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BY THE SAME AUTHOR THE HIDING-PLACES . . net $1.35
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New York Charles Scribner's Sons 1917
Copyright, 1917, by Charles Scribner's Sons
Published April, 1917
TO SQUAD EIGHT
MY BOOK THE SQUAD ISN'T AS IT REALLY WAS. SOME OF YOU ARE NOT THERE, AND THE REST ARE ALTERED. BUT WHILE, ON ACCOUNT OF THE STORY THAT I NEEDED AND THE FACTS I WANTED TO DISPLAY, I COULD NOT DRAW YOUR PORTRAITS, I HOPE I HAVE SUCCEEDED IN SHOWING THAT THING IN PLATTSBURG WHICH MEANT MOST TO ME PERSONALLY, THE SPIRIT OF OUR SQUAD
To describe military scenes is always to rouse the keenest scrutiny from military men. I write this foreword not to deprecate criticism, but to remind the professional reader that, while the scenes I have described are all from experience, the aim in writing them was not for technical exactness, often confusing to the lay reader, but rather for the purpose of giving a general picture of the fun and work at a training camp.
Nowadays we are making history so fast that readers may have to be reminded that last summer occurred the mobilization on the Mexican border of most of the regular army and many regiments of the National Guard, a fact which considerably affected conditions at Plattsburg.
The "Buzzard Song," which my company used with such satisfaction on the hike, was written by a camp-mate, John A. Straley, who has kindly allowed me to use it, with a few minor changes.
Concord, Massachusetts, April 3, 1917.
RICHARD GODWIN TO HIS MOTHER
On the train, nearing Plattsburg. Friday morning, Sep. 8, 1916.
Though you kissed me good-by with affection, you know there was amusement in the little smile with which you watched me go. I, a modest citizen, accustomed to shrink from publicity, was exposed in broad day in a badly fitting uniform, in color inconspicuous, to be sure, but in pattern evidently military and aggressive. What a guy I felt myself, and how every smile or laugh upon the street seemed to mean Me! The way to the railroad station had never seemed so long, nor so thronged with curious folk. I felt myself very silly.
Thus it was a relief when I met our good pastor, for I knew at the first glance of his eye that my errand and my uniform meant to him, as they did to me, something important. So strong was this comforting sense that I even forgot what importance he might attach to them.
But fixing me with his eye as I stopped and greeted him (being within easy hurrying distance of the station) he said in pained surprise: "And so you are going to Plattsburg?"
Then I remembered that he was an irreconcilable pacifist. Needing no answer, he went on: "I am sorry to see that the militarist spirit has seized you too."
Now if anything vexes me, it is to be told that I am a militarist. "Not that, sir," said I. "War is the last thing that I want."
"Train a man to wield a weapon," he rejoined, "and he will itch to use it." I think we were both a little sententious because of the approach of the train. "Your argument is, I suppose, that the country is in danger?"
"Exactly," I replied.
He raised both hands. "Madness! No one will attack us."
I refrained from telling him that with so much at stake I was unwilling to accept even treaty assurances on that point. He went on. "The whole world is mad with desire to slay. But I would rather have my son killed than killing others."
He is proud of his son, but he is prouder of his daughter. Said I, "If war comes, and we are unprepared for it, you might have not only your son killed, but your daughter too."
Horrified, he had not yet begun to express himself on the impossibility of invasion, when the train came. So we parted. To tell the truth, I am not sorry that he feels so: it is very ideal. And I regret no longer having my own fine feeling of security. It is only a year or so ago that I was just such a pacifist as he.
If I in my new uniform was at home a curiosity, when I reached Boston I found myself merely one among many, for the North Station was full of Plattsburgers. There is great comfort in being like other folk. A thick crowd it was at our special train, raw recruits with their admiring women-folk or fun-poking friends. The departure was not like the leaving of soldiers for the front, such as we saw in July when the boys went to Texas. We should come back not with wounds, but with a healthy tan and much useful experience. So every one was jolly, except for a young couple that were walking up and down in silent communion, and sometimes furtively touching hands—a young married pair, I thought, before their first separation.
We were off without much delay, a train-load wholly of men, and all greenhorns. For all of us had nice fresh crinkly blouses, and olive-drab (properly o. d.) knees not yet worn white (as I have seen on returning Plattsburgers) while our canvas leggings were still unshaped to our manly calves. Our hats were new and stiff, and their gaudy cords were bright. And we were inquisitive of the life that was ahead of us, readily making acquaintance in order to compare our scraps of information. Dismay ran here and there with the knowledge that the typhoid inoculation required three weekly doses. Thank goodness, that is over with for me. We tried to be very soldierly in bearing, evidently an effort in other cases than mine. One fellow had his own gun along; he wanted, he said, to make a good score on the range. So I had my first chance to handle an army rifle.
You know that when I left, you had been worrying as to how I should stand the strain of the coming month's work. I will admit that I have been wondering about it myself. I have worked very hard for the last few years, practically without vacation, in order to marry as suited Vera's ideas. And then, two years after she had said Yes, and when my earnings ought to satisfy any woman, began the complex strain of the breaking of the engagement—the heart burnings, the self-searching, the difficult coming to an understanding. And now that she and I have parted friends, with both of us quite satisfied, I have been realizing how much run down I am, so that it has seemed quite possible that Plattsburg life might be too strenuous for me. But a good look at my companions has made it clear that I can stand up with the average of them. A fair number of them, to be sure, are brown and seasoned by the summer. But quite as many are pale and stooped from desk work, or pasty from good living. If I fall out, I shall have plenty of company.
I write this letter while the train is approaching Plattsburg. When I woke this morning we were at a standstill in some railway yard, and beside us was standing another train, labelled like ours, doubtless carrying the New York men. It drew out ahead of us, and I suppose its inmates are now debarked, and gawking about them as presently my companions and I shall gawk. Tonight I shall write again. Affectionately
DAVID RIDGWAY FARNHAM, 3D, TO HIS MOTHER
On the Train to Plattsburg. Friday morning, Sept. 8th.
It is unlucky that both of our cars were out of order just when I was starting for Plattsburg. For the train has been very hot and stufy, and so crowded. I tried once more to get myself a statroom, but when the agent said I should have to be with three other men, then I just gave up, and got the porter to make up my upper birth early, and climbed into it though I wasn't sleepy at all. But it was something to get by myself and be a little privat.
I spoke to a few of the fellows, but I couldn't make much out of them. One had never been to college, and another knew nothing of automobiles, and another began talking about the drill regulations, but you know I never even bought the book. The whole train was one big smoking car, and some fellows near me were very noisy over a game of poker.
I suppose I shall mannage to get along with these fellows, because I know I must if I want what father promised me, and if the fellows at the Casino aren't to laugh at me. But so far as I can see, everyone on the train isn't at all my kind. Father doesn't understand how I feel about fellows who are not in our set. I don't look down on them, you know, for I'm sure most of them are very nice fellows of their sort. But I never knew anyone of their kind before, and what am I to talk to them about? Its all very well for father to say that I can get something worth while from every man I meet; but he's a business man, and so he's used to them.
You mustn't think I'm unhappy if I say I shall miss you and shall hate to be confined by the camp regulations. I'm not going to back out for father and cousin Walt have put it up to me to see the thing through and though I'm kind of used to disapointing father I don't intend that Walt shall think I'm sandless.
But when the camp breaks up you must be sure to be here, with the Rolls-Royce, to take me home. I don't think I could stand another trip like this. Love from,
PRIVATE RICHARD GODWIN TO HIS MOTHER
Plattsburg Camp. Friday evening, Sept. 8.
I had scarcely finished my letter of this morning when the train began to slow down, and then drew up alongside a wide and gently sloping field, while on the other side was the lake. With our luggage we poured out into the field, evidently our training ground, since beyond it were tented streets, with some big open-sided buildings that doubtless had some military use, since we saw rookies going in and out. In haste to get our share of what was to be had, we consulted the printed slips handed to us in the train.
"On arriving at camp: First, Carry your hand baggage to the Y. M. C. A."
Where was the Y. M. C. A.? There was no building standing near of even so much as two stories. There were tents and there were shacks, but even when we came to a street busy with electrics, automobiles, motor trucks, and foot passers, nothing of any size was to be seen. But as I followed along with the rest, noting that almost everybody we met, from the riders in the autos to the drivers of the trucks, was military, I saw a skeleton structure, tar-paper-roofed, and bearing the magic letters for which we were looking. There regulars—artillerymen with red-corded hats—received our bags through the open frontage and stored them alphabetically.
