H. Irving Hancock.

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

. (page 7 of 12)
Online LibraryH. Irving HancockUncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche → online text (page 7 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

was no longer looking their way.

Up the street, away from where the Ninety-ninth American sentries
were posted, soldiers of the American military police patrolled.

"You see how American this city has become," said Captain Ribaut.
"Here French law runs only for citizens of France. Your American
military authorities look after your own men."

French shopkeepers, speaking a quaint, broken English, came to
their shop doors to greet the Americans, even to urge the newcomers
to enter and buy, but Captain Ribaut waved all such aside with a
simple gesture.

Further on they passed through a public square. By this time
many French people were about, but Dick noted that they betrayed
no curiosity over the appearance of newly arrived American officers.
The sight had become an old story to these people who, however,
bowed courteously as they passed.

Down other streets Ribaut led the way, and so they arrived at last
at a railway station.

"We are about in time," remarked the Frenchman, after glancing
at his wrist watch. "We shall get our seats in the train, and
then we shall not wait long."

Past French guards and saluting railway employees the little party
went. As the train was already made up the Frenchman led them to
a first-class coach, a train guard throwing open the door. They
entered and seated themselves.

"You will see that none others are shown into this compartment,"
said Captain Ribaut to the guard in French. The door was closed.

"After we leave the station there will be something to see," explained
their guide. "Yet France is not very attractive in such weather.
Up at the front, though, there is nothing at all of France left.
There is nothing but bare ground, full of shell-holes. The whole
face of nature has been denuded and blackened by the atrocious enemy."

When the train had been under way a couple of minutes Captain
Ribaut leaned forward.

"Look over there," he said, "and you will see where your regiment
will he housed for the next two or three days. After that the
regiment will entrain and will go to one of the regular training
camps, where you will find it on your return from the front."

His American hearers looked out on a large village of unpainted pine
barracks buildings.

"That is a rest camp for troops when first they come from the
transport," explained Captain Ribaut. "Even the barracks are
American, built in sections in your country, then shipped over
here and set up. The village you are passing will shelter two
regiments of American infantry."

Before long the Americans found themselves much more interested
in the French officer's conversation than in the glimpses of his
country that were obtainable. Captain Ribaut had served from
the beginning of the war and was familiar with every trick of
fighting practiced at the front. He had a wealth of information
to give them - -so much, in fact, that before long Dick Prescott
began to jot down information in a notebook.

Toward the end of the forenoon a soldier came aboard at one station
with an outfit of dishes on two long trays. He was followed by
two others bearing food and coffee. These were set out and the
soldiers departed, the travelers falling to with a relish. At
a station beyond, the dishes were removed by other soldiers.
Then the train rolled slowly on its way.

"There is much in our travel facilities that I shall have to beg
you to excuse," said Captain Ribaut rather wistfully. "France
is not what it was, not even in the matter of its railways."

"France is not what she was," retorted Major Wells quickly, "because,
glorious as she, was, she has gone up infinitely higher in the
human scale. Could any other country in the world have stood
the ravages of war so long and still live and contain so brave
and resolute a people? Never mind your railways, Captain. It
is the people, not the railways, who make a country. Your French
people compel our constant and most willing admiration."

At another railway station, as the train halted, and the guard
opened the door briefly, a low, sullen rumbling could be heard.

"Do you have thunderstorms at this time of the year, Captain?"
asked Lieutenant Terry.

"Ah, but yes," replied the Frenchman. "It is a German thunderstorm
that you hear in the distance - -artillery."

"I feel like a fool!" exclaimed Noll Terry flushing. "Of course
I should have recognized the sound of distant cannon-fire."

"Don't feel badly about it, Mr. Terry," said Major Wells. "In
all your career in the American Army you have never heard as much
cannon-fire as you can hear in a single hour on the battle-front
in France."

At the next station the rumbling was much louder. French soldiers
were becoming more numerous. At times an entire French regiment
could be seen marching along a road.

