Fiction: False Friends at the Academy

Cadet Buck Crenshaw’s friend Carter returns a defaced book . . .

For the next three days Buck and Cadet Streeter didn’t have a single conversation. The tent sat like a tomb each afternoon as they polished their guns or passed the time in reading or letter writing.

Tomorrow at the mounting of the guard, Buck would try for colors. But today after artillery drill at nine and dancing at eleven, he had some free time. Buck’s friends were busy with one thing or another so Buck went back to his tent for a short nap.

The shaded tent beneath an ancient oak was cool on this hot August day. Faint music came from the plebe dance class. Buck watched as the shadows from the trees played over the canvas as he drifted to sleep. The rustle of grass as someone slipped a borrowed book under the canvas at the back of the tent woke him. Buck jumped up and ran outside.

“Carter? It’s just as easy to return my things by the usual way.”

Carter shifted on his feet, his red face matching his hair. Buck extended his hand, but Carter looked toward the seacoast batteries and kept his hands at his sides as if he didn’t notice Buck’s greeting. “Sorry, Buck, I didn’t realize that you’d be in. I’m rather in a hurry so . . .”

“Wait! Where are you off to? I’ll walk with you,” Buck suggested.

“No, that’s unnecessary. I mean, I’m going with some of the fellows, um, we’re just going to . . . I’m just going to retire to my tent. The heat’s got me down. Sorry about the book, Buck. See you.” Carter jogged off.

Buck wanted to yell after Carter, but didn’t. Why had he not been asked to join the others? Back inside the tent, Buck took his book up from the floor and saw in dismay that the cover had been defaced. Buck’s chest burned as he read over the insults scrawled across many of the pages of his first year grammar book. He threw it on his cot and ran in search of his friend.

Carter stood chatting with cadets at the end of the company street. Buck charged up as the cadets turned to face him. It seemed an army to Buck, but his anger fueled him on and he walked up to face Carter. “Carter, I thought we were friends.”

One of the other yearlings answered for Carter. “It’s Mr. Carter to you, Mr. Crenshaw. Now why don’t you go play with your darkie wife?”

Buck ignored the insult as it came from one of the roughest of the frontier boys sent east. He couldn’t believe that Pete Carter, his closest friend since entrance examination, would really cut him. “Carter, what’s this about?”

“I prefer that you keep away from me, mister,” Carter said, but his voice quavered. “Buck, why did you have to take up with that nigger?”

“Take up with?”

“Yes, everyone says you asked to tent with Streeter this summer. I didn’t believe it, but then I saw you neglecting your guard duty and smoking with him.”

“What? When?” Buck asked. “I’ve never smoked on duty. I was out hazing the guards and . . .”

“Having a chat and spooning Streeter is hardly hazing!” someone said.

Buck turned to meet the challenge. “Spooning? You’re a depraved man, Gus Wilson! And I haven’t even spoken with Streeter in days.”

“A lover’s quarrel!” Wilson said, and the others laughed.

Not Carter though. He just looked repulsed and disappointed which galled Buck even more.

“I never put in a special request to room with Streeter,” Buck explained, still confident that this misunderstanding could be sorted out. “As you all should know, it’s hardly up to me whom I am assigned to.”

“Maybe your brother set it up for you. Fred seems to have pull,” someone suggested.

Buck laughed and looked to Carter who knew his brother well. “Fred? He hates the coloreds and warned me against Streeter.”

“You should have listened to Fred,” Carter said, with a faint hint of condescension.

“I fairly well have!” Buck said, perspiring. “I’ve kept to myself.”

“You’ve been soft on all the plebes and the nigger in particular,” Gus said. “We heard that you helped Streeter unpack his things and set up his room.”

“That’s a lie! Carter, you know that’s a lie! Tell them!” Buck demanded as his reputation fell to pieces.

Carter turned to the others with a half-hearted shrug. “Buck told me he was tough on Streeter, but when we asked Streeter he said Buck had been helpful.”

“I was a gentleman, and I followed regulations—I was no more helpful than any of you would have been,” Buck replied.

“Don’t speak for us, Mr. Crenshaw!” Gus said with an uncivilized snort.

“I speak for myself only, you ignorant backwoodsman!” Buck replied. “I don’t hide in packs of cowards.” He glared at Carter. “I don’t hold any strong opinions on colored people. Streeter, as far as I can tell, doesn’t desire or need any help and I have no reason to give any. We keep to ourselves as I’ve said.”

“Well, I’d never put up with a darkie in my tent—it’s an affront that any man of substance would revolt against,” Gus said.

“A man of substance? Gus Wilson? I don’t think you have any claim to that,” Buck said. “A man of substance wouldn’t waste an ounce of energy bullying another over sleeping arrangements that he in no way had control over. A man of substance wouldn’t cut a friend for showing common decency to another human being.” He turned to his friend. “I thought you were better than to take up with these roughs, Carter.”

Carter with scared eyes glanced at the others before turning back to Buck. “Tell us you’re not friendly with Streeter and we can start fresh, Buck,” Carter pleaded.

The others showed no signs of giving Buck any second chances.

Buck laughed. “I don’t have to convince you of anything. You all know my character and I dare any of you to find real fault. I’ll let my actions speak for themselves and maybe the more intelligent among you will understand them.”

Buck turned away then, crushed and shaken. He was cut. Someone grabbed his arm . . .

PART ONE HERE

PART TWO HERE

PART THREE HERE

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw and his misadventures when you buy the book today!

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