Hard work, not age, had brought the gray frosting into the hair of Colonel Cleaves; he was forty-seven years old, and not many months before he had been only a major.
The time was early in September, in the year 1917. War had been declared against Germany on April 6th. In the middle of July the Ninety-o-ninth Infantry had been called into existence. Regiments were then being added to the Regular Army. Two or three hundred trained soldiers and several hundred recruits had made up the beginnings of the regiment. Prescott and Holmes had been among the latest of the captains sent to the regiment, arriving in August. And now Colonel Cleaves had just joined his command on orders from Washington.
With forty men in the headquarters company and some fifty in the machine-gun company, the rifle companies on this September day averaged about seventy men. Nor had a full complement of officers yet arrived.
Dick Prescott and Greg Holmes, lately first lieutenants, as readers of former volumes of this series are aware, had received their commissions as captains just before joining the Ninety-ninth.
“This regiment is scheduled to go over at an early date,” Colonel Cleaves had informed his regimental officers, at the conference of which we have just witnessed the close. “Headquarters and machine-gun companies must be raised to their respective quotas of men, and each rifle company must be increased from seventy to two hundred and fifty men each. New recruits will arrive every week. These men must be whipped into shape. Gentlemen, I expect your tireless aid in making this the finest infantry regiment in the American line.”
One or two glances at Colonel Cleaves, when he was talking earnestly, were enough to show the observer that this officer meant all he said. Shirkers, among either officers or men, would receive scant consideration in his regiment.
Camp Berry, at which the Ninety-ninth and the Hundredth were stationed, lay in one of the prettiest parts of Georgia. Needless to say the day was one of sweltering heat and the regimental officers, as they filed out of the company barracks that had been used for holding the conference, fanned themselves busily with their campaign hats. Each, however, as he struck the steps leading to the ground, placed his campaign hat squarely on his head.
“Some pace the K.O. has set for us,” murmured Greg, as he and Dick started to walk down the company street.
“And we must keep that pace if we hope to last in Colonel Cleaves’s regiment,” Dick declared, with conviction. “Time was when an officer in the Regular Army could look forward to remaining an officer as long as he was physically fit and did not disgrace himself. But in this war any officer, regular or otherwise, will find himself laid on the shelf whenever he fails to produce his full share of usefulness.”
“Do you think it’s really as bad as that, Prescott?” demanded Captain Cartwright, who was walking just behind them.