"At the next station," announced Captain Ribaut, "we shall find
ourselves at the end of our rail journey. We are nearing the
front. If you are interested, gentlemen, there goes one of our
French airplane squadrons on its way to the front."

Instantly all four Americans were craning their necks at the windows.
High in the air, the French aircraft in flight looked as graceful
as swallows on the wing.

"They are battleplanes," explained Captain Ribaut further. "Some
of the Hun flyers are almost sure of a tumble this afternoon."

When the American party alighted at the last station on the line,
and looked back, they beheld long trains of freight cars coming
slowly along. The train from which they had descended was hauled
out and quickly shunted out of the way on a siding. The freight
trains pulled in, going to various sidings before huge warehouses
in which the food and fighting supplies were stored until wanted
closer to the front. It was a scene of deafening noise and what
looked like indescribable confusion. Yet everything moved according
to a plan.

"Let us come where we can hear our own voices!" shouted Captain
Ribaut in the major's ear, and led the way. Behind the station
they found a limousine car awaiting them. As there were seats
for five inside, the travelers soon found themselves vastly more
comfortable than they had been on the train.

"We will drive slowly," said Captain Ribaut, after he had given
his orders to a soldier chauffeur, "for one does not usually go
into the trenches until after dark. There will be plenty to see
on the way, and enough to talk about."

At one point Captain Ribaut directed the soldier-driver to turn
the machine into a field. Here the Americans alighted to see
seemingly endless streams of French "camions" go by. These are
heavy motor trucks that carry supplies to the front.

"And here come some vehicles from the front that tell their own
story," spoke Captain Ribaut rather sadly.

In another moment the first of a string of at least half a hundred
small cars went by at rapid speed toward the rear. Each car bore
the device of the Red Cross.

"There has been disagreeable work, and our wounded are going back,"
explained Captain Ribaut. "But my friends," he cried suddenly,
"I congratulate you on what you are privileged to see. These
are not our French ambulances, but some of your own cars, given
to France, and young men from America are driving them."

That these were American ambulance sections in French service
there could be no doubt, for as the drivers caught sight of the
American uniforms they offered informal salutes in high glee.
It was reserved for one gleeful young American, however, to call
out, as his ambulance whizzed by:

"Hullo, buddies! Welcome to our city!"

"If that young man were in the American Army I would feel obliged
to try to have him stopped," said Major Wells good-humoredly.
"That was not the real American form of salutation to officers,
but I know the youngster felt genuinely glad to see us so close
to the front."

"They are a happy lot, perhaps sometimes a trifle too merry,"
said Captain Ribaut half-apologetically. "But they are splendid,
these young Americans of yours who drive ambulances for us. They
never know the meaning of fear, and after a great battle they
are devotion itself to duty. They will drive as long as they
can sit and hold the wheel. There would have been many more aching
hearts in France to-day had it not been for the fine young Americans
who came over here with American cars to help us look after our

Presently the party entered the car again. Every mile that they
covered took them closer to the Inferno of shell-fire. More ambulance
cars whizzed by.

Then the visitors' car drew up before an unpretentious looking house
just off the main road.

"If you will come inside," invited Captain Ribaut, "I know that
our general of division will be delighted to meet you."



Passing the two sentries at the front door the officers found
themselves in a small ante-room.

Excusing himself, Captain Ribaut left the Americans briefly, but
was speedily back.

"General Bazain is most eager to meet you, and has the leisure
at this moment," the Frenchman announced.

He led his guests through the adjoining room, where half a dozen
younger French officers rose hastily, standing at salute. Then
on into a third room, just over the sill of which Captain Ribaut
halted, bringing his heels quickly together as he called out:

"General Bazain, I have the honor to present to you four American
officers, Major - - -"

And so on, through the list of names. The French divisional commander
bowed courteously four separate times, taking each American officer
by the hand with both his own, and finding something wholly courteous
to say. He spoke in French, a tongue that only Major Wells and
Captain Prescott understood well.

"My division is greatly honored, _Messieurs les Officers_," General
Bazain continued when he had seen to the seating of his callers
and had resumed his own chair behind a desk on which were spread
many maps and documents.

