had won two D. S. C.'s and a D. S. M., but there was no evidence of ribbons.
Only two marks of his cadetship, sixteen years before, remained, and they had increased in distinctness — his complete erectness and his glistening eyes — eyes that shone even when he was thinking deeply.
I asked him when he'd like a review by the Corps.
"For what purpose?
"To greet and honor the new Superintendent."
His mouth stretched and pushed out slightly. A film of light passed over his eyes and was gone.
"If memory serves me," he mused, "we didn't lack for ceremonies as cadets. There was a constant excuse for turning out the Corps for a show. What possible benefit can be found in an extra one for me? They'll see me soon and often enough. There are occasions when ceremonial is harassment. I saw too much of that overseas."
Where was all this spit and polish we were about to undergo?
His reactions to his palatial surroundings were in keeping with his discard of useless ceremonies and pretentious dress. He had never seen the ponderous mass of medievalism called the Administration Building. But apparently he was in no way awed by it. He looked above him with mild appraisal, a smile hiding behind his alert eyes but not quite breaking through.
It was only when I unlocked the Academic Board Room that the light left his face. The simple stillness had always held a trace of awe for me, and now he looked impressed as he studied the filigreed heights of mantelpiece, the carved wood figures of the great warriors, the tall, apselike stained-glass windows, the royal long table and the heavy leather chairs. His lips pulled in slightly and his words came slowly.
"Privy Council." His mouth widened. "Privy Council," he repeated, nodding.
Outside, as I stooped to lock the door with the antique weighty key, he asked, "Why is it kept locked?"
"Just customary, sir. That's the way I was instructed."
"Are there any valuables in there?"
p26 "No, sir."
"Nobody could walk off with much I saw."
"No, sir. I suppose it's just a young custom."
"Custom, yes, custom. They leave a church open."
At the time, I couldn't know how prophetic this idea was.
We single-filed behind the screen which encased his privacy, and passed into his spacious, light office. His bright look was back as he stopped short and studied the large painted portraits of all the Superintendents since 1802, which formed a frieze under the high ceiling. It was an illustrious panel, including Lee, Beauregard, Schofield and Merritt. He stopped before each one as he examined the features, his crop under his left arm and his chin out and up.
"Quite a galaxy," he said softly. "Quite a galaxy!"
He turned to me with that bright flash which held more discovery than irony.
"How will I ever have the face to perform the grave duties of Supe with these mighty dignitaries staring down at my every move, listening to my every word?"
Under his flippant manner and tone there was contemplativeness.
When I returned from showing the Aide to his office, MacArthur tossed his cap and crop on a chair and sat unceremoniously on the corner of his desk. As he did so, he caught sight of my letter of resignation.
"Well, what's this?" he asked, touching it at arm's length and pushing it away without the faintest attempt to pick it up and read it. Before I could answer, he shot out a question about a condition on the reservation. As I answered, another came so fast I could hardly collect myself. Then they accelerated so much that they overlapped my answers. By the light of his eye, I could see he understood before I had finished.
The rapid-fire quiz kept on. He went from the South Gate to Popolopen, from the Cavalry Detachment to the Commissary, from the Officers' Club to the Observatory, from the Commandant to the Cadet Store. Where had he got his information for the intelligence behind the questions? They gathered force p27 as they went on without grunts or hems like a record player working up to a climax. He was as sure of what he wanted to know as he was of seeing me. I pressed and was pressed so hard, I sometimes stumbled. Yet there was nothing of the severe or inquisitorial about his manner, no show of passion or hounding. It was smooth and almost casual as if he were asking my opinion of a play. But it was clipped and persistent.
As long as he stuck to the military and the administrative, I did fairly well. The previous Superintendent, having been separated from that function for over forty years, had practically turned it over to me. On the other hand, he had been so conversant and expert with the Academic side that there was no need for me to pay attention to it more than in a negative, routine way.
So when MacArthur started his search into the curriculum, I knew I was entering the shadows. He hadn't gone far when I was sluffing off my answers with, "I think . . ." and "I can't be sure, but I feel. . . ." Each time I'd waver, he'd give me the barest tilt of his chin and there would be a wider opening of his eyes. I knew I was floundering worse and worse. I gulped to be released and sent back to the peaceful erudition of Stevenson and Shakespeare.
When I was in my worst longing and despair, he asked so specific a question about the workings of a department that I was a complete blank. If he'd asked me about the general verdure of New Zealand, I'd have been more at home. I was nettled and harassed.
I answered sharply, "Sir, I don't know."
I'll never forget the higher lift of his chin and light in his eyes as if someone had touched a switch. He pounced on the letter, picked it up, tore it into bits, threw them in the wastebasket and spoke with that low, compelling resonance, "Chief, go back to your desk."
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Page updated: 13 Jun 16