"Love and Honor"

Love & Honor

by Teresa Conaway

"Sir. Request permission to speak to the Officer of the Watch."

Midshipman First Class Steve McGarrett looked up from his physics textbook to see who had disturbed his study. It had been a quiet watch; none of the Mates of the Watch had reported any disturbances in "Mother B," as the mids called Bancroft Hall, that cold and snowy night. McGarrett had been able to study for his physics final virtually undisturbed.

It was Tom Baxter, a plebe. His plebe. Every firstie at Annapolis was assigned a plebe to take under his wing, to guide and nurture. Some of the more sadistic firsties just made their plebes' lives more miserable, their idea of guiding and nurturing being unrelenting hazing. But McGarrett took his duty seriously. By Academy standards, he had practically held Baxter's hand through the whole semester.

He studied Baxter quietly for a minute. It was nearly midnight and the plebes had been tucked in over an hour ago. What was Baxter doing up at this hour? Finals started tomorrow. McGarrett shook his head. Poor Baxter, McGarrett thought. It wasn't that the kid was stupid; he was just innocent, almost too innocent for the rigors of the United States Naval Academy. McGarrett smiled inwardly. The sight of red-haired, freckle-faced Tom Baxter standing awkwardly in the doorway in his too-large bathrobe was almost too comical. McGarrett stood, taking time to draw himself up to his full 6'2" height.

"Is that your best imitation of a brace, Mr. Baxter?"

"No, sir," the plebe responded hastily before he realized he couldn't win. "I mean, yes, sir. I mean--"

"Stow it, Baxter," McGarrett barked, trying to sound harsh enough to camouflage his affection for his seventeen-year-old charge. "Square yourself away and make your request properly this time, Mr. Dumbjohn."

"Sir, yes, sir." Baxter did his best to stand straighter, suck his gut in further, and jam his chin into his neck. "Sir, Midshipman Fourth Class Baxter requests permission to speak to the Officer of the Watch, sir."

McGarrett walked slowly around his plebe, examining him as though he were under a microscope. He could see that Baxter was trembling, though not nearly so badly as he had in the beginning of the semester, before McGarrett had started whipping him into shape. Baxter was no coward. McGarrett had seen proof of that on the obstacle course, in the boxing ring, and on the football field. But the kid would never cut it in the Navy if he cowered every time a superior officer spoke to him sternly. He let Baxter sweat for a minute.

"At ease, Mr. Baxter," McGarrett said finally, watching as Baxter eased out of his brace. But not too far. Plebes learned quickly that firsties drew a line between being at ease and being a disrespectful slob. Baxter took a deep breath, and for a minute, McGarrett thought the kid had chickened out. But finally the words came, in a practiced but timorous voice.

"Sir, I wish to report an honor code violation, sir."

McGarrett stopped in his tracks. Fortunately he was behind Baxter at the time. It wouldnt' do for a plebe to see that he had surprised the Officer of the Watch. An honor code violation was serious business at Annapolis. As Chairman of the Honor Committee, McGarrett had had the distasteful duty earlier in the semester to recommend to the Superintendent that a youngster be expelled for stealing.

He crossed the room and stood behind his desk. He pointed toward the chair on the other side. "Close the door and sit down, Mr. Baxter."

"Sir, yes, sir," the plebe said, doing as instructed. He sat bolt upright in the chair, simply unable to relax while in an upperclassman's presence.

McGarrett looked thoughtfully at the younger midshipman. he often wondered how he had looked to the firsties when he entered the Academy three and a half years earlier. Had he looked to them like a deer in the headlights, the only simile that seemed to him to fit most of the plebes.

"Against whom do you make this charge, Mr. Baxter?" Unlike West Point cadets, mids were not duty bound to report transgressions by other mids. There was no 'nor tolerate those who do' tacked on to the code, which simply said that "Midshipmen do not lie, cheat, or steal." McGarrett knew the offense must be very serious to have brought Baxter to this point, especially if the miscreant were an upperclassman.

"Sir," Baxter said, trying to be brave but looking every bit like the seventeen-year-old child that he was. "Against myself, sir."

McGarrett's eyes widened involuntarily. He ran his fingers though his thick brown hair, trying to hide his surprise. This is serious.

"Against yourself:?" He wanted to be sure he had heard correctly.

"Sir, yes, sir."

"You realize, don't you, the ramifications of what you have just told me?"

"Sir, yes, sir."

McGarrett sat down, plucked some papers off the desk, and pretended to straighten them. Why did it have to be my plebe? he wondered. He put the papers down and leveled his gaze at the frightened plebe.

"Have you stolen something, Mr. Baxter?"

"Sir, no sir."

McGarrett relaxed a bit. Thank God, he thought. He didn't think the Honor Committee was ready for another thief.

"Have you cheated, Mr. Baxter?" There had been cheating scandals before, of course, and McGarrett dreaded the possibility of a scandal rocking the Academy just when he was about to graduate.

"Sir, no, sir."

"Then I take it, Mr. Baxter, that you have told a lie."

"Sir, yes, sir. That is I . . . I think so, sir."

McGarrett cocked his head and furrowed his brow. "You think you've told a lie, Mr. Baxter?"

"Sir, yes, sir."


"It was this weekend, sir," the plebe began haltingly. "My girl came to visit me. She's a freshman at Goucher . . . in Baltimore."

"I know where Goucher is, Mr. Baxter. Get on with it."

"Sir, yes, sir." The plebe took a deep breath and dived in again. "I had liberty Saturday night and all day today, sir. We . . . uh . . . we--"

"Spit it out, Mr. Baxter," McGarrett barked, growing tired of the plebe's timidity.

