Sergeant Overton still retained his left-handed hold on Tomba as the pair passed out to what might mean safety.
Through this second doorway they passed, to find themselves ascending a slope paved only with tightly packed dirt. Glancing up the slope Sergeant Hal made out three or four stars low down in the sky beyond.
"Night time?" he queried in mild astonishment.
"Yes, senor, and you will even believe that it is the night of another day," laughed Vicente Tomba, "for you must have lived ages in the last few hours."
"It wasn't quite as bad as that," the Army boy returned graciously. "In your way, Tomba, you helped excellently to pass the time for me."
At the top of this interior slope the pair passed out through a doorway ordinarily closed by means of a stout wooden door. The pair found themselves in the yard back of Cerverra's house. At one side was an alley way leading to the street.
"I will leave you here, senor, with your gracious permission."
"Oh, no, no, Tomba! You will go with me, and still held by me, at least as far as the middle of the street."
With sullen assent the Filipino consented to this. On their way through the alley they encountered no one.
But, just as they reached the sidewalk, they were met with a sharp hail of:
THE RIGHT MAN IN THE GUARD HOUSE
That command, however, in a good, strong American voice, had very far from the effect of startling Hal Overton.
Down the street, barely a hundred feet away, a squad of a dozen soldiers of B Company had just halted in column of twos.
At the head of the squad stood Sergeant Terry and Corporal Hyman.
"Sergeant Terry," called the self-rescued Army boy briskly, "march your men here and halt them again."
"Very good, Sergeant Overton," answered Noll's voice, precise and formal as though on parade, but there was a note of joy, none the less, in Terry's voice.
"I will go now, senor," suggested Vicente Tomba, struggling slightly to free himself as the squad again halted close to the Army boy.
"You will do nothing of the sort, Tomba," retorted Overton dryly. "You are going to Fort Franklin as a military prisoner."
"This is ingratitude!" snarled the little brown man, looking decidedly crestfallen.
"No; it is not. I owe you nothing for my freedom. Corporal Hyman, you will take charge of the prisoner. See that he does not escape."
"Very good, Sergeant," replied Hyman, motioning to two of the men to place themselves on either side of the prisoner.
"Now, Sergeant Terry, inform me how you came to be here with this detachment?"
"I was sent into town, Sergeant Overton, under orders from Captain Cortland. You were missed from parade, and the captain knew that could not happen with you, unless there was something decidedly wrong. So, at seven this evening, the captain directed me to take this detachment and scour the town for you. If we did not find you by half-past nine I was to report back to the post by messenger, and a larger detachment, under an officer, was to be sent in."
"What time is it now?"
"About nine o'clock."
"We shall be back, then," nodded Hal, "within the time mentioned in your orders. But I shall leave some of the detachment here until Captain Cortland has acted upon the report that I shall make."
At that moment Sergeant Hal, glancing into Cerverra's store, caught sight of the bright, eager eyes of the proprietor.
"Corporal Hyman, arrest that man, also," commanded young Overton sharply, pointing into the shop. "The fellow's name is Cerverra, and he had a part in the plot against me."
With two other soldiers Hyman darted into the shop, from which they soon came out with Cerverra, who protested strongly.
Meanwhile Vicente Tomba had discovered a cause of discomfort.
"Senor Sergente," he complained, "during our struggle in the cellar you knocked my cigarettes from my hand. I beg that you let one of your soldiers take this piece of money into a shop and buy me more cigarettes."
"Shall I do it, Sergeant?" inquired Hyman.
"Tomba," laughed Hal, "after all the trouble that that last cigarette cost you I should think you'd feel like cutting out the habit forever. I know I would drop any habit that had gotten me into such a mess. Had you not wanted to smoke underground I would not have had such a fine chance to upset you. Very likely you would have won, instead of me."
"But I want cigarettes, now," retorted Tomba almost fiercely. "It is ungenerous to deprive me of them."
"Shall I let a man get them for him?" asked Hyman.
"Yes; if he insists," nodded Hal. "What an idiot a man is to allow cigarettes to make such a slave of him that he can't pass an hour without one."
A soldier was accordingly dispatched to the nearest tobacconist on Tomba's errand. While this was taking place Hal hurriedly told his chum and Corporal Hyman what had happened to him, and how he had escaped.
In all this time perhaps two score of curious natives had gathered in the street, though all of them kept at a respectful distance. Sergeant Hal examined these people keenly, though he failed to see any of the eight from whom he had had such difficulty in escaping.
"Captain Cortland told me," Noll broke in at last, "that the former military commander here informed him that he had had about a dozen of his men disappear most unaccountably, and that not one of them had ever been heard from afterward. So, when you failed to return, Hal, the captain declared that he was going to sift this business to the bottom before he stopped."
"I guess, then, that all of our poor comrades in the other regiment who have disappeared in this miserable town of Bantoc have gone, as I did, through visiting Cerverra's store. Now, Noll, I am going to leave you here, with eight of the men, to take possession of Cerverra's store and premises until you receive further orders from the post commander. Hyman and I, and the other four men, will take the prisoners out to Fort Franklin. I would leave you a couple more men, Noll, only I do not forget that it is possible that there may be some attempt made to rescue our prisoners."
"If the natives try that——" broke in Corporal Hyman.
"In the event of an attempted rescue, Corporal, direct your men that they are to shoot the two prisoners at the first sign of an attempt at rescue."
Tomba heard Hyman give the order, and spoke in a low tone to Cerverra. Both rascals thereupon looked disconcerted.
"You have your instructions, Sergeant Terry," continued Hal Overton. "March the guard, Corporal Hyman."
As the guard started, Hal fell in beside Corporal Hyman, telling him more of what had happened in the cellar under the Moro curio shop.
"I reckon, Sarge, you've made the biggest discovery of the year in this point of the woods," was Hyman's terse comment. "I reckon, too, the captain will see it that way."
It was cooler by night, though this was due mainly to the absence of the sun. The air was full of sticky moisture, and mosquitoes buzzed about and bit viciously.
"I was born and reared in New Jersey," laughed Hal, striking at the winged pests, "and I have had to stand a lot of guying about the mosquitoes of my state. But Jersey has been libeled. Compared with these Philippine pests the Jersey mosquito is mild enough to be a source of delight."
There was no moon up, but the starlight was bright—and how big and glowing the stars are in the tropics!
Marching at an easy route step over the firm, white road, it did not take the returning detachment more than twenty minutes to cover the distance to Fort Franklin.
"Halt your prisoners here, Corporal, and watch 'em until Captain Cortland gives his orders about them," directed Hal. Then the young sergeant turned down the street leading to officers' quarters, for the administrative office of the post had been closed for hours.
Two minutes later Sergeant Hal Overton was detailing what had happened him to the post commander.
"But wait before you go any further, Sergeant," cried Captain Cortland, interrupting his tale. "I want the other officers to hear the whole of this villainous business."
By the use of the telephone the other five commissioned officers on duty at Fort Franklin were soon summoned.
"Now, begin again, Sergeant Overton," ordered Cortland, when all the officers had gathered in his parlor.
The Army boy retold the entire story, leaving out nothing—not even, the reader may be sure, what Vicente Tomba had said to Hal about Draney's connection with the natives.
"Ray, you're officer of the day," broke in the post commander suddenly. "Go out to Corporal Hyman and see that he turns Tomba and Cerverra over at the guard house. Instruct the sergeant of the guard to make absolutely certain that the prisoners have no chance to escape. Also, Ray, you will send Corporal Hyman and his four men back to Sergeant Terry. Direct the sergeant to keep his whole detachment on the ground to-night, setting a regular guard. Hampton, as you're in charge of the commissary and quartermaster details at this post, the first thing in the morning you will make sure that Sergeant Terry's detachment is supplied with rations enough for breakfast. Early in the morning I shall look further into that plague spot of Cerverra's. Now, Sergeant Overton, continue your story."
When it was finished the officers sat in silence for a few moments.
"Well, gentlemen," inquired Captain Cortland at last, "have you anything to offer?"
"Are you going to arrest the man, Draney?" inquired Captain Freeman, of C Company.
"Frankly," replied Cortland, "that is what is puzzling me. What do you think, Freeman?"
"We cannot doubt Sergeant Overton, and he tells us that Tomba boasted that Draney is in league with the natives in some conspiracy here."
"It is a matter of evidence," replied Captain Cortland musingly. "Not one of you gentlemen would doubt Sergeant Overton's word on any question of fact on which he has knowledge. But his report is based only on what Vicente Tomba told him. Now, at the test, not one of you gentlemen doubts that Tomba would deny it all point blank. I believe that Draney is a scoundrel. I never liked the looks of the man from the first moment, but I can't arrest him on account of my bad opinion of him. Nor would any military or civil court hold him on account of what Sergeant Overton says Tomba told him. That evidence would not satisfy the requirements of any court of trial."
"Sir, is Draney really an American or an Englishman?" inquired Lieutenant Hampton.
