UNCLE SAM'S BOYS WITH PERSHING'S TROOPS or Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche
By H. Irving Hancock
CHAPTERS I. Dick at Training Camp II. Greg has to be Stern III. Bad Blood Comes to the Surface IV. As it is Done in the Army V. The Camp Carpenter's Talk VI. The Enemy in Camp Berry VII. At Grips with German Spies VIII. With the Conscientious Objectors IX. Order for "Over There" X. On Board the Troopship XI. In the Waters of the Sea Wolves XII. The Best of Details! XIII. Off to See Fritz in His Wild State XIV. The Thrill of the Fire Trench XV. Out in No Man's Land XVI. The Trip Through a German Trench XVII. Dick Prescott's Prize Catch XVIII. A Lot More of the Real Thing XIX. A "Guest" in Prison Camp XX. On a German Prisoner Train XXI. Seeking Death More Than Escape XXII. Can It Be the Old Chum? XXIII. The Dash to Get Back to Pershing XXIV. Conclusion
DICK AT TRAINING CAMP
His jaw set firmly, his keen, fiery eyes roving over the group before him, the gray-haired colonel of infantry closed his remarks with these words:
"Gentlemen, the task set for the officers of the United States Army is to produce, with the least possible delay, the finest fighting army in the world. Our own personal task is to make this, the Ninety-ninth, the finest regiment of infantry in that army.
"You have heard, at some length, what is expected of you. Any officer present, of any grade, who does not feel equal to the requirements I have laid down will do well to seek a transfer to some other regiment or branch of the service, or to send in his resignation as a military officer."
Rising to their feet behind the long, uncovered pine board mess tables at which they had sat listening and taking notes, the eyes of the colonel's subordinate officers glistened with enthusiasm. Instead of showing any trace of dissent they greeted their commanding officer's words with a low murmur of approval that grew into a noisy demonstration, then turned into three rousing cheers.
"And a tiger!" shouted a young lieutenant, in a bull-like voice that was heard over the racket.
Colonel Cleaves, though he did not unbend much before the tumult, permitted a gleam of satisfaction to show itself in his fine, rugged features.
"Good!" he said quietly, in a firm voice. "I feel assured that we shall all pull together for the common weal and for the abiding glory of American arms."
Gathering up the papers that he had, during his speech, laid out on the table before him, the colonel stepped briskly down the central aisle of the mess-room. As it was a confidential meeting of regimental officers, and no enlisted man was present, one of the second lieutenants succeeded in being first to reach the door. Throwing it open, he came smartly to attention, saluting as the commanding officer passed through the doorway. Then the door closed.
"Good!" cried Captain Dick Prescott. "That was straight talk all the way through."
"Hit the mark or leave the regiment!" voiced Captain Greg Holmes enthusiastically.
"Be a one hundred per cent. officer, or get out of the service!" agreed another comrade.
The tumult had already died down. The officers, from Lieutenant-Colonel Graves down to the newest "shave-tail" or second lieutenant, acted as by common impulse when they pivoted slowly about on their heels, glancing at each other with earnest smiles.
"Gentlemen, our job has been cut out for us. We know the price of success, and we know what failure would mean for us, personally or collectively. Going over to quarters, Sands?"
Thrusting a hand through the arm of Major Sands, Lieutenant-Colonel Graves started down the aisle. Little groups followed, and the mess-room of that company barracks was speedily emptied.
Hard work, not age, had brought the gray frosting into the hair of Colonel Cleaves; he was forty-seven years old, and not many months before he had been only a major.
The time was early in September, in the year 1917. War had been declared against Germany on April 6th. In the middle of July the Ninety-o-ninth Infantry had been called into existence. Regiments were then being added to the Regular Army. Two or three hundred trained soldiers and several hundred recruits had made up the beginnings of the regiment. Prescott and Holmes had been among the latest of the captains sent to the regiment, arriving in August. And now Colonel Cleaves had just joined his command on orders from Washington.
With forty men in the headquarters company and some fifty in the machine-gun company, the rifle companies on this September day averaged about seventy men. Nor had a full complement of officers yet arrived.
Dick Prescott and Greg Holmes, lately first lieutenants, as readers of former volumes of this series are aware, had received their commissions as captains just before joining the Ninety-ninth.
"This regiment is scheduled to go over at an early date," Colonel Cleaves had informed his regimental officers, at the conference of which we have just witnessed the close. "Headquarters and machine-gun companies must be raised to their respective quotas of men, and each rifle company must be increased from seventy to two hundred and fifty men each. New recruits will arrive every week. These men must be whipped into shape. Gentlemen, I expect your tireless aid in making this the finest infantry regiment in the American line."
One or two glances at Colonel Cleaves, when he was talking earnestly, were enough to show the observer that this officer meant all he said. Shirkers, among either officers or men, would receive scant consideration in his regiment.
Camp Berry, at which the Ninety-ninth and the Hundredth were stationed, lay in one of the prettiest parts of Georgia. Needless to say the day was one of sweltering heat and the regimental officers, as they filed out of the company barracks that had been used for holding the conference, fanned themselves busily with their campaign hats. Each, however, as he struck the steps leading to the ground, placed his campaign hat squarely on his head.
"Some pace the K.O. has set for us," murmured Greg, as he and Dick started to walk down the company street.
"And we must keep that pace if we hope to last in Colonel Cleaves's regiment," Dick declared, with conviction. "Time was when an officer in the Regular Army could look forward to remaining an officer as long as he was physically fit and did not disgrace himself. But in this war any officer, regular or otherwise, will find himself laid on the shelf whenever he fails to produce his full share of usefulness."
"Do you think it's really as bad as that, Prescott?" demanded Captain Cartwright, who was walking just behind them.
"Worse!" Dick replied dryly and briefly.
Cartwright sighed, then took a tighter grip on the swagger stick that he carried jauntily in his right hand. Cartwright was a smart, soldierly looking chap, but was well known as an officer who was not addicted to hard work.
Past three or four barrack buildings on the street the chums walked, Cartwright still keeping just behind them.
"Look at the work of Sergeant Mock, will you?" demanded Greg, halting short as they came to the edge of one of the drill grounds.
Mock belonged to Greg's own company. At this moment the sergeant was busy, or should have been, drilling what was supposed to be a platoon, though to-day it consisted of only two corporals' squads, or sixteen men in all.
Greg Holmes's eyes opened wide with disgust as he watched the drilling, unseen by the sergeant.
The platoon had just wheeled and marched off by fours. The cadence was too slow, the men looked slouchy and showed no signs whatever of spirit.
"Perhaps the sergeant isn't feeling well," remarked Dick, with a smile.
"He won't be feeling well after he has talked with me," Greg uttered between his teeth.
To the further limit of the drill ground the sergeant marched his platoon, then wheeled them and brought them back again. As he came about the sergeant caught sight of his company commander. In an undertone he gave an order that brought his men along at greater speed than they had gone.
"Halt!" ordered the sergeant, and brought up his hand in salute to the officers.
"Sergeant Mock," called Holmes, in a low, even voice, "turn the men over to a corporal and come here."
Hastily, and flushing, Sergeant Mock came forward.
"How are the men feeling?" Greg inquired, after signaling the corporal now in charge to continue the drilling.
"Tired, sir," replied Mock, with a shamefaced look.
"And how is the sergeant feeling?" Greg went on, as the corporal led the men across the drill ground, this time at a sharper pace and correcting any fault in soldierly bearing that he observed.
"All right, sir," replied the sergeant.
"Then, if you're feeling all right, Sergeant Mock," Greg continued in as even a voice as before, "explain to me why you were marching the platoon at a cadence of about ninety, instead of the regulation hundred and twenty steps per minute. Tell me why the alignment of the fours was poor, and why the men were allowed to march without paying the slightest heed to their bearing."
Though there was nothing at all sharp in the company commander's voice, Mock knew that he was being "called," and, in fact, was perilously close to being "cussed out."
"The—-the day is hot, sir, and—-and I knew the men were about played out," stammered Mock.
"How long have you been in the Army, sergeant?" Greg continued.
"About two years and a half, sir."
"In all that time did you ever know officers or enlisted men to be excused from full performance of ordered duty on account of the weather?"
"Then why did you start a new system on your own authority?" Greg asked quietly.
Mock tried to answer, opened his mouth, in fact, and uttered a few incoherent sounds, which quickly died in his throat.
"Sergeant Mock," said Greg, "we have just heard from our commanding officer. He demands the utmost from every officer, non-com and private. Are you prepared, and resolved, from this moment, to give the utmost that is in you at all times?"
"Yes, sir!" replied Mock with great emphasis.
"You mean what you are saying, Sergeant?"
"Very good, then," continued the young captain. "I am going to take your word for it this time. But if I ever find you slacking or shirking again, I am going to go to the colonel immediately and ask him to 'break' you back to the ranks."
"Yes, sir," assented Mock, saluting.
"Are you fully familiar with all your drill work?"
"Then remember that our enemies, the German soldiers, are men who are drilled and drilled until they are perfect in their work, and that their discipline is amazing. Keep the fact in mind that we can hardly hope to whip our enemies unless we are at least as good soldiers as they. That is all. Go back to your men, Sergeant."