"Second. Go to the mess-shacks for breakfast."
We went. We breakfasted. The mess shacks were those other open-sided buildings on the drill-field which I had already seen; their construction, being merely tarred roofs on posts and walled with mosquito netting, promised no elegance of fare. Nor was the fare elegant: milk, coffee, cereal, hard boiled eggs, bread, butter, a bruised apple. The milk was of two kinds, real and canned. Used in the coffee, or with sugar on the cereal, the canned milk was good enough as poured from a hole punched in the container; but a wise man near me prophesied that I should not like to drink it when diluted. Flat, he said. Tasted like chalk. Doubtless it was chemically correct, but (you see how scientific he was) the metabolism of the body despises chemical synthesis, and for real nourishment the palate must be satisfied.
"Third. At once after breakfast go to the Adjutant's Office and enroll."
So we stood in line, and when on nearing the window of the office I heard the Adjutant say to a predecessor, "Where's your thirty dollars?" I got out my greenbacks and presently paid them in, twenty-five for our maintenance at camp, five to be returned if during our stay we had not damaged any of Uncle Sam's property. And since the adjutant assigned me to a company, I began to feel that I was getting somewhere.
"Fourth. Exchange your baggage checks for camp claim checks."
None of that for me. I had known enough to bring but a large suit-case, leaving behind everything that I could persuade myself was unnecessary. There was a memorandum on the printed slip to the effect that trunks and other large pieces of baggage would be stored at the post barracks, where owners could visit them on Sunday mornings. A sad weekly ceremony for one who had to choose from an excess of luxuries!
"Fifth. Report to the officer commanding your Company."
I did not find him. Though again I stood in line, this time with men with whom I was to associate, those to whom I reported in the Orderly Tent at the head of H company street were but sergeants and volunteers like myself, though men of more experience, as I could tell by their weathered uniforms and faded hat-cords. They filled out a card concerning me, led me to the tent pole, and measuring my height with a crude but effective instrument, announced "Tent Eight."
"Sixth. Bring your hand baggage to your tent."
So I brought it from the Y. M. C. A. Now the topography of the camp is thus. Just within the enclosure, and parallel with the street outside, runs the officers' street, their tents along one side of it, each with its little sign bearing the occupant's name. From the other side, toward the drill ground and the lake, lead away the company streets with double rows of khaki tents facing each other. All were on a thin and barren soil, where between the tents some few weeds straggled, while everywhere else men's feet had killed all growth. No! For in front of one of the tents, under the protection of its ropes, grew a half-dozen thrifty pansy plants, all in bright bloom. But elsewhere all was brown sand that looked as if it might blow dust in clouds, but which also, I was glad to see, looked as if it might absorb all ordinary rains. The street, about midway of its length, rose a little, then dropped, and straddling this ridge I found Tent 8, in the best possible position should the weather turn wet. As I entered, stooping, I peered about the shadowed interior.
The dry floor was ploughed into holes and ridges by the feet of the last occupants. One man, bearded and grizzled, was sitting on a cot in one corner, exploring the interior of a big blue canvas bag; a professor or doctor person, who gave me one keen glance, briefly said "Good day," and went on with his occupation. A second bed, already neatly set up and equipped, stood in another corner. Its owner, lithe and keen, a fellow of about twenty-five, was watching a third, man-sized but boy-faced, who was struggling with a cot in its chrysalis stage, being apparently quite unable to unfold it. I knew the lad at a glance, young David Ridgway Farnham 3d, whose cousin Walter was in my class, to whom I was best man, as you remember, some five years ago. Now young David has been the laughing stock of the family, spoiled with riches and an indulgent mamma. Walter told me that many tutors, on princely salaries, just managed to get him through Harvard this year. And here he was at Plattsburg! However, he couldn't know me, so I disposed my things in a corner.
The lithe and keen person seemed lither and keener at second glance. He was of a splendid blond type, with flashing blue eyes; everything about him was perfectly straight, his backbone, his nose, his close-cropped fair hair, the thin-lipped mouth, the drop of his chin, and even the precipitous fall of his high cheek-bones. He had not noticed me at all, so intent was he on the struggles of young Farnham. A very efficient person he seemed, and immediately proved it. For Farnham, with that appealing helplessness which I remember in him as a charming child (you know that with his brown eyes, curly hair, and rosy skin he's as handsome as a girl) looked up at his watcher. He immediately said: "Bend the leg the other way. Now the next one. Now spread the whole thing out. Now spring those two cross-pieces into place." But even then, though the cot had gained a recognizable shape, Farnham was still baffled. His hands were soft, and so were his muscles. "This way," said the other after a moment. And sitting on the cot, with his feet he forced the cross-bar at one end into position, then swung about and put the other one into place, and the thing was done.
"Thanks," said young David, politely but not warmly, in a way that showed how used he is to being waited on. "Have a cigarette? I suppose we shall—er—room together. My name is Farnham."
"Mine is Knudsen," said the other. And then I appreciated the cause of his blondness.
"I'm from Harvard, class of 'sixteen," said young David. Well-grown as he is, I couldn't help thinking of him as young.
"I'm from Buffalo," said Knudsen shortly. "I run a foundry there." His blue eyes were unwavering and quite expressionless as he looked Farnham over.
"Farnham? Farnham?" said the man with the short pointed beard. The others turned and looked at him. "I remember now. You were in my section in English A, your Freshman year."
"Oh," said young David. "Professor Corder. Of course. How de do? I remember that you flunked me."
"But you got through English D after two tries," said Corder. "Such is college life."
As none followed up the subject, I asked where they got their equipment. On their direction I went to the store-tent at the head of the street, where on the strength of my signature an obliging regular intrusted to me various listed articles, which I lugged to the tent.
This domicile is in the shape of a pyramid on a three foot wall, about sixteen feet on a side, the whole supported by a solid post held by an iron tripod. The tent contains eight beds, the corporal's always to the right of the entrance, the others in a mystic order which I will not bother you with. As yet we did not know how we were to fall in, but I set up my cot modestly among the rear rank, put under it my suit case, laid on the cot a mattress and pillow, properly cased in light duck, and garnished the whole with three blue blankets which promise comfort in this September weather. And then I dove into the blue bag.
First on the list, a sweater, o. d., like all the outfit, and very heavy.
A poncho. A rubber oblong with button-holes along three sides, and a slit, provided with a collar, less than halfway down the middle.
A shelter-half. That was the strangely shaped piece of brown duck, in pattern something like a big old-fashioned kite, with unsymmetrical button-holes and loops of rope.
Five tent-pins. Aluminum, ridged and bent.
A pack. A queerly outlined piece of canvas, provided with straps of webbing, wider or narrower, with buckles, rings, and a big pocket. Its attachments numerous and incomprehensible.
A cartridge belt. Easily recognized, with its many pockets and numberless eyelets.
A first-aid kit. In a sealed tin box, buttoned in a pocket attached to the belt.
A canteen in a cloth case. Not flat and circular, but solid and bulky.
A bacon tin. Hm—a small box?
A condiment can. A double ended contraption, in one end of which had once been powdered chocolate.
A meat can. An oval sauce-pan, with a lid over which the hinged handle shuts down.
A knife, fork, and spoon.
I stuffed them away again, shed my blouse, as I saw the others were doing, and was therefore ready when, our squad having filled up, the call came for us to fall in. Out into the street we tumbled, each of the dozen and a half tents furnishing a squad, the squads falling in according to number. The sergeants formed us, got us into column of squads, and marched us away down the public street, where military persons of all kinds went by, from lone privates to officers driving automobiles, and where the only notice taken of us was by civilians in motor-parties, who came to see our zoo.
So here I was, for the first time in my life marching in the ranks, like any private not knowing where or why. For a quarter, a half, three quarters of a mile we went at a quick pace on the macadam, till my soft tissues knew what was meant by the "hammer, hammer, hammer on the hard highway." And my misery had plenty of company. The man in front of me, a bulky person, was wringing wet, and I saw another fellow with the sweat actually dripping off his chin. It was a welcome relief to turn in at a big gate, pass between brick buildings, and come onto a great grass field across which we marched directly toward a building with a long portico, on which the sight of rookies waiting promised us rest. Very willingly we broke ranks at command. We learned from our predecessors that we were there for physical examination.
When our turn came at last it was all very brisk and business-like, and soon I was passed as being sound in body and feet. With most of us the ordeal was equally successful; but one poor chap sat melancholy in a blanket, waiting for a second test. Then I straggled back to camp with Professor Corder, who confessed himself just under the age-limit of forty-five. In spite of his successful examination he acknowledged a little anxiety as to whether he could stand the work; has coddled himself, he acknowledges, for years; worries about the effect of woollen stockings: I imagine that most men of his age here have some such anxiety.