"I don't know, Hampton, nor do I believe any one else knows for certain. Englishman or American, it is equally bad either way. If he's an American, then I am sorry to say that there are multitudes of people back in our own country who would welcome only too gladly a chance to attack the government for locking an American up on what they would call a flimsy charge. On the other hand, if Draney is an Englishman, and we arrest him on anything but the most satisfactory evidence, then the British government would be sure to make a noise about the affair. Hang it all, I wish we had just a shade more evidence, and I'd have Draney behind steel curtains in the guard house before daybreak, for his plantation is only eight miles out from here. Personally, I haven't a doubt that Draney is behind all the trouble of which we're hearing rumors."
"What can be Draney's object?" asked Captain Freeman.
"Perhaps he hasn't really a sane object," responded Cortland. "Whatever his motive for standing in with the worst of the Moros, and plotting against the government that we represent, there is sure to be something that he regards as being in line with his own advantage."
"Everything connected with this fellow, Draney, seems to be a puzzle," muttered Lieutenant Hampton.
During this discussion the two youngest officers of all, Lieutenants Prescott and Holmes, sat listening intently, and looking from face to face, though neither ventured any opinions. As "youngsters" it was their place to wait until they were asked to speak.
So notable, in fact, did their silence become that at last Captain Cortland remarked:
"Mr. Prescott, Mr. Holmes, you know that you are not forbidden to speak in the presence of your elders."
"I was listening, sir," replied Lieutenant Prescott, with a smile. "I haven't anything to offer sir, but whatever orders I may receive, I'll follow them all the way across the island of Mindanao and out into the ocean as far as I can swim or float."
"That's my answer, too, sir," supplemented Lieutenant Greg Holmes.
"Spoken like soldiers and officers," said Captain Cortland heartily.
And, indeed, these two young officers were soldiers! Young as they were, they commanded the respect of the men in their companies. B and C Companies could be depended upon to follow Prescott and Holmes wherever these two young West Pointers cared to lead them.
"Gentlemen," announced Captain Cortland at last, "we have the two prisoners in the guard house, and we have a guard over Cerverra's place. We'll take counsel of the night and of sleep. In the morning, at eight o'clock, we'll meet here to deliberate further on this puzzling matter. By the morning our whole duty may be extremely clear to us."
The visiting officers arose, saluted and took their leave.
"That is all for to-night, Sergeant Overton," announced the captain. "But on one point I want to caution you. You have heard the discussion here to-night. Do not repeat it to any of the enlisted men."
"That is all, Sergeant. One of these days I may have the time to tell you what a fine piece of work you have done for us to-day. Good night, Sergeant."
"Good night, sir."
The Army boy saluted, receiving his superior's acknowledgment. Then Hal stepped outside and made his way down the white roadway of ground shell and went to his own squad room in barracks.
"One point, anyway, is highly satisfactory," mused Sergeant Hal, as he crawled in under the mosquito netting that hung over his cot. "Vicente Tomba, the fellow with a dislike for seeing me alive, is safe behind bars in a guardhouse cell!"
But was he?
NEWS COMES OF THE UPRISING
Five officers of the garrison at Fort Franklin had assembled in the post commander's office, at eight o'clock the next morning, and awaited the arrival of Lieutenant Ray, who was still, for a matter of another hour, to be officer of the day.
Nor did Ray keep his brother officers waiting more than a moment. Then his brisk step was heard on the shell road outside, followed by his sudden entrance into the office.
But behind him came two soldiers of the guard, dragging between them an insignificant-looking little Filipino who seemed thoroughly terror stricken.
"How's Tomba this morning, Ray?" inquired Captain Cortland, wheeling about. "And who is this prisoner?"
"This, sir," declared Ray, in a tone that quivered with disgust, "is all that is left to us of Tomba!"
"But this isn't Vicente Tomba at all."
"I know it, sir."
"Explain yourself, Ray."
"Why, Captain, I have just made an inspection of prisoners at the guard house. Huddled in the back of the cell where I personally put Tomba last night crouched this shivery little object, looking as if he expected to be called upon to face a firing squad."
Captain Cortland had leaped to his feet, looking mightily concerned.
"But, Mr. Ray, where is Tomba?"
"I wish with all my heart that I knew, sir," replied the officer of the day, even more disturbed than his superior. "Last night I put Tomba in the cell and turned the key in the lock myself. Then I turned the key over to the sergeant of the guard. When I found Tomba missing, and this worthless object in his place, I made an investigation. The sergeant of the guard declared that the key had not been out of his pocket since I gave it to him."
"Who is sergeant of the guard?"
"Sergeant Jones, C Company, sir."
"And Jones is as honest, capable and energetic a man as we have in C Company," spoke up Captain Freeman, in defense of his sergeant.
"Have there been any visitors at the guard house this morning, Ray?" demanded Captain Cortland. "Especially, any native visitors?"
"Yes, sir; so Sergeant Jones informs me. You know, sir, it has been permitted that native prisoners be allowed to have their friends come and bring them their native food and coffee."
"I know," nodded Captain Cortland. "But that rule, gentlemen, is revoked from this minute. Thanks to that rule Tomba has gotten away from us."
"I hope you don't suspect Sergeant Jones, Cortland," interposed Captain Freeman. "Because, if you do, I'm satisfied that you're doing the sergeant an injustice."
"I don't suspect your sergeant, Freeman. I am more to blame than any one else, for having allowed the old rule of my predecessor here to remain in force. Quite a group of natives came, eh, Ray?"
"Seven or eight of them, sir."
"Exactly," nodded Cortland, "and this wretched little half-price native was one of them. He was brought along on purpose. Probably he was threatened with having his throat cut if he didn't do what he was told by the scoundrels. Then, while some of the natives were passing food and drink through the bars to Tomba and the prisoners, Jones must have had his attention attracted."
"Sergeant Jones remembers that he was called to the guard-house door for an instant," interjected Lieutenant Ray.
"Exactly, Ray, and at the same time a light-fingered native slipped a cunning brown hand into the sergeant's pocket and the key was taken. The cell door was swiftly unlocked, this native stole in, and Vicente Tomba stole out. Friends swiftly slipped Tomba one or two articles of clothing with which to help disguise himself. Then the whole party filed quickly out, and by this time Vicente Tomba is headed for the mountains and going fast."
"But Sergeant Jones found the key in his pocket, sir, when I asked him for it."
"Certainly, Ray. The little brown man who was clever enough to pick the pocket of the sergeant of the guard found it even less trouble to return the key."
"Cerverra didn't get away, anyway," muttered Lieutenant Ray, who had grown suddenly tired and careworn in appearance.
"Undoubtedly that's because Tomba is of more importance to the Moro plotters than Cerverra. Besides, Cerverra owns property here, and he can't well afford to be a fugitive from justice."
"What shall I do with this little wretch of a substitute, sir?" queried the officer of the day.
"Have you questioned this prisoner?"
"Yes, sir, and not a word will he say. He only shakes his head and pretends that he cannot understand a word of English or Spanish."
"Then take him back and lock him in the same cell," instructed the post commander. "Keep him there until he does talk."
"Very good, sir."
Barely had Lieutenant Ray reentered the guard house when two shots sounded on the road toward Bantoc.
"What's that? Trouble starting?" demanded Captain Freeman, darting to the door and listening.
"It may be only a shooting affray, but we must soon know," replied Captain Cortland.
All of the officers save Ray were now out on the veranda of the building.
Two more shots sounded, close together. Then came a light volley, sounding lighter still.
"It may be that Sergeant Terry is having trouble in town," muttered Captain Cortland, wholly alert in a second. "In any case we must let these Moros see a show of military force. Freeman, detail thirty of your men and let Lieutenant Holmes march them into Bantoc in quick time. Each man to carry fifty rounds of ammunition."
"Very good, sir.
"Lieutenant Holmes, you will go first of all to Cerverra's shop, unless the firing seems to be in another direction. But remember that if trouble breaks loose we will take care of it from here, and that your essential orders are not changed until you receive them from me, or from your company commander."
"Very good, sir," replied young Holmes, saluting.
Freeman and his second lieutenant hurried away to execute the orders without loss of time.
At the sound of the shots many of the men from barracks had run out into the street to see if they could find any explanation of the hostile sounds.
"Second platoon, C Company, fall in!" rang the order, repeated three or four times.
That caught several of the curious ones in the street, calling them to the parade ground.
Acting First Sergeant Hal Overton, B Company, was among those in the street. And he was the first to catch sight of a horse coming up the road at a wavering gallop.
"We'll soon know," the Army boy called to those nearest him. "This looks like a messenger coming."
The man who was astride the horse, and who was attired in white duck blouse and trousers, was bending forward over the neck of the animal.
"Second platoon, fall in!" rang Greg Holmes's command on the parade ground, showing how quickly military orders may be carried out.
"The messenger is bleeding," cried Hal. "I can see the stains on his white clothing. And the horse has been hit, too!"
"Trouble with a big 'T,'" muttered Private Kelly.
Sergeant Hal said no more. He walked quickly down the road as horse and rider drew nearer. The mount was running more feebly now. Fifty feet away from the young sergeant the animal pitched suddenly, staggered, then fell.