Standing stiffly erect, Sergeant Mock brought up his right hand in a crisp salute, then wheeled and walked briskly back to join his men. Greg turned as if to say that he did not feel the need of remaining to watch the rebuked sergeant.
"By Jove!" uttered Captain Cartwright. "I do wish, Holmes, you'd come over and dress down some of my non-coms. I've been trying for three days to put 'pep' into some of them, and the K.O. frowned at me this morning."
"Non-com" is the Army abbreviation for "non-commissioned officers"—-corporals and sergeants—-while "K.O." is Army slang for commanding officer.
Arrived at an unpainted wooden barracks, in size and appearance just like those of the enlisted men, the three captains entered and walked up a flight of stairs to the floor above. Here they passed through a narrow corridor with doors on both sides that bore the cards of the officers who slept behind the respective doors. Cartwright went to his own room, while Greg followed Dick into the latter's quarters.
Plain enough was the room, seven and a half feet wide and ten feet in length, with a single sliding window at the front. Walls and ceiling, like the floor, were of pine boards. There were shelves around two sides of the room, with clothing hooks underneath. Under the window was a desk, with a cot to one side; the rest of the furniture consisted of two folding camp chairs.
Entering, Dick hung up his campaign hat on one of the hooks, Greg doing the same. On account of the heat of the day neither young captain wore a tunic. Each unbuttoned the top button of his olive drab Army shirt before he dropped into a chair.
"What do you think of the new K.O.?" Dick asked, as he picked a newspaper up from the desk and started to fan himself.
"He means business," Greg returned. "I am glad he does," Dick went on. "This is no time for slack soldiering. Greg, I'll feel consoled for working eighteen hours a day if it results in making the Ninety-ninth the best infantry regiment of the line."
"Can it be done?" Greg inquired.
"But I've a hunch that every other regiment is striving for the same honor," Captain Holmes continued. "Ours isn't the only K.O. who covets the honor of commanding the best regiment of 'em all."
"It can be done," Dick insisted, "and I say it must be done."
"Yet other regiments would be so close to us in excellence that it would be hard to name the one that is really best."
"In that case we wouldn't have won the honor," Dick smilingly insisted.
"Then consider that fellow Cartwright," Greg added, lowering his voice a bit. "He's a born shirker, and one weak company would make a regiment that much poorer."
"If Cartwright shirks, then mark my word that he'll be dropped," Dick rejoined quickly. "But Greg, man, this is war-time, and the biggest and most serious war in which we were ever engaged. There must be no doubts—-no ifs or buts. We must have a regiment one hundred per cent. perfect. I'm going to do my share with a company one hundred percent. good, even if I don't find time for any sleep."
Up the corridor there sounded a knock at a door. Something was said in a low voice. Then the knock was repeated on Prescott's door.
"Come in!" called Dick.
An orderly entered saluting.
"Orders from the adjutant, sir," said the soldier, handing Prescott a folded paper. He handed one like it to Greg, then saluted and left the room, knocking at the next door.
"Company drill from one to two-thirty," summarized Prescott, glancing through the typewritten words on the unfolded sheet. "Practice march by battalions from two-forty-five to three-forty-five. Squad drill from four o'clock until retreat. That looks brisk, Greg."
"Doesn't it?" asked Holmes, without too plain signs of enthusiasm. "Company drill and the hike call for our presence, preferably, and yet I've paper work enough to keep me busy until evening mess."
"Paper work," so-called, is the bane of life for the company commander. It consists of keeping, making and signing records, of the keeping and inspection of accounts; it deals with requisitions for supplies and an endless number of reports.
"I have a barrelful of paper work, too," Dick admitted. "But I'm going to see everything going well on the drill ground before I go near company office."
"All good things must end," grunted Greg, rising to his feet, "even this rest. Mess will be on in eight minutes."
The instant that the door had closed Dick drew off his olive drab shirt, drew out a lidded box from under the bed and deposited the shirt therein, next restoring the box to place bring out a basin from under the bed and placing it on a chair, he found towel and soap and busied himself with washing up. His toilet completed, he took a clean shirt from a bundle on one of the neatly arranged shelves and donned the garment. A few more touches, and, spick-and-span, clean and very soldierly looking, he descended to the ground floor. A glance into the mess-room showed him that the noon meal was not yet ready, so be sauntered to the doorway, remaining just inside out of the sun's rays.
Other officers gathered quickly. A waiter from mess appeared at the inner doorway, speaking a quiet word that caused the regiment's officers, except the colonel and his staff, to file inside.
Plain pine tables, without cloths, long pine benches nailed to the floor—-officers' mess was exactly like that of the enlisted men, save that officers' mess was provided with heavy crockery, while in the company mess-rooms the men ate from aluminum mess-kits.
Most of the food was already in place on the table. The meal began with a lively hum of conversation. Occasionally some merry officer called out jokingly to some officer at another table; there was no special effort at dignified silence.
"The K.O. has our number!" exclaimed an irrepressible lieutenant.
"How so?" demanded Noll Terry, Prescott's first lieutenant.
"He knows us for a bunch of shirkers, and so he gave us the 'pep' talk this morning."
"Is the 'pep' going to work with you?" asked Noll laughingly.
"Surely! I wouldn't dare be slow, even in drawing my breath, after hearing the K.O. talk in that fashion."
"Same here," Noll nodded.
"I've been working sixteen hours a day ever since I hit camp," chimed in another lieutenant. "What's the new system going to be? Eighteen hours a day?"
"Twenty, perhaps," said Greg's first lieutenant cheerfully.
The meal had been under way for fifteen minutes when Captain Cartwright entered leisurely.
"I suppose you fellows have eaten all the best stuff," he called, as he looked about and found a vacant seat, though he paused as if in no great haste to occupy it.
"Same old Cartwright," observed Greg, in an undertone to Dick. "He's late, even at mess formation."
But Cartwright heard, and wheeled about, looking half-angrily at young Captain Holmes.
"Say, Holmes, you're as free as ever with your tongue."
"Yes," Greg answered unconcernedly. "Using it to taste my food, and I've been finding the taste uncommonly pleasant."
"You use your tongue in more ways than that," snapped Captain Cartwright. "I happened to hear what you said about me in Prescott's room a few minutes ago."
"Eavesdropping?" queried Greg calmly.
"What's that?" snapped Cartwright, and his flush deepened. "See here, Holmes, I don't want any trouble with you."
"That shows a lively sense of discretion," smiled Greg, turning to face the other.
"But I want you to stop picking on me. Talk about somebody else for a change!"
"With pleasure," nodded Greg, as he shrugged his shoulders and turned to drop a spoonful of sugar in his second cup of coffee. "There are lots of agreeable subjects for conversation in Camp Berry."
"Meaning—-?" demanded Cartwright, still standing, and scowling, for, out of the corners of his eyes, he saw that several of his brother officers were smiling.
"Meaning almost anything that you wish," continued Captain Holmes, serenely, as he stirred his coffee.
"Sit down, Cartwright," urged a low voice. "This is a gentleman's outfit," declared another voice, perhaps not intended to reach Cartwright's ears. But he heard the words and his mounting rage caused him to take a step nearer to Greg, at the same time clenching his fists.
Greg, though he realized what was taking place, did not bother to turn, but coolly raised his cup to his lips.
"Sit down," called another voice. "You're rocking the boat."
But Cartwright took a second step. It is impossible to say what would have happened, but Dick Prescott, half turning in his seat, caught the angry captain's nearer wrist in a grip of steel and fairly swang Cartwright into a vacant seat at his left. Greg was sitting at his right.
"Don't be foolish, Cartwright, and don't let the day's heat go to your head," Prescott advised. "Don't do anything you'd regret."
Though Captain Cartwright's blood was boiling there was a sense of quiet mastery in Prescott's manner and voice, combined with a quality of leadership that restrained the angry man for the next few seconds, during which Dick turned to a waiter to say:
"This meat is cold. Bring some hot meat for Captain Cartwright, and more vegetables. Try some of this salad, Cartwright—-it's good."
Instantly the officers, looking eagerly on, turned their glances away and began general conversation again, for they were quick to see that Dick's usual tact was at least postponing a quarrel.
"It will be a hot afternoon for drill, won't it?" Dick asked, in the next breath, and in a low tone.
"Maybe," grunted Cartwright. "But perhaps I shall find still hotter work before the drill-call sounds."
"Nonsense!" said Dick quickly. "After the K.O.'s talk this morning, don't start anything that will take our mind off our work."
"I've got to have a bit more than an explanation from Holmes," the sulky captain continued, though in a low voice.
"Cartwright," said Dick, in an authoritative undertone, "I don't want you to start anything in that direction until you've had a good talk with me!"
There the matter ended for the moment. Dick joined in the general conversation. Presently Cartwright tried to, but the officers to whom he addressed his remarks replied either so briefly or so coolly that the captain realized that he was not popular at the present time.
"Holmes will make trouble for any one who doesn't toady to him," thought Captain Cartwright moodily. "I can see that I've got to make it my business to take the conceit and arrogance out of him."
