H. Irving Hancock.

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

. (page 5 of 12)
Online LibraryH. Irving HancockUncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche → online text (page 5 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

went on.

"I have conscientious scruples against killing a human being, sir,"
replied Private Ellis.

"And you also have scruples against giving him a chance to kill
you," Dick went on mercilessly. "You believe in a police force
for preserving order in a community, do you?"

"Y-yes, sir."

"If you found a burglar in your home, and had an opportunity, you
would send for a policeman?"

"Yes, sir," Ellis admitted.

"Even though you knew the policeman might find it necessary to kill
the burglar in attempting to arrest him?" Prescott quizzed.

"Yes, sir."

"Then, while you presumably would not kill a burglar yourself you
would not object to calling a policeman who might do it?"

Private Ellis began to suspect the trap into which he was falling.

"I could not bear to kill the burglar myself, sir," he replied.

"And you would not want the burglar to kill you, so you would
summon a policeman to do whatever killing might be necessary.
In that case, are you a moral objector to killing, or are you
merely a coward who relies on another to do the killing for you?"

Private Ellis appeared much confused.

"Answer me," Dick commanded.

"The case doesn't seem the same to me, sir, as serving as a fighting
man in the war."

"The case is exactly the same, except in the matter of magnitude,"
Prescott retorted. "Germany is the burglar, trying to break into
the house of the world. You haven't time necessary courage to
fight a German yourself, but you will be glad to see a braver man
serve on the firing line in your stead. And you are a conscientious
objector, too, are you, Rindle?"

"I - -I thought I was, sir," confessed the soldier. "Your questions,
sir, and your way of putting the case confuse me."

"And you, Pitson?" Dick demanded, eyeing the third man. "Knowing
that, if you are sent to some non-combatant work, some other man
will have to be sent to this company to do your killing work for
you, you wish to dodge fighting duty?"

"Yes, sir; I do," Pitson answered unhesitatingly.

"Pitson, consider the matter seriously and try to decide whether
you're a moral hero or a physical coward!"

"Sir, I am no mor - - -"

Here the man hesitated, growing red in the face.

"Out with it," Dick smiled coolly.

"I am a conscientious objector, sir," Pitson rejoined. "No matter
what punishment may await me for refusing, I _must_ decline to
accept any duty that may call upon me to kill another human being."

"Yet you would call a policeman, in the case of finding a burglar
in your house?"

"Not if I thought the policeman would have to kill the burglar,
sir," Pitson protested.

"I'll wager the fellow is lying, at that," Prescott reflected,
as he rose. "Take off your hat, Pitson."

The soldier obeyed. His forehead sloped up and back. The back
of his head sloped up and forward, so that the top of his head was

"I've been interested in seeing what the head of a real conscientious
objector looked like," Dick remarked slowly. "I've seen your
head and from its shape I believe you to be a real conscientious
objector. I am going to approve your transfer to a non-combatant
branch, Pitson. You may step outside until you are sent for again."

After Pitson had gone Dick ordered the two remaining men to remove
their campaign hats. He studied the shapes of their heads so
attentively that both young men winced plainly under the inspection.

"Your heads are shaped differently from Pitson's," Prescott went
on. "The top of his head goes up to a point. If a mule had a
head shaped like that our veterinary surgeons would call it a
fool mule and reject it. But you men have heads expressing more

"What is the matter with you two? Have you been listening to
socialistic or other freak talk? Do you realize that the German
Kaiser and his nation threaten the freedom of the world? Do you
realize that the Germans want to rule this world, and do you know
how they would rule it, and what a miserable, impossible world
it would be for free men to live in?

"Do you realize that the only way we can stop the Germans from
ruling the world in their own brutal way is for the free men
of all good nations to fight? Do you fully understand that we
cannot fight such a beastly enemy in any other way than by killing
him? Do you so thoroughly object to fighting that you would see
a free world ground under the heel of the despotic Kaiser sooner
than help kill his soldiers and thus prevent such a world-wide
tragedy? Are you men, or are you dish-rags? Are your consciences
so important that you would put the world in cruel bondage rather
than violate your own little personal ideas of what is moral?
Are you men so sure you're right that you'd dodge a slight wrong - -if
wrong it be - -and allow the greatest wrong ever attempted to triumph?
Do your moral principles tell you that it is better to let Shame
rule the world instead of Justice?"

