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

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Now, I hope that satisfies you."

"You know it doesn't," Holmes rejoined. "This sea air makes me
so sleepy, all the time, that I don't feel as though I could stand
any real excitement."

"Being torpedoed would be something to look back upon in later
years," Dick observed thoughtfully.

"Yes, if we had any later years on earth in which to look back,"
Captain Holmes responded.

"Who's this strange-looking creature coming?" Dick suddenly demanded,
as he stared aft.

"Captain Craig, the adjutant, of course," Greg answered. "He has
his life belt on, and he's stopping to talk to others."

"After he speaks they hurry away," Dick went on. "I understand.
All hands are ordered to put on life belts."

And that, indeed, proved to be the message that Captain Craig
brought forward with him. Dick and Greg did not have far to go
to reach their cabin. In five minutes they reappeared on deck
in the bulky contrivances intended to buoy them up in the water
should they have the bad fortune to find themselves tossing on
the waves.

"This makes the danger seem real," Prescott observed.

"Too blamed real!" grumbled Greg. "We're ordered not to take
these belts off, either, until the order is passed, and are told
that the order won't be passed to-day, either. Imagine our trying
to get close to the dining table to eat in comfort!"

"It may be in the plans that we're not to eat to-day," Captain
Dick laughed.

Ahead, on either flank and at the rear, the torpedo-boat destroyers
were scouting vigilantly, with gunners standing by ready to fire
promptly at any periscope or conning tower of an enemy craft that
might be sighted.

"I don't suppose there'll be any band concert this afternoon,"
said Greg Holmes suddenly and ruefully. "And we have a mighty
good band, too. And probably no band concert to-morrow forenoon,
either."

"We may not be at sea to-morrow forenoon," Dick suggested.

"Have you been able to figure out at all where we are?" Captain
Holmes asked.

"I haven't. I don't know either our course or the speed at which
we are traveling. All I am sure of is that we are still out of
sight of land. I was told that we are nearing the coast of Ireland,
but Ireland is a town of some size, so the information isn't very
explicit."

"Say," ejaculated Greg, suddenly looking over at the water, "we
have begun to hit up a faster speed. So have the other transports.
And look at the destroyers off yonder. They are moving faster,
too. I wonder if any submarine signs have been seen."

There could be no doubt that the fleet was moving faster.

"I take it," Prescott guessed, "that we've reached the part of
the ocean, where greater speed is considered much more healthful."

"The leading transport is signaling, and so are the destroyers
in the lead," Greg announced, peering ahead.

In their path, and coming nearer four columns of dense smoke could
be observed ascending as though coming up out of the water.

"More destroyers, or some cruisers, coming out to meet us," Dick
conjectured. "As yet they're too far away to be seen from this
deck. Yes, I must be right. Look at the watch officers on the
bridge. They are using their marine glasses and looking forward."

"More craft coming to help us?" Greg called up, after having walked
nearly under the bridge end on the port side.

"Yes, sir," replied one of the watch officers. "Four American
destroyers coming up to strengthen the escort."

Then he named the oncoming craft, whereat Dick Prescott started
with pleasure.

"The first two are the craft commanded by Darry and Danny Grin,"
Dick murmured to his chum.

"That's right," Greg nodded. "I wonder if they know we're here."

"Probably not. And they wouldn't recognize us, even if they saw
us at a distance. The uniform tends to make all men look alike
at a very little distance. It will seem tough, though, to be
so near Darry and Danny Grin and not have even a wave of the hand
from them."

"What part of the ocean are we in?" Greg called up to the obliging
bridge officer.

"On the surface, sir," came the dry reply. "On the surface - -just
where, in latitude and longitude?" Holmes insisted.

But the ship's officer smiled and shook his head.

"I'm not permitted to tell that, sir. Wish I could."

Going at the speed now employed the transport fleet and the oncoming
destroyers were not long in getting to close quarters.

Dick named the two destroyers commanded by Lieutenant-Commander
Dave Darrin and Lieutenant-Commander Dan Dalzell and asked the
bridge officer if he could point them out. That the man above
was able and very glad to do.

"We'll keep our eyes open in the hope of being close enough to
signal Darry and Danny Grin," Captain Holmes suggested.