When enough of us had dribbled back to camp we were again assembled, and were taken down to the drill-field by the sergeant. And there for the first time in my life I saw a West Pointer at his work. He appeared from somewhere, and the sergeant handed us over to him. A tall and lithe fellow he is, so graceful that not even his military carriage can disguise it. He has an olive-dark skin, hair that curls at the temples, black eyes, nose straight and thin, and lips curving like a woman's. Give him the drooping mustache of older days, and what a romantic figure he would make! I knew him at once for a Southerner, from his coloring, his physical beauty, and a slight trace of languor, real or affected.
But he knew his business. There is an uncertainty about the sergeants, as thinking "Am I doing this right?" But though he looked at us out of eyes that were a little sleepy his tenor was clear as a silver bugle, and (if you can excuse the mixture of similes) it snapped like a whip. No hesitation, nor even any thought as to what he should do next. We straightened at the first command he flung at us, and in three minutes we were working to please him. The position of a soldier! Was there the slightest spark of amusement in his eyes as he described it to us, as if to say "You mob of clerks and manufacturers and professional men can't really take this position"? I never "lifted and arched" my chest so thoroughly. Did he intimate as he gave his other commands, "You men may play at doing this, but really it takes a soldier to succeed"? If this was his meaning, certainly it put us on our mettle. What he gave us were the facings and the steps and marchings, the simple movements by fours, guiding and dressing. When we blundered, there was his little concealed smile to make us swear to do the thing right next time. As we marched he kept pace with us, and then all his languor was gone. His step was springy, his arms swung, his eye roved up and down the line, and he snapped out his "One, two, three, four!" each like a little pistol shot. Remarked Corder, beside me, "His time is absolutely perfect—do you notice?" I had noticed. The sergeants tried to imitate his counting, but compared to him they were hoarse and spiritless.
And he was only our lieutenant! The first sergeant called him such, in answering a question; and then I noticed the single bar on his collar. What would the captain be like?
The bugle blew Recall, and it was very welcome. We were marched back to the company street and dismissed. My rear rank man was one Pickle, a hardware clerk from a town in central Pennsylvania, who never in his life saw a big league baseball game, and yet can tell you the names and records of all the chief players, especially of the Brooklyns, for which club he is a rooter. He said of the lieutenant: "One of those wiry wonders, Tireless Thomas of the Training-field. Doesn't he never remember that we are flesh and blood? Me for my little cot!" Following his example, more than half of the squad lay down till roused by the news that our rifles were being served out. So we flocked out in haste to get what would give us lamed shoulders and tired arms. Being thus roused, I next went for a swim in the lake, which was stony and cold and altogether invigorating.
The lieutenant had us out again in the afternoon, us and the guns. Consequently we were put through the manual of arms until the anticipated lameness is now a reality, not only of the arms but of the whole body. I find it is not enough to shift your rifle according to prescribed motions; it must be snappy, and in cadence. "Like a clock-work," muttered Pickle in despair. And it is a crime to drop a rifle. Its first commission roused our lieutenant from his languor. "Who dropped that piece?" he thundered. Then he outpoured contempt. "There'll be glue on little Willie's fingers next time, sure," whispered Pickle.
Tired at the end of the day, I yet feel virtuous, having devoted to my country a pound of my flesh. I write by lantern light in the tent, there having been no conference tonight on account of rain. Most of the squad are away, exploring the city; but Corder is already abed and sleeping— "as insurance," he said to me, explaining his middle-aged caution. I shall follow him soon. Good-night from
Postscript, written Saturday morning at 5.30, waiting for breakfast.
We have in our squad one Randall, a person of recent Yale extraction—though (having good Yale friends) I don't lay it up against the college. Yesterday he established his bed in the corporal's place, which so far the rest of us had modestly avoided; and he fell foul of young David ten minutes after he had come among us. The two are evidently the youngest of us, with "college" sticking out all over them, and so might naturally draw together. But there is a still more natural antagonism between them, of the thoroughbred for the mongrel. For young Farnham, in spite of his effeminacy, has the instincts of his ancestors; and Randall, in spite of a magnificent physique, carries round with him something that says to David, "Don't trust him!" What makes personality? I declare I cannot put my finger on the thing that makes me sure that Randall is yellow; but David has seen it, and has drawn back from it. Ninety-nine Yale men may slang Harvard, and the Harvard man will take it in good part—and vice-versa; but Randall is the hundredth, and he said a few things that made David tremble, not with anger but with disgust. "Have a cigarette?" asked Randall at the end. "No, thanks," answered David.—"Oh, he doesn't smoke!" cried the other. "I do," said David, and lit his own cigarette. I'm sorry for it. Probably Randall can make David pay for this declaration of war. Yet I'm glad too. And you should have seen Knudsen's eye flash, and then soften as he looked at the young fellow.
War has been continuing these last few minutes. In the most ridiculous way David, after his shower bath, messed round with a shaving brush and a piece of soap, trying to get a lather on his face. Randall saw it first, and with roars of laughter called our attention to him. Corder, who instantly understood, quietly twinkled; but Knudsen wrinkled his brow at the boy. "Have you never done that before?" he demanded. Said innocent David, "I forgot to get my man to show me." "Your man?" asked Knudsen. "His valet!" screamed Randall, overcome with the humor of the situation. Knudsen, never having been acquainted with the Harvard Gold Coast, showed in his keenly intelligent face first amazement, then disgust, then to my pleasure a kind of pity. In a moment he had both brush and soap in his hands, and soon plentifully lathered David. The boy then took his razor, one of the old style, and immediately gashed himself.
With indulgent impatience Knudsen took the razor, sat the boy down, and muttering to himself that he'd never tried this job before, skilfully shaved one half of David's face, at each moment explaining the use of the weapon. "Why didn't you get a safety razor?" he demanded. The lad answered, "My cousin Walter uses this kind." I remember that he used to idolize Walt, as all the younger fellows did; if he still has some of the feeling there's hope for him. Knudsen made him shave the other half of his face himself—a botched job, but still David finished it. Randall remarked that safety razors were best for girls, and when David finally emerged fresh, pink, and handsome in spite of his wounds, Randall said, "Now you're yourself again, Miss Lucy."
The boy's face is very sensitive; I saw that he was more hurt than angry, and he flushed deeply with the pain of it. It was Knudsen who was angry, but he said nothing. Corder still watched quizzically. I know that the title will stick. It is not ten minutes since the word was uttered, and we are already taking it up as David's name. Randall uses it flagrantly, the rest of us as a matter of course, all except Knudsen. "Come on, Lucy," he said just now when the first call for assembly sounded, and with his hand on David's shoulder he went with him into the street, protectively, I think.
I shall close this and send it off. Again love from
PRIVATE RICHARD GODWIN TO HIS MOTHER
Saturday, Sep. 9, 1916. At the Y. M. C. A. Nearing 9 P. M.
My tremendous postscript of this morning has somewhat led me out of the order of the day. I found myself awake at reveille, and rolled willingly out of bed. At the spigot, the one and only article of convenience at the lower end of the company street, I found a helpful comrade who gladly soused me from a bucket, and the day was begun. Back in the tent I found the fellows slowly coming to consciousness, all except that accurate and careful elder, Corder, who was dressing with great preciseness after a shower bath, and was calmly pleased at having no particular symptoms of old age to report. He and I have a valuable distinction as the only men in the squad with foresight enough to have been typhinated, worth while on this day when the others must submit to inoculation, if they want to run no risk on the hike. Then David's shaving, as described. It was cold when we finally turned out, and our humane lieutenant, placing himself on a table at the head of the street, while we in open formation faced him, put us through setting-up exercises that warmed us sufficiently to brave the chilly mess-shacks for our breakfast.
It was there that David found me out. He first got my given name, Richard. Then he made me acknowledge that I was in Harvard, 1910. At the next pause he said, "My cousin Walter Farnham was in that class." "Yes," said I, and talked to the man on my other side. That stumped David, that anyone should know his cousin Walt and not be eager to talk about him. He did not approach the subject again till he and Knudsen and I and Corder were together in the tent. Then he put it right up to me. "Weren't you my cousin's best man?" "I was," said I, and Sick Call having just blown, I went out, saying that I wanted to see who answered it. I know Knudsen and Corder looked at me hard; as for David, he cried out, "Oh, I beg your pardon!" I have reasoned out that with his delicate social perceptions and the stock of gossip that his mother supplies him with, he must have concluded that I was not in the mood to talk of weddings; but the real fact is that I don't intend to be enlisted as his nurse. As for the other side of it, I know I can depend on him not to tell the others about Vera and me.
