CIVIL WAR STORIES BY WARREN LEE GOSS
IN THE NAVY, (7th Thousand) Illustrated, 399 Pages, A Story of naval adventures during the Civil war.
“The Marine Journal” says of it: “The author, takes as usual for his fiction, a foundation of reality, and therefore the story reads like a transcript of real life. There are many dramatic scenes, such as the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac, and the reader follows the adventures of the two heroes with a keen interest that must make the story popular especially at the present time.”
TOM CLIFTON, A story of adventures in Grant and Sherman’s armies. (13th Thousand) Illustrated, 480 pages. 12mo. Cloth.
“The Detroit Free Press” says of it, “The book is the very epitome of what the young soldiers, who helped to save the Union, felt, endured and enjoyed. It is wholesome, stimulating to patriotism and manhood, noble in tone, unstained by any hint of sectionalism, full of good feeling; the work of a hero who himself did what he saw and relates.”
JACK ALDEN: Adventures in the Virginia Campaigns, 1861-65. (12th Thousand) Illustrated, 404 pages.
“The New York Nation” says of it: “It is an unusually interesting story. Its pictures of scenes and incidents of army life, from the march of the 6th Massachusetts regiment through Baltimore to the surrender at Appomattox, are among the best that we can remember to have read.”
JED. A boy’s adventures in the army. (28th Thousand) Illustrated, 402 pages. 12mo. Cloth.
“The Boston Beacon” among other complimentary remarks about this book says: “Of all the many stories of the Civil War that have been published—and their name is legion—it is not possible to mention one which for sturdy realism, intensity of interest, and range of narrative, can compare with Jed.”
A LIFE OF GRANT FOR BOYS AND GIRLS. Illustrated. 12mo. Cloth.
“The Christian Advocate” (Cincinnati) says of it: “One of the best lives of U. S. Grant that we have seen—clear, circumstantial, but without undue and fulsome praise. The chapters telling of the clouds of misfortune and suffering over the close of his life are pathetic in the extreme.”
THE BOY’S LIFE OF GENERAL SHERIDAN. Illustrated. 12mo. Cloth.
The “Living Church” (Milwaukee) says of it: “The story of the dashing officer in his war career and also afterwards—in his campaigns among the Indians, form a thrilling story of American leadership. The book contains a thorough review in thrilling language of the various campaigns in which Sheridan made his mark.”
Order from your bookseller. Send for Catalogue.
THOMAS Y. CROWELL COMPANY, NEW YORK
During the progress of the Great War, the writer has been often requested by his boy friends and others, both by letter and verbally, to write a book like “Jed” (“A Boy’s Adventures in the Army, ’61-’65”) depicting the scenes of this later war. Some of them have even suggested that he recreate some of the characters therein. To do this, of course, was a logical impossibility, since those not killed in that story would be too old for military service. Prompted, however, by that demand, he has taken a nephew of Jed as the hero of this story. Incited by his mother’s patriotism, and her recital of her brother Jed’s heroism, he enlists and serves his country on the battlefields of France.
The author’s main purpose in writing this book, as with his other books, is to stimulate a true spirit of Americanism. Patriotism thrives best where it is best nourished, and is not a plant of accidental growth. The Posts of the Grand Army of the Republic through their exercises on Memorial and other patriotic days, and their teachings of patriotism in the public schools, have been springs of liberty flowing throughout the land nourishing a love of country in our youth. That all this has borne fruit is shown by the spirit in which the boys of to-day have sprung to the defence of human liberty in the great conflict of their own time.
We have been privileged to see the last shreds of hatred left over from our Civil War burned away in a fervor of patriotism, that has sent the sons of the Gray shoulder to shoulder with the sons of the Blue to the defence of liberty on the fields of France and Belgium.
If the writer has made clear that the young manhood of America has the same spirit to-day as had their fathers, in our great conflict of the sixties, and as had the Nathan Hales of the Revolution, he will have satisfied his own aspirations.
THE TRAMP BOY
It was November, in the year 1914. The snow had come with the gloom of twilight, and an angry wind whistled over the Western Massachusetts hills.
I was then a lad, trying to fill his father’s place on the farm. I had just finished milking when I heard Bill Jenkins, our hired man, call out in rasping tones, “No, there’s no work for you here, I tell you!”
Turning, I saw at the barnyard gate the person to whom Bill had spoken. He was a tall slim boy apparently near my own age, fourteen.
“What is it, Bill?” I said; “what does he want?”
“You run along with your milkin’ pail,” said Bill. “I’ll ’tend to him. You don’t know nothin’ ’bout dealin’ with tramps.”
I repeated my question, and the boy answered, “I am looking for work.”
“An’ I told you there’s no work here for you,” said Bill roughly. “An’ if you can’t understand such plain words as them air, you’ll have to get a dictionary.”
“Can’t I stay here over night?” persisted the boy. “I can pay for my lodging. It’s getting dark, and these parts are strange to me.”
There was something in the high-pitched voice that told me the lad was weak as well as cold, and the trembling tones appealed to me more strongly than the request itself. There was, too, a peculiar accent in them that excited my curiosity. So before Bill could again interfere I answered,
“Yes, you can stay; and if there is no other bed, you can sleep with me. I am sure mother will be willing.”
“You are soft and foolish. You don’t understand folks that go traipsing ’round the country,” growled Bill. But ignoring his protests I led the way to the house, with the strange boy following.
When we reached the kitchen and the lights were brought, Bill, with a surly air, carried the pail to the milk room. Mother coming in saw the boy and asked, “Who is this, David?”
“A boy who wants to stay all night, Mother,” I replied, “and I have invited him to sleep with me. Can he?”
“What’s your name?” asked mother, turning to the boy and looking him over with an inquiring glance that meant more than words.
“Jonathan Nickerson—they call me Jot for short. That is not my whole name, only a part of it. My father is ’way off, I don’t know just where, and my mother is dead; I couldn’t agree with the folks she has been staying with, so I must find work or go hungry.” As he spoke of his mother, his voice grew husky as though he were keeping back the tears.
There was a straightforwardness in his answer that pleased mother, as I knew it would, for she liked direct answers to questions. This may account for her keeping Bill Jenkins in her service most of the time since the Civil War, where he had served as a drummer for three months. He had appeared at her father’s door, ragged and disgusted with military life, after the battle of Bull Run, from which he had beaten his way with some of the rest of those who had got back to Washington.
Mother looked at the boy keenly from over her spectacles, but made no remarks, while I summed him up, as follows: He was very dark, thin in feature and in person, his eyes dark and bright, chin prominent; and notwithstanding thin-patched clothes and apparent weakness, there was a manner of independence and decision that cannot be expressed in words.
“Come here, Mother!” I said, turning to another room.
“What do you want now?” asked mother.
“Don’t turn him away in the cold and dark,” I pleaded. “Suppose I had no place to sleep tonight, out in the wind and snow.”
“He looks clean, if he is patched and darned, and seems a decent boy,” she said in an undertone, as though thinking aloud, and then added, “Yes, David, he can sleep in the ell bedroom. It is cold there, but there are plenty of good comforters, and I guess he can put up with it, if we can; and as our Master said, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it to the least—’” and she left the quotation unended.
Supper was ready, and mother said to the boy, “Yes, you can stay here tonight, and if you have not had your supper, sit up to the table with us.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” he replied sturdily, “but I have no money to pay for my supper—only enough to pay for my lodging—only twenty five cents at that.
“I did not say anything about pay,” said mother; “you are welcome to your supper.”
“Mother told me never to take anything without paying in some way for it,” he protested; “and I am not very hungry.”
Mother gave him another searching look, as if to learn whether there was any purpose back of his words, and then as though satisfied, said with softening voice, “Never mind about that, my boy; if you are not afraid of work, you may pay for your supper and breakfast too. There is plenty to do here.”
When he asked for a place to wash, and had gone to the kitchen sink for that purpose, mother remarked, “The pail is empty and the pump doesn’t work; so you must go to the well for some water.”
When supper was ended, Jonathan asked, “May I try to fix your pump, m’am?”
Mother hesitated, glanced at Bill, and then replied with a smile, “Yes, you may try. At any rate you can’t make it any worse than it has been, since Bill fussed with it.”
Jonathan went to work with his jackknife and such tools as were at hand. He had not more than started, however, when Bill came in with an armful of wood for the kitchen stove. Stopping at the pump he said in his dictatorial tones, “You can’t do nothin’ with that pump! I’ve tried it, an’ I tell you it’s past mending by any botch or boy. An’ I tell Miss Stark it will be cheaper to buy a new one, by gosh! For I put in a half a day tryin’ to fix it.”
Jonathan, without reply, kept on with his mending and, to our surprise, after half an hour had the pump working.
“Where did you learn to fix pumps?” mother inquired in a pleased manner.
“Our pump got out of order once, and the man who fixed it explained its working to me, and I have learned about them otherwise since.”
“That pump,” said the disgruntled Bill, “will be out of order again as quick as scat, or I miss my guess.”
“You see,” said Jot, ignoring Bill, “that piece of leather is a valve and must fit quite tight. When the air is pumped out, the water comes up to fill the partial vacuum. All I have done is to limber and adjust the valve so that it fits tighter.”
“My!” said mother trying the pump, “it works quite well, and it does not matter where you learned it; you have earned your supper and breakfast too, for we would have had to send to Chester for a man to repair it, besides the inconvenience of waiting.”
The next morning mother asked Jot what pay he would want to do the chores and other light work about the place. “I will work a month,” he replied, “and you shall say how much I am worth.”
The answer pleased mother since it seemed to insure faithful service.
Thus it was that Jonathan Nickerson came to work on the Stark farm.
My father, Captain David Stark, had been a soldier in the Civil War. He had enlisted when only sixteen years of age and, by military aptitude and bravery, had won a captain’s commission, before he was twenty-one.
Over the mantel of our front room, secluded from light and flies except when we had company, hung a sword which had been presented to him, so its inscription read, by his admiring officers and men.
He had married my mother some years younger than he, quite late in life, and I was their only child. He had died before I remembered much about him.
One day Jot noticed the sword and read its inscription. He removed his hat reverently and said: “I would like to be a brave soldier like him. My mother’s only brother, Lieutenant Jedediah Hoskins, was killed while leading a charge, just before the surrender at Appomattox. She was but a little child when that occurred, but she had his back pay and other property to help us, and often called me Jed’s Boy, hoping that I would be like him.”
Jonathan, or Jot as we began to call him, was careful and handy; he repaired locks, and even put in running order a disregarded mowing machine that Bill, who didn’t like “new fangled farming,” declared was good for nothing. We soon began to regard him as one of the family, and mother liked him because, as she said, he was both honest and careful and “had not a lazy bone in his body.”
Bill usually read the weekly newspaper in the evening, sometimes commenting aloud on what he read. One evening while reading he looked up exclaiming, “Gosh!”
“What is it, Bill,” I asked, “anybody dead?”
“Matter! The Germans are marching on Paris”, he answered, “and there has been the all-firedest fightin’ you ever heard tell of.” Then Bill read aloud the news of the first fighting in the Great World War.
“I believe,” he concluded excitedly, “that I shall have to go myself and help lick them consarned Dutch.”
“I wouldn’t,” said mother with a gleam of fun in her eyes, for she liked to tease Bill, “You might wear yourself out, as you did at Bull Run, scampering back.”
“Well,” acknowledged Bill with a grimace, “I am getting old, and I like farmin’ a consarned sight better than I do fightin’; but when I read ’bout them Germans tryin’ to run over everybody, it makes my dander rise, darned if it don’t!” And Bill was not the only one of us who felt that way.
Then we got Bill to tell us about his experience in the Bull Run campaign. So he gave his version of that battle—even the running away, which, however does not concern this narrative.
“Didn’t you think it a shame,” asked mother, “to run away?”
“Well,” admitted Bill, “as a matter of glory it was, but as we fightin’ fellers see it then, it looked like common sense, plagued if it didn’t! A man will get sca’t at things he ain’t used to. Them fellers that run wouldn’t do it again—if the other fellers didn’t. I wouldn’t wonder if I would stand to the rack an’ take the fodder that was coming, myself, if I was in another fight. And then my time was most eout, and I was all the time thinkin’ ’twas best to go home on my legs instead of in a box, when my time was up.”
“Were you scared, Bill?” I asked.
“Gosh, yes! the fust of it, my hair stood up so straight that I thought it would take my hat off. But I had spunk to stand it, in spite of being sca’t—’till the others run. D’ yo’ know that I think it takes more courage f’r a sca’t man to stand fire, than it does for a brave man.”
And I have since learned, from experience, that it is indeed a brave man who, being frightened, still keeps his place in battle.
WORKING ON THE FARM
The winter school had closed, and my spring work on the farm had begun. Boys of my age in New England, at least farmer boys, did not, as a rule, attend school in summer: it was thought that winter schooling was enough. My mother, however, intended for me to graduate in the high school later. Like most New England people, mother believed in the potency of work as a needful part of a boy’s or girl’s education. Work, she declared never hurt any one; while laziness and the feeling that one is too good to work were the foundation of shiftlessness and poverty. People must fight for anything worth having, and farming is a fight with the soil to make it yield a living.
“Your father,” she would say, “was a farmer and a good one; he believed as religiously in fighting the soil and keeping down the weeds, as he believed in fighting the Confederates and putting down the Rebellion. If you expect this farm to be yours, and to pay off the mortgage on it,” she would add, “you have got to learn about the work, or the rocks and weeds will get the best of you, and it will be of no use when you get it. You will be selling it, and spending the money, and become a shack of a man like some others who think they are too good to work.”
“But you have succeeded in working the farm,” I argued, “without knowing the work practically.”
“Yes,” she admitted, “but I was brought up on this farm and have learned what it will best raise. I know the business part; but if I understood the farm better I wouldn’t have to stand Bill Jenkins’ dictation, when he wants to have his way instead of mine.”
“What makes you keep him,” I asked; “he growls about what you ought to do, instead of taking your orders and obeying them.”
“He is faithful,” she replied, “and is to be trusted. If you can’t trust a man, he is of no use to you anywhere.”
Although Jot had now been with us long enough to receive several months’ pay, he still wore the same suit of clothes as when he came to the Stark farm. I afterward learned it was because he had been paying for his mother’s sickness and funeral. He was still reticent about his father, and would give no account of himself, except a general one. He talked, however, quite freely about his mother, and about his uncle Jed, and was intensely patriotic.
“I would like to fight for this country, as my uncle did,” he would sometimes say, “if I should ever be needed.”
We continued to read the news of the war as it came across the sea. Our hearts were thrilled at even the meagre recital given in our weekly paper, of that great adventure of arms, when like a lion the great French general with his brave army, stood in the path of German invasion and said, “They shall not pass!”
On the farm, meanwhile, Jot had been proving the correctness of mother’s judgment that he would be worth more than his keep. Among other traits brought out by acquaintance was one striking one. He was passionately fond of animals, and had a control over them that was seemingly the result of sympathy. In mowing time, when I would be tired enough to be resting, he would often be playing with our two year old colt, Jack; and he seldom came into the pasture without an apple or some dainty for him. The colt was of Hambletonian stock, high spirited, and when with Jot full of play.
One day, after we had been mowing hay, mother said, “Bill, there is a shower coming up, and you had better give the boys a little rest.”
“Well, Miss Stark, I guess it will be a good plan, while we are loafing, to give Jack a little training. He’s about the hardest scamp of a colt I ever see.”
But as Bill in his former attempts to train Jack had lost his temper and struck and kicked him, he found it hard to catch him.
“Let me try to catch him for you, Mr. Jenkins,” said Jot.
“What do you know about colts?” said Bill crossly.
“I got acquainted with him down in the pasture, and will try and catch him for you, if you are willing.”
Jot’s respectful manner mollified Bill and he assented, saying:
“Well, go ahead with your sleight of hand with the critter; but I can tell you, he is awful skeetish.”
Jot called the colt to him in coaxing tones, holding out his hand with a lump of sugar, and Jack came circling around him with flowing mane and streaming tail; dropping his tail, snuffed at Jot’s hand, let him take hold of his fetterlock and, yielding to his caresses, allowed him to slip the bridle over his head and to be led around.
But when Bill attempted to take the colt in charge, he couldn’t manage him.
“Bill,” said mother, “Jonathan seems to understand him; hadn’t you better let him try to break him; for I am afraid you’ll spoil him; so please let him try.”
After he had led Jack around the yard for a while, Jot said to mother, “I think that will do for this time, Mrs. Stark.” And then, with a little more petting and another lump of sugar, sent the colt scampering away.
“My!” said mother, “I didn’t think you could do it.”
In one of our visits to Chester we acquired a dog, or more truthfully, a dog acquired us.
We had no dog on the place; for Bill hated dogs; said they killed sheep, and had fleas, and declared, with some truth, that if a dog didn’t kill sheep, he attracted those who did. But on this day as we were coming from a store where we had been making purchases, a dog with tin things tied to his tail came ki-yi-ing piteously from a near-by shed where some rowdy boys were congregated.
Jot coaxed the dog to him, got him in his arms, took off the tin cans that had been pinched to his tail, and holding the creature in his arms, said to the boys: “Who owns this dog?”
“No one owns him,” one of them answered; “he’s been hanging around here for quite a while.”
We took the frightened creature to the wagon and, when half a mile away, put him down to shift for himself. The dog would not be deserted by his new-found friends, but followed the team and, at every attempt to drive him away, would roll over on his back and implore in doggish fashion, to go with us. So at last, when we arrived at home, the dog was with us.
Bill, of course, strenuously objected to having the dog on the place; but after much pleading I got mother to allow us to keep him, though she also did not like dogs.
“I won’t have him underfoot,” she declared, “so you must keep him away from the house—out at the barn;” to which we agreed.
We were delighted, for what boy does not love a dog?
Jot taught him several cunning tricks, among other things, to bring home the cows at milking time. Because of his color we called him “Muddy.”
I have told these simple things not alone to reveal Jonathan’s compassionate nature, but because they were not without influence in scenes of greater importance, in our later lives, as you shall see.
Jot worked faithfully on the farm, and with its healthy food and work, had grown to be a strong though slight young man. He had attended school several winters, learning rapidly.
Meanwhile the war was claiming more and more of our attention, and we read about it with such interest that we had begun taking a daily newspaper. When the news came of the sinking of the great passenger ship, the Lusitania, with its hundreds of passengers, it seemed too dreadful to believe. Though public indignation was at white heat over this cruel deed, it was soon toned to soberness by thoughts of our own possible war with this relentless military power.
Soon after the sinking of the Lusitania, a great personal sorrow befell me in the loss of my mother. She passed away after only a few days’ illness of heart failure. After her burial in the Stark private burial plot, my Aunt Joe and her husband came to take charge of the farm. Jonathan continued to work with us, but Bill left to work elsewhere; for he declared he wouldn’t stand bossing from any one.
The farm did not seem like home to me after mother’s death, and I fell into such melancholy at times, that Aunt Joe gave me what she called a good talking to, saying, “I guess your mother is glad to have her boy care for her; but it is just as natural to die, as it is to be born, and it don’t do a speck of good to be blue when we lose our friends.”
To illustrate her philosophy, she then sat down and had a good cry with me.
IMPENDING WAR CLOUDS
It was October, 1916. The harvests were gathered, and the fall ploughing was done; the frost was in the ground, and the hills were ablaze with the scarlet and gold of Autumn.
I was debating with Jot whether I would attend school or not, that winter.
“Of course,” answered Jot, “you will go to school just as if your mother were here to tell you to go.”
To this good advice Uncle Jim assented by a decided nod of approval. Now Uncle Jim, I had discovered, had a will of his own and very decided opinions. As Aunt Joe said, “though mild as skim milk in his ways, he is as sot as a rock.” And knowing this I thought it best to do as I was advised.
I began my studies at once when the winter term opened, but was discontented, and did not take so much interest in them as usual. When I brought my books home to study, Jot read them eagerly, and asked me many questions about the lessons. I think I learned more in trying to answer his questions than I did by the study of them in the books; for there is a difference between committing a lesson to memory, and giving a sensible answer to questions to one in earnest to know about them—for one is an act of memory, but the other requires thought and reasoning.
Our interest in the war was growing in intensity day by day. Our neighbors often came in of an evening to hear the news and discuss the war, and among them there was a Mr. Larkin, who was a pacifist. He was well informed and well read, for a farmer, and though in the main patriotic had as Uncle Jim said, “a pacifist crook in his mind that needed straightening.”
At one of the evening gatherings, after we had dwelt upon the relentless cruelty of the German army in dealing with Belgium and France, Larkin said:
“They had better stop this war at once; for war is so dreadful that it should not have a place in any Christian country.”
“Well,” said Uncle Jim, in his slow and drawling tones, “I don’t much admire war, but if any darned crowd should break into this house and begin smashin’ things and threaten to kill the folks, am I a goin’ to sit here like an idiot and see ’em do it without liftin’ my hand to stop it? No, sir! I am goin’ to stop such works if I break their necks.”
“But don’t the Master say that we should return good for evil?” replied Mr. Larkin, “and when smitten on the right cheek that we should turn the left?”
“Well,” replied Uncle Jim slowly, “I suppose he did say so; an’ I suppose if the majority of folks would do so, it would be better. But it seems to me that I have read somethin’ about the Master’s getting riled at some wretches that had turned the Temple into a sort of pawnbroker’s shop, and then drivin’ them out with horse whips, because they had made it a den of thieves. Now what do you suppose he would have done, if he had been in Belgium, and had seen them Germans setting fire to churches, and killin’ women and children?”
“That,” said Mr. Larkin, “only proves my assertion, that everybody should set themselves against war; you speak, as though to keep the peace with all your power, was degrading.”
“No, no,” said uncle; “you misunderstand me. What I mean is, that when a bully hits you, you must hit him back so hard that he will never want to hit you again. To do the contrary would be to encourage him. Such folks would soon rule the world, if you did not make them take a back seat.”
After Germany had violated her agreement with the United States not to sink any more of our ships sailing the ocean on peaceful missions, our President declared war, to “make the world safe for democracy.” Then came the first call for volunteers, to fill up the ranks of the National army. Men were quiet, but determined, in supporting the President, and a deep undercurrent of war spirit prevailed in our little community.
I had the war fever mighty bad. But uncle said: “Wait awhile an’ see how that cat is a goin’ to jump—for ’taint best to be in a hurry about important matters.”
There were some who differed about the wisdom of declaring war, and, of course, our neighbor Larkin was among them.
“Don’t you think,” he said to Uncle Jim, “that it would have been better if our President had not been so hasty?”
“No,” replied uncle decidedly, “I think that, instead of trying to keep us out so hard, if we had ridged up our backs in the fust place, and had begun to get a big army together, Germany would never have dared to provoke us to war. We have a right to sail the seas wherever we choose, on peaceful business—that was decided in the war of 1812—an’ no nation on earth has a right to say we shan’t.”
During all this talk and excitement Jot was mostly silent with a constraint that I did not understand—though I had full faith in his patriotism. At one time, before the declaration of war, it had been proposed by my cousin Will Edwards that they should go to Canada and enlist. But Jot had gravely replied: “I should like to fight under the flag of this free nation, if she should ever need me; as my Uncle Jed did in the Civil War.”
There was something, even in this remark, of reticence, as though there were other ties that bound him of which he was inclined to make no mention.
Soon after the declaration of war, a horse trader accompanied by Bill Jenkins, and another man, came to the Stark farm to bargain for horses. The prices they were willing to pay seemed large, and uncle sold one of our extra horses. Then Bill said, “Why don’t you sell the colt, Jack? He won’t be good for much for quite a while, an’ I guess you’ll need the money before long on this place.”
I did not like the freedom of Bill’s remark and neither did I wish the colt sold. “Well,” said the trader, “it will be no harm to look him over.” So we went down to the pasture where Jack had been let loose for his spring feed.
Our colt was now full grown and broken to saddle, but not to harness. Muddy, the dog, and Jack were great friends. The dog slept in the same stall with the colt and they often frolicked together in the pasture. When we reached the pasture the colt and dog were on a frolic—the colt jumping and wheeling and prancing, while Muddy jumped, barked and capered in front of him.
Turning to my uncle the trader said: “I will give you two hundred dollars for that colt. He isn’t worth it; but I know just where I can sell him.”
My uncle refused to sell, and the man handing uncle his business card, said: “Well, when you get ready to sell, let me know.”
After he had started away I turned to speak to Jot, but found he had disappeared. Later I came upon him behind the barn talking to the man who had accompanied the horse trader, and I overheard him using some words strange to me—seemingly in some foreign language—at any rate not common English. As I came upon them they parted, and when I asked Jot what they were talking about he made no definite reply, but said, “I am so glad they didn’t sell Jack.”
His evasion made me angry, and I turned away to go to the house. Jot called after me, but I refused to speak or turn back; and that night we went to bed without a good-night greeting as was usual with us.
The first thing, after I awoke, I went to Jot’s room, but he was gone. Then I went down to breakfast, expecting to find him at the table; but he was not there.
“Where is Jot?” I asked Uncle Jim.
With provoking deliberation he removed his pipe from his lips saying “Gone.”
“Where has he gone?” I asked impatiently.
“Don’t know—suspect he has gone to enlist—said something about it.” And that was all I could learn—though I half suspected that uncle was keeping something back,—something he didn’t think it good for me to know.
After this I became more dissatisfied than ever, but still continued my work on the farm, expecting to have a letter from Jot. But no tidings of him came.
I constantly pestered Uncle Jim, who was made my guardian, to let me enlist. But he put me off by saying: “Time enough—wait awhile.”
Later on, uncle said to me, “I guess we shall have to sell Jack after all; I have been offered a good price for him by Colonel Walker. The interest on the mortgage is coming due this month, and I am a little short of money.”
So Jack was sold, and that made me still more discontented, and not long after I “broke out,” as Aunt Joe called it, by saying, “Uncle, I want to enlist. If I don’t enlist they will, like as not, draft me. Just think of a Stark being drafted! I am bigger than Jot, and just as good for a soldier. They will take me, and I am lonesome without Jot.”
Uncle Jim had finished his breakfast, pushed back from the table, and began smoking his pipe as was his custom after the morning meal.
I knew by his long deliberate puffs that he was thinking it over. Then with shorter puffs, he finished his smoke and I knew he had reached a decision.
“What d’ye think, Josephine? David won’t be good for anything at school or on the farm now; and it is natural for the Starks to want to serve their country when there is a war on hand. Like’s not, if we don’t give our consent he will go without it, and that would be worse for him and us too. What do you think?”
“But, Jim,” said my aunt dolefully, “We are in Sister Emily’s place. Would she consent if she were here?”
I felt that I had won over Uncle Jim, for when he said, “Well, Josephine, we will talk it over,” I knew that his mind was made up.
So the next morning at breakfast—uncle slowly and deliberately said, “Your aunt and I have been considering about giving our consent to your enlistment.” And then, after a long pause, “If you are still of the same mind, you may go. I understand that there will be a draft here—and you might have to go finally anyway—an’ to be made to do a thing isn’t pleasant, as you say, for a Stark.” So it was settled. I was to go.
WITH THE COLORS
A few weeks later I had enlisted in the Infantry and, with other recruits, among whom was Sam Jenkins, arrived at one of the training camps.
Its size astonished me. It was a city of barracks. Broad streets designated by letters, with each barrack numbered, stretched out in endless succession, covering hundreds of acres and miles in length and breadth.
On being assigned to barracks, we drew our “property,” including uniform, blankets, sweaters, and other equipments, usually issued to a “rookie,” besides a rifle and its belongings.
I had supposed that the life of a soldier in camp was one of comparative leisure, but there is where I made a mistake—a delusion common to the uninitiated. Our duties, or work, seemed unending. There was a rule to fit every hour of the day.
Reveille calls the rookie out of bed. Then after putting on his uniform he takes a position near the line and, at the first sergeant’s command of “Fall in” takes his place and assumes the first position of a soldier—which means, heels on the same line, toes turning outward, chest out, body thrown forward, thumbs at the seams of his trousers, legs straight, but not stiff, and the weight of the body resting lightly upon the soles of his feet.
After reveille, he makes his bed, puts everything in order, then washes for breakfast, or as it is called “Mess,” after which he puts his equipments in order for drill. His rifle belts and uniform must be neat and clean as possible, or he gets a reprimand. Then comes “sick call”; then “drill call”; at which call he is expected to put everything in exact order in his quarters, then take his place in ranks for two hours’ drill.
Then comes another “Mess” call, which means fall in for dinner. After dinner there is a short rest, then comes drill call again, after which there is another short rest, during which he is expected to bathe, shave, and make himself neat, and ready for retreat—which is the dress occasion of the day. The next call is “Taps” when lights must be out.
This is, however, but simply an outline of the routine that one must follow during each day.
I, however, liked the military drill and, as Sam declared, learned it as though it was something that I was made for. But there were many petty exactions, which looked to me, as it doubtless has to every other raw soldier since the beginning, needlessly fussy; and the drill sergeant was exasperating. But there is a difference in men. Some, when invested with brief authority, have always been bullies.
But it was when I went on my first “hike” with full pack, that I thought I was killed. If there has ever been an invention, since the beginning of soldiering, that has made a soldier boy regret his wealth of possessions, it is this first regular “hike.”
It was a beautiful day in July when I fell into line with others, some seasoned vessels of war—but mostly not. I had admired the pack while I was learning the minutiæ of making one, for it certainly is a wonderful invention, and the first half mile I kept up a martial air, with my sweat-provoking and back-aching pack galling me. Then I began to want a rest—and didn’t get it! The sweat ran down my face and saturated me with a sticky moisture. I fully agreed with Sam when he said, in undertone, “Isn’t it a grunter?” I certainly never knew the sweetest word in English until, at last, came the order, “Halt!” When I got through that “practice march,” I recognized that carrying a nine-pound rifle on my shoulder, and a heavy pack—however admirable the invention—was not amusing.
It was, however, not many weeks before my sturdy farmer-boy shoulders became more accustomed to the pack. Poor Sam, however, who was short and fat, for a long time persisted in his first opinion, that it was a “grunter”! He said he had heard Civil War soldiers tell of throwing away their blankets and overcoats on a march and now understood the reason of it!
Some weeks later, when I had learned the drill, and had even been complimented by a non-commissioned superior who declared that I took to soldiering “like a duck to water,” I thought there might be something in inherited qualities.
One thing, common to all new soldiers, was that I suddenly found myself unexpectedly fond of home, and couldn’t hear from the folks often enough. Home never seemed to my mind quite so lovely, as now that I was away from it. I was, as may be inferred, not a little homesick.
I have forgotten to say, in its proper place, that Muddy had accompanied me from home to camp, and was hailed by my comrades as a companion worthy of the khaki with which nature had clothed him. He was soon adopted as the Company Mascot; and to a homesick boy his companionship cannot be over-estimated.
On coming to the Cantonment I had endeavored, from the first, to find Jot; but not a thing could I learn about him. To find any one in this big city was, as Sam said, “like looking for a collar button in a pasture.” It was more difficult to find a person in this great city of barracks perhaps, than in an ordinary city, because of the uniformity of its buildings and the sameness of its uniforms.
One day I had left Muddy in charge of the mess sergeant and had gone to the Y. M. C. A. to write to Uncle Jim and Aunt Joe, when the door opened, and Muddy, like a whirlwind of hair and tail, came yelping and jumping upon me.
I looked up to scold him, for dogs were not allowed there, when “Jot” stood smiling down upon me. He threw his arms around me with a big hug, and slap on the back, which I returned with interest, notwithstanding my cool New England habit of reserve.