"We - - -" Dick began, but he stopped right there, for of a sudden
three of the destroyers let go with their three-inch guns with
a great deal of energy.

Two periscopes had been sighted off to northward. After a few
rounds had been served from the destroyers' guns the firing ceased,
for half a dozen of the escort craft had gone racing northward
and there was danger of hitting them.

Not that any periscopes were now visible, however, for these had
been instantly withdrawn under the surface. The destroyers, however,
went alertly in search of their enemy prey, even to dropping a
few depth bombs on the chance of destroying the enemy sub-sea craft.

"A good warning, at least," commented Captain Prescott. "We don't
feel quite as foolish, now, in our life belts."

Everlastingly and splendidly alert the naval craft had chased
off the sea wolves ere the latter had had time to bare their teeth!

Still more the speed was increased. An hour passed in which there
was no alarm. Then the enlisted men, forward, filed below decks
to have their early noon meal. The first lieutenants of each
company went below, too, to inspect the food served to their men.

Half an hour later the Ninety-ninth's officers descended to their
own mess in the cabin dining-room.

"This trip through the danger zone isn't as exciting as I had
supposed and expected it would be," announced Major Wells.

"Yet, sir, one attempt was made against us this forenoon," said
Dick.

"True, but the destroyers showed how promptly the attackers could
be driven off," the major argued.

"Yet suppose the destroyers had been half a minute longer in sighting
the tell-tale periscopes?" Prescott suggested.

"But they weren't tardy, and it wouldn't be like the Navy to be
slow," rejoined Major Wells. "I still contend that there is nothing
very exciting in passing through the danger zone on a troopship."

"And I hope, sir," Greg put in, "that nothing will happen to change
your mind about the danger. For my part, I have been eating in
momentary expectation of feeling a big smash against the side
of the ship."

"What is happening now?" demanded Lieutenant Noll Terry, half-rising
from his chair.

All could feel that the big ship had suddenly changed her course
to a violent oblique movement to starboard. Yet, as no alarm had
been sounded no officer cared to rise and hurry to deck. It might
make him look timid or nervous.

"There we go again, in the opposite direction. We're zig-zagging.
What do you make of that, Captain?" Lieutenant Terry asked.

"The enemy craft must be around and sending torpedoes our way,"
Dick guessed, dropping a lump of sugar in his coffee and stirring
it slowly.

"In a merry throng like this the suspicion that you're being dogged
by a hostile submarine doesn't strike one as very terrifying,
does it?" Greg inquired as he took a piece of cake from the plate
held out to him.

At this moment the adjutant, Captain Craig, who had been eating
with Colonel Cleaves in the latter's quarters above, entered the
dining-room briskly, stepping to a nearby table and rapping for
attention.

"Gentlemen," he announced, "the sea appears to be infested, at
this point, with unseen enemy craft. Ours, among other transports,
has narrowly dodged two torpedoes. It is quite within the limits
of possibility that we may be struck at any moment. The commanding
officer therefore requests me to ask that company officers,
especially second lieutenants, finish their meal as quickly as
possible and station themselves near their men. This is not to be
done hurriedly, or with any sign of excitement, but merely in order
that, if we should be struck, discipline may be preserved
effectively."

There was no excitement. Second lieutenants finished the morsels
on which they were engaged, some of them washing down the food
with a final gulp of coffee. Then, without undue haste, they left
the dining-room by twos or threes.

Adjutant Craig watched them with nods of satisfaction.

"That was the right way for them to leave," he told Dick. "We
do not want to throw any extra excitement in among the enlisted
men, but we want them to feel that their officers are standing
by, and that, at need, there will be disciplined rescue work."

Soon after the last of the platoon leaders had vanished the captains
and first lieutenants made their way to the decks above.

Contrary to German reports that American soldiers are kept mostly
between decks while transports are in the danger zone, the decks
fore and aft were crowded with men of the Ninety-ninth. Those
who stood nearest to the rails felt that they had the best vantage
points from which to see what was going on. It was with eager
interest, not fear, that the soldiers took in all that was visible
of the fleet's progress and the work of the destroyers to protect
the troopships from disaster.

From northward and slightly ahead of the course of the troopship
of the Ninety-ninth a swift destroyer could be seen darting
over the waves. As she came closer it seemed to the Army beholders
that she traveled with the speed of an express train.