When I came back, it being about time for drill, I found him explaining that while of course he'd not had his "man" at college, he always used a barber there. The man, I'm sure, was with him at all other times. Then when we fell in I heard a fellow from another squad call David Lucy. That was Randall's doing. Presently it will be all up and down the street. But Randall will be the only one to have any feeling about it. With the others now it is a matter of course, even with David himself.
Our morning's work began on the drill-field, with its open drainage trenches yawning for our feet and its scattered mounds to stumble on. Gay work, this learning to walk in the right place, stand in the right way, toss your nine pound rifle about as if it were a straw, and all with but a moment or two for thought between the first order and the second. Even Pickle was silent this morning, intent like the rest of us on his job. We are all so green that, except for the occasional old-timer, no one was giving his neighbor any advice.
Then on a sudden we were tested. "All who have had any previous experience" were required to step one pace to the front. There were not many of them. Then "all who wish to be corporal," or words to that effect. With about half the company I took the forward pace. The lieutenant separated these goats from the humbler sheep, sent us under a sergeant to another part of the field, and himself took charge of the remainder. The sergeant divided us up into twos and set us by turns to drilling each other, evidently to test our knowledge and our ability to give commands.
Pickle was my victim, or I was his. We eyed each other doubtfully. "You begin," said I. "No, you," retorted he. "Gee, what a gink I was to think I wanted to be corporal!" So I tackled the job; and of course, not being used to it, I made long pauses between the commands, gave them wrong, could not assume a proper military accent. It's not so easy. I have heard, in the armory at Boston, a militia captain (captain, mind you!) give the command "Attention!" in three different ways, continually experimenting. So how could I, for the first time in my life, rap out my orders like a veteran? What we had to do was absurdly simple; but poor Pickle, when I balked, succeeded no better than I, so finally we fell to consulting each other about it and became idle, like other groups that we saw. Then came our way another pair, who being as experienced as we are green, speedily took us in charge and manhandled us almost as skilfully as the lieutenant. I presently saw our West Pointer observing the drilling groups, and with him another with two bars on his collar, the same erectness, and the same natural air of knowing his business. The two were like farmers judging cattle, disposing of each one with swiftness, taking rapid notes, and then herding us together into our original ranks for a final shaking down. The captain disappeared, but I hoped he was to be ours, for though I had had but sidewise glimpses of him, there seemed a fine frank openness about him that I liked.
Sure enough, in the afternoon he appeared in this wise. The company was assembled and marched out onto the highway, where we stood in double rank with our hats off, for a final sizing up. I heard a new voice, deep and powerful, at the further end of the line; then along he came with the lieutenant, rapidly sizing us up, counting us off, thrusting in a new man here and there, the new men to be our corporals. Randall disappeared into another squad, and we have now as corporal one of those two who drilled Pickle and me this morning. There are these others of us: Pickle, Corder, Knudsen, Lucy, Clay, a handsome young Southern medical student, and Reardon, a grocer's clerk from a little town in Connecticut. Our corporal is Bannister, manager of the routing department, whatever that may be, of a tool-making establishment near Detroit. For a mixed crowd, of ages from grizzled Corder down to the very new graduate, what could be better? The captain, having put us all in place, called us to attention without any fuss, and stated that the new Number Four men were to be our squad leaders "until such time as other men proved themselves to be better.—So go to it," he added grimly. Then he marched us back to the street, where the tents were all freshly numbered with chalk, and dismissed us to put our beds in the proper order.
Since military regulations cover the positions of beds in the tent, almost every man had to shift his place. A genius discovered that this was a good time to begin with a level floor, the idea ran rapidly from squad to squad, and presently the street was filled with piled cots and heaped baggage, while from each door came clouds of dust. Our floor levelled, taking care to preserve the pitch of the ridge that runs through it, we moved in again, even before the dust was settled. As I am Number One of our front rank, I bunk to the left of the door; peer around the opening, and you will see my feet. Our rifles and bayonets we keep in a gun rack that leans against the tripod of the tent-pole; and our surplus clothes we hang from a square frame that is suspended higher up. These two conveniences are squad property, being bought at a dollar each from a Jewish-looking gentleman who offered them for sale, their evident usefulness forcing the bargain. As they are most roughly built of light lumber, and have plainly served in each of the previous camps this year, there is good profit to the speculators who supplied them in the first place, and who gather them up when they are abandoned at the breaking up of each camp, only to sell them again. The tax on the squad is not great, but I wonder why the camp management allows outsiders such princely takings.
Feeling energetic, I began digging out the old ditch that surrounds our tent, to make it better able to carry off water in the next storm. Knudsen insisted on doing his share, then Corder took the spade from him for the next side. When Pickle, who was standing ready, said "You don't need to work," Corder asked plaintively, "Do I seem as old as that?" So he was allowed to do his stint. Lucy placidly watched us.
Then, it being yet early afternoon, the typhoid candidates, more than half the company, were gathered up and taken away to be punctured. The small remainder of us were taken to the drill field and were delivered to the sergeants, apparently that they might show their mettle in the presence of the officers. Now you know that every calling has its tests of a man; in this soldier business the first lies in the ability to stand up and give your orders with such confidence in yourself that your men shall feel confidence in you. There were two of the sergeants that I noticed for their difference in this respect. The one was sunburned, tall, and lean; his brows jutted, his eyes under them were steady and sharp, his shoulders were square, and he had a very firm pair of bow-legs, which in some men is not displeasing. He knew his job; his voice rolled like the deep notes of an organ; we knew what he meant for us to do, and we did it. The other man was narrow and chicken-breasted, his long legs weak, his smile a smirk, his pronunciation so affected that we disgraced him because we blundered from pure lack of comprehension. Why is it that men's outsides so often correspond to their innards? And how did the latter of these two get his job? I suppose he has done some service to warrant his sergeant's stripes.
Corder and I went to the lake to swim. He interests me by the careful study of his condition; is afraid that some sign of old age will develop to send him away, and is almost boyishly pleased to find himself able to do all the work. "And I hope," said he, "that I shall learn to stand straighter. One feels a certain pride when in uniform, and I try to fill mine out, if only to escape hearing some youngster say, 'Gee, get onto that hollow-chested professor chap as a rookie!' But it's hard to keep straight." The prime of life, he said to me again, isn't so very prime.
When we came back the street was full of invalids. Army serum must work quick, for half the arms of the inoculees were lame, and when I thoughtlessly touched Pickle on the shoulder he howled. "The guy that counted out my half billion bugs," said he, "must have thrown in an extra hundred thousand for good measure. And they're all working overtime." At Retreat there was some difficulty in coaxing arms into blouses, and a number of men asked to be excused from evening duties for the sole purpose of lying upon their couches and staring at the canvas.
The rest of us marched to our first conference, on the slope of the drill field below the furthest mess-shacks, where we were massed in a semi-circle. It was an interesting sight, a thousand men in olive-drab slowly blending with their background as the dusk grew, yet with the faces of most of them showing up in the coming moonlight. Behind the speaker were the lake and the mountains, with the moon just beginning to glimmer on the little waves. It was the General himself who addressed us, welcoming us, speaking briefly of the purpose of our coming, expressing confidence that we would work as hard as our predecessors: a fine man-to-man address. I could not help thinking of a German general that I once heard speak to Einjaehriger—stiff, short, and unapproachable. Wood was stimulating, and made us readier for our duties.
The moon was brighter when we got back to the company street, and someone had lighted a fire at its head. Here a hundred of us, including some of the invalids, packed together in a circle around our new captain, while he spoke to us briefly. I had a good view of him. Shorter than the lieutenant, yet still a tall man, very strongly made, he spoke, like the general, as man to man, and the least thing he appeared to expect was any difficulty with us. He told us that the work was hard and tiresome; he would make it as easy as possible, but he knew we were there to work, and we could depend on him (without a twinkle) to give us everything that was coming to us. His tent was right at the head of the street; he wanted us to come to him at any time for any question; it was his business (and again no twinkle) to make our minds as well as our bodies comfortable. Thus I get the impression that he is something of a humorist, yet also that his chief trait is aggressiveness. I cannot tell you why, for all was spoken with a quiet voice, even with a certain gentleness that disguises what I am sure is the basic character of the man. Knudsen felt it too, for as we walked away from the conference he said: "The captain's a scrapper."
