MoboReader > Literature > Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche

   Chapter 2 GREG HAS TO BE STERN

Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 14265

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


A full minute before the bugler sounded the call Captain Dick Prescott was on hand, standing in the shadow of the end of the barracks of his company. Among other reasons he was there to note the alacrity with which his men came out of the building.

Before the notes of the call had died away most of the men of his company were on hand, his lieutenants among the first. Within saving time all the rest had appeared, except those who had been excused for one reason or another.

"A company fall in!" directed First Sergeant Kelly promptly.

As the men fell in in double rank there were a few cases of confusion, for some of the men were rookies who had joined only recently.

"Sergeant Kelly, instruct the other sergeants to see to it that each man knows his exact place in company formation," Dick ordered.

"Yes, sir," replied Kelly.

The corporals reported briskly the absentees, if any, in their squads. The counting of fours sounded next after inspection of arms.

"A little more snap in answering when fours are counted," Dick called, loudly enough for all the company to hear. "Let every man call his own number instantly and clearly. For instance, when one man has called 'two' let the man at his left call 'three' without a second's delay. In the way of good soldiering this is more important than most of you new men realize. Lieutenant Terry!"

"Sir," the first lieutenant responded, stepping forward, saluting.

"Take the company. Drill in dressings, facings, the manual of arms, wheeling and marching by twos and fours."

Then, stepping to one side, Prescott let his gaze rove over the company, from one file or rank to another. Everything that was done badly he noted. Presently, when the men were standing at ease he related his observations to Lieutenant Noll Terry, who thereupon gave the company further instruction.

Finally, when the company started across the drill ground in column of fours, Dick walked briskly into the barracks building, going to the company office, whither Sergeant Kelly had preceded him. Kelly, and a corporal and private who were there on clerical duty, rose and stood at attention as the captain entered.

"Rest," Dick commanded briefly, whereupon the corporal and the private returned to the desk at which they were working, while Dick crossed to the sergeant's desk. Seating himself there he gave close attention to the papers that Sergeant Kelly handed him. Such as required signature Captain Prescott signed. Then, for fifteen minutes, he busied himself with requisitions for clothing and equipment. After that other papers required close attention. Following that several matters of company administration had to be taken up. Finally, Sergeant Kelly handed Dick a list on which names had been written.

"These seven men have applied for pass from retreat this afternoon until reveille tomorrow morning," reported Dick's top. "I have approved them, subject to your action."

Reading quickly through the names, Prescott replied:

"Give six of them pass, but refuse it to Private Hartley. This forenoon I observed that he saluted officers very indifferently when passing them, and once Hartley had to be spoken to by an officer whom he did not see in time to salute him. In whose squad is Hartley?"

"In Corporal Aspen's, sir."

"Then direct Corporal Aspen to take Hartley aside, at any time suited to the corporal's convenience this evening. Have the corporal drill Private Hartley at least twenty minutes in saluting, with, of course, proper intervals for arm rest."

"Yes, sir. May I offer the captain a suggestion?"

"Yes."

"Aspen will be corporal in charge of quarters to-night. Hartley is sometimes a very slovenly soldier," Kelly reported. "May I direct Corporal Aspen to keep Hartley up and give the instruction in saluting after midnight? Corporal Aspen could take the man into the mess-room where none of the men would be disturbed."

"That sounds like a good idea," Dick nodded, smiling slightly. "If he has to lose some of his sleep for instruction Hartley may remember better. A soldier who offers his salutes in a slovenly fashion is always a long way from being a really good soldier. And, Sergeant, tell all the corporals that each will be held responsible for drill and instruction of their squads in the art of snappy saluting."

Glancing at his wrist watch Prescott now noted that it was within five minutes of time for the battalion practice march. Accordingly he stepped outside. His lieutenants being already on the drill ground he gave them brief directions as to the instruction to be imparted on the hike and the deficiencies in the men's work that were to be watched for. While he was still speaking the bugler sounded assembly.

Two or three minutes later the first battalion, under Major Wells, marched off the drill ground in column of fours.