During all this time, Muddy had been yelping and wagging both body and tail with doggish delight and approval, at having brought his friends together, until the superintendent reminded us of the rules.
Then I inquired of Jot, “How did you find me?”
“I didn’t find you,” he replied, “it was Muddy.”
“Yes; but how did you find my barracks and company?”
“It was Muddy, I tell you;” he said. “I was on my way to the quartermaster’s office, when I heard a yelping and he flew like a mad dog out of one of the barracks; and yelped and whined and dragging me by my trouser leg as much as to say, ‘Come this way!’ And I understood enough of his dog talk to know that you were somewhere around here. So I followed him.”
It was not until we were on the way to the quartermaster’s that I noticed, that he wore the chevrons of a “Top Sergeant” (first sergeant) and learned that his quarters were only a short distance from mine.
How it was that Muddy knew that Jot was in the street is one of the mysteries of the dog intellect—or instinct;—for the incident is true.
Afterwards, I told Jot of the sale of Jack to Colonel Walker, and that I believed he was in the same encampment. But Jot said he had learned that he was in one of the more Southern camps—perhaps Camp Green, in North Carolina.
“Why was it,” I queried, “that you did not tell Uncle Jim or me where you were going?”
To this he replied, “Though your uncle did not tell me not to let you know that I was going to enlist, he intimated very plainly that he did not want you to know. He said, ‘If David knows where you have gone, there’ll be no living with him; and he will follow you as sure as you stand there.’” I was quite angry with uncle at first, but when Jot said, “I think he did what he thought was best,” I saw, in part, an excuse for him.
Among other things that I learned, during my soldier experience, was one, that trouble is often brewing when we feel the safest. Now it was about to overtake me and my dog. I was showing off Muddy’s accomplishments one day to some dog admirers, when an officer came up and inquired: “Whose dog is that?”
“He is mine!” I proudly replied, “isn’t he a dandy, Mister?”
“You must address officers by their title, he said stiffly, and salute them.”
I had been so engaged, that I had not observed before, that he was an officer. I at once stood at attention and saluted.
He glanced at me seemingly through and through and then, as though satisfied, said, returning the salute,
“About that dog—just keep him out of sight and there will be no trouble;” and then as Muddy came fawning on him, patted him and passed on.
“That,” said one of the men, “is a West Pointer. He is as full of rules and orders as a book on tactics.”
“I guess he likes a dog, himself,” said Sergeant Bill, “or he would have ordered you to put him out of camp; for he is one of them highbrow officers that live by rule. Them West Pointers are a bundle of rules and regulations and eat blue books and general orders and such things instead of grub.”
It was shortly after the foregoing incident, that an order appeared in substance, as follows:
“After the 10th inst. all dogs, not licensed, will not be allowed in barracks, squad rooms, or mess halls.”
But as Muddy had a home license and wore a collar showing it, I was not concerned until, shortly after, there appeared the following:
“After this date, all dogs, whether licensed or not, will be turned over to the camp police.” To which some wag had added, “and thereafter will be included among the missing.” This was thought to be “rough” on those who had adopted dogs as mascots, and there were several companies that had, but as the mess sergeant said: “What can we do about it?”
I had been on guard at post one, in front of the commandant’s office, and in my distress, at the thought of losing my dog, determined on the hazardous expedient of interviewing the commandant, to get permission to keep Muddy.
So, brushing up my uniform and looking my neatest, I went to the office of that dread personage.
I passed the guard, got into the office, and when the commandant had turned from his desk where he was engaged in writing, I stood at attention and saluted. Then I saw that it was the same officer I have before mentioned as being a West Point man, but whom I did not know was the commandant.
“State your errand briefly,” he said coldly.
I was nervously stating my errand when in rushed Muddy, as though to argue his own case. I picked him up for fear of what further damage he might do, and as a matter of habit with me, held in my arms.
“What is your name?” he inquired in a tone of severity that boded ill for my request.
I told him, and, in answer to other questions following, said my father was an officer during the Civil War in a Massachusetts regiment. I saw his face change from severity to interest, as he said pleasantly,
“Was your father Captain Stark of the —th Massachusetts?”
“Yes, sir,” I replied. “Did you know him there?”
“I am afraid not,” he replied, smiling for the first time; “but my father did,” and added, “They were friends.” After a pause he added, “I must grant this request to the son of my father’s friend.”
I do not know whether this incident had anything to do with a promotion which I soon after received as corporal; but I am sure it did not hinder it. And I was prouder of that promotion than any that I ever received—unless a decoration received long after from the French can be called one.
I found, however, that the duties of even this small office carried with it not a little responsibility.
Possibly I magnify the office when I say that to be a good corporal, in charge of new men, required some rare qualities. He should be icy calm, have dignity like a judge and eyes like a gimlet, and good humor in profusion; or he won’t get much work out of his men. I was on a detail shortly after my promotion, hauling provisions for the Regimental Ware House, and I couldn’t turn my head without losing a man.
When I told Jot about it he smiled and replied: “You did well not to send men after those you lost, or you would have lost more men.” And I knew by that remark, that he had once been a corporal.
FROM CAMP TO TRANSPORT
Shortly after the incidents narrated in the foregoing chapter, I, with several others, among them Jot and Sam, was granted a leave of absence of fifteen days to visit our homes. This, we believed, meant that we were soon to be sent to France where, from the first, we desired to be.
When we reached the little village near our homes, we were curiously viewed by the people, who up to that time had seen little of the present day soldiers in khaki. We were hospitably treated by our people, and those who knew us gathered around to ask questions, as is the habit of New England folks.
On our arrival home, it is needless to say, we were greeted with hearty enthusiasm. Neighbors flocked in to see us, and Aunt Josie expressed her interest and love, after the usual manner of New England self-contained matrons, by a big dinner. Even Muddy was treated with affection and, for the first time in his home experience, was not considered as being “under foot” and in the way.
“How straight you are!” said Aunt Joe. “I declare I think you have grown an inch, and you were a big hulking fellow when you went away from here.” Six months of military discipline had certainly left its impress upon all of us. Jot had filled out in chest and shoulders and, though not so tall and “bulking” as I, as Aunt Joe called it, was a fine-looking soldierly youth, lithe and active. Even Sam’s rather rotund form, was reduced to soldierly proportions.
“Gosh!” said his father anxiously, “you ain’t got any belly hardly at all. Hev’ they been starvin’ you?”
“No, Dad, we have all we want to eat in camp, and we have the wust kind of appetite after one o’ them drills. I guess you don’t know what they do to a feller down here to take the fat off him and the kinks out of him?”
“Yes, I do, Sam,” responded his father; “guess I’ve been trained a lot myself.”
“Did y’ ever go through the settin’ up drill?” asked Sam.
“Yes, Sam, I have set up nights a lot, but I never had to drill it. I got sort of used to it when I was courtin’.”
“I guess, Dad, you don’t understand; now I will give the orders and drill you.” And then Sam put his father through enough of the physical exercise to show him what he meant and until Uncle Jim smiled to see him puff.
The months of drill had certainly improved us physically. The difference between slouching country boys and soldierly youth, was written all over each of us.
Muddy, too, had his receptions; and even Bill Jenkins who was again working on the farm, said: “Well, he’s a pretty good dog, and will do well enough now that he’s been trained.”
My aunt was a proud woman when she took Jot and me to church with her, and introduced us to the new minister. The old church where my mother and father had worshipped was filled, and we were greeted on every side by friendly people, especially by the teachers and members of the Sunday School to which Jot and I had been constant attendants when at home.
One of the young ladies of the class was Miss Emily Grant, of whom, in former times, I had been an ardent, though shy admirer. She introduced both Jot and me to a visiting friend, Miss Rose Rich, whom she had brought home with her from a Massachusetts boarding school.
Jot, usually so reticent, showed his approval of her, by saying: “Isn’t she fine? Her father is a doctor and she is going to take up Red Cross work.”
The friendliness of the two was observable to others besides myself. Miss Grant said to me, “Rose seems much taken with your friend.”
“He is the smartest noncommissioned officer,” I replied, “in the training camp. He’s top sergeant, and that means something, I can tell you.”
I told Uncle Jim about Colonel Burbank and what he said about my father. And Uncle Jim said, “Seems to me I heard your father mention him. I wonder if it was him that your father brought from between the lines badly wounded durin’ the Winchester fight? Shouldn’t wonder if it was.”
But I had never heard about it.
When Jot and I had visited, for the last time, the familiar scenes of the farm, and he had petted and talked to the horses and cows, we left our home for the camp again. A boy never realizes what a home means to him until he is leaving it, possibly forever; for I had a dim perception of what was possibly before me.
Several friends, besides my aunt and uncle, were at the station to bid us good-bye. Among them were Emily Grant and Rose Rich.
With the usual leave takings and waving of handkerchiefs from friends, the engine puffed, the train clanked out from the station, and we were off.
Back at camp we entered upon another course of training in company, regimental and battalion drill, with bayonet exercises, machine-gun fire, and the digging of trenches, as a preliminary to participation in modern warfare.
An old Civil War veteran, who had viewed our preparations, said to me, “If Grant had had these machine guns and other arms, he could have made the Rebs howl and ended the war in short order. Why, there is as great a difference between the equipments of this new army and our old Union Army as there is between a stage coach and an express train.”
Jot had been transferred to our regiment, at his request, and became first sergeant of a company. At one of our meetings at the Y. M. C. A. he said to me, “Don’t say anything about it, but I think that we are likely to break camp soon and go to France.”
“What makes you think so?” I asked.
“Well,” he said, “they have been making shipping lists for the regiment; and then the furloughs they have been giving, and other little things make me think so.”
I soon found that a rumor of the same purport was all around camp. Like most youngsters, I was hungry for a change; so when the top sergeant ordered us to be ready to move within a few hours, I was glad at the prospect of the change to some other place. Yet I thought of submarines and other scarey unpleasant possibilities, that night, before I slept.
The order came at last—it was on Sunday—for an army has no days more sacred than duty. Though we were not supposed to know where we were going, we all guessed—the Yankee birthright—and guessed France. Our outfit consisted of two suits of Olive Drab, canvas leggins, two woolen shirts, woolen underwear and stockings, two pairs of garrison shoes, a Mackinaw short overcoat, a belt, three blankets, and a comforter, all of which were carried in our packs. On top of the pack roll was the haversack, containing our kits, which consisted of a long handled aluminum fold pan with removable cover, in which were a knife and fork and spoon; two oblong cases for meat, hard bread, sugar and coffee. The ammunition belt was hung to this pack, and a canteen nesting in the cup hung from it. There was also a barrack bag belonging to our outfits, but this was carried by motor truck to the station.
This I remember to my sorrow, as did others in similar cases, for I did not see it again until our arrival in France, though it contained goodies from home, and chocolates. Others did not see their cigarettes and tobacco again until long after.
At dark, with our packs strapped upon our backs, we moved to the station and were embarked on board of ordinary passenger cars—a noncommissioned officer at the doors of each car to see that none went out and that no one not belonging there went in. Each commissioned officer had a list that showed the place of each man and saw that he stayed there.
The next morning we found our train at a big New York terminal, and had our breakfast—of sandwiches and hot coffee that had been prepared for us the day before.
From there we were embarked on a ferry boat. Our company was on the top deck where we could see the tugs, steamers and ferry boats, busily moving on the stream, as we swung up the broad Hudson to the piers where several big transports lay.
Sailing lists of every man’s name in order of formation had been made in duplicate, one for our officers and another in the hands of the embarking officer. So he knew just how many of us there were, and had already designated a berth for each man.
The railroad transport officer met us with the inquiry: “Is Company —— of —— Regiment on this boat?”
“Good. Disembark at once, sir. Your transport sails in half an hour. Form your men on the dock opposite the freight clerk.”
“A loading detail of ten men!”
We disembark; but before the first company could be formed a transportation officer without saying by your leave marched us on board. He is the supreme officer on the dock—no matter if the general commanding be present the officer is the boss.
Along the deck we went in column and on board the huge transport.
“Your sailing list, sir!”
“Are you formed in order of list?”
“Good! Load the company, Mr. Blank.”
The clerk, with a lieutenant by his side with a duplicate list, calls out, “First Sergeant Smith.”
The sergeant is handed a ticket, goes up the gangplank where he meets another sailor who sends him below; there he meets another sailor who sends him still further below, and so on until he is at the bottom of the ship where the bilge water smells. The others follow until the ship is stowed with a human freight of three thousand five hundred men.
Every man has his bunk of collapsible iron tubing which stand in tiers three high, with a passage way between. Later on, the top sergeant gets a second class room. No dogs allowed; but I smuggled Muddy in under my big coat.
We were all on board by night, and slept in our new quarters, but were surprised to awake in the morning and find our ship still at the dock. We were allowed to go ashore for exercise on the dock, and the ship routine began. Our canteens were ordered to be filled but not to be used except in an emergency.
Before daylight, next morning, we swung out into the river and down into the broadening harbor, to the sea. We were all allowed on deck. As I stood viewing the scene on every side, of brilliantly lighted cities and towns, Jot came up, touched me on the shoulder and, with a sweep of his hand, said, “Don’t it put you in mind of that verse in the Bible,—‘Gazar and her towns and villages, unto the river of Egypt and the great sea and the border thereof?’” Then, as we waved an adieu to the Statue of Liberty he added, “We are the vanguard of the army to make good the meaning of that Statue that France has prophetically placed there. We go to deliver France and the world.”
The land began to fade as daylight brightened. The broad sea spread out before us and with it a possible broader vista of life’s great drama and of the freedom of men as yet unborn, whose destinies we were perhaps carrying across the sea.
The naval officers were in supreme command of all on board and we soldiers were put to ship routine at once.
“It looks to me,” said Sergeant Nickerson, “like a huge job to feed all of us in this one dining room.”
“But it isn’t our business,” I replied, “so long as we get the grub.”
“But it may be everybody’s business if they don’t get it; and that’s what I am thinking about.” The difficulty was solved in this way. The men were marched to the room, and ate standing in line or at long tables. As fast as one batch was fed, another took its place. By the time breakfast was over, lunch began. It was a sort of endless chain made up of men, moving on schedule time.
Men began to growl—growling is a soldier’s safety valve, and his privilege ever since soldiering first began.
“Sure,” said Pat Quinn, “it’s ating tactics we are being drilled in. Ye’s open ye’s mouths so many toimes and then swallow—one toime and three motions!”
“What are you growling about?” said Private Shaw. “There’ll likely be another motion on this ship soon, so that you can’t swallow at all!”
So with rough jokes and gibes we ate our first breakfast on board ship. Then ship drill began. Each man was assigned to a boat or raft, and we learned the ship calls. When the bugle sounded “Assembly” every man was to go on deck and take his place at his boat or raft. At “Abandon Ship,” the boats and rafts were supposed to be got into the water. “Quarters” meant every man below, to his bunk.
We go through the motions—only—of getting the boats and rafts over the side of the ship. When our instructor said that a raft was safer than a boat, but that we were never to climb onto one, but hang on with both hands, we were skeptical about it.
“He wants to keep a boat for himself,” said Sam. “That is what he is preaching it for.”
We knew, however, that the safety of all on board might depend upon our efficiency at this drill.
With boat drill—mornings and afternoons—scrubbing decks, eating, and seasickness, our time was pretty fully occupied. I was dreadfully sick for a time, and did not care whether a submarine sunk us or not, but got over it before long. It was very close below decks, where we were mostly confined, and a hardship to those accustomed to the free air.
Our company was so fortunate as to be detailed as extra deck watch, and a group of us were on duty at all hours, day and night. It was an autocratic job—we were “It.” We could refuse to take orders or answer questions from even the colonel! Our post for this duty was a little box of a pen where, with fine binoculars, we kept watch for submarines. I liked the duty; it was a change and much like guard duty.
Before entering the danger zone we got detailed instructions against lights. Every match and flashlight on the ship had to be given up, and all hatches were closed at twilight. Even illuminated wrist watches were forbidden on deck at night.
One day a submarine was actually sighted. I was on duty in the watch box with several of my company, when I saw something sticking out of the water like a small flag staff.
“Submarine!” I yelled excitedly. Just then “bang!” went the forward deck gun and the periscope disappeared. Soon it was seen again at another quarter and another gun banged at it. Sam took up his rifle to shoot at it, but was restrained, though he declared he could put a bullet through it. Then “bang” went another of our guns, and we were told that she was sunk, but I doubted it.
“Shucks!” growled Sam, “how can we shoot a Boche if we have to wait for orders? He will get away from us, before we can get them!”
There was no excitement, though a young lieutenant rushed around saying, “Be calm, men! be calm!” But some of us thought he was not living up to his own orders.
Soon after this Colonel Burbank sent for me to come to his cabin. After several kind inquiries about my folks, especially my father, he said, casually, “Sergeant Nickerson, I learn, has lived at your home? What do you know about him or his people?”
I told him all that I knew about him, and said, among other things, that he had told my mother that Nickerson was only a part of his name. And I interspersed with this information not a little praise of Jot, to camouflage the fact that I didn’t actually know much about him.
The purpose of these inquiries the colonel did not, of course, reveal. I was not a little surprised, however, when he said: “He looks like a German officer I once knew. I infer, from what you have told me, that he does not talk much about himself or his business. It’s a very soldierly quality!”
As I went to my quarters below decks this remark was buzzing in my head like a bumble bee in a haying field. As the colonel had not instructed me to the contrary, I informed Jot, when I again saw him, about the colonel’s remarks—all except the last one, about the German officer.
Jot stood for a moment, as though in thought, and then said, “It will do no harm to tell you that I can speak a little German which I learned from my father and his people. The first words I ever spoke were German; but mother didn’t like it.” Here he stopped as though he had already said too much, then, putting his hands affectionately on my shoulders, added, “Does it really make any difference to you, David, who my father was, when you know me so well?” And I knew that it would be useless to ask him further questions on that subject.
We soon began to meet ships and fishing craft, mine sweepers, and tankers, which showed that we were nearing the coast. Next came a point of land like a cloud on the horizon, and then the top of a lighthouse appeared.
Was it France or England? It was France.
We learned that we were the first American transport to land at this port.
Entering a narrow channel which widened out into a broad harbor, we were safe in France!
“No one lands until ordered to do so by the commander of the port,” was the next order.
It was not until the next day that the colonel, and some other officers were ordered ashore to see the port commodore; then, after some more waiting, we were told to get ready for landing. Shortly after, we saw the lighters coming up on which we were to disembark.
IN BEAUTIFUL FRANCE
Our first view of the land we had come to rescue was not prepossessing. Some men were standing on the sidewalks, as we marched through the narrow street ankle deep in mud.
“Are we in France, or in the mud?” facetiously queried one soldier. As we marched through the narrow streets there was much cheering—not like American cheers, long drawn out, but sharp and not all together. There were some personal allusions in English.
“I give you a kees;” said a girl. “You big fine Americans!”
The salutations were as unlike our home calls as were the city and its buildings. The buildings were crowded together as though land were scarce, they were of stone with carvings and copper ornaments, which even the soldier would notice, they were so fine.
We wanted to break loose and see France and talk to the people, but discipline held us in line. To men who had been confined for three weeks in narrow, stifling ship quarters, the air was invigorating.
We reached the station on schedule time, and were embarked on third class cars, a squad of eight men to a compartment. No dogs were allowed, but I got Muddy in all the same, the guard taking pains not to see him.
To Americans, accustomed to our large coaches, these little box-like cars seemed like toys.
“Sho!” said Sam, “do they intend to give us one apiece? They are like baby carriages!”
They were, however, fairly comfortable, but after jolting along for several hours, when the train stopped, naturally every one wanted to get out. Our officers had a full-sized man’s job to get them back again on time.
Peter Beaudett, a French Canadian Yankee, protested, “I was saying something to a fine leetle girl; she speak de French to me.”
Then we steamed on again, and after some hours we stopped at a station for hot coffee, then rode all night.
“I didn’t suppose,” said Sam Jenkins, “that France was big enough for so much travel.”
At last we stopped, and were told that we had reached our destination.
We had reached the “Base Station,” or “Rest Camp,” and went into quarters. They consisted of low, one-story, portable barracks, lightly built with dirt floors, white oiled cotton cloth for windows, and with wooden cots similar to those in our home barracks. Though not as luxurious by a big sight, they were comfortable. It was one of several similar camps on the outskirts of an inland historic city.
We took our ease for a few days, slept, ate, and visited the town when we could get a pass. None was allowed out of our well-guarded camp without one, and all must return at 9.30 P. M. or be punished. Then we began the routine of drill again, with French officers to teach us the new methods of fighting, such as bomb throwing and trench duty.
At retreat one afternoon we were informed that we were to be reviewed the next day. So after mess we shaved, bathed, brushed up our equipments and uniforms with unusual care, and with a French regiment for escort, marched and countermarched, with the stars and stripes flying and bands playing; and then marched some more!
The contrast between the French escort and our men was great. The French were different in many ways, some of them impossible to express in words. They were of inferior stature, many of them being not over five feet, two inches, and by contrast our men seemed giants. Their step was quick and brisk, while the strides of the Americans was a long, swinging stride, the step of men accustomed to hills and rough land, not that of good roads and pavements.
We were greeted heartily by the crowds of people gathered on the sidewalks and at the windows of the buildings. Cries of “vive les Amerique!” and other calls, that I did not comprehend, were heard. Flowers were thrown at us. But there were no long-drawn-out cheers such as we were accustomed to hear at home on similar occasions. After much marching and parading there came the order:
“Halt! Right dress! Front! Present arms!”
We were being reviewed by that great French soldier who, when the German hordes were marching on Paris, threw himself like a lion in their path and turned the current of the battle, General Pétain.
Some of us had read of him and looked with intense interest at this soldier of France. He was an erect martial figure, a little stout; with eyes keen, steady and penetrating, a white mustache, all the whiter by contrast with the darkening tan that told of long service in the field. No one could mistake him for other than a soldier; he bore that undefinable stamp of long service, discipline, and command of men.
Then we passed in review with our wagon trains, cannon, and machine guns, the people cheering in their way, and showering us with wreaths and flowers.
Even our mules, because they were American, came in for a share of attention. One fractious animal, that on account of bad conduct had been taken from a baggage wagon, drew attention by standing on his front feet and waving his hind legs and tail in the upper air, as though trying to make holes in the sky, and paint his displeasure with his tail. He was saluted with applause and laughter.
One thing was preeminently seen, we American soldiers held the hearts and minds of all. Later in camp we came to know more of our hosts.
The enlisted man has this advantage of his officers in learning to speak a language. He is not kept from trying to speak, by fear of making mistakes. He blunders on, and at last makes himself understood, though he makes fearful mistakes.
I was not long in the camp before I was hailed by a poilu who spoke the “American language.” He greeted me by saying, “How is little old New York?” He told me that he had lived there, but had come back when the war started to fight for his country.
One day while I was writing a letter to the home folks, with Muddy lying by my side, Jot, accompanied by a woman, the English-speaking poilu, and with a little girl in his arms, came to me saying:
“Dave, I want to show the dog to this baby and its mother.” So Muddy was put through his cunning tricks, and was played with and petted to his doggish heart’s delight.
At this time I was in my eighteenth year—broad shouldered, and five feet eleven and one-half inches in height. My uniform emphasized my stalwart form, now filled out and straightened by military training. Though I was never considered a big man at home, I felt myself, by the side of the smaller French soldiers, somewhat of a giant.
I stood up and saluted the little sad-faced woman and the “poilu”, and heard, or rather saw that she had asked some question about me.
“What is it she is saying?” I inquired.
“She wants to know,” replied the poilu, “if I knew the blond giant in America. Our people don’t know what a big country America is. They think it mostly New York city. You Americans are taller than our people but,” he added proudly, “my countrymen are big in courage and spirit.”
I remarked upon the large number of women who wore long crepe veils, when he replied, “Yes; there are many in mourning for their dead. This little woman had already lost two sons in this war, and has just now got word that her only remaining son had been killed in battle.”
“She is not crying,” I said.
“No,” he replied. “Her loss is too deep for tears, and she is consoled by knowing that she has given them to France.”
“Express to her my sympathy,” I said, and Jot added, “Tell her that we are very sorry indeed for her.”
Then seeing that she had made some reply, we asked what she had said.
“She said: ‘God gave them to me, and I have given them to France.’”
While this conversation was going on, a man came up and stood apparently intent on watching the child and dog, and seeming to give no attention to our talk. Then touching Jot on the shoulder and drawing him out of hearing, he began to talk to him, as though trying to get his consent to some proposal, and then moved away with him towards the colonel’s quarters in a nearby château. He looked to me like the same man I had seen talking to Jot at home when the horse trader visited us. I wondered at this, for Jot was not given to making chance acquaintances. Then I saw them disappear in the large house where the colonel had his quarters.
After undergoing intensive training for several weeks, we were thought fit to receive more practical and strenuous duties and practice, by being moved to real war trenches within reach of the guns of the enemy.
We in the ranks knew that something was up. The Eagle (colonel) had summoned our Skipper (captain), a clerk had copied a list of names that had been given him, and now all the officers were in with the eagle. The supply sergeant was already nailing up boxes, and the mess sergeant had been heard to say:
“I can’t see how the oven can be moved again”—all of which were signs to any soldier that our regiment was about to “pull out.”
We were all on tiptoe when the order came.
Every man whose shoes did not fit him got a chance to change them. Then a list of promotions was published and, to my surprise and pleasure, I was promoted to be a sergeant in place of one reduced. I was assigned to a loading detail by the top, and with nineteen men went to the quartermaster’s depot with an auto, and loaded up with ten days’ traveling rations, and hauled them to the depot. By ten o’clock the barrack bags came down, seven days’ rations were put in a freight car, and three laid out on the platform.
All was ready, and after dark the companies marched down to the station to entrain. I fell in line in my place on the platform with the rest. Then the mess sergeant and cooks dealt out enough “chow” (rations) for the corporals, so that each man had for his squad a can of beans, two cans of Willy (corn beef), and four packages of hard bread, and a can of jam.
“It has got to last you three days,” cautioned the mess sergeant; “so go easy on it.”
The top came along and checked every squad as it embarked. The officers shook hands with the railroad transportation officer and, together with the French interpreter, climbed aboard.
They were little box cars, and painted on the outside “32 hommes, 8 cheveaux.” There were portable benches at each end and a good lot of straw.
“Sure,” said Pat who was in my car, “it is comfortable enough for a pig.”
“Aw!” rejoined Shaw, “Cheveaux means horses, you wild Irishman!”
“AW!” REJOINED SHAW, “CHEVEAUX MEANS HORSES, YOU WILD IRISHMAN!”—Page 50.
Then we settled into the car; rifles in place, kits hung up on the sides, a lantern swung in the center. We were, despite all the growling, very comfortable. There was a seat for every man. All voted that it beat third class cars.
We reached a coffee station, and lined up outside the car in double ranks, and each man got a cup full of French coffee. Then came an all night ride. The men took off their boots and, with a haversack for a pillow, slept snug as bugs in a rug.
I slept, sitting up, with my back against the door, querying to myself if the buck private’s job was not easier than that of a sergeant. And I thought, possibly the skipper himself did not have so easy a time as I had sometimes thought.
The scenery was beautiful. We followed the course of a river. On the banks were old castles, beautiful châteaus, villages with red topped roofs, and always stone bridges.
“Say, boys!” exclaimed Sam, “we would have to pay big money for this sight seeing excursion, before the war.”
It was getting so interesting that we forgot to eat.
“Where are we going, Sergeant?”
“How long will it take to get there?” inquired another inquisitive Yankee.
“Don’t know,” I replied, “there are three days’ rations on board, and seven in a freight car.”
“Don’t the skipper or eagle know?”
“Guess not; we are travelling on confidential orders; perhaps the eagle does know.”
So on through France we travelled, to heaven knows where!
At last we halted at a small station. An officer met us and inquired for the commanding officer. The train pulled in to a high platform, where we unloaded. We had reached the limits of our railroad travel. It was dark, and we were tired and hungry, with prospects of cold grub for supper.
We were assigned to billets by an American officer—stables, barns, stores and lofts. Some big galvanized cans of hot coffee were sent us by the officer of an American regiment already established.
“Thanks!” I heard the colonel say. “I hope to return the compliment some time.”
“You can return the coffee out of your ration tomorrow; it is the rule here to help each other.”
The most expressive part of our location was that for the first time, we were within sound of guns. We heard a dull boom! boom! and at times thought we heard the sharper sound of rifles. We were near the front at last, and were to get practical experiences in the trenches, further to fit us for the grim duties of soldiering.
IN THE TRENCHES
I, with others, was billeted in a house and barn tenanted by a little French woman with a brood of several young children, whose husband was fighting for France. Others were billeted, by the town major, in warehouses, lofts, and other places.
After a few days’ rest in our billets, we were marched to the trenches.
The American front in France at this time, so far as there was any front, was in Lorraine. In reality there was no American front, because our army had not had the training to hold one. While we had received the drill of ordinary soldiering, we lacked experience in the prevailing war methods then in use.
While my regiment is marching forward to take up trench duties in front of the enemy’s lines, let us take a look at what constitutes that part of a modern army known as an infantry regiment; for infantry is the body and mainstay of an army.
The old Civil War regiments were made up of ten companies of 152 officers and men; more often less. The modern company has 256 officers and men; and the regiments made up by these twelve companies, has 103 officers and 3,652 men. The officers of the modern company, while on a war footing are: One captain, three first lieutenants, two second lieutenants, one first sergeant, one mess sergeant, one supply sergeant, twelve sergeants, thirty-three corporals, four mechanics, four cooks, two buglers, and 192 privates. One of the first lieutenants is the captain’s assistant; the others each command one of its four platoons of men.
The transportation equipment of a regiment is more elaborate than is generally known. It consists of twenty-two combat wagons, sixteen rolling kitchens for cooking food, twenty-two baggage and ration wagons, sixteen ration carts, fifteen water carts, three medical carts, twenty-four machine-gun carts, fifty-nine riding horses, eight riding mules, three hundred and thirty-two draft mules, two motorcycles with side cars, one motor car and forty-two bicycles.
Arrived at the trenches we were taught, among other things, to “camouflage” as the French call it, which means to disguise, or conceal. This has become an art in modern warfare, because cavalry is no longer the eyes of an army as in former times, and airplanes reveal what is not carefully hidden.
For illustration: an artilleryman of heavy guns now seldom sees the object he is to fire upon. The directions for firing are given by signals from air-craft. These locate the enemy’s line of battle, trenches, machine gun and artillery emplacements, magazines or the “dugout” of some general to be fired upon.
Hence, to disguise or camouflage them is important. Heavy artillery firing is not by sighting, but by directions given them by mathematical calculation. The guns, even, are streaked with paint to resemble the surrounding country, so that they may be more effectually concealed.
The concealment of artillery magazine stations, or other important stations, has been brought to great perfection. Sometimes a road leading to them is roofed by canvas and painted to resemble the surrounding scenery of rocks or foliage.
The war trench is a ditch six feet or more in depth, with a fire step that brings a soldier to the height needful for firing upon an enemy. On the top of this trench, along the front edge of it, are laid bags filled with sand, so disposed as to give loopholes through which a rifle can be fired without requiring the soldier to expose his head. This trench is not built on a straight line, but zigzag like the teeth of an enormous saw, so that its machine-guns and riflemen can fire down and parallel along the trench. At every twenty feet or more, there is a barricade built across the trenches, so that if any enemy should get possession of one part of it, he can not, by artillery, machine-guns or rifles, fire down the whole length upon the men there; for this would be tremendously destructive.
In front and about ten feet from the trench is a barricade of barbed wire. This is made by setting stakes very firmly in the ground so deep and solid that they can not be easily removed, and twisting barbed wire around them. It is impossible to pass through this entanglement without first destroying it by artillery fire, or cutting it; and this is costly to life.
