Then came a call the soldier never ignores. The buglers sounded the first mess-call of the day.
After the meal came inspection, after which, a company at a time, the men were sent over the side to the pier. A short distance up a street the men were halted, forming in two ranks at the side of the street. The reasons for all that followed were not clear to the newer men in the ranks.
While the men had been eating between decks the officers of the regiment had gone to their last ship’s meal in the dining saloon. Before the meal was half over the adjutant had entered to call out:
“At the conclusion of the meal Major Wells, Captains Prescott and Holmes and First Lieutenant Terry will report at my office for instructions from the colonel.”
“That’s more interesting than clear,” declared Greg, as soon as he had swallowed the food in his mouth. “I wonder why we four are wanted? What have we been doing and why are we the goats?”
“Probably,” smiled Dick, “it is something to do with either praise or promotion—–the two things that come most regularly to a soldier, you know.”
Captain Holmes’s curiosity reached such a high point that he would have bolted his food in order to get more quickly to the adjutant’s office, but he noted that the battalion commander was not hurrying at all.
“Confound Wells!” the irrepressible Greg whispered to his chum. “I believe he knows what it’s all about, and he knows that we cannot report before he’s ready to do the same, so he’s tormenting us by taking twice his usual amount of time to finish breakfast!”
“Keep cool,” Dick returned dryly.
At last Major Wells finished his meal. He waited until he saw that the other three officers concerned with him in the orders had done the same. Then he inquired:
“Are you ready, gentlemen?”
Rising, Major Wells led the way above. When they entered the adjutant’s office they found Colonel Cleaves standing there, chatting with a French major and two captains. Colonel Cleaves introduced his own officers, then added:
“Gentlemen, it is intended that as many as possible of the officers of this regiment shall go to the fighting front and spend some time there studying the actual war conditions. You four have been chosen for the first detail. Captain Ribaut is going to take you there. He will act as your guide and your mentor for the length of your visit to the front trenches.”
Even the steady, unexcitable Major Wells showed his delight very plainly. To a soldier this was unexpected good luck, to start immediately, with the surety of finding himself speedily in the thick of things in the greatest war in the world’s history!
“I have informed Captain Ribaut,” Colonel Cleaves continued, “that you will be ready to leave the ship in an hour.”