As A company moved off at the head of the battalion some of the non-coms called quietly:

"Hip! hip! hip!"

At each "hip" the men stepped forward on the left foot. A few of the recruits still found difficulty in keeping step.

"Let that third four close up!" ordered Lieutenant Terry briskly.

"Pay more heed to keeping the interval correctly."

When the third four closed up those behind closed in accordance, sergeants and corporals giving this matter close attention.

As it was a practice march the men continued to move in step. Company streets were left behind and the battalion moved on across a field, where later a trench system was to be installed, out past where the rifle ranges were already being constructed, and then up the gradual ascent of a low hill from which a spread-out view of the camp was to be had. On all the out-lying roads, at this time, bodies of troops were to be seen marching in various directions. At a distance these columns of men, clad in olive drab, made one think of brown caterpillars moving slothfully along. That was a distance effect, however, for the marching men did not move slowly, but kept on at the regular cadence of a hundred and twenty steps to the minute.

In less than ten minutes after the start, with the rays of the sun pouring down mercilessly on them, the soldiers began to perspire freely. Another five minutes and it was necessary to brush the perspiration out of their eyes.

Assuredly the officers felt the heat as much. Yet from time to time Captain Prescott fell out from his place at the head of the company and allowed the line to march by, observing every good, indifferent or bad feature of their marching, and correcting what he could by low spoken commands. Whenever the last of the company had passed Prescott ran along by the marching men until he had gained the head. If the men suffered acute discomfort in marching Prescott experienced more suffering in running under that hot sun. But he was intent only on the idea of having the best company in what he fondly hoped would turn out to be the best regiment in the Army.

For some minutes Greg had been aware that Sergeant Mock, of his company, was hobbling along. Now, as he turned to glance backward, he saw Mock step

out of the ranks, go to the side of the road and sit down.

A glance at his wrist watch, and Greg saw that the first half-hour was nearly up. In a minute or two more, he knew Major Bell would give the order for a counter-march, and the first battalion would swing and come back on its own trail. So Captain Holmes turned and ran back to his non-commissioned officer.

"What's the matter, Sergeant?" the young captain inquired pleasantly.

Mock made as though trying to rise from the ground to stand at attention, but his lips twisted as though he were in pain.

"Rest," ordered Greg, "and tell me what ails you."

"My feet are killing me, sir," groaned the sergeant.

"That's odd," Captain Holmes commented. "You were all right at assembly--lively enough then. Has half an hour of marching used up a sound, healthy man?"

Instantly the sergeant's look became surly.

"All I know, sir, is that I could hardly stand on my feet. So I had to drop out. If you'll permit it, sir, I shall have to get back to camp the best way I can."

"If you're that badly off I'll have an ambulance sent for you," Greg went on. "But I don't understand your feet giving out so suddenly. Take off one of your shoes and the sock."

"That may not show much, but I'm suffering just the same, sir," rejoined the non-com in a grumbling tone.

"Let me see," Greg insisted.

While the sergeant was busy removing a legging and unlacing a shoe Captain Holmes glanced up the road to discover that the battalion was counter-marching.

"Be quick about it, Sergeant," Greg urged.

Moving no faster than he had to, Mock took off his shoe, then slowly turned the sock down, peeling it off.

"Is that the worst foot?" Greg demanded, in astonishment.

"I don't know, sir; they both hurt me."

"Do you want to show me the other foot, or do you wish to get back among the file closers?"

"I--I can't walk, sir."

Down on one knee went Greg, carefully inspecting the foot and feeling it. The skin was clean, rosy, firm.

"Why there isn't a sign of a blister," Captain Holmes declared. "Nor is there an abrasion of any kind, or any callous. There isn't even a corn. That's as healthy a doughboy foot as I've seen. Dress your foot again, and put on your legging--pronto."

A "doughboy" is an infantry soldier. "Pronto" is a word the Army has borrowed from the Spanish, and means, "Be quick about it."

"I'm not fit to march, sir," cried Sergeant Mock.