At almost the same moment, over in a company barracks, Sergeant Mock, as he chewed his food gloomily, was reflecting:
"So Captain Holmes will call me down before a lot of officers, will he? He'll order me to show more 'pep,' will he, the slave-driver? And if I don't he'll break me, eh?"
"Breaking" a non-commissioned officer is securing his reduction to the grade of private.
"The captain is so lazy himself that he doesn't know a good man when he sees one," Mock told himself angrily.
Then he added, threateningly to himself:
"He'd better not try it. If he does, he'll sure wish he hadn't. Since this war began even the officers are only on probation, and I've brains enough to find a way to put him in bad with the regimental K.O."
"What's the matter, Mock, don't you like your food?" asked the sergeant seated at his left. "You're scowling something fierce."
"It isn't the chow," Sergeant Mock retorted gruffly.
"Must be the heat, then—-or a call-down," observed his brother sergeant.
"Never you mind!" retorted Mock. "And I'm not talking much now; I want to think."
"Must have been a real 'cussing-out' that you got," grinned the other sergeant unconcernedly.
Bending over a passing soldier murmured to Mock:
"Top wants to see you in the company office when you're through eating."
The first sergeant of a company is also known, in Army parlance, as the "top sergeant" or the "top cutter."
Though he dawdled with his meal Mock did not eat much more. Finally he rose, stalking sulkily from the mess-room and across the central corridor. Thrusting out a hand he turned the knob of the door of the company office and almost flung the door open, stepping haughtily inside.
"Mock," said First Sergeant Lund, looking up, "you're too old in the service to enter in that fashion. You know, as well as I do, that there is a 'knock' sign painted on the door, and that only an officer is privileged to enter without knocking. Suppose the captain had been in here when you flung in in that fashion?"
"He's no better than any one else!" retorted Mock.
Facing about in his chair Sergeant Lund briefly rested one hand on his desk, then sprang to his feet.
"Attention!" he commanded sharply.
Mock obeyed, throwing his head up, his chest out and squaring his shoulders as he dropped his hands straight along either trousers seam, though he sneered:
"Putting on officer's airs, are you, Lund?"
"No; I appear to be talking to a rookie (recruit) who happens to be wearing a sergeant chevrons," retorted the top sternly. "Sergeant Mock, in this office, or anywhere in my presence, you will refrain from making disrespectful remarks about your officers And I'd advise you to adopt that as your standard at all times and in all places. Do you get that?"
"I hear you," Mock rejoined, standing at ease again. "You wanted to see me?"
"Yes. Shortly before recall sounded I looked out of the window and noticed that you were handling the second platoon in anything but a soldierly manner. I was about to come out and speak to you when I observed the captain call you to him. He corrected your method of handling the platoon, didn't he?"
"He thought he did," Sergeant Mock responded, his lips quivering "But the tone he took, or rather the words he said to me, aren't the kind that make better soldiers of non-coms."
"So?" demanded Sergeant Lund, looking sharply into his subordinate's eyes.
"No!" Mock snapped sullenly. "When an officer wants me to do my best be's got to treat me like the gentleman that he's supposed to be."
For twenty seconds Sergeant Lund continued his staring at Mock. Then he rested a hand heavily on the other's shoulder as he said:
"Sergeant Mock, this is a man's army, training to do a nation's share in the biggest war in history. None but a man can do a man's work, and nothing but an army of real men can do the nation's work. If you fit yourself into your place, work hard enough and forget all about yourself except your oath to serve the Flag and obey your officers, I believe that you can do a real man's work. If you do anything different from that I'll knock your block off without a second word on the subject."
A hotly angry reply leaped to Sergeant Mock's lips, but he was wise enough to choke it back. For Sergeant Lund, a real man, a real soldier and a loyal American, stood before him regarding him with a look in which there was no faltering nor any doubt as to his intentions.
"That's all, Sergeant Mock," said the top, an instant later. "I'm going to keep an eye on you, and I want to be able to say a word of praise to you this evening."
"Two of a kind—-the top and the company commander," Mock growled under his breath as he went up the stairs to a squad room above.
GREG HAS TO BE STERN
A full minute before the bugler sounded the call Captain Dick Prescott was on hand, standing in the shadow of the end of the barracks of his company. Among other reasons he was there to note the alacrity with which his men came out of the building.
Before the notes of the call had died away most of the men of his company were on hand, his lieutenants among the first. Within saving time all the rest had appeared, except those who had been excused for one reason or another.
"A company fall in!" directed First Sergeant Kelly promptly.
As the men fell in in double rank there were a few cases of confusion, for some of the men were rookies who had joined only recently.
"Sergeant Kelly, instruct the other sergeants to see to it that each man knows his exact place in company formation," Dick ordered.
"Yes, sir," replied Kelly.
The corporals reported briskly the absentees, if any, in their squads. The counting of fours sounded next after inspection of arms.
"A little more snap in answering when fours are counted," Dick called, loudly enough for all the company to hear. "Let every man call his own number instantly and clearly. For instance, when one man has called 'two' let the man at his left call 'three' without a second's delay. In the way of good soldiering this is more important than most of you new men realize. Lieutenant Terry!"
"Sir," the first lieutenant responded, stepping forward, saluting.
"Take the company. Drill in dressings, facings, the manual of arms, wheeling and marching by twos and fours."
Then, stepping to one side, Prescott let his gaze rove over the company, from one file or rank to another. Everything that was done badly he noted. Presently, when the men were standing at ease he related his observations to Lieutenant Noll Terry, who thereupon gave the company further instruction.
Finally, when the company started across the drill ground in column of fours, Dick walked briskly into the barracks building, going to the company office, whither Sergeant Kelly had preceded him. Kelly, and a corporal and private who were there on clerical duty, rose and stood at attention as the captain entered.
"Rest," Dick commanded briefly, whereupon the corporal and the private returned to the desk at which they were working, while Dick crossed to the sergeant's desk. Seating himself there he gave close attention to the papers that Sergeant Kelly handed him. Such as required signature Captain Prescott signed. Then, for fifteen minutes, he busied himself with requisitions for clothing and equipment. After that other papers required close attention. Following that several matters of company administration had to be taken up. Finally, Sergeant Kelly handed Dick a list on which names had been written.
"These seven men have applied for pass from retreat this afternoon until reveille tomorrow morning," reported Dick's top. "I have approved them, subject to your action."
Reading quickly through the names, Prescott replied:
"Give six of them pass, but refuse it to Private Hartley. This forenoon I observed that he saluted officers very indifferently when passing them, and once Hartley had to be spoken to by an officer whom he did not see in time to salute him. In whose squad is Hartley?"
"In Corporal Aspen's, sir."
"Then direct Corporal Aspen to take Hartley aside, at any time suited to the corporal's convenience this evening. Have the corporal drill Private Hartley at least twenty minutes in saluting, with, of course, proper intervals for arm rest."
"Yes, sir. May I offer the captain a suggestion?"
"Aspen will be corporal in charge of quarters to-night. Hartley is sometimes a very slovenly soldier," Kelly reported. "May I direct Corporal Aspen to keep Hartley up and give the instruction in saluting after midnight? Corporal Aspen could take the man into the mess-room where none of the men would be disturbed."
"That sounds like a good idea," Dick nodded, smiling slightly. "If he has to lose some of his sleep for instruction Hartley may remember better. A soldier who offers his salutes in a slovenly fashion is always a long way from being a really good soldier. And, Sergeant, tell all the corporals that each will be held responsible for drill and instruction of their squads in the art of snappy saluting."
Glancing at his wrist watch Prescott now noted that it was within five minutes of time for the battalion practice march. Accordingly he stepped outside. His lieutenants being already on the drill ground he gave them brief directions as to the instruction to be imparted on the hike and the deficiencies in the men's work that were to be watched for. While he was still speaking the bugler sounded assembly.
Two or three minutes later the first battalion, under Major Wells, marched off the drill ground in column of fours.
As A company moved off at the head of the battalion some of the non-coms called quietly:
"Hip! hip! hip!"
At each "hip" the men stepped forward on the left foot. A few of the recruits still found difficulty in keeping step.
"Let that third four close up!" ordered Lieutenant Terry briskly. "Pay more heed to keeping the interval correctly."
When the third four closed up those behind closed in accordance, sergeants and corporals giving this matter close attention.
As it was a practice march the men continued to move in step. Company streets were left behind and the battalion moved on across a field, where later a trench system was to be installed, out past where the rifle ranges were already being constructed, and then up the gradual ascent of a low hill from which a spread-out view of the camp was to be had. On all the out-lying roads, at this time, bodies of troops were to be seen marching in various directions. At a distance these columns of men, clad in olive drab, made one think of brown caterpillars moving slothfully along. That was a distance effect, however, for the marching men did not move slowly, but kept on at the regular cadence of a hundred and twenty steps to the minute.
In less than ten minutes after the start, with the rays of the sun pouring down mercilessly on them, the soldiers began to perspire freely. Another five minutes and it was necessary to brush the perspiration out of their eyes.
Assuredly the officers felt the heat as much. Yet from time to time Captain Prescott fell out from his place at the head of the company and allowed the line to march by, observing every good, indifferent or bad feature of their marching, and correcting what he could by low spoken commands. Whenever the last of the company had passed Prescott ran along by the marching men until he had gained the head. If the men suffered acute discomfort in marching Prescott experienced more suffering in running under that hot sun. But he was intent only on the idea of having the best company in what he fondly hoped would turn out to be the best regiment in the Army.