Ellis and Rindle were plainly non-plussed by Dick's passionate
appeal to their broader sense of right and truth.

"I'm afraid you two have been patting yourselves on the back in
the idea that you stood out for a great moral principle," Captain
Prescott resumed. "Don't you begin to see that the fact is that,
instead, you're really moral slackers who'd let the world go into
the devil's keeping provided you didn't have to be made to do
something that you don't want to do? I won't say you're physical
cowards, for honestly I hardly think you are, but aren't you at
least moral slackers?"

Private Ellis swallowed hard before he replied:

"No, sir; I'm not a moral slacker, for I've changed my mind.
I'm going to fight if I'm told to. I'm going to do whatever Uncle
Sam wants me to do. You've put the matter in a different light
to me, Captain Prescott."

"And you, Rindle?"

"I'm going to do myself the honor of asking permission to remain
in your company, sir," replied the second man, his mouth twitching.
"I'm a bit of a fool, sir. But I don't believe that I'm a fool
all the way through. I believe that I can see at least part of
a truth when it's put to me fairly, and now I believe that it's
right to fight for truth and justice as against black tyranny - -and
I'm ready to do it."

"Good enough!" cried Dick, his face lighting up, as he held out
his hand. "If you have any further doubts, later, come to me.
I don't know everything, but we can get together and perhaps
between us we can get close to the truth."

Shaking hands with the soldiers who had found themselves, and
dismissing them, Dick added:

"Sergeant Kelly, find out what non-combatant branch that fellow
Pitson would prefer to serve in, see what unit will have him, and
then bring the transfer papers to me to sign."

Passing into the corridor, and hearing the piano's notes in the
mess-room he glanced inside. It was a rest period between drills,
and a soldier seated at the instrument strummed his way through
the air of a mournful ditty. It's an odd thing that when the
average soldier is wholly cheerful he prefers the "sobful" melodies.

At one of the long mess tables near the piano sat four young men,
paying no heed to the music, nor, in fact, doing anything in

"How many of you men have mothers?" Prescott asked with a smile.

All admitted that they had.

"How many of you have written that mother to-day?"

None had.

"How many wrote her yesterday?" None.

"Think hard," Dick went on. "Has any of you written his mother
a letter within five days?"

One soldier asserted that he had written his mother four days before.

"I wish you men would do me a favor," Dick went on. "Each one
of you write his mother at least a four-page letter and mail it
before supper. There is going to be time enough between drills
to-day. How about it?"

Each of the four soldiers standing at attention promised promptly.

"All right, then," Prescott nodded. "Rest!" Whereupon they resumed
their seats on the bench. "Remember that a promise is a promise.
And I've seen enough of soldiers to know that they're likely to
be careless where it hurts most."

"I'd do anything Captain Prescott asked me to do," remarked one
of the soldiers when Dick had passed on out of barracks.

"If I knew anything he wanted me to do I'd do it before he asked
me," declared another.

When a captain's men feel that way about him it's a cinch that
he commands a real fighting unit.



During the next drill period Sergeant Kelly, hearing an angry
voice, glanced out through the window.

In the last draft to the company some green recruits had come in,
men who had been drafted to the National Army and sent to the
Regulars to fill up. Among them were Privates Ellis and Rindle.

"About face!" rapped out the crisp tones of Corporal Barrow, as
he glared at eight men in double rank.

Badly enough most of them turned. "You poor mutt-heads!" rasped
the corporal. "Do you think you'll ever make soldiers?"

In a jiffy Kelly reached for his campaign hat, put it on, and
stepped out into the corridor, passing out and heading for the
drill ground.

"Right dress!" called out Corporal Barrow. "Front! Rotten!
I wonder if you fellows think you'll ever be soldiers?"

Plainly the recruits were chafing under the lash of the corporal's
tongue. But Barrow, a young man of twenty-two, who had received
his chevrons after only four months of service, was in no mind
to be easily pleased to-day.

"You're the most stupid squad in the regiment!" the young non-com
went on. "Your place is in the bullpen, not in the ranks."

"Let the squad rest a minute or two, Corporal, and come with me,"
Sergeant Kelly called placidly. "I've a message far you."

