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   Chapter 11 IN THE WATERS OF THE SEA WOLVES

Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 16998

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Some days later the same ship steamed steadily through the waters on the further side of the Atlantic.

Nor was the Ninety-ninth alone. Seven other transports were keeping her company, together with a busy, bustling escort of British and American destroyers.

For these American adventurers of to-day were nearing the coast of Ireland.

Whether these transports were to unload their cargoes of human beings and munitions at any port in Great Britain or Ireland few on the transports knew, nor did those few tell others.

Ever since the first morning out there had been daily drills, on every transport, in abandoning ship. A few night drills, too, had been held. Not an officer or man was there but knew his station and his lifeboat in case of disastrous meeting with a submarine.

These had not been the only drills, however. From morning to night platoons had been drawn up on the decks and military drills had been all but incessant while daylight lasted. Especially had the newest recruits been drilled. By this time the latest of them to join the regiment had gained considerable of the appearance of the soldier.

Dick and Greg, sharing the same cabin, had been much together, for on shipboard they had found much leisure. It had been the lieutenants who had drilled the platoons. Captains were but little occupied on shipboard.

On the morning that it became known that the fleet had entered the Danger Zone, Dick and Greg stood on deck to the port of the pilot house. Leaning over the rail they idly scanned the surface of the sea to northward.

"Almost in France, my boy!" Prescott cried eagerly. "Or England!"

"Near enough, yet we may never see either country," returned Captain Holmes, suppressing a yawn, for the sea air, even after a night's rest, made him drowsy.

"Croaker!" laughed Dick.

"I'm not," Greg denied, "and I don't want to croak, either, but who can tell? We are now in the waters where the sea wolves have been busy enough in finding prey."

"So far they haven't proved that they could do much to troopships,"

Dick declared warmly.

"There always has to be a first time," Holmes retorted.

"All right, then," smiled Prescott. "We're going to be torpedoed.

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 a

ttackers 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!"

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