For some minutes Greg had been aware that Sergeant Mock, of his company, was hobbling along. Now, as he turned to glance backward, he saw Mock step out of the ranks, go to the side of the road and sit down.
A glance at his wrist watch, and Greg saw that the first half-hour was nearly up. In a minute or two more, he knew Major Bell would give the order for a counter-march, and the first battalion would swing and come back on its own trail. So Captain Holmes turned and ran back to his non-commissioned officer.
"What's the matter, Sergeant?" the young captain inquired pleasantly.
Mock made as though trying to rise from the ground to stand at attention, but his lips twisted as though he were in pain.
"Rest," ordered Greg, "and tell me what ails you."
"My feet are killing me, sir," groaned the sergeant.
"That's odd," Captain Holmes commented. "You were all right at assembly—-lively enough then. Has half an hour of marching used up a sound, healthy man?"
Instantly the sergeant's look became surly.
"All I know, sir, is that I could hardly stand on my feet. So I had to drop out. If you'll permit it, sir, I shall have to get back to camp the best way I can."
"If you're that badly off I'll have an ambulance sent for you," Greg went on. "But I don't understand your feet giving out so suddenly. Take off one of your shoes and the sock."
"That may not show much, but I'm suffering just the same, sir," rejoined the non-com in a grumbling tone.
"Let me see," Greg insisted.
While the sergeant was busy removing a legging and unlacing a shoe Captain Holmes glanced up the road to discover that the battalion was counter-marching.
"Be quick about it, Sergeant," Greg urged.
Moving no faster than he had to, Mock took off his shoe, then slowly turned the sock down, peeling it off.
"Is that the worst foot?" Greg demanded, in astonishment.
"I don't know, sir; they both hurt me."
"Do you want to show me the other foot, or do you wish to get back among the file closers?"
"I—-I can't walk, sir."
Down on one knee went Greg, carefully inspecting the foot and feeling it. The skin was clean, rosy, firm.
"Why there isn't a sign of a blister," Captain Holmes declared. "Nor is there an abrasion of any kind, or any callous. There isn't even a corn. That's as healthy a doughboy foot as I've seen. Dress your foot again, and put on your legging—-pronto."
A "doughboy" is an infantry soldier. "Pronto" is a word the Army has borrowed from the Spanish, and means, "Be quick about it."
"I'm not fit to march, sir," cried Sergeant Mock.
"Either you'll be ready by the time B company is here, and you'll march in, or I'll detail a man to remain here with you, and send an ambulance for you. If I have to send an ambulance I'll have you examined at the hospital, and if I find you've been faking foot trouble then you shall feel the full weight of military law. I'll give you your own choice. Which do you want?"
Tugging his sock on, Mock merely mumbled.
"Answer me!" Greg insisted sharply.
"I—-I'll do my best to march, sir."
"Then be sure you're ready by the time B company gets here, and be sure you march all the way in," Greg ordered sternly. He hated a shamming imitation of a soldier.
Major Bell and his staff came by at the head of the line, followed by Prescott and A company.
"Don't disappoint me, Sergeant," Greg warned his man.
Though his brow was black with wrath Sergeant Mock stood up by the time that the head of B company arrived.
"Take your place, Sergeant," Greg ordered, and waited to see his order obeyed, next running up to his own post.
Ten minutes later, as a group of carpenters from the rifle range paused at the roadside, Greg chanced to glance backward. He was just in time to see Sergeant Mock limping out of the line of file-closers to sit down at the roadside.
His jaws set, Greg Holmes darted back.
"That's enough of this, Mock," he called. "You can't sham in B company. Your feet, I suppose?"
"Yes, sir," groaned the sergeant.
"First two men of the rear four of B company fall out and come here," Captain Holmes shouted.
Instantly the two men detached themselves from the company and came running back.
"Fix your bayonets," Greg ordered. "Bring Sergeant Mock in at the rear of the battalion. If he shirks, prod him with the points of your bayonets. Don't be brutal, but make the sergeant keep up at the rear of the battalion."
"Sir——-" began Mock protestingly.
"Quite enough for you, Sergeant Mock," Greg rapped out. "I'll have your feet examined by a surgeon when you come in. Unless the surgeon tells me that I'm wrong you may look for something to happen!"
As Greg turned and started to run back to the head of his company he thought he heard a sound like a hiss. In his opinion it came from some one in the group of carpenters, but he did not halt to investigate.
Though Mock limped all the way in, he came in exactly at the tail of the battalion. As the last company halted on the drill ground Sergeant Lund came back for him, relieving the guards.
"Mock, until you've been examined," said the top, "you're not to go beyond battalion bounds."
"Am I in arrest?" demanded Mock, his face set in ugly lines.
"You're confined within battalion bounds. Remember that," saying which First Sergeant Lund turned and strode away.
Nor was Mock a happy man. Holmes arranged that a regimental surgeon should come over to B company barracks later and make a careful examination of Sergeant Mock's feet. For some reason the surgeon did not come promptly. The evening meal was eaten, and darkness settled down over Camp Berry. Mock, still limping and looking woeful, kept out in the open air.
"Psst!" came sharply from somewhere, and Mock, turning, saw a man in civilian garb standing in the shadow of a latrine shed.
"Come here," called the stranger. Still surly, but urged by curiosity, Mock obeyed the summons.
"I don't want to be seen talking with you," murmured the stranger, in a low voice, "but I want to offer you my sympathy. Say, but a man gets treated roughly in the Army. That captain of yours—-"
As the stranger paused, looking keenly at Mock, the disgruntled sergeant finished vengefully:
"The captain? He's a dog!"
"Dog is right," agreed the stranger promptly. "Will he do anything more to you?"
"I expect he'll bust me," said Sergeant Mock.
To "bust" is the same as to "break." It means to reduce a non-com to the ranks.
"Are you going to stand it?" demanded the stranger.
"Fat chance I'll have to beat the captain's game!" declared Mock angrily.
"But are you going to pay him back?"
"Listen. I was in the Army once, and I don't like these officer boys. Maybe I've something against your captain, too. Anyway, keep mum and take good advice, and I'll help you to make him wish he'd never been born."
"Not a chance!" dissented Sergeant Mock promptly. "Captain Holmes isn't afraid of anything, and besides he was born lucky. Besides that, do anything to hurt him, and you've got Captain Prescott against you, too, and ready to rip you up the back."
"It's as easy to put 'em both in bad as it is to do it to either," promised the stranger. "Now, listen. You——-"
BAD BLOOD COMES TO THE SURFACE
Later in the evening the surgeon came around. After examining Sergeant Mock's feet for twenty minutes, and testing the skin as well, he pronounced Mock a shammer.
Mock was sent to the guard-house for twenty-four hours. The next morning an order was published reducing the sergeant to the rank of private. Yet, on the whole, the ex-sergeant looked pleased in a sullen, disagreeable sort of way. He had listened to the stranger.
Greg, however, had other troubles on his hands. After the noon meal that day, as he was on his way to his quarters upstairs Captain Cartwright passed him in the corridor.
"I hear you're turning martinet," said Cartwright, with a disagreeable smile.
"Very likely," smiled Holmes, "but what are the specifications?"
"I heard that you had a sergeant busted for having an opinion of his own."
"That's not so," Greg declared promptly.
"Do you mean to tell me I'm a liar?" Cartwright asked flushing.
"Did I understand you to charge me with preferring unjustifiable charges against a sergeant in my company?"
"I said I heard you had busted a sergeant for doing his own thinking," the other captain insisted.
"Cartwright, it's difficult for me to guess at what you're driving," Holmes went on, patiently, "but I've already told you that I did nothing of the kind that you allege."
"That's calling me a liar again!" flamed Cartwright.
"I'm sorry if it is," returned Greg coolly, and turned toward his door.
"You cannot call me a liar!" cried Captain Cartwright, taking a quick step forward, his fists clenched.
"Apparently I don't have to," scoffed Holmes. "You're eager to claim the title for yourself."
Up flew the other captain's fist. But just then a door opened behind him, and Dick Prescott caught the uplifted fist in tight, vise-like hold.
"Don't do that, Cartwright," he advised.
"Let me alone," insisted the other striving though failing to release his captured wrist.
"Don't do anything rash, Cartwright. Listen to good sense; then I am going to let go of your wrist. If you were to strike Holmes he would be practically bound to thrash you, or else to prefer charges. In either case the matter would get before a court-martial. My testimony, from what I overheard, would have to sustain Holmes."
"You two would swear for each other anywhere and at all times," sneered Captain Cartwright.
This was hinting that Dick Prescott would be willing to perjure himself, and Dick flushed, though with difficulty he kept his patience.
"I'm going to let go of you now, Cartwright," Prescott continued.
As Dick let go of the captured wrist Captain Cartwright wheeled and aimed a vicious blow at his brother officer's face.
But Prescott's arm thrust up his adversary's.
"Stop it, Cartwright!"
Apparently the other could not control his anger. He aimed another savage blow. Dick parried with a thrust, but this time his other fist landed on Cartwright's chest with force enough to send him staggering to a fall on the floor.