For an instant it looked as though the rider would also be stretched in the dust. Then he recovered, leaped painfully away from the horse—and just then Hal Overton reached and caught him.
"Shall I carry you, friend?" demanded the Army boy, for the stranger was a white man, doubtless an American.
At the stranger's belt hung a holster, the flap unbuttoned. He was wild-eyed and breathing hard, but there was no sign of cowardice in the man's sternly set face.
Bloodstains showed over three wounds in the trunk of his body. The right shoulder, also, had been touched.
"I can walk—but give me your arm," gasped the wounded man. "Take me to your commanding officer!"
Hal started, but had not far to go, for Captain Cortland was coming forward on the run.
"Take that man to the porch of barracks," called the captain, whose eye, practised in wounds, saw much. "Don't make him walk far."
Kelly sprang to Hal's aid. Between them they lifted the wounded stranger to a seat on their arms. The man put his arms about their necks, and thus they conveyed him to a broad armchair on the porch.
"My man, there, run for a hospital steward," shouted Captain Cortland. Then the post commander came to the wounded stranger.
Now that he found himself at the end of his journey the stranger appeared to lose rapidly the strength of his voice. He lay back in the chair, his eyes half closed.
"Where do you come from, friend?" asked Captain Cortland.
"The Seaforth Plantation."
"I know where the place is—twelve miles from here, in the interior," answered the captain.
"Right," murmured the wounded one.
"Edwards. I'm bookkeeper and correspondent for Mr. Seaforth."
"Platoon fours right, march!" sounded from the parade ground.
Edwards heard the command, then the steady whump-whump of the feet of marching men. The wounded man turned in his chair and gazed at the detachment marching away in quick time behind Lieutenant Holmes.
"You act quickly, Captain," murmured Edwards gratefully.
"Those men are marching to Bantoc to keep order in the town," replied Captain Cortland. "Tell me, as quickly as you can, what is wrong at Seaforth's."
"We were attacked just before daylight this morning," Edwards replied weakly.
"In force?" pressed the post commander.
"Just at a guess there must have been two or three hundred of the Malay fiends."
"Any of the defending party killed?"
"Not when I left, Captain. But four of our native Moro laborers were shot dead before they could reach the main house. The main house was being defended by Seaforth when I left."
"How many white men there?"
"Seaforth, his son, his superintendent and a blacksmith."
"They all escaped into the house at the attack?"
"Any natives helping Seaforth in the defense?"
"Yes; eight of the most trusted Moro workmen. But, Captain, you never can tell when you can trust any of these natives."
"I know," murmured Cortland, nodding his head.
At this moment the hospital steward arrived on the run, carrying a case of instruments, bottles and bandages. There was no surgeon-officer at Fort Franklin, the post commander being compelled to rely, at need, on a German physician in Bantoc.
"Get right to work, steward," ordered Captain Cortland. "And I must question this man while you work over him. Edwards, are there any American women at Seaforth's?"
"Good heavens!" uttered the captain, paling.
"Mrs. Seaforth, the superintendent's wife, and Miss Daly, the school teacher."
"How did you get away?"
"The Moros didn't appear to be in force on the side toward the stable, and I wriggled through in the dark, traveling flat on my stomach. I reached a horse at the stable, saddled fast, and then galloped away just as the Moros turned loose a volley that covered the noise of the horse's hoofs."
Edwards's voice was becoming much weaker. He paused frequently between words. The hospital steward, standing behind the wounded man, glanced up at Captain Cortland, shaking his head.
"Was the road infested with roving parties of guerillas?" inquired Captain Cortland.
"No, sir," replied the bookkeeper. "I didn't run into any trouble until I reached Bantoc. The natives here must have known that the trouble was coming, for concealed rascals fired on me just as I got alongside the town. They wounded me and my horse."
The other officers, with the exception of the absent Lieutenant Holmes, were now at the porch, listening quietly.
"Freeman, I must keep the rest of your company here," explained Captain Cortland. "And Hampton, your duties here are such that I can't very well spare you from post. So I shall have to send Lieutenant Prescott to Seaforth's. Lieutenant Prescott, assemble the company without an instant's delay."
There was little need to speak of delay. Every soldier left on the post and not engaged in actual duty was as near to the spot as he could be, for all were interested in this latest news.
"Mr. Prescott, don't take the time to march your men to the parade ground. Assemble B Company right here. Pick out the sixty men you want. Sergeant Overton will help you. Take sixty men, two days' rations and a hundred and fifty rounds of cartridges per man. Take blankets, ponchos and shelter tents. Detail your men and be ready to march at the earliest possible moment."
As the call for formation sounded Edwards uttered a fervent:
The hospital steward forced a draught of medicine down the wounded man's throat.
Quickly the sixty men were detailed, those who had been on sick report lately, or those who for any other reason were unfitted for a long, swift march being rejected.
"Detachment, fall out," ordered Lieutenant Prescott. "Sergeant Overton, see to the equipping of the men for this hike. Don't let any man idle any time away. I'll soon be with you in barracks, for minutes may be invaluable."
Edwards had fallen back once more, lying with his eyes closed. The hospital steward, one hand on the wounded one's pulse, looked at Captain Cortland and shook his head.
"Mr. Edwards," called the captain.
There was no answer.
"Is he dead?" asked the post commander in a low voice.
"No, sir, but he is unconscious and there's only a feeble flutter at the pulse."
As if to prove that he was still conscious, Edwards's lips tried to frame the words:
A sigh, and Edwards's head sank forward on his chest.
"He's gone, sir; there's no pulse," said the hospital steward.
Edwards's brave mission was ended. He had carried the word of danger to Fort Franklin, but he could not live to see the relief or vengeance detail set out.
As soon as it was certain that the bookkeeper had really ceased to breathe, Captain Cortland had the hospital steward summon men, who carried the remains away.
From the portion of the barracks allotted to B Company there came hardly a sound of unusual activity. Yet men were preparing for the "hike," as the long, swift march is called, in record time.
"All ready in this room?" called Sergeant Hal at last.
A chorus of low-toned replies answered him.
"Tumble out, then, lively!"
An instant later the men hastened from other squad rooms. There was no flourish of bugles this time. At a quietly spoken word the sixty men fell in. Non-commissioned officers made a hasty inspection, while Captain Cortland and Lieutenant Prescott glanced up and down the line with keen eyes.
"March your detachment, Lieutenant," directed Captain Cortland, a minute later.
"Twos right, route step, quick time—march!" called Lieutenant Prescott.
As one man they swung, and their feet were in motion. At the head of the line marched acting First Sergeant Overton, setting a stiff pace.
For an instant Prescott stood still, eying his men as they swept by. Then he ran to the head of the line, falling in beside the young sergeant.
They were off on the Flag's business!
THE INSULT TO THE FLAG
It was a deserted road over which the detachment marched.
When there is fighting in Mindanao, and troops are scurrying along the roads, those inhabitants who are non-combatants keep within their doors—at all events, they remain out of sight. It is as though every native feared to be shot as a possible rebel.
But Uncle Sam's troops have no quarrel with men and women following peaceful occupations. If these brown natives understood our people better they would not scurry to cover when the khaki-clad men are passing on fighting bent.
For three miles, or until Bantoc was left well behind, the quick time continued. Then the young lieutenant decided that it would be necessary to slacken the pace for a while. Soldiers must not only reach their destination as early as possible; they must also be fit for fighting on arrival.
It was not difficult to find the way. An almost straight road led out to the Seaforth plantation. Lieutenant Prescott had a map of the country for use in case he found it necessary.
Twice on the way the men halted, for five minutes each time.
Then, about eight miles out, they came upon outlying scenes of plantation life. There were broad fields, rich with crops, but to-day no laborers were to be seen at work.
Then the main buildings of the Draney plantation were sighted.
About the buildings, too, all was unwontedly quiet. In fact, the main house was closed and had the air of being in a state of siege.
"Humph!" muttered the young lieutenant to the boyish sergeant. "If all we hear about Draney is true, or even the half of it, he has no need to fear the Moros."
Just as the detachment was passing opposite the main building the front door opened, and Draney, bearing a rifle in the hollow of his left arm, hastened out, holding up his right hand.
"Detachment halt!" commanded Prescott in a wearied tone. Then the young commanding officer stepped rapidly toward the planter.
"Well, Mr. Draney, what is it?" Prescott inquired.
"I'm thankful you've come, Prescott."
"Mr. Prescott, if you please," interposed the officer coldly.
"I'm mighty glad you've come. Off yonder we've been hearing firing at intervals ever since daylight."
"How recently have you heard it?" queried Prescott.
"Within ten minutes."
"Thank heaven, then!" muttered the lieutenant. "The Seaforth people are holding out."
"Is it at Seaforth's?" demanded Draney, with assumed eagerness.
"So I imagine. But I must hurry on my way. Take care of yourself, Mr. Draney."
Perhaps that last bit of advice was delivered in a tone of some sarcasm. Draney appeared to feel very uneasy.
"Prescott—Mr. Prescott—aren't you going to leave some of your men here to protect this place?"
"I don't believe it will be necessary," replied the lieutenant, and again, no doubt, there was some hidden irony in his words.