Giving the required order, and lull of curiosity, Corporal Barrow
stepped quickly over to Kelly, who, placing a hand on the young
man's shoulder, walked him some distance away. Suddenly the top
sergeant, his back turned to the squad, grilled Barrow with a
blazing gaze.

"You poor boob in uniform!" rapped the sergeant. "Whatever made
you think of taking up soldiering. And what made you think yourself
fit to be in a regiment of Regulars? Do you know your left foot
from your right? You know as much about the manual of arms as I do
about Hebrew verbs. When you salute an officer you're a standing
disgrace to the service! Do you know what you ought to be doing
in life?"

His face growing violently red, Barrow soon forgot to be indignant
in the excess of his wonder.

"Meaning - -what?" he demanded, thickly, his lower jaw sagging
in bewilderment.

"How do you like the way I'm talking to you?" asked Sergeant Kelly,
his own strong jaw thrust out as though he were seeking to provoke
a quarrel.

"Why do you ask?" demanded the corporal, with some show of spirit.
"Does any man enjoy being spoken to like a thieving dog?"

Instantly Kelly dropped back into a placid tone.

"How do you think the men of that squad like hearing you talk
to them as I've just talked to you?"

"But they're such numbskulls!" declared Barrow.

"You won't improve their intelligence by turning the hot water
on them all the time," Sergeant Kelly continued. "Could I make
a better corporal of you by scorching you every time I saw you?"

"You know you couldn't."

"No more can you turn those rookies into soldiers by raging at
them every time you speak. Take it from me, Corporal Barrow,
the wise drill-master doesn't use any rough talk once a week,
and not even then unless nothing else will answer. Talk to the
men right along as I heard you doing, and they won't have a particle
of respect for you. That being the case, you cannot teach them
anything that it will be worth their while to know. If the captain
had heard what I heard you saying to those men he'd put you back
in the awkward squad yourself. Patience is the first thing a
drill-master needs. Whom do you call the smartest corporal in
the company?"

"Corporal Smedley," Barrow answered, without hesitation.

"Right, and he's going to be the next new sergeant. But Smedley
is the most patient drill-master in the company. Shall I send him
over to show you how to handle a green squad?"

"Don't, Sergeant!"

"All right, then; I won't - -unless you give me new reason to think
it necessary," smiled Kelly. Then his hand, still resting on the
younger man's shoulder, he walked back to where the squad waited.

"I'll tell you more about it any time you want to know," was Kelly's
last statement before he turned away.

"Attention!" called Corporal Barrow briskly. "Saluting is one
of the things a new soldier is likely to do badly at first. I'm
going to put you through a few minutes of it."

This time Barrow patiently singled out the soldier giving the
poorest salute.

"You don't bring your hand up smartly enough," Barrow explained
patiently. "Try it again. No; don't bring it up with a jerk.
Do it like this - -smartly, without jerk. No; that's not right,
either. Hold your hand horizontally when it touches your hat-brim.
Hold it the way I am doing. Don't be in a hurry to let hand
fall, either. When saluting an officer, keep the hand at the
hat-brim until he has returned the salute, or you've passed him.
There, you have it right now, Rindle. Do it three times more,
dropping your hand when I see you and return the salute. That's
it. Good work. Try it again, all together. Squad, salute!"

"Well done, Corporal," chimed in the voice of Captain Prescott,
who had come up behind the instructor, "Be sure that the squad
has drill enough in the salute, for a man is never a really good
soldier until he can render a salute smartly. Let the men break
ranks, Corporal, and have each man pass me in turn, saluting the
best he knows how."

As Captain Dick stood there, receiving and returning the salute
of each rookie as he passed, the young company commander noted
each man's performance with keen eyes.

"First rate for recruits, Corporal," Prescott said, as he turned
away. "Give them daily drill at it, however."

Corporal Barrow gave his own most precise salute as he received
his captain's orders. Then he called:

"In double rank, fall in! Mark time, march! Step more smartly,
Pelham. Hip, hip, hip! Squad halt! One, two!"

From the corner of the building Dick had paused an instant to
glance back. Then he went into the company office.

"I've just been watching Corporal Barrow and his new recruit squad,
Sergeant," Dick announced. "The men are doing first-rate for
new men. Corporal Barrow is a patient and competent drill-master."

"Yes, sir," Kelly replied, without trace of a smile.

"The patient instructor is the only one who can teach a recruit,
Sergeant. If you ever see a non-com in this company losing his
temper set him straight at the first chance."