At this moment a step was heard on the stairway.
"Gentlemen! Stop this! What does it mean?"
The voice was full of authority and outraged dignity. Colonel Cleaves, his eyes flashing, stood before them.
"Get up, Captain Cartwright," he commanded. "I must have an instant explanation of this scene. Officers and gentlemen cannot conduct themselves like rowdies."
Captain Cartwright forced himself to smile as he saluted; he even tried to look forgiving.
"A little frolic, sir," he made haste to say, "that developed into bad blood for the moment." I do not wish to prefer any charges."
"Do you, Captain Prescott?" demanded the colonel.
"You, Captain Holmes?"
If any of the trio had hoped this much explanation would prove satisfactory to the E.O. of the Ninety-ninth, that one had reckoned without his host.
"A misunderstanding that develops to the point of a knock-down blow is never a trifling matter," declared Colonel Cleaves. "If you gentlemen had assured me that it was all frolic then I would have thought no more of it. But I have been assured that there was a misunderstand—-a quarrel that proceeded to blows. And I myself saw one man down and signs of very evident anger on all your faces. Gentlemen, do you wish to offer me any further explanation at this moment?"
"I have said all that I really can say, sir," protested Cartwright, "except that I do not harbor any unkind feelings for what has taken place."
Steps were heard on the stairs, and other officers of the Ninety-ninth came upon the scene.
"As no charges have been preferred," said Colonel Cleaves, "I will not order any of you relieved from duty. I will notify all three of you, however, at a later hour, and will then hear you all in my office. I trust a most satisfactory explanation all around will be forthcoming."
Colonel Cleaves then turned to the group of officers that had just arrived, saying:
"Lieutenant Terry, you were kind enough to offer to loan me a book on rifle range construction. I am aware that you have not yet had a chance to send it over to me, but as I was passing, I decided to drop in and ask it from you."
"In an instant, sir," replied Noll Terry. Saluting, he darted down the corridor, opened his door and came back with the volume.
"I am indebted to you, Mr. Terry," said Colonel Cleaves, returning the first lieutenant's second salute and turning to go.
Until they had heard the colonel go out upon the steps below the entire group of younger officers stood as though spell-bound. But at last one of them broke out with:
"I hope nothing really nasty is afoot. Three of you look as though the moon were clouded with mischief for some one."
"You'll pardon us, won't you?" smiled Dick pleasantly, as he turned to go back into his quarters. "You will realize, as we do, that the first discussion of the matter should take place before the commanding officer."
Greg followed his chum in.
"Oh it's nothing," they heard Captain Cartwright assure the others. "It ought to blow over, and I hope it will. A certain officer took what I thought too much liberty with me, and when I resented it his friend took a hand in the matter. I hope we can set it all straight before Colonel Cleaves."
Behind the closed door, hearing what was said, Prescott turned on his friend with eyebrows significantly raised. Greg nodded. No word was spoken.
Apparently Captain Cartwright also went to his quarters, for the steps of many sounded outside, and then all was still.
Prescott had picked up a book and was reading. Greg walked over to the window and stood looking out into the sun-baked company street.
"I must go over to company office for an hour or so," announced Captain Dick, glancing at his wrist watch and laying down his book at last. "After that I'll go out and see how the platoon commanders are getting along with their new work. I hear that we're to have some drafts of new men to-morrow."
"Yes," Greg nodded. "Recruits from Chicago, and also from Boston. Some day we may hope to have our companies filled up to full strength."
"Small chance to get over to France until our companies are filled," Prescott smiled, as he stood up, looked himself over and started for the door.
Captain Greg Holmes followed at his heels. No word was spoken of the recent trouble with Cartwright, not even when they crossed the road below and started for their respective company offices.
Paper work engrossed Prescott's attention for an hour or so. During this time he occasionally glanced up to note what was taking place beyond the window in front of his desk. His four second lieutenants were in command of the platoons to-day, instead of sergeants. The young officers were instructing their men in the first essentials of bayonet combat.
The last piece of paper disposed of, Prescott at last arose, stretched slightly, then strode out of the office to the drill ground.
He was just in time to hear one of his lieutenants explaining to a line of men:
"When pursuing a retreating enemy one of the most effective thrusts with the bayonet can be delivered right here. Learn to mark the spot well."
Half-turning, the lieutenant pointed to the spot in the small of his own back, before he went on, impressively:
"A bayonet thrust there will drive the blade through a kidney. I will admit that that doesn't sound like sportsman-like fighting, but unfortunately we're not to be employed against a really civilized enemy in this war. Page, you will stand out. It isn't a popular role to which I am going to assign you, but you will run slowly past me and represent a fleeing enemy. Dobson, you will take a blob-stick and chase Page, running just fast enough to overtake him in front of me. Then you will give him the kidney thrust, taking care to make your aim exact. Thrust with spirit, but do not hit hard, even with the blob-stick, for Page is not a real German."
Though the men were perspiring uncomfortably, their officer's pleasant conversational way and his interesting talk kept the interest of these young soldiers. Private Page stepped out and took post where the lieutenant indicated, prepared to begin running away at the word of command. Private Dobson picked up a blob-stick, a long, wand-like affair intended to represent a rifle and bayonet, the bayonet's point being represented by a padded ball such as is seen on a bass drummer's stick.
"Go ahead, Page," commanded the lieutenant. "Kill him, Dobson! . . . Good work! Any enemy, struck like that in earnest, could safely be left to himself. Dobson, you be the fleeing enemy this time. Aldrich, take the blob-stick."
One after another the men of the skeletonized platoon took their try with the blob-stick. As is usual in the run of human affairs, some of the men made the thrust excellently, others indifferently, and some missed altogether.
"Rest," ordered the lieutenant, presently, and the men stood at ease in the platoon line.
"Some of you men do not get hold of this bayonet work as well as I could wish," Dick spoke up, all eyes turned on him. "The man who learns his bayonet work thoroughly has a reasonably good chance of coming back from Europe alive. The man who learns it indifferently has very little chance of seeing his native land at the close of the war. Remember that. Bayonet fighting is one of the things no American soldier can afford to be dull about. Lieutenant Morris, if you will pick up a blob-stick we can show these men some of the value of swift work in the simpler thrusts and parries."
Each armed with a blob-stick, captain and second lieutenant faced each other. Dick, scowling as though facing an enemy whom he hated, advanced upon his subordinate, making a swift, savage lunge aimed at the other's abdomen. In a twinkling the thrust had been parried by Lieutenant Morris, who, at close quarters, aimed a vicious jab at his captain's wind-pipe. That, too, was blocked. Warming up, the two officers fought without victory for a full three-quarters of a minute. Then, at a word from Prescott, each drew back.
"Every one of you men, by the time you reach France, should be able to fight faster and better than that," Dick announced.
Down the line an infectious smile ran. It seemed to these soldiers impossible that a more skillful or a swifter bit of combat work could be put up than they had just witnessed.
"You two men, at the right, bring your rifles here," Prescott ordered, and the bayoneted rifles were brought and handed to the two officers.
"Now, Lieutenant Morris, the first four series, as fast as we can go through them," Dick commanded.
Bang! bump! flash! Rifle barrels rang as they crossed; butts bumped hard against barrel or stock, and glittering steel flashed in the sunlight as the two infantry officers advanced and retreated in a savage, realistic contest. It really seemed as though Lieutenant Morris and Captain Prescott were bent on annihilating each other. Could this fierce, mutual onslaught be pretense—-play? Then, as the last move of the fourth series was executed the two infantry officers jumped back a step each and dipped the points of their gleaming blades by way of courtesy. The other three platoons of the company had stopped drill to watch. How the thrilled men of A company wished to applaud and cheer!
"Lieutenant Morris and I are very poor hands at bayonet work, compared with what we want you men to be when this regiment sails for France," Prescott remarked, smilingly, as he handed back the rifle to its owner.
From that platoon Prescott passed on to others in his company, offering a remark here and a word of instruction there.
"You men must do everything to get your muscles up to concert pitch," Captain Prescott announced. "No lady-like thrusts will ever push a bayonet into a German's face. A ton of weight is needed behind every bayonet thrust or jab!"
An orderly approached, saluting.
"Compliments of the commanding officer, sir, and he will see the captain in his office at regimental headquarters, sir."
Returning the salute Dick walked off the drill ground as though he had nothing on his mind. Down the street he espied Greg, also going toward headquarters, and hurried after him. On the other side of the street was Captain Cartwright, who soon crossed over to join them.
In silence, the three captains made their way along the street until they reached regimental headquarters. It was a low one-story pine shed, with the colonel's office at one end, the adjutant's office next to it, and beyond that the rooms occupied by the sergeant major and his clerical force, and, last of all, the chaplain's office.
None of the three captains was exactly at ease as they entered the adjutant's office and reported.
"The commanding officer will see you at once," said the adjutant. "Pass through into his office."
Colonel Cleaves, glancing up from his desk, gravely returned the salutes of his three captains.
"Be good enough to close the door into the adjutant's office, Captain Holmes," directed the K.O. "Now, gentlemen, I will hear whatever explanation you have to offer of a very remarkable scene that I came upon this noon."