"He's a Southerner," said Clay with satisfaction. It had been plain in his accent.
This letter, begun Saturday night, I finish Sunday morning. Send me, please, a dozen clothes pins, to keep my washing on the tent-ropes. Pickle hung up his wet towel today, and had to chase it into the next company street. As everywhere is the same black sand, you can imagine its condition, likewise that of a moist cake of soap when you accidentally drop it—excellent for scouring, but not good for other cleaning purposes until its new covering is dissolved away. Send me also some paper napkins folded; the supply at the mess-shacks sometimes gives out.
A bit of character. Lucy was looking this morning rather helplessly at his silk pajamas, and wondering where he could get them washed, when there entered the tent a handsome and stalwart regular. "Washing?" he inquired respectfully. "Oh," asked Lucy hopefully, "are you an agent for some laundress?" "No," said the man, "I wash them myself. I guarantee to return everything tomorrow, properly done." The boy was not merely surprised, but almost shocked. "You do the work?" he asked. Then his native kindness came to his aid, and he was about to bundle all his clothes into the fellow's hands, when Knudsen said, quietly but very pointedly, "When I'm here at camp I wash my own clothes." David flushed quite pink. "Then I think I'll do the same."
"It's good for him," said Knudsen to me afterward. "It's good for him to be called Lucy. It's good for him to learn to shave himself with that razor. I was going to tell him to buy himself a safety razor, but thought I'd better not."
I'm glad I left David to find his own nurse. Knudsen manages him with certainty. On the other hand the boy likes him immensely, even though the taciturn Swede does but a small share of the talking when they are together. He is a foundryman, had a hard struggle to establish his growing business, and has in consequence a fierce outlook on the world, as one who at any time may have to fight for his own. David, by persistent but most tactful questioning, has brought out two salient facts in his biography. Knudsen is first the son of an immigrant, talks Swedish in his home, has none of the American background which to David is a man's birthright. And second he is a college man, from Hobart. Over these two facts the boy is sadly perplexed. Legally, Knudsen is as American as the rest of us—but can he be? Socially he is also all right, since he is a college man—but after all can you call Hobart a college? Don't blame David. It's not his fault if he's narrow-minded.
I shall close and mail this letter now, and at the first convenient opportunity shall begin the next. I foresee that my letters to you will be practically a continuous performance. Love from
FROM PRIVATE SAMUEL PICKLE TO HIS BROTHER
Plattsburg Training Camp. Sunday, Sept. 10, 1916.
Say, Tony, what a mutt I was not to get myself jabbed for typhoid before I came here! It would have been worth the money. Today my arm feels like a hornet's nest, with roots up into my shoulder and down my ribs. And my head is light and wavy—that's fever. I saw one guy keel over stiff when the doctor stuck him, and the poor corp of our squad says he'd swap jobs with his rear-rank man if he could only feel like a boy again.
They feed you here with food that's like ourselves, coarse and plentiful. I'll never again call sister's doughnuts sinkers; wish I could see any kind of a doughnut. The table china is delicate French—nit. The waiters are in livery. The man with a long reach will grow fat while others starve. Take care not to spill anything; it may fall into your hat that hangs under the table. Iced tea should be iced and should be tea; milk should be milk. When you see a thing that you want, ask for it; the platter will get to you even if the food don't. Elbows on the table are comfort but bad form, same as at home. The men that stay longest at table take pains to tell you that they eat slow. Eat first whatever is handiest when you sit down; why be idle while your soup is coming?
It's considered impolite to drink at the company spigot, but there's no rule against cleaning your teeth there. The best way to rinse your stocking after soaping is to hold it over the nozzle like a bag, and squeeze it while the water runs through. It takes so long to get hot water here that you'd better learn to shave with cold. I never before made my toilet out on the sidewalk, but a fellow can get used to anything.
You may talk of being chambermaid to a cow, but it's worse being groom to a gun. These rifles have been in use all summer, and they're all et up inside. They're like fat men, they sweat. Then they rust. Put in some dope and swab the barrel, then take twenty-five dinky little squares of cotton flannel and run them through, and the last will be just as dirty as the first. Let it go at that, and put in some oil, and say Damn.
It takes three lacings below the knee to get yourself dressed, and three unlacings to get to bed, unless you want to be a real soldier boy, and sleep in your clothes. And only two hooks in all these lacings—the rest eyelets, eyelets. The cartridge belt has ten pockets; I found a clip of blanks in mine, and am keeping it to celebrate with. The proper way to draw your bayonet is not to cut your ear off. They tell me it's been done. The outfitter lied to me. He sold me a tight blouse because we wore our sweaters over them, and here it's against the rule and my sweater will never go under the blouse and I'll freeze to death. Never believe anybody that says he knows.
When the horn blows pay no attention. It's the top sergeant's whistle you've got to jump for. If you want to know what to wear don't ask him; the lieutenant will change the order and the captain will change it again. Ask the major, unless the general happens by. Always salute unless you happen to be smoking; if you have a pipe in your mouth, don't see him. Fall River!
PRIVATE RICHARD GODWIN TO HIS MOTHER
Sunday evening, Sep. 10th, 1916.
I had no sooner closed this morning's addenda than I had to prepare for the bugaboo of tent inspection. A good bugaboo, of course, as at home it always pays to have visitors, we redd up the house so carefully. Our job this morning was not only to have the tent perfectly neat, but also to have our kits laid out on our beds according to regulations. One blanket was spread over the cot, the others were folded at the head, and on them the sweater and pillow. At the foot were folded the poncho and shelter half; then all the equipment was spread out. Under the head of the bed was the blue barrack-bag and the suit-case; under the foot the shoes. Then we stood in line in front of the tent, and watched while the lieutenant, coming from tent to tent, left each squad in a state of despair behind him. To cheer us, someone at the sergeants' tent started a victrola, but a snap from the lieutenant ended that diversion. Result of it all: we were told to inspect a certain bed in Tent One, fold our blankets and ponchos right, and lay out our equipment according to a sacredly prescribed order. A meek procession filed in and out of the tent for the next half hour.
It appears that blankets must be folded in a certain manner and laid in a certain way, so that the inspector can see at a glance whether the proper number of them is present—that none are in hock, I suppose. The manner of folding ingeniously insures that on making the bed at night the blankets must first be entirely shaken out; ditto in the morning. Some sanitary martinet evolved that scheme. We are told that a fourth blanket will be served out to us. Folded double lengthwise, four will allow seven thicknesses over us and one below, or any other proportion, according to the temperature. Sleeping as I do with the tent wall looped up, I shall be glad of the seven thicknesses.
Cleanliness being next to godliness, many of the men washed clothes instead of going to church. A little daily washing in this fair weather keeps a wardrobe always ready for service. It's simple if you combine your laundry work with your swim.
Bannister, our corporal, got us out on the drill field this afternoon for squad practice. But as even he is new to many of our evolutions, instead of monarchy we found democracy, so many of us had something to say. Part of the time Knudsen gently but firmly managed the squad; we taught each other how to stack arms; and finally from one argument we could only be rescued by appeal to the drill regulations. We knelt around the little blue book, while the opponents of two apparently conflicting ideas eagerly debated, until of a sudden each saw the other's point, and discovered that they meant the same thing.
Coming back, we found ourselves heading obliquely toward the company street, with a half turn to make in order to enter it properly. Corder suggested that the command should be "Left half turn," but Reardon contended for "Half left," and at the proper moment the corporal gave that order. Naturally there ensued at the tent another debate, everyone putting in his oar, until by the book the Old One proved that while for a company in column the command should have been "Column half left," for a squad "Left half turn" was correct. A mixing business, this learning how to fight for one's country.
Said I to Corder, "You'll take Bannister's job away from him if he doesn't look out." He laughed. "No," said he. "I like to admire the scenery rather than attend to business, and I'm a dreamer anyway. But watch Knudsen. He's a soldier type, and unless I'm mistaken he's had some training, though he doesn't claim it."
Word has gone forth that we are to go through the drill regulations at the rate of some forty paragraphs a day. So there is much study up and down the street, and that not merely on the part of would-be corporals.