There are, in addition to this trench, three other rear trenches. These are joined with the front trench by connecting trenches, through which the soldier can pass with comparative safety.
In these rear trenches are first aid and food stations; and in a dugout, safety sheltered and concealed in the rear, is the general who directs the fighting. To his dugout, or station, are connected wires or telephones and telegraph, so that he can conduct the fight, and receive intelligence of everything taking place on the battle line. Though he is in comparative safety his is a hard position; for he can not leave it without losing some point of importance, in the work of direction.
The science of war, in its details, has vastly changed since the Civil War, though the principles that govern its larger movements are the same, modified somewhat by the new machinery used in fighting.
It was October, 1917, when we had landed in France; it was now February, 1918, cold, bleak, and dreary. Rain, snow and sleet had made soldiering uncomfortable anywhere; and the trenches were no exception to this rule—but rather an exaggeration of it.
It has sometimes seemed to me, that in my army life the most inconvenient times were always selected for its most disagreeable duties. This rule held good for our introduction to life in the trenches. It was a cold day. Snow covered the ground—at least that portion of it not trampled into the chalky mud, which, partially thawed, stuck to our feet like poultices. Marching, however, with heavy packs soon warmed us, and we were glad to arrive at our destination.
The sector to which we were assigned for duty had been occupied by some French troops, who were just moving out. They did not cheer us—for cheers are out of place in some parts of soldiering, especially where it may give information to the enemy. But they welcomed us with brightening eyes, and nods, and smiles of approval, as we filed into the trenches; and looked—so it seemed to me—not a little enviously at our well-filled packs with the heavy blankets of our outfit.
We found the trenches which had been constructed for the poilu, a little shallow for taller Americans. And as we had been warned not to show our heads above the parapets, we had to crouch when moving through them.
We were told that some of these trenches occupied by the French had board flooring; but ours did not, except in spots.
“By Shorge,” said Peter Beaudett, “do they think we are feesh?”
“An’ sure,” said Pat Quinn in a hoarse whisper, “no dacent fish would live here—it’s mud turtles that we are!”
“Hush up,” commanded the top sergeant, in a hoarse whisper, “no noise; keep your ears and eyes open, but shut your mouths.”
Silence followed; but as we threw off our packs, and were told to make ourselves comfortable, it seemed a little sarcastic.
“If we mustn’t talk,” said Sam, in a low tone, “I suppose they can’t hinder us from keeping up a lot of thinking, can they?”
“An’ how can a man think,” muttered Pat, “with all this half-frozen mud on his fate and moind?”
We had settled down, in the mud, as one of the sergeants said to me with a wink, and with Yankee ingenuity were making ourselves as comfortable as we could. Private Shaw made a stove by punching holes in a metal bucket, and kindling a fire therein (which Corporal Sutherland said was “a kind of lightning bug heater”). He sat with it between his legs, trying to warm himself. Peter Beaudett, with his blanket wrapped around him, was saying all sorts of funny things in a low tone, about soldiering, and the irrepressible Quinn, with Irish combativeness, was making contrary replies.
“What made me get into this mud,” grumbled Peter, “when I had a good home and such beeg lot of comforts that I didn’t know that I had any?”
“An’ why,” said Quinn “didn’t ye’s stay tied to your mither’s apron string, so ye’s could crawl under the bed whin it thundered?”
In spite of all this by-play of growling and seeming grumpiness, the men were not dissatisfied at being face to face with their enemy, or at least in the trenches opposite them.
The opposing lines, meanwhile, were so silent that our men, peering cautiously through the “gun holes” as Sam called the spaces left between the sand bags piled on top in front, were curious to see the Boche, and could be hardly restrained from firing a shot to “stir them up.” This feeling also was seen in those of higher rank; for is it not natural for Americans to want to “see something doing”?
The French, who were acting as our instructors, and who had had experience in these same trenches, cautioned us against this. They said that there was a tacit agreement between the contestants, not to needlessly stir up a fight.
There was a well of water just to our right, midway between the opposing trenches where, by tacit consent, two men at a time were allowed to resort; near it was an apple tree whose limbs enticed one, provokingly, as good for firewood.
The next night following these occurrences was one of watchful waiting. I was sergeant of the guard; but nothing of importance occurred during the night, except that the weather moderated, and the rain came pouring down in torrents and then turned to sleet. But when it came my turn off, it was not too rainy for sound, dreamless sleep—and, as soldiering goes, it was not so very uncomfortable to strong athletic youngsters with hot blood in their veins; as grew apparent to us, by contrast, later.
With the coming of morning, American restlessness and the desire to see things moving became more apparent in our ranks, and even among our officers.
“Phat the divil are we here for a’ tall?” said Pat Quinn. “Is it to be sitting with our thumbs in our mouths like the little Jack Horner?”
It had ceased to rain. The sun had come out, and the clouds cleared away sufficiently for us to catch glimpses of blue in the sky; and American blood and impatience began to stir.
When two German soldiers without arms were seen at the well mentioned, taking a wash and getting water, they were not at first molested, though it could be seen that Yankee fingers were itching to take a shot.
After finishing washing, one of the Boches began cutting some branches from the tree. That was too much for Private Shaw, who stuck his rifle between the sand bags and crack! went a shot at the Boches who, dropping wood and water, scampered in unheroic haste for their holes.
“Who did that?” inquired the tall lieutenant of our platoon. “Who fired that shot?”
“It was me, sir,” answered Shaw. “I wanted some of that wood myself!”
“Well,” said the lieutenant good-naturedly, “you stand a mighty poor chance to get any of it now.” And just as he spoke and straightened up a little, ping! came a bullet that passed through the officer’s hat.
“The imperdence of the divil!” said Pat; “sure, Lieutenant, are ye hurted?”
The lieutenant was mad, and walked away growling under his breath without reply.
In a few moments, bang! bang! bang! bang! went our light guns; and then came replies from the enemy that boded ill for quiet times, for the Boche guns, speaking from their hiding places, seemed likely to reach us in our burrows.
One great eight-inch shot struck near our parapet, exploding with a crashing roar, breaking a broad path through the barbed-wire barricade and leaving a hole big enough to bury a whole platoon.
“Faith, is that phat they call a Jack Johnson?” said Quinn, “or is it a little light-weight fellow?”
Our French officer was understood to say that it was the latter. Peter Beaudett, during the firing, had been struck by a small piece of spent shell, which knocked him over while barely breaking the skin of his jaws. He “rustled” as Shaw declared “like a hen with its head cut off;” then, finding that he was not killed, though two of his teeth had been knocked out, he angrily shook his fist towards the enemy, crying out: “Py tam! I no like your doctor pulls my teeth; I fight you now, by tam!”
We had got our lesson, that two can play at a dangerous game; and after this the opposing lines settled down for a while, to comparative peace and quiet.
Such was our introduction to trench warfare, on the front line, which finally grew in intensity and became exciting and dangerous enough to satisfy the most enterprising Yankee. Even this first experience, however, had convinced us that there were worse discomforts than rain, snow, or mud.
Shortly after this, it was my duty to take a turn with a squad on the listening post. I had with me a young German-American named Kepler, whose father had been a soldier with my father during the Civil War, and whose loyalty and patriotism were unquestioned. He was quiet, phlegmatic, and resolute; absolutely to be depended upon, and, better still, spoke and understood the German language.
Silently creeping through the excavation leading under our barbed wire barricade and, leading to the front of the German trenches, we reached our station. Here we listened for possible movements of the enemy, but all was quiet and we had, as Sam said, who was another of our party, “nothing to report, but a big lot of silence and chills.”
A listening post, here let me explain, runs underground, in most cases, beneath the barbed wire barricade which protects the trench from sudden invasion, such as mining to blow up our trenches; and sometimes conversation and orders could be heard, which gave valuable information.
Of course the Germans, on their part, also had listening posts constantly near us whose whereabouts were, however, not known, though sometimes guessed at.
The duties of those on listening posts had not only a spice of danger, but an appeal to the natural curiosity of a New Englander. Therefore, with all its “cramped-up-itiveness,” as Sam called it, it was not without its fascination for our boys.
When, after a tour of four days’ duty on the front-line trench, we were relieved and marched to our rest billets in the rear, we found it more than agreeable.
As Sutherland stood up at his full six-foot height, he said, looking around and taking a full breath, “Say, isn’t this a big country!”
“Shure,” agreed Pat, “ye’s can get a white man’s braith and niver a fear of getting a bullet to vintelite your head, or a piece of shell to knock out your dintistry.”
At which Peter Beaudett rubbed his jaw and ejaculated, “Ugh!”
With all the badinage and by-play of rough jokes, the men were more serious when coming from the trenches than when, with some forebodings, they had taken up its duties.
My! how I enjoyed “chow” that night when mess call sounded! And the dreamless sleep that followed, with clean straw and with a blanket spread over it for a bed!
“WHO COMES THERE?”
One of the first things I did on going into rest billet was to send word to Jonathan by Muddy.
Our friendship had grown stronger since entering the army, and we had kept it up by frequent intercourse; both by meetings and by exchange of notes back and forth by Muddy. When I put a note in his collar and told him to carry it to Jot, he seemed to understand what he must do; and these notes except, in one or two instances, reached their destination.
There were some jokes about the “Muddy mail,” but most of our comrades thought it was wonderfully intelligent that the dog understood when told to carry it.
There had never been any serious misunderstanding between Jot and me. Ever since coming to France, however, there had been vague insinuations that Jot was of German parentage and sympathies. There was nothing that I knew that warranted such a belief; but since I had learned that he spoke their language, these whispers of suspicion had increased until they affected me with just a little inner questioning. What was the reason for his being always so reticent about his father?
I did not, however, for a moment distrust his patriotism or loyalty to our country. The general distrust and hatred of everything German was common among all classes. It was but the natural result of the wicked and cruel policy of the German government and army, since entering upon this dreadful war, which now seemed to menace civilization and free government, so dear to Americans.
When Jot came to see me, as requested by my note through the “Muddy mail,” I told him of these rumors, and said: “Would it not be better to tell about your family, and stop these sinister rumors, for good?”
“You have confidence in me, haven’t you, Davie?” Jot replied.
“Yes,” I asserted, “I think I would trust you sooner than myself, in any important matter. But wouldn’t it be better for me to know the truth, so that I can contradict these insinuations?”
After a moment’s thought, he replied: “Well, possibly it would. But it is to satisfy you rather than them, that I will say, my father was born in the United States. He was, in that sense, an American. I have a half-brother three years older than I, who is said to resemble me, but we never agreed. And there was a misunderstanding between my father and mother that was never healed. It was by her request, almost her last one, that I have taken my present name. That’s all I can tell you, and that is all there is of consequence to know.”
This had to satisfy me, and with it I hoped to contradict any further insinuations that I might hear.
Soon after this we were on duty again in the front trenches, and were at first careful not to stir up needless fighting.
The duties of a soldier call for constant caution and alertness; and yet he must have a care-free cheerfulness with it all. He must not borrow either sorrow or trouble. It requires time to nourish either fear or worry, and the philosophy that does not cultivate them is the one that produces the most comfort for a soldier. So, during our stay at the rest billets, we ate and joked and enjoyed more than those who live in the calm of life. And now, when with a certain confident jauntiness we again took our places in the trenches we were full of confidence and courage; and it proved the wisdom of frequent rests in this nerve-straining duty.
We were, however, not only getting acquainted with our duties and its dangers, but were making acquaintance with its other discomforts.
We were admonished by our officers to keep clean and cheerful. But I could not see that we needed the advice more than those who gave it; for I came upon our captain with his shirt off curiously investigating the seams of it for certain familiar invaders that were a plague to most of us. It was shiveringly cold and damp, but these pests were no respecters of rank. Cooties, as Tommy Atkins calls them, can not be put out or down with a frown, or even by a general order from headquarters.
“They and the rats are,” said Sutherland, “a providential war creation intended to keep soldiers so busy as to forget, with scratching and frequent investigation, all smaller troubles.” However, he used sulphurous words, common from time immemorial to soldiers, because our French predecessors had left these pestiferous enemies behind them for us to fight.
“By Shorge,” said Peter Beaudett, “I dinks dey carries enough de cooties away to keep dem busy! But de rats! one got’a hold of the ear of me the las’ night!”
Sutherland, who was something of a reader, declared that he had never before understood why it was that in “Tristam Shandy,” so much emphasis was put by Uncle Toby in his assertion that “The army swore terribly in Flanders;” but that the reason was now revealed: for it surely was the cooties, that caused this profanity!
No one can understand the discomforts of trench life when simply depicted in words. No one can describe a trench by word or picture; he can not introduce any one there by illustration, he must be there himself, or he can not understand its real discomforts. They did not seem fit places for civilized men, those who used combs, brushes, soap and napkins, had clean hands and faces. We were ghosts of the cave men.
Trench life, however, had its phases of good. It drew men together with a sense of companionship with danger and death, that they had not known before. While a needful reserve was kept up between officers and men, there was greater cordiality and a greater feeling of intimacy,—less harshness.
For some weeks there had been a season of peacefulness between the lines. The weather had become warmer and more springlike, with occasionally a sunny day. Then there came a change. We had become accustomed to trench duties and not a little tired at its sameness.
It was while I was on this duty that the change came. I, with others, was on detail at a listening post one night, and while intently listening, young Kepler said in a whisper: “Did you hear that, Sergeant?”
“I heard a growl,” I whispered, “as though some one was speaking.”
“I think they are going to attack, somewhere,” he said. “There, did you hear that?”
“No, what is it?”
“Some one giving orders,” he replied. “I can’t hear distinctly, but I am sure it means an attack.”
We sent back word to the trenches, and they in turn sent back word to the commandant in his dugout, that there was an unusual stir on the German front opposite us; though we could tell nothing more definite at that time.
It was not long before we learned the meaning of what we had heard at the listening post.
A tremendous explosion of artillery, about two o’clock, broke the stillness of the damp gray morning. Gas shells came whistling over us. We put on our gas masks, and were thankful that the shells were mostly going over us instead of striking near. Our heads with these masks looked queer, and laughter-provoking.
“This means an attack,” was passed down the lines.
“I don’t think they know any more about it than we do,” some one growled.
“It’s meself,” said Pat Quinn, “that wishes it would come along dacently soon, if it’s coming.”
This expressed the feeling often felt among soldiers,—to know the worst and have it over with quickly.
“They fire all along the line,” said our lieutenant, “so that we can not tell where the real attack is coming.”
The continuous whistling of gas shells and the sickening fumes that partially reached us, the explosions over and near us, and our answers in like kind made it even then seem like a hell on earth.
Then the enemy seemed to get a more perfect aim, and their shells swept away our wire barricades clean to the ground, as though they were cobwebs, until not even a post was left standing.
Our men, cowered under the earth embankments, waiting, waiting, with high-strung, impatient and nervous suspense, until, at last, they were warned that the attack was at hand.
Then our artillery quickened in sharp explosions, while the rat, tat, tat of the machine-guns, like a stick being drawn over a slat fence, filled the air with a demoniac clamor impossible to describe. The air was full of hoarsely shrieking shells and shot that made the air vibrate, and the ground rock, as though the demons themselves had broken loose!
Then the nerves that were shaken stiffened, and we were ready for the attack.
The Boche came on in two waves, one behind the other, and were met by the deadly, coolly-directed machine-gun fire and the well-aimed rifles of our sharpshooters. Still they came on, got possession of one small part of our entrenchment between two traverses, and tried to drive our men down the trenches by enfilading them with machine-gun fire. But they were driven back again with losses in dead, wounded, and prisoners.
The dark clouds that had hung over the scene during the fight cleared. The sun came out and as it neared the horizon, like a great disk of blood, the dark smoke drifted away, revealing the scene in our front. There a score of mortally wounded and dead lay.
When we took stock of our losses, we found them slight. One of our first lieutenants was wounded, two privates killed, and five wounded, two of them but slightly, and two missing.
I was so fortunate as to receive praise from my captain for what he called my “coolness and courage.” But, I must confess the truth, I was at first woefully frightened but tried not to show it.
I have since learned that though big gun fire makes an alarming sound, it also makes a good many holes in the air without touching a head; and that the most fatal effects in battle are more often from well-aimed machine-gun fire and rifles.
After a battle, when the enemy has been successfully met, there comes a feeling of exaltation among its defenders. The French officers were generous in praise of us, while our captain said, “You made a good fight, and I am proud of every one of you.”
Colonel Burbank also was generous in his praise. “It is your baptism of fire as soldiers that you will never forget, and can remember with pride,” he stated.
When I remembered my trembling knees and the sick feeling at the pit of my stomach, I doubted if any of the praise belonged to me, but concluded not to mention it.
Peter Beaudett, who was wounded severely in the arm and had first aid, said, with a wink at Quinn, as though he had good fortune instead of a wound, “By gar! It means to me a bed and much clean sheets.”
“Shure,” replied our ever disputing Quinn, “and it may mane a doctor’s saw,” and then seeing by his wounded comrade’s face that his remark was cutting deeper than he intended, added more softly, “a pretty Red Cross nurse and a vacation. An’ I almost wish it was meself that was in your place.”
Our lieutenant was more severely wounded than was at first thought and we learned that it was the opinion of the surgeons that it would be a long time, if ever, before he was able to resume his duties with the company.
Here let me, unwillingly, record the fact that Muddy did not prove to be a hero. When the racket began, he tucked his tail between his legs and with a whine and an apologetic look at me over his shoulder, scampered off in a most unheroic manner.
“This means promotion to some one,” said our men, when it was known that our first lieutenant, Reese, was not likely to resume duty on account of the severity of his wounds.
In spite of hardships and battle, to which, however, we were becoming reconciled, we professed ourselves enthusiastically ready for another “bout” with the Boches, and didn’t care who knew it!
I was very proud, for my friend Jonathan gained the good opinion of his officers and men, by his soldierly coolness and courage.
“Say,” said Sutherland confidentially, “them German chaps don’t take a back seat in fighting, I guess.”
“It is no use to dispute the fact that they are brave men,” I answered.
“Aw!” said Pat, “of course, or they wouldn’t be holdin’ on here in France by their teeth like so many divils. An’ I haven’t a doubt that ould Satan himsilf is a brave one too.”
Thus ended our first real fight in France, the memory of which gave us courage for the fighting before us. One of the results was seen a few weeks after, when First Sergeant Nickerson was promoted to be second lieutenant of my company, in place of Lieutenant Reese, who was mustered out of the service with honors on account of wounds. I was also promoted to be a second sergeant, and no one but myself knew how undeserved was my advancement; though there came a time soon when I thought I deserved it better.
A CALL RETURNED
“See here!” said our burly top sergeant, “the Boches have made a call on us, and it seems to me it is up to us to return it, as is usual in polite society.”
“I wouldn’t be so sorry,” growled Sutherland, with a grin, “if I never saw them again.”
“An’ sure, as my mither used to say about the O’Flyns,” said Quinn, “their room is bether than their company.”
But individual preferences do not count in the army. Everything, even human nature, must yield to discipline. The making of a soldier is not the matter of a day, or one of personal preference; it is one of progressive training; and a part of that training is to put in practice that which has been learned in theory.
For illustration: we had been taught, in theory, the importance of personal cleanliness for the preservation of health; but in the squalor of trench life, we were apt to disregard it. Especial care in washing of the feet was enjoined, to prevent trench feet which is not only a painful infliction but one that unfits a soldier for marching or other duty.
“An’ why,” said Quinn, “don’t they put off bein’ so particular until we have more toime?”
“Because,” said Sutherland, “the time to do a thing in the army is when it is the most inconvenient.”
“I belave yees,” said Pat. “They expect us to shave and kape nate as though we were going to a dance, or to call on the prisident, instid of standing on a fire step in a muddy trench, with rats running over us and cooties for steady visitors.”
Though others complained of rats, I was not inconvenienced by them; for Muddy, who was a good ratter, slept cuddled up by me. Woe to one that was seen within his range by night or day. Though it was at first feared that he might bark, he seemed to understand that the trench was not a place for noise.
There was a rumor that we were soon to go “over the top” to make a morning call on the Boches. Where or how an army rumor starts no one knows. But if there was ever a place where rumor first had birth, it must have been in a camp of soldiers.
“You can hear anything here but the truth,” said Quinn, “and a botherin’ soight of that.”
No matter where this rumor originated it was largely believed. Most of the men could not see the use of being so polite as to return enemy calls and, I confess, that I regarded even the thought of it with some qualms. I wanted to be brave and hated myself for not welcoming the chance to be in the lists of valor; but I didn’t!
“It’s bad weather,” said Sutherland jocosely, “and a mighty inconvenient time to be killed.” And that was the way I felt about it. But a soldier is not consulted about his likings or conveniences in doing anything; for he is but a part of a machine that is working for a great purpose, and which must be fed on human discomfort and, possibly, on human blood and life.
When the order came for us to take a special bath and put on clean clothing, the order that in modern warfare precedes a fight, we thought it of the same piece with previous exactions for cleanliness and “fuss scraping,” as Sam called it. I soon learned, however, that it was a precaution taken as a preventive of blood poison and infection in case of being wounded.
There had been a rehearsal in the part which we were to take in the attack. Every man was assigned his place and instructed as to what he must do and how to do it. It was like the rehearsal of a stage piece. To each man was issued an extra gas helmet,—making two in all. These were examined by professionals to see that they were in order; and we were drilled in quickly adjusting them in case of need. Our identification disks, which are carried by each soldier, were carefully fastened to our persons, to identify those severely wounded or killed.
Our aviators, like great gulls, flying above the German lines, had been searching out their machine-gun emplacements, magazines and artillery; and we knew by all these signs that our trial of arms was near.
At twelve o’clock at night men were sent out to cut broad paths through the barbed wire barricades for the passage of our troops. At about half past one our guns opened fire on the enemy to destroy the rest of their wire entanglements; and, although I knew that the cannonade was a friendly one, it seemed to lift the roots of my hair from my scalp, at the thought that one of them might accidentally kill me.
I couldn’t make myself feel brave when I thought of taking part in the impending attack; though I had schooled myself to stolid determination to get killed, rather than to let my comrades know that I was scared. Pride is often a good substitute for courage.
With all my fears and dread, my mind was clear, possibly because of the stimulant of danger. But I saw too many unpleasant possibilities. A vivid imagination is sometimes an inconvenient possession for a soldier.
All at last was ready. Short ladders had been placed all along the parapet, and rude stairways made of stakes were prepared, so that the men could quickly go over the top of the trenches. An hour before the coming attack we were moved to the front trench while others filled the connecting trenches, ready to follow us over the top.
It was in the gray hours of morning,—about four o’clock I should judge,—while the guns were still belching over us, that the shrill whistle of command sounded for advance. And up and over we went!
To my surprise, I was less frightened than when contemplating the danger. My mind worked with peculiar clearness as we went forward at quick time towards the enemy under their heavy fire from machine-guns and rifles.
I saw men fall as though they had stumbled over a stone. One hundred and fifty yards is not a great distance, but it is a long way to travel under fire, at least it seemed a long way to me.
As we neared the hostile trenches their entire front lit up with red flame from machine-guns and rifles.
Humming bullets, fierce screams, hoarse attempts at cheers, guttural shouts, the clatter of machine-guns, all blended in one demoniac roar as we piled over into the enemy’s trench. The foe at first resisted, but at last yielded before the impetuous assault of our bayonets and fell back through their communicating trenches. I saw one sticking out his head from behind a traverse as much as to say, “I am at home.” Another big German, swinging his rifle by the barrel for a club, confronted me. I fended with my rifle barrel, lunged, and down he went!
Then a confused mingling of men and sounds impossible to describe succeeded. I was struck by some projectile and found myself wondering what had happened to me. Then came the shrill whistle for retirement. I struggled up and, but for a little faintness and an aching place under my vest, was myself again.
While comrades were climbing out of the trench, and I was about to follow, my foot struck a prostrate form. It stirred slightly. I was excitedly anxious to get back to our lines, but could not leave a wounded comrade in the hands of the enemy. Picking up the man I threw him over my shoulder, climbed painfully over the parapet and across the shell-pitted ground. But on reaching our trench, my memory lapsed, and down I sank with my burden.
My first thought on recovering was of Jot. I had caught but one transient glimpse of him during the fight.
“Where’s Jot?” I asked. Then, seeing that they didn’t understand I added, “Lieutenant Nickerson, I mean?”
No reply was given.
“Can you walk?” some one asked.
“I guess I can,” I answered; “I came over here with a man over my shoulder. I can walk.”
“I think,” said Sutherland, “that I had better carry you pig-a-back; these trenches are too narrow for a stretcher. There’s a bullet hole in the breast of your coat. You are shot.”
“Nonsense!” I said, “I can walk; but I have an awful sore spot under my vest pocket; something knocked the breath out of me for a spell.”
Arriving at the first aid station, with Sutherland’s help, my upper clothing was stripped off and out fell a bullet! It had struck my watch, broken the crystal, smashed the works, and left a big dent in the case, almost half as deep as a thimble. It was directly over my heart. The watch had saved my life. It had been my father’s watch, presented to him by his company in the Civil War.
“Carry him to the Clearing Station,” I heard some one say.
In attempting to get up from my seat after the examination, I fell again. I fancied that I heard the Surgeon say, “Collapse!” Then, once more, everything faded, and next I found myself in a white still place with many cots. It was a hospital.
“What’s the matter, doctor?” I inquired; “what’s happened to me?”
“Bad collapse; need rest. I wonder you did not drop dead, carrying a man on your shoulder across No Man’s Land after that hurt.”
One unpleasant fact was evident to me, and that was, I was in the clutches of a surgeon. I always did hate doctors.
I got up, looked in a little mirror to smooth my hair, and started back to see a pale face looking out at me. I turned to go out of the door, but was confronted by a blue-eyed Red Cross nurse and a burly attendant.
“Let me alone,” I protested, “I want to see how my friend, Lieutenant Nickerson, got out of the fight.”
The nurse pointed, as a reply, to a near-by cot where a still form lay. “What’s the matter!” I exclaimed, striding to the cot. “Who is it?”
I needed no answer, it was Jot.
“What’s the matter?” I again cried. “Is he dead?”
“No,” said the surgeon; “only stunned; concussion of the brain from a heavy blow. He will be all right with proper attention, after a while.”
“How did he get here?”
“Why, don’t you know?” he answered. “They said that you brought him across No Man’s Land almost on a run.”
Thus it was I came to know that the comrade I had brought back into our trench was my friend, Jot.
I stayed in the hospital for several days, during which time they fed me on light stuff, as though I were an infant, instead of a full-sized doughboy, and I was losing strength. I wouldn’t have stayed there contentedly that long, but to assure myself of Jot’s recovery. Then I kicked.
“There is nothing the matter with me, doctor, except I am faint with hunger. I shall starve unless you give me something man’s size to eat!”
“Give him something hearty,—an egg on toast,” ordered the doctor, “and keep him quiet.”
Then I knew I was in for “low diet” some more.
“Lieutenant Nickerson wants to see you,” said the nurse. So I went to his cot.
“What is it, Jot? Are you better?”
“Head’s a little sore, but otherwise fit as a fiddle!”
“Well, look out,” I said, “or the doctor will starve you.”
Jot smiled, and then said, “I want to thank you for saving my life. You have always managed to stand between me and trouble from the first; and now you have got between me and death, Davie.”
“Why,” I replied, “I didn’t even know it was you, until after I got here. I was in a hurry when I slung you over my shoulder. Your face was downward. So you needn’t thank me for it; but I am as thankful as you that I did it. I fixed that big Boche that was swinging his rifle for a club, though.” Then I told him about it.
“You always were good and brave, Davie.”
“There is where you are out, this time, Jot,” I said. “Don’t tell any one; but I was awful scared before we started for the Boche trench. I would have run away had I dared. I suppose courage is a cumulative thing, mine had to be given time to accumulate.”
Jot lay back and laughed.
“You needn’t laugh,” I said. “It is true as gospel, and I am ashamed to let you know, I was a dreadful coward; but it is true!”
After feeding on thin soup and a single egg on toast for breakfast, for a week, I bribed the nurse to give me a beefsteak and some potatoes and, on that forbidden diet, grew so strong that I got my discharge from the hospital in a day or two.
I am sincerely convinced that the most of my faintness was from underfeeding,—sheer hunger. But that theorist of a doctor would not believe it and thought his low diet and medicines had helped me to a rapid recovery.
I was glad to get back to my company again, and to receive the rough but hearty congratulations of my comrades.
“You still look pale,” said Sutherland. “Are you feeling all right now?”
“Yes,” I replied. “You’d look as pale as I do if they had fed you on air. When’s mess?”
I saw the boys grin, for I had the reputation of being a good feeder; but I was surely glad to get back to plain, hearty army rations again.
So it was that I again took up my duties with a heartiness that, before going “over the top,” I had been a trifle lacking in.
I learned that on counting noses three of our company were killed and seven wounded.
We talked about that skirmish so much that the woman who owned the barn where we had our billet complained, because her cow couldn’t sleep. And after all the talk, there was not much of an understanding about the fight; for a soldier does not see much that is taking place in battle a great way from his nose. What we afterwards saw dwarfed this first call on the Boches; but a first experience leaves a deep impression.
IN REST BILLET
After our first call on the Boches, we enjoyed the rest and recuperation of our billets.
“This cow barn,” said Corporal Sutherland, “seems like a good thing after being in the trenches; don’t it?”
“An’ faith it does,” said Quinn; “but a fine tooth comb would improve it.”
“Pat,” said Dean, facetiously, “is related to that countryman of his who found fault because he was to be hanged.”
No sky is perfect without a few clouds; but we had an overshadowing one because we did not get letters from home. There had been complaint ever since the American Expeditionary Force first landed in France, that our letters did not reach us as quickly as they should.
Some mail had just come in, however, and the boys were gladdened by the news.
“Just got some letters from home,” said Corporal Sutherland, “and I am mighty glad to get them, though they are so old they are like last year’s birds’ nests.”
“What’s the matter with our mail service?” queried Shaw. “The poilus get their letters regularly, I am told.”
“The poilus manage their mail better, because it is distributed by women who are in sympathy with their boys; so their letters don’t have to wait until they are cold and dead with old age,” said Sutherland. “They reach them warm from the hearts of those who write them; and I believe that is what gives the blue devils, as the Boches call them, courage to fight so well.”
I was fortunate to get some letters from home and a box of goodies, among which was some spruce gum and a quart can of maple sugar right from the hills of Chester. You may infer that I enjoyed these good things after so lately having come from the hospital!
The little French woman, in whose barn we were billeted, was the wife of a French soldier. She had three children ranging in ages from three to seven years. Our men petted the kiddies and shared their rations with them.
I shared my goodies with the children much to their delight. I was very fond of little four-year-old Marie, who was as pretty as a picture and loved sweet things. One day I was having a great frolic with her. Her face was smeared with chocolate and maple sugar, and a circle of dirt, mingled with the sticky sweets, formed a halo around her pretty mouth. She was in high glee over the possession of peppermints and a doughnut, which was almost as hard as the chocolate.
I was dancing her in my arms, and she was piping like a little canary in attempting to express her delight, when I encountered a French soldier who, to my embarrassment, hugged me and kissed me on either cheek. This is to the French the same as a hearty handshake with us.
“I am so glad,” he said in broken English, “to see you. The madame has told me in her letters how good you Americans have all been to my children and to her.”
He told me that he had lived in New York for a time before he was married, and loved my country and its good people. He was on a short leave of absence to see his family. He said he had been a little jealous, when his wife had told him about the kindness of the Americans who were billeted at his home.