"Yes, sir."

"But don't make the correction in hearing of the squad unless the
case is a flagrant one."

"No, sir," Sergeant Kelly promised, his eyes smileless.

"How near is the company to full strength this morning?"

"Only twelve men short, sir. A new draft, coining in on the 4.10
train this afternoon is expected to fill all companies to strength,

Dick Prescott felt a sudden thrill. Filling up the companies
of the Ninety-ninth appeared to promise that the regiment would
soon be on its way overseas!

"If we get our full strength this afternoon, Sergeant, be sure
to have the clothing requisitions for them all in shape by this
evening. Then we'll try to draw to-morrow morning."

"Yes, sir."

"And - -sergeant!"

"Yes, sir."

"I'm mighty glad that you applied for transfer to this regiment
when I was ordered to it. I don't know what I'd do without you."

"Thank you, sir!"

Kelly had sprung to his feet. He now stood at salute as Prescott
left the office.

The train due at 4.10 arrived after 8.30 that evening. Twelve
new men, assigned to A company, were marched to barracks after
ten. No man in the detachment had eaten since early morning. The
mess sergeant had coffee and sandwiches ready.

It was midnight when Kelly, with the aid of other non-coms, had
the measurements of the new men on paper and his clothing requisition
ready. Dick Prescott was on hand to sign as company commander.

At six in the morning first call to reveille sounded from the bugles.

Like the other companies in the regiment A company tumbled out
of its cots. Men dressed, seized soap, towels, brushes and combs,
and hurried to the wash-room at the rear of barracks. Then back
again, the final touches being administered. Outside a bugle
blew, calling the men to first formation. Then mess-call caused
two hundred and fifty hungry soldiers to file into the mess-room,
kits in hand, and line up at the further end for food and hot drink.

At 7.46 Dick Prescott stepped briskly into the company office.

"Sergeant Kelly, have each man carry out his mattress to the incinerator
and empty out the straw. Detail men to burn the straw. Have
the cots piled at the end of each squad room. At 8.25 turn the
company out with barracks bags and dismiss after the bags have
been placed. At 8.40 turn out the company in full marching order,
with arms and pack, for inspection. As soon as practicable thereafter
the men will be turned out again for issue of razors."

"Yes, sir," Kelly replied with a quiver. "Of course you know what
it means, Sergeant?"

"The regiment is moving, sir."

"Moving by rail to the point of embarkation, Sergeant. We're - -at
last we're going over!"

There must have been an eavesdropper outside the office door,
for instantly, so it seemed, the news flashed through the building.

"Orders have come!"

"We're going over!"


"Stop that cheering, men!" boomed Dick Prescott's voice, as he
stepped into the corridor. "This is Georgia, and you'll wake
all the sleeping babies in North Carolina."



North to an embarkation camp, not to a pier. There passed several
days of restlessness and unreality of life.

Final issues of all lacking equipment were made at last. Then,
one evening, after dark, the Ninety-ninth once more fell in and
marched away, the bandsmen, carrying their silent instruments,
marching in headquarters company.

No send-off, no cheering, not even the playing of "The Girl I
Left Behind Me."

No relatives or friends to say good-bye! Nothing but secrecy,
expectancy, an indescribable eagerness clothed in stealth.

"How do you feel, Sergeant?" Captain Prescott asked, as he and
his top stood at the head of A company awaiting the final order
that was to set the nearly four thousand officers and men of the
Ninety-ninth in motion on the road.

"Like a burglar, sneaking out of a house he didn't realize he
was in, sir," Kelly answered.

First Lieutenant Noll Terry shivered; it was impatient
uncertainty - -nothing else.

Then the order came. The dense column reached the railway, where
the sections of the troop train waited. By platoons the men marched
into dimly lighted cars. When all were aboard the lights were
turned off, leaving Uncle Sam's men in complete darkness, save
where a pipe or cigarette glowed.

Despite the eagerness the newness and uncertainty of it all, many
of the soldiers dozed unconscious of the talk and laughter of others.
Singing was forbidden and non-coms had orders to be alert to stop
any unnecessarily loud noises.

Forth into the night fared the sections of the train. How long
it was on the rail none of the men had any clear idea. It was
still dark, however, when a stop was made and the order ran
monotonously along:

"All out!"