This letter is finished under difficulties, for the lantern goes out every few minutes, as four of us cluster around it with our pens and paper. A puff, a pop, a flicker or two, and it's out. Then laughter, curses, two or three failures to light the wick, and we're off again for another short spell. Clay promises that we shall have no trouble with the lantern after tonight. Some squads have clubbed together to buy acetylene lanterns, which illuminate the tents most brilliantly; but the cost is seven dollars, and though our squad has mentioned the luxury, it is evident that most of the men wish to avoid the extra expense. Though of course I could buy the thing as a present to the squad, I think it would rather mar our present feeling of equality. Moreover, there was a trifle of an explosion in Tent 13 early this evening, after which the new lantern was thrown away as junk. If I should come again, I should bring some compact lighting contraption. Meanwhile the little flashlight is good for searching in one's suit case, and there is always a table and electric light at the company tent, close by the captain's.
Good-by, with love from
PRIVATE GODWIN'S DAILY LETTER
Monday, Sept. 11, 1916.
I began my day with my usual bucket from the tap; there are always early birds to serve me, and my helper this morning said it made him feel virtuous just to souse me. I prefer this to the shower baths, which are much further away. A very few go early to the lake and make parade of it; said one to his corporal yesterday, finding him crawling from his bed into his clothes, "My God, man, don't you ever bathe?" But the poor corporal was still shaking with his typhoid.
Clay, who was up early on mysterious errands in the dusk, has just brought in boards to lay in front of his cot. Reardon asked, "What are you going to do on the hike? You'll have to put your feet on the ground." But Clay evidently likes a bit of luxury, and when he gave me his surplus boards I found I liked it too, for I prefer keeping my feet out of this sand, which has a creeping quality and gets everywhere. Out in front of the tent there had appeared a bench. "Hi!" cried Bannister, "where did that come from?" Clay said nothing, and Bannister, who appreciated the new convenience, thought it best to ask no more. I, with a mind on further conveniences, suggested that we club together for a bucket for our washing. Clay offered to get this without cost, but late in the afternoon reported failure. "I couldn't get one, though I looked in every tent in the other companies." Then he missed our new bench. "Where has it gone?" he demanded. Corder answered dryly, "Back to its original owners, I suppose." But the lantern works better tonight, as the fellows all remark, avoiding mention of the fact that it has a somewhat different shape.
This morning we had our first drill in calisthenics. We were spaced in very open order, advised to take off our shirts, and Captain Wheeler, a magnificent figure of a man, strong as an oak in spite of his gray hair, stood on a platform and put us through exercises that searched out, so the boys agreed, muscles that you didn't know you had. You get a new idea of the "position of a soldier" after he has shown it to you. "Oh, no, no, no!" he cried when first we came to attention at his command, his voice rolling away over the lake into infinite distance. And then he made us try to show that we were proud of our uniforms.
This afternoon's platoon drill, under our lieutenant, made me very sure that, though I already feel as if I had been here for weeks, I am not yet master of my work. The drill kept me thinking. As it is no pleasure to be publicly called down, I am all the while trying to make no mistakes. A fellow must instantly—instantly!—know the difference between "Platoon right," for instance, and "Right by squads," even though the commands may not have been given for an hour. And one must know it whether corporal or not, for half the time the corporals do not yet know it themselves, and either mumble their commands or are silent, so that they are no help. And even if a fellow knows what to do, but lags in the doing of it, then he is likely to put the whole line out. Further, freight trains rumble by at the bottom of the drill field, the wind whistles in your ears, other officers near at hand are shouting commands to other platoons, and so you are likely not to hear a command at all. But on the whole I think I am improving.
The short time that we had with the captain was enough to prove that he is, as Clay claimed, a Southerner, if only from his use of the word like. As we came down from the right shoulder, he said, "Don't climb your rifle lahk it was a rope." And at Present Arms, "That man is holding up his piece lahk it was a Christmas tree." "Swing your arms," said he, "lahk you were proud of yo'selves!" Other little localisms slip in. When a man had explained a question that the captain at first did not understand, he said when he grasped it, "Oh, Ah see; Ah didn't locate yo'." But it is a pity to misspell so broadly. The differences of accent, though evident, are slight and pleasing, even musical.
FROM ERASMUS CORDER, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR IN HARVARD UNIVERSITY, TO HIS WIFE
Plattsburg, Monday, Sept. 11.
MY DEAR PRISCILLA:—
You will want to know, now that I have shaken down into this life, how on the whole it suits me. I feel as if I had been here a fortnight, such being the power of routine. You know I am among perfect strangers, for though Nelson is in my company, I see very little of him. We actually have not looked each other up since Saturday. And though Watson of the Philosophy department and Jones of the Library staff are both here, they are in other companies, and the best I have done is to pay each of them a hurried call. The real life is the life of the squad, and I find myself among interesting fellows.
The work is not too hard, for the officers give us periods of rest, and we are gradually hardening up. I live very cautiously, always change my stockings and rest my feet whenever I come off the drill-field, and whenever I can I lie down for a nap. But I am getting so lively that I find myself tempted to ignore these precautions, and hope that before long I can take not only the work but the fun as it comes. The excellent stockings which you knit for me are not too heavy nor too hot; you were wise to mark every thing that I wear, as in this camp articles of clothing very much resemble one another. My sewing kit, with all its threaded needles, called out the wonder of the corporal the other day, and the whole squad stood around and admired it.
I hope in time to attain a more military carriage, but it is a hard fight with habit. I wish I were as springy as these boys around me; even as I work the fat out of my bacon, I don't find myself perfectly elastic. For I get a bit stiff in the knees from long standing at the manual; and as the evening chill comes on I find it gets more into my joints than I like. And so I am watching the development of a problem with which I, that is, my mind, can have very little to do. Question: shall I get stiffer as the days grow colder, until on the hike they will discharge me as an old man; or will it all work off as I get used to the exercise, until I am limber? It is really a very serious matter, my dear, this being forty-five years old. One should turn life into a profession, and study how to become young. There are a number of men of my age or older here at camp, and I find we all have this same preoccupation, and very eagerly ask each other how we are getting on, and give advice. And the hike—that looms ahead of us all as an ordeal which we are afraid we shan't pass.
I never tire of the view from our drill field. The mountains are never twice the same, and the lake is quite as changeable; they vary their aspect every hour from morning to evening. We are lucky just now in our full moon, to light us about the unaccustomed streets. In contrast are the ugly tents, which yet have a romantic interest in their possible warlike use, and in their perfect uniformity, which is so forbidding that it becomes interesting. And for one who has come from a skirted sea-side resort, it is not unpleasant to see around me nothing but men, men, men.
Your letters make me feel easy about the family. We are very lucky that Mildred did not get a bad fall when the handle of her bicycle broke. Tell Florence to make a proper distinction between to and too, and to form her capital Cs more carefully. Little Elinor's letters are much admired in the whole tent. It must be about time to pick the Gravenstein apples. Tell Robert to handle them as if they were eggs.
You see I am well. Do not worry about me. Love to all the youngsters.
PRIVATE RICHARD GODWIN TO HIS MOTHER
Plattsburg, Tuesday, September 12.
Today we have had something new. We have so far been drilling in close order formation, so called because we always maintain our front and rear ranks together as such. This order has two purposes, one for parade and review, the other for quickest marching to any given place. But for fighting, which after all is our real purpose, the close order must be discarded in favor of extended order, which you will understand better if I call it skirmish line formation. Here front and rear rank form in one long line, in order not to do damage to each other in firing.
Our drill field at the camp distinctly has its drawbacks. Across part of it are open drainage ditches; and another part, where no ditches are, is a slippery bog after any rain. Drilling on such a field distracts you between the natural desire to pick your footing, and the officers' constant command to keep your eyes up. We are told that the city of Plattsburg is very generous in providing this ground, and doubtless it was to begin with; yet I wonder if after two very prosperous seasons, due to our presence and our visitors', the city couldn't afford to put a few hundred dollars (it would cost no more) into finishing draining the field with tile, and filling the ditches in. That would give us good dry ground and firm footing.
At any rate, it was a relief to be marched this morning to the military post, to practice our new formations on its great smooth field. The parade-ground is a wide level space by the edge of the lake, and on the inner side is a long row of the married officers' houses, all exactly alike, yet with shrubs and vines not unhomelike. I saw three children at one place, two at another, plus two nursemaids; but as a whole the houses look deserted, as they are. For all our regiments of this department are on the Mexican border, and while papa is away it is natural for mamma to take the babies to visit grandpa, if indeed she doesn't go to the border too. As a consequence of this absence of the infantry regiments, we are ministered to here by some companies of coast artillery, which are useless to the government in this crisis, and so are unwillingly serving here as cooks, waiters, and equipment orderlies. Our officers are scraped up from everywhere, the captain of my company even coming from Panama. Unless they can persuade themselves that there is to be no more fighting in Mexico, they must hate to settle down here as mere missionaries of the preparedness movement.