"You have been having a smart fight this afternoon, sir?" inquired
Major Wells.

"Ah, yes, for some reason, the Huns have been trying to break
through my division this afternoon, but they have not yet succeeded,
nor will they," General Bazain added, his eyes flashing grimly.

He was a little man, short and thin, his hair well sprinkled with
gray. He looked like one whom more than three years of war had
borne down with cares, yet his eyes were bright and his shoulders
squared splendidly whenever he stood.

"Here is a map of the divisional front, gentlemen, if you care
to draw your chairs closer and look it over," proposed the general.
"This shows not only our lines, but as much as we know of the
enemy lines facing us. And I believe," he added, with another
flash of pride, "that we know all there is to know of their lines
for a kilometer back, except whatever may have been added since
dark yesterday. We - - -"

He was interrupted by an explosion that shook the house. It sounded
over their heads on the floor above.

"We have excellent air service at this point," General Bazain
went on, his attention not wavering from the map. "And at this
point, as you will see, we have five lines of trenches, one behind
another, instead of three. It would take the Hun an uncommonly
long time to drive my brave fellows back out of our five lines
of trenches."

There followed a rapid description of the work of the division
on that sector during the last four months. The two present first
lines of trench had been taken from the Germans. Plans were now
under way to stage a series of assaults which, it was hoped, would
drive the Huns out of their three present first lines of trench
and add them to the French system.

An officer wearing the emblem of the French medical service opened
the door and glanced in.

"My general, you were not hurt by that bomb?" he cried anxiously.

"I had forgotten it," replied the French divisional commander.
"What was it?"

"A Hun airman dropped a bomb on the roof. It blew a hole in the
roof and worked some damage in your bedroom overhead."

"It does not matter," said General Bazain simply.

Bang! bang! smashed overhead.

"It must be the same rascal, returning in his flight!" cried the
medical officer, darting out into the yard to look up at the sky.
A moment later anti-aircraft guns began to bark. Two minutes
after the medical officer again looked into the room.

"We are fortunate to-day, my general!" cried the doctor. "That
scoundrel will not bother you again. One of our shots wrecked
his plane and brought the Hun down - -dead."

Evidently, however, that airman of the enemy had given the location
and range of division headquarters, for now a shell from a German
battery struck and exploded in the yard outside, killing a sentry
and wounding two orderlies. A second and a third shell followed.
A fourth shell tore away the corner of the house without injuring
any one.

"Your orders, my general, in case our observers can locate the
Hun battery?" asked a staff officer, coming in from the next room
and resting a hand on a telephone instrument.

"If the enemy battery can be located," replied General Bazain,
"let it be destroyed."

Rapidly the staff officer sent his message to the artillery post
of command.

"But surely you will go to a shelter?" asked the staff officer,
laying down the instrument when he had finished.

"It will be inconvenient," sighed the division commander. "The
light here is much better."

Yet General Bazain permitted himself to be persuaded to remove
from this now highly dangerous spot. As he and his staff, accompanied
by the visitors, stepped outside another shell exploded close at
hand, fortunately without doing harm.

Descending to the cellar of a wrecked house near by, in the wake
of their hosts, the Americans found the entrance to steps, cut
in the earth, leading to a secure shelter on a level much below
that of the cellar. Here were two rooms underground, both equipped
with desks, lights, chairs, telephones and all that was needed
for communicating with the ranking officers of the division at
their posts in the trenches.

"It is stupid to have to work under candlelight in the daytime,"
sighed the division commander. "However, Major Wells, as I was
explaining to you - - -"

Here recourse was again had to the maps, which the officers of
the staff had brought along.

Before dark supper was served at division headquarters in this
dug-out reached through the cellar of a ruined house.

"If it were not that I expect an attack tonight, and must be at
my post, it would give me delight to go with you and show you
our trenches," said the division commander at parting.

Private Berger had been summoned to lead the party through the
intricate system of communication trenches to the front. Berger,
who was a short, squat fellow with a sallow face and uneasy black
eyes, took his seat beside the soldier chauffeur.