Again dim lights were turned on, that men might find all their
belongings. Adjusting their packs the platoons of the Ninety-ninth
found their way to the ground below.

For once there was no attempt at good military formation. At
route step and in irregular columns, the regiment moved forward
by platoons. Unknown officers stood along the way to direct,
for the regiment's platoon leaders had no knowledge of the way.

Thus a mile or more was covered by a regiment that looked disorganized
and spectral in the darkness. Then the aspect changed somewhat.
Whiffs of salt air prepared the soldiers. Army trucks were moving
on parallel roads or trails. Ahead of them appeared high fences
of barbed wire. It looked as though the travelers had come upon
a huge bull-pen. There were gates, guarded by military sentries
not of the Ninety-ninth.

Through these gates and past the barbed wire filed the marching men.

Further ahead loomed the sheds of a great pier.

With the help of officers who knew the ground the Ninety-ninth found
room to fall in for roll call.

"All present or accounted for!"

Then battalion by battalion, a company at a time, the regiment
passed on through the dimly lighted pier sheds. On the further
side towered the bulwarks of a great ship, with gangways reaching
down to the pier.

In some mysterious way order reigned and speed was observed.
Line after line of uniformed men passed up the gangways and vanished.
Lights were on the ship, yet dim enough to be in keeping with the
night's mystery.

Last of all the almost muffled noises of gangways being drawn
down on to the piers. Hawsers were cast off. Stealthy tugs hauled
the ocean monster out into the stream.

"Off at last!" was felt more than spoken. Then the tugs let go
and the ship, outwardly darkened save for the few necessary running
lights, moved slowly down stream.

Some venturesome soldiers found their way up on deck.

Above them, on a still higher deck, the shadowy forms of officers
were discernible.

The strangeness of the dark sea lay over all. It seemed uncanny,
this dark departure from one's native land - -the land for which
these men were going to fight, to bleed and die!

Yet there was no sense of fear. It was the strangeness that gripped
all minds.

Up forward on the spar deck a few enlisted men opened their mouths
to sing. The chorus grew in volume and the words rolled up:

_"And I don't know where I'm going, but I'm on my way!"_

_"For I belong to the Regulars. I'm proud to say."_

_"And I'll do my dooty-ooty, Night or day."_

_"I don't know where I'm going, But I'm on my way!"_ Breaking
through the words the ship's deep-throated whistle boomed its
own notes.



Some days later the same ship steamed steadily through the waters
on the further side of the Atlantic.

Nor was the Ninety-ninth alone. Seven other transports were keeping
her company, together with a busy, bustling escort of British and
American destroyers.

For these American adventurers of to-day were nearing the coast
of Ireland.

Whether these transports were to unload their cargoes of human
beings and munitions at any port in Great Britain or Ireland few
on the transports knew, nor did those few tell others.

Ever since the first morning out there had been daily drills,
on every transport, in abandoning ship. A few night drills, too,
had been held. Not an officer or man was there but knew his station
and his lifeboat in case of disastrous meeting with a submarine.

These had not been the only drills, however. From morning to
night platoons had been drawn up on the decks and military drills
had been all but incessant while daylight lasted. Especially
had the newest recruits been drilled. By this time the latest
of them to join the regiment had gained considerable of the appearance
of the soldier.

Dick and Greg, sharing the same cabin, had been much together,
for on shipboard they had found much leisure. It had been the
lieutenants who had drilled the platoons. Captains were but little
occupied on shipboard.

On the morning that it became known that the fleet had entered
the Danger Zone, Dick and Greg stood on deck to the port of the
pilot house. Leaning over the rail they idly scanned the surface
of the sea to northward.

"Almost in France, my boy!" Prescott cried eagerly. "Or England!"

"Near enough, yet we may never see either country," returned Captain
Holmes, suppressing a yawn, for the sea air, even after a night's
rest, made him drowsy.

"Croaker!" laughed Dick.

"I'm not," Greg denied, "and I don't want to croak, either, but
who can tell? We are now in the waters where the sea wolves have
been busy enough in finding prey."

"So far they haven't proved that they could do much to troopships,"
Dick declared warmly.

"There always has to be a first time," Holmes retorted.

"All right, then," smiled Prescott. "We're going to be torpedoed.

1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryH. Irving HancockUncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche → online text (page 5 of 12)