"But the Moros may attack us here at any moment," urged Draney pleadingly.
"I hope they won't attack you, Mr. Draney. But, in any event, I have no orders to leave any of my men here."
"Yet, surely, as an officer commanding troops in the field, you have some discretion in the matter."
"I fear it would be an abuse of my discretion to weaken my detachment by leaving men here."
At that moment four or five shots sounded faintly in the distance.
"You must see my present duty as clearly as I do, Mr. Draney," uttered the young lieutenant quickly. "Good-bye, sir."
"Can't you leave me even six men?"
Prescott did not reply, but called:
"March the detachment, Sergeant."
Hal gave the moving order instantly, the lieutenant cutting off the column obliquely and thus rejoining its head.
"The impudence of that fellow!" growled Lieutenant Prescott, under his breath, but Sergeant Hal heard the words.
Two or three minutes later, when the plantation buildings were out of sight, the young sergeant chanced to look back along the line.
As he did so something in the sky caught his attention.
"Look at that, sir," urged Hal, stepping out of the way of the column and pointing backward.
Lieutenant Prescott uttered an exclamation of anger.
"I wish we had men to spare. I certainly would send some of them back to that confounded Draney!" quivered Prescott.
The object at which both gazed was a blood-red kite, flying high, and apparently sent up not far from the Draney house.
"It must be a signal, sir," suggested Sergeant Hal.
"Of course it is!" stormed the lieutenant. "It's the easiest way in the world of sending the news to the brown fiends swarming around Seaforth's that a military column has passed Draney's place."
"I could take a few men, sir, go back and arrest Draney and bring him to you," suggested Hal quietly.
"What would be the use?" demanded the young officer, a scowl of disgust settling on his face. "In the first place, you wouldn't find Draney in an hour, for probably he has hidden himself. Even if you found him sitting on his back porch he'd be prepared to swear that some native had sent up the kite without his knowledge or permission. Sergeant, a fellow of Draney's type is always hard to catch, and it's bad judgment to try to catch him until you have evidence enough to hang him. So, for the present, I'm certain that we'd better let the scoundrel go. But the flying of that kite means that there's danger of an ambuscade. This is the first time I've commanded in the field and I don't intend to be cut to pieces in ambush."
Raising his voice, Lieutenant Prescott called:
As the column of twos came to a stop Lieutenant Prescott announced:
"Men, you can see that red kite flying, back at the plantation. It's a signal to a possible enemy ahead of us. The enemy may try to ambush us. Therefore, from now on, every man will move as quietly as he possibly can. No unnecessary word will be spoken in ranks. You will take pains to keep your equipments from jingling. I am going to march you off the road and send a 'point' ahead. Corporal Cotter!"
"Take the first four files for a 'point' and march two hundred yards ahead of the detachment. Halt and signal back to us if at any time you hear anything, or have any other reason to believe that you are nearing an ambush. Take the first path to the left, which you will find about a quarter of a mile from here. If I have further orders for you I will send them forward."
"Very good, sir."
"March the 'point,' Corporal."
When the last file of Cotter's men was two hundred yards in advance Lieutenant Prescott nodded to Sergeant Hal to march the main column.
Not a soldier, now, but understood that the command was probably close to the enemy. At all events, fighting within the hour seemed almost certain, for occasional shots still sounded in the country ahead.
No word was now spoken. Cotter found the path, and led his men into it. Prescott knew, from his map, that the path would lead his men to Seaforth's, though by a wide detour from the highway.
Sergeant Hal Overton felt a queer little thrill when he realized that they were now nearing an enemy reported to be much superior in numbers. The thrill was not exactly of fear, though there was some uneasiness in it. Every soldier has felt this sensation when marching into battle. But Hal was curious to know how the feeling affected the other men.
If Lieutenant Prescott felt any of it, there was nothing in his face or manner to betray the fact. He appeared to be "all business," and to have a keen sense of responsibility which, however, did not dismay him in the least. No soldier could gaze at that young officer and feel that the detachment was badly commanded. Such is the West Point training.
Kelly and some of the other soldiers who had seen much active service plodded along like so many laborers going unconcernedly to their work.
Some of the newer enlisted men, who had never before been in real action, betrayed their newness only by the eager light that shone in their eyes. These new men, too, took pains to walk still more softly along the forest path than did any of the old hands at campaigning.
To any but the most hardened old soldier there is something "creepy" in plodding along over a narrow path in a rather dense forest, not knowing at what moment a lurking enemy may pour in a volley that will bowl over half of the command.
Yet every man clutches a rifle and feels at his belt enough ammunition for putting up a good and long fight. There is something exultant in the consciousness that, if attacked, one can render back a good account of himself, and that the American soldier has no cause to be afraid of any troops on earth. It is man's work—and it takes a man to do it!
To the "point," naturally, came the real danger—in the first moment of possible ambush along the path. It would run into trouble first. That is what it is for. If the "point" meets an enemy every man in it may be bowled over by a sudden shower of hostile bullets. But the main column is warned, and the commander can bring up the bulk of his force in battle line armed with the knowledge of where the enemy is. When the "point" marches but two hundred yards in advance of the main body of the command then it can be promptly supported if trouble comes.
Now the distant firing broke out again, and briskly.
"The Moro fiends are trying to rush the planter's house before help can reach him!" muttered Lieutenant Prescott to himself. "We'll spoil some of the joy of those savages when we get close enough to send them a raking volley. I hope they're lined up so that we can give them a flank fire before the scoundrels know that we're on the ground at all."
Two miles covered, then a third was left behind.
Now, a nervous or too eager commander might have hurried his men over the remaining ground, but Prescott, at West Point, had been taught the value of cool, deliberate work.
It was noticeable, however, that now the men marched along with more spirit and swing. Those who may have been secretly nervous were at least certain that soon their suspense would be over. A few minutes, and they would be engaged in something more definite than merely tramping in the direction of danger.
Suddenly Corporal Cotter halted his men, and the same gesture was visible at the head of the column behind.
"Softly," whispered Lieutenant Prescott, but his gesture carried further than did his voice. The main column closed slowly up with the "point."
"I couldn't go further, sir, without running into those fellows yonder," whispered the corporal. "I didn't know that you would want me to do it."
Cotter pointed through the rows of trees to a clearing beyond.
In the center of the clearing stood a little building—plainly the schoolhouse in which the few white children on the plantation and probably many native children of the neighborhood were taught, five days in the week, by some clear-eyed Yankee schoolma'am furnished by Uncle Sam's Government.
Seven Moros were visible at or close to the schoolhouse. All of them were armed. One fellow was hurrying up with a can of oil, which, while the soldiers waited and watched, he sprinkled over the woodwork of the doorway, carrying a trail of the oil inside the building.
"That's a Filipino estimate of the value of education," whispered Lieutenant Prescott savagely to his sergeant.
But then something happened that made Hal Overton boil with indignation.
Just as the fellow had finished scattering the oil and was about to strike a match, one of the other Moros seized the fellow's arm, then pointed up to the flag pole over the front of the building.
All of the brown rascals began to chuckle. Then one of them climbed up. With a keen-edged creese he cut the Flag loose, hurling it down to the ground.
Now began an orgy of derision. First the Moros spat upon the Flag; then, howling gleefully, they commenced to dance upon it. Every now and then one of the brown men bent down to slash at the Flag.
It was hard for some sixty of Uncle Sam's men to stand there, with guns in their hands, and witness such desecration as that. Some of the soldiers began to mutter.
"Silence!" hissed Lieutenant Prescott.
One soldier rested his rifle forward, as though bent on taking a shot, but Sergeant Hal, like a flash, knocked up his arm.
"No man is to fire unless ordered," muttered Overton, and Lieutenant Prescott nodded his approval.
Soon the Flag lay torn and trampled, all but covered in the dust of the roadway before the school. Then one of the Moros again struck a match. In a moment the flames began to crackle and the smoke to ascend.
Then, as if satisfied with their work, the brown rascals set out at a steady trot in the direction of Seaforth's.
"Men," spoke Lieutenant Prescott, in a low voice, "it would have been fine to have poured a volley into those wretches, but it would have told their main body our exact location. We must sink all other feelings until we have reached the plantation and rescued those imperiled there. Corporal Cotter, lead your men to the left, through the woods and around the schoolhouse. On the other side you will find a path that you will follow."
As the detachment started Hal saluted.
"Sir, have I your permission to run out into the clearing, recover the Flag and then rejoin you?"
Lieutenant Prescott shot a keen look at the Army boy, then answered briefly:
Hal's task was quickly executed. In the open he encountered no one; when he rejoined the column in the woods he reverently carried a Flag, torn, slashed and dirt-stained.
"One of these days, sir," quivered the Army boy to his officer, "I hope to be able to teach those Moros a lesson with this very Flag!"
IN THE FIRST BRUSH WITH MOROS
At times, while the detachment in the woods covered that last mile the firing ahead cropped up briskly. Then it died down into an occasional, sputtering shot or two. But every discharge of a rifle ahead was now distinctly audible to Uncle Sam's men marching to the relief.