For only a little more than a mile the Americans proceeded in
the car, which then halted, and all hands stepped out into the
dark night.

"From here on we must walk," announced Captain Ribaut. "Berger,
be sure that you take us by the most direct route. Do not take
us into the Hun trenches to-night."

"I know the way excellently, my captain," Berger replied briefly.

For some distance they walked over open country, made dangerous,
however, by the presence of gaping shell-holes. Runners, soldiers
and others passed them going to or from the trenches. The artillery
duel, save for an occasional stray shot, had ceased on both sides.

"The road is steeper here," said Berger, halting after he had led
his party half a mile through the darkness. "We now go up hill."

It was harder climbing, going up that incline. A quarter of a
mile of this, and Lieutenant Terry suddenly found himself following
the guide through a cut in between two walls of dirt higher than
his head.

"We are in the communication trenches," said Berger in French. Noll
gathered the meaning of the remark.

At every few yards there was a twist or a turn in the trench.
At times they came to points where two trenches crossed each
other. Had it been left to the Americans to find their own way
they would have been hopelessly confused in this network and maze
of intersecting ditches. Berger, however, proceeded with the
certainty of one long familiar with the locality.

"Here is one of our defence trenches," said Captain Ribaut, halting
at last and calling softly to Berger to stop. "This is our fifth
line trench, formerly our third line. We have no men here, you
will note, nor in the next line. In case of a heavy general attack
men would be rushed up from the rear to occupy these two lines
of trenches. We will proceed, Berger."

They were soon at the fourth line trench. At the third line trench
they found sentries of the reserves on duty.

"The rest of the reserves are sleeping," Ribaut explained. "You
will see their dug-out entrances as we pass along this trench,
for I am taking you to the quarters of the battalion commander."

It was necessary to proceed along this third line trench for nearly
a quarter of a mile before they came to a dug-out entrance before
which a sentry and two runners crouched on the ground.

"Captain Ribaut and American officers present their compliments,
and would see Major Ferrus," explained Ribaut.

A runner entered the underground shelter, speedily returning and
signing to the visitors to descend the steps. Dick and his friends
found themselves in an underground room of about eight by twelve.
Around the walls were several bunks. At a table, which held
a telephone instrument, sat Major Ferrus and two junior officers.

"It is quiet here, after the Hun assault of this afternoon," explained
the French major when the Americans had been presented. "Captain
Ribaut, you are taking our American comrades to the front line?"

"That is my instruction, Major."

"It is well, and I think you will find it quiet enough to-night
for a study of the Hun line. Still one can never say."

A brief conversation, and the visitors returned to the outer air,
where Private Berger awaited them. At the second line trench,
which held the supporting troops for the first line, Ribaut took
them to the captain of French infantry in command at that point.

"I will send Lieutenant De Verne with you," said the captain,
and passed the word for that officer.

"Show our American comrades everything that can possibly interest
them," was the captain's order.

"I shall do my best, my captain," replied the lieutenant. "But
I do not know. The Huns are as quiet, to-night, as though they
had tired themselves to death this afternoon."

Turning to Private Berger, Lieutenant De Verne added:

"You may find your way into one of the dugouts if you like, as you
will hardly be needed for hours."

"But my orders, my lieutenant, were to remain with the American
party," protested Private Berger mildly.

"Oh, very well, then," replied De Verne carelessly.

This time, instead of leading the way, Private Berger brought
up the rear.

"You will do well to talk in low tones," the French lieutenant
cautioned them in whispers, "for, when we enter the front line
trench we shall be only about a quarter of a kilometer from the
Huns' first line trench."

With that they started forward. A short stroll through a communication
trench brought them to the first line ditch. As the ground was
wet here duck-boards had been laid to walk on. The parapet was
piled high with bags of sand through which loop-holes had been
cunningly contrived for the French sentries who must watch through
the night for signs of Hun activity. Over the rear wall of the
trench was another built-up wall of sand-bags. This parados,
as it was called, is intended to give protection against shrapnel,
which often burst just after passing over a trench. Thus the
parados prevents a back-fire of the bullets carried in the shrapnel
shell, which otherwise might strike the trench's defenders.