"Worth watching, and every officer and man visible on her looks
and acts like a piece of the machinery," commented Major Wells,
passing Prescott an extended field glass. "Want to take a look
at her?"

"Why, I'd know that tall officer on her bridge anywhere in the
world if I had as good a view of him as I have now," uttered Dick
delightedly.

"Old Darry?" inquired Greg Holmes.

"No one else. Take a look at him. Next to the last officer on the
port side of the bridge."

The instant that the glass gave him a sight of the familiar face
Captain Holmes uttered a whoop.

"Darry himself, and sure enough!" Greg exclaimed. "Wonder what
he's heading in so close for?"

"He knows what he's doing," Prescott returned. "Don't worry about
that."

"I don't," Greg retorted cheerfully. With a rounding sweep the
destroyer commanded by Dave Darrin turned out of the way of the
troopship, then came up close, on the same course, scooting by.

"Good old Darry!" Prescott yelled through a megaphone that Greg
thrust into his unoccupied hand.

For a wonder Dave heard, just as the destroyer darted in at her
closest point to the transport.

For just an instant Darrin turned to wave his hand. Then, between
both hands, placed over his mouth, he shouted:

"Hullo, Dick! 'Lo, Greg!"

Dave waved his hand, then turned to give an order to his watch
officer. A brief greeting, but it meant a world to the three chums
who had had a part in it.

"Now, if Danny Grin's craft would only come in that close!" sighed
Greg happily.

But it didn't. Once in a while Prescott and Holmes could make
out the craft commanded by Dan Dalzell, but it didn't come in
close enough for a hail.

Bang! sounded a destroyer's gun, far ahead.

Bang! came as if in answer from the bowgun of the leading transport.

"There are the Huns, and here is the scrap coming!" yelled a corporal
perched up in the bow of the ship.

Bang! Bang!

"Hurrah! Hurrah!" Cheers went up in such volume as to be deafening.

"Tell the men to stop that cheering," shouted Major Wells, in
order to make Dick and Greg hear him. "And tell them that no
more men are to crowd the rail on either side. No noise, and
nothing to make the ship list!"

Going down three steps at a time, Dick and Greg descended the
companionway forward of the pilot house.

"No cheering!" shouted Prescott, pushing his way through the throng.
"Quiet!"

With Dick moving through the masses of soldiers on the port side
of the deck, and Greg performing a similar office on the starboard
side, quiet was soon restored. Then Captain Prescott's voice
was heard announcing:

"You men must remain quiet, or how can the ship's officers make
their orders heard? Remember, not a cheer after this. And no
more men are to crowd to the rails."

"It's a pity that the rest of us cannot see what is going on!"
half-grumbled a soldier, so close that Prescott heard him.

"I know just how you feel about that," the young captain admitted,
wheeling and regarding the soldier. "But this is war, not sport.
Absolute, uncomplaining discipline is the surest means of bringing
this ship and its human cargo through safely."

Another captain and Lieutenants Terry and Overton had joined the
first two officers on the deck, and order was maintained without
a flaw.

Bang! bang! bang! bang!

"This sounds like a full-fledged naval battle!" Greg Holmes called
to his chum, his eyes dancing.

"And we cannot see a bit of it!" sighed a soldier complainingly.

"You're in a position to see as much of it as I'm seeing, my man,"
Prescott retorted, with an indulgent smile. "You and I are both
obeying orders instead of pleasing ourselves."

Bang! bang!

Watching some of the officers at the rail on the deck above, Captain
Prescott was able to discover that the fight was being brought close
to his own ship.

Then there came another sign. From up forward the port bow gun
of the troopship turned itself loose with a sharp report.

"Did you note how that gun's muzzle is depressed?" Greg asked
Dick, in a low voice.

"I did," Dick answered with a nod.

Bang! The port gun had been turned loose again. Up on the saloon
deck the officers at the port rail were waving their campaign
hats as though what they saw filled them with liveliest interest.

"I'd like to be up there!" murmured Greg in his chum's ear.

"And I'm glad I'm down here," Prescott retorted. "It shows our
men that captains of the regiment are shut out from the view as
much as they are. I'd like to see what is going on, but so would
I like to have all these men who cannot be near the rails see what
is happening."