"Either you'll be ready by the time B company is here, and you'll march in, or I'll detail a man to remain here with you, and send an ambulance for you. If I have to send an ambulance I'll have you examined at the hospital, and if I find you've been faking foot trouble then you shall feel the full weight of military law. I'll give you your own choice. Which do you want?"

Tugging his sock on, Mock merely mumbled.

"Answer me!" Greg insisted sharply.

"I--I'll do my best to march, sir."

"Then be sure you're ready by the time B company gets here, and be sure you march all the way in," Greg ordered sternly. He hated a shamming imitation of a soldier.

Major Bell and his staff came by at the head of the line, followed by Prescott and A company.

"Don't disappoint me, Sergeant," Greg warned his man.

Though his brow was black with wrath Sergeant Mock stood up by the time that the head of B company arrived.

"Take your place, Sergeant," Greg ordered, and waited to see his order obeyed, next running up to his own post.

Ten minutes later, as a group of carpenters from the rifle range paused at the roadside, Greg chanced to glance backward. He was just in time to see Sergeant Mock limping out of the line of file-closers to sit down at the roadside.

His jaws set, Greg Holmes darted back.

"That's enough of this, Mock," he called. "You can't sham in B company. Your feet, I suppose?"

"Yes, sir," groaned the sergeant.

"First two men of the rear four of B company fall out and come here," Captain Holmes shouted.

Instantly the two men detached themselves from the company and came running back.

"Fix your bayonets," Greg ordered. "Bring Sergeant Mock in at the rear of the battalion. If he shirks, prod him with the points of your bayonets. Don't be brutal, but make the sergeant keep up at the rear of the battalion."

"Sir---" began Mock protestingly.

"Quite enough for you, Sergeant Mock," Greg rapped out. "I'll have your feet examined by a surgeon when you come in. Unless the surgeon tells me that I'm wrong you may look for something to happen!"

As Greg turned and started to run back to the head of his company he thought he heard a sound like a hiss. In his opinion it came from some one in the group of carpenters, but he did not halt to investigate.

Though Mock limped all the way in, he came in exactly at the tail of the battalion. As the last company halted on the drill ground Sergeant Lund came back for him, relieving the guards.

"Mock, until you've been examined," said the top, "you're not to go beyond battalion bounds."

"Am I in arrest?" demanded Mock, his face set in ugly lines.

"You're confined within battalion bounds. Remember that," saying which First Sergeant Lund turned and strode away.

Nor was Mock a happy man. Holmes arranged that a regimental surgeon should come over to B company barracks later and make a careful examination of Sergeant Mock's feet. For some reason the surgeon did not come promptly. The evening meal was eaten, and darkness settled down over Camp Berry. Mock, still limping and looking woeful, kept out in the open air.

"Psst!" came sharply from somewhere, and Mock, turning, saw a man in civilian garb standing in the shadow of a latrine shed.

"Come here," called the stranger. Still surly, but urged by curiosity,

Mock obeyed the summons.

"I don't want to be seen talking with you," murmured the stranger, in a low voice, "but I want to offer you my sympathy. Say, but a man gets treated roughly in the Army. That captain of yours--"

As the stranger paused, looking keenly at Mock, the disgruntled sergeant finished vengefully:

"The captain? He's a dog!"

"Dog is right," agreed the stranger promptly. "Will he do anything more to you?"

"I expect he'll bust me," said Sergeant Mock.

To "bust" is the same as to "break." It means to reduce a non-com to the ranks.

"Are you going to stand it?" demanded the stranger.

"Fat chance I'll have to beat the captain's game!" declared Mock angrily.

"But are you going to pay him back?"

"How?"

"Listen. I was in the Army once, and I don't like these officer boys. Maybe I've something against your captain, too. Anyway, keep mum and take good advice, and I'll help you to make him wish he'd never been born."

"Not a chance!" dissented Sergeant Mock promptly. "Captain Holmes isn't afraid of anything, and besides he was born lucky. Besides that, do anything to hurt him, and you've got Captain Prescott against you, too, and ready to rip you up the back."

"It's as easy to put 'em both in bad as it is to do it to either," promised the stranger. "Now, listen. You---"

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