At last the marching men came so close that the young lieutenant whispered to the boyish sergeant:
"I'm going to join the 'point,' Overton. Bring the men on at the same interval, but keep your eyes ahead for signals from me."
"Very good, sir."
Ahead the marching men could now see that the trees were thinning out. Still further ahead they knew that there must lie either plantation fields or the houses themselves.
Many a soldier in the column tightened his grip on his rifle as he thought how soon, now, the raiding Moros would find that they had more fighting on hand than they had bargained for.
The "point" presently halted at the edge of the forest and Lieutenant Prescott signaled back by raising his hand with a downward gesture. Sergeant Overton halted the main detachment.
Over a broad field the soldiers looked, but it was now plain that the besieged planter's house lay on the other side of a belt of timber at the further edge of the field. Then the officer signaled for the main column to be brought up.
"I don't see any of the enemy in sight, men," declared Prescott. "You will deploy into line of skirmishers and then we'll run across the field. Be prepared for the order to lie down in case the enemy develops."
A moment later, and the men, in one straight, thin line, with considerable intervals between them, charged silently across the field.
At the edge of the timber they halted again. Lieutenant Prescott, revolver in hand, moved forward, accompanied only by Corporal Cotter.
After some minutes the pair came back again.
"You'll go forward as skirmishers," said Prescott. "Keep your intervals. Forward!"
No further word was spoken, but the lieutenant, at the right of the line and slightly in advance, moved so stealthily that those nearest him felt that the enemy could not be far off.
Suddenly the stick that the lieutenant carried in place of a sword was held aloft, then the point lowered. The advancing line halted.
"When you move forward again," went the low, almost whispered and repeated order down the line, "crouch low and do not hurry. A hundred yards ahead is a position from which we can rake the rascals with a flanking fire. Forward!"
Very soon the advancing soldiers caught sight of the planter's house between the trees. It stood some seven hundred yards from this nearer edge of the clearing.
Now the soldiers, crouching as they moved, until they appeared to be bent nearly double, came in sight of a trench. It spread away obliquely before them, but everything in the trench was visible to them. At a rough estimate there were some seventy-five brown-skinned Moros crouching in the trench behind a line of hard-packed dirt thrown up before them.
At this moment most of the brown fellows were loafing in the trench. Only occasionally one of them showed himself, raising his gun quickly and firing toward the house. The planter's return fire did not come toward Prescott's command, but well to the right of the soldiers.
"The Moros are up to their same old rascally tricks," whispered Lieutenant Prescott to Sergeant Hal Overton. "They fire heavily, once in a while, and then pepper the house occasionally with single shots. Their idea is to keep those in the house firing until the defenders have used up all their ammunition. When the Moros are satisfied that Seaforth's party have no more cartridges, then those brown pirates plan to rush the house, with little loss to themselves, and run creeses through every defender left alive."
A moment later Prescott's order was repeated down the line of soldiers, now lying prone on the ground:
"Load magazines! Remember to fire low. At the pistol shot begin firing at will, but keep cool and try to make every cartridge tell. Better to shoot slowly than to waste any ammunition."
As noiselessly as they could the prostrate men opened the magazines of their rifles and slipped the cartridges in.
Lieutenant Prescott, revolver in hand, waited until he saw that all had had time to obey the order. Then the stick, now in his left hand, pointed forward, and the various squad leaders whispered:
"At four hundred yards, aim!"
It was a tense moment for the new men.
Bang! Lieutenant Prescott's revolver rang out, the muzzle pointed toward the enemy.
Instantly following it came a sputtering of reports, then a settled, heavy fire. The noise of so many soldiers firing at will was like that made on Fourth of July by a hundred packs of cannon crackers all going off at once.
Yet over all the din rose the yells of the surprised Moros in the trench. It had caught them hard, for most of the soldiers were doing good shooting.
Heedless, now, of the fire from the planter's house, the Moros in the trench rose to flee. Some of them dropped where they stood. Others ran away as fast as their brown legs could carry them, some brandishing their rifles with defiance, a few others throwing down their firearms as they started to bolt.
About a dozen of the rascals tried to return the fire of the soldiers, but fired too high. None of the khaki-clad men were hit.
"Cease firing!" shouted Lieutenant Prescott, but he addressed his order to the bugler who stood beside him. No voice could carry over such a din of firing.
Ta-rar-ta-ra-ta! rang the bugle. As the men obeyed the command to cease firing one would again have been reminded of exploding packs of fire crackers, for the fire died down sputteringly, with here and there another report or two from soldiers who felt that they had a fine bead drawn and ached to "get" another enemy or two.
Fully twenty-five of the Moros had fallen, either in the trench at the first crash of fire, or else while running to cover.
These, however, were not the only enemies at hand, for, from a grove off to the left of the planter's house a heavy fire now crashed out, and bullets began to clip twigs from the trees among which the soldiers lay.
Other bullets whizzed by over the heads of Uncle Sam's men as they lay there. There was a peculiarly spiteful sound to the passage of these bullets. "Whew-ew-ew!" they sang, for most of the Moros were using the .43 Remington, with the brass-jacketed, heavy bullet, this being a favorite arm in the islands among the natives. There are always adventurers at Hong Kong who, for a price, will land any number of Remingtons and any amount of ammunition at lonely spots along the coast of the islands.
Shading his eyes with his left hand Lieutenant Prescott tried to locate this other firing party of Moros. Smokeless powder gives no clue to the hiding places of an enemy, and even if there be any kind of echo it is a confusing guide.
But at last Prescott was sure he had located the second Moro fighting party and he pointed out the place to his men.
"Send them a volley over there, all together," ordered the young officer. "Ready; load! At six hundred and fifty yards, aim. Fire!"
Prescott's face beamed with satisfaction as he held his field glass to his eyes and saw where the bullets threw up the dirt.
"Splendidly done, men!" he cried. "We'll send 'em another. Ready; load. Aim—fire!"
Once more the volley crashed out splendidly. Then the men lay on their hot-barreled rifles.
No more shots came their way just then.
"We've silenced their fire for the time being," chuckled the officer. "I wonder if the enemy are retiring?"
In the silence Uncle Sam's men could hear a frantic cheer rise from the interior of the planter's house.
"Yes; I'll warrant they're glad," cried Prescott, his eyes shining mistily. "But we haven't reached them yet!"
It looked easy. All the detachment had to do was to run across a field and halt before the planter's house.
Yet how could the young commanding officer know that he would not lose half his men by ambushed fire while crossing that open space?
THE BROWN MEN AT BAY——FOR HOW LONG?
If Sergeant Hal, or any other soldier in that detachment of sixty men, had felt any nervousness before the fight started, everyone of them had forgotten it by this time.
So far, not a man had they lost, and none had been even lightly hit. The bravery of soldiers is usually founded on their confidence in their officers. Every man in the detachment now knew that Lieutenant Richard Prescott was an officer who would do all that lay before him to do, yet an officer who would not needlessly sacrifice the life or safety of any man in his command. That discovery by the men goes far to make an officer capable. Let the men once think their commander careless about slaughter, and they will not respond as quickly.
"Men," presently spoke the young officer, as coolly and slowly as though he were explaining a manoeuvre in his once favorite game of football, "we have now to reach the house yonder, and there's a likelihood of our being fired upon when we move forward. When I give the order you'll run slowly, at the gait set by Sergeant Overton, who will be ahead of you. If you hear the command to lie down, drop in your tracks. But let no man lie down until he hears the word. We may have to employ half a dozen rushes in reaching the house. Rise! Sergeant Overton to the front. Forward! Charge!"
Steadily and gallantly the little line swept forward. Hal Overton, who knew the pace exactly, went forward at a trot that did not vary by as much as a step to the minute.
In the distance half a dozen rifles popped out singly. Some of the bullets whistled by, others struck the ground near them, ploughing up the dirt.
If any soldier looked for Lieutenant Prescott to order them down, he was in error. Another hundred yards they covered. Then a volley rang out from the men hidden in the grove, and Private Danes dropped, though without a cry.
"Lie down!" shouted Prescott steadily, though he remained with his field glass to his eyes, searching the grove. "Sergeant Overton, see how badly Danes is hurt."
Hal strode over to where the wounded man lay.
"Oh, it ain't nothing, Sarge," growled Private Danes disgustedly. "Just enough to give me a toothache in the hip."
Yet the poor fellow pointed to a bloodstained spot right over the center of the hip bone. Danes's left leg would never again be sound enough to march with his comrades. Perhaps the man realized it, but he was a soldier, and therefore made no fuss.
"You'll have to lie quiet, Danes," returned Sergeant Hal. "We'll get you out of this."
Just then Private Kelly raised his head for a look at the adjacent grove.
As he did so a shot rang out over in the grove and Kelly uttered an exclamation of disgust.
"Hit, Kelly?" queried Sergeant Hal, stepping over to him.
Private Kelly spat out two loose front teeth and some blood.
"Ye see what happened, Sarge," retorted Kelly. "It's a good thing the fellow drew a bead on me profile. But I ain't kicking at getting a dentist's services for nothing. No, that ain't my kick."