Bang! went the starboard bow gun of the transport, her nose pointing
straight ahead.

"Only one thing is plain to me," Holmes declared. "We're in the
midst of a pack of the sea wolves, and they're doing their best
to hit us with torpedoes!"




CHAPTER XII

THE BEST OF DETAILS


Boom! It was a dull sound, off to port. Then even the men who
stood in the middle of the spar deck were able to see the top
of a broad column of water that rose out of the ocean.

Major Wells so far forgot himself as to give vent to a yell of joy,
then suddenly clapped a restraining hand over his own mouth.

"Sorry you men couldn't have seen that," the major called, leaning
over the rail above and addressing the men on the spar deck.
"A destroyer let go a depth charge, which exploded under water
and threw up a geyser that would make hot water feel tired."

"Look at that now, Major," urged Captain Cartwright, pulling at
his superior's sleeve. Major Wells walked to the side rail, looked
out over the water, and had all he could do to keep back another
yell of glee.

"There's something out there that's worth seeing, men, and it's
visible," the major called down. "A great blot of oil on the
water, and it's spreading. That shows that a submarine was knocked
to flinders by that depth charge!"

In spite of orders a low, surging cheer started.

"Shade off on that noise, men!" Dick ordered briskly, holding up
his hand and moving again through the crowd. "Remember that we
cannot have any racket except what the guns make."

A few more guns were fired, and the racket died down.

"The show's over!" shouted Major Wells. "Evidently we got out
of that meeting with less damage than the enemy sustained. We
lost no craft, while Fritz has one pirate boat less. Our destroyers
of the escort are now moving along straight courses once more."

On the saloon deck many of the officers turned and stepped inside.
That set the fashion, for hundreds of enlisted men left their
own decks and went below, either to sleep, read or write letters.

Then, a minute later, Major Wells once more appeared at the rail
forward, calling down:

"For the benefit of those who like exact statistics I will say
that the commanding officer has just received a signaled message
to the effect that the navies of two countries got an enemy submarine
apiece. You may omit the cheers!"

Those who remained on deck saw, a couple of hours later, several
specks off on the water which, they were told, were British and
American patrol boats out to give aid to victims of submarine
sinkings.

Then night came on, dark, hazy, a bit chilling, so that officers
and men alike were glad enough to seek their berths and get in
under olive drab blankets.

"The haze and mist will hinder submarines anyway, so the weather
is in our favor," was the word passed around.

Save for the guard, and those on other active duty, the passengers
on the troopship slept soundly. They might be sunk in the night,
but American fighting men do not always dwell on danger.

When first call sounded in the morning the men rubbed their eyes,
then realized that the ship was proceeding at very slow speed.

"Get up, you lubbers!" called a man going down to one of the berth
decks. "Do you realize that the ship is at the entrance of a
French harbor?"

France?

Then a cheer went up that no officer could have stopped until
it had spent its first force.

At last! France! "Over there!"

Never had men dressed faster. How the soldiers piled up the
companionways! Yet a few bethought themselves to kick their
now discarded life belts with a show of resentment and contempt.

However, the first glimpses had from the decks were bound to be
disappointing. It was just after daylight. The mist of the night
had thickened instead of vanishing. Here and there patchy bits
of land could be seen through the haze, but for the most part
France was invisible behind a curtain of early winter fog.

One at a time, under the guidance of local pilots, transports
moved slowly into the harbor, moved slowly some more, then docked.

Here at last, made fast to a French pier constructed by American
engineer troops! But where were the cheering crowds of French?
Absent, for two reasons. The French had already seen many regiments
of American troops arrive in former months, and the novelty of
such a sight had worn off. Besides, most of the French who lived
in this same port were now just about quitting their own beds.

"Who'll be first ashore from this regiment?" demanded a laughing
soldier as he witnessed the work of bringing the first gangway
aboard from the pier.

"The guard!" tersely replied Captain Cartwright, as he appeared
with a sergeant and a detachment from the guard. As soon as the
gangway had been made fast sentries were thrown out, two of them
being stationed at the foot of the gangway itself.

Then came a call the soldier never ignores. The buglers sounded
the first mess-call of the day.