Well, we were taken onto the field, and were given our first dose of skirmish drill. The captain explained how the squad should do the expanding movement on which the whole is based. "Being at a halt," as the regulations are fond of saying, the corporal takes position three paces in front of his Number Two man, extends his arms as a signal or gives his order, and the men at a run take given positions on a line with him. A corporal and his squad being ordered to illustrate this for the benefit of the rest of us, the corporal forgot to stand fast, and so away the eight of them went, heading directly for the lake, the captain watching them with amusement, the rest of us snickering. Over the edge of the bluff they went, we heard crashes in the bushes, and presently, when the rest of us were beginning our demonstration, we saw the sheepish return of our lost squad. No one in our company will ever now forget that when we begin our deployment at a halt, we advance those three paces and no more.
You see now the real value of the corporal. He is of use in close order formation, yet there, with a little drill, the company could get along without him. But in extended order he is in independent command of the squad, takes his orders from his superior, translates them according to circumstances, and separately leads his little bunch of men to the place where they are to deploy. Moreover, since his problem varies according as we are marching or at a halt, in line or in column, and according as we are to guide centre, right, or left, the corporal needs (we proved it today) to have a cool head and a firm hold of his men. In one case we go forward, in another we march to one side before deploying, in still another we make a letter S, going backward and then forward again. There was a wonderful confusion this morning, with all of us greenhorns trying to learn this new work. Moreover, since we are volunteers, and men of intelligence, and by this time pretty well acquainted, every man of us thought he understood everything, and was bursting to tell the others how it should be done.
And then began to appear which of our corporals were corporals indeed. Some squads were little Babels, each man uttering forth his voice, with the poor squad-leader either vainly trying to make himself heard, or silently trying to make his own ideas square with the contradictions of the other seven. Other squads may have been repressed volcanoes, but still they were repressed, with the corporal making his mistakes in his own way, but learning by blundering how the thing should be done. As for Squad 8, Knudsen was guarding the corporal's peace of mind. Once when Bannister had mistaken the order, and I burst out with a whispered "Too far!" Knudsen snapped at me, "No speaking to the corporal!" Now since once or twice he had given advice, that was a touch too much; but I caught a significant twinkle in Corder's eye, and held my peace. I shan't soon forget the puzzled expression on Bannister's round, honest face when he found himself many yards out of the way, and his involuntary "Whoa!" Then Knudsen quietly took charge of us, and led us where we belonged.
"This is going to be interesting," whispered Corder to me. "Remember what I told you."
In the afternoon, among other drill work, we were taught how to make our packs. The strangely shaped piece of webbing which I once tried to describe to you, with all its straps and hooks, is a haversack worked out by a commission headed by a Major Stewart, who evolved this Stewart pack, the lightest by many pounds of any army pack in the world. Now give attention. On the ground you spread your poncho, rubber side downward. On it you lay your shelter-half and fold it till it too is an oblong, smaller than the poncho. Next you fold one blanket thrice and lay it with its stripe lengthwise of the poncho. Lay on it your tent-pegs, rope, bacon box and condiment can, a change of underclothes, your soap and razor, tooth-brush and towel. Lap over it the edges of the poncho and the shelter-half. Now roll this from the blanket end, packing tightly; and when you approach the end of the poncho, fold eight inches of it toward you, and into this pocket work the roll. Thus you have made a tight waterproof sausage, firmly enough packed to be thrown about without coming open. The first stage of making your pack is now finished.
The roll is now, by means only to be learned by actual doing, to be strapped to the haversack, which also carries the bayonet and, in its big pocket, the meat-can, knife, fork, and spoon. The pack is next, by its complicated straps, attached to the belt, and the whole is put on like a vest, the arms through its broad straps. These should be so tightened that the top of the pack comes well above the level of the shoulders, so that the straps will not drag and cut. The belt is buckled in front, but should be loose enough to hang over the hips. Thus the whole weight of the pack and belt is carried by the shoulders, which are braced back as by the old-fashioned shoulder brace, leaving the chest free for expansion, and carrying no weight.
The pack weighs about eighteen pounds, the belt (with full canteen and cartridge pockets) another eight, the rifle nine. Thirty-five pounds, for light marching order, is much less than any other army than ours is blessed with. And this outfit is to be, as our captain grimly remarked today, our constant companions. Oh my poor back!
I know it will be hard to read this letter, my hand shakes so. This is because all this morning I carried my rifle "at trail," which means that I gripped it a foot from the muzzle and carried it with the butt just off the ground, the butt constantly exercising a heavy leverage on the wrist. Naturally I am lame.
Your letters come daily, which saves me much anguish. At each distribution of the mail there is much quiet disappointment, which later is very likely to express itself in the tent. Said Reardon today, the silent man of the squad, "I'm going to write a letter home that will raise hell." Bannister, whose wife had missed a day, remarked gravely, "I'll have to say something to her." And Pickle came into the tent mad, savagely remarking, "If I don't get a letter next mail, I'm going home." Luckily it came.
But yet the men don't always sympathize with each other. Clay was bitterly complaining of his luck. Said Knudsen, "But man, you can't expect an answer to your letter yet. It had to go to Maryland." Then Bannister, taking his mind from his own disappointment, added, "And great Scott! look at the letter you writ. It was so long that she would need three whole days to read it in, before she could begin her answer. And as to your writing such an amount to your mother—!" "It was only eight pages," said handsome Clay, blushing. Bannister had no mercy. "Only eight pages? Man, it was a young novel! To your mother? Your grandmother, more likely." Clay was silenced.
Our fourth blankets are served out, and we sleep very snug. Food is the same, wholesome but not delicate. David and Pickle, having each a sweet tooth, buy rather freely outside, and David occasionally slips away for a hotel meal. As a consequence, they sometimes need doctoring. The rest of the squad, whether from economy or on principle, stick to the daily mess and are well. Love from
TELEGRAM FROM PRIVATE RICHARD GODWIN TO HIS MOTHER AT HOME
Plattsburg, Wednesday, Sep. 13.
is you know who at plattsburg and why i thought i saw her here today am well love
LETTERS FROM THE SAME
Postscript, written at the top of the first sheet of the letter
I have just sent you off this telegram: Is You-know-who at Plattsburg, and why? I thought I saw her here today. Am well. Love.
Second postscript, written in the margin
I find I have written you a letter that will show you my difficulties in getting time to write. It is merely typical of my usual day.
I begin this letter in the tent at about 5.30 in the morning, expecting the first assembly, yet trying to snatch a little time while the rest of the camp is still dressing. My hand no longer aches, but the wrist is plain stiff from yesterday's exercise at trail. I have just conned over fifty paragraphs of the drill book, getting up early for the purpose.
Free time is scarce. When the captain yesterday told us to put fifteen minutes a day on our study of the rifle, and especially in learning to squeeze (a mystery which I will expound to you when I myself have mastered it) the whole company groaned. Our time is so cut up that it is
(The bugle and the whistle! Five minutes for assembly.)
hard to find many minutes at a stretch which you can devote to any one thing. And yet I think it quite right that yesterday, after returning from the open order drill, squad after squad of us should of our own accord go down to the drill field and practise the new tricks, especially in preserving the squad formation while following the corporal over whatever ground and through whatever angles. Those fifteen minutes will help us today. Bannister tends quietly to his job, an amusing fellow with his little imitations of a farmer (which some day he means to be), his chuckling Yankee wit, and his interest in telling all about his wife and children at home.
Speaking of corporals, Corder has brought out new facts regarding Knudsen. Yesterday, when the tent was empty but for us three, Corder stopped Knudsen from going out while at the same time he beckoned to me. Lucy, coming in just then, stopped and listened also. "Knudsen," said Corder, "you've drilled before." "Not infantry drill," answered Knudsen. "Recently?" demanded Corder. Knudsen admitted, "All last winter with a troop of cavalry." "Then why," demanded Corder, "didn't you say you had had experience, and try to be a corporal yourself?" "Because——"
(Bugle again, and half an hour for breakfast. Having a little time before morning drill, I go on.)
"Because," said Knudsen, "I didn't want to be corporal. I came here tired to death from a long hard worrying year in getting that factory of mine in good running order. I don't want to have anything more to do, for the whole of this month, with managing a stupid gang of men." "Thanks!" said Corder and I together, and we bowed as if we had been drilled to do it, exactly together. Knudsen was rather taken aback, but he laughed and apologized. "You ought to be corporal of a squad," said Corder. "Do you want to get me out of this one?" demanded Knudsen. "Bannister is all right. I tell you I'm here for a rest, and I want to escape the captain's notice." We promised (Bugle!) to help him keep in his obscurity. Lucy stood silent, but full of admiration.