"Sir, yes, sir. We stayed over night at a hotel. We . . . uh . . . we slept together Saturday night."

"It is not an Honor Code violation to make love to your girlfriend, Mr. Baxter," McGarrett said sternly. "Get to the point."

"Sir, yes, sir. . . . Sir--" Baxter stalled for a moment and made eye contact with McGarrett, a cardinal sin while at attention. Realizing his error, he quickly jerked his eyes straight ahead. "Sir, I . . . I told Ellen -- that's my girl, sir -- I told Ellen I loved her."

McGarrett waited, guessing what would come next.

"And I don't," the plebe blurted. "At least I think I don't. Sir."

It wasn't easy but McGarrett kept a poker face, suppressing a grin. His nickname wasn't "Chisel" for nothing; he could look solemn at an Irish wake. Obviously Baxter took this seriously so McGarrett knew he had to take it seriously too. Or, at least, appear to. He knew that laughing at one's subordinates was hardly the way to instill loyalty and earn their respect.

"I see," McGarrett said softly, trying to decide what to do. "And you believe this violates the honor code?"

"Sir, yes, sir. That is . . ." Baxter slumped for a moment, his anxiety and uncertainty finally overpowering his plebe discipline. "I don't know, sir. But I've been worried sick about it all night, sir."

"Are you more worried about having misled the young lady or having violated the honor code, Mr. Baxter?" McGarrett asked.

"Oh, definitely the honor code, sir," Baxter said quickly. Too quickly in McGarrett's mind. He had never cared for those men who used the 'I love you' ploy to 'bag the babes,' as he had heard other mids call it. It was all a game to those men, a game in which women were just prey to be conquered. But he couldn't fault the boy for taking the honor code to heart.

"And when did you make the statement, Mr. Baxter?"


"When, Baxter? When? As bait to lure her to the trap? While in the throes of passion? Afterwards, as a way of thanking the young lady for her favors? When did you utter the lie?"

McGarrett watched as Baxter's face assumed the color of his hair. He had never seen a man blush such a vivid red. Again he suppressed a laugh and waited patiently for the plebe to overcome his embarrassment.

"Sir, during . . . during . . . you know, sir. During--"

"Yes," McGarrett cut him off. "I get the picture." He stood and walked slowly to the book case where a dozen or so Naval manuals were shelved. He pulled one off the shelf and paged through it deliberately, as though searching for something specific. After a moment he slammed the book shut and returned it to the shelf. He walked to the desk and sat on the corner, only a few feet from Baxter.

"I believe I can save the Honor Committee some trouble, Mr. Baxter," he said firmly. "Statements made to a young lady in the heat of passion are not subject to the honor code unless made with the intent to deceive." If they were, half the Navy would be in the brig, he thought. "From what you've told me, the lady had already succumbed to your charms. Hence the statement could not have been deceitful."

"Sir, do you really think so?"

"Besides, Baxter, I'm not even sure it was a lie. Tell me, do you love the girl or not?"

"Sir, I . . . I don't know, sir."

"Well, did you love her when you told her?"

"Sir, oh, yes, sir," Baxter said adamantly. "But I don't know if it was true."

"The important thing is that it was true when you said it. If you told me today that your favorite food was steak and then tomorrow you discovered chicken and changed your mind, would you report an honor code violation the next day?"

"Sir, no sir," Baxter said enthusiastically, finally seeing the path McGarrett was clearing for him to get out of his moral dilemma.

"Then what are you worried about, Mr. Baxter? You didn't tell a lie. There has been no honor code violation." Baxter brightened considerably. "But," McGarrett said, seeing that one word land like a ton of bricks on the plebe's shoulders. "I think you need to reflect on your responsibility to be forthright with women. They're not trophies to be mounted on the wall, you know."

"Sir, yes, sir," the plebe said cautiously. "It's just that . . ."

McGarrett waited. "It's just what, Baxter?" he asked when the plebe didn't finish his sentence.

Baxter looked McGarrett in the eye again, this time not breaking away. "Permission to speak freely, sir?" McGarrett nodded his assent. "It's the other men, sir. They're all so . . . experienced. And I never--"

"You mean they claim to be experienced, Mr. Baxter."

"They're always talking about it, sir. And they make fun of me because I never . . . well, you know." He blushed again, though not as vividly this time.

"Yes, I know," McGarrett said quietly, remembering what it was like to be seventeen, away from home for the first time, and surrounded by other adolescents trying to prove their manhood. Talk was cheap in Mother B. And Baxter probably had it worse than he had. Baxter's class included several dozen men who had served as enlisted men during the war. No doubt they did have some tales to tell.

"There's nothing wrong with being inexperienced, Mr. Baxter," McGarrett said, wondering how he had gone from being Officer of the Watch to a father figure to a boy just four years younger than he. "In fact, I didn't have the pleasure until my Youngster year. So you're almost a year ahead of me."

"You, sir?" Baxter said, his eyes wide with wonder that his mentor had been so slow.

McGarrett stood sharply. "I think that will be all for now, Mr. Baxter." The plebe snapped to attention.

"Sir, yes, sir." He turned smartly and walked to the door. Just as he reached for the handle he heard McGarrett call his name. He turned to face the firstie again.

"Relax, Tom," McGarrett said. "You'll be all right."

A wide grin washed across Baxter's face. "Sir, yes, sir!" he said, and left the office, a little spring to his step.

When Baxter shut the door, McGarrett finally chukled out loud. "Ma was right," he said to no one. "I shoulda been a priest."