No relatives or friends to say good-bye! Nothing but secrecy, expectancy, an indescribable eagerness clothed in stealth.
“How do you feel, Sergeant?” Captain Prescott asked, as he and his top stood at the head of A company awaiting the final order that was to set the nearly four thousand officers and men of the Ninety-ninth in motion on the road.
“Like a burglar, sneaking out of a house he didn’t realize he was in, sir,” Kelly answered.
First Lieutenant Noll Terry shivered; it was impatient uncertainty—–nothing else.
Then the order came. The dense column reached the railway, where the sections of the troop train waited. By platoons the men marched into dimly lighted cars. When all were aboard the lights were turned off, leaving Uncle Sam’s men in complete darkness, save where a pipe or cigarette glowed.
Despite the eagerness the newness and uncertainty of it all, many of the soldiers dozed unconscious of the talk and laughter of others. Singing was forbidden and non-coms had orders to be alert to stop any unnecessarily loud noises.
Forth into the night fared the sections of the train. How long it was on the rail none of the men had any clear idea. It was still dark, however, when a stop was made and the order ran monotonously along:
Again dim lights were turned on, that men might find all their belongings. Adjusting their packs the platoons of the Ninety-ninth found their way to the ground below.
For once there was no attempt at good military formation. At route step and in irregular columns, the regiment moved forward by platoons. Unknown officers stood along the way to direct, for the regiment’s platoon leaders had no knowledge of the way.
Thus a mile or more was covered by a regiment that looked disorganized and spectral in the darkness. Then the aspect changed somewhat. Whiffs of salt air prepared the soldiers. Army trucks were moving on parallel roads or trails. Ahead of them appeared high fences of barbed wire. It looked as though the travelers had come upon a huge bull-pen. There were gates, guarded by military sentries not of the Ninety-ninth.
Through these gates and past the barbed wire filed the marching men.
Further ahead loomed the sheds of a great pier.
With the help of officers who knew the ground the Ninety-ninth found room to fall in for roll call.
“All present or accounted for!”
Then battalion by battalion, a company at a time, the regiment passed on through the dimly lighted pier sheds. On the further side towered the bulwarks of a great ship, with gangways reaching down to the pier.
In some mysterious way order reigned and speed was observed. Line after line of uniformed men passed up the gangways and vanished. Lights were on the ship, yet dim enough to be in keeping with the night’s mystery.