(Sergeant's whistle, and Pickle comes running in. "Make up the packs without the ponchos!" Good by for the present.)
(Four hours later, after skirmish practice in the roughest kind of low underbrush, in which I nearly lost a legging, and wished for a pair of wooden elbows.)
The company was split in two this morning, those men who had used high-power rifles being taken away by the captain, whose specialty is shooting, while the rest of us went with the lieutenant up the Peru road, and turned into an old overgrown blueberry pasture. Luckily there were no blueberries, for whenever we threw ourselves flat we should have squashed more on our clothes than we should have had time to eat. Bannister being with the shooters, we (such as remained of our squad) were put with a neighboring corporal who did not know his business, and
(Forty minutes for mess. After a cigarette, I am trying to snatch a few minutes now)
and speedily had the lieutenant "bawling us out." So very quietly, but very firmly, with Corder again winking at me in perfect delight, Knudsen took over corporal and squad, and managed us in an undertone from his position of number two. He kept the squad together, told the corporal when to spread it out, and that innocent person willingly gave himself into Knudsen's hands. We had plenty to do in a series of
(Bugle and whistle. Off for afternoon drill.—Now at 3.24 P.M. after learning to pitch shelter tents)
imaginary attacks, sometimes in showers, and we steaming in our ponchos or shivering without them, ploughing through the wet bushes or throwing ourselves flat in them. Then, from whatever positions we found ourselves in, we had to "simulate firing" at an enemy until my neck was lame from trying to hold my head up, and my elbows were sore from their rough lodgings. The corporal was perfectly docile, and Knudsen even hooked his fingers in the back of the man's belt and pulled him here and there.
(Sergeant's whistle, and again Pickle comes diving into the tent. "Undershirts only, for the sun's out hot. Take your towel if you want to swim." That means calisthenics.—After forty minutes.)
Out we went to the drill field, took off (most of us) our remaining shirts, and were put through nine hundred exercises till we dripped, while ladies in their automobiles watched us from the top of the slope. Hope they enjoyed it. When it was over we were dismissed where we stood and streamed yelling to the beach, where we found Champlain, at the hot end of this changeable day, able to repay us for all our sufferings.
Well, to finish the corporal story. The squad were perfect lambs in Knudsen's hands, none daring to bleat, while all around us the other squads were disputing in undertones and going wrong amid storms of discontent. When we had got back to the tent, and had lost our emergency non-com., Knudsen began to praise him for an excellent corporal. "He was good so long as you had him in charge," said Corder. "Especially good on that last deployment when you yanked him into place. If you don't want to be promoted, man, let your superiors blunder, and don't correct them." "The lieutenant wasn't looking," answered Knudsen meekly.
Now about (call for supper) about that telegram (call for regimental conference. I am now at the company tent waiting for the captain's conference.) about that telegram of mine. Where is Vera Wadsworth? For when we were on the parade ground at the post this afternoon, learning to pitch our shelter tents (which is another complicated affair, the explanation of which I will reserve) we found ourselves deserted for a while by our mentor the lieutenant, and were at the mercy of green sergeants, who knew something, to be sure, but in whom we had no confidence. Someone discovered him,—Pickle. "Gee," said that exponent of classic English, "spot the lieutenant with a skirt." And there he was at a distance, in talk with a tall girl, handsome, unless I miss my guess, and Vera herself, if I have any knowledge of her figure, and of a certain hat and parasol she lately affected. Quite at home there too, without a chaperon, on the walk in front of the officers' houses, and without a waiting automobile that brought her or would carry her away. What could bring her here? Were her military relatives at this post? At any rate, I thought they were now at the border. I hope it wasn't she; but the lieutenant, as he returned to us, smiled as men usually do as they think of Vera. Look up her whereabouts and let me know.
I see the captain coming to conference. Good night,
TELEGRAM FROM MRS. RICHARD GODWIN, SENIOR, TO HER SON AT PLATTSBURG, DATED THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 1916
she is taking charge of her cousins children at the plattsburg post am writing mother.
PRIVATE GODWIN'S DAILY LETTER
Thursday, Sept. 14, 1916.
Your telegram, reaching me, made me uncomfortable at first. However, I don't suppose I shall meet Vera, so I shall put the matter out of my mind.
Last night there was a rain, which wakened me as it came down pretty heavily. Knudsen, with a groan, got out of bed and put on his poncho. "What is up?" I asked, whispering; and he, likewise trying not to wake the others, answered, "Rain is coming in. Must fix the tent-cap." So I got up and helped him. I did not tell you, I think, that the tent is open at the top like a wigwam, providing perfect ventilation; but when the rain comes in it wets the clothes hung around the poles, and also the rifles. But a canvas cap, which in fair weather is laid back, may be dragged over the opening by ropes hauled from below, and Knudsen and I managed to close it. Maybe you think it was fun, falling over the tent-ropes in the windy dark.
By daylight it was raining still, and we were ordered out in our ponchos for the assembly. Poor Lucy has so far always been helped into his, and stood looking at it hopelessly. "Which side is front?" As usual, Knudsen came to his help. "The long side. No, that's inside out. Don't you see the collar? Button it under your chin. Now button the sides of the lower part round behind you. Fix the two remaining corners to hang down over your hands. Now you're good for anything that may happen all day."
"All day?" demanded poor Lucy. "Do you mean to say we'll drill in the rain?" "Shall we sit and suck our thumbs here?" demanded amused Pickle. Knudsen, more subtle, merely remarked, "Oh, damn the weather!" and Lucy stiffened as he got the idea that the rain wouldn't hurt him.
He is really improving. Daily he manfully shaves himself for practice (every other day would be enough) and his early wounds are healing nicely, while he has none of recent date. The poor lad's hands are pretty sore from handling his gun. The captain halted before him the other day as we were doing the manual, and fixed him with a cold eye. "Hit that gun harder," he said. "You can't hurt it with your hands." David faintly smiled, and now he is trying to callous his palms.
We ate our breakfasts in our ponchos: there is no place to hang them up, and they make very good bibs. And in our ponchos we marched; they covered the packs, making us look like pedlers, or as Knudsen said, like camels. We kept our rifles dry under them, but were not long dry ourselves, for these service ponchos not being exactly waterproof, soon wet through at the knees, or wherever else we rubbed as we marched. I am therefore rather envious of David's fine new poncho, of best rubber. If I come again I shall have one of my own—a poncho, remember, and not the civilian rubber coat with which some have supplied themselves.
They marched us this morning first to the post gymnasium, and there we sat in a great half-circle while Major Stewart explained to us the history of army packs, and some facts about the one that bears his name. Our men in other wars have abandoned their packs on entering battle, they were such encumbrances in skirmishing. In the battle of San Juan thousands of packs were dropped by the roadside, and the men finished their fighting without rations. But the new pack may be worn both in marching and in shooting; further, on expecting battle the rolls may be made short, and then are strapped to the lower part of the haversack. This part, on drawing out a leather strap, falls to the ground, and the men go forward lightened of the heaviest part of their burden, but yet carrying food enough for the day's work. At its worst the Stewart pack is, compared to the old blanket roll, many pounds to the good.
And yet, mother, though wise Mr. Bryan has bragged of our ability to put an army of a million men into the field overnight, of the few thousands at the border a fair half are still equipped with the old pack. Is the rest of the million to be proportionately well fitted out?
In order to show that the pack will fit anyone, the Major called for the tallest man in the regiment. A strapping big fellow of perhaps thirty-five got up and stepped confidently onto the platform, amid the cheers of the crowd, and the Major prepared to strap the pack onto him. But I heard from behind me various urgent cries of "Go on up!" and a fine young fellow, straight as a lance, walked round the seated men, and also stepped upon the platform. Though much slenderer than the other, the newcomer was a good inch taller. A roar of applause came from the regiment, and the first man, understanding, laughed and stepped down. Then he turned back and spoke to the younger man, evidently asking his height. "How tall? How tall?" demanded the crowd, and the young fellow held up six fingers, indicating six feet six. A similar scene occurred for the shortest man, a thin little fellow getting the honor; then a third aspirant, being evidently taller, was laughed back. But what struck me was the reception given a head-headed, round-headed, roly-poly little mustached fellow, who hesitated near at hand. The crowd instantly nicknamed him. "Come on, Cupid, and measure yourself." But Cupid had his doubts, and so retired.