All three waited, to see if one of the others wished to speak first. After waiting a moment or two Colonel Cleaves asked:
"Captain Prescott, it was you who struck the knock-down blow, was it not?"
"Yes, sir," Dick answered promptly, "though it followed a parry, and was more of a thrust than a blow."
"You agree to that, Captain Cartwright?" quizzed the K.O.
"Essentially so, sir."
"There had been a quarrel, had there not?"
"I made a reply to a remark by Captain Cartwright, sir," Greg supplied, "which, he felt justified in construing as offensive, though I did not so intend it. I was annoyed at what I felt to be an insinuation. Then Captain Prescott came out of his quarters, sir, and caught Captain Cartwright's wrist. When Captain Prescott released it, Captain Cartwright struck at him. The blow was parried, and Captain Cartwright struck once more. That blow was also parried, and Captain Cartwright went to the floor."
"Do you concur in that, Captain Cartwright?" asked the K.O.
"By the way, Captain Prescott," went on Colonel Cleaves, handing him a small piece of paper, "can you account for this?"
As Dick Prescott took the paper and glanced at it he felt himself turning almost dizzy in bewilderment.
AS IT IS DONE IN THE ARMY
"That is your handwriting, is it not, Captain Prescott?" demanded the regimental commander.
"It looks just like my handwriting, sir, but I'll swear that I never wrote it," declared astonished Dick, still staring at the little piece of paper.
"Yet it resembles your handwriting?"
"Yes, sir. If I didn't know positively that I didn't write any such message then I'd be about ready to admit that it is my handwriting. But I didn't write it, sir."
"Pass it to Captain Holmes. I will ask him if he has seen this note before."
"No, sir," declared Greg, very positively, though he, too, was startled, for it was hard to persuade himself that he was not looking down at his chum's familiar handwriting.
The note read:
"Dear H. Stick to what we agreed upon, and we can cook C's goose without trouble. P."
"May I speak, sir?" asked Dick.
"Then I desire to say, sir, that I have not the least desire to see Captain Cartwright in any trouble. Hence, it would have been impossible for me to think of writing such a note. More, sir, it would have been stupid of me to risk writing such a note, for Captain Holmes and I sat in my quarters until it was time for us to leave on our way to our respective company offices."
"And while in your quarters did you discuss this affair of your trouble with Captain Cartwright?"
"To the best of my recollection, sir, we did not mention it," Dick declared.
"Is that your recollection, Captain Holmes?"
"And this is not your handwriting, Captain Prescott?"
"I give you my word of honor, sir, that I did not write it, and did not even discuss the matter with Captain Holmes."
"I do not understand this note in the least," Colonel Cleaves went on. "Of course, Captain Prescott, I am bound to accept your assurance that you did not write this. I do not know how the note came here; all I know about it is that I found it on my desk, under a paper weight, about fifteen minutes ago, when I came in."
"It is the work of some trouble-maker, sir," Greg ventured.
"Do you know anything about this note, Captain Cartwright?"
"No, sir," replied that officer, flushing at the intimation that he could have had anything to do with it, for Greg had passed the paper to him.
"I will keep that note, then," said Colonel Cleaves, taking it, "in the hope that I may later find out how it came to be here. Captain Cartwright, do you deny that Captain Prescott did no more than to parry your blows and thrust you back off your balance?"
"That was all he did, sir."
"And you made two distinct efforts to hit him?"
"Was anything said that, in your opinion, justified you in attempting to strike a brother officer?"
"At the time I thought Captain Holmes had justified my attempt to strike him."
"Do you still think so?"
"N-no, sir. I was undoubtedly too impetuous."
"And you attempted to strike Captain Prescott only because he tried to restrain you from striking a brother officer?"
"Is there anything more to be said or explained by any of you gentlemen?"
"Nothing, sir," came from three pairs of lips.
"Then, since none of you wishes to prefer charges," pursued Colonel Cleaves, "I will say that the whole affair, as far as it has been explained to me, looks like a childish quarrel to have taken place between officers and gentlemen. On the statements made to me, I will say that I believe that Captain Cartwright was most to blame. I therefore take this opportunity to rebuke him. Captain Prescott, of course, you understand that I accept your assurance that you did not write the note I showed you. Keep the peace after this, gentlemen, and make an honest effort to promote brotherliness of spirit with all the officers of the service, and especially of this regiment. That is all."
Saluting, the three captains stepped out into the sunlight. The sentry pacing on headquarters post swung his rifle from shoulder arms down to port arms, then came to present arms before the officers, who acknowledged his formal courtesy by bringing their hands up smartly to the brims of their campaign hats.
"Well, that's over!" announced Cartwright, in a tone of relief.
"And will never be repeated," said Greg.
"But you will admit, Holmes, that you've picked a good deal on me, from time to time," Cartwright pressed, in a half-aggrieved tone.
"I will admit, for you both," smiled Dick, "that you're in danger of starting something all over again unless you shut up and make a fresh, better start. So we won't refer to personal matters again, but we come to your company's barracks first, Cartwright, and when we get there we will shake hands and agree to remember that we're all engaged in a fierce effort to make the Ninety-ninth the best American regiment."
In silence the three pursued their way to C company's building. Here they halted.
"To the Ninety-ninth, best of 'em all," proposed Prescott, holding out his hand to Cartwright, who took and pressed it.
"To the best officers' crowd in the service," quoth Greg.
"Amen to that!" assented Cartwright, though he strode away with a dull red flush burning on either cheek.
Half an hour later Dick's business took him past the regiment's guard-house. As carpenters were everywhere busy in camp putting up more necessary buildings the place officially known as the guard-house was more of a bullpen. Posts had been driven deeply in the form of a rectangle, and on these barbed wire had been laid to a height of nine feet. Within the rectangle guard-house prisoners could take the air, retiring to either of two tents inside the enclosure whenever they wished.
As he passed Dick noted, vaguely, that four or five men stood by the nearer line of barbed wire fence. He held up his left hand to glance at his wrist watch. Just as he turned the hand, to let it fall at his side, something dropped out of the air, falling squarely in his hand. Instinctively Prescott's fingers closed over the missile. He glanced, quickly, at the enclosure, but not one of the men on the other side of the wire was looking his way.
Then the young captain, keeping briskly on his way, opened his hand to glance down at his unexpected catch. It was a piece of manila paper, wrapped around a stone.
Waiting only until he was some distance from the bull-pen, Dick unwrapped the paper.
In printed characters, used undoubtedly to disguise handwriting, was this message:
"Watch for all you're worth the carpenter who talks with Mock!"
"Now, why on earth should I interest myself in the affairs of Greg's busted sergeant?" Dick wondered. "And what possible interest can I have in any carpenter unless he's a friend of mine, or has business with me?"
On the whole Prescott felt that he was lowering his own dignity to attach any importance to an anonymous message, plainly from a guardhouse prisoner. Yet he dropped the small stone and thrust the scrap of paper into a pocket for future consideration should he deem it worth while.
THE CAMP CARPENTER'S TALE
After a week of exacting office work and all but endless drill, Dick had the rare good fortune to find himself with an evening of leisure.
"Going to be busy to-night?" Dick asked Greg at the evening meal at mess.
"Confound it, yes," returned Captain Holmes. "I must put in the time until midnight with Sergeant Lund going over clothing requisitions for my new draft of men."
"My requisitions are all in, and I expect the clothing supplies to-morrow morning," Dick continued.
"That is because you got your draft of new men two days earlier than I did," grumbled Greg. "You're always the lucky one. But what are you going to do to-night that you want company?"
"I thought I'd like to take a walk in the moonlight," Dick responded.
"Great Scott! Do you mean to tell me you don't get enough walk in the daytime in the broiling sunlight?"
"Not the same kind of walking," Prescott smiled. "I want to stroll to-night and talk. But if I must go alone, then I shall have to think."
"Don't attempt hard work after hours," advised Holmes.
"Such as walking?"
Dick finished his meal and stepped outside in the air. The first to join him was Lieutenant Morris.
"Feel like taking a walk in the moonlight?" Dick asked.
"I'd be delighted, Captain, but to-night I'm officer in charge at the company barracks."
"True; I had forgotten."
Other officers Dick invited to join him, but all had duty of one kind or another, or else home letters to write.
"Did I hear you say you were going to take a walk, Prescott?" asked Major Wells.
"Yes, sir. By any great good luck are you willing to go with me?"
"I'd like to, Prescott, but as it happens there is the school for battalion commanders to-night. A talk on trench orders by the brigadier is listed, I believe."
"I'm afraid I shall have to go alone," sighed Dick "Yet I've half a mind to stroll over to company office and invent some new paper work. With every one else busy I feel like the only slacker in the regiment."
"If you really go alone," suggested the major, "perhaps you could combine pleasure with doing me a favor."
"My horse hasn't had any exercise for three days. I'd be glad if you'd take him out tonight, if it suits you."
"Nothing could please me better, sir," Dick cried eagerly, for he dearly loved a horse.
"How soon will you be ready?"
"At once, Major."
"Then I'll send around now for the horse." Just a few minutes later an orderly rode up, dismounted, saluted and turned the saddled animal over to A company's commander.