One day while I was sitting on a bench by my quarters, holding the little girl and talking to her father, a slim black-eyed young man came up, and abruptly said, “Good morning, sirs!”
I looked distrustfully at him, for we had been warned against English-speaking German spies, and then opened my eyes with astonishment, for he looked as much like my friend, Jot, as one English sparrow looks like another.
“Who are you?” I inquired. “What do you want?”
“I am on important business,” he responded politely, “for the army.”
“What do you mean by that?” I said. “Are you an American?”
“I was born in America,” he replied with indescribable dignity, “and have lived there a good part of my life. But I was educated on this side.”
Then I remembered what Jot had told me about his half-brother’s resemblance to himself and I distrusted him all the more.
“Where’s your uniform?” I asked. “Why are you in citizen’s dress?”
For answer he pointed to a loosely hanging sleeve.
I turned my head to speak to my French friend, but found him gone; and then, turning back again, found the man I had been talking to had also vanished. I could not understand how he had disappeared so quickly, and this added to my suspicion that he was not straight.
When I again saw the French soldier, Maurice, I said, “Where did you go so quickly? You were standing near me and in an instant had disappeared.”
He shrugged his shoulders and replied, “It would not be, as your people say, ‘just the thing,’ to listen to your conversation with another gentleman.”
Knowing something of a Frenchman’s idea of politeness that seemed to explain his sudden leaving.
As soon as I got a chance from my duties, I started to see Jot. He had been discharged from the hospital, I had learned, but I had not seen him since he came back on duty. Passing the guard I stood before Lieutenant Nickerson and saluted as stiffly as possible, and waited until addressed by my superior officer. Jot returned the salute and, coming up to me, put his hands on my shoulder, saying, “No formalities, Davie, now that we are by ourselves. What is it that makes you look so confoundedly troubled? Have the rations given out, or what is the matter?”
Then I told him about the man who so much resembled him.
He stood for a moment as though meditating what to say, and then replied, “It’s all right, David; I have seen him, too.”
“Is he your half-brother with whom you told me you could not agree?”
“We may not have been able to agree, but it does not follow that he is not straight and a patriot, does it? We may be in agreement in a large way, if not in little ones?”
I felt, knowing Jot’s habitual reserve, that it would be of no use to question him further, and as he had not really told me anything, I was much confused and uncertain what it all meant.
“Well, Lieutenant,” I said stiffly, “I feel it my duty to report these facts to Colonel Burbank.”
“That’s not military,” he said. “You must report them first to your captain, and he will report them to the colonel.”
“Oh, confound the red tape!” I said. “Can’t I report to the colonel in some way, without passing it around the red-tape ring?”
“Yes,” responded Jot, somewhat to my surprise, “the colonel was saying that he would like to see that watch of yours, that the Boche spoiled and told me to send you to his quarters some time.”
Then he came to me once more, and, grasping my hand, with a look of love on his high-bred face, said, “Do what your New England conscience dictates and God be with you, Davie. I wish I could see more of you. But whatever happens, remember that I am always your friend.”
Reaching Colonel Burbank’s quarters, I sent word by the orderly that I was present to take his orders, if he wished to give any, and, also had something important to communicate.
On reaching Colonel Burbank, I clicked my heels, saluted, and waited to be addressed by my colonel.
“What is it, Sergeant Stark? What do you wish to communicate?”
“I took the liberty of coming here because I was told that you wished to see me.”
“That will keep,” he replied and repeated his inquiry. Then I briefly told him what I have here narrated.
To my surprise he said, “I have seen the man this morning. It was right for you to report the matter, and I am glad that you did not report it in the usual way. You will not mention to any one what you have heard or know of this affair,” he commanded, “or it might do harm.”
Then he gravely said, as though to dismiss further talk about it, “I have learned about your gallant conduct during the raid on the enemy trench, and am pleased with you, and congratulate you.”
Just then Muddy rushed in like a miniature cyclone, circled around me, barking, as much as to say, “I have found you!” and then jumped into the colonel’s lap.
“He comes here once in a while,” explained the colonel, “and this is the way he salutes.”
Then rising, he came to me and said: “I would like to see that watch.”
“It isn’t a watch any more,” I said; “it’s a ruin.”
And I took it out and handed it to him.
“So I see,” he said, examining an inscription on the inner case, and then reading aloud, “‘Presented to Captain David Stark by his comrades and admirers.’ Yes,” he added, musingly, “it is the same that my father, with others, gave to him after the battle of Winchester, during the Shenandoah Campaign under General Sheridan. Do you know that Captain Stark saved my father’s life?”
Then he turned away as though to examine the inscription under better light, but I saw a tear in his eye, and I was proud of my father.
As I turned to go, he added, “I have heard my father tell about making the presentation of that watch, and am pleased to see it; I am sure he will be glad as I am, that his friend’s son has proved himself worthy to wear it, and that it has saved his life. Now as a favor to me—will you allow me to have the watch repaired for you?”
I felt a lump rise in my throat. The eagle was asking a favor of me!
I did not get a chance, and did not much care to tell, how little I really deserved all that my colonel said; and how scared I had been before the fight. But I thought of a saying of mother’s: “How much praise is often given to those who do not deserve it.” I determined, however, to try to live up to the reputation that chance had given me.
Afterwards, telling Jot about the Colonel’s compliments, I said: “As Bill Jenkins used to say, ‘I felt as mean as pussley.’”
“That’s just like you!” said Jot. “Don’t you remember about your leaving some bunches of grass unmowed where there were bumblebees, and getting Bill Jenkins to get into them by telling him that you had left them as fancy spots? Bill said, ‘Confound your fancy spots!’ and pitched into them, and got all stung up. And you lay awake that night laughing and repenting by turns? The difference between you and some other cowards is that you are mostly scared before a fight and they are scared when in a fight.”
“What is the reason,” I said, “that I am so scared before a fight?”
“A vivid imagination,” replied Jot; “and borrowing troubles before they come.”
A SIX WEEKS’ HIKE THROUGH FRANCE
Lists of men were being made. Officers were hurrying with papers.
An order had come. There was cleaning of rifles and machine-guns, washing of clothes, inspection, and making up of packs preparatory to a march.
Several sick and wounded men were returned from the hospital as fit for duty. Among these was Private Beaudett, whose hurt had been a clean gun shot wound which was not entirely healed but the doctors, at his urgent request, had discharged him as again fit for duty. We were glad to greet him and have him with us once more.
A cheerful, hopeful man like him, one who sees the bright side of every hardship, and who has a stock of good humor, and fun in him, puts a valuable addition of cheerfulness and life into a company of soldiers. This characteristic can neither be measured, nor weighed. It is called its morale. Napoleon said that an army with this imponderable quality, made up in part of hope, cheerfulness and confidence in itself and its commander, was worth, in actual service, three times as much as an army without it.
No doubt it was this fun-loving and fun-seeing quality that had conduced to Beaudett’s quick recovery from his wound.
“An’ sure,” said Pat Quinn, “ye’s look as good as new, ye little son of a gun.”
“Yes, be Shorge! pretty much better for muche good companee of Red Cross leetle nurse; an’ I cheets him doctor and de bugs,” responded Beaudett with a significant scratch and a grin; “Oui, I have none of he.”
“We will be generous,” said Corporal Sutherland with a wink, “and share our cooties with you. So you can begin scratching at once.”
And he did!
The rain poured down in torrents, and with a persistence worthy of even France in war, when we began our march. For neither weather, nor general or special orders, have the least regard for the soldiers’ comfort in emergencies; and no more consults their convenience than a brigadier general does a mule or an auto truck.
The whitish clay stuck to our feet, magnifying them in both size and weight to such a degree that when, at one time, we halted for rest in a village Pat Quinn looked ruefully downward, and said: “It’s them that look like big loaves of gingerbread before they are patted into shape. An’ sure how will I iver know them again for me feet?”
“A bog trotter like you,” said Sutherland roughly, “ought to be thankful for good clean mud like this.”
And then, had not the mud been so vexingly deep, there would have been a quarrel.
That night we halted in a downpour of rain in a small village, wet, tired and hungry, our packs and feet increased in weight by mud and water.
But our hunger was soon satisfied by a plentiful supply of steaming hot stew with coffee and bread from our kitchen on wheels. Men sing of sparkling wine; but I have never tasted anything that equalled good army chow and fragrant coffee for comfort, after a long march.
Most of our men smoked, as soldiers generally do; but Lieutenant Nickerson and I, and strange to say, Quinn, were exceptions to this general rule, and did not use tobacco or whiskey. An Irishman who neither smokes nor drinks, as Peter Beaudett said, “Was de queer bug, begar!”
Pat’s explanation of this was, “Me mither tould me I had better not get the habit of smoking or drinking, or I might get where I could not get either whiskey or tobacco.”
Those soldiers who do smoke say there is great solace in a pipe, but to my mind a soldier with the fewest artificial wants, is, on the whole, the most easily comforted.
We soon began to see some of the destruction that grim-visaged war had dealt out to battle-scarred France.
We had halted in a litter of shattered stone and plastered houses which was once a village. The walls were in unpicturesque ruin. Very few houses had roofs, and but few walls were standing. Yet we found several families still clinging to what had once been their homes, reluctant to leave the ground whereon had stood their dwellings, and which had sheltered, no doubt, several generations of their kind. These homes, and even the gardens, trees and vines were torn from the soil. Orchards and vineyards that had borne fruit for them and their children were cut down by shot and shell or, with German thoroughness, had been sawed down so that they would never again bring sustaining comforts to them.
At the place where my platoon was quartered was a black eyed, sad-faced little woman, with a family of small children, living in a cellar. Her mournful face lit up and her eyes sparkled, at the sight of our friendly faces and uniforms—and for one day, at least, neither she nor her little ones were hungry. For we shared our rations with them and gave to them all that we could spare when we resumed our march in the morning.
This first glimpse of a ruined village left a deep impression on us. The surpassing brutality of it all! The homes, the factories and churches, the gardens and orchards and vineyards to which so much loving care had been given, can never be replaced to those whose loving work and sacrifice created them. The needless cruelty of it seemed to us, so recently from the safe shelter of American homes, almost beyond belief.
On our next day’s march we passed through several such ruined villages; and, in the intervening country, had found women and old men working on their little farms, with faith in their armies and brave soldiers that was wonderful and pathetic.
Later we found peasants laboring to raise crops on land not over a mile from the trenches where battles raged.
And all through our march through ruined France were white-aproned women sitting in ruined doorways, or in huts of corrugated sheet iron sewing and knitting for their children, or for their absent loved ones fighting for “beautiful France.” Though their part of it was blighted by the invader, they were clinging to their ruined homes with a tenacity of faith in their armies almost beyond belief. The love of home and country was stronger in their hearts than the fear of death.
It was well for them and us that we saw these things, for it strengthened our resolve to fight to the death those who had blighted these homes. So we marched on, in storm and sunshine, observing all these bitter cruelties, gaining with every step new resolution to rescue France from her brutal invaders.
It seems to me that the German authorities, who sanctioned all the cruelties of this war, little comprehended how firm a friend they were making of America for France, and how steadfast an enemy for themselves, when their pitiless hands were laid on all that is sacred in humanity, love, and religion.
At one mass of ruined homes, where we had halted, we were sheltered for a night in the wine cellars. One of the cellars the Germans had used as a range-finder. These cellars were so vast, that even the German hordes had not been able to deplete its stores of wine by their thirsty demands, though their destructiveness was seen on every side.
We passed through town after town without roofs to the houses and with precious little of the walls left standing. All the orchards were relentlessly cut or sawed down, leaving behind them little of value save the unconquerable spirit of their brave and home-loving people.
We slept in barns and houses and under the unroofed sky, as we halted on our march. At one of our halting places, after a fatiguing day, we slept in an immense electric-lighted cave, big enough to shelter several thousand people.
It had been excavated, we were told, by French soldiers,—prisoners of war, under the direction of their German taskmasters. It was divided into rooms, in many cases luxuriously fitted with baths, bed furniture, rugs, and set bowls with water.
Apparently all the material for its furnishing was plundered from destroyed villages and near-by homes. Some of these were left with scrupulous care, as though their German occupants expected to return and resume their use. In several of these were insulting inscriptions such as “Gottstrafe England, der Schweinhund!”
Jot was with me while I was viewing these wonderful excavations, and translated for me some of the inscriptions which do not bear repeating.
I was so indignant that I hastily said to Jot, “I should be ashamed to speak the language of such brutes!”
To which Jot replied, “If those who speak German were as noble as their language, I could almost forgive them their trespasses.” And then, as though excusing them, quoted a sentence from my Latin reader, “In the midst of wars the laws are silent.”
After two weeks’ march through ruined France, the scenes began to change. Villages and cities unscathed by war’s blighting touch began to appear along our line of march. These were all the more beautiful by contrast with those scorched and withered by the destroying hand of the Hun.
Stately palace-like residences, lovely châteaus, vine-clad cottages, stately public buildings and churches, appeared in vivid contrast to the war-ruined villages over which war had spread its wings of desolation.
We saw many sad faces and heard many sad stories from the brave daughters of France, mothers of heroes then contending with the German hordes. But their faces brightened at the sight of our flag. They recognized it as the emblem of freedom, and those who bore it as faithful allies and friends. Matrons, young women, girls, and children thronged around us at every halting place. Some offered us food, others wreaths and bouquets, and all greeted us with glad smiles and cheers of welcome.
We had halted, stacked arms, and thrown ourselves sprawling upon the ground among the vine-covered cottages when, on a little plateau above us, we saw a fluttering of the stars and stripes from the roof of an unpretentious dwelling. Then word ran around that it was the home of an American woman. Soon there appeared a little matron whose face and bearing proclaimed her nationality—American!
Nothing in all France with its grandeur and beauty of ages had looked so fine to our eyes as this little unassuming American lady. She was attended by her French maid, who, judging by her acts and expressions was devoted to her. We gave her a reception fit for a queen, and in return were treated to coffee in delicate china, and dainty sandwiches, and slices of fragrant American ham. Never to me or my comrades had the American woman and American language, seemed so dear as when in this distant land she had brought to us a breath of home.
A few more days of marching brought us again to the sound of battle and the distant booming of guns. Here again were signs of war’s withering touch. We began to meet hurrying French and American battalions with cannon, machine guns, airplanes, and all the seeming clutter of moving columns. Here and there were fleeing citizens, mostly women, old men and children, with wagons piled high with their household goods.
Airplanes were soaring like the white sea-gulls we had seen when leaving New York harbor. They flew singly and in flocks, some so high as to be but dimly seen, others swooping down as though about to attack us. These latter were said to be German craft in search of information.
Nearer and nearer came the boom! boom! boom of the guns. Then, late that evening, we were assigned to billets, and knew that our long hike was over, and that we were again confronted by the enemy.
Thus ended our six weeks’ march through France.
ON THE BATTLE LINES
We had come to a halt near a beautiful village, with vine-clad cottages and an old château; and were quartered in billets and temporary barracks.
“Have you seen this?” said our French lieutenant interpreter, whom we met as we were on our way to the “Y”.
“What is it about?” we answered, Yankee fashion, by asking another question.
In reply, he translated from a French newspaper he held in his hand, the message of General Pershing tendering to General Foch all the American forces as follows: “I come to say to you that the American people would hold it a great honor to her troops, if they were engaged in the present battle. Infantry, artillery, all are yours to dispose of as you will. Others are coming.”
“That’s great!” was the general comment. And then we gave three rousing American cheers for our general, which drew a crowd of soldiers and citizens to inquire its cause.
Then there was a general talk about the military situation, in which our captain took a part, and some of which I will repeat, to explain the situation.
On Tuesday, March 21, 1918, the German army made its first great drive of the year, by concentrating an immense force consisting of one-half of its armies, on a fifty-mile front between the Scarp and the Oise rivers, and drove the British back before they could bring up their reserves to the point of attack.
As the captain pointed out, an attacking force has always this advantage: that they can choose where and when to strike. And this made the task of quick concentration of forces to meet this overwhelming blow incredibly difficult.
The English army had, however, by its stubborn resistance, made up in part for this difficulty. And, as compensation for its heavy losses, exacted a terrible reprisal of blood from its enemy.
At the time of our arrival near the left flank of the German army, the attacking forces of the enemy, roughly outlined, was not unlike a gigantic U, the convex part of it pointing towards Amiens. The allied armies had not only the disadvantage of inferior numbers, but of difficult concentration. They must march around this curved line in order to concentrate at the point of attack. On the other hand, the foe could reinforce every part of his advanced line by marching men across the U.
The captain’s talk helped us to understand the situation, and the reasons why we Americans were assembled in force.
How, or when, we were to have a chance to prove our American temper, we did not know. But we did understand the power given to a united command. Though at first our work would be of minor importance, it was soon apparent that it was not to be that of holiday soldiers. We were to contend against an army of wonderful efficiency.
“Dem guys,” said our New York boy, “can fight, an’ don’t you forgit it. We’s got to give them a wallup, or take some.”
There was a general feeling that we must meet a supreme test. We had scarcely got into these trenches before there came a trial of endurance under fire. First a great flock of air craft, with inquisitive noses, came buzzing above us. Our big war birds, moving in spirals, flew up to meet them and, if possible, put them to flight. We could see, high in air, little puffs of smoke of gun fire; sometimes hear the chatter of machine-guns, and even the buzz of their propellers and sharp report of rifles, which showed that they were “out a-gunning.”
Sweeping around in curved lines, circling upward, darting downward, the combating planes fought with daring temerity, a wonderful battle in the air. We saw one plane, struck by a bomb, fall fluttering downward a thousand feet, right itself, and escape over the lines. However tame this may seem in recital, it was a thrilling sight to see.
At first, the enemy began to fire gas shells over us, and we had to put on our gas masks. Occasionally puffs of the poisonous stuff would reach us; but we were thankful that the shells were mostly going over our heads; for they were so numerous that they gave one continuous whistle.
There came a burst of artillery that defies description. It did not seem possible that an ant could live under such a destructive fire. Shell, shot, and shrapnel scarred the ground as though there had been a series of eruptions. Then the Germans charged our lines, their green-gray uniforms so blending with the smoke and rocks and ground, that it was difficult to see them. They were like so many fog banks or moving rocks or roads, so completely did their color intermingle with their surroundings.
Our artillery from the rear laid down a barrage with a terrific deafening roar like locomotives traveling the air above us. And now came the bugle call—over the top and at them—for which we had impatiently waited. Our nervous American temperament wanted action; we were at our best in attack, rather than in defense.
The enemy received us with a storm of machine-gun and artillery fire, under which, for a time, it seemed as though nothing could live. We made quick rushes forward, then throwing ourselves upon the ground with such protection as was afforded by the land, opened fire, and then another rush forward, again throwing ourselves upon our faces,—“sprayed them” as one of our men called it, with rifle and machine-gun fire.
Again we rushed forward until we could plainly see our targets. We gave them the best we had. It was sharp work; and apparently the enemy were not used to our Indian tactics, and did not relish it. Still we did not have it easy. Men fell before their gun fire. Others limped out of line, and headed for the first aid stations.
The confusion of sounds made it almost impossible to hear the bugle calls. The enemy gathered himself together and rushed upon us again, leaving a trail of dead and wounded behind, so effective was our sharp-shooting. Still they came on with a rush, as though expecting to scatter us by their impetus. Seeing that we were outnumbered, we fell back to a rise, leaving two machine-guns behind.
“That won’t do! We need those guns!” called out Lieutenant Nickerson, who was in command of our platoon.
With several others I rushed forward under the cover of smoke clouds and rescued them. But they were out of order, and for the time being could not be used.
Lieutenant Nickerson, a little in the rear, with his old mechanical dexterity stooped to rearrange their parts. He soon had them on the firing line with some of his own men to work them.
Getting more ammunition for them from the machine-gun unit, their steady clatter was again heard “spitting bullets,” as Sam said, like mad rattlesnakes.
It was hot work! When our line wavered under the enemy’s concentrated fire, our lieutenant placed himself in front of his platoon, and looked sternly in the faces of his men, with an indescribable magnetism, which seemed to hold them to their desperate work.
The lobe of one of his ears had been cut almost away, and was bleeding profusely. Whether it was that, or the undaunted look in his face that inspirited them, the men broke into a hoarse cheer and again moved into line under a heavy fire.
Our regiment, with others, had fallen back slightly, to a road, part of which gave us shelter by a low embankment.
“Say,” said practical Sam Jenkins, “I saw a big roll of wire down the road a little way. Supposing we get it and twist it around these trees along the road.”
The suggestion was adopted, and happily for our regiment and others too; for the Germans made one last effort to drive us from the field, and were checked before the fire we gave them from behind this barricade in front of the railroad embankment.
We had suffered heavily. Many a good man had gone down, or had been carried, or had limped to the rear with desperate wounds. It was late when we at last repulsed the enemy and they had faded away before our fire, blending with the smoke behind them.
Our men were exalted: their spirits rose high when they found that they had withstood the Hun in the open. Hoarse cheers ran down the line. “Shure,” said Pat Quinn, “Lieutenant dear; we bate the devils; but it was a toight squake.”
“Aw,” said Goodwin, “you’s can bet we’s give ’em a wallup. Say! our lieutenant is great stuff, an’ don’t you forget it! T’ain’t so sure but that they’d knocked the stuffin’ out of us, but for him!”
And that was the common agreement in our regiment.
We were not a little proud of our company and ourselves. We had, as a whole, done well, and as Sam said, so we agreed, although it may seem boastful, “given the Boche their belly full of fighting” and we had gained new confidence in ourselves and our officers. We were gratified to get the praise of the French General, who was in command on the field, though I was not without suspicion that he gave us more praise than was our due. Then came word officially that the enemy had fallen back all along the line.
IN THE TIDE OF BATTLE
The end of the German drive on the western front, as my readers know, had failed to break the Allied lines. The enemy, however, had succeeded in driving them back for miles, inflicting and receiving great losses of men and material. To those who understood the situation, it must have been disheartening, though we in the ranks, of course, could know but little beyond that which was taking place before our eyes. The high officers, who did know, feared that the enemy, by the advantage of quicker concentration because of holding interior lines, might by successive drives be able to force their army so near Paris as to endanger the city, or, on the farther western front, be able to reach the channel ports and thus divide the Allied armies.
It was while victory was trembling in the balance on the far-flung battle lines, that our regiment was called to battle.
We removed from ground we occupied to a point west of an ancient city, not far from a river.
Regiments of French and American soldiers were marching on the roads to places assigned them. Machine-gun emplacements were being made. The effective light guns were hurrying into place. Here and there cavalry was sparsely seen. Engineers, with their sappers and miners with shovels and picks, moved along with pontoon trains of collapsible canvas boats and wooden batteaux for bridges. Here and there were pitiful families of refugees, with wagons high piled with household goods, escaping from homes about to be swept by the fiery tide of war. The women with babes in arms, and children hugging rag dolls and toys, were straggling on in pathetic groups.
To the ordinary eye all seemed confusion, but there was a thread of order controlling this mass of moving material and men.
“This is going to be a sure enough battle,” remarked Corporal Sutherland.
“Not for us,” said a lieutenant; “we shall get in the edges of it, possibly.” “We have got to do our best today,” said our “Top.” “They,”—making a gesture toward the French regiments—“are watching us.”
“They will find fighting stuff here,” proudly replied the lieutenant. And our captain, looking along his halted company with a critical but satisfied glance, said, “They will do!”
An enemy airplane, hovering high in air, viewed us. Several of our craft flew upward in circling flight to punish his inquisitiveness. Near us marched a regiment whose uniforms and long strides showed them to be Americans. Some horses were passing with the marching column. Muddy flew out, barking vociferously. One of the horses gave a whinney of recognition, as the dog jumped and yelped at his head.
“I think it is ‘Jack,’ our colt!” I said to Lieutenant Nickerson. “I think so too,” he replied. But we had no time to investigate; we had more serious business, for the uproar of battle had already begun.
With other regiments we moved forward and were halted behind a small clump of trees. But not for long, for the Boches wanted the ground. Gas shells came whistling over us and we quickly adjusted our gas masks. We were so grotesque that again a laugh was heard along the line, and jokes were exchanged.
“Even the officers,” said Sutherland, “have to hide their glory in these things.”
“I hate ’em,” said Sam Jenkins; “they interfere with a good aim!”
Then came the thunderous roar of guns from our rear, and the replies of the enemy, who had not, as yet, got our range. Followed the chatter of machine-guns and the mingling rifle fire of contending men on our front. Some of our men upon trees, observing, reported long lines of German infantry in sight. Then broken French troops appeared, slowly and doggedly falling back.
The German lines sweeping onward, we open on the mass with our light guns, machine-guns and rifles. Our gun fire, increasing in intensity and deadly effect, did not halt them. On they came, their green-gray uniforms blending with the smoke and mists. All our weapons sharply spoke, but still the foggy columns advanced their heavy guns from the rear scarring and pitting the ground on our front. Explosions threatened our annihilation, while lurid flames sprang up on all sides. We clung to the ground as though fearing that we might go up in some of the explosions or be consumed by the flames.
Then the welcome order came to “Charge!” and we went forward in open formation at quick time. I noticed Chaplain John in line. You could always reckon on him to care for the wounded, though he carried no arms. The Boche doesn’t like cold steel and he breaks as we rush upon him with yells and gleaming bayonets. We had one thought and one purpose: we must beat and drive the enemy. We were but a small part of the advancing line that was in the attack. We were near enough to see shells from our guns explode on their front, and men, and fragments of men, hurled in the air, leaving gaps in their ranks. Our gun fire was immense. For an instant the gray mass wavered and then fell back.
A hoarse shout went up from American throats, “We’ve licked them!” But the French, more experienced in battle, were not so confident. The enemy have only halted to reform their shattered line. We also halted and then the order came to fall back to conform to the rest of the line.
We reformed our line, disordered by the advance; stretcher bearers gathered the wounded. Others limped to the rear with reversed rifle for crutches, or were helped by comrades.
Soon the enemy opened fire again with violence. Muddy, despite his fear, came barking and nipping at my puttees. “What’s the matter?” I heard some one inquire. “Where is the Sky pilot?” He had been left behind helping a wounded or dying man. Muddy pulled at my coat. A look from Jot, and I followed the dog through the screen of sulphur-white smoke that hung over the field. I advanced cautiously and the dog, as though understanding the necessity for silence, did not bark. I followed, slowly peering into every shell hole and depression as I cautiously went forward, with bullets humming on every side and an occasional exploding shell. Then I saw a prostrate form beside a dead man stir.
Up to that time I had been careful; but then, forgetful of everything but that my friend, our loved Chaplain, was lying there unsheltered, I threw off caution and hurried to him. He was alive but apparently desperately wounded. His head, legs and arms seemed unhurt, but I saw a gaping hole in his coat through the right side. Tearing away the coat, with my stock of first aid lint and bandages I stopped the bleeding as best I could. The smoke was clearing, and I must act quickly.
Lying down, I got him on my back, and on hands and knees backed away towards a shell hole a few yards distant. I made it. Then, believing that the enemy would conclude that I would remain there, I gathered him in my arms and ran to another shell hole still nearer our lines. Before reaching it the bullets hummed around me like angry hornets. There I rested a little, and then ran on to another more distant depression in the ground.
Up to this time I did not know that I had been hit, though I had felt something like a sharp blow strike my hip. Now I felt a warm trickle of blood down my leg, and knew that I was wounded and that I must reach our sheltering lines in one desperate run, if at all. If my strength would only last!
With a full breath and with desperate resolution, I ran with my burden, the hum of bullets from snipers saluting. I gripped my nerve and shut my teeth. Could I reach a place of safety? I had made good progress, but my eyes blurred and I began to waver in spite of all my will. At last as I swayed and fell, I heard the welcoming shout of comrades. Then I fainted.
When I recovered consciousness I found a surgeon fishing around in my hip for bullets.
“How is the chaplain?” I asked.
“Don’t know,” said the surgeon laconically; “another surgeon has his case.”
“I must see,” I said, trying to get to my feet; for I felt, as wounded men often do, that my wound was not a serious one.
Next it occurred to me that I was again under a surgeon, and that another starvation time was before me; and it made me mad.
“Let me alone!” I cried, “I want you to understand that I am not dead yet. I want to find out about the Sky Pilot!”
“Be calm,” said the surgeon, “and I will send around and see.”
I must have become unconscious again; for the next I knew I was in a white bed, with other white cots, and a white-dressed nurse attending. I was in a hospital.
“How came I here?”
“You were brought in a minute ago,” said the nurse, “and you are to be kept quiet. Here, take this drink.”
“No,” I said, smelling of it. “It will put me to sleep. I want to see how the chaplain is!
“He is all right,” answered the nurse. “I was told to tell you so.”
“All right,” I said, pushing away the drink. “Then I shan’t need that stuff to keep me quiet.”
This surgeon did not turn out so bad, after all. He at least gave me enough to eat; and I was told that I would be all right in a few months!
“I guess I will!” I said. “I am not hurt very bad, and I will be up sooner than that. I know it by my feelings.” And I was!
I was pretty cross for a while because they would not let me get up and walk around.
“It is a clean wound,” said the doctor, “and you are an uncommonly healthy boy.”
“Boy!” I said, “I am a man, and I feel fit to go now.”
But that surgeon was of another opinion. “A friend of yours,” said he, “a lieutenant, and another officer from the chaplain, have been inquiring for you.”
“Why didn’t you let Lieutenant Nickerson in here with the dog?” I asked—for I knew Muddy would stick with Jot—“I want to see them.”
Next day Muddy was actually admitted with Jot, and both of them made a lot of fuss over me.
“All of our men say that it was the bravest thing they ever saw,” praised Jot.
“Nonsense!” I said, “to tell the truth, Jot, I was so busy thinking how to get the chaplain back that I absolutely forgot to be scared.”
Jot laughed and said, “Colonel Burbank sends his compliments, and regrets for your wound, and says ‘like father like son.’”
And that to me was the best praise of all.
THE CROIX DE GUERRE
The bullet that put me in the hospital for several weeks had struck the fleshy part of my hip, glanced off from the bone, and had been extracted from the side. While a clean wound, I had lost a good deal of blood and this had weakened me.
Just after the doctors had diagnosed my case and had discouraged me, Jot came in again to see me. I told him that I had hoped to stay in the service long enough to win a commission, but that the doctors were determined to have me tied up by my leg for several months; and that the war might be over before I could get back to duty again.
“Don’t worry,” said Jot. “There will be enough fighting to last until you get onto your legs again. I guess the saw bones have camouflaged their description of your wound with their Latin, so that what is really a mole hill of a wound is made to look like a mountain, and have frightened you.”
“No,” I said “not frightened, but discouraged me.”
The chaplain’s wound was much more serious, though the doctors thought he would be able to resume his duties again if his wound healed as well as they expected. But they made so many qualifications that I mistrusted they were in the fog about it themselves.
I was getting well fast; but was, as the surgeon said, “subconsciously restless.” The truth was, I could have sat up if they had let me. But they had me down! They were in command and there I was, like a healthy pup tied by the leg, and only able to run to the end of his string and yelp.
It was three weeks before I was allowed to sit up!
When the surgeon came to me I said, “Doctor, what is the matter with my getting out in the sun and having a breath of good air? I feel as well as I ever did.”
The doctor, with cat-like softness, gave me a number of alarm calls in camouflaged language, which really meant, “Your quick recovery depends on obeying our orders, and keeping quiet!”
All things have an end, however, and after a few weeks, that seemed months to me, I was allowed to get out into pure air. The nurse and doctor had not been so very bad, after all my growling. They had given me good things to eat, though a little stingy with mutton chops and beefsteaks; but I had plenty of good food.