"You may stand up here on the fire platform, if you wish," whispered
Lieutenant De Verne to Dick in English. "If you do not think
it too foolish to expose yourself, you will be able to look over
the top of the parapet. First of all you will see our lines of
barbed wire fencing and entanglements. Beyond the wire you will
see open ground, much torn by shell-holes. Further still you
will see the wire defenses of the German first trench, and then
the parapet that screens the enemy from your gaze."

Hardly had the French lieutenant finished when Dick was up and
peering with all his might and curiosity. Hardly an instant later
the bark of a field-gun was heard to the northward. A whining
thing whizzed through the air.

Then, into the trench in which the party stood something thudded,
with, at the same instant, a sharp report, a bright flash, and the
air was full of flying metal!



If there was a disgusted person present it was Captain Greg Holmes.
That angry young man spat out a mouthful of dirt, and then tried to
rid himself of more.

Major Wells felt more like standing on his head. A fragment of
shell had torn away the top of his tunic in back, without scratching
his skin, and at the same time had thrown a shower of sand down
inside his O.D. woolen shirt. Terry had been knocked over by
the concussion, but had sustained no wound and was quickly on
his feet, unhurt.

As for Prescott, he had turned, for an astounded second, then,
much disturbed over what he believed to have been his fault, he
had stepped down from the fire step.

Captain Ribaut and Lieutenant De Verne, neither of whom had been
touched, looked on and smiled.

As Prescott stepped down to the duck-boards he saw Private Berger
come back into the trench from the adjoining traverse, the latter
a jog in the trench line intended to prevent the enemy from raking
any great length of trench during an attack.

"I hadn't an idea that just raising my head over the parapet would
bring cannon fire so promptly," Dick murmured to Ribaut.

"Nor did that act of yours bring cannon fire," rejoined Captain

"Then what did?"

"It must have been that it just happened," replied the Frenchman.

Private Berger stood leaning with his right hand on top of the
sand-bag parapet.

"Shall I get back on the fire step for another look?" Dick inquired.

"Why not?" inquired Captain Ribaut, shrugging his shoulders.
"Why not, indeed, if there is anything you wish to see?"

Waiting for no more Dick again mounted to the fire step, raising
his head over the top, this time with greater caution.

"There it is again!" he cried, in a voice scarcely above a whisper,
his words causing his friends astonishment.

A moment later there came another sharp report, followed by the
same whining sound. This time a shell struck just behind the
parados. There was an avalanche of shell fragments, but none
flew into the trench, the parados preventing.

"Captain Ribaut, a word with you," Dick urged, stepping down and
laying a hand on the French officer's arm. They stepped further
along the trench.

"Captain," Prescott whispered earnestly, "I do not want to arouse
any unfair suspicions, but I have something to tell you. When
I first looked over the parapet I noticed on the ground in front
three small but distinct glows. Then came the report and the
shell. Private Berger had stepped into the traverse at his right.
Immediately after the shell burst he came back into this trench.
When I looked over the top a second time I saw the same three
tiny glows of light on the ground ahead. Then came the second
shell. Each time, before the shell was started this way Berger
stood with his right hand resting above his head on the parapet.
Each time he stepped down and into the traverse. Each time,
after the shell burst, he stepped back into this trench. I may
be wrong to feel any suspicions, but is it possible - - -"

"Wait!" interposed Captain Ribaut quickly, and stepped into the
traverse at the left. He came back with two French soldiers.
These started down the trench, pouncing upon Private Berger.
With them was Captain Ribaut.

"Oh, you scoundrel, Berger!" suddenly hissed the French captain.
He hurled the fellow to the ground, then held up a slim object,
some six inches in length.

"See!" he muttered to the others. "It is a tiny electric light,
supplied by a very small special battery. The scoundrel, Berger,
had it concealed up his right sleeve. Twice he rested his right

1 2 3 4 5 7 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 7 of 12)