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   Chapter 3 BAD BLOOD COMES TO THE SURFACE

Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 15518

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Later in the evening the surgeon came around. After examining Sergeant Mock's feet for twenty minutes, and testing the skin as well, he pronounced Mock a shammer.

Mock was sent to the guard-house for twenty-four hours. The next morning an order was published reducing the sergeant to the rank of private. Yet, on the whole, the ex-sergeant looked pleased in a sullen, disagreeable sort of way. He had listened to the stranger.

Greg, however, had other troubles on his hands. After the noon meal that day, as he was on his way to his quarters upstairs Captain Cartwright passed him in the corridor.

"I hear you're turning martinet," said Cartwright, with a disagreeable smile.

"Very likely," smiled Holmes, "but what are the specifications?"

"I heard that you had a sergeant busted for having an opinion of his own."

"That's not so," Greg declared promptly.

"Do you mean to tell me I'm a liar?" Cartwright asked flushing.

"Did I understand you to charge me with preferring unjustifiable charges against a sergeant in my company?"

"I said I heard you had busted a sergeant for doing his own thinking," the other captain insisted.

"Cartwright, it's difficult for me to guess at what you're driving," Holmes went on, patiently, "but I've already told you that I did nothing of the kind that you allege."

"That's calling me a liar again!" flamed Cartwright.

"I'm sorry if it is," returned Greg coolly, and turned toward his door.

"You cannot call me a liar!" cried Captain Cartwright, taking a quick step forward, his fists clenched.

"Apparently I don't have to," scoffed Holmes. "You're eager to claim the title for yourself."

Up flew the other captain's fist. But just then a door opened behind him, and Dick Prescott caught the uplifted fist in tight, vise-like hold.

"Don't do that, Cartwright," he advised.

"Let me alone," insisted the other striving though failing to release his captured wrist.

"Don't do anything rash, Cartwright. Listen to good sense; then I am going to let go of your wrist. If you were to strike Holmes he would be practically bound to thrash you, or else to prefer charges. In either case the matter would get before a court-martial. My testimony, from what I overheard, would have to sustain Holmes."

"You two would swear for each other anywhere and at all times," sneered Captain Cartwright.

This was hinting that Dick Prescott would be willing to perjure himself, and Dick flushed, though with difficulty he kept his patience.

"I'm going to let go of you now, Cartwright," Prescott continued.

As Dick let go of the captured wrist Captain Cartwright wheeled and aimed a vicious blow at his brother officer's face.

But Prescott's arm thrust up his adversary's.

"Stop it, Cartwright!"

Apparently the other could not control his anger. He aimed another savage blow. Dick parried with a thrust, but this time his other fist landed on Cartwright's chest with force enough to send him staggering to a fall on the floor.

At this moment a step was heard on the stairway.

"Gentlemen! Stop this! What does it mean?"

The voice was full of authority and outraged dignity. Colonel

Cleaves, his eyes flashing, stood before them.

"Get up, Captain Cartwright," he commanded. "I must have an instant explanation of this scene. Officers and gentlemen cannot conduct themselves like rowdies."

Captain Cartwright forced himself to smile as he saluted; he even tried to look forgiving.

"A little frolic, sir," he made haste to say, "that developed into bad blood for the moment." I do not wish to prefer any charges."

"Do you, Captain Prescott?" demanded the colonel.

"No, sir."

"You, Captain Holmes?"

"No, sir."

If any of the trio had hoped this much explanation would prove satisfactory to the E.O. of the Ninety-ninth, that one had reckoned without his host.

"A misunderstanding that develops to the point of a knock-down blow is never a trifling matter," declared Colonel Cleaves. "If you gentlemen had assured me that it was all frolic then I would have thought no more of it. But I have been assured that there was a misunderstand--a quarrel that proceeded to blows. And I myself saw one man down and signs of very evident anger on all your faces. Gentlemen, do you wish to offer me any further explanation at this moment?"

"I have said all that I really can say, sir," protested Cartwright, "except that I do not harbor any unkind feelings for what has taken place."

Steps were heard on the stairs, and other officers of the Ninety-ninth came upon the scene.

"As no charges have been preferred," said Colonel Cleaves, "I will not order any of you relieved from duty. I will notify all three of you, however, at a later hour, and will then hear you all in my office. I trust a most satisfactory explanation all around will be forthcoming."

Colonel Cleaves then turned to the group of officers that had just arrived, saying:

"Lieutenant Terry, you were kind enough to offer to loan me a book on rifle range construction. I am aware that you have not yet had a chance to send it over to me, but as I was passing, I decided to drop in and ask it from you."

"In an instant, sir," replied Noll Terry. Saluting, he darted down the corridor, opened his door and came back with the volume.

"I am indebted to you, Mr. Terry," said Colonel Cleaves, returning the first lieutenant's second salute and turning to go.

Until they had heard the colonel go out upon the steps below the entire group of younger officers stood as though spell-bound. But at last one of them broke out with:

"I hope nothing really nasty is afoot. Three of you look as though the moon were clouded with mischief for some one."

"You'll pardon us, won't you?" smiled Dick pleasantly, as he turned to go back into his quarters. "You will realize, as we do, that the first discussion of the matter should take place before the commanding officer."

Greg followed his chum in.

"Oh it's nothing," they heard Captain Cartwright assure the others. "It ought to blow over, and I hope it will. A certain officer took what I thought too much liberty with me, and when I resented it his friend took a hand in the matter. I hope we can set it all straight before Colonel Cleaves."

Behind the closed door, hearing what was said, Prescott turned on his friend with eyebrows significantly raised. Greg nodded. No word was spoken.

Apparently Captain Cartwright also went to his quarters, for the steps of many sounded outside, and then all was still.

Prescott had picked up a book and was reading. Greg walked over to the window and stood looking out into the sun-baked company street.

"I must go over to company office for an hour or so," announced Captain Dick, glancing at his wrist watch and laying down his book at last. "After that I'll go out and see how the platoon commanders are getting along with their new work. I hear that we're to have some drafts of new men to-morrow."

"Yes," Greg nodded. "Recruits from Chicago, and also from Boston. Some day we may hope to have our companies filled up to full strength."

"Small chance to get over to France until our companies are filled," Prescott smiled, as he stood up, looked himself over and started for the door.

Captain Greg Holmes followed at his heels. No word was spoken of the recent trouble with Cartwright, not even when they crossed the road below and started for their respective company offices.

Paper work engrossed Prescott's attention for an hour or so. During this time he occasionally glanced up to note what was taking place beyond the window in front of his desk. His four second lieutenants were in command of the platoons to-day, instead of sergeants.

The young officers were instructing their men in the first essentials of bayonet combat.

The last piece of paper disposed of, Prescott at last arose, stretched slightly, then strode out of the office to the drill ground.

He was just in time to hear one of his lieutenants explaining to a line of men:

"When pursuing a retreating enemy one of the most effective thrusts with the bayonet can be delivered right here. Learn to mark the spot well."

Half-turning, the lieutenant pointed to the spot in the small of his own back, before he went on, impressively:

"A bayonet thrust there will drive the blade through a kidney. 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.

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