Then I called on the chaplain, at his request. He was looking pale and peaked but his courage was good. He was a fine fellow with a lot of stuff in him besides common sense. He did not make me feel shame-faced by “plastering it on” about my bringing him into our lines, nor make any fuss over me at all, for he understood. It was just what he, or any other decent man, would have done under similar circumstances.
Later the colonel sent his orderly to bring me to his office. He was another sensible man!
I stood at attention and saluted.
“You are looking fine, Sergeant,” he said, “and I am glad to see you looking so fit!”
“Yes, Colonel,” I answered, “a flesh wound should not keep a man tied up long. I am ready for duty now.”
“Sit down,” he invited me; and just then Muddy rushed in and made a fuss over me; he had been living with the colonel since I had been tied up by my leg.
“I have good news for you, that I may as well tell you now,” he continued.
“The French general has recommended you for the Croix de Guerre.”
“I’d be glad to get one,” I stammered “if they think that I really deserve it, Colonel.”
“Oh, I think that’s all right,” he replied. “You did a good act and saved a good man. The regiment couldn’t spare its chaplain.”
“Yes,” I said, “the chaplain is a brave, good man. I hope that doctor he is under won’t starve him as he did me, the other time I was hurt.”
“I don’t think he will,” said the colonel, smiling as though amused at something. Then, after a pause, he continued. “There is a possibility that I may be given a higher command than this, and in that case I may wish you to serve with me.”
“I shall be glad to serve you, Colonel, in any place I can fill,” I answered, rising and saluting.
I felt pretty good. Had it not been undignified and my hip still hurting a little I would have ran and jumped.
It was part of the system of our Expeditionary Force in France that, every four months, soldiers were to be granted a few days’ leave and though I had been in the service much longer than that time, I had not yet asked for one.
The surgeon strongly recommended that I should take a permission, in order to recuperate before going to duty again. Jot suggested that he also get permission and go with me.
“Where shall we go?” I said. “I should like to go where I can get a good swim.”
“Just the thing,” said Jot, “I have been recommended to go to a place on the south coast—a watering place; they say it is fine.”
It was so arranged.
At this time our army in northern France were holding a sector in the world’s great battle where our regiment, with other American and French forces, faced the German army at the peak of a German salient. At some points the American positions were maintained in the shell holes that pitted the battle ground; and I felt guilty at leaving my comrades when I felt myself fit for duty and there was fighting to be done.
I was ordered to report to the colonel and receive instructions.
I stood and saluted. He looked me over critically and said, “You will do, Sergeant.”
“Yes, sir,” I replied, “I feel fit for duty, and it doesn’t seem right for me to leave now.”
He again radiated one of his indefinable smiles, partly of amusement and partly something else, and said, “A little lame yet, I see.”
Then, grasping me by the shoulder, he looked in my face and said, “The decoration ceremonies are to be tomorrow, of course you know?”
“Yes, sir,” I replied, “I have just received the notice.”
“I am proud and glad, my friend!”
“Thank you, sir,” I said, my heart glowing with pride that he should name me, a sergeant, his friend! I am not sure but that those words gave me more pride and pleasure than the decoration I afterwards received.
After receiving directions for my simple part in the ceremonies I saluted and left with, I confess, grateful tears in my eyes.
It was a great day for me. American and French regiments were drawn up in formation on a green field back from the river. Those to be decorated formed a group of five, two American and three French soldiers.
Our general, strong and tall and simple; the French general, soldier of international fame, with a group of attending officers, were there.
A trumpet sounded and the great French soldier came forward. He pinned the red ribbon of the Legion of Honor on the coat of a grizzled French captain—and then kissed him first on one cheek and then the other! Then came my turn: he made a little speech in French—which of course I did not understand—and pinned the green and yellow ribbon of the Croix de Guerre upon my coat, and—shook hands! I felt relieved.
But I was proud of the honor and the handshake from so great a soldier, and wished that my mother had lived to know about it. Perhaps she did; who knows?
Before leaving for my trip I called at the hospital to see Chaplain John and had a heart-to-heart talk, such as I sometimes had had with mother. For though I have not said much of anything about it, in these pages, she at times seemed nearest to me, and thoughts of her still gave me pangs of sorrow mingled with deepest gratefulness and love for all she had been and still was to me.
I had never given much thought to religious things, outside of the talks I used to have with her. The talks which the parsons gave me were usually more distressing than comforting. Boys will understand without my saying more. But this brave fellow, not many years older than I, with his common sense backed by his manly, self-sacrificing spirit, was different.
When he asked me to pray with him I was a trifle disconcerted and shamefaced, for mother had taught me to pray in secret—and I hadn’t prayed much since I had been with the army. But when I rose from my knees, I had a feeling that I had been blessed by his prayer, and that a new and sweet spirit had entered into my life.
ON LEAVE OF ABSENCE
I was heartily congratulated by officers and comrades, on receiving the Croix de Guerre. I would have liked to wear it at once; but rules are rules, and I decided to wait till my own Government gave me permission to do so.
The next morning we left by train travelling over a beautiful country. By the middle of the afternoon we reached one of the large cities of France where we spent the night.
In the evening we went to an opera. It was good to hear the music and to see the enjoyment of the people. The house was only partly filled; mostly by soldiers home on permission. The artists were from Paris, and though I did not understand much of the language, the acting was so fine that I enjoyed the performance thoroughly. Jot, who was well up in French, said, “They did as well as though a king were in the box.”
When we got back to our hotel a surprise, a disagreeable one for me, awaited us. Jot’s acquaintance, the one who looked so much like him that I had thought him to be his half-brother, was there awaiting his return.
“I saw your name on the register,” he explained; “and as I wish to see you on business of importance, I have been waiting here.”
When I, in turn, had shaken hands with him, I said, “I have seen you before, but did not get your name, sir.” “Adolf,” interrupted Jot, as though to prevent his giving any other. “Yes,” he said quietly, “Adolf Von Rucker, it’s a German name, and an honorable one.” Then, taking Jot by the arm he added, “I wish to communicate with your friend. Will you excuse my taking him away?”
The striking resemblance of the two, the German name, all added to the mystery of their acquaintance and, as I believed, their relationship. I was worried about it in an indefinable way; for I had but little faith in anything that was German.
I went to bed worrying; but in those days nothing could keep me from sleep. I was awakened the next morning by Jot who came to my room and greeted me by saying, “I was sorry to leave you last evening, David.”
“Was that man your half brother, Jot?” I asked.
“Then your real name is Von Rucker, not Nickerson?”
“Nickerson is a part of the name my mother gave me, and which it was her wish I should be known by. I have told you that before.”
I knew that it would be useless to question him further; and I had an instinctive feeling that he had good reasons for his reserve, though I couldn’t understand it. So I dropped the matter, though I still felt that his association with one with such a name could bear no good fruit.
That morning we resumed our journey on the train, and were speeding down a broad beautiful river, with mountains here and there on the opposite side, and with lovely villages and gardens with flowers, orange trees, palms, and fruit trees. Jot, who had been thoughtful and, as I thought, gloomy, threw off his depressing mood and entered heartily into the enjoyment of these scenes.
In the afternoon we reached the sea, and passed the night at a busy throbbing metropolitan city. On the streets were people and uniforms of all nations—French, British, American, Algerines, Turkos, Canadians, East Indians and others that I can not name.
We took a walk along the water side, and then up, up, up, to the top of a high cliff on the top of which was a church, old, quaint and beautiful. There we had a magnificent view. The sky so blue, the city with its green trees and red tiled roofs seen through the blue haze, the white limestone and the distant mountains, formed a picture never to be forgotten.
The next day we were on the train again, with standing room only, the crowd was so great and the service so poor. But this inconvenience was forgotten in the constant panorama. Beaches of white sand and pebbles, flowers, orange, palm and peach trees. To me it was like a scene of enchantment, for beautiful nature had been supplemented by the arts of the landscape gardener. I had never seen anything like it before.
We reached the city of our destination that afternoon, and went to the Hotel Beau Rivage, which had been recommended to Jot by some French friends. The accommodations were fine,—two rooms and a bath! It was nice to get a hot bath once more, and wash away the stains of travel. There was not as many people in the hotel as usual, we were told, on account of the war.
It was the most beautiful sea resort of France. There was a fine beach, not of sand but of pebbles, beautiful drives, and a broad cement walk all bordered with palms, parks full of flowers of every kind, and the broad green, ever changing sea. And then the swim! I had been accustomed to swimming in fresh water, and the salt sea was so much more buoyant that I could almost seem to fly, when I took my favorite overhand swinging strokes through the clear salt water. It was grand! Swimming was my best hold as an athlete and I enjoyed it. Muddy also enjoyed the water.
On our return, I took a nap, while Jot went to make some calls on people to whom he had letters of introduction. I had a long dreamless sleep, and was not awakened until Jot shook me by the shoulder, crying out: “Do you want to sleep forever, Dave? I have got some stunning news for you. Wake up!”
I answered with a sleepy yawn, saying: “Stun away, Jot!”
“Who do you suppose is here?”
“I don’t know and don’t care,” I said indifferently; “I know I am here with both feet. Wasn’t that a fine swim? Shoot away, Jot; let me know the worst!”
“Miss Rich and her father and Emily Grant!”
“My!” I cried, springing up. “Where is Emily,—Miss Grant, I mean?—and Miss Rich.”
“She is here at this hotel,” he replied, “and you had better hurry up and get down to the reception room; for she has got a half dozen lieutenants and captains in tow already.”
That hurried me! I dressed and went to meet these people from home.
It was like a breath from my native hills. It was, as Jot said, “as though they had just stepped out from New England,” bringing with them all its homely sweetness; and—Emily Grant was more beautiful than ever. My heart was full: it was a moment worth living for to meet them amid such beautiful surroundings.
That afternoon we, Miss Grant, Miss Rich, Jot and I, took a trolley ride down the coast. Fifteen miles of beautiful roads mostly cut into the sides of the cliffs, which ran up and up and up, and on the terraces of which were magnificent gardens with vines and olive trees and flowers, above the white stone. With such company it was all too entrancing for words!
Doctor Rich was interested in scientific inquiries connected with his profession, and was glad to have us take the girls off his hands. Such good times as we had, swimming and boating, and on the cliffs! Such a contrast was it to the squalid trenches.
Jot had evidently told Miss Emily about my gaining the Croix de Guerre, for she asked me about it. We were far upon the cliff looking down on town and sea, and at her request I took it out of a case where I had enshrined it, and showed it to her.
“Oh, how fine in you!” she said, and then asked me questions about my winning it, until I was tired. So I snapped it in the case again to resume my—view of the country.
Jot teased me by declaring that I did not even care to take my swims, without Miss Emily for company, for fear of giving several lieutenants who were hovering around, a chance.
“No,” I said, “I’ve learned that it is not fashionable to swim here; they tub.”
I confess that though I believe myself to be a sensible young man, my heart sank like a piece of lead to the bottom of the sea, when those young fellows bowed and cast languishing glances at her which she answered with a smile. Every rose has its thorn!
Our leave of absence was soon to be over. And then the parting came. I took Emily out for a walk and a climb on the high up cliffs—but it was of no use. I did not have the courage to tell her all that I felt; though I was encouraged by her looks and silence.
So I parted with my friends at last, she giving me her address in France, and both girls inviting me to see them at the —— hospital.
Furlough was nearly over, and we were on the train at last, speeding for contending armies. Perhaps I might never see Emily again! Jot was looking even more grave than usual; but there was a new light in his eyes that mine did not reflect; which led me to inquire:
“Are you engaged to Miss Rich, Jot?”
“No,” he replied, “but we have an understanding.”
“If you have an understanding, why not engaged?”
“A man,” he replied, “should have something to offer a girl besides himself and possibly wounds or death, to be engaged to marry her. Did you,” he continued, “engage yourself to Miss Grant?”
“No, I did not mention it to her.”
Jot laughed a teasing laugh and said: “Well, Dave, I should not have even thought of putting such a question to you. You look more like a funeral than an engaged man just now!” And I guess I did.
“Cheer up, Dave!” he teased. “The girls are going to be in a hospital near us. Who knows but that we shall both be half killed and be sent there? Perhaps you will have Miss Emily to nurse you.”
“Who said anything about Miss Emily?” I replied crossly.
“No one but your face, Davie. You can not hide that; it always was a telltale! I know you are blue. I am, too. I am hard hit, like some one else I know.”
After this conversation we sat for a while in silence, and I thought Jot’s face grew more and more grave as we neared our destination.
“What is it, Jot, what’s troubling you?” I inquired. “Is it something that Von Rucker wants you to do against your will?”
“No,” he replied. “I never shall do anything contrary to my convictions, for either love or money.”
“Why don’t you use the name you are entitled to?”
“Mother, as I have told you, objected to it.”
“Was it because he was a German?”
“No,” he replied; “she married him knowing that, but there was something she didn’t know. She had very strong prejudices, or convictions you may call them; and I have the same myself. She was heart and soul a Union woman.”
“Was he a Southerner?” I said. “Was that the trouble?”
He did not answer me, but looked with a far-off glance as though into the future, rather than the past.
We at last arrived at our destination and separated. So we left the sunshine for the clouds of war.
A STRANGE DESERTION
Upon my return to the front I found that our forces had been reinforced by new regiments. American troops, we were told, were arriving in great numbers. This information was hailed with satisfaction by French soldiers as well as by ourselves; for, while we did not doubt our ability to meet any equal numbers of the enemy, we wanted the backing given by superior numbers on our side; especially as the enemy were attacking from interior lines with the advantage of quicker concentration at the point of attack.
Reporting for duty, I was cordially received by my comrades.
“Now, I suppose that we shall lose you?” said Corporal Sutherland.
“I think not,” I said, “I have had my leave and had a good time, and it is not likely that I will get another for a good while.”
“Haven’t you heard,” queried one of the sergeants, “that you have been promoted?”
“Promoted!” I replied in surprise; “I hope that they have not made me a top sergeant. I am not big enough for it; and it’s a hard job.”
Just then my captain came up with extended hand, saying, “I congratulate you, as well as myself and our company.”
“For what, Captain?” I replied, saluting; “I don’t understand.”
“On your promotion to be second lieutenant of this company,” he replied; “I thought you had received your commission.”
“Well,” I answered rather ungraciously, “I suppose that is promotion. But don’t a sergeant have a better chance at fighting?”
“The fighting will come along,” he laughed. “We are not likely to get a scrimp measure of it this summer, I assure you. There will be enough for everybody.”
When I called on my colonel, by his order, he in turn greeted me with congratulations.
“Thank you, Colonel,” I said, “but I fear that I owe promotion to your favor, rather than anything that I have done to deserve it.”
His cordial manner changed at once to severity, as he rebuked me sternly. “All my promotions, everything I do here, is for the good of the service. Had I not thought you fit for the place, I would not have recommended you for it.”
“I beg to apologize,” I answered, “and again to thank you for your good opinion. I value that more than the promotion.” And I did.
His manner changed to graciousness again, as he placed his hand on my shoulder, and said while gripping it, “My boy, I have been watching your conduct. You’ve made good. You have qualities I need in an officer. I should have recommended your promotion before, had I not feared that my liking for you might influence my judgment. I do not believe in favoritism in military affairs.”
I was deeply affected, and said with tears of heartfelt affection for him, “I will do all I can to deserve your good opinion and the commission.”
I assumed the duties of my rank at once and was glad, as I thought how it would gratify Aunt Joe and—some one else.
That evening while I was at the “Y” writing letters—one to my aunt telling her of my promotion, and another to Emily Grant—and, I confess my vanity—telling her of the colonel’s kind words, Jot, accompanied by another officer whom I did not recognize, interrupted me.
“Congratulations, Lieutenant!” cried Jot, gripping my hand with one of his, and the other arm around my shoulder in his old affectionate manner. Then, turning to the officer, he introduced him as the one who owned “Jack,” our colt, and said: “I thought you would like to know that I have bought Jack from him.”
I was delighted. We went to Jack’s stable in a near-by, shell-shattered barn—Jot, myself and Muddy—and held a reunion celebration—Jack whinneying, Muddy yelping and jumping, and Jot and I seconding these demonstrations with approving petting.
“But, Jot,” I said, for I had been thinking it over, “what are you going to do with the colt now that you have got him?”
“I think I will get some officer who requires a horse to keep him until I need him. Anyway I wanted him and have got him;” and added, “I may have to ride him sooner than I expect.”
At the time of my return to duty, our regiment with other American and French troops were on a line with a river which divided a historic city. On our left was a broken bridge, cleft as though by a huge blunt sword near its center. The fight for this bridge had, first and last, cost many lives.
Far away in the distance was a wood, occupied by a large force of our troops, that had been fighting for its possession. In the half-ruined town was our division headquarters, the huts of the Y. M. C. A., and hospitals, some of them occupying temporary buildings like those elsewhere described.
“This looks as though we were going in for some real fighting,” I said to a fellow officer.
“Yes,” replied Captain Cross, who had come up, “those are ‘the symptoms,’ as our doctors say;” and then thoughtfully added, “A year ago, most of us here were green as grass so far as fighting was concerned. Some of us were recruits that scarcely knew one end of a rifle from another. But now look at them! They have been trained down to a fighting edge and have already shown great soldierly qualities; and the Boche recognize it by being mighty cautious when they are facing us. That’s why we are on the fighting line here. Our soldiers, I learn, are on the front line in nearly a dozen different places from the Picardy to the Alsace front.”
“I hope that we may be able to give a good account of ourselves before long,” I asserted.
“Never doubt it,” rejoined our adjutant, who was in the group. “Our men have got the right stuff in them, and association with French soldiers has strengthened their confidence in themselves.”
“Yes,” said another confidently, though in a jocular vein, “we will wipe the Prussian monarchy from the map, and hang the Kaiser to a sour apple tree!”
“What we lack now—so I understand,” said Captain Cross, “is better means of getting information of the plans of the enemy; a better spy system.”
“Well,” said my friend Jot, “gentlemen, we must do everything necessary to win the war, or the world won’t be a safe place for Christian men and women to live in. There can be no peace until it is done.”
The captain as he turned to go to his duties said, “A million of our men will soon be here, and other millions are coming, that will put victory beyond doubt.”
Several days passed and I was becoming accustomed to the duties of my new station and office. I enjoyed it, for it brought me in closer intercourse with men of a higher social grade than I had hitherto been with; and it was especially gratifying to be in closer social touch with Jot and Chaplain John Fuller.
At every opportunity, when off duty, Jot had been riding and teaching Jack. “He is the most intelligent creature I ever saw,” he said to me one evening.
“You remember we used to call him by a peculiar whistle? He remembers it, and answers it; no matter where I am, he will come when he hears me. I was at the colonel’s this afternoon about keeping him, and had an understanding about other matters, not so pleasant.” And then his face darkened, as a cloud dispels sun-light, and I saw that something deep like an undercurrent of reflection was worrying him.
That night as we parted, he said, “If anything should ever occur to make you doubt me, always remember that I love you and love my country.”
“What in heaven’s name,” I said, “can occur to make me doubt it! Don’t I know you?” I little thought then how terribly this confidence was to be shaken.
“Strange things happen sometimes in army life,” he said, “and we don’t know.” And then, with the shadow still on his face, we parted for the night.
Before daybreak, the next morning, our regiment was moved to relieve troops that held an advanced post along the very verge of the river, when as we silently marched through the moon-lit, half-ruined city streets to take our places, I again exchanged silent salutations with Jot. He seemed, as I thought, more like himself—cheerful and smiling.
We held a line on the river near the bridge which I have mentioned, where a street ran down near the water’s edge from the bridge road just above us. Everything was silent. Not a German soldier could be seen, as moonlight gave place to daylight.
As the sun came up there was heard an occasional crack of rifle, as though to let us know they were “alive and watching us,” as I heard one of the men say in an undertone. Then came the steady purr of our airplanes and occasionally the more irregular sound of German air craft, which, like great buzzards seeking prey, soared far above us.
It was high noon and we were eating our dinners, when I heard a sharp, twice-repeated whistle. I could scarcely believe my senses; for it was the signal by which Jack was called.
While I was wondering, Jack trotted up whinneying. Jot caught his bridle and, fully equipped with arms and uniform, mounted bare back, walked him to the river, and, horse and man were seen swimming for the opposite shore. Before we had fully recovered from our surprise they were on the opposite side moving at a swift gallop. Then shots were fired; there were calls, confusing and uncertain before we fully comprehended that it was a case of desertion! Then rifle and machine-guns opened fire; but it was too late. Jot had deserted to the enemy, there was, apparently, no doubt about that. The deserting horseman had paused for a moment for a defiant salutation, before riding away with awaiting German soldiers.
I was paralyzed with astonishment! I would not have believed it, had I not seen this disgraceful act with my own eyes. There it was, notwithstanding: Jonathan Nickerson, a trusted officer, had deserted in the face of his comrades, and gone over to the hated enemy!
When I thought it over, it seemed to me that it had been planned from the first of his entrance into the service of the United States. His known conferences with his half-brother of German name, and his assuming another name than his real one, his interviews with another stranger, probably German, his buying Jack, all pointed to a deeply-laid, dangerous act of treason.
Was he a German spy? How long had it been going on, and what damage had he already done to our cause? His desertion was bold, aye brave, but that was no atonement for the deep damnation of it! Could I ever believe in any man’s profession again?
The desertion of Lieutenant Nickerson was the subject of many ugly remarks. A few asserted that they had suspicions from their first acquaintance with him that he was disloyal; but this assertion was not backed by any evidence to justify it. Others stoutly defended him by declaring that, while his desertion was a mystery, it would be explained sometime to his credit. But these were in a minority, and naturally so; for men will prefer to believe what they see, rather than theories or explanations.
For my start I was simply dazed. At one moment, remembering Jot and his many manly qualities, I could not believe him to be a traitor to his country. Then, with the cold facts before me, how could I explain what I had seen in any other way?
For a time I was heartsick and gloomy; but I did not let this mood interfere with my duty as an officer. I was more intensely loyal if possible than before.
Shortly after Jot’s desertion I went to visit my wounded friend, Chaplain John, who was slowly recovering from his wound. The surgeon who had him in charge explained to me that it was a complicated case. A bullet had perforated his lung and,—but could not follow his diagnosis. (Why can’t a doctor speak plain English?) But what he really meant, I inferred, was, that after a time he would recover if—
The chaplain greeted me heartily. He was cheerful though weak and, as he said, tired out with lying in bed.
I purposely avoided mentioning Lieutenant Nickerson, for I could not bear to discuss his desertion, since I could not explain it to his advantage, and with the facts all against him. My friend himself introduced the subject.
“I am sorry about Nickerson. I know you must feel blue over it, Stark; I do myself.”
“Thanks,” I said, “for thinking of us, when you have so much to bear yourself.”
“Oh,” he said, “this is mere physical pain, isn’t it, after all, the least of pains we have to bear? Mental distress—soul pangs—are the hardest, it seems to me.”
“I don’t know about that,” I replied. “Have you ever had the jumping toothache, or been seasick?”
“Yes,” he replied, laughing heartily, “and they were tough nuts to crack;” and then soberly added, “but, after all, they are not to be compared with mental anguish; for one knows that when they are conquered that will be all of it. Now you are sad hearted and see no way out of it; and there is but one way, and that is by asking help from Heaven. That is never denied us, however great our distress.”
Every word was balm to me, and seemed to bring a benediction. It was as though his courage and spiritual confidence had entered my soul to heal and purify.
Then we had a comforting talk. The mere words were nothing in themselves, it was the spirit of the man. It was such a communion of thought and feeling as I had never had with any one before, except my dear mother—and it seemed at times as though she was present with us.
It did me a lot of good. It was as though the sun had come out from a long-clouded sky. In some way, which I can not express in my poor words, I went out leaving my gloom behind me, and feeling in some indefinable way that the “clouds would break with blessings on my head.”
With this new feeling of faith or confidence I went to duty again.
“Have you had good news?” asked Captain Cross when I met him.
“Yes,” I replied; but I made no explanation, for the news was not of the kind he had meant.
I met Colonel Burbank at the officers’ mess, and was greeted as usual. I wanted to ask him about the nature of the interviews he had had with Nickerson, at times that I have mentioned, but did not know how. But when we came out and walked through the narrow street together, he kindly took my arm and said, as though he had read my thoughts:
“What is it, Lieutenant? What do you want to say to me?”
“I have my troubles,” I replied, “but I do not know if they can be made less by asking you to resolve them.”
“Possibly not,” he replied gravely, and then in a low tone, “Sometimes a great cause demands and accepts great sacrifices. There are great self-forgetting souls that are so devoted to a cause that they willingly make surrenders greater than life! Can you understand?”
What was I to understand by these words? I felt that I could not ask him, for with all his graciousness there was a barrier of reserve, though unexpressed in words, which I felt must not be passed.
At parting he gripped my shoulder and said, looking me earnestly in the face, “You don’t ask for explanations—possibly you may never get any.” In this talk neither of us had mentioned Lieutenant Nickerson’s name.
I had written to Emily Grant telling her the circumstances of Lieutenant Nickerson’s desertion without, however, a word of explanation, or what I felt or thought about it. In her reply, she wrote as though she knew I was blue and troubled about it, and simply said, “You can not do anything but wait. Time sometimes brings explanations that can not be given otherwise. Miss Rich is deeply troubled; but she will not believe that your friend is a traitor.”
Shortly after the talk I had with Colonel Burbank, there was another desertion that hurt me. Muddy mysteriously disappeared for parts unknown. I inquired at the mess sergeant’s, where he sometimes went for a bit of meat or a bone; but he had not been seen there. Neither was he at the colonel’s, where he was often to be seen asleep in a chair. The last I had seen of him he was asleep on my blankets.
Several days passed without his appearance, and I was annoyed and perplexed; for he had never absented himself like this before.
The enemy, who had been unusually quiet for several days, began to show greater activity. Their air craft came inquisitively nosing around, and when one was brought down or driven back, others persisted in coming to take their places in spying. Their heavy guns, that for a time had been inactive, now began firing with increasing intensity.
“It looks,” said Captain Cross, “as though another drive was maturing. Possibly they have got some new information about us, and have been training their men for a decisive drive and are now about ready to strike.”
The cannonading continued quite active for a day or two, and then slackened and died away. That a sudden attack was feared was shown by the unusually watchful guard kept on the line of the river. Occasional raids began to be made on the enemy’s positions. The slightest movement there was regarded with suspicion, sometimes with amusing results. Our gunners were exceedingly proficient. An artillery officer had said to me, “I can always place the third shot in a five foot square. And then, as he saw an enemy soup kitchen coming down a far-off hill, added, ‘Now watch me do it!’”
He fired two shots, and the second one was a perfect hit, the “soup gun” flying into flinders.
“Some of the poor devils,” I said, “will have to go without their soup tonight.”
Then, shortly after, our artillery in the sector to the right of us, opened up a wonderful barrage with an impressive roar of guns and exploding shells. We relished it a good deal more, since we knew that our men were “pulling off” a raid, and not the Boches.
Just then my attention was called by Sam Jenkins to an object in the river.
“Say, Lieutenant, just see me hit that muskrat,” said Sam, bringing his rifle to his shoulder to fire.
“Don’t fire,” I said; “let the poor creature live!” For I felt that where there was so much needful destruction, that innocent creatures should be protected.
In another moment, it was seen that it was a dog, as the little fellow came dripping and shaking his shaggy coat from the water. I whistled and Muddy, as was his habit when caught in mischief, came crouching with apologetic waggles at my feet. I tried to reassure him of my forgiveness, but he rolled over on his back with paws dangling imploringly. Then I took him in my arms, wet as he was, I was so glad to see him, and he snuggled down, whimpering.
When I had taken him to my quarters and fed him, I discovered that he was very hungry; for he ate as though starved, and then whimpered and barked and fawned upon me, as though to tell me that he had had a hard time, and was glad to get back to me. I left him asleep on my blanket and went to duty again, for he seemed too tired to go with me as usual.
Colonel Burbank knew that Muddy had been “lost and found,” and when later I called at his quarters, seemed pleased to see Muddy as well as myself.
While I was standing at attention, Muddy jumped to his lap snuggled down, and then I saw him fumble with Muddy’s collar and take from under it a small package of paper which he put in his pocket.
“This was something for me,” he coolly replied, to my look of astonishment, and then added:
“You are not to mention anything you see in my office.”
I did not know what to make of it all. Muddy must have been with Lieutenant Nickerson, for I knew that no one else could coax him away from me. But what about the message he had brought back?
A RAID ON THE ENEMY
As has been seen in foregoing chapters, we were now fighting beside the French in northern France, and holding a sector in the world’s great conflict.
Infantry, artillery, machine-guns, and other branches of the service were awaiting the resumption of the great German drive, by which the enemy were hoping to obtain a victorious decision and give to their brutal government supremacy in the world.
While we recognized how serious would be our failure to ward off the impending blow, we were keen and alert for action, and proud that we had been chosen to defend this half-ruined but quaintly beautiful city.
“Where do you expect the Huns will strike us next?” I asked a staff officer of our division.
“I do not know, and can only guess it will be right on this southern line in a drive towards Paris; but, meanwhile, I think that we will do a little fighting before he begins. You know that it is the policy of our general-in-chief to keep up an incessant nibbling along their lines, not only to gain information, but to break up their combinations—disrupt their plans.”
“Yes, I suppose that it is good tactics,” I replied, “to do the things the enemy don’t want you to do; and just now they seem to be willing to be let alone.”
Shortly after this conversation our regiment, with others, began rehearsing movements that looked as though we were to cross the river.
Before daylight one morning we were marched a quarter of a mile or more up the river, where light canvas pontoons were unloaded near us, with balk (string pieces) and chess (floor covering) for a pontoon bridge. An abutment of a single timber set into the ground and secured by pegs for the five claw balks, one end of which grasped the abutment and the other the gunwale of the boat nearest to the shore. Then a section of the bridge was built on the shore, launched and swung into the river and anchored. Then, still in comparative darkness, our artillery laid down a terrible barrage, under cover of which the pontoons were anchored, balks fastened to the boats by the pontooniers, and covered with chess with inconceivable rapidity, until the bridge reached the opposite shore. Then with a rush we went over.
All this had been done with such clock-like precision that but little opposition had been met: and the crossing had been planned so well and so quickly executed, that it had been a complete surprise to the enemy.
The line of barrage fire had been so accurately laid down by our artillery that the Huns were not able to escape or to receive reinforcements. Taking advantage, however, of a fair wind, they launched a gas attack. Several of our men were overcome by its poisonous fumes before they could put on their gas masks, for it was unexpected. I was first aware of it by feeling slightly sickened, but the gas gong sounded and I adjusted my mask before being, as I thought, seriously affected.
We were over the bridge, as I have said, with a rush; and then moving up the river began a fight for the possession of the northern part of the town. It was light when our brave men hurled themselves upon the enemy, driving them from buildings, hunting them from the cellars, shelters and dugouts. It was quick, sharp and decisive fighting. The men were on edge, crying out, “Eat ’em up. Gee! we’ll get ’em!” as the sharp report of rifles and the rat, tat, tat of the machine-guns were heard above the uproar of barrage fire in our rear, and exploding shells beyond us.
The Boches, being unable to retreat or get reinforcements, hid in shell holes and cellars, or surrendered. We brought back thirty officers and men—all we could lay hands on, without remaining too long on the north side of the river. Then, obeying orders, we recrossed; the bridge was dismantled and withdrawn, and the raid was over.
Several of our men had been killed, and the wounded were being sent to the hospital. As I stood watching to see if any of my old associates in the ranks were among them, Sam Jenkins rushed up to me crying out, “Have you heard the news?”
