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   Chapter 13 OFF TO SEE FRITZ IN HIS WILD STATE

Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 11187

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


By the time that Dick and his brother officers left the ship in the wake of Captain Ribaut, the infantrymen massed along the nearby street had been gladdened by the sight of a few score of French women and children who came to the water front to look on.

Half of the regiment was now ashore and the rest were going over the side slowly.

At the head of the pier Captain Cartwright saluted Major Wells and Captain Ribaut, and found chance to say to Prescott in a low tone:

"You're always one of the lucky ones! How do you manage it?"

"I don't know that there is any system possible in inviting luck,"

Dick smiled.

"You're going right up to the actual front. You'll see Fritz in his wild state. I envy you!"

"Your turn will come, Cartwright."

"It can't come too soon then. For to-day, and the next few days,

I can't see anything ahead of me but drudgery."

Ever since that quarrel at Camp Berry, Cartwright had kept mostly away from Prescott and Holmes. Dick, who knew the captain for an indolent chap, didn't know whether, in other respects, he liked him. To most of the officers of the Ninety-ninth Cartwright appeared to be more unfortunate than worthless.

"Gentlemen," said Captain Ribaut, when they had passed the head of the pier, "I think that I can obtain a car if you wish it. What is your pleasure?"

"Thank you, but we've been on shipboard for so many days that we'll enjoy the chance to stretch our legs," replied Major Wells. "A walk of a few miles would do us a lot of good this morning."

"It is not that far," replied the French captain, who spoke excellent

English. "The distance is, I should say, about two kilometers."

As that meant a little more than a mile the party walked off briskly.

"Why, this doesn't look really like a French town," declared Major

Wells.

"You Americans have been coming here for so many months that you have made the city American," explained Captain Ribaut. "See, even the shops display signs in English, and very few in French. It is on American money that these shops thrive. Here comes one of our own poilus, a sight you will not see many times in this American town on French soil."

Poilus is a French word meaning "shaggy," and is commonly applied to the French enlisted man. As this French soldier drew close he brought up his hand in smart salute to his own officer and the Americans. Greg turned to look back, but the French soldier was no longer looking their way.

Up the street, away from where the Ninety-ninth American sentries were posted, soldiers of the American military police patrolled.

"You see how American this city has become," said Captain Ribaut. "Here French law runs only for citizens of France. Your American military authorities look after your own men."

French shopkeepers, speaking a quaint, broken English, came to their shop doors to greet the Americans, even to urge the newcomers to enter and buy, but Captain Ribaut waved all such aside with a simple gesture.

Further on they passed through a public square. By this time many French people were about, but Dick noted that they betrayed no curiosity over the appearance of newly arrived American officers. The sight had become an old story to these people who, however, bowed courteously as they passed.

Down other streets Ribaut led the way, and so they arrived at last at a railway station.

"We are about in time," remarked the Frenchman, after glancing at his wrist watch. "We shall get our seats in the train, and then we shall not wait long."

Past French guards and saluting railway employees the little party went. As the train was already made up the Frenchman led them to a first-class coach, a train guard throwing open the door. They entered and seated themselves.

"You will see that none others are shown into this compartment," said Captain Ribaut to the guard in French. The door was closed.

"After we leave the station there will be something to see," explained their guide. "Yet France is not very attractive in such weather. Up at the front, though, there is nothing at all of France left. There is nothing but bare ground, full of shell-holes. The whole face of nature has been denuded and blackened by the atrocious enemy."

When the train had been under way a couple of minutes Captain

Ribaut leaned forward.

"Look over there," he said, "and you will see where your regiment will he housed for the next two or three days. After that the regiment will entrain and will go to one of the regular training camps, where you will find it on your return from the front."

His American hearers looked out on a large village of unpainted pine barracks buildings.

"That is a rest camp for troops when first they come from the transport," explained Captain Ribaut. "Even the barracks are American, built in sections in your country, then shipped over here and set up. The village you are passing will shelter two regiments of American infantry."

Before long the Americans found themselves much more interested in the French officer's conversation than in the glimpses of his country that were obtainable. Captain Ribaut had served from the beginning of the war and was familiar with every trick of fighting practiced at the front. He had a wealth of information to give them--so much, in fact, that before long Dick Prescott began to jot down information in a notebook.

Toward the end of the forenoon a soldier came aboard at one station with an outfit of dishes on two long trays. He was followed by two others bearing food and coffee. These were set out and

the soldiers departed, the travelers falling to with a relish. At a station beyond, the dishes were removed by other soldiers. Then the train rolled slowly on its way.