"What is wrong, then?" laughed Hal.
"Why, that blamed bullet was hot, and the Moro made me swallow it! It was so hot that it burned all the way down! Got any ice, Sarge?"
A burst came from a dozen distant rifles at once. Bullets tore through the air around Lieutenant Prescott as he stood, still with his field glass to his eyes. Looking around, however, he saw Hal standing, and commanded severely:
"If you're through with your work, Sergeant Overton, lie down. Ready, men, for just one volley. Load; aim—at the front timber line of that grove. Fire!"
Hardly had the crashing volley ripped out when again the young officer's voice was heard:
"Rise, forward, charge!"
This time the line moved with a yell, the two men who carried Danes yelling as loudly as the rest.
"Halt! Lie down!"
They were within two hundred yards of the Seaforth house now. The front door of that building had been thrown open, though no one appeared as yet in the doorway.
It began to look as though the Moros had withdrawn, or else were waiting for something, for no shots came from the enemy.
Again, at command, the detachment rose and rushed forward, this time without cheering.
Uncle Sam's men dropped in their tracks, close to the house.
Now, Seaforth, the planter, appeared in the doorway.
"Captain, I hope I needn't tell you that you and your men are welcome," came Seaforth's greeting. He was hardly a middle-aged man, but three years of planter's life in Mindanao had brought deep gray streaks into his hair.
"I've a wounded man to bring inside," announced young Prescott.
"Bring him right in, sir; we'll make him as comfortable as we can."
Private Danes fainted while being lifted and carried into the house. He was soon after revived, however. The two men who had brought him in now used a first-aid package in dressing the wound, after they had washed it.
In the meantime Lieutenant Prescott discovered that none of the whites in the house had been hit, though one of the loyal Moro defenders of the house had been killed and two others wounded.
Then the lieutenant told of Edwards's death. A young woman in the room promptly fainted.
"That's Miss Daly, the school teacher," explained Mr. Seaforth. "She and Edwards were engaged to be married."
Outside more shots sounded. Lieutenant Prescott ran to the door.
Sergeant Hal, however, had detailed twenty of his men to answer the fire, whenever they saw anything to shoot at, while the others had been ordered to get to work with their intrenching tools.
This tool, in appearance, is about half way between a bayonet and a trowel. With it a soldier can lie on the ground, digging and throwing up dirt before him, while he opens a shallow trench in which to lie and conceal himself from the enemy's fire.
"Don't waste any ammunition, Sergeant. Have your men shoot to hit," directed the officer. "I'm going back into the house, but send for me if you see any suspicious move on the part of the Moros."
"Yes, sir," and Sergeant Overton turned his face towards the enemy.
Though he made his men remain prostrate on the ground, Hal Overton stood up. He was using the lieutenant's field glass.
The walls of the planter's house were riddled with bullets, for this house had not been constructed as a fort. Along the outer walls, however, bags of earth had been piled in such a way as to afford comparative safety to the defenders.
"Those of us who weren't fighting," explained Mr. Seaforth, "have been engaged for hours in digging dirt in the cellar and bringing it up in the sacks. But it was a fearful morning until you arrived. Now, our only danger is from a stray bullet. The Moros won't come any closer—they won't dare to charge the house with such a force of troops here to defend the place."
"Not unless the rascals are reinforced," replied Prescott. "There is no telling how many of the natives are concerned in this uprising. Hello—pardon me a moment."
Through the open doorway Prescott had caught sight of something moving down the highway. He ran speedily outside, got his glasses from Sergeant Hal and returned to the porch, where he climbed one of the wooden columns. Now he brought the glass to his eyes.
"What do you see?" asked Mr. Seaforth.
"I see," chuckled the lieutenant quietly, "that it was well for us that we left the road and came through the forest. Yonder are at least two hundred Moros marching along. There, they are debouching into the forest and will soon be added to the attacking party here. Those fellows went down the road to ambush us on the way, for they received a signal that we were on the road. We fooled them, but we shall have to reckon with them here, and within fifteen minutes. Mr. Seaforth, send all your people down into the cellar of the house. There they will be safe. This is a job for the Army alone!"
"I am in command here, sir, and I direct you to send all of your own people to the cellar at once. That will free our minds of any dread for the safety of your people, and will leave us open to handle the problem that is coming to us."
Then, quite regardless of the fine mark that he presented to possible sharpshooters over in the grove, Lieutenant Prescott stepped outside.
Hal stepped beside his officer. Thereupon the enemy's riflemen took heart and drove in a score of bullets. Lieutenant Prescott's hat was shot from his head. Two bullets passed through the edge of the sergeant's right trousers' leg, one hole showing just above the other. The back of Hal's left hand was grazed just enough to show the blood. The stick that the lieutenant carried was cut in two by a bullet and half of the stick carried away from him.
"Sergeant," chuckled the lieutenant, "you've heard the expression, 'observed of all observers.' Now you know just how it feels."
"Now, we've got to be quick, Sergeant. We must throw our men all around the house, and dig trenches as fast as we can. Unless I miss my guess, the enemy will—well, what?"
"The Moros will try to overwhelm us with a reckless charge, sir," answered the young sergeant.
A TALE OF MORO BLACKMAIL
"That's what they will do—if anything," nodded Lieutenant Prescott. "A charge is the wisest thing for the brown rascals, if they are bent on winning here. They know now about how many men I have, and they know that my men are regulars. The Moros have plenty of rifles, and I judge that they're well off in ammunition, but they can't shoot as well as American regulars. On a charge, however—in close, hand-to-hand fighting—these Malays are not to be despised. They always fought hand-to-hand in the old days, and it's in their blood."
With that expression of his views, Prescott, aided by his acting first sergeant, began to hustle the soldiers into line around the house, forming the men in a rectangle at about fifteen yards distant from the walls of the building.
The soldier of to-day must often fight lying on his stomach. These men of B Company crawled to their stations, dragging their rifles after them.
Pop! pop! pop! The Moros were watching, and fired from time to time, irregularly. A prostrate man is hard to hit at a few hundred yards. These pot-shots serve to bother and irritate soldiers getting into position.
As soon as each soldier was in place he began burrowing with his intrenching tool. It is surprising how quickly a man lying down can dig a little ditch and throw up the dirt on the outside.
First, each man dug his own ditch. As soon as he had this completed he connected his ditch with that of the men next to him. Within thirty minutes the men of B Company, without having a man hit by the pot-shots of the enemy, were well intrenched. From time to time some of the soldiers, under orders, ceased their digging to take a few shots themselves, just to keep the Moros from growing too bold.
As soon as the encircling trench had been dug Prescott detailed four men, with picks and shovels furnished by the elder Seaforth, to throw up a trench wall in front of the main door of the house, so as to permit any one safely to enter or leave the house by that door.
"That'll do, Sergeant," nodded Lieutenant Prescott at last.
"It would take a three-inch field piece, sir, to make an impression on this wall of dirt," smiled Sergeant Hal.
"Now, I'll look after this part of the ground, Sergeant; you go around to the south side—and be vigilant."
Hal Overton stepped out from behind the wall, carrying his rifle in the hollow of his left arm. As he showed himself above the low wall of the regular trench, exposing his head and trunk, the Moros began to take notice.
Pop! pop! pop! Bullets struck all about the young sergeant, sprinkling dirt over him.
"Keep your head below the top of the trench wall, Sergeant!" called Lieutenant Prescott sternly. "We can't afford to have you hit. Shield yourself. Don't be afraid of any one suspecting you of cold feet!"
So Hal, though he made a slight grimace, contented himself with crouching low and progressing slowly.
Barely had Sergeant Hal gained his own post, with Private Kelly on his right hand, when a furious fusillade broke out from the southward.
"Keep your heads down, all of you!" shouted the young sergeant. "Don't be too curious about what the Moros are doing. If you keep your heads down the rascals can't hit you, and it won't do us any harm to let them waste their ammunition. Don't any man fire without orders."
"They're doing some good shooting, Sarge, at last," remarked Private Kelly, as the showers of bullets peppered the top of the trench and sprinkled dirt over the crouching soldiers.
"The only good shooting, Kelly, is that which cuts up the enemy," rejoined Hal. "The goo-goos are not hitting any of us, and we're not losing anything by saving our ammunition."
"Goo-goos" is an old name applied to the Philippine raiders. Whenever a native grows tired of fighting, or wants to enter a town for the purpose of getting information, he hides his arms, then enters Uncle Sam's lines, pretending that he is a "good" man, and not a rebel against the authority of the United States Government. From this the soldiers have learned to allude to all fighting Filipinos as goo-goos.
"Lend me your trenching tool, Kelly?"
With this implement Hal Overton burrowed a small hole through the top of the trench. Thus, without exposing himself too much, he was able to keep an eye on the distant grove in which the Moros had found cover.
"I'll let you spell me on this watch, from time to time, Kelly," said Hal.
"I'll be glad to, Sarge, for I'll admit that I'm anxious to know what the goo-goos are doing."
"At present they're not trying to advance," replied Sergeant Overton, "and that's about all we're interested in. As long as they stay where they are, and waste their ammunition, they'll not bother us much."