“No,” I replied stiffly. “Salute your officers before addressing them.”
For Sam in his excitement had forgotten to salute, and I was careful, as a man promoted from the ranks must be, that my former associates did not presume on our former relations.
He saluted, and cried: “They have captured Lieutenant Nickerson!”
If I had been struck by a club I could not have been more badly hit. I grew sick and staggered.
“Who told you that?” I ejaculated hoarsely. “Where is he?”
“Under guard out here,” he said; “I’ll show you.”
I hurried forward with Sam. As I caught sight of his face I said, “Wait a minute, it may be his brother.” I watched to see if he had a disabled arm. But when I saw him put that hand to his head I knew the worst. Under guard of two of our men, there he stood with apparent unconcern, in the uniform of a captain of German infantry!
“Oh, Jot!” I cried, forgetful of everything but that here stood my former friend, so dear to me, in peril and disgrace. “How could you, Jot!” I again exclaimed; all my love and sympathy recalled by his once dear face.
He smiled calmly, with an expression that I had never seen on his face before, as if in reply to my call, and with his right hand brushed away his hair clotted with blood from a wound.
I held out my hand to him, while weak hot tears ran down my face; for though I knew of his treason, one of my lifetime idols was now shattered by the sight. Still he smiled calmly and with shameful indifference, or sarcasm, without reply in words.
One singular thing here occurred. Muddy, with his bark of greeting, came leaping and fawning on me; but, without one wag of his tail in greeting for Jot!
“Even the dog,” said Sam, sadly, “has turned against him.”
My heart was heavy with pain. Jot had not offered to take my hand. Had he been hardened in shame by his treason?
A division staff officer had come up, with others, for his questioning. There was evidently about to be a drum-head court martial.
Still preserving his outward indifference, Jot was questioned.
“What is your name?”
Turning his face with an ironical glance at me, he replied: “Adolph Von Rucker.”
“What is your rank?”
“Captain of the 21st Prussian Guards,” he replied, proudly.
“Do you know this man?” said the interrogating officer to me.
“Yes,” I replied, saluting. “It is Jonathan Nickerson, late lieutenant of Co. —— Regt., U. S. A. Reserves,” for I thought that his masquerading could not serve him for long.
“What do you reply to that?” interrogated the examining officer.
“I make no reply,” he replied firmly, “other than that it is false; a mistake probably. Lieutenant Stark has mistaken me for my brother, who is very like me. I am Captain Adolph Von Rucker, as I have before asserted.”
“How do you identify him?” asked the officer, turning to me.
“Adolph Von Rucker, whom I met, had an arm that hung loose in his sleeve,” I answered.
“Yes,” he replied, lifting his helmet with the left hand and brushing away the clotted hair with the other; “he’s right.” Then putting both hands in front of him he called attention to the arms explaining, “One arm is two inches shorter than the other because of resection.”
“Remove your coat, Captain,” said the officer.
One sleeve of his coat was slipped from his arm,—the undergarment was rolled back disclosing the scar of a wound.
“A clever piece of surgery,” explained the prisoner. “Two inches of bone sawed away and united by a silver wire. It is a little loose. But I can use it quite handily—when I choose,” he added with a side glance at me. “I am Captain Adolph Von Rucker, as I have declared.”
Then turning again to the examining officer he spoke in his ear a few words that could not be understood by others. The officer nodded as if in assent and the prisoner was led away.
My heart rose again. I was not to see Jot shot or hanged. It was not my former friend, thank God! but Adolph Von Rucker, his half-brother.
The excitement and the reaction was apparently too much for me. I was sick and prostrated. In this condition I was attended by our surgeon, who said briefly, “It’s the gas. I have been attending similar cases since the men have recrossed the river.” Then he became preoccupied in his own professional diagnosis, as though there had never been neither a Von Rucker or a Jonathan Nickerson.
I did not recover under his treatment, but grew worse and worse under the poisonous influence of German gas. This, the surgeon told me, was often the case with a new gas which the enemy were using; that sometimes its effects were but little noticed at first and afterward became fatal!
I was under the best and most tyrannical care—a slave to the scientific theories of a doctor, and my readers know how well I loved that.
I was surprised to learn, later, that Captain Von Rucker had been seen in Colonel Burbank’s office in conversation with him and the division general. “Possibly,” suggested my informant, “he was allowed to explain his former presence within our lines in citizen dress—but!”
When I was allowed to call at the ward where my friend, Chaplain John, was confined, I met with a surprise that drove all other thoughts out of my mind. Emily Grant was a Red Cross nurse there! I was now willing to be sick for an indefinite time if I could only be in that ward; but that ward was for the wounded, and I was not supposed to be so afflicted—but I was not so sure of that.
I was placed in a ward where Dr. Rich was in charge, as a specialist in gas poison. I have no doubt that he understood my case, though other things engrossed my thoughts. I gave him a clear field for thought and speculation, while my thought and attention were directed to other matters. Emily visited me each day, and expressed great sympathy with my case; in fact I appeared to be, in that hospital, no longer an individual but an “interesting case.”
We talked however, about my friend, Lieutenant Nickerson, and tried so hard to account for his desertion—besides other matters—where I did so much more thinking than talking, that Chaplain John, I think, enviously, called it a case of close-communion. Even a good man tries sometimes to be too funny, as children do.
In two weeks I was pronounced cured. I can not say I was entirely pleased to be cured so quickly; for I was becoming intensely interested in scientific nursing.
THE GERMAN PEACE STORM
It was currently reported that the Germans were about to launch a new attack. Anticipating, in advance, a decisive victory for their arms, they designated the contemplated attack “a peace storm.”
Whatever may have been the feelings of our allied soldiers regarding this impending “drive,” the Americans were full of confidence.
“If the Boches,” I heard Captain Cross say, “will only come out and fight in the open, we will give them something hot to carry back to Germany.” And this was the confidence expressed on every side by the American doughboy.
“Shure,” said Pat Quinn, “it’s ourselves that will give them a belly-full if they will stand up like gintlemen and take what is coming to them.”
“A fair field and we will account for the rest of it,” was a sentiment that was often expressed by our soldiers of all ranks.
They were soon to have the desired field and achieve a victory, fighting side by side with their dauntless French allies who, on many a field during the most discouraging period of the war, had proved their constancy and courage.
In order to understand more clearly the battle to be described, let us step back a few months for a better background for our perspective.
It was five months since the Germans opened their campaign of 1918 by their successful drive at Cambrai. During these five months, however, a new contestant had stepped over the threshold of the war’s arena. Seven hundred and fifty thousand American soldiers had, during that time, been landed in France, making in all a formidable army of over a million men, to aid in “making the world safe for democracy.”
In their attack on Monday, May 27, 1918, the German army had practically destroyed the troops on the French line north of the Aisne River, and on the Saturday following had reached the Marne between Dormans and Château Thierry. This brought them within forty-five miles of Paris, which they planned to capture, and therefrom to dictate a peace on their own terms.
In a conversation, which several of us younger officers had with our colonel, he pointed out to us that if General Foch had thrown his reserves in front of the German advance at that time, it would have brought them south of the Marne, and by the extension of the enemy’s lines between the Aisne and the Oise it would have brought his reserves far from the main battle. So, after the Germans had passed the Aisne River, he put aside the temptation to halt his enemy north of the Marne, and put all his available reserves to holding a line from Soissons to Château Thierry on the west, and from thence on the east to Rheims. The lines so formed might be likened to an immense letter V with its two arms each not far from twenty-five miles in length.
It was along these lines that, on the 15th of July, 1918, the tempest of the peace storm broke.
The allies had survived three great blows with their military organization unbroken, and it remained to be seen what could be done with them when used for an offensive battle.
The German concentration of troops was greatest between Dormans and Rheims,—a front of about twenty-five miles on the eastern arm of the V.
At several points between the places last mentioned, the enemy threw a score of bridges across the Marne, and while these bridges were crowded with their soldiers, they were swept by a fire of artillery, machine-guns, and rifles which checked their advance and killed them in masses.
Simultaneously with this onset, the Germans attempted another formidable attack along the western arm of the V and northwest from Château Thierry. This was met by the French with a deadly barrage, so that the Germans were unable to debouch from their own positions.
Such was the opening of their attempt to overwhelm the allied forces on the Marne and march on Paris.
On the morning of the 15th we heard the tempest of battle on every side, and stood ready to take our part in this great adventure of arms.
I, for one, forgot all else but that a great battle was impending in which Americans were to have a part, and I had an intense desire to acquit myself bravely as my forbears always had in the supreme tests of battle. A war, too, which was to make the world safe for the principle for which my father had fought in the Civil War and which was to bring, it was devotedly hoped, a reign of righteousness and peace for all the world.
While the sound of battle was heard on every side, we waited orders to move. The order came at midnight, during a heavy downpour of rain; and it was dark as dark could be when it came, and the march at last began. But every man knew his place in line and had his equipments ready at hand.
We silently crossed the river without opposition, and were in the northern half of the city which for six weeks had been in the hands of the invaders. Daylight revealed columns of French and American troops marching through its ruined streets. The men were jubilant with expectation. On their faces shone the light of youthful enthusiasm. The sharp report of rifles and the rat, tat, tat of machine-guns, mingled with the roar of artillery, assailed our ears.
“We’ve caught them on the fly,” said one of our enthusiastic boys, “and we are after them!”
“It looks to me,” said another, hopefully, “that we have got our innings, and that we are going to make a home run.”
The city showed signs of a hurried and disorderly departure of the usually methodical Germans. Here and there in the streets was a German helmet and, occasionally a dead man whom they could not stop to bury. There were barricades built up with fragments of masonry, benches, tables, wheelbarrows, unhinged doors, mattresses and even a cradle and bird cage. The houses were only shells, with windows broken, holes gaping in their walls, doors wrenched from their hinges. The beautiful furnishings had all been destroyed or wantonly ruined.
The cellars showed signs of having been largely occupied as places of refuge. Mattresses, benches and chairs and cooking utensils were collected there.
Some of the inhabitants were still there, clinging with French tenacity to their ruined homes. They were principally old women and men and children. During the six weeks of German occupancy they had lived on vegetables dug at night from abandoned gardens, and on goat’s flesh and one cow that had been killed by our gun fire.
Upon our coming they had begun to gather from the seemingly hopeless ruins, household goods with which to rebuild some of the comforts of homes. The German soldiers, they said, had used them fairly well, but took possession of their cellars for their own use and protection from our gun fire.
In one place we found a machine-gun nest that had not been ousted. Our men surrounded it, and soon the German soldiers came out with uplifted hands, crying “Kamerad!” and were made prisoners of war and marched to the rear. By their expressive looks I thought that they expected to be killed rather than fed. We learned afterwards that many of the Boches called “Kamerad!” when they had no intention of surrendering—but used it as a trick.
We did not tarry long in this ruined city. On our right and left we could hear the crackling of musketry and the steady roar of artillery; and at times I fancied I could faintly hear American cheers.
Our force of French and Americans was commanded by a French officer who had been trained in French colonial armies and was notably brave and skillful. His soldiers loved him, for he asked no exposure or danger that he was not willing to share.
The clouds had cleared away and the sun had come out as if in promise of victory, as we marched forward encountering surprisingly little opposition.
“What does it mean?” queried Sutherland; “are the Boches all dead?”
“No,” said Corporal Quinn, for he had won that rank, “Shure I think the divils are thrying to get away wid themsilves. Don’t ye’s hear the guns on both sides of us?”
“Gee!” ejaculated Hen. Goodwin, “them chumps knows when they’s licked. And you’s can bet that they’s can run!”
All reports that reached us showed that the Germans were getting out of the claws of the V as fast as circumstances would admit, and before the mouth of it “snapped shut,” as Shaw said.
The sounds of battle were calling us young Americans as we marched on. We felt that we had a task before us that must speedily be performed. The battle called us, trumpet-tongued, for energy and action. We glowed and were consumed with eagerness to be in at the death; for we felt that it was a crisis in the campaign for American soldiers.
“Why don’t you stop and get some hot chow?” said one of the sweaty cooks to our men.
“Aw! we ain’t got time,” answered Goodwin; “hard-tack is good enough when you’s are gettin’ after the Dutchies.”
“It’s a regular rabbit hunt,” said Sam Jenkins, “an’ we are out a-gunning and can’t stop, or the rabbit’ll get away.”
We were in sight of the red roofs of a village, when from a wooden hill there came the rat, tat, tat of machine-guns.
“They’ve got a nest there,” was the cry from our men. “Let’s rout ’em out!”
Twenty of our best marksmen took advantageous positions to pick off their men, while our light arms and machine-guns sprayed them with an intense fire.
It was but a little time before they had enough of it; and those who could do so got away, while others came out with uplifted hands crying “Kamerad!” They had been told that the Americans were savage, and would shoot them without mercy, and some of them believed it.
During our morning’s march, Muddy, who had been following closely at my heels, flew out after the Boches that were hustling to get away and, without a yelp or bark, ran so that we couldn’t see his tail for the dust. I did not see him again until afternoon, when he came crouching in apology with his tail at half-mast. I had whistled to call him back, but he either would not hear or would not heed. What did it mean?
As I was in command of the platoon I had other duties and could give little thought to a dog.
Twice later that afternoon we met with fitful opposition from the enemy, and it was late before we reached the village whose red-tiled houses, as we have before mentioned, we had seen in the distance.
“That looks good,” said our captain. “Possibly we can halt there for the night, unless we have to fight for it.”
As we approached the village there burst forth from in front and on both sides of us the chatter of machine-guns and rifle fire, as if to say, “Stand off! we are here!”
Some of us took shelter behind a rise in the land and fired upon them, while others circled around the village. Then their fire began gradually to die away.
“Gee!” said Goodwin, “you’s can just bet your bottom dollar they’s litin’ out.”
“No chance to bag your rabbits, Sam,” said Sutherland sarcastically. “They won’t stop to say good-bye.” And they didn’t.
We had opened a hot fire and then by making sudden rushes and throwing ourselves on our faces and firing had driven them out. It was an old method, used by the regulars in fighting Indians; but it answered.
“I have no respect for the Boches any more,” said Sam, “except as runners.” But therein he was wrong. They were fighting a rear-guard fight, and were not only acting in a prudent way, but also under orders.
A few people, old men, women, and children, who had been sheltering themselves as best they could in cellars and behind thick walls, came out and greeted us with French enthusiasm.
It was quite embarrassing for Sutherland when one sweet-faced old woman threw her arms around his neck in a fervent embrace. He was awkward in receiving her hug, but at last recovering from surprise, he patted her and told her not to cry. When one attempted to hug and kiss the doughty Sam Jenkins, instead of bravely standing fire he turned and ran.
Peter Beaudett, more educated in French ways than the rest of us, returned, as Pat Quinn afterwards declared, “blarney for blarney,” and kissed one of the younger women effusively. I thought it a shame that we had not been educated up to the point of receiving such grateful demonstrations as they were meant. But, New England people check, rather than give way to, their emotions. Do they gain, or lose by it?
Though Peter Beaudett could not speak Parisian French he could partially understand and be understood.
“What are they saying?” I asked the French interpreter.
“They say, ‘May God and his holy angels have you all in his keeping!’” he replied. Thus it was that we awkwardly received the blessings of the good, suffering women of France; and I trust in part appreciated them.
“Not all the Germans were bad,” said one old woman; “one young officer helped us, and gave us part of his small piece of bread, and assisted us in getting together things to make us more comfortable.”
This description somehow reminded me of Jot, and his helpful ways.
The clouds had cleared away and, under a star-lit sky, we lay down to the sleep of tired men, with the camp sentinels walking their posts protectingly around us.
AN ADVENTURE OF ARMS
The next morning, when we resumed our march on the heels of the retreating enemy, I was unaccountably depressed. I felt that I was standing on the verge of calamity. I will acknowledge that I am superstitious. Ever since I can remember I have had warnings when unusual trouble was impending. I did not, however, allow this feeling of coming misfortune to impair my work as an officer; for I had no time to consider such minor things as personal feelings, when the interests of my country were looming large ahead of me in battles about to be fought.
The tendencies of a soldier’s life are to make him a fatalist. He gets to feeling and thinking that what is to be will happen, and that he has only to do his duty faithfully as his part in it. And he is confirmed in that belief by the everyday happenings of his adventurous life; so why borrow trouble about that which you can’t help?
This, though not often put in words by them, is a very common feeling—or I may call it belief—among soldiers who are constantly offering their lives to the hazards of battle.
When I speak of the retreating enemy, I do not mean that we had an easy time of it always, or that they were running away. They had been forced into such a position by the strategy of Foch, and the hard fighting of the Allies, that it was essential to their safety to retreat. But to do this they must fight at certain points for the protection of their divisions and the vast munitions of war which they were removing to another line.
We soon came upon a detachment of the enemy on our immediate front strongly posted and defended by their light artillery, machine-guns, and infantry. When we attempted in our over-confidence to rush them and drive them back we were checked by a bitter fire.
Then our heavy guns from the rear opened on them. And as shell and shrapnel, with loud-mouthed defiance, went screaming over our heads, hissing as though saying to the foe, “Get outtt offf thattttt!” it was comforting to us, who had met with the check.
“I tell you,” said Hen. Goodwin approvingly, “them gunners are hustlers, and that Boche bunch will have to climb down or get out pretty soon!” But they didn’t!
Then information came—how, I do not know—that the enemy lines were so formed that we could get at them by a flank approach. A plan was accordingly made to strike their flank and front simultaneously and capture or drive them back.
The land was rolling ground, like that of my native Massachusetts; and the enemy at this place was posted on a ridge with their right flank imperfectly protected by their machine-guns. The plan was to strike this exposed flank and at the same time attack in front.
I was put in command of about a hundred men, besides my platoon, which I had for some time been commanding, to make the contemplated flank attack.
The night was as dark as “a stack of black cats,” when we silently marched to the position assigned for assault on the enemy’s flank, and where we were to await the signal to charge.
We got there all right and in the darkness were ambushed ready for our part, when the enemy in some unaccountable way discovered our approach. This upset the plan we had formed, and I was, naturally, undecided what to do; whether to retreat—which I had no inclination for—or assault; when the Boche forced my hand by a furious onset.
I did not stop to argue the question of fight or retreat then, with myself or any one else. The time had come to fight; and all questions of strategy must yield to this simple fact. We had four of the new machine-guns which had lately come to us, and which could be carried like an ordinary rifle on the shoulder, and I had a good deal of confidence in them.
My orders were for every man to go forward, protecting himself by the ground, when he could, and fight with all the fight that was in him! The sun was up when I gave the order, “Forward!” The men answered with a cheer, and rushed in quick time to a place about twenty yards from us to the front. Every man was ordered to reserve his fire until he could make sure of downing an enemy, or for dangerous emergencies—which, heaven knows, were more likely to occur than not. Then we made another rush, relying upon our courage and our bayonets to drive out the foe. We were successful at first in rolling up Fritz’s flank, by our audacious and unexpected tactics. I gave the order for the line again to go forward at a jump and, as Sam sometimes expressed it, for every man to “holler his head off,” hoping by this means to shake the nerve of the enemy and, at the same time, let our main force know that we were fighting, and guess that we were in need of help.
For personal defence I had my revolver and an old German cavalry sword which I had picked up, and though without great confidence in the outcome, I could see no other way than, as Hen. Goodwin said, “to get a good run for my money.”
My men, without exception, fought like wildcats and, if noise counted, the Boche must have thought that there was an army of us, and those new guns must have helped them think so. Hen. Goodwin had one of them, Sam and Sutherland one and I have forgotten who had the others.
We were in the midst of the fracas, when we heard a long, wild heartening cheer from our lines. That encouraged us. We were then sheltering ourselves as best we could, picking off the enemy at every chance, hoping to hold them back until rescue came. The new guns were great, and were worked to the utmost by the men who had them.
We were trying to make a cautious fight; but the enemy would not let us. They outnumbered us three to one. But we didn’t mind that so much as we did that they could better protect themselves than we could, and attack, while we found it hard to get at them over the rough intervening ground.
Such was our situation when we heard the bugle from our lines sounding the retreat.
We were losing men fast it is true; and it was not likely to be a winning fight if we got no help. But I could see no good in retreating, when I could save more men by fighting. And I had no stomach for running away from the rascally Huns, so long as I could fight. The advantage was with the enemy both in superior numbers and in knowing the ground. It was plain, then, that we must fight or—do worse.
I gave a little talk to the men, during a momentary lull. “It is going to be some fight, men! And possibly we may get the worst of it. But it will be better for our pride and our skins to fight it out, than to turn tail. So let us trust to luck and our American grit and possible help, to lick them before they get us. Now fight like devils!”
An amen of cheers was the response, and we continued to make short dashes over the rough ground, firing at every head we saw; for it was agreed we must thin the Boche off all we could, before the final tussle came.
We got as near the enemy as was prudent by these short dashes, and then dug in; that is, we threw up with our knives and bayonets a little ridge of earth in front of us. We were on a slight rise in the ground which gave us a good view of the enemy, and a chance to pick them off. I had at that time about ninety-five men. I had lost in killed and wounded about thirty. But several of the wounded, including Goodwin and Sam, could still fight. None of my men had been made prisoners; but several—to put it mildly—were absent without leave.
There was one friend that had stuck to me like wax, and that was my dog. Then a thought came to me. I scribbled a short note and addressed it to my captain, saying: “I am fighting in a tight place; Help!” Then fastening it in the dog’s collar, I headed him towards our lines saying: “Go!” He answered by running like the wind, and I knew that it would not be long before the captain got that message.
“HE ANSWERED BY RUNNING LIKE THE WIND, AND I KNEW THAT IT WOULD NOT BE LONG BEFORE THE CAPTAIN GOT THAT MESSAGE.”—Page 166.
We were in a tight corner, almost surrounded, but fighting for all we were worth. Several of our best men were wounded or dead and the enemy shots came fast and thick. Hen. Goodwin, wounded in the arm and head, being no longer able to use his Browning machine-gun, I had taken it. I was firing fast, when I heard a prodigious cheer from our lines. My message had reached them.
“Help is coming, men!” I said. “I have sent word by the dog, and that is the answer. Cheer up! We’ll get ’em yet!”
Our group of fighters at this time was in pitiful plight. I had lost in killed and wounded over one third of my men since taking refuge behind that rise of ground. Sam was wounded but still fighting. Pat Quinn was bleeding from a wound in the head, but still firing—and making sulphurous talks to his comrades. It looked so discouraging that, but for the undaunted courage I saw in the faces of my men, I could almost have given up the fight in despair.
“Hold on a little longer!” I cried. “Our men are coming!” But minutes seemed hours, as one after another of my men fell or cried out in anguish from their hurts.
Strange to say, I thought of other things than the fight I was making; of my mother, of Jot and—some one else. One minute had passed—so my watch said—since hearing those reassuring cheers, but it seemed hours. I thought that Joshua must have been in the same kind of a fix when he thought the sun had stood still to give him victory.
Another moment passed, then we heard a cheer still nearer.
“Hear that!” I cried. “They are almost here! Help is coming!”
But the Germans had heard it too. That which had encouraged us warned them. They were gathering for a final rush upon us. Why they had not rushed us before was a mystery to me (for I had been expecting it) unless they thought to fight safely—and in the end were confident they would get us.
“Pick them off!” I cried. “Don’t let one of them get away!” It was a foolish command, perhaps, for there was a big band of them. Crack! Crack! Crack! and every rifle and machine-gun did its work, until they were dangerously near. Just then I felt a sharp blow on my left arm, which made me drop the Browning gun.
We fell back a few yards to get time, but it wouldn’t do! “Stand up, men!” I cried. “Go for them with your bayonets!”
In another instant, volley after volley from our rescuers sent the Boche staggering back. We were rescued.
I had turned my head to see our comrades who had delivered us, when my foot caught between two stones. In trying to liberate it, I wrenched my ankle sadly. Before I could get away I was seized by two Boches and absolutely carried away as a prisoner of war.
My only consolation was that I had made a good fight. And that was a consolation; though being a prisoner to the Boche was not.
The result of the fight, as I learned later, was that a small part of the German line was driven back from their strong position, many killed, and many prisoners taken. We had made good.
Still I was far from being reconciled. A prisoner seldom is.
IN THE HANDS OF THE ENEMY
The German soldiers, who were guarding me, seemed to be decent sort of men, and treated me fairly well, as soldiers who have been fighting each other usually act. All through my army experience I have found that those in safe non-combatant positions are the most fierce and relentless towards those who are disarmed and helpless. My captors allowed me to use my first aid bandages, with which I bound up my hurts as best I could.
The sprain was so painful that I could not walk, and they had almost to carry me to the rear. My arm also stung.
I noticed on every side the destruction wrought by war. I could not have believed such ruin possible, had I not seen it. Abandoned guns, broken gun-carriages and air craft, ammunition piled up to be abandoned or destroyed, supplies and munitions amid wrecks of ruined buildings, and trampled yellow grain. Several of these grain fields had been fired by the invaders and extinguished by the merciful rain. Among the life-sustaining grain were dead men, dead horses and in two instances I saw badly wounded Prussian soldiers that had been abandoned in the necessity for haste, or because they were of no further use. There were, also, the lesser wreckage of fragments of clothing, knapsacks, broken rifles and innumerable small fragments of war’s ruin and ravage.
I was in considerable pain and constantly cried out when hurried; for I intended to emphasize my injuries for purposes of my own. My captors were, apparently, disgusted with me. They talked and gestured until I began to fear that they were debating whether or not to lessen their trouble by knocking me on the head. Finally they picked up a discarded rifle, halted, and fitted a piece of wood in the muzzle, and handing it to me, made motions that I was to use it for a crutch.
That night, while shut in the room of a partially ruined dwelling, I was helped to wash, and put cold water bandages on my hurts and slept fairly well. In the morning the pain from my sprain was mostly gone. I washed my wounded arm and wet and rewound my bandages. I could have walked had I chose; but I determined to keep that hurt for strategic use; for I had firmly resolved not to go to a German prison. Their reputation as providers was so bad that, to use expressive slang, “I couldn’t see it.”
All the food I was given up to that time was some coarse wheat bread and not a scrap of meat; and some hot water bewitched into imitation of coffee. But the guards themselves did not have any better fare so far as I could see.
One of my two guards was a clean-faced, good-looking German boy who seemed of a higher class than his heavy-faced comrade. He took my crutch from me and made motions that I was to stand. I tried to look meek and obedient, and cried out and buckled up with pretended pain. Seeing this, he restored my rifle crutch, and put one hand under my arm to help me as I limped painfully along.
While I was on the outlook for a chance to use my crutch for a club and my legs for escape, my hopes were dashed by the guard taking me to a large house, around which sentinels were stationed.
After a parley with a sentinel who was pacing the broad doorway, I was conducted into a large room where were several officers, orderlies and clerks, some of them writing at a big table, on which were spread maps, papers, and big books that looked like ledgers.
No notice was taken of me at first. The clerks continued writing, the officers talking, until there bustled into the room a tall, blond officer with several decorations flashing on his breast, and an air of decision and command that can not be expressed in words. The other officers clicked their heels and saluted, the clerks did the same. The officer made a careless but graceful acknowledgment by return salute, spoke a few sharp guttural words that set several of the officers and attendants hustling and addressed a few words to a man, who but for his uniform looked like a clerk. Then turning to me, he motioned for me to stand, and in good English interrogated:
“What is your regiment?”
I told him, for I could not see how he could get any good out of the truth.
“Oh,” he said, “a Massachusetts man. What part?”
“Western Massachusetts, Berkshire county.”
“Second Lieutenant David Stark.”
“How many men have you here?”
“I don’t know, but a lot of them and more coming.”
He spoke a few words of command to the clerk, who pulled out a big ledger-looking book, ran his finger over its pages, and made some answer, then resumed his interrogations.
“Why are you in the army?”
“I like it, sir.”
He smiled a wry smile, and asked, “You’ve got over that by this time?”
“Not much,” I replied defiantly.
“Ach!” he snarled. “You like it?”
“You are of the New Hampshire Starks, perhaps?”
“My folks came from there originally.”
I was amazed at his exact knowledge—and showed it.
He smiled and continued, “The Cromwell Roundhead breed!”
Then he questioned me sharply about the American army, to most of which I replied, “I don’t know.” I think that he got little satisfaction out of the answers.
“Did you know,” he finally said sharply, scrutinizing my face closely, “a Lieutenant Nickerson of your regiment?”
The question, coming abruptly, threw me a little off my balance, but I replied steadily, “I did know a person who called himself by that name; but I should not know him now.”
“How’s that?” he inquired crisply.
“I once thought him to be a true man, and I would not like to kill him, as I might have to do should we meet again.”
“He has turned traitor and spy. Such men should be shot.”
“Ach! Then you’d kill a Prussian soldier—a gentleman?”
“Yes, sir; that’s what we are here in France for!” But my own words cut me to the heart, when I had spoken them of Jot.
With a gesture of dismissal he turned from me to one of the officers, and made a remark that I did not understand. But his face and manner led me to believe that he had got something out of my replies not displeasing to him.
Sharply giving more orders, with more clicking of heels and salutes, he entered a near-by door to his private office. I was informed, afterwards, that this officer had, previous to the war, been a professor in one of our New England colleges.
Under guard of the young soldier I have mentioned, I was conducted, limping, to the street, helped through the doorway of an isolated wall—all that was left standing of a building—and found myself in an enclosure of barbed wire.
In this pen were other American officers and soldiers, and several Frenchmen.
“More fish,” cried out a corporal.
I was in bad humor and replied savagely: “Speak for yourself. If you think it is funny to be here, I don’t.”
“It’s Lieutenant Stark!” exclaimed a soldier, coming to me and saluting. He was one of my men of yesterday’s fight.
Then a captain came forward with extended hand saying, “You made a good fight. I was with the rescue party and saw some of it and heard more. Were you wounded?”
“Slightly,” I said, with a motion towards the wounded arm; “but they wouldn’t have got me, but for this sprained ankle.” And I limped forward and sat down with my back to the wall.
“Then you didn’t surrender?”
“He ain’t that breed of cats,” said my soldier—Private George Williams.
“Then what breed of cats is he?” asked another flippantly. Prisoners don’t stand much on ceremony.
“Tiger cat!” replied Williams. Then I saw him talking with those around him, and I inferred that he was telling about the fight.
A lieutenant whose manner I did not like—and there are a good many things I am not pleased with, when I am hungry—came to me, and in an insinuating way asked, “Any chance of making a break here?”
“I haven’t thought of it,” I replied. “I have just come.”
I distrusted the man, I do not know why, except that his manner was over sweet. Then he suggested a plan so impractical that I wondered if he was in his senses.
“What do you think of it?” he inquired.
“Good idea!” I replied, “if you are figuring to get killed.”
I turned my back on the fellow, and made up my mind that whatever plans might be made in the future, I would have no part in any that he might have a part in; which only shows how strong my prejudices are about people to whom I have taken a dislike.
“What are the chances for ‘chow,’ Williams?” I called.
“Haven’t seen any, or smelled a sniff of any since I got here,” he replied. “I guess the Kaiser when he planned this war forgot that cog in its wheels; for prisoners at least.”
It certainly looked like it, and I was hungry enough to eat a Boche uncooked, when about four o’clock in the afternoon some wheat bread and vegetable soup were given us—but not enough for a hungry man.
I still persisted in having a lame ankle, and if my face and actions were to be taken in evidence, it was a corker.
I made several acquaintances among the officers and privates too during the day, and talked with Williams about the prospects of making an escape. To which he replied: “There ain’t any!” And I finally agreed with him.
