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   Chapter 4 AS IT IS DONE IN THE ARMY

Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 7054

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"That is your handwriting, is it not, Captain Prescott?" demanded the regimental commander.

"It looks just like my handwriting, sir, but I'll swear that I never wrote it," declared astonished Dick, still staring at the little piece of paper.

"Yet it resembles your handwriting?"

"Yes, sir. If I didn't know positively that I didn't write any such message then I'd be about ready to admit that it is my handwriting. But I didn't write it, sir."

"Pass it to Captain Holmes. I will ask him if he has seen this note before."

"No, sir," declared Greg, very positively, though he, too, was startled, for it was hard to persuade himself that he was not looking down at his chum's familiar handwriting.

The note read:

"Dear H. Stick to what we agreed upon, and we can cook C's goose without trouble. P."

"May I speak, sir?" asked Dick.

"Yes, Captain."

"Then I desire to say, sir, that I have not the least desire to see Captain Cartwright in any trouble. Hence, it would have been impossible for me to think of writing such a note. More, sir, it would have been stupid of me to risk writing such a note, for Captain Holmes and I sat in my quarters until it was time for us to leave on our way to our respective company offices."

"And while in your quarters did you discuss this affair of your trouble with Captain Cartwright?"

"To the best of my recollection, sir, we did not mention it," Dick declared.

"Is that your recollection, Captain Holmes?"

"Yes, sir."

"And this is not your handwriting, Captain Prescott?"

"I give you my word of honor, sir, that I did not write it, and did not even discuss the matter with Captain Holmes."

"I do not understand this note in the least," Colonel Cleaves went on. "Of course, Captain Prescott, I am bound to accept your assurance that you did not write this. I do not know how the note came here; all I know about it is that I found it on my desk, under a paper weight, about fifteen minutes ago, when I came in."

"It is the work of some trouble-maker, sir," Greg ventured.

"Do you know anything about this note, Captain Cartwright?"

"No, sir," replied that officer, flushing at the intimation that he could have had anything to do with it, for Greg had passed the paper to him.

"I will keep that note, then," said Colonel Cleaves, taking it, "in the hope that I may later find out how it came to be here. Captain Cartwright, do you deny that Captain Prescott did no more than to parry your blows and thrust you back off your balance?"

"That was all he did, sir."

"And you made two distinct efforts to hit him?"

"Y-y-yes, sir."

"Was anything said that, in your opinion, justified you in attempting to strike a brother officer?"

"At the time I thought Captain Holmes had justified my attempt to \ strike him."

"Do you still think so?"

"N-no, sir. I was undoubtedly too impetuous."

"And you attempted to strike Captain Prescott only because he tried to restrain you from striking a brother officer?"

"Yes, sir."

"Is there anything more to be said or explained by any of you gentlemen?"

"Nothing, sir," came from three pairs of lips.

"Then, since none of you wishes to prefer charges," pursued Colonel Cleaves, "I will say that the whole affair, as far as it has been explained to me, looks like a childish quarrel to have taken place between officers and gentlemen. On the statements made to me, I will say that I believe that Captain Cartwright was most to blame. I therefore take this opportunity

to rebuke him. Captain Prescott, of course, you understand that I accept your assurance that you did not write the note I showed you. Keep the peace after this, gentlemen, and make an honest effort to promote brotherliness of spirit with all the officers of the service, and especially of this regiment. That is all."

Saluting, the three captains stepped out into the sunlight. The sentry pacing on headquarters post swung his rifle from shoulder arms down to port arms, then came to present arms before the officers, who acknowledged his formal courtesy by bringing their hands up smartly to the brims of their campaign hats.

"Well, that's over!" announced Cartwright, in a tone of relief.

"And will never be repeated," said Greg.

"But you will admit, Holmes, that you've picked a good deal on me, from time to time," Cartwright pressed, in a half-aggrieved tone.

"I will admit, for you both," smiled Dick, "that you're in danger of starting something all over again unless you shut up and make a fresh, better start. So we won't refer to personal matters again, but we come to your company's barracks first, Cartwright, and when we get there we will shake hands and agree to remember that we're all engaged in a fierce effort to make the Ninety-ninth the best American regiment."

In silence the three pursued their way to C company's building.

Here they halted.

"To the Ninety-ninth, best of 'em all," proposed Prescott, holding out his hand to Cartwright, who took and pressed it.

"To the best officers' crowd in the service," quoth Greg.

"Amen to that!" assented Cartwright, though he strode away with a dull red flush burning on either cheek.

Half an hour later Dick's business took him past the regiment's guard-house. As carpenters were everywhere busy in camp putting up more necessary buildings the place officially known as the guard-house was more of a bullpen. Posts had been driven deeply in the form of a rectangle, and on these barbed wire had been laid to a height of nine feet. Within the rectangle guard-house prisoners could take the air, retiring to either of two tents inside the enclosure whenever they wished.

As he passed Dick noted, vaguely, that four or five men stood by the nearer line of barbed wire fence. He held up his left hand to glance at his wrist watch. Just as he turned the hand, to let it fall at his side, something dropped out of the air, falling squarely in his hand. Instinctively Prescott's fingers closed over the missile. He glanced, quickly, at the enclosure, but not one of the men on the other side of the wire was looking his way.

Then the young captain, keeping briskly on his way, opened his hand to glance down at his unexpected catch. It was a piece of manila paper, wrapped around a stone.

Waiting only until he was some distance from the bull-pen, Dick unwrapped the paper.

In printed characters, used undoubtedly to disguise handwriting, was this message:

"Watch for all you're worth the carpenter who talks with Mock!"

"Now, why on earth should I interest myself in the affairs of Greg's busted sergeant?" Dick wondered. "And what possible interest can I have in any carpenter unless he's a friend of mine, or has business with me?"

On the whole Prescott felt that he was lowering his own dignity to attach any importance to an anonymous message, plainly from a guardhouse prisoner. Yet he dropped the small stone and thrust the scrap of paper into a pocket for future consideration should he deem it worth while.

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