At one of the long mess tables near the piano sat four young men, paying no heed to the music, nor, in fact, doing anything in particular.
“How many of you men have mothers?” Prescott asked with a smile.
All admitted that they had.
“How many of you have written that mother to-day?”
“How many wrote her yesterday?” None.
“Think hard,” Dick went on. “Has any of you written his mother a letter within five days?”
One soldier asserted that he had written his mother four days before.
“I wish you men would do me a favor,” Dick went on. “Each one of you write his mother at least a four-page letter and mail it before supper. There is going to be time enough between drills to-day. How about it?”
Each of the four soldiers standing at attention promised promptly.
“All right, then,” Prescott nodded. “Rest!” Whereupon they resumed their seats on the bench. “Remember that a promise is a promise. And I’ve seen enough of soldiers to know that they’re likely to be careless where it hurts most.”
“I’d do anything Captain Prescott asked me to do,” remarked one of the soldiers when Dick had passed on out of barracks.
“If I knew anything he wanted me to do I’d do it before he asked me,” declared another.
When a captain’s men feel that way about him it’s a cinch that he commands a real fighting unit.
Orders for “Over there”
During the next drill period Sergeant Kelly, hearing an angry voice, glanced out through the window.
In the last draft to the company some green recruits had come in, men who had been drafted to the National Army and sent to the Regulars to fill up. Among them were Privates Ellis and Rindle.
“About face!” rapped out the crisp tones of Corporal Barrow, as he glared at eight men in double rank.
Badly enough most of them turned. “You poor mutt-heads!” rasped the corporal. “Do you think you’ll ever make soldiers?”
In a jiffy Kelly reached for his campaign hat, put it on, and stepped out into the corridor, passing out and heading for the drill ground.
“Right dress!” called out Corporal Barrow. “Front! Rotten! I wonder if you fellows think you’ll ever be soldiers?”
Plainly the recruits were chafing under the lash of the corporal’s tongue. But Barrow, a young man of twenty-two, who had received his chevrons after only four months of service, was in no mind to be easily pleased to-day.
“You’re the most stupid squad in the regiment!” the young non-com went on. “Your place is in the bullpen, not in the ranks.”
“Let the squad rest a minute or two, Corporal, and come with me,” Sergeant Kelly called placidly. “I’ve a message far you.”
Giving the required order, and lull of curiosity, Corporal Barrow stepped quickly over to Kelly, who, placing a hand on the young man’s shoulder, walked him some distance away. Suddenly the top sergeant, his back turned to the squad, grilled Barrow with a blazing gaze.