So I rolled up in my blankets, and went sound asleep.
HELD BY THE ENEMY
I was awakened by a tumult of voices, and by men stumbling over me. So sound had been my sleep that at first I did not recognize my surroundings. A throng of new prisoners was coming through the narrow door near where I was lying.
I sat up with my back against the wall, to see if there were any that I knew, and also to take advantage of any circumstance that might favor me. I did not recognize any of the men, but spoke to some of them. One big fellow trod on my feet and, stumbling, sprawled across me.
“Look out!” I cried, “there’s more room standing up than in lying down!”
“What’s the matter, boy?” said the stumbler; “what are you yelping about?”
“Matter enough,” I replied, “when a ton of a man hits a sore leg!”
He made no immediate reply except to say, “Which leg is it?” And then, unwinding my puttee and the bandage, began rubbing my leg with his strong magnetic hands. Then skillfully rewinding the bandage, he asked: “What’s the matter with your arm?”
“Bullet hole,” I replied. “But it is all right.”
He turned back my slit sleeve, unwound the bandage, took a critical look, and said, “See here, youngster, you haven’t been giving that arm a fair chance.”
“What do you know about it?” I asked rather testily. “It don’t hurt much.”
“It’s inflamed and in pretty bad shape,” he replied half to himself; and then in answer to my question, “I am something of a surgeon-graduate of a medical school.”
Then, with medicaments taken from his kit he cleansed and bandaged the wound, saying emphatically as he turned down my sleeve, “You’ll be short an arm if you aren’t careful!”
“I guess not,” I replied carelessly. “I am expecting to get among civilized folks before long and have it fixed all right.”
“Oh, that’s it, is it? Well, you’ve got confidence in yourself. How do you plan to get away?”
“I am watching for a chance.”
For awhile he made no talk, remaining silent as though thinking, then said, “See here; suppose we chum together? I see that you are a lieutenant. My name is Gordon; I am an assistant surgeon. You’ve got confidence and courage. I’ve got some sense and lots of strength, besides a good arm and leg. Any objection to my following your lead?”
“No,” I said, “I like you; I think that you’ve got the right stuff and I may need you.”
He smiled quizzically, and inquired, “Had much to eat?”
“No, I feel as empty as a vacuum.”
“Stay here, and I will see what I can do.”
Making his way through the crowd, he disappeared.
It was stifling hot, and the newcomers injected into this small area had crowded it unmercifully.
Meanwhile I thought over the situation, and tried to form a general plan for escape. I also thought over the possibilities of Jot’s being in that sector of the enemy’s lines. I inferred from the questions asked me under examination, that he was known in that sector and that his loyalty to the German cause had been questioned.
I was turning over in my mind some of the incidents of our long acquaintance, and wondering at its contradictory phases. In the midst of my reflections I felt my arm grasped by Gordon who exclaimed softly, “Wake up, Lieutenant! There’s something doing!”
In an instant I was alert and observant. “Yes,” I said, “it looks as though they were going to take us away from here.”
A German officer with several non-commissioned officers and privates had begun to count the men, form them into military groups, and march them through the doorway.
“They are separating the men from the officers,” said Gordon. “Possibly we may remain here.”
“I think not,” I replied. “They will be keeping us on the move. If I am not mistaken their whole army is falling back. They need all the wheels they have got and legs are cheaper, especially if they belong to us; and they don’t care a bit for our comfort.”
So it proved.
After the men and non-commissioned officers had been moved out, there remained about twenty French and American officers.
Rations of bread, vegetable soup, and imitation coffee, were given us; and, after giving our names and rank, we too were marched from the enclosure and through the half-ruined village.
On all sides were evidences of hasty but methodical retreat. Long lines of German infantry, light artillery and heavy guns on tractors, caissons, ammunition wagons, pontoon trains and other belongings of a monster army, were moving over the roads to the rear, or into position for defence and battle. The roads, gullied by rains, cut up by wheels of heavy gun carriages, tractors and other vehicles, were in poor condition for haste.
On one side of the heavily burdened roads, directed by the guard, we picked our way. Everywhere were the German wounded, some conveyed on gun carriages, others in baggage wagons and ambulances. Some of our guard even were slightly wounded men, others were old and war-worn soldiers.
About six o’clock that afternoon we came to a halt in a field where grain had been harvested and stacked. A guard was stationed around us, and we were glad to rest. The weather was hot and uncomfortable; but the sky grew suddenly darkened, and a tempest was upon us. Gordon, who had been with me during the day’s march, pretending to help me, hurried me to one of the grain stacks where with our blankets we were able partially to shelter ourselves from the rain.
Soon as we had protected ourselves from the downpour, Gordon said, “We have got to escape before we get too weak from being underfed and overmarched, and they get us on a train to take us to a German prison. I have bought, begged, and stolen all the food I could get before we left that barbed wire coop where I found you. What have you got?”
“Not much,” I replied; “a piece of bread about as big as my hand. I have been too confounded hungry to save more from the little that I have received.”
He sat thinking for a while, and then said: “Everything will count in an escape. A starving man would be in poor shape for quick and determined action.”
“Yes,” I assented, “a full stomach gives courage!”
He laughed one of his inward chuckles and observed: “I guess that you are a good feeder like myself, and that you are right hungry.”
“Just that,” I agreed; “but I won’t mind that if we can only get away.”
“All right, comrade, we will divide up now,” he decided; “for you may have a chance to get away before I do, or if we escape together we may be separated. It ain’t much, but I am going to whack up even.”
“You are a good fellow,” I said. “Where are you from?” For up to this time I had not asked that question.
“Virginia,” he replied, “and I am proud of it. You are a Yank, I reckon, but I know a white man when I see him. My old dad was a Confederate soldier.”
“And mine,” I said, “was a Union soldier.”
“Shake!” he said, extending his hand. And we shook hands heartily.
After awhile I saw him with his hands among the grain.
“Say,” he said, “here’s a find! They haven’t threshed this grain yet. Stow some of it away in your pockets. It’s good food at a pinch without cooking.”
I had a wallet-like envelope of oil cloth which I showed him.
“Just the thing,” he said.
We rubbed the ears of grain in our hands, and secured about a quart apiece before we went to sleep that night.
On awaking I found the sun shining, the sky clear, and the weather cooler than the day previous. As there were no immediate indications of moving, we spread our blankets on the grain stack to dry. And then we had a long talk.
I told him all about Jot and his desertion, as I had never told it to any one before. There was something about him that drew me out to confide in him my inmost thoughts. He asked several questions and then, after a moment’s silence he looked me in the face, and gave one of his inward chuckles.
“What is it?” I said. “To me it seems a crying matter.”
“So it does, chum,” he said soberly; “I can understand your feelings. But you have, with all of your Yankee intelligence, a childish streak in you.”
“What do you mean?” I asked with some stiffness.
“Don’t you see that it is more than likely, your friend and his brother are both in the secret service of our army? You know that Foch got information of the German plans, and has been posted from the first about what they were going to do. I shouldn’t wonder if your chum and his brother had a hand in it. From what you have told me I infer that they know how to keep their lips shut. And that dog and horse! My! If it is as I think, it’s fine! But still, it may possibly be the other way.”
I forgot my present troubles—even my hunger—as I grasped his hand. “By George!” I cried, and turned my head to hide the tears—but they were tears of joy.
He radiated an indefinable smile and said, “There’s nothing certain, but I reckon that your friend is white.” And then added, “You are a good deal of a child yet, Stark. Don’t mind if I tell you so. You see things more with your eyes than with your mind, and can’t understand a two-sided game—because you haven’t any two sides to yourself. You’re honest.”
I didn’t exactly understand his view, and asked: “How about this sprain, Gordon? Is that honest, too?”
But he only laughed one of his internal chuckles, and began talking of other things.
A HAZARD OF FORTUNE
Again we found ourselves on the march.
The weather was warm and moist, something like our dog days, though cooler at night and during the morning hours. Our guard of six were old or war-worn soldiers, inclined to be ill-tempered, and disagreeable enough upon little provocation. One of them near me struck a lieutenant with the butt of his rifle because, having a head wound, he had become unsteady and had staggered against him. As he struck him the second time, I would have interfered, but for my comrade who, seeing my anger, restrained me. I uttered, however, an angry imprecation, which of course the guard did not comprehend, though he evidently did understand that I resented his brutality.
“Wait,” said Gordon, “by and by it may be more convenient to have a row with him—but I reckon not; it’s a mighty poor plan to play with powder.”
During the day, we were often required to march in the fields by the side of the roads, to make way for passage of troops and war vehicles. In the afternoon, however, we turned off on a road in a north-east direction that was less congested with troops and military material.
When we were halted, and rations of the same meagre and unpalatable kind were issued to us, my comrade and I held a consultation, taking care, however, that our manner should not excite suspicion.
“It is possible,” said Gordon, “that before long we may be put on the cars and sent by train to some German prison; and then, our chances to escape will be small.”
“I wonder if any of these men speak English,” I mused.
“I reckon not,” said Gordon. “But I can speak enough German to make myself understood.”
“Have you heard them say where they are taking us?”
He shook his head. “These men know nothing beyond their orders, and possibly only that non-com. knows that much. These German officers give orders, but don’t explain them. I do know that they expect to cross a river soon. I heard them asking if there was a bridge, and making jokes about swimming.”
“Can you swim, Gordon?”
“Like a duck,” he answered, “and I sure would like to take a dive right now!”
“Same here,” I said; “I had some fine swimming when I was on my permission. Can you guess what time we shall reach that river?”
“By the way they are hurrying us, I should say it would be late in the day; but I really know nothing about it; it’s only a surmise.”
“I have a plan,” I said, “I know something about pontoon bridges made of boats. I wonder if we could make them believe that neither of us can swim?” Then I told him of my scheme.
Nothing more was said for a long time, as we marched along the road, I still hobbling on my improvised crutch and my comrade pretending to help me occasionally.
Quite late in the day we came to a narrow but apparently deep stream where the guard halted. Gordon told me later that they discussed with the non-commissioned officer, whether or not it wouldn’t be best to try to find a ford, as it would save a mile or more of travel.
Then they made motions to us, to know if we could swim, to which we both replied by shaking our heads and pretending to be frightened.
So again we began our march by a road that led along the stream. I pretended to be very tired, and occasionally jostled against the guard that was marching near me. He cried out angrily and pushed me with his rifle. When I jostled against him again, he threatened me with the butt of it. I was getting on bad terms with him; for he did not have the sweetest of tempers. I am afraid my face showed him that it would be more than agreeable to me if I could kick him; for he grew more and more disagreeable.
It was nearly dark and clouds darkened the sky, when we came to a pontoon boat bridge.
“I am awfully afraid of water,” I said to Gordon with a wink. “It would be just my confounded luck to fall overboard here and drown. It don’t look safe.”
As our group reached the bridge, I pretended to grow very timid about trusting myself on it. The guard near me was tired and ugly. I started and jostled against him, and he struck me with the butt of his rifle, which I returned with an angry look and gesture; for that is a language that any one can understand.
The bridge was made up of about twenty boats, which showed me that the stream was about two hundred and seventy feet in width, or more. The water looked dark, but I was not sure that it was deep.
About the middle of the bridge I lurched against the same guard heavily, as though by accident, and he struck me a heavy blow with his rifle. With a yell I went overboard, threw up my hands, and sank.
I had taken a deep breath for a long swim under water, for I had fallen on the down tide side and would have to swim against the current to come up under the bridge, as I intended to do. I was almost exhausted when, looking upward, I saw I was under one of the boats. I took another long stroke and, fortunately, came up between two boats, but to my alarm saw that I was not under the covered portion that formed the roadway. I quickly submerged, and without being seen reached a safe place and clutched the gunwale of a covered boat.
I heard a tumult of trampling feet on the planks above me, with calls and outcries. Then it occurred to me that some one might look under the planking; so I dove under the boat, swam to one that was nearer the shore from which we had come, and waited again until their footsteps receded to the other end of the bridge, and I was satisfied that they had abandoned further search for me.
But what had become of my chum? He was to have followed me.
I stayed under the bridge, keeping myself above water by holding on to a boat, until it was very dark, then swimming quietly down stream, landed on the shore, thinking it safer to keep away from the roadway for a time.
I was lying on my stomach, looking and listening, and trying to make out which was south, but with neither moon or stars visible, I could only guess. I was in a quandary. It would not do to blunder, for fear of getting caught, which was likely enough with the country swarming with Boches.
I finally made up my mind to reach the bridge once more, and get the points of the compass thereby. I walked for a long distance without seeing the bridge, which I had thought to be near me. Was it possible that they had removed it?
I was lying in the grass thinking it over, when I heard the roar of wheels and the tramping of men on what I knew must be the bridge; but it was in a different direction from what I thought it to be.
I waited an hour until the sounds died entirely away. Then I crept cautiously to the bridge to get my bearings. I had approached the bridge through the field, mostly on my hands and knees, and was about to get to my feet, when I saw—or did I only imagine it?—a dark figure slowly moving on the road, occasionally stopping as though to look or listen. I saw this figure so indistinctly that, as I have said, I at times questioned its reality. Then the moon came out from behind a cloud, and I no longer doubted. It was a man. And I had but little doubt that it was a German soldier who had been left behind to hunt me down.
I moved cautiously, crouching in the short grass, observing the movements of the man, and dreading lest he had spied me out as I had him. Then he suddenly disappeared from view. I waited awhile; then, not seeing him, I began cautiously to move along the field parallel with the road, occasionally stopping to look and listen. At last, believing the course to be clear, I walked as fast as my feet could carry me, though still keenly observant with eyes and ears, of everything near me.
Again I heard a rustling sound near by which sent me crouching to the ground again. But, seeing and hearing nothing more, I went forward again, and again dropped to the ground to listen.
Then I heard a loud, hoarse whisper, which, but for the words distinctly enunciated, I should have mistaken for the wind in the tree tops: “Stark! Stark! David!” I did not trust my senses, for my imagination had deceived me more than once in my life when under excitement, and might again be deluding me.
From the shadows again came the whisper—“Dave! Dave! Dave! Is it you?”
I sprang up, and there stood erect a form I could mistake for no one else than my comrade, Gordon.
In another moment we had clasped hands.
So deep had been my emotions of fear and hope during that short interval of suspense, that I could only thank God for that which had seemed to be peril, was the reverse.
“It won’t do to talk here,” he said; “let us get back into the field.”
LOOSE AMONG THE BOCHES
“It is plain to me,” said Gordon, “that you are not a hunter, and have never stalked deer as I have often done. If it had been a Boche instead of me, you would have been captured or shot, when you were so near me.”
“But how,” I asked, “did you get away from them?”
“When you were knocked overboard,” he answered, “there was a good deal of confusion. The sergeant commanding the guard made motions urging me to go to your rescue. None of them wanted to try it, and when I had made him understand that I could not swim, enough time had passed for any reasonable man to drown; and no real effort was made to rescue you or to retrieve your body. Then the guard who knocked you overboard was scolded by the sergeant, not particularly for striking you, but for making it hard for him to account for a missing prisoner. There was a rejoinder that there was one less American pig to feed, which caused a laugh. And just then, when attention was drawn from me, I softly slipped into the water and, swimming under for some distance, at last crawled upon the shore.
“Apparently they did not discover my absence for some time. Then they came tramping back across the bridge, looking in the ends of the boats and then beneath the planking. When they got to this end of the bridge, I heard one of our officers suggest to the sergeant that you were not drowned but faking it.”
“Did that fellow who was giving me away have a voice like the purr of a cat—too sweet to be honest?” I asked suddenly.
“I reckon that’s him to a T. How did you happen to know him?”
“I spotted him,” I answered, “the first hour I was in that Boche wire coop, and I wouldn’t trust him for a cent’s worth.”
“I reckoned you felt it rather than reasoned it; didn’t you?”
“That’s about it,” I replied. “I always did have ‘hunches’—and I wouldn’t have shaken hands with him with a pair of tongs.”
“I reckon we are twins. I have that same feeling about some folks myself.”
Gordon and I were glad of each other’s company, though neither of us said much about it; for between some folks there is no need to say things. That night we walked rapidly; for my comrade’s trained senses enabled him to see and travel in the dark without missing the right direction. Sometimes we kept the road in view for guidance, but he seemed never to have doubts of the right road.
When daylight came, we found a hiding place in what, at first, we thought was a quarry, but soon saw excavations that told us it had been used by both the French and German soldiers for bomb proofs and other military service. We halted and made a breakfast from our tins and wheat bread, and lay there for most of the day, taking turns in standing guard, while the other slept.
I think that I was, possibly, doing more than my share of sleeping, when Gordon awakened me, and with a motion to keep silent, said in a whisper: “There are some folks near here—quite a lot of them—sounds like women—and I think they are French. But as we used to say in the Medical School, ‘Don’t be sure of your subject until you are certain it is a dead one.’ So you stay here until I find out what it means.”
It was a full half-hour before he returned, saying, “There is a nest of people in an underground dugout. I reckon that the question before the house is, shall we make their acquaintance, or skip them.”
“Can you speak French?” I inquired.
“Not ten cents’ worth,” he replied. “Can you?”
“Well,” I said, following his simile, “about twenty cents’ worth.”
“A few words,” he observed, “are sometimes better than a sermon.”
“All right,” I said, “we will chance it.”
“We’d better doll up a little first,” suggested Gordon. “You’d look better to get them weeds and burs out of your hair, chum.”
“And you,” I retorted, “would look less like a bear from the wilderness if you shaved and washed.”
“No soap or razor,” said Gordon, “but I will do it, if you will produce them.”
“I am more provident,” I said; “when I travel, I travel first class”—showing a comb and other articles.
“That’s fine!” he agreed. “But I don’t see what you carry a razor for with nothing to shave—that I can see.”
When he had shaved, as he said, “with tears,” for he declared that the razor was as “full of gaps as a hand saw,” we were ready for the interview.
After some search we found the entrance to the excavation, and introduced ourselves to the people. But instead of the welcome we had expected, they drew together like so many frightened sheep, and made outcries of fear and held up their hands in supplication.
“We are Americans,” I said, expecting that this would calm their fears; but to my surprise they became still more frantic.
Then an old crippled man cried out in broken English, “We know you—devils! The German soldiers have warned us that Americans are savages and kill everybody on sight.”
It was some time before we convinced them that the Americans had come to France to help them, and were fighting on their side.
This German lie to these people showed the deep cunning of the enemy to prejudice the French peasants against American soldiers.
One old Frenchman told us that he had once lived in Montreal, and had a little shop there, but had come home two years before the war. The Germans, he said, had taken everything away from them and destroyed their homes.
We tried to tell them of the victories the French and Americans had achieved, but they could not believe it; for the Germans had told them that they were besieging Paris and that London had been destroyed. It was hard to convince these poor people of the truth, and they still shrank at our approach.
We remained with them two hours or more and then, fearing that some of the Huns might return, we resumed our journey, which, with the information the Frenchman gave us, and a little compass that Gordon carried offered fair directions for reaching our lines.
When morning came we recognized by the sound of guns and in other ways known to soldiers, that we were near the German lines. We found a hiding place in a field where there were some stacks of straw, and soon saw the troops of the enemy moving over the near-by roads.
“I judge,” I said, “that there is going to be a fight near here, and the enemy are concentrating for it; but I believe it is a rear-guard action, to make their way clear for still further retreat.”
It was not long before an outburst of artillery and machine-gun fire confirmed this belief. The sound of combat grew nearer and nearer showing that the Boches were falling back.
“Let’s get out of this,” said Gordon, “for the enemy will be falling back here before long, and we will be caught. When it comes night, they will be after this straw for bedding.”
It was fortunate that we got away when we did, for before long we saw soldiers going into the field and streaming back with sheaves of straw.
In another hour by crawling through a bit of woodland we came to an abandoned village which, apparently, the Huns had occupied, and which now was a wrecked heap of masonry and jagged walls. Here we thought no human being would resort, or Huns approach, for there was nothing to steal or destroy, but to our surprise we came upon an aged couple still clinging to their ruined home. They had a few tattered bed clothes and garments, some wheat that they had apparently gathered from the near-by fields, a few potatoes, but not a scrap of bread or meat. Their condition was so pitiable that we attempted in our poor French to condole with them. They must have partially understood, for the old man shook his head and with trembling voice said, “C’est la guerre.”
Thus we traveled for several nights, lying very close during the day, without incident worthy of record except getting wet and tired. The country hereabouts was rough and hilly and sparsely inhabited by French speaking people, mostly of the peasant class, with whom we came in contact but twice, and that in an accidental way.
It had been raining almost constantly. After traveling all night, drenched to the skin and weak with long hunger and exposure, I felt that I could not go further without rest and warmth. So, just before daylight, we crept into a thatched little barn where, in one secluded corner, there was some straw.
“Say, chum!” said Gordon, “this is right comfortable.”
“Yes,” I replied petulantly, “but ain’t it ‘right’ dangerous?”
“We can’t have everything, Yank,” he replied. “We’ve got to chance it once in a while.”
“Yes,” I assented, “but I’m afraid I’m all in. I’m all of a shiver.”
After looking at my wound, my chum said, “That arm is right bad; and I don’t like them shivers you are having. If we don’t get into God’s country pretty soon, I reckon we shall have to do something desperate to get that arm fixed.”
He covered me over with his coat, and heaped straw on top of that, and then after a while, asked anxiously, “Getting over them shivers?”
“Yes,” I replied, “I am getting comfortable and warmer than I have been for a good while. Better take your coat.”
“That’s good!” he said with a relieved expression. “Never mind about the coat. I was afraid that them shivers meant something more than cold.”
I had dropped into the dreamless sleep of exhaustion when I was awakened by a sharp punch, and the rustling of the straw. Looking up, I saw an old man with a pitchfork in one hand, staring down upon me with eyes big with surprise and inquiry.
My chum sprang up with a greeting in German, and was answered in French by the inquiry: “Who are you?”
“Un Americain,” I answered quickly.
He dropped his hay fork, and held out his arms to embrace me, then called to his wife; and as she spoke German quite well, we soon had an understanding with them.
They said that though some of the French people of that country had become Germanized, they still loved “la belle France” and prayed for deliverance from the hated, overbearing Germans. They had conscripted his son and had taken his horse, his crop of potatoes and other food, for their soldiers.
From them we learned that there was a heavy force of Germans a few miles away, but that they were constantly falling back before the French and Americans. They said, further, that many of the Boches they had met were discouraged and feared that they could not continue to fight much longer.
The old man gave us food to continue our journey, saying: “We are good friends,” and then added ruefully, “C’est la guerre.”
AN UNEXPECTED ENCOUNTER
A few days after this meeting we saw, while hiding in some woods, German artillery moving over near-by roads, and by this inferred that we were near the German lines, and that they were falling back.
I was not sick but weak and tired. I lay down to rest and hide, while my chum left me to get some water, and forage for turnips or other food, still unharvested.
I had waited for a long time—so it seemed to me—and becoming alarmed I cautiously started out to find him. Just as I had about given him up, he came creeping on his hands and knees through some underbrush saying, “Hist! The German devils are right thick around here; I have been trying to dodge them for an hour. Get down out of sight, chum!”
All this was uttered in a hoarse whisper, and with an expression of alarm more ominous of danger than his words.
We remained in our hiding place during most of that day, and at night began once more to travel cautiously, with many misgivings, westward, hoping to get through the German lines.
“If it were not for our uniforms, chum,” said my comrade, “we would stand a better chance; but they are ‘a dead give away.’”
We traveled slowly and warily—but at last, in some unexplainable way, we fell into a trap.
We had stopped in a little depression of the ground in the outskirts of a wood near a little brook. Thinking it as good a place for concealment as we would find, we refreshed ourselves by bathing our hands and faces, after which Gordon began dressing my wound. He was rewinding the bandage, after washing it, when he stopped short and, in a whisper said, “What’s that?”
But there was no need of an answer, for there came the sharp call: “Hande hoch!” And to enforce this order of “hands up” several rifle barrels pointed towards us from behind trees. We were caught.
Our German captors were mostly young fellows who looked like students. With one exception, and that was an old grizzled sergeant, not one of them, I should judge, was over seventeen years of age. I learned through Gordon that they had but lately come in to the service, and they were greatly pleased to have captured us. The old sergeant spoke fair English.
“Who are you?” he interrogated. “How came you inside our lines?”
“We are Americans and escaping prisoners,” Gordon answered in German.
“Ach!” he responded in English. “You gets avay?”
He allowed Gordon to finish dressing my wound, and after taking a look at it himself, said, when he saw that Gordon had some clean bandages, “Verbande” and coolly took most of them, with the grim remark: “May need these myself.”
From this I inferred that linen bandages were scarce with them.
Then came the order: “Vorwart!” and we were hurried forward to their headquarters, where we were halted and turned over to a new guard.
For a while but little attention was given us, and we were allowed to lie down while awaiting—we knew not what.
“It is rather disheartening,” I said, “to be gobbled when we were so close to our lines.”
“Yes,” replied Gordon coolly, “but that was the place where we were most likely to get caught. Don’t look so glum; never say die, chum, until you are dead, and then—you can’t.”
“They will be marching us to prison soon, I suppose,” I said.
“Very likely,” replied Gordon; “but I will do my best to vote in the negative, as we used to say in our debating club.”
We were brought to our feet by a command, and conducted by a guard to a shattered house, where we found ourselves in the presence of a black-headed, blotch-faced, severe-looking officer, who began to question us in imperfect English. Then, as we were unable to understand his questions, and he equally unable to understand our replies, he spoke a few guttural words to an orderly, who saluted and went away.
As I stood at attention looking the ill-natured officer in the face, I noticed some one stop at my side and brush my elbow never so slightly, as if in warning, and at the same time slip something into my side pocket.
I turned my head to look, and saw Lieutenant Jonathan Nickerson in the uniform of a German officer, clicking his heels and saluting his superior. It took all my resolution to appear unconcerned. I was so astonished that I could have been knocked down with a straw. But I knew I must be on my guard.
Under direction of the officer, Jot, whom I took to be his aide, began to question me.
“You are Americans?”
We answered that question and several other correctly.
“How came you inside our lines?”
“We had been made prisoners, but escaped, and at the time your men captured us, we were trying to get through your lines to our own.”
The questions that followed were mostly about our army, and were answered in such way that little information was given.
Gordon told me afterwards that Jot reported to the officer, “These are ignorant Americans. They don’t know anything that is taking place a foot beyond their noses. They are not educated like our soldiers.”
So we were dismissed, and marched to a place where there were other prisoners, but none that I knew. From them, however, I learned that my own division was now on that front, and also got the comforting information that the Boches were being constantly beaten. But though comforting, it made me all the more impatient to be with my regiment again.
My heart had given a great throb of pain when I had seen Jot’s face. It was worn as though by mental suffering and, at one time, when we were about leaving, it had such an expression of imploring love, that all my anger and distrust gave way to sympathy at sight of his dear face. As from our first acquaintance, I could not distrust his truthfulness or his friendship when in his presence.
Then, remembering that something had been dropped into my coat pocket when he passed me, I drew out a little book. It was Jot’s New Testament, that I had often seen before, and had been given him by his mother when on her death-bed.
I knew how highly he prized it, and as I held it in my hand I could almost feel his presence.
I opened and examined it. The page on which his mother’s name had been written, with his own, was torn out; and upon examining its blank leaves I saw nothing to indicate why it had been given me. I was about to return it to my pocket, without further examination, when on one corner of a fly-leaf I saw written “1st chapter of St. John.” Then I remembered that we used to play at secret communications with each other, by marking the pages of a newspaper.
I turned to that chapter, but could discover nothing, and was about to put it away, when I saw at the bottom in faint pencil lines the word, “Marked.”
On further examination I found letters and words underscored, and by patient examination I got this message. “When you see me, watch. If I remove hat, be careful; if I take out handkerchief, make ready, I have plan for your escape. When Jack is in your lines, rip saddle.”
I had no need to re-read the message, for it was stamped upon my memory by the pains I had taken in deciphering it. Then I carefully erased the marks.
All that day and the next we remained in the same place, but I saw nothing of Jot. It was Tuesday when we were put here, and by Wednesday several other American prisoners had been added to our party. The nearing sound of artillery and of fainter rifle fire told that a battle was on.
A young non-commissioned officer who spoke English was put in charge of the guard. Once as he walked by my side, Jot came up and spoke a few words in German to him, and then took off his hat and used his handkerchief. It was the signal.
Our next march began, with the sound of battle closing in around us. Later we halted to rest, and Gordon remarked while dressing my wound, “There don’t seem to be a right good chance for us to get away together, so do your best for yourself, and I will do the same for myself, and trust to chance for the rest.”
Before I could reply the young sergeant on guard came up and said, “You are talking too much,”—and peremptorily ordered Gordon to another part of the line.
Gordon shook hands with me at parting, saying, “When you get back into God’s country again, look me up,” and was gone.
“Are you not needlessly severe?” I remonstrated to the sergeant. “He was dressing my wound, and you are taking away what little comfort a prisoner has by separating friends?”
But he answered loudly as though accidentally addressing me in German: “Wenn sie versuchem sich zu entfernen, schiesse ich!”—and repeated in English, “If you try to run away, I’ll shoot you.” Then he added in a whisper while scarcely moving his lips, as he turned away, “Wait!”
I could hardly believe I had heard it. Was he in Jot’s service and a part of his plan? Nothing else occurred just then to confirm that belief. Could I have imagined I heard it? Hardly!
Before night came on it began raining, and as I marched on, I was a prey to thoughts as dark as the clouds above me. Was this young German trying to test Jot’s loyalty to the German cause through me? Was there a trap set for both of us? But how could he do it?
We were marched into a field, where there were stacks of straw and hay, and halted for the night. With the slight shelter afforded by my overcoat thrown over a portion of a straw stack I lay down, the young guard loudly and roughly repeating his warning about running away in German, and as though to enforce this, he sat down with his back against the stack near me.
Most of the guard by this time were trying to shelter themselves from the storm by taking refuge near the stacks; but the young sergeant, as though determined to keep an eye on me, stretched himself by my side.
I was napping when, to my surprise, the sergeant, clutching my arm with a whispered precaution for silence, said, “When you hear me snore, take my revolver, put on the coat that covers me, without getting to your feet. When I pinch your arm, creep to the other side of this stack, then go on keeping in line with the next stack ahead, and then the next, until you reach a tree on the road at the end of this field. If the alarm is not given, wait awhile and then give two whistles through your fingers for the horse. Give him the rein when you get into the saddle; he knows the way to your lines.”
I could hardly believe my senses, much less my good fortune. I waited, it seemed for hours, and thought the signal would never come, or that I had been dreaming. Then it came and, reassured, I followed his instructions. I stealthily took the revolver, put it in my pocket, then removed the coat and put it on, and was about to move to the other side of the stack, when in a whisper, the sergeant said, “Wait. The countersign is Blood and Iron. Don’t use it unless obliged to; now wait again until I pinch.”
I then saw, what I had not before observed, that there was a sentinel walking post at a little distance from the stack.
At last there came a sharp pinch, and the whispered caution, “Go softly.” I crept to the other side of the stack, then stealthily proceeded to the one ahead of me, and so on until I reached the tree. Peering in every direction and seeing no indications that I had been observed, I gave two sharp whistles. It was not long until I heard the tramp of a horse. I softly called, “Jack!” and the little horse came to my side, tossing his head and rubbing his nose against my arm, as though recognizing me.
I mounted and gave the horse the reins. Before long rifle shots rang out, showing that my escape had been discovered. But we soon left them in the rear.