"There is much in our travel facilities that I shall have to beg you to excuse," said Captain Ribaut rather wistfully. "France is not what it was, not even in the matter of its railways."

"France is not what she was," retorted Major Wells quickly, "because, glorious as she, was, she has gone up infinitely higher in the human scale. Could any other country in the world have stood the ravages of war so long and still live and contain so brave and resolute a people? Never mind your railways, Captain. It is the people, not the railways, who make a country. Your French people compel our constant and most willing admiration."

At another railway station, as the train halted, and the guard opened the door briefly, a low, sullen rumbling could be heard.

"Do you have thunderstorms at this time of the year, Captain?" asked Lieutenant Terry.

"Ah, but yes," replied the Frenchman. "It is a German thunderstorm that you hear in the distance--artillery."

"I feel like a fool!" exclaimed Noll Terry flushing. "Of course

I should have recognized the sound of distant cannon-fire."

"Don't feel badly about it, Mr. Terry," said Major Wells. "In all your career in the American Army you have never heard as much cannon-fire as you can hear in a single hour on the battle-front in France."

At the next station the rumbling was much louder. French soldiers were becoming more numerous. At times an entire French regiment could be seen marching along a road.

"At the next station," announced Captain Ribaut, "we shall find ourselves at the end of our rail journey. We are nearing the front. If you are interested, gentlemen, there goes one of our French airplane squadrons on its way to the front."

Instantly all four Americans were craning their necks at the windows. High in the air, the French aircraft in flight looked as graceful as swallows on the wing.

"They are battleplanes," explained Captain Ribaut further. "Some of the Hun flyers are almost sure of a tumble this afternoon."

When the American party alighted at the last station on the line, and looked back, they beheld long trains of freight cars coming slowly along. The train from which they had descended was hauled out and quickly shunted out of the way on a siding. The freight trains pulled in, going to various sidings before huge warehouses in which the food and fighting supplies were stored until wanted closer to the front. It was a scene of deafening noise and what looked like indescribable confusion. Yet everything moved according to a plan.

"Let us come where we can hear our own voices!" shouted Captain Ribaut in the major's ear, and led the way. Behind the station they found a limousine car awaiting them. As there were seats for five inside, the travelers soon found themselves vastly more comfortable than they had been on the train.

"We will drive slowly," said Captain Ribaut, after he had given his orders to a soldier chauffeur, "for one does not usually go into the trenches until after dark. There will be plenty to see on the way, and enough to talk about."

At one point Captain Ribaut directed the soldier-driver to turn the machine into a field. Here the Americans alighted to see seemingly endless streams of French "camions" go by. These are heavy motor trucks that carry supplies to the front.

"And here come some vehicles from the front that tell their own story," spoke Captain Ribaut rather sadly.

In another moment the first of a string of at least half a hundred small cars went by at rapid speed toward the rear. Each car bore the device of the Red Cross.

"There has been disagreeable work, and our wounded are going back," explained Captain Ribaut. "But my friends," he cried suddenly, "I congratulate you on what you are privileged to see. These are not our French ambulances, but some of your own cars, given to France, and young men from America are driving them."

That these were American ambulance sections in French service there could be no doubt, for as the drivers caught sight of the American uniforms they offered informal salutes in high glee. It was reserved for one gleeful young American, however, to call out, as his ambulance whizzed by:

"Hullo, buddies! Welcome to our city!"

"If that young man were in the American Army I would feel obliged to try to have him stopped," said Major Wells good-humoredly. "That was not the real American form of salutation to officers, but I know the youngster felt genuinely glad to see us so close to the front."

"They are a happy lot, perhaps sometimes a trifle too merry," said Captain Ribaut half-apologetically. "But they are splendid, these young Americans of yours who drive ambulances for us. They never know the meaning of fear, and after a great battle they are devotion itself to duty. They will drive as long as they can sit and hold the wheel. There would have been many more aching hearts in France to-day had it not been for the fine young Americans who came over here with American cars to help us look after our wounded!"

Presently the party entered the car again. Every mile that they covered took them closer to the Inferno of shell-fire. More ambulance cars whizzed by.

Then the visitors' car drew up before an unpretentious looking house just off the main road.

"If you will come inside," invited Captain Ribaut, "I know that our general of division will be delighted to meet you."

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