"This is luck, indeed!" Dick told himself, as he felt the horse's flanks between his knees and moved off at a slow canter. "I wonder why I never tried to transfer into the cavalry."
While waiting for the horse he had telephoned the adjutant, stating that for the next three hours he would be either in camp or in the near vicinity.
After being halted by three outlying sentries Prescott rode clear of the camp bounds, riding at a trot down a moonlit country road. Vinton was the nearest town, where soldiers on a few hours' pass went for their recreation out of camp. The road to Vinton was usually well sprinkled with jitney busses conveying soldiers to or from camp, so Prescott had chosen another road which, at night, was likely to be almost free of traffic of any kind.
"As this is the first evening I've had off in three weeks I don't believe I need feel that I'm loafing," Dick reflected. "It's gorgeous outdoors to-night. There will undoubtedly be plenty of moonlight in France, but there won't be many opportunities like this one."
Finding that his horse was sweating, Dick slowed the animal down to a walk. He had ridden along another mile when, near a farmhouse he espied a soldier in the road, strolling with a young woman.
As the horse gained upon the young couple the soldier glanced backward, then swung the girl to the side of the road and halted beside her, drawing himself up to attention and saluting smartly. The man was Private Lawrence of his own company.
"Good evening," Dick nodded, pleasantly.
"Good evening, sir," replied the private.
Dick didn't ask, as some officers would have done, whether the soldier had pass to be out of camp. He could ascertain that on his return to camp. Instead, he said:
"You must have this road pretty nearly to yourself, Lawrence, as far as soldiers go."
"There's at least one other, sir," the soldier replied, in a matter of fact way. "I saw one slip by in the field, close to the road. I won't be sure, but I think it was Private Mock, sir."
"He has friends down this way?" Dick asked casually.
"Not that I ever heard of, sir. There aren't many houses on this road. My friend, Miss Williams, lives in the house up yonder."
At the implied introduction Prescott raised his campaign hat, then rode on.
The instant that Mock's name had been mentioned it had flashed through Dick's mind that, when in Greg's office that afternoon, he had seen Mock's name on Top Sergeant Lund's list of men for pass, and Greg, he knew, had drawn a pen line through that name.
"Of course it may not have been Mock that Lawrence saw; Lawrence himself wasn't sure," Dick reflected. "Yet, if Mock is out of camp to-night he is out without leave. Private Lawrence didn't realize that, or he wouldn't tell tales."
Soon the horse began to move along an up grade road between two lines of trees. Finding that the animal, instead of drying off, was sweating more freely, Dick drew rein and dismounted.
"It's hard work on a hot night, so you and I will walk together for a while, old pal," Dick confided to the borrowed mount. "There, you find it easier, don't you?"
As if to express gratitude the horse bent its head forward, rubbing against Dick's shoulder.
"Who says horses can't talk plainly, hey, old fellow?" Dick demanded. On together they walked, until Prescott felt himself perspiring, while the horse's coat grew dry.
"There, now, friend," said Dick, running a hand over the creature's flanks, "you're cool and dry, and this is one of the prettiest spots in Georgia, so I reckon I'll tie you and rest until I, too, am dry again."
Having tied the horse by the bridle reins, Dick strolled about, enjoying the dark and quiet after the bright electric lights and the bustle of camp. Presently he strolled down the road until he came to a break in the trees on his right. Though the moon had gone partly behind a cloud Dick found himself gazing down a clearing. He would not have been interested, had it not been that he caught sight of the unmistakable silhouette of a soldier, and, beside him, a somewhat stoop-shouldered man in darker garb.
"Why, I wonder if that can be Mock, and his carpenter?" reflected Prescott, recalling the note that had dropped so mysteriously into his extended palm.
Screened behind a bush Dick watched the pair until he saw them coming toward the road. Then Prescott drew back, finding better shelter, but he did not seek complete concealment. It occurred to him to wait there, in silence, and see if Private Mock displayed any uneasiness on coming face to face with his captain's chum.
"That will be a good way, perhaps, to test out the note," Prescott decided.
Though the two men appeared to be talking earnestly, only a mumble of voices reached Dick's ears when the men were no more than thirty feet away. Then they stepped into the road, where they halted hardly more than a dozen feet away from the screened captain.
"It's a pity you wouldn't have your nerve," said the stranger, to Mock. "You tell me you hate your captain."
"Wouldn't you, if he had treated you like he treated me?" demanded Mock heatedly.
"Surely I would," agreed the stranger.
"And there's Holmes's friend, that fellow Prescott, who, he, you say, would spend all his time looking into anything that happened to Holmes. You could settle with them both, and then there'd be no one left to worry about."
"Say, just what are you thinking of doing to 'em?" demanded Mock, in a tone of uneasy suspicion.
"There are two things that could be done to them," continued the civilian. "One would be to put them out of the way altogether, and the other would be to bring disgrace upon them so that they'd be kicked out of the Army. That would break their hearts, wouldn't it?"
"Yes," muttered Mock, "but you're talking dreams, neighbor. I'm no black-hander, to creep up behind them with a knife, or take a pot shot at them. I'm not quite that kind, neighbor, and it couldn't be done, anyway."
"You could put 'em out of the way, and no one would be the wiser," hinted the stranger.
"I'll show you, when I'm sure enough that you're game," declared the civilian. "I'd have to be sure you had the nerve."
"I haven't," admitted Private Mock.
"Do you know, I began to think that before you admitted it?" sneered the other.
"Not the way you mean," flared up the ex-sergeant. "I can be mean in order to get square with a mean officer. But I can get along without putting him under the sod. I'm a good hater, but my mother didn't raise me to be a real crook."
"You're a quitter, I guess," jeered the other. "Anyway, if you claim to be a man of sand you'll have to show me."
"And I guess it's about time that you showed me something, too," challenged Mock, looking furtively at the stoop-shouldered man.
"I'm ready enough to show you a whole lot of things, when I find out that you're man enough to stand up for yourself and pay back those who treat you like dirt," retorted the other.
"There's one thing you can show me, first of all," challenged Mock.
"Show me why you're so anxious to have harm happen to Captain Holmes and Captain Prescott."
"Because I like you; because I'm a friend of yours," returned the stoop-shouldered one.
"You're a pretty new friend," Mock went on. "I never saw you until that day when the captain caught me shirking and told off two men to prod me back into camp."
"That was the time for you to know me," declared the other brazenly. "That was the time when you needed a friend to show you how to get square like a man instead of like a coward and a quitter."
"Be careful with your names!" commanded Mock harshly. "Say, Mr. Man, who are you, and what are you?"
"Private Mock, I believe I can answer that question for you!" broke in Captain Dick Prescott, stepping out from behind his leafy screen.
THE ENEMY IN CAMP BERRY
"Captain Prescott!" uttered Mock, starting back in dismay.
"Donner und blitzen!" (thunder and lightning) ejaculated the stoop-shouldered one.
"The fellow has just answered your question for you," Dick went on, pointing an accusing finger at the stranger. "You know what language he was betrayed into using just now."
"German, sir," said Mock.
"That's right," nodded Prescott.
"Is he one of them Kaiser-hound spies, sir?" demanded Mock, stung to wrath and throwing grammar to the winds. "Why, I've dreamed of catching one and tearing him to pieces. With your permission, sir——-!"
Not stopping to finish Mock threw himself upon the stoop-shouldered one, But that worthy had foreseen it, and adroitly stopped the ex-sergeant with a blow on the end of the nose that dazed him for an instant.
"I'll take care of him, Mock!" cried Captain Dick, leaping forward. As he did so the stranger turned and fled. No longer stoop-shouldered, but bearing himself like an athlete, the unknown turned and darted away, Prescott racing after him.
"Get back!" warned the fugitive, drawing an automatic revolver and flourishing it over his head.
Though unarmed, save for his fists, Prescott continued to pursue with all speed. After both of them raced Private Mock.
Dick was gaining when he stepped on a round stone, slipped and fell. Mock dashed after him. The fleeing German halted long enough to hurl the automatic pistol at Mock's face, then turned and ran on. Naturally the soldier dodged the missile, which struck the ground behind him. Thinking the weapon might be useful, Mock halted, then ran back and secured the pistol, after which he started to give chase. But the fugitive had vanished in the darkness.
"Come back here and surrender, before I shoot," bluffed Mock, but the German did not answer.
To Mock's intense astonishment Dick reached over, snatching the pistol from his hand.
"That will be about all, Private Mock," said Prescott sternly. "You've bluffed your part well, and helped your friend to escape, but at all events I've got you!"
"Do you—-" began the soldier, but stopped, further words failing him. Dick gripped the man's arm, giving a significant pressure before he said:
"You'll come along with me, Mock, and it will be worse for you if you try any further monkey-shines with me."
He gave another pressure on Mock's arm as he finished. Without a word Mock walked with him to where the horse was tied.
"Untie that bridle and buckle the ends together," Dick ordered.
This done, the captain mounted, taking the bridle in his left hand, retaining the automatic pistol in his right.
"March ahead, Mock. Don't try to bolt unless you want me to shoot."
In this manner they proceeded back over the road. Mile after mile they covered, meeting no one until they had come in sight of the camp, nestling in the broad valley below.