At times galloping swiftly and at others walking softly, Jack went on in the rain and darkness. In my impatience it seemed as though daylight and safety would never come. Then close ahead came the sharp command “Halt!” and at the same time my bridle was seized, and I was pulled from my horse.
I thought I was in the hands of the enemy, and was about to cry “Blood and Iron,” and struck the horse to urge him forward. He gave a startled jump but did not move onward. Then I heard a voice say, “Look out for the Boche and his horse,” and knew that it was an American outpost.
I said not a word as they conducted me to a shattered building a few hundred yards away, then into a room where a candle was lit, and a tall form indistinctly seen by the dim light, shot out the question, “What are you doing here?”
“Trying to escape,” I replied, half amused at the situation.
“What is your name, rank, and regiment?”
“Lieutenant David Stark,” I replied, and was about to add my regiment, when I was interrupted—
“Great scott! Is it Dave?” And my old colonel, forgetting military etiquette, was slapping me on the back and almost dancing, as he cried out “My! David, I am glad to see you!”
He had no need to tell me that.
“I little thought yesterday,” I said, “that I should be here this morning, or possibly ever again. I can hardly believe it even now.”
As I told of my escape, and about the horse, the colonel said, “I see—the horse has been here before, and knew the safe way.”
Calling to his orderly he commanded, “Bring the saddle here at once, and feed the horse well.” Then, looking at his watch—“It is thirty minutes past four. What time did you get away?”
I couldn’t tell. It had seemed an eternity since I had started, so long was the way to freedom.
A HOSPITAL CASE
When the saddle was brought in, I told the colonel what Jot had written about ripping it open. With a smile which I could not interpret, he cut the stitches with his pocket knife and, inserting his fingers, drew out two packages, passed one to me and retained the other. Giving the saddle to his man he directed him to restore the stitching, and bring the saddle back to him.
“There are some blankets,” he said to me. “Make yourself comfortable and get your sleep. If there is anything else you want call on me.”
“Since you are so kind to mention it, Colonel,” I said, “have you got anything to eat around here? I feel pretty empty, and have ever since I struck the Huns.”
The colonel smiled and directed his man to feed me. And that darkey got me up a lunch to which I did full justice.
“Golly!” said that personage, with astonished awe at seeing his provender disappear about as fast as he could bring it on: “You’s de most powerful eater I’s eber seed; you’s done gone an’ beat de Kernal fo’ sure!”
When I had finished my repast, I said, “I want to see the little horse before I sleep, and to thank him for bringing me through safely.”
So I went out with Sam but found the colonel there before me. He explained that Jack must be sent back that night, so after I had petted and talked to Jack I clapped my hands and sent him swiftly away over the fields.
“You must not mention this,” said the colonel; “but it is not the first time, and the horse always finds his way back to the place from which he last went.”
“Now, Captain,” he said, “get your sleep. I have much still to do tonight.”
I was getting ready for bed, when in rushed Muddy, frantically barking and yelping to give me welcome.
“De colonel thought you’d like to see him powerful well,” said Sam, “so I lets him out.” And Muddy snuggled down beside me to share my bed, as he had often done before.
It was late in the morning when Sam called me to breakfast where I found the colonel waiting for me.
“We shall have time for breakfast, this morning,” he said, “as we are likely to have a little peace now; for yesterday we sent the enemy to the right about face with a kick! But all the same we’ve got orders to hold ourselves in readiness to move at a moment’s notice, Captain.”
“Lieutenant sir,” I corrected. “You forget.”
“No,” said my colonel, “you’ve been promoted. We all agree that you deserved it, for the fight you put up when you were captured. Captain Cross has been promoted to be major.”
“I am ready to begin fighting right now,” I said, blushing with pride in spite of myself; “but I don’t know how I shall fill a captain’s place, though I suppose that I can walk around in it.”
“Oh, that will come,” said my colonel, “and you can study up a little while you are on permission. I have been promoted too: Brevet Brigadier if that is promotion.”
“Fine!” I said. “I guess I will stay with the company and learn my duties; but I’d like to get this hole in my arm fixed up a little.”
“Wounded! I hadn’t noticed it; why didn’t you mention it before? Here, orderly, show the captain the way to the surgeon’s station.” Then looking at my arm from which I had removed the bandage, preparatory to putting on a clean one, he said, “Whew! It’s gangrened; you can’t go on duty in that shape!”
I went to the station slowly and sorrowfully, for I had looked for plentiful chow, and my experience told me that a surgeon was likely to put me on short rations. I had had, heaven knows, enough of that while in Bocheland to last me the rest of my life, and I was not anxious for its continuance under a sawbone. I should not have cared so much, had I thought it needful; but I knew that plenty of food was good for me—all theories of doctors notwithstanding.
I found several letters from home folks, and also one from Emily Grant that delighted me. Its contents were enough to make a less susceptible heart than mine beat fast. Sentiments and feelings that had almost been starved out of me were revived and, when General Burbank suggested that I go to the hospital where Doctor Rich was in charge, I fear I consented rather too willingly; though I did want to get at those Boches again. But as the colonel had said that the division was to go to another sector for rest, I was the more willing.
When I first reported to the hospital the doctor didn’t seem to know me. He examined my wound, sniffed at it, grumbled out something about inflammation and ulceration, and a little of his camouflage Latin, then directed his assistant to apply caustic with such calm indifference to my wishes, that I had an inclination to bang his eye. And then he fussed some more while giving directions to his assistant, until I was out of patience with him.
“What dunce,” he said, “has been fooling with this wound?”
“No dunce at all, sir,” I replied, “but as good a surgeon as you are. Only he didn’t have the stuff to care for it as you have. Like myself, the Boches had him.”
The doctor, who knew me as well as I knew him, had been so absorbed with examining the wound that he had taken little notice of the soldier attached to it. Now he recognized me and greeted me heartily.
“You’ve grown thin, Stark—and your clothes!”
“I have been starved,” I said, “and I am ragged and dirty too. I need good food and a lot of it, so that I can get my strength back. As for dirt, I haven’t been traveling in Pullman cars or sleeping in first-class hotels, Doctor. I am satisfied to be here, dirt, rags and all. But don’t give that food the absent treatment.”
“You will have to go on low diet for a while, I’m afraid,” said the doctor, “until the wound heals.”
I growled some more, but it did no good. If Surgeon Williams failed to understand my views about diet, he at least did not slight the wound. He had made a “history of the case” and applied a new dressing, all within two hours; for was I not Captain Stark, and not merely “a case”?
When I escaped that doctor, got some clean clothes, a shave, a hair cut, and a good dinner, I felt fit for anything, and wanted to see my comrades.
They had heard of my return from Fritzland, and came clustering around me with many expressions of good will; and my, wasn’t I glad to see the boys that had stood by me so stoutly in the fight? The painful part of it was that there were so many absent ones who would never report for duty again. The boys were as glad to see me as I was them—for had we not fought side by side through thick and thin? And this gives a feeling of comradeship that can never be gained in any other way, one that can never be broken, and which soldiers who have stood by each other in danger alone can fully appreciate.
“Shure,” said Pat Quinn—now a sergeant—saluting, “we give them Boches wan Hail Columbia drubbing, Captain!”
“Yes,” I replied; “but I got ‘The Watch on the Rhine,’ and didn’t like it.”
“Well,” said Sutherland, who had just returned to duty from a severe wound, “we can’t have all of it our own way, but we must try and get the best of the exchange of drubbings. If the Boches would only fight a fair fight we might forgive them, but some of our men were killed in that last fight by explosive bullets—the savages!” And it was true.
In the heartiness of our greeting we forgot rank, and only remembered that we were comrades who had stood by each other in the pinch of battle. Muddy was a great favorite.
“That little devil of a dog,” said Quinn, “knows too much for wan dog. Shure by carrying your lether, he did as much as any tin av us in that fight.”
I reported once more to Colonel Burbank who turned me over to Major Cross, who said with a provoking wink, “You will have to go to a hospital—perhaps you would prefer the one Doctor Rich has charge of? When your wound is healed, you will get a permission for two weeks more. Perhaps you will prefer to stay near there during your permission!” Then with a chuckle of amusement he added, “I see that Monte Carlo has been offered as a leave area, but has not been accepted. Just imagine the ‘Y’ or the Salvation Army setting up headquarters in front of the Casino.”
“I don’t want much of a permission,” I said, “for I have a debt to pay the Huns before I die; and I am afraid that in spite of your going into a rest sector soon, you will get them licked before I can get around to fight them.”
“Don’t worry about that,” answered he. “There will be fighting enough, so that half of us may possibly be dead before we have finished this job; especially if the last sample of fighting you gave us is repeated.”
“I know that I lost more men than I should,” I replied. “Still I don’t believe the Huns thought that their fun paid for their powder.”
“No, nor I either,” said the major, putting out his hand and grasping my shoulder with the other. “You made a good skillful fight of it.”
“I have some doubts about the skill,” I said; “but my men! weren’t they daisies for a scrap?”
And we agreed about that.
The next day I took my departure for the hospital with conflicting emotions. I wanted to go, and yet I wanted to stay, for fear that I might miss a chance to hit back at the Huns. But obedience to orders and—other considerations—tipped the scales.
I can not describe my reception at the hospital without appearing egotistical. While my wound was given proper attention, it was pleasant to feel that, for once, in a hospital, I was something more than a “case.”
Emily’s face beamed with pleasure as with smiles and blushes she greeted me. She was not so wordy in her expressions of welcome as was Miss Rich; but somehow I liked Emily’s way best.
Dr. Rich had common sense; he did not prescribe any special diet, but when I hinted that a liberal one suited me best, said: “Eat what best agrees with you. A patient ought to know what agrees with him better than a doctor.”
That suited me exactly. He gave me perfect liberty to go and come just as I pleased—only I must report once a day to have my wound dressed, and of course three times a day for my meals, and also sleep there.
I stuck to that hospital, and one of its nurses, more faithfully than perhaps my case demanded; and I was interested in cases and in everything else of which Emily had charge.
There was one young whipper-snapper of an assistant surgeon, who evidently thought that she devoted too much time to my case, for he was around when he wasn’t wanted and constantly annoyed me by detailing her to some other case she had in hand. I wouldn’t have needed much encouragement to have kicked the puppy, he made himself so disagreeable to me.
There were several men of my company who had been seriously wounded when I was, to whom I gave personal, sympathetic attention. I requested Emily to give them special care—and I brought them cigars and other luxuries, with the consent of Doctor Rich; for such little attentions go a great way in comforting boys who are wounded and away from home.
I found my friend, Chaplain John, so far recovered from his wound, that he was about to return to the regiment again. We had many comforting talks, and he congratulated me on my promotion, and spoke of the brave fight my men had made at the time I was captured.
“I was afraid,” I said, “that they would find fault with me for losing so many men.”
“No,” he said, “it was thought that you did the best thing possible in fighting, rather than retreating; and the colonel praised your judgment and firmness.”
There’s one thing I liked in Chaplain John, which was that he never made a fellow feel cheap by plastering it on too thick.
“I’m afraid that the colonel is rather partial to me,” I said bluntly. Emily, who was listening to our talk, cast down her eyes and blushed—she has most beautiful eyelashes—as the chaplain said, in one of his miserable attempts to be funny, “So are others!”
All things must have an end. My wound healed, and my permission, in addition, was about to expire; and but for that young peacock of an assistant surgeon, I should have been glad—almost—to get back to my company and duty again.
Before going I had a private conversation with Miss Rich, and told her something about Lieutenant Nickerson that brought the happy tears to her eyes. “How could you have doubted him?” she said half reproachfully. “I never did!”
The day that I was to leave the hospital for the front, I requested a private interview with Emily—to bid her good-bye. As she stood there with her hand in mine, perhaps a trifle longer than necessary, that puppy of a young doctor knocked at the door—and would have pushed his way in had I not placed my back against it—and called out that she was needed on a case at once.
I was so annoyed at this intrusion that I told Emily—well never mind what—but we had an understanding that was so nice, that I almost forgave the puppy for “butting in”—and something better than words cemented the understanding.
THE MIX-UP OF BATTLE
I have not had the opportunity as yet, to tell of the message brought back with me, in Jack’s saddle.
The latter was in Jonathan’s minute and familiar handwriting. It began abruptly, without being addressed to me.
“Whatever else you may believe of me, my dearest friend, I am true to you. I do not deny that what I have done may have justly brought upon me the stigma of disloyalty. We can not divide our love; one must either hate or love one’s country, and serve one flag, only. I have been tried in the furnace of war as few others have ever been. If I have erred in serving the country of my love, and to which I am devoted and owe allegiance with every fibre of my being, then I have erred honestly.
“You must not believe me other than I am, though I may not always be what I seem to be. My allegiance is given, right or wrong, heart and soul to the country I love. And I must go on in this chosen path though it lead to misunderstanding of my motives by those I love, and though I may know that it leads to darkness and to death—for it is the path of duty.
“I have a difficult and heart-and-nerve trying part to play, on a larger stage of the world, than perhaps any one of my age and small abilities ever before attempted.
“When I learned that you were a prisoner, I made a plan for your liberation. I am risking my life to set you free; for I love you more than I do my life. If I should meet you in battle—which God forbid—you should kill me, rather than I would harm you.
“I have confided in one who loves and trusts me, and who likewise loves his country. He will help you to escape.
“Jonathan N. Von Rucker.”
What did this strange letter mean? I sat, after reading it, like one confounded. It made me heartsick to believe that it was a declaration of disloyalty to my country. It crushed, for the time being, my belief in Jonathan’s loyalty to our flag, that he had professed and promised to love and protect when he enlisted to fight its battles. But by the same process of thought must I not mistrust General Burbank? Whom could I trust, when the men of all others I had loved and believed in, seemed disloyal? Though reason said that they were false to their country, my heart said “no”; for I felt, against reason, that it could not be so.
I read and reread Jonathan’s letter, and finally decided to take a plain course—a straight cut. I took the letter to General Burbank and asked him to read it, and to make some explanation. Was it not a declaration of disloyalty?
A flush passed over his face as he read the letter. Then with a thoughtful look he read it again and passed it back to me saying, “He had his reasons for writing this letter, but what they are I do not know. But don’t you see, he does not say it is Germany that he is serving? I know that he is loyal to our flag.”
“Thank you, General, for the assurance,” I exclaimed. And stretching out my hand to his, grasped it, for I had no longer the least doubt of him or of his word. Whatever the mystery, I must and did believe in him, though I confess, Jot’s letter had puzzled me.
Upon my return from my permission, I had found my regiment occupying a rest sector, where they had been for nearly two weeks. Here, let me explain, that under prevailing conditions in the great war, a battle lasts sometimes for several weeks, and no troops can remain for that time in line of battle. They must be sent for rest at intervals, to more quiet sectors, to recuperate and reorganize.
Our division was now, after more than two weeks’ rest, again ready for active service; though Sam Jenkins and others attempted to explain that hunting cooties was active duty enough for any one.
The marching and fighting that followed is hard to describe; for we were now a part of a great whole, whose operations no one man could see or understand fully. When a battle stretches out on a front of fifty or sixty miles or more, a single participant, even though he be a captain or a general, can not know much more about it than what he sees.
We had been moved from place to place for several days; sometimes by marching and sometimes by auto trucks.
We were now on the march. I was in my place, having left my horse as too good a target when near the enemy’s snipers moving along a pathway that skirted a forest. The rising sun reflected from the helmets of the men who came tramping wearily but cheerfully—for they had been marching for over twenty hours with little sleep—with prospects now of both rest and sleep.
When the order, “In place, rest,” came, and the brave fellows had sat down to eat, though they were hungry, some of them got to napping, in spite of it.
It was before daylight, when orders came to leave even their light packs behind—which shows what a hurry they were in—for a forced march.
Over strange roads, in a strange country, to a destination we knew not of—possibly “to that bourne from which no traveler returns,” we marched on all that day. We met regiments of poilus who hugged us and held our hands, joyfully telling us that there was to be a big advance on the Boches lines, and that we were to be “in it” with them.
We got a little more sleep and chow, then were loaded into trucks, and buzzed off—heaven knew where—we didn’t!
We met still other Frenchies, who told us there was to be a big drive on a thirty-five mile front. We laughed incredulously; but began to believe, when we caught sight of a lot of tanks rumbling and waddling along in a stubborn manner, as though they meant business. Our men roared out, “Hooray! there’s going to be another dance and we are invited!”
The roads were filled with all kinds of soldiers—doughboys and more doughboys, poilus in all sorts of uniforms, and then some more; horses prancing and snorting, mules heehawing and kicking, officers shouting sulphurous orders, guns and caissons, trucks and baggage wagons, all floundering along in the rain and mud, like dark rivers of humanity. On they came over crooked country roads that twisted around hills and plunged down into valleys, cut up and stirred up in muddy batter by heavy teams that had preceded us: a medley and jam of horses, mules, teams, guns and men! All this, though in seeming confusion, had a real thread of order and purpose controlling the whole. This confused picture will possibly convey some idea of an army on the march hurrying to get into action.
Some of the units were divorced from their wheeled kitchens, and were savagely hungry,—we were—but wanted to get into the mix-up just the same with both feet. We had a little hardtack and bully beef but that made us mighty thirsty. We succeeded in getting a little water from the cart, and I told our men to keep some for future use. Some of my men had lost their gas masks. That wouldn’t do, and the top had to steal some from the Frenchies—which was unprincipled—but it had to be done.
At last we were in it! As a starter we came upon some Huns hiding in dug-outs with a bunch of machine-guns—and then it was literally—what Sherman called war. But our men were there doing their best, and their best was pretty good!
I saw our Major standing in a ditch handing out ammunition with his own hands, amid a confusing uproar of exploding shells, whispering bullets and sputtering bombs. We thought we knew what gun fire was, but we didn’t know the real thing until then.
Everybody was doing the best he could. There stood Top Sergeant Sutherland shouting with a voice that seemed to come far down from his boots, “Right dress! you lousy sons of guns! Better than that! or I will drill thunder out of you when we get back to camp, if you can’t form a better line!”
We found a bunch of Dutchies playing they were dead. “Get up!” I yelled. And tapped some of them with the stick I carried—“get up and march!”—and though they may not have understood what I said, they knew what I meant, and obeyed as docile as puppies.
That evening we captured a little village which was as full of Huns, as an anthill is with ants. We swept them in and headed them for the rear. One of these was a husky officer that Sam Jenkins said he had hauled from a dug-out as deep as a well.
“And that chap,” added Sam, telling me about it later, “had some nerve. He stopped short, took out his cigar case, and lit a cigar from a pipe one of the doughboys was smoking, and then went on ahead as cool as though he had come from an ice chest instead of a dug-out.”
We steered a lot of them to the rear like that. There was a lot to think of, and a lot to do, and I was doing the best I could for the company, with help of the lieutenants and noncoms.
At the first aid station, one of the doctors caught sight of me and called out: “This way, Captain!” and almost dragged me into his coop.
“Not much,” I said. “I am all right!”
“No, you ain’t,” he insisted, “your face is all covered with blood.” It was a slight scalp wound, and though I had bled like a stuck pig, I did not know about it until then, and needed only a little sticking plaster to fix it all right. I was as glad to escape from that doctor as though he had been a Boche.
Turning away, I saw one of our men up a roadside tree that was strung with telegraph wires, apparently. A man had just been knocked out, he was explaining to me, and as he had been in the business at home, he thought he would finish the job. Just then, whiz bang! came a shell that knocked off his tin hat without hurting him and sent it spinning away. After recovering from a transient daze, he coolly remarked: “Captain, I guess I’d better finish the business now that I have begun it.”
Then he came down and saluted in a shame-faced way, and I hadn’t the heart to censure him, though he had no business to be up that tree without orders, and away from his real duties.
When we got together that evening some of my men were missing, and naturally so, after such a mix up of a fight. We got some boss chow that the Salvation Army had brought up, and then bunched down on the ground for sleep—and we sure needed it.
A MYSTERY SOLVED
Just after the scenes described in the foregoing chapter, there was comparative quiet along our front—the calm that follows a storm.
The British army under Haig had struck a staggering blow at Ludendorff’s northern lines, and had driven him back in defeat. This had seemingly withdrawn the German attention, or ability, to concentrate for the defeat of the American and French armies on their southwestern front.
General Burbank explained to me that it evidently was the policy of General Foch, while remaining in watchful touch with the enemy, to strengthen by rest and reorganization the forces that had for so long a time been hotly engaged at our part of the line; and in this way keep them fresh and vigorous for service.
I was favored through the kindness of the general in being allowed to take up my quarters in the same building with him. This gave me the benefit of his daily counsel and association, and was of inestimable value to me, both in increasing my military knowledge and improving my bearing. Both were needful for my further advancement as an officer as the general was so kind as to say that I was naturally endowed with the qualities of a good soldier. I valued this association and by daily contact with him grew more and more to love and admire my general.
Neither of us had, since the assurance he had so graciously given me of Jonathan’s loyalty, spoken on the subject; though my brain was still puzzled. It had, however, been a habit with me to put aside that which I could not understand, until circumstances or a flash of intuition, made its meaning clear. With me, the more I pondered over perplexing problems, the further was I from their solution.
General Burbank often discussed and explained to me the larger operations of war and, by suggestion, set me to thinking on them giving me thereby a clearer insight into its problems and greater love for the profession of a soldier.
After reveille one morning, the general called me to him. The moment I saw his face, I felt that he had something to communicate of more than usual interest. He simply handed me a message of three words in Jonathan’s minute and delicate handwriting, “Saddle not ripped.” And then, pointing to the saddle on his chair, said, “I have been at work all night and must get some sleep,” he left me. I guessed that the work he referred to was connected with another message from Jot.
I began without delay, cutting the stitches of the saddle until I found deftly concealed under the saddle’s lining, some papers in Jonathan’s handwriting addressed to me as follows:
“When you receive this I may not be among the living; for suspicion and doubts of my loyalty to German interests at last have put the hounds of their secret service on my track. I have a foreboding as I begin this paper, that possibly I may never see you again in this life, and I can not let this chance pass without justifying my course to you. I would love to clasp your hand once more and die—if I must—under the Stars and Stripes.
“I am concealing this in Jack’s saddle, in the hope that it will come to your hands, and that you will understand my former message written with a purpose to deceive the enemy, and give to them a belief that I am loyal to their cause, though I have plotted for your escape. I think that you will understand.
“I know that your heart, dear David, has been torn with doubts of my loyalty, by evidences that have come to you.
“Before we had landed in France, your colonel had shown me the necessity of self-sacrifice, by presenting to me the needs of the secret service in France, and of my opportunity to render great service by appearing to serve the German cause. My brother, whom he knew, was already in that service; for whatever might be his faults, he loved the dear old flag and its cause. The strong resemblance between us suggested to him greater opportunities, by our working together, in obtaining information much needed by the Allies, of the German war plans.
“With this in view, and to give the enemy greater confidence in him, information of great seeming value was, by consent of the French, given him to convey to the Germans. Then he told the head of the German secret service, that he had a brother through whom he had gained the important information which he had given to them. The Germans, meanwhile, knew that he professed when in the Allied lines to be a spy for them. Adolph also suggested that I be encouraged to desert to the German lines. But the hard-headed chief of their secret service thought I could serve them better by remaining where I was. It was not until he had convinced them that I was in danger of arrest, and that the Americans might obtain information from me that would impair my brother’s usefulness as an agent of their secret service, that they consented to his plans.
“It was a bitter thing for me to leave you to believe that I was a traitor, and I did not take the course I did until convinced that it was needful for General Foch to have more intimate knowledge of the situation of the German troops on the southern front.
“I had promised my mother to be unswervingly loyal to the flag of my country. My father had been an officer of the Confederate service, and after the surrender had come North. Her constant admonition to me was to be true under all circumstances, to the flag of my country and be worthy of being called ‘Jed’s boy.’
“The thought of using Muddy in furtherance of my designs had long been planned, but my scheme for using Jack was not conceived until after I found that I could buy him, and had tested his wonderful intelligence for that service.
“The enemy was led to believe that others high in the confidence of the American commander were willing to assist in my treason and, among them, Colonel Burbank; and thus I was able to carry out my plan of deception. I never, however, trusted them with the knowledge that Jack was carrying messages without a rider. The colonel’s messages to me were seemingly disloyal, but by previous arrangement of a code, they bore a different meaning to me; and the real information received by the enemy, by his communications, were only those agreed upon by high military Allied officers.
“Of late, since all German plans founded on the information I have given them have miscarried, they are suspicious that I have betrayed them. I have been constantly watched—sometimes by men who are in our secret service—but I have been able to elude them by several devices—one of them by exchange of identity with my brother. They have not, with all their acuteness, suspected the horse or dog.
“When you were captured, your answer to the first official who questioned you about me did much to give them greater confidence in me. When I was called to assist in questioning you, it was a part of their plan to make me commit myself; our faces were closely watched. Your angry manner at seeing me convinced them that you, whom they knew to be my former friend, believed me to be a traitor to your country. My act in dropping the book in your pocket as I passed you, with all their keenness, was not observed.
“Now, however, doubt and more than suspicion, yea, almost certainty, that I have played them false is closing around me; their hounds of the secret service are on my track. If I feared them or death, I could not keep my nerve.
“I have learned that my brother is under arrest and in prison, and possibly by this time has met his fate; for these men do not hesitate to kill even on suspicion. Now that all their cherished plans for universal dominion have been foiled, they are suspicious of every one—even of each other—and this alone may lead to their final ruin.
“I feared, when I connived at your escape, that they might capture you; I therefore, as a precaution, put the misleading letter to you in the saddle, with that to Colonel Burbank. For though it was seeming plain treason to the American flag, yet to him I knew it would have another meaning. The letter would explain my conduct, and throw them off their guard from looking further.
“I knew how much you must have suffered from doubts of my loyalty. It cuts me like a knife when I think of it. I had written ‘rip the saddle’ thinking you must understand; I then dared to write no more.
“The information I have just sent to Colonel Burbank of the German plans are of but little value, because I am watched so closely, and my brother can not relieve me, to give me time. I think you will understand.
“With hopes that this may safely reach you, and that you will make clear to one I may never see again on earth, my loyalty to the flag, I am your faithful friend,
THE SUPREME SACRIFICE
The men of our regiment were falling in line, and my company had already formed, as I took my place on its right awaiting orders to advance. The bugle rang out and the advance began.
At the foot of a little hill which was scarred by battle-marks we halted, while our air craft circled about it for observation. The tanks were awkwardly trundling into place. A first aid station was set up, and surgeons and devoted Red Cross helpers were coming to do their part. It presaged a battle.
Then I heard the sharp crack of rifles, and calls and cries of men in the distance.
“The Boches are coming!” I heard some one say.
“It’s new,” said another, “for them to advertise a raid in that way.”
“And don’t you believe it,” said another; “they haven’t gone crazy yet. But something is up.”
The shouts and rifle shots grew nearer, and we were on the tips of our toes for action, when there came into view a lone horse speeding like the wind, while the outcry behind him showed that he was escaping in desperate flight from the enemy.
What did it mean? The horse seemed riderless. But a nearer view showed that a man or boy was on the side furthest from the enemy, with his arms around its neck, and his heels holding to the cantle of the saddle like an Indian.
“It must be some one of consequence, to make all that row about,” said our top sergeant.
“Gee!” said Goodwin, “they are determined to kill or catch him!”
On came the horse like mad, head outstretched, with foam flecked flanks, and at last out of range of the enemy’s guns. But still the rider did not right himself in the saddle. An involuntary cheer went up from our ranks for the rider and horse, as they passed the line of danger.
“He is wounded and bleeding,” I cried, viewing him through my glass. And then, a moment later, my heart gave a great jump of pain. I recognized in the rider, Jonathan, and rushed forward to his help.
The horse whinneyed in recognition at my approach and stopped. In another moment I had taken Jonathan from the horse into my arms. His eyes met mine with a faint smile of recognition, and he tried to speak—but could not. I hurried regardless of everything else to the first aid station, sending a messenger ahead, on the run, that they might have everything ready.
“Hurry!” I cried. “Have them ready when we get there!”
The surgeon cut away his shirt, revealing a wound in his left breast and made a rapid examination. “They have done their work,” he said; “there is but little that we can do!”
“Don’t say that!” I cried. “Do all you can to save him!”
Then, seeing the auto that was at my service near by, I said to my messenger, “Go to the base hospital and bring Doctor and Miss Rich. Hurry! Tell them that Lieutenant Nickerson is here desperately wounded.”
The first aid surgeon administered stimulants and more critically examined his breast wound. Then, seeing that his patient was in pain, said: “I can ease his pain, at least.”
“No,” I said with sudden inspiration, “don’t give him morphia; I forbid it!”
“Surgeons command here, sir,” said the doctor sternly, “not captains.” But he put aside his instrument saying thoughtfully, “Perhaps it will be better not to. I don’t see how he can be saved, anyway, from anything but pain.”
“That he is in pain,” I said, “shows that he is alive. And as long as there’s life, there’s hope.”
The surgeon shook his head.
It was not long until Rose and Doctor Rich had come. The doctor examined Jonathan’s eyes and listened to his heart beats, inquired what had been done, and then said, “It is fortunate that no opiates have been given him, for it would have lessened his chances.”
The battle alarm proved to be false. So I asked and was granted a leave of absence to convey Jot to the hospital. He was still conscious, and asked for General Burbank—whom I found there on my arrival.
When the general had come, at Jot’s request, the room was cleared, and the door closed while he delivered a message to the general.
“He would have it so,” said Doctor Rich, “though he fully understood that the exertion of speech might, and probably would, be fatal. He insisted, for he said, ‘My country’s cause demands it and what is my life when weighed with that?’”
So Jot had given his message, and then relapsed into unconsciousness.
“But still,” said the doctor, “there is yet a chance,—a mere chance,—for the interview seemed to have done him as much good as harm.”
I understood. It had eased his mind to deliver that message.
No effort was made to rouse him at that time, and at the surgeon’s request we withdrew from the room. Then the general came to me, greeting me with a silent handshake.
I could not rest, but walked back and forth in the small room. Then came word from Miss Rich, “Jonathan is conscious, and wants to see you.”
I went at once to the room where lay my stricken friend.
A brave look swept over his face, as he held out his hands with imploring invitation, but without words, for me to come to him.
I could not speak, but knelt by his side. His voice came to me in almost a whisper, so faint was his utterance.
“Good old Davie—the first friend I ever had. It is good to be here with those I love. It is so good to die under the dear old flag and for my country. Don’t grieve, Davie. It is good that you believe—and know. God bless you, Davie.” His voice grew weaker. “Take care of Jack, and Muddy. Call Rose—dear Rose!” Then, after a pause, with a smile illumining his thin worn face, he held out his hands to an unseen presence. “Mother, dear, I’m coming—Jed’s boy!” and then fell back with the smile still on his face.
“GOOD OLD DAVIE—THE FIRST FRIEND I EVER HAD.”—Page 233.
The surgeon stepped to his side, made a brief examination, and shook his head.
General Burbank uncovering said, his voice vibrating with emotion: “There is the truest, most unselfish patriot that I ever knew or expect to know. He was a hero without a stain of selfishness. He was willing to sacrifice all that he held dear, to go down to death branded as a traitor by the friends he loved best, that he might serve his country.”
A simple wooden cross marks the grave of Jonathan, but the little mound that covers his mortal remains blooms with the flowers of France, brought to this American who died to save France, even as Frenchmen died to save America.
And I who had gone into the war with the buoyant spirit of youth, turned from that grave with a man’s stern determination, that to the uttermost of my powers, his death and that of thousands of other American boys should not have been in vain; that I, side by side with all true men, would offer my life towards that world-wide freedom for which they had given the last full measure of devotion—the supreme sacrifice.