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H. Irving Hancock.

Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche online

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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.

"Yes, sir."

"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.




CHAPTER IV

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.

"Yes, Captain."

"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?"

"Yes, sir."

"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?"

"Y-y-yes, sir."

"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?"

"Yes, sir."

"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.




CHAPTER V

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?"

"No; thinking."

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."

"How, sir?"

"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.

"How?"

"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.

"Yes? What?"

"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?"


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