After the meal came inspection, after which, a company at a time,
the men were sent over the side to the pier. A short distance
up a street the men were halted, forming in two ranks at the side
of the street. The reasons for all that followed were not clear
to the newer men in the ranks.

While the men had been eating between decks the officers of the
regiment had gone to their last ship's meal in the dining saloon.
Before the meal was half over the adjutant had entered to call
out:

"At the conclusion of the meal Major Wells, Captains Prescott
and Holmes and First Lieutenant Terry will report at my office
for instructions from the colonel."

"That's more interesting than clear," declared Greg, as soon as
he had swallowed the food in his mouth. "I wonder why we four
are wanted? What have we been doing and why are we the goats?"

"Probably," smiled Dick, "it is something to do with either praise
or promotion - -the two things that come most regularly to a soldier,
you know."

Captain Holmes's curiosity reached such a high point that he would
have bolted his food in order to get more quickly to the adjutant's
office, but he noted that the battalion commander was not hurrying
at all.

"Confound Wells!" the irrepressible Greg whispered to his chum.
"I believe he knows what it's all about, and he knows that we
cannot report before he's ready to do the same, so he's tormenting
us by taking twice his usual amount of time to finish breakfast!"

"Keep cool," Dick returned dryly.

At last Major Wells finished his meal. He waited until he saw that
the other three officers concerned with him in the orders had
done the same. Then he inquired:

"Are you ready, gentlemen?"

Rising, Major Wells led the way above. When they entered the
adjutant's office they found Colonel Cleaves standing there, chatting
with a French major and two captains. Colonel Cleaves introduced
his own officers, then added:

"Gentlemen, it is intended that as many as possible of the officers
of this regiment shall go to the fighting front and spend some time
there studying the actual war conditions. You four have been chosen
for the first detail. Captain Ribaut is going to take you there.
He will act as your guide and your mentor for the length of your
visit to the front trenches."

Even the steady, unexcitable Major Wells showed his delight very
plainly. To a soldier this was unexpected good luck, to start
immediately, with the surety of finding himself speedily in the
thick of things in the greatest war in the world's history!

"I have informed Captain Ribaut," Colonel Cleaves continued, "that
you will be ready to leave the ship in an hour."




CHAPTER XIII

OFF TO SEE FRITZ IN HIS WILD STATE


By the time that Dick and his brother officers left the ship in
the wake of Captain Ribaut, the infantrymen massed along the nearby
street had been gladdened by the sight of a few score of French
women and children who came to the water front to look on.

Half of the regiment was now ashore and the rest were going over
the side slowly.

At the head of the pier Captain Cartwright saluted Major Wells
and Captain Ribaut, and found chance to say to Prescott in a low
tone:

"You're always one of the lucky ones! How do you manage it?"

"I don't know that there is any system possible in inviting luck,"
Dick smiled.

"You're going right up to the actual front. You'll see Fritz in
his wild state. I envy you!"

"Your turn will come, Cartwright."

"It can't come too soon then. For to-day, and the next few days,
I can't see anything ahead of me but drudgery."

Ever since that quarrel at Camp Berry, Cartwright had kept mostly
away from Prescott and Holmes. Dick, who knew the captain for
an indolent chap, didn't know whether, in other respects, he liked
him. To most of the officers of the Ninety-ninth Cartwright appeared
to be more unfortunate than worthless.

"Gentlemen," said Captain Ribaut, when they had passed the head of
the pier, "I think that I can obtain a car if you wish it. What
is your pleasure?"

"Thank you, but we've been on shipboard for so many days that
we'll enjoy the chance to stretch our legs," replied Major Wells.
"A walk of a few miles would do us a lot of good this morning."

"It is not that far," replied the French captain, who spoke excellent
English. "The distance is, I should say, about two kilometers."

As that meant a little more than a mile the party walked off briskly.

"Why, this doesn't look really like a French town," declared Major
Wells.

"You Americans have been coming here for so many months that you
have made the city American," explained Captain Ribaut. "See,
even the shops display signs in English, and very few in French.
It is on American money that these shops thrive. Here comes
one of our own poilus, a sight you will not see many times in this
American town on French soil."

Poilus is a French word meaning "shaggy," and is commonly applied
to the French enlisted man. As this French soldier drew close
he brought up his hand in smart salute to his own officer and
the Americans. Greg turned to look back, but the French soldier


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