In the meantime Lieutenant Prescott was seated in a chair behind the high wall of dirt before the house door. The elder Seaforth occupied another chair.
"Have you any idea, sir, how you incurred the wrath of these Moro rascals?" asked the young lieutenant.
"By refusing to pay blackmail," replied the planter bluntly.
"Then you were asked to pay money to some of these native chieftains?"
"I wasn't asked; I was commanded to do so," replied Mr. Seaforth slowly. "When you speak of the Moro rascals, Lieutenant, don't conclude that all of the Moros are bad, or even troublesome. The truth is that most of the Moros on the island of Mindanao are good fellows. They're lazy, but not notably vicious. There are a few of the old-time chiefs—dattos, they call 'em—who make trouble every now and then. These dattos never respected the Spanish Government, and they don't feel any more kindly towards the United States Government. That is because these dattos have always lived by plunder, and they always intend to do so. For one thing, these raiding dattos don't like to have white men on Mindanao. The spread of civilization here means that the old-time dattos will be driven into the wilds, and that there won't be any more plunder or blackmail money to live on. These Moros out yonder wouldn't have bothered me, this time, if I had paid the money their chief demanded."
"How much did he want, Mr. Seaforth?"
"Ten thousand dollars."
"Whew! That would be a good deal of money to pay out."
"For the sake of peace, and a chance to carry on my plantation business, Lieutenant, I might have paid it—if once would have been enough. But it wouldn't have been. If I had acceded to his demand the datto would have let me alone for this year. He would have sent the same demand next year, however. In fact, the datto would have put me down on his list as being good for ten thousand dollars a year tribute. The first year that I failed to pay this tribute my plantation would be destroyed, and myself, my family and friends put to the knife. So it's either fight or get out of here for good. It seems a strange thing, doesn't it, Lieutenant, to live under the Stars and Stripes, and yet to have to pay tribute to a savage for the right to do business?"
"It isn't right, it can't be, sir—and by the great howitzer, Uncle Sam will put a stop to all this business!" replied Lieutenant Prescott hotly.
"I hope so," returned Mr. Seaforth. "The Datto Hakkut, however, has been doing business here on Mindanao since before the Spaniards left, and my opinion is that he will do business as long as he lives. This fellow Hakkut is a wily old scoundrel, who often falls into traps set for him by our soldiers. Yet, just when the soldiers are about to close the trap, they find that Hakkut isn't there. His escapes are marvelous."
"Did Hakkut himself come to see you, Mr. Seaforth?" inquired the young lieutenant.
"Hakkut? I've never seen the fellow, nor has any other white man around here, so far as I know."
"Then he sends a regular collector for the money?"
"Yes. He has a new collector this year."
"The fellow looks to me more like a Tagalo. He's a sharp, keen, little business man—of his peculiar type."
"A Tagalo?" mused Lieutenant Prescott. "By Jove, I wish you'd give me a close description of the fellow."
"Perhaps I can do better than that," proposed Mr. Seaforth, rising. "When the collector was here my son succeeded—without the rascal's knowledge—in getting a snapshot at him. I think I can find the photo."
Disappearing into the house, the planter soon returned, handing the young officer a card. Prescott gazed at the photo, then called out:
"Men, pass the word for Sergeant Overton to report here. Tell him that his orders are to keep under cover while on the way here."
Hal soon appeared, crouching behind the trench, and sheltered by the high dirt wall.
"Sergeant, have you ever seen this fellow in the photo?" inquired the lieutenant, with a smile, passing the card to Overton.
"I should think I have, sir. This is Vicente Tomba."
"Can't be a doubt about it, can there?"
"Not unless Tomba has a twin brother, sir."
"And to think that we had that little rascal in arrest!" muttered the lieutenant. "It was a sad day for Mindanao when Tomba escaped from our guard house."
Then, after a pause, Prescott continued:
"By the way, Mr. Seaforth, how long has Draney been on his present plantation?"
"I don't know, Lieutenant. He's been there longer than I have resided here."
"Has he ever been troubled by the Moros?"
"They have never attacked him, Lieutenant. Draney must pay some tribute to the Datto Hakkut."
Lieutenant Prescott and Sergeant Hal Overton glanced quickly at one another, though neither spoke.
"That is all, Sergeant," said the officer, by way of dismissal. "Return to your men."
"Very good, sir."
THE CALL FOR MIDNIGHT COURAGE
At a few minutes past six it was dark, for the sun goes down early in the tropics.
Now the soldiers were relieved from their cramped positions of the day. A few at a time they left the trenches, rising and walking about.
Inside the house their bacon was cooked for them and their coffee made. Mr. Seaforth, who was abundantly supplied with food, added a variety of palatable eatables to their night meal.
Lieutenant Prescott and Sergeant Hal Overton walked together around the line of defenses. The officer frequently used his night glass, now and then passing it to the boyish sergeant.
"You see, Overton," said the lieutenant, "from all outward appearances there isn't a Moro left in the woods anywhere around here. Our good judgment tells us, however, now that night has come, that we shall do well to be doubly alert."
"Do you think they will dare attack so large a force in a sudden rush, sir?"
"It is the only trick by which the rascals could hope to beat out an intrenched force of regulars, Overton. By a rush they could have taken the house before we arrived, but I fancy that the first attack was made only as a bluff. They hoped to be able to scare Mr. Seaforth into paying the blackmail their datto had demanded. Now that the troops are here, they realize that their bluff has been met, and that they've got to fight or quit. I believe that the chances are about even on fight or quit. I'd like to hurry up their quitting by a charge, but it might cost us some men, and my orders go only as far as defending the plantation and the white people here. Sergeant, I have about decided to send a report to Captain Cortland. I believe it would be safer to send one or two soldiers, if they're the right kind of men, than to send a detachment. A detachment would be almost certain to be attacked on the way. Two or three bright men might slip away unseen, and get word to the captain and back to me. You know the men better than I do. Whom do you suggest?"
"I'd like to go myself, sir," proposed Sergeant Hal, his eyes blazing with eagerness.
"Absolutely out of the question, Sergeant. You're second in command here, and there's no knowing at what moment I may be hit. Who's a good man, outside of yourself?"
"Send for him."
Kelly lost no time in reporting.
"Private Kelly, do you think you can slip through the enemy's lines and carry a message from me to Captain Cortland?"
"I can, if any man in B Company can, sir," replied the soldier promptly, though without excitement.
"Who is the man you'd like best to have with you?"
"See if he wants the detail. I prefer that this shall be volunteer work."
In a few minutes Kelly returned, accompanied by Slosson.
"Do you want to go, Slosson?" inquired Lieutenant Prescott.
"Yes, sir," responded the soldier promptly.
"It's an extra-dangerous detail, and you may lose your life."
"I'll chance it, sir. I broke my pipe in one of the rushes here, and I want to get back to barracks and get another."
Lieutenant Prescott could not repress a laugh over such a reason. Slosson joined in, good-humoredly and respectfully.
"Very good; you two men report here in half an hour and I'll have my message ready. Better fill your canteens with coffee before you start. Take nothing else but your cartridge belts, rifles and bayonets."
"Very good, sir," answered both soldiers, saluting and withdrawing.
Punctual to the moment, both men were back again. Lieutenant Prescott had prepared his report, which he handed to Kelly, who fastened it in an inner pocket with a safety pin.
"Now, you'll want to start at once, for it won't be safe to return here later than just before the coming of dawn," said Lieutenant Prescott.
"Yes, sir," answered both men coolly.
"Take care of yourselves, men!"
"We'll watch and listen until you get safely away. If any trouble starts near here hold your ground and rely upon my sending men to your aid."
"Very good, sir."
Lieutenant Prescott and Sergeant Overton watched the two soldiers step over the entrenchment, crouch, and vanish into the darkness.
"I hope they get through," sighed the young officer. "By the way, Sergeant, from the fact of your recommending the men I didn't ask you whether either man is likely to drink any intoxicant at Bontac and unfit himself for the return."
"Neither man touches liquor, sir."
"Then they're to be depended upon. I never trust work of importance to a man who drinks."
"There's a bed in the house for you, whenever you wish it to-night," announced Mr. Seaforth, stepping outside.
"Thank you, sir, but when in the field I sleep with my men. I shall spread my poncho and blanket on the ground presently. Sergeant Overton, I leave you in command until half past one in the morning. At that hour rouse me, report, and then turn in yourself."
"Very good, sir."
"Of course, if anything turns up in the meantime, you'll call me."
For some minutes more the two young Americans stood listening for sounds of possible trouble which Kelly and Slosson might have encountered. Then the lieutenant spread his bed and lay down without removing any of his clothing, placing his revolver beside him on the ground.
Hal set guards on all sides, while the rest of the men turned in, which they were glad to do.
Another army now invaded them! Mosquitoes—myriads of them—buzzed busily about, seeking whom they might devour! The mosquito of the Philippines is well entitled to be called an insect of prey. He is a big fellow, tireless, always hungry and a valiant fighter. The men who lay on the ground carefully wrapped themselves in their blankets, with their hands tucked in. Their heads and necks were protected by collapsible nets that they had taken from their haversacks.
