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

   Chapter 12 THE BEST OF DETAILS

Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 7369

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Boom! It was a dull sound, off to port. Then even the men who stood in the middle of the spar deck were able to see the top of a broad column of water that rose out of the ocean.

Major Wells so far forgot himself as to give vent to a yell of joy, then suddenly clapped a restraining hand over his own mouth.

"Sorry you men couldn't have seen that," the major called, leaning over the rail above and addressing the men on the spar deck. "A destroyer let go a depth charge, which exploded under water and threw up a geyser that would make hot water feel tired."

"Look at that now, Major," urged Captain Cartwright, pulling at his superior's sleeve. Major Wells walked to the side rail, looked out over the water, and had all he could do to keep back another yell of glee.

"There's something out there that's worth seeing, men, and it's visible," the major called down. "A great blot of oil on the water, and it's spreading. That shows that a submarine was knocked to flinders by that depth charge!"

In spite of orders a low, surging cheer started.

"Shade off on that noise, men!" Dick ordered briskly, holding up his hand and moving again through the crowd. "Remember that we cannot have any racket except what the guns make."

A few more guns were fired, and the racket died down.

"The show's over!" shouted Major Wells. "Evidently we got out of that meeting with less damage than the enemy sustained. We lost no craft, while Fritz has one pirate boat less. Our destroyers of the escort are now moving along straight courses once more."

On the saloon deck many of the officers turned and stepped inside. That set the fashion, for hundreds of enlisted men left their own decks and went below, either to sleep, read or write letters.

Then, a minute later, Major Wells once more appeared at the rail forward, calling down:

"For the benefit of those who like exact statistics I will say that the commanding officer has just received a signaled message to the effect that the navies of two countries got an enemy submarine apiece. You may omit the cheers!"

Those who remained on deck saw, a couple of hours later, several specks off on the water which, they were told, were British and American patrol boats out to give aid to victims of submarine sinkings.

Then night came on, dark, hazy, a bit chilling, so that officers and men alike were glad enough to seek their berths and get in under olive drab blankets.

"The haze and mist will hinder submarines anyway, so the weather is in our favor," was the word passed around.

Save for the guard, and those on other active duty, the passengers on the troopship slept soundly. They might be sunk in the night, but American fighting men do not always dwell on danger.

When first call sounded in the morning the men rubbed their eyes, then realized that the ship was proceeding at very slow speed.

"Get up, you lubbers!" called a man going down to one of the berth decks. "Do you realize that the ship is at the entrance of a French harbor?"

France?

Then a cheer went up that no officer could have stopped until it had spent its first force.

At last! France! "Over there!"

Never had men dressed faster. How the soldiers piled up the companionways! Yet a few bethought themselves to kick their now discarded life belts with a show of resentment and contempt.

However, the first glimpses had from the decks were bound to be disappointing. It was just after daylight. The mist of the night had thickened instead of vanishing. Here and there patchy bits of land could be seen through the haze, but for the most part France was invisible behind a curtain of early winter fog.

One at

a time, under the guidance of local pilots, transports moved slowly into the harbor, moved slowly some more, then docked.

Here at last, made fast to a French pier constructed by American engineer troops! But where were the cheering crowds of French? Absent, for two reasons. The French had already seen many regiments of American troops arrive in former months, and the novelty of such a sight had worn off. Besides, most of the French who lived in this same port were now just about quitting their own beds.

"Who'll be first ashore from this regiment?" demanded a laughing soldier as he witnessed the work of bringing the first gangway aboard from the pier.

"The guard!" tersely replied Captain Cartwright, as he appeared with a sergeant and a detachment from the guard. As soon as the gangway had been made fast sentries were thrown out, two of them being stationed at the foot of the gangway itself.

Then came a call the soldier never ignores. The buglers sounded the first mess-call of the day.

After the meal came inspection, after which, a company at a time, the men were sent over the side to the pier. A short distance up a street the men were halted, forming in two ranks at the side of the street. The reasons for all that followed were not clear to the newer men in the ranks.

While the men had been eating between decks the officers of the regiment had gone to their last ship's meal in the dining saloon. Before the meal was half over the adjutant had entered to call out:

"At the conclusion of the meal Major Wells, Captains Prescott and Holmes and First Lieutenant Terry will report at my office for instructions from the colonel."

"That's more interesting than clear," declared Greg, as soon as he had swallowed the food in his mouth. "I wonder why we four are wanted? What have we been doing and why are we the goats?"

"Probably," smiled Dick, "it is something to do with either praise or promotion--the two things that come most regularly to a soldier, you know."

Captain Holmes's curiosity reached such a high point that he would have bolted his food in order to get more quickly to the adjutant's office, but he noted that the battalion commander was not hurrying at all.

"Confound Wells!" the irrepressible Greg whispered to his chum. "I believe he knows what it's all about, and he knows that we cannot report before he's ready to do the same, so he's tormenting us by taking twice his usual amount of time to finish breakfast!"

"Keep cool," Dick returned dryly.

At last Major Wells finished his meal. He waited until he saw that the other three officers concerned with him in the orders had done the same. Then he inquired:

"Are you ready, gentlemen?"

Rising, Major Wells led the way above. When they entered the adjutant's office they found Colonel Cleaves standing there, chatting with a French major and two captains. Colonel Cleaves introduced his own officers, then added:

"Gentlemen, it is intended that as many as possible of the officers of this regiment shall go to the fighting front and spend some time there studying the actual war conditions. You four have been chosen for the first detail. Captain Ribaut is going to take you there. He will act as your guide and your mentor for the length of your visit to the front trenches."

Even the steady, unexcitable Major Wells showed his delight very plainly. To a soldier this was unexpected good luck, to start immediately, with the surety of finding himself speedily in the thick of things in the greatest war in the world's history!

"I have informed Captain Ribaut," Colonel Cleaves continued, "that you will be ready to leave the ship in an hour."

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