At this point such an extensive view could be had that Dick felt sure there was no eavesdropper. So he dismounted, calling the soldier to him and asking in a whisper:
"Mock, you were simply a poor, shirking soldier, weren't you? You are, at heart, loyal to your country's Flag, aren't you?"
"I'd die for the Stars and Stripes, sir!" Mock declared, in a voice choked with emotion.
"But I felt tired, the other day, and I got a notion Captain Holmes was down on me. So I went bad and got busted. Then I hated Captain Holmes, sir, and ached for a chance to get square with him. Then that accursed carpenter fellow hunted me out, talked with me, and made me think he was my friend. If I had known he was a Kaiser-hound I'd have split his head open at the first crack out of the box."
"I didn't doubt you as a loyal man, Mock," Dick continued, in a whisper. "I spoke to you the way I did back on the road because I was sure the fellow was near and listening. I didn't care much about catching him to-night because I hope to catch him later on, and get him even more red-handed. Mock, you're loyal, and I'm going to put your loyalty, if you consent, to a hard, bitter test."
Dick went on in an even lower tone, Mock listening in growing astonishment, without replying a word, though he nodded understandingly.
"So, now," Prescott wound up, "I'm going to continue into camp with you still a prisoner and be mighty hard on you. However, I won't hold the pistol on you any longer."
Into camp Dick marched the soldier, then over toward the buildings of the Ninety-ninth, and thence along to the bull-pen.
"Sergeant of the guard!" Prescott called briskly, and that non-commissioned officer appeared.
"Take charge of Private Mock as a prisoner, charged with being absent from camp without leave or pass," Dick ordered. "I will report my action to Captain Holmes, who will dispose of his case."
From there Dick led the horse back to B company barracks, turned the animal over to an orderly and went into the company office, where, as he had expected, he found Greg immersed in a grind of paper work. For a few minutes Dick talked earnestly with his chum in low tones, Captain Holmes frequently nodding.
"And now, I think I had better go down to the adjutant's office, to see if he's still at his desk," Dick finished, "and, if so, make my report."
"You'll stagger him," Greg predicted.
One of Greg's orderlies had already ridden the major's horse to the stable, so Prescott walked briskly along the street until he came to regimental headquarters. As he entered the adjutant's office he found Colonel Cleaves seated on the corner of his subordinate's desk, in low-toned conversation with his subordinate.
"Am I intruding, sir?" Dick inquired, saluting the colonel.
"No," said Colonel Cleaves. "In fact, Captain, you may as well know the subject-matter of our conversation. Captain Prescott, this camp would appear to be infested with German spies! This evening sixteen men in F company were taken ill after supper. They are now in hospital and some of them are expected to die. The surgeons have examined some of the food left over from that supper and report finding ground glass in some pieces of the apple pie served as dessert. Later the captain of our machine-gun company, which has only one machine gun so far, had the piece taken into the company mess-room to demonstrate the mechanism to his lieutenants so that they might instruct the men. He found the mechanism of the piece so badly jammed that the machine gun refused to work. I have inspected that piece, and in my opinion the gun is ruined. As if that were not enough sixteen rifles belonging to G company have been found with their bolts broken off. It is very plain that German spies and sympathizers are at work in Camp Berry, and the scoundrels must be found, Captain."
Colonel Cleaves spoke under the stress of great excitement, his eyes flashing, the corners of his mouth twitching.
Dick went to the door, then to the doors opening into the rooms on either side. Then he came back, saying in a low voice:
"Colonel, I met one of the German spies tonight. Perhaps the ring-leader. If I see him again I shall recognize him and arrest him instantly. Do you see what this is, sir?"
Dick held up the weapon that the carpenter had hurled at Private Mock.
"It is a 45-caliber, United States Government automatic pistol," said Colonel Cleaves.
"Exactly, sir; and the spy I have mentioned had it in his possession. How he obtained it, I do not yet know, but I hope to find out. And now, sir, I will tell you what happened and what action I took."
Thereupon Captain Dick Prescott narrated the amazing adventure of the evening, winding up with:
"So, sir, I have placed Private Mock in arrest at the guard-house, and through his detention there I hope to gain the clues that shall lead us to the ferreting out and arrest of the whole crew of German spies at Camp Berry!"
AT GRIPS WITH GERMAN SPIES
New barracks buildings continued to spring up at Camp Berry. Drafts of men for a National Army division began to arrive, besides a brigade of infantry, a regiment of field artillery and a machine-gun battalion of regulars.
Brigadier-General Bates arrived to take command of the regulars, while Major-general Timmins assumed command of the National Army division and became commanding general of the camp as well.
New batches of recruits, constantly arriving for the regulars, soon gave the Ninety-ninth an average of a hundred and eighty men to the company, or forty-five men to each platoon. Drill went on as nearly incessantly during daylight as the men could endure.
"In my opinion it won't be very long before the Ninety-ninth goes over and reports to General Pershing," Dick told his chum. "At the rate our ranks are being filled up we'll soon have a full-strength regiment."
"But most of our men are still recruits," Holmes objected. The regiment really isn't anywhere near fit for foreign service."
"It won't be so many weeks before we're ordered abroad," Dick insisted. "Wait and see whether I'm right."
Wonderful indeed was the speed with which buildings were erected. The record time for constructing a two-story building with an office, supply room, mess-room and sleeping quarters for two hundred and fifty men was ninety minutes!
Fast, too, was the work done by the Regular Army regiments, which had this advantage over the National Army regiments, that most of their officers were trained regulars and a large proportion of them West Point graduates.
Of the sixteen men made ill by eating powdered glass not one died, for the glass had been ground too fine to do the utmost mischief. However, the camp was alarmed, and all food was kept under close guard and was regularly examined with care before being served.
Soldiers bearing German names were in some instances suspected, and unjustly. Officers tried to undo this harm by talking among the men. Yet all wondered what would be the next outbreak of spy work in camp.
Private Mock, sentenced to two weeks' arrest for being off the reservation without leave, served his sentence moodily, usually refusing to talk with his fellow-prisoners.
One Private Wilhelm was also serving a term in arrest at the bull-pen. His name was held against him Wilhelm as a brand-new man in the regiment, and one of the few with whom Mock would talk.
One morning the latter was overheard to say:
"I'm sick of this war already. I hope the Germans win. If I'm sent over to France I'll watch my chance to desert and get over to the Germans."
"Oh, ye will, will ye?" demanded Private Riley, another prisoner in the bull-pen. "Ye dir-rty blackguard!"
Buff! The Irish soldier's fist caught Mock squarely on the jaw, sending him squarely to earth, though not knocking him out. After a moment Mock was on his feet again, quivering with rage. He flew at Riley, who was a smaller man, hammering him hard. Other soldier-prisoners interfered on behalf of Riley, whereupon Private Wilhelm, a heavily built fellow, rushed to Mock's aid.
"A German and a German sympathizer!"
With that yell a dozen or so of time prisoners set upon the pair. Some lively and perhaps nearly deadly punishment would have been handed out, had not several men of the guard rushed in, thrusting with their rifle butts and breaking up the unequal fight.
But Mock was reported for his utterance, and Wilhelm for his sympathies. Both were brought up before Captain Greg Holmes, and Dick was sent for to join in questioning the men, which was done behind closed doors. At the end of the hearing Mock and Wilhelm were returned to the guard-house looking much crestfallen.
"Did you hear what they said to me?" Mock was overheard to demand of Wilhelm. "Said they'd have me tried for saying I'd desert, and that I'd be likely to get several years in prison for talking too much. Oh, I'm sure sick of being in this man's army!"
"Sure!" nodded Wilhelm, understandingly. "It's tough!"
"It'll be tougher, I warrant ye, if we hear ye two blackguards using any more of your line of talk around here," Riley broke in. "The guar-rd won't be forever stopping our pounding ye!"
After that Mock and Wilhelm were left severely alone by their fellow-prisoners in the bull-pen. Most of these men were serving merely sentences of a day to a week for minor infractions of discipline.
The next morning Private Riley managed to get word to Greg that Private Brown, of the guard, had been talking with Mock at the barbed wire of the pen enclosure.
"Private Brown is supposed to be an all right soldier, but he'll bear watching," was Dick's comment when he heard the report.
That afternoon it was reported that both Mock and Wilhelm had been talking with Private Brown at the barbed wire fence. Dick smiled grimly when he heard it.
The next morning orders were read releasing Mock, Wilhelm, Riley and some of the other soldier prisoners ahead of time that they might not be deprived of too much instruction. The released ones were cautioned to be extremely careful, in the future, not to fall under the disciplinary ban.
"Sure, I can understand some of us getting out, but not Mock," declared Riley to a bunkie (chum). "Him an' his talk about deserting to the enemy!"
In the meantime Dick had given an accurate description of the carpenter who had tried to enlist Mock in some dangerous scheme of revenge. The fellow had disappeared from among the gang of carpenters, and that was all that was known. Secret Service men had been put on the trail, but had failed to find the fellow.
"Now, maybe a soldier sometimes says more than he means," broke in Sergeant Kelly, who had come up behind the pair on the nearly deserted drill ground. "Soldiers are like other people in that respect."