For those who were up and on duty the torment of the flying pests was acute. There was little danger of a sentry going to sleep without a head net and some protection for his hands.
"Ain't it awful, Sarge?" demanded Private Bender, as Hal paused near him.
"That word isn't strong enough," grinned Hal ruefully, as he "swatted" at mosquitoes three times in quick succession.
"I don't mind the Moros," continued Bender, "and I try to be a good soldier, but I'm afraid I'd surrender to the 'skeets' if they had intelligence enough to recognize the white flag."
"We get only two years of this at a time," laughed Sergeant Hal. "Then we can go back to the United States for a vacation."
"I used to think, back in God's country, that a soldier's day and night were full of work," remarked Bender wistfully; "but I'd rather go back there and go to work than have to stand these 'skeets.'"
"They're not so bad in barracks," Hal answered. "It's only in the field that the pests can torment us like this."
"From present signs," commented Private Bender, "I'm thinking that we'll put in a large part of our two years in the field. These Moros are ugly and determined when they get started."
"They're not bothering us much just now," replied Hal, as he started on his round of inspection.
Nine o'clock came and passed. Not a shot had been fired since late in the afternoon. Nor had there been any sound to indicate that Kelly or Slosson had encountered trouble near the plantation. Now that he was in command, Overton did not allow himself to be lulled into indifference by the stillness of the dark night. A sleeping volcano might start into eruption at any moment. At every important point along the trenches Hal paused, using the night glass that the lieutenant had loaned him.
Ten o'clock came and passed without trouble. Then eleven and finally midnight passed. Sergeant Hal, however, was not to be caught napping. He resolved to be vigilant until Lieutenant Prescott relieved him.
Hal had just glanced again at his watch, noting that the hour was nearly one, when a quiet voice reached him:
"Private Bender calls the sergeant!"
Hal Overton ran quickly around to the place where Bender stood peering off into the darkness.
"Use your glass yonder, Sarge," urged the soldier. "See if you see anything moving."
"I do," Hal answered quietly. "I see figures crawling out of the woods, headed this way. Pass the word to rouse every man without noise. Then go to Lieutenant Prescott, with my compliments, and report that the enemy seem to be crawling this way."
Barely had Bender disappeared when Lieutenant Prescott came up on a quick trot.
"Starting things, are they, Sergeant?" the officer whispered.
"Here's your glass; look over there, sir."
Lieutenant Prescott looked quietly for a few seconds. Then he turned to whisper:
"Pass quickly along the lines, Sergeant, and order every man to load his magazine. Instruct the squad leaders not to let their men get rattled and shoot too soon or too fast. This move may be only a ruse."
Bringing his hand smartly to the brim of his campaign hat, Sergeant Overton was off with the orders. He soon returned, however, and took up his position beside the lieutenant.
Then, in a twinkling, scattering Moro volleys sounded on the other side of the house, followed by wild, savage yells.
"That's probably a ruse to draw us around there," muttered Prescott. "Sergeant Dinsmore is there in charge, and he'll know what to do. Good! He's attending to it."
For now the sharper tones of the Army rifles began to rip out on the further side of the house.
Suddenly another volley of shots rang out on the near side of the house, showers of bullets driving in.
"Lie down, Sergeant!" ordered Lieutenant Prescott, falling back.
"Are you hit, sir?" asked Hal anxiously.
"No, no; look after your fire control. Let your men fire whenever they see anything to hit, but not in volleys. Shoot sharp, men!"
Hal's regulars, crouching in the trench, needed no further orders. They could now see, dimly, the figures of the oncoming Moros, advancing by rushes.
The enemy's fire became so heavy that Lieutenant Prescott decided it to be an act of prudence to crouch down himself, though he lay against the trench wall, his head and arms fully exposed as he kept the night glass to his eyes.
"Low aim, men!" warned Hal, as he passed behind the firing line. "Careful with every cartridge. Every brown man you hit is one less to meet with cold steel!"
This is one of the first lessons that the soldier must learn on the firing line. Every cartridge that he fires needlessly means one less shot with which to defend himself. Every man he hits is one less to be reckoned with later.
"Don't fire heavily until the rascals get nearer," was Sergeant Hal's next warning. "Those fellows are not very dangerous until they get close. Then we'll have need of cool gun barrels and plenty of cartridges. Steady!"
"That boy has the making of a commander in him," thought Lieutenant Prescott approvingly. "He's cool and all business. The only thing in the world that he's thinking of is how to make the squad work count. He isn't losing his head."
Night firing is always uncertain. It is too dark to see the end sight on the rifle and advancing figures show uncertainly, like wavering shadows.
"Don't fire so fast," called Hal, as the rifle work of the troops became more brisk. "Fire just enough to annoy the rascals. Save your real work until the enemy are within a hundred and fifty yards."
"Whee! When the goo-goos get that close they'll jump in and scalp us!" muttered a young soldier nervously.
Hal crouched beside the young soldier, resting a hand on his shoulder.
"Don't get nervous, Hunter," urged the young sergeant kindly. "Leave all emotion and quivers for the volunteers and for civilians. The regulars have smaller losses in battle because they depend upon their leaders and do just what they're told. Remember it, lad."
Then Hal was gone, but Hunter found himself flushing a little, yet wonderfully steady in his nerves. He shot carefully, sighting as best he could for every shot.
After another rush, during which they yelled like fiends, the Moros dropped to earth and began firing more heavily.
During that brief rush, however, the Moros lost several men, dropped by Yankee bullets.
"Cease firing and cool your rifles!" shouted Lieutenant Prescott. "Load your magazines, and be ready to drop 'em when they try another rush."
A minute later Datto Hakkut's followers discovered that the American fire had ceased. Yelling, the brown men rose and charged like a cyclone.
"Begin firing! Give it to 'em—hot!" shouted the young officer, leading the firing coolly with his revolver.
Again the Moros dropped to earth, though not until they had lost a score of men. For a few moments they lay there, not attempting to keep up much of a fire, for now that they were close to Uncle Sam's regulars, who were firing steadily, it would have been suicide for a brown man to raise his head at all.
"Ta-ra-ta-ra-ta!" The bugler, sticking close to the officer, had to sound the order this time, for the cessation of firing.
"Every man lay his bayonet in front of him, ready to fix!" called Lieutenant Prescott, as the pop-pop-popping began to cease.
That meant cold steel—the final rush in which the regulars must meet several times their own number in deadly hand-to-hand conflict.
IN A CLINCH WITH COLD STEEL
Then came the Moro rush!
All soldiers cheer in the charge, but these brown men had their own kind of battle-cry—a deafening, blood-curdling din.
Yet the regulars made a noise that was heard even over the Moro yelling. There was a smart sound of firing as the magazines of the soldiers' rifles were once more emptied.
The slaughter by men coolly firing at this close range, even in the darkness, was a heavy one. It testified to the courage of these Moros that they could take such punishment and not run.
True, many of the brown-skinned foe did waver, yet through their lines rushed groups of yelling fanatics, armed now only with straight or curved swords and knives. These men of cold steel rushed valiantly into close quarters.
To the soldiers the order to fix bayonets was never given; the men fixed their bayonets by instinct as they emptied their magazines.
Now steel met steel, in a cold, ringing, deadly clash. Occasionally the cry of a stricken man rent the air, though the majority bore their hurts with grunts or in stoical silence.
The greater part of the regulars leaped to the top of the trench wall to meet the shock. That move, however, soon carried them beyond the entrenchments.
Some of the regulars found themselves fighting three or more of the enemy at once. Lieutenant Prescott shot one Moro dead, but as he did so Sergeant Hal saw another Moro, armed with a sword, rush at the lieutenant from behind.
Overton leaped forward, cracking the fellow's head with the butt of his clubbed gun. Just as he did so Prescott fired squarely over Hal's left shoulder, knocking over a Moro bent on stabbing the sergeant from behind. The noise of that explosion, so close to his ear, deafened the young sergeant temporarily.
Both officer and sergeant realized that each in turn had saved the other's life, but there was no time for acknowledgments. The foe had yet to be met and worsted in that furious conflict.
At last it was over. The Moro men had broken and fled, their yells dying out in the distance.
Fully two dozen of the soldiers started to pursue. Prescott turned, bawling an order to the bugler over the din. The notes of the bugle recalled the soldiers.
"Men," shouted Lieutenant Prescott, "the first duty is to get the wounded behind the trench and then into the house. Every man badly hurt must have prompt attention."
Then, indeed, came the time to take account of what had happened.
Three of the soldiers already lay dead, their heads and bodies frightfully gashed. Another, Bender, was dying from two knife thrusts through his lungs.
Four more men were too badly hurt to help themselves. A dozen others had wounds of varying degrees of seriousness but were able to reach shelter unaided.
Uncle Sam had won the victory for the moment, but he had paid dearly for it.
"I'm glad you gave me that word when you did, Sergeant," murmured Private Hunter. "It steadied me. If it hadn't been for that I